Tag Archives: British Columbia
As a conservation biologist, I am charged with the responsibility of maintaining the genetic tapestry of life on our planet. And as a science communicator my job is to explain why nature and a healthy environment are crucial to the well-being of corporations, governments and children.
Super, natural British Columbia is awesome, with more than 4,373 known forms of life. At more than double the size of the state of California, B.C. is breathtaking. About threequarters of the land lies above 3,330 feet in elevation and more than 18 percent is rock, ice or tundra. It’s home to the highest diversity of life in Canada: 10 ecological zones with unique natural communities including coastal and interior rainforests, massive spruce forests, exquisite montane forests, endangered coastal prairie and interior grasslands, rare Garry oak and evergreen Pacific madrones, and incredible freshwater ecosystems which connect and sustain life in the Pacific Ocean.
Currently, British Columbia is without endangered species legislation and 1,900 species are at risk from local extinction or extirpation. This is unacceptable for a number of reasons.
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Seven western states and four provinces have joined forces in a plan to limit greenhouse gas emissions. An entire new source of long-term revenue is available to British Columbia’s government, which will enable protecting massive tracks of old growth forests and fresh water supplies.
The Western Climate Initiative includes: Arizona, California, Montana, New Mexico, Washington, British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec, and they have agreed to cut the region’s carbon emissions by 15 percent below 2005 levels by 2020.
The backbone of their plan relies on a system of cap and trade. It is a system that was successfully devised and implemented in the early 1990s to combat acid rain around the Great Lakes caused by the pollution generated from coal burning power plants.
The cap and trade system reduces pollution by requiring utility and other companies to meet tough emission standards. Under this system, businesses that cannot cut their emissions because of costs or technical hurdles would be allowed to buy emission credits from companies that have spent the money to clean-up and lower their emissions.
Most large industrial polluters, automakers and coal-based utilities are scrambling to find companies to sell them offset credits.
In 1990 (Science, Feb 9) Mark Harmon of Oregon State University and others found that the conversion of Pacific northwest old growth forests to young fast growing forests did not decrease atmospheric carbon as compared to old growth forests which capture and store vast amounts of carbon dioxide. In fact, it took those low elevation second growth forests at least 200 years to accumulate the carbon dioxide storage capacity of existing old growth forests.
In other words, British Columbia’s standing old growth forests are valuable but not just as milled saw-timber or pulp. British Columbia’s old growth is a gold mine for burgeoning worldwide offset markets, as well as its bountiful medicines and other valuable non-timber forest products.
Marriott International with over 3,000 global properties has partnered with Conservation International and is the first hotel company to calculate its carbon footprint and launched an aggressive worldwide campaign to lessen its impact.
Each year it uses 3.2 million tons of CO2 or 66 pounds per available room. To offset this they have undertaken a remarkable initiative. Marriott is spending millions of dollars over a long-term period to protect 1.5 million acres of endangered rainforests (because forests absorb and store CO2) in the Juma Sustainable Development Reserve in partnership with the state of Amazonas in Brazil.
If Brazil is renting its forests for millions of dollars then why shouldn’t the government of British Columbia consider its options?
In the late 1960s a young assistant professor (now Professor Emeritus) Peter Dooling at the Faculty of Forestry, University of British Columbia taught a nascent discipline of forest recreation. Dr. Dooling predicted that forest recreation and tourism would become a major industry in British Columbia.
Today, British Columbia tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry. The 2010 Whistler/Vancouver Olympics easily tipped the scale and now tourism revenue far exceeds that of forestry and it has a big future as a provider of long-term jobs many of which are eco-tourism based.
As the world recession stutters and the mighty U.S. housing market continues to sputter and stall, BC forestry workers are in jeopardy of loosing their jobs.
It is perplexing and frustrating that North Americans buying furniture at IKEA must settle for Scots pine grown and manufactured in Lapland when millions of acres of British Columbia’s lodgepole pine are salvage-logged and pulped rather than manufactured and sold throughout the continent (and elsewhere) as distressed cottage pine furniture.
With more than 60 British Columbia glaciers receding, securing fresh water supplies are of paramount importance and maintaining high elevation old growth forests, which capture, retain and slowly release billions of gallons of snow melt in the springtime is priceless.
