Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Windshield Wipers

Environmental and Science Education

So have you ever thought about windshield wipers and who invented them?

There was a great piece on NPR today (7/25/2017) by Birmingham, Alabama resident Mary Anderson. The idea occurred while she was riding a New York City street car in a snowstorm. She noticed that the conductor had to get out every few minutes to wipe the windshield.

There must be a better way.

There was and Mary Anderson invented it.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Two Worlds: Nature and Sociocultural

Edward Hessler

This cartoon is from the July 24, 2017 issue of The New Yorker.

It speaks for itself...loudly!

So, nature or nurture?!

Saturday, July 22, 2017

David Hockney on Nature

Art and Environment
Edward Hessler

Art has to move you and design does not, unless it's a good design for a bus.--David Hockney

Painter, photographer, printmaker, stage designer and artist David Hockney is one of the most influential and well known artists of our time. He is outspoken, always articulate and witty.

He was born July 9 1937, Bradford, West Riding of Yorkshire, England. He has lived on-and-off in California and England for much of his life. He is the Brit who has become known as the artist of Southern California.

The moment you cheat for the sake of beauty, you know you're an artist.--David Hockney

Lucy Walker, Los Angeles County Museum of Art has made a short film (6 minutes) that covers the content of his art as he talks about his life and art. One of these is nature.

Mr. Hockney's home page shows the range of his work and also includes a fine, illustrated biography.

Enjoyment of the landscape is a thrill.--David Hockney

Hockney is the author of a book on how he thinks painters, especially the great masters used lenses to make their paintings so realistic. Here, Hockney, a showman with no-small ego, explains his ideas in an interview with Charlie Rose. 

The book led American TV magicians Penn and Teller to make a documentary featuring inventor Tim Jenison who used optics to re-paint a classic Vermeer, The Music Lesson. Tim's Vermeer played to mixed reviews for which see here and here.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Friday Poem

Art and Environment
Edward Hessler

I recently re-read today's poem on 3QuarksDaily and thank their poetry guy, Jim Culleny for reminding me to do that.

Danez Smith's powerful poem is found here.

Smith  was born in St. Paul, MN.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

On Smiley Faces

Biological Evolution
Edward Hessler

Ed Scholer and Tim Laman of the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology have found evidence supporting the existence of a new species of the Superb Bird-of-Paradise (Lophorina superba).

This announcement in Cornell Lab eNews (July 2017) includes a short film of the dance of the original Superb Bird-of-Paradise.  As it dances, the bird transforms into the shape of a "psychedelic smiley face." The film describes and shows how modified feathers involved in this astonishing transformation create this pattern. Four different groups of feathers are involved.

You may read about the new species of the Superb Bird-of-Paradise here. The researchers found that the courtship dance differs, the vocalizations are different and the shape of the displaying males is different. In addition, another group of researches have found differences in DNA. This is an example of how scientists work, seeking corroborating evidence.

The essay includes still photographs of the two species showing them in full display. The raised cape of the western male is crescent shaped. The raised cape of the more widespread Superb Bird-of-Paradise has an oval shape.

The behavior is a classic example of female choice sexual selection, a special case of natural selection. Sexual selection was first proposed by Charles Darwin in The Origin of Species (1859) and developed in The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex (1871).

And what a radical idea it was!

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Navigating...the old way

Environmental & Science Education
Edward Hessler

An NPR program on February 22 on teaching naval cadets how to use the sextant reminded me of a course taught by Harvard particle physicist John Huth.

Huth has taught "Science of the Physical Universe: Primitive Navigation" since 2007.  He makes use of the old ways, the analogue methods using stars, sun, tides, weather and wind.  They are based in a variety of cultures and are used for both short-distance and long-distance navigation.

In Finding the Way Back, New Yorker writer M. R. O'Conner describes the course and explores some of the neurological connections.  In the end, this course is about finding one's place in the world.

Huth starts his course with a quiz very reminiscent of but considerably shorter and less encompassing than this interrogation first published in the CoEvolution Quarterly, a version of which may be found here.  "Where You At?" is a bioregional quiz and not as locally focused as the noticing kind of question Huth is likely to ask at the beginning of the course, e.g., "Which way was the wind blowing before class?"

