Category: Earth & Energy

Air Pollution Literally Kills Thousands of People Every Year

When President Donald Trump announced on June 1 that he had decided to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate accord, he asserted that staying in the pact would prevent our nation from further developing its fossil fuel reserves. Critics understandably have called this a setback for global efforts to curb greenhouse gas pollution.

But there is another, equally important argument for transitioning to clean fuels. Tens of thousands of Americans die every year from old-fashioned air pollution, generated by electric power plants that burn fossil fuels. Estimates vary, but between 7,500 and 52,000 people in the United States meet early deaths because of small particles resulting from power plant emissions. That’s huge. It is roughly comparable to the 40,000 people that died in car crashes in 2016.

In a recent research study with colleagues at Carnegie Mellon, I analyzed how human health and the environment would be affected if all coal-fired power plants in the United States switched to natural gas – an extension of a trend that is already underway. We found that such a shift would have tremendous positive effects on human health in America. We estimate that low natural gas prices and state policies that move utilities away from coal are savings tens of thousands of lives and tens of billions of dollars each year.

Fossil fuel pollution is deadly

We’ve known that air pollution is linked to human health since Lester Lave and Eugene Seskin published their pioneering quantitative work in Science in 1970. They studied “the long-term effects of growing up in, and living in, a polluted atmosphere,” using economists’ favorite statistical technique – regression analysis – to look at a few locales where data were available.

In England they found that “cleaning the air to the level of cleanliness enjoyed by the area with the best air [in the U.K.] would mean a 40 percent drop in the bronchitis death rate among males.” Male and female results were about the same. Since few women worked in industry in those days, this finding indicated that the effect was independent of occupational exposure.

Activists occupy the Crawford coal plant in Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood on April 20, 2011. The plant shut down in 2012; the city is seeking to convert the site to other uses. Image Credit: Rainforest Action Network/Flickr, CC BY-NC

In Buffalo, New York, they found that cleaning the air to the level of the cleanest area would lower the average bronchitis death rate by 50 percent. Stomach cancer was much higher in areas with more air pollution. Air pollution affects the heart too: They concluded that a substantial abatement of air pollution would lead to a 10 to 15 percent reduction in deaths and illnesses from cardiovascular disease.

The year 1993 saw the publication of an enormous study that followed over 8,000 adults for 15 years in six U.S. cities. The cities – Topeka; St. Louis; Watertown, Massachusetts; Steubenville, Ohio; Harriman, Tennessee; and Portage, Wisconsin – had differing levels of air pollution.

The researchers measured pollution in detail. After adjusting for factors like smoking, they found that the death rate was 26 percent higher in the most polluted cities than in the cleanest ones. They wrote, “Air pollution was positively associated with death from lung cancer and cardiopulmonary disease …. Mortality was most strongly associated with air pollution with fine particulates, including sulfates.” Fine particulate pollution is a mixture of solid particles and liquid droplets, many times smaller than a human hair.

Still clearing the air

Haven’t we reduced pollution so thoroughly in the United States since then that we no longer have a problem? Well, no. There are some toxins, such as alcohol, that your body can deal with at a low level and that will kill you only at high doses. But current air pollution levels are not that low.

Another huge study, published in 2013, focused on small particulates in the air of 545 U.S. counties and yearly county-specific life expectancy for the period 2000-2007. It found that cleaning up the air is still very beneficial. Life expectancy has increased in the United States in recent decades, due to things like a decrease in smoking and general attention to diet and exercise. But this research found that 18 percent of the recent increase in urban life expectancy was due to decreased air pollution.

Reductions in sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions from U.S. electric power plants, due largely to laws requiring pollution control technologies at coal-fired power plants, and more recently, a shift from coal to natural gas generation. Image Credit: USEIA

Much of this fine particle pollution comes from electric power plants, either directly or as pollutants such as sulfur dioxide that chemically evolve downwind of the plant. So we asked in our research: What would happen if current low natural gas prices or pollution control policies caused all U.S. coal-burning power plants to be replaced by natural gas generators?

Somewhat surprisingly to us, such a shift would not lead to major progress on climate change. Although natural gas is less carbon-intensive than coal, some natural gas leaks into the air at drilling sites, processing plants and pipelines. Natural gas consists mainly of methane, a greenhouse gas that has much more powerful heat-trapping properties than carbon dioxide. If current estimates are correct that the leakage rate is around 3 percent, then we calculated that switching all coal plants to average-efficiency natural gas plants would have little effect on the power sector’s contribution to climate change.

But that switch would greatly reduce pollution that is harming our country right now. Switching from coal to natural gas would reduce sulfur dioxide emissions by more than 90 percent and nitrogen oxide emissions by more than 60 percent. These compounds are major causes of fine particulate pollution. Reductions on this level would lower the total cost of national annual human health damages by US$20 billion to $50 billion annually. We found that the Southeast and the Ohio Valley, where most of the coal is burned, would capture the lion’s share of these benefits.

2016 annual health and environmental damages due to emissions of criteria pollutants from coal plants, by North American Electric Reliability Corporation generating regions, using the APEEP model. Replacing coal plants with average gas plants reduces damages most significantly in the Midwest and Southeast. Image Credit: redrafted from our research by Gerad Freeman, Author provided

More coal use will not create more jobs

President Trump has called the Paris climate accord “very unfair” for the United States, especially the coal industry, and pledged to restore coal miners’ jobs. But bringing back coal isn’t the same thing as bringing back coal miners’ jobs.

Almost all coal use in the United States is for producing electricity. Coal mining jobs are declining partly because low natural gas prices have cut coal’s market share from 50 percent in 2000 to 30 percent in 2016.

The other key factor is automation. A great coal boom took place in the United States from 1978 to the 2008 recession. The number of tons of coal mined increased by 85 percent, but the number of miners fell by half. Productivity (tons mined per miner) increased by 350 percent, due partially to a shift from underground to surface mines, but largely from the introduction of highly mechanized systems like long wall mining that require far fewer miners. The $340 million in annual federal tax subsidies that U.S. coal companies receive is not putting more miners to work.

Some great companies understand these human health issues, and are taking big risks to push technology that may allow coal to be used without pollution. Southern Company, AEP, NETpower and a few others are using American know-how to reduce coal’s emissions.

But without a national consensus that both conventional pollution and greenhouse gas pollution have to be reduced, their engineering will founder in the boardroom. If President Trump succeeds in bringing back coal while gutting environmental regulations, all he’ll bring back is more pollution and more early deaths.

Jay Apt, Professor, Tepper School of Business, Engineering and Public Policy and Co-Director, Carnegie Mellon Electricity Industry Center, Carnegie Mellon University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The Conversation

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Study: 1 in 6 Deaths Worldwide Caused by Pollution in 2015

Deadly Pollution

We all know that pollution, in general, is harmful to human health. But a study published in The Lancet has shown the true magnitude of the threat. According to the study, in 2015, 1 in every 6 deaths around the world were caused by toxic air, water, soil, or workplace environment. That’s roughly 9 million people. To drive home the true weight of these figures, this means that pollution kills three times more people annually than tuberculosis, AIDS, or malaria.

Of these 9 million annual deaths, 92% occur in less wealthy nations, signaling an obvious socioeconomic divide. Developing economies have the financial burden of fighting the causes of pollution (the welfare-linked costs of which are estimated to be roughly $4.6 trillion a year) while at the same time handling its repercussions. This problem will only continue to grow unless broader interventions are put in place — as the countries most greatly affected cannot afford to take major action on their own.

“Pollution is much more than an environmental challenge – it is a profound and pervasive threat that affects many aspects of human health and wellbeing,” said Philip Landrigan, a professor at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai who co-led the study.

Drastic Consequences

The study, published this past Friday, was conducted by about 40 international scientists. They used data from the Global Burden of Disease study and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington. It is clear from the study that not only is pollution a deadly, global issue, but there is clear division between wealthier and poorer countries. According to the study, pollution causes approximately 16% of all deaths worldwide — a figure that is 15 times larger than deaths caused by war and violence. And, while this figure is staggering worldwide, when you take a closer look at more-affected countries, that figure could jump to 25%.

Besides causing the deaths of millions, pollution has also been affecting our planet in other ways: it has even sparked lightning storms. There are a number of ways that people are looking to combat this serious issue. An obvious way in which pollution can be battled is through legislation. China is taking this effort seriously, as  1.1 million people die in the country annually as a result of pollution. China is also investing 3 trillion yuan ($440 billion) in incentive programs and credit mechanisms for businesses that will shift priorities toward producing less emissions.

In addition to government-backed programs, there are some who are using technological innovation to fight the battle: One group of scientists has even developed a device that turns air pollution into usable fuel. If we’re going to get serious about fighting pollution on a global scale, we’ll need more intensive methods. It is not a slow-moving issue that can be thought of occasionally and worked at on a small scale. It is a problem that’s already proven deadly, requiring direct and immediate action.

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New Zealand’s New Prime Minister is Promising a Zero-Carbon Nation by 2050

Going Zero-Carbon

New Zealand’s new Prime Minister elect, Jacina Ardern, is not wasting time to commit to fighting climate change. With the help of her coalition government, Ardern has set a target for New Zealand to become a zero-carbon nation by the year 2050. This includes promises to reduce overall carbon emissions and to offset what remains with international carbon credits and tree planting.

“I believe that this will be a government of change,” Ardern said Friday at a press conference after her first caucus meeting. “We have found allies in this parliament who wish to join with us in building a fairer New Zealand. A country where our environment is protected.”

Image credit: Pixabay/Creative Commons
Image credit: Pixabay/Creative Commons

Battling climate change is a topic of great importance to the people of New Zealand, one that crosses party lines. The move is part of a potential surge in the number of countries moving toward carbon neutrality.

Turning the Tide

Other nations have recently made similar pledges. Sweden passed a law early this summer to become carbon neutral by 2045. Not to be outdone, Norway has pledged carbon neutrality by 2030. Other nations, like the North American countries, have made promises to significantly curb carbon emissions within the next few decades, but stop short of pledging carbon neutrality.

Can We Come Back from Climate Change’s Brink?
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Scotland has pledged to become independent from fossil fuels as an energy source by 2020. Granted, this is a different pledge than making the entire country carbon neutral, but it will offset a great deal of carbon emissions for the country.

New data published by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (NEAA) shows some promise that the fight against climate change is working. The evidence indicates that CO2 emissions remained static in 2016.

Of course, this is not a signal that we should hoist a victory banner. On the contrary, it is proof that we can still make a difference — and should continue to do so. National pledges to become zero-carbon are great first steps, yet we must hold our leaders accountable to make good on those promises.

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Stanford’s Ultra-Cheap Batteries Are Ushering in a New Age in Energy

Let’s Get Salty

Researchers from Stanford University have developed cheap batteries as an alternative to expensive lithium-ion batteries that could better help us prepare for our renewable energy future. The group was able to create a sodium-based battery that can store the same amount of energy as a lithium-based battery at less than 80% of the cost. Other researchers have created sodium-based batteries in the past, but this new approach may be more cost-effective.

These Tesla powerpacks could someday hold cheap batteries powered by sodium.
Tesla Powerpacks housing lithium-ion batteries. Image Credit: Tesla

“Nothing may ever surpass lithium in performance,” said chemical engineer Zhenan Bao “But lithium is so rare and costly that we need to develop high-performance but low-cost batteries based on abundant elements like sodium.”

The sodium in the Stanford battery binds to a compound called myo-inositol, an organic compound found in household products, including baby formula. Just as sodium is much more abundant than lithium, myo-inositol can easily be derived from rice bran or can be found in the byproducts made during the process of milling corn. This will help to ensure materials gathering is cost-effective.

Cheap Batteries are Key

The ability to have ready access to batteries is an important factor in the clean energy revolution. Many sources of renewable energy generation, such as solar and wind, are reliant on uncontrollable and generally unpredictable environmental factors. Batteries allow excess power to be stored during peak generating conditions and saved for use when conditions are less favorable.

Cheap batteries powered by sodium could help to make renewable power more accessible for regions where the cost of lithium-ion batteries is a significant financial barrier.

The Stanford battery still has a long way to go before it can be adapted into a consumer product. The team’s analysis focused on cost-performance comparisons, yet did not consider volumetric energy density, which is how big the sodium-ion batteries need to be to store the same amount of power as lithium-ion batteries.

The team is confident that their design can be improved in a number of ways beyond the initial prototype.

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The EPA Just Removed Climate Change From Their Climate Change Website

New Priorities

An analysis by the Environmental Data and Governance Initiative (EDGI) has revealed that a “substantial” number of resources and references to climate change have been removed from a website maintained by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The site has also been renamed, changing from “Climate and Energy Resources for State, Local, and Tribal Governments” to “Energy Resources for State, Local, and Tribal Governments.”

These pages were among a wide swathe of content relating to climate science that was made inaccessible to the public in April 2017 so that changes could be made to reflect the agency’s priorities under the Trump administration. The energy resources site is the first to have any significant amount of material return to public view.

The EDGI’s analysis indicates that 15 direct references to climate change have been scrubbed from the main page alone. Earlier this month, the EPA released their list of priorities for the next four years, which did not include climate change, and the current EPA head Scott Pruitt has publicly downplayed the role that carbon emissions have on the process.

“There is no more significant threat than climate change, and it isn’t just happening to people in far-off countries — it’s happening to us,” Gina McCarthy, who served as administrator of the EPA under President Obama, said in a statement to The New York Times. “It is beyond comprehension that E.P.A. would ever purposely limit and remove access to information that communities need to save lives and property. Clearly, this was not a technical glitch, it was a planned shutdown.”

Lost Resources

Other government websites have also removed references to climate change since President Trump took office, and the proven human impact on global warming is absent from the “Issues” section of the White House website. The administration’s stance on climate change isn’t the most pressing issue, though; the fact that access to useful resources is being artificially obfuscated is.

Our Warming World: The Future of Climate Change [INFOGRAPHIC]
Click to View Full Infographic

Many of the links that were once present on the site contained information to help government bodies respond to the effects of climate change. Those resources were assembled to foster an appropriate response to situations like wildfires, droughts, fierce storms, and flooding.

“These are not the kind of resources that are just basic climate science,” Adam Parris of the Science and Resilience Institute in New York’s Jamaica Bay told The New York Times. “These are the kind of resources it has taken years to develop across the federal family.”

For now, those interested in accessing the original resources will need to do so through the EPA’s web archive or other sources, such as the Internet Archive.

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Amazon’s Largest Wind Farm Will Be Able to Power 90,000 Homes in Texas

On Thursday, October 19, Amazon launched their largest wind farm yet. Located in Scurry County, the Amazon Wind Farm Texas houses more than 100 turbines that will add 1 million megawatt hours (MWh) of clean energy to the local grid, enough to power over 90,000 American homes for a year, according to the official press release.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos officially christened the wind farm, breaking a bottle of what’s presumably champagne on top of one of the wind turbines, which is about 91 meters (300 feet) high with a rotor that’s twice the wingspan of a Boeing 787 in diameter.

The Amazon Wind Farm Texas is owned and operated by Lincoln Clean Energy, and the entire project took only a little over a year to complete. With the addition of this new farm, Amazon’s wind and solar projects in the U.S. now total 18, with 35 more in the pipeline.

“These are important steps toward reaching our long-term goal to power our global infrastructure using 100 percent renewable energy,” said Kara Hurst, Amazon’s Director of Sustainability.

Aside from providing much-needed clean energy, the project is also expected to boost the local economy. Indeed, renewables everywhere are powering a clean environment and stronger economy, providing jobs and generating more investments than their fossil fuel counterparts.

“Investing in renewable energy is a win-win-win-win – it’s right for our customers, our communities, our business, and our planet,” said Hurst in a statement reported on by CNBC.

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Tesla’s Powerpacks Will Help Power the World’s First Solar and Wind Energy Storage Project

Renewable Energy Storage

After successfully landing a contract to build what would be the world’s largest energy storage system, and to install batteries in New South Wales, Tesla has landed another deal to supply Powerpacks to the first solar and wind energy storage project in the world.

Windlabs, an Australian renewable energy development company, announced on Thursday that they’re moving forward with plans to build a solar and wind energy farm at the Kennedy Energy Park in North Queensland. The project, which costs some $160 million, will be a joint construction under Vesta and Quanta. The former will be providing the wind turbine, and Tesla will be supplying Powerpacks for energy storage.

“Kennedy will consist of 43.2MW Wind, 15MW AC, single axis tracking Solar and 4MWh of Li Ion battery storage. The project will use twelve Vestas V136, 3.6MW turbines at a hub height of 132 meters; the largest wind turbines yet to be deployed in Australia. The Li-Ion storage will be provided by Tesla,” according to the press announcement from Windlabs.

Sustainable Energy Ecosystem

Solar and wind energy, while effective at providing power, require specific circumstances in order to generate energy. It’s necessary, then, to store whatever energy is generated at peak hours so they’ll be available to supply the grid at non-peak times. This is where battery storage comes in; something Tesla has advocated for with the Powerwall and Powerpack.

The Kennedy project’s 4MWh requirement is measly compared to Tesla’s construction of a 100 MW/129 MWh Powerpack energy storage system. Though, as Electrek points out, there is the potential for scaling. “We believe Kennedy Energy Park will demonstrate how effectively wind, solar, and storage can be combined to provide low-cost, reliable and clean energy for Australia’s future,” Roger Price, executive chairman and CEO at Windlabs, said in the press release.

The Kennedy project’s combination of solar and wind is expected to generate a significant amount of energy, and it’s just the first of several building phases for the Kennedy Energy Park, which will boast a 1,200MW capacity.

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Scientists Say “Ecological Armageddon” is Imminent Due to Massive Insect Deaths

Dropping Like Flies

The amount of flying insects living in Germany has dropped precipitously over the past 25 years, according to a new study. Dozens of amateur entomologists across the country cooperated to take more than 1,500 samples of all flying insects across 63 different nature reserves, which were then weighed. Their findings suggest we’re seeing massive insect deaths in the country and likely beyond.

The annual average was found to have dropped 76 percent by weight over a quarter of a century, whereas the figures for summer–when insect life is at its peak–dropped a staggering 82 percent.

These figures are troubling in their own right. However, the greater effect of a reduced insect population comes from the creatures’ place in the wider animal kingdom.

A striped insect pollinates a purple flower. Massive insect deaths in Germany suggest this vital ecosystem service could soon be lost.
(Image credit: Wikimedia Commons/Vera Buhl)

“Insects make up about two-thirds of all life on Earth [but] there has been some kind of horrific decline,” said Prof. Dave Goulson of Sussex University, who contributed to the study, speaking to the Guardian. “We appear to be making vast tracts of land inhospitable to most forms of life, and are currently on course for ecological Armageddon. If we lose the insects then everything is going to collapse.”

Flying insects pollinate flowers, provide food for a host of animals, control pests, and contribute to vital decomposition processes. Simply put, there are sure to be some major ecological effects if their populations continue to drop.

Flying Low

Scientists don’t know exactly why the decline is so severe. The destruction of habitats, increased pesticide usage, and climate change are all being raised as contributing factors for insect deaths.

Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of this study is the fact that numbers are dropping in conservation sites. All of the locations where samples were taken are said to be well-kept, which might indicate that the situation is even more dire elsewhere.

The next step for the research is to corroborate these findings with other areas. There are also plans to find about more about the general insect population by studying non-flying creatures, which may actually be faring better.

In response, we will also need to take stock of activities that we know have a negative effect on the amount of insects in the environment. That means reducing our usage of harmful pesticides, and ensuring that spaces conducive to insect life are preserved.

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Scientists Have Created a Concrete Roof That Generates Solar Power

Sunny Outlook

Researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich have developed a new form of ultra-thin, curved roofing that’s capable of producing solar power. The design will allow a residential structure that’s part of the school’s living lab facility, NEST, to generate more energy than it consumes.

The roof is made up of several layers; an inner sheet of concrete, which acts as a foundation for heating and cooling coils and insulation, which are in turn covered by more concrete. Thin-film photovoltaic cells used to harvest solar energy are then installed on the exterior of the building.

The prototype for the roof was some 7.5 meters high, and had a total curved surface area of 160 square meters. It’s now been dismantled, ahead of the same design being implemented next year on the HiLo apartment building that’s part of the NEST project.

The unique shape of the roof would typically be constructed with non-reusable materials like specially fabricated timber or milled foam. Instead, this project used a net constructed from steel cables which was covered with a polymer textile, producing a form that the concrete could adhere to. This facilitated the unusual design, but it made the project considerably cheaper in terms of the the cost of materials.

The Block Researcher Group and the Swiss National Centre of Competence contributed an algorithm to the project to ensure that the roof would take on its desired form when the weight of wet concrete was applied to the net. The concrete was sprayed onto the net using a technique developed specifically for this application.

Raise the Roof With Solar Power

Roof-mounted solar panels are nothing new, but various advanced versions of the technology have emerged in the past few years. As well as being incredibly efficient, this new hardware is typically a lot cheaper than previous iterations.

Top 10 Countries Using Solar Power
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Tesla’s well-publicized solar roof project is perhaps the most prominent example. If the finished product is as effective and inexpensive as Elon Musk has suggested, it could potentially bring a method of harnessing solar energy to more homes than ever before.

However, Tesla isn’t the only company innovating when it comes to solar power. The roll-up solar panels developed by Renovagen demonstrate another way that solar technology is being implemented in ways that were unheard of even a decade ago.

Solar power is an increasingly viable way to produce energy, and more and more countries are investing in solar infrastructure on a large scale. Thanks to projects like the HiLo roof, individuals are set to have more ways to implement the technology in their own homes than ever before.

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With One Giant Wind Farm, We Could Power the Entire Planet

Oil is running out. Coal is dirty. And fracking, the process used to extract natural gas, contaminates ground water. And using any of these fossil fuels adds to the atmospheric carbon dioxide that’s warming our planet.

But as this year’s historic hurricane season has shown, the world has plenty of wind. In fact, new research by scientists at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Stanford, California suggests that one stupendous wind farm floating in the North Atlantic could capture enough energy to power the entire world.

“If commercial-scale deep water wind farms became technically and economically feasible, they could potentially provide civilization-scale power,” the researchers said in a paper published recently in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Cutting the Drag

Climate scientists have long known that wind speeds over the ocean average 70 percent higher than those over land. Stronger winds translate into greater power generation.

The challenge facing engineers is that when turbines spin in the wind, they slow it. The resulting wind “shadow” renders nearby turbines less efficient. Place turbines too close together, and a wind farm’s energy-generating capacity can plummet by a factor of 10.

The Carnegie scientists, Anna Possner and Ken Caldeira, suspected that drag like this might be far lower over water than over land, particularly in mid-latitude oceans in both the Northern and Southern hemispheres. Why might that be? As Earth tilts away from the sun each autumn, jet stream-like rivers of air form high in the atmosphere. Over the open ocean, storms pull these strong winds down near the planet’s surface, replenishing the wind energy captured by turbines.

The effect might sound small, but it adds up. The scientists calculate that a wind farm in the middle of the North Atlantic would generate at least twice as much energy — and perhaps three times as much — as an identical wind farm in Kansas, itself one of the windiest states in the U.S. A wind farm roughly twice the size of Alaska could generate 18 million megawatts of electricity. That’s enough to meet the entire global demand today.

Big Challenges

There are big practical challenges to building such a farm, including coping with extreme mid-ocean weather and transmitting the power back to shore. And by harvesting so much wind in the North Atlantic, a giant wind farm would reduce the output of onshore wind turbines in the U.K. and Western Europe — and reduce temperatures in the Arctic by more than 20 degrees. This might sound attractive at a time when polar ice is melting, but scientists worry about the unforeseen consequences of such geoengineering.

These problems are still decades in the future; there are no immediate plans to build a giant mid-ocean wind farm. For now, the research has won praise from other experts in sustainable energy.

“This research is important as we look to the oceans for a dramatic increase in the world’s wind energy supply,” says Eric Loth, a University of Virginia engineering professor who wants to build taller onshore turbines to boost energy generation. “Understanding the influence of seasonal change and offshore location can drive wind farm development decisions that will significantly reduce the cost of energy while also reducing carbon emissions.”

Today’s Offshore Farms

The good news now is that smaller offshore wind farms are increasingly popular around the world. In the U.K., engineering firms now think they can build wind turbine capacity in the ocean for just over half the price of new nuclear power stations.

 Floating structures, like the Hywind turbines, could allow energy production in deep-water areas around the world. Statoil

Today’s offshore wind farms use turbines attached to the ocean floor; that limits their placement to shallow sites just off the coast. But floating turbines — able to tap the strong winds far out at sea — are coming soon.

This month the world’s first floating wind farm (see illustration above) will begin operation in the deeps waters off Scotland, using technology originally developed for drilling platforms. When complete, it will provide power for around 20,000 homes.

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The Dutch Built a Cycle Lane from Used Toilet Paper

Turning toilet paper into asphalt

Can you imagine cycling on a road made from used toilet paper? The Dutch – known for their love of two-wheeled transport – are doing just that, thanks to an innovative waste recycling scheme.

Image: Friesland

The Dutch reportedly use around 180,000 tons of toilet paper every year. Two Dutch companies – CirTec and KNN Cellulose – have developed the technology to turn that waste into a road-building material.

It’s being tested in the Dutch province of Friesland on a 1 km stretch of the bike path that connects the Frisian capital of Leeuwarden to the town of Stiens.

How does it work?

Cellulose is the main ingredient in paper, but the plant-based fiber has many other industrial uses too.

The toilet paper flushes through to a waste treatment plant where it is filtered out, cleaned and sterilized at very high temperatures. The end result is a fluffy material or pellet that can be used in asphalt.

Image: CirTec

It can also be used for bioplastics and building materials. Much of the toilet paper in the Netherlands is high quality, which means that it is high in cellulose, resulting in a better end-product.

Treated in the normal way, the toilet paper would remain in the sludge and be burned at the waste treatment plant.

Scaling up

It’s a cost-effective business model, claims the company. Carlijn Lahaye, CirTec’s Managing Director, told the BBC: “You remove something that is a burden in the waste treatment process plus you turn it into a high-value product that you can sell.”

The company says it is recovering about 400 kg of cellulose a day. Some of this is exported to England where it is used as a raw material to produce bio-composite. The remaining cellulose is used for the production and development of other products.

The challenge will be in scaling up the model, but the company is upbeat: it claims to be talking to other customers in order to apply the technology on a larger scale.

There is the obvious “yuk” factor in cycling on a road made from used toilet paper, but local residents don’t seem too concerned:

“It’s a strange idea for people that there’s [toilet paper] in the road,” says Michiel Schrier, provincial governor of Friesland. “But when they cycle on it or feel it, they can see that it’s normal asphalt.”

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Regreening the Planet Could Impact Carbon Levels as Much as Ending Oil Use

Carbon Emissions

As the world becomes increasing aware of how human activity contributes to global warming, more countries are putting forth efforts to end harmful practices, such as reliance on fossil fuels. While such actions are certainly useful, a new study published in Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Sciences suggests that proactively regreening the planet could be just as impactful.

