Monday, September 28, 2009

the man who single-handedly saved the world

About 2 weeks ago, the Wall Street Journal ran an article about Norman Borlaug, a man who's passion for farming and heart for the poor and hungry led him through a life that probably saved or even made possible millions of lives over his lifetime.  He died a couple of weeks ago and his death has gone largely unnoticed by his own country.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Discoveries of new oil increase in 2009

Today's NY Times has an article on new oil discoveries over the past year.
Several main points:

  • new discoveries are the result of substantial investments made earlier in the decade 
  • the discoveries span 5 continents & dozens of countries
  • new discoveries in the first half of 2009 reached ~10 billion barrels; if the pace continues, they are likely to reach the highest level since 2000
  • finding and extracting oil is becoming harder - requiring higher prices and improvements in technology to remain viable
  • nevertheless, world oil consumption reached 31 billion barrels of oil last year, continuing the trend of new discoveries not keeping pace with consumption, a problem that has been occurring since the early 1980's

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Hubble back in business!

Arguably NASAs greatest PR instrument ever, the Hubble Space Telescope is now back in business and once again taking breath-taking, amazing, inspiring pictures of deep space.

The link above includes a video on the recommissioning process, a NASA release news story, and of course a number of new images of objects in our Universe including a gorgeous butterfly-shaped planetary nebula, star clusters, a comet crashing into Jupiter, and my personal favorite, a group of interacting galaxies called Stephan's Quintet.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Gas & Coal in current U.S. legislation

As U.S. legislators work out the new energy/climate change bill, 2 different fossil fuel industries have much to gain or lose.  Today's NY Times has an article on natural gas appearing to get the losing end of the stick compared to the coal industry.  The debate to some extent centers on which of these resources will be better in the long run for reducing carbon emissions and for maintaining a long term, economically stable energy source.

The U.S. certainly has a lot more coal reserves than natural gas, and for this reason could be seen as a more stable long-term fuel.  However, coal is without a doubt a bigger source of pollution than natural gas, whether it be carbon dioxide, compounds that cause acid rain, or toxic metals such as mercury, lead, or cadmium.  The article does not point out this fact well enough in my opinion.  It is estimated, for example, that nearly 40% of U.S. mercury emissions come from coal-fired power plants (ref).  Further, the article does not point out well enough the additional environmental harm that coal mining causes over natural gas, such as mountain top removal and strip mining.

One other disturbing point made by the article includes: 
      "Utilities that burn natural gas would earn $30 billion over 10 years in pollution credits that could be sold on the carbon-trading market. But utilities that burn coal will receive tens of billions of dollars worth of free pollution credits, savings that will be passed on to consumers but may serve to delay the closing of some coal plants."  
It would appear that Congress is not attempting to provide a fair & level playing field for the two commodities.  While natural gas can "earn" pollution credits, coal simply gets them for free.  

The article further points out that if Congress were to not pass this bill, natural gas as a power source in the U.S. will likely grow by 30%, which coal growing at only 7%.  With the new legislation being considered, however, the EPA projects that electricity generation from gas would increase by less than 1%.  

Saturday, September 5, 2009

water shortage in India

Today's NY Times (9-5-09) has an article on the drought that has affected India.  Here's a quote:

"the cautious optimism about the broader economy has been tempered by a historic summertime drought that has underscored the stubborn fact that many people are largely untouched by the country’s progress. India’s new economy may be based on software, services and high technology, but hundreds of millions of Indians still look to the sky for their livelihoods; more than half the country’s 1.1 billion people depend on agriculture for a living even though agriculture represents only about 17 percent of the total economy."

Thursday, September 3, 2009

mining metals

Today over at Worldwatch there's an article "World Metal Production Surges" on the increase in the world's production of metals that has occurred over the last decade.  In the late 90s, a new expansion in mining of the world's metals began that has vastly outpaced anything previously.  The world now digs out a combined 1.4 billion tons of metals a year: iron, aluminum, copper, & gold, but also mercury, arsenic, cadmium, and a host of other metals that have their uses but are highly toxic.  Why has this happened?  The rapid expansion of the economy of China.  Today, China is the largest consumer of steel, consuming 36% of the world's steel.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

and we have lift-off

News, ideas, thoughts, travel, links, notes, trivia, and much more regarding the state of planet earth will soon arrive.