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Complete Archive (organized by chapter)
New World View
Climate Change
Life and Climate
Losing Biodiversity
Energy Flow
Ecosystem Change
Population Growth
Energy Use
A Changing Cosmos
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Latest News and Updates

2015-08-24. How a Volcanic Eruption in 1815 Darkened the World but Colored the Arts.

posted Aug 25, 2015, 7:31 AM by Alan Gould

By William J. Broad, The New York Times. For GSS Energy Flow chapter 2. Excerpt: In April 1815, the most powerful volcanic blast in recorded history shook the planet in a catastrophe so vast that 200 years later, investigators are still struggling to grasp its repercussions. It played a role, they now understand, in icy weather, agricultural collapse and global pandemics.... ...Around the lush isles of the Dutch East Indies — modern-day Indonesia — the eruption of Mount Tambora killed tens of thousands of people. ...More surprising, investigators have found that the giant cloud of minuscule particles spread around the globe, blocked sunlight and produced three years of planetary cooling. In June 1816, a blizzard pummeled upstate New York. ...A recent history of the disaster, “Tambora: The Eruption that Changed the World,” by Gillen D’Arcy Wood, shows planetary effects so extreme that many nations and communities sustained waves of famine, disease, civil unrest and economic decline. Crops failed globally.... Thomas Jefferson...Jefferson expressed concern about the possible ruin of his Monticello farm “if the seasons should, against the course of nature hitherto observed, continue constantly hostile to our agriculture.” The countless victims and occasional beneficiaries of Tambora’s fury were oblivious to the volcanic roots of their circumstances, Dr. Wood noted, making the challenge of writing about it formidable and “occasionally mind-bending.”...

2015-08-21. Saturn’s moon has a fluffy heart.

posted Aug 22, 2015, 2:25 PM by Alan Gould

By Nola Taylor Redd, Science. For GSS A Changing Cosmos chapter 7. Excerpt: Saturn's moon, Enceladus, may not have a heart of stone—at least, not completely. A new model suggests the satellite has a rubble-filled pile of boulders and ice at its core, rather than a more conventional solid stone center. This “fluffy core” could help solve the mystery of the moon’s underground ocean. A watery layer beneath Enceladus’s crust has long been suspected to exist because of the constant eruption of geysers at its southern pole. But scientists have said that any such ocean should have frozen over the lifetime of the Saturn system. Tidal heating that warms the insides of moons and planets in orbit would simply not be enough to keep this ocean in a liquid state if Enceladus had a solid core. ...A heart of rubble would flex more easily with the tidal pull of Saturn, emitting enough heat to maintain a liquid layer....

2015-08-20. Climate Change Intensifies California Drought, Scientists Say.

posted Aug 20, 2015, 2:33 PM by Alan Gould

By Justin Gillis, The New York Times. For GSS Climate Change chapter 8. Excerpt: Global warming caused by human emissions has most likely intensified the drought in California by roughly 15 to 20 percent, scientists said Thursday, warning that future dry spells in the state are almost certain to be worse than this one as the world continues to heat up. Even though the findings suggest that the drought is primarily a consequence of natural climate variability, the scientists added that the likelihood of any drought becoming acute is rising because of climate change. The odds of California suffering droughts at the far end of the scale, like the current one that began in 2012, have roughly doubled over the past century, they said. “This would be a drought no matter what,” said A. Park Williams, a climate scientist at Columbia University and the lead author of a paper published by the journal Geophysical Research Letters. “It would be a fairly bad drought no matter what. But it’s definitely made worse by global warming.”  ...Rising temperatures dry the soil faster and cause more rapid evaporation from streams and reservoirs, so they did not need any research to tell them that the drought was probably worse because of the warming trend over the past century — the same is true for pretty much any drought in the world. The challenge has been to quantify how worse the California drought has become because of human emissions....

