Air Force ignored memos about rising seas – including those from island where they’re building

Click to enlargeRob Griffith/AP

❝ The U.S. Air Force is spending nearly $1 billion to build a radar installation that will help keep astronauts and satellites safe by tracking pieces of space junk as small as a baseball. That is, if global warming doesn’t get in the way.

❝ The Space Fence is being constructed on a tiny atoll in the Marshall Islands that scientists say could be regularly swamped by rising seas within a couple of decades as a result of climate change. The salt water could play havoc with the equipment…

The Associated Press found that neither the military nor its contractor, Lockheed Martin, gave serious consideration to that threat when designing the installation and choosing a site, despite warnings from the island nation’s environmental agency.

“The future “does not look good for a lot of these islands,” said Curt Storlazzi, an oceanographer with the U.S. Geological Survey who is leading a study at Kwajalein Atoll, where the Space Fence complex is being built.

Dana Whalley, a civilian who is managing the Space Fence program, said that the radar installation has a projected lifespan of 25 years and that he doesn’t expect sea levels to rise enough over that period to cause a problem. But if necessary, he said, the base could take steps to improve its seawalls.

Still, because of budget pressures, military equipment is often used well beyond its projected lifespan. In fact, a key part of the radar tracking system that the Space Fence replaces was built during the dawn of the space age and was badly outdated by the time it was shut down 50 years later in 2013…

❝ The military chose the Marshall Islands because the Space Fence works best near the equator. But it means the installation is being built just 10 feet above sea level…

RTFA for details and some truly disingenuous excuses from assorted bureaucrats.

Feral cats deployed in war on rats

Click to enlargeRuth Fremson/NY Times

❝ Multitudes of feral cats roam New York City’s concrete jungle, and some now have a practical purpose: They’re helping curb the city’s rat population.

❝ A group of volunteers trained by the NYC Feral Cat Initiative traps wild cat colonies that have become a nuisance or been threatened by construction, then spays or neuters and vaccinates them. The goal is to return them to their home territory, but some end up in areas rife with rats.

Feline rat patrols keep watch over city delis and bodegas, car dealerships and the grounds of a Greenwich Village church. Four cats roam the loading dock at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, where food deliveries and garbage have drawn rodents for years…

❝ About 6,000 volunteers have completed workshops where they’ve learned proper ways to trap cats.

The program is run through the privately funded Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals, a coalition of more than 150 animal rescue groups and shelters. It estimates as many as half a million feral and stray cats roam New York’s five boroughs…

❝ The cat population is controlled through spaying and neutering, provided free of charge by the Humane Society of New York and the ASPCA. In most cases, adoption is out of the question for feral cats because they are just too wild to be domesticated.

Thanks to the volunteers, says Marshall, “we’re protecting wildlife in the city, and the cats get a second chance at life.”

Interesting anecdotes in the article – and a common sense approach to feral urban animals. Spayed, neutered, and most important, vaccinated, they stand a chance for a complete lifespan.

Scientists work from above to learn how Greenland is melting from below

Click to enlargeNASA

❝ If the climate keeps warming the way it has, Greenland may finally live up to its name…The island’s glacier-crusted surface is melting, and a lot of this is from balmier atmospheric temperatures. But as the saying goes, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The oceans are becoming more tepid as well, and that warmer water is causing the glaciers to thaw from below.

❝ Scientists have good measurements of how much ice melts due to warmer air. And now, thanks in part to torpedo-like probes, they are getting better data on the ice being lapped away by sea water. Those submarines are part of NASA’s Oceans Melting Greenland campaign — OMG, for short. And that’s a fairly accurate acronym, because…those glaciers are melting fast…

❝ Greenland’s glacier-gouged coastline provides the deep, warm water a path to the inland ice. Ancient ice sheets carved subsurface fjords and canyons, many of which reach down to the same level as the Atlantic-Arctic currents at the continental shelf. Problem is, “the seafloor around Greenland’s coast isn’t very well known,” says Josh Willis, a climate scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the project lead for OMG. “The location and depths of these underwater fjords and canyons have just been poorly mapped out…”

