Sunday, July 27, 2014

India's forest cover is on the up – but are the numbers too good to be true?

Forest cover in India increased by 5871 sq km (2266 sq miles) between 2010 and 2012.

That’s the cheery headline news from the State of the Forest Report 2013 released this month by India’s environment minister, Prakash Javadekar. The findings appear to mark a turnaround from the previous survey, which had found a marginal decline in forests.

But the fine print reveals a less rosy picture. The bulk of the increase in forest cover – about 3800 sq km – was in just one state, the report shows, and is partly attributed to a correction in previous survey data.

In fact, India may be losing quality forests. Dense forests are degrading into scrub or sparsely covered forest areas in many states, says the report. “Moderately dense” forest cover – areas with a tree canopy density of between 40-70% – shrank by 1991 sq km in the two-year period, while “open forests” with less than 40% canopy increased by 7831 sq km.

Another potential worry: the Himalayan northeastern region, which holds one-fourth of the country’s forests, has seen a small decline of 627 sq km in forest cover.

India’s total forest cover now stands at 697,898 sq km or 21.23% of the country’s area. That’s well short of the official goal to get cover up to 30% of land area (in February, the government approved a £4.46m project to increase forest area).

Yet there’s been an overall rising trend in the recorded forest cover over the past decade – no mean feat given the dramatic acceleration in economic development in the same period.

This upward trend seems far-fetched to many conservationists, however. One environmental watchdog group, the Environment Impact and Assessment Resource and Response Centre, noted that an average of 135 hectares (333 acres) of forest land a day was given over for power, mining and other development projects last year. The group expressed dismay at the environment minister’s suggestion that degraded or open forests should be harvested to reduce wood imports.

Both conservationists and scientists have long questioned the Indian forest survey’s accuracy and methods. They’ve argued that the survey relies too heavily on low-resolution satellite imagery, which fails to capture small-scale deforestation, and that the definition of forest used by the report is too broad to be meaningful.

The forest cover data does not, for instance, distinguish between tree species, land use or ownership. A paper published in May by scientists led by NH Ravindranath of the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore suggested that an almost seven-million-hectare recorded increase in forest cover between 1997 and 2011 could be accounted for by an increase in commercial plantations.

India could be potentially over-reporting the forest cover by including many plantation categories and fruit orchards…. Even the inclusion of plantations of Eucalyptus, Casuarina, Poplar, etc. under forest cover is questionable from a conservation perspective. India also could be potentially under-reporting deforestation by reporting only the gross forest area and changes at the national and state level, which may mask any forest loss, if the rate of afforestation is higher than deforestation rates.

With India seeking to tap international climate funds for afforestation, “there is need for a new approach to monitoring and reporting of forest area to meet the challenges of forest conservation, research and reporting to UN agencies,” the authors said.

Forest officials too have criticised the survey methods. In 2012, a joint director at the Forest Survey of India, which prepares the report, took on his own organisation when he flagged the discrepancy between the official forest data for the northeastern state of Meghalaya, which showed an increase in cover, and what he saw happening on the ground: forests being destroyed by illegal mills and mining.

Mining in this green, resource-rich region continues to be a concern. A recent report by India’s Comptroller and Auditor General found only one of 16 limestone mining licenses in the state of Meghalaya had obtained environmental clearances. “[T]he forest department has no idea as to whether the mining lease areas it granted forest clearance fall within forest area,” the report said.

Content Courtersy: theguardian

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Bioaccumulation and Biomagnification

Heavy metals (mercury, lead, cadmium), pesticides and herbicides (such as DDT) and endocrine-disrupting chemicals (PCB’s and BPA’s) do not readily biodegrade. These are fat-soluble substances that are stored in organisms and are not quickly broken down by bacteria or other decomposers. Bioaccumulation is the process by which persistent pollutants accumulate in the fatty tissues of organisms. These pollutants are absorbed at a greater rate than they are released and therefore build up within the individual organism. Biomagnification is the process by which persistent pollutants increase in concentration up a food chain. So secondary and tertiary consumers have higher concentrations than producers and primary consumers.

This phenomena has been observed with DDT, causing the thinning of eggshells in raptors, such as the threatened Peregrine Falcon. Rachel Carson, a marine biologist and conservationist,  made the American public aware of the environmental problems caused by synthetic pesticides, such as DDT, in her famous book, “Silent Spring”. DDT is now prohibited in most developed countries.

