Energy and Global Warming News for September 20th: Mexico’s ancient wheat crops fight global warming effects; DOE adding more green to geothermal projects

Ancient seeds in Mexico help fight warming effects:  Climate change could bring lower yields, food crisis

EL BATAN, Mexico – More than 500 years after Spanish priests brought wheat seeds to Mexico to make wafers for the Catholic Mass, those seeds may bring a new kind of salvation to farmers hit by global warming.

Scientists working in the farming hills outside Mexico City found the ancient wheat varieties have particular drought- and heat-resistant traits, like longer roots that suck up water and a capacity to store more nutrients in their stalks.

They are crossing the plants with other strains developed at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) in El Batan to grow types of wheat that can fight off the ill effects of rising temperatures around the world.

“It’s like putting money in the bank to use, in this case, for a not rainy day,” scientist Matthew Reynolds said of the resilient Mexican wheats his team collected.

Seed breeders say they are the first line of defense protecting farmers from climate change, widely expected to heat the planet between 1 and 3 degrees over the next 50 years.

Intensified drought, together with more intense and unpredictable rainfall, could hit crop yields and bring food shortages and spikes in commodity prices.

In Mexico, small farmers are grappling with the effects of unfavorable weather scientists say is exacerbated by climate change. Last year the country saw the lowest rainfall in 68 years and this year an active hurricane season battered corn-growing areas near the U.S. border.

Corn farmer Cesar Longoria, 56, said his family’s harvest dropped by 30 percent in the 2009 drought, and then more than half of his fields in Reynosa were destroyed by floods in July when Hurricane Alex hammered northern Mexico.

“For the people that depend on corn this is a tragedy,” said Carlos Salazar, head of the national corn growers association. “They have to buy more expensive corn to feed themselves and their animals.”


The number of hungry people in the world had been rising for more than a decade, reaching a record spike in 2009 triggered by the economic crisis and high domestic food prices in several developing countries.

Nearly 1 billion people were considered undernourished this year, said the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization in a report this week, and jumps in food prices have led to riots and social unrest.

Protests over a 30 percent rise in the price of bread in Mozambique killed 13 people this month after Russia’s worst drought in more than a century led to a rally in international wheat prices that reverberated around the world.

In India, the world’s second-largest wheat producer, rising temperatures could cut crop output by up to 25 percent in the next half century as the population booms.

Department of Energy digs up more green jobs with $20 million for new geothermal projects

The U.S. Department of Energy dedicated $338 million in Recovery Act funds for new geothermal projects last year, and now the agency has added another $20 million to the pot. This week, DOE announced that the new funds will go to seven cutting edge geothermal technologies that create new green jobs in addition to reducing the demand for fossil fuels.

Geothermal in the U.S.A.

The new funding is a giant step forward for the U.S. We have some of the world’s richest geothermal resources and yet until now they have gone largely untapped, even as the urgency for alternative fuels gained steam. The Clinton administration concluded with the first comprehensive climate change report mandated by Congress, but it languished for another eight years as the Bush administration continued to focus attention on fossil fuels. In 2008 the cat was out of the bag, as the U.S. Geological Survey issued a nationwide assessment of geothermal resources identifying the potential for more than half a million megawatts.

New Cutting Edge Geothermal Technologies and New Green Jobs

The new $20 million in funding will go to a group of projects that tap a wide variety of geothermal resources, from large scale to micro-mini. For example, one project is to reclaim energy from the drilling brine from oil and gas fields, which currently is discharged as wastewater. Another project combines geothermal resources with a greenhouse and aquaculture operation designed for siting in small towns, and another focuses on portable mini-generators that can be hauled to remote locations. That all translates into new green jobs that will be created in a variety of settings, including small towns and remote areas that have been withering for lack of new career opportunities.

Geothermal Energy, the U.S. Military and Your Local IKEA

As part of the Recovery Act, the federal funds that havebeen pumped into geothermal are creating new green jobs across the country. This could result in some interesting turnarounds in the way our energy is supplied.  The EPA has been reclaiming brownfields for alternative energy, and the U.S. military has been investing heavily in geothermal. Some of its facilities could go completely off-grid with plenty left over for civilian use. Meanwhile, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory has been teaming up with retail powerhouse IKEA to spread the word about marrying geothermal energy with new big-box stores.

