Enn Original News

Is the Pope right on climate change?
January 2, 2016 11:26 AM - Robert N. Stavins, Albert Pratt Professor of Business and Government; Member of the Board; Director, Harvard Project on Climate Agreements

Last June, Pope Francis released his much-anticipated encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si’, which received tremendous praise from diverse quarters. The same day, Coral Davenport, writing in the New York Times, noted that the papal encyclical "is as much an indictment of the global economic order as it is an argument for the world to confront climate change." Ms. Davenport quoted me (accurately) as saying that elements of the encyclical were unfortunately "out of step with the thinking and the work of informed policy analysts around the world." In this column, I will elaborate.

First of all, the Pope is to be commended for taking global climate change seriously, and for drawing more world attention to the issue. There is much about the encyclical that is commendable, but where it drifts into matters of public policy, I fear that it is — unfortunately — not helpful.

The long encyclical ignores the causes of global climate change: it is an externality, an unintended negative consequence of otherwise meritorious activity by producers producing the goods and services people want, and consumers using those goods and services. That is why the problem exists in the first place. There may well be ethical dimensions of the problem, but it is much more than a simple consequence of some immoral actions by corrupt capitalists. The document also ignores the global commons nature of the problem, which is why international cooperation is necessary.

How many trees are on planet Earth?
December 26, 2015 09:33 AM - NELL GREENFIELDBOYCE, NPR

Here is a pop quiz: How many trees are on the planet?

Most people have no idea.

A new study says the answer is more than 3 trillion trees — that's trillion with a T, and that number is about eight times more than a previous estimate.

Thomas Crowther was inspired to do this tree census a couple of years ago, when he was working at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. He had a friend who was working with a group with an ambitious goal: trying to fight global warming by planting a billion trees. A billion trees sounded like a lot. But was it really?

NASA finds the "missing" water on some Exoplanets!
December 15, 2015 06:24 AM - JPL-NASA

A survey of 10 hot, Jupiter-sized exoplanets conducted with NASA's Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes has led a team to solve a long-standing mystery -- why some of these worlds seem to have less water than expected. The findings offer new insights into the wide range of planetary atmospheres in our galaxy and how planets are assembled.

Of the nearly 2,000 planets confirmed to be orbiting other stars, a subset of them are gaseous planets with characteristics similar to those of Jupiter. However, they orbit very close to their stars, making them blistering hot.

Their close proximity to the star makes them difficult to observe in the glare of starlight. Due to this difficulty, Hubble has only explored a handful of hot Jupiters in the past. These initial studies have found several planets to hold less water than predicted by atmospheric models.

The Earth's rotation is slowly slowing down and this is impacting climate predictions
December 12, 2015 08:03 AM - UNIVERSITY OF ALBERTA via EurekAlert.

Scientists are studying past changes in sea level in order to make accurate future predictions of this consequence of climate change, and they're looking down to Earth's core to do so. "In order to fully understand the sea-level change that has occurred in the past century, we need to understand the dynamics of the flow in Earth's core" says Mathieu Dumberry, a professor in physics at the University of Alberta.

The connection is through the change in the speed of Earth's rotation. Melt water from glaciers not only causes sea-level rise, but also shifts mass from the pole to the equator, which slows down the rotation. (Picture the Earth as a spinning figure skater. The skater moves his or her arms in to spin more quickly or out to slow down.) The gravity pull from the Moon also contributes to the slow down, acting a little like a leaver break. However, the combination of these effects is not enough to explain the observations of the slowing down of Earth's rotation: a contribution from Earth's core must be added.

Did you know its national pear month?
December 9, 2015 08:22 AM - EDELMAN PUBLIC RELATIONS via EurekAlert

It's National Pear Month and the perfect time to enjoy juicy, sweet pears. If that isn't reason enough to fill your shopping basket, there's another reason to add this fruit to your grocery list. A new study, 'Fresh Pear Consumption is Associated with Better Nutrient Intake, Diet Quality, and Weight Parameters in Adults: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2001-2010,' published in Nutrition and Food Science, revealed new information regarding the health benefits of pear consumption.1 Of particular interest given the high rates of obesity in the United States, the study found that adult pear consumers had a lower body weight than non-pear consumers and they were 35 percent less likely to be obese.

