Archive for September, 2011

Blog Post 9: Waste Reduction

Cradle to Cradle

For the longest time recycling has been the only means of reusing waste so that it does not biodegrade at an extremely slow rate in a landfill. This has been the only alternative to waste, but a new more efficient and ethical idea has broken onto the scene. The problem with recycling is that products are not designed so that they may be recycled after their use and most products, even if they are recyclable, are not recycled. A new design procedure, known as Cradle to Cradle design, might be the answer to the waste and recycling problem. This approach to product design fundamentally seeks to change the way things are made through biological engineering. In Cradle to Cradle (C2C) design, human made products are modeled after nature and its regenerative processes. Products will be made with “biological nutrients”, which can be decomposed, and “technical nutrients”, which can be put back in the manufacturing system to be remade. An example used in the book Cradle to Cradle (McDonough & Braungart), gives the example of a chair made from cloth and aluminum. The technical nutrients (aluminum) of the chair can be up-cycled back into the production sector of society and the biological nutrients (cloth) can be biodegraded so that nutrients are put back into the earth. “Some chemical companies say it is more profitable and environmentally beneficial to design and produce chemicals that may be readily recovered as raw materials once a product’s useful life has ended. (Scott)” This approach to design attempts to not only reduce waste, but to end waste all together so that our system of production is in a constant cycle; therefore there is no endpoint or garbage. The problem facing the C2C design concept is that it is in fact just a concept. As of right now, our industry does not try to act holistically with nature and until we as a society can change that we will keep producing costly amounts of waste. This innovative way of thinking is “gaining traction even beyond industry as some retailers and government officials advocate C2C as the basis for the next industrial revolution. (Scott)”

Alston, K. (2008). Cradle to Cradle design initiatives: Lessons and opportunities for prevention through design (PtD). Journal of Safety Research, 39(2), 135-136. doi:10.1016/j.jsr.2008.02.017

McDonough, W., & Braungart, M. (2002). Cradle to cradle: remaking the way we make things. New York: North Point Press.

Braungart, M., McDonough, W., & Bollinger, A. (2007). Cradle-to-cradle design: creating healthy emissions – a strategy for eco-effective product and system design. Journal of Cleaner Production, 15(13/14), 1337-1348. doi:10.1016/j.jclepro.2006.08.003

Scott, A. (2009). Green Chemistry: Cradle-to-Cradle System Gains Momentum. (Cover story). Chemical Week, 171(4), 18-21. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

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Blog Post 8: Administration & Operations

The National Acid Rain Program

Cap and trade is a policy that seeks to reduce emissions in a competitive manner by involving trade options of carbon credits between businesses. Cap and trade has been highly scrutinized since its inception, yet one successful program set forth by cap and trade goes highly un-noticed. The National Acid Rain Program is aimed at benefiting the public health and environment through effectively stopping acid rain. Acid rain is caused by emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides. The main emitters of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides are coal-burning power plants; therefor they are impacted most by this policy. Businesses that emit these acid rain chemicals are, as in all cap and trade programs, buy and sell emission permits. They can purchase more “allowances” (emission permits) if they feel they will emit more gasses than they have a permit for. If they end up having excess permits that exceed the amount of gas they have released, they may sell the permits to another company that needs more credits. The Environmental Protection Agency labeled this program a success along with industries involved and economists. Many experts have concluded that the “U.S. Acid Rain Program has been reasonably efficient” and “both reassuring and surprising (Ellerman)”. Cap and Trade will never be universally accepted, but it does have effective programs that seek to save our environment and upkeep the well-being of society.

