Category: Science

Our climate: Welcome to the New Normal!

An article read on Sunday is the motivation for today’s post.

The article, published by The Conversation blog site, was made public last Wednesday week.

I make no apologies for banging the climate change gong again, it is in my opinion the most important subject going.

Enough from me; now to the article.

(And it had been planned for last Tuesday but because of Pedi it is now today.)

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By Professor Shuang-Ye Wu

This article was written by Professor Shuang-Ye Wu. It is very good.

Professor Wu is the Professor of Geology and Environmental Geosciences at the University of Dayton, USA.

Looking back on America’s summer of heat, floods and climate change: Welcome to the new abnormal!

Much of the South and Southern Plains faced a dangerous heat wave in July 2022, with highs well over 100 degrees for several days. Brandon Bell/Getty Images

The summer of 2022 started with a historic flood in Montana, brought on by heavy rain and melting snow, that tore up roads and caused large areas of Yellowstone National Park to be evacuated.

It ended with a record-breaking heat wave in California and much of the West that pushed the power grid to the breaking point, causing blackouts, followed by a tropical storm that set rainfall records in southern California. A typhoon flooded coastal Alaska, and a hurricane hit Puerto Rico with more than 30 inches of rain.

In between, wildfires raged through California, Arizona and New Mexico on the background of a megadrought in Southwestern U.S. that has been more severe than anything the region has experienced in at least 1,200 years. Near Albuquerque, New Mexico, a five-mile stretch of the Rio Grande ran dry for the first time in 40 years. Persistent heat waves lingered over many parts of the country, setting temperature records.

At the same time, during a period of five weeks between July and August, five 1,000-year rainfall events occurred in St. Louis, eastern Kentucky, southern Illinois, California’s Death Valley and in Dallas, causing devastating and sometimes deadly flash floods. Extreme rainfall also led to severe flooding in Mississippi, Virginia and West Virginia.

The United States is hardly alone in its share of climate disasters.

In Pakistan, record monsoon rains inundated more than one-third of the country, killing over 1,500 people. In India and China, prolonged heat waves and droughts dried up rivers, disrupted power grids and threatened food security for billions of people.

In Europe, heat waves set record temperatures in Britain and other places, leading to severe droughts and wildfires in many parts of the continent. In South Africa, torrential rains brought flooding and mudslides that killed more than 400 people. The summer may have come to an end on the calendar, but climate disasters will surely continue.

This isn’t just a freak summer: Over the years, such extreme events are occurring in increasing frequency and intensity.

Climate change is intensifying these disasters

The most recent international climate assessment from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found significant increases in both the frequency and intensity of extreme temperature and precipitation events, leading to more droughts and floods.

A recent study published in the scientific journal Nature found that extreme flooding and droughts are also getting deadlier and more expensive, despite an improving capacity to manage climate risks. This is because these extreme events, enhanced by climate change, often exceed the designed levels of such management strategies.

A girl in rain boots walks through a mud-filled yard. Damaged mattresses and other belongings from a flooded house are piled nearby.
Flash flooding swept through mountain valleys in eastern Kentucky in July 2022, killing more than three dozen people. It was one of several destructive flash floods. Seth Herald/AFP via Getty Images

Extreme events, by definition, occur rarely. A 100-year flood has a 1% chance of happening in any given year. So, when such events occur with increasing frequency and intensity, they are a clear indication of a changing climate state.

The term “global warming” can sometimes be misleading, as it seems to suggest that as humans put more heat-trapping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, the world is going to get a bit warmer everywhere. What it fails to convey is that warming temperatures also lead to a more violent world with more extreme climate disasters, as we saw this past summer.

Climate models showed these risks were coming

Much of this is well-understood and consistently reproduced by climate models.

As the climate warms, a shift in temperature distribution leads to more extremes. The magnitudes of changes in extreme temperature are often larger than changes in the mean. For example, globally, a 1 degree Celsius increase in annual average temperature is associated with 1.2 C to 1.9 C (2.1 Fahrenheit to 3.4 F) of increase in the annual maximum temperature.

A man works on a car with an older mechanic in overalls standing next to him under the shade of a large beach umbrealla.
Heat waves, like the heat dome over the South in July 2022, can hit outdoor workers especially hard. Brandon Bell/Getty Images

In addition, global warming causes changes in the vertical profile of the atmosphere and equator-to-pole temperature gradients, leading to changes in how the atmosphere and ocean move. The temperature difference between equator and the poles is the driving force for global wind. As the polar regions warm at much higher rates then the equator, the reduced temperature difference causes a weakening of global winds and leads to a more meandering jet stream.

Some of these changes can create conditions such as persistent high-pressure systems and atmosphere blocking that favor more frequent and more intense heat waves. The heat domes over the Southern Plains and South in June and the West in September are examples.

The initial warming can be further amplified by positive feedbacks. For example, warming increases snow melt, exposing dark soil underneath, which absorbs more heat than snow, further enhancing the warming.

Warming of the atmosphere also increases its capacity to hold water vapor, which is a strong greenhouse gas. Therefore, more water vapor in the air leads to more warming. Higher temperatures tend to dry out the soil, and less soil moisture reduces the land’s heat capacity, making it easier to heat up.