While maintaining the integrity of the Brazilian forests are important so too are the last of British Columbia’s contiguous great temperate rainforests. Why not rent some of the old growth forests, take advantage of their potent ability to absorb enormous amounts of CO2 and provide a buffer against climate change.
Text © by Dr Reese Halter 2012. All rights reserved.
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Academics, eminent scientists and businessmen worldwide are endorsing and supporting, with insightful critiques on a truly broad scale, a tightly written treatise on rapacious bark beetles. Collectively these amazingly adaptable insects have marched into mountainsides of lodgepole pine, expanding enterprisingly now into other pine species, spruce even. And perhaps shortly too into the North’s emerald crown, its boreal forests.
Author Dr Reese Halter is well known and respected as an academic and biologist. His first chapters explaining the correlation of beetles to climate change to the essential carbon sink effect of this planet’s forests are, indeed, scholarly. Statistics and percentages stare out from the pages of ‘The Insatiable Bark Beetle’s’ second chapter, ‘Global Warming, A Climate Disrupter.’ These pages take dedication to read, digest, absorb.
When, though, the reader slides into the forests themselves, Halter shape-shifts into the true craft of wordsmithing. Lodgepole pine forests can be sniffed, felt, mourned for their demise, and are followed by descriptions of hardier but still vulnerable spruce.
Halter draws us, still with immense articulate detail, into piñon, whitebark and limber pines and their elegant, tortuously interconnected ecosystems. His final elaboration on ancient mountaineers is so obviously close to his heart – the tough and resilient bristlecone pines – is perhaps one of his finest pieces of writing.
The closing chapter, ‘Our Future’ has depth. Easy to dismiss climate change (and an uneasy Biblical potential plague of mutating bark beetles) if company CEOs, governments, others, merely shuffle statistics. But if statistics fuse into your own human life, affect it, what Halter writes now, with real hope, is of well-known industrialists taking action (a quote, for example…”what Bill Coors, the grandson of Adolph Coors of Coors Brewing Company realized in 1950: “All pollutions and waste are lost profit.”). He cites Direct Youth action, small children even aware and active in local projects.
Rocky Mountain Book’s publisher of this book, Don Gorman, has a gift for commissioning eco-writing with real bite. Here then, the canary sings as stark a warning as Marq de Villiers ‘Water’ or Rachel Carson’s ‘Silent Spring.’
(Pam Asheton writes freelance in Europe, the United States and Canada on wildlife, land stewardship and of individuals passionate with conservation and native habitat. Equine Canada awarded her their environmental award for Alberta’s first ever equestrian backcountry interpretative guidebook. Contact: Sunwired@hotmail.com)
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The wild forests of western North America are awesome. Lush rainforests, renowned for gigantic trees, extend from the tip of northern Alaska to the San Francisco Bay. Equally breathtaking are the mountain forests that range into northern Mexico.
Rapacious destruction of old growth forests, global warming and invasive Barred owls are driving the fearless Spotted owl to extinction in Canada and uncomfortably low levels in both the U.S. and Mexico.
There are three subspecies of Spotted owls. The Northern Spotted owl ranges from southwestern British Columbia to northern California. The Californian Spotted owl is endemic to that state. And the Mexican Spotted owl lives in the mountains of Utah, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and northern Mexico.
All Spotted owls require old growth forests with large trees, a diverse array of lichens (half algae and half fungus), large dead standing trees, large fallen trees, large fallen dead trees in streams, small gaps in the canopy created when individual trees fall and an open under-storey.
The northern Spotted owl requires the largest amount of old growth at least 7,500 acres; the Californian Spotted owl needs 3,400 acres; and the Mexican Spotted owl has the lowest requirements of just 1,800 acres of ancient forests.
The size of their habitat is directly related to their main food source. Northern Spotted owls predominantly hunt smaller and less common northern flying squirrels and tree mice. Whereas the Californian and Mexican Spotted owls prey on an abundant source of wood-rats.
Spotted owls are cavity nesters. They need big standing dead trees in order to reproduce.
