The Plan EJ 2014!

Environmental justice is the idea that people of all ethnicities, genders or income should be taken into account regarding environmental legislation. Accordingly, issues of environmental justice involve both social and environmental conflicts, and there are many of these issues indeed. For instance, studies have shown that generally people of color are more affected by pollution than White-Americans. Furthermore,”in 2011, scientists found that American counties with the worst levels of ozone had significantly larger African American populations.” (Grist) The ozone layer is a layer of the atmosphere. it becomes larger through a process called the greenhouse effect. Electricity production (power plants),transportation (i.e.: cars, buses, trains), even residential use of electricity all have one thing in common: they require the burning of fossil fuels. Fossil fuels are nonrenewable sources of energy including petroleum, coal and natural gas. The burning of any fossil fuel releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. These greenhouse gases remain in the ozone layer, trapping heat on earth and contributing to climate change.

Nevertheless, this isn’t an article about issues of environmental justice. This is an article designed to inform on a governmental plan focused on combating issues of environmental justice. Finally.

In 2009, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) made environmental justice the top priority in the agency’s overall mission. From 2009 until May 2014 the EPA worked to create the Plan EJ 2014.   They describe it as

 “A roadmap that will help the EPA integrate environmental justice into the agency’s programs, policies, and activities. The Goals of the plan are to:

  • Protect health in communities over-burdened by pollution
  • Empower communities to take action to improve their health and environment
  • Establish partnerships with local, state, tribal and federal organizations to achieve healthy and sustainable communities.” (epa)

    I think of the plan as a guding hand, a plan that pushes all sectors of the EPA into taking into account environmental equality when making decisions.

The significance of this plan is simply in the fact that it exists. The plan EJ 2014 is a bit of revitalization of a failed executive order of 1994 issued by President Clinton. Clinton’s executive order called for federal agencies to stop companies from “overburdening communities of colors.” (grist) Meaning, to stop concentrating power plants in low income neighborhoods, or more generally to stop concentrating pollution in low income neighborhoods. Unsurprisingly, The executive order was largely ignored.

Bretin Mock sums up the importance of the plan excellently when he says “at least now, the powers that be can no longer feign ignorance.” (Grist) The people that can make a difference have acknowledged that environmental inequity is an issue, which is a huge step for the environmental justice movement in its own right.

 Sources:

http://grist.org/cities/epa-takes-on-three-villains-at-once-pollution-climate-change-and-racism/

http://www.epa.gov/environmentaljustice/

The Future: Not Salty Salt Water

When you were little you were always told to never pee in the pool, right? Well some people don’t think that rule applies to the ocean, and to those people I say this: The ocean may be our new source of fresh water, so quit peeing in it! The process of desalinization may be the solution to end the Californian drought, and other droughts all around the world (as long as those places have the access to the technology). The basic idea of the process is that sunlight is focused onto a cylinder of water using mirrors; the water then evaporates and spins a turbine as it rises and later collects as clean water. Desalination takes impure runoff water, or ocean water, and uses solar energy to evaporate the water off, using it for farming, drinking water, or other purposes.

In California the WaterFX solar thermal desalinization plant is working to turn contaminated run off water into pure water for the community. This one plant so far is capable of producing 14,000 gallons of clean water a day. That’s the same amount of gallons if you collected all the milk from 1,750 cows in one day. The average American uses between 80-100 gallons of water a day through just daily use. The hope for this plant is to expand their operation and produce 2 million gallons a day. Aaron Mandell, co-founder of WaterFX, sells the water to farmers in the community and sees the company multiplying ten times in the next five years. Using desalinization is a really good way to help the drought in California, but doesn’t it mess up the natural water cycle?

Solar desalinization sounds pretty cool initially, it produces clean water and power with no fuel, just sunlight, but I had many initial concerns with the process when I first heard of it. The water cycle is basically the base of life on earth, and if it is tampered with then who knows the extent of the damage that could be done. How much water would be taken out of the ocean? What would happen to microorganisms in the water that play a crucial role in the oceans food chain? What happens to the left over gunk that made the water impure to begin with? After thinking about these questions I came to the conclusion that no source of energy is perfect and that on the scale of natural cycles that we already mess with in order to get power, solar desalinization seems to be on the smaller end of the spectrum.  It essentially has no negative environmental impacts directly due to the fact that it has no emissions, and no chemicals are used in the process. Its negative impact is based purely upon what people who run the plant choose to do with the “gunk” that’s left over after the water evaporates.

