Thursday, March 13, 2014

Nowhere To Hide From Global Forest Watch

From 02/25/2014 03:29 PM    print story email story  ShareThis

Nowhere To Hide From Global Forest Watch News
There's nowhere to hide now that Global Forest Watch has launched - citizens around the world now have all the information they need to monitor the state of the world's forests.

Global Forest Watch combines the latest satellite technology, open data and social media crowdsourcing to produce "near-real time, reliable, and actionable data" about what's happening to forests worldwide.
High resolution data from half a billion NASA Landsat satellite images measures whether tree cover is growing or lessening. You can even sign up for alerts that let you know when there's tree cover loss, pinpointing where it's occurring.
"Businesses, governments and communities desperately want better information about forests. Now, they have it," says Andrew Steer, CEO of World Resources Institute, which facilitated the project. Global Forest Watch "will fundamentally change the way people and businesses manage forests. From now on, the bad guys cannot hide and the good guys will be recognized for their stewardship."
Companies that buy commodities such as palm oil, soy and timber will be able to see for themselves whether suppliers are complying with laws and sustainability standards. When they do it right, suppliers will be able to conclusively show their products come from well-managed forests. No more wondering about who is telling the truth!

And forest protection groups can use the information to pressure companies and governments to stop deforestation.
Forests - Global Forest Watch
Until now, the usefulness of satellite images has been limited because of the long time lag in getting them online. By the time people see them, the forests are cut, cattles are grazing (or palm trees are growing) and criminals are long gone. It typically takes 3-5 years to produce a national forest cover map.
"With the exception of Brazil, none of the tropical forest countries have been able to report the state of their forests," says Rebecca Moore, engineering manager with Google Earth Outreach and Earth Engine. "Now it will be possible to have near real-time updates of the state of the world's forests, open to anyone to use."

It's also a great tool for corporations that have committed to purchase only from sustainably managed forests. Nestle, for example, says the tool will give it better oversight of suppliers that produce raw materials such as meat, soy and palm oil - which forests are often cleared to grow.
"It is going to help us dramatically to refine our work on the ground, in places where we think there might be issues with our supply chain," says Duncan Pollard, associate vice president for sustainability at Nestle. 
Global Forest Watch makes this possible by embedding key information in the images. You can see which palm oil company operates in a specific area of Indonesia where images have shown recent forest destruction. That could lead to a buyer canceling purchases from a supplier.

So if a palm oil company says it will no longer clear primary forests, now they will be watched to make sure they keep that promise.

The REDD market should also get a boost. When organizations buy credits for maintaining or restoring forests, and can actively view their progress, they will be more likely to invest.

It will also give people a birds-eye view of the extent of deforestation across the world.

The initial $25 million to build the tool came mostly from the governments of the US, UK and Norway. It's been developed by a partnership convened by the World Resources Institute, which includes Google and some 40 partners - the UN Environment Program (UNEP) and businesses and NGOs from around the world.

Sarawak Geoportal Launches
Another tool, Sarawak Geoportal, focuses specifically on the Malaysian state, Sarawak, which has been torn apart by  deforestation.
The government can no longer misrepresent what's happening on the ground as they have done for political reasons, say The Bruno Manser Fund, which developed and launched the tool.

The online map makes it clear where concessions have been granted for logging and palm oil plantations and shows deforestation. It also pinpoints the exact location of villages, roads and rivers. 

It's necessary, says the Bruno Fund, because the government rarely informs indigenous people about projects that involve their native lands. Believe it or not, communities weren't aware that they would have to move because of construction of the very controversial Murum dam until right before they were forced to leave. 

"All this information should have been made public by the Sarawak government long ago", says Lukas Straumann, director of the Fund. "The data have deliberately been shut away to facilitate the land grab by the political elite under outgoing Chief Minister Taib Mahmud."

Sarawak Geoportal shows that as of 2009, a maximum of
11% of land area remains covered by primeval forest.

