Wednesday, August 31, 2005

In other Northwest Sustainable Bulding News...

This story, again from Sustainable Metropolis Mag:

Sustainable Metropolis
Hilton Aims to Become First LEED-Rated Hotel

Posted July 19, 2005

The Hilton Vancouver, located in Vancouver, Washington. The hotel does not have the traditional canopied driveway leading to its main entrance. Rather, the hotel's exterior is pedestrian-oriented and parking is underground. Courtesy of Michael Mathers

Of the hundreds of building projects that have earned the U.S. Green Building Council’s coveted Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating since the program’s inception in 2000, not one has been a hotel. But the new Hilton Vancouver in Vancouver, Washington might soon change that. The 226-room facility, which opened in June, contains an impressive raft of sustainable-design elements that the hotel’s owners are hoping will earn the property a LEED certification later this year.

Designed by the Portland, Oregon firm of Fletcher Farr Ayotte, the Hilton Vancouver is 30% more energy-efficient than city code requires. Green measures include CO2 sensors that adjust the temperature in vacant meeting rooms and hallways, a heat-reflecting roof, painting and carpet made from low-emitting materials, a construction recycling rate of 75 percent, water-efficient landscaping, and operable windows.

Furthermore, the hotel’s exterior is pedestrian-oriented, with parking underground. From the third floor up, the building is set back from its base, reducing its shading on the city park located across the street. Plus storm water from the building is diverted from sewers and into underground dry wells, providing a natural filtering mechanism for pollutants.

It’s estimated that, through energy savings, the hotel will recoup the green features’ extra cost in as little as six to eight months.

While the Hilton Vancouver may not be as far-reaching as certain other LEED-rated projects, the fact that it not only is in the running for a LEED-certification, but also was built and is occupied by a major corporation like Hilton, are major accomplishments. It’s just the sort of market transformation that green-building enthusiasts point to as a key to the movement.

“I can’t tell you that a revelation has happened [because of this project], and that everything we do in the future will have that in mind,” says Brad Hutton, who serves as Hilton’s regional president. “But it has certainly caught the attention of senior management. I’m sure that Hilton, as it looks at future projects…will want to take a good look at [green building] because of this.”

Hutton’s mention of joint ventures is crucial. Surprisingly, many hotel buildings are owned by parties other than the ultimate occupant. The City of Vancouver, for example, owns the Hilton Vancouver site. So while sustainable measures may be attractive to the hotels themselves because of reduced operating costs, the incentive to build green may not always be there for the owner or developer.

Nevertheless, Hutton believes hotels will increasingly embrace sustainable measures simply because it’s what customers want. “There’s a universe of potential business out there from people looking to patronize a greener facility,” he says. “When the notion of going for that in Vancouver came up, it was up to Hilton to decide if we could draw more business to that hotel. The answer was absolutely ‘yes.’”

So, if you are headed to the Portland/Vancouver area and need a place to stay, head for the Vancouver Hilton and sleep in green comfort.

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Portland, Oregon neighborhood may become the blueprint for a sustainable urban community!

This article from Metrolpolis

Metropolis Observed
A Green Blueprint
A Portland neighborhood may become a model for sustainable retrofits.

Posted July 25, 2005

Graphics Courtesy Mithun Inc.
Intended to attract private developers, the Lloyd Crossing catalyst project incorporates many of the shared infrastructure technologies planned for the district, including solar power and a thermal loop. The project is expected to exceed LEED platinum standards.

Lloyd Crossing, a 35-block section of Portland, Oregon, may be the first urban neighborhood in the country to get off the city grid and the planetary dole. Plans call for the office and retail district--dating from the heyday of freeway construction and passed over by the downtown boom of the last 20 years--to build up to eight million square feet of floor space, quadrupling its capacity to 21,000 residents and workers by 2050. Towers and mid-rise buildings will go up around the intersection of Portland's MAX light rail and a scheduled streetcar extension. And during the same period net energy and water consumption will be reduced to levels nearly equivalent to a patch of native Northwest forest.

Sponsored by a city agency, the Portland Development Commission (PDC), and developed by a multidisciplinary team led by Mithun architects, Lloyd Crossing was recognized by the American Institute of Architects' Committee on the Environment as one of this year's "Top Green Projects" (in fact, they created a special planning category for the occasion). Executing the multilayer public-private partnership will provide experience that the city can transfer to other neighborhoods. More significantly Lloyd Crossing may serve as a blueprint remedy for all cities faced with rising air- and water-quality standards, rapid urban development, and the need for more power production and water-treatment plants. Though the plan includes a stand-alone demonstration project, most of the proposed changes reach for the future without breaking with the past. By adding local infrastructure to capture storm-water runoff and supply renewable energy, the neighborhood will reduce its dependency on the city's sewage and power systems without getting rid of old pipes and lines. "If we can successfully implement [Lloyd Crossing]," PDC project manager Sloan Schang says, "then we have in effect created a new model for the development of urban areas."

Here are seven steps that will drastically reduce Lloyd Crossing's environmental footprint while quadrupling its density--and could be used to retrofit other urban neighborhoods:

1. Carve out bioswales to collect street runoff. The plan to radically "green" district streets calls for new open space, wildlife corridors, and the construction of bioswales at intersections. Each bioswale will replace one parking spot, and altogether they will collect 100 percent of storm runoff--water that would ordinarily go into the city's central collection system. More than one-third of the rainwater will safely recharge local groundwater, just as it would have in an old-growth forest.

2. Treat wastewater in the neighborhood and reuse gray water. As part of the demonstration project, the district will get its own sewage-treatment facility. The technologies will be chosen during design, but plenty of examples exist, from bio-filtration systems to commercially available reverse-osmosis filtration systems. New buildings will have two water-supply lines--one for gray water (for toilets, irrigation, and in heating and cooling systems) and one for potable water (for drinking, bathing, and cooking).

3. Build according to stringent LEED silver standards. New construction will use high-performance low-maintenance materials with low embodied energy and high recycled content. To meet LEED silver certification, materials should come from within 500 miles of the project site and undergo life-cycle assessment.

