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7 climate change projects that are changing the game
While there's plenty to be worried about, it's important to remember that we're making progress, too.
- If we do nothing, global temperatures could rise as high as 10 degrees Celsius by the end of the century.
- Fortunately, humanity is hard at work at keeping temperature increases below the 2 degrees Celsius mark.
- These 7 projects are just a snapshot of what humanity is collectively doing to fight back and beat climate change.
It's easy to feel hopeless when it comes to the climate. The news is full of stories on how the next century will see unbearable heat waves, impossibly strong hurricanes, flooded cities, an ice-free Arctic, and global temperatures reaching up to an average of 10 degrees Celsius hotter than they already are. But despite how terrible this feels, it's important to remember that the appropriate response is to leap into action, not to be paralyzed by despair. To supply some optimism and show that humanity isn't totally screwed, here are 7 climate change projects that are changing the game.
1. Carbon Engineering Ltd's negative-emissions plant
One of the biggest challenges to combatting climate change is the lack of incentive (aside from the destruction of the planet, that is). When looking at the astronomical profits of the oil and gas industries, it's clear that reducing humanity's reliance on oil and gas will take some serious incentivization.
That's where Carbon Engineering comes in. The Canadian company intends to build a commercial-scale negative-emissions facility using funding from a variety of investors, including Bill Gates. These people didn't invest entirely out of the goodness of their hearts; they did so to make a profit.
The facility will suck CO2 out of the atmosphere to either store it underground, where it can't affect the atmosphere anymore, or to convert it into carbon-neutral fuel. What's more, this will happen at a rate of $100 per ton of CO2, the benchmark at which negative-emissions technology is considered to be cost effective.
2. Disney's new solar facility
As one of the largest entertainment corporations in the world, Disney has set itself an impressive goal: It intends to half its emissions by 2020. When you're talking about the emissions produced by a corporation worth $171.7 billion, that's pretty significant.
As an initial step towards this goal, Disney recently opened a 270-acre, 50-megawatt solar facility in Florida. Disney expects that this plant will produce enough energy to operate two of its four theme parks in central Florida and cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 57,000 tons per year. As an industry leader, their solar plant is likely a harbinger of more facilities across the United States — and world, for that matter.
3. Harvard's SCoPEx project: Dimming the sun
Short for the Stratospheric Controlled Perturbation Experiment, SCoPEx's controversial goal is to spray calcium carbonate — the same stuff in your antacid tablets — into the sky to observe its effects in the stratosphere, with the ultimate goal of observing whether it can reflect sunlight back into space.
This might seem familiar for those of you who have watched the movie Snowpiercer. In that film, the fictional chemical CW-7 is sprayed into the atmosphere to reverse climate change, ultimately cooling the planet too much and sending it into an apocalyptic Ice Age.
Fortunately, the Harvard researchers don't plan on coating the planet in calcium carbonate — since this is real life, and not a film, they'll perform controlled experiments using just a few hundred grams of the material. There are still concerns about what effects there could be, however; for one, even if a large-scale deployment of calcium carbonate would effectively reflect sunlight and cool the planet, it would still be a temporary solution.
Still, plants would also receive less sunlight and since calcium carbonate just isn't present in the stratosphere, nobody can really predict what side effects it might cause up there. Nevertheless, it's a valuable experiment that may show us a promising — albeit last-ditch — solution.
4. The spread of electric cars
In the U.S., transportation accounts for 28 percent of the country's greenhouse gas emissions. But not only do most major car companies now offer electric vehicles as part of their product lines, Tesla and other companies are focusing solely on producing electric cars. In February of 2019, Amazon invested $700 million in a Tesla competitor called Rivian, which plans to commercially release electric pick-up trucks in 2020. Tesla, too, is planning a release for 2020: a fully electric semitractor trailer.
These developments mean that the non-electric sectors of the transportation market are disappearing. Of course, none of this matters if there isn't the infrastructure there to support these cars. Fortunately, companies such as ChargePoint are installing charging stations across the country. As of this writing, ChargePoint has installed a little over 62,000 charging stations located across the globe.
5. The Environmental Business Initiative
It's rare that a big bank does anything as a force for good, but that's what Bank of America is doing with its Environmental Business Initiative. Part of what has made climate change projects so difficult to get going is the anxiety they produce in investors. This makes sense; a lot of climate change projects are new and use technologies not yet tested at large scales, risk factors that scare investment away. What's more, it's not always clear how an investor will make their money back.