Mercury has been shown to bioaccumulate in marine food webs, affecting higher order consumers, such as dolphins, sharks and swordfish. As such, Food Standards of Australia and New Zealand recommend that the intake of certain types of fish is limited.

Content Courtesy : vceenviroscience

Monday, July 21, 2014

Safeguarding Our Future Water & Energy Systems-INFOGRAPHIC

As the Energy Department pursues our important mission areas of climate change, energy security and environmental responsibility, we must take into account dynamic interactions among our energy system, the population, the economy, other infrastructure systems and natural resources. One crucial interaction is that between our present-day energy and water systems, reports the DOE.

The interdependencies between our water and energy systems are clear — and becoming more prominent. Water is used in all phases of energy production and electricity generation, and energy is required to extract, convey and deliver water, and to treat wastewaters prior to their return to the environment.

The Energy Department’s new report – The Water-Energy Nexus: Challenges and Opportunities – examines this interaction, and lays out several technical and operational challenges at local, regional and national scales. The report notes that water scarcity, variability and uncertainty are becoming more prevalent, potentially leading to vulnerabilities within the U.S. energy system. Changes brought on by population growth, technological advances and policy developments are increasing the urgency for informed action.

When severe drought affected more than a third of the United States in 2012, limited water availability constrained the operation of some power plants and other energy production infrastructure. When Hurricane Sandy struck that same year, we saw firsthand the major problems that arise when vital water infrastructure and facilities lose power.

And the recent boom in domestic unconventional oil and gas development, brought on by hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling, has added complexity to the national dialogue about the relationship between energy and water resources.

What’s more, the effects of climate change only amplify the need to manage our interdependent water and energy systems more mindfully. As the release of the third U.S. National Climate Assessment made clear last month, climate change is affecting every region of the United States and key sectors across our economy.

Even as the Energy Department is taking strong steps to cut carbon pollution and work with our international partners to build a more sustainable energy future, we must prepare for the effects of climate change we are already seeing.

The Energy Department’s longstanding leadership in modeling and technology research and development makes it uniquely suited to meet the national need for data-driven and empirical solutions to address these challenges. This report is just the beginning.

The Department of Energy looks forward to working with our partners, including other federal agencies, state and local governments, members of Congress, foreign governments, private industry, academic institutions, non-governmental organizations, and citizens, to develop and pursue a shared vision of more resilient coupled energy-water systems.

This integration and collaboration will enable more effective research, development and deployment of key technologies, harmonization of policies where warranted, shared datasets, informed decision-making, and robust public dialogue.

A key part of that dialogue is our ongoing meetings to gather public comment on the Quadrennial Energy Review (QER), a four-year process to identify key threats, risks and opportunities for U.S. energy and climate security.

 Last week in San Francisco, Dr. John Holdren — Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy — led a discussion with regional stakeholders about the water-energy nexus and lessons learned that could be applied broadly across this issue area. Future opportunities to provide input to the QER process remain.

Content Courtesy:

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Tips To Save Money & Save Energy in New Energy Saver Guide

Saving energy is a win for not only your wallet but also the environment. To help you make the most efficient choices in your home and on the road, the Energy Department recently updated its popular booklet Energy Saver: Tips on Saving Money and Energy at Home, reports Nicole Harrison for the DOE.

Updated Energy Saver Guide Helps You Save Energy and Money at Home

The latest version of the guide includes updated statistics and recommendations for 2014 — all designed to help you make smart decisions about improving your home’s comfort and lowering your energy use. Some of the tips are simple to do. Others require more effort and investment but promise big savings over the years.

The Energy Saver guide teaches you which systems and appliances in your home account for most of your energy bills and how you can reduce the costs to both you and the environment. There is also a section on transportation with driving tips to help you save money at the pump. Learn about the average energy usage and costs at home and on the road, then try out our tips to save energy and money.

There are a couple of ways to get your hands on the updated Energy Saver guide:

Download the updated PDF
Order hard copies in bulk or
Download the first-ever Energy Saver guide e-book.

