Whichever way you look there are substantial challenges.
This post is largely a republication of a recent post from Patrice Ayme. Because when I read it I was profoundly affected. I thought that it needed to be shared with all you good people because if nothing is done then life as we know it is going to come to an end. Period! That includes our gorgeous dogs as well as us humans! So, please, please read it all the way through!
But before Patrice’s post is presented The Economist this last week came out with a special report entitled Business and climate change. I offer a small extract:
For most of the world, this year will be remembered mainly for covid-19. Starting in Asia, then spreading across Europe and America before taking hold in the emerging world, the pandemic has infected millions and killed hundreds of thousands. And it has devastated economies even more severely that did the global financial crisis which erupted in 2008.
But the impact of covid-19 has also given a sense of just how hard it will be to deal with climate change. As economic activity has stalled, energy-related CO2 emissions have fallen sharply. This year the drop will be between 4% and 7%. But to have a decent chance of keeping Earth’s mean temperature less than 2 deg C above pre-industrial levels, net emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases must fall to more or less zero by mid-century. And such a drop needs to be achieved not by halting the world economy in its tracks, but by rewiring it.
The next section in the special report was A grim outlook and it was, indeed, a very grim read.
Back To The Jurassic In A Hurry: 500 Part Per Million Of Greenhouse Gases
Greenhouse gases (GHG) used to be 280 parts per million. Now they are around 500 ppm (including CH4, Nitrogen oxides, chlorofluorocarbons, etc.). This is more GHG than in at least thirty million years, when the Earth was much warmer, and it is similar to CO2 densities during the Jurassic.
So we should talk about climate catastrophe rather than climate change, and global heating rather than global warming: recent fires got helped by temperatures dozen of degrees higher than normal, in part from compression of the air due to record breaking winds. This is why parts of the Pacific Northwest which never burn are now burning. This will extend to Canada, Alaska, Siberia and already did in recent years. The catastrophic massive release of frozen methane hydrates could happen any time (it already does, but not as bad as it is going to get). It has up to one hundred times more warming power than CO2 (fires release it by billions of tons).
What is the way out? Well, hydrogen is the solution, in two ways, but has not been deployed as it could be. A decade ago, thermonuclear fusion, on the verge of becoming a solution, was starved for funding, and so was green hydrogen (the then energy secretary, Obama’s Steven Chu, prefered investing in batteries, it was more lucrative for his little greedy self).
Green hydrogen enables to store energy for renewables, avoiding blackouts which cut electricity to pumps to fight fires.
Joan Katsareas from Philadelphia, PA wrote back: “Thank you @Patrice Ayme for sharing your knowledge of the causes and extent of the climate crisis. I will be seeking out more information on hydrogen as a solution.”
@Joan Katsareas Thank you for thanking me, that is much appreciated. Hydrogen is indeed the overall solution we need at this point. Actually Australia, in collaboration with Japan, is building a gigantic, 15 Gigawatts, project in north west Australia, AREH, the Asian Renewable Energy Hub, to convert renewables from sun and wind into hydrogen products which will then be shipped to Japan. The same needs to be done all over, it would collapse the price of “green hydrogen” (99% of the US hydrogen is from fossil fuels).
In the case of thermonuclear fusion, the international thermonuclear experimental reactor (ITER) being built in France was slowed down by ten years, from reduced funding, and uses obsolete magnets (superconducting, but not High Temperature Superconductors, which can now be engineered with more compact and powerful fields). A massive effort would bring a positive energy thermonuclear reactor within 10 years… But that effort has not been made… except in China, the usual suspect, where a project, the China Fusion Engineering Test Reactor (CFETR), aims at an energy gain of 12 and a total power equivalent to a fission nuclear reactor. Its detailed engineering has been launched for a while (it’s supposedly symbiotic with the European DEMO project, which will produced as much as a large power station and will be connected to the grid. That too has been delayed, to the 2050s, although it’s feasible now). The USA needs to launch a similar project, right away.
We face ecological constraints incomparably more severe than those of the Roman state. Rome did not solve its paltry problems, and let them fester: they had to do mostly with a dearth of metals, and the Franks solved them readily. This hindered the Roman economy. The situation we are facing, the threat of a runaway greenhouse is a terminal existential threat.
Look at Venus, we can look at our sparkling neighbor when the forests have finished burning, and the smoke dissipates (we were told it could be months). Once Venus probably had a vast ocean, and probably, life. But it died from a brutal greenhouse generated by Large Igneous Provinces (LIP). The same happened on Earth, on a smaller scale, more than once, in particular with the Permian Triassic mass extinction, which destroyed 95% of known species..
Now the rumor has it that indeed some life may have survived in the atmosphere. This is not a joke. Consider:Life on Venus? Astronomers See a Signal in Its Clouds. The detection of a gas in the planet’s atmosphere could turn scientists’ gaze to a planet long overlooked in the search for extraterrestrial life.
Life on Venus? Ah, science, all those possibilities… We never imagined we would ever think possible.
P/S: I argued in the past, before anybody else, that the dinosaur-pterosaurs-plesiosaurs extinction, and extinction of anything bigger than 20 kilograms was due to volcanism (I was at UC Berkeley when the two Alvarez were, and they seemed too full of themselves with the iridium layer, and I like to contradict certainties…)
How would LIP volcanism set forests on fire? Well, by the same exact mechanism as now: through a massive CO2 driven greenhouse, what may have terminated the Venusians…
In this perspective climate cooling, for millions of years, visible in the graph above, would have disrupted those species which were not equipped to generate enough heat, and then the LIP accelerated into a vast holocaust…
The end with general burning and acidic oceans is hard to duplicate with a bolide, so the impactophiles have argued that the bolide magically impacted the most CO2 generating rock imaginable… Maybe. But an enormous LIP does all that CO2 production/destruction of the oceans, effortlessly… A friend of mine who is the biggest of the big in this academic domain, he decides who publishes, replied to me that the 66 million year old Dekkan LIP is too small… To which I replied that we don’t know what lays below the ocean…
Now it is up to all of us to make whatever changes we can to lessen our use of CO2.
Returning to that Economist special report. Green machines is an analysis of what has to change, what already has changed, and the time left for these changes to take effect. But as the article states it is far, far below what is necessary:
Last year 20m households purchased heat pumps. To stop the planet from overheating, the IEA reckons that number has to triple by 2030.
In the 4th September issue of Science magazine, there is an article about The Carbon Vault.
Industrial waste can combat climate change by turning carbon dioxide into stone.
The article closes with these words:
To avert the worst damage from climate change, Lackner says, “we need to throw everything we can at it.” Including, perhaps, a lot of rocks.
Klaus Lackner is a physicist at the Arizona State University, Tempe.
So there is a great deal going on and the general awareness of what we are facing is growing. That is good! But the speed of change is not fast enough by a long shot.
Last word from Patrice:
However we know enough to realize forceful mitigation has to be engaged in immediately.
Still continuing with another dog-free day because this is a supremely important topic: Dementia.
I’m well into my 75th year and have poor recall. I do everything to fight the loss of memory. We are vegan, or technically pescatarian, we both go to the nearby Club Northwest twice a week and I ride my bike every other day.
The number of cases of dementia in the U.S. is rising as baby boomers age, raising questions for boomers themselves and also for their families, caregivers and society. Dementia, which is not technically a disease but a term for impaired ability to think, remember or make decisions, is one of the most feared impairments of old age.
Incidence increases dramatically as people move into their 90s. About 5% of those age 71 to 79 have dementia, and about 37% of those about 90 years old live with it.
Older people may worry about their own loss of function as well as the cost and toll of caregiving for someone with dementia. A 2018 study estimated that the lifetime cost of care for a person with Alzheimer’s, the most common form of dementia, to be US$329,360. That figure, too, will no doubt rise, putting even more burdens on family, Medicare and Medicaid.
