Category Archives: Uncategorized

Petroleum Engineering on the Rise Despite Environmental Effects

As a college student searching for a career to spend the rest of her life doing, I have gone through all the sites that tell you what the best majors are and what the best paying jobs are. On the top of every single list I have seen petroleum engineering. This little fact sparks up an interesting thought. In a world that should be attempting to gradually switch to more environmentally-friendly products and vehicles, you would think that petroleum engineering would be a slowly-disappearing field.

Photo courtesy of UNews

 

However, petroleum engineers are on the rise and looking for more people with a 26% job outlook according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And a statistic by Forbes says petroleum engineers are paid on average $130,280 per year, an attractive income for anybody looking for a solid job.

What even is Petroleum Engineering?

Petroleum engineering brings together the skills required to master mathematics, physics, geology and chemistry to address the need for energy today. According to the University of Texas at Austin, they evaluate potential oil and gas reservoirs, oversee drilling activities, select and implement recovery schemes and design surface collection and treatment facilities.

Penn State’s Energy Engineering Department believes that one of the more important branches of petroleum engineering is the reservoir engineer whose job includes a lot mathematics and application of petroleum engineering to predict the future production from the reservoirs.

Why is it so popular?

Chart courtesy of EconomicModeling.com

 

Well, now that we have started exhausting the original sources for petroleum, these engineers are needed to find new ways to drill this precious fossil fuel out of the earth. Since petroleum engineer salaries are now increasing that also means that fuel costs will rise as well, which I believe makes it even more important to develop more fuel-efficient methods of using energy. However, the world doesn’t like change and would rather stick with using petrol while it is still available.

Also, Forbes has concluded that petroleum engineering is attractive because it is the best combination of the highest wages, fastest growth and the oldest workforce; however it also has the smallest supply of graduates meaning that it has become a very attractive field for rising engineers as it is looking for more engineers to fill up their openings. Actually so many job openings are available for petroleum engineers that oil and gas companies have to actively recruit mechanical engineers as well.

Oil and gas are found deep below the surface of the earth and now finding their locations has become more difficult because of the rate at which the entire world is consuming them. So the primary concern of a petroleum engineer is production of oil and gas by drilling and searching for the source of the precious fuel.

What does this mean for the environment?

Well, petroleum is poisonous for everyone: humans, trees, and environment. Every time you see a curious rainbow in the water on the road, petroleum oil is the cause and is toxic to all forms of life. If it finds its way into large bodies of water fish will immediately; and if it finds its way into humans it could cause birth defects and leukemia as well make people more prone to infection.

There are also other issue with black exhaust that causes problems for our lungs and heart. Not to mention petroleum’s reputations for causing acid rain and climate change. The infamous oil spills will also always be a problem killing many animals in the process.

So despite the awful effects that petroleum has on the environment and its growing scarcity, society has made it a necessity that we cannot avoid. Instead of investing on a search for greener alternatives to this problem, the need for petroleum engineer keeps going up because society does not like change. We don’t respond well to big changes. When things are going well as they are, then why change? – this seems to be the philosophy of the world. Also drilling deeper for oil is currently cheaper than making the switch to environmentally-friendly alternatives. The key word in that sentence is currently. The world will always be driven by economic incentives, and CURRENTLY drilling for more oil is the best option in that respect creating more reason for the need for petroleum engineers to rise.

Land Grabbing: Modern Day Imperialism

Throughout the world, land is increasingly disappearing. Farmland is being stripped from its long-time owners by large corporations, destroying cultural ties, traditional agriculture, and ancestral grounds along the way. Within the past few years, the Global North has bought out huge chunks of Southern territory through large scale land acquisition deals. In colloquial terms, this recent phenomenon of international land transactions is known as land grabbing.

Screen Shot 2015-04-20 at 1.48.27 PM

www.actionaidusa.org

Land grabbing is the buying or leasing of substantially expansive pieces of land in undeveloped/developing countries. These transactions are often completed by large transnational companies and governments, but individual players also contribute on occasion. Agricultural territory in the Southern Hemisphere, Africa especially, is purchased and transformed for the purpose of food or biofuel production. In fact, most land grabbing deals end up being dedicated to producing crops used in biofuel, like the un-edible Jatropha plant.

Utilizing land for non-food crops instead of food production became popular following the worldwide for crisis of 2007. When grain and soybean prices more than doubled over the course of a year, people panicked and serious steps were taken to curb the inflation, like restrictions of grain exports. With food security in question, corporations from importing countries began buying up land in areas all around the globe to protect themselves from future strife. However, such deals ended up having an adverse, opposite effect in the long run. Instead of keeping agriculture as the top priority and planting edible crops, opportunities for green fuel production stole the world’s heart and wallet. Today, biofuel production is the most serious competitor to food production.

