Day: November 4, 2013

Books | Trash of the titans

Read the full story at SmartPlanet.

If you’re in a public place playing a ’90s radio station, the song “Ironic” by Alanis Morissette will almost certainly cause an esoteric tiff. Rain-soaked weddings and fly-filled wineglasses, many claim, are actually misidentified examples of Murphy’s Law.

In his first book, Junkyard Planet: Travels in the Billion-Dollar Trash Trade (Bloomsbury Press, $26, out Nov. 12 and excerpted here), author Adam Minter likewise sends brain cells scattering when he outdoes even the anti-Alanisites with his thesis: “recycling” isn’t technically recycling.

Awesome Art Made From Recycled Skateboards

Read the full story at Atlantic Cities.

Here’s a skating trick that’s neater than a dolphin flip: recycling hundreds of old boards into wild, candy-colored sculptures that get you exhibited all over the world.

Five years later, Legacy Amendment positions Minnesota as leader in clean water initiatives

Five years ago this week, Minnesota voters passed a constitutional amendment that increased the state’s sales tax by three-eighths of one percent to fund projects related to clean water, natural resources, and arts and culture.

According to a 2008 poll by Minnesota Environmental Partnership, clean water was the leading issue that motivated voters to support the amendment:  42% of those who voted for the amendment indicated that cleaning up and protecting Minnesota’s lakes, rivers, and streams was the primary reason for their vote.

Accordingly, one-third of the funds generated through this amendment are dedicated to clean water in Minnesota’s lakes, rivers, streams, and groundwater. This stable source of funding, set in the state’s constitution for twenty-five years, has enabled policymakers to tackle ambitious projects that are expected to profoundly improve water quality in the state.

“Knowing that that these funds will be available for the next 20 years has changed so much about our ability to restore and protect water,” says Commissioner John Linc Stine of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. “Minnesota’s water pollution problems developed over the course of many decades. We want to solve them the right way—sustainably—and the Legacy Amendment is making that possible. We’ve set an ambitious course, and thanks to this steady source of funding, we know that those goals are reachable.”

So far, more than 300 individual amendment-funded projects have been sponsored by the MPCA across the state. Though many of these efforts are still underway, the amendment is beginning to bear fruit in the form of major initiatives that will position Minnesota as a leader in water resources protection.

The watershed approach: a turbo-charged effort to improve water quality

For decades, water management professionals have been making steady progress on assessing water quality in the state’s 12,000 lakes and 105,000 miles of streams. Monitoring and assessment work establishes baseline data for the health of lakes and streams, and sets the stage for targeted improvements in those that are found to be unhealthy. Over the past five years, the MPCA has moved from assessing a smaller number of individual lakes and streams across the state to evaluating each of the state’s 81 watersheds on a rotating, 10-year cycle.

“Prior to 2008, our process was broad but not deep. We did water quality assessments in the best way we could with the resources available at the time,” said MPCA division director Gaylen Reetz.  “The Legacy Amendment makes it possible to do much more detailed monitoring on many more lakes, streams, and wetlands. Once we have completed one 10-year monitoring cycle in 2018, we’ll be able to go back and revisit those watersheds to see how everyone’s hard work on protecting and restoring our waters has paid off—and that will truly be exciting to see.”

The St. Louis River Area of Concern: leveraging funds to dial back 130 years of degradation

The St. Louis River estuary, just off the southwest tip of Lake Superior in Duluth, has suffered from over 130 years of accumulated environmental degradation. In the years prior to environmental regulation, human and industrial waste, dredging of aquatic habitat, and harmful logging and milling practices crippled the health of the estuary. Beginning in 2010, the MPCA spearheaded what will be one of the largest restoration and cleanup efforts in Great Lakes history, with the support of numerous partners. The St. Louis River is the headwaters of Lake Superior and the Great Lakes, so its cleanup and restoration promises a host of economic and environmental benefits that will reverberate throughout the region.

“The Legacy Amendment came along at the right time for us,” said MPCA supervisor Nelson French. “We have charted out a timeline that is ambitious, but achievable, and we’ve been able to use Legacy Amendment dollars to leverage over $20 million in outside funding, which is vital to our success. With this continued support, we expect to remove all 9 of the impairments to this area, and to be able to delist the St. Louis River area of concern from the Great Lakes Area of Concern list by 2025.”

Demonstrating success of regulatory efforts: water monitoring on the Minnesota River

In summer 2012, extremely dry weather created a rare opportunity to evaluate water quality on the Minnesota River under drought stress and to learn whether stringent wastewater treatment regulations enacted over the past several years had improved the river’s health as expected. The necessary testing conditions, however, existed for only a short period of time.

“Funding from the Legacy Amendment allowed us to act quickly to take advantage of this rare testing opportunity,“ said Glenn Skuta.  “We mobilized a team to conduct three weeks of intensive monitoring during the height of the drought. The data they collected provided clear evidence that the high bar we set for wastewater plants has measurably improved the health of the Minnesota River. Clean water funding made this rapid response possible.”

