Tag Archives: Earth

Should humans try to modify the amount of sunlight the Earth receives?

By Daniel Ross – Desperate times call for desperate measures, as the saying goes. As scientists, policymakers and politicians keep one increasingly startled eye on climate change’s ticking clock and the other on the ongoing, upwardly mobile trend in greenhouse gas emissions, it’s no wonder possible solutions that have been long dismissed as fringe slices of science fiction are making their way into the mainstream.

Enter center stage geoengineering, a hitherto black sheep of the fight against global warming.

Geoengineering is a broadly encompassing term with a few close etymological cousins—namely climate engineering and climate change mitigation—along with a sizable stable of associated technologies. Some of them, like afforestation and ocean iron fertilization, fall under the umbrella of carbon dioxide removal (CDR) in that they seek to draw down carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. But these are techniques that would in all likelihood shift the climate change needle relatively slowly.

In comparison, technologies under the rubric of solar radiation management (SRM) are expected to work on a much faster timescale, and as a consequence, generate arguably the greater buzz. Solar engineering is the idea that humankind artificially limits how much sunlight and heat are permitted in the atmosphere, and includes the thinning of high-level cirrus clouds to help infrared rays more easily escape upward, along with the brightening of low-level marine clouds to help reflect sunlight back into space. more>

Updates from McKinsey

Protecting people from a changing climate: The case for resilience
Our new study lays bare the potential impact of climate risks for people across the globe—and underscores the need to protect the most vulnerable and build resilience.
By Harry Bowcott, Lori Fomenko, Alastair Hamilton, Mekala Krishnan, Mihir Mysore, Alexis Trittipo, and Oliver Walker – The United Nations’ 2021 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report stated—with higher confidence than ever before—that, without meaningful decarbonization, global temperatures will rise to at least 1.5°C above preindustrial levels within the next two decades.1 This could have potentially dangerous and irreversible effects. A better understanding of how a changing climate could affect people around the world is a necessary first step toward defining solutions for protecting communities and building resilience.

As part of our knowledge partnership with Race to Resilience at the UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow, we have built a detailed, global assessment of the number of people exposed to four key physical climate hazards, primarily under two different warming scenarios. This paper lays out our methodology and our conclusions from this independent assessment.

Our findings suggest the following conclusions:

  • Under a scenario with 1.5°C of warming above preindustrial levels by 2030, almost half of the world’s population could be exposed to a climate hazard related to heat stress, drought, flood, or water stress in the next decade, up from 43 percent today3 —and almost a quarter of the world’s population would be exposed to severe hazards. (For detailed explanations of these hazards and how we define “severe,” see sidebar “A climate risk analysis focused on people: Our methodology in brief.”)
  • Indeed, as severe climate events become more common, even in a scenario where the world reaches 1.5°C of warming above preindustrial levels by 2050 rather than 2030, nearly one in four people could be exposed to a severe climate hazard that could affect their lives or livelihoods.
  • Climate hazards are unevenly distributed.


Are “net-zero” climate targets just hot air?

The US, Australia, Japan, and even Saudi Arabia are aiming for net-zero. Does it mean anything?
By Umair Irfan – Corporations and countries around the world are promising to eliminate their contributions to climate change. But many of their targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions are prefaced by a slippery phrase: “net-zero.”

More than 130 countries have set or are considering net-zero emissions goals, and many are stepping up as they prepare for next week’s COP26 climate meeting in Glasgow, Scotland. The United StatesNew ZealandCosta RicaJapan, and Argentina all aim to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. The European Union aims to be “climate-neutral,” another way of framing net-zero. Even Russia and Saudi Arabia (the world’s top oil exporter) now have net-zero emissions targets.

Private companies are getting into the game, too. At least 20 percent of the 2,000 largest companies have set net-zero emissions targets, including giants like Apple, Ford, and Microsoft.

But “net-zero” is different from zero emissions, and this nebulous term can obscure a lot of important differences in how countries and companies actually plan to limit their contributions to climate change.

There are no standards that govern what activities actually count as net-zero. “The ‘net’ is always there in front of the ‘zero,’ but the ‘net’ part is a bit vague, especially with country-level commitments,” Derik Broekhoff, a senior scientist at the Stockholm Environment Institute, told Vox.