Sarawak Geoportal 

Here is Global Forest Watch:

Stanford scientist unveils 50-state plan to transform U.S. to renewable energy

Pick a state: The Solution Project - California

Mark Jacobson and his colleagues have created a 50-state roadmap for replacing coal, oil and natural gas with wind, water and solar energy.
The Solutions Project50 states map
This interactive graphic shows how each state can move to 100 percent renewable energy by 2050. See
Stanford University scientist Mark Jacobson has developed a 50-state roadmap for transforming the United States from dependence on fossil fuels to 100 percent renewable energy by 2050. He unveiled the plan at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Chicago.
"Drastic problems require drastic and immediate solutions," said Jacobson, a professor of civil and environmental engineering. "Our new roadmap is designed to provide each state a first step toward a renewable future."
The motivation for the 50-state plan, he said, is to address the negative impacts on climate and human health from widespread use of coal, oil and natural gas. Replacing these fossil fuels with clean technologies would significantly reduce carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to global warming and spare the lives of an estimated 59,000 Americans who die from exposure to air pollution annually, he said.
In recent years, Jacobson and his colleagues have developed detailed proposals for converting the energy infrastructures of New York, California and Washington states to 100 percent wind, water and solar power by 2050. The new plan includes an online interactive map tailored to maximize the renewable resource potential of each of the 50 states. Hovering a cursor over California, for example, reveals that the Golden State can meet virtually all of its power demands (transportation, electricity, heating, etc.) in 2050 by switching to a clean technology portfolio that is 55 percent solar, 35 percent wind (on- and offshore), 5 percent geothermal and 4 percent hydroelectric. Nuclear power, ethanol and other biofuels are not included in the proposed energy mix for any of the states.
"The new map provides all of the basic information, such as how many wind turbines and solar panels would be needed to power each state, how much land area would be required, what would be the cost and cost savings, how many jobs would be created, and how much pollution-related mortality and global-warming emissions would be avoided," Jacobson said.
The 50-state plan is posted on the website of The Solutions Project, a nonprofit outreach effort led by Jacobson, actor Mark Ruffalo (co-star of The Avengers), film director Josh Fox and others to raise public awareness about switching to clean energy produced by wind, water and sunlight. To publicize the plan, Ruffalo joined Solutions Project member Leilani Münter, a professional racecar driver, at a Feb. 15 Daytona National Speedway racing event that Munter participated in.
"Global warming, air pollution and energy insecurity are three of the most significant problems facing the world today," said Jacobson, a senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment and the Precourt Institute for Energy.
"Unfortunately, scientific results are often glossed over. The Solutions Project was born with the vision of combining science with business, policy and public outreach through social media and cultural leaders – often artists and entertainers who can get the information out – to study and simultaneously address these global challenges."
Mark Shwartz writes about energy research for the Precourt Institute for Energy at Stanford University.

A quarter of sharks and rays threatened with extinction

21 January 2014 | News story
A quarter of the world’s sharks and rays are threatened with extinction according to The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™, with ray species found to be at a higher risk than sharks. The findings are part of the first ever global analysis of these species carried out by the IUCN Shark Specialist Group (SSG).
The study, which comes at the start of the year marking the 50th anniversary of The IUCN Red List, was published today in the journal eLIFE. It includes the analysis of the conservation status of 1,041 shark, ray and closely related chimaera species.
According to the findings, sharks, rays and chimaeras are at a substantially higher risk than most other groups of animals and have the lowest percentage of species considered safe – with only 23% categorized as Least Concern.
“Our analysis shows that sharks and their relatives are facing an alarmingly elevated risk of extinction,” says Dr Nick Dulvy, IUCN SSG Co-Chair and Canada Research Chair at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia. “In greatest peril are the largest species of rays and sharks, especially those living in shallow water that is accessible to fisheries.”
Overfishing is the main threat to the species, according to the paper. Reported catches of sharks, rays and chimaeras peaked in 2003 and have been dominated by rays for the last 40 years. Actual catches are likely to be grossly under-reported.
Unintentionally caught sharks and rays account for much of the catch, yet developing markets and depleting fishery targets have made this “bycatch” increasingly welcome. Intentional killing of sharks and rays due to the perceived risk that they pose to people, fishing gear or target species is contributing to the threatened status of at least 12 species.
“Surprisingly, we have found that the rays, including sawfish, guitarfish, stingrays, and wedgefish, are generally worse off than the sharks, with five out of the seven most threatened families made up of rays,” says Dr Colin Simpfendorfer, IUCN SSG Co-Chair and Professor of Environmental Science at James Cook University in Queensland, Australia. “While public, media and government attention to the plight of sharks is growing, the widespread depletion of rays is largely unnoticed. Conservation action for rays is lagging far behind, which only heightens our concern for this species group.”
The global market for shark fins used in shark fin soup is a major factor in the depletion of not only sharks but also some rays with valuable fins, such as guitarfish. Sharks, rays and chimaeras are also sought for their meat. Other products from these species include a Chinese tonic made from manta and devil ray gills and pharmaceuticals made from deep sea shark livers.
The Indo-Pacific, particularly the Gulf of Thailand and the Mediterranean Sea are the two ‘hotspots’ where the depletion of sharks and rays is most dramatic. The Red Sea is also home to a relatively high number of threatened sharks and rays, according to the experts.
“Sharks, rays and chimaeras tend to grow slowly and produce few young, which leaves them particularly vulnerable to overfishing,” saysSonja Fordham, IUCN SSG Deputy Chair and president of the Washington, DC-based Shark Advocates International, a project of The Ocean Foundation. “Significant policy strides have been made over the last two decades but effective conservation requires a dramatic acceleration in pace as well as an expansion of scope to include all shapes and sizes of these exceptional species. Our analysis clearly demonstrates that the need for such action is urgent.”
Sharks, rays and chimaeras are known as ‘cartilaginous fish’ due to the fact that their skeletons are made of cartilage rather than bone. They are one of the world’s oldest and most ecologically-diverse groups of animals.
The study is the result of a collaboration of 302 experts from 64 countries.
For more information or interviews please contact:
Ewa Magiera, IUCN Media Relations, t +41 22 999 0346 m +41 79 856 76 26, e 
Lynne Labanne, IUCN Species Programme Communications Officer, IUCN, t +41 22 999 0153, m +41 79 527 7221, 

