The US just experienced its hottest May on record

June 11, 2018 by  
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It’s a familiar theme: each year, it seems, is the hottest year on record. The most recent climate change milestone in the U.S. occurred last month, when the country experienced its hottest May ever recorded. “Nature is dealing cards from a very different deck now compared to the 20th century,” climate scientist David Titley told USA Today . The average temperature for May in the lower 48 states was 65.4°F, 5.2°F above the average temperature for the month in the 20th century. Prior to this year, the record hottest May occurred in 1934, at the height of the Dust Bowl. While climate change contributed to the record warmth, two significant tropical storms brought heat and precipitation north from the Gulf of Mexico. While more than a quarter of the contiguous U.S. remains in drought, some states, including Maryland and Florida , experienced their wettest month of May on record. As a result of heavy winter snow melting rapidly in a warm spring, locations in Idaho, Montana, Washington and Wyoming have experienced significant flooding. Related: Climate change has transformed much of Alaska over the past three decades Beyond the average monthly temperature, more than 8,590 daily warm temperature station records were either broken or tied throughout May. “This was 18 times more than the approximately 460 daily cold temperature station records during the month,” NOAA wrote. “Several of the daily records were noteworthy, including 100°F on May 28 in Minneapolis, Minnesota  — the earliest such occurrence on record.” + NOAA Via Ecowatch and  USA Today Images via NOAA

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The US just experienced its hottest May on record

Reinventing the US Power Grid

June 11, 2018 by  
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We have an energy challenge in the United States — … The post Reinventing the US Power Grid appeared first on Earth911.com.

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Reinventing the US Power Grid

Companies push to start oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

June 1, 2018 by  
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Following Congress’s move to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to oil and gas production, a long-sought goal of the Republican Party, fossil fuel companies are moving forward with their plans to develop the wilderness and hope to survey the region by winter. Arctic Slope Regional Corporation and Kaktovik Iñupiat Corporation, two Alaska Native companies, as well as one oil company have applied for a permit to begin seismic surveying on the refuge’s coastal plain. However, despite promises that the process would be as environmentally sensitive as possible, documents obtained by the Washington Post indicate that the Fish and Wildlife Service rejected the initial plan as “not adequate,” noting its “lack of applicable details for proper agency review.” The area the companies hope to explore for oil is also the location of the calving grounds of the Porcupine caribou herd, from which the local Gwich’in First Nation community finds food and cultural significance. In fact, the prospective area where two teams of 150 people are proposed to survey isn’t even visited by the Gwich’in people out of respect for its importance. The speed with which the companies have pushed to begin oil drilling has concerned the locals. “Why can’t they just wait to have more information?” Gwich’in Steering Committee executive director Bernadette Dementieff told Earther . “The oil isn’t going anywhere. There’s nothing wrong with waiting. It makes no sense to rush.” Perhaps the oil companies are concerned that the U.S. may, under a different Congress, return to its long-held status quo of banning oil drilling in the refuge. Related: Spending bill would open the world’s largest intact temperate forest to logging Although the nearby Native town of Kaktovik supported oil and gas drilling in 2005, more recently, the mayor sent a letter to Congress to oppose opening the land to industry. The process has moved forward so quickly since the bill opening the refuge to oil drilling was signed into law that Dementieff was not even aware of the drilling application until she was contacted by Earther. “That is completely insane and disrespectful,” she said. Dementieff believes that Native communities in Alaska will rally together to stop the drilling from ever occurring. “We’ll go to every courtroom. We’ll go to every community meeting. We’re not giving up. We’re not going to allow them to destroy the calving grounds.” Via Earther Images via  Depositphotos and Bob Clarke

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Companies push to start oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

