Articles Posted in the Lifestyle category

Join a community drive to clean up the Jukskei River

April 2, 2009
Posted in Lifestyle

litter-along-jhb-river

Stretch of the Jukskei River. Photo by NJR ZA. Licenced under Creative Commons licence

A group of volunteers in Douglasdale in northern Johannesburg have decided to start a clean up campaign on the Klein Jukskei River and want other people in the community to get involved.

“It is in a state of absolute filth. The banks of the river are disgustingly littered with household rubbish,” says Candice Smith, who organised the clean-up campaign.

Candice is a firm believer in the idea that if a group of people work together for the collective good then change is inevitable.

“I am rounding up support in my complex, trying to get the residents involved and I would like to extend this to the rest of the community that makes use of the area (dog walkers, kids, etc). Although currently not many people want to use it and, frankly, I don’t blame them.”

But think of the “Broken Windows” theory, says Candice. If a building has a few broken windows that are not repaired, the tendency is for vandals to break more windows. Eventually, they may even break into the building. The same could apply to a river where litter accumulates. Eventually, people may even start dumping bags of rubbish there.

“What impact would this have on the surrounding community?” Candice asks. “We can’t continue to sit back and allow it to be someone else’s problem.”

Candice has gathered together a team of volunteers who will meet once a month to clean up the river banks. It’s not just a chance to do something for the environment, it’s a great way to get to know the people in your community, she says.

The first community clean up effort is going to be on Saturday, April 4, at 9h00.

If you’re interested in joining in, the group plans to meet outside the new Covenant Church Complex along Hornbill Road. You can contact Candice on 082 442 0068 or candice.smith[at]caterplus[dot]co[dot]za.

“Small acts can and will lead to big changes!”

Study links ozone to higher death risk

March 12, 2009
Posted in Green News

los-angeles-smog
Los Angeles smog by Infinite Wilderness licensed under Creative Commons licence

We normally think of ozone in connection with the hole in the atmosphere that’s letting in ultraviolet radiation and increasing the risk of skin cancers. When it’s in the upper atmosphere, ozone is beneficial to us. But when we breathe it in at ground level, it’s not. A new US study has found that long-term exposure to ground-level ozone, a major component of smog, is associated with an increased risk of death from respiratory ailments.

Ground level ozone is formed through a complex chemical reaction in sunlight between nitrogen oxides (NOx), commonly spewed from vehicle exhausts, and industrial factory emissions.

To analyse the risk of death for both ozone and fine particulate matter, two of the most prevalent components of air pollution, researchers followed nearly 450,000 people in 96 metropolitan regions in the United States for two decades, according to the University of California, Berkeley. Michael Jerrett, UC Berkeley associate professor of environmental health sciences, led the study.

The researchers found that people living in areas with the highest concentrations of ozone, such as Los Angeles, had a 25 to 30 percent greater annual risk of dying from respiratory diseases compared with people from regions with the lowest levels of the pollutant.

“This is the first time we’ve been able to connect chronic exposure to ozone, one of the most widespread pollutants in the world, with the risk of death,” said Jerrett.

“Previous research has connected short-term or acute ozone exposure to impaired lung function, aggravated asthma symptoms, increased emergency room visits and hospitalisations, but the impact of long-term exposure to ozone on mortality had not been pinned down until now.”

The study found that for every 10 parts-per-billion (ppb) increase in ozone level, there is a 4 percent increase in risk of death from respiratory causes, primarily pneumonia and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

“World Health Organisation data indicate that about 240,000 people die each year from respiratory causes in the US,” said Jerrett. “Even a 4 percent increase can translate into thousands of excess deaths each year. Globally, some 7.7 million people die from respiratory causes, so worldwide the impact of ozone pollution could be very large.”

The study is published in the March 12 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Source: UC Berkely

How we’re turning the ocean into plastic soup

March 5, 2009
Posted in Green News

In the late 1990s Charles Moore discovered a huge swath of plastic rubbish, “the size of two Texases”, in the Pacific Ocean. Discarded plastic accumulates there in an enormous slow whirlpool created by competing air currents known as the Pacific Gyre. Moore now carries out research on the plastic floating in the Pacific and tries to raise awareness about the problem through the Algalita Marine Research Foundation in California. The link above is a talk he gave in February on plastic pollution and it’s well worth watching.

Plastic is a petrochemical product and it never biodegrades, it photodegrades which means it is broken down into ever smaller pieces by sunlight over a very long period of time. Much of the plastic floating in the Pacific Gyre is in the form of small particles, so rather than a rubbish dump of floating bottles and bags, Moore describes it as a “plastic soup”.

A brochure on the foundation’s website says the following:

  • A disposable nappy can take 500 years to photodegrade
  • A plastic six-pack ring can take 400 years
  • A plastic bottle can take 450 years

The first synthetic plastic, Bakelite, was produced in 1907. So, in effect, 100 years’ worth of plastic has accumulated on Earth and it’s going to keep piling up unless we do something about it.

The Pacific ocean rubbish dump has a terrible effect on marine life. Many marine animals mistake floating plastics for food. Baby albatrosses have been found with bottle tops and other plastic rubbish in their stomachs, fed to them by their parents. Plastics eaten by turtles have blocked their intestines, making the animals float so they can’t dive for food, says the website. Animals also become entangled in fishing nets and line.

All that plastic in the ocean can also affect human health. According to the research foundation the plastic in the ocean absorbs pollutants such as PCBs and pesticides. Marine organisms eat the tiny bits of plastic and these pollutants accumulate in their tissues. In this way the pollutants enter the food chain and into the food we eat. And as a result, no fishmonger can guarantee you an organic wild fish, Moore says in the TED talk.

About 80 percent of the rubbish in the ocean originates on land, washing down storm water drains and rivers into the sea. So the moral of the story is: Use less plastic

There’s an interesting article here about a research trip with Moore’s foundation to the Pacific Gyre. It’s worth a look just to see Flyp Media’s stunning online magazine. The Algalita Research Foundation’s website is also a good place to learn more.

Olympic pollution controls had marked impact, say scientists

December 21, 2008
Posted in Green News

The efforts of China’s authorities to clean up the air for this year’s Olympics in Beijing had some surprising results, Nasa researchers report.

According to atmospheric scientist Jacquelyn Witte and colleagues from Nasa’s Goddard Space Flight Centre, during the two months when authorities temporarily closed some factories and banished many cars in Beijing, the levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) – a noxious gas resulting from fossil fuel combustion (primarily in cars, trucks, and power plants) – plunged by nearly 50 percent. Levels of carbon monoxide (CO) fell about 20 percent.

“After the authorities lifted the traffic restrictions, the levels of these pollutants shot right back up,” Witte noted.

The steep decline in certain pollutants came as a surprise to the researchers, says a Nasa news release.

The researchers used Nasa’s Aura and Terra satellites to measure the impact of the air pollution controls.

Witte presented the results on December 16 at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco.

Ultimately, researchers aim to use satellite data to evaluate and refine models to predict how pollution levels respond to changes in emissions. Such models are important for understanding the integrated Earth system and aiding policymakers considering ways to reduce pollution, says Nasa.

Corporates join forces to compile an SA carbon-storage map

October 2, 2008
Posted in Business

It’s one thing saying that all South Africa’s new coal-fired power stations will be built ready to capture their carbon emissions, but where to put this captured carbon is another matter. Commercialisation of the carbon capture and storage technology South Africa needs to keep the millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide produced by its coal plants from polluting the atmosphere could be as much as 15 years away. And doubts have been expressed about the suitability of South Africa’s geological make-up for carbon storage. Nonetheless, with such coal-intensive energy plans, so-called “clean coal” technologies will be an important part of the country’s future.

