Sierra Daily: November 2012
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13 posts from November 2012

Nov 08, 2012

Green One-Upmanship

Aquarius_eco_ship_2aThe sail-powered freighter Beluga Skysails was launched nearly five years ago, but the quest for renewable-energy powered commercial ships continues to amaze. Now comes word of a renewable two-fer, the Aquarius Eco Ship, which is powered partly by rigid sails that incorporate solar panels. Being designed by Japan’s Eco Marine Power, its so-called EnergySail could lower fuel use by 40 percent by relying on wind and solar power along with other energy-saving technologies. (And, as Cnet reports, “large vessels such as oil tankers could see annual fuel savings of 10 to 20 percent” -- which has a quirky why-bother? aspect to it, but every savings helps.)

Eco Marine Power hopes to launch the Golden Age of PV Sail with sea trials in 2013.

Image by Eco Marine Power

HS_ReedMcManusReed McManus is a senior editor at Sierra. He has worked on the magazine since Ronald Reagan’s second term. For inspiration, he turns to cartoonist R. Crumb’s Mr. Natural, who famously noted: “Twas ever thus.”

Nov 05, 2012

California Forecast: Hot and Ugly

CA-heatOn this November 5, the big window next to my desk is flung wide open in hopes of a cooling breeze to moderate the record 82.6 degree temperature outside. Outside of San Francisco it's even hotter: 92 in Los Angeles, 97.8 in coastal San Luis Obispo.

This might be a good time to invest in flip flops, because there’s much more to come in the future. Richard Kipling of the Center for Health Reporting informs us that as California’s Department of Public Health plans for climate change, “Extreme Heat Is the Rule.”

The future is going be hot and ugly. . . . By the 2030s, projections show that average annual temperatures will be up to 5 degrees higher, and extreme heat events will occur with markedly greater frequency.

The workgroup’s model shows, for example, that Sacramento will have 44 extreme heat days annually by 2050, Fresno 46, and Bakersfield 48. That’s six weeks of super-heat piled on top of the already scorching days of mid-summer in middle California.

But the astounding projections concern the normally temperate coastal areas. Los Angeles, according to the projections, will have a mind-bending 78 extreme heat days by 2050, with San Diego just behind at 76. Think of it this way – almost three months a year of extreme hot weather, despite LA’s and San Diego’s coastal geography. Extended unbearable heat is less than four decades away, and we’re building toward it now.

The good news is that unlike some other states we might mention, California is proactively preparing for the coming extremes. Its “Heat Adaptation Workgroup” brought together staffers from 11 state agencies, and the public is invited to comment on its Extreme Heat Adaptation Interim Guidance: Planning for Health and Heat.” In California’s heat wave of 2006, 650 people died. Smart advance planning can help minimize such awful numbers in the hot and ugly future.  

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PAUL RAUBER is a senior editor at Sierra. He is the author, with Carl Pope, of the happily outdated Strategic Ignorance: Why the Bush Administration Is Recklessly Destroying a Century of Environmental Progress. Otherwise he is a cyclist, cook, and father of two. Follow him on Twitter @paulrauber.

Nov 01, 2012

Every Chirp Is Hitched

Bird-family-tree2 2.0Researchers in the U.S., U.K., Australia, and Canada have plotted out the family tree of the world’s nearly 10,0000 known bird species and discovered that birds are evolving at a pace that defies expectations. Their study, "The Global Diversity of Birds In Space and Time”' was published October 31 in the journal Nature. Researchers found that the creation of new bird species has speeded up over the past 50 million years, and that the formation of new species in the higher latitudes rivals that of the species-rich tropics. 

The infographic is compelling (click on it to enlarge), and can help in bird-conservation efforts. According to Gavin Thomas of the U.K.’s University of Sheffield, "We can identify where species at greatest risk of extinction are on the tree and ask how much distinct evolutionary history they represent. Some species have many close relatives and represent a small amount of distinct evolutionary history whereas others have few close relatives and their loss would represent the disappearance of vast amounts of evolutionary history that could never be recovered. Environmental change has very likely affected diversification over time. Climate change could be a part of that through its effects on the extent of different types of habitat."

Birds, of course, are as mobile as any animal you’ll find, but that doesn’t mean they are free and clear. As British Columbia’s Simon Fraser University notes, “Unfortunately, birds’ rosy speciation history doesn’t nullify the fact that they can’t outfly their growing human-induced rate of extinction. Researchers estimate that birds have recently been proliferating at a rate of about one new bird species every 700 years. Meanwhile, they estimate birds’ recent human-caused extinction rate to be about 300 times higher.”

Image from University of Sheffield

HS_ReedMcManusReed McManus is a senior editor at Sierra. He has worked on the magazine since Ronald Reagan’s second term. For inspiration, he turns to cartoonist R. Crumb’s Mr. Natural, who famously noted: “Twas ever thus.”

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