Sierra Club Annual Report

Explore. Enjoy. Protect.

How bad has this year been for our environment?    Here are 60 things in the last 12 months:

29 rules overturned 24 rollbacks in progress 7 rollbacks in limbo

Michael Brune
Executive Director
Sierra Club

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More Precious Now Than Ever Before

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Since 1916, The National Parks Service has been preserving the natural beauty of our country’s diverse environments, educating us about their value and protecting them from the negative influence of industrialism and capitalism.  The NPS is charged with the dual role of preserving the ecological and historical integrity of the places entrusted to its management, while also making them accessible for public use and enjoyment.

Climate Change is easily experienced in our National Parks.   In response, the National Parks Service created the Green Parks Plan to directly record the causes and effects. The plan’s “call to action” details goals like being energy and water smart, committing to buying green, and making the grounds themselves more sustainable.  By dedicating themselves to direct action, The National Park Service is taking another big step in their goal to maintain and protect our most precious resources.

In 2015, the National Parks Services decreased water use by 13%, diverted 50% of its waste away from landfills, and decreased energy emissions by 11% .

Interior Secretary, Ryan Zinke,  cut spending at the department by 13%; meaning 4,000 fewer employees at NPS, 3,800 positions cut at the EPA, and 2,000 fewer jobs at the State Department.

Zinke, during a meeting with oil executives, described these reductions as career bureaucrats who were obstacles to his plans for widespread drilling.  He went on to state that these employees were disloyal to the nation itself.

During this time of harsh changes in the way America was devotedly taking care of its resources, a look to the future is a must.  If we need to give away our most precious resources in order to maintain our lifestyles, then we need to ask ourselves what is gained by choosing to reduce ourselves in this way.  This could be a time where we get excited about shifting our wants and desires to better match our ability to live happy, productive lives.

Once the extraction industries take control of our Public Lands, the most remote places on earth will go away.  Martin and I will be joining our friends, Stuart and Mike to cross-country ski Yellowstone National Park this winter.  We consider this a once in a lifetime experience to be in a natural setting with natural sounds, natural smells, natural light, and a natural sky over our heads.  Nature will do what it wants with us.  We will get to experience what that feels like.

When I returned from rafting the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon, I found it very challenging to return to the same wants and desires I had three weeks prior to that special experience.

When Martin and I picked up the plastic littered in Jamaica Bay, I couldn’t see plastic ever again as a miracle to modern living and our convenience.

Take a moment to reflect what brings happiness to you.  Challenge yourself to break free of the routines you developed.  See yourself with the potential of that person before you became part of “The Race”.  This time is so much bigger than us.

Until next time,

Garbage Girl

From Cup To Car

Image: Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP/Getty Images

Coffee gets us started every morning.  Now it gets your car started too.

With help from Shell Oil Company, bio-bean, a company that has been collecting London’s 220,000 tons of annually spent coffee grounds, put their new biofuel into the gas tanks of London’s famous double decker buses.  By partnering with large coffee shops like Costa Coffee and Caffe Nero, a steady stream of grounds will produce enough fuel to power a city bus for a year.

On the American front, Mano Misra’s , Susanta Mohapatra’s, and Narasimharao Kondamudi’s study has been published online in the American Chemical Society’s (ACS) Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, a bi-weekly publication.  Written by Mark T.Sampson, they report that waste coffee grounds provide a cheap, abundant, and environmentally friendly source of biodiesel fuel.  They found that spent coffee grounds contain between 11 and 20 percent oil by weight, which could add an estimated 340 million gallons of biodiesel to the world’s fuel supply.

In 2016, about 143.22 billion gallons of finished motor gasoline (a complex mixture of relatively volatile hydrocarbons with or without small quantities of additives, blended to form a fuel suitable for use in spark-ignition engines) were consumed in the United States.

The new “B20” coffee-based fuel smells like java and has the major advantage of being more stable than traditional biodiesel; due to coffee’s high antioxidant content.  Solids left over from the conversion can be converted to ethanol or used as compost.  The biofuel is 20% coffee oil, while the rest of the mix comes from fossil diesel.

Biofuels burn cleaner than fossil fuels, releasing less carbon into the atmosphere, but the production and harvesting of plants destined for fuel (like corn, wheat and sugarcane) can cancel out the benefits.  Using waste products—like coffee grounds—to create fuel minimizes damage to the environment on the production end, and reduces overloading of landfill.

Through a partnership with Argent Energy, many households in the UK have begun to use this in their homes.  This is a technology I want to hear more about.

Put Put Put Off You Go

Until next time,

Garbage Girl

Butterfly Solar

As scientists seek ways to improve the efficiency of solar , some have increasingly turned to thin film solar cells. Such cells are lighter and more manageable than traditional crystal-based cells and are expected to be more efficient if engineers can find a way to get them to work for longer periods of time.  One of the roadblocks to improving the efficiency of is the high expense of motion hardware that tracks the sun.  In this new effort, the researchers took inspiration from the rose butterfly, found commonly in India.  It has soft black wings that warm the cold-blooded insect during cool periods.

To learn more about the , a team of researchers from California Institute of Technology and the Karlsruh Institute of Technology collected some samples and looked at them under an electron microscope.  They found that the wings were covered with scales pockmarked with holes.  In addition to making the wings lighter, the holes scattered the light striking them, which allowed the butterfly to absorb more of the sun’s heat.

In their paper, published in the journal Science Advances, the group explains their inspiration for studying the butterfly wings and the details of their improved solar cells.
Read more at: https://phys.org/news/2017-10-black-butterfly-wings-solar-cells.html#jCp

The researchers created similar structures in their lab using sheets of hydrogenated amorphous silicon sheets.  A top layer with extremely tiny holes of various sizes caused light to scatter and strike the silicon base below.   The design allowed for picking up roughly twice as much light as previous designs. The process took just five to 10 minutes.

Get off the fossil fuel grid!  Go butterfly solar.

Until next time,

Garbage Girl

Does Your Stuff Make You Happy or Does It Become Waste?

Baby Blanket

“A raggedy blanket, a tattered teddy bear, the dog eared appearance of our childhood possessions is a testament to how dearly we hold our sense of ownership.  Humans are materialistic by nature, but we have an odd relationship with the things we own.  Possessions enrich our lives but they also come at a cost, both environmentally and psychologically”.

This is quoted from an Special Report in New Scientist titled The Meaning Of Stuff.  You can subscribe at http://www.newscientist.com.  Its an amazing magazine to stay informed and get a quick fix for current science studies.

The article covers “Our Urge To Accumulate Has Deep Evolutionary Roots”, by Allison George, “Creature Comforts”, by Graham Lawton, “The Bare Necessities”, by Geoffrey Miller, “My Precious”, by Michael Bond, “Possessed by Possessions”, by Sally Adee, and “Things To Come”, by Chris Baraniuk.