Tag: The Conversation

How do the eyes of dogs see?

It is the last day of January and we have a post about dogs today.

I found all the non-doggie articles a bit depressing and this item seemed a delightful alternative. It is from the Curious Kids section of The Conversation but, to my mind, of interest to adults as well.

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Do dogs really see in just black and white? – Oscar V., age 9, Somerville, Massachusetts

Dogs definitely see the world differently than people do, but it’s a myth that their view is just black, white and grim shades of gray

While most people see a full spectrum of colors from red to violet, dogs lack some of the light receptors in their eyes that allow human beings to see certain colors, particularly in the red and green range. But canines can still see yellow and blue.

Different wavelengths of light register as different colors in an animal’s visual system. Top is the human view; bottom is a dog’s eye view. Top: iStock/Getty Images Plus via Getty Images. Bottom: As processed by András Péter’s Dog Vision Image Processing Tool

What you see as red or orange, to a dog may just be another shade of tan. To my dog, Sparky, a bright orange ball lying in the green grass may look like a tan ball in another shade of tan grass. But his bright blue ball will look similar to both of us. An online image processing tool lets you see for yourself what a particular picture looks like to your pet.

Animals can’t use spoken language to describe what they see, but researchers easily trained dogs to touch a lit-up color disc with their nose to get a treat. Then they trained the dogs to touch a disc that was a different color than some others. When the well-trained dogs couldn’t figure out which disc to press, the scientists knew that they couldn’t see the differences in color. These experiments showed that dogs could see only yellow and blue.

In the back of our eyeballs, human beings’ retinas contain three types of special cone-shaped cells that are responsible for all the colors we can see. When scientists used a technique called electroretinography to measure the way dogs’ eyes react to light, they found that canines have fewer kinds of these cone cells. Compared to people’s three kinds, dogs only have two types of cone receptors.

Light travels to the back of the eyeball, where it registers with rod and cone cells that send visual signals on to the brain. iStock/Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

Not only can dogs see fewer colors than we do, they probably don’t see as clearly as we do either. Tests show that both the structure and function of the dog eye leads them to see things at a distance as more blurry. While we think of perfect vision in humans as being 20/20, typical vision in dogs is probably closer to 20/75. This means that what a person with normal vision could see from 75 feet away, a dog would need to be just 20 feet away to see as clearly. Since dogs don’t read the newspaper, their visual acuity probably doesn’t interfere with their way of life.

There’s likely a lot of difference in visual ability between breeds. Over the years, breeders have selected sight-hunting dogs like greyhounds to have better vision than dogs like bulldogs.

But that’s not the end of the story. While people have a tough time seeing clearly in dim light, scientists believe dogs can probably see as well at dusk or dawn as they can in the bright middle of the day. This is because compared to humans’, dog retinas have a higher percentage and type of another kind of visual receptor. Called rod cells because of their shape, they function better in low light than cone cells do.

Dogs also have a reflective tissue layer at the back of their eyes that helps them see in less light. This mirror-like tapetum lucidum collects and concentrates the available light to help them see when it’s dark. The tapetum lucidum is what gives dogs and other mammals that glowing eye reflection when caught in your headlights at night or when you try to take a flash photo.

Dogs share their type of vision with many other animals, including cats and foxes. Scientists think it’s important for these hunters to be able to detect the motion of their nocturnal prey, and that’s why their vision evolved in this way. As many mammals developed the ability to forage and hunt in twilight or dark conditions, they gave up the ability to see the variety of colors that most birds, reptiles and primates have. People didn’t evolve to be active all night, so we kept the color vision and better visual acuity. 

Before you feel sorry that dogs aren’t able to see all the colors of the rainbow, keep in mind that some of their other senses are much more developed than yours. They can hear higher-pitched sounds from farther away, and their noses are much more powerful.

Even though Sparky might not be able to easily see that orange toy in the grass, he can certainly smell it and find it easily when he wants to. 

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I don’t know about you but I found this most interesting and the last thing I would be described as is a kid!

In terms of our own dogs their ability to forage in the dark is quite amazing and, presumably, our dogs are quite typical of dogs in general.

Putting aside the pills!

A fascinating article presents an alternative.

There was a recent item on The Conversation that is being shared with you all today. It is about the role of meditation and mindfulness is keeping one healthy, and I sense this will be a popular article!

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Meditation and mindfulness offer an abundance of health benefits and may be as effective as medication for treating certain conditions

By Hilary A. Marusak

Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences, Wayne State University

Published January 12th, 2023

Many people look to diet trends or new exercise regimens – often with questionable benefit – to get a healthier start on the new year. But there is one strategy that’s been shown time and again to boost both mood and health: meditation.

