The derailment of a CSX train carrying crude in Lynchburg, Virginia, is the latest in a series of accidents involving oil transport.
The challenges confronting our global environment and the needs of the world’s human populations have never been greater; the future, quite literally, is in the balance.
Every person on Earth deserves a healthy environment and the fundamental benefits that nature provides. But our planet is experiencing an unprecedented drawdown of these resources, and it is only by protecting nature and its gifts – a stable climate, fresh water, healthy oceans and reliable food – that we can ensure a better life for everyone, everywhere.
In order to have the most impact as quickly and effectively as possible, CI will focus both marine and land-based efforts on:
· working to secure a stable global climate
· understanding and protecting the sources and flows of fresh water
· ensuring nature’s ability to provide food for human needs
· minimizing environmental pressures on human health
· valuing the role of nature in human cultures
· safeguarding the unknown and as-yet-undiscovered option values that nature provides.
Support CI’s Work
So much about our world is priceless and irreplaceable. Yet these gifts, and nature’s life-giving bounty are not infinite. They have limits. CI will continue to fight for the people who depend on a healthy planet — secure in the knowledge that our future rests upon the firm foundation built by an extraordinary team of staff, partners and supporters.
Click here to learn more about Conservation International and find out how to support their work.
For the first time in the short history of the U.S. government’s Renewable Fuel Standard, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed to decrease the total amount of renewable fuel required as part of the national supply, with a 41 percent cut to the advanced biofuel category.
But a study recently published by our organization found that EPA’s proposed reductions in biofuel use in 2014 would automatically increase use of petroleum and increase the associated emissions of greenhouse gases. In order to achieve lower emissions in 2014, compared to 2013, EPA must ensure an increase in biofuel use.
Are Biofuels Worth the Investment?
Vote and comment at the Big Energy Question.
If the EPA’s proposal undermines development of advanced biofuels—as we expect it will—the United States will forgo measurable reductions in greenhouse gas emissions over many years. Advanced biofuels must demonstrate a reduction in greenhouse gases of at least 50 percent compared to a baseline of petroleum gasoline or diesel produced in 2007. But if EPA continues to use the proposed methodology for setting the annual RFS obligations in future years, U.S. greenhouse gas emissions from transportation fuels will remain above the 2013 level for many years. (See related coverage: “Biofuels at a Crossroads.”)
The model we developed begins with Energy Information Administration projections of fuel use from 2013 through 2022. EIA predicts that diesel use will steadily increase over the time period and gasoline use will increase in the short term before continuing its long range decline. Gasoline use in the United States peaked in 2007, but has declined in recent years due to the economic downturn. Its use is expected to continue to decline as fuel economy standards that favor diesel use come into effect.
We next calculated the percentages of petroleum blendstock for gasoline and diesel, ethanol, biodiesel, advanced and cellulosic biofuels that would be used each year under various scenarios—the EPA’s newly proposed methodology, the statutory RFS rules, and a continuation of the past practice of setting the advanced biofuel volume obligation at the highest achievable level. The volumes of each portion of the fuel supply were then assigned GHG emission scores—measured in metric tons of CO2 equivalent—and an annual total was tallied for each scenario.
The greenhouse gas emission scores are drawn from a model that includes land-use change calculations for biofuels. This model also includes an updated emissions profile for petroleum fuels, since the United States now relies more on marginal sources of petroleum—such as Canadian oil sands—than it did in 2007. (Take the quiz: “What You Don’t Know About Biofuel.”)
However, our model allows for EPA’s estimates of emissions to be assigned to the volumes. Substitution of EPA estimates would not change the primary and secondary findings of our study. If we increase petroleum in our fuel mix over the next few years by decreasing biofuel use, that petroleum will most likely come from Canadian oil sands and include more lifecycle carbon emissions.
The study also demonstrates that increased fuel efficiency standards may not by themselves achieve reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. In the short term, economic recovery could unleash pent-up demand for transportation fuel. And over the next decade, fuel economy standards will continue to boost use of diesel fuel even while lowering gasoline use. Diesel fuel emits more carbon during its lifecycle. And, if the petroleum used also emits more carbon over its lifecycle, the impact of decreased use could be offset significantly. A combination of fuel efficiency and use of lower carbon fuels is needed to achieve year-over-year reductions in carbon emissions.
When making changes to the renewable fuel standard, EPA must evaluate the impact of its rules on the environment, including climate change; energy security; future commercialization of advanced biofuels; sufficiency of infrastructure to deliver and use biofuel; costs to consumers; and job creation, rural economic development, and food prices. We published this study as a contribution to the EPA’s evaluation of its rule and its impact on climate change. Our hope is that EPA incorporates it into its analysis of the final rule, due in June. (See my earlier post: “Why New Biofuel Feedstocks Deserve Investment, Incentives.”)
