Tag Archives: The Atlantic

Paris Plans a Suburban Forest Five Times the Size of Central Park

With its car bans, huge transit expansion, and radical pedestrianization plans, Paris has been developing quite a name for itself recently as an aggressive fighter against urban air pollution. For its next major assault on bad air, however, the metro area is proposing to deploy an ancient weapon: trees. In fact, it would be using one million of them.

These trees would be planted as part of what could yet be this century’s grandest urban and suburban re-greening projects: the creation of a new forest north of the city limits that, at its final 1,350 hectare (5.2 square mile) extent, will be five times the size of New York’s Central Park.

The plan to plant a new forest on the plain at Pierrelaye-BessancourtRead the rest

These Crickets Can’t Sing Anymore—But They’re Still Trying

It took several years for the crickets of Kauai to fall silent. When Marlene Zuk first visited the Hawaiian island in 1991, she heard the insects chirping away, loudly and repeatedly. But every time she went back, the chirping diminished. In 2001, she only heard a single male, apparently singing into the void.

The crickets had disappeared from sight, too. But when Zuk returned to Kauai in 2003, she started seeing them again, seemingly in greater numbers than before. They were there, sitting on blades of grass, illuminated by her headlamp. They just weren’t singing.

To be a quiet cricket is to defy the essence of cricketkind. Crickets sing. Crickets are noisy. The males attract females by calling with a pair of specialized structures on their … Read the rest

Where an HQ2 Could Most Help Me Find a Boyfriend

After reporting on the Amazon bidding war for several months, I think I have finally determined the perfect region in which to locate an HQ2, for me, a single girl in Washington, D.C., specifically: Washington, D.C.

Okay, hear me out for a second. I know all the shortlist options are, like, special in their own ways, and believe me, I know there are issues with the whole Amazon HQ2 situation writ large. Bidding wars hurt cities, and an Amazon HQ2 in D.C. would probably wreak more than a bit of economic and infrastructural havoc. (Read CityLab. We cover that.)

But as Valentine’s Day nears, I couldn’t help but wonder…would the hunt for Amazon HQ2 also help me find a boyfriend?​

​Jeff, just HUMOR ME, … Read the rest

A New State Preemption Battlefield: Dockless Bikesharing

Last July, bright green bikes from the dockless bikeshare company LimeBike started appearing in Miami Beach. It wasn’t immediately clear if the company was trying to quietly launch their system, or if people were just riding the bikes the 15 miles from Key Biscayne, where LimeBike had legally set up shop.

Miami Beach officials deemed them “unauthorized” and responded with $1,000 fines for the company and threats to impound the bikes. A LimeBike spokesperson says it was a misunderstanding caused by Key Biscayne users bringing bikes to Miami Beach; the issue was resolved after they came and collected their stray bikes.

The situation was demonstrative of the typical give-and-take between municipalities as this polarizing new mobility mode emerges and individual communities decide whether or not to … Read the rest

Astronomers Are Already Planning for the Next ‘Pale Blue Dot’

In 1977, humans launched twin robotic probes into space several weeks apart. The two Voyager spacecraft barreled away from Earth for a tour of our planet’s siblings in the solar system. At each encounter, the Voyagers set records for the best-looking pictures of these planets humanity had ever taken, far better than anything seen through a telescope. There was Jupiter, furiously churning with gargantuan storms. There was Saturn, encircled by vinyl-like rings. There was Uranus, robin’s-egg blue and featureless. There was Neptune, cloud-speckled and cerulean.

When the planetary safari was over, Voyager 1 turned back toward Earth in 1990 for one last picture before its cameras were shut off. The resulting photograph, the “Pale Blue Dot” image at the top … Read the rest

Big-City Life on Very Little Water

CAPE TOWN, South Africa—I was warned right away, at the airport: “We have a water crisis with severe restrictions in place,” read a Buick-sized sign in the arrivals area.

So it was true. I had spent the past week in South Africa on a reporting trip and had decided to pass through Cape Town on my way back, in part out of curiosity about the water shortage. The news coverage sounded scary: Because of a historic drought, the city was nearly out of water. In June, taps are set to run dry—an event referred to, menacingly, as “Day Zero.” If it comes, people will be forced to queue for a daily ration of water from guarded collection points around the city.

It seemed too nightmarish to … Read the rest

Can This Company Convince You to Love GMOs?

BOSTON—Out on an old Navy dry dock, a biotech company called Ginkgo Bioworks is growing genetically modified organisms by the billions, and it would very much like to tell you about them.

“I think people should love GMOs,” Gingko’s CEO and cofounder, Jason Kelly, told me. “We’re super proud of them.”

It helps the message, perhaps, that Ginkgo is not a big ag corporation shrouded in secrecy, but a small company founded by a band of exuberant nerds from MIT. Ginkgo reprograms single-celled organisms like yeast and bacteria into mini factories churning out useful molecules for food, perfumes, and industrial applications. For fun, its scientists also brew beer with their genetically modified yeast. The lunchroom is stacked with multiple versions of Settlers of Catan. And … Read the rest

Does Climate Change Cause More War?

Updated on February 13, 2018

It’s one of the most important questions of the 21st century: Will climate change provide the extra spark that pushes two otherwise peaceful nations into war?

In the past half-decade, a growing body of research—spanning economics, political science, and ancient and modern history—has argued that it can and will. Historians have found temperature or rainfall change implicated in the fall of Rome and the many wars of the 17th century. A team of economists at UC Berkeley and Stanford University have gone further, arguing that an empirical connection between violence and climate change persists across 12,000 years of human history.

Meanwhile, high-profile scientists and powerful politicians have endorsed the idea that global warming helped push Syria into civil war. “Climate … Read the rest

What Makes Something Funny?

“Humor can be dissected, as a frog can,” E. B. White wrote, “but the thing dies in the process and the innards are discouraging to any but the purely scientific mind.” True to form, philosophers, scientists, and certain left-brained comedians have been scrutinizing humor’s innards for centuries, seeking a serious understanding of what makes things funny.

According to one scholarly definition, something is humorous if people cognitively appraise it as funny, if it creates “the positive emotion of amusement,” or if it produces laughter. But while the average adult laughs 18 times a day, [1] laughter isn’t a reliable indicator. Researchers found only 10 to 20 percent of remarks that prompted laughter to be remotely funny. [2]

One general theory, put forth by a decidedly … Read the rest

The World Spends $400 Billion Propping Up Oil Companies. Is That Bad?

In the thrilling world of multinational industrial policy, it’s about as high-stakes a fight as you can get.

Every year, the world’s governments spend hundreds of billions of dollars making it cheaper to extract and burn fossil fuels. Almost as regularly, their representatives get together and beg everyone else to stop doing that. Then they go home and keep doing it themselves.

The pattern has worn on for more than two decades. Way back in 1997, the Kyoto Protocol—the first international treaty aimed at fixing global warning—called for governments to stop subsidizing all “greenhouse-gas-emitting sectors.” That didn’t happen, so, in 2009, the leaders of the G20 nations resolved anew to “phase out … inefficient fossil-fuel subsidies.” Three years later, President Obama declared that “a century … Read the rest