Tuesday, January 27, 2009

First Time Ever: Renewable Energy Accounts for Largest Share of Annual Increase in US Electrical Capacity

by Brian Merchant, Brooklyn, New York

Some good news 'mongst all these ongoing recession woes: progress continues to be made on the alternative energy front. For the first time, renewable energy sources accounted for the biggest share in the increase of US's electrical capacity. This means that, thanks mostly to the burgeoning wind power industry, more renewable energy sources sprung up in 2007 than environmental ne'er do wells like coal-burning plants. So why is this significant?

It means we're witnessing a paradigm shift—one that's been a long time coming, in the words of the great Sam Cooke—and that a change gon' come in the attitudes and ambitions of energy developers. Sure, some really good news would be that renewable energy sources accounted for the largest share in the US electrical capacity PERIOD. But this is a genuinely encouraging figure.

The numbers come from a newly released report called Electrical Power Annual 2007, and they speak volumes:

In 2007, general electrical capacity increased by 2.3%, from 4,065 million megawatt-hours in 2006 to 4,157 MWh in 2007. The total net summer capacity saw total increase of 8,673 MW. And out of that, wind power alone accounted for 5,186 MW: the largest portion of the energy increase pie graph.

We've still got a ways to go: renewable energy only accounts for a total of 2.5 % of total electrical capacity, with 105 million MWh of total net generation.

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Global Warming Is Irreversible, Study Says

by Richard Harris

Rocks in Nevada's Lake Mead National Recreation Area had a white 'bathtub ring' in July 2007.
Ethan Miller

Nevada's Lake Mead had a white 'bathtub ring' upstream from the Hoover Dam in July 2007. A seven-year drought and increased water demand spurred by climate change and explosive population growth in the Southwest has caused the water level at Lake Mead, which supplies water to Las Vegas, Arizona and Southern California, to drop more than 100 feet to its lowest level since the 1960s. Getty Images

All Things Considered, January 26, 2009 · Climate change is essentially irreversible, according to a sobering new scientific study.

As carbon dioxide emissions continue to rise, the world will experience more and more long-term environmental disruption. The damage will persist even when, and if, emissions are brought under control, says study author Susan Solomon, who is among the world's top climate scientists.

"We're used to thinking about pollution problems as things that we can fix," Solomon says. "Smog, we just cut back and everything will be better later. Or haze, you know, it'll go away pretty quickly."

That's the case for some of the gases that contribute to climate change, such as methane and nitrous oxide. But as Solomon and colleagues suggest in a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, it is not true for the most abundant greenhouse gas: carbon dioxide. Turning off the carbon dioxide emissions won't stop global warming.

"People have imagined that if we stopped emitting carbon dioxide that the climate would go back to normal in 100 years or 200 years. What we're showing here is that's not right. It's essentially an irreversible change that will last for more than a thousand years," Solomon says.

This is because the oceans are currently soaking up a lot of the planet's excess heat — and a lot of the carbon dioxide put into the air. The carbon dioxide and heat will eventually start coming out of the ocean. And that will take place for many hundreds of years.

Solomon is a scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Her new study looked at the consequences of this long-term effect in terms of sea level rise and drought.

If we continue with business as usual for even a few more decades, she says, those emissions could be enough to create permanent dust-bowl conditions in the U.S. Southwest and around the Mediterranean.

"The sea level rise is a much slower thing, so it will take a long time to happen, but we will lock into it, based on the peak level of [carbon dioxide] we reach in this century," Solomon says.

The idea that changes will be irreversible has consequences for how we should deal with climate change. The global thermostat can't be turned down quickly once it's been turned up, so scientists say we need to proceed with more caution right now.

"These are all ... changes that are starting to happen in at least a minor way already," says Michael Oppenheimer of Princeton University. "So the question becomes, where do we stop it, when does all of this become dangerous?"

The answer, he says, is sooner rather than later. Scientists have been trying to advise politicians about finding an acceptable level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The new study suggests that it's even more important to aim low. If we overshoot, the damage can't be easily undone. Oppenheimer feels more urgency than ever to deal with climate change, but he says that in the end, setting acceptable limits for carbon dioxide is a judgment call.

"That's really a political decision because there's more at issue than just the science. It's the issue of what the science says, plus what's feasible politically, plus what's reasonable economically to do," Oppenheimer says.

But despite this grim prognosis, Solomon says this is not time to declare the problem hopeless and give up.

"I guess if it's irreversible, to me it seems all the more reason you might want to do something about it," she says. "Because committing to something that you can't back out of seems to me like a step that you'd want to take even more carefully than something you thought you could reverse."

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'Immortal' jellyfish swarming across the world

An 'immortal' jellyfish is swarming through the world's oceans, according to scientists.
An 'immortal' jellyfish is swarming through the world's oceans, according to scientists. Photo: BARCROFT

The Turritopsis Nutricula is able to revert back to a juvenile form once it mates after becoming sexually mature.

Marine biologists say the jellyfish numbers are rocketing because they need not die.

Dr Maria Miglietta of the Smithsonian Tropical Marine Institute said: "We are looking at a worldwide silent invasion."

The jellyfish are originally from the Caribbean but have spready all over the world.

Turritopsis Nutricula is technically known as a hydrozoan and is the only known animal that is capable of reverting completely to its younger self.

It does this through the cell development process of transdifferentiation.

Scientists believe the cycle can repeat indefinitely, rendering it potentially immortal.

While most members of the jellyfish family usually die after propagating, the Turritopsis nutricula has developed the unique ability to return to a polyp state.

Having stumbled upon the font of eternal youth, this tiny creature which is just 5mm long is the focus of many intricate studies by marine biologists and geneticists to see exactly how it manages to literally reverse its aging process.

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