Figure 11 shows that America faces similar challenges in problem-solving and numeracy skills. What were once American advantages in human capital have turned into disadvantages. Relative performance matters in global competition, where American workers must out-produce and out-innovate the world’s best. Vertical axis = % of U.S. adults in top two proficiency categories minus % of all international adults in top two proficiency categories. Graph: Porter and Rivkin, 2014

September 2014 (Harvard Business School) – Figure 11 shows that America faces similar challenges in problem-solving and numeracy skills. What were once American advantages in human capital have turned into disadvantages. Relative performance matters in global competition, where American workers must out-produce and out-innovate the world’s best. Vertical axis = % of U.S. adults in top two proficiency categories minus % of all international adults in top two proficiency categories.

Some would argue (and we would agree) that Figure 11 reveals an ethical issue: our society is not fulfilling its promise to children to educate and prepare them. Others would argue (and again we would agree) that the figures point to a political problem: our democracy cannot work well when many citizens are denied the opportunities that strong educations afford. We would add that the figures highlight a fundamental business problem: companies operating in the U.S. cannot succeed without well-educated, highly skilled employees. Moreover, the living standards of most Americans will not rise if their workplace skills lag much of the world’s. The situation captured in the OECD data—and reflected also in the mediocre performance of U.S. students on international tests—does not allow business leaders to sit on the sidelines.

An Economy Doing Half Its Job

Because CO2 lingers in the atmosphere for more than a century, reducing emissions means only that less gas is being added to the existing problem. Research by James Hansen shows that reducing global CO2 levels requires both a drastic cut in emissions and some way of pulling CO2 from the atmosphere and storing it. Graphic: IEEE Spectrum

By Ross Koningstein & David Fork
18 November 2014

(IEEE Spectrum) – Google cofounder Larry Page is fond of saying that if you choose a harder problem to tackle, you’ll have less competition. This business philosophy has clearly worked out well for the company and led to some remarkably successful “moon shot” projects: a translation engine that knows 80 languages, self-driving cars, and the wearable computer system Google Glass, to name just a few.

Starting in 2007, Google committed significant resources to tackle the world’s climate and energy problems. A few of these efforts proved very successful: Google deployed some of the mostenergy-efficient data centers in the world, purchased large amounts of renewable energy, and offset what remained ofits carbon footprint.

Google’s boldest energy move was an effort known asRE<C, which aimed to develop renewable energy sources that would generate electricity more cheaply than coal-fired power plants do. The company announced that Google would help promising technologies mature by investing in start-ups and conducting its own internal R&D. Its aspirational goal: to produce a gigawatt of renewable power more cheaply than a coal-fired plant could, and to achieve this in years, not decades.

Unfortunately, not every Google moon shot leaves Earth orbit. In 2011, the company decided that RE<C was not on track to meet its target and shut down the initiative. The two of us, who worked as engineers on the internal RE<C projects, were then forced to reexamine our assumptions.

At the start of RE<C, we had shared the attitude of many stalwart environmentalists: We felt that with steady improvements to today’s renewable energy technologies, our society could stave off catastrophic climate change. We now know that to be a false hope—but that doesn’t mean the planet is doomed. [more]

What It Would Really Take to Reverse Climate Change

Based on their analyses of seafloor core samples around the Macondo well (white star), David Valentine and his colleagues mapped hopane contamination across a nearly 3,200 square kilometer region of seafloor. At least one coral reef (white circle) lies within the region of higher oil contamination. Graphic: G. Burch Fisher

By James Urton, special to mongabay.com
24 November 2014

(mongabay.com) – Images from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster endure, from the collapsing platform to oil-fouled coastline. But beneath the surface is a story photographers cannot as easily capture.

Two days after the April 20, 2010 explosion that killed 11 and injured 16, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig sank. During the five months it took to seal the Macondo well 1,500 meters below the surface, nearly 5 million barrels of oil gushed into the ocean. In a paper published online on Oct. 27 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), researchers reported the first solid evidence that some of this oil settled on the seafloor.

“We have placed one more piece of the jigsaw puzzle,” said geochemist David Valentine, leader of the team of scientists from the University of California, Santa Barbara and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Valentine and his colleagues analyzed more than 500 seafloor sediment cores collected from sites around the Macondo well by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The team detected the chemical hopane from cores across an area of nearly 3,200 square kilometers. “Hopane is just one of the many compounds in oil from the Macondo well,” biologist Sarah Bagby, a member of Valentine’s team, told mongabay.com. Since it degrades slowly, it is a useful indicator of oil contamination, she added. “This is the first time [scientists] showed that liquid oil or its byproducts settled on the seafloor,” environmental engineer Scott Socolofsky of Texas A&M University, who was not a member of Valentine’s team, told mongabay.com.

