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Our Daily Planet: The Temperature Map is Red, but Texas town and Fireworks are Greener
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By: Monica Medina and Miro Korenha

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Tuesday, July 3rd, 2018

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 Climate Change

Summer Sizzle

Most of the U.S. is experiencing super hot temperatures this week.  As you can see from The Weather Channel's map from last night -- the country is bathed in high heat.  Reuters reported that according to the National Weather Service, "more than 113 million Americans are under heat warnings or advisories stretching from the Mississippi Valley, up to Philadelphia, Chicago and bending over to New York, Boston, Baltimore and Washington D.C."   And AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Alex Sosnowski explained, "[t]he vast expanse of concrete, pavement, and brick will give off heat through the night," which keeps city night time "low" temps higher than they would be otherwise.  The NWS said, "[t]emperature anomalies on the order of 10 to even 20 degrees above normal [were] expected on Monday, with the potential for some record high temperatures to be set across the northeastern states."

But that is nothing compared to the heat in the city of Quriyat in Oman, which just broke the record for the highest "low" temperature in known history.  The city of 50,000 residents clocked in at a low temperature of 42.6°C  or 108.7°F on June 26, 2018, according to CNN, not to mention Al Gore (see tweet below).  Worse yet, Quriyat not only hit that astonishingly high low temperature, but it also remained that hot for nearly 51 hours.  

Why This Matters:  Well I (Monica) am not sure what to say other than the obvious.  Climate change is not a hoax.  The fact that the President doesn't believe it is unfathomable.  Just thinking about it is making me start to sweat.  


Red State Goes Green

Over the weekend, the city of Georgetown, TX officially became powered by 100 percent renewable solar- and wind-generated energy. The city began receiving electricity from the 1.7 million solar panel-Buckthorn solar plant in West Texas--a 154-megawatt solar farm, owned by NRG Yield and operated by NRG Renewables, which provides power for the local utility. In addition to the Buckthorn solar farm, Georgetown’s energy providers include Spinning Spur 3, a wind farm near Amarillo owned by EDF Renewable Energy, and the Southwest Mesa and South Trent wind farms in West Texas owned by AEP. 

Why This Matters: This officially makes Georgetown one of the largest cities in the U.S. to be powered by 100 percent renewable energy. As CBS News explained, just a few years ago, it was impractical to generate power in such a remote area but Texas has since spent $7 billion on power lines connecting windy north and west Texas with cities south and east. This goes to show that renewable energy isn't a Republican or Democrat issue but a power solution that is beneficial for all Americans and more states should commit to the transition. 


Photo: Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert  via Live Science
Japan Seeks to Resume Commercial Whale Hunts

Japan announced last week that it intends to seek international approval to begin hunting whales for commercial purposes again.  According to a Japanese government spokesperson, at the September meeting of the International Whaling Commission, the organization tasked with managing both whaling and whale conservation and science efforts globally, Japan “will propose setting a catch quota for species whose stocks are recognized as healthy by the IWC scientific committee."  However, the government of Japan would not provide further details on which whale species Japan, and how many would seek to hunt.  Since 1986 there has been a global "moratorium" -- a cessation of commercial whaling until whale stocks recovered from hundreds of years of over-harvesting.  Many species had been hunted to the brink of extinction.   

Japan’s previous efforts to win a partial lifting of the moratorium have been unsuccessful.  Japan has also been condemned for its continued hunting under an exception for whaling in the name of science.  Japan's scientific whaling program was struck down by an international court in 2014, but Japan simply re-designed its program.  As we reported, last season Japan killed 333 Antarctic minke whales during and 122 of those whales were pregnant.  The Japanese also apparently killed 114 juvenile whales, according to a report of the hunt released by the International Whaling Commission.

