Human activity may be the main cause of climate change, but all these cows milling and mooing about don’t help, either. Everyone knows that cows produce methane-laden flatulence, but there’s another problem — their urine contains ammonia. The nitrogen leeches into the soil and turns into nitrous oxide, which is no laughing matter. So what’s the answer, giant diapers? No, just train them to use a toilet instead of the soil-let.
A pair of researchers from the University of Auckland traveled to a research institute’s farm in Germany with the hope of training a group of 16 calves to do their business in a special pen. The “MooLoo” is painted bright green and carpeted with artificial turf so it’s less weird for the cows. First they left the calves in the pen until they peed, and then gave it a reward of sugar water. From there, they started extended the animals’ distance from the MooLoo. Whenever the calves thought outside the box, they would be sprayed with water for three seconds. The results are kind of surprising: within an average of 15-20 urination sessions, 11 of the 16 cows had been trained successfully and were using the MooLoo 75% of the time. Watch a calf earn some sugar water after the break.
German cows mostly live in barns, but millions of other cows spend much of their time outside. So, how would that work? The researchers believe that cows could be trained to go when they gather for milking time. Makes sense to us, but how do you train cows on a large scale? Maybe with bovine VR?
Roughly 4.6 billion years ago, Earth would gain its first atmosphere, yet this was an atmosphere that was completely unlike the atmosphere we know today. Today’s oxygen-rich atmosphere we’re familiar with didn’t form until the Proterozoic, between 2,500 and 541 million years ago, when oxygen-producing bacteria killed off much of the previously thriving life from the preceding Archean.
This, along with studies of massive insects such as the 75 cm wingspan Meganeuropsis permiana dragonflies from the Permian, and reconstructed temperature, oxygen, and carbon dioxide levels via paleoclimatology show periods during which Earth’s atmosphere and accompanying climate would be unrecognizable to us humans.
Human history covers only a minuscule fraction of Earth’s history during arguably one of the latter’s coolest, least eventful periods, and yet anthropogenic (man-made) climate change now threatens to rapidly change this. But wait, how do we know what the climate was like over such vast time scales? Let’s take a look into how we managed to reconstruct the Earth’s ancient climate, and what these findings mean for our prospects as a species today.
If you’ve been following the news, you can’t have missed the series of floods, droughts, and wildfires that have occurred seemingly in all corners of the world. Coming on the heels of a Northern Hemisphere winter that had its own extreme weather events, it would be perhaps foolhardy not to by now take climate change seriously. You may also have seen the news about a return to a 1970s paper in which MIT crystal-ball-gazers predicted the collapse of our civilisation in the mid-21st century, and a review based upon the empirical data gathered since then which concluded that we could be right on track with that prediction set to happen in about 2040.
It’s sobering stuff, and something which could so easily form the basis of many a Hollywood apocalyptic disaster movie. But sitting here in 2021 amid extreme weather events and a global pandemic it’s certainly something to think about. It’s not as though we’re riding biogas-powered weapon cars through the post-apocalyptic desert just yet though, we still have a chance to do something to avert catastrophe and no doubt over the next decade a raft of changes will reduce our CO2 impact and make our infrastructure more resilient to stave off any coming crises.
If there’s one thing humans hate, it’s exercising willpower. Whether its abstaining from unhealthy foods, going to bed early, or using less energy and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, we’re famously bad at it. Conversely, if there’s one thing humans love, it’s a workaround. Something that lets us live our lives as the carefree hedonists we are, and deals with the sticky consequences so we don’t have to.
The new “whitest white” paint comes to us from Purdue University in the US. It’s capable of reflecting 98% of sunlight reaching its surface, a big step up over the typical 80-90% of conventional white paints. Additionally, it doesn’t absorb UV light, and can also radiate out heat in infrared wavelengths that pass out of the atmosphere. This allows the paint to cool surfaces below ambient temperature. The paint achieves these feats by using barium sulphate as a pigment, which doesn’t absorb UV like conventional titanium dioxide white pigments do. The paint also uses a lot of pigment – 60%, versus 20-40% in a more typical paint. This is similar to techniques used in producing Vantablack, the blackest black acrylic paints.
The hope is that by painting roofs and walls of buildings with white paint, more sunlight will be reflected back out into space, and buildings will be naturally cooler with less reliance on air conditioning, helping to reduce emissions. This could go a long way to solving the heat island effect in many major cities. Municipalities around the world have already begun adopting the technique, from California, to New York and Ahmedabad. It’s an easy thing to do, with few drawbacks, so we expect to see the practice grow more popular in coming years. While it won’t solve the climate crisis on its own, the world could surely use every bit of help it can get.
It was 1999 when Smash Mouth dropped the smash hit All Star, stating “The ice we skate is getting pretty thin, the water’s getting warm so you might as well swim.” Since then, global temperatures have continued to rise, with no end in sight. Political will has been unable to make any grand changes, and the world remains on track to blow through the suggested hard limits set by scientists.
As a result, heatwaves have become more frequent, and of greater intensity, putting many vulnerable people at risk and causing thousands of deaths each year. This problem is worse in cities, where buildings and roads absorb more heat from the sun than natural landscapes do. This is referred to as the heat island effect, with cities often being several degrees warmer than surrounding natural areas. It’s significant enough that experts are worried some cities could become uninhabitable within decades. Obviously, that’s highly inconvenient for those currently living in said cities. How bad is the problem, and what can be done?
Radiative cooling paint is not a completely new animal, but the formulation developed at Purdue is quite impressive compared to commercially-available paints that only reflect 80-90% of sunlight.
Purdue’s paint reflects 95.5% of sunlight. It can keep surfaces up to 18°F cooler than their surroundings, even in direct sunlight. Where does the heat go? The paint radiates infrared heat, so it escapes the atmosphere and goes into deep space.
How does it do this? With abundantly available calcium carbonate fillers — the chalky stuff that antacids are made of. The paint absorbs next to no UV rays because of the wide band gaps in the atomic structure of calcium carbonate. Take a brief tour of this amazing paint after the break.
We wonder how many rooftops and roadways we’d have to paint with this stuff to have a chance at reversing climate change. It’s not terribly expensive to make, so the problem shifts to widespread education and adoption. What do you think?