The climate crisis brought to a local level: As temperatures rise and ice melts, local communities are being forced to adapt to a new reality. Conditions and environments that could once be considered constant are now unpredictable. New York Times
This weekend’s meeting between President Obama and new Chinese President Xi Jingping is an important step forward for both countries. The two will have plenty to discuss including the state of the global economy, recent high-profile cyberattacks from Chinese government backed organizations and, of course, the climate crisis. It is crucial for both parties that progress be made to halt the rise of global temperatures. Recent announcements from China that they will initiate a carbon-pricing scheme are an important step in the right direction, but it is only a first step. Washington Post
An incredible discovery in China has altered our understanding of primate history. An ancient primate skeleton has been discovered to be 55 million years old, 8 million years older than the previous record holder. The discovery is further evidence that primates emerged shortly after the dinosaurs and originated in Asia, not Africa. The discovery brings scientists one-step closer to understanding the origins of humanity. Fascinating. NY Times
You have to see it to believe it! Scientists at the University of Minnesota have controlled a mini drone helicopter with their mind. The controller puts an EEG cap over his or her head and electrodes translate brain activity into electrical signals that control the helicopter’s flight. The potential applications are boundless: rescue drones, precision agriculture, and military reconnaissance, just to name a few. Discover Magazine
After years of exciting developments and advances, 3D printing is starting to hit the mainstream. Specifically, Ford and General Electric have integrated additive manufacturing into their manufacturing processes. By "printing" components, these companies have been able to cut their costs by saving on material inputs and labor, while also allowing greater customization. Brings up profound questions for the future of labor. Wall Street Journal
America lost a great leader this week in Senator Frank Lautenberg. At the time of his death, Senator Lautenberg was leading the charge on reforming the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976. Surprisingly, and disturbingly, the United States's current regulatory framework on toxic chemicals is woefully inadequeate. While Americans are exposed to thousands of potentially toxic chemicals on a daily basis—even in the womb—the Environmental Protection Agency regulates only five! Senator Lautenberg’s proposal included a provision to require companies to prove that a chemical is safe before it can be sold. The United States Congress should honor the memory of Senator Frank Lautenberg by passing this long overdue, commonsense regulatory reform. Houston Chronicle
Big polluters are trying to shirk their responsibility and block efforts to make them pay for their reckless pollution of the atmosphere. With stronger storms, bigger droughts, widespread flooding and scorching wildfires, we’re already paying the price OF carbon. Now it’s time to put on a price ON carbon. Guardian
Thousands forced to flee their homes as flooding surges across Central Europe. Unless we act immediately to slow the rise of global temperatures, this type of event will become more frequent. Climate Progress
Fascinating presentation from Mary Meeker at Kleiner Perkins on the state of global Internet trends. Presentation
It was with great sadness that I learned of the passing of my dear friend Senator Frank Lautenberg. A stalwart of the Senate, Frank's dedication to his country and his constituents was unparalleled. Frank was a champion of the middle class, a relentless warrior for all those in need. As a fearless defender of our environment, Frank helped bring the climate crisis into the mainstream while simultaneously promoting clean energy for a sustainable future. He was a source of wisdom and guidance to all, no matter their side of the aisle.
My heart and prayers are with his family today. May he rest in peace.
New study finds that the climate crisis is critically endangering the habitat of 57% of plant species and 34% of animals. The good news? We can prevent this catastrophic loss of habitat and species by promptly reducing our emissions.
In 2004, Naomi Oreskes conducted a landmark survey that showed near unanimous agreement among scientists that humans were the cause of global warming. Just this week, a new paper was published that confirms this finding. 97% of surveyed papers confirm that recent global warming is human caused. The Guardian
Global warming is already affecting fish catch around the world. While the United States is currently insulated from these changes due to our vast import market, it’s only a matter of time before we see the change in our supermarkets, and feel the pain in our pockets. NPR
Senator Sheldon Whitehouse continues to be a powerful and important voice for environmental protection in an otherwise unproductive Congress. Please take a moment to watch his speech: Huffington Post
In reverse of a 60-year trend, people (especially young people) are driving less. There are multiple drivers of this change, but it is an important shift on the path towards reducing our carbon emissions. Change is coming. New York Times
Scientists and medical researchers are in the early stages of understanding the microbiome—the complex network of microbial species that live on and within our bodies that encode 99 percent of our DNA. Microbial cells outnumber human cells ten to one in the human body and regulate several aspects of human health. A medical revolution is sure to follow as we begin to understand human health as “a collective property of the human-associated microbiota.” New York Times
For the first time, scientists have succeeded in creating embryonic stem cells by cloning human cells. The technique will allow scientists to create replacement tissues that are a genetic match to patients, potentially revolutionizing the treatment of many diseases. New York Times
The world’s next global pandemic could arrive sooner than you think, says National Geographic’s David Quammen. Tremendous, yet unsettling opinion piece. New York Times
The Internet of Things is becoming reality—powered by smaller and more powerful computer chips and increased Internet connectivity. Billions of devices are already communicating with each other and sharing data to improve performance—without any help from human beings. Businesses and consumers must prepare for a radical economic transformation as physical objects in our world become increasingly connected and autonomous. Wired
The Department of Homeland Security has warned that cyberattacks against U.S. corporations are increasing, especially attacks on critical infrastructure like energy companies. While most of the recent cyber attacks have focused on stealing valuable, confidential information, newer attacks have focused on taking control of critical energy systems. New security issues will continue to be one of the biggest risks associated with the economy’s increasing reliance on the Internet. New York Times
More sophisticated and intelligent robots are allowing businesses and factories to automate more of their labor. Routine high-skilled labor is being robosourced to automated processes and factory work is increasing performed by robots. The abilities of automation are progressing so quickly that a large portion of the human labor force faces possible replacement by cheaper, automated processes as early as 2030. The robosourcing revolution has many potential benefits, but these benefits will only be realized if governance tackles human labor issue sooner rather than later.