These positive feedbacks further intensify the initial warming, leading to more heat extremes. More frequent and persistent heat waves lead to excessive evaporation, combined with decreased precipitation in some regions, causing more severe droughts and more frequent wildfires.

Higher temperatures increase the atmosphere’s capacity to hold moisture at a rate of about 7% per degree Celsius.

This increased humidity leads to heavier rainfall events. In addition, storm systems are fueled by latent heat, or the large amount of energy released when water vapor condenses to liquid water. Increased moisture content in the atmosphere also enhances latent heat in storm systems, increasing their intensity. Extreme heavy or persistent rainfall leads to increased flooding and landslides, with devastating social and economic consequences.

Even though it’s difficult to link specific extreme events directly to climate change, when these supposedly rare events occur with increasing frequency in a warming world, it is hard to ignore the changing state of our climate.

A woman with her eyes closed holds a screaming 1-year-old boy in a National Guard helicopter, with a guardsman standing in the open helicopter door.
A family had to be airlifted from their home in eastern Kentucky after it was surrounded by floodwater in July 2022. Michael Swensen/Getty Images

The new abnormal

So this past summer might just provide a glimpse of our near future, as these extreme climate events become more frequent.

To say this is the new “normal,” though, is misleading. It suggests that we have reached a new stable state, and that is far from the truth.

Without serious effort to curb greenhouse gas emissions, this trend toward more extreme events will continue. Things will keep getting worse, and this past summer will become the norm a few years or decades down the road – and eventually, it will seem mild, like one of those “nice summers” we look back on fondly with nostalgia.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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There is growing evidence that things are really changing globally. I used to say that I would be dead before the impacts of climate change really hit home. As in, it would be a good twenty years before things really took a hold. But it is now much more likely that the next five years are going to see a continuation of the changes and that there isn’t time to hang around.

I may not be as sharp as I used to be but the changing climate will affect me and Jean and all those in our area. Will our leaders grasp this nettle now? I wish I knew.

Climate Change

Paul Handover’s talk to the Grants Pass Humanists and Freethinkers group, Saturday, 17th September, 2022

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Martin Lack, a good friend of Paul’s from England, wrote a book called The Denial of Science. The first words in the preface were from Sir Fred Hoyle, Fellow of the Royal Society (1915-2001).

Once a photograph of the Earth taken from the outside is available, once the sheer isolation of the Earth becomes plain, a new idea as powerful as any in history will be let loose.

Here, in Paul’s opinion, is that photograph:

Taken aboard Apollo 8 by Bill Anders, this iconic picture shows Earth peeking out from beyond the lunar surface as the first crewed spacecraft circumnavigated the Moon, with astronauts Anders, Frank Borman, and Jim Lovell aboard.
Image Credit: NASA Last Updated: Dec 23, 2020
Editor: Yvette Smith

The 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference was held in Glasgow, Scotland, UK, from 31st October to 13th November 2021. It was called COP26 because it was the 26th UN Climate Change Conference to be held. It was opened by the Prince of Wales, now King Charles III.

The Prince warned: “Time has quite literally run out.”

It is us!

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) kicked off its 2021 report with the following statement: “It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land.

The article also says: It took a while, but climate modelling is now refined enough to predict how things would go without human influence, within a margin of error. What we are observing today, however, is beyond that margin of error, therefore proving that we have driven the change.

It is getting hot

The last decade was the hottest in 125,000 years.

The oceans

We live on a water world. The facts are that 71% of the Earth’s surface is water-covered and the oceans hold about 96.5% of all Earth’s water. A 2019 study found that oceans had sucked up 90% of the heat gained by the planet between 1971 and 2010. Another found that it absorbed 20 sextillion joules of heat in 2020  – equivalent to two Hiroshima bombs per second. A (chiefly British) definition of a sextillion: It is the cardinal number equal to 1036. Sextillion is a number equal to a 1 followed by 21 zeros. 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 is an example of a sextillion.

Carbon-dioxide

In fact CO2 levels are now the highest that they have been in 2 million years. Today, they stand at close to 420 parts per million (ppm). To put that into context pre-industrial levels, say before 1750, had CO2 levels around 280 parts per million.

We are losing ice big time

Paul can do no better than to quote from Earth.org“Since the mid-1990s, we’ve lost around 28 trillion tons of ice, with today’s melt rate standing at 1.2 trillion tons a year. To help put that into perspective, the combined weight of all human-made things is 1.1 trillion tons. That’s about the same weight as all living things on earth.”

To repeat that: Every single year we are losing 1.2 trillion tons of ice! (1,200,000,000,000).

Extreme weather

We can now attribute natural disasters to human-driven climate change with certainty. We can now say with precision how much likelier we made things like the North American summer 2021 heatwave, which the World Weather Attribution says was “virtually impossible” without climate change. Then there is the Indian heatwave that experts believe was made 30 times more likely because of climate change.

Climate change mitigation

There is a long and comprehensive article on the above subject on WikiPedia. I will quote from the paragraph Needed emissions cuts.

