I had a terrible nightmare: President Mitt Romney approved Shell Oil's drilling plans for the Chukchi Sea off the coast of Alaska. He did it even though his own Department of the Interior calculated that the odds of a large oil spill were 75 percent. He did it even though no proven method exists to respond to such a spill. He did it even though indigenous Alaskan culture has centered on traditional harvests of marine resources for thousands of years. He did it even though all known, extractable Arctic oil and gas reserves must remain undeveloped if the world wants to avoid the worst effects of climate disruption. He did it even though such a spill would affect fish, birds from around the globe and marine mammals such as polar bears, walruses, seals, and bowhead and beluga whales. He did it in spite of Shell's abysmal track record in the Arctic, which could inspire the next Dumb and Dumber sequel.
When I woke up and realized that Romney had lost the election, I was momentarily relieved. But then the nightmare started all over again. Because everything else really did happen—only it was President Barack Obama, the man we worked so hard to put in the White House, whose Interior Department decided it would be OK to spill oil in the Arctic.
How are we supposed to make sense of this?
Is it because Obama is worried about his next election? There isn't one. Is it because he's beholden to the petroleum industry? They never supported him. Is it because he thinks the U.S., as the new chair of the Arctic Council, should lead by some kind of perverse counterexample? Here's what Secretary of State John Kerry said at the council's annual meeting last month: "The Arctic Council can do more on climate change ... we all know the clock is ticking, and we actually don’t have a lot of time to waste." OK, so let's release millions more tons of greenhouse gases and melt the Arctic even faster.
If this is U.S. climate leadership, then I'd hate to see what climate irresponsibility looks like.
Why is it so hard for so many of our leaders to recognize what Martin Luther King, Jr., once called "the fierce urgency of now?" We really don't have time to waste, yet our government keeps promoting drilling, fracking and mining as if the laws of nature could be suspended at our convenience.
As for America's Arctic, President Obama, Secretary Kerry and Interior Secretary Sally Jewell will have long since left office when, as predicted by their own experts, disaster strikes on the dark, stormy waters of the Chukchi. The nearest Coast Guard station is more than 1,000 miles away. As strong currents and winds spread oil to the most sensitive marine areas and coastlines, all anyone will be able to do is watch and wish we had not been so reckless.
But it's still not too late to change the odds. The chances of a major spill are three-in-four, but only if Shell is allowed to go through with its crazy plans. Already, the idea that our government would take such an appalling risk is inspiring outraged citizens to rise up and say "no way!"
Even before the Obama administration's approval of Shell's drilling plans, "kayaktivists" in the Pacific Northwest were planning to protest the oil company's plans to lease a terminal in the Port of Seattle for its drilling fleet. This Saturday they'll stage a "sHell No Flotilla" and an accompanying rally on dry land. There will also be a solar and wind-powered, crowd-funded "People’s Platform" marine barge—with the message "Next Time Try Solar."
According to Seattle mayor Ed Murray, who supports denying Shell a permit to use his city's port, "We need to focus our port, our businesses, on the new economy, on things like clean energy of the future and not on the old economy that is dying out, such as oil." Exactly. But the resistance in Seattle needs to be just the beginning, because we cannot let this stand.
If Shell does end up drilling in the Arctic, much of the responsibility will rest with President Obama and his administration. But if we don't shout it from the rooftops (or our kayaks) that this is a terrible mistake, if we don't make the case that fossil fuels can and must stay in the ground—that tomorrow is today—then some of the blame must rest with us, too.
I'm not too worried about that, though. You can bet the Sierra Club won't give up this fight, nor will the millions of other people who want our leaders to match rhetoric with reality. When our leaders let us down, we have two choices: complain or raise hell. Which will it be? It's our obligation to do both.
If you're within driving distance of Seattle this weekend, come join the rally—by land or by sea. And if you want to take a stand against climate disruption and Arctic exploitation, and believe that clean energy would do a better job, throw in a few dollars for our friends in Seattle working to stop Shell before it starts.
