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State of Startups 2016

This is First Round’s effort to provide an in-depth snapshot of what founders across the entire tech ecosystem are thinking and doing, what they’re excited about and worried about, and how they’re seeing the market. We surveyed venture-backed founders from within and beyond the First Round community — and received over 700 responses, volunteering their experience and opinions.
December 3, 2016 / by / in , , , , , , , , ,
10 female founders who have turned science into a business

 

 

From pharma giants to medtech start-ups, science and business go hand in hand. But who are the women performing alchemy and turning their groundbreaking research into gold?

 

As we continue our Science 50, we take a look at the entrepreneurial women who have turned their scientific backgrounds and innovations into successful businesses.

 

Nina Tandon

CEO and co-founder of EpiBone, Nina Tandon is a tissue engineering researcher who may have the future of medicine figured out.

Currently serving as an adjunct professor of electrical engineering at Cooper Union in New York, Tandon studies electrical signalling in the context of tissue engineering, with a goal of creating spare parts for human implantation or disease models.

 

Tandon studied electrical stimulation for cardiac tissue engineering at MIT and Columbia, and continues to focus on electrical stimulation for broader tissue engineering applications. As a Fulbright Scholar in Rome, she developed an electronic nose to sniff out lung cancer.

 

Rana el Kaliouby

Egyptian-born Rana el Kaliouby is on a mission to bring emotion to digital technology by enabling cameras in smartphones and computers to read human expressions.

The co-founder and CEO of Massachusetts-based Affectiva, el Kaliouby is commercialising emotion-recognition technology based on her research.

 

Rana el Kaliouby

Rana el Kaliouby. Image: Web Summit 2015/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

At MIT, el Kaliouby spearheaded the applications of emotion-sensing and facial coding. She holds a PhD from Computer Laboratory, University of Cambridge.

El Kaliouby was recognised by Entrepreneur as one of the ‘7 Most Powerful Women to Watch in 2014’, inducted into the Women in Engineering Hall of Fame, and named one of Technology Review’s ‘Top 35 Innovators Under 35’.

 

Sally Cudmore

Dr Sally Cudmore is general manager of the APC Microbiome Institute, which launched in University College Cork (UCC) last year.

 

Sally Cudmore, UCC

Professor Fergus Shanahan and Dr Sally Cudmore of the APC Microbiome Institute at UCC. Image: UCC

Formerly known as the Alimentary Pharmabiotic Centre, APC is a partnership between UCC, Teagasc and Cork Institute of Technology, and explores the importance of microbes in health and nutrition, specifically gastrointestinal bacteria.

Since its foundation 13 years ago, APC has made several seminal contributions to the field and was ranked second, globally, in the area of science by Thomson Reuters.

Cudmore has a biochemistry degree from UCC and a PhD from the cell biology programme at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg, Germany.

 

Claire Gormley

Dr Claire Gormley is one of two women (alongside Emily Duffy) behind the award-winning start-up Game Changer. Dr Gormley is an assistant professor in statistics at University College Dublin (UCD) and a researcher with the Insight Centre for Data Analytics. Her start-up won UCD’s commercialisation award earlier this year.

 

Claire Gormley and Emily Duff

From left: Dr Claire Gormley and Emily Duffy at NovaUCD. Image: Conor McCabe Photography

The company is developing a platform to provide post-match sports performance analytics for individuals, teams and organisations. Interestingly, Game Changer also provides a bespoke statistical tool to identify key players for team selection or potential recruitment.

Game Changer won the 2016 UCD Insight Innovation Sprint Programme, a one-day initiative designed and held at NovaUCD.

 

Jane Farrar

Prof Jane Farrar successfully co-founded Genable Technologies, a gene therapy business that hit the headlines earlier this year after its €5.4m sale to Spark Therapeutics.

 

Jane Farrar, Trinity College DublinProf Jane Farrar, Trinity College Dublin. Image: Aidan Crawley

The company started in Trinity College Dublin when Farrar was a PhD researcher. Along with her colleagues, Farrar was looking at the genetics of an inherited form of blindness called retinitis pigmentosa (RP). After devising a gene-therapy approach to suppress the problematic, mutant gene involved in RP, Genable Technologies was formed and immediately impressed.

Farrar’s work has been supported by Science Foundation Ireland, the Health Research BoardWellcome Trust, EU Framework programmes, Fighting Blindness Ireland and Foundation Fighting Blindness US.

