Saturday, February 24, 2007

Scientists Flex Political Muscles

"The biggest general science conference in the world is shaping up to be unusually political this year, with an emphasis on global warming and sustainability. There's even a workshop on how scientists can fight anti-evolutionists on local school boards.

"It's a smorgasbord of all research in every field," said Ginger Pinholster, spokeswoman for the American Association for the Advancement of Science, or AAAS, which begins its annual meeting Thursday in San Francisco. "It helps to foster dialogue between scientists and the public and with policy makers."

Much of the research presented will look at the effects of global warming on glaciers, Antarctica and the ocean. In one speech, a Carnegie Mellon University professor who studies decision-making and public policy is expected to talk about how science can "induce urgent action" regarding climate change.

"The purpose of science is to tell us about the nature of the world whether we like the answer or not," said Alan I. Leshner, CEO of the AAAS.

The AAAS' annual meeting attracts about 10,000 attendees, including more than 1,000 journalists from around the world, giving the conference a loud, global voice."

Friday, February 23, 2007

Web 2.0 ... The Machine is Us/ing Us

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Will a Multi-Million Dollar Contest Be the Answer to Global Warming?

"The recent release of the IPCC's fourth assessment on climate change is just one more milestone documenting the disintegration of Earth's planetary life-support systems. The world must act quickly, but I am not impressed by the announcement last week that Sir Richard Branson, founder of a company that is building a fleet of excursion vehicles for the space tourism market, has offered a $25 million prize for the invention of new carbon-sequestration technologies.

Branson's space travel company, called Virgin Galactic (in line with his other ventures, Virgin Media, Virgin Trains and Virgin Airways), is building five suborbital spacecraft based on Burt Rutan's X-Prize winning design, SpaceShipOne. Tourists will pay about $200,000 a ticket to spew greenhouse gases into the upper atmosphere and enjoy an hour of bouncing around in microgravity. Presumably, it was the success of the X-Prize competition in producing this space toy that inspired Branson to offer the carbon-sequestration prize, which he calls the Earth Challenge. Sadly, Branson's prize may do more harm than good.

There are two big problems with the Earth Challenge prize. First, and most important, it sends the wrong message to those who are just waking up to the true threat of climate change: it says we can solve this problem by inventing the right techno-fix. Branson himself said it at his news conference announcing the prize: "Man created the problem; therefore Man should solve the problem."

If "Man" is about to jump in and fix the carbon problem, then we'll all be able to carry on with business as usual, right? Yikes! If this perception becomes widespread, then there will be no motivation to change our wasteful habits. We can relax, because we have plenty of coal in the ground and our techno-heroes will find a way to capture and store those pesky carbon molecules out of the way somewhere.

Encouraging complacency is one problem. Then there's the problem that any techno-fix solution big enough to make a difference has the potential for dangerous unintended consequences of planetary magnitude."

Read more on AlterNet.