Archive for November, 2009

Protecting the Forests, and Hoping for Payback

Monday, November 30th, 2009

Leah Nash for The New York Times

Logs cut to thin the Deschutes National Forest in Oregon, an effort to promote sustainability.

Published: November 28, 2009

SISTERS, Ore. — A patch of ponderosa pines here in the Deschutes National Forest has been carefully pruned over the last few years to demonstrate the United States Forest Service’s priorities in the changing West: improving forest health and protecting against devastating wildfire while still supporting the timber economy.

Yet occasionally, when tour groups come through, someone will ask what role the trees might play as the nation addresses global warming. After all, forests soak up carbon dioxide as they grow.

“We’ve always said that’s outside the scope of this project,” said Michael Keown, the environmental coordinator for the Sisters Ranger District, which includes more than 300,000 acres in the Deschutes forest in central Oregon. “But those days have come and gone.”

The giant evergreens of the West have long been proclaimed essential, whether the cause was saving salmon and spotted owls or small towns and their sawmills. Now, with evidence showing that American forests store 15 percent or more of the carbon gases produced in the nation, expectations are growing for them to do even more.

Over the next 50 years or so, experts say, some forests could be cultivated to grow bigger, more resilient trees, potentially increasing their carbon storage by 50 percent and providing an important “bridge” to a time when the nation will theoretically have shifted away from greenhouse-gas producing fossil fuels.

But even as some private forests are already being marketed as “carbon sinks,” or storehouses, that could play a role in a future carbon cap-and-trade program, government agencies and academics are struggling to understand and measure how carbon is stored and released. After decades of controversy surrounding the management of forests, debate persists over how they can best be used to fight global warming while also being protected from their threats, including more and bigger wildfires.

“While healthy, functioning forests may serve as a means to sequester carbon, under current practices, many of our Western forests are at risk of turning from a carbon sink to a carbon source,” Tom Tidwell, the head of the Forest Service, told a Senate subcommittee on Nov. 18 in a hearing on forest management and climate change.

“Projections indicate that while these forests continue to sequester more carbon in the short-term,” Mr. Tidwell said, “in 30 to 50 years, disturbances such as fire and insects and disease could dramatically change the role of forests, thereby emitting more carbon than currently sequestering.”

The challenges and benefits range by region. Studies show that the potential carbon capacity of the predominantly fir forests on the wet west side of the Cascade Range in the Pacific Northwest is at least three times as high as that of the drier regions over the mountains and to the southwest.

Many drier forests, including here east of the Cascades, have grown unnaturally dense after logging and efforts to save them from wildfires. Experts say measures taken to stop fires can end up causing more devastating ones by allowing the growth of small trees and underbrush, “ladder fuels” that ignite bigger trees.

On federal lands, the Forest Service has recently emphasized removing ladder fuels, including in the demonstration project here in the Metolius Basin.

“The suite of things we’re doing benefits the carbon sequestration,” said Brian Tandy, who helps oversee forest growth in the Deschutes. “We weren’t doing it to address some of that specifically, but the way we’re moving is sort of in line with that.”

Still, after years of fights over logging practices, including lawsuits to reduce clear cutting on federal land, distrust of the Forest Service’s motives remains. Mr. Tandy made a point of saying that one reason he does what he does is to help meet “society’s needs for wood products.”

Beverly Law, a professor of global change forest science at Oregon State University, pointed to the Deschutes project as an example of the Forest Service protecting against climate change while potentially improving carbon storage. Yet Ms. Law also said fire officials should not presume that what might keep a forest from burning will enhance it as a carbon asset.

“There’s this opinion out there that when people see smoke from fire, they think it’s all going up in smoke — well, no, it’s not,” Ms. Law said, referring to forests that experience relatively low-intensity fires, a common dynamic in dry areas like central and eastern Oregon and parts of California. “Only 5 percent of the total ecosystem carbon is going up in smoke. When you talk about trying to prevent that, it’s not as big a carbon pulse to the atmosphere as people think.”