Can We Come Back from Climate Change’s Brink?
Click to View Full Infographic

According to the international team of scientists behind the study, natural climate solutions such as protecting peatlands that store carbon and improving how we manage soils and grasslands could be enough to meet 37 percent of the action needed by 2030 as mandated by the 2015 Paris agreement.

In fact, they say regreening the planet through such efforts would have the same effect on atmospheric carbon levels as if the entire world stopped burning oil.

It Ain’t Easy Being Green

The amount that forests offset our carbon emissions is often underestimated. In the U.S. alone, researchers estimate that trees remove an amount of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere that’s equal to between 11 and 13 percent of fossil fuel emissions. Yet, in the past 25 years alone, we’ve destroyed 10 percent of the planet’s wilderness. Obviously, continued deforestation will affect the amount of carbon removed from the atmosphere by trees.

Fortunately, various efforts to end this kind of activity, protect our plant life, and promote the growth of new forests are in the works. Governments are imposing strict rules to prevent deforestation, and new technology is being used to foster reforestation efforts – one such project uses drones to plant trees at a rate of 100,000 per day, far beyond what could be accomplished by hand.

Some nations are thinking outside the box and building vertical forests, covering skyscrapers with carbon-absorbing greenery. China has begun construction on an entire “forest city” that is expected to absorb nearly 10,000 tons of CO2 and 57 tons of pollutants every year while producing 900 tons of oxygen.

However, this might all be too little, too late. Recent research has shown that extreme weather events like El Niño can have a dramatic impact on the planet’s capacity to reduce levels of carbon dioxide, and climate change is increasing the number of such natural events. Additionally, illegal logging is chipping away at the Amazon rainforest at a faster rate year-on-year, and experts maintain that our current conservation programs won’t do enough to save these environments.

The writing is on the wall – if the Earth is going to continue to be an appropriate habitat for human life, addressing the emissions we release into the atmosphere won’t be enough. We need to make a concerted effort at regreening the planet so it can soak up more carbon dioxide, too.

The post Regreening the Planet Could Impact Carbon Levels as Much as Ending Oil Use appeared first on Futurism.

Meet the Polestar 1, the First Car From Volvo’s New Performance Electric Brand

Volvo just shared details on the Polestar 1, the first model from their new performance electric brand.

The Polestar 1 is a plug-in hybrid Grand Tourer Coupé with a range of 150 kilometers (93 miles) using only its available electric power. That gives the vehicle the record for longest fully electric range amongst available hybrid cars.

“Polestar 1 is the first car to carry the Polestar on the bonnet. A beautiful GT with amazing technology packed into it – a great start for our new Polestar brand,” Thomas Ingenlath, Chief Executive Officer of Polestar, said in the press release announcing the Polestar 1.

Polestar 1
Image Credit: Volvo

Volvo claims this will be the only hybrid released under the Polestar brand, with all future vehicles expected to be fully electric. According to Ingenlath, this is in keeping with the “brand vision of being the new standalone electric performance brand.”

Next up for the brand is the Polestar 2. Production on that vehicle is expected to begin in 2019, and Volvo sees it serving as a direct competitor to Tesla’s Model 3. They even directly pointed out this competition with Elon Musk’s EV company in the press release, saying, “[The Polestar 2] will be a mid-sized BEV, joining the competition around the Tesla Model 3.” The Polestar 3 all-electric SUV will follow.

Competition in the electric vehicle market will hopefully bring about innovations that benefit consumers. Tesla more or less owns the market at this point, but as more options become available, companies are going to have to provide more than novelty to break new ground.

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Carbon Dioxide Levels Spiked Sharply Between 2015 and 2016

Observations from Orbit

NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO) has reported that carbon dioxide levels spiked during its observation period of 2015 to 2016. It’s thought that this fluctuation comes as a result of the major El Niño event that took place in that time frame.

The data correlated the increase with the effect of heat and drought on tropical forests. As a result of these conditions, forests were less able to take up carbon dioxide and turn it into oxygen.

“If future climate is more like this recent El Niño, the trouble is the Earth may actually lose some of the carbon removal services we get from these tropical forests, and then CO2 will increase even faster in the atmosphere,” said OCO science team member Scott Dennin, according to a report from the BBC.

In a normal year, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere increases by two parts per million by volume (ppmv) of molecules in the air. During this El Niño period, it rose by three ppmv, the equivalent of six gigatonnes of the gas.

Human Impact

The 2015-16 El Niño brought widespread weather changes that boosted carbon dioxide levels. In South America, it was widespread drought, which impeded plant life’s ability to consume the gas. In Africa, above-average temperatures meant that carbon dioxide was released into the atmosphere as dead plant material decomposed. Meanwhile, conditions in Asia meant that wildfires ran rampant, burning peat carbon that had built up over thousands of years.

The El Niño/La Niña oscillation is a natural climate cycle on Earth, and these environmental contributors likely couldn’t have been prevented. However, this shouldn’t downplay the human component in rising carbon dioxide levels on earth; everything from the production of cement to the use of fossil fuels contributes to the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Additionally, some research has suggested that climate change and rising greenhouse gas levels are making El Niño events more intense, contributing to a rather vicious cycle. 

Weather Satellites
Click to View Full Infographic

These findings demonstrate that we can’t rely on the ability of Earth’s vegetation to counteract our carbon dioxide production. And as climate change rolls forward, it will be important that we continue to monitor CO2 levels closely.

While the OCO is a valuable tool to scientists, its scope is rather narrow. It’s capable of taking very accurate readings, but can only look at a 10 kilometer tract of land as it floats above the planet. The European Space Agency plans to deploy a set of satellites known as Sentinel-7 to provide similarly precise measurements that can span a much wider area. These instruments could allow authorities to check in on the carbon emissions of individual countries.

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New Study Supports the Creation of Wind Farms High Above the Earth’s Surface

Sky Farms

Researchers from King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia have devised the best altitudes for flying high-altitude wind power generating tech in the Middle East. The research could be a step towards high-altitude wind power generation, and eventually overcome some of the limitations of traditional wind turbines.

High-altitude wind turbines are similar to kites, flying while tethered to the ground. The tether allows electricity generated in the air to travel back to Earth to be consumed or stored.

The KAUST study showed that farming from high altitudes could provide an abundant and reliable source of wind-generated energy. The researchers used data gathered by NASA to discern the altitudes that will best support the technology while factoring in daily and seasonal variations.

This color-coded map of the Middle East region shows areas with greatest high-altitude wind energy potential.
This color-coded map of the Middle East region shows areas with the greatest high altitude wind energy potential. (Image credit: Nature Publishing Group)

“Optimal altitudes for the turbines vary by region and with time of year and time of day,” explained KAUST PhD student Andrew Yip, first author of the paper, in a press release. “In general, the abundance of the airborne wind-energy resources increases with altitude.”

The study has been published in Scientific Reports.

High-Altitude Wind Power

Current wind farms must struggle against uncontrollable and widely unpredictable weather patterns to generate power. This makes having adequate storage infrastructure in place a key part of any renewable energy plan. A research team member, Udaya Gunturu, noted in the team’s press release: “Wind turbines on the earth’s surface suffer from the very stubborn problem of intermittent wind supply.”

High-altitude wind turbines could make up energy deficits during non-peak generation periods, both reducing our reliance on fossil fuels and lowering some of the need for battery storage during windless days.

The devices needed to make high-altitude wind power generation a possibility are still in their infancy. The technology that already exists would allow for power to be collected at altitudes of two to three kilometers; however, there is much greater potential at greater heights.

Current grounded wind generation and other renewable energy tech have been ready for much longer, and while adoption is picking up steam, we are nowhere near where we could be.

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The U.K. Just Installed Its First “Seabin” to Clean Plastic-Polluted Waters

Polluted Waters

Every year, 8 million metric tons of discarded plastic find their way into Earth’s oceans. In the past, a majority of this debris was organic material, but that has since been replaced primarily by plastic. One technology, the “seabin,” aims to combat this problem—and the U.K. just installed its first one.

The seabin is, as its name suggests, a bin made up of a large fiber net and a dock-based pump. The device is aimed at collecting pollution of all sizes, down to floating debris as small as 2mm in diameter. It’s even capable of collecting oil from the water, a priceless innovation in the event of an oil spill.

The first implemented seabin was installed this month in Portsmouth Harbor in the U.K, where it will be able to immediately start cleaning plastic pollution from its waters.

“Sure, we can’t catch everything right now, but it’s a really positive start,” the device’s creators, Pete Ceglinski and Andrew Turto, told the Huffington Post. “It’s a big mission, but it can be done. In fact, we’re doing it right now.”

Cleaning Plastic Pollution

The seabin works by creating a flow of water into the bin, bringing with it any surrounding debris that is then caught in the net. According to the Seabin Project website, the device can catch 1.5 kilograms (about 3.3 pounds) of debris per day, with the ability to hold up to 12 kilograms (26.5 pounds) at full capacity. The creators estimate each seabin can remove about half a ton of debris every year, the equivalent of collecting about 20,000 bottles or 83,000 plastic bags.

This technology was so promising that its creators were able to raise $260,000 on IndieGoGo to fund its creation.

The seabin is set to become commercially available this November. If its installment in the U.K. proves successful, others will catch on and adopt the technology—indeed, other efforts are already underway, and with little time to lose. If left in place, ocean plastic can injure and starve animals, release toxins into creatures that eat it, and even end up in our food and in our water. Global adoption of plastic-collecting technology could make a serious dent in this worldwide issue we are facing.

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Uber Users in Dubai Can Now Choose to Ride in a Tesla

Environmentally Friendly

Dubai residents looking for a more environmentally friendly alternative to the SUVs and other fossil fuel-powered vehicles operating throughout the city can now call upon one of Uber’s 50 Tesla Model S and Model X vehicles.

Dubai: City of the Future [INFOGRAPHIC]
Click to View Full Infographic

Earlier this month, Uber announced the UberONE program for Dubai in partnership with the Dubai Taxi Corporation. This new app option gives riders the ability to request Teslas through Uber for about the same additional cost as the service’s UberBLACK tier. While only 50 Model S and Model Xs are currently available, The Associated Press reports that another 150 are set to be added in 2018 and 2019.

Dubai residents aren’t the first to have the option to summon Teslas through Uber. The UberOne service first launched in Madrid, Spain, in December.

Embracing Autonomous Technology

The Dubai Taxi Corporation wasn’t drawn to Teslas simply because the vehicles are all-electric — their future self-driving capabilities were also a factor as they align with the Dubai Future Foundation’s ultimate goals.

“By 2030, 25 percent of all transportation trips in Dubai will be smart and driverless. The strategy is projected to generate economic revenues and savings of up to Dh22 billion a year,” His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, said last April.

Dubai continues to solidify its place as a world leader in futuristic transportation. Last November, the city partnered with Virgin Hyperloop One to install a new hyperloop network that is expected to cut travel time from Dubai to Abu Dhabi down to 12 minutes. More recently, the government of Dubai announced a successful test of its autonomous flying taxi, meaning it can move forward with its plans for a drone taxi service.

Expect to see more innovative developments from the city as it attempts to overcome additional challenges of the modern world.

Disclosure: The Dubai Future Foundation works in collaboration with Futurism as a sponsor and does not hold a seat on our editorial board.

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Sir David Attenborough Calls For Action Against Plastic Pollution

Plastic Pollution

Having just wrapped up filming his new series about Earth’s oceans, Blue Planet II, naturalist Sir David Attenborough offered some thoughts about society’s concerning reliance on plastics. To get an idea of just how serious this issue has become, one study estimated that our oceans will contain more plastics than fish by 2050. Currently, our oceans contain over 269,000 tons worth of plastic.

The Guardian reported Attenborough as saying humanity holds the future of the planet “in the palm of its hands” at the launch of Blue Planet II. He went on to add that plastic pollution is one of the biggest concerns for Earth’s oceans, alongside the impact of global warming. There’s so much plastic residing in ocean waters now that trace amounts of it have been found in tap water. As concerning as that sounds, it’s currently unclear how harmful this is to humans.

“What we’re going to do about 1.5 degrees rise in the temperature of the ocean over the next 10 years, I don’t know, but we could actually do something about plastic right now,” said Attenborough.

Fortunately, some have already taken steps to reducing plastic waste — if only by a little. A startup in India, for example, has developed edible spoons. On a much bigger scale, countries like France, India, and Kenya have banned the use of plastic bags, cups, plates, and utensils. Scientists have also discovered plastic-eating caterpillars, and a fungus capable of breaking down plastics.

Big Plans

As of yet, there’s no formal plan in place to deal with plastic waste — at least nothing on the same scale as the Paris Climate Agreement to address climate change.

“I just wish we would,” Attenborough said, “There are so many sequences that every single one of us have been involved in – even in the most peripheral way – where we have seen tragedies happen because of the plastic in the ocean.”

Speaking about his experiences while filming Blue Planet II, Attenborough explained how the presence of so much plastic has already begun to affect certain wildlife. “We’ve seen albatrosses come back with their belly full of food for their young and nothing in it. The albatross parent has been away for three weeks gathering stuff for her young and what comes out? What does she give her chick? You think it’s going to be squid, but it’s plastic. The chick is going to starve and die. There are more examples of that. But we could do things about plastic internationally tomorrow.”

Attenborough didn’t suggest how we could reduce plastic pollution, but noted that everyone on the planet has a responsibility to protect the world’s oceans — even if you don’t live close to the water.

“We may think we live a long way from the oceans, but we don’t. What we actually do here, and in the middle of Asia and wherever, has a direct effect on the oceans – and what the oceans do then reflects back on us.”

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The Netherlands Will End Coal Power by 2030

Phasing Out Coal Power

The Netherlands has expressed a desire to end coal power by 2030, marking the beginning of the end for coal power plants in the European country.

The Energy of the Future: Harnessing the Power of Earth
Click to View Full Infographic

The decision came from the new Dutch government earlier this week, which also announced plans to ban all petrol and diesel-powered cars by the same year. As reported by Megan Darby of Climate Home, the Netherlands will close all coal power plants by 2030, which includes three plants made in 2015 that are said to be more efficient that others. Despite their better performance, however, they quickly started to decrease in value in 2016.

In addition to phasing out coal, the Netherlands will also set a carbon floor price and seek deeper carbon cuts to make sure coal’s elimination doesn’t make it cheaper for companies to use coal elsewhere.

Making a Statement

In a report from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA), IEEFA energy finance consultant Gerard Wynn said the government’s announcement “sent a dramatic signal to electricity markets today that no investment in coal-fired power in Europe is safe.”

Wynn continued, saying, “Today’s announcement highlights the risk of investing in either new or existing coal-fired power, and the lesson is clear: National coal phase-out plans such as this, combined with the rise of renewables and the impact on demand of improved efficiency, put old electricity-production models at risk.”

In September, the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (NEAA) revealed new information that showed how global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions remained unchanged in 2016. While this was a positive sign that people can prevent additional changes to our climate, the Netherlands wants to do better, hence its new goal to reduce emissions in the country by 49 percent, as well as increase the larger EU’s emissions goals from 40 percent to 55 percent.

“Failing that,” writes Darby, “the coalition said it would seek to agree [to] stronger action with ‘likeminded’ countries in northwestern Europe, to minimize any competitive disadvantage from tougher targets.”

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In the Future, Your Home May Be Powered by a Tesla Battery

The Battery-Powered Future

Battery technology has essentially been the same over the past years, albeit with a bunch of improvements that increase battery capacity and prolong battery life. Lithium ion batteries remain the popular choice, and they’re found in all of today’s battery-powered mobile devices and in many electric cars. Soon, these batteries might also be powering your houses, thanks to the likes of Tesla and other startups that now sell these home batteries to utility providers.

According to a report by The Wall Street Journal, homes located in New York, California, Massachusetts, Hawaii, Vermont, Arizona, and in other states are working on new ways to make their electric grids battery-powered, an infrastructural switch which Ravi Manghani of GTM Research says is a “powerful need.” Without home batteries, the ability of utility companies to deliver power is in danger.

Utilities often have difficulty allocating excess power, particularly those on interstate markets where at certain times the price of electricity tends to dip into the negative. Usually, utilities resort to dumping excess electricity or paying others to take it. With the rise of solar power, the same issue happens. Energy generated by solar panels depend on certain conditions and, more often, generation doesn’t match the needs of homes.

In California and Arizona, the Journal reports, there’s lost of solar electricity during the day at cool times of the year and too little at night, when usage spikes. “This is not a long-term theoretical issue that might happen—this is now,” Marc Romito, Arizona Public Service director of customer technology, told the Journal. Home batteries are sorely needed.

In a Time of Need

There’s wisdom in keeping spare batteries at home, or in this case, keeping your home plugged into one. Particularly during times of disasters, home batteries can be really useful. When the grid is down, home batteries coupled with solar panels can provide much needed electricity, as was the case in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, where customers of Tesla and German battery-maker Sonen were able to keep their houses powered. Tesla has also, in fact, started shipping batteries to Puerto Rico, which has been largely without power since Hurricane Maria.

The World’s Largest Floating Solar Farm [INFOGRAPHIC]
Click to View Full Infographic

It’s this self-sustaining energy ecosystem that Tesla’s been working on thanks to their Powerwall and Powerpack batteries. Both work as electricity storage units, with the former designed for homes, while the latter is meant for utilities. Instead of relying on the grid, the home batteries like the Powerwall allow households to source out electricity, so to speak, following what some have called a “grid defection.” It’s enough to even power a small island.

The likes of Tesla, Sonen, and even Ikea in the U.K., are making this grid defection into a reality, in the U.S. and abroad. For example, both companies have partnered with Green Mountain Power in Vermont, which offers 2,000 home owners the chance to install a Powerwall for just $15 a month. Meanwhile, real-estate developer Mandalay Homes recently announced plans to build some 4,000 energy-efficient homes each with an 8-kilowatt-hour battery from Sonen — 2,900 of which would be built in Prescott, Arizona.

In short, as the market for electricity undergoes a radical shift thanks to the availability of renewable energy sources — especially the increasing popularity of cheaper solar home panels — power storage is becoming an important factor. Home batteries are the future.

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Elon Musk Has Officially Started Shipping Tesla Powerpacks to Puerto Rico

Elon Musk has made no secret of his ambition to help Puerto Rico regain power after the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria. Previously, Tesla had sent a few hundred Powerwall battery packs to the island, and now, Musk’s company has officially started shipping Powerpacks to Puerto Rico as part of relief efforts.

With a capacity of 210 kWh, a single Powerpack 2 battery is equivalent to 16 Powerwall cells. The priority for this hardware is to supply hospitals and other medical centers with power so that staff can continue their work.

Three weeks after the hurricane hit, less than 20 percent of the island has access to electricity, but even before the disaster, Puerto Rico’s power grid was in dire need of modernization. Musk wants to renew rather than just repair, and last week, he met with the island’s governor to discuss what Tesla could do to improve its infrastructure.

By shipping these Powerpacks to Puerto Rico right now, Tesla is providing the island with a lifeline. Any major work on the power grid will take months, but this hardware should ensure that the most critical facilities can continue to operate in the interim.

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The World’s First Negative Emissions Power Plant is a Reality Thanks to Geoengineering

Negative Emissions

As climate change marches on, world leaders and scientists alike have considered the potential of geoengineering solutions to capture and store emissions. In fact, scientists recently concluded that we need to have “carbon-sucking” geoengineering tech in place by as early as 2030.

As reported by Quartz, it seems Iceland is ahead of that deadline, with the help of a 300-megawatt geothermal power plant that’s been built in Hellisheiði. The plant captures more carbon dioxide (CO2) than it produces, meaning it produces negative emissions. That said, it’s true that the plant only produces about one third of the carbon a traditional coal plant would — but more than what it emits is both captured and stored underground.

To accomplish this engineering marvel, a wall of fans sucks in air, filters out CO2, and injects the CO2 into water which is then pumped into the ground where it becomes rock. This process is simple and produces usable energy while eliminating emissions from the environment; truly a win-win. So why hasn’t this technology been immediately adopted and replicated in every state in every country in the world? The short answer is cost.

The Energy of the Future: Harnessing the Power of Earth
Click to View Full Infographic

The Cost of Energy

Currently, this process costs about $30 (USD) for every ton of carbon dioxide that is turned into rock, which is not particularly expensive. However, capturing the CO2 from the air would be significantly more cost-intensive. If the cost of pulling carbon dioxide could be whittled down to $100 per cycle, as its creators are aiming for, then the technology’s adoptability would be much improved.

The concept of capturing and storing carbon underground is nothing brand new: geoengineering solutions to climate change have been brewing and developing for years. However, the concrete completion of this plant proves not only that this process works as intended, but that the costs of producing energy in this manner aren’t completely out of reach. As the technology continues to advance and improve, they will hopefully continue to become more affordable, and in turn, more widely adopted.

If we continue to produce energy in the same manner, and at the same rate, as we currently are, climate change will only worsen. Its life-threatening repercussions will continue to become increasingly devastating — not to mention costly. While we shift from fossil fuels to renewable resources, it’s important to note that our emissions aren’t going anywhere.

Even if we were to eliminate our entire carbon footprint right now, we’d would still see years and years of energy usage left in our wake. This isn’t to say we shouldn’t do anything, as we’ve already jeopardized ourselves and the planet. Rather, it serves as a reminder that while we make changes regarding the types of energy we use, and how we use them, we can also invest in and support the elimination of existing emissions through emerging technology.

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Rooftop Solar Provides a Record-Breaking 48% of South Australia’s Power

Rooftop Solar Could Create Zero Demand by 2027

The level of minimum power demand from South Australia’s grid hit a new record low — and it did so about a week after setting the previous low demand record, thanks to rooftop solar panels. On Sunday, September 17, only 587.8MW of power was drawn from the grid, beating the low mark of 786.42MW from the previous Sunday.

Additionally, where record low demand times in the past happened during the nighttime hours, these new records happened during the middle of the day despite higher overall energy consumption during those hours — as you’d expect with solar power.

Graph that shows South Australia's power usage for September 17, 2017, aided by rooftop solar.
Image Credit: Melbourne’s Climate and Energy College

According to Renew Economy, moderate early spring temperatures (therefore, fewer air conditioners running) coupled with a high rooftop solar output of more than 700MW account for the new record.

The new numbers indicate that 47.8% of South Australia’s demand for electricity is currently met by rooftop solar, up more than 10% in a single week. This is a regional best for South Australia, and probably beats any record set by any comparably-sized grid anywhere.

New Sources of Power

The Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) estimates a record low demand of 354MW by 2019, and a possible zero grid demand within ten years. Western Australia is on the same timetable.

As prices drop along with demand, AEMO officials are working to shift practices and thinking to match the new reality. For example, South Australia is one of the first areas to recognize the middle of the day as an off-peak time.

Other countries all over the world are setting and breaking their own records. The UK now generates almost one-third of its power from renewables. China has been generating power with renewables and making impressive strides all year.

While the US government is not supporting these kinds of sweeping initiatives, individual cities and states like California are crushing record after record. The trend isn’t going anywhere, and is the smarter long-term investment.

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Study Reviews 1,154 Climate Science Results, Finds No Evidence of Publication Bias

It is rare to encounter a scientific fact that stirs widespread debate and distrust quite like the matter of climate change.

Despite consensus among climate specialists about a theory that is supported by a mountain of facts from the physical, natural, and cultural sciences, the debate continues to be perpetrated by politicians, industrialists, academics, and armchair scientists.

When governments reject science, the rest of us are put at risk. By refusing to accept the facts and potential ramifications of climate change, as a society, we stand to delay or overlook actions that are urgently needed to reduce our impact on the environment and adapt our cities and farmlands to a different future.

Climategate Gave Wind to the Skeptics

Much of the intense skepticism about climate change science began in 2009, when thousands of emails and data files were stolen from the Climate Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia, in the UK, and later exposed under the guise of a purported conspiracy to alter facts.

The allegations claimed that scientists had only publicized results in support of their theory that climate change is driven by human activities. Other facts, that may negate this claim, were said to have been hidden.

series of inquiries found no evidence that these scientists were in the wrong, though the investigations did generally call for more transparency. Selective reporting is indeed a serious issue in the scientific community, especially when it comes to theory building as theories require consideration of all available facts. Is it possible that the theory of climate change is based on a biased selection of facts?

We decided to find out.

Publication Bias in the Medical Sciences

But what exactly is publication bias? If researchers only publish results that confirm their specific view or previous expectations or hopes, then the bulk of results in this research field will be skewed towards that established belief.

For example, if a researcher is developing a medical drug to treat a disease, then all results of the clinical trial should be made public for the benefit of other researchers seeking the same cure.

We know that, in medicine, positive and statistically significant results are more likely to be published than non-results. This poses a risk to medical sciences as failed experiments that are not reported may lead other researchers to waste precious funds pursuing dead-ends. Moreover, if only positive results are published, people will think the drug may be more effective than it truly is.

Fortunately, there are established methods in numerical ecology and statistics that allow us to detect when non-significant results are missing from a field of research.

One such method is the “Fail-safe N” (or sometimes called “the file-drawer problem”). This refers to the practice of only publishing positive results but filing away studies with negative or non-confirmative results.

Statistically we can calculate the fail-safe N, that estimates how many negative studies would be required to make the statistical effect insignificant. This means that if publication bias was occurring in climate change science, we could detect it through “missing” negative results.

No evidence of publication bias

In our research, published in the journal Climatic Change, we analyzed more than 1,100 published results from the field of climate change science and found no evidence of under-reporting or missing results — even results that were not statistically significant or showing no positive effects were reported.

Our study revealed some stylistic biases in how articles are written, however. The largest, most prominent effects (as they relate to climate change) were reported in the upfront summary sections (also called the abstract) where they are most readily seen by readers, whereas the lesser effects and those that were not significant tended to be buried within the technical results sections where relatively few readers are likely to see them.

Broken iceberg
Image Credit: Pixabay

Stylistic biases are less concerning than a systematic tendency to under-report non-significant effects, assuming researchers read entire reports before formulating theories. However, most audiences, especially non-scientists including journalists who report on the findings, are more likely to read abstracts or summary paragraphs only, without perusing technical results.

The onus to effectively communicate science does not fall entirely on the reader; rather, it is the responsibility of scientists and editors to remain vigilant, to understand how biases may pervade their work, and to be proactive about communicating science to non-technical audiences in transparent and unbiased ways.

Climate science is built on a solid foundation

It is important to stress that we are not climate scientists. Rather, in this instance, we functioned as scientists holding climate scientists to account and tested to see if their reporting practices were sound.

Although climate scientists tend to highlight their most interesting results in the abstract of their articles, something that is hardly unique to their field, we can be confident that the theory of climate change is built on a solid foundation that gives credence to positive, neutral, and negative experimental results.

In scientific terms, we reject the accusation made by climate change skeptics and can confirm that there is no publication bias in climate change research.


