Environment

And the #1 blog entry published thus far in 2017 discussed whether there was an evolutionary advantage to being stupid: ---- As I was looking through the scientific literature the other day, I came across an article published in 1973, "The Evolutionary Advantages of Being Stupid." With a title like that, how could I not read it? In this article Dr. Eugene D. Robin discussed how larger and more complex brains are associated with greater intelligence, which by evolutionary standards was thought to be related to "superiority." He described how this line of thinking places man at the peak of…
The headlines are grabbing people's attention: CBC News: "Pollution causing more deaths worldwide than war or smoking"; CNN: "Pollution linked to 9 million deaths worldwide in 2015, study says"; BBC: "Pollution linked to one in six deaths";  Associated Press: "Pollution killing more people every year than wars, disaster and hunger, study says";  The Independent: "Pollution is killing millions of people a year and the world is reaching 'crisis point', experts warn." News outlets are referring to a report released yesterday by The Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health. The report’s authors…
“There are two problems for our species' survival - nuclear war and environmental catastrophe - and we're hurtling towards them. Knowingly.” ―Noam Chomsky Well, another week of science has gone by, here at Starts With A Bang! and everywhere else in the world, and while we're down one space mission from the start of the week (Cassini), there are still lots of good things on the horizon! We're just four weeks away from the official release of Treknology, and just a single week away from the new Star Trek series, Discovery, which I'll be officially reviewing on Forbes. Our Patreon supporters are…
“The monitoring of the atmosphere, of the surface of the Earth, of what’s going on in the ocean and under the ice — all of that is overwhelmingly funded by the federal government.” — Former Obama science adviser John Holdren The other day a friend of mine who works in Beijing as a foreign correspondent suggested that of all the acts of stupidity committed by Donald Trump since assuming office, the thing that bothers him the least is the decision to withdraw from the Paris climate change agreement. Haven't we actually moved beyond relying on government to reduce carbon emissions? he asked. Isn…
The last one of these was in mid-June, so we're picking up all the summer stories of scientific mayhem in the Trump era. The last couple of months have seemed especially apocalyptic, with Nazis marching in the streets and nuclear war suddenly not so distant a possibility. But along with those macro-level issues, Trump and his cronies are still hammering away at climate change denial, environmental protection, research funding and public health issues. As exhausting as it seems -- and this is part of the plan -- amongst all of us opposed to Trump, we need to keep track of a wide range of…
The release of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere by the burning of fossil fuels is, conceiveably, the most important environmental issue in the world today. — "Costs and benefits of carbon dioxide," Nature, May 3, 1979 Actually, the scientific understanding of the dangers posed by rising CO2 levels date back much further — at least 100 years — but 1979 was a watershed year, with all sort of reports and high-level meetings organized in response to the growing recognition that we had a serious problem on our hands. Since then, no major corporation, government or organization can justify being…
by Dominika Heusinkveld, MD, MPH Researchers at NASA and the University of Arizona, among others, are hoping to make real-time air quality forecasting a reality in the next few years. The NASA Health and Air Quality Applied Sciences Team, or HAQAST, is collaborating with health departments, county and state agencies, and university researchers to get the word out about its satellite data. The data, available for free online, can help track air quality indicators, heavy metals in air, dust, and other atmospheric components which can affect human health. Photo courtesy of NASA Image Library…
Earth Justice, the United Steelworkers, the Environmental Defense Fund and other public interest groups are suing the Trump administration over two new regulations to address toxic substances. The groups filed petitions last week with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. They are asking to court to review the rules which EPA published on July 20, 2017. The groups will argue that the regulations are contrary to Congress' intent. The Natural Resources Defense Council's Daniel Rosenberg and Jennifer Sass use these photos to illustrate the matter.  It's the difference between what…
The number of people who still aren't worried about climate change — or the number of voters willing to elect someone who feels that way, which is pretty much the same thing — is still depressingly high. But many others have long since moved on to the practical issues of how to respond to the consequent ecological disruption. This category includes scientists, artists, captains of industry, and those who are actually charged with dealing with the myriad problems involved. They all seem to be coming to the same conclusion: humans would rather stay at home and adapt rather than move to safer…
Members of the public health community are aware of many of the ways the Trump administration and the 115th Congress are hindering and reversing evidence-based actions for public health – from an executive order requiring agencies to scrap two regulations each time they create a new one to advancing legislation that would make it harder for EPA to obtain and use the most up-to-date science in its work. With so many threats to public health arising each month, it can be hard to catch all of them, though. The Union of Concerned Scientists has performed a tremendous service by producing the…
