Want to predict how the economy is moving? There's no better indicator to watch than trash.
In an analysis at Bloomberg (by way of the Washington Post), Michael McDonough and Bob Willis assessed which rail-transported material tracked most closely with broader economic indicators. The least correlation was between carloads of coal. The most? Waste. McDonough and Willis found that the index of how much garbage moved by rail had an 82 percent correlation with the GDP.
Which makes this graph worrisome.
The drop-off in that blue line, indicating waste carloads, mirrors a similar drop-off in 2009 -- and you know what happened then. (Or, if you don't: The economy tanked.)
For the second day in a row, power consumption in India vastly exceeded available supply, due in part to high temperatures. The result: grid failure that first struck the northern part of the country -- which had the same issue yesterday -- then, the eastern. Reuters suggests that the outage affected 670 million people -- 9.5 percent of all people on Earth. For nearly four hours, power and transportation systems in the nation's capital were at a standstill, forcing hospitals and "VIP zones" to rely on generator backups. From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
Hundreds of trains stalled across the country and traffic lights went out, causing widespread traffic jams in New Delhi. Electric crematoria stopped operating, some with bodies half burnt, power officials said. Emergency workers rushed generators to coal mines to rescue miners trapped underground.
There were also protests in Japan and China. Earlier this month, some 100,000 people rallied in Tokyo to try and prevent a nuclear generator from being turned back on. Over the weekend, tens of thousands more marched outside of Parliament with the same aim: calling on the prime minister to halt the use of nuclear power. (There were no reports of banjos.)
We've previously mentioned the link between hot days and increased power demand. Not like we're genius scientists for doing so; it's a pretty obvious connection. The hotter the day, the greater the demand for air conditioning and fans, the more strain on the electrical grid. Today, India faced the worst-case scenario.
The power grid across northern India failed Monday, halting hundreds of trains and leaving millions of people sweating in the heat in one of the worst blackouts in a decade, highlighting the country's inability to feed a growing hunger for energy. …
It was the first time since 2001 that the northern grid had collapsed. But India's demand for electricity has soared since then as its economy has grown sharply, and the outage was a reminder of the country's long road ahead in upgrading its infrastructure to meet its aspirations of being an economic superpower.
In addition, a weak monsoon has kept temperatures higher this year, further increasing electricity usage as people seek to cool off. Shivpal Singh Yadav, the power minister in the state of Uttar Pradesh, home to 200 million people, said that while demand during peak hours hits 11,000 megawatts, the state can only provide 9,000 megawatts.
Temperatures in New Delhi hovered around 31 degrees C, or about 89 degrees F. With humidity, it felt like 100. The city's metro system shut down and hospitals reverted to generator backup.
Those of us who grew up in the Space Shuttle era remember watching tiny, scratchy televisions on various mornings, at home or in school; remember the adrenaline of seeing that odd craft sitting on the launchpad. That visual is the one that sticks because it's the one we watched the most. A shuttle launch for us was all about the promise, the build-up. It's coming, it's coming. Five minutes. One minute. 30 seconds. You have X amount of time before something spectacular happens.
Sally Ride lived a life of inspiration, engagement, exhortation. Her first trip into space was an accomplishment that lasted beyond that initial spark of the engines, a rare flight for which the anticipation of the launch was only a precursor to what we would learn and experience and appreciate. She was not only the first American woman to hover above the atmosphere, but she was a brilliant, savvy, compelling woman whom everyone, even a kid like me, understood was exceptional.
Ride's commitment, first and foremost, was to broadening understanding. After her time with NASA, she formed Sally Ride Science, with the goal of getting students engaged in and excited about science. (Who better to do it? What kid is going to look Dr. Sally Ride in the eye and say, "Nah, not interested"?) Three years ago, that push to inform resulted in a book -- co-written with Tam O'Shaughnessy, the woman we now know to be her partner. Titled Mission: Planet Earth, the book is an outline of how and why the climate is changing. The publisher provides an excerpt:
[From space,] I could see how fragile Earth is. When I looked toward the horizon, I could see a thin, fuzzy blue line outlining the planet. At first, I didn't know what I was seeing. Then I realized it was Earth's atmosphere. It looked so thin and so fragile, like a strong gust of interplanetary wind could blow it all away. And I realized that this air is our planet's spacesuit -- it's all that separates every bird, fish, and person on Earth from the blackness of space. ...
To a person standing on the ground, our air seems to go on forever. The sky looks so big, and people haven't worried about what they put into the air. From space, though, it's obvious how little air there really is. Nothing vanishes "into thin air." The gases that we're sending into the air are piling up in our atmosphere. And that's changing Earth's life-support system in ways that could change our planet forever.
In 2005, Americans used 410 billion gallons of water a day. In the spirit of the soon-to-commence-we've-heard London Olympics, that's enough to fill 620,808 Olympic-sized swimming pools. In the spirit of the 2000 Sydney Games, it's three times the amount of water in Sydney Harbor. (How much we use now is probably similar, but the U.S. Geological Survey's research on 2010 won't be ready until 2014.)
Half of the water we use goes to power generation. Michael Webber, associate director of the Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy at the University of Texas, finds that worrisome, given our recent water-access difficulties. (Yes, we're talking about the drought again. Get used to it.) He wrote an editorial for The New York Times titled, "Will Drought Cause the Next Blackout?"
During the 2008 drought in the Southeast, power plants were within days or weeks of shutting down because of limited water supplies. In Texas today, some cities are forbidding the use of municipal water for hydraulic fracturing. The multiyear drought in the West has lowered the snowpack and water levels behind dams, reducing their power output. The United States Energy Information Administration recently issued an alert that the drought was likely to exacerbate challenges to California’s electric power market this summer, with higher risks of reliability problems and scarcity-driven price increases.
In June, we brought you the story of a blue lobster, Old Blue (a name I gave him just now), found by a fisherman in Nova Scotia who'd never before seen a blue lobster in his many years of lobster-hunting.
Reports of odd-colored lobsters used to be rare in the lobster fishing grounds of New England and Atlantic Canada. Normal lobsters are a mottled greenish-brown.
But in recent years, accounts of bright blue, orange, yellow, calico, white and even split lobsters -- one color on one side, another on the other -- have jumped. It's now common to hear several stories a month of a lobsterman bringing one of the quirky crustaceans to shore.
It's not clear why there are more reports of colored lobster. It could be that more people have cameras to back up their tall tales. But it's also possible that overfishing is to blame.
Houses certified under various environmental standards are worth 9 percent more than the state average in California, according to new work by two economists.
Out of the 1.6-million-home-transaction sample, [the study's authors] identified 4,321 dwellings that sold with Energy Star, LEED or GreenPoint Rated labels. They then ran statistical analyses to determine how much green labeling contributed to the selling price — eliminating all other factors contained in the real estate records, such as locational effects, school districts, crime rates, time period of sale, swimming pools and views. …
The 9% average price premium from green-rated homes is roughly in line with studies conducted in Europe, where energy-efficiency labeling on houses is far more commonplace. Homes rated "A" under the European Union's system commanded a 10% average premium in one study, while dwellings with poor ratings sold for substantial discounts.
We are not huge fans of digging in the ground to pull out oil that is then burned. But we are sometimes fans of digging in the ground to pull out water so people can drink.
Namibia is dominated by the Namib desert, which runs 2,000 miles along the western coast of the continent from Angola into South Africa. The country is the most arid African nation south of the Sahara. Residents in the northern region rely on a 40-year-old canal to bring water in from neighboring Angola.