As the curtain comes down on President Barack Obama's eight years in the White House, most Americans seemed convinced of one of two things: We're either about to Make America Great Again®, or we're about to hurtle into an uncertain epoch that I like to call the Idiocene.
But before we turn the page on this administration let's take a look back at the tall tales, regrettable pronouncements, farces and scams on climate and the environment during the Obama years. Anti-regulatory zealots led the pack, but President Obama contributed a few of his own—starting on his first full day in office:
After promising transparency, President Obama's Administration was called "one of the most secretive."
1. January 2009: The most transparent administration? Not quite.
A day after his inauguration, President Obama signed a memorandum promising: "the most transparent administration in history."
By May 2016, a different verdict came in. Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan called it "one of the most secretive." In August 2015, 52 journalism organizations, including the Society of Environmental Journalists, sent an appeal to the White House, asking for an end to restrictions on government employees' contact with reporters.
2. October 2009: Global warming stops (except it totally doesn't)
Scientists begin asking questions about why the pace of rising temperatures seems to be defying projections and slowing. Despite the emergence of serious, credible reasons for this – notably that the oceans are working overtime to absorb excess heat – climate deniers have a field day with cherry-picked data.
Even as daily, monthly, and annual warmth records continue to be broken, there's been "no global warming at all" for nearly two decades in Deniertown.
In a November 2009 press release, the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce declares the "War On Coal" is underway.
3. November 2009: War is declared, a slogan is born
In a press release, the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce declares the "War On Coal" is underway.
4. November 2009: Russian hack (no, the other one)
Hackers, believed to be Russian-based, steal thousands of emails from the University of East Anglia's Climate Research Unit. Climate deniers spin a few poorly worded correspondences between scientists into a vast conspiracy to fake climate research.
The faux scandal upends coverage of the Copenhagen climate summit, the scientists are cleared of any wrongdoing by multiple investigations, and the hackers are never caught. But their work foreshadows the 2016 election hack.
5. January 2010: Moderate Republicans join Endangered Species List
The Citizens United decision breaches the dam on corporate cash. The high court votes 5-4 to fundamentally reshape the already-cockeyed way election campaigns are financed, offering cover to corporations and super-PACs to target undesirable candidates for defeat.
"Moderate" Republicans are virtually driven into extinction, and the few who acknowledge climate change have a change of heart.
6. March 2010: Fake fishing news sends real readers reeling
An ESPN.com outdoors columnist launches a viral hoax, suggesting that Obama is planning to outlaw all recreational fishing. Within days, chronic Obama critics—from Fox News and the Daily Caller to columnist Michelle Malkin, RedState.com and GatewayPundit.com—dutifully spread the word about "Obama's latest assault on freedom." Except not a word of it is remotely true.
7. April 2010: Obama's oil comment gaffe
18 days before the Deepwater Horizon disaster, Obama says "Oil rigs today don't generally cause spills."
8. May 2010: Limbaugh gets to the bottom of Deepwater Horizon
Rush Limbaugh says "environmental wackos" staged Deepwater Horizon as a fundraising scheme.
9. May 2010: Anti-vax doctor defrocked
The UK's General Medical Council strips Dr. Andrew Wakefield of his license to practice. He authored the 1998 paper linking vaccines to autism. The paper was later retracted by The Lancet and declared "utterly false."
10. February 2011: The Maine governor doesn't understand BPA
Maine Gov. Paul LePage, possibly the only politician too dumb for the Trump Administration, declares that BPA's worst-case scenario would be women with beards.
11. September 2011: Solyndra slips, solar scandal soars
Solyndra fails. The solar company stranded investors and bailed on a half-billion dollar Energy Department loan amid evidence that Obama Administration cronies stood to benefit. But solar energy critics vault a relatively minor scandal into a renewables Benghazi – overlooking the generally successful record of DOE's startup loans as well as the much larger handouts given to fossil fuel companies.
12. September 2011: The Donald picks a wind fight. Fore!
Donald Trump sends the first of 16 angry, obsessive letters or emails to Scotland's First Minister about the proposed windfarm near his golf resort. Sad!!
13 and 14. May 2012: Heartless Heartland campaign
An electronic billboard on a Chicago freeway heralds the start of a campaign by the Heartland Institute to brand climate-change advocates as cold-blooded serial killers. The first features the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski. It draws such a backlash that the billboards featuring climate advocates Adolf Hitler and Osama bin Laden (really) never get a full airing. Heartland is further tarnished by revelations that it solicited fossil fuel money to pursue its climate denial agenda.
Lamar Smith becomes Chair of House Science Committee, and eventually the Torquemada-in-Chief of government climate scientists. Rep. Smith's committee room becomes an inquisition chamber for government climate scientists and their agency bosses.
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Transitioning to renewable energy can help reduce global warming, and Jennie Stephens of Northeastern University says it can also drive social change.
For example, she says that locally owned businesses can lead the local clean energy economy and create new jobs in underserved communities.
"We really need to think about … connecting climate and energy with other issues that people wake up every day really worried about," she says, "whether it be jobs, housing, transportation, health and well-being."
To maximize that potential, she says the energy sector must have more women and people of color in positions of influence. Research shows that leadership in the solar industry, for example, is currently dominated by white men.
"I think that a more inclusive, diverse leadership is essential to be able to effectively make these connections," Stephens says. "Diversity is not just about who people are and their identity, but the ideas and the priorities and the approaches and the lens that they bring to the world."
So she says by elevating diverse voices, organizations can better connect the climate benefits of clean energy with social and economic transformation.
Reposted with permission from Yale Climate Connections.
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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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Thailand has a total population of 5,000 elephants. But of that number, 3,000 live in captivity, carrying tourists on their backs and offering photo opportunities made for social media.
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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.
"A solar cell on the roof of your house has to store electricity somewhere and typically we use batteries," D'Arcy told The Guardian. "What we have done is provide a new 'food-for-thought' option, but we're not there yet.
"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."