There’s also been a good deal of talk and reporting about dementia in recent months because of the U.S. presidential election. Some voters have asked whether one or both candidates might have dementia. But, is this even a fair question to ask? When these types of questions are posed – adding further stigma to people with dementia – it can unfairly further isolate them and those caring for them. We need to understand dementia and the impact it has on more than 5 million people in the U.S. who now live with dementia and their caregivers. That number is expected to triple by 2060.
First, it is important to know that dementia cannot be diagnosed from afar or by someone who is not a doctor. A person needs a detailed doctor’s exam for a diagnosis. Sometimes, brain imaging is required. And, forgetting an occasional word – or even where you put your keys – does not mean a person has dementia. There are different types of memory loss and they can have different causes, such as other medical conditions, falls or even medication, including herbals, supplements and anything over-the-counter.
Older people wonder and worry about so-called senior moments and the memory loss they perceive in themselves and others. I see patients like this every week in my geriatric clinic, where they tell me their stories. They forget a word, get lost in a story, lose keys or can’t remember a name. Details vary, but the underlying concern is the same: Is this dementia?
Normal memory loss
As we age, we experience many physical and cognitive changes. Older people often have a decrease in recall memory. This is normal. Ever have trouble fetching a fact from the deep back part of your “mind’s Rolodex”? Suppose you spot someone at the grocery store you haven’t seen in years. Maybe you recognize the face, but don’t remember their name until later that night. This is normal, part of the expected changes with aging.
What’s more of a potential problem is forgetting the name of someone you see every day; forgetting how to get to a place you visit frequently; or having problems with your activities of daily living, like eating, dressing and hygiene.
When you have troubles with memory – but they don’t interfere with your daily activities – this is called mild cognitive impairment. Your primary care doctor can diagnose it. But sometimes it gets worse, so your doctor should follow you closely if you have mild cognitive impairment.
You want to note the timing of any impairment. Was there a gradual decline? Or did it happen all of a sudden? This too you should discuss with your doctor, who might recommend the MoCA, or Montreal Cognitive Assessment test, which screens for memory problems and helps determine if more evaluation is needed.
When memory loss interferes with daily activities, see your doctor about what to do and how to make sure you’re safe at home.
There are numerous types of severe memory loss. Dementia tends to be a slow-moving progression that occurs over months or years. Delirium is more sudden and can occur over hours or days, usually when you have an acute illness. Depression can also cause memory changes, particularly as we get older.
Dementia and other brain issues
Alzheimer’s dementia is the most common type of dementia, followed by vascular dementia. They have similar symptoms: confusion, getting lost, forgetting close friends or family, or an inability to do calculations like balance the checkbook. Certain medical conditions – thyroid disorders, syphilis – can lead to dementia symptoms, and less common types of dementia can have different kinds of symptoms. Alzheimer’s has a distinct set of symptoms often associated with certain changes in the brain.
Focusing on safety and appropriate supervision, particularly in the home, is critical for all people with dementia. Your doctor or a social worker can help you find support.
It’s also important to be aware of two other things that can lead to decreased mental functioning – delirium and depression.
Delirium, a rapid change in cognition or mental functioning, can occur in people with an acute medical illness, like pneumonia or even COVID-19 infection. Delirium can occur in patients in the hospital or at home. Risk for delirium increases with age or previous brain injuries; symptoms include decreased attention span and memory issues.
Depression can happen at any time, but it’s more common with aging. How can you tell if you’re depressed? Here’s one simple definition: when your mood remains low and you’ve lost interest or joy in activities you once loved.
Sometimes people have recurring episodes of depression; sometimes, it’s prolonged grieving that becomes depression. Symptoms include anxiety, hopelessness, low energy and problems with memory. If you notice signs of depression in yourself or a loved one, see your doctor. If you have any thoughts of harming yourself, call 911 to get help instantly.
Any of these conditions can be frightening. But even more frightening is unrecognized or unacknowledged dementia. You must, openly and honestly, discuss changes you notice in your memory or thinking with your doctor. It’s the first step toward figuring out what is happening and making sure your health is the best it can be.
And, as with any disease or disease group, dementia is not a “character flaw,” and the term should not be used to criticize a person. Dementia is a serious medical diagnosis – ask those who have it, the loved ones who care for them or any of us who treat them. Having dementia is challenging. Learn what you can do to support those with dementia in your own community.
Please, if you are of the age where this is more than an academic interest then read the article carefully and especially that piece of advice towards the end:
But even more frightening is unrecognized or unacknowledged dementia. You must, openly and honestly, discuss changes you notice in your memory or thinking with your doctor. It’s the first step toward figuring out what is happening and making sure your health is the best it can be.
As is said growing old is not for cissies.
None of us can put off the fateful day when we will die and in our case we do not believe in any form of afterlife, in other words we are confirmed atheists, so all we can do is to live out our remaining years as healthily as possible and loving each other and our precious animals.
But having said that I know that all of us want to live out our lives with healthy, active brains and it’s clear that we can’t leave it to chance.
In closing, I recently purchased the book Outsmart Your Brain written by Dr. Ginger Schechter (and others). It was just $9.99 and contains much advice regarding the best foods and exercise for a healthy brain. I recommend it!
Maybe because years ago he gave me blanket permission to republish his essays. Maybe because he and I are more or less the same age. Maybe because in my more quieter, introspective moments I wonder where the hell we are going. And Tom seems to agree.
Have a read of this.
Tomgram: Engelhardt, The Unexpected Past, the Unknown Future
[Note for TomDispatch Readers:Even in this terrible moment, TD does its best to continue offering an alternate view of this increasingly strange planet of ours. And I can only do so because of the ongoing support of readers. (I just wish I could actually thank each of you individually!) If you have the urge to continue to lend a hand in keeping TomDispatch afloat, then do check out our donation page. For a donation of $100 ($125 if you live outside the U.S.), I usually offer a signed, personalized book from one of a number of TD authors listed on that page and you can certainly ask, but no guarantees in this pandemic moment. Still, you really do make all the difference and I can’t thank you enough for that! Tom]
Let me be blunt. This wasn’t the world I imagined for my denouement. Not faintly. Of course, I can’t claim I ever really imagined such a place. Who, in their youth, considers their death and the world that might accompany it, the one you might leave behind for younger generations? I’m 76 now. True, if I were lucky (or perhaps unlucky), I could live another 20 years and see yet a newer world born. But for the moment at least, it seems logical enough to consider this pandemic nightmare of a place as the country of my old age, the one that I and my generation (including a guy named Donald J. Trump) will pass on to our children and grandchildren.
Back in 2001, after the 9/11 attacks, I knew it was going to be bad. I felt it deep in my gut almost immediately and, because of that, stumbled into creating TomDispatch.com, the website I still run. But did I ever think it would be this bad? Not a chance.
I focused back then on what already looked to me like a nightmarish American imperial adventure to come, the response to the 9/11 attacks that the administration of President George W. Bush quickly launched under the rubric of “the Global War on Terror.” And that name (though the word “global” would soon be dropped for the more anodyne “war on terror”) would prove anything but inaccurate. After all, in those first post-9/11 moments, the top officials of that administration were thinking as globally as possible when it came to war. At the damaged Pentagon, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld almost immediately turned to an aide and told him, “Go massive — sweep it all up, things related and not.” From then on, the emphasis would always be on the more the merrier.
Bush’s top officials were eager to take out not just Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda, whose 19 mostly Saudi hijackers had indeed attacked this country in the most provocative manner possible (at a cost of only $400,000-$500,000), but the Taliban, too, which then controlled much of Afghanistan. And an invasion of that country was seen as but the initial step in a larger, deeply desired project reportedly meant to target more than 60 countries! Above all, George W. Bush and his top officials dreamed of taking down Iraqi autocrat Saddam Hussein, occupying his oil-rich land, and making the United States, already the unipolar power of the twenty-first century, the overseer of the Greater Middle East and, in the end, perhaps even of a global Pax Americana. Such was the oil-fueled imperial dreamscape of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and crew (including that charmer and now bestselling anti-Trump author John Bolton).
