Warming Trends: Radio From a Future Free of Fossil Fuels, Vegetarianism Not Hot on Social Media and Overheated Umpires Make Bad Calls

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

Exhaust rises from cooling towers at a coal-fired power station in Germany. Credit: Ralph Orlowski/Getty Images

Exhaust rises from cooling towers at a coal-fired power station in Germany. Credit: Ralph Orlowski/Getty Images

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CULTURE

OPEC Oil Ministers Meet, and No One Cares

What does a fossil fuel-free future sound like? A new Swedish radio program is presenting this future with fictional news reports, interviews and debates from an imaginary time after the energy transition, mixed with mellow, techno road trip songs.  

Vattenfall, an electricity company owned by the Swedish government, broadcasts hour-long advertisements at its electric vehicle charging stations called “Radio Fossil Freedom” that imagine a clean-energy future. Drivers can tune in while charging up to get a sense of what the future they are contributing to achieving could sound like.

Vattenfall started airing this future when it created the Museum of Fossil Fuels in Stockholm, which commemorates the fossil fuel era by allowing visitors to smell gasoline and listen to combustion engines rumble. During the pandemic, Vattenfall looked for a new way to bring the clean energy future to its customers, and so became Radio Fossil Freedom.

“For many, the car is the last place where they still listen to the radio,” said Sofia Mankert, business and corporate communication manager at Vattenfall. “It still sounds like an authentic radio show, but the content is different.”

If listeners don’t immediately realize that the content is fictional and meant to be from the future, Vattenfall reminds them four times during the hour that they are hearing an advertisement that describes a fossil fuel-free future.

For the first two weeks of the broadcast, it was only available via the radio to people charging their cars at particular stations, but now, the Swedish language program is available on Spotify, along with the songs that Vattenfall also created as part of its picture of the future. 

“What’s important to us is really to be a little optimistic without being naive or without diminishing the challenges we face,” Mankert said. “The urgency of climate change also requires trying out different ways of making these conversations happen.”

SCIENCE

A New Study Finds Interest in Vegetarianism Distressingly Low

The global population needs to reduce its consumption of meat to keep greenhouse gas emissions at bay, a growing body of research has shown. But a new study of nearly 2 billion Facebook profiles shows that interest in low-carbon diets is still quite low, considering the reduction that is needed to avoid catastrophic climate change and preserve biodiversity, said co-author Sybil Eker, a researcher with the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis and Climate Interactive.

The study, published this week in the journal Environmental Research Letters, used anonymous data made public by Facebook comparing socioeconomic factors to whether a user had indicated “vegetarianism” as an interest on their profile. The study’s findings show that people with a higher level of education tend to be more interested in vegetarianism. 

“The main policy implication of our findings is that education should be at the centre of policy design for stimulating low-carbon diets,” the study authors wrote.

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The findings also indicate that interest in vegetarianism is stronger in countries where meat consumption is trending downward—largely in the developed world. 

Still, even in developed countries, Eker said, the study “shows there are still not so many people interested in sustainable diets or plant-based diets.  

CULTURE

Like Other Outdoor Workers, Umps Falter in the Heat

Major League Baseball umpires call pitches less accurately during games where temperatures exceed 95 degrees Fahrenheit, a new analysis suggests, compared to games where temperatures are in the 70s.

The statistical analysis of over 18,000 games between 2007 and 2017 by Eric Fesselmeyer, an economist at Monmouth University, found that plate umpires tend to make more errors, calling balls strikes and strikes balls, when temperatures are hot. 

When temperatures were between 70 and 80 degrees, umpires called pitches correctly 86.9 percent of the time, but when temperatures were above 95 degrees, that number was 85.9 percent, a drop of 1 percentage point.

The analysis sees umpires as part of the labor force in the MLB, where their job performance—in a sense, their “productivity”—is dependent on their accuracy.

“I take that as real evidence that temperature affects your productivity,” Fesselmeyer said. “When the umpire should have called a strike but called a ball, his productivity isn’t very good.”

Although this analysis focuses on professional baseball, where there is a plethora of available data, Fesselmeyer said it suggests that other labor sectors will see a performance decline on hot days that will be more common as the planet warms, like on farms or in factories without air conditioning.

One solution for the decline in umpire performance would be to build stadiums like Minute Maid Park in Houston that have retractable roofs and are air conditioned on hot days. Fesselmeyer also suggests that the league could switch to robotic umpires that are much more accurate, though he admits many fans like the human element of umpires in the sport.

“If we’re going to play baseball outdoors this is one thing we can’t defend against,” he said. “When it’s hot out, these umpires will do worse.”

SCIENCE

As the Climate Warms, Pesky Mosquitoes Will Only Get Peskier

Mosquitoes are able to acclimate to warmer temperatures, a new study found, meaning as the climate changes, these pesky bugs could come out earlier in the spring and last later into the fall, and in some places, may even become a year-round nuisance.

The study, published in the journal Ecology, outlined the findings from researchers at the University of Florida, who trapped individuals of several different mosquito species in Gainesville, Florida, where some tropical-adapted mosquito species reach their northern limit, and others have ranges that expand into the more temperate zones in Georgia and North Carolina.

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The researchers put trapped mosquitoes into vials in a water bath, where they could gradually change the temperature of the mosquito’s environment to find what the insects’ minimum and maximum temperature tolerance was. 

What they found was that mosquitoes’ temperature tolerance is highly flexible, meaning they can quickly adapt to warmer temperatures.

“As the climate begins to change, when it becomes more warm throughout the year, we’re going to have more of these heat-loving individual species becoming more prevalent farther into the wintertime,” said Brett Scheffers, senior author of the study and an assistant professor at the University of Florida. “Basically, the results of this are suggesting that mosquitoes are going to be expanding their activity times into the winter.”

Since mosquitos only live for a few days to a few weeks, a longer season means more generations of mosquitoes, Scheffers said, and more genetic variation leading to more opportunities for traits to evolve within populations.

“Genes are being passed along from one generation to the next, with those genes means adaptation,” Scheffers said. “So they are able to adjust and respond to changes in the environment really quickly because they’re so short lived.”