This article is co-published with ScienceNordic and in Danish on ForskerZonen. It was co-written with Christian Harlos, formerly at Lund University and now working in local government marine conservation, and Tim Edgell, an ecologist for consultancy Stantec. Both were co-authors of the research that this article is based on.

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Toyota’s Trucks That Only Emit Water Vapor Are Moving Goods in LA

A Dry Run to LA

Japanese automaker Toyota is serious about perfecting hydrogen fuel cell technology to power its vehicles, and it’s scheduled an initial feasibility study operations for its zero-emissions heavy-duty truck a little over a week from today. A concept version of a truck running Toyota’s specialized hydrogen fuel cell system designed for heavy-hauling use will be moving goods from select terminals at the Port of LA and Long Beach to nearby warehouses and rail yards beginning on October 23.

“If you see a big-rig driving around the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach that seems oddly quiet and quick, do not be alarmed! It’s just the future,” Toyota wrote in a press release. The company expects the daily runs to cover some 322 kilometers (200 miles) to test the fuel cell system’s duty-cycle capabilities. Afterwards, longer trips could be introduced.

hydrogen fuel cell zero emissions clean energy hydrogen trucksImage credit: Toyota

According to Toyota, this zero-emissions heavy-duty proof-of-concept truck has already covered roughly 6,437 kilometers (4,000 miles) in development tests, where it pulled a progressive weight of cargo — 36,287 kilograms (80,000 pounds) tops — while only emitting water vapor. It packs a 670 horsepower, with 1,325 pound-feet of torque, from two Mirai fuel cell stacks combined with a 12kWh battery.

Paving the Way

Hydrogen fuel cell technology has been around for a while now, but its commercial use has remained rather limited. Compared to their electric vehicle cousins, hydrogen fuel cell cars are more expensive to manufacture. There has been development on using more cost-efficient materials, however. Meanwhile, Toyota’s long been taking the lead in hydrogen fuel technology, and they plan to build a fleet of hydrogen-powered trucks.

“Toyota has led the way in expanding the understanding and adoption of fuel cell technology,” Bob Carter, executive vice-president for Toyota’s North America operations, said in the press release. “From the introduction of the Mirai passenger vehicle to the creation of the heavy-duty fuel cell system in Project Portal, Toyota continues to demonstrate the versatility and scalability of the zero-emission fuel cell powertrain.”

Following behind Toyota is Japanese car maker Honda, which also has plans for a hydrogen-powered car, as well as EVs and hybrids. Mercedes-Benz is also getting in on the hydrogen fuel scene. In short, more and more car makers are seeing the value of zero-emission vehicles — be it hydrogen-powered or the more popular battery-powered electric cars. They’re paving the way to fossil-fuel-free roads.

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Stanford’s Ultra-Cheap Batteries Are Ushering in a New Age in Energy

Let’s Get Salty

Researchers from Stanford University have developed an inexpensive alternative to lithium-ion batteries that could better help us prepare for a renewable energy future. The group was able to create a sodium-based battery that can store the same amount of energy as a lithium-based battery at less than 80 percent of the cost. Other researchers have created sodium-based batteries in the past, but this new approach promises to be more cost-effective.

“Nothing may ever surpass lithium in performance,” said chemical engineer Zhenan Bao “But lithium is so rare and costly that we need to develop high-performance but low-cost batteries based on abundant elements like sodium.”

The sodium in the Stanford battery binds to a compound called myo-inositol, an organic compound found in household products like baby formula. And, just as sodium is much more abundant than lithium, myo-inositol can easily be derived from rice bran or found in the byproducts made during the process of milling corn. This will help to make materials gathering cost-effective.

Image credit: Tesla
Efficient, cost-effective batteries are critical to the future of renewable energy. Image Credit: Tesla

Batteries are Key

Available access to battery storage is an essential factor in the clean energy revolution. Sources of renewable energy generation like solar and wind are typically reliant on unpredictable environmental factors. Batteries allow excess power to be stored during peak generating conditions and saved for use when conditions are less favorable.

Cheaper sodium-based batteries could help to make renewable power more accessible for regions where the cost of lithium-ion batteries is a significant financial barrier.

The Stanford battery still has a long way to go before it can be adapted into a consumer product. The team’s analysis focused on cost-performance comparisons but it did not consider volumetric energy density, or how big the sodium-ion batteries need to be in order to store the same amount of power as lithium-ion batteries.

However, despite the work still to be done, the team is confident that their design can be improved.

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The Union of Concerned Scientists Just Denounced the Man Trump Selected to Run NASA

Union of Concerned Scientists Unite

Following an October 6 blog post that outlines the case against President Trump’s NASA Administrator nominee, Representative Jim Bridenstine (R-OK), the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) has formally denounced the choice and started a petition against his appointment.

Among its reasons, the UCS’s petition cited that the NASA Administrator position is typically held by a space professional or scientist; Representative Bridestine has no formal training in science or engineering. The UCS also pointed out that Bridestine has a well-documented history of climate change denial and public statements that belie a misunderstanding of basic climate science.

As a new lawmaker, Bridenstine demanded that President Obama apologize for wasting money on climate change research. He has also blamed climate change on the sun, denied that carbon emissions are causing global temperatures to rise, and claimed that global temperatures stopped rising about ten years ago. Each of these assertions directly contradicts well-established climate science — including that produced by NASA, the agency he has been proposed to head.

Beyond that, the UCS says these remarks point to a larger problem: “His public remarks suggest that his current understanding of Earth Science is largely informed by politically charged skeptics of climate change research. We need a NASA administrator who can differentiate science from politics.”

Image Credit: NASA
Image Credit: NASA

The UCS also argues that Representative Bridestine’s remarks, and intentions they could reflect, present a real danger to American public health and safety. Bridestine has recommended that all Earth science related work be removed from the policy and purpose Congress declares for NASA, which would represent a significant change to the agency’s mission. Currently, NASA’s Earth science research advances our understanding of, and ability to cope with, natural disasters such as Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria. It also allows Americans — from federal agencies to local officials to average citizens on the ground — to more safely and effectively prepare and respond to extreme weather events.

A Larger Pattern

Currently, Bridestine is the only nominee for this key position. While the appointment is not set in stone, and has been criticized by some in Congress, it is highly likely that he will get the position. If he does, his leadership of NASA will only be the latest chapter in what many consider to be an invasion of U.S. politics mounted by climate change denial.

The Environmental Data and Governance Initiative (EDGI) recently found that several references to climate change were removed from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) website and replaced with “climate” alone. In March, the Trump administration enacted an executive order designed to reduce the consideration of climate change in policy decisions and dropped climate change and the “social cost of carbon” as metrics in official environment reviews. Staff at the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) were allegedly told to avoid using the phrase “climate change” and related terms, instead being ordered to replace them with euphemisms or phrases such as “weather extremes.”

What NASA’s future holds remains to be seen, but for now the UCS, and their 500,000 or so supporters, have drawn a line in sand regarding Bridestine’s potential appointment.

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A Maine-Sized Hole Has Opened up in Antarctica’s Ice Blanket

A Maine-Sized Hole

Researchers have observed a huge gap in the layer of ice that covers Antarctica’s Weddell Sea during the winter. The hole is as large as the state of Maine and was first spotted around a month ago by scientists from the University of Toronto and the Southern Ocean Carbon and Climate Observations and Modeling project.

“It looks like you just punched a hole in the ice,” Kent Moore, a professor of physics at the University of Toronto, told Motherboard. “This is hundreds of kilometers from the ice edge,” he added. “If we didn’t have a satellite, we wouldn’t know it was there.”

hole in Antarctica's ice
Image Credit: NASA Worldview, University of Bremen

The researchers were monitoring the area with satellites because a similar hole in Antarctica’s ice opened up in 2016. This year’s hole — a phenomenon also known as a polynya — measures around 77,699 square kilometers (30,000 square miles), making it the largest observed in the Weddell Sea since the 1970s.

Back Again

This hole in Antarctica’s ice formed because deep water from the Southern Ocean is pushed upwards by currents until it melts the topmost layer of ice. When that warm water is exposed to the atmosphere, it cools, sinks, and is reheated in deeper areas, continuing the cycle and preventing the formation of a new ice blanket.

Global Warming Scenarios
Click to View Full Infographic

While scientists know the basics regarding how this hole formed, they are less certain about its root cause and potential future effect on Antarctica and its oceans, Moore told National Geographic. They also aren’t sure whether it’s been prompted by climate change or something else, such as local marine life.

Moore calls the fact that the polynya came back after a forty year absence “remarkable,” and he and the rest of the researchers are now attempting to find out exactly what prompted this return and what future changes it might bring about.

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Paris Officially Says It’s Phasing Out All Non-Electric Cars

The Future of Fuel

Soon, drivers will only have the option of using electric cars in Paris as authorities in the French capital have announced plans to remove all gas- and diesel-powered cars by 2030.

“This is about planning for the long term with a strategy that will reduce greenhouse gases,” transport official Christophe Najdovski told France Info radio, according to a report from Reuters. “Transport is one of the main greenhouse gas producers…so we are planning an exit from combustion engine vehicles, or fossil-energy vehicles, by 2030.”

Paris Climate Agreement
Click to View Full Infographic

Diesel-powered vehicles are actually set to be outlawed in Paris before their gas-powered equivalents. The deadline for those cars is 2024, which is when the city will play host to the Olympic games.

In a statement announcing the transition to only electric cars in Paris, officials made sure to clarify that the removal of all other types of cars by 2030 should not be interpreted as a ban but a “trajectory.” However, they did not clarify what, if any, penalties would be faced by those who didn’t meet the goal.

While fossil fuel emissions affect all of France and, indeed, the whole planet, Paris is a hotspot for particle pollution. City officials are often forced to issue temporary bans on gas- and diesel-powered cars in response to particularly bad surges.

Out of Gas

The use of only electric cars in Paris by 2030 is just one of France’s several announced efforts to decrease the use of fossil fuels. By 2040, the country expects to not only have banned the use of petrol- and diesel-powered cars outright, but to have ceased production on all fossil fuels, too.

France is far from the only nation phasing out the use of gas- and diesel-powered cars, though. Germany was actually the first to announce plans for a ban on combustion engines for 2030, while the U.K. aims to dump non-electric vehicles by 2040. China is said to be drawing up a timetable for when the production and usage of non-electric cars will cease, and India expects that all new cars sold in the nation will be electric by 2030.

The U.S. has yet to make any sweeping statements about when similar changes might be made, but the state of California is already well ahead of the curve. Last month, reports surfaced that officials were investigating whether a ban on non-electric cars could help the state reach its lofty goals with regards to climate change.

The days of gas- and diesel-powered cars are seemingly numbered, and many governments appear eager to take a proactive approach to the transition. The real question is which automakers are going to be able to keep up and emerge as leaders in the age of the electric car.

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China is Creating a Future With Worldwide Electric Vehicle Adoption

China’s Electric Car Revolution

China has become the most powerful political force driving the globalization of electric vehicle (EV) technology. And, while natural driving forces such as dwindling fossil fuel resources and the hazards of climate change are also hastening change, these political pressures are, for now, the most effective driving factors in the electric car revolution.

Much of China’s journey toward EVs has been fueled by necessity. The Chinese government has invested vast sums of money into the industry and set aggressive pro-electric regulations because of its citizens suffering from worsening air pollution and because of the country’s overall goal of technological dominance including developments in artificial intelligence (AI).

At least one expert has asserted that all cars in China will be electric by 2030. The government is expected to ban production of fossil fuel vehicles soon. This is impressive for any country, but the automobile market in China is so vast that the nation’s policy decisions have global impact. China already makes and sells more EVs than any other country, and Chinese buyers will purchase more than three times as many EVs than American buyers in 2017 — and more than the rest of the world’s buyers altogether. And, although China taxes import cars at ten times the rate we do here in the US, Chinese
buyers still purchase more General Motors (GM) cars than Americans.

Image Credit: China's Electric Car Race/Flickr
China is working to make electric vehicles globally adopted. Image Credit: China’s Electric Car Race/Flickr

There is no guarantee that China will be able to dominate the electric car market. Despite notable auto manufacturing skills, the nation hasn’t yet developed a car that has become a trendy import, which is necessary to extend its influence. Most Chinese car buyers still prefer American and European cars, although joint ventures with international automakers may allow China’s car designers to imitate their style in the future.

Driving Change

The market is responding to China’s electric car boom as you might expect. GM, Ford, and Volkswagen are all adding electric models to their offerings and moving R&D operations for EVs to China. The Chinese government has made it a priority to recruit top electrical engineering talent from around the world, including the US.

This isn’t China’s first rodeo in terms of transforming industries. With its knockout combination of cheap, plentiful labor and strong government support, China has previously changed the steel making and clothing industries, and green energy businesses more recently. However, the auto industry is taking this pattern to an entirely new scale.

Meanwhile, for Chinese citizens, the environmental benefits of electric cars can’t come too soon and it will feel like they’re a long time coming. Especially in big cities like Beijing, citizens are exposed to highly hazardous air regularly. There will be no turning back for China, and it seems that the country will be leading the rest of the world in the right direction.

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The World’s First Zero Emissions Zone Could be Coming in 2035

Zero Emissions Zone

Oxford city centre is considering becoming the first Zero Emissions Zone (ZEZ) in the world. The proposed plan would call for non-electric vehicles to be banned entirely from the Oxford city center by 2035. The scheme would unroll gradually with benchmarks to be met every five years starting in 2020 when the innermost ring of the zone would exclude all cars, buses, and taxis that run on fossil fuels. The gradual expansion of the ZEZ would allow the city to budget by backloading most the cost to the second half of the next 18 years.

Image Credit: Dave_S./Flickr
Image Credit: Dave_S./Flickr

The aim of the ZEZ, which is still just a proposal, is to cut levels of harmful nitrogen dioxide (NO2) to near-background levels. The Oxford ZEZ is part of the larger plan throughout the country designed to tackle illegal levels of air pollution; many streets in Oxford are past the legal limit set by the EU for Nitrogen Dioxide. The ban would reduce those levels by as much as a 74 percent.

Challenges for the ZEZ

While public response is more positive than not, many are concerned about the costs, especially to small businesses. According to the Oxford Mail, adjusting for the ZEZ would cost city councils, bus operators, haulage companies, and taxi firms approximately £14 million ($18.5 million). Anyone violating the ban with a non-electric vehicle in the ZEZ will probably be fined about £60 ($79) automatically.

It’s worth noting that whether people are eager to accept the Oxford ZEZ or not, the national government has already announced that the UK will ban the sale of all fossil fuel cars starting in 2040; the final roll-out of the ZEZ will be only five years before that anyway.

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Scientists Have Completed the First-Ever “Atlas of Life”

Climate Change, Deforestation, and Wildlife

The numbers spell grim news for wildlife: according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) assessment in 2009, 17,291 species—36 percent of all species evaluated—are at risk of extinction. Our current biodiversity crisis is so bad it’s been dubbed the planet’s “sixth mass extinction.” However, not all is doom and gloom; one group of scientists hopes to turn this tide through an ambitious effort that has mapped all known vertebrate species. The finished product is known as an “atlas of life,” and using it, the team is able to find new areas that require focused conservation actions.

The atlas may help stave off extinction due to climate change, one of the most inexorable threats to nature and biodiversity. Animals, plants, and even global food supplies are threatened by this advancing global shift, though some stand a better chance at adapting and surviving than others. 

Animals That Went Extinct In The 21st Century [Infographic]
Click to View Full Infographic

Yet climate change isn’t the only thing altering the environment around wildlife and threatening their existence. We’re also to blame through deforestation and habitat destruction. In 2016, for example, illegal logging depleted the Amazon Rainforest much faster than it did the previous year. In January, it was reported that the areas we fail to protect in favor of forests with high carbon stocks could be at a higher risk of deforestation.

While efforts like former President Obama’s executive order to protect land in Utah from development, and Norway’s Zero Deforestation Policy are effective measures, there’s still more to do to protect our animal neighbors and much we don’t know about them.

Enter an international team of scientists, led by those from the University of Oxford and Tel Aviv University, who have completed a new series of detailed maps identifying the locations of every known vertebrate on Earth. The project’s final push was mapping the global distributions of reptiles, which were combined with existing maps made for birds, mammals and amphibians. Meet the atlas of life.

Atlas of Life

Thirty-nine scientists came together to work on the final catalog for the atlas, which accounts for nearly 10,000 species of snakes, lizards and turtles/tortoises. It took over a decade for this work to be completed, because many thought there weren’t enough well known reptile species to be mapped out.

When it comes to conserving wildlife, however, the University of Oxford notes that the atlas had to be compiled before it was too late.

As described in a press release detailing the scientists’ work, “in order to best protect wildlife, it’s important to know where species live, so the right action can be taken and scarce funding allocated in the right places.”

The map revealed several areas in need of attention, where reptile biodiversity is particularly fragile: the Arabian Peninsula and the Levant, inland arid southern Africa, the Asian steppes, the central Australian deserts, the Brazilian caatinga scrubland, and the high southern Andes.

The 10,000 reptiles added bring the total evaluated species to 31,000, including some 5,000 mammals, 10,000 birds and 6,000 frogs and salamanders.

Improving Conservation Efforts

Conservationists also now have the means to review previous plans and programs to see if they’ve been as effective as possible. “This is not to say that the work done to date has been inaccurate: based on our knowledge at the time, conservationists have often made some really good decisions,” said Dr. Richard Grenyer, Associate Professor in Biodiversity and Biogeography at Oxford University, in the press release.

“But now conservation has the data and tools required to bring planning up to the same level as the businesses and governments who might have an eye on land for other uses. Maybe we’re actually a bit better, and we’re doing it in the open.”

Before the map can be used by businesses and conservation organizations, it has to go through IUCN. The organization is currently classifying the species identified, which includes adding a rating ranging from “critically endangered” to “least concern.” Once that’s done, the atlas of life will become available for public use.

“Mapping the distributions of all reptiles was considered too difficult to tackle,” explains Tel Aviv University Professor Shai Meiri. “But thanks to a team of experts on the lizards and snakes of some of the most poorly known regions of the world we managed to achieve this, and hopefully contribute to the conservation of these often elusive vertebrates that suffer from persecution and prejudice.”

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Scientists Warn That Humanity Must Create “Carbon Sucking” Tech by 2030

Carbon Sucking

There are many who are making tremendous and powerful efforts to combat climate change as its repercussions grow increasingly drastic and life-threatening. But according to scientists at Chatham House, a British think-tank, and the general scientific consensus, the impending potential of surpassing 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times is progressing far enough that we need to begin “carbon sucking” by 2030. Carbon sucking technology, according to these and other scientists, will need to be created in order to effectively combat emissions.

“I don’t think we can have confidence that anything else can do this,” said Bill Hare, a physicist and climate scientist at the science and policy institute called Climate Analytics, to a London climate change conference. While trying to remain under a 1.5-degree rise, we have already had a global average increase of 1 degree. “It’s something you don’t want to talk about very much but it’s an unaccountable truth: we will need geoengineering by the mid-2030s to have a chance at the [1.5-C] goal,” Hare continued.

Negative emissions will be an essential part of battling climate change. Image Credit: JuergenPM / Pixabay
Negative emissions will be an essential part of battling climate change. Image Credit: JuergenPM / Pixabay

Engineering the Future

While it might seem drastic, increasing natural disasters, flooding, and a large host of other consequences of climate change are threatening and taking human lives with increasing ferocity. And if we continue on our current path, even with a wealth of intervention methods in place, geoengineering might very well be necessary as these scientists have predicted.

Can We Come Back from Climate Change’s Brink?
Click to View Full Infographic

Of these “carbon sucking” solutions, some suggest the planting of specially-designed carbon-absorbing forests. The trees from these forests would be harvested for wood and energy, the emissions from which would be pumped back underground. Underground carbon storage is just one of the many possible ways that scientists hope to capture and store emissions in our environment, reducing the impact of emissions on climate change.

Hare elaborated, “if you’re really concerned about coral reefs, biodiversity [and] food production in very poor regions, we’re going to have to deploy negative emission technology at scale.”

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Combatting Climate Change Is “A Matter Of Survival” Says Fijian Minister

Climate change may still be a matter of debate in some pockets of the United States, but globally, there’s not much controversy. These days, most world leaders are not reluctant to discuss climate change, one of the defining issues of our era. This was certainly the case at this year’s United Nations Global Summit, held at the UN headquarters in New York City in late September — there was no shortage of conversations dissecting strategies to cut emissions and slow the pace of warming.

But one leader framed the stakes in a way that left little room for debate. On September 21, during a panel discussion focused on uniting for climate change held in the media zone (outside the general assembly), Inia Seruiratu, Fiji’s Minister of Agriculture, Rural and Maritime Development and National Disaster Management, told a small audience that mitigating climate change is necessary for our survival.

“For Fiji and the South Pacific, this is not just a matter of sustainable development, but it’s a matter of survival as well. For us it’s very critical to build resilience so that we can achieve sustainable development in the long-term,” Seruiratu said. He continued:

We [Fijians] are low-emitters. But we are also contributing towards mitigation. For us, more mitigation now means less adaptation in the future. We keep insisting that we have to equally balance between adaptation and mitigation because for us, as a small island state, mitigation is critical — it’s important because it’s a matter of survival. Therefore, for us to have resilience in the future, we have to have a balance between adaption and mitigation.

Fiji, as Seruiratu noted, is an island in the South Pacific, a region among the most vulnerable in the world to the effects of sea level rise and destructive storms. In February 2016, tropical cyclone Winston devastated Fiji, causing US$1.4 billion in damage. Fiji is better equipped to mitigate that damage and adapt to new conditions than some of its neighbors, such as Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu, according to assessments from the Notre Dame Global Adaptation Index.

Can We Come Back from Climate Change’s Brink?
Click to View Full Infographic

Smaller island nations, such as the Marshall Islands, Tuvalu and Kiribati, are at risk of disappearing completely.

Financing this shift is critical, Seruiratu said. Nations like Fiji need to put money into updating infrastructure to be more resilient (and to put insurance policies on them), to implement climate policies like turning to energy sources that don’t emit as much carbon dioxide. Who, exactly, should pay for all that has been a matter of debate as more countries have agreed to international climate treaties such as the Paris Accord.

Seruiratu is one of the leaders for the COP23, the UN’s climate meeting that will be held in Bonn, Germany in November.

Seruiratu reiterated that taking action against climate change isn’t up to any one country, or community, or individual. Everyone must play a part. “In uniting for climate action, we must understand that first we are all vulnerable, and we must all act. We all have to take responsibility,” he said.

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The Energy of Tomorrow May Not Be Solar, but Seaweed

Seaweed Energy

The U.S. Department of Energy is investing in a novel source of future renewable energy in the form of seaweed. That’s right — seaweed energy. The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reports that the DOE is investing nearly $1.5 million in two projects that will help develop seaweed farms and explore harvesting methods.

Seaweed, in all its slimy glory, can be processed into a biofuel that could be used to power our homes and vehicles. The DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) program is funding projects across the country to make the large-scale cultivation of seaweed a reality, supporting another alternative to fossil fuel use.

Of the two latest projects funded, $995,978 went to Makai Ocean Engineering of Honolulu to help build an ocean simulating model that the will aid researchers in designing offshore seaweed farms, and $500,000 went to Kampachi Farms of Kailua-Kona to test harvesting methods for seaweed grown on these farms. Kampachi Farms will also develop an offshore seaweed farm.

Image credit: Tom Corser/Wikimedia Commons
Seaweed can apparently be turned into a powerful biofuel. Image Credit: Tom Corser/Wikimedia Commons

More Than Solar

Researchers are constantly perfecting renewable energy sources like wind, solar, tidal, among others to allow for greater accessibility. Innovators are looking at seaweed and far beyond to explore novel means of harvesting renewable energy.

A team of researchers from Fudan University in China has developed a power generator that will be able to convert blood flowing in your body into energy. The ability to use hydrogen as a fuel has also recently come back into focus with new ways to store hydrogen power and convert water, even seawater, into hydrogen fuel.

A fossil fuel free future is possible and each new technological discovery brings us closer to making that future a reality. Solar and wind power may have a large role to play in that clean energy landscape, but they will not be exclusive. Novel approaches like those listed above as well as many more that have been developed or are on their way could help to bridge gaps in coverage and lead to a true fossil fuel free planet.

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The EPA Boss Just Announced the End of the “War on Coal”

Unexpected Development from the EPA

Since the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) fell under the purview of current director Scott Pruitt, many have expressed concerns about the agency’s direction. Now, these worries are again confirmed as Pruitt announced in an event in eastern Kentucky today that he’ll repeal the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, which aimed to curb greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.

“The war on coal is over,” Pruitt said, according to the Associated Press. “Tomorrow in Washington, D.C., I will be signing a proposed rule to roll back the Clean Power Plan. No better place to make that announcement than Hazard, Kentucky.” Pruitt has long-been known to reject the idea of human-made climate change.

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Signed in 2015, the Clean Power Plan aimed to cut down the nation’s dependence on coal, which contributes about a third of U.S. carbon emissions. The plan would limit U.S. emissions by 32 percent, relative to 2005 numbers, by 2030. On Tuesday, Pruitt will file the repeal proposal in the Federal Register.

Not Dropping the Ball

Despite the federal government’s policies on climate change, which former U.S. Vice President Al Gore called “really reckless and indefensible,” a number of states and private firms are still keen on cutting down on carbon emissions. Leading the charge is a group of now 13 states and Puerto Rico called the Climate Alliance, which will continue to implement policies to bring down CO2 levels coinciding with the Paris Climate Agreement’s targets.

Hurricanes Have Been Enhanced by Climate Change
Click to View Full Infographic

Supporters of the EPA’s decision see it as an opportunity for businesses to participate in crafting an alternative approach to a cleaner environment. Aside from this, the argument has always been that keeping the coal industry alive would translate to better jobs. Recent data show, however, that an even better economic opportunity comes with the pursuit of renewable energy. In the U.S. alone, renewables already employ more people than fossil fuels. Global investment in renewable energy has also trumped that of fossil fuels, totaling some $264 billion in 2016.

As Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune told AP, “Trump is not just ignoring the deadly cost of pollution, he’s ignoring the clean energy deployment that is rapidly creating jobs across the country.”

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Today, Elon Musk Is Meeting Puerto Rico’s Governor to Fix the Island’s Energy Crisis

In response to a tweet yesterday, Tesla CEO Elon Musk said that it would be possible for Tesla to rebuild Puerto Rico’s hurricane devastated energy system with Tesla technologies. Hurricane Maria made landfall more than two weeks ago and a vast majority of the island is still without power.

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Musk said that a decision to overhaul the territory’s power grid would be up to the people of Puerto Rico. Last night, their governor, Ricardo Rossello, took to Twitter to take Mr. Musk up on that offer.

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Musk responded to Rosello that he would be “happy to talk.” The mega-CEO also made earlier promises to help the ravaged island by sending along hundreds of Powerwall batteries to help bring power to those who need it most.

