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David Suzuki: Tapping Earth’s Abundant Geothermal Energy

In the midst of controversy over BC's Peace River Site C dam project, the Canadian Geothermal Energy Association released a study showing the province could get the same amount of energy more affordably from geothermal sources for about half the construction costs. Unlike Site C, geothermal wouldn't require massive transmission upgrades, would be less environmentally disruptive and would create more jobs throughout the province rather than just in one area.


Despite the many benefits of geothermal, Canada is the only “Pacific Ring of Fire" country that doesn't use it for commercial-scale energy. According to DeSmogBlog, “New Zealand, Indonesia, the Philippines, the U.S. and Mexico all have commercial geothermal plants." Iceland heats up to 90 percent of its homes and supplies 25 percent of its electricity, with geothermal.

Geothermal energy is generated by heat from Earth's rocks, liquids and steam. It can come from shallow ground, where the temperature is a steady 10 to 16 C, hot water and rocks deeper in the ground or possibly very hot molten rock (magma) deep below Earth's surface. As with clean-energy sources like solar, geothermal energy systems vary, from those that use hot water from the ground directly to heat buildings, greenhouses and water, to those that pump underground hot water or steam to drive turbines. The David Suzuki Foundation's Vancouver and Montreal offices use geothermal.

According to National Geographic, geothermal power plants use three methods to produce electricity: dry steam, flash steam and binary cycle. Dry steam uses steam from fractures in the ground. “Flash plants pull deep, high-pressure hot water into cooler, low-pressure water," which creates steam. In binary plants, which produce no greenhouse gas emissions and will likely become dominant, “hot water is passed by a secondary fluid with a much lower boiling point," which turns the secondary fluid into vapor.

Unlike wind and solar, geothermal provides steady energy and can serve as a more cost-effective and less environmentally damaging form of baseload power than fossil fuels or nuclear. It's not entirely without environmental impacts, but most are minor and can be overcome with good planning and siting. Geothermal fluids can contain gases and heavy metals, but most new systems recycle them back into the ground. Operations should also be located to avoid mixing geothermal liquids with groundwater and to eliminate impacts on nearby natural features like hot springs. Some geothermal plants can produce small amounts of CO2, but binary systems are emissions-free. In some cases, resources that provide heat can become depleted over time.

Although geothermal potential has been constrained by the need to locate operations in areas with high volcanic activity, geysers or hot springs, new developments are making it more widely viable. One controversial method being tested is similar to “fracking" for oil and gas. Water is injected into a well with enough pressure to break rock and release heat to produce hot water and steam to generate power through a turbine or binary system.

Researchers have also been studying urban “heat islands" as sources of geothermal energy. Urban areas are warmer than their rural surroundings, both above and below ground, because of the effects of buildings, basements and sewage and water systems. Geothermal pumps could make the underground energy available to heat buildings in winter and cool them in summer.

New methods of getting energy from the ground could also give geothermal a boost. Entrepreneur Manoj Bhargava is working with researchers to bring heat to the surface using graphene cords rather than steam or hot water. Graphene is stronger than steel and conducts heat well. Bhargava says the technology would be simple to develop and could be integrated with existing power grids.

Unfortunately, geothermal hasn't received the same level of government support as other sources of energy, including fossil fuels and nuclear. That's partly because upfront costs are high and, as with oil and gas exploration, geothermal sources aren't always located where developers hope they'll be. As DeSmogBlog notes, resources are often found in areas that already have access to inexpensive hydro power.

Rapid advancements in renewable-energy and power-grid technologies could put the world on track to a mix of clean sources fairly quickly—which is absolutely necessary to curtail global warming. Geothermal energy should be part of that mix.

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EPA: Perchlorate in Drinking Water Can Harm Fetal Brain Development

By Tom Neltner

Pursuant to a consent decree with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is developing drinking water regulations to protect fetuses and young children from perchlorate, a toxic chemical that inhibits the thyroid's ability to make the hormone T4 essential to brain development. The rulemaking is part of a long process that began in 2011 when the agency made a formal determination that Safe Drinking Water Act standards for perchlorate were needed. Under the consent decree, EPA should propose a standard by October 2018.

In the latest step in that process, EPA's scientists released a draft report in September that, at long last, answers questions posed by its Science Advisory Board in 2013: does perchlorate exposure during the first trimester reduce production of T4 in pregnant women with low iodine consumption? Does reduction in maternal T4 levels in these women adversely affect fetal brain development? According to EPA's scientists, the answers are Yes and Yes.

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Ditch Plastic Lunches: Stand Up for Zero-Waste Schools

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That's an average American kids lunch stuffed in a school bag, with enough plastic packaging to wallpaper the classroom. Once it comes to school lunch, we don't practice what we preach, so let's unpackage what we teach.

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Trump's 'Hold' on Elephant Trophies May Not Be Enough

As many of you may have heard by now, President Donald Trump tweeted, and Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke reiterated, a decision late Friday night to put elephant trophy imports from Zimbabwe "on hold" out of the belief that "conservation and healthy herds are critical."

This follows the administration's decision, on Thursday, to allow such imports after finding Zimbabwe's management of its elephant population "enhances the survival of the species" (referred to as a "positive enhancement finding") under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. The announcement reversed the Obama-era suspension on such imports due to finding the opposite: that Zimbabwe was NOT successfully managing its elephant population.

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Fracking Chemicals Remain Secret Despite EPA Knowledge of Health Hazards

By Tasha Stoiber

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) knows that dozens of the chemicals used in fracking pose health hazards. The agency not only allows their use, but also lets the oil and gas industry keep the chemicals secret, according to a new report.

Between 2003 and 2014 the EPA identified health hazards for 41 chemicals used in fracking, according to a report from the Partnership for Policy Integrity and Earthworks, based on documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request. Fracking is the injection of a chemical slurry into drilling sites to free up underground oil and gas deposits. Hazards from the chemicals used included irritation to eyes and skin; harm to the liver, kidney and nervous system; and damage to the developing fetus.

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Global Warming Timeline, Political Will: Top Questions After COP23

As the world increasingly looks to be on track for a catastrophic 3°C of global warming, world leaders and diplomats gathered in Bonn, Germany to turn the Paris agreement into a set of rules.

In that sense the 23rd Conference of the Parties (COP23), which concluded on Saturday, accomplished its goal of keeping the process alive by setting up the rules that will be finalized next year in Poland. But the conference also kicked a number of issues down the road. The round of climate talks heard repeated calls for a more ambitious approach to slashing carbon emissions but did not initiate any conclusive solutions, though it should be noted that no major decisions were expected.

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Florida Schools' Food Waste Program: A Win-Win to Fight Hunger and Save the Environment

You've probably heard the unsettling stories of school cafeteria workers throwing away students' lunches over unpaid lunch bills, but schools in Orange County, Florida have come up with a genius solution to not only help feed hungry students and their communities, but to also cut down on food waste.

For the past two years, about 20 public elementary schools in the Florida county have been using "share tables" to great effect, the Orlando Sentinel reported. The program allows kids to place their unwanted food on designated tables so others can eat them. This means the food doesn't have to be thrown out. Instead, fellow students who are still hungry can just grab the food themselves off the tables.

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Record Number of Americans 'Very Worried' About Climate Change

As someone who writes about the environment on a near-daily basis, the fact that a large chunk of Americans (about one in eight) reject the near scientific consensus of climate change can be a tough pill to swallow.

But after a year of record-breaking heatwaves, massive wildfires in the west, and a string of destructive hurricanes, it appears that my fellow U.S. citizens are waking up to the realities of our hot, new world, according to the latest nationally representative survey from the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication.

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Nursery Bans Glitter, Calls on Others to Follow Their Example

By Imogen Calderwood

Glitter is great, right? Particularly now that it's getting dark and cold and a bit depressing outside.

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