Amazon says it’s cut down on those plastic air pillows in packages

You know those little plastic air bags in your more fragile Amazon purchases that make perfect popping noise makers when you crush them? Amazon says it's reduced its usage of them and plans to completely eliminate using them by the end of the year.

The ecommerce behemoth announced on its news blog that it has reduced the use of plastic air pillows by 95 percent and switched to crumbled paper filler instead. Amazon also says it plans to use paper filler for “nearly all” of its customer deliveries on Prime Day.

The company says its decision to phase out the use of plastic air cushions at its distribution centers aims to eliminate unnecessary waste and focus more on using recycled materials.

Plastic pollution has always been a concern when it comes to our environment but it has dramatically increased as a result of Amazon’s meteoric rise especially during the COVID pandemic. The nonprofit ocean conservation group Oceana released a study in 2021 showing that Amazon produced 599 million pounds of plastic waste in 2020. The group also estimated that the waste produced from plastic air pillows alone “would circle the Earth more than 600 times.”

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Tesla shareholders have approved Elon Musk’s ‘unfathomable’ pay package

Tesla shareholders have again approved Elon Musk’s multi-billion dollar pay package several months after a Delaware court invalidated it. During the electric car maker’s annual shareholder meeting, the company's stockholders signed off on a proposal to reinstate Musk’s pay package, currently worth about $48 billion, according to Bloomberg.

Judge Kathaleen McCormick of Delaware’s Chancery Court previously called the Tesla CEO’s pay, worth $56 billion when it was first approved in 2018, an "unfathomable sum.” Musk responded by threatening to move the company’s state of incorporation to Texas. During Tesla’s meeting, shareholders officially signed off on the move.

The approval of Musk’s compensation doesn’t guarantee that his eye-popping pay will be reinstated. As Bloomberg points out, the vote doesn't invalidate the judge's initial ruling, but Tesla will almost certainly appeal and point to the latest shareholder vote as evidence that the company’s stockholders have approved it.

Unsurprisingly, Musk seemed pleased with the vote. “I just want to start off by saying, hot damn. I love you guys,” he said after taking the stage at the shareholder meeting. He later said that the reinstatement of his pay wouldn’t affect his short-term commitment to Tesla. “It is worth emphasizing that it’s Tesla stock that I have to own for five years. It's not actually cash, and I can't cut and run, nor would I want to.”

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New research places the sun’s magnetic field close to the surface, upending decades of theories

New research indicates the sun’s magnetic field originates close to the surface and not deep within the star, according to findings published in the journal Nature. This upends decades of prevailing scientific thought that placed the field more than 130,000 miles below the surface of the sun. It also brings us closer to understanding the nature of the sun’s magnetic field, which has been on scientist’s minds since Galileo.

The study, led by Northwestern University and a team of international researchers, suggests that the magnetic field actually generates 20,000 miles below the surface. This was discovered after the team ran a series of complex calculations on a NASA supercomputer. It’s worth noting that these are just initial findings and more research is required to confirm the data.

The sun’s magnetic field fluctuates in a cycle that lasts 11 years. During the strongest part of this cycle, powerful winds and sunspots form at the solar equator, along with plumes of material that cause the aurora borealis here on Earth. Previous theories that place the magnetic field deeper within the sun have had a difficult time connecting these various solar phenomena. Scientists hope that, given further study, they’ll be able to use this theory to not only explain the creation of solar events, but more accurately predict when they will occur.

This could lead to more than just earlier predictions of the next aurora borealis event. The sun’s intense magnetic energy is also the source of solar flares and eruptions of plasma called coronal mass ejections. When these ejections travel toward Earth, all kinds of bad things happen. This famously occurred back in 1859, when a giant geomagnetic storm created the largest solar storm in recorded history.

This is called the Carrington Event, attributed to British astronomer Richard Christopher Carrington. The solar flare, which was actually a magnetic explosion on the sun’s surface, briefly outshone the sun and caused colored lights to erupt all over the planet, similar to the aurora borealis. It also supercharged telegraph cables, shocking operators, and set telegraph paper on fire. It was pretty nasty.

Now, this was 1859, before the modern use of electricity and before computers and all related technologies. If something like the Carrington Event were to occur today, we’d have it much worse. The emitted X-rays and ultraviolet light would interfere with electronics, radio and satellite signals. The event would cause a solar radiation storm, which would be deadly to astronauts not fully equipped with protective gear.