Musk is also working on bringing 100-Megawatts of power to South Australia in just 100 days. The installation will be the largest of its kind and potentially power as many 30,000 homes in the region. At the beginning of the year, an 80-MW Powerpack station came online to help reduce Southern California’s dependence on fossil fuels. Elon Musk and Tesla are making great strides to provide the infrastructure necessary to support greater reliance on renewable energy, and if he and the people of Puerto Rico join forces, the island territory could stand as exemplar to the world of clean-energy sustainability.

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Proof That Tesla’s Batteries Are Utterly Revolutionizing How We Power Our World

Tesla Batteries Powering the World

Tesla is getting a lot of use out of its Powerwall and Powerpack products. The company has been selling Tesla Batteries since 2015, and both received major upgrades last year, ensuring that they will continue to be used for a variety of projects.

In recent months, Tesla batteries have been used to power the company’s solar roof product, sent to Puerto Rico to provide much-needed electricity, they’ve saved Australia $1.5 million, and will soon power thousands of homes in South Australia. That last application is particularly impressive, as it also accounts for one of the largest projects Tesla has ever taken on; and that was before CEO Elon Musk set a deadline for its completion at 100 days.

As Business Insider points out, however, South Australia and Puerto Rico aren’t the only places that have come to utilize the company’s batteries. In fact, several luxury resorts, a handful of lodges, and even entire islands are being powered by Tesla’s hardware.

Singita Boulders Lodge Swimming Pool Area. Image Credit: Singita
Singita Boulders Lodge swimming pool area. Image Credit: Singita

For starters, there’s the Singita Lodge, located on the edges of the Kruger National Park in northeastern South Africa, which is home to a number of animals like buffalo, leopards, and elephants. The resort itself relies on a series of solar panels which are powered by Tesla’s Powerpack system. There’s also the Dent Island fishing lodge in British Columbia, which has five Powerpacks providing nearly 500 kilowatt-hours worth of energy.

From Homes to Islands

For more residential uses, look no further than the neighborhood of Glen Innes in Auckland, New Zealand. Last year, utility company Vector installed a Powerpack system at the nearby Glen Innes substation, increasing the capacity of East Auckland’s existing power supply. The 1MW system powers the entire neighborhood and helps even out the overall energy demand during peak times.

As said previously, though, Tesla’s hardware is also supplying energy to entire islands. Most notably is the island of Ta’u in American Samoa, which is home to a microgrid comprised of solar panels and 60 Tesla Powerpacks. SolarCity and Tesla built the power system last year and it now provides 1.4 megawatts of solar generation capacity and 6 megawatt-hours of battery storage to the entire island, including the local hospital, schools, and fire and police stations.

“The stability and affordability of power from the new Ta’u microgrid, operated by American Samoa Power Authority, provides energy independence for the nearly 600 residents of Ta’u,” explained SolarCity in November. “The battery system also allows the island to use stored solar energy at night, meaning renewable energy is available for use around the clock.”

Expect to see more of Tesla’s batteries bringing power to more people and territories. Company CEO Elon Musk is already looking to rebuild Puerto Rico’s electricity system, and the company is currently building the world’s largest Supercharger station in China. It will be some time before we, as a planet, completely shift to clean energy, but Tesla’s continued involvement continues to benefit society; let’s hope companies with such influence never lose the desire to change the world.

The post Proof That Tesla’s Batteries Are Utterly Revolutionizing How We Power Our World appeared first on Futurism.

Elon Musk and Puerto Rico’s Governor Discuss Potential for Tesla to Rebuild the Island’s Electrical System

Elon Musk says that Tesla can rebuild Puerto Rico’s electricity system with independent solar and battery systems. In a response to Twitter user’s question about Musk’s ability to revamp the island’s power infrastructure, he said:

The Tesla team has done this for many smaller islands around the world, but there is no scalability limit, so it can be done for Puerto Rico too. Such a decision would be in the hands of the PR govt, PUC, any commercial stakeholders and, most importantly, the people of PR.

Puerto Rico’s Governor, Ricardo Rossello, retweeted Musk’s original tweet and reached out to him, suggesting that the island could be a “flagship project” in terms of showcasing Tesla’s scalability potential.

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Early Friday morning, Musk responded that he’d be “happy to talk,” adding that he hoped Tesla could be helpful. Tesla made headlines over the weekend by pledging to send hundreds of Powerwall batteries to the hurricane-ravaged island. The batteries will provide life-saving energy to parts of the island that are having trouble restoring access to electricity.

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Overhauling the territory’s energy grid is a much larger endeavor than a few hundred Powerwalls can handle. Also, even before the storms touched down on the island’s shores, Puerto Rico was mired in debt and Tesla’s technology is not cheap.

As Musk said, the technology is there — it’s the bureaucratic and financial limitations of the Puerto Rican government that stands in the way. In the future, we can hope that it doesn’t take a disaster for people to recognize the potential of supporting renewable energy infrastructure.

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A New Material is Able to Create Hydrogen Fuel From Seawater

Sea-Fuel

There exists a wide range of renewable energy sources support our increasingly energy-intensive lives as fossil fuels are ultimately phased out. One of these new potential sources of energy is as promising as it is strange. University of Central Florida (UCF) researcher and assistant professor Yang Yang has developed a breakthrough hybrid nanomaterial that uses the power of an existing green energy source, solar energy, to turn seawater into hydrogen fuel.

A faculty member of both the NanoScience Technology Center and the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at UCF, Yang’s breakthrough has been 10 years in the making. Current materials being used to create hydrogen fuel are fairly costly and not all that efficient — a sharp contrast to Yang’s new method.

The success is exciting: solar hydrogen splitting is something that many researchers, including Yang, have been working tirelessly towards for years. “We’ve opened a new window to splitting real water, not just purified water in a lab,” Yang said. “This really works well in seawater.”

To create hydrogen fuel, however, you need a photocatalyst — a material that triggers a chemical reaction when exposed to light. But considering the corrosive and difficult nature of seawater, Yang needed a photocatalyst that was uniquely durable, which is where the hybrid nanomaterial came in.

The nanomaterial began with an ultrathin sheet of titanium dioxide (the most common photocatalyst), into which nanocavities were carved. Nanoflakes of molybdenum disulfide, a 2D material as thick as a single atom, then coated these cavities. This material is nearly twice as effective as most other photocatalysts because instead of converting a limited range of light into energy, it can turn ultraviolet-visible to near-infrared light wavelengths into energy — a much wider range.

Artist's interpretation of the hybrid nanomaterial photocatalyst. Image Credit: University of Central Florida
Artist’s interpretation of the hybrid nanomaterial photocatalyst. Image Credit: University of Central Florida

Creative Energy

Hydrogen fuel, like everything, has its pros and cons. On the positive side, it’s only emissions are water vapor, a drastic difference from what is produced by fossil fuels. In terms of vehicles, hydrogen fuel cells have about double the fuel economy of traditional gasoline. Additionally — and most obviously — hydrogen fuel is renewable and can be created in abundance.

However, until now the process to create hydrogen fuel has been considerably expensive, and there is a lack of existing infrastructure to support its use. The main issue with hydrogen fuel is that current methods for creating it are not only inefficient and costly, they often use nonrenewable natural gas. But this process has the potential to eliminate many of the issues presented by the use of hydrogen fuel.

If this nanomaterial is used on a larger-scale, the process could help generate a substantial amount of green energy, replacing fossil fuels and pushing us forward in the fight against climate change. In the immediate, it could also help bolster Florida’s economy: with abundant sea water and the state’s current efforts to recover from the devastation of Hurricane Irma, such a boost would no doubt be welcomed.

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By 2022, You Could Be Flying Aboard Zunum Aero’s Hybrid-Electric Airliner

Fresh Air

Two major airlines have taken a startup under their wings in pursuit of cleaner air travel. Boeing and JetBlue were revealed to be backing Zunum Aero back in April, and now, the company has set a target release date for their small hybrid-electric airliner: 2022.

The Autonomous Revolution: What Else is Going Driverless? [INFOGRAPHIC]
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A pair of electric motors will power the first aircraft Zunum Aero is developing, and the plane will be outfitted with a gas engine and an electrical generator in addition to electric batteries. The current design for the plane is based around a lone pilot at the controls, but eventually, the company plans for their aircraft to be piloted remotely.

Zunum Aero’s first hybrid-electric aircraft is expected to be capable of carrying up to 12 passengers a distance of 1,126 kilometers (700 miles). Current battery technology can only store enough power to cover around 160 kilometers (100 miles), but as this tech improves, the startup intends for their planes to rely less and less on their generators. By 2030, they expect to have a plane that can carry 50 passengers up to 1,609 kilometers (1,000 miles).

Taking Off

Just like the growing popularity of electric cars, air travel that doesn’t rely on traditional fuel sources could have a positive impact on the environment, but that’s not the only reason airlines are interested in electric-powered planes — these crafts have the potential to make short-haul flights more financially viable.

“We’re getting airline pricing down on a small plane and doing it for short distances,” said Zunum Aero co-founder Matt Knapp in an interview with Reuters. “That kind of aircraft doesn’t currently exist.”

Electric planes could revolutionize the way we fly in places where regional air travel is common, such as North America. Zunum Aero claims that around 96 percent of U.S. air traffic uses just one percent of the country’s airports. Smaller electric airliners could utilize smaller airports, cutting travel time and eliminating the hassle of undergoing the in-depth security procedures necessary at larger terminals.

However, Zunum Aero will face significant obstacles as they attempt to get their planes in the sky. The company’s batteries and backup generators will have to undergo stringent testing if they are to pass muster with authorities, and the startup may be beat to market by competitors also working on short-distance electric planes, such as Wright Electric.

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Roll-Up Solar Panels Could Fundamentally Alter How We Power the World

Solar Power in Style

Flat Holm is an island in the middle of the Bristol Channel in Great Britain composed of limestone, and although that image has quite the scenic appeal, it hardly exhausts the extent of the island’s charm. The scientific community considers it especially valuable in light of its plant- and bird-life, a preserved domain of nature, which of course attracts the steady flow of tourists. But recently, the geographic treasure has also become a site of human-animal co-existence that goes beyond symbolic gestures and passive preservation; enter the pioneer technology for solar energy called the Rapid Roll system.

Developed by U.K. tech company Renovagen, based in Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, the Rapid Roll system lets you unfurl solar panels like a carpet from behind a truck. The idea came from John Hingley, managing director at Renovagen, who first conceptualized this scaled-up mobile solar technology five years ago.

Flat Holm decided to use this technology after Renovagen won a small business contest in 2016 for innovative use of renewable energy. “We were looking at solar and hydro, but that takes up a lot of land and land in cities is expensive,” Gareth Harcombe, Cardiff Council’s energy and sustainability manager, told the BBC.

Ready to Roll

Flat Holm’s solar panels generate an average of 11KW of power, connected to batteries that can store 24KW/h. That’s roughly a day’s worth of energy for the island’s four inhabitants, as well as for the tourists who frequent Flat Holm. Best of all, the Rapid Roll solar panels can last up to 10 years.

The Rapid Roll panels are packed in 4×4 trailers, which carry enough solar panels to power a mobile clinic with 120 beds or to desalinate 25,000 liters of seawater daily, and is particularly suited for Flat Holm’s environmental and logistical needs. “Compared with traditional rigid panels, we can fit up to 10 times the power in this size container,” Hingley explained to the BBC.

The World’s Largest Floating Solar Farm [INFOGRAPHIC]
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According to Renovagen’s website, the Rapid Roll system was designed above all for fast deployment. That’s particularly useful in areas that don’t have ready-access to a regular energy source, like Flat Holm, or for areas devastated by natural disasters. “Indeed it has the potential to save lives by – for example, reducing or eliminating the need for military fuel convoys or by powering medical facilities in disaster zones.”

In Puerto Rico, for example, which was recently struck by hurricane Maria, some places still don’t have electricity. Recovery, according to CNN, has been moving at “a glacial pace.” Restoring power is crucial in disaster-stricken areas. Electricity powers communication networks and provides a modicum of normalcy in the disrupted lives of the people affected by such calamities. A staggering 55 percent of Puerto Rico’s population were reported without drinkable water following Hurricane Maria. Although it may be too late this time, rapid-deploy solar panels could potentially assuage much of this kind of suffering, in the near future.

With a technology like Renovagen’s Rapid Roll solar panels, restoring electricity to typhoon- and hurricane-ravaged areas won’t be as difficult. As the company said in their FAQs, “it’s not necessary to have solar engineers model the specific site and calculate particular solar field positions and configurations before deployment – the Rapid Roll will work anywhere and will make the most out of the set of conditions encountered.”

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A New Electric Car Battery Lasts for 200 Miles and Charges in Just 6 Minutes

Durability Redefined

Major car manufacturers are now investing in electric vehicles, and one of their primary areas of focus has been the development of fast-charging batteries to service these cars. At present, lithium ion batteries remain the go-to option for EVs, but the amount of power they provide and their charging capacity leaves much to be desired.

Enter Toshiba.

All Electric Cars: What’s My Range? [INFOGRAPHIC]
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In 2008, the Japanese company pioneered SCiB rechargeable battery cells, and now, they claim to have developed even better SCiB batteries that can give EVs a 320-kilometer (almost 200-mile) range after just six minutes of ultra-fast charging.

The secret to both rapid charging and preserving a battery’s robustness is the material used in its anodes — a part of a battery through which electrons pass.

In their 2008 SCiBs, Toshiba used anodes made from lithium titanium oxide. These new generation SCiBs have anodes made from titanium niobium oxide, which Toshiba said in a press release maintains 90 percent of the battery’s capacity even after 5,000 charging cycles.

On Par With Gas

While Toshiba’s new SCiB cells could definitely improve an EV’s battery life and performance, Toshiba doesn’t define what sort of “high power” charger they would require. Tesla Superchargers can supposedly pump as much as 135 kW of power, and the Model S has a 85 kWh battery with a 426-kilometer (265-mile) range. Would Toshiba’s batteries require a charger more powerful than that to reach full power in six minutes?

This range isn’t the highest for an EV, either. Samsung has developed EV batteries that have 600- to 700-kilometer (372- to 435-mile) ranges. Meanwhile, gas-powered vehicles have a median range of around 663 kilometers (412 miles), according to the U.S. Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Office.

While today’s EVs are steadily increasing in power and, in some cases, can even outperform internal combustion engine cars, EV batteries still have room for improvement in terms of life and performance. Toshiba believes their new SCiB is up to the task of delivering these improvements.

“We are very excited by the potential of the new titanium niobium oxide anode and the next-generation SCiB,” Osamu Hori, director of Toshiba’s Corporate Research & Development Center, said in the press release.

“Rather than an incremental improvement, this is a game-changing advance that will make a significant difference to the range and performance of EV,” he added. “We will continue to improve the battery’s performance and aim to put the next-generation SCiBTM into practical application in fiscal year 2019.”

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We Can Use Hurricanes to Power the Cities of Tomorrow

Face the Hurricane

It’s an undeniable fact that people all over the world have had to deal with a concerning number of powerful hurricanes this year. In the U.S. alone, hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria have done irreparable damage to parts of Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico.

Ahead of each storm, people were notified and encouraged to evacuate or seek suitable shelter. While everyone’s safety is the primary concern during such events, there are those who see hurricanes as a valuable learning opportunity. Astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson wants scientists to confront hurricanes head on and use the insights they gather to develop a way to turn their cyclonic energy into electricity.

In an interview with The Today Show, Tyson expressed a degree of frustration with how we react to hurricanes, saying, “I’m tired of looking at photos of countless thousands of cars exiting a city, because a hurricane is coming.”

He continued, “Where are the engineers and scientists saying, you know, instead of running away from the city that’s about to be destroyed by this hurricane, let me figure out a way to tap the cyclonic energy of this hurricane to drive the power needs of the city that it’s otherwise going to destroy?”

Hardware Limitations

It’s an ambitious idea, and one that would certainly help in our efforts to shift to clean energy. We already use solar panels and wind turbines to gather energy from sunlight and wind, and are looking into floors that harvest kinetic energy. Harnessing hurricanes, however, would be another matter entirely. Not only because they tend to move around (and aren’t as frequent as, say, the wind blowing) but also because they’re uncontrollable and extremely powerful.

According to Business Insider, tropical storms and hurricanes are capable of outputting around 600 terawatts of power — far more than the 1,064 gigawatts of electricity we were capable of generating as of 2015. That isn’t to say engineers and researchers aren’t developing equipment to capture a hurricane’s energy — there’s the Challenergy wind turbine capable of doing that — but it’ll take some time to truly offset the damage caused by such storms.

In order to truly take advantage of a hurricane, first we would need to slow it down. As Gizmodo points out, however, current science has yet to provide a way to do so — save for reducing the C02 emissions that are probably strengthening them.

It’s safe to say that what Tyson wants (at least in such an efficient form) is currently unobtainable — though not impossible.

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Puerto Rico Is Considering Bringing Power Back Through Renewable Microgrids

Rebuilding the Grid

The devastating effect of Hurricane Maria has left Puerto Rico without power—but even before the storm, the territory’s electric grid was somewhat outdated. Outages were common, and prices were high. While the current situation is bleak, there are hopes that it could foster a much-needed renovation of the US territory’s infrastructure.

On Friday, Puerto Rico’s governor Ricardo Rosselló proposed the idea of switching the island over to a microgrid system. This would localize the production of electricity to smaller regions, each of which would be powered by a small-scale power plant, such as a compact solar array or a few wind turbines. Some microgrids are connected to one another by transmission lines, but this is not necessary.

“We can start dividing Puerto Rico into different regions…and then start developing microgrids,” said the governor, according to a report from Yahoo News. “That’s not going to solve the problem, but it’s certainly going to start lighting up Puerto Rico much quicker.”

One German energy-storage company, Sonnen GmbH, is already donating microgrid systems that could get the process started. Working with local company Pura Energia, which hooks its solar panels to Sonnen’s batteries, Sonnen is providing microgrids to 15 storm-ravaged centers on the island, and expects demand for additional systems on the island to rise. If it does, the company plans to donate the profits from local sales to build up to 35 more microgrids on Puerto Rico.

Power Struggle

Switching to a microgrid powered by renewable resources like wind and solar energy would have a positive effect on the environment, make things cheaper for residents of Puerto Rico, and leave less infrastructure to rebuild the next time a hurricane hits. Plus, fewer links between each section of the grid would localize outages in the case of a storm, and microgrids can rebound more quickly from blackouts by sourcing power from alternate energy and backup storage.

However, there are also other solutions on the table.

Before Hurricane Maria, officials were prepping a transition to natural gas, which would have reportedly cost $380 million. While natural gas provides a cheap source of energy, the effect of the Jones act would likely undermine these savings.

Earlier this week, energy secretary Rick Perry has raised the idea of implementing small-scale nuclear power in disaster areas like Puerto Rico. While this form of energy production is by no means perfect, efforts are being made to improve upon current methodology.

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If Wind Power Is Going to Replace Fossil Fuels, We Need Bigger Turbines

Wind Power

When it comes to building things, Eric Loth has his head in the clouds. This engineering professor at the University of Virginia wants to construct a wind turbine standing more than five times higher than the Statue of Liberty, with rotor blades longer than the Washington Monument is tall.

Not only that, the 1,650-foot-high mega-turbine would change along with the weather, bending its blades gracefully to cope with hurricane-strength winds. And all of this would happen dozens of miles out at sea.

Typical wind turbines are about 80 meters, or 260 feet, in height. Why build one so big?

“The larger a turbine, the more powerful and efficient it becomes, and that reduces the cost of energy,” Loth says. “Ultimately, cost is going to drive decisions about energy much more than anyone’s opinion on climate change.”

Blowing Up

In 2000, there were just a handful of utility-scale turbines. Today, more than 52,000 generate about 6 percent of the nation’s electricity. The growth of wind power is accelerating (see graph below); it accounts for more than two-thirds of all the renewable energy capacity installed in America since 2008. And wind turbine technician is one of America’s fastest-growing occupations.

But ousting natural gas as the nation’s most popular source of electricity will take turbines that are cheaper still. And that means looking up — way up.

U.S. Annual and Cumulative Wind Power Capacity Growth Image Source: American Wind Energy Association

The U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates that raising the height of wind turbines from 80 to 140 meters would almost double the land area across the country where wind power is cost-effective. Loth wants to go higher yet. He envisions 500-meter towers capable of generating 50 megawatts (MW) — roughly six times more electrical power than today’s largest turbines can pump out.

This is uncharted territory for wind power.

“No one knows what next-generation 12 or 15MW turbines will look like,” says Scott Larwood, an engineering professor at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California. “Eric is looking way ahead and saying if we really want to get huge, what will the configuration have to be?”

Think Like a Tree

One problem is that building bigger versions of the turbines you see on hillsides today simply isn’t feasible. Rotor blades tend to flex in high winds, raising the possibility that the rotors would strike the tower supporting them. Taller wind turbines will need stiffer blades positioned well away from the tower — which adds weight and cost.

Loth’s solution? Locate the blades not upwind from the tower — as is standard with today’s designs — but downwind instead. That way, high winds would cause the blades to flex away from the tower rather than toward it.

Loth also wants to create blades that change in response to the wind.

“We’re bio-inspired,” he says. “Oaks trees and palm trees are both tall trees, but if you’re in a hurricane-prone area near the ocean, a palm tree will survive where an oak won’t.”

His mega-turbine rotors would be hinged at their base, allowing them to flex with the wind instead of fighting against it. That, together with the use of high-tech materials like carbon fiber, should enable the skyscraper-sized blades Loth requires. “We’re also looking at ways to 3D print the blades, allowing much more novel shapes and geometries,” he says.

Wind turbines with downwind blades have been tried before. In the late 1970s, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) installed a large downwind turbine on a hill in Boone, North Carolina. Though the turbine operated more or less successfully for several years, the design caused annoying whooshing and thumping noises that rattled the occupants of nearby homes.

Related: Walls Won’t Save Our Cities from Rising Seas. Here’s What Will

But Loth isn’t deterred. “We’ve been working to understand that tower wake effect for a few years,” he says. “We’re pretty confident we can solve it.”

Loth plans to build a small prototype downwind turbine next summer, using a $3.7-million award from DOE. If that’s successful, he hopes to raise money for a larger demonstration model and eventually to commercialize his 50MW mega-turbine, which he estimates could cut the cost of wind power in half. “But I wouldn’t expect to see our turbines out there in the marketplace for maybe 10 years,” says Loth.

Towering Ambition

Not all wind power researchers want to wait that long. Eric Smith, CEO of the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Keystone Tower Systems, has a wind technology that he thinks is almost ready for prime time.

One big obstacle standing in the way of bigger wind turbines is the high cost of building them. The largest turbines now in use require towers that are wider than the standard gaps beneath highway overpasses. That means wind farm operators cannot simply truck in modular tower sections.

Smith says he’s developed a way of modifying the continuous welding technologies used to lay long-distance oil pipes to produce the tapered shape necessary for turbine towers right on site. “We can produce a tower using about a tenth of the labor per ton of a conventional tower factory — instead of 200 workers, we can have a 20-person crew,” says Smith.

Wind energy share of electricity generation by state. Image Source: American Wind Energy Association

Keystone has used this approach to build a small tower and is now working with established wind companies on larger designs. Smith calculates that his spiral welding technique could be scaled up to produce large steel towers 40 percent lighter than standard towers. That, in turn, might lower the overall cost of wind energy by 10 percent.

Either way, bigger wind turbines are on the horizon — which is exactly where some people would prefer them to remain.

Offshore Power

“While people are interested in renewable energy, if they start to perceive it as a monstrosity in their backyard, it can temper their enthusiasm,” Loth says. His plan is to situate his mega-turbines not on land but 25 miles or more out to sea. In addition to dispensing with noise (and disgruntled neighbors), that would put the turbines smack in the middle of some of the planet’s strongest winds. Of course, strong winds increase the risk to the wind turbines as they lower the cost of wind-generated electricity.

For now, the biggest threat to Loth’s mega-turbines is not the weather but the ever-shifting political climate. Under President Trump, DOE looks likely to focus on coal and other fossil fuels from wind and other renewable sources of energy. But with wind turbines already competing with fossil fuels on cost in some locations, this is a technology with the wind at its back.

Super-Colossal Wind Turbines May Be on the Horizon was originally published by NBC Universal Media, LLC on Sep.27.2017 by Mark Harris. Copyright 2017 NBC Universal Media, LLC. All rights reserved.

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Wooden Skyscrapers Are Set to Transform Our Cities

Back to Basics

For centuries, wood was the building material of choice for buildings around the world. During periods of industrial revolution, steel and concrete have taken its place. In more recent history, however, we’re seeing something of a resurgence of interest in wood as a competitive construction material.

In 2012, the Forte residential block in Melbourne, Australia set the record for the world’s tallest building made from timber at ten stories. Less than two years later, it was outdone by The Treet, a fourteen-story construction in Central Bergen, Norway. The Treet has since been outdone by Canada’s eighteen-story Brock Commons.

Cross-laminated timber is the material that allows these structures to be built without safety concerns. It’s made from sheets of two-by-fours that are layered together and bound by fire-resistant glue. The grain of each layer is rotated 90 degrees, and as such, the material’s structural strength is comparable to that of steel.

Ecological Edifice

If we can make building materials from wood that are as strong as steel, its other advantages make it a very appealing prospect. The first and not least of which are its major benefits in terms of the environment.

Estimates published by the U.S. Green Building Council state that as much as 39 percent of carbon emissions in the U.S. are the result of the construction of buildings and their usage. Wood is far lighter than steel, which makes it easier to transport to a construction site, and the foundations for buildings don’t have to be as deep. Both of these factors would serve to cut down on emissions.

Of course, there are challenges, too. While wood is a renewable resource, it’s critically important that we don’t use it irresponsibly, and continue reforestation efforts so we don’t exhaust our supplies. Still, wooden buildings offer up some promising opportunities for more ecologically sound construction, so long as the proper considerations are made.

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General Motors Will Launch 20 All-Electric Cars by 2023

Electric vehicles (EVs) are no longer just for hungry startups. A number of veteran car makers have joined the the EV race, launching various electric car concepts. Some are even promising to develop only all-electric vehicles from here on out. Now, General Motors (GM) announced on Monday its plans to launch at least 20 new EVs by 2023.

“General Motors believes in an all-electric future,” Mark Reuss, GM Product Development, Purchasing and Supply Chain EVP, said in a press release. “Although that future won’t happen overnight, GM is committed to driving increased usage and acceptance of electric vehicles through no-compromise solutions that meet our customers’ needs.”

electric vehicles general motors electric cars ev
Image credit: General Motors

GM plans to unveil two new all-electric cars in the next 18 months. These cars no doubt will benefit from the experience GM had developing the Chevy Bolt EV, which demonstrated the company’s dedication to reaching zero emissions. “These aren’t just words in a war of press releases,” Reuss added, according to Business Insider. A zero emissions future, GM acknowledged, “will require more than just battery electric technology.”

