Our Daily Planet: Early Blizzard, Black Friday Report, Sharing Solar, and a Mars Landing You Can Watch Today
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Near Whiteout Conditions on I-70 near Lawrence, Kansas   Photo: Orlin Wagner, AP
Midwest Blizzard Grounds Flights on Busiest Travel Day of Year

Hundreds of flights were canceled yesterday, including at Chicago’s O’Hare airport, as an early blizzard struck the Midwest, snarling traffic on the roads and in the air.  As of this writing, according to FlightAware, nearly 5000 flights in the US had been delayed and nearly 1300 had been canceled, and portions of i-70 and I-35 in Kansas, I-80 in Nebraska, I-29 in Missouri had to be closed due to blizzard conditions.  Schools in Kansas City were closed for Monday.  Power was also knocked out to nearly 20,000 homes in Kansas City.  Up to a foot of snow is forecast for a wide swath of the country including Chicago and expected to last through the day today.  

This is the second time in ten days that a major snowstorm snarled travel in the Midwest.  Last week, New York City was also surprised by an early snowstorm that hit at rush hour on November 17th and caused major traffic issues and strandings.  That storm caused at least seven traffic deaths across the country.  “First, it is the first storm of the year to affect such a large area,” according to AccuWeather Chief Meteorologist Elliot Abrams. “Second, it is one of the earliest big November storms ever. The last time there was this much snow in New York City before the end of November was in 1938.”

Why This Matters:  Welcome to our weird weather future.  See the Climate Assessment story below.  As bad as this is, it would have been worse even 10 years ago, before the National Weather Service, armed with better forecasts, and the airlines started to work together to pre-emptively cancel flights well in advance of the storm hitting so that fewer passengers are stranded and there are fewer flights flying in bad weather.  Anyone want to watch the 1987 movie classic “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles?”  To those of you impacted by the bad weather, we hope you make it safely!

 Climate Change

Fourth US Climate Assessment Makes News on MSM

Despite its release on “Black Friday” — a traditionally slow news day — the Fourth National Climate Assessment has been breaking through in the mainstream media, receiving coverage from every major TV network and newspaper outlet.  Its headline, that climate change is not some far in the future or far away problem negatively impacting only people in far-flung parts of the globe (like the Arctic or the tropics), is particularly resonant since the recent fires and hurricanes have destroyed lives and livelihoods, and made refugees of tens of thousands of U.S. citizens.  As summarized by Vox, the three big takeaways are that “climate change is here, it’s expensive, and it’s deadly” but also that it is not too late and we can do something about it.  

The report is the work of 13 Federal agencies and is required by law.  It is actually the second part of the report — part one came out last year and focused on science.  This one instead examines in depth “the human welfare, societal, and environmental elements of climate change and variability for 10 regions and 18 national topics, with particular attention paid to observed and projected risks, impacts, consideration of risk reduction, and implications under different mitigation pathways.”  The Report also provides some reason for hope, by providing “examples of actions underway in communities across the United States to reduce the risks associated with climate change, increase resilience, and improve livelihoods.”  Its plain and direct language about things like regional impacts and how climate change will hurt the U.S. economy lend it to coverage by the mainstream media.

Why This Matters:  This report is helping to elevate climate change into the top tier of political issues.  The newly elected House Democrats made a Green New Deal their first big legislative proposal only days after the election because they see this issue as an existential threat that we must begin to take radical action to address.  This report lends tremendous support to their cause — it gives them plenty to work with from the government itself so there is no denying its veracity.   The President’s twitter denials aside, even Republican Senator Ben Sasse on Fox News on Sunday admitted the climate is changing and that humans are a contributor, and he called on his fellow lawmakers to “participate in a long-term conversation about how you get to innovation” and “starts with the magnitude of the challenge.”  We will provide summaries of the report’s specific conclusions in the days to come, so stay tuned.  

To Go Deeper Into the Coverage:  How’d it play?  Here are links to some of the extensive coverage of the report: The HillPolitico, Vox, CNN, NBC, BBC, Fortune, Esquire, NPR, CBS (below).  

For Something More Visual:  We recommend this stunning photo essay about the New Arctic Frontier, from The Washington Post.
CBS News Interviews an Author of the Report on its Findings


Anti Pipeline Sign in Nellysford, Virginia across from the Bold Rock Cidery, a growing local business.
Atlantic Pipeline Construction Halted Again

The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported just before Thanksgiving that the Army Corps of Engineers had suspended the permit for the Atlantic Coast pipeline construction, which must cross more than 1500 streams in West Virginia, Virginia, and North Carolina, causing new delays to the controversial 600-mile pipeline.  If completed, the pipeline is one of several being built to transport Marcellus Shale from Northern West Virginia.   In August, a joint examination by the Charleston, WV Gazette-Mail and the nonprofit journalism organization ProPublica found that state and federal regulators were changing their rules to speed pipeline approval and construction.

