Thirty years ago, James Hansen, a scientist at nasa, issued a warning about the dangers of climate change. The predictions he and other scientists made at the time have proved spectacularly accurate. Photograph by Charles Ommanney / The Washington Post / Getty
I have always been appropriately alarmed by Elizabeth Kolbert’s articles and her comment pieces in the New Yorker. This brief comment below is alarming enough, but with a twist. Science has done its job, but we as citizens, business people, civic leaders have not acted with sufficient urgency considering the clear scientific evidence.
It may be true that scientists have not been the most compelling communicators, but that is no excuse for our inaction. As someone who left a scientific career developing a theoretical framework for entrepreneurial conservation in favor of opportunities to apply those ideas in the real world, I am in the same boat as a climate scientist. I look around today, after decades of best effort and I conclude that we have not accomplished enough in our practice. In our efforts to offer alternatives to messier forms of tourism, we have not accomplished enough. That is discouraging. But discouragement is not an option. We must find a better way to communicate that generates the required action for a less messy planet:
On June 23, 1988—a blisteringly hot day in Washington, D.C.—James Hansen told a Senate committee that “the greenhouse effect has been detected and is changing our climate now.” At the time, Hansen was the head of nasa’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, and though his testimony was certainly not the first official warning about the “greenhouse effect”—a report to President Lyndon Johnson, in 1965, predicted “measurable and perhaps marked changes in climate” in the decades to follow—it was the first to receive national news coverage. The Times ran the story at the top of the front page, with a graph showing a long-term rise in average global temperatures. Continue reading
We are already big fans of this fruit, for all kinds of reasons, so this is like icing on the cake:
A banana might reasonably replace sports drinks for those of us who rely on carbohydrates to fuel exercise and speed recovery, according to a new study comparing the cellular effects of carbohydrates consumed during sports.
It found that a banana, with its all-natural package, provides comparable or greater anti-inflammatory and other benefits for athletes than sports drinks. But there may be a downside, and it involves bloating.
For decades, athletes and their advisers have believed, and studies have confirmed, that eating or drinking carbohydrates during prolonged exertion can enable someone to continue for longer or at higher intensities and recover more quickly afterward than if he or she does not eat during the workout. Continue reading
A humpback whale calf that washed ashore in Wantagh, New York. A series of “unusual mortality events” among whales has scientists worried that the ocean is more dangerous than ever. Photograph by Mario Tama / Getty
Thanks to Marguerite Holloway, who we have appreciated a couple times earlier, for this:
One foggy morning last April, a dead humpback whale washed up on New York’s Rockaway Beach. It was a young male, thirty-one feet long, and had extensive bruising—the result of contact with “something very large,” according to Kimberly Durham, of the Atlantic Marine Conservation Society, who performed the necropsy. The Rockaway whale was one of sixty-eight humpbacks that have died between North Carolina and Maine since 2016, casualties in what the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is calling an “unusual mortality event.” And humpbacks, it turns out, are not the only species suffering. Continue reading
Thanks to for this story about how a Robotic Fish Moves Like The Real Thing — So It Can Observe The Real Thing:
SoFi, the robotic fish, swims in for its close-up. MIT computer scientists hope SoFi will help marine biologists get a closer (and less obtrusive) look at their subjects than ever before. MIT CSAIL
Scientific advancement: It’s all in the wiggle.
OK, it’s a lot more complicated than that. But when a team of researchers at MIT unveiled their robotic fish Wednesday, one of the keys they emphasized was the graceful undulation of the prototype’s tail — which, besides being rather eye-catching, serves a crucial role in the robot’s ultimate mission: giving scientists the ability to unobtrusively observe marine wildlife remotely.
“Because the fish moves through undulating movement rather than thrusters, the impact it has on how the water moves around it is much more like what is expected of physical fish,” Daniela Rus, director of the school’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab, tells NPR. Continue reading
“So, like, what do you do every day?”
I get asked this often and I’m not always sure how to explain it to people without pictures at hand or infinite patience for follow-up questions. So, in this blog post, with the benefit of time to pick the right words and theoretically infinite space to write them out, I figured I would try to provide an adequate answer.
View from the field, a week or so ago
This, I feel, is the question at the crux of the what-do-you-do-every-day question. Why do you have to go to Kenya to do your work? Right, the bird you study is only found there, but why do you have to be out on the savanna everyday – can’t you just bring the birds back to the lab or study them in a zoo?
