Tech & Science

  • How Doctors Think and (Hopefully) Avoid Mistakes

    Angelos Delivorrias, director of the Benaki Museum in Athens, knew at a glance that the marble statue of a young man was a fake. True, before purchasing the piece, the Getty Museum in Los Angeles had hired legions of experts, who concurred with its dating to the sixth century B.C. But Delivorrias was responding to his instinctive feeling on first seeing the piece, a sense of "intuitive repulsion." And he was most likely right, as the journalist Malcolm Gladwell recounted in his 2005 book, "Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking." The Getty now lists the statue as a possible "modern forgery."Dr. Pat Croskerry knew at a glance that the patient in his emergency room wasn't having a heart attack. True, he had a sudden onset of severe chest pain, but Croskerry relied on his initial impression of a trim, athletic man in his early 40s. His test results were normal, so Croskerry diagnosed a muscle pull and sent him home. He was wrong, as the author and physician Jerome Groopman...
  • My Turn: I Had That Now-Banned Abortion

    It was Friday afternoon at nursery school and Simone just couldn't wait until Mother's Day to give me her present—a tote bag printed with a photo of the two of us.  When we got home, Toby greeted me with the card he'd made for me in kindergarten.  We all looked forward to dad coming home from a business trip.  It was the start of a perfect Mother's Day weekend.  I was 40, and I was joyfully pregnant.  "It'll be three kids by next Mother's Day," I remember thinking. When Monday came, I called my doctor for the results of my quadruple screen blood test from the past week, nothing I really sweated because a CVS test a couple months before had told us that our baby's chromosomes were completely normal. This time though, the doctor said that one of the screening tests concerned him and asked me to go to the hospital right away.The ultrasound technician's silence told David and me that something was very wrong.  The doctor explained that the baby had anencephaly, a neural tube defect. ...
  • Wars For Water?

    For years, experts and pundits have predicted that conflicts will increase over an ever scarcer and more valuable commodity: water. The fear has been that as populations grow and development spreads, vicious battles will erupt between water-rich and water-poor nations, particularly in major river basins where upstream nations control the flow of water to those downstream. To the doomsayers, global warming will only make those battles worse by decreasing rainfall and increasing evaporation in critical areas.The argument has a certain logic. Consider the Colorado River, a major water source for seven U.S. states and part of northwestern Mexico. Even now the Colorado can barely meet the needs of the many millions who rely on it. If water levels drop, according to Peter Gleick of the Pacific Institute in Oakland, California, it "could derail the system altogether," igniting bruising fights over ever-diminishing supplies. Things could get even uglier over the Nile (shared by Egypt,...
  • Hot On the Pole

    Time was when the polar bears looked like the best hope for Churchill, Manitoba. The tiny settlement (population: 1,000) in northern Canada had seen the closure of a nearby military base, and its port was in decline. Only the bears that roamed the tundra—this is the self-styled Polar Bear Capital of the World—and the beluga whales in the waters of the adjacent Hudson Bay pulled in visitors. Ten years ago, Ottawa decided to cuts its losses and sell the port to the U.S. railroad company OmniTRAX for just $1 and a promise to invest in its creaky infrastructure. Mike Ogborn, the company's managing director, says: "We stepped in when no one else wanted to be there."Smart move. The slow disappearance of the polar ice cap is transforming Churchill's prospects. The bears may be unhappy, but the entire region, stretching from Alaska to the northern tip of Norway and on to Siberia, is acquiring new economic and geostrategic significance. Oilmen yearn for easier access to the mineral wealth...
  • An African Revolution

    It's no surprise to hear that climate change is already hitting tropical Africa hard, as floods swamp the east and droughts plague the south. Such changes are hard to cope with in rich places.But keep reading: a burgeoning green revolution is already helping Africans adapt, enriching barren soil, training farmers and providing them with hardy hybrid seeds, and working with the private sector to help farmers enter the marketplace. And these programs are more effective and cheaper than previous efforts.Ethiopia has doubled its grain-food production in the last 12 years and may double it again. Last year Malawi, whose neighbors suffered food shortages, harvested twice the maize of the previous year. The explanation? National policies based on good science, providing farmers with fertilizer to overcome the lack of nitrogen and phosphorous in their soils and specially bred seeds that are higher yield and more pest- and drought-resistant.The Millennium Villages program, run by Columbia...
  • 'We Are a Nation-State'