Who Woulda Guessed?
In the years that followed, I would post endless TomDispatch pieces, often by ex-military men, focused on the ongoing nightmare of our country’s soon-to-become forever wars (without a “pax” in sight) and the dangers such spreading conflicts posed to our world and even to us. Still, did I imagine those wars coming home in quite this way? Police forces in American cities and towns thoroughly militarized right down to bayonets, MRAPs, night-vision goggles, and helicopters, thanks to a Pentagon program delivering equipment to police departments nationwide more or less directly off the battlefields of Washington’s never-ending wars? Not for a moment.
Who doesn’t remember those 2014 photos of what looked like an occupying army on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, after the police killing of a Black teenager and the protests that followed? And keep in mind that, to this day, the Republican Senate and the Trump administration have shown not the slightest desire to rein in that Pentagon program to militarize police departments nationwide. Such equipment (and the mentality that goes with it) showed up strikingly on the streets of American cities and towns during the recent Black Lives Matter protests.
Even in 2014, however, I couldn’t have imagined federal agents by the hundreds, dressed as if for a forever-war battlefield, flooding onto those same streets (at least in cities run by Democratic mayors), ready to treat protesters as if they were indeed al-Qaeda (“VIOLENT ANTIFA ANARCHISTS”), or that it would all be part of an election ploy by a needy president. Not a chance.
Or put another way, a president with his own “goon squad” or “stormtroopers” outfitted to look as if they were shipping out for Afghanistan or Iraq but heading for Portland, Albuquerque, Chicago, Seattle, and other American cities? Give me a break! How un-American could you get? A military surveillance drone overhead in at least one of those cities as if this were someone else’s war zone? Give me a break again. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d live to witness anything quite like it or a president — and we’ve had a few doozies — even faintly like the man a minority of deeply disgruntled Americans but a majority of electors put in the White House in 2016 to preside over a failing empire.
How about an American president in the year 2020 as a straightforward, no-punches-pulled racist, the sort of guy a newspaper could compare to former segregationist Alabama governor and presidential candidate George Wallace without even blinking? Admittedly, in itself, presidential racism has hardly been unique to this moment in America, despite Joe Biden’s initial claim to the contrary. That couldn’t be the case in the country in which Woodrow Wilson made D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation, the infamous silent movie in which the Ku Klux Klan rides to the rescue, the first film ever to be shown in the White House; nor the one in which Richard Nixon used his “Southern strategy” — Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater had earlier labeled it even more redolently “Operation Dixie” — to appeal to the racist fears of Southern whites and so begin to turn that region from a Democratic stronghold into a Republican bastion; nor in the land where Ronald Reagan launched his election campaign of 1980 with a “states’ rights” speech (then still a code phrase for segregation) near Philadelphia, Mississippi, just miles from the earthen dam where three murdered civil rights workers had been found buried in 1964.
Still, an openly racist president (don’t take that knee!) as an autocrat-in-the-making (or at least in-the-dreaming), one who first descended that Trump Tower escalator in 2015 denouncing Mexican “rapists,” ran for president rabidly on a Muslim ban, and for whom Black lives, including John Lewis’s, have always been immaterial, a president now defending every Confederate monument and military base named after a slave-owning general in sight, while trying to launch a Nixon-style “law and (dis)order” campaign? I mean, who woulda thunk it?
And add to that the once unimaginable: a man without an ounce of empathy in the White House, a figure focused only on himself and his electoral and pecuniary fate (and perhaps those of his billionaire confederates); a man filling his hated “deep state” with congressionally unapproved lackies, flacks, and ass-kissers, many of them previously flacks (aka lobbyists) for major corporations. (Note, by the way, that while The Donald has a distinctly autocratic urge, I don’t describe him as an incipient fascist because, as far as I can see, his sole desire — as in those now-disappeared rallies of his — is to have fans, not lead an actual social movement of any sort. Think of him as Mussolini right down to the look and style with a “base” of cheering MAGA chumps but no urge for an actual fascist movement to lead.)
And who ever imagined that an American president might actually bring up the possibility of delaying an election he fears losing, while denouncing mail-in ballots (“the scandal of our time”) as electoral fraud and doing his damnedest to undermine the Post Office which would deliver them amid an economic downturn that rivals the Great Depression? Who, before this moment, ever imagined that a president might consider refusing to leave the White House even if he did lose his reelection bid? Tell me this doesn’t qualify as something new under the American sun. True, it wasn’t Donald Trump who turned this country’s elections into 1% affairs or made contributions by the staggeringly wealthy and corporations a matter of free speech (thank you, Supreme Court!), but it is Donald Trump who is threatening, in his own unique way, to make elections themselves a thing of the past. And that, believe me, I didn’t count on.
Nor did I conceive of an all-American world of inequality almost beyond imagining. A country in which only the truly wealthy (think tax cuts) and the national security state (think budgets eternally in the stratosphere) are assured of generous funding in the worst of times.
The World to Come?
Oh, and I haven’t even mentioned the pandemic yet, have I? The one that should bring to mind the Black Death of the fourteenth century and the devastating Spanish Flu of a century ago, the one that’s killing Americans in remarkable numbers daily and going wild in this country, aided and abetted in every imaginable way (and some previously unimaginable ones) by the federal government and the president. Who could have dreamed of such a disease running riot, month after month, in the wealthiest, most powerful country on the planet without a national plan for dealing with it? Who could have dreamed of the planet’s most exceptional, indispensable country (as its leaders once loved to call it) being unable to take even the most modest steps to rein in Covid-19, thanks to a president, Republican governors, and Republican congressional representatives who consider science the equivalent of alien DNA? Honestly, who ever imagined such an American world? Think of it not as The Decameron, that fourteenth century tale of 10 people in flight from a pandemic, but the Trumpcameron or perhaps simply Trumpmageddon.
And keep in mind, when assessing this world I’m going to leave behind to those I hold near and dear, that Covid-19 is hardly the worst of it. Behind that pandemic, possibly even linked to it in complex ways, is something so much worse. Yes, the coronavirus and the president’s response to it may seem like the worst of all news as American deaths crest 160,000 with no end in sight, but it isn’t. Not faintly on a planet that’s being heated to the boiling point and whose most powerful country is now run by a crew of pyromaniacs.
It’s hard even to fully conceptualize climate change since it operates on a time scale that’s anything but human. Still, one way to think of it is as a slow-burn planetary version of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And by the way, if you’ll excuse a brief digression, in these years, our president and his men have been intent on ripping up every Cold War nuclear pact in sight, while the tensions between two nuclear-armed powers, the U.S. and China, only intensify and Washington invests staggering sums in “modernizing” its nuclear arsenal. (I mean, how exactly do you “modernize” the already-achieved ability to put an almost instant end to the world as we’ve known it?)
But to return to climate change, remember that 2020 is already threatening to be the warmest year in recorded history, while the five hottest years so far occurred from 2015 to 2019. That should tell you something, no?
The never-ending release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere has been transforming this planet in ways that have now become obvious. My own hometown, New York City, for instance, has officially become part of the humid subtropical climate zone and that’s only a beginning. Everywhere temperatures are rising. They hit 100 degrees this June in, of all places, Siberia. (The Arctic is warming at twice the rate of much of the rest of the planet.) Sea ice is melting fast, while floods and mega-droughts intensify and forests burn in a previously unknown fashion.
And as a recent heat wave across the Middle East — Baghdad hit a record 125 degrees — showed, it’s only going to get hotter. Much hotter and, given how humanity has handled the latest pandemic, how will it handle the chaos that goes with rising sea levels drowning coastlines but also affecting inland populations, ever fiercer storms, and flooding (in recent weeks, the summer monsoon has, for instance, put one third of Bangladesh underwater), not to speak of the migration of refugees from the hardest-hit areas? The answer is likely to be: not well.
