Dissemination of Research – UCB IB Science and KQED Blog Roll

May 16, 2012 § Leave a comment

The Cents of Military to Energy Alternatives

Posted on May 14, 2012 by Gina Kiani

Think $5.00 a gallon is a high price for gasoline!?! Well we are paying a lot more than that through our health and the environment; and yes, YOU are paying that! It is not just an externality shuffled off onto someone else, but borne onto all America-living, tax-paying households with the additional opportunity costs of investments that could have supported education, health, infrastructure and so on, supporting instead the devaluation of our livelihoods.  The health costs of the U.S. energy policy, are felt across the country, in respiratory and asthmatic conditions, illness leading to missed work days, cardiovascular diseases, cancer, and premature death.  Tailpipe emissions are the largest contributor to health costs from oil as particulate matter contributes “nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, and sulfur dioxide” to the atmosphere, all with documented adversities to health.  Realize, that you can sit in a car running in your garage and die.  “Hotspots” where such concentrated exposures overlap with populations of people have grown as urbanization has expanded around many U.S. metropolitan areas.

Oil3The National Research Council estimated that oil-driven transportation is costing us approximately $56 billion per year with more than 90% of that estimate linked to the value of life years lost to premature death attributed to air pollution.  Then there are oil subsidies for $4 billion this year and an estimated $46.2 billion over the next decade for an industry that is more profitable than ever!  Such subsidies encourage pollution while discouraging alternatives.  Other costs associated with our oil consumption is through military spending to guard choke-points like the Strait of Hormuz, that over 50% of the world’s supplies must pass through, gobbling up 11-13% of our defense budget ($67.5 billion to $91 billion).  Of our approximately $44 billion monthly trade deficit 62% ($27 billion), of that was for this one commodity alone.  Add to that the multiplier effect of the dollars leaving our economy in the transfer of our wealth for overseas supplies.  For example, such a ripple effect, could generate $1.70 for every dollar spent on manufacturing in the U.S., for service around $1.20  or on infrastructure which could generate around $1.59 for every dollar spent here.


[BusinessInsider.com. “The Stunning Cost Of America’s Dependence On Oil”]

Simply switching to electric vehicles isn’t the answer either, when that power is derived from coal.  A Harvard study analyzing the full impact of the life-cycle of coal, from mountaintop removal, processing and combustion, estimates that the American public pays at least $300 billion in health costs and deaths, causing more damage than the value of electricity actually produced, making it a net value-subtracting industry.  These health and economic costs spread onto the American people by polluting energy demonstrate that tax-dollars better spent could be used to power our needs from the sun, wind and water instead.

The above waste on oil and coal alone may not be enough to convert U.S. energy entirely to renewable production, but becomes quite feasible when combined with other inefficiencies that deteriorate our human and environmental resources.  The Department of Defense is ripe with such opportunities! An example is the useless production of C17 cargo planes.  Though there is agreement across the board that the C17 cargo planes are not needed, the program remains due to the strategic gaming of the system that uses the jobs it creates as leverage.  Strategic subcontracts in politically powerful networks and the vulnerability to crony capitalism created by the Department’s lack of transparency, has worked to keep the program in place year after year.


[The Institute for Policy Studies. “Green Dividends”. Data compiled by Robert Miller/IPS; map designed by Stimson Center.]

However, green job equivalents for all of the military positions currently on the numerous bases could shift production towards greening our energy.  For example, avionic and aircraft assemblers can become light-rail or electric auto assemblers, industrial mechanics can be wind power engineers and so on.  Simple alternative spending scenarios comparing $1 billion spent on the military, clean energy, health care, education, and for tax cuts to increase consumption, have found that redirecting from the military to the latter sectors, creates substantially more jobs overall.  Specifically, tax breaks would contribute 28% more jobs, clean energy would generate 48% more than in the military, health care 69% more, and education 151% more than what the same $1 billion would produce in military spending.  The 2013 budget proposal allots $525.4 billion in discretionary funding for defense.  This while the U.S. battle fleet is already larger than the next 13 navies combined, 11 of which are allies.  In 2010, the United States invested about $8 billion on green technology while China invests $9 billion… a month.  Under Portugal’s, new clean energy program, wind farms have helped the country move from 17% of its energy from renewable sources just five years ago, to 45% of it today.  Of all these costs to the American people, the most concerning is the human cost to our health and the environment which our future livelihoods depend on.  The vast collective power of U.S. taxpayers could and should be put to more healthy and efficient use.