My good friend Sir Alex Ferguson just announced his retirement from Manchester United. He leaves an unparalleled legacy, 13 Premier League trophies and two Champions League trophies in his 27-year tenure. Truly incredible. Grantland
Congratulations to the Memphis Grizzlies for reaching the Western Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history! It's been such an exciting season and I can't wait to see them "grit and grind" their way to the NBA finals. Go Griz! AP
Yesterday, for the first time in human history, concentrations of carbon dioxide, the primary global warming pollutant, hit 400 parts per million in our planet's atmosphere. This number is a reminder that for the last 150 years -- and especially over the last several decades -- we have been recklessly polluting the protective sheath of atmosphere that surrounds the Earth and protects the conditions that have fostered the flourishing of our civilization. We are altering the composition of our atmosphere at an unprecedented rate. Indeed, every single day we pour an additional 90 million tons of global warming pollution into the sky as if it were an open sewer. As the distinguished climate scientist Jim Hansen has calculated, the accumulated manmade global warming pollution in the atmosphere now traps enough extra heat energy each day to equal the energy that would be released by 400,000 Hiroshima-scale atomic bombs exploding every single day. It's a big planet -- but that is a LOT of energy. And it is having a destructive effect.
Now, more than ever before, we are reaping the consequences of our recklessness. From Superstorm Sandy which crippled New York City and large areas of New Jersey, to a drought which parched more than half of our nation; from a flood that inundated large swaths of Australia to rising seas affecting millions around the world, the reality of the climate crisis is upon us.
Our food systems, our cities, our people and our very way of life developed within a stable range of climatic conditions on Earth. Without immediate and decisive action, these favorable conditions on Earth could become a memory if we continue to make the climate crisis worse day after day after day.
With any great challenge comes great opportunity. We have the rare privilege to rise to an occasion of global magnitude. To do so, our communities, our businesses, our universities, and our governments need to work in harmony to stop the climate crisis. We must summon the very best of the human spirit and draw on our courage, our ingenuity, our intellect, and our determination to confront this crisis. Make no mistake, this crisis will demand no less than our very best. I am optimistic because we have risen to meet the greatest challenges of our past.
So please, take this day and the milestone it represents to reflect on the fragility of our civilization and and the planetary ecosystem on which it depends. Rededicate yourself to the task of saving our future. Talk to your neighbors, call your legislator, let your voice be heard. We must take immediate action to solve this crisis. Not tomorrow, not next week, not next year. Now.
We are witnessing the emergence of many exciting technological innovations that hold the potential to disrupt health care as we know it, providing better outcomes at substantially reduced costs, as detailed by Jonathan Cohn in the cover story of March's issue of The Atlantic. From artificial intelligence like IBM's Watson to robotics, genetics, Big Data, and other technologies, this may be the beginning of a revolution in the way health care is delivered. The Atlantic.
The decision to invade Iraq was a strategic blunder, a failure of democracy and informed deliberation. It must never happen again. Paul Krugman sums it up well in his piece this week. New York Times.
China's environmental crisis
From polluted waterways to smog-laden skies to a rapidly growing carbon footprint, China is a facing a monumental environmental crisis. Unfortunately, actions to solve it are being stalled by the nation's powerful oil and gas industry. New York Times.
Danny Hillis on Internet vulnerability
Our highly interconnected world has brought about tremendous advancements for our civilization, but at what cost? Many experts now suggest that our increasing interdependence has also led to incredible vulnerability to cyber-attacks. Internet-pioneer Danny Hillis thinks we need a "Plan B," a backup system that will allow critical functions to continue, even if a large-scale attack disables the Internet. Watch his TED talk here.
