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The U.S. military emits more greenhouse gases than Sweden and Denmark
The war machine needs fuel, perhaps so much as to make protecting oil redundant.
- A new study shows how the United States' Military is the largest institutional emitter of greenhouse gasses in the world.
- These emissions come from both combat and non-combat operations.
- The use of some of the fossil fuels the military burns to protect the supply of oil creates an interesting paradox.
Unless you've been living under a rock, you probably know that climate change is the greatest threat facing the world today. The security risks posed by global warming are well known, and the United States' Department of Defense has been evaluating the dangers it poses for the past couple of decades. Even if we act soon enough to avert total climate catastrophe, the resultant droughts, food shortages, and natural disasters will be giving world leaders headaches for the next century.
However, according to a new study out of Brown University by Professor Neta C. Crawford, the United States military is the world's largest institutional greenhouse gas emitter, meaning that they are preparing to deal with problems caused in part by their fossil fuel use.
Fueling the war machine
As you might imagine, it takes a lot of fuel to keep the United States military going. What many people don't quite realize is how much that adds up to.
Since 2001, when the U.S. invaded Afghanistan in response to the 9/11 attacks, the military has emitted 1,212 million metric tons of greenhouse gasses. This includes 400 million tons of directly war-related emissions in the war zones of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, and Syria. In 2017, the last year for which data is available, the Department of Defense (DOD) emitted 58.4 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent. This is more than the total emitted by the nations of Sweden or Denmark and is a substantial amount that significantly contributes to climate change.
Where does this all come from?
There are many parts of the war machine that burn fossil fuels. They can be broken down into two parts.
The first half is infrastructure. The DOD reports that 30% of its energy use is for physical installations. This is mostly for the electricity needed to power more than 560,000 buildings at about 500 sites around the globe. These locations are vital to the operations of the American military, as the Pentagon explains, "In many ways, installation energy supports warfighter requirements through secure and resilient sources of commercial electrical energy, and where applicable, energy generation and storage, to support mission loads, power projection platforms, remotely piloted aircraft operations, intelligence support, and cyber operations."
Then, of course, is the actual fighting and the energy that takes. This remaining 70% of DOD energy use is termed "operational" and refers to the actual use of planes, ships, and vehicles. Most of these aren't made to be fuel efficient, and some aircraft require multiple gallons of jet fuel to move a single nautical mile.
To these numbers you should also add the emissions created by the manufacture of war materials; if we presume that military industry has the same share of emissions as its share of the manufacturing sector as a whole – which is 15% of all manufacturing jobs in the United States – then from 2001 to 2017, 2,600 million megatons of CO2 equivalent greenhouse gas emissions were attributable to military industry.
The ironic trap this creates
One of the stated goals of the United States military over the last few decades has been keeping the world oil supply stable. This has been achieved through a series of wars, constant patrolling of international shipping lanes, and a substantial show of force in troubled areas of the world that produce petroleum.
And no, this isn't a conspiracy theory dreamed up by some tree hugging hippie. In 1990, the Bush administration issued National Security Directive 45 stating that "U.S. interests in the Persian Gulf are vital to the national security. These interests include access to oil and the security and stability of key friendly states in the region." The second Bush administration expressed a similar sentiment, one which is shared by many experts on national security.
This means that the United States military is using more oil than anybody else, in part to make sure that the supply of oil remains secure. The irony of this isn't lost on the study author, Professor Crawford, who frames the problem as such:
"The U.S. has an important public policy decision to make. Do we continue to orient our foreign policy and military force posture toward ensuring access to fossil fuels? Or do we dramatically reduce the use of fossil fuels, including the military's own dependency, and thus reduce the perceived need to preserve access to oil resources?"
Crawford suggests that a reduction of fossil fuel use by the military would have "enormous positive implications for the climate," save a fortune, help prevent climate change-related threats, and reduce the need for American soldiers to be in the Middle East at all.
The seriousness of the problem isn't lost on the brass. Dozens of military installations are already dealing with climate change-induced drought, flooding, wildfires, and desertification and are being equipped to do so. The navy is working on how to deal with rising sea levels and what effect that might have on current installations. The need for so much fuel also creates supply issues and convoys which are vulnerable to attack, so programs to cut down on fuel use have been enacted.
Several programs exist to cut down on greenhouse emissions in each branch of the military, which has successfully reduced the amount of energy used per year over the last few years. The use of hybrid and electric vehicles has been introduced where possible, and the percentage of energy derived from alternative sources, such as renewables or nuclear power, continues to increase. Room for improvement still exists, however.
Big picture: What can we do?
Several ideas to escape this ironic trap are suggested in the paper. Chief among them is a critical analysis of how important the mission of protecting oil access really is.
