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Daily briefing: There are already too many power plants

Existing power plants must be shut down or retrofitted to limit global warming, time is running out for sand, and how to support open-source software and stay sane.

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Smoke and steam are discharged from chimneys and cooling towers in Huaian city, China.

A coal-fired power plant in China.Imagine China/Shutterstock

There are already too many power plants

Existing fossil-fuel-burning facilities will emit an estimated 660 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide in their lifetimes. That means that we’ve already built enough power plants, cars and other carbon-belching stuff to bust the top end of the estimated threshold for limiting warming to 1.5 ˚C. To meet the Paris global-warming targets, it’s not enough to make new technologies greener — we will need to decommission existing power plants or retrofit them with carbon capture technology. “The industry has trillions of dollars of assets that will not go easy into that good night, as it were, so we’re going to have to figure out a way to hasten that,” says Earth-system scientist Steven Davis.

MIT Technology Review | 4 min read

Reference: Nature paper

Max Planck Society conducts huge bullying survey

Most of the scientists who work for the Max Planck Society in Germany have pride and trust in their institutes, finds a survey of more than 9,000 employees. But cases of sexual discrimination and bullying occur regularly, and nearly half of foreign scientists working there don’t feel they fit in. The survey was commissioned by the society — one of the world’s richest and most prestigious basic research organizations — after two high-profile bullying scandals last year.

Nature | 4 min read

Taiwan scrutinizes Thousand Talents

Fears about a brain drain have prompted Taiwan to look more closely at researchers joining China’s Thousand Talents recruitment programme. According to Taiwan’s Central News Agency, the island’s government is investigating seven researchers for allegedly joining the prestigious programme without the necessary permissions. Taiwan’s Council for Mainland Affairs refused to comment on this directly to Nature, but did say that it was increasingly monitoring the mainland’s attempts to attract Taiwan’s high-tech talent and industrial technology.

Nature | 3 min read


Time is running out for sand

From concrete to electronics, sand is a key ingredient of modern life. And soon there won’t be enough, thanks to unsustainable and often illegal mining. Four researchers call for a global monitoring programme for sand resources, local sand budgets and measures to promote responsible use and re-use.

Nature | 7 min read

Source: Google Earth

Universities show their true colours in court

Psychologist Steven Piantadosi is one of six professors who resigned from the University of Rochester in New York after reporting sexual harassment within their department of brain and cognitive sciences. Pointing to tactics used at his former university and others, Piantadosi argues that “hypocrisy pervades academia” when institutions boast of a respectful environment and then flout those values to cut legal liability.

Nature | 4 min read

How to support open-source software and stay sane

Releasing lab-built open-source software can be fun, good for the field and beneficial for your career — but can also be a heck of a lot of work. Researchers who have come out the other side recommend some models to emulate and resources that can help.

Nature | 7 min read


“To me, it’s a strong reminder of how ready we are to ignore things we cannot imagine.”

Microbiologist Lars Peter Nielsen studies the electricity-conducting bacteria that cover Earth. (The New York Times)

Struggling to hit your step goal? Get inspired by the record-breaking Arctic fox that walked from Svalbard to Canada in just 76 days. After you stretch your legs, why not send me your feedback on this newsletter at

Thanks for reading!

Flora Graham, senior editor, Nature Briefing

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