Our Daily Green

Monday, January 20, 2020

The Earth needs multiple methods for removing CO2 from the air to avert worst of climate change

Reducing pollution will help stave off climate change but avoiding the worst effects means taking CO2 out of the atmosphere at large scale. AP Photo/J. David Ake
David Goldberg, Columbia University
Concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are higher than at any time in human history, and nine of the warmest years have occurred since 2005.
Even with the progress made in introducing alternatives to fossil fuels, gaining energy efficiencies and proposed carbon regulations around the world, avoiding catastrophic impacts on our coastal infrastructure, biodiversity, food, energy and water resources will require more. In particular, many climate researchers like myself believe government needs to advance technology that will actually suck carbon dioxide out of the air and put it away for very long periods.
There are several so-called negative emissions technologies that could remove carbon dioxide from the air, including those aimed at removing CO2 by enhancing natural forest and wetland uptake, using bio-energy in power production and scrubbing CO2 efficiently from air.
As diplomats and policymakers gather to discuss global agreements to reduce greenhouse gas, many believe that negative emissions technologies need to be part of the discussion for how nations will address climate change. But much as there is not a single solution to reducing emissions, no one technology will alone be sufficient to avert the worst effects of climate change.

Matter of scale

In a 2018 consensus study, the U.S. National Academies of Sciences concluded that negative emission technologies will be needed to reduce difficult-to-reduce emissions even if most emissions from burning fossil fuels, agricultural land use and cement production – the top sources of man-made greenhouse gases – could be eliminated. The study noted that direct emission reductions in some sectors, such as air travel, will be always remain more difficult to achieve and will require methods to remove CO2 from the air and store it away.

The concept of carbon capture and storage is to separate carbon dioxide from the emissions of burning fuel, such as those generated at a power plant, and to permanently store them underground. UK Department of Energy and Climate Change, CC BY-ND

The scale of the problem is daunting. In the U.S. alone, which emits about a sixth of current global CO2, and with global energy needs steadily increasing, emissions to the atmosphere are expected to outpace uptake and the volume of waste gas will only grow. In its latest emissions gap report, the United Nations warned greenhouse gases will continue to rise despite most countries committing to reduce them, calling the forecast for reversing the course “bleak.”
Where should CO2 be safely put away? The most convenient sites appear to be near industrial sources, such as power plants, but they can come with a tangle of issues surrounding underground property rights, overland access, and long-term risks and liabilities near populated areas.

A researcher explains how a prototype of how a direct air capture device works to remove CO2 from the air for underground storage.

My research has suggested that offshore storage sites around the globe may offer several unique and important advantages. In particular, CO2 injected into cooled volcanic rocks under the ocean will react chemically with them to form solid minerals like calcium carbonate – limestone – mimicking the natural process of rock weathering.
Although this technique has not been demonstrated in large-scale experiments, my research suggests that sub-sea rocks have the potential to provide vast capacity for hundreds of years of emissions, physical safeguards that will protect the oceans and humans, and can be located at safe distances from potential interference with ongoing human activities.

Portfolio approach

But that alone is not enough. Considering the various negative emission technologies reviewed by the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, it seems clear to me that all possibilities for carbon capture and storage need to be pursued in parallel. That’s because no one location, no singular technology and no country in isolation will be sufficient to solve this huge problem by itself. Different industrial, economic, legal and environmental conditions around the globe will require different solutions, and ultimately, these must all work together. In my view, pursuing a wide range of solutions does not create a competition between eliminating emissions and directly decreasing the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere.

Some researchers have voiced the concern that adoption of these technologies will discourage efforts to lower emissions. But some of these technologies, such as removing CO2 directly from the air, are currently expensive and efficiencies are still improving. So, with regulations to limit carbon emissions, polluters would face the costs of directly reducing emissions or the financial consequences of continuing to emit while relying on negative emissions technologies – both solutions would reduce CO2 waste collecting in the air.
Any concerns over costs, though, should be compared to cost of doing nothing. It is estimated that allowing emissions to continue apace may reduce GDP in some areas by as much as 1% per year, reflecting potential losses in productivity due to the effects of warming on regional resources, jobs and public health.
Both social and economic incentives will likely be needed to implement these technologies at the scale required to address climate warming, similar to past subsidies and research investments in alternative energy technologies that are now widespread.
To make negative emission technologies viable, industry needs physical and measurable proof of those which will be most effective and then the means to implement them at full scale. That means large government and private investments in research and development for these technologies.
[ Deep knowledge, daily. Sign up for The Conversation’s newsletter. ]The Conversation
David Goldberg, Lamont Research Professor, Columbia University
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Friday, January 3, 2020

Planting native species in your yard so your garden thrives

As the new year dawns, and the winter hibernation season turns to hope for the spring, we start to consider our plantings. While the recommended plantings in this article are geographically specific to Ohio, the reasoning is universal. When choosing plants for your landscaping, it is important to pick native plants that will thrive in the local environment.