Since 2007, hundreds of land deals have been made and the ownership of millions of acres of farmland has been transferred. In a 2010 report, the World Bank identified 464 land acquisitions that were in various stages of development between October 2008 and August 2009. The actual quantity of land involved was only known for 203 of the 464 projects, yet it still totaled more than 140 million acres. To give some perspective, this acreage amount is more than the combined total of all corn and wheat plantations in the United States. Additionally, it is noteworthy to acknowledge that 21% of the 405 projects with known commodity information produced biofuels and another 21% was used for cash crops like timber and rubber. Only 37% of land was dedicated to the production of food crops. The usage of the remaining 21% was unknown.

As should be expected, roughly 70% of the world’s land grabs occur in Sub-Saharan Africa. Two-thirds of this land consists of just seven countries: Ethiopia, Ghana, Liberia, Madagascar, Mozambique, South Sudan, and Zambia. Africa is a highly sought place for these transactions because of enormous flatlands availability as well as the shear cheapness of leases/purchases. For instance, an acre of land in Ethiopia can be leased for less than $1 a year. Countries with scarcer amounts of land have much more expensive prices.

The second most targeted region for land grabs is Southeast Asia, including Cambodia, Laos, the Philippines, and Indonesia. Latin America also possesses promise for land-hungry companies, particularly land in Brazil and Argentina. The Chinese corporation Chongqing Grain Group is currently harvesting 500,00 acres of soybeans in Brazil’s for export in China. Their arrangement allows 1.5 million tons of soybeans to be harvested per year.

Screen Shot 2015-04-20 at 2.42.32 PM

www.giornalettismo.com

The most land-grabby countries include Saudi Arabia, South Korea, China, and India. Significant reasons for their interest in external production are population levels and land shortages. Populations in these areas have diminished their land and water resources, making international scouting necessary. The economies of these countries are also highly dependent upon imports. For instance, South Korea imports 70% of its grain, and it has become a major land investor in several countries.

China and India are also contenders in the land race, facing aquifer and cropland depletion due to growing populations, urbanization, and industrial development. China has recently become a leading grain importer and is also the top importer of soybeans. India has an ever-growing population to feed, with an estimated addition of 450 million people by 2050. With such huge numbers of people and such little space, India is unsurprisingly concerned about food security in future years and, thereby, interested in obtaining arable land elsewhere.

With food security fears and the availability of cheap land leases in the Southern Hemisphere, land grabbing is a practice that will likely continue in following years despite its ethical questionability. While there have been NGO outrages and global protests to land grabbing, like in India, something of this scale is not going to disappear quickly or easily. According to Lester R. Brown, the president of Earth Policy Institute in Washington, D.C., “It is becoming increasingly clear that future food security is integral to the future of global security as it is more broadly defined. As land and water become scarce, as the earth’s temperature rises, and as world food security deteriorates, a dangerous geopolitics of food scarcity is emerging. The conditions giving rise to this have been in the making for several decades, but the situation has come into sharp focus only in the last few years. The land acquisitions discussed here are an integral part of a global power struggle for control of the earth’s land and water resources.”

Check out Oxfam International’s video depicting the harsh reality that land grabs inflict on people throughout the world. It’s a current problem that definitely should not be ignored.

Sources:

http://www.wfs.org/futurist/january-february-2013-vol-47-no-1/food-fuel-and-global-land-grab

http://www.tni.org/primer/global-land-grab

http://www.oxfamamerica.org/take-action/campaign/food-farming-and-hunger/land-grabs/

http://www.slowfood.com/landgrabbing

youtube.com

In the News: Water Cuts In California

Recently there has been some major controversy over the major cuts concerning the water usage in the state of California. Last week Governor Jerry Brown addressed the residents of California stating there would have to be cut backs due to the historical drought. Residents, businesses, and farms will have to adhere to a twenty five percent cut back. That is equivalent to 1.5 acre feet of water or 325,000 gallons. The cut is to take place over the next nine months. Brown was quoted saying,”This historic drought demands unprecedented action.”(CNN).“It’s the right time. It’s a proper directive,” said Rob Hunter, general manager of the Municipal Water District of Orange County. (LATimes). The policy will not apply to California’s agricultural economy. This is the main point at  where there is some public outcry. Agriculture uses eighty percent of California’s water supply. There have been overall decreases in the water allocations for all farms. There are many supporters in regards to this clause. Climate writer Eric Holthaus wrote that “wasteful agriculture is literally sucking California dry.”(CNN)

This cause for action came about primarily due to what the recent report revealed about the Sierra Nevada snowpack. The snowpack is the main source of water for Californians over the summer. This year the level of snow has hit a record breaking low.(NatGeo)The mountains usually have about five feet of snow. Right now there are several patches on the mountain range where grass is clearly visible.(CNN)

