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Our Daily Planet: Apple Runs on Renewables, Oklahoma Tremors, and Pee in the Sea
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By: Monica Medina and Miro Korenha

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Tuesday, April 10th, 2018

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Apple HQ's enormous solar roof. Photo: Carlos Chavarria
Apple Now Runs on 100% Renewable Energy 

Yesterday, Apple announced that its global operations are now powered by 100% renewable energy after 6 relentless years of financing, building, or locating new renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind farms.

Apple's data centers use more power than any other kind of facility, and the company worked diligently to get them powered by 100% renewable energy reaching the goal in 2014. But now, it has transitioned the rest of its facilities to 100% green power, like its new Apple Park headquarters in Cupertino, CA (which has one of the largest solar roofs on the planet), as well as its distribution centers and retail stores. Though Fast and Company noted that the 100% figure covers only Apple’s own operations--not those of the suppliers and contract manufacturers--it’s also convinced 23 companies in its supply chain to sign a pledge to get to 100% renewable energy for the portion of their business relating to Apple products.

Apple says it now has 25 operational renewable energy projects–with 15 more now in construction–in 11 countries. Just eight years ago, only 16% of its facilities were powered by renewable energy. By 2015 that number had increased to 93%, then to 96% in 2016. A lot of this progress was spearheaded by former EPA administrator, Lisa Jackson who was hired in 2013 as Apple's VP of environment, policy, and social initiatives. Jackson told F&C, “If you look at our trajectory, for the last couple of years we’ve been close to 100% It’s just four percent more, but it’s four percent done the right way. Like our products, we sweat the details, we have pretty strict standards, and we prefer to wait and meet our standards than to rush and make a claim."

Why This Matters: Where Apple has operations it's worked with local utilities and regulators to build new solar or wind farms that pump new green power onto the public grid--especially in markets where energy sources come largely from fossil fuels. Apple follows something called “additionality,” or a preference for sponsoring the creation of new renewable power sources. The most important part of this announcement may be Apple's ability to bring along the industry, it's suppliers and local utilities on a path to a low-carbon future by setting the bar high and working hard to create solutions.



It's Shakin' In Oklahoma

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) reported yesterday that Oklahoma has been rattled by sixteen measurable earthquakes since last Friday, with four taking place since Sunday.  According to the head of the Oklahoma Geological Survey, these are the "new normal" for the state.  In this part of the state, a burst of earthquakes like this is not caused by the removal of gas, but instead by the injection of wastewater back into the ground after the fracking has taken place.  The wastewater is extremely heavy and thus puts more pressure on deep faults or cracks in the Earth's crust, and eventually, they collapse under the pressure and that causes the earthquakes. While a USGS spokesperson said it's too early to officially confirm the cause of the  Oklahoma earthquake burst, but the state confirms that it's almost certainly due to wastewater injection. 

The earthquakes early on Monday registered 3.3 and 4.3 and came within an hour of each other.   State regulators have directed oil and gas producers in the state to close wells and reduce injection volumes. These measures have worked to a certain degree in the past. While Oklahoma has dropped from two earthquakes per day to fewer than one per day, some of the post-regulatory quakes have been large and damaging.  

Why this matters:  Earthquakes that measure 2.5 or above can be felt, and anything above 4.0 can cause significant damage.  The citizens of Oklahoma made clear to their regulators that the earthquakes had to stop and that's when the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, which regulates the gas industry, ordered the companies to find ways to make the shaking stop.  No one was hurt this time, but there is no guarantee that it won't happen the next time.  There have been thousands of earthquakes in Oklahoma since fracking began in 2009.    Not to mention that soon it will be tornado season in Oklahoma.  Hold on to your hats.  

 Climate Change

Hurricane Irma as it barrels toward Florida in September 2017.  Photo:
New Firm Aims To Boost Science Spending on Climate

A Silicon Valley climate services firm called Jupiter Intel announced on Monday that it is launching a program to invest in academic climate research, the type of research that used to be funded in large part by the government.  Jupiter's CEO stated, “This administration and others have decreased funding in areas of weather, climate, hydrology and related disciplines that affect health and safety issues and can have economic disruptions.”  

Jupiter Intel has jumped into this space in order to bridge the gap left by lack of government-funded predictions around climate change impacts.  For example, many climate information tools furnished by government-led assessments are not updated regularly enough to meet the needs of businesses. Jupiter ’s simulations will be available on demand and based on the latest science and available data.  They are currently developing products to provide businesses with risk ratings around flooding, extreme heat and fire, to help customers plan for hazards two hours to 50 years into the future all the way down to the street or even building level. 

