Thursday, August 13, 2020

National Center for Science Education YouTube Videos

Environmental & Science Education
STEM
Education
Edward Hessler

The National Center for Science Education (NCSE) provides a YouTube video service for educators, K-12.

NCSE works to ensure that all young people have access to accurate, effective science education in two areas: climate change and evolution.

If you are not familiar with the Center this video (4m 30s) provides a welcome and introduction to their work.




Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Economics, Humpback Whales and Climate Change

Environmental & Science Education
STEM
Global Warming
Sustainability
Climate Change
Biodiversity
Nature
Edward Hessler

An interesting video  (8m 35s)  on calculating the economic value of an animal when it is reduced to how much that organism can reduce the impact of climate change

Economist Ralph Chami performed the appraisal and according to his analysis, a humpback whale is worth $2 million. The whales perform this job simply by living and because they have a long life they store carbon (sequester is the big word). The contribution is surprising. In addition we learn how the humpback whale performs this remarkable service to ecosystems.

The title is somewhat over the top as most headlines usually are. Contribute would be more accurate. The video calls attention to links most of us know little about. What a complex tangle of relationships.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

The Minnesota Biological Survey

Environmental & Science Education
STEM
Biodiversity
Nature
Edward Hessler

One way to think about ecology is in terms of the distribution and abundance of species. 

Fortunately, Minnesota has an agency which does this. It is a unit of the Department of Natural Resources known as the Minnesota Biological Survey. Its meters and dials provide an index of the health of the environment by knowing what is there and how well it is doing or not doing.

The job description is straightforward. The "MBS systematically collects, interprets, monitors and delivers data on plant and animal distribution as well as the ecology of native plant communities and functional landscapes."  The work, of course, is more bendy and windy

The March-April 2020 issue of the Minnesota Conservation Volunteer provides "a decades long assessment of the state's ecological health" in an article entitled "The Big Reveal." It was written by MBS plant ecologist Hannah Texler. She tells a story of the thrill of the hunt, discoveries of the rare and unexpected, how the data are stored and then used, and what's left to be done. A lot.

But this has been a glorious start, one for which we should be glad.

So by the numbers, this is one way to look at our overall ecological health. "Over the past 150 years, Minnesota has lost about 50 percent of its wetlands, 40 percent of its forests, and more than 98 percent of its prairies to agriculture and development." Texler provides a visual assist in understanding what these numbers mean by places six maps (forests, prairies, wetlands) side-by-side, three based on the work of F. J. Marschner "who mapped the state's historic vegetation using land survey data gathered between 1848 and 1907" and three based on recent data. 

We are an expensive, demanding species to support to the style to which we have grown accustomed!

Not all the news is bad and Texler closes with some of the good news, perhaps not as much as we would like. Minnesota's northern patterned peatlands are largely unaltered and house a unique flora and fauna. We've managed not to destroy the dwarf trout lily (found on 600 acres (~243 hectares) in three counties) and we have more wolves "than any state but Alaska."

In future the reach of the MBS will grow as important information will be collected about insects, lichens, mosses, fungi, birds and also and  as importantly "how biodiversity is changing through time" as "climate change, land use, and invasive species affect native plants communities."

Monday, August 10, 2020

Minnesota River: The Insults Intensify

Environmental & Science Education
STEM
Agriculture
Culture
Sustainability
Rivers
Water & Watersheds
Earth Science
Earth Systems
Edward Hessler

Minnesota's only border-to-border river, the eponymous Minnesota remains in trouble. Writing for the Star Tribune,environmental reporter Greg Stanley directs our attention to another problem: the Minnesota is growing, expanding as relentless erosive forces continue to gnaw at its rich and soft river banks. "The river, always prone to erosion, has been expanding much faster over the past 20 years than it ever has before."

The Minnesota is also stronger than in the past. It is "10 times higher than it was in the 1800s," its "water rushing through at twice the force that it did on average from 1950 to 2010."  This is due to due major changes according to Stanley's grim report. One is that Minnesota "is getting more intense storms and more rainfall than it ever has before" and "western and central Minnesota have become extensively drained by land-owners who are converting more and more acres into row crops."

