Category: Stories

Things I have written, and such

Power with Drunk?

Power with Drunk?

Spent brewery grain (via Flickr, under a Creative Commons license)

In Fort Collins, a city that sometimes seems to be powered by beer, businesses are looking at an innovative power plant to run on spent brewery grains.

A Sept. 23 column in the Northern Colorado Business Report — “Beer-powered syngas plant slated to give FortZED a buzz” — explores the backers’ claims and potential interests.

Here’s a sip from the article:

If all goes well, the same partners hope to build a four-megawatt gasification power plant in Fort Collins, using local spent grains and other brewery waste. The beer-fueled electricity would be enough to offset the energy needs of several local microbreweries, and another two megawatts of waste heat would be recaptured and could be sent to a brewery or other business to replace the use of natural gas.

“It’s an extremely innovative project, and one that’s receiving international attention,” said Ryan Speir, acting CEO of the Rocky Mountain Innosphere.

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A Discernible Human Influence

A Discernible Human Influence

Stephen Schneider

When Stephen Schneider died in July 2010, the climate science community lost one of its leading and most articulate voices, but colleagues and a new generation of researchers are carrying forth his spirit and approach to understanding and explaining the impacts of climate change.

This August, hundreds of Schneider’s fellow scientists gathered in Boulder to remember him and also share their own research exploring the topics that he helped bring attention to with policymakers and the public. My September 2011 article for Miller-McCune, “A Discernible Human Influence: Schneider and Climate Change,” recounts the personal and intellectual impacts Schneider had on his colleagues and explores how scientists are tackling the latest and largest questions surrounding climate science and policy.

 

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Rare-Earth Reality Check

Rare-Earth Reality Check

Powdered oxides of rare-earth minerals (Peggy Greb, USDA ARS)

A run on rare earth metals, used to make solar panels, military hardware and cell phones, is driving a frenzy for mining claims in the West.

My April 17, 2011 story in High Country News looks at the rush and the reality behind a rare-earth boom in the U.S.

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How We Recreate

How We Recreate

“Barring love and war, few enterprises are undertaken with such abandon, or by such diverse individuals, or with so paradoxical a mixture of appetite and altruism, as that group of avocations known as outdoor recreation,” wrote Aldo Leopold, in his essay, “The Conservation Esthetic.”

Outdoor recreation is a sort of religion in the Rocky Mountain West, where huge expanses of public lands protect massive natural spaces. And like religion, there are myriad ways to recreate and the different paths to enlightenment don’t always work great in the same places.

In the Fall 2010 issue of Headwaters Magazine, published by the Colorado Foundation for Water Education, my article, “Colorado’s Culture of Recreation,” explores the state’s recreational habits and how resource managers are planning for the growing number of people — and the shifting demographics — that are heading outdoors.

As an addendum, since this story went to print, the state parks department has been faced with closures and oil and gas development (via the Denver Post) in order to meet budget needs.  Appetite and altruism, as Leopold wrote, will both be necessary along with consideration for what we’re protecting and enjoying in our parks, wildernesses, and other natural areas.

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Flight Risk

Flight Risk

The following article appears in the Autumn 2010 issue of Nature Conservancy Magazine

Up in the Air

Climate Change Compounds Threats to Birds

Red knots in Delaware Bay, New Jersey (Photo: NJ DEP)

Each spring the red knot, a shorebird with a rust-colored belly, transects the globe, flying from the southern tip of South America to the northern reaches of the Arctic. Midway through this flight, the birds lay over at the Delaware Bay, where they refuel by gorging on tens of thousands of horseshoe crab eggs.

In the 1990s, this age-old migration ran into trouble when red knot populations began crashing. Evidence pointed largely to shellfish overharvesting, but recent observations by birders and researchers have revealed an additional threat from climate change: Warmer temperatures are prompting the horseshoe crabs to lay their eggs earlier in the year, meaning less food for the migratory birds when they arrive at the bay.

These findings and other research about the impact of climate change on birds are the focus of the 2010 State of the Birds report, issued by scientists from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, The Nature Conservancy, federal agencies and other organizations. The group’s 2009 report found that roughly one-third of bird species in the United States are endangered or are in serious decline.

