Sunday, December 9, 2018

A Theory of Games

Environmental & Science Education
Edward Hessler

CBS This Morning devoted some time to an interview with John Urschel,  December 8. He really was a student-athlete, playing varsity football (lineman) at Penn State and playing it well enough to be drafted by the NFL's Baltimore Ravens in 2014.  

You gotta' love the way Urschel chose his university major and how it changed his view: "I majored in aerospace engineering at Penn State because my mother told me I was going to major in aerospace engineering," Urschel said. "I was good at math, I was good at physics. I didn't particularly love it but once I got to college I got to see math in a pure form." 

Before the NFL, though, he graduated in three years, staying at Penn State to complete two master's degrees. In this interview he describes how he "benched" mathematics to play professionally but realized that mathematics hadn't released its hold on his imagination and intellect so he played football and enrolled in a Ph.D. program in mathematics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  He retired from football in 2017, after three years in the NFL. Urschel is aiming to graduate with his Ph.D. this spring.

In this interview Urschel talks about his life, his aims and hopes, and about breaking down stereotypes that surround minorities and college athletes. He closes with some useful advice. "If you have dreams, if you have goals, don't shut these things down. Don't fit into certain stereotypes. Don't think you can't have multiple aspirations," he said. "Life's too short. It's too short to settle and to live someone else's dream."

This CBS segment seemed less of an interview and more of a conversation between two people interested in the other and in the topic at hand which makes it all the more enjoyable and interesting. There is a lot here to chew on and also to be glad you know about.


Saturday, December 8, 2018

Finalists: National Poetry Month Poster Contest for 2019.

Environmental & Science Education
Art and Environment
Edward Hessler

Earlier this year the Academy of American Poets announced the first-ever National Poetry Month Poster Contest for 2019 (April). More than 450 students submitted artwork for consideration, from which 12 finalists have been selected.

Take a look at how students interpreted this challenge in original and all ways wonderful.

Easy to like.

Much, much harder to select one, just one.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Friday Poem

Environmental & Science Education
Art and Environment
Edward Hessler


Always a good day for a poem.

And SaSuMTuWTh are good days, too.

The poem was written by Natasha Trethewey.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Sculptures from Recycled Materials

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Environmental & Science Education
Reduce Reuse Recycle
Art and Environment
Edward Hessler

Danish sculptor Thomas Dambo makes use of what he finds in "skips and rubbish tips" (dumpsters) to make gigantic trolls which he locates in woods and fields. You will notice that he uses a modified bicycle when collecting these materials.

The results may be seen here. I love these whimsical figures but then who doesn't love a troll (except on blogs).

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

A Proton's Last Moments

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Environmental & Science Education
Art and Environment
Edward Hessler

A proton in a short animation from Symmetry describes its final moments in the Large Hadron Collider.

You know the story. An atom consists of three particles: neutrons, protons and electrons.  Free neutrons are not stable; protons are (so far no one has ever provided evidence for their decay). And even if were to be observed no fundamental principles in physics would not be affected.  Neutrons decay into a proton plus some other stuff. Protons can be smashed, ripped apart, converted in energy as you will see. This is more complicated than I've described here so focus on the film.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

4th Annual Climate Assessment

Image result for trump climate changeEnvironmental & Science Education
Climate Change
Edward Hessler

About the Assessment

The Fourth National Climate Assessment was released by the Trump Administration on Friday night, November 23, an effort to bury it. Amy Kobuchar (D-MN) commented about this "news dump" on ABC's This Week, "They couldn't pick a day where they tried to get less attention on this report.  

The National Climate Assessment (NCA) is a 13-agency consensus document from the U. S. Global Climate Change Research Program (USGCRA) which was established by Presidential initiative in 1989 and mandated by the U. S. Congress in the Global Change Research Act (GCRA) of 1990 to develop and coordinate "a comprehensive and integrated United States research program which will assist the Nation and the world to understand, assess, predict, and respond to human-induced and natural processes of global change." The NCA is required every four years.
The Fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA4) fulfills that mandate in two volumes. This report, Volume II, draws on the foundational science described in Volume I, the Climate Science Special Report (CSSR). Volume II focuses on the human welfare, societal, and environmental elements of climate change and variability for 10 regions and 18 national topics, with particular attention paid to observed and projected risks, impacts, consideration of risk reduction, and implications under different mitigation pathways. Where possible, NCA4 Volume II provides examples of actions underway in communities across the United States to reduce the risks associated with climate change, increase resilience, and improve livelihoods.

