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Highlights of 2010: Definitive statements: a new trend?

“This is the way it was.” Or: “This is what is happening.” Hmmm. Scientists don’t usually make such definitive statements, given that in science, there are almost always caveats. Yet in the last year, such statements have been issued by several large groups of scientists who have come together to support a certain point of view. Are scientists feeling the need to dig in their heels because of public pressures? Or are we actually reaching some consensus?

10 Dec 2010

Voices: Geologists on the wrong side of the law

We live in a litigious society. Engineering and environmental geologists are no strangers to the legal system. They frequently deal with issues relating to geologic hazards such as active faults and unstable ground, the release of contaminants into the environment and numerous other circumstances. But for the most part, geoscientists tend to avoid legal battles. Is that changing?

03 Dec 2010

A Dirty Secret - China's greatest import: Carbon emissions

The U.S. and much of the Western world have a dirty secret.

While we claim to be working diligently to decrease our emissions and switch to cleaner, non-fossil fuel energies, we are actually just exporting emissions to other countries, most notably China. We don’t talk about it. We get on our soapboxes at international meetings and claim to be making great progress to halt ever-increasing carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere. And we complain vociferously about developing countries — again, most notably China — not doing the same.

22 Nov 2010

Comment: Volcanic versus anthropogenic carbon dioxide: The missing science

“Volcanoes add far more carbon dioxide to the oceans and atmosphere than humans.” So says geologist Ian Plimer of the University of Adelaide in his 2009 best seller “Heaven and Earth: Global Warming — the Missing Science.” With this assertion, Plimer brings volcanic carbon dioxide degassing front and center in the climate change debate, reviving and reinforcing this wildly mistaken notion.

30 Jul 2010

Saving Afghanistan: Redevelopment one resource at a time

In his campaign and early in his presidency, U.S. President Barack Obama has said he plans to make Afghanistan a priority, calling the resurgence of al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan “the greatest threat to [U.S.] security.” Fortunately, military might isn’t the only focus of Obama’s plan; he also intends to dedicate more resources to revitalize Afghanistan’s economic development. Finally!

14 Jun 2010

Voices: Volcanoes everywhere ... is there a link?

It may seem that there has been an unusual amount of volcanic activity lately, with major eruptions occurring in Iceland, Guatemala and Ecuador. But is it really unusual, and are the eruptions connected?

The short answer to both questions is no.

03 Jun 2010

Voices: Must we capture and store carbon from coal to meet emission-reduction targets?

Last Wednesday, Sens. John Kerry and Joe Lieberman unveiled a comprehensive energy bill (PDF) called the American Power Act. The central purpose of the proposed legislation (along with a similar bill passed by the House of Representatives in June 2009) is to significantly curb the nation’s carbon dioxide emissions.

18 May 2010

Comment: Peak Soil: Does civilization have a future?

First there was Peak Oil, the idea that there’s only so much oil out there and we may have reached or even passed a turning point in global oil production. In his 2007 book “Peak Everything,” author Richard Heinberg said it’s not just fossil fuels: Everything from population to food production to freshwater availability has its own point of no return.

15 Apr 2010

Voices: Greening the Gross Domestic Product

When measured in terms of annual Gross Domestic Product, or GDP, the United States is the richest country in the world, followed at a distance by China and Japan, and then several European countries, including Germany, France and the United Kingdom. The GDP — the value of all final goods and services produced in a country during a given year — is a simple computation that allows a direct comparison of wealth between countries.

01 Apr 2010

Voices: Redefining humanity through energy use

What is it, exactly, that distinguishes us from other species? The definition of humankind has perplexed scientists, philosophers and theorists for centuries. DNA composition differentiates species in a technical sense, but that definition is hardly satisfying. Certainly there must be something more ethereal that separates us from “lower” forms of creatures. Over the centuries, several definitions have emerged — from using tools to speaking — but have then been proven insufficient in some heuristic way. So I propose another option: manipulating energy.

24 Mar 2010

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