Sorry to say the year is over. I really enjoyed our time together. Best of luck to each of you in college and beyond!
If you have just stumbled upon this blog, note that our class no longer meets and will no longer be adding new content. Feel free to click around and see all that we’ve learned about environmental science this year. -Mr. W
Since most of you have been at Providence Day for a while, I’m assuming you all remember Hunter Hodges, who left in 8th grade and moved to Beaufort, SC. Anywhosen, I came across this article that talked about how her parents established and currently operate a non-toxic insect repellent service. The substance used is natural and EPA approved as non-toxic, as it’s derived from cedars. Point is, check it out. Pretty neat-o.
Well, you all made it. Now that the course and AP exam are behind you, I hope you pay attention to the environmental issues that lie before you. Here are just a few of the issues we have studied that have popped up in the news the last few weeks. Feel free to share things you come across with me here or by email.
So, while your text does introduce the concept of carbon neutral it did not mention carbon offsets, which have become a hot ticket in “climate change mitigation.” There are many companies out there now marketing carbon offsets to reduce your “carbon footprint.” Terrapass is a popular one. You can offset one year’s worth of air travel (an estimated 8,000 pounds of carbon emitted) for just $50.60 as of 5/5/2011. Your money goes to support wind farms and methane capture projects-that’s how the carbon is “offset.” Some companies will even plant trees to offset carbon produced by your lifestyle.
So, does this approach really mitigate global climate change or just encourage more “bad behavior” (burning of fossil fuels)? Watch this clever parody of carbon offsetting by a couple of Brits:
Since it is so close to the AP exam and all of you have fulfilled your scribe post obligations, I won’t start the list over. So, here is a collection of links from past classes on major air pollution issues and global climate change for those that missed class. While written a year or two ago, all the info is still correct and relevant:
After testing a handful of vehicles in each class, we tried to analyze the class data for trends. It has become harder and harder to do as vehicle emissions have become so much “cleaner” over the last decade (yes, I said it). If we had the time, this is the data I would love to gather:
Relationship between CO2, CO, HC (Click to enlarge)
One reason vehicles emissions have improved so greatly in the USA, is catalytic converter technology. Catalytic converters speed reactions to reduce the amount of NOx, CO, and HC coming out of an automobile. Check out how catalytic converters work at howstuffworks.com.
Catalytic converters are pollution solutions!
Why does all this matter? Well, NOx have a key role in the formation of ground-level (tropospheric) ozone and photochemical smog. Reduce NOx (and CO and HC), and you reduce ground-level ozone and photochemical smog. You need to be familiar with both types of smog (below) on the AP exam.
HAPPY EARTH DAY! Have you been good to your “mother?” You can see what others are doing around the country at the EPA website: http://www.epa.gov/earthday/
If you did notice lately, it is very “hip” to “green.” I’ve been watching my favorite NBC comedy shows lately, and seeing all these public service announcements for “green week.” Heck, even the NBC peacock logo is green! Check out NBC’s slick website (and the peacock): http://www.nbc.com/Green/
This type of public relations stuff is called “greenwashing.” Here’s a definition (can’t find or recall the source):
Greenwashing is the unjustified appropriation of environmental virtue by a company, an industry, a government, a politician or even a non-government organization to create a pro-environmental image, sell a product or a policy, or to try and rehabilitate their standing with the public and decision makers after being embroiled in controversy.
So, why is what NBC or Fox doing this week considered sorta sly? Well…do you think the network executives are doing it for the network or us (or both)? You decide.
If you want to know more, here are a few “watchdog” sites that monitor greenwashing:
So, be a smart consumer, not all that is green is good. ANY group can claim to be green-there is no government standard! Love to discuss any of this with any of you here or in class one day…can you think of other examples you’ve seen?
*Note: This is a guest post by MattP from the other class.
Before Mr. Thompson, the CEO of a Biodiesel fuel company, came to speak to us on Friday, what did our class know about Biodiesel fuel or even just diesel fuel? We knew that diesel fuel was more expensive at gas stations than gasoline, that trucks and other large vehicles often run on diesel fuel, and that diesel fuel would destroy a gasoline engine. But that was about it.
The first thing Mr. Thompson want to make clear to us was that BIODIESEL IS NOT ETHANOL. Ethanol is a corn-based fuel that is made by distilling the sugars and starches into alcohol. It is then mixed with gasoline. Ethanol is not only less efficient than gasoline but it also takes away from our food supply. Basic rule of economics: when the supply of a product decreases the price increases. On top of its lack of efficiency and the fact that it increases the price of food, because it is corn-based all the same fossil fuel inputs and environmental impacts associated with farming. When you add up all these costs ethanol is energy negative (it takes more energy to make it than it provides) and in the eyes of Mr. Thompson and many others to be a bad fuel.
Mr. Thompson went on to explain what biodiesel fuel actually is and does. Biodiesel is fuel made from natural oils (soy, canola, poultry, algae, or Mr. Thompson’s company made fuel from used cooking oil) that can be used in a diesel engine. It can be combined with petroleum-based diesel fuel in any percentage and still run a diesel engine. In fact, the main reason biodiesel even needs to be mixed with petrodiesel fuel is that it tends to congeal when it is cold and block up engines. Petrodiesel’s lower freezing point prevents this tendency when the two are mixed. Compared to regular diesel fuel biodiesel fuel can also reduce carbon emissions by as much as 75%.
Just a couple of videos to show you how biodiesel fits into our country today
Mr. Thompson finished his lesson by telling us what biodiesel is not. Again IT IS NOT ETHANOL. It is not simply waste vegetable oil taken from someones kitchen and dumped into a gas tank. It has to be processed first or else it would eventually ruin your engine. On the downside, in most places it is not cheaper than regular diesel fuel or gasoline or available in as great quantities… yet. But on the upside it is not flammable, hazardous, carcinogenic, and since it is just natural oils, it biodegrades very quickly.
Biodiesel fuel has many exiting possibilities and in a few decades it could be one of our major sources of fuel.