Saturday, August 31, 2019

A New Book About The First Illustrated Book Devoted To The Study of Insects (with Pictures)

Image result for insect paintingEnvironmental & Science Education
Art and Environment
History of Science
Edward Hessler

In early August, The Guardian, a British newspaper, published some utterly lovely watercolours of insects painted by the 16th century Flemish artist, Joris Hoefnagel (1542-1600). They are from "the first illustrated book devoted to the study of insects." 

The writer, Desiree Schneider draws our attention to a new book on Hoefnagel's work, Insect Artifice (Princeton University Press) by Marisa Anne Bass, an art historian at Yeal University. Schneider has chosen a lovely quote from Professor Bass about Hoefnagel's paintings, a reminder of our relationship to the natural world. "Hoefnagel's art is a reminder that nature and culture go hand in hand."

Take a look!

Friday, August 30, 2019

Friday Poem

Image result for national parks

Environmental & Science Education
Art and Environment
Edward Hessler

Today's poem is by Alicia Ostriker, a favorite poet and a favorite poem.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Greta Thunberg Arrives

Image result for greta thunberg new yorkEnvironmental & Science Education
Climate Change
Earth Science
Earth Systems
Edward Hessler

You already know that climate activist Greta Thunberg arrived on the shores of lower Manhattan on Wednesday (8-28-2019 at about 4:00 pm Eastern), after a 15-day transatlantic journey on an emissions-free racing yacht. 

However, a few items:

Her slogan: Unite Behind the Science.

What she would say to President Trump: "'Listen to the science' and he obviously does not do that. If no one has been able to convince him about the climate crisis and the urgency, why would I be able to?" 

In this Democracy Now! video with Amy Goodman there are interviews with Greta Thunberg, her father, Svante Thunberg, and two student activists: Alexandria Villasenor and Xiye Bastida.

Our Sandbox Is Becoming Smaller

Image result for sand miningEnvironmental & Science Education
Reduce Reuse Recycle
Edward Hessler

An alarming natural resource shortage looms. That resource may surprise you. Sand (and gravel). 
Mette Bendixen and two colleagues note in the journal Nature that "sand and gravel make up the most extracted group of materials, even exceeding fossil fuels." There are three main uses: concrete, glass and electronics. We live in a surround of them.

The authors point out that not all sand is the same. "Desert sand grains are too smooth to be useful, and most of the angular sand comes from rivers (less than 1% of the world's land)." The authors call attention to a surprising fact: Neither the total amount of sand nor how much is being mined is known. "For example, as of early 2019, (the authors) found that only 38 of 443 scientific papers on sand mining...quantified the amount of sand being extracted."

I was surprised to learn that "Illegal sand mining is rife in around 70 countries, and hundreds of people have reportedly been killed in battles over sand in the past decade in countries including India and Kenya, among them local citizens, police officers and government officials." We've heard of water wars but sand wars is not a common phrase to many of us.

The authors of this report "call on UNEP and World Trade Organization (WTO) to set up and oversee a global monitoring programme for sand resources." The authors identify seven components which are essential for sustainable sand extraction. Details are found in the essay.

--Source (e.g., searching for sustainable sources)
--Replace (e.g., greater use of alternatives)
Image result for sand mining--Reuse (e.g., use of demolition waste and rubble)
--Reduce (e.g., designing construction materials that use less sand)
--Govern (e.g., best practice guidelines, regulation of sand extraction)
--Educate (e.g., wide dissemination of information on issues and solutions)
--Monitor (e.g., global data sharing and quantification on sediment mining)

The relatively short essay includes more details, explanation and also a startling series of satellite images of a river in northern Bangladesh taken from 2010 to 2017 which "reveal the dramatic impact of sand extraction." The essay opens with a stunning photograph of a worker walking from the Lagos Lagoon, Nigeria with a huge basket of sand on his head. He works as a sea floor hand miner of sand. (My emphasis)

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Down Memory and Forgetting Lane

Image result for forgetEnvironmental & Science Education
Edward Hessler

We didn’t realize we were making memories. We just knew we were having fun.”--Winnie the Pooh

Can we really trust our memories? How accurate are they?  The day I wrote this, if asked, I'd have to say "not so much." I was talking with a friend and during our telephone conversation, I checked my reporting about a recent event. It was not right. I'd conflated two closely related events. The only good thing was that I was able to correct my mistake.