Posted in ClimateConservationEnergyEnvironmentPolicy | Tagged ,Leave a comment

Nuclear Reaction

Posted on March 18, 2011 by Gina Kiani

Japan-Radiation-21The crisis in Japan from the accidents induced by the Natural Disasters hitting the Fukushima reactors, has been stirring up reactions here at home. Reactions like Americans buying up the market of potassium iodide pills in fear of radiation reaching California to increasing challenges to nuclear project proposals, such as the recent hearing in Texas by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.  As John M. Broder recently reported in the New York TimesU.S. Nuclear Industry Faces New Uncertainty” as these events also have government, organizations and even the most staunch nuclear energy supporters backing off from the Nuclear Renaissance, which up til now had been gaining momentum.  This Nuclear Revival comes decades after the Three Mile Island Disaster on U.S. soil in 1979, with Obama’s “$36 billion in Department of Energy loan guarantees for the construction of as many as 20 new nuclear plants”, just last year.  These pressing concerns inciting people to think again about the positions they advocate, make me think about all of the evidence available before the accident that has apparently been disregarded in a movement blissfully engaged around best case scenarios.

The Externalities of Nuclear Power“, by Karl Coplan from Pace University School of Law, analyses the true cost liability of nuclear power, dividing the externalities into terms of risk and waste.  The waste, includes isotopes with half lives of millions of years while the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) regulations for storage units is set at only twenty years. According to the study,”Several nuclear power plants across the country, including the Indian Point Energy Center just north of New York City, now experience leaks from these spent fuel pools, releasing dangerous tritium, cesium, and strontium isotopes into groundwater and the environment”.   The costs associated are yet to be measured, but ultimately it will be the public to foot the burden of Super Fund clean-ups inevitable considering the nature of the elements.  Along with waste disposal, Copland breaks down the three components of risk externality as: accidental, terrorism and proliferation risks. Accidental risk would include the probability of malfunctions, human error and natural disasters; terrorism is the risk of attacks as a target or theft involving nuclear material and proliferation as the entailing process of advancing nuclear based weapons technologies inadvertently with the use of it for energy.

Greenpeace-Protest-at-Old-Spanish-Nuclear-Plant-2Copland’s calculations of these external costs found “the value of this “risk subsidy” to the nuclear industry, estimated as high as 30 cents per kilowatt hour”, while in 2009, the average solar costs were 11.5 cents per Kwh (set to steadily decline into the future). To gauge these costs, he references a study by the Riverkeeper organization estimating damages from an accident at the Indian Point Energy Plant just north of New York City, to “exceed $2 trillion in property damage, in addition to 44,000 short-term fatalities and 518,000 latent long-term fatalities” as well as an (NRC) report with similar estimates. So who pays for the costs of these consequences? With liability for nuclear power plants limited to $300 million, and joint industry liability limited to $10billion as of this report (or an even more recent figure of $12.6 billion from KQED’s PBS News Hour on this very evening), much of that cost will not be covered, leaving the lion’s portion of the externalities to be borne by the public.

Imagine if the support, endorsement, money and effort behind the nuclear energy project proposals, was shifted to truly renewable energy; which don’t carry such catastrophic implications of risk and waste. It just seems the logical and responsible direction to take! Rather than subsidizing large monolithic facilities to build an infrastructure of consumerist dependency, why not roll out a mass plan to install solar, geothermal or wind, as it may be fitting per household and region. To instead, use that money to expand current grids to incorporate solar power, covering the difference from such subsidies by continuing the average household energy rates equivalent to what people are paying for their bills now, until the debt is paid and the system starts earning for them; in both efficiency and potential energy sold back to utilities. Not only is this safer and more cost-efficient in the long-run, it also provides independence to Americans, allowing them to support their own needs in the event of any accident, nuclear failure or attack that could cut off people by the masses in a nuclear energy scenario.  My own reaction to this disaster, is an urgent desire to see attention drawn to the true costs of Nuclear Energy; which has too often been dismissed as improbable risk.

