Monday, April 12, 2021

Food Waste


Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Sustainability, Pollution, Children, Students

Ed Hessler 

There are increasing reminders reported on the problem of food waste and local solutions.

Project 17, a BBC World service series produced with the Open University, provide a perspective on the achievement of the United Nations's 17 Sustainable Development goals through the eyes of 17-year- old youngsters.

In this video (4m 02s), Shan finds out about possible solutions to the problem of Singapore's food waste (740,000 tonnes-~820,120 tons US--was wasted in 2019).

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Bald Eagle Numbers in the Lower 48: Great News

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Behavior, Biodiversity 

Ed Hessler

Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) numbers are up across the contiguous United States according to a new estimate reported by Gustave Axelson in All About Birds (March 24, 2021; updated March 26). 

The new number from the USFWS Bald Eagle Population Update report is 316,708, writes Axelson, "is more than quadruple the eagle population reported in the 2009 report. The rising number of Bald Eagles undoubtedly reflects the continuing conservation success story that stretches back to the banning of DDT in 1972."

And it also in some measure represents better survey data, "a major advance by the USFWS in using citizen-science powered supercomputing to generate better estimates for the eagle population."  However, Brian Milsap, the raptor coordinator for the USFWS Division of Migratory Bird Management noted in the press conference that "'the vast majority of this increase really is attributed to Bald Eagle population growth." (my emphasis). Axeslon's report has a great graphic illustrating where the eagles are found across large regions of the United States and a bar graph showing the number of nests with breeding pairs from the low in 1963 to the number in 2020.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has developed animations of relative species abundance to show movements throughout the year. Here you may watch how this changes throughout the year for the Bald Eagle.

Saturday, April 10, 2021

The Leo Trio

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Astronomy, Cosmos, Earth and Space Science, Earth Systems 

Ed Hessler

Around Spring, northern hemisphere spring that is, can be seen a famous trio of galaxies known as the Leo Triplet. They are all spiral galaxies but appear dissimilar because of the tilt of their galactic disks.

Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) has a beautiful image of the "crowd pleasers" and some comments about them.

Friday, April 9, 2021

Friday Poem

Environmental & Science Education, Poetry, Art and Environment

Ed Hessler

From the Center for Global Environmental Education, Hamline University good morning on this 9th day of April, the 99th day of the year, 27.12% of which is now gone. Where did those 8,553,600 s go?

Today the sun rises at 6:38 am and sets at 7:50 pm, providing us 13 h 12 m 55 s of sunlight.

April 9 notes Chinese Almond Cookie Day which one Chinese declared "as Chinese as blueberry pie." Foodimentary has the facts, things to know and some food history for the 9th of April. 

Quote. States make war and wars make states, the sociologist Charles Tilly once argued. (Linda) Colley offers this corollary: wars make states make constitutions.--Jill LePore (The New Yorker, March 29, 2021)

Today's poems are from the Park Bugle, the community newspaper of St. Anthony Park / Falcon Heights / Lauderdale / Como Park. The poems--three of them--are found on p. 13 so prepare to scroll down.

The poems mark the Bugle's 11th annual contest. They were judged this year by Michael Kleber-Diggs who provides some thoughtful comments on each of the  poems. Kleber-Diggs is a poet and literary critic from Como Park.

Thursday, April 8, 2021


Environmental & Science Education, Health, STEM

Ed Hessler

National Public Radio's Terry Gross spoke with Daniel Lieberman, Department of Human Evolutionary Biology (Harvard) about exercise. You may listen (36-minutes) or read a summary here.

Lieberman "says says that the notion of 'getting exercise' — movement just for movement's sake — is a relatively new phenomenon in human history.

'Until recently, when energy was limited and people were physically active, doing physical activity that wasn't necessarily rewarding, just didn't happen.When I go to these [remote African tribal] villages, I'm the only person who gets up in the morning and goes for a run. And often they laugh at me. They think I'm just absolutely bizarre. ... Why would anybody do something like that?"

