A Breath Of Fresh Air
January 19, 2021
The Good News
- Single anonymous donor gives $40 million to fund 50 civil rights lawyers (CBS)
- Covid-19: England delivering 140 jabs a minute, says NHS chief executive (BBC)
“A riot is the language of the unheard” — Martin Luther King Jr.
“We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.” — MLK
For Green Technology, A Breath Of Fresh Air
(Saul Loeb via Getty Images)
Rapidly-accelerating climate change is prodding more companies to invest in technologies to perform so-called ‘carbon removal.’ One example is to use giant fans to pull carbon dioxide from the air and trap it. Corporations say this process will allow them to offset emissions they can’t otherwise cut, and might be the only way to meet their lofty pledges to zero out all emissions by 2050.
Some experts warn that such a plan could allow companies to hide behind the uncertain promise of removing carbon later, in order to avoid making deep emissions cuts today. “Carbon removal shouldn’t be a get-out-of-jail-free card,” said a leading expert on the technology. “It has a role to play … but it shouldn’t be an excuse … to keep emitting greenhouse gases indefinitely,” she added.
A UN-backed panel on climate change says nations may need to remove between 100 billion and 1 trillion tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere this century to stifle the worst effects of climate change. Currently, carbon removal technologies are too expensive for widespread use, often costing $600 or more per ton of carbon. But some corporate decision-makers believe early investment can drive prices down, much like it did for solar and wind energy.
Occidental Petroleum and United Airlines are pouring mega-dollars into a large “direct air capture” plant in Texas. The technology uses fans and chemical agents to scrub carbon dioxide from the sky and inject it underground.
Naturally, it makes more sense to cut emissions before they’re diffused into the atmosphere. But for many industries, such as cement manufacturing, long-distance shipping, or air travel, solutions like improving efficiency and using more renewable energy sources aren’t as easy.
United has been exploring ways to cut emissions by making aircraft more efficient and using sustainable biofuels, but these likely won’t go far enough to achieve carbon-neutrality by 2050, so the company is also investing in direct air capture. As UA’s managing director of global environmental affairs said: “Carbon removal might not be a silver bullet, but we have to try.”
B-52s Briefly Leave Their Love Shack To Threaten Iran’s Airspace
(Gary Hershorn via Getty Images)
- US Central Command (CENTCOM) has now completed its fifth B-52 operation in the Middle East in recent weeks, flying aircraft over Iran that are capable of carrying up to 70,000 pounds of weapons — including nuclear bombs — in what CENTCOM calls “presence patrols.”
- The latest military maneuvers come as security analysts have warned that President Trump could take action against Iran before leaving office. A military confrontation would severely complicate foreign policy for President-elect Joe Biden, who intends to restart diplomatic engagement with Tehran.
- In condemning the administration’s latest show of force, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Sunday if the move was an attempt to intimidate Tehran, then the US would be better off spending its military billions “on your taxpayers’ health.” (Al Jazeera)
Additional World News
- Carbon capture is vital to meeting climate goals, scientists tell green critics (Guardian)
- Vaccine nationalism puts world on brink of ‘catastrophic moral failure’ – WHO chief (Reuters)
- Most Major Economies Are Shrinking. Not China’s. (NYT, $)
- Tunisia: Protests over moribund economy spread to a dozen cities (Al Jazeera)
- Israel To Start Vaccinating Palestinian Prisoners Next Week (NPR)
- ‘Brexit carnage’: shellfish trucks protest in London over export chaos (Reuters). Maybe they’re having issues with their oyster cards.
- Dominican Republic activists fear total abortion ban banishes women to the dark ages (Guardian)
- Hungary mulls sanctions against social media giants (Reuters)
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Biden On Tearing Up Lands For Oil Pipeline: That’s Just Crude
- President-elect Biden has a long executive order to-do list for his first day in office. Close to the top could be canceling the permit for the $9 billion Keystone XL pipeline project. The project intended to make it possible to move dirty Canadian crude oil from Alberta Province down through several US states and Native American reservations to Nebraska, and ultimately to American refineries.
- The plan faced myriad legal challenges and protests. Barack Obama halted the project in 2015 saying Canada would reap most of the economic benefits, and the project would add to greenhouse gas emissions.