And I could go on, but you get the point. This is not the world I either imagined or would ever have dreamed of leaving to those far younger than me. That the men (and they are largely men) who are essentially promoting the pandemicizing and over-heating of this planet will be the greatest criminals in history matters little.
Let’s just hope that, when it comes to creating a better world out of such a god-awful mess, the generations that follow us prove better at it than mine did. If I were a religious man, those would be my prayers.
And here’s my odd hope. As should be obvious from this piece, the recent past, when still the future, was surprisingly unimaginable. There’s no reason to believe that the future — the coming decades — will prove any easier to imagine. No matter the bad news of this moment, who knows what our world might really look like 20 years from now? I only hope, for the sake of my children and grandchildren, that it surprises us all.
This is such a powerful essay written from the heart of a good man.
I, too, wonder and worry about the next twenty years. Indeed, there are the stirrings of a book in my head. How that younger generation are reacting to the present and, more importantly, how they will react and respond to the next few years?
I’m 75 and really hope to live for quite a few more years. Jean is just a few years younger.
But much more importantly I have a son, Alex, who is 49, and a daughter, Maija, who is 48, and a grandson, Morten, of my daughter and her husband, who is 9.
In fact, I am ‘stealing’ the whole of Colin’s post, albeit with his permission, because recently he posted on his blog Wibble a poem written by Linda Ellis that is perfect. Indeed, it is more than perfect, it is a unique view of our lifetimes: yours; mine, everyone’s.
I learnt about ‘living your dash’ from Robby Robin’s Journey. ‘The dash’ is the one that goes between your dates of birth and death. Mine, for instance, is in “1960-” (because I’m not dead yet). Jane Fritz says:
This expression was popularized by Linda Ellis’s poem
The Dash; it provides a powerful metaphor for your life and helps us think about how our own dashes might be evaluated.
I went googling for the poem. It wasn’t hard to find it. However, reproducing it is subject to licence… which I applied for and was kindly granted. So here it is:
by Linda Ellis
I read of a man who stood to speak at the funeral of a friend.
He referred to the dates on the tombstone from the beginning… to the end.
He noted that first came the date of birth and spoke of the following date with tears, but he said what mattered most of all was the dash between those years.
For that dash represents all the time they spent alive on earth
and now only those who loved them know what that little line is worth.
For it matters not, how much we own, the cars… the house… the cash.
What matters is how we live and love and how we spend our dash.
So think about this long and hard; are there things you’d like to change?
For you never know how much time is left that still can be rearranged.
To be less quick to anger and show appreciation more
and love the people in our lives like we’ve never loved before.
If we treat each other with respect and more often wear a smile…
remembering that this special dash might only last a little while.
So when your eulogy is being read, with your life’s actions to rehash,
would you be proud of the things they say about how you lived your dash?
Maybe it is because I am in my mid-seventies. Maybe it is because I have never thought of it before; as in the dash! Maybe it is because I am looking for something that is beautifully clear; an antidote to the complicated world we appear to be living in.
I can’t fathom it out but that doesn’t matter in the slightest.
It is a very beautiful, inspiring poem that gets to the heart of living!
Yesterday, (it was actually the 22nd February, 2014!) I published a post and called it Dogs and wolves – fascinating research. Then blow me down in yesterday’s online BBC News, there was an article headlined: Dogs’ brain scans reveal vocal responses This is how it opened.
Dogs’ brain scans reveal vocal responses
By Rebecca Morelle, Science reporter, BBC World Service
Devoted dog owners often claim that their pets understand them. A new study suggests they could be right.
By placing dogs in an MRI scanner, researchers from Hungary found that the canine brain reacts to voices in the same way that the human brain does.
Emotionally charged sounds, such as crying or laughter, also prompted similar responses, perhaps explaining why dogs are attuned to human emotions.
Lead author Attila Andics, from the Hungarian Academy of Science’s Eotvos Lorand University in Budapest, said: “We think dogs and humans have a very similar mechanism to process emotional information.”
Eleven pet dogs took part in the study; training them took some time.
During the approximately 18–32 thousand years of domestication , dogs and humans have shared a similar social environment . Dog and human vocalizations are thus familiar and relevant to both species , although they belong to evolutionarily distant taxa, as their lineages split approximately 90–100 million years ago . In this first comparative neuroimaging study of a nonprimate and a primate species, we made use of this special combination of shared environment and evolutionary distance. We presented dogs and humans with the same set of vocal and nonvocal stimuli to search for functionally analogous voice-sensitive cortical regions. We demonstrate that voice areas exist in dogs and that they show a similar pattern to anterior temporal voice areas in humans. Our findings also reveal that sensitivity to vocal emotional valence cues engages similarly located nonprimary auditory regions in dogs and humans. Although parallel evolution cannot be excluded, our findings suggest that voice areas may have a more ancient evolutionary origin than previously known.
“There were 12 sessions of preparatory training, then seven sessions in the scanner room, then these dogs were able to lie motionless for as long as eight minutes. Once they were trained, they were so happy, I wouldn’t have believed it if I didn’t see it.”
For comparison, the team looked at the brains of 22 human volunteers in the same MRI scanners.
The scientists played the people and pooches 200 different sounds, ranging from environmental noises, such as car sounds and whistles, to human sounds (but not words) and dog vocalisations.
The researchers found that a similar region – the temporal pole, which is the most anterior part of the temporal lobe – was activated when both the animals and people heard human voices.
“We do know there are voice areas in humans, areas that respond more strongly to human sounds that any other types of sounds,” Dr Andics explained.
“The location (of the activity) in the dog brain is very similar to where we found it in the human brain. The fact that we found these areas exist at all in the dog brain at all is a surprise – it is the first time we have seen this in a non-primate.”
Emotional sounds, such as crying and laughter also had a similar pattern of activity, with an area near the primary auditory cortex lighting up in dogs and humans.
Likewise, emotionally charged dog vocalisations – such as whimpering or angry barking – also caused a similar reaction in all volunteers,
Dr Andics said: “We know very well that dogs are very good at tuning into the feelings of their owners, and we know a good dog owner can detect emotional changes in his dog – but we now begin to understand why this can be.”
However, while the dogs responded to the human voice, their reactions were far stronger when it came to canine sounds.
They also seemed less able to distinguish between environmental sounds and vocal noises compared with humans.
About half of the whole auditory cortex lit up in dogs when listening to these noises, compared with 3% of the same area in humans.
Commenting on the research, Prof Sophie Scott, from the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience at University College London, said: “Finding something like this in a primate brain isn’t too surprising – but it is quite something to demonstrate it in dogs.
“Dogs are a very interesting animal to look at – we have selected for a lot of traits in dogs that have made them very amenable to humans. Some studies have show they understand a lot of words and they understand intentionality – pointing.”
But she added: “It would be interesting to see the animal’s response to words rather than just sounds. When we cry and laugh, they are much more like animal calls and this might be causing this response.
For the full report, as it was posted on the BBC website, click here.
Plus, do watch this five-minute video abstract.
Published on Feb 20, 2014
The video presents the first study to compare brain function between humans and any non-primate animal. Scientists at MTA-ELTE Comparative Ethology Research Group in Hungary found that dogs and humans use similar neural mechanisms to process social information in voices. The fact that dogs can be trained to lie motionless during fMRI tests opens up the space for a new branch of comparative neuroscience.
The first study to compare brain function between humans and any non-primate animal shows that dogs have dedicated voice areas in their brains just as people do. Dog brains, like those of people, are also sensitive to acoustic cues of emotion, according to a study in the Cell Press journal Current Biology.
