Sierra Daily: July 2011

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25 posts from July 2011

Jul 29, 2011

Climatologists Exhibiting Strange Behavior

The Onion gives us its unique take on climate researchers: "For some reason, climatologists have been running around in an agitated state, waving their little arms and squawking about 'global warming.'"

--Reed McManus

Jul 28, 2011

Vroom, Vroom: Electric Cars Raise the Volume

The Obama administration is working on rules that could mandate that otherwise silent electric and hybrid cars emit some kind of sound to alert blind, hard-of-hearing, and otherwise unsuspecting pedestrians of their presence. To some it may sound like an overreach of the nanny state, but most pedestrians take for granted the idea that they’ll be able to hear a 3,700-pound vehicle as it approaches them.

Fortunately, Ford has risen to the clarion call, offering the public a listen to four of the sounds, from traditionally carlike to vaguely spaceship-y, that it is considering for its upcoming 2012 Focus electric. “We’re trying to find a distinct sound that’s pleasing to customers and alerts them of an on-coming vehicle,” said Dave McCreadie, Noise/Vibration Supervisor for Hybrid and Electric Vehicles, in a press release. “This sound needs to be something that can be integrated into a person’s sound spectrum so they can immediately recognize the noise and associate it with an EV approaching the rest of their lives – just like we do with emergency vehicle sirens.” Alas, none of the sounds the electric Focus will emit will sound like a beefy Sean Connery-era Aston Martin, whose front end the more prosaic Focus resembles.

--Reed McManus

Image: Ford Motor Company

Jul 27, 2011

Know-It-All White Guys

Which segment of the population is guaranteed to be most completely out-to-lunch on the issue of global climate change? You guessed it: conservative white guys. According to a forthcoming study by Aaron M. McCright of Michigan State University in East Lansing and Riley E. Dunlap of Oklahoma State University in the journal Global Environmental Change  (available online July 22), it's not just by a little bit either: These guys are four times as likely as other adult Americans to believe that global warming "will never happen." And here's another finding (reported in Conservation Magazine) that you won't find surprising: "These differences are even greater for those conservative white males who self-report understanding global warming very well.”

Notably, the researchers say that CWMs [conservative white males] also tended to assert a stronger understanding of global warming than other adults – and those who said they understood it best were the most likely to be the strongest deniers. “This, of course, seems an untenable self-assessment,” the authors write, “given that conservative white males are more likely than are other adults to reject the current scientific consensus.”

The name for this phenomenon is "epistemic closure"--it's what happens when all your sources of information come from those who agree with you. If your main source of information is Rush Limbaugh, you're going to think you know a lot about climate change--and be completely wrong.

--Paul Rauber

Jul 26, 2011

New Ways to Find Death in Death Valley


Here's a scenario fit for a future edition of Survive, Sierra's how-not-to-die-outdoors department. You're driving across Death Valley in a hurry to get where you're going. (Warning signs should be flashing already.) You ask your trusty GPS for directions. Next thing you know, you're hopelessly lost in a maze of old mining roads that GPS recognizes but that don't really exist anymore.

As Krissy Clark reports on NPR today, that's exactly what happens to visitors to the park every year. As she notes, poor judgment is not exactly new to the area.

In 1849, Death Valley got its name when a wagon train from the east tried to find a shorter route to California, and got lost.

"Somebody had a map, and somebody said, this is a faster way to get to the gold fields," [Death Valley ranger Charlie] Callagan says. "Deep down back in the brain, the common sense says, you know, this is not the wisest thing."

You can listen to Clark's story here:

The GPS, A Fatally Misleading Travel Companion 

So today's survival tip is this: If you're traveling off road, have a paper map for backup.

--Paul Rauber

--Photo by Krissy Clark

Out Of Sight, But No Longer Out Of Mind

Ewaste image C
While you’re eagerly awaiting the arrival of the iPad 3 so that you can finally chuck your so-last-spring iPad 2, consider what happens to the 3 million tons of electronic waste that Americans dispose of every year. That was the goal of BackTalk, a project of MIT’s SENSEable City Lab, now on display at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. The project tracked outdated computers sent for reuse around the world (with some heartwarming results) and cell phones, batteries, and printer cartridges shipped off for recycling (with distressing results).

The project's computer visualizations raise questions about the usefulness of electronics recycling. “Unlike other sorts of recycling, which have become relatively streamlined, the visualization shows pieces of e-waste bopping back and forth across the country, having one component recycled in the Midwest and another recycled on the West coast, and so on,” lab director Carlo Ratti told the New York Times. “There is gross inefficiency here.”

—Reed McManus

Image: Recorded trajectories of cell phones, batteries, and printer cartridges discarded in Seattle, Washington. BackTalk

Jul 25, 2011

Coaled Shoulder


Last week, British artist Chris Drury completed his ode to beetle-devastated forests and coal emissions, and the sculptural installation on the University of Wyoming campus has already infuriated some local legislators in the coal-mining state and made its way into the pages of the New York Times. According to the university’s art museum, “Carbon Sink: What Goes Around, Comes Around, places beetle-kill pine and coal--both natural resources in Wyoming--in a formal structure derived from a mushroom spore, twisting into a vortex to suggest the natural process of decay, decomposition, and transformation.” The artist put it more bluntly to the Billings Gazette: “I just wanted to make that connection between the burning of coal and the dying of trees.” And the Gazette’s headline was blunter still: “UW sculpture blasts fossil fuels.” The slight to the state’s energy industry prompted Representative Tom Lubnau to sputter to the Gillette News-Record, “While I would never tinker with the University of Wyoming budget – I’m a great supporter of the University of Wyoming – every now and then you have to use these opportunities to educate some of the folks at the University of Wyoming about where their paychecks come from.” Museum officials have no plans to remove the sculpture, which will eventually succumb to wind and weather.

--Reed McManus

Image: University of Wyoming Art Museum

Drifting Ice Island Threatens Oil Rigs

A couple years ago Sierra's "Woe Is Us!" department reported that "A hunk of ice larger than Manhattan is breaking away from northwestern Greenland." Things that big don't move very quickly; today the enormous ice island is now off the coast of Labrador--as you can see in the MSNBC video below (sorry about the ad). Note Mother Nature's superb sense of irony: The rogue result of a warming Greenland could threaten offshore oil rigs.

--Paul Rauber

Jul 22, 2011

Climate Change Delivers a Delicacy to Germany?

"Sprechen Sie Deutsch?"

Good news if you prefer sausages to pasta: Ulf Buentgen, a climatologist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, told Agence France-Presse (AFP) that truffles, on a three-decade decline in their traditional Mediterranean sites in France and Italy, are being found more and more in eastern Switzerland and Germany, 100 kilometers north. The shift in habitat for the pricey fungi dovetails with a rise in average temperatures in the 20th century. Further studies are required, Buentgen told AFP, citing "enormous scientific, economic, and gastronomic importance."

--Reed McManus

Jul 21, 2011


Bikefixtationbbb-1 (1)
reports on the nifty Bike Fixtation, a self-service cycle-repair kiosk that is equipped with a sturdy repair stand, bike tools (firmly tethered by aircraft cables), a tire inflator, and a vending machine that dispenses parts, accessories, and even snacks. Alas, there’s only one kiosk up and running – in Minneapolis’ Uptown Transit Station – but Bike Fixtation owners Chad De Baker and Alex Anderson have the entrepreneurial spirit and cycling passion (“We're bike people,” their Web site proclaims) that could get this thing rolling.

--Reed McManus

Image: Bike Fixtation

Jul 20, 2011

Green Skies Above?

Char_omarbaba_320x240 Fans of the BBC mockumentary Come Fly With Me are familiar with Omar Baba, the oily owner of FlyLo, “Britain's 8th favorite low-cost airline.” Under pressure to give his airline some green credentials, in one episode Omar plants a single tree in an airport traffic circle and proclaims FlyLo “carbon neutral.” Fortunately, real airlines are doing a more credible job: Lufthansa recently began scheduled flights between Hamburg and Frankfurt running on biofuel, and Finnair just commenced what it claims are the world’s longest commercial biofuel-powered flights, on the 944-mile route between Amsterdam and Helsinki.

Lufthansa claims its green(er) flights, which run on a 50-50 blend of aviation fuel and biofuel from feedstocks including inedible plants and wood chips, will save 1,500 tons of carbon dioxide over the course of their 6-month trial period. How the biofuel is produced and where it comes from, of course, determine whether or not the carriers are closer to FlyLo-style greenwashing than they would care to admit. For its part, Lufthansa told the Wall Street Journal that “no agricultural land needed for food production was being use to produce biofuel for the plane.”

--Reed McManus

 Image: BBC America


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