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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the climate, ecology and environment topic  (Read 68186 times)
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« Reply #1155 on: Jul 31, 2014, 06:03 AM »


EC serves notice to Poland over shale gas defiance

Warsaw accused of breaching EU law on assessing environmental impact of fracking, reports EurActiv

Arthur Neslen for EurActiv, part of the Guardian Environment Network
theguardian.com, Wednesday 30 July 2014 13.07 BST   

The European commission has begun legal proceedings against Poland for amending its national laws to allow shale drills at depths of up to 5,000 metres without first having assessed the potential environmental impacts, EurActiv has learned.

In June, Brussels sent Poland formal notice that it was opening a case against it for infringing the environmental impact assessment (EIA) directive.

If Warsaw does not now satisfy the commission’s concerns by the end of August, the case could reach the European court of justice (ECJ).

Poland says that an amendment to its EIA law in June 2013 limits shale drills in ‘sensitive’ areas such as Natura 2,000 sites to 1,000m.

But “as shale gas reserves in Poland are located mostly at a depth 1,000-4,500m and the ‘sensitive’ areas cover only 23% of the Polish territory, the new thresholds de facto exclude most shale gas exploration projects in Poland from the scope of the EIA directive,” Joe Hennon, a spokesman for the environment commissioner, Janez Potočnik, told EurActiv.

This law obliges shale gas producers to analyse and report on factors including volumes of water used, numbers of wells created, and the environmental impact of heavy truck traffic to and from shale sites.

The location of projects and risk of accidents also have to be accounted for, particularly in forests and densely-populated urban areas.

European firms have little experience of hydraulic fracturing – or fracking – to extract shale gas, and “studies indicate that this technology creates high risks of groundwater and surface water contamination, as well as risks to air quality and biodiversity,” Hennon said. He added that governments planning shale drills needed first to address these “essential and relevant criteria” under EU law.

If European states choose to snub EU law, the ECJ has the power to levy substantial penalties. It rarely does so but Belgium, for instance, was recently fined €42,000 (£33,241) a day for not correctly implementing an energy efficiency directive.

“Fines take into account the GDP of the country and its ability to pay,” an EU official said

The new shale gas case will be closely watched, partly because the EIA was the only one of the EU’s 11 climate and environment laws that Poland fully transposed into its national statute on time, according to an analysis by the green legal group Client Earth.

Speeding up shale exploration

Paweł Mikusek, a spokesperson for Poland’s environment ministry said that the commission’s letter was still being analysed in Warsaw ahead of a formal response.

But the original amendment to Poland’s EIA law had been “aimed at speeding up exploration and searching for shale gas,” he said.

“When investors which had agreed concessions and [complied with] all environmental agreements, decided after their own analysis to change their location a little bit, they needed to start the whole [environmental risk assessment] procedure again, which was prolonging the exploration process,” Mikusek said.

Poland’s ambition to use shale gas as a lever to increase its energy independence from Russia has been hit by the pull-out of big industry players such as Marathon Oil, ExxonMobil and Talisman.

Earlier this year, the country’s supreme audit office reportedly accused the Polish environment ministry of being “unreliable” and moving so slowly that it would take 12 years to assess the country’s shale gas potential.

A few months before that, Poland’s prime minister Donald Tusk sacked his environment minister Marcin Korolec, in a move which he said was “about radical acceleration of shale gas operations”.

UK and Poland lobbying

Lobbying by Poland and the UK is thought to have stymied a directive regulating shale drills that the commission’s environment directorate had planned to include in its 2030 climate and energy package of EU legislation, announced in January.

At the time, EU officials insisted that strong non-binding recommendations could ultimately be more effective than a weaker directive with legal force.

But the commission has confirmed to EurActiv that only one (un-named) member state responded to a 28 July deadline under the proposal for submitting minimum environmental principles and measures for future shale gas activities.

That country sent in what the commission calls “an informal note”.

According to Shale Gas Europe, an industry group, the commission expects reports from Denmark, Germany, Spain, Hungary, Lithuania, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Sweden and the UK.

These states have until the end of the year to inform the commission of their plans, ahead of a review which could make the recommendations legally enforceable in 2015.

Antoine Simon, a spokesman for Friends of the Earth Europe said that the quiet from member states – and the commission – on 28 July was not surprising.

“The non-binding nature of the recommendations is creating a legal grey area that is exploited by companies in pro-fracking countries, at the expense of local communities and the environment,” he said.

New research by Friends of the Earth suggests that industrial lobbying affected the EU’s shale gas policy-making process, with business groups holding at least 10 times more meetings with EU officials about the proposed legislation, than did NGOs.


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« Reply #1156 on: Aug 03, 2014, 06:32 AM »

Australia launches ‘Green Army’ for the environment

By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, August 2, 2014 10:16 EDT

Australia on Saturday launched its ‘Green Army’ which plans to recruit up to 15,000 young people for projects to conserve and rehabilitate the environment — the biggest land care mobilisation in the nation’s history.

Under the scheme, teams of young people will do work such as planting trees, restoring koala habitats, cleaning up creeks and rivers, conserving cultural heritage sites and monitoring threatened species.

“The Green Army is on the march from today,” Prime Minister Tony Abbott told reporters at a site in Sydney which will be revitalised through the initiative.

“It’s the largest environmental workforce Australia has ever mobilised for land care.”

Abbott, who once described climate change science as “absolute crap” and whose government recently abolished a carbon tax aimed at reducing greenhouse emissions, said the Green Army would make a practical difference.

“I regard myself as a conservationist — always have, always will,” he said. “There can be no more practical conservation measure than this Green Army work here and, increasingly, right around our country.”

Abbott urged young people between 17 and 24 with a passion for the environment to sign on to the scheme under which they will spend six months on a project and be paid a wage similar to that of a traineeship of about Aus$10-$16 (US$9.30-$14.90) an hour.

Environmental groups have been critical of Abbott’s government which last month gave the environmental go ahead for a massive coal mine in central Queensland.

In June, conservationists hailed a UNESCO decision to reject an Australian government bid to revoke World Heritage status for parts of the Tasmanian Wilderness.

The UN’s cultural body has also said Australia’s Great Barrier Reef could be put on a list of endangered World Heritage Sites if more is not done to protect it.

The reef is under growing pressure not just from climate change and the destructive coral-eating crown-of-thorns starfish, but agricultural runoff and rampant coastal development linked to mining.

Environment Minister Greg Hunt said the Green Army scheme would start with 196 projects but the government hopes that there will be 1,500 projects around the country over the next three years.

“It’s about projects around Australia… which will help improve river banks, revegetate, encourage threatened species’ recovery, shore up sand dunes, be engaged in the health and rehabilitation of both urban and rural landscapes,” he said.

“Secondly, it’s about ensuring that young people have training and work skills and opportunity.”


