Move Port-au-Prince? Maybe. San Francisco and New Orleans? Never.
It is common for scientists to call for the relocation of a city to a safer location after it is struck by an earthquake or hurricane. After all, when many cities were built, the nature of the hazard they faced was either unknown or very poorly understood. This is true whether we’re talking about San Francisco, Calif., New Orleans, La., or Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Now that we know the hazards, is it time to relocate a city in a dangerous locale? Port-au-Prince? Yes. San Francisco and New Orleans? No.
Much of the debate concerning energy, climate and the economy involves how to manage the transition from fossil fuels to sustainable energy sources. In this context, it may seem ironic to promote one fossil fuel over another, but natural gas is an inexpensive, abundant and relatively clean fuel that can lead the transition away from coal and oil, while achieving significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants over the next two decades. In short, increased use of domestic sources of natural gas needs to be an essential component of U.S. energy policy.
The global financial disaster of 2009 has many parallels with catastrophic natural hazards. It struck pretty much without warning, its impact was greatly exacerbated by an incredibly complex system of cascading consequences, and finally, mechanisms supposedly in place to mitigate the worse impacts (regulations, in the case of the financial system) failed. There was awareness that such a meltdown could theoretically occur, but it was considered such a low-probability event that it was evidently not worth planning for.
Tomorrow’s agriculture is facing an immense challenge. By 2050, the world’s population will reach somewhere between 9 billion and 10 billion people, and a greater proportion of those people will be enjoying a richer diet than today’s population. That means farmers will have to grow twice as much food. The world has already witnessed a preview of what might happen if large populations don’t receive an adequate supply of food: They do not accept their fates passively.
In the 1985 classic “Back to the Future,” Doc Brown, the mad scientist played by Christopher Lloyd, queries his time-traveling visitor, Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox), in 1955 about the future of America with the simple question of who was president. The answer of Ronald Reagan appeared astounding and ridiculous, as his name was on a movie poster at the time.
Energy is a combined product of natural resources, human ingenuity and economy; it is also an engine for economic and social development. This is truer now than ever before because the global economy is more integrated and populations are growing, and with that, competition, challenges and prospects are also rising.
Taking public approval ratings at face value, it would be easy to conclude that the legislative branch of our government is motivated by an unfortunate blend of incompetence and arrogance. Certainly the repeated and well-documented failures of Congress to act on issues of national significance and its tendency to substitute rhetoric and pork barrel spending for meaningful action provide ample fodder for this well-worn reputation.
In reporting what’s new and exciting from the world of scientific and technological innovation, science writers are quick to use expressions like “Scientists say … ” and “According to researchers … ” (Mea culpa.) They are, after all, convenient devices to introduce the sentiments of some subset of the scientific community as opposed to one, or maybe several, individuals.
Perhaps you have heard of the psychological principle of entrapment. In college, a friend of mine once described it to me while we stood in a seemingly endless line in one of the dining halls. As I recall, the essence of it is that the more money, time or effort you invest in some venture waiting for a return — a sandwich in my case — the harder it is to simply let it go or give up hope, regardless of how unfavorable the potential cost-benefit ratio is.
Burying carbon dioxide in underground geologic formations is an attractive option for dealing with increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. But before employing such schemes, researchers need to be sure that the greenhouse gas will actually stay put. Scientists have done everything from computer modeling to pumping vast amounts of carbon dioxide into the subsurface to find out if — and how — the gas might be trapped, but gauging how sealed the formations are over geologic time scales is difficult.
The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is one of the most popular hikes in the world. It’s so popular that in recent years, the Peruvian government has had to limit trail traffic by plastering the trek with a lot of red tape. You have to apply months ahead for a permit, hire a certified guide and show your passport at four different checkpoints along the way. Despite the hassle, each day hundreds of people sign up. And for good reason: The Inca knew how to lay out a scenic route.
"This is our generation’s Sputnik moment,” declared President Barack Obama in the 2011 State of the Union address, challenging the nation to pursue a future of cleaner energy.
As we did a generation ago, we now face significant challenges — challenges that need to be met sooner rather than later to protect and grow our economy, build energy autonomy and preserve our resources for future generations. These challenges center on two resources: energy and water.
As residents of Galveston, Texas, scramble to evacuate before Hurricane Ike makes landfall tonight, most Houston residents have been told to stay put. But even Houston — about 130 kilometers (80 miles) to the northeast — is in for some extreme weather tomorrow.
Last June, EARTH reported that seven Italian scientists were under investigation and might be charged with manslaughter for not predicting (and warning the public about) the magnitude-6.3 earthquake that struck L’Aquila, Italy, in April 2009. By last fall, it looked like the charges might be dropped – with the support of many of the world’s seismologists.
It was easy to miss the part where the field trip leader said the outcrop formed during Noah’s Flood. After all, “During these catastrophic flood flows, turbulent, hyperconcentrated suspensions were observed to transform laminar mudflows” sounds like a reasonable description of alluvial fan processes. And “massive marine transgression” sounds scientific enough. But when creationist geologists use those phrases, they take on a very different meaning.
If you turn the tap on in Seattle, the water flowing from the faucet likely originated as a clump of snow. In winter, snowflakes fall in the Cascades, accumulating in thick snowpack. The snowpack stores water in winter and slowly releases it in spring and summer as temperatures warm and snow melts. As snowmelt flows down the mountains, some of it is diverted and collected in reservoirs — destined to arrive in the homes of more than 1 million people.