4. Deploy photovoltaics to supplement power. Monocrystalline silicon photovoltaic (PV) modules will boost kilowattage. Although panels compete with environmentally beneficial green roofs atop real estate, there will be several arrays. PV technology will also appear in south-facing walls, cladding, and window shades. A future resource-management association can invest in three-quarter-miles of arrays on nearby I-84. All this will yield more than 10 megawatts of electricity, about 20 percent of the total needed.

5. Turn to wind turbines for energy. Although Portland lacks steady winds, Lloyd Crossing could derive energy savings of about one and a half megawatts per year--and lots of symbolic value--by installing wind turbines on poles. A horizontal-axis turbine with blade diameters up to 18 stories tall can effectively generate energy at low wind speeds. But the most important wind-power source may be outside the district in the wind-rich Columbia Gorge. Lloyd Crossing would meet remaining imported energy needs by buying wind-generated power, an option that now exists through PacifiCorp, the local electric utility, which is headquartered within the district.

6. Store and share heat in an underground thermal loop. Lloyd Crossing may be the first neighborhood to hook up to a thermal loop--an underground fluid-filled pipe, between two and four feet in diameter, that stores and redistributes heat. The Lloyd District Therm-al System of the future is a two-pipe system with a "hot" (60 degrees Fahrenheit) side and a "cold" (40 degrees Fahrenheit) side. It would recover heat lost in office-exhaust airstreams and deliver it to structures with a continuous need for heat, such as lodging and residential buildings. Pumps, valves, heat-exchange devices, and controls are installed in individual buildings, and the underground system is built on an as-needed basis.

7. Design new buildings to leverage natural forces. Configuring residential towers with 75 percent of windows on south and west elevations for optimal solar access will maximize the potential for daylighting, natural ventilation, and cooling. A computer model will further evaluate the effect of form, height, location, and orientation on solar access and natural ventilation in the neighborhood.

I hope this project sees fruition. This could be an inspiring blueprint for the urban community of tomorrow. If we humans want to continue to expand our population - some estimates put the worldwide population over 9 billion by 2050! - we will need to find better ways to live lighter upon the world. The innovative technologies and commitment to sustainable practices evidenced by the Lloyd Crossing development plan are just the thing we need! Cheers to Portland...

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Tuesday, August 30, 2005

The effects of climate change: great videos and resources

I just found this great set of resources on climate change (via Climate Change Resources blog). They include some cool videos and graphics showing some of the effects of our nice little "global meltdown" we've got going on (as I described in my last post). Check 'em out and see what I'm talking about.

P.S. I promise I'll get off of the global climate change topic and back onto the "renewable energy, sustainability and green design" bent I originally intended for this blog. Anyway, its not my fault, you asked for it.

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Monday, August 29, 2005

The Case for Climate Change Part 1

This is the first of what will likely be four posts on the global climate change debate. After writing a couple of posts that called for small personal actions to combat global climate change, I received a bit of skepticism from some of you. They raised a number of key questions that I will hope to address in this and subsequent posts. They are the following:

1) Is the earth in fact getting warmer? And if it is, is it simply a cyclical occurrence or something more drastic?

2) If it is getting warmer, are human activities the cause? If so, what ones? (We're going to need to know which activities to curtail for step 4).

3) If it is getting warmer, is it necessarily a bad thing? What are the consequences and costs? (We're going to need to know the consequences to do step 4)

4) If it does exist and is bad (i.e. has costs), what actions can we take and will their costs be justified?

Before we begin with the first question, a bit of a caveat is required: I am not a scientist. I am not trained in any scientific field beyond a general knowledge of physics, chemistry and biology. I am an undergraduate student and my areas of interest and study are energy, computer science and philosophy. This is to say, take my words with a grain of salt. Smarter experts than me have tackled this issue and I suggest that you go read them for yourself: to read experts tackling some of the same questions, download the free pdf of the National Academy of Science’s report, Climate Change Science: An Analysis of Some Key Questions here; for ongoing discussion of climate change, check out the definitive climate change blog RealClimate.

What follows is an attempt by a reasonably intelligent individual to sort out some of the contentious areas surrounding the global climate change debate and present my conclusions in a manner that other reasonably intelligent individuals can understand. As I research this topic, I come to find more and more how complicated climate science is. This is an area where some controversy still exists and some of it is with good reason. A lot of work has been done in recent years to develop climate science and our understanding of climate records and current climate events have become pretty solid. However much more needs to be done in the near future to develop climate science’s predictive capabilities so that we can better understand the potentially dire consequences global climate change can bring.

I’d also like to suggest a couple of primers on climate change if you are interested. The Wikipedia climate change entry and global warming entry are both pretty good and provide lots of links to ancillary issues (thanks Wikipedia!).

Finally, why bother with these posts at all. Isn’t there a consensus on the issue of global climate change? Well, that is an interesting question in itself. Some object (quite loudly) that there is any kind of consensus on this issue. So, just how controversial is global warming now days?

Well, the short answer is: not very (see here for more). A key factor in judging when scientific consensus has occurred is the status of the debate in peer-reviewed scientific journals. A recent article published in Science surveyed 928 articles on climate change objectively selected from peer-reviewed journals (based on the key words “global climate change” in their abstracts). It revealed that ALL of the articles not only support the consensus that global climate change IS occurring, but also that it is likely being caused by human activity. Now, it is possible that some dissenting opinions were missed in the survey but the fact that none turned up indicates that the number of credible objectors to climate change is in fact very small. Sufficient evidence has also been presented to convince the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the American Academy of Sciences, the American Meteorological Society, the American Geophysical Union, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, as well as the national sciences academies of all the G8 nations as well as India, China and Brazil and of course the governments of over 150 signatories to the Kyoto Protocol. Even George W Bush has finally come around (see The Guardian here). All this of course constitutes an appeal to authority. It is, however, a very convincing one!

