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Despite Dominance of Syria Debate, Environmental Policies Make Headway

Disagreements over the Syrian chemical weapons crisis didn’t stop leaders from reaching a consensus to phase down production and consumption of refrigerant greenhouse gases and phase out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies at the G-20 Summit in Russia. The world’s top greenhouse gas emitters—the U.S. and China—agreed to set up a contact group to explore specific issues related to the phase down under the Montreal Protocol. Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) are hundreds to tens of thousands of times more potent greenhouse gases than carbon dioxide. Addressing HFCs would yield enormous climate benefits, reducing as much as 90 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent between now and 2050, or roughly two years of global greenhouse gas emissions at current levels, the White House estimates.

In the Senate, debates surrounding a military force in Syria shifted to bipartisan energy efficiency legislation.

“The Republican Leader and I have agreed that the Senate will return to the Shaheen-Portman energy efficiency bill,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). “I think it’s appropriate that rather than sit here and tread water or do nothing, that we move onto this bill.”

The bill, which is backed by the White House, is intended to train workers in energy efficient building technologies and bolster conservation efforts at federal agencies, among other provisions. The bill had been poised for floor action after long delays prior to questions over Syria. If passed, it would be the first considerable energy legislation in six years. Compared with the 310-page 2007 bill, which cost the government millions and strengthened fuel-economy standards for vehicles and renewable fuel standards for liquid fuels, the current bill is just 30 pages long, fully offsets costs and contains only one mandatory measure: making the federal government’s use of energy more efficient. The bill is not without pushback: the Heritage Foundation urges senators to reject the legislation.

Bird Lung a “Model” for Smokestack Clean Up

Better capturing carbon dioxide from smokestacks could involve modeling new technology from bird lungs and the swim bladders of fish. Speaking at the 264th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society, Aaron P. Esser-Kahn of the University of California, Irvine, said his research team mimicked the arrangements of blood vessels in bird lungs and fish swim bladders in its latest study (subscription). The team envisions carbon dioxide capture units with an array of tubes made from porous membranes fitted side-by-side, similar to natural blood vessels. These units—scalable in size—would plug in to power plants, not unlike a car’s catalytic converter.

The research, now under review by a journal, was shared just days ahead of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s expected release of proposed rules that establish limits on carbon emissions from new power plants. Power plants are the single largest source of carbon pollution in the country, and a new report suggests three of the dirtiest power plants are in North Carolina.

Tidal Projects Slated to Harness Energy, Freshwater

Seventeen projects that focus on capturing tidal power will get $16 million in backing from the U.S. Department of Energy. The projects range from improving existing tidal power devices to monitoring impacts on marine life.

An Austrian marine developer has taken a different spin on harnessing waves. The company, Carnegie Wave Energy LTD., plans to use tidal power to create the world’s first wave-powered desalination plant. The plant will integrate reverse osmosis desalination technology with the infrastructure of an adjoining wave energy project.

The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.