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A Little Hope, and Some VERY Scary Math About Climate Change
In 2008, in exchange for the billions of dollars they needed to stay in business, General Motors and Chrysler agreed to accelerate deployment of more fuel efficient technologies in light vehicles: cars, pickup trucks, vans and SUVS. Ford and other automakers followed suit to remain competitive for customers who, in those lean economic times, were looking to save a buck wherever they could, including at the gas pump.
It was a little-noticed step to reduce air pollution and combat climate change that the Obama Administration and Congress still don't get enough credit for. And it seems like they deserve a huge amount of credit when you count up the carbon dioxide emissions prevented by those MPG increases. Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle of the University of Michigan's Transportation Research Institute have done those calculations, and the numbers seem to offer great hope. (1)
Between October 2007 and September 2014, the average fuel economy of light vehicles in the U.S. has increased 25%, from 20.1 MPG to 25.3. That gain has saved American motorists a total of 15.1 billion gallons of fuel and prevented the emissions of 297 billion pounds of CO2. In September of 2014 alone, increased fuel efficiency in light vehicles saved 614 million gallons of fuel and 12 billion pounds of CO2 emissions.
Anyway you look at it, this seems like great environmental news: better fuel efficiency reduced local air pollution caused in part by vehicle exhaust and emissions of heat-trapping CO2 that contribute to global climate change. Great news indeed—except in the full context of climate change.
According to the U.S Department of Energy, for the same time period, total U.S. CO2 emissions were 77 TRILLION 56 BILLION (77,056,000,000,000) pounds of CO2. Those seemingly huge savings from vehicle fuel efficiency cut the nation's CO2 emissions by a little over one third of one percent.
Okay, the math lesson is over. But the meaning of these numbers needs to be recognized. If we're going to reduce CO2 emissions in any meaningful way in order to slow the warming of the earth's climate and minimize the severity of the changes to the biosphere that such warming will cause (some of which are already occurring), tinkering around the edges with things like increased fuel economy in consumer vehicles won't get it done.
A fundamental shift has to happen in the way we make electricity. And since the global climate doesn't particularly care where the CO2 comes from, that shift in energy production must be global, and it can't just be in the U.S. or Europe or other developed nations. It also has to happen where energy demand is going to grow the most in the coming decades, the developing countries like China and India and Brazil and Indonesia and across Africa, where billions of people aspire to the air conditions and refrigerators the developed world already has.
In those places, wind and solar just won't be enough. Studies find that even if solar panels and windmills were installed everywhere they can be, they couldn't supply to the average citizen of a developing nation close to the amount of power that people in rich countries now enjoy. So to be fair, either the rich world scales back its standard of living, which is highly unlikely, or we have to do more than capture the wind and the sun.
Nuclear has to be on the table, although nuclear plants are phenomenally expensive to build. Carbon capture from coal plants has to be on the table too, but that is expensive to build and to run. Other expensive technologies like offshore wind, solar and wind power with storage (so they can provide power when the sun is not shining or the wind isn't blowing)—technologies that can energize the developing world and give people a fair shot at the levels of power taken for granted in the developed world—all have to be on the table.
Which means the biggest way to limit the extent of climate change is to change the economics of power generation. In addition to incentives and policies that help make solar and wind and energy conservation cheaper (we might as well use what we produce more efficiently), carbon dioxide emissions have to start to cost businesses and consumers real money, real enough money to make cleaner sources of power economically competitive.
Opponents denounce such policies as draconian and ruinous to the economy, although they can be close to cost neutral to power consumers like you and me. But it will cost the fossil fuel industry a huge amount of money since they have paid billions for a lot of oil, coal, and gas reserves and won't get their money back unless they extract and sell it. This is of course why those extraordinarily influential businesses are fighting to maintain the energy economy status quo that is a root cause of climate change.
So, sorry, all you Prius drivers (we have one in my family). Sorry, all you passionate protesters during climate week. Climate change is just far sweeping a problem for things like increased vehicle fuel economy and LED light bulbs to solve. And it's too big to hope that a true worldwide social movement can rise up with enough speed and force to drive this kind of change. Either the world's political and business leaders have the wisdom and courage to recognize that it is in their and the planet's long-term interest to change basic energy economics, or the already stark predictions about the impacts of climate change are going to fall short of just how bad things are likely to get.
(1) For a copy of the report, you can contact Michael Sivak at email@example.com.
(Image credit: Wikimedia)
What is human dignity? Here's a primer, told through 200 years of great essays, lectures, and novels.
- Human dignity means that each of our lives have an unimpeachable value simply because we are human, and therefore we are deserving of a baseline level of respect.
- That baseline requires more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose.
- We look at incredible writings from the last 200 years that illustrate the push for human dignity in regards to slavery, equality, communism, free speech and education.