Females weighing 650 grams are significantly larger than males at 550 grams. This strategy allows smaller males increased agility in hunting diminutive flying of jumping prey, enabling them to deliver more food to nesting females and ravenous chicks.
Diversity of lichens growing on branches in old growth forests is an critical winter food source for flying squirrels and tree mice. In addition, decomposing nitrogen-rich lichens nourish nitrogen-poor soils.
A Spotted owl eats about 11 percent of its body weight a day. That translates into 57 pounds of prey a year or about 100 flying squirrels per owl. A nesting pair consumes 300 flying squirrels a year.
The owl’s stomach digests fleshy parts quickly but it cannot process fur, bones or feathers. Therefore, prior to eating it coughs up an oval pellet – containing indigestible prey parts. Incidentally, it’s these pellets that enable biologists to understand the exact food sources.
Spotted owls have black eyes, round heads and cryptic chocolate and white plumage. They blend into the dappled shadows of the forest and roost in the understory during the day.
These critters are especially designed to function at night with eyes supremely adapted for low light levels.
They pinpoint prey with acute hearing; their ears are positioned asymmetrically with the right ear being a different size and shape from the left.
The leading flight feathers are velvety in texture, providing silence in flight. During the night, Spotted owls perch silently in the forest and listen for prey.
Northern Goshawks and Great Horned owls are their predators.
A breeding pair of Northern Spotted owls produce two eggs (but sometimes only one egg), while the southern subspecies is more likely to incubate three. If the young chicks survive to juveniles then about 14 weeks after hatching they leave their native territory and strike-out in search of a new home, flying as far as 60 miles .
Between 67 and 100 percent of the young Spotted owls die during the dispersal phase. An adult has an 80 percent chance of surviving each year. Despites these odds, Spotted owls can live for more than two decades.
In 1986, the Northern Spotted Owl was listed as endangered in Canada. In 1993, the Northern Spotted and the Mexican Spotted owls were listed as threatened in the U.S.
In the 1990s there were approximately 100 breeding pairs in British Columbia. down from the historical records of 500 pairs. By 2000 the number fell to 50 pairs, and in 2006 it plummeted to only 3 known pairs.
Predators near the top of the food chain, like the Spotted owl are clearly more sensitive to senseless destruction of old growth forests than many other species.
The loss of the Northern Spotted owl in British Columbia is a wake-up call. Maintaining healthy ecosystems around the globe is of paramount importance for our quality of life and ultimately for our survival.
Earth Dr Reese Halter is an award-winning Science Communicator: Voice for Ecology and distinguished conservation biologist at California Lutheran University. His latest books are The Insatiable Bark Beetle and The Incomparable Honeybee
Text © by Dr Reese Halter 2011. All rights reserved.
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The lynx of the West are one of the most remarkable specialized creatures to inhabit northern snowy forests. Its closet relatives are tigers and lions. Yet our much smaller cat possesses, arguably, a combination of traits exclusive to lynx.
Some colleagues have compared the physique of the lynx to that of “the perfect baseball player,” and rightfully so. They are gangly, with powerful Jack-rabbit hindquarters and size 18 paws! Gray in color, prominent black tip on stubby tails, black tufts on ear points and, if they live to the ripe old age of 10, they will sport a sagacious white goatee. A full-grown male may reach about 30 pounds while females are a bit smaller.
The lynx is a powerful, feared hunter. Its ability to pounce within a couple of bounds is legendary. With claws that have instantaneous retractable, spring-loaded, razor-sharp, switch blades, it severs its victim’s spine or crushes the wind pipe. Lynx’s are specialists. They depend upon snowshoe hare populations as their main food. About every 10 years snowshoe hare populations boom. Soon thereafter, with predictable regularity, they bust. A lean hare year means that many lynx die from starvation.
Snowshoe hares, as the name infers, are specialists too. They live in the snowy north-country preferring either recently burned Jack pine forests with rich supplies of densely staked inner pine bark or perpetually saturated muskeg black spruce forests. Black spruce branches naturally touch the forest floor and are able to root, a process called layering. This provides an important edible, young inner bark as a source of food for hares.