Good news from the green economy
The green economy continues to gain momentum. A new Bureau of Labor Statistics report shows that between 2010-2011, the number of green jobs grew "at a rate 4 times faster than all other industries combined." More from HuffPo.
Last weekend, the Financial Times published a must-read editorial on the need for a national carbon tax:
"Taxes are always a regrettable necessity, but some are less regrettable than others. A tax that strengthens energy security and cuts pollution, while minimising the damage done to employment and investment, is one of the least regrettable of all."
"Yet a carbon tax, which has all those characteristics, is struggling to find support from the US administration or in Congress. It deserves much wider enthusiasm."
"One of the few uncontroversial conclusions of economics is that it is better to tax “bads” than “goods”. Wages and profits are desirable objectives, and governments have no good excuse for obstructing them. They are taxed largely for reasons of convenience, at the cost of disincentives to wage-earning and profitmaking that are a drag on the economy."
"Energy consumption, on the other hand, is not an objective for anyone. Indeed, the negative externalities of energy use, including local pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, mean that, other things being equal, an economy that burns less fuel is better off."
"That insight lies behind support from across the political spectrum for a tax linked to the carbon content of fossil fuels, generating revenue that could be recycled through cuts in other taxes. Four leading Democrats in Congress this month proposed such a tax, and asked for suggestions for how it could be implemented. On the Republican side, a carbon tax has been backed by several prominent figures, most notably Greg Mankiw of Harvard, a former economic adviser to George W. Bush and Mitt Romney."
"Carbon taxes have their drawbacks, it is true, but their problems are mostly fixable. They are regressive, but that could be offset by changes to other taxes. They can create difficulties for energy-intensive sectors, but those could be eased with targeted reliefs."
"The claim made this week by more than 85 Republican members of Congress that carbon taxes would “kill millions more jobs” has no evidence to support it."
"While the adjustment to higher energy costs would have some negative impact, it would be offset by the benefits of cuts in other taxes. Curbing consumption would also improve energy security, making the economy less vulnerable to commodity price shocks. President Barack Obama on Friday set out an energy agenda including reduced oil imports, greater use of natural gas and increased energy efficiency. A carbon tax would help meet all of those goals."
"The prospect that extra revenues will be needed to stabilise the public finances in the long term suggests that some taxes are likely to rise, and a carbon tax would be one of the least painful ways to do it. Shifting the tax burden off incomes and on to carbon would be a good idea at any time. Right now, the case is overwhelming."
A new report suggests the loss of Arctic sea ice contributed to Superstorm Sandy:
"Cornell and Rutgers researchers report in the March issue of Oceanography that the severe loss of summertime Arctic sea ice — attributed to greenhouse warming — appears to enhance Northern Hemisphere jet stream meandering, intensify Arctic air mass invasions toward middle latitudes, and increase the frequency of atmospheric blocking events like the one that steered Hurricane Sandy west into the densely populated New York City area."
Source: Climate Progress
The Ecological Limits of Nitrogen-Intensive Agriculture
Since its creation in 1913, synthetic nitrogen has driven an explosion in global population by providing abundant fertilizer to support modern agriculture. Today, 120 million tons of nitrogen are produced each year and 80 percent of it is used for agricultural fertilizer to help feed the world’s seven billion people. Unfortunately, nitrogen-intensive agriculture has several detrimental environmental effects that are devastating entire ecosystems. In preparation for a future that promises a larger population and increasing per capita consumption, it is vital that humanity finds a way to increase agricultural yields in an environmentally sustainable fashion. Read more
Robosourcing: The Evolving Cyborg Workforce
In my new book, The Future: Six Drivers of Global Change, I describe the incredible ways in which new technologies are transforming the global economy. One prominent example is the way advanced automation technologies and robotics are producing a trend I call “robosourcing”—the shift of jobs from people to increasingly intelligent machines. Robosourcing is in the early stages of transforming the nature of work in the global economy. Currently, robots are augmenting human labor, rather than replacing it in many instances. Humans guide robots and advanced algorithms, easing the immediate concerns of large-scale unemployment created by advanced technologies. Will we continue to work alongside these machines or is it just a matter of time before they begin to replace far more jobs than they create? Read More
What’s on Your Mind? Humanity at the Early Stages of Mind Reading
For the first time, researchers have been able to use scans of the brain to determine the individual person about which a test subject is thinking. Scientists as Cornell University have use functional magnetic resonance imaging to link different brain activity to conceptions of varying individual identities within a person’s thoughts. This mind reading technology has potentially exciting applications in solving disease and understanding human thought processes, but also presents humanity with potentially significant new privacy and security challenges. Effective oversight and regulations are crucial to the responsible development of this powerful new technology. Read More
A “Parallel Universe” of life
If asked to identify the world’s largest ecosystem, what would you point to? The Amazon, the coral reefs of the South Pacific, or something smaller? New results published in the journal Science suggests that the world’s largest ecosystem may be hidden far beneath the ocean floor in oceanic crust. Instead of relying on sunlight to support itself, these vast microbial communities use complex chemical reactions to survive. These findings could present profound implications for the origins of life on Earth. Read More
The Silence of the Butterflies
Rising temperatures, worsening extreme weather and land-use changes in the past few years led to the largest drop in the population of migrating Monarch butterflies this past year. This mass migration of an iconic species would be a terrible loss, not only for the ecosystems it supports, but for all those who celebrate the beautiful complexity of our planet. Read More
The consensus is clear. Humans are causing the climate crisis. Here are the results from a citizen scientist's recent examination of the field:
"As discussed in detail here, I searched the Web of Science for peer-reviewed scientific articles published between 1 January 1991 and 9 November 2012 that had the keyword phrases "global warming" or "global climate change." The search produced 13,950 articles. See methodology.