Chestnut, L. G., & Mills, D. M. (2005). A fresh look at the benefits and costs of the US acid rain program. Journal of Environmental Management, 77(3), 252-266. doi:10.1016/j.jenvman.2005.05.014

Ellerman, A., & Montero, J. (2007). The Efficiency and Robustness of Allowance Banking in the U.S. Acid Rain Program. Energy Journal, 28(4), 47-71. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

EPA. (n.d.). Progress and Results | Clean Air Markets | Air & Radiation | US EPA. US Environmental Protection Agency. Retrieved September 12, 2011, from http://www.epa.gov/airmarkets/pro

Napolitano, S., Schreifels, J., Stevens, G., Witt, M., LaCount, M., Forte, R., & Smith, K. (2007). The U.S. Acid Rain Program: Key Insights from the Design, Operation, and Assessment of a Cap-and-Trade Program. Electricity Journal, 20(7), 47-58. doi:10.1016/j.tej.2007.07.001

Blog Post 7: Transportation

The Electric Car

Lately many automobile companies have begun production of electric vehicles that offer all electric power to replace the necessity of gas. Many are seeing these new electric vehicles as the first of its kind, but this is not so. General Motors introduced a fully functional electric car in 1996 that never seemed to catch on in America, except with the people who bought them. Why if we had an electric car in 1996, are the roads not covered with electric cars?

The electric car, powered by an electric motor, is has its fuel stored in batteries underneath the hood. The electric car is advantageous because it does not pollute at nearly the rate of conventional combustion engines, but unfortunately it only becomes popular when gas prices are high. Some barriers to the electric car’s popularity are its price, infrastructure, and range anxiety. The price of the electric car is higher, due to the expensive battery, but one could argue that the electric car is worth the price due to no gas payments and less maintenance possibilities than the combustion engine. Infrastructure and range anxiety put the nail in the coffin of the EV1. The General Motors’ EV1 could only travel a distance of 100 miles on one charge and the fact that there is no recharge infrastructure in place, that doesn’t leave much room for traveling far. “The average American drives less than 40 miles per day (Edwards)” though, and in between trips the car could be recharged. Why is it that people feel they must have indefinite range in order to accomplish their everyday tasks? Perhaps the electric car would replace the conventional automobile if people were not worried about road trips. There could and should be a future for these viable and functional alternatives. 

Edwards, O. (2006). EV1. Smithsonian, 37(3), 44-46. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

EV-1 Unplugged: GM Disconnects Electric Car. (2000). Electricity Journal, 13(2), 12. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

Raut, Anil K.. Role of electric vehicles in reducing air pollution: a case of Katmandu, Nepal. The Clean Air Initiative.

Sperling, Daniel and Deborah Gordon (2009). Two billion cars: driving toward sustainability.Oxford University Press, New York. pp. 22–26. ISBN 978-0-19-537664-7

Blog Post 6: Land & Habitat

Fracking (Hydraulic fracturing)

The advancement of natural gas technologies has opened the door for new technology to combat old fossil fuels. Though natural gas is not renewable, it is abundant and can replace oil and power coal in a cleaner way. Unfortunately this new means of energy is causing problems when it comes to the landscapes it seeks to drill from. Hydraulic fracturing, also known as “fracking”, is the process used to withdraw natural gas and other new methods of energy from the ground. This procedure involves pumping chemical fluids, at high pressures, into rock layers so that they may crack and release the gasses from below.

Many opponents of fracking, due to its possible environmental consequences, have arisen over time to clear the air on whether this is something that needs to be stopped in order to save the landscape. Oil and gas companies injected hundreds of millions of gallons of hazardous or carcinogenic chemicals into wells in more than 13 states from 2005 to 2009, according to an investigation by Congressional Democrats. It’s not hard to come to the conclusion that terrible implications for the environment arise when millions of gallons of chemicals are put in the ground, but now earthquakes might be associated with fracking. Unusual amounts of earthquakes have been popping up after fracking has moved into the same areas. Braxton County, West Virginia has had a “rash of freak earthquakes (eight in 2010) since fracking operations started there several years ago.” Scientists in the natural gas industry claim that fracking has been going on for a long time without any of these effects being associated with natural gas drilling, but just recently fracking increased its water and sand amounts, while also adding harmful chemicals; creating a cautious cocktail. Earth quakes have even begun in the Dallas/Fort Worth region after fracking began there in 2008. There may not be complete proof that fracking causes earthquakes or detrimental effects to the landscape, but should we not be as cautious as possible when it comes to pushing chemicals into the ground that were never supposed to be there to begin with?