Willis and his crew have spent the past five weeks flying over Greenland’s coastline, dropping torpedo-shaped probes into the underwater fjords. These units are called…AXCTDS, or Airborne Expendable Conductivity, Temperature and Depth Sensors…

❝ Mission OMG…spans five years and will look for ocean-caused changes to Greenland’s ice sheet. This spring, the team measured glacier height with aircraft radar, comparing past and future data to ascertain which glaciers are vanishing the fastest. The subsurface torpedo work took place this fall, when Arctic sea ice was at its minimum. It was the first time underwater probes had collected data on Greenland’s continental shelf depth, salinity and temperature.

Ultimately, the group wants to know how much of Greenland’s melting is because of air temperature, and how much is caused by water. Koppes, who has worked with the OMG team, believes air temperature and ocean water will play a 50/50 role in glacial melting.

❝ OMG will need time to analyze the data and confirm, but so far they’ve encountered some surprises. “The amount of warm water was bigger than expected, and we saw it in more places than expected,” continues Willis. “Almost everywhere along the shelf where the water was deep enough, we found Atlantic water interacting with the glaciers.”…

And the stakes are high. The deep current warming turns Greenland’s 27,000 miles of coastline — a distance greater than the Earth’s circumference at the equator — into a melt factory. The island’s interior is three times the size of Texas, and holds enough frozen water to raise global sea levels by 20 feet. More than enough to drown the Maldives, Venice, and New Orleans.

RTFA for detail about how research is proceeding, understanding all the processes contributing to the increased melt.

The West Is burning — How much blame goes to climate change?

Click to enlargeJohn McColgan, USDA

❝ So far this year, wildfires have scorched nearly 5 million acres in the U.S. That sounds like a lot, but compared to 2015, the season has been downright tame. Last year at this time, more than 9 million acres had already burned, and by the end of the year, that number would rise to more than 10 million — the most on record. In 2015, the Okanogan grew into the largest fire Washington had ever seen, breaking a record set just the year before. California recorded some of its most damaging fires, including the Valley Fire, which torched around 1,300 homes. More than 5 million acres burned in Alaska alone. But that’s not to say that this year has been without drama. For instance, California’s Soberanes Fire, which was sparked by an illegal campfire in July, is still smoldering. The effort it took to contain that blaze is believed to be one of the most expensive — if not the most expensive — wildfire-fighting operations ever.

❝ With wildfire, such superlatives have, paradoxically, become normal. Records are routinely smashed — for acreage burned, homes destroyed, firefighter lives lost and money spent fighting back flames. A study published earlier this year found that, between 2003 and 2012, the average area burned each year in Western national forests was 1,271 percent greater than it was in the 1970s and early 1980s.

Like the extreme hurricanes, heat waves and floods that have whipped, baked and soaked our landscape in recent years, such trends raise the question: Is this what climate change looks like?

❝ John Abatzoglou and his co-author, Park Williams, a bioclimatologist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, estimate that human-caused climate change was responsible for nearly doubling the area burned in the West between 1984 and 2015. If the last few decades had been simply dry, instead of some of the hottest and driest on record, perhaps 10.4 million fewer acres would have burned, they say.

❝ Wildfire is particularly responsive to temperature increases because heat dries things out. It sucks moisture from twigs and needles in the forest the same way it does from clothes in a dryer, turning this vegetation into the kindling, or “fine fuel,” that gets wildfires going…

To shore up confidence in their estimates, they repeated the analyses in their study using eight different fuel-aridity metrics and then averaged the results. “One thing that gives me confidence is that all eight of these essentially lead to the same conclusion,” Williams said. “All eight have been increasing. All correlate well with fire.”