The amendment’s unfolding future

In coming years, MPCA leaders say that Minnesotans will continue to reap the dividends of their investment in clean water.

“It is only fitting that Minnesota, a state with such abundant water resources located at the top of our continent’s watersheds, should lead the way in protecting and restoring those resources,” said Stine.  “This amendment was a bold statement by Minnesota voters about the priorities they have for our state over the coming decades. We intend to follow through on our commitment to carry out the vision that voters set forth.”

Fungus that causes white-nose syndrome in bats proves hardy survivor

Read the full story from the University of Illinois.

After taking an in-depth look at the basic biology of a fungus that is decimating bat colonies as it spreads across the U.S., researchers report that they can find little that might stop the organism from spreading further and persisting indefinitely in bat caves.

Their report appears in the journal PLOS ONE.

The aptly named fungus Pseudogymnoascus (Geomyces) destructans causes white-nose syndrome in bats. The infection strikes bats during their winter hibernation, leaving them weakened and susceptible to starvation and secondary infections. The fungus, believed to have originated in Europe, was first seen in New York in the winter of 2006-2007, and now afflicts bats in more than two dozen states. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, P. destructans has killed more than 5.5 million bats in the U.S. and Canada.

The fungus thrives at low temperatures, and spreads to bats whose body temperature drops below 20 degrees Celsius (68 degrees Fahrenheit) when they are hibernating in infected caves. Previous research has shown that the fungus persists in caves even after the bats are gone.

The new study, from researchers at the Illinois Natural History Survey at the University of Illinois, found that the fungus can make a meal out of just about any carbon source likely to be found in caves, said graduate student Daniel Raudabaugh, who led the research under the direction of survey mycologist Andrew Miller.

See also this story at Mother Nature Network, which features the same study.

Top Ten Toxic Threats 2013

This 2013 report is the eighth in an annual series of reports released by Green Cross Switzerland and Blacksmith Institute. Previous reports have highlighted some of the world’s worst polluted places, presented examples of successful cleanup projects, and outlined the world’s worst pollution problems.

This year’s report takes a look at the progress made in dealing with some of the world’s worst polluted places and sets this against the ongoing identification of thousands more, less notorious, polluted places.

This examination of industries, pollutants, and sites is based on data collected by Green Cross Switzerland and Blacksmith Institute and on industry information, public sources, and the scientific literature.

Crafting a Better Enzyme Cocktail to Turn Plants Into Fuel Faster

Read the full story from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

Scientists looking to create a potent blend of enzymes to transform materials like corn stalks and wood chips into fuels have developed a test that should turbocharge their efforts.

The new research, published in October in the journal Molecular BioSystems, is part of a worldwide effort to create fuels from plants that are plentiful and aren’t part of the food supply. It’s possible to do this today, but the process is costly, laborious and lengthy. The findings by chemists and colleagues at the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory open the possibility that laboratory research that now takes months could be reduced to days, and that scientists will be able to assess more options for biofuel development than is possible today.

Plant Production Could Decline as Climate Change Affects Soil Nutrients

Read the full story from Northern Arizona University.

As drylands of the world become even drier, water will not be the only resource in short supply. Levels of nutrients in the soil will likely be affected, and their imbalance could affect the lives of one-fifth of the world’s population.

That includes people living in Arizona, who may be in for a dustier future.

The findings are presented in a study published in Nature that details how soil changes may occur and discusses the implications. Co-author Matthew Bowker, assistant professor of forest soils and ecosystem ecology at Northern Arizona University, was involved with the project since 2009.

In Battle Against Flies, Don’t Toss Old Bulbs

Read the full story from the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

Restaurants and supermarkets could save millions of dollars by hanging on to bug zapper bulbs instead of tossing them every year as they normally do, a new University of Florida study has found.

What’s more, the benefits could extend to the environment by keeping some of the bulbs’ mercury out of the waste stream.

UAB Innovation Saving Millions of Gallons of Water Monthly

Read the full story from the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

The University of Alabama at Birmingham has come up with a novel way to save the university tens of thousands of dollars and millions of gallons of water. The Facilities Division created a network of tanks and piping that captures and uses ground water and condensate from cooling systems.

Residents Weigh Global Benefits and Local Risks in Views of Climate Change Measures

Read the full story from the Society for Risk Analysis (SRA).

An emerging method to store global warming carbon dioxide (CO2) underground faces challenges in gaining public acceptance, especially when the global benefits carry localized costs. A new study on the public acceptance of carbon capture and storage (CCS) in Indiana, a heavily coal-reliant state, shows that capturing carbon emissions and injecting them underground for long-term storage is supported by 80 percent of the population, but about 20 percent of the initial supporters disapprove of the use of the technology if the carbon storage facility would be built close to their homes and communities. Thus, one fifth of the initial supporters exhibit a “NIMBY” or “Not In My Back Yard” response to CCS.

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