In late 2022, a high-profile study made a splash when it claimed that meditation may work as well as a common drug named Lexapro for the treatment of anxiety. Over the past couple of decades, similar evidence has emerged about mindfulness and meditation’s broad array of health benefits, for purposes ranging from stress and pain reduction to depression treatments to boosting brain health and helping to manage excessive inflammation and long COVID-19

Despite the mounting body of evidence showing the health benefits of meditation, it can be hard to weigh the science and to know how robust it is.

I am a neuroscientist studying the effects of stress and trauma on brain development in children and adolescents. I also study how mindfulness, meditation and exercise can positively affect brain development and mental health in youth.

I am very excited about how meditation can be used as a tool to provide powerful new insights into the ways the mind and brain work, and to fundamentally change a person’s outlook on life. And as a mental health researcher, I see the promise of meditation as a low- or no-cost, evidence-based tool to improve health that can be relatively easily integrated into daily life. 

Meditation requires some training, discipline and practice – which are not always easy to come by. But with some specific tools and strategies, it can be accessible to everyone.

What are mindfulness and meditation?

There are many different types of meditation, and mindfulness is one of the most common. Fundamentally, mindfulness is a mental state that, according to Jon Kabat-Zinn a renowned expert in mindfulness-based practices, involves “awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.” 

This means not ruminating about something that happened in the past or worrying about that to-do list. Being focused on the present, or living in the moment, has been shown to have a broad array of benefits, including elevating mood, reducing anxietylessening pain and potentially improving cognitive performance

Mindfulness is a skill that can be practiced and cultivated over time. The goal is that, with repetition, the benefits of practicing mindfulness carry over into everyday life – when you aren’t actively meditating. For example, if you learn that you aren’t defined by an emotion that arises transiently, like anger, then it may be harder to stay angry for long. 

The health benefits of meditation and other strategies aimed at stress reduction are thought to stem from increasing levels of overall mindfulness through practice. Elements of mindfulness are also present in practices like yoga, martial arts and dance that require focusing attention and discipline.

The vast body of evidence supporting the health benefits of meditation is too expansive to cover exhaustively. But the studies I reference below represent some of the top tier, or the highest-quality and most rigorous summaries of scientific data on the topic to date. Many of these include systematic reviews and meta-analyses, which synthesize many studies on a given topic. 

Stress and mental health

Mindfulness-based programs have been shown to significantly reduce stress in a variety of populations, ranging from caregivers of people living with dementia to children during the COVID-19 pandemic

Meta-analyses published during the pandemic show that mindfulness programs are effective for reducing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorderobsessive-compulsive disorderattention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and depression – including the particularly vulnerable time during pregnancy and the postnatal period.

Mindfulness-based programs also show promise as a treatment option for anxiety disorders, which are the most common mental disorders, affecting an estimated 301 million people globally. While effective treatments for anxiety exist, many patients do not have access to them because they lack insurance coverage or transportation to providers, for instance, or they may experience only limited relief.

It’s important to note, however, that for those affected by mental or substance use disorders, mindfulness-based approaches should not replace first-line treatments like medicine and psychotherapy such as cognitive behavioral therapy. Mindfulness strategies should be seen as a supplement to these evidence-based treatments and a complement to healthy lifestyle interventions like physical activity and healthy eating. 

How does meditation work? A look into the brain

Studies show that regular meditators experience better attention control and improved control of heart rate, breathing and autonomic nervous system functioning, which regulates involuntary responses in the body, such as blood pressure. Research also shows that people who meditate have lower levels of cortisol – a hormone involved in the stress response – than those who don’t. 

A recent systematic review of neuroimaging studies showed that focused attention meditation is associated with functional changes in several brain regions involved in cognitive control and emotion-related processing. The review also found that more experienced meditators had stronger activation of the brain regions involved in those cognitive and emotional processes, suggesting that the brain benefits improve with more practice. 

A regular meditation practice may also stave off age-related thinning of the cerebral cortex, which may help to protect against age-related disease and cognitive impairment. 

Limitations of meditation research

This research does have limits. These include a lack of a consistent definition for the types of programs used, and a lack of rigorously controlled studies. In gold-standard randomized controlled trials with medications, study participants don’t know whether they are getting the active drug or a placebo. 

In contrast, in trials of mindfulness-based interventions, participants know what condition they are assigned to and are not “blinded,” so they may expect that some of the health benefits may happen to them. This creates a sense of expectancy, which can be a confounding variable in studies. Many meditation studies also don’t frequently include a control group, which is needed to assess how it compares with other treatments.

