Category: Musings

The song this planet needs to hear!

A difficult post!

I am going to publish a TomDispatch essay. Or rather, I am going to republish a piece written for Tom Engelhardt by Dahr Jamail. It doesn’t make for comfortable reading.

For a few days I agonised whether or not to republish it.

Then Tom wrote in an email to me: “Here’s what I think… or have, at least, thought these last 17 years… It’s better to plug on and do what you know should be done, say what you know should be said, no matter the state of the world, no matter whether anyone’s listening.  That’s their problem, not ours.  Better to do your best and hope that just one person notices and maybe just once that will be the person who makes all the difference.

He is right.

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Tomgram: Dahr Jamail, “We Can’t Undo This”

Posted by Dahr Jamail, January 15, 2019.

Dahr Jamail, a TomDispatch regular, reported strikingly from Iraq in the years after the 2003 American invasion of that country. Since then, he’s refocused the skills he learned as a war reporter on covering a fossil-fuelized war against the planet (and humanity itself). It goes by the mild name of climate change or global warming and, while a Trump tirade about the border or just about anything else gets staggering attention, the true crisis this planet faces, the one that our children and grandchildren will have to grimly deal with, remains distinctly a secondary matter not just in the news but in American consciousness. Yes, opinions are slowly changing on the subject, but not nearly fast enough. Something about the time scale of this developing crisis — no less that it could, in the end, take out human civilization and so much else — makes it hard to absorb. It’s increasingly evident that we are already living on a climate-changed planet whose weather is grimly intensifying. If you doubt this, just ask the inhabitants of Puerto Rico, Houston, or Paradise (California, that is). Its most devastating consequences will, however, be left to a future that still seems remarkably hard to absorb in an era of the endless Trump Twitch and in a time when we’re becoming ever more oriented to the social media moment.

In 2013, as Dahr Jamail mentions in his piece today, he penned a dispatch for this website on climate change.  In my introduction to it, I wrote, “Still, despite ever more powerful weather disruptions — what the news now likes to call ‘extreme weather’ events, including monster typhoons, hurricanes, and winter storms, wildfires, heat waves, drought, and global temperature records — disaster has still seemed far enough off. Despite a drumbeat of news about startling environmental changes — massive ice melts in Arctic waters, glaciers shrinking worldwide, the Greenland ice shield beginning to melt, as well as the growing acidification of ocean waters — none of this, not even Superstorm Sandy smashing into that iconic global capital, New York, and drowning part of its subway system, has broken through as a climate change 9/11. Not in the United States anyway. We’ve gone, that is, from no motion to slow motion to a kind of denial of motion.”

Sadly, with different and more severe examples of every one of the phenomena mentioned above — four of the years since have, for instance, set new heat highs — that paragraph could stand essentially unchanged. In those same years, however, Jamail did anything but stand still. He traveled the planet, producing a remarkable new book, The End of Ice, which is being published today. It holds within its pages the most dramatic (and well-reported) of stories about what both the present and future will mean for us in climate-change terms. If it were up to him, we would all feel the desperate immediacy of our situation as we face the single greatest crisis since that ancestor of ours, Lucy, walked the edge of a lake in Ethiopia so many millions of years ago. I only hope that the passion in his piece today (and in the book it describes) carries a few of us into the new world we now inhabit, whether we care to know about it or not. Tom

A Planet in Crisis

The Heat’s On Us
By Dahr Jamail

I’m standing atop Rush Hill on Alaska’s remote St. Paul Island. While only 665 feet high, it provides a 360-degree view of this tundra-covered, 13-mile-long, seven-mile-wide part of the Pribilof Islands. While the hood of my rain jacket flaps in the cold wind, I gaze in wonder at the silvery waters of the Bering Sea. The ever-present wind whips the surface into a chaos of whitecaps, scudding mist, and foam.

The ancient cinder cone I’m perched on reminds me that St. Paul, was, oh so long ago, one of the last places woolly mammoths could be found in North America. I’m here doing research for my book The End of Ice. And that, in turn, brings me back to the new reality in these far northern waters: as cold as they still are, human-caused climate disruption is warming them enough to threaten a possible collapse of the food web that sustains this island’s Unangan, its Aleut inhabitants, also known as “the people of the seal.” Given how deeply their culture is tied to a subsistence lifestyle coupled with the new reality that the numbers of fur seals, seabirds, and other marine life they hunt or fish are dwindling, how could this crisis not be affecting them?

While on St. Paul, I spoke with many tribal elders who told me stories about fewer fish and sea birds, harsher storms and warming temperatures, but what struck me most deeply were their accounts of plummeting fur seal populations. Seal mothers, they said, had to swim so much farther to find food for their pups that the babies were starving to death before they could make it back.

And the plight of those dramatically declining fur seals could well become the plight of the Unangan themselves, which in the decades to come, as climate turbulence increases, could very well become the plight of all of us.

During breeding season, three-quarters of the Northern Fur Seal population can be found on the Pribilof Islands. They can dive to depths of 600 feet searching for small fish and squid. (Photo: Dahr Jamail)

Just before flying to St. Paul, I met with Bruce Wright in Anchorage, Alaska. He’s a senior scientist with the Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association, has worked for the National Marine Fisheries Service, and was a section chief for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for 11 years. “We’re not going to stop this train wreck,” he assures me grimly. “We are not even trying to slow down the production of CO2 [carbon dioxide], and there is already enough CO2 in the atmosphere.”

While describing the warming, ever more acidic waters around Alaska and the harm being caused to the marine food web, he recalled a moment approximately 250 million years ago when the oceans underwent similar changes and the planet experienced mass extinction events “driven by ocean acidity. The Permian mass extinction where 90% of the species were wiped out, that is what we are looking at now.”

I wrap up the interview with a heavy heart, place my laptop in my satchel, put on my jacket, and shake his hand. Knowing I’m about to fly to St. Paul, Wright has one final thing to tell me as he walks me out: “The Pribilofs were the last place mammoths survived because there weren’t any people out there to hunt them. We’ve never experienced this, where we are headed. Maybe the islands will become a refuge for a population of humans.”