In short, the lands surrounding the river do not have enough temporary water storage capacity, capacity that would slow the release of water into the river. This requires new thinking and new action. Stanley quotes state Representative Paul Torkelson (R-Hanska) who puts this issue where it belongs. In our heads, an idea that must always be there.  "'We need to include water storage as part of our thought process. Whether  it's a new township road or a new development, if it's a project on the land we need to be thinking about how we will incorporate water storage into it."

Stanley notes that the Minnesota River Congress (MRC), grassroots organization, led by Scott Sparlin, "is in the early stages of working with lawmakers to support a bill that would prioritize water storage within the basin." Information about the proposed water storage bill is found on the MRC's home page.

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Commencement Remarks 2020: FLOTUS

Environmental & Science Education
Society
Schooling
Schools
Edward Hessler

It is never too late to post commencement remarks that are spot-on or even to read them again. The words that follow struck me as very important to carry with us in our life tool-kit.

In reporting for CBS, Peter Martinez noted three life lessons that former FLOTUS Michelle Obama included in her virtual commencement remarks to the Class of 2020. She, President Barack Obama and "a star-studded cast spoke to graduating seniors. You may view the full report here but I highlight the lessons for I think that they are good ones not only for the graduates but also for the rest of us, including the house geezer. I find both of them nothing short of remarkable. Wise.
  1. "Life will always be uncertain. It is a lesson that most of us get the chance to learn over the course of years and years, even decades, but one you're learning right now."
  2. "In an uncertain world, time-tested values like honesty and integrity ... empathy and compassion. That's the only real currency in life. Treating people right will never fail you."
  3. Share your voice: "For those of you who feel invisible, please know that your story matters. Your ideas matter. Your experience matters. Your vision for what the world can and should be matters. So, don't ever, ever let anyone tell you that you're too angry, or that you should keep your mouth shut. There will always be those who want to keep you silent, to have you be seen but not heard. Maybe they don't even want to see you at all. But those people don't know your story, and if you listen to them, then nothing will ever change."

Saturday, August 8, 2020

Cobra Venom Spitting

Environmental & Science Education
STEM
Biological Evolution
Biodiversity
Nature
Wildlife
Edward Hessler

A video from the British Museum of Natural History posted on 3 Quarks Daily discusses an unusual defense mechanism in snakes: cobra spitting. 

The film (10m 30s) is about research into many aspects of this unusual behavior--not all cobras spit venom--with an emphasis on its evolution in cobras where it occurred quite independently in different geographic areas. It includes some remarkable video of venom spitting and how yhis phenonmenon is studied.

Now if it gives you the "willies," you are probably not alone! I hope you take a look.

Friday, August 7, 2020

Friday Poem

Environmental & Science Education
Poetry
Art and Environment
Edward Hessler

Greetings from St. Paul on day 220 of 2020 or to put in a percent, 60.11% of the years has passed. Today  there will be 12h 24m 39 s of daylight with sunrise t 6:05 am and sunset at 8:30 pm.

In 1990, Braham was named the "Homemade Pie Capital of Minnesota" by Governor Rudy Perpich.It gained fame for pie in the 1930s and 40s when folks would drive to their lake homes using the "shortcut to Duluth through Braham."  Today is Braham Pie Day. Because of the coronavirus pandemic it has been canceled for 2020.  The menu usually includes more than 1100 pies and artisan pies. A feast!

Today's quote is by General Todd Semonite, Director of the U. S. Corps of Engineers: America needs a capability to step up when something gets really, really bad. (The New Yorker, August 3 & 10, 2020)

Today's poem  is by Gerald Manley Hopkins.

Thursday, August 6, 2020

A Video on Climate Change

Environmental & Science Education
STEM
Climate Change
Global Warming
Sustainability
Edward Hessler

Our World in Data teamed up with Kurzgesagt (In a Nutshell) to make this video (10m 35s) about climate change.

Who is responsible for it and who needs to fix it.