Benefits and wider applications

Compared with medications, mindfulness-based programs may be more easily accessible and have fewer negative side effects. However, medication and psychotherapy – particularly cognitive behavioral therapy – work well for many, and a combination approach may be best. Mindfulness-based interventions are also cost-effective and have better health outcomes than usual care, particularly among high-risk patient populations – so there are economic benefits as well.

Researchers are studying ways to deliver mindfulness tools on a computer or smartphone app, or with virtual reality, which may be more effective than conventional in-person meditation training. 

Importantly, mindfulness is not just for those with physical or mental health diagnoses. Anyone can use these strategies to reduce the risk of disease and to take advantage of the health benefits in everyday life, such as improved sleep and cognitive performance, elevated mood and lowered stress and anxiety. 

Where to get started?

Many recreation centers, fitness studios and even universities offer in-person meditation classes. For those looking to see if meditation can help with the treatment of a physical or mental condition, there are over 600 clinical trialscurrently recruiting participants for various conditions, such as pain, cancer and depression. 

If you want to try meditation from the comfort of your home, there are many free online videos on how to practice, including meditations for sleep, stress reduction, mindful eating and more. Several apps, such as Headspace, appear promising, with randomized controlled trials showing benefits for users

The hardest part is, of course, getting started. However, if you set an alarm to practice every day, it will become a habit and may even translate into everyday life – which is the ultimate goal. For some, this may take some time and practice, and for others, this may start to happen pretty quickly. Even a single five-minute session can have positive health effects.

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This is a comprehensive article on a most important topic.

For whatever is happening in our world it is getting busier especially for those that are a great deal younger than me.

New Years’ Resolutions

Finding one that really works.

Whatever age we are and in many different cultures the New Year holds out so much hope. It seems an opportunity to start anew, to put the habits of last year behind us, to embrace a new start. Yet all the evidence is that a New Year’s Resolution will not make it through to February.

That is why I picked up on a recent article in The Conversation, that they kindly allow to be republished.

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Why you should give the gift of mindfulness this New Year

By Jeremy David Engels

Professor of Communication Arts and Sciences, Penn State. Published: January 3, 2023.

The late Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh leading a meditation walk. Steve Cray/South China Morning Post via Getty Images

The start of another year can feel magical to many of us. Even though the days remain short and dark, the flip of the calendar can make it seem new beginnings with new resolutions are possible. 

Mindfulness scholars and teachers like me call resolutions “habit breakers,” as they can overcome patterns that no longer serve individuals. However, research suggests that many resolutions fail by the end of January. 

But a key to ensuring that resolutions stick is to choose one that will make a meaningful difference in your life. Seeing a real, tangible benefit can provide inspiration to keep going when all of life is telling us to let things go back to how they were before. 

Living more mindfully is a common New Year’s resolution. This year, try gifting it to others.

The meaning of mindfulness

Mindfulness has been shown to have a number of meaningful health benefits – it can help reduce anxiety and promote healing in those suffering from long-term chronic illness. 

The practice is based on an insight first described by ancient Buddhist texts that human beings have the capacity to observe experience without being caught up in it. This means, simply and wonderfully, that it is possible to observe ourselves having a craving, or a happy thought, or even a scary emotion, without reacting in the moment in a way that amplifies the feeling or sends the mind spiraling off into thinking about old memories or anticipating events.

This practice can help calm the mind and the body as we learn not to react to experience with likes and dislikes or judgments of good and bad. It does not make us cold or apathetic but more fully present

Mindfulness in a distracted world

One of the challenges of practicing mindfulness in our contemporary world is that there has been a profound transformation in human attention. The artist Jenny Odell argues that in our “attention economy” human attention has been transformed into a commodity that big corporations buy and sell. This economy rests on a technological revolution of mobile phones and social media that makes it possible for corporations to reach us with content that can capture and monetize our focus, at every moment, every day, and no matter where we may be.

The constant need to be checking our phones keeps us from being fully present. Abdulhamid Hosbas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The needy little devices most people carry in their pockets and wear on their wrists, incessantly beeping and buzzing and chirping, are a perpetual diversion from the present moment. The result is that it can feel as though our ability to focus, and be fully present, has been stolen

But mindfulness can help us resist the attention economy and savor the things that make life special, like being together with those we love. 

The gift of mindfulness

While most mindfulness research focuses on the individual benefits of the practice, scholars like me argue that we not only practice mindfulness for ourselves but that we can also practice it for others. It can help us build stronger, healthier relationships. 

The sad truth is that living in the attention economy, most of us have become bad listeners. However, just as it is possible to watch ourselves having an experience without reacting, it’s possible to watch another person have an experience without getting tied up in reactivity and judgment. It’s possible simply to be present. 