What seems to have happened is that a few very vocal opponents (many of whom are receive funds from oil gas and coal companies and very few of whom submit their writings for peer review) have created an impression that there is little consensus (see Global for a good example of the skeptic viewpoint and here for a list of key climate change skeptics – Oregon’s own official weatherman, state climatologist George Taylor of OSU is a vocal skeptic; see Willamette Week’s August 24th cover story for more). Much of their objections, as we will see, are either relatively old (i.e. from the period of heightened global warming debate surrounding the Kyoto Protocol, roughly 1998-2001) and have been largely put to rest in the intervening time or are based on very narrow subsets of the available data.

So if you are the type of person to accept consensus opinions of well informed experts, you can stop reading now. Rest assured that global climate change is occurring, is likely caused by humans and that something had better be done about it soon (like yesterday people!).

However, if you, like me, would rather see the arguments for yourself, read what follows and use it as a starting point for your own investigation of this matter. A few key objections do still exist and issues do become more controversial as we progress in our four questions. It is these objections that I hope to discuss and address in this series of posts.

So, onto my take on climate change; we’ll start with these questions:

1) Is the earth in fact getting warmer? And if it is, is it simply a cyclical occurrence or something more drastic?

We begin with the least controversial of the four questions. Temperature data for the past 1000 years shows that global average sea surface and land air temperatures showed a slight general cooling trend (with smaller fluctuation periods) until a relatively rapid increase of .6 C (+/- .2 C) during the 20th century, much of it in the last few decades. This increase is likely the largest in any century for the past millennium. This warming trend is spatially widespread but temperatures trends do vary across different regions with the arctic North seeing drastic average warming of up to 7 C (12.6 F) for example and other regions seeing an overall cooling trend. Furthermore, the Northern hemisphere has seen more warming than the South. This is why, as my beautiful and intelligent girlfriend thankfully reminds me, the term ‘global warming’ is not truly accurate and why ‘global climate change’ is a more accurate term (this is the term I use throughout this post).

So where do these temperatures come from? The global temperature record comes from a compilation of sources: satellite records begin around 1979 and radiosonde weather balloon data exists from 1958 onward; thermometer readings from land and ships have been reliably collected from about 1850 onward; for the period before this, methods for determining temperature from proxies (i.e. relative concentrations of H2O-16 and H2O-18 isotopes in ice or mud core samples, width of tree rings etc.). These measured temperature trends are supported by a number of secondary observable (and alarming) trends such as widespread coral bleaching, rapidly receding high altitude glaciers, melting polar ice and arctic permafrost, decreased snow cover, increases in average sea levels as well as a number of other temperature linked events. Current trends indicate a dramatic rise of between 1.9 and 5.8 C (3.42 to 15.84 F) in the next century. This being said, there are still a few objections to the general consensus that the earth is warming at an unusual rate:


The surface temperature data is skewed by the Urban Heat Island (UHI) or Asphalt Zone Effect.

-The UHI effect is a well-documented occurrence. Urbanization and the increase in highly heat-absorbent (low-albedo) asphalt, buildings and other manmade materials coupled with decreases in cooling evaporation from trees and plants causes increased temperatures in built-over areas like large cities and metropolitan areas. On hot days, the UHI can increase urban temperatures by 2-10 F compared with surrounding areas. The UHI also causes changes in precipitation patterns (monthly rainfall is about 28% greater between 20-40 miles downwind of cities, compared with upwind).

Some skeptics of global warming have pointed out the fact that some of the temperature measurements that make up the global temperature record are made within urban areas and that these measurements are likely skewed by the UHI. They use this fact to question the validity of the surface temperature record. Urbanization has rapidly increased since the industrial revolution, and thus a resulting increase in the surface temperature record could be expected, their argument goes. Warming trends are thus due not to real global warming but to the UHI skewing the surface record.

However, the UHI has been well documented for decades and its effect on the surface temp record has been taken into account. The UHI does not affect rural temperature readings or sea surface temperature measurements. The UHI can thus be cancelled out by comparing trends in urban data with trends in nearby rural or ocean areas to isolate and remove its effect. This method has been quite accurate in North America and Europe where many sampling sites are close enough for this to work (and also where the UHI is most pronounced due to large-scale urbanization) but gets less reliable in the Tropics (where sample sites are farther apart). Furthermore, peer-reviewed studies have been published (see Thomas C Peterson, 2003, ppt version at here) that contend that the effect of the UHI on the surface temp record is negligible, even without compensation (if this is the case, then records that have been compensated for UHI are too low).

2- Troposheric temperature records from weather balloons (radiosondes) and satellites (Microwave Sounding Units or MSUs) do not indicate the increase in temperatures that the surface records do, invalidating the surface record (the two agree so the third must be incorrect see here for example).

-This apparent contradiction between temperature records has provided major ammunition for global climate change skeptics. However, it has largely been refuted. First of all, it must be noted that satellites are regularly adjusted using data from radiosondes, so the two records are really more like one interrelated record.

Furthermore, the radiosonde data from weather balloons has numerous well documented flaws. Balloon instrumentation and data processing methods have changed frequently over the years and have resulted in discontinuities in these temperature records. Additionally, complicated systems are used to correct for various inherent flaws in radiosonde data. Three reports published in Science just this month (see here and here for a discussion of the articles on RealClimate) found that flaws in these correction methods caused errors that when rectified bring the radiosonde temperature record more in line with the surface record and climate models. Sherwood et al. for example found that methods used to counteract solar heating issues resulted in -.16 C per decade trend, masking the true warming. Radiosondes are designed to collect data on short term trends, not long term trends like climate change. They can thus be forgiven for some of their flaws but nonetheless, these flaws must be taken into account.