Sustainable Design

Posted on March 2, 2011 by Gina Kiani

The topic of city density seems to be a hot one all around me lately and I’m more surprised than anything, to learn that many people still correlate it with something to avoid at all costs. It’s no secret that cities do tend to have more traffic, pollution and crime than rural areas but they also offer more diversity, art and culture as well as. Also, by keeping our populations more dense, we limit the extent of our sprawl and destruction of habitat and biodiversity. In biological terms, it is variability and diversity that expresses stronger systems and organisms. Using City Planning to exploit the benefits of diversity, could be done by creating vibrant centers which include housing for a dense population mix of age, race, income and religion; within a mixed use of business, civic, public and private uses, activities, recreation and leisure. By promoting density in cities, greater greenspace and wildlife corridors can become more available for all, while resource use becomes more efficient  as well; especially when cities are people oriented rather than automobile centered.  This greater diversity in cities, can even be translated in economic terms as found by Eric Schinfeld in C200: Density = Economic Development that “the largest 100 metropolitan areas in this country house two-thirds of our population and generate 75 percent of our GDP”.

As more and more decision-makers, are seeking out physical, social and environmental strategies to increase the benefits of cities, while addressing the social concerns that accompany, buildings are creatively stepping to the call in order to provide this density without sacrificing comfort, privacy and nature. There are many progressive visions in the works that could be seen soon in a skyline near you.


Posted on February 27, 2011 by Gina Kiani

Dolphins are revered as creatures in the top ranks of intelligence in the oceans.  Reverence to their capacities is sprinkled across pop culture such as the cunning heroics of Flipper and the dolphin take over in The Simpson’s town of Springfield. As we humans can attest, even such intelligence may not be enough to overcome millions of years of instinctual survival behavior, especially against a human induced environmental tragedy. Breeding habits of the bottlenose dolphins seek shallow coastal waters to give birth in. The impacts of the BP oil spill may just be such a tragedy; turning up still-born, infant and adult dolphin bodies, along the shorelines of the gulf. What will more than likely ensue is an onset of investigations to link the deaths to the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill of 2010 and a repeat of BP’s backpedalling away from liability and from addressing any of these travesties.


From Yahoo News, “BP Oil Spill May Be Linked to Dolphin Deaths in Gulf” by Rachel Krech, reports of high numbers of dolphin deaths along Mississippi and Alabama, which saw 89 total deaths last year, and has already reported 67 this year since January. This includes the 24 infant and still-born dolphins from the past week alone making the overall total ten times higher than normal.
Animal tissues, water quality testing and other studies will have to be completed before any contributing factor can be assigned to the deaths, but many of the scientists’ theories begin with BP. Marine scientist, Samantha Joye, is one of them who conducted a study on the Gulf ocean floor, revealing aquatic life suffocated with 4-inch thick layers of oil and that  “microorganisms are not consuming the excess oil as quickly as they were expected to”. Many scientists speculate that years and even decades may be affected by the long-term effects of the BP oil spill on marine life. By such accounts, dolphin deaths attributed to the oil, would be likely to see a continued increase over the years to come, with more dolphin carcasses discovered every week. Whatever the cost BP is paying, it is not enough for what we all pay by the biologic as well as economic blows assaulted onto this rich eco-system. Hopefully we will at least have the intelligence to seek alternative energy sources in our future consumption, to live it and demand it!

Political Pollution

Posted on February 21, 2011 by Gina Kiani

Environmental Science has been a progressive field rising with interest and advancements; from understanding the sustainability of systems to resolving human impacts of social and economic issues, related to the environment. Years of work to realize some of these scientific discoveries into policy may be coming to a halt and even reversed. In a disheartening article from the Center for Biological Diversity published in the Environmental News Network,  “House Bill Would Gut Decades of Environmental Protection, Worsen Climate Change, Hurt Endangered Species” reveals the dismal direction that House Republicans have turned their eye towards in their efforts to cut spending. These cuts are targeted not only at protections on air, water and biodiversity, but also increase concerns related to human health.

NoEPA-thumb-300x300-2618Kierán Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity argued that many of the amendments included in the dismantling attempts of the Environmental Protection Agency are not even budget-related but more of a ploy to relax regulations that would actually save the polluters money while imposing the costs of health and environmental degradation onto the citizen. In regard to gray wolf protections under the Endangered Species Act, Suckling was quoted, “I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a Congress so openly hostile to science and protecting the environment. Wolves exist in less than 5 percent of their historic habitat, and yet these members of Congress are determined to strip protections and open them up to widespread killing.”
Endangered species are not the only targets in the resolutions and amendments being pushed by House Republicans. Their hit-list also includes federal protections for the public against mountaintop-removal mining, the 2011 Clean Air Act funding to curb CO2 and other pollutants, removing the EPA’s authority to implement coal-ash safeguards, control of mercury and other toxic pollutants and crippling the powers of the government to conserve land, water and National treasures to name a few.

