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Independent Professional: Experienced educator and management consultant for engineering educational institutions, researcher, trainer, technical consultant on sustainable technologies, related to cement manufacturing and characterisation, using industrial and agricultural wastes in cement and concrete, durability of concrete and fuel cell power.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Environemental challenges for 2009

Environmental challenges for 2009

Dr J D Bapat

Tackling climate change and its consequences, reforming the EU's Common Agricultural Policy, improving air quality and reducing the environmental impact of biofuels will top the bloc's environmental policy debates in the coming year, according to the European Environment Agency (EEA). Looking at the issues, it appears that they remain same for rest of the world.

The EEA snapshot of key environmental policy debates in 2009 singles out "global diplomacy and the search for a successor to the Kyoto Protocol" as the main topic to be discussed, followed by adapting to climate change and water management issues.

As for upcoming reform of the EU's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), it is argued that current distribution of CAP funds is not very effective from the perspective of achieving EU environmental objectives, in particular on nature protection. It suggests that the review should consider widening access to financial support to farmland, particularly rich in habitats and species of conservation concern and particularly to high nature value farmland.

Intensive farms do not support biodiversity and are not all that dependent on CAP payments. Regarding biofuels, it is noted that the switch from oil to bioenergy is not risk free and a move towards large-scale bioenergy production would carry considerable environmental risk, particularly in terms of land-use change.

The EEA thus believes that Europe should progress further by beginning to research advanced second-generation biofuels seriously to account for their effects on soil, water, biodiversity and greenhouse gas emissions.

Other hot topics in 2009 include marine management and international waste imports and exports.

The greenhouse gas emissions are just one symptom of a much deeper issue: our inability to live sustainably.

Source: EurActiv.com, 13 January 2009

Corn to cool the earth

Corn to cool the earth

Dr J D Bapat

A new study finds that increasing the glossiness or reflectivity of crop surfaces could cool earth in the summer. The scientists view it as the most cost-effective geoengineering solution for global warming.

The waxy coating of crops such as corn and barley reflects solar radiation back into space--a property called "albedo." Without crop albedo, estimates suggest that Earth would be approximately a half a degree Celsius warmer than it is now. If researchers increase the crop albedo further, they could help cool our warming world. Increasing crop albedo by 20% could decrease regional temperatures by 1°C in the summer. Over 100 years, the effect would equate to eliminating 195 billion tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere, the equivalent of grounding 195 million plane flights from Los Angeles to New York. One way to increase albedo is to selectively breed plants with thicker waxy layers.

Modifying the crop albedo offers advantages not found in other geoengineering proposals, such as practicality and low cost to implement. However it should be noted that making crops more glossy will not solve global warming by itself. It is a simple, small step that we can take to start making a difference.

Researchers propose that one way of temporarily reducing global temperatures would be to replace existing crops with variant strains that reflect more solar radiation back out to space. The overall effect would be the same as making large areas of the planet more mirror-like. Their calculations suggest this could cause average summer temperatures in temperate zones to fall by as much as 1°C.

The politicians have generally adopted the aim of limiting global warming to 2°C above 19th century averages, so a 1°C is not something to be taken lightly.

Plants reflects short wave energy back out to space much like snow and other light surfaces do. As Arctic ice melts and is replaced by dark water, for instance, the region's warming is expected to accelerate . Plants have higher or lower reflectivity depending on things like the shape and size of their leaves and how waxy they are. Different varieties of a same species can have more or less albedo.

The crop yields would not suffer, if farmers preferentially planted high-albedo varieties. Indeed for some crops yields might increase. The farmers would need to be given incentives – most likely financial ones – to buy high-albedo varieties. The researchers say one way of setting up these incentives would be to make high-albedo farms eligible for carbon credits which could be sold on the carbon trading markets.

Source: ScienceNOW Daily News, 15 January 2009