Similar overcorrection issues arise with the satellite record (especially because the often rely on radiosondes for calibration, as mentioned above). A recent revision (version 5.2) of one of two main interpretations of satellite records, the UAH record (University of Alabama Hunstville), thus shows a 40% higher per decade warming trend than the previous version. This reflects the work of Mears, et al. (also featured in the Science article mentioned above) which involved diurnal correction methods – i.e. methods for correcting daily variations in temperatures. Thus, while skeptics latch on to the old satellite record which showed only a .04 C per decade warming trend in the atmosphere contradicting the .17 C per decade surface temperature warming trend, the most recent satellite trends show .051 per decade for UAH and .134 C/decade from the RSS (Remote Sensing Systems) interpretation. Furthermore, the UAH record has been increasingly revised upwards in recent years, due both to recently revealed flaws (as described above) and to higher temperatures recorded in recent years. This may indicate that there is some lag time between surface trends and atmospheric trends which could account for the remaining discrepancy.

Perhaps the most critical argument against skeptics who tout the atmospheric record as proof that global warming isn’t occurring is that even if the atmospheric temps were accurate and the atmosphere was in fact not warming as quickly as the surface record indicates, this still does nothing to refute the surface temperature record. As the National Research Council concluded after reviewing the satellite records:

The warming trend in global-mean surface temperature observations during the past 20 years is undoubtedly real and is substantially greater than the average rate of warming during the twentieth century. The disparity between surface and upper air trends in no way invalidates the conclusion that surface temperature has been rising.

Saying that the troposphere isn’t warming does little to explain the rapid melting of polar ice caps, tundra permafrost and high altitude glaciers worldwide, nor does it disprove the surface record. At the most, it shows that our atmospheric climate models need some work and we don’t understand fully how surface and atmospheric trends interact.

3- "Climate change" is just a cyclical occurrence, a warming trend caused by the varying El Nino effects or fluctuations in solar radiation.

-It has been consistently shown that various natural climate fluctuations cannot account for the recent warming trends. El Nino/La Nina cycles are too short term and do little to explain long term trends.

Opponents frequently point to natural fluctuations in solar radiation as a key driver of variations in temperature. Indeed, climatologists generally agree that solar fluctuation has been key in driving global climate change trends in the past including the “Little Ice Age,” the widespread cooling trend that occurred in the Northern Hemisphere from roughly the mid-14th to mid-19th century. However, there is evidence that solar radiation has actually been decreasing during the later half of the 20th century, resulting in what some call a “global dimming." This would indicate that global warming trends have actually been underestimated – i.e. anthropogenic causes have not only increased average temps but have done so while counteracting natural decreases in solar radiation.

So, my in no way exhuastive study of the arguments surrounding whether or not an increase in global temperatures is occuring indicates that it seems safe to conclude that global temperatures have truly increased over the past century. The exact degree of increase is still open to debate (even the IPCC’s figure of .6 C includes a margin of error of +/- .2 C) but arguments about the Urban Heat Island, discrepancies with troposphere temperature records or alternative explanations like variations in solar radiation do little to counter the growing evidence for global climate change. Like we really needed thermometers to tell us what we could already clearly see all around us: polar ice caps have thinned dramatically, glaciers have retreated to heights never before reached this millennium, sea levels have risen measurably, the frequency of major weather events like hurricanes and drought is becoming more severe and Arctic permafrost is thawing for the first time since the last major Ice Age, threatening to release thousands of tons of methane into the atmosphere.

Next time, we’ll look at whether or not human activity is the cause of all this warming. Stay tuned (no guarantees on when Ill be able to get it written)…

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Friday, August 12, 2005

-Six Easy Steps to Combat Global Warming-

Ok, so yesterday I posted a rather dire article about the urgency of taking action to combat global warming. I listed a couple of things (three links) you could do to offset the greenhouse gases produced by your lifestyle. These options allow you to continue without really changing your current lifesyle, albeit, while paying a bit extra ($40.00 to offset the emissions from your car, $5/month extra to purchase wind power etc.).

Here are some more easy things you can do to make a difference, these involve making small changes to your lifestyle to minimize your impact (something we ought to do as well). These have the added bonus of usually SAVING you MONEY (through reduced energy bills etc). Courtesy of the Japanese govt (who are pressing citizens to take small actions to help meet the nations Kyoto protocol targets) comes these six simple steps to reduce greenhouses gases:

1) "Set air conditioners at 28 degrees Celsius." OK thats about 80 degrees F so Im not so sure that's too comfortable. However, the idea is simple and good: space conditioning (heating and AC) are HUGE energy users so tick up your AC/down your heater by a few degrees and you'll make a big difference. Don't overcondition/overheat. Change what you are wearing before you head to the thermostat. Its easy, comfortable (you get to wear your comfy shorts in the summer, warm pajamas in the winter etc), and saves you money.

2) "Avoid wasting water at the tap by not letting it run unnecessarily." Ok, so this one is, I assume, because it takes electricity to get that water to your sink - in the form of electric pumps, power to run water treatment plants, etc. This is especially important with hot water as again, hot water is a kind of space conditioning (as is your refrigerator) and takes a TON of electricity. Save hot water, save electricity, save money AND reduce CO2.

3) "choose and buy eco-friendly products". This one is pretty self-explanitory. It may costs you a bit extra but often times if you take the time to look, you'll find competitavely priced 'green' products. Check out for online green product shopping (buy green products and they donate 10% of profits to green non-profits).

4) "Stop car idling." Umm... I dont know exactly what this one means (can anybody help explain this?). I guess it means to reduce time in grid-lock, at stoplights idleing or something similar. Not sure thats too easy to do. Probably better to say 'reduce driving time as much as possible.' Live near your work/school. Bike to the store/campus/work if you can, etc. Carpool. All that same old stuff.

5) "Say no to excessive packaging." This one reduces waste which then goes to landfills and decomposes, producing methane gas, an extremely potent greenhouse gas. Manufacturing and assembling the packaging likely consumes unneeded energy as well. With this one you not only save electricity but you of course reduce waste as well, which is always good.

6) "Unplug any devices not being used." Not too many people know it, but when your appliances are "off", they are in reality still consuming electricty. "Off" is really a standby mode on most appliances (TVs, microwaves, stereos, etc). They have to be ready to turn on at the flick of a switch or respond to a remote and often dont turn all the way off. This "energy leakage" can amount to a sizable chunk of your energy bill (I think I recall reading something like up to 15%). Unplugging appliances when you arent using them, or attaching them to power strips that you can switch off (my suggestion, its as easy as turning off the tv, just flip the switch on the power strip) will again save electricty/save money/save the world. Also, look for EnergyStar rated appliances. This tag not only designates an overall energy efficient appliance, but also means that it meets stringent standards about its standby/off energy consumption (note, all Apple computers are EnergyStar approved).

