Earth Week 2016: Happy Earth Day!

Day five in the Earth Week 2016 series. Read parts one, two, three and four.

Today is Earth Day!

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The signing of the Paris Agreement in December. Credit: United Nations Photo/flickr

This year, Earth Day has a special meaning. World leaders are meeting in New York City to sign the COP21 Paris Climate Agreement, which was ratified in Paris in December. 165 countries are planning to sign!

The agreement aims to lower carbon emissions in countries across the globe in order to limit our global warming to 2°C instead of 4°C, which is our current track of warming.

Limiting warming to 2°C may not seem like a lot, but it would decrease the amount of climate change impacts currently plaguing the world, including sea level rise, extreme weather and extreme heat.

There are still some climate change effects that won’t be completely eradicated, including ocean acidification. A lot of global heat is trapped in the oceans, and decreasing our emissions won’t decrease the current heat in the oceans. But, of course, it would help the overall rate of warming.

Because of the signing, world leaders are helping combat climate change by embracing renewable energy and carbon trading.

The main aim is to keep a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius and to drive efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Additionally, the agreement aims to strengthen capability to deal with the impacts of climate change.

To reach these ambitious and important goals, appropriate financial flows will be put in place, thus making stronger action by developing countries and the most vulnerable possible, in line with their own national objectives.

World leaders are helping out, but we can too! Drive less (or ride public transit or buy an electric car!). Eat less meat. If your energy company allows you the option to choose wind or solar on your energy bill, pay the extra few dollars. A little from everyone goes a long way.

Thanks for tuning in this Earth Week! View the whole Earth Week Series here.

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Earth Week 2016: BP oil spill update

Day four in the Earth Week 2016 series. Read parts one, two, and three.

Since I’ve had this blog, I’ve written about tons of stuff — the Olympics and climate change, Montana coal, my outdoor explorations… the list goes on and on.

But some of my most popular posts are about crises that I just can’t ignore, so here’s an update on one of the most fascinating environmental crises of our time — the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill, more commonly known as the BP oil spill, took place 6 years ago in April 2010. Here’s more background:

In April 2010, there was an oil spill of catastrophic proportions in the Gulf of Mexico due to negligence by BP executives and an explosion on an oil rig. This negligence caused the largest oil spill in U.S. history: 4.9 million barrels (205 million gallons) of oil leaked into the Gulf of Mexico over months, and the blast from the explosion killed 11 workers and sent oil spewing into the Gulf for 87 days. In September 2014, BP was finally found liable for the oil spill in 2010 in court, and was charged with gross negligence. The oil giant could pay up to $4,300 per barrel spilled in fines on top of everything they have already paid (number is floating around $13.7 billion).

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The BP Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico 2 months post well explosion. Credit: NASA

A lot has happened since then — clean-up efforts have been partially successful, new numbers have come out on size of the spill, BP has been fined billions, and restoration efforts continue on. Here’s what’s been going on recently.

A new study shows that the BP spill “trashed more shoreline” than we previously thought. As if the biggest oil spill in U.S. history could get worse, it actually has. National Geographic reports that new estimates have increased the amount of oil on shorelines 19 percent above previous estimates. This revised number “makes the disaster the largest marine oil spill in history by length of shoreline oiled.”

Meanwhile, a federal court has approved BP’s final settlement number — $20 billion, according to the Associated Press.

That HUGE number includes billions in penalties for violation of the Clean Water Act and other environmental damages, as well as billions that go to the Gulf states and their local governments. According to the AP, “BP has estimated its costs related to the spill, including its initial cleanup work and the various settlements and criminal and civil penalties, will exceed $53 billion.”

There has been some backlash against BP (who would have thought?) because the oil giant can legally classify $15 billion of the debt as a business expense, and the write-offs could total $5 billion.

A federal court has also finally approved a settlement for natural resources injuries to the Gulf — and it clocks in at $8.8 billion. That number includes the $1 billion already committed during early restoration, $700 million to “provide for adaptive management,” and $7.1 billion for a 15-year restoration project launching April 2017.

For more info on the settlement, see the NOAA website.

The White House has recently proposed new deep-sea, offshore drilling regulations.

Several rules target blowout preventers, or BOPs (devices that can seal off a well in case of emergency, and prevent an uncontrolled leak).

The Interior Department is mandating that BOPs be designed to avoid certain weaknesses, and be broken down and inspected every five years. (NPR)

This is huge, considering the blowout preventer is what faulted, causing the Macando well to explode in the first place. These rules and regulations would be imposed on all deep-sea offshore drilling equipment, as this type of drilling is expanding.

