The magnitude 9 earthquake that shook Japan on March 11 dragged parts of the country 15 feet eastward and moved some seafloor transponders up to 230 feet, the largest earthquake-induced surface displacement ever recorded. More than 20,000 people died, most as a result of the tsunami that hit the coastline a half-hour after the quake. Although Japan has the world’s most advanced earthquake-monitoring system, few researchers had expected a quake of such magnitude. Discover asked Earth scientists and disaster-preparedness experts about the top lessons from the Great East Japan Earthquake. Here is what they said:
- Take the very long view. Models of earthquake risk in Japan were based on a 400-year historical record, but paleoseismic records suggest quakes of this size occur in the country’s Tohoku region every thousand years or so. “If your thinking is based on the last few hundred years, and you haven’t captured a representative time frame for that system, you’re going to be surprised,” says Mark Simons, a geophysicist at Caltech who studied the dynamics of the quake.
- Watch the seafloor. Japan’s earthquake-monitoring network includes 1,200 GPS sensors that track the deformation of the Earth’s crust to help researchers measure and locate the buildup of seismic strain, but these devices do not work underwater. This is a serious limitation: Like 90 percent of all earthquakes greater than magnitude 8, Japan’s temblor happened at sea. Studying movement of the ocean floor currently requires installing acoustic transponders on the bottom and sending a research vessel out to ping them, which can cost half a million dollars per data point. “Land-based measurements have been the cheap answer,” says Georgia Tech geophysicist Andrew Newman, “but a buoy with a GPS and satellite communications could take the place of a ship and help us get more frequent seafloor measurements more affordably.”
- Quake Update : 7.0 Sea Quake Shakes Tokyo, but Causes No Damage (environmentaleducationuk.wordpress.com)
- Japan Earthquake: Magnitude 7.0 Temblor Hits Off Japan’s Pacific Island (huffingtonpost.com)
- Fukushima Earthquake Moved Seafloor Half a Football Field (scientificamerican.com)
- Japan earthquake: Force 7 quake shakes Tokyo hours into new year – Daily Mail (dailymail.co.uk)
- Magnitude 7.0 quake his Japan, no tsunami warning (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
- Magnitude 6.8 quake hits Japan – CNN International (edition.cnn.com)
- Magnitude 6.8 quake hits Japan (cnn.com)
- Magnitude 6.8 quake hits Japan (edition.cnn.com)
- 7.0 earthquake rumbles Japan (bazaardaily.com)
- Magnitude 6.8 quake hits Japan (news.blogs.cnn.com)
From INTELLIGENT LIFE magazine, November/December 2011
Halfway through Brecht’s “Life of Galileo”, there’s a moment when a character called Little Monk tells the world’s most bullish scientist why he should shut up about his latest discovery. The Little Priest tells Galileo about his parents, peasants in Campagna, who know a great deal about olive trees, and not much else. Life is harsh; his father’s back is bent, his mother is exhausted from rearing children, but each day of their lives they have been heartened by the knowledge that God watches over them.
The Little Priest asks Galileo to think about how his parents would feel if he were to say that they lived on a lump of stone and that this stone twists through the universe around a star, and that this star is itself just one among countless other stars. All this may be true, the Little Priest says, but for his mum and dad, the discovery—to paraphrase—would be a real downer.
When “Life of Galileo” opened in Beverley Hills in 1947 with Charles Laughton in the lead, part of its power came from the knowledge that the scientific discovery at the forefront of the audience’s mind was not the four moons of Jupiter, but the atomic bombs that had exploded over Hiroshima and Nagasaki two years before. This was as daunting a new fact as anything that the Campagnan peasants might have faced three centuries earlier.
Every big scientific moment is also a cultural one. The Lisbon earthquake that killed an estimated 30,000 people in 1755 gave birth to the science of seismology. It also inspired writings by Kant, Rousseau and, most famously, Voltaire, who describes the earthquake in “Candide”, and the impact it had on the notion that there was a benevolent God watching over “the best of all possible worlds”. A century later, the ideas in Darwin’s “Origin of Species” would be played out, absorbed and contested in the novels of George Eliot and Thomas Hardy. Fifty years after that, Einstein’s Theory of Relativity paved the way for modernism in all the arts.