Ms. Law, along with Mark E. Harmon, a professor of forest ecology at Oregon State, and others say that forest policy should be tailored to individual forests and that the risk of carbon released in a wildfire should be weighed against the carbon costs of trying to prevent fire.

“They say they have to do thinning all over the place because they say fire might happen here,” Ms. Law said, “but it might not happen for decades.”

The math only gets more complicated. Newer, ostensibly environmentally friendly efforts to use cleared brush and small trees as biofuel could potentially release more carbon through transportation and processing than if the material were simply burned in the woods. By the same token, removing a completely burned forest can end up releasing more carbon than if the dead trees are left alone.

Others counter that thinning and fire prevention efforts now under way will have long term benefits, even if they release some carbon initially.

“You can regain that emitted carbon and actually put on even more carbon by redirecting the growth in the forest to the large trees that you leave in the forest — and you avoid the substantial emission of carbon you’d have in a wildfire,” said Malcolm North, a research ecologist at the Forest Service’s Pacific Southwest Research Station and an associate professor of forest ecology at the University of California, Davis.

In his comments to the Senate subcommittee, Mr. Tidwell pointed out that while the Forest Service manages vast tracts of the West, private landowners control the majority of forest land in the United States. Still, said Andrea Tuttle, the former director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Prevention, the government has a different obligation than private owners.

“The Forest Service as a public agency should be managing the forest for the people,” Ms. Tuttle said. “Part of that is to make them resilient to climate change and at the same time find opportunities where appropriate to use the forest as a carbon sink.”

ecoShuttle Partners Up with Green Drop Garage to Go Veggie

Wednesday, November 25th, 2009

Portland, OR, November 25, 2009 –(PR.com)– Portland-based alternative transportation provider ecoShuttle is proud to announce a new, promising partnership with Green Drop Garage, a local auto repair shop specializing in alternative fuel conversions. EcoShuttle currently has a fleet running on 100% biodiesel, and their mission has been clear from the beginning: To pave a car-less road using only the most environmentally-friendly fuels available. Now with five vehicles in their fleet and social entrepreneur Farhad Ghafarzade of Green Drop Garage at their side, they now have the resources to increase their triple bottom line by making the switch to Straight Vegetable Oil (SVO).

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Greening the City

Tuesday, November 24th, 2009

November 24th, 2009 – 11:02 am Posted by Jaclyn Abergas

Tagged as: Environment

Portland, Oregon, and San Francisco, California, top the list of the greenest cities in the US. But how is that ranking determined? Which factors are considered to be placed in the list of green cities?

Air Quality

Top green cities all have less polluted air and more public smoking bans. Anchorage, Alaska, has the best Air Quality Index median at 19 and St. Louis, Missouri, has the worst at 79.

Electricity Use and Production

Green cities are highly encouraged to use solar or wind power, instead of those with unfriendly emissions. Rebates and property tax exemptions are given as rewards for the people’s efforts.

Environmental Perspective

The government’s environmental concerns also were considered. Committing to environment care as a top priority results in achievable and good results. Among the top green cities, environment care was always in the top five of their priorities.

Environmental Policy

The city’s environmental policy is taken into consideration. The presence of this policy is enough for a city to be considered as part of the green city list.

Green Design

Green designs are encouraged in these cities and even have their own city policies to accommodate it.

Green Space

Green spaces include parks, athletic fields, public gardens and waterfronts, among others. The overall city area percentage it occupies also affects a city’s ranking in the Green City List.

Recycling

When a city recycles more than seven categories, they rank high on the Green City List.

Socioeconomic Factors

When a city manages to keep its national average of families above minimum wage and the poverty line, they score high on the list.

Transportation

Cities which make an effort to get people to stop using their cars and instead use other means of transportation (including walking, biking, bus/rail/subway) rank high on the list.

Water Quality

Based on the Safe Water Drinking Act, hefty fines are charged on cities with serious health violations.

This is all very technical, but it’s important to know the factors. It makes us aware of what we can do to help keep our cities part of the Green City List or to introduce it there.

Recyle at Work Certification

Tuesday, November 24th, 2009

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ecoShuttle is Recycle at Work Certified—meaning our business has improved its recycling practices and reduced the amount of waste it produces by implementing all of the City of Portland’s five recycling steps.

Eco-Elegant Wedding Show

Wednesday, November 18th, 2009

If you are interested in planning a more ethical and green wedding, but don’t want to sacrifice fabulous fashions and design, then Portland’s Eco-Elegant Wedding Show is your must-attend Fall event.

Held at the newly renovated Platinum LEED certified Center for Architecture building which is located in the Pearl District, the event will showcase some of Portland’s premiere wedding vendors, all of whom are committed to offering eco-friendly and sustainable products for brides & grooms looking for local solutions.
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Greenland’s Ice Sheet Melting Faster than Ever

Sunday, November 15th, 2009

By Christoph Seidler

 

 

Everyone knows that the ice sheet on Greenland is melting. But new research shows it is disappearing much faster than previously thought. The findings could mean that ocean levels are also rising more quickly.

The dimensions of this frosty giant go way beyond human imagination. With a surface area spanning some 1.7 million square kilometers (656,000 square miles), a view of Greenland’s ice above the Sermeq-Kujalleq glacier near Ilulisat makes it seem endless. The idea that this sheet of ice, which is up to three kilometers thick in parts, is melting seems absurd in the extreme.

PHOTO GALLERY


9  Photos

Photo Gallery: The Sheet of Ice Disappears


But the large number of gigantic icebergs — and the valley into which they are slowly sliding — tell a different story. Here, as elsewhere in Greenland, a gigantic upheaval is underway. In recent years, the glacier has receded by around 15 kilometers; the ongoing meltdown appears unstoppable. Just how quickly Greenland’s ice is melting remains a matter of some debate, but the melting ice is contributing to rising ocean levels — with potentially dramatic consequences for millions across the globe.Were Greenland to lose all of its ice, sea levels would rise some seven meters higher than today’s levels. Such a scenario will not become reality overnight — indeed the process could last hundreds of years. But new results from a team of Dutch researchers suggest that conservative estimates as to the speed with which the ice is melting should be shelved. According to the study, the rate at which Greenland’s ice is melting has accelerated substantially in recent years.

There are, strictly speaking, two parallel processes responsible for the ice’s retreat. On the one hand, rising temperatures melt the ice on land while warmer ocean currents eat away at the glaciers that jut out into the ocean. A research team led by Michiel van den Broeke from the University of Utrecht reported in the most recent edition of the journal Science that the two processes are contributing equally to the disappearance of the ice sheet.

Losing Weight

According to the new report, Greenland lost an estimated 1,500 gigatons (one gigaton is equal to 1 billion tons) of ice from the year 2000 to 2008. “That is at the upper end of recent estimates of Greenland mass loss using various other methods,” van den Broeke told SPIEGEL ONLINE. Between 2006 and 2008, the loss in weight totaled 273 gigatons per year, he said.

The scientists are convinced their results are accurate because they arrived at their numbers using two fundamentally different methods — both of which returned the same conclusion. On the one hand, they monitored the movement of the ice which they fed into a regional computer model. For a second data source, they used the Grace observation satellites, which measure the Earth’s gravitational field.

In the period between 2000 and 2008, the dwindling glaciers have been responsible for the sea level rising by an average of about half a millimeter per year. However, during the last three years of observation, the value rose to 0.75 millimeters per year. According to the researchers, these results could indicate that the sheet of ice is melting at an accelerated rate.

Reaching a Consensus

It is, of course, possible that the period of observation represents merely a phase in the ongoing melt-off — a phase that could end. But van den Broeke does not believe this to be the case: “Since 2000, the Greenland ice sheet has been loosing mass continually and at an accelerating rate, which fits our picture of a warming world.”

“The scientific community is getting closer to reaching consensus on the size of the mass loss from the Greenland ice sheet,” Denmark’s chief glaciologist Andrea Peter Ahlstrøm told SPIEGEL ONLINE. He praised the recent study and the scientists involved: “It is a strong team of authors indeed, lending credibility to the results.” From Ahlstrøm’s point of view, these recent results will also prove helpful for the next report of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — as they will enable scientists to describe the situation in Greenland with greater precision. In a 2007 report, the IPCC still had no accurate predictions for the fate of the gigantic mass of ice, because the scientists concerned could not agree amongst themselves.

