Friday, January 29, 2010

Indoor Air Pollution

What is cleaner, the air in your house or the air outside? Unless you live next door to a coal burning plant that is emitting tons of smoke every day, a normal person would tend to believe that the air inside their own home is cleaner than the air outside. According to scientific studies they would be wrong. Studies have proven that in most cases indoor air is drastically less clean than outside air. Why? According to an article in E, The Environmental Magazine, indoor air pollutants are consumed everyday by the general population, and it doesn’t matter where you live. Whether in an urban center or a rural setting, indoor pollutants can be found. Indoor pollutants come from a variety of different sources including carpets, furniture, cleaning solutions, paint strippers, tobacco smoke, solvents in inks, and even air fresheners. Most are relatively harmless, only causing minor respiratory irritation, including shortness of breath and allergies. Some, however, can cause real problems. Pollutants like benzene from tobacco smoke and formaldehyde from paint strippers are proven carcinogens, and lead to a variety of cancers. But the horror does stop there. Most indoor pollutants are like stealth bombers, you cannot see them until after the devastation has occurred. Some, such as air fresheners and cleaning solutions, are meant to have a pleasant smell in order to mask odor, but they still can cause health problems.
How can we put an end to these indoor pollutants? For years people have been buying expensive electric air filters that clean the indoor air, expensive air filters that draw in and mix outdoor air with indoor air, and even simple filters that can be installed over air vents to filter out pollutants. The only real problem with these types of air filters is that they all run off of electricity which causes more pollution whether it is indoor or outdoor. It is a pick your poison scenario, would you rather die from indoor toxins from everyday products, or would you rather die from outdoor pollution caused by the power plants that provide electricity for your indoor air filters?
While this is a perhaps extreme characterization of the situation, there is nevertheless an electricity free method of purifying indoor air and removing indoor pollutants. The simple answer deals with house hold plants. According to research by Dr. B.C. Wolverton, there are a number of plants an individual can by that will filter out harmful indoor pollutants much like electric air filters. Plants such as the rubber plant and Bamboo Palm can filter out many pollutants and leave indoor air “very clean.” The process has something to do with soil in such plants as the rubber plant. Plants, much like humans, need air to breath. For example once the rubber plant “breaths in” the harmful pollutants, its soil biodegrades each of the chemicals and almost pure air is the byproduct. Also, a number of soil microbes found in each of these purifying plants help to clear the air of the pollutants.
So what does this mean to the everyday citizen? Imagine the same scenario but dealing with drinking water. Would a person drink a brown glass of water, filled with germs, bacteria, and dirt, or would a person rather drink a clean glass of water free from toxins? This answer may sound simple, and with water most dangers are very visible. Indoor air pollution, on the other hand, is not so apparent. Indoor air pollution is a stealth killer. Just because you cannot see the pollutants in the air does not mean they are not there, and some are deadly. Buying and placing cheap and low maintenance house hold plants can help purify indoor air, without causing the added outdoor pollution electric air purifiers eventually make. Plants can help prevent outdoor pollution, and help purify indoor pollution. So the next time you want to freshen the air of your home or office, consider buying a plant, your area will be cleaner and more beautiful.

Josh Wyatt, Legal Intern

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Have We Forgotten About Global Warming?

New polls show that the American people’s concern with global warming has cooled off. According to the poll funded by the Yale Project on Climate Change and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication, we are significantly less worried. Under 50 percent say they are “somewhat” or “very worried” – a 13 percent decrease from a poll taken in October 2008. The percentage of Americans who think global warming is occurring fell from 71 to 57 percent, and the percentage that believe climate change is caused primarily by human activities fell from 57 to 47 percent. The percentage of people who think that Americans are currently harmed by global warming, dropped from 34 to 25 percent.

A new poll by the Pew Center for the People & The Press, found that over 80 percent of adults list jobs and the economy as top priorities for the White House and Congress in 2010. Global warming ranked at the bottom of issues polled – 28 percent said it should be a top priority, while 36 percent called it an “important but lower priority.” “Such a low ranking is driven in part by indifference among Republicans: just 11% consider global warming a top priority, compared with 43% of Democrats and 25% of independents,” a summary of the Pew poll released Monday states. The economy is a top priority for 83 percent of the 1,504 people polled earlier this month, followed by jobs at 81 percent and terrorism at 80 percent. Forty-nine percent said dealing with the nation’s energy problems is a top priority, while 44 percent listed protecting the environment in that category.

At the same time as the American people’s concern of global warming decreases, the global temperature and the melting of Antarctica increases. Glaciers in Antarctica are melting faster and across a much wider area than previously thought, a development that threatens to raise sea levels worldwide and force millions of people to flee low-lying areas, scientists say. By the end of the century, the accelerated melting could cause sea levels to climb by 3 to 5 feet — levels substantially higher than predicted by a major scientific group just two years ago.

Victoria Lindbak, Intern

Sowing The Wind

The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) this month reported that federal stimulus spending under the federal Recovery Act has helped turn what was expected to be a 50% decline in growth in the wind power sector into a 39% increase over the course of 2009, particularly in the latter half of the year. As a result of Recovery Act incentives, the U.S. wind sector has added about 10,000 Megawatts (MW) of additional capacity bringing the total to over 35,000 MW nationally. This represents 38 new wind power facilities being brought online, announced, or expanded. Amazingly, nearly 4,000 MW of this 10,000 MW growth in the wind sector occurred during the last quarter of 2009. While this increase only helps wind power turbines close in on accounting for about two percent of the nation’s power supply, this is up from almost nothing a just a few years ago. Since 2002, the nation’s supply of wind-generated energy has jumped sevenfold.

Although growth during the last year was phenomenal for construction, operations, and management jobs in the wind power sector, the manufacturing sector did not see as much gain. In part, this was a result of already-high inventories that must be depleted before demand for their wind power products will increase and stabilize. However, the AWEA also blames the lack of a long-term energy policy and market signals for the decline in total investment in the wind manufacturing sector compared to 2008. Over the course of 2009, one-third fewer manufacturing plants came online or were announced or expanded as a result.

By far, the largest increase in wind power came in the state of Texas, which was already the nation’s wind-power leader with 7118 MW at the beginning of the year. However, during 2009, the state added another 2292 MW of wind capacity, for a total of 9410 MW for Texas alone, which by itself accounts for nearly 2/7 of all U.S. wind sector capacity. At the end of 2009, Texas was followed by Iowa, with 3670 MW of wind power capacity, and California, with 2,794 MW of capacity. Overall, 36 states now have at least some utility-scale wind installations, and 14 states have developed over 1000 MW of capacity thus far. Florida is one of the 14 remaining states, primarily concentrated in the southeastern U.S., that have yet to develop any wind power installations or capacity, despite the recent availability of substantial federal investment monies and increased attention to the issue.

The AWEA projects that America’s wind power fleet will result in positive environmental impacts for both the nation’s air and water. Wind power is projected to avoid about 62 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions annually, which is the equivalent of taking 10.5 million cars off the road. In addition, wind power is expected to save another 20 billion gallons of water annually that would be otherwise used for steam or cooling conventional power plants.

Jeremey Dobbins, Legal Intern

Friday, January 22, 2010

Global Warming's Effect on Hurricanes

What exactly makes a hurricane? Hurricanes start off as storm systems rolling off the coast of Africa barreling toward North America, and form over the warm waters around the equator. As the storm center moves over the open ocean a Low Pressure is formed and water is sucked up into the core of the storm. The warmer the water, the more energy the storm will gather and the stronger it becomes. There are only a few natural ways to stop a hurricane. Cold and Warm fronts have the ability to push the storm away from the continent, wind sheer over certain parts of the ocean can tear it apart, and any movement over land will weaken the storm. But, warmer waters equal stronger hurricanes which are harder to stop.
What exactly is Global Warming? Global warming is a very controversial issue in today’s economic world, political world, and sociological world. In a nutshell, the burning of fossil fuels, the release of methane gas, and the release of CFCs are causing our atmosphere to erode, allowing more radiation from the sun to penetrate, and thus heating up the planet. The area around the equator gets more sun than anywhere else on the planet, so more radiation from the sun penetrates warming up the waters. Many people think global warming is a farce, a scare tactic used to sway political voters into voting one way over another. If you are a believer or a skeptic one fact remains blatantly obvious, hurricanes over the past few years have been stronger than ever recorded.
So what is the connection? As stated earlier, hurricanes gain their energy by sucking up warm water along their trip across the ocean. The warmer the water is the stronger the hurricane becomes. With global warming, the area receiving the most sun radiation, thus heating faster and hotter, is the area around the equator in which the hurricanes travel. Hurricanes traveling over this newly heated water are becoming stronger and harder to be redirected by either wind shear or slowed down by land masses. One example of a super powerful hurricane is Hurricane Katrina. Hurricane Katrina devastated the city of New Orleans. Originally a category 5, the strongest of the hurricanes, Katrina was one of the fast growing hurricanes on record. Seemly over night this storm turned into a monster. One opinion of this growth tends to blame global warming. The waters in the Gulf of Mexico are getting warmer, is it because of new radiation breaking through the holes in the atmosphere caused by greenhouse gas, or is there a cycle to the planets heatin? Katrina moved directly over these waters possibly affected by global warming and became stronger. Sadly enough this will happen again.
What can we do to stop it? The only true way to stop global warming and maybe weaken potential hurricanes is to fight for a cleaner environment. All the damage done to the oceans is probably irreversible, but there is a chance to slow down the progression. Are stronger hurricanes related to global warming? Maybe, more scientific research is needed.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Haiti's Environmental Future

