Warming Trends: Sports and Climate Change in Texas, a Community Housing Project Named after Rachel Carson and an E-Bike Conversion Kit for Your Bicycle

A column highlighting climate-related studies, innovations, books, cultural events and other developments from the global warming frontier.

A Chapin High School athletic trainer helps hydrate a football player during early morning practice in El Paso, Thursday, Aug. 9, 2018. Credit: Ivan Pierre Aguirre for The Washington Post via Getty Images
An athletic trainer helps hydrate a high school football player during early morning practice in El Paso, Thursday, Aug. 9, 2018. Credit: Ivan Pierre Aguirre for The Washington Post via Getty Images

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A Potentially Fatal Mix in Texas: Sports and Climate Change

In Texas, football is life, days are getting hotter and climate denial lives large

That’s what inspired undergraduates at Rice University in Houston to propose a research project to survey coaches and other athletic trainers at schools and universities around the state on whether they consider hot temperatures, humidity and climate change a health risk to their student athletes. Sylvia Dee, a climate scientist and assistant professor at Rice helped turn the project into a research study, which was published this week in the journal GeoHealth. 

Survey results of 224 Texas coaches showed nearly half were only “slightly” or “not at all” concerned about how climate change would affect their practices and the health of student athletes, while only 10 percent showed the same lack of concern regarding the effect of temperature on health. Average summer temperatures in Texas are expected to rise several degrees by the end of the century, with cities like Houston, Austin and Dallas expected to see average summer temperatures as high as 105 degrees Fahrenheit. Humidity is also expected to rise, pushing heat indexes into deadly zones. 

When asked how hot it would have to be to cancel practices, more than a third of coaches put their limit above the threshold of 103 degrees that the National Weather Service considers dangerous for physical activity.

“That may reflect some regional attitudes,” Dee said, “like perhaps Texans are just used to the heat.”


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Even if athletes are used to exercising on hot and humid days, they are still vulnerable to exertional heat illnesses, which can range from heat rash and cramps to heat stroke, one of the leading causes of death in high school athletes. 

Dee said that these results show that education and outreach needs to be done to inform coaches of the dangers of heat and how they can protect their student athletes from heat illness, especially as climate change increases the number of hot and humid days in Texas. 

The dynamic between coach and student athlete can be complicated, however. It’s the coach’s job to push student athletes to work harder and perform better, and student athletes are motivated to push their limits. Dee said it’s important to inform the students to recognize the signs of heat illness and make clear that it’s OK to stop if they feel symptoms coming on.

“There’s no win that is worth someone getting sick and dying,” she said. “I think all coaches hopefully understand that. I think the education and outreach piece can’t be understated, like if they don’t know that this is a problem, how are they going to stop it?”


More Plant-Based Meat Means Fewer Meat-Based Jobs

A cultural shift toward plant-based meat alternatives could significantly reduce the carbon footprint of U.S. food production. But the ripple effects of this shift could lead to a big loss in meat processing jobs, and uncertainty remains around how the industry’s resources would shift in the economy, a new study found.

Researchers from Cornell University and other institutions modeled three economic scenarios where 10 percent, 30 percent or 60 percent of the country’s beef demand is replaced with plant-based beef alternatives, aiming to uncover the ethical and economic ramifications. Their findings, published this month in The Lancet, show that these scenarios would lead to a 2.5 percent to 13.5 percent reduction in carbon emissions from food production, but could lead to a 7 to 45 percent decline in the cattle and beef processing economy, which employs 1.5 million people. 

These jobs would likely not be easily replaced with jobs in the plant-based meat alternatives industry, said study lead author Daniel Mason-D’Croz, a senior research associate at Cornell, so society will need to prepare to educate and retrain beef industry workers to pursue new careers. 

“The people who are making their livelihoods in those areas would be negatively affected,” Mason-D’Croz said. “It’s important to then think about what would be ways to reduce the negative consequences on those people’s livelihoods in terms of trying to have an equitable, just transition.”

