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Is There Still a Ray of Hope On Climate Change? 462

Hugh Pickens writes "David Leonhardt writes in the NY Times that even as the U.S. endures its warmest year on record (the 13 warmest years for the entire planet have all occurred since 1998), the country seems to be moving further away from doing something about climate change, with the issue having all but fallen out of the national debate. But behind the scenes, a different story is emerging that offers reason for optimism: the world's largest economies may be in the process of creating a climate-change response that does not depend on the politically painful process of raising the price of dirty energy. Despite some high-profile flops, like ethanol and Solyndra, clean-energy investments seem to be succeeding more than they are failing. 'The price of solar and wind power have both fallen sharply in the last few years. This country's largest wind farm, sprawling across eastern Oregon, is scheduled to open next month. Already, the world uses vastly more alternative energy than experts predicted only a decade ago,' writes Leonhardt. Natural gas, the use of which has jumped 25 percent since 2008 while prices have fallen more than 80 percent, now generates as much electricity as coal in the United States, which would have been unthinkable not long ago. Thanks in part to earlier government investments, energy companies have been able to extract much more natural gas than once seemed possible which, while far from perfectly clean, is less carbon-intensive than coal use. The clean-energy push has been successful enough to leave many climate advocates believing it is the single best hope for preventing even hotter summers, concludes Leonhardt, adding that while a cap-and-trade program faces an uphill political battle, an investment program that aims to make alternative energy less expensive is more politically feasible. 'Our best hope,' says Benjamin H. Strauss, 'is some kind of disruptive technology that takes off on its own, the way the Internet and the fax took off.'"

Fine Structure Constant May Not Be So Constant 273

BuzzSkyline writes "According to a post at Physics Buzz, 'Just weeks after speeding neutrinos seem to have broken the speed of light, another universal law, the fine structure constant might be about to crumble.' Astronomical observations seem to indicate that the constant, which controls the strength of electromagnetic interactions, is different in distant parts of the universe. Among other things, the paper may explain why the laws of physics in our corner of the universe seem to be finely tuned to support life. The research (abstract) is so controversial that it took over a year to go from submission to publication in Physical Review Letters, rather than the weeks typical of most other papers appearing in the peer-reviewed journal."

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