Tiny Aerosols Pose a Big Predicament in a Warming World

Fossil fuels are rapidly warming the planet, and the aerosols from their combustion kill millions of people each year. So we need to rapidly decarbonize. But in an ironic twist, those aerosols actually have one beneficial side effect: They cool the atmosphere. It creates an odd climate contradiction. If we burn less gas, oil, and coal, we’ll stop loading the sky with planet-warming carbon, but we’ll also load it with fewer planet-cooling aerosols. 

But exactly how much cooling we get from aerosols, and how strong that effect will be as the world weans off fossil fuels, are huge questions among climate researchers. “It’s taken as read that aerosols are important,” says University of Oxford climate scientist Duncan Watson-Parris. “And this uncertainty in the aerosol effect is a key uncertainty in climate science.”

Last week, Watson-Parris published a paper in the journal Nature Climate Change in which he played

A New Explanation for How Fireflies Flash in Sync

A similar scenario played out in the 1990s, when a Tennessee naturalist named Lynn Faust read the confident published assertion of a scientist named Jon Copeland that there were no synchronous fireflies in North America. Faust knew then that what she had been watching for decades in the nearby woods was something remarkable.

Faust invited Copeland and Moiseff, his collaborator, to see a species in the Great Smoky Mountains called Photinus carolinus. Clouds of the male fireflies fill forests and clearings, floating at about human height. Instead of blinking in tight coordination, these fireflies emit a burst of quick flashes within a few seconds, then go quiet for several times that long before loosing another burst. (Imagine a crowd of paparazzi waiting for celebrities to appear at regular intervals, snapping a salvo of photos at each appearance, and then twiddling their thumbs in the downtime.)

Copeland and Moiseff’s experiments

The Marine Lab in the Path of Climate Change’s Fury?

This story originally appeared on Hakai Magazine and is part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

As the storm first gathered strength in the Gulf of Mexico, its future path was indecipherable. Its capacity for damage, though, was clear. The water was warm and the air was thick and humid—the recipe for a potentially historic tempest. On Thursday, August 26, 2021, just hours after the system was classified as a tropical depression, Louisiana’s governor declared a state of emergency: Every resident along the state’s coastline needed to prepare for a major hurricane.

Louisiana is protected by a series of levees that zig and zag along the coastline—walls of earth meant to block hurricane-driven waves from reaching the state’s bigger towns and villages. Floodgates clasp shut so that local bayous don’t overflow with storm surge. By necessity, though, the DeFelice Marine Center stands outside this system of defenses.

The building—a roughly 7,000-square-meter

Bureaucracy Is Blocking the Green Energy Revolution

The technology that will carry humanity toward a sustainable future is already here, says Greg Jackson, CEO of Octopus Energy, but heavy-handed regulators and outdated infrastructure are standing in the way of progress. The key to addressing the problem, he suggests, is to take a lesson from the history books.

At WIRED Impact earlier this November, Jackson asked the audience to imagine a scenario in which the early innovators of the internet era—figures like Tim Berners-Lee, creator of the World Wide Web—were not given the freedom to experiment. The ramifications for the pace of development would have been severe, he says, and yet “this is the reality for renewable energy today.”

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To illustrate the gravity of the problem, Jackson pointed to the obstacles faced by sustainable energy projects in the United Kingdom. Although constructing a wind energy

A Lab-Grown Meat Startup Gets the FDA’s Stamp of Approval

Cultivated meat has been greenlit in the United States for the first time. The decision by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) means that a company called Upside Foods will soon be able to sell chicken made from real animal cells grown in bioreactors instead of requiring the slaughter of live animals.

A positive response from the FDA has long been seen as the next major milestone for the cultivated meat industry. In the past few years, startups in the space have built small-scale production facilities and raised billions of dollars in venture capital funding, but haven’t been able to sell their products to the public. Up until now, the small number of people invited to try cultivated meat have had to sign waivers acknowledging that the products are still experimental.

There are just two smaller regulatory steps remaining until cultivated meat can be made available to the public. Upside’s