"Lieberman has spent a lot of time with indigenous hunter-gatherers in Africa and Latin America, cataloging how much time they spend walking, running, lifting, carrying and sitting. He writes about his findings, as well as the importance of exercise and the myths surrounding it in his new book, Exercised. The subtitle adds some information: "Why something we never evolved to do is healthy and rewarding". I almost always choose the Amazon site because it allows a peek inside. 

The interview includes highlights: on the demonizing of sitting as "the new smoking," on the importance of "interrupted sitting," on how chairs with backs have contributed to our back pain, on the idea that running is bad for your knees, on becoming frail with age, and on the stress around getting eight hours of sleep each night.

This interview was the work of many people, all of whom are acknowledged.

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

"The Science"

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Health, Medicine, Society, Nature of Science

Ed Hessler

We'd all like certainty on whether it is safe for governments to "reopen" what has been closed--schools, restaurants, gymns, sporting events, government name it. However there is no certainty. And it has led to considerable tension and shouting and certainty depending which side people are on, adding more fuel to partisan politics.

One of the fallbacks used in thinking about this and in making such decisions is science, "the science"  is the phrase of choice.Another, of course, is to dismiss what science is known.

It is even more complicated now that more and more Americans have been vaccinated and will be as age limits are lowered semeingly almost weekly and eligibility for vaccine injections becomes wider. Some people who have been vaccinated appear to think that they are fully protected and that they are no longer able to get COVID-19 or transmit SARS-CoV-2 to others. I've heard a few of them appear to say either after the full round of two vaccinations +14 or the single round of one + 14 days: I'm off to the airport or driving to my relatives right now to see my grandkids.

Bloomberg's science writer Faye Flam, in another widely reprinted and perceptive column, titled "Policy choices about reopening? Wouldn't call 'em science" has something to say about this.

Almost at the outset, Flam quotes Peter Sandman, a risk consultant, on what "the science" tells us. He said to her "'I am simply not interested in an epidemiologist's opinion on whether schools should be reopened. I'm interested in an epicemiologist's opinion on how much more the virus will spread if schools are reopened. Whether schools should be reopened--that's not their field.'" 

Sandman's website is a treasure trove and leads with this box: Risk = Hazard + Outrage.

Ms. Flam writes, "It's fine to warn people that the crisis isn't over; we don't know whether the new, more transmissible variants will cause a new wave. But we're seeing a more dysfunctional relationship in which scientists suggest untenable rules and people get called selfish for failing to follow them. It could be driving people toward indifference, fatigue, distrust and suspicion that rules are being imposed with ulterior motives."

Flam doesn't deny at all that science can tell us a lot about the science of the virus, indeed more and more is learned it seems almost daily AND that it is important citizens are informed on risks following vaccination or as new variants appear but she writes "it's time (for public health officials) to stop  disguising their preferred goals and trade-offs as 'the science.'"

Government officials have to make the final call under decisions of uncertainly.

I read Flam's complete column on the opinion page of the March 22, 2021 Star Tribune but it has appeared other places, e.g., the  Richmond Times Dispatch.  

Please read it.

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Project 17: Another Look on Meeting the UN Sustainability Goals

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Literacy, Education, Society, Children

Ed Hessler

The following BBC video is part of Project 17, a BBC World Service series produced in partnership with the Open University, in which 17-year-olds look at progress on the UN's 17  goals.

Yolanda who is 17 attends school in a "rural area of East London, South Africa. Note that the Wiki entry is in need of citations). She's been campaigning for better standards of education in her country, starting with her own school. She says it lacks basic resources, such as electricity in classrooms and clean toilets."

So she "visited the Department of Education to ask what could be done about the toilets. The answer was short and terse: students should clean them (my bold).

"'Quality education'" is goal four of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals, a set of targets announced in 2015 to transform lives around the world by 2030. The UN wants access to quality education for all by 2030.

This video is part of Project 17, a BBC World Service series produced in partnership with the Open University, in which 17-year-olds look at progress on the UN's 17 goals.