 

Ciara Clancy

Chartered physiotherapist and Inspirefest 2015 speaker Ciara Clancy launched start-up Beats Medical in 2012, when she was just 22.

Beats Medical is a smartphone app designed to support those who suffer from Parkinson’s. Utilising individualised metronome therapy, the app improves mobility and reduces instances of gait freezing. It also provides users with daily assessments and regular progress reports.

 

 

Last year, Clancy was named Laureate for Europe at the Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards, and Beats Medical beat off the competition in Google’s Adopt a Start-up programme.

Just last month, Beats Medical became the first Irish company to present at Google’s demo day.

 

Sinéad Kenny

Despite being unsure which scientific avenue to go down during her early years of school, Sinéad Kenny quickly realised that the rapidly advancing world of materials science was for her.

A few decades later, Kenny was co-founder of DiaNia Technologies, one of Ireland’s fastest-growing indigenous medical devices companies. From the Inspirefest 2016 stage, Kenny announced that the company had received €2m in seed money in a recent funding round.

 

 

Kenny has spoken of a major void existing in the market, which DiaNia’s strong materials, science and project management capabilities can maximise upon during the early development phase of devices.

 

Emmeline Hill

Dr Emmeline Hill, an equine genomics researcher at UCD, co-founded Equinome (alongside horse trainer Jim Bolger) in 2009.

While analysing genes in thoroughbred racehorses, Hill identified a genetic marker that linked to a horse’s athletic performance. This discovery led to the development of a speed gene test to help match horses with courses, and to inform breeding and training decisions.

 

Emmaline Hill, Equinome

Equinome co-founder Dr Emmeline Hill with her 2014 NovaUCD Innovation Award. Image: Nick Bradshaw

This test was instrumental in this year’s decision not to run 2000 Guineas winner Galileo Gold at the Epsom Derby.

In 2015, Equinome was acquired by Plusvital. Hill is Plusvital’s chief science officer, continuing to drive research into genetic tests and performance potential.

 

Áine Behan

Áine Behan is the founder and CEO of Irish start-up Cortechs, the company behind wearable tech that uses brainwave-sensing technology and gameplay to improve attention in children diagnosed with ADHD.

Behan has a background in neuroscience and neuropathology. Her research expertise focuses on the effects of stresses like drugs on mental health and neurodegenerative disease. The Cortechs technology aims to bypass the need for drugs in the treatment of certain conditions.

 

 

Behan was the only Irish finalist at 2014’s Lady Pitch night in Paris.

A former Start-up of the Week, Cortechs is already enjoying success, having been named as winner of the 2015 FutureHealth pre-accelerator at NDRC.

 

Sinead O’Sullivan

Northern Ireland native and aerospace engineer Sinead O’Sullivan has had an interest in space since she was a child but, after a trip to NASA, she soon realised that it was where she wanted to make a career.

Going on to work at NASA, where she developed parts of the technology that would take spacecraft – and future humans – to Mars, she has now entered the entrepreneurial game as CEO of Fusion Space Technologies.

 

Sinead O'Sullivan, Fusion Space TechnologiesSinead O’Sullivan, CEO of Fusion Space Technologies. Image: Fusion Space Technologies

Now describing herself as part of the ‘space mafia’, she and her start-up are creating the first ever platform for crowdsourced drone data. [SiliconRepublic]

December 3, 2016 / by / in , , , , , , , ,
Visual Intelligence: Make Better High-Stakes Decisions

 

Amy Herman created and conducts all sessions of ‘The Art of Perception’, an education program that was initially used to help medical students improve their observation skills. Often in diagnostics, you’re not looking for what you can see, but what you can’t – this is called the ‘pertinent negative’. The same goes for investigations, and so the program was adapted for the New York City Police Department, and other intelligence agencies. Really, Herman says, it’s about fine-tuning something we take as a given: our visual intelligence. This refers to the concept that we see more than we can possibly process. What we register is just a fraction of the world around us, so how can we see more? Like any other skill or muscle, to get the most and best use out of it, it needs training.

According to Herman, we need to think more consciously about what we see and deliberately take information in so that we can do our jobs more effectively and live our lives more purposefully. To that end, she runs us through a building block of ‘The Art of Perception’ course: The Four A’s.