2015-08-20. Project Sunroof.

posted Aug 20, 2015, 1:58 PM by Alan Gould

Google. For GSS Energy Use chapter 10. Excerpt:  Project Sunroof puts Google's expansive data in mapping and computing resources to use, helping calculate the best solar plan. ...When you enter your address, Project Sunroof looks up your home in Google Maps and combines that information with other databases to create your personalized roof analysis. ...Project Sunroof computes how much sunlight hits your roof in a year. It takes into account: Google's database of aerial imagery and maps; 3D modeling of your roof; Shadows cast by nearby structures and trees; All possible sun positions over the course of a year; Historical cloud and temperature patterns that might affect solar energy production. ...Project Sunroof recommends an installation size to generate close to 100% of your electricity use, based on roof size, the amount of sun hitting the roof, and your electricity bill. ...We recommend an installation that covers less than 100% of your electrical usage because, in most areas, there is little financial benefit to producing more power than you can consume. ...Project Sunroof uses current solar industry pricing data to run the numbers on leasing, taking a loan, or buying solar panels for your house to help you choose what's best for you. ...Project Sunroof also compiles the following incentives to calculate your final cost: Federal and state tax credits; Utility rebates; Renewable energy credits and net metering....

2015-08-18. Islamic leaders issue bold call for rapid phase out of fossil fuels.

posted Aug 20, 2015, 1:47 PM by Alan Gould

The Guardian. For GSS Climate Change chapter 9. Excerpt: Islamic leaders have issued a clarion call to 1.6bn Muslims around the world to work towards phasing out greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and a 100% renewable energy strategy. The grand mufti’s of Lebanon and Uganda endorsed the Islamic declaration on climate change, along with prominent Islamic scholars and teachers from 20 countries, at a symposium in Istanbul. ...“We particularly call on the well-off nations and oil-producing states to lead the way in phasing out their greenhouse gas emissions as early as possible and no later than the middle of the century,” it says. ...So far, Morocco is the only Middle Eastern country to present an emissions-cutting climate pledge ahead of the summit.  ...The Istanbul declaration was made by Islamic figures from Bosnia to Indonesia and follows a ground-breaking Papal encyclical last month. ...We are in danger of ending life as we know it on our planet,” the statement says. “This current rate of climate change cannot be sustained, and the earth’s fine equilibrium (mīzān) may soon be lost.” “What will future generations say of us, who leave them a degraded planet as our legacy?” the religious leaders ask. “How will we face our Lord and Creator?” ...“To chase after unlimited economic growth in a planet that is finite and already overloaded is not viable. Growth must be pursued wisely and in moderation,” one passage reads....

2015-08-12. Arctic sea ice has melted so much, National Geographic had to redraw its atlas.

posted Aug 12, 2015, 8:04 PM by Alan Gould

By Clara Chaisson, NRDC. For GSS Climate Change chapter 8. Excerpt: Climate change is keeping the mapmakers over at National Geographic busy. As the Arctic warms twice as fast as the rest of the world, ...the updates to the region reflect “one of the most striking changes in the publication’s history,” the magazine says. So striking, in fact, that President Obama referred to it while unveiling his Clean Power Plan last week. The redrawn map is based on data from a 30-year NASA study, published in 2012....

2015-08-05. US Carbon Pollution From Power Plants Hits 27-Year Low.

posted Aug 12, 2015, 7:56 PM by Alan Gould

The Associated Press, The New York Times. For GSS Climate Change chapter 10. Excerpt: Heat-trapping pollution from U.S. power plants hit a 27-year low in April, the Department of Energy announced Wednesday. A big factor was the long-term shift from coal to cleaner and cheaper natural gas, said Energy Department economist Allen McFarland. Outside experts also credit more renewable fuel use and energy efficiency....