Flawed recycling results in dangerous chemicals in black plastic

May 31, 2018 by  
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Unsafe recycling of electronic waste has resulted in the distribution of dangerous chemicals into new products made out of black plastic . Published in Environment International , a new study documents the presence of bromide and lead in 600 consumer products made out of black plastic and clarifies its potential negative impact on human and ecological health. “There are environmental and health impacts arising from the production and use of plastics in general, but black plastics pose greater risks and hazards,” explained study lead author Andrew Turner in a statement . “This is due to the technical and economic constraints imposed on the efficient sorting and separation of black waste for recycling, coupled with the presence of harmful additives required for production or applications in the electronic and electrical equipment and food packaging sectors.” Although black plastics compose fifteen percent of domestic plastic waste in the United States , they are particularly difficult to recycle. As a result, hazardous chemicals that were originally used as flame retardants or for color are being processed back into new products. “Black plastic may be aesthetically pleasing, but this study confirms that the recycling of plastic from electronic waste is introducing harmful chemicals into consumer products,” explained Turner. “That is something the public would obviously not expect, or wish, to see and there has previously been very little research exploring this.” Related: Biotech company Nanollose could offer plant-free alternatives for the textile industry Of particular concern is black plastic’s wide usage in food service, with the majority of black plastic being used in food trays or packaging. The black plastic also risks poisoning marine life as its dangerous chemicals seep into the ocean through microplastics. However, the presence of dangerous chemicals, such as the potentially cancer-causing bromine, is not limited to food products; it is also found in plastic jewelry, garden hoses, Christmas decorations, coat hangers and tool handles at high, and possibly even illegal, levels. Given the health risks, the industry must reform. “[T]here is also a need for increased innovation within the recycling industry to ensure harmful substances are eliminated from recycled waste and to increase the recycling of black plastic consumer products,” said Turner. Via Ecowatch Image via Depositphotos

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Flawed recycling results in dangerous chemicals in black plastic

A Victorian cottage transforms into a light-filled passive solar abode

May 29, 2018 by  
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Australian modular design and build firm Habitech Systems has breathed new life and improved sustainable standards into an original Victorian cottage in Hawthorn, Australia. In addition to the renovation of the existing home, the designers replaced the existing rear addition with a modern extension that boasts a strengthened connection with the rear garden. The energy efficiency of the new home—named Lawes St Extension – Hawthorn—was vastly increased through improved insulation, energy-saving heating and cooling systems, and the integration of passive solar principles. The existing home had been clad in brown brick in the 1980s, creating a dated look that Habitech Systems rectified with a new street facade made from naturally oiled Cypress timber battening. They also gave the front veranda a modern refresh with a new porch entry, while adding black metal-clad box-bay windows to provide a visual pop of contrast. Inside, the floor plan of the original cottage was kept largely intact; it includes a long entrance hall, two secondary bedrooms, a study and bathroom. After the previous extension was torn down, the designers grappled with height restrictions and the challenging terrain, which slopes down to the north and east at a point lower than the existing floor level. “The two primary challenges were leveraged together to produce the connected but varied arrangement of spaces designed,” wrote Habitech Systems. “The stepped floor level provided an opening up of the space to the northern sun and daylight, while the roof of the addition slopes up to the light.” Related: The United States’ first Passive Plus House generates nearly all the energy it needs A lowered laundry room and lobby roof occupies the transitional zone between the existing structure and the extension. Just beyond are the master suite and an open-plan living area, dining room, and kitchen awash in natural light. The extension receives direct north solar access and was built with highly insulated Habitech SIPS walls and roof. Double-glazed and thermally broken aluminum-framed windows flood the interior with natural light without letting in unwanted solar gain. Heat reclamation ventilation and floor- and wall-based hydronic heating and cooling also reduce energy demands. Materials from the existing house were reused wherever possible. + Habitech Systems Images via Nic Granleese

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A Victorian cottage transforms into a light-filled passive solar abode

Conservationists sound alarm over US House bill that weakens Endangered Species Act