In what New York Magazine is calling the most-read article in the publication's history,  David Wallace-Wells writes about what will happen if we don't stop burning fossil fuels soon. In a nutshell: the climate "will now go to war with us for many centuries, perhaps until it destroys us." This has made more than a few climatologists rather cross. The argument is that because "The Uninhabitable Earth" focuses on an unlikely worst-case scenario, and therefore might needless scare the public into inaction. There are a few questionable statements regarding the science of climate change. You can…
A study published in Science at the end of June should have found its way onto the front pages and screens of every community newspaper and local news program in the country. But it didn't. At least, not around these parts. Which is a shame, because it's precisely the kind of story we've been waiting for all these years. (Apologies to the spirit of Douglas Adams). I'll do my best to rectify the oversight. In "Estimating economic damage from climate change in the United States," a team of researchers led by Solomon Hsiang, who specializes in public policy at the University of California,…
"It would be great some day to have astronauts in a rover on Mars. But just about anyone except an oil company executive would say its more important to have 50 million solar powered vehicles in the United States." -Brad Sherman Is terraforming a real possibility for Mars? It seems like one of the most inhospitable places we could have asked for: cold, small, barren, devoid of liquid water, with only a thin atmosphere, and with soil that’s toxic to terrestrial lifeforms. Yet Mars was once a wet, thriving planet, teeming with all the potential for life that an early Earth once possessed. A…
I must admit I only wrote this post because I thought the title would be amusing. Was I right? Time will tell. Via a variety of sources some of whom I ignored, I find the great physicst saying President Trump's decision to pull out of the Paris climate change accord could lead humanity to a tipping point, "turning the Earth into Venus."1 That, as we all know, is bollocks. Or in JA's more measured terms, "I don't believe such hyperbole is useful". Don't mince your words, man, you'll never get onto a high-status Red Team that way. My Hawking claim-to-fame is that I was cycling over the Garret…
Nature Climate Change has wandered into political science with a study from Stanford University. Seth Werfel's examination of the "crowding-out" effect — the idea that humans have a tough time pursuing more than one strategy to solve a problem — is worth considering, even if its finding aren't exactly earth-shattering. The problem is laid out right off the top and requires no further explanation: Household actions and government policies are both necessary to mitigate the effects of climate change. However, household behaviour may crowd out public support for government action by creating the…
This is interesting. It is a letter from Hachette Livre, a major international publisher, to Resolute Forest Products, the group that is trying to sue a number of environmental groups into submission. (See these posts: Taking The Axe To The Environmental Movement: Resolute v. Greenpeace and Freedom of Speech, Resolute Forestry, Stand.Earth, Greenpeace: New Developments) Hachette Livre uses Resolute, and seems to be a significant customer of the tree cutting pulp giant. And, they are giving Resolute a little what for: HACHETTE LIVRE’S COMMITMENT TO SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT Richard Garneau…
“Humanity has won its battle. Liberty now has a country.” -Marquis de Lafayette There's so much science to talk about in any given week here at Starts With A Bang! It's sometimes hard to choose, but one particular topic stole the show this past week: black holes. Sure, we took on other things, too, but we didn't even talk all that much about the biggest discovery of all: LIGO's direct detection of a third pair of merging black holes! If you had doubts after one, and they were allayed after two, then three should hammer home that these are real, robust and common. There are a lot of nuances to…
If you are upset about Trump and upset about Trump pulling the US out of the Paris agreement, please let me help you get through the day. Trump announcing that the US is pulling out of Paris does not mean the end of Paris, the end of action on climate change, or much else about global warming. I'll explain why in a moment. The US pulling out of Paris could even be interpreted as better than the US staying in. I'll explain that too. I'm not saying that Trump should have pulled out, I'm just saying that at the moment, if you are deeply concerned about the climate and the future, which you…
I like the "Analysis*"; it reminds me of Tesco's "Finest*", where I think they intend the "*" to mean "star" as in quality; but I always read it as "*" as in "footnote: may not actual contain fine quality ingredients". But I digress. In this case, the "*" really is a footnote: Note that scientists only assessed information related to climate science. The following analysis is not an endorsement of the economic, political, or moral content of the encyclical. One can quibble whether reading only a small portion of a document is a useful overall assessment, but clearly if we're interested in…
A little while back I posted this: Taking The Axe To The Environmental Movement: Resolute v. Greenpeace. Some of you complained because you don't like Greenpeace. But that is hardly the point. Greenpeace has a history of working towards important goals and sometimes even attaining them, and there are a lot of whales that want you to lay off and give them credit. Anyway, the point of that post was to let you know about a SLAPP lawsuit Greenpeace had been slapped with by Resolute Forest Products. The long and the short of it is this: Resolute, if they get legal traction and win, are setting…