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« Reply #1157 on: Aug 06, 2014, 04:55 AM »

Climatologist: Methane Plumes From Arctic Mean We're Screwed

By Susie Madrak
August 5, 2014 12:46 pm
CrooksAndLiars

SWERUS-C3: First observations of methane release from Arctic Ocean hydrates

Just a week into the sampling program and SWERUS-C3 scientists have discovered vast methane plumes escaping from the seafloor of the Laptev continental slope. These early glimpses of what may be in store for a warming Arctic Ocean could help scientists project the future releases of the strong greenhouse gas methane from the Arctic Ocean.

”This was somewhat of a surprise,” writes chief scientist Örjan Gustafsson, Stockholm University, in his latest blog entry. He speculates that the leaking methane from the seafloor of the continental slope may have its origins in collapsing “methane hydrates,” clusters of methane trapped in frozen water due to high pressure and low temperature.

Watch movie on methane bubbles at SWERUS Youtube channel. (Filmed by Pete Hill.)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0vhPBlEnUsc

The discovery was made while the icebreaker Oden crosscut the Laptev Sea along a depth gradient from 1000m to just 100m following the continental slope upward to reach the shallow waters of the outer Laptev Sea Shelf. By use of acoustic techniques and geochemical analyses of water samples, the scientists found vast methane plumes escaping from the seafloor at depths between 500 m and 150 m. At several places, the methane “bubbles“ even rose to the ocean surface. What’s more, results of preliminary analyses of seawater samples pointed towards levels of dissolved methane 10-50 times higher than background levels.

“While there has been much speculation about the vulnerability of regular marine hydrates along the continental slopes of the Arctic rim, very few actual observations of methane releases due to collapsing marine hydrates on the Arctic slope have been made,” writes Örjan Gustafsson.

Örjan Gustafsson thinks that the mechanism behind the presence of methane seeps at these depths may have something to do with the ”tongue” of relatively warm Atlantic water, presumably intruding across the Arctic Ocean at 200-600 m depths.” Some evidence have shown that this water mass has recently become warmer. As this warm Atlantic water, the last remnants of the Gulf Stream, propagates eastward along the upper slope of the East Siberian margin, it may lead to destabilization of methane hydrates on the upper portion of the slope. This may be what we are now seeing for the first time,” writes Örjan Gustafsson.

Mapping the bottom of the deep ocean

SWERUS-C3 scientists could determine the depth from which methane plumes were bubbling up with the help of precise sonar instruments commonly used to map the bottom of the deep ocean and detect gas seeps in the water column. ”We mapped out an area of several kilometers where bubbles were filling the water column at depths of 200 to 500 m,” writes Örjan Gustafsson. Additional observations include the discovery of over 100 new methane seep sites in the shallower waters of the Laptev shelf (at 60-70m depth), a likely consequence of the thawing subsea permafrost.

”SWERUS-C3 researchers have on earlier expeditions documented extensive venting of methane from the subsea permafrost system to the atmosphere over the East Siberian Arctic Shelf,” writes Örjan Gustafsson. He continues: ”On this expedition we have gathered a strong team to assess these methane releases in greater detail than ever before to substantially improve our collective understanding of the methane sources and the functioning of these systems.”

Örjan Gustafsson believes such data to be crucial for making scientific predictions of how the release of methane from the seafloor of the Arctic Ocean may take shape in the future.


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« Reply #1158 on: Aug 06, 2014, 06:25 AM »

Man-made ‘dead zone’ in the Gulf of Mexico is the size of Connecticut

By Reuters
Tuesday, August 5, 2014 15:22 EDT
By Barbara Liston

ORLANDO Fla. (Reuters) – Scientists say a man-made “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico is as big as the state of Connecticut.

The zone, which at about 5,000 square miles (13,000 sq km) is the second largest in the world but still smaller than in previous years, is so named because it contains no oxygen, or too little, at the Gulf floor to support bottom-dwelling fish and shrimp.

The primary cause of the annual phenomenon is excess nutrient runoff from farms along the Mississippi River, which empties into the Gulf, said Gene Turner, a researcher at Louisiana State University’s Coastal Ecology Institute.

The nutrients feed algae growth, which consumes oxygen when it works its way to the Gulf bottom, he said.

“It’s a poster child for how we are using and abusing our natural resources,” Turner said.

Turner said the zone has at least twice in recent years reached the size of Massachusetts, about 8,200 square miles (21,000 sq km).

The Gulf dead zone, which fluctuates in size but measured 5,052 square miles this summer, is exceeded only by a similar zone in the Baltic Sea around Finland, Turner said.

The number of dead zones worldwide currently totals more than 550 and has been increasing for decades, according to a report by Turner and Nancy Rabalais from the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium.

The elongated Gulf zone typically hugs the Louisiana coastline from the Mississippi River Delta to the state’s border with Texas, and some years extending offshore of Texas and Mississippi, Rabalais said.

The scientists said a growth in farmed land along the Mississippi River in the 1960s began increasing pollution. In the 1970s, levels of oxygen in parts of the Gulf fell below the needs of bottom-dwelling fish. The zone has been generally growing ever since.

Floods, droughts, storms and other factors affect the volume of nutrients flowing into the Gulf and account for year-over-year fluctuations, Turner said.

“It seems to have leveled out in size, but it could get worse” depending on changes in pollution levels, Rabalais said.

The report said federal farm policy impacts the amount of pollution in the river. Turner said corn fields, which lay bare most of the year and leach nutrients, are one of the biggest contributors to the problem.

A federal task force organized with river states in 2001 to reduce nutrient runoff has had no substantial success, he said.

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« Reply #1159 on: Aug 07, 2014, 07:14 AM »

‘This is devastation’: Toxic British Columbia mine spill compared to Exxon Valdez disaster

By Arturo Garcia
RawStory
Wednesday, August 6, 2014 22:27 EDT

A ruptured dam in a Canadian mine released 4.5 million cubic meters of toxic silt and 10 million cubic meters of water into a nearby lake on Monday, with local First Nations activists already comparing the incident to other disasters, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported.

“Like the Exxon Valdez, Mount Polley will be synonymous with one of the most disastrous environmental events in British Columbia,” Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs said in a statement. “The frightening fact is both environmental disasters could have been prevented by vigorous government oversight by an effectively resourced agency bound by robust legislative and environmental safeguards.”

The breach at the Mount Polley Mine tailings dam reportedly follows years of neglect by its operator, Imperial Mines. Imperial and provincial lawmakers in British Columbia, where the mine is located, have clashed with First Nations communities since the country’s Supreme Court granted the Aboriginal First Nations of Canada new rights over ancestral lands like those in the Cariboo Region.

The dam’s breach has allowed the toxic materials to spill into Polley Lake, which in turn drains into Quesnel Lake, which is near a heavy spawning ground for sockeye salmon.