Tune into the video above for four practical steps to make more perceptive and informed decisions. Amy Herman is the author of Visual Intelligence:Sharpen Your Perception, Change Your Life. [BigThink]

December 2, 2016 / by / in , , , , , , , , ,
Hotels VS. Airbnb: Positive Rivalry Drives Innovation

 

What could a global hotel executive have to say about Airbnb? The rule is typically: ‘If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.’ Since peer-to-peer accommodation start-up Airbnb launched in 2008, the mood has been tense between traditional lodging providers and the DIY movement that Airbnb represents.

However Kimo Kippen is the Former Chief Learning Officer at Hilton Worldwide and view on Airbnb is defined by one word: exciting. Airbnb many not own hotel rooms, valuable property, or even a long-standing reputation, but what it does have is an ingenious platform that grants so much more autonomy and choice to its users. Kippen sees this competition as inspiration and is pushing Hilton to make greater efforts to innovate and keep up, for example through an integrated app that allows digital check in, greater room control, and digital room keys.

There are countless studies which demonstrate that competition increases motivation – as far back as 1891, psychologist Norman Triplett found that the presence of another cyclist made his study participants pedal faster.

The rivalry between companies like Apple and Microsoft has led to ever-advancing technology for the public, the result of two competitors spring-boarding off one another and pushing each other to innovate.

The hotel business is booming, with the industry showing all-time high performance and growth projections in 2015, according to competitive benchmarking firm STR. Supply is climbing, and the pace of hotel closings is slowing. This is even as a study from Boston University in June 2016 found that Airbnb has contributed to a reduction in “aggressive hotel room pricing, an impact that benefits all consumers, not just participants in the sharing economy.” That likely hurts the bottom-line of hotels and yet they have, on the whole, been resourceful enough to have the best year ever. In turn, changes are being enforced on Airbnb, most recently through a new law in New York that only permits room rentals if the host is also living in the apartment, and prohibits rentals in multi-unit buildings for less than 30 days – violations are punishable by a $7,500 fine. This is controversial for many reasons, and no doubt hinders Airbnb’s ability to function. Will they find ways to remain competitive?

Hotels and peer-to-peer accommodation will find themselves in a beneficial rivalry only if the focus is on self-improvement, as opposed to the destruction of the other. When the latter happens, it punishes the client and hinders the spirit of innovation. [BigThink]

December 2, 2016 / by / in , , , , , , , , ,
Why Very Smart People Are Happiest Alone

solitude

Quality time = alone time. (LUIGI MORANTE)

 

In a just-published study about how our ancestral needs impact our modern feelings, researchers uncovered something that will surprise few among the highly intelligent. While most people are happier when they’re surrounded by friends, smart people are happier when they’re not.

The researchers, Norman P. Li and Satoshi Kanazawa, of the Singapore Management University, Singapore and the London School of Economics and Political Science, UK, respectively, were investigating the “savannah theory” of happiness.

The savannah theory — also called the “evolutionary legacy hypothesis” and the “mismatch hypothesis” — posits that we react to circumstances as our ancestors would, having evolved psychologically based on our ancestors’ needs in the days when humankind lived on the savannah.

 

savannahSavannah (BJØRN CHRISTIAN TØRRISSEN)

The study analyzed data from interviews conducted by the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health) in 2001-2002 with 15,197 individuals aged 18–28. The researchers  looked for a correlation between where an interviewee lived — in a rural or urban area — and his or her life satisfaction. They were interested in assessing how population density and friendships affect happiness.

 

How We Feel About Being in Large Groups

 

crowdCrowded (KEVIN CASE)

 

The study found that people in general were less happy in areas of greater population density. The report’s authors see this is as support for the savannah theory because we would naturally feel uneasy in larger groups if — as evidence they cite suggests — our brains evolved for functioning in groups of about 150 people:

  • Comparing the size of our neocortex to other primates and the sizes of the groups in which they dwell suggests the natural size of a human group is 150 people (Dunbar, 1992).
  • Computer simulations show that the evolution of risk aversion happens only in groups of about 150 people (Hintze, Olson, Adami, & Hertwig, 2013).
  • The average size of modern hunter-gatherer societies is 148.4 people (Dunbar, 1993).
  • Neolithic villages in Mesopotamia had from 150–200 people (Oates, 1977).
  • When a group of people exceeds 150-200 people, it will tend to break into two in order to facilitate greater cooperation and reciprocity among its members (Chagnon, 1979).
  • The average personal network, as suggested by the typical number of holiday cards sent per person per year, is 153.5 people (Hill & Dunbar, 2003).

