China Cans Coal, Collins Stays at the NIH, and Akatsuki Finds Waves on Venus | Vol. 4 / No. 13

Twilight for Coal in China? | Photo: Gustavo M., CC BY 2.0

This week’s top stories include a major coal cancellation in China, the retention of Dr. Francis Collins as the head of the NIH, and the discovery of a 6000-mile long wave in Venus’s atmosphere. Check it out: it’s the weekly roundup for Sunday, January 22, 2017!

China Cancels Coal

Despite what you may have heard elsewhere from certain highly-visible parties, coal isn’t “coming back.” It is Not. Coming. Back. The reasons are mostly to do with things that are very hard to control — economics being the most prominent. This became even clearer this week when China canceled 104 coal-fired power plant construction projects. That’s 120 Gigawatts of generation capacity, canceled. For comparison, the US only has 305 Gigawatts of coal-fire generation capacity total (though around 600 plants, because they’re smaller than the canceled Chinese ones). China’s doing this for a number of reasons. One of the primary ones is because it’s no longer economically viable to build coal plants (others include a growing Chinese commitment to going greener and a slowing demand for more power generation as the steel sector shrinks). But think about that: if China, with much less in the way of workers’ rights, a much lower minimum wage, and many many fewer “costly regulations” (as some would put it in this country) can’t make building new coal plants viable, how would the US? We simply couldn’t make coal viable again even if we wanted to.

This is a good thing for the environment, but, as some have pointed out, a pretty awful thing for the poor former coal-miners in the US’s Appalachia region. But no amount of lying to ourselves is going to change that, so the only way is forward. Let’s beef up education programs and get former coal workers into new jobs in the economically-viable green energy sector, installing solar panels, wind turbines, and the like. At least that way, when the green energy future arrives, those involved in the old energy sector will still be around to enjoy it.


Francis Collins doing a Reddit AMA (yes, really) | Photo: NIH/NHGRI, CC BY 2.0

Francis Collins Staying at NIH

In the past few weeks we’ve seen people nominated to the top positions of various government offices whose qualifications are dubious and whose commitment to science-based policy is lacking. That’s why everybody in the science community sat up in their chairs and pinched themselves when they heard the news this week that Dr. Francis Collins has been asked to stay in his current position at the head of the National Institutes of Health — at least for the time being. Collins is a physician and a geneticist, whose fame comes largely from his work in heading up the Human Genome Project. Perhaps his publishing of a book on how he as a scientist can believe in god is what swayed the President’s opinion, but since he rejects creationism and intelligent design — he’s really just playing god of the gaps, but at this point I just don’t care — we’re all just happy to see a qualified scientist stay in the position. Here’s hoping he’s asked to stay on for the foreseeable future.


That’s one big wave | Photo: JAXA, Tetsua Fukuhara (et al.)

Gravity Waves on Venus

The Japanese Venus probe Akatsuki (“ack-at-ski,” or “Dawn”) has begun to return exciting data about our hellishly hot neighbour, the first of which appears in an article in the journal Nature Geoscience this week. Akatsuki failed to achieve orbit of Venus in 2010 because of damage to its main thrusters, but in 2015 (thanks to some patently heroic efforts by JAXA engineers) they managed to put it into orbit, and as of March 2016 it’s been orbiting every 9 days. The news this week is about the discovery of “gravity waves” in the planet’s atmosphere. Now, this isn’t “gravitational waves” — those are the now famous ripples in spacetime discovered last year. Gravity waves are, well, the waves you’re used to. Like the waves the wind makes in the ocean. But these waves are in Venus’s atmosphere, and they’re huge. Like 6000 miles long huge. They’re so big that if we’d been looking for them from here we might’ve seen them, if only they’d been visible to the naked eye (which they’re not). The scientists responsible are surmising that these waves have to do with large mountainous surface features on the planet, but in reality we just aren’t quite sure yet what’s causing them. But then, that’s the best part, isn’t it? I, for one, can’t wait to hear more. You can learn more about the current discovery at Wired.



In case you missed any of the things we wrote here at This Week In Tomorrow in the past seven days, here’s what we got up to!

If you missed any of them, go check them out! Go now (it’s cool, I’ll wait here!).


Best of the Rest

And there’s always things we can’t cover every week, so here’s just a few of them in your handy-dandy weekly linkspam:

Have a great week.


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Richard Ford Burley is a human, writer, and doctoral candidate at Boston College, as well as Deputy Managing Editor at Ledger, the first academic journal devoted to Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. In his spare time he writes about science, skepticism, feminism, and futurism here at This Week In Tomorrow.