Once a week.
Subscribe to our weekly newsletter.
Climate Change Makes News! But Does It Matter?
Big News! Climate change makes news! There's sustained, high-profile coverage in the major media this week, prompted by the UN Climate summit in New York. It's great news that climate change is making news. But it’s also sad, because as soon as the events are over, coverage will fade away, at least until the next meeting, or the next violent weather event, or the next political controversy stirred up by those still trying to promote doubt.
Big News! Climate change makes news! There's sustained, high-profile coverage in the major media this week, prompted by the UN Climate summit in New York at which 120 heads of state will try to reach some agreements about how to address the problem, and all the public marches and think tank press conferences and celebrity appearances that go along with those meetings. (A full agenda is at Climate Week NY°C)
It's great news that climate change, probably the biggest single threat to life on the planet as we know it, is making news. Coverage raises awareness and concern. But it’s also sad news, because as soon as the events of the week are over, the coverage of this incredibly important issue will fade away, at least until the next meeting, or the next violent weather event, or the next political controversy stirred up by those still trying to promote doubt. In between sporadic bursts of coverage, this huge threat is largely absent from our radar screens, and the study of the psychology of risk perception has found that we worry more about what is on our radar screen, than what isn’t.
How worried we are is important, because popular political support will make it easier for governments to make the major changes to the energy system necessary to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Telling people they may have to pay more for electricity isn’t going to be easy if they’re not worried about climate change.
Popular support will help governments make the huge investments necessary to adapt our infrastructure to deal with rising sea levels and changing temperature and precipitation patterns and more extreme weather events, the impacts of climate change that are already underway and which are going to get much worse. Telling some people who live in particularly vulnerable coastal areas that they may have to move away isn’t going to be easy if those people don’t feel worried about rising sea levels.
And deeper and broader public concern about global warming can drive major companies to change how they operate; the raw materials they use, their energy consumption, the products they sell. How worried we are about climate change will also determine how we act as individuals; what we consume, our personal energy use, what we’re willing to pay for electricity.
A more concerned public is important, and a more aware public is likely to be more concerned. The worry, however, born out by survey after survey of public opinion regarding global warming, is that the concern that may rise during climate week is not wide nor deep enough to last when the news cameras turn elsewhere. Though majorities of the public in many western nations have for some time believed that human activity is causing global warming, only a minority of people believe that they are personally at risk, or that the danger of climate change is imminent, or already underway. Most say it’s a problem for the future, and to somebody else. and a risk to somebody else, that won’t happen until later, is just not as worrying as if we think it could happen to us, soon.
No matter how many stories Climate Week may generate, then, most of the additional concern those headlines raise probably won’t last. It’s a safe bet that public opinion polls following Climate Week will show a spike in concern, and then a drop back down to previous levels.
So it remains unlikely, even with all the high-profile activities in New York and around the world in conjunction with the UN Climate Summit, that public concern will rise high enough, fast enough, to drive the kinds of changes necessary to deal with this huge problem. The bold actions and big solutions will have to come from enlightened leadership; from political and business leaders wise and brave enough to take serious steps even without serious public support. Like the action President Obama has taken to try to reduce CO2 emissions from power plants. Like the actions major corporations are taking to reduce their energy consumption. Like the actions governors and mayors in states and cities across the United States are taking to encourage cleaner energy, and to start rebuilding critical infrastructure that is vulnerable to rising sea levels or floods, droughts, or forest fires.
While there will be higher-than-normal attention to climate change this week, we ought not take too much heart in all that extra attention. It probably won’t matter much. What will matter is how much courage and wisdom the heads of government can bring to their one-day summit, and to the ongoing challenge of finding real solutions…and how much courage and wisdom the heads of corporations can bring in the weeks and months and next several years to the decisions they make. Headlines -- even lots of headlines -- won’t be nearly enough to matter much for a problem this profound, a problem we say we care about, but which doesn’t scare us nearly as much as it needs to.
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.