Monday, March 31, 2008

Al Gore launches ambitious climate campaign

The timing of this is interesting -- to coincide more or less with the final run up to this fall's presidential elections. Following yesterday's NPR slot, in which an ordinary Atlanta couple was startled to discover that they contribute to climate change through their vehicle and household emissions, I'd have to say that this, or something like it is definitely needed. Wait for the backlash -- I wrote a prospective analysis of backlash possibilities when I studied US propensity for accepting limits on climate change for my PhD dissertation, years ago now. The same people who've been operating the backlash campaign all along will chip in again. This being what they get paid for, by companies who have something to lose, and people who can't think through all the ramifications of a climate emergency because they have an extreme neo-liberal political theory. Both should be ashamed.

And, when the dust is all settled and we finally have a national climate change policy -- possibly this summer if the bill in Senate right now gets 60 votes, or later if we have to wait for a president who won't veto a 51 vote bill -- then we'll suddenly realize how few trained people we actually have to do the work.

Because, folks, and how long have I been saying this, saving climate emissions is very different work than either high politics or low skullduggery. It's actually about workaday jobs like household retrofit, household and vehicle finance and refinance, carpentry, electrical, plumbing and HVAC contracting, and home and industrial energy audit: about understanding the energy choices we have and being able to do some math and accounts. We have people who do all this right now, of course, they just haven't yet learned the climate emissions angle of their jobs.

But they will. They're professional people, who get up every day to do a job, on which we all already depend, and who already know how to counsel a customer to save money or energy, and who just need to learn how to expand that knowledge to counseling customers to save more energy.

We can figure this out. It is, as the article says, do-able. But they're referring to the political campaign. I'm referring to the actual work which (still!) comes later, it seems.


Gore Launches Ambitious Advocacy Campaign on Climate
By Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 31, 2008; A04

How to recycle antifreeze and oil, from Jake and Aaron:

For those of you that do your own oil changes, etc...

If you want to find local places to recycle antifreeze, oil, or anything, check out and just type in the zip codes of local towns. The site is great, very reliable, and will usually give you many local choices of places that will take toxic stuff like that.

Aaron Witham
Editorial Staff
Center for Environmental Education

From: James Harr
Sent: Fri 3/28/2008 12:39 PM
To: Clark Simpson; Jennifer E. Olin; UC Voices
Subject: RE: Unity Recycling Guide Now Available!

Clark and everyone,
The recycling center does not take used motor oil or antifreeze to my knowledge. What you can do with the oil if you don't have a ton, is take it down 202 to TA's garage and they should take it from you. I can't remember if they run a waste oil furnace or not, but they have taken oil from me before. They wont take the antifreeze though because it is really expensive to have it picked up and disposed of or recycled. So, unfortunately, you might have to take the antifreeze to Waterville. I have some too though and wouldn't mind trying to work something out with you if we can find a place that will take it.

Jake Harr

Friday, March 28, 2008

Bangladesh on climate change

A very good Guardian article summing up the problem.

Remote control

While the least developed countries suffer the worst effects of climate change, brought about by the actions of the rich, they have no voice in global warming talks. Now Bangladesh is leading a fightback. By John Vidal

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

State fails to reach emissions cuts

This was expected. It will take a good deal more effort than we currently put out, and many thousands of sustainability coordinators at corporations and other energy-using institutions, to actually get where we need to get to on this. Job creation though, for sustainability coordinators and sustainability officers and energy managers. The price of energy is not going down, and I think more likely to keep going up, so that also makes for job creations, as one good energy manager can save so much money right now. And climate change is not going away, despite what some folks are still telling themselves after all the snow in Maine this winter.

Maine Falling Behind on Meeting Global Warming Pollution Reductions

But is Only NE State to Reduce Global Warming Emissions in 2004 and 2005

Wednesday March 26th, 2008

Natural Resources Council of Maine * Environment Maine

AUGUSTA - Today, the Natural Resources Council of Maine and Environment Maine highlighted the need for swift and strong action to curb global warming pollution by releasing a new report, Falling Behind: New England Must Act Now to Reduce Global Warming Pollution. The first study to produce a thorough estimate of global warming emissions through 2005, it found that global warming emissions in Maine have increased by 500,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MTCO2E) from 2001 to 2005.

2001 is the year that New England governors signed the Climate Change Action Plan, pledging to reduce emissions to 1990 levels by 2010, 10% below 1990 levels by 2020, and 75-85% below 2001 levels by 2050. The increase in global warming emissions has put the region farther from hitting these targets, which scientists agree is necessary to avoid the worst effects of global warming. To reach these targets, Maine must cut emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2010 and 26 percent below 2005 levels by 2020.

“If Maine is serious about meeting our commitments and cutting global warming pollution, we need to take action now, beginning with the adoption of required energy efficiency standards for new buildings,” said Dylan Voorhees of the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “We are falling behind, and now is the time to catch up.”

Transportation is the leading source of global warming emissions in Maine. These emissions increased by 7 percent between 2001 and 2005 regionwide, accounting for the largest share of the increase, or 5 million MTCO2E. This change reflects more driving, more trucking, and more flying.

“Our state leaders need to put the brakes on transportation emissions,” said Matthew Davis of Environment Maine. “There are plenty of policies at our fingertips to reduce global warming from moving people and goods around. The Legislature should pass An Act to Implement the Recommendations of the Governor’s Task Force on Rail, acting to stabilize our existing passenger rail while we pursue options to expand it towards Brunswick.”

The good news for New England is that global warming pollution fell slightly from 2004 to 2005—the first year-to-year decrease since 2001—and that several indicators suggest that the decrease in emissions continued and accelerated in 2006. Total emissions in New England dropped 600,000 MTCO2E between 2004 and 2005, which is 0.3 percent.