U.S. oil demand peaked in 2005, and dependence on Middle Eastern oil has been in decline since 2006. With it, the need for a steady oil supply from that part of the world has also continued to decline. Even if some crisis did affect the flow of oil, the argument goes, nothing prevents the United States from intervening after the fact. The article also points out that China is more vulnerable to such a shock than the United States is.
The United States military is the greatest war machine ever built. The economic and environmental costs of keeping that machine running are astronomical. The question of if it is a bill we want to continue to pay is one we must repeatedly ask ourselves as security threats evolve and the cost of ecological inaction climb ever higher.
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A Harvard professor's study discovers the worst year to be alive.
- Harvard professor Michael McCormick argues the worst year to be alive was 536 AD.
- The year was terrible due to cataclysmic eruptions that blocked out the sun and the spread of the plague.
- 536 ushered in the coldest decade in thousands of years and started a century of economic devastation.
The past year has been nothing but the worst in the lives of many people around the globe. A rampaging pandemic, dangerous political instability, weather catastrophes, and a profound change in lifestyle that most have never experienced or imagined.
But was it the worst year ever?
Nope. Not even close. In the eyes of the historian and archaeologist Michael McCormick, the absolute "worst year to be alive" was 536.
Why was 536 so bad? You could certainly argue that 1918, the last year of World War I when the Spanish Flu killed up to 100 million people around the world, was a terrible year by all accounts. 1349 could also be considered on this morbid list as the year when the Black Death wiped out half of Europe, with up to 20 million dead from the plague. Most of the years of World War II could probably lay claim to the "worst year" title as well. But 536 was in a category of its own, argues the historian.
It all began with an eruption...
According to McCormick, Professor of Medieval History at Harvard University, 536 was the precursor year to one of the worst periods of human history. It featured a volcanic eruption early in the year that took place in Iceland, as established by a study of a Swiss glacier carried out by McCormick and the glaciologist Paul Mayewski from the Climate Change Institute of The University of Maine (UM) in Orono.
The ash spewed out by the volcano likely led to a fog that brought an 18-month-long stretch of daytime darkness across Europe, the Middle East, and portions of Asia. As wrote the Byzantine historian Procopius, "For the sun gave forth its light without brightness, like the moon, during the whole year." He also recounted that it looked like the sun was always in eclipse.
Cassiodorus, a Roman politician of that time, wrote that the sun had a "bluish" color, the moon had no luster, and "seasons seem to be all jumbled up together." What's even creepier, he described, "We marvel to see no shadows of our bodies at noon."
...that led to famine...
The dark days also brought a period of coldness, with summer temperatures falling by 1.5° C. to 2.5° C. This started the coldest decade in the past 2300 years, reports Science, leading to the devastation of crops and worldwide hunger.
...and the fall of an empire
In 541, the bubonic plague added considerably to the world's misery. Spreading from the Roman port of Pelusium in Egypt, the so-called Plague of Justinian caused the deaths of up to one half of the population of the eastern Roman Empire. This, in turn, sped up its eventual collapse, writes McCormick.
Between the environmental cataclysms, with massive volcanic eruptions also in 540 and 547, and the devastation brought on by the plague, Europe was in for an economic downturn for nearly all of the next century, until 640 when silver mining gave it a boost.
Was that the worst time in history?
Of course, the absolute worst time in history depends on who you were and where you lived.
Native Americans can easily point to 1520, when smallpox, brought over by the Spanish, killed millions of indigenous people. By 1600, up to 90 percent of the population of the Americas (about 55 million people) was wiped out by various European pathogens.
Like all things, the grisly title of "worst year ever" comes down to historical perspective.
A new paper reveals that the Voyager 1 spacecraft detected a constant hum coming from outside our Solar System.
Voyager 1, humanity's most faraway spacecraft, has detected an unusual "hum" coming from outside our solar system. Fourteen billion miles away from Earth, the Voyager's instruments picked up a droning sound that may be caused by plasma (ionized gas) in the vast emptiness of interstellar space.
Launched in 1977, the Voyager 1 space probe — along with its twin Voyager 2 — has been traveling farther and farther into space for over 44 years. It has now breached the edge of our solar system, exiting the heliosphere, the bubble-like region of space influenced by the sun. Now, the spacecraft is moving through the "interstellar medium," where it recorded the peculiar sound.
Stella Koch Ocker, a doctoral student in astronomy at Cornell University, discovered the sound in the data from the Voyager's Plasma Wave System (PWS), which measures electron density. Ocker called the drone coming from plasma shock waves "very faint and monotone," likely due to the narrow bandwidth of its frequency.
While they think the persistent background hum may be coming from interstellar gas, the researchers don't yet know what exactly is causing it. It might be produced by "thermally excited plasma oscillations and quasi-thermal noise."
The new paper from Ocker and her colleagues at Cornell University and the University of Iowa, published in Nature Astronomy, also proposes that this is not the last we'll hear of the strange noise. The scientists write that "the emission's persistence suggests that Voyager 1 may be able to continue tracking the interstellar plasma density in the absence of shock-generated plasma oscillation events."