This process continues today. From the latest novel by Ian McEwan to a sculpture by Antony Gormley to a dance piece by Siobhan Davies, more and more artists are drawn to the issues that arise from the findings of climate scientists. Some of these artistic efforts, such as recent plays at the National Theatre and the Royal Court in London, have been merely topical, addressing the theme as if it is a subject that could be researched and digested in six months and then presented either as an earnest documentary drama (at the National) or the pretext for some very funny, if inaccurate, jokes (at the Royal Court). There has only been one playwright who has tackled the subject with wit and authority—Steve Waters, with his play “The Contingency Plan”. He gave a sense that he had lived with these issues for years. But the best example so far of a work of art that has been inspired by climate science is Cormac McCarthy’s novel “The Road”. McCarthy listened hard to what climate scientists were telling him and then wrote a masterpiece that makes no direct mention of the subject. He didn’t have to. As Seamus Heaney has remarked in another context, “environmental issues have to a large extent changed the mind of poetry”.
This may be the moment, in my last Going Green column, to spell out this column’s idea of going green. It is not first and foremost about changing to low-energy lightbulbs, driving a Prius, cutting back on flights, insulating your loft or growing vegetables on your roof. All these are worth doing, so long as you remember the words of the British government’s chief scientific adviser, David Mackay—“If everyone does a little, we’ll achieve only a little.” Going green is more about absorbing the scientific consensus that has emerged over the last 50 years: resources are finite, the planet is fragile, our activities are having a dangerous impact on the atmosphere. To take this on board is to change the way you see the world. Even people who resent the sanctimonious tendencies of the greens can see that a great cultural shift has taken place; one that, in the opinion of Tim Smit, who founded the Eden Project in Cornwall, may turn out to be as far-reaching as the Renaissance or the Reformation.
Does that mean that art-lovers and theatre-goers are in for many more gloomy, doom-laden paintings and plays? Perhaps not. The response from artists is moving rapidly away from the clichés of collapsing icesheets and polar bears perched on lonely icebergs. More and more, playwrights, directors and artists talk about approaching this subject through ideas of resilience, survival, adaptation and improvisation. They want to move audiences through stories of hope, endurance and resourcefulness. And that takes us back to the beginnings of narrative art, to Homer and his hero, Odysseus the Cunning.
If sustainability is about one thing, it’s survival. Probably the most famous story of all about survival appears in “One Thousand and One Nights”. Scheherazade volunteers to marry King Shahryar knowing it is his custom to take a virgin in marriage each night and kill her the next morning. She survives from one night to the next by telling stories that never quite finish. It’s her art that keeps her alive. But it does so in two ways. Night by night, story by story, she effects a change in the king’s cruel heart, awakening his imagination and sympathy. After a thousand and one nights, the king reveals his love for her. By surviving, Scheherazade shows that art not only reflects the world, it changes it too.
Robert Butler blogs on culture and the environment at the Ashden Directory. He is one of the editors of “Culture and Climate Change: Recordings”.
- NYTimes attacks Perry for Galileo comment (junkscience.com)
- If Climate Change Were Galileo, Would Rick Perry be the Vatican? (ibtimes.com)
- Rick Perry: Modern Day Galileo Who Busted The Climate Change Hoax (ibtimes.com)
- ANN ALTHOUSE NOT IMPRESSED WITH JAMES FALLOWS’ TAKE ON GALILEO. You know, when you’re calling som… (pajamasmedia.com)
- Rick Perry Would Have Persecuted Galileo (littlegreenfootballs.com)
- Divining Perry’s meaning on Galileo remark (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
- The Caucus: Divining Perry’s Meaning in ‘Galileo’ Remark (thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com)
- Rick Perry’s Inane Miscue on Galileo and Climate Change (thinkprogress.org)
- Rick Perry On Jon Huntsman Science Attack At GOP Debate: ‘Galileo Got Outvoted For A Spell’ (mediaite.com)
- Memo to Rick Perry: Galileo Was a Liberal (desmogblog.com)
ORIGINAL ARTICLE BY DAWN STOVER | 22 NOVEMBER 2011
“Clean.” “Green.” What do those words mean? When President Obama talks about “clean energy,” some people think of “clean coal” and low-carbon nuclear power, while others envision shiny solar panels and wind turbines. And when politicians tout “green jobs,” they might just as easily be talking about employment at General Motors as at Greenpeace. “Clean” and “green” are wide open to interpretation and misappropriation; that’s why they’re so often mentioned in quotation marks. Not so for renewable energy, however.
