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Locusts Swarmed East Africa, and This Tech Helped Squash Them

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In the NY Times Rachel Nuwer describes a very interesting approach toward controlling a plague of locusts in Africa:

. . . In 2020, billions of the insects descended on East African countries that had not seen locusts in decades, fueled by unusual weather connected to climate change. Kenya had last dealt with a plague of this scale more than 70 years ago; Ethiopia and Somalia, more than 30 years ago. Nineteen million farmers and herders across these three countries, which bore the brunt of the damage, saw their livelihoods severely affected.

. . . But as bad as 2020’s swarms were, they and their offspring could have caused much worse damage. While the weather has helped slow the insects’ reproduction, the success, Mr. Cressman said, has primarily resulted from a technology-driven anti-locust operation that hastily formed in the chaotic months following the insects’ arrival to East Africa. This groundbreaking approach proved so effective at clamping down on the winged invaders in some places that some experts say it could transform management of other natural disasters around the world.

“We’d better not let this crisis go to waste,” said David Hughes, an entomologist at Penn State University. “We should use this lesson as a way not just to be adapted to the next locust crisis, but to climate change, generally.”

Desert locusts are the Dr. Jekylls and Mr. Hydes of the insect world. Normally, the grasshopper-like plant eaters spend their time living solitarily across the deserts of North Africa, Southwest Asia and the Middle East. But when rains arrive, they change from a muted brown into a fiery yellow and become gregarious, forming groups of more than 15 million insects per square mile. Such a swarm can consume the equivalent amount of food in a single day as more than 13,000 people.

The locust plague that hit East Africa in 2020 was two years in the making. In 2018, two major cyclones dumped rain in a remote area of Saudi Arabia, leading to an 8,000-fold increase in desert locust numbers. By mid-2019, winds had pushed the insects into the Horn of Africa, where a wet autumn further boosted their population. An unusual cyclone in Somalia in early December finally tipped the situation into a true emergency.

“Ten years ago, there would have been between zero and one cyclones coming off the Indian Ocean,” Dr. Hughes said. “Now there’s eight to 12 per year — a consequence of climate change.”

Countries like Sudan and Eritrea that regularly deal with small, seasonal swarms have teams of locust trackers who are trained to find the insects and recognize which life cycle stage they are in. They use a tablet-based program to transmit locust data by satellite to national and international authorities so experts can design appropriate control strategies.

But people outside of those frontline locust nations who may want to start using this system today would encounter a typical technology problem: The version of the tablets that the locust-tracking program was written for is no longer manufactured, and newer tablets are not compatible with the software. And even if the hardware were available, in 2020, East Africa lacked experts who could identify locusts.

“We’d never had a dress rehearsal for the real thing,” said Alphonse Owuor, a United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization specialist in Somalia. “We had people who were very familiar with locusts in theory, but who didn’t have the experience or equipment required to carry out this massive operation.”

With swarms suddenly covering an area of Kenya larger than New Jersey, officials were tasked with creating a locust-combating operation virtually from scratch. Collecting dependable, detailed data about locusts was the first crucial step.

“Saying ‘Oh, there’s locusts in northern Kenya’ doesn’t help at all,” Mr. Cressman said. “We need longitude and latitude coordinates in real time.”

Rather than try to rewrite the locust-tracking software for newer tablets, Mr. Cressman thought it would be more efficient to create a simple smartphone app that would allow anyone to collect data like an expert. He reached out to Dr. Hughes, who had already created a similar mobile tool with the Food and Agriculture Organization to track a devastating crop pest, the fall armyworm, through PlantVillage, which he founded.

PlantVillage’s app uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to help farmers in 60 countries, primarily in Africa, diagnose problems in their fields. Borrowing from this blueprint, Dr. Hughes and his colleagues completed the new app, eLocust3m, in just a month.

Unlike the previous tablet-based program, anyone with a smartphone can use eLocust3m. The app presents photos of locusts at different stages of their life cycles, which helps users diagnose what they see in the field. GPS coordinates are automatically recorded and algorithms double check photos submitted with each entry. Garmin International also helped with another program that worked on satellite-transmitting devices.

“The app is really easy to use,” said Ms. Jeptoo of PlantVillage. Last year, she recruited and trained locust trackers in four hard-hit Kenyan regions. “We had scouts who were 40- to 50-year-old elders, and even they were able to use it.”

In the last year, more than 240,000 locust records have poured in from East Africa, collected by PlantVillage scouts, government-trained personnel and citizens. But that was only the first step. Countries next needed to act on the data in a systematic way to quash locusts. In the first few months, however, officials were strategizing “on the back of envelopes,” Mr. Cressman said, and the entire region had just four planes for spraying pesticides.

When Batian Craig, director of 51 Degrees, a security and logistics company focused on protecting wildlife, saw Mr. Cressman quoted in a news story about locusts, he realized he could help.

Mr. Craig and his colleagues, who are headquartered at Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in Central Kenya, conduct regular anti-poaching aerial surveys that could be repurposed to seek out and destroy locust swarms. They also closely communicate with rural communities affected by the insects.

Additionally, 51 Degrees uses a free program called EarthRanger. Created by Vulcan, a Seattle-based philanthropic company originally co-founded by Paul Allen of Microsoft and his sister Jody Allen, EarthRanger compiles and analyzes geographic data ranging from rhino and ranger locations to sensor data and remote imagery.

Engineers at Vulcan agreed to customize a version of EarthRanger for locusts, integrating data from the eLocust programs and the computer loggers on aerial pesticide sprayers.

Lewa Conservancy quickly became the headquarters for aerial survey and control across the region. By June 2020, these efforts were paying off. Locusts were prevented from spilling into Africa’s Sahel region and west to Senegal.

“If we didn’t stop them, . . .

Continue reading. There’s more, including a good college of large photos.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 April 2021 at 10:54 am

Ten years ago, the world learned the wrong lesson from the tragedy of Fukushima

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Douglas Saunders writes in the Globe & Mail:

Ten years ago next week, in the aftermath of a terrible natural disaster, Japan offered the world a valuable lesson about nuclear power and climate change. Unfortunately, it was not the lesson the world took from it.

The tsunami that tore through coastal Japanese cities in the wake of the Tohoku earthquake on March 11, 2011, was the most powerful tidal wave in three centuries. It killed more than 18,000 people – thousands are still listed as missing – left hundreds of thousands homeless and devastated the lives of countless families.

As that humanitarian crisis was just beginning, the world’s attention turned away from the larger tragedy and focused on the former coal-mining town of Okuma, in Fukushima prefecture, on Japan’s eastern coast. There, the tsunami had washed over the 40-year-old nuclear plant, flooded its basements and knocked out its backup power, causing the cores to melt down in three of its six reactors.

The meltdown, the ensuing mass evacuation and the lengthy, clumsy operation to stabilize the reactors became a global event that shaped the world’s perception of nuclear power.

The incident was, in every way, a worst-case scenario. The reactors – primitive General Electric boiling-water units with Mark I containment vessels, designed in the early 1960s to be cheaper than other reactors – are considered by many engineers to be the worst ever built. In 1972, shortly after the first Fukushima units came online, officials at the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission recommended the GE design be discontinued because its containment system was so badly flawed. No reactors with such weak containment have been built since the 1970s.

The Fukushima units were also built in the worst possible place: a tsunami-prone stretch of coast. In 1967, during their construction, the Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) decided to save money by building them only 10 metres above sea level, not the 30 metres required in the design.

And the units were operated with astonishing incompetence. In 2012, a Japanese parliamentary panel concluded the nuclear disaster happened because TEPCO and its regulator had “failed to correctly develop the most basic safety requirements.”

So in short: This was a case in which the worst possible reactor, built in the worst possible place and operated by perhaps the least competent people was exposed to the worst possible seismic event.

And yet the death toll, in terms of acute radiation exposure, was zero. In 2018, one plant worker’s family won a lawsuit claiming his death by cancer had resulted from the disaster, although radiation scientists argued it was far more likely caused by his exposure to cigarette smoke. The evacuation itself caused more than 2,000 deaths, most involving the elderly and none related to radiation.

Long-term exposure to radiation might theoretically have raised the probability of cancer deaths in the region, but no such increase has yet been detected. The World Health Organization and academic researchers have concluded that the increased cancer risk near the reactor is either negligibly low or non-existent – the radiation blew out over the Pacific, where it dissipated quickly to non-detectable levels.

Amid all the tsunami and evacuation deaths, the reactor itself proved to be close to harmless.

But that wasn’t the lesson the world took from it. The chaos and anger coming from Japan created a sense that the meltdown had produced a deadly radiation event. For years afterward, implausible theories about radiation drifting across the Pacific to North America went unchecked in the media.

And we learned this erroneous lesson at exactly the wrong time. By 2011, we knew the largest single source of greenhouse gases contributing to climate change was the burning of fossil fuels to generate electricity. The most effective way to meet the target of limiting global warming to no more than two degrees is to convert the coal-fired generating plants in China, India and other countries to nuclear, as quickly as possible. Nuclear power is  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 March 2021 at 3:40 pm

Think of the total amount of CO2 emitted by burning (coal and oil and natural gas) since 1751. What percentage of that was during your own lifetime?

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Written by LeisureGuy

4 March 2021 at 2:12 pm

Texans in the Midst of Another Avoidable Catastrophe

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Byan Washington has an article in the New Yorker about the latest catastrophe Texas could have avoided with better decisions. His article begins:

Out in Houston on Sunday morning, at the precipice of a statewide freeze in Texas and blackouts throughout the city, I passed two different women, each handling several cartfuls of groceries, who, speaking into their phones, noted that they “may have gone overboard.” I’d popped into Lee’s Sandwiches for a few gallons of coffee, and then into H Mart for other odds and ends. As the morning progressed, the traffic across Bellaire Boulevard worsened from a slight crawl to an impasse. Folks were stocking up in a way that’s become commonplace over the past year in the city, although the debacle to come had few precedents.

The storm that hit the state on Sunday left more than four million Texas residents without electricity, and many without water. The city of Galveston lost much of its power on Monday morning, and as of Wednesday afternoon it had yet to be restored. The city of Abilene lost both power and water and was given no sense of when either would return. On Tuesday evening, Houston’s Clear Lake area was issued a boil-water notice. Photos of cul-de-sacs blanketed in snow proliferated on social feeds, with residents “skiing” on highways and folks sledding down hills of snow in baskets—somewhat pleasant at the beginning of the week, until the power stayed out. Now parts of Dallas are so cold that water bottles are freezing next to people’s bedsides and appliances are heavy with icicles. These are some of the lowest temperatures that the state has seen in nearly thirty years.

Faced with an untenable surge in demand, power providers tried to signal that they had a plan (“rolling blackouts”), but then segued to a blackout of information itself, until Houston’s mayor, Sylvester Turner, stated, early Monday morning, that the outages were statewide. Officials avoided providing timelines as they issued recommendations on how to conserve energy and stay warm. Residents measured the temperatures in their homes, covering windows with blankets and wrapping pipes and wedging towels into the spaces beneath doors to retain heat in individual rooms. The city’s unhoused population was sheltered in hubs throughout the area (if they could reach them), and some of those places eventually lost power, too. Health-care workers scrambled to distribute the covid-19 vaccines that they had on hand before they went bad in the outage. Local community organizations like Austin Mutual Aid and Mutual Aid Houston began to circulate resources and guidelines across their communities.