Any yard of any size can grow native plants, which attract important insects and pollinators. Pollination is important for the propagation of local food and animal sources. It's part of bigger plan of eco-diversity.

Along the same vein, perhaps even more importantly, you should avoid invasive species of plants for several reasons. Invasive species crowd out other native species, upsetting the natural eco-system. An example of a popular but invasive plant is the well-known butterfly bush. 

An invasive species will easily spread but as it spreads and flourishes, it will crowd out the natural species to the region and upset the delicate balance of nature. Additionally, in the example of the  butterfly bush, while it contains a great deal of attractive nectar and draws in butterflies, it is not the right host plant for the insect. Think of butterfly bushes as the "fast food" of your garden. Sure, the butterflies will come and dine, but they will not be healthy and will not be able to reproduce, thereby negating the intent of attracting pollinators.

Continuing the example, since an invasive species does not serve a proper host for the caterpillars, it also disrupts the food sources for birds like chickadees which require thousands of caterpillars to survive. A baby chickadee needs 6000 + caterpillars until it is an adult. Baby birds require the caterpillars for protein that is not provided by other food sources.

Better choices include butterfly weed, oak trees, and milkweed. Many conservation groups collect milkweed seeds to helps spread more milkweed. Those are the right sort of plants to help increase the population of natural pollinators.

Some of the appropriate native plants that an Ohio gardener may choose include:
  • Butterfly Weed
  • Black Eyed Susan
  • Goldenrod
  • Wild Geranium
  • White Trillium
  • Milkweed 
All these plants will thrive and enhance your yard in a natural and sustainable manner. They will become part of the eco-system supporting pollinators, birds, and soil.

These plants are widely available at local nurseries and a much better choice for your yard than an invasive species. Ohio is in the Zone 5 planting region, meaning that the best time to plant is between frost season, from late May until early October. To learn more about appropriate plants for your region, you can contact your county soil and water conservation district.

Specific to Our Daily Green's location, contact the Mahoning County Soil and Water Conservation District for additional information and equipment rentals for larger land plots. The district also holds its annual milkweed pod collection from September 1 to October 31 each year. 

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Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Stop the spread of liquefied natural gas (Reprint from OtherWords).

Liquefied natural gas (LNG) is a potential disaster in the making. That’s the conclusion of a new report by Physicians for Social Responsibility, which surveyed an abundance of research on LNG’s threats to public health.
LNG is natural gas that is filtered and supercooled to -260° F, turning it from gas to liquid. That makes it easier to transport in special cryogenic tankers when pipelines aren’t an option, such as for overseas shipping.
But while the fracking that extracts the gas, and the pipelines that often move it, have generated well-deserved controversy, the risks of LNG haven’t gotten as much attention. They deserve more.
The new report finds significant risks from the extraction process (including gas leaks and air pollution), further pollution from the liquefaction process, and serious risks of fires and explosions.
And I mean serious. A full LNG tanker carries the energy equivalent of 55 atomic bombs. If one caught fire or exploded in a populated area, it could make an oil spill look like a picnic.
Even without exploding, the gas poses serious risks to our climate and health.
LNG is primarily composed of methane, a greenhouse gas that is 84–87 times more powerful than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period, which makes it a major contributor to climate change. And the fracking process, the report adds, injects a further “slurry of chemicals” into the surrounding environment. Many are known to contribute to strokes, cancer, and asthma.
LNG export facilities are often located in areas already plagued by dangerous levels of pollution from energy and industrial facilities — often areas with mostly African American, Native American, Hispanic, or low-income families. Facilities may also be sited close to schools and nursing homes.
“Such proximity, often reflecting these communities’ lack of political power, intensifies the impact on vulnerable populations and people with pre-existing health conditions,” the report notes. These communities are also more likely to lack the resources to address environmental health concerns.
Despite these dangers, there has been a boom in LNG production in the United States over the past 15 years. According to federal regulators, there are over 110 LNG facilities operating in the United States.
The United States is exporting record amounts of LNG to the global market right now, and there are plans to expand LNG facilities in many parts of the country. Meanwhile, the Trump administration is pushing an ill-advised proposal to transport LNG by rail.
Expanding these projects would increase pollution, put human health at risk, and increase the risk of catastrophic fires and explosions. It would also sink billions of dollars into infrastructure that would lock the United States into greenhouse emissions for decades to come.
Thanks to the Trump administration’s systematic rollback of critical health and safety protections, we simply don’t have the safeguards to protect ourselves or our planet from fracking, pipelines, or LNG.
As PSR’s new report makes clear, LNG poses a grave risk to our planet, our health, and our future. Instead, we need to demand healthy solutions for our communities. Our health needs to come first — before fossil fuel corporations’ bottom line. It's time for decision makers at all levels to protect their constituents, before it's too late. 
Reprinted with permission from: 
Institute for Policy Studies