Wednesday, December 2, 2015

"Green" Concrete

With the push for environmentally friendly buildings and structures, more and more companies are demanding that their building be “green”. Cost and performance are still important factors, however, those concerns are being minimized by the new advancements in green concrete.
Green concrete is made up of some traditional materials along with other materials like aluminum can fibers, fly ash (which is a by-product of coal powered electric generation), and crushed concrete.  The aluminum can fibers are used to reinforce the concrete which leads to greater tensile strength, much like the way rebar is used to make concrete stronger, just on a smaller scale.  The use of aluminum cans in the concrete also reduces the amount of cans being put in landfills.
The use of fly ash in green concrete can replace the cement in concrete.  This is seen as an especially good thing for the environment because it eliminates the need for power plants that produce fly ash to dump the fly ash in special landfills as well as eliminate the need for cement plants that produce air pollution.  Fly ash can leach heavy metals into the environment if they are not properly stored, but when used in concrete, the fly ash no longer leaches heavy metals.  The heavy metals stay contained in the concrete itself, essentially rendering the heavy metals harmless.  The cement has heavy metals in it that can be leached into the environment until the concrete sets.  Therefore, by replacing the cement needed in concrete with fly ash, it essentially eliminates two potential sources of pollution or, as some would say, kills two birds with one stone.
The crushed concrete replaces the aggregate or crushed/small stone that is normally used in concrete.  This is good because it reduces the need to place old concrete in landfills as well as reducing the need to mine as much stone for the production of green concrete.
Therefore, green concrete reduces emissions from the cement plants, eliminates large areas normally needed to put old concrete, fly ash, and aluminum cans in landfills and reduces the amount of rocks (such as limestone, shale, sand, etc.) needed to produce concrete.

Written by Sean Combs, Legal Intern for the Public Trust Environmental Legal Institute of Florida.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Is Evaporation the Answer to Energy Problems?

Is it possible that we have discovered a new form of renewable energy? Scientists from Columbia University think so! Evaporation is a very impressive natural force that is actually more powerful than current forms of renewable resources such as wind and solar energy. Nevertheless, scientists never thought that it was possible to collect and transfer evaporation into an energy source to be used by humans, until now. Engineered by Columbia University scientists, Eva is the first evaporation-powered car charged by a turbine engine that moves as water evaporates the wet paper lining that makes up the engine-walls.
While this feat of evaporation energy is still years away from becoming a complete reality, and still ever further away from the commercial market, the thought of what the future holds is quite intriguing. To start with, Eva has opened yet another door to the growing industry of electric cars. Ozgur Sahin, Ph.D., an associate professor of biological sciences and physics at Columbia University, speculates that it is possible to design a full-size car that is fueled by an engine that runs off of evaporation.
            On an even larger scale, it has been stated that it is not required to use fresh water to create this new form of energy; saltwater is also capable of this task giving hope to scientists and environmentalists alike that one day this technology could become a large-scale floating device in the ocean or other bodies of water. The possibilities are rapidly becoming endless.
            Obviously there is still a great deal of research, experimentation, and engineering discoveries to come before. Along with the successes that are sure to be many downfalls and setbacks, but we are crossing our fingers for the scientists of Columbia University as they continue to develop systems powered by evaporation.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Water Is A Miracle

Water is a miracle.  It is part of our biology; it touches our sensibility; it nourishes our spirit. We are inexplicably drawn to it.  Yet at the same time, we abuse it, pollute it and take it very much for granted.

Yes, water is an extraordinary substance - H20 - two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen.  Water is the only substance that exists naturally on our planet as a solid, a liquid and a gas. Living things depend on all of these states of water. Thanks to its crystal structure, ice floats.  Think of what would happen to polar oceans and other bodies of water in winter if it didn’t.  Because water absorbs heat slowly and releases it slowly, it moderates Earth’s temperatures, allowing for life to exist.  Because one end of the water molecule is slightly negative and the other end is slightly positive, water molecules are attracted to each other, so blood works its way through blood vessels and water slips around soil particles and travels through the roots of plants, even against gravity.  Because of something as seemingly dull-sounding as hydrogen bonds, water is an excellent solvent. Most materials we know dissolve, at least to some extent, in water.  Water dissolves rock to create canyons and soil.  It is the water in our bodies that allows for the chemistry of life. It was in the watery soup of ancient ponds and shallow estuaries that life began on this planet.  Water is so essential and so remarkable that scientists look for it in space as a requirement for the existence of life beyond Earth.

We are drawn to water. We build our cities and towns near bodies of water for drinking and for transportation. We desire to build our homes by lakes, streams, rivers and seas.  We go to shorelines for our vacations. But our attraction has a much deeper meaning.

Think of how we speak about water.  Water cleanses; it renews; we find peace at the waters’ edge.  Water represents purity.  There is the symbolism of baptism.  We speak of going to sea to find ourselves.  Literature is full of symbolic references to water.  The idea of a “sea change” from Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” has become a part of our common language.  The sea has many moods and faces. It is the place where we go for adventure, self-reflection or escape. She is comforting, life-giving mother ocean or raging, angry father Poseidon waiting to destroy Odysseus and his crew.  Annie Dillard said this of the sea,” The sea pronounces something, over and over, in a hoarse whisper;

I cannot quite make it out.”  Thoreau knew the healing powers of water, “A lake is the landscape’s most beautiful and expressive feature.  It is earth’s eye; looking into which the beholder measures the depth of his own nature.”  It was the Lady of the Lake who gave King Arthur his magical sword, Excalibur. Wendell Berry speaks of water in his poem “The Farmer and the Sea”.  “….But the dark of the sea is perfect and strange, the absence of any place, immensity on the loose.  Still, he sees it is another keeper of the land, caretaker, shaking the earth, breaking it, clicking the pieces, but somewhere holding deep fields yet to rise, shedding its richness on them silently as snow, keeper and maker of places wholly dark….”

It is no wonder that people are drawn to Florida.  Here is this place, this aqueous paradise like no other. Florida is practically surrounded by oceans and has seemingly endless miles of shoreline along rivers, lakes and streams.  It is here where one gets a real sense of the connectedness of all water on the earth, from cloud to glacier, from seas and rivers to tears and blood.  The native Timuquans had one word to describe all water. No matter where it came from or where it went, it was “ibe”. There are fresh and saltwater wetlands, mangrove swamps, cypress stands, all ecosystems defined by water.  Water envelops us.  Some days it feels like one could wring it out of the air.  There are afternoon thunderstorms and hurricanes and tropical storms that recharge and refresh places like the Everglades. And water is underneath us, too.  It bubbles up from the ground.  Florida is full of holes where ancient water trapped in porous rock finds its way to the surface in the form of springs.

There is a magical, a spiritual quality to springs.  In Greek mythology, springs were the dwellings of water nymphs that took the form of beautiful young girls, sometimes full of mischief.  In Celtic mythology, the salmon of knowledge is said to swim in a sacred spring beneath a hazel tree. The fish swallows the fallen hazelnuts believed to contain all of the wisdom in the world.  In Western Europe, before the Romans brought Christianity, all springs had their deities, gods and goddesses to be thanked for the life-giving water.  The Romans recognized the value of these places to the people they conquered.  Rather than trying to stop them from visiting their sacred places, they simply built the churches next to the springs.

A sense of wonder can be felt in visiting some of our beautiful Florida springs.  Take a canoe or tube trip down the Ichetucknee River and marvel at the crystal clear water, the many fish and deep blue blows of the springs.  Salt Springs along the St. Johns River is just that, a vestige of ancient seawater when Florida was a vastly different place geologically.  The water from the spring is so salty, that marine grasses grow there now, far from the ocean. William Bartram described Salt Springs in his travels along the St. Johns River, “just under my feet, was the enchanting and amazing crystal fountain, which incessantly threw up, from dark, rocky caverns below, tons of water every minute”.  There he observed “the devouring garfish, inimical trout, and all the varieties of the gilded painted bream; the barbed catfish, dreaded sting-ray, skate, and flounder, spotted bass, sheeps head and ominous drum”, clearly a mixture of salt and freshwater species. Visit Blue Spring or any number of other large springs in winter where manatees gather in huge numbers.  Canoe the upper Suwannee River where one can see many clear-running springs bubbling into the tea-colored meanderings of the river.  The same is true for the Santa Fe, a river far more dependent on spring flow. Take an ice-cold dip in the city pool in Green Cove Springs on a hot summer day.  The swimming pool is fed by the spring!