2015-08-09. Will these Alaska villagers be America's first climate change refugees?

posted Aug 10, 2015, 11:44 AM by Alan Gould

Science Friday, National Public Radio. For GSS Climate Change chapter 8. Excerpt: [hear recording of interview] In 2008, the Inupiat village sued 24 of the world's biggest fossil fuel companies for damages. In 2013, the Supreme Court refused to hear the case and the village has declared it will not file a new claim in state court. Meanwhile, nature, heedless of humankind’s eternal squabbles, goes about its business: the sea around Kivalina continues to rise, the storms get stronger, the ice gets thinner — and Kivalina's 400 residents must grapple with how to relocate in the decade they're estimated to have left. Kivalina is on a very thin barrier reef island between the Chukchi Sea and the Kivalina Lagoon, in the northwest of Alaska, above the Arctic Circle.  ...In May, June and July, the men of the village go out on the ice hunting bearded seals. They cut up the seals, dry them and store them for the winter. “That provides the winter supply,” Swan says. “That’s what keeps us warm in the Arctic.” About 15 years ago, the villagers noticed the season started two weeks early and the ice began to thin sooner than before. ...The village originally voted to relocate as far back as 1992, but it is massively expensive. ...Disaster management policies are designed to deal with the aftermath of a disaster, she says. A disaster declaration releases funding aimed at helping a community rebuild or relocate within the place the disaster occurred. But there are no policies in place to relocate an entire community, like Kivalina, prior to an actual disaster....

2015-06-17. Mysterious Warm Blob in Pacific Wreaking Havoc.

posted Aug 7, 2015, 2:23 PM by Alan Gould

By Patrick J. Kiger, D news. For GSS Energy Flow chapter 8. Excerpt:  A large expanse of unusually warm water in the northern Pacific Ocean continues to grow and is having a profound effect upon marine animals from Mexico to Alaska, and may be altering weather across the continent. “The blob,” a term coined by University of Washington meteorologist Nicholas Bond, who was among those who first observed it in late 2013, consists of  water that is roughly around 5 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the typical ocean temperature. While that may not seem like much of a difference, the circular patch of warmth, which started as a small patch of water off the coast of Alaska, has grown to 500 miles across,and is the biggest and longest-lasting temperature anomaly in the historical record. ...Scientists aren’t sure exactly what caused the blob, but they think it may have links to everything from the California drought to the large numbers of starving sea lion pups who’ve washed up on west coast shores. The temperature change also has caused creatures from tropical and temperate zones to wander north into places where they’re not usually found, and others that normally stay far out at sea have ventured closer to the coast, according to this Seattle Times article....

2015-08-06. King Coal, Long Besieged, Is Deposed by the Market.

posted Aug 7, 2015, 2:09 PM by Alan Gould

By James B. Stewart, New York Times. For GSS Energy Use chapter 3. Excerpt: In April 2005, President George W. Bush hailed “clean coal” as a key to “greater energy independence,” .... But a decade later, the United States coal industry is reeling as never before in its history, the victim of new environmental regulations, intensifying attacks by activists, collapsing coal prices, and — above all — the rise of cheap alternative fuels, especially natural gas. This week President Obama slammed the industry with tougher-than-expected rules from the Environmental Protection Agency limiting power plant carbon emissions, which will accelerate an already huge shift from coal to natural gas and other alternatives. “Clean coal” remains an expensive and thus far impractical pipe dream. Coal is the world’s biggest source of carbon emissions by far and the leading culprit in global warming.  ...Market forces have accomplished in just a few years what environmentalists and social advocates have struggled for decades to achieve. Coal prices have plunged about 70 percent in the last four years.  ...Mountaintop removal, the poster child for environmental destruction, has all but ground to a halt as coal companies continue to close mines, lay off workers and slash capital spending on expensive new mining operations. Meantime, natural gas production has soared and electric utilities have built up gas-fired generation to replace aging coal-fired power plants. ...Burning coal produces nearly twice as much carbon dioxide as does natural gas, according to the United States Energy Information Administration. ...In June, Norway’s government pension fund — considered the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund with $890 billion in assets, much of it generated from oil revenue — said it would divest itself of coal holdings. A spokeswoman for the fund said this was a financial decision, not a political one, ....

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