“This is devastation,” Tsihqot’in Tribal Council member Joe Alphonse said in a separate statement. “This year we are expecting over 2 1/2 million salmon to return with this run just entering the Fraser River. This is the worst situation at the worst time possible. The company will be held accountable.”

The Vancouver Sun reported on Wednesday that Imperial Metals has been ordered by the Canadian Ministry of Environment to provide a report on the types of substances released by the breach, as well as the “initial impacts” and details on how it monitored the dam.

The company also has until Aug. 15 to file an analysis of the spill’s long-term consequences for wildlife and water quality, and has been threatened with fines of up to $300,000 and six months in jail for violating the orders.

“I apologize for what happened,” company president Brian Kynoch was quoted as saying. “If you had asked me two weeks ago if that could happen, I would have said it couldn’t happen. So I know that for our company, it’s going to take a long time to earn the community’s trust back.”

Watch aerial footage of the damage done by the toxic spill, as posted by Global News on Monday, below.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vg3yd8GPSnA


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« Reply #1160 on: Aug 08, 2014, 06:37 AM »


Sweet victory for Mexico beekeepers as Monsanto loses GM permit

Evidence convinced judge of threat posed to honey production in Yucatán – but firm will almost certainly appeal against ruling

Guardian
08/08/2014
   
A small group of beekeepers in Mexico has inflicted a blow on biotech giant Monsanto, which has halted the company’s ambitions to plant thousands of hectares of soybeans genetically modified to resist the company’s pesticide Roundup.

A district judge in the state of Yucatán last month overturned a permit issued to Monsanto by Mexico’s agriculture ministry, Sagarpa, and environmental protection agency, Semarnat, in June 2012 that allowed commercial planting of Roundup-ready soybeans.

The permit authorised Monsanto to plant its seeds in seven states, over more than 253,000 hectares (625,000 acres), despite protests from thousands of Mayan farmers and beekeepers, Greenpeace, the Mexican National Commission for the Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity, the National Commission of Natural Protected Areas and the National Institute of Ecology.

In withdrawing the permit, the judge was convinced by the scientific evidence presented about the threats posed by GM soy crops to honey production in the Yucatán peninsula, which includes Campeche, Quintana Roo and Yucatán states. Co-existence between honey production and GM soybeans is not possible, the judge ruled.

Mexico is the world’s six biggest producer and third largest exporter of honey. About 25,000 families on the Yucatán peninsula depend on honey production. This tropical region produces about 40% of the country’s honey, almost all of which is exported to the EU. This is not small change: in 2011, the EU imported $54m (£32m) worth of Mexican honey.

The concerns are multiple. Roundup-ready crops – soybeans, corn, canola, sugar beets, cotton and alfalfa – have been manipulated to be resistant to glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup.

Some argue that glyphosate poses a risk to human and animal health, a claim that Monsanto and other agribusinesses reject.

In addition to health risks, environmental damage to soil, water and bee colonies – which are dwindling fast – have been attributed glyphosate use, threatening food and water security across the globe.

GM crops could devastate the important European export market for Mexican beekeepers, where the sale of honey containing pollen derived from GM crops has been restricted since a landmark decision in 2011 by the European court of justice.

The ruling barred honey derived from a GM crop unapproved for human consumption – which includes some soy and other animal feeds – from sale in the EU. Honey with more than 0.9% of GM pollen (from an approved GM food) must be labelled as containing GM ingredients and cannot be marketed as an organic product. Some countries, including Germany, reject honey that contains any GM pollen.

A small study conducted in Campeche, where about 10,000 hectares of GM soybeans were planted after the permit was approved in 2012, found GM pollen in some honey samples destined for the European market. This, say the authors, threatens the local honey industry and contradicts the position taken by Sagarpa and industry groups that soybeans are not visited or pollinated by bees searching for food because they can self-pollinate.

The Monsanto ruling was commended by the respected national newspaper La Jornada, which accused the Mexican government of ignoring widespread concerns over GM and forcing those opponents to fight it out in court with powerful multinational companies. The government’s stated ambition of eliminating hunger is incompatible with its decisions to increasingly allow multinational companies such as Monsanto to introduce GM crops, the paper’s editorial concluded.

Central to the ruling was the Mexican constitution, specifically the government’s obligation to fully consult indigenous communities before making any major decision about what happens, including what is grown, on their territory. The judge ordered planting to stop and gave Sagarpa six months to carry out full and proper consultations with indigenous farmers – which it should have done before the permit was granted in 2012.

It was this same omission that led to an almost identical ruling by a district judge in Campeche in March 2014.

These two judgments have set a precedent that will help farmers, campaigners and environmentalists take local legal action against the rollout of GM soy and corn, which the federal government is sanctioning without consultation and against experts’ advice.

But this is a high-stakes game to play, in which indigenous communities are being forced to fight their own government and multinational corporations with multimillion-dollar legal departments, simply to have their constitutional rights honoured and protect their traditional ways of farming and living.

So while a third victory in Chiapas, where a similar case is pending, could soon follow, this is almost certainly only round one. Monsanto will probably appeal against the decision to a higher court.

The North American Free Trade Agreement, criticised by some for crippling small-scale Mexican farming, is not on the side of the beekeepers. This David and Goliath battle is about so much more than honey.


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« Reply #1161 on: Aug 11, 2014, 09:27 AM »


How Kentucky tobacco yielded a possible Ebola miracle drug

How did a possible miracle drug for one of the deadliest diseases in Africa come to be grown half a world away in a small town in Kentucky? Because of chewing tobacco, malaria, Charles Darwin and Australia.

By Janet Patton
08/11/2014
Lexington Herald-Leader

When two American aid workers came down with the deadly Ebola virus recently, an experimental treatment materialized seemingly out of nowhere. How did a possible miracle drug for one of the deadliest diseases in Africa come to be grown half a world away in a small town in Kentucky?

Because of chewing tobacco, malaria, Charles Darwin and Australia.

For decades, tobacco has been a solution in search of the right problem, and Ebola might be that problem.

In the 1990s, when smoking rates slipped below 30 percent, Kentucky tobacco farmers began to look for another way to make money. And a lot of eyes turned to Daviess County.

There had always been a lot of tobacco grown in the Owensboro area in Western Kentucky, including acres of a variety known as “dark air-cured” for Pinkerton, a local chewing-tobacco company.

But what was growing there now was different: it would never be smoked or dipped.

A California startup called Biosource Technologies was paying Daviess County farmers to grow genetically altered tobacco that could produce pharmaceuticals.

In 1985, as smokeless tobaccos were gaining market share, Swedish Match bought Pinkerton. In the early ’90s, the company built a tobacco research and processing facility in Owensboro called the Reserca R&D Station to explore the chemical potential of tobacco.

Out in Vacaville, Calif., a tech startup company called Large Scale Biology was working on genetically engineering ways to make drugs with plants, including tobacco, which has long been the plant equivalent of the white lab rat.