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If weather is your mood, climate is your personality. That's an analogy some scientists use to help explain the difference between two words people often get mixed up.
Size Matters<p>Climates are a bit like woven tapestries. The big picture is important, no question. But so are all the seemingly minor details found inside the larger whole.</p><p><a href="https://research-information.bris.ac.uk/en/persons/tommaso-jucker" target="_blank">Tommaso Jucker</a> is an environmental scientist at the University of Bristol. In an email, Jucker says he'd define the term microclimate as "the suite of climatic conditions (temperature, rainfall, humidity, solar radiation) measured in localized areas, typically near the ground and at spatial scales that are directly relevant to ecological processes."</p><p>We'll talk about that last bit in a minute. But first, there's another criteria to discuss. According to some researchers, a microclimate — by definition — must differ from the larger area that surrounds it.</p><p><a href="https://www.cfc.umt.edu/research/paleoecologylab/publications/Davis_et_al_2019_Ecography.pdf" target="_blank">Forests</a> provide us with some great examples. "The climate near the ground in a tropical rainforest is dramatically different from the climate in the canopy 50 meters [164 feet] above," says University of Montana ecologist <a href="https://www.cfc.umt.edu/personnel/details.php?ID=1110" target="_blank">Solomon Dobrowski</a> in an email. "This vertical gradient among other factors allows for the staggering biodiversity we see in the tropics."</p><p>Likewise, scientists observed that a 2015 partial <a href="https://animals.howstuffworks.com/insects/bees-stopped-buzzing-during-2017-solar-eclipse.htm" target="_blank">solar eclipse</a> caused the air temperature of an Eastern European meadow to <a href="https://rmets.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/wea.2802" target="_blank">change more dramatically</a> than it did in a nearby forest. That's because trees provide not only shade, but their leaves also reflect solar radiation. At the same time, forests tend to reduce wind speeds.</p><p>All those factors add up. A 2019 review of 98 wooded places — spread out across five continents — found that forests are 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius) <a href="https://natureecoevocommunity.nature.com/posts/47363-forests-protect-animals-and-plants-against-warming" target="_blank">cooler on average</a> than the areas outside them.</p><p>Now if you hate the cold, don't worry; there's a cozy exception to the rule. According to that same study, forests are usually 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius) warmer than the external environment during the wintertime. Pretty cool.</p>
A Bug's Life<p>When does a microclimate stop being, well, micro? In other words, is there a maximum size we should be aware of when discussing them?</p><p>Depends on who you ask. "In terms of horizontal scale, some have defined 'microclimate' as anything that is less than 100 meters [328 feet] in range," Jucker says. "I'm personally less prescriptive about this."</p><p>Instead, he says the "scale at which we want to measure [a particular] microclimate" ought to be "dictated" by the questions we're trying to answer.</p><p>"If I want to know how temperature affects the photosynthesis of a leaf, I should be measuring temperature at centimeter scale," Jucker explains. "If I want to know if and how temperature affects the habitat preference of a large, mobile mammal, it's probably more relevant to capture temperature variation across [tens to hundreds] of meters."</p><p>For instance, solitary plants have the power to generate itty-bitty microclimates. Just ask <a href="https://www.colorado.edu/geography/peter-blanken-0" target="_blank">Peter Blanken</a>, a geography professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder and the co-author of the 2016 book, "<a href="https://amzn.to/2XN6FT8" target="_blank">Microclimate and Local Climate</a>."</p>
The urban heat island effect is a good example of how microclimates work. NOAA