If emissions remain on the current level of 42 GtCO2, the carbon budget for 1.5°C (2.7°F) will be exhausted in 2028. (That’s 42 gigatons, as in 1 gigaton is a unit of explosive force equal to one billion (109) tons of trinitrotoluene (TNT).

In 2022, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its Sixth Assessment Report on climate change, warning that greenhouse gas emissions must peak before 2025 at the latest and decline 43% by 2030, in order to likely limit global warming to 1.5°C (2.7°F).

Secretary-general of the United Nations António Guterres clarified that for this to happen “Main emitters must drastically cut emissions starting this year”.

WikiPedia also reports that: The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the UNFCCC, aims to stabilise greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations in the atmosphere at a level where ecosystems can adapt naturally to climate change, food production is not threatened, and economic development can proceed in a sustainable fashion. Currently human activities are adding CO2 to the atmosphere faster than natural processes can remove it.

We need to act now, otherwise…

… it will be too late for billions of us.

This may be the most catastrophic of our climate change facts. As of now, only 0.8% of the planet’s land surface has mean annual temperatures above 29°C (84.2°F) mostly in the Sahara desert and Saudi Arabia (solid black in the map).

study by Xu et al. (2020) called “Future of the Human Niche” found that by 2070, under a high emissions scenario, these unbearable temperatures could expand to affect up to 3 billion people (dark brown areas in the map).

Doing nothing is much worse than doing something

On the current path, climate change could end up costing us 11 to 14% of the global GDP by mid-century. Regression into a high emissions scenario would mean an 18% loss, while staying below 2°C would reduce the damage to only 4%. 

It has been proposed that ending climate change would take between $300 billion and $50 trillion over the next two decades. Even if $50 trillion is the price tag, that comes down to $2.5 trillion a year, or just over 3% of the global GDP. 

These are the facts. There is no disputing them. Paul and Jean, Paul’s wife, are relatively immune from the effects, because of their ages, but not entirely so. The last few weeks of summer (2022) with the imminent risk of their property being damaged by wildfires is one example. The last three winters being below average rainfall is another (and the prediction that next year will continue with below average rainfall). But it is the youngsters Paul fears most for. On a personal note, his daughter and husband have a son, Morten, and he is presently 12. What sort of world is Morten growing up in?

What about global attitudes to climate change?

Here is another chart setting out those concerns.

Paul is not a political animal. However he recognises that it is our leaders, globally, but especially in the top 10 countries in the world, who have to be leaders!

Here are the top 10 countries with areas of their country in square kilometres:

Russia. 17,098,242,

Canada. 9,984,670,

United States. 9,826,675,

China. 9,596,961,

Brazil. 8,514,877,

Australia. 7,741,220,

India. 3,287,263,

Argentina. 2,780,400,

Kazakhstan. 2,724,400, and

Algeria, 2,381,741.

But these are the top ten countries based on land size. That is not helpful. We have to examine the top countries in terms of CO2 emissions. Here are the top five countries, as in the top five worst, (readings from 2020):

  1. USA, 416,738 metric tons,
  2. China, 235,527 tons,
  3. Russia, 115,335 tons,
  4. Germany, 92,636 tons, and,
  5. UK, 78,161 metric tons.

This puts the USA as the top worst country, some 77% ahead of China.

So focussing on the USA, again in 2020, the split of greenhouse gas emissions, was:

  1. Transportation, 27%,
  2. Electric Power, 25%,
  3. Industry, 24%,
  4. Commercial and Residential, 13%,
  5. Agriculture, 11%.

So back again to all five countries we say, please, dear leader, make this the number one priority for your country, and for the world.

The end.

We are getting close to it being too late!

As in we humans living on this planet.

Next Saturday I am giving a talk to our local Freethinkers and Humanists group on climate change. As a result of this I was doing some research on the subject and I thought that I would share what I found with you.

But first may I say that the new King of the United Kingdom, King Charles III, may not have ages and ages on the throne but he is a committed environmentalist. In a recent VoA article the Prince of Wales, as he was then, reported that when Charles opened the COP26 climate summit, held in Scotland last year, and gave the opening speech, urging world leaders seated in front of him to redouble their efforts to confront global warming, he warned: “Time has quite literally run out.”

It is us!

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) kicked off its 2021 report with the following statement: “It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land.

A little later the article says: It took a while, but climate modelling is now refined enough to predict how things would go without human influence, within a margin of error. What we are observing today, however, is beyond that margin of error, therefore proving that we have driven the change.

It is getting hot

The last decade was the hottest in 125,000 years. There are a number of graphs to support this. Here is one:

The oceans

One of the facts of having a water world, 71% of the Earth’s surface is water-covered, and the oceans hold about 96.5% of all Earth’s water, is that a 2019 study found that oceans had sucked up 90% of the heat gained by the planet between 1971 and 2010. Another found that it absorbed 20 sextillion joules of heat in 2020  – equivalent to two Hiroshima bombs per second.