Pollution in India shortening Life Expectancy

According to a recent study by researchers from the University of Chicago, Yale and Harvard, more than half of India’s population lives in places with such polluted air that each person loses an average of 3.2 years in life expectancy.

This means that 660 million Indians lose 2.1 billion years as a result of air pollution.

A World Health Organization study last year found that 13 of the 20 most polluted cities in the world are in India. Also, the worst city for air pollution is New Delhi. India’s government pays no attention to these startling statistics and has made economic development its priority. In fact, India has announced its intention to double the country’s use of coal over the next five years, which will worsen the country’s air pollution.

air pollution

Figure 1. http://www.globalgujaratnews.in/uploads/news/02_2013/1360751992_07TH_AIR_POLLUTION_886689f.jpg

This pollution causes serious health issues. According to the World Health Organization, India has the world’s highest death rate from chronic respiratory diseases, and more deaths from asthma than any other nation. Air pollution also contributes to both chronic and acute heart disease, which happen to be the leading cause of death in India. In addition to human health problems, the air pollution may also cut agricultural production by a third.

pmindia

Figure 2. http://airpollutionindia.weebly.com/uploads/2/0/3/0/20303009/489667946_orig.jpg?448

This graph shows the PM(particulate matter) in the air. The amount in the air is clearly over a healthy limit.

What is being done to help? Since the Indian government shows little signs of helping with air pollution, the country needs help from the international community. The United States says it will expand air-quality monitoring. This program will help other countries develop their own air-quality monitoring through training and advise with American experts. This will also benefit the U.S. because it will help United States citizens abroad reduce their exposure to pollution. The program is also run by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). It will begin to operate in India in a few months. American diplomatic missions will also monitor air quality Vietnam and Mongolia.

Sources:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/22/world/asia/polluted-air-cuts-years-off-lives-of-millions-in-india-study-finds.html?ref=topics

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/15/world/asia/delhi-wakes-up-to-an-air-pollution-problem-it-cannot-ignore.html

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/20/world/asia/us-to-monitor-air-quality-in-india-and-other-countries.html?ref=topics

The Science Behind Batteries

Considering how widespread batteries are, it is surprising how little the average user knows about them. Batteries power many wireless electronic devices around the world. There are two general categories of batteries, disposable, or dry cell, and rechargeable. All batteries store electrical energy in chemical form. A cell is the working chemical unit within the battery. Disposable batteries use primary cells, while rechargeable batteries use secondary cells. Some batteries have more than one cell. There are three components in all cells, the positive electrode, the negative electrode, and the electrolyte. The electrolyte is either a liquid or a dry powder. The positive and negative electrodes are also known as the cathode and anode respectively. Figure 1 shows a primary cell.

Figure 1.

howbatteryworks

Electricity is the flow of electrons through a wire or any conductive path. Batteries produce electricity through multiple chemical reactions. The types of reactions depend on the type of battery. There are many varieties of batteries that contain different materials in their electrolytes and electrodes. Some examples of disposable batteries with primary cells include zinc-chloride, alkaline, and button. No matter the specific reaction, all the reactions achieve the same goal of moving ions. In a primary cell, the chemical reactions generate positive and negative ions. As you can see in figure 1, the positive ions move through the electrolyte towards the positive electrode. At the same time, the negative ions, or electrons, flow around the outside circuit. Primary cells cannot be used again because as they generate energy, they convert the original chemicals into different chemicals. Once the cell runs out of reactants, it can no longer generate electricity. Below, Figure 2 shows a secondary cell.

Figure 2.

Screen shot 2015-03-08 at 11.51.09 PM

In figure 2 you will see pink circles and arrows. Those represent the movement of electrons in the small circuit with a light bulb. This small circuit demonstrates the flow of electricity. Without the connection to the light bulb, the flow of ions does not occur. The chemical reactions within the battery cause a build up of electrons in the anode. When the battery is not being used, the electrons become very tightly packed. Electrons repel each other. They would like to go to a place with fewer electrons, like the cathode, but the only way they can do that is through some sort of outside circuit. When the electrons have the opportunity, they will move away from the anode, through the circuit to the cathode. This kind of battery is used in cellphones, computers, and cars. Running a current through them in the opposite direction recharges it. By running it in reverse, the chemical reactions are also reset. Some examples of rechargeable secondary cell batteries include nickel cadmium (NiCd), nickel metal hydride (NiMH), and lithium ion batteries. A lithium ion battery is the kind that is most commonly used in cell phones and computers.  

