(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘climate

“Human nature scares the hell out of me”*…

Henry Gee, paleontologist and senior editor of Nature, argues that we Homo sapiens are setting ourselves up for collapse. He cites population decline, a lack of genetic variation, our socioeconomic fixation on growth (and the way that that’s plundered the planet), among other factors. But he singles out one phenomenon in particular…

 The most insidious threat to humankind is something called “extinction debt.” There comes a time in the progress of any species, even ones that seem to be thriving, when extinction will be inevitable, no matter what they might do to avert it. The cause of extinction is usually a delayed reaction to habitat loss. The species most at risk are those that dominate particular habitat patches at the expense of others, who tend to migrate elsewhere, and are therefore spread more thinly. Humans occupy more or less the whole planet, and with our sequestration of a large wedge of the productivity of this planetwide habitat patch, we are dominant within it. H. sapiens might therefore already be a dead species walking.

The signs are already there for those willing to see them. When the habitat becomes degraded such that there are fewer resources to go around; when fertility starts to decline; when the birth rate sinks below the death rate; and when genetic resources are limited—the only way is down. The question is “How fast?”…

Eminently worth reading in full: “Humans Are Doomed to Go Extinct,” from @EndOfThePier in Scientific American (@sciam).

For chorus effect, see also “Headed for a sixth mass extinction? MIT geophysicist warns oceans are on the brink.”

And for a look at the (possible) aftermath, explore “The Earth After Humans.”

* Neil deGrasse Tyson


As we remind ourselves that “hope is a discipline,” we might send expansively-creative birthday greetings to Freeman Dyson; he was born on this date in 1923. A theoretical and mathematical physicist, mathematician, and statistician, he made material contributions– both processes and concepts— in quantum field theory, astrophysics, the mathematical formulation of quantum mechanics, condensed matter physics, nuclear physics, and engineering.

He will forever be remembered by SciFi fans as the originator of the idea of (what’s called) the Dyson Sphere (or Dyson Shell): he proposed that a highly advanced technological civilization would ultimately completely surround its host star with a huge shell to capture 100% of the useful radiant energy. This Dyson Sphere would have a gigantic cluster of artificial planetoids (“Dyson cloud”) with billions of billions of inhabitants who would make use of the energy captured by the Dyson Sphere. He also made the intriguing speculation that a Dyson Sphere viewed from other galaxies would have a highly distinctive, unnatural light. He suggested astronomers search for such tell-tale colored stars, which should signify advanced, intelligent life.

Dyson was skeptical of some climate science, believing that the advantages of global warming (e.g., greater crop yields) were underweighted and that climate models were underdeveloped (and thus untrustworthy). Still he sounded the alarm (in a way resonant with Gee’s, above) as to the possibility of humanity poisoning its own future:

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…

Biological and Cultural Evolution– Six Characters in Search of an Author


“History is humankind trying to get a grip. Obviously its not easy. But it could go better if you would pay a little more attention to certain details, like for instance your planet.”*…

A blast from the past…

In 1938, 20-year-old filmmaker Richard H. Lyford directed and starred in As the Earth Turns, a science-fiction silent movie about a mad scientist who purposely induces climate change as a way to end world violence.

But the 45-minute film became “lost,” only to resurface 80 years later, in 2018, when Lyford’s grandniece, Kim Lyford Bishop, discovered it. (After creating the film, Lyford went on to work at Disney and earn an Oscar for the 1950 documentary “The Titan: Story of Michelangelo.”)

Bishop then asked music composer Ed Hartman, who was her daughter’s percussions teacher, to score it.

Although “As the Earth Turns” was finally released in 2019 and took part in 123 film festivals, it will finally premiere on television on Halloween night, this Sunday on Turner Classic Movies at 9pm PST…

From The Seattle Times:

… “As the Earth Turns is the work of an exuberant, ambitious young man: Lyford wrote, directed and shot the film, and managed to corral a stable of actors and crew to capture his vision. You can see his fascination with the craft of filmmaking: Lyford experiments with miniatures and models (then used in Hollywood films, and a remarkable accomplishment for a barely-out-of-his-teens hobbyist), explosions, earthquakes and special makeup effects, all on a budget of next to nothing.”

