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One foil for this sense of helplessness that has made appearances in policy circles throughout the years is personal carbon allowances, or PCAs. Back in the early 2000s, British policymakers considered a “credit card” of sorts that would allow UK residents to monitor their carbon usages—and trade for more or less carbon credits if need be. This already exists on a big scale for some economies, countries, and industries through policies called cap-and-trade. The idea was thought to be ahead of its time by the UK government and was eventually booted, but now, with years of technology improvements, researchers including Ekins, think now is the time to rev up the PCA idea again—and detailed their findings in Nature Sustainability earlier this month. 

[Related: What companies really mean when they say they’re ‘net-zero’.]

“Life changed in ways we didn’t think possible just a year before the pandemic,” says lead author Francesco Fuso-Nerini, director of the Climate Action Centre at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm. We all had to learn quickly how to track and manage our health, be it through apps, contact tracing, and rapid communication, he says. Taking that knowledge, and the responsibility of our health, could be useful in amping up our response to climate change. “Maybe those changes resulted in people realizing that in global crises, in these times, there are some shared responsibilities.” 

Understanding PCAs

A simple way to think about PCAs is to think about how you and siblings might have traded chores around the house when you were kids. Say you and your sibling both got $5 for baseline chores. If you wanted an extra buck to go to the movies, the easiest way to get that done without prodding your parents for more cash was to pick up a few of your sibling’s chores to try for that sweet, sweet bonus dollar. 

Carbon allowances work pretty much the same way. Everyone starts with a baseline amount. Right now, that could cover how much electricity you use at home, travel budgets, and the impact of your food—with more investigation into other products in the future, Fuso-Nerini says. But if you want to take a long flight or have a big fancy car or something else that pushes out a lot of carbon, you may need more credits than you initially get. 

Trading comes in when your allotment doesn’t exactly fit your lifestyle. If a household isn’t using their full allotment, they can sell or trade to those who need more credits. Typically, people with lower incomes have lower carbon footprints than their high-income counterparts, says Fuso-Nerini, so these systems could provide a boost for families who might need it. 

Even simply knowing what your carbon footprint is, and how you stack up next to your neighbors, can motivate folks to rethink their own footprints. “PCAs are designed to use three interlinked mechanisms to affect behavioral change: economic, cognitive, and social,” Ekins says. 

The impact on big business 

Fuso-Nerini notes that PCAs aren’t an attempt to put all of the responsibility back on consumers. Existing cap-and-trade measures work to make low-carbon companies and industries more affordable, putting the pressure on big emitters to pay up or figure out a greener plan. “Personal carbon allowances are definitely not about shifting the responsibility to individuals,” he says. “There’s a lot of responsibility on those big companies themselves.”

[Related: What is ‘degrowth’ and how can it fight climate change?]

To return to our childhood allowance analogy: If the movie theater was hacking up prices to $10 a ticket, and we were all still just getting $5 a week, there’s a decent chance we’d be looking for a more affordable way to spend our Friday night. Better yet, the movie theater would have to rethink its prices to keep people coming. In the same way, if businesses want people to keep buying their products and services, but we all are beholden to carbon allowances, it’s on them to find ways to keep selling stuff for a lighter carbon footprint. 

While there aren’t any national policies in place, PCAs have been utilized in communities across the globe, notably Lahti, Finland, which was recently voted the European Green Capital for 2023. The city’s 120,000 residents had the option to opt-in to a PCA program to monitor and trade allowances for carbon emissions linked to travel and mobility. According to the city, 3,000 people downloaded the app, and one in three users declared reduced motility emissions.   

Now, Fuso-Nerini says it’s time to reconsider upping these policies to a bigger level, and consider how to help people who are dependent on fossil fuel-intensive industries adjust. At the end of the day, industries and countries still hold the vast majority of responsibility for the climate situation we’re in today, but doing what we can to nudge big emitters in the right direction is a good place for individuals to start.

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The Climate Crisis: Measuring Boston’S Carbon Metabolism

The Climate Crisis: Measuring Boston’s Metabolism CAS researchers track the city’s carbon digestion

In the video above, Lucy Hutyra, a CAS assistant professor, and Nathan Phillips, a CAS professor, discuss how their Boston ULTRA-Ex (Urban Long-Term Research Area Exploratory) project tracks the city’s carbon digestion.

Imagine looking at Boston and its people as one living, breathing organism. The city consumes energy in the form of resources and services, processes them into gross domestic product, and produces waste. Some of that waste, the carbon dioxide spewed from industrial smokestacks, vehicle exhaust systems, buildings, and even people, contributes to global warming.