In Maine, global warming emissions dropped slightly between 2004 and 2005, largely due to greater use of hydro and biomass power, fewer heating degree days, and a drop in industrial usage due to mill shutdowns. These reductions were great enough to offset the 4 percent increase in gasoline usage.

“The progress we’ve made to cut electricity emissions with RGGI is significant, but we need to make sure our efforts pay off in real reductions,” commented Matthew Davis. “Without tightening the cap, it won’t achieve what it was created to do.”

“To jumpstart wind power development in Maine, the Legislature needs to pass the legislation that was based on the conclusions of the Governor’s Wind Power Task Force,” said Voorhees. “Without more clean energy sources like wind, we will continue to fail to meet our global warming goals.”

Corporate greenery

Recently, a UCVoices debate ensued in which I was made, ironically enough for those of you who know my background, into an apologist for capitalism. Ashley, Sandy and others felt that I was being too easy on the corporate world. And I am, because they are finally beginning to pay attention to my big problem, which is energy and climate change.

Anyhoo, this report also seemed germane. For those of you who have absoloootely nothing else to do, you may find the entire original debate on The Back Story.

The gist of the story is, with modern solar design, a corporate rooftop becomes a good-sized power station in a sunny-enough locale. Those of you in my economics class, notice the "forward looking" disclaimer. We wouldn't want you to get carried away, and go, like, sell the farm and put all your money in WalMart or SunPower.

Wal-Mart Stores and SunPower Announce Solar Power Pilot Project in California

CHINO, Calif., Jan 28, 2008 /PRNewswire-FirstCall via COMTEX News Network/ -- Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (NYSE: WMT) and SunPower Corporation (Nasdaq: SPWR), a Silicon Valley-based manufacturer of high-efficiency solar cells, solar panels and solar systems, today announced completion of a 390-kilowatt solar power system at the Sam's Club store in Chino. The store is the first of seven Wal-Mart facilities in California to receive high-efficiency SunPower solar power systems, totaling 4.6 megawatts, and is part of a major purchase of solar power from SunPower and other solar power providers for approximately 22 Wal-Mart stores, Sam's Clubs and distribution centers in Hawaii and California. The stores included in the pilot project are expected to achieve savings over their current utility rates as soon as the first day of operation.

"We are very pleased with SunPower's progress on the Chino solar project," said Kim Saylors-Laster, vice president of energy for Wal-Mart. "Wal-Mart is moving forward with its commitment to conserve energy, reduce energy costs and lower greenhouse gas emissions -- and this project is a step in the right direction."

"Leading companies like Wal-Mart are turning to solar power because it makes good business sense and supports their environmental initiatives," said Tom Werner, chief executive officer of SunPower. "Wal-Mart's SunPower solar power systems are financed through our SunPower Access(TM) program, which is a power purchase agreement that allows our customers to take advantage of the environmental and financial benefits of solar power with no upfront capital costs. The solar electricity will be competitively priced against retail rates, providing Wal-Mart with a long-term hedge against rising peak power prices."

Each solar power generating system installed may vary, but on average it can provide up to 30 percent of the power for the store on which it is installed. "By Wal-Mart's estimates, installing the solar power systems will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 8,000-10,000 metric tons per year," said David Ozment, director of energy for Wal-Mart. The solar power pilot project is a major step toward Wal-Mart's goal of being supplied 100 percent by renewable energy.

On the roof of Wal-Mart's Chino store, SunPower installed the proprietary SunPower(R) T-10 solar roof tile, which tilts at a 10-degree angle to increase energy capture. SunPower solar panels, which are 50 percent more efficient than conventional solar panels, are used to maximize power generation and financial savings, especially on rooftops with constrained space.

About Wal-Mart

Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. operates Wal-Mart discount stores, Supercenters, Neighborhood Markets and Sam's Club locations in the United States. The Company operates in Argentina, Brazil, Canada, China, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Japan, Mexico, Nicaragua, Puerto Rico and the United Kingdom. The Company's securities are listed on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol WMT. More information about Wal-Mart can be found by visiting Online merchandise sales are available at

About SunPower

SunPower Corporation (Nasdaq: SPWR) designs, manufactures and delivers high-performance solar-electric systems worldwide for residential, commercial and utility-scale power plant customers. SunPower high-efficiency solar cells and solar panels generate up to 50 percent more power than conventional solar technologies and have a uniquely attractive, all-black appearance. With headquarters in San Jose, Calif., SunPower has offices in North America, Europe and Asia. For more information, visit SunPower is a majority-owned subsidiary of Cypress Semiconductor Corp. (NYSE: CY).

Forward-Looking Statement

This press release contains forward-looking statements within the meaning of Section 27A of the Securities Act of 1933 and Section 21E of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, and as defined in the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. Forward-looking statements are statements that do not represent historical facts. We use words such as "expected," "will," and similar expressions to identify forward-looking statements. Forward-looking statements in this press release include, but are not limited to, our plans and expectations regarding savings over current utility rates and the timing for achieving such savings, the amount of reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, and the amount of annual solar electricity generation. Such statements are based on our current expectations as of the date of the release, which could change or not materialize as expected. Actual results may differ materially due to a variety of uncertainties and risk factors, including but not limited to unexpected fluctuations in utility rates, variations in greenhouse gas emissions reductions, actual solar electricity generation, and other risks described in our Quarterly Report on Form 10-Q for the quarter ended September 30, 2007 and other filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission. You should also carefully review all such reports that we file with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Except as required by law, we assume no obligation to update any such forward-looking statements.