May 25, 2018 by  
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Activists and scientists are concerned over the inclusion of a provision in the National Defense Authorization Act that could threaten the survival of the endangered Greater Sage-Grouse and Lesser Prairie-Chicken. The provision would prevent the Lesser Prairie-Chicken from receiving protection under the Endangered Species Act for at least ten years, despite evidence of population decline suggesting that the Prairie-Chicken needs to be legally protected. It would also weaken safeguards put in place to protect the Greater Sage-Grouse, while clearing away regulatory obstacles for oil and gas development. “We urge U.S. Representatives to oppose the grouse and prairie chicken rider,” Steve Holmer of American Bird Conservancy said in a statement . “This provision has nothing to do with national defense, will place imperiled species on the path to extinction and should be stricken.” Both species live in isolated populations that are greatly diminished from their pre-contact levels, with the number of grouse falling from 15 million to fewer than 300,000 today. The prairie-chicken population dropped 50 percent between 2012 and 2013, and its range continues to shrink. Congressional changes to the Endangered Species Act could further threaten the birds . “Endangered Species Act protection provides an essential backstop to hedge against species extinction, particularly in light of major increases in oil and gas drilling in priority grouse habitats in Wyoming, Utah, Idaho, Montana and Colorado ,” Holmer explained. Related: ‘Acoustic lighthouses’ could warn birds about wind turbines While a 2015 review of the status of the Greater Sage-Grouse led to more favorable protections, it did not result in its listing on the Endangered Species Act. Now, those limited protections could be rolled back by Congress . Perhaps the more impactful provision requirement is that the Lesser Prairie-Chicken not be placed on the Endangered Species list for ten years, regardless of scientific opinion. Holmer said, “Potentially the most devastating provision is the one that precludes judicial review of these listing moratoria, which prevents the public from seeking protection for these species even if they are on the very brink of extinction .” Via American Bird Conservancy Images via USFWS Mountain-Prairie (1)

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Conservationists sound alarm over US House bill that weakens Endangered Species Act

Elegant net-zero home wraps around a large pond in Connecticut

May 22, 2018 by  
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Cutler Anderson Architects  completed a modern woodland home that fully embraces the outdoors. Built to wrap around a large lake, the Connecticut Residence takes design inspiration from its surroundings with a subdued palette comprised of natural materials. As an “emotionally sustainable” home, the dwelling not only provides a relaxing atmosphere for its homeowners, but also generates all the energy it consumes through renewable sources. Created for a family of five, the Connecticut Residence stretches across a 4.3-acre forested site with a large pond in the center. The architects split the home into three volumes, two of which sit on either side of the pond with a long covered bridge in between. The volume on the west side of the pond houses the entry and the main communal areas including the living room, dining room, kitchen and family room. The volumes to the east and south comprise bedrooms, with the former also housing a garage. Related: The United States’ first Passive Plus House generates nearly all the energy it needs Ample amounts of full-height glazing wrap around the house to blur the boundaries between indoors and out. Unfinished cypress clads the exterior, while the interior is mainly finished in Douglas fir broken up by white-painted walls and light-colored furnishings. The net-zero energy home is powered by rooftop solar as well as 14 geothermal wells. + Cutler Anderson Architects Via Dezeen Images © David Sundberg/ Esto

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Elegant net-zero home wraps around a large pond in Connecticut

The Trump Administration just ended the program that lets us monitor carbon emissions

May 10, 2018 by  
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While the news media focuses its attention on the withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal and the scandals related President Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen, the Trump Administration quietly ended the Carbon Monitoring System (CMS). With a $10 million annual budget and administered by NASA, CMS served to track the flow of Earth’s carbon, a particularly important mission as the United States and other nations confront climate change. “If you cannot measure emissions reductions, you cannot be confident that countries are adhering to the agreement,” Kelly Sims Gallagher, director of Tufts University’s Center for International Environment and Resource Policy, told Science . Gallagher described the administration’s decision to end the program as “a grave mistake.” Much of the work done by the CMS since 2010 has focused on forests and the carbon that they contain. One such project involved a collaboration between NASA and the US Forestry Service, in which the organizations created an aircraft-based laser imaging device to quantify forest carbon stocks. “They’ve now completed an inventory of forest carbon in Alaska at a fraction of the cost,” CMS science team leader George Hurtt told Science . The CMS has also used its capacity to support other countries in their efforts to preserve and study their forest stocks, particularly in tropical locations. Related: Even NASA isn’t quite sure how to explain these holes in the Arctic Sea’s ice Though disheartening for those who work to combat climate change, the Trump Administration’s decision to end CMS fits with its previous policy making on climate change . However, this decision, like others, puts the United States outside of the global climate mainstream. “The topic of climate mitigation and carbon monitoring is maybe not the highest priority now in the United States,” said Hurtt. “But it is almost everywhere else.” The work of carbon monitoring will continue in Europe , though the United States has ceded leadership in the process. “We really shoot ourselves in the foot if we let other people develop the technology,” president of the Woods Hole Research Center Phil Duff told Science . Via ScienceAlert Images via IIP Photo Archive/Flickr and Joshua Meyer/Flickr