All of this should be pretty frightening to us all as we have only just begun to move forward towards sustainability under current trends and policy. To kill these imperative measures is to slowly kill off the means for the survival of future generations.  This attack on the EPA signifies a true disconnect that politics has with science, in that substantiated environmental concerns based on empirical evidence could be ignored by a social institution apparently purposed towards the economics of a few select big businesses to profit at the cost of public interest.

Inefficiency Provokes Strife

Posted on February 16, 2011 by Gina Kiani

Malthus’ theory has continued resounding in popular society; that food supplies with a linear growth will inevitably exert pressures from exponentially growing human populations (Both of which are untrue on long-term, large-scales.) These certain shortages of supplies, increasing prices and creating misery, vice and poverty the theory holds, is a natural law that cannot be managed or overcome by human ingenuity or technology.  A couple of the stories in the headlines both counter this empirically dis-proven theory, and demonstrate that rather than populations and a lack of food creating the strife of today and tomorrow, it is lack of efficiency in our resource use systems that is the greater threat to our capability to provide food and subsistence.

110210122931Recently Published in Earth & Climate on February 10, 2011 and featured on esciencenews.com, “Kenya’s Fisheries Management Promotes Species That Grow Larger and Live Longer“, was a prime example of ingenuity managed on a natural system.
A study by the Wildlife Conservation Society examining a 10-year period in Kenya, for the effects of fisheries management, found that restricting fishing gear is producing “more predatory and longer-lived species”, even in adjacent areas where no management is taking place. “The 11 coral reef sites along the 75-kilometer stretch of Kenyan coast around the city of Mombasa”, is yielding higher catches both in quantity of fish and size per fish by banning the use of “small-mesh seine nets that indiscriminately capture all fish” and has practically fully recovered all the fish species including those that take longer to reproduce. The regulated sites also had a greater diversity of predatory fish species and those with longer life spans.
Director of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Marine Program, Dr. Caleb McClennen spoke of this study saying, “This empirical evidence demonstrates how both fishers and their supporting ecosystems can and do benefit from restrictions and improved management.”
Economically speaking, the regions first applying this management strategy have seen revenue gains over the study period of “41% higher than northern coast sites with the beach seines” and “135 % higher” after seines were eliminated, demonstrating the ripple effects surrounding environments have upon each other.


On another side of the issue on food and population relationships, an article Published February 11, 2011 on NatureNews.com by Natasha Gilbert, also show how it is inefficiency rather that drives populations towards misery and strife.  “Livestock Plagues are Spreading“,  is based on a study by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), where scientists in Nairobi, Kenya, argue that the adaption of intensified farming in the developing world “can have severe socio-economic, health and environmental impacts” due to the contribution towards livestock plagues which are on the rise globally. According to ILRI figures, “new infectious disease emerges every four months, and 75% of them originate in animals.” As the Godmother of intensive farming, the U.S. deals with livestock disease through slaughter, anti-biotics and hormones which replays for me a rap I heard on public radio about being addicted to the drugs in our meat.

Alejandro Thiermann, charged with setting standards for animal health internationally at the World Organization for Animal Health comments,”These systems are intensifying anyway. So how do we intensify in a sustainable way and how do we manage the risk?” Perhaps a proposed research programme by the International Food Policy Research Institute, based in Washington, DC, can answer that for $60-million per year, or at a minimum empirically demonstrate what our own instincts and ancestral knowledge tell us about working with nature rather than seeking domination over it.
That fact that the earth is currently producing enough food to feed every person, yet countless go hungry, is a tragedy mostly summed up by inefficiencies abound and unchecked in the food cycle, creating the pressures of hunger and disease; not because nothing can be done, but because the proper things aren’t being done. For that reason, every article I see like these, reminds me that even in my own everyday choices and decisions, that inefficiency more probably is the provoker than some natural evil which we  all must simply accept.