The findings suggest that voice areas evolved at least 100 million years ago, the age of the last common ancestor of humans and dogs, the researchers say. It also offers new insight into humans’ unique connection with our best friends in the animal kingdom, perhaps explaining how our two species have lived and worked together so effectively for tens of thousands of years.
“Our findings suggest that dogs and humans not only share a similar social environment, but they also use similar brain mechanisms to process social information,” said Atilla Andics of MTA-ELTE Comparative Ethology Research Group in Hungary. “This may help the successfulness of vocal communication between the two species.”
Andics and his colleagues trained eleven dogs to lay motionless in an fMRI brain scanner. That made it possible to run the very same neuroimaging experiment on dog and human participants — something that had never been done before. They captured both dogs’ and humans’ brain activities while they listened to dog and human sounds, ranging from whining or crying to playful barking or laughing.
The images show that dog and human brains include voice areas in similar locations. Not surprisingly, the voice area of dogs responds more strongly to other dogs, while that of humans responds more strongly to other humans. The researchers also noted striking similarities in the ways the dog and human brain processes emotionally loaded sounds. In both species, an area near the primary auditory cortex lit up more with happy sounds than unhappy ones. Andics said they were most struck by the common response to emotion across species.
There were some differences too: in dogs, 48 percent of all sound-sensitive brain regions respond more strongly to sounds other than voices. That’s in contrast to humans, in which only three percent of sound-sensitive brain regions show greater response to non-vocal versus vocal sounds.
The study is the first step to understanding how it is that dogs can be so remarkably good at tuning into the feelings of their human owners. “This method offers a totally new way of looking at neural processing in dogs,” Andics said. “At last we begin to understand how our best friend is looking at us and navigating in our social environment.”
Although this is the second time this has been shown it is so remarkable, and there may well be many who have not seen it!
On June 4th this year Grist published an article written by Eve Andrews. It is not about dogs at all. Yet, it seems to me to ask a fundamental question about us humans. The article speaks of America but certainly it applies to my old country, the U.K., and it probably applies to most of the countries in the world.
I recently wrote to Annelise McGough, the Growth and Engagement Editor at Grist asking if I could republish the article. She kindly said yes!
Did any aspect of climate change cause the pandemic to happen this year (versus last year or next year)? Could pandemics happen more often?
— Which Oracle Read Rightly Imminent, Existential Doom?
A. Dear WORRIED,
2020: what a year so far! As anyone who witnessed the crowds of face mask-clad people show up in the middle of a deadly pandemic to protest police violence this weekend can attest, a lot seems to be terrible all at once. You’re asking, in a sense, why now? It almost seems like it must be a rhetorical question. But it’s not — by understanding how we got into this mess, we might presumably be able to find our way out.
This doesn’t just apply to the pandemic.
Let’s start by taking your question at face (mask) value: There are multiple factors that have contributed to the rise of zoonotic illnesses — those of animal origin — over recent years, as my very sharp colleague Shannon Osaka delineated in an article and video earlier in the spring. Scientists believe COVID-19, like several other SARS viruses, likely originated in a bat. It turns out many strains of coronavirus can be traced back to bats! Who knew those little guys were such harbingers of destruction?
It’s not really on the bats, of course. Warmer temperatures (an established feature of climate change) and environmental degradation (often attributed to climate change, industrialization, or other products of human development) have driven a lot of animals to migrate out of their normal habitats and into human ones. Those factors have also contributed to different species coming into close contact with each other, which makes viruses normally contained to one species more likely to “spill over,” or jump to a new type of animal.
So clearly, the lead-up to the novel coronavirus’s outbreak was a gradual one. But perhaps 2019 was just warm enough to kill off enough of the insect population that some COVID-19-carrying bat depended on for food, and that drove it out to wreak some (unintentional) havoc on humanity. The bat’s habitat could have been destroyed by a new coal mine development. It could have woken up one morning and thought: This is my time to fuck shit up! Revenge on those humans that messed up my home! (OK, there was also probably a pangolin involved, but let’s keep things simple.)
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, COVID-19 is the fourth major pandemic caused by a novel virus to hit the United States since the 1918 “Spanish flu” that killed 50 million people worldwide. And there are so many factors and variables that lead to the sprout of a pandemic that you could very well argue that, “Yes, of course it happened at this exact point in time” or “No, it could have happened at any point in time.” It’s impossible to know for sure. But climate change and habitat destruction are certainly working together to create circumstances more favorable to the spread of disease, and that means pandemics will likely become more common as the world grows warmer.
The thing is, highly contagious, devastating illnesses have always been a part of human life, even though a real pandemic is a few-times-per-century event. It’s a fact of sharing the Earth with other living things; it just happens. But humans are ostensibly equipped with the means to contain the spread of diseases and help heal those who become sick. At this moment, thanks to advances in medicine and information-sharing and communication, that’s more true than ever before!
And yet. The United States, an astonishingly wealthy nation with ostensibly the most advanced — certainly the most expensive! — medical system in the world, has lost around 100,000 people to COVID-19, with many more surely to come. That doesn’t even take into account the far-reaching hardship caused by an economic collapse as drastic, by some metrics, as the Great Depression. The current unemployment rate, for example, exceeds 20 percent.
The reality is that what some have referred to as “the lost spring” (and what could very well be “the lost year”) is not the product of a single infectious disease, but the boiling over of many long-standing crises, including structural forms of injustice. Like everything else in American society, the damage done by the coronavirus is unevenly distributed across race. The death rate of black Americans from COVID is three times that of whites, and 40 percent of black-owned businesses have shuttered due to social distancing measures. As of April, rates of black and Latino unemployment were 16.7 and 18.9 percent, respectively, compared to 14.2 percent for whites. These hardships continue to feed into the cycle of racial inequality in this country.
The devastation to American society that we are witnessing in real time, one could argue, could only have happened at the present moment. That’s due to the nightmarish confluence of horrific leadership, centuries of racial oppression, unprecedented wealth inequality, the erosion of the social safety net, privatization of medicine, a far-too-consolidated supply chain, politicization of science, a highly globalized economy, and one misguided or mischievous bat. Oh, and the climate change and environmental degradation that could have led to said bat’s misbehavior.
COVID-19 could have popped up at any time, as viruses do. The degree to which it’s ravaged American society, however, has little to do with the virus itself. Other countries such as New Zealand and South Korea, faced the same disease and came out the other side with far fewer deaths and less severe economic devastation. This is, to a significant degree, about governance and leadership.
It’s also a preview of what climate change can do. A very contagious respiratory virus is an unfortunate fact; it’s not going away, and it is a challenge to be dealt with. Climate change, just the same, is coming whether or not we pay attention to it. Communities, cities, and states are going to have to put measures into place to ensure that it doesn’t literally kill us all. That’s what adaptation means, and that’s why people talk about things like seawalls and tree cover and managed retreat.
But creating a climate-resilient society requires a lot more than just building or planting stuff! This is where I would normally tell you to vote for leaders who support all that building and planting and, more importantly, cutting carbon emissions in the first place. Yes, do that. And additionally, vote for leaders who will feed our starving public systems to make it so they actually support the people who need them. Vote for those who understand and want to change what non-white people experience, what poor people experience, what immigrants experience. Without all of these things, there cannot be a climate-resilient civilization.
If anything were made clear by the unique, mind-boggling suffering that the United States has seen in the past week, brought about by the collision of a viral pandemic and police brutality, it’s that voting is a necessary condition but it is not enough. You, WORRIED, wrote to me to ask why the pandemic happened right now, possibly because it seems like such a uniquely terrible moment for the country to have to deal with it. We not only have the worst possible leader, but also a general absence of leadership altogether.
Going back just a few months, I believe there was an opportunity for an alternate version of this moment in American history in which one incredibly dangerous virus did not kill as many people nor ruin as many lives. But even in that universe, it’s important to acknowledge that pre-pandemic life wasn’t so great for most people. Undoing this path and “restoring order” is a ridiculous hope, since the order that has existed for so long has created a society that is wholly unsustainable judging from almost any social, environmental, or economic perspective.
