Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Humpback whales spout out slow, but steady recovery

Humpback whales are one of nature’s most majestic animals. Usually identified by their enormous size, curious songs and aerial acrobatics, they were once in numbers approximating 200,000 in the southern hemisphere alone.

Today its numbers have been reduced to about 16,200, due primarily to unrestricted hunting that took place in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Fortunately, humpback whales are making a comeback south of the equator. One such place where progress is being made is at the Francisco Coloane Marine Park near the southern tip of Chile. There, the humpback whale population has risen dramatically — from 40 individuals in 2003 to 190 in 2019.

What are the reasons for its success? As reported in Mongabay:

“There are several reasons for the whales’ recovery. Humpbacks have been globally protected from commercial whaling since 1966 (although the Soviets continued to catch large numbers of them in secret until 1973), and commercial whaling of all species has been banned since 1986. Furthermore, the creation of marine parks [like Francisco Coloane] along the Pacific coast of the Americas has conferred extra protection.

… Based on the number of whales identified up until now and the low rate of recapture, this population unit of whales [at the marine park] is in the middle of experiencing a period of post-whaling recovery and is probably much greater in size than current estimates indicate,” the Chilean Antarctic Institute (INACH) said in a 2014 report(PDF).

Nevertheless, their recovery is still in its early days, in part due to humpbacks’ slow rate of reproduction. A female gives birth to a calf once every two to three years, so the population is still well below the numbers recorded before commercial whaling. ‘We are probably somewhere between 20 and 25% of what it is thought there was before commercial whaling began, so we are relatively far off the initial population size but much better than we were 40 years ago,’ [wildlife expert] Capella said.”


Toyota partners with Hino to develop hydrogen-powered truck

Toyota has announced it will partner with commercial vehicle-builder Hino to develop a hydrogen-fuel-cell truck as part of a joint initiative to reduce emissions

Built on the foundations of a Hino Profia, the companies say they will optimise the truck’s chassis to package hybrid and hydrogen fuel-cell technology. The result will be a claimed 600km of zero-emissions driving range.

Toyota and Hino state that heavy-duty trucks account for approximately 60 per cent of total commercial vehicle CO2 emissions in Japan, and that the fuel-cell Profia will form part of the companies’ ‘Environmental Challenge 2050’ plans.

The sees both brands cut their average CO2 emissions from new vehicles by 90 per cent by 2050.


Fast Charging Stations Damage Tesla Car Batteries In Just 25 Charging Cycles

What Does Elon Musk Have to Gain From Giving Away Tesla's ...
A new paper shows that a selling feature of electric cars, fast-charging stations along highways, actually subject batteries to high temperatures and high resistance that can cause them to crack, leak, and lose their storage capacity.

What is needed is a method for charging at lower temperatures and therefore less risk of catastrophic damage and loss of storage capacity. A recent experiment did just that.

Scientists charged one set of discharged Panasonic NCR 18650B cylindrical lithium-ion batteries, found in Tesla cars, using the same industry fast-charging method as fast chargers found along freeways.

They also charged a set using a new fast-charging algorithm based on the battery’s internal resistance, which interferes with the flow of electrons.

The internal resistance of a battery fluctuates according to temperature, charge state, battery age, and more. High internal resistance can cause problems during charging and the UC Riverside Battery Team charging method is an adaptive system that learns from the battery by checking the battery’s internal resistance during charging. It rests when internal resistance kicks in to eliminate loss of charge capacity.

For the first 13 charging cycles, the battery storage capacities for both charging techniques remained similar. After that, the industry fast-charging technique caused capacity to fade much faster; after 40 charging cycles the batteries kept only 60% of their storage capacity. Batteries charged using the internal resistance charging method retained more than 80% capacity after the 40th cycle.

At 80% capacity, rechargeable lithium-ion batteries have reached the end of their use life for most purposes. Batteries charged using the industry fast-charging method reached this point after 25 charging cycles, while internal resistance method batteries were good for 36 cycles.

