5 Intriguing Things With Guest MCs Climate Confidential

The scourge of false spring, noise pollution, Whole Foods pseudoscience, solar war, and a large purple jellyfish.
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Meet today's guest MCs Climate Confidential. They're a journalistic supergroup who have formed their own subscription news organization with the aid of a new platform for financially backing writers called the Beacon Reader

They are all brilliant reporters. You may know their bylines—Amy Westervelt, Ucilia Wang, Celeste LeCompte, Josie Garthwaite, Mary Catherine O’Connor and Erica Gies—or you will soon.

They are promising big stories about our environmental future. So, I've invited them to take the conch shell to highlight what they care about. 

 

1. The scourge of 'false spring.'

"The spring of 2012 was the earliest recorded across the United States since 1900. Unseasonable warmth prompted unusually early blooms, particularly on fruiting trees in the Northeast and Great Lakes regions. Observers in Massachusetts and Wisconsin reported that flowering came earlier than it had since Henry David Thoreau took note of when plants began to bloom near Walden Pond in the 1850s or since Aldo Leopold observed flowering times at 'The Shack' in Sauk County in the 1930s and ’40s.

'Then, in what has come to be recognized as a characteristic of climate change — unusual variability — the exceptionally early warm temperatures were followed abruptly by a hard freeze.

'False spring can harm not only the plants that put forth early sprouts, leaves or blooms, but other species and entire ecosystems. The timing of leaf and flower development has effects that ripple throughout an ecosystem because these changes prompt the flow of sap, nectar and nutrients within plants and so affect the availability of shelter and sustenance for other organisms. This can have profound consequences, particularly when species emerge from hibernation or during migration. Desynchronization of seasonal events has been reported around the world, from the American Southeast to New England, and the Rockies to the Tibetan Plateau and across Europe. Rocky Mountain marmots have emerged to find the plants they rely on for food buried beneath not yet fully melted snow. Butterflies in California’s Sierra Nevada have wriggled out of their cocoons in what seemed like spring warmth, only to be felled by the freeze that followed.

'From a food production standpoint, farmers around the world are trying to adjust to the growing likelihood of false springs by planting in ways that accommodate both early warming and temperature and moisture extremes, says Sharon Muzli Gourdji, postdoctoral fellow in energy and environment at Stanford University. Varieties of wheat are being bred for heat tolerance and other variables that come with climate change so they can endure warming temperatures in the tropical regions of Asia, Africa and South America as well as the challenges of both warming and extreme variability in the Northern Hemisphere. 'Farmers are adapting,' says Parmesan.'

 

2. New research on ocean noise pollution from an unlikely source: the energy industry.

'Sakhalin Energy plans on extracting oil and gas from an area that is critical habitat for the Western Pacific grey whale. When the suggestion came up that the Russian energy industry was going into this area to extract fossil fuel, many in the conservation sector were alarmed; and many were prepared to roll up their sleeves and take action against the project.

But with the proposal to use this setting as a benchmark study for mitigation protocols many in the e-NGO community backed down. The research was conducted by a team of industry-leading scientists, and funded by Sakhalin Energy Investment Company. The work was comprehensive and some excellent guidelines were drawn up in the context of what could be done to mitigate for potential acoustic threats to the whales.'

 

3. Whole Foods: America’s Temple of Pseudoscience.

"If scientific accuracy in the public sphere is your jam, is there really that much of a difference between Creation Museum founder Ken Ham, who seems to have made a career marketing pseudoscience about the origins of the world, and John Mackey, a founder and CEO of Whole Foods Market, who seems to have made a career, in part, out of marketing pseudoscience about health?”

+ Our fellow Beacon writer Khadija Britton is producing a series about "Real Talk on GMOs.” Climate Confidential backers get access to all Beacon writers’ work.

 

4. Musical chairs to the tune of U.S.-China solar tariffs.

"When a wave of cheap Chinese-made solar panels flooded the market a few years ago, it nearly laid waste to America’s solar manufacturing industry. But recently, one California firm, Solaria Corp., has gone in the opposite direction, rolling out its technology across China.

'Solaria’s resurgence has its roots in the trade spat between the U.S. and China. As cheap Chinese panels began to flood the market, [Solaris President Suvi] Sharma was under pressure to lower his own costs. In 2010, he began to search for glass suppliers in China. A layer of flat glass, attached at either end of the panel, can improve photovoltaic efficiency and protect panels from harsh weather. At the Solar Expo in Long Beach that year, Sharma met an executive from a glass supplier from Shanghai called Sunwise.

'A unit of Shanghai Mega Trust Investment, a private equity firm, Sunwise knew that Beijing wanted to build up solar capacity in its northwestern provinces but was having trouble: Many of the solar panels deployed there couldn’t handle the desertlike environment and lashing winds. The state-owned utility was looking for products that could better withstand the climate.

'In 2011, Sunwise pumped $30 million dollars into Solaria. By 2012, Solaria had built three solar projects in China’s Northwest, including one for CECEP Solar, China’s largest solar investor.

'The solar farms weren’t enough to turn Solaria’s business around. For that, it was going to need to need to produce panels in China directly. Oddly, the same trade dispute that was dividing China and the U.S. provided an opening for Solaria. This past September, China began retaliating against U.S. tariffs by slapping duties on U.S.-made polysilicon imports – a key ingredient in solar panels. As a result, manufacturing costs soared for many Chinese panel makers. Solaria’s technology, however, uses significantly less silicon in making its panels. It cuts the standard silicon solar cell into thin slices and covers them with optical glass. That can slash manufacturing costs by as much as 50 percent.”

 

5. A large, purple jellyfish was hiding in plain sight off the coast of Los Angeles. 

"Chrysaora achlyos was actually the first species I named and classified about 20 years ago. And it turned out to be the largest invertebrate that was discovered in the 20th century. I am so in love with that species. It’s beautiful, it’s huge, it’s graceful, it’s purple. It’s amazing...

'It had been in National Geographic twice, it had been in numerous books and magazine articles, so it was fairly well known. But it was fairly rare – it only showed up every 10 to 40 years. And then all of a sudden it started showing up every year, and when I was in Los Angeles working on jellyfish, this thing came to my attention because, well, it’s big and purple, how could it not come to your attention! And so a couple of colleagues and I decided to name it and classify it – make it official.

'So to me that’s another one of these examples that we’re just not paying enough attention to the ocean. If we can find a new species that’s that big and that beautiful and that obvious in Los Angeles…”

 

Today's 1957 American English Usage Tip

argot. The conventional slang of a group, esp. of thieves & vagabonds. For meaning & use, see JARGON.

 

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he oversees the Technology Channel. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer calls Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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