Imposing On Pastoral Beauty To Capture Wind’s Power

Pinnacle turbines dot the skyline in Keyser, West Virginia, where, according to Andrew Cosner, a twenty-one-year-old technician, some residents remain hostile to the new wind farm: “They say it ruins the landscape and it’s ugly.”

It is to each of us whether we find the view attractive or not, and there was a time when I found large man-made structures an imposition on pastoral beauty.

Smith stands in the nacelle of one of the turbines just before daybreak.

As time passes I find myself drawn more to such a view as that in the photo above as a signal of progress.  It is not because the view is in a place far away from me– on the mountain ridge above where I live there is a row of such turbines and I am constantly gazing at that horizon. Published in the print edition of the November 28, 2022, issue of the New Yorker, with the headline “Blade Runners,” D.T. Max provides some context, but the photos do the heavy lifting:

THE BLADE RUNNERS POWERING A WIND FARM

In West Virginia, a crew of five watches over twenty-three giant turbines.

The Pinnacle wind-power plant extends for roughly four miles in the northeastern corner of West Virginia. Continue reading

Tagging Technology Gives Godwit Game

A juvenile bar-tailed godwit has flown from Alaska in the US to Tasmania in Australia, covering a record 13,560kms without stopping. Photograph: Johnny Madsen/Alamy

Who’s got game in the bird world is not, strictly speaking, a phrase associated with ornithologists or what they do for a living. But sometimes, their news features what looks like competitive sport to the lay public. We have shared news of long-journey bird species on several occasions, and one that has the right stuff now stands out from the rest by virtue of tagging technology:

Bar-tailed godwit sets world record with 13,560km continuous flight from Alaska to southern Australia

Satellite tag data suggests five-month-old migratory bird did not stop during voyage which took 11 days and one hour to reach Tasmania

A juvenile bar-tailed godwit – known only by its satellite tag number 234684 – has flown 13,560 kilometres from Alaska to the Australian state of Tasmania without stopping, appearing to set a new world record for marathon bird flights. Continue reading

Sunscreen For Roads

(Photo credit: Jonathan Cutrer / CC BY-NC 2.0)

Our thanks to Sarah Kennedy/ChavoBart Digital Media and Molly Matthews Multedo via Yale Climate Connections for keeping us ahead of the curve:

Titanium dioxide coating could keep roads and bike paths cooler

Like mineral sunscreen, it works by reflecting UVA and UVB rays from the sun.

Biking or walking on a hot day can make you feel like you’re in an oven because dark pavement absorbs and retains heat. But applying a special coating to streets and bike paths could help cool them off. Continue reading

Previously Unheralded Climate Policy Good News

(David McNew / Getty)

Robinson Meyer‘s newsletter this week is the most positive in its history, so if only for that read it and click the banner above to sign up:

America’s Climate Bill Looks Even Better Than Before

Late last month, analysts at the investment bank Credit Suisse published a research note about America’s new climate law that went nearly unnoticed. The Inflation Reduction Act, the bank argued, is even more important than has been recognized so far: The IRA will “will have a profound effect across industries in the next decade and beyond” and could ultimately shape the direction of the American economy, the bank said. Continue reading

Pushing Decarbonizing Technology Via Industrial Policy

The NLMK mill in Portage, Indiana, which uses a furnace powered by electricity and produces steel from recycled scrap. SCOTT OLSON / GETTY IMAGES

Thanks to Yale e360:

Beyond Biden’s Climate Plan, a New Industrial Revolution Is Needed

The new U.S. climate plan is historic and will pump billions of dollars into advancing the transition away from fossil fuels. But a more far-reaching, innovative approach is needed to push forward the radically new technologies that will be required to decarbonize the economy.

Workers guide a hydrogen-powered truck, part of Anglo American Plc’s NuGen carbon-neutral project, during a moving demonstration at the Anglo American Platinum Ltd. Mogalakwena platinum mine in Mogalakwena, South Africa, on Friday, May 6, 2022. Anglo American unveiled the worlds biggest green-hydrogen powered truck at a platinum mine in northeast South Africa where it aims to replace a fleet of 40 diesel-fueled vehicles that each use about a million liters of the fossil fuel every year. Photographer: Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg

For all the great news in the Biden administration’s massive new climate spending plan, the hardest work of transforming the economy to stop global warming lies ahead. That’s because nearly all the money in the $369 billion plan will be spent on technologies that American companies already know how to deploy, such as solar farms, making buildings more efficient, and developing networks of electric vehicle charging systems.