One way many businesses and colleges have been managing the reduced water supply over the past few years has been to use recycled water for irrigation. David Stivers, an executive at Pebble Beach Golf Course reported, “It will not affect our golf course irrigation because we use recycled waste water (for golf course irrigation) from a plant we built in 1994.” Pebble Beach is not the only site to use recycled water. Universities like Pepperdine University also use recycled water, however, they are still struggling to deal with the new water cuts. They have turned off all the fountains at their school. There has also been a great push to get students to cut down on their personal water usage.(CNN)

This is a serious issue, and the state is taking drastic measures to combat this horrific drought. According to NASA, groundwater is at its lowest level in 65 years and many reservoirs are at record lows.(NatGeo) California would need eleven trillion gallons of water to fully recover from their current state. To put that into perspective that is the amount of water that is necessary to fill the Dallas Cowboy’s Stadium fourteen thousand times. It is also the amount of water that flows down from Niagara Falls in 170 days. The entire state of California is under some condition of a drought with some areas being under the worst category of dryness, called an exceptional drought. In fact Brown said that this is the worst drought that has been recorded in the last 100 years, since records actually started. This has not been a sudden drought however, this is a disaster that has been growing since 2012.  Brown has released a list of directives he believes will be essential in reaching the goal of the twenty five percent cut. (CNN)

Brown’s executive order will:

• Impose significant cuts in water use on campuses, golf courses, cemeteries and other large landscapes.

• Replace 50 million square feet of lawns throughout the state with “drought-tolerant landscaping.”

• Create a temporary, statewide consumer rebate program to replace old appliances with water efficient models.

• Prohibit new homes and developments from irrigating with potable water unless water-efficient drip irrigation systems are used.

• Ban watering of ornamental grass on public street medians.

• Require agricultural water users to report more water use information to state regulators, increasing the state’s ability to enforce against illegal diversions and waste.  (CNN)

Brown had already signed legislation September 16, that outlined a “framework for sustainable, local groundwater management for the first time in California history,” the governor’s office said. Brown also presented a one billion dollar emergency plan that would help tackle the drought. This money will go to helping those who are severely affected by the drought. As of now the money is going toward safe drinking efforts, maintenance of water recycling facilities and flood protection. There is obviously a great focus on eliminating water waster and inefficiency. (CNN)

California is definitely headed in the right direction with its new policies. We hope that the new plan is able to make the lives of our fellow countrymen better and lead the state of water in california to a brighter future.

http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-mandatory-water-cuts-put-pressure-on-california-communities-20150401-story.html

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2015/04/150401-california-mandatory-water-cuts-drought-conservation/

http://www.cnn.com/2015/04/01/us/california-water-restrictions-drought/

We Are…Dependent on Fossil Fuel

Everywhere you go on The Penn State Campus, you see evidence of it. Very specific recycling bins, water saving toilets, water saving showerheads and green-to-go takeout boxes. To any passerby, Penn State looks like a very eco-savvy organization. But looks may be deceiving and some of Penn State’s more environmentally harmful activities are the ones that most people do not see. What I am cryptically referring to in Penn State’s investment into fossil fuel industries.

In very basic terms (as the financial side is not my forte) Penn State has a huge endowment that they invest in portfolios in order to get returns that keep the university functioning. Penn State has a $2.7 billion dollar endowment and a portion of this money in invested in fossil fuel industries.

It is no secret that fossil fuels are dangerous to the environment. The burning of fossil fuels in one key factor in global climate changed caused by the emissions of green house gases in the production and burning of these Fossil Fuels. By investing large sums of money in companies that produce fossil fuels, Penn State is essentially part of the problem.

Divestment is what it sounds like, the opposite of investment. The Organization Go Fossil Free defines divestment as, “ getting rid of stocks, bonds, or investment funds that are unethical or morally ambiguous.” Over 400 institutions of higher learning are in the process of lobbying their administration to divest from the Fossil Fuel Industry. According to the Go Fossil Free website, about 30 universities across the globe have divested from the Fossil Fuel Industry including Stanford University. With joint work between students and professors at Stanford, they convinced the university to divest from companies who work in fossil fuel or coal production. In addition to Universities, other cities, religious organizations, counties and foundations across the world have divested in the Fossil Fuel Industry.

Divestment is endorsed by some of the world most note worthy leaders. Recently, on March 15, 2015, The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) endorsed the Fossil Free divestment campaign. The spokesman for the UNFCCC Nick Nuttall said, “We support divestment as it sends a signal to companies, especially coal companies, that the age of ‘burn what you like, when you like’ cannot continue.” Additionally Thobama-invest-divest-300x168e UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has come out in support of the Fossil Free movement and even attended the Fossil Free march in New York City last year. President Obama has also stated his support for divestment stating, “Push your own communities to adopt smarter practices. Invest. Divest. Remind folks there’s no contradiction between a sound environment and strong economic growth.”

At Penn State there is a battle brewing over whether the University should or will divest. Fossil Free PSU is an on-campus organization that is pushing for the divestment in fossil fuel industries. The organization calls for the university to begin by freezing present investment in fossil fuel industries and then to divest in fossil fuel, coal and related industries over a five-year timeline. This money would then hopefully be invested in companies that support greener initiatives. Companies that the club has publicly stated make comparable if not higher returns on investments.

