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We've designed our 'we see green' blog to help keep our community informed of interesting and important environmental and business topics. It's also a way to help our clients stay better informed of all the interesting and value-added services we offer. To get regular updates, subscribe to this blog via email (yep, that box to the right there), or add our feed to your RSS feed reader. Enjoy!

Monday, August 31, 2009

SEatWtC Part 23: Reducing Our Carbon Footprint

Carbon Footprint
Image courtesy of Nature's Crusaders
Carbon Footprint

Reducing Our Carbon Footprint

According to online sources, “Being carbon neutral, or having a zero carbon footprint, refers to achieving net zero carbon emissions by balancing a measured amount of carbon released with an equivalent amount sequestered or offset. The carbon neutral concept may be extended to include other greenhouse gases (GHG) measured in terms of their carbon dioxide equivalence -- the impact a GHG has on the atmosphere expressed in the equivalent amount of CO2 . The term climate neutral is used to reflect the fact that it is not just carbon dioxide (CO2), that is driving climate change, even if it is the most abundant, but also encompasses other greenhouse gases regulated by the Kyoto Protocol, namely: methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), hydrofluorocarbons (HFC), perfluorocarbons (PFC), and sulphur hexafluoride (SF6). Both terms are used interchangeably throughout this article.

Best practice for organizations and individuals seeking carbon neutral status entails reducing and/or avoiding carbon emissions first so that only unavoidable emissions are offset. The term has two common uses:

It can refer to the practice of balancing carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels, with renewable energy that creates a similar amount of useful energy, so that the carbon emissions are compensated, or alternatively using only renewable energies that don't produce any carbon dioxide (this last is called a post-carbon economy).

It is also used to describe the practice, criticized by some, of carbon offsetting, by paying others to remove or sequester 100% of the carbon dioxide emitted from the atmosphere– for example by planting trees – or by funding 'carbon projects' that should lead to the prevention of future greenhouse gas emissions, or by buying carbon credits to remove (or 'retire') them through carbon trading. These practices are often used in parallel, together with energy conservation measures to minimize energy use.” [17]


Tune in Wednesday for Part 24 of SEatWtC!

Friday, August 28, 2009

SEatWtC Part 22: Global Warming

The monthly CO2 measurements display small seasonal oscillations in an overall yearly uptrend; each year's maximum is reached during the Northern Hemisphere's late spring, and declines during the Northern Hemisphere growing season as plants remove some CO2 from the atmosphere.
Image courtesy of Wikipedia
Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide Measured at Mauna Loa, Hawaii

Global Warming

According to online resources, “The causes of the recent warming are an active field of research. The scientific consensus is that the increase in atmospheric greenhouse gases due to human activity caused most of the warming observed since the start of the industrial era, and the observed warming cannot be satisfactorily explained by natural causes alone. This attribution is clearest for the most recent 50 years, being the period most of the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations took place and for which the most complete measurements exist.

The greenhouse effect was discovered by Joseph Fourier in 1824 and first investigated quantitatively by Svante Arrhenius in 1896. It is the process by which absorption and emission of infrared radiation by atmospheric gases warm a planet's lower atmosphere and surface. Existence of the greenhouse effect as such is not disputed. The question is instead how the strength of the greenhouse effect changes when human activity increases the atmospheric concentrations of particular greenhouse gases.

Recent increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2). The monthly CO2 measurements display small seasonal oscillations in an overall yearly uptrend; each year's maximum is reached during the Northern Hemisphere's late spring, and declines during the Northern Hemisphere growing season as plants remove some CO2 from the atmosphere.Naturally occurring greenhouse gases have a mean warming effect of about 33 °C (59 °F), without which Earth would be uninhabitable. On Earth the major greenhouse gases are water vapor, which causes about 36–70 percent of the greenhouse effect (not including clouds); carbon dioxide (CO2), which causes 9–26 percent; methane (CH4), which causes 4–9 percent; and ozone, which causes 3–7 percent.

Human activity since the industrial revolution has increased the atmospheric concentration of various greenhouse gases, leading to increased radiative forcing from CO2, methane, tropospheric ozone, CFCs and nitrous oxide. The atmospheric concentrations of CO2 and methane have increased by 36% and 148% respectively since the beginning of the industrial revolution in the mid-1700s. These levels are considerably higher than at any time during the last 650,000 years, the period for which reliable data has been extracted from ice cores. From less direct geological evidence it is believed that CO2 values this high were last seen approximately 20 million years ago. Fossil fuel burning has produced approximately three-quarters of the increase in CO2 from human activity over the past 20 years. Most of the rest is due to land-use change, in particular deforestation.