SOURCE SunPower Corporation 

Copyright (C) 2008 PR Newswire. All rights reserved

Monday, March 24, 2008

Energy Summit April 3rd

The Governor’s Energy Efficiency Summit: Reducing Business Costs through Energy Savings.
Governor John Baldacci is hosting this event to help businesses, towns and others to use energy more efficiently to reduce energy costs. The summit will demonstrate real successes, tools, ideas and resources. It is sponsored by the Natural Resources Council of Maine, the Maine Chamber of Commerce and other prominent businesses and conservation groups. This event is ideal for small businesses, large commercial or industrial facilities, municipalities, and other public/non-profit institutions. The Governor will speak and members of his cabinet and top advisors will participate.

When: Thursday, April 3rd, 2008, 8:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m.Where: Augusta Civic Center, 76 Community Drive, Augusta (Click here for directions)Get there efficiently - carpool if you can. Click here for potential drivers and riders attending this event.
See, discuss, discover and learn at the Summit:

Hear from Keynote Speaker Thomas R. Casten - expert with thirty years experience in energy efficiency and energy recycling, author of Turning Off the Heat, and founder and CEO of Trigen Energy Corporation and Primary Energy Ventures LLC.

Learn How to Make Energy Efficiency Work for Your Business at Sessions On: Success Stories, Financing Efficiency Investment, Practical Options for Energy Efficiency in Small Businesses, Energy Efficiency in Large Commercial and Industrial Businesses, Job Opportunities in Energy Efficiency, and more.

Tour the Energy Expo - see and discuss cutting edge energy-efficient technologies and services.
Attend the Panel Discussion “Making it Happen: Resources and Actions” - Discover how government, business, and environmental organizations are working together to help Maine businesses save money and energy.

How to Register:Visit the Governor’s website to find out more and register here!Deadline is Wednesday, March 26th!

Award winners!

Hi Mick,

Attached is the picture of Unity receiving the award at the Governor’s Carbon Challenge Networking & Expo Forum.


Sara Lippert
Office of Innovation
Maine Department of Environmental Protection
17 State House Station
Augusta, Maine 04333-0017

Unity 3rd or 4th, could be 1st in nation: Preliminary results of a nationwide college and university carbon emissions survey

Luba Zhaurova is a graduate student at Tufts University who is currently working on a study of college and university carbon emissions. This is interesting to me because I've long felt that we had exemplarily frugal use of space and fuel per student, and so were very likely to be the most energy-efficient college in the country.

Luba's results put us third or fourth, behind colleges located in much more temperate climes. I want to find out if Luba subtracted our student/staff drive to work emissions estimate, which is part of our annual emissions report, and which I doubt these other colleges report. In which case, we could be first. I'm waiting to find out if this is so, and how many others were included in the survey.

Of course, it doesn't mean very much to be top of this list, if there are still emissions that we could easily save, and there are. the first meeting of the newly reconstituted Sustainability Policy Committee is this Friday, and I'm looking forward to getting to grips with the problem again. We've been waiting for this Master Plan for far too long, and there is work we could do that would easily get our emissions down another 25-25 percent. Our goal is eventually to be carbon neutral.


-----Original Message-----
From: Luba Zhaurova []
Sent: Sun 3/23/2008 6:48 PM
To: Mick Womersley
Subject: Re: Question about square footage

Hi Mick,

Thanks for sharing your post with me. You totally sold me on Unity. I
wish I went there as an undergraduate, instead of Boston University.
Even though I studied Ecology and Conservation Biology there, the
school has no focus on sustainability. I am happy at Tufts now

I checked preliminary results for total emissions/FTE (full time
student equivalent) - and it seems Unity is 4th in place - topped by 3
University of Oregon schools - Eastern Oregon University, Western
Oregon University and Southern Oregon University. And you are the 3rd
in terms of emissions/SF - topped by Eastern Oregon University and
University of Washington - Tacoma Campus.

But as you said - there are a lot of other factors that can contribute
to schools' rating. I am just looking for trends. My preliminary
results have shown some correlation. I'll be doing more this week.

Have a good one!


Hi Luba:

Those results make sense to me. All those other colleges are located in areas where there are far fewer heating degree days in winter, and far fewer cooling degree days in summer. In general, the closer the outside temperature is to a temperate 50-70 degrees, the range in which you can control building temperature by ventilation, the less electricity or heat fuel should be used, all other things being equal. By the way, our emissions data include an estimate of student-staff drive to work emissions, and so if these other colleges did not, we might reduce our numbers by that estimate, which amounts to about 500,000 lbs per year. You can find the line easily in our data sheet. Apples to apples.

I'm actually very happy with those results, although I have half a dozen energy conservation projects in mind, waiting for funding and planning work, and so we expect to continue to reduce our emissions. We have set ourselves a goal of reducing emissions by a minimum 5% of 2001 levels each year until carbon neutral. We did some work on one building alone last summer which we expect to result in 5 or 10% less emissions this winter.

What is surprising about this work, and what I plan to tell the NACUBO listeners when I am part of a panel for a web conference on creating emissions accounts in a couple weeks, is that a surprisingly large amount of carbon can come from just ridiculously easy-to-fix things. I would think we could save about 10% of our annual carbon in the US just by better use of heating and cooling controls, like those 29 dollar computerized thermostats they sell in the hardware store.

It occurs to me that one response I should have had when corresponding with you about methodology should have been to suggest using the heating/cooling degree day as either an X or Y variable here, depending on the specific hypothesis. Degree days correct for external heat and cold, and so a measure of fuel oil or climate emissions per square foot, per year, per degree day, is a useful metric. I believe you can get average and actual records of degree days for many regions, or calculate them yourself from NWS records.

How many colleges and universities were you able to find data for?



