How much CO2 can one atmosphere absorb? Are the toxic chemicals wafting out of factories and lurking in products safe? Such questions about risk—from the existentially global and distant to the frighteningly acute and immediate—have guided my coverage of environmental science and politics, both as a freelancer and during five years at Chemical Week.
“European Efforts to Verify GHG Emissions” Earthzine, July 2012. Growing awareness of the deficiencies of today's greenhouse gas inventories is inspiring innovation by scientists, policymakers and activists. There is growing hope for rapid and even real-time satellite measurement and modelling of greenhouse gases emissions to give climate change talks the 'Trust, but verify' assurance that fuelled disarmament treaties.
“A Call for the Safer Handling of Nuclear Waste” Technology Review, March 2011. Japan's crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power complex continues to spread both radiation and distrust of nuclear power as the plant's situation lurches from hopeful to harrowing and back again. The ongoing crisis points to the need for better storage of nuclear waste.
“Earthquakes Hinder Green Energy Plans” Spectrum, March 2011. Seismic shocks associated with an array of energy technologies, including geothermal energy, hydropower, and carbon sequestration, are raising questions about the wisdom of energy projects and, in some cases, stopping them in their tracks. “We’re observing earthquakes. People are feeling them. The people running projects are denying responsibility and I don’t think most people are buying it,” says seismologist David Oppenheimer, project chief for the U.S. Geological Survey’s Northern California Seismic Network.
“Plan to scale up carbon observation needs financial backing” Earthzine, January 2011. The GEO Carbon Strategy is a sweeping international plan to track carbon’s fluxes, sources and sinks. It needs equally sweeping funding to deliver the global picture that both scientists and policymakers need.
“The Great Vanishing Oil Spill” Technology Review, August 2010. The last in a series of online articles on how deepwater drilling technology failed in the Gulf of Mexico, and the technological options to help Gulf ecosystems recover and to reduce the risk of future blowouts. Earlier entries included “How to Prevent Deepwater Spills” and “How Technology Failed in the Gulf Spill”.
“The Easiest Way to Fight Global Warming?” Discover, September 2009. Discussions of climate change often make it sound as if carbon dioxide is the only villain. But climatologists have identified another, less notorious form of carbon that may be nearly as dangerous: soot. The fine, black, powdery pollutant may be responsible for the very different warming trends observed between the Northern and Southern hemispheres. If discovering yet another agent of global warming gets you down, take heart. This one may be a relatively easy target for action that will slow the progress of climate change.
“Halting Biodiversity Loss” Earthzine, December 2008. The Convention on Biological Diversity seeks to preserve plants, animals and microorganisms; the ecosystems they form; and human cultures. This Q&A with CBD secretariat chief scientist Jo Mulongoy explores the use of Earth observation systems to track biodiversity’s breadth and inform decision-making.
“Dark Clouds Over Clean Diesels” Spectrum, June 2008. Diesels are returning to auto showrooms nationwide but they still emit more soot than gasoline-fueled vehicles -- and the bad news on soot just keeps getting worse. Estimates of mortality from breathing fine particles are rising, while some top climate scientists believe that soot is also a serious contributor to global warming.
“Big Years for the Heliosphere” Earthzine.org, February 2008. With electricity supplies limited and mean temperature stuck below freezing for 8 months a year, it’s no surprise that in years past the Svalbard radar station in Arctic Norway ran just a few days at a time. That was before the unprecedented confluence of international scientific collaborations marking 2008.
“Connect the Dots: The Troubles in the Bubbles” MSN Green, February 2008. A slideshow examining where Champagne comes from and how it gets to our celebrations. Champagne is both contributing to -- and at the whim of -- a changing environment, and winemakers are responding.
“Straight Talk with Jerry Mahlman” Earthzine, January 2008. Jerry Mahlman, former director of NOAA’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory at Princeton, developed the first comprehensive climate model and helped launch the IPCC. In this Q&A he provides perspective on the state of Earth observation and climate change communication.
“Essay on Carbon Capture & Sequestration” Earthzine, December 2007. Already dozens of industrial operations on at least three continents sequester post-industrial anthropogenic CO2 and, at all of sites studied to date, it is proving effective in keeping that CO2 out of the atmosphere. Given the dirt-cheap price of coal, it may yet prove an economic winner at large scale.
“Connect the Dots: The Hidden Costs of Cheap Cashmere” MSN Green, November 2007. Tempted by that cheap cashmere sweater at Costco? Beware the rising price paid by the environment. The cashmere goats may be half a world away in the high steppes of Central Asia, but the environmental impacts from cashmere production could be affecting your health.
“Earth Observation Reaches Beyond the Core” Earthzine, November 2007. Rob Adam, CEO of the South African Nuclear Energy Corporation, provides an assessment of the intergovernmental Group on Earth Observations that he helped create in his time as South Africa’s minister for R&D, as well as his present efforts to reduce his country’s dependence on coal.
“Greener Shopping Bags?” TechReview.com, April 2007. San Francisco thinks its ban on polyethylene shopping bags will reduce the volume of plastic waste dumped in city landfills and reduce dependence on imported oil. Unfortunately most of the alternatives to polyethylene—so-called ‘bio-bags’—are produced from petroleum, just like their landfill-bound predecessors.
“Many, Many Smoking Guns” TechReview.com, February 2007. The IPCC’s fourth report did not find the smoking gun linking greenhouse gases and climate change. Rather, it found a smoking arsenal. "It's a battalion of smoking intercontinental ballistic missiles," says climate modeler Andrew Weaver.
“Chemical Industry Fights Anti-terrorism Measures” TechReview.com, August 2006. As terrorism worries grow, will Congress finally force chemical plants to consider security upgrades? Don't bet on it.
Rising” Spectrum, November 2005.
Imagine trying to understand the weather by looking out your window once a
week and you’ll have an idea of how much we understand the ocean environment.
Oceanographic research ships tend to chug out of port for just a few days or
weeks in a particular spot, generally in the summer when weather is most
cooperative. Permanent undersea observatories could, in contrast, provide
oceanography with continuous data it needs. The biggest deepsea
lab ever conceived is taking shape off North America's Pacific coast.
“Canada faces a wrenching decision on Kyoto protocol” Chemical Week, Cover, August 7, 2002. Ottawa is poised to ratify the Kyoto treaty on climate change, setting Canada on a course to make large investments to reduce emissions of global warming gases. Chemical industry executives call it economic suicide, since Canada’s dominant trading partner is opting out of Kyoto.
"Keeping an eye on the storm" The Sunday Times of London, August 5, 2001. An unexpected use for telecom satellites could prevent solar storms from disrupting power supplies on earth.
"An ice age cometh" The Sunday Times of London, May 27, 2001. Two climate modelers ran their program for nearly a decade, slipping their computations onto available supercomputers on occasions, such as holidays, when they would otherwise be idle. The results are surprising.
"Global Warming: Hot and Cold Satellites" Earth: The Science of Our Planet, August 1997. The struggle to reconcile surging terrestrial temperature readings and satellite data showing that Earth's atmosphere may be cooling.
"Friend or Foe? Partnerships with Critics Yield Results" Cover, Jan 12, 2000 "HPV Rule: Legal Hammer or Litigation Bait?" Oct 27, 1999
"Virtual Elimination Reaches Virtual Impasse" July 21, 1999
"Tables Turn on Louisiana's Supreme Court" May 19, 1999
"Proposition 65 Comes of Age" Apr 7, 1999
"Embalming Fluids: Dead in the Water" Mar 10, 1999
"Remembering an Industrial Environmentalist" Feb 17, 1999
"Scorecard Hits Home: Site Confirms Internet's Reach" Cover, June 3, 1998
"Toxicology: Hunt for Endocrine Disrupters Is On" Mar 25, 1998
"Designing a 21st Century Advocate" Nov 12, 1997
"Right-to-Know Knocks. Will Industry Open Up?" Cover, Aug 20, 1997
"Coffees with Gore: Unsavory Influence" Apr 16, 1997
"Health Effects Research: Industry's Quest for Answers" Cover, Feb 19, 1997
"Viewpoint: Taking Care with TRI Reporting" Viewpoint, Oct 9, 1996
"Have Budget Cuts Blunted EPA Enforcement?" Sep 25, 1996
"Wanted: Scientists on Capitol Hill" June 19, 1996
"Endocrine Disruptors: Sensationalism or Science?" Cover, May 8, 1996
"A New Toxicology Paradigm?" sidebar
"Capitol Hill 1996: Lobbyists Chart the Offensive" Cover, Feb 21, 1996
"EPA: Fighting for Its Life" Cover, Nov 1, 1995