physics

Obama's Two Faces on Climate Change

PHYSICS IS IMPLACABLE—it won’t bend even to politics.

Which is why it comes as bad news to see the charts on U.S. production of fossil fuels. During the Obama years, even as the president has been touting his administration’s success in reducing our domestic carbon emissions, it turns out that we’ve been drilling, mining, and fracking for more oil, coal, and gas than ever before. In fact, we’ve passed Saudi Arabia in oil production and are about to pass Russia in oil and gas output combined; meanwhile our coal exports have reached new highs. We’ve become the world’s biggest fossil fuel producer.

Which means that, precisely in the years when it’s become clear how much damage climate change is doing—the years of Midwest drought, of Hurricane Sandy—the United States has been bucking physics. We’re going in exactly the wrong direction.

The White House might make two arguments in response. One, it’s not their fault: The oil boom in places like North Dakota is all private enterprise. But in fact Obama’s done much to grease the skids for this boom: He’s opened up big offshore tracts for drilling, and even let the oil companies into the Arctic. His Interior Department has held auctions for vast piles of Powder River Basin coal.

In truth, when he’s being frank, the president has acknowledged this. Obama, who made it through his re-election barely mentioning global warming, has boasted again and again about his efforts to boost oil production. Here he is in 2012 in Cushing, Okla., against a backdrop of oil pipes:

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Maybe the Big Bang Wasn’t So Big

Large Hadron Collider (particle accelerator) at CERN. Image via http://www.wyli
Large Hadron Collider (particle excellerator) at CERN. Image via http://www.wylio.com/credits/Flickr/2046228644

The international scientific community is excited about the growing possibility of discovering the so-called “God particle,” the spark they believe is the origin of the universe.

Despite the fact the Newt Gingrich has for many years claimed this title, physicists working at the Large Hadron Collider outside Geneva, Switzerland, apparently stopped appearing in Dan Brown novels long enough to come close to identifying this illusive particle. (Coincidentally, my college roommate’s car was called the Small Hadron Collider, a rusty Corvair with a habit of resisting the driver’s directional input at crucial moments, such as intersections.)

By the way, perhaps you’re wondering why unlocking the fundamental mysteries of the universe—such as Rick Santorum’s political career—and creating an enormous wealth of knowledge in experimental physics is not being done in the United States. It’s because President Bill Clinton chose to strip funding from the proposed collider outside Houston and instead funded the International Space Station, a rusty construction of old Corvair parts that has cost us over $150 billion and has provided little scientific discovery, unless you count the surprising effectiveness of duct tape in low gravity situations. To be fair, someday the Space Station will look really cool streaking across the sky just before it crashes onto somebody’s backyard. But I digress.

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