Eddington, S. (2011, April 20). Fracking Well Shutdown Extended As Researchers Study Link To Earthquakes In Arkansas. Huffington Post . Retrieved September 12, 2011, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/04/21/fracking-shutdown-earthquakes-arkansas_n_851930.html

Nelson, J. (2011, March 1). Does Gas Fracking Cause Earthquakes? . Watershed Sentinel – Environmental News Magazine from British Columbia, and the world! | Bi-monthly magazine.. Retrieved September 12, 2011, from http://www.watershedsentinel.ca/content/does-gas-fracking-cause-earthquakes

URBINA, I. (n.d.). Millions of Gallons of Hazardous Chemicals Injected Into Wells, Report Says – NYTimes.com.The New York Times – Breaking News, World News & Multimedia. Retrieved September 12, 2011, from http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/17/science/earth/17gas.html?_r=1&scp=3&sq=Congressional%2

Weaver, B. (2011, March 10). WV OFFICIALS SAY BRAXTON CO. QUAKES NOT RELATED TO DRILLING – Arkansas Officials Have Different View. Calhoun County West Virginia News – Hur Herald. Retrieved September 12, 2011, from http://www.hurherald.com/cgi-bin/db_scripts/articles?Action=user_view&db=hurheral

Blog Post 5: Built Environment

The Compact City

Phones are growing smaller, televisions are slimming down and most technology is getting mini. Innovation’s always turning out new products that are smaller, so is it any wonder why our cities are not being built compact? In the area of urban planning, the concept of compact cities seeks to bring our cities inward and stop urban sprawl. This concept is a hopeful idea, but many have associated issues with this city plan and its functionality.

High residential density is a cornerstone of compact cities. This “high density housing” promotes building upward, rather than outward, and having residential and business buildings intermingle throughout the city. This is known as mixed land use, which commonly brings up property value as opposed to separating the housing and business community. The compact city seeks to reduce automobile dependency by encouraging and developing efficient public transport, such as walking paths, bicycle paths/rentals/sharing, and train or subway. The large dense population would encourage social interaction which would justify an efficient amount of social infrastructure such as public services. An added effect of this social interaction would be a feeling of safety through an active community relationship. All of these aspects of the compact city seek to lower inefficiency, save energy, increase social stewardship, and decrease urban sprawl and its negative effects. It has also been claimed that compact cities are less vulnerable to climate change. Results have shown that extreme heat indexes are “higher in sprawling [cities] rather than compact metropolitan regions.” Urban sprawl has also been associated with “a wide range of adverse exposures, including ozone exceedances, poor water quality, and adverse health outcomes from obesity to decreased physical activity to fatal road traffic injuries. (Stone)”Although this sounds like a great idea, compact cities have come under a great deal of scrutiny. There is a fear that these centralized cities will eat up just as much energy as urban sprawl and that “spelling out the details of why such policies are cost-effective remains a research challenge. (Gordon)”

Alter, L. (1924, March 11). Big Surprise: People Drive Less In Compact Cities With Good Transit : TreeHugger.TreeHugger. Retrieved September 12, 2011, from http://www.treehugger.com/files/2011/03/big-surprise-people-drive-less-compact-cities.php

Gordon, P., & Richardson, H. (1997). Are compact cities a desirable planning goal.American Planning Association. Journal of the American Planning Association63(1), 95.

Jenks, M., Burton, E., & Williams, K. (1996). A Successful, Desirable and Achievable Urban Form?. The Compact city: a sustainable urban form? (pp. 44-54). London, England: E & FN Spon.

Stone, B., Hess, J. J., & Frumkin, H. (2010). Urban form and extreme heat events: are sprawling cities more vulnerable to climate change than compact cities?. Environmental Health Perspectives, 118(10), 1425-1428. doi:10.1289/ehp.0901879

Blog Post 4: Climate

Climate is What You Eat

We are constantly hearing how car emissions should be lowered to counteract their effects on the climate, but are automobiles and other transportation mechanisms the biggest problem facing climate?

There is an issue with the amount of pollution that is coming from transportation and this issue needs to be addressed, but is there something else in our daily lives that could be causing more harm than driving here and there? The answer to both of these questions is “yes”. There is a bigger problem concerning climate change than cars and that is the cow. Cattle all over the world are adding to climate change with their emissions more than any form of transportation combined. This largely unknown problem has not been addressed and it is going to take some creative solutions to solve.

