Saturday, November 7, 2009

New Blog theme - stuff I've heard about. Part 1: Industrial Ecology

Ok, so... I run into so many interesting concepts in my frequent podcast listening (BBC is amazing and puts out a bunch of free stuff) that I feel like writing about them. And since this blog is just mainly a place for me to write whatever I want, it's perfect for that purpose. In case anyone actually reads this, here are the podcasts I'm listening to at the moment, with the average length and frequency that they're updated:

BBC Podcasts:
- Africa Today (15 minutes, every business day)
- African Perspective (20-25 minutes, weekly)
- Analysis (a short but in-depth summary of a current event or issue, 20 minutes, weekly)
- Beyond Belief (Religion and society, 25 minutes, weekly)
- The Bottom Line with Evan Davis (Business, 25 minutes, weekly)
- Business weekly (25 minutes, weekly)
- Crossing Continents (weekly, 25 minutes)
- Digital Plaet (25 minutes, weekly)
- Discovery (Science, 25 minutes, weekly)
- Documentaries (20 minutes, twice weekly)
- Dr. Karl and the Naked Scientist (45 minutes to an hour, weekly)
- Forum - a world of ideas (45 minutes, weekly)
- From our own correspondent (25 minutes, weekly)
- Global News (30 minutes twice daily)
- Interview (30 minutes, weekly)
- Material World (Science, 30 minutes, weekly)
- One Planet (Environmentalism, 30 minutes, weekly)
- Peter Day's World of Business (30 minutes, weekly, some overlap with Business Weekly)
- Thinking Allowed (30 minutes, weekly)
- This week in Africa (30 minutes, weekly)
- You and Yours: Environment (variable, usually 10-15 minutes, but sometimes an hour or more, variable posting schedule)

Non-BBC podcasts
- CBC News World Report (10 minutes, daily)
- CitizenShift Social Issues Podcasts (various lengths, intermittent posting intervals)
- Quirks and Quarks (Science, 50 minutes, weekly)
- Security Now (IT Security - 1-2 hours, weekly)

Thank god for the double-speed function on my Ipod! :)

So anyway, in my first installment of "stuff I've heard recently that was interesting, is this quote, from the Material World on October 29th:

"After milennia of mining, we're aware of the location and size of almost every
deposit of every industrially interesting metal around the world. What we've not mapped so well until now is where those metals end up after they've been extracted ... clearly there's a shift from mines to centres of population, but there's a lot more to it than that, and it could help us make better use of the metals in future."

Apparently there's a new study of where our metals resources go. I've thought for a while that garbage dumps must be great sources of materials, what with the purifying processes that these products have already gone through to get them from bits of rock to industrially useful things (I heard recently that 95% of everything we "produce" in industrial processes is waste, vs. only 5% useful product at the end of it. And then we throw out that highly refined 5% - 99% of the things you currently have in your home will be in the dump within 6 months, statistically speaking.) So the fact that there is such a thing as industrial ecology makee sense.

Here are some links I'm going to browse some more when I have a chance:

- wikipedia
- An introduction to industrial ecology from the University of Michigan including graphs and tables listing materials flows across the world (32 pages, PDF)
- An industrial ecology blog

They have a term for finding sources of valuable materials that are "in-use stocks" - they call it "urban mining". Makes perfect sense to me, and I'm glad people are finally starting to take stock of this. I like this in no small part because what they're finding is that while the developed world has run out of mineral resources in the ground, and is now transporting large quantities from the developing world, the developed world has the largest quantities of minerals in landfills and in-use stocks. So if we can access those resources, there will be less transportation required. Seems obvious, but why exactly shouldn't we treat landfills as sources of valuable materials? I know that in some places the "recycling" of computers is done at least in part by dumping them into a large pit and then treating it like an open mine, using the same processes that we've used to seperate valuable minerals from not-so-valuable stuff in mines, to economically extract valueb from electronic waste.