  • Giant Guitarfish
    Photo: Matt D. Potenski
  • Pelagic Thresher Shark
    Photo: Bo Mancao
  • Banded Stingaree
    Photo: Australian National Fish Collection, CSIRO
  • Bluespotted Maskray
    Photo: Australian National Fish Collection CSIRO
  • Devil ray having its gill rakers removed at a fishing port in Sri Lanka. The gill rakers of devil rays and closely related mantas are valuable for use in Chinese medicine.
    Photo: Sonja Fordham
  • Daily shark landings being auctioned at Tanjung Luar, Lombok
    Photo: Australian National Fish Collection, CSIRO

Is Utility 2.0 a Forecast or a Post-Mortem?

From John Farrell on

For the last six months, the energy news sphere (perhaps led by the Edison Electric Institute) has been rife with a discussion about the threat to the utility business from distributed energy like local solar, as their customers shift to getting their own power from nearby renewable resources.  Reports and news stories – e.g. “Adapt or Die” – suggest changes to the electric utility business model are imminent as power generation shifts from massive to medium scale and from remote to local.
For some utilities, this discussion is not a forecast, but a post-mortem. 
Electric utilities have always built infrastructure (power lines, power plants, etc.) as long-term investments.  They relied on growing electricity demand and sales to help recoup the costs of new coal-fired power or (over budget) nuclear retrofits in the Midwest or new high-voltage power lines in the Northeast.  Utility commissions played along, allowing them cost recovery and generous returns on equity (10-11 percent) for new infrastructure. But hardware that seemed wise in the 1990s and 2000s is suddenly and rapidly being exposed as untimely and unnecessary.
Electricity demand has flattened (even fallen), thanks to energy efficiency legislation and economic stagnation. Customers are increasingly generating their own energy from renewable energy like solar, whose cost is falling by 10 percent or more per year. Not only is big infrastructure proving harder to pay off as revenues stagnate, it’s also increasingly irrelevant in a 21st century electricity system where power generation can be cost-effectively placed right on the roof.
Commercial wind power started to crack the facade 20 years ago, but today renewable energy is rapidly imploding the utility’s entire antiquated business model.  Renewable energy capacity is growing by 25 percent per year, and solar is growing even faster.  The utilities are the landline phone companies facing down the iPhone, as SolarCity and other service providers are beginning to package solar with batteries, allowing customers to not just cut their energy bills, but cut off from the grid entirely. (RMI just released a report with the bold headline, "Will the Electricity Grid Become Optional?")
Look at Georgia Power.  They’re struggling to complete new reactors at their Vogtle nuclear power plant, and costs are rising despite over $8 billion in federal loan guarantees.  But thanks to a coalition of environmentalists and the Georgia Tea Party, the state’s public utilities commission has required the utility to invest in distributed solar power.  The utility will get 525 MW of new clean power generation, years before either new reactor will generate a single kilowatt-hour. And by 2017, the earliest the reactors could come online, it will cost less for Georgia Power customers to get solar energy from their own rooftop than to buy it from the utility.
It’s the same problem in the Heartland. A coalition of Midwestern utilities is completing construction of a new high-voltage transmission project — CAPX2020 — to be completed by the end of the decade.  But in the next 10 years, long before those lines are paid off, distributed solar will be competitive (without subsidies) with retail electricity prices of nearly every Midwestern utility.  An infrastructure decision from last decade (for a grid of the last century) is likely to be stranded by a storm of solar power and customer-initiated, local power alternatives.
It may have taken the utilities until 2013 to notice, but their business model cracked 20 years ago.  Already, their customers (you and me) are going to pay heavily for their mistakes as utility commissions in many states allow them to raise rates to cover their ill-fated investments.
But we can do something.  We can tell regulators to stop utilities from making any investment (in power plants or power lines) that does not align with the inevitable distributed renewable energy future. We can insist that utility shareholders pay first for shortsighted choices, before ratepayers are asked to cover their company’s mistakes.  We can insist that utility resource planning should focus first on conservation, efficiency, and facilitating the maximum use of renewable energy.   And we can toss out the antiquated notion that a utility grid must be centrally planned and centrally owned in an era when cost-effective energy generation is neither.
It’s too late to save the utilities from their business model blackout, and their customers from carrying the cost, but it’s never too late to shift to a future where utilities can respect (and transmit) power from the people. 