The BBC has a short video (~ 4 minutes) about memory entitled "Why Your First Memory Is Probably Wrong."

Take a look.

And as long as we are here, let's take a brief look at forgetting, an area of scientific research which may surprise you. It did me.

An Outlook essay on the brain in Nature by Lauren Gravitz describes a new body of research which has found "that the loss of memories is not a passive process. Rather, forgetting seems to be an active mechanism that is constantly at work in the brain." Memory appears to require forgetting..

Gravitz quotes Michael Anderson, a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Cambridge, UK. "'Every species that has a memory forgets. Full stop, without exception. It doesn't matter how simple the organism is: if they acquire lessons of experience, the lessons can be lost. In light of that, I find it absolutely stunning that neurobiology has treated forgetting as an afterthought."

There are different forms of memory.  The one best understood, according to Gravitz, is 'autobiographical memory--those of events experienced personally." The process is described in her essay. In 2012, neuroscientist Ron Davis (Scripps Research Institute) was studying memory formation in fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster) found evidence for forgetting, active forgetting. Davis's work is intricate and if you are interested, Gravitz provides a very nice thumbnail of this painstaking work.  Forgetting was then found in rats and mice.

This has led "researchers to think that the human brain might operate in a similar way. It is adaptive, that is generalities are favored over details so that what was learned can be used "in novel situations." Again, if you are interested Gravitz describes people with what can be called autobiographical memory which results in "an increased tendency for obsessiveness. Still others may have deficient autobiographical memories who, "not weighed down by the nitty-gritty, are good at solving problems. Active forgetting in humans is being explored, according to Gravitz's essay, through various magnetic-resonance imaging and the study of neurotransmitters.  It is suspected/hoped that such work will lead to "improving treatments for anxiety, PTSD and even Alzheimer's disease."

BTW, Gravitz discusses the neurobiology of memory formation. For me, it provided information on why our memories are often so shadowy. It has to do with the "strength" of the neural network of a memory.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

When Climate Is Suspected as the Culprit

Image result for extreme weatherEnvironmental & Science Education
Climate Change
Edward Hessler

A frequent question when we experience natural disasters such as floods, forest fires, hurricanes, drought, record-breaking temperatures is whether specific event X has a direct relationship to climate change. The usual answer, one we are used to hearing, is that these kinds of events are very likely to become more frequent as climate changes.

A new science known as attribution science--about a decade old--is now ripe enough to be more specific about such relationships. As Quiriin Schiermeier writes in a news feature for Nature, "Germany's national weather agency is preparing to be the first in the world to offer rapid assessments of global warming's connection to particular meteorological events. By 2019 or 2020, the agency hopes to post its findings on social media almost instantly, with full public reports following one or two weeks after an event." At least one other agency "is preparing to pilot a similar programme by 2020 that will seek to attribute extreme events, such as heatwaves or floods, to human-induced climate change." 

One of the leaders in this new field of research is climate modeler Frederike Otto, the deputy director of the University of Oxford's Environmental Change Institute (U. K.)  She has conducted "more than two dozen analyses." Otto's team and a number of other scientists "have published more than 170 reports covering 190 extreme events around the world. ... So far, the findings suggest that around two-thirds of extreme weather events studied were made more likely, or more severe, by human-induced climate change." 

Schiermeier includes a graph of the findings in his news feature, i.e., whether the events were more severe or more likely to occur, less severe or likely to occur, no discernible human influence, and insufficient data/inconclusive.

Image result for extreme weather
A scientific attribution service is increasingly needed according to Otto, whom Schiermeier quotes. "'If we scientists don't say anything, other people will answer that question not based on scientific evidence, but on whatever their agenda is. So if we want science to be part of the discussion that is happening, We need to say something fast.'"

You might wonder whether one of the standards in scientific publication, peer review, has suddenly gone missing. Again, Otto is cited. "'It can be really useful to have results quickly available for event types we understand reasonably well, such as heatwaves. You don't need to peer review the weather forecast.'"