The Loss Upon Us

For at least two decades, I’ve found my solace in the mountains. I lived in Alaska from 1996 to 2006 and more than a year of my life has been spent climbing on the glaciers of Denali and other peaks in the Alaska Range. Yet that was a bittersweet time for me as the dramatic impacts of climate change were quickly becoming apparent, including quickly receding glaciers and warmer winter temperatures.

After years of war and then climate-change reporting, I regularly withdrew to the mountains to catch my breath. As I filled my lungs with alpine air, my heart would settle down and I could feel myself root back into the Earth.

The Gulkana Glacier in the Alaska Range, like most glaciers globally, is losing mass rapidly. Some experts predict that every alpine glacier in the world will be gone by 2100. (Photo: Dahr Jamail)

Later, my book research would take me back onto Denali’s fast-shrinking glaciers and also to Glacier National Park in Montana. There I met Dr. Dan Fagre, a U.S. Geological Survey research ecologist and director of the Climate Change in Mountain Ecosystems Project. “This is an explosion,” he assured me, “a nuclear explosion of geologic change. This… exceeds the ability for normal adaptation. We’ve shoved it into overdrive and taken our hands off the wheel.” Despite its name, the park he studies is essentially guaranteed not to have any active glaciers by 2030, only 11 years from now.

My research also took me to the University of Miami, Coral Gables, where I met the chair of the Department of Geological Science, Harold Wanless, an expert in sea-level rise.

I asked him what he would say to people who think we still have time to mitigate the impacts of runaway climate change. “We can’t undo this,” he replied. “How are you going to cool down the ocean? We’re already there.”

As if to underscore the point, Wanless told me that, in the past, carbon dioxide had varied from roughly 180 to 280 parts per million (ppm) in the atmosphere as the Earth shifted from glacial to interglacial periods. Linked to this 100-ppm fluctuation was about a 100-foot change in sea level. “Every 100-ppm CO2 increase in the atmosphere gives us 100 feet of sea level rise,” he told me. “This happened when we went in and out of the Ice Age.”

As I knew, since the industrial revolution began, atmospheric CO2 has already increased from 280 to 410 ppm. “That’s 130 ppm in just the last 200 years,” I pointed out to him. “That’s 130 feet of sea level rise that’s already baked into Earth’s climate system.”

He looked at me and nodded grimly. I couldn’t help thinking of that as a nod goodbye to coastal cities from Miami to Shanghai.

In July 2017, I traveled to Camp 41 in the heart of the Brazilian Amazon rainforest, part of a project founded four decades ago by Thomas Lovejoy, known to many as the “godfather of biodiversity.” While visiting him, I also met Vitek Jirinec, an ornithologist from the Czech Republic who had held 11 different wildlife positions from Alaska to Jamaica. In the process, he became all too well acquainted with the signs of biological collapse among the birds he was studying. He’d watched as some Amazon populations like that of the black-tailed leaftosser declined by 95%; he’d observed how mosquitoes in Hawaii were killing off native bird populations; he’d explored how saltwater intrusion into Alaska’s permafrost was changing bird habitats there.

Orinthologist Vitek Jirinec at Camp 41. Some bird species in the Amazon have already declined by 95% since the 1980s. (Photo: Dahr Jamail)

His tone turned somber as we discussed his research and a note of anger slowly crept into his voice. “The problem of animal and plant populations left marooned within various fragments [of their habitat] under circumstances that are untenable for the long term has begun showing up all over the land surface of the planet. The familiar questions recur: How many mountain gorillas inhabit the forested slopes of the Virunga volcanoes, along the shared borders of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda, and Rwanda? How many tigers live in the Sariska Tiger Reserve of northwestern India? How many are left? How long can they survive?”

As he continued, the anger in his voice became palpable, especially when he began discussing how “island biogeography” had come to the mainland and what was happening to animal populations marooned by human development on fragments of land in places like the Amazon. “How many grizzly bears occupy the North Cascades ecosystem, a discrete patch of mountain forest along the northern border of the state of Washington? Not enough. How many European brown bears are there in Italy’s Abruzzo National Park? Not enough. How many Florida panthers in Big Cypress Swamp? Not enough. How many Asiatic lions in the Forest of Gir? Not enough… The world is broken in pieces now.”

“A Terrifying 12 Years”

In October 2018, 15 months after Jirinec’s words brought me to tears in the Amazon, the world’s leading climate scientists authored a report for the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warning us that we have just a dozen years left to limit the catastrophic impacts of climate change. The gist of it is this: we’ve already warmed the planet one degree Celsius. If we fail to limit that warming process to 1.5 degrees, even a half-degree more than that will significantly worsen extreme heat, flooding, widespread droughts, and sea level increases, among other grim phenomena. The report has become a key talking point of political progressives in the U.S., who, likejournalist and activist Naomi Klein, are now speaking of “a terrifying 12 years” left in which to cut fossil fuel emissions.

There is, however, a problem with even this approach. It assumes that the scientific conclusions in the IPCC report are completely sound. It’s well known, however, that there’s been a political element built into the IPCC’s scientific process, based on the urge to get as many countries as possible on board the Paris climate agreement and other attempts to rein in climate change. To do that, such reports tend to use the lowest common denominatorin their projections, which makes their science overly conservative (that is, overly optimistic).

In addition, new data suggest that the possibility of political will coalescing across the planet to shift the global economy completely off fossil fuels in the reasonably near future is essentially a fantasy. And that’s even if we could remove enough of the hundreds of billions of tons of CO2 already in our overburdened atmosphere to make a difference (not to speak of the heat similarly already lodged in the oceans).

“It’s extraordinarily challenging to get to the 1.5 degree Celsius target and we are nowhere near on track to doing that,” Drew Shindell, a Duke University climate scientist and a co-author of the IPCC report, told the Guardian just weeks before it was released. “While it’s technically possible, it’s extremely improbable, absent a real sea change in the way we evaluate risk. We are nowhere near that.”