Tobacco was the first plant to be successfully spliced with foreign genes. Tobacco mosaic virus, so named because of the mottled pattern it produces in leaves, was the first virus ever discovered and purified.

Large Scale Biology pioneered ways to use the tobacco mosaic virus to get foreign genes into plants, which would then reproduce the desired proteins.

By 1995, a company called Biosource was looking for a way to ramp up production of their experimental drugs, including a vaccine they hoped would fight malaria, so they came to Owensboro. (Biosource would acquire Large Scale Biology in 1999, choosing to keep that name.)

There was widespread interest in using tobacco to produce vaccines and treatments for everything from an antibody to fight tooth decay to an anti-inflammatory protein for use in cardiovascular surgery, along with treatments for orphan diseases — defined by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as conditions that affect fewer than 200,000 people nationwide — cancer, AIDS and infectious threats.

The technology for pharmaceutical production worked well, but commercializing the process remained problematic. Large Scale Biology had no experience in the arduous and expensive process of getting a new drug through the FDA approval process.

By 2005, the company was in financial trouble. It filed for bankruptcy in January 2006.

“It might be fair to say Large Scale Biology was ahead of its time, and ran out of money before the technology was mature enough,” said Kenneth Palmer, a University of Louisville researcher who worked at Large Scale Biology.

The company would build an indoor facility the size of a Wal-Mart supercenter with 32,000 square feet of growing space, filled with a totally different kind of tobacco, Nicotiana benthamiana, with its own interesting history.

Darwin and discoveries

In December 1831, when HMS Beagle set sail on a five-year survey of South America, Charles Darwin was aboard as gentleman naturalist, later to be joined by Benjamin Bynoe, whom Darwin took under his wing, teaching him useful collecting techniques. When they camped at the Galápagos Islands, Darwin began to realize that the species of the various islands were all different. In 1836, the Beagle returned to England via Tahiti and Australia, and Darwin’s observations led to his famous treatise on natural selection, “On the Origin of Species.”

When the Beagle left the next year to survey Western Australia, which had become a British colony in 1829, Bynoe again went along and this time was both surgeon and naturalist. Somewhere along the northern coast, Bynoe picked up a species of wild tobacco, according to a paper on the history of the plant written in 2008 by University of Kentucky tobacco genomics professor David Zaitlin, UK plant pathologist Michael Goodin and two other professors at Washington State University and North Carolina State University.

A specimen of this plant wound up in the records of the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, where it was eventually named in honor of botanist George Bentham, who described it in his Flora Australiensis in 1868.

Nicotiana benthamiana turns out to have unique characteristics that have made it a darling of modern science.

Because the species developed in isolation, benthamiana has no built-in resistance to much of anything, said Orlando Chambers, director of the Kentucky Tobacco Research and Development Center. That makes it easy to infect with the altered tobacco mosaic virus and with agrobacterium, a gene-swapping bacteria that causes tumors in plants.

Modern science also discovered that N. benthamiana, unlike other common research plants, is terrific for a process called “agrofiltration,” in which tissues are flooded with liquid that spreads quickly throughout the entire leaf.

Benthamiana is fast growing but could never survive outside, Chambers said. It is perfect for large-scale indoor growing in soil-free systems, where the plants can be completely controlled.

In Owensboro, the facility also uses automated systems that can infuse whole plants in agrobacterium-laced solutions, which the plants soak up. The agrobacterium carries the foreign genes into the plants, which are then reproduced in bulk. In just a week or two the desired compounds are extracted from the plants.

Since the 1970s at least, tobacco researchers had known the plant could produce copious amounts of chemicals. The problem was finding something worth the effort.

One of Large Scale Biology’s last projects was an individualized “vaccine” for non-Hodgkin lymphoma that would use each patient’s own cancer to create the “cure” and grow it in bulk.

“Sixteen patients enrolled and were given 16 different vaccines, one each,” Palmer, the University of Louisville researcher, said. The goal of the trial was to see if the vaccines were safe, he said. They were, and the outcome was promising. Other pharmaceutical companies are pursuing this avenue of research.

Steps to the serum

The success came too late for Large Scale Biology, but it proved a tobacco-grown pharmaceutical could be safe. As Large Scale Biology was on the verge of going out of business, Kentucky agricultural entrepreneur Billy Joe Miles came to the rescue.

Miles, who has a farm less than a mile from the plant, had toured the Owensboro facility as well as Large Scale Biology’s California labs with Gov. Paul Patton, University of Kentucky president Lee Todd and Jim Ramsey, future University of Louisville president.

“I got a call saying the company had gone bankrupt and they were going to close the plant in Owensboro,” Miles remembered last week. He quickly arranged to cover employees’ salaries and keep the doors open while he worked out a plan to save it.

The Kentucky Agricultural Financing Corp., a loan pool set up with money the state got from cigarette makers in the tobacco settlement, loaned the Owensboro hospital $3.6 million, and Owensboro Medical Health System completed the $6.4 million purchase that spring.

Renamed Kentucky BioProcessing, the facility has become a leader worldwide in commercial-scale production of proteins in plants, often on a contract basis.

In July 2007, KBP began a collaboration with Mapp Biopharmaceutical and Arizona State University’s Biodesign Institute to work on Ebola. With a grant from the Army, ASU’s Charles Arntzen and Mapp developed the treatment that was used last week on American aid workers Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol.

In January, the Owensboro hospital sold KBP to Reynolds American, which is continuing to operate it as a contract bioprocessing facility.

Last week, just as Ebola was making headlines worldwide, U of L and Palmer were announcing another major grant, $14.7 million from the National Institutes of Health to develop a gel that would block transmission of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

They will use the tobacco plants to “manufacture” a critical protein from red algae.

The U of L program also has received major grants to develop a cheaper second-generation HPV vaccine to fight cervical cancer and a vaccine for cholera that also could fight colon cancer. All will be grown in KBP’s plants.

So far, only one plant-based pharmaceutical has made it onto the market in the world — a treatment for Gaucher disease, a rare genetic disorder of the liver — made by an Israeli company using carrot cells.

For Ebola, KBP was preparing for the first human drug trials later this year when the request came to ship doses to Atlanta’s Emory University for the American aid workers. Now, with calls to make the serum more widely available, those efforts may speed up.

If treatment is proved to have helped Brantly and Writebol and if the results can be borne out with further testing, the drug, called ZMapp, may give biopharmaceuticals the big winner it has long needed to attract significant investment.

*********

Tobacco plants are grown at the Kentucky BioProcessing facility in Owensboro, Ky. Plants grown here are used to manufacture an experimental drug to treat Ebola.


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« Reply #1162 on: Aug 13, 2014, 07:11 AM »

Study Says Energy Companies Are Fracking Through Water Supplies

By Susie Madrak
August 13, 2014 6:00 am
CrooksAndLiars

Their work is certain to roil the public health debate over the risks of the controversial oil and gas production process.

