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Category: Environment & Energy Stories

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    We're on our way to a greener Earth, day by day and year by year, oh boy. At least, that is how I read this post's prime selection.  Many of those who are paying close to attention to climate change these days are getting more and more worried. For those nearing despair, along comes...

    We're on our way to a greener Earth, day by day and year by year, oh boy. At least, that is how I read this post's prime selection.  Many of those who are paying close to attention to climate change these days are getting more and more worried. For those nearing despair, along comes a new offering from a somewhat contrary Brit science + enviro journalist and essayist.  I do not recall meeting the man, but he is easily envisioned as a little bit cranky and possessed of quick wit. That is, a pretty good companion over a drink or two.

   The hopeful analysis:

Science books by scientists often win the Pulitzer for non-fiction, but this year’s winner, Tom’s River, is a work of science journalism, and showcases just how much a great journalist can accomplish. The book details a long, complicated investigation into what appeared to be an unusual “...

Science books by scientists often win the Pulitzer for non-fiction, but this year’s winner, Tom’s River, is a work of science journalism, and showcases just how much a great journalist can accomplish. The book details a long, complicated investigation into what appeared to be an unusual “cluster” of childhood cancer in a New Jersey shore town with a history of chemical pollution.

There’s a nice excerpt here in Salon, which gives a sense of how unwieldy the subject was and the impossibility of a neat, clear-cut conclusion. The author, Dan Fagin, confronts the complexity of the situation, making it comprehensible by digging deep into the history of the region as well as the history of epidemiology and statistics.

According to his bio, Dan Fagin spent 14 years as an environment reporter for Newsday. He is now the director of...

   And the (climate) beat goes on. And on. And on. 

   After seven years of preparation the latest assessment team from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is now done with the heavy lifting. It released over the weekend the third and last major section of this assessment...

   And the (climate) beat goes on. And on. And on. 

   After seven years of preparation the latest assessment team from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is now done with the heavy lifting. It released over the weekend the third and last major section of this assessment - the fifth since 1990. Earlier this year it said that global warming is still a clear, serious, and worsening peril we have brought upon ourselves; just last month its second part said that climate change impacts on humanity are already measurable and that far more misery is on the way. The topic for IPCC Working Group III. which just met in Berlin, concerns mitigation, what it will take to slow and eventually stop humanity's persistent nudges upward on the planet's thermostat. The hope is to start reducing CO2 levels in the air before global calamity strikes. Nuclear power and geoengineering that please some conservative industrial sectors, on top of renewables...

The news website of MIT's School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences--known around the campus as SHASS--asked me to say something briefly about the Tracker and its mission. Here is how I answered SHASS's...

The news website of MIT's School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences--known around the campus as SHASS--asked me to say something briefly about the Tracker and its mission. Here is how I answered SHASS's "3 Questions" for the Tracker.

This also gave me an occasion to bring up--yet again!--the story of the "immortal" jellyfish.

Enjoy.

-Paul Raeburn

When we think about science and religion, we often see the two in conflict. Science says the world and its creatures arose over billions of years by way of natural processes; and some religions--not all--argue that the world was made in seven days by a being whom we should therefore revere.

You can see this...

When we think about science and religion, we often see the two in conflict. Science says the world and its creatures arose over billions of years by way of natural processes; and some religions--not all--argue that the world was made in seven days by a being whom we should therefore revere.

You can see this dichotomy in a piece by the social critic Barbara Ehrenreich in in the most recent Sunday Review in The New York Times. "My atheism is hard core...a stance I perpetuated by opting, initially, for a career in science," she begins. Science is not an expression of atheism, just as it is not an expression of religion. Even smart people like Ehrenreich can become confused about that.

One person who didn't become confused about science and spirituality--and who showed there is a place for them to coexist--was...

Philip J. Hilts, the director of the Knight Science Journalism Program at MIT and a former science reporter for The New York Times and The Washington Post, has announced that...

