Results tagged “traditional energy” from PlanetGreen.org

Edward I: Environmentalist by Accident

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Edward I.jpgEdward the First, the fifth Plantagenet king of England, is famous for clobbering the Scottish and Welsh armies, getting clobbered by the French, banishing the Jews, going Crusading, taxing everybody he could get his hands on, and performing other violent acts.

Tall for the times at 6'2", Edward had a terrible temper. When his son requested an earldom for his friend, the king tore out fistfuls of the boy's hair. When the Dean of St. Paul's entered the throne-room, mustering his nerve to discuss lowering taxes, he was supposedly killed on the spot by the mere sight of the king.

Is it feasible that this ferocious king, represented in medieval allegory not as the "noble" lion but as the "powerful" and "volatile" leopard, had a good side? It's possible. He maintained a good relationship with his parents, and loved his own wife and children. At fourteen, young Prince Edward married Eleanor of Castile, who was about the same age. Unusually, they were dedicated to each other; Edward didn't have affairs, and he didn't lock Eleanor up in a tower! When Eleanor died after thirty-six years of marriage, Edward was devastated, and built Eleanor Crosses wherever the funereal procession stopped. (His second marriage, to the young Margaret of France, also turned out well, despite their fifty-four-year age difference.)

Yet less well known is the fact that if Edward had had his way, coal pollution would never have been an issue.

Coal was so abundant on England's northeast coast that it was collected in wheelbarrows. People could even pick it up on the beach! It had been used since prehistoric times -- in the Bronze Ages, Welsh funeral pyres were fired by coal -- but when the Romans conquered "Britannia," they fell in love with the fuel.  At first, they thought it was very pretty, and fashioned it into ornaments for themselves. They called it gagate; this word would evolve into "jet," a dense variant of coal still used in making jewelry. (However, the Roman artisans often mixed up the higher quality jet with ordinary coal.) They also popularized burning it. After the Romans had cleared out, the Britons forgot about coal and resorted to wood. The early historian, St. Bede, describing the abundant "jet," didn't mention that it was used for heat, but observed that the smoke kept snakes away.

At any rate, until the 12th century, everybody in London burned wood. Soon, however, London began to grow, and the forests dwindled. Wood became expensive and rare. Instead, the Londoners decided to try the cheaper, easily-obtained coal. There was only one problem. Burning wood produced some smoke, but a lot of heat. Burning sea-coal produced a little heat, but a lot of sulfurous smoke. Nevertheless, instead of thinking of a better solution, everyone decided to burn more coal. The thick smoke combined with the natural fog and hung over the city for days.

In 1306, Edward, instigated by a group of prominent noblemen and clerics, passed legislation banning the burning of sea-coal. The king's mother, Eleanor of Provence, had gotten so sick from the smoke surrounding Nottingham Castle that she had had to flee the town. (Edward I's great-grandmother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, had had a similar experience with the burning wood around Tutbury Castle.)

Despite the king's commands, the law was disregarded. The poor didn't have the money to buy wood and there weren't any other alternatives. Edward altered his bill. Now, first-time offenders were subject to immense fines. If they were caught a second time, their furnaces were destroyed. Unfortunately, this didn't work either. The atmosphere was getting tense. Edward altered his bill again. This time, a death penalty was installed for burning coal. One person was seized and executed. But everybody kept on burning coal. Edward couldn't execute his whole kingdom. Besides, even if he could have, then he wouldn't have had anybody to tax or beat up, so what's the point of that? Consequently, the law was ignored, although Edward II, Edward I's successor, tortured a few people who were unable to meet its terms. Astoundingly, that didn't help.

princess elizabeth.jpgSubsequently, others tried to exterminate the burning of coal, including the kings Richard II and Henry V, whose palace at Westminster was permeated by the odor. By the time Queen Elizabeth acceded to the throne, the situation was worse than ever. Short beds, which forced sleepers to sit up, were popular, as people had difficulties breathing if they lay down. The queen was reported to be "greatly grieved and annoyed with the taste and smoke of sea- coales," and tried to get it banned, at least while Parliament was in session.

Later, in 1661, a prominent Cavalier named John Evelyn was asked by Charles II (whose palace at Whitehall was getting all the fumes from a nearby duke's residence) to write a book against coal. He complied, and the result was Fumifugium: or, The Inconvenience of the Aer and Smoake of London Dissipated, Together with some Remedies humbly proposed by J. E. Esq., to His Sacred Majestie, and to the Parliament now Assembled. The title "Fumifugium" was compounded of two Latin words, fumus, meaning "smoke," and fugit, "to escape or get  away from." (It's actually pretty terrible Latin, just for the record.)