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Beefing Up Family Farms

Beefing Up Family Farms

Ranchers in their white cowboys hats, at a federal government hearing on meatpacker consolidation and farm policy (Photo: Kris Hite)

A few weeks ago, Fort Collins hosted the most critical moment in the history of the American cattle industry, at least according to one rancher advocacy organization. A U.S. government hearing on the monopolization of the meatpacking industry brought thousands of farmers and ranchers to town to share their tough-luck stories of survival.

I covered the proceedings for MatterDaily.org in an essay-ish news story, published September 10, 2010, “Down on the Farm.”

 

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Return of Superfund?

Return of Superfund?

Toxic seeps at Elizabeth Copper Mine Superfund site in Vermont (Photo: USGS)

For a decade and a half, the U.S. government’s toxic-cleanup program, Superfund, has neither been super nor much of a fund. Now, Superfund might finally earn its name again.

The federal program (known among environmental policy wonks as Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, or CERCLA) is supposed to clean up the country’s most toxic and complex waste sites, using money from corporate petroleum, chemical and other industries that produce toxic pollution — and the hazardous sites that land on the Superfund priorities list. But Congress let the corporate polluter fee expire in 1995, which let companies off the hook for cleanup funding and started draining Superfund’s account from $1.5 billion to virtually nil.

Superfund cleanup of asbestos contamination in Libby, Montana (Photo: US EPA)

In 2003, Grist published an essay I wrote about the sorry state of Superfund and the silly funding choices at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (The piece was originally published through High Country News wire service, Writers on the Range.) At the time, the George W. Bush White House had announced plans to spend a quick $30,000 for enviro-friendly mentions on primetime TV, but had no plans to renew industry payments to Superfund.

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Slick Mapping

Slick Mapping

The following article appears in the Summer 2010 issue of Nature Conservancy Magazine


Oil Alert

Digital Tool Helps Oil-Spill Responders Protect Alaska’s Coast

A snapshot of Sitka Shore, via Alaska ShoreZone (Photo: NOAA Fisheries)

In January 2009, fierce winds in southeastern Alaska tore loose a 181-foot ferry from a pier. The ferry ran aground on a small island, and the Coast Guard and volunteers headed to the scene to limit damage from a possible fuel spill. Before they arrived, the responders knew which sensitive tidelands and critical fisheries habitats were threatened, thanks to a set of new high-tech digital maps that provide a bird’s-eye view of Alaska’s coast.

The mapping project, Alaska ShoreZone, currently covers 17,000 miles of the state’s roughly 47,000-mile coastline, including areas such as Bristol Bay and Prince William Sound—the site of the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989. More than 30 organizations, including The Nature Conservancy, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and state and tribal agencies, have worked together on the program since 2001, sharing $5.5 million in funds and plenty of expertise.

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Back to School for Green Jobs

Back to School for Green Jobs

Colorado, with all its sun and wind and geothermal hot springs, has gotten particularly excited about the creation of green jobs. The state expects to have 600,000 new jobs relating to renewable energy technology and energy efficiency development over the next 20 years. Sounds great, but a major component to the sustainable future becoming a reality is the emergence of a capable workforce.

The sun shines on solar-panel installers (image via Swords to Ploughshares)

In northern Colorado, community colleges and major universities are reaching out to potential students and tailoring programs to train for a range of green jobs, from smart-grid engineers to hybrid-vehicle manufacturing to solar-panel installation and maintenance. In the April 9, 2010 issue of the Northern Colorado Business Report, my column, “School’s in session for green job seekers,” covers the cresting wave of new programs, including an initiative at Colorado State University meant to attract returning military veterans to green jobs.

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Back to School for Green Jobs

Back to School for Green Jobs

Colorado, with all its sun and wind and geothermal hot springs, has gotten particularly excited about the creation of green jobs. The state expects to have 600,000 new jobs relating to renewable energy technology and energy efficiency development over the next 20 years. Sounds great, but a major component to the sustainable future becoming a reality is the emergence of a capable workforce.

The sun shines on solar-panel installers (image via Swords to Ploughshares)

In northern Colorado, community colleges and major universities are reaching out to potential students and tailoring programs to train for a range of green jobs, from smart-grid engineers to hybrid-vehicle manufacturing to solar-panel installation and maintenance. In the April 9, 2010 issue of the Northern Colorado Business Report, my column, “School’s in session for green job seekers,” covers the cresting wave of new programs, including an initiative at Colorado State University meant to attract returning military veterans to green jobs.

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