The inherent worth of all human beings<p>Human dignity is the inherent worth of each individual human being. Recognizing human dignity means respecting human beings' special value—value that sets us apart from other animals; value that is intrinsic and cannot be lost.</p> <p>Liberalism—the broad political philosophy that organizes society around liberty, justice, and equality—is rooted in the idea of human dignity. Liberalism assumes each of our lives, plans, and preferences have some unimpeachable value, not because of any objective evaluation or contribution to a greater good, but simply because they belong to a human being. We are human, and therefore deserving of a baseline level of respect. </p> <p>Because so many of us take human dignity for granted—just a fact of our humanness—it's usually only when someone's dignity is ignored or violated that we feel compelled to talk about it. </p> <p>But human dignity means more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose—a freedom that can be hampered by restrictive social institutions or the tyranny of the majority. The liberal ideal of the good society is not just peaceful but also pluralistic: It is a society in which we respect others' right to think and live differently than we do.</p>
From the 19th century to today<p>With <a href="https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?year_start=1800&year_end=2019&content=human+dignity&corpus=26&smoothing=3&direct_url=t1%3B%2Chuman%20dignity%3B%2Cc0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Google Books Ngram Viewer</a>, we can chart mentions of human dignity from 1800-2019.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0ODU0My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTUwMzE4MX0.bu0D_0uQuyNLyJjfRESNhu7twkJ5nxu8pQtfa1w3hZs/img.png?width=980" id="7ef38" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9974c7bef3812fcb36858f325889e3c6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist James Baldwin at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, southern France, on November 6, 1979.
Credit: Ralph Gatti/AFP via Getty Images
The future of dignity<p>Around the world, people are still working toward the full and equal recognition of human dignity. Every year, new speeches and writings help us understand what dignity is—not only what it looks like when dignity is violated but also what it looks like when dignity is honored. In his posthumous essay, Congressman Lewis wrote, "When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war."</p> <p>The more we talk about human dignity, the better we understand it. And the sooner we can make progress toward a shared vision of peace, freedom, and mutual respect for all. </p>
Scientists find that bursts of gamma rays may exceed the speed of light and cause time-reversibility.
- Astrophysicists propose that gamma-ray bursts may exceed the speed of light.
- The superluminal jets may also be responsible for time-reversibility.
- The finding doesn't go against Einstein's theory because this effect happens in the jet medium not a vacuum.
Jet bursting out of a blazar. Black-hole-powered galaxies called blazars are the most common sources detected by NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope.
Cosmic death beams: Understanding gamma ray bursts<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="cu2knVEk" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="c6cfd20fdf31c82cb206ade8ce21ba3f"> <div id="botr_cu2knVEk_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cu2knVEk-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/cu2knVEk-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cu2knVEk-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div>
Philosophers have been asking the question for hundreds of years. Now neuroscientists are joining the quest to find out.
- The debate over whether or not humans have free will is centuries old and ongoing. While studies have confirmed that our brains perform many tasks without conscious effort, there remains the question of how much we control and when it matters.
- According to Dr. Uri Maoz, it comes down to what your definition of free will is and to learning more about how we make decisions versus when it is ok for our brain to subconsciously control our actions and movements.
- "If we understand the interplay between conscious and unconscious," says Maoz, "it might help us realize what we can control and what we can't."
Puerto Rico's iconic telescope facilitated important scientific discoveries while inspiring young scientists and the public imagination.
- The Arecibo Observatory's main telescope collapsed on Tuesday morning.
- Although officials had been planning to demolish the telescope, the accident marked an unceremonious end to a beloved astronomical tool.
- The Arecibo radio telescope has facilitated many discoveries in astronomy, including the mapping of near-Earth asteroids and the detection of exoplanets.
Bradley Rivera via twitter.com<p>In 1963, the concave dish was built into a natural sinkhole on the northern coast of Puerto Rico. The location was <a href="https://www.space.com/20984-arecibo-observatory.html" target="_blank">picked because it was near the equator,</a> providing scientists a clear view of planets passing overhead, and also of the ionosphere, which is the uniquely reactive layer of Earth's upper atmosphere where the northern lights form.</p><p>Since its construction, scientists have used the Arecibo telescope to map near-Earth asteroids, detect gravitational waves, study pulsars, detect exoplanets and <a href="https://www.seti.org/goodbye-arecibo" target="_blank">search for alien civilizations</a>, among other projects. Here's a brief look at some of the discoveries and accomplishments made using the Arecibo telescope:</p><ul><li>1964: Astronomer <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gordon_Pettengill" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Gordon Pettengill</a> discovers that Mercury's rotation period is 59 days, significantly shorter than the previous prediction of 88 days.</li><li>1974: Physicists Russell Alan Hulse and Joseph Hooton Taylor Jr. discovers the first binary pulsar, for which they won a Nobel Prize in Physics.</li><li>1974: Scientists use the telescope to transmit the "Arecibo message" to <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Globular_Cluster_in_Hercules" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">globular star cluster M13</a>. The message, when translated into image form, contains basic information about humanity and human knowledge: the numbers one to 10, a map of our solar system, an illustration of a human being, and the atomic numbers of certain elements.</li><li>1989: Scientists use the telescope to image an asteroid for the first time.</li><li>1992: Astronomers Alex Wolszczan and Dale Frail become the first to discover exoplanets.</li></ul>
The Google-owned company developed a system that can reliably predict the 3D shapes of proteins.