Hurricane season officially began yesterday, but let's hope now more than ever that one doesn't hit the US anytime soon. Because guess what? No one is in charge of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the agency that predicts and forecasts hurricanes ahead of a storm. And for an extra thrill, no one is in charge of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) either, the agency that responds to disasters and offers relief.
Emmanuel Macron, the President of France, rewrote U.S. President Donald Trump's 'MAGA' campaign slogan today in protest of the administration's absurd withdrawal from the Paris climate accords. "Make Our Planet Great Again," says Macron. We're in alignment with Nicaragua and Syria, says Trump.
Strategically placed to survive any natural disaster, this winter's rains flooded the arctic seed bank. The bank wasn't destroyed, but it shows how fast things are a changing.
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It was designed as an impregnable deep-freeze to protect the world’s most precious seeds from any global disaster and ensure humanity’s food supply forever. But the Global Seed Vault, buried in a mountain deep inside the Arctic circle, has been breached after global warming produced extraordinary temperatures over the winter, sending meltwater gushing into the entrance tunnel.
The vault is on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen and contains almost a million packets of seeds, each a variety of an important food crop. When it was opened in 2008, the deep permafrost through which the vault was sunk was expected to provide “failsafe” protection against “the challenge of natural or man-made disasters”.
But soaring temperatures in the Arctic at the end of the world’s hottest ever recorded year led to melting and heavy rain, when light snow should have been falling. “It was not in our plans to think that the permafrost would not be there and that it would experience extreme weather like that,” said Hege Njaa Aschim, from the Norwegian government, which owns the vault.
The Alabama Center for Rural Enterprise worked with Houston's National School of Tropical Medicine to sample "soil and water...blood and faecal samples" from Alabama's Lowndes County, a poor rural area. Read the rest
When inventor and MacArthur "genius grant" recipient Saul Griffith started reading papers about global warning that were written in 1974 (the same year he was born) he discovered that "all the problems we face today are familiar from 43 years ago. All the proposed solutions are similar. Merely the motivation was a little different." In this episode of For Future Reference, a new podcast from Institute for the Future, David Pescovitz and I talk with Griffith about how we need new mindsets as much as new technologies to alleviate climate change.
In this video, Tucker Carlson keeps saying Bill Nye is not a scientist, but a "popularizer," which Carlson seems to think means global warming is bogus. Best part is near the end when Nye picks up his phone and shows the stopwatch with six seconds on it and says to Carlson, "This is how long it takes you to interrupt me." Read the rest
Not since the Reagan era cold war with Russia has apocalyptic awareness been so forefront in the public’s mind. Disturbing incidents ranging from nuclear football Facebook selfies to alarming North Korean military activity now accrue weekly. Sometimes hourly. What can one do besides scroll through Twitter before bedtime and let the news populate our nightmares?
The distractions and details are addictive: political murders via improv and a spray bottle, daily revelations of Russian infiltration in US elections and government, and today the president is yelling at Sweden. Tomorrow it might be Ireland. Who knows. We watch the global breakup like helpless children realizing that mom and dad are really getting a divorce. Right now, the sitting US president is not even welcome in the British Parliament, but he regularly tweets flattering sentiments to Russia. But there is a larger story that needs telling--and action.
Lost in the noise was the recent breakage of a mile-long stretch of West Antarctica, due to warmer ocean water. It was part of one of the largest glaciers within the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, which scientists predict will collapse in the next 100 years. NASA caught the images of the event earlier in the week, but the story broke just as Scott Pruitt was confirmed as head of the Environmental Protection Agency--making it seem as if the Earth did the planetary version of a spit take at the news. Timing aside, it was a big deal.
In the distraction of every new development, tweet, or outrage, it’s hard to get a bird’s eye view of what the hell is going on in the literal world. Read the rest
A heat-wave hit Oklahoma, sending temperatures into the high 90s. Norman, Oklahoma was 99 degrees F (37 C) on February 11.
Many people may welcome a temperate day in February, but warm weather in normally cold months disrupts ecosystems. Trees may bloom after an unseasonably balmy spell — and then suffer frost damage when cold weather returns. Flowers may blossom and shed their petals before bees arrive to pollinate them. These minor destabilizations have a ripple effect, impacting flora, fauna, and the industries built around them.
In Oklahoma, the spike in temperature is particularly ironic, given the state’s political climate. [Sen. James "Snowball" Inhofe (R-OK)] is Washington’s most vocal climate denier, having published a book alleging that climate change is a hoax while serving as the ranking Republican member of the Senate Environment Committee.