The study discovered, though, that the negative effect of the presence of lots of people is more pronounced among people of average intelligence. They propose that our smartest ancestors were better able to adapt to larger groups on the savannah due to a greater strategic flexibility and innate ingenuity, and so their descendants feel less stressed by urban environments today.

 

You’ve Got to Have Friends. Or Not.

 

BFFsBFFs (SONNY ABESAMIS)

 

While it seems self-evident that good friendships increase life satisfaction in most people, Li and Satoshi and Kanazawa note, surprisingly, that they know of only a single study that looked at the reason why this is true, and which concluded friendships satisfy psychological needs such as relatedness, the need to be needed, and an outlet for sharing experiences. Still, the reason a person has those needs remains unexplained.

Li and Kanazawa feel that we need look no further than the savannah. They say that friendships/alliances were vital for survival, in that they facilitated group hunting and food sharing, reproduction, and even group child-rearing.

The data they analyzed supports the assumption that good friendships — and a few good ones is better than lots of weaker ones — do significantly increase life satisfaction for most people.

In highly intelligent people, though, the finding is reversed: Smart people feel happier alone than when others, even good friends, are around. A “healthy” social life actually leaves highly intelligent people with less life satisfaction. Is it because their desires are more aspirational and goal-oriented, and other people are annoyingly distracting?

However, just in case this makes too much sense, the study also found that spending more time socializing with friends is actually an indicator of higher intelligence! This baffling contradiction is counter-intuitive, at least. Unless these smart people are not so much social as they are masochistic. [BigThink]

December 2, 2016 / by / in , , , , , , , , ,
Scientists Accidentally Discover Efficient Process to Turn CO2 Into Ethanol
gettyimages-188066739

 

The process is cheap, efficient, and scalable, meaning it could soon be used to remove large amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere. 

 

Scientists at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee have discovered a chemical reaction to turn CO2 into ethanol, potentially creating a new technology to help avert climate change. Their findings were published in the journal ChemistrySelect. [Go here for a new in-depth interview about the findings with one of the lead researchers.]

The researchers were attempting to find a series of chemical reactions that could turn CO2 into a useful fuel, when they realized the first step in their process managed to do it all by itself. The reaction turns CO2 into ethanol, which could in turn be used to power generators and vehicles.

The tech involves a new combination of copper and carbon arranged into nanospikes on a silicon surface. The nanotechnology allows the reactions to be very precise, with very few contaminants.

“By using common materials, but arranging them with nanotechnology, we figured out how to limit the side reactions and end up with the one thing that we want,” said Adam Rondinone.

This process has several advantages when compared to other methods of converting CO2 into fuel. The reaction uses common materials like copper and carbon, and it converts the CO2 into ethanol, which is already widely used as a fuel.

Perhaps most importantly, it works at room temperature, which means that it can be started and stopped easily and with little energy cost. This means that this conversion process could be used as temporary energy storage during a lull in renewable energy generation, smoothing out fluctuations in a renewable energy grid.

“A process like this would allow you to consume extra electricity when it’s available to make and store as ethanol,” said Rondinone. “This could help to balance a grid supplied by intermittent renewable sources.”

The researchers plan to further study this process and try and make it more efficient. If they’re successful, we just might see large-scale carbon capture using this technique in the near future.

Source: Oak Ridge National Laboratory via New Atlas

 

December 2, 2016 / by / in , , , , , , ,
A New Implant is Being Developed for Enhancing Human Memory

Article Image

Would that it was this easy.

In 1998, Andy Clark and David Chalmers proposed that a computer operates together with our brains as an “extended mind,” potentially offering additional processing capabilities as we work out problems, as well as an annex for our memories containing information, images, and so on. Now a professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Southern California, Theodore Berger, is working to bring to market human memory enhancement in the form of a prosthetic implanted in the brain. He’s already testing it attached to humans.

The prosthetic, which Berger has been working on for ten years, can function as an artificial hippocampus, the area in the brain associated with memory and spatial navigation.

Hippocampus

Hippocampus (LIFE SCIENCE DATABASES)

The plan is for the device to convert short-term memory into long-term memory and potentially store it as the hippocampus does. His research has been encouraging so far.

Berger began by teaching a rabbit to associate an audio tone with a puff of air administered to the rabbit’s face, causing it to blink. Electrodes attached to the rabbit allowed Berger to observe patterns of activity firing off in the rabbit’s hippocampus. Berger refers to these patterns as a “space-time code” representing where the neurons are in the rabbit’s brain at a specific moment. Berger watched them evolving as the rabbit learned to associate the tone and puff of air. He told Wired, “As the space-time code propagates into the different layers of the hippocampus, it’s gradually changed into a different space-time code.” Eventually, the tone alone was enough for the hippocampus to produce a recallable space-time code based on the latest incoming version to make the rabbit blink.

The manner in which the hippocampus was processing the rabbit’s memory and producing a recallable space-time code became predictable enough to Berger that he was able to develop a mathematical model representing the process.

Berger then built an artificial rat hippocampus — his experimental prosthesis —to test his observations and model. By training rats to press a lever with electrodes monitoring their hippocampuses, Berger was able to acquire the corresponding space-time codes. Running that code through his mathematical model and sending it back to the rats’ brains, his system was validated as the rats successfully pressed their levers. “They recall the correct code as if they’ve created it themselves. Now we’re putting the memory back into the brain,” Berger reports.

It’s maybe the this last statement that’s so intriguing. Does the brain have some kind of master memory index? Has it somehow integrated the artificial hippocampus’s memories into the rats’ directory? Will it also happen in humans?

Dustin Tyler, a professor of engineering at Case Western Reserve University, cautioned Wired, “All of these prosthetics interfacing with the brain have one fundamental challenge. There are billions of neurons in the brain and trillions of connections between them that make them all work together. Trying to find technology that will go into that mass of neurons and be able to connect with them on a reasonably high-resolution level is tricky.”

Still, Bergen himself is optimistic, telling IEEE Spectrum, “We’re testing it in humans now, and getting good initial results. We’re going to go forward with the goal of commercializing this prosthesis.”

What he envisions bringing to market based on his research is a brain prosthetic for people with memory problems. The tiny device would be implanted in the patient’s own hippocampus from where it would stimulate the neurons responsible for turning short-term memories into long-term memories. He hopes it can help patients suffering from Alzheimer’s, other forms of dementia, stroke victims and people whose brains have been injured.

prosthetic

(TED BERGER)

Berger’s business partner in this is tech entrepreneur Bryan Johnson. After selling his payment gateway Braintree to PayPal for $800, he started a venture capital fund, the OS Fund. Its web site states its mission: “The OS Fund invests in entrepreneurs working towards quantum-leap discoveries that promise to rewrite the operating systems of life.” Johnson sees Berger’s work as one such discovery, and formed kernel to support it, running the company himself with Berger as the company’s Chief Science Officer.

 

(KERNEL)

Rats and monkeys — the prosthetic improved the memories of rhesus monkeys attached to their prefrontal cortex — are one thing. The greater number of neurons in human brains is a big issue that needs to be grappled before Berger’s implant will work well for humans: It’s difficult to gain a comprehensive view of what’s going on with larger brains due to their greater number of neurons. (Rat brains have about 200 million neurons; humans have 86 billion.) Berger warns, “Our information will be biased based on the neurons we’re able to record from,” and he looks forward to tools that can capture broader swaths of data going forward. It’s anticipated that they’ll need to pack a greater number of electrodes into prostheses.

Human trials so far have been with in-patient epileptics with electrodes already in place for their epilepsy treatments. Berger’s team has observed and recorded activity in the hippocampus during memory tests, and they’ve been encouragingly successful at enhancing patients’ memories by stimulating neurons there. kernel will be funding additional human trials. [via BigThink]

December 2, 2016 / by / in , , , , , , , ,
Five reasons why cutting NASA’s climate research would be a colossal mistake

1479979834 Image: Shutterstock.

James Dyke, University of Southampton

Will President Trump really slash funding of NASA’s “politicised” climate change science?

It certainly has been politicised, but not by the scientists conducting it. Blame instead the fossil fuel industry-funded lobby groups and politicians that have for more than a generation tried using doubt, obfuscation or straightforward untruths to argue that humans are not in fact causing significant changes to the climate.

That is what must irk Trump’s team of sceptics. NASA’s organisations such as the Goddard Institute for Space Studies and Jet Propulsion Laboratory have made seminal contributions to our understanding of how humans are changing the Earth’s climate. All funded by the US taxpayer.