Carbon-dioxide

In fact CO2 levels are now the highest that they have been in 2 million years. Today, they stand at close to 420 parts per million (ppm). To put that into context pre-industrial levels, before 1750, had CO2 levels around 280 parts per million.

We are losing ice big time

I can do no better than to quote from Earth.org: Since the mid-1990s, we’ve lost around 28 trillion tons of ice, with today’s melt rate standing at 1.2 trillion tons a year. To help put that into perspective, the combined weight of all human-made things is 1.1 trillion tons. That’s about the same weight as all living things on earth.

I repeat: Every single year we are losing 1,200,000,000,000 tons of ice!

Extreme weather

We can now attribute natural disasters to human-driven climate change with certainty. We can now say with precision how much likelier we made things like the North American summer 2021 heatwave, which the World Weather Attribution says was “virtually impossible” without climate change as well as the Indian heatwave, which experts believe it was made 30 times more likely because of climate change.

Climate change mitigation

There is a long and comprehensive article on the above subject on WikiPedia. I will quote from the paragraph Needed emissions cuts.

If emissions remain on the current level of 42 GtCO2, the carbon budget for 1.5 °C could be exhausted in 2028. (That’s 42 gigatones, as in 1 gigaton is a unit of explosive force equal to one billion (109) tons of trinitrotoluene (TNT).

In 2022, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its Sixth Assessment Report on climate change, warning that greenhouse gas emissions must peak before 2025 at the latest and decline 43% by 2030, in order to likely limit global warming to 1.5°C (2.7°F). Secretary-general of the United Nations, António Guterres, clarified that for this “Main emitters must drastically cut emissions starting this year”.

Then just before that paragraph WikiPedia reports that: The UNFCCC aims to stabilize greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations in the atmosphere at a level where ecosystems can adapt naturally to climate change, food production is not threatened, and economic development can proceed in a sustainable fashion. Currently human activities are adding CO2 to the atmosphere faster than natural processes can remove it.

We need to act now, otherwise…

… it will be too late for billions of us.

This may be the most catastrophic of our climate change facts. As of now, only 0.8% of the planet’s land surface has mean annual temperatures above 29°C, mostly in the Sahara desert and Saudi Arabia (solid black in the map below).

study by Xu et al. (2020) called “Future of the Human Niche” found that by 2070, under a high emissions scenario, these unbearable temperatures could expand to affect up to 3 billion people (dark brown areas).

Doing nothing is much worse than doing something

On the current path, climate change could end up costing us 11 to 14% of the global GDP by mid-century. Regression into a high emissions scenario would mean an 18% loss, while staying below 2°C would reduce the damage to only 4%. 

It has been proposed that ending climate change would take between $300 billion and $50 trillion over the next two decades. Even if $50 trillion is the price tag, that comes down to $2.5 trillion a year, or just over 3% of the global GDP. 

Climate change is an incredibly complex phenomenon, and there are many other things happening that were not covered above.

These are the facts. There is no disputing them. Jean and I are relatively immune from the effects, because of our ages, but not entirely so. The last few weeks with the imminent risk of our property being damaged by wildfires is one example. The last three winters being below average rainfall is another. But it is the youngsters I fear most for. On a personal note, my daughter and husband have a son and he is now 12. What sort of world is he growing up in?

So here is a view of the global population of young people.

Just before I close let me show you my final chart. It goes to show our attitudes.

I am not a political animal. However I recognise that it is our leaders, globally, but especially in the top 10 countries in the world, who have to be leaders! Here are the top 10 countries.

So, please, dear leader, make this the number one priority for your country and for the world (areas of their country in square kilometres): Russia. 17,098,242, Canada. 9,984,670, United States. 9,826,675, China. 9,596,961, Brazil. 8,514,877, Australia. 7,741,220, India. 3,287,263 and Argentina. 2,780,400.

Still uncertain!

Just a brief update!

Rum Creek fire two days ago.

We have had gentle winds for Tuesday and Wednesday and there is good progress on the curtailment. So long as we don’t get more winds in the next 24 hours (writing this yesterday morning) then the firefighters will be able to keep up the good work.

The smoke has been bad and the whole area of Merlin and Grants Pass is affected.

But hopefully conditions will improve later on Thursday and more so on Friday.

The fire update, released around 10am yesterday, says:

MERLIN, Ore. – Overnight, the Rum Creek Fire pushed across the line on the east side of the fire near McKnabe Creek, burning several hundred acres. Resources are being shifted to this area to corral the slop-over and establish new control lines. An increase in fire activity is expected through Friday as the weather shifts to a hotter, drier pattern. Inversions are expected to lift earlier in the day, increasing temperatures and winds while reducing relative humidity.  

As of early this morning, the fire was already burning actively on the ridges. Firefighters are expecting potential spot fires, and have shifted resources to continue alternate contingency fire lines to the east.

Last night firefighters successfully conducted burnouts on the south edge of the fire near Taylor Creek, eliminating remaining fuels between the control lines and the fire’s edge. Today, they will work to secure the southeast corner of the fire working toward the north. Hose lays and pumps have been set up along many control lines, including those constructed near Stratton Creek.