❝ In the end, they found that more than half of the observed increase in the dryness of fuels could be attributed to climate change. Fuel aridity, in turn, correlated very closely with fire activity for the time period they looked at — it explained about 75 percent of the variability in acreage burned from year to year. “That means that it is a top dog,” Williams said. “Correlation is not causation, but the correlation is so strong that it’s very hard to get a relationship like this if it’s not real.”

Williams added that as aridity increased, wildfire activity increased exponentially. “This isn’t a gradual process. Every few years we’re kind of entering a new epoch, where the potential for new fires is quite a bit bigger than it was a few years back.”

RTFA for more detail. Once again, science and maths point the finger at responsibility. Not only for cause; but, for the refusal to offer any constructive solutions. Congressional conservatives are so set in their commitment to stopping any change brought by our nation’s first Black president they’re willing to burn in a hell of their own creation.

Yes, of course, they won’t. Neither will the contributors to their demented campaign. The voters who keep them in office? That may be a different story.

Plunging battery costs will bring the greatest change in automotive history

❝ Plunging battery costs will drive the auto industry’s biggest change in more than a century, enabling a boom by 2030 in technologies from self-driving electric cars to ride-sharing applications.

The price of lithium-ion battery packs for electric cars has fallen 65 percent since 2010 and is likely to keep declining, according to a report by Bloomberg New Energy Finance and McKinsey & Co. Consumers may appreciate the biggest impact in the form of cheaper costs for taxis, including substantial reductions for ones run by machines.

Driving the trend are cheaper batteries, which are the biggest cost in electric cars, along with rapidly improving computer technology that will make self-driving cars a reality on roads within the next decade. Changes already are starting to feed through in the form of an investment boom in ride-hailing applications such as Uber Technologies…and the mushrooming of software developers that will link electric cars to utilities and payment systems.

Those trends will reduce the cost of running a taxi driven by a human by 3.1 percent to $2.76 a mile driven by 2025, according to the report. Self-driving taxis may be as cheap as 67 cents a mile to operate. The study counted in the total cost of owning the vehicle, driver’s pay and allowances for overhead and returns for investors…

❝ The changes will reshape the auto industry, tilting the need for investment away from developing engines and toward perfecting software that drives cars and links them to the web for managing payment and navigation, McKinsey said. Power companies could benefit from a 3 percent increase in electricity demand in the next 15 years…

❝ Battery and hybrid vehicles on the world’s roads may displace as many as 13 million barrels of oil a day by 2040, BNEF forecast this year in a separate report. The costs of lithium-ion batteries, which typically make up about 40 percent of an electric car’s value, may fall by 16 percent to 20 percent with each cumulative doubling of the vehicles’ manufacture…

The only cornball advice I have to offer is – it’s better to invest in rapidly growing tech too soon rather than too late. But, I welcome the changes coming in safety and environment with open arms.

European Union upgrades building codes to include an electric car charging point for every new home

Pawel Libera/LightRocket

Every new or refurbished house in Europe will need to be equipped with an electric vehicle recharging point, under a draft EU directive expected to come into effect by 2019.

In a further boost to prospects for the electric car market in Europe, the regulations due to be published before the end of the year state that by 2023, 10% of parking spaces in new buildings in the EU zone will also need recharging facilities…

❝ As well as extending the driving range and convenience of electric cars, the mushrooming number of recharge stations would allow vehicles to feed their electricity back into the grid.

That in turn would open the door to a futuristic world in which cars supply energy to Europe’s power network at all times of the day and night, balancing shortfalls from intermittent renewable energies when the sun is not shining and the wind not blowing…

❝ Martin Adams, the head of the EEA’s air pollution unit said: “A higher amount of electric vehicles will need additional power to be generated. The source of this extra energy is of prime importance. It is clearly feasible that we use clean renewable sources but when you think of where the different countries are at, I think some fundamental decisions are needed to develop a more sustainable energy system across Europe.”

❝ The French carmaker Renault said that it accepts that electricity supply problems could emerge as the vehicles’ market share increases exponentially, although it sees a solution.