Fortunately, Bank of America has invested $96 billion to date in a variety of sustainable businesses and promises to invest another $125 billion. The bank essentially invented the concept of green bonds, a type of security specifically reserved for climate and environmental projects.
6. The Green New Deal and growing political understanding
Addressing such a widespread and multifaceted threat like climate change will require a commensurately widespread and multifaceted climate policy. Although the Green New Deal was rejected in the U.S. Senate in March 2019, the mere fact that it existed at all is cause for optimism.
The future of climate change policy may not exactly match the ambitious Green New Deal, which aimed to make the U.S. energy system 100% renewable, to revamp the electrical grid into a "smart" grid, and overhaul the transportation system, among other goals. But it will certainly resemble it. Polls show that just 14.7 percent of Americans disagreed with the Green New Deal as a whole, a level of support that many politicians are responding to.
7. The promise of nuclear fusion
Tokamak Energy's fusion reactor
Nuclear power has always been a hot-button topic for environmentalists, and it was notably left out of the Green New Deal plan. If done right, nuclear fission plants can provide sustainable energy with minimal waste, but the problem is that they are not typically done right. Fission plants are expensive, complicated, and the repercussions of building a faulty one or failing to follow protocol are severe. Although the waste they do produce doesn't contribute to climate change, they are extremely toxic, must be carefully handled and stored, and can remain toxic for several thousands of years.
Nuclear fusion, on the other hand, doesn't carry the risk of a meltdown, produces waste whose radioactivity is short-lived, and it has the potential to produce unbelievable amounts of energy. Although fusion remains a hypothetical source of energy, we're getting closer and closer every year.
One nuclear fusion company, Tokamak Energy, recently heated hydrogen to 15 million degrees Celsius, briefly producing hydrogen plasma in a significant milestone on the way to fusion energy. Specifically, Tokamak Energy intends to heat hydrogen plasma to 100 million degrees Celsius in order to produce fusion energy. If its future ventures are successful, Tokamak Energy intends to deploy the world's first commercial nuclear fusion reactor by 2030. And they're not alone. Fusion experiments are taking place in countries such as France, Germany, and China, all of which have been making significant progress.
No one project will be the answer to the Earth's climate problems. But when taken together, they form a picture of the future that isn't quite so grim as we might believe today.
- 6 Big Corporations That Are Taking Climate Change Action Seriously ›
- How Harvard scientists plan to block out the sun - Big Think ›
- $60 Trillion: New Study Projects the Global Cost of Climate Change ... ›
Northwell Health is using insights from website traffic to forecast COVID-19 hospitalizations two weeks in the future.
- The machine-learning algorithm works by analyzing the online behavior of visitors to the Northwell Health website and comparing that data to future COVID-19 hospitalizations.
- The tool, which uses anonymized data, has so far predicted hospitalizations with an accuracy rate of 80 percent.
- Machine-learning tools are helping health-care professionals worldwide better constrain and treat COVID-19.
The value of forecasting<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTA0Njk2OC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyMzM2NDQzOH0.rid9regiDaKczCCKBsu7wrHkNQ64Vz_XcOEZIzAhzgM/img.jpg?width=980" id="2bb93" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="31345afbdf2bd408fd3e9f31520c445a" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1546" data-height="1056" />
Northwell emergency departments use the dashboard to monitor in real time.