On the west edge of the fire, burnout operations near Mount Peavine and the 34 road have secured more of the western edge, and crews built line from Taylor Gulch toward Chrome Ridge. Today, fire personnel will tie the line from Chrome Ridge north to Bear Gulch, and are working near Ridge Gulch. North of the Rogue River, the line tying to the Dad Creek Fire scar is expected to be completed today.

Firefighters working with the OSFM are assisting with active fire suppression as needed. They are also extinguishing all remanent heat spots found within 100 feet of buildings, and continuing to assess structures. Also they are making preparations to include clearing brush and installing sprinklers, to further develop structure protection.

It is starting to look as though an evacuation for us at Hugo Road is more and more unlikely.

Just one of those days!

There is no post for today!

Although I admit that having this come out at the usual time for a Tuesday rather flies in the face of that sub-heading!

But on Sunday evening Merlin was placed in the first zone of the evacuation instructions. This follows the rapidly expanding Rum Creek Fire that is just West of us. Depending on what defines as the actual location of the fire we are anything from 5 to 9 miles away. Our home is on Hugo Road, Merlin.

3-D map of the Rum Creek Fire, looking south-southwest at 9:45 p.m. Aug. 28, 2022.

The Rum Creek Fire 14 miles northwest of Grants Pass, Oregon has grown to 10,709 acres since it started from lightning on August 17. The fire is burning in very steep, remote, rugged terrain on both sides of the Rogue River. It has spread upriver to Galice and east to Stratton Creek. Spot fires have occurred two miles down range.

(Copied from Wildfire Today.)

So there you are!

Sir David Attenborough.

There are not many who achieve so much, but Sir David most definately has!

This is our planet. It is the only one we have (stating the obvious!).

This beautiful photograph taken from the Apollo 11 mission says it all. That Commander Neil Armstrong and lunar module pilot Buzz Aldrin landed the Apollo Lunar Module Eagle on July 20, 1969 changed everything.

But one thing that was not on anyone’s mind then; the state of the planet!

This view of Earth rising over the Moon’s horizon was taken from the Apollo 11 spacecraft. The lunar terrain pictured is in the area of Smyth’s Sea on the nearside. Coordinates of the center of the terrain are 85 degrees east longitude and 3 degrees north latitude.
While astronaut Neil A. Armstrong, commander; and Edwin E. Aldrin Jr., lunar module pilot, descended in the Lunar Module (LM) “Eagle” to explore the Sea of Tranquility region of the moon, astronaut Michael Collins remained with the Command and Service Modules (CSM) “Columbia” in lunar orbit.
Image Credit: NASA

How that has changed since 1969.

David Attenborough is a giant of a man, and I say this out of humility and respect for what he has done in his long life, he was born in May, 1926, and he is still fighting hard to get us humans to wake up to the crisis that is upon us.

Wikipedia has an entry that lists all the television shows, and more, that David Attenborough has made. As is quoted: “Attenborough’s name has become synonymous with the natural history programmes produced by the BBC Natural History Unit.”

Please take 45 minutes and watch this film. It is so important.

But before you do please read this extract taken from this site about the film:

For decades David Attenborough delighted millions of people with tales of life on Earth, exploring wild places and documenting the living world in all its variety and wonder. Now, for the first time he reflects upon both the defining moments of his lifetime as a naturalist and the devastating changes he has seen.

Honest, revealing and urgent, the film serves as a witness statement for the natural world – a first-hand account of humanity’s impact on nature, from Australia’s Great Barrier Reef to the jungles of central Africa, the North Pole and Antarctica. It also aims to provide a message of hope for future generations.

“I’ve had a most extraordinary life. It’s only now I appreciate how extraordinary,” Sir David says in the film’s trailer, in which he also promises to tell audiences how we can “work with nature rather than against it”.

The film retraces Sir David’s career, his life stages and natural history films, within the context of human population growth and the loss of wilderness areas. “I don’t think that the theoretical basis for the reason why biodiversity is important is a widely understood one,” he told the Guardian in September.

This autumn, a series of publications warned that “humanity is at a crossroads” in its relationship with nature, culminating in a UN report that the world has failed to meet a single target to stop the destruction of nature in the past decade.

Sir David has been vocal about the threat of climate change in recent years, calling on politicians to take their “last chance” to act rather than continue to “neglect long-term problems”.

We need to learn how to work with nature, rather than against it”, according to Sir David. In the film, he is going to tell us how.

Now watch the film. Please!

As you can see, in the film Sir David states that the only way out of this mess is a massive focus on rewilding.

Coincidentally, Patrice Ayme last Sunday wrote about rewilding: California Grizzly: Rewilding Is A Moral Duty. In the latter half of that essay, he wrote: “One should strive to reintroduce American megafauna, starting with the more innocuous species (and that includes the grizzly). By the way, I have run and hiked in grizzly country (Alaska), with a huge bear pepper spray cannister at the ready. I nearly used the cannister on a charging moose (with her calf which was as big as a horse). The calf slipped off, and I eluded the mom through a thicket of very closely spaced tough trees. But I had my finger on the trigger, safety off. Moose attack more humans than grizzlies and wolves combined (although a bear attack is more dangerous). In any case, in the US, stinging insects kill around 100, deer around 200 (mostly through car collisions), and lightning around three dozen people, per year.