This action by the government comes on the heels of a decision by a federal appeals court in West Virginia that had suspended the permit temporarily for river crossings in two West Virginia counties after they were challenged by the Sierra Club and four other environmental groups.  Dominion Energy, which is constructing the pipeline, was planning to completely dam the Greenbrier River but that would arguably violate West Virginia law that requires that pipeline construction of stream crossings must be completed in 72 hours and that structures authorized by the permit cannot totally impede fish from swimming upstream or downstream during construction.

Why This Matters:  Cutting corners when issuing permits for pipelines is never a good idea.  Even deep in the heart of conservative Virginia, no one wants a mess in their backyard. In North Carolina, there have been similar protests.  Clean water and ensuring that farm and recreational lands remain free from spills and explosions are issues that are key to a strong local economy and unite people across party lines — and shortcuts to benefit big oil and gas companies like Dominion are highly unpopular with a broad cross-section of the public.  



Breaking Down Solar Barriers 

Shared solar is a way for households and communities that wouldn’t ordinarily be able to purchase or finance solar panels on their rooftops. As Energy Sage explained, the primary purpose of community solar is to allow members of a community the opportunity to share the benefits of solar power even if they cannot or prefer not to install solar panels on their property. Project participants benefit from the electricity generated by the community solar farm, which costs less than the price they would ordinarily pay to their utility.

The average cost to install solar panels on a home costs $20,000 and this is obviously cost prohibitive for many households. Additionally, for people who rent their homes, they may not be able to make the decision about rooftop solar altogether. Take a look at PBS’ program Hot Mess as journalist and host Talia Buford explains the benefits of shared solar and how solar farms work to help communities. If you haven’t checked it out yet, Hot Mess is a great web series that tackles and explains all sorts of climate-related issues from environmental justice to renewable energy. They have a new episode each week and we couldn’t recommend them more! 

Why This Matters: The Green New Deal that several new members of Congress are proposing aims to expand solar energy to more Americans. In America, accessibility to solar energy is largely dependent on where you live and how friendly your utility and state politics are toward solar. Especially for residential solar, the upfront costs can be very high and if we are to expand usage of solar energy in America we have to focus on bringing down not just the costs of panels themselves but of the costs associated with installation and maintenance. Shared solar is a growing option that can address this issue and same a significant amount of carbon emissions as well. 


Plastic Found in Dead Whale’s Stomach   Photo: WWF Indonesia, via CNN
Sperm Whale Died With 1000 Pieces of Plastic in Stomach

A dead 31-foot long sperm whale washed up in a popular tourist destination in Indonesia and after a necropsy the government determined the whale perished with more than 1000 pieces of plastic, weighing more than 13 pounds in its stomach.  The plastic was a grab bag of everyday items —  officials found bags, plastic bottles, flip-flop sandals and 115 plastic cups, and a sack containing more than 1,000 pieces of string.  “Although we have not been able to deduce the cause of death, the facts that we see are truly awful,” said Dwi Suprapti, marine species conservation coordinator at WWF-Indonesia, said in a statement made to CNN.

Why This Matters:  Sperm whales are listed as “vulnerable” on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature Red List.  Plastic pollution in the ocean is increasingly understood globally as threatening the health of oceans globally.  Cases like this one make that point abundantly clear.  The EU voted last October to ban single-use plastics such as straws, cotton swabs, and cutlery, and the law also requires EU states to recycle 90% of plastic bottles.  According to a 2015 study from the Ocean Conservancy and McKinsey Center for Business and EnvironmentChina, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Sri Lanka are responsible for up to 60 percent of the marine plastic that winds up in the ocean.  In 2017, Indonesia pledged to spend a billion dollars a year to curb its plastic pollution problem.  

What You Can Do:  Give gifts this holiday season that benefit ocean clean up.  Here are two retailers that have pledged to donate proceeds of their sales to cleaning up trash in the ocean — Everlane is partnering with the Surfrider Foundation to raise funds for beach clean ups, and United by Blue is dedicated to removing one pound of plastic from the ocean for every item sold.  



NASA artists’ rendering of Insight landing on Mars today a 3 pm ET.
One Amazing Thing:  Watch Live as Rover Lands on Mars Today

After traveling 300 million miles since its launch in May, the NASA rover named “InSight” is set to land at 3 p.m. ET today, and once it makes it to the surface, it will study the deep interior of the red planet.  And for those of you (like us) who struggle to parallel park, get this: InSight will touch down using parachutes which, with remote piloting, slow its speed at the time of impact to only 5 m.p.h. Coverage begins at 2 p.m. ET and can be seen here on NASA TV.  There are watch parties happening around the country — in museums, libraries, and even Times Square — find out where here.  Good luck, and may the force be with you!   BTW – It’s mind-blowing science and engineering like this that makes America great!

H/T to NASA engineers and scientists who made this happen!
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