(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘anthropocene

“Our remedies oft in ourselves do lie”*…

Charles F. Kennel and Martin Rees argue that the Anthropocene demands a massive realignment of priorities…

Our Earth has existed for 45 million centuries; and humans for a few thousand. But this century is the first when our species is so numerous—and so demanding of energy and natural resources—that we risk collectively despoiling our planet. It’s surely an ethical imperative that we should not deny future generations the wonders and beauty of the natural world. Policy must, in the words of the Brundtland Commission, “meet the needs of the present—especially the world’s poor—without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” This requires a massive transformation in our lives—how we derive our energy, and how we feed ourselves. It’s an inspiring challenge for the younger generation, and an investment crucial for the future of humanity—and indeed all life on Earth. But it requires a massive realignment of priorities in all nations—a change in individual attitudes, as well as in public policy.

Planet Earth is on a perilous course. Society’s delayed adjustment to Anthropocene dynamics has amplified risks to global, regional, and local human security and threatens a comprehensive crisis, especially if risks materialize in reinforcing ways. This, the Crisis of the Anthropocene, is likely to be most acute when world population peaks—according to U.N. demographers this should happen before the end of the century. The number of humans at risk will therefore be largest when resource consumption and stress on eco-environmental systems are maximal and extreme climatic events disrupt ecologies at their most vulnerable. Since threats we presently think distinct are the most likely to interact and cascade then, we will not have the luxury of dealing with them one at a time, as we are trying to do today.

The nations of Earth need to transform their economies in little more than one human generation to meet the challenges posed by Anthropocene dynamics…

Read on for their prescription: “Two Distinguished Scientists on How to Rescue Humanity,” from @kennel_charles and @LordMartinRees in @NautilusMag.

* Shakespeare, All’s Well That Ends Well

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As we face the future, we might send precipitant birthday greetings to atmospheric scientist Bernard Vonnegut; he was born on this date in 1917. While he was not as well-known as his novelist brother Kurt (nor in some circles, as his architect father Kurt Sr.), he is nonetheless widely remembered for his discovery that that silver iodide could be used effectively in cloud seeding to produce snow and rain.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

August 29, 2022 at 1:00 am

“Sharks. I never saw that coming.”*…

While many land-based predators (like wolves) avoid cities, scientists tracking sharks in Florida’s Biscayne Bay found the fish spent just as much time near Miami as away from it. Warren Cornwall explains…

Certain kinds of wildlife are notorious for thriving in urban settings. Think rats, rock pigeons and even the occasional coyote. Now, Florida scientists have added another creature to the list: sharks.

While many large predators show little appetite for city living, an intriguing project tracking the movements of sharks as fearsome as hammerheads revealed the fish are unexpectedly tolerant of life up close to the 6 million humans of greater Miami.

“We were surprised to find that the sharks we tracked spent so much time near the lights and sounds of the busy city, often close to shore, no matter the time of day,” said Neil Hammerschlag, director of the University of Miami’s Shark Research and Conservation Program.

Ecologists group animals into two main categories when it comes to their tolerance for human development. Some, like raccoons or rats, have figured out how to capitalize on the trash we make and the nooks and crannies we build. They are “urban exploiters.” Then there are the animals like mountain lions, lynxes and wolves that generally give human infrastructure a wide berth, often abandoning habitat where roads or buildings encroach. These are the “urban avoiders.”

As that list suggests, on land, big, toothy predators generally keep their distance from the din of the city. But less is known about their aquatic counterparts. So, a group of researchers set out to see if the sharks of Miami’s Biscayne Bay might shed some light on the matter…

The new wildlife in town: Sharks,” from @WarrenCornwall in @AnthropoceneMag.

Sharknado

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As we hug the shore, we might send deep birthday greetings to Robert Ballard; he was born on this date in 1942. An oceanographer, explorer, retired naval officer, and professor, he noted for his work in underwater archaeology: maritime archaeology and archaeology of shipwrecks. He is probably best known for his discoveries of the wrecks of the RMS Titanic in 1985, the battleship Bismarck in 1989, the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown in 1998, and the wreck of John F. Kennedy’s PT-109 in 2002. But he believes that his most important discovery was the existence of hydrothermal vents.

Ballard at TED, 2008

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“The beaver told the rabbit as they stared at the Hoover Dam: No, I didn’t build it myself, but it’s based on an idea of mine”*…

Of all the things that humanity builds from concrete or stone, there are few structures that influence the surface of Earth quite as profoundly as a dam.

By blocking the flow of a river, we dare to defy gravity’s pull on water from mountain to estuary – and influence the trajectory of geology itself. A dam does so much more than submerge a valley to create a reservoir: it transforms a river’s natural course, accruing silt and sediment at an artificial barrier, and dampening water’s erosional force downstream

Their vertiginous walls, striking shapes and deep foundations will also leave a unique archaeological imprint. Some of these engineered monoliths are so enormous that they may be preserved for millennia.

