BBC News: Deep sea mining and an extraordinary CIA plot

Deep sea mining and an extraordinary CIA plot – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-42994812

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BBC News: Why Guyana’s rainforests are a scientist’s dream

Why Guyana’s rainforests are a scientist’s dream – and how indigenous people are the first scientists of the forest. Scientists rely on tribal knowledge of the land and species within, then simply promote themselves using or knowledge. Then they leave us forgotten, no acknowledgement, not resources to protect the land, not to become university trained scientists. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-42492619

Solar sidewalks and roadways could generate more electricity than US consumes

https://futurism.com/?p=43014

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Historical Route to the Future
Solar Roadways has ambitious plans to turn all of America’s roads a shade “greener.” The company is partnering with Missouri’s Department of Transportation to install a test version of the startup’s solar road tiles in a sidewalk at the Historic Route 66 Welcome Center in Conway.

The state will be installing Solar Roadway’s unique brand of tiles that combine a solar cell with LED lighting, a heating element, and tempered glass. Tiles are strong enough to support the weight of a semi, can illuminate roads, and make them safer in dangerous weather. All of this is possible while also feeding the electrical grid.

Officials plan for testing to begin at the end of the year. It is part of Missouri’s “Road to Tomorrow” initiative, which focuses on improvements like smart highways and incorporating renewable energy. Funding for the project partially comes from crowdfunding sources. This is done to assuage any concern that these pilot projects will redirect funds from traditional transportation infrastructure.

The initiative’s director, Patrick McKenna, believes “together, we will find innovative and creative ways to fund transportation while ushering in the information age of transportation and creating economic prosperity for Missouri.”

Upping the Energy
Curbed reports Solar Roadway’s founders, Scott and Julie Brusaw, claim lining the country’s roads and parking lots with their product will produce three times the amount of energy that the U.S. consumes. In turn, this could also help to proliferate a trend toward more electric cars.

“If [Solar Roadway’s] version of the future is realistic, roadways can begin paying for themselves,” says Transportation Department’s Tom Blair. Even with all the excitement, Blair admits that all of these great hopes should be tempered since the final product is still a few years down the line.

Despite the excitement, some scientists continue to question the validity of solar roads. The project isn’t cheap. In fact, replacing all of the existing roads with solar-powered hexagons could cost upwards of one trillion dollars.

“There’s currently a virtually endless supply of places you could install solar panels that DON’T have cars driving over them and, as such, don’t require fancy high-tech glass covering them. Or, for that matter, don’t mean you have to worry about the long-term wear-and-tear of millions of tons of steel and rubber driving over them at high speed every year,” reads a 2014 blog post from Equities. The roadways could end up paying for themselves over time, but it would be a long time. Think decades.

In addition to not being overly sustainable, LED road lighting would most likely result in poor visibility. Essentially, unless the cost can be reduced, you won’t be seeing solar roadways (especially on a larger scale) in person anytime soon.

China’s solar powered highway

https://futurism.com/?p=116485

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Solar Roadways Are Now Open
Roofs and windows of buildings aren’t the only surfaces that can be used to generate solar power. In China, construction has begun of the country’s first solar highway, in which solar panels are placed underneath transparent concrete.

As reported by Electrek, the solar highway is a 2 km (1.2 mile) stretch of road located on the Jinan City Expressway, and it’s divided into three layers. The see-through concrete shields an array of solar panels of two sizes. Beneath the solar panels is a layer that will keep them isolated from the damp ground. The road itself has already been completed, and now it’s only a matter of connecting the grid, which is expected to be finished by the end of the year alongside the completion of the Jinan Expressway’s south section.

Overhead shot of China’s solar highway. Image Credit: People’s Network
This isn’t the first solar road China has worked on. Earlier this year, the Qilu Transportation Development Group — which is also handling the Jinan Expressway solar road — built a 160 meter (0.09 mile) long solar road in the city of Jinan itself. It’s capable of heating up to keep the highway clear of snow and ice, and may one day be able to wirelessly charge electric vehicles. The new solar highway is expected to one day be equipped with the same features.

