State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

Climate News Roundup — Week of 6/28 – 7/4

If You Can’t Stand the Heat, New Research Suggests Moving Out of the City, The New York Times

While the urban heat island effect – the recorded phenomenon of urban areas retaining more heat than rural ones – is well-known, new research from the UK suggests that urban areas will be more sensitive to climate change, will warm faster, and will not cool as quickly at night. While daytime heat is typically consumed by plants or contained in soil moisture, asphalt and concrete absorb more heat than they can dissipate, and re-radiate that heat at night. Consequently, in NYC evening air temperatures can be up to 14*F hotter than surrounding rural areas. The analysis authored by Met Office scientists, published in Geophysical Research Letters, using projected a 5*F urban daytime increase in temperature associated with increasing carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere by 2050.

Michael Mann Cleared of Science Fraud, The Guardian

Penn State climatologist Michael Mann was cleared of research misconduct by a university investigation on July 1. Mann came under particular scrutiny in association with the use of the term “trick” in the climategate controversy, which erupted when hackers released the private emails of climate scientists at East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit (CRU). The investigation cleared Mann’s name, but, as the Guardian reports, “chided him for circulating the unpublished work of other researchers without their consent.” While the inquiry has exonerated Mann of research misconduct, Virginia’s attorney general continues with his demand for documents from University of Virginia in his investigation that Mann for committed fraud during his tenure at the University of Virginia.

Coal Plant Moves Towards Biofuel, The Financial Times

The largest power station in the UK is planning to convert one of its coal-burning boilers over to biomass. British energy company Drax, who owns the plant, already uses co-firing – the practice of burning coal and biomass together – in the boiler, but the move towards biomass-only is largely unprecedented. The plan will reduce carbon emissions by 4.4 million tons per year, which the Financial Times reports as being equivalent to taking 1.2 million cars off the road. A number of fuels will be available to Drax – willow, straw, manure, tree trimmings, and other forms of wood. While the act of burning biomass for electricity generation is not carbon-neutral unless the trees and crops that were cut down were regrown. Furthermore, the burning of biomass uses materials which would otherwise decompose and release the greenhouse gas methane.

Britain Curbs Airport Expansion to Help Climate, The New York Times

In an unprecedented shift in policy, the coalition British government has announced that it will be curbing the expansion of airport runways to curtail “binge flying” with the goal of reducing carbon emissions. Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron cancelled longstanding and controversial plans to build a third runway at Heathrow airport, long the enemy of environmentalists and civic groups in the UK. Cameron will also be cancelling expansions of Gatwick and Stansted airports, which also service London. Businesses, the Times reports, have reacted negatively, and the government has responded by stating that the “unacceptably high environmental cost” of building the runways exceeds the “unclear” economic benefits. While emissions from air travel only account for 2 – 3% of global GHG emissions, this percentage is higher in developed nations.Presently air travel account for 6% of Britain’s carbon emissions, but it has been estimated that it could increase to 25% by 2030.

Science for the Planet: In these short video explainers, discover how scientists and scholars across the Columbia Climate School are working to understand the effects of climate change and help solve the crisis.
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