The long-term efforts to help Haiti will need to include a focus on reversing environmental damage such as near deforestation that causes a shortage in water and food supply for the Haitians, experts say. Haiti’s president is grateful for all the emergency aid, however he asks donors to remember the country’s long-term needs. Former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, who are heading the private-sector fundraising efforts, are asking us to be generous in our donations, not only in the short-term, but also in the long-term recovery for Haiti.

From 1957 to 1986 Haiti had a dictatorship, first Francois Duvalier, then his son Jean-Claude. The dictatorship resulted in deforestation – today less than two percent of the nation has forest cover. This contributes to erosion that undermines food output. The deforestation also makes Haiti more vulnerable to hurricanes and storms. Before the quake on January 12th, the U.N. Environment Program had decided on a two-year project, starting in 2010, to boost Haiti’s environment, from forests and coral reefs. Asif Zaidi, Operations Manager of the post-conflict and disaster management branch of the UNEP, says, “Among quick measures for donors could be to provide propane to encourage a shift from charcoal-burning stoves. That could be backed in the longer-term by reforestation and investments in renewable energies such as solar or wind power.”

Bill Clinton and George W. Bush said that while the earthquake is a tragedy for Haiti, it has focused the world’s attention on the impoverished nation. The Haitian government, Haitians living abroad and countless non-governmental organizations, and many donor nations have a chance to help make the long-term improvements, they added.

Victoria Lindbak, Intern

Monday, January 18, 2010

Green Nanotechnology: Myth or Reality?

Everyday our environment is changing. By environment I am talking about every aspect of our lives. Where we live, how we get around, what we eat, and how we take responsibility for our actions. As our environment changes, so too does the technology that makes our lives “easier,” which is very debatable. So, if technology can make it easier for a person to get to work in the morning, through GPS and easy pay gas stations, why can’t technology help the sustainability of our planet? When one thinks about nanotechnology, images of science fiction movies come to mind, like Star Trek. But, nanotechnology is not science fiction, it’s actually here. “Green Nanotechnology: Straddling Promise and Uncertainty” is an article by Barbara P. Karn and Lynn L. Bergeson in Natural Resources and Environment magazine. The main purpose of this article is to attempt to educate readers about the potential of green nanotechnology.
The nanotechnology movement is really starting to take flight in a number of different fields. Proposals include medical nanotechnology to fight against cancer and other diseases and engineering nanotechnology to reduce labor and transportation costs. In the article “Green Nanotechnology,” the authors explore the different ways nanotechnology can help protect the planet. Primarily, the article focuses on two ways in which green nanotechnology can help. First, green nanotechnologies can be developed to help remediate hazardous waste, purify water, desalinate water, and help clean polluted waterways. Pollution is really a troubling issue; imagine green nanotechnology being able to destroy water pollutants such as fuels, waste, and others. The ability to purify water from toxins could save countless numbers of aquatic species, as well as the birds that nest and feed from the rivers. The ability to desalinate water is also a very important issue. One day our population could possibly exhaust the fresh water supply. The ability to turn saltwater, which covers 75% of the earth, in to drinkable water could be a huge development. Second, green nanotechnologies will be made from safer chemicals proven to have minimal, if any, effects on the environment. The less waste technology produces the better the outcome.
There are some fears about green nanotechnology and nanotechnologies in general. If a green nanotechnology is produced to help clean up oil spills in the Pacific Ocean for example, what is to stop this machine from destroying other aspects of the environment? After the oil is consumed what happens next. Will the nano-organism just shut off? Once it shuts off what happens to it? Does it then sink to the bottom of the ocean polluting the area? Some believe the nano-organism will just move on and keep consuming whatever is in its path. To help answer these questions, no matter how bizarre, the government and private sector are researching every avenue into testing, regulation, costs, and affects. No real answer can be given to each fear yet, but with continued research and with positive advancements in technology we are getting closer.
One day green nanotechnology will help sustain our planet, freshen our water supply, and end pollution. After all the tests and regulations are finalized maybe technology, in theory a main contributor to the planets destruction, will provide the means to save the environment.

Josh Wyatt, Legal Intern

Friday, January 15, 2010

Did the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference Change Anything?

Many believed that the climate conference in Copenhagen would bring new and stricter regulations to nations’ climate policies. “The summit was supposed to halt temperature rise by cutting greenhouse gases. But after two weeks of negotiating, it ended in a weak political accord that does not force any country to reduce emissions and has no legal standing,” writes Louise Gray of the UK’s Telegraph.