Solar Roads Around the World
Outside of China, solar roads are nothing new. In 2014, the Netherlands built a bike path fitted with solar panels to generate electricity; a village in the north of France opened a km (0.62 mile) long solar road in 2016. In the U.S. the Missouri Department of Transportation agreed to begin testing solar sidewalks near Route 66.

Solar roadways may have their critics (they are susceptible to being covered by dirt and other debris), but as their efficiency and applications improve, they’re sure to prove their value. And with EVs becoming more popular, the world’s going to need more ways to keep their vehicles charged and ready to go.

Hidden in New Tax Bill is a Mandate to Drill the Artic

https://futurism.com/?p=116494

Open Season on Arctic Drilling
The GOP’s final tax plan was signed into law on December 22, 2017 after being passed by both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate. The first overhaul in 30 years, the plan will provide fiscal relief to the biggest American corporations while delivering modest tax cuts to individual filers. But buried in the law is a stipulation seemingly irrelevant to economic policy — one that almost certainly spells disaster for one of the country’s most precious wildlife havens. It’s a go-ahead for Arctic drilling.

A provision snuck into the new legislation gives the okay to drill for oil and gas in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). One of the U.S.’ largest natural reserves, the refuge is home to a jigsaw puzzle of biodiversity, from migratory birds to threatened polar bears and caribou. The new law also takes management of the area away from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The government believes that opening the reserve to oil and gas exploration could help plug the gap left by the tax cuts. But while the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee expects drilling generate an additional $1 billion in revenue from oil leases, an analysis by the Center for American Progress found that the operation is likely to yield no more than $37.5 million.

And according to estimates from the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation, the law as a whole will leave the public purse short of $1.46 trillion over a decade.

“Even if that billion dollars were to materialize,” Niel Lawrence, Alaska director for the Natural Resources Defense Council told Futurism, “the annual income would not have paid a single day’s interest on the trillion and a half dollars [of debt] that this bill creates. The idea that this is a budgetary matter is a fiction pure and simple.”

Risky Investment
The refuge’s nearly 19.3 million acres have been a key battleground of party warfare for several decades, with the Republicans arguing for the economic promise of resources that may be buried underground. But nobody knows how much oil and gas are there, because the territory is still protected from seismic exploration.

“Drilling in the Arctic Ocean is a bad idea as a business proposition, almost as much as it is in terms of environmental impacts,” said Lawrence. He explained that because the refuge has been kept free from human presence, “there is no infrastructure in place, there are no pipelines, there are no roads, it would take years even before a potential oil company could start drilling on its own.” The expense, he said, would be so high that any potential investment would be extremely risky.

The idea of offsetting the costs of new tax breaks by drilling the Arctic comes despite dire warnings from the scientific community. The 2017 Arctic Report Card found that the polar region is warming so fast that it’s hard to estimate the environmental consequences for the coming years. And even if the climate pledges made under the Paris Agreement were improved enough to keep global warming under 2° C (35.6° F), the Arctic would still experience a 5° C (41° F) temperature increase.

Although this part of the law is in tune with the pro-fossil fuels agenda of many GOP members and President Trump, activists are ready to fight the provision every step of the way.

Critics of the law’s provision also argue that oil should be kept in the ground no matter the financial implications. Lawrence asserted that “the demand for oil will have to go down.” He said we’ve already discovered at least four times more fossil fuel reserves than we can burn over the next 30 years if we want to avoid the worst consequences of climate change.

Noise Pollution health crisis looms

https://futurism.com/?p=114856

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Cities don’t just get filthy in the visual sense — urban spaces can often be a raging mess of sound. The blaring car horns, the police sirens screaming through the usual waves of traffic, the clatter of passing trains, the constant cacophony of voices rising and falling as a strange melody — this deluge of noise can be devastating to the human psyche.