Sunday, March 23, 2008

This much I know: Amory Lovins

From today's Observer:

Scientist, 60, Rocky Mountain Institute, Colorado

Interview by Lucy Siegle
Sunday March 23, 2008
The Observer

The US can cut its oil imports to zero by 2040, eliminate oil use entirely by 2050, and make money. What's stopping us? Well, as Marshall McLuhan said: 'Only puny secrets need protection. Big discoveries are protected by public incredulity.'
I'm not an environmentalist. I'm a cultural repairman. It's all about efficient and restorative use of resources to make the world secure, prosperous and life-sustaining.

I am a man without a furnace. My windows are insulated by 19 sheets of glass which cost less than installing a heating system. I have harvested 28 crops from my indoor banana plants, all grown in a house at 2,200 metres elevation, with outdoor temperatures down to -44C.

Rocky Mountain Institute now works with upwards of 10 of the world's top 50 brand names, such as WalMart. Many of those companies now have business strategies so radical you'd mistake them for being written by Greenpeace activists.

There's no reason that energy policy need be a multiple-choice test asking: Would you prefer to die from a) climate change, b) oil wars, or c) a nuclear holocaust? I choose d) none of the above.

The US's electric bill could be halved through energy-efficiency measures and renewables that would mostly pay for themselves in a year. That's not a free lunch. It's a lunch you're paid to eat.

Progress is being made. The US has cut by half the total amount of energy used to make a dollar of GDP. It has cut oil use per dollar by 54 per cent and electricity use by 17 per cent. The UK has started to think about ways of catching up.

The markets make a good servant but a bad master, and a worse religion.

Public discourse about climate change has resulted in the erroneous idea that it's all about cost, burden and sacrifice. If the math was correct, everyone would see it's about profit, jobs and competitive advantage. Smart companies have figured this out and are making billions.

I hang my laundry in a room with a glass ceiling and it dries by nightfall. Two days for jeans.

Every investment in nuclear expansion will worsen climate change by buying less solution per dollar. That's as dumb as a possum.

I lived in the UK for 14 years until 1981 and never needed a car. Last time I went back I did, because the rail links weren't as good. But I was very pleased by the revival of the Welsh language.

I'm a practitioner of elegant frugality. I don't feel comfortable telling other people what to do, so I just try and lead by example.

'Eat more lamb - 50,000 coyotes can't be wrong.' That's the bumper sticker on my Honda Insight. The meat in our freezer is from 20km up the road and made only from organic grass.

A nega-watt is a watt of electricity that does not have to be generated because an energy-saving measure has obviated the need for it. Replace a 75-watt incandescent light bulb with a 14-watt compact fluorescent bulb and you produce 61 nega-watts.

My way of dealing with doom-mongers is to let the person talk for a while and then I ask, gently: 'Does feeling this way make you more effective?'

I am concerned at the amount I have to fly. I do more and more of my lectures by internet videoconference. That way I just ship the electrons and leave the heavy nuclei at home.

We will soon discover whether this bold evolutionary experiment of combining a large forebrain with opposable thumbs was really a good idea. Over the next decade, our species takes its university finals. Get revising.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Why Unity is "America's Environmental College":

From: Mark Tardif

Hello Everyone,

I have a project that is due on Monday that requires me to offer a brief, accurate description in no more than a few sentences with some additional supporting bullet points explaining why Unity is America's Environmental College.

I welcome your thoughts on why Unity is America's Environmental College. Why do you think that Unity is America's Environmental College? You can approach that head-on, or just address your part of it. Reasons can include present, curriculum, focus, past, initiatives, awards, student body or additional points. I welcome it all.

Thanks so much.

Best, Mark Tardif, Associate Director of College Communications Answer:

Mick's somewhat punchy answer, written at 5am Saturday, after a early bout of lambing (pictures here),

Because, in a comprehensive program of sustainability thinking instituted since 1999, and in many frugal ways, long before, all the way back to 1965 when we recycled a farm into a campus,

a) We have the least actual per student carbon emissions of any college or university (we have been able to get data for), which means

b) We are (very possibly or very likely) the most energy-efficient college when it comes to fossil fuel energy used per unit of education, despite being located in the frozen north, and

c) We have the best conceived and best thought-out general approach to the sustainability problem. "Frugal" "real-time" sustainability means saving energy now, on site, and developing a sustainable college lifestyle right now, that reduces our ecological footprint and adds to the sense of well being and community we enjoy. If it's frugal and real-time, anyone can do what we do. By not jumping on bandwagons, and by doughtily considering each new proposition on it's merits with neither fashion nor favor, we have actually reduced our real, per capita student climate emissions (and thus carbon-based fuel use) by 28% since 2001, and our overall emissions by 21%. This has been achieved by actually doing the things you SHOULD do to reduce emissions, in the proper conceptual order, not by using "funny money" offset schemes, ie

d) First, retrofitting older, less efficient buildings, insulation, remodeling for efficiency, and replacing heat plant. So far, we have completely made over Constable Hall, put more insulation in East View, West View, Koons and Coops, put new more efficient heat plant in Woods Hall and Activities, switched out all the light bulbs, and many appliances and computers (some of this was done long ago) &c

e) Then, building any new green buildings to a frugal but sensible green standard. The current standard is BIB insulation walls to R26, heated, floating (insulated) slab floors, R50-60 in ceilings, local lumber (studs and sheathing, also local trusses), Andersons best windows and doors. Our new buildings will be built to an even higher standard, starting with the President's House. Green buildings so far total 4 or 5: Admissions, Cianchettes, Maplewood, Health Center, also Admissions annex, all of which have exemplary energy use, and if I have my way, will soon be switched to renewable heat fuels,


