Episode 12 – 27 July “Cleaner coal” and other latest research….

As we all know President Obama visited our country at the end of June and while some South Africans are not his biggest fans, his policies on climate change are certainly proactive and I was very impressed when I read an article in the Huffington Post about his latest efforts to allow the development of “cleaner coal”. But his approach is not supported by the US coal industry, since off course many jobs will be lost due to lower production in coal-fired power plants. In fact when President Obama laid out his broad climate change package, Republican opponents accused him of waging a war on coal! and yes the plan does affect the coal industry on fronts, for instance it orders the Environmental Protection Agency to move forward with carbon emission standards, it also discourages the construction of plants overseas — something that could hurt US exports — and it calls on plant owners to make the switch to natural gas.

But on the other hand the plan offers some opportunities for the development of “clean coal” technology, which involves the capture and storage of carbon pollution,but the technology is extremely costly and some argue not really worth it when you consider the low cost of normal gas. The Speaker of the House called the president’s plan “absolutely crazy,” adding that it would be especially awful for jobs in his home state of Ohio, where the vast majority of electricity is generated with coal. But other Ohio coal users, like American Electric Power – the single biggest consumer of coal in the U.S. –  have been quite supportive, calling the President’s approach “balanced”.

I think maybe most important is that the case for a war on coal is pretty strong.  The only way to consider new coal-fired plants a remotely plausible undertaking is to ignore the social costs of burning coal. It’s a little like throwing all your rubbish into your neighbor’s backyard. This could look like a cheap and appealing alternative to proper rubbish removal if you were allowed to completely ignore the costs to your neighbor!


How do diving mammals stay underwater for so long? I’m an avid SCUBA diver and I’ve always found this fascinating ! I’ll find any excuse to  float in that peaceful underwater world, but believe me, I take my air with me in two solid tanks strapped to my back. I’m no free-diver, I can’t even hold my breath to cross a pool length underwater!

The ability to dive underwater for extended periods is a specialized feat marine and aquatic mammals have evolved over millions of years. And this is how they do it:  Diving mammals slow their heart rate, stop their breathing, and shunt blood flow from their extremities to the brain, heart, and muscles when starting a dive. Now if you look at champion divers, such as elephant seals, can hold their breath for about two hours!! That’s incredible, I wish I could do that! So what’s new? Well, a study published in June in the journal Science, reports that diving mammals—including whales, seals, otters, and even beavers and muskrats, have positively charged oxygen-binding proteins called myoglobin in their muscles. This positive characteristic allows the animals to pack much more myoglobin into their bodies than other mammals, such as humans, and enables diving mammals to keep a larger store of oxygen on which to draw while underwater. Fascinating stuff!

But the team isn’t going to stop the research at animal mammals…they hope to look at the myoglobin in humans from societies with a history of diving behaviour to see if they show similar changes in their oxygen-binding protein. Well I look forward to letting you know how that study unpacks, but I can tell you one thing; they won’t be picking me as one of their test subjects!


Let’s hop out of the ocean and look at an excellent human feat – the building of the world’s first green library! It’s a children’s library – The Central Public Library in Singapore  called My Tree House, and it was recently awarded the Building and Construction Authority’s Green Mark Platinum Award. The library achieved the title for the developers’ incorporation of LED lighting, refurbished bookshelves and use of sustainable carpeting materials and as its name suggests, the library contains a tree house, the canopy of which has been made from 3,000 recycled plastic bottles.

The library has been designed to help educate children on environmental issues through a “knowledge tree” and a shadow wall provides an engaging and sensory experience to promote conversation. It will stock 45,000 books, of which 30 percent will focus on green areas such as plants, water resources, the weather, recycling, climate change and animals.


Let’s stay with clever concepts and designs for a moment and I’ll tell you about a new “weapon” that South Africa has been introduced to in its war against rampant rhino poaching: an unmanned drone – similar to those used by the US military. But unlike the military version that typically unleashes deadly fire on its target, this drone sends only images from its high-resolution cameras, and GPS positions, that can be used by a ground-based anti-poaching unit to zone in on the suspected poachers.

Designer Chris Miser said that while the lightweight craft, weighing just 4.5kg, had not picked up any poachers during demonstrations in which it patrolled the western border of the Kruger Park, it had recorded a possible poachers’ camp that would be investigated.  It is speculated that it won’t solve the poaching problem, but it is another tool in the toolbox.  I’m all for as many innovative options as possible to help our rhinos and I’ll keep you posted on how the rangers and army on the ground like using them. Who knows, it might even mean an arrest!


Have you ever heard of an Eco-Friendly Shark barrier? Researchers from Stellenbosch University believe they have found a new way to protect humans against shark attacks, while also protecting South Africa’s dwindling shark population. The team is using the sharks’ natural aversions in their design like the Zambezi sharks’ sensitivity to strong, permanent magnetic fields, as well as white sharks’ dislike of kelp. Using these concepts they developed a patent consisting of a rigid upright pipe, which resembles kelp when it floats in the water. The structure also contains magnets to be effective against certain shark species. The pipes are anchored to the seabed and stand upright up to the height of the water level during high tide.

According to experts, beach nets are the main cause of the steep decline in the number of some shark species, a decrease of up to 90% in the last 20 years has been recorded… and as the new barrier deters sharks – but don’t kill them –  it may result in fewer deaths. The shark barriers are currently being tested near Dyer Island, off the coast at Gans Bay. Read more….

Do you think drone’s will be an effective tool in the fight against Rhino poaching? Do you agree with President’s Obama “clean coal” technology?


And remember, take care of the earth and she will take care of you….I’ll be back, next week!








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