AI-enhanced enzyme eats plastic bottles even faster

KATRINA KRÄMER for Chemistry World:

A team around Hal Alper from the University of Texas at Austin in the US has created a PETase that can degrade 51 different PET products, including whole plastic containers and bottles.

A neural network helped the team decide how to modify the protein scaffold. The algorithm was first trained on 19,000 proteins of similar size, though of very different functionalities. For each of PETase’s 290 amino acids, the program checked whether it fits well within its immediate structural environment compared with other proteins.

AI-engineered enzyme eats entire plastic containers

This is good news since apparently plastic is not really recyclable.

We’re going to have to innovate our way out of this climate mess, and AI will play a central role.

Reducing consumption of animal products is the single most effective thing an individual can do to flight climate change

Today, and probably into the future, dietary change can deliver environmental benefits on a scale not achievable by producers. Moving from current diets to a diet that excludes animal products (table S13) (35) has transformative potential, reducing food’s land use by 3.1 (2.8 to 3.3) billion ha (a 76% reduction), including a 19% reduction in arable land; food’s GHG emissions by 6.6 (5.5 to 7.4) billion metric tons of CO2eq (a 49% reduction); acidification by 50% (45 to 54%); eutrophication by 49% (37 to 56%); and scarcity-weighted freshwater withdrawals by 19% (−5 to 32%) for a 2010 reference year. . . . For the United States, where per capita meat consumption is three times the global average, dietary change has the potential for a far greater effect on food’s different emissions, reducing them by 61 to 73% . . . .

Reducing food’s environmental impacts through producers and consumers

But vegans and vegetarians make up only about 8 percent of the American population, and that number is not going up.

Everything Will Be Climate Change

David Wallace-Wells wrote a book about climate change worst-case scenarios that’s been getting a lot of buzz. In this interview he discusses the book and the notion that science fiction writers sometimes fail to get future predictions right, but more frequently nail the mood.

Well, here’s the mood prediction for climate change:

. . . I think that the 21st century will be dominated by climate change in the same way that, say, the end of the 20th century was dominated by financial capitalism, or the 19th century in the West was dominated by modernity or industry—that this will be the meta-narrative of the coming decades, and there won’t be an area of human life that is untouched by it. Often people talk about climate change as a global problem, which it obviously is, but I don’t think we’ve really started to think about what that means all the way down to the level of individual life.

My basic perspective is that everything about human life on this planet will be transformed by this force. Even if we end up at a kind of best-case outcome, I think the world will be dominated by these forces in the coming decades in ways that it’s hard to imagine and we really haven’t started to think hard enough about.

The 3 Big Things That People Misunderstand About Climate Change

Plausible and unsettling.

Climate Change Policy Primer

Great tweetstorm by Ramez Naam, via Marginal Revolution. Naam is a former Microsoft exec and (apparently) climate change policy guru.

Here are my takeaways:

  • Global scope. Climate change policy needs to have global scope. It’s not sufficient to act locally. The U.S. is just 15% of emissions.
  • Solutions need to be cheap. Renewable sources of energy must be cheap or they won’t be used. Subsidize new green technology.
  • Agricultural / manufacturing. The biggest problems are agriculture and manufacturing. We are not making progress in these areas despite them being responsible for 45% of emissions.
  • Meat consumption, ugh. “Meat consumption is doubling in the next 40 years. This should scare you more than coal.”

So… cut back on your meat intake. Really, that’s best for you and everyone else. Also, we need massive subsidies for new, cheap technology in meat, steel, and cement production.

Climate Change Worst Case Scenario

Robinson Meyer at The Atlantic wonders if we are now living through the climate change worst case scenario.

In the United States, carbon emissions leapt back up, making their largest year-over-year increase since the end of the Great Recession. This matched the trend across the globe. According to two major studies, greenhouse-gas emissions worldwide shot up in 2018—accelerating like a “speeding freight train,” as one scientist put it.

U.S. emissions do remain 11 percent below their 2007 peak, but that is one of the few bright spots in the data. Global emissions are now higher than ever. And the 2018 statistics are all the more dismal because greenhouse-gas emissions had previously seemed to be slowing or even declining, both in the United States and around the world.

Are We Living Through Climate Change’s Worst-Case Scenario?

What does a worst case scenario look like? I looked around and these might be the highlights:

  • all the coral reefs die; species extinctions continue to accelerate
  • weather becomes much less predictable and affects global food supply and other logistics (i.e. things become a lot more expensive)
  • sea levels rise, accelerate, and continue to rise; perhaps 200 foot increase over the next thousand years; massive human displacement

In other words, productivity growth slows and perhaps reverses. GDP declines or goes negative. Your children will have a worse life than you. Their childrens’ lives may be even worse than that. The bottom line is it will be very expensive.

Is it time to start planning for the worst case scenario?