Of course, you can (nowadays, only with the right permits) and that is precisely what early zoologists did, collecting specimens – alive or dead – from around the world and bringing them back to examine them under microscopes or in aviaries in a rainy British country garden. While this may be convenient, it inevitably renders your conclusions about a bird’s diet or the adaptive nature of its plumage coloration suspect, because they are arrived at out of context. Without the bird having been examined in the environment it’s found in, with different factors that might affect its behavior and morphology in play, it is impossible to understand why it acts the way it does and why it is the way it is. Hence, fieldwork: observing and sampling critters in the wild. Continue reading
Steven Pinker has featured in these pages plenty of times for the quality of his writing. Recently he was featured in a joint interview with Bill Gates that we meant to link to, but never did. And meanwhile we linked to this story about optimism; now this:
…If you think the world is coming to an end, think again: people are living longer, healthier, freer, and happier lives, and while our problems are formidable, the solutions lie in the Enlightenment ideal of using reason and science.
Is the world really falling apart? Is the ideal of progress obsolete? In this elegant assessment of the human condition in the third millennium, cognitive scientist and public intellectual Steven Pinker urges us to step back from the gory headlines and prophecies of doom, which play to our psychological biases…[continue reading on the book’s website]
The book came to our attention thanks to a smart op-ed:
Steven Pinker, a psychology professor at Harvard, calls himself an Enlightenment man. Credit Chona Kasinger for The New York Times
…Pinker’s philosophical lens prevents him from seeing where the real problems lie. He calls himself an Enlightenment man, but he’s really a scientific rationalist. He puts tremendous emphasis on the value of individual reason. The key to progress is information — making ourselves better informed. The key sin in the world is a result either of entropy, the randomness that is built into any system, or faith — dogma clouding reason. Continue reading
The temperature difference from normal over the Arctic averaged over the next five days in the GFS model forecast. (University of Maine Climate Reanalyzer)
Is it cataclysm or is it a rendering of what we already thought we knew? In case you missed it, there was some startling news that came with this image to the left, that does not look like anything we have ever seen. And the article starts like this:
While the Eastern United States simmers in some of its warmest February weather ever recorded, the Arctic is also stewing in temperatures more than 45 degrees above normal. This latest huge temperature spike in the Arctic is another striking indicator of its rapidly transforming climate.
On Monday and Tuesday, the northernmost weather station in the world, Cape Morris Jesup at the northern tip of Greenland, experienced more than 24 hours of temperatures above freezing according to the Danish Meteorological Institute. “How weird is that?” tweeted Robert Rohde, a physicist at the University of California at Berkeley. “Well it’s Arctic winter. The sun set in October and won’t be seen again until March. Perpetual night, but still above freezing.”
This thaw occurred as a pulse of extremely mild air shot through the Greenland Sea.
Warm air is spilling into the Arctic from all sides. On the opposite end of North America, abnormally mild air also poured over northern Alaska on Tuesday, where the temperature in Utqiaġvik, previously known as Barrow, soared to a record high of 31 degrees (minus-1 Celsius), 40 degrees (22 Celsius) above normal. [continue to the article]
Alarming? We think so. Clear? We do not think so. Eric Lach, Deputy News Editor at The New Yorker, has this brief helpful interpretation, with a much easier to understand illustration:
Many media outlets now regularly cover instances of extreme weather in remote corners of the world. How should readers understand these reports? Photograph by Esther Horvath / Redux
This week brought news from the Arctic. “Arctic temperatures soar 45 degrees above normal, flooded by extremely mild air on all sides,” the Washington Post declared, in a headline. The article below that headline detailed how, on Monday and Tuesday, at the northern tip of Greenland, temperatures rose above freezing for a full twenty-four-hour period—extremely unusual for this time of year—while temperatures across “the entire Arctic north of 80 degrees latitude have averaged about 10 degrees (6 Celsius) above normal since the beginning of the calendar year.”
All sorts of media outlets now regularly cover instances of extreme weather in remote corners of the world. And yet how should readers understand these reports? Are the ups and downs of climate change something to follow in the newspaper, like the Mets or the Yankees? [continue to the post]
Scientists say that studying bee behavior could help them understand hummingbird behavior, too. Credit DansPhotoArt on flickr, via Getty Images
Members of our team have long been fans of bees and all bird species, with a particular soft spot for hummingbirds in particular. With their gemlike plumage and engaging personality, what’s not to love?