Meanwhile, dams can also bring deep changes for the people who live nearby, and the generations that follow them. When a government in a distant capital decides to exploit its rivers, destruction of local homes, farmland and livelihoods often follows. For example, while the rest of the world focused on Covid-19 earlier this year, an entire ancient town in Turkey was lost to rising reservoir waters. Long after we are gone, future archaeologists will study such submerged settlements and may wonder why we let them go for the sake of short-term politics and energy demand.

The effects can be felt a long way from home, too. Damming rivers that wind through continents, like the Nile in Africa, can withhold valuable water and power from countries downstream, forever changing the trajectories of those nations…

Few human structures can change a landscape quite like a dam– a pictorial essay: “How dams have reshaped our planet.”

* Nobel laureate Charles H. Townes

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As we interrogate interruption, we might recall that it was on this date in 1570 that the All Saints Flood broke dikes and overwhelmed the Dutch (and parts of the German) coast. At least 20,000 people were drowned and many times that many left homeless; livestock was lost in huge numbers; and winter stocks of food and fodder were destroyed. In Zeeland the small islands Wulpen, Koezand, Cadzand, and Stuivezand were permanently lost.

Drawing by Hans Moser in 1570 of the flood

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

November 1, 2020 at 1:01 am

“It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change”*…

 

dyson640

 

In the near future, we will be in possession of genetic engineering technology which allows us to move genes precisely and massively from one species to another. Careless or commercially driven use of this technology could make the concept of species meaningless, mixing up populations and mating systems so that much of the individuality of species would be lost. Cultural evolution gave us the power to do this. To preserve our wildlife as nature evolved it, the machinery of biological evolution must be protected from the homogenizing effects of cultural evolution.

Unfortunately, the first of our two tasks, the nurture of a brotherhood of man, has been made possible only by the dominant role of cultural evolution in recent centuries. The cultural evolution that damages and endangers natural diversity is the same force that drives human brotherhood through the mutual understanding of diverse societies. Wells’s vision of human history as an accumulation of cultures, Dawkins’s vision of memes bringing us together by sharing our arts and sciences, Pääbo’s vision of our cousins in the cave sharing our language and our genes, show us how cultural evolution has made us what we are. Cultural evolution will be the main force driving our future…

An important essay by Freeman Dyson, emeritus professor of physics at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton: “Biological and Cultural Evolution– Six Characters in Search of an Author.”

* Leon C. Megginson (often misattributed to Darwin, on whose observations Megginson based his own)

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As we agonize over the anthropocene, we might recall that it was on this date in 1968 that James Watson’s The Double Helix was published.  A memoir, it describes– with manifest hubris– “perhaps the most famous event in biology since Darwin’s book,” the 1953 discovery, published by Watson and Francis Crick, of the now-famous double helix structure of the DNA molecule.

Crick, however, viewed Watson’s book as “far too much gossip,” and believed it gave short shrift to Rosalind Franklin’s vital contribution via clues from her X-ray crystallography results.  It was originally slated to be published by Harvard University Press, Watson’s home university,  Harvard dropped the arrangement after protests from Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins (their supervisor, who shared the Nobel Prize);  it was published instead by Atheneum in the United States and Weidenfeld & Nicolson in the UK.

In any case, the book opens a window into the competitiveness, struggles, doubts, and human foibles that were baked into this landmark in science.

220px-TheDoubleHelix source

 

Lest we doubt…

While some things stay (surprisingly, gratifyingly, depressingly) the same, there are some things– many things– that really are materially different, both in kind and in degree, from times past.

By way of demonstration, the folks at Globaia have compiled a collection of charts that is stunning (in both the literal and the figurative senses of the word).

to enlarge, click on the image above, or here, and again 

And as to the infrastructure that’s abetted all of this change, see Globaia’s Map of Global Transportation Systems.

[TotH to Curiosity Counts]

 

As we ponder the implications of so many hockey sticks all in a row, we might recall that Samuel Clemens’– Mark Twain’s– route to writing was round-about: In 1861, Clemens’ brother Orion became secretary to the territorial governor of Nevada; the national-treasure-to-be, having worked as a printer in St. Louis, New York, and Philadelphia, jumped at the offer to accompany his sibling West. Clemens spent his first year in Nevada prospecting for a gold or silver mine.  Out of money, he took a job as reporter for the Virginia City, Nevada, newspaper Territorial Enterprise; his articles on the booming frontier-mining town began to appear on this date in 1862.

Like many journalists of the day, Clemens adopted a pen name, signing his articles “Mark Twain,” a term from his old river boating days.

In 1864, he traveled farther West to cover the booming state of California, where he wrote “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County”– the Tall-Tale success of which catapulted Clemens out of the West to become a globe-trotting journalist.

In 1869, Clemens settled in Buffalo, New York, and later in Hartford, Connecticut.  Clemens had spent only about five years in the West, and the majority of his subsequent work focused on the Mississippi River country and the Northeast.  Still, his 1872 account of his western adventures, Roughing It, remains one of the most evocative eyewitness accounts of the frontier ever written.  And surely more importantly, even his non-western masterpieces like Tom Sawyer (1876) and Huckleberry Finn (1884), in their playful rejection of Eastern pretense and genteel literary conventions, reflect a frontier sensibility.

Mark Twain, honorary Westerner, by Mathew Brady (source)

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