Philip J. Hilts, the director of the Knight Science Journalism Program at MIT and a former science reporter for The New York Times and The Washington Post, has announced that he will retire at the end of June.

Hilts, who took over the program in 2008, expanded its international reach and added training in video and audio storytelling. And under his leadership, the number of applicants for the year-long Knight Science Journalism fellowships  for science reporters grew from about 80 per year to about 150 per year.

"The Knight Program has been a tremendous asset to MIT, and a powerful resource for our understanding of the relationship between science and technology and the public," said Deborah Fitzgerald, the Kenan Sahin Dean at the MIT School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences. "I am...

Tabitha M. Powledge at On Science Blogs reviews the week's climate coverage (including some of our remarks here).

And she also notes an event that...

Tabitha M. Powledge at On Science Blogs reviews the week's climate coverage (including some of our remarks here).

And she also notes an event that I somehow missed: Jane Goodall's 80th birthday. I met Goodall once, at a dinner in New York, and she is not only smart, charming, and engaging, but she has some kind of aura about her. I know, I know: talk of "auras" makes me sound like some kind of new-age...well, makes me sound new-age. Instead of "aura," let's say charisma. Whatever it is, it makes you want to speak softly when you're around her, and listen carefully to everything she says.

She was probably 70 when I met her. I thought she was cool.

Powledge also collects comments on the discovery of the bones of Richard III, which gives me a rare opportunity to quote some...

  Just read a very important story and am not happy about it:

  Just read a very important story and am not happy about it:

   No, not about the subject matter even though it is dispiriting. Zuckerman digs deep into the expansion of corn, soy, and other farming in the northern tier of the plains - Minnesota, the Dakotas.. - to bring back a tale of vast acreage that had been mostly grazing land, and remained more or less like the post-Pleistocene landscape of recent millennia, being plowed up for farming. Land owners see prices for soybeans and corn so high that they can make money even off marginal land. The result is a collapse in game birds that hunters...

 It has been said that all news is local. Hardly any topic beats out weather when it comes to being right in the readers' backyards.

   In corollary fashion, the rising speculation among long range weather and climate forecasters that an El Niño of moderate to perhaps large...

 It has been said that all news is local. Hardly any topic beats out weather when it comes to being right in the readers' backyards.

   In corollary fashion, the rising speculation among long range weather and climate forecasters that an El Niño of moderate to perhaps large intensity is brewing in the tropical Pacific gets coverage in a very different fashion in Australia and southern and southeast Asia than it does in California. Or Peru. Or India. The US's Nat'l Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration puts chances of one occurring at 50-50 during the summer or fall. It's not much, but a significant one has not gotten odds that high for years. A paper in PNAS put the chances at 3 in 4. So it is news.

   ...

From The Age, Mar 23, 2014
Charlie Petit
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  Don't stop me if you heard this. Because you have, and you'll hear it many more times. A big conference of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is meeting and will soon issue a dire warning on the course and consequences of climate change should the world continue to take no strong steps...

  Don't stop me if you heard this. Because you have, and you'll hear it many more times. A big conference of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is meeting and will soon issue a dire warning on the course and consequences of climate change should the world continue to take no strong steps against the ways we've caused it. 

  One cannot be surprised that a fair contingent of the international press has just given up on covering these events on scene. You know, ground hog day and all that. Just this month the AAAS weighed in with its own statement of grave concern. But a few disciplined souls are in Yokohama Japan - or following closely via streaming video and other 21st century means - for what is formally the IPCC's Working Group II of the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5). It started early today (Tuesday Mar. 25)  and is to wind up with a press conference on the 31st. Its charge is to reach consensus on what the impact on humanity...

    Good news is not always news, not as a news reporter defines it. This morning a story ran in the local press declaring that there is at least one win-win response to California's on-going rain shortage, now in its 15th month, and evermore heated argument over water system priorities among...