More Fuel to the Fire of Climate Change

Posted on February 8, 2011 by Gina Kiani

As an advocate for sustainability, Climate Change holds particular interest in my field; making NPR‘s February 7, 2011 story, “Alarming’ Amazon Droughts May Have Global Fallout” by Christopher Joyce, all the more alarming. The story explores how the Amazon, which is the world’s largest tropical forest, experienced the second, rare occurrence of drought, over the past five years.  To give a little insight on just how rare these are, the first occurring in 2005 was dubbed a “100-year event” by the Science community, before this more recent return with more lack of rainfall.  These are huge droughts “covering an area about the size of Argentina,”  leading to huge impacts on climate change models, by converting one of the world’s largest stores of carbon, into a large emitter of CO2.


Writing in the journal Science, Simon Lewis and his scientific team, tribute these dry conditions in the Amazon to particularly warm water in the Atlantic, carrying the moisture north, which they warn will eventually create a thinner forest of a different species mix. This loss of growth means that less carbon is being captured and stored in the mass of trees leading to increased carbon in the atmosphere exasperating the warming trends. This is provoked even further with the mass number of trees dying from the drought, by releasing that deposited carbon as the trees rot and decompose.

Fueling this carbon crisis even further is the rampant use of fires in the Amazon according to Michael Jenkins of the Forest Trends research organization. He explains that the fires used to clear land for agricultural uses, like crops and cattle grazing, provoke the drought situation even further by weakening the resilience of the eco-system.

Couple all of this with the report by Green Peace International, “The Carbon Bomb: Climate Change and the Fate of the Northern Boreal Forests,” and an even bleaker picture develops of a sustainable future. The report shows that “between 50 and 90 percent…over the next 30-50 years” of the remaining boreal forests are projected to disappear, thereby doubling the levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in our atmosphere.

This rapid and continual loss of carbon capturing systems, along with our high rate of fossil fuel burning, increases the urgency to prepare for abrupt changes in the Earth’s climate that will have inter-connected effects for all living creatures worldwide. Of course, such damages tend to take much more to repair than it does to create the issue in the first place. What is certain, is that humankind has a complex and looming issue that is imperative to be addressed.

Intriguing and Elusive

Posted on January 31, 2011 by Gina Kiani

p22-150x150To kick off my first science blog, I am focusing on things that I love because they hold a sense of mystery and wonder. Like weather…. with all of our advancements, forecast accuracy still eludes that human drive to control. Beyond trying to control weather with prediction, there may be some newly correlated evidence showing that weather was an overwhelmingly common variable in the rise and fall of human civilizations.

California Academy of Sciences, January 24, 2011, Science Today,  Top Story, “Why Did Rome Fall – Weather?”, by Anne Holden, covers a comparative analysis of dendrochronology, giving a deeper review entailing the basics in the study of tree rings. Comparing this data to written historical records, events following deforestation of the Romans, correlated with climate instability sparking political and economic turmoil prior to the fall of the empire. Other correlations from a famine associated with the black plague and opening waterways facilitating the Scandinavian Vikings’ expansion, reveal how weather has remained mysterious and all-powering, even to the mighty and conquering human.

r345333_15758691-150x150In relation to our conquering ways, sustainable energy production has become ever more imperative to reclaim the harm from our expanding forces.  Adapted from Global Change Biology Bioenergy, “Agave Fuels Excitement as a Bioenergy Crop” published Jan. 27, 2011 on ScienceDaily.com, highlights Agave as a sustainable biofuel feedstock, as it is a crop highly efficient with water, even thriving in dry arid conditions. The recently failed Agave crops for tequila could be reclaimed as a duel-purposed crop and would not conflict with other food production lands. With the depletion of energy and fuel sources,  the potential of agave as a bioenergy feedstock is just one more resource that could be sustained as an alternative.

And of course, being my first blog I had to include something that I love, which is easily filled by the sleek and elusive cheetah. I say elusive speaking not so much for their known speed and agility, but more towards their populations which are threatened due to size and lack of genetic diversity. On January 24 2011, BBC Earth News featured, “Iran’s Endangered Cheetahs are a Unique Subspecies”, by Ella Davies, adds to the intrigue of this elusiveness. It focuses on a new analysis showing that Iran’s cheetahs belong to the subspecies “Acinonyx jubatus venaticus”, numbering just “60-100 individuals”.

The DNA findings show that these Asian cheetahs split aprox. “30,000 years ago” from their African relatives. This has spurred a debate about preserving this new species as unique and an addition to biodiversity while another calls for inter-breeding them for variability in the future of all cheetahs.


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