Florida’s springs and other waterways are in trouble, and the threats are many.  Pollution from industry, nutrient waste from farms and suburban lawns and the paving over of re-charge areas are just some of the problems.  Many springs are going dry. There are too many of us using too much.  The long-term and unknown effects of climate change make the situation even more complicated and uncertain. But there is a groundswell of people calling for action to solve these problems and save our springs.  Like the springs, many voices are joining, rising to the surface of our consciousness and speaking as clearly as the waters themselves.

Water is a miracle. Florida’s water, its springs, its swamps, rivers and streams are worthy of our respect and our protection. To do nothing is unacceptable.  To lose them would be unforgivable.

By Guest Blog Author - Lee Hunter

Biography for Lee Hunter

Lee Hunter has worked as a musician, performer, singer and songwriter since 1992 as a member of the critically acclaimed Americana duo, Tammerlin. She has a BA in Biology from the University of North Florida (UNF) and studied symphonic percussion at UNF with Charlotte Mabrey, now retired principal percussionist with the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra.  In addition to being an award winning songwriter, her writing credits include poetry and essays on environmental issues for Jacksonville Today Magazine and Riverside Avondale Preservation, Inc. Newspaper.  A longtime environmental educator, she developed a multi-disciplinary curriculum for environmental education for teachers in Duval County and has written and edited environmental education materials for the University of North Florida and for Simon and Schuster.

Monday, September 14, 2015


GMOs: Good or Bad? You Decide

Genetically Modified Organisms, or GMOs, are a growing part of our food industry that has caused much controversy. According to the World Health Organization, genetically modified organisms are plants, animals, or organisms that have had their genetic material altered in a way that does not occur naturally by mating and/or natural recombination. The main reason for GMO use in agriculture is for increased yields in production for our growing population. An example of GMO use includes corn injected with DNA from soil bacteria that is immune to specific pesticides that in turn makes the corn immune to these pesticides that otherwise destroy the crop. This type of corn is called RoundUp Ready Corn and is engineered by Monsanto.
One of the main reasons for speculation is the lack of research done on this way of production. Because GMOs have only been on the market for around 30 years the abundance of research that would show the negative effects of GMOs on the human body is low. Many wonder if GMOs will have similar effects as DTE and be discovered as extremely harmful. Currently, the only concerns by the World Health Organization are the possible allergies to genetically modified products, if the antibiotic resistant genes in some GMOs will transfer to the human body, and the migration of genes from GMO crops to conventional crops. As of now, WHO has not found any allergic effects relative to GM foods. However, they do encourage producers to not use antibiotic resistant genes due to the lack of current knowledge on the effects. Nevertheless, all GM foods on the market today have all passed safety tests.
There is much contemplation on whether or not GMOs will be the future for the food industry and for feeding our growing population. Before you make your opinions on the matter please be sure to do your research on the advantages and the drawbacks. Then make your own conclusion on whether or not GMOs are the answer for your lifestyle.

Written by Morgan Froebe, Intern for the Public Trust Law.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The Power of Environmental Activism

The government has so much on their agenda that sometimes very important issues slip to the bottom of the list, unnoticed and ignored. Many times this includes environmental concerns simply because many do not see the immediate impact of these issues and therefore flag them as of lesser importance. Thankfully, there are people out there that will not take no for an answer when it comes to the environment and fight in their communities daily to remind the public and government that the world we live in is threatened and needs saving.

It is equally saddening and inspiring that sometimes it takes young children standing up for an issue for action to be taken. That was the case for Pelican Island Elementary School students in Indian River County, Florida. These brave students expressed their concerns for the endangered scrub jay through presentations to the Indian River County Commission, the U.S. Representative, and even the Secretary of the Interior Department. They did not stop fighting for this beloved bird species until the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services granted $200,000 to the purchase of undeveloped lands to create a wildlife sanctuary for the endangered species.

Everyone knows the saying “It only takes one person to change the world” but does anyone truly believe it? Michele Tigchelaar of the University of Hawaii validated this empowering quote when she received 1,300 signatures, including students, faculty, and regents, on a school petition named “Divest UH” that fought against fossil fuels in Hawaii. The university has now approved the proposal, which said that the University of Hawaii would be divesting from companies that produce coal, oil, and gas by the year 2018. Word has reached the State Representative Chris Lee who is also the chair of the House Energy and Environmental Protection Committee. Lee supported the decision and commended UH and all involved.

