This Mayor Puts the 'Conserve' Back in Conservative
By Jeff Turrentine
I met Jim Brainard recently on a sunny summer afternoon in Bryant Park, a grassy oasis roughly the size of one square block nestled among the skyscrapers of midtown Manhattan. The stately New York Public Library — one of the city's most famous cultural institutions — defines the park's perimeter on one side, and roughly outlining the other three are more than a dozen smaller-scale treasures, including an old-fashioned carousel, several food kiosks, an outdoor cocktail bar, a petanque court, ping-pong tables, and even an extra-miniature miniature golf course.
In the center of the park, someone was setting up hundreds of seats in preparation for a massive game of musical chairs to be played later that evening. The park was filled; though there was no shortage of tables, we had a hard time finding an open one. That afternoon Bryant Park felt like an example of urban utopianism realized, with people of all ages, races and backgrounds coming together to enjoy a clean, attractive, well-appointed public space that seemed to offer something for everybody.
As the mayor of Carmel, Indiana (population 93,000), a suburb of Indianapolis, Brainard oversees the day-to-day operations of a medium-size municipality that few would ever liken to New York City (population 8,600,000). But amid the happy buzz of urban park-goers relaxing, communing, eating, drinking, playing and otherwise enjoying themselves, he was right at home. Since 1996, when Brainard took office, he has shaped the transformation of Carmel from a comfortable if somewhat nondescript bedroom community to a city that makes magazine covers as one of America's best places to live and/or work. And the six-term (soon to be seven-term) Republican has done it in large part by taking some of the best things cities have to offer — density, walkability, mixed-use development and well-designed park space— and grafting them onto the traditional suburban model, creating a unique hybrid.
The Central Park bike trail in Woodland Gardens Park.
All images courtesy of the City of Carmel
But Jim Brainard isn't just a mayor. He's also an ambassador. As a self-identified conservative Republican who not only believes in climate science but has made it his personal mission to incorporate sustainable urban planning and climate resilience into his vision for Carmel, Brainard has become a symbol of what post-partisan climate leadership can and should look like. He has long worked to implement sustainable solutions and green infrastructure, from installing millions of dollars' worth of photovoltaic panels to switching over to LED streetlights to — most famously — replacing all but a dozen or so of Carmel's traffic lights with roundabouts, which are not only safer for motorists and pedestrians but also more fuel-efficient. Six years ago, Brainard was one of only four Republicans appointed by President Obama to a State, Local, and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience. More recently he appeared before a subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives, urging lawmakers to renew funding for the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant (EECBG) Program, which helps local governments launch and maintain projects that reduce pollution and carbon emissions.
All of these activities, he insists, are intrinsically conservative. "The root of the word conservative is conserve," he says. "Conservatives think of themselves as not being reckless, but it would be reckless to ignore what the majority of the world's scientists are telling us about climate change. We see the impacts in our weather every day." A follow-up question elicits a who's who of Republican contributions to the modern-day environmental movement: Teddy Roosevelt's commitment to creating and preserving public lands; the enduring legacy of William Ruckelshaus, the first director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; the championing and signing of the ozone layer–protecting Montreal Protocol by Ronald Reagan; the creation of the National Climate Assessment by George H. W. Bush.
So "there's a tradition" of conservative support for environmental issues, Brainard says; it's just that in today's polarized partisan climate, this tradition has been heedlessly sacrificed on the altar of short-term political expediency. He finds it hard to understand. "Just from a pure political standpoint, it's not smart. It may appeal to a small percentage of the base, but it certainly doesn't appeal to the battleground middle that everyone's fighting over. And from the standpoint of just doing the right thing, it makes no sense either. Thoughtful, well-intentioned people who care about our country should be listening to what the scientific community is saying."
Brainard notes that mayors "don't have the leisure to sit around and argue about philosophy, or about whether the scientists are right or wrong. Our entire job is to get things done." He paraphrases a famous quote attributed to Fiorello LaGuardia, Republican mayor of New York City from 1934 to 1945: "'There's no Democratic or Republican way to fill a chuckhole or plow snow.' And there really isn't. It's about performing the day-to-day tasks at the local level. People are concerned; we have to react to those concerns and try to fix things."
And people, including the largely conservative and Republican residents of Carmel, are definitely concerned about many of the geophysical changes they're witnessing around them. "We're seeing more storms, and more intense storms," Brainard says. "Storm-surge systems that were designed for maybe four or five inches a day have now become totally inadequate." He says flooding that "before might have been considered a 100-year event is now a yearly event." Cities that haven't built climate resilience into their operations are at grave risk — and not just at some future time, but right now.
The former Monon Railroad tracks were converted into a recreational greenway running through Carmel as part of a rails-to-trails project.
Brainard tells me of a freak set of thunderstorms that raged through Carmel in May, sparking half a dozen fires and causing power outages for three and a half days. Thanks to previously installed propane-powered generators, the city was able to pump water into towers and maintain pressure in its water lines. For the mayor and many others, the storms and their minimized impact were yet more proof that a decision to invest more than $3 million in a solar-powered battery system was the right one for Carmel. "Temporary generators work short term, but what if we lost access to power for a longer period of time?" Brainard wrote in a locally published op-ed shortly after the storms passed. "Consider how much we rely on power to operate the lift stations that pump our water, power the operations at our sanitary facilities, pump our fuel, cool our homes and operate sophisticated medical equipment for our sick and elderly." Thanks to the city's investment in solar power, he wrote, "[in] the event of a sustained shortage of fuel — due to storm damage or other factors — our first responders will have options to use stored energy to continue to serve residents in need."
It shouldn't take a disaster or near-disaster, Brainard says, to convince lawmakers and other elected officials to take climate action — both proactively, through emissions reduction and sustainable operations, and reactively, through resiliency measures. He bemoans the politicization of climate change at the national level. But he's hopeful that mayors, whatever their party affiliation, can step in as the leaders America needs right now. He points out that there are more than 1,200 mayors of cities with populations over 30,000 in the U.S., "and all but about 10 of them signed the climate protection agreement that the U.S. Conference of Mayors proposed a number of years ago." Roughly a third of those mayors, he notes, are Republicans.
"At the local level, most elected officials just see it as a nonpartisan issue that needs to be tackled," he says. "And that's encouraging."
Reposted with permission from our media associate onEarth.
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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>
An "explosive" wildfire ignited in Los Angeles county Wednesday, growing to 10,000 acres in a little less than three hours.
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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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One of the challenges of renewable power is how to store clean energy from the sun, wind and geothermal sources. Now, a new study and advances in nanotechnology have found a method that may relieve the burden on supercapacitor storage. This method turns bricks into batteries, meaning that buildings themselves may one day be used to store and generate power, Science Times reported.
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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"If [that can happen], this technology is way cheaper than lithium ion batteries," D'Arcy added. "It would be a different world and you would not hear the words 'lithium ion battery' again."
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By Jessica Corbett
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<div id="79024" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="4ac086eab58b9713f2ad777c40938252"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1293578984148606977" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">This actively puts peoples' lives at risk. https://t.co/GKF0Xgjyex</div> — CAP Action (@CAP Action)<a href="https://twitter.com/CAPAction/statuses/1293578984148606977">1597248238.0</a></blockquote></div>
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