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It's only been a handful of days since Donald Trump took office, but we're already getting strong signals about the sort of administration he intends to run: workers at US government agencies have been banned from making any public disclosures of the research they conduct at public expense until new political minders can be installed to ensure that these facts don't contradict Trump's official narrative; and six journalists have been charged with felonies for covering the protests during the inauguration.
Scientific American summarized five of Donald Trump's "major moves many see as hostile toward science." They are:
• Trump’s pick for head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has actively battled its mission
"To lead the EPA, Trump appointed Scott Pruitt, the Oklahoma attorney general who has long opposed environmental regulations and has questioned the science behind climate change."
• He chose former Texas Gov. Rick Perry for Energy Secretary
"It is a science-heavy department, and one that (climate change skeptic) Perry—who is not a scientist—had advocated dismantling during his 2012 presidential bid."
• He chose an energy company executive for secretary of State
"Trump tapped former ExxonMobil Chief Executive Rex Tillerson for Secretary of State."
• He met with a vaccine critic while planning a commission on autism
"(Robert Kennedy, Jr) has repeatedly promoted discredited arguments that link vaccines to autism."
• His transition team sought information about Energy Department staff associated with climate change
"In December Trump’s team asked the DoE for the names of employees who have worked on issues related to climate change."
In 1972 billy barr (he spells it lowercase) was a Rutgers University environmental science student and did some research in Gothic, Colorado, a ghost town built around a silver mine. The native New Jerseyan returned after graduation and has lived in the town as its sole full-time resident ever since. He has also taken meticulous snowfall and temperature measurements, which have proven valuable to climate scientists.
From Oddity Central:
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“The trend I see is that we’re getting permanent snow pack later, and we get to bare ground sooner,” barr says. “We’ll have years where there was a lot of snow on the ground, and then we lose snow sooner than years that had a lot less snow just because it’s a lot warmer now.”
More than 800 American energy and Earth science researchers have signed a letter to Donald Trump outlining six steps they're urging him to take to address human-caused climate change to protect “America’s economy, national security, and public health and safety.” The letter is accompanied by a public change.org petition to "Tell Trump To #ActOnClimate." Here is that open letter:
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To President-elect Trump
We, the undersigned, urge you to take immediate and sustained action against human-caused climate change. We write as concerned individuals, united in recognizing that the science is unequivocal and America must respond.
Climate change threatens America’s economy, national security, and public health and safety. Some communities are already experiencing its impacts, with low-income and minority groups disproportionately affected.
At this crucial juncture in human history, countries look to the United States to pick up the mantle of leadership: to take steps to strengthen, not weaken, this nation’s efforts to tackle this crisis. With the eyes of the world upon us, and amidst uncertainty and concern about how your administration will address this issue, we ask that you begin by taking the following steps upon taking office:
1. Make America a clean energy leader.The vast majority of Americans - whether Republican, Democrat, or Independent - support renewable energy research and deployment5. Embrace the enormous economic opportunities of transitioning to an energy-efficient, low-carbon society. Use part of your $1 trillion commitment to infrastructure development to expand democratized clean energy, boost U.S. competitiveness, and put America to work8. Since 2008, the cleantech industry has created one out of every 33 jobs in the United States.
It is obviously unfair to dismiss the entire contents of a book for a single tin-eared statement, but the clunker that comes near the end of The Earth and I by Gaia-theory originator James Lovelock is a doozy. The inexplicable passage follows a dozen essays by journalists, a Nobel Prize winner, and several Ivy League professors, who make a pretty good case for both the insignificance of human beings in the universe and their unique ability to end life as we know it here on Planet Earth. In an attempt, then, to give his shell-shocked readers a sliver of hope by celebrating the success of the Montreal Protocol, which banned chlorofluorocarbons in 1989, Lovelock crows about how these ozone-destroying compounds were replaced by hydrofluorocarbons, which, he writes, “are far less harmful to the planetary environment.”
Somewhere between the time Lovelock wrote those words and the publication of his book, hydrofluorocarbons were added to the Montreal Protocol’s list of banned substances – eliminating “less harmful” hydrofluorocarbons is expected to keep our warming planet’s temperature from rising by a full half-degree Celsius.
The inability of even an authority like Lovelock to keep pace with current events points out how quickly both the science and politics of climate change are a changing. In this light, understanding the holistic view of the planet’s processes – from the weather above us to the meaning of the geological history below our feet – has never been more important. The Earth and I delivers on these topics and more, while Jack Hudson’s engaging illustrations lure us in and invite the eye to linger. Read the rest