Houston, on a good day, is not a city overflowing with spacious third places. The city’s residents were faced with several bad options: stay at home and freeze, or chance the already uncertain roads and flee to friends or relatives who’d managed to retain their power by chance or by means of a spare generator—although the latter option involved congregating amid the spectre of covid-19. The elderly, the very young, and the otherwise vulnerable were left in an especially nightmarish scenario. After the city’s businesses were asked to turn off their lights to conserve energy, much of downtown continued to shine with lights from skyscrapers and high-rise offices (many of which only powered down when they were publicly called out for it). As of Wednesday morning, at least twelve weather-related deaths had been reported across the Houston area.

Whereas much of the country is powered by regional energy systems—which are able to pull and pool resources in times of duress—Texas’s power is largely under the control of ercot, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which manages nearly ninety per cent of the state’s electricity load. The state’s independent network of utilities was devised with the goal of avoiding federal regulation; by not crossing state lines, Texas’s power grid could sidestep national utility guidelines—and energy companies could profit under the guise of individualism and “self-reliance.” State leaders, sacrificing long-term, communal safety for immediate profit, have shaken their heads at the idea of reform or collaboration and said, But we don’t need it. Then it got very cold, very fast, and the system (particularly, it seems, the parts that rely on natural gas) proved vulnerable—and, sure enough, the onus fell on the individual. ercot has stated that it has no idea when the power situation will resume any semblance of regularity. The state’s governor and myriad other elected officials have been quick to pass the blame.

At home on Monday, my boyfriend and I spent our time insulating the apartment and entertaining the dog. When we did venture outside—on two slipping and skittering walks across the neighborhood, and then a pitch-dark drive to pick up more water—we were met with barren roads. That night, we cordoned ourselves in the living room, arranging candles and ring lights collected from our yearlong Zoom hell, and ate a dinner of Lunar New Year leftovers, including braised pork with eggs and kimchi (a reminder that, as ghoulish as things were, they could be worse). Not long after midnight, our power returned, then went in and out in fits and starts into the next morning.

On Tuesday, we made it a point to set out for gas, and along the way we stopped by a Randalls. Folks wandered the dark aisles by the glow of their smartphone flashlights. The frozen-food section was cordoned off with masking tape, and meat displays were covered with cardboard, retaining whatever cold they could. The gas stations nearby were deserted, so we continued to drive until we ended up at another open grocery store, a Fiesta beside the highway. The electricity was working there, and everything was in stock. A woman stood beside the bakery, doling out loaves by the order. A butcher hacked at piles of beef behind a counter, and the fishmonger handed out numbers to folks assembled in line. A dude manning the front door apologized that customers couldn’t all be let in simultaneously; they’d had power since eight that morning, he said. On the drive back, we passed several car accidents as we continued searching for gas. Parking lots were full of folks driving in loops and warming themselves, as others congregated in their cars with their children and their pets. We waited in line for an hour across three stations before we found one beside NRG Stadium that, eventually, provided a full tank. But we’d only just barely left the parking lot before it became clear that this gas station had run dry, too.

A shared characteristic of Houstonians, one could argue, is a tendency to fall prey to disaster unprepared—but only exactly once. Whether facing the ravages of climate change, the state, or some other man-made calamity, the city’s residents learn very harsh lessons, and we tend not to make the same mistakes again. [That is not true. Recall  the extensive flooding in Houston that resulted from the decision to allow housing to be built in floodplains — 162,000 housing units with more being constructed even after Hurricane Harvey showed the folly of putting houses where floods will occur. Lesson not learned. – LG] But it’s one of the great shames that this city—and this country, and the individuals who govern it—requires its residents to weather these things at all. The collapse of ercot is one of the many signs that Texas has failed, and continues to fail, to adapt its infrastructure to meet the inevitability of climate change. In a new year already absurdly filled with crisis—an insurrection one month, bungled vaccine distribution the next, in the midst of a pandemic that has ravaged the nation in ways almost beyond comprehensibility—yet another disaster doesn’t feel entirely out of place. But the exacerbation of one emergency doesn’t eliminate the likelihood of another—and we can be sure that this storm, like every other once-in-a-generation weather event that Houstonians have experienced in the past few years, will not be the last. Like all of our other travails, it will require an expansion of the imagination, and our leaders’ inability to rise to the task won’t eliminate the necessity of doing so. . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 February 2021 at 1:44 pm

The backstory to the Texas power catastrophic failure

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Heather Cox Richardson in her column today provides some good historical perspective on what led to Texas’s failure to ensure that its people have power and drinking water: it was not simply a failure, but a deliberately chosen high-risk approach. She writes:

The crisis in Texas continues, with almost 2 million people still without power in frigid temperatures. Pipes are bursting in homes, pulling down ceilings and flooding living spaces, while 7 million Texans are under a water boil advisory.

Tim Boyd, the mayor of Colorado City, Texas, put on Facebook: “The City and County, along with power providers or any other service owes you NOTHING! I’m sick and tired of people looking for a damn handout!… If you are sitting at home in the cold because you have no power and are sitting there waiting for someone to come rescue you because your lazy is direct result of your raising! [sic]…. This is sadly a product of a socialist government where they feed people to believe that the FEW will work and others will become dependent for handouts…. I’ll be damned if I’m going to provide for anyone that is capable of doing it themselves!… Bottom line quit crying and looking for a handout! Get off your ass and take care of your own family!” “Only the strong will survive and the weak will parish [sic],” he said.

After an outcry, Boyd resigned.

Boyd’s post was a fitting tribute to talk radio host Rush Limbaugh, who passed today from lung cancer at age 70. It was Limbaugh who popularized the idea that hardworking white men were under attack in America. According to him, minorities and feminists were too lazy to work, and instead expected a handout from the government, paid for by tax dollars levied from hardworking white men. This, he explained, was “socialism,” and it was destroying America.

Limbaugh didn’t invent this theory; it was the driving principle behind Movement Conservatism, which rose in the 1950s to combat the New Deal government that regulated business, provided a basic social safety net, and promoted infrastructure. But Movement Conservatives’ efforts to get voters to reject the system that they credited for creating widespread prosperity had little success.

In 1971, Lewis Powell, an attorney for the tobacco industry, wrote a confidential memo for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce outlining how business interests could overturn the New Deal and retake control of America. Powell focused on putting like-minded scholars and speakers on college campuses, rewriting textbooks, stacking the courts, and pressuring politicians. He also called for “reaching the public generally” through television, newspapers, and radio. “[E]very available means should be employed to challenge and refute unfair attacks,” he wrote, “as well as to present the affirmative case through this media.”

Pressing the Movement Conservative case faced headwinds, however, since the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) enforced a policy that, in the interests of serving the community, required any outlet that held a federal broadcast license to present issues honestly, equitably, and with balance. This “Fairness Doctrine” meant that Movement Conservatives had trouble gaining traction, since voters rejected their ideas when they were stacked up against the ideas of Democrats and traditional Republicans, who agreed that the government had a role to play in the economy (even though they squabbled about the extent of that role).

In 1985, under a chair appointed by President Ronald Reagan, the FCC stated that the Fairness Doctrine hurt the public interest. Two years later, under another Reagan-appointed chair, the FCC abolished the rule.

With the Fairness Doctrine gone, Rush Limbaugh stepped into the role of promoting the Movement Conservative narrative. He gave it the concrete examples, color, and passion it needed to jump from think tanks and businessmen to ordinary voters who could help make it the driving force behind national policy. While politicians talked with veiled language about “welfare queens” and same-sex bathrooms, and “makers” and “takers,” Limbaugh played “Barack the Magic Negro,” talked of “femiNazis,” and said “Liberals” were “socialists,” redistributing tax dollars from hardworking white men to the undeserving.

Constantly, he hammered on the idea that the federal government threatened the freedom of white men, and he did so in a style that his listeners found entertaining and liberating.

By the end of the 1980s, Limbaugh’s show was carried on more than 650 radio stations, and in 1992, he briefly branched out into television with a show produced by Roger Ailes, who had packaged Richard Nixon in 1968 and would go on to become the head of the Fox News Channel. Before the 1994 midterm elections, Limbaugh was so effective in pushing the Republicans’ “Contract With America” that when the party won control of the House of Representatives for the first time since 1952, the Republican revolutionaries made him an honorary member of their group.

Limbaugh told them that, under House Speaker Newt Gingrich, the Republicans must “begin an emergency dismantling of the welfare system, which is shredding the social fabric,” bankrupting the country, and “gutting the work ethic, educational performance, and moral discipline of the poor.” Next, Congress should cut capital gains taxes, which would drive economic growth, create hundreds of thousands of jobs, and generate billions in federal revenue.

Limbaugh kept staff in Washington to make sure Republican positions got through to voters. At the same time, every congressman knew that taking a stand against Limbaugh would earn instant condemnation on radio channels across the country, and they acted accordingly.

Limbaugh saw politics as entertainment that pays well for the people who can rile up their base with compelling stories—Limbaugh’s net worth when he died was estimated at $600 million—but he sold the Movement Conservative narrative well. He laid the groundwork for the political career of Donald Trump, who awarded Limbaugh the Presidential Medal of Freedom in a made-for-tv moment at Trump’s 2020 State of the Union address. His influence runs deep in the current party: former Mayor Boyd, an elected official, began his diatribe with: “Let me hurt some feelings while I have a minute!!”

Like Boyd, other Texas politicians are also falling back on the Movement Conservative narrative to explain the disaster in their state. The crisis was caused by a lack of maintenance on Texas’s unregulated energy grid, which meant that instruments at coal, natural gas, and nuclear plants froze, at the same time that supplies of natural gas fell short. Nonetheless, Governor Greg Abbott and his allies in the fossil fuel industry went after “liberal” ideas. They blamed the crisis on the frozen wind turbines and solar plants which account for about 13% of Texas’s winter power. Abbott told Fox News Channel personality Sean Hannity that “this shows how the Green New Deal would be a deadly deal for the United States of America.” Tucker Carlson told his viewers that Texas was “totally reliant on windmills.” [Wind turbines work fine in cold weather if they have been winterized. The Antarctic research station uses wind turbines just fine, as do northern states like Maine, Minnesota, North Dakota, and others. It’s simply that Texas regulations do not require power plants to be winterized so the plant operators and owners protected profits (if not their customers) by skipping that. – LG]

The former Texas governor and former Secretary of Energy under Trump, Rick Perry, wrote on House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s website to warn against regulation of Texas’s energy system: “Texans would be without electricity for longer than three days to keep the federal government out of their business,” he said. The website warned that “Those watching on the left may see the situation in Texas as an opportunity to expand their top-down, radical proposals. Two phrases come to mind: don’t mess with Texas, and don’t let a crisis go to waste.” . . .

Written by LeisureGuy

18 February 2021 at 1:10 pm

The Terrifying Warning Lurking in the Earth’s Ancient Rock Record

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Peter Brannen has a lengthy article (well illustrated with photos by Brendan Pattengale) in the Atlantic. At the link is an audio version in addition to the print version. The article begins:

We live on a wild planet, a wobbly, erupting, ocean-sloshed orb that careens around a giant thermonuclear explosion in the void. Big rocks whiz by overhead, and here on the Earth’s surface, whole continents crash together, rip apart, and occasionally turn inside out, killing nearly everything. Our planet is fickle. When the unseen tug of celestial bodies points Earth toward a new North Star, for instance, the shift in sunlight can dry up the Sahara, or fill it with hippopotamuses. Of more immediate interest today, a variation in the composition of the Earth’s atmosphere of as little as 0.1 percent has meant the difference between sweltering Arctic rainforests and a half mile of ice atop Boston. That negligible wisp of the air is carbon dioxide.