In fact, even best-case scenarios show us heading for at least a three-degree warming and, realistically speaking, we are undoubtedly on track for far worse than that by 2100, if not much sooner. Perhaps that’s why Shindell was so pessimistic.

For example, a study published in Nature magazine, also released in October, showed that over the last quarter-century, the oceans have absorbed 60% more heat annually than estimated in the 2014 IPCC report. The study underscored that the globe’s oceans have, in fact, already absorbed 93% of all the heat humans have added to the atmosphere, that the climate system’s sensitivity to greenhouse gases is far higher than thought and that planetary warming is far more advanced than had previously been grasped.

To give you an idea of how much heat the oceans have absorbed: if that heat had instead gone into the atmosphere, the global temperature would be 97 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than it is today. For those who think that there are still 12 years left to change things, the question posed by Wanless seems painfully apt: How do we remove all the heat that’s already been absorbed by the oceans?

Two weeks after that Nature article came out, a study in Scientific Reportswarned that the extinction of animal and plant species thanks to climate change could lead to a “domino effect” that might, in the end, annihilate life on the planet. It suggested that organisms will die out at increasingly rapid rates because they depend on other species that are also on their way out. It’s a process the study calls “co-extinction.” According to its authors, a five to six degree Celsius rise in average global temperatures might be enough to annihilate most of Earth’s living creatures.

To put this in perspective: just a two degree rise will leave dozens of the world’s coastal mega-cities flooded, thanks primarily to melting ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica, as well as the thermal expansion of the oceans as they warm. There will be 32 times as many heat waves in India and nearly half a billion more people will suffer water scarcity. At three degrees, southern Europe will be in permanent drought and the area burned annually by wildfires in the U.S. will sextuple. These impacts, it’s worth noting, may already be baked into the system, even if every country that signed the Paris climate accord were to fully honor its commitments, which most of them arenot currently doing.

At four degrees, global grain yields could drop by half, most likely resulting in annual worldwide food crises (along with far more war, general conflict, and migration than at present).

The International Energy Agency has already shown that maintaining our current fossil-fueled economic system would virtually guarantee a six-degreerise in the Earth’s temperature before 2050. To add insult to injury, a 2017 analysis from oil giants BP and Shell indicated that they expected the planet to be five degrees warmer by mid-century.

In late 2013, I wrote a piece for TomDispatch titled “Are We Falling Off the Climate Precipice?” Even then, it was already clear enough that we were indeed heading off that cliff. More than five years later, a sober reading of the latest climate change science indicates that we are now genuinely in free fall.

The question is no longer whether or not we are going to fail, but how are we going to comport ourselves in the era of failure?

Listening While Saying Goodbye

It’s been estimated that between 150 and 200 plant, insect, bird, and mammal species are already going extinct every day. In other words, during the two and a half years I worked on my book 136,800 species may have gone extinct.

We have a finite amount of time left to coexist with significant parts of the biosphere, including glaciers, coral, and thousands of species of plants, animals, and insects. We’re going to have to learn how to say goodbye to them, part of which should involve doing everything we humanly can to save whatever is left, even knowing that the odds are stacked against us.

For me, my goodbyes will involve spending as much time as I can on the glaciers in Washington State’s Olympic National Park and North Cascades National Park near where I live, or far more modestly taking in the trees around my home on a daily basis. It’s unclear, after all, how much longer such forest areas are likely to remain fully intact. I often visit a small natural altar I’ve created amid a circle of cedar trees growing around a decomposing mother tree. In this magical spot, I grieve and express my gratitude for the life that is still here. I also go to listen.

Where do you go to listen? And what are you hearing?

For me, these days, it all begins and ends with doing my best to listen to the Earth, with trying my hardest to understand how best to serve, how to devote myself to doing everything possible for the planet, no matter the increasingly bleak prognosis for this time in human history.

Perhaps if we listen deeply enough and regularly enough, we ourselves will become the song this planet needs to hear.

——–

Dahr Jamail, a TomDispatch regular, is a recipient of numerous honors, including the Martha Gellhorn Award for Journalism for his work in Iraq and the Izzy Award for Outstanding Achievement in Independent Media in 2018. His newest book, The End of Ice: Bearing Witness and Finding Meaning in the Path of Climate Disruption (The New Press), has just been published. He is also the author of Beyond the Green Zone and The Will to Resist. He is a staff reporter for Truthout.

[Note: This piece was co-published with Truthout.org.]

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Books, John Feffer’s new dystopian novel (the second in the Splinterlands series) Frostlands, Beverly Gologorsky’s novel  Every Body Has a Story, and Tom Engelhardt’s A Nation Unmade by War, as well as Alfred McCoy’s In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power and John Dower’s The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II.

Copyright 2019 Dahr Jamail

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How do you feel upon reading this?

Sad? Angry? Resigned? Hopeful?

I’m still too close to it to gauge my own reactions. So I will close with this:

TomDispatch author and naturalist William DeBuys has this to say about it: “In a sane world The End of Ice would be the end of lame excuses that climate change is too abstract to get worked up about. From the Arctic to the Amazon, from doomed Miami to the Great Barrier Reef, Dahr Jamail brings every frontier in our ongoing calamity into close focus. The losses are tangible. And so is the grief. This is more than a good book. It is a wise one.”

Falling dogs!

Literally!

This is both an unlikely story and a beautiful one.

For a hawk had ‘grabbed’ a puppy but then, for whatever reason, chose to let it go. But that’s enough from me, here’s the story.

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This puppy literally fell from the sky

From the clutches of despair to the most compassionate hands.

By CHRISTIAN COTRONEO, January 15, 2019.

The aptly named Tony Hawk is recovering from his high-flying adventure with a foster family. (Photo: Austin Animal Center)

Not much is known about the tiny chihuahua who suddenly appeared at a construction site near Austin, Texas, last week.

In fact, he literally fell from the sky.

Workers at the project heard his cries long before they saw him. They figured a puppy was trapped somewhere among the debris.