Basically, the study's authors say that fracking companies are acting without regard to the aquifers of drinking water, but they can't prove the companies contaminated the drinking water -- because no one really knew they were doing it! Via the L.A. Times:

    Energy companies are fracking for oil and gas at far shallower depths than widely believed, sometimes through underground sources of drinking water, according to research released Tuesday by Stanford University scientists.

    Though researchers cautioned their study of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, employed at two Wyoming geological formations showed no direct evidence of water-supply contamination, their work is certain to roil the public health debate over the risks of the controversial oil and gas production process.

    Fracking involves high-pressure injection of millions of gallons of water mixed with sand and chemicals to crack geological formations and tap previously unreachable oil and gas reserves. Fracking fluids contain a host of chemicals, including known carcinogens and neurotoxins.

    Fears about possible water contamination and air pollution have fed resistance in communities around the country, threatening to slow the oil and gas boom made possible by fracking.

    Fracking into underground drinking water sources is not prohibited by the 2005 Energy Policy Act, which exempted the practice from key provisions of the Safe Drinking Water Act. But the industry has long held that it does not hydraulically fracture into underground sources of drinking water because oil and gas deposits sit far deeper than aquifers.

    The study, however, found that energy companies used acid stimulation, a production method, and hydraulic fracturing in the Wind River and Fort Union geological formations that make up the Pavillion gas field and that contain both natural gas and sources of drinking water.

    “Thousands of gallons of diesel fuel and millions of gallons of fluids containing numerous inorganic and organic additives were injected directly into these two formations during hundreds of stimulation events,” concluded Dominic DiGiulio and Robert Jackson of Stanford’s School of Earth Sciences in a presentation Tuesday at the American Chemical Society conference in San Francisco.


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« Reply #1163 on: Aug 15, 2014, 05:47 AM »

Scientist discovers new language spoken by plants

By Newsweek
Thursday, August 14, 2014 23:45 EDT

Maybe when leaves whistle in the breeze, plants are really speaking to each other. A study published today in this week’s Science journal unearths a new language spoken by plants. Jim Westwood, professor of pathology, physiology and weed science at the Virginia Tech’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences discovered that parasitic and host plants have a dialogue by sharing genetic information with one another.

For the study, Westwood studied how the parasitic dodder plant, and two host plants, Arabidopsis (a small flowering plant in the mustard family) and tomatoes, interacted with each other. In his previous research Westwood had discovered that during the plants’ exchange, the two species transported RNA (ribonucleic acid, molecules that help code and decode genetic data) back and forth.

This time around, Westwood examined the plants’ messenger RNA, or mRNA, the molecule in cells that instructs organisms how to code certain proteins that are key to functioning. MRNA helps to regulate plant development and can control when plants eventually flowers. He found that the parasitic and the host plants were exchanging thousands of mRNA molecules between each other, thus creating a conversation.

"The discovery of this novel form of inter-organism communication shows that this is happening a lot more than any one has previously realized," Westwood said. "Now that we have found that they are sharing all this information, the next question is, 'What exactly are they telling each other?'"

Westwood speculates that the plants communicate about their relationship; for example, the parasitic plant might command the host plant to lower its defenses, that way it can attack it more easily. This discovery could result in potentially groundbreaking further discoveries about the host-parasite relationship in plants. Scientists hope to examine other organisms, like fungi and bacteria, to see if they communicate with each other in a similar way.

Westwood’s next project will be an attempt to uncover what exactly the plants are saying to each other when they exchange mRNA information. For now, we can assume they’re as baffled by global warming as we are.


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« Reply #1164 on: Aug 15, 2014, 06:35 AM »


Spain clears oil exploration off Canary Islands

Green groups say they will appeal industry ministry decision to grant energy company Repsol three-year drilling license

AFP
theguardian.com, Thursday 14 August 2014 13.01 BST 

Spain’s governnment has given oil group Repsol the all-clear to explore for oil and gas off the coast of the tourism-dependent Canary Islands, sparking an outcry from environmental groups.

The industry ministry gave Repsol a three-year licence to drill in three sites some 50km (30m) off the coast of the Spanish archipelago, which lies off the northwest coast of Africa.

The exploration, approved in a decision published Wednesday in the official state bulletin, is opposed by local and environmental groups, which warn of damaging consequences of any oil spill or from vibrations caused by the exploration.

Greepeace, WWF, Friends of the Earth and Ecologistas en Accion and SEO Birdlife announced they would appeal the decision in Spanish and European courts, saying the process had been littered with “irregularities”. Environmentalists are also fighting plans to drill for oil off the coast of Ibiza, in the Mediterranean.

Spain’s environment ministry had given a favourable environmental impact statement to the Canary Islands exploration in May, saying its decision was backed by “rigorous” scientific research. In June, Spain’s top court rejected seven appeals against the oil exploration.

Of all the advanced economies in the OECD, Spain is the most reliant on energy imports, buying 99.9% of its oil and gas.


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« Reply #1165 on: Aug 15, 2014, 06:43 AM »

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
08/14/2014 01:20 PM

Brave New Recycling Economy: Movement Turns Trash to Treasure

By Michaela Schiessl

Every piece of garbage can be turned into raw material that can be used in future products. With his influential Cradle to Cradle movement, Germany's Michael Braungart espouses a form of eco-hedonism that puts smart production before conservation.

Brad Pitt is undoubtedly his most celebrated fan, but chemist Michael Braungart prefers to conceal his pride with sarcasm. The American actor and environmental activist confesses that the book "Cradle to Cradle" is one of the three most important books of his life. And how does co-author Braungart respond? "Well, I'm not sure if Pitt has read more than three books yet."

It's a typical quip coming from Braungart, a professor based in Hamburg, Germany. To make a snappy remark, he can even forget about his revolution for a moment.

In reality, the 56-year-old is deeply flattered to hear the American star praising his life's work. And he needs all the praise and support he can for what he has planned, which is nothing less than the environmental and industrial reorganization of the world.

In Braungart's universe, every product is basically designed to either decompose without causing any harm or to be recycled without loss of quality. His vision is of a planet on which no garbage accumulates, because all waste becomes food.

Eco-Hedonism

"Our current world of products is totally primitive," says Braungart. We produce things, often filled with pollutants, and we eventually throw them away. The toxins escape into the soil, air and water. In his view, our practices are completely underdeveloped -- part of a dark, Neanderthal-like world. "A product that becomes waste is simply a bad product. Bad chemistry."

Braungart wants to apply good chemistry, and make products without any pollutants, which either end up as compost or are returned into the technical cycle as a pure, unadulterated raw material. If this were achieved on a large scale, many things would change. Wastefulness would no longer be bad but would in fact be a virtue, and we would be living in a world filled with abundance instead of restrictions. Our world would mimic nature, in which, for example, the blossom on a cherry tree turns into fruit, humus or a new tree - an elixir of life in all three cases. This eco-hedonism is Braungart's creed. "I want people to live extravagantly," he says.

