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The Depressing Reality in Supposedly Good News on Climate Change
Proposed U.S government regulations to curtail carbon dioxide emissions from power plants are rightfully being hailed as major progress in the fight against climate change. Major environmental groups are applauding. Former Vice President Al Gore called the draft regulations “the most important step taken to combat the climate crisis in our country’s history.” The head of the World Resources Institute called them “momentous”. But this bit of encouraging progress may be more symbol than substance, and symbolism has zero impact on climate chemistry. Indeed these proposals would physically accomplish so little that, symbolically, they may represent bad news more than good.
Though they certainly represent dramatic cuts, the draft proposals to reduce CO2 emissions from power plants by 30% over 2005 levels by the year 2030 don’t amount to much in the big picture. Yes, these cuts will eliminate a huge amount of greenhouse gas emissions (and lots of other ‘local’ air pollutants, which may well have greater benefits for human health), 500 million metric tons per year by 2030. That sounds like a big number. But the power sector in the U.S. is only responsible for 40% of the country’s emissions, so this so-called major progress will in fact reduce U.S. CO2 emissions only a little more than 10%, and it will take more than 15 years to do even that little. And remember, as big an emitter of greenhouse gasses as the U.S. may be, the climate is global and U.S. fossil fuel power generation produces just 6% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions. So this cut will only be a small slice of that small slice (10% of 6%) of the global CO2 emissions that are contributing to climate change.
Now compare those reductions against the 40-70% global reductions (over 2010 levels) that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Working Group Three recently identified as necessary just to have a 66% shot at keeping average global temperatures from rising much past 2 degrees celsius/3.5 degrees fahrenheit, the point beyond which the IPCC says the harms from climate change get far more severe.
Still, these draft regulations are a huge step. Lots of other nations have said they won’t act until the U.S. does. Well now the U.S. has, not only with this step, but with the way the Obama Administration twisted the arms of vehicle makers that needed bail outs in 2008, getting them to agree to dramatic increases in fuel economy which will eliminate more CO2 emissions (over the lifetime of the vehicle fleet – average about ten years) than the power plant regulations would.
It is also a cause for optimism that the U.S. has acted unilaterally. Gone are the pipe dreams of some grand international accord between the rich and developing nations of the world, which most realists accepted, even before Kyoto, was never going to happen. Modeling unilateral action this way sets an important international precedent leading up to the 21st U.N. Climate Change Conference next year in Paris.
But those symbolic positives don’t overcome the larger negative, that these draft proposals, the best America can do, don’t physically do much. In fact, if these supposedly monumental developments are the best we can do, the relatively meager accomplishments of this supposedly “momentous step” might fairly be called not a positive development, but a downright discouraging sign of where we stand in the struggle to deal with nothing less than a serious risk to life on this planet as we know it. The limited actual gain from a proposal being hailed as the most dramatic step forward on climate change that America has ever made (and to be fair, it is) is a depressing sign that the world’s biggest per capita polluter may never come close to doing what’s really needed to diminish the threat that climate change poses.
So while these proposed regulations are indeed progress, how much they are also a sign of hope is an open question. They may actually just be a sobering confrontation with reality, a reality that James Lovelock (scientist, inventor, and author of the Gaia Hypothesis that the biosphere is a living organism) recently bluntly observed;
The idea of ‘saving the planet’ is a foolish extravagance of romantic Northern ideologues and probably much beyond our ability.
That's a bit absolute for me. ‘Saving the planet’ may be beyond our ability, but there is much we can and should do, to try. But a fair assessment of the proposed regulations to curtail CO2 emissions in American suggest that Lovelock’s sobering reality check may be closer to the truth than the naïve belief that, beyond their symbolic value, these cuts represent any kind of serious progress.
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.