Since about the time of the American Civil War, CO2’s crucial role in warming the planet has been well understood. And not just based on mathematical models: The planet has run many experiments with different levels of atmospheric CO2. At some points in the Earth’s history, lots of CO2 has vented from the crust and leaped from the seas, and the planet has gotten warm. At others, lots of CO2 has been hidden away in the rocks and in the ocean’s depths, and the planet has gotten cold. The sea level, meanwhile, has tried to keep up—rising and falling over the ages, with coastlines racing out across the continental shelf, only to be drawn back in again. During the entire half-billion-year Phanerozoic eon of animal life, CO2 has been the primary driver of the Earth’s climate. And sometimes, when the planet has issued a truly titanic slug of CO2 into the atmosphere, things have gone horribly wrong.

Today, humans are injecting CO2 into the atmosphere at one of the fastest rates ever over this entire, near-eternal span. When hucksters tell you that the climate is always changing, they’re right, but that’s not the good news they think it is. “The climate system is an angry beast,” the late Columbia climate scientist Wally Broecker was fond of saying, “and we are poking it with sticks.”

The beast has only just begun to snarl. All of recorded human history—at only a few thousand years, a mere eyeblink in geologic time—has played out in perhaps the most stable climate window of the past 650,000 years. We have been shielded from the climate’s violence by our short civilizational memory, and our remarkably good fortune. But humanity’s ongoing chemistry experiment on our planet could push the climate well beyond those slim historical parameters, into a state it hasn’t seen in tens of millions of years, a world for which Homo sapiens did not evolve.

When there’s been as much carbon dioxide in the air as there already is today—not to mention how much there’s likely to be in 50 or 100 years—the world has been much, much warmer, with seas 70 feet higher than they are today. Why? The planet today is not yet in equilibrium with the warped atmosphere that industrial civilization has so recently created. If CO2 stays at its current levels, much less steadily increases, it will take centuries—even millennia—for the planet to fully find its new footing. The transition will be punishing in the near term and the long term, and when it’s over, Earth will look far different from the one that nursed humanity. This is the grim lesson of paleoclimatology: The planet seems to respond far more aggressively to small provocations than it’s been projected to by many of our models.

To truly appreciate the coming changes to our planet, we need to plumb the history of climate change. So let us take a trip back into deep time, a journey that will begin with the familiar climate of recorded history and end in the feverish, high-CO2 greenhouse of the early age of mammals, 50 million years ago. It is a sobering journey, one that warns of catastrophic surprises that may be in store.

The first couple of steps back in time won’t take us to a warmer world—but they will illuminate just what sort of ill-tempered planet we’re dealing with. As we pull back even slightly from the span of recorded history—our tiny sliver of geologic time—we’ll notice almost at once that the entire record of human civilization is perched at the edge of a climate cliff. Below is a punishing ice age. As it turns out, we live on an ice-age planet, one marked by the swelling and disintegration of massive polar ice sheets in response to tiny changes in sunlight and CO2 levels. Our current warmer period is merely one peak in a mountain range, with each summit an interglacial springtime like today, and each valley floor a deep freeze. It takes some doing to escape this cycle, but with CO2 as it is now, we won’t be returning to an ice age for the foreseeable future. And to reach analogues for the kind of warming we’ll likely see in the coming decades and centuries, we will need to move beyond the past 3 million years of ice ages entirely, and make drastic jumps back into the alien Earths of tens of millions of years ago. Our future may come to resemble these strange lost worlds.

Before we move more dramatically backwards in time, let us briefly pause over the history of civilization, and then some. Ten thousand years ago, the big mammals had just vanished, at human hands, in Eurasia and the Americas. Steppes once filled with mammoths and camels and wetlands stocked with giant beavers were suddenly, stunningly vacant.

The coastlines that civilization presumes to be eternal were still far beyond today’s horizon. But the seas were rising. The doomed vestiges of mile-thick ice sheets that had cloaked a third of North American land were retreating to the far corners of Canada, chased there by tundra and taiga. The roughly 13 quintillion gallons of meltwater these ice sheets would hemorrhage, in a matter of millennia, raised the sea level hundreds of feet, leaving coral reefs that had been bathed in sunlight under shallow waves now drowned in the deep.

By 9,000 years ago, humans in the Fertile Crescent, China, Mexico, and the Andes had independently developed agriculture and—after 200,000 years of wandering—had begun to stay put. Sedentary settlements blossomed. Humans, with a surfeit of calories, began to divide their labor, and artisans plied new arts. The Earth’s oldest cities, such as Jericho, were bustling.

It’s easy to forget that the Earth—cozy, pastoral, familiar—is nevertheless a celestial body, and astronomy still has a vote in earthly affairs. Every 20,000 years or so the planet swivels about its axis, and 10,000 years ago, at civilization’s first light, the Earth’s top half was aimed toward the sun during the closest part of its orbit—an arrangement today enjoyed by the Southern Hemisphere. The resulting Northern-summer warmth turned the Sahara green. Lakes, hosting hippos, crocodiles, turtles, and buffalo, speckled North Africa, Arabia, and everywhere in between. Lake Chad, which today finds itself overtaxed and shrinking toward oblivion, was “Mega-Chad,” a 115,000-square-mile freshwater sea that sprawled across the continent. Beneath the Mediterranean today, hundreds of dark mud layers alternate with whiter muck, a barcode that marks the Sahara’s rhythmic switching from lush green to continent-spanning desert.

Imprinted on top of this cycle were the last gasps of an ice age that had gripped the planet for the previous 100,000 years. The Earth was still thawing, and amid the final approach of the rising tides, enormous plains and forests like Doggerland—a lowland that had joined mainland Europe to the British Isles—were abandoned by nomadic humans and offered to the surging seas. Vast islands like Georges Bank, 75 miles off Massachusetts—which once held mastodons and giant ground sloths—saw their menagerie overtaken. Scallop draggers still pull up their tusks and teeth today, far offshore.

By 5,000 years ago, as humanity was emerging from its unlettered millennia, the ice had stopped melting and oceans that had been surging for 15,000 years finally settled on modern shorelines. Sunlight had waned in the Northern summer, and rains drifted south toward the equator again. The green Sahara began to die, as it had many times before. Hunter-fisher-gatherers who for thousands of years had littered the verdant interior of North Africa with fishhooks and harpoon points abandoned the now-arid wastelands, and gathered along the Nile. The age of pharaohs began.

By geologic standards, the climate has been remarkably stable ever since, until the sudden warming of the past few decades. That’s unsettling, because history tells us that even local, trivial climate misadventures during this otherwise peaceful span can help bring societies to ruin. In fact, 3,200 years ago, an entire network of civilizations—a veritable globalized economy—fell apart when minor climate chaos struck.

“There is famine in [our] house; we will all die of hunger. If you do not quickly arrive here, we ourselves will die of hunger. You will not see a living soul from your land.” This letter was sent between associates at a commercial firm in Syria with outposts spread across the region, as cities from the Levant to the Euphrates fell. Across the Mediterranean and Mesopotamia, dynasties that had ruled for centuries were all collapsing. The mortuary-temple walls of Ramses III—the last great pharaoh of Egypt’s New Kingdom period—speak of waves of mass migration, over land and sea, and warfare with mysterious invaders from afar. Within decades the entire Bronze Age world had collapsed.

Historians have advanced many culprits for the breakdown, including earthquakes and rebellions. But like our own teetering world—one strained by souring trade relations, with fractious populaces led by unsteady, unscrupulous leaders and now stricken by plague—the eastern Mediterranean and the Aegean were ill-prepared to accommodate the deteriorating climate. While one must resist environmental determinism, it is nevertheless telling that when the region mildly cooled and a centuries-long drought struck around 1200 B.C., this network of ancient civilizations fell to pieces. Even Megiddo, the biblical site of Armageddon, was destroyed.

This same story is told elsewhere, over and over, throughout the extremely mild stretch of time that is written history. The Roman empire’s imperial power was vouchsafed by centuries of warm weather, but its end saw a return to an arid cold—perhaps conjured by distant pressure systems over Iceland and the Azores. In A.D. 536, known as the worst year to be alive, one of Iceland’s volcanoes exploded, and darkness descended over the Northern Hemisphere, bringing summer snow to China and starvation to Ireland. In Central America several centuries later, when the reliable band of tropical rainfall that rings the Earth left the Mayan lowlands and headed south, the megalithic civilization above it withered. In North America, a megadrought about 800 years ago made ancestral Puebloans abandon cliffside villages like Mesa Verde, as Nebraska was swept by giant sand dunes and California burned. In the 15th century,  . . .

Continue reading. There’s much, more more.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 February 2021 at 1:59 pm

The Climate Crisis Is Worse Than You Can Imagine. Here’s What Happens If You Try.

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Elizabeth Weil reports in ProPublica:

Peter Kalmus, out of his mind, stumbled back toward the car. It was all happening. All the stuff he’d been trying to get others to see, and failing to get others to see — it was all here. The day before, when his family started their Labor Day backpacking trip along the oak-lined dry creek bed in Romero Canyon, in the mountains east of Santa Barbara, the temperature had been 105 degrees. Now it was 110 degrees, and under his backpack, his “large mammalian self,” as Peter called his body, was more than just overheating. He was melting down. Everything felt wrong. His brain felt wrong and the planet felt wrong, and everything that lived on the planet felt wrong, off-kilter, in the wrong place.

Nearing the trailhead, Peter’s mind death-spiralled: What’s next summer going to bring? How hot will it be in 10 years? Yes, the data showed that the temperature would only rise annually by a few tenths of a degree Celsius. But those tenths would add up and the extreme temperatures would rise even faster, and while Peter’s big mammal body could handle 100 degrees, sort of, 110 drove him crazy. That was just not a friendly climate for a human. 110 degrees was hostile, an alien planet.

Lizards fried, right there on the rocks. Elsewhere, songbirds fell out of the sky. There was more human conflict, just as the researchers promised. Not outright violence, not here, not yet. But Peter’s kids were pissed and his wife was pissed and the salience that he’d so desperately wanted others to feel — “salience” being the term of choice in the climate community for the gut-level understanding that climate change isn’t going to be a problem in the future, it is a crisis now — that salience was here. The full catastrophe was here (both in the planetary and the Zorba the Greek sense: “Wife. Children. House. Everything. The full catastrophe”). To cool down, Peter, a climate scientist who studied coral reefs, had stood in a stream for an hour, like a man might stand at a morgue waiting to identify a loved one’s body, irritated by his powerlessness, massively depressed. He found no thrill in the fact that he’d been right.

Sharon Kunde, Peter’s wife, found no thrill in the situation either, though her body felt fine. It was just hot … OK, very hot. Her husband was decompensating. The trip sucked.

“I was losing it,” Peter later recalled as we sat on their front porch on a far-too-warm November afternoon in Altadena, California, just below the San Gabriel Mountains.

“Yeah,” Sharon said.

“Losing my grip.”


“Poor Sharon is the closest person to me, and I share everything with her.”

Sometimes everything is both too much and not enough. George Marshall opened his book, “Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change,” with the parable of Jan Karski, a young Polish resistance fighter who, in 1943, met in person with Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter, who was both a Jew and widely regarded as one of the great minds of his generation. Karski briefed the justice on what he’d seen firsthand: the pillage of the Warsaw Ghetto, the Belzec death camp. Afterward, Frankfurter said, “I do not believe you.”