Doing a lot more of the same will undoubtedly bring down emissions faster. But deep decarbonization requires a transformation of the American economy that will demand a much more active effort to push the technological frontier and build new industries so emissions can be driven to zero. Continue reading

The 150 Most Consequential Years

Amanda Northrop/Vox; Getty Images

Our thanks to Vox for this conversation with one of the great economic historians of our time:

Humanity was stagnant for millennia — then something big changed 150 years ago

Why the years from 1870 to 2010 were humanity’s most important.

“The 140 years from 1870 to 2010 of the long twentieth century were, I strongly believe, the most consequential years of all humanity’s centuries.”

So argues Slouching Towards Utopia: An Economic History of the Twentieth Century, the new magnum opus from UC Berkeley professor Brad DeLong. It’s a bold claim. Homo sapiens has been around for at least 300,000 years; the “long twentieth century” represents 0.05 percent of that history.

But to DeLong, who beyond his academic work is known for his widely read blog on economics, something incredible happened in that sliver of time that eluded our species for the other 99.95 percent of our history. Continue reading

Smart Cities, Japan Edition

A delivery robot makes its rounds at Fujisawa Sustainable Smart Town in Japan.Credit: Yoshio Tsunoda/AFLO/Alamy

Frustrated but determined leadership on environmental challenges facing urban constituencies is worthy of our attention and even admiration, even if “smart cities” can be problematic terminology. Nature magazine offers this snapshot from Japan:

Houses equipped with solar panels in Fujisawa Sustainable Smart Town.Credit: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg via Getty

Why Japan is building smart cities from scratch

Purpose-built sustainable communities can boost energy efficiency and support an ageing population.

By 2050, nearly 7 out of 10 people in the world will live in cities, up from just over half in 2020. Urbanization is nothing new, but an effort is under way across many high-income countries to make their cities smarter, using data, instrumentation and more efficient resource management. Continue reading

Ever-Improving Solar Technologies & Techniques

Sheep graze alongside a solar array in Dubbo, Australia. JANIE BARRETT / THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD VIA GETTY IMAGES

Solar power, one of the renewables with the greatest promise, continues to improve:

A solar array in Madera County, California, with panels placed side-by-side on the ground. ERTHOS

More Energy on Less Land: The Drive to Shrink Solar’s Footprint

With the push for renewables leading to land-use conflicts, building highly efficient utility-scale solar farms on ever-smaller tracts of land has become a top priority. New approaches range from installing PV arrays that take up less space to growing crops between rows of panels.

Farmers grow hay between solar fences in Donaueschingen, Germany. NEXT2SUN

From the ground, the new solar farm shimmers like a mirage oasis on a hot summer day. Instead of row after slanting row of shiny panels stretching taller than corn, this array, mounted directly on the earth, lies flat as water. Continue reading

Action Is The Thing

ILLUSTRATION: WIRED; GETTY IMAGES

Climate inaction is a theme bookending the first decade of our chronicling news stories and analytical essays. Why, we have stopped bothering to wonder, is inaction so persistent? Whether activism or other forms of action, there is not enough of it relative to the scale of the crisis. We thank Eleanor Cummins, a freelance science journalist and adjunct professor at New York University’s Science, Health, and Environmental Reporting Program for these ideas as published in Wired:

‘Thinkwashing’ Keeps People From Taking Action in Times of Crisis

When it comes to issues like climate change, too many let the perfect become the enemy of the good, while the world burns.

LESS THAN A decade ago, “wait and see” arguments about climate change still circulated. “We often hear that there is a ‘scientific consensus’ about climate change,” physicist Steven E. Koonin wrote in The Wall Street Journal in 2014. “But as far as the computer models go, there isn’t a useful consensus at the level of detail relevant to assessing human influences.” The idea was that the world needed more data before it could respond to the threat posed by global warming—assuming such research indicated a response was even necessary. Continue reading

Tertulia & Touch

Customers in Bookmongers of Brixton, a book store in London. Apps have struggled to reproduce online the kind of real-world serendipity that puts a book in a reader’s hand. Tom Jamieson for The New York Times

Yesterday’s post notwithstanding, my favorite book review in ages was published five days ago. A couple weeks earlier I had read an essay that riffs off the book, written by the book author himself.  And I was all in–hook, line and sinker as they say–after reading the author’s punchy riff. The reviewer, one of my favorite cultural commentators, filleted the book such that I had to question my susceptibility to the book author’s riff essay.