Some believe the struggle of the world’s leaders to come to an agreement is in fact a result of how seriously they take global warming. TIME magazine refers to the struggle as, “… a sign that global climate talks have moved beyond symbolic rhetoric.” Others believe that the balancing of interests between the countries wanting to maintain their standard of living, and emerging economies hoping to achieve such levels, is the most important reason that the summit could not result in a stronger agreement.

Many blame China and the US for the limitations of the Copenhagen climate conference. “The standoff between China and the United States underscores the issues. The global trade rivals were reluctant to commit to emissions targets until each had an idea of what the other planned. The two countries together are responsible for 40 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions,” writes the New York Times. Barack Obama admitted that accord was “not enough.” In the UN’s climate conference in Bali, the US rejected the new guidelines to reducing green house emissions. However, at the Copenhagen conference, the US took on a new role in the UN’s battle against global warming. “President Obama arrived in Copenhagen to find the summit on the verge of collapse. So, he plunged into seven hours of hard, direct bargaining with a select group of world leaders, eventually cutting a deal with those from China, India, Brazil and South Africa,” writes TIME.

On the positive side, the Copenhagen climate conference united the US, China and other major developing countries in the attempt to find a universal accord to fight global warming. “For all its limitations, however, the Copenhagen Accord is the first real step to fighting climate change in the 21st century. The real value of Copenhagen may lie in what it teaches us about dealing with climate change”, writes TIME.

Intern, Victoria Lindbak

EPA to Improve Ozone Standards

Unlike the ozone in the upper atmosphere which protects us and the environment from UV light, ground level ozone is linked with serious health problems. Ground level ozone, also known as smog, can cause illness in perfectly healthy individuals who work or play outside. Coughing, chest pain, wheezing and breathing difficulties are just a few of the health issues that can be caused by ground level ozone. For individuals with heart or lung disease, ozone pollution can cause premature death. Ground-level ozone can also have detrimental effects on plants and ecosystems. It can damage plants making them more susceptible to insect infestation, disease and the impacts of other pollutants. It can hinder forest growth and potentially reduce species diversity.

Ground level ozone is made when chemicals from cars, power plants, industrial facilities, etc. come in contact with sunlight. Thus, there is usually more smog in sunnier climates.

"EPA is stepping up to protect Americans from one of the most persistent and widespread pollutants we face. Smog in the air we breathe poses a very serious health threat, especially to children and individuals suffering from asthma and lung disease. It dirties our air, clouds our cities, and drives up our health care costs across the country," said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. The EPA is proposing to tighten the limit of parts per million from the previous limit of 0.075, to between 0.060 and 0.070. The EPA is also proposing to set a secondary standard for the protection of the environment for plants and animals.

Although implementing these new limitations would cost billions of dollars, the benefit would be a vast reduction in health problems related to ozone pollution.

For further information, please go to

Victoria Lindbak, Intern

Friday, January 8, 2010

Algae Blooms-The Green Monster!

Nitrogen and phosphorus are important nutrients for life in rivers, lakes and the sea. However, large amounts of these nutrients can be damaging. The most common negative effect of nutrient pollution is an algae bloom, which is harmful for the fish, plants, animals and humans who use the water. For a long time, algae blooms have been a problem in Florida’s beaches, lakes, rivers and springs. An important cause of nitrogen and phosphorus pollution is excessive fertilization, both residential and agricultural, which in turn runs out into the rivers, lakes and costal waters. Other causes include septic tanks and rainfall flowing over cropland picking up animal waste and depositing it into the water.

As a result of a lawsuit by our local St. Johns Riverkeeper and the public interest group Earthjustice, it looks as though there might be an end in sight for this problem. Earthjustice sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on behalf of several Florida environmental groups which resulted in a settlement in which the EPA has agreed to set limits for the nutrient pollution that causes algae blooms in the St. Johns River and other Florida waters. The EPA has until this month, January 2010, to propose the pollution limits for Florida’s waters, and until October 2010 to finalize the new rules.

What can we as individuals do to prevent nutrient pollution? Well, there are several things we can do. Thinking twice about how we treat our plants and flowers in our gardens will affect the water quality in our local rivers and streams. Making sure to use fertilizers in moderation is important. In addition, sweeping up your driveway, gutters and sidewalks can make a significant difference. Always picking up after our pets, and if you must, taking our cars to the car wash instead of washing them in our driveways will also help. Lastly, we should contact our local environmental agency if we notice dead fish and green water, or contact the police if we see illegal dumping into any water body.

To read more about what the EPA are doing to combat the nutrient pollution, visit

Victoria Lindbak, Intern