Scotland, Land Of Regret-Reducing Renewable Resources

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Scottish Power’s Whitelee windfarm on Eaglesham moor, just south of Glasgow. Photograph: Global Warming Images/REX

My daily contribution to this platform is a habit vaguely in the tradition of meditation–finding something each day that is worthy of gratitude, or otherwise worthy of sharing with friends, family, and anyone else who cares to listen. Because of the good fortune I have had to visit and work in many amazing places, it is important to me to never regret the places where I still have not been. Scotland is one of those places that, if I were a regretter, I would be feeling it now. I owe that place a visit (even if the company name sounds like a Bond villain):

Scottish Power shifts to 100% wind generation after £700m Drax sale

Big six energy firm drops fossil fuels for generation and say cheap green energy is the future

Scottish Power has ditched fossil fuels for electricity generation and switched to 100% wind power, by selling off its last remaining gas power stations to Drax for more than £700m.

Iberdrola, Scottish Power’s Spanish parent company, said the move was part of its strategy to tackle climate change and would free it up to invest in renewables and power grids in the UK.

The deal also marks a significant expansion and diversification for Drax, whose main business is a coal- and biomass-fired power station in North Yorkshire. Continue reading

Forests, Deforestation & Climate Change

Trees cleared in the western Amazon region of Brazil in September 2017. CARL DE SOUZA / AFP / GETTY IMAGES

If you have been following the news recently, you may have noticed a report that indicates the urgency from climate change is greater than scientists previously thought. Everyone who cares has been digesting the science and we appreciate every effort to clarify what the science is saying. Fred Pearce, writing for Yale e360, has this:

Conflicting Data: How Fast Is the World Losing its Forests?

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Forest cut to make way for an oil palm plantation in Papua, Indonesia in April 2018. ULET IFANSASTI / GREENPEACE

The latest UN report on climate says reducing deforestation is crucial to slowing global warming. But researchers must first reconcile two contradictory sets of statistics on tree loss in order to determine whether promises made by nations to protect and restore forests are on target.

The world is losing trees faster than ever. An area the size of Italy disappeared last year. Or did it? New research suggests three-quarters of those lost forests may already be regrowing. That hardly means we are out of the woods. Fighting climate change and protecting biodiversity still needs a global campaign to reforest the planet. But it does suggest that, given the chance, nature will do much of the work. Continue reading

Carbon Insurance As Heritage Insurance

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A carbon-offset project, the first of its kind in the United States, has become the Yurok’s main source of discretionary income, helping the tribe buy back thousands of acres of land. Photograph by Joel Redman

Carbon trading has featured, or at least been mentioned, only rarely on this platform, now that I stop to check. That seems impossible. But the scheme with so much promise has simply not taken off. Indigenous heritage, on the other hand, has featured in dozens of stories here since we started in 2011. Thanks to Carolyn Kormann for bringing this story to my attention, helped by two captivating photos and the fact that it highlights the approach of the Yurok Tribe (a community I had not heard of before):

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“I think we did a good thing by saving the trees, but I’m not happy with it,” Jene McCovey, a tribal elder, said. “It’s not viable. It allows polluters to pollute.” Photograph by Joel Redman

How Carbon Trading Became a Way of Life for California’s Yurok Tribe

When Marty Lamebear is not fighting fires, he is starting them. In the past few years, as a member of the Yurok Tribe Forestry Program’s fire department, he has been helping revive the controversial practice of prescribed burns to protect and restore the coastal redwood forests of northern California. Lamebear is also a hunter, fisherman, and dancer. In his free time, he makes tribal regalia for ceremonial dances from parts of elk, deer, minks, and porcupines, which he shoots or finds already dead, and from frozen eagles that he orders from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. A prescribed burn, what Lamebear calls a culture burn, creates prairies within the forest, which attract those animals. “At first, we couldn’t really tell its effects,” he said. “But, after about six years now, we can honestly start seeing the landscape open up, animals come around.” They also serve another purpose, he said. “It’s insurance for our carbon.” Continue reading

The Picture From The Recent Climate Change Report Is Now More Clear

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Deniers, we already know you will find a way to see this from some other perspective, and we have given up trying to understand why you do that. But for everyone else, there is still time to understand the implications of this science. And there is no shame in using props to help learn. Thanks to Brad Plumer and Nadja Popovich for making sure we get the point, with clear graphical illustration, about what this recent study is saying and why every one of us should care:

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Extreme heat will be much more common worldwide under 2°C of warming compared to 1.5°C, with the tropics experiencing the biggest increase in the number of “highly unusual” hot days.

