Friday, October 24, 2008
Thursday, October 23, 2008
“When consumers come together, companies absolutely listen,” says Wood Turner, a Duke graduate and Project Director for Climate Counts, a non-profit organization that scores the nation’s largest corporations every year on their efforts to reduce climate change.
By providing information about the green or not-so-green activities of companies through pocket-sized pamphlets and its website, Climate Counts hopes to “activate the choices and voices of a climate conscious consumer,” Turner told a Duke audience this week. An informed consumer can “vote with their dollars” by supporting companies that are taking action to combat climate change and avoiding companies that are not.
The organization scores companies based on 22 criteria in 4 categories. Based on their scores in these four categories, corporations are rated as being environmentally “stuck,” “starting,” or “sprinting.” All of the organization’s scores are verified by a third party. Climate Counts targets the country’s largest corporations because they are the biggest emitters, releasing untold tons of greenhouse gases every year.
“If the 100 largest companies reduced their greenhouse gas emissions by 5%, it would be equivalent to taking 25 million cars off the road,” Turner said. “It’s the same as meeting the goals of the Kyoto protocol.”
Turner asserted that while Climate Counts takes a hard line on companies’ actions to prevent climate change, the organization is essentially pro-business. “We’re trying to motivate companies, not hammer on companies.... We’ve set out to be a positive collaborator with business.”
Turner raised the point that companies can actually save money by reducing their carbon footprint, because inefficiently used energy is just money spent. The fast food industry, in particular, could benefit from increased efficiency; 80% of its energy is wasted through inefficient buildings and food storage. In its ratings, Climate Counts gave McDonald’s 27 points out of a hundred. Burger King and Wendy’s International, on the other hand, received goose eggs. Not very promising.
However, 84% of the companies Climate Counts rated last year have improved their scores. This improvement cannot be attributed to the efforts of Climate Counts alone, but Climate Counts certainly has a great potential to “call out” companies for their lack of attention to environmental issues. Climate Count’s website, climatecounts.org, allows visitors to send email directly to the corporations that are rated. Some companies, overwhelmed by hundreds of emails, are shamed into taking action to reduce their impact.
“Environmental issues have been relegated to the bowels of these companies for a long long time,” Turner said. “Our process has moved these issues from the bowels to the boardroom.”
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Dictionary definitions of "theory" are rife with words like "abstract," "hypothetical" and "speculation." But the theoretical realm is on a growth curve in the no-nonsense world of science, so much so that Duke's Provost's office is funding a program to expand its interdisciplinary boundaries.
The real impetus is a marriage of high end computers and powerful equations, says Berndt Mueller, the J. B. Duke Professor of Physics who coordinated efforts to begin the university's new Center for Theoretical and Mathematical Sciences (CTMS). All that horsepower can help scientists fathom what to look for in experimental data.
While theoretical methods have flourished in physics for hundreds of years (think of Newton and Einstein), they spread to chemistry over the last 40 and are now entering the realm of biology. "Theoretical mathematical tools are invading new areas simply because computation has become so powerful that you can address problems and systems that were totally out of reach until recently," Mueller says. "Another reason is that the quality and quantity of data in many fields is growing rapidly."
"What the center wants to do is provide a central marketplace, an environment in which working scientists can gather together and share theoretical tools without having to change their professional fields."
The CTMS has already signed on more than 50 faculty members from all over science and engineering. It has started a series of public lectures called "Adventures in Theory." And it is now beginning a graduate fellowship program.
Mueller's own group uses advanced math and powerful computer clusters to theorize conditions millionths of a second after the Big Bang. The expected outcome was a gas of two abnormally separated fundamental particles -- quarks and gluons. But Brookhaven National Laboratory experimentalists summonsed-up not a gas but the most free-flowing imaginable liquid when they re-created that environment by colliding gold atoms at extremely high energies.
Mueller's graduate student Bryon Neufeld recently used sophisticated mathematics to compute the outcome if particles moving near light speed passed through such a "perfect" fluid. He found such interactions should form shock waves akin to breaking the sound barrier.
Big Bang indeed! Who says theory can't be fun?
Monday, October 20, 2008
It's a story about the personal genome project, in which Angrist has been a willing participant. His genome and lots of other salient details about him will be published today for everyone to read.
What will his genome say about him ... and about us?
Angrist and nine other pioneering participants in the project are surrendering some of their privacy to get the ball rolling on what PGP leaders hope will be the complete analysis of more than 100,000 individuals. (You can sign up too.)
Only then, when we've seen the commonalities and the differences and subjected them to statistical analysis, will we truly begin to approach predictive, personalized medicine. Or maybe not. We won't know until we've tried it. Thanks for stepping up, Misha.