Male lynx will lick and smell female urine before mating. Multiple copulations occur before impregnations and males depart soon after mating. Females require ancient forests for dening which can occur beneath upturned roots of a wind-thrown tree, inside the hollow of a log or under an overhanging bank. Kittens are born nine weeks later and will stay with mothers for up to one year. In lean hare years, lynx will mate and either females will naturally abort or feed themselves first whilst kittens perish. Adults need a hare, a grouse, a tree squirrel, even a fox, every day or two.
Lynx have many intriguing adaptations. For instance, the hairs on their ear tufts are extremely sensitive to vibrations and act like antennas to help locate precisely the sounds of small prey. They are excellent swimmers, surpassing dogs, but slower than caribou.
You may have noticed that cats have sand paper-like tongues which serve as a body-cleaning tool. But also the rough spikelets on the upper surface, called papillae, rasp meat from the bone. Hence cats, which cannot crack bones like dogs, lick the bone clean.
While lynx normally hunt alone, it is the only North American cat to cooperate with others of its kind. Typically, these hunting parties consist of a mother and here older kittens, but occasionally a male and a female or even two family groups, hunt and even travel together.
Lynx need wilderness and wildfires. Though we may never glimpse this bearded recluse, it’s both exciting and encouraging to know that they may have watched us in the wild northern forests of the West.
Text © by Dr Reese Halter 2012. All rights reserved.
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The most remarkable aspect of nature is how organisms have carved out an existence in the harshest of environments.
Plants, as an example, have adapted to live in soggy and sometimes perpetually saturated soils and ponds that are extremely acidic, very nutrient poor but with lots of bugs buzzing around. They still survive, like all other green plants, from the sun’s energy. But they’ve also learned to supplement nutrient deficient soil from an unusual source: Welcome to the world of green plants that eat ants, grasshoppers, slugs, spiders, mosquitoes, flies and even green tree frogs. These are carnivorous plants!
Carnivorous plants have generally weak and small root systems because they have specialized – and costly – traps that lure and digest their animal prey. They are perennial, shade intolerant plants that live for at least two years and require a cool winter dormancy period. They don’t tolerate competition and require frequent low temperature surface fires to burn off dead and dried plant materials, reduce competition and promote seed germination.
Carnivorous plants live in bogs or places in the forest with wet spongy ground often consisting of sphagnum moss and other decomposing vegetation that forms peat. They also live in fens that are flat open sand-based expanses covered with a thin layer of peat with shallow water imperceptibly flowing.
So how exactly do carnivorous plants lure, trap and digest their prey? They produce beautiful flowers that are mellifluous and full of nectar or a sweet fructose sugar that’s referred to as “the junk food of the plant kingdom.”
The traps are quite attractive and, in fact, can be confused by some as flowers. There are four kinds of traps: closing, suction, adhesive and pitfalls traps.
The Venus flytrap is an example of the closing trap and called by Darwin “the most wonderful plant in the world.” Its leaf blade is modified into two parts or lobes that look like a book open at a 45-degree angle. It relies on specialized plant hairs, usually three per lobe, located on the interior surface of the trap to detect its prey. If the prey brushes against the hairs normally nothing happens (unless air temperatures are very high then it snaps shut). If the prey brushes the hair again or touches another hair within 20 to 40 seconds of the first contact, the trap will snap quickly closed.
The Venus flytrap can only be opened and closed about nine times per day. It’s a trigger sensitive trap that will not be activated by either a drop of rain, a blowing plant fragment or a prey that has escaped.
Bladderworts use a suction trap taking advantage of their aquatic habitat. The bladder or trap is a bag-like structure, a few millimeters wide, with an opening or trap door at one end. When the trap is set it pinches inward and contains a negative pressure – much like squeezing the bulb of an eyedropper. There are sensory hairs protruding from the trap door. When an unsuspecting water animal swims by it stimulates a trigger hair, the trapdoor opens inward and the negative interior pressure sucks the helpless prey in as the door closes. This happens so quickly that modern science has yet to accurately measure it.
Sundews and butterworts use adhesive traps. They produce gooey droplets that glisten in the backlighting sun and entangled the prey. Once entrapped the sundew leaf blades slowly fold inward to the centre of the leaf. The flat leaves of the butterworts, on the other hand, curl on the margins to form a shallow bowl. It takes from 30 minutes to a couple of hours for the adhesive leaves to fold or curl.
