It’s Earth Day!
How about partying with some good news about our weird and excellent planet (ignoring for now that all news can be boiled down to being about our weird planet.)
First, some wildlifey stuff to remind you just how weird and excellent it is:
A new species of gnat was discovered in California and dubbed Megophthalmidia mckibbeni after activist/journalist Bill McKibben. McKibben, in his gracious way, said that he felt “truly honored” to be united with with the gnat.
Bees in East Africa seem more resilient to invasive mites than European, Asian, and American bee populations. The mites, which along with pesticides and diseases are devastating bees around the world, seem to be little match for African bees’ defenses.
Scientists found that females of a tiny, cave-dwelling insect possess a penis-like protrusion, which they use to lock into a genital-opening on the backs of males. The aggressive females’ grip is so tight that trying to pull a copulating pair apart results in tearing the male in half. Why would anybody want to even try?
Staying somewhat on topic, a new species of caecilian was discovered in Malaysia. The most famous member (haha) of this order of limbless amphibians is the so-called penis snake, which was discovered when workers unearthed some specimens while digging a dam in Brazil.
It was discovered that kangaroo farts produce way less of the greenhouse gas methane than cow farts. Research into kangaroo digestion may provide hints on how to get cow flatulence to be more climate friendly.
Other research speculated that the reason chimps prefer to sleep in certain trees over others is that they prefer firm beds. Maybe this isn’t exactly good news, but it’s definitely good to know.
And Jane Goodall celebrated her 80th birthday last month. Her entire life (in which chimps play a leading role) is good news. There was an incredible, inspiring interview with her over at Pacific Standard, which, if you like to feel really good and motivated to do great things, you should take the time read.
The drought affecting California is obviously nothing to celebrate, but an experiment to ensure baby Chinook salmon survive the crisis is. In an effort to get the salmon past dry spots on the Sacramento river, 400,000 baby Chinooks were trucked from a hatchery to the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. From there they made their way to the San Francisco Bay and out to the sea via the Golden Gate.
In a chart circulated by Business Insider called (optimistically we think?) “Welcome to the Terrordome,” the cost of solar per unit of energy is shown dropping vertically from about $250/mmbtu to less than $20 in just a few years. When and where conditions are right, solar is now cheaper than oil and liquefied natural gas. The researchers who came up with the numbers are careful to point out that this price is not applicable everywhere…but still (!!!)
(A related article at Business Insider called “I’m Now Convinced That Global Solar Dominance Is In Sight” only elevates our giddiness.)
Staying with renewables, a Stanford University study showed that wind produces enough surplus energy to provide 72 hours of reserves. In other words, given storage capacity, a windy day can create enough reserve energy to provide three days of uninterrupted power to account for a three-day lull.
And one last renewable tidbit: “run-of-river” hydropower looks set to have its great awakening in the next ten years. That technology, which is gentler and more distributed than huge hydroelectric dams, as well as being cheaper and much quicker to get up and running, has already seen early success in the Pacific Northwest and Himalayan Asia.
And it seems that China’s coal consumption, which is responsible for half the global increase in carbon pollution over the last decade, is beginning to slow. A new Greenpeace report (pdf), rife with super helpful charts, shows that three-year trends of slowed coal growth is the outcome of policies and actions to increase renewables in the country.
China’s slowing of coal certainly has its primary roots in immediate public health concerns. Another study shows that after the closure of a nearby coal plant, children in a Chinese city showed major signs of improved health and development.
Mining giant Rio Tinto has decided that the controversial Pebble Mine project in Bristol Bay, Alaska is not worth it. It has pulled out of the project and gifted its shares to two Alaska charities that represent local people’s interests. If built, Pebble Mine would be the largest copper mine in the world. However from the start it has been opposed by local fishing, community, and indigenous groups for its potential environmental and social impacts. The withdrawal of the only major mining company left in the project presents large obstacles to the mine’s development.
And finally, our understanding of the future of global warming may be improved through an analysis of some unlikely data: old paintings of sunsets. It seems the particular color of sunsets can be attributed to the presence of ash and certain gases in the atmosphere. Matching the sunset palette of a painting, the years they were made, and years of certain climate-changing events like volcanic eruptions will help scientists produce more accurate climate models. Crazy!
So here’s to sunsets!