Monday, January 30, 2006

NASA to Scientists: Shutup!

For those of you who dont know him, James Hansen discovered of global warming. Well, not quite, but he has been the alarm bell since 1988 warning governments and business leaders that the heat trapping gases CO2 and NOx are causing climate fluctuations that wouldn't otherwise be happening. Bill McKibben features a full run-through of Hansen's expereince on the Senate floor back in 1989 in his book End of Nature. If you haven't read it...pick it up.

Hansen now says that NASA and administration officials have been asked to review all his interview requests, coming lectures, papers and postings to the Goddard Insitute website often before they are released. I guess the odd piece here is why are public affairs officials reviewing scientific data and results being posted publicly on a website by one of the world's renowned climate scientists?

Well apparently they're doing it alot.

Dean Acosta, deputy assistant administrator for public affairs at the space agency said there was no effort to silence Dr. Hansen. "That's not the way we operate here at NASA," Mr. Acosta said. "We promote openness and we speak with the facts."

He said the restrictions on Dr. Hansen applied to all National Aeronautics and Space Administration personnel. He added that government scientists were free to discuss scientific findings, but that policy statements should be left to policy makers and appointed spokesmen.

Except when the policy statements are tied to imperical data from one of the most accomplished climate scientists in the world. Don't we PAY him for his opinion? Isn't this like paying a basketball fan to go out and play for Kobe Bryant? Let the man talk! He's smart! Its why we pay him tax dollars.

And here's where it gets interesting:

The fresh efforts to quiet him, Dr. Hansen said, began in a series of calls after a lecture he gave on Dec. 6 at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco. In the talk, he said that significant emission cuts could be achieved with existing technologies, particularly in the case of motor vehicles, and that without leadership by the United States, climate change would eventually leave the earth "a different planet."

The administration's policy is to use voluntary measures to slow, but not reverse, the growth of emissions.

After that speech and the release of data by Dr. Hansen on Dec. 15 showing that 2005 was probably the warmest year in at least a century, officials at the headquarters of the space agency repeatedly phoned public affairs officers, who relayed the warning to Dr. Hansen that there would be "dire consequences" if such statements continued, those officers and Dr. Hansen said in interviews.

Almost sounds as if it was cut from a movie script. The scary piece of this is that now no scientist can get on a call with press unless several public affairs officials from NASA are on the call as well. Are they translating something? What the heck is the point other than to twist results in the name of political gain?

PS: Arthur over at Its Getting Hot in Here has a great post on this as well.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

The Power of Algae

Small steps toward curbing global warming emissions is coming out of the hub of tech/science advancement using one of nature's most simple organisms: algae. Isaac Berzin of MIT has created bioreactors of algae that strip the CO2 and NOx pollutants from emitting power plant smokestacks removing up to 40% of the CO2 and 90% of the NOx.

Working much like a screen, the algae bioreactors use photosynthesis to absorb the CO2 and other pollutants and emit oxygen instead. The algae is then harvested daily and from it a combustible vegetable oil is squeezed out. This fuel can be used as biodiesel and is some of the cleanest fuel that can be burned for cars running on "veggie-oil." The dried solid is then clumped together and can be burned as a cleaner coal. Ethanol is also a by-product of this process.

The most impressive side of this plan, however, is Berzin's business strategy that lays out the way in which utilities and coporations can make money off of the deal. By setting up algae farms, the biodiesel and ethanol can be sold as additional energy products.
For his part, Berzin calculates that just one 1,000 megawatt power plant using his system could produce more than 40 million gallons of biodiesel and 50 million gallons of ethanol a year. That would require a 2,000-acre "farm" of algae-filled tubes near the power plant. There are nearly 1,000 power plants nationwide with enough space nearby for a few hundred to a few thousand acres to grow algae and make a good profit, he says.
Now, the utilities aren't just gouging people for energy usage but are instead making it back in the form of fairly green energy. This explosion of biodiesel as a clean fuel could begin to affect car companies as more and more become open to producing diesel versions of their most popular vehicle for customers who want to drive on veggie oil.

Berzin's company in Cambridge, GreenFuel Techonologies is dedicated to educating all about the massive economic and ecologic bonuses coming out of clean air biofuels.

This is a good step in removing CO2 and NOx gases from the atmosphere but I also hope that eventually we'll move towards a more sustainable fuel source using solar and wind. The bottom line is this method is used on smokestacks that continue to belch out millions of pounds of CO2 and NOx every year and isn't really advancing the techological capability of clean energy. However, I'm all for supporting ways in which to clean up our environment, and this is one of the more interesting ways to help our air quality. I also don't want to ignore the fact that had we developed cleaner energy tactics a century ago we wouldn't be looking for ways to limit our emissions today. Still, who woulda thunk algae can absorb such dirty pollutants?