Huth has written a book knowing where you are, methods used for centuries, The Lost Art of Finding our Way.  At this link is a short video about the book and finding one's way.  Huth, a kayacker, was haunted by the loss of two kayackers in a dense Nantucket fog.  This, I think, was the motivation for this course.

And about the sextant and midshipmen.

The Naval Academy is not the only place where celestial navigation is being taught. Indeed, I doubt that any liberal arts institution shares Harvard's record. Frances W. Wright taught celestial navigation at Harvard.  When she died she left an endowment to ensure the continuation of this course. In 2004, the course had been offered for 107 years.

Some of the endowment is used to supply the sextants that students use. There is a feature article in the Harvard Crimson about the course.  According to the Harvard Website Locator it is still being offered.

This poem by Robinson Jeffers is about the perilous passage of fishing boats in a fog. A sample:

"Out of the mystery, shadows, fishing boats, trailing each other/ Following the cliff for guidance/ Holding a difficult path between the peril of the sea-fog/ And the foam on the shore granite."

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Coelacanth Animation.

History of Science
Edward Hessler

Many of you know the story of the discovery of the coelacanth, a species thought long-extinct.

The animators extraordinaire, Flora Lichtman and Sharon Shattuck trace "the coelacanth's incredible journey through several distinct geological periods until its recent resurfacing when it was found to be nearly unchanged" the 65 million years or so it was considered an ancient fossil.

Discoveries such as this are also the story of people, sometimes of a single person. Lichtman and Shattuck organize this story around one of them, Marjorie Courtenay-Latimer, the curator of the local museum who sought to preserve the find.

h/t Aeon (And also a tip of the hat to Rurik Johnson who corrected an attribution. This short video is part of the Biointeractive/New York Times "Animated Life" collection of five scientific pioneers and their discoveries: http://www.hhmi.org/biointeractive/animated-life)


Climate Change
Ed Hessler

In November 2020, the United States will withdraw from the Paris climate agreement of 2015.

This is about politics.

Christiana Figueres and her colleagues in a commentary in Nature note that 2020 is an important date in climatology for reasons of the physics of the atmosphere. They write, "should emissions continue to rise beyond 2020, or even remain level, the temperature goals set in Paris become almost unattainable." They launched Mission 2020 in an effort to "bend the greenhouse-gas emissions curve downwards by 2020."

This is about the future of the planet.

When the comment in Nature was written, the convenors of Mission 2020 called on G20 leaders to "highlight the importance of the 2020 turning point for greenhouse gas emissions." Nineteen of them did. The G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany went as expected (G19 + 1) not only on climate but also other world issues (but see below). The rest of the world has decided to move on without U. S. support and in addition to forging new trade and diplomatic relationships.

An aside. The G20 provided this visual definition of fungible.

The aim of the Paris climate agreement was to achieve a less than 2 degree Celsius increase in temperature. The world is currently courting a 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degree Fahrenheit) increase from historical norms. One reason that this might be achievable is that worldwide carbon dioxide emission levels have flattened. According to Figueres et al noted that there have been three previous instances of flattening emissions but these--1980s, 1992, and 2009  were due to global economic difficulties. The current one is due to "decoupling from production and consumption." 

This is due to the use of carbon-free energy resources. A fossil-fuel free economy is clearly possible and growing. It is also profitable and a job creator.

Figueres and her colleagues recommend six milestones to help establish priorities, noting that the "goals may be idealistic at best, unrealistic at worst."  They are relying on human ingenuity on getting the world to the Paris climate recommendation. There are six sectors and I briefly describe them below (for necessary details see the link to the commentary above).

Energy: renewable energy sources supply 30% of the world's energy. Existing coal-fired power plants are in retirement phase and no new ones are to be constructed.

Infrastructure: "Cities and states have initiated action plans to fully decarbonize buiilding and infrastructures by 2050...."

Transport: Electric vehicles represent at least 15% of new car sales. There are increases in the efficiencies of heavy-duty vehicles, decreases in greenhouse-gas emissions by airplanes, and a doubling in mass transit use in cities.