John Evelyn.jpgEvelyn's book was one of the first comprehensive studies of the dangers of coal burning, and one of the earliest to discuss air pollution. (It also blamed the English Civil Wars on bad air caused by coal fires, not on any political issues!) Not only did it berate the smell of the smoke, it also attacked it as being unhealthy and aesthetically unpleasing. Evelyn wrote that the fumes were

"...so universally mixed with that otherwise wholesome and excellent Aer, that her Inhabitants breathe nothing but an impure and thick Mist, accompanied with a fuliginous and filthy vapour, which renders them obnoxious to a thousand inconveniences, corrupting the Lungs, and disordering the entire habit of their Bodies; so that Catharrs, Phthisicks, Coughs and Consumptions, rage more in this one City, than in the whole Earth besides."

He also complained that "Whilst these [the "Chimnies of London"] are belching it forth their sooty jaws, the City of London resembles the face rather of Mount Ætna, the Court of Vulcan, [or] Stromboli, ... than an Assembly of Rational Creatures, and the Imperial feat of our incomparable Monarch," adding that the black particles in the smoke ruined the facades of palaces, churches, and houses. Evelyn goes on to say that it killed birds and insects and blighted flowers and fruit trees. He adds that travelers could smell the city long before they could see it.

Evelyn did not advocate the prohibiting of coal-burning; he merely said that trades, such as brewing, dyeing, lime-burning, which put out a significant amount of smoke should be relocated to where the soot would not affect the city. He also proposed moving other noxious businesses, such as butchers and chandlers, out as well. To promote cleanliness, no burials should be permitted in churches or even within the city walls. Not even this approach, however, gained much support.

James Watt.jpgThe Industrial Revolution effectively destroyed any hopes of outlawing this pernicious fuel, as it was considered indispensable to development. Anyone who was opposed to coal was opposed to progress. Factories relied on it to fire their huge furnaces. It heated workers' homes. Worst of all, it provided the steam for James Watt's new steam engine. Getting rid of it was impossible. In fact, coal usage in Great Britain multiplied by 100 between 1800 and 1900.

The coal-produced smog, called "fog" by the Londoners, was familiar to people such as Charles Dickens, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Charles Darwin, James Russell Lowell (who was proud to have survived the smoke), Arthur Conan Doyle, Heinrich Heine, and Thomas Carlyle, who called it "fluid ink." Finally, in 1956, four years after a four-day "fog" killed approximately 4,000 people, Parliament passed the Clean Air Act, which reduced coal burning to a large extent.

To this day, coal continues to be one of the worst energy sources on the planet. It is the largest contributor to man-made carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, one of the greenhouse gases that cause global warming. The difference that the success of Edward I's 1306 law would have caused is unfathomable. Even though he was a terrifying warrior and sometimes a cruel king, ironically he deserves to be remembered as one of the earliest environmentalists.

The Endangered Snow Leopard

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Snow-Leopard.jpgIn the deep dark chasm,
Upon the sides of the walls,
Motion with lightning's shape and speed,
And before it the swift deer falls. 

Its color blended ever light,
Gray white and shades of dun,
Streamlined shape and hunter's eye,
And incredible speed to run. 

Against a snowy background,
Imposing yet serene,
The fearsome leopard of the snow,
Can hardly yet be seen. 

-Katrianna Sarkar

Snow leopards are endangered from causes such as the trade in its pelt and global warming. The fur is made into coats and hats, and their bones and other body parts are also used in traditional medicine. Tigers are supposed to be used in the practice of traditional medicine, but they are already so rare (their populations have lessened from this too) that the more common snow leopard is substituted. 

Their numbers are hard to estimate, due to the fact that snow leopards live in rugged, remote terrain. This makes conservation more difficult, so an interesting device was employed. With as few snow leopards as there are, you can tell the individual leopards by their spots.  As a result, pictures taken by a remote camera are compared to those in a photo library. In that way, they can estimate how many there are.

As elusive as snow leopards are, we still know quite a bit about them:

Wild sheep and goats are the snow leopard's main food, as well as an occasional buck or rabbit.

A snow leopard can leap thirty feet.

Snow leopards have enormous, furry tails. They use them for balance, but if they get cold they can wrap their tail around themselves.

Snow leopard cubs have blue eyes. When they get older, snow leopard eyes get grayer.

Let's hope we can save them. We should start conserving energy by using solar power and stop buying coats made from snow leopard, or, for that matter, any other kind of fur.

BP Oil Spill Response: Testing The Cap

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The BP oil cap may not work due to pressure, as the rubber seal already has 600 atmospheres of pressure on it. In the case that the pressure is too great, the well could leak for years. Then we would face the considerable problem of the oil pumping out of the earth faster than our planet could take it back in. In that case, as happens with water and other liquids pumped out from under the surface, a large sinkhole would form.

Also the whole Gulf ecosystem, especially marshes such as the Everglades, are likely to be wiped out. Recently iNational Geographic I read a study about oil being buried under seemingly white and glistening beaches as a result of extensive overturning of the sand to clean the beaches. That could be a danger to crabs and other fauna under the sands.  Numerous bird species have already been affected, and it is anticipated that many more will become extinct if the oil well is not capped properly. 