“They were going around the construction site trying to figure out where these cries were coming from,” Jennifer Olohan, communications director for the Austin Animal Center, tells MNN.

“And then they realized it was actually coming from the sky.”

High above their heads, a puppy was flying through the air — in the clutches of a hawk.

At that very moment, the bird suddenly let go and a tiny screaming puppy — no older than 6 weeks — fell into their midst.

Aside from a few superficial wounds on his head, the chihuahua was surprisingly unhurt. But terrified.

The puppy only suffered a few superficial cuts form his fall. (Photo: Austin Animal Center)

But that didn’t last long, as the workers quickly brought him to a medical clinic, and from there, the puppy found his way into the care of the Austin Animal Center.

“We don’t know where he came from — whether he was born as a stray or whether he was in a home and got out,” Olohan explains.

The unlikely paratrooper’s new name, however, came naturally: He would be called Tony Hawk.

Tony Hawk will be ready for his forever home in about four weeks. (Photo: Austin Animal Center)

Considering his sheer tininess — not much bigger than a mouse — Tony Hawk probably seemed like a good idea to a hungry hawk.

But maybe he wasn’t ready to deal with all that crying. In any case, Tony Hawk’s fears subsided soon after he found some traction on terra firma.

Mostly because he found a living foster home to ease him into his new life. In a month or so, Tony Hawk will be looking for a forever home.

But Olohan suspects he won’t wait long.

“We’ve had plenty of interest, tons of applications for him,” she says. “He’s certainly not going to have a problem finding a home.”

And so a tiny puppy without a past found himself free from the clutches of despair — thanks to the warm, caring hands that will help him shape a brand new future.

Tony Hawk is guaranteed nothing but soft landings from here on in. (Photo: Austin Animal Center)

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In a world that sometimes seems a little strange this is a heck of a good news story.

Well done all involved especially the crew at Austin Animal Center.

Floppy ears!

Is there a difference? Mother Nature News thinks there is.

We don’t subscribe to the following idea that floppy-eared dogs are sweeter, more friendlier.

But there’s a serious notion that there is a difference.

I’m sceptical but see what you make of the following.

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Why do floppy-eared dogs seem friendlier?

Many people think they seem nicer than those with pointy ears.

By MARY JO DILONARDO

January 4, 2019

Charles Darwin thought there was a link between floppy ears and domestication. (Photo: Renee Heetfeld/Shutterstock)

You see a German shepherd and a golden retriever at a park. Which one do you want to pet?

A lot of people might perceive the German shepherd — with its pointy, upright ears — as a little more off-putting and maybe even scary. But the floppy-eared retriever seems friendly and sweet and just asking for a cuddle.

We all make judgments about dogs (and people, for that matter) based on certain characteristics. In dogs, one of those things is the shape of their ears.

Recently, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has been using more floppy-eared dogs to sniff out explosives because the agency says pointy-ear dogs are scarier.

“We’ve made a conscious effort in TSA … to use floppy ear dogs,” TSA Administrator David Pekoske told the Washington Examiner. “We find the passenger acceptance of floppy ear dogs is just better. It presents just a little bit less of a concern. Doesn’t scare children.”

Around 80 percent of the 1,200 canines the agency uses in the U.S. have droopy ears, according to the TSA. The agency uses seven types of dogs: five with droopy ears (Labrador retrievers, German short-haired pointers, wire-haired pointers, vizslas and golden retrievers) and two with pointy ears (German shepherds and Belgian Malinois).

But even though the dogs are friendly looking, they still have a job to do. Floppy-eared or not, they aren’t to be approached when they’re on duty, says the TSA.

A look at the science.

Charles Darwin thought a lot about ears when considering evolution, as the NPR video above explains in more detail.

“Our domesticated quadrupeds are all descended, as far as is known, from species having erect ears,” Darwin pointed out in “The Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication.” “Cats in China, horses in parts of Russia, sheep in Italy and elsewhere, the guinea-pig in Germany, goats and cattle in India, rabbits, pigs and dogs in all long-civilized countries.”

In many species, ears seemed to flop when they no longer needed to be erect to catch every passing sound, Darwin mused. He called the phenomenon domestication syndrome.

More recently, in a 2013 study, Suzanne Baker of James Madison University in Virginia and Jamie Fratkin of University of Texas at Austin showed 124 participants images of a dog. In one, it was the identical dog, but it had a yellow coat in one photo and a black coat in another. The other photos showed the same dog but in one image it had floppy ears and in the other it had pointed ears.

Participants found the dogs with a yellow coat or floppy ears to be more agreeable and emotionally stable than the dogs with a black coat or prick ears.

But why the bias?

Pointy-eared German shepherds are often associated with working K-9s. (Photo: John Roman Images/Shutterstock)

Although there are plenty of people who love pointy-ear pups, why are so many wary of them? There are no studies that show prick-eared dogs are less friendly than their floppy-eared counterparts, says Elinor K. Karlsson, assistant professor at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT and founder of Darwin’s Ark, a citizen’s science project centering around genetics and pets.

Instead, it’s likely that people base their opinions on past experiences they’ve had with dogs.

“If people do perceive floppy eared dogs as being ‘friendlier looking,’ it could be just because dogs they’ve known personally are more likely to be floppy eared,” Karlsson tells MNN, pointing out that Labrador retrievers, the most common breed in the U.S., have floppy ears.

In addition, many of the working police and military dogs people meet are breeds such as German shepherds and Belgian Malinois, which tend to have erect ears. So people may associate the ears with the working dogs which are in protector, not friendly, roles.

Karlsson says this kind of “perception bias” can affect how people see and interact with dogs, which is why she’s very interested it this theme in her research.

“People do have a habit of assigning characteristics to things based on general groupings,” she says. “People do this to humans as well. It’s the way ours brains work.”

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 I’m still not convinced but it makes a lovely story and one that I wanted to share with you.

No other reason than this is beautiful

Beautiful nature.

Feast your eyes on this.