Instead, the car maker has been focused on both electric batteries and hydrogen fuel cells. To that end, GM introduced the Silent Utility Rover Universal Superstructure (SURUS), a four-wheel drive concept vehicle that runs on fuel cells. The SURUS’ heavy-duty truck frame is powered by two electric motors, making it an ideal zero-emission vehicle for delivery trucks and even ambulances.

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Tesla is Shipping Hundreds of Powerwall Batteries to Puerto Rico

Emergency Power

In a continued streak of goodwill during this year’s devastating hurricane season, Tesla has been shipping hundreds of its Powerwall batteries to Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. Since the hurricane hit on 20 September, much of the U.S. territory has been left without power — about 97 percent, as of 27 September — hampering residents’ access to drinkable water, perishable food, and air conditioning. The island’s hospitals are struggling to keep generators running as diesel fuel dwindles.

Installed by employees in Puerto Rico, Tesla’s batteries could be paired with solar panels in order to store electricity for the territory, whose energy grid may need up to six months to be fully repaired. Several power banks have already arrived to the island, and more are en route.

Debuted in 2016, the latest Powerwall model has a capacity of 13.5 kWh.

Flood waters remain high in Carolina, Puerto Rico, Sept. 22, 2017, after Hurricane Maria slammed the island. Puerto Rico National Guard photo by Sgt. Jose Ahiram Diaz-Ramos
Flood waters remain high in Carolina, Puerto Rico, Sept. 22, 2017, after Hurricane Maria slammed the island. Image Credit: Puerto Rico National Guard / Sgt. Jose Ahiram Diaz-Ramo

According to Engadget, Tesla is currently working with local organizations to identify the best locations for the power banks.

As the New York Times reported, restoring power to Puerto Rico will be both difficult and expensive: “Transformers, poles, and power lines snake from coastal areas across hard-to-access mountains. In some cases, the poles have to be maneuvered in place with helicopters.” Tesla’s Powerwall systems could provide lifesaving energy while those repairs are in process.

In addition to supplying power in electricity-sparse places, the Powerwall system also holds promise in helping us wean off of fossil fuels and use more clean energy. Tesla recently acquired solar cell-production company SolarCity in order to produce photovoltaic cells for use with the Powerwall.

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30% of Europe’s Electricity Could Be Wind Powered by 2020

A pair of reports released by WindEurope asserts that by 2030, 30% of the electricity consumed in Europe could be generated from the wind. The continent is on track to overhaul its energy infrastructure. According to the reports (Wind Energy in Europe: Outlook to 2020 and Wind Energy in Europe: Scenarios for 2030), the progress could potentially avoid the release of 382 tonnes (421 US tons) of CO2 emissions.

Bloomberg points out that 716,000 jobs could be created with these efforts. The wind power industry could see 351 billion euros ($417 billion) of investment by 2030.

For the next three years, Europe may see an average installation rate of an additional 12.6 GW per year. This would allow wind power alone to meet 16.5 percent of the continent’s energy demand, with a total of 204 GW of wind-generated power. The goal for 2030 would see that capacity to reach 323 GW.

Individual European countries are taking big steps to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels by investing in and building renewable energy generating installations. The topographical diversity of the continent allows for a great deal of diversity in the ways energy can be generated. Scotland is leading in wind and tidal power generation, and the whole of the UK is taking advantage of the low cost of solar power to boost its renewable energy capabilities. All of this will amount to the continued decline of global reliance on fossil fuels and will help turn the tide in the fight against climate change.

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Elon Musk’s Promised 100-Megawatt Battery in 100 Days for South Australia is Underway

A Promise Made

Telsa CEO Elon Musk has announced his contract with South Australia to build a 100-megawatt lithium power storage system. Not only will this system hold the record for highest capacity battery system of its kind, but Must also aims to construct it in a very short time span: just 100 days.

Musk set the deadline for himself in a series of tweets back in March. What started off as a casual internet exchange has blossomed into an international partnership that could provide reliable energy for the many Australians who experienced a crisis last year when several parts of the country had power shortages.

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A Promise Kept

The Australian summer, with its high energy demands, is just a few months away, but Tesla is off to a phenomenal start to beating the tight deadline. Musk revealed that about half the promised capacity was already in place on site — a strong indicator that Tesla will easily glide through the short timeline.

“To have that done in two months is really pretty amazing,” Bloomberg reported that Musk said in a speech on the site of the battery installation. “You can’t even remodel your kitchen in that amount of time. It serves as a great example to the rest of the world of what can be done.”

Not only will the battery system help Australia prevent power outages, but it will also bolster the country’s efforts to transition to clean energy. The goal is for the battery system to be powered by renewable energies like solar and wind farms.

“There were lots of people that were making jokes about South Australia and making fun of our leadership in renewable energy,” Bloomberge reported that South Australia Premier Jay Weatherill said at the event. “Today, they are laughing out the other side of their face.”

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China Pushes Electric Vehicles and Makes Producing Fossil Fuel Vehicles Tougher

China’s New EV Rules

China has announced that automakers that want to manufacture fossil fuel-powered cars first must produce low-emission and zero-emission cars to attain a new energy vehicle score. The new rule applies to companies that make or import more than 30,000 fossil fuel cars annually. This means that by 2019, carmakers must be producing a fleet with a total of 10% or more electric vehicles, and 12% or more by 2020.

All Electric Cars: What’s My Range? [INFOGRAPHIC]
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China’s new rule is part of an aggressive plan to phase out fossil fuel vehicles, a goal it shares with the UK and France, which both plan to ban sales of fossil fuel cars by 2040. A recent report indicates that China’s auto market will be all electric by 2030. While the country’s original plan was to ban fossil fuel vehicles outright — which was criticized as too ambitious — this revised version of the plan is aggressive, yet workable, allowing automakers time to adjust to the changing market.

Reducing Emissions Worldwide

This is part of a larger effort on China’s part to reduce carbon emissions and fossil fuel dependency. In 2017 alone, China has surpassed many of its own ambitious environmental goals. By August, the country had already reached its 2020 solar energy installation target, reasserting itself as the largest producer of solar power on earth. In June, an entire region of China ran on 100 percent renewables for seven days. China has begun to build a large-scale carbon capture and storage plant — the first of eight — as part of its attempts to reduce its carbon footprint. The nation has invested more into renewables than any other country in the world, including the US, and has begun to reap the benefits, turning around many of its pollution problems.

The move toward electric vehicles is global. California is considering a ban on the sale of fossil fuel vehicles, and when it comes to technology, California is a national trendsetter for the US. Research shows electric vehicles will dominate the European market by 2035. India will sell only electric cars within the next 13 years, gutting emissions significantly. This latest development is merely the next link in a long, global chain.

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Reducing Our Dependency on Coal Will Make Us Healthier in the Long Run

Benefits of Quitting Coal

Dr. Jonathan Patz, director of the Global Health Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, doesn’t see a low carbon future as a negative; he sees it as a positive prescription for a healthier future. In a recent opinion piece for The Guardian, he wrote: “This is not an attempt to downplay the seriousness of the risks facing our climate. Rather, it is about reframing the choice we face, away from the prospect of bleak minimalism often associated with a low-carbon future.”

He’s got a point. The benefits of quitting coal are indisputable. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that air pollution causes 7 million deaths annually. Burning fossil fuels, and coal in particular, contributed 78% of the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide from 1970 to 2010, with deforestation also playing a role. Burning coal puts fine particulates, such as PM2.5 and other pollutants, into the environment — many of which are hazardous to human health.

Furthermore, the financial investment into greenhouse gas mitigation pays off 30-fold in terms of health benefits: the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates a return of US$30 on every dollar invested into air pollution reduction. Additionally, 26-1,050% of the cost of American low-carbon policies can be offset by health benefits as a result of improving air quality. Dr. Patz commented, “So, the irony is that strategies focused on greenhouse gas mitigation could, more immediately, save an estimated 1 to 4 million lives annually by mid-century from improved air quality.”

Kicking the Coal Habit

As people eat more meat and start driving more cars around the world, the frequency of illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, and obesity rises. Increased rates of active travel, such as cycling and walking, help lower carbon levels and promote health. Active travel is also associated with lower rates of cancer and a reduction in mortality rates.

Kicking the fossil fuel habit would also mean fewer heat-related deaths — and this is highly significant. The 2003 heatwave in Europe caused an estimated 70,000 deaths, and the 2010 heatwave in Russia killed 15,000. By 2100, heatwaves could threaten almost three-quarters of the world’s population.

Reframing the issue of climate change as an opportunity to change human health for the better is a useful way to think about both problems. Dr. Patz writes: “The experience of quitting carbon is not unlike that of quitting smoking: it is a necessary change that will make us healthier. Quitting presents challenges, but it would be foolish to only understand the process through that lens. The decision to quit smoking should not be something the individual does alone; it requires all kinds of support, as well as taking on an industry that profits from addiction to killer substances. But in the long run, we will all benefit from this kind of transformation. The same is true for quitting carbon.”

Countries around the world are reducing their dependencies on coal. Beijing has a goal to replace coal with clean energy by 2020, India is shutting down coal mines left and right, and coal use is declining rapidly in Europe, to name a few. Cost is also a factor to consider, and solar power is becoming cheaper every day. The solar industry provides more jobs than the coal industry, which in turn makes it more attractive to nations looking to reduce unemployment. Coal is becoming less attractive for many reasons, and the planet will be burning a lot less of it soon.

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An Underwater “Continent” Could Reveal Secrets About Earth’s Distant Past

Under the Sea

Tens of millions of years ago, a landmass that’s being referred to as Zealandia was largely submerged beneath the Pacific Ocean. This summer, a team of scientists set out on an underwater expedition using an advanced research vessel, and the results might yield brand-new insight into Earth’s prehistory.

More than thirty scientists from twelve different countries were present on the two-month excursion. By drilling into the ocean floor some 4,000 feet below the surface, they were able to collect 8,000 feet of sediment cores that will give us a glimpse into geological processes that have taken place over the last 70 million years.

“The cores acted as time machines for us allowing us [sic] to reach further and further back in time, first seeing the ancient underwater avalanches then evidence of rocks forged from a fiery origin,” wrote Stephen Pekar, one of the scientists who took part in the study, in a blog post. “One could imagine somewhere near by on Zealandia laid mountains that belched fiery rocks and rolling smoke.”

It’s thought that Zealandia broke off from Australia between 60 and 85 millions years ago, forming New Zealand and other islands in the region. However, there’s still some debate as to whether or not it could be classified as a continent in its own right.

In February 2017, Northwestern University geologist Michael Scotese told National Geographic that while it was continental, it wasn’t a continent. He compared its relationship with Australia to the link between North America and Greenland, and Africa and Madagascar.

Fossil Finds

Over the course of the expedition, over 8,000 fossils were found, giving the team an opportunity to study hundreds of different species. Knowing more about the creatures that inhabited Zealandia before it was submerged allows scientists to make informed guesses about what conditions were like.

Image credit: subarcticmike

“The discovery of microscopic shells of organisms that lived in warm shallow seas, and of spores and pollen from land plants, reveal that the geography and climate of Zealandia were dramatically different in the past,” read a statement from Gerald Dickens, who led the voyage.

Based on the remains that have been found, it’s thought that land-based animals once roamed around Zealandia. The region would have served as a bridge that could be used to cross between continents, according to a report from The Guardian.

Back to Zealandia

It’s expected that the findings of this expedition will help us better comprehend how life propagated through the South Pacific, and offer some fresh perspective to the debate as to whether or not Zealandia is a continent. Despite the region being well-known to geologists, this is the first peer-reviewed paper to look at it in detail.

Amber Encased Prehistoric Creatures Found in 2016
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The sediment cores and fossils gathered on this trip have given researchers plenty to work with now that they have returned home, but the expedition’s organizers are already eager to make their return.

There are hopes that further study could produce more information about climate change, relating to the history of Zealandia’s climate millions of years ago and today. A vessel equipped with drilling equipment is set to visit regions close to New Zealand, Australia, and Antarctica in 2018.

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New Data Shows Progress in Fight Against Climate Change

CO2 Emissions in 2016

Offering a much-needed sign that human actions can be effective against climate change, new data published by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (NEAA) shows that global CO2 emissions largely remained static in 2016.

All major emitters worldwide, except India, stayed stagnant or fell in their CO2 emissions, due to increased use of renewables and decreased coal use; the US and Russia saw about a two percent decrease, while China, European Union states, and other G20 member emissions remained static. Other nations, mainly developing countries, still have rising CO2 emissions levels.

However, even static emission levels mean that massive amounts of CO2 are being dumped into the atmosphere annually; more than 35 billion tons were released in 2016 alone. This CO2 is responsible for warmer ocean and air temperatures, plus more extreme, damaging weather, from droughts to hurricanes. Moreover, other greenhouse gases that trap heat in the atmosphere—particularly methane, from agriculture and the oil and gas industries—rose by 1 percent in 2016. According to the report, total greenhouse gas emissions continued to increase by about 0.5% globally.

NEAA chief researcher Jos Olivier cautioned The Guardian: “There is no guarantee that CO2 emissions will from now on be flat or descending.” Still, following the near-halt in emissions seen in 2014 and 2015, even as the world economy continued to grow, this development is encouraging. Experts in China, for example, say their own coal burning has peaked, and the same is likely true in other major emissions nations.

Image Credit: NEAA
Image Credit: NEAA

London School of Economics climate economist Lord Nicholas Stern told The Guardian: “However, all countries have to accelerate their emissions reductions if the Paris goals are to be met. We can now see clearly that the transition to a low-carbon economy is at the heart of the story of poverty reduction and of the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.”

The Long Global Haul

This flattening of CO2 emissions in 2016 is proof that humans can make a difference when it comes to climate change. It also offers evidence that if we do not take steps to reduce emissions, they will continue to increase; they only stopped rising after a groundswell of public opinion pushed for change.

China continues to lead the world in its plans to clean up the environment. A Chinese expert recently announced that electric and hybrid cars will dominate the Chinese market by 2030. The Chinese government has begun building a large-scale carbon capture and storage plant, the first of eight. China also continues to be a world leader in renewable energy. 

Can We Come Back from Climate Change’s Brink?
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Meanwhile, despite a lack of federal support, major cities in the US are taking action on their own. New York City has announced ambitious new fossil fuel caps for thousands of buildings. San Francisco’s public transit system will be eliminating fossil fuels by 2045. Atlanta plans to use 100 percent renewables by 2035, and Chicago wants to get there by 2025.

However, effective, collective action remains critical; positive news should not lull us into a false sense of security. Under Scott Pruitt’s EPA, fossil fuel companies are no longer going to be required to release information about their greenhouse gas emissions. Research from the Center for American Progress (CAP) cites the aggressive action that China is taking as embodying the kind of commitment required to effectively fight climate change. In other words, we need to get up to speed, too—all of us.

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A Record-Breaking 29% of the U.K.’s Electricity Is Now Generated by Renewables

Combined Efforts

Renewable energy is lighting up the United Kingdom. This year alone, it’s set all sort of records, using all types of measurements. Back in May, the U.K. National Grid said that solar energy met 24 percent of the nation’s electricity demand, setting a new record. Then, in July, renewables — solar, wind, and nuclear energy — teamed up to provide more electricity than coal and gas combined, setting yet another record.

Now, the U.K. government has said that almost a third of the country’s electricity during the second quarter (Q2) of 2017 came from renewable energy. “Renewables’ share of electricity generation was a record 29.8 percent in 2017 Q2, up 4.4 percentage points on the share in 2016 Q2, reflecting both increased wind capacity and wind speeds, as well as lower overall electricity generation,” according to a recent government report.

Powering the Future

Renewable energy didn’t get this popular overnight, clearly. The U.K. has been improving its renewable infrastructure for the past couple of years. The recent report noted that renewables’ overall capacity increased to 38.0 GW by the end of the first half of 2017. Much of this increase comes from onshore wind power plants, which produced 50 percent more energy over 2016’s Q2 figure, while offshore wind increased by 22 percent.

Renewable Energy Sources Of The Future [Infographic]
Click to View Full Infographic

Emma Pinchbeck, director of industry at nonprofit RenewableUK, was, of course, delighted with these latest figures. “It’s terrific to see that nearly a third of the U.K.’s electricity is now being generated by renewables, with wind power leading the way,” she said, according to The Independent.

The appeal of renewables isn’t limited to clean energy and a cleaner environment. Equally promising is how renewables are improving people’s lives, which Pinchbeck also noted: “The U.K.’s renewable energy sector is an industrial success story, attracting investment, creating new jobs, and powering our economy.”

Hopefully, this success inspires more nations to follow the U.K.’s lead in embracing renewable energy.

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Electric Vehicles Account for Six of the Ten Fastest-Selling Used Cars in the U.S.

Electric cars and plug-in hybrids are amongst the fastest-selling late model used cars in the U.S., according to a new study from iSeeCars. Of the top 10 fastest-selling used cars, six don’t rely on gasoline. The models earning the distinction of cracking the top 10 are Fiat’s 500e (#1), BMW’s i3 (#2), Toyota’s Prius Plug-in Hybrid (#4), Nissan’s Leaf (#6), Ford’s Fusion Energi (#9), and Tesla’s Model S (#10).

The average price of a one- to three-year-old car is $21,000, and Phong Ly, CEO of iSeeCars, speculates that consumers are more willing to take a chance on used electric models thanks to their comparatively lower price. Some of these EVs and hybrids even have price points that are less than half the average, like the 500e’s average of $9,055.

Interior of the 2017 Fiat 500e. Image Credit: Fiat.
Interior of the 2017 Fiat 500e. Image Credit: Fiat.

A used Tesla Model S, on the other hand, will cost anywhere from $40,000 to $80,000, but sales are still doing well thanks to other factors. “Tesla’s popularity, along with the scarcity of the Model S on the used car market, is probably driving prices up while cars continue to sell quickly,” said Ly. Tesla’s recent decision to discontinue the cheapest Model S option probably isn’t helping either.

Electrek notes that this study is a clear indication that people are willing to buy electric cars, despite what automakers may have said in the past about the lack of demand. In reality, people are interested in these vehicles — they just need to be priced comparable to their gas-guzzling counterparts. Discounts, tax credits, and other purchasing incentives go a long way, too.

Whether used or new, the more EVs we get on the road, the better our chances of stemming the problems caused by the use of fossil fuels.

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Wales Sets New Goal of 70 Percent Clean Energy Generation by 2030

Target Set

The Welsh government has set a new goal for the percentage of electricity the country gets from renewable sources: 70 percent by 2030. According to the BBC, the current figure is 32 percent. However, while the nation does have a ways to go to meet its target, its percentage is already more than twice that of the United States, which generates 15 percent of its energy from renewable sources, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Renewable Energy Sources Of The Future [Infographic]
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Wales’ ambitious renewable energy goals were announced by Environment Secretary Lesley Griffiths. “Wales must be able to compete in global low-carbon markets, particularly now we face a future outside the EU,” she told Assembly members on Tuesday. “The ability to meet our needs from clean energy is the foundation for a prosperous low carbon economy.”

The 70 percent renewables by 2030 wasn’t the only target set by Griffiths. She also said she wants to increase the locally owned renewable electricity capacity in the country to one gigawatt by 2030. Additionally, she plans for all new renewable energy projects to have elements of local ownership by 2020, as opposed to relying solely on foreign investment.

U.K. Going Clean

Other countries in the United Kingdom are also making significant pushes to rapidly expand renewable energy investment.

Ireland introduced legislation to divest government funds from coal and oil, a first step in moving the country away from fossil fuels. Scotland has also been embracing renewable infrastructure with efforts to increase wind, solar, and tidal energy generation. Scotland has set its own target of 100 percent clean energy by 2020.

The U.K. isn’t alone in these efforts. Countries across the globe are joining the clean energy revolution, and in the U.S., individual cities and states have taken a stand where the federal government has not.

The battle against climate change can only be won through worldwide cooperation and commitment. The efforts underway in the U.K. and elsewhere are an excellent start, but until fossil fuels are no longer used, any progress has the potential to be erased.

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An Australian City Saved $1.5 Million by Installing a Tesla Powerpack

Off the Grid

A city in Australia has saved $1.5 million by installing a Tesla Powerpack. The battery will power a water disinfection plant, which is the first facility of its kind in Australia to be supplied with electricity in this manner.

Logan City Council recently built a new reservoir to cater to the needs of the area’s growing population, but the site was so far from the power grid that it would have been prohibitively expensive to forge a connection. Instead, 323 solar panels have been attached to the roof of the facility, harvesting energy that will be stored in the 95 kWh Powerpack.

Logan City mayor Luke Smith stated that linking the plant up to the grid would have cost $1.5 million. The council hasn’t stated how much it paid to implement the Powerpack, but the hardware is estimated to have cost around $100,000, according to a report from Electrek.

“We’ve obviously been trialling it for the last few weeks and we’re confident that it’s going to work but what it will do is it will set a new standard, I think, globally but particularly what we’re building in Logan,” Smith told ABC.

Top 10 Countries Using Solar Power
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Tesla Down Under

Australia is proving to be fertile ground for Tesla, particularly when it comes to its Powerpack hardware. In June, the company signed a contract with Transgrid to install the batteries across New South Wales, and the following month it arranged to supply a battery to the Hornsdale Wind Farm.

Broadly speaking, the country is ahead of the game when it comes to renewable energy, producing enough to power 70 percent of homes. As such, it should be of little surprise that officials are looking into better ways of storing that energy to make the most of production.

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Geoengineering May Be Our Only Hope for Surviving Climate Change

Engineering the Planet

While every small effort to combat the pressing problem of climate change helps, the situation may progress to the point that humanity has no choice but to take bold action in the form of geoengineering.

Could climate change transform Earth into Venus? [Infographic]
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This branch of engineering focuses on large-scale technological interventions designed to physically manipulate our environment and planet in ways that will hopefully, at the very least, slow the advancement of climate change.

With experts predicting that the Earth will be at least 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer by the end of the century, these measures might be the key to saving life on our planet. To put that in perspective, the global average temperature during the Ice Age was only about 6.6 degrees Celsius (12 degrees Fahrenheit) cooler than it is today.

As our climate changes and temperatures increase, every aspect of life on our planet will change along with it, so it is important that we figure out how to keep life on Earth, well, alive, even if it means taking risks.

Changing Climates

In a recent interview, astrobiologist, planetary scientist, and senior scientist of the Planetary Science Institute David Grinspoon shared his thoughts on geoengineering and the future of planet Earth with Futurism.

Part of Grinspoon’s work focuses on looking at how the climates of planets like Mars and Venus have changed in the past in the hopes of using that knowledge to predict how Earth’s climate might change. “That gives me a little bit of a different kind of perspective on our climate evolution,” says Grinspoon. “It also leads into the possibility that we may want to manipulate the climate on this planet in the future to prevent it from going in a direction that is dangerous for everybody.”

By studying planets other than Earth, Grinspoon has garnered a better idea of not only how naturally changing climates might affect life, but how the specific changes we’re seeing on Earth might affect us and other creatures.

“Left to their own devices, planetary climates do change in ways that would be dangerous to our civilization,” says Grinspoon. “We will eventually have to learn how to handle that and assume this role of sort of caretaker.”

Image Credit: geralt / pixabay
Image Credit: geralt / pixabay

The climate will continue to change with or without our intervention, and most of us would probably like it to remain a habitable location. While Grinspoon is quick to note that geoengineering should be seen as a last resort — “We could make a cure worse than the disease” — he is confident that changes to our individual habits could go a long way toward combating the changing climate.

“I see the twenty-first century as a pivotal time. A lot of problems are coming to a head now, but there’s also a lot of potential for solving those problems,” Grinspoon asserts. “I do think there’s momentum for a widespread acceptance that we need to move beyond the fossil fuel economy, and I think 30 years from now, that transition is going to be really accelerated.”

Ultimately, geoengineering and our efforts toward sustainability are two sides of the same coin. If necessary, the former could allow us to make major changes to ensure Earth remains habitable, while the latter are comparatively easier, less risky ways for us to evolve along with our planet. It is important that we consider both as we move forward. As Grinspoon notes, “We cannot stop being planet changers. We just have to figure out how to do a better job — how to be smart planet changers.”

This interview has been slightly edited for clarity and brevity.

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A Startup Claims to Have Found a Solution to Stabilize Nuclear Fusion

Guiding Instability

Solar energy is revolutionizing how we power houses, cities, and even cars. The energy we get from the Sun, however, is just a tiny fraction of what actually powers the solar system’s star. Enter nuclear fusion, which for the longest time now, has been rather difficult to stabilize. A nuclear fusion startup based in New Jersey called LPP Fusion thinks we might have been going about this process the wrong way, and they suggest a different approach.

To harness nuclear fusion energy, one needs to stabilize the reaction, which in itself is already difficult to produce. Fusion relies on hot plasma, which requires huge amounts of pressure and very high temperatures. On method scientists have devised is called “magnetic confinement” — where hot plasma is contained using magnetic fields.

The DPF. Image credit: LPP Fusion

Still, the method isn’t without great difficulties. “Guide the plasma’s instability; don’t fight it,” LPP Fusion president and CEO Eric Lerner told the Digital Journal. To do this, their scientists are developing a Dense Plasma Focus (DPF) device.

The Quest for Clean Energy

Encased in a ring of cathodes, the DPF’s hollow central anodes use electromagnetic acceleration and compression to produce short-lived plasma that’s hot and dense enough to produce nuclear fusion. Simply put, the DPF produces a reaction that’s enough to generate a tiny dense plasma ball called plasmoids, which sustain nuclear fusion using self-generated electron beams. The concept works in theory, and LPP Fusion scientists have submitted their research to the journal Physics of Plasmas for peer review.

LPP Fusion’s method is one amid a number of research endeavors focused on stabilizing this “holy grail” of renewable energy. Among these, a team from MIT is working on adding an extra ion to the usual two-ion plasma mix, while nuclear fusion company Tri-Alpha Energy has recruited Google’s Optometrist algorithm to figure out a solution.

Compared to its fission cousin, nuclear fusion is a cleaner and truly renewable source of almost unlimited energy. For reference, a single fission event generates around 200 MeV of energy, or about 3.2 x (10^-11) watt-seconds, and nuclear fusion can produce four times that. Understandably, scientists have long since pursued nuclear fusion. Today, as renewable energy becomes the norm, scientists are even more keen on controlling nuclear fusion, which some suggest could replace fossil fuels by 2030.

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A Budget Airline and EV Startup Want to Bring Electric Airplanes to the Skies

Perfect Combo

Wright Electric first caught the world’s attention back in March at Y Combinator’s Demo Day W17. As you may have guessed from their name, the American startup wants to develop electric airplanes, an idea that was praised by the head of Y Combinator’s accelerator program.

