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<< News >>

Environmental News

"EARTH TALK"

From the Editors of E / The Environmental Magazine

THIS WEEK'S COLUMN

Dear EarthTalk: Why were some environmental websites blacked out all day back on June 4? Was this some sort of protest, or did they get hacked?
—Ned Cooper, Detroit, MI

Green leaders say Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s motives for weakening environmental protections stem from his interest in expanding and exploiting Canada’s tar sands oil and gas deposits, which constitute the second largest petroleum reserve in the world (after Saudi Arabia’s).

Photo © Wikipedia

It wasn’t hackers this time. In fact, a group of environmental and social justice organizations representing millions of Canadians blacked out their websites for 24 hours this past June 4 to protest efforts by Canada’s conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper to push through a budget bill that would significantly weaken environmental protections.

Organizations leading the black-out include the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, the David Suzuki Foundation, Ecojustice, Greenpeace, Nature Canada, Sierra Club Canada and World Wildlife Fund Canada, and several others. More than 13,000 other websites—including those of many major U.S. green groups including the Sierra Club—also participated in the black-out and continue to support the effort calling for stronger, not weaker, environmental protections. Reports the Black Out Speak Out website: “The environmental changes are particularly undemocratic and worrisome given the extent to which the government is going to please powerful oil interests…”

Green leaders say Harper’s motives stem from his interest in expanding and exploiting Canada’s tar sands oil and gas deposits, which constitute the second largest petroleum reserve in the world (after Saudi Arabia’s). “Harper’s attacks are happening for many reasons, not the least of which was the success of environmental groups in Canada, the U.S. and Europe in threatening what Big Oil wants most: unlimited tar sands expansion and pipelines like the Keystone XL to send its oil around the globe,” reports Michael Marx, director of the U.S. Sierra Club’s Beyond Oil campaign, on the Huffington Post website. “He put the interests of the oil industry first and looked the other way when it came to enforcing laws about air and water pollution, endangered species and the health of downstream communities.”

Marx says that “tar sands oil companies are destroying a pristine forest the size of England, accelerating the rate of climate change, causing thousands of wolves, bears, migratory birds, and caribou to die, and leaching toxic chemicals into rivers, as downstream communities experience a spike in cancer rates.”

According to Marx, Harper’s government is trying to disarm its opposition by threatening the charitable status (and thus the fundraising ability) of green groups who oppose tar sands, subjecting them to onerous tax reporting requirements to bog them down. “‘Black Out, Speak Out’ is a warning that the Harper Government has gone too far,” says Marx. “This protest has brought together a diverse array of Canadians to defend their democracy and right to have an open debate about the future of their country.”

“Hopefully Black Out, Speak Out will mobilize thousands of Canadians and Harper will learn that it’s one thing to attack environmentalists and quite another to attack freedom of speech,” says Marx. “If the Harper government pursues this repressive policy, it should expect the backlash to spread in Canada, the U.S. and in Europe.”

CONTACTS: Black Out Speak Out; Huffington Post; Sierra Club.

 
 

 

Dear EarthTalk: Has an alternative to air conditioning to keep rooms cool been invented that is significantly cheaper and/or that uses significantly less energy than traditional air conditioning?
—Ashutosh Saxena, Allahabad, India

The chlorofluorocarbon coolant widely used in air conditioners through the 1980s was phased out because it was damaging the Earth’s protective ozone layer, but the chemicals that replaced it are some 2,100 times stronger as greenhouse gases than carbon dioxide. We may have saved the ozone layer, but -- whoops! -- there goes the climate.

© Photos.com

Unfortunately the modern day air conditioner, with its constantly cycling, energy-hogging compressor and environmentally unfriendly chemical coolant, still reigns supreme throughout the world—and increasingly so in rapidly developing countries like India and China where possession of air conditioning connotes middle class status. And while the chlorofluorocarbon coolant widely used in air conditioners through the 1980s was phased out because its emissions were causing damage to the globe’s protective ozone layer, the chemicals that replaced it worldwide, and which are now in use in hundreds of millions of air conditioners, are some 2,100 times stronger as greenhouse gases than carbon dioxide. We may have saved the ozone layer, but—whoops!—there goes the climate.

Just because people aren’t using them much doesn’t mean there aren’t some good alternatives. The best known is an evaporative cooler (AKA swamp cooler). Better for hot, dry climates, these electrified units cool outdoor air through evaporation and then blow it inside. They make for a nice alternative to traditional air conditioners, using about a quarter of the energy overall. They are also quicker and cheaper to install, and can be moved around to different rooms as needed. But swamp coolers can require a lot of maintenance and may not keep the interior space as cool as some AC-hungry inhabitants might like.

Apartment/condo and commercial/industrial buildings might consider augmenting their existing roof-top air conditioning systems with the cooling power of ice. California-based Ice Energy makes and sells the Ice Bear system, essentially a large thermal storage tank that makes ice at night—when the cost and demand for energy is lower—and then doles out ice water into the air conditioning system during the day to efficiently deliver cooling when it’s needed. Since the air conditioner’s energy-intensive compressor can remain off during peak daytime hours, the electricity required for cooling can be minimal, with some customers achieving 95 percent electricity savings using the system. And utilities across the country are starting to encourage its use by large customers.

Stanford University has been utilizing its own version of similar technology since 1999 to keep its campus buildings cool. Since upgrading to an ice-based cooling system, Stanford saves some $500,000 a year on its campus cooling bill. If such technology could be adapted to augment home air conditioning systems, it could go a long way toward reducing air conditioning’s environmental footprint overall.

Of course, let’s not forget that a small investment in a fan or two to create a breeze or wind tunnel through inhabited interior spaces can go a long way to offset summer heat. Even better, get a professional to install a “whole-house fan,” which draws in cooler air through lower level open windows and exhales hotter air through specially designed attic vents synced to open when the system is operating.

The race has been on in the air conditioning business for some time to find a coolant that doesn’t destroy the ozone or add to global warming, but progress has been slow. Meanwhile, global warming itself will beget the need for more air conditioning, which will only exacerbate an already dire situation, especially as the rest of the world starts to demand artificial cooling just like we’ve enjoyed in the West for decades.

CONTACT: Ice Energy.

A SYNDICATED COLUMN ONLY ON AMERICAJR.COM

 

 

 

 

 

SEND IN YOUR QUESTIONS...

GOT AN ENVIRONMENTAL QUESTION? Send it to: EarthTalk, c/o E/The Environmental Magazine, P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881; submit it at: www.emagazine.com/earthtalk/thisweek/, or e-mail: earthtalk@emagazine.com. Read past columns at: www.emagazine.com/earthtalk/archives.php.

 

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