Physics Today Daily Edition
Washington Post: On 30 June more than 100 Nobel laureates, including 25 physics awardees, released a letter that called for the environmental activism group Greenpeace to end its opposition to the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in agriculture. The letter primarily focused on Golden Rice, a form of rice that produces high levels of beta-carotene, a precursor of vitamin A. Golden Rice was developed as a potential crop for areas where the populations suffer from vitamin A deficiency. The letter says that Greenpeace has driven the resistance to the commercialization of Golden Rice and to GMOs in general, despite the lack of evidence that engineered crops are harmful. The signature campaign was organized by Richard Roberts of New England Biolabs, who shared with Phillip Sharp the 1993 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for the discovery of genetic sequences called introns.
Wired: On 7 May, a Tesla Model S driver, who was using the vehicle's semiautonomous Autopilot feature, died after the car crashed into a tractor trailer. In a statement Tesla indicated that the accident occurred when the tractor trailer made a left turn across a divided highway. The Model S went underneath the side of the trailer, which made contact only at the height of the windshield. Neither the vehicle's driver nor the Autopilot feature engaged the Tesla's brake. Tesla claims that the Autopilot (and the driver) failed to detect the white trailer, which would have been hard to see against the bright sky. The company says that its vehicles have accumulated more than 130 million miles using the feature without any other fatal accident. Autopilot, which must be activated by the driver, uses a combination of radar, cameras, GPS, and ultrasonic sensors to control the vehicle. When activated, it reminds drivers that they are supposed to keep their hands on the steering wheel and should be ready to assume complete control of the vehicle at any time.
Washington Post: Climate scientists have repeatedly found that if the global average temperature is kept from exceeding 2 °C over the preindustrial average, then many of the most significant effects of global warming will likely be avoided. However, according to a new study of the emissions-cutting pledges made in December 2015 by the 195 nations that gathered in Paris, those pledges are not going to be enough to keep global warming below the 2 °C threshold. Led by Joeri Rogelj of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Laxenburg, Austria, the researchers found that the pledged cuts will more likely limit the temperature increase to between 2.6 °C and 3.1 °C by 2100. According to the analysis, by 2030 humans will probably have released the maximum amount of emissions that could have limited warming to 2 °C.
Guardian: At a meeting in Ottawa, Canada, this week, Barack Obama, Justin Trudeau, and Enrique Peña Nieto will commit to a plan to have the US, Canada, and Mexico produce half their electricity from hydropower, wind, solar, and nuclear plants by 2025. That represents a large increase from the current collective clean power levels of about 37%. The agreement will also include plans for carbon capture and storage and energy efficiency measures. Because the US accounts for 75% of the three countries' energy production and only one third of its production is from clean energy, it will have the most work to do to reach the stated goal. A Supreme Court ruling earlier this year halted Obama's attempt to reduce coal plant emissions to meet emissions targets set at the 2015 Paris climate conference. Although Mexico currently produces less than 20% of its electricity from clean sources, Canada gets 81% of its power from renewables.