Category: Environmental Science

Texas Storm Reveals How Energy Grid is Unprepared for Climate Change

by Arun

Over the course of the past few weeks, a severe and devastating winter storm has thrown Texas into an energy crisis. Many families are left without power, heat, and necessities to carry out their daily lives. As the Biden administration aims to pioneer a future that is reliant on sustainable energy, it brings about the equal necessity to prepare for extreme weather, which renewable energy is exceptionally susceptible to.

According to ground research by CNN, “the center of a wave of outages across the Southern and central parts of the U.S. the primary electric grid suffered a one-two punch wrought by the deep freeze: off-the-charts demand for power as Texans tried to heat their homes and power plants that simply failed to produce power when people needed it the most.”

Given that renewable energy sources like wind and solar don’t make up a large part of the state’s energy sources, utility officials say that they played a minimal role in the power shortage.

What’s more concerning, though, is what these crisis reveals. It shows how the U.S. electric infrastructure may not be fully suited and prepared to combat sharp demands for power. As the United States shifts towards more renewable energy which are more inconsistent as they are largely dependent on whether conditions (i.e. wind and solar energy), it brings about the need for sustainable energy storage to prevent crises like these from recurring in the future.

Utility officials in Texas were caught off-guard as “the surge in demand during the storm outpaced the grid operator’s highest estimate of just over 67,000 megawatts needed for. an extreme peak load. And 34,000 megawatts were kicked offline, diminishing supply.”

Predictions like these are extremely variable and unpredictable – and preparing for such events with large deviation may be unreasonable. But as technology and energy storage improves, scientists agree that events like these should reduce in the future.

Image link: https://www.dallasnews.com/business/2021/02/18/this-years-winter-storm-could-become-the-costliest-weather-event-in-texas-history/

New Study Shows That Air Pollution is Linked to Risk of Sight Loss

by Arun

A new study conducted by researchers at the University of College London found that an increase in air pollution can be linked to a risk of irreversible sight loss. They found that air pollution exposure, even at low levels, impacts age-related macular degeneration, which causes sight to naturally deteriorate over time.

What is AMD?

AMD is one of the leading causes of blindness and is linked to the loss of central vision, necessary for common tasks like facial recognition and reading. AMD is most commonly associated with aging and most experience some form of AMD in their later stages of life. However, these researchers found that people living in areas of pollution had a 8% higher chance of having the condition not as a result of old age, as pollution has now been linked to worsening eyesight.

The paper, which was published in the British Journal of Ophthalmology, studied data from over 115,000 people aged between 40 and 70. ‘ They used eye measurements and data from questionnaires and compared the results to the amount of pollutants in their surrounding areas.

Paul Foster, professor of glaucoma studies and ophthalmic epidemiology at UCL told CNN that “people who live in a more polluted area report macular degeneration more frequently.” He also said that this is as a result of pollutants entering the body through the lungs, which causes particular damage to the eyes because of the blood flow into the eye wall. He claims that “there’s definitely a relationship between the more disadvantaged members of society and higher risk of getting this condition.

However, there seem to be more adverse affects of air pollution besides just AMD – air pollution is also associated with more instances of conjunctivitis and nitrogen dioxide in the air can also cause severe eye irritation.

What this study reveals is a bigger picture of how air pollution – and climate change – is affecting our daily lives in so many ways that aren’t obvious. Beyond the health of our planet, climate change is affecting our lives in more ways than we see.

Image link: https://www.pexels.com/search/air%20pollution/

Snowy Owl Spotted After More Than A Century in New York Central Park – However, Climate Change Could Significantly Harm this Species

by Nakul

Being native to the Arctic Tundra, the snowy owl is an extremely rare sight to humans today. In fact, in New York City’s Central Park, the city’s largest urban park and popular destination for bird enthusiasts, the majestic creature had not been seen for a while, to say the least. In fact, the last documented appearance of this bird was over 130 years ago, when an unusually large flock was spotted in December of 1890 passing by the park en route to the East Coast of the United States. Unfortunately, the absence of high-speed cameras in the 19th century meant that the owl’s appearance would be limited to an eyewitness description. However, on Wednesday, January 27, this “owl drought” would cease, thanks to the arrival of one of these rare birds on a chilly morning, with plenty of quality photos to validate the beautiful bird’s presence.

Manhattan Bird Alert, a self-explanatory Twitter page with over 40,000 followers, tweeted about the appearance of the snowy owl, drawing significant interest from bird watchers and intrigued citizens alike. Hundreds flocked to the park – and continue to do so – in an attempt to catch a glimpse of this scarce creature. Celebrities such as Grammy-winning actor and renowned comedian Steve Martin even arrived at the symbolic park.

