Tue, 18 Oct 2016 16:14:25 -0400It’s October, so a lot of people aren't thinking about air conditioning right now. But spare a thought for this wonderful modern convenience, because the way we cool our homes and businesses is going to be changing over the next few years. Most of the world's air conditioners, refrigerators and other cooling devices currently rely on chemicals that are really bad for the climate. The coolants are called HFCs — hydrofluorocarbons — and when they get into the air, they're super-powerful greenhouse gases. But a few days ago, representatives from just about every country in the world agreed to phase out those chemicals at a meeting in Kigali, Rwanda. For the climate, it's a really big deal. “There's estimates out there that the reduction in global average temperature from this agreement will be somewhere near half a degree Celsius,” says Nihar Shah of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California. That likely will make a huge difference for the future of the planet, because the goal of last year's Paris climate agreement is to keep the rise in global temperatures to less than two degrees Celcius, and we're already almost halfway there. Shah says the climate may even get a bonus benefit from the coolant deal. “There's also potentially further reduction from improvements in efficiency,” he says. In other words, new cooling units will likely also use a lot less electricity, which means less carbon pollution from burning coal and natural gas. So it's a win for the future of the planet. But there are concerns about the possible cost of new cooling technologies and what that could mean for the millions of people around the world who might not be able to afford them. “A normal air conditioner costs something like $300, that’s the starting price,” says Indian journalist Chhavi Sachdev. She says that’s just barely within reach of India’s huge emerging middle class, who are just starting to buy air conditioning units in large numbers to stay comfortable in their tropical climate. But greener alternatives are much more expensive. “The one air conditioner that I found that has the best coolant, which has no global warming potential or ozone depletion potential, costs $1,050... That’s more than my monthly rent.” Sachdev says Indians are proud of their participation in the global deal to phase out the offending coolants. But their concerns also helped lead to a three-tiered plan, which requires a quicker phase-out in richer and cooler countries, and a slower one in hotter and poorer ones. Still, she says many Indians hope home-grown talent can help their country and the rest of the world quickly come up with affordable new cooling technologies. She says one researcher told her, “it would be so nice if all the researchers and scientists that we’ve sent over to the US would come back and help us deal with these problems.” Shah is one of those home-grown scientists. He doesn't work in India, but he got his engineering degree in Mumbai, and he now heads up research on new heating and cooling technologies at the Berkeley national lab in the States. He’s confident that air conditioning will remain affordable in places like India, despite the phase-out of the current generation of refrigerants. Already, Shah says, coolants are just a tiny fraction of the lifetime cost of air conditioners, so an increase in the cost of refrigerants wouldn’t dramatically affect a user’s total cost. But he says new technologies that will bring safer and cheaper air conditioning and refrigeration are already on the horizon, and others will certainly emerge. Shah says he’s encouraged by the responses to other such challenges in the past, such as decisions to get rid of highly polluting cars, or even the decision to eliminate a previous generation of coolants that were depleting the ozone. “Historically the human species has responded to these moments with bursts of creativity and innovation,” Shah says. “I expect that the brightest people in the world will get together and try and ... solve this probl[...]
