GONE WITH THE WIND? Now climate change is just fighting dirty. On top of killing flora and fauna and displacing hordes of humans, it may also be taking away one of our few tools to fight it — the wind. According to an unprecedented study to be published later this summer in the Journal of Geophysical Research, average and peak U.S. wind speeds have been noticeably declining since 1973; in some parts of the country, like the Midwest, they've dropped as much as 10 percent. The phenomenon hasn't yet been definitively linked to global warming, but a connection would make sense: As the poles warm faster than the rest of the Earth, there's less temperature and air-pressure difference, which is what causes wind. Even if it's not related to global warming, though, it could still hurt our ability to deal with it — one of the study's authors says a 10 percent drop in wind speeds translates to a 30 percent drop in energy generated by turbines. (Source: Associated Press)
GET CLUNK: Congress moved one step closer Tuesday to turning the nation's clunkers, rattletraps, jalopies and lemons into green gold, as the House approved a "cash for clunkers" plan that would pay people to switch out their gas guzzlers for fuel sippers. Owners of cars that get less than 18 mpg could receive vouchers worth up to $4,500 under the plan, aimed at not only improving U.S. automobiles' fuel efficiency but also jump-starting the country's sputtering car sales. President Obama has said he supports the bill, and Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Sam Brownback have introduced a similar one in the Senate. (Source: Washington Post)
REACTION TIME: House Republicans have a new, clear energy plan: a nuclear energy plan. Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana drafted the bill, meant as an alternative to the Democratic bill that's currently winding through Congress, and focuses his efforts heavily on nuclear power. Eschewing what he calls a "national energy tax" in the Democratic version, Pence is using the honor system instead of mandatory emissions cuts, dodging the messy issue of accountability altogether. His plan calls for 100 new nuclear reactors to be built in the next 20 years, as well as extra incentives for more oil and gas development offshore, including at the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a perennial source of contention between the parties. (Source: New York Times)
ROOT PROBLEM: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plans to cut down every tree in the country growing within 15 feet of a levee, part of a reaction to its Hurricane Katrina failures that critics say is more hatchet than scalpel. The corps has already begun and hopes to eventually clear more than 100,000 miles of levees, worrying that the trees' roots are weakening the earthen dams, possibly raising the flood risk under severe conditions. Still, some scientists and conservationists say this isn't necessary. "The literature on the presence of vegetation indicates that it may actually strengthen a levee," one engineer tells the AP. (Source: AP)
SEA CHANGE: One day after World Ocean Day, a U.S. Senate subcommittee heard testimony Tuesday from researchers, scientists and Jacques Cousteau's granddaughter detailing the plight of Earth's seas. Oysters, shrimp and blue crabs are dying or moving away, threatening not only marine ecosystems but also U.S. coastal states' "blue economy," experts told the Senate Commerce Committee's oceans subcommittee. Acidification is one of the main threats highlighted at the hearing, and it's also a likely suspect in the demise of the Caribbean coral reefs — new research shows that the region's coral has been "flattened" in just 40 years, as elaborate elkhorn and staghorn coral are bleached out and replaced by flat, weedy reefs. (Sources: McClatchy Newspapers, New Scientist)
IT'S NOT THE HEAT: German scientists have developed a way to convert air humidity into drinking water using an autonomous process powered by renewable energy. Using a saline solution that absorbs water from the air inside a tower, where a vacuum lowers the brine's boiling point and the sun heats it up, letting nonsaline water evaporate, condensate and fall back down the tower. The technology could be used for individual purposes, the researchers say, or to provide water to an entire building, like a hotel. (Source: ScienceDaily)
(Photo: U.S. National Renewable Energy Lab)
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