Of course, as Schiermeier points out in his essay, "not all of the science involved in attribution studies is settled," e.g., small scale events, in some areas of the world "long-term climate records are still lacking. ...And there might still be natural climate variability that is not fully visible in the relatively short record of direct climate observations."

There will be impacts from such studies and Schiermeier discusses some which include "spatial and regional approaches to management (especially of water)," and to no one's surprise, eventually in court cases such as those "that allege failure to prepare for the effects of climate change."

Schiermeier tells us the interesting story of the 3-year drought that affected Cape Town where officials warned about Day Zero, "when the region would run out of water to serve basic needs--a first for a major city." Otto and a colleague, Mark New, a climate scientist at the University of Cape Town, "decided that the event was a good candidate for an attribution study." They and others ran five independent models in their free time, without funding. Several of them were able to use dedicated computers but Otto's group "conducted its simulations on ...a distributed computing framework that uses the idle time of thousands of volunteers' personal computers.'"

Otto's home page notes that she is an" investigator on the international project World Weather Attribution which aims to provide an assessment of the human-influence on extreme weather in the immediate aftermath of the event occurring."

Monday, August 26, 2019

On Malizia II with Greta Thunberg

Image result for greta thunberg boat

Environmental & Science Education
Climate Change
Edward Hessler

Short films of  Greta Thunberg on Malizia II as she travels across the Atlantic Ocean to NYC.

She is likely to be there tomorrow.

Greta's Critics and "Friends"

Image result for legislatureEnvironmental & Science Education
Climate Change
Edward Hessler

Julian Baggani (for The Guardian) makes some important observations about the attackers and lionizers of teen age climate activist Greta Thunberg AND what Ms. Thunberg has to say about her campaign.

With respect to those who attack her (some comments have been incredibly personal and vicious), he writes "You wonder about the psychological motivations of those who have set upon Thunberg so thuggishly. It looks like a kind of displacement activity rooted in fear that what she says might be true. Instead of engaging with the argument they wrestle with the arguer. ... Getting personal is a sure sign you're losing the argument...."

Baggani notes that on the other hand, "Making a young and idealistic teenager the figure head of a movement makes it too easy to dismiss the campaign as a whole as naive and idealistic. Indeed, the commentator Christopher Caldwell, who is supportive of the cause, worries that rallying around Thunberg reflects a refusal to engage with complexity. 'People have had enough of balance and perspective.... They want single-minded devotion to the task at hand.' That is exactly what Thunberg has come to represent."

An illustration: A theoretical physicist devoted a blog post to Greta's idealism and policy prescriptions and a response to it from none other than Bill Nye, the Science Guy. By the way, the responses are very much an important part of the post. They may make you think and wonder, perhaps even laugh and cry! 

I think David Runciman, a Professor of Politics at Cambridge University, UK puts his finger on an important complexity very few of us think about. Thunberg, he writes, showcases "the profound gulf between younger and older generations when it comes to climate politics: the clash between those with the power to act and those who must live with the consequences if they don’t. The climate crisis is an issue that requires long-term thinking across the generations, yet electoral politics is geared toward responding to immediate grievances. Politicians can talk about taking the long view, but without institutional changes to the way we practice democracy, they are unlikely to look beyond short-term political gains."  Runciman discusses some ways to bridge the generational divide but are any of them likely to work? 

Image result for greta thunbergAnd finally and importantly what does the main player, Greta Thunberg, have to say about her motivations and campaign."On this," Baggani writes, "she and her fellow campaigners have been more clear-sighted than their adult fans. Before heading to the UN she said of leaders such as Trump that 'instead of speaking to me and the school-striking children and teenagers they should be talking to actual scientists and experts in this area.' ... 'I think there is a lot of focus on me as an individual and not on the climate itself. I think we should focus more on the climate issue because this is not about me.'"

Baggini closes his column in ringing words of endorsement for Greta Thunberg as well as commenting on his very limited contributions--some words of personal humility. He writes that "She has done infinitely more in a few short years to improve humanity's prospects than I have done or will do in a lifetime. Lionising her doesn't help the cause. But the excessive zealotry of some of her supporters is a trifling fault compared to the egregious attacks by critics who would rather take her on than the inconvenient truths she brings."

