Science  09 Feb 2001:
Vol. 291, Issue 5506, pp. 961

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  1. Climate Costs

    How hard will greenhouse warming hit the global pocketbook. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has an answer: $304.2 billion per year in 2050, according to a study released this week by insurance company members of UNEP's financial services initiative. The big number prompted UNEP executive director Klaus Toepfer to plead at UNEP's Governing Council meeting in Nairobi for more funds to implement his organization's work.

    But the $304.2 billion figure is hardly as imposing as the decimal point would imply, economists say. It works out to just a few tenths of a percent of world gross domestic product (GDP), notes economist James Edmonds of the Washington, D.C., office of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory; the United States already spends about 2% of its GDP on pollution control. And most experts would not even attempt to put a price tag on global warming. “There are just so many difficulties in making that kind of estimate,” says Neil Leary of UNEP's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) office in Washington, D.C.

    On 19 February, the IPCC working group that Leary manages will be releasing its own 5-year report on the impacts of climate change. But he promises that “there won't be any dollar cost”—with or without decimal points—in the report.

  2. Aftershocks

    India is scrambling to conduct a “scientific postmortem” of the Bhuj quake last month that killed more than 20,000 people in the western state of Gujarat. The research program will include extensive monitoring of the surface with global positioning system units for clues to what may be happening deep within the Indian plate, some 30 kilometers underground near the quake's epicenter. “A major event like this can cause long-term changes in the Indian plate, and we do not want to miss the opportunity to understand them,” says V. S. Ramamurthy, secretary of the Indian Department of Science and Technology. He also promised “rapid, interim clearance” for proposals to help scientists sidestep the “long, drawn-out” review process. The region has been the subject of ongoing paleoseismic studies by the Center for Earth Science Studies in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala.

  3. The Ideas of March

    The new chair of the House Science Committee is promising to move quickly to get his panel involved in the three E's—education, energy, and the environment. Representative Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) last week said that the panel, which oversees the gamut of U.S. nonbiomedical civilian science, will hold hearings on the topics beginning next month. He also promised scientists that he will be “your staunchest ally and your fairest critic.”

    After ascending to the panel's top spot last month (Science, 12 January, p. 222), Boehlert outlined his agenda in a 31 January speech to the Universities Research Association, a group of 89 research institutions. First priority, Boehlert said, will be to examine ways to improve precollege math and science education—from creating incentives for top students to teach, to examining the impact of standardized tests on learning. On energy, he'd like to shore up support for research into renewables. And his committee will become “a central forum to learn about the science behind” environmental controversies such as global warming and genetic engineering, he vowed. Hearings will include diverse points of view, he added, “unlike those at which [lawmakers] don't want to be confused by the facts.”

  4. Talent Hunt

    The new InterAcademy Council (IAC) research organization—an international version of the study-producing U.S. National Research Council (Science, 19 May 2000, p. 1149)—has gotten its first assignment. Science academy presidents meeting in Davos, Switzerland, last week decided that the IAC's inaugural study should focus on developing better ways to promote scientific talent and research capacity, especially in developing countries. The presidents—led by IAC co-chairs Bruce Alberts, president of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, and Indian Academy president Goverdhan Mehta—also hired law professor Albert Koers of the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands as the group's executive director.

    The study, to be funded by a Sloan Foundation grant and written by an e-mail-linked expert panel nominated by member academies, “will focus on developing young scientific talent worldwide,” says Koers. A final product is due later this year. The IAC will have a small “core staff” in Amsterdam to help coordinate such projects, he added, but otherwise will be run as “a virtual organization.”