The Penn State Board of Trustees decides upon the decision on how the endowment will be invested. According to the Board the board only oversees the investment process with investment matters being taken care of by third party money managers. Additionally, the Board sites the fact that the decisions as to where to invest money can only be guided by purely financial principals. The university continues to stress that they are trying to reach a balance in their financial obligations and their commitment to “environmental stewardship.”

But this is simply not enough for Penn State student. Recently Fossil Free PSU has made the news for the delivery of coal to the members of the Board of Trustees last December. Additionally, this year members of Fossil Free PSU hand-delivered a letter to President Barron asking him to divest from Fossil Fuel. Fossil Free PSU has recently gained endorsements from two other Penn State organizations. The Penn State Eco-Action Club and the Penn State College Democrats recently announced their support of Fossil Free PSU. The hope of the club is to rally enough support in the student body as to eventually receive the support of University Park Undergraduate Association (UPUA).

I personally support the initiatives of Fossil Free PSU. I hope that you will all consider supporting the Fossil Free initiative at Penn State. The groundbreaking environmental research and student run environmental action at this school are only being overshadowed and even diminished by the fact that the University invests huge amounts of money into the Fossil Fuel Industry. And we are no longer going to stay silent.

Fossil Free PSU:

https://www.facebook.com/fossilfreepsu

https://twitter.com/ffpsu

 

 

Ride with the Tide

When most people think of renewable energy, they think of common sources such as solar, wind, or maybe even geothermal. However, people rarely think of tidal or wave energy. Interestingly, tidal energy has been used by thousands of years after being first developed by the Romans to power mills. Despite this, these forms of renewable energy are not nearly as frequently used as wind or solar, but they represent a huge amount of potential. The picture below shows possible locations for power generation. Alaska has the greatest amount of recoverable energy, totally over half of the country’s available tidal and wave energy, according to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

Courtesy of BOEM

There are many different kinds of technology that harness the energy of the ocean. Here are a few:

Tidal Turbines:

Tidal turbines are very similar to wind turbines. Like wind turbines that are placed in areas that experience higher speed winds, tidal turbines are placed in areas that experience more extreme tides. Ocean turbines are sunk into the seabed in shallow water ranging from 65-100 feet deep. Here, they are placed facing the current. As the current moves with the tide, the turbine spins and produces energy. Tidal lagoon systems work in a similar way. Rather than sinking the turbines offshore, these turbines are placed at the openings of lagoons that fill up with water with the tide. As the water leaves these lagoons, it travels quickly past the turbines, generating electricity.

Courtesy of EPA

Wave Terminators

Wave terminators are placed perpendicular to incoming waves either on the shoreline or in very shallow water. These machines are able to capture or reflect the energy of the wave. New, floating versions of these shore terminators have recently been designed and can be placed offshore. Another type is the oscillating water column. This kind of terminator has an opening where water enters and traps the air above it. Similar to a piston in a car engine, the waves cause this captured water to move up and down. As the water pushes up on the air above it, it exerts pressure and pushes the air through a turbine. This turbine in turn generates power.

Courtesy of the EPA

Attenuators:

Attenuators are long, floating, buoy-like structures that run perpendicular to the shore.  They follow the motion of the waves and extract energy by using restraints that run along the length of the apparatus. As the wave brings the attenuator up and down, the device stretches at the connectors of the segments, which are connected to hydraulic pumps. These pumps are what converts the waves into usable electricity. This electricity is then transported to land by using a cable that runs underground from the device.

Courtesy of BOEM

Benefits:

While there are multiple different kinds of technology that utilize the energy waves and tides produce, the United States has yet to tap into this source of clean energy. In addition to the nearly zero-emission source of power that is provided by the sea, it is very reliable. Apart from massive storms such as hurricanes, tidal patterns are very stable. Tides follow the lunar cycle which can be predicted in advance. This greatly contrasts with most forms of renewable energy such as wind and solar, which rely on weather conditions to produce electricity.

Wave and tide energy is widely available as well. As shown in the map above, these systems can be implemented wherever there is a coastline. After accounting for unusable coastal areas that must remain open for shipping and other purposes, wave and tidal energy could produce one third of the total energy need in the entire United States.

Disadvantages:

There are significant reasons that the United States has yet to build any large scale energy farms utilizing sea currents. According to Conserve Energy Future, “The biggest disadvantage to getting your energy from the waves is location. Only power plants and towns near the ocean will benefit directly from it.” While this is true, 39% of the US population lives in a county bordering the coastline. Another large reason they are not widely used is the physical obstruction of the devices. Any kind of large object in the water can become a hazard to shipping vessels as well as the marine environments they are invading. They can also be a visual obstruction. Beaches and coastlines represent some of the most beautiful areas of the country, and large machines capturing energy from waves can be a noisy eye sore. Overall, there are many areas that these machines could be useful at producing electricity, and the United States should start looking to more abstract sources of energy to promote a green and sustainable future.

Let’s Get Businessy….

Yes… I’ve decided that this is a word…. deal with it. So this an interesting time in the energy market. Over the last year…. the world has come to the realization that we are not running out of oil… “gasp”… in fact for the time being we have quite the glut of oil. There is oil coming out of our booties…. And since supply is such more intense than demand prices have plummeted over the past year.

http://ycharts.com/indicators/crude_oil_spot_price

http://ycharts.com/indicators/crude_oil_spot_price

As you can see, after trading at a fairly constant level from 2011 to 2014, the price of WTI ( a form of United States traded oil) plummeted due to the recently realized glut of oil and OPEC’s announcement from Saudi Arabia that OPEC would not cut oil production in order to stabilize prices and ever since, the oil markets have been the definition of turbulent. But what does this mean for the environment… well it means quite a bit.

While the need for sustainable clean energy is driven in some parts due to the desire to protect our environment. Another, more capitalistically focused, driver for finding sustainable renewable energy is the consideration that we have a limited amount of oil and that oil is overally expensive… both of which is not as big of a concern right now… because as supply increase the laws of supply and demand tell us that price has to fall as well.

With historically low oil prices, there is a logical concern in regards to the short term future of renewables.

“But Adam Sieminski, who heads the Energy Information Administration, said ‘oil was not in head-on competition with renewables when it came to electricity generation – and that government policies would help shield the clean energy industries.'”

This is not to say that there will be no demand for renewable energy as “’A lot of the demand that is coming for wind and solar additions in the US is supported through tax incentives and state energy programmes that require a certain percentage of electricity to come from renewables,’ Adam Sieminski told a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor.”

For 2014, the EIA expects “US greenhouse gas emissions to creep up in 2014″ – contrary to the intent of Barack Obama efforts protect our environment and prevent climate change.

Ford F-150 vs. Prius 

Photo Courtesy of CNBC.com

Photo Courtesy of CNBC.com

As demonstrated by the above chart, lower oil prices are without a doubt impacting car sales.

With oil prices significantly lower this year, there is also the belief that customers have much less of an incentive to purchase more expensive electric cars over gas guzzling trucks, Subaru, and even gas powered compact cars. Lower gas prices in general have a bullish effect on the overall car market, but does this carry over into the electric car market?

According to Capital Economics economist Paul Diggles, “Lower gasoline prices should give a particularly big boost to sales of less fuel-efficient light trucks, which already slightly exceed sales of cars,” he said in a recent note. “Not only are light trucks less fuel-efficient, they are, on average, more expensive and more profitable for manufacturers too.”

Many industry analysts, such as Paul Diggles, are concern that the demand for electric cars will continue to fall along with the price of oil however, electric car expert Robert Llewellyn does not share this conviction.  When writing on his blog, he shared his belief that the oil price decline is not likely to impact the electric car market. “As anyone with two brain cells is aware, people don’t buy electric cars just because petrol is expensive or cheap,” he wrote. “There are hundreds of reasons, the main one being that the technology is more interesting, impressive, reliable and it is possible to make your own fuel.

Recycling Impact

The fall in oil prices has had another less published impact on the market as a whole. Plastic, often derived from oil, used to be profitable to recycle. But now, according to Chris Collier, the commercial director of a recycler of bottles, pipes and sundry bits of plastic, “Many in the recycling industry are hanging by the skin of their teeth…Everybody is desperately chasing for money to stay alive.” The ramifications are serious. Many cities in the U.S. pick up detergent bottles, milk jugs and other types of household plastic and sell the scrap. According to the Wall Street Journal “These municipalities typically earned cash—as much as $10 a ton in parts of New Jersey(for example)—for selling recyclable materials under contracts that tie the sales price to commodities prices, with a minimum. In recent months, some expiring contracts have been replaced with new contracts that set no such floor. That raises the possibility for some municipalities that a moneymaker could turn into a loser.”

Conflict Diamonds

“Diamonds are forever.” The well recognized phrase that famously brings millions of individuals into union. Thanks to this phrase coined by De Beers’ Diamonds, these dazzling pieces of carbon we know as diamonds have become the universal symbol for eternal love. However, the truth behind the diamond industry certainly does not reflect its overwhelmingly shining exterior.

Screen Shot 2015-04-15 at 4.03.18 PM

Conflict diamonds are a serious threat to human rights and ethical business practices around the globe. According to the United Nations, conflict diamonds – also known as blood diamonds –  are “diamonds that originate from areas controlled by forces or factions opposed to legitimate and internationally recognized governments, and are used to fund military action in opposition to those governments, or in contravention of the decisions of the Security Council.” 65% of the world’s diamonds come from African counties. The most targeted areas for diamond extraction are particularly war-wracked areas with severe government instability, like the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Angola, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Côte d’Ivoire. The World Diamond counsel confirms that diamonds are illegally traded to fund conflict in war-stricken, “resource plagued” countries in central and western Africa. Brutal wars have caused the deaths and mass displacements of millions of people. Diamonds have actually been used by terrorist groups like al-Qaeda to finance their activities and money-laundering.