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The Trump Administration just ended the program that lets us monitor carbon emissions

Hawaii sets the most ambitious goal of any US state by vowing to be carbon neutral by 2045

May 9, 2018 by  
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The legislature of Hawaii has approved two bills that together put the state on the path to becoming carbon neutral by 2045 – the most ambitious climate change goal of any state in the United States. Bille bill 1986 establishes a carbon-offset program, while House bill 2182 convenes a task force to determine the best course of action to achieve carbon neutrality within the next three decades. “This is the biggest step forward on climate change any state has yet taken,” said Hawaii representative Chris Lee in a statement . As an island nation, Hawaii is taking such strong action to combat climate change in part because it is particularly vulnerable to its impacts. In passing the bills, legislators cited a study which estimated that Hawaii would endure $19 billion worth of damage on private property and significantly more on public infrastructure as a result of rising sea levels. In addition to its recently passed climate change legislation, Hawaii was the first state to formally adopt the goals established under the Paris climate agreement after President Trump withdrew the United States from it. Related: Helsinki unveils plan to reach carbon neutrality by 2035 Prior to the passage of these bills, Rhode Island was the American state with the most ambitious climate change goal, which pledged to achieve an 85% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels by 2050. Hawaii now stands as one of the world’s most aggressive states in its fight against climate change, sharing the same carbon neutrality timeline as Sweden. For context, carbon neutrality is expected in Iceland by 2040, Norway by 2030, Costa Rica by 2021, and the Maldives by 2020. While these steps are important, they are not sufficient. More governments must make similarly aggressive pledges toward carbon neutrality if climate change is to be halted. Hawaii governor David Ige,  who has been supportive of sustainability initiatives in the past , is expected to sign the bills into law. Via Quartz Images via Depositphotos (1)

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Hawaii sets the most ambitious goal of any US state by vowing to be carbon neutral by 2045

Bio-inspired membrane captures 90% of CO2 in power plant emissions

May 8, 2018 by  
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Researchers at Sandia National Laboratories have developed a new biologically inspired membrane that can capture carbon dioxide from power plant smoke. Sandia fellow and University of New Mexico regents’ professor Jeff Brinker said, “Our inexpensive method follows nature’s lead in our use of a water-based membrane only 18 nanometers thick that incorporates natural enzymes to capture 90 percent of carbon dioxide released. This is almost 70 percent better than current commercial methods, and it’s done at a fraction of the cost.” Brinker said that, in the past, it has been prohibitively expensive to remove CO2 from coal smoke with available polymer membranes. However, his team’s membrane boasts a “relatively low cost of $40 per ton.” The researchers call the membrane a ‘memzyme’ because it operates like a filter but is near-saturated with carbonic anhydrase, an enzyme “developed by living cells over millions of years to help rid themselves of carbon dioxide efficiently and rapidly.” University of New Mexico professor Ying-Bing Jiang came up with the concept of employing watery membranes, inspired by processes in the human body that separate out CO2. Brinker said the arrangement of the membrane inside the flue of a generating station would be similar to a catalytic converter in a car. Related: 18-year-old invents cheaper CO2 capture tech to fight climate change The work is patented and energy companies have shown interest. In addition, the membranes have worked efficiently for months in laboratory settings. Nature Communications published the work online earlier this month; researchers from other institutions in the United States contributed. + Sandia National Laboratories + Nature Communications Images via Randy Montoya and courtesy of Sandia National Laboratories

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Bio-inspired membrane captures 90% of CO2 in power plant emissions

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