But a lot has changed since then. This year, British researchers were able to indicate where the ice was disappearing fastest by using laser-altitude data from NASA’s IceSat satellite. A team of scientists led by David Vaughan of the British Antarctic Survey assembled a total of 7 million data elements from Feb. 2003 to Nov. 2007, resulting in an image of unprecedented clarity. Almost all of Greenland’s ice covered coastal regions — in particular those in the south-east and north-west — have seen rapidly melting ice. The scientists have especially noted the dramatic effect on fast moving outlet glaciers. Some of these effects are felt far inland as well.

‘Give Us a Bit More Time’

A research team on the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise including, among others, Gordon Hamilton of the University of Maine and Fiammo Straneo of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, reported this summer that the unusually warm water in Greenland’s fjords is to blame for the rapid retreat of glaciers.

Van den Broeke and his colleagues believe that not only will the ice disappear at a faster rate, but that the nature of the process will also change over time. According to the researchers, the rapid retreat of the outlet glaciers will be less important in the future, in comparison to the direct melting. Eventually, the glacier tongues will have retreated so far that the warm sea currents will no longer reach them.

It is still not clear when this might happen — nor is it clear just how high sea levels might rise in the future. “We will use the same model to predict future Greenland mass loss, but you have to give us some time to come up with those results,” van den Broeke said. To this end, the European Union last year launched a major research project called “Ice2Sea.”

The researchers consider these new results to be an important signal to the climate summit in December. Many observers do not expect the meeting to bring about a particularly ambitious climate agreement — much to the displeasure of van den Broeke: “All signs are pointing towards continued Greenland mass loss at rates we did not think possible ten years ago. Surely something to consider as a policy maker, I would say.”

Projected carbon emissions skyrocket

Thursday, November 12th, 2009

Region’s transportation hopes conflict with greenhouse goals

The Portland area’s $20 billion transportation wish list and its pledge to reduce greenhouse gases are on a collision course.

A new Metro study shows that population growth coupled with a soon-to-be-approved Regional Transportation Plan will result in so much metro-area traffic that greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles will jump 49 percent.

The finding comes just as Portland and Multnomah County embark on a massive, lifestyle-changing Climate Action Plan to slash overall greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050.

Environmentalists say the new Metro analysis confirms the folly of spending $4 billion on a new, wider Columbia River bridge – the largest project in the Regional Transportation Plan – as well as projects to widen some suburban roads to seven lanes.

“We need solutions that don’t lead to more driving,” says Mara Gross, policy director of Coalition for a Livable Future, which represents about 90 organizations.

Metro planners say the 49 percent figure is overstated, because their analysis uses planned projects, plus an expected 58 percent population growth, to estimate future vehicle trips in 2035. The study didn’t try to predict future behavior, policy and land-use changes – or consider inevitabilities such as the coming wave of fuel-efficient and electric cars.

But there’s no dispute about the trend the study shows.

“Does it matter whether it’s 20 percent or 49 percent when we’re trying to get to minus 80 percent?” wonders Rex Burkholder, Metro councilor. “What it shows us is we’re going in the wrong direction.”

Reduced driving sought

An estimated 38 percent of Multnomah County’s greenhouse gas emissions come from all forms of transportation, more than any other sector, according to the Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability. So the city/county Climate Action Plan calls for dramatically reducing daily miles driven from 18.5 miles per person to 13.4 miles by the year 2030. That will require more bicycling, more walking, more carpooling and telecommuting, better transit, and more nearby groceries and jobs so people don’t have to travel as far.

Since 1990, carbon emissions from transportation have risen a modest 2.5 percent within Multnomah County, despite rapid population growth. TriMet ridership and bicycle commuting have mushroomed during that period.

As Portland city commissioners prepared to vote on the Climate Action Plan on Oct. 28, word of Metro’s new greenhouse gas study shocked many in attendance.

