June 21st, 2017

The Climate Alliance

California Gov. Jerry Brown was named as a special envoy to states at the next United Nations Climate Change Conference, further elevating his international profile as a leader on the issue as President Donald Trump backs away from a key international agreement. The announcement of Brown's role at the November conference in Bonn, Germany, by Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama comes on the heels of the governor's meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping and German Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks to discuss climate change. "I will lean on Gov. Brown to continue to bring the great leadership he has demonstrated time and time again, and to mobilize a strong contingent of like-minded leaders from around the world, to show the world that we mean business," Bainimarama said during a news conference at the historic governor's mansion in Sacramento.

Brown won't be the only governor potentially playing an outsize role at the conference. Fellow West Coast Govs. Kate Brown of Oregon and Jay Inslee of Washington, who also traveled to Sacramento on Tuesday, both plan to attend with other governors in the state's Climate Alliance. "We're going to play a very important role," Jerry Brown said. The state agreement is a non-binding commitment to uphold the Paris goals, which include reducing the country's emissions by 26 to 28 percent from 2005 levels. Many of the 13 states involved already have their own targets in place, and the goal of the coalition is to collaborate and share ideas on using green technology and other means to meet the goal. "When the president decided to run up the white flag of surrender to the challenge of climate change, we jumped right into the barricades," Inslee said.

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Deadly Heat Waves

Heat waves are on the rise due to climate change. According to a new study, 30 percent of the world’s population is currently exposed to potentially deadly heat for 20 days per year or more. “Heat wave” has a few different definitions, but a good way to think about it is if the temperature range for a few days or weeks in a certain location is found to be constantly in excess of the average. These heat waves bring with them droughts, wildfires, and an increased risk of communicable disease contraction – but the heat stress itself can also cause organ failure. Although deaths in certain demographics during heat waves are always expected – those with health conditions, the elderly, and so on – recent heat waves have seen more deaths than would be expected, and it’s suspected that the length and intensity of them have both increased quite dramatically as of late.

A new study examined papers from 1980 to 2014, and found that there were 783 cases of “excess human mortality” associated with heat waves within 36 different countries. Finding out the threshold in which excessive deaths occur, the team – led by the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa – noted that at least 30 percent of the world’s population currently experience conditions above this threshold for at least 20 days per year. If no action is taken – say, if the Paris agreement fails and isn’t replaced – 74 percent of the global population will suffer these excessive conditions by 2100. By then, the planet will be home to roughly 11.2 billion people, which means that 8.3 billion of them will experience potentially fatal heat waves for at least three weeks a year. As previous studies have revealed, those living in the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa will be the most affected, but the US – as just an example – will not escape the proverbial (or perhaps literal) flames.

If you live in America and this concerns you, then don’t worry – you might be one of the lucky states to be underwater instead by the century’s end.

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Credit: IFLscience

Elon's Vision

Elon Musk, the founder of SpaceX and Tesla, has released new details of his vision to colonise parts of the solar system, including Mars, Jupiter's moon Europa and Saturn's moon Enceladus. His plans – designed to make humans a multi-planetary species in case civilisation collapses – include launching flights to Mars as early as 2023. The details, just published in the journal New Space, are certainly ambitious. But are they realistic? is paper proposes several interesting ways of trying to get to Mars and beyond – and he aims to build a "self-sustaining city" on the red planet. The idea depends on getting cheaper access to space – the paper says the cost of trips to Mars must be lowered by "five million percent". An important part of this will be reusable space technology. This is an excellent idea that Musk is already putting into practice with impressive landings of rocket stages back on Earth – undoubtedly a huge technological step.

Making fuel on Mars and stations beyond it is something he also proposes, to make the costs feasible. Experiments towards this are underway, demonstrating that choosing the right propellant is key. The MOXIE experiment on the NASA 2020 rover will investigate whether we can produce oxygen from atmospheric CO2 on Mars. This may be possible. But Musk would like to make methane as well – it would be cheaper and more reusable. This is a tricky reaction which requires a lot of energy. Yet, so far, it's all fairly doable. But the plans then get more and more incredible. Musk wants to launch enormous spaceships into orbit around Earth where they will be refuelled several times using boosters launched from the ground while waiting to head to Mars.

Each will be designed to take 100 people and Musk wants to launch 1,000 such ships in the space of 40 to 100 years, enabling a million people to leave Earth. There would also be interplanetary fuel-filling stations on bodies such as Enceladus, Europa and even Saturn's moon Titan, where there may have been, or may still be, life. Fuel would be produced and stored on these moons. The aim of these would be to enable us to travel deeper into space to places such as the Kuiper belt and the Oort cloud. The "Red Dragon" capsule is proposed as a potential lander on such missions, using propulsion in combination with other technology rather than parachutes as most Mars missions do.

Musk plans to test such a landing on Mars in 2020 with an unmanned mission.

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