Arctic stronghold of world’s seeds flooded after permafrost melts  

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The Guardian reports that the doomsday seedbank at Svalbard has been flooded after the permafrost it is built on melted - Arctic stronghold of world’s seeds flooded after permafrost melts. I wonder how far above sea level it is ?

It was designed as an impregnable deep-freeze to protect the world’s most precious seeds from any global disaster and ensure humanity’s food supply forever. But the Global Seed Vault, buried in a mountain deep inside the Arctic circle, has been breached after global warming produced extraordinary temperatures over the winter, sending meltwater gushing into the entrance tunnel.

The vault is on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen and contains almost a million packets of seeds, each a variety of an important food crop. When it was opened in 2008, the deep permafrost through which the vault was sunk was expected to provide “failsafe” protection against “the challenge of natural or man-made disasters”.

But soaring temperatures in the Arctic at the end of the world’s hottest ever recorded year led to melting and heavy rain, when light snow should have been falling. “It was not in our plans to think that the permafrost would not be there and that it would experience extreme weather like that,” said Hege Njaa Aschim, from the Norwegian government, which owns the vault.

“A lot of water went into the start of the tunnel and then it froze to ice, so it was like a glacier when you went in,” she told the Guardian. Fortunately, the meltwater did not reach the vault itself, the ice has been hacked out, and the precious seeds remain safe for now at the required storage temperature of -18C.

Roger Ailes Was One of the Worst Americans Ever  

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Matt Taibbi at Rolling Stone has an obituary for the monster that invented Fox News - Roger Ailes Was One of the Worst Americans Ever.

We are a hate-filled, paranoid, untrusting, book-dumb and bilious people whose chief source of recreation is slinging insults and threats at each other online, and we're that way in large part because of the hyper-divisive media environment he discovered.

Ailes was the Christopher Columbus of hate. When the former daytime TV executive and political strategist looked across the American continent, he saw money laying around in giant piles. He knew all that was needed to pick it up was a) the total abandonment of any sense of decency or civic duty in the news business, and b) the factory-like production of news stories that spoke to Americans' worst fantasies about each other.

The onetime Nixon operative has created the most profitable propaganda machine in history. Inside America's Unfair and Imbalanced Network Like many con artists, he reflexively targeted the elderly – "I created a TV network for people from 55 to dead," he told Joan Walsh – where he saw billions could be made mining terrifying storylines about the collapse of the simpler America such viewers remembered, correctly or (more often) incorrectly, from their childhoods.

The FT on The Big Green Bang  

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The FT has an in-depth look at the transition to renewable energy - The Big Green Bang: how renewable energy became unstoppable. The article contains some choice quotes along with a raft of statistics:

Irish executive Eddie O’Connor: “Fossil fuels have lost. The rest of the world just doesn’t know it yet.”

Investor Jeremy Grantham: "I think [the energy transition] is happening much faster than most well-educated business people in America understand. Because the science is being deliberately obfuscated in the US, the consequences are being obscured as well.”

7,000 massive methane gas bubbles under the Russian permafrost could explode anytime  

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Thin Progress has a report on Siberia's melting permafrost - 7,000 massive methane gas bubbles under the Russian permafrost could explode anytime.

Russian scientists have recently discovered some 7,000 underground methane bubbles in Siberia that could explode anytime. ‘Their appearance at such high latitudes is most likely linked to thawing permafrost,” explained a Russian Academy of Science spokesperson, “which is in turn linked to overall rise of temperature on the north of Eurasia during last several decades.”

This discovery is especially worrisome for three reasons. First, methane traps 86 times as much heat as CO2 over a 20-year period. Thawing permafrost creates both CO2 and methane (CH4), but most models of thawing permafrost assume only CO2 is created. If, as it appears, a lot of methane is being generated, then we’ll see even more extra warming than scientists have projected. Second, a recent study found global warming will defrost much more permafrost than we thought. Third, the permafrost has already been warming at an alarming rate. In general, the Arctic warms twice as fast as the planet as a whole.

Rethinking Transportation: The end of petrol and diesel cars? "All vehicles will be electric by 2025"  

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Ambrose Evans Pritchard has an article on Stanford professor Tony Seba's optimistic predictions that the end is nigh for fossil fuelled vehicles in his report "Rethinking Transportation" - The end of petrol and diesel cars? All vehicles will be electric by 2025, says expert.