Find out more about saving energy and money at home on the Energy Saver website. You can also check out these new do-it-yourself energy-saving projects:

Insulate Hot Water Pipes for Energy Savings
Lower Water Heating Temperature
Insulate Your Water Heater Tank
How to Seal Air Leaks with Caulk
How to Weatherstrip Double-Hung (or Sash) Windows
Install Exterior Storm Windows With Low-E Coating

Content Courtesy: 1sun4all

Small Plastics Pose Big Problem

A decade or so ago, scientists first discovered that tiny pieces of plastic debris discarded by human civilization — some only a few thousandths of a millimeter in size — were finding their way into the oceans. But since then, it’s become increasingly apparent that microplastics, as the miniscule trash is called, represent a potentially huge threat to aquatic animals, according to an article in the July 11 edition of the journal Science.

The article, by marine scientists Kara Lavender Law of the Sea Education Association in Woods Hole, Mass. and Richard C. Thompson of the UK’s Plymouth University, notes that researchers increasingly are focusing upon the danger from microplastics, because their size makes it possible for a huge range of organisms — from large marine mammals, fish and birds to zooplankton — to ingest them. (Indeed, a 2012 study found that they pose a health threat to Baleen whales.)

Photos: Life on the Ocean Floor Garbage Patch

A report issued in June by the Global Ocean Commission estimated that 10 million tons of plastic is dumped into the oceans each year. Some of the plastic is discarded into waterways and then is carried into the ocean, but it’s also lost or discarded at sea by ships, the article notes.

Larger plastic items degrade to form microplastic, but some of the particles also are being put directly into the sea, because bits of cosmetic beads and clothing fibers are small enough to pass through wastewater treatment systems.

Once in the oceans, the particles are transported far and wide in a complex pattern that is difficult to predict. However, scientists have found very high concentrations in the subtropical gyres -- that is, areas where currents rotate rapidly — and in basins such as the Mediterranean.

Microplastics are themselves toxic, but they also soak up harmful chemicals that contaminate the ocean, such as DDT and PBDEs, so that they deliver a concentrated dose to the animals who ingest them. Marine scientists also worry that microplastics will end up in seafood-eating humans as well.

Video: How Much Trash is in the Ocean?

Microplastics are just one of the environmental woes afflicting the world’s oceans, and pushing them perilously close to ecological collapse, according to an article published last week in Foreign Policy, a political science journal.

Solving the problem is difficult because 65 percent of the oceans are outside the territorial waters of individual nations, and have become the equivalent of a chaotic, lawless “failed state” such as Somalia on land, the Foreign Policy article argued.

Content Courtesy: Discovery

Monday, July 14, 2014

We can do this: 10 reasons there's hope for our climate

Feeling pessimistic about our ability to turn the corner toward climate stability before it is too late?

"We're in the race of our lives," Environmental Defense Fund President Fred Krupp said this week at the 2014 Aspen Ideas Festival, explaining that he understands why some are losing hope. “The science is scary, the politicians are polarized and the impacts are increasing.”

But Fred delivered a profoundly optimistic message based on a range of compelling and tangible successes, trends, and truths that – taken together – stand as powerful evidence that, yes, we can overcome polarization and inertia. We can reduce emissions in time to avert the worst impacts of global climate change.

As leaders from around the world listened, Fred shared the Top 10 reasons why he has renewed hope that we can get national and international climate solutions back on track.

Following the model of the master, Late Show host David Letterman, he presented them starting with number 10:

10. Solar and wind prices are dropping – dramatically

We’re talking about a 75-percent drop in the price of panels since 2008, and the United States added more solar capacity in the past 18 months than in the previous 30 years combined. In some parts of the country, wind is already becoming cost competitive with coal and gas.

9. The American economy has moved in the right direction.

Between 2005 and 2012, the U.S. reduced its carbon dioxide emissions from energy by 12 percent. Our economic system is demonstrating its capacity to reduce emissions.

8. China, the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, is on the move toward a cleaner future.

Recognizing the need to act, China has set up seven pilot cap-and-trade areas, covering nearly 250 million people. They recognize the need to act, and are reaching out to partners such as EDF and the State of California for advice.

7. The United States, the world’s second-biggest emitter, is also moving to limit carbon pollution from its largest source, the power sector.  

The Clean Power Plan, supported by two-thirds of Americans, will cut billions of tons of pollution and drive investment in clean energy.

6. President Obama has required big cuts in greenhouse gas emissions from cars, doubling gas mileage by 2025.

Even so, car sales rose by more than a million vehicles per year between 2009 and 2013 as average fuel economy increased. Not for nothing, but electric cars are getting cool, too.