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Woodland animals leap from the screen in Finnish photographer’s work

By JACQUELINE GULLEDGE
January 1, 2019

The red fox is one of Saarinen’s favorite subjects. (Photo: Ossi Saarinen)

When most people think of Finland, they likely imagine a country of sprawling forests and winter wonderlands where everyone is content and has a respectful relationship with wildlife.

Helsinki University student and photographer Ossi Saarinen has lived in Finland his whole life, and his work reveals his passion for nature and animals.

“I’ve always been interested in animals. Somehow I find their behavior all very interesting,” Saarinen, 22, tells MNN. “Even being in the nature without seeing any animals is very enjoyable for me.”

Saarinen has been interested in nature since he was a little boy, but it wasn’t until he started taking photos of a family of foxes in 2015 that he realized this love of animals could frame his life’s work.

“When I was just starting my photographing career I met a fox family with four tiny cubs. I managed to get some photos and in one of them, it looks like they’re all walking towards the camera. It’s my favorite not only because I like it as a photo but also because it was the day when my career really started and I felt like it was something I wanted to do in the future as well.”

Since then, Saarinen has honed his craft into a beautiful collection of photographs featuring different wild animals in their natural habitats. What sets his work apart is the sense you get of just how much he loves animals.

“I try to show the emotions and feelings of the animals and that way also make the people watching the photos to feel something.”

Not only is the raw beauty of animals captured in his images, but they also shine a spotlight on the gorgeous Finnish setting. Saarinen wants people to know how Finnish people take care of the land and respect it.

“Finnish nature looks almost like untouched, which is very rare thing in developed countries. It’s clean, full of different kinds of plants and animals. It has four beautiful seasons over the year. Even if you live in the center of our biggest city, Helsinki, you don’t have to go far away to see beautiful nature and animals. Actually most of my animal photos are taken less than 10 km from the center of Helsinki.”

(Photo: Ossi Saarinen)

“I like to tell and show people how clean and beautiful the nature here is. How it can look when people really take care of it.”

You can see more of his photography below, follow him on Instagram or check out his website, where his photos are available for purchase.

(Photo: Ossi Saarinen)
(Photo: Ossi Saarinen)

(Photo: Ossi Saarinen)

(Photo: Ossi Saarinen)
(Photo: Ossi Saarinen)
(Photo: Ossi Saarinen)
(Photo: Ossi Saarinen)
(Photo: Ossi Saarinen)
(Photo: Ossi Saarinen)
(Photo: Ossi Saarinen)
(Photo: Ossi Saarinen)
(Photo: Ossi Saarinen)
(Photo: Ossi Saarinen)
(Photo: Ossi Saarinen)
(Photo: Ossi Saarinen)
(Photo: Ossi Saarinen)

Are you a fan of all things Nordic? If so, join us at Nordic by Nature, a Facebook group dedicated to exploring the best of Nordic culture, nature and more.

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Taken from here.

Beautiful!

On atheism!

Musings about truth, faith and reason.

One of the Christmas cards that we received said this:

So glad we are friends and neighbors. And I will pray you will have a year full of the peace, love and hope that Jesus promises.

With Love, Hugs and Prayers.

Now I understand to a degree why the sender, a neighbour of ours, would write that. But at the same time I do not. We are clearly atheists. Indeed, back in 2012 on first meeting I happened to say that I was not a believer and it produced a shock; a reaction that how could anyone not be a believer.

And I think yesterday’s post supports the view that the reality of the existence of our solar system, all 2.6 billion years of it, shows that religious beliefs of all forms come from an age where the world beyond one’s doorstep was unknown and scary. Things are different now.

But to go back to the age of things.

That existence of our solar system came about some 9.2 billion years, give or take some 60 million years, after the Big Bang.

In other words, the Big Bang, that started the whole thing off, came about three and a half times earlier than the creation of the solar system.

So read the following by Prof. Jerry Coyne. It makes perfect sense.

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Yes, there is a war between science and religion

   Professor Emeritus of Ecology and Evolution, University of Chicago

As the West becomes more and more secular, and the discoveries of evolutionary biology and cosmology shrink the boundaries of faith, the claims that science and religion are compatible grow louder. If you’re a believer who doesn’t want to seem anti-science, what can you do? You must argue that your faith – or any faith – is perfectly compatible with science.

And so one sees claim after claim from believers, religious scientists, prestigious science organizations and even atheists asserting not only that science and religion are compatible, but also that they can actually help each other. This claim is called “accommodationism.”

But I argue that this is misguided: that science and religion are not only in conflict – even at “war” – but also represent incompatible ways of viewing the world.

Opposing methods for discerning truth

My argument runs like this. I’ll construe “science” as the set of tools we use to find truth about the

The scientific method relies on observing, testing and replication to learn about the world. Jaron Nix/Unsplash, CC BY

universe, with the understanding that these truths are provisional rather than absolute. These tools include observing nature, framing and testing hypotheses, trying your hardest to prove that your hypothesis is wrong to test your confidence that it’s right, doing experiments and above all replicating your and others’ results to increase confidence in your inference.

And I’ll define religion as does philosopher Daniel Dennett: “Social systems whose participants avow belief in a supernatural agent or agents whose approval is to be sought.” Of course many religions don’t fit that definition, but the ones whose compatibility with science is touted most often – the Abrahamic faiths of Judaism, Christianity and Islam – fill the bill.

Next, realize that both religion and science rest on “truth statements” about the universe – claims about reality. The edifice of religion differs from science by additionally dealing with morality, purpose and meaning, but even those areas rest on a foundation of empirical claims. You can hardly call yourself a Christian if you don’t believe in the Resurrection of Christ, a Muslim if you don’t believe the angel Gabriel dictated the Qur’an to Muhammad, or a Mormon if you don’t believe that the angel Moroni showed Joseph Smith the golden plates that became the Book of Mormon. After all, why accept a faith’s authoritative teachings if you reject its truth claims?

Indeed, even the Bible notes this: “But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen: And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.”

