A long article about what the “New World” that Columbus discovered may really have been like, versus what we were taught in school.
Before it became the New World, the Western Hemisphere was vastly more populous and sophisticated than has been thought—an altogether more salubrious place to live at the time than, say, Europe. New evidence of both the extent of the population and its agricultural advancement leads to a remarkable conjecture: the Amazon rain forest may be largely a human artifact
In the last month, there’s been much attention to a cool patch in the North Atlantic Ocean, where record cold temperatures over the past eight months present a stark contrast to a globe that is experiencing record warmth. And although there is certainly no consensus on the matter yet, some scientists think this pattern may be a sign of long-feared consequences of climate change — a slowing of North Atlantic ocean circulation, due to a freshening of surface waters.
The cause, goes the thinking, would be the rapidly melting Greenland ice sheet, whose large freshwater flows may weaken ocean “overturning” by reducing the density of cold surface waters (colder, salty water is denser). If cold, salty waters don’t sink in the North Atlantic and flow back southward toward Antarctica at depth, then warm surface waters won’t flow northward to take their place.
Now, two newstudies just out in Nature Geosciencehelp to underscore why scientists have a good reason to think this sort of thing can happen — namely, because it appears to have happened in the Earth’s distant past. And not just once but on multiple occasions.
According to the E.P.A.’s estimates, virtually all the greenhouse benefits — more than 90 percent — come from just a few materials: paper, cardboard and metals like the aluminum in soda cans.
Once you exclude paper products and metals, the total annual savings in the United States from recycling everything else in municipal trash — plastics, glass, food, yard trimmings, textiles, rubber, leather — is only two-tenths of 1 percent of America’s carbon footprint.
As a business, recycling is on the wrong side of two long-term global economic trends. For centuries, the real cost of labor has been increasing while the real cost of raw materials has been declining. That’s why we can afford to buy so much more stuff than our ancestors could. As a labor-intensive activity, recycling is an increasingly expensive way to produce materials that are less and less valuable.
It would be much simpler and more effective to impose the equivalent of a carbon tax on garbage, as Thomas C. Kinnaman has proposed after conducting what is probably the most thorough comparison of the social costs of recycling, landfilling and incineration.