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Earth911 Reader: Reassessing Environmental Impacts & Evolution Can’t Keep Up With Global Warming

We keep an eye on the news for useful information …

The post Earth911 Reader: Reassessing Environmental Impacts & Evolution Can’t Keep Up With Global Warming appeared first on Earth 911.

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We keep an eye on the news for useful information about science, business, sustainability, and recycling to save you time. This week in the Earth911 Reader, plants absorb less greenhouse gas than expected, major corporations commit to buying EV fleets, the benefits of ending Trump’s solar tariffs, and much more.

IN SCIENCE

Uh-oh, Plants Don’t Absorb as Much CO2 as Previously Thought

As CO2 levels rise, plants absorb less of the greenhouse gas than traditional climate models led us to expect. Consequently, humans must reduce emissions or capture more CO2 than previously thought to offset rising global temperatures, a Nanjing University research team found. New Scientist reports that the expected “fertilization effect” created by introducing more CO2 in small trials does not perform the same way in nature. Trees and plants do respond to more CO2 initially but lose their capacity to absorb more CO2 over time. Overall, the plant kingdom’s CO2 capture rate has declined faster than existing models predicted since the early 1980s. The report follows a recent trend in discoveries that our climate assessments have been too optimistic or have discounted certain environmental factors’ negative impact — that’s science in action, always checking its assumptions. For example, Nature reports this week that the Technical University of Munich found that assessments of the climate impact of meat-based diets have consistently underestimated the cost of CO2 related to animal husbandry and meat production.

Greenland’s Melting Glaciers Could Add 7 Inches to Sea Level by 2100

Phys.org reports that Greenland’s ice sheet is melting 60% faster than previous estimates suggested. By the turn of the century, the water released from Greenland could add 18 centimeters (7 inches) to sea levels globally. And that does not count Antarctic and Arctic ice loss’ impact on oceans. Earlier estimates were that Greenland would contribute only 10 centimeters (about 3.9 inches) to rising seas over the same time. Led by scientists from the Universities of Liège and Oslo, the study suggests that the total volume of Greenland’s ice sheet, if melted over centuries, would add almost 23 feet to global sea levels. Another study released this week by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) reports that wetter weather expected by some to relieve Western droughts — an oft-discussed “benefit” of climate change — will not develop. Winters will get drier. “An important implication of this work,” Lu Dong of the PNNL told Phys.org, “is that a reduction in estimated winter precipitation will likely mean a reduction in spring runoff and an increase in spring temperature, and both increase the likelihood of wildfire risk in California.”

Higher Temperatures Shorten Tropical Trees’ Lives

In a breakthrough study, a team from the Leeds’ School of Geography in the U.K. identified the critical temperature at which tropical trees can no longer thrive. If correct, we have a hard target at which rainforests worldwide may fail to capture and store CO2: 77 degrees Fahrenheit (25 Centigrade). The global average temperature of tropical rainforests is between 69.8 F and 86 F. So many areas where extreme heat occurs are already past the tipping point. “[I]t is unavoidable that the critical threshold for tree longevity will increasingly be exceeded in the tropics and thus it is even more important to protect tropical forests and curb greenhouse emissions,” said Giuliano Locosselli of the Institute of Biosciences at the University of São Paulo, according to Phys.org.

Evolution Can’t Keep Up With Global Warming

Animals cannot move fast enough to stay ahead of warming climates. According to a new study spearheaded by the University of Glasgow, they can’t evolve new traits to keep up with the rapidly changing environment. The researchers identified a fish species, the zebrafish, that can evolve to adapt to warmer water, but they cannot adapt fast enough to keep ahead of climate change. “We see that zebrafish can develop heat tolerance, and we have developed lines of zebrafish that can better withstand the heat. That’s good news,” lead researcher Rachael Morgan told Phys.org. “The problem is that evolution takes many generations. Evolution only increased the heat tolerance in the fish by 0.04 degrees C per generation. This is slower than the warming experienced by many fish in many places.” By the end of the century, the seas may not be boiling, but sea life in the tropics may feel as though they’ve been cooked.