f) we have a considerable program of sustainability outreach, including, CEE Online, our fledgling energy audit service program, our wind assessment work, our support of the Maine Governors Climate Challenge and Maine Housing Energy Efficiency Programs, our Agriculture, Food and Sustainability degree program partnership with MOFGA, our hoophouse at the grade school, our environmental educators at camps all around the state and country, our weatherization teams (for Maine Housing, the year before last), our hurricane and tornado disaster relief work (currently on their way home from cleaning up debris in Tennessee), our Sustainability Blog (visited by thousands), our students' green articles in the local paper, our new magazine, our Jimmy Carter solar panel video and museum donation program, our Sustainability House project and blog, and on and on,


g) Long before any other college did so (1999), before 100/bbl oil, and long before Al Gores book and movie, we instituted a required class in scientific ecological sustainability, including climate science and energy science for ALL students, so all students that have graduated since 2002 or 2003 have had coursework in energy problems, preparing them for a world of 100/bbl oil (for which I get occasional thank-you notes), and we now have curriculum for degree programs in these areas, and a growing number of students concentrating in food or energy sustainability,


h) We have successful programs (although under-supported) in food waste composting, in growing vegetables and livestock on campus, in maple sugar and honey production, and in brokering local foods supply to the cafeteria,

and, most importantly of all,

i) Our students that have been an active part of this hive of sustainability activity (not all have been a part of it, except for their required coursework) have gone on to take these ideas into the world, and are advancing the wealth of human knowledge and adaptability, and generally finding ways to renew civilization despite the threats posed by high energy costs and climate change, which renewal of civilization is what we're in business to enable in the first place. To which witness Stef's wonderful post below, which appeared spontaneously this morning! I did not pay her to do this!

Love and lambs,


Thursday, March 20, 2008

Test Your Climate Knowledge

Considering the number of snow cancellations this winter, you are probably starting to think global warming might not be such a bad thing. Unfortunately scientists, predict that climate change will bring us not shorter winters and lower snow plow bills, but less pleasant things, like more frequent extreme precipitation events; rising sea levels; intermittent flood and drought conditions; increased spring frost damage to crops, fluctuating snow cover levels for ski areas; an increase of disease-carrying insect populations; changes in forest type and changes in marine habitat and species populations.Test your knowledge of Earth’s climate—past, present and future—with our climate quiz.

1. Earth’s atmosphere is made up of mostly:
a. oxygen
b. carbon dioxide
c. nitrogen
d. helium

The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has more than doubled since the start of the Industrial Revolution.

Over the last hundred years, the average annual temperature in New England has increased:
a. 0.7º F
b. 6º F
c. 3.8º F
d. not at all; it has gone down

4. The greenhouse effect:
a. Happens when the Earth absorbs solar radiation and re-emits heat which is absorbed by gases and water vapor in the atmosphere that in turn emit the heat back to earth.
b. Maintains the conditions that allow us to survive on Earth; without it we would freeze.
c. Is being increased by human-caused emissions of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide.
d. All of the above.

5. The largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Maine is:
a. Volcanoes
b. Industry
c. Transportation
d. Agriculture

6. What steps can you take to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases?
a. Switch to energy- and water-efficient appliances and compact fluorescent lightbulbs.
b. Reduce the miles you drive and minimize air travel.
c. Purchase locally-grown food whenever possible.
d. All of the above.


c. Earth’s atmosphere consists of 78.1% nitrogen, 20.9% oxygen, 0.9% argon and 0.1% trace gases, including carbon dioxide and methane. Even though the amounts of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane seem small, they play a big role in warming our planet because of their ability to absorb and re-emit heat.

False. Prior to the Industrial Revolution, atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) were 280 parts per million (ppm). Today, CO2 concentrations are 370 ppm, the highest level in the last 160,000 years.

a. The average annual temperature in New England has increased 0.7º Fahrenheit over the last century.

d. All of the above.

c. Transportation accounts for 31%, or nearly a third, of all greenhouse gas emissions in Maine. Other big sources are: land use change (20%); electric utilities (15%); residential fossil fuel combustion (13%); industrial fossil fuel combustion (6%).

d. Almost everything we do on a daily basis results in greenhouse gas emissions—our activities and associated emissions are known as our “carbon footprint.” Whenever we reduce our consumption of energy, we reduce our carbon footprint. And that’s a good thing for the climate.

This column was submitted by Andrea Lani, an Environmental Specialist with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) Bureau of Air Quality. In Our Back Yard is a weekly column of the DEP.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Aimee's excellent Alladale archive

of photographs of our recent biology/human ecology field trip is posted at

for those of you who want to see what scientists think of as a business trip.

Monday, March 10, 2008

In Our Backyard

From Stef '06 at the DEP

Knowing which waste is which, In Our Back Yard

What's the Difference Between Hazardous Wastes and Universal Wastes?

You have probably heard the term "hazardous waste". Most people know this as the type of waste they definitely do NOT want to be around, the type of waste that is dangerous to handle without proper safety equipment (like safety glasses and chemical resistant gloves) and dangerous to store without taking special precautions in the storage area. Hazardous wastes have been regulated and managed for years, but now there is a term just as common as the term hazardous waste. This classification of waste is called "universal waste".

What is Universal Waste?

Universal wastes are CRTs - cathode ray tubes (computer monitors, TVs), fluorescent light bulbs, also called fluorescent lamps, mercury-containing thermostats, certain batteries, lighting ballasts (transformers) that contain polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), mercury devices, such as mercury thermometers, mercury containing barometers, mercury containing switches from appliances (sump pumps, for example), and motor vehicle mercury switches.

