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Climate

What to Expect From La Niña

On shifting weather patterns, nuclear fusion, and forever chemicals

What to Expect From La Niña
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Current conditions: California is getting a brief respite from the rain • Barcelona’s soccer club is reducing its water use as drought grips Spain • It will be chilly and windy in Las Vegas this weekend for Super Bowl LVIII.

THE TOP FIVE

1. Looming La Niña could make for more extreme weather

El Niño may be on the way out. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) yesterday issued a La Niña watch, saying there’s a 55% chance the weather pattern could emerge this summer. El Niño has contributed to above-average ocean temperatures and an intensification of extreme weather. La Niña typically cools the equatorial Pacific, but experts say it could bring stronger hurricanes, drought, and even trigger more tornadoes in the Midwest.

2. Famed climate scientist wins defamation suit

Climate scientist Michael Mann, most well-known for popularizing the “hockey stick” graph in 1998 that showed a spike in global temperatures, won a defamation lawsuit against two writers who were critical of his work. In 2012, Rand Simberg, a former adjunct scholar at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, compared Mann to convicted child abuser Jerry Sandusky, writing that “except for instead of molesting children, he has molested and tortured data.” Steyn piled on Simberg’s comments and called Mann’s research “fraudulent.” A jury found the statements were written with “maliciousness, spite, ill will, vengeance or deliberate intent to harm,” and awarded Mann more than $1 million in damages. “I hope this verdict sends a message that falsely attacking climate scientists is not protected speech,” Mann said.

3. Researchers set new nuclear fusion energy record

European scientists have set a new record for the amount of energy produced from nuclear fusion: Researchers working at the Joint European Torus (JET) facility in the U.K. – one of the most powerful fusion machines in the world – produced 69 megajoules of fusion energy for five seconds, surpassing the 2021 record of 59 megajoules. That’s “enough energy to boil about 70 kettles,” according to the Financial Timescalculation. While that might not seem like a lot, experts see it as a sign of progress toward harnessing the process that powers the sun for abundant clean energy. But that remains a long way off: The JET experiment used more energy than it produced, and “building a fusion power plant also has many engineering and materials challenges,” Aneeqa Khan, a research fellow in nuclear fusion at the University of Manchester, told CNN. This experiment is one of the last to be conducted at the JET facility, which is being decommissioned this year.

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  • 4. Insurance industry taps scientists to help measure growing wilfire risks

    The insurance industry is sponsoring research into how wildfires spread in urban areas, E&E Newsreported. The goal is to help insurers better gauge risk as wildfires fueled by a warming climate increasingly threaten buildings and cause billions in losses. Most of the costliest wildfires in U.S. history have struck in the last decade, and “global insured losses between 2011 and 2020 for wildfires alone were more than five times higher than losses in the previous three decades.” Not much modeling has been done around how fires jump from rural to urban areas, or about how different types of buildings withstand fires, and “the industry is working to get its arms around the issue so companies can more confidently do business in fire-prone areas — and incentivize homeowners to do what they can to draw down the risk.”

    5. Rapid PFAS detection method discovered

    Identifying “forever chemicals” lurking in our homes and the environment may soon get a lot easier. Chemists from the New Jersey Institute of Technology say they’ve found a way to detect traces of harmful PFAS in mere minutes. It could make it much easier for authorities to identify PFAS and clean them up. “The current testing methods are costly and time-consuming, taking hours for sample preparation and analysis in some cases," said Hao Chen, the study's corresponding author and NJIT chemistry professor. "What our study demonstrates is a much faster, sensitive and versatile method that can monitor our drinking water, land, and consumer products for contamination in minutes." The team used its rapid detection method to identify two kinds of PFAS in just 40mg of soil. The process took less than three minutes.

    THE KICKER

    California Academy of Sciences

    Ten African penguin chicks have hatched over the last 14 months at a San Francisco science museum, after four years with no new chicks.


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    Jessica  Hullinger profile image

    Jessica Hullinger

    Jessica Hullinger is a freelance writer and editor who likes to think deeply about climate science and sustainability. She previously served as Global Deputy Editor for The Week, and her writing has been featured in publications including Fast Company, Popular Science, and Fortune. Jessica is originally from Indiana but lives in London.

    Technology

    AM Briefing: Google’s Geothermal Deal

    On the tech giant’s geothermal deal, Musk’s pay package, and the climate costs of war

    Google’s Plan to Power Data Centers with Geothermal
    Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

    Current conditions: Extreme flooding has displaced hundreds of people in Chile • Schools and tourist sites are closed across Greece due to dangerously high temperatures • A heat wave is settling over the Midwest and could last through next weekend.

    THE TOP FIVE

    1. Tesla shareholders vote on Musk’s pay package

    We’ll know today whether Tesla CEO Elon Musk gets to keep his $56 billion pay package. The compensation deal was originally approved in 2018, but a Delaware court voided it earlier this year, saying it was “deeply flawed” and that shareholders weren’t made fully aware of its details. So the board is letting shareholders have their say once more. Remote voting closed at midnight last night. This morning Musk “leaked” the early vote results, claiming the resolution – along with a ballot measure to move the company from Delaware to Texas – was passing by a wide margin.

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    There’s Gold in That There Battery Waste

    Aepnus is taking a “fully circular approach” to battery manufacturing.

    Lithium ion batteries.
    Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

    Every year, millions of tons of sodium sulfate waste are generated throughout the lithium-ion battery supply chain. And although the chemical compound seems relatively innocuous — it looks just like table salt and is not particularly toxic — the sheer amount that’s produced via mining, cathode production, and battery recycling is a problem. Dumping it in rivers or oceans would obviously be disruptive to ecosystems (although that’s generally what happens in China), and with landfills running short on space, there are fewer options there, as well.

    That is where Aepnus Technology is attempting to come in. The startup emerged from stealth today with $8 million in seed funding led by Clean Energy Ventures and supported by a number of other cleantech investors, including Lowercarbon Capital and Voyager Ventures. The company uses a novel electrolysis process to convert sodium sulfate waste into sodium hydroxide and sulfuric acid, which are themselves essential chemicals for battery production.

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    What 2 Years of High Interest Rates Have Done to Clean Energy

    The end may be in sight, but it’s not here yet.

    Jerome Powell.
    Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

    Are interest rates going to go down? The market will have to wait.

    Following a Tuesday report showing steady consumer prices in May and prices overall only rising 3.3% in the past year, the Federal Reserve held steady on interest rates, releasing a projection Wednesday showing just one rate cut this year.

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