Austerity and sacrifice, the favorite disciplines of many environmentalists, are anathema to him. The German environmental movement? "A club of guilt managers deprived of enjoyment." The proponents of sustainability? "They're optimizing the wrong thing."

To turn his theory into practice, Braungart has established a company, EPEA. His German clients include personal care products giant Beiersdorf and lingerie maker Triumph, mail order company Otto and cosmetics maker Aveda. Braungart advises Volkswagen, Unilever and BMW. With his help, HeidelbergCement developed a special cement that purifies the air once its been processed into concrete. And, in 2013, Puma introduced the first fully recyclable athletic clothing collection, which includes compostable shoes.

Sexy Niche Ideas

Still, he also has many critics. Friedrich Schmidt-Bleek, the 82-year-old father of the German Chemicals Act, a strict law passed in 1980 designed to protect people and the environment from the unwanted effects of chemicals, questions whether Braungart's idea can be implemented on a mass scale. He is unimpressed by individual developments like a compostable upholstery material. "I can feel very good on Braungart's edible seat covers for the Airbus A380 jumbo jet, but I'm still waiting for a proposal to design the remaining 99 percent of the aircraft," he says critically.

"Braungart's ideas are sexy, but he operates in niches," says Gerd Rosenkranz, who served until recently as the spokesman of German Environmental Aid (DUH). Michael Müller, who advises a German parliamentary committee as an expert on sustainability, is downright angry. He feels that Braungaurt doesn't care about underlying political considerations and, as such, is "not legitimate." How, he asks, can this brave new recycling economy be implemented if customers are not required by law to return materials?

Müller also notes that it takes considerable effort to push through the kind of new legislation that would be necessary. "There is enormous political and especially economic resistance, because an economy based on wastefulness is very profitable," says Müller. "It isn't as though we lack technological solutions. But as long as the common good does not take precedence over private interests in public policy, no system will work." Besides, he adds, with many products in Braungart's universe, it is unclear whether and how they will find their way back from the customer to the manufacturer's recycling operation.

The objections are considerable, but Braungart dismisses them impatiently. He sees his critics as naysayers and worriers, trapped by political constraints. He probably needs this sort of single-mindedness to maintain his enthusiasm for decades, and to remain focused.

Arousing Curiosity

Braungart, with his absent-minded professor's haircut and metal-rimmed glasses, is a lively and anarchic alternative to the worry-ridden apologists for austerity, but also to old-school chemists. When he gives speeches, as he did to a conference of small business owners in February, he speaks extemporaneously, walks back and forth like a standup comedian, and makes his points as if they had just popped into his head.

"You want less bad? Just hit your child twice a week instead of five?"

"Breastfeeding is great. It detoxifies the mother."

"(The German state of) North Rhine-Westphalia wants to become climate-neutral. How stupid is that? Have you ever seen a climate-neutral tree?"

Barbie dolls are chemical weapons, and Louis Vuitton bags are a clear case of hazardous waste. Braungart's unorthodox performance arouses people's curiosity. Germany's most successful female entrepreneur, Susanne Klatten, is sitting in the audience. Klatten, a major shareholder in BMW, invests primarily in sustainable, future-oriented technologies. The Bavarian carmaker has also used Braungart's concept of a recycling economy in its new electric car.

The concept of endlessly repeating material cycles was devised in a New York skyscraper in 1991, when Braungart met American architect and designer William McDonough at a roof deck party. The two men spoke excitedly about the lunacy behind the idea of creating bad products in order to gradually improve them. How much better would it be to manufacture good products and recycle them, they speculated? The idea had been born.

Returning Materials to the Cycle

So that raw materials are truly returned to the cycle, they reasoned, goods should be leased instead of purchased, with producers being required to take them back. In this way, a TV set containing thousands of toxic chemicals would no longer end up in a landfill. Instead of a window, a consumer would buy 20 years of looking through a window, and instead of an office a company would buy seven years of sitting.

The logic is that if manufacturers eventually receive their materials back, it's worth their while to use high-quality materials. Companies would essentially turn into reservoirs of raw materials.

"Cradle to Cradle," the first book co-authored by Braungart and McDonough, was published in 2002, and it quickly gained supporters. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who became the governor of California soon afterwards, declared his sunshine state to be a C2C project region. Film stars like Meryl Streep, Cameron Diaz and Susan Sarandon promoted the concept. Director Steven Spielberg is a C2C fan. After Hurricane Katrina, Brad Pitt teamed up with McDonough to have 90 houses designed in accordance with C2C criteria built in New Orleans.

McDonough planted sedum on the 100,000-square-meter roof at automaker Ford's Rouge River plant. The green roof cleans rainwater and saved Ford the cost of a $50-million wastewater treatment plant. But a concept car based on corn and soy was discarded because it was too expensive.

The eco-visionaries didn't print their manifesto on paper, but on a polymer from which the ink can be washed, allowing the ink and the book to be recycled. The sequel, "The Next Industrial Revolution," which included real-life examples, came out in 2008, followed by the third installment, "The Upcycle," in April 2013.

Germany Slow in Adopting C2C
In Denmark, about 30 large companies have already committed themselves to the C2C principle. Fourteen islands in the North Sea have joined together to form a C2C network. Nike produces C2C sneakers, and Herman Miller's classic Aeron desk chair is almost completely recyclable. The idea has even taken hold in China, where Goodbaby, the world's largest manufacturer of strollers and child seats (Maxi-Cosi), sells a special collection with cradle-to-cradle certification.

But nowhere is there more hype about C2C than in the Netherlands. Braungart advises the Dutch government, and since 2010 the country's entire public purchasing program has been based on sustainability criteria. An area at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport is being developed under C2C criteria. The 2012 Floriade international garden show was based entirely on the C2C motto, with the main building, restaurants and sanitary installations generating their own energy. Cutlery, plates and even toilet paper were C2C.

Stef Kranendijk, a former senior executive at consumer products maker Procter & Gamble, discovered Braungart at one of his appearances several years ago. In 2007, he had bought Desso, a Dutch company that makes carpets and flooring for athletic facilities. Braungart's presentation inspired him, and he began to wonder whether the company could be rebuilt according to C2C criteria.

The process began with the search for nontoxic materials and recyclable yarns. The company increased its consumption of green energy to 50 percent of total energy consumption. Then Desso found a nontoxic adhesive that can be removed. Since then, the company has been taking back its products and recycling them. Even better, Desso's developers created the Airmaster, a carpet that uses special bacteria to purify the air and absorb fine dust. The green company also makes the artificial turf in sports arenas like Wembley Stadium in London, as well as much of the carpeting used on cruise ships. "Desso has seen a 20-percent increase in revenues," says Kranendijk, who is very tall.