One reason I read book reviews in a variety of publications is to get the next best thing to in-store browsing; comparative criticisms. But finding and holding a book is a whole other thing. Alexandra Alter’s article, about how technology may afford that in a new way, is of interest; Tertulia, if you can simulate that sensation of discovery, I will be all in:

A New Way to Choose Your Next Book

Most books are sold online, where it’s impossible to replicate the experience of browsing in a brick-and-mortar store. Book-discovery apps aim to change that.

By some measures, the book business is doing better than ever.

Last year, readers bought nearly 827 million print books, an increase of roughly 10 percent over 2020, and a record since NPD BookScan began tracking two decades ago.

But all is not as rosy as it seems. As book buyers have migrated online, it has gotten harder to sell books by new or lesser known authors. Continue reading

Technology Put To Good Use

A Wounaan forest technician inspects an illegal clearcut in Indigenous territory. CULLEN HEATER

Jim O’Donnell and Cullen Heater tell an essentially hopeful story from our neighbor to the south:

Panama’s Indigenous Groups Wage High-Tech Fight for Their Lands

With help from U.S. organizations, Panama’s Indigenous people are using satellite images and other technologies to identify illegal logging and incursions by ranchers on their territory. But spotting the violations is the easy part — getting the government to act is far harder.

On a blazing February morning, the Indigenous Wounaan territorial monitoring coordinator, two forest technicians, and a local farmer climbed into the mountains outside the fishing and farming community of Majé, near Panama’s Pacific coast. Continue reading

Youth & Perspective

It should not be this difficult to change viewpoints on an existential topic. But apparently it is. If it requires a new social media platform, and watching a few short, catchy videos, so be it:

A growing chorus of young people is focusing on climate solutions. “‘It’s too late’ means ‘I don’t have to do anything, and the responsibility is off me.’”

Alaina Wood is well aware that, planetarily speaking, things aren’t looking so great. She’s read the dire climate reports, tracked cataclysmic weather events and gone through more than a few dark nights of the soul. Continue reading

Crypto, Pigs & Possibilities

Wind turbines next to Argo Blockchain’s new facility in Dickens County, Texas. The site would be fueled mostly by wind and solar energy. Carter Johnston for The New York Times

First thought upon seeing the headline of the story below: when pigs fly. There is plenty of evidence to the contrary. If you read to the end of the story, published in the New York Times (click through to read it in full there), you will understand that some at the cutting edge of crypto want to change the name of what they do to “validators” from the less environmentally-friendly sounding “miners.” So, second thought: lipstick on pigs. But, at least they are acknowledging the complaint. Plus, the author of this story has a remarkable track record of reporting on issues we care about. So let’s read their latest claims with an open mind:

Bitcoin Miners Want to Recast Themselves as Eco-Friendly

Facing intense criticism, the crypto mining industry is trying to change the view that its energy-guzzling computers are harmful to the climate.

Texas has become a hot spot for crypto mining, attracting more than two dozen companies, partly because of an unusual incentive structure with its power grid. Carter Johnston for The New York Times

Along a dirt-covered road deep in Texas farm country, the cryptocurrency company Argo Blockchain is building a power plant for the internet age: a crypto “mining” site stocked with computers that generate new Bitcoins. Continue reading

Seeding Clouds To Relieve Megadrought

Cloud seeding equipment on the wing of plane flying over North Dakota. JIM BRANDENBURG VIA MINDEN PICTURES

Times are tough with regard to water, among other things. Tough times call for creative measures. Be creative, but also beware of unintended consequences:

Can Cloud Seeding Help Quench the Thirst of the U.S. West?

In the midst of an historic megadrought, states in the American West are embracing cloud seeding to increase snow and rainfall. Recent research suggests that the decades-old approach can be effective, though questions remain about how much water it can wring from the sky.