“I think, as a society, we are becoming much more aware of the noise around us,” Scott Sommerfeldt, an engineer at Brigham Young University who specializes in acoustic noise mitigation, tells Futurism. “Excessive noise has detrimental health effects on us, and we’re finally realizing how those effects add up.”

By 2100, 84 percent of the world’s estimated 10.8 billion people will likely live in cities. That means noise pollution will bloom in those areas and beyond, in surrounding suburbs and rural spaces that were typically safe havens from the clamor of the city. Urban sprawl will get worse, encompassing quieter areas into the thick sounds of city life.

It’s impossible to overstate how much noise pollution can wreak havoc on human health and safety. High noise levels can exacerbate hypertension, cause insomnia or sleep disturbances, result in hearing loss, and worsen a plethora of other medical conditions. All of these problems can aggravate other health issues by inducing higher levels of stress, which can cascade into worsened immune systems, heart problems, increased anxiety and depression — the list just goes on and on.

Humans have been suffering because of excess noise for a long time, and scientists have known about it at least for several decades. The government first acknowledged that noise was a problem when it passed the Noise Pollution and Abatement Act of 1972. “There was already a real awareness that noise was harmful to health, and the Act was a formal acknowledgment by the government,” says Arline Bronzaft, a psychologist and authority on noise pollution who currently serves as chairman of the noise committee of GrowNYC. “Although there wasn’t enough information to point to how noise affects us in every which way, there was enough for us to move forward with back in 1972. And today, there’s enough literature for everyone to agree noise pollution is a public health hazard.”

Humans aren’t the only species suffering from the racket. Urban and suburban noise can easily escape from peopled areas into nature, causing problems for animal populations, especially those that live close to highways or busy harbors. Noise pollution can make it harder for animals to avoid predators (or for predators to find and catch prey), reproduce, and live healthy lives.

Birds and marine mammals, for instance, rely on specific vocalizations to attract potential mates. Noise pollution can disrupt those behaviors. Bats rely on echolocation to move around and find food but have an impaired ability to forage when ambient noise levels are high. Oysters clam up during stress; exposure to loud noises along the coast has caused them to close their shells more frequently and for longer periods, preventing them from ingesting enough food. As filter feeders, oysters play a critical role in keeping the ocean’s water quality at a healthy, sustainable level for all marine life. They can’t do that if they’re all clammed up, which could cause the entire habitat to deteriorate.

Where is most of this noise coming from? Traffic is the biggest contributor to noise pollution. A diesel truck at 50 feet away, for instance, generates up to 90 decibels of noise. Generally speaking, prolonged exposure to anything over 85 decibelsputs someone at risk for temporary or permanent hearing loss.

But noise pollution is more than just automobiles. Increased development — in the big city or in a quaint suburb — means construction sites, where heavy machinery creates a fitful, ugly noise that can echo into the placid surrounding areas. People living close to train tracks or airports are bludgeoned with noise (and usually accompanying vibrations and shakes) at all hours. Air traffic can be a major headache. All these factors are exacerbated by city planning and community zoning, which fail to mitigate noise for residents.

So all things considered, what can be done to keep future society from turning into a deaf, noise-addled dystopia? Bronzaft says there’s more awareness about noise pollution these days among the general public than there was in 1972, but we need more than just awareness. As cities swell up to more extreme sizes, without a responsible combination of technological innovations and more radical policy measures, the problem is bound to get worse.

One approach is to think big. Roadway or railway barriers can buffer communities from the noise of passing cars and trains. European engineers, in particular, have developed novel building materials and barrier designs (such as curved structures, and steel or plexiglass) to envelop highway noise, leaving the outside with little more than a quiet hum.

Barriers to highway noise. Image credit: Reider Group

Hybrids and electric cars generate quieter noise levels than engines that guzzle gasoline and diesel. In mass numbers, even these greener vehicles cause a lot of noise, mostly from tire and road friction and wind passage. But they do mean individual cars can sidle through quiet streets without causing much of ruckus (in fact, electric vehicles are sometimes too quiet for comfort — the government requires that these cars make at least some minimal threshold of noise at low speeds in order to give other drivers and bystanders a heads up).