“We could make a huge investment to green our electricity but I personally think the future will be built around local storage with a second life battery,” Berthier said.

Vehicle batteries that have worn down still contain energy which can be topped up with energy from on-site wind and solar power generators and sold back to the grid at peak times.

Renault is strategically partnering with companies such as Connected Energy in second-life projects, while last month, BMW opened a similar 2MW power station near Hamburg, using 2,600 used electric vehicle batteries.

Bravo! Always worth a cheer and a chuckle when common sense from industrialists defeats some of the churlish deceits raised by defenders of the past.

Massive Catholic divestment from fossil fuels

Climate Solidarity Prayer March in ManilaAP/Aaron Favila

❝ If you care deeply about humanity and its role on this planet, climate change represents a significant, existential threat.

The victims of climate change include people who live near the ocean, people who live in forests, people who live in deserts, and people who live in the mountains. Young people. Old people. Poor people and rich people: If they aren’t already feeling the impacts of a changing climate, they will someday.

And human-caused climate change is threatening and destroying many, many species of plants and animals.

❝ It’s with this view that faith groups have become leaders in the climate change movement. Churches were some of the earliest adopters of fossil fuel divestment — the practice of pulling funds from companies for a range of reasons, including mining for coal, selling oil and gas, or financing tar sands development.

A new cadre of Catholic groups joined the movement Tuesday, announcing a coordinated, global divestment push…

Italian, Canadian, Australian, U.S., Brazilian, and international Catholic groups announced a range of measures distancing themselves from fossil fuels. Some goals are relatively modest: For instance, SSM, a U.S. hospital group, will divest from coal companies. But the Brazilian Diocese of Umuarama will become the first diocese and the first Latin American institution to commit to divest from fossil fuels, according to The diocese is also reducing its carbon footprint and has joined an anti-fracking coalition in Latin America…

❝ Laudato Si’ is an encyclical, issued by Pope Francis last year, that emphasizes the need to be responsible guardians of the environment, particularly in the face of climate change and carbon pollution.

“Every community may take from the bounty of the earth that which it needs for its own survival, but it also has the duty to protect it and ensure the continuity of its fertility for future generations,” the encyclical, an official, high-level teaching for Catholics, says.

❝ Divestment is commonly seen as a powerful tool to reduce access to financing for fossil fuel companies. It also allows individuals and groups to take ownership of their role in the fossil fuel industrial complex, which, in turn, helps raise awareness.

Done it before. I’ll do it, again. Owning shares in fossil fuel companies is like owning shares in cigarette manufacturers. Trying to profit from firms whose products destroy our lives, our existence, is not ethical in my view of a principled life.

Always nice to see some of the oldest philosophies of good will joining in to a modern struggle.

Germany calls for Europe-wide ban on gas-powered cars by 2030

Click to enlarge

❝ After coming to the realization that they would need a mandate for all cars to be zero-emission by 2030 if they want to comply with the goals set by the Paris agreement to curb climate-warming emissions, Germany’s upper house of parliament gained approval for pushing a Europe-wide mandate to stop gas-powered car sales by 2030…

While nothing is made into law yet, the movement to stop new sales of cars equipped with internal combustion engines by no later than 2030 is starting to pick up steam.

❝ India recently confirmed that it is evaluating a scheme for all its fleet to be electric by 2030 and both the Dutch government and the Norwegian government are discussing the possibility to ban gas-powered car sales and only allow electric vehicle sales starting in 2025.

❝ Some governments are discussing actual bans on new gas-powered car sales that would virtually only allow all-electric vehicles to be registered, or potentially other zero-emission cars at the tailpipe like fuel cell vehicles, but most are discussing regulations that would gradually tax internal combustion engines and favor electric vehicles…

❝ The new push for a 2030 mandate comes as several German automakers announced important plans to accelerate their electric vehicle programs, including Volkswagen’s plan to build 2 to 3 million all-electric cars a year and unveil 30 new models by 2025 and Mercedes’ new all-electric brand: ‘EQ’.

VW has indicated recently that they’d probably start off their production of EVs exclusively in their United States facilities. Obviously, that will have to expand globally as this qualitative change takes hold.

Tesla rewrote the book on electric car sales last month

We’ve been pointing out the many electric vehicle sales records on the board in 2016. Nearly every month established a new high for the plug-in segment in the U.S., and June was best on the books. Still, Tesla had yet to have that breakout sales showing that rattled an industry built on gasoline. In September, things changed. Tesla not only shattered EV sales records on every level; it also outsold 13 long-established brands, including Porsche, Mitsubishi, and Volvo.

InsideEVs estimates Tesla delivered 4,350 Model S sedans and 3,200 Model X SUVs in September. Both are record totals for Tesla; Model S’s total is the highest ever for plug-in vehicle; and as a brand Tesla more than doubled the best EV sales by any other automaker in America…Overall, Tesla reached 24,500 deliveries worldwide.

The showing puts Tesla on pace to break the annual sales record (30,200) set in 2014 by Nissan Leaf. The industry as a whole was buoyed by the performances of Model S and Model X…

Parochial motorheads who favor EVs may be peering worried into their lite beers; but, globalized gear monkeys know the future is guaranteed. At least through the next few 5-year plans in the world’s largest auto market – China.

The government there has committed to electric transport, cars, truck, trains, for all the good reasons from fighting pollution to climate change. Doing so at a level we aren’t likely to approach in the GOUSA – even with Dems in the White House and controlling the lobbyist country club called Congress.

The cars will be built and available. Even if we’re only stealing a small share of what is destined for Asian shores.

Great Pacific Garbage Patch is worse than researchers expected

❝ The Ocean Cleanup, the Dutch foundation developing advanced technologies to rid the oceans of plastic…presented the initial findings of its Aerial Expedition — a series of low-speed, low-altitude flights across the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the plastic accumulation zone between Hawaii and California. Using a modified C-130 Hercules aircraft, expert spotters, and an experimental array of plastic scanning equipment, the expedition aims to accurately measure the biggest and most harmful debris in the ocean. This is an essential milestone in preparation for the cleanup of the patch, scheduled to begin before the end of the decade.

❝ This first-ever aerial survey of floating ocean plastic provided confirmation of the abundance of plastic debris sized 0.5 m/1.5′ and up. While the flight plan took us along the Northern boundary of the patch, more debris was recorded than what is expected to be found in the heart of the accumulation zone. Initial estimates of the experienced observer crew indicate that in a span of 2.5hours, over a thousand items were counted.

❝ For the development of a cleanup technology, it is essential to understand the problem, specifically the dimensions of the individual objects and the plastic accumulation as a whole. The nature and amount of the debris determine the design of cleanup systems, the logistics of hauling plastic back to shore, the methods for recycling plastic, and the costs of the cleanup.

❝ The quest to answer this question started in August 2015, when The Ocean Cleanup’s fleet of about 30 vessels crossed the patch simultaneously in an operation named the Mega Expedition. On their crossing wide range of debris sizes were sampled, producing the first high-resolution map of the patch. By using sampling nets that were 80x larger than conventional scientific measurement tools, it was discovered that the amount of large debris was heavily underestimated

Once all exploration flights are finalized later this week, the results from the Aerial Expedition will be combined with the data collected during the 2015 Mega Expedition in a peer-reviewed scientific paper expected to be published early 2017…

❝ Instead of going after plastic debris with vessels and nets – which would take many thousands of years and billions of dollars to complete – The Ocean Cleanup is designing a network of extremely long floating barriers that will remain stationary in the water, enabling the ocean to concentrate the plastic using its own currents.

We won’t know if that experimental measure works until the group moves to a pilot plant stage. As important as questions of plastic pollution in our oceans appear to be – it might be nice if nation-states and governments provided some regulation and oversight along the way to solutions.