Land: Reduction in forest destruction and increases in reforestation and afforestation. Sustainable agriculture practices increase the ability of healthy soils to take up carbon-dioxide.

Heavy Industry: Halving of carbon emissions well ahead of 2050.

Finance: "Green bonds' to finance climate-mitigation and the use of capital for climate action.

Three things must be done to move these changes along.that can be done: the use of science to make evidence-based decisions,  quick scaling up with the aim of "achieving 100% renewable energy production, and plain, simple encouragement, that is, shouting, believing that this is doable. The changes Figueres et. al. requires agility and swiftness, including collaborations among "unusual partners."

Can it happen? Maybe. Maybe not.

1      I look at Mauna Loa carbon dioxide data occasionally and am stunned every time. The needle on that great dial is going in the wrong direction and as one watcher wrote on Real Climate (July 2, 2017)  recently, “It seems tragi-comic to read news stories about how we only have three years to get emissions under control. There is nothing in the atmospheric CO2 record to suggest we can or will do that.” You might want to read this twice. And yes, global emissions have stalled somewhat. Below are some carbon dioxide data expressed in part per million (ppm).

June 2017: 408.84 ppm; June 2016 406.81ppm. July 5 2017 409.05 ppm; July 5 2016 405.40 ppm.

How can one read these and not recall the words of former NASA and Columbia University climate scientist guru, James Hansen? “If humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted… CO2 will need to be reduced… to at most 350 ppm.” We zipped past that target in ~ 1990 and it was only recently that a new number appeared on the dial: 400 ppm (September 2016), an increase of 50 ppm.

It is impossible not to wonder whether it is possible to turn back this meter reading (at all or in an important way). James Hansen referred to the Paris climate talks as a fraud and his comments are worth reading. Ambassador John Kerry disagreed.

Dino Grandoni, writing for WaPo writes this about the final declaration signed at the G 19 + 1, "
Of course, the final written declaration is just that — words. The real test of the Paris agreement, and of the resolve of the world minus the United States to stick to it, will come if and when nations actually ratchet down emissions."

A recent piece in New York Magazine by David Wallace-Wells, The Uninhabitable Planet, a worst-case climate change scenario, resulted in sharp responses. The debate is whether Wallace-Wells went too far and is needlessly scaring readers or whether the picture he paints is accurate.

In one response, Joe Romm, Think Progress wrote, "The first point to be made is that if you aren't hair-on-fire alarmed about climate change and America's GOP-driven climate and energy policies, then you are uninformed (or misinformed)."

Romm is very clear about the fact that "we are not doomed. If the nation and the world were to adopt a WWI-scale effort, we could certainly keep total global warming 'well below 2 degrees C' (3.6 degrees F), which scientists--and the nations of the world--recognize as the threshold beyond which climate change rapidly moves from dangerous to catastrophic." We have made a choice "to be doomed."

Romm urges us to read the Wallace-Wells essay. Please read the response of Michael Mann, a Pennsylvania State University climate change expert.

The link above to James Hansen includes links to at videos and commentary with Hansen and his granddaughter, Sophie Kivehan who is one of 21 young people and her grandfather who are suing the U. S. Government on violating the constitutional right to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and property due to climate change.

Science. Politics. Sloth.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Three Rivers Expedition Update from Adventure Stewardship Alliance

Adventure Stewardship Alliance: Three Rivers Expedition
Guest Blogger: Paul Twedt

Photo credit: Michael Anderson

736 pounds of trash. 237 miles paddled. Heavy spring rains.

The first leg of the Three Rivers Expedition cleanup by Adventure Stewardship Alliance along the length of the Namekagon and St. Croix Riverway in June, 2017 was an extreme success!

The team of two Minnesota-based canoe paddlers found the St. Croix Riverway to be much more heavily impacted than they expected and they rose to the challenge. They removed a total of 736 pounds of litter from the river in their two canoes built by Urban Boat Builders in St. Paul, MN. This litter consisted of various items ranging from plastic barrels to cigarette butts, plastic/glass bottles to broken farm implements, and boat hulls to tow-behind inner-tubes. All left to rot in the backwaters and eddies along the river.