Somehow, people across the entire enviro-political spectrum seem to have reached a tacit, near-unanimous agreement about what renewable means: It’s an energy category that includes solar, wind, water, biomass, and geothermal power. As the US Energy Department explains it to kids: “Renewable energy comes from things that won’t run out — wind, water, sunlight, plants, and more. These are things we can reuse over and over again. … Non-renewable energy comes from things that will run out one day — oil, coal, natural gas, and uranium.”
Renewable energy sounds so much more natural and believable than a perpetual-motion machine, but there’s one big problem: Unless you’re planning to live without electricity and motorized transportation, you need more than just wind, water, sunlight, and plants for energy. You need raw materials, real estate, and other things that will run out one day. You need stuff that has to be mined, drilled, transported, and bulldozed — not simply harvested or farmed. You need non-renewable resources:
• Solar power. While sunlight is renewable — for at least another four billion years — photovoltaic panels are not. Nor is desert groundwater, used in steam turbines at some solar-thermal installations. Even after being redesigned to use air-cooled condensers that will reduce its water consumption by 90 percent, California’s Blythe Solar Power Project, which will be the world’s largest when it opens in 2013, will require an estimated 600 acre-feet of groundwater annually for washing mirrors, replenishing feedwater, and cooling auxiliary equipment.
• Geothermal power. These projects also depend on groundwater — replenished by rain, yes, but not as quickly as it boils off in turbines. At the world’s largest geothermal power plant, the Geysers in California, for example, production peaked in the late 1980s and then the project literally began running out of steam.
• Wind power. According to the American Wind Energy Association, the 5,700 turbines installed in the United States in 2009 required approximately 36,000 miles of steel rebar and 1.7 million cubic yards of concrete (enough to pave a four-foot-wide, 7,630-mile-long sidewalk). The gearbox of a two-megawatt wind turbine contains about 800 pounds of neodymium and 130 pounds of dysprosium – rare earth metalsthat are rare because they’re found in scattered deposits, rather than in concentrated ores, and are difficult to extract.
• Biomass. In developed countries, biomass is envisioned as a win-win way to produce energy while thinning wildfire-prone forests or anchoring soil with perennialswitchgrass plantings. But expanding energy crops will mean less land for food production, recreation, and wildlife habitat. In many parts of the world where biomass is already used extensively to heat homes and cook meals, this renewable energy is responsible for severe deforestation and air pollution.
• Hydropower. Using currents, waves, and tidal energy to produce electricity is still experimental, but hydroelectric power from dams is a proved technology. It already supplies about 16 percent of the world’s electricity, far more than all other renewable sources combined. Maybe that’s why some states with renewable portfolio standardsdon’t count hydropower as a renewable energy source; it’s so common now, it just doesn’t fit the category formerly known as “alternative” energy. Still, that’s not to say that hydropower is more renewable than solar or wind power. The amount of concrete and steel in a wind-tower foundation is nothing compared with Grand Coulee or Three Gorges, and dams have an unfortunate habit of hoarding sediment and making fish, well, non-renewable.
All of these technologies also require electricity transmission from rural areas to population centers. Wilderness is not renewable once roads and power-line corridors fragment it. And while proponents would have you believe that a renewable energy project churns out free electricity forever, the life expectancy of a solar panel or wind turbine is actually shorter than that of a conventional power plant. Even dams are typically designed to last only about 50 years. So what, exactly, makes renewable energy different from coal, oil, natural gas, and nuclear power?
Renewable technologies are often less damaging to the climate and create fewer toxic wastes than conventional energy sources. But meeting the world’s total energy demands in 2030 with renewable energy alone would take an estimated 3.8 million wind turbines (each with twice the capacity of today’s largest machines), 720,000 wave devices, 5,350 geothermal plants, 900 hydroelectric plants, 490,000 tidal turbines, 1.7 billion rooftop photovoltaic systems, 40,000 solar photovoltaic plants, and 49,000 concentrated solar power systems. That’s a heckuva lot of neodymium.
Unfortunately, “renewable energy” is a meaningless term with no established standards. Like an emperor parading around without clothes, it gets a free pass, because nobody dares to confront an inconvenient truth: None of our current energy technologies are truly renewable, at least not in the way they are currently being deployed. We haven’t discoveredany form of energy that is completely clean and recyclable, and the notion that such an energy source can ever be found is a mirage.