Sunday, March 9, 2014

The Ocean Cleanup Foundation

From The Mind Unleashed,

When he and others realized that the concept would work he took a leap of faith and created a non-profit organization he calls The Ocean Cleanup Foundation.  This group will focus on the goal of developing his invention, raise funds for it and make it operational as soon as possible. His concept would save numerous aquatic species of fish and help reduce PCB and DDT containments affecting all of us.  Best of all it operates on the power of the sun and by the oceans themselves.
Scientists have considered all manner of ways how the debris could be retrieved but there was no clear answer for it.
Now a 19-year-old inventor by the name of Boyan Slat says we can remove nearly 20 billion tons of plastic waste with his concept he calls an ocean cleanup array.  It is made from a massive series of floating booms and processing platforms that gradually suck in the floating plastic like a giant funnel.

This will not work. The truth is that most of the 'plastic' in the oceans is not floating on the surface, so booms will not collect it. The plastic breaks down in the ocean until it is either molecular or integrated with organic matter (i.e. fish and plankton), at that point it is disbursed evenly in the water column and irreducibly devolved throughout the ocean environment. 

Since most of these 'plastic' hydrocarbon molecules have never existed before the last century, we don't know all of their effects, but some have shown that the mimic organic molecules and cause biological damage, such as masking sex hormones that choose animal gender. 

If all the plastic was big and floating at or near the surface, we could easily clean the oceans, but that easy garbage is usually consumed by animals, such as sea birds and turtles, and the rest is blown ashore somewhere and cleaned up by humans. The real issue is the dissolved plastics, and this childish idea will not help with that. 

The only way to truly get dangerous plastic chemicals out of the oceans is never to put them there to begin with, and that means we must stop using plastics. That will increase the costs of food, and almost everything in the modern world, and thus it will never happen. 

Saturday, March 8, 2014

This is the house I would design: WFH House

Rarely have I been so impressed with a design. This house incorporates passive solar and renewable energy generation as well as a beautiful layout that impresses the eye and is flexible enough to build in almost any climate.

Resource Conscious Architecture that can be exported to any place in the world. It is more then architecture; It is a sustainable product.