Worse, after 60 charging cycles, the industry method battery cases cracked, exposing the electrodes and electrolyte to air and increasing the risk of fire or explosion. High temperatures of 60 degrees Celsius/140 degrees Fahrenheit accelerated both the damage and risk.

“Capacity loss, internal chemical and mechanical damage, and the high heat for each battery are major safety concerns, especially considering there are 7,104 lithium-ion batteries in a Tesla Model S and 4,416 in a Tesla Model 3,” said Professor Mihri Ozkan of UC Riverside.


Covid-19 Shows There Won’t Be Global Action on Climate Change

Pretty much Jason Bordoff’s headline in Foreign Policy magazine today, except I left out the “Sorry”. And that’s because I’m not.

Sorry, but the Virus Shows Why There Won’t Be Global Action on Climate Change

Bordoff believes in what is laughably called the scientific consensus on climate change but he seems, to his credit, to be an honest policy wonk. Here are some highlights.

To slow the spread of COVID-19, governments are clamping down to force collective action when individuals fail to follow guidelines. Cities across the world are shutting down businesses and events, at great cost. Yet the effectiveness of any one government’s action is limited if there are weak links in the global effort to curb the pandemic—such as from states with conflict or poor governance—even if the world is in agreement that eradicating a pandemic is in every country’s best interest. Climate change is even harder to solve because it results from the sum of all greenhouse gas emissions and thus requires aggregate effort, a problem particularly vulnerable to free-riding, as my Columbia University colleague Scott Barrett explains in his excellent book Why Cooperate? The Incentive to Supply Global Public Goods. And whereas governments can force people to stay home, there is no global institution with the enforcement power to require that nations curb emissions....

While public concern with climate change is rising, there remains a long way to go. Only half of Americans believe climate change should be a top priority for the federal government, and the figure is far lower on the Republican side of the aisle.

Indeed, COVID-19 itself may actually erode public support for stronger climate action, as the pace of climate ambition wanes during times of economic hardship.....

A huge hit to economic growth would likely mean carbon emissions will fall in 2020 for the first time since the Great Recession of 2008.

That may seem like good news, but it is not. First of all, economic contractions are not a desirable or sustainable way to curb emissions; emissions rebounded sharply after 2009. More importantly, the fact that it takes severe economic slowdowns like the Great Recession or COVID-19 to bring emissions down serves as a reminder of just how strongly tied emissions remain to economic growth—and thus how hard it is to lower them.

That is why energy from renewable sources can grow as rapidly as it has over the past decade and yet fossil fuel use can keep rising at the same time as total energy use rises around the world, especially in fast-growing economies like China and India.....

Policymakers have spent trillions of dollars and passed countless regulations, standards, and mandates to spur clean energy. That it takes a pandemic-induced economic standstill to actually bring emissions down should be a sobering reminder of just how hard addressing climate change will be.

COVID-19 may deliver some short-term climate benefits by curbing energy use, or even longer-term benefits if economic stimulus is linked to climate goals—or if people get used to telecommuting and thus use less oil in the future.

Yet any climate benefits from the COVID-19 crisis are likely to be fleeting and negligible. Rather, the pandemic is a reminder of just how wicked a problem climate change is because it requires collective action, public understanding and buy-in, and decarbonizing the energy mix while supporting economic growth and energy use around the world.

On his penultimate paragraph

COVID-19 may deliver some short-term climate benefits by curbing energy use, or even longer-term benefits if economic stimulus is linked to climate goals—or if people get used to telecommuting and thus use less oil in the future.

the Democrat attempt for the “economic stimulus [to be] linked to climate goals” was blown out of the water, quite rightly, by President Trump. But people getting used to telecommuting is definitely one possible positive, for all of us. Especially for those climate scientists and activists who up to now have had to do massive conferences all together in places like Bali. It so went against everything they believed. And the answer for their uneasy consciences is now being made clear.

But it’s bigger even than that. Much bigger.


How coronavirus has changed the climate war

The COVID-19 pandemic has added fresh rancour to the climate change debate.

“Dear Greta,” former television meteorologist and popular US climate change blogger Anthony Watts began in an open letter to teenage climate campaigner Greta Thunberg last week.

