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Environmental Science

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Climate engineering—which could slow the pace of global warming by injecting reflective particles into the upper atmosphere—has emerged in recent years as an extremely controversial technology. And for good reason: it carries unknown risks and it may undermine commitments to conserving energy. Some critics also view it as an immoral human breach of the natural world. The latter objection, David Keith argues in A Scientist’s Case for Climate Engineering, is groundless; we have been using technology to alter our environment for years.

Lessons from Abrupt Climate Change

Viewed from above, Greenland offers an endless vista of whiteness interrupted only by scattered ponds of azure-colored melt water. Ninety percent of Greenland is covered by ice; its ice sheet, the largest outside Antarctica, stretches almost 1,000 miles from north to south and 600 miles from east to west. But this stark view of ice and snow is changing—and changing rapidly. Greenland’s ice sheet is melting; the dazzling, photogenic display of icebergs breaking off Greenland’s rapidly melting glaciers has become a tourist attraction.

Climate Change and Energy Scarcity

The future is not what it used to be because we can no longer rely on the comforting assumption that it will resemble the past. Past abundance of fuel, for example, does not imply unending abundance. Infinite growth on a finite planet is not possible.

Computer Models, Climate Data, and the Politics of Global Warming

Global warming skeptics often fall back on the argument that the scientific case for global warming is all model predictions, nothing but simulation; they warn us that we need to wait for real data, “sound science.” In A Vast Machine Paul Edwards has news for these skeptics: without models, there are no data. Today, no collection of signals or observations—even from satellites, which can “see” the whole planet with a single instrument—becomes global in time and space without passing through a series of data models. Everything we know about the world’s climate we know through models.

The vast majority of scientists agree that human activity has significantly increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere--most dramatically since the 1970s. Yet global warming skeptics and ill-informed elected officials continue to dismiss this broad scientific consensus.

Choosing Among Options

Human survival depends on a continuing supply of energy, but the need for ever-increasing amounts of it poses a dilemma: How can we find energy sources that are sustainable and ways to convert and utilize energy that are more efficient? This widely used textbook is designed for advanced undergraduate and graduate students as well as others who have an interest in exploring energy resource options and technologies with a view toward achieving sustainability on local, national, and global scales.

The Next Fifty Years

Fundamental change occurs most often in one of two ways: as a “fatal discontinuity,” a sudden catastrophic event that is potentially world changing, or as a persistent, gradual trend. Global catastrophes include volcanic eruptions, viral pandemics, wars, and large-scale terrorist attacks; trends are demographic, environmental, economic, and political shifts that unfold over time. In this provocative book, scientist Vaclav Smil takes a wide-ranging, interdisciplinary look at the catastrophes and trends the next fifty years may bring.

The BP Oil Spill Disaster and the Future of Energy in America

On April 20, 2010, the gigantic drilling rig Deepwater Horizon blew up in the Gulf of Mexico, killing eleven crew members and causing a massive eruption of oil from BP’s Macondo well. For months, oil gushed into the Gulf, spreading death and destruction. Americans watched real-time video of the huge column of oil and gas spewing from the obviously failed “blowout preventer.” What was missing, though, was the larger story of this disaster.

Authority, Expertise, and Power in Mexican Forests

Greater knowledge and transparency are often promoted as the keys to solving a wide array of governance problems. In Instituting Nature, Andrew Mathews describes Mexico’s efforts over the past hundred years to manage its forests through forestry science and biodiversity conservation. He shows that transparent knowledge was produced not by official declarations or scientists’ expertise but by encounters between the relatively weak forestry bureaucracy and the indigenous people who manage and own the pine forests of Mexico.

Sewage Treatment and the Contradictions of the Industrial Ecosystem

Biological sewage treatment, like electricity, power generation, telephones, and mass transit, has been a key technology and a major part of the urban infrastructure since the late nineteenth century. But sewage treatment plants are not only a ubiquitous component of the modern city, they are also ecosystems—a hybrid variety that incorporates elements of both nature and industry and embodies multiple contradictions.

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