Hopane levels were highest in sites closest to the Macondo well and west of it, corresponding to ocean current patterns during and after the disaster. The oil in the seafloor sediment cores probably sank without ever rising to the surface, since it did not show the telltale signs of decay from air exposure. Valentine and his team concluded that the seafloor oil most likely came from the 2 million barrels that had become trapped between layers of deep ocean waters, which Socolofsky had previously helped to track. “Oil trapped in the deep ocean from this event fell to the seafloor, like a light mist settling over approximately [3,200 square kilometers],” Valentine told mongabay.com. [more]

What happened to the oil from the Deepwater Horizon disaster?

A local resident stands next to a boat near the bank of Jacarei river dam, in Piracaia, as a record drought affects Sao Paulo state in Brazil, on 19 November 2014. Photo: Nelson Almeida

By Natalia Ramos
26 November 2014

(AFP News) – He cast his rod happily here for 30 years -- but where a river once teemed with fish, Brazilian fisherman Ernane da Silva these days stares out over a valley of weeds and bone dry, sun-parched land.

The southeastern state of São Paulo is suffering its worst drought in 80 years with scores of towns sounding the alarm, blaming increasing deforestation, unseasonably high temperatures and creeping urbanization.

"I was one of the first fishermen to arrive here and today I am one of the last still here," says Da Silva, 60, standing by the Jacarei dam 110 kilometers (70 miles) outside São Paulo.

"I have been fishing here for 30 years. How could I ever have imagined there would one day be no more water?" he asks incredulously.

The problem of severe drought affects millions of inhabitants of Brazil's most populous and developed region.

Sporting a cap against the blazing sun, Da Silva says he has abandoned his home by the banks of the Jacarei River, part of São Paulo's Cantareira system of five dams built in the 1970s supplying water to 45 percent of the metropolitan region of 20 million people.

This year has forced him to fish further upriver where water levels are higher.

But he has no idea if that will be possible next year with water levels having already hit an historic low.

October to March rainfall in the area was insufficient and in November dropped to 90 millimeters, well short of the average 161.2 millimeters.

"The lack of rainfall was especially severe this year, accompanied by high temperatures in winter as well as in summer, speeding up evaporation of the dams," meteorologist Marcelo Schneider told AFP.

"Unlike previous droughts, both the population and demand for water were higher." […]

Some experts blame an upturn in deforestation as a key factor behind the drought.

"The exceptional drought that southeastern Brazil, especially São Paulo, is suffering could be the result of the destruction of Amazonia," says Antonio Donato Nobre, a researcher with Brazil' National Institute of Space Research (INPE).

"Amazonia exports humidity and brings rain to the southeast, the center-west and south of Brazil but also other regions of Bolivia, Paraguay, and Argentina across thousands of kilometers," Nobre told AFP.

Anicia Pio, of the São Paulo Federation of Industry (FIESP), says "the region is facing its worst-ever crisis. This year the rainfall levels are well down on those of last year which were already critical. [more]

Sao Paulo drought issue for global concern

Australian Rancher Mick Callanan sells about 300 head of cattle due to low rainfall on his ranch. Photo: Mark Lambie / El Paso Times

By Marty Schladen
17 November 2014

KILMORE, VICTORIA, AUSTRALIA (El Paso Times) – The "ranges" north of Melbourne can be deceptive in springtime, which starts in September here in the Southern Hemisphere.

The hills, which curve gently like the bullnose verandas on older Australian homes, are a lush green. So are the gum trees from which kookaburras and other birds sing songs unfamiliar to northern ears.

Mobs of kangaroos munch the grass. In the ponds, Aussie frogs keep up a weird, rhythmic thrumming.

People are glad to have them back.

Starting in 2003, the entire country was locked in the grip of the worst drought on record. At its height in 2006 and 2007, Melbourne — a city of 4 million — saw its reservoirs drop to just 27 percent of capacity.

In 2007, 2008 and 2009, sections of the Murray River — Australia's Mississippi River — simply ceased to flow. Some farmers, dependent on the river for irrigation, didn't bother putting in a crop.

In 2010, the rains came back to the state of Victoria in torrents and floods. And with water in the ponds, so did the frogs.

"When I first heard them, I just stood at the window and cried," said Phil Tripp, an otherwise unsentimental college administrator who owns a small farm outside of Kilmore.

Seared by the "Big Dry," Australian policymakers vowed never again. They are implementing a sweeping series of measures intended to drought-proof the continent-nation and protect it from the degradation that's proven so disastrous in the past.

Many of the measures were already underway, but the drought kicked them into overdrive, farmers and water managers say. Their apparent success so far might offer lessons for residents of the Southwest, who face a similar future of scarcity. […]

Combined with livestock production, irrigation agriculture is by far the biggest water consumer in southeastern Australia — as it is in the southwestern United States.

Ironically, the more water you put on plants that need it, the more likely you are to make the soil so salty that it will kill them.

It can happen by drawing up salt that's already in the ground, evaporating excess water and leaving the salt behind or by bringing in salty water from upriver. Salt can accumulate in irrigated fields because, unlike naturally wet environments, they lack the regular floods that flush the salts into nearby rivers and then pulse them out into the ocean.

Before the Big Dry struck, some Australian farmers were killing — or flogging — their land with too much water. They were, in effect, destroying two vital resources at the same time. [more]

Quenching Our Future: Southwest can learn from Australia's drought

Residential per capita water use across California, September 2014. Graphic: Pacific Institute

By Matthew Heberger, Senior Research Associate
18 November 2014

(Pacific Institute) – New monthly water use data for California water utilities shows that residential water use varies widely around the state, and that the response to the drought has been uneven. Moreover, in some areas, residential use averages more than 500 gallons per person per day, indicating that we could be doing much more to save water.

In July, the State Water Resources Control Board, or the Water Board, issued an emergency regulation to increase water conservation in urban areas. The new regulations prohibit certain water uses, like washing driveways and sidewalks, and imposed new restrictions on outdoor irrigation. Additionally, water utilities are now required to submit monthly reports on water use, including a comparison to how much water was used during the same month in 2013. Last week, the Water Board published the latest monthly water use reports for 397 urban water utilities. While a handful of utilities failed to report on time, those that did report cover about 99% of the state’s population.

Each water utility reports per-person water use in terms of gallons per-capita per day or “gpcd” and the portion used by residents in and around their homes. The result is a first of its-kind compilation of monthly water use data for urban water utilities in the state. And while officials cautioned that many factors affect water use, these data, displayed on the map below, reveal a number of interesting patterns and trends. Click on a utility’s service area to view a chart of residential water use, and how it compares to the same month last year, and to the average use for the state and its Hydrologic Region.

The Water Board collected information from all of the state’s “urban water suppliers” defined by state law (California Water Code Section 10617) as “a supplier, either publicly or privately owned, providing water for municipal purposes either directly or indirectly to more than 3,000 customers or supplying more than 3,000 acre-feet of water annually.” We mapped water suppliers using information from the California Department of Public Health’s Drinking Water Systems Geographic Reporting Tool, supplemented by our own research. Where a water supplier serves a large, mostly rural area, we identified populated areas within the service area.

Perhaps the first thing you notice is the large range in reported water use. Residential water use in September 2014 ranged from a low of 45 gpcd in Santa Cruz to a high of 584 gpcd in areas served by the Santa Fe Irrigation District in San Diego County. Water use tends to be lower in the cooler coastal region, and in denser, urbanized areas. Likewise, water use tends to be higher in hotter, drier regions, and in suburban areas with more outdoor landscaping and lawns. The chart below highlights utilities with the five highest and lowest residential per capita water use rates in the state. [more]

New Data Show Residential Per Capita Water Use across California

Rhinos killed by poaching in South Africa, 2007-2014. 2014 broke new records for rhino killings, up from just thirteen in 2007. Graphic: The Guardian

By Jeremy Hance
24 November 2014

(mongabay.com) – South Africa has surpassed last year's grisly record for slaughtered rhinos—1,004—more than a month before the year ends. In an announcement on November 20th, the South African Department of Environmental Affairs said that 1,020 rhinos had been killed to date. Rhinos are butchered for their horns, which are consumed as curatives in countries like Vietnam and China despite any evidence that rhino horn has medicinal properties.

In its announcement, the Department of Environmental Affairs stressed the government's new initiatives to combat the poaching scourge.

"South Africa's multi-disciplinary response further includes the creation of an intensive protection zone within the Kruger National Park, the introduction and implementation of new technology, pro-active intelligence, improving national, regional and international collaboration, and translocating rhino to safe areas within South Africa, and in rhino range states," the department said in a statement.

But none of these programs blunted the killing spree which has been rising rapidly since 2007 when just seven rhinos were killed in the country. Today, it takes less than three days on average for seven rhinos to meet their end in the country. [more]

New blood record: 1,020 rhinos killed in South Africa

Thomas Morton hauls plastic debris from the North Pacific Gyre, while on a sailing trip with Captain Charles Moore. Photo: Jake Burghart

By Thomas Morton
Photos by Jake Burghart

(VICE) – I’m not one of those guys who corners folks at parties to rant at them about biodiesel or calls people “fucking idiots” for being skeptical about global warming. But I should also point out that I’m not one of those Andrew Dice Clay “Fuck the whales” types either.

The problem with all the bravado on both sides of the ecology debate is that nobody really knows what they’re talking about. Trying to form opinions on climate change, overpopulation, and peak oil hinges on ginormous leaps of faith based around tiny statistical deviances that even the scientists studying them have a hard time understanding. It gets so convoluted with all the yelling and the politics that sometimes you just want something huge and incontrovertibly awful to come along for everybody to agree on. Something you can show anyone a picture of and go, “See? We’re fucked.”

Well, I have just such a thing. There is a Texas-size section of the Pacific Ocean that is irretrievably clogged with garbage and it will never go away. And I have seen it with my own eyes. Case closed. Oh, you want to hear more? OK, fine. [...]

Once we were firmly inside the patch, Captain Moore rigged up a trawl and started taking water samples in little petri dishes. I figured these would be snoozers without a microscope, but when the first one came in it was more horrifying than anything we’d seen floating past.

There were a few water striders and tiny jellyfish here and there, but they were totally overwhelmed by a thick confetti of plastic particles. It looked like a snow globe made of garbage. Based on previous samples, Moore estimated the ratio of plastic to the regular components of seawater in what we were pulling up as 6 to 1. As we moved closer to the middle of the Gyre, the ratio got visibly higher, until we started pulling in samples that looked like they contained solely plastic.

This is the part of the trip that weighs heaviest on my mind. It’s terrible enough to litter sections of the planet with things that can conceivably be removed—I mean, even oil spills and radioactive dust can be cleaned up to a certain extent. But to fundamentally alter the composition of seawater at one of the farthest points from civilization on the globe is a whole different ballpark of fucking the planet. It’s fucking it right up the ass, for good and forever. Without lube. [more]

TOXIC: Garbage Island - Part 1

20 November 2014
By Andrea Thompson

(Climate Central) – A surge of Arctic air has left much of the continental U.S. shivering in unusually bitter November cold. But this early foray into winter weather is just a small blip in the overall global picture, which is of a warming world that is still on track to see 2014 set the mark for hottest year on record, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Thursday.

That warming — fueled largely by the manmade rise of greenhouse gases in Earth’s atmosphere — is so relentless, in fact, that the odds of seeing a record coldest year in the future are vanishingly small. As the animation below shows, the last time the world experienced a record-coldest year was in 1909, more than 100 years ago. But in that period, 18 records for warmest year have been set, with 2014 likely to be the 19th.

Much of the central and eastern parts of the contiguous U.S. have been relatively cool all year, with a few states even possibly set to see a top 10 coldest year. But the year as a whole has actually been close to average for the country, and California is set to see its warmest year on record by a large margin.

The bigger picture is markedly different. The globe is bathed in warm spots, with the small cold spot centered over the Great Lakes area being just one of a handful of blue spots on the world map.

Global land and ocean temperature percentiles, January-October 2014. August, September, and October of 2014 all were the warmest such months on record. Graphic: NOAA / NCDC

August, September and October of 2014 have all been the warmest such months on record, as shown by data from NASA, the Japan Meteorological Agency and NOAA, which released its October global numbers Thursday.

This single-year snapshot of the planet’s warmth fits with the pattern of ever-warmer temperatures that has been in place over the past century, particularly since the early 1980s as the warming fueled by an accumulation of greenhouse gases clearly emerged. The animation shows just how much warmth has dominated the temperature records since they began in 1880.

Record cold years are plentiful in the early decades, but they stop in 1909. From there, it’s a  steady march upward, with the expected year-to-year ups and downs that come from natural variation. Warm records are set through the 1930s and 40s, with a long stretch of no records until the 1980s, when the global warming signal firmly emerges from the noise of natural variation.

After that, a string of record hot years follows. And though many of the years in between weren’t records, they still ranked among the warmest. In fact, all but one of the 10 warmest years on record have occurred in the 21st century (1998, when there was a very strong El Niño, is the exception).

“The globe continues to warm just as climate models have long-predicted,” climate scientist Michael Mann, of Penn State, said in an email.

The steady uptick in warming, even with a relative slowdown in recent decades, means that the likelihood of seeing a record cold year in the future is, according to a quick calculation by Mann, “astronomically small.” [more]

2014 Set for Record Hot; Record Cold Thing of the Past

 

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