The gift of mindfulness is a practice of listening with compassion to another person describe their experiences. To give this gift means putting away your phone, turning off social media, and setting aside other common distractions. It means practicing being fully present in another person’s presence and listening to them with complete attention, without reacting with judgment, while resisting the urge to make the interaction about you. 

If we judge the value of gifts based on how much they cost, this gift may seem worthless. But in a distracted world, I argue, it is a precious one

It is not a gift that you will wrap, or put inside a card; it’s not one you will have to name as a gift or draw attention to. It’s something you can do right now.

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Professor David Engels is spot on. The number of people who are wedded to their cell phone, especially the younger ones of us, is frightening. Many years ago I was fortunate to have a counsellor who was into mindfulness and some of the good practices have stayed with me.

So, please, if you are thinking that your use of a cell phone is intrusive, even slightly, then let this New Year present a new you!

P.S.

Belinda sent in the following attached to one of her comments. It’s perfect! Thank you, Belinda!

And while we are on the subject of New Year’s Resolutions try this one. It is not a long video but it is extremely important; it concerns our diet and our health!

The tradition of Christmas

It goes back much further than the Christian church.

Jean and I are atheists and have been all our lives. Therefore we tend to take more notice of the Winter solstice (that is today as the day that I am preparing this post) rather than Christmas Day and our sense that it is a product of Jesus Christ being born on the 25th; or so I thought!

But the tradition of a Christmas tree in particular goes much further back, as this article from The Conversation sets out.

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The Christmas tree is a tradition older than Christmas

Public Christmas trees, like Rockefeller Center’s famous tree, didn’t start appearing in the U.S. until the 20th century. Nicholas Hunt/WireImage via Getty Images

Troy Bickham, Texas A&M University

Why, every Christmas, do so many people endure the mess of dried pine needles, the risk of a fire hazard and impossibly tangled strings of lights?

Strapping a fir tree to the hood of my car and worrying about the strength of the twine, I sometimes wonder if I should just buy an artificial tree and do away with all the hassle. Then my inner historian scolds me – I have to remind myself that I’m taking part in one of the world’s oldest religious traditions. To give up the tree would be to give up a ritual that predates Christmas itself.

A symbol of life in a time of darkness

Almost all agrarian societies independently venerated the Sun in their pantheon of gods at one time or another – there was the Sol of the Norse, the Aztec Huitzilopochtli, the Greek Helios.

The solstices, when the Sun is at its highest and lowest points in the sky, were major events. The winter solstice, when the sky is its darkest, has been a notable day of celebration in agrarian societies throughout human history. The Persian Shab-e Yalda, Dongzhi in China and the North American Hopi Soyal all independently mark the occasion.

The favored décor for ancient winter solstices? Evergreen plants.

Whether as palm branches gathered in Egypt in the celebration of Ra or wreaths for the Roman feast of Saturnalia, evergreens have long served as symbols of the perseverance of life during the bleakness of winter, and the promise of the Sun’s return.

Christmas slowly emerges

Christmas came much later. The date was not fixed on liturgical calendars until centuries after Jesus’ birth, and the English word Christmas – an abbreviation of “Christ’s Mass” – would not appear until over 1,000 years after the original event.

While Dec. 25 was ostensibly a Christian holiday, many Europeans simply carried over traditions from winter solstice celebrations, which were notoriously raucous affairs. For example, the 12 days of Christmas commemorated in the popular carol actually originated in ancient Germanic Yule celebrations.

The continued use of evergreens, most notably the Christmas tree, is the most visible remnant of those ancient solstice celebrations. Although Ernst Anschütz’s well-known 1824 carol dedicated to the tree is translated into English as “O Christmas Tree,” the title of the original German tune is simply “Tannenbaum,” meaning fir tree. There is no reference to Christmas in the carol, which Anschütz based on a much older Silesian folk love song. In keeping with old solstice celebrations, the song praises the tree’s faithful hardiness during the dark and cold winter.

Bacchanal backlash

Sixteenth-century German Protestants, eager to remove the iconography and relics of the Roman Catholic Church, gave the Christmas tree a huge boost when they used it to replace Nativity scenes. The religious reformer Martin Luther supposedly adopted the practice and added candles.

Engraving of adults and children gathered around a desk with a small Christmas tree adorned with candles.
German Protestants sought to replace ornate Nativity scenes with the simpler tree. Wikimedia Commons

But a century later, the English Puritans frowned upon the disorderly holiday for lacking biblical legitimacy. They banned it in the 1650s, with soldiers patrolling London’s streets looking for anyone daring to celebrate the day. Puritan colonists in Massachusetts did the same, fining “whosoever shall be found observing Christmas or the like, either by forbearing of labor, feasting, or any other way.”