The Polish ambassador, who had arranged the meeting on the recommendation of President Franklin Roosevelt, interrupted to defend Karski’s account.

“I did not say that he is lying,” Frankfurter explained. “I said that I didn’t believe him. It’s a different thing. My mind, my heart — they are made in such a way that I cannot accept. No no no.”

Sharon, too, possessed a self-protective mind and heart. A high school English teacher and practiced stoic from her Midwestern German Lutheran childhood, she didn’t believe in saying things you were not yet prepared to act upon. “We find it difficult to understand each other on this topic,” Sharon, 46, said of her husband’s climate fixation.

Yet while Sharon was preternaturally contained, Peter was a yard sale, whole self out in the open. At 47, he worked at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, studying which reefs might survive the longest as the oceans warm. He had more twinkle in his eye that one might expect for a man possessed by planetary demise. But he often held his head in his hands like a 50-pound kettlebell. Every time he heard a plane fly overhead, he muttered, “Fossil fuel noise.”

For years, in articles in Yes! magazine, in op-eds in the Los Angeles Times, in his book “Being the Change: Live Well and Spark a Climate Revolution,” on social media, Peter had been pleading, begging for people to pay attention to the global emergency. “Is this my personal hell?” he tweeted this past fall. “That I have to spend my entire life desperately trying to convince everyone NOT TO DESTROY THE FUCKING EARTH?”

His pain was transfixing, a case study in  . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

This is  another example of something I mentioned in a post earlier today: how the public simply ignore what knowledgeable experts tell them — about Covid, about vaccines, about the heavy use of antibiotics in animals in farming, ….  It’s a long list. And it will result in the death of many.

For example, the Covid death toll in the US today is over 420,000 — compare that to the number of combat deaths in the worst American wars (American Civil War combat deaths in chart includes both Union and Confederate forces). Just to save you the effort, the total number of combat deaths from WW II, WW I, Vietnam, and Korean war combined is 426,069. US Covid deaths will blow past that by the end of the month.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 January 2021 at 4:54 pm

Electric car batteries with five-minute charging times produced

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Damian Carrington reports in the Guardian:

Batteries capable of fully charging in five minutes have been produced in a factory for the first time, marking a significant step towards electric cars becoming as fast to charge as filling up petrol or diesel vehicles.

Electric vehicles are a vital part of action to tackle the climate crisis but running out of charge during a journey is a worry for drivers. The new lithium-ion batteries were developed by the Israeli company StoreDot and manufactured by Eve Energy in China on standard production lines.

StoreDot has already demonstrated its “extreme fast-charging” battery in phones, drones and scooters and the 1,000 batteries it has now produced are to showcase its technology to carmakers and other companies. Daimler, BP, Samsung and TDK have all invested in StoreDot, which has raised $130m to date and was named a Bloomberg New Energy Finance Pioneer in 2020.

The batteries can be fully charged in five minutes but this would require much higher-powered chargers than used today. Using available charging infrastructure, StoreDot is aiming to deliver 100 miles of charge to a car battery in five minutes in 2025.

“The number one barrier to the adoption of electric vehicles is no longer cost, it is range anxiety,” said Doron Myersdorf, CEO of StoreDot. “You’re either afraid that you’re going to get stuck on the highway or you’re going to need to sit in a charging station for two hours. But if the experience of the driver is exactly like fuelling [a petrol car], this whole anxiety goes away.”

“A five-minute charging lithium-ion battery was considered to be impossible,” he said. “But we are not releasing a lab prototype, we are releasing engineering samples from a mass production line. This demonstrates it is feasible and it’s commercially ready.”

Existing Li-ion batteries use graphite as one electrode, into which the lithium ions are pushed to store charge. But when these are rapidly charged, the ions get congested and can turn into metal and short circuit the battery.

The StoreDot battery replaces graphite with semiconductor nanoparticles into which ions can pass more quickly and easily. These nanoparticles are currently based on germanium, which is water soluble and easier to handle in manufacturing. But StoreDot’s plan is to use silicon, which is much cheaper, and it expects these prototypes later this year. Myersdorf said the cost would be the same as existing Li-ion batteries.

“The bottleneck to extra-fast charging is no longer the battery,” he said. Now the charging stations and grids that supply them need to be upgraded, he said, which is why they are working with BP. “BP has 18,200 forecourts and they understand that, 10 years from now, all these stations will be obsolete, if they don’t repurpose them for charging – batteries are the new oil.”

Dozens of companies around the world are developing fast-charging batteries, with TeslaEnevate and Sila Nanotechnologies all working on silicon electrodes. Others are looking at different compounds, such as Echion which uses niobium oxide nanoparticles.

Tesla boss Elon Musk tweeted on Monday: “Battery cell production is the fundamental rate-limiter slowing down a sustainable energy future. Very important problem.”

“I think such fast-charging batteries will be available to the mass market in three years,” said Prof Chao-Yang Wang, at the Battery and Energy Storage Technology Center at Pennsylvania State University in the US. “They will not be more expensive; in fact, they allow automakers to downsize the onboard battery while still eliminating range anxiety, thereby dramatically cutting down the vehicle battery cost.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 January 2021 at 1:14 pm

Home-Brewed Hydrogen Powers His House and Car

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Roy Furchgott reports in the NY Times on what strikes me as an unusually reasonable approach. So far as the “dangers” of hydrogen, keep in mind that natural gas and gasoline are also “dangerous.” We just learned how to deal with the danger. And hydrogen is not carcinogenic.

In December, the California Fuel Cell Partnership tallied 8,890 electric cars and 48 electric buses running on hydrogen batteries, which are refillable in minutes at any of 42 stations there. On the East Coast, the number of people who own and drive a hydrogen electric car is somewhat lower. In fact, there’s just one. His name is Mike Strizki. He is so devoted to hydrogen fuel-cell energy that he drives a Toyota Mirai even though it requires him to refine hydrogen fuel in his yard himself.

“Yeah, I love it,” Mr. Strizki said of his 2017 Mirai. “This car is powerful, there’s no shifting, plus I’m not carrying all of that weight of the batteries,” he said in a not-so-subtle swipe at the world’s most notable hydrogen naysayer, Elon Musk.

Mr. Strizki favors fuel-cell cars for the same reasons as most proponents. You can make fuel using water and solar power, as he does. The byproduct of making hydrogen is oxygen, and the byproduct of burning it is water. Hydrogen is among the most plentiful elements on earth, so you don’t have to go to adversarial countries or engage in environmentally destructive extraction to get it. The car is as quiet to drive as any other electric, it requires little maintenance, and because it doesn’t carry 1,200 pounds of batteries, it has a performance edge.

His infatuation with hydrogen began with cars, but it didn’t end there. In 2006 he made the first house in the United States to be powered entirely by hydrogen produced on site using solar power. Nine years later he made the second. He says he has built hydrogen-power home systems for conservationists and celebrities — one of his systems reportedly powers Johnny Depp’s private island in the Bahamas.

Mr. Strizki is using his retirement to evangelize for the planet-saving advantages of hydrogen batteries. He has faced opposition from the electric, oil and battery industries, he said, as well as his sometimes supporter, the Energy Department. Then there is the ghost of the 1937 Hindenburg explosion, which hovers over all things hydrogen. The financial crash of the high-flying hydrogen truck manufacturer Nikola hasn’t advanced his case.

Like anyone with evangelical fervor, he can be easy to write off as a kook. It doesn’t help that many of his achievements aren’t reliably documented — he said was not legally allowed to identify the celebrity homes he has electrified. (News of the Depp island installation leaked out.) Mr. Strizki concedes the point and dismisses it with a colorful version of “I don’t care what anyone thinks.”

“Mike is sort of an eccentric guy,” said Tom Sullivan, the founder of Lumber Liquidators, who invested in a Connecticut company that makes water-to-hydrogen converters. “I’m sure people thought Edison was a kook,” he said. “People need a few kooks.” Mr. Sullivan also deserves an asterisk as the owner of two East Coast Mirais that, he said, are “collecting dust” in Massachusetts.

Mr. Strizki’s expertise has made him a cult figure in hydrogen circles, where he has consulted on notable projects for two decades. He has worked on high school science projects as well as a new $150,000-ish hydrogen hypercar that claims to get 1,000 miles per fill-up.

“Oh, I know Mike Strizki very well, very well,” said Angelo Kafantaris, chief executive of Hyperion, the company that makes that Hypercar, the XP-1. Using a federal-standard dynamometer test, the XP-1, which claims a 0-to-60-m.p.h. time of 2.2 seconds and a top speed of 221 miles an hour, is said to achieve a range of 1,016 miles on a single tank. “I think Mike is an integral part of everything we do at Hyperion,” Mr. Kafantaris said.

Mr. Strizki, 64, wasn’t always a conservationist. He said he had spent a decade drag racing at the Englishtown Raceway in New Jersey with a succession of cars, including a Shelby GT350 with a Boss 302 engine transplant. “The car was hot,” he said. “I didn’t see the ground for the first two gears.”

He discovered hydrogen power while working at the New Jersey Transportation Department’s Office of Research and Technology. Batteries that powered electric message signs didn’t hold a charge in severe cold. Mr. Strizki was tasked with finding a solution. He turned to hydrogen fuel cells like those NASA used in space.

When Cinnaminson High School in New Jersey entered an alternative-fuel vehicle contest, the 1999 Tour de Sol, Mr. Strizki was tapped to assist. “It changed my life,” he said. “As a racecar driver, it was always doing more with more — making more horsepower, burning more fuel. They taught me it was about doing more with less.”

Back at work, he proposed that a hydrogen car would be good publicity. “Anything that got good press for clean air was a priority,” Mr. Strizki said. A consortium of high schools, colleges and tech companies built a hydrogen Tour de Sol entry from a Geo Metro they called the New Jersey Venturer, which was succeeded by the New Jersey Genesis, built from a prototype aluminum Mercury Sable donated by Ford.

“I never would have done fuel cell cars if I had not been at the Tour de Sol,” Mr. Strizki said. The last year of competition was 2006.

He left his state job for the private sector, where he worked on . . .

Continue reading. There’s more, and there are photos at the link.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 January 2021 at 3:53 pm

American Death Cult: Why has the Republican response to the pandemic been so mind-bogglingly disastrous?

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Jonathan Chait wrote this back in July 2020 in New York. And just a reminder: the US as of today has seen 20 million cases and more than 346,000 deaths due to Covid-19.

Last October, the Nuclear Threat Initiative and the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security compiled a ranking system to assess the preparedness of 195 countries for the next global pandemic. Twenty-one panel experts across the globe graded each country in 34 categories composed of 140 subindices. At the top of the rankings, peering down at 194 countries supposedly less equipped to withstand a pandemic, stood the United States of America.

It has since become horrifyingly clear that the experts missed something. The supposed world leader is in fact a viral petri dish of uncontained infection. By June, after most of the world had beaten back the coronavirus pandemic, the U.S., with 4 percent of the world’s population, accounted for 25 percent of its cases. Florida alone was seeing more new infections a week than China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Australia, and the European Union combined.

During its long period of decline, the Ottoman Empire was called “the sick man of Europe.” The United States is now the sick man of the world, pitied by the same countries that once envied its pandemic preparedness — and, as recently as the 2014 Ebola outbreak, relied on its expertise to organize the global response.