- In 2017, President Trump issued a permit allowing construction to move forward, and several environmental groups sued the government. Construction is well underway in Canada, with the international border crossing complete. The pipeline’s operator, TC Energy Corporation, has started construction on pump stations in each of the states the line will pass through. (Guardian)
U.S. Government Helping Anti-Vax Movement Go Viral
- Five prominent anti-vaccine organizations known to spread misleading information about the coronavirus received more than $850,000 in federal loans from the Paycheck Protection Program. The loans, intended to help small businesses survive during the pandemic, raised questions about why the US government was giving money to groups actively opposing its agenda and seeking to undermine public health.
- The Center for Countering Digital Hate, an advocacy group based in the UK that fights misinformation, conducted the research using public records released in December by the Small Business Administration, in response to a lawsuit filed by the Washington Post and other news organizations.
- The advocacy group had previously exposed a conference in which anti-vaccination activists planned to seize upon people’s doubts and fears to undermine confidence in Covid-19 vaccines. (WaPo, $)
Additional USA News
- Trump administration proposes 11th-hour plan to strip California desert protections (Guardian).
- Pandemic Has Worsened US Child Mental Health Crisis (NPR)
- Twitter suspends Marjorie Taylor Green, QAnon-backing Republican (Guardian)
- FBI moves on alleged members of extremist groups Oath Keepers, Three Percenters (WaPo, $)
- What Actions Joe Biden Plans To Take On Day One Of His Term (NPR). Sources say Biden is unlikely to spend first day disputing size of inaugural audience.
- After Capitols Become Fortresses, Far-Right Protesters Are Mostly a No-Show (NYT, $)
- Inside the Capitol Riot: What the Parler Videos Reveal (ProPublica)
- Trump prepares to offer clemency to more than 100 people in his final hours in office (WaPo, $). It’d be generous if he and his family didn’t make up most of the list
Farmers In The Future: Turn On Your Drone Cow-sitter, Go To The Moo-vies
- The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) maintains that cattle production is “the most important agricultural industry” in the country. But times have changed from when ranching meant (even if theatrically) hundreds of lush grazing acres and dozens of cowhands babysitting the herds.
- Things have downsized a lot, thanks to climate change, a declining labor supply, and land development. Nowadays there are small-herd guys for whom cattle producing may very well be their second job. Take many cattle producers in Kentucky and Colorado, for example. 5 pm isn’t the end of their workday, but when they transition from their non-farming day jobs to working with their livestock. Those early evening chores — like putting out hay, refilling water tanks, locating cattle, and checking on their health — become a lot harder after sunset, in bad weather, or if a cow is hiding in a secluded area.
- It’s for these folks that a team of researchers at the University of Kentucky is testing the feasibility of using drones to remotely handle those kinds of assessments. “The idea is to make it easier for [small-herd cattle guys] to have this second form of income … by automating some of it … without them having to be there,” says Jesse Hoagg, professor of mechanical engineering at the university. It’s about making the ranching industry more efficient through smart technology.
- The ability to accurately and quickly monitor cattle location and wellbeing isn’t just a time-saver for busy ranchers — it has important financial implications. Every year, more than 2.5 million cows in the US die from health problems, costing the cattle industry $1.5 billion.
- It’s important enough work that in 2018 Hoagg and his team received a three-year, nearly $900,000 grant from the USDA to train drones to patrol pastures, locate cattle, and monitor health indicators. That’s tricky because it requires teaching drones to identify and track specific cows. Now Hoagg is working on fine-tuning this last part — testing computer algorithms that can turn current human facial recognition technology into software that can differentiate Elsie from Ferdinand. (BBC)
- Why some bike shares work and others don’t (BBC)
- AI-Powered Text From This Program Could Fool the Government (ArsTechnica). Depending on who’s in charge, that might not be impressive.
- Tulsa’s historic Black Wall Street faces erasure by White developers (WaPo, $)
- Wilmington 1898: When white supremacists overthrew a US government (BBC)
- After a decade, NASA’s big rocket fails its first real test (ArsTechnica)
- To predict the future of polar ice, environmental scientists are looking to the past (Phys). Spoiler: it’s going to turn into water.
- Trump team modernizes car safety regulations for the driverless era (ArsTechnica)
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