While the long-awaited arrival of the snowy owl in Central Park is definitely a marvelous sight, there is unfortunately more somber news that must be addressed with regards to this species. Namely that this family of owls faces a diminishing population, with evidence suggesting that climate change is playing a role in this detrimental phenomenon. In December of 2017, the The International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species (IUCN Red List) categorized the snowy owl as “vulnerable” for the first time, citing population decrease from 300,000 in 2013 to as low as 28,000 today. As the Arctic ice continues to thin, the snowy owl’s prey (small creatures like mice, rabbits, etc.) suffer, and as a result, the snowy owl suffers – this domino effect in a food chain is known as ecological collapse. Pulitzer-prize winning naturalist Scott Weidensaul supports the idea that climate change is at the forefront of the owls’ demise. He explained, “”Many of us who work with snowy owls would argue that they are one of the three or four species at most immediate and direct threat from climate change”.

Ultimately, if we want to continue flocking to parks and other public spaces to cherish nature’s creatures, we must take proper action to ensure that our actions do not continue to harm and destroy ecosystems regularly.

Image credits: https://wallpaperaccess.com/snowy-owl

Elon Musk Pledges $100 Million Prize to Encourage Environmental Innovation

by Nakul

As a supporter of eco-friendly technology, tech tycoon Elon Musk released an announcement on his Twitter page today to stimulate environmental innovation in society. The Tesla CEO tweeted, “Am donating $100M towards a prize for best carbon capture technology,” followed by “Details next week”.  

This isn’t the first time that Musk has publicly announced his support for efforts to combat climate change. A quick web search will lead you to a plethora of speeches and statements that he has made in regards to the environmental crisis. For instance, in 2013, he explained, “We’re running the most dangerous experiment in history right now, which is to see how much carbon dioxide the atmosphere can handle before there is an environmental catastrophe.” His actions are in accordance with his words: as the CEO of the world’s largest electric-powered vehicle company, he leads Tesla in continuing to produce green automobiles with minimal CO2 emissions.

Now, back to the main subject. What exactly is carbon capture, and why is Musk pledging such a colossal fortune to support it? 

To boil it down, carbon capture is the process of passively collecting CO2 from the atmosphere and either sequestering it securely or utilizing it to produce useful resources, such as various plastic products. Carbon capture and storage (CCS) originally first appeared in the 1970s; today, scientists and entrepreneurs continue to refine and develop relevant technology in hopes of making significant impacts in this niche sector. There also has been increasing support for this process, with over a 316% increase in carbon capture projects since just 2012. As CEO of the Global CCS Institute Brad Page said in mid-2019, “There are now 51 CCS facilities globally – 19 in operation, four under construction, and 28 in various stages of development with an estimated combined capture capacity of 96 million tonnes of CO2 per annum.” 

It is evident that there is increasing encouragement and (naturally gradual) success in the creation of effective carbon capture technology. Musk’s announcement highlights yet another example of such support for this unique process. Such massive support from a world-renowned businessman is valuable for the environmental industry and the environment itself. Hopefully, Musk’s incentive will steer more entrepreneurs and scientists to focus on eco-friendly technology and accelerate the developments and breakthroughs in carbon capture technology.

A Year in Review: A Challenging 2020 for the Environment

As 2020 comes to a close, we reflect on what has largely been a difficult and turbulent year for the world. Amid a global pandemic, the world’s landscape has changed and our way of life forever altered. Over a course of a resilient humanity and a different scope of the way we now see our lives, we have impacted – in both good ways and bad – the environment every step of the way. As we reflect on what came to be over the course of 2020, we acknowledge the difficulties that come with shutting down economies around the globe that resulted in decreases, then increases in pollution. It has surely been an equally turbulent year for the environment, experiencing some of the highest pollution and differences we have ever seen. Looking forward to seeing what 2021 has to bring, here is a list of some of the most notable changes from this year.