Birdsong Contributes to Lower Stress in Humans

A study by the California Polytechnic State University shows that birdsong contributes to a greater sense of wellbeing, which is related to lower levels of stress, Phys.org reports. The researchers interviewed hikers that passed through an area with controlled, recorded birdsong. They found that hikers exposed to birdsong reported a “greater sense of wellbeing.” The findings support previous research and demonstrate that local human-generated noise can reduce that sense of calm. And hikers related their feeling that there were more birds in the area to their heightened sense of peace. “I’m still kind of flabbergasted that only 7-10 minutes of exposure to these sounds improved people’s wellbeing,” said study lead Clinton Francis. “It really underscores how important hearing is to us and probably to other animals.”

IN BUSINESS

Major Corporations Embrace EV Fleets

Ceres, a Boston-based nonprofit, launched the Corporate Electric Vehicle Alliance (see the organization’s principles) to support faster electrification of corporate fleets. The group includes IKEA, Hertz, Amazon, T-Mobile, and Uber, among other companies. The spending power of these organizations will be committed to buying from a wide range of EV makers to encourage competition and diversity of technical solutions while promoting the standardization of parts and charging equipment to drive prices lower. Taking learning from past transitions, such as the digitization of the workplace that made PCs cheap and common appliances, these standards-based approaches can accelerate the price parity of EVs with internal-combustion vehicles, as well as the deployment of charging stations nationally.

Amazon’s Plastic Waste Would Wrap the World 500 Times, Group Claims

Oceana, a nonprofit dedicated to fighting plastic waste, reports its analysis of the plastic waste generated by Amazon delivery packaging and product packaging would circle the Earth up to 500 times if converted into air pillows, according to Phys.org. Amazon contests the finding. Nevertheless, 2020’s booming home delivery industry produces record levels of plastic (and cardboard) waste. Amazon needs to find ways to reduce its waste footprint. (An excellent place to start would be refusing to accept goods from producers that come in traditional retail plastic packaging designed to prevent theft.) On the other side of the environmental ledger this week, Amazon announced an agreement to purchase 3.4 gigawatts of new renewable energy generation capacity, making it the largest consumer of green power in the world with 6.5 GW in green electricity in its system. Companies are becoming their own utilities providers, following the pattern of Boeing, which had a private national phone system by the early 1970s.

Business Collaboration and Social Responsibility Rising

Sustainable Brands reports on the 10 trends reshaping business during 2020, and sustainable, equitable outcomes are the focus of all the ideas. From companies collaborating to ensure sustainable sources of materials and social outcomes, including large and small business allying to create greater efficiency and more robust local economies, to putting employees’ health and wellbeing first, the list is a fascinating read full of concrete examples. While the national political debate may remain divided over these issues, business is charging ahead despite some stubborn laggards. The article notes that companies are making time available for employees to vote after recognizing the importance of the 2020 election.

IN SUSTAINABILITY

When Net-Zero Isn’t Enough, Climate Recovery Comes Next

Grist reports on the growing awareness of and support for “climate restoration” strategies. There is growing evidence of climate change’s direct health impacts, including recent research showing that heat-related deaths have increased by 50% in two decades. Now, activists are turning to the idea not just of reducing CO2 emissions to zero by 2050, but also to the use of technology to remove excess CO2 from the air — climate restoration. Removing carbon is a topic we’ve covered several times in recent years, including this interview with Healthy Climate Alliance founder Peter Fiekowsky. Both reductions of emissions and removal of CO2 from the atmosphere are required to restore the climate to pre-industrial conditions. The old average temperatures will help refreeze the poles and support historical weather patterns in which we emerged as a species.

Ending Solar Panel Tariffs Carries Big Returns

President Trump’s 2018 tariffs on solar panel imports have suppressed residential solar adoption in the United States. While other nations have surged ahead in solar generation, only 2% of U.S. electric generation comes from PV panels. Artificially high solar panel prices created by the Trump action are the culprit, Common Dreams reports. By contrast, Australia generates up to 5% of its electricity from rooftop solar. Removing the tariffs would lead to as much as $473 billion in energy savings by 2050 and create more than 2 million jobs, a new report by solar advocacy and marketing companies suggests. Solar is already the cheapest form of electric generation. Solar-related jobs can provide better-paying work than the increasingly obsolete coal and oil-fired alternatives. And widespread solar adoption could reduce CO2 emissions to 1990s levels, according to Michelle Lewis of Elektrek.

It’s Time for the Press to Declare a “Climate Emergency”

Journalists must take the initiative to treat climate change with the gravity it deserves and declare a climate emergency, Mark Hertsgaard writes at CoveringClimateNow.org. That would galvanize the public debate, which has not recognized that the threat to human wellbeing is as severe as a war. Hertzgaard argues that journalists should shoulder the same obligation to raise the alarm as scientists have embraced. Even climate skeptics in the press should report based on the well-proven numbers behind climate science rather than focusing on the implied politicization of research often raised as an objection by deniers. “The coming months will be a pivotal time in the climate emergency,” Hertzgaard writes. “In Washington, the question will be whether the incoming Biden administration can implement reforms matching the scope and severity of the emergency and whether Republicans continue to obstruct progress and thereby knowingly condemn young people to a future hell on earth.”

U.S. Zero Emissions by 2050 Is Expensive, but Very Affordable Compared to the Alternative

A new comprehensive study of the many factors that contribute to the cost and benefits of the renewable energy transition from Princeton University shows the path to net-zero emissions will be long but achievable. Based on a detailed state-by-state analysis, the report indicates that the nation can reach net-zero without spending more than it does on energy today, between 4% and 6% of the GDP. “Following a ‘business-as-usual’ pathway without concerted decarbonization efforts, the country would spend about $9.4 trillion on energy over the next decade,” Phys.org reports. Going green over the same period would add only $300 billion to U.S. energy prices over the full decade but would create millions of new jobs. In a related study published in Science Daily this week, North Carolina State University researchers document how the benefits of the solar transition vary from one region to another, based on the local energy generation’s cost. Varying costs, of course, offset benefits. Both reports show the economic and environmental benefits will be enormous.

EPA Slips In Last-Minute Climate Policy Blocking Rule

The former coal industry lobbyist who leads the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Andrew Wheeler, announced what the agency refers to as “benefit-cost analysis” rules for changing climate policy, the Environmental Defense Fund reports. It is a last-minute flipping of the bird at the environmental community. “Thanks to President Trump’s leadership, we are ensuring that future rulemakings under the Clean Air Act are transparent, fair, and consistent with EPA governing statutes, the American public deserves to know the benefits and costs of federal regulations,” Wheeler said in an EPA press release. But the EDF’s Ben Levitan said, “This rule will distort EPA’s assessment of the benefits of Clean Air Act safeguards, making it harder to establish vital, life-saving protections against unhealthy air pollution.” The EPA decision places economic gain above environmental and public health costs. It effectively makes industry the source of clean air policy because they will define rule changes’ potential value. Yet even the EPA’s research shows the benefits of the 1990 Clean Air Act outweigh the cost of complying with stricter regulations by 90 to one.

IN RECYCLING

Waste and Recycling Jobs Rank Sixth Most Dangerous in U.S.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that garbage and recycling collection jobs were the sixth most-dangerous occupation in the nation during 2019, a slight improvement since 2018. Recycling Today reports that waste collection and processing resulted in 44.3 fatalities per 100,000 full-time workers in 2018. These folks do back-breaking, dangerous work and deserve to be recognized as heroes on the frontline of the war against waste. Only loggers, pilots and flight engineers, roofers, and construction workers face higher odds of death at work than waste management employees. These essential workers should be compensated for the danger they face. Each of us needs to think about their safety whenever we toss anything in the trash or recycling bin.

Compostable Plastics Could Be Part of a Circular Economy, Says Closed Loop Partners

The adoption of compostable bioplastics could alleviate some of the worst environmental impacts of petroleum-based plastics. Still, the collection and recycling infrastructure needs a significant upgrade to keep up with rising plastic use, Waste360 reports. A new study from investment firm Closed Loop Partners suggests that rapid expansion of food composting programs and recycling systems is necessary to prevent a glut of unprocessed plastic. Bioplastics are widely touted as superior to conventional plastics because they are biodegradable, but only under certain conditions. The study identified only 1,185 commercial composting sites in the U.S. capable of processing bioplastic. These compost piles reach the higher temperatures required to breakdown bioplastic, which is often mixed with or contaminated with food waste that makes it unrecyclable. GreenBiz adds to the discussion with an analysis of the Biden Administration’s prospects for reducing and recycling plastic waste, which it reports has become a bipartisan issue. A massive investment in recycling infrastructure is an essential platform for realizing a circular economy, in addition to creating many good-paying jobs. But we are skeptical that Senate Republicans will work with the Democratic House and President to achieve anything they consider a political “win” for the opposition. Oh, how we ache for the spirit of bipartisan cooperation and compromise.

Source: https://earth911.com/news/earth911-reader-reassessing-environmental-impacts-evolution-cant-keep-up-with-global-warming/

Environmental

The federal reserve just took a major step forward on climate

The U.S. central bank is joining the financial equivalent of the Paris Agreement, becoming one of the last of its peers to do so.

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This story was originally published by HuffPost and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

The Federal Reserve on Tuesday took its most significant step forward on climate change, announcing that it joined a group of some 75 other central banks focused on rooting out the risk warming poses to the global financial system.

The U.S. central bank’s five-member governing board voted unanimously last week to become a formal member of the Network of Central Banks and Supervisors for Greening the Financial System, known by the acronym NSGS. The international coalition was founded in 2017 to exchange “ideas, research, and best practices on the development of environment and climate risk management for the financial sector.”

The mounting billion-dollar disasters wrought by rising global temperatures are only one part of the climate threat to the global banking and finance system. Despite recent steps by some lenders to restrict investments in the dirtiest fossil fuels, particularly coal, financial giants keep giving money to oil and gas companies whose value is largely dependent on the projected ability to profit from new drilling projects during the decades to come. If governments reduce fossil fuel use at the rate scientists say is needed to keep warming in a relatively safe range, those investments could become virtually worthless, potentially causing a financial collapse even more severe than the mortgage-backed securities crisis that triggered the Great Recession more than a decade ago.

“As we develop our understanding of how best to assess the impact of climate change on the financial system, we look forward to continuing and deepening our discussions with our NGFS colleagues from around the world,” Federal Reserve Board Chair Jerome Powell, a President Donald Trump appointee, said in a statement Tuesday.

The announcement comes five days after dozens of House Republicans sent a letter to Powell and the Fed Vice Chair of Supervision Randal Quarles urging against joining the NGFS “without first making public commitments to only accept and implement in the U.S. recommendations that are in the best interest of our domestic financial system.” The letter warned of climate scenarios projected by the banks that could hurt “politically unpopular” industries such as coal, oil, and gas.

“Over the last several years, we have seen banks make politically motivated and public relations-focused decisions to limit credit availability to these industries,” the lawmakers wrote. “Politicizing access to capital and choking off funding to industries that millions of Americans rely on is unacceptable, especially in times of economic and financial uncertainty.”

The Fed has been long expected to enlist in the NSGS, which it began talks with more than a year ago, joining peers such as the Bank of England and Bank of Japan. Last month, the European Central Bank set out guidelines for climate stress tests it plans to impose on banks in the Eurozone starting in 2022. European regulators, meanwhile, have spent years developing and seeking to standardize definitions of what qualifies as a truly “green” investment.

The U.S. is nowhere close to that, making the Fed’s ascent to the NSGS akin to President-elect Joe Biden’s plan to restore his country’s place in the Paris climate accords. Trump announced the U.S. withdrawal from those agreements early in his term.

“The U.S. is the gorilla in the room that hasn’t joined,” said Dylan Tanner, executive director of Influence Map, a British nonprofit that researches climate policies at central banks. “It’s almost like rejoining the Paris Agreement, it’s a natural thing to do under the next administration.”

As part of the Trump administration’s coronavirus relief efforts, the Fed took on billions in distressed fossil fuel debt; meanwhile, solar and wind companies laid off workers and struggled to stay afloat. The Biden administration is expected to take a starkly different approach, making climate change a top issue across federal agencies, including the Treasury Department.

Biden could reappoint Powell to the Fed, whose push to keep interest rates low won praise from Janet Yellen, his predecessor and Biden’s pick for Treasury secretary. But other Biden appointments to the Fed’s board of governors are likely to face greater scrutiny of their positions on climate.

“We applaud the Fed and encourage it to continue raising its ambitions,” said Steven Rothstein, a managing director at the climate-focused investor advocacy group Ceres. “Given that it is responsible for the safety and security of the world’s largest economy, we hope that it will not only catch up with central banks around the world, but, in time, lead the way in addressing systemic financial risk. Our economy deserves no less.”