“Beef, it’s what’s for dinner” is a common phrase here in the U.S. and most Americans like their beef and have incorporated it into their regular diet. Unfortunately the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization have found that beef production is one of the biggest challenges facing climate control. In their report, “Livestock’s Long Shadow”, the UN Food and Agricultural Organization asserts that the world’s surging cattle herds are the No. 1 threat to the climate, forests and other wildlife. According to the UN the “livestock sector emerges as one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale.” This is due to the cow’s bodily functions and the need for grazing. Cows release methane, a potent greenhouse gas, by flatulence and decaying manure. Cows right now are emitting more than 1/3 of all methane into the atmosphere. This gas warms the earth 20 times faster than carbon dioxide. Along with methane, cows produce ammonia, a gas that causes acid rain. Ranching, or clearing an area for cattle to graze is a major driver of deforestation, which also adds to climate issues. Mike Adams, a nutritionist and ethicist, has explained that “producing meat from cattle is and extremely inefficient and dirty way to produce food” and that “it also accelerates the destruction of the planet’s atmosphere.” According to Mike Adams’ article, “How to End Cruelty to People, Animals and Nature, and Create a World without War and Environmental Destruction”, the “planet Earth will simply not support the mass consumption of meat.” If beef production causes so many climate problems, shouldn’t we do something about it?

There are many ideas of ways to combat the climate effects of cattle ranching. Mike Adams explains in his book that “if we wish to protect our planet and live in an environmentally sustainable way, we must teach people how to emphasize plant-based diets.” So eating less meat could cut climate cost, but how? Well, less beef and pork would cut down on the vast amounts of cattle necessary to make said beef and pork; also less demand for grazing fields would lead to more vegetation growth, which helps to absorb carbon and release oxygen into the atmosphere. Or you could cut out eating meat all together. Researchers in the Netherlands, from Wagenigen University, suggest that insects “produce far less greenhouse gases than cattle and pigs do” and would be a “viable alternative to eating meat”, so as to replace the protein loss. Another alternative is to eat only organic meat products. Those same Dutch researchers found that “traditional, pasture-based methods of raising animals can actually replenish environmental health”, but the consumption of said cattle would still need to be reduced. According to Koneswaran and Nierenberg’s, “Global farm animal production and global warming: impacting and mitigating climate change”, raising cattle organically “may emit 40% less GHGs (Green House Gasses) and consume 85% less energy than conventionally produced beef.” Now I’m not advocating for us all to replace traditional meat with insect meat, but I’m not against innovation when it comes to the way we eat and what we eat.

A study, published in “New Scientist” magazine, recently revealed that “the production of 1kg of beef releases GHGs with a warming potential equivalent to 36.4kg of carbon dioxide. That is a 1 to 36.4kg difference between eating beef and not. We can all live and be just fine without eating beef, therefore cutting back is the least we could all do.

Adams, M. (n.d.). How to end cruelty to people, animals and nature, and create a world without war and environmental destruction. Natural health news. Retrieved September 12, 2011, from http://www.naturalnews.com/006

Bristow, E. (2011). Global Climate Change and the Industrial Animal Agriculture Link: The Construction of Risk. Society & Animals, 19(3), 205-224. doi:10.1163/156853011X578893

Jacobson, M. (2009). Livestock’s long shadow. Nutrition Action Health Letter, 36(5), 2. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

Kingston-Smith, A., Edwards, J., Huws, S., Kim, E., & Abberton, M. (2010). Plant-based strategies towards minimising ‘livestock’s long shadow’. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 69(4), 613-620. doi:10.1017/S0029665110001953

Pitesky, M. E., Stackhouse, K. R., & Mitloehner, F. M. (2009). CLEARING THE AIR: LIVESTOCK’S CONTRIBUTION TO CLIMATE CHANGE. Advances in Agronomy, 1031-40. doi:10.1016/S0065-2113(09)03001-6

Blog Post 3: Agriculture

Genetically Modified Crops

Genetically modified crops all start with seeds that are engineered to resist pests, grow faster and bring about a higher yield for harvest. Genetic modification of plants and animals happens naturally over time, but as technology has advanced scientists have sped up this process. The benefits of Genetically Modified Organisms could have a great impact on food production worldwide, but with this technology comes concerns for businesses, the environment and social well-being. What exactly happens when a modified seed, a new hope for some and a new threat for others, is introduced to the world?