High Initial Costs Deter Companies

Nevertheless, many business owners are deterred by high initial costs. Others like the principle but object to Braungart's obstinacy. Why is he so strictly opposed to saving additional resources? Others suspect that he merely wants to line his pockets with his certification monopoly. Responding to such speculation, Braungart and McDonough quickly established a non-profit certification office.

One charge already seems to have been rebutted: that C2C is only feasible in products with simple designs. Maersk, the Danish shipping, oil and natural gas multinational, built the world's largest container ship primarily on the basis of Braungart's principles. The ship is 400 meters (1,312 feet) long, 59 meters wide and 73 meters tall, and Maersk built it because it made sense.

Some 98 percent of a ship consists of steel of varying quality, which is bonded to other materials. When the ship is scrapped, the different types of steel are combined with all cables and plastic parts and recycled. The resulting product is of lower quality.

When building the new ship, Maersk installed the parts in such a way that they can be precisely catalogued and easily separated. "The scrapping yards pay us 10 percent more if we know the quality of various materials," says Jacob Sterling, head of the Maersk environmental division. At a time when steel is becoming scarce, the ship serves as a valuable stockpile of raw material during its operation.

Germans Overcome Reservations

The fact that German industry still struggles with Braungart's concept, despite such success stories, is the result of a "romanticizing view of nature," Braungart believes. The typically German chronic "management of guilt" is also at fault. "We're pretty good at optimizing the wrong thing," says Braungart. Besides, he adds, German companies make a lot of money exporting waste incineration plants to the rest of the world.

For years, Braungart's career was constrained by someone very close to him: his wife.

Monika Griefahn, a former Green Party environment minister in the northern state of Lower Saxony, often faced accusations of giving preference to her husband and his work. She once tried to appoint him to an expert commission, and then she supported his involvement in Expo Hannover, the 2000 World Fair. When it almost cost his wife her job, Braungart lowered his profile in Germany. He has only been on the offensive again since she withdrew from politics in 2012.

In the spring, representatives of the construction and real estate sector attended the first Cradle to Cradle Forum at Schloss Solitude in Stuttgart. The list of attendees shows how much business leaders have overcome their reservations. Audi and BMW were there, as were Carl Zeiss, Siemens, Bosch, Lindner, Knauf Gips and brake maker Knorr Bremse.

Christiane Benner, a board member with the IG Metall metalworkers' union, sees C2C as a great opportunity for the German economy. Instead of trying to compete with low-wage countries, she argues, Germany should turn itself into the innovative leader of environmental reconstruction. To introduce Braungart's idea to her engineers, she made C2C the main topic at an annual meeting two years ago.

But that was where the union official got to know the other, indomitable Braungart. When a few engineers pointed out that sacrifice is also part of change, the chemist became indignant. "Do you homework first, before you start babbling about the limits of growth," he snapped at his audience.

That's just the way he is, this professor from Hamburg. For a good insult, he's even willing to abandon his revolution for a moment.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan


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« Reply #1166 on: Aug 15, 2014, 06:58 AM »


Humans now strongest driver of glaciers melting, study finds

During the last two decades two thirds of glacial mass loss was due to humans, up from a quarter previously

Press Association
theguardian.com, Friday 15 August 2014 09.21 BST      

The Perito Moreno Glacier in Argentina. Human factors have been the biggest cause of receding glaciers in the world over the past twenty years, a new study says The Perito Moreno Glacier in Argentina. Human factors have been the biggest cause of receding glaciers in the world over the past twenty years, a new study says Photograph: MARIO GOLDMAN/AFP/Getty Images

Melting of glaciers caused by human activity has soared in the past 20 years, a study has shown.

Human influence is now the strongest driver of glacier melting, which has been occurring since the end of the “Little Ice Age” in the mid-19th century, it is claimed.

Between 1851 and 2010, only a quarter of glacial mass loss was due to human-induced climate change, scientists calculated. But during the last two decades of that period the human contribution rose to two thirds.

Lead researcher Dr Ben Barzeion, from the University of Innsbruck in Austria, said: “Typically, it takes glaciers decades or centuries to adjust to climate changes. In the 19th and first half of 20th century we observed that glacier mass loss attributable to human activity is hardly noticeable but since then has steadily increased.

“While we keep factors such as solar variability and volcanic eruptions unchanged, we are able to modify land use changes and greenhouse gas emissions in our models. In our data we find unambiguous evidence of anthropogenic contribution to glacier mass loss.”

The researchers, whose findings appear in the journal Science, used climate computer simulations to map glacier changes everywhere in the world outside Antarctica.

A global glacier database called the Randolph Glacier Inventory made the study possible.

The scientists reconstructed the area and volume of each glacier in 1851. Two different simulations then predicted how those glaciers might have retreated since.

One only included natural factors such as solar variability and volcanic eruptions. The other also incorporated human influences such as changes in land use and greenhouse gas emissions.


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« Reply #1167 on: Aug 15, 2014, 07:38 AM »

Experimental chikungunya vaccine shows promise in first human trials

By Reuters
Thursday, August 14, 2014 20:15 EDT

By Will Dunham

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – An experimental vaccine being developed by U.S. government scientists to prevent the painful mosquito-borne viral disease chikungunya has shown promise in its first human trials but remains years away from approval for widespread use.

In a study published on Thursday in the Lancet medical journal, National Institutes of Health scientists said the vaccine elicited an impressive immune response in all 25 adult volunteers who took part and caused no worrisome side effects.

“We believe it is a highly promising vaccine given how well tolerated it was and how robust the immune responses were,” said the leader of the study, Dr. Julie Ledgerwood of the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Infection with the virus, spread by two mosquito species, typically is not fatal but can cause debilitating symptoms including fever, headache and severe joint pain lasting weeks or months. There is no current treatment and no licensed vaccine to prevent it.

It showed up for the first time in the Americas late last year. In the United States, locally transmitted infections – as opposed to infections in Americans traveling abroad – have been reported for the first time this year.

The early-stage clinical trial involved 25 healthy American volunteers ages 18 to 50 years old who were given one of three dosage levels of the vaccine in three injections over a 20-week period.

The volunteers were not exposed to the chikungunya virus, but their immune response was measured in the form of neutralizing antibodies – proteins produced by a special type of white blood cell that defends a person from an invading virus.

An immune response was seen in most of the volunteers after the first vaccination. Following the second, all exhibited high levels of antibodies. There also was a significant increase in antibodies after the third injection.

The antibodies lasted a long time and were present in all of the volunteers six months following their final shot.

This was a so-called Phase I trial testing the safety of a vaccine and looking at dosage ranges. Before securing regulatory approval, the vaccine would need to go through a Phase II trial using a larger group of people to test potential effectiveness and further evaluate safety. Next would be a Phase III trial with large numbers of people to confirm effectiveness and safety.

The vaccine already was shown to protect rhesus monkeys from chikungunya.