Pitcher plants are the largest of the green-leafed carnivores and they use pitfall traps. At the tip of most pitcher plants is a flattened to slightly curved, flap-like structure called a lid or hood. Beneath the hood the waxy neck is lined with stout downward pointing hairs. The neck or tube funnels into a narrow base at its bottom containing a primordial broth to digest its prey. As an insect stretches down into the pitcher in search of more rich nectar it slips and tumbles to its demise.
Bumblebees, however, are able to move in and out freely from the pitcher plants and gorge on nectar as they are important pollinators. Green tree frogs and yellowish green crab spiders hang just inside the pitcher rim and partake in some of the incoming prey. They don’t harm the pitcher but occasionally a frog slips in and becomes a large nutritious meal for the plant. There is some mosquito larva that can actually live in the pitchers digestive juices. The adults enter and exit the pitcher by walking the funneled tube with specially adapted non-slip footpads.
Insects and other small animals are packed with protein and very effective at promoting growth of carnivorous plants. Once the prey is captured, special glands in the leaves release a watery solution made up of fast acting proteins that are able to dissolved the hard outer surface or exoskeleton of insects. The glands also absorb the digestive nutrients and carry them throughout the plants vascular system (just like veins in the human body).
It takes a Venus flytrap about four days to digest its prey and about another four days before it reopens. Each of its traps are capable of three to four digestive cycles in its lifetime.
Habitat destruction, fire suppression policies, introduction of exotic plants and mass illegal collection for commercial-use have all had a disastrous affect on native carnivorous plants.
Carnivorous plants and their extensive habitat in the north country are indeed worthy of protection. Over the past 65 years, Ducks Unlimited Canada has protected and conserved many waterways including magnificent bogs and fens crucial for migratory birds and carnivorous plants.
Dr Reese Halter is a conservation biologist at Cal Lutheran University, public speaker and founder of the international conservation institute Global Forest Science. His most recent book is The Incomparable Honeybee and the Economics of Pollination
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Autumn brings splendid colors to trees and shrubs throughout the West. It is the time when we are reminded of magnificent grouse and ptarmigans (pronounced TAR-mi-gun) that live in our woods.
Grouse and ptarmigans are essentially wild chicken-like critters that are able to fly. There are five species of grouse and three species of alpine ptarmigans that live throughout the West. Some grouse seasonally migrate. Only when food supply is very limited do ptarmigans leave the high treeless peaks. All grouse and ptarmigans are permanent residents of the West.
These chicken-like birds are abundant and are a critical food source for carnivores like cougars, bobcats, lynx, martens, fishers, fox and raptors. They were traditionally a very important source of food for the First Peoples of the West. Grouse are a favorite of autumn hunters.
They lack leg spurs like other species of wild chickens. But they are very well adapted to living in the snow country. In autumn they prepare themselves for winter by growing a series of closely in-line projections (called pectinations) on both sides of all toes. These function as small snowshoes and allow the birds to walk on top of snow. The projections are shed in the springtime.
Most grouse and all ptarmigans live on the ground. During the summer they feed on seeds, berries, evergreen needles and young chicks rely heavily on insects as their main sustenance.
Grouse and ptarmigan bodies are perfectly designed to feed on low energy, high volume winter foods of twigs and tree buds. The birds have large crops (pouches in their mouths) and gizzards that enable holding vast quantities of food. They eat small pebbles to ease the mechanical break-up of food. In addition, they have long intestines filled with microbes to assist them in digesting wood.
Ptarmigans have a neat and narrow tail; grouse have a wider tail. Ptarmigans have white feathers on their lower legs at all times of the year, grouse do not. Both birds blend perfectly into their respective environments. Grouse live in the forest, usually alone, and ptarmigans live in gregarious flocks in the mountain treeless zone or alpine. In the autumn ptarmigans feathers change from brown to snow white.
Both birds burrow into the snow and make temporary igloos. Occasionally in spring a cold snap after a thaw will trap the birds in the snow, making them easy prey for predators. I have unsuspectingly skied over a flock of buried ptarmigans and looked back to see a dozen heads popping out of the snow.