Scientists engineered genetically modified seeds for the purpose of making the plant stronger, more reliable, and more fruitful. By taking and adding genes to the seed, the plant will then grow with stronger or better improved characteristics. These improvements make for some very strong arguments for engineering plants. One advantage is in herbicide resistance. These plants will save farmers money that they will not have to spend on herbicide treatment and will increase crop yields. Less herbicide will be used which is also great for the environment. In performing these changes, they have also increased the plants tolerance levels so that they can better handle harsher environments. Genetically modified plants can also contain more nutrients, such as more proteins in certain vegetables. Fruit could be modified to ripen better without growing soft and plants being insect resistant would reduce the need for harmful pesticides. Some claim that these organisms are “helping farmers  to increase yields, reduce pesticide spraying, and save topsoil — and without injury  to a single person or damage to an ecosystem” [Conko]. Among all of these advantages, there is also the fact that Genetically Modified Organism use has increased, which is a plus for the economy in a sense.
 -USDA http://www.ers.usda.gov/Data/BiotechCrops/

Among all of these advantages are some grave concerns over the use and future of genetically modified crops. One major problem with GMOs is risk. Genetically engineered products could and have had health risks, such as becoming toxic or other issues with well-being. An issue with becoming pest and herbicide resistant: pests and weeds will find a way to overtake these safeguards, bringing about super weeds and pests in the process. Research has found that “pollen from genetically engineered Bt corn was poisonous to Monarch butterflies” [Nayak], and that good insects such as ladybugs have been affected by the process as well. Due to the lack of technology there is also a lacking in safety tests for GMOs. The ultimate concern is that this is a very new product that has not seen very much testing over social and environmental concerns. Due to lack of research there has also been links to antibiotic resistance passing on to humans so that antibiotics become useless against infection. There has also been links to effective compounds, necessary for human health, lacking or not even appearing in GMOs.

Public and consumer outcry over GMOs has arisen due to some of the business practices associated with using GMOs. “Studies have found that US farmers growing GE crops are using just as many toxic pesticides and herbicides as conventional farmers and in some cases are using more.” [Nayak] These farmers use more herbicide because it won’t hurt the plant to spray extra. This is terrible for the soil and insects and will also increase the likelihood of super weeds and pests appearing in our future. One of the ugliest sides of GMO business practices are the patenting of the seeds. “Biotech food production threatens to eliminate farming as it has been practiced for 12,000 years” [Nayak] due to the technology of making seeds infertile after a certain amount of growing seasons. Farmers are forced to buy seeds every season rather than reusing seeds as they have always done.

This issue is very complicated and the fighting over GMOs has just begun. GMO supporters claim that the products are socio-economically viable, in that GMOs can feed the world and are business efficient. Contenders of these ideas are pushing for the socio-environmental concerns of these plants, where health issues and environmental concerns should play a more major role in our decision making with GMOs. My question: Is it economically efficient if farmers are finding it more and more impossible to farm?

CONKO, G., & MILLER, H. I. (2011). The Rush to Condemn Genetically Modified Crops. Policy Review, (165), 69-82. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

Nayak, L., Pandey, H., Ammayappan, L., & Ray, D. (2011). GENETICALLY MODIFIED CROPS. Agricultural Reviews, 32(2), 112-119. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

Srivastava, N., Gupta, V., Pati, R., & Gaur, R. (2011). Genetically Modified Crops: An Overview. Biotechnology, 10(2), 136-148. doi:10.3923/biotech.2011.136.148

Tayo, T., Longjam, N., Mezhatsu, V., & Deb, R. (2010). GENETICALLY MODIFIED (GM) CROPS LIFELINE FOR LIVESTOCK — A REVIEW. Agricultural Reviews, 31(4), 279-285. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.