The epidemiologic study, led by Carol O'Neil of the Louisiana State University Agricultural Center, used a nationally representative analytic sample to examine the association of fresh pear consumption with nutrient intake, nutrient adequacy, diet quality, and cardiovascular risk factors in adults. 

Greenland glaciers found to be melting on the fast track
December 8, 2015 05:21 AM - Columbia University via EurekAlert

"Two things are happening," said study co-author William D'Andrea, a paleoclimatologist at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. "One is you have a very gradual decrease in the amount of sunlight hitting high latitudes in the summer. If that were the only thing happening, we would expect these glaciers to very slowly be creeping forward, forward, forward. But then we come along and start burning fossil fuels and adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, and glaciers that would still be growing start to melt back because summer temperatures are warmer."

Glaciers are dynamic and heavy. As a glacier moves, it grinds the bedrock beneath, creating silt that the glacier's meltwater washes into the lake below. The larger the glacier, the more bedrock it grinds away. Scientists can take sediment cores from the bottom of glacier-fed lakes to see how much silt and organic material settled over time, along with other indicators of a changing climate. They can then use radiocarbon dating to determine when more or less silt was deposited.

Equity and Emission Trading in China, a new analysis by MIT
December 7, 2015 01:29 PM - MIT Sloan School of Management

As representatives from more than 190 countries convene in France for the second week to address ways to slow global warming, an MIT-led team has published a paper outlining a set of options for incorporating equity considerations in a national Emissions Trading System (ETS) for China that could reduce carbon emissions while minimizing economic impact on poorer or less-developed regions.

The paper, “Equity and Emission Trading in China,” published in the journal Climatic Change, outlines a sophisticated menu aimed at Chinese policymakers showing how the burden of reducing carbon emissions could be shared or divided across the country’s provinces under a market-based carbon pricing system.

“Emission trading systems have been shown to be highly effective when they are allowed to work, but one of the toughest challenges involves how to distribute the cost,” said lead author Valerie Karplus, Assistant Professor of Global Economics and Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management. “We compare alternative schemes for allocating emissions rights that can effectively de-couple who pays for reductions from where the reductions actually occur.”

 

COP21 enters critical phase today
December 7, 2015 08:00 AM - World Wildlife Foundation

Government ministers arrive in Paris today as climate talks enter their second week. The ministers add high-level influence to the climate negotiations and can help unlock critical elements of a new climate deal.

“It’s going to be quite a sprint for ministers to secure a strong deal by Friday,” said Tasneem Essop, head of WWF’s delegation to the COP21 climate talks. “The French presidency now has the responsibility to take us to the finish line.”

Are you smarter than a fruit fly?
December 5, 2015 08:13 AM - Northwestern University

Northwestern University neuroscientists now can read the mind of a fly. They have developed a clever new tool that lights up active conversations between neurons during a behavior or sensory experience, such as smelling a banana. Mapping the pattern of individual neural connections could provide insights into the computational processes that underlie the workings of the human brain. 

In a study focused on three of the fruit fly’s sensory systems, the researchers used fluorescent molecules of different colors to tag neurons in the brain to see which connections were active during a sensory experience that happened hours earlier. 

NASA captures image of faintest galaxy ever seen
December 4, 2015 07:40 AM - JPL NASA

Astronomers harnessing the combined power of NASA's Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes have found the faintest object ever seen in the early universe. It existed about 400 million years after the big bang, 13.8 billion years ago.

The team has nicknamed the object Tayna, which means "first-born" in Aymara, a language spoken in the Andes and Altiplano regions of South America.

Though Hubble and Spitzer have detected other galaxies that are record-breakers for distance, this object represents a smaller, fainter class of newly forming galaxies that until now had largely evaded detection. These very dim objects may be more representative of the early universe, and offer new insight on the formation and evolution of the first galaxies.

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