• Environmentalists Unite in Quest to Fight Global Warming

    The nation’s environmental leaders are mounting a double battle against global warming, and they see President Obama’s remaining time in the White House as critical in winning both of them.

    In interviews with the leaders of seven major environmental organizations, they all indicated a sense of unity and urgency on rolling out regulations to control the greenhouse-gas emissions that scientists agree cause climate change and on blocking the Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry carbon-heavy oil sands 1,700 miles from Canada to the Gulf Coast.

    “I was recently with my colleagues at a quarterly CEO meeting with different groups, and I would say I feel very strongly that we’re unified that these two things go hand in hand in an ask to the White House,” said Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “They’re both very important to the community as a whole.”

    The environmental chiefs don’t want one or the other. They want both. They’re lobbying Obama, who promised

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  • Just Explain It: Wildfires On The Rise

    Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.  And scientists predict we’ll be seeing a lot of both in the coming decades.
     
    Already, wildfires have torched around 40,000 acres of land in California alone.  The average for this time of year is 1,200 acres.  Officials say the peak fire season has started weeks in advance and will last into the fall. 

    Because federal, state and local agencies are involved in wildfire suppression, it’s hard to come up with an accurate damage estimate.  However the National Interagency Fire Center says almost $2 billion were spent putting them out in 2012.

    In today’s Just Explain It, we’ll take a look at why scientists believe wildfire activity is on the rise and what areas of the United States will be affected.
     
    Each year wildfires burn an average of four to five million acres of land across the country. In 2012, 9.3 million acres of land and more than 4,400 structures were destroyed.  That’s the third highest number of acres burned since 1960.

    And scientists estimate

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  • Solar Energy's Sunny Future

    Over the past several years, the solar industry has been trying to recover from a crash in the price of silicon—a key component in the construction of solar panels.

    For most of us, the effects of the price drop were masked by the tinge of scandal: Among the victims of the crash was the infamous Solyndra, which went bankrupt at the cost to the country of hundreds of millions of dollars. Conservatives seized on the company's collapse as a reason for the government to divest itself from renewable-energy projects. Campaigning outside Solyndra's shuttered headquarters in Fremont, Calif., last year, Mitt Romney argued that the company was a symbol of "the president's failure to understand the basic nature of free enterprise in America."

    But amid the right-wing outrage over President Obama's investment choices, we lost sight of what Solyndra's collapse really meant: A boon for solar energy in general.

    The story begins and ends with China. Sensing vast opportunities in green technology, China

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  • Alien Planets Could Shed Light on Earth's Climate Future

    A Comparative Climatology Symposium held at NASA Headquarters on May 7 focused on new approaches to climate research by highlighting the similarities and contrasts between the environments of the rocky worlds Venus, Earth, Mars and Saturn’s smoggy moon Titan. 

    The symposium also included discussions about exoplanets, the sun and past, present and future space missions.

    John Grunsfeld, Associate Administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, said that the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope will be able to make important observations of the atmospheres of exoplanets. [Photos: The James Webb Space Telescope]

    He said JWST won’t be able to locate the exoplanets, only study them, but the recently selected TESS mission could act as a  planet scout for JWST targets. It is estimated that TESS will discover around 300 "super-Earth" alien planets, many of them in the habitable zone.

    But the number one challenge, Grunsfeld noted, is figuring out the climate of our own planet.

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