De-funding NASA’s climate change science is effectively sticking your fingers in your ears and whistling Dixie. The Earth’s climate is indifferent to politics and will continue to respond to human emissions of greenhouse gases. All that would happen is US leadership in this area would end, with the risk that not just America but humanity would be the loser.

Specifically, here are five reasons why de-funding (aka wilfully destroying) NASA’s climate change research would be colossally stupid.

 

1. NASA’s satellites are our eyes on our world

NASA currently operates more than a dozen satellites that orbit the Earth and remotely sense ocean, land and atmospheric conditions. Its research encompasses solar activity, sea level rise, the temperature of the atmosphere and the oceans, the ozone layer, air pollution, and changes in sea and land ice.

All of this is directly relevant to climate change, but also represents vital research on these different components of the Earth system itself. Billions of dollars have been sunk into these programs which produce data that is used by an international community of scientists studying many different aspects of the Earth.

 

NASA Earth observation satellites.
NASA

2. Climate science is a key part of NASA’s mission

Okay, we can’t turn all these satellites off, but we can stop the Administration using its data to progress climate change science. NASA was created with the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958 with a remit to develop technology for “space observations” but not Earth science. That was the job of other federal agencies.

But the model of cross-agency research failed during the 1970s due to a lack of funding. Budgets were cut and NASA ended up conducting some of the science that was made possible by the data it was collecting. Moreover, it was told to put more emphasis on research towards “national needs” such as energy efficiency, pollution, ozone depletion and yes, climate change. As such, Earth and climate change science is one of the central remits of the agency which has become a global leader in it.

 

3. NASA attracts the best of the best

NASA is world famous, largely because of programs such as Apollo which put humans on the Moon. But its fame extends well beyond those interested in space flight. NASA attracts some of the world’s best and brightest Earth and climate change scientists because its operations offer unparalleled breadth and scale of research. And saying “I work for NASA” is still pretty cool.

De-funding climate change science would mean putting many scientists – some of whom are just starting their careers – out of work. Some would be happily gobbled up by other agencies in other countries, in fact I’m sure overtures to some staff are already in the post. This would be America’s loss.

 

4. NASA has transformed climate change communication

A visit to climate.nasa.gov will immediately show how effective NASA’s communication of Earth science has become. Climate science is complex. NASA along with other US agencies such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration produce unparalleled visualisations of climate change. These are used by other agencies and communicators around the world and further increases the profile and reputation of NASA and the US as leaders in Earth science.

 

 

5. Climate science can be NASA’s next great legacy

It’s easy to get misty-eyed about some of NASA’s operations. Apollo was a staggering achievement. But while US astronauts visited the Moon “for all mankind” we should remember that the space race was driven by the cold war and rivalry with the USSR. The fact humans have never returned to the Moon should tell us that there isn’t much to be gained from such fleeting visits.

In terms of legacy, I think Eugene Cernan, the commander of Apollo 17 and so the last human to walk on the moon, summed it up best: “We went to explore the Moon, and in fact discovered the Earth”. It was one of the crew of Apollo 17 that took photograph AS17-148-22727 as they left Earth orbit on their way to the Moon on the December 7, 1972. This photograph is now known as the Blue Marble and has become one of the most reproduced images in all of human history.

 

The Blue Marble photograph.

There have been profound changes to the Earth since that photograph was taken. There are nearly twice as many humans living on it. The number of wild animals has halved. Concentrations of CO₂ in the atmosphere are higher than they have been for many thousands of years. And yes, the Earth’s surface and oceans are warmer, glaciers are melting and sea levels rising.

The Blue Marble, like all of NASA’s images, was released to the public domain. Free to be used by anyone. The science that NASA conducts on climate change is similarly shared across the world. Its Earth and climate science represents the best of not just the US, but humanity. We need it now, more than ever.

The Conversation

James Dyke, Lecturer in Sustainability Science, University of Southampton

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

December 1, 2016 / by / in , , , , , , , , ,
What will the world actually look like at 1.5°C of warming?

1479392539 Image: Shutterstock.

 

 

Richard Betts, University of Exeter

The high ambition of the Paris Agreement, to limit global warming to “well below 2°C”, was driven by concern over long-term sea level rise. A warmer climate inevitably means melting ice – you don’t need a computer model to predict this, it is simple common sense.

As temperatures rise, sooner or later much of the world’s glaciers will become water, which will end up in the ocean. With enough warming, ice sheets could also begin to melt irreversibly. Also, water expands as it warms. Although the full impact will take a long time – centuries or more – the implications of even only 2°C warming for low-lying coastal areas and island states are profound. This is why, in Paris, the world agreed to “pursue efforts” to go further, and limit warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

“Pre-industrial” is not always well-defined, but is often taken as 1850-1900 since that is when accurate measurements became widespread enough to estimate global temperature change. By the 1980s, when scientists first warned about the risks of climate change, the world had already warmed by around 0.4°C. Things have accelerated since, and while year-to-year changes show downs as well as ups, the general ongoing trend is upwards. Latest data from the Met Office shows 2016 is expected to be 1.2°C above pre-industrial levels – the hottest year ever recorded.

So given this, what will a world above 1.5°C look like?

 

Not much different … at first

Depending on climate sensitivity and natural variability, we could conceivably see the first year above 1.5°C as early as the late 2020s – but it is more likely to be later. In any case, the first year above 1.5°C above pre-industrial temperatures will not represent what a world that warm looks like in the longer term.

During that year we’d expect some extreme weather events somewhere in the world, as happens every year. Some of these heatwaves, heavy downpours or droughts may well have become more likely as part of the changing climate. Others, however, may not have changed in likelihood. Teasing out the signal of climate change from the noise of natural variability is hard work.

 


It’s hard to say how much climate change is responsible for any individual storm.
Zacarias Pereira da Mata / shutterstock 

But there will be some places which do not yet see major impacts in that first year, that nevertheless will have become more likely to be affected. The “loaded dice” analogy is rather clichéd, but nevertheless useful – even a pair of loaded dice will not roll a double six every time, just more often than normal dice. So while the chances of an extreme heatwave, for instance, may have increased by the time we exceed 1.5°C, it may not necessarily occur in that year.

Furthermore, some impacts such as sea level rise or species extinctions will lag behind the change in climate, simply because the processes involved can be slow. It takes decades or more to melt glaciers, so the input of extra water to the oceans will take time.

None of this should lull us into a false sense of security, however. While rising seas or biodiversity losses may not be obvious in the first year above 1.5°C, some of these changes will probably be already locked in and unavoidable.

 

Beyond global warming

The impacts of increased carbon dioxide do not just come from its effects as a greenhouse gas. It also affects plant growth directly by enhancing photosynthesis (“CO₂ fertilisation”), and makes the sea less alkaline and more acidic. “Ocean acidification” is unhealthy for organisms which make calcium in their bodies, like corals and some forms of plankton. All other things being equal, CO₂ fertilisation could be viewed to some extent as “good news” as it could help improve crop yields, but even so, the implications for biodiversity may not all be positive – research has already shown that higher CO₂ benefits faster-growing species such as lianas, which compete with trees, so the makeup of ecosystems can change.

 


Increased carbon dioxide favours lianas (woody vines) more than trees.
Stephane Bidouze / shutterstock 

The extent to which a 1.5°C world will see these other impacts depends on the still-uncertain level of “climate sensitivity” – how much warming occurs for a given increase in carbon dioxide. Higher sensitivity would mean even a small rise in CO₂ would lead to 1.5°C, so fertilisation and acidification would be relatively less important, and vice versa.

 

Impacts of staying at 1.5°C

There is a huge debate about whether limiting warming to 1.5°C is even possible or not. But even if it is, limiting global warming will itself have consequences. I’m not talking here about potential economic impacts (whether positive or negative). I’m talking about impacts on the kind of thing we are trying to protect by minimising climate change itself, things like biodiversity and food production.

In scenarios that limit warming at 1.5°C, net CO₂ emissions would have to become negative well before the end of the century. This would mean not only stopping the emission of CO₂ into the atmosphere, but also taking huge quantities of it out. Large areas of new forest and/or large plantations of bioenergy crops would have to be grown, coupled with carbon capture and storage. This will require land. But we also need land for food, and also value biodiverse wilderness. There is only so much land to go round, so difficult choices may be ahead.

So while the Paris Agreement ramped up the ambition and committed the world to trying to limit warming to 1.5°C, we should remember that there is much more than a single number that is important here.

It would be naive to look at the climate in the first 1.5°C year and say “Okay, that’s not so bad, maybe we can relax and let the warming continue”. It’s vital to remember that at any given level of global warming, we have not yet seen the full impacts of it. But nor have we seen the impacts of holding back warming at low levels. One way or another, ultimately the world is going to be a very different place.