Thats it. Six simple steps to do your part. Cheers...

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Thursday, August 11, 2005

Start Fighting Global Warming, Like Yesterday People!

Ok folks, so global warming is this really big deal right. It will mean increases in global temps that will see disasterous consequences to our global ecosystems, climates, weather patterns, sea levels etc. But its 20-50-100 years off isnt it? We have time to figure out a solution. Kyoto is a start and we'll follow that up with another treaty to keep things going in another decade. Right?

Wrong! Im sorry to say it, but global warming is now and it may already be too late. I dont say this to be a doomsayer (the world is ending etc) but rather to impress the urgency of the situation. We must act seriously and quickly starting yesterday people! Check out this truly ominous news from the The Guardian via PeakEnergy (blog):

A vast expanse of western Sibera is undergoing an unprecedented thaw that could dramatically increase the rate of global warming, climate scientists warn today. Researchers who have recentlyreturned from the region found that an area of permafrost spanning a million square kilometres — the size of France and Germany combined — has started to melt for the first time since it formed 11,000 years ago at the end of the last ice age.

The area, which covers the entire sub-Arctic region of western Siberia, is the world's largest frozen peat bog and scientists fear that as it thaws, it will release billions of tonnes of methane, a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide, into the atmosphere.

It is a scenario climate scientists have feared since first identifying "tipping points" — delicate thresholds where a slight rise in the Earth's temperature can cause a dramatic change in the environment that itself triggers a far greater increase in global temperatures. [...]

The researchers found that what was until recently a barren expanse of frozen peat is turning into a broken landscape of mud and lakes, some more than a kilometre across.

Dr Kirpotin told the magazine the situation was an "ecological landslide that is probably irreversible and is undoubtedly connected to climatic warming". He added that the thaw had probably begun in
the past three or four years.

Climate scientists yesterday reacted with alarm to the finding, and warned that predictions of future global temperatures would have to be revised upwards.

"When you start messing around with these natural systems, you can end up in situations
where it's unstoppable. There are no brakes you can apply," said David Viner, a senior scientist at the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia.

"This is a big deal because you can't put the permafrost back once it's gone. The causal effect is human activity and it will ramp up temperatures even more than our emissions are doing." [...]

Western Siberia is heating up faster than anywhere else in the world, having experienced a rise of some 3C in the past 40 years. Scientists are particularly concerned about the permafrost, because as it thaws, it reveals bare ground which warms up more quickly than ice and snow, and so accelerates the rate at which the permafrost thaws.

Siberia's peat bogs have been producing methane since they formed at the end of the last ice age, but most of the gas had been trapped in the permafrost. According to Larry Smith, a hydrologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, the west Siberian peat bog could hold some 70 billion tonnes of methane, a quarter of all of the methane stored in the ground around the world.

The permafrost is likely to take many decades at least to thaw, so the methane locked within it will not be released into the atmosphere in one burst, said Stephen Sitch, a climate scientist at the Met Office's Hadley Centre in Exeter.

But calculations by Dr Sitch and his colleagues show that even if methane seeped from the permafrost over the next 100 years, it would add around 700 million tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere each year, roughly the same amount that is released annually from the world's wetlands and agriculture.

It would effectively double atmospheric levels of the gas, leading to a 10% to 25% increase in global warming, he said. [...]

"If we don't take action very soon, we could unleash runaway global warming that will be beyond our control and it will lead to social, economic and environmental devastation worldwide," he said. "There's still time to take action, but not much.

"The assumption has been that we wouldn't see these kinds of changes until the
world is a little warmer, but this suggests we're running out of time." [...] [emphasis

So, time to get off our arses and get things moving. This is going to take a national, no, make that worldwide effort. It will be akin to the Apollo Project, the world recognizing that this MUST BE DONE and that we WILL find a way to do it. We could put a man on the moon in less than a decade. Can we save our planet and ourselves?

[Addendum]: So, not being one who likes to be all doom and gloom, Im going to point out that here's a little something (three links) you can do right now to make a small difference in reducing your personal impact on global warming. Purchase carbon offsets and do your part to clean up after yourself. Also, check with your local electricity provider and see if they have renewable power purchase options for your electricity. This eliminates the greenhouse gas emission at the source (at least for your electricity consumptions) before you have to buy offsets to countaract them. Do both, do either, do something. It's what any responsible citizen of this planet should do if they can afford it.

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Sunday, August 07, 2005

About Jesse Jenkins

Jesse is a researcher, analyst, and writer with expertise in energy and climate change, technology and innovation, manufacturing and the economy and experience in analytic research, policy analysis and advocacy.

Jesse is currently a graduate student and researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he is a candidate for a Masters of Science in Technology & Policy. Jesse works as a researcher with the MIT "Production in the Innovation Economy" project, an institute-wide initiative exploring the future of advanced manufacturing and innovation in the United States. He is also a 2012 Enel-MIT Energy Initiative Energy Fellow and a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow.

Before attending MIT, Jesse served for four years as Director of the Energy and Climate Program at the Breakthrough Institute, an independent public policy think tank in Oakland, California. In that role, he led the development of the Institute's research and recommendations on energy, climate change, and innovation policy. He is the lead or co-author of numerous Breakthrough publications and reports, including "Beyond Boom and Bust," "Bridging the Clean Energy Valleys of Death," "Where Good Technologies Come From," "Climate Pragmatism," "Taking on the Three Deficits," "Post-Partisan Power," and "Energy Emergence." As co-founder and Associate Director of Breakthrough Generation, Jesse also helped lead the Institute's competitive 10-week fellowship program for early-career policy professionals and graduate students, designing curriculum and research, and training, mentoring, and managing 39 fellows over four summers.