Our former peer nations are now operating in a political context Americans would find unfathomable. Every other wealthy nation in the world has successfully beaten back the disease, at least significantly, and at least for now. New Zealand’s health minister was forced to resign after allowing two people who had tested positive for COVID-19 to attend a funeral. The Italian Parliament heckled Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte when he briefly attempted to remove his mask to deliver a speech. In May — around the time Trump cheered demonstrators into the streets to protest stay-at-home orders — Boris Johnson’s top adviser set off a massive national scandal, complete with multiple calls for his resignation, because he’d been caught driving to visit his parents during lockdown. If a Trump official had done the same, would any newspaper even have bothered to publish the story?

It is difficult for us Americans to imagine living in a country where violations so trivial (by our standards) provoke such an uproar. And if you’re tempted to see for yourself what it looks like, too bad — the E.U. has banned U.S. travelers for health reasons.

The distrust and open dismissal of expertise and authority may seem uniquely contemporary — a phenomenon of the Trump era, or the rise of online misinformation. But the president and his party are the products of a decades-long war against the functioning of good government, a collapse of trust in experts and empiricism, and the spread of a kind of magical thinking that flourishes in a hothouse atmosphere that can seal out reality. While it’s not exactly shocking to see a Republican administration be destroyed by incompetent management — it happened to the last one, after all — the willfulness of it is still mind-boggling and has led to the unnecessary sickness and death of hundreds of thousands of people and the torpedoing of the reelection prospects of the president himself. Like Stalin’s purge of 30,000 Red Army members right before World War II, the central government has perversely chosen to disable the very asset that was intended to carry it through the crisis. Only this failure of leadership and management took place in a supposedly advanced democracy whose leadership succumbed to a debilitating and ultimately deadly ideological pathology.

How did this happen? In 1973, Republicans trusted science more than religion, while Democrats trusted religion more than science. The reverse now holds true. In the meantime, working-class whites left the Democratic Party, which has increasingly taken on the outlook of the professional class with its trust in institutions and empiricism. The influx of working-class whites (especially religiously observant ones) has pushed Republicans toward increasingly paranoid varieties of populism.

This is the conventional history of right-wing populism — that it was a postwar backlash against the New Deal and the Republican Party’s inability or unwillingness to roll it back. The movement believed the government had been subverted, perhaps consciously, by conspirators seeking to impose some form of socialism, communism, or world government. Its “paranoid style,” so described by historian Richard Hofstadter, became warped with anti-intellectualism, reflecting a “conflict between businessmen of certain types and the New Deal bureaucracy, which has spilled over into a resentment of intellectuals and experts.” Its followers seemed prone to “a disorder in relation to authority, characterized by an inability to find other modes for human relationship than those of more or less complete domination or submission.” Perhaps this sounds like someone you’ve heard of.

But for all the virulence of conservative paranoia in American life, without the sanction of a major party exploiting and profiting from paranoia, and thereby encouraging its growth, the worldview remained relatively fringe. Some of the far right’s more colorful adherents, especially the 100,000 reactionaries who joined the John Birch Society, suspected the (then-novel, now-uncontroversial) practice of adding small amounts of fluoride to water supplies to improve dental health was, in fact, a communist plot intended to weaken the populace. Still, the far right lacked power. Republican leaders held Joe McCarthy at arm’s length; Goldwater captured the nomination but went down in a landslide defeat. In the era of Sputnik, science was hardly a countercultural institution. “In the early Cold War period, science was associated with the military,” says sociologist Timothy O’Brien who, along with Shiri Noy, has studied the transformation. “When people thought about scientists, they thought about the Manhattan Project.” The scientist was calculating, cold, heartless, an authority figure against whom the caring, feeling liberal might rebel. Radicals in the ’60s often directed their protests against the scientists or laboratories that worked with the Pentagon.

But this began to change in the 1960s, along with everything else in American political and cultural life. New issues arose that tended to pit scientists against conservatives. Goldwater’s insouciant attitude toward the prospect of nuclear war with the Soviets provoked scientists to explain the impossibility of surviving atomic fallout and the formation of Scientists and Engineers for Johnson-Humphrey. New research by Rachel Carson about pollution and by Ralph Nader on the dangers of cars and other consumer products made science the linchpin of a vast new regulatory state. Business owners quickly grasped that stopping the advance of big government meant blunting the cultural and political authority of scientists. Expertise came to look like tyranny — or at least it was sold that way.

One tobacco company conceded privately in 1969 that it could not directly challenge the evidence of tobacco’s dangers but could make people wonder how solid the evidence really was. “Doubt,” the memo explained, “is our product.” In 1977, the conservative intellectual Irving Kristol urged business leaders to steer their donations away from public-interest causes and toward the burgeoning network of pro-business foundations. “Corporate philanthropy,” he wrote, “should not be, cannot be, disinterested.” The conservative think-tank scene exploded with reports questioning whether pollution, smoking, driving, and other profitable aspects of American capitalism were really as dangerous as the scientists said.

The Republican Party’s turn against science was slow and jagged, as most party-identity changes tend to be. The Environmental Protection Agency had been created under Richard Nixon, and its former administrator, Russell Train, once recalled President Gerald Ford promising to support whatever auto-emissions guidelines his staff deemed necessary. “I want you to be totally comfortable in the fact that no effort whatsoever will be made to try to change your position in any way,” said Ford — a pledge that would be unimaginable for a contemporary Republican president to make. Not until Ronald Reagan did Republican presidents begin letting business interests overrule experts, as when his EPA used a “hit list” of scientists flagged by industry as hostile. And even Reagan toggled between giving business a free hand and listening to his advisers (as he did when he signed a landmark 1987 agreement to phase out substances that were depleting the ozone layer and a plan the next year to curtail acid rain).

The party’s rightward tilt accelerated in the 1990s. “With the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cold Warriors looked for another great threat,” wrote science historians Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway. “They found it in environmentalism,” viewing climate change as a pretext to impose government control over the whole economy. Since the 1990s was also the decade in which scientific consensus solidified that greenhouse-gas emissions were permanently increasing temperatures, the political stakes of environmentalism soared.

The number of books criticizing environmentalism increased fivefold over the previous decade, and more than 90 percent cited evidence produced by right-wing foundations. Many of these tracts coursed with the same lurid paranoia as their McCarthy-era counterparts. This was when the conspiracy theory that is currently conventional wisdom on the right — that scientists across the globe conspired to exaggerate or falsify global warming data in order to increase their own power — first took root.

This is not just a story about elites. About a decade after business leaders launched their attack on science from above, a new front opened from below: Starting in the late 1970s,  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 January 2021 at 4:55 pm

The Big Thaw: How Russia Could Dominate a Warming World

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Abrahm Lustgarten reports in ProPublica:

IT WAS ONLY November, but the chill already cut to the bone in the small village of Dimitrovo, which sits just 35 miles north of the Chinese border in a remote part of eastern Russia’s Jewish Autonomous Region. Behind a row of sagging cabins and decades-old farm equipment, flat fields ran into the brambly branches of a leafless forest before fading into the oblivion of a dreary squall. Several villagers walked the single-lane dirt road, their shoulders rounded against the cold, their ghostly footprints marking the dry white snow.

A few miles down the road, a rusting old John Deere combine growled on through the flurries, its blade churning through dead-brown stalks of soybeans. The tractor lurched to a halt, and a good-humored man named Dima climbed down from the cockpit. Dima, an entrepreneur who farms nearly 6,500 acres of these fields, was born in the Liaoning Province of northeastern China — his birth name is Xin Jie — one of a wave of Chinese to migrate north in pursuit of opportunity in recent years. After Dima’s mostly Chinese laborers returned home this year amid the COVID-19 pandemic, he has been forced to do much of the work himself. Bundled against the wind in a camouflage parka, he bent to pick a handful of slender pods from the ground, opening one to reveal a glimpse at Russia’s future.

A great transformation is underway in the eastern half of Russia. For centuries the vast majority of the land has been impossible to farm; only the southernmost stretches along the Chinese and Mongolian borders, including around Dimitrovo, have been temperate enough to offer workable soil. But as the climate has begun to warm, the land — and the prospect for cultivating it — has begun to improve. Twenty years ago, Dima says, the spring thaw came in May, but now the ground is bare by April; rainstorms now come stronger and wetter. Across Eastern Russia, wild forests, swamps and grasslands are slowly being transformed into orderly grids of soybeans, corn and wheat. It’s a process that is likely to accelerate: Russia hopes to seize on the warming temperatures and longer growing seasons brought by climate change to refashion itself as one of the planet’s largest producers of food.

Around the world, climate change is becoming an epochal crisis, a nightmare of drought, desertification, flooding and unbearable heat, threatening to make vast regions less habitable and drive the greatest migration of refugees in history. But for a few nations, climate change will present an unparalleled opportunity, as the planet’s coldest regions become more temperate. There is plenty of reason to think that those places will also receive an extraordinary influx of people displaced from the hottest parts of the world as the climate warms. Human migration, historically, has been driven by the pursuit of prosperity even more so than it has by environmental strife. With climate change, prosperity and habitability — haven and economic opportunity — will soon become one and the same.

And no country may be better positioned to capitalize on climate change than Russia. Russia has the largest land mass by far of any northern nation. It is positioned farther north than all of its South Asian neighbors, which collectively are home to the largest global population fending off displacement from rising seas, drought and an overheating climate. Like Canada, Russia is rich in resources and land, with room to grow. Its crop production is expected to be boosted by warming temperatures over the coming decades even as farm yields in the United States, Europe and India are all forecast to decrease. And whether by accident or cunning strategy or, most likely, some combination of the two, the steps its leaders have steadily taken — planting flags in the Arctic and propping up domestic grain production among them — have increasingly positioned Russia to regain its superpower mantle in a warmer world.

FOR THOUSANDS of years, warming temperatures and optimal climate have tracked closely with human productivity and development. After the last ice age, . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

16 December 2020 at 11:39 am

New nuclear fusion reactor design may be a breakthrough

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Stephen Johnson writes at Big Think:

The promise of nuclear fusion is tantalizing: By utilizing the same atomic process that powers our sun, we may someday be able to generate virtually unlimited amounts of clean energy.

But while fusion reactors have been around since the 1950s, scientists haven’t been able to create designs that can produce energy in a sustainable manner. Standing in the way of nuclear fusion are politics, lack of funding, concerns about the power source, and potentially insurmountable technological problems, to name a few roadblocks. Today, the nuclear fusion reactors we have are stuck at the prototype stage.

However, researcher Michael Zarnstorff in New Jersey may have recently made a significant breakthrough while helping his son with a science project. In a new paper, Zarnstorff, a chief scientist at the Max Planck Princeton Research Center for Plasma Physics in New Jersey, and his colleagues describe a simpler design for a stellarator, one of the most promising types of nuclear fusion reactors.

Fusion reactors generate power by smashing together, or fusing, two atomic nuclei to produce one or more heavier nuclei. This process can unleash vast amounts of energy. But achieving fusion is difficult. It requires heating hydrogen plasma to over 100,000,000°C, until the hydrogen nuclei fuse and generate energy. Unsurprisingly, this super-hot plasma is hard to work with, and it can damage and corrode the expensive hardware of the reactor.

Stellarators are devices that use external magnets to control and evenly distribute the hot plasma by “twisting” its flow in specific ways. To do this, stellarators are outfitted with a complex series of electromagnetic coils that create an optimal magnetic field within the device.

“The twisted coils are the most expensive and complicated part of the stellarator and have to be manufactured to very great precision in a very complicated form,” physicist Per Helander, head of the Stellarator Theory Division at Max Planck and lead author of the new paper, told Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory News.

