The climate crisis is not a reproductive crisis

If you read or listened to NPR’s All Things Considered last week, then you probably came across this interesting article and podcast by Jennifer Ludden, provocatively titled, “Should We Be Having Kids In The Age of Climate Change?” This post is mostly in response to that, and I suggest checking out the NPR piece before reading this.

Ludden and Travis Rieder, a philosopher and ethicist at Johns Hopkins University whom she highlights, help to provoke discussion, and I appreciate that. They make a pretty compelling argument, while raising questions people rarely consider or talk about. But as you’ve probably guessed, I’m not convinced by the argument. Nonetheless, after suffering through July, the warmest month ever recorded, this is a good time to discuss these issues.

Map of temperature rises that have *already* occurred. (Credit: US National Climate Assessment / NASA)

Map of temperature rises that have *already* occurred. (Credit: US National Climate Assessment / NASA)

Rieder argues that the simplest solution to address climate change and reduce carbon dioxide emissions is to have fewer children. The emissions savings one can make during a lifetime don’t add up to the projected emissions of a whole other person, he says. I agree with many points he makes, but it’s not so simple.

Climate scientists project average global temperatures to rise by more than 2 degrees Celsius, a pivotal level that could take us past some “tipping points,” and the Paris climate agreement falls far short of preventing that.

We need to take dramatic action. Just making a few adjustments here and there isn’t going to cut it. Not even close. Prius-driving people with Al Gore-approved light bulbs at home aren’t saving the world—far from it.

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Campaign promises and proclamations I hope President Hillary Clinton will fulfill

I know, it’s probably premature to talk about what President (Hillary) Clinton could or should do. Poll aggregates currently estimate about an 88% chance of her winning the election, but you don’t need to be a political scientist to know that that’s far from guaranteed. A lot can happen in the next two and a half months, and we haven’t seen Clinton and Donald Trump debate yet. But barring a major shift, Clinton will likely prevail in November.

(Credit: U.S. Department of State)

(Credit: U.S. Department of State)

If she wins handily, by a margin of even 10%, and if there’s a big turnout of the electorate (60% turnout is actually considered high in this country), then Clinton can say that she’s earned a “mandate.” But as the New York Times asked on Monday, what exactly will that mandate be for? Thomas Frank argues in the Guardian that, as Trump’s campaign nosedives, Clinton need only campaign against him, rather than for a progressive agenda. What Clinton says in her speeches and whom she highlights as her top advisors and endorsers is at least as good a sign of what’s to come as her official platform.

In any case, many voters as well as observers abroad pay close attention to her policy positions and campaign promises, and they want action, not just rhetoric. As noted by the LA Times and the Atlantic, political-science research shows that promises made during this phase of the campaign often get followed up on later (with mixed results). Here are a few in particular I’m hoping she follows through on. Clinton will be able to make progress on many of these even if the Congress becomes gridlocked.

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News from Nature: women in physics, atom wranglers, musical preferences

Here’s some fascinating stories I’ve been working on lately for Nature in Washington, D.C. I’m proud of these first three news stories for them, and if you’re interested, check them out on Nature‘s website. (And if you quote or cite any of them, please give proper credit.) Special thanks go to my editors, Lauren Morello and Jane Lee.

 

Women in physics face big hurdles — still

Persistent biases continue to affect the numbers of female physicists.

There are more women in the sciences than ever before. They hold leading faculty and administrative positions while their representation in fields such as biology, sociology and psychology has increased. Yet the physical sciences are woefully behind when it comes to the number of women at all levels.

“Physics and engineering both have big gender divides,” says Eric Brewe, a physics education researcher at Florida International University in Miami.

This persistent problem prompted a special issue of the journal Physical Review Physics Education Research, with 17 papers and an editorial on gender issues in physics, published on 1 August. Brewe was one of two guest editors for the issue.

(Credit: ullstein bild/Getty)

(Credit: ullstein bild/Getty)

…The special issue addresses the reasons why relatively few women enter the field of physics, as well as the factors that deter them from completing their degrees. They include a lack of role models, entrenched stereotypes and an undervaluing of their abilities. Many authors also highlighted the fact that women are — usually inadvertently — made to feel like they don’t fit in…

[For more, read the entire story in Nature, published on 1 August 2016.]

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