The diamond trade has a long and troubled history. Diamonds were first found in Sierra Leone in 1930. It was quickly realized that this area was richly abundant with the desired resource. By 1937, one million carats were mined and exported to Europe. By 1996, $15 billion of diamonds were sold and the spoils were enjoyed by players outside of Sierra Leone. The most infamous company reveling in these riches was the De Beers group. In 1935, the De Beer company formed the Sierra Leone Selection Trust, a company which controlled most of the country’s diamond production. For over 50 years, the De Beer company controlled most of the world’s diamond trade. It was a luxurious, yet dangerous, monopoly.

In the 1970s, anti-government groups tried to gain control of part of the diamond mining and trading industry. Their initiative was to gain money for weapons to use overthrow the government. The Revolutionary United Front was the most threatening of these groups. Formed in 1991, the RUF gained control of part of the diamond trade with help from Liberia. Diamonds were smuggled across the border into Liberia by RUF soldiers.

Screen Shot 2015-04-15 at 4.08.46 PM

Between 1991-1998, Liberia exported over 31 million carats of diamonds to Brussels, Belgium where the Diamond High Council is located. The Council is the organization that controls the world diamond trade. Diamonds imported into Belgium are exported to countries around the world where they are cut into cosmetic gemstones to be sold in jewelry stores. With the money gained from such enormous trades, Sierra Leone was able to purchase extensive supplies of weapons that funded mass terror. A war funded by diamonds.

Once the story broke about the blood diamond trade, organizations like the World Diamond Fund (2000) and the Kimberley Process (2003) formed to combat these human rights outrages. The KP seeks to stop the trade of conflict diamonds and to “ensure that diamond purchases (are) not financing violence by rebel movements and their allies seeking to undermine legitimate governments.” The Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS) imposes extensive requirements on its members (representing all 84 countries) demanding clear certification ensuring shipments of rough diamonds are ‘’conflict-free.” Participants must meet the KPCS’s minimum requirements, establish national legislation about export/import, and practice transparency with trades and data. To trade, other participants must met these requirements as well. A KP certificate accompanies diamonds proving that all requirements have been met.

We, as consumers, can and should take part in ensuring the diamonds that we buy are conflict free. Most diamond retailers now offer certificates with diamonds upon purchase. Zales and Kay Jewelers have policies detailing their efforts to sell only conflict-free diamonds. Furthermore, if you are of environmentally conscious nature like myself, you can check out Brilliant Earth. Brilliant Earth is a company that traces their diamonds back to their origins. Their diamonds are certified environmentally friendly and free of human rights abuses. Plus, 5% of profits is dedicated towards education, environmental restoration, and economic development initiatives in African (and other) mining communities.

Let’s help to make the world diamond trade as shiny as its outer facade.

 

Sources:

http://www.cnn.com/2011/12/05/world/africa/conflict-diamonds-explainer/

http://www.globalwitness.org/campaigns/conflict/conflict-diamonds

http://www.amnestyusa.org/our-work/issues/business-and-human-rights/oil-gas-and-mining-industries/conflict-diamonds

http://www.ibtimes.com/how-buy-conflict-free-valentines-day-gift-1554560

http://www.kimberleyprocess.com/en/about

http://www.brilliantearth.com

“Cradle to Cradle” Is Revolutionizing Human Design

Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things” is a book that was cowritten in 2002 by William McDonough, an architect in sustainable development, and Michael Braungart, a German chemist. Instead of demonizing the human footprint, the book celebrates it saying “humans don’t have a pollution problem, they have a design problem.” The idea is that instead of trying to be “less bad” with design and innovation by reducing carbon output or by limiting chemicals used, humans should just design things better from the start. “Cradle to Cradle” (c2c) is regarded as one of the most influential ecological manifestos since “Silent Spring,” a book written in 1962 by Rachel Carson which exposed the harmful effects of pesticides on the environment and led to a nationwide environmental movement in the United States. The ideas in the book “Cradle to Cradle” are quite simple, but truly change the way one thinks about human design.

Upcycle-Chart_2013_06

In the c2c process, the full life cycle of a product is considered starting with the materials out of which it is made, all the way to what happens to the materials after a person is finished using the product. It is a process of “upcycling,” with the optimal goal of endless recycling of all the materials in a product. The phrase ‘cradle to cradle’ came from the idea that many current products go from ‘cradle to grave,’ or they are in a sense “downcycled” from their original purpose. An example of ‘downcycling’ would be recycled plastic bottles that become non-recyclable synthetic fibers, so after their second use the cycle ends and they enter a landfill. McDonough’s philosophy is that design is the first signal of human intention and therefore we must design with an intent to be good to the planet in mind.

