We’re still not very good at predicting the weather. Politicizing it doesn’t help.

The weather has always been political. From Bible stories that describe divine forecasts of flood and storms, to the correlation between rainfall and political assassinations in ancient Rome, the ability to anticipate and respond to weather-related phenomena has long been understood to make or break leaders. For modern examples, look no further than the fallout after Hurricane Katrina, or the urgent fight currently taking place over climate change.

But only very recently has the uncertainty of weather prediction also started to be exploited for political gain.

On Sept. 1, President Trump infamously claimed that Alabama “would most likely be hit (much) harder than anticipated” by Hurricane Dorian, a statement that was then refuted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), then defended by the agency, and is now the subject of an internal investigation and a growing scandal involving Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. While the whole snafu snowballed into a kind of theater that was almost comical — involving doctored maps and rage tweets — the underlying implication of the whole affair is much more worrying: That the inherent unknowableness of a forecast can be a political tool, too, and one that can carry deadly consequences if not taken seriously. “This is the first time I’ve felt pressure from above to not say what truly is the forecast,” one anonymous employee at the national meteorological agency said.

Predicting the weather is something America is surprisingly not great at. Compared to European weather computer models, NOAA in particular tends to be more prone to error — most devastatingly, in the case of its estimation that Hurricane Sandy would weaken out over the ocean, while in reality over 200 people died after the storm strengthened …read more

Source:: The Week – Science


Hurricane Dorian’s devastating path through the Bahamas, in 10 photos

The eye of Hurricane Dorian shown from the International Space Station. | (Nick Hague/NASA via AP)

Volunteers rescue families in Freeport. | (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

A woman is rescued by volunteers in Freeport. | (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

Volunteers walk through a flooded road as they work to rescue families in Freeport. | (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

A woman carries her dogs through waist-deep water in Freeport. | (AP Photo/Tim Aylen)

Submerged cars in Freeport. | (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

A United States Coast Guard helicopter flies over Freeport. | (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

An aerial view of the Abaco Islands. | (Terran Knowles/Our News Bahamas/via REUTERS)

The Marsh Harbour Airport on the Abaco Islands. | (Terran Knowles/Our News Bahamas/via REUTERS)

The Abaco Islands. | (Terran Knowles/Our News Bahamas/via REUTERS)

**See last week’s best photojournalism**

…read more

Source:: The Week – Science


The deadly hidden risks within the most prominent economic model of climate change

Is climate change a crisis demanding immediate aggressive action to smash down carbon emissions, or is it an annoying inconvenience that can be dealt with slowly over decades?

Most climate scientists are in the former camp — as shown in the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report advocating for an eye-watering 50-percent cut in emissions by 2030. But many economists are in the latter camp, taking a relatively cavalier attitude about climate change. They have built models showing the economic damage of warming will not be that great, or that the costs of mitigation could be even greater, and therefore we shouldn’t be too aggressive in keeping emissions down — which could be even worse than doing nothing, by their lights. As a result, they generally serve to advance policy responses centered around putting a price on carbon, or, in other words, using market mechanisms to gradually wean our existing economic structures off fossil fuels, but foregoing any sort of massive intervention that would disrupt the status quo.

These models, however, have some hellishly risky assumptions buried deep in their guts. If we take the economists’ advice, we will be taking a terrific gamble with all of human society.


The most prominent of these economists is certainly Professor William Nordhaus of Yale, who won the 2018 Nobel Memorial Prize in economics for his work constructing the most famous economic model of climate change. It’s called the Dynamic Integrated Model of Climate and the Economy, or DICE, and it attempts to account for the interactions of labor, capital, interest rates, etc., in a warming climate.

Think tanks have pointed to Nordhaus’ research as justification for a moderate carbon tax, for which he is probably the most influential proponent in the world. His work has been used by government departments around …read more

Source:: The Week – Science


The rapidly expanding landfill in my house

A few weeks ago, during a layover at Chicago’s O’Hare airport, I bought a locally-grown salad from a vending machine. I was so excited about the concept that I only realized, with a kind of delayed horror, that it was packaged in a plastic screw-top jar. I guess I live with this jar now and forever, I thought sadly as I gazed down at my new, inanimate child.

The salad jar was only the latest in a long line of examples of how I am basically the living embodiment of that Kanye West tweet that goes, “I hate when I’m on a flight and I wake up with a water bottle next to me like oh great now I gotta be responsible for this water bottle.” With the planet in a hellacious climatic free fall, and a trash vortex twice the size of Texas churning somewhere out there in the North Pacific, I have become obsessed with the responsibility of repurposing everything I end up with, striving to never throw anything away. Disposable water bottles have been given second lives, rinsed and refilled probably far more times than is safe, and berry containers are transformed into makeshift Tupperware. I recently even looked askance at a plastic straw that was thrust into my smoothie before I could protest; could I reuse it too…?

Yet trying to cram my umpteenth Talenti jar under my kitchen counter this weekend, I finally had to admit my plan to save the world was becoming a personal problem: Being an environmentalist has turned me into a hoarder.

In my defense, there is absolutely no excuse not to be a conscious consumer in 2019. The United States produces more than 30 percent of the world’s total waste, despite having only 4 percent of …read more

Source:: The Week – Science


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