Read the rest of this graphics-rich story here.

Time As An Ingredient

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Climate change has reared its big ugly head enough that I no longer count on seasonal consistency, but for now nine days in a row it has felt familiar, the greenest month of the green season in Costa Rica. And today, as of dawn, it looks like more of the same. “Some things never change” would be a real head in the sand cliché when thinking of seasons, but at least this October, so far, mornings have been sunny and by early afternoon the clouds roll in and the afternoons remind me of our 2010 to 2017 Kerala life, until dinner time. The photo above was from our second monsoon season there. Just up the hill from where I am writing at this moment, in Tarrazu–the Costa Rica equivalent of Munnar’s tea region–you might see something comparable, like this:

DCIM/100MEDIA/DJI_0482.JPG A few years ago Seth and James worked to restore a coffee plantation across the valley from the home where Seth grew up. The coffee they restored had been removed two decades earlier, a moment in time when coffee prices had crashed, even for the premium arabica that grows in Costa Rica. As it happens the same is true of the property where I am writing from, which had been a coffee plantation for most of the last century. In 2019 a restoration project will bring coffee back to this land, with tree shade for both the coffee and for the sake of restored bird habitat, and I look forward to sharing that progress here. And it is with this in mind that time, as an ingredient, is a theme for today. Work that Seth and James did demonstrated, with the passage of time, the fruitfulness of restoration and conservation. Now a replica project is ready to roll.

Time as an ingredient during green season is also a theme. Reading and cooking pass the time pleasantly during such afternoons, at least when the weekend schedule permits. Time for reading was on my mind a couple days ago, and the author featured in this podcast gets me thinking about time as an ingredient in the cooking I have been doing recently–almost all vegetarian and with the conscious effort to cook as minimally as possible to retain nutrients and flavor. As a bonus, this episode of a podcast we have been listening and linking to for two years shares the story behind espresso, so worth a listen:

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One Week to Whiskey

A Los Angeles distillery aims to speed up a 10-year aging process to a matter of days.

9781468316384.jpgWhy does fish cook so fast? What’s the “wasabi window”? And can you really make 20-year-old aged whiskey in six days? This episode, we’re looking at the role of time in food and flavor: what it does and how we’ve tried—and sometimes succeeded—to manipulate that. To explore these questions, we visit a whiskey time machine tucked away in a low-slung warehouse in downtown Los Angeles and meet its inventor, Bryan Davis. And we speak with Jenny Linford, a food writer and author of a new book, The Missing Ingredient, all about time and food. Listen in now—this one’s well worth your time! Continue reading

Trees, Cities & Happiness

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A tree in Riverfront Park competes for grandeur with Nashville’s iconic At&T building. Credit William DeShazer for The New York Times

PlantTreeCity.jpgI just learned of an urban tree-planting initiative on a day when the news shows purposeful indifference about climate change on the part of a powerful country’s elected leader, on the same day when the news also shows that an economist considered a pioneer of environmental economics is receiving a prestigious prize and what he said when he learned of his being awarded the prize:

“Once we start to try to reduce carbon emissions, we’ll be surprised that it wasn’t as hard as we anticipated. The danger with very alarming forecasts is that it will make people feel apathetic and hopeless.

“One problem today is that people think protecting the environment will be so costly and so hard that they want to ignore the problem and pretend it doesn’t exist. Humans are capable of amazing accomplishments if we set our minds to it.”

PlantTreesCity2Let’s decide together to do something, seems to be his message. I learned about this urban tree-planting initiative, news of a president’s abdication of responsibility, and this economist’s optimistic message on the same day I read about a 15-year old climate activist who has decided to do something where she sees her government failing to take action. She has decided at a very young age to do what she can regardless of the daunting odds. So thanks to Margaret Renkl a Nashville-based contributing opinion writer for The New York Times, for bringing this initiative to my attention, as a reminder to do something:

More Trees, Happier People

When cities grow, green space dies. Replanting it has been shown to lift the human spirit.