No more petrol or diesel cars, buses, or trucks will be sold anywhere in the world within eight years. The entire market for land transport will switch to electrification, leading to a collapse of oil prices and the demise of the petroleum industry as we have known it for a century.

This is the futuristic forecast by Stanford University economist Tony Seba. His report, with the deceptively bland title Rethinking Transportation 2020-2030, has gone viral in green circles and is causing spasms of anxiety in the established industries.

Prof Seba’s premise is that people will stop driving altogether. They will switch en masse to self-drive electric vehicles (EVs) that are ten times cheaper to run than fossil-based cars, with a near-zero marginal cost of fuel and an expected lifespan of 1m miles.

Elon Musk Has Finally Confirmed What the Boring Tunnels He’s Making Are For  

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Futurism has an update on Elon Musk's boring project - Elon Musk Has Finally Confirmed What the Boring Tunnels He’s Making Are For.

We now have an idea of just what Elon Musk's Boring Company is going to be for. Yes, it's to solve traffic, but it looks like it isn't meant just to be your usual tunnel for cars. In a new update today, the company asserts that it's actually building a tunnel that can also run the Hyperloop.

REthinking Energy 2017: Accelerating the global energy transformation  

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IRENA has released their annual report on the transition to renewable energy - REthinking Energy 2017: Accelerating the global energy transformation (PDF report).

Renewable energy is a fundamental and growing part of the global energy transformation. Increasingly, renewables have become the first choice for expanding, upgrading and modernising power systems around the world.

REthinking Energy, the flagship report from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), examines trends and developments in the global quest for a sustainable energy future. As this third edition emphasises, accelerated deployment will fuel economic growth, create new employment opportunities, enhance human welfare and contribute to a climate-safe future.

Elon Musk's Future - Boring, Electric Semis, Solar Roofs and More Gigafactories  

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Elon Musk recently had a TED talk with Chris Anderson covering a wide range of topics, including the Tesla Semi and expanding the Gigafactory fleet - What will the future look like? Elon Musk speaks at TED2017.

Showing a concept photo of a house with a Tesla in the driveway, Powerwalls on the side of the house and a solar glass roof, Musk talks about his vision for the home of the future. Most houses in the US, he says, have enough roof area for solar panels to power all the needs of the house. “Eventually almost all houses will have a solar roof,” he says. “Fast forward 15 years from now, it’ll be unusual to have a roof that doesn’t have solar.”

And to store all that electricity needed to power our homes and cars, Musk has made a huge bet on lithium-ion batteries. Moving on to a discussion of the Gigafactory, a massive diamond-shaped lithium-ion battery factory near Sparks, Nevada, Musk talks about how power will be stored in the future.

“When it’s running full speed, you can’t see the cells without a strobe light,” Musk says as a video of the factory pumping out Li-ion batteries plays behind him. Musk thinks we’ll need about 100 such factories to power the world in a future where we don’t feel guilty about using and producing energy, and Tesla plans to announce locations for another four Gigafactories late this year. “We need to address a global market,” Musk says, hinting that the new factories will be spread out across the world. ...

Sustainable energy will happen no matter what, out of necessity, Musk says. “If you don’t have sustainable energy, you have unsustainable energy … The fundamental value of a company like Tesla is the degree to which it accelerates the advent of sustainable energy faster than it would otherwise occur,” he says.

But becoming a multi-planet species isn’t inevitable. “If you look at the progress in space, in 1969 we were able to send somebody to the moon. Then we had the space shuttle, which could only take people to low-Earth orbit. Now we take no one to orbit. That’s the trend — it’s down to nothing. We’re mistaken when we think technology automatically improves. It only improves if a lot of people work very hard to make it better.”

Tesla have also released their "solar roof" product, with Bloomberg declaring it "better than anyone expected". RNE has a summary - Tesla’s solar roof sets Musk’s grand unification into motion.

Production of the tiles will begin at Tesla’s Fremont solar plant in California and then shift this summer to its new factory in Buffalo, New York, with additional investments from Tesla’s partner, Panasonic. Musk said initial sales will be limited by manufacturing capacity. As production ramps up into 2018, sales will begin in the UK, Australia, and other locations, along with the introduction of sculpted terracotta and slate versions of the solar roof.

The tempered glass in Tesla’s tiles is designed to conform to the toughest durability standards for both roofs and solar products, according to Tesla. The roof itself is guaranteed to outlast your home, while the power production of the solar cells is covered under a 30 year warranty, according to the company’s website. Glass, as Musk likes to point out, has a “quasi-infinite” lifetime, though the underlying solar cell will degrade over time.