As wind areas such as California’s Altamont Pass replace old turbines, research suggests that newer ones may not be any better at preventing bird deaths.
Get Growing at Community Gardens
Growing tasty produce may be the most obvious reason to join a community garden, but it’s not the only one. As anyone who’s volunteered or rented a small plot at their local garden can attest, building relationships with neighbors is another important benefit to community gardening. Fledgling green thumbs get advice from more experienced growers, people share recipes with each other and needy members of the community can access healthy, fresh food where grocery stores might be scarce.
Many EarthShare members support community gardens for environmental reasons too: they reduce the distance food has to travel, provide habitat for pollinators, and reduce storm water runoff. Check out the work they’re doing to support these important neighborhood assets, then get growing!
Surfrider Foundation’s Ocean Friendly Gardens program is preventing polluted runoff from reaching our oceans by giving people the tools and know-how they need to turn pavement and lawns into gardens. Want to tap into their expertise? Join your local Surfrider chapter.
Nature Conservancy’s Nature Works Everywhere makes it easy for schools to build school gardens that help kids learn valuable lessons about nature.
The Trust for Public Land had a huge hand in the success of New York City’s community gardens. Back in 1999, they saved 69 gardens from being auctioned off by the city and have been nurturing garden leaders and local ownership in New York City and around the country ever since.
The Arbor Day Foundation helps people plant fruit and nut-bearing trees for community gardens like the one in Macon, Georgia. Community organizers had been hoping to plant fruit trees in the garden for years, and as a result of the planting, people can now partake in the trees’ bounty. Visit the Arbor Day Foundation for gardening opportunities in your area.
American Rivers and the Garden District Neighborhood Association are helping transform an area on Milwaukee’s Southside into a sustainable showcase for urban community gardens across the country. What makes this particular project unique is its giant rainwater harvesting system: collecting 5000 gallons of rainwater for use in the garden and easing pressure on municipal supplies. Learn all about rain barrels for your community garden at American Rivers.
National Wildlife Federation’s Certified Habitat program isn’t just for homeowners – whole towns can get certified too. To get the coveted designation, communities have to provide habitat for wildlife on both private and public property. The residents of Nibley City, UT got their certification by bringing residents together, offering free flower/seed exchange, rainwater harvest workshops, planting projects, tours of certified properties, and more.
More than a Park – a Park with Purpose!
Guest post by Shannon Lee, Conservation Associate at the Southeast Regional Office of The Conservation Fund, a national nonprofit that balances environmental conservation and economic development. Shannon is also a native of downtown Atlanta and grew up just a few miles from this project area.
Most of us have fond childhood memories of playing outside. Whether we were running through a patch of woods or playing in a neighborhood park, being a kid meant spending time exploring and enjoying outdoor spaces. For many urban kids, outside space and exposure to nature is limited to the small patch of land found at the local park. It’s a place where they can roll in the grass, catch and study bugs, splash in a small pond or just sit under the shade of a tree.
But imagine you’re a kid who doesn’t have a park, or a playground, or any natural outdoor space. How would you ever connect with nature if you spend your whole life surrounded by concrete and pavement? No walking paths, no trees, no bugs to catch, and no safe place to play? The kids in the English Avenue community of northwest Atlanta know exactly how that feels because they have never had a neighborhood park to call their own.
But that’s all about to change…
Since 2005, The Conservation Fund has been working with the City of Atlanta to expand the city’s park system. With support from the Arthur Blank Foundation, we completed 36 acquisition projects for 22 parks across the city, adding more than 200 acres of public park space. As part of this ongoing effort, we were asked to acquire land for the first park in the English Avenue community. Once we began working there, we saw that this neighborhood needed much more than a park.
English Avenue and the adjacent neighborhood of Vine City, lie in the headwaters of Proctor Creek, the most polluted tributary of the Chattahoochee River. These neighborhoods are blocks from bustling downtown Atlanta, but they are far from that world. These communities suffer from extreme poverty rates, high unemployment, the highest crime rates in the city and a vacancy rate near 60%. Stormwater flooding is also a significant problem and during heavy rain events the combined sewer overflow system dumps raw sewage into the community and into homes.
Unfortunately, these problems are not unique. Cities all around the country face similar problems and throughout America, more than 80% of us now live in urban areas. Protecting large landscapes for wildlife biodiversity is incredibly important, but so is protecting our city greenspaces and restoring the health and livelihood of our neighborhoods.
Now more than ever we must focus on urban conservation so that we can create environmental solutions that also provide for the economic and social needs of our communities. Through our Parks with Purpose initiative, we are doing just that – using small city parks to make a big difference!
Over the past two years, The Conservation Fund has been working to assemble six properties at Lindsay Street that will become the first park in the English Avenue community. At the same time we have been building local capacity and engaging stakeholders in a park visioning and planning process.