The Conversation

Richard Betts, Chair in Climate Impacts, University of Exeter

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

December 1, 2016 / by / in , , , , , , , , ,
We can cut emissions in half by 2040 if we build smarter cities

A man works on a construction site of a residential building in Mumbai, India, October 31, 2016. REUTERS/Shailesh Andrade - RTX2R7EU

 

Shobhakar Dhakal, Asian Institute of Technology

As a planet, we have some serious climate targets to meet in the coming years. The Paris Agreement, signed by 192 countries, set an aspirational goal of limiting global warming to 1.5ᵒC. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, set to be achieved by 2030, commit the world to “take urgent action” on climate change.

All this will require ridding our economies of carbon. If we’re to do so, we need to completely rethink our cities.

The UN’s peak climate body showed in its most recent report that cities are crucial to preventing drastic climate change. Already, cities contribute 71% to 76% to energy-related carbon emissions.

In the Global South, energy consumption and emissions in urban areas tend to be way higher than those in rural areas. Future population growth is expected to take place almost entirely in cities and smaller urban settlements. Unfortunately, those smaller centres generally lack the capacity to properly address climate change.

China’s “New-type Urbanisation Policy” aims to raise its city populations from 54.2% in 2012 to 60% in 2020. This will mean building large urban infrastructure projects, and investing trillions of dollars into new developments. Meanwhile, India’s sheer volume of urbanisation and infrastructure needs are phenomenal.

 

Infrastructure is booming in China.
Jason Lee/Reuters
 

The problem with infrastructure

Infrastructure contributes to greenhouse gas emissions in two ways: through construction (for example, the energy footprints of cement, steel and aluminium used in the building process) and through the things that go on to use that infrastructure (for example, cars or trains using new roads or tracks).

In a recent study, my colleagues and I have shown that the design of today’s transportation systems, buildings and other infrastructure will largely determine tomorrow’s CO2 emissions.

But by building climate-smart urban infrastructure and buildings, we could cut future emissions in half from 2040 onwards. We could reduce future emissions by ten gigatonnes per year: almost the same quantity currently being emitted by the United States, Europe and India put together (11 gigatonnes).

We assessed cities’ potential to reduce emissions on the basis of three criteria: the emissions savings following upgrades to existing infrastructure; emissions savings from using new, energy-efficient infrastructure; and the additional emissions generated by construction.

In established cities, we found that considerable progress can be made through refurbishment of existing infrastructure. But the highest potential is offered by construction of new, energy-efficient projects from the beginning.

The annual reductions that could be achieved by 2040 by using new infrastructure is three to four times higher than that of upgrading existing roads or buildings.

With this in mind, governments worldwide must guide cities towards low-carbon infrastructure development and green investment.

 

Urbanisation is about more than megacities

Significant opportunities exist to promote high-density living, build urban set-ups that mix residential, work and leisure in single spaces, and create better connectivity within and between cities. The existing window of opportunity to act is narrowing over time, as the Global South develops rapidly. It should not be missed.

 

Zero-emissions transport will be essential to achieve our climate goals.
Edgard Garrido/Reuters

Besides global megacities such as Shanghai and Mumbai, smaller cities must also be a focus for lowering emissions. Studies have shown a paradox for these places: the capacity for governance and finance are lower in the smaller cities, despite the fact that the majority of future urban populations will grow there, and they will expand quicker than their larger cousins.

We must give up on our obsession with megacities. Without building proper capacity in mid- and small-sized cities to address climate solutions, we cannot meet our climate goals.

Perhaps most important is raising the level of ambition in the existing climate policies in cities of all sizes, making them far-reaching, inclusive and robust. Despite the rhetoric, the scale of real change on ground from existing cities climate actions are unproven and unclear.

Existing cities’ climate mitigation plans and policies, such as in Tokyo, London, Bangkok, and activities promoted by networks such as ICLEI, C40, Covenant of Mayors for Energy and Environment are a good start; they must be appreciated but further strengthened.

But, to further support these good ideas, the world urgently needs support measures for urban mitigation from local to global levels together with a tracking framework and agreed set of indicators for measuring the extent of progress towards low-carbon future.

Only if we start with cities, big and small, will we manage to limit warming to 1.5°C.

The Conversation

Shobhakar Dhakal, Associate Professor, Asian Institute of Technology

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

December 1, 2016 / by / in , , , , , ,
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