Many theologians emphasize religion’s empirical foundations, agreeing with the physicist and Anglican priest John Polkinghorne:

“The question of truth is as central to [religion’s] concern as it is in science. Religious belief can guide one in life or strengthen one at the approach of death, but unless it is actually true it can do neither of these things and so would amount to no more than an illusory exercise in comforting fantasy.”

The conflict between science and faith, then, rests on the methods they use to decide what is true, and what truths result: These are conflicts of both methodology and outcome.

In contrast to the methods of science, religion adjudicates truth not empirically, but via dogma, scripture and authority – in other words, through faith, defined in Hebrews 11 as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” In science, faith without evidence is a vice, while in religion it’s a virtue. Recall what Jesus said to “doubting Thomas,” who insisted in poking his fingers into the resurrected Savior’s wounds: “Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.”

Two ways to look at the same thing, never the twain shall meet. Gabriel Lamza/Unsplash, CC BY

And yet, without supporting evidence, Americans believe a number of religious claims: 74 percent of us believe in God, 68 percent in the divinity of Jesus, 68 percent in Heaven, 57 percent in the virgin birth, and 58 percent in the Devil and Hell. Why do they think these are true? Faith.

But different religions make different – and often conflicting – claims, and there’s no way to judge which claims are right. There are over 4,000 religions on this planet, and their “truths” are quite different. (Muslims and Jews, for instance, absolutely reject the Christian belief that Jesus was the son of God.) Indeed, new sects often arise when some believers reject what others see as true. Lutherans split over the truth of evolution, while Unitarians rejected other Protestants’ belief that Jesus was part of God.

And while science has had success after success in understanding the universe, the “method” of using faith has led to no proof of the divine. How many gods are there? What are their natures and moral creeds? Is there an afterlife? Why is there moral and physical evil? There is no one answer to any of these questions. All is mystery, for all rests on faith.

The “war” between science and religion, then, is a conflict about whether you have good reasons for believing what you do: whether you see faith as a vice or a virtue.

Compartmentalizing realms is irrational

So how do the faithful reconcile science and religion? Often they point to the existence of religious scientists, like NIH Director Francis Collins, or to the many religious people who accept science. But I’d argue that this is compartmentalization, not compatibility, for how can you reject the divine in your laboratory but accept that the wine you sip on Sunday is the blood of Jesus?

Can divinity be at play in one setting but not another? Jametlene Reskp/Unsplash, CC BY

Others argue that in the past religion promoted science and inspired questions about the universe. But in the past every Westerner was religious, and it’s debatable whether, in the long run, the progress of science has been promoted by religion. Certainly evolutionary biology, my own field, has been held back strongly by creationism, which arises solely from religion.

What is not disputable is that today science is practiced as an atheistic discipline – and largely by atheists. There’s a huge disparity in religiosity between American scientists and Americans as a whole: 64 percent of our elite scientists are atheists or agnostics, compared to only 6 percent of the general population – more than a tenfold difference. Whether this reflects differential attraction of nonbelievers to science or science eroding belief – I suspect both factors operate – the figures are prima facie evidence for a science-religion conflict.

The most common accommodationist argument is Stephen Jay Gould’s thesis of “non-overlapping magisteria.” Religion and science, he argued, don’t conflict because: “Science tries to document the factual character of the natural world, and to develop theories that coordinate and explain these facts. Religion, on the other hand, operates in the equally important, but utterly different, realm of human purposes, meanings and values – subjects that the factual domain of science might illuminate, but can never resolve.”

This fails on both ends. First, religion certainly makes claims about “the factual character of the universe.” In fact, the biggest opponents of non-overlapping magisteria are believers and theologians, many of whom reject the idea that Abrahamic religions are “empty of any claims to historical or scientific facts.”

Nor is religion the sole bailiwick of “purposes, meanings and values,” which of course differ among faiths. There’s a long and distinguished history of philosophy and ethics – extending from Plato, Hume and Kant up to Peter Singer, Derek Parfit and John Rawls in our day – that relies on reason rather than faith as a fount of morality. All serious ethical philosophy is secular ethical philosophy.

In the end, it’s irrational to decide what’s true in your daily life using empirical evidence, but then rely on wishful-thinking and ancient superstitions to judge the “truths” undergirding your faith. This leads to a mind (no matter how scientifically renowned) at war with itself, producing the cognitive dissonance that prompts accommodationism. If you decide to have good reasons for holding any beliefs, then you must choose between faith and reason. And as facts become increasingly important for the welfare of our species and our planet, people should see faith for what it is: not a virtue but a defect.

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I would love to have your views.

Carl Sagan once more!

This is incredible!

I will do no more than to post the description of the film that was provided on Top Documentary Films.

STORYLINE

The long-awaited second part of the unauthorized documentary series based on Carl Sagan’s groundbreaking 1994 book has arrived. The insightful Pale Blue Dot: Humility examines how our perspective on the vastness of the cosmos has shaped our shifting sense of self through the ages.

Pieced together as a mosaic of pop culture clips, historical stills and footage, appealing animations, and Sagan’s own audio commentary, the film is a rebuke against the plague of bloated self-importance, and the need to claim superiority over others for control of insignificant specks of territory. Even the field of science has not immune to these selfish pursuits.

From that foundation, Sagan’s probing commentary provides a brief recap of our understanding of the heavens and the Earth throughout history. This evolution of discovery represents an epic and ongoing battle between our quest for supremacy and the reality of our insignificance. For many generations, the deeply held belief that the Earth was the center of the universe was impervious to reason or to revelations obtained through further investigation. Mainstream thinking was slow to evolve when it came to the correlation between the Earth and the Sun, for example, or the age of our planet in comparison to the universe at large. The widespread and steadfast acceptance of various theologies further clouded our capacity for reasoned judgment.

But the ceaseless canvas of the universe – adorned with hundreds of billions of galaxies, distant planets and brilliant stars – provides the ultimate lesson in humility. Our modern understanding of the universe demands a more nuanced and less conceited perspective. Yet our yearning to give special meaning to our existence is a barrier to these scientific discoveries. After all, we have to be here for a reason. As Sagan states during the course of the film, it is a battle between our quest for “deep knowledge and shallow reassurance”.