Collecting littered cans from the river.
Photo credit: Michael Anderson

Along this journey to leave this beautiful river better than they found it, Michael Anderson and Paul Twedt of Adventure Stewardship Alliance found themselves astonished by the natural beauty. Characterized by flighty ospreys, clear waters, and coniferous forests, this waterway was perfect for developing a deeper sense of place and connection to the local environment. “Developing a greater stewardship ethic requires a person to connect with nature and develop a sense of place and a reason to care,” says Twedt. “With that greater connection to the place, we can influence our greater community to care as well.”

While the team had great weather overall, they also experienced rain. June can be a wet month in Minnesota and Wisconsin, and along the St. Croix this crew definitely felt the rain. It came down for days at a time and helped them to realize the lessons in hardiness that nature was offering. Being hardy requires a person to make a decision that despite the current conditions, they are moving forward with positivity and determination. Not shrinking from the task or hiding from the weather, this crew paddled onward.

This paddling clean-up crew now knows that this lesson in hardiness was one destined to help them as they tackled the second river of their Three Rivers Expedition, the Minnesota River. Currently on the Minnesota, the team has found exponentially more trash and also a much deeper connection to the local communities. Check back for updates from the Minnesota River and later this fall from the Mississippi River.

Paddling through Taylor's Falls on the Saint Croix.
Photo credit: Grant Armour

Adventure Stewardship Alliance is an organization built around inspiring environmental and cultural stewardship through cleaning up litter and discovering a sense of place. Currently they are endeavoring on a Three Rivers Expedition and Cleanup in which they have paddled the Namekagon/St. Croix Riverway, are currently paddling the Minnesota River, and will finish by paddling the 600 mile-Minnesota portion of the upper Mississippi River. This expedition is a river cleanup and canoe journey of over 1,200 miles in the summer of 2017.

If you would like to follow the crew closer and get regular updates via blogs, trip progress, or social media, then check out their website and blog at Adventurestewardship.org. Social media sites are accessible from their webpage. The crew tries to post a blog update once per week (when they have an internet connection) and shares naturalist notes on plant and animal species they encounter on their social media sites.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Thoreau at 200: A Few Days Late

Environmental and Science Education
Edward Hessler

"Our life is frittered away by detail...simplify, simplify."

"Live deep and suck out all the marrow of life."

"It's not what you look at that matters, it's what you see."

"In wildness is the preservation of the world."

"I took a walk in the woods and came out taller than the trees."

"Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after."

"We are born as innocents. We are polluted by advice."

Happy (belated) Birthday Henry David Thoreau, of whom the late Edward Abbey that desert odd man out (and deeply in) once described as that "arrogant, insolent village crank." To put this in some perspective Abbey closed the essay in which this is found these words "I look for his name in the water, his face in the airy foam. He must be here. Wherever there are deer and hawks, wher­ever there is liberty and danger, wherever there is wilderness, wherever there is a living river, Henry Thoreau will find his eternal home."

You can (and should) read some of Abbey's ~40 page essay Down the River with Henry Thoreau thanks to the Internet. The essay is found in the wonderful book, Down the River. Eric Pinder who has taught Thoreau, reminded me that in this essay, Abbey considers a marriage, one "between two literary oddballs," Thoreau and Emily Dickinson.

Emily (raising her pen): Henry you haven't taken out the garbage.
Henry (raising his flute): Take it your yourself. 

I'd forgotten that and laughed again upon re-reading it.

The man could write with provocative grace and enormous humor.

Thoreau maybe not be so much for folks under 30 according to Pinder whose students rated Abbey #1 and rated Thoreau whatever the number is worst.

Thoreau was an early reader of Charles Darwin's The Origin of the Species and the first to publish a hypothesis about forest vegetataion change in the northeast United States known as succession. He was also a fine land surveyor (including Walden Pond which was until he did his work was considered without a bottom).

I recommend one fairly short essay from National Public Radio, reported about a week ago. There are comments on and links to two brand-spankin' new biographies, a bicentenary exhibition at the Morgan Library and to some of his journals.

Henry David Thoreau, born July 12, 2017, Concord, Massachusetts, died (of tuberculosis) May 6, 1862.