Tag Archives: environment

6 global warming skeptics who changed their minds

TheWeek.com posted on September 1, 2010, at 2:15 PM

Bjorn Lomborg, a renowned climate change skeptic, recently announced he's changed his mind on the topic.

With 2010 shaping up as the warmest year on record and unprecedented heat waves gripping the planet, global warming skeptics have suffered another blow with the defection of the “most high-profile” member of their camp, author Bjorn Lomborg. But Lomborg isn’t the first doubter to accept the scientific consensus that human carbon emissions are warming the planet and need to be curtailed. Here, a review of several prominent cases:

1. Bjorn Lomborg, Danish academic
Lomborg made waves with his 2001 book, The Skeptical Environmentalist, which argued that global warming was no big deal, and fighting it would be a waste of money. This month, he’s publishing Smart Solutions to Climate Change, which argues that a global carbon tax should be imposed to raise $150 billion a year to address global warming.
Before quote: “In 20 years’ time, we’ll look back and wonder why we worried so much.” (2002)
After quote: “We actually have only one option: we all need to start seriously focusing, right now, on the most effective ways to fix global warming.” (2010)

2. Dmitri Medvedev, Russian president
Russian leaders are famously skeptical of global warming, with then–President Vladimir Putin quipping in 2003 that a warmer Russia “wouldn’t be so bad” because “we could spend less on fur coats, and the grain harvest would go up.” Then Russia caught fire this summer, choking Moscow with deadly smoke, devastating agricultural production, and convincing Medvedev and other leaders that perhaps global warming is a threat, after all.
Before quote: Climate change is “some kind of tricky campaign made up by some commercial structures to promote their business projects.” (2009)
After quote: “Unfortunately, what is happening now in our central regions is evidence of this global climate change, because we have never in our history faced such weather conditions in the past.” (2010)

3. Michael Hanlon, British science journalist
Hanlon, science editor for The Daily Mail, was a self-professed skeptic on climate change until a recent trip to Greenland, where he witnessed the accelerated disintegration of the country’s massive ice sheet. A few days on the melting ice floes, he says, “is certainly enough to blow a few skeptical cobwebs away.”
Before quote: “Global warming, indeed much of environmentalism, has become a new religion. Like the old religions, environmentalism preaches much good sense, is well meaning, but has a worrying lack of logic at its core.” (2000)
After quote: “I have long been something of a climate-change sceptic, but my views in recent years have shifted. For me, the most convincing evidence that something worrying is going on lies right here in the Arctic.” (2010)

4. Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic Magazine
In 2001, Shermer hosted a Skeptics Society debate on global warming, prompted by Lomborg’s Skeptical Environmentalist. He sided, predictably, with the skeptics. Then he looked at the science, and in 2006 reached a “flipping point,” acknowledging the “overwhelming evidence for anthropogenic global warming.”
Before quote: “Scientists like Bjorn Lomborg in The Skeptical Environmentalist have, in my opinion, properly nailed environmental extremists for these exaggerated scenarios.” (2008, referring to 2001)
After quote: “Because of the complexity of the problem, environmental skepticism was once tenable. No longer. It is time to flip from skepticism to activism.” (2006)

5. Gregg Easterbrook, American journalist and author
Easterbrook was an early skeptic of global warming, writing an influential book, A Moment on the Earth, in 1995 that was dismissive of mankind’s role in climate change. By 2006, he’d been swayed by the decade of climate research, and wrote an essay entitled “Case Closed: The Debate About Global Warming is Over.”
Before quote:
“Instant-doomsday hyperbole caused the world’s attention to focus on the hypothetical threat of global warming to the exclusion of environmental menaces that are real, palpable, and awful right now.” (1995, PDF)
After quote: “The science has changed from ambiguous to near-unanimous… Based on the data I’m now switching sides regarding global warming, from skeptic to convert.” (2006)

6. Stu Ostro, Weather Channel senior meteorologist
A recent survey found that many meteorologists and TV weathercasters are skeptical (or even “cynical”) about anthropogenic global warming (AGW), and Ostro used to fit in that camp. Now he regularly explains the connection between man-made climate change and the extreme weather roiling the world.
Before quote: Large swings in temperature “happened long before humans had a chance to influence the environment, [and] typically occurred within a 10-year period, indicating that drastic climate change can occur through natural means, and quickly.” (1999)
After quote: “When it comes to skepticism about AGW, you could say I have street cred,” but “it could be said that I ‘converted’ and became a ‘believer.'” (2010)

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A Greener Champagne Bottle

Newly forged bottles, still red hot, being checked at random for defects at the Saint Gobain glass bottle factory.

By LIZ ALDERMAN  THE NEW YORK TIMES  Published: August 31, 2010

REIMS, France — Deep below a lush landscape of ripening Champagne grapes, Thierry Gasco, the master vintner for Pommery, ran his finger over the shoulders of a dark green bottle that looked just like the thousands of others reposing in his chilly subterranean cellars.