What’s small, buzzes here and there and visits flowers?
If you said bees or hummingbirds, you got it. And you wouldn’t be the first if you mixed the two up. In Medieval Europe, some called bees the smallest birds. In Chinese and Japanese, the words for hummingbird translate into “bee bird.” Today we call the smallest hummingbird — weighing less than a penny and only a bit larger than the biggest bee — the bee hummingbird.
And now a group of researchers say we should embrace our history of lumping the two together. The way scientists study bees could help them study hummingbird behavior, too, they argue in a review published Tuesday in Biology Letters. Continue reading
A forest floor dark honey fungus, or Armillaria ostoyae. The “Humongous Fungus,” living beneath the soil in Oregon sends these fruiting bodies, or mushrooms, above ground to disperse spores. Credit Arterra/UIG, via Getty Images
The Science section of the New York Times is a dependable source of occasionally brilliant ecological findings (amidst the more common overdoses of dark and dreary news) and this one helps start a new week on solid ground:
A new genetic analysis reveals the tactics that helped fungi in the Armillaria genus get so good at expanding and killing host plants.
Thousands of years ago, two microscopic spores spawned and created a monster. It grew — up to three feet a year — sending out dark, gnarly, threadlike organs called rhizomorphs that explored the subterranean darkness, foraging for food. Now it’s a nebulous body, a tangled mat beneath the Oregon soil that occupies an area the size of three Central Parks and may weigh as much as 5,000 African elephants.
Its scientific name is Armillaria ostoyae, but you can call it The Humongous Fungus. It’s the largest known terrestrial organism on the planet, according to the United States Forest Service.
Grasshopper sparrow specimens from 1907, top, and 1996. Credit Carl Fuldner and Shane DuBay
A fascinating story appears in the Science section of the New York Times this week. It is a reminder of the progress made over the last century in cleaning up the air in North America. Birds are key to the evidential trail in telling the story. The title is one of the most unappealing we have seen in ages, but science is not all sweetness and light:
Tucked away in the drawers of natural history museums across America’s Rust Belt, thousands of dead birds carry dirty secrets from America’s polluted past.
The specimens that were put away around the start of the 20th century are far grimier than the ones from more recent decades. And now, climate scientists and historians can thank museum curators for not having tidied them up before storing them. Continue reading
James Hamblin is the perfect messenger for complicated messages, like the ones he usually delivers on scientific and especially medical topics. It is difficult to say why, but taking him too seriously is difficult. So even with challenging questions like the one in the three minute video above, and the one in the article he published on the same topic a couple months ago, his approach is the opposite of intimidation:
With one dietary change, the U.S. could almost meet greenhouse-gas emission goals.
Soybeans in a silo at a cattle feed in the Amazon rainforest in Brazil
Ecoanxiety is an emerging condition. Named in 2011, the American Psychological Association recently described it as the dread and helplessness that come with “watching the slow and seemingly irrevocable impacts of climate change unfold, and worrying about the future for oneself, children, and later generations.”
It’s not a formal diagnosis. Anxiety is traditionally defined by an outsized stress response to a given stimulus. In this case, the stimulus is real, as are the deleterious effects of stress on the body. Continue reading
A barbecued vegetable platter, top, with kale rib and carrot “brisket.” Beluga lentils, black rice and chimichurri broth, left, and a side of crisped smoked beef from Stemple Creek Ranch. Credit Preston Gannaway for The New York Times
Although not quite an example of “Model Mad“, this culinary entrepreneurial activism sends a message to both consumers and food industry colleagues alike.
Karen Leibowitz and Anthony Myint opened the Perennial in San Francisco last year with a clear mission in mind: Run an environmentally friendly restaurant with a minimal carbon footprint, and inspire other restaurateurs to do the same.
As [the current administration] has questioned the existence of climate change, Ms. Leibowitz and Mr. Myint have emerged as activists, at the forefront of a growing movement of chefs who not only recognize and measure the impact of their industry on the planet, but also look for new ways to undo the damage.
Mr. Myint and Ms. Leibowitz, who are married, have been immersed for the last few years in the research that directs every decision at the restaurant, like choosing the kitchen’s energy-efficient equipment and its raw ingredients, many of which are grown in ways that can regenerate the soil. Continue reading