The first way to successfully design in the c2c manner is to design using biomimicry, or copy designs presented in nature itself. For example, the authors discus in the sequel to their book “Cradle to Cradle,” called “The Upcycle,” the vision of houses designed like trees, in which they use sunlight for pure energy, clean their own water, and take in carbon dioxide and put out oxygen and McDonough strives to design his buildings in this fashion. The second way to successfully design a product in the c2c manner is to use materials that are also nutrients and the authors describe the two nutrient cycles they invented within their books. The first one is the biological cycle in which organic material can be taken from the earth used in a product and then returned to the earth after its use in an endless cycle. The second one is the technical cycle which consists of non-toxic, synthetic materials that can be endlessly used and reused in products without losing their integrity. An example of a successful technical cycle created using the c2c method is one in which yarn is recycled to carpet, which is then recycled into plastic pellets, and finally back to yarn. Not only do both of these cycles repeat endlessly on their own but they can also combine (and most often do intermix) to create endlessly recyclable products with both technical and biological nutrients. An example of this would be the Nike Considered line. Each shoe is comprised of an infinitely recyclable polyester outside and a biodegradable sole and the line demonstrates the success and possibilities of designing with the c2c design ideology.

NikeConsideredBoot

Nike Considered Boot

nike-considered-long-ball-slipon

Nike Considered Slip-on

There are five principles that govern whether a product becomes Cradle to Cradle Certified and to what degree it becomes certified. There are five achievable levels ranging from Basic to Platinum (depicted in chart below) depending on how well the product ranks in each of the categories, but the goal of c2c certification process is not for a company to settle for any one ranking, but better yet to continually improve their product and processes. The first requirement is material health meaning the materials used are safe “nutrients.” The second one is material reutilization, so the product should try to achieve the endless cycle of biological and technical nutrients. The third requirement is the use of renewable energy to power all operations. The fourth is water stewardship, meaning it is expected that water is conserved and or cleaned during the production process. The last principle is social fairness because the product should celebrate diversity in nature and in humans and be applicable and effective wherever it is meant to be used.

Scorecard of c2c certification process

Scorecard of c2c certification process

There are to-date over 2000 certified c2c products as well as many companies adopting the c2c methodology in their processes. “The Upcycle” discussed the many ways McDonough and Braungart had put c2c into practice over the last decade and the experiences they had implementing their idea into companies business plans. The c2c design philosophy is one that allows people to envision an attainable and happy green future rather than one full of holding back great designs and tiptoeing around climate change. By always starting at the very core of designs and using the “Cradle to Cradle” ideas, society as a whole can one day surpass the idea of sustainability and thrive harmoniously with nature.

The Effects of Automobiles on the Environment

Cars are essential to everyone’s life, but they cause so much damage to the environment. The areas that we need to focus on are: air quality, production and fuels

Air Quality

Photo courtesy of TheGuardian.com

Automobiles create about 33% of all U.S. air pollutants in the forms of carbon dioxide, smog and several other toxic chemicals and gases. These air pollutants are released from the tailpipes, which means that humans immediately breathe in the contaminated air now compromising human health making it a more crucial issue to address. It has now become more a health concern than air contaminants released from an industry’s massive “chimney.” However, the world has been much better about attacking this issue – probably because it directly affects them. Even though we have increased the number of cars on the road, the air quality is much better because of the Clean Air Act from 1970. According to HomeGuides, apparently we have almost gotten rid of lead emissions completely.

Production & Disposal

Cartoon courtesy of TreeHugger.com

 

The energy footprint that the production of a car leaves on the environment is because of the materials needed to make them. According to National Geographic, these materials include steel, rubber, glass, plastics, and paints. This makes me question the supposed beneficial effect that hybrids have on the environment because they require much more scarce materials to create, and the amount of energy that car’s production could cancel out their beneficial effect. CarBusters.org says “the average U.S. vehicle (in 2007) required 1129 gallons of gasoline to produce…equivalent to two years worth of gas.”

When cars are disposed, their remains of plastics and toxic lead battery acids are thrown into landfills instead of being recycled resulting in harmful effects directly onto the environment. However, this is another issue that the U.S. has done much better with over time. Fun fact from National Geographic: three quarters of a car can be recycled. The website actually expressed this fact as a positive thing, but this fact means that a quarter of a car ends up in landfills, and automobiles are not exactly the smallest object ever, AND humans buy a new one about every decade. What makes up for this startling detail is that 80 to 90% of the environmental damage that a car causes occurs before the car’s “death”.

Fuel

Photo courtesy of Examiner.com

Automobiles use petroleum products that require much energy to extract them from the ground damaging the world’s ecosystems. There are also other little details that we tend to ignore. Fuel comes from particular concentrated locations in the world so shipping the oils itself actually requires a sacrifice from the environment as well. Shipping the oil on airplanes, ships, trucks or trains just means that these machines also need to expend scarce resources and release toxic gases in order to ship them to every part of the world. We also can’t forget the risk of an occasional accident in which the oils could spill into the ocean or the road and directly effect a delicate ecosystem.