    INTERVIEW: 'The Governator' walks where Washington fears to tread when it comes to global warming.
  • Q&A: Gary Yohe on Vulnerable Nations

    No matter what action we take to reduce emissions, the carbon already in the atmosphere will continue to warm the globe over the next century, creating winners and losers in business and agriculture. As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported earlier this month, developing countries will have a particularly difficult time adapting to the rising sea levels and altered agricultural cycles, while developed countries of the north will have an easier time of it. Gary Yohe, an economist at Wesleyan University, has studied the potential damage from global climate change. The leader of the team that created the vulnerability index featured in this week’s issue of NEWSWEEK International, he spoke to Barrett Sheridan about adapting to a warmer world. Excerpts: ...
  • Leadership & the Environment: Green Issues

    No sooner did James McCarthy's name turn up in an associated Press story on the outlook for global warming than he started getting outraged e-mails from colleagues. All that McCarthy, a Harvard oceanographer who studies how climate change affects marine life, told the AP last week was that "the worst stuff is not going to happen ... not that I think the projections aren't that [accurate], but because we can't be that stupid." The overwhelming response, he said, was, What do you mean, we can't be that stupid? Just look around!On that very question could hinge the fate of much of life on Earth. Last week was bracketed by two events that could make 2007 a turning point in the effort to control global warming. On Monday, by a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court ruled that the federal government had the power under the Clean Air Act to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from vehicles. This victory for environmentalists was quickly snatched away by President Bush, who announced the next day that...
  • Climate Change and the Economy

    For centuries, the iconic trading floor at Lloyd's of London, the world's largest insurance market, has bustled with pin-striped underwriters whose job it is to predict the future. They used to use painstakingly detailed 50-year averages to forecast looming natural disasters. Then the hurricanes of 2004 and 2005 hit, blowing the old averages out of the water. In less than two years, seven out of the 10 costliest storms in history ravaged the U.S. coast; in 2005 alone, they cost Lloyd's syndicates and other insurers almost $60 billion—a number at the very top of their worst-case scenarios."When something extreme happens as a result of climate change, we're the ones who have to pick up the tab," says Lloyd's chairman, Peter Levene. Accordingly, the insurance company has warned in a recent report that unless it and its competitors start making better use of climate-change predictions, the whole industry could collapse.To make sure it doesn't, Lloyd's has undergone a remarkable...
  • This Way Forward

    Something weird is happening to the world's weather. Ski slopes in central Japan and the Alps were still green weeks after the start of the season. Giant hornets, once found only in the Far East, are now swarming in a warmer France. In the Australian outback, the worst drought on record is driving wild camels crazy with thirst. The global thermostat is malfunctioning. Everywhere nature is unsettled and, most likely, mankind deserves much of the blame.Those are the generally agreed facts. Global warming is now a reality that even die-hard skeptics struggle to dispute. The authoritative Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts temperatures will rise 4 degrees Celsius or more by the end of the century. Clearly, prompt action to limit CO2 emissions is needed. But it's just as clear that, whatever we do, temperatures will continue to climb—and that even a modest increase will tilt the world's economic and political balance. Put simply, in the short term there will be winners...
  • Mosquito Trajectory

    Mosquitoes like warm air, and they breed in water—that much we know. It stands to reason that the bugs would flourish in a world that is getting warmer and wetter. "We're seeing changes in the Himalayas, the highlands of Africa, in the Andes and up into Mexico and in other places in Asia, too," says Paul Epstein, associate director of the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard University. "We're seeing a very consistent pattern in highland regions throughout the globe." Is this a taste of what's to come?Some studies say yes. One found that temperature increases from 0.5 degrees to 3 degrees can double the population of Anopheles mosquitoes, which carry malaria, and double the speed at which dengue incubates in the Aedes aegypti mosquito, suggesting that its infectious life would increase. And temperature rises can extend a mosquito's range and lengthen the biting season. Climate models have the risk of catching dengue rising to 74 percent by 2050 and the number of...
  • Untold Harvest