Not only will residents help plan the park, but this summer, community members will be able to join a workforce training program where they will receive vital skills in construction, landscaping, and financial literacy, all while getting paid to build their own neighborhood park. Plans also include construction of rain gardens, and other types of ‘green infrastructure’ that will help absorb stormwater and reduce localized flooding.
The Lindsay Street Park is coming this summer! This new greenspace will provide significant environmental, social and economic benefits to this highly urbanized neighborhood, but most importantly, the kids in English Avenue will finally have a neighborhood park. They will be able to run, to play, to catch bugs and best of all, to enjoy nature.
By supporting EarthShare, you support this and many other great projects.
Doctors in Washington, D.C. are beginning to write prescriptions for their patients to spend time in parks to improve their health.
A winning vehicle designed by students in a race for fuel efficiency can travel from New York to Los Angeles on one gallon of gas.
After a last-minute scramble for qualifying runs by many of the 126 student teams, Shell* Eco-marathon Americas ended Sunday with nearly a dozen first-place winners in different vehicle and fuel categories.
Canadian college teams and Midwest high schools picked up many of the trophies that night after dominating all weekend on a downtown Houston track.
Overcoming friction problems in their gas-powered Alérion Supermileage vehicle, Quebec’s Université Laval secured the top spot with a run of 2,824 miles per gallon.
But the University of Toronto team gave the longtime winners a run for their money with second-place success in the same category.
“We’re the only team from Americas to build their own engine,” said team leader and fourth-year mechanical engineering student Jonathan Hamway.
It’s a huge advantage but also a lot of work, Hamway said. The team logged in 5,000 man-hours over the past eight months on the project. The work paid off with two off-track awards for technical innovation and tribology.
Canadian counterparts Université de Sherbrooke won an off-track ward for their spirit and perseverance. Sporting cowboy hats and green bandanas, the students also danced and celebrated their way to the stage to accept a first-place award in the UrbanConcept battery electric category.
Shell* Eco-marathon Technical Director Norman Koch said the category was much tougher this year, with students having to make their own motor controllers, or the heart of an electric motor.
But the Sherbrooke students captured the spirit of collaboration when helping teams who struggled with the technical requirement.
“You’re doing the things we really love to see: applying engineering to innovation and collaborating,” said Hugh Mitchell, Shell Corp.’s chief human resources and corporate officer. “Science and engineering depends on collaboration, and you’re all bringing it.”
A move next year to the Motor City put the spotlight on several Michigan teams this weekend.
With two prototype vehicles in the gas- and battery-powered categories, The University of Detroit Jesuit High School didn’t pick up any on-track awards, but team leader Jacob Byrd said the students didn’t walk away empty-handed.
“It’s less about competing against other teams,” he said. “We’re trying to beat our personal goals and make personal strides.”
Anything is possible next year as the race for fuel efficiency moves to their backyard. While taking a break Sunday from nail-biting safety and technical inspections, Koch said to expect more challenges.
The Detroit course will have uphill and downhill portions and left and right turns, which will test all parts of the student-built vehicles, Koch said.
“That’s why I’m excited about Detroit,” he said. “From a mobility point of view, it is much more of a realistic track that you and I drive every day in our cars, and that’s what the students should get used to.”
– Gasoline fuel: Université Laval in Quebec, Canada, with a run of 2,824 miles per gallon with their vehicle, Alérion Supermileage.
– Diesel fuel: Sullivan High School in Sullivan, Indiana, with a run of 1,889.3 miles per gallon with their vehicle, Easy on Gas.
– Battery electric: Mater Dei High School in Evansville, Indiana, with a run of 537.2 miles per kilowatt hour with their vehicle, Mater Dei Supermileage 3.
– Hydrogen: The University of Colorado Denver with a run of 37.4 miles per kilowatt hour with their vehicle, Archetype.
– Ethanol: The University of Colorado Boulder with a run of 1,771.4 miles per gallon with their vehicle, Ralphie 2250.
– Gasoline fuel: Mater Dei High School with a run of 901.5 miles per gallon with their vehicle, Elroy.
– Diesel fuel: Alden-Conger High School in Alden, Minnesota, with a run of 458.7 miles per gallon with their vehicle, Superbird.
– Battery electric: Université de Sherbrooke in Sherbrooke, Canada, with a run of 202 miles per kilowatt hour with their vehicle, E-Volve.
– Hydrogen: The University of Alberta in Alberta, Canada, with a run of 18.4 miles per kilowatt hour with their vehicle, Steve.
– Ethanol: Granite Bay High School in Granite Bay, California, with a run of 102.3 miles per gallon with their vehicle, Green Grizzly Machine.
*Shell is sponsor of the Great Energy Challenge. National Geographic maintains authority over content.
Tucked tightly into their self-built prototype vehicles, drivers slid on sunglasses, adjusted helmets took deep breaths Sunday morning before their last chance for a qualifying run.