The new design offers a simpler approach by instead using permanent magnets, whose magnetic field is generated by the internal structure of the material itself. As described in an article published by Nature, Zarnstorff realized that neodymium–boron permanent magnets—which behave like refrigerator magnets, only stronger—had become powerful enough to potentially help control the plasma in stellarators.

“His team’s conceptual design combines simpler, ring-shaped superconducting coils with pancake-shaped magnets attached outside the plasma’s vacuum vessel,” reads an article published in Nature. “Like refrigerator magnets—which stick on only one side—these would produce their magnetic field mainly inside the vessel.”

In theory, using permanent magnets on stellarators would be simpler and more affordable, and it would free up valuable space on the devices. But the researchers did note a few drawbacks, such as “limitations in field strength, nontunability, and the possibility of demagnetization.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 November 2020 at 12:58 pm

The Tragedy of the “Tragedy of the Commons”

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Matto Mildenberger posted in the Scientific American blog a little over a year ago:

Fifty years ago, University of California professor Garrett Hardin penned an influential essay in the journal Science. Hardin saw all humans as selfish herders: we worry that our neighbors’ cattle will graze the best grass. So, we send more of our cows out to consume that grass first. We take it first, before someone else steals our share. This creates a vicious cycle of environmental degradation that Hardin described as the “tragedy of the commons.”

It’s hard to overstate Hardin’s impact on modern environmentalism. His views are taught across ecology, economics, political science and environmental studies. His essay remains an academic blockbuster, with almost 40,000 citations. It still gets republished in prominent environmental anthologies.

But here are some inconvenient truths: Hardin was a racist, eugenicist, nativist and Islamophobe. He is listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a known white nationalist. His writings and political activism helped inspire the anti-immigrant hatred spilling across America today.

And he promoted an idea he called “lifeboat ethics”: since global resources are finite, Hardin believed the rich should throw poor people overboard to keep their boat above water.

To create a just and vibrant climate future, we need to instead cast Hardin and his flawed metaphor overboard.

People who revisit Hardin’s original essay are in for a surprise. Its six pages are filled with fear-mongering. Subheadings proclaim that “freedom to breed is intolerable.” It opines at length about the benefits if “children of improvident parents starve to death.” A few paragraphs later Hardin writes: “If we love the truth we must openly deny the validity of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” And on and on. Hardin practically calls for a fascist state to snuff out unwanted gene pools.

Or build a wall to keep immigrants out. Hardin was a virulent nativist whose ideas inspired some of today’s ugliest anti-immigrant sentiment. He believed that only racially homogenous societies could survive. He was also involved with the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), a hate group that now cheers President Trump’s racist policies. Today, American neo-Nazis cite Hardin’s theories to justify racial violence.

These were not mere words on paper. Hardin lobbied Congress against sending food aid to poor nations, because he believed their populations were threatening Earth’s “carrying capacity.”

Of course, plenty of flawed people have left behind noble ideas. That Hardin’s tragedy was advanced as part of a white nationalist project should not automatically condemn its merits.

But the facts are not on Hardin’s side. For one, he got the history of the commons wrong. As Susan Cox pointed out, early pastures were well regulated by local institutions. They were not free-for-all grazing sites where people took and took at the expense of everyone else.

Many global commons have been similarly sustained through community institutions. This striking finding was the life’s work of Elinor Ostrom, who won the 2009 Nobel Prize in Economics (technically called the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel). Using the tools of science—rather than the tools of hatred—Ostrom showed the diversity of institutions humans have created to manage our shared environment.

Of course, humans can deplete finite resources. This often happens when we lack appropriate institutions to manage them. But let’s not credit Hardin for that common insight. Hardin wasn’t making an informed scientific case. Instead, he was using concerns about environmental scarcity to justify racial discrimination.

We must reject his pernicious ideas on both scientific and moral grounds. Environmental sustainability cannot exist without environmental justice. Are we really prepared to follow Hardin and say there are only so many lead pipes we can replace? Only so many bodies that should be protected from cancer-causing pollutants? Only so many children whose futures matter?

This is particularly important when we deal with climate change. Despite what Hardin might have said, the climate crisis is not a tragedy of the commons. The culprit is not our individual impulses to consume fossil fuels to the ruin of all. And the solution is not to let small islands in Chesapeake Bay or whole countries in the Pacific sink into the past, without a seat on our planetary lifeboat.

Instead, rejecting Hardin’s diagnosis requires us to name the true culprit for the climate crisis we now face. Thirty years ago, a different future was available. Gradual climate policies could have slowly steered our economy towards gently declining carbon pollution levels. The costs to most Americans would have been imperceptible.

But that future was stolen from us. It was stolen by powerful, carbon-polluting interests who blocked policy reforms at every turn to preserve their short-term profits. They locked each of us into an economy where fossil fuel consumption continues to be a necessity, not a choice.

This is what makes attacks on individual behavior so counterproductive. Yes, it’s great to drive an electric vehicle (if you can afford it) and purchase solar panels (if powerful utilities in your state haven’t conspired to make renewable energy more expensive). But the point is that interest groups have structured the choices available to us today. Individuals don’t have the agency to steer our economic ship from the passenger deck.

As Harvard historian Naomi Oreskes reminds us, “[abolitionists] wore clothes made of cotton picked by slaves. But that did not make them hypocrites … it just meant that they were also part of the slave economy, and they knew it. That is why they acted to change the system, not just their clothes.” . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 October 2020 at 10:59 am

Iowa derecho in August was most costly thunderstorm disaster in U.S. history

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The costs of climate change — and the steadfast refusal of nations to address the issue — are starting to mount. It will only get worse — much worse — from now on.

Bob Henson reports in the Washington Post:

No single thunderstorm event in modern times — not even a tornado — has wrought as much economic devastation as the derecho that slammed the nation’s Corn Belt on Aug. 10, based on analyses from the public and private sectors.

The storm complex, blamed for four deaths, hit Cedar Rapids, Iowa, particularly hard, cutting power to almost the entire city of 133,000 people, and damaging most of its businesses and homes.

In an October update to its database of billion-dollar weather disasters, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimated damages from the August derecho, which raced from Iowa to Indiana, at $7.5 billion. This includes agricultural impacts that are still being analyzed, so the total may be revised, said Adam Smith, who manages the database.

The derecho’s financial toll exceeds that of nine of this year’s record 10 landfalling U.S. hurricanes and tropical storms. The exception is Hurricane Laura, which struck Louisiana in late August and caused an estimated $14 billion in damage.

Including the derecho, the U.S. has been hit by a record-tying 16 billion-dollar weather disasters this year through September.

A derecho is a fast-moving, violent wind event associated with a thunderstorm complex. One common definition specifies that it must produce “continuous or intermittent” damage along a path at least 60 miles wide and 400 miles long, with frequent gusts of at least 58 mph and several well-separated gusts of at least 75 mph.

The Aug. 10 event more than qualified. Striking with unanticipated ferocity, the derecho brought winds gusting to more than 70 mph for the better part of an hour over a large swath of central and eastern Iowa and northwest Illinois. Numerous locations clocked gusts over 110 mph.

The winds laid waste to millions of acres of crops, severely damaged or destroyed hundreds of homes, and brought down many thousands of trees.

“One could make a strong case that this is the most destructive individual thunderstorm cluster on record in terms of damage cost,” said Steve Bowen, head of catastrophe insight at the insurance broker Aon, in an email. Aon released an initial damage estimate of $5 billion for the derecho, not yet including agricultural impacts.

The derecho’s top winds ripped along the south edge of a mesoscale convective vortex, a low-pressure center embedded within the thunderstorm complex. “The vortex was one of the most distinctive ones of that size that I have ever seen,” said Stephen Corfidi, a meteorologist at the University of Oklahoma and derecho expert, in an email.

The peak wind gust observed in the derecho was 126 mph at Atkins, Iowa. The highest estimated gust, based on the partial destruction of an apartment complex in Cedar Rapids, was 140 mph. Gusts that strong are comparable to the peak that one would expect in an EF3 tornado or major hurricane.

Parts of five Iowa counties were struck by wind gusts estimated at 110 to 140 mph.

“To have a Midwest city endure [such] wind speeds, and also see such a devastating impact to a large volume of regional crops, is almost unbelievable,” Bowen said. “I don’t think most of the country truly realizes how severe the event ended up being.”

Derecho winds typically last about 10 to 20 minutes at any one spot. In contrast, the 30- to 60-minute duration of severe gusts in the hardest-hit areas Aug. 10 was much more comparable to the passage of a hurricane eyewall than a tornado, whose winds typically last only a few seconds to a minute or two. . .

Continue reading. There’s quite a bit more. And there are many images.

Later in the article

The derecho ripped huge holes in the tree canopy above a number of Iowa towns and cities, according to Emma Hanigan, an urban forester with the state’s Department of Natural Resources. At least half of the trees in Cedar Rapids were destroyed or heavily damaged. The toll will only worsen over the coming months, as the wounds left by torn limbs allow pests and pathogens such as oak wilt to infect damaged trees.

“It takes so long to regain that tree cover,” said Hannigan in an interview. “We’re going to see impacts 30 years from now from this storm.”

Written by LeisureGuy

18 October 2020 at 2:54 am

Earth’s New Gilded Era

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You might think humans could do better. Van R. Newkirk II writes in the Atlantic:

Consider the cantaloupe. It’s a decent melon. If you, like me, are the sort who constantly mixes them up, cantaloupes are the orange ones, and honeydews are green. If you, like me, are old enough to remember vacations, you might have had them along with their cousin, watermelon, at a hotel’s breakfast buffet. Those spreads are not as bad as you remember, especially when it’s hot out; add a couple of cold bagels and a pat of unmelted butter and it’s a party.

Maybe you want the cool, refreshing mildness of a melon cup at home. Unless there’s a good fruit stand nearby and cantaloupe is in season, that means taking a trip to the grocery store. Maybe you’ll stroll down aisles kept just cool enough to make the skin on your arms prickle. You’ll browse refrigerated produce shelves doused in cold water every so often. Then you’ll find it: the perfect cantaloupe. It’s round and rough, with no dimples or spots. When you thump it, there’s a satisfying, muffled thud. It’s a sweet one.

Consider how the cantaloupe got there. It likely took a long ride to the supermarket or the hotel kitchen in a truck cooled to just above freezing. Maybe, like many melons, it was planted, picked, and packed on a plantation in the town of Choluteca, in southern Honduras, before it began its careful ballet of climate control.

Workers told me they aren’t allowed phones in the fields in Choluteca, so they don’t always know exactly how hot it is. But during the growing season on the Fyffes melon plantation, temperatures hover in the mid-30s in Celsius—the mid-to-upper 90s in Fahrenheit. The sun broils the open spaces where workers chop the melons from their stems. The heat is overwhelming and omnipresent, an overseer whose hand is always heavy, and whose eye is never distracted.

Workers have told me of conditions that push the human body to its limits—sometimes, past them. Protective gloves are prohibited, they say, so their hands bleed from the rough work handling plants that are doused in corrosive chemicals. Pickers say they are hesitant to show any signs of weakness or illness, fearing that taking time off or even appearing to be sick while working will result in termination. (A Fyffes spokesperson told me that gloves are always provided upon request, and are mandatory in certain parts of the packhouse where workers handle chemicals, and that unwell workers receive sick days and are required to see a doctor.)

