Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Fixing Berkeley's Watershed

The passage of Measure M and completion of Berkeley's Watershed Management Plan promise to help clean up Aquatic Park and Codornices Creek, not to mention the city's outdated stormwater system. But details are fuzzy as to how it'll actually happen. Read more in this week's Eco Watch column in the East Bay Express.

Big Bark Backup...in November's Biocycle Mag

You won't be able to read this story I wrote for the Nov. issue of BioCycle without an account, but I thought I'd post a link here anyway. The gist: Last year, China went nuts importing soft woods from the Pacific Northwest to serve its booming housing sector. It was a record year for the region. However, China only accepts debarked logs due to concerns over important bark-borne pests. As a result, massive piles of bark were left behind at ports in Washington and Oregon. My story is about how wood-product processors and retailers dealt with the surplus: primarily by slowly absorbing it into existing hog-fuel, mulch, and compost markets. Some of the bark is still likely being dealt with, and slowly decomposing as it waits. The lesson? This could happen again, and best to be prepared.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Calfornia's New Grid: Adapting to More Renewables

It's a wonky topic, but a fascinating one -- and critical if you care much about the electricity streaming through the wires in your home and office. California's aging grid is largely unprepared to handle the new challenges posed by renewables integration, both large-scale and distributed, and that could spell serious trouble: blackouts, brownouts, fried equipment, unreliable service. In order to continue adding intermittent wind and solar to our grid, we've also got to make changes to the grid -- and to the ways we consume electricity on a daily basis. A number of the state's brightest minds are working on the problem, including the UC Berkeley researchers profiled in this feature for Breakthroughs magazine, the alumni pub of Cal's College of Natural Resources.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Enhanced Geothermal Systems: Promise or Peril?

In August, I wrote about geothermal energy prospects at The Geysers -- the world's largest geothermal field located just a couple hours north of Oakland -- and across the country in a feature story for the East Bay Express. In this month's High Country News, I drill down (get it?) on the topic a bit more by addressing the promise and challenges behind enhanced geothermal systems. It's a rather fascinating energy story: on one hand you've got a proven technology that can technically be used pretty much anywhere, the potential of providing more than 100% of the nation's baseline energy needs with extremely limited GHG emissions, and minimal environmental impacts. On the other you have a struggling industry that can't get a word in edgewise against natural gas and is being overcome by wind and solar in the renewables sector, a technology that's incredible expensive upfront but affordable to operate, and a real need for remote sensing technologies that will allow geothermal developers to see miles into the earth before they drill. Read more at High Country News, in my first piece for the publication.

Friday, November 2, 2012

This Month in EHP: Newly Discovered Atmospheric Oxidant Impacts Climate, Health

My debut in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives arrives this month with a short piece on the discovery of a new atmospheric oxidant by researchers out of Colorado and Finland. The new oxidant, described only as [X] because it is not yet fully understood, has implications for both climate change and human health. [X] oxidizes sulfur dioxide to create sulfuric acid, which contributes to the formation of aerosols, which in turn lead to cloud formation and both scatter and absorb sunlight. Aerosols are also associated with particulate matter in the air, a factor in asthma and other ailments in humans. I'm excited be writing for EHP, and this piece will be followed by a longer feature in January -- which, of course, will be posted here.