German immigration to the American colonies ensured that the practice of trees would take root in the New World. Benjamin Franklin estimated that at least one-third of Pennsylvania’s white population was German before the American Revolution.

Yet, the German tradition of the Christmas tree blossomed in the United States largely due to Britain’s German royal lineage.

Taking a cue from the queen

Since 1701, English kings had been forbidden from becoming or marrying Catholics. Germany, which was made up of a patchwork of kingdoms, had eligible Protestant princes and princesses to spare. Many British royals privately maintained the familiar custom of a Christmas tree, but Queen Victoria – who had a German mother as well as a German grandmother on her father’s side – made the practice public and fashionable.

Victoria’s style of rule both reflected and shaped the outwardly stern, family-centered morality that dominated middle-class life during the era. In the 1840s, Christmas became the target of reformers like novelist Charles Dickens, who sought to transform the raucous celebrations of the largely sidelined holiday into a family day in which the people of the rapidly industrialized nation could relax, rejoice and give thanks.

His 1843 novella, “A Christmas Carol,” in which the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge found redemption by embracing Dickens’ prescriptions for the holiday, was a hit with the public. While the evergreen décor is evident in the hand-colored illustrations Dickens specially commissioned for the book, there are no Christmas trees in those pictures.

Drawing of royal family decorating a Christmas tree.
After the London Illustrated News published an image of Queen Victoria’s tree, the public eagerly sought to mimic the tradition. Wikimedia Commons

Victoria added the fir tree to family celebrations five years later. Although Christmas trees had been part of private royal celebrations for decades, an 1848 issue of the London Illustrated News depicted Victoria with her German husband and children decorating one as a family at Windsor Castle.

The cultural impact was almost instantaneous. Christmas trees started appearing in homes throughout England, its colonies and the rest of the English-speaking world. Dickens followed with his short story “A Christmas Tree” two years later.

Adopting the tradition in America

During this period, America’s middle classes generally embraced all things Victorian, from architecture to moral reform societies.

Sarah Hale, the author most famous for her children’s poem “Mary had a Little Lamb,” used her position as editor of the best-selling magazine Godey’s Ladies Book to advance a reformist agenda that included the abolition of slavery and the creation of holidays that promoted pious family values. The adoption of Thanksgiving as a national holiday in 1863 was perhaps her most lasting achievement.

Drawing of adults and children gathered around a decorated Christmas tree.
An engraving of Queen Victoria’s tree in Godey’s Ladies Book popularized Christmas trees in the U.S. Godey’s Lady’s Book

It is closely followed by the Christmas tree.

While trees sporadically adorned the homes of German immigrants in the U.S., it became a mainstream middle-class practice when, in 1850, Godey’s published an engraving of Victoria and her Christmas tree. A supporter of Dickens and the movement to reinvent Christmas, Hale helped to popularize the family Christmas tree across the pond.

Only in 1870 did the United States recognize Christmas as a federal holiday.

The practice of erecting public Christmas trees emerged in the U.S. in the 20th century. In 1923, the first one appeared on the White House’s South Lawn. During the Great Depression, famous sites such as New York’s Rockefeller Center began erecting increasingly larger trees.

Black and white photo of people gathered around a tall Christmas tree in Washington, D.C.
A Christmas tree was erected on the White House South Lawn for the first time in 1923. Library of Congress

Christmas trees go global

As both American and British cultures extended their influence around the world, Christmas trees started to appear in communal spaces even in countries that are not predominately Christian. Shopping districts in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Hong Kong and Tokyo now regularly erect trees.

The modern Christmas tree is a universal symbol that carries meanings both religious and secular. Adorned with lights, they promote hope and offer brightness in literally the darkest time of year for half of the world.

In that sense, the modern Christmas tree has come full circle.

Troy Bickham, Professor of History, Texas A&M University

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

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So not a doggie post for today but nevertheless one that I hope will be of interest.

The next post will be a Picture Parade this coming Sunday: December 25th!

Christmas food for your pets

They can be toxic!

This is a timely warning that feeding our dogs and cats nibbles from the plate or worse can be life-threatening.

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Holiday foods can be toxic to pets – a veterinarian explains which, and what to do if Rover or Kitty eats them

Treat Kitty to a new box or pet-safe treat, but not scraps from holiday meals. Cyndi Monaghan/Moment via Getty Images

Leticia Fanucchi, Oklahoma State University

During the holidays, it’s typical for people to indulge in special foods. Being a pet owner myself, I know that many pet parents want to give their fur babies special treats as well.

