Western US faces dangerously hot Labor Day

·11 min read

A new heat wave emerging ahead of the Labor Day weekend will put at least 55 million people from Southern California to the Northwest at risk of dangerous heat and fires.

Huge swaths of the West could see temperatures surpass 100 degrees Fahrenheit, while the Southwest could endure heat above 110 degrees into the coming weekend, according to the National Weather Service (NWS).

And throughout the weekend, these regions will find little relief even at night, the weather service warned.

Phoenix is already sweltering under a heat index that could reach 120 degrees, the local NWS branch tweeted early Wednesday morning.

Officials warn that the heat wave — caused by a layer of warm, dense air pressing down on the West — will add to continuing drought conditions, bringing increased wildfire risk.

One particular area of concern is the corridor of large West Coast cities from San Diego to Seattle, which CNN reported could see more than 100 records broken in the West.

“Some records may be broken but record max temps are very high at this time of the year,” the NWS office in Los Angeles told CNN. “Record breaking or not, this prolonged heat wave is going to be very dangerous.”

Temperatures on Sunday and Monday could hit up to 100 on the coast and up to 115 inland, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Electric grid operators in California warned that citizens might be called on to conserve power to avoid blackouts, CNN reported.

“This is just the latest reminder of how real the climate crisis is, and how it is impacting the everyday lives of Californians,” California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) said in a statement Wednesday while announcing efforts to ramp up electricity supply to deal with the coming heat wave.

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Today we’ll peek at a new device that’s pumping out oxygen on Mars. Then we’ll see how the Southeast’s coming solar boom is leading to thorny legal questions and look at why another round of international climate talks is failing to make progress.

MOXIE instrument reliably produces oxygen on Mars

An instrument the size of a lunchbox has proven it can do the work of a small tree by successfully generating oxygen from the carbon dioxide-rich atmosphere of Mars.

Making Mars breathable: The instrument — called the Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment (MOXIE) — has been making oxygen on Mars since last year, according to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology scientists who pioneered the effort.

  • MOXIE touched down on the Red Planet’s surface last year as part of NASA’s Perseverance mission in February 2021. 

  • By the end of the year, the instrument had produced oxygen on seven experimental runs in a variety of atmospheric conditions, times of day and seasons, the researchers found.

As productive as a small tree: The scientists, who published their findings in Science Advances on Wednesday, said MOXIE reached its target of producing six grams of oxygen per hour — equivalent to the rate of a modestly-sized tree on Earth.

Historic use of resources: “This is the first demonstration of actually using resources on the surface of another planetary body, and transforming them chemically into something that would be useful for a human mission,” MOXIE deputy principal investigator Jeffrey Hoffman said in a statement.

Sending a forest ahead: Hoffman and his colleagues said they envision a scaled-up version of MOXIE heading to Mars prior to a human mission, with the intent of producing oxygen at the rate of several hundred trees.

How does it work? The instrument first draws in Martian air through a filter that cleans out contaminants, according to the study.

  • The air is then pressurized and sent through an apparatus that electrochemically splits the carbon dioxide-rich air into oxygen ions and carbon monoxide. 

  • The oxygen ions are isolated and recombined to create breathable, molecular oxygen, which MOXIE measures for quantity and purity before releasing it into the air.

A big first step: The current version of MOXIE may be small, but scientists say they see its success as a promising first step in making a Mars mission breathable for humans.

“To support a human mission to Mars, we have to bring a lot of stuff from Earth, like computers, spacesuits, and habitats,” Hoffman said.

“But dumb old oxygen? If you can make it there, go for it — you’re way ahead of the game,” he added.

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Southeast solar industry faces boom, growing pains

The Southeast is grappling with how to regulate the coming boom in solar manufacturing — an industry whose rapid expected growth is forcing it to confront new legal issues.

Southeast plans for a boom: Solar panel manufacturer First Solar announced on Tuesday that it would spend $1.2 billion to build a new factory in the U.S. Southeast, according to Reuters.

Making that move possible are provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act added by Georgia Democratic Sens. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, Axios reported.

  • Boosting that endeavor are the solar tax credits in the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act, which “delivered precisely the durable industrial policy foundation that we’ve long advocated for,” said First Solar spokesman Reuven Proença.

  • The solar industry had been waiting for a deal like this “for forever,” a spokesman for the South Korean company Qcells told Axios. “This bill is a huge deal,” said the spokesman, whose firm has a factory in Dalton, Ga., and is planning its own expansion.

Jobs are coming: The Inflation Reduction Act — which will provide hundreds of billions to a variety of climate and health programs — could lead to 18,000 U.S. new solar industry manufacturing jobs by 2025, according to the Solar Energy Manufacturing for America Coalition, a trade group representing solar manufacturing workers.

PLANNING FOR SOLAR DISPUTES

Elsewhere in the Southeast, questions remained about how to resolve disputes between solar utilities, vendors and municipalities.

Planning for removal: One such area of contention is how and when to remove aging solar facilities. A new report from the University of Virginia focused on how local officials can get developers to make plans to safely decommission their solar facilities at the end of their lives.