“So you got what you wanted. System change & economic slowdown is a real thing now. Airplanes, industry, jobs, restaurants, recreation, and schools are all shut down. Instead we have fear, poverty, misery, joblessness, economic ruin, and a bleak future. Happy now?”

On the other side, Spanish climate activist, astrophysicist and philosopher Martin Lopez Corredoira observes the world economy has been turned upside down in a matter of weeks.

“Neither Greenpeace, nor Greta Thunberg, nor any other individual or collective organisation (has) achieved so much in favour of the health of the planet in such a short time,” Lopez Corredoira wrote in a Science 2.0 blog post earlier this month.

“Venice … is now deathly silent. What a respite for the Venetians! What good news for the ecologists and tourist-haters!

“This positively affects the reduction of CO2 emission and … the destruction associated with holiday and professional conference tourism. It is certainly not very good for the economy in general, but it is fantastic for the environment.”

Lopez Corredoira said he did not wish ill on anyone but added: “Let us view the circumstance from an objective sociological point of view, without taking individuals into account, and think about the changes that are being produced in the world owing to the rise of this coronavirus.”

This is the emergency climate response that Extinction Rebellion has repeatedly been told was not possible. Yet the pandemic raises challenging questions for all sides of the environmental debate.

It piques strongly held positions on controversial topics — overpopulation, the treatment of wild animals, the politics of authoritarian rule and the role of technology,

The crisis provides a test bed to assess the impact on climate and broader environmental health of reducing industrial emissions for an extended period.

Already it has forced businesses to push harder on technologies to work remotely, communicate digitally and cut down on air miles and lunch.

Former UN climate leader Christiana Figueres says there is a silver lining to the challenge. “If we really sustain several months of reduced travel we may realise that we don’t have to travel as much,” she says. “Can this have actual behavioural change impacts … maybe, and let’s hope.”

The internet is full of memes celebrating a form of nature’s revenge on humans.

But UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has made clear that tackling the coronavirus pandemic, not climate change, is now the world’s top priority. Guterres is still urging countries not to lose sight of the global warming challenge and the Paris climate accord but says all resources for now will be directed toward tackling the COVID-19 crisis.

China’s communist regime has been able to force obedience from citizens but a core weakness has been exposed in the capacity of others to trust information and statistics from the state.

Highlighted, too, has been the extraordinary extent to which the developed world has outsourced its industrial production to China.

These realities could have big implications for how the world might view China, including on the issue of climate change action, in future.

In tackling COVID-19 and climate change, the US is more likely to embrace technology and private industry for answers. Electric carmaker and space enthusiast Elon Musk has quickly thrust himself into the role of industrialist troubleshooter.

The teams of engineers assembled by Musk to inject his brand into the rescue of Thai students from flooded caves in 2018 have been told to turn their expertise to making ventilators for US hospitals.

New York City mayor Bill de Blasio responded directly to Musk on Twitter last week.

“New York City is buying!” de Blasio said. “Our country is facing a drastic shortage and we need ventilators ASAP — we will need thousands in this city over the next few weeks. We’re getting them as fast as we can but we could use your help! We’re reaching out to you directly.”

We’re at war and ventilators are our ammunition.

The speed and uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic has left the otherwise most vocal climate change groups unsure where to turn. Europe is winding back the pace of green measures and it looks increasingly likely that what was supposed to be a groundbreaking global climate change meeting in Glasgow in November will be postponed or cancelled.

The default position of renewable energy campaigners has been an attempt to make a virtue of the COVID-19 crisis.

International Energy Agency executive director Fatih Birol says he is working to influence world leaders to ensure their stimulus programs are rich with green initiatives.

“I am telling them that we can use the current situation to step up our ambition to tackle climate change,” Birol said last week.

“This is a historic opportunity for the world to, on one hand, create packages to recover the economy but, on the other hand, to reduce dirty investments and accelerate the energy transition.”

Closer to home, Australia’s Climate Council says now “is exact­ly the right time to be spending on renewable energy infrastructure and zero emissions technology”.