“A Phase II trial likely would take several more years, both for the production of vaccine as well as development and completion of the trial,” Ledgerwood said.

Ledgerwood said the NIH needs to work with private organizations or industry partners to move forward.

“At least one such potential partner is interested,” she added without saying who it was. “For most vaccines, development takes decades. We don’t think it should take that long for this vaccine.”

Vaccines often are made from killed viruses or weakened live viruses. This one is different. It is a virus-like particle (VLP) vaccine similar to the type used against human papillomavirus (HPV).

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« Reply #1168 on: Aug 19, 2014, 06:11 AM »


Earth sliding into ecological debt ‘earlier and earlier’

World has already exhausted a year’s supply of natural resources in less than eight months, campaigners say

Press Association
theguardian.com, Tuesday 19 August 2014 12.10 BST   
   
Humans have used up the natural resources the world can supply in a year in less than eight months, campaigners have warned.

The world has now reached “Earth overshoot day”, the point in the year when humans have exhausted supplies such as land, trees and fish and outstripped the planet’s annual capacity to absorb waste products including carbon dioxide.

The problem is worsening, with the planet sliding into “ecological debt” earlier and earlier, so that the day on which the world has used up all the natural resources available for the year has shifted from early October in 2000 to August 19 in 2014.

In 1961, humans used only around three-quarters of the capacity Earth has for generating food, timber, fish and absorbing greenhouse gases, with most countries having more resources than they consumed.

But now 86% of the world’s population lives in countries where the demands made on nature - the nation’s “ecological footprint” - outstrip what that country’s resources can cope with.

The Global Footprint Network, which calculates earth overshoot day, said it would currently take 1.5 Earths to produce the renewable natural resources needed to support human requirements.

The network warned that governments that ignore resource limits in decision-making are putting long-term economic security at risk.

Mathis Wackernagel, president of the Global Footprint Network, said: “Global overshoot is becoming a defining challenge of the 21st century. It is both an ecological and economic problem.

“Countries with resource deficits and low incomes are exceptionally vulnerable.

“Even high-income countries that have had a financial advantage to shield themselves from the most direct impacts of resource dependence need to realise that a long-term solution requires addressing such dependencies before they turn into a significant economic stress.”


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« Reply #1169 on: Aug 20, 2014, 05:39 AM »


Lessons from Denmark: how district heating could improve energy security

Advocates of district heating schemes say they reduce fuel imports, lower carbon emissions and tackle fuel poverty

Frederika Whitehead   
theguardian.com, Wednesday 20 August 2014 11.25 BST   
       
When the oil crisis hit in the winter of 1973 the price per barrel quadrupled, and countries that were heavily dependent on oil were in dire straits. Denmark was one such nation: more than 90% of its energy came from imported oil. Danish citizens shivered in their homes while factories were forced into temporary shutdowns, alternate street lights were switched off and driving was banned on a Sunday.

After that long and painful winter Denmark vowed to ween itself off oil imports, determined to improve its energy security. Ever since it has invested heavily in renewables, energy efficiency and “district heating”.

District heating is exactly as it sounds: colossal boilers provide heat for entire districts through a network of heating pipes. While in the UK households buy gas, which is piped into individual boilers to provide heating, Danish neighbourhoods do away with individual boilers and instead have their hot water piped directly into their houses from one larger, and much more efficient, shared boiler.

What is particularly clever about district heat networks is that they also capture and redistribute heat that would otherwise be wasted. The surplus heat produced by electricity generating stations, factories, server farms and public transport networks is funnelled into the network, eliminating waste, lowering carbon emissions, lowering fuel consumption and saving everybody money.

Fast forward 40 years from the original oil crisis and district heating networks provide heat to a whopping 63% of Danish households. Denmark has become a net exporter of oil and expects to remain so until at least 2018.

Here in the UK, a 2013 report by the engineers Buro Happold found that there is enough heat wasted in London alone to meet 70% of the city’s heating needs. If all the heat that is wasted were captured and put into district heating it would make a dramatic difference to our fuel bills, fuel poverty, carbon emissions and fuel security.

Having harnessed all the waste heat, the remaining requirement can be met by combined heat and power stations (CHPs). These are 20-60% more efficient than standard power plants because, as well as supplying electricity, they also provide heat. Standard power stations are only 30-50% efficient because the heat produced when creating electricity is wasted. In a CHP station the heat released during electricity generation is captured and used to heat homes and offices, making CHP power stations between 70-90% efficient.

Denmark has built an enormous network of pipes under its towns and cities, collecting waste heat from factories, incinerators, transport systems, and combining it with heat generated from solar thermal energy plants, wind turbines, and conventional gas and coal power stations, to produce a low cost and highly efficient heat supply.

Britain was far less affected by the oil crises of 1973 and 1979; we had recently discovered North Sea oil and gas. So while Denmark has spent the past 40 years developing a system that captures and harnesses waste heat and puts it into a grid with heat from CHP, Britain has spent the past four decades developing its gas grid. Now the North Sea reserves are dwindling and we are increasingly reliant of imported gas: in 2012 UK gas imports reached their highest since 1976 at 43%.

So the British government is trying to increase the number of households connected to district heating networks. The Department for Environment and Climate Change (Decc) would like to see the number of connected properties increased from a paltry 2% (just under 200,000 nationwide) to 20% by 2030 and 40% by 2050. To facilitate this, Decc has made £7m available to councils to carry out feasibility studies for district heating systems.

More than 50 UK local authorities have taken the government up on its offer. Between them they have been awarded £4m and there is £3m remaining in the pot.

The Greater London Authority has set a target that 25% of its energy supply will come from decentralised sources by 2025. The first step towards this was creating a map of London’s heat resources. The map shows where London’s power plants are, where its energy from waste plants is, its CHP sites and the proposed sites for heating networks.

The regeneration of the area around Kings Cross station in London will see 2,000 new homes built – all of which will be connected to district heating. Another 10,000 homes to be built on the site of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park will also benefit. Another scheme in Pimlico is already up and running, supplying heat to 3,000 homes.

Outside the capital, Sheffield, Leicester, Nottingham and Bristol are also investing in district heating. Bristol is developing the infrastructure in the local enterprise zone around Bristol Temple Meads railway station. Bristol’s assistant mayor, Gus Hoyt, sees it as “another way to entice people to Bristol, straight away we can say that their heating bills will be lower if they are connected to our district heating scheme”.

He says that, in return for the initial outlay on infrastructure spending, the city will see heating bills fall for local civic buildings, the hospital, the university and large swathes of social housing in the city centre. “One of our main drivers, other than the green agenda, is saving tenants money and reducing fuel poverty. Our council tenants will pay less and get renewably sourced energy at a competitive price,” he added.

Tim Rotheray, director of the combined heat and power association, says his organisation has never been busier: “Of late central government and local authorities have become really enthusiastic about this. They have begun to realise that this is something that has been working well across Europe for decades.”


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