But to the practiced hand and eye, there is a subtle, if potentially significant, difference.

“This is how we’re remaking the future of Champagne,” he said, pointing to the area just below the neck. “We’re slimming the shoulders to make the bottle lighter, so our carbon footprint will be reduced to help keep Champagne here for future generations.”

The Champagne industry has embarked on a drive to cut the 200,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide it emits every year transporting billions of tiny bubbles around the world. Producing and shipping accounts for nearly a third of Champagne’s carbon emissions, with the hefty bottle the biggest offender.

Yet while many other industries might plaster their marketing with eco-friendly claims, changes to Champagne, as with so much else in France, are being made discreetly. Producers in this secretive business are tight-lipped about the costs and occasionally enigmatic about how much their carbon emissions will really be cut.

“Champagne is sometimes more humble than it should be,” said Philippe Wibrotte of the Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne, the region’s trade organization. “Much is done for the promotion of the environment, but it’s kept quiet because we want to make sure each step is perfect.”

The industry speaks in hushed tones, too, in deference to the luxurious image and ritualistic traditions of Champagne, as symbolized for centuries by the bottle. It was Dom Pérignon, a Benedictine monk, who first thickened the glass in the mid-1600s to contain what was often referred to as “the devil’s wine” because its vessels exploded so often. Over time, the bottle was gradually recalibrated until 900 grams, or about two pounds, became the standard weight in the early 1970s.

The current retooling, which uses 65 fewer grams (2.3 ounces) of glass, is in response to a 2003 study of Champagne’s carbon footprint, which the industry wants to cut 25 percent by 2020, and 75 percent by 2050.

The move comes as efforts to reduce carbon output and improve vineyard ecology are accelerating worldwide, as wine houses reduce packaging, pesticides, water use and transportation. In California, for example, winegrowers are promoting what their trade group, the Wine Institute, says are nearly 230 “green practices,” including methods to cut carbon emissions.

Champagne accounts for only 10 percent of the three billion bottles of sparkling wine produced globally each year. But the bottle stands out for its heft. Italian prosecco, for instance, uses a 750-gram bottle. But it and its various fizzy cousins have only about half the pressure of Champagne — which generates three times the air pressure of a typical car tire.

Although some of Pommery’s restyled bottles are already on the market, the C.I.V.C. expects all Champagne houses to start using the new 835-gram vessel next April for bottling this month’s grape harvest; the new wave of bottles will hit stores after three years of fermentation. The effort, the group says, will trim carbon emissions by 8,000 metric tons annually — the equivalent of taking 4,000 small cars off the road.

“For Champagne producers to reduce the weight of their packaging is definitely a step in the right direction,” said Tyler Colman, an author of environmental studies on the wine industry, “because there’s less mass to transport around the world.”

Vranken-Pommery Monopole, which in addition to Pommery owns Heidsieck & Company Monopole and other labels, got a head start by adopting the lighter bottle in 2003. Consumers around the world may have already uncorked some specimens without noticing the new bottle. Moët & Chandon, Veuve Cliquot and a few others quietly switched this year, with those bottles still under fermentation.

The rest of the Champagne producers are deciding whether to embrace the C.I.V.C.’s mandate, which is voluntary but carries special force in this clannish community.

Designing a new bottle was no small feat. The container still had to withstand Champagne’s extreme pressure. It would also need to survive the four-year obstacle course from the factory floor to the cellars to the dining table, and fit in existing machinery at all Champagne houses. And it had to be molded so that consumers would barely detect the difference in the bottle’s classic shape.

“The bottle is part of Champagne’s image, and we don’t want to affect it,” said Daniel Lorson, a spokesman for the trade group.

Mr. Gasco said Vranken Pommery, one of the largest houses, has spent 500,000 to one million euros ($635,000 to about $1.3 million) each year since 1994 on environmental initiatives, including research and testing of the lighter bottle.

But the bottle, he said, is not about money, which has become tighter since the financial crisis. Industrywide sales for Champagne last year were 3.7 billion euros ($4.7 billion), down from nearly 5 billion euros in 2007.

“Reducing their carbon footprint and energy use is also a great way to make their operations more financially viable, especially with the economy the way it is,” said Euan Murray, an official at the Carbon Trust, a nonprofit group that advises businesses and government on global warming issues.

Sipping a glass of Pommery during an interview, Mr. Gasco eventually disclosed that the new bottles cost around 32 euro cents (41 United States cents) each, not much cheaper than the classic. But Mr. Gasco, who sits on the C.I.V.C.’s bottling panel, said “if everyone starts to use it, the price will come down.” Any savings, however, would be too slight to pass on to consumers, he said.

Most of the new Champagne bottles are made at the St. Gobain plant near here, where molten red glass is dropped from a 20-foot-high chute into molds at a rate of 160 a minute. The glass is cooled from more than 1,000 degrees Celsius for over an hour, scanned for imperfections and stacked on pallets for shipping.