A Presidential Tweet

Before the Thanksgiving holiday, President Trump tweeted using his stand-by typical caps for emphasis, "Brutal and Extended Cold Blast could shatter ALL RECORDS - Whatever happened to Global Warming.?""Whatever happened to global warming," indeed. In short: it is a happening thing and it is going to get worse, much worse unless something is done now.   


Before I include some extracts, Gavin Schmidt of RealClimate made some useful comments about the report, "The basic picture is utterly unsurprising, but the real interest in the NCA is the detailed work on vulnerabilities and sectorial impacts in 10 specific regions of the US.  The writing teams for those sections include a whole raft of scientists and local stakeholders and so if you think climate reports are the same old, same old, it's where you should go to read things you might not have seen before." Here are a few highlights from the NCA overview.

--Earth’s climate is now changing faster than at any point in the history of modern civilization, primarily as a result of human activities. The impacts of global climate change are already being felt in the United States and are projected to intensify in the future—but the severity of future impacts will depend largely on actions taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to adapt to the changes that will occur. 

--However, the unambiguous long-term warming trend in global average temperature over the last century cannot be explained by natural factors alone. Greenhouse gas emissions from human activities are the only factors that can account for the observed warming over the last century; there are no credible alternative human or natural explanations supported by the observational evidence. Without human activities, the influence of natural factors alone would actually have had a slight cooling effect on global climate over the last 50 years

--High temperature extremes, heavy precipitation events, high tide flooding events along the U.S. coastline, ocean acidification and warming, and forest fires in the western United States and Alaska are all projected to continue to increase, while land and sea ice cover, snowpack, and surface soil moisture are expected to continue to decline in the coming decades.

--Without more significant global greenhouse gas mitigation and regional adaptation efforts, climate change is expected to cause substantial losses to infrastructure and property and impede the rate of economic growth over this century. ... However, the continued warming that is projected to occur without significant reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions is expected to cause substantial net damage to the U.S. economy, especially in the absence of increased adaptation efforts. The potential for losses in some sectors could reach hundreds of billions of dollars per year by the end of this century.

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--Climate change has already had observable impacts on biodiversity and ecosystems throughout the United States that are expected to continue. Many species are shifting their ranges, and changes in the timing of important biological events (such as migration and reproduction) are occurring in response to climate change . Climate change is also aiding the spread of invasive species , recognized as a major driver of biodiversity loss and substantial ecological and economic costs globally.

--Ocean warming and acidification pose high and growing risks for many marine organisms, and the impacts of climate change on ocean ecosystems are expected to lead to reductions in important ecosystem services such as aquaculture, fishery productivity, and recreational opportunities. While climate change impacts on ocean ecosystems are widespread, the scope of ecosystem impacts occurring in tropical and polar areas is greater than anywhere else in the world.

--Many activities within the public and private sectors aim for or have the effect of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, such as the increasing use of natural gas in place of coal or the expansion of wind and solar energy to generate electricity. Fossil fuel combustion accounts for approximately 85% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, with agriculture, land-cover change, industrial processes, and methane from fossil fuel extraction and processing as well as from waste (including landfills, wastewater treatment, and composting) accounting for most of the remainder. A number of efforts exist at the federal level to promote low-carbon energy technologies and to increase soil and forest carbon storage.

--Effective adaptation can also enhance social welfare in many ways that can be difficult to quantify, including improving economic opportunity, health, equity, national security, education, social connectivity, and sense of place, while safeguarding cultural resources and enhancing environmental quality. Aggregating these benefits into a single monetary value is not always the best approach, and more fundamentally, communities may value benefits differently.

--To help communities across the United States learn from one another in their efforts to build resilience to a changing climate, this report highlights common climate-related risks and possible response actions across all regions and sectors.

4th National Climate Assessment Links

The Fourth National Climate Assessment may be found here. The guide to the report includes a discussion of key messages, description of climate assessment regions, what is meant by confidence and likelihood and a glossary.  There are some very useful diagrams and interactives included, e.g., Americans Respond to the Impacts of Climate Change and Indicators of Change.