But the most common complaint is the most elemental: It’s damn hot in the fields. “El calor es bien fuerte,” one woman, 25, told me. She didn’t want to reveal her name for fear of retaliation, but she said she’s worked on a farm in Choluteca for four years, shuffling through almost every job available, from cleaning the facilities to picking the fruit. Many people who have worked for decades are marked by skin blemishes that, even if they’re not yet cancerous, aren’t all benign: hives, rashes, and chocolate-colored splotches. The spokesperson for Fyffes told me that the workers start very early in the morning to avoid the heat as much as possible, and are provided cold water and hats to shield them from the sun. But even for workers who begin in the dark, when sun and heat and exertion act together over long periods of time, the effects can be worrisome. “Varias mujeres se desmayan,” the same worker said. “Se les sube la presión … todo eso.” They faint. Their blood pressure spikes. And they keep working.

Thousands of miles separate the fields of Honduras and the continental breakfasts in the States. But these are terminals of a single, continuous system. Heat bears down most on the global working poor and developing countries, while their wealthier planetmates are able to evade the worst of the warming. What’s more, consumption by those wealthier folks helps create the warming, which in turn robs the poor of opportunity and walls off economic mobility. Garment workers in Cambodia and Bangladesh toil in sweatshops to sew the moisture-wicking fabrics that make summer in Phoenix or Miami or Washington, D.C., bearable. In Qatar, itinerant workers labor at the outer edge of human survivability to fabricate air-conditioned hotels, malls, and arenas for the rich. And thousands of families flee environmental pressures in Central America only to find themselves suffering from the heat in the United States.

Scientists and people with good sense around the world recognize the manifold perils of a climate crisis: an onslaught of tropical systems in the Atlantic Ocean, the relentless burn of wildfires in California and Oregon, the hundred-year floods that now encroach annually. Less appreciated, perhaps, are the direct effects of that increasing warmth on human bodies and communities. Heat is already often deadly, and even below fatal thresholds it is a grinding attrition that saps personal and economic vitality a little more each day. In the coming century, when wealth inequality will likely increase and the spaces where humans can live comfortably will shrink, the heat gap between rich and poor might be the world’s most daunting challenge. It will reflect existing wealth disparities, but will also deepen them. It will destroy some bodies, while others are spared. It will spark uprisings and set the stage for conflict, both between and within nations. In a hot world, the heat gap will be a defining manifestation of inequality.

One billion people work in agriculture, performing the same kind of labor as the melon pickers in Choluteca. Add to that the millions and millions of people who work outdoors in construction jobs, or indoors in sweatshops and factories without air-conditioning, and significant numbers of low-income workers—including hundreds of millions of children—have little control over the temperatures in which they spend the majority of their waking hours. According to a recent report by the United Nations’ International Labour Organization (ILO), heat stress is threatening their work and their lives.

Heat stress—defined by the ILO as “heat received in excess of that which the body can tolerate without physiological impairment”—has always affected workers in the summer and in tropical or subtropical climates. Sunburns, skin cancer, heat exhaustion, fainting, dehydration, and long-term kidney problems have been accepted as basic risks of outdoor work. But as the Earth has experienced a sustained, record-breaking run of overall temperatures, these problems have become more and more of a burden—and, more and more often, a fatal one. Tord Kjellstrom, an environmental- and occupational-health expert and one of the main authors of the ILO report, told me that “it’s well understood from a physiological, medical point of view that these hot temperatures limit people’s abilities to carry out work.” It’s not just work—extreme heat can disrupt or destroy many of the pieces of a healthy life—but in his research, Kjellstrom has found productivity to be one of the main proxies for all the ways heat can affect the global poor.

Kjellstrom’s work has zeroed in on so-called mass fainting events in South Asian and Southeast Asian factories over the past decade. In 2017, hundreds of garment workers in Bangladesh fell ill with what one worker described as “nausea, vomiting and stomach pain after working [a] few hours.” That same year, “there were more than 1600 cases of factory workers in Cambodia fainting in various incidents,” according to an epidemiological study of the faintings.

Over and over, these incidents have been described as “mysterious.” One common explanation is possession by spirits. The usual official line is that mass fainting—among a mostly female workforce—is caused by “hysteria” of an inexplicable, gendered extraction. A secret report by officials in Cambodia after two such mass fainting events found its way to Kjellstrom. “Their report was quite long, and half of it was about the heat problems,” he told me. “And still, at the end they concluded that it was hysteria: You know, one young woman in the factory, she faints, and then all her friends start fainting as well. And of course that doesn’t make sense.” Epidemiological evidence also points to stress, air pollution, long hours, and the punishing pace of work as potential contributors to the fainting incidents, but with factory temperatures in Cambodia regularly topping 100 degrees Fahrenheit, the likely main contributor seems obvious.

Other places have caught Kjellstrom’s eye as well. In Qatar, where the stadiums the emirate is scrambling to build for the 2022 World Cup require lots and lots of outdoor labor, heart-disease deaths among workers have spiked during the summer months. Chronic kidney disease has swept Central America; again, the etiology of the epidemic has been described as mysterious. Similar waves of kidney disease have been observed in India and Sri Lanka. Scientists have tended toward a kitchen-sink explanation, identifying genetics, diet, pollution, and age as contributors to the epidemic. But a common factor in each outbreak—and the one that has increased most dramatically in recent years—is the heat.

One way to track the increasing impact of heat on people has been to measure how . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more. It’s grim, but it’s factual.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 October 2020 at 2:38 pm

“California Is Built To Burn”

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In Der Speigel Hilmar Schmundt interviews Stephen Pyne, a fire historian and emeritus professor at Arizona State University:


Continue reading. There’s much more, and it’s specific and interesting.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 September 2020 at 9:11 pm

The 12 Arguments Every Climate Denier Uses – and How to Debunk Them

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Of course, climate deniers are often driven by things other than rational argument and evidence, such as social pressure, religious belief, and political affiliation. Imogen West-Knights does, however, provide some good arguments for those who are open to changing their beliefs.

In Europe, you don’t often rub shoulders with someone who doesn’t believe in climate change. Although climate change denial is alive and well in America – not least in the White House – people here mostly accept that climate change is, to some degree, happening.

But that doesn’t mean climate denialism has gone away. Instead, according to new research from the University of Cardiff, it has simply changed shape, into something they call “discourses of delay”. These 12 arguments, favoured by politicians and industry figures, are a more subtle way of downplaying the need for action on climate change than full-on denialism, but no less corrosive to efforts to mitigate damaging climate effects. And they’re filtering into the public consciousness rapidly. Rather than arguing that climate change isn’t happening, now you hear people arguing that it’s too late, too difficult, too controversial, too unfair, too hasty, to take serious action on climate change.

How do you debunk these arguments when you hear them? Tackling these types of misinformation is no mean feat; often they’re put forward in good faith. But explaining to someone the fallacies behind these common discourses of delay can work as what Dr. William Lamb, one of the authors of the Cardiff paper, calls an “inoculation strategy” against future misinformation on climate change.

Here are their 12 discourses of delay, and what you can say to challenge them.

  1. “Ultimately, it’s individuals and consumers who are responsible for taking action”

This narrative first came from the fossil fuel industry. “They funded carbon footprint calculators,” Dr John Cook, a research professor at the Centre for Climate Change Communication, tells me, “and my hat off to them for coming up with an incredibly effective PR strategy to distract the public from the real need, to transform how we create energy.”

It’s not pointless to try to avoid plastic, or to limit your meat consumption but we’ll never convince everybody to do that, plus there are socio-economic reasons why it isn’t possible for everyone. Even if we did, it would be like trying to drain the ocean with a pipette compared to systemic change in polluting industries. One hundred companies are responsible for 71 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions.

  1. “The UK’s carbon footprint is tiny compared to China’s, so it doesn’t make sense for us to take action, at least until they do”

The report calls this “whataboutism”. The farming industry points the finger at the car industry, and vice versa. Politicians point out that their nation’s global carbon dioxide output is only small (in the UK it’s between 1 and 2 percent of the world total) and so justify inaction.

First, every country could make a version of this argument, and if they did, there would be no hope to limit climate change. Secondly, that 1 to 2 percent figure is misleading, because per capita emissions in the UK are relatively high – about five times as high as India’s, for instance. Thirdly, as a technologically and economically advanced nation, we are more able to take action than many other nations, and we have an additional historical responsibility to do so as a country that has polluted a great deal in the past.

  1. “But if we start to reduce emissions, other countries will just take advantage of that to increase their emissions”

You can challenge the narrative that we are necessarily giving something up by lowering our carbon emissions. “There are a lot of benefits to be gained in our everyday lives from mitigating climate change, in terms of reducing local air pollution, more active travel, not spending so much money on fuel bills and so on,” says Lamb.

  1. “People are developing new, green technology right now, we just need to wait for it”

If only. The aviation industry is particularly good at manipulating this argument, so good in fact that Matt Hancock recently claimed that “electric planes are on the horizon”.

They aren’t. Or maybe they will be, in several decades time, but the IPCC finding is that we need to half our emissions in the next ten years. “You have to demonstrate that these technologies are going to be available in the timeframe that matters,” says Lamb, and at present, climate friendly planes are a pie in the sky.

  1. “We’ve already declared a climate emergency and set ambitious targets”

Targets are emphatically not policies. As a global community, we are extremely bad at meeting environmental targets. Earlier this month, it was announced that humanity has missed every single one of the 2010 Aichi goals to protect world wildlife and ecosystems.

  1. “We need to work with fossil fuel companies, their fuel is becoming more efficient and we’ll need them as a stopgap before widespread renewable energy use in the future”

This kind of greenwashing is “at the heart of industry pushback against regulation”, says the Cardiff report. It is not a foregone conclusion that we need fossil fuels for now in order to transition into using renewables in the future: “We can leapfrog it straight to renewables,” Cook tells me.

And we don’t have the time for a gentle climb down from fossil fuels: it’s ten years.

  1. “People respond best to voluntary policies, and we shouldn’t try to force people to do anything”

Or in other words, what we need is carrots, not sticks. Things like funding high-speed rail to substitute flights, and not frequent flyer levies.

But restrictive measures are a normal and accepted part of life already. Seatbelts, for instance, are a restrictive measure enforced by law for the safety of drivers and their passengers, and the car industry pushed back against them hard when they were introduced. They also can and should be used in conjunction with incentives, it’s not an either/or.

  1. “Taking action on climate change will . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 September 2020 at 12:18 pm

Predictable catastrophe: Mass migration from global warming

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Although everyone can see it will happen, no one seems to be preparing for it. Abrahm Lustgarten reports in ProPublica:

This article, the first in a series on global climate migration, is a partnership between ProPublica and The New York Times Magazine, with support from the Pulitzer CenterRead more about the data project that underlies the reporting.

EARLY IN 2019, a year before the world shut its borders completely, Jorge A. knew he had to get out of Guatemala. The land was turning against him. For five years, it almost never rained. Then it did rain, and Jorge rushed his last seeds into the ground. The corn sprouted into healthy green stalks, and there was hope — until, without warning, the river flooded. Jorge waded chest-deep into his fields searching in vain for cobs he could still eat. Soon he made a last desperate bet, signing away the tin-roof hut where he lived with his wife and three children against a $1,500 advance in okra seed. But after the flood, the rain stopped again, and everything died. Jorge knew then that if he didn’t get out of Guatemala, his family might die, too.

Even as hundreds of thousands of Guatemalans fled north toward the United States in recent years, in Jorge’s region — a state called Alta Verapaz, where precipitous mountains covered in coffee plantations and dense, dry forest give way to broader gentle valleys — the residents have largely stayed. Now, though, under a relentless confluence of drought, flood, bankruptcy and starvation, they, too, have begun to leave. Almost everyone here experiences some degree of uncertainty about where their next meal will come from. Half the children are chronically hungry, and many are short for their age, with weak bones and bloated bellies. Their families are all facing the same excruciating decision that confronted Jorge.

