Science brings us many wonderful things (honestly if you enjoy the benefits of the modern era, go out and hug a scientist). One of humanities age old desires is the ability to convert something invaluable, or a nuisance, into something desirable. The old midas touch if you will. Recently some scientist stumbled onto the process of converting CO2, a primary culprit of anthropogenic climate change, into alcohol… though not the kind you drink, the kind that humanity could use as fuel.
(Photo credit: Getty + Space Images)
Producing fuel from CO2 is huge because it lets us take a nuisance compound, and converts it into a productive one. This was accomplished by scientists at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee by using common materials (copper and carbon), but arranging them with nanotechnology. The researchers were attempting to find a series of chemical reactions that could turn CO2 into a useful fuel, such as ethanol. They figured they would go from CO2 to methanol, and then work out the logistics of going from methanol to ethanol, when they realized the first step in their process managed to do it all by itself. Science for the win!
Herring and other fish hung out to dry on a trawler in Klaksvík. Photo by ADT.
A small collection of islands in the North Sea, a few hundred miles south of the Arctic Circle, is preparing for war. The European Union, under the auspices of an international fisheries management agreement, is ready to levy heavy trade sanctions against the Faroe Islands, an independent protectorate of Denmark. The Faroes, with a population of less than 50,000, intends to fight these sanctions, defy EU authority, and defend their economic independence. The object of contention is the right to fish Atlanto-Scandian Herring; the driving force behind this dispute–dramatic shifts in fish distribution brought on by warming seas and altered currents. This may be the first international conflict directly attributable to climate change. It will not be the last. Regardless of the outcome, this confrontation will set a precedent for future climate conflicts. Welcome to the Herring War.
Despite their uninspiring name, herring are a rather handsome fish. Atlantic herring, Clupea harengus, are relatively small with a classically “fishy” (fusiform) body shape. They are among the most abundant fish in the ocean, forming schools that can number in the billions. Along with other planktivorous fishes, such as menhaden, that convert phyto- and zooplankton into higher trophic-level biomass, herring are critical to ocean food-webs. They are considered to be among the most important fish in the sea. Herring are the dominant prey species for many large, pelagic predators like tuna, sharks, marine mammals, salmon, and sea birds, among others. Their dominant predator, unsurprisingly, is us.
1. a short account of a particular incident or event, especiallyof an interesting or amusing nature.
2. a short, obscure historical or biographical account.
A change of climate which is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere and which is in addition to natural climate variability observed over comparable time periods.
United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change
Climate change is real and human activity is the cause. The theory that we are fundamentally altering our planet’s climate is supported by overwhelming evidence. Prominent global warming skeptics have, in the face of such evidence, acknowledged that climate change is happening, and that humans are the cause.
And still climate change denial continues to persist.
In the last decade, we have passed a threshold where the reality of climate change is no longer a hypothesis buried in bar graphs or something to be assessed by minute changes in careful measurements, but an observable phenomenon. Rather than anticipating the effects of human impacts on the climate, we must now live them. Thanks to a well-organized and well-funded climate denial industry, we missed our chance to change course. If the last decade was the hurricane warning, than this decade is landfall.
I’ve been critical of President Obama’s policies concerning science, technology and education in the past. I think he uses a lot of great-sounding rhetoric, but I have yet to see very much in the way of actual results. Despite lofty promises about climate change, we remain without a cap-and-trade system or any sort of meaningful response plan. To make things worse, the administration recently fired their primary adviser for climate change policy. Is all hope lost? Perhaps not.
Dear Representative Boehner,
Congratulations on your party’s recent election victories. Your speech at the end of the night was particularly touching, and your personal story is inspirational. The election results do seem to signify that many Americans are not happy with how the Democratic party has been running Washington, and some change will likely be good for the country. As a scientist, however, I am deeply troubled by some of what I’m hearing about the new Republican House majority, particularly about global climate change policy.
I know many scientists who aren’t politically active because they feel that many political issues don’t apply to them. I strongly disagree. If the upcoming midterm elections proceed as pundits claim, it may have disastrous consequences for American science policy. We all have a stake in this.