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Bear 32 Chunk

Image result for brown bearEnvironmental & Science Education
Edward Hessler

Mike Fitz, Katmai National Park, introduces us to another brown bear of Brooks Falls: Bear 32 Chunk. He is a chunk!

Can a brown bear be dominant, patient, and even playful at the same time? For at least one adult male at Brooks River, the answer is yes. Chunk is a large adult male with narrowly-set eyes and a prominent brow ridge. Even at his leanest, Chunk carries substantial fat reserves, especially on his hind quarters. He tends to shed much of the fur around his shoulders and neck. This gives him a two-toned appearance and exposes numerous scars and wounds.

Bear 32 Chunk video.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Thursday, August 22, 2019

A Climate Pledge from Europe

Image result for ursula von der leyen

Environmental & Science Education
Climate Change
Edward Hessler

The next president of the European Commision, Ursula von der Leyen who previously served as German defense minister, was elected to this office on 16 July, 2019. She succeeds Luxembourgish politician Jean-Claude Juncker who served as president from 2014 to 2019.

In von der Leyen's opening remarks, summarized in this short facebook video, the first is a European Green Deal.

The British scientific journal Nature has an essay by Quirin Schiermeier about the climate pledge which amplifies some of its details--"by 2030 to at least a 50% cut, relative to 1990 levels." The Green Deal "would include a law to make Europe carbon neutral by2050. It "includes a biodiversity strategy for Europe, an extended emissions-trading system and a tax to avoid carbon 'leakage'--when companies transfer the production of goods to countries with more relaxed  emission limits." Obviously, President von der Leyen "will need to win the backing of EU nations--strengthening climate targets is something that EU member states must decide by consensus."

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Talking About Climate Change

Image result for texasEnvironmental & Science Education
Climate Change
Edward Hessler

In a recent issue of Chatelaine, climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe, describes a way she has found useful to talk about climate change with those who don't "believe in it" or doubt its relevance. If you are not familiar with Hayhoe, her homepage provides almost all there is to know.

Hayhoe makes an important point at the outset. While skeptics dominate the discussion, in fact most people agree that the climate is warming and that it is due to human activity. 

In short, what Hayhoe has found most useful is listening to people, especially to what matters to them, e.g., "When will my family's farm run out of water? What risks does climate change pose to our city: How can we transition our energy systems off fossil fuels without harming the economy here or development abroad?" 

I strongly recommend the full article because I have chosen to focus only on a small part of it. 
Image result for rotaryHayhoe was once asked to speak "at the Rotary Club in West Texas, where I live."  When she walked into the hall, a giant banner caught her eye. It was about the Rotarian's Four-Way Test. In short, it is an ethical guideline.

--Is it the truth?

--Is it fair to all concerned?

--Will it build goodwill and better relationships?

--And will it beneficial to all concerned?

This list of values caught her eye as she found them compatible with her scientific and personal values. Because she is not only an expert on climate change, has talked about it most of her professional life, including early on in her marriage, with a very skeptical husband, she was able to quickly change her talk on the spot (by skipping the buffet), organizing it around the Rotarian framework.

Hayhoe made the historical case for climate change. Then established the unfairness of climate change using the carbon footprint of the poorest among the world's population who have "contributed so little to the problem, yet they will bear the brunt of the impacts.

And yes it would "build goodwill and be beneficial to address climate change. ... The more climate changes, the more serious and even ultimately dangerous it impacts become. In Texas, climate change is amplifying our natural cycle of wet and dry, making our droughts stronger and longer at the same time it supercharges hurricanes and extreme rain." By working together, goodwill can be built.

One participant, a local banker was persuaded, saying "I wasn't too sure about this whole global warming thing, but it passed the Four-Way Test." How? Hayhoe didn't do a data/fact talk although she probably used some data, nor did she start by being disagreeable. She started by making use of shared values, "showing my respect for them and then connecting the dots between what he already cared about and a changing climate. ...(T)o care about climate change, all we really have to be is a human living on the Planet Earth, someone who cares about the health and the welfare of our family, our community and especially those less fortunate than us."