Tesla’s basic premise is to make solar ownership more attractive and affordable by eliminating the need to install both a roof and solar panels. Tesla will manage the entire process of solar roof installation, including removal of existing roofs, design, permits, installation, and maintenance. The company estimates that each installation will take about a week.

Norway Looking To Electric Ships To Replace Trucks  

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Gas 2.0 has an article on an electric shipping experiments in Norway (the first vessel is due to launch in 2018)- Norway Is Looking To Autonomous Electric Ships To Replace Trucks.

Trucks are essential to commerce. Virtually every item purchased in stores is transported by truck at some point. Trucks add to urban congestion and clog highways. Worst of all, the vast majority of them are powered by diesel engines that pump millions of tons of pollutants into the atmosphere every year. Norway is experimenting with a new way to get some of those trucks off the road and reduce diesel emissions — autonomous electric ships.

Solar to attract more investment than coal, gas and nuclear combined this year  

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PV Magazine has an article on the now unstoppable transition to solar power - Solar to attract more investment than coal, gas and nuclear combined this year, says Frost & Sullivan.

Analysts expect global renewable power investment to reach $243bn this year, with solar PV the fastest-growing segment and non-hydro renewables to account for 65% of all global power investment by 2020.

How Western Civilisation Could Collapse  

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Collapsist stories in the media are pretty rare these days (even the tide of stories about authoritarian dystopias has receded since its peak after Donald Trump's election) - however the BBC has kept the meme going with this uplifting tale - http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20170418-how-western-civilisation-could-collapse.

The political economist Benjamin Friedman once compared modern Western society to a stable bicycle whose wheels are kept spinning by economic growth. Should that forward-propelling motion slow or cease, the pillars that define our society – democracy, individual liberties, social tolerance and more – would begin to teeter. Our world would become an increasingly ugly place, one defined by a scramble over limited resources and a rejection of anyone outside of our immediate group. Should we find no way to get the wheels back in motion, we’d eventually face total societal collapse.

Such collapses have occurred many times in human history, and no civilisation, no matter how seemingly great, is immune to the vulnerabilities that may lead a society to its end. Regardless of how well things are going in the present moment, the situation can always change. Putting aside species-ending events like an asteroid strike, nuclear winter or deadly pandemic, history tells us that it’s usually a plethora of factors that contribute to collapse. What are they, and which, if any, have already begun to surface? It should come as no surprise that humanity is currently on an unsustainable and uncertain path – but just how close are we to reaching the point of no return? ...

According to Joseph Tainter, a professor of environment and society at Utah State University and author of The Collapse of Complex Societies, one of the most important lessons from Rome’s fall is that complexity has a cost. As stated in the laws of thermodynamics, it takes energy to maintain any system in a complex, ordered state – and human society is no exception. By the 3rd Century, Rome was increasingly adding new things – an army double the size, a cavalry, subdivided provinces that each needed their own bureaucracies, courts and defences – just to maintain its status quo and keep from sliding backwards. Eventually, it could no longer afford to prop up those heightened complexities. It was fiscal weakness, not war, that did the Empire in.

So far, modern Western societies have largely been able to postpone similar precipitators of collapse through fossil fuels and industrial technologies – think hydraulic fracturing coming along in 2008, just in time to offset soaring oil prices. Tainter suspects this will not always be the case, however. “Imagine the costs if we have to build a seawall around Manhattan, just to protect against storms and rising tides,” he says. Eventually, investment in complexity as a problem-solving strategy reaches a point of diminishing returns, leading to fiscal weakness and vulnerability to collapse. That is, he says “unless we find a way to pay for the complexity, as our ancestors did when they increasingly ran societies on fossil fuels.”

Paul Hawken's "Drawdown" project  

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Dave Roberts at Vox has an interview with Paul Hawken about his book on the "Drawdown" project to assess the effectiveness of carbon emission reduction options - A new book ranks the top 100 solutions to climate change. The results are surprising..

Hawken is a legend in environmental circles. Since the early 1980s, he has been starting green businesses, writing books on ecological commerce (President Bill Clinton called Hawken’s Natural Capitalism one of the five most important books in the world), consulting with businesses and governments, speaking to civic groups, and collecting honorary doctorates (six so far).