When a country aims for net-zero emissions — as opposed to simply zero emissions — it’s essentially promising to balance out its climate pollution, so that overall, it doesn’t harm the global climate. more>

The search for alien tech

There’s a new plan to find extraterrestrial civilisations by the way they live. But if we can see them, can they see us?
By Corey S Powell – Are we alone in the Universe? And if not, should we be excited – or afraid? These questions are as immediate as the latest Netflix hit and as primal as the ancient myths that associated the planets with spirits and gods. In 1686, Bernard le Bovier de Fontenelle, the long-term secretary to the French Academy of Sciences, put an Enlightenment stamp on speculations about alien life with his book Entretiens sur la pluralité des mondes (Conversations on the Plurality of Worlds). In a series of spirited philosophical conversations, he declared that ‘it would be very strange for the Earth to be so well inhabited, and the other planets perfectly solitary’, and argued that alien beings might attempt to communicate with us or even visit us using some advanced form of flight.

Ever since, each age has featured its own version yearning for contact with life from beyond, always anchored to the technological themes of the day. In 1818, the German mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss proposed communicating with aliens using a heliotrope, a system of mirrors that he devised to send coded signals using reflected sunlight. After the development of early electric lights, the French inventor Charles Cros suggested that such lamps could be amplified to beam messages to Venus or Mars. Nikola Tesla wrote in 1900 that ‘interplanetary communication has entered the stage of probability’ using newfangled radio waves. A year later, he reported that he had detected likely signals broadcast from another world.

Then the search got stuck. Radio persisted as the alien-hunting medium of choice, even as technology continued to change faster than ever. A full century after Tesla, researchers engaged in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (commonly shortened to SETI) were still scanning the heavens with antennas and listening for artificial radio transmissions incoming from other worlds. The efforts led to ever-tightening statistical upper limits and a handful of briefly exciting false alarms, but mostly a whole lot of nothing. more>

With extreme weather events and other disasters on the rise, how well are Americans prepared?

By Drew Desilver – Powerful stormswildfiresheat waves and other extreme climate-related events are projected to become more common and affect more people. According to a recent Washington Post analysis, nearly a third of Americans live in a county that was struck by a weather disaster this past summer, and around two-thirds live in places that experienced a multiday heat wave. In an April Pew Research Center survey, half of Americans said their area had experienced extreme weather over the past year.

Human-caused climate change will make extreme weather events more frequent and more damaging in the coming decades, according to the latest report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. While the nations of the world struggle to agree on how to address the root causes of climate change, there are various ways people can prepare to deal with the immediate effects on a household level.

This analysis examines the prevalence of four specific tools to endure extreme weather in the United States: flood insurance, air conditioning, portable generators and home insulation. (As we’ll see, some of these tools may have their own climate impacts.) more>

Want to Try a New Ride Into Space? Fly a 3D Printed Rocket

3D printing may offer a way of building a rocket with a fast manufacturing turnaround and less cost than traditional manufacturing.
By Rob Spiegel – 3D printing may offer a way of building a rocket with a fast manufacturing turnaround and less cost than traditional manufacturing.

Soon, the quickest and cheapest ride into space may not be in the hands of SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, or Blue Origin. It may be in the hands of a 3D printing company.

3D printing may offer a way of building a rocket with a fast manufacturing turnaround and less cost than traditional manufacturing.

Soon, the quickest and cheapest ride into space may not be in the hands of SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, or Blue Origin. It may be in the hands of a 3D printing company.

Relativity Space is an L.A.-based American aerospace manufacturer founded in 2015 by Tim Ellis and Jordan Noone. Relativity Space is developing manufacturing technologies, launch vehicles, and rocket engines for commercial orbital launch services using 3D printing. more>

How Carbon Farming Can Help Save the Earth

Regenerative farming can help boost crop yields and fight climate change, and one nonprofit plans to incentivize more farmers to make the switch.
Morgan Stanley – Starting in late 2018, Al Gore’s Caney Fork Farms in Carthage, Tenn. started a research collaboration and gathered a group of scientists to tackle a challenge: Figure out how to use the earth itself to fight climate change by creating a systematic, scalable approach for farmers to better use soil to capture carbon and reduce greenhouse gas emissions that fuel global warming, while also boosting crop yields and profitability.