Within cities themselves, developers who are keen to rent quieter office and residential space for a premium are more inclined now to fit new buildings with thicker glass facades or insulation materials that limit noise. Interior designers are outfitting buildings with soundproofing materials, such as acoustic ceiling tiles. Boilers and generators are typically secluded into basement rooms that will not disturb individuals on other floors.

Policy initiatives have also made changes for the better in the past. Bronzaft coauthored a landmark 1975 study that demonstrated the negative impact of noise on student performance in schools. “Here, I do one study on the effects of noise in schools, and the [New York City] Transit Authority quiets the track adjacent to the school, and the Board of Education puts acoustic ceilings in the classrooms,” Bronzaft says. After those changes were made, researchers conducted a follow-up study and found a significant improvement in student reading comprehension. More recently, in 2007, Bronzaft was a major force in helping revise New York City’s noise code, which focused largely on limiting construction site noise and even recommended what types of machinery and tools site workers ought to be using to protect the neighbors.

Bronzaft also points out that community groups such as Noise Pollution Clearinghouse, US-Citizens Aviation Watch, and Noise Free Americahave had huge success in mandating changes in aircraft routes to protect people on the ground from jet engine roars, loud traffic, and construction. Bronzaft has been involved in efforts in places like New Orleans, which is renowned for its live music, to draft new noise ordinance revisions. She also helped stop a noisy motocross racetrack from being built in Cheyenne, Wyoming. In her view, these instances are evidence that “people can do something. An ordinary citizen can initiate a positive change.”

Bronzaft is especially bullish on educating children and young adults into taking local action, especially since noise control has been effectively ceded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to state and local governments. She lauds the NYC Department of Environmental Protection’s online curriculum on sound and noise, “to teach children about the beauty of sound and the dangers of noise,” as a great example of how to embed noise pollution awareness early. “You should always start with children,” she says.

Given how ineffable noise can be, many people can’t afford to wait for policy changes or large infrastructure projects to help them find some quiet. Luckily, personal technology solutions are becoming more popular. Sommerfeldt is an expert in a field called Active Noise Control (ANC) — the method of using noise to cancel out noise. “This is generally a low-frequency solution,” he says. A popular example is noise-canceling headphones, which protect the user’s ears from outside sound by generating their own white noise. Some cars are also beginning to use ANC solutions to block out external noise (especially from the engine) for passengers inside a vehicle. “It’s relatively easy to implement for cars — up to a certain point,” says Sommerfeldt. “It’s more challenging to make it quiet over a large region or the region completely inside an automobile or plane.”

Critics might decry all of this spending on an issue that doesn’t seem to be immediately hazardous, but Bronzaft emphasizes that the problems caused by noise compound over time if not addressed. Solving noise pollution is a preemptive measure that can forestall bigger physiological and learning issues people may later develop. “Health and student education cost a lot of money in this country,” says Bronzaft. “It’s cheaper in the long term to quiet things down.”

Ultimately, a game-changing factor might simply be accruing more data on the subject so that policy-makers and engineers can put it to use. Some researchers are trying to leverage new technologies to solve that obstacle. A team of scientists at New York University’s Music and Audio Research Lab (MARL) recently launched the Sounds of New York City (SONYC) initiative, which seeks to distribute compact sensors throughout NYC to generate an acoustic “map” of the city to better understand how sounds get dispersed in the city, and what areas are louder than others. As the city that never sleeps with a din to fit, NYC is a pretty obvious testbed for such a project. If SONYC is successful, its data could be combined to health and safety studies to demonstrate more about how debilitating noise pollution is to our lives, and to wildlife populations in nearby regions.

It’s impossible to conceive of a quiet future for the planet — surely, things will only get noisier. True quiet will be increasingly hard to find. But new innovations could go a long way in helping the average person better navigate through the hullabaloo of a clamorous world. There’s little reason to believe it’s inevitable we’ll all go deaf by 55.