Hima: The Middle East’s tradition of environmental protection

Hima, practised for over 14,000 years in the Arabian Peninsula, is believed to be the most widespread system of traditional conservation in the Middle East, and perhaps the entire earth.

In these modern times, it’s easy to think of environmental protection as a new concept which has emerged in response to modern problems linked to industrialisation and globalisation. In reality, the need to protect the environment from abuse has been a constant concern for humans since the beginning of time- especially for people who were living directly of the earth’s resources.

Even the Middle East,which many assume is new to environmental concerns, had a system to help protect nature called ‘Hima’. Hima which roughly translates as ‘protected or preserved place’ has been practised for over 14,000 years in the Arabian Peninsula and is believed to be the most widespread system of traditional conservation in the Middle East, and perhaps the entire earth.

Protecting The Public Good

Hima is a system of resource protection in which pastures, trees or grazing lands are declared as forbidden and access to them and their use is denied by the owner. Types of Himas included reserves for bee-keeping, forest trees, reserving woodland to stop desertification as well as the seasonal regeneration of fields. Hima pre-dates the emergence of Islam in Arabia, and according to Lutfallah Gari who has charted the rise and fall of the Hima system, Hima was sometimes placed under the protection of tribal deity.

He notes that; “Fauna and flora were protected; and [Hima areas] enjoyed the right of asylum”¦ The animals consecrated to them grazed there safely, and no on dared to kill or steal them. The straying animals that crossed over the boundary were lost to their owner”¦” Despite this, the system was subject to some abuse. The rich took advantage of it to protect their interests by preserving certain pastures for their flocks and protecting themselves against the effects of future droughts.

Under Islamic law, however, the use of Hima was altered slightly and now meant ‘a natural area set aside permanently or seasonally for public good, which may not be privately owned.’ For Hima to be valid in Islamic law, the area had to be for the purposes of public welfare and the area wasn’t allowed to be so large as to cause undue hardship to locals. It was also established that the over-riding aim of Hima was the economic and environmental benefit of the people. In fact, the most famous examples of Hima include those established by the Prophet Muhammed around Mecca and Medina where hunting and the destruction of plants were forbidden.

China firm aims to build big nuclear plant for Pakistan

China’s main nuclear energy corporation is in talks to build a 1-gigawatt atomic power plant in Pakistan, an executive said on Monday, a move that could intensify international unease about their nuclear embrace.

China has already helped Pakistan build its main nuclear power facility at Chashma in Punjab province, where one reactor is running and another near finished, and it has contracts to build two more there, despite the qualms of other governments.

Qiu Jiangang, vice president of the China National Nuclear Corp (CNNC), told a meeting in Beijing that the company was already looking beyond those deals to an even bigger plant.

“Both sides are in discussions over the CNNC exporting a one-gigawatt nuclear plant to Pakistan,” he said.

Qiu confirmed the two countries have signed contracts to build the No. 3 and No. 4 reactors of about 300 megawatts each at Chashma.

Whole Foods color codes its wild-caught fish

Whole Foods Market (NASDAQ: WFMI) on Monday launched an in-store color-coded sustainability rating program for wild-caught seafood. The company also announced a commitment to phase out all red-rated species by Earth Day 2013.

Partnering with Blue Ocean Institute and Monterey Bay Aquarium, Whole Foods Market says it is the first national grocer to provide a comprehensive sustainability rating system for wild-caught seafood. The system’s green, yellow and red ratings make it simpler for shoppers to make informed choices at the seafood case.

Green or “best choice” ratings indicate a species is relatively abundant and is caught in environmentally-friendly ways; yellow or “good alternative” ratings mean some concerns exist with the species’ status or catch methods; and red or “avoid” ratings mean that for now the species is suffering from overfishing, or that current fishing methods harm other marine life or habitats. The new initiative expands upon the sustainable seafood program that Whole Foods Market has had with the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) since 1999, and the new ratings apply only to non-MSC-certified fish.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations reports that 80 percent of fisheries are fully exploited, overfished, or depleted.

“Whole Foods Market is a leader in the field, and its decision will have a real impact on seafood suppliers and other retailers. Its in-store education and commitment to phase out red-rated seafood will help raise awareness and improve fishing practices around the world,” said Michael Sutton, vice president of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, who oversees its Seafood Watch program.