Credit: Northwell Health<p>One unique benefit of forecasting COVID-19 hospitalizations is that it allows health systems to better prepare, manage and allocate resources. For example, if the tool forecasted a surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations in two weeks, Northwell Health could begin:</p><ul><li>Making space for an influx of patients</li><li>Moving personal protective equipment to where it's most needed</li><li>Strategically allocating staff during the predicted surge</li><li>Increasing the number of tests offered to asymptomatic patients</li></ul><p>The health-care field is increasingly using machine learning. It's already helping doctors develop <a href="https://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/early/2020/06/09/dc19-1870" target="_blank">personalized care plans for diabetes patients</a>, improving cancer screening techniques, and enabling mental health professionals to better predict which patients are at <a href="https://healthitanalytics.com/news/ehr-data-fuels-accurate-predictive-analytics-for-suicide-risk" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">elevated risk of suicide</a>, to name a few applications.</p><p>Health systems around the world have already begun exploring how <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7315944/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">machine learning can help battle the pandemic</a>, including better COVID-19 screening, diagnosis, contact tracing, and drug and vaccine development.</p><p>Cruzen said these kinds of tools represent a shift in how health systems can tackle a wide variety of problems.</p><p>"Health care has always used the past to predict the future, but not in this mathematical way," Cruzen said. "I think [Northwell Health's new predictive tool] really is a great first example of how we should be attacking a lot of things as we go forward."</p>
Making machine-learning tools openly accessible<p>Northwell Health has made its predictive tool <a href="https://github.com/northwell-health/covid-web-data-predictor" target="_blank">available for free</a> to any health system that wishes to utilize it.</p><p>"COVID is everybody's problem, and I think developing tools that can be used to help others is sort of why people go into health care," Dr. Cruzen said. "It was really consistent with our mission."</p><p>Open collaboration is something the world's governments and health systems should be striving for during the pandemic, said Michael Dowling, Northwell Health's president and CEO.</p><p>"Whenever you develop anything and somebody else gets it, they improve it and they continue to make it better," Dowling said. "As a country, we lack data. I believe very, very strongly that we should have been and should be now working with other countries, including China, including the European Union, including England and others to figure out how to develop a health surveillance system so you can anticipate way in advance when these things are going to occur."</p><p>In all, Northwell Health has treated more than 112,000 COVID patients. During the pandemic, Dowling said he's seen an outpouring of goodwill, collaboration, and sacrifice from the community and the tens of thousands of staff who work across Northwell.</p><p>"COVID has changed our perspective on everything—and not just those of us in health care, because it has disrupted everybody's life," Dowling said. "It has demonstrated the value of community, how we help one another."</p>
"You dream about these kinds of moments when you're a kid," said lead paleontologist David Schmidt.
- The triceratops skull was first discovered in 2019, but was excavated over the summer of 2020.
- It was discovered in the South Dakota Badlands, an area where the Triceratops roamed some 66 million years ago.
- Studying dinosaurs helps scientists better understand the evolution of all life on Earth.
Credit: David Schmidt / Westminster College<p style="margin-left: 20px;">"We had to be really careful," Schmidt told St. Louis Public Radio. "We couldn't disturb anything at all, because at that point, it was under law enforcement investigation. They were telling us, 'Don't even make footprints,' and I was thinking, 'How are we supposed to do that?'"</p><p>Another difficulty was the mammoth size of the skull: about 7 feet long and more than 3,000 pounds. (For context, the largest triceratops skull ever unearthed was about <a href="https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/02724634.2010.483632" target="_blank">8.2 feet long</a>.) The skull of Schmidt's dinosaur was likely a <em>Triceratops prorsus, </em>one of two species of triceratops that roamed what's now North America about 66 million years ago.</p>
Credit: David Schmidt / Westminster College<p>The triceratops was an herbivore, but it was also a favorite meal of the T<em>yrannosaurus rex</em>. That probably explains why the Dakotas contain many scattered triceratops bone fragments, and, less commonly, complete bones and skulls. In summer 2019, for example, a separate team on a dig in North Dakota made <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/26/science/triceratops-skull-65-million-years-old.html" target="_blank">headlines</a> after unearthing a complete triceratops skull that measured five feet in length.</p><p>Michael Kjelland, a biology professor who participated in that excavation, said digging up the dinosaur was like completing a "multi-piece, 3-D jigsaw puzzle" that required "engineering that rivaled SpaceX," he jokingly told the <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/26/science/triceratops-skull-65-million-years-old.html" target="_blank">New York Times</a>.</p>
Morrison Formation in Colorado
James St. John via Flickr
|Credit: Nobu Tamura/Wikimedia Commons|
Archaeologists discover a cave painting of a wild pig that is now the world's oldest dated work of representational art.
- Archaeologists find a cave painting of a wild pig that is at least 45,500 years old.
- The painting is the earliest known work of representational art.
- The discovery was made in a remote valley on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi.
Oldest Cave Art Found in Sulawesi<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="a9734e306f0914bfdcbe79a1e317a7f0"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/b-wAYtBxn7E?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Persian polymath and philosopher of the Islamic Golden Age teaches us about self-awareness.