Microclimates on a Grand Scale<p>It's no secret that our planet is going through some rough times at the macro level. The global temperature is <a href="https://climate.nasa.gov/vital-signs/global-temperature/" target="_blank">climbing</a>; nine out of the <a href="https://www.noaa.gov/news/2019-was-2nd-hottest-year-on-record-for-earth-say-noaa-nasa" target="_blank">10 hottest years on record</a> have occurred since 2005. And by one recent estimate, roughly 1 million species around the world are <a href="https://ipbes.net/sites/default/files/2020-02/ipbes_global_assessment_report_summary_for_policymakers_en.pdf" target="_blank">facing extinction</a> due to human activities.</p><p>"One of the big questions that ecologists and environmental scientists are trying to answer right now is how will individual species and whole ecosystems respond to rapid climate change and habitat loss," says Jucker. "...To me, [microclimates are] a key component of this research — if we don't measure and understand climate at the appropriate scale, then predicting how things will change in the future becomes a lot harder."</p><p>Developers have long understood the impact small-scale climates have on our daily lives. <a href="https://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/green-science/urban-heat-island.htm#pt0" target="_blank">Urban heat islands</a> are cities that have higher temperatures than neighboring rural areas.</p><p>Plants release vapors that can moderate local climates. But in cities, natural greenery is often scarce. To make matters worse, plenty of our roads and buildings have a bad habit of absorbing or re-emitting heat from the sun. <a href="https://www.google.com/books/edition/Microclimate_and_Local_Climate/LHUZDAAAQBAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1&bsq=urban%20heat%20island" target="_blank">Vehicle emissions</a> don't exactly help the situation.</p><p>Still, it's not like Boston or Beijing are thermal monoliths. Sometimes, the documented temperatures <a href="https://e360.yale.edu/features/can-we-turn-down-the-temperature-on-urban-heat-islands" target="_blank">within a single city</a> vary by 15 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit (8.3 to 11.1 degrees Celsius).</p><p>That's where metro parks and city trees come in. They have nice cooling effects on nearby neighborhoods. "Several cities around the world have developed programs to increase urban green spaces," says Blanken. "Tree planting programs and green roof programs, have been shown to lower surface temperatures, decrease air pollution and decrease surface water runoff (urban flash-flooding) in urban areas."</p>
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By Jeff Berardelli
Note: This story was originally published on August 6, 2020
If asked to recall a hurricane, odds are you'd immediately invoke memorable names like Sandy, Katrina or Harvey. You'd probably even remember something specific about the impact of the storm. But if asked to recall a heat wave, a vague recollection that it was hot during your last summer vacation may be about as specific as you can get.
<div id="ecf36" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c2dcc9d48a6cd61f247df1544539a783"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1290959314132361216" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Naming heatwaves is a good idea—making the abstract concrete, the invisible visible. Why should hurricanes and wild… https://t.co/hDWgYb79Ob</div> — Ed Maibach (@Ed Maibach)<a href="https://twitter.com/MaibachEd/statuses/1290959314132361216">1596623660.0</a></blockquote></div>
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Bricks are a preferred building tool for their durability and resilience against heat and frost since they do not shrink, expand or warp in a way that compromises infrastructure. They are also reusable. What was unknown, until now, is that they can be altered to store electrical energy, according to a new study published in Nature Communications.
The scientists behind the study figured out a way to modify bricks in order to use their iconic red hue, which comes from hematite, an iron oxide, to store enough electricity to power devices, Gizmodo reported. To do that, the researchers filled bricks' pores with a nanofiber made from a conducting plastic that can store an electrical charge.
The first bricks they modified stored enough of a charge to power a small light. They can be charged in just 13 minutes and hold 10,000 charges, but the challenge is getting them to hold a much larger charge, making the technology a distant proposition.
If the capacity can be increased, researchers believe bricks can be used as a cheap alternative to lithium ion batteries — the same batteries used in laptops, phones and tablets.
The first power bricks are only one percent of a lithium-ion battery, but storage capacity can be increased tenfold by adding materials like metal oxides, Julio D'Arcy, a researcher at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, who contributed to the paper and was part of the research team, told The Guardian. But only when the storage capacity is scaled up would bricks become commercially viable.
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