Now imagine tracing that carbon through space and time. That’s what Lucy Hutyra, Nathan Phillips, and a team of researchers plan to do, in an effort to understand the origin of Boston’s carbon emissions, how carbon is stored, and what the net balance of these activities means for the future of the city—and the planet.

Carbon is “like the life blood that’s flowing through the system,” says Phillips, a College of Arts & Sciences professor of earth and environment. “Understanding cities and their overall carbon emissions is absolutely crucial to understanding the global carbon cycle and global climate change.”

“If we are going to have a prayer of actually reducing greenhouse gas emissions, meeting commitments, and creating these international treaties,” says Hutyra, a CAS assistant professor of earth and environment, “we need to know where carbon dioxide is coming from within cities.”

Hutyra says nearly 70 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions come from cities, which cover only 3 percent of the Earth’s surface but are home to more than half of the world population. That would seem to make cities the obvious place for ecologists to study global warming, but until recently, few scientists were studying urban areas as unique ecosystems.

In 2009, the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Forest Service announced a two-year grant that would support research in what they call an Urban Long-Term Research Area (ULTRA). Hutyra and Phillips applied as co–principal investigators and were among a select group of scientists who landed a $300,000 exploratory grant for Boston. Their project, aptly called the ULTRA-Ex: Metabolism of Boston, has since expanded to include more than 50 scientists from BU, Harvard, MIT, Northeastern, and UMass. Funders now include NSF, NASA, the Environmental Defense Fund, and IBM Smarter Cities.

ULTRA collaborators measure such things as carbon emissions, carbon storage, land cover change, and how growing seasons are extended by urban heat islands—metropolitan areas that are warmer than their surroundings because of human activities—all of which should yield a picture of how the city consumes, digests, and spits out carbon. While conclusions are still far away, the team has already had a variety of aha moments.

One of the first involves Phillips’ measurement of atmospheric carbon. He and other researchers established six observation towers in and around Boston—at BU, the Prudential building, UMass-Boston, Nahant, Worcester, and the Harvard Forest in Petersham, Mass.—and rigged each with a Picarro instrument, which records carbon dioxide levels multiple times a day.

Phillips found that the levels reflect human activity and the seasons, registering higher during rush hour traffic and peak winter heating months and lower during weekends and summer vacation times. Not surprisingly, readings in rural sites like Harvard Forest are consistently lower than those at urban sites like BU. “We’re coupled in this kind of dance with carbon,” he says. “What becomes clear is that you can’t think of the human side of emissions and the natural systems in isolation from each other.”

Atmospheric carbon levels can easily be measured, but their sources are harder to identify. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports that nearly 30 percent of carbon dioxide emissions come from vehicles. Yet Hutyra says there is no reliable method for accurately pinpointing these emissions over space and time—information that’s crucial if governments hope to monitor and control emissions at the level of cities, states, or nations over confined periods. As noted in a paper written by one of Hutyra’s graduate students, Conor Gately (GRS’14), and published in January in Environmental Science & Technology, accepted models used to estimate emissions vary by up to 30 percent.

“Understanding cities and their overall carbon emissions is absolutely crucial to understanding the global carbon cycle and global climate change.”

Gately wanted a better model. As the project manager of the IBM Smarter Cities challenge in Boston, he worked with IBM engineers and city officials from the Department of Innovation and Technology (DoIT) to funnel the city’s existing traffic and congestion data through a public website, to be unveiled this summer. He hopes the new database will spark innovation, inform public policy, and support research that improves emissions estimates—and soon, given that Boston Mayor Thomas Menino (Hon.’01) has set a goal of reducing the city’s total greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent by 2023.

Hutyra’s contribution to ULTRA overlaps with her study, funded by an NSF CAREER Award, of how differently plants behave in urban and rural environments. Boston is a relatively green city, with about 28 percent canopy cover, she says. That’s important in terms of global warming because trees remove carbon dioxide from the air through photosynthesis and provide shade, which reduces the urban heat island effect and air conditioning’s energy demand.

Since 2010, Hutyra, postdoctoral associate Steve Raciti, and graduate assistants have gone into the urban forest (which could mean two elms along the side of a building) to measure tree circumferences and take soil samples to determine their chemical composition. They published their findings last year in the journal Ecological Applications, writing that carbon concentrations in urban vegetation and soil were higher in a city’s forested regions than in residential and other developed land areas. Hutyra thinks urban trees are adapting—and possibly growing faster—in this carbon dioxide–rich environment.