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A tale of two trees in Nashville. A mature tree in England Park, left, and a newly planted tree at Wright Middle School.

NASHVILLE — The scene in a tiny pocket park outside Plaza Mariachi here on Nolensville Pike last Wednesday was like a tableau from a Norman Rockwell painting, 21st-century style. Surrounded by signs advertising the Hispanic Family Foundation, Dubai Jewelry, the Dominican Barber Shop and restaurants offering Peruvian, Chinese, Mediterranean and Indian food — as well as a Game Stop franchise and H&R Block — was a small sign that read, “Today: Free trees.”

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Photographs by William DeShazer for The New York Times

The arrow on the sign pointed to a pop-up canopy where the Nashville Tree Foundation was hosting its fourth tree giveaway of October. A family standing under the canopy was posing for a photo with the sapling they had just adopted. Carolyn Sorenson, executive director of the foundation, was taking the picture: “Say ‘trees’!” she said.

The tree giveaway at Plaza Mariachi happened to fall on the very day that Nashville’s mayor, David Briley, announced a campaign to restore and enlarge the city’s tree canopy. The effort, called “Root Nashville,” will be overseen by the city and the Cumberland River Compact, an environmental nonprofit, and funded through a combination of public, corporate, foundation and private dollars. Together with several municipal departments and other nonprofit organizations, the initiative aims to plant 500,000 trees in Davidson County by 2050.

Many of these newly planted saplings will replace very large, very old trees that have been lost to Nashville’s meteoric growth — a population increase of more than 45 percent since 2000. As the city has grown, the city’s trees have fallen: deliberately felled by developers to make room for new construction or unintentionally killed as a side effect of nearby building. Just since 2008, the tree canopy in the urban core has dropped from 28 percent to 24 percent, a loss of roughly 9,000 trees a year. Continue reading

Helping Coral Repopulate

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Valérie Chamberland and Erik Houtepen look for signs of spawning in grooved brain coral colonies. EXPOSURE LABS

Thanks to Michelle Nijhuis, whose science writing we have been following since 2014 but up to now mostly in another magazine we source from; this is as fine as it comes:

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EXPOSURE LABS

Valérie Chamberland swims like a dolphin, quickly and fluidly, and for most of the past hour she has been darting through the warm, shallow water off the Caribbean island of Curaçao. Now, she is dangling upside down, hovering above a pillow-sized brain coral. Her rubber fins twitch steadily overhead, and as she sips air from the aluminum tank on her back, a stream of bubbles rises from her regulator’s mouthpiece.

The reef spread below Chamberland isn’t one of those flashy, fluorescent gardens seen in calendar photos and nature documentaries. Only a few dozen yards from shore, it lies almost literally in the shadows of a stone jetty, a busy casino, and a Denny’s restaurant. The waters that surround it are murky, and most of its corals are brown and lumpy, sparsely accessorized with bright-purple vase sponges and waving, rusty-red sea fans. Continue reading

For The Love Of Baobab!

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Selbe Dione and her sister harvesting baobab leaves to cook with couscous in the countryside of western Senegal.CreditCreditTomas Munita for The New York Times

Thanks to Dionne Searcey for reminding me of the first time I encountered one of these trees, which happened to be in Senegal (so why have we not featured Senegal more in these pages?) and was the location for the first field course I taught for Cornell focused on sustainable development. For the love of baobab, so to speak, I am more sensitive than ever to the ravages of palm oil plantations:

Across Senegal, the Beloved Baobab Tree Is the ‘Pride of the Neighborhood’

Baobabs have endured for centuries as essential cultural symbols. But increasingly, they are threatened by climate change, urbanization and a growing population.

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In Dakar, baobabs blend into the cityscape, like this one in the center of a taxi garage near a freeway on ramp. Credit Tomas Munita for The New York Times

DAKAR, Senegal — Wide, awkward baobab trees blend into the cityscape of Dakar, the busy capital of Senegal, almost without notice.