Two of those scientists who took up the gauntlet were Dr. Bruno Basso, a professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Michigan State University’s College of Natural Science, and Dr. Kristofer Covey, an assistant professor of Environmental Studies and Sciences at Skidmore College. They went on to cofound My Soil Organic Carbon, or MySOC, a nonprofit that aims to create a database of soil carbon for farmland across the U.S., while providing farmers with low-cost tools to collect and analyze their soil samples for crop production and carbon sequestration farming, while modeling prospects for more profitability.

By giving farmers access to standardized data from their own farms and those of their peers, MySOC aims to persuade more food producers to choose regenerative-agriculture methods that can help the world attain net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, vs. more carbon-intensive traditional techniques. MySOC is also an inaugural member of the Morgan Stanley Institute for Sustainable Investing’s Sustainable Solutions Collaborative, an initiative that helps scale sustainability innovations that can benefit from partnerships across private and public industries. more>

America is still stuck in the world 9/11 built

By Sean Illing – Did 9/11 pave the way for Donald Trump?

That’s a big question, and until I read Spencer Ackerman’s new book, Reign of Terror: How 9/11 Destabilized America and Produced Trump, I hadn’t really thought about it. Ackerman is a longtime national security journalist who’s covered the “war on terror” since its inception roughly two decades ago.

Ackerman’s answer to the above question is yes, but his thesis is even more pointed: The war on terror — and the panoply of excesses it unleashed — eroded the institutional armor of American democracy and left the country defenseless against its own pathologies. And those pathologies, which Ackerman lays out with meticulous attention, prepared the ground for a figure like Trump.

Reading Ackerman’s book was a bit of a whirlwind. I was 19 years old when the Twin Towers fell. I’ll never forget watching the planes hit the wall. I’ll never forget how confused and angry I was. And I’ll never forget the thoughts running through my mind as I realized I was heading to boot camp in just four months. more>

Not seeing the wood for the trees—the EU’s environmental blunder

Supporting a conversion to wood burning has unwittingly incentivised power plants to increase greenhouse gases.
By George Tyler – The European Union is leading the world in adopting limits on greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions, notably via hefty carbon taxes. New policies always experience teething problems but an EU environmental regulation adopted in 2009 has become an embarrassing own goal.

The regulation classified wood burning as environmentally superior to fossil fuels—even carbon-neutral—and exempted it from carbon taxes. That was intuitive perhaps but an untested presumption adopted in a data vacuum. The notion was that harvesting forests for power-plant fuel would establish a virtuous cycle, with tree regrowth offsetting the wood-burning emissions.

But rigorous subsequent analyses have led experts to debunk the notion of wood as carbon-neutral. In no scenario, even stretching over a century, does replanted forest sequester sufficient carbon. In the most environmentally beneficial scenario, a quarter of a hardwood forest can be harvested for power-plant fuel and, if replanted with hardwood—and the entire forest left untouched and free of fire, drought or infestation during the subsequent century—will sequester all of 66 per cent of the emissions released by the initial burning. more>


Wall Street to Mission Control: Can space tourism pay off?

With the COVID-19 pandemic curtailing earthly travel, space tourism may seem like a far-fetched dream—but some companies are betting on high demand.
By Chris Daehnick and Jess Harrington – The space industry saw record-breaking growth in 2020 as investors, undeterred by the COVID-19 pandemic, poured almost $9 billion into private companies. While some of these businesses are simply providing parts and services to government agencies like NASA, others want to venture into space with their own crew and rockets. One ambitious goal, which several companies are now pursuing, involves space tourism for any private citizen willing to pay a hefty fee.

Having private companies lead space exploration ventures was the stuff of science fiction when the human spaceflight era dawned 60 years ago in April 1961. But such companies have now demonstrated the safety and performance of their systems for a full spectrum of operations. Plans to offer private flights are becoming reality, so what does the future hold? To answer this question, we look at industry trends, investment patterns, and the obstacles ahead.

Governments monopolized space exploration in its early days because of the staggering investment and high risks involved. Exhibit 1 shows some of the early milestones of space flight, as well as other important developments through 2000. National pride and the desire to be “first” were also powerful motivators, although many countries now appreciate the value of collaboration, as seen with the International Space Station. Private companies, with vastly fewer resources, had little reason to investigate crewed missions because the likelihood of getting government approval and seeing decent returns was dim. more>