It may surprise you to learn that universal wastes are hazardous. They are just one of several types of hazardous waste. Although you use the items listed above without any special, protective equipment, and it is perfectly safe to handle thermometers and fluorescent lamps that are not broken, all these items contain hazardous chemicals that can harm human health and the environment. These items, when not disposed of properly, can pollute the environment the same way the traditional, famous, "icky" hazardous wastes, like those containing dioxin and arsenic, can.

Universal wastes are different from regular hazardous wastes because they are, as the name implies, universal. They are everywhere! Until recently, many viewed these products as items that could be thrown in the trash. Recent research has shown that this is not a good idea, especially when it comes to mercury.

What Harm Can Universal Wastes Do?

The most common hazardous chemical contained in universal wastes is mercury. Mercury is a neurotoxin. It slows fetal and child development and impairs brain function. High exposure can cause tremors, numbness of fingers and toes, loss of muscle control, memory loss, and kidney disease. Mercury enters the human body primarily by eating fish. Recent studies of fish and loons (which eat fish) in Maine have shown mercury to be much more widespread and at higher levels of concentration than previously thought. So, lots of work must be done to reduce the levels of mercury in Maine's environment.

What Can You Do?

The most important thing you can do to keep the hazardous chemicals inside the universal waste is to remove fluorescent lamps, thermometers, thermostats, etc. from your household trash. Keep them separate and take them to a place that accepts and separates universal wastes from regular trash. Many towns are doing this now. Contact your town office to see if your town is separating universal waste. You can contact the Maine Department of Environmental Protection at 287-2651 or visit for more information.

This column was submitted by Peter Moulton, an environmental engineer with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection's (DEP) Bureau of Remediation and Waste Management. In Our Back Yard is a weekly column of the DEP. E-mail your questions to or send them to In Our Back Yard, Maine DEP, 17 State House Station, Augusta, ME 04333.

Last Alladale shot (for now)

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Back to base: Alladale wrap (for now)

Well, we're safely home. After about 24 hours of uncomfortable, sweaty, cramped, miserable travel, and a dodgy night-time drive through a heavy early spring rainstorm, our very own farmhouse and barn loomed out of the clag, and all we had to do, thanks to Devin the house-sitter (and forestry student) was to swerve into the parking spot, stumble through the mud with the bags, check once on the animals, and fall into bed. An early morning inspection revealed that the homestead had indeed survived our absence, although our poor hoophouse seems to be not quite all there, due to a minor avalanche. But that's another story, for the other blog.

Now our task is to muddle through life for a few days and to try to begin to integrate everything we;ve learned. With so much to puzzle over, this job may actually take years. Of all the gifts that a science and social science career has given me, insight is perhaps my favorite, but good insight takes time, and peace and quiet, to develop.

We will be thinking about our amazing trip to Alladale for the rest of our lives. Which is, I'm sure, what Paul really intends, if he thinks about it, so his project is a full success and it's only just begun.

A very big and public thank you is due here to all the folks who made this very valuable trip happen.

At Alladale, we owe a tremendous round of thanks to Paul for having the vision and foresight to invite us over, and for having the vision of Alladale in the first place. At Unity. Rob, Mitch, Amy K, and John Z were willing to suspend their disbelief and let me do my thing. Rob provided half the expenses, the rest were borne by the Womerlippi and Darcangelo families.

Back at Alladale, many, many thanks are due to Hugh, Neil, Innes, Poppy, Ben, Sarah, Patsy, Lydia, Kenny, and all the staff for hosting us royally. Scientists are not used to such good treatment, so we're easy customers, but we also thoroughly enjoyed our interaction with the Alladale staff. Thanks also are due to Nick (Yellowlees), Robert, Toby, Adam, Sam, Genevieve, and others involved with Alladale, and ENT, as trustees, London staff, and supporters. David McDonald and Chris Sandom were our science touchstones, and we are very grateful for the excellent collegiality they showed, and tolerance of our questions, which we hope were hard, but not harsh.

The other, real, Alladale guests were very tolerant of our science intrusions into their vacationing, but we also had some amazing conversations with amazing folks who probably prefer not to be named on the Internet.

It looks like we get to return the favor in part with a visit to Unity from Hugh later next month, so we are especially grateful for that, which will help us tell our part of the story, and so we are looking forward to having him meet Unity students and faculty. We couldn't ask for a better wrap up and continuance than that, so I'll finish now.

To everyone, our very best regards and take care.

Yours aye,


Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Rewilding reading list

What is the canon of Highland rewilding? (This in response to Ferdinanda and Sarah, who were interested.)

I would start with The Highland Clearances by Prebble, for the social history, and an explanation of why there is depopulated wilderness here at all.

(Add A Dance Called America by Hunter, for deep background.)

Next, A Herd of Red Deer by Fraser Darling, in which the original proposition is hidden in a footnote.

Rhum: The Natural History of an Island by Clutton-Brock and Ball contains the results of the most important other example of an experiment in Highland ecological restoration and species introduction (which experiment is still running), but there are many supporting papers, so a literature review relating to conservation on Rum would be necessary.

A series of tree, bird, and mammal keys would be required.

A few back issues of Reforesting Scotland would be helpful.

That would make a very good start.

To range or not to range?

What is a conservation ranger? Here in Alladale our very professional deer management team went by the traditional highland nomenclature until The Big Idea of re-wilding showed up. They are now rangers, which reflects the shift in emphasis from hunting to general conservation management. The change sparked some discussion, and even some mild but serious introspection about job identity, from staff, visitors, and management. As one regular guest put it, "they can't just go down to the pub and call themselves rangers!" And she's right.

