Newsdesk – February 2

The temperature in Minneapolis, Minnesota Wednesday. Photograph: Craig Lassig/EPA

What is the polar vortex – and how is it linked to climate change? The polar vortex is an area of low pressure and extremely cold air that swirls over the Arctic. It is a band of strong winds, high up in the atmosphere that keeps bitterly cold air locked around the Arctic region. The phenomenon became widely known to Americans during a particularly frigid spell in 2014. This time, the polar vortex has broken into “two swirling blobs of cold air,” bringing the most frigid conditions in decades to the midwest. There’s some evidence that the jet stream, a meandering air current that flows over North America and Europe, is slowing and becoming wavier as the planet warms. Then, the jet stream interacts with the polar vortex, helping to bring numbing temperatures further south. Scientists also point to a complex sequence of events involving sea ice, which is rapidly diminishing in the Arctic. As the ice retreats, summertime heat is absorbed by the dark ocean that lies underneath. This heat is released into the atmosphere during winter, spurring winds that can disrupt the polar vortex. “We aren’t entirely there yet but there’s more and more support for this concept,” said Jennifer Francis, the senior scientist at the Woods Hole Research Center – The Guardian

  • Thousands of Belgian teens skip school for 4th climate march – AP News
  • You Flushed the Toilet. They Made Some Bricks – The New York Times
  • Why climate change cost the U.S. $160 billion last year – MPR News
  • Plastic dhow sails Kenya coast to highlight waste crisis –
  • Research: People Use Less Energy When They Think Their Neighbors Care About the Environment – Harvard Business Review 
  • Extreme weather and geopolitics are major drivers of increasing ‘food shocks’ –
  • BP will link bonuses for 36,000 workers to climate targets – CNN
  • This zero-waste grocery service delivers by bike – Fast Company

Researchers Say They’ve Figured Out Why People Reject Science, and It’s Not Ignorance.  It was found that people who reject scientific consensus on topics such as climate change, vaccine safety, and evolution are generally just as interested in science and as well-educated as the rest of us. The problem is that when it comes to facts, people think more like lawyers than scientists, which means they ‘cherry pick’ the facts and studies that back up what they already believe to be true.  So if someone doesn’t think humans are causing climate change, they will ignore the hundreds of studies that support that conclusion, but latch onto the one study they can find that casts doubt on this view. This is also known as confirmation bias, a type of cognitive bias.  One of the biggest cultural shifts in recent years is the rise of fake news – where claims with no evidence behind them, such as, the world is flat, get shared as a fact alongside evidence-based findings, such as climate change is happening. Researchers have coined this trend as the ‘anti-enlightenment movement’- Science Alert 

Young Arabica coffee plants, south-west Ethiopia. Credit: Alan Schaller, Union Hand-Roasted Coffee

Bitter Reality: Most Wild Coffee Species Risk Extinction Worldwide.  Researchers surveyed the world’s 124 coffee species and found that more than half are threatened. At least 60 percent of wild coffee species are considered “threatened,” according to a study published this week in Science Advances. Wild coffee species are an important source of genetic material for crossbreeding useful traits into commercial crops. A morning cup of domesticated Arabica might have been produced with the help of disease-resistance genes from the once-wild robusta. Coffee species are notoriously difficult to conserve for a variety of reasons.  Each species has very specific climate requirements and is highly specialized to tolerate a narrow range of habitat conditions.  As climate change increasingly drives shifts in local environmental conditions, wild coffee species could be essential to the sustainability of commercial coffee production.  Deforestation, climate change and the proliferation of pests and fungal pathogens are putting most of the world’s wild coffee species at risk of extinction. According to the director of horticulture and the Center for Global Initiatives at the Denver Botanic Garden, Sarada Krishnan, deforestation poses a particularly acute extinction threat. “When the forest is gone, that species is gone”, she says – Scientific American 

Credit: Yuji Kotani Getty Images

How Humans Get in the Way of Clean Water.  For more than 2 billion people in the world safe drinking water isn’t a given. More than 500,000 deaths a year from diarrhea are linked to the lack of clean water. There are many cheap and effective ways to provide safe water to the world’s poor regions.  In the early 2000s enthusiasm soared for a new and compellingly simple approach. Instead of waiting for governments to act, what if villages and households were empowered to clean water themselves? A great deal of cheap and easy technologies were available for the job. “Household water treatment was seen as potentially this huge revolutionary new model,” says Joseph Brown, an engineer in public health at Georgia Tech who spent much of his early career designing portable filters. The bad news was that people targeted for interventions didn’t seem to value treatments enough and weren’t willing to pay for them. They used treatment tools incorrectly or inconsistently, and usage dropped sharply over time. So it would make sense that the more effective approach would be to make water treatment as automatic as possible, and eliminating extra steps. Behavioral research seems to confirm this – Scientific American