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If you were watching “Game of Thrones,” you missed Neil Tyson’s solution to global warming

green_neil_tyson
Fox

Last night's episode of Fox's Cosmos series didn't seem political or controversial, at least on the surface. Rather, it introduced us to the world on the molecular and atomic scale, at one point venturing inside of a dewdrop (packed with extremely cool tiny organisms like tardigrades) and, later, inside of a plant cell. It was kind of reminiscent of what you learned in your ninth grade bio class -- albeit much less sleep inducing.

Yet fresh from ticking off creationists, this time around host Neil deGrasse Tyson managed to work in the science of climate change.

Plants, after all, are the reigning global masters of clean energy. They use 100-percent solar power: The chloroplast, the so-called "powerhouse" of a plant cell, is a "3-billion-year-old solar energy collector" and a "submicroscopic solar battery," as Tyson put it. Basically, chloroplasts use sunlight, carbon dioxide, and water to store energy in sugars, and give off oxygen as a byproduct. And without this fundamental green energy technology, life on this planet as we know it wouldn't exist.

Cosmos tours the happenings inside a dewdrop, and within the cells of plants.
Fox
Cosmos tours the happenings inside a dewdrop, and within the cells of plants.

That's where Tyson brought up climate change. Here's how he put it:

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Burn Baby Burn

The four fossil fuel stockpiles that could toast the world

global warming
Shutterstock

By now it's old news that the U.S. is in the midst of an oil and gas boom. In fact, with 30.5 billion barrels of untapped crude, our proven oil reserves are higher than they have been since the 1970s. But if that oil doesn't stay in the ground, along with most U.S. gas and coal reserves, then the planet and all of its inhabitants are in trouble.

new report from the Sierra Club takes a look at what will happen to the climate if we burn through four of our biggest fossil fuel reserves -- and it ain't pretty. The four stockpiles are Powder River Basin coal in Wyoming and Montana; Green River shale in Wyoming, Colorado, and Utah; oil and gas in the Arctic Ocean north of Alaska; and frackable oil and gas across the U.S. Together these deposits could release 140.5 billion tons of CO2, the report says, enough to get the world a quarter of the way toward a global 2-degree Celsius rise, aka climatological catastrophe.

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Let's get ready to not rumble!

Ohio blames frackers for earthquakes

seismometer
Shutterstock

Ohio officials have linked fracking in the state to an unprecedented swarm of earthquakes that struck last month. Following its investigation, the state is imposing new rules to help reduce frackquake hazards.

It's well-known that frackers can cause earthquakes when they shoot their polluted wastewater into so-called injection wells. But a swarm of earthquakes that hit Mahoning County, Ohio, last month was different -- it occurred not near an injection well, but near a site where fracking had recently begun. State officials investigated the temblors and concluded that there was a "probable connection" between them and hydraulic fracturing near "a previously unknown microfault."

On Friday, following the discovery, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources announced that frackers will need to comply with new permit regulations. Under the tougher rules, frackers operating within three miles of a known fault or seismically active area will need to deploy sensitive seismic monitors. And if those monitors detect an earthquake, even if the magnitude is as small as 1.0 on the Richter scale, fracking will be suspended while the state investigates.

Meanwhile, the fracking operation linked to the recent quakes will remain suspended until a plan is developed that could see drilling resumed safely, an official told Reuters.

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Smog is linked with higher risk of suicide

poison-skull-sign-flicker
Broken Clouds

Research is piling up that air pollution is correlated with higher suicide rates. (Yet another reason to treat the cause, not just ship in bags of fresh air!)

John Upton (who also writes for Gristreports in Pacific Standard that smog in Salt Lake County is associated with higher risk of killing yourself, according to a study that looked at 1,500 suicides in the area:

[Researcher Amanda] Bakian and her colleagues found that the odds of committing suicide in the county spiked 20 percent following three days of high nitrogen dioxide pollution -- which is produced when fossil fuels are burned and after fertilizer is applied to fields.

They also found that Utahans were five percent more likely to kill themselves following three days of breathing in air laced with high levels of fine particulate matter, also known as soot.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living

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Climate clicktivism for the rich, famous, and connected

Click to embiggen.
Click to embiggen.

What do the NBA, Mark Ruffalo, Al Gore, and Guns 'N Roses have in common?

They’ve all signed on to #climate, a new "invite-only" app that connects influencers to climate causes so they can mobilize their large social media followings to sign petitions and organize actions. #climate positions itself as the middle man between the general public and changemaking nonprofits like the Sierra Club, Mosaic, and 350.org.