Drivers wash a fleet of taxis parked beneath one giant tree near a freeway on ramp. Rusting cars with open hoods are parked in a mechanic’s shop under the shade of another. A leathery trunk is a community billboard, with ads nailed to it for a plumber and an apartment for rent.

Aliou Ndour stood on a crowded corner, pulled out his phone and scrolled past the pictures of friends and family to another precious photo: the baobab in his home village.

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One of the largest baobab trees in Senegal is in the Fatick region, southwest of the capital. Credit Tomas Munita for The New York Times

Fat baobabs, some more than half a millennium old, have endured across Senegal, passed over for lumber largely because their wood is too brittle and spongy for use in furniture. Baobab leaves are mixed with couscous and eaten, the trees’ bark stripped to make rope, their fruit and seeds used for drinks and oils.

Something else has helped preserve these giants: They are beloved.

“This,” said Adama Dieme, craning his neck to look up at the spread of branches of the baobab on his block, “is the pride of the neighborhood.”

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Children playing over a fallen baobab in southwestern Senegal. Credit Tomas Munita for The New York Times

But baobabs, like many of the region’s trees, are in jeopardy, threatened by the same forces upending numerous facets of society — climate change, urbanization and population growth.

West Africa has lost much of the natural resources once tied so closely to its cultural identity. Poaching has stolen most of its wildlife; lions, giraffes and desert elephants are sorely endangered.

Huge swaths of forest are being razed to clear space for palm oil and cocoa plantations. Mangroves are being killed off by pollution. Even wispy acacias are hacked away for use in cooking fires to feed growing families. Continue reading

Analyzing Local Sources Of Big Carbon Footprints

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What gets measured gets managed. In the realm of climate science, national governments have the scale and responsibility to be involved in measurement. But if a skeptic is in charge of the government apparatus, good luck with that. With the national government of one of the big carbon footprint countries abandoning science and dropping out of the fight to reduce climate change, one of that country’s biggest companies is stepping up to offer an alternative. It may be too little too late but under the circumstances we may have no choice but to cheer it on:

Google’s New Tool to Fight Climate Change

The company will begin estimating local carbon pollution from cities around the world.

In the next decade or so, more than 6,000 cities, states, and provinces around the world will try to do something that has eluded humanity for 25 years: reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases, which warm the atmosphere and cause climate change.

The city-level leaders overseeing this task won’t have the same tools available to their national peers. Most of them won’t have an Environmental Protection Agency (or its equivalent), a meteorological bureau, a team of military engineers, or nasa. So where will they start? Never mind how to reduce their city’s greenhouse-gas emissions; how will they know what’s spewing carbon dioxide in the first place?

Maybe Google will do it for them. Or, at least, do it with them.

Google has started estimating greenhouse-gas emissions for individual cities, part of what it recently described as an ambitious new plan to deploy its hoard of geographic information on the side of climate-concerned local leaders. Continue reading

Climate Change’s Other Casualties

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Some of the world’s oldest structures have survived for 5,000 years in the Orkney Islands. Kitchens. Forges. Round houses. Now they face dire threats from climate change.

The Camera’s Gift To The Task Of Documenting Climate Change

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The safety officer Brian Rougeux assembles a radar dome while working at the research camp above Helheim Glacier near Tasiilaq, Greenland, on June 20, 2018. 
Lucas Jackson / Reuters

Alan Taylor, who  compiles and edits the news photo blog “In Focus” for the Atlantic, shares 21 spectacular images with captions that help even a lay person understand better the science of climate change:

Studying Greenland’s Ice to Understand Climate Change

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An iceberg floats in a fjord near Tasiilaq on June 16, 2018. # Lucas Jackson / Reuters

Earlier this year, Lucas Jackson, a photographer with Reuters, joined a team of scientists affiliated with a NASA project named Oceans Melting Greenland (OMG) and traveled with it to the Greenland ice sheet and fjords. Jackson photographed the researchers as they set up their scientific equipment and took readings to help understand the ongoing impact of the melting glaciers and map out what to expect in the future. Jackson says: “For both journalists and scientists, climate change is difficult to document. It most often happens imperceptibly—a tenth of a degree increase in temperature, a few less inches of rain, a slowly melting ice sheet.” Continue reading

Author of Extreme Conservation, Interviewed

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We recommend this interview in the Atlantic, with the author of the book above, a veteran conservationist reckoning with his career studying animals in the most extreme places on Earth:

In the winter of 2011, Joel Berger and his colleague Marci Johnson happened upon a ghostly Arctic death scene. Body parts and tufts of brown fur poked out of a frozen lagoon. This was all the biologists could find of a herd of 55 musk oxen they had been following.

