56 Responses to Energy and Global Warming News for August 19th: Pakistan is new benchmark in climate-related disasters; Windstalks harvest wind energy in a field
… [A] group of designers has created a new style of wind farm that takes a few cues from nature itself.
Designed as a potential energy source for the planned city of Masdar in Abu Dhabi, the Windstalks, as they are known, resemble a wheat field. Only instead of stalks of wheat, the fields consist of 1,203 55-meter-tall carbon fiber-reinforced resin poles, each full of piezoelectric ceramic discs and electrodes. When the poles blow in the wind, the electrodes produce a current, which is then stored in two battery-like chambers located beneath the field. Each pole is outfitted with an array of LED lights on its tip, which either light up or go completely dark depending on how much the pole is actually moving.
The creators say that a Windstalk field should be able to produce an amount of energy comparable to a traditional turbine array. Even though a single turbine can produce more power than a single pole, the Windstalks can be packed into much denser arrays.
Devastating flooding that has swamped one-fifth of Pakistan and left millions homeless is likely the worst natural disaster to date attributable to climate change, U.N. officials and climatologists are now openly saying.
Most experts are still cautioning against tying any specific event directly to emissions of greenhouse gases. But scientists at the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) in Geneva say there’s no doubt that higher Atlantic Ocean temperatures contributed to the disaster begun late last month.
Atmospheric anomalies that led to the floods are also directly related to the same weather phenomena that a caused the record heat wave in Russia and flooding and mudslides in western China, said Ghassem Asrar, director of the World Climate Research Programme and WMO. And if the forecasts by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) are correct, then Pakistan’s misery is just a sign of more to come, said Asrar….
During the most intense storms, about a foot of rain fell over a 36-hour period. Parts of the affected areas, in particular Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province (formerly Northwest Frontier province) received 180 percent of the precipitation expected in a normal monsoon cycle. More rain is expected in the days ahead.
Records show that the famed Indus River is at its highest water level ever recorded in the 110 years since regular record-keeping began. Estimates put the number of displaced people at somewhere between 15 million and 20 million, and the government believes about 1,600 are confirmed dead.
6.5 million need food, drinking water and medicine
The International Organization for Migration says the greatest immediate need is in Punjab, where roughly 500,000 families pushed out by the floods are awaiting assistance. All told, agencies guess that about 6.5 million Pakistanis need shelter, food, potable water and medicine.
“This is a disaster which has affected many more people than I have ever seen,” said John Holmes, head of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, who also leads relief efforts in Haiti.
Zamir Akram, Pakistani ambassador to the U.N. center in Geneva, said floodwaters now cover an area roughly the size of England. Satellite surveys show about 160,000 square kilometers (62,000 square miles) is underwater, or about one-fifth of Pakistan’s landmass and roughly equivalent to the areas of Austria, Belgium and Switzerland combined.
Asrar at the WMO says higher-than-average Atlantic temperatures and conditions made ripe by the La Ni±a cycle of lower temperatures in the central Pacific Ocean created the perfect conditions for the rains. Experts acknowledge that the scale of this disaster has been made worse by a history of deforestation and land-use changes in the affected areas, but Asrar insists that the sheer volume of precipitation absorbed by clouds and then dumped on Pakistan is chiefly to blame.
Climate scientists at WMO and elsewhere, including those with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, say this year’s summer is one of the hottest ever, with high temperatures breaking records across the United States, Europe and Central Asia. Consequently, the surface of the Atlantic has also been much warmer than usual.
The IPCC assessment reports note that higher ocean temperatures lead to more water vapor entering the atmosphere. This fact, Asrar said, already pointed toward a stronger than usual monsoon season in store for South Asia.
Abnormal airflow dumps supersaturated air
… “Basically, this rift that was forming blocked the warm air moving from west to east, and then, on the other side, this air that was super saturated with water vapor had to precipitate all this excess water that was in the atmosphere, which created this unprecedented amount of rain in short period of time,” Asrar explained. “The connecting factor is that clearly the warming is a driver for all these events.”
The UN’s pointman on desertification called Wednesday on participants at the next climate summit in Cancun to take urgent measures to prevent future disasters by staving off land degradation.