Carbon capture technology could make as much as 60 percent of the country’s carbon emissions storable, Dr Tony Surridge of the South African National Energy Research Institute (Saneri) told the Engineering News. But the big question is where then to put it. A group of South Africa’s big-carbon corporates have joined forces to find answers. Sasol, Eskom, PetroSA, Anglo American and Saneri plan to identify potential sites for the future storage of carbon dioxide and develop a carbon dioxide storage atlas, the Engineering News reports. An initial assessment of SA’s storage potential is scheduled to be published by early 2010. Read the full story on Engineering News

Australia wants to be clean coal research hub

September 22, 2008
Posted in Green News

Australia plans to set itself up as the world hub for carbon capture research, Reuters reports. The country’s Prime Minister Kevin Rudd wants to get United Nations’ backing for an Australian research institute at the general assembly meeting in New York this week. Rudd says that although there’s a great deal of international effort going into carbon capture research, it’s haphazard and he wants to bring it together in one place.

Australia is the world’s top coal exporter and relies heavily on coal for power generation, so developing “clean coal” technologies such as carbon capture and storage make economic sense; they would allow the continued use of coal to generate electricity – but without the climate-harming carbon emissions.

The country is already making progress in a method of carbon capture known as post-combustion capture (PCC). In July, the CSIRO reported that carbon dioxide had been captured from power station flue gases in a PCC pilot plant at a power station in Victoria. The pilot plant is designed to capture up to 1,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year from the power station’s exhaust-gas flues. Read more

Satellite images show Africa on fire

September 10, 2008
Posted in Green News

The map above is a global fire map made from images taken by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (Modis) on Nasa’s Terra and Aqua satellites for the 10-day period between August 28 and September 6. Colour ranges from red where the fire count is low to yellow where number of fires is large.

The picture below was taken by Modis on Nasa’s Terra satellite on September 1. According to Nasa, it shows a river of smoke several hundred kilometres wide coming from hundreds of fires burning in Mozambique, South Africa and Swaziland (represented by red dots) flowing off the coast of Mozambique over the Indian Ocea.

Images courtesy of MODIS Rapid Response Project at NASA/GSFC

Power sector emissions ‘racing in the wrong direction’

September 2, 2008
Posted in Green News

Emissions of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas causing global warming, from the power generation sector have increased by more than 34 percent in the past eight years, according to the Centre for Global Development (CGD), a Washington-based think tank.

This does not bode well for international efforts to combat climate change. Power generation accounts for more than a quarter of all global carbon dioxide emissions, and the proportion is rising rapidly, the CGD says.

Thr CGD attributes much of the increase since 2000 to the surge in the number of new coal-fired power stations being built in China, which has now surpassed the United States as the world’s biggest emitter of carbon dioxide from power generation, according to updated data from GDG’s Carbon Monitoring for Action (CARMA). Read more

Network set up to monitor Highveld air quality

August 25, 2008
Posted in Green News

Anybody driving into Joburg on a winter’s morning will have seen the air pollution that obscures the city skyline. It’s particularly bad in the mornings and late afternoons and, according to the department of environmental affairs and tourism (DEAT), much of it is caused by residential coal burning and veld fires. The area is also home to many heavy industries.

As part of plans to improve the air quality in the area, DEAT has set up ambient air quality monitoring stations, funded by the Royal Danish Embassy, in Ermelo, Hendrina, Middelburg, Secunda and Witbank. Others will be installed in Balfour, Middelburg, Standerton and Witbank, says DEAT in a media statement. Each monitoring station is equipped with instruments to measure pollutants such as sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, particulate matter, ozone, benzene, lead and carbon monoxide, as well as mercury. Read more

US firm plans to make cement from power station emissions

August 11, 2008
Posted in Business

A company in California says it can turn the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere by power stations into cement by bubbling it through sea water, Scientific American reports.

The company, called Calera, is preparing to open its first cement plant next door to a gas-fired power station on the California coast.

The cement-making process could be a way of killing two birds with one stone by reducing the geenhouse gas emissions of two highly polluting industries at one time. According to US Environmental Protection Agency, making one ton of cement results in about 1 ton of carbon dioxide.

The Calera process “essentially mimics marine cement, which is produced by coral when making their shells and reefs, taking the calcium and magnesium in seawater and using it to form carbonates at normal temperatures and pressures”, SciAm writes. Read more

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