As it is, I run and hike a lot in California wilderness, out of rescue range. I generally try to stay aware of where and when I could come across bears, lions and rattlers. My last close call with a large rattlesnake, up a mountain slope, was partly due to hubris and not realizing I was moving in dangerous terrain. Fortunately I heard the slithering just in time. Dangerous animals make us aware of nature in its full glory, and the real nature of the human condition. They keep us more honest with what is real, what humanity is all about.

And that should be the primordial sense.

I will close by offering you this photograph. May it inspire you to rewild, in small ways and also, if you can, in bigger ways. All of us must be involved. Otherwise…

…otherwise… (sentence left unfinished).

The Dog Ageing Project.

Yes, you heard that correctly!

I was just idly browsing dog websites a couple of days ago and came across the Dog Aging Project. As their About page reports:

The goal of the Dog Aging Project is to understand how genes, lifestyle, and environment influence aging. We want to use that information to help pets and people increase healthspan, the period of life spent free from disease.

I have taken the liberty of sharing one of their blog posts with you (I can’t see that isn’t allowed!)

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Longer, healthier lives. Together.

Dog and Human Genetics: Similarity and Difference

July 26th, 2022

Your pup may be your “fur baby,” but how similar are you genetically? You may be surprised!

Did you know that dogs and people share over 17,000 special genes called orthologs? Each pair of orthologs is derived from the same common ancestor via vertical descent (speciation) and they tend to have similar functions. They are one of the main reasons why your pup is such an invaluable comparative animal model for studying human health. In fact, humans and dogs have numerous similarities even in those parts of the genome that aren’t genes (the noncoding part of the genome). When it comes to better understanding human health, your pup is our best friend!

Sometimes, the effects of a gene are identical between dogs and people. For example, the same version of EPAS1, a gene triggered by low-oxygen conditions, is shared by people living in the Tibetan Plateau and the dog lineages that developed there. Genetic changes in this gene have taken place to help kickstart the body’s responses to hypoxia, or low oxygen levels, at high altitudes.

In other cases, the effects of a gene may be similar but not identical. For instance, the gene SCN3A is important to brain function and affects the development of speech. In children, mutations in SCN3A have been reported to cause disorders like epilepsy. But in dogs, genetic changes near the canine ortholog of SCN3A are associated with the frequency of howling in dogs.[1] The functions of this gene seem distinct (speech versus howling) but related!

For other health conditions shared by dogs and people, the same genes may not be responsible, but that doesn’t mean that research on those conditions in dogs isn’t helpful for humans! By learning more about how a dog’s genes are connected with a shared health condition, we can investigate the biological mechanisms involved and potentially make links to human health.

For example, people long suggested that narcolepsy might be a disease of the immune system: an autoimmune attack that causes daytime drowsiness and sudden sleep. In human studies, it was difficult to confirm the immune system link. It wasn’t until 1999[2] that this connection was discovered in a lineage of Doberman pinscher dogs. The researchers discovered a gene that is involved in the interface between the nervous system and immune system.

Finally, you and your pup share more than just genetics. Your environments are also very similar! You sleep in the same house—maybe even the same bed!—go on walks together, and breathe the same air. Interactions between these environmental variables and your genetics (called gene by environment interactions) can have an important impact on health. For example, smoking is well known to increase risk of bladder cancer in humans[3], but it is still unknown how secondhand smoke affects risk of bladder cancer in dogs.[4]

Data from the Dog Aging Project should help us answer important questions like these!

1. Kathleen Morrill et al. 2022. Ancestry-inclusive dog genomics challenges popular breed stereotypes. Science 376: https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/science.abk0639

2. Ling Lin et al. 1999. The Sleep Disorder Canine Narcolepsy Is Caused by a Mutation in the Hypocretin (Orexin) Receptor 2 Gene. Cell 98 (3): 365-376. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0092-8674(00)81965-0

3. JD Figueroa et al. 2014. Genome-wide interaction study of smoking and bladder cancer risk. Carcinogenesis 35 (8):1737-44. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24662972/

4. Deborah Knapp. Canine Bladder Cancer. https://www.vet.purdue.edu/pcop/files/docs/CanineUrinaryBladderCancer.pdf (PDF)

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This is, in my opinion, an important project.

Many may want to nominate their own dog and there is a page where a number of FAQ’s are addressed. If you wish to proceed then go to this page.

As was said, this seems like an important project.

What a difference a week makes!

It all makes sense now.

Photo by Salmen Bejaoui

Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” “Believe you can and you’re halfway there. It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.”

This famous quotation by Teddy Roosevelt (1858-1919), the 26th President of the USA, seems apt for today’s post.

Exactly one week ago I published a post called Musings from a 77 year old! I wrote that the future was uncertain. Summed up at one point by me writing: “I have no idea of the global changes that are afoot and how they will affect us in Merlin. Indeed, I have no idea how long I have to live.