5. We are starting to bring that same technological leap into our homes.

A world in which people generate, store, and even sell their own electricity is already becoming reality. And imagine having an electric bill of just 3 dollars a month. That’s a clean energy revolution everybody can support.

4. Methane is 84 times more dangerous to our climate than carbon in the short term.

Why is this good? Here’s a major contributor to climate change that we can fix cheaply. Consider this: We can stop almost half of methane leakage and the cost of a thousand cubic feet of natural gas would go from just $4.50 to $4.51.

3. Politically, the future belongs to those who support climate action.

Seventeen out of 20 young voters support climate action, which means being on the right side of this issue is a matter of long-term political survival for both Democrats and Republicans.  

2. We have a plan.

Working with our allies, we’ve figured out how to cut 6 gigatonnes of annual greenhouse gas emissions a year by 2020 – enough to begin turning the corner toward climate stability. We'll be posting the details of this plan very soon.

1. The two largest emitting countries haven’t yet adopted the most powerful tool we have: A price on carbon.

When it doesn’t cost to pollute, you get a lot of pollution. But when there’s a price to pay, industry will have an incentive to find low-cost carbon solutions. The first nine reasons for hope on climate are the reason we can get to this last one, as difficult as it may sound.

You’ll find more details about each of these reasons in the full video of Fred’s speech.

“[Oberlin College] Professor David Orr taught me the difference between optimism and hope,” Fred noted in a Q&A session on Facebook earlier this week, also part of the Aspen event.

“Optimism is a prediction everything will be ok, hope is a verb with its sleeves rolled up. I actually am not only hopeful, but also optimistic that if people join the fight we can turn this around.”

Content Courtesy:

Global Renewable Energy Capacity Has Nearly Doubled to 1,560 Gigawatts Since 2004

Global Renewable Energy Capacity Has Nearly Doubled to 1,560 Gigawatts Since 2004 | Inhabitat - Sustainable Design Innovation, Eco Architecture, Green Building 

In 2004 only 48 countries contained defined renewable energy policy targets, compared to 144 at the end of 2013. Additionally, new investment in renewables increased from US $39.5 billion in 2004 to $214.4 billion in 2013. Despite the fact that global investment in solar PV declined nearly 22 percent since 2012, new capacity installations increased by more than 27 percent. And solar hot water saw the biggest increase out of all renewables — leaping from 98 GWth to 326 GWth.

The report also shows that China is leading the world in wind power — with 16.1 GW of capacity added in 2013. The United States only added 1.1 GW of new wind capacity in 2013, but it’s still second to China in total capacity. Germany takes first place by a wide margin in solar PV capacity, despite only adding 3.3 GW in 2013 compared to China’s 11.8 GW. The U.S. is currently in fifth place behind Italy and Japan, with 4.8 GW added in 2013.

Hydropower is still the dominant renewable energy source, with global capacity reaching 1,000 GW. China is the top country for hydro with a 26 percent share, followed by Brazil at 8.6 percent and the U.S. at 7.8 percent. If you remove hydro from the mix, the statistics are even more impressive – other renewables rose from 85 GW in 2004 to 560 GW by the end of 2013

Content Courtesy: Treehugger

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Reducing Carbon Pollution Makes Us All Healthier-INFOGRAPHIC

A new proposed rule by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) called the Clean Power Plan, will set the first-ever national carbon emissions limits for our country’s existing power plants. Find out how reducing carbon pollution will make Americans healthier in the new infographic from WhiteHouse.Gov.

Limiting the Carbon Emissions from Power Plants Will Make Americans Healthier. Here’s How:
Infographic courtesy of WhiteHouse.Gov

Power plants currently churn out about 40 percent of the carbon pollution in the air we breathe, and contribute to hundreds of thousands of asthma attacks and thousands of heart attacks.

And even though we limit the amount of toxic chemicals like mercury, sulfur, and arsenic that power plants can put in our air and water, there are no national limits on the carbon pollution they can release.

As President Obama said in his weekly address on Saturday,

It’s not smart, it’s not safe, and it doesn’t make sense. –President Obama

That’s why today, at the President’s direction, the EPA is taking steps to change that with a proposal that will set the first-ever national carbon pollution limits for our country’s existing power plants.

Content Courtesy: