All posts by luciawhalen2020

Chicago area recycling industry struggles after China bans waste imports

By Lucia Whalen
Medill Reports

Before China halted the importation of plastic and other recycling waste from around the globe, the majority of Americans were living in a fool’s paradise. For most people, recycling ended at dumping paper, plastic and glass in a large bin – blue in Chicago. From there, most people paid little attention where the stuff landed.

That all changed in 2018, when China implemented its “National Sword Policy,” implementing strict restrictions on waste and metal imports coming in from other countries. China’s plastic imports are now down by 99%, with paper imports down by a third. Suddenly recycling is front and center in the news, and the public is more aware of the fact that their recycling was, in fact, being exported to another country, and that suddenly the world was facing a crisis in waste.

“China, the biggest buyer of scrap material from the U.S., stopped buying and the tariffs came in.  You have the biggest buyer of scrap material saying, ‘We’re done. We don’t have enough mills to process the materials we have now,'” said Joshua Connell, a managing partner at Lakeshore Recycling Systems. “China was the biggest buyer of our plastic commodities and now they’re not buying from us anymore. We have too much supply and not enough demand in North America for that supply,” Continue reading

Predicting climate change depends on supercomputers and Germany has Europe’s only supercomputer dedicated to climate

By Lucia Whalen
Medill Reports

Hamburg is home to one of the fastest-thinking supercomputers in the world at the German Climate Computing Center (DKRZ). The supercomputer whizzes through global tsunamis of climate data to develop climate models used in landmark blueprints for the future, including the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report. The German Climate Computing Center is the only high-performance computing center dedicated to climate research in Europe.

Supercomputers are responsible for some of the pioneering breakthroughs in modern science. From biology and space physics to projecting the effects of global climate change, supercomputers are necessary for quantifying the gargantuan mathematical projections and scientific problems assembled by scientists to create models and analyze data. Supercomputers have become an essential tool for climate forecasting because the large quantity of data required to create climate simulations would take years to calculate on a normal computer.

The Misra supercomputer system at the German Climate Computing Center was ranked 80th on the TOP500 list of supercomputers in the world. (DKRZ)

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Local guitar pick vending machine business donates a share of profits to Planned Parenthood

By Lucia Whalen
Medill Reports

Chicago music venues Gallery Cabaret, The Empty Bottle and Cole’s Bar have new additions to their décor: adult vending machines that, for the price of four quarters, deliver a small plastic container that holds a one-of-a-kind guitar pick and a condom.

The business, Glitter Picks, is owned by local Chicago musician-turned entrepreneur Alen Khan, and 10% of all proceeds are donated to Planned Parenthood. Rock and roll meets safe sex.

According to Khan, the idea for Glitter Picks came to him while in search of a guitar pick at the Gallery Cabaret music open mic in early 2019.

“I went up there to play and no one had a pick, and I’m notorious for never having a pick. So I said, ‘Hey, why don’t places like this have a machine that just has picks?’ And that’s kind of how it started,” Khan explained.

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Lake surfers ride the high, frigid waves at Indiana Beach

By Lucia Whalen
Medill Reports

Fall marks the time of year when most people in the Chicago pack away their swimsuits and say goodbye to the beach.

But Lake Michigan surfers aren’t most people.

For surfers who live for the challenges of the lake, fall marks the time of year when waves get bigger and groups clad in wetsuits congregate at various beaches around Chicago and Northwest Indiana to ride the waves in frigid water. As the fall transitions into winter and the air becomes colder than the lake, the wind creates bigger waves due to increased air pressure as the wind blows across the surface of the water. That’s why more lake surfers can be seen out in the fall and winter than in the summer.

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New NOAA weather prediction system improves severe storm forecasts

By Lucia Whalen
Medill Reports

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration updated its weather prediction system this June with a climate model that will include data from updated oceanic science, allowing for more accurate climate change-related severe weather forecasting.

The new weather model, called Finite-Volume Cube-Sphere dynamical core (FV3), also provides faster forecasts and can assess storm movement at the county level as weather extremes accelerate in an increasingly unstable climate.

Joellen Russell, professor of biogeochemical dynamics at the University of Arizona at Tucson, worked on the previous model and views the upgraded climate model as critical to understanding how extreme weather will manifest in floods, hurricanes and other assaults as a result of climate change.

Russell calls this new weather collection system a revolution in oceanography and climate science. “When people say “Oh, I don’t believe those climate models,” I say, “Did you like your forecast? Thank an oceanographer,” Russell said. Her research focuses on the role of the oceans on climate.

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Meet the next generation in climate science: Chicago teen studies glaciers in Mongolia

By Lucia Whalen
Medill Reports

The summer before college, most 18-year-olds work summer jobs, attend music festivals and spend their final days at home with friends before heading off to their first year of independence.

Patricia Joyner is not most 18-year-olds. Over the summer, Joyner, a recent graduate of Gary Comer College Prep high school in Chicago and an incoming college freshman, joined a team of University of Maine scientists to track the retreat of the glaciers and how those past changes can give clues to global climate triggers and what human-made global warming might mean for us now.

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