Thursday, May 17, 2007

Global Cooling No Longer in the Forecast

There is still a debate in the general public about the possibility of the greenhouse effect causing global cooling, despite this theory being dropped by all major climatologists of the world.
The idea that sparred the misinformation was that melting ice shelves could cool the Gulf Stream and stop the North Atlantic Current, which brings warm waters from the equator up to countries well above the 45th parallel, such as France.
While northern European countries may indeed face cooler water temperatures, climatologists now agree that the overall effect of global warming will reduce the cooling, and that even places like Greenland will face higher temperatures in the future.
for the New York Times Article

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

I'm Changing the Climate...

...I'd like to think for the better.
I make my living helping others find sustainable solutions. I work towards the same when I'm at home. I've reduced my commute to walking downstairs to the office in my house, and carpool when I can. I've replaced old lightbulbs with low energy ones, ride my bike in town, shop from local farmers, and I even water my plants outside with my bathwater when I'm feeling particularly guilty.
But I know I still am having a negative impact on the climate. I share what all humans have- a carbon footprint. Your carbon footprint is simply a measure of the amount of natural resources you consume and a measure of their environemntal impact. I found a website that compares my energy use to others in the country by asking questions about how often I drive, if I ride a bike, etc. I measured up well, at 50% of what my neighbors are consuming. But if everyone on the planet lived like me, we'd still need 2.5 planets to provide all those resources.
Every time I get into my car, I can't help but be reminded that I'm contributing to global warming. I'd buy a hybrid, but my truck still runs great, and so far I haven't seen an electric one, which is what I'm really holding out for. What's a girl like me to do?
I finally did it- I bought myself a terra pass to offset my carbon emmissions. What's a terra pass, you ask? Basically, I let the website calculate my carbon footprint, then I pay a yearly fee. Mine was $25, and I took into account my flying miles as well as driving. That money funds projects that wouldn't ordinarily be funded, building renewable energy projects like solar and wind power plants.
Terrapass is just one of the many companies out there who do this sort of personal carbon cap and trade. They were the first I heard of, and have strict criteria for the projects they fund. There are other companies out there, but make sure the one you choose is legit, and that they fund projects that ordinarily wouldn't get funding, so you don't end up lining the pockets of bureaucrats.
Reduce your own carbon footprint, by doing the simple things at home. And then offset your carbon. It's good for you.
Find out your carbon footprint at
For a list of things you can do to reduce yor footprint go to Carbonfootprint

Monday, May 14, 2007

More Warnings on the Push for Biofuels

Both the BBC and the Christian Science Monitor have articles this week on the dangers of biofuels. It's a subject I've written about a lot recently, so I won't go into it too heavily, except to say that oil is an almost infinite amount of plants and animals compressed for an almost infinite amount of time into a substance with amazing, almost magical energy. If you think we can grow that amount of energy on our fields and still provide food for all the humans and animals here on the planet now, you're more of an optimist than I.
BBC's Environmental Warning on Biofuels
CSM's Biofuels Show Promise, but also Present Problems

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Ecological Consultation and the Swallows

A few weeks ago I arrived early to a brainstorming meeting for a child care center at a community college near Yosemite National Monument. I stood waiting inside the brand new Learning Resources Center when suddenly a flurry of movement drew me to the second storey windows to see the commotion. Outside there were possibly a hundred or more cliff swallows busily making their mud nests under the eve of the building. I watched mesmerized for a few moments, and began taking pictures. The sound of all those birds calling to their mates was loud, and I noted with amazement how rare it is these days to have the sounds of animals rise above the cacophony of humans and their activities, even in a remote place such as this campus. The nests were still small, just patches on the walls, occupied in turn with one mate while the other rushed off to some unknown location to collect mud. Upon return it sometimes took a few passes before the swallow could land properly on the little stub and add more mud to it. It's amazing that the swallows have enough energy after all that work to raise next year's flock, but once the work is done they return and reuse the nests year after year.
I lost time as I stood there watching those swallows, until a man walked up and said quietly, "Look at the mess they're making,"
I turned to him and smiled. He was right, there was mud all over the sidewalk, the eves, and the windows. "They're beautiful, " I say.
Just then the moderator of our meeting walked up and we entered the room. She commented that it breaks her heart that the maintenance crews knock the nests off to try and get rid of the swallows because they make such a mess.
I felt myself recoil. I was here at the meeting as the Ecological Consultant, invited by the architect to help make the child care center project environmentally friendly. I reminded myself I had a job to do, and now was not the time to get upset. As the meeting came under way my mood was elevated by the efficiency with which the moderator laid out the session, and by the responses we were getting from faculty and staff. They really had done their homework, and were dedicated to creating a facility that nurtured both children and the surrounding habitat on campus.
By the time I returned to the subject of the swallows after our meeting, I had started to believe that there could be a solution to the problem. The man I'd talked to earlier turned out to be the director of management at the college, and I told him that swallows are incredibly valuable because their main food source is mosquitoes. He was surprised. They're an asset in the wrong place, I told him. He asked me what I could suggest to do.
I thought for a moment. Then I told him that the swallows are getting the mud from some place out of the site of the building, most likely from the edge of the reservoir nearby. "Find out where they're getting the mud, and put up a structure that imitates the wall and eves of this building. It doesn't have to be elaborate, just provide shelter and easy access to their building materials."
"Will it work?" He asked, sincerely interested.
I point out that they're spending money on knocking down the nests, and money on spraying mosquitoes, so it would be worth the effort to come up with a better solution. He nods, smiling.
The next day I have an email from the moderator. She's heard that the swallows eat mosquitoes, and that there could be a solution to having them on campus. She's begun gathering support to try and relocate them. Over the next few hours, I receive several emails from others on campus as support for the swallows grows.
Whether the relocation works, we've yet to find out. I've talked to people since who have different theories about why cliff swallows seem to prefer buildings to their cliff sides. Some think it's diminishing habitat, while others have pointed out that it could be the thermal advantage of buildings for incubating eggs. One thing is for certain- when a shift has begun on campus, and what was once thought to be a nuisance is now being seen as an asset, everyone wins.
At the end of my day its victories like this that make me proud to be an ecologist.

learn more about Cliff Swallows

More NASA News

When I wrote yesterday about NASA's climate report, I never did locate the primary source. Today's perusing of the green news blogs brought me to the same subject, with a slightly different perspective. It points out a few more cities, and a question I hadn't seen before. If temperatures were lower last year in the East Coast, then is it possible climatologists have it all wrong?
for the full article and EEN