The Road To Aberdeen

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The notorious metallic monsters of the sci-fi movies are fictitious. At least, that's what they're supposed to be. But they're real. For if not monstrous, what are the machines used to cut the logs of Washington State into boards or reduce them down to a sticky pulp? These gigantic tools of destruction are both awful and scary, for they look like horrible monsters with fangs (possibly dripping poison), trying to inflict indescribable pain on things. We had to drive past a factory from the house that we were living in every time we wanted to go to Target or Wal-Mart, but no matter how many times I saw it, it remained a very distressing sight. The plants manufacture boards and planks that are either used locally, in other parts of the United States or shipped abroad. British Columbia, Canada, even manufactures chopsticks for Japan! As you read this, destruction is reigning as the trees, old and new alike, are being sawed down without regard to size, age, or any other category that they could fit into.

Yet that factory was not the worst factory we'd seen. Compared to the most horrible one that any of us had ever seen, that one could have been called environmentally-friendly!

Just outside of Olympic National Park, on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State, an almost unbelievable tragedy was -and is still- happening. Whole hillsides are getting completely destroyed, not to return for over a lifetime. Magnificent old-growth forests are being turned into devastated graveyards with unwanted trees strewn on the barren hillsides. As you drive through Olympic National Park, overwhelming numbers of 18-wheelers hurtle past, bearing loads of cut logs, many with clumps of moss still clinging to the mottled bark, to the factories where they are cut into boards or pulped into paper while the smokestacks are polluting in great puffs of smoke. And if you look across some lakes to the private property on the other side, the park border is marked by straight lines of trees. The private property is completely barren, having been clearcut by loggers. I found it disappointing when the Obama Administration, even though it is doing many things to help protect the environment, including a recent statement saying that no more roads could be built in national forests, recently approved a logging contract in a roadless Alaskan national forest. George Bush was going to build roads in several national forests to log, but I do not think that the national forests should be cut down, even to provide jobs. Some states use their forests as tourist attractions, generating jobs and money, and if they log it is very seldom and very little at a time. When we were driving towards Aberdeen, the hills were an awful shade of brown. Vast, depressing, and uninhabited, these hills hardly look like what they once were: shady forests where squirrels frisked and owls once swooped down from their perch in the high branches of firs, hemlocks, and spruce, in the soft, dusky evening light. This scene is now uncommon, found only in state and national parks. Now what is left of that landscape is a carpet of broken branches and wood chips with an occasional tiny tree, sprouted from a pinecone left behind or missed by the logger's chainsaws, still standing.

Yet the worst was still to come.

Just outside of Aberdeen, we saw it. We were on a concrete bridge spanning a river adjacent to it, and when we looked down we saw one of the most terrible sights possible to see in the entire state. We'd gotten used to seeing logs that were decaying into "nurse logs" in the rainforests all around the state, but most of those had fallen naturally. And they were only one at a time. What we saw was incomparably different. Huge piles of logs, the bark unevenly stripped off of them, sat in the largest lumberyard any of us had ever seen. To prevent shrinking, the logs had been misted with dirty water, staining them gray in irregular splotches. It was so atrocious that I could not bear to look at it any longer than I had to. It was the worst thing I'd ever seen. It still is.

In American folktales, loggers are made heroes by legend. Paul Bunyan, the famed "lumberjack," is actually considered a good guy because he could cut down hundreds of trees with one swing of his axe. But by destroying the trees, people are destroying themselves. These giants are the source of oxygen and without them we will not have so many renewable sources of fresh air in the world. As if to prove this point, many trees are endangered. The Bigleaf Mahogany, found in Central America, is number eight on the Top Ten Endangered Species list. This species of mahogany is very valuable-one square meter is generally 1,300 dollars.

This is an important issue and species will continue to lose their habitat, resulting in many going extinct. Every second, an area of the Amazon rainforest the size of one and a half football fields is burned to make room for farmland. People must react to this ongoing injustice, or we will have a plain, ugly, and lifeless world. Today millions of trees are being sliced up into useless furniture that no one needs, into wood pellets for wood-burning stoves, and into a thousand other things that are unnecessary.  Having a little wood furniture is not terrible, but buying more than you really need is. Instead of wood-burning stoves, which not only use wood but also pollute, electric heaters or, even better, wearing sweaters are much better alternatives. Even pencils use much more wood than buying mechanical pencils and refilling them, in which case the only wood is in the cardboard packaging. (If possible, buy things with the least packaging possible.) It is very important to conserve this resource, for if this devastating logging continues, the hillsides will be gray, global warming will not end, and millions of animals, both known and unknown to science, will become extinct. Because today we are headed down the infamous road to Aberdeen.

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