How Plastic Trees Could Help Pull Carbon Dioxide Out of the Air

We know that real trees soak up carbon from the atmosphere — but fake trees?

And you thought plastic palm trees had no redeeming value...

A cheap plastic that removes carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere? “Yes,” says a team of chemists at the University of Southern California’s  (USC) Loker Hydrocarbon Research Institute, led by Nobel Prize winner George Olah. Science Now reports on their work with an inexpensive polymer called polyethylenimine or PEI.

But how to maximize its absorption capabilities? Olah’s team dissolved the polymer in a solvent and spread it out, peanut-butter-style, on fumed silica — you know, like the stuff in those desiccant packets in your electronics packaging (“Do not eat,” by the way).  It’s also used as a stabilizer for lipstick and other make-up.

Continue reading

Visualizing California Climate Change

An engrossing one-stop shop for California’s climate future goes online

If you’re like me, and you spend a good part of every day thinking about climate change and California, you may have already lost yourself in the treasure trove of climate data and mapping fun that is Cal-Adapt, a comprehensive series of online tools just released by  the California Natural Resources Agency and the California Energy Commission.

And if you’re not like me, it’s still worth checking out.

Built by UC Berkeley’s Geospatial Innovation Facility, Cal-Adapt is designed to aid local and regional planners in preparing to adapt to climate change by providing scientific data from institutions like Scripps Institute of Oceanography, U.S. Geological Survey, UC Merced, and the Pacific Institute, and integrating it with mapping and charting capabilities from Google. The result is an attractive, interactive experience that enables you to view potential future climate-related scenarios for any location in California, and to sort by topics such as sea level rise, wildfire, and snowpack.  Importantly, data sources are prominently displayed. Continue reading

Bridging the Science Gap

SAN DIEGO — Scientists from 50 nations are gathered here this week for the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). This year’s theme is “Bridging Science and Society”–not surprising as recent surveys reveal there’s a lot of bridge building to do.

Birch Aquarium's "Feeling the Heat" exhibit. Photo: Birch Aquarium, La Jolla

Birch Aquarium's "Feeling the Heat" exhibit. Photo: Birch Aquarium, La Jolla

During a two-day pre-conference for “informal educators” (science museums, aquariums, zoos, and the like) on “climate literacy,” speakers painted a mostly grim picture of Americans’ understanding of climate in particular and science in general. Jean Johnson of the nonpartisan research organization Public Agenda pointed to research in which, when asked to “name a fossil fuel,” only four in ten could. Similarly, 56% surveyed thought that nuclear power contributed to global warming. There is still considerable confusion between climate change and the much publicized ozone “hole.”

Speakers from Yale, George Mason University* and the Pew Research Center all highlighted the recent trend toward rejection of contemporary climate science, despite several decades of accumulated evidence that affirms human impacts on climate. Several speakers, including former IPCC climatologist Richard Somerville (Coordinating Lead Author in Working Group I, for the 2007 Fourth Assessment Report) laid the blame for this chiefly on what was characterized as a well-coordinated, well-financed campaign of disinformation, organized by industries opposed to regulation of carbon emissions.

Some noted other factors, such as topic “fatigue” (people tired of hearing about it) and the current dismal state of the economy, which has shuffled personal priorities. Layered on all of that, “We live in an age of skepticism,” said Johnson of Public Agenda, in which trust in traditional institutions like government (and the media) is flagging. She pointed to the need for “credible neutral explainers” to act as translators between working scientists and the public. Anthony Leiserowitz of Yale, co-creator of the Six Americas project, noted that despite growing skepticism, there is still strong public support for climate and environmental education.


Frank Niepold, education coordinator for NOAA’s Climate Program Office, pointed to what he calls the “solutions barrier.” He noted that while the likely effects of climate change are often discussed in K-12 classrooms, there’s a lack of attention to potential solutions. Other speakers said climate impacts and solutions should be more closely linked to issues that are consistently rated as high priorities among households, such as energy independence and public health.

*Climate Watch partnered with Yale and George Mason researchers to create our climate survey, “A Matter of Degree,” which is featured on Facebook and on the Climate Watch website.

Pelosi Agenda: Science, Science, Science (and Science)

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi says she hopes to have “the makings of global warming legislation” by June.

The San Francisco Democrat was interviewed by Scott Shafer, as part of his pre-inauguration coverage from Washington for The California Report.

“If you want to see what our agenda is,” Pelosi told Shafer, “think of four words: science, science, science and science.”

Golly, even the Prime Rule of Real Estate only has three “locations.” But Pelosi was merely adding some reverb to the words of President-elect Barack Obama, who said when introducing his energy-and-environment team that he hoped it would “send a signal to all that my administration will value science. We will make decisions based on the facts, and we understand that the facts demand bold action.”

I can’t help recalling one of comedian Dennis Miller’s “rants.” The issue was school prayer but when it came to whether students should be allowed a “minute of silence” as a compromise, Miller said “A minute of silence…how about a minute of science?

It’s clear that after eight years of an administration often accused of ignoring–or worse–stifling its own scientists, many are saying it’s time for more than a minute of science in Washington.

As for “the makings of global warming legislation,” it’s likely to be dominated by a cap-and-trade sytem for carbon emissions, similar to what was rolled out last week by a 31-member coalition called USCAP. The plan is the outcome of two years of negotiation among major corporations and environmental groups.

Pelosi’s June target was also set out in a news release from her office late last week.