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 ›
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Northwell Health CEO Michael Dowling has an important favor to ask of the American people.
- Michael Dowling is president and CEO of Northwell Health, the largest health care system in New York state. In this PSA, speaking as someone whose company has seen more COVID-19 patients than any other in the country, Dowling implores Americans to wear masks—not only for their own health, but for the health of those around them.
- The CDC reports that there have been close to 7.9 million cases of coronavirus reported in the United States since January. Around 216,000 people have died from the virus so far with hundreds more added to the tally every day. Several labs around the world are working on solutions, but there is currently no vaccine for COVID-19.
- The most basic thing that everyone can do to help slow the spread is to practice social distancing, wash your hands, and to wear a mask. The CDC recommends that everyone ages two and up wear a mask that is two or more layers of material and that covers the nose, mouth, and chin. Gaiters and face shields have been shown to be less effective at blocking droplets. Homemade face coverings are acceptable, but wearers should make sure they are constructed out of the proper materials and that they are washed between uses. Wearing a mask is the most important thing you can do to save lives in your community.
Two massive clouds of dust in orbit around the Earth have been discussed for years and finally proven to exist.
- Hungarian astronomers have proven the existence of two "pseudo-satellites" in orbit around the earth.
- These dust clouds were first discovered in the sixties, but are so difficult to spot that scientists have debated their existence since then.
- The findings may be used to decide where to put satellites in the future and will have to be considered when interplanetary space missions are undertaken.
What are they?<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xODgyMDA0NC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNTM1ODc0Mn0.NH33LuauIo__sUBi4tvhwxDcsvhflDFD-Nhx9FjlSNk/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=148%2C0%2C149%2C0&height=700" id="cec96" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="acb78abe2ab46a17e419ad30906751d6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Artist's impression of the Kordylewski cloud in the night sky (with its brightness greatly enhanced) at the time of the observations.
G. Horváth<p>The<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kordylewski_cloud" target="_blank"> Kordylewski clouds</a> are two dust clouds first observed by Polish astronomer Kazimierz Kordylewski in 1961. They are situated at two of the <a href="https://www.space.com/30302-lagrange-points.html" target="_blank">Lagrange points</a> in Earth's orbit. These points are locations where the gravity of two objects, such as the Earth and the Moon or a planet and the Sun, equals the centripetal required to orbit the objects while staying in the same relative position. There are five of these spots between the Earth and Moon. The clouds rest at what are called points four and five, forming a triangle with the clouds and the Earth at the three corners.</p><p>The clouds are enormous, taking up the same space in the night sky as twenty lunar discs; covering an area of 45,000 miles. They are roughly 250,000 miles away, about the same distance from us as the Moon. They are entirely comprised of specks of dust which reflect the light of the sun so faintly most astronomers that looked for them were unable to see them at all. </p><p>The clouds themselves are probably ancient, but the model that the scientists created to learn about them suggests that the individual dust particles that comprise them can be blown away by solar wind and replaced by the dust from other cosmic sources like comet tails. This means that the clouds hardly move but are <a href="https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2018/11/news-earth-moon-dust-clouds-satellites-planets-space/" target="_blank">eternally changing</a>. </p>
How did they discover this?<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xODgyMDAzNi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1Nzc4MjQ4MX0.7uU9OqmQcWw5Ll1UXAav0PCu4nTg-GdJdAWADHanC7c/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C180%2C0%2C181&height=700" id="952fb" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="a778280a20f1c54cd2c14c8313224be2" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
"In this picture the central region of the Kordylewski dust cloud is visible (bright red pixels). The straight tilted lines are traces of satellites."
J. Slíz-Balogh<p>In their study published in the <a href="https://academic.oup.com/mnras" target="_blank">Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society</a>, Hungarian astronomers Judit Slíz-Balogh, András Barta, and Gábor Horváth described how they were able to find the dust clouds using polarized lenses.</p><p>Since the clouds were expected to polarize the light that bounces off of them, by configuring the telescopes to look for this kind of light the clouds were much easier to spot. What the scientists observed, polarized light in patterns that extended outside the view of the telescope lens, was in line with the predictions of their mathematical model and ruled out other possible sources. </p>
Why are we just learning this now?<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xODgyMDAzOS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY2MjUyNDMyMH0.Zl8GmQ_rJHiL4b7hN0r_YBmgb6_ZqIRvqOVuko2ubpw/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C141%2C0%2C185&height=700" id="87afe" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="dd4c0b5088e601d7279cc5eb226f8b7b" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
"Mosaic pattern of the angle of polarization around the L5 point (white dot) of the Earth-Moon system. The five rectangular windows correspond to the imaging telescope with which the patterns of the Kordylewski cloud were measured."