As a veterinarian and clinical veterinary researcher, however, I also know that some very common foods – including many popular holiday staples – are dangerous to pets.

Here are some of the most common food-related crises we veterinarians encounter in the animal ER during the holidays, and what to do if they happen.

Fatty food risks

Turkey with gravy is probably among the most popular holiday meals. And most dogs or cats would certainly agree with their humans that roast turkey is delicious.

However, the fat contained in turkey skin – and the excess of fatty, greasy foods that can accompany it, such as gravy, butter and bacon – don’t go down well with cats and dogs. Pets that ingest an overload of fats may develop pancreatitis, an inflammation of the pancreas, the organ that helps break down fat, protein and carbs.

Pancreatitis causes the pancreas to leak digestive enzymes and ultimately “digest” itself. If untreated, pancreatitis can affect other organ systems such as the kidneys and the liver and even cause blood clotting.

The most common symptoms of pancreatitis include vomiting and diarrhea. Pets that may have pancreatitis should be rushed to the closest veterinary hospital or ER. The vet will perform diagnostic blood tests, including a specific test for pancreatic enzymes called pancreatic lipase immunoreactivity or cPLI/fPLI.

Treatment for pancreatitis mostly involves dealing with its symptoms. The pet receives IV fluids to help establish electrolytes balance, with added anti-nausea and pain medications to stop the vomiting. Antibiotics may be necessary, as well as liver protectants and probiotics, and a special diet.

Onion offenses and bread badness

If only turkey were the sole problem! Many other common holiday ingredients can also harm pets.

Several allium species common to holiday cooking, such as leeks, garlic, onions, chives and shallots, can be healthy for people. For dogs and cats, though, alliums are toxic. If ingested, they can cause hemolytic anemia – a decreased number of red blood cells.

The signs of hemolytic anemia, which normally appear a few days after ingestion, include vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy and jaundice.

To treat hemolytic anemia in pets, veterinarians do blood tests to determine whether a transfusion is necessary. They address the symptoms of allium intoxication with IV fluids, antioxidants and anti-nausea drugs.

Yeast-risen foods like rolls and breads are also holiday dinner staples that people should keep away from their pets. The yeast in these foods can ferment in a pet’s warm stomach and produce toxic levels of ethanol. In pets, ethanol toxicity may lead to metabolic acidosis, which can cause sudden drop in blood glucose, respiratory depression, seizures and cardiac arrest.

Normally, pet owners do not suspect metabolic acidosis until it is almost too late, because it has few outward symptoms. So if there’s a possibility that a pet has swallowed any type of cooked or raw yeast dough, get it to a veterinary ER right away.

By the way, pets can also experience ethanol toxicity by lapping up cocktails or beer, so keep alcoholic drinks out of their reach as well.

No chocolate for pets

Now, what about a favorite holiday treat – chocolate?

Substances that may actually attract humans to chocolate – methylxanthines like theobromine and caffeine – are toxic to both dogs and cats. When vets provide emergency treatment for chocolate ingestion, we typically hear that children shared their candy with their beloved pet.

A boy holding a puppy sits with his family during the lighting of candles on a hanukkiah menorah.
Chocolate contains substances that are poisonous to pets, even though they are safe for people. Nathan Bilow/Photodisc via Getty Images

Pets that ingest chocolate can develop “chocolate intoxication,” a condition in which methylxanthines accumulate in the body and make them sick. Signs of chocolate intoxication in pets include tremors, increased heart rate, vomiting, diarrhea, restlessness and even seizures.

Chocolate intoxication in pets is a medical emergency. The pet needs to have its stomach emptied and receive support therapy with IV fluids and activated charcoal. The vet will probably want to know the type and how much chocolate the pet ate, because some kinds of chocolate, such as baking chocolate, can have worse toxic effects.

Chocolate also has a lot of fat, so the cat or dog’s pancreas will not enjoy it either.

Grapes and dogs don’t mix

How about fruits? Well, there is a fruit very toxic to dogs that often shows up at holiday gatherings: grapes, both fresh and dehydrated into raisins.

If eaten, the tartaric acid in grapes or raisins may cause acute kidney disease. Common signs of acute kidney disease in dogs are vomiting, intermittent diarrhea and increased intake of water.

Acute kidney disease in dogs is a medical emergency. If it is suspected, the pet should be rushed to a veterinary hospital or ER right away. Treatment is typically limited to stabilizing the pet with IV fluids.

Sweet for people, poison to pets

While xylitol toxicity is one of the more common emergencies we veterinarians see these days, it’s still largely unknown among pet owners.

Xylitol is an artificial sweetener often used in sugar-free products. While safe for humans, for cats and dogs it’s a fast-acting and potentially deadly poison.