Monday, April 5, 2021

Alfred Russel Wallace: An Animated Film

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Biological Evolution, Nature of Science, History of Science 

Ed Hessler

It is well known that Alfred Russel Wallace and Charles Darwin arrived at the same theory of evolution independently. The question of priority was resolved when Thomas Hooker and Charles Lyell read the following before the Linnean Society of London, the world's oldest active society for natural history.

These gentleman, having, independently and unknown to one another, conceived the same very ingenious theory to account for the appearance and perpetuation and perpetuation of varieties and of specific forms on our planet, may both fairly claim the merit of being original thinkers in this important line of inquiry. This was followed by reading two brief papers by Darwin (1844 and 1857) and then Wallace's paper of 1858. Therefore, these two were co-proposers of  evolution by natural selection. 

So what happened to Wallace and why don't we refer to it as the Darwin-Wallace theory? In his book, Why Evolution is True, University of Chicago evolutionary biologist wrote "Essentially it was because of the impact of The Origin of Species," Darwin's now famous book published in 1859.*

To give you an idea of the regard in which Wallace was held at the time, this quote by Thomas Huxley who was known as Darwin's bulldog for both his vigorous defense and offense of Darwin's evidence-based theory, is powerful.**

Once in a generation, a Wallace may be found physically, mentally, and morally qualified to wander unscathed through the topical form magnificent collections as he wanders; and withal to think out sagaciously the conclusions suggested by his collections. (Evidence as to Man's Place in Nature, D. Appleton, New York)

The Feather Thief by Kirk Wallace Johnson, includes a chapter on Wallace and it reminded me of a short animated film about Wallace. In that theft, Edwin Rist, took several birds of paradise that Wallace had collected more than a century ago. Unfortunately, I could think of only one of the producers and then just her first name. I knew she had worked on NPR's Science Friday and that the production company was in Brooklyn. All my searches led nowhere because of the search terms but finally I found it. It is on both You Tube and also is a biological interactive (7m 45s) on the Howard Hughes Medical Institute website

The film is beautifully animated with paper puppets. It is narrated by two experts on the life of Wallace.

And the producers are Flora Lichtman and Sharon Shattuck; the multimedia production company is Sweet Fern Productions. 

I probably posted a reference to this video long ago but like re-reading a good book, it is worth a second viewing and posting.

* Also see this short article published in Nature (2008) for why "Alfred Russel Wallace's achievements" were "overshadowed by those of Charles Darwin" as well as what can be done to restore a proper balance.

**Kirk Wallace Johnson included this quote in his book, The Feather Thief.

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Red Filaments in the Sky

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Earth & Space Science, Earth Systems

Ed Hessler

Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) has a dazzling image of an atmospheric event few of us have ever seen or will. 

Red sprites are rare and even when they occur are rarely seen depending on where and when.

The image includes the usual accurate explanation about them.

Saturday, April 3, 2021

What Happens When a Bird Population Does Not Know Its Song?

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Behavior, Endangered Species, Biodiversity, Biological Evolution

Ed Hessler

The Regent Honeyeaters (Anthochaera phyrgia) are critically endangered birds in Australia. One reason appears to be that they are not learning their songs which are used to announce territory and in their courting behavior. These birds learn their songs from others but populations of these birds are now so small that they are imitating the songs of songs of other species.

And confusion reigns. Who is no longer who.

The Guardian has a story by Graham Readfern, a video and a link to the study about this bird "once seen in flocks of hundreds across south-eastern Australia" but "now thought to be only a few hundreds of the songbirds left in the wild." Ecologist Ross Crates says that this is one of the first examples of the "loss of vocal culture." 

According to Readfern's reporting, honeyeaters are "known to imitate the songs of other birds, but" the reason for this was not known. It was once thought "that this mimicry might" be be a "male's show of skill that would be attractive to a female." Now researchers are not so sure of this. In the study recordings of birds in the wild and in captivity were analyzed. "The complexity of the songs appeared to be diminishing."

In a captive breeding program "juveniles have been played recordings of regent honeyeater calls from speakers inside their aviaries." Now "two wild-caught adults in neighbouring aviaries" have been added "to see if this can also help the young males to learn the right song before they're released into the wild."