scientificamerican.com | Article Link | by Elizabeth Harball and ClimateWire
A growing feud over the use of American wood to fuel power production in Europe came into sharp relief yesterday as an environmental group staged a seafaring protest during a forest industry conference.
Participants at this week's Mid-Atlantic Forest Products Conference toured a deepwater export terminal near Norfolk, Va., owned by Enviva LP, a major wood pellet manufacturer and conference sponsor. The tour group was met by about 16 protesters on a party boat circling Enviva's Port of Chesapeake, brandishing a 16-foot banner reading "SOS—Save our Southern Forests" and waving smaller signs that read "Stop Enviva."
Organized by an Asheville, N.C.-based environmental group called the Dogwood Alliance, the protest is the latest move by activists to draw attention to the wood pellet industry's growth in the South, where they allege forests are being chopped down unsustainably so European nations can meet renewable energy targets.
"We shouldn't be exporting our forests to be burned for electricity in the U.K.," Scot Quaranda, a spokesman for the Dogwood Alliance, said before the protest Wednesday. "We need to find more ways to protect and preserve forests."
A spokesman for Enviva declined to comment on the protest. In a statement to ClimateWire, Seth Ginther, executive director of the U.S. Industrial Pellet Association, said, "We are disappointed to see these anti-biomass campaigns continue to spread mis-information about the biomass industry.
"Biomass is sustainably sourced from low-value wood fiber, and from by-products and residues of other forest products industries," Ginther added. "Governments in European countries that are importing biomass for energy have set strict sustainability standards and requirements for biomass, which the industry is meeting through forestry certifications and continuous third-party audits, ensuring the sustainability of the product, as well as providing data on the carbon benefits associated with replacing coal use with biomass."
Image Courtesey of Wikimedia Commons/ Luc Viatour/www.Lucnix.be
forbes.com | Article Link | by Tom Lindsay
There is a variety of opinions in the media these days regarding online learning. Depending on what you read, online education can appear to be either a cure-all or cancer. In an effort to cut through the smoke, here are the top eight established facts you need to know.
1) Online learning is here to stay. Since 1986, when the first online degree program from an accredited institution was offered (by John F. Kennedy University in Orinda, California), growth has been exponential. Today, one-third of America’s 21 million enrolled students are taking some or all of their instruction online. The eleven-year study by the Babson Survey Research Group shows over seven million online enrollments in the fall semester of 2013.
2) There is no significant difference in learning outcomes. Some 30 years of research, including that of the U.S. Department of Education, has found no evidence that online learning is qualitatively inferior to that obtained in a traditional classroom. Unfortunately, those who have preached online learning’s “convenience” for so long have led many to believe that this means “easy,” which is not true. Online courses can be more or less rigorous depending on the instructor who develops the course and the academic department that reviews it.
At the same time, advances in information technology now make it possible to offer significantly more rigorous courses that don’t “feel” as difficult because of the design of the course and the support features that can be directly integrated. For example, one online provider, Excelsior College, sought to address the fact that its students, like most students, live in fear of anything quantitative. In response, Excelsior built access to the Khan Academy‘s tutorials into the lessons for its required courses. The result? Both grades and completion rates went up, with no dumbing-down required.
Image Courtesey of Wikimedia Commons/Everaldo Coelho and YellowIcon
nytimes.com | Article Link | Diane Cardwell
Expanding the notion of corporate benefits beyond discounted health club memberships and low insurance rates, a group of major companies is set to offer employees access to cheaper solar systems for the home.
Under an arrangement announced Wednesday, employees of the companies — Cisco Systems, 3M, Kimberly-Clark and National Geographic — will be able to buy or lease solar systems for their homes at rates substantially lower than the national average, executives said. The program, offered through Geostellar, an online marketer of solar systems, will be available to more than 100,000 employees and will include options for their friends and families in the United States and parts of Canada.
Conceived at the World Wildlife Fund, the program, called the Solar Community Initiative, aims to use the bulk buying power of employees to allow for discounts on home systems.
The program’s expansion is a reflection of the shrinking gulf between camps that were once considered mutually exclusive: environmental advocacy organizations and mainstream corporate America.
“Our objective was to make this as simple and cheap as possible,” said Keya Chatterjee, senior director for renewable energy at the World Wildlife Fund. After receiving discounts through a group program for employees last year, officials at the environmental group approached a few of their corporate partners, she said.
The program is consistent with the group’s approach of working closely with corporations, often quietly trying to nudge them toward change from the inside, rather than pushing from the outside through more confrontational tactics.
Image Couretesy of Wikimedia Commons/ Laslovarga