Margaret (from Tasmania) was one of the many people who responded. She included a video interview of Meg Wheatley by Michael Shaw. It is an hour long. Last Friday afternoon Jean and I watched it in full and it was incredibly interesting. Thank you very much, dear Margaret.

But before I present Meg’s video again I want to show you another video. It is a talk by Richard Grannon about the collapse of our civilisation. Now Richard Grannon is an author, YouTuber and life coach so one needs to remain impartial to his views, certainly before one does further research. But in the 46-minute talk I think there is much sense in what he says. See for yourself:

Moving on! The interview of Meg Wheatley is very good indeed. It’s a broad look at the issues and problems governing society but done in such a way that the people who watch her will also take away a number of tools for avoiding depression and anxiety. Meg places great store on the Hopi Native American Indians: “The Hopi maintain a complex religious and mythological tradition stretching back over centuries.

Meg quotes one of the more famous Hopi prophecies, that is reproduced below:

This could be a good time! There is a river flowing now very fast. It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid. They will try to hold on to the shore. They will feel they are being torn apart and will suffer greatly. Know the river has its destination. The elders say we must let go of the shore, push off into the middle of the river, keep our eyes open, and our heads above the water.

And I say, see who is in there with you and celebrate. At this time in history, we are to take nothing personally, least of all ourselves. For the moment that we do, our spiritual growth and journey come to a halt.

The time of the lone wolf is over. Gather yourselves! Banish the word ’struggle’ from your attitude and your vocabulary. All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration.

We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.

Photo by Lucas Ludwig 

Here is that Meg Wheatley interview. (It is an hour long but very interesting; please watch it!)

I want to pick up the topic that was at the end of her interview; that of societal collapse. How would one define it? I chose Wikipedia for a reference.

Societal collapse (also known as civilizational collapse) is the fall of a complex human society characterized by the loss of cultural identity and of socioeconomic complexity, the downfall of government, and the rise of violence.[1]Possible causes of a societal collapse include natural catastrophe, war, pestilence, famine,  economic collapse,  population decline, and mass migration. A collapsed society may revert to a more primitive state, be absorbed into a stronger society, or completely disappear.

Virtually all civilizations have suffered such a fate, regardless of their size or complexity, but some of them later revived and transformed, such as China, India, and Egypt. However, others never recovered, such as the Western and Eastern Roman Empires, the Maya civilization, and the Easter Island civilization.[1] Societal collapse is generally quick[1] but rarely abrupt.[2] However, some cases involve not a collapse but only a gradual fading away, such as the British Empire since 1918.[3]

Anthropologists, (quantitative) historians, and sociologists have proposed a variety of explanations for the collapse of civilizations involving causative factors such as environmental change, depletion of resources, unsustainable complexity, invasion, disease, decay of social cohesion, rising inequality, secular decline of cognitive abilities, loss of creativity, and misfortune.[1][4] However, complete extinction of a culture is not inevitable, and in some cases, the new societies that arise from the ashes of the old one are evidently its offspring, despite a dramatic reduction in sophistication.[4] Moreover, the influence of a collapsed society, such as the Western Roman Empire, may linger on long after its death.[5]

The study of societal collapse, collapsology, is a topic for specialists of historyanthropologysociology, and political science. More recently, they are joined by experts in cliodynamics and study of complex systems.[6][4]

The article is much more extensive than I have quoted above and for anyone deeply interested then I do recommend you going to the article and reading it extensively.

Now Meg is of the opinion that it is too late to turn back but next Tuesday I want to talk to you about Sir David Attenborough’s film A Life on our Planet. That he believes there is a chance to undo the harm we are causing to the planet; through rewilding.

Until then!

Searching for alien life

Another item about the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST).

I make no apologies for returning to the JWST in just a week after publishing my first article about the telescope. For I found the latest article, again published on The Conversation, to be incredible and that was all I needed to share it with you.

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To search for alien life, astronomers will look for clues in the atmospheres of distant planets – and the James Webb Space Telescope just proved it’s possible to do so

Published July 14th, 2022.

By Chris Impey University Distinguished Professor of Astronomy, University of Arizona and

Daniel Apai Professor of Astronomy and Planetary Sciences, University of Arizona.

The ingredients for life are spread throughout the universe. While Earth is the only known place in the universe with life, detecting life beyond Earth is a major goal of modern astronomy and planetary science.

We are two scientists who study exoplanets and astrobiology. Thanks in large part to next-generation telescopes like James Webb, researchers like us will soon be able to measure the chemical makeup of atmospheres of planets around other stars. The hope is that one or more of these planets will have a chemical signature of life.

There are many known exoplanets in habitable zones – orbits not too close to a star that the water boils off but not so far that the planet is frozen solid – as marked in green for both the solar system and Kepler-186 star system with its planets labeled b, c, d, e and f. NASA Ames/SETI Institute/JPL-Caltech/Wikimedia Commons

Habitable exoplanets

Life might exist in the solar system where there is liquid water – like the subsurface aquifers on Mars or in the oceans of Jupiter’s moon Europa. However, searching for life in these places is incredibly difficult, as they are hard to reach and detecting life would require sending a probe to return physical samples.