The X-Plane Program [INFOGRAPHIC]
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Wright Electric’s idea is to develop an all-electric aircraft that’s capable of ferrying passengers for short flights —like those from New York to Boston, London to Paris, or Seoul to Jeju. This goal aligns with those of low-cost British airline easyJet, and today, the company announced a partnership between the two organizations.

“A collaboration with U.S. company Wright Electric will support the goal for short-haul flights to be operated by all-electric planes,” easyJet noted in a press release. “Wright Electric has set itself the challenge of building an all-electric commercial passenger jet capable of flying passengers across easyJet’s U.K. and European network within a decade.”

The British budget airline has reportedly been working with Wright Electric since March, providing the startup with guidance on designs and operations, according to Wright Electric co-founder Jeffery Engler.

Cutting Down Costs, Saving the World

Short-haul flights account for 30 percent of all flights and 50 percent of regional flights. As Engler previously pointed out, that’s a $26 billion market. Electric airplanes that wouldn’t need jet fuel would mean even cheaper flights for a budget airline like easyJet.

“For the first time in my career, I can envisage a future without jet fuel, and we are excited to be part of it,” easyJet CEO Carolyn McCall told Electrek. “It is now more a matter of when, not if, a short-haul electric plane will fly.”

Image Credit: easyJet

Back in March, Wright Electric revealed their plans for an all-electric commercial aircraft called the Wright One. The plane would be capable of ferrying 150 people on flights under 480 kilometers (300 miles). That’s roughly equivalent to the abilities of a Boeing 737. The only difference would be that the Wright One is battery powered.

Although air transport contributes only 9 percent of carbon emissions in the U.S., having all-electric airplanes for short-haul flights would be most welcome. In the fight to decrease our global carbon footprint, we’ll take all the wins we can get.

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New Device Lets You Charge Your Phone Just By Walking

Power Walk

Gadgets and consumer devices, like smartphones, have become increasingly powerful—but while devices have improved, there hasn’t yet been much of a difference when it comes to batteries. Heavy usage often drains batteries fast. A tech startup called SolePower may have found a solution: charging while walking.

“The mission of SolePower is to make self-sustained wearables to make people’s lives better,” explained founder and CEO Hahna Alexander, during an interview for the 2017 Mothers of Invention (MOI) by Toyota. The MOI seeks to honor women who, through innovation, invention, and entrepreneurship, contribute to society and their immediate community.

SolePower wants to put an end to your battery problems, letting you charge your portables just by walking. The solution is an electric footwear called SmartBoots, which are “self-sustaining smart work boots [that] use the power of walking to charge a number of applications, including embedded location trackers, sensors and lights.”

Image Credit: SolePower

SolePower is also committed to bringing their footwear chargers to developing nations, where access to electricity can be unreliable or altogether unavailable.

Renewable and Creative

SmartBoots, and their embedded kinetic charger called Ensoles, are innovative concepts that make use of an activity most people regularly engage in. These removable shoe inserts include a battery, plus sensors, accelerometers and a WiFi module that sends data to the cloud.

These innovative chargers are already finding their way to various practical uses, including the U.S. military—where SmartBoots are reducing the weight of backup batteries carried by soldiers—and the industrial workplace.

Alexander first came up with the design concept for the SmartBoots when she was a college student at Carnegie Mellon University. Alexander explained the passion behind what she does: “Science, technology, and engineering [are] the future. And when you do create something that’s solving compelling problems for people, it does feel good,” she said.

As mobile devices, particularly smartphones, become a regular part of people’s every day lives, keeping these powered enough can make a significant difference. As SolePower explains: “SolePower has the opportunity to help people is in developing nations with products including Ensoles as well as Smart Boots. There are over 6 billion cell phones in the world, 1.5 billion of which are in developing regions. Portable electronics like cell phones act as lifelines, giving people access to everything from medical informat ion to an education.”

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Expert Asserts That All Cars in China Will be Electric by 2030

Clean Energy Shift

Wang Chuanfu, chairman of Chinese automaker BYD Co., Ltd. said Thursday of last week that he expects all cars in China to be “electrified” — i.e., either full-electric or mild hybrid vehicles — by 2030. This timetable for a shift to so-called new-energy vehicles (NEVs) seems fairly aggressive, but considering current developments in China in favor of electric vehicles (EVs), it seems much more realistic.

China, which is currently the world’s leading greenhouse emissions contributor based on recent figures, is also one of the world’s leading countries in the clean energy revolution. They’ve built the largest solar energy farm on Earth, and they’re pushing forward with ambitious plans to cut down fossil fuel dependence by 2020. Already, they’ve exceeded their target for solar installations and their “war on pollution” has so far included building a carbon capture plant and other actions.

China’s also been very keen on electric cars, with plans for electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles to comprise over a fifth of the country’s car sales by 2025. Speaking at an event in Shenzen, Wang stated that they’re confident in making this timeline work. “We are very confident about all the timetables (to eliminate fossil fuel cars) and we think it will happen earlier than expected,” he said, according to Reuters. “Various governments have announced timetables to end the sale of fossil fuel cars and this is putting pressure on everyone else.”

An Electrified Future

China isn’t the only country that wants to do away with petrol and diesel-based internal combustion vehicles. Five nations, including Germany, Norway, and France, have formalized their plans to do so and China may soon be following suit. Apart from local automakers like BYD, China might soon receive a portion of their EVs from Tesla, as Elon Musk’s company plans to build a Gigafactory in the region.

With all of these developments, “It’s certainly possible for all cars an automaker sells in China and around the world to be electrified in some way by 2030,” James Chao, Asia-Pacific head of consultancy for Shanghai-based IHS Markit Automotive, told Reuters.

A number of other studies have shown that the world, on a whole, is moving towards an electric future. Back in August of 2016, a study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) suggested that today’s EVs could replace 90 percent of all cars. Meanwhile, back in July, Dutch bank ING released a report which said that EVs will dominate the European automobile market by 2035. Then, earlier this month, a report by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and researchers from Georgetown University said that 90 percent of vehicles in the U.S. could be electric before the 2040s.

As more automakers invest in EVs, as well as hydrogen fuel cell technology, and charging infrastructure continues to improve, these predictions aren’t at all surprising. With cheaper EVs in the mix, like Tesla’s Model 3, Volkswagen’s electric hatchback, and Nissan’s 2018 Leaf, more wide-scale electric car adoption seems inevitable.

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Dyson Is Spending $2.6 Billion to Build an Electric Car by 2020

Dyson Drives

British technology company Dyson has already applied their design sensibilities to products like vacuum cleaners, hand driers, and bladeless fans. Now, they’re set to take a stab at the electric car, according to company founder James Dyson.

Dyson announced plans to invest $1.34 billion into the development of an electric car and an additional $1.34 billion into the solid-state batteries that will be used to power it. The company expects to produce their first vehicle by 2020.

Dyson’s electric car project has been in development for the last two and a half years, and currently, 400 engineers are working on the vehicle. The company has chosen to go public now because keeping the project a secret was making it difficult to secure deals with parts suppliers and hire specialized employees.

In keeping with the company’s eco friendly attitude, the hope is that this project will help address the problem of air pollution — something that Dyson has been committed to for decades, according to an email he sent out to employees today.

Traffic Jam

Rumors began to circulate that Dyson was intending to move into the electric vehicle market when the company received a government grant to finance research into battery technologies in 2016.

All Electric Cars: What’s My Range? [INFOGRAPHIC]
Click to View Full Infographic

As traditional vehicles give way to their electric counterparts, we’re seeing a number of entities attempt to make their way into the auto market. Apple has long been rumored to have an interest in building their own vehicle, although recently those plans seem to have taken a backseat to other projects. Meanwhile, Google is forging ahead with their self-driving cars, despite some setbacks.

Of course, Tesla remains in pole position when it comes to electric vehicles, beating their biggest competition to market by several years. As the company continues to expand their operations, their established rivals and newcomers like Dyson are going to have even more difficulty catching up.

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A 100-Square Mile Chunk of the Pine Island Glacier Just Broke Away

Breakaway

West Antarctica’s Pine Island glacier has lost a piece of ice measuring more than 100 square miles. This is the second piece of this size to break away from the glacier in the past two years, and the fifth large event to take place since 2000, prompting fears that this is a sign of things to come.

Pine Island is thought to lose 45 billion tons of ice every year, enough to raise the sea level by one millimeter every eight years. If the entire glacier were to melt, it could raise the global sea level by up to 52 centimeters (20.5 inches).

Last year, researchers from Ohio State University published a paper that suggested the Pine Island glacier was losing ice in an alarming fashion. Rather than breaking away from the sides, rifts were seen to form from the center of its floating ice shelf, coming up from underneath. This process was attributed to the impact of warmer ocean waters at its base.

The paper asserted that more rifts would result in large chunks of ice falling away more frequently. Based on this new development, it seems that this hypothesis was correct.

Borrowed Time

Calving — the process of ice falling away from a glacier — is perfectly natural. However, it’s the frequency of the losses suffered by the Pine Island glacier that has experts worried. Moreover, the fact that they seem to be caused by warmer ocean temperatures confirms that human activity plays a big role.

Our Warming World: The Future of Climate Change [INFOGRAPHIC]
Click to View Full Infographic

““We are very worried about what might happen to Pine Island glacier in relation to sea level rise,” Stef Lhermitte, a satellite observation specialist at Delft University of Technology, told the Washington Post. The worst-case-scenario here is for major ice shelf breakaways, calving and subsequent sea level rise to become so normalized that it loses its necessary sense of emergency, as a warning sign of imminent threat to an ecology suitable to our way of life. Make no mistake; this is happening, and it’s bad.

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Here Are the U.S. Cities Least Affected by Climate Change

A safe haven sounds like a good idea right about now.

Somewhere that’s warm but not too warm, free from roof-toppling hurricanes and ground-rumbling earthquakes, and close to a river or ocean but far enough to avoid the threats of flooding and sea-level rise.

These images show temperature trends in two thick layers of the atmosphere as measured by a series of satellite-based instruments between January 1979 and December 2005. The top image shows temperatures in the middle troposphere, centered around 5 kilometers above the surface. The lower image shows temperatures in the lower stratosphere, centered around 18 kilometers above the surface. Oranges and yellows dominate the troposphere image, indicating that the air nearest the Earth’s surface warmed during the period. The stratosphere image is dominated by blues and greens, indicating cooling. Image Source: Jesse Allen/ NASA

Which places does that leave? According to climate scientists and urban planners, not a lot.

“The bottom line is it’s going to be bad everywhere,” Bruce Riordan, the director of the Climate Readiness Institute at the University of California, Berkeley, told Business Insider. “It’s a matter of who gets organized around this.”

Still, there are some cities with a better chance of surviving the onslaught of a warmer planet, Vivek Shandas, an urban-planning professor at Portland State University, told Business Insider.

“There are places that might at least temper the effects of climate change,” he said.

Shandas is part of a research group studying this very question. When evaluating how prepared cities are for climate change, he and his team look at a handful of factors, including policy and politics, community organization, and infrastructure.

The research so far indicates that these locations could be your best bet over the next five decades — especially if you’re investing in a home or property.

Seattle, Washington

The Pacific Northwest is the best US region for escaping the brunt of climate change, Shandas said.

Cities in the area aren’t perfect — he said they have “other challenges” — but “their infrastructure tends to be newer and more resilient to major shocks,” he added. That’s key when it comes to coping with heat and rising water.

Seattle is one of the most “well positioned” of these cities, Shandas said.

Portland, Oregon

Portland was the first US city to come up with a plan to prepare for climate change. The city’s historic Climate Action Plan, created in 1993, is a set of policies and initiatives aimed at slashing the city’s carbon emissions. The goal is to cut them by 40% by 2030 and by 80% by 2050.

Portland is also one of the only cities with a working group tasked with reducing racial and economic inequality as it relates to potential climate-action policies — a key measure of a city’s ability to cope with natural disasters and climate change.

“Neighborhoods that are connected do better when these things happen,” Riordan said.

San Francisco, California

As one of the most recently developed cities in the US, San Francisco is better equipped to deal with many natural disasters, Shandas said.

It’s also No. 2 on a list of the 10 best cities for public transit, as 98% of San Francisco’s population lives within a half-mile of regularly operating transportation, according to a ranking designed by two nonprofit research institutes.

“There are not many cities in the US that rank well in terms of infrastructure, but newer cities fare much better,” Shandas said.

Minneapolis, Minnesota

Access to natural resources like water will be important in the coming decades, Shandas said, especially as the planet warms and lakes and rivers begin to dry up. That helps put Minneapolis toward the top of the rankings.

In addition to its “tremendous lakes,” Minneapolis also has a “good climate-action plan and well-coordinated systems of emergency management and planning,” two things that will help it prepare for and bounce back from an event like a big storm, Shandas said.

Ann Arbor, Michigan

“Climate change is not a future problem: it is happening now,” the first line of Ann Arbor’s ambitious climate-action plan reads.

Ann Arbor formally launched the plan in 2012, but according to Shandas, the city has “a long history of planning for climate change” that makes it highly adaptable to a warmer planet.

Madison, Wisconsin

Madison also scores well on most of the metrics Shandas is looking at, such as policy, community organization, and infrastructure.

“Seattle, Ann Arbor, Chicago, Madison — these are places that are far more likely to do better, relatively speaking, than a lot of the other parts of the country,” he said.

Chicago, Illinois

One of the largest studies on the effects of heat waves took place in Chicago in the 1990s. An underlooked aspect of how well a city can adapt to natural disasters, that study found, is how connected people in a community are to one another. In Chicago, the people who fared worst during the heat wave were those who were isolated — typically, people with lower incomes and less access to resources.

Since then, the city has taken measures to boost organization and community building, and that makes it a good candidate for future resilience.

Denver, Colorado

“Denver is one of those places that keeps coming up on my radar because of its new infrastructure and the fact that it has lots and lots of smart planning going on,” Shandas said.

When the city released its climate-action plan in 2007, it was one of the first large US cities to recognize the threats of climate change. Denver has since come up with a set of sustainability goals for 2020, released in 2013, and a revised action plan for addressing climate change.

Salt Lake City, Utah

Like Denver, Salt Lake City has made a lot of progress in the past few years when it comes to preparing for natural disasters and emergencies.

“There are some new researchers there that are doing great work and driving that,” Shandas said.

Phoenix, Arizona

Phoenix might not be the first city that comes to mind when you think of safe havens from climate change. It faces substantial threats from higher temperatures and drought.

But from a sustainability perspective, Shandas said, researchers “are really connecting with the city and the universities and coming up with a collaborative model where the researchers and practitioners sit together and work out risks and identify potentially vulnerable spots and populations” — a model that other slightly better-positioned cities can learn from.

Austin, Texas

Shandas said important sustainability work is happening in Austin, too.

“We often write off the South as somewhere that’s going get hammered by heat waves and hurricanes, but there are some really interesting places like Austin,” he said.

Researchers and officials there are planning for a warmer planet and ramping up infrastructure to tackle climate change. In fact, Austin plans to be carbon neutral by 2020 — one of the most ambitious deadlines of any city on this list.

Baltimore, Maryland

For the city of Baltimore, flooding is a big concern, particularly after a major storm. But the city is investing heavily in what Shandas calls “green infrastructure.”

As a result, officials are coming up with creative ways to cope with and potentially stave off floods. Recently, the city put in several bioswales, bits of architecture designed to help remove pollution from surface runoff that can accumulate after rain. This helps keep the water supply clean and ensure people have access to clean drinking water.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Philadelphia is also investing in public works like transit, parks, and a resilient energy grid. “Lots of public and private dollars are going into that,” Shandas said.

The city released a new sustainability plan last year that outlines strategies to increase residents’ access to healthy food, parks, and green spaces.

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Evaporation-Harvested Energy Could Meet 70% of the United States’ Power Needs

Water Works

Researchers investigating the potential for evaporation to be used as a source of renewable energy have found that the United States’ reservoirs and lakes could produce 325 gigawatts of power. That’s equivalent to almost 70 percent of the energy that the country currently generates.

“We have the technology to harness energy from wind, water, and the Sun, but evaporation is just as powerful,” senior author Ozgur Sahin, a biophysicist at Columbia University, stated in a press release. “We can now put a number on its potential.”

Sahin has previously demonstrated the process he’s proposing using a device dubbed the Evaporation Engine. This machine controls humidity using a shutter than opens and closes, prompting bacterial spores to expand and contract. That motion is then transferred to a generator, which produces electricity.

With this methodology in place, the researchers set out to see how much of the country’s energy needs could be met by evaporation. They determined that it has the potential to be a primary source of renewable energy, with solar and wind contributing as secondary sources when available and necessary.

Dry Spell

Power harvested from evaporation is still being tested for feasibility, but many are hopeful it could provide another avenue for renewable energy. It has a distinct advantage over solar and wind power because, in theory, it can be produced on-demand with no restrictions related to weather or the position of the Sun.

Aside from providing clean energy, harnessing evaporation in this way could also help regions affected by drought. As much as half of the water that evaporates into the atmosphere could be saved while the harvesting process is taking place.

Renewable Energy Sources Of The Future [Infographic]
Click to View Full Infographic

The researchers hypothesize that this could amount to 25 trillion gallons of water a year. Essentially, drier regions that already maintain reservoirs to hold water in case of a drought could benefit twice, retaining more of that supply while producing energy at the same time.

Another advantage of this method is the fact that, unlike solar or wind energy, it doesn’t require battery storage. Batteries are expensive, and in the case of solar, producing models with sufficient capacity is a limiting factor now that panels are cheaper and more efficient than ever before.

Now that evaporation’s potential is known, the researchers behind the Evaporation Engine are working on ways to make their spore-studded materials more efficient. Moving forward, they hope to test their process on a lake, reservoir, or greenhouse to further test evaporation’s ability to produce clean energy.

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Climate Change Could Be Making Our Food Less Nutritious

More CO2, Less Nutrition

Agricultural researchers have discovered that many of humanity’s most important food staples have been gradually losing nutritional value, with the mineral, protein, and vitamin content of vegetables dropping measurably over the past 50 to 70 years. In 2004, for example, a landmark produce study revealed that since 1950, everything from minerals to protein to vitamins had declined significantly in almost all garden crops.

Scientists have typically assumed that breeding choices were causing these changes; as we choose crops based on the need for higher yields rather than nutrition, we end up producing crops that are less nutrient-packed. However, recently some scientists have begun to suspect that climate change may also be changing the nutritional value of our food.

Plants need carbon dioxide to live, and if you don’t understand much about science, you might assume this means climate change is good for plants, and can only create higher quality food. However, scientists have found that while higher levels of CO2 are indeed speeding photosynthesis, this is causing plants to be filled with more carbohydrates, and fewer of the other nutrients that we need to live, such as protein, vitamins, and minerals.

Comparative research on changes to nutritional value of plants is finally beginning to take off, to some extent. According to Politico, USDA researchers recently accessed and re-planted varieties of rice, soy, and wheat that the agency saved from the 1950s and 1960s, growing the older varieties around the U.S. where they had been grown in the past. This way, the scientists will be able to separate out how much CO2 contributes to the deficiencies, as opposed to different food strains. Scientists from the USDA are also experimenting with bell peppers, to see how rising levels of CO2 affect vitamin C levels, and with coffee, to assess whether caffeine levels change with CO2.

Refocusing Attention

Earlier this year, a crop of new papers began to quantify the changes to the nutritional value of plants caused by climate change and what these changes might mean for humanity. Plants are a critical source of protein in the developing world. By 2050, researchers found that 150 million people may be at risk of protein deficiency, particularly in the developing world, because of climate change.

Researchers also found 138 million people may be at risk of a zinc deficiency, which is particularly essential for maternal and infant health. Additionally, one study estimated that more than 354 million children and 1 billion mothers live in countries where dietary iron should fall significantly. This will worsen the already serious public health problem of anemia, which the World Bank estimates causes a million deaths per year.

The change in the dietary carbohydrate ratio toward more starch and away from protein is already associated with an increase in diseases like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and obesity. A similar shift in the food system could make that problem far worse.

As if that weren’t enough, these changes will also be disastrous for bees. The pollen of goldenrod, a wildflower, is extremely important protein for bees, sustaining them through winter. However, protein levels in goldenrod have dropped by one-third since CO2 levels began to rise with the industrial revolution. This may be an important factor behind the worldwide decline in bee populations.

Image Credit: PublicDomainPictures/Pixabay
Image Credit: PublicDomainPictures/Pixabay

Scientists are only starting to investigate what the decline of nutritional value in plants means for humans, and for the rest of Earth’s denizens. The bad news is that research funds in the area are hard to come by, and that the area itself is so poorly recognized and understood. The better news is that almost any area researchers choose to dive into could have useful, new insights we can use.

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How Transgenic Species Could Help Fight the Effects of Climate Change

Facilitated Adaptation

What do bleach-resistant coral, mammoth-elephant hybrids, and drought- and CO2-resistant crops have in common? A growing group of scientists think they might be the key to not just fighting climate change, but recovering from its effects. The theory is called “facilitated adaptation,” and it means using genetically modified species to optimize the health of our ecosystems as they exist right now. The idea is to blend technologies for de-extinction, gene-editing, and synthetic biology in order to preserve wildlife and conserve Earth’s ecosystems at the maximum possible levels.

Earth is home to more than eight million known species, but they are dying off 1,000 times more rapidly than we’d expect given the natural background rate. This has lead many experts to declare that we are now in the midst of the sixth major mass extinction event in our planet’s history. Biodiversity is key to the survival of humans, and of the Earth’s ecosystems as a whole, so this is a major issue demanding human attention. Many scientists believe that although we engineered the crisis, we can also engineer a solution, and this is the basis for facilitated adaptation.

Image Credit: WolfmanSF/Wiki Commons
Image Credit: WolfmanSF/Wiki Commons

Sounds too far-fetched or ethically fraught to work? The far-fetched part is easy to put to bed. The technologies exist, and they work. CRISPR makes it possible to create things like transgenic salmon that grow twice as fast as their natural brethren. We’ve treated mosquitoes with bacteria so they can fight the Zika and dengue viruses in the wild. Researchers have been racing to create “super coral” adapted to a warmer climate. And a mammoth-elephant hybrid really is on the way, thanks to gene-editing.

Larger Questions Loom

That leaves the ethically fraught part, which is much more difficult to respond to. The truth is, there are no simple answers. The potential of human-curated ecosystems could lead us to an Earth without the loss of various species which are now on the brink of extinction. Conservationists are excited about harnessing the potential technology holds to artificially bolster the genetic defenses of vulnerable species.

“A mammoth-y elephant serves multiple purposes,” University of Maine paleoecologist Jacquelyn Gill told CNet. “We have elephants being slaughtered at incredibly high rates because of poaching and the ivory trade. If you can open up a habitat for them, away from poachers, then that’s a plus for elephants. If you can get mammoth-y elephants to live in the tundra and make it more resilient to climate change, then that has collateral benefits to other species.”

But gene-editing designed to, say, make a crop more resistant to high CO2 levels or a coral more resistant to bleaching is not as extreme as the actual resurrection championed by some in the de-extinction camp. The idea of using the mammoth-elephant hybrid to fortify climate change threatened tundra ecosystems is appealing — but why do we need mammoth-elephant hybrids to do this? Can’t we simply protect elephants more effectively and get the same result?

In any case, there is no doubt at this point that the wilderness regions of the future will be populated at least in part with species that have the human will to interfere written into their genes. This is a fascinating — if not also somewhat terrifying — thing to ponder. However, the human impact on Earth is already profound, and much of that impact has ultimately had negative results. Perhaps it’s time to turn that around, and use technology to foster more global biodiversity, and leave a more positive world legacy behind.

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Can Dam Failures Like Puerto Rico’s Guajataca Be Prevented?

Deepening Crisis

Friday afternoon Puerto Rican officials urged 70,000 people in the vicinity of the Rio Guajataca, including the northwestern communities of Quebradillas, Isabela, and the surrounding areas, to evacuate immediately. The 37-meter (120-feet) high Guajataca Dam was threatening to fail, its collapse characterized by the authorities as “imminent.”

“This is an EXTREMELY DANGEROUS SITUATION. Buses are currently evacuating people from the area as quickly as they can,” the National Weather Service (NWS) in San Juan said in a statement. Warnings were also issued via social media.

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Since Hurricane Maria devastated the island, there have been at least 13 deaths, and the entire U.S. territory remains without power for the foreseeable future. The storm was the second hurricane to hit the island this month, and the strongest in 90 years. The governor said that Maria was the worst storm Puerto Rico had seen in a century.

Early Warnings Save Lives

The dam, situated in northwest Puerto Rico at the northern end of Lake Guajataca, threatens to spill 11 billion gallons of water into nearby populated areas. The dam’s slow failure, which continued into Saturday morning, forced NWS to urge residents via Tweet to avoid the water’s path and move to higher ground.

Hurricanes Have Been Enhanced by Climate Change
Click to View Full Infographic

According to federal reservoir data, between Tuesday and Wednesday the lake rose more than a meter (three feet) as the category 4 storm pummeled the island. The agency has the ability to warn residents thanks to its early warning system, the kind of technology scientific agencies all agree saves lives in various contexts.

At the time of this writing there is still a flash flood warning in effect. “This is an extremely dangerous and life-threatening situation. Do not attempt to travel unless you are fleeing an area subject to flooding or under an evacuation order,” the NWS warned in the alert.

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For the Sixth Time in 300 Years, Britain Will Contain No Snow

Disappearing Sphinx

Scotland is often home to patches of snow that can potentially last for decades, surviving the country’s summers to be replenished each winter. Two patches currently remain, and the oldest of these, “the Sphinx,” has been around for eleven years. However, it doesn’t seem that they are going to survive this year. This will be the first time Scotland has been snowless in eleven years, and likely only the sixth time in the past 300 years.

Image credit: Iain Cameron
The Sphinx. Image Credit: Iain Cameron

The Sphinx is located on at Garbh Choire Mor on Braeriach in the Cairngorms mountain range. Braeriach is Britain’s third-tallest mountain. Groups of volunteers who call themselves “snow patchers” monitor the snow patches each year to keep track of their status. Every year, the snow patchers deliver a survey to the Royal Meteorological Society. One of the monitors, Iain Cameron, believes that the Sphinx only has a few days left.

Novel Indicator

All of this may not seem to amount to much, yet the larger implications of what’s causing the patches to melt is cause for concern. In an interview with The Scotsman, Cameron didn’t blame high temperatures for the melting, but the lack of snowfall. “It was an extraordinarily dry winter and not much snow fell at all,” he said. “The Scottish ski centers all reported very poor skier day numbers and it’s no coincidence that the patches of snow are correspondingly smaller.” Winters with less snowfall are a predicted result of climate change.

Can We Come Back from Climate Change’s Brink?
Click to View Full Infographic

Skeptics may argue that this is not the first time that the patches have melted, and indeed they did in 1959, 1996, 2003 and 2006. However, as Cameron explains, “The rate of melt of these patches has accelerated in the past 20 years.” These snow patches are yet another indicator of the dire situation our planet is in.

There is plenty to be done to at least help curb the rapid progress of our warming planet. Melting snow patches in the Scottish Highlands may not seem to be much in the grand scheme of things, but they are a sign of bigger issues. There is a lot we can do to prevent climate change from reaching its full destructive potential.

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It’s Definitely Possible to Turn Greenhouse Gases into Fuel Feedstock

Effectively Converting CO2

Much of today’s efforts to cool the planet involves limiting human-made carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. But what if there’s another option that’s equally viable? This is what researchers from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) had in mind in a new study examining the mechanism that would allow for turning CO2 into a valuable source — either as a feedstock for creating other fuels or some other chemical that would be equally beneficial for the environment and the economy.

In their study, published in the journal Nature Communications, the PNNL researchers led by Janos Szanyi figured out a way to make sure that converting CO2 would only produce the desired chemical, which would either be methane or carbon monoxide. The key is an often overlooked ion called formate (HCOO-), which works as a critical intermediate in the CO2 conversion reaction.

greenhouse gas carbon emissions alternative energy formate
Image credit: Scott Butner

“This study gives us crucial information to use an easily available raw material, CO2, and turn it into something useful—a chemical intermediate, carbon monoxide, or an energy carrier, methane. This intermediate can be used for the production of higher hydrocarbons, or fuels,” Szanyi said in a statement, according to Phys.org.

Alternative Energy

In their experiments, the PNNL team figured out the factors controlling what products result from CO2 hydrogenation. Once these key factors were determined, the team designed three catalysts with varying levels of palladium distribution, another element they realized was crucial in selecting the products in CO2 conversion. Lower palladium levels in the catalyst produced both carbon monoxide and methane, while higher concentrations of this metal resulted in 80 percent selectivity towards methane.

This is another example of an alternative energy source. Aside from renewables like solar and wind, perhaps the most popular among these is hydrogen fuel. Recent research, however, have shown potential other sources that seemed highly unlikely at first. For example, two studies sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy are looking at the possibility of using seaweed to fuel cars. In any case, these alternative energy sources are very much welcome to contribute in the global effort to reduce carbon emissions and dependence on fossil fuel-based sources of energy.

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“6th Global Mass Extinction” Is Coming All Too Soon, According to This Mathematician

Mass Extinctions

It doesn’t come along very often, but after some 540 million years, this world we live on has witnessed five mass extinctions – and the next curtain could fall before the century is up.

That’s the grim assessment of a new mathematical analysis of Earth’s revolving carbon cycle, with calculations predicting our horrendous output of CO2 emissions is inching us towards a ‘threshold of catastrophe’ the planet hasn’t breached in millions of years.

Image Source: TEIA/ Flickr Commons

MIT geophysicist Daniel Rothman investigated fluctuations in the carbon cycle – the pathway carbon traces through Earth’s land, oceans, and atmosphere – that have occurred over the last 542 million years.

By analysing 31 established carbon isotopic events recognised by geochemists, Rothman identified the ebb and flow of carbon–12 and carbon–13 – two isotopes of carbon whose abundance has varied considerably in Earth’s history.

From this, he constructed a database to assess how much carbon mass was pumped into the world’s oceans in each historical event. In most of these episodes, the carbon volume stayed under a certain threshold.

But in some of them – including four of the past five mass extinction events that exterminated multitudes of life-forms on the planet – the threshold was breached.

Now, we all know that correlation doesn’t equal causation, but in light of all the other evidence we have on how dangerous high levels of carbon are to life on our planet, a disturbing pattern is definitely emerging.

“It became evident that there was a characteristic rate of change that the system basically didn’t like to go past,” as Rothman puts it.

Threshold of Catastrophe

Now for the bad news.

Per Rothman’s calculations, there are two ways carbon levels can exceed this threshold of catastrophe. One is where CO2 emissions slowly swell over thousands and millions of years, slowly triggering a global calamity.

The other case occurs on a much shorter timescale, where an immense shift in carbon volumes moving through the carbon cycle happens in the space of say, decades and years. Sound familiar?

In this context, Rothman predicts it would take about 310 gigatonnes of carbon added to the world’s oceans for us to pass the threshold – which is roughly the minimum amount expected to be contributed by the year 2100 at the rate things are going, at which point the researcher says we’ll enter “unknown territory”.

“This is not saying that disaster occurs the next day,” Rothman says.

“It’s saying that, if left unchecked, the carbon cycle would move into a realm which would be no longer stable, and would behave in a way that would be difficult to predict. In the geologic past, this type of behaviour is associated with mass extinction.”

In other words, unless humanity does something to drastically turn around our carbon situation – and there’s cause for real optimism on that front, friends – we could lock in a dangerous extermination.

Not just for humanity necessarily either, but for many a critter that ever walked, chirped, buzzed, or purred.

It wouldn’t happen overnight, mind you, but such an epic die-off could play out over something like 10,000 years or so, Rothman suggests, and the phenomenon could crystallise as soon as 2100 if things don’t change.

Of course, it’s only one perspective on how the world’s carbon scenario could materialise, and Rothman doesn’t pretend he has all the answers, but he does hope we take these numbers as another piece of evidence to galvanise our slow-moving selves into action.

“There should be ways of pulling back [emissions of carbon dioxide],” he says.

“But this work points out reasons why we need to be careful, and it gives more reasons for studying the past to inform the present.”

The findings are reported in Science Advances.

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Two Big Banks Have Just Pledged to Go 100% Clean Energy By 2020

Banking giants are putting their money into clean energy with a pledge to be powered completely by renewable energy by 2020. JPMorgan and Citigroup have made this RE100 pledge, organized by The Climate Group alongside other companies like Estee Lauder, Kellogg, and DBS Bank.

More companies are realizing that investing in and using renewable energy is beginning to make more economic sense. Clean sources of energy such as wind and solar power are becoming cheaper than fossil fuels, and with each new technological breakthrough in the field, that trend will continue as lower initial costs are coupled with higher efficiency. A switch to clean energy is better for a company’s bottom line with the added global benefit of being better for the environment.

Image source: Wikimedia Commons
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

In the case of JPMorgan, the bank has stretched to more than 60 countries, with a total footprint of close to 7 million square meters (75 million square feet). The Independent points out that this is close to 27 times the square footage of the office space at the Empire State Building. In order to meet this energy goal, the companies will begin to install renewable energy tech on their properties and buy power from clean energy project while making changes to reduce their overall consumption.

As Matt Arnold, global head of sustainable finance at JPMorgan stated, “Business has an essential role to play in advancing the transition to clean energy and a safe climate.” While changes that individuals make to combat energy consumption are important and necessary, businesses have the power to multiply that effect and help to expedite the difficult road toward a clean energy future.

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This Could Be The West’s Worst Fire Season Ever

Cruel Summer

During a summer characterized by extreme wet weather, it might have been easy to miss the cloud of smoke over western North America. But residents of the western US and British Columbia haven’t been able to ignore what’s literally hanging over them: this summer was one of the worst wildfire seasons on record, and these blazes only seem to be growing worse.

At the season’s peak in early September, over 137 large wildfires were burning simultaneously in the American West, covering an area of around 7.8 million acres. Thirty-eight large fires continue to smolder on, according to the National Interagency Fire Center, burning over 1.5 million acres. Across the border, British Columbia still has over 100 wildfires burning at the tail end of the worst fire season ever seen in the province. Thousands of people have been evacuated and hundreds of homes have been destroyed, and both Yosemite and Glacier National Parks were threatened by the flames throughout this season.

wildfires climate change

The dramatic conflagrations were caused by record heat and drought in western North America. On September 1, San Francisco reached 106 degrees, the hottest temperature ever recorded in the city. Vancouver, Seattle, and Montana all saw their hottest, driest summers ever.

These extraordinarily high temperatures completely negated any possible relief provided by a snowy winter in the northwest; high grasses that grew lush in the wet months dried out during summer’s rapid onset, joining the 66 million trees already dead from the west’s 6-year drought. The result was a landscape full of wildfire fuel.

Fire and Fury (and Climate Change)

Warmer temperatures and earlier snowmelt, seen all over the world, are driving this trend—and both have been linked to human-induced climate change. Though the number of wildfires each year has remained about the same, their size and duration have ballooned with warming temperatures. Fire season is now about 78 days longer than it was in 1970, according to the US Forest Service, and one study found that the areas burned by such fires has doubled since 1984.

I shot these photos Monday night of the Eagle Creek Fire from the Washington side of the Columbia River. I’ve seen a lot of fires. I grew up in Southern California, but I’ve never seen a fire move with such speed and ferocity. The Eagle Creek Fire was started by teens playing with fireworks, about a mile from the Eagle Creek Trailhead, one of the most popular trails in the Gorge. The fire has now charred more than 10,000 acres of incredible forest. An ember carried by strong winds jumped the Columbia River and is now burning 25+ acres in Washington. Thousands of homes, historic landmarks and businesses are now in the fire’s path. Keep firefighters and those in the path in your thoughts, donate where you can, practice Leave No Trace principles and pray for rain. I never thought I’d be saying those words in the Pacific Northwest. Here we are. Heartbroken. Photo 2 is just above the town of Dodson Photo 3 is of Oneonta Gorge • • • #oregon #pnw #eaglecreek #eaglecreekfire #oregonexplored #jj_oregon #punchbowlfalls #elowahfalls #latourellfalls #vistahouse #pnwonderland #cascadiaexplored #hiking #upperleftusa #wildfire #firefighting #fire

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That study also found that humans may have contributed to the growing size of wildfires in another way: by putting them out. Fires are a natural part of the cycle of life and death within a forest, serving to eliminate dead and dry plants and recycle nutrients into the soil.

“Most of these ecosystems that are burning have evolved with fire,” University of Montana fire ecologist Philip Higuera told CityLab. “We expect them to burn. We need them to burn if we want them to continue to exist.”

He noted that it’s too simplistic to suggest that we just let dry areas burn, given that humans share this environment; instead, it was suggested, humans need to be more aware of the way this ecosystem works, and how we influence it. “We need to develop in a way that is cognizant of these processes—that is not ignorant of the way the planet, and the environment you live in, works.”

Residents from Burbank, CA evacuate their homes as a result of the La Tuna Fire on September 2, 2017. (Image credit: David McNew/Getty Images)

Higuera also noted that while it’s difficult to say that an individual fire was exactly caused by climate change, the connection is there; he says it can be understood by an analogy to a baseball player using steroids.

“If a baseball player is using steroids and hits a home run, can you attribute that home run to steroids? You can’t—but you know that at some point some component of that was brought to you by this artificial input to the system.”

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Who Should Pay for Damage Associated With Climate Change – and Who Should Be Compensated?

Climate Change

Hurricanes in the Caribbean and deadly floods across South Asia have once again raised the issue of climate justice.

Image Source: Todd Dwyer/ Flickr Commons

The association between such events and climate change is now beyond serious question: we have had 30 years of well-founded scientific warnings about the relationship between increasing global temperatures and the incidence and severity of extreme weather. Much more problematic is the question of responsibility for climate change itself, and who should justly pay compensation for the resulting damage.

This is complicated, and there are no clear categories of winners and losers, or responsible and blameless. Consider how the benefits from greenhouse gas emissions are usually divorced from the impacts of climate change, yet hurricane-hit Texas owes much of its wealth to oil. Or look at the extraordinary inequalities among those affected by the storms – most are relatively poor, but a few are among the world’s richest people.

The Long Struggle for ‘Climate Justice’

International debate on climate justice has usually occurred within the UN, via its Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), in a process which led to the Paris Agreement. For much of the time since its inception in 1992 there was a heavy focus on cutting emissions rather than on adaptation to the damaging consequences of climate change.

Responsibility for global warming was usually framed as an obligation for developed states to make the initial moves to reduce their emissions, under the concept of “common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities”. Climate justice was seen as something developed states owed less developed states, and were obliged to deliver so the latter had an incentive to cut their emissions, too.

However, by the Bali conference in 2007 it was clear that climate-related sea level rise and extreme weather events were already happening. Adaptation was therefore moved up the agenda alongside emissions cuts. In crude terms, if the developed world wanted a new comprehensive agreement on tackling climate change it would have to provide sufficient guarantees of assistance for the less developed majority. These included a proposed US$100 billion per annum Green Climate Fund but also new form of compensation for “loss and damage for countries vulnerable” to hurricanes and other climate-related disasters.

The “loss and damage” mechanism made it into the 2015 Paris Agreement but has not yet been fully implemented. It was a controversial topic, however, as it raised the question of liability or even reparation for climate damage. Direct responsibility was both difficult to establish and resolutely rejected by developed countries.

Focus on Vulnerable Individuals

The problem is these issues are discussed within the context of a system of self-interested nation states. Climate change requires a global, concerted effort, yet entrenched political structures within each country reinforce competitive and antagonistic outlooks. It is always difficult, for example, to make the case for foreign governmental assistance when this is ranged against domestic poverty.

To be sure, some of the more progressive rich countries do reflect a “communitarian” approach which recognises some moral obligations to assist vulnerable states. This goes beyond the strict minimum in international law of the avoidance of harm, but it certainly does not admit any direct responsibility or liability. At most, this conception of international climate justice is based upon a recognition that the populations of other countries should not be allowed to deteriorate below minimal standards of human existence and is common to other areas of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

Yet such state-based thinking remains unable to handle the complexity and all-encompassing nature of climate change. What’s needed is an alternative “cosmopolitan” approach to climate justice. Under cosmopolitanism the focus is on individual human beings and their needs and rights, all of whom would exist in one community where nationality is considered irrelevant to moral worth. This means a Bangladeshi farmer or Caribbean fisherman have as much right to be protected from the impact of global warming as someone in Texas or London and, in this sense, cosmopolitan climate justice mirrors the evolution of international human rights principles.

Nationality is often used to indicate development, or vulnerability to natural hazards, yet such categories are essentially misleading. As illustrated by flooded homes and destroyed roofs everywhere from Barbuda to Houston, it is more useful to think of rich and poor (or safe and vulnerable) people rather than countries.

True climate justice will have to reorientate the debate away from state sovereignty and international standing towards a focus on personal harm. A system of individual carbon accounting would also help so that people make a contribution to poverty reduction and disaster relief appropriate to their wealth and lifestyle.

As hurricanes engulf numerous countries at once, and indirectly affect even more, climate change powerfully illustrates the need for creative thinking about a truly global cosmopolitanism in which the avoidance of human suffering comes before self-interest and it is recognised that there are many poor and vulnerable people in “rich countries” and fabulously rich people in “poor countries”.

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Charging EVs with Solar and Wind Is Doable with the New Giraffe 2.0

Leading the world’s clean energy revolution are cheaper renewable sources — mostly solar and wind — and electric vehicles with their rechargeable batteries. Already, thanks to companies like Tesla, a certain kind of energy ecosystem can be created using these. The batteries of EVs can be used to supply power electric grids, for example.

But what if you can put solar and wind in a clean energy ecosystem that matches with your EV’s charging needs? That’s precisely what this giraffe-looking power station developed by Swedish company InnoVentum wants to achieve. Combining solar and wind helps stabilize energy production.

“The Giraffe 2.0 wind-solar power station is ready to charge anything from your e-vehicle to your home with wind and solar energy. It is comprised of a wooden structure supporting 24 solar modules as well as a wind turbine mounted at a 12 metre [sic] height,” the company says.

This stand-alone power station can produce about 38 kWh per day. Depending on annual wind speed and insolation levels, this translates to roughly 13.8 MWh (10,000 – 20,000 kWh). This can be used to charge EVs or to power a house, using 50-kW DC fast-chargers, or two level-2 connectors. It’s giraffe-like shape, which InnoVentum calls “smart angling” of solar panels, helps it get more hours of extra solar energy during the day.

As EV-charging infrastructure continues expansion, the Giraffe 2.0 introduces a solution that could make chargers more accessible, placing chargers where current networks can’t yet reach. Instead of paying for the cost of installing high-power charging stations, the Giraffe 2.0 presents a $66,000 (55,000-euro) alternative — a price that can be brought down by solar and wind incentives.

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We Can Still Meet Ambitious 1.5C Paris Climate Target

Still Within Reach

New scientific analysis reveals that we can still hit the highly ambitious target of limiting global warming to less than 1.5C. The goal was set in 2015 to help mitigate the havoc being wrought by rising sea levels and extreme weather around the world. At the time, it was widely felt to be unattainable — since contemporary analyses said it would necessitate a drop to zero carbon emissions within seven years.

However, the most recent data and an updated analysis reveal that a larger global carbon emissions budget than previously thought would allow us to achieve the 1.5C goal: equivalent to about 20 years of emissions at the current rate. This means a tremendous challenge remains, but if countries continue to pump up their emissions cuts under the Paris Climate Agreement as planned, we could still hit the more ambitious target.

Image Credit: GISS/Nasa
Image Credit: GISS/Nasa

Interestingly, while it was University College London climate economist Michael Grubb who called the 1.5C goal “incompatible with democracy” in 2015, Grubb is also the force behind the new analysis. “It is looking more hopeful that we can really achieve the Paris goals,” Grubb told The Guardian. “We are in the midst of an energy revolution.”

New Hope

The team that produced the new analysis revealed that for a 66 percent chance of hitting the 1.5C target in 2100, we’d need a 240 billion ton carbon budget, which would require strong — and immediate — action. In other words, cutting carbon in lower amounts but starting far sooner is more likely to achieve the 1.5C goal.

Grubb acknowledged to The Guardian that the “politics is still not easy.” However, he also emphasized that the effect of President Trump’s decision to remove the United States from the Paris deal was minimal, because states and cities in the U.S. and other countries around the world are still committed to the goals  — in part because the costs of green energy continue to fall.

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Solar Power Is Becoming Accessible, Dropping More Than a Quarter in Just One Year

Solar, Priced to Sell

The US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratories have published a report stating that the cost of utility-scale solar has fallen 30 percent in the space of a year. The average price per watt-DC is now just $1.03 for fixed-tilt systems, and $1.11 for those which track the Sun’s movement, thus optimizing energy absorption angles.

The World’s Largest Floating Solar Farm [INFOGRAPHIC]
Click to View Full Infographic

This information is in line with the recent announcement that the targets set for utility-scale solar pricing by the SunShot initiative had already been met, despite their 2020 deadline. The falling cost of photovoltaic modules is being cited as the reason for these developments.

China — a country well ahead of the curve in solar technology — is responsible for the manufacture of a huge proportion of these modules. More are being produced than there is demand for, which means that importers in the US have been able to buy the hardware cheaply, which is reflected by the low cost of utility-scale solar.

The Next Step

For the last few years, solar panels have been getting more and more accessible for home use. Tesla’s oft-touted solar roofs seem poised to grow adoption even further.

However, it seems like we’re on the verge of seeing more utility companies make serious investments in solar energy. Earlier this month, Duke Energy Florida announced plans to spend $6 billion on solar infrastructure, rather than pour more money in nuclear energy.

Falling prices and more efficient hardware are making solar more viable than ever before. A study published in August suggested that 139 countries could receive all their power from renewable sources by 2050 — and in that scenario, it would be solar energy doing the heavy lifting.

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These 7 Countries Want to Say Goodbye to Fossil Fuel-Based Cars

Clean Energy on Wheels

In the past couple of years, the clean energy revolution has steadily been gaining ground. Aside from transitioning to cleaner, renewable energy sources, a number of countries are also bent on keeping their roads clean by banning combustion engine vehicles. With the transportation sector contributing roughly 15 percent of man-made carbon emissions worldwide, this is a noteworthy step. Listed according to when they made their decisions, here are five nations leading this clean energy revolution on wheels.

fossil fuels electric vehicles petrol and diesel ban clean energy
Image credit: EPA

Germany

Though not the first to have considered banning petrol and diesel cars, Germany was the first to implement a ban. Back in October 2016, the country’s federal council (the Bundesrat) proposed and passed a resolution that calls for a total ban on internal combustion engines by 2030. The decision is a significant one, not just because it’s the first, but also because Germany has the fourth largest car manufacturing industry in the world.

Germany’s also home to some of the biggest car makers out there. As a result, veteran automobile manufacturers Mercedes Benz and Volkswagen have since firmed up on their hydrogen and electric car efforts.

Norway

In February 2017, Norway decided to follow and outdo the German example. Not only is this Scandinavian country banning fossil fuel-based cars, they’ve set a target that’s five years earlier than Germany’s. By 2025, Norway will only sell cars that are 100 percent electric, doing away with petrol-based vehicles.

Their targets for implementing such an ambitious but not impossible plan, strengthened by a green tax system, is clear. “By 2030, heavy-duty vans, 75% of new long-distance buses, and 50% of new trucks must be zero emission vehicles,”  according to the Norwegian Public Roads Administration.

India

From European nations, we move to Asia, with India. The country has instituted a policy, similar to Norway’s, to allow only the sale of fully-electric cars by 2030. The effort is financed by the government. “We are going to introduce electric vehicles in a very big way. We are going to make electric vehicles self- sufficient like UJALA,” said Piyush Goyal, India’s Minister of Railways and Coal. “The idea is that by 2030, not a single petrol or diesel car should be sold in the country.”

France

The home of the historic Paris climate deal won’t be left behind, of course, as it’s set radical changes to the country’s climate goals into motion. Part of this is a ban on all petrol and diesel vehicles effective on 2040. It’s a step-by-step process, which includes having “a fleet of 2.4 million rechargeable electric and hybrid vehicles, as well as a 3% of NGV heavy duty vehicles” by 2023, according to France’s Ministry of Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy.

The U.K.

If France wants it, then the U.K. wants it to. The British have introduced a ban on new diesel and petrol fuel cars by 2040, as part of a $4.06 billion initiative (£3 billion) that trickles down to local councils to improve the nation’s air quality. “Poor air quality is the biggest environmental risk to public health in the UK and this government is determined to take strong action in the shortest time possible,” a spokesperson previously told the BBC.

The Other Two

Worth adding here are two other nations that have expressed interest in curbing greenhouse emissions from cars — the Netherlands and China. The Dutch have been considering a petrol and diesel ban since April 2016, while China revealed similar plans back in September.

In case you’re double-checking if you missed the U.S. in this list, well…you didn’t. It’s still a dream. For now — or at least the next four years.

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By 2100, Our Carbon Usage May Be Enough to Trigger a 10,000-Year-Long Ecological Disaster

“Thresholds of Catastrophe”

Daniel Rothman, a professor of geophysics in MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences, recently published a study in Science Advances that could change how we think about the future of our environment.

For his study, Rothman analyzed changes in the carbon cycle over the past 540 million years, including all five mass extinction events, and used mathematics to demarcate “thresholds of catastrophe” in the carbon cycle. Moving beyond those thresholds can catapult the Earth into an unstable environment, causing a mass extinction event.

Based on his research, Rothman asserts that, if we don’t change course, the world may enter what he calls “unknown territory” by 2100, causing an ecological disaster that would take 10,000 years to fully play out.

Those are scare quotes.

Rothman suggests that these mass extinction events are triggered after one of two critical thresholds are passed. The first takes place over a longer timeline. If changes in the carbon cycle, no matter how small, progress faster than global ecosystems can adapt, we have a mass extinction event. On a shorter timescale, the size and magnitude of the changes are important. If significant enough, the changes will increase the probability of a mass extinction event.

Five mass extinction events have occurred on the Earth in the last 540 million years. Each one caused massive disturbances in the normal cycling of carbon through the oceans and atmosphere. For thousands to millions of years, these events coincided with the extermination of marine species worldwide.

According to Rothman, the recent rapid spike in carbon dioxide emissions could lead to a sixth mass extinction. The deciding factor will be whether a critical quantity of carbon makes its way into our oceans. He calculates this amount to be about 310 gigatons — roughly the same amount of carbon that human civilization will have added to the oceans by the year 2100, based on Rothman’s estimates.

“This is not saying that disaster occurs the next day,” Rothman explained in a press release. “It’s saying that, if left unchecked, the carbon cycle would move into a realm which would no longer be stable and would behave in a way that would be difficult to predict. In the geologic past, this type of behavior is associated with mass extinction.”

Parameters of Doom

Today, many scientists speculate about how the climate change we’re currently experiencing will potentially affect the planet’s carbon cycle. Could it push the world into a sixth mass extinction?

The World’s Worst Mass Extinctions
Click to View Full Infographic

We’ve already seen a steady rise in carbon dioxide emissions since the 19th century, but interpolating the recent spike of carbon into a diagnosis of imminent mass extinction is no easy task. The difficulty lies in the dissimilar timespans — comparing changes that took place over thousands or millions of years to the century-long spike in which we’re currently living.

We like to think nobody wants to trigger mass extinctions on the Earth, above or below water. Sadly, preserving the ecosphere we need to survive is not a priority for many of those in power, on both sides of the American political spectrum. It’s up to us to spread the word that this “threshold of catastrophe” is a bullet we should most definitely be trying dodge.

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Antarctica Is Getting a Farm That Can Grow Produce Even When It’s -100 Degrees Fahrenheit Outside — Take a Look

Antarctica’s nonstop winters make it impossible to grow food outdoors. Fruits and vegetables are instead shipped long distances from overseas, just a few times per year.

But engineers at the German Aerospace Center (GAC) will soon build a high-tech farm that will allow Antarcticans to harvest produce.

The farm will feature a year-round greenhouse that can grow food for researchers at the Neumayer III polar station on the Ekstrom Ice Shelf.

Called the Eden-ISS, the farm exists inside a climate-controlled shipping container. The greenhouse relies on  a technique called vertical farming, in which food grows on trays or hanging modules under LEDs instead of natural sunlight.

Take a look at the farm, which will come to Antarctica in October, below.

Before the Eden-ISS shipping container farm debuts in Antarctica, the GAC is testing growing fruits and vegetables at its headquarters in Bremen, Germany.

The Eden-ISS in Bremen, Germany. Image Source: DLR German Aerospace Center

The 135-square-foot farm can grow all sorts of produce indoors. Harvesting food outdoors is impossible in Antarctica due to its endless winters.

Image Source: DLR German Aerospace Center

The only way to get produce to McMurdo, the US station where the majority of Antarctic researchers stay, is by ship or plane. In January, a shipment of dried and frozen food is delivered, and during summer, planes come with fresh food around once a week, according to Atlas Obscura.

GAC scientist Paul Zabel will move with the farm to Antarctica, where he will grow fruits and vegetables under 42 LED lamps.

German Aerospace Center scientist Paul Zabel. Image Source: DLR German Aerospace Center

Since the farm is climate-controlled, it can grow crops year-round in a place where temperatures can plummet as low as -100 degrees Fahrenheit.

Image Source: DLR German Aerospace Center

As Modern Farmer notes, some sub-Arctic regions are experiencing somewhat of an agricultural boom, due partly to climate change.

Over the past 100 years, Arctic temperatures have increased at nearly twice the global average, making it possible to grow crops in once-desolate places like Yellowknife in Canada and Greenland.