The cause of mass mortality, they later determined, was an ice tsunami, the result of an unusual storm that slammed seawater and ice into the lagoon where the unfortunate musk oxen stood. Berger is a conservationist who works in some of the most hostile environments in the world, and he studies the enigmatic species, like musk oxen, that live there. His new book, Extreme Conservation, chronicles his career in Alaska, Siberia, Namibia, Tibet, Mongolia, and Bhutan. He is now a biologist at Colorado State University and a senior scientist at the Wildlife Conservation Society. Continue reading

The Future Is Bright, And Getting Brighter

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The future is bright, in one alarming way. Ed Yong explains, in his latest story The Very Hot, Very Hungry Caterpillar (anyone with children or grandchildren, or who has read books to a younger generation will appreciate the title) that climate change will help insects thrive. While that may be interesting for biodiversity it has implications for humans worth considering now, before too late:

Since the dawn of agriculture, humans have been unwillingly nourishing insects by growing plants that they then devour. Their mandibles consume somewhere between 10 and 20 percent of crops produced around the world. And these losses are likely to grow as the world slowly warms.

By looking at how insects will respond to rising temperatures, a team of researchers led by Curtis Deutsch and Joshua Tewksbury have calculated how rice, maize, and wheat—which provide 42 percent of humanity’s calories—will fare as the globe heats up. The results aren’t pretty.

They estimate that the portion of these grains that’s lost to insects will increase by 10 to 25 percent for every extra degree Celsius of warming. Continue reading

Climate Change Deniers, Beware Of The Speaking Stones

A “hunger stone” exposed by the low level of water in the Elbe river is seen in Decin, Czech Republic, on Thursday. The low level of water caused by the recent drought has exposed the stones on the river bed. Petr David Josek/AP

Thanks to National Public Radio (USA) for this:

Drought In Central Europe Reveals Cautionary ‘Hunger Stones’ In Czech River

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People visit a famous “hunger stone” exposed by the low level of water in the Elbe river in Decin, Czech Republic, on Thursday. Petr David Josek/AP

A lengthy drought in Europe has exposed carved boulders, known as “hunger stones,” that have been used for centuries to commemorate historic droughts — and warn of their consequences.

The Associated Press reports that hunger stones are newly visible in the Elbe River, which begins in the Czech Republic and flows through Germany.

“Over a dozen of the hunger stones, chosen to record low water levels, can now be seen in and near the northern Czech town of Decin near the German border,” the AP writes. Continue reading

Off Halogen, On With LED

Switching to LEDs has been estimated to save consumers up to £112 a year. Photograph: imageBroker/Rex/Shutterstock

Arthur Neslen at the Guardian shares the news, in Europe to ban halogen lightbulbs, that we have been waiting to hear for years:

After nearly 60 years of lighting homes halogens will be replaced with more energy efficient LEDs

After nearly 60 years of brightening our homes and streets, halogen lightbulbs will finally be banned across Europe on 1 September.

The lights will dim gradually for halogen. Remaining stocks may still be sold, and capsules, linear and low voltage incandescents used in oven lights will be exempted. But a continent-wide switchover to light-emitting diodes (LEDs) is underway that will slash emissions and energy bills, according to industry, campaigners and experts.

