How Cold Weather and Climate Change Are Connected
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Hi, everybody! If you are in the areas of the United States affected by the polar vortex (and do click that link for a dazzling visual explanation of the phenomenon), we hope you’re bundling up. LAYERS, PEOPLE.
Some of the temperatures we’re seeing in the Midwest are the frostiest in decades, a reminder of colder times. But let’s all please put one much-discussed line to rest: Yes, it’s colder in Chicago or Des Moines than in some parts of Antarctica. But it’s summer in the Southern Hemisphere, so it’s not that shocking. (Yes, The New York Times used this factoid, too.)
If you are chilling out in the United States, you might be asking what this deep freeze could have to do with climate change. (Or you might want to know how to respond to an argumentative friend or relative.) We’re here for you. Kendra Pierre-Louis has the answer in a story that explains that, while climate can affect weather extremes, climate is not weather.
As Kendra put it: “A billionaire who has forgotten his wallet one day is not poor, any more than a poor person who lands a windfall of several hundred dollars is suddenly rich. What matters is what happens over the long term.”
Not only that, but there’s also evidence to suggest that climate change plays a role in the plunging of the polar vortex.
Australia, by the way, has been dangerously hot. In an article on the front page of Wednesday’s print edition, our colleague Somini Sengupta took the global view, telling us to get used to “weather in the age of extremes.”
We also looked at a new study suggesting that plants under the stress of climate change might absorb less carbon dioxide. That’s bad news: We’ll need all the help from plants that we can get. “We have this image of the planet getting very, very green as we move into the future,” an author of the study told Kendra, “but it may be the opposite.”
And while China has said it will reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, Somini tells us about a new study showing that the country, the planet’s coal juggernaut, is not meeting its own regulations to reduce methane emissions from its many coal plants.
Back in the United States, the government shutdown is over, but President Trump insists that the fight for a border wall is not. If he does find a way to extend the physical barrier farther across the southern border, experts warn, the result could be disastrous for wildlife.
Now, here’s something to think about if you’re staying home, bundling up and watching TV today:
One thing you can do: Upgrade your DVR
By Tik Root
Noah Horowitz never thought much about his cable boxes. “If you have service and it’s working, you don’t think about the box top,” he said. But he noticed that the boxes generated heat constantly and that the lights stayed on even when he turned the boxes off. He wondered how much power that was drawing.
Mr. Horowitz is a senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental advocacy group, who specializes in energy efficiency. So, he looked into these set-top boxes and found out that they’re enormous power drains.
That was in 2011. At the time, a single DVR unit chewed through as much as 275 kilowatt-hours per year, more than half as much as some Energy Star refrigerators. And many homes had more than one box. In total, the defense council estimated that set-top boxes in the United States were consuming about $3 billion worth of electricity each year.
Those numbers drew attention in the news media, and TV providers promised to make their equipment more efficient. According to Mr. Horowitz, there has been some improvement; power consumption on newer units is about two-thirds of what it used to be.
One of the most significant recent changes benefits homes with multiple TVs. In the past, each TV might have had its own DVR (the most power-consuming set-top box). Today, though, you can use just one DVR with side units that require much less power.
“The best thing people can do is, if they’ve got multiple DVRs, trade them in for the new upgraded system,” Mr. Horowitz said. “You’ll cut the energy use from the equipment by about a half.” He also suggested unplugging units that you don’t use very often.
Still, as of 2017, set-top boxes in the United States were using about seven large power plants’ worth of electricity each year, Mr. Horowitz said.
He’d like to see more app-based services instead of boxes. And there has already been some movement in that direction. Sling and YouTube TV, for example, provide television over the internet. These apps are delivered either directly through a smart TV or via devices like Apple TV, Roku and Amazon Fire, which use under 25 kW-h per year. That’s an eighth of what a modern DVR box uses.
“This is where the technology is going,” and it will be good for the environment, Mr. Horowitz said.
The #10YearChallenge becomes a climate meme
The #10YearChallenge has shown us that some celebrities have barely aged a day over the past decade. Unfortunately, one can’t say the same for coral reefs, forests or Arctic ice.
Scientists, environmental activists and others have taken advantage of the trend on social media to create moments of reflection about the planet. “The only 10-year challenge we should care about” is perhaps the most common climate-related refrain right now.
Many posts, like the one below from the German soccer star Mesut Özil, have included side-by-side photographs of an unidentified iceberg, supposedly taken a decade apart.
Though the origin of those photos isn’t clear, it’s true that near-record sea ice minimums have now occurred every year for the past 12 years, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s most recent Arctic Report Card.
“What will the Arctic look like in 10 more years?” Leonardo DiCaprio wrote on Instagram alongside photos of melting ice caps from 100 years ago and today. Manish Bapna, executive vice president of the World Resources Institute, a think tank in Washington, tweeted side-by-side global temperature maps from the 19th and 21st centuries, calling climate change “the biggest #10YearChallenge.”
And the Kenya office of the environmental group World Wildlife Fund used the meme to tweet some good news: the ongoing restoration of Lake Naivasha, a freshwater lake northwest of Nairobi that a decade ago was hard-hit by problems including deforestation and soil erosion.
Edward Maibach, director of the Center for Climate Change Communication at George Mason University, said social media discussions were probably not as conducive as in-person conversations to shaping opinions about the warming of the planet. But, he wrote in an email, “The notion of a #10YearChallenge is a particularly interesting conversation to start, because it easily brings both urgency and opportunity into the conversation.”
Here are a few more climate takes on the #10YearChallenge: