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Fact-checking Pruitt’s warming comments

Scott Pruitt testifying on Capitol Hill. Photo: Pete Marovich / Getty Images

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt indicated in an interview this week that some global warming could be good for humans. He's technically not wrong, but he's overstating and muddling a scientific consensus that's unequivocally saying the opposite.

The bottom line: There will be some benefits to a warmer planet, notably in colder regions like Canada and Russia. But, overall the negative effects far outweigh the benefits in colder regions.

Quoted: "Global warming is plausibly beneficial in some places, like where it is presently cold. So Administer Pruitt isn’t way off here," said Joseph Makjut, director of climate policy at the Niskanen Center, a libertarian think tank. "The rub is that global warming is really bad in places where it is already hot. More people live in hot places, so we can expect net losses."

One level deeper: The United Nations’ summary of the world’s foremost scientific literature has answered this question: "Are the future impacts of climate change only negative? Might there be positive impacts as well?" Here it is:

“Overall, the report identifies many more negative impacts than positive impacts projected for the future, especially for high magnitudes and rates of climate change. Climate change will, however, have different impacts on people around the world and those effects will vary not only by region but over time, depending on the rate and magnitude of climate change.”

Between the lines: It's hard to know for sure whether Pruitt is being disingenuous or is ill-informed on the science. It's a common position taken by people who question the mainstream scientific consensus that human activity is driving Earth’s temperature up over the past century.

For the record: A request for additional comment to EPA regarding the UN's address of the issue was not immediately returned.

Go deeper: Climate scientists roundly refuted with very detailed responses an article in May 2016 that said in "many ways global warming will be a good thing."

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Early humans innovated tools earlier than thought

Archaeologist Rick Potts squats in the Olorgesailie Basin in Kenya with various surprisingly sophisticated tools found from 320,000 years ago.
Richard Potts surveys assortment of Early Stone Age handaxes discovered in the Olorgesailie Basin, Kenya. Photo: Human Origins Program, Smithsonian

Unpredictable climate and natural disasters like earthquakes may have spurred early humans to create innovative tools and ways to communicate earlier than previously thought, according to 3 studies published Thursday in Science.

What they found: Evidence that around 320,000 years ago — near the start of the Middle Stone Age (MSA) and tens of thousands of years earlier than previous evidence has shown — early humans in East Africa may have created projectile hunting tools, developed ways to communicate using colors for mapping or identification purposes, and traveled longer distances to trade, hunt or obtain valuable materials.

"It's not just humans changing but really the entire ecosystem. It's a picture that's bigger than just the human ancestors themselves."
— Smithsonian's Richard Potts, who spearheaded the studies
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Yejin Choi: Trying to give AI some common sense

A photo of Yejin Choi from the University of Washington and the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence.
Photo illustration: Axios Visuals

Artificial intelligence researchers have tried unsuccessfully for decades to give machines the common sense needed to converse with humans and seamlessly navigate our always-changing world. Last month, Paul Allen announced he is investing another $125 million into his Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence (AI2) in a renewed effort to solve one of the field's grand challenges.

Axios spoke with Yejin Choi, an AI researcher from the University of Washington and AI2 who studies how machines process and generate language. She talked about how they're defining common sense, their approach to the problem and how it's connected to bias.