How do these factors affect the environment?

Percentage of greenhouse gases Photo courtesy of EPA.gov

 

According to the EIA, greenhouse gases allow sunlight to enter the Earth’s atmosphere more than it naturally should. Sometimes sunlight is reflected off the surface as heat, which greenhouse gasses absorb and trap in the atmosphere that we live in. This in turn causes the overall temperature of the Earth to increase as well. These greenhouse gases include: benzene, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, hydrocarbons and sulfur dioxide. Fun fact from CarBusters: almost 0.009 metric tons of carbon dioxide are produced for every GALLON of gasoline burned, which means that the average American makes about 11.7 tons of carbon dioxide each year from their cars alone

Other ways that it can affect the environment at a smaller scale is that particulates and pollutants released by cars can be inputted into the soil and waters and then enter the food chain causing biological systems of animals and humans to be compromised. Acid rain is also a concern because it changes the acidity of water sources that animals drink from. Chemicals, most popularly CFCs (chloroflurocarbons), essentially create a thinner ozone layer which is mean to protect the Earth from UV rays.

Why does this matter?

These are just reasons why we need to find alternatives to using petroleum to fuel our cars for transportation. To begin with, we can only reduce use until technology finds a way to make the fuel more efficient or finds an alternative fuel that has no affect on the environment. Fuel efficiency and reducing their harmful effects is the key to improving the current state of the environment.

How climate change is affecting agriculture right now

In the scientific American there was an interesting article about Australian farmers being the one of the first groups to feel the negative consequences of global warming (http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/australia-s-farmers-challenged-by-climate-change/). The article referenced the fact that Australia over the past century has had temperatures rise about one degree, which does not sound like much until we dig into the details. Farmers depend on a relatively stable climate throughout the entire farming season in order to properly grow certain types of crops.

Now obviously the everyday weather for a week changes radically but the weather average for an entire cropping season year in and year out tends to stay about the same. However, with massive changes in the climate outlook for an entire season changing crops will start to become unprofitable and will eventually stop being grown entirely. In the case of Australia when crops that require long periods of rain like walnuts and peanuts do not receive the amount of rain they need then they will simply stop being grown and produced.

Now many of you may think that if Australia stops growing some nuts no big deal other countries with better climates can make up the difference and even if some nuts stop being grown entirely it’s no big deal. To those people I say that baseball games will never be the same without peanuts, how dare you and that in many countries around the world food is not presented as a choice but rather a necessity. For example Australia exports 48 billion dollars worth of food to the rest of the world each year. That is about sixty percent of their entire agricultural production, which is a incredibly high percentage to devote entirely to exports. If production of certain products were to fall and then Australia in order to meet the needs of its own domestic demand restricted the number of exports or rather just shifted to become a stronger importer of its crops then a huge number of people would be completely out of food. If that were to happen not only would plenty of people die but many of the poorest people in the world would be seeing a huge increase in one of their most basic expenses because as supply goes down and demand stays the same price goes up.

This would only be the beginning because agriculture is one of the most unstable industries in the world today simply because the instability of the climate prevents a secure environment for growth and investment. That means that as the trend of increasing temperatures continues and more and more crops begin to die out private sector investment and ingenuity will disappear from the field. This is probably one of the worst things that could possibly happen because although we think the local grocery store has an infinite amount of food that is simply not the case. In fact, for many people around the world today they depend on foreign exports and aid to have a good meal. If global warming decreases overall food production at the same time that our global population is growing dramatically increasing food demand, there would be huge problems. This would create huge food shortages and increase the prices for average consumers dramatically.

The ironic part about this is that agriculture itself is impacting the amount of carbon emissions produced and global warming in general dramatically. According to the World Future Council, fourteen percent of greenhouse gas emissions are caused by agricultural practices and another eighteen percent of greenhouse gas emissions are caused by deforestation, which is primarily caused to gain more land for agriculture. If you look at this logically it seems very simple that the agriculture industry will take action on its own to combat the one thing that could destroy their entire field, but it is never that simple.

Since there are market forces at work trying more expensive clean energy agricultural practices would hurt the companies or small farmer’s short-term bottom line and therefore these practices are never implemented. So we have the rare but very real case where agricultural industry is actively participating in its own self-destruction. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy that continues because when the market dictates that going green would hurt the bottom line of the industry nobody does because they would fall behind the competition.Then when the problem of global warming gets worse and agriculture yields start to fall it becomes even more imperative to make your practices more cost-effective rather than green. The cycle will simply continue like this unless the government steps in and puts in place standards and incentives to guide the industry to greener practices. I think it is imperative that we stop this cycle and introduce greener standards in the agricultural field, but what do you think?