It is obvious that great care went in to assembling the film, and the flow of complex information is cleanly and artfully presented. Pale Blue Dot: Humility is an affectionate representation and tribute to Sagan’s trailblazing intellect.

But as well as wanting to share this with you it also serves as an introduction to tomorrow’s post.

Won’t say any more just now.

Watch the film.

A very useful piece of advice.

Times they are a changing!

I am speaking of the summer months and the risk of animals being burnt. Mind you, as the following article shows, summer is stretching it a bit. This article was published on December 10th!

But whenever it was published it’s a good news story.

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Cats, dogs and a bobcat are the latest burn victims saved with fish skin

By JACQUELINE GULLEDGE   December 10, 2018.

Just this past month, California suffered its worst wildfire in the state’s history. Camp Fire in Paradise, California burned 220 acres and claimed the lives of 85 people. The vast majority of residents had little-to-no warning to evacuate, and many pets were left behind and left to fend for themselves along with the wildilfe.

This kitten along with three other cats received care at the University of California Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital after they were found with severe burns during the Camp Fire. (Photo: Karin Higgins/UC Davis)

Several dogs and cats burned in the fire ended up at Valley Oak Veterinary Center in Chico. When Dr. Jamie Peyton, chief of the Integrative Medicine Service at the UC Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, heard about the animals, she volunteered to treat them with the innovative method of using tilapia skin on their burns. (This is the first time dogs and cats have been treated with tilapia skin for burns.) The kitten pictured above suffered third degree burns on some of his paws and lost the pads to all his feet.

“Their paws have been badly burned,” said Dusty Spencer, a veterinary surgeon at VCA Valley Oak Veterinary Center. “Their whiskers are singed or gone. Some of them have had really bad burns on their eyelids and nose.”

Olivia’s skin started to grow back just five days after the tilapia skin was applied. (Photo: Karin Higgins/UC Davis)

An 8-year-old Boston terrier mix named Olivia was one of the first dogs to receive treatment.

Olivia’s owners, Curtis and Mindy Stark, were out of town when the blaze began. Fortunately, Olivia has a microchip and was reunited with her owners. She suffered second-degree burns to her paws, legs and side, but it wasn’t long till she was feeling better thanks to the tilapia skin.

The Stark family was able to check Olivia out of the veterinary hospital. (Photo: Karin Higgins/UC Davis)

“It was a day and night difference,” said Curtis Stark. “She got up on the bed and did a back flip. That is the first time we saw her acting like she was before.”
Treatment also works for the most severe burns

The bobcat suffered third- to fifth- degree burns on all of its pads. (Photo: Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)

Pets weren’t the only animals to suffer during the wildfire. Many wild animals desperately tried to flee but couldn’t.

A bobcat was also brought in for treatment. Peyton tells MNN the bobcat suffered third- to fifth-degree burns on his paws. A fifth-degree burn means the burn goes down to the bone. The animal was very thin due to his inability to hunt for food and lack of food sources after the fire. In the week since the bobcat received his first treatment, he has had three tilapia bandage changes. “Each one seems to be showing marked improvement and he is moving well and showing a lot of spunk at his rehabilitation home,” said Peyton.

It will be several months before the bobcat can be released back in the wild, but Peyton’s goal is to “help him heal as soon as possible to allow him to get back to his home.”

Previously, Peyton treated a bear cub injured in California’s Carr Fire back in August and before that two bears and a mountain lion from the Thomas Fire earlier this year.

Previous success for other injured wildlife

This summer, the Carr Fire near Redding, California burned for more than a month and scorched more than 229,000 acres — also forcing many wild animals to try and escape.

On Aug. 2, a Pacific Gas & Electric Company contractor spotted an injured black bear cub lying in the ash, unable to walk on her paws. She was the latest victim of the Carr Fire — and luckily, one the contractor knew he could help. The contractor called Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care, a certified wildlife rehabilitation facility.

A team was quickly mobilized to rescue the cub. Officers from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) cleared a safe path and tranquilized the cub to carry her to safety. The cub was brought to a lab to be treated by a team of veterinarians from CDFW and the University of California, Davis.

“Generally speaking, an animal that has survived a fire and is walking around on its own should be left alone, but that wasn’t the case here,” CDFW’s Environmental Program Manager Jeff Stoddard said. “In addition to her inability to stand or walk, there were active fires burning nearby, and with the burn area exceeding 125 square miles and growing, we weren’t sure there was any suitable habitat nearby to take her to.”

How does tilapia skin work for treating burns?

Tilapia skin is malleable enough that it can be cut into custom sizes to mold around an animal’s wounds. (Photo: Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)

“The tilapia skins provide direct, steady pressure to the wounds, keep bacteria out and stay on better and longer than any kind of regular, synthetic bandage would,” Peyton said. “The complete treatment also includes application of antibiotics and pain salve, laser treatments and acupuncture for pain management.”

The cub is the third bear in the state to be treated for burns with tilapia skin. Earlier this year after the Thomas fire, two bears and a mountain lion also received similar treatment. With each animal being treated, Peyton and her team grow more optimistic that tilapia skin is an effective treatment for burns that can be used in veterinary hospitals around the world.

“Just like we’ve seen in other species, we’re seeing increased pain relief. We’re seeing wound healing and an overall increased comfort,” said Peyton. “One of the most important things about being at UC Davis VMTH is that we are learning new techniques, but they don’t make much of a difference unless we can use them in the community.”

Editor’s note: This article has been updated since it was originally published in August 2018.

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Reading this article leaves me with the impression that there are a great number of good people out there!

2018’s brightest comet!

As seen on the EarthSky website.

There were a number of photographs of Comet 46P/Wirtanen on this site.