J. Slíz-Balogh<p>The objects, being dust clouds, are very faint and hard to see. While Kordylewski observed them in 1961, other astronomers have looked there and given mixed reports over the following decades. This discouraged many astronomers from joining the search, as study co-author Judit Slíz-Balogh <a href="https://ras.ac.uk/news-and-press/research-highlights/earths-dust-cloud-satellites-confirmed" target="_blank">explained</a>, <em>"The Kordylewski clouds are two of the toughest objects to find, and though they are as close to Earth as the Moon are largely overlooked by researchers in astronomy. It is intriguing to confirm that our planet has dusty pseudo-satellites in orbit alongside our lunar neighbor."</em></p>
Will this have any impact on space travel?<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c3d797fff5430c64afcb5a49bddc3616"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/Ou8N3v9SFPE?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>Lagrange points have been put forward as excellent locations for a space station or satellites like the <a href="https://jwst.nasa.gov/about.html" target="_blank">James Webb Telescope</a> to be put into orbit, as they would require little fuel to stay in place. Knowing about a massive dust cloud that could damage sensitive equipment already being there could save money and lives in the future. While we only know about the clouds at Lagrange points four and five right now, the study's authors suggest there could be more at the other points.</p><p>While the discovery of a couple of dust clouds might not seem all that impressive, it is the result of a half-century of astronomical and mathematical work and reminds us that wonders are still hidden in our cosmic backyard. While you might never need to worry about these clouds again, there is nothing wrong with looking at the sky with wonder at the strange and fantastic things we can discover. </p>
New cancer-scanning technology reveals a previously unknown detail of human anatomy.
- Scientists using new scanning technology and hunting for prostate tumors get a surprise.
- Behind the nasopharynx is a set of salivary glands that no one knew about.
- Finding the glands may allow for more complication-free radiation therapies.
PSMA PET/CT technology<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="676e611b970c9b516cace0870447b325"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/RHAyoQF09X4?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>PSMA PET/CT is a new combination of <a href="https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/pet-scan/about/pac-20385078" target="_blank">PET scans</a> and <a href="https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/ct-scan/about/pac-20393675" target="_blank">CT scans</a> that is believed to offer a more reliable means of locating prostate cancer metastasis. A <a href="https://www.cancer.gov/news-events/cancer-currents-blog/2020/prostate-cancer-psma-pet-ct-metastasis" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">study</a> published last spring suggests it may be the most accurate way to diagnose prostate cancer metastasis than any method previously available.</p><p>Prior to PSMA PET/CT, the primary way to look for metastatic prostate cancer was to image the body using x-ray-based CT scans and to perform bone scans, since bone is where prostate cancer often spreads. CT scans, however, often miss small tumors, and bone scans can generate false positives as a result of other damage or abnormalities that have nothing to do with prostate cancer.</p><p>PSMA PET/CT scans track the travels of an intravenously administered radioactive glucose tracer throughout the body. For hunting down prostate cancer, this tracer contains a molecule that binds to the <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1472940/" target="_blank">PSMA</a> protein that's present in large amounts in prostate tumors. The molecule is linked to a radioisotope, <a href="https://netrf.org/2018/11/13/gallium-68-scan-for-neuroendocrine-tumors/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">gallium-68</a> (Ga-68).</p><p>In last spring's research, PSAM PET/CT was shown to be 27 percent more accurate than previous methods at finding metastases (92 percent accuracy as opposed to 65 percent). In addition, it was found to be much less likely to produce false positives, and it was particularly good at detecting tumors far removed from the prostate.</p>
A good kind of avoidance behavior<p>"Radiation therapy can damage the salivary glands," says Vogel, "which may lead to complications. Patients may have trouble eating, swallowing, or speaking, which can be a real burden."</p><p>The researchers looked back through the cases of 723 patients who had undergone radiation treatment, interested in seeing if inadvertent radiation of the tubarial glands was associated with the complications experienced by the patients. It turned out that this <em>was</em> the case: In cases where more radiation had been delivered to this area, patients did indeed report more in the way of complications of the type one would expect when salivary glands are radiated.</p><p>Now that we know the tubarial salivary glands exist, therapists can stay out of their way. Vogel says, "For most patients, it should technically be possible to avoid delivering radiation to this newly discovered location of the salivary gland system in the same way we try to spare known glands."</p><p>He's hopeful that that things may be about to get at least a bit better for cancer patients: "Our next step is to find out how we can best spare these new glands and in which patients. If we can do this, patients may experience less side effects which will benefit their overall quality of life after treatment."</p>
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