Earth Day!

Since it’s a nice day, I’ve had too much coffee, and I feel like dancing (with my usual lack of rhythm), we’re going to kick off the Earth Day post with a little Kanye West, Earth Day-style:

I’m a big Earth Day fan, maybe because it reaches back to my Wisconsin roots. In September 1969, Gaylord Nelson, a U.S. Senator from the Dairy State, proposed a nationwide demonstration focused on the environment for the following spring. Senator Nelson’s idea to put the environment on the national political agenda means that, today, Earth Day is being observed by millions of people in over 170 countries.

With Global Warming an urgent concern (to me, at least), Earth Day has more significance than ever. NASA reports that 2007 was tied as Earth’s second-warmest year:

Climatologists at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York City have found that 2007 tied with 1998 for Earth’s second warmest year in a century.

“It is unlikely that 2008 will be a year with truly exceptional global mean temperature,” said Hansen. “Barring a large volcanic eruption, a record global temperature clearly exceeding that of 2005 can be expected within the next few years, at the time of the next El Nino, because of the background warming trend attributable to continuing increases of greenhouse gases.”

The eight warmest years in the GISS record have all occurred since 1998, and the 14 warmest years in the record have all occurred since 1990.

Goddard Institute researchers used temperature data from weather stations on land, satellite measurements of sea ice temperature since 1982 and data from ships for earlier years.

This year (beyond the Kanye video), lots of attention is being paid to alternative energy options, particularly with rising gas prices. Wired has an article on how eSolar—with backing from Google’s philanthropic foundation, Google.org—is working on using sunlight-reflecting mirrors to generate steam:

For proof, look no further than the fat $130 million investment scooped up by eSolar, a company whose basic solar power strategy — using sunlight-reflecting mirrors to generate steam — was all but abandoned in the 1980s, and has recently recently caught investors’ attention again.

The money, from Google’s philanthropic arm, Google.org, and venture capital firms Idealab and Oak Investment Partners, will go towards the construction of eSolar’s first functioning solar power plant.

“ESolar’s long term is to become a viable replacement for all fossil fuel,” said Robert Rogan, a Cal Tech Ph.D. and eSolar’s executive vice president for corporate development. “The reason Google invested in us is that they saw the potential of this technology to beat the cost of using coal.”

The company’s core technology is an implementation of concentrating solar power, which uses mirrors to turn liquid into steam that drives standard electricity-generating turbines. CSP, also sometimes called solar thermal, is considered a promising replacement for fossil fuel power plants, particularly the coal plants that generate more than half of U.S. electricity. It’s been around for decades, last seeing popularity in the early 1980s, when oil hit an inflation-adjusted price of $82 per barrel. Higher oil prices make fossil fuel plants more costly, making it easier for alternative technologies to compete. (Oil is currently trading for more than $115 a barrel, its highest level ever.)

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