Source: https://grist.org/climate/the-federal-reserve-just-took-a-major-step-forward-on-climate/

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Environmental

Hack Your Way to World-Saving Insights With This Python Bundle

The ongoing ecological crises of our times require all our …

The post Hack Your Way to World-Saving Insights With This Python Bundle appeared first on Earth 911.

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The ongoing ecological crises of our times require all our skills, energy, and talents to solve. Consider becoming a citizen data scientist and helping analyze all the new data available to dissect potential climate and environmental challenges.

While scientists do their lab-based research to create climate models and carbon-capture technology or politicians debate policy to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, you can be one of the coders and engineers working behind the scenes to analyze the torrent of data about the planet, wildlife, people, and ocean currents, just to name a few of the opportunities to contribute.

Programming is a critical skill these days, and it’s highly valuable in the fight to save Earth. If you’re interested in advancing your programming skills, the Complete 2020 Python Programming Certification Bundle could help build upon your knowledge. It includes 1,061 lessons that run across 12 courses. This amount of training can run you upwards of $2,000, but it’s here for $49.99.

Python is a popular programming language that’s ideal for novices because its simplified syntax makes it easy to learn. Though there are a few introductory courses, this bundle is not exactly beginner-level. If you need more of the basics, you may consider looking into something else to ensure your money is well-spent.

Either way, Python is incredibly useful. You can use it to conduct data analysis and visualization in environmental engineering and build artificial intelligence networks. These are essential to finding sustainable solutions to our planetary crises; we all know recycling and living waste-free can only do so much.

This online training includes classes like “Keras Bootcamp for Deep Learning & AI in Python” and “The Python Mega Course: Build 10 Real-World Applications” to help you understand how you can apply your newfound programming skills in your environmental work.

If you’re interested in exploring the computer programming pathway to fixing the climate crisis and more, consider enrolling in the Complete 2020 Python Programming Certification Bundle while it’s 97% off.

This article contains affiliate links. If you enter to win through one of these links, we receive a small commission that helps fund our Recycling Directory.

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Source: https://earth911.com/how-and-buy/python-programming-certification-bundle/

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Environmental

Old Chicago Main Post Office Gets Energy Efficient Update with Historically Accurate Windows

The historic Old Chicago Main Post Office building, which occupies an entire city block in downtown Chicago, has been updated with 2,400 energy efficient, insulating windows. The windows transmit 70% of available visible light while blocking 62% of the sun’s heat energy.

The post Old Chicago Main Post Office Gets Energy Efficient Update with Historically Accurate Windows appeared first on Environment + Energy Leader.

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(Credit: the 601W Companies)

The historic Old Chicago Main Post Office building, which occupies an entire city block in downtown Chicago, has been updated with 2,400 energy efficient, insulating windows. The windows transmit 70% of available visible light while blocking 62% of the sun’s heat energy.

The formerly shuttered, historical landmarked building has been brought back to life as a large office and retail complex. While it was exempt from meeting the local energy code requirements, developer 601W Companies was interested in the energy efficiencies leveraged by insulating glass units. Ultimately, the building was upgraded with 2,400 historically accurate windows fabricated with Solarban 60 solar-control, low-emissivity glass by Vitro Architectural Glass.

Low-emissivity (low-e) glass coatings were developed to minimize the amount of ultraviolet and infrared light that can pass through glass without compromising the amount of visible light that is transmitted. A microscopically thin transparent coating allows low-e glass to reflect exterior heat in warm temperatures and hold in heat during cold temperatures, making buildings light, bright and energy-efficient.

The windows meet all city, state and federal visible light transmittance and reflectivity criterion for landmark buildings. Glazing contractor Auburn Windows helped the architect Gensler and facade consultant Wiss, Janney, Elstner and Associates navigate the requirements.

By replicating the look of the original windows, the building also qualified for a number of historical tax credits, the developer says.

The building has also opened a 3.5-acre rooftop deck, an amenity considered especially important during a world health crisis. “People thought that health and wellness was a nice option to have in a building,” Sheryl Schulze, a principal at Gensler, told the Chicago Tribune. “It’s now an expectation.”

Uber, Walgreens, Ferrara Candy and Federal Home Loan Bank all lease space in the historic, 2.8 million square-foot building. Uber plans to move into the space in 2021, after having put off plans to move in in 2020 because of the pandemic.

Source: https://www.environmentalleader.com/2020/12/old-chicago-main-post-office-gets-update-with-historically-accurate-energy-efficient-windows/

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