Figure 3.

energizer-recharge-value-1

It is great what batteries enable us to do. Without batteries, we would not be able to enjoy the convenience of wireless phones, laptops and much more. However, they do take a toll on the environment. There are pros and cons to using either type of battery. For a while it was better to use disposable batteries because even though more of them went to the landfill, the chemicals in them were much less harmful than the chemicals in the rechargeable ones. However, since the creation of the nickel metal hydride battery and the advancement of the lithium ion batteries, it has become increasingly beneficial to use rechargeable batteries. Next time you are changing the batteries in your flashlight, consider using rechargeable batteries. It will not only be better for the environment, but it will also save you money!

References:

http://www.greenlivingtips.com/articles/disposable-vs-rechargeable-batteries.html

http://www.qrg.northwestern.edu/projects/vss/docs/power/2-how-do-batteries-work.html

http://www.explainthatstuff.com/batteries.html

Love Your Wood

Everyone knows someone who owns a guitar, some people know someone with multiple guitars. Every guitar, except for the more abstract ones, has a wood neck and most have wood body as well. At least one million guitars have been sold every year since 1999, and that is just online. All of these guitars are created with wood that has been taken from a forest. For nicer guitars there are “choice woods” that give better acoustics to the guitar, and are less likely to warp. The three most used “choice woods” are rose wood, mahogany, and maple. Some prefer Mahogany in their guitars, because of its ability to give the clearest note. Rose wood makes the higher frequencies of the sounds more reverberation which is a very unique sound. Maple is favored by some because of its versatility in terms of its sounds; it can sound clear, dark, and light all depending on how you play it. Mahogany generally comes from the Caribbean and Central and South America. In Peru, the amount mahogany trees has shrunk by 50%, and, within ten years a further 28% will be logged out.

Rose wood and Mahogany are both on the Globaltrees.org’s vulnerable conservation status due to their over logging. Guitar manufacturing may not be the largest reason as to why these trees are on the vulnerable list, but when online guitar sales have been as high as the past 15 years it is apparent that the amount of wood needed to build such a vast amount is very high. Green peace has started a campaign called Music Wood, to lessen the amount of wood taken from protected forests to manufacture musical instruments. Greenpeace are currently working on bringing the forestry of south east Alaska up to FSC standards so that American guitar manufacturers will have a more accessible, and more eco friendly place to get their wood from. Currently 0 acres of forest are FSC certified, and the majority of logging is done to clear space for other businesses or to clear space for people to live in. If the Music Wood program works it will benefit the economy of Alaska, bring down the amount of wood taken from protected forests for musical instruments, and it will bring more jobs to the native people and will help their economy as well.

Renewable Energy in Your Backyard?

The main types of renewable energy are wind, solar, and hydroelectric. Energy companies around the world capture the energy available in these renewable sources and turn them into electricity. There are many of companies that turn renewable energy into electricity. Since 1995 the amount of companies that deal with renewable energy sources such as wind power, and solar power has increased by over 100% in the past 20 years.

This picture shows the industry growth of companies that deal directly with renewable energy sources.

Renewable energy is certainly on the come up and because of it less fossil fuels are being consumed and there is less pollution than there would be with out the renewable energy. The following graph shows the green house gas emissions of various energy types. On the far right the green house gas emissions of the fossil fuels is significantly higher than that of the renewable energy sources on the left.

In 2013 About 67% of the electricity generated was from fossil fuels. Nearly every house in america is connected to the national power supply, and this means that the majority of the houses in America are largely powered by fossil fuels. The companies who are converting natural renewable energy into electricity use large scale equipment to harvest the energy, but is it possible small scale? What if we could harvest our own energy in our back yards? Between 2000 and 2013 there had been 2,261 MW of residential solar installed. Many people have solar panels, but they only really work if your house gets a lot of sunlight. If you lived in the woods what could you do? You can set up your very own hydro electric dam if you have a stream!

It could be challenging to build a large scale hydro electric dam like the one in the picture above, but even a small scale hydro electric dam that you build your self out of spoons and neoprene magnets would be better than nothing. If every one in America that had access to a good spot to build a hydro electric dam, install solar panels, or build a wind turbine we could slowly increase the amount of renewable energy that is turned into electricity to power homes by a lot!