That’s part of an effort to make such deals “a manageable risk for localities but not an undue burden on developers,” report co-author Irene Cox wrote on Wednesday.

  • Virginia, for example, has 55 solar utility plants as of July, but just a quarter of local governments require that plants have a plan to take their operations down when they are no longer serviceable.

  • Removing a solar plant can cost a locality over $1 million, according to a report by the University of Virginia.

When deals blow up: Another problem is how to assign blame when a complex solar system — which may contain components from many manufacturers — goes awry.

In North Carolina, Charlotte-area utility Pink Energy is in an ugly dispute with a former business partner over the cause of several house fires stemming from excessive power surges, the Charlotte Observer reported on Wednesday.

In a federal complaint Pink Energy claims its $1 billion valuation last year has fallen by half after a flood of social media complaints followed the fires.

G-20 nations make progress at climate talks

Officials from the world’s biggest economies produced a joint climate agreement on Wednesday in Bali, where Indonesia’s environment minister pressed participants to act with urgency, The Associated Press reported.

“We are actually in a climate crisis position, no longer just climate change,” the minister, Siti Nurbaya Bakar, told the AP. “We must work even faster to bring the global temperatures down as low as possible.”

Who was at the meeting? Delegates from the Group of 20 countries gathered for the talks, hosted by this year’s chair Indonesia, according to Reuters.

  • Environment officials from Australia, Brazil, India, Japan and South Korea, as well as U.S. Climate Envoy John Kerry, were among those in attendance.

  • More bilateral meetings were expected to occur on Thursday.

Top officials from China, Russia and Argentina joined virtually, the AP reported.

What’s in the agreement? Nurbaya said that the joint agreement focuses on three issues: sustainable economic recovery, land- and ocean-based climate action and resource mobilization, according to the AP.

  • The agreement could help realize the targets of the 2015 Paris climate accord: keeping warming below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), and ideally below 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit).

  • Last year, G-20 countries recognized that meeting that lower threshold would require “meaningful and effective” steps, CNBC reported.

FOCUSING ON COOPERATION

Nurbaya urged her colleagues to work together through a collaborative approach she described as “environmental multilateralism,” according to the AP.

  • Multilateral environmental agreements are those made between three or more states that address specific environmental issues at national, regional and global levels, as defined by the United Nations.

  • “Environmental multilateralism is the only mechanism where all countries, regardless of their size and wealth, stand on equal footing and equal treatment,” Nurbaya said at the meeting, per the AP.

Progress was slow: Earlier in the day, Reuters had reported that the participants failed to agree to a joint communique on the subject.

That lack of progress, according to Reuters, was due to objections over language surrounding climate targets as well as the war in Ukraine.

Frustration abounds: Many G-20 countries are frustrated about a lack of concrete climate measures at a time when Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has forced many governments to use more coal than they had envisioned, CNBC reported.

“A lot of countries in the world are strongly condemning the Russian aggression in Ukraine,” Rob Jetten, the Dutch minister for climate and energy, told CNBC in Bali.

“So it’s been hard to have negotiations with the Russians,” he added.

🦦 Mood Boost

Visiting parks beside canals and rivers helps to boost wellbeing for people across all ages, ethnicity and genders, a new study in PLoS One has found.

Best of both worlds: Certain places that mix water and vegetation may be particularly effective, according to the study.

That’s because they provide a unique combination of two healthful types of natural spaces:

  • Blue spaces, like lakes, rivers and other water features.

  • Green spaces, like grasslands and forests.

Wild benefits: An added mental boost may come from the likelihood of seeing wildlife — like ducks, herons and fish — in canals and rivers, the researchers noted.

Such encounters help support human wellbeing, a 2020 study in Environmental Research Letters found.

Visitors to river and canal-side parks were “more likely to report feeling safe both during the day and at night, as well as more socially included,” the authors of the PLoS study wrote.

Under pressure: These urban oases — which also lower temperatures for surrounding areas — are under threat from climate change, particularly due to a rising incidence of fire and flood, NPR reported on Wednesday.

That’s forcing civil engineers and park managers from Atlanta to Houston to redesign parks to manage and disperse rising waters, NPR reported.

There’s a bright side: In effect, flood adaptation can often mean converting pure green spaces into mixed green-blue ones — precisely the sort the PLoS study found gave the biggest emotional boost.

🌍 World Wednesday

Africa has a new oldest dinosaur, Galápagos tortoise deaths may have been foul play and how climate change is putting strain on even the digital world.

Scientists discover Africa’s oldest known dinosaur

  • A team of paleontologists from Virginia Tech and Zimbabwe have discovered and named the oldest dinosaur skeleton ever found in Africa, publishing their findings in Nature on Wednesday. The long-necked dinosaur, Mbiresaurus raathi, is estimated to have been about 6 feet long and roughly equivalent in age to the oldest known dinosaurs — who lived about 230 million years ago, according to the scientists.

Ecuador officials investigate Galápagos tortoise deaths

Drought puts added squeeze on data networks

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