On One Planet recently, I heard a British person say that he now flushes all of his vegetable waste down the toilet because he hopes that his city is using sewage waste in a methane digester (this practice is not unheard of). So really, we've got two large sources of waste (organics and metals) which could easily be taken care of. Now it's only the composite plastics (like those found in plastic films like Saran Wrap, and packaging for consumer products) that are non-recyclable.

All of this is progress, and it makes me happy :)

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Electricity Consumption

Ok, I got my electricity bill today, and decided to follow through and figure out my average consumption. Over the past 10 months, I've used up 292 KWH/month. The most I ever used was the first month (445) and the least was last month (221) although there have been significant variations month to month, and last month I was only charged for 27 days, as the power company decided to move the "end of month" date from the 18th to the 15th for no apparent reason.

So, my goal is to reduce my consumption by 20%, which means 59 KWH. The goal is to average 235 KWH per month. This is going to be very hard, because the reason my bill was highest in the first month was because my air conditioner was running, and it's currently 33 degrees out, and the air conditioner is almost a requirement. So we'll see how well I do.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Some more facts

A followup to the "the oceans absorb a lot of carbon dioxide and are slowing global warming" fact. A study published today in Science about the antarctic ocean shows that it's now basically full enough of CO2 that it can't absorb any more. I wonder how long before this happens in the Northern hemisphere. According to the Globe and Mail, scientists figured that this wouldn't happen until about 2050. They call the southern ocean one of the world's largest carbon sinks, accounting for about 15% of all the areas where we can store carbon worldwide. I recall that one of the places the Bush administration had suggested we could put CO2 captured during carbon sequestration at power plants and refineries was in or under the ocean, so I don't know how this impacts that idea.

To give a scale to the amount of CO2 the oceans absorb: "Since the beginning of the industrial revolution, the world's oceans have absorbed about a quarter of the 500 gigatonnes (500 billion tonnes) of carbon emitted into the atmosphere by humans"

Hm. I'm reading a FAQ by the IPCC, and according to them we're currently at 379 PPM of CO2 in the atmosphere, so my earlier estimate was a bit high. They've got a good estimate of CO2 concentration for the past 650,000 years, and it's ranged from 180 PPM to 300 PPM. It's a 35 page FAQ, so I'll have to read it later.

Also, another question. Apparently warming of the land causes an outgassing of carbon dioxde, which will accelerate global warming. I'll have to get more information on that because the BBC just stated it with no explanation, so I don't know where it comes from. Increased rates of decomposition? Carbon stored in rocks or soils? I'll have to find out.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Expansion of the tropics - also ahead of schedule

Listening to another article, it appears that it's not just the arctic that's far ahead of the climate models. Most models predict that the tropics will expand by 2 degrees of latitude by the end of this century, but there's a report being presented at the Bali climate conference that says that amount of expansion has already happened.

By the way, the Bali conference which runs for two weeks, is the start of the process of negotiating a successor to the Kyoto Accord. The hope is that negotiations will be concluded by 2009, while Kyoto expires in 2012. But even the person leading this conference advised the BBC interviewer to keep his expectations of "success" extremely low. Even the perosn chairing the conference, in other words, doesn't expect much to be accomplished there.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Arctic ice melt - WAY ahead of schedule

Just listened to a BBC "One Planet" documentary on the northwest passage. I knew that the Northwest passage was ice-free this summer for the fist time ever, but I didn't quite understand how big of a deal this was. I already understood less ice = more warming = less ice next summer, but I'll jsut quote David Bancroft's explanation. He's director of the Canadian Ice Service, which is the government agency responsible for monitoring sea ice.

DB: "I think it was some time around mid-august that I was looking at it and thinking that this was something out of a science-fiction setting. It's stunning. It's... I had no expectation of seeing this rapid a reduction in sea ice frankly for the next 10 years. There is no hint of this in the climate models for decades to come. And it happened in this last summer."

Interviewer: "Some scientists say this might be a kind of tipping point. Talk us through what you think."