It would also lead a coronal mass ejection to bump up against Earth’s magnetic field, which would shut down power grids, cell phone satellites, modern cars and even airplanes. The resulting global power outages could last for months. Last month’s smallish (relatively speaking) storm messed with electronics and that was no Carrington-sized event. Even worse? We are absolutely due for this to happen. It’s basically a ticking time bomb.

So these findings could, in theory, be used to prepare new early warning methods for large-scale solar flares hitting Earth. Someday, we might have solar flare warnings alongside hurricane warnings and the like. The research has already demonstrated some interesting links between sunspots and the sun’s magnetic activity.

“We still don’t understand the sun well enough to make accurate predictions” of solar weather, lead study author Geoffrey Vasil of the University of Edinburgh told The Hill. These new findings “will be an important step toward finally resolving” this mysterious process, added co-author Daniel Lecoanet of Northwestern University.

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The geomagnetic storm is a nightmare for farmers relying on precision agriculture tech

Space weather has been known to cause disruptions to GPS and communications systems, and perhaps no one is feeling those headaches more than farmers this weekend. 404 Media reports that the heightened solar activity over the last few days has led to outages in the GPS navigation systems that guide some modern tractors from John Deere and other brands. The technology has allowed farmers to plant more efficiently in ultra-tight, straight lines, but they’ve been advised to temporarily stop using it due to the potential for inaccuracies that could cause havoc down the line come harvesting time.

John Deere’s tractors connect to what are known as Real-Time Kinematic (RTK) systems, 404 reports, which allow for precision planting down to the centimeter level. If farmers were to go ahead and plant without their usual accuracy, “we expect that the rows won't be where the AutoPath lines think they are” when it’s time to tend and harvest the crops, Landmark Implement, owner of some John Deere dealerships, told 404 Media.

The timing is terrible — it’s peak planting season for corn, and one Nebraska farmer, Kevin Kenney, told 404, “All the tractors are sitting at the ends of the field right now shut down because of the solar storm.” Many farms have had to pause planting, while others are carrying on and just hoping for the best.

The geomagnetic storm we’re currently experiencing is the strongest observed in the last 20 years, and reached G5 levels on Friday and Saturday morning, which is considered to be “extreme.” It later died down some to G4/G3, but is expected to surge again on Sunday evening when some intense but slower-moving coronal mass ejections (CMEs) from the sun reach Earth. That’s great if you want to see the northern lights, but not so much if your livelihood depends on the technology the storm is interfering with.

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‘Extreme’ geomagnetic storm may bless us with more aurora displays tonight and tomorrow

The strongest geomagnetic storm in 20 years made the colorful northern lights, or aurora borealis, visible Friday night across the US, even in areas that are normally too far south to see them. And the show may not be over. Tonight may offer another chance to catch the aurora if you have clear skies, according to the NOAA, and Sunday could bring yet more displays reaching as far as Alabama.

The NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center said on Saturday that the sun has continued to produce powerful solar flares. That’s on top of previously observed coronal mass ejections (CMEs), or explosions of magnetized plasma, that won’t reach Earth until tomorrow. The agency has been monitoring a particularly active sunspot cluster since Wednesday, and confirmed yesterday that it had observed G5 conditions — the level designated “extreme” — which haven’t been seen since October 2003. In a press release on Friday, Clinton Wallace, Director, NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center, said the current storm is “an unusual and potentially historic event.”

Geomagnetic storms happen when outbursts from the sun interact with Earth’s magnetosphere. While it all has kind of a scary ring to it, people on the ground don’t really have anything to worry about. As NASA explained on X, “Harmful radiation from a flare cannot pass through Earth’s atmosphere” to physically affect us. These storms can mess with our technology, though, and have been known to disrupt communications, GPS, satellite operations and even the power grid.

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Climate protestors clash with police outside Tesla’s German gigafactory

Climate protestors in Germany broke through police barricades on Friday, amid clashes between activists and law enforcement. The protestors either made it onto (according to protestors) or near (according to local police) the grounds of a Tesla gigafactory in Grünheide, Germany, near Berlin. It’s part of a planned five-day demonstration ahead of a local government vote next week to determine whether Tesla’s plant can expand.