Not since Charlemagne was crowned Holy Roman Emperor in 800 A.D. has the American West been so dry. Continue reading

Circularity & The Future Of Recycling Plastic

Getty

Since our earliest days we have had team members searching for news on the subject of plastic, and what to do about it. The Atlantic, publishing an article by Ula Chrobak that was originally featured in Undark, points out The False Promise of Plastic Recycling:

A French company has a new solution to the plastic problem. Not everyone is buying it.

Since the first factories began manufacturing polyester from petroleum in the 1950s, humans have produced an estimated 9.1 billion tons of plastic. Of the waste generated from that plastic, less than a tenth of that has been recycled, researchers estimate. Continue reading

Technically Food

We instinctively favor real food, but this author’s book has our attention:

The inside story of the paradigm shift transforming the food we eat, and the companies behind it.

Eating a veggie burger used to mean consuming a mushy, flavorless patty that you would never confuse with a beef burger. But now products from companies like Beyond Meat, Impossible Foods, and Eat Just that were once fringe players in the food space are dominating the media, the refrigerated sections of our grocery stores, and, increasingly, the world. With the help of scientists working in futuristic labs––making milk without cows, and eggs without chickens––startups are creating wholly new food categories. Real food is being replaced by high-tech. Continue reading

Airborne Wind Energy

An airborne wind turbine at the SkySails Power’s pilot site in Klixbüll, Germany. AXEL HEIMKEN / PICTURE ALLIANCE VIA GETTY IMAGES

Wind energy, as we have pictured it, was in a race between fixed and floating models. We did not know about the airborne model. Nicola Jones, writing in Yale e360, gives a clear picture of why it faltered and how it is recovering:

After a Shaky Start, Airborne Wind Energy Is Slowly Taking Off

This long-exposure nighttime photograph shows the figure-eight flight pattern of Kitepower’s airborne wind system. KITEPOWER

Numerous companies are developing technologies, such as large kites, that can harvest wind energy up to a half-mile above ground. While still in its nascent stages, airborne wind power could potentially be used in remote locations or flying from barges far offshore.

Look up over the white sand beaches of Mauritius and you may see a gigantic sail, much like the kind used by paragliders or kite surfers but the size of a three-bedroom apartment, looping figure-eights overhead. Continue reading

New Technology For Anti-Poaching

Seized ivory tusks before being destroyed at a waste management center in Port Dickson, Malaysia, in 2019. Mohd Rasfan/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Poaching has a puzzling array of culprits as well as victims, and many possible solutions. I have thought over the years that the Tiger Trail approach was replicable for this purpose. But genetic technology might scale more effectively. And with climate change overshadowing other crises, you might think this topic is past its prime, so read the comments section at the end of this article. Thanks to Catherine M. Allchin (how did we miss her prior work?) for this story, and please click through to read it in the New York Times:

It Helped Catch Serial Killers. Can It Stop Elephant and Wildlife Poachers, Too?

Scientists used a genetic investigation technique with the aim of helping turn the tide against illicit hauls of ivory and other animal parts.

Cambodian law enforcement officials received a tip from investigators in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Continue reading

Where Dollars Do The Most For Climate

Wood artisans take remainders leftover after the creation of larger artifacts, and recycle them by tumbling until smooth. An excellent alternative to polished stones, these “renewable pebbles” are available in the Authentica shops in Costa Rica.

We have been offering options on how to spend, while visiting Costa Rica, in ways that benefit the environment here. Small potatoes, but it is what we do.

Much more important for the planet as a whole, and for all humanity inhabiting it, is spending, or rather investing, that can have truly global impact. Robinson Meyer, a staff writer at The Atlantic, and author of the newsletter The Weekly Planet, has this useful guide for citizens of the USA:

Allison Bailey / NurPhoto / AP

A New Estimate of the ‘Most Effective’ Way to Fight Climate Change

Climate-concerned donors should focus on helping to pass climate policy, not offset their emissions, an advisory group says.

On a dollar-for-dollar basis, where will your money do the most to fight climate change? Continue reading

Orca, Climeworks & The Philosopher’s Stone

We started noticing Climeworks three years ago and have posted about Orca a couple times since then. But the video above is worth the longer look, and our thanks to Yale Climate Connections for pointing to it in their story Iceland facility sucks carbon dioxide from air, turns it into rock:

(Image credit: Climeworks video)

The technology will need a lot of scaling up to make a difference to the climate.

In Iceland, a new facility called Orca is pulling carbon dioxide out of the air so it can be stored underground. Continue reading