DB: "It means that it can accelerate. The more open water you have in the summer time, the more sunshine gets trapped in the oceans, the more it warms up, and the faster it retreats. Eventually it can get to the point where there is no ice in the summertime. And the concern of some scientists is that we may have reached that point with the summer of 2007, where it's just going to retreat until there is no summer ice.

Interviewer: Now, there have been lots of forecasts for the date at which the Arctic in the summer would be ice free. It used to be 2100, and then 2080. How does this summer fit in to those forecasts?"

DB: "This point here [apparently pointing at one of the computer models they had displayed for this past summer] at the minimum ice that's shown, closely resembles what we see in the models or simulations of climate for the year 2040, on the worst case scenario [his emphasis, not mine.] So the summer of 2007 was stunning because it was decades ahead of where we expected to be in reduced sea ice."

Luckily 2008 is designated international polar year, so there will be a lot more research into this area of the earth, but we'd all better hope that the other climate models aren't also 35 years too conservative...

Monday, May 28, 2007

Specific numbers - the cost of carbon

I just read an article that says Air Canada is offering a "carbon offset", where you can pay for the carbon dioxide your flights generate, to a company called

I've read a bit of the site, and it seems kind of light on facts (as in "How much of my money actually goes to the carbon offsetting prices?" "Well, we can't say exactly because the price of carbon, as a commodity, is constantly fluctuating. But we have very low overhead, so a lot of your money goes where it should." Still, it's an interesting idea. What I'm most interested in is the fact that they've done estimates of how much carbon dioxide gets emitted per person on a flight. According to ZeroFootprint, an Air Canada flight from St. John's to Vancouver will take about 0.5 tonnes of CO2 emissions, per person. The cost to offset 1 tonne of CO2 emissions appears to be $16.00

By contrast, they say that the average person's share of emissions per year is 20 tonnes.

So... According to this calculation, we ought to be able to offset our total carbon emissions for an annual cost of $320 each. less than $1 per day. This seems a little bit low, considering the hand-wringing over how impossible it's going to be for us to deal with climate change.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Specific Numbers - Canada's Kyoto Targets

According to Environment Canada, on the 25th, Canada submitted its annual national greenhouse gas inventory for 2005. Why there's a year and a half lag before we submit numbers, I'm not sure, but at least it gives us something to go on. So here's how we're doing.

As of 2005, we were 1/3 above our Kyoto targets. In total, we emitted 747 million tons. Kind of makes the 1 ton challenge seem less significantl (this was the ad campaign with Rick Mercer in it about a year ago, where we were encouraged to reduce emissions by 1 ton per person.) If everyone did reduce their emissions by 1 ton we'd make a cut of about 30-35 megatonnes.

By contrast, in 1990, we had emitted 596 megatonnes. Our Kyoto targets are 563 megatonnesby 2012.

So, why have greenhouse gases gone up by 25% since 1990? THe standard answer is "economic growth", as we've grown at around 3% per year most years (total increase of 50%). But it's becoming widely acknowledged that this economic growth is mainly benefitting those who are already well off. Wages aren't rising, and in fact I saw a statistic recently that said that wages have fallen by 12.5% for males in the workforce over the past 30 years (not sure whether this is in dollar terms or inflation adjusted, but even if it's inflation adjusted it's a bad figure). So how are we better off, with this 25% increase in energy use? Would it be so bad to go back to how things were in 1990, for most people? I don't remember mass anarchy and economic collapse (although to be fair the early 90's was a significant recession). And yet the government says that the Kyoto targets are unattainable because they would lead to negative economic consequences that are too severe to bear.

One interesting thing in these statistics: the greenhouse gas emissions have been basically stable since 2004 (total increase of 0.3%), while the economy grew. Reasons: Katrina hurt the oil and gas sector, and we've had warmer than average winters. So it's not sustainable and it will be interesting to see what the 2006 and 2007 figures come out as, since of the 150 megatonnes increase ince 1990 137 came from the oil and gas sector and the transportation sector.