    Good news is not always news, not as a news reporter defines it. This morning a story ran in the local press declaring that there is at least one win-win response to California's on-going rain shortage, now in its 15th month, and evermore heated argument over water system priorities among proponents of wildlife, crops, and urban faucets. It reports a rare alignment in what's best for one of the state's most iconic finned friends and for farmers - specifically, those who grow the California food crop that consumes the most irrigation water.

    This piece is well worth reading even though, as explained further along, it has a few holes.

    The gist is...

For the distinguished AP science writer Malcolm Ritter, Tuesday was a day of somber reflection.

"On my 30th anniversary as an AP science writer this week, I found myself interviewing a scientist about a dinosaur known as 'the chicken from hell,'" he wrote on his Facebook...

For the distinguished AP science writer Malcolm Ritter, Tuesday was a day of somber reflection.

"On my 30th anniversary as an AP science writer this week, I found myself interviewing a scientist about a dinosaur known as 'the chicken from hell,'" he wrote on his Facebook page.

It's easy to see how emotional that must have been.

But it shouldn't deter us from extending sincere congratulations to a writer whose consistent excellence and steady hand might put us in mind of Iron Man Cal Ripken of the Orioles. I worked right beside Malcolm for a dozen years, and I can tell you that you will not find a more dependable, capable, or collegial science writer anywhere in our business.

One of Malcolm's colleagues, AP Science Writer Seth Borenstein, sent the Tracker an email with an eloquent description of Malcolm's work that I thought was worth reprinting here, so that I can add that I happily and...

  Yesterday's post on the succinct and emphatic AAAS report, What We Know, on climate change...

  Yesterday's post on the succinct and emphatic AAAS report, What We Know, on climate change elicits this thought: Is the whole thing a rehash of things already concluded by most scientists and circulated in the public by media? The answer is yes. Not that the report is a waste - it addresses the reality that a lot of Americans either don't believe we are changing climate much if at all, or that yes it's a problem but we have more important things to do right now than to fix the climate. Sure, some of us worry about it all the time, but not most of us.

    But still. The AAAS report has lots of pop but not much new info. Perhaps it will however help the message to eventually get through. In the meantime, as the tracker's job is...

  When an august and generally circumspect scientific society pulls together a panel of 13 esteemed scholars for a consensus report, one does not tend to expect this sort of punchy, plain-as-nails writing:

Against this backdrop of natural variation, however, something different is...

  When an august and generally circumspect scientific society pulls together a panel of 13 esteemed scholars for a consensus report, one does not tend to expect this sort of punchy, plain-as-nails writing:

Against this backdrop of natural variation, however, something different is happening. Greenhouse gases have supercharged the climate just as steroids supercharged hitting in Major League Baseball. Over the course of a baseball season in the steroid era, we witnessed more and longer homers, even though we cannot attribute any specific homer to steroids.

   That is just about as good as any explanation of specifics versus statistics I have ever read. Maybe the report writers cribbed it from somewhere? Dunno. [Update - Not original. See comments.] But it makes clear why it is inane to ask whether this storm or that drought or those icebergs are due to global warming. It is not as though other current weather events...

Nate Silver's fivethirtyeight.com relaunched yesterday at its new home--ESPN--vowing to focus its coverage on five areas: politics, economics, life, sports--and science.

The inclusion of science was a surprise to me. And possibly a mistake, unless FiveThirtyEight can...

Nate Silver's fivethirtyeight.com relaunched yesterday at its new home--ESPN--vowing to focus its coverage on five areas: politics, economics, life, sports--and science.

The inclusion of science was a surprise to me. And possibly a mistake, unless FiveThirtyEight can quickly improve the quality of the "science" it's publishing. The lead story on the relaunched site's first day--"Finally, a Formula for Decoding Health News"--was abysmal.

Silver's most famous achievement was calling 50 states correctly in the 2012 presidential election. But in a manifesto entitled What the Fox Knows, Silver says some others did nearly as well, and that his election forecasts "didn’t represent the totality, or even the most important part, of our journalism at FiveThirtyEight. We also covered topics ranging from the...