With only had only three hours left to compete in the prototype category of Shell* Eco-marathon’s race for extreme energy efficiency, students had to make this time around the downtown Houston track count.
Inside a bustling paddock area, a college team from Guatemala struggled to fix a sticky clutch on its green ethanol-powered streamliner after a long weekend of fits and starts.
The Universidad del Valle de Guatemala students traveled more than 1,000 miles – the distance some Eco-marathon prototypes traveled on the equivalent on one gallon of gas — to take part in the annual competition.
A logistics company offered to send their vehicle for free this year, but engineering teacher Andres Hernandez said the school spent more than $4,000 on shipping costs last year and couldn’t afford to send it home.
“We had to leave it here,” Hernandez said.
Shipping is an extra expense for a team that regularly spends $10,000 to build a prototype from scratch, he said. That’s because of pricier parts in the Latin American country, he said.
“Manufacturing and materials are more expensive because we have to import everything,” Hernandez said.
Shell officials and student teams only reported a handful of shipping snafus—an engine stuck in customs and missing boxes of tools here and there. A team from Alaska in the past designed their vehicle to fit in airplane carry-on luggage, according to Eco-marathon Technical Director Norman Koch.
But many teams in the continental United States and neighboring countries found it easier and cheaper to drive team members, vehicles and tools to Houston. For one Canadian student team, it took nearly two days of non-stop pavement time to arrive at the competition.
While wheeling out their shiny white and green battery-powered UrbanConcept vehicle to the track Sunday afternoon, the Université de Sherbrook engineering seniors threw out a ballpark figure for entire project: $100,000.
That’s why the cowboy hat-wearing students were nervous about making the roughly 1,700-mile trek from Québec—even with a traveling stipend, said Sherbrooke senior Patrick Dubois. The team spent a day packing to make sure nothing would move.
“We had get down anyway, so having a trailer behind us wasn’t that much different as an expense,” Dubois said. “Every fuel stop—every, like, three hours—we would open the trailer and make sure everything was in its place.”
*Shell is sponsor of the Great Energy Challenge. National Geographic maintains authority over content.
A race for fuel efficiency might be dog-eat-dog on the track, but student teams are willing to lend a helping hand back in the paddock.
Shell* Eco-marathon Americas gives more than 1,000 students the chance to showcase their science and engineering skills in Houston each year. (See related photos: “Rare Look Inside Carmakers’ Drive for 55.”)
The goal: Construct a vehicle in one of two categories—prototype or UrbanConcept—using one of six fuel types and test its energy efficiency in a race around Houston’s downtown park.
But the task is easier said than done, with student teams working into the night to fix sticky clutches, stalled engines, steering-wheel collapses, brake failures and tire blowouts before the next day’s run.
This race to pass inspection plays out each day in the George R. Brown Convention Center, where 126 student teams work out of paddocks, or workstations that hold their vehicles. More often than not, it’s a place to share tools and solve problems before earning a spot on the track.
“Clearly the teams are here to win, and they are really competitive,” said Niel Golightly, Shell Corp.’s vice president of external affairs. “But if there’s a team having a problem – lost a tool, missing a part or they can’t figure out a technical problem — you see teams help each other out.”
Two Louisiana schools competing in different categories this year have paddocks on opposite ends of the convention center. Back home, they’re just a few blocks from each other.
Senior Ty Oakes said Ruston High School’s two prototype vehicles were built solely by the young students, but it’s nice having Louisiana Tech University engineers—and experienced Eco-marathon teams—so close. (Take the related quiz: “What You Don’t Know About Cars and Fuel.”)
“There’s a definitely a sense of being in a different league than they are, but at the same time, we’re working alongside them,” Oakes said. “We’re building a car, too. We’re not just watching the pros; we’re all doing the same thing.”
Ruston High School started competing two years ago after hearing the success of Louisiana Tech, which showed the budding engineers the ropes of the competition.
The university used to hold mini-workshops for nearby teams to explain the race’s rules and procedures, said Heath Tims, faculty adviser and associate processor of mechanical engineering.
“One of the things we really stress is to set standards and do something attainable,” Tims said as his students fixed some unexpected problems with two UrbanConcept cars Saturday evening. “If they can get out there, that’s what matters.”
Ruston’s diesel-powered prototype made it just a couple of laps around the track Saturday when its tires blew out. After returning to their paddock, Oakes said students discovered a problem with the vehicle’s alignment.
Just next door, a Mexico City college team worked through a shipping snafu to get their hydrogen-powered prototype ready for the road.
When the much-needed tools failed to arrive, Instituto Tecnologico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey student Maria Jose Sanchez said nearby teams offered up their own.
“People are so helpful here,” she said.
*Shell is sponsor of the Great Energy Challenge. National Geographic maintains authority over content.