    Extreme weather has always sustained India's population. Monsoons allow crops like millet to grow in the deserts of Rajasthan. But last year, when those formerly arid lands suddenly got three times their usual rainfall, villagers were panicked. The solution? Grow thirstier crops like wheat, mustard and spices. The result? A flooded area of Barmer, usually bone-dry part of Rajasthan, enjoyed a $3 million harvest last year, nearly 90 percent above the norm. "We can't change a natural phenomenon," says Barmer Deputy Commissioner Subir Kumar, who encouraged the replanting. "But with innovative ideas, we can perhaps use them to our advantage."Climate Cassandras have always said that a warming planet would be particularly bad for farmers—vast stretches of the earth's prime arable land area would be submerged and even larger portions overrun by desert. But as havoc looms, so do new opportunities. Spiking temperatures and wild swings in weather are turning green belts into dust bowls—but...
  • Who Will Win, and Who Will Lose

    America is scared of global warming. In a recent poll by Yale's Center for Environmental Law and Policy, 83 percent of Americans called global warming a "serious" problem, up from 70 percent in 2004, and 63 percent agreed that the United States "is in as much danger" from environmental threats including global warming "as it is from terrorists."If even gas-guzzling Americans are alive to the danger, you know most nations now accept climate change as real. But how will they adapt? Some are well positioned to weather changes in climate that will affect agriculture, trade, housing and poverty; others aren't. To identify who's ready and who's not, the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change asked some scientists to turn their attention to assessing countries at risk. One groundbreaking recent study by Columbia University's Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN), came up with a way to rank nations by how prepared they are to adapt to climate change,...
  • 'Crisis'? 'Change'?—War of the Words

    What is the most pressing environmental issue we face today? "Global warming"? The "greenhouse effect"? At the Oscar ceremonies, Al Gore referred to a "climate crisis," but in his State of the Union address President Bush chose the comparatively anodyne phrase "climate change." They all refer to the same thing, but the first rule of modern political discourse is that before addressing any empirical problem each side must "frame the debate" in the most favorable way. If you doubt it, just try to get a Republican to utter the phrase "estate tax" rather than "death tax." Behind the overt campaign to head off whatever it is—environmental heating? thermal catastrophe?—is a covert struggle over what we should even call it.In recent years this has played out largely as a contest between "global warming" and "climate change." Bush's use of the latter was consistent with Republican practice, which calls for de-emphasizing the urgency of the situation, as recommended in a 2002 memo by...
  • Q&A: Our Fear Is Getting In the Way

    The standard scare stories about global warming don't worry Robert Mendelsohn. For more than 10 years, the Yale economist has been studying the likely impact of climate change. Convinced that manmade change is underway, he's nevertheless skeptical of prescriptions that call for a drastic response. So far, he says, the changes to our weather have been modest and can be addressed over time with less costly measures. But moderate voices like his, according to Mendelsohn, are being drowned out by extremists. He talked to NEWSWEEK's William Underhill. Excerpts: ...
  • Beyond British Petroleum

    The side wall of Hurricane Katrina's eye passed directly over Shell Exploration & Production's Mars Tension Leg Platform, the largest producer in the Gulf of Mexico, battering it with waves 120 feet high and winds of 170mph for four hours. All told, the gulf hurricanes inflicted $300 million of damage to Shell's offshore operations in 2005. But there was a silver lining. The hurricanes prompted Shell to make redesigns, including higher decks and new materials, to protect platforms from extreme storms. "We got quite a bit of data out of the hurricane season in 2005," says Marvin Odum, Shell Exploration & Production's executive vice president for the Americas. "And that data has been rolled into the design parameters for future systems."Oil companies aren't likely to be first on anybody's green list, since they're producing the very stuff of greenhouse-gas emissions. But when it comes to facing a warming world, both as a world citizen and as a supplier of energy, parent firm...
  • Follow the Butterflies

    The moth known as Clancy's Rustic had never been seen in northwestern Europe. So what was it doing fluttering in a garden in Kent a few years ago? According to Britain's Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, moths and butterflies once found only in the Mediterranean and North Africa are venturing into Northern Europe in unprecedented numbers. The cause, says chief researcher Tim Sparks: global warming.Just as Al Gore called the melting of the polar ice "the canary in the coal mine," so are migrating insects a bright yellow warning. With butterflies on the move, says Sparks, could people be far behind? Climate-induced migration is a survival mechanism as old as life. Human mobility helped cultures sidestep extinction and often worked as a catalyst for growth and evolution. It could do so again. "Environmental refugees could become one of the foremost human crises of our time," says Norman Myers, an environmental scientist at Oxford University who once painted an infamously scary scenario...
  • The Costa del Norte