Grouse and ptarmigans are clever. When an enemy approaches a grouse they emit little whistles that echo around them making it very difficult to pinpoint the bird’s location from its sound. Meanwhile, they crouch low to the ground and powerfully strut away using excellent eyesight to survey their surroundings.
If a predator does get too close they explode into action by fanning their wings and racing away. The sudden burst of noise startles the enemy, and any unsuspecting person walking in the woods.
These well-adapted permanent residences demonstrate the wonderfully diverse life within our western forests and mountains.
Dr Reese Halter is a public speaker, conservation biologist and founder of the international conservation institute Global Forest Science. His most recent book is The Incomparble Honeybee and the Economics of Pollination
He can be contacted through
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As the first snow blankets the land, most of us retreat inside, spending much less time outdoors compared to the previous six months. We have learned in the north to cope with the cold, and the wet and soggy conditions on the respective coasts, by building homes and workplaces that are warm and weather proofed. So how does the rest of the animal kingdom in our province contend with winter?
There are three basic strategies for surviving winter’s rigors: migration, hibernation and resistance. From an evolutionary stance, they amount to choices between avoidance and confrontation. Animals either leave the frozen landscape for warmer and more hospitable lands to the south or, with remarkable stamina and adaptations, they stick around.
At first glance, migration appears to be a safe alternative. It is for some, but like all choices, there are consequences. A 600-mile flight costs birds 50 percent of their total body weight as fat. And adding more weight for flight has practical limitations.
In addition, waterfowl have added stresses imposed by humans as hunters gather along migratory routes. A Canada goose that leaves Atlin, British Columbia in early September and arrives near the Salton Sea in southern California may face three months of being a target for shooters. The goose season opens progressively later southward along the route.
Some birds, like herons, are specialists and they cannot change when environmental conditions change. The slightest cover of ice prevents the heron from making its living: fishing. Others, like fly catchers, need insects and when it gets cold their food source metamorphosizes, so they must fly south. Many birds have no other choice but to migrate.
It would cost a mammal of the same weight about 10 times more energy moving over a given distance by running compared to a flying. In nature, there are always exceptions. The caribou move hundreds of miles between summer breeding grounds in tundra and winter boreal forests of northeast British Columbia. Marine mammals, like blue whales, migrate vast distances as swimming appears to be even more energetically cost efficient than flying.
Hibernation is a viable alternative to migration for some. Hibernating mammals posses a unique ability to lower both their metabolism and body temperature. They cannot, however, drop below 32 degrees Fahrenheit. If they near the freezing mark then they awaken, restore body temperature to its normal state before re-entering hibernation. That costs a large amount of their fat reserves and could jeopardize their chance of surviving the winter.
Cold blooded animals like reptiles and amphibians cannot control their body temperatures so hibernation is their only means of survival. Most seek out safe winter hiding places usually under decaying logs, deep protected rock crevices or in the burrows of other animals where they can escape subfreezing temperatures. For instance, rattlesnakes in the Kamloops, British Columbia region congregate in rock dens or the 50,000 red-sided garter snakes at Narcisse Snake Pits Wilderness Park in Manitoba.
Some frogs tolerate ice formation in the space between their cells and protect their living cells with a sweat alcohol called glycerol. Others, supercool their bodies so that they can tolerate temperatures of about minus 23 degrees Fahrenheit. If the temperatures drop below this critical point the frog will snap-freeze all at once and die.
For many organisms that do not migrate or hibernate there only strategy is to resist the cold. Over-wintering insects and tree buds for example do not generate any appreciable heat so they must depend upon complex biochemical mechanisms to protect them from freezing temperatures. Mountain pine bark beetles produce glycerol which prevents ice formation in their body tissues, permitting them to cool without freezing to minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
Many animals are well adapted to contend with snow. Spruce grouse grow extra scales on their feet enabling them to grip the snow while feeding on icy branches. Caribou, with feet seemly way out of proportion to their body size, float over snow as if walking on snow-shoes. Lnyx, too, have huge snow-shoe-like paws which enable them to walk on snow without sinking. And the musculature of the moose legs enable them to move through four feet of snow with ease.
All of the organisms that live in northern North America are miraculously adapted to cope with winter. Those that are not must migrate to warmer environs. Each strategy has its advantages and dangers.
Dr Reese Halter is a public speaker, conservation biologist, and founder of the international conservation institute Global Forest Science. His most recent book is The Incomparable Honeybee and the Economics of Pollination
Contact him through
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Seven western states and four Canadian provinces have joined forces in a plan to limit greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, a host of technology giants are rushing into the worldwide solar play.
In February 2007 California’s Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Oregon’s Gov. Ted Kulongoski and Washington’s Gov. Chris Gregoire formed the Western Climate Initiative. Their mandate was clear: Reduce greenhouse gases.
Last week the Western Climate Initiative grew to include: British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, Arizona, Montana, New Mexico and Utah; approximately a quarter of the population of North America or 80 million people.
The backbone of their plan relies on a system of cap and trade. It is a system that was successfully devised and implemented in the early 1990s to combat acid rain around the Great Lakes caused by the pollution generated from coal burning power plants.
The cap and trade system reduces pollution by requiring utility and other companies to meet tough emission standards. Under this system, business that cannot cut their emissions because of cost or technical hurdles would be allowed to buy emission credits from companies that have spent the money to clean-up and lower their emissions.
The forward thinking and clear plan of action by the Western Climate Initiative is encouraging businesses. And businesses create jobs; jobs create community stability; in turn, offering a prosperous future for our children.
Since May, semiconductor giants including: Intel, IBM and National Semiconductor have barreled into the solar sector. Every chipmaker on the globe is now firmly committed to the burgeoning solar energy field, and for a good reason – the sun’s rays are just waiting to be captured and converted into clean energy.
Solar cells, like computer chips, use silicon or another semiconductor as a basic part. By replicating the chip companies high-volume automated manufacturing, the price of solar energy will become competitive with the current carbon-based grid power much quicker than the industry’s current 2010-15 target.
And let’s not forget that the solar figures are based on a coal industry in the U.S. that receives $20 billion in subsidies per annum.
Each chipmaker brings with it exceptional innovations and the race to harness the sun’s energy has now moved into overdrive.
National Semiconductor is implementing its latest technology that boosts energy output in its solar panels by minimizing losses from shade. This breakthrough came from its expertise in power management in cell phones. This innovation will allow cities like London, Seattle and Vancouver, which contend with prolonged over-cast conditions, to also utilize solar panels.
Applied Materials manufactures enormous glass panels for thin-film solar makers. Production and installation costs of thin-film are much lower than the thicker traditional photovoltaic cells. Incidentally, Applied Materials used the same devices to cut flat-panel television costs. By 2010, Applied Materials projects 25 percent of its revenues or about $2 billion will come from the solar division.
Cypress Semiconductor owns 56 percent of SunPower Corporation, which manufactures high-efficiency silicon solar and solar panels – based on an all-back-contact solar cell. SunPower currently holds the world record for practical scale silicon solar cell efficiency of 23.4 percent, recorded in May 2008. This has translated into SunPower churning out 300,000 solar panels a quarter up from one hundred thousand.
The biggest chipmaker in the world is Intel. In June 2008 they spun-off their fledgling solar unit but two weeks later invested $40 million in a German solar panel maker Sulfurcell.
IBM’s latest advancement in the solar field is dazzling. A concentrated photovoltaic system magnifies sunlight 10 times, significantly reducing the number of cells needed to generate electricity. A liquid metal absorbs heat so the semiconductor doesn’t melt – a technology IBM developed to cool high-power computer chips.
In addition, IBM has also developed a new technique for thin-film solar – which uses one percent of the semiconductor in standard panels – to cut costs and boost efficiency.
The next ten years will bring the most exciting technological innovations in the history of our species as we begin to follow nature’s blueprint, harvest the sun and move beyond petroleum.
Dr Reese Halter is a public speaker, conservation biologist and founder of the international conservation institute Global Forest Science. His most recent book is The Incomparable Honey Bee and the Economics of Pollination
He can be reached at
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