At Unity College we know very well we train Rangers. No worries. Been doing it for years, thousands of them out in the world, rangering away. Proud of it. A major contribution to conservation. A ranger, to us, is a baccalaureate degree-trained applied biologist, a professional conservationist, whose job is land management, and, in the case of public land, land use law enforcement. One good conservation ranger can save millions of acres.

One bad ranger, in a position of high authority, promoted to chief of a major national conservation agency, can destroy millions. We hope we train good ones. Judging by the high elevation of our graduates in the profession, we have been very successful.

To some extent, the Highland land management system of head stalkers, stalkers, gamekeepers and ghillies, on the other hand, has destroyed millions of acres. We should think about that. But it isn't the fault of the stalkers. They were given a job to do by their bosses: produce deer and a high quality Victorian deer-hunting experience, and they did it very well for the 130 plus years the system has been in existence. The land they took over was already heavily abused by years of extensive sheep ranching, and by logging, charcoal burning, and so on, prior to that. Many keystone species in the ecosystem were extirpated years earlier.

So stalkers did not, and do not, look at the land as a conservation ranger might. But there isn't much else that is different about them, and in fact Highland stalkers took their knowledge to American and Australian and New Zealand and English and Welsh National Parks and reserves and other places where conservation management was developed, and were some of the influential people in developing the profession as we know it at Unity College. The Highlands got its first national park only a few years ago. For this and for other complicated reasons, the conservation profession, as a result of the large areas of land still dedicated to pure hunting use, is not as developed in the Highlands relative to the size of the areas under management as it would need to be to implement the restoration vision.

I was talking to the estate managers for hours yesterday, both the General Manager, Hugh Fullerton-Smith, Head Ranger (formerly Head Stalker) Innes McNiel and Poppy, Ben and others whose names, unforgivably, I never quite got straight. But one of the things we talked about was, what is a Ranger?

The rangers here, although trained as stalkers, look, act, and think much like the rangers I help train back home. Con law and PRE and forestry, fisheries and wildlife majors, is what they look, act, and feel like. They also have formal training, at the technical college level, up to four years, with full certification. They survived several years each of serious apprenticeship to older experienced stalkers, the conditions of which would fully deter almost 100% of Unity students, who are ridiculously spoiled in comparison. There is not really much work that would be required to close the gap, and in fact with a little analysis of the academic programs through which they were trained, I could probably determine exactly how much further formal work they would each need to be Unity College baccalaureate degree-trained rangers, and it would not be very much. Maybe a year of coursework for the most experienced Alladale professionals.

We have to realise, though, in our American education system, with everything broken into Carnegie credits, transfer of professional expertise from one area of emphasis to another is much more simple than in the Scottish system.

A Unity College student, on the other hand, would require years of work and dedication to become trained to their level of practical and formal knowledge. I'm not sure we could ever do it.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Stag party

A problematic species at the current time in the Highland ecosystem is the red deer, like this group of Alladale stags shown here. Commercially valuable as game animals, they are extremely heavily stocked on unfenced private estates, and they browse trees, especially in winter, and by so doing contribute mightily to the stasis of the forest-land system in the Highlands.

Research dating back to eminent Highland ecologist and human ecologist Frank Fraser Darling's A Herd of Red Deer suggests that deer culling is needed to get the trees to regenerate. Red deer, a forest species almost identical to American elk, need forest not so much to survive, but to live well. But there is very little in the Highlands for them. And lots of bog and heather.

I like Highland deer culling for many reasons, but one is because understanding this system is a powerful tool for breaking down those unexamined assumptions that many different kinds of people use when they look at the environment.

Let me explain. But to do so means caricaturing a couple of stereotypes. Forgive me, and bear with me. In the name of science.

Take a Maine hunter, for example, conservationist, sportsman, thinks of himself as a rugged guy. A small "r" republican, believes in private enterprise, supports business. A self-made man. He might come to the Highland landscape with the assumption that the deer somehow belong to the state. The usual US formulation is, "owned by the state but held in trust for the people." A very traditional way of looking at the land in the USA. Our rugged hunter, who might have a poor opinion of government conservation, might also have a very hard time seeing why a private individual would possibly own the animals.

For our next example, take an equally stereotypical New England liberal environmentalist. She might come to the Highlands with the assumption that the deer are nature's creatures and best left alone, and that the real problem is the hunters. Would be aghast to see the heavy hind cull the Alladale team are using. Brutal, evil hunters!

Our hunter is, of course, quite mistaken in his assumption, and by studying the facts and problems of Highland land management, might come to see how in some circumstances commercial values can destroy the very things he loves and lives for.

Our liberal, on the other hand, is equally mistaken, and by studying the facts and problems of Highland land management, might come to see how in some circumstances her liberal values are actually at some tension with the ecological needs of the Highland landscape.

Both, if they are willing to let knowledge and ideas sink in, will come away better people for their new understanding, more pragmatic, less dogmatic. More comprehending of the other.

Going to a different system makes you think harder about the system you're in.

Boar bash

This is one of the experiments that the Alladale team and their partners WildCRU at Oxford University have put together. Riding in the Land Rover down the Glen today, we got the scoop from Chris Sandom, a PhD student with the WildCRU program.

You can easily see the peaty soil in the first picture, taken at a road-cut for the Deanich lodge track, and begin to imagine the barrier this creates for tree regeneration. The second picture is Sus scrofus, the European wild boar. A pig by "any other other name." Smells fine, too by the way. And quite friendly.

(I like pigs. My wife says I must have been one in a past life. She does, actually, know how true that is.)

The boar easily break through the blanket bog, says Chris. In certain circumstances. Why and how and how to manage this for the benefit of native Highland forestry is a whole other problem, and the subject of Chris's dissertation, so I won't steal thunder. Durn good idea, though. Very well done experimental design and execution.

