Universities should be and are expected to be sources of truthful and unbiased information about controversial subjects, especially in the sciences. Unfortunately, that is not always the case.
Celebrate Earth Day, which is on Monday, April 22, 2013. Earth Day was first officially recognized on April 22, 1970. This year the theme is "Our Earth: Handle with Care." The topics this year include water, air, plants/soil, and recycling.
MIT’s Dan Nocera (soon to be Harvard’s) gave a seminar in our department about a year and a half ago, and I heard him speak again in ACS President Bassam Shakhashiri’s ”Presidential Symposium on Catalysis” at the Spring national meeting in San Diego. The chemistry he described is a beautiful example of how fundamental research can potentially impact the lives of billions of people. Dan and his research group have discovered what appears to be an inexpensive, self-healing, air-tolerant catalytic system to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. We have seen before grand announcements about photocatalytic water-splitting systems, but this one appears not to suffer the fatal flaws of the others – requirement of pure water, expensive ingredients, and short duty cycles.
Suppose that the earth’s atmosphere continues to warm, beyond the levels that we know are already inevitable. Suppose that the arctic permafrost melts, releasing millions of tons of methane, which is about thirty times more effective at warming than is carbon dioxide, as well as much CO2 as is already in the atmosphere. Within a few years, the mean temperature rises by five degrees Celsius or more, sea levels rise, crops fail and millions starve.
Do tsunamis affect global warming? Well, the 2004 Indian Ocean catastrophe probably indirectly decreased the amount of carbon dioxide going into the atmosphere by destroying the lives of 200,000 victims and the livelihoods of probably 250,000 more. Of course, it also negatively affected coral reefs, mangroves and other wetlands, forests, and plant diversity.
I have always thought that the answer to the question in the subtitle of this David Owen article was clear: make the things we do with energy using less of it. Now I am rethinkng that proposition. Owen writes about the application of "Jevons paradox" to energy consumption: the economical use of a resource results not in less consumption, but of more!
Global warming is no joke, but that does not mean that humor should not be encouraged. Sidney Harris is joined by twenty of his cartoonist colleagues to provide somewhat more than the promised 101 cartoons about global warming (there are no page numbers - I had to count!). They are not all funny, however.
Robert Bryce is a respected commentator on the energy industry. He writes for Atlantic Monthly, the Guardian and The Nation, and he has written books about Enron and about the oil industry in Texas. In "Gusher of Lies", he confronts politicians and entrepeneurs who claim that the United States should/could become "energy independent" at any time in the forseeable future.
"Whiskey is for drinkin', water is for fightin'" goes the old saying. The current (November, 2007) issue of Natural History has nine articles about what we will be fighting over. "A Special Brew", by Christopher Mundy, Shawn Kathmann, and Gregory Schenter is the one that is most "chemical", but the others describe some environmental aspects of water resources.