From 350 ppm to 350 orcas?

This Sunday (10/10/10) Beam Reach will  be joining thousands of other activists around the globe to do something about global warming.  If you’d like to help reduce the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from its current level, 390 parts per million (ppm), back down to what scientists say is a safe limit (350 ppm), then use this map to find a local event that interests you.

If you can’t find an inspiring action to join this weekend, we recommend that you use this cool website to make your home more efficient.  Not only does the site provide a prioritized list of actions you can take to reduce your carbon footprint, but also it shows you how you can save money through conservation.  It turns out green is gold!

We who live in Washington State have a special obligation to reduce our energy use.  Not only do many of us contribute to global warming by burning natural gas or fuel oil to get through the cold months, but our electricity use is directly impacting the hunger level of one of our most cherished regional icons: the killer whale.  You might think that because Washington Public Utility Districts get 82% of our electricity from hydropower, that we’re pioneers of sustainable energy use in America.

The problem is that we’ve recently learned that our local orcas love eating chinook salmon, particularly the big fish that return to the Columbia and Fraser Rivers.  Unfortunately, the same dams that provide our power are preventing the recovery of chinook populations on the Columbia and Snake Rivers.  Reducing our energy use in Washington is a direct way to allow more water to be spilled over dams in the short term (increasing smolt survival) and more dams to be removed in the long term (giving adult salmon easier access to pristine habitat).  With plenty of salmon to power them through the winter, perhaps our orcas could recover from their current ~85 animals to their historic 150, bringing the combined (southern and northern) resident killer whale population to 350 itself!

On land at Beam Reach headquarters in Seattle, we’re always humbled when the students at sea report their water and energy use levels.  Their typical daily water usage is only 2.5 gallons/person/day!  In comparison, in our typical residential house we use 40 gallons/person/day.   All energy on the Beam Reach boat comes from biodiesel, and the students’ usage is about 0.5 gallons/person/day.

At sea, we’ll be continuing our efforts to practice sustainability science.  We’ll be powering our studies of endangered killer whales with biodiesel bought from local supplier Island Petroleum Services.   Our captain, Todd Shuster, encourages us to burn biodiesel instead of fossil diesel in the 42′ sailing catamaran, Gato Verde, that has a nearly-silent Prius-like hybrid electric propulsion system that enables us to listen to the orcas as we move with them.  We’ll also be discussing the science and ethics of deriving liquid fuels from oceanic plants while filtering some plankton and taking a first stab at extracting their oil for conversion to biodiesel.

If you’re not a home owner or can’t modify your living space, another action we recommend is to try cooking a meat-free meal this Sunday.  Food production from farm to fork is responsible for between 20-30 percent of global green house gas emissions.  Over your vegetarian meal you can discuss joining the meat-free Mondays movement, a way to make small changes in your life that can make a big difference for the planet.

There are many ways to lower CO2 levels and many questions yet to answer.  We hope you’ll join us in considering them creatively while taking a few practical steps forward this weekend.

1 Comment

  1. Scott Veirs

    October 25th, 2010 at 14:52

    Here’s some press coverage the fall Beam Reach course received:

    Letter to the editor in the Seattle PI —

    Guest column in the San Juan Islander —

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