The only genuinely sustainable energy scenario is one in which energy demands do not continue to escalate indefinitely. As a recent commentary by Jane C. S. Long in Naturepointed out, meeting ambitious targets for reducing greenhouse gases cannot be accomplished with “piecemeal reductions,” such as increased use of wind power and biofuels. Long did the math for California and discovered that even if the state replaced or retrofitted every building to very high efficiency standards, ran almost all of its cars on electricity, and doubled its electricity-generation capacity while simultaneously replacing it with emissions-free energy sources, California could only reduce emissions by perhaps 60 percent below 1990 levels — far less than its 80 percent target. Long says reaching that target “will take new technology.” Maybe so, but it will also take a new honesty about the limitations of technology. Notably, Long doesn’t mention the biggest obstacle to meeting California’s emissions-reduction goal: The state’s population is expected to grow from today’s 40 million to 60 million by 2050.
There are now seven billion humans on this planet. Until we find a way to reduce our energy consumption and to share Earth’s finite resources more equitably among nations and generations, “renewable” energy might as well be called “miscellaneous.”
- 2011 Renewable Energy Recap: Tides, Turbines, and Big Thinking (spectrum.ieee.org)
- All eyes on German renewable energy efforts (mysanantonio.com)
- Grid Parity Arriving with a Fury! (insightadvisor.wordpress.com)
- 2011: ‘Swift and steady’ progress on renewable energy (summitcountyvoice.com)
- All Eyes on German Renewable Energy Efforts (abcnews.go.com)
- All Eyes on German Renewable Energy Efforts (abcnews.go.com)
- How renewable energy is a disruptive technology [GigaOM] (gigaom.com)
- Envision Energy’s Flowing Wind Turbine Headquarters is Inspired by Wind Energy (inhabitat.com)
- Hard hit clean-tech companies are show-me stocks in 2012 (theglobeandmail.com)
- UK investment in green energy stagnates at £2.5bn (guardian.co.uk)
A difficult year for the government as their forests sell-off plan was abandoned – but difficult for Natural England too. The Guardian reports | http://twitter.com/#!/LearnFromNature
2011 was a torrid year for what remains of natural Britain. There was a cold winter, a glorious but very dry spring, an Autumnal heatwave and a late drought, but the government which promised to be the greenest ever, was pilloried for its proposed actions on planning, forests, air quality, climate change, solar energy, sustainable development, biodiversity, nuclear power, badgers, geo-engineering, rivers, shale gas, energy conservation, roads, public transport and a lot more besides. Only a few nuclear industry fans and some optimistic marine conservationists had much to celebrate.
It started terribly for the politicians. By mid-January protesters in the Forest of Dean and the Lake District had made it clear that plans to sell off 250,000ha of the English forestry estate were barmy. In the next few weeks, more than 500,000 people signed a petition to stop it, and environment secretary Caroline Spelman unified left and right, crusty and county, young and old, the National Trust and the Countryside Alliance against her plan. Remarkably, the only people standing up for it appeared to be some of the big wildlife conservation groups who, close to government, possibly stood to benefit, along with rich landowners.
Cameron had to step in and Spelman was forced to withdraw the plans and apologise profusely in the Commons for “having got it wrong”. A panel of the great and the good was set up to reconsider the future of English forests and and will report back in the spring of 2012.
But an even more embarrassing confrontation with the public came in July with government’s draft plans to dismantle the entire planning system. Nobody objected to rationalisation, but the proposed presumption in favour of development over all social and environmental considerations led to apoplexy among organisations as disparate asFriends of the Earth and the CPRE, Campaign for Better Transport, local authorities and the Theatres Trust. Most feared a return to sprawl, the demise of favourite places, and damaging free for all development in suitable places.
The National Trust, its gander up after leading the fight against the forest sell-off, went head to head with the government, and got 200,000 signatures to try to force a climbdown. But while opposition simmered through the year as a long consultation took place, the tipping point may have been reached in December when a powerful committee of MPsdemanded that the “default yes” to development be removed from the text. The planning minister, Grant Shapps must decide soon.
However, the government did please that half of the population which felt that the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan should not delay the building of 10 reactors in Britain. The UK’s chief inspector of nuclear installations, Mike Weightman, reported in May that the Japanese disaster was no reason to abandon nuclear power, but it later emerged that extra safety checks mean the first station cannot now be delivered before 2019, and could cost vastly more than expected. Meanwhile, ministers revealed that the government wanted to build a plant for processing nuclear waste, just four months after a similar plant costing the taxpayer £1.4bn was closed.