Why This Matters:  The U.S. has always staunchly opposed Japan's scientific whaling -- but has been unable to stop it because the Japanese grant themselves a permit to hunt whales for science.  The Trump Administration could shift the long-standing U.S. position, which would go against the vast majority of public opinion in the U.S, but would be consistent with this Administration's pro-commerce views.  Japan will also propose at the meeting to change the body’s decision-making process, lowering the threshold for proposals to pass from three-quarters of members to half.  Japan would not have had the votes in the past, even if they only needed half, but if the U.S. switches sides, all bets are off. 



Humans Disrupting Animals' Sleep Cycles

UC Berkeley scientists recently released a study which indicated that animals are adjusting their habits to avoid human encroachment on their habitats. As human populations grow, animals are going further and further out of their way to avoid us including becoming nocturnal. Scientists admit that this probably works for the animals, but could have potential "ecosystem-level consequences" we don't yet fully understand.

 Kaitlyn Gaynor, an ecologist at the University of California, Berkeley, who led the study said animals that don't adapt well to the darkness will be affected. But she said that behavioral shift could also help other animals reduce direct encounters with people. "Humans can do their thing during the day; wildlife can do their thing at night," she said. 

Why This Matters: Marlee Tucker, an ecologist at Goethe University Frankfurt in Germany who was not part of the research, was surprised that any kind of human activity is enough for mammals to see people as a threat. "It's a little bit scary," she said. "Even if people think that we're not deliberately trying to impact animals, we probably are without knowing it." Even hiking and camping outside can disturb animals, it's all the more reason to make sure we disrupt nature as little as possible when venturing outside. 



NASA's Curiosity rover in the Gale Crater on Mars. Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Space Law Snafu

In the age of NewSpace, transportation to space won't be restricted to government entities as private companies and entrepreneurs like Elon Musk are clamoring to travel to Mars and beyond. As the Washington Post pointed out, all this raises the sticky issue of “planetary protection." As Wired explained, planetary protection has two basic missions: “backward protection” means making sure that nothing dangerous in space gets back to Earth and “forward protection” is making sure that no Earthly gunk makes it off-world—primarily so that it doesn’t contaminate whatever science an Earth-born probe is doing. In fact, the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 which was signed and ratified by 107 countries specifically states that "states shall avoid harmful contamination of space and celestial bodies" and likewise expresses that nations must avoid introducing extraterrestrial matter to Earth. 

People in favor of human missions to Mars view planetary protection and the Outer Space Treaty as too restrictive and think it can limit where spacecrafts can land and where rovers can venture (and believe that the science behind it is a relic of Cold War mentality). But a new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine is urging NASA to improve and update its planetary protection process in light of so many new private-sector players in space exploration. 

Why This Matters: One of the best reasons to enforce planetary protection rules is for scientific credibility. NASA does not want the search for life on Mars to be contaminated by bacteria that astronauts and machines bring from Earth. “Earth organisms could completely sully what’s there and compromise the science,” said Gary Ruvkun, a professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School and a member of the National Academies committee. Although "space law" sounds like something out of Star Trek it's a very real thing that people will have to contend with more frequently as we develop more advanced technology to explore the final frontier (sorry, couldn't help ourselves!). 



One Cool Thing:  Greener Fireworks

We will end today on a cool note!  The potential health and environmental hazards created by some of the chemicals found in fireworks has led to both increased regulation and research for civilian and military pyrotechnics.  According to American Scientist magazine, the U.S. government has conducted research to develop propellants, explosives, and pyrotechnics that are more environmentally friendly that are making their way into private fireworks displays.  Fireworks can produce soot and smoke that temporarily reduce air quality around displays, and afterward, the materials in fireworks, such as the coloring chemicals and the other parts that don't totally burn up, fall back to the ground and contaminate soils or waterways.  But now, many pyrotechnic devices, based on high-nitrogen, low-smoke pyrotechnic technologies, are in use at indoor entertainment venues such as concerts and sporting events like the Superbowl, the Olympics, and other big events.  And Forbes Magazine reports that while fireworks release chemicals into the air temporarily, they do not release enough to have an impact on global warming. 

Hip Hip Hooray!  Happy Fourth of July, everyone! 
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