A few years ago, he set out to pull together the careful coverage of solutions that had so long been lacking. With the help of a little funding, he and a team of several dozen research fellows set out to “map, measure, and model” the 100 most substantive solutions to climate change, using only peer-reviewed research.

The result, released last month, is called Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming.

Unlike most popular books on climate change, it is not a polemic or a collection of anecdotes and exhortations. In fact, with the exception of a few thoughtful essays scattered throughout, it’s basically a reference book: a list of solutions, ranked by potential carbon impact, each with cost estimates and a short description. A set of scenarios show the cumulative potential.

It is fascinating, a powerful reminder of how narrow a set of solutions dominates the public’s attention. Alternatives range from farmland irrigation to heat pumps to ride-sharing.

The number one solution, in terms of potential impact? A combination of educating girls and family planning, which together could reduce 120 gigatons of CO2-equivalent by 2050 — more than on- and offshore wind power combined (99 GT).

Also sitting atop the list, with an impact that dwarfs any single energy source: refrigerant management. (Don’t hear much about that, do you? Here’s a great Brad Plumer piece on it.)

Both reduced food waste and plant-rich diets, on their own, beat solar farms and rooftop solar combined.

(Important note: The above comparisons are true in Drawdown’s central, “probable” scenario. There are also more ambitious scenarios, in which each solution is pushed to its full potential. In the “optimum” scenario, onshore wind rises to crush all competitors, reducing 139 GT. All scenarios use only existing, commercialized technologies, so they should be considered conservative. All the solutions, data, and references are available at drawdown.org.)

Word of the day - Spherecuck  

Posted by Big Gav

I have this feeling the entire alt-right is just satire these days. Spherecuck.

First coal-free day in Britain since 1880s  

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The BBC reports that Britain has enjoyed it's first day free of coal fired power generation since the dawn of the industrial revolution - First coal-free day in Britain since 1880s. Next gas then nuclear...

Britain has gone a full day without using coal to generate electricity for the first time since the 1880s, National Grid says. The energy provider said Friday's lack of coal usage was a "watershed" moment. Britain's previous longest continuous energy period without coal until now was 19 hours - first achieved last May, and again on Thursday.

The government plans to phase out Britain's last plants by 2025 in order to cut carbon emissions.

Friday is thought to be the first time the nation has not used coal to generate electricity since the world's first centralised public coal-fired generator opened in 1882, at Holborn Viaduct in London.

Peak Foiled ?  

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Grist notes that Spanish oil company Repsol just announced that it has made the largest onshore oil discovery in the United States in 30 years - a find of 1.2 billion barrels beneath Alaska’s North Slope - PEAK FOILED.

If there’s anyone still waiting for peak oil to save us from climate change, get over it. People just keep getting better at finding crude. If anything can get us out of this mess, it won’t be a scarcity of fossil fuels but an abundance of creativity. The same innovative capacity that allows humans to keep expanding the amount of oil that can be pumped out of the earth can also create laws to stop the flow and cleaner technologies to use instead.

Vault 7  

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A few years ago I speculated that one day some unenthused young contract worker at an Intelligence agency would decide to do a Snowden and release details of the backdoors that have been built into our electronic devices - Gen Y's Revenge - Opening The Back Door ?.

After thinking about this for a while I eventually concluded that the next big scandal could be one that could have far more real world impact than the current round of revelations (which are going to have a lasting effect on American technology providers over the next decade as foreign and multinational entities start trying to attain some level of information privacy that they don't enjoy today).

My thinking goes like this - if all our technology platforms now have backdoors built into them, what happens if some whistleblower decides to make public the mechanisms for accessing these backdoors ? Is there some procedure on the shelf that will allow a (relatively) rapid rollout of fixes to close the backdoors (and the cynic in me assumes, install new ones) ? Or is this just a hacker's wet dream waiting to come true...

So I wasn't all that surprised by Wikileaks' latest release, the much hyped "Vault 7" - Vault 7: CIA Hacking Tools Revealed.

Like the Podesta emails, the timing for this one was dodgy at best, with Trump doing some paranoid tweeting about his phones being tapped by Obama a couple of days before the document dump. By and large I still like Assange, but the entire neocon and Democratic establishment seem to determined to paint him as yet another tool of Vladimir Putin - and some of Wikileaks' tweets and the way they seem to be co-ordinating with the Trumpists don't do much to contradict this.

Fingers crossed they start releasing some dirt on the Trump administration before too long to restore some balance to the force.