Mason-D’Croz said that more needs to be done to understand the health impacts of plant-based meat alternatives. It is well understood that consumption of processed meats are associated with bad health outcomes, he said, but what will be the impacts of consuming processed plant-based substitutes? 

The uncertainties and concerns this study brings up should not be interpreted as reasons not to adopt more plant-based foods, he said, but rather get people thinking about what the impacts of that adoption would be and prepare for them.

“No single technology or intervention is going to solve the types of problems we’re facing right now in terms of climate change, unsustainable resource use, inequality and injustice in the food system,” Mason-D’Croz said. We should “stop looking for silver bullets. Instead I think we need a quiver of solutions that can help us cut through this really challenging problem that we’re facing right now.”


‘Carrying on Her Legacy’

The Rachel Carson Eco-Village, set to begin construction this fall on about five acres of the Chatham University campus in Pittsburgh, will include 35 private homes and a shared common house that will, over the next few decades, be surrounded by restored forests and meadows.

Community housing, or “co-housing,” is a method of designing a neighborhood of private homes that fosters connections between its residents through shared spaces, like a common house with a big kitchen for shared meals. There are more than 160 such communities that currently exist in the United States and about 140 more in development. 

Homes in the Rachel Carson Eco-Village, which claims to be the first community housing project on a college campus, will cost between $200,000 and $500,000. The community is intended to be multigenerational, with families, retirees and singles of all ages welcome. The on-campus location gives residents access to the university to take classes, and at least one home will be owned by the university and rented to graduate students to strengthen that connection, said architect and founder of the village Stefani Danes.

The Rachel Carson Eco-Village is named after the environmentalist and author of Silent Spring, a book that detailed the environmental devastation caused by pesticides and other chemicals. Carson is one of Chatham’s most famous alumni, and the village is located just a few minutes away from her suburban Pittsburgh homestead.

“There’s a real sense that this is carrying on her legacy,” said Danes. “And the idea of living harmoniously with each other and with the land is a core value of the community, how we connect with each other and with our place.”

Co-housing communities often prioritize sustainability. This village plans to recycle and compost, share a community garden and have limited parking spots to reduce driving and encourage cycling. The homes will have passive heating and cooling designed to reduce energy consumption.

Danes said the village has been working with ecologists to understand the landscape and the surrounding ecosystem to best learn how to support living in harmony with the surrounding nature. They have created a 30-year land management plan to plant trees, grasses and flowers that will create a healthy environment.

“We’re really getting to know the place and trying to build of the place rather than on the place,” she said.


Turn Your Manual Bicycle Into an E-Bike, and Back Again

If you want the option of an electric bike but you like the bike you have, consider an e-bike conversion kit.

This month, Swytch is debuting a new e-bike conversion kit with a portable battery pack not much larger than a smartphone, weighing about a pound and a half. Riders can lock their bike up and take the battery with them to avoid theft and charge up before embarking on their next ride.

The United Kingdom-based company sells kits that can turn a conventional bike into an electric bike. The kit can be installed in under an hour by anyone and includes the battery pack with a holder, a monitor for the pedals and a new front wheel that can be switched out. 

Other conversion kits made by Swytch and other companies often have larger batteries or are not easy to install. Swytch’s kits cost about $1,200, whereas new electric bikes range from $1,000 to more than $5,000. 

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The kit offers an option for people “who maybe don’t want to have a complete e-bike, maybe they want to be able to pop it off and go off-roading or commuting without having an e-bike kit on it, which is super easy to do, just release the components and pop the original wheel back on,” said Isabelle Ross, a representative at Swytch.

The company says that an e-bike conversion for an existing bike can be a more sustainable option than buying an entirely new electric bike. 

“I don’t think a lot of people know that it’s even possible. I think they either think it’s two options, you can have a manual bike or you can have an e-bike,” Ross said. “Our biggest push right now is just letting people know that it is possible and you can keep your current bike, you don’t have to go through the hassle of finding a new one.”