Soil covered by pavement or concrete doesn’t fare as well. Raciti, Hutyra, and Adrien Finzi, a CAS professor of biology, wrote last year in Environmental Pollution that soil under impervious surfaces in New York City contained 66 percent less carbon and 95 percent less nitrogen than that found in exposed soil. Perhaps most disturbing, says Hutyra, is that “we don’t know where it went. The soil was also for many purposes dead. There was no microbial activity remaining.”

Knowing how much carbon is stored in trees and the soil will help determine the amount released into the atmosphere through land development or deforestation. That’s where remote sensing, the science of obtaining information about objects or areas from a distance, typically from aircraft or satellites, comes in handy. ULTRA collaborators Mark Friedl, a CAS professor of earth and environment, and Curtis Woodcock, a CAS professor and chair of earth and environment, are using satellite imagery to reconstruct how land cover has changed around Boston since the 1980s. Development alters the Earth’s surface so that pavement, sidewalks, and buildings replace existing vegetation. Satellite imagery reflects such changes, and once stitched together, can provide a time-lapse map of Boston and the metropolitan area.

Deforestation results in “a net release of carbon to the atmosphere,” Friedl says. “Depending on the age and size of trees in a forest, it could be substantial.” The reverse is true as forests flourish in previously developed spaces.

Friedl also uses remote sensing to track seasonal change. As spring arrives earlier and fall later, plants have a longer growing season and absorb more carbon dioxide. This change is visible through satellite imagery, which Friedl double-checks through a system of cameras that take daily pictures of places like Storrow Drive and Boston Common. In 2010, he was stunned to see how big an effect the urban heat island, and resulting longer growing season, had on city trees. Those in Boston Common leafed out nearly three weeks before those in Harvard Forest—just 70 miles west.

BU’s ULTRA research is complex and diverse, but “if you put this all together, you can start to get the metabolism” of Boston, says Hutyra.

“This would be an ivory tower exercise,” Phillips says, “if it didn’t have an applied goal. And that applied goal is to increase sustainability in Boston and in other cities as well.”

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Be An Ally: How To Help Fight Anti

Be an Ally: How to Help Fight Anti-Asian Racism and Xenophobia

Racism

Be an Ally: How to Help Fight Anti-Asian Racism and Xenophobia

⚠️ Content Warning: This article contains material that may be traumatizing to some readers.

Amid a national reckoning on race, racially motivated violence against Asians and Pacific Islanders has been on the rise since the start of the pandemic. The use of anti-China rhetoric and growing Sinophobia across the country have stirred up discrimination against the Asian American and Pacific Islander community, also known as AAPI. As an international student from China, though I haven’t confronted any direct attack or discrimination on campus, the troubling reality prompted me to seek out allyship resources to help fight racism and xenophobia.

Build awareness through education and conversation

The hate-fueled attacks and harassments targeting the AAPI community are appalling. Unfortunately, discrimination against Asian Americans isn’t new. To be an ally for racial justice, the first step is to educate ourselves on the history of anti-Asian racism and understand how stereotypes, racial bias, and xenophobia have been impacting the well-being of the AAPI community. 

The Howard Thurman Center (HTC) for Common Ground provides a platform and opportunities for Terriers to start conversations on race and equity. Collaborating with BU student groups, HTC has developed a resource guide and hosted several programs designed to support Asian students at BU. If you want to suggest topics for future Coffee & Conversation events, don’t hesitate to bring them to HTC staff. Your voice helps shape the community discussion on antiracism. Knowing race is a delicate subject, you might also want to check the Conflict, Conversation and Community Workshops cosponsored by the Dean of Students office and the Wellbeing Project, to learn how to safely bring up hard conversation and problems. 

Many student groups on campus have launched their own initiatives and social campaigns to raise public awareness about anti-Asian violence. Recently, BU’s Chinese Students Association (CSA) has put up a list of educational resources on Instagram in response to the “rising anti-Chinese Sentiment.” I’d highly recommend checking out the two-part interview with Professor Hyeouk Chris Hahm and Professor Christina Lee, both teaching at the School of Social Work, on how to combat and overcome anti-Asian sentiment in America. 

Find your people and keep them close

Like ASU, many student organizations strive to make BU a better place in supporting racial justice and equity. These are some of the student organizations you should look into for engaging in healthy race conversations:

You can find more student organizations on the Student Activities’ website and learn about their initiatives on racial justice. I bet you’ll find the wholehearted support and allyship you need on campus.  

