Dimming sunlight to slow global warming may harm crop yields, says study

This photograph taken on July 25, 2018, shows cyclists riding past a fountain in a 'green corridor' around Garibaldi Street in Lyon, which have been made to fight against global warming. Scientists on Wednesday said similar remedies are needed because spraying a veil of sun-dimming chemicals high above the Earth to slow global warming could harm crop yields in an unintended side-effect of turning down the heat. (AFP / JEAN-PHILIPPE KSIAZEK)
Updated 08 August 2018
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Dimming sunlight to slow global warming may harm crop yields, says study

  • Climate geoengineering may harm yields even as turns down heat
  • Man-made chemical sunshade may have little net benefit for crops

OSLO, Norway: Spraying a veil of sun-dimming chemicals high above the Earth to slow global warming could harm crop yields in an unintended side-effect of turning down the heat, US scientists said on Wednesday.
Some researchers say a man-made sunshade, perhaps sulfur dioxide released high in the atmosphere, could limit rising temperatures and the after-effects like the wildfires that have ravaged California and Greece this summer.
But a US scientific team found that big volcanic eruptions, such as Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines in 1991 and El Chichon in Mexico in 1982, cut yields of wheat, soy and rice after spewing sun-blocking ash that blew around the world.
Pinatubo’s eruption, for instance, reduced sunlight by 2.5 percent, cooled the planet by about 0.5 degree Celsius (0.9 Fahrenheit), and disrupted rainfall patterns, they wrote in the journal Nature.
And the study said any future “geoengineering” modelled on volcanoes would have scant benefits for crops, which need light to grow. Less sunlight would reduce yields even though the plants would do better in less sweltering temperatures.
“If we think of geoengineering as an experimental surgery, our findings suggest that the side effects of the treatment are just as bad as the original disease,” author Jonathan Proctor of the University of California, Berkeley, told a telephone news conference.
Co-author Solomon Hsiang, also of the University of California, Berkeley, said the findings were a surprise after some previous research suggested plants might grow better with hazier sunshine, especially crops in the shade.
The new study “doesn’t necessarily mean we should simply rule out these (geoengineering) technologies,” he said. Governments could encourage farmers to grow more shade-tolerant crops if geoengineering were ever deployed.
And interest in geoengineering as a possible climate short-cut may rise because governments are not on track to limit global warming to goals set in the 2015 Paris climate agreement to avert floods, heat waves and rising seas.
A study on Monday said the world is at risk of entering an irreversible “hothouse” state with far higher temperatures than now, even if governments meet goals set in Paris.
But many are skeptical of geoengineering.
Janos Pasztor, head of the Carnegie Climate Geoengineering Governance Initiative, welcomed Wednesday’s study as a step to understand the risks and benefits of geoengineering, which could affect everything from human health to life in the oceans.
“We need to move away from the stigma about not even being able to talk about any geoengineering options,” he told Reuters.
So far, most geoengineering experiments have been in laboratories. In the United States, Harvard University’s Solar Geoengineering Research Programme plans a tiny outdoor experiment next year in the upper atmosphere. (Reporting By Alister Doyle, editing by Larry King)


Amazon aims to make Alexa assistant bigger part of users’ lives

An overhauled Echo Dot smart speaker boasts much-improved sound and design while keeping the $50 price tag of the original. (Getty Images/AFP)
Updated 37 min 46 sec ago
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Amazon aims to make Alexa assistant bigger part of users’ lives

  • Alexa has gotten smarter, more conversational and even intuitive during the past year as teams at Amazon work hard on getting the digital assistant to better understand people
  • Alexa uses artificial intelligence to identify patterns in the lives of users, factoring in habits, weather, time of year and more

SEATTLE: From the kitchen to the car, Amazon on Thursday sought to make its Alexa digital assistant and online services a bigger part of people’s lives with an array of new products and partnerships.
Updates to the Internet giant’s Alexa-infused Echo smart speakers will allow them to tend to microwave cooking and even have “hunches” regarding what users may want or have forgotten.
When Alexa is told “corn on the cob,” a digital Echo speaker starts an AmazonBasics microwave oven in a faux home demonstration room, setting the preferred time and voicing what it is doing.
But when asked to add 30 seconds, Alexa paused and then started to play songs by the band “Thirty Seconds to Mars.”
Such misunderstandings are routine enough with smart speakers that they have become fodder for humor, and even cropped up while Amazon devices and services senior vice president David Limp showed off new devices in a nearby building a short time earlier.
Alexa has gotten smarter, more conversational and even intuitive during the past year as teams at Amazon work hard on getting the digital assistant to better understand people, according to Limp.Alexa is even developing a personality, complete with a favorite pet or beer.
It has also learned to understand whispers, responding in equally hushed tones in a feature to be rolled out in the coming weeks.
Amazon on Thursday teased a coming feature called Alexa Hunches that is designed to infuse the digital assistant with intuition. For example, when a user bids Alexa a good night, it might respond by mentioning they forgot to lock a door.
Alexa uses artificial intelligence to identify patterns in the lives of users, factoring in habits, weather, time of year and more. To know what is happening with other smart devices in a home, the Echo speaker needs to be connected to them.
Amazon recently passed the 20,000 mark for smart home devices made by the Seattle-based company or partners.
“We are really at a tipping point for the smart home,” Limp said while unveiling a cornucopia of new devices.
An overhauled Echo Dot smart speaker boasts much-improved sound and design while keeping the $50 price tag of the original.
Amazon added Echo equivalents of stereo components for home sound systems, along with improvements to its online music service, with partners including Spotify, Pandora, and Deezer.
Limp unveiled a “frustration free setup” platform intended to grow into a framework that any smart device maker can use to make getting gadgets to talk to Alexa as easy as plugging them into an outlet.
“That is not going to happen overnight,” Limp said. “As we imagine a future that has thousands of these devices in your home, this is going to become absolutely essential.”
And, of course, there was the $60 microwave, which Limp contended was a strong test because of how much microwaves interfere with wireless connectivity used by devices to communicate.
A freshly announced Alexa Guard service synchronizes with Echo speakers in the home and security cameras from Amazon-owned smart doorbell maker Ring.
When Echo speakers are set to guard mode, they listen for breaking glass or the sound of alarms from smoke or carbon dioxide detectors and send alerts to smartphones or even security companies.
Ring cameras can also be connected to Echo devices with screens, letting people see who has come calling, demonstrations showed.
A new Echo Show device boasted twice the screen display area as its predecessor, and Fire TV Recast that acts as a digital recorder for traditional television broadcasts.
Not satisfied with being built into new cars, Alexa will be able to work in older models with an Echo Auto device that can be affixed to dashboards and reach the Internet through smartphones.
“Amazon launched today what I believe is the industry’s largest assortment of home automation products and added meaningful improvements to its services,” said analyst Patrick Moorhead of Moor Insights and Strategy.
“The company once again separated itself again in the smart home space from both Google and Apple by adding new devices and capabilities.”