There are a few other conspiracy theories about this latest release floating around that don't come from the Washington establishment. One of these is that this is part of a turf war between the NSA and CIA, with the NSA perhaps deciding that the CIA are encroaching too much on their area of expertise (mirroring some theories around the time of the Snowden revelations that the CIA wanted to discredit the NSA).

Bruce Schneier has a good roundup of articles on the topic - WikiLeaks Releases CIA Hacking Tools.

Somewhat weirdly, while browsing Facebook outside yesterday (off my home network) I emailed the link to this Intercept story to myself with the subject line "Vault 7" yesterday. A minute or so later I had an aborted call from a number in The Seychelles then my phone popped up a dialog box asking me what wifi network I wanted to connect to (something I can't recall it ever spontaneously asking me to do before). It did make me wonder just how active / automated the surveillance systems are these days when it comes to grabbing all the information off your phone...

FORMER CIA DIRECTOR Michael Hayden told the BBC this week that he blames millennials for the government’s secrets being leaked to the public.

“In order to do this kind of stuff, we have to recruit from a certain demographic,” he said, referring to government surveillance. “And I don’t mean to judge them at all, but this group of millennials and related groups simply have different understandings of the words loyalty, secrecy, and transparency than certainly my generation did.”

Carnegie eyes 100MW wave farm in Western Australia  

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Australian wave power company Carnegie Clean Energy is expressing interest in building the country's first commercial scale wave power plant on the south coast of Western Australia - Carnegie eyes 100MW wave farm in Albany if Labor wins W.A. poll.

Perth-based Carnegie Clean Energy says it will consider a 20MW wave farm off the cost of Albany in West Australia if Labor wins the state poll and delivers on a commitment to provide $19.5 million of funding. Carnegie, which is currently preparing its first full-size wave farm off the coast of Fremantle, helping to supply Garden Island naval base with a mixture of wave and solar energy and battery storage, says the Albany plant could be upgraded to 100MW. ...

Carnegie CEO Michael Ottaviano said the Albany wave farm would be an opportunity to tap into a highly consistent renewable resource; delivering “24/7 clean power” into the electrical grid at a time where recognition of the importance of reliable, clean energy in Australia has never been higher. “Albany has one the most consistent wave energy resources in the world, experiencing greater than 1m swell 99.7 per cent of the time,” he said in a statement.

ANU: Wind, solar and hydro grid cheapest option for Australia  

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ReNew Economy has a look at a report from the Australian National University claiming the lowest cost electricity grid for Australia is a 100% renewable energy one - ANU: Wind, solar and hydro grid cheapest option for Australia.

A new study by energy experts from the Australian National University suggests that a 100 per cent renewable energy electricity grid – with 90 per cent of power coming from wind and solar – will be significantly cheaper future option than a coal or gas-fired network in Australia. The study, led by Andrew Blakers, Bin Lu and Matthew Stocks, suggests that with most of Australia’s current fleet of coal generators due to retire before 2030, a mix of solar PV and wind energy, backed up by pumped hydro, will be the cheapest option for Australia, and this includes integration costs.

Renewable Energy: The disruptive impact of technology  

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Nick Butler at the FT points to this paper from the Grantham Institute and Carbon Tracker on the disruption cheap renewable power and electric vehicles are starting to have on global energy markets, a process which is going to continue to accelerate - Expect the Unexpected: The Disruptive Power of Low-carbon Technology (pdf).

Butler notes of the report:

* Solar will take 23 per cent of the power generation market by 2040 and 29 per cent by 2050.
* Wind power could constitute another 12 per cent of the power market by 2050.
* Electric vehicles will account for around 35 per cent of the road transport market by 2035.
* Hydrocarbons will peak and the authors are bold enough to foresee peak oil and coal demand in 2020

Britain's Cleaner Future  

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The Times (A Murdoch rag of all things) has an editorial celebrating the UK's plummeting carbon emissions - A Cleaner Future.

Without much fanfare and four years ahead of schedule, Britain has achieved an ambitious policy goal that should have significant public health benefits and serve as a case study for other large economies. The UK has cut its carbon dioxide emissions to a level last seen during the General Strike of 1926. Apart from that exceptional year, when most coal mines were closed, the last time emissions were this low was in 1894, when Karl Benz produced the world’s first car. Most of this reduction is the result of a 52 per cent cut in a single year in the use of coal, which, like diesel, fouls the air with sooty particulates when burned. This should have an immediate and positive impact on illness and …

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