    It's the summer of 2060 and you're heading off for your European beach vacation in ... Parmu. Never heard of it? You will. According to a recent EU report, the Mediterranean's multibillion-euro tourism industry will likely shift toward Europe's northern coasts in Scandinavia, the British Isles and the Baltics (home to Parmu and other up-and-coming beach towns like Palanga and Jurmala). Last summer's surge of jellyfish and toxic algae in the Mediterranean didn't merely beach swimmers; it marked a shifting of the tides. Adíos, Costa del Sol; hello, Costa del Norte.Yes, a mighty change is coming. With temperatures warming, snow evaporating and portions of the Alps melting away, forecasts suggest we're looking ahead to a tourism revolution. Warming weather is shrinking prospects at most low- and even mid-altitude ski resorts, from the Rockies to the Pyrenees, while increasingly violent weather is destabilizing traditional beach paradises from the Mediterranean to Southeast Asia and the...
  • Schwarzenegger's Crusade

    Carbon czar: California's Hummer-loving governor is turning the Golden State into the greenest in the land, a place where environmentalism and hedonism can coexist. How a star turned pol's become the muscle behind saving the planet.
  • The Call for Draconian Cuts

    One of the criticisms of Al Gore’s message on climate change is that he exaggerates the imminence of the threat—implying, for instance, that sea levels may rise more quickly than scientists feel comfortable saying. But a few people think Gore is actually sugarcoating the catastrophe predictions.Most prominently, the renowned British scientist James Lovelock thinks that the world is already approaching a tipping point, beyond which temperature rise will run out of control and major ecosystems will collapse. The dying Amazon rainforest would begin releasing carbon, making things even hotter. The permafrost would melt, releasing carbon and causing sea levels to rise. Environmental writer George Monbiot has taken Lovelock’s pessimism and come up with a plan in "Heat: How to Stop the Planet from Burning" (South End Press). To avoid hitting the "critical threshold," he says, the world’s total carbon emissions must be reduced to 60 percent below current levels by 2030—a target that would...
  • Opinion: Global Warming Fears Overblown

    Judging from the media in recent months, the debate over global warming is now over. There has been a net warming of the earth over the last century and a half, and our greenhouse gas emissions are contributing at some level. Both of these statements are almost certainly true. What of it? Recently many people have said that the earth is facing a crisis requiring urgent action. This statement has nothing to do with science. There is no compelling evidence that the warming trend we've seen will amount to anything close to catastrophe. What most commentators—and many scientists—seem to miss is that the only thing we can say with certainly about climate is that it changes. The earth is always warming or cooling by as much as a few tenths of a degree a year; periods of constant average temperatures are rare. Looking back on the earth's climate history, it's apparent that there's no such thing as an optimal temperature—a climate at which everything is just right. The current alarm rests...
  • Cities of Virtue

    Sometimes great ideas are born of desperation. For Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, that sense of urgency developed in the winter of 2004- 2005, when the annual snowfall failed to materialize in the neighboring Cascade Mountains. That's a serious issue in Seattle, where melting snow feeds the city's reservoirs in the springtime and swells the river that supplies its hydroelectric energy. Even though the United States had declined to participate with the other 141 parties to the Kyoto Protocol, which calls for cutting greenhouse-gas emissions, Nickels decided to "show the world there was intelligent life in the United States after all." His goal was to convince 141 mayors of U.S. cities to commit to making the cuts anyway. That was two years ago. So far he's enlisted 435. "These cities represent 61 million people," says Nickels. "That's equivalent to the population of France and larger than the United Kingdom."American cities aren't the only ones clamoring to adapt to a warming world....
  • Q&A: Why I’m Investing in Climate Science

    Jeremy Grantham is used to assessing risk. As chairman of the Boston-based investment management company GMO, he’s responsible for assets worth $140 billion. These days he’s worried about climate change, but he’s not just wringing his hands—unlike most people, he’s investing his own money to prepare for change. Most recently, he’s announced a £12 million ($23.6 million) donation to establish the Grantham Institute for Climate Change at Imperial College, London. The money will come from the Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment, which has already supported a wide range of organizations including Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund. He spoke to NEWSWEEK’s William Underhill. Excerpts: ...

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