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Notebook Science

Sowing catastrophe?

A scene from the film Geostorm (Warner Bros.)


Sowing catastrophe?

The speculative science of geoengineering could pose a threat to the planet

Geostorm is Hollywood’s latest disaster drama. The movie depicts a fictional, futuristic world where scientists use a satellite system to control the Earth’s weather and battle climate change—until the system suddenly goes awry and attacks the planet. Critics called the movie’s technology laughable, but some researchers believe geoengineering isn’t a thing to take lightly.

Even if Geostorm’s depiction of climate engineering technology is unrealistic, it should inspire serious global discussions regarding real-world geoengineering research happening now, says Andrew Maynard, director of the Risk Innovation Lab at Arizona State University.

Geoengineering refers to technological methods to control climate change. It could include removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere or methods for reducing the amount of sunlight reaching the Earth.

Writing at The Conversation, an academic news website, Maynard and co-author Jane Flegal noted that the benefits of climate manipulation could easily be offset by other adverse outcomes. For example, injecting particles into the atmosphere to cool the Earth could disrupt Asian and African monsoons, threatening food security for billions of people. Such unanticipated consequences might be irreversible and affect every person on the planet.

According to Maynard and Flegal, lack of clear economic or political gain from geoengineering projects means industry and governments are unmotivated to fund such endeavors. So scientists are turning to private sources: Bill Gates and the Hewlett Foundation, for example, fund a Harvard University research program in which scientists plan to inject a small amount of fine, sunlight-reflecting particles into the atmosphere above Tucson, Ariz.

Geostorm or not, it’s time for a discussion of geoengineering, the researchers wrote, otherwise “wealthy individuals and philanthropy may end up pushing the boundaries of geoengineering research—with or without the rest of society’s consent.”


Parental alert

A new smartphone app, Nurx, offers one more way to keep parents out of the loop regarding their teenage daughters’ access to contraceptive medications. Available in 15 states, Nurx enables adolescents as young as 12 to obtain contraceptives and abortifacients—including Plan B One-Step and Ella, commonly known as morning-after pills—without parental notification or a visit to a doctor.

The Nurx website encourages girls who don’t want their parents to know they are using contraceptives either to purchase them out-of-pocket or call their insurance company and request that their information be kept secret.

But that undermines parents’ ability to offer moral guidance to their daughters and to protect their health and safety. In a statement calling Nurx “dangerous,” the American College of Pediatricians warned that all forms of hormonal contraceptives carry a risk of serious side effects, such as stroke or cancer. Both Plan B and Ella can cause hemorrhaging. And easy access to contraceptives that bypasses parents and physicians increases the likelihood of teens experiencing the harmful consequences of sexual activity, potentially including depression, suicide, sexually transmitted infections, and the risk of exploitation from abusive boyfriends or sex traffickers. —J.B.

Tumor search and destroy

Researchers have developed a nuclear medicine treatment for colorectal cancer that showed a 100 percent cure rate in a mouse study, with no indication of toxic side effects.

The technique, featured in The Journal of Nuclear Medicine’s November issue, uses a chemical agent that finds and destroys cancerous cells but does not harm healthy ones. If the treatment passes human clinical trials, doctors could potentially use the same approach to treat other types of cancerous tumors, the researchers said. —J.B.


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  •  Brendan Bossard's picture
    Brendan Bossard
    Posted: Thu, 11/23/2017 12:46 pm

    Parents, gird your loins, and take responsibility!  Make your children pay for their own phones, and only by contributing to a family plan where you can see the bill.  Do not allow them to have their own check cards or credit cards.  Require them to allow you instant access to their phones anytime, anywhere.  And if you have any suspicion that they are using someone else's phone for nefarious purposes, revoke all phone privileges until they prove to you that they can be trusted.  No cooperation, no phone!

  • Laura W
    Posted: Mon, 11/27/2017 03:16 am

    Take what measures are necessary, for sure, but can't trusting a child too little be as harmful as trusting them too much?

  • VT
    Posted: Thu, 11/30/2017 05:22 pm

    I agree, Laura, trusting a child too little can be damaging, and probably will break down the relationship between the child and the parent. That might even raise the rebellious feelings inside the child. I say, find a balancing point and keep yourself there, don't trust more than you need to, nor too little.

  • PF
    Posted: Tue, 12/05/2017 09:17 pm

    "Instant access to their phones anytime"? That sort of controlling attitude only breaks down a trusting relationship and encourages teens to get good at hiding their forbidden  activities. We all hope that our kids don't make bad choices, but realistically they are becoming independent decision makers. If my daughters were to become pregnant teens, I would hope they feel they can come to me instead of trying to hide what happened.

  • socialworker
    Posted: Tue, 12/05/2017 09:40 am

    Which we all admit is terribly challenging to do.  But keep trying!

  • RC
    Posted: Tue, 12/05/2017 01:36 pm

    Geostorm - The planet has natural corrective systems that are built in (which humanity does not really understand).  If humans try to stabilize the weather they will just bring on a disaster. The 1990’s brought us Biosphere 2 in Arizona. It was an attempt to create a self-supporting earth like environment and the scientist thought they had it all figured out, but it totally failed. When you play with fire, and don't know what you are doing, you will get burned.    Thanks Julie great article.