#4: Blot Out the Sun—Or Face Extinction

David Keith, director of the Energy and Environmental Systems Group at the University of Calgary, says geoengineering should be "a central part of how we think about managing climate risk over the next 100 years."

Surprising Science

If we keep emitting carbon into the atmosphere at the current increasing rate, by the end of the century the surface temperature of the Earth will rise between 2.0 and 11.5 degrees Fahrenheit, according to a 2007 report from The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Depending on the severity of the global temperature increase, the polar ice sheets could melt and disintegrate, causing sea levels to rise, coastal cities to be submerged, and catastrophic storms and other weather-related problems to markedly increase.

Over centuries, says NASA scientist James Hanson, we could actually get a "runaway greenhouse effect, and then that's it for all the species on this planet." As the Earth gets warmer and warmer, says Hanson, the oceans will begin to evaporate, creating more greenhouse gas in the form of vapor. Finally, "the oceans will begin to boil, and the planet will become so hot that the ocean ends up in the atmosphere."

Keep reading Show less
Culture & Religion

In a series of tweets Sunday, Sarah Palin first "invented" the word "refudiate" (while, perhaps, trying to come up with "repudiate"), and then defended her word choice in another tweet suggesting a certain similarity between herself and a certain Bard of Avon: "'Refudiate,' 'misunderestimate,' 'wee-wee'd up.' English is a living language. Shakespeare liked to coin new words too. Got to celebrate it!"

"Misunderestimate," of course, was an invention of President George W. Bush, while "wee-wee'd up" belongs to President Obama. But Palin's suggestion that English is a living, evolving language is pretty salient. Words get created all the time, and once such a word is created, it sometimes enters common usage—and the AP stylebook—forever. After all, a good many of the more than 3000 words that Shakespeare invented are now used frequently by all of us.  Some of the more common ones include: "addiction," "advertising," "blanket," "champion," "elbow," "excitement," "fashionable," "gossip," "impede," "lackluster," "outbreak," "submerge," "summit," "torture" and "worthless."

So will "refudiate" hold up over the next, say, 400 years? Big Think asked Dr. Allan Metcalf, a professor at MacMurray College and executive secretary of the American Dialect Society, what causes a word to be adopted into the lexicon.

"What makes a word stick is its naturalness, its unobtrusiveness," said Metcalf. "Consciously invented words, especially clever ones, are treated as jokes, and perhaps appreciated as such but not used by others." Metcalf said that if a word is "a deliberate conspicuous coinage," it will likely sink out of sight. But, on the other hand, "if it was a slip of the tongue, it's a natural blend of two established words and might just stick. I bet she's not the first to use it."

Surprising Science

California is currently considering a couple of bills that could effectively legalize marijuana use. One plan would place a heavy excise tax on the drug—which could help plug the state's gaping budget deficit. Another would "de-penalize" cannibis use, so that getting caught with the drug would likely only result in a ticket.

Big Think spoke with Columbia University psychology professor Carl Hart who said he wasn't particularly impressed with the California proposals, noting that similar movements had failed in the past. While he liked the idea of raising tax revenue from pot, he said that decriminalizing just marijuana would risk not addressing similar issues with other drugs.

"I don't like the idea of separating marijuana from other drugs," said Hart. "There's a movement in the country to say marijuana isn't like cocaine, isn't like meth, isn't like heroin." He said that these distinctions don't take enough into account, and that the trouble with addiction to any of these drugs is less about their pharmacological effects, and more about the social conditions under which they are consumed.

Hart suggested the U.S. should follow the lead of Portugal, which has effectively decriminalized all drugs, allowing users to face non-criminal administrative proceedings when they are caught rather than criminal charges. "It provides less of a taxing on our criminal justice resources, and allows young people to make mistakes without having a criminal record that follows them for the rest of their lives," said Hart.

Another Big Think interviewee, former High Times magazine editor John Buffalo Mailer, told us today that he would be surprised to see the legalization efforts go through: "Given the environmental and economic benefits of hemp, not to mention the medicinal and economic value of marijuana, it seems insane to me that we still have the draconian laws in place we do for marijuana possession anywhere in this country," Mailer said. "That is until you take into account the several large industries who benefit from marijuana's illegal status, namely the oil, cotton, tobacco, alcohol, and prison industries. If we were to legalize the plant, they would all take a hit.  Combined, that is a tremendous amount of lobbying power. So, I would be surprised if we see legalization any time soon."

Politics & Current Affairs

France's lower house of Parliament voted yesterday to ban the wearing of veils that cover the face in public places. Aimed at the burqas worn by Muslim women, the legislation stipulates that anyone wearing a full facial veil will be fined $190—and anyone who forces a woman to wear such a veil could have to pay $38,000 and spend as much as a year in jail.

Joan Wallach Scott, a historian and social scientist at the Institute for Advanced Study (and the author of the book "Politics of the Veil") told Big Think that the end result of this ban will be "further isolation of those Muslims who want some recognition for their religious practices in France."  She said that the ban will also convince many other Muslims that there is a deep-seated hostility to them in the French population, and will only "exacerbate tensions, increase discrimination, and convince even those who seek integration into the countries in which they live and work—and are often citizens—that the deck is stacked against them."

While there may not be protests immediately, Scott says that the measures are sure to "intensify the sense of discrimination these populations feel, not only in France, but throughout Western Europe."

Scott rejects the arguments advanced by French politicians that women’s rights are being protected by the ban, and that the burqa is dangerous for national security. "French politicians have shown little interest in equality for women in general," she said, and noted that the law exempts face coverings "like ski masks and other such items which also can be used to conceal the identities of burglars and terrorists."

Essentially, Scott says, the ban is a form of racism. "There is a long history of discrimination against Muslim populations tied, in some countries like France, to histories of colonialism, and in others to 'guest worker' policies that looked upon these migrants as a source of cheap labor and ever expected to have to integrate them into the nation," she says. "Whether these countries can develop a more open accommodation, a greater tolerance for heterogeneity in their populations, is an open question."

It's no coincidence that that legislation was passed on the eve of Bastille Day, says Scott. The law is "a way of insisting on a singular version of national identity that necessarily excludes those whose beliefs and customs are 'different' from those of the dominant culture."