Jesse has written widely on energy, climate change, technology, and innovation, including for Discover Magazine, Making It: the Magazine of the UN Industrial Development Organization, the San Francisco Chronicle, Baltimore Sun, National Journal, Issues in Science and Technology,,, and His research and analysis has been featured by National Public Radio, Fox News, MSNBC, the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Time Magazine, Newsweek, Fortune, and other major media outlets. Jesse has also delivered invited testimony on clean energy innovation policy before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Jesse has worked previously as a Research and Policy Associate at the Renewable Northwest Project, where he developed expertise on state and regional energy and utility policy and regulation, and as an energy systems researcher and modeler at the University of Oregon.

Jesse is a graduate of the Clark Honors College at the University of Oregon (magna cum laude), where he completed an interdisciplinary course of study in computer science, philosophy, political science, and energy studies. In fulfillment of his honors degree, he completed an undergraduate honors thesis entitled, On the Road to Replacing Oil - A Well-to-Wheels Study Exploring Alternative Transportation Fuels and Energy Sources.

Jesse currently lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Follow Jesse on Twitter @JesseJenkins and at LinkedIn here.

Disclaimer: the views and opinions presented by authors of this blog are solely their own and in no way represent the views, opinions or official positions of their employers or any other organizations they may be associated with, nor of other authors that contribute to this blog, unless explicitly stated... yatta yatta yatta... you know the drill.

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Monday, August 01, 2005

About Aden Van Noppen

Aden Van Noppen will graduate from Brown University in 2009 with a major in Development Studies. She focuses on the relationship between climate change, energy, and development, and has spent the fall of 2007 studying in India.

In 2006, Aden founded and led emPOWER, Brown's successful campaign for climate action. She is also a member of the university committee to develop Brown's energy and emissions policies and was appointed by the Providence City Council to the Clean Energy Task Force, advising the city on how to attain 20% renewable energy by 2010. In 2007, Aden was awarded the Udall Scholarship for her environmental leadership.

Aden has been a research fellow at the Breakthrough Institute since 2006. She performed research for the book Breakthrough: From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility and co-authored "Fast, Clean, Cheap: Toward an Investment and Innovation Policy Framework to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions," a white paper published in the Harvard Law and Policy Review that outlines a strategy to build a clean energy economy in the US. Aden is also a founding member of Breakthrough Generation, the first youth initiative ever launched by the Breakthrough Institute.

Disclaimer: the views and opinions presented by authors of this blog are solely their own and in no way represent the views, opinions or official positions of their employers or any other organizations they may be associated with, nor of other authors that contribute to this blog, unless explicitly stated... yatta yatta yatta... you know the drill.

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About Kriss Bergethon

Kriss is an engineer by training, with a degree from the Colorado School of Mines. He started out in the mining industry of all places but eventually moved into construction and fell in love with green building and earth friendly practices. He is now focused on solar energy (with and hopes to educate and empower people with clean energy. Kriss and his wife now live off the grid in Colorado.

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About Devon Swezey

Devon Swezey is project director for the Breakthrough Institute where he works as an energy and climate policy analyst. Devon wrote one of the first journal articles on the call for a new Apollo project on energy in 2005 for the inaugural issue of the Roosevelt Review, arguing for more strategic federal investments to make solar power cheap and available. Swezey is co-author of “Rising Tigers, Timid Giant,” a joint Breakthrough-Information Technology and Innovation Foundation report that compares Asia’s investments in clean energy to those of the U.S. In 2008 Devon worked as a field organizer for the Obama for America campaign, and was a Breakthrough Generation Fellow in 2009. He received his bachelor’s degree in international relations with a concentration in international political economy from Stanford University. He can be followed on twitter: @DevonSwezey.

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About Amy Sample Ward

Amy Sample Ward is a blogger, activist, and lover of all things engaging and proactive.

She graduated summa cum laude in 2005 from Valparaiso University with a bachelor of arts in English and New Media - Journalism. She returned to Portland, OR, to work with nonprofits, dabble in consulting and web design.

Amy now gets paid to be a new media and communications specialist for a prominent Pacific Northwest private foundation. She doesn't get paid to run a blog on nonprofit technology ( or assist with local and international organizations working to make a sustainable, just, and prosperous energy future and social climate.

She has worked with many organizations, including: Energy Action Coalition, The Bus Project, Global Women's Leadership Network, Chalkboard Project, Yes on Measure 49 Campaign, E3, and The Caring Place.

She is most passionate about helping nonprofits take advantage of new media and the tools developing every day to make organizations more successful. At the foundation, she has the great opportunity to provide training events to nonprofits and maintain the organization's new media blog.

Amy believes that if we don't save our environment, there won't be much use in focusing on new media tools for communication and community building, though, so she moonlights as a climate activist.

In addition to trying to save the world, like most people she knows, Amy enjoys biking, backpacking, hiking, writing, baking, and enjoying all that the Pacific Northwest has to offer with her husband, puppy, and wonderful friends.

Disclaimer: the views and opinions presented by authors of this blog are solely their own and in no way represent the views, opinions or official positions (or grant making processes) of their employers or any other organizations they may be associated with, nor of other authors that contribute to this blog, unless explicitly stated... yatta yatta yatta... you know the drill.

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About Yael Borofsky

Yael Borofsky graduated from Cornell University in spring 2009 with a degree in Human Development and is fascinated by the societal implications of climate policy and clean energy technology.

As a fellow at the Breakthrough Institute, she is conducting research and analysis on international decarbonization. Prior to arriving on the west coast, she caught the politics and policy bug during a semester in Washington, D.C. where she conducted original research on the efficacy of political documentary, specifically An Inconvenient Truth, and its impact on the agenda setting of political elites.

Yael regularly contributes to the climate and energy discourse at The Breakthrough Blog, Breakthrough Generation, CleanTechnica, and WattHead. Her passion for writing, however, extends beyond the climate world. While at Cornell, she worked as a sports writer and columnist for the Cornell Daily Sun, the nation's oldest independent college daily and a fantastic outlet for her passionate support of Philadelphia sports teams.

When she's not writing or talking about a clean energy present and future, Yael is an avid runner, hiker, and biker (mostly to work) and is looking forward to discovering the best of the Bay Area.

Disclaimer: the views and opinions presented by authors of this blog are solely their own and in no way represent the views, opinions or official positions of their employers or any other organizations they may be associated with, nor of other authors that contribute to this blog, unless explicitly stated... yatta yatta yatta... you know the drill.

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About Alisha Fowler

Alisha works with the Alliance for Climate Education (ACE) as an Educator and their Online Media Maven. She visits high schools around the San Francisco Bay Area to give informative and empowering assembly presentations to students about climate science and solutions. When not in the classroom, she is busy honing ACE's online community for high school students and helping them take action to fight climate change (check out ACE on Twitter).

A native of greater Philadelphia, Alisha graduated with a B.A. in geoscience and environmental studies from Hamilton College in 2006. Before joining ACE, she worked in Communications with National Wildlife Federation in Washington, DC, where she performed media work around a massive global warming campaign. Last summer, she served as a Summer Fellow with the Breakthrough Institute. Alisha also blogs at ItsGettingHotInHere, Sacred Living, and Solve Climate. In her free time, Alisha enjoys biking the hills of Berkeley, camping, baking, and answering the call of the mountains!

Disclaimer: the views and opinions presented by authors of this blog are solely their own and in no way represent the views, opinions or official positions of their employers or any other organizations they may be associated with, nor of other authors that contribute to this blog, unless explicitly stated... yatta yatta yatta... you know the drill.

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About Carlos Rymer

Carlos Rymer is a student at Cornell University studying sustainable development. On campus, he leads the Sustainability Hub and co-leads KyotoNOW!. In the Spring of 2007, he co-led an effort to convince Cornell's administration to commit to the American College and
University Presidents Climate Commitment with a campus-wide petition drive and a strong media campaign.

Off-campus, Carlos co-led the New Jersey Climate March in the Spring of 2007, which helped win a statewide campaign to pass the Global Warming Response Act, ground-breaking legislation that sets the first mandatory caps on greenhouse gas emissions to be 80% below 2006 levels by 2050. Carlos is also a Campus Organizer and New York State Coordinator for the Sierra Student Coalition. He is also Vice Chair for the D.C. March Committee of the Energy Action Coalition Powershift Planning Team, which is organizing a major action as part of Powershift 2007, the first national youth climate conference.

Outside of the U.S., Carlos works with Romana Sostenible in the Dominican Republic, which promotes sustainable development. Carlos is the Renewable Energy Director and is leading a Renewable Energy Campaign to convince the tourism sector to invest 2% of its annual demand (over U.S. $10 billion) in renewable energy projects to reach a national goal of climate neutrality by 2030, with the goal of showing real, urgent leadership on climate change.

Carlos is a regular blogger at It's Getting Hot In Here, The Energy Independent, and joined the Watthead team in August 2007.

Disclaimer: the views and opinions presented by authors of this blog are solely their own and in no way represent the views, opinions or official positions of their employers or any other organizations they may be associated with, nor of other authors that contribute to this blog, unless explicitly stated... yatta yatta yatta... you know the drill.

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About Morgan Goodwin

Morgan Goodwin is in the Williams College class of 2008 and a state organizer for the Sierra Student Coalition. Since arriving at college, he has organized a streaking team, a mullet-awareness week, served as student body co-president and started a large climate activist group, the Thursday Night Group. He has also played a central role in establishing the Massachusetts Youth Climate Action, a statewide network of youth climate activists. Most days he likes to get outside, and at night he's probably up late reading drudgereport, on a conference call, or climbing on roof tops.

Note: Morgan posts here at WattHead as "Mog-Maar"

Disclaimer: the views and opinions presented by authors of this blog are solely their own and in no way represent the views, opinions or official positions of their employers or any other organizations they may be associated with, nor of other authors that contribute to this blog, unless explicitly stated... yatta yatta yatta... you know the drill.

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About Juliana Williams

Juliana is originally from Bellevue, Washington and graduated from Whitman College with a B.A in geology. She began organizing on campus, founding the Campus Climate Challenge group at Whitman, which has been successful in getting Whitman to invest in renewable energy, establishing an alumni sustainability donation fund, introducing sustainability orientation for new students and making sustainability a higher institutional priority.

Juliana became fully dedicated to the climate movement after participating in the U.N. climate negotiations in Montreal in 2005.Her organizing passions include building local community sustainability projects, fighting liquefied natural gas terminals and the development off-grid rural renewable energy systems.

Juliana organized as a volunteer with the Sierra Student Coalition (SSC) for three years and co-organized the Northwest Climate Justice Summit in 2007. Following this, she was a founding member of the Cascade Climate Network, the region-wide effort by Northwest youth to launch a coordinated campaign for climate solutions and a sustainable, just, and prosperous future. She currently works for the SSC as the Midwest Campus Organizer, supporting amazing students in MN, WI, IA, IL and MO working on global warming campaigns. She has been a contributor to It's Getting Hot In Here since it began in 2005 and joined WattHead in November 2007.

Besides organizing for a just and sustainable future, Juliana is an avid ultimate player, plays her string bass and spends way too much time on Wikipedia.

Disclaimer: the views and opinions presented by authors of this blog are solely their own and in no way represent the views, opinions or official positions of their employers or any other organizations they may be associated with, nor of other authors that contribute to this blog, unless explicitly stated... yatta yatta yatta... you know the drill.