Efficient modular zero homes in Maine

This month, Modular builder Keiser Homes and architecture firm Kaplan Thompson Architects launched the net zero energy series of modular homes called the “Modular Zero Collection.”  These homes have been designed to use the smallest amount of energy possible and, if purchasers opt for solar hot water and solar photovoltaics, can produce as much energy as is consumed on an annual basis.

Kaplan Thompson went through five wall assemblies before settling on the one rendered above.  The homes will have a cellulose double-stud wall system with R40 walls and an R60 roof.  The higher cost of insulation will be offset with a smaller, less expensive heating system.

These energy-efficient homes will also have triple-glazed windows, airtight construction, long-life roof and siding, efficient ventilation, low-flow fixtures, low-VOC paints, and passive solar heating and cooling.

The team has three designs shown below — Chebeague, Peaks, and Great Diamond — that start at $205,000, not counting land, utilities, and solar systems.  First units will be sent to Peaks Island in Maine, while Keiser Homes can ship throughout New England.

Deep within a French glacier, a melted menace

IN SAINT-GERVAIS, FRANCE From time immemorial, the Tete Rousse Glacier has sparkled majestically on the slopes of Aiguille de Bionnassay, an icy symbol of the Alpine heritage that molded the culture and produced the prosperity of this mountaineering town in the shadow of Mont Blanc.

But the glacier, a 20-acre mass lying within a bowl-shaped rock formation at an altitude of nearly 10,000 feet, has suddenly turned menacing.

Partly because of global warming, a giant pocket of water has accumulated within the ice, threatening to burst out of its frozen enclosure and send a wall of water, mud, ice and rock down on the chalets of Saint-Gervais spread across the valley below.

“Nature is stronger than we are,” explained the mayor of Saint-Gervais, Jean-Marc Peillex, calling on his sometimes skeptical townspeople to heed the threat. “No one can confirm the risk is imminent,” he said in an announcement posted around the community, “but nor can anyone confirm that there is no risk.”

As soon as experts from the National Scientific Research Center reported with certainty in mid-July that they had detected the water pocket, Peillex, acting on his own advice, set up an alarm system on the glacier, connected to sirens in Saint-Gervais. Many of the town’s 5,740 inhabitants, joined by up to 25,000 visitors during summer climbing season, were assigned rallying points on high ground where they could flee if the sirens wailed.

14 Responses to Energy and Global Warming News for September 20th: Mexico’s ancient wheat crops fight global warming effects; DOE adding more green to geothermal projects

  1. fj2 says:

    Imagine these frictionless flywheels gone linear as linear bearings and linear momentum along linear tracks and you just might imagine net-zero high-speed land-based transportation fast-as and faster than jets ultimately brought to a theater near you!

    September 20, 2010
    Beacon Power Flywheel Plant Named as One of the “100 Recovery Act Projects That Are Changing America”

    First 20 MW Plant – Construction
    The world’s first grid-scale, flywheel-based energy storage plant is being built in Stephentown, New York. When completed, the 20 MW plant will operate continuously, storing and returning energy to the grid to provide approximately 10% of New York’s overall frequency regulation needs. More information on the frequency regulation service and how Beacon Powe3r flywheels provide it can be found here.

    August 2010 – Construction activity in Stephentown continues to proceed smoothly with significant portions of the plant’s infrastructure and electronics now in place. The project remains on schedule for commissioning 4 MW of flywheel regulation in Q4 2010.

    View Stephentown Construction Gallery Archive

  2. richard pauli says:

    Joe, thanks for all your great climate news, but I have to challenge you on the headline “… wheat crops fight global warming” — the post was a very hopeful a story of human adaptation, but the headline suggested real climate mitigation. Something it was not really.

    [JR: Fixed.]

  3. catman306 says:

    I hope it doesn’t come to this with regards to climate change information. But Joe Romm is fighting the censorship and lies of corporate propaganda every day. I’m sure there are plenty of ‘people’ who would love to bury the issue of climate change entirely. Hell, they did it for 20 years.