A combination of the recession and a mild winter had seen UK carbon emissions fall in 2009, but in March 2011 the latest figures showed them up by nearly 3%. The better news, said Decc, was that the UK had now cut greenhouse gas emissions by 24.8% since 1990 and now generates nearly 25% of its electricity from low carbon, nuclear and renewable sources.
Undeterred by its unpopularity in the countryside, the government gave in to pressure by farmers to slaughter over eight years, as many as 105,000 badgers, which, it is alleged, cost the nation as much as £100m a year by spreading TB. The cull, to be carried out in Wales and the west country, will be carried out by farmers with rifles and is likely to be strongly opposed by animal lovers.
Hopes that shale gas, locked in rocks deep below Lancashire and elsewhere, could compensate for dwindling north sea oil and gas reserves were raised in September when Australian fracking companyCuadrilla announced that it had “gas in-place” in its licence area in Lancashire of 200 trillion cubic feet – more than the entire previous UK proven gas reserves, and many times what the British Geological Survey had estimated. But reality struck when scientists concluded that the test drilling earlier in the year had “highly probably” set off two mild earthquakes and protesters invaded the company rigs. Deutsche Bank calmed nerves when its analysis suggested it was extremely unlikely that there would be a bonanza or that it would reduce gas prices.
Finally, conservation had a bad year. Powerful groups like the RSPB, the Wildlife Trusts, the Woodland trust, Plantlife, Buglife and Butterfly Conservation could all point to individual successes, but Natural England, the official body responsible for advising and defending the natural world at the highest levels of government, effectively lost its voice. Its budget was cut to the bone, many of its best people left, and in the words of ecologist Peter Marren, author of Nature Conservation, “our wildlife watchdog has morphed into a pathetic delivery boy, charged with attending to “customer focus”.
The longterm consequences on wildlife may not be seen for years, but the government gave notice of what it is planning, asking the public through its “red tape challenge” to identify regulations and laws that could be lifted to allow business to perform better. Under the environment topic, the 159 regulations on biodiversity, wildlife management, landscape, countryside and recreation are specifically mentioned, as well as the regulations on air quality, energy labelling and sustainable products. The potential for rolling back 60 years of environmental protection is now greater than ever.
The possibility of deep embarrassment for Britain at the London Olympics as well as swingeing EU fines helped to shoot air pollution way up the national agenda in 2011. Government figures released in Juneshowed that 17 regions and cities, including London, Manchester, Birmingham, Glasgow and Cardiff, were well above the legal limit for N02 emission, and were not expected to get below it for another five years. Meanwhile, particulate pollution – the minute sooty particles mainly from traffic that get deep into the lungs – was shown to be linked to thousands of deaths every year.
The London Assembly urged mayor Boris Johnstone to take action and the environment audit committee thundered that air pollution now costs £8.5-20bn per year and is leading to 4000 premature deaths a year. But the government avoided being sued by activist lawyers ClientEarth working with Clean Air London. Sadly, Environmental Protection UK, one of the world’s oldest environment groups, folded as a national organisation in November after 114 years fighting air pollution.
The bravest man of the year was surely comedian David Walliams whospent eight days swimming the Thames for charity in September. Within hours of starting he was violently ill, having caught a dose of water pollution. Happily it wasn’t as bad as that which struck down and killeddouble Olympic gold medal winner Andy Holmes, who died only months before after catching a bacterial infection in a river.
The irony, not lost on conservationists trying to protect river habitats, is that government can say that British rivers have never been cleaner in 100 years because they only measure some pollutants. In fact 75% fail new EU standards, nitrate levels are higher than they were 140 years ago and raw sewage regularly floods into the Thames and other rivers whenever there is a storm because the drains cannot cope.
- Japan’s nuclear disaster response was riddled with problems, says report (thehindu.com)
- Japan Probe Finds Nuclear Disaster Response Failed (theromangate.wordpress.com)
- Wildlife Update : Let’s blame the badger, shall we… ? (environmentaleducationuk.wordpress.com)
- National Trust switches off solar power plans as ministers cut returns (telegraph.co.uk)
- The fallout from the Fukushima disaster (guardian.co.uk)
- Japan Recommends Temporary State Control for Tokyo Electric – New York Times (nytimes.com)
- ‘Lack of preparation and poor communication’: Damning assessment of Japan’s response to nuclear crisis following deadly tsunami (dailymail.co.uk)
- Report condemns Japan’s response to nuclear accident (mysanantonio.com)