Wired flagged social media videos showing activists, many of whom have been camping out in treehouses in nearby forest encampments, running toward a Tesla building on the site. In addition, the German newspaper Welt said at least one person participating was injured. Police reportedly police used pepper spray and batons to try to thwart the crowd, and there were at least some arrests.

A spokesperson for one of the groups participating in the protests told Wired that they broke the police barriers and stormed the Tesla grounds. “Eight hundred people have entered the premises of the gigafactory,” Lucia Mende of Disrupt Tesla said. However, local police posted on X (Musk’s social media platform) that the activists only reached a field facing the site. “We have been able to prevent them from entering so far,” they posted.

GRUENHEIDE, GERMANY - MAY 10: Police confront environmental activists in a forest near the Tesla Gigafactory electric car factory on May 10, 2024 near Gruenheide, Germany. Activists have come from across Germany to demand a stop to plans by Tesla to expand the factory, which would involve cutting down at least 50 hectares of trees. Some locals also support the protest, citing stress to local groundwater reserves from the factory. (Photo by Axel Schmidt/Getty Images)
Axel Schmidt via Getty Images

At least at first glance, it’s easy to wonder why activists are pouring so much energy into fighting Tesla. After all, despite Musk’s increasingly unhinged right-wing conspiracy-mongering and Nazi-catering on X, other automakers pushing gas-guzzling cars seem like more appropriate targets (not to mention the fossil fuel companies spending big bucks on anti-climate-reform disinformation). However, several factors make the issues at the heart of the protests less simplistic.

A (nonbinding) vote in February showed Grünheide residents opposed the expansion by almost a two-to-one ratio. If for no other reason, the local government having a chance to brush aside the overwhelming will of the voters in the name of capitalism is enough to raise the eyebrows of anyone who balks at minority rule.

Wired notes the area is also one of the most water-scarce in Germany, and residents worry the gigafactory will drain the resource, leaving much less for the humans who live there. The plant could also pollute local water supplies.

Those fears appear to have merit: The plant is licensed to use 1.4 million cubic meters of water annually, and a separate Wired report from Tuesday noted that’s enough to supply for a large town. As for the contamination fears, Tesla was fined in 2019 by the EPA for several hazardous waste violations at a California factory. The company paid a grand total of $31,000 to settle. (Tesla had a market cap of almost $76 billion in 2019.)

But some of the groups protesting have concerns that go much farther than those more immediate issues affecting the locals, instead taking issue with the entire electric vehicle movement. “Companies like Tesla are there to save the car industry, they’re not there to save the climate,” Esther Kamm, spokesperson for Turn Off the Tap on Tesla told Wired.

Another activist, who only gave Wired the name Mara, described the factory as the result of “green capitalism.” She views the EV movement as little more than a theatrical performance in the name of profit. “This has been completely thought up by such companies to have more growth, even in times of an environmental crisis,” she said.

I wouldn’t exactly say flipping the bird to the EV movement is a “workable” solution to the very real and pressing climate crisis. Regardless of your thoughts on the matter, the world needs to move quickly to fend off climate change’s most ravaging effects, and the scientific consensus is that the planned shift to EVs will need to play a central role.

Tesla reportedly told its employees at the factory to work from home on Friday, shutting down the plants for the planned protests. As for Friday’s protests, Welt reports that the situation had calmed by afternoon — at least for now.

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The world’s largest direct carbon capture plant just went online

Swiss start-up Climeworks has done it again. The company just opened the world’s largest carbon capture plant in Iceland, dwarfing its own record of how much CO2 it can pull from the air. The company’s previous record-holding carbon capture plant, Orca, sucks around 4,000 tons of CO2 from the atmosphere per year, but the new plant can handle nearly ten times that, as reported by The Washington Post.

The plant’s called Mammoth and boasts 72 industrial fans that can pull 36,000 tons of CO2 from the air each year. Just like with Orca, the CO2 isn’t recycled. It’s stored underground and eventually trapped in stone, permanently (within reason) removing it from the environment. The plant’s actually located on a dormant volcano, so it’ll make a great hideout for a James Bond villain should it ever cease operations.

The location was chosen for its proximity to the Hellisheidi geothermal energy plant, which is used to power the facility's fans and heat chemical filters to extract CO2 with water vapor. After extraction, the CO2 is separated from the steam, compressed and dissolved in water. Finally, it’s pumped 2,300 feet underground into volcanic basalt. This compound reacts with the magnesium, calcium and iron in the rock to form crystals, which become solid reservoirs of CO2. It’s pretty nifty technology.

However, it’s not the end-all solution to climate change. It’s barely a blip. For the world to achieve "carbon neutrality" by 2050, "we should be removing something like six to 16 billion tons of CO2 per year from the air," said Climeworks founder Jan Wurzbacher, according to reporting by CBS News.

Therein lies the problem. This facility, the largest of its kind by a wide margin, can capture up to 36,000 tons of CO2 from the air each year, but that’s just 0.0006 percent of what’s needed to meet the minimum annual removal threshold as indicated by Wurzbacher. There are other plants, of course, but all of them combined don’t make a serious dent in what’s required to pull us from the brink.

To that end, Wurzbacher has pleaded with other companies to take up the cause. He says that Climeworks has a goal of surpassing millions of tons captured per year by 2030 and a billion by 2050. The company’s chief technology officer, Carlos Haertel, told 60 Minutes that scaling up the process globally is possible, but requires political will to rally behind the initiative.

The Biden administration recently committed $4 billion to jumpstart the industry here in the states and earmarked $1.2 billion for a pair of large-scale projects. The US Department of Energy also started a program called Carbon Negative Shot, with a goal of fostering the development of budget-friendly carbon capture technology.

The method of carbon capture deployed by Climeworks is just one of many approaches. These processes range from stacks of limestone blocks that absorb CO2 like a sponge to giant hot air balloons that freeze and trap the chemical compound. Restoring forests is another option, which is something companies like Apple and Goldman Sachs have experimented with. Which one is best? All of them together deployed at global scale. Whatever it takes. Climate change isn’t fooling around.

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Research indicates that carbon dioxide removal plans will not be enough to meet Paris treaty goals

New research conducted by the University of East Anglia (UEA) suggests that current carbon removal plans will not be enough to comply with Paris treaty goals to limit global warming to 1.5C, as reported in a study published by Nature. Scientists came to this conclusion by measuring the “emissions gap” between various national climate protection plans and what is actually needed to reach that goal.

This first-of-its-kind study found a gap of up to 3.2 billion tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) between current global plans to remove carbon from the atmosphere and what’s needed by 2050 to avoid the worst impacts of global warming. These impacts include heatwaves, floods, droughts, melting ice and sea level rise.

Since 2010, the United Nations environmental organization UNEP has taken similar measurements of this emissions gap. UEA’s research, which focuses primarily on CO2 removal, indicates that climate policy requires a more ambitious scope if we are to, well, survive as a species.

This means a more nuanced and robust approach that still keeps current carbon removal practices in place, but with a renewed focus on cutting emissions, renewable energy and minimizing deforestation. There are also novel carbon removal options that many nations have been slow to discuss, let alone implement.

These include advanced air filters systems and enhanced rock weathering. The latter is a technique in which carbon is removed from the atmosphere and stored in rocks. These techniques account for the removal of just 0.002 billion tons of C02 per year, compared to 3 billion tons through conventional options. The research indicates that these novel options must become more prevalent in the coming years to help meet that 1.5C threshold.

“The calculation should certainly be refined,” said the study’s lead author, Dr. William Lamb, of the MCC Applied Sustainability Science working group. “This much is clear: without a rapid reduction in emissions towards zero, across all sectors, the 1.5C limit will not be met under any circumstances.”

Co-author Dr. Naomi Vaughan, of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at UEA, added that “countries need more awareness, ambition and action on scaling up carbon dioxide removal methods together with deep emissions reductions to achieve the aspirations of the Paris Agreement."

To that end, even if every country sticks to promises regarding carbon removal targets, the amount of carbon removed would likely increase by a maximum of 0.5 billion tons by 2030 and 1.9 billion tons by 2050. The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reported that it would take a removal increase of 5.1 billion tons to avoid the worst effects of climate change. So, yeah, there’s that gap of 3.2 billion tons.

We aren’t doomed, at least not yet anyways. The IPCC suggests an alternative scenario in which the world’s governments work together to reduce global energy demand, hastened by “politically initiated behavior.” In this scenario, carbon removal would increase by 2.5 billion tons by 2050 and alternative methods would help tighten the emissions gap to just 400 million tons. So we basically have to shift our entire society from one of self interest to one of global cooperation. It never hurts to dream and, hey, maybe AI will swoop in and save us

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The Cheyenne Supercomputer is going for a fraction of its list price at auction right now

If you've been thinking about picking up a new supercomputer but were waiting on a good price, now might be a good time to put in your bid. Right now, the US government, via GSA Auctions, is auctioning off the Cheyenne Supercomputer to the highest bidder with three days remaining. While we haven't tested this one ourselves, we assume its 145,152 CPU cores will easily out-perform our current top pick for a laptop. You also won't need to upgrade the memory anytime soon, as there's a full 313,344GB of RAM currently installed, and the storage capacity tallies up to around 36 petabytes. No need to delete files to make room for new games or other media downloads.  

The deal was spotted by Ars Technica, who also point out that the fiber optic and CAT5/6 cabling are not included in the sale. While the price the government paid for the supercomputer has not been disclosed, it's safe to assume the cost was well into the millions, considering the price tags of other supercomputers. As of this writing, the bidding has reached $28,085, though the reserve has not yet been met. There are still three days to go and there's currently no deposit required to place a bid. 

The reason for such a hefty discount (other than the fact that Cheyenne has been decommissioned) could be faulty quick disconnects causing water spray and the fact that approximately one percent of nodes have "experienced failure" and "will remain unrepaired." One other caveat to note before you start making room in your arena-sized climate-controlled garage is that shipping is not included. As GSA Auctions notes on the details page, "moving this system necessitates the engagement of a professional moving company" and that "the purchaser assumes responsibility for transferring the racks from the facility onto trucks."    

But where else will you find such steep savings on a machine that can carry out 5.34 quadrillion calculations per second? Cheyenne is also surprisingly energy-efficient, consuming 25 percent less energy per computation than its predecessor, Yellowstone. The massive supercomputer helped researchers understand the rapid intensification of hurricanes, how wildfires impact air quality, and simulated years of climate functions to predict outcomes decades in advance. It should definitely provide you with enough processing power for extreme multitasking at work while handling even the most demanding games after hours. 

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The White House wants a zero-emission freight industry by 2040

The Biden administration is tackling the monumental task of making America’s industrial freight system more environmentally friendly. The White House said on Wednesday that it aims to have 30 percent of industrial truck sales produce zero emissions by 2030 and 100 percent by 2040.

In addition to those non-binding targets, the White House is meeting on Wednesday with stakeholders from the commercial vehicle, shipping and infrastructure industries to help execute its agenda. The roundtable is designed to advance the Biden Administration’s goal of “supercharging the buildout of the infrastructure necessary to make a zero-emissions freight ecosystem a reality in the United States.”

Unsurprisingly, the freight industry uses a lot of energy and produces a lot of pollution to match. Bloomberg notes that the transportation sector emits about 29 percent of US greenhouse gas emissions, and freight (including shipping, trucking and trains) makes up about a third of that figure. So, you can ballpark that the American freight industry is responsible for roughly 10 percent of the country’s carbon emissions.

As part of the election-year rollout, the Biden Administration plans to ask the public to comment on charging infrastructure for heavy-duty vehicles, signaling that the specifics of the plan aren’t yet finalized. The White House wants to avoid a fragmented industrial EV charging system without a universally agreed-upon standard. The industry has seemingly settled on Tesla’s NACS as the de facto choice in the lightweight consumer sector.

Alongside the newly announced industrial goals, the Biden Administration’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is opening up about $1 billion in Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) funding to replace Class 6 and 7 vehicles (school buses, garbage trucks and delivery trucks) with electric equivalents.

The IRA requires that at least $400 million of that funding goes to local communities hit the hardest by industrial pollution. The White House says 72 million Americans live near truck freight routes and bear the brunt of their short-term output. Sadly but unsurprisingly (given the nation’s history), people of color and those from low-income households are most likely to be heavily affected by high environmental toxin levels.

The White House’s goals are admirable, given the urgency of the global climate crisis and the freight industry’s role. However, one significant problem remains: These are voluntary, non-binding resolutions that could — and, given public comments, almost certainly would — be undone by a second Trump Administration, should the serial napper return to office next year. As with many other aspects of the nation’s and world’s future, US voters will decide the outcome this November.

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