    This is an excellent piece.
    WikiLeaks and Hacktivist Culture

  4. fj2 says:

    #1 fj2 continued,

    Actually, speeds of Mach 2 are implied:

    Beacon’s Smart Energy 25 flywheel has a high-performance rotor assembly that is sealed in a vacuum chamber and spins between 8,000 and 16,000 rpm. At 16,000 rpm the flywheel can store and deliver 25 kwh of extractable energy. At 16,000 rpm, the surface speed of the rim would be approximately Mach 2 – or about 1500 mph — if it were operated in normal atmosphere. At that speed the rim must be enclosed in a high vacuum to reduce friction and energy losses. To reduce losses even further, the rotor is levitated with a combination of permanent magnets and an electromagnetic bearing.

  5. Ryan T says:

    Good to see the agricultural efforts – they have their work cut out for them given the food supply needs to expand over the coming decades. It shows the value of genetic diversity in a time when old crop strains and seemingly useless species get little respect. It’d be interesting to see how the yields of the new wheat breeds will compare with current hybrids, and what regions they’ll be well suited to. Presumably they wouldn’t offer much advantage in shallow soils that are more vulnerable to drying and erosion.

  6. Prokaryotes says:

    Oil CEOs Must All Be Chief Safety Officers Now

    Just when the Deepwater Horizon stopped leaking oil into the Gulf, costing BP $8 billion in direct cost and $70 billion in lost market capitalization so far, another platform owned by another company caught fire and exploded.

    Imagine how much money you could make with forms of energy generation, with a much lesser magnitude in risk management projections.

  7. Paulm says:

    Speaking in Toronto Monday as part of an industry panel on the opportunities in the electric car market, Singh estimated that current costs for electric car batteries are roughly $500 to $600 per kilowatt hour of energy — roughly 10 times the cost of an internal combustion engine.

  8. Paulm says:

    Facinating review of medical reticence and goes some way in explaining GW denial and inaction.

  9. Paulm says:

    Lifes fine…

    Hanging over everything is the growing recognition that the United States isn’t going to play. Not this year, perhaps not in any year. If Congress couldn’t pass a climate bill so feeble that it consisted of little but loopholes while Barack Obama was president and the Democrats had a majority in both houses, where does hope lie for action in other circumstances? Last Tuesday the Guardian reported that of 48 Republican contenders for the Senate elections in November only one accepted that man-made climate change is taking place. Who was he? Mike Castle of Delaware. The following day he was defeated by the Tea Party candidate Christine O’Donnell, producing a full house of science deniers. The enlightenment? Fun while it lasted.

    Plenty of nations – like Britain – have produced what appear to be robust national plans for cutting greenhouse gases. With one exception (the Maldives), their targets fall far short of the reductions needed to prevent more than two degrees of global warming.

    Even so, none of them are real. Missing from the proposed cuts are the net greenhouse gas emissions we have outsourced to other countries and now import in the form of manufactured goods. Were these included in the UK’s accounts, alongside the aviation, shipping and tourism gases excluded from official figures, Britain’s emissions would rise by 48%. Rather than cutting our contribution to global warming by 19% since 1990, as the government boasts, we have increased it by about 29%. It’s the same story in most developed nations. Our apparent success results entirely from failures elsewhere.

  10. paulm says:

    Some thing that will be more likely as the earth warms?
    Bob Poole Films Inside Of A Massive Sandstorm For National (4hrs of darkness)

  11. Prokaryotes says:

    New eco car inspiration comes from Toyota. By the name of Mob this, project made by Jorge Marti Vidal, promises a great perspective for the future vehicle.

    Talking about the stuff this car will be made of it appears that the concept is for “Liquid Wood”, that is in fact organic materials. To be more precise we are talking about waste wood. The dimensions will be 3643×1787x1063mm. The eco factor in this transportation method will be given by the wheels that will be equipped with electric motor as engines.

    Stunning car design!

  12. Prokaryotes says:

    Extreme Heat Bleaches Coral, and Threat Is Seen

    This year’s extreme heat is putting the world’s coral reefs under such severe stress that scientists fear widespread die-offs, endangering not only the richest ecosystems in the ocean but also fisheries that feed millions of people.

  13. paulm says:

    All non-believing GOPs should be forced to invest in water front property.
    Put their money where brains are.
    In San Francisco Bay, a question whether to build or retreat