Many astronomers believe there’s a good chance that life exists on planets orbiting other stars, and it’s possible that’s where life will first be found.

Theoretical calculations suggest that there are around 300 million potentially habitable planets in the Milky Way galaxy alone and several habitable Earth-sized planets within only 30 light-years of Earth – essentially humanity’s galactic neighbors. So far, astronomers have discovered over 5,000 exoplanets, including hundreds of potentially habitable ones, using indirect methods that measure how a planet affects its nearby star. These measurements can give astronomers information on the mass and size of an exoplanet, but not much else.

Every material absorbs certain wavelengths of light, as shown in this diagram depicting the wavelengths of light absorbed most easily by different types of chlorophyll. Daniele Pugliesi/Wikimedia CommonsCC BY-SA

Looking for biosignatures

To detect life on a distant planet, astrobiologists will study starlight that has interacted with a planet’s surface or atmosphere. If the atmosphere or surface was transformed by life, the light may carry a clue, called a “biosignature.”

For the first half of its existence, Earth sported an atmosphere without oxygen, even though it hosted simple, single-celled life. Earth’s biosignature was very faint during this early era. That changed abruptly 2.4 billion years ago when a new family of algae evolved. The algae used a process of photosynthesis that produces free oxygen – oxygen that isn’t chemically bonded to any other element. From that time on, Earth’s oxygen-filled atmosphere has left a strong and easily detectable biosignature on light that passes through it.

When light bounces off the surface of a material or passes through a gas, certain wavelengths of the light are more likely to remain trapped in the gas or material’s surface than others. This selective trapping of wavelengths of light is why objects are different colors. Leaves are green because chlorophyll is particularly good at absorbing light in the red and blue wavelengths. As light hits a leaf, the red and blue wavelengths are absorbed, leaving mostly green light to bounce back into your eyes.

The pattern of missing light is determined by the specific composition of the material the light interacts with. Because of this, astronomers can learn something about the composition of an exoplanet’s atmosphere or surface by, in essence, measuring the specific color of light that comes from a planet.

This method can be used to recognize the presence of certain atmospheric gases that are associated with life – such as oxygen or methane – because these gasses leave very specific signatures in light. It could also be used to detect peculiar colors on the surface of a planet. On Earth, for example, the chlorophyll and other pigments plants and algae use for photosynthesis capture specific wavelengths of light. These pigments produce characteristic colors that can be detected by using a sensitive infrared camera. If you were to see this color reflecting off the surface of a distant planet, it would potentially signify the presence of chlorophyll.

Telescopes in space and on Earth

It takes an incredibly powerful telescope to detect these subtle changes to the light coming from a potentially habitable exoplanet. For now, the only telescope capable of such a feat is the new James Webb Space Telescope. As it began science operations in July 2022, James Webb took a reading of the spectrum of the gas giant exoplanet WASP-96b. The spectrum showed the presence of water and clouds, but a planet as large and hot as WASP-96b is unlikely to host life.

However, this early data shows that James Webb is capable of detecting faint chemical signatures in light coming from exoplanets. In the coming months, Webb is set to turn its mirrors toward TRAPPIST-1e, a potentially habitable Earth-sized planet a mere 39 light-years from Earth.

Webb can look for biosignatures by studying planets as they pass in front of their host stars and capturing starlight that filters through the planet’s atmosphere. But Webb was not designed to search for life, so the telescope is only able to scrutinize a few of the nearest potentially habitable worlds. It also can only detect changes to atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide, methane and water vapor. While certain combinations of these gasses may suggest life, Webb is not able to detect the presence of unbonded oxygen, which is the strongest signal for life.

Animals, including cows, produce methane, but so do many geologic processes. Jernej Furman/Wikimedia CommonsCC BY

Is it biology or geology?

Even using the most powerful telescopes of the coming decades, astrobiologists will only be able to detect strong biosignatures produced by worlds that have been completely transformed by life.

Unfortunately, most gases released by terrestrial life can also be produced by nonbiological processes – cows and volcanoes both release methane. Photosynthesis produces oxygen, but sunlight does, too, when it splits water molecules into oxygen and hydrogen. There is a good chance astronomers will detect some false positives when looking for distant life. To help rule out false positives, astronomers will need to understand a planet of interest well enough to understand whether its geologic or atmospheric processes could mimic a biosignature

The next generation of exoplanet studies has the potential to pass the bar of the extraordinary evidence needed to prove the existence of life. The first data release from the James Webb Space Telescope gives us a sense of the exciting progress that’s coming soon.

The James Webb Space Telescope is the first telescope able to detect chemical signatures from exoplanets, but it is limited in its capabilities. NASA/Wikimedia Commons

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So despite the advances in technology that resulted in the JWST it will still not be possible to detect unbonded oxygen; a sure indicator of life. It will be able to detect many other fascinating aspects of stars and planets beyond the Milky Way. I do not know if “The first data release…” relates to software or whether further launches of Mk 2 ‘JWST’ will be required. I will try and find out!