In order to help the plants thrive, the researchers pump in extra carbon dioxide and set the temperature at 75 degrees Fahrenheit.

Image Source: DLR German Aerospace Center

The LEDs are tuned to red and blue wavelengths — the optimal light frequencies for growing produce.

Image Source: DLR German Aerospace Center

The crops are stacked on trays. Every few minutes, they receive a spritz of nutrient-rich mist.

Image Source: DLR German Aerospace Center

The researchers plan to grow between 30 and 50 different species, including leafy greens, peppers, strawberries, radishes, and tomatoes, as well as herbs like basil and parsley.

Image Source: DLR German Aerospace Center

In July, the team grew its first cucumber, which measured 96 grams and 14 centimeters long, inside Eden-ISS.

Image Source: DLR German Aerospace Center

In February, the GAC built the farm’s platform by crane in Antarctica. Everything else will arrive next month.

Image Source: DLR German Aerospace Center

The larger goal of the Eden-ISS project is to create a system that allows GAC astronauts to harvest food in space.

Image Source: DLR German Aerospace Center

If the researchers can perfect a growing process for Antarctica’s harsh climate, they may stand a chance at growing on Mars or the moon.

Image Source: DLR German Aerospace Center

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New York Is the First City to Require Building Owners to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions

NYC’s New Plan

On September 14, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced new rules intended to dramatically reduce the city’s greenhouse gas emissions. The new mandates will force building owners to upgrade their buildings on an accelerated schedule, with serious penalties for failure to comply.

Fossil fuels used for hot water and heat in buildings are New York City’s single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, comprising 42 percent of the city’s total emissions. The new mandates require all owners of buildings over 25,000 square feet to meet fossil fuel caps over the next 12 to 17 years.

Paris Climate Agreement
Click to View Full Infographic

For most, this will mean improvements to hot water heaters, roofs and windows, boilers, and heat distribution systems. For the worst-performing 14,500 buildings, however, the rules will trigger efficiency upgrades and fossil fuel equipment replacement. These worst-performing buildings currently produce about one-quarter of the City’s total greenhouse gas emissions.

When President Trump announced that the U.S. would exit the Paris Climate Agreement earlier this year, Mayor de Blasio promised that New York City would stick to the treaty and increase its own efforts to reach the 2050 target of an 80 percent reduction in emissions. These mandates are one step in keeping that promise, a point de Blasio noted when announcing them:

Time is not on our side. New York will continue to step up and make critical changes to help protect our city and prevent the worst effects of climate change. We must shed our buildings’ reliance on fossil fuels here and now. To do this, we are mandating upgrades to increase the energy efficiency of our buildings, helping us continue to honor the goals of the Paris Agreement. No matter what happens in Washington, we will not shirk our responsibility to act on climate in our own backyard.

Big Goals, Bigger Impact

Meeting these new mandates will help in the worldwide effort to avoid the most disastrous effects of climate change and hold global temperature increases to just 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit).

NYC’s most dramatic emissions reductions are expected to take place in the coming decade, and by 2035, these new targets will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 7 percent citywide — that’s equivalent to taking 900,000 cars off the road. This will be the single biggest action ever taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The benefits of these mandates extend beyond the environment. The air pollution that results from fossil fuel usage can cause bronchitis, asthma, and premature death, especially among seniors and children. The city’s targets will improve air quality enough by 2035 to prevent 40 premature deaths and 100 emergency room visits, all asthma-related, annually.

The city’s residents will also benefit from energy cost savings of up to $300 million annually, and enacting the new mandates will create 17,000 green building retrofitting jobs. Building tenants will enjoy more comfortable and consistent indoors temperatures, as well.

Worldwide, higher greenhouse emissions are closely linked to urban areas. If all U.S. cities with populations over 50,000 followed the Paris plans for C40 cities, they would achieve 36 percent of the total emissions reductions the U.S. would need to meet its original Paris pledge. Since buildings are responsible for most of the emissions in these large cities, programs like New York’s could have a tremendous impact nationwide.

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More Than 300 Companies Worldwide Have Committed to Curb Global Warming

300 Companies Worldwide

More than 300 companies worldwide have joined the Science Based Targets initiative, the aim of which is to set emissions reduction targets. More than 90 new companies have joined the initiative this year. Science Based Targets aims to demonstrate the private sector’s commitment to meeting the Paris Agreement’s climate change goal of limiting global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius during this century, and doing so as part of a global, aligned effort.

As Climate Week approaches, a new influx of high-end apparel companies have announced their commitment to setting science-based targets, including EILEEN FISHER, Gap Inc., GUESS, Levi Strauss & Co., NIKE, Inc., and VF Corporation. More than 90 percent of apparel brands’ emissions arise in the value chain, and apparel companies share many suppliers. Therefore, strategies for reducing supply chain emissions can improve collaboration and create efficiencies across the industry.

Paris Climate Agreement
Click to View Full Infographic

Thus far, the estimated market value of the companies that have joined the Science Based Targets initiative is $6.5 trillion — roughly equivalent to the value of the NASDAQ stock exchange. These businesses are responsible for 750 million metric tons of CO2 emissions annually, about as much as 158 million cars during that same timeframe. The companies represent 35 countries and a tremendous variety of industries, including apparel, banking, chemicals, consumer goods, hospitality, manufacturing, power, retail, and technology. Other new businesses committed to set science-based targets include CVS Health, Cummins, Epsom, Merck, Mahindra Sanyo, Olam, Veolia Environnement, Telefónica, and Wyndham Worldwide Corporation.

So far, the U.S. is leading the charge with 50 companies that have committed to set science-based targets — more than any other nation. The estimated total value of the U.S. businesses participating in the Science Based Targets initiative is $2 trillion, and the companies are responsible for 166 million metric tons of CO2 emissions annually.

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Take a Look at This Electric Motorhome Powered by Solar Panels and a Battery Pack

The Electric Motorhome

Electric cars are already poised to take over our roads, but anyone looking to buy a motorhome is still stuck with only fossil fuel-powered options. That could soon change thanks to Dethleffs.

The German motorhome manufacturer has just unveiled their e.home concept. The exterior of this futuristic RV is blanketed in 31 square meters (334 square feet) of solar panels, generating electricity to help fuel the vehicle’s electric powertrain. Its electric 80-kilowatt (107-horsepower) motor can be paired with several battery options.

Image Credit: Dethleffs
Image Credit: Dethleffs

According to Dethleffs, the e.home’s maximum range is 280 kilometers (174 miles) rated on the New European Driving Cycle, while an EPA rating would likely put it closer to 225 kilometers (140 miles). However, both of those ranges are set without hauling weight. Dethleffs claims a fully outfitted e-home that’s hauling weight would have an estimated range of 165 kilometers (103 miles).

Image Credit: Dethleffs
Image Credit: Dethleffs

The battery pack lasts for approximately 1,500 charges — about 250,000 kilometers (155,000 miles) — before needing replacement. The e-home supports both level 2 and DC fast-charging, and the solar panels provide 3 kilowatts of supplementary battery-charging electricity.

Image Credit: Dethleffs
Image Credit: Dethleffs

The Dethleffs e.home also maximizes efficiency by using phase-change materials to absorb heat and release it throughout the day as ambient temperatures fluctuate. Infrared panels throughout the inside of the vehicle also provide a comfortably warm atmosphere.

A Major Offender

The electric motorhome is just one example of vehicles other than cars going electric.

Tesla’s electric semi will undergo a test drive in October, and Cummins has already revealed their own electric semi. Boatmaker Hinckley Co. just revealed the first fully electric luxury yacht in the world, which can reach up to 43 kph (27 mph) and has a range of 64 kilometers (40 miles). Meanwhile, Eviation Aircraft has unveiled an all-electric, zero-emissions prototype aircraft that has a range of 965 kilometers (600 miles) for up to nine passengers.

Image Credit: Dethleffs
Image Credit: Dethleffs

Indian Railways, the largest rail network in Asia, rolled out a Diesel Electric Multiple Unit (DEMU) train with a solar-paneled roof in July, and they plan to add 24 more trains to their fleet soon. The rail company estimates that they could save as many as 21,000 liters of diesel annually by attaching solar panels to six coaches on a train.

Image Credit: Dethleffs
Image Credit: Dethleffs

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the transportation sector accounts for 27 percent of the United States’ greenhouse gas emissions. The European Global Commission for Climate Change states that the airline industry alone produces more than two percent of total global emissions, enough to earn it a place on the “top 10 emitters” list if the industry was a country.

As a whole, the global transportation sector produces 14 percent of emissions worldwide. Clearly, if electric concept vehicles continue to flourish, the environment stands to benefit substantially.

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Porsche CEO: Our First All-Electric Vehicle Will Be Released a Year Ahead of Schedule

Originally expected to roll out in 2020, Porsche’s Mission E will arrive a year sooner, according to the company’s CEO Oliver Blume.

Branded as the luxury carmaker’s first fully electric vehicle, the Mission E has been established as a potential rival to Tesla’s flagship luxury EV, the Model S. However, with an expected price tag of $80,000, the Mission E is a tad bit more expensive than the Model S, which has a base price of only $62,000. The $80,000 cost positions the Mission E between Porsche’s Panamera and the 911.

The Mission E is a 1.3 meters (4.26 feet) tall, four-door sports car with an all-electric powertrain. Its initial concept included a 600-hp motor with a four-wheel drive capable of accelerating from 0 to 96 kph (60 mph) in just under 3.5 seconds and reaching top speeds of more than 249 kph (155 mph).

First unveiled at the 2015 Frankfurt Motor Show, the luxury EV is now in the final stages of production and development. According to an interview Blume granted to Car Magazine at this year’s event, it’s being readied for a 2019 shipment schedule, and Porsche would soon be testing the vehicle publicly. “We are in series engineering phase,” said the CEO.

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Tesla Must Overcome Local Production Laws Before Bringing EVs to India

Tesla wants to bring its electric vehicles to India, and they plan to make the Model 3 their first EV in the country by 2019. CEO and founder Elon Musk mentioned it back in June of this year, and now he’s said it again. Replying to a question on Twitter, Musk explained that Tesla continues to be in “discussions” with the national government of India, the second-most populous nation on Earth.

The only difference between his June announcement and now is the focus of discussion — that is, what it is keeping Tesla from bringing their EVs sooner. Back in June, Musk said that they were asking for a “temporary relief on import penalties/restrictions” until a factory, presumably a gigafactory, is built in India.

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Now, Musk says the delay is due to difficulties with so-called local content requirements. It’s a policy that requires goods to have a certain percentage of the production process sourced from local manufacturers. Musk is asking for a temporary reprieve from this condition until a gigafactory can be built in India.

With these hurdles overcome, and the Model 3 production goals met, India could be a great market for EVs. In fact, the country already has legislation to sell only electric cars by 2030. For Tesla, getting into the Indian market before that obtains is crucial, especially with the country on its way to becoming the world’s third-largest car market by 2020.

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Neil DeGrasse Tyson: Downplaying Our Involvement in Climate Change is “Simply Irresponsible”

The Point of No Return

Neil deGrasse Tyson thinks we might not be able to stop the effects of climate change. The astrophysicist shared this bleak outlook during an appearance on CNN’s GPS in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Harvey.

“I worry that we might not be able to recover from this because all our greatest cities are on the oceans and water’s edges, historically for commerce and transportation,” Tyson told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria. “And as storms kick in, as water levels rise, they are the first to go.”

Given the overwhelming evidence that human activity has a grave influence on the climate, Tyson argued that questioning its scientific basis is a waste of time. He noted the problems that arise when members of the press and politicians “cherry pick” individual scientific studies that back specific positions while ignoring the larger scientific consensus.

“The day two politicians are arguing about whether science is true, it means nothing gets done. Nothing,” said Tyson. “It’s the beginning of the end of an informed democracy, as I’ve said many times. What I’d rather happen is you recognize what is scientifically truth, then you have your political debate.”

He also asserted that building policy based on the relatively few papers that downplay human involvement in climate change is “simply irresponsible.”

Taking Action

While Tyson may well be correct in his assertion that climate change has already progressed to the point that destructive consequences are guaranteed, scientists aren’t giving up the fight just yet.

Paris Climate Agreement
Click to View Full Infographic

Teams are investigating how to mitigate the impact of hurricanes so that we can at least downplay their effect, even if we can’t address the root cause. Meanwhile, innovative new ways to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels are springing up all the time, and governments are creating legislation to spur on this process.

Still, seeing authorities bury their heads in the sand is incredibly discouraging, even if there are some small indications that policies might be changing for the better. For once, we can hope that Neil deGrasse Tyson is wrong and we aren’t too late to have the impact necessary to prevent widespread destruction.

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The World’s First All-Electric Yacht Has a 40-Mile Range and a $500,000 Price Tag

The Future Is Here

On Thursday, 90-year-old boatmaker Hinckley Company unveiled Dasher — the world’s first fully electric luxury yacht — at the 47th Newport International Boat Show. Nicknamed after Hinckley’s first “picnic style” boat, the 8.69-meter (28.5-foot) long, fully electric vessel represents the next generation of passenger water vehicles. Clearly, we’ve come a long way from oars and sails, to coal and gas, to powerful electric motors.

“This isn’t just an existing design, where we dropped a couple of electric motors in,” Scott Bryant, director of new product development at Hinckley Co., told Bloomberg. “The boat has been designed, ground up, for electric propulsion.”

electric vehicles electric boat dasher clean energy
Image Credit: Hinckley Co.

Packed with twin 80-hp electric motors powered by BMW’s 40-kilowatt-hour i3 waterproof lithium-ion batteries, rechargeable via a dual 50-Amp dock, Dasher is the lightest boat Hinckley has ever made: barely 2,950 kilograms (6,500 pounds).

In terms of price, though, it’s not so light. Cost estimates run up to $500,000 — it is a luxury yacht, after all.

Setting the Standard

As the first all-electric luxury yacht, some are calling Dasher “the Tesla of luxury electric yachts,” and it certainly is expected to make a splash.

The vessel promises a performance worthy of any seafarer, boasting a cruising speed of around 8.6 knots [16 kph (10 mph)] and a range of about 35 nautical miles (NM) [64 kilometers (40 miles)]. Dasher can travel up to 22 NM [40 kilometers (25 miles)] at speeds of 15.6 to 23.5 knots [29 to 43.5 kph (18 to 27 mph)].

electric vehicles electric boat dasher clean energy
Image Credit: Hinckley Co.

Though it’s the first of its kind, Dasher isn’t the only electric boat. The Duffy 18 Snug Harbor is an electric vessel designed for casual cruising, while several companies have designed their own experimental or promotional high-speed electric boats. On the larger scale, China even has plans to build an all-electric warship.

electric vehicles electric boat dasher clean energy
Image Credit: Hinckley Co.

A future in which all boats (and land-based vehicles) are powered by electricity doesn’t seem that far off, and Hinckley is excited to make that transition.

“I don’t believe that Dasher will be our only electric-propulsion product. I think what we’re looking to do is to incorporate a bunch of the features that we’re introducing on Dasher into our other products,” said Bryant. “There’s so much going on in the automotive space, and just in the energy-storage space right now, that to not be a part of it is just silly.”

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Is the Trump Administration Changing Its Mind About the Paris Climate Agreement?

The Winds of Change?

In June of this year, U.S. President Donald Trump made it clear that he doesn’t want anything to do with the historic Paris Climate Agreement, a deal accepted by 195 nations back in 2015. But on Saturday, White House officials attending a special global warming summit in Montreal, Canada, said that the Trump administration may opt to stay in the Paris deal, perhaps signaling a change in policy.

Paris Climate Agreement
Click to View Full Infographic

The initial report appeared in The Wall Street Journal, claiming the possibility of staying in the Paris deal was confirmed by multiple officials present at the Canada summit (which was taking place 30 years after the signing of the historic Montreal Protocol). The officials reportedly said the U.S. might review the terms of the Paris deal. The position was brought up, two participants said, by White House officials in Montreal led by senior adviser Everett Eissenstat.

“The U.S. has stated that they will not renegotiate the Paris accord, but they will try to review the terms on which they could be engaged under this agreement,” Miguel Arias Cañete, European Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy, according to the WSJ.

False Hopes?

Many celebrated this supposed interest in working with the Paris deal. Canadian Environment Minister Catherine McKenna even sent a statement to the WSJ saying they were pleased the U.S. continues to “engage and recognize” the importance of clean energy and and the economic opportunities of clean growth.

The White House responded with an official statement on Saturday afternoon:

“There has been no change in the U.S.’s position on the Paris agreement,” deputy press secretary Lindsay Walters said. “As the president has made abundantly clear, the U.S. is withdrawing unless we can re-enter on terms that are more favorable to our country.”

“For anyone who had any hope that two historically devastating storms striking our nation would wake up the Trump Administration to the reality of the climate crisis, think again,” Sierra Club global climate policy director John Coequyt told CNN referring to the back-to-back hurricanes that devastated Texas and Florida just last week.

Yet despite this statement, some officials say there is an on-going discussion regarding new carbon emissions targets for the U.S. — which one of the participants at the Montreal meeting confirmed. Deal or no deal, though, U.S. carbon emissions and temperatures are expected to go lower in the coming years, as several states ramp up their dependence on renewable energy sources.

At any rate, we will probably know in the coming week where the U.S. really stands on the Paris deal, as climate ministers from over a dozen large-economy countries meet with U.S. National Economic Council head Gary Cohn in New York.

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Hurricanes May Be Getting More Severe — Do We Need a Whole New Category to Describe Them?

There’s been a devastating trail of destruction and flooding along the east Atlantic coast in the last few weeks following Hurricane Harvey and now Hurricane Irma. The latter, recently moving across Florida, was the strongest sustained hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic outside the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico.

Hurricane strength is measured on the Saffir–Simpson Scale, ranging from one (the lowest) to five (the highest) based on the hurricane’s wind speed and estimated potential damage. This takes into account parameters such as whether the hurricane uproots trees or removes roofs from houses, and whether the destruction could last for days or months.

Initially, Hurricane Irma was rated as a category five, losing energy along its path, with winds moving at 175mph (roughly 282kph) — destroying homes and causing power failure in the Caribbean. But given that Irma’s power has made some islands “barely habitable,” is category five really sufficient? Is it time to introduce a category six?

Climate Change

People have been quick to ask if Hurricane Irma is connected to climate change and whether this is a sign of things to come. It remains uncertain whether hurricanes have significantly increased in frequency or severity as global temperatures have risen, partly due to a lack of long-term data.

We know that hurricane formation is affected by changes in sea surface temperatures — a warm ocean helps fuel hurricanes. This is partly driven by natural periodic and cyclic variations in the Earth’s climatic and oceanic systems, meaning that in some years the ocean is warmer than in others.

Studies have presented mixed views of what will happen in the future with global warming. However, there are many consistent models and research articles indicating that there will be fewer hurricanes along the Atlantic coast, but that those that do form will be more severe — due to the warmer temperatures.

However, it’s important to keep in mind that what we’ve seen recently, compared with decades ago, is not so much a change in hurricanes, but a change in impacts. Many coasts have become increasingly urbanized, and this trend is likely to continue. As with many small islands, much of the population of Barbuda, Guadeloupe, and others in the Caribbean are situated on the narrow coastal fringe — meaning they experience the full force of natural disasters, sometimes on scales never seen before. This means there is more infrastructure to be destroyed or damaged during extreme weather conditions than, say, to 100 years ago. The same could be said as Irma moved over Florida.

Vulnerable Economies

Infrastructure on islands, such as harbors and airports, are key lifelines to the outside world — and any disruption to these can have serious consequences, potentially for many years. On small islands, infrastructure is partly there to support the economy (including tourism), which in turn provides further economic development, social welfare, and health benefits to the wider population. Take the infrastructure away as Irma has, and the economy declines leading to a shock.

Irma causing destruction on Cuba. Image Credit: Alejandro Ernesto/EPA

This is because, historically, small islands have been essential maritime or colonial hubs or trading posts. But today they are highly reliant on external trade, often through fisheries, agriculture, or tourism. Concentrating on one or two industries makes islands strong, but when extreme events or global disasters occur, the shock means they count the cost. Essentially, they have their eggs all in one basket. In Antigua and Barbuda, the total contribution of tourism to gross domestic product was 60% in 2016.

Hurricane Andrew, also a category five event, made landfall in August 1992 — affecting the Bahamas and Florida. In the Bahamas, damage worth US$250m was reported, with projections of a decrease of 20% in tourist revenue, despite the vast majority of the islands surviving the hurricane. Luckily, advertising campaigns and repairs ultimately prevented the loss in tourist revenue. This is an important lesson about how to respond to such events.

Other extreme events have caused long-lived adverse effects. For instance, in the Maldives in the Indian Ocean, the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami affected tourism and wider development for several years.

Clearly there is a need for planning in emergency response. This needs to be targeted and accompanied by long-term resilience strategies. Shocks can also provide opportunities. Thanks to the Maldivian Safer Islands programme, islands have been constructed to a higher elevation to reduce the long-term risk of flooding.

The 2015 Paris Agreement, which aims for nations to mitigate the effects of climate change, singles out small, developing island nations, many of which are in the Caribbean, as “particularly vulnerable” due to their “significant capacity constraints.” Irma has reminded the world that extra help is needed when an island state is partially destroyed.

Long-Term Outlook on Hurricane Scale?

So will islands continue to suffer as a result of hurricanes — and will it get worse? In addition to warming temperatures and potential increase in future severity, the slow, but long-term effects of sea level rise could also increase the extent of flood impacts during and after extreme events.

From 1901 to 2010, sea levels rose by about 1.9 millimeters a year. This is projected to accelerate, so that sea levels are about a meter higher in 2100 than today. Over a century, sea-level rise could make the difference between minor and major flooding, and the longevity of impacts.

Indeed, long-lasting impacts may provide impetus for introducing a category six of the Saffir-Simpson Scale. This could describe cases that have a permanent effect on living conditions — potentially making some areas permanently uninhabitable. Such effects are currently not accounted for on the scale.

Whether we do introduce a new category remains to be seen, but it is certainly something worth discussing. Adaptation to climate change and extreme events can help to increase resilience and reduce damage in extreme conditions. But due to their shear strength, events such as Hurricane Irma cannot be adapted to. Sadly, humans will never be totally resilient to extreme events and long-lasting impacts remains a major challenge for all.

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Nine Pictures That Show How Climate Change Is Impacting Earth

Record-breaking hurricanes have affected millions of people across North and Central America, devastating floods have taken away millions of homes, and wildfires on the west coast have wreaked havoc on the lives of millions more. The natural disasters of 2017 have raised a lot of questions about human involvement and the dire consequences of climate change caused by human activity on our planet. Even though its effects have made themselves apparent, there are many who don’t believe climate change is real, or at least that humans have nothing to do with it.

Earlier this year, NASA released a series of images titled Images of Change to show just how drastic an effect human activity has had on Earth in the last fifty or so years. They tell a story of melting glaciers, receding ice shelves, floods, and other natural disasters. They all provide evidence that climate change is very real and happening right now. It is time to take the hard, photographic evidence seriously. and learn from our past mistakes.

Tuvalu and the Rising Sea Levels

Image Credit: Ashley Cooper/Contributor/Getty Images

This image was taken in 2007, showing a town submerged in water on the Funafuti Atoll. Its population of more than 6,000 people has been battling with the direct consequences of rising sea levels. Residents of the capital Tuvalu have seen very frequent flooding in populated areas due to the fact that it is at most 4.57 meters (15 feet) above sea level. Dubbed one of “the most vulnerable Pacific Ocean islands,” its residents have to make the ultimate choice: leave the islands or deal with the consequences.

The Larsen C Ice Shelf

Image Credit: NASA/John Sonntag

This 112.65km (70 mile) long, 91.44 meter (300 feet) wide crack in the Antarctic Peninsula’s Larsen C ice shelf was photographed in November 2016. As a direct result of the split, a piece of an ice shelf the size of Delaware collapsed. The more than 1 trillion ton ice slab broke away from the Larsen C shelf around the 10th of July, 2017, decreasing it by more than 12%.

Rising Bedrock in Greenland

Image Credit: ESA/Sentinel-2/Copernicus Sentinel

Environmental scientists have concluded in recent studies that the Greenland Ice Sheet is rising as ice melts; as the ice that sits on top of the outer crust of the Earth melts, the crust underneath rises up. Measuring this change is giving scientists valuable insight into the changing sizes of ice sheets and how this eventually leads to rising sea levels.

Hurricane Harvey

Image Credit: @Space_Station/Twitter

This image was taken from the International Space Station on August 25, 2017. The disastrous consequences of Hurricane Harvey wreaking havoc on central Texas saw a huge amount of media coverage. However, when it came to drawing links between the storm and climate change, the reporting was far more subdued. Kevin Trenberth, a senior scientist from the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research, said in an interview with The Atlantic: “the human contribution can be up to 30 percent or so of the total rainfall coming out of the storm.” But the trend of tying storms of this scale to human activity is still emerging.

Flooding of the Ganges River

Image Credit: NASA

These satellite images are part of an ongoing series of images called Images of Change released by NASA in 2017. In addition to images related to climate change, the series also looks at how urbanization and natural hazards are changing our planet. The two images above show the drastic effect the 2015 flood had on the Ganges River in eastern and central India. Over six million people were affected by it, and at least 300 people lost their lives.

Arctic Sea Ice Decline

Image Credit: NASA

The last three decades have not been kind to the thick, older layers of sea ice in the Arctic. A study published by the American Geophysical Union in 2007 already noted a sharp decline of the Arctic Sea ice between 1953 and 2006. The last couple of winters have shown record lows in the amount of wintertime Arctic Sea ice.

“This older, thicker ice is like the bulwark of sea ice: a warm summer will melt all the young, thin ice away but it can’t completely get rid of the older ice. But this older ice is becoming weaker because there’s less of it and the remaining old ice is more broken up and thinner, so that bulwark is not as good as it used to be,” says Walt Meiter, a sea researcher from the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

Increase of Sun’s Energy Absorbed in the Arctic

Image Credit: NASA

Since 2000, NASA has been using its satellites to measure the solar radiation absorbed in the Arctic. Since records began in 2000, the rate has increased by 5% — notably, the only region on our planet to see a change. Due to this increase, the ice melts sooner in the spring, and more older, thicker sea ice is lost permanently.

Glacier Melt in Alaska

Image Credits: U.S. Geological Survey/NASA

 The Northwestern Glacier in Alaska retreated an estimated 10 kilometers (6 miles) out of view. The small icebergs that can be seen in the foreground have retreated almost entirely throughout the decades.

Air Pollution in London

Image Credit: Barry Lewis/Getty Images

Commuters can be seen crossing the London Bridge on March 15, 2012 — a day with record-breaking levels of air pollution due to dirty air from the north, traffic fumes, and a lack of moving air. According to the World Health Organization, “92% of the world population was living in places where the WHO air quality guidelines levels were not met,” and three million premature deaths were caused by ambient air pollution worldwide in 2012.

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