Then there are times when success, no matter how small, is still success. James Blakely can attest to this as a Seattle activist against the Shell oilrig in the Arctic Ocean. Along with many others, Blakely attempted to stop what they call the “Polar Destroyer” which is more commonly known as “Shell’s Polar Pioneer” or the 40,000-ton rig that Shell has sent into the Arctic for drilling. In June of 2015 boats and kayaks created two separate barriers against the rig as it was heading out of the Port of Seattle. Unfortunately, the Coast Guard was on team Shell and helped the rig navigate around and through these barriers. Though this specific attempt was unsuccessful, the people did delay Shell and decrease the amount of time that the rig has for digging. Also, they showed the government, the Obama administration, and Shell that the people are not only against this but that they will not make it easy for Shell. Blakely says in a post on, “If Obama won’t act to save the Arctic from drilling, then the people will”.

Environmental activism surrounds us every day in different shapes and forms. Whether you are saving a bird or saving the ozone, you can make a difference. Do not stand by and let others degrade this beautiful world we live in anymore. Stand up and remember that it really does only take one person to make a difference. Be that person.

- Morgan Froebe

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Honey Bees "Colony Collapse" Epidemic

Honey Bee numbers have been plummeting worldwide over the last several years.  This is especially alarming since honey bees provide a valuable service by pollinating agricultural crops.  There are multitude possible reasons for the decline; mite infestations, pesticides and pathogens, just to name a few.  However, one possible reason is the pathogen Nosema ceranae. 

This pathogen is bad primarily because it degenerates the digestive tissue in bees.  This causes malnutrition and reduces the lifespan of the bees.  Until recently, most thought this pathogen only infected adult bees.  However, new studies have shown that bee larvae can also be infected, further shortening the life of the bee once if it reaches adulthood.  This is not good for humans, since 35% of the world’s food crops are affected by bee, bird and bat pollination.  It is also not good for the State of Florida because Nosema ceranae is highly prevalent and somewhat resistant to treatment in warmer climates.  This means that bees in Florida are more susceptible to the pathogen than in more temperate climates.

Nosema ceranae can be controlled with Fumigillin.  With a warm climate and a large agricultural industry that somewhat relies on bees to pollinate crops, the State of Florida should make sure that this pathogen doesn’t further devastate the bee population.  Honey bee populations should be treated during the cold winter months and can be treated from September through February.  These steps can be taken to ensure that Florida’s honey bees and Florida’s agricultural industry survive and prosper well into the future.

But is Fumigillin safe to use?  Please tell us YOUR thoughts!

-Sean Combs, Legal Intern

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Renewable Energy - How Is It Stored?

Renewable energies such as wind and solar energy has been around for decades.  Many predicted that it would supply most of the nation’s energy by now.  However, renewable energy only accounts for approximately 10% of the nation’s energy consumption.  This is a far cry from a majority.  Fossil fuels still accounted for over 80% of US consumption in 2014 according to U.S. Energy Information Administration.  There are several reasons renewable energy has yet to take a bigger piece of the U.S. energy pie.  Political opposition and costs are certainly factors that have hampered expanded usage of renewable energy sources.    However, there is another reason that many people might not even know is a problem that requires a solution.  That problem is, when renewable sources are not producing, such as when the sun doesn’t shine for solar energy and when the wind isn’t blowing for wind energy, where do you get the energy from?

Many think the simple solution is to store it with a battery.  However, for years battery technology simply lacked the capacity to store the required energy needed to supply energy on a large scale.  In 2003, the city of Fairbanks, Alaska plugged in a battery that is larger than a football field.  But even a battery that size only stores enough power to supply the town of 12,000 people electricity for seven minutes.  There is hope that solid state lithium ion batteries will eventually be able to meet this demand.  Companies such as Tesla are on the forefront of these technologies.

Another potential solution is to use the excess energy from renewables to make hydrogen fuel cells.  In this process, the excess energy is used to split water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen. The molecules are then combined in a fuel cell that creates an electro-chemical reaction resulting in electricity.   This is a potentially good solution because there is no limit to the amount of hydrogen that can be stored.

There are many other potential solutions as well and hopefully one day soon at least one of these solutions will become economically viable as a way to store the massive amounts of energy this country needs.  Until one of these solutions does become viable, don’t look for the U.S. energy pie chart to change very much.

-Sean Combs, Legal Intern