Nice job, Chris. Impressive work. Lots of very good help from the Alladale crew too.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Alladale dawn

I went for a short hike to get some air and take my bearings. More pictures to come. Aimee and I both promised we'd post pictures and comments while we're here.

Blanket bog and its defenders

Blanket bog in the flow country of Caithness, picture from Edinburgh University

Well, we're here at Alladale right now. And we're having a very good time being scientists, explorers, and just hanging out with a very interesting crowd. Paul Lister, our host, has conceived of this next few days as a kind of cross between a "brains trust," or in American, "think tank" gathering, and a reunion of Alladale supporters, in which a combination of problems scientific and philanthropic are worked out. I like science and policy problems, and helping solve them, and I love my homeland and it's brilliant mountain country, so I'm very happy.

The key problem, however, is the life cycle of Scot's pine, Pinus sylvestris. Restoring the ecological productivity of this Highland landscape means releasing this tree species, and others, from a trap of poor ecological performance induced by previous over-cutting, and previous and contemporary overgrazing, made worse by accumulation of water and acid in former forest soils and duff. These soils form a blanket layer of pure peat or peaty soils over the Highland landscape in many places, and this blanket acts as a barrier to the pine seedlings in their efforts to reach a fertile and slightly basic mineral subsoil. Add over-grazing, and you have a very low ability for seedlings to set and mature. But break the vicious cycle of blanket bog, by culling and plowing, and you get a productive forest. We passed through the results yesterday, in Strathspey, where the trees are coming back. Road cuts in particular, a kind of plowing treatment if you think about it, are full of dog-hair thick lodgepole and Scots pine, happily regenerating.

But when my sainted socialist grandfather William Womersley helped organize the Kinder Trespass, he was unwittingly perpetuating the blanket bog system. He had not seen Maine or Montana, had never eaten deer meat and never caught a salmon, unless poached, but he had spent a lifetime of weekends (and all those wonderful, long paid vacations he and his Labourite ilk fought for), hiking our island hills, and so he thought that blanket bog was good and natural, and even painted in his spare time these wonderfully romantic Highland scenes featuring this acidic ecology front and center.

There is a socio-political thing called Access in the British conservation milieu, which dates back to the trespass movement, and it is a bit of a third rail. Touch it and die. As a Manchester Rambler myself, I know why and how this happens very well. But it isn't very good ecology. And I could go into more detail about how the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act, which my grandad also had a little to do with, also sets up the ecological system to stutter and fail at times.

So when Paul treated us to a sneak preview of the BBC TV show about his work last night, a very vociferous Defender of Access was shown attacking him quite meanly. Ouch.

So, here I am, the grandson of a Kinder Trespasser, about to sell my working class soul. But I would, to see the forest spread. If you've never hiked one of the remnants of the great Caledonian forest, you've not really seen the British isles. Last night in particular we came through a magical landscape, just as the sun was setting, and were treated to the sight of two roebucks in fresh velvet. Pure delight.

So the 6.5 million ramblers that make up the UK's largest countryside conservation lobby would rather perpetuate blanket bog than see access only somewhat restricted by the fences it would take to break the blanket bog cycle.

Go figure.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

How can the Caledonian Forest be restored?

This is a tricky one. The answer depends on the time frame to which you wish to restore it. Restoring the Caledonian forest of 20,000 years ago, for instance, would be impossible. There was no forest, just a massive sheet of glacial ice.

Restoring the Caledonian Forest of 1,000 years ago is more interesting, although to do so would require restoring the warmer, dryer, climate of 1,000 years ago. Since we don't know where our current climate instability will take us, this time frame is also problematic. But less so. And the inherent biological diversity of the 1,000-year ago Caledonian forest would almost certainly be more resilient. In particular, a wider variety of herbivorous, omnivorous, and carnivorous mammals might help to jump start some nutrient and other ecological cycling currently in stasis or close to it, due to the acidification and waterlogging of soils.

Currently, these cycles require large and expensive human intervention.

Wild boar, for instance, might be a more economically efficient natural plower of former forest soils than the giant Rome plows currently necessary for afforestation in the Highlands. And you can eat them.

The annual red deer hind (doe) cull that is needed to maintain grazing levels below starvation rates is also an expensive treatment. If we were "thinking like a mountain" (as Aldo Leopold said in the famous essay of that title), we might prefer to let a canine predator do the job. Here in Maine we have the coyote. In the Scotland of 1,000 years ago, and here in Maine, we used to have the gray wolf. Here in Maine, a more democratic hunting regime than is traditional in Scotland also keeps deer numbers in check. Deer are very good to eat too.

Moose are an interesting proposition. If we were "to keep all the pieces" (again, Leopold), what would their role in ecological cycles be? One possibility is that Moose, who love nothing better than a good feed of pond weed, cycle aquatic fertility back to the terrestrial system. This is the animal equivalent of seaweed on the garden, only, again, much easier for humans. And moose are very, very good to eat.

All these are hypothetical relationships, and so a test, or series of tests, is required, using fencing, soft release, radio collars, and the like, which is what the Alladale team is trying to do. Will the result be more overall ecological productivity, and more and better deer, trees, moose, boar, and so on, not just for their own sakes but for human use?

Who knows?

It is at least a testable hypothesis, and given the ecological devastation of the Highlands, deserves a good test. The Isle of Rum has been a similar test for many years, but that fine reserve belongs to the government, through the Scottish National Heritage quango. It's much more interesting to me to see if it can be done on a private reserve.

Ah, but what might my grandfather, the Kinder Trespasser, have to say about it?

Another good question. For another day.