By Michael D. Lemonick
Remember global warming? You know, that worldwide disaster we were all so worried about way back in 2011? It wasn’t an unreasonable fear, of course: the world has been pumping greenhouse gases (especially carbon dioxide, or CO2) into the atmosphere like there was no tomorrow. Greenhouse gases trap heat. Ergo, said both the theory and the evidence, global temperatures are heading upward, forcing ice to melt, sea level to rise, and extreme weather to come along more often.
But all of that is so last year. The Associated Press is reporting a “surprise turnaround” in carbon-dioxide emissions. Based on a document from the federal Energy Information Agency, the AP points that CO2 emissions have fallen to their lowest level in 20 years — and it’s not because of any new government regulations, but rather because natural gas has replaced coal in many power plants. Gas emits much less CO2 than coal, and thanks to fracking, gas has become extraordinarily cheap and plentiful. Problem solved! Or at least as the headline more responsibly puts it, “some experts optimistic on global warming.”
Natural gas pipeline.
Really? These experts might want to think again. It’s true that natural gas emits about half as much CO2 as coal in producing a comparable amount of energy, but half as much isn’t zero, and zero, or as close to it as is humanly possible, is where the world needs to get in a big hurry.
The reason: a large fraction of the carbon d...
First there was intelligence, then came emotional intelligence. Now Joe Romm, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress Action Fund and well-known ClimateProgress.org blogger, introduces us to the concept of language intelligence in his thoughtful new book Language Intelligence: Lessons on Persuasion from Jesus, Shakespeare, Lincoln and Lady Gaga. Romm defines language intelligence as “the ability to convince people of something by moving them both intellectually and emotionally, at both a conscious and unconscious level.” For those of us working to explain the science and impacts of climate change to the general public, the book is a reference manual for how to be a more effective communicator.
But it’s far more than just a handy how-to guide. At its heart, Language Intelligence is a fascinating history of rhetoric, what Dante called “the sweetest of all the other sciences.” As Romm details, rhetoric was evident in Homer’s 8th century classics The Iliad and The Odyssey and dates back even further — to the Five Books of Moses.
Genesis by itself is a complete rhetoric handbook, containing all the figures of speech, as we will see. The very first story of Adam and Eve reveals the dangerous power of speech. The serpent, “more subtle than any other wild creature,” beguiles Eve with deceptive language and false promises into eating from the tree of knowledge, leading to banishment from Paradise. Such are the bitter fruits of lack of language i...
The date will never resonate like July 4, 1776, or December 7, 1941, or 9/11, but Aug. 8, 1974 -- exactly 38 years ago today -- was a monumentally important day for those of us old enough to remember it. It was on a Thursday evening that Richard Nixon announced he was stepping down as President of the United States — the first president in U.S. history to resign from office, and so far, the only one.
I was about to enter my junior year of college, and for my friends and me, it was a day to celebrate. We pretty much hated Nixon. He had failed to end the Vietnam War with the so-called “secret plan” he’d promised as a candidate back in 1968. In fact, he escalated it by bombing Cambodia, a ploy that led to the tragic Kent State shootings. He kept an enemies list of people he thought were out to get him, and he masterminded and covered up a burglary at the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate Hotel, a sleazy bit of thuggery that culminated in his disgrace and ultimate resignation.
I despised Nixon so much back then that even now it’s hard for me to get it into my head that he was a hero in at least one important way: he was a champion of protecting the environment, like no president before him since Teddy Roosevelt, and like no president since. The list of his green accomplishments — things he actually initiated, and laws he approved with his signature — is truly impressive. They include (deep breath, now):
May 26, 1951 – July 23, 2012
Like many girls growing up in the 80’s, for me, Sally Ride was a rock star. She was young – only 32 when she became the first American woman in space – and beautiful. Cool and smart during interviews, Sally had this ability, this grace really, to make questions about whether she would wear a bra in space or whether she cried on the job, just seem silly. The New York Times obituary recounts a NASA news conference, where Dr. Ride said: “It’s too bad this is such a big deal. It’s too bad our society isn’t further along.” Sally was further along . . . and she brought us all with her.
I was lucky enough to meet Sally and work with her wonderful and talented team at Sally Ride Science. It was then that I came to understand that she was a true Renaissance woman. A Stanford-trained physics whiz who also received a bachelor’s degree in English; an astronaut who nearly opted to become a professional athlete. During high school, Sally was the 18th-ranked girls junior tennis player in the U.S.; at Stanford she was the team's No. 1 women’s singles player and was nationally ranked. Billie Jean King wanted her to quit college and go pro.
Sally Ride could have done anything, but she chose to devote her life to science and to inspire young people to pursue their passion. Sally certainly inspired me to follow my dream of being a scientist. She made me better. In fact, she was one of those rare people who made us all better....
By Michael D. Lemonick
I’m not big on taking note of milestones. They’re artificial, and usually meaningless, but people get all worked up about them anyway. I don’t like to stay up late on New Year’s Eve, for example, because Dec. 31 is a purely arbitrary date. Nothing real actually begins the next day, but we all pretend otherwise. I have similar feelings about the first day of spring, the temperature reaching 100° as opposed to 99° and all sorts of other magic-sounding dates and numbers that don’t have any real significance.
But since no law says I have to be consistent, I’m going to take note of a milestone that happened some time in the past couple of months, and which was reported last week by NOAA. For the first time in recorded history, and almost certainly for much longer than that, the atmosphere’s concentration of carbon dioxide, or CO2, has nipped above 400 parts per million in at least one part of the world. Monitoring stations in Alaska, northern Europe, and Asia have all noted readings above that level during this past spring.
In one sense, this isn’t all that important. There’s no meaningful difference between 399 ppm and 400, and the current world average is more like 393. Even in the Arctic, scientists know the CO2 level will drop back below 400 this summer, as trees in the Northern Hemisphere suck carbon dioxide back out of the atmosphere (you can see the annual ups and downs as trees start growing in the sp...