US Green Market Investments

Contribution by: Emily Chan, 16′

There has always been controversy within the US over investing in renewable energy sources. For instance, a portion of Obama’s alternative energy investments has ended up declaring bankruptcy. Though only calculated to have a “failure rate of about 8%,” the other companies which did fail, such as Solyndra, created a politically unfavorable climate for future investments into renewable energy sources. The focus for reelection for politicians in the US has shifted attention away from renewable energy sources and has taken us to the point where other countries have surpassed the US (who was previously number 1) in the market for green energy. In recent green market headlines, China has finally reclaimed their spot as number 1 in green energy investments. A Yahoo finance article noted how “Green investments in China in 2012 rose 20% to $65 billion while they fell 37% in the U.S. to just under $36 billion.”

Divergent investment opportunities and specific government policies have caused this significant difference in investment amounts. China has enacted long term goals, which give incentive to investors since China will mostly likely follow through due to their increasing pollution problems. Meanwhile, the US has disjointed policies, without an umbrella federal policy for reducing emissions. Only a select amount of states have issued any explicit goals, leaving investors questioning the future for the US green market. As Phyllis Cuttino, director of the clean energy program at Pew explains: “When a country has a strong target and a consistent policy, investors will go invest.”

 Perhaps what the US needs is a bipartisan renewable energy investment plan, one that puts the responsibility on not only the federal government but also state governments to invest in renewable energy. That way, each state can find the energy system most effective for their location. Google has an interesting method that puts the power of investment into a level even more localized than state governments- the consumer’s hands. Martin LeMonica in the MIT Technology Review explains how Google has planned for “utilities own renewable energy projects and customers have the option to purchase a portion of their energy production.” In that sense, the increased cost of the new type of energy production is placed directly on the buyer, and this increases the individual’s responsibilities in terms of responsible energy production.

We can try a top down or bottom up approach, both are not mutually exclusive. Yet, to enact these policies takes the right timing and funding. For now, now that the election season is over, we can finally focus on how we can invest for the future.


Nuclear Power in Namibia

Contribution by: Jocelyn Powelson, 14′Image
Production of nuclear power is a very controversial subject among environmentalists; on the one hand, nuclear power produces no greenhouse gases, but on the other hand, storage of hazardous nuclear waste and safety of the power plants are still in need of big improvements. I had the opportunity to visit the Rössing uranium mine while in Namibia this past fall and struggled with these conflicting views. Rössing is one of the largest open-pit uranium mines in the world and provides about 8 percent of the world’s uranium. While standing at the edge of such a massive pit gauged into the Earth, my immediate gut reaction was of pure disgust. But then I began to think about the fact that this single pit, even if it is massive and ugly, provides the same amount of energy as thousands and thousands of coal mines (the energy-density of uranium-235 is 3 million times that of coal). Maybe it’s better to have a single mine like this in the middle of a desert (Rössing is located in the Namib desert) rather than blasting off the tops of hundreds of mountains in West Virginia in an effort to obtain coal.
Of course, this mine comes with its own hazards; radon dust (uranium decays into radon) can cause serious lung problems, particularly if worker safety isn’t a top priority. While upon first glance, the Namib desert appears completely dead, its delicate ecosystem is actually home to a huge variety of endemic species, which the mine does threaten to some extent. And of course, there is no way to ensure that the uranium that comes from this mine will be used in safe nuclear power plants or that the waste resulting from these plants will be stored safely as it decays into the future, well past the lifetime of the human race.
Is the promise of clean, carbon-free energy with a comparatively miniscule footprint on the Earth’s surface worth these dangers? The debate will continue raging, and only time will tell.

Peru’s Stand Against GMOs




Contribution by: Maya Wilcher, 16′

This past November, Peru placed a ten year ban on GMO foods throughout the country.  The ban “prohibits the import, production and use of genetically modified foods. The law is aimed at safeguarding the country’s agricultural diversity and preventing cross-pollination with non-GMO crops. It will also help protect Peruvian exports of organic products.”

 The decision was prompted by pressure from the Parque de la Papa in Cusco, a farming community of 6,000 members that represent six different communities.   One of their primary fears over GMOs is the loss of biodiversity and the compromising affects on native species such as purple corn and Peruvian potatoes.  Peru has one of the top ten biodiversities in the world, and famous Lima chef Pedro Schiaffino claims that, “in a country as diverse as ours, GMOs make no sense.”

The debate over GMOs is far from resolved, as advocates argue that they increase yields, allowing the world to feed a growing population and helping farmers adapt to climate change.  Critics warn of the dangers to the environment and to human health, and the dependency GMOs create between farmers and the corporations that provide GMO seeds.  Many countries have placed bans on the cultivation of GMO crops, while others place restrictions on their growth and labeling.  The US, despite polls showing that more than 90% of Americans want GMOs to be labelled, refuses to require GMO labeling.  Since 2010, agribusiness corporations have contributed about $300 million to influence Congress towards the massive introduction of GMO foods into society.

Only time will tell when it comes to GMOs, but for now, Peru has vowed to protect the rights of its citizens and farmers over the interests of corporate agriculture.

Ice Cores Lab at Thayer

Ice Cores Lab at Thayer

Today we had the opportunity to visit the ice cores lab at Thayer School of Engineering. Kaitlin Keegan, an IGERT and grad student at Thayer, was kind enough to show us around the building and let us into the lab to show what a firn looks like.

We learned that polar ice sheets are important in Earth’s climate system and tell us a lot about environmental conditions in the past, like temperature and amount of carbon in the atmosphere. We got to see a firn from Greenland, which a part of is being used to improve understanding of the environment and climate throughout history.

Special thanks to Alden Adolph and Kaitlin Keegan for making this awesome experience happen!