Another key message has been that leaders should trust the scientists on climate change, just as they are on the pandemic.

Not everyone is convinced this is a fair comparison. US climate scientist Judith Curry says she does not accept that COVID-19 shows us how and why we need to act urgently on climate change. “The main similarity between climate change and COVID-19 is they are both situations of deep uncertainty,” she says.

“Apart from the brainwashed Extinction Rebellion folk, no one feels the urgent visceral need to drop everything and ‘act’ on climate change.

“The reason for that is that the potential adverse impacts of climate change have a long time horizon (decades to centuries), there is no simple ‘action’ that will reverse climate change, and premature actions could lock us into infrastructure that is not in our best long-term interests. And finally, diversion of all our resources to the climate change problem could make us more vulnerable to more urgent problems such as COVID-19.”

Curry says it remains to be seen what lessons will eventually be learned from the pandemic.

But there will be a new understanding of the loss of productivity from unnecessary business travel and a new questioning of international cruising.

There also may be some new data on the impact on climate of depressed economic activity.

NASA scientists have been able to track the steep decline in nitrogen dioxide levels over China in January and February to coincide with the lockdown of Chinese production because of the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan.

The decline in pollution levels began over Wuhan and then spread across the country.

As lockdowns spread in Europe and North America, the impact on industry will mirror the 2008 global financial crisis, which resulted in a significant fall in global greenhouse gas emissions.

The shutdown of international air travel will allow a more thorough test of studies conducted after the September 11, 2001, terror attacks in the US.

Those studies claimed a temporary stop to air flights over North America had a noticeable impact on climate.

A reduction in vapour trails, or contrails, it was claimed, had been responsible for a greater subsequent spread in temperatures between day and night.

In 2004, NASA scientist Patrick Minnis wrote that “increased cirrus coverage, attributable to air traffic, could account for nearly all of the warming observed over the United States for nearly 20 years starting in 1975”.

The warming effect happened because the high-altitude clouds that contrails created tended to trap warm air, Minnis wrote. On balance, though contrails can both warm and cool, there is more of a warming effect.

Last year, Scientific American said the contrails left by aeroplanes were now so widespread that their warming effect was greater than that of all the carbon dioxide emitted by aeroplanes that had accumulated in the atmosphere since the first flight of the Wright brothers.

Meanwhile, studies already are under way to see if the shutdown in industrial production will have a measurable impact on atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide in the northern hemisphere.

Not so far.

Many will be hoping the bigger environmental impact will be on the illegal trade in bush meat and a greater preservation of wildlife.

There is a long history of Chinese abuses of the pangolin, or scaly anteater, a living dinosaur and the likely host to the COVID-19 virus.

Pangolin scales traditionally have been cooked in oil, butter, vinegar, boys’ urine or roasted with earth or oyster shells to cure a variety of ills, including excessive nervousness and hysterical crying in children, women possessed by devils and ogres, malarial fever and deafness.

According to an article in the journal Nature in 1938 that described the uses, pangolin numbers already were in peril because of Chinese demand.

Russian billionaire and British media owner Evgeny Lebedev has said it would be sweet irony if the COVID-19 virus were the saviour of the world’s most highly illegally traded animal.

Lebedev is patron of the conservation organisation Space for Giants and has visited wet markets such as those in Wuhan where COVID-19 is believed to have bred from bats, through pangolins, to become a threat to humans.

US environmentalist Michael Shellenberger agrees. “Who would have thought that the wet live markets in China would be a major source of global chaos and economic challenge and mass death, but that is the real­ity,” Shellenberger says.

“The animals are on top of each other and they are very unsanitary. Experts have been warning about those markets for two decades now.

“One of the things that ought to come out of this is that there ought to be some effort internationally to make sure countries get rid of these markets that are breeding grounds for these viruses and help countries move to more modern forms of meat production.

“The truth is that economic growth and lifting people out of poverty has been the most important way to reduce air pollution and negative impacts on the environment.”

The success of the developed world’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic has significant impli­cations for how the world will deal with climate change into the future.



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