CO2 concentrations are expected to continue to rise due to ongoing burning of fossil fuels and land-use change. The rate of rise will depend on uncertain economic, sociological, technological, and natural developments. The IPCC Special Report on Emissions Scenarios gives a wide range of future CO2 scenarios, ranging from 541 to 970 ppm by the year 2100. Fossil fuel reserves are sufficient to reach this level and continue emissions past 2100 if coal, tar sands or methane clathrates are extensively exploited.” [16]

Yet no matter what the cause of global warming, the cause is of little importance if we cannot stop the effects. Some purport that reducing our carbon output is the best path forward. Though this is unlikely to actually do anything to reduce global warming, it is still the most popular path forward for now. Since this is the case, we’ve also included some of the recent thoughts on reducing our carbon footprint.


Tune in Monday for Part 23 of SEatWtC!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

SEatWtC Part 21: Nuclear

South Texas Project Nuclear Plant
Image from Getty Images
South Texas Project Nuclear Plant


According to online sources, “Nuclear power is any nuclear technology designed to extract usable energy from atomic nuclei via controlled nuclear reactions. The most common method today is through nuclear fission, though other methods include nuclear fusion and radioactive decay. All utility-scale reactors heat water to produce steam, which is then converted into mechanical work for the purpose of generating electricity or propulsion. Today, more than 15% of the world's electricity comes from nuclear power.”[15]

The two biggest issues with nuclear energy are safety and disposal of spent nuclear fuel. No one wants a nuclear reactor in their backyard as Three Mile Island and Chernobyl have shown what dangers lay there. Nuclear energy has become much safer over the years to the point where portable nuclear reactors the size of shipping containers were featured on CNN as a potential temporary source of energy for developing nations. Nuclear energy is clean, in that there are no emissions into the atmosphere in the generation of nuclear power. However, nuclear plants are not entirely carbon emission free, as significant CO2 is emitted during the construction of the reactors and supporting plant. Also, while nuclear waste cannot really be considered as an 'emission', it is very dangerous stuff and great care must be taken to properly dispose of it. Other options inlcude reprocessing the waste, but no one in the US currently does this.


Tune in Friday for Part 22 of SEatWtC!

Monday, August 24, 2009

SEatWtC Part 20: Biomass

Biomass = Plants
Image courtesy of Independent Green Voice
Biomass = Plants


According to online sources, “Biomass, as a renewable energy source, refers to living and recently dead biological material that can be used as fuel or for industrial production. In this context, biomass refers to plant matter grown to generate electricity or produce biofuel, and it also includes plant or animal matter used for production of fibers, chemicals or heat. Biomass may also include biodegradable wastes that can be burnt as fuel. It excludes organic material which has been transformed by geological processes into substances such as coal or petroleum.”[14]

Biomass is an attractive source of energy because it renewable and there is only one generation removed between the sun and the use of biomass as energy. The problem with biomass is that it is plants, and plants are what feed humans. Any use of biomass to create electricity or transportation fuels reduces the availability of biomass to feed humans and the animals that humans consume. For example, ethanol from corn is a biomass fuel, but with the mandate that more ethanol from corn should be produced in the U.S., prices for corn have skyrocketed. Therefore biomass may not be the best selection for an economically viable renewable energy source.


Tune in Wednesday for Part 21 of SEatWtC!

Friday, August 21, 2009

SEatWtC Part 19: Geothermal

The Nesjavellir Geothermal Power Plant in Þingvellir, Iceland
Image courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons
The Nesjavellir Geothermal Power Plant in Þingvellir, Iceland


According to online sources, “Geothermal power (from the Greek roots geo, meaning earth, and therme, meaning heat) is energy generated by heat stored in the earth, or the collection of absorbed heat derived from underground, in the atmosphere and oceans. Prince Piero Ginori Conti tested the first geothermal generator on 4 July 1904, at the Larderello dry steam field in Italy. The largest group of geothermal power plants in the world is located in The Geysers, a geothermal field in California. As of 2008, geothermal power supplies less than 1% of the world's energy.”[13]

The difficulty with geothermal energy is two-fold. First, it can only be harnessed at certain locations on Earth. Second, it takes a significant investment to convert thermal energy into electricity, though no more so than hydropower or some of the more complicated contemporary power plants.


Tune in Monday for Part 20 of SEatWtC!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Summer Break is Over

Well, we're finally back at it. We didn't tell y'all, but we took a break from posting to the blog for the summer. As we're sure is true for many of you, consistency in the summer is tough enough, but it's made even more difficult when you're chasing down several large projects. We're a business, after all, and the long and short of it is that generating new work is always more important than posting to blogs, no matter how fun blogging can be. So as school starts for many kids around the country (and world) we'll be continuing on with the series we were working on last May: Sustainable Energy and the World to Come (SEatWtC). We hope you enjoy our take on sustainable energy, and its implications in our world; we think it's an important topic for our world community to take seriously. So sit back, relax, and let us know what you think as we wrap up this series over the next few weeks!