  • What: Sustainable prefab house.
    Where: Wuxi, China.
    When: Finished 2012.
    By: Arcgency, Esbensen, Teknologisk Institut. Client: World FLEX Home.
    Photo: Jens Markus Lindhe

  • The ‘test-site’ for the sustainable two storey building at Frederiksværk. Everything is prefabricated and the house can be shipped across the world. Order a house like you order any other product!
  • Old shipping containers used as the structural framework for the WFH- Huse. This is not just recycling; This is upcycling!
  • In Short:
    • The WFH concept is a patented modular building system, based on a design principle, using 40 feet high standard modules as
    structural system.
    • The structure can be adapted to local challenges such as climatic or earthquake issues.
    • The first prefabricated housing system that meets the demands in the international environment-building-standard, Active House.
    • The structure can be configured to meet many different purposes, multi storey, townhouses, cluster houses or individual villas.
    • Top class indoor climate, low energy consumption and environmentally sound materials.
    • Very short construction-period.
    • Demountable for recycling or relocation.
    • Online customization-tools give clients the possibility to decide their own version of the house concerning layout, size, facade, interior etc. The configuration happens within a predefined framework that will ensure high architectural value and quality of materials.
    • Cost competitive in comparison with other green houses.
    • Building-components are prefabricated and on site construction can be limited. The design allows for high-quality industrial production in large numbers and distribution using standard container transport.
    • 180 square meters.
    •Energy class, which is 50% lower than the standard requirements for new housing constructions in Denmark.
    • Photovoltaic cells are integrated – area is flexible, but to fulfill the standards above min. 20 m2 solar cells for power production are needed.
    With an area of 30 m2 or above a normal household using energy efficient appliances will be self-sufficient with power on an annual basis.
    • Green roof solutions that are optimized for rainwater harvesting for use for toilet flushing, washing and cleaning.
    • Customized façade solutions.
    The design is based on Nordic values. Not only according to architecture, but also design objects. These values are defined as:
    • Flexibility.
    • Build for people, human values. – Good daylight conditions, different types of light.
    • Reliable (long term) solutions. – Healthy materials, recyclable materials, design for disassembly strategies.
    • Materials that age gracefully.
    • Access to nature, greenery.
    • Minimalistic look.
    • Playfulness.
    Sustainable global housing
    The WFH concept is a modular concept, based on a design principle, using 40 feet high cube standard modules as structural system. The structure can be adapted to local challenges such as climatic or earthquake issues. Online customization-tools give clients the possibility to decide their own version of the house concerning layout, size, facade, interior etc. The configuration happens within a predefined framework that will ensure high architectural value and quality of materials. Building-components are prefabricated and on site construction can be limited.
    FLEX space
    The FLEX space is the heart of the house. It contains the living room, kitchen and can be used for multiple purposes. Parts of the room are double height, creating perfect lighting conditions. The rest of the space is one story height, defined by the landing that creates access to the spaces on the second floor. In each end of the FLEX space there is access to the surroundings and daylight. The boundary between inside and outside disappears, when the doors open. This is a fundamental part of the design; to be able to open let nature in. It is a consequence of having varying requirements for inside temperature and definitions of what domestic functions takes place inside and outside.
    The geometry of the FLEX space is defined by the two rows of modules, and can easily be modified to specific wishes regarding size. The FLEX space has a number of possible solutions for subdivisions. Both on one plan or two plans. It can also be one big space, creating a lot of light and openness. The kitchen elements are built into the wall (into the technical module). It creates more floor space and also makes connection to water and plumbing easy. The kitchen can also be extended with at freestanding element, defining the work area of the kitchen. From the FLEX space there is access to all spaces. This eliminates square meters used for logistics. It is possible to make larger openings from the FLEX space into the rooms, again creating flexible solutions within the same system.
    The work area of the kitchen
    From the FLEX space there is access to all spaces. This eliminates square meters used for logistics. It is possible to make larger openings from the FLEX space into the rooms, again creating flexible solutions within the same system.
    The size of the bedrooms is defined by the half of a module (15m2). There are four bedrooms, and they can be used for multiple purposes: A parent’s bedroom, kid’s bedroom, workspace etc. Three of the rooms have windows on two facades, creating a mixed light. It is possible to remove the wall, or part of it, facing the FLEX space. This adds flexibility to the layout and shows the structural systems ability to adapt do different needs.
    The landing creates access to the second floor, but can also be used as a space for play, relaxation or work. It gives the inhabitant the possibility to draw back, but still enjoy the company of people in the house. You are in the FLEX space, but because you are on the first floor you are drawn back from the action. It is an ideal place for a quiet retreat and still being able to observe what is going on in the house.