A 1938 sci-fi film about climate change was lost. It’s making its TV debut 83 years later,” from Carla Sinclair (@Carla_Sinclair) and @BoingBoing.

* Kim Stanley Robinson, New York 2140


As we ponder prescience, we might recall that it was on this date in 2012 that Hurricane Sandy (AKA Superstorm Sandy) hit the east coast of the United States, killing 148 directly and 138 indirectly, wreaking nearly $70 billion in damages, and causing major power outages. In New York City streets, tunnels, and subway lines were flooded.


“Rather than heralding a new era of easy living, the Agricultural Revolution left farmers with lives generally more difficult and less satisfying than those of foragers”*…

Lest we wonder if climate change might have fundamental effects…

Why was agriculture invented? The long run advantages are clear: farming produced food surpluses that allowed population densities to rise, labor to specialize, and cities to be constructed. However, we still don’t know what motivated the transition in the short run. After 200,000 years of hunting and gathering, agriculture was invented independently at least seven times, on different continents, within a 7,000 year period. Archeologists agree that independent inventions occurred at least in the Fertile Crescent, Subsaharan Africa, North and South China, the Andes, Mexico, and North America. Moreover, the first farmers were shorter and had more joint diseases, suggesting that they ate less than hunter gatherers and worked more. Why would seven different human populations decide to adopt remarkably similar technologies, around the same time, and in spite of a lower standard of living?

I propose a new theory for the Neolithic Revolution, construct a model capturing its intuition, and test the resulting implications against a panel dataset of climate and adoption. I argue that the invention of agriculture was triggered by a large increase in climatic seasonality, which peaked approximately 12,000 years ago, shortly before the first evidence for agriculture appeared. This increase in seasonality was caused by well documented oscillations in the tilt of Earth’s rotational axis, and other orbital parameters. The harsher winters, and drier summers, made it hard for hunter-gatherers to survive during part of the year. Some of the most affected populations responded by storing foods, which in turn forced them to abandon their nomadic lifestyles, since they had to spend most of the year next to their necessarily stationary granaries, either stocking them, or drawing from them. While these communities were still hunter-gatherers, sedentarism and storage made it easier for them to adopt farming…

During the Neolithic Revolution, seven populations independently invented agriculture; a new paper argues that climate change was the cause: “The Ant and the Grasshopper: Seasonality and the Invention of Agriculture,” from Andrea Matranga (@andreamatranga)

[image above: source]

* Yuval Noah Harari, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind


As we reap what we sow, we might spare a thought for Clarence Birdseye; he died on this date in 1956.  An  inventor, entrepreneur, and naturalist, he was the founder of the modern frozen food industry.

On Arctic trips as a field naturalist for the United States government, he noticed that freshly caught fish, when placed onto the Arctic ice and exposed to the icy wind and frigid temperatures, froze solid almost immediately. He learned, too, that the fish, when thawed and eaten, still had all its fresh characteristics. He concluded that quickly freezing certain items kept large crystals from forming, preventing damage to their cellular structure. In 1922, Clarence organized his own company, Birdseye Seafoods, Inc., New York City, where he began processing chilled fish fillets.  He moved on to vegetables and other meats, then to the “fish stick,” along the way co-founding General Foods.  In the end, Birdseye had over 300 patents for creating and handling frozen food.



“We’re not in Kansas anymore”*…

Randy Shoemaker embraces his son Conner, 6, after surviving a deadly tornado that killed at least seven people in Chatsworth, Ga., in April

In March 2019, a violent tornado plowed through eastern Alabama, flattening houses and demolishing mobile homes. Twenty-three people were killed including four children, ages 10, 9, 8 and 6.

Exactly one year later, on March 3, 2020, a tornado gusting at 170 mph ripped through central Tennessee, killing 19 people. Four of the victims were children between the ages of 2 and 7.

The twisters spiraled along the ground for only minutes, but they are the two deadliest natural disasters in the United States since the start of 2019. They received fleeting national attention.

The mortal storms illustrate an alarming trend that is overlooked amid concern about hurricanes, wildfires and floods: Tornadoes are increasingly occurring in the Southeast, where they are twice as deadly as tornadoes elsewhere in the United States…

A shift of tornado activity from the Great Plains to the Southeast has brought heightened danger by concentrating twisters in a far more perilous landscape — one covered by forest that conceals tornadoes and is filled with mobile homes that are easily demolished…

Tornado Alley has moved from the Great Plains to the Southeast: “Migrating tornadoes are the nation’s deadliest disasters.”

