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The Chronicle (through February 29, 2016)



In January 2016 at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, 1074 corporate chief executives or company chairs and more than 40 world leaders gathered to socialize, hold conversations, and spark ideas about the issues they currently face: the refugee crisis, climate change, rising interest rates, and many other problems that concern The Powers. Surrounded by varying degrees of secrecy, meetings were held in which big deals were discussed and big solutions conceived. bbc.com

In time for that gathering, Oxfam issued a well-publicized report showing that 62 such folk—the 62 world’s richest billionaires—own as much wealth as all 3.5 billion people in the bottom half of the world’s income scale. nytimes.com This wealth buys influence that assures business and tax policies favoring the wealthy. In other words, rich people have many ways to become richer and richer, and that is what has been happening. At the start of this decade, it took 388 billionaires to equal the wealth of half the world. By 2011, it took only 117. In 2014 the number fell to 80. In other words, in the years since the world recession, “the very richest have grown inexorably wealthier. And that’s not because the global economy is booming, as every worker on a pay freeze and every family seeing their benefits cut knows. It’s because we are living in a period of trickle-up economics, in which the middle- and working-classes have handed over money to those right at the very top.” theguardian.com

This wealth that the wealthiest have been amassing could do a lot to improve life for the rest of the world. In 2014 the International Energy Agency estimated switching from fossil fuels to low-carbon sources of energy by 2050 would cost 44 trillion in US dollars. world-nuclear-news.org If tax codes required individuals of high wealth—that’s wealth, as distinguished from income—to pay into public treasuries at rates similar to proportions middle-income people pay, governments could afford that investment. And now that climate change is seen as “a risk, not an uncertainty” in investment circles, it would seem the wealthy would see alternative energy approaches as sound asset ventures. impaxam.com.pdf For now, however, the necessary trillions needed for climate-saving strategies are not being committed by either public or private sources. nytimes.com

Some billionaires are exceptions to that statement. In November 2015 an article in The Atlantic said of Bill Gates, “He wants human beings to invent their way out of the coming collision with planetary climate change, accelerating a transition to new forms of energy that might normally take a century or more.” theatlantic.com Gates has said, “Wealthy nations have an obligation to use massive government action and philanthropy by rich people to reduce CO2 levels, then provide the technology to poorer countries at a low cost.” dailycaller.com He has invested his own money in a number of these public initiatives and start-up commercial projects, including the Breakthrough Energy Coalition with Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Richard Branson and 25 other parties committing US1$ billion. The project brings together governments and universities, billionaire entrepreneurs, investment fund managers, and tech CEOs from around the world to the huge investment needed to replace fossil fuels with modes of cheap, sustainable energy production. sciencealert.com and forbes.com Other entrepreneurs backing the energy transition, listed after their projects which are in parentheses, include (Tesla) CEO’s Martin Eberhard, Marc Tarpenning and Elon Musk, and Google co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page, former eBay President Jeff Skoll, and Hyatt heir Nick Pritzker; (Ambri) Bill Gates, Vinod Khosla, and the family office of Karen Pritzker and Michael Vlock; (Aquion) Nick Pritzker and his son Joby, Saudi investors Gentry Venture Partners, and American venture capital firm Advanced Technology Ventures; (Sungevity) Danny Kennedy; and (SunEdison) Jigar Shah. (The identity of these backers has been gathered from the websites of the projects and articles referencing them. Information about the technologies receiving this funding can be found in “New Solar Innovations” in this issue of CES Musings.)


Globally 2015 was the hottest year since reporting began in 1850, and in the United States, despite the colder winter in the East, it was the second-warmest on record. A January article in the New York Times said, “It will take a few more years to know for certain, but the back-to-back records of 2014 and 2015 may have put the world back onto a trajectory of rapid global warming, after a period of relatively slow warming dating to the last powerful El Niño, in 1998.” nytimes.com Bob Ward, at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change at the London School of Economics, commented, “The warming is already affecting the climate around the world, including dangerous shifts in extreme weather events. Those who claim that climate change is either not happening, or is not dangerous, have been conclusively proven wrong by the meteorological evidence around the world.” theguardian.com

One measure of warming is sea-level rise, and several research projects show acceleration in the rate. A widely circulated article by Associated Press science writer Seth Borenstein reports that sea levels on Earth are rising several times faster than they have in the past 2,800 years and are accelerating because of human-made global warming. One team of scientists dug into two dozen locations across the globe to chart rising and falling seas over centuries and millennia. Until the 1880’s seas rose 1 to 1.5 inches (3 to 4 centimeters) per century. During that time global sea level stayed at three inches above or below the 2,000-year average. In the twentieth century the world’s seas rose 5.5 inches (14 centimeters). Since 1993 the rate has soared to a foot, or 30 centimeters, per century. wral.com Two different studies published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that by 2100 the world’s oceans will rise between 11 to 52 inches (28 to 131 centimeters), depending on how much heat-trapping gas Earth’s industries and vehicles expel. The rate of sea-level rise will keep increasing with continued global warming, and, even if temperatures are stabilized through the phasing out of greenhouse gas emissions, sea level is still expected to rise for centuries. This will affect coastal areas worldwide. pnas.org/2016 Anthropogenic carbon emissions lock in long-term sea-level rise that greatly exceeds projections for this century, posing profound challenges for coastal development and cultural legacies. Analysis based on previously published relationships linking emissions to warming and warming to rise indicates that unabated carbon emissions up to the year 2100 would commit an eventual global sea-level rise of 4.3–9.9 meters. pnas.org/

“Sea-level rise may not seem like such a big deal today, but we are making choices that will affect our grandchildren’s grandchildren—and beyond,” commented Daniel Schrag, the Sturgis Hooper Professor of Geology at Harvard University when interviewed about a new paper published in February 2016 in the journal Nature Climate Change. “Much of the carbon we are putting in the air from burning fossil fuels will stay there for thousands of years—and some of it will be there for more than 100,000 years,” said Peter Clark, an Oregon State University paleoclimatologist and lead author on the article. Their analysis describes 10,000-year consequences of today’s carbon emissions, an outlook extending far past the customary predictions of what will happen by the end of this century. “The long-term view sends the chilling message (about) what the real risks and consequences are of the fossil fuel era,” added co-author Thomas Stocker of the University of Bern in Switzerland. “It will commit us to massive adaptation efforts so that for many, dislocation and migration becomes the only option.” sciencedaily.com

Climate change denial is still going strong. Constantine Boussalis and Travis G. Coan, political scientists at Trinity College Dublin and the University of Exeter, collected over 16,000 documents from 19 organizations over the period 1998–2013. They found that, even while evidence continues to mount that climate change is a real thing caused by human action, the volume of propaganda declaring climate change is not a problem has been rising in parallel.sciencedirect.com Between 2000 and 2009, conservative think tanks generated, on average, 78 documents a month related to climate change; after 2009, that amount went up to 119. One prolific think tank called Co2Science produces many of the scientific review articles (not to be confused with peer-reviewed articles), and the next-most-prolific publisher is the Heartland Institute. Both are based in the United States. grist.org

Giant icebergs are responsible for storing up to 20 percent of carbon in the Southern Ocean. Pioneering research from the University of Sheffield’s Department of Geography has found the Southern Ocean is responsible for approximately 10 per cent of the ocean’s total carbon sequestration, through a mixture of biologically driven and chemical processes, including phytoplankton growth. A team of scientists analyzed 175 satellite images of ocean color—which is an indicator of phytoplankton productivity. They discovered melting water from giant icebergs, which contains iron and other nutrients, supports hitherto unexpectedly high levels of phytoplankton growth, which contributes to the long-term storage of atmospheric carbon dioxide. The images from 2003-2013 showed that enhanced phytoplankton productivity extends hundreds of kilometers from giant icebergs, and persists for at least one month after the iceberg passes. The team’s leader, Professor Grant Bigg, said, “If giant iceberg calving increases this century as expected, this negative feedback on the carbon cycle may become more important than we previously thought.” sciencedaily.com


Bees are helping reduce tensions between elephants and farmers. In Tanzania, Kenya and Botswana, fences made of beehives are being set around cropland to discourage elephants from moving through those areas. As habitat is converted into farmland by people, elephants are increasingly wandering onto farmed land, either to munch on crops or simply because their traditional migratory routes passed that direction. People who attempt to scare elephants off with firecrackers or gunshots into the air can provoke an aggressive reaction from startled elephants, leading to deaths on both sides. Conservationists in Africa, India, and Sri Lanka have tried a number of non-violent remedies to such conflicts. They’ve planted chili peppers around fields and used small drones—frisbee-sized remote controlled quad-helicopters, but the bee fence could be the most promising idea of all. Beehives are hung on wires strung between tall wooden polls. The bees are alerted to the presence of elephants when the wires are disturbed, and when the bees vocalize in response, the elephants are alerted to the presence of the bees. An elephant once stung, never forgets. As Dr. Lucy King, the zoologist who originated the idea, says, “It’s a cliché, but elephants have good memories. Some of the younger elephants don’t realize and get stung on their ears, which are very sensitive, so they remember to not go near there again.” theguardian.com and wildtech.mongabay.com

Oxalic acid has been shown highly effective in controlling the parasitic mite Varroa destructor (varroa), which is generally agreed to be the greatest threat facing honey bees worldwide. The natural product oxalic acid has been widely used in mainland Europe, but little research has directly compared different methods of application, their efficacies, and their adverse effects on bees. Now researchers from the Laboratory of Apiculture and Social Insects at the University of Sussex have compared three methods of applying oxalic acid under UK field conditions: trickling, spraying, and sublimation at three doses, using 110 honey bee colonies in winter. In the Journal of Apicultural Research, they report finding the sublimation method (heating crystals to vaporize them inside the hive) superior because it gave higher varroa mortality at lower doses. It also resulted in significantly less worker bee mortality in the ten days after application, and lower bee colony mortality with greater brood area four months later. sciencedaily.com

A sea star wasting disease devastated starfish populations from Mexico to Alaska in 2013 and 2014. Researchers are calling it the single largest, most geographically widespread marine disease ever recorded. The epidemic killed millions of over 20 species of asteroids—wiping out up to 95 percent of populations in some regions. Now a new study is showing warming ocean temperatures might make mass die-offs more severe. Researchers at Cornell University looked at the ochre sea star, the West Coast’s most prevalent starfish, known for its purple or orange coloration, five-limbed body, and voracious appetite for mussels. The team analyzed water temperature records taken before, during, and after the wasting episode at locations around the San Juan Islands and Puget Sound in Washington State. They found that as water temperatures rose across the region, so did the risk of infection for sea stars, and the highest risk of infection occurred at sites where water temperatures rose the most. Sea stars, or starfish, are a keystone species, important to maintaining biodiversity in marine environments. Without starfish to keep mussel populations in check, the sharp-shelled bivalves would push out other marine species. takepart.com

In 2016 the FBI began collecting data on animal cruelty crimes. Data collected through its National Incident-Based Reporting System this year will be available for public review in 2017. The FBI defines animal cruelty as “intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly taking an action that mistreats or kills any animal without just cause, such as torturing, tormenting, mutilation, maiming, poisoning, or abandonment.” Law enforcement officials will choose one of four categories to report animal abuse to the FBI: simple/gross neglect, intentional abuse and torture, organized abuse such as dog-fighting and animal sexual abuse. huffingtonpost.com