“Those most vulnerable to climate change live in the driest parts of the globe: look at what is happening in Pakistan where the rain should come as a blessing and ends up being a curse,” Luc Gnacadja told AFP.
“We ask ourselves why efforts are concentrated on protecting the forests, while we know that what drives deforestation is land degradation. If we do not find a response to land degradation, which gets worse with desertification, people will continue to cut down trees.”
Gnacadja, the executive secretary of UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), called for a “serious accord” by the end of the year.
A new UN conference is due to be held in the Mexican resort of Cancun to try to build on a loose accord hammered out at marathon talks in Copenhagen in December last year that were widely regarded as a failure.
Cancun will host negotiators from November 29 to December 10 who are set to discuss a binding agreement on reducing carbon dioxide emissions that will replace the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in December 2012.
New Zealand’s sheep farmers are flocking to a government carbon trading program that pays more to plant trees than sell wool and mutton.
The system, begun in 2008 and the only one of its kind outside Europe, awards farmers credits that are sold to offset greenhouse gas emissions. The project may earn them about NZ$600 a hectare ($172 per acre) a year on land unprofitable for grazing animals, said David Evison, a senior lecturer at the University of Canterbury’s New Zealand School of Forestry.
Forests planted for carbon credits may increase to 30,000 hectares a year compared with 3,500 hectares in 2009, the government estimates. The system is a welcome alternative for sheep farmers who’ve struggled for decades from a combination of slumping wool prices, drought and competition for land from the dairy and lumber industries, says Neil Walker, a forester in the Taranaki region of New Zealand’s North Island.
“If you’re an industry in decline, you have to see what options are available,” said Walker, who also heads the Taranaki Regional Council’s policy and planning committee. “There’s an economic case to be made for converting hill- country sheep farms to forests.”
When it comes to saving energy, many Americans seem to get it “” and at the same time they don’t get it at all. That’s the takeaway from a new study by researchers from Columbia University, Ohio State University and Carnegie Mellon University who found that people are far more likely to focus on switching off lights or unplugging appliances than on buying new bulbs or more efficient refrigerators. But people’s perceptions of the relative savings of various actions are significantly at variance with reality.
“Participants estimated that line-drying clothes saves more energy than changing the washer’s settings (the reverse is true) and estimated that a central air-conditioner uses only 1.3 times the energy of a room air-conditioner (in fact, it uses 3.5 times as much),” the researchers wrote.
Perhaps more to the point, people seem conditioned to think of energy savings as they would of saving money: that they can save by simply reducing use, the study found. But the biggest energy savings are tied to replacing things that use a lot of energy with things that use far less.
The proposed Keystone XL Pipeline, designed to bring crude oil extracted from tar sands in western Canada to refineries in Houston and Port Arthur, has recently attracted the attention and concern of the Environmental Protection Agency.
A high-level EPA official has communicated that the pipeline doesn’t adequately evaluate potential health impacts on minority communities near the Port Arthur refinery where some of the crude would be processed.
The agency’s interest in this topic should not come as a complete blind-side to the parties involved in the construction of the pipeline. They reflect frequently expressed views of EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson that minorities and poor people have historically not had a say on decisions such as these that continue to have a direct impact on their health and quality of life. We share those concerns.
The situation in Port Arthur has drawn particular attention because of its large minority population living close by several refineries, chemical plants and a waste incinerator. Port Arthur was flagged as one of 10 sites with particular “environmental justice” issues, and received government grants in 2009 to help mitigate those effects.
Vestas, the world’s biggest wind turbine manufacturer, has spread a dark cloud over the renewable energy sector by turning a sizeable second-quarter profit last year into a ‚¬120m (£99m) loss over the past three months.
Shares in the company plunged more than 20% on the Copenhagen stock market as analysts took fright, despite claims by Vestas that the financial turnaround was just a delayed reaction to the credit crunch, which had led to delayed orders.
Vestas, which closed down its Isle of Wight manufacturing facility last summer, said it was going to chop 600 more jobs – half of them short-term contracts – in Denmark, its home base.
The unexpectedly poor financial results come amid recent warnings from the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) that the previously buoyant US wind market was in precipitous decline and desperately needed positive new policies from the White House.
The global renewable energy sector has become increasingly fearful that governments are now more concerned about cutting public spending than keeping the green energy revolution on track.