Here is the link to the Midwest, our part of the world, which includes Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, and Wisconsin.

Monday, December 3, 2018

David Attenborough's Message to COP 24

Image result for un climate changeEnvironmental & Science Education
Climate Change
Edward Hessler

The UN climate change summit (COP 24*), 2-14 December 2018 in Katowice, Poland is certainly one of the most important meetings in the history of the human world although news coverage about climate change in general or this event in particular barely acknowledges climate or the importance of this meeting to the future of the planet. About 200 nations will be meeting with an aim to turn the vision of COP 23, Paris 2015 into action.

Climate scientist Katherine Hayhoe's summary of the U. S. 4th Climate Assessment written November 27 provides a bottom line that applies here:

It's real.
It's us.
Scientist's agree.
The impacts are already here and now.
But by acting now we can still avoid the most serious and even dangerous impacts.
Our future is in our hands.

Act now!  Continue acting in the short- and long-term future! Do something!

As The Guardian reports, David Attenborough was asked by the organizers of the conference to speak for all the world's people.  It is a message from the world's people to the leaders of the world. This is a daunting assignment. Attenborough made a two-minute talk which is linked in The Guardian article by Damian Carrington. It is a stirring presentation and includes many great quotes, e.g.,  Leaders of the world, you must lead. The continuation of civilisations and the natural world upon which we depend is in your hands

Carrington's Guardian essay includes some valuable links including one to a UN initiative especially for this conference, the ActNow Chatbot. 
*short for 24th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Scientific Breakthrough of the Year: Vote Now

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Environmental & Science Education
Edward Hessler

Each year Science, the largest subscribed scientific magazine in the world, chooses the scientific breakthrough of the year. The candidates provide an insight into what a prominent scientific magazine think are important areas of research.

We ordinary types can participate as well and you can  pick your favorite scientific break through from the list (descriptions are included) provided here.  This is the People's Choice category.

You must vote by December 5. Then check back December 6 when a second round of voting with your four top picks. The winner and nine runners up, along with Science's choice will be made on December 20, the last issue of 2018.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Friday Poem

Image result for natalie diaz

Environmental & Science Education
Art and Environment
Edward Hessler

Friday! time for a poem.

Today's poem is by Natalie Diaz.

She is a MacArthur Fellow, Class of 2018.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Human Embryo Editing

Image result for human embryoEnvironmental & Science Education
Edward Hessler

I want to say something about the outrageous "experiment," conducted by Jiankui He involving implanted human embryos. He, by the way, refers to this as a "study." Whew! Phew! Ugh! Aargh!

You may have seen He's justification for doing this quoted in the November 27, 2018 issue of the Star Tribune (from the Associated Press by Christina Larson). "There will be someone, somewhere, who is doing this. If it's not me, it's someone else."  Larson's piece is worth reading.

The general area is far beyond my technical expertise and knowledge but not beyond my outrage. It isn't science in any sense that I know and love, indeed it seems to me to be a violation of science. I also hope that He will never be allowed to wear a lab coat again or approach a lab bench for the rest of his days.

Today, Lily Kuo reported in the Guardian (there are some links in the article) on the response of the Chinese government. “The genetically edited infant incident reported by media blatantly violated China’s relevant laws and regulations. It has also violated the ethical bottom line that the academic community adheres to.... Xu called for the suspension of any scientific or technological activities by those involved in He’s work."
If you are interested in further information about the CRISPR human baby story this short article by Derek Lowe who writes an editorially independent blog from the publishers of Science Translation Medicine is spot on. Lowe notes, as others have, that Dr. Jiankui He's "experiment" is worse, much worse, than first reported. Lowe includes links to He's presentation at the Second International Human Genome Summit in Hong Kong as well as an interesting Twitter thread (technical mostly) on the presentation and a great article by STAT's Sharon Begley. 

P.S. The Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing has concluded and the organizing committee released a statement on human genome editing. It is organized around what was heard at this summit: an unexpected and deeply disturbing claim that human embryos had been edited and implanted, resulting in a pregnancy and the birth of twins. It may be read here.