Ingesting even the smallest amount of xylitol can cause a pet’s liver to rapidly release insulin, causing hypoglycemia – unusually low blood glucose levels. Within 30 minutes, the pet will experience symptoms such as vomiting, lethargy and seizures and lose coordination of its limbs – called ataxia.

Emergency treatment for a pet with xylitol toxicity involves giving the animal IV fluids containing dextrose to raise its blood glucose level and carefully monitoring its progress.

The bottom line? Several delicious foods that are safe for humans can be very dangerous for pets in general – not just cats and dogs, but also birds, reptiles and pocket pets like mice, hamsters and gerbils. So make the holidays special for furry or feathery babies by giving them treats from the pet food store or veterinarian’s office, and keep them away from the kitchen counter and trash can.

Leticia Fanucchi, Clinical Assistant Professor of Veterinary Clinical Sciences, Oklahoma State University

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

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That’s a very important point about Xylitol. So please take notice and have a wonderful holiday for you and for your pets.

Please take care!

Herman Daly.

A recent article in The Conversation

I was short of time yesterday when I turned my mind to Tuesday’s post. So I hope you won’t mind if I leave you with this very interesting article.

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The inconvenient truth of Herman Daly: There is no economy without environment

The economy depends on the environment. Economics can seem to forget that point. Ines Lee Photos/Moment via Getty Images

Jon D. Erickson, University of Vermont

Herman Daly had a flair for stating the obvious. When an economy creates more costs than benefits, he called it “uneconomic growth.” But you won’t find that conclusion in economics textbooks. Even suggesting that economic growth could cost more than it’s worth can be seen as economic heresy.

The renegade economist, known as the father of ecological economics and a leading architect of sustainable development, died on Oct. 28, 2022, at the age of 84. He spent his career questioning an economics disconnected from an environmental footing and moral compass.



In an age of climate chaos and economic crisis, his ideas that inspired a movement to live within our means are increasingly essential.

The seeds of an ecological economist

Herman Daly grew up in Beaumont, Texas, ground zero of the early 20th century oil boom. He witnessed the unprecedented growth and prosperity of the “gusher age” set against the poverty and deprivation that lingered after the Great Depression.

To Daly, as many young men then and since believed, economic growth was the solution to the world’s problems, especially in developing countries. To study economics in college and export the northern model to the global south was seen as a righteous path.

Headshot photo of Daly as an older man, with glasses and thinning hair,
Economist Herman Daly (1938-2022) Courtesy of Island Press

But Daly was a voracious reader, a side effect of having polio as a boy and missing out on the Texas football craze. Outside the confines of assigned textbooks, he found a history of economic thought steeped in rich philosophical debates on the function and purpose of the economy.

Unlike the precision of a market equilibrium sketched on the classroom blackboard, the real-world economy was messy and political, designed by those in power to choose winners and losers. He believed that economists should at least ask: Growth for whom, for what purpose and for how long?

Daly’s biggest realization came through reading marine biologist Rachel Carson’s 1962 book “Silent Spring,” and seeing her call to “come to terms with nature … to prove our maturity and our mastery, not of nature but of ourselves.” By then, he was working on a Ph.D. in Latin American development at Vanderbilt University and was already quite skeptical of the hyperindividualism baked into economic models. In Carson’s writing, the conflict between a growing economy and a fragile environment was blindingly clear.

After a fateful class with Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen, Daly’s conversion was complete. Georgescu-Roegen, a Romanian-born economist, dismissed the free market fairy tale of a pendulum swinging back and forth, effortlessly seeking a natural state of equilibrium. He argued that the economy was more like an hourglass, a one-way process converting valuable resources into useless waste.

Daly became convinced that economics should no longer prioritize the efficiency of this one-way process but instead focus on the “optimal” scale of an economy that the Earth can sustain. Just shy of his 30th birthday in 1968, while working as a visiting professor in the poverty-stricken Ceará region of northeastern Brazil, Daly published “On Economics as a Life Science.”

His sketches and tables of the economy as a metabolic process, entirely dependent on the biosphere as source for sustenance and sink for waste, were the road map for a revolution in economics.

Economics of a full world

Daly spent the rest of his career drawing boxes in circles. In what he called the “pre-analytical vision,” the economy – the box – was viewed as the “wholly owned subsidiary” of the environment, the circle.

When the economy is small relative to the containing environment, a focus on the efficiency of a growing system has merit. But Daly argued that in a “full world,” with an economy that outgrows its sustaining environment, the system is in danger of collapse.