Why This Mattes:  It is good that the private sector is stepping in to keep up our nation's investment in basic science.  For the first time since World War II, the U.S. government no longer funds a majority of the basic research carried out in the United States. According to Science Magazine, data from ongoing surveys by the National Science Foundation (NSF) show that federal agencies provided only 44% of the $86 billion spent on basic research in 2015. The federal share, which topped 70% throughout the 1960s and ’70s, was still at 61% as recently as 2004 before falling below 50% in 2013.  We need private capital to fill that gap. Perhaps it was government investment in science that made America great back in the day.  


Chasing Coral Official Trailer 
Chasing Coral Brings Ocean Conservation to Unlikely Places

Netflix's 2017 documentary, Chasing Coral gave audiences an up-close look at the peril the world's coral reefs are facing as a result of climate change and coral bleaching. The film's director, Jeff Orlowski explained that “If we could mesmerize everybody with the beautiful images of the planet, and then show them the changes that are happening because of our actions, that’s sort of a powerful one-two punch. It’s not trying to intellectualize the story of humans’ impact. It’s making it emotional and visual.

Yesterday, Fast and Company awarded the film it's 2018 World Changing Ideas Award for photography and visualization and reported that after the film's launch, Orlowski’s studio, Exposure Labs, has held more than 1,000 screenings, focusing on communities in the Midwest and Southeast. “We’ve been working on areas that aren’t usually known for environmental advocacy and we’re trying to figure out ways to help local communities really champion climate solutions, and how do we help communities prioritize sustainable energy and climate action,” said Orlowski. 

In some communities, that action might mean bringing local mayors and commissioners together to come up with new sustainability initiatives or engaging high school students to help influence those representatives. In other places, advocates might focus on trying to shift the stance of local representatives on climate change, or getting “quiet” environmentalists to become more active and pledge to vote.

Why This Matters: Imagery is a powerful driver of change especially when you're asking people who may have never seen a coral reef in person to care about their plight. Ultimately if the US is going to transition to a low-carbon future and protect our oceans it's going to take voters from every state to vote for candidates who prioritize these issues. Orlowski's team is working to measure the impact of the film, from how it increases voter turnout among environmentalists to how it inspires action in people who don’t consider themselves environmentalists.



Astrophysicists and Conservationists Team Up to Save Endangered Species

A software app normally used by astrophysicists to identify the size and age of stars and galaxies based on their heat signatures is now helping conservationists protect animals who are in danger of being poached. The technology is being applied to identify the heat signatures of various species in the wild to help conservationists count the animals. Previously the researchers kept track of the animals by manual counts or by using an infrared camera mounted to a drone--a process that was both time-consuming and at times inaccurate. This new technology can also identify hiding poachers in daylight where traditional infrared technologies fail. 

Claire Burke, an astrophysicist at Liverpool John Moores University who ended up leading the project, says the application of the star-hunting tech has so far paid off big for conservation.

"Since animals and humans in thermal footage 'glow' in the same way as stars and galaxies in space, we have been able to combine the technical expertise of astronomers with the conservation knowledge of ecologists to develop a system to find the animals or poachers automatically," she said in a statement.

Why This Matters: This technology makes it easier (and much cheaper) for ecologists to count animals and ward-off poachers. It can even identify diseased or injured animals as they give off a different heat profile than healthy ones. The uptake of using the technology can't come soon enough as in places like South Africa's Kruger National Park, poaching is on the rise and in 2017, the park lost 67 elephants. 



LOL: "Liquid Gold" is Good for the Ocean

Scientists at the University of Vermont have recently discovered that fish urine is really, really good for ocean health. They had assumed that the ocean gets most of its essential nutrients from non-living sources: the atmosphere, water currents, rivers, and rocks. But no -- it turns out that pee has a special life-giving power that comes from all the nitrogen and phosphorus it contains.  Land plants need nitrogen and phosphorus to grow, and so do plants in the sea -- like coral reefs, seagrass and kelp forests.  And when it comes to peeing in the ocean, whales, of course, are champs!  By peeing, pooping and giving birth near the surface, whales transport literally tons of nutrients across huge distances and depths. Sunlight plus these nutrients are perfect for growing phytoplankton, which then becomes food for fish, krill, and other animals in the food web.  

Why This Is Important:  Well it's not important per se.  But it is good to know -- because the same applies to human urine -- it is also good for the ocean.  So that is one less thing to worry about when you go swimming in the ocean this summer!  
Watch this video for a great explanation of why it's OK to tinkle in the ocean.  
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