* Dorothy, The Wizard of Oz


As we contemplate the consequences of climate change, we might recall that it was on this date in 1896 that the Cedar Keys Hurricane finally disapated. Having passed as a tropical storm through the Lesser Antilles on September 22 (the earliest known activity), it grew to hurricane strength over Cuba, then passed on to Florida, over the Keys. Before being absorbed into another low pressure area, it made its way to southern New York State, where it finally gave out.

Its winds stayed high throughout its journey, and it was prodigiously wet: it left 19.96 inches at Glennville, Georgia, caused flash floods in the Shenandoah Valley, left the White House grounds in a wreck, and downed trees at the Gettysburg Battlefield. It is estimated to have caused 130 deaths and $1.5 million in damage (in 1896 dollars, which would be about $46 million today).

Storm victims pose with damaged houses on Cedar Key


Written by (Roughly) Daily

September 30, 2020 at 1:01 am

“Round and round they went with their snakes, snakily”*…




If pythons are the snake that ate the Everglades, the apocryphal legend of their takeover begins with an appropriately cinematic opening scene. In 1992, Hurricane Andrew plowed into the state, killing 65 people and leveling thousands of homes, as well as—so the story goes—a Burmese python breeding facility.

The reality of their introduction to the area may be less exciting. “The scientific thinking, I believe, is that they were probably animals that were discarded by pet owners deep down into the Everglades,” said Steve Johnson, an associate professor of wildlife ecology and conservation at the University of Florida.

The population of Burmese pythons in the Everglades is impossible to measure with much accuracy. Since the first reported sighting of one in the wild in Florida in 1979, their numbers have exploded. Estimates from the USGS indicate there could be tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of them in South Florida. Regardless of their actual population size, their impact is clear: pythons have decimated biodiversity in the area. The hungry snakes will consume almost any animal in their path. They seize their prey using sharp, rear-facing fangs that are long enough to pierce a hunter’s arm. Then the snake coils around its victim, constricting the animal until it’s dead. Some hunters, to protect their lower legs from bites, wear camouflage-patterned snake gaiters, light armor that’s similar to shin guards worn by soccer players. But most go without, preferring intuition and quick reflexes over adding another layer of clothing to sweat through in the muggy glades.

To stem the tide of invasive species from the exotic-pet trade, the FWC holds amnesty days that allow pet owners to surrender animals to the agency without penalty. Although most pets that get released into the glades don’t survive, some outlier species like the Burmese python become established in their new ecosystems.

In this case, “established” sounds like an understatement. Pythons have taken over. Everything else has become prey. Since 2003, rabbit populations have disappeared from USGS study areas. Foxes, raccoons, possums, bobcats, and other species are all but gone. Pythons devoured the mammals and have moved on to birds, other reptiles, and possibly fish. The snakes can bring down animals as large as deer—which can either struggle and tear themselves away or become dinner—and even alligators.

Scientists have long suspected that pythons were consuming whole populations of small mammals in the Everglades and have made efforts at estimating the impacts. But exact population counts are impossible in such a vast wilderness. In a 2015 study led by Robert McCleery at the University of Florida, researchers translocated marsh rabbits into an area of the Everglades inhabited by a large number of pythons. At first the rabbits survived. Then temperatures began to rise, and with the warming weather, pythons slithered out of hiding and began to feast. In one year, they had eaten 77 percent of the rabbits…

Pythons are devouring native animal life in the unique ecosystem of South Florida. To help solve the problem, Florida Fish and Wildlife officials have turned to amateur and professional hunters to round up the reptiles in a wild competition called the Python Bowl: “The Misunderstood Python Hunters Saving the Everglades.”

* Aldous Huxley, Brave New World


As we ruminate on reptiles, we might recall that it was on this date in 1780 that a combination of thick smoke, fog, and heavy cloud cover caused so complete a darkness to fall on Eastern Canada and the New England area of the United States that candles were needed at noon.  The drear, known as “New England’s Dark Day,” did not disburse until the following evening.

Dark-Day-Full-Image source


Written by (Roughly) Daily

May 19, 2020 at 1:01 am

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