So what can we do with this knowledge? One, you should be angry. Be angry that leaders missed opportunities to fortify the nation beyond its military, to break down racist systems and promote equality, and to instate laws and policies designed to help prevent crises that, by all accounts, were utterly predictable.
Then I think you should show your anger, whether that’s through protesting, hurling money or your time or whatever you have at worthy organizations that will put it in the right hands, or just screaming and yelling, if you have to. And while voting might not feel like enough when so much feels so wrong, it’s a necessary condition for change — force people in power to know that they created that mess and that they are accountable for it.
Climate change or global warming is with us NOW. It is time to make fundamental changes to the way we live NOW. While many individuals are doing their bit we need international agreement, especially international support for the United Nations, for all the nations in the world NOW.
Thank you for reading this!
It breaks my heart.
Let me not stop with that. I want to hear from you. Are you worried? Or not quite as concerned as me and Umbra? Do you think it is in the hands of our leaders or is it an international problem?
In the last twenty-four hours I was in communication with a person in Essex, England about dog training (and hopefully there will be a guest post from him) and it caused me to think of Angela Stockdale.
I then did a search on my blog for posts where I had mentioned Angela and came across quite a few in the early days of blogging. Then I thought it would be nice to republish one of them; Four Years Old.
So here it is again.
How time flies!
Four years ago this day, the first post was published on Learning from Dogs. Here it is again:
Parenting lessons from Dogs!
Much too late to make me realise the inadequacies of my own parenting skills, I learnt an important lesson when training my GSD (who is called Pharaoh, by the way). That is that putting more emphasis into praise and reward for getting it right ‘trains’ the dog much quicker than telling it off. The classic example is scolding a dog for running off when it should be lots of hugs and praise for returning home. The scolding simply teaches the dog that returning home isn’t pleasant whereas praise reinforces that home is the place to be. Like so many things in life, very obvious once understood!
Absolutely certain that it works with youngsters just the same way.
Despite being a very dominant dog, Pharaoh showed his teaching ability when working with other dogs. In the UK there is an amazing woman, Angela Stockdale, who has proved that dogs (and horses) learn most effectively when being taught by other dogs (and horses). Pharaoh was revealed to be a Beta Dog, (i.e. second in status below the Alpha Dog) and, therefore, was able to use his natural pack instinct to teach puppy dogs their social skills and to break up squabbles within a pack.
When you think about it, don’t kids learn much more (often to our chagrin!) from other kids than they do from their parents. Still focusing on giving more praise than punishment seems like a much more effective strategy.
As was read somewhere, Catch them in the act of doing Right!
By Paul Handover.
As it happens, it feels a little like ‘what goes around, comes around’. Why do I say that?
Because just last Saturday, I sent off a selection of pictures and videos to Angela Stockdale. Stay with me for a while as to the reason why.
Angela trades under the name of The Dog Partnership and, frankly, what she doesn’t know about the behaviour of dogs isn’t worth bothering about!
Just take a peek at the page on her website under the heading of Teaching Dogs. Here’s a little of what Angela writes:
I consider myself so lucky for dogs alone to have been my teachers. I learnt from watching how my own dogs responded to another dog’s body language and vice versa their language. Watching, learning and working with Teaching Dogs was the only way I knew.
I was and always will be in awe of a Teaching Dog’s dogs ability to consciously adapt their body language in accordance to how the other dog was feeling. The result being, they could relax nervous dogs but at the same time maintain control of a problem situation. Remember, dogs talk dog far better than we do.
It came as quite a shock to me when I learnt about other approaches. It seemed foreign for people to have so much input in resolving what were described as ‘ behavioural’ issues. For me, working with these dogs was far more than resolving a behavioural issue. It was about improving the quality of lives of dogs who were not coping with everyday life. If they found dogs or people worrying, sometimes this was shown in displays of aggression. It is important to understand, these dogs were not aggressive, they simply displayed aggressive behaviour.
Now, I would like to introduce you to the world of Teaching Dogs and how these special dogs change the lives of less fortunate dogs, who never had the opportunity to really understand how to communicate with their own species.
Back to why those photographs and videos had been sent to Angela. A couple of weeks ago, we enjoyed an evening meal with friends of friends, so to speak. This other couple owned a beautiful-looking male German Shepherd dog: Duke. Duke was 4-years-old. Our hostess remarked that he was very boisterous and had nipped a couple of strangers who had called at the house. She added that he seemed difficult to control. Duke had been there for about a month and he was a rescue so they had little or no knowledge of past behaviour.
Well, I’m no expect with dogs, that’s Jean’s domain. But there was something about Duke that captivated me. Something in the way he looked at me, his eyes linking so directly with mine, allowing me to see a dog that offered an honest openness.
More or less on impulse I stood up, held my right arm up at 45 degrees, looked Duke in the face and said, “Duke! Sit!”
Duke held my gaze and sat back on his haunches.
I moved my arm in a complete circle, around to the right, and said, “Duke! Lie down!” Duke lay down.
H’mm, I thought. Fascinating. This dog has been professionally trained at some point in the past, using the same ‘command’ system of voice and arm signalling as I had learnt with Pharaoh way back in 2003/2004.
The food was now on the table. I grabbed a small piece of meat off my plate and returned to Duke who had, of course, resumed his pottering around the room. “Duke! Here boy!” Duke came over to me. “Duke! Lie down!” Duke did so. I placed the piece of meat on the wooden floor about three feet in front of him. Duke’s eyes were riveted on the meat. “Duke!” Duke’s eyes reluctantly engaged with mine. “Duke! Stay!” I repeated the Stay command a couple more times as I backed away about 6 or 8 feet.
“Go on, Boy. Take the meat!” Duke gleefully grabbed the piece of meat. Gracious, I thought, this dog is magnificent. I wonder ……..
I took another piece of meat, “Duke! Sit!” “Duke! Stay!” I then backed off that 8 feet again, got down on my knees and placed the piece of meat just between my lips. I knew this was potential madness with a dog I had only met some 30 minutes previously, but there wasn’t an ounce of doubt in my mind. I voiced in my throat for Duke to fetch the meat. Duke came straight over and confidently and carefully removed the meat from my lips.
What a truly fabulous dog! It was a wonderful evening and once home both Jean and I were eulogising about Duke.
Then two days later, our dinner hostess rang me. “You know, I have decided we can no longer keep Duke. He is too strong a dog, I can’t control him. Is there any chance of you finding a new home for Duke?”
Without question, Jean and I would have offered Duke a new home; in a heartbeat. The only thing stopping that was me wondering if this strong-willed, male German Shepherd might be a Beta dog, as Pharaoh was. Or just might be too dominant a male dog to fit in comfortably with our dogs, especially Pharaoh who was at the stage of life where the last thing that should happen is for his happiness and contentment to be disturbed.
I hadn’t a clue as to how to answer that question. But I knew someone who would know: Angela Stockdale.
I rang her, caught up on old times and then explained the background to Duke’s situation. Angela said to repeat the exercise that I had witnessed when I took Pharaoh to her all those years ago, when I wondered if Pharaoh was an aggressive dog. My uncertainty with regard to Pharaoh followed a number of times when walking him in a public area with other dogs and he had been very threatening, both in voice and posture, towards some of those other dogs.
This is what Angela arranged. I took Pharaoh up to her place at Wheddon Cross, near Minehead in Somerset. When we arrived, Angela was standing just by a gate into a fenced paddock, maybe a half-acre in size. In the far corner were two dogs.
Angela asked me to bring Pharaoh to the gate and let him off the leash. It was clear that Pharaoh was going to be let into the paddock. I cautioned that Pharaoh could be quite a handful with other dogs and, perhaps, it would be better that I walked him into the area still on his lead. Angela said that wouldn’t be necessary. So as she held the gate open sufficient for Pharaoh to enter the paddock, I slipped the lead off him and backed away, as requested.