Voyager Captures Sounds of Interstellar Space www.youtube.com
The researchers think the droning sound may hold clues to how interstellar space and the heliopause, which can be thought of as the solar's system border, may be affecting each other. When it first entered interstellar space, the PWS instrument reported disturbances in the gas caused by the sun. But in between such eruptions is where the researchers spotted the steady signature made by the near-vacuum.
Senior author James Cordes, a professor of astronomy at Cornell, compared the interstellar medium to "a quiet or gentle rain," adding that "in the case of a solar outburst, it's like detecting a lightning burst in a thunderstorm and then it's back to a gentle rain."
More data from Voyager over the next few years may hold crucial information to the origins of the hum. The findings are already remarkable considering the space probe is functioning on technology from the mid-1970s. The craft has about 70 kilobytes of computer memory. It also carries a Golden Record created by a committee chaired by the late Carl Sagan, who taught at Cornell University. The 12-inch gold-plated copper disk record is essentially a time capsule, meant to tell the story of Earthlings to extraterrestrials. It contains sounds and images that showcase the diversity of Earth's life and culture.
A team of scientists managed to install onto a smartphone a spectrometer that's capable of identifying specific molecules — with cheap parts you can buy online.
- Spectroscopy provides a non-invasive way to study the chemical composition of matter.
- These techniques analyze the unique ways light interacts with certain materials.
- If spectrometers become a common feature of smartphones, it could someday potentially allow anyone to identify pathogens, detect impurities in food, and verify the authenticity of valuable minerals.
The quality of smartphone cameras has increased exponentially over the past decade. Today's smartphone cameras can not only capture photos that rival those of stand-alone camera systems but also offer practical applications, like heart-rate measurement, foreign-text translation, and augmented reality.
What's the next major functionality of smartphone cameras? It could be the ability to identify chemicals, drugs, and biological molecules, according to a new study published in the Review of Scientific Instruments.
The study describes how a team of scientists at Texas A&M turned a common smartphone into a "pocket-sized" Raman and emission spectral detector by modifying it with just $50 worth of extra equipment. With the added hardware, the smartphone was able to identify chemicals in the field within minutes.
The technology could have a wide range of applications, including diagnosing certain diseases, detecting the presence of pathogens and dangerous chemicals, identifying impurities in food, and verifying the authenticity of valuable artwork and minerals.
Raman and fluorescence spectroscopy
Raman and fluorescence spectroscopies are techniques for discerning the chemical composition of materials. Both strategies exploit the fact that light interacts with certain types of matter in unique ways. But there are some differences between the two techniques.
As the name suggests, fluorescence spectroscopy measures the fluorescence — that is, the light emitted by a substance when it absorbs light or other electromagnetic radiation — of a given material. It works by shining light on a material, which excites the electrons within the molecules of the material. The electrons then emit fluorescent light toward a filter that measures fluorescence.
The particular spectra of fluorescent light that's emitted can help scientists detect small concentrations of particular types of biological molecules within a material. But some biomolecules, such as RNA and DNA, don't emit fluorescent light, or they only do so at extremely low levels. That's where Raman spectroscopy comes into play.
Raman spectroscopy involves shooting a laser at a sample and observing how the light scatters. When light hits molecules, the atoms within the molecules vibrate and photons get scattered. Most of the scattered light is of the same wavelength and color as the original light, so it provides no information. But a tiny fraction of the light gets scattered differently; that is, the wavelength and color are different. Known as Raman scattering, this is extremely useful because it provides highly precise information about the chemical composition of the molecule. In other words, all molecules have a unique Raman "fingerprint."
Creating an affordable, pocket-sized spectrometer
To build the spectrometer, the researchers connected a smartphone to a laser and a series of plastic lenses. The smartphone camera was placed facing a transmission diffraction grating, which splits incoming light into its constituent wavelengths and colors. After a laser is fired into a sample, the scattered light is diffracted through this grating, and the smartphone camera analyzes the light on the other side.
Schematic diagram of the designed system.Credit: Dhankhar et al.
To test the spectrometer, the researchers analyzed a range of sample materials, including carrots and bacteria. The laser used in the spectrometer emits a wavelength that's readily absorbed by the pigments in carrots and bacteria, which is why these materials were chosen.
The results showed that the smartphone spectrometer was able to correctly identify the materials, but it wasn't quite as effective as the best commercially available Raman spectrometers. The researchers noted that their system might be improved by using specific High Dynamic Range (HDR) smartphone camera applications.
Ultimately, the study highlights how improving the fundamentals of a technology, like smartphone cameras, can lead to a surprisingly wide range of useful applications.
"This inexpensive yet accurate recording pocket Raman system has the potential of being an integral part of ubiquitous cell phones that will make it possible to identify chemical impurities and pathogens, in situ within minutes," the researchers concluded.