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About Bart Mihailovich

Bart Mihailovich is a freelance environmental journalist in Spokane, Washington. Originally from Butte, Montana, home of the world's largest Superfund site and some of the worst environmental damage in the West, Bart has been concerned about environmental issues since the first time he saw the Berkley Pit. A journalism degree from Eastern Washington University has allowed Bart an opportunity to spread his concerns and work towards outreach and solutions. He co-operates an environmental issues blog in Spokane called Down To Earth ( and contributes to another blog in Seattle, seattleDIRT (

Bart has been an advocate for environmental protection and conservation. His biggest concern is about land control and preservation issues. He fears that one day the government will stop protecting National Parks and Federal land and the land will be mistreated or misused. He strives to visit every National Park in the U.S. Being from Montana has taught him the importance of land rights and conservation and proudly claims the Big Hole Valley of southwest Montana as the most beautiful area in the world, but shhh, don't tell anyone else. Bart is inspired by Theodore Roosevelt, John Muir, Thomas Jefferson, Lewis and Clark, Ansel Adams and Al Gore. Bart thinks Gandhi said it best, "There is a sufficiency in the world for man's need but not for man's greed."

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About Richard Graves

Richard Graves is a climate activist, social entrepreneur, and online journalist. He currently serves as blogmaster for It's Getting Hot in Here - Dispatches from the Youth Climate Movement and as communications coordinator for the SustainUS youth delegation to the UN climate negotiations in Bali.

Richard helps over a hundred youth leaders from around the world tell their stories in the fight against global warming and for a more just and sustainable world.

He is a contributor to Celsias, Environmental Graffiti, DailyKos, and Watthead. He launched the Climate Netroots Project, as well as assisted in the launch of the Roosevelt Institution and the Genocide Intervention Fund.

Richard graduated from Macalester College with a B.A. in Asian and Environmental History, after founding the student group MacCARES and winning campaigns around green building, renewable energy investment, and energy conservation.

Richard believes that young people can use new media to create the revolutionary change necessary to solve global warming and give him his life back and enough time to enjoy cooking Japanese food and sculpting again!

Disclaimer: the views and opinions presented by authors of this blog are solely their own and in no way represent the views, opinions or official positions of their employers or any other organizations they may be associated with, nor of other authors that contribute to this blog, unless explicitly stated... yatta yatta yatta... you know the drill.

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About Matthew Maiorana

Originally from Detroit, Michigan, Matt Maiorana is a student at the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine, where he is working towards his B.A. in Human Ecology with a focus on Policy, Environmental Science, and Activism.

Matt is an active youth climate activism organizer, and is currently working to organize local, state, national, and international climate action campaigns with SustainUS, the Sierra Student Coalition, and Energy Action. This December he will be traveling to Bali, Indonesia to take part in the United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP 13.

Matthew joined the WattHead team in August 2007.

Disclaimer: the views and opinions presented by authors of this blog are solely their own and in no way represent the views, opinions or official positions of their employers or any other organizations they may be associated with, nor of other authors that contribute to this blog, unless explicitly stated... yatta yatta yatta... you know the drill.

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About David Petersen

David is a partner in Portland, OR-based Tonkon Torp LLP's Sustainability and Real Estate and Land Use Groups, with a focus on land use and local government law. He regularly represents clients in residential development, real estate purchase and sale transactions, commercial leasing and wind energy development. His experience includes real estate and title matters for wind energy development projects totaling over 3,000 megawatts in seven states. David graduated Order of the Coif from the University of California, Berkeley School of Law - Boalt Hall, and earned his undergraduate degree magna cum laude from Syracuse University.

In addition to contributing here at WattHead, David writes for and maintains the site, and regularly writes about energy policy and law, with a focus on renewable energy and climate change and emerging issues affecting the Pacific Northwest.

Disclaimer: the views and opinions presented by authors of this blog are solely their own and in no way represent the views, opinions or official positions of their employers or any other organizations they may be associated with, nor of other authors that contribute to this blog, unless explicitly stated... yatta yatta yatta... you know the drill.

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About Teryn Norris

Teryn Norris is a leading young advocate for a major federal investment project in clean energy. As a Research Fellow at the Breakthrough Institute and American Environics, he co-authored "Fast, Clean, Cheap: Cutting Global Warming's Gordian Knot," a white paper published in the Spring 2008 edition of the Harvard Law and Policy Review. He is co-author of the National Energy Education Act proposal, which has been featured in Mother Jones, San Francisco Chronicle, Baltimore Sun, and Congressional testimony. Teryn has worked as Chief Research Assistant to Dr. Steve H. Hanke, one of the world's top monetary economists, as well as for the Sierra Club and Environment California, where he advocated and fundraised for the California Global Warming Solutions Act. Teryn is the Founder of Breakthrough Generation, the young leaders initiative of the Breakthrough Institute. Teryn studied political science and economics as an undergraduate at Johns Hopkins University, where he served as Class President and was a founder of the Hopkins Energy Action Team. He has written for the San Francisco Chronicle, Baltimore Sun, Alternet, and he regularly blogs at DailyKos, The Breakthrough Blog, WattHead, and ItsGettingHotInHere.

Disclaimer: the views and opinions presented by authors of this blog are solely their own and in no way represent the views, opinions or official positions of their employers or any other organizations they may be associated with, nor of other authors that contribute to this blog, unless explicitly stated... yatta yatta yatta... you know the drill.

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About Timothy Den Herder-Thomas

Timothy Den Herder-Thomas grew up in Jersey City, NJ, and started organizing around climate and energy issues in his inner-city high school. Now a student at Macalester College in St. Paul, MN as an Environmental Studies Major, Timothy is deeply involved in the movement for climate solutions. On campus, he works with student organization MacCARES to develop climate solutions while building student engagement at the campus level. Along with state-level coordination, Timothy works with the Energy Action Coalition and its partners, especially the Sierra Student Coalition to advance the Campus Climate Challenge.

Timothy focuses on engaging students in taking their work beyond campus by working with local residents, small businesses, labor leaders, farmers, and local governments to implement sustainable community development solutions. Timothy sees these people-powered initiatives as key to both building a climate movement and implementing the solutions the transition entails.

Timothy joined the WattHead team in August 2007.

Disclaimer: the views and opinions presented by authors of this blog are solely their own and in no way represent the views, opinions or official positions of their employers or any other organizations they may be associated with, nor of other authors that contribute to this blog, unless explicitly stated... yatta yatta yatta... you know the drill.

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