The data and research on which it is based are available if you are interested.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

See Through Face Masks

Environmental & Science Education
STEM
Health
Medicine
Invention
Society
Edward Hessler

Transparency is one of the most used words of the day. Often, though, transparency is difficult in practice and may seem opaque to those demanding it but here is a case where transparency and practice meet.

Case: transparent face masks.

Who really needs them? Deaf people and the hard of hearing who read lips  Teachers who work with children. Caregivers who work with the elderly. Those who miss smiling at their students.

To my surprise, prototypes and custom made models are increasingly available and according to a report on transparent face masks, NPR's  Business Desk correspondent, Yoki Noguchi"At least one company — Clear Mask (her essay provides a link), based in Baltimore — has gone so far as to seek and earn FDA "'clearance'" that its mask with a transparent panel is "'substantially equivalent'" to a medical-grade surgical mask for hospitals and other front-line uses."

ClearMask, was started by four Johns Hopkins University students and has attracted considerable attention worldwide according to Noguchi.

You may wonder whether the transparent face shields work. Obviously, they would appear to. But there is an issue as Noguchi notes. "[T]hey are open at the bottom and not recommended by the CDC "'for normal everyday activities or as a substitute for cloth face coverings,'" according to the agency's website (linked). And after a coronavirus outbreak in a Swiss restaurant recently — one in which employees wearing face shields became infected with the virus, while those in cloth masks didn't — health officials in Switzerland and some European countries also have been panning reliance on face shields (linked)."

I have seen health care professionals using both non-see through masks and face shields which seems like a good practice, e.g., "open your mouth and say "Ah" where faces are close to one another.

One mask seamstress who is an elementary teacher has turned her summer to making masks as well as  custom transparent masks that use the plastic, Mylar. When asked about the efficacy of such homemade masks, David Aronoff, director of infectious disease at the Vanderbilt Institute for Infection, Immunology and Inflammation said "'We know that the virus cannot penetrate plastic or solid materials, so see-through masks provide potentially a great option for balancing infection prevention with the desire to be able to see somebody's mouth move.'

"'The main thing that we really need to get people to understand is that wearing a face covering is really important. And if it helps them to wear one that has a cut-out in the middle with a piece of plastic to make it easier to see — that's great.'"


Tuesday, August 4, 2020

A Vital New Sign in Health Care

Environmental & Science Education
STEM
Health
Medicine
Edward Hessler

I've never had a conversation initiated by a physician rather than by me on the cost of health care--the financial effects on me. Three physicians from three different institutions--two in Virginia and one in Boston--concerned about the cost of care, "have changed how we work."

In an essay in STAT they write, "We now ask our patients about financial side effects at every encounter, after first explaining why we are doing this. We ask because it is rare for patients to tell us unprompted what financial challenges they are facing, what sacrifices they have made to adhere to their care, and when and where they haven't been able to get the care they feel they need."

The questions include "out-of-pocket expenses, including out-of-pocket costs at the pharmacy, copays or bills for any tests, such as imaging studies; copays for clinic visits; and how and when they spend their annual deductible. We pay attention to our patient's insurance coverage, knowing this might affect which drug we decide to prescribe, or which tests we recommend."

And the questions continue. Do "they sometimes leave prescriptions unfilled or split or skip doses. We ask what sacrifices they make to pay for their care. If we have time during the visit, we ask if out-of-pocket costs for health care prevent them from spending their money on something else important to them or their family. We sometimes also as our insured patients about their annual premiums, including whether they've gone up over the past few years and how that has affected them. When we ask,we learn And when the answers worry us, we search for solutions. After all, one of our mandates is to first do no harm". (my emphasis)

Their essay includes other financial consequences--some personal, others broader but which affect a patient more invisibly (higher taxes) such as safety net programs and government-funded health insurance programs.

The doctors are confident that they are not alone in doing this but think that it is not a common-enough practice. Medicine is becoming more holistic--listening more to patients about their concerns, all of them and this financial review strikes me as an important part of complete health care. Patients always come from and return to their surrounding environment. A visit to see a doctor often has ramifications for the patient, for their environment as well as for the physician.