In Latin America, Forests May Rise to Challenge of Carbon Dioxide

A new study reports that recently established forests on abandoned farmland in Latin America, if allowed to grow for another 40 years, would probably be able to suck at least 31 billion tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. That is enough to offset nearly two decades of emissions from fossil-fuel burning in the region. Abandoning additional pastures and allowing them to revert to tropical forest could soak up another seven billion tons of the gas, the scientists found. Their paper, published in Science Advances, offers the most detailed estimates to date for a promising approach to combating climate change. Many Latin American governments have promised to encourage forest regrowth, as well as to combat the destruction of existing forests, in their long-term climate plans. But how hard they will push on either issue is unclear. “This is a potential contribution that is sitting right under our noses,” said the lead author, Robin L. Chazdon, a University of Connecticut ecologist who is working at the International Institute for Sustainability in Rio de...

Delhi has banned half the cars on its roads to combat dangerous pollution

Just weeks after Beijing declared its first red alert status and initiated emergency restrictions to combat dangerous smog levels, another of the world’s most polluted capitals has implemented similar measures. Delhi, the capital territory of India, has embarked upon a two-week trial designed to halve the number of privately owned cars on public roads. Under the scheme, four-wheeled vehicles with registration plates ending in odd numbers are prohibited from driving on even dates of the month, and vice versa. The prohibition began last Friday, but authorities were particularly concerned about what would happen this Monday, as millions of workers returned to work after the New Year weekend. “There were doubts about what would happen when all the offices opened,” said Delhi Transport Minister Gopal Rai, as reported by Atish Patel at BBC News. “We are glad that people are following the rules.” Under the plan, privately owned cars banned from driving on a particular day must stay off the roads between 8am and 8pm daily, except on Sundays. The scheme will stay in effect until January 15, but already Delhi’s government is reporting early success in terms of air quality levels. “The first results of ambient air data collected by mobile units of the Delhi Pollution Control Committee on 24 locations across Delhi on the New Year Day show an encouraging trend of reduction in air pollution in both PM2.5 and PM10 categories,” a government release stated. “The implementation of the plying of four-wheeled vehicles on an odd-even basis was received with warmth by the residents of the national capital on the first day, and results of the ambient...

Beijing has declared its first ever red alert for pollution as smog engulfs city

China’s capital Beijing has issued a red alert for air pollution for the first time ever, with a heavy cloud of dangerous smog blanketing the city. The red alert – which is the most serious warning level on a four-tier system introduced in 2013 – is predicted to remain enforced until Thursday, at which point the air is expected to clear with the arrival of a forecasted cold front. Until that time, however, school lessons have been cancelled, with kindergartens, primary schools, and high schools all suspending class. Outdoor construction has been shut down, and some industrial plants have also been closed. “People should to the best of their ability reduce outdoor activities,” cautioned Beijing’s Environmental Protection Bureau on social media. “If you are engaging in outdoor activities you should wear a mask or take other protective measures.” While the red alert is in effect, half of Beijing’s privately owned cars will be forced off the roads, with locals being permitted to drive on alternate days depending on whether they have odd or even numbers on their licence plates. Up to 30 percent of government vehicles will also be parked. According to China’s state-run news agency, Xinhua, this restriction will place a heavy burden on Beijing’s public transport system, with an extra 2 million passengers expected to use buses and trains each day. The city will add up to 25,000 buses to the roads to shoulder the people load. Beijing isn’t the only city taking emergency steps, with Hebei, Shandong, Baoding, and Tianjin Municipality all implementing similar precautions in a first-of-its-kind collaborative action seeking to maximise the gains of...

Denmark just installed environmentally friendly traffic lights that give priority to bikes and buses

  You might not think much about it during your daily commute, but the timings of traffic lights play a big role in how quickly you get from A to B, and in the Danish capital of Copenhagen, authorities have shifted things in favor of buses and bicycles. Their new programmable, ‘smart’ traffic lights are now giving automatic priority to these more environmentally friendly modes of transport. It’s officially called the Intelligent Transport Systems Action Plan, and the aim is obvious: making your journey quicker if you’re on public transport or a bike. If the local government can tempt more people out of their cars, they’ll be well on their way to meeting their target of making Copenhagen a carbon-neutral city by 2025. All the installed lights will be connected to the Web, collecting and analyzing data and feeding it back to a central dashboard. An upgrade is well overdue too. The existing traffic lights have been in place for 35 years, and they’re about to be replaced by 380 intelligent signals across the metropolis. It’s part of a 47 million kroner (about US$7 million) overhaul that should benefit car passengers as well, because of smoother traffic flow – just not as much as bus travellers or cyclists. Bus passengers should see a 5 to 20 percent reduction in their travel times, according to city officials, while cyclists can expect to complete their journeys 10 percent quicker, on average. What’s more, Copenhagen buses are going to be reporting back their position to the main grid, so the lights know where each vehicle is and can make adjustments accordingly (if your...

Spanish researchers are developing bladeless wind turbines

  A Spanish company called Vortex Bladeless has come up with bladeless wind turbine technology that seeks to provide more energy for less, and address the criticisms aimed at traditional wind farms – particularly where wildlife is concerned. With blades that spin at speeds of more than 320 km/h (200 miles/hour), wind turbines haven’t been the best news for the birds that live around them. While for the most part, the damage is fairly minimal, one wind farm in particular, Altamont Pass in California, US, has drawn the ire of local residents because of the 1,300 birds of prey – including eagles, falcons, hawks – that are killed each year as they try to migrate through it. And keeping all those heavy blades spinning that fast indefinitely? Well, it’s no easy task, and certainly not cheap, energy-wise. According to Vortex Bladeless, just by ditching the blades – and all moving parts, in fact – they will save around 40 percent of the energy cost of regular wind turbines, largely by cutting down on maintenance costs. “Since the Vortex doesn’t have moving parts or gears, it should last longer and it won’t require periodic lubrication,” Dante D’Orazio from The Verge reports. “The simpler design also means that manufacturing costs are about half that of a traditional wind turbine.” D’Orazio adds that the bladeless turbines are estimated to harvest approximately 30 percent less energy, but because they’re basically just sticks now, you can cram a whole lot more of them into the space of a regular wind turbine. Plus these things are completely silent, so no one can claim instances of...

Scientists are developing the world’s biggest wind turbine

While other technologies are getting smaller and smaller with each passing day, wind turbines are going in the opposite direction, because in order for them to make enough power, they need to harness more wind. Following this logic, researchers are taking turbines to a seemingly impossible scale by giving them blades that are 200 metres (656 feet) long. As Rob Nikolewski reports for the LA Times, the new turbine will reach 479 metres (1,574 feet) into the sky – a height that’s 30 metres (100 feet) taller than the Empire State Building. To keep it stable, the structure would have a diameter of roughly 400 metres (1,312) feet. This is the type of stuff that Don Quixote has nightmares about. According to the team, the size of the turbine isn’t the only thing that separates their design from past models. One of the biggest differences is that this new turbine wouldn’t face the wind. Instead, it would face downwind to allow easier flow. Which makes total sense – why fight against the energy you’re harvesting? The 200-metre blades, which are almost too large to conceive of, would have segments that can spread out in light wind and tighten up in strong winds. Besides collecting more wind at all times, the segmented design, dubbed Segmented Ultralight Morphing Rotors, makes building and transporting the blades way easier than single-framed blades. Imagine trying to transport a blade that’s roughly two football fields long – not an easy task. If everything goes the way they plan, the turbine could generate up to 50 megawatts of electricity – 25 times more energy than a traditional wind...