– The Incentive Team

Can Carbon Capture Stop Climate Change?

https://theincentive.org/2020/03/17/can-carbon-capture-stop-climate-change/

How Half the World’s Beaches Could Disappear by the End of the Century

https://theincentive.org/2020/03/17/how-half-the-worlds-beaches-could-disappear-by-the-end-of-the-century/

Here’s How Plant-Based Meats are Reducing the Carbon Footprint of the Agriculture Industry

https://theincentive.org/2020/03/01/heres-how-plant-based-meats-are-reducing-the-carbon-footprint-of-the-agriculture-industry/

Sweden’s Efficient Recycling Process the World Needs to Adapt for a Better Future

https://theincentive.org/2020/03/01/swedens-efficient-recycling-process-the-world-needs-to-adapt-for-a-better-future/

European Union Votes for 60% Cut in Emissions by 2030

https://theincentive.org/2020/10/17/european-union-votes-for-60-cut-in-emissions-by-2030/

China Looks to Achieve Carbon Neutrality by 2060

https://theincentive.org/2020/10/14/china-looks-to-achieve-carbon-neutrality-by-2060/

Protecting Peat Bogs Can Avert Global Warming Effects

https://theincentive.org/2020/10/12/protecting-peat-bogs-can-avert-global-warming-effects/

How Air Pollution Can Be Helpful in Developing Hurricane Path Models

by Arun

New research by a team of atmospheric scientists surprisingly found that industrial air pollution can actually help link hurricane path models to their cause. According to eos.org, researchers on the team compared models with aerosols to those without with observed data in relation to Hurricane Harvey’s path and rainfall, coming to the conclusion that air pollution was an influential factor that actually drove some of the catastrophic flooding in Houston and surrounding areas. They proved that current models didn’t predict the rainfall accurately because the aerosols the study considered and came with accurate results had not been previously addressed.

Why are aerosols so important?

Research surrounding the relationships between air pollution and storms has been a hot topic for atmospheric scientists recently as they seek to more accurately predict and determine causal effects for many natural disasters. Eos states that “particulate matter, especially very fine soot, can hover in the air for extended periods of time before settling to the ground, providing a focal point around which water molecules can condense. When water droplets form around the particles, a small amount of heat is released. In this way, more pollution leads to more condensed water and more heat, which in turn produces heavier rainfall and more intense lightning.”

In short, air pollution directly causes heavier rainfall as it allows for greater collection of water droplets and their concentration, allowing them to further condense.

The findings can be particularly useful for future hurricane modeling as it will allow scientists to look for air pollution patterns and accurately designate them as zones for heavier rainfall. In that regard, it will allow for greater protection for affected citizens and more information to spread around.

Another largely important finding this study brings about is yet again the effect that pollution is having on our lives, especially in the case of natural disasters. It brings about the need to be more cautious and mindful in the ways we pollute and the way we approach fuel, gas usage, and any other sort of environmental harm.

Study Shows Excess Plastic Pollution Causing Camels to Die

by Arun

A study done recently that has been published in the Journal of Arid Environments states that 1% of camels in the United Arab Emirates are dying due to the plastic they are unintentionally ingesting. The researchers, who looked through the remains of over 30,000 dead camels for their study, found that over 300 of them had large amounts of plastic in their stomachs. This is startling, as a figure of 1% is extremely high given the population of camels in the UAE. This is similar to ocean life and their plastic pollution which several creatures mistake for food.

The UAE is one of the largest homes for camels across the globe with over 459,000 camels. There have been issues in the past with these camels aside from pollution, as a research article published in December of 2015 showed that camels in the UAE also contained dangerous parasites. Plastic pollution, however, seems to be far more dangerous, wide-spread, and something that we can fix.

These camels are vulnerable creatures for ingesting plastic, as they most commonly eat plastic bags that drift and land alongside roads.

Study co-author Marcus Eriksen says he doesn’t blame the camels. He told onegreenplanet (onegreenplanet.org) that “If [the camels] see a plastic bag stuck in a tree… or stuck against a fence, they might think, ‘Oh, that’s a novel piece of food,’ and they’ll consume it.” The camels won’t know good from bad, and whatever drifts their way is what they will eat as a source of food. This situation comes at the square responsibility of society around the globe which has consistently increased the use of single-use plastics despite sustainability needs. A major issue that is presented is that plastic bags are often more economical and far more convenient. There are no incentives in place globally to not use plastic bags, and often, alternatives are not offered.

The Consequences of Noise and Air Pollution on Bird Reproduction

by Saarang Kashyap

The impacts of noise and light pollution on the health of bird populations has been largely overlooked. A new study by biologists at California Polytechnic State University takes a huge step forward in quantifying the negative effects of noise and light pollution on bird nesting habits and success.

Researchers looked at a massive collection of data sets — including those collected by citizen scientists through the NestWatch Program — to assess how light and noise affected the reproductive success of 58,506 nests from 142 species across North America. The team considered several factors for each nest, including the time of year breeding occurred and whether at least one chick fledged from the nest.

The biologists found that light pollution causes birds to begin nesting up to a month earlier than normal in open environments such as grasslands and wetlands, and 18 days earlier in forested environments. The consequence could be a mismatch in timing — hungry chicks may hatch before their food is available. When considering noise pollution, results showed that birds living in forested environments tend to be more sensitive to noise than birds in open environments.  Noise pollution delayed nesting for birds whose songs are at a lower frequency as they were more difficult to hear through low-frequency human noise.

As NASA states, these findings suggest two conclusions about birds’ responses to climate change. First, at least temporarily, birds in brighter conditions are tracking climate change slightly better than those living in dark areas. Second, when considering noise pollution, results showed that birds that live in forested environments tend to be more sensitive to noise than birds in open environments.

The study is the first step toward a larger goal of developing a sensitivity index for all North American birds. The index would allow managers and conservationists to cross-reference multiple physical traits for one species to assess how factors such as light and noise pollution would affect each species. Developers and land managers can then use this data to see how implementations of new plans affect avian wildlife.

Image: https://justbirding.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/cool-birds-european-bee-eater-couple-Merops-apiaster.jpg

Carbon Dioxide Pollution Reaches Record High Despite Lockdown

by Arun

The UN’s World Meteorological Organization has released a report detailing that climate-heating gases have reached record highs despite the lockdowns instituted due to the widespread COVID-19 pandemic.

According to The Guardian, there is estimated to be between a 4.2% and 7.5% cut in emissions in 2020 as a result of the global lockdowns which have significantly impacted the industrial and travel industries but has also negated the need for standard commute. With all the facts pointed out, however, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) states that although these numbers have been a small dip in greenhouse gas emissions, it should not detract from the fact that there has been a continuous buildup of greenhouse gases caused by unnatural, human-influenced activities.

In 2019, the WMO reports that the increase in carbon dioxide level in 2019 has risen by more than the average increase over the last decades. Furthermore, scientists agree that in order to limit global heating to about 1.5C, global emissions must fall by 50% by 2030, a steep drop that warrants serious action. 

The Greenhouse Gas Bulletin shows that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is 50% higher than it was in 1750, which sparked the start of the industrial revolution, causing an increase in urbanization and a rise in factories. During the industrial revolution, pollution in the cities was described as being unbearable and filling the air as a result of the spike in modernization.

To accomplish the ambitious goals set forth by the WMO, Petteri Taalas, Secretary of the WMO, states that a “complete transformation of our industrial, energy and transport systems” would be needed. Global leaders have resonated with this idea, setting forth ambitious goals of achieving carbon neutrality within the next few decades in addition to banning many gas-emitting processes, including gasoline cars. These changes have given rise to companies across the globe that focus on the future of renewable energy, like Tesla.

As global carbon dioxide emissions continuously increase, it brings forth the need for the world to bound together to address the issue. As a result of individuals and companies alike working together to mitigate climate change, the future of a green planet seems to be bright.

Image: https://www.wallpaperflare.com/gray-and-white-factory-blue-co2-dioxide-energy-gases-greenhouse-wallpaper-zfmmv

Study Reveals How Plastic Pollution Spreads Everywhere

by Arun

Since the invention of plastic in 1907 by Belgian-American chemist Leo Baekeland, who created the first mass-produced plastic, which he called “Bakelite,” the use of plastic has astronomically increased. According to plasticoceans.org, “packaging is the largest end-use market segment [which accounts] for just over 40% of plastic usage.” Additionally, approximately 500 billion plastic bags are used worldwide annually, coming out to more than one million plastic bags every minute. The organization also claims that the average “working life,” or use for a plastic bag, is an average of 15 minutes.

With its exponential increase in usage, it is clear to see the large environmental implications plastic can have on the environment. Microplastic particles from disposable goods can be found in natural environments throughout the globe, including Antarctica. 

But how could these particles travel so far?

The answer, surprisingly, lies in soil. A recent study by Princeton University reveals a mechanism by which microplastic and pollutants can be carried and transferred over large distances by soil which also brings to light the potential implications for preventing the spread of contaminants in food and water sources. 

Assistant Professor Sujit Datta, who led the research endeavor, found that the microplastic particles are released when the rate of fluid flowing through the clog remains high enough. Additionally, the researchers showed that through the process of deposition and erosion, the breakup of these particles is cyclical, as they are broken up by fluid pressure over distance, allowing them to reform and ultimately travel over larger distances.

The findings are exciting, as it enables us to better understand the sources of contamination, working towards the ultimate goal of eventually preventing all forms of contamination. According to the organization Eurek Alert, the research can help inform mathematical models to better understand the likelihood of a particle moving over a certain distance and reaching a destination such as a river or an aquifer.

Image: https://www.wallpaperflare.com/garbage-in-the-middle-of-green-grass-waste-container-waste-bins-wallpaper-uikbv