Tag Archives: science

The Great Backyard Bird Count is losing feathers due to climate change.

In December, when Musk got stuck in traffic, instead of leaning on the horn or flipping off the other drivers, he decided to build a new transportation system. An hour later, Max Chafkin writes in Bloomberg Businessweek, “the project had a name and a marketing platform. ‘It shall be called The Boring Company,’” Musk wrote.

Musk told employees to grab some heavy machinery and they began digging a hole in the SpaceX parking lot. He bought one of those machines that bores out tunnels and lays down concrete walls as it goes. It’s named Nannie.

Musk is the grown-up version of the kid who decides to dig to China: He doesn’t pause to plan or ask what’s possible, he just grabs a stick and starts shoveling. Maybe that’s the approach we need. As Chafkin points out, “Tunnel technology is older than rockets, and boring speeds are pretty much what they were 50 years ago.” And Bent Flyvbjerg, an academic who studies why big projects cost so much, says that the tunneling industry is ripe for someone with new ideas to shake things up.

Musk is a technical genius. But the things that make tunnels expensive tend to be political — they have to do with endless hearings before local government councils and concessions to satisfy concerned neighbors and politicians. For that stultifying process, at least, Musk’s new company is aptly named. If Musk figures out how disrupt local land-use politics, it would mean he’s smarter than anyone thinks.

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The Great Backyard Bird Count is losing feathers due to climate change.

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The dam truth: Climate change means more Lake Orovilles

Just two years ago, Lake Oroville was so dry that submerged archaeological artifacts were starting to resurface. That was in the middle of California’s epic drought — the worst in more than a millennium.

And then the rains came. This winter is on track to become Northern California’s soggiest on record. A key precipitation index is running more than a month ahead of the previous record pace, set in the winter of 1982–1983 (records go back to 1895). Lake Oroville is so full that it spilled over for the first time, spurring evacuations downstream.

California’s climate has always been extreme (even before humans got seriously involved), but what’s happening right now is just ridiculous. We are witnessing the effects of climate change play out, in real time.

California Department of Water Resources

Lake Oroville is as full as it has ever been, and remains vulnerable: We’re still in the peak of the rainy season, and more rain is on the way. On Tuesday and Wednesday, crews at the beleaguered dam worked around the clock to stabilize and reinforce the emergency spillway in anticipation of a fresh torrent of rainfall. But the scale of action — truck after truck of giant boulders dumping 1,200 tons of rock per hour — was small in comparison to the immense scale of erosion that has already taken place. There’s a real risk that the lake could spill over the top a second time.

And it’s not just Oroville. Major reservoirs ring the Central Valley, and nearly every one is full, or nearly so, as the Sacramento Bee reported earlier this week. Several levees statewide are seeping, and workers intentionally breached one along the Mokelumne River in Northern California over the weekend to relieve pressure. The levee system was simply not designed to be this stressed for extended periods of time.

Five successive waves of storms in the coming week could bring another foot of rainfall. The graphic below shows the amount of rain (and liquid-equivalent snow) on the way over the next seven days — enough to prompt renewed warnings from the National Weather Service.

NOAA/GFS model/Tropicaltidbits.com

Climate science and basic physics suggest we are already seeing a shift in the delicate rainfall patterns of the West Coast. A key to understanding how California’s rainy season is changing lies in understanding what meteorologists call “atmospheric rivers,” thin, intense ribbons of moisture that stream northeastward from the tropical Pacific Ocean and provide California with up to half of its annual rainfall. Exactly how atmospheric rivers will change depends on greenhouse gas emissions and science that’s still being worked out.

Atmospheric rivers are already responsible for roughly 80 percent of California’s flooding events — including the one at Lake Oroville — and there’s reason to believe they are changing in character. Since warmer air can hold more water vapor, atmospheric rivers in a warming climate are expected to become more intense, bringing perhaps a doubling or tripling in frequency of heavy downpours. What’s more, as temperatures increase, more moisture will fall as rain instead of snow, increasing the pressure on dams and waterways during the peak of the rainy season. There’s even new evidence that especially warm atmospheric rivers can erode away existing snowpack.

Peter Gleick, chief scientist of the Pacific Institute and frequent visitor to the Oroville area, is clear about what the drama at Oroville represents. “We’re seeing evidence of more extremes,” he says. “To ignore that would be a mistake.”

We’ve built dams based on old weather patterns, not for the extremes we’re now seeing. A clear problem emerges when we manage society for how things were, not how things are. In many ways, we are planning for the future with the expectation that the weather will be more or less the same as in the past. It won’t be.

The acting director of the California Department of Water Resources, Bill Croyle, made a telling statement earlier this week when asked why the infrastructure at Oroville seemed so fragile. “I’m not sure anything went wrong,” Croyle said. “This was a new, never-happened-before event.”

If we don’t start imagining and preparing for more “new, never-happened-before events,” more people will be put in danger — like they are right now in Oroville.

The near-disaster at Oroville has prompted another broad discussion about our country’s decrepit infrastructure, which arrives in the context of the Trump Administration’s plans to boost infrastructure spending.

But this is about more than just spending money to fix up our aging dams. The entirety of our country’s infrastructure needs to be reevaluated with the understanding that we have a unique opportunity to reimagine our shared future. If things are rapidly changing anyway, we might as well build a future consistent with our new weather reality.

At a place like Lake Oroville, that might mean leaving more space in the reservoir for flooding than has been done in the past. That wouldn’t be popular, because it would reduce the reservoir’s capacity, even as rising temperatures spur demand for more water. It may also mean increased resources for counseling services in coastal and riverine communities, as flooding events become more frequent and families consider whether to relocate. The state is already on a good start: Earlier this week, the California Department of Water Resources released a draft resolution for a comprehensive response to climate change, including dam operation.