Pharaoh had hardly taken 2 or 3 paces when Angela called out, “Paul, there’s nothing wrong with him!”
I was astounded and stammered, “But, er, er, how can you tell so quickly?” “Because my two dogs haven’t taken any notice!”, came the reply.
Later Angela explained that in the paddock were her female Alpha dog and her male Beta dog. Ergo, the two top dogs in terms of status so far as dogs see other dogs.
In fact, Pharaoh was utterly subservient to these dogs, in a way that I had never witnessed before. Later on, as Pharaoh relaxed and started playing, Angela said that she thought that Pharaoh was a Beta dog. Mixing some of her other dogs into the group was later able to confirm that.
So back now to present times and Duke.
Thus last Saturday, as Angela recommended, we selected two of our dogs, Cleo our female German Shepherd and the most socialable of dogs, and Casey, a strong but not aggressive male (he had some PitBull in him).
Duke arrived and was allowed freely to nose around the large grassed area some way from the fenced-off horse paddock that we were using for the ‘introduction’.
Duke pottered around and then caught sight of Cleo and Casey in the paddock.
Then the meetings began!
And play didn’t seem to be too far off the agenda!
So all the photographs and videos have been sent to Angela, and we will see what the conclusion is!
As Angela put it, “Remember, dogs talk dog far better than we do.”
Yes there’s no question that dogs talk dog far better than we do!
There was such a good response to the article on the Hubble that I published on April 27th that it was an easy decision to republish the article that was presented on the BBC website on the 24th, and this time the photographs can be downloaded.
By Jonathan Amos, Science correspondent, 24 April 2020
It’s 30 years ago to the day that the Hubble telescope was launched – and to celebrate its birthday, the veteran observatory has produced another astonishing image of the cosmos.
This one is of a star-forming region close to our Milky Way Galaxy, about 163,000 light-years from Earth.
The larger object is the nebula NGC 2014; its companion is called NGC 2020.
But astronomers have nicknamed the scene the “Cosmic Reef” because it resembles an undersea world.
[There is an audio by Antonella Nota that is a little under 10 minutes long. I cannot embed it into this post for some unclear reason. Go here if you want to listen to it! It’s well worth listening to.]
Antonella Nota: “It’s called the people’s telescope because it brought the Universe to the people”
Famously blighted by blurred vision at the outset of its mission in 1990, Hubble was eventually repaired and upgraded.
The remarkable pictures it has taken of planets, stars, and galaxies have transformed our view of the cosmos.
Indeed, there are those who think Hubble is the most important scientific tool ever built.
It’s still far from retirement.
The US space agency (Nasa), which runs the observatory in partnership with the European Space Agency (Esa), says operations will be funded for as long as they remain productive.
Last year, its data resulted in almost 1,000 scientific papers being published – so it continues to stand at the forefront of discovery.
Engineers obviously keep a watching brief on the health of Hubble’s various systems. Pleasingly, all four instruments onboard – the two imagers and two spectrographs – work at full tilt.
In the past, the telescope’s Achilles heel has been the six gyroscopes that help turn and point the facility, maintaining a rock-steady gaze at targets on the sky.
These devices have periodically failed down the years, and during their final servicing mission in 2009 space shuttle astronauts were tasked with replacing all six.
Three have subsequently shut down again, but Nasa project scientist Dr Jennifer Wiseman says this is not yet an issue for serious concern.
“Nominally, we need three gyroscopes, but we can operate on just one due to the ingenuity of the engineers,” she asserted.
There’s a quiet confidence that Hubble can keep working well into the 2020s. Its supposed “successor” – the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) – is due for launch next year, but the presence in orbit of this more modern observatory will in truth merely just extend capability; it won’t make Hubble redundant.
That’s because the new facility has been designed to see the cosmos at longer wavelengths of light than Hubble. The duo will be complementary and will on occasion actually pursue targets together to get a fuller perspective.
This is an exciting prospect for astronomers everywhere – but especially for those in Europe where Hubble has been such a rewarding endeavour, says Esa project scientist Dr Antonella Nota.
“From the memorandum of understanding there was a guarantee that European astronomers would get 15% of observing time for the duration of the mission. If I look back at how much time European astronomers got – on average it’s 22%. And it is a peer-reviewed process so we never needed to put a finger on the scales. European astronomers are creative; they’re smart; they’re doing leading-edge science,” she told BBC News.
What has Hubble contributed to science?
It’s a bit of a cliche, but Hubble has truly been a “discovery machine”.
Before the telescope launched in 1990, astronomers didn’t know whether the Universe was 10 billion years old or 20 billion years old.
Hubble’s survey of pulsating stars narrowed the uncertainty, and we now know the age extremely well, at 13.8 billion.
The observatory played a central role in revealing the accelerating expansion of the cosmos – a Nobel Prize-winning breakthrough – and it provided the definitive evidence for the existence of super-massive black holes at the centre of galaxies.
It’s amazing to think that when Hubble launched, scientists had yet to detect the first exoplanet, the name given to a planet orbiting a star other than our Sun. Today, Hubble is pioneering the study of these far-off worlds, examining their atmospheres to try to gauge their nature.
And although the sparkling eight-metre-class ground-based telescopes can now match – and even exceed – Hubble’s skill in certain fields of study, the space telescope remains peerless in going super-deep.
Its so-called Deep Field observations in which it stared at a small patch of sky for days on end to identify the existence of very distant, extremely faint galaxies is one of the towering achievements in astronomy.
These studies have shown us what the Universe was like just a few hundred million years after the Big Bang. Only JWST, with its finely-tuned infrared detectors, will go deeper still.
Kathryn Sullivan was one of the astronauts onboard Space Shuttle Discovery when it released Hubble into its 612km-high orbit on 25 April, 1990 – a day she recounts in a recent book, Handprints On Hubble.
“Hubble’s scientific impact has just been immense. But what I had not really appreciated until I started writing my book was the extent to which Hubble – because of its gorgeous images and their mind-bending implications – has really permeated popular culture,” she told BBC News.
“I see Hubble on the side of U-Haul (rental) trailers, on tattoos, on lunchboxes, on shirts, in advertisements, almost ubiquitously.
“And I think part of that is down to Hubble coming into service just as the internet was becoming the thing we now know it to be.
“That’s put the pictures right in front of people.”
This is the most amazing invention and regular missions to service the telescope including regular updates to the technology have kept it current.
It has produced the most distant and beautiful photographs. It has also refined our knowledge of when the universe came into existence – 13.8 billion years ago.
Then in a very short time it will be May 8th. Not only my half-birthday but considerably of more note the anniversary of the end of World War II.
I am certain that I am the only one who puts meaning into these dates. I can do no better than to re-post something that I published on May 1st, 2017.
For all my life this has felt like a very special month.
And, dear friends, at the risk of repeating myself to many of you, this is why the month of May is special for me.
Simply that I was born in London during the closing months of the Second World War. Inevitably, I was unaware of the number of German bombs that were falling on London during those last few months. But there were thousands.
On May 8th. 1945, the day that WWII ended and six months to the day from when I was born, my mother looked down at me and said aloud to me: “You are going to live”. Despite the fact that I don’t recall my mother saying that, it was verified many times later when I was growing up.
Now here we are approaching May 8th. 2017 (now May, 2020) and in a very real sense it seems that we are in another war.
A war of consequence.
A war that we have been engaged in for many, many years.
A war where we are inadvertently fighting on a global battlefield.
A war where 99.99% of us don’t consciously identify the weapons we are using. Weapons that are incredibly effective. So much so that we are in sight of winning the last battle; winning the war.
Yet a war where winning is no win at all. Indeed, where winning this war, this global war, spells the end. The end of life for 99.99% of us humans (and much else besides).