Here's a video that explains how it works:

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More GIFs, please

U.S. urges IPCC to be less boring, try this whole “online” thing

IPCC makes you yawn
Shutterstock

Thousands of scientists volunteer to review research published by thousands of other scientists -- part of an effort to pack all of the latest and best climate science into assessment reports from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. But anybody who takes the time to read these reports is in danger of being bored to tears -- even before they break down in tears over the scale of the damage that we're inflicting on humanity and our planet.

After publishing five mammoth reports during its quarter-century of existence, the IPCC is facing an existential crisis. How can it reinvent its aging self -- and its dry scientific reports -- to better serve the warming world?

The U.S. is clear on what the IPCC needs to do: It needs to get with the times.

Despite the exhaustive amount of work that goes into producing each of the IPCC's assessment reports, relatively little effort goes into making the information in those reports easily accessible to the public. The IPCC's main website is ugly and static, mirroring the dry assessment reports to which it links. The IPCC's online presence seems designed to meet day-to-day demands for climate information by bureaucrats -- and nobody else.

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Mission not-quite-impossible

U.N. report spells out super-hard things we must do to curb warming

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Shutterstock

Hooboy, it's gonna get hot. A U.N. climate panel on Sunday painted a sizzling picture of the staggering volume of greenhouse gases we've been pumping into the atmosphere -- and what will happen to the planet if we keep this shit up.

By 2100, surface temperatures will be 3.7 to 4.8 degrees C (6.7 to 8.7 F) warmer than prior to the Industrial Revolution. That's far worse than the goal the international community is aiming for -- to keep warming under 2 C (3.7 F). The U.N.'s terrifying projection assumes that we keep on burning fossil fuels as if nothing mattered, like we do now, leading to carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere of between 750 and 1,300 parts per million by 2100. A few centuries ago, CO2 levels were a lovely 280 ppm, and many scientists say we should aim to keep them at 350 ppm, but we're already above 400.

These warnings come from the third installment of the latest big report from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, compiled by hundreds of climate scientists and experts. (WTF is this IPCC? See our explainer. Feel like you've heard this story before? Perhaps you're thinking of the first installment of the report, which came out last fall, or the second installment, which came out last month. Maybe the IPCC believes that breaking its report into three parts makes it more fun, like the Hobbit movies.)

Here's a paragraph and a chart from the 33-page summary of the latest installment that help explain how we reached this precarious point in human history.

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WINDË Power

IKEA makes big investment in wind energy (some assembly required)

Let's hope that couch holds up in a stiff breeze.
Shutterstock
Let's hope that couch holds up in a stiff breeze.

IKEA -- though not exactly a friend to forests, and way too fond of dubious meatballs for our taste -- still wins greenie points for having a Scandinavian way with alternative energy. Ninety percent of its massive warehouse stores will soon host rooftop solar panels, including sunny south Florida's largest solar array, and Brits will be able to buy solar panels in U.K. stores starting this summer. On Thursday, the company one-upped its own clean cred by announcing its investment in a giant wind farm in Illinois.

Hoopeston Wind is the most recent in a series of wind investments by IKEA, including several farms in Canada, where the furniture behemoth is the largest retail wind investor. The Illinois farm will produce 98 megawatts of electricity when it comes online in 2015, or enough to power 34,000 Expedit-enhanced homes. That's more than twice the electricity that all of IKEA's U.S. operations consume, and about 18 percent of the company's global consumption. All of those megawatts will be sold locally, and IKEA will count them toward its overall renewable energy goal: to be totally carbon-free by 2020.

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At-risk cities hold solutions to climate change

miami-wave
Ines Hegedus-Garcia

It is already taking shape as the 21st century urban nightmare: A big storm hits a city like Shanghai, Mumbai, Miami, or New York, knocking out power supply and waste treatment plants, washing out entire neighborhoods, and marooning the survivors in a toxic and foul-smelling swamp.

Now the world's leading scientists are suggesting that those same cities in harm's way could help drive solutions to climate change.

A draft report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), obtained by the Guardian, says smart choices in urban planning and investment in public transport could help significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions, especially in developing countries.

The draft is due for release in Berlin on Sunday, the third and final installment of the IPCC's authoritative report on climate change.

"The next two decades present a window of opportunity for urban mitigation as most of the world's urban areas and their infrastructure have yet to be constructed," the draft said.

Read more: Cities, Climate & Energy

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El Niño could raise meteorological hell this year

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Shutterstock

It's more likely than not that El Niño will rise from the Pacific Ocean this year -- and some scientists are warning that it could grow into a bona fide monster.

NOAA's Climate Prediction Center put out a bulletin Thursday saying there's a greater than 50 percent chance that El Niño will develop later this year. Australian government meteorologists are even more confident -- they said earlier this week that there's a greater than 70 percent chance that El Niño will develop this summer.

Not totally clear on what this El Niño thing even is? Andrew Freedman explains at Mashable:

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