The odd weather phenomenon that many blame for the suffering here — the drought and sudden storm pattern known as El Niño — is expected to become more frequent as the planet warms. Many semiarid parts of Guatemala will soon be more like a desert. Rainfall is expected to decrease by 60% in some parts of the country, and the amount of water replenishing streams and keeping soil moist will drop by as much as 83%. Researchers project that by 2070, yields of some staple crops in the state where Jorge lives will decline by nearly a third.

Scientists have learned to project such changes around the world with surprising precision, but — until recently — little has been known about the human consequences of those changes. As their land fails them, hundreds of millions of people from Central America to Sudan to the Mekong Delta will be forced to choose between flight or death. The result will almost certainly be the greatest wave of global migration the world has seen.

In March, Jorge and his 7-year-old son each packed a pair of pants, three T-shirts, underwear and a toothbrush into a single thin black nylon sack with a drawstring. Jorge’s father had pawned his last four goats for $2,000 to help pay for their transit, another loan the family would have to repay at 100% interest. The coyote called at 10 p.m. — they would go that night. They had no idea then where they would wind up, or what they would do when they got there.

From decision to departure, it was three days. And then they were gone.

FOR MOST OF HUMAN history, people have lived within a surprisingly narrow range of temperatures, in the places where the climate supported abundant food production. But as the planet warms, that band is suddenly shifting north. According to a pathbreaking recent study in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the planet could see a greater temperature increase in the next 50 years than it did in the last 6,000 years combined. By 2070, the kind of extremely hot zones, like in the Sahara, that now cover less than 1% of the earth’s land surface could cover nearly a fifth of the land, potentially placing 1 of every 3 people alive outside the climate niche where humans have thrived for thousands of years. Many will dig in, suffering through heat, hunger and political chaos, but others will be forced to move on. A 2017 study in Science Advances found that by 2100, temperatures could rise to the point that just going outside for a few hours in some places, including parts of India and Eastern China, “will result in death even for the fittest of humans.”

People are already beginning to flee. In Southeast Asia, where increasingly unpredictable monsoon rainfall and drought have made farming more difficult, the World Bank points to more than 8 million people who have moved toward the Middle East, Europe and North America. In the African Sahel, millions of rural people have been streaming toward the coasts and the cities amid drought and widespread crop failures. Should the flight away from hot climates reach the scale that current research suggests is likely, it will amount to a vast remapping of the world’s populations.

Migration can bring great opportunity not just to migrants but also to the places they go. As the United States and other parts of the global North face a demographic decline, for instance, an injection of new people into an aging workforce could be to everyone’s benefit. But securing these benefits starts with a choice: Northern nations can relieve pressures on the fastest-warming countries by allowing more migrants to move north across their borders, or they can seal themselves off, trapping hundreds of millions of people in places that are increasingly unlivable. The best outcome requires not only goodwill and the careful management of turbulent political forces; without preparation and planning, the sweeping scale of change could prove wildly destabilizing. The United Nations and others warn that in the worst case, the governments of the nations most affected by climate change could topple as whole regions devolve into war.

The stark policy choices are already becoming apparent. As refugees stream out of the Middle East and North Africa into Europe and from Central America into the United States, an anti-immigrant backlash has propelled nationalist governments into power around the world. The alternative, driven by a better understanding of how and when people will move, is governments that are actively preparing, both materially and politically, for the greater changes to come.

Last summer, I went to Central America to learn how people like Jorge will respond to changes in their climates. I followed the decisions of people in rural Guatemala and their routes to the region’s biggest cities, then north through Mexico to Texas. I found an astonishing need for food and witnessed the ways competition and poverty among the displaced broke down cultural and moral boundaries. But the picture on the ground is scattered. To better understand the forces and scale of climate migration over a broader area, The New York Times Magazine and ProPublica joined with the Pulitzer Center in an effort to model, for the first time, how people will move across borders.

We focused on changes in Central America and used climate and economic-development data to examine a range of scenarios. Our model projects that migration will rise every year regardless of climate, but that the amount of migration increases substantially as the climate changes. In the most extreme climate scenarios, more than 30 million migrants would head toward the U.S. border over the course of the next 30 years.

Migrants move for many reasons, of course. The model helps us see which migrants are driven primarily by climate, finding that they would make up as much as 5% of the total. If governments take modest action to reduce climate emissions, about 680,000 climate migrants might move from Central America and Mexico to the United States between now and 2050. If emissions continue unabated, leading to more extreme warming, that number jumps to more than a million people. (None of these figures include undocumented immigrants, whose numbers could be twice as high.)

The model shows that the political responses to both climate change and migration can lead to drastically different futures. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, including informative graphics.

Later in the article:

IN NOVEMBER 2007, Alan B. Krueger, a labor economist known for his statistical work on inequality, walked into the Princeton University offices of Michael Oppenheimer, a leading climate geoscientist, and asked him whether anyone had ever tried to quantify how and where climate change would cause people to move.

Earlier that year, Oppenheimer helped write the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report that, for the first time, explored in depth how climate disruption might uproot large segments of the global population. But as groundbreaking as the report was — the U.N. was recognized for its work with a Nobel Peace Prize — the academic disciplines whose work it synthesized were largely siloed from one another. Demographers, agronomists and economists were all doing their work on climate change in isolation, but understanding the question of migration would have to include all of them.

Together, Oppenheimer and Krueger, who died in 2019, began to chip away at the question, asking whether tools typically used by economists might yield insight into the environment’s effects on people’s decision to migrate. They began to examine the statistical relationships — say, between census data and crop yields and historical weather patterns — in Mexico to try to understand how farmers there respond to drought. The data helped them create a mathematical measure of farmers’ sensitivity to environmental change — a factor that Krueger could use the same way he might evaluate fiscal policies, but to model future migration.

Their study, published in 2010 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that Mexican migration to the United States pulsed upward during periods of drought and projected that by 2080, climate change there could drive 6.7 million more people toward the southern U.S. border. “It was,” Oppenheimer said, “one of the first applications of econometric modeling to the climate-migration problem.”

The modeling was a start. But it was hyperlocal instead of global, and it left open huge questions: how cultural differences might change outcomes, for example, or how population shifts might occur across larger regions. It was also controversial, igniting a backlash among climate-change skeptics, who attacked the modeling effort as “guesswork” built on “tenuous assumptions” and argued that a model couldn’t untangle the effect of climate change from all the other complex influences that determine human decision-making and migration. That argument eventually found some traction with migration researchers, many of whom remain reluctant to model precise migration figures.

But to Oppenheimer and Krueger, the risks of putting a specific shape to this well established but amorphous threat seemed worth taking. In the early 1970s, after all, many researchers had made a similar argument against using computer models to forecast climate change, arguing that scientists shouldn’t traffic in predictions. Others ignored that advice, producing some of the earliest projections about the dire impact of climate change, and with them some of the earliest opportunities to try to steer away from that fate. Trying to project the consequences of climate-driven migration, to Oppenheimer, called for similarly provocative efforts. “If others have better ideas for estimating how climate change affects migration,” he wrote in 2010, “they should publish them.”

Since then, Oppenheimer’s approach has become common. Dozens more studies have applied econometric modeling to climate-related problems, seizing on troves of data to better understand how environmental change and conflict each lead to migration and clarify how the cycle works. Climate is rarely the main cause of migration, the studies have generally found, but it is almost always an exacerbating one.

As they have looked more closely, migration researchers have found climate’s subtle fingerprints almost everywhere. Drought helped push many Syrians into cities before the war, worsening tensions and leading to rising discontent; crop losses led to unemployment that stoked Arab Spring uprisings in Egypt and Libya; Brexit, even, was arguably a ripple effect of the influx of migrants brought to Europe by the wars that followed. And all those effects were bound up with the movement of just 2 million people. As the mechanisms of climate migration have come into sharper focus — food scarcity, water scarcity and heat — the latent potential for large-scale movement comes to seem astronomically larger.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 July 2020 at 12:43 pm

Facebook is basically run by scum

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Judd Legum reports at Popular Information:

Facebook is “aiding and abetting the spread of climate misinformation,” said Robert Brulle, an environmental sociologist at Drexel University. “They have become the vehicle for climate misinformation, and thus should be held partially responsible for a lack of action on climate change.”

Brulle was reacting to Facebook’s recent decision, made at the request of climate science deniers, to create a giant loophole in its fact-checking program. Last year, Facebook partnered with an organization, Science Feedback, that would bring in teams of Ph.D. climate scientists to evaluate the accuracy of viral content. It was an important expansion of the company’s third-party fact-checking program.

But now Facebook has reportedly decided to allow its staffers to overrule the climate scientists and make any climate disinformation ineligible for fact-checking by deeming it “opinion.”

The organization that requested the change, the CO2 Coalition, is celebrating, E&E news reported on Monday. The group, which has close ties to the fossil fuel industry, says its views on climate change are increasingly ignored by the mainstream media. Now it plans to use Facebook to aggressively push climate misinformation on the public — without having to worry about fact checks from climate scientists.

How it all started

A column published in the Washington Examiner in August 2019 claimed that “climate models” were a “failure” that predicted exponentially more warming of the earth than has occurred. The piece, co-authored by notorious climate science denier Pat Michaels, was quickly shared more than 2,000 times on Facebook.

There was just one issue: It wasn’t true.

This is exactly the kind of mess that Facebook’s network of independent fact-checkers is supposed to solve. In May 2019, Facebook partnered with Science Feedback, a site dedicated to explaining “why information is or is not consistent with the science.” Science Feedback’s process is extremely rigorous. Each piece has multiple . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 June 2020 at 6:33 pm

BC Firm Lobbying Washington On Proposed Efforts to Suck Carbon Directly From The Atmosphere

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If the technology passes muster, then I think one sensible option would be for the government to take on a few cents per gallon to build a great many of these CO2 scrubbers and run them. I would think that one big plant could account for many cars, and taxing fossil fuels to pay for the removal of the CO2 they produce makes sense to me.

From the article by Sean Craig at the link:

A B.C. carbon capture firm has tapped a U.S. lobbying firm to build congressional support for fighting climate change by pulling CO2 emissions right out of the air.

Squamish-based Carbon Engineering (CE) paid about $30,000 in the first three months of 2020 to AJW, Inc., a firm that specializes in energy and environmental government relations, to meet with U.S officials in order to push carbon capture legislation, according to congressional records.

U.S. lawmakers are currently considering a handful of bills that could bolster investor appetite for the technology. They are at the centre of an emerging bipartisan approach to climate change legislation that relies on market incentives rather than spending, meaning the bills have a better chance of passing both houses of congress. (For example, the big spending, Democrat-backed Green New Deal was last year rejected by the Republican-led Senate).

One bill which is the focus of AJW’s lobbying, the Carbon Capture Improvement Act of 2019, would allow local or state governments to issue tax-exempt bonds in order to build carbon capture projects.

It was introduced in the U.S. Senate by Colorado Democrat Michael Bennet and cosponsored by his Republican colleague, Rob Portman of Ohio. House Republican Tim Burchett of Tennessee introduced the bill in the lower chamber, arguing it “allows the free market, rather than the government, to determine innovative ways to go green.” . . .

Written by LeisureGuy

13 May 2020 at 7:48 pm

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