Climate Clippings - September 20

New and noteworthy for the week of September 20, 2010

The 'dark side' of climate change: Higher night temps.

nighttime-500

Record-high temperatures throughout the East Coast this summer generated plenty of headlines. But one ominous facet of those heat waves never saw the light of day, so to speak.

Record-high nighttime temperatures, where the evenings did not cool as usual, were also common in 2010 and are a likely sign of trends to come, according to analysis by the Natural Resources Defense Council.

According to the report, released Thursday, nighttime lows were the hottest on record at nearly one in four weather stations in the federal network this summer. Some 37 states recorded record-high nighttime temperatures, causing some 36 million people to either turn up the AC or ponder why they didn't get that fan while it was in stock and on sale.

Experts say nighttime, rather than daytime, highs are what make heat waves so deadly, as hotter nights offer little chance for the day's heat to dissipate, compounding the misery. Last year, a University of California study [pdf] found those heat waves hit minorities and the poor the hardest, a gap that will only widen unless policymakers intervene, the authors said. 

Designers offer a glimpse of your 2050 kitchen remodel.

electrolux-200Climate modelers spend a lot of time in the year 2050 and beyond, when atmospheric carbon concentrations may be somewhere north of 500 parts per million and the summer Arctic ice cap could be a dim memory.

The student designers at Electrolux Design Lab are looking at 2050, too. Except they're standing the kitchen, wondering what the world will look like when almost three-quarters of humanity may be living in urban areas and space is tight, resources limited and energy a precious resource.

Of course, climate models based on geologic record and the laws of thermodynamics are an entirely different beast from predictions about the whims of technology, social norms and cultural trends. A look at Popular Mechanics' Miracles you'll see in the next 50 years from February 1950 does a good job showing the folly.

But that hasn't stopped the student designers from dreaming of a future home where your closet assesses your clothes' dirtiness and cleans individual items automatically. Or of a refrigerator that envelopes your food in a luminescent biopolymer gel.

The design contest is called "The Second Space Age," and eight finalists will present their solutions for the future on 23 September in London. 

Finalists and a chance to vote for your own winner are at the Design Lab website.

GAO: Act of Congress needed to charge private electric cars on Capitol grounds

EV-400Want to drive your Nissan Leaf or GM Volt to Capital Hill to testify before Congress? Don't expect to find a place to charge it while you wait to be grilled.

The Government Accounting Office ruled last week that the federal architects cannot use public money to install electric vehicle battery recharging stations for privately owned cars.

The request came in June from the Architect of the Capitol's office, which had been asked to consider installing such stations for employees and members of Congress.

which serves as a budgetary watchdog, concluded costs associated with an employee's commute are personal expenses and should not come out of the taxpayers' pocket. Allowing employees and lawmakers to top off their car while parked at work violates that rule, the agency declared.

Of course, Congress could change that: "The use of the public's funds for this purpose is a matter for Congress to address through legislation," the agency concluded.

New USDA report links agriculture and greenhouse gas mitigation

Agriculture could play a prominent role in U.S. efforts to address climate change if farms and ranches undertake activities that reduce greenhouse gas emissions or take those gases out of the atmosphere. 

The extent to which farmers adopt such activities would depend on their costs, potential revenues, and other economic incentives created by climate policy. A report released earlier this month by the U.S. Department of Agriculture attempts to quantify those costs.

Activities may include shifting to conservation tillage, reducing the amount of nitrogen fertilizer applied to crops, changing livestock and manure management practices, and planting trees or grass. 

The federal government is considering offering carbon offsets and incentive payments to encourage rural landowners to pursue these climate-friendly activities as part of a broader effort to combat climate change. This need not be revolutionary, the report notes: Existing federal efforts  - such as the Conservation Reserve Program and the Wetlands Reserve Program - provide preliminary estimates of the costs of agricultural carbon sequestration.

Off the grid on millionaire's row

Hagman-500Want to experience that low-carbon, off-the-grid lifestyle but reluctant to give up your 10 bathrooms, indoor spa and 40-foot saltwater lap pool? Larry Hagman has a deal for you.

The asking price of the Dallas star's nine-bedroom, 43-acre, solar-powered estate has dropped from $11 million to $9.5 million.

The off-the-grid property, according to the Los Angeles Times, has separate solar systems for the main house, the well and the caretakers home. The annual electric bill went from $37,000 to $13 after Hagman cut the cord in 2003.

The estate features a retractable roof over the pool, a grand room that can accommodate up to 200 guests, a two-bedroom guest house and a separate office. Ocean views are, of course, unobstructed.

Not surprisingly, the estate boasts one of the largest residential solar systems in the nation, according to the listing: A 77.5-kilowatt array that generates enough juice to power a dozen or more average households in a year.

The Hagmans, who own another home in Los Angeles, are apparently selling because they want to downsize.

Compiled by Douglas Fischer. Photos (from top): Night sky in Dongguan, China courtesy madhatrk/flickr; Bio-refrigerator courtesy Electrolux Design Lab; Electric vehicle in Washington, D.C. courtesy Barbara Wilms/flickr; Hagman estate courtesy Grubb Campbell Real Estate.

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