After the current storms pass, California will still have two months left in its rainy season. It seems likely that 2016–2017 will become the wettest rainy season in state history. That means the danger at Lake Oroville won’t completely pass until this summer.

“They’re going to have to run the main spillway all spring in order to prevent additional flooding,” Gleick said. “I think people are going to be a little nervous for the next few months.”

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The dam truth: Climate change means more Lake Orovilles

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Will Bill Nye’s Netflix show actually save the world? I mean, we’ll take anything right now.

The industry is growing so fast it could become the largest source of renewable energy on both sides of the Atlantic.

In America, wind power won the top spot for installed generating capacity (putting it ahead of hydroelectric power), according to a new industry report. And in the E.U., wind capacity grew by 8 percent last year, surpassing coal. That puts wind second only to natural gas across the pond.

In the next three years, wind could account for 10 percent of American electricity, Tom Kiernan, CEO of the American Wind Energy Association, said in a press release. The industry already employs over 100,000 Americans.

In Europe, wind has hit the 10.4 percent mark, and employs more than 300,000 people, according to an association for wind energy in Europe. Germany, France, the Netherlands, Finland, Ireland, and Lithuania lead the way for European wind growth. In the U.S., Texas is the windy frontier.

“Low-cost, homegrown wind energy,” Kiernan added in the release, “is something we can all agree on.”

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Will Bill Nye’s Netflix show actually save the world? I mean, we’ll take anything right now.

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The Resistance to Trump is real, and it’s been busy

Last week, Greenpeace activists strung a “Resist” banner from a construction crane towering over the White House. The message was clear: Anyone who cares about climate change, clean water, or human rights needs to do something to show that to the current administration. In the two weeks since the inauguration, countless people have been doing exactly that and jumping on board with what’s being called “The Resistance.”

As a companion piece to our rage-inducing Trump Tracker, here’s a look at how that movement has been fighting back.

Forget everything you know about scientists being meek, passive types. This week, the organizers of the March for Science — a demonstration to show Trump and his pals exactly how foolish their efforts to muzzle scientific research are — put a date on the event: April 22 (yep, Earth Day) in Washington, D.C.

And in protest of Trump’s immigration ban, thousands of scientists have announced a boycott of academic journals and conferences across the country, noting the hypocrisy of “the intellectual integrity of these spaces and the dialogues they are designed to encourage while Muslim colleagues are explicitly excluded from them.”

On the topic of that immigration ban, you likely saw thousands of Americans turn out at airports around the country to protest the detention of travelers, immigrants, and refugees from seven Islamic countries. And it wasn’t just in cities like New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago. Even in the Appalachian heartland, protesters showed up to denounce Trump’s order:

And on Thursday, over 1,000 Yemeni bodega owners across New York City shut down their businesses to protest the ban.

On Wednesday, the Natural Resources Defense Council filed its first lawsuit against the Trump administration. The grounds? That the White House demanded the EPA withdraw a rule protecting waterways from mercury contamination — a rule, by the way, that pretty much no one opposes.

It turns out that you actually can influence corporations by denying them your cash. Last weekend, a #DeleteUber campaign took off: While New York cab drivers were striking at JFK airport to protest Trump’s travel ban, Uber decided to ditch surge pricing. Suspicious timing? Yep — customers quickly saw this seemingly benevolent gesture as an attempt to capitalize on the taxi drivers’ strike.

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick’s role as a Trump advisor only compounded the customer rage, leading to a mass deletion that had, as VICE reported, “a ‘significant impact’ on the company’s U.S. business.” On Thursday, Kalanick announced his resignation from Trump’s business advisory council.

On Wednesday, the Seattle City Council unanimously voted to pull $3 billion of the city’s cash from Wells Fargo, on the basis of the bank’s role as a significant funder of the Dakota Access Pipeline. It’s the first major city do so. Meanwhile, in North Dakota, the Standing Rock Sioux announced a Native Nations March on Washington for March 10. (More on the tensions surrounding the march and protest camps here.)

Hassling your government representatives also works. Really! Last month, Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz introduced a bill that would put would put 3.3 million acres of public lands up for sale. His constituents — particularly of the conservationist and hunter variety — got so loudly pissed off that he actually withdrew the bill on Thursday. You can’t say that angry people with guns aren’t convincing.

Want to resist? See our starter kit to being a better activist and look for more empowerment advice to come.

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The Resistance to Trump is real, and it’s been busy

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Mark your calendars! The March for Science is happening in D.C. on April 22.

The People’s Climate March will descend on D.C. with an intersectional coalition of green and environmental-justice groups, indigenous and civil-rights organizations, students and labor unions. The march will take place on Saturday, April 29, exactly 100 days into Trump’s presidency.

In January, the Women’s March gathered half a million demonstrators in D.C. alone. There have also been talks of an upcoming Science March, which has no set date but almost 300,000 followers on Twitter.

April’s climate march is being organized by a coalition that emerged from the People’s Climate March of 2014, a rally that brought 400,000 people to New York City before the United Nations convened there for a summit on climate change. It was the largest climate march in history — a record that may soon be broken.

“Communities across the country have been working for environmental and social justice for centuries. Now it’s time for our struggles to unite and work together across borders to fight racism, sexism, xenophobia, and environmental destruction,” Chloe Jackson, an activist with Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment, said in a statement. “We have a lot of work to do, and we are stronger together.”


Mark your calendars! The March for Science is happening in D.C. on April 22.

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