Chevron taps an enormous oil reserve, strange quarks distribute symmetrically, and the Ivory Coast's government quits over an environmental disaster.

It’s Not Easy Being Green, But The People Demand It

If California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signs the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, recently passed by the state Assembly, California will become the first state in the U.S. to limit man-made greenhouse gas emissions. Schwarzenegger has said he will sign the bill, which, he said, will aid California’s economy as well as its environment. While some manufacturers have criticized the bill, industry experts say it should not harm electric utilities, which are responsible for about one-fifth of California’s emissions.

The Energy Action Coalition has teamed up with MTV to host a contest promoting renewable energy usage on college campuses. Students will try to convert their schools to 100 percent clean energy usage in exchange for prizes that include parties, cash grants, and a “green” renovation of student common space. Hip-hop artist Jay-Z launched the competition, called Break the Addiction Challenge, on the MTV show “Total Request Live.” At least ten schools already buy all of their power from green sources.

Thirty-eight protesters were arrested at an August 31 demonstration at Britain’s biggest power station, many for weapons possession and criminal damage. Some 600 environmental activists gathered in an attempt to shut down the coal-fired Drax power plant, which produces seven percent of the UK’s electricity, and is the nation’s single largest source of industrial CO2 emissions.


Prepare To Face The Music

In what may be a first for a sovereign nation, an environmental disaster has inspired the government of the Ivory Coast to resign in disgrace. Two weeks ago an unnamed firm dumped toxic sludge at nine sites surrounding the capital of Abidjan, so protesters took to the streets. Their actions made it difficult for medical personnel to reach the casualties suffering from poison from inhaling the fumes. Three people died and 1,500 were injured.

Exxon will have to pay $92 million in environmental damages from the 1989 Valdez oil spill, according to demands from the Alaska Department of Law and the U.S. Department of Justice. These damages come in addition to those covered by a 1991 settlement for $900 million that allowed the state and federal governments to seek additional damages for unforeseen environmental consequences at later dates. Exxon Mobil is expected to contest the damages, as the company has previously said that it believes there are no environmental damages not covered in the earlier settlement.

The world’s permafrost traps the equivalent of 100 years’ worth of human-made carbon emissions, and, thanks to global warming, it’s thawing, concludes a study published last week in the journal Nature. As it thaws, it releases methane, a greenhouse gas 23 times better at trapping heat than carbon dioxide. Experts are calling the thawing permafrost a climate time bomb.

Even if the world’s largest nations suddenly agree to start limiting carbon emissions, we won’t be able to curb the damage already done to the global climate, according to the British Association for the Advancement of Science. So instead of spending so much time and money on preventing global warming, association president Frances Cairncross said Monday, world leaders should focus on preparing for the inevitable consequences of climate change.


Sorting Out Space

Strange quarks contribute to a proton’s charge distribution with a surprising level of symmetry, according to research published Wednesday in the journal Physical Review Letters. The strange quark is one of the smallest and most mysterious of known subatomic particles, as it seems to come into existence inside the proton and then pop out of existence, said author Derek Leinweber. Thanks to this research, led by physicists at the University of Adelaide, other scientists around the world may completely change their experimental approach to studying the very, very small.

The Russian Space Agency has announced plans to replace the International Space Station in 2015, but Nikolai Sevastyanov, the president of the Energia Russian Rocket and Space Corporation, suggested that the ISS should be kept as a permanent artificial satellite. Sevastyanov said the ISS could continue to perform its current functions, which include serving as an international space port, carrying out basic research, and testing new space technologies.

The Space Shuttle Atlantis should have left last Friday from Cape Canaveral, but the launch was postponed until at least Saturday because of a problem with a fuel sensor. Since Aug. 27, when the shuttle was originally intended to depart, this unlucky craft had already been delayed by a lightning strike and a tropical storm. NASA finally set the vessel on its way on Saturday morning. Atlantis will be the first mission to further construction on the International Space Station since the 2003 Columbia disaster.

A European Space Agency probe known as SMART-1 crashed into the surface of the Moon on Sunday, Sept. 3. The force of impact destroyed the probe, but its journey has been declared a success by the mission manager. SMART-1 sent back 20,000 images of the lunar surface, and its mission has tested technologies, including an ion drive, that may be used for space flights in the future.


Squeeze Out Every Last Drop

As an alternative to continuing large-scale importation of oil into U.S., the U.S. Energy Department has approved a $3 million project that would both increase domestic oil production and safely store greenhouse gases. The project, proposed by the University of Alabama at Birmingham, will flood the state’s largest oil producing field, Cintronelle, with carbon dioxide, which will allow about 20 percent more oil to be pushed out. The site will then become storage for excess carbon dioxide from the coal and natural gas burned at nearby power plants. Carbon dioxide flooding is currently responsible for almost five percent of U.S. oil output.

Chevron, along with two other oil companies, has tapped a huge oil reserve four miles under the ocean’s floor, making the site in the Gulf of Mexico the largest reserve discovered in the U.S. since Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay. As the world’s largest oil consuming nation, the U.S. imports more than 50 percent of its oil, but the new deposits will boost U.S. reserves by 50 percent. Energy consultants caution, however, that this won’t necessarily mean lower costs at the pump. The reserves will take billions of dollars, significant equipment upgrades, and many years to tap. Meanwhile, this discovery could provoke Florida to ease its current environmental restrictions on drilling in offshore water.

Signatories to the Kyoto protocol are late with this year’s National Allocation Plans—in which countries estimate how much CO2 they’ll produce in the coming year—and the EU Commission hasthreatened legal action against delinquent member states. Meanwhile, emissions by rich nations reached their highest level ever, due in large part to a 1.7 percent increase in emissions by the U.S. and the addition of fast-growing Turkey’s emissions to rich-nation estimates.

In an effort to promote the economic development of Mediterranean countries and to protect people’s health, the EU Commission has proposed funding large-scale cleanup of the southern and eastern coasts of the Mediterranean Sea, an area particularly vulnerable to the effects of pollution. The proposal aims to reduce pollution, promote sustainability, encourage environmental cooperation, and pass new environmental legislation. The Commission hasn’t put a price tag on the cleanup, but it expects to finalize its strategy when Euro-Med Environment Ministers meet in Cairo this November.

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A Note of Optimism

The hurricane team at the University of Colorado has predicted a slightly slower than average hurricane season this year, with 13 named storms, including five hurricanes and two intense hurricanes. Last year’s hurricane season set records with 28 named storms, including 15 hurricanes and seven intense hurricanes;  the season before that saw an above-average amount of storm activity as well.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a climate science group established in 1998 by the World Meterological Organization and the United Nations Environment Program, unveiled its Draft Fourth Assessment forecasting global warming trends for the next hundred years. The Draft predicts temperature rises of two degrees Celsius by 2100 if greenhouse gas emissions are kept to their current levels and a rise of three degrees Celsius if emissions are not limited. These predictions are slightly less pessimistic than previous reports by the organization. The Fourth Assessment is due to be completed in 2007.

According to former Vice President Al Gore, President George W. Bush’s policies on climate change are likely to yield under pressure from his supporters. Bush has said that the US must break its “addiction” to oil, and he is investing heavily in climate research and clean technologies, such as hydrogen fuel cells, but he has refused to agree to the U.N.‘s Kyoto Protocol. Many Christian religious leaders, major business leaders, and local government officials are seeking cuts in emissions of carbon dioxide, in a break with the Bush administration. If Bush does not change his policies on climate change, Gore predicted, the next U.S. president will.

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Originally published September 11, 2006

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