“Our transportation wish list takes us in the opposite direction,” testified Chris Smith, a transportation activist, blogger and member of the Multnomah County Planning Commission.

Burkholder says criticisms from the Coalition for a Livable Future are unfair, based on singling out a handful of projects among 1,000 in line for funding in the $20 billion plan. That list also includes money for Portland’s eastside trolley line, Burkholder notes, as well as numerous transit, pedestrian and bicycle projects that offer people a range of transportation choices.

Roads, bridges and highways stand to get 57 percent of the nearly $20 billion in the Regional Transportation Plan, but transit, pedestrian and bicycle projects are in line to receive 37 percent of the money.

Metro, he adds, appears to be the first in the nation doing this kind of greenhouse gas analysis of transportation projects.

Old style of business?

The Regional Transportation Plan, and some of the “earmarked” highway projects inserted by individual lawmakers into the 2009 state transportation bill, are signs that we’re still pursuing a lot of “old-time” concrete projects, laments Angus Duncan, chairman of the Oregon Global Warming Commission. However, he says it’s a time of transition when it comes to combating global warming, and it’s hard to move fast in the public policy arena.

“First, we have to turn this ship around, before we can accelerate it into the other direction,” Duncan says. “Collectively, our minds aren’t there yet.”

Another sign of the challenges ahead is an estimate in the same Metro report that projects how many trips will remain by a single person driving alone in a car. Metro calculates that 46 percent of all trips in the downtown Beaverton area are now made by a single person driving alone, and that will drop to 43 percent by 2035.

Beaverton Mayor Denny Doyle says the greenhouse gas report shows the need for more transit spending in Beaverton and Hillsboro, and for more money to facilitate midrise housing in downtown Beaverton.

Doyle acknowledged the new analysis suggests a closer look at whether seven lanes are needed on Tualatin Valley Highway, which links Beaverton to Hillsboro. However, he hopes that new technology, such as electric cars, can be “the salvation” to help the region meet its greenhouse gas goals.

Clackamas County Chairwoman Lynn Peterson, a former traffic engineer, suggests the region adopt the Regional Transportation Plan, but then spend the next six months amending it to address the carbon emissions goals.

Peterson would like to see more emphasis on heavy rail and freight issues, and find ways to get people to drive at different times. That way, the region wouldn’t need to put so much money into making highways accommodate traffic for the worst 15 minutes of the rush hour, she says.

Washington County Chairman Tom Brian says the region needs to address traffic problems and greenhouse gas reductions with a variety of strategies. He cites a public education campaign, first suggested by Washington County, designed to get people to bundle errands in one trip, to cut down on traffic.

But the region is clearly growing, Brian says, and road capacity is essential, especially to carry freight.

“We can’t put freight on a bicycle or light rail.”


Metro now in charge of emission goals

Metro’s greenhouse gas study highlights an emerging new role for the regional governing body, which is sometimes criticized for trying to impose Portland values on the suburbs.

In House Bill 2001, the huge transportation package enacted by the Oregon Legislature this year, lawmakers ordered Metro to help meet the state’s aggressive greenhouse gas emissions goals. So even as some suburban leaders complain openly about Metro’s “mission creep” – the agency’s penchant for taking on more and more powers – the regional government is newly obliged to use its transportation-funding and land use powers to stem carbon emissions that worsen global warming.

That means that Portland and Multnomah County’s ambitious greenhouse gas-reduction strategies in their newly adopted Climate Action Plan must “be on the table for the rest of the region,” says Andy Cotugno, a Metro senior policy adviser. “The other two counties have not done anything” similar, he says.

Washington County Chairman Tom Brian says he’s not at all worried about Metro taking on a new role in greenhouse gas reductions. Collectively, tackling carbon emissions is something all jurisdictions should be doing, Brian says.

– Steve Law

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Car pollution is having a huge impact on our environment, affecting everything from the size of the hole in the ozone layer to the health and wellbeing of the general public, with vehicle air pollution contributing to the rise in individuals suffering from acute respiratory conditions around the world. One of the most devastating impacts of increased motor vehicle use is the increased level of pollutants it is releasing into our air and atmosphere.

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