But the one that really leapt off the page, so to speak, was this one:

Jack Fusco Photography in California wrote: “Hi EarthSky! I’m so excited to share my 1st photo of comet 46P/Wirtanen! We took our boxer, Kona, out to the Anza Borrego Desert with us and came home with a new family photo. : ) I shared some behind-the-scenes and outtakes over on my blog as well.” Awesome photo, and thanks for the how-to-photograph info on your blog, Jack!

Amazing!

That Winter Solstice

Good people, this is mid-Winter.

(Northern Hemisphere only.)

OK, not in the sense of weather because the worse is yet to come I’m sure. But in terms of the movement of the Planet Earth in its orbit around the Sun. And that’s what matters!

This is a really ancient moment as the following article published in The Conversation explains in much more detail.

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What winter solstice rituals tell us about indigenous people

By    Associate Professor of Environmental Studies, The University of Montana

December 13th, 2018.

On the day of winter solstice, many Native American communities will hold religious ceremonies or community events.

The winter solstice is the day of the year when the Northern Hemisphere has the fewest hours of sunlight and the Southern Hemisphere has the most. For indigenous peoples, it has been a time to honor their ancient sun deity. They passed their knowledge down to successive generations through complex stories and ritual practices.

As a scholar of the environmental and Native American religion, I believe, there is much to learn from ancient religious practices.

Ancient architecture

For decades, scholars have studied the astronomical observations that ancient indigenous people made and sought to understand their meaning.

One such place was at Cahokia, near the Mississippi River in what is now Illinois across from St. Louis.

The Cahokia mounds. Doug Kerr, CC BY-SA

In Cahokia, indigenous people built numerous temple pyramids or mounds, similar to the structures built by the Aztecs in Mexico, over a thousand years ago. Among their constructions, what most stands out is an intriguing structure made up of wooden posts arranged in a circle, known today as “Woodhenge.”

To understand the purpose of Woodhenge, scientists watched the sun rise from this structure on winter solstice. What they found was telling: The sun aligned with both Woodhenge and the top of a temple mound – a temple built on top of a pyramid with a flat top – in the distance. They also found that the sun aligns with a different temple mound on summer solstice.

Archaeological evidence suggests that the people of Cahokia venerated the sun as a deity. Scholars believe that ancient indigenous societies observed the solar system carefully and wove that knowledge into their architecture.

Scientists have speculated that the Cahokia held rituals to honor the sun as a giver of life and for the new agricultural year.

Complex understandings

Zuni Pueblo is a contemporary example of indigenous people with an agricultural society in western New Mexico. They grow corn, beans, squash, sunflowers and more. Each year they hold annual harvest festivals and numerous religious ceremonies, including at the winter solstice.

At the time of the winter solstice they hold a multiday celebration, known as the Shalako festival. The days for the celebration are selected by the religious leaders. The Zuni are intensely private, and most events are not for public viewing.

But what is shared with the public is near the end of the ceremony, when six Zuni men dress up and embody the spirit of giant bird deities. These men carry the Zuni prayers for rain “to all the corners of the earth.” The Zuni deities are believed to provide “blessings” and “balance” for the coming seasons and agricultural year.

As religion scholar Tisa Wenger writes, “The Zuni believe their ceremonies are necessary not just for the well-being of the tribe but for “the entire world.”

Winter games

Not all indigenous peoples ritualized the winter solstice with a ceremony. But that doesn’t mean they didn’t find other ways to celebrate.

The Blackfeet tribe in Montana, where I am a member, historically kept a calendar of astronomical events. They marked the time of the winter solstice and the “return” of the sun or “Naatosi” on its annual journey. They also faced their tipis – or portable conical tents – east toward the rising sun.

They rarely held large religious gatherings in the winter. Instead the Blackfeet viewed the time of the winter solstice as a time for games and community dances. As a child, my grandmother enjoyed attending community dances at the time of the winter solstice. She remembered that each community held their own gatherings, with unique drumming, singing and dance styles.

Later, in my own research, I learned that the Blackfeet moved their dances and ceremonies during the early reservation years from times on their religious calendar to times acceptable to the U.S. government. The dances held at the time of the solstice were moved to Christmas Day or to New Year’s Eve.

The solstice. Divad, from Wikimedia Commons

Today, my family still spends the darkest days of winter playing card games and attending the local community dances, much like my grandmother did.

Although some winter solstice traditions have changed over time, they are still a reminder of indigenous peoples understanding of the intricate workings of the solar system. Or as the Zuni Pueblo’s rituals for all peoples of the earth demonstrate – of an ancient understanding of the interconnectedness of the world.

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Let me pick up on the last sentence: “Or as the Zuni Pueblo’s rituals for all peoples of the earth demonstrate – of an ancient understanding of the interconnectedness of the world.”

We are all of us interconnected across the world. We have been for a very long time.

The importance of understanding this, truly understanding this, is critical to our future.

Sinatra!

The dog not the singer.

There are many things that our dogs do that are inexplicable to us humans.

Such was the case of Sinatra who some 18 months ago disappeared from his Brooklyn home.

Prior to that, in November, 2015, he was a pup when there was a tragic gun accident causing his owner, Zion, to be killed. Zion was 16 at the time.

I have this theory that Sinatra was so deeply disturbed by the loss of Zion but had to grow up before he could run off.

He ended up in Tampa, Florida.

Let me quote from the New York Post.

A blue-eyed husky — who turned up outside Tampa, Florida, 18 months after he ran away from home — will be reunited with his family in Brooklyn on Monday.

The 5-year-old, brown-and-white pup, named after the famed crooner, inexplicably turned up 1,200 miles from Canarsie around Nov. 6 and was taken in by the Verrill family.

They were able to hunt down Sinatra’s owner in Brooklyn, Lesmore Willis, who burst into tears when he heard his beloved family pet had been found.

On Sunday evening, friends of the Verrill family made their way from Florida to the Baltimore area to hand off Sinatra to a pal of Willis’, Glen O’Gilvie, who lives there. O’Gilvie will then drive the dog to New York, he told The Post on Monday.

CBS This Morning published a video of the event.

Just a lovely outcome, albeit one that doesn’t change the fact that dear, young Zion is never coming back!