Science & Technology

Solar power gets thirsty

I'd love to believe that all renewable energy projects are a great way to generate power without putting a strain on our resources and the planet. Unfortunately, many projects present uncomfortable tradeoffs. The New York Times' greeninc blog reported recently that utility-scale solar power projects can be incredibly water intensive. Solar power projects are all about concentrating the energy of… read more →

Google Maps add bike routes and walking paths

I remember being amazed when Mapquest came out in, what, 1997? How could it possibly know where my house was? How was it able to instantly come up with a route between Anchorage and Miami? The data seemed too vast and too messy to yield to computation, sort of like the internet itself. Since then Google has redefined web-based maps,… read more →

Net zero water

Water and climate change are inextricably linked. As the planet warms, weather patterns will shift, exacerbating drought in some areas and delivering more rainfall to others. Water itself requires energy to deliver, so excess use compounds our energy problems. And many renewable sources of power, such as solar, require massive amounts of water as an input, creating further pressure on… read more →

The Earth’s limits

Surely the scariest aspect of climate change is the concept of tipping points: sudden and potentially irreversible changes in the earth's natural processes that render the planet much less hospitable for humankind. The melting of the polar ice caps is perhaps the best-known tipping point, but planetary systems are under pressure from more than just the accumulation of greenhouse gases.… read more →

Compact fluorescents: a debacle?

Philips may claim the "L Prize," a $10 million award from the Department of Energy for any light that can reproduce the color and intensity of a 60-watt bulb using only 1/6 the power. Further, the winning entry must last at least 25 times as long as a standard incandescent. The L Prize was established, in part, to prevent a… read more →

Beyond the bulb

Old-school incandescent light bulbs are going the way of the dodo -- already illegal in Europe and soon enough in the United States as well. Mostly CFLs will replace them in the near term, but as the price of LEDs drop, many expect them to become the bulb of choice. What comes after that? Perhaps we'll ditch the bulbs altogether,… read more →

Amusing ourselves to death

Gadgets, those little energy vampires that remain almost constantly plugged in, are sucking our energy system dry: > Worldwide, consumer electronics now represent 15 percent of household power demand, and that is expected to triple over the next two decades, according to the International Energy Agency, making it more difficult to tackle the greenhouse gas emissions responsible for global warming.… read more →

The secret to preventing fishery decline: stop fishing so much

The concept of restoring ecosystems damaged by human exploitation has always interested me, so the recent edition of *Science* featuring Restoration Ecology sent my heart into a pitter-patter. There are a number of good news stories and perspectives in it, but the primary research article on "Rebuilding Global Fisheries" in particular deserves a few words. Global fish stocks have been… read more →

Cadillac Desert

I just finished reading the environmental classic *Cadillac Desert,* by Marc Reisner. The book tells the story of water policy in the Western United States from the mid-1800s (the time of John Wesley Powell's exploration of the region) to the early 1990s. The strategy of damming and diverting the region's rivers over the past 150 years to encourage settlement has… read more →

Space-based solar energy

Generating solar energy in space stations and beaming it down to earth is a wacky idea, but it's also an interesting one, and not just for the obvious reasons (outer space, energy beams, etc). To explain why, I need to make a digression into some energy facts and figures. Solar energy enthusiasts are fond of pointing out that enough energy… read more →
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