Environment

Bill Schlesinger's Blog

Along with carbon dioxide, a suite of other gases absorb infra-red radiation that is leaving the Earth’s atmosphere, causing global warming.  Methane is one of those gases.  Methane is composed of one carbon atom and four hydrogen atoms, so its chemical formula is CH4.

Bill Schlesinger's Blog

No one likes pests:  mosquitoes at your barbeque, termites in your basement, caterpillars on your garden vegetables and field crops.  In the past 70 years, the chemical industry has developed a remarkably effective arsenal of chemicals designed to kill pests.  DDT was among the first.  Organophosphate insecticides soon followed.  Now, insecticides in the family of neonicotinoid compounds are under great scrutiny, with billions of profits at stake for Bayer and Syngenta if these insecticides are outlawed.

What really happens

I’ve been recycling since I was in grade school in the late 1950s. As a school project, we collected and sorted newspapers and magazines.  In college, we recycled aluminum cans. By the mid-1970s, I was separating and recycling paper, aluminum and glass. The sorting was not very difficult, but it did require me to have separate containers in my garage.

The Importance of Welands

Lots of folks don’t understand the value of small wetlands and ponds.  When I lived in upstate New York, land developers hated wetlands because they reduced the housing density they could build on a new tract.  A few years ago I was traveling with a woman who proudly told me that she dumped her grass clippings in the wetland behind her house in Arizona.  (For this moment, I will let go of the wisdom of a lawn in Phoenix).  Many people associate wetlands with mosquitoes.

Sometimes environmentalists get accused of being against everything, so it’s important to speak out when the science suggests that a new technology is not obviously harmful to the environment.  Right now, I think that is the case with most forms of manufactured nanoparticles.  I expected the worst, but the available science is more reassuring.

Just what are nanoparticles?  Like the name suggests, these are very small particles—less than about 300 nanometers in diameter.  At the moment, the EPA regulates air pollution by particles that are less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter, known as PM2.5, which includes nanoparticles, but also particles that are as much as 8X larger.  Particles less than 2.5 um in diameter can be inhaled deep into our lungs, where they can lead to undesirable effects.

Very small particles are ubiquitous in nature. Many of the clay minerals in soils are found in particles that fall into the size range of nanoparticles. Woodsmoke also contains particles of that size and larger.

“You must have the bird in your heart before you can find it in the bush.”

                         John Burroughs

May 10- The faces of ten adorable-looking frogs—some of which, presumed to be extinct, have not been seen since 1914—adorn a “Wanted Alive” poster. The frogs are the stars of an international campaign spearheaded by Dr. Robin Moore, a Scottish photographer and expert on amphibians. The missing frogs were native to a broad range of habitats in countries including Australia, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Israel, Turkmenistan, Venezuela, and numerous African countries.  

Moore began his hunt for the lost frogs in 2010. “In Search of Lost Frogs,”his book about his campaign, was published in 2014. Moore presented his passionate pursuit and defense of these critically endangered species on May 1 at the Cary Institute. 

Moore cited the Global Amphibian Assessment, a survey of amphibians that concludes that half of all amphibians are facing extinction.  

May 10- Recently, when I saw the driver of an SUV pitch a soda can out the window, I wondered “how many cans would he need to recycle each day to make up for the energy he uses to drive his SUV?”  May be that I am a zealot, but perhaps each of us can do a few little things each day that can help redeem our bigger sins against the environment.

The statistics were not difficult to find and rather sobering. U.S. citizens recycle more than 60% of all beverage cans each year, and each can saves 94% of the energy that would be used to make aluminum from new ore. Each can that is recycled saves 2.1 megajoules (MJ) of energy (a megajoule is roughly the energy contained in one fluid ounce of gasoline).  So the 60,000,000,000 cans that are recycled each year save a lot of energy—but only 0.15% of the annual energy used in the United States.