Cope with stress in difficult times

Being exposed to racism and xenophobia can impact one’s well-being. It’s important to continue to practice self-care in difficult times, and seek help when you feel depressed, unsafe, or overwhelmed. BU’s Behavioral Medicine offers confidential individual counseling services to help students cope with anxiety and maintain their mental wellness. Students will be asked to fill out a survey before visiting. All the information they share during the counseling sessions will be kept confidential. 

Behavioral Medicine also offers a list of tips on how to help someone in distress, and an updated guide on how to cope with sociopolitical stress. You might want to take a look at these resources to better support your AAPI friends during this challenging time.

Take action and be vocal

Photo courtesy of Graeme Sloan/Sipa USA/AP

If you see or encounter any racial discrimination or hate crimes on campus, please report to the Boston University Police Department by calling 617-353-2121. If you become a victim of a hate crime off campus in Boston, you should immediately contact your local police department. Victims of hate crimes can file a civil rights complaint with the state’s Attorney General’s Office or call the office’s special hotline at 1-800-994-3228.

In addition to joining the nationwide conversation and reporting on racism and hate crimes, Terriers can also leverage programs like UROP and Innovate@BU to tackle racism through research and innovation. Innovate@BU has created a list of resources for building equitable ideas.

It’s time for us to explore new approaches to help build racial equity.

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How Businesses Can Trade Futures To Fight Inflation

When to invest in futures

Businesses that produce raw materials (such as mining companies or agricultural businesses) and those that rely on them to operate (like manufacturers) are most likely to benefit from investing in futures. 

To know whether futures could serve your company, consider how much you rely on specific raw goods. Futures contracts represent a transaction for a particular commodity. For example, one RBOB gasoline futures contract is worth 42,000 gallons of gas, according to CME Group. If your business depends on a single commodity, like gas, you can use those futures to control prices. 

When to avoid futures

On the other hand, if your business is less reliant on raw materials, futures might not be beneficial. For example, while a coffee shop needs coffee beans, a more diversified restaurant may not have such strict ingredient requirements. A coffee shop must pay higher prices when coffee beans become more expensive, but a restaurant may be able to change its menu to avoid paying higher costs. If the price of apples rises, a restaurant may be able to substitute apples or otherwise tweak its menu, or it could feature dishes without apples in its marketing.

Did You Know?

Futures contracts aren’t always tied to commodities. You can trade futures for equity indexes (like the S&P 500), cryptocurrency or foreign currencies, but these products might not have a direct tie to your business operations.

How to get started with futures

To start trading futures, you’ll need a brokerage account that gives you access to the futures market. This is similar to a stock brokerage account, and some brokerages may allow you to trade both stocks and futures in a single account.

Depending on how your business is structured, you may be able to open the brokerage account in your personal name, or you may want to open it in your business’s name. If the account is in your company’s name, you’ll need to designate the individuals who are authorized to place trades on your company’s behalf.

Placing futures trades

Once you’ve funded your account and you’re ready to make a trade, you’ll fill out a ticket (typically online or through a mobile app) that specifies the type of trade. There are many types of trades you can place, but they all stem from three major types: market, limit or stop.

Market orders: These orders execute as soon as possible at the best price available at that moment.  

Limit orders: These orders guarantee a predetermined price – but the order won’t execute until someone is willing to take the other side of your trade, and the order may not execute at all if you set the price too high or too low.

Stop orders: These orders are typically market orders, but the brokerage doesn’t place the order unless another trade has already been executed at a predetermined price. For example, you may buy a contract at $1,000 and set a stop order to sell at $800. If the price falls to $800, the stop order will execute and you’ll sell the contract almost instantaneously. There are many variations of this order type, including orders with a percentage-based trigger and “trailing” stops that adjust as the price moves in your favor.

Did You Know?

Stop orders, often called stop-loss orders, are commonly used to exit your trade when the price moves too far in the opposite direction you’d hoped. “Stopping out” automatically controls your losses so you don’t have to constantly track your trade.

How Artificial Intelligence Can Help Stop Covid

AI to identify, track and prevent future outbreaks

The better we are at identifying and following the movements of the virus, the better we will be at fighting it. By analyzing news sources, content published on social networks or publications made by different governments. We will first learn to detect new outbreaks of the disease and, therefore, before we can act.

AI to aid in the diagnosis of the disease

Another key to stopping the virus is being able to carry out early tests, so that the first symptoms can be directly related to those of the disease. Companies like Infervision are working in this field with the Chinese giant Alibaba.

Thanks to the use of Big Data, the patient’s history. They can determine with a success rate higher than 90% if that person has already been infected or could likely have it. So the treatment procedures can be started even before obtaining the results from medical laboratories.