A worker on Pommery’s assembly line, who declined to be named, said he noticed that a few more of the new bottles were exploding, and that they made a higher-pitched sound when they clinked together. Mr. Gasco denied there were more explosions, and said any damage more likely came from using heat to inject the cork.

Bruno Delhorbe, the director at the St. Gobain factory, said that using less glass lowered the carbon emissions necessary to make each bottle by 7 percent, and allowed about 2,400 more to be placed inside delivery trucks, reducing the number of trucks on the road.

Slimming the shoulders while thinning the glass, he noted, also allowed his clients to avoid giving their customers more Champagne for the same price.

Of course, there are even lighter alternatives: Many of the world’s producers of still wines are employing plastic bottles and box containers to reduce their carbon footprint.

But it may be a long time before Champagne goes that route. Most houses take pains to cultivate an image of luxury through packaging and pricing — and intimations that other sparkling wines are inferior because they simply are not Champagne.

Still, many producers insist that while tradition has its place, the environmentally motivated changes are about the future. Patrick LeBrun, an independent producer, said he started going green “for personal reasons.” He has not used herbicides for five years, and this year, he is putting all of his product into the lighter bottle.

“There’s about a 2-cent price difference but that’s not what decided me,” he said. Trying to improve the environment “is my contribution to the next generation.”

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Empire State Building Goes Green, One Window at a Time

By David Roth

A fifth floor space inside the Empire State Building has been transformed into a cramped window-making workshop.

THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Thursday, August 19, 2010

How does a Depression-era skyscraper go green? For the Empire State Building, which is in the middle of $550 million renovation that includes about $100 million in energy-efficient upgrades, all 6,514 windows must be replaced. And that’s no easy task.

As The Journal’s Anton Troianovski reports, the greening of the iconic 79-year-old tower has become a platform for Anthony Malkin, the real-estate scion who runs the building, to criticize as insufficient popular programs for assessing the environmental sustainability of buildings. If the world follows the U.S. lead on energy use, he told the audience at a real-estate panel earlier this summer, “We’re all going to die and we’ll go to war along the way.”

For the Empire State Building’s windows, Malkin brought in Serious Materials to handle a pane-by-pane upgrade. The Silicon Valley-based building materials company is transforming the old, inefficient windows into “super-insulating” units, a sort of glass sandwich that combines the existing panes with a mixture of inert gases and film. The finished product is a window anywhere from 250% to 400% more efficient than the windows they replace, according to the company.

“Dirty little secret: double-pane windows aren’t all that efficient,” says Serious Materials CEO Kevin Surace.

The replacement windows, which use what Surace calls a “suspended film system,” break up the convection current between the inside and outside of a building. That means less heat sneaks in through the windows on hot days when the air-conditioning is running, and warm air from inside has a harder time leaking out when it’s cold outside.

The team of workers tasked with the window upgrade spend their days removing, cleaning and re-fabricating the building’s 12-year-old double-pane windows. The process, which began in March and is expected to run until October, is projected to reduce solar heat gain by more than half and save $400,000 each year in energy costs.

The window work is being done on site, in an office-turned-workshop on the Empire State Building’s fifth floor. Malkin estimates that keeping the process in-house saves $2,300 per window. The Serious Materials workspace buzzes between 7 a.m. and 2 a.m., processing 75 windows per day in a space roughly the size of a Manhattan apartment. The room is so snug that engineers for the project had to shrink some of their equipment to fit in the space.

Keeping the workshop on site ensures the windows are out of their frames for just about 20 hours before the upgraded window is ready. The process is designed to keep waste at a minimum: just 4% of the building’s existing windows are being discarded, and only the gasket surrounding the original windows winds up in the trash.

Workers remove the windows from office spaces at night and bring them downstairs to the workshop. Once there, the windows are removed from their frames and peeled apart like Oreo cookies before being cleaned. The first cleaning is manual, using razor blades and pumices, followed by a wash with a chemical solution and finally water.

The deconstructed windows are then fitted with new steel spacers, treated with a metallized film and baked flat in an oven at 205 degrees. The windows are then sealed with a mixture of Kyrpton and Argon gas. Finally, the upgraded windows are put back — with the help of careful but firm malleting — into their original aluminum frames.

The on-site re-use and refabrication of the Empire State Building’s windows is unprecedented on a project of this size. But Paul Rode, the project executive from Johnson Controls Inc. who is overseeing the retrofit, believes it could become a popular model in the industry. “I’m never waiting for product. If a problem ever comes up, we don’t have to call someplace that’s 500 miles away,” he says. “Logistically, that’s just what you want in the construction business.”

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An energy-independent future?

John Stewart’s take on President Obama’s speech urging America to become energy independent.

The Daily Show: June 16, 2010

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