LEDs consume five times less energy than halogen bulbs and their phase-out will prevent more than 15m tonnes of carbon emissions a year, an amount equal to Portugal’s annual electricity usage. Continue reading

Bee Awesome

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Will Nissen’s bees north of Bakersfield, Calif. Credit Ilona Szwarc for The New York Times

Thanks to Jaime Lowe for this:

Model Mad, Rollback Pushback

Mary Nichols, who heads the California Air Resources Board, has vowed to fight the federal government’s proposed changes. Credit Eric Risberg/Associated Press

It’s been a while since we’ve addressed our “model mad” theme, despite there being numerous opportunity. We’re continually heartened by the strength of both the public and the private sector to pushback against the current administration’s regressive proposals.

California Strikes Back Against the Trump Administration’s Auto Pollution Rollback

California went on the offensive Tuesday against the Trump administration’s plan to weaken fuel-efficiency rules for cars, laying out a scathing rebuttal that the state’s clean-air regulator said would shape the battle with Washington in the coming months and years.

The state’s target is one of President Trump’s most consequential environmental rollbacks to date, a proposal unveiled last week to let cars pollute more while stripping California of its right to set its own air-quality rules.

The administration’s proposal “is contrary to the facts and the law,” the California document says, before refuting point by point the Trump administration’s arguments for weakening the nation’s long-term goals for making vehicles more fuel efficient and less polluting.

The clash between California and Washington threatens to throw the United States auto market into disarray. Because California has the authority under the Clean Air Act to set its own air pollution rules, and because a dozen other states follow its lead, the dispute could effectively split the nation’s market into two, one side adhering to stringent emissions rules set in Sacramento and the other to weaker federal standards.

Continue reading

Spying On Whales, For Our Sake As Well As Theirs

 

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Whales are a powerful oceanographic force in their own right, one that begets even more life; many ecosystems are still straining to equilibrate from the effects of twentieth-century whaling. Photograph by Francois Gohier / VWPics / Redux

x400.jpgIt may be too late, but this is too important to pretend it does not matter. It is not too late to learn from our mistakes. Peter Brannen, a science journalist and the author of “The Ends of the World: Volcanic Apocalypses, Lethal Oceans, and Our Quest to Understand Earth’s Past Mass Extinctions” gets our thanks for this review in the New Yorker, titled We May Never Understand the Ocean-Wide Damage Done by Industrial Whaling:

A few months ago I learned that, as recently as 1972, General Motors was using sperm-whale oil in transmission fluid in its cars. I’m not sure why I was surprised to learn this. It took nearly another decade for much of the world to agree to ban commercial whaling, in 1982. (A handful of countries still ignore the ban.) But the detail about G.M. still struck me as anachronistic. The global pursuit of whales inescapably connotes the romance of nineteenth-century New Bedford and Nantucket: delicately embossed scrimshaw, Melville, oil paintings of stately twilit schooners setting out on the main. Not puke-green Chevy El Caminos. Continue reading

Sustainability & Land-Use Choices

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Along the back of this field of sugar snap peas, sunflowers and bachelor buttons at Oxbow Farm & Conservation Center is a buffer of maturing big-leaf maples and red-osier dogwoods. It’s a combination of forest and thicket that the farm has left standing to help protect water quality in the river and aquifer. Oxbow Farm & Conservation Center

Another day, another sunflower because, why not? But this story is about much more than the overwhelming attractiveness of sunflowers:

Which Vision Of Farming Is Better For The Planet?

OxbowFarmers face a growing dilemma. Specifically, a food-growing dilemma.

How do you feed an increasing number of people without harming the environment?

As it turns out, growing as much food as possible in a small area may be our best bet for sustainably feeding the world’s population, according to new research.

It all comes down to how we manage greenhouse gases and climate change. Continue reading

A Science Advisor At Long Last, Yay

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If Ed Yong is happy, then we too are happy about this. Really. Even if it has a bit of fiddling while Rome burns feel to it. Let’s hope he can talk some sense, even if it is too late, into the powers that be:

Trump Finally Picks a Science Adviser—And People Are Delighted

His nominee, Kelvin Droegemeier, is an accomplished meteorologist who studies storms and other extreme weather.

For decades, the meteorologist Kelvin Droegemeier has been immersed in the study of thunderstorms, tornadoes, and other extreme weather. Now he looks set to enter the unpredictable and stormy world of the Trump administration as its top scientific consigliere. Continue reading