Using drones to deliver medicine

It is something that has already been successfully demonstrated in China. Where an aerial drone corridor was able to establish between the Xinchang Disease Control Center and its People’s Hospital. Drones have also shown their effectiveness in urban surveillance tasks, urging people to “go home,”

Developing new medications

One of the companies that is leading the cause is Google. Its Artificial Intelligence unit, Google Deep Mind, works to determine the complete structure of the proteins. That may involve in the structure of the virus so that effective treatments can be found.

A similar case is found at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, belonging to the United States Department of Energy. There, a group of researchers is using Summit, the world’s most powerful supercomputer, to aid in the fight against COVID-19. This supercomputer, developed by IBM for this department, is being used to identify and study drug compounds that can help find a cure.

AI to identify affected individuals

It may be the most controversial use of this technology. And it may only be implemented in countries where citizen surveillance is routine, but it seems to work. Companies like SenseTime have adapted their facial recognition systems to identify on the street or in closed spaces (a shopping center, for example). If a person shows external signs of being suffering from COVID-19, by crossing this facial recognition as the person’s background and all available information about the area in which they live. With this, a reasonable probability estimate can be made.

AI for vaccine development

Of all, the best news we could give right now is that Artificial Intelligence is helping to find an effective vaccine against COVID-19. Currently, some of the most powerful computers in the world are in this effort.

They are making use of AI techniques that allow them to process much more information in less time, based on probability models. In China, companies like Tencent, DiDi, and Huawei have made almost all of their resources available for this cause. And, likely, we will soon see how these efforts multiply in other parts of the world.

Climate Change And Politics Meet At Kyoto Protocol Talks

Climate change and politics meet at Kyoto Protocol talks BU students watch international negotiations in action

As world leaders are gathered in Montreal from November 28 to December 9 seeking to protect the environment and ensure that years of delicate negotiations are not undone when the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012, BU students were able to watch international diplomacy at work from ringside seats.

Anthony Patt, a College of Arts and Sciences assistant professor of geology, secured passes for 12 students to attend last weekend’s meetings of the 11th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, a 14-day event where negotiators determine how the next round of talks will be conducted.

“I was a little bit surprised as to just how slow things moved,” says Jordan Winkler, a master’s candidate in the Center for Energy and Environmental Studies energy and environmental analysis program. “I had an idea that these conventions included arguments over sentence structure, but I didn’t think they would center on one word.”

There was a battle over the size of the table at which an informal meeting between negotiators would take place, and whether there would be enough physical space for each country to have one, or more than one, delegate seated. Another battle was over the single word “relevant” in a description of energy technology to be given by wealthy countries to poorer ones; Europe insisted that the technology was “relevant” to the climate change problem, Patt reports, whereas Saudi Arabia insisted that it was not.

While glaciers may be melting faster than parties can agree on how to address climate change, the painstaking process of international negotiations is a large part of what Patt brought his students to see.

“What I hoped students would get out of it is a feeling for how the science of climate change makes its way into public policy process, or fails to,” Patt says. “What arguments do negotiators use to justify their positions? There are so many different perspectives from people who work on climate change. At this conference, more than anywhere else, you get a feeling for that.”

There was more to learn about international relations than about climate change during the talks, Patt says, but the event also includes a series of presentations from nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) with a wide variety of missions, such as influencing policy or industry, and academic researchers who pay little attention to policy.

“At BU, the students are exposed to purely the science side, and learn about the policy side, but to see all the different roles acted out at the most important meeting of the year,” he says, is an important perspective.

The Kyoto Protocol went into effect in 2005, after it was ratified by Russia. The United States and Australia are the only major developed countries that did not sign on. This year, then, marks the beginning of an important new round of negotiations about what set of emissions reductions will take effect once the Kyoto Protocol’s target period of 2008 to 2012 is over, according to Patt.

Most climate experts and many countries, including the European Union, agree that safely stabilizing the climate will require a much larger reduction in emissions, as much as 70 percent below current levels, over the next few decades. But many countries balk at the potential economic costs and lifestyle changes associated with such major emissions reductions.

Because the U.S. position is so unpopular with the rest of the world, its representatives at the conference were under pressure to defend its stance. In doing so, they came across “as a group of very well-prepared trial lawyers,” Patt says, compared to the Europeans, whose economy may have less at stake, and who “seem to negotiate on the basis of what’s good for the world rather than what’s good for their own particular country.”

The BU group attended as guests of the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), a London-based nonprofit accredited by the United Nations as one of hundreds of “observer” organizations. Patt has worked in the past with IIED in helping southern African countries adapt to climate change.

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