By my definition 24 of the 13,950 articles, 0.17% or 1 in 581, clearly reject global warming or endorse a cause other than CO2 emissions for observed warming. The articles have a total of 33,690 individual authors (rounded to 33,700 in the figure). The 24 rejecting papers have a total of 34 authors, about 1 in 1,000.
What can we conclude from this study?
1. In the scientific literature, global warming denial is missing in action.
2. The authors of the handful of rejecting papers tend not to agree with, or even to cite, each other's work.
3. Other than the authors themselves, only a handful of other scientists cite the few rejecting articles. Those who do cite them do not themselves reject human-caused global warming.
4. The rejecting authors have no alternative theory to explain the observed warming. They do not even agree among themselves. A bandwagon this is not.
5. The vast majority of climate scientists accept the theory that human emissions of greenhouse gases are causing the observed global warming. Here is how I arrive at this deduction.
When a new scientific theory is first proposed, scientists often go out of their way to state explicitly that they reject it, or that they accept it. This was the case with continental drift in the 1920s, with plate tectonics in the 1960s, and with the Alvarez theory of dinosaur extinction in the 1980s. One reading the literature in these fields can usually tell from the title of an article alone whether an author rejects the new theory. But after a theory achieves maturity and becomes the ruling paradigm, scientists no longer see any point in stating explicitly that they accept the now-no-longer-new theory. They take it as a given, often as an observational fact—like the measured movement of tectonic plates and the measured global temperature rise. To explicitly endorse the ruling theory would have the counter-effect of suggesting that the theory needs reinforcement. My literature survey shows that global warming has achieved the status of the ruling paradigm of climate science. Thus it is reasonable to assume that those who today reject human-caused global warming would make it clear that they do so, while those who accept it would not feel the need to say so explicitly. As a practical matter, virtually all of the global warming papers that Oreskes and I separately reviewed can be classified as about effects, mitigation, adaptation, methods of detecting, climate modeling, and paleoclimatology. Authors of these papers would hardly be likely to deny the existence of the very thing they are writing about. It is theoretically possible that a paper on paleoclimatology could be the exception, dealing with the lack of evidence for CO2-driven global warming in the geologic past, say, leading the author to question the seriousness of modern, human-caused global warming, but I did not find such papers. What we know for a fact is that among the authors of peer-reviewed articles, only a tiny fraction, which I estimate as about 1 author in 1,000, rejects human-caused global warming. In my opinion, based on my understanding of the history of science, it is reasonable to conclude that the vast majority of publishing climate scientists accept that human activities are causing the Earth to warm. Polls of scientists reinforce this conclusion, but polls are no substitute for the primary, peer-reviewed literature, the ground truth of science."
More from JamesPowell.org
In my new book, The Future: Six Drivers of Global Change, I highlight the problem of increasing income inequality that is plaguing the societies of almost every industrialized country in the world. Despite being the richest country in the world, the United States also suffers from one of the highest levels of income inequality in the world.
In order to make the U.S. system of capitalism truly sustainable, we must tackle this unhealthy concentration of wealth. The wealthiest one percent of Americans now have more wealth than the bottom 90 percent. The gap continues to widen as the top one percent receives almost 25 percent of annual U.S. income, up from 12 percent just 25 years ago.
While some inequality is inevitable and even desirable, the levels of income inequality have reached dangerous levels in the United States. Too much wealth concentrated in the hands of too few disrupts societal stability and corrupts the wealth-creating incentives of our capitalist system. Anger over income inequality has already sparked popular backlash in the form of Occupy Wall Street and other similar demonstrations. Indeed, the level of inequality in the U.S. is already worse than in Egypt or Tunisia, two nations rocked in recent years by popular uprisings that overthrew national governments during the Arab Spring. While the two situations are clearly different, addressing income hyper-inequality in the United States is crucial to making our system of capitalism more sustainable.
This new video is a terrific illustration of the problem: