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Earth Talk
EarthTalk®
Written by the Editors of E/The Environmental Magazine   
Monday, 02 August 2010 10:05

 

earthtalklocalfood
"Locally-produced foods are now more widely
available than ever. To find local food near you,
visit localharvest.org, which lists organic food
sources by zip code. Pictured: the Kootenay
Country Store Co-op in Nelson, British Columbia.
Credit this image to "Donkeycart, courtesy Flickr."

From Dear EarthTalk: I know that local food has health and environmental benefits, but my local grocer only carries a few items. Is there a push for bigger supermarkets to carry locally produced food?           -- Maria Fine, Somerville, MA

By eating locally sourced foods, we strengthen the bond between local farmers and our communities, stay connected to the seasons in our part of the world, promote crop diversity, and minimize the energy intensive, greenhouse-gas-emitting transportation of food from one part of the world to another. Also, since local crops are usually harvested at their peak of freshness and typically delivered to stores within a day, customers can be sure they are getting the tastiest and most nutritious forms of the foods they like.

 
EarthTalk®
Written by the Editors of E/The Environmental Magazine   
Monday, 26 July 2010 10:20

Dear EarthTalk: I've noticed that wildflower blooms in the mountains have been

earthtalkwildflowers
"Aspen sunflowers, like the one's pictured
here, used to first bloom in mid-May, but
are now are doing so in mid-April, a full
month earlier. University of Maryland
ecologist David Inouye thinks that smaller
snow packs in the mountains are melting
earlier due to global warming, in turn
triggering early blooms." Credit this image
to "beautifulcataya, courtesy Flickr."

coming earlier and earlier in recent years. Is this a sign of global warming? And what does this mean for the long term survival of these hardy yet rare plants?      -- Ashley J., via e-mail

As always, it’s hard to pin specific year-to-year weather-variations and related phenomena—including altered blooming schedules for wildflowers—on global warming. But longer term analysis of seasonal flowering patterns and other natural events do indicate that global warming may be playing a role in how early wildflowers begin popping up in the high country.

University of Maryland ecologist David Inouye has been studying wildflowers in the Rocky Mountains near Crested Butte, Colorado for four decades, and has noticed that blooms have indeed begun earlier over the last decade. Aspen sunflowers, among other charismatic high country wildflowers, used to first bloom in mid-May, but are now are doing so in mid-April, a full month earlier. Inouye thinks that smaller snow packs in the mountains are melting earlier due to global warming, in turn triggering early blooms.

 
EarthTalk®
Written by the Editors of E/The Environmental Magazine   
Wednesday, 21 July 2010 09:33

Dear EarthTalk: I heard that some wind farms use fossil fuels to power their

earthtalkwindturbinesgasgen
"Some wind energy companies have developed back-up
systems that can spin turbines even when the wind isn't
blowing, thus optimizing and keeping consistent the power
output. Colorado-based Hybrid Turbines Inc., for example,
makes systems that marry a natural gas-based generator
to a wind turbine. Even with that fossil fuel usage, the
electricity produced is much cleaner than burning coal."
Credit this image to "Jorge Lascar, courtesy Flickr."

generators when the wind won’t. Doesn’t that defeat their whole renewable energy purpose? Why not let the wind power it or not? Also, I've heard that the low-frequency sounds generated by these turbines can harm people and animals. Is this true?      -- Ryan Lewis, Plainwell, MI

Indeed, one of the major drawbacks to wind power is the fact that, even in windy locations, the wind doesn’t always blow. So the ability of turbines to generate power is intermittent at best. Many turbines can generate power only about 30 percent of the time, thanks to the inconsistency of their feedstock.

In order to overcome this Achilles’ heel of intermittent production, some wind companies have developed back-up systems that can spin turbines even when the wind isn’t blowing, thus optimizing and keeping consistent the power output. For example, Colorado-based Hybrid Turbines Inc. is selling wind farms systems that marry a natural gas-based generator to a wind turbine. “Even if natural gas is used, the electricity produced…is twice as environmentally clean as burning coal,” reports the company. Better yet, if a user can power them with plant-derived biofuels, they can remain 100 percent renewable energy-based.

 
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