Offshore drilling is still allowed in the Gulf, despite protests in 2016, reports International Business Times, right after the Obama Administration blocked offshore drilling in the Atlantic Ocean.

View the whole Earth Week Series here.

 

 

 

Why every day should be World Water Day

Water is life.

Quite simply, we wouldn’t survive without it. More broadly, we use it for energy (directly and indirectly through fracking and natural gas production), farming, and personal hygiene/bathing. Aside from this, there are tons of other ways we use water that we don’t think about — especially in the manufacturing process of goods and clothing.

A quick refresher: 97.5 percent of Earth’s water is salt water, which means 2.5% is left as freshwater. Nearly 70 percent of that freshwater is frozen Antarctica and Greenland. The rest of THAT is trapped in deep underground aquifers.

So that leaves about 1 percent of the world’s fresh water accessible for human. 1 PERCENT. And what we do with it makes all the difference. That’s where World Water Day comes in.

World Water Day (March 22nd every year) is a United Nations holiday that was born to bring public awareness to global water problems and solutions.

This year, the UN is focused on water and jobs — namely the intersection of the two.

Today, almost half of the world’s workers – 1.5 billion people – work in water related sectors and nearly all jobs depend on water and those that ensure its safe delivery. Yet the millions of people who work in water are often not recognized or protected by basic labour rights. The theme in 2016 — water and jobs — is focusing on how enough quantity and quality of water can change workers’ lives and livelihoods – and even transform societies and economies.

In past years, World Water Day has been focused on sustainable development, water and energy, and international water cooperation.

And all of these topics relate back to the most important of them all — conservation. With different energy sources taking over, like natural gas, water use has declined in the U.S. at a time where it’s so necessary to conserve (considering high drought levels in the Western U.S.).

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More in the climate change trends section on WXshift

Water is life. Water is everything. And every day should be world water day.

Celebrate World Water Day on Twitter with #WorldWaterDay.

Exploration: Biosphere 2

Imagine (voluntarily) locking yourself in an enclosed space for two years, growing your own food within a glass bubble.

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The rainforest inside Biosphere 2.

This was reality for eight scientists and researchers — the “Biospherians” — who entered in the Biosphere 2‘s first mission from 1991-1993. The Biosphere, tucked in the mountains in Tucson, Arizona, was invented to see if humans could survive in an enclosed space in case of extreme future CO2 levels (which is already becoming a reality) or a space colony, for example.

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An outside look of the main room, which houses the mangroves, savanna, desert and ocean.

The Biospherians lived off the 5 ecosystems in the Biosphere 2, producing crops in a self-sustaining bubble. The bubble is made up of several ecosystems, including the rainforest, ocean, savanna and desert, to name a few, all of which are populated by plants and animals.

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The rainforest room.

The Biospherians cultivated their own garden, which produced a very “farm to table” approach to food, as they could only prepare what was ready to eat.

Over the next two years they grew 80 percent of their food, something NASA has never attempted. They recycled their sewage and effluent, drinking the same water countless times, totally purified by their plants, soil, atmosphere, and machines. (Discovery Magazine)

Despite good intentions and fact that the scientists made it 2 years within the walls, the experiment has largely been publicized as a failure. Rising CO2 levels inside the glass dropped oxygen levels, and food production waned.

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Plants in the main room above the “ocean,”

As oxygen was converted to carbon dioxide, free oxygen in the atmosphere declined. By January 1993, Biosphere 2’s carbon dioxide levels were 12 times that of the outside, and oxygen levels were what mountaineers get at 17,000 feet. The crew’s doctor was having trouble adding up simple figures and disqualified himself from duty. So, a year and four months into the mission, tank trucks containing 31,000 pounds of liquid oxygen started driving up the access road to the site. (Discovery Magazine)

Despite the deemed “failure,” the Biosphere 2 experiment left behind some great science, namely an entirely enclosed infrastructure with the aim of keeping humans (and plants and animals) alive. I walked around the basement of the dome, as well as the “lungs,” and was blown away by the recycled sewage and water systems, which they recycled for 2 years.

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It also informed how the carbon cycle and oxygen dynamics in humans connect, as well as continues to provide ecological data and fodder for visiting scientists.

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Backside of the Biosphere 2 where the Biospherian’s lived.

And why Biosphere 2, you may be wondering? Because Earth is the original Biosphere. Read more about the Biosphere 2 here.