Now what on earth has got me so fired up?
Two things have:
The first is that I am living in my 73rd year of life. (Now 75th.) I have no idea of when my life comes to an end. But that death is a guarantee. Indeed, if one takes note of the average life expectancy of a male today in the USA (75.6 years) , it may not be that far away.
The second thing is that before my death I truly want to know that humankind has laid down its weapons of war against our planet and that there really is an unstoppable mission, a united wave of passion, to live in peace on this planet. Perhaps better put to live in peace with this planet.
Or in the words of an organization that I now want to introduce:
A mission which will require the hard work and dedication of each and every one of us as we do everything in our power as individuals, but also as we galvanize businesses, entrepreneurs, innovators, city planners, communities, people and politicians—all those who share our purpose.
OK! Thank you if you are still reading this! (Someone give Fred in that soft arm-chair over there a nudge; I can hear his snores from here!)
In the last Smithsonian electronic newsletter that I was reading yesterday morning there was a reference to an organization that I hadn’t previously come across. Here is the link to that item on The Smithsonian website. I am republishing it in full in this place. As you read it you will understand why I am republishing it.
Using a New Roadmap to Democratize Climate Change
A new tool aims to bypass governments and put the power of climate action in the people’s hands
Olafur Grimsson, who was president of Iceland from 1996 to 2016 and saw his country through the worst economic crisis in its history, making headlines all over the world as banks collapsed and the country fell into a depression, is the very picture of an urbane statesman. Collected and poised, with a striking full head of white hair, as comfortable in English as in his native Icelandic, he seems an unlikely revolutionary, not the sort of person you’d look at and immediately find yourself thinking: “Power to the People.”
But Grimsson is one of the primary architects of a quietly radical new idea whose aim is to facilitate action on climate change without any of the usual suspects—governments, countries, international bodies, negotiating parties.
He and several other veterans of the historic 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change were in Washington, D.C., last year, just before COP22, the climate meeting held in Marrakesh in 2016. They were pondering next steps when the conversation took a new and interesting turn, Grimsson says, addressing the question: “Was it possible to have the success of Paris without governments necessarily being in the leading role?”
The group included movers and shakers such as Peter Seligmann, the chairman of Conservation International; Laurene Powell Jobs, president of the philanthropic organization the Emerson Collective; and Andy Karsner, an assistant energy secretary during the administration of George W. Bush. Galvanized by their own query, they decided to try to answer it—to set about creating a new tool to aid in achieving the goals of the Paris accord.
At the Smithsonian’s Earth Optimism Summit, a gathering this past weekend of conservation-minded citizens, scientists and activists, Grimsson explained: “You get governments that are opposed or even hostile to climate action. We decided to bring together in Marrakesh a gathering of thinkers and scientists and innovators and policymakers from different countries in order to discuss a new model of securing the success of the future of the climate movement.”
Grimsson’s group felt that due to changes in information technology and social transformations, the large organizations and structures that used to be necessary to effect change were now not needed. And thus was born Roadmap, a new crowdsourcing tool for anyone and everyone interested in climate action. Still in its very early stages, Roadmap’s founders envision it as a platform for those working on climate issues—from scientist and policymaker to farmer and fisherman—to facilitate the sharing of knowledge and ideas, methods and techniques.
“A new political model is possible—where everyone can be a doer, where you no longer need big government or big enterprises to bring about success,” Grimsson says.
This new model for social change that skips the usual cumbersome channels and processes has been seen everywhere from public health, where the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has redefined the sector, to the hospitality industry, which is working to combat the human trafficking that plagues its businesses, to perhaps most famously the Arab Spring, where the role of social media in bringing about political change is still being debated today.
And this new model is complemented by technological changes. “The innovation in energy technology is such that we no longer have to wait for the big energy breakthrough,” Grimsson says. “We already have the available technologies. Every individual, home, village, community, town and region can execute change. The good news from the climate point of view is that, in addition to the information technology revolution, there has now also taken place an energy revolution. A house can be a power station: If the people who live in that house have extra energy, they can sell their energy through the smart grid. The notion that every house can be a power station is as revolutionary as saying that every mobile phone can be a media company.”
Grimsson admits that it may seem odd for someone in his position to be advocating that ordinary citizens take action apart from the conventional corridors of governmental power.
“For me to say that these traditional political organizations and positions are somewhat outdated is perhaps a strange statement: I was a professor of political science, I’ve been a member of parliament, I’ve been a minister of finance, I was president for 20 years,” he says.
It was during Iceland’s financial meltdown that he first experienced this new kind of social change: “I saw this very strongly through the financial crisis in my own country, which led to a big social economic uprising. All those activities were engineered by unknown people, people who were not part of a big organization, who used Facebook and the information media to bring thousands of people together in one day.”
Right now, Roadmap consists of a website and a lofty manifesto that speaks of raising the value of “moral currency” and creating a “best practices warehouse.” Visitors to the site can fill out a form if they want to become part of its community of “doers.” The practical part of the manifesto speaks of identifying the best methodologies and models; implementing a “real-time system of measurement” and a way to “gauge and understand what is working, what is not, and exactly what is being achieved.” As the platform develops, it will be interesting to see exactly what form these gauges, measurement systems, and warehouses take.
After the Paris Agreement, Grimsson says of himself and his Roadmap co-founders, “We were all optimistic, but we are all also realists.” It is his belief that if you “give people the tools, they can execute the transformation and the change—without governmental leadership.” Perhaps Roadmap will be one of those tools.
Here’s a video that spells it out in ways that I find impossible to ignore.
Because in hundreds of years time I want others to look at the following picture of Troutbeck Valley in England and know how precious is this one and only planet we live on.
We are witnessing more storms, more unseasonal weather patterns, and I just hope that we wake up soon to the damage we are doing to our beloved Mother that has held us in her eternal arms for so long..
Enjoy the month of May wherever you are in the world!
Closing by repeating a key pronouncement in that RoadMap video above:
This just in … a new super-cool composite from Curiosity on Mars. The panorama contains more than 1,000 images taken last Thanksgiving and assembled over the past few months … 1.8 billion new pixels of Martian landscape!
Yesterday (March 4, 2020) NASA released a panoramic image of the Martian surface captured by the Curiosity rover. It’s the highest-resolution panorama yet of the planet’s surface.
Composed of more than 1,000 images taken during the 2019 Thanksgiving holiday and carefully assembled over the ensuing months, the composite contains 1.8 billion pixels of Martian landscape. The rover’s Mast Camera, or Mastcam, used its telephoto lens to produce the panorama; meanwhile, it relied on its medium-angle lens to produce a lower-resolution, nearly 650-million-pixel panorama that includes the rover’s deck and robotic arm.
The panorama showcases Glen Torridon, a region on the side of Mount Sharp that Curiosity is exploring. They were taken between November 24 and December 1, 2019, when the mission team was out for the Thanksgiving holiday. NASA said:
Sitting still with few tasks to do while awaiting the team to return and provide its next commands, the rover had a rare chance to image its surroundings from the same vantage point several days in a row.
It required more than 6 1/2 hours over the four days for Curiosity to capture the individual shots. Mastcam operators programmed the complex task list, which included pointing the rover’s mast and making sure the images were in focus. To ensure consistent lighting, they confined imaging to between noon and 2 p.m. local Mars time each day.
Eleanor Imster has helped write and edit EarthSky since 1995. She was an integral part of the award-winning EarthSky radio series almost since it began until it ended in 2013. Today, as Lead Editor at EarthSky.org, she helps present the science and nature stories and photos you enjoy. She also serves as one of the voices of EarthSky on social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter and G+. She and her husband live in Tennessee and have two grown sons.
When one stops and reflects one can’t hide the scale of progress that humans have achieved. It is incredible!
It is also a struggle to take the situation so expertly spoken about by George Monbiot in yesterday’s post and square it with the achievement covered in today’s post.