Wine, Salt, Batteries • a special climate edition of Numlock News
Also -- today is HEATED's six month anniversary.
We’re half a year old!
Good morning, everyone! Today—March 9, 2020—is officially the six month anniversary of HEATED.
We launched HEATED in September with a close-knit community. In that early space, I offered personal details of everything I was doing. I gave personal reactions to every news item I covered. I said yes to every speaking event and media program I was invited to. I responded to every single email from every single reader.
I’m physically unable to do that now, which sucks, but is also great. When I quit my job to start this newsletter, I never imagined overcommitment would be my biggest problem. But it is, because people really do give a shit about the climate crisis. It’s not just you.
I am pretty tired, though. So I’m taking a little break to clear my head and inbox. Just two weeks off the grid, and then I’ll be back.
What does this mean?
I won’t be responding to emails for the next week or so. Feel free to keep sending me emails. I’ll do my best to respond upon my return.
Also — Until Monday, March 23, 2020, HEATED will be on a limited publishing schedule. Free subscribers will get one email a week, and paid subscribers will get two. These are pre-scheduled emails, so if some major news event changes the facts within them, I disclaim responsibility. (We should be alright though).
What’s happening today?
Today’s email is a special climate-only edition of Numlock News, Walt Hickey’s popular newsletter dedicated to interesting numbers in the news. If you like it, you can sign up for his newsletter HERE.
Walt and I met in person a few weeks ago, when Substack invited us both to speak about our newsletters at a gathering for writers in New York. You can read what we said at that event HERE.
For his special climate edition, Walt touched on things like batteries, wine, and salt — three things I’ll be consuming a lot of while I’m on vacation this week.
Where are you?
That’s classified. But I’ll give you a hint.
Don’t forget to stay healthy, drink water, and wash your hands while I’m gone. See you soon!
Numlock News: HEATED Bonus
By Walt Hickey
Here’s a special custom CLIMATE ONLY Numlock, written just for HEATED readers.
There’s lots of talk about how improved battery technology is essential for a carbon-free world. But get down to the nitty-gritty and you’ll learn a lot about the possibilities and limitations of lithium batteries. A lot of the cost comes down to “NMC” or compounds of nickel, manganese and cobalt, which are used to make the positive electrode. A decade ago, the first electric cars used equal parts of nickel, manganese and cobalt, or NMC 111 batteries. Today, the most common chemistry is NMC 622, which is six parts of nickel for every two parts of manganese and two parts cobalt, which is considerably cheaper. That’s one reason why battery costs fell from $1,100 per kilowatt-hour a decade ago to $156 per kWh last year. $100 is the magic number here, and it’s predicted we’ll hit it in 2023. One reason is the next generation of batteries are NMC 811, or eight part nickel per part of the other two elements. This is great because nickel is much cheaper than cobalt, which comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo. The drawback is too much nickel in the cocktail risks fires, which I’m told are not considered ideal driving conditions.
Ice wine is an expensive golden beverage originally made in German vineyards from grapes left to freeze on the vine. The frozen grape concentrates sugar and produces an intensely sweet dessert wine, a delightful cultural export that I guarantee was created when some vineyard employee had to save face after a major error. The German Wine Institute announced Sunday that no region in Germany saw the necessary temperature of minus 7 Celsius, or 19 degrees Fahrenheit, over the course of this winter to produce any ice wine. Though it’s only 0.1 percent of German wine production, production has grown dicier in recent years amid unseasonably warm winters.
A new study published in the journal PLOS One found that infrared imaging technology mounted on aircraft — a method used by fossil fuel companies to determine if a polar bear den is in the vicinity of a desired future oil or gas works in Alaska — misses 55 percent of dens known to exist. Federal requirements mandate that roads and facilities have to be built a mile away from hibernating bears. As the Trump administration expands drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, this poses a mortal risk to the local fauna that call Alaska home. Even setting aside the policy implications of resource extraction in relation to local megafauna, it feels like the worst possible time to get cheap is “determining the precise location of bears.”
Out Of The Shallows
A new report from Media Matters for America found that global warming and climate change accounted for less than 1 percent of overall broadcast television news from 2018 to 2019. The research focused on ABC’s World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, NBC’s Nightly News, and PBS’s NewsHour, plus the four Sunday morning news programs on ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox. In 2019, 238 minutes of programming was devoted to climate coverage, up from 142 minutes in the previous year. For context, climate change accounted for just 0.7 percent of over 33,000 minutes of total news coverage in 2019. The coverage itself tended to be fairly surface-level, and last year was dominated by the Green New Deal resolution and climate activism from people like Greta Thunberg rather than the kind of incisive, direct reporting on the perpetrators responsible for ravaging the atmosphere one might find from, say, a rad newsletter.
The world’s irrigated breadbaskets have long had to contend with a difficult enemy that is impossible to truly defeat: salt. Rainwater doesn’t contain salt because it’s derived from condensation, but water pumped from the ground and piped into fields does, and over time that salt doesn’t go away, it accumulates. In western Australia, 2.47 million acres of farmland have been severely impacted by soil salinity, causing $347 million worth of damage. The Fertile Crescent region of ancient Mesopotamia struggled with drought and irrigation-induced soil salinity, and you may observe we don’t have a Fertile Crescent or a Mesopotamia anymore. Farmers can add gypsum to the soil, but that only delays the inevitable, as rising temperatures and declining rainfall can mean more irrigation is needed and exacerbate the whole process. The solution being pursued is clear: a fundamental overhaul of farming practices and water management is underway in the far— nah, just kidding. That’s not happening in the slightest, they’re just genetically engineering almond trees to have rootstock 15 to 20 percent more salt tolerant. The modified trees are expected to be commercially available in 2024.
Two economists sought to measure the overall economic value of maintaining wetlands when it came to protecting people from storms, determining that an average square kilometer of wetlands is worth $1.8 million per year in storm protection. They looked at wetlands data from 1996 to 2016 and overlaid 88 tropical storms and hurricanes to determine how the damage costs of those storms were mitigated by the presence of wetlands. The value fluctuated a lot based on location, but the median value was $91,000 per year per kilometer. If Hurricane Irma hit a Florida that had not lost 2.8 percent of its wetlands in the prior 21 years, it could have avoided an estimated $430 million in damage. Gosh, who could have ever guessed that assuming a critical natural resource was free and could be removed without any consequences whatsoever would lead to enormous unintended economic and societal problems?
OK, that’s all for today—thanks for reading a special vacation edition of HEATED, presented by Numlock News!
As a reminder, HEATED is currently on a limited publishing schedule. Your regular programing will return on Monday, March 23, 2020.
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See you soon!