Thu, 06 Oct 2016 15:45:20 -0400Images of falcons are prevalent the moment you step into the United Arab Emirates. They're everywhere — on walls, in TV ads, even on bank notes. The falcon is UAE's national bird. And the Emiratis take falcons and falconry very seriously. So seriously, in fact, that back in 1999 the city of Abu Dhabi decided that it needed a hospital dedicated to the birds. The Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital was born. About 10 minutes off the main highway between Dubai and Abu Dhabi, a dusty road leads to the hospital. The reception area is packed with Emirati men in traditional white kandora and artfully-wrapped headgear. Their falcons are perched proudly on their arms. The birds are wearing tight, leather hoods that keep them them calm in a distracting environment like this one. All owners are men. The receptionists are men. But there's a woman in charge. A busy reception desk at the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital. Credit: Razan Alzayani In the back, I meet Dr. Margit Gabriele Muller, the director of the hospital. Falcon Facts - Female falcons are larger and stronger than males. They can hunt and catch prey that weighs around three to five times their own body weight. - The United Arab Emirates issues passports for falcons. - Wild falcons are rarely used for falconry in the UAE. There are breeding centers, but some falcons are imported from Germany, Spain, UK and the United States. "I think I was the first who did a Ph.D in falcons in Germany," she says, with a laugh. In 2001, Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital officials invited Muller to come to Abu Dhabi and head the hospital. She says the first year wasn't easy. "[Owners] were not used to a woman as a doctor, a woman who is in charge of the hospital and, really, somebody who is taking care of their falcons," she says. Some would bring in someone else's falcon (a cousin's, for example) just to test her capabilities. Slowly, though, Muller managed to gain their trust. "Nowadays, we have a very strong relationship, me and my falconers," she tells me. "They have elevated me to a half-man. I can't become a full man, of course, but it's a big compliment here." Falcons have a special place in Emirati culture. Love for the bird goes back to before the UAE became a country in 1971. Tourists wait for a tour of the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital. A portrait of Sheikh Zayed (center) and his sons can be seen on the wall. Credit: Razan Alzayani "In the old days," Muller explains, "falcons in Europe have always been a sport of the kings, of the aristocracy. But here in Abu Dhabi, and in the Middle East, falconry has always been a necessity for the Bedouins to survive in the desert." Abu Dhabi is located on a main migration route for falcons. During the fall season, the Bedouins captured the birds and use them to hunt for meat during the winter. They'd be released back into the wild in spring. Falcons meant survival. That's why, Muller says, falconry has never been considered just a sport in the region — it has always been much more. Even Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the founder of the UAE and its first president, was an avid falconer. He was so passionate about falcons that he wrote a poem about them. The love for falcons in the UAE continues to this day. "The falcon has been integrated in the Bedouin’s family like a child, like a son or daughter," explains Muller. "They live with them in the living room, some sleep in the same bedroom. Like the owners, they have the same place in the car, so the falcon is a different kind of lifestyle here." Muller takes me to a room where about a dozen falcons wait for treatment. One is lying motionless on a table, an oxygen mask covering her tiny head. She's under anesthesia and is about to undergo a routine procedure, or as Dr. Muhammed Nazir calls it, a manicure and pedicure. A falcon gets its talons in shape at the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital. Credit: Razan Alzayani Once Nazir is done with th[...]
Tue, 11 Oct 2016 15:08:44 -0400
The people of Haiti face a new terror, just days after Hurricane Matthew blasted the Caribbean nation: cholera.
“Everyone is talking about this,” says The World’s Amy Bracken, in Dame Marie, in southwestern Haiti. “Aid workers, doctors, random people I’m talking to on the streets, have been talking about this. They’re terrified.”
Cholera is a deadly water-borne disease, and it’s already taking lives in Haiti.
“They’re terrified of cholera getting worse around here,” Bracken says. “They’re terrified of people getting it and not being able to be taken to a clinic.”
Cholera can kill you within hours of contracting it, if left untreated, from massive dehydration. Patients need to be kept hydrated, ideally intravenously.
“Water is really a number one need right now,” Bracken says. “There’s been a tremendous amount of water contamination and there’s just a lack of clean drinking water.”
You catch cholera most commonly by consuming water contaminated with the waste of other cholera victims. Sanitation and clean water are essential in fighting cholera and both are in short supply in the aftermath of a natural disaster.
“So [aid] groups are coming in; they’re trying to repair wells; they’re trying to go to the sources where people are getting their water and chlorinating the water,” Bracken says. “They’re also bringing in aqua-tabs. So fortunately this does seem to be a pretty big priority for a number of aid groups.”
Cholera was accidentally introduced into Haiti in 2010 by United Nations peacekeepers from Nepal.
The World Health Organization announced Tuesday that it’s sending a million doses of cholera vaccine to Haiti. The vaccine confers immunity for up to two years.
But getting aid into the worst affected areas is tricky. One key bridge is down, but 4x4 vehicles can now ford the river, as floodwaters have subsided. However, Bracken saw only one aid vehicle while making the long journey herself.
Security is also a concern, with reports of desperate bands of people threatening aid trucks.
More than a million people are in need of urgent assistance, according to the UN. Besides clean water, shelter is another priority. Bracken says almost every home in the area around Dame Marie has lost its roof.
There’s also a longer term fear of hunger or starvation, because most food stocks have been ruined and crops destroyed.
Houses damaged by Hurricane Matthew, in Corail, Haiti.
Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters
Tue, 11 Oct 2016 14:19:15 -0400Say goodbye to the Samsung Galaxy Note 7. Or better yet ... just say, boom! The phones have a tendency to catch fire and explode. width="560" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/1ueOV0EpdPs?feature=oembed" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen=""> Samsung tried to fix the problem. But it didn't work. So the South Korean tech giant is ending all production of its popular smartphone. “This is the end,” a Samsung spokesman told NPR's Elise Hu. It's a bad day for the brand. The decision to halt production is a sign the company is trying to protect its reputation, but brand experts believe the move is going poorly. “If it’s once, it could be taken as a mistake. But for Samsung, the same thing happened twice with the same model so there’s going to be a considerable loss of consumer faith,” Greg Roh at HMC Investment Securities told The Guardian. “The reason consumers prefer brands like Samsung and Apple is because of product reliability … so in this case brand damage is inevitable and it will be costly for Samsung to turn that around again.” When you leave your Samsung Galaxy Note 7 in the car: pic.twitter.com/wA1aD1v1oe — Matthew Kick (@MatthewKick) October 11, 2016 "The political environment being what it is, I thought this was an interesting point to get across. America has benefited in the past from its open polices and it would be a mistake to reverse that," he said. The Hill has a good roundup of all six winners. The prize in physics was awarded to three immigrants from the UK: David Thouless of Yale University, Michael Kosterlitz of Brown University, and Duncan Haldane of Princeton University. The prize for economics went to Oliver Hart of Harvard University, British, and Bengt Holmström of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, originally from Finland. Many of these six laureates have become US citizens, but PRI wasn't able to reach all six to independently verify their immigration status. For Mian, the important thing to note is that they all do their research in the US, and that they teach and train students here. The sixth prize to someone in the US went to Sir J. Fraser Stoddart of Northwestern University, one of three laureates in chemistry. He's originally from Scotland but has been a US citizen since 2011. He came to the US in 1997, drawn both by the research environment at the University of California Berkeley and the chance for more advanced medical care for his late wife, who at the time was battling breast cancer. For Stoddart, the chance to work with a broad range of people is part of what makes the US an ideal place for scientific research. "I'm all for movement of all of the people in the system ... open doors, open policy. If you have this, it's total magic in the academic world," he says. "The days of it being done in countries on their own is over. It's finished." Stoddart says in the 17 years he has worked in US, first at Berkeley and since 2008 at Northwestern, his research groups have contained people from dozens of countries. Of late, many are from China. "You just have to move with the flow in terms of where is the talent, where is it coming from," he explains. "That changes through a professor's career. It's more likely I will attract people from foreign countries than an assistant professor who is just starting out." His view that scientific progress depends on the open exchange of information and the ability of researchers to easily cross borders is, of course, not new or unique. The American Chemical Society has a policy position on its site advocating for a more transparent and flexible visa system to promote research. The tech industry, led by Facebook, Amazon and Apple, has taken a similar stance for tech workers. Stoddart fears the openness science depends upon is under threat around the world, and he points to his home country as Exhibit A. The United Kingdom's decision to leave the European Union could, he says, dramatically reduce the talent pool that researchers have[...]
Mon, 10 Oct 2016 13:52:10 -0400Barack Obama carried the state of North Carolina in 2008 by just 14,000 votes. Four years later, the state flipped back to the Republicans and Mitt Romney, also in a tight election. So, to say that every vote matters in North Carolina — it’s not hyperbole. Ramone Rushing, 32, knows this. He lives in Georgia, but recently loaded up his car and drove six hours northeast to Raleigh, North Carolina. “It’s campaign life,” Rushing said. “For campaign work, you really just need clothes and notepads. Couple of jeans, couple of pairs of shirts, and comfortable shoes, and here I am.” This article is part of The UnConvention, coverage and conversation that highlights the issues and voices of young voters, in partnership with 92Y and Mic. Rushing signed on with NextGen Climate, an organization targeting young voters in seven key battleground states. The group was founded, and is largely funded, by billionaire hedge fund manager and philanthropist Tom Steyer. The organization is just getting going in North Carolina. The words “NextGen Climate” are scribbled in marker on a piece of paper taped next to an office door. There are also stickers that say “Stop Trump.” Donald Trump has said climate change is a hoax and b.s. And he’s called for the elimination of regulators like the Environmental Protection Agency. “Trump has already made statements that he will eliminate the EPA. Those sorts of ideas are things that are just not in line with what we stand for,” Rushing said. “The idea of a President Trump to me is baffling and terrifying.” Trump has also said he’d “cancel” the Paris Climate Agreement, a landmark deal reached last year by 195 nations to mitigate greenhouse gases. (The agreement is set to take effect in early November.) In September, 375 members of the National Academy of Sciences, including 30 Nobel laureates, posted an open letter warning against Trump’s positions. Related: After quick action, the Paris climate deal is set to go into effect way earlier than expected Ramone Rushing relocated from Atlanta to Raleigh, North Carolina recently to spread the word on candidates and climate change. Credit: Jason Margolis Besides North Carolina, NextGen is getting the word out in Nevada, Iowa, New Hampshire, Ohio and Colorado. In Pennsylvania, the group is working on more than 90 campuses, including Penn State University, where the organization has booths set up with volunteers trying to stop students walking by, just for a few seconds. Volunteers with NextGen talk to potential voters about risks posed by climate change: rising sea levels, more flooding, intense storms and droughts. Volunteers helped students register, then asked them to fill out a personal commitment card. Jonathan Killner, a Penn State senior speaking with potential voters, said, “This is just saying that, come November, you’re going to be voting for people who have climate change at the forefront of their policy and who actually care about our planet.” For NextGen, that’s neither Trump nor Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson. Johnson says climate change is “probably” happening, but suggests the government shouldn’t regulate greenhouse gasses. Green Party candidate Jill Stein is calling for the country to have 100 percent renewable energy by 2030. But she’s polling in the low single digits. But are those other candidates the wrong choices, or is Hillary Clinton the right choice? “Hillary Clinton is the right person to be president this year,” said Aleigha Cavalier, NextGen’s director of communications in Pennsylvania. “During the first presidential debate, Clinton came out swinging on climate change. When asked about the economy, the first thing she went to was transitioning to clean energy sources.” NextGen Climate’s office in Raleigh, North Carolina. Credit: Jason Margolis Cavalier says [...]
Wed, 05 Oct 2016 18:04:23 -0400The wheels of international diplomacy usually turn very slowly, but things have moved fast this year on one major diplomatic effort — the global climate deal negotiated last December in Paris. The agreement calls for countries to work together to keep the rise in global temperatures to two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, or about one degree C beyond the warming that's already happened. It's a heavy lift, but the effort got a big boost Tuesday when the European Parliament formally approved the Paris deal. The EU approval means that the Paris agreement will go into effect in just a few weeks — years ahead of what was originally expected. “Today the world meets the moment,” President Barack Obama said after the vote by the EU. “And if we follow through on the commitments that this Paris agreement embodies, history may well judge it as a turning point for our planet.” The accelerated clock on the deal began with a late change to the text in Paris last December. In earlier drafts, the start date for the agreement was January 2020, but that date was quietly dropped from the final version. Without an official start date, the default was for the agreement to go into effect 30 days after it had been formally adopted by enough countries — enough in this case being at least 55 countries representing at least 55 percent of global carbon emissions. After Paris, outgoing UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon made formalizing the deal one of his top priorities before leaving office at the end of this year. When the US and China — the two biggest carbon emitters — formally signed on this summer, it set off something of a mad dash for other countries to do it too, culminating with Tuesday's vote by the European Parliament. There were at least a couple of reasons behind Ban’s urgency. One was the urgency of the climate crisis itself, which is getting worse and harder to roll back by the day. Another was the US presidential election. Republican candidate Donald Trump has repeatedly claimed climate change is a hoax — despite his denial of that climate denial in the first presidential debate — and has vowed to repudiate the Paris deal if he's elected. But with the US already officially signed on and the agreement going into effect before he takes office, the US is formally locked in for several years. As president, Trump could refuse to participate, a big wrench in the agreement’s works, but having it already in effect puts something of a brake on any US exit, providing time for perhaps a more sober reassessment of Trump's climate policy. If, on the other hand, Hillary Clinton wins in November she's pledged to embrace the deal and forge an aggressive policy on climate change. Of course all of this comes with a reality check. The Paris deal doesn't actually require countries to cut their emissions. Instead, it requires them only to make specific pledges to cut their emissions, and revisit those periodically, while allowing other countries to monitor each other’s progress. Essentially it puts in place what the drafters hope will be something of a race to the top on climate action, with countries competing to clamp down further on carbon emissions as the problems pile up and the costs of new technology come down. In practice, no one knows exactly what lies ahead. Here in the US there’s a lot riding on the fate of Obama’s Clean Power Plan, the cornerstone of his administration’s strategy to meet its Paris commitments. The plan would clamp down on carbon pollution from power plants, but it’s been held up in the courts. If it’s ultimately struck down, a Clinton administration would have to virtually start over on climate policy. If it’s upheld, Clinton would have a running start. A Trump administration likely would not mourn the demise of the power plan, nor look for another way to meet its goals. Lurking on the margins of the debate, though, is the long-political[...]
Wed, 05 Oct 2016 10:48:17 -0400Hurricane Matthew, the Caribbean's worst storm in nearly a decade, barreled toward the Bahamas Wednesday after killing nine people and pummeling Haiti and Cuba. Far to the north, the first evacuations were ordered in the United States as coastal residents prepared to escape the approaching monster storm, expected off the East Coast later this week. A woman walks down a street while Hurricane Matthew passes through Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Credit: Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters In Haiti, severe flooding and devastating winds caused untold damage to the Americas' poorest nation, where officials were still largely unable to communicate with the country's hard-hit south, where telecommunications had been disrupted. Meanwhile, the collapse of a bridge cut off the only road linking Port-au-Prince to the peninsula that makes up southern Haiti, compounding the isolation caused by the storm. A partial assessment of the damage in Haiti indicated that 14,500 people had been displaced and 1,855 homes flooded. Those numbers were expected to increase dramatically once communication is re-established with the area. People inspect the rising water level of a river due to the rains caused by Hurricane Matthew passing through Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Credit: Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters Next in line, Cuba was hit late Tuesday afternoon when Matthew made landfall on its eastern tip. The storm's center has since moved northeast of the island, and is heading north 10 mph toward the Bahamas, the US National Hurricane Center said. Americans meanwhile girded for a taste of nature's fury, with Matthew forecast to strengthen again over the next couple days. Florida and South Carolina, as well as parts of North Carolina and Georgia, have declared states of emergency. South Carolina said it would start evacuating 1.1 million people from its coast Wednesday and try to get them inland. A man pushes a wheelbarrow as he wades across a flooded street while Hurricane Matthew passes through Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Credit: Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters A man fixes a roof of a partially built house after Hurricane Matthew in Les Cayes, Haiti. Credit: Andres Martinez Casares/Reuters A man clears debris after Hurricane Matthew in Les Cayes, Haiti. Credit: Andres Martinez Casares/Reuters A man cuts branches off fallen trees in a flooded area by a river after Hurricane Matthew in Les Cayes, Haiti. Credit: Andres Martinez Casares/Reuters Residents amble through a flooded area after Hurricane Matthew in Les Cayes, Haiti. Credit: Andres Martinez Casares/Reuters People wade across a flooded street while Hurricane Matthew passes through Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Credit: Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters A man walks down the street while Hurricane Matthew passes through Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Credit: Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters Agence France-Presse contributed to this report. [...]
A girl trudges through a flooded area after Hurricane Matthew in Les Cayes, Haiti.
Andres Martinez Casares/Reuters