Climate and Nanotechnology

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Science and Environment Round Up

By Tom Drake

The current EU emissions targets, even if we expect governments to meet them, are not enough.

Head of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York and leading climate expert James Hansen has this week slashed his previous proposed limit of 450ppm to 350ppm compared to the current EU target of 550ppm. He claims previous studies have not taken sufficient account of positive feedback loops, such as the reflective affect of large ice cover on solar rays and the trapped CO2 which would be released on melting. There are negative feedback loops too, some scientists say increased CO2 levels will improve oceanic phytoplankton efficiency, increasing their rate of CO2 absorption. However, this should be seen as a minor reprieve, not brandished disingenuously as reason to discount Climate Change.

Hansen claims EU 550ppm target would lead to a catastrophic 6°C rise in global temperature. The good news, he says, is that fossil fuel reserves have been greatly exaggerated and that simple measures such as a moratorium on coal power stations would bring emissions down below 400pm.

Nanotechnology, the science of creating structures and eventually devices at a molecular scale continues to make fascinating progress. Short synthetic DNA strands have been used to self assemble 3 dimensional structures such as cubes, octahedra and spheres. It is easy to think of these short DNA chunks as Lego-like building blocks which, when designed in the right way arrange themselves into potentially quite complex structures. The Holy Grail in this area is the molecular computer. Developments such as these and conductive polymer wires just a single molecule thick bring that horizon incrementally closer.