Illustrations of a square (economy) inside a circle (ecosystem). Energy and matter go into and out of the economy square, and some is recycled. Meanwhile solar energy enters the ecosystem circle and some heat escapes. In one, the square is too large.
Herman Daly’s conception of the economy as a subsystem of the environment. In a ‘full world,’ more growth can become uneconomic. Adapted from ‘Beyond Growth.’ Used with permission from Beacon Press.

While a professor at Louisiana State University in the 1970s, at the height of the U.S. environmental movement, Daly brought the box-in-circle framing to its logical conclusion in “Steady-State Economics.” Daly reasoned that growth and exploitation are prioritized in the competitive, pioneer stage of a young ecosystem. But with age comes a new focus on durability and cooperation. His steady-state model shifted the goal away from blind expansion of the economy and toward purposeful improvement of the human condition.

The international development community took notice. Following the United Nations’ 1987 publication of “Our Common Future,” which framed the goals of a “sustainable” development, Daly saw a window for development policy reform. He left the safety of tenure at LSU to join a rogue group of environmental scientists at the World Bank.

For the better part of six years, they worked to upend the reigning economic logic that treated “the Earth as if it were a business in liquidation.” He often butted heads with senior leadership, most famously with Larry Summers, the bank’s chief economist at the time, who publicly waved off Daly’s question of whether the size of a growing economy relative to a fixed ecosystem was of any importance. The future U.S. treasury secretary’s reply was short and dismissive: “That’s not the right way to look at it.”

But by the end of his tenure there, Daly and colleagues had successfully incorporated new environmental impact standards into all development loans and projects. And the international sustainability agenda they helped shape is now baked into the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals of 193 countries, “a plan of action for people, planet and prosperity.” In 1994, Daly returned to academia at the University of Maryland, and his life’s work was recognized the world over in the years to follow, including by Sweden’s Right Livelihood Award, the Netherlands’ Heineken Prize for Environmental Science, Norway’s Sophie Prize, Italy’s Medal of the Presidency, Japan’s Blue Planet Prize and even Adbuster’s person of the year.

Today, the imprint of his career can be found far and wide, including measures of the Genuine Progress Indicator of an economy, new Doughnut Economics framing of social floors within environmental ceilings, worldwide degree programs in ecological economics and a vibrant degrowth movement focused on a just transition to a right-sized economy.

I knew Herman Daly for two decades as a co-author, mentor and teacher. He always made time for me and my students, most recently writing the foreword to my upcoming book, “The Progress Illusion: Reclaiming Our Future from the Fairytale of Economics.” I will be forever grateful for his inspiration and courage to, as he put it, “ask the naive, honest questions” and then not be “satisfied until I get the answers.”

Jon D. Erickson, Professor of Sustainability Science and Policy, University of Vermont

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

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I found this to be absolutely fascinating and I am sure many besides me agree.

A fascinating article about Pit Bulls

The breed has come full circle!

We have had a couple of pit bull mixes here at home and they have been nothing but fabulous dogs.

So just three weeks ago The Conversation published an extensive account of the recent history of the breed. It is republished for you all today.

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Pit bulls went from America’s best friend to public enemy – now they’re slowly coming full circle.

A pit bull is not an official breed – it’s an umbrella term for a type of dog. Barbara Rich via Getty Images

Colin Dayan, Vanderbilt University

As recently as 50 years ago, the pit bull was America’s favorite dog. Pit bulls were everywhere. They were popular in advertising and used to promote the joys of pet-and-human friendship. Nipper on the RCA Victor label, Pete the Pup in the “Our Gang” comedy short films, and the flag-wrapped dog on a classic World War I poster all were pit bulls.

With National Pit Bull Awareness Day celebrated on Oct. 26, it’s a fitting time to ask how these dogs came to be seen as a dangerous threat.

A black and white dog runs with a tennis ball in its mouth
Stella, a pit bull owned by author Colin Dayan. Colin Dayan, CC BY-ND

Starting around 1990, multiple features of American life converged to inspire widespread bans that made pit bulls outlaws, called “four-legged guns” or “lethal weapons.” The drivers included some dog attacks, excessive parental caution, fearful insurance companies and a tie to the sport of dog fighting.

As a professor of humanities and law, I have studied the legal history of slaves, vagrants, criminals, terror suspects and others deemed threats to civilized society. For my books “The Law is a White Dog” and “With Dogs at the Edge of Life,” I explored human-dog relationships and how laws and regulations can deny equal protection to entire classes of beings.

In my experience with these dogs – including nearly 12 years living with Stella, the daughter of champion fighting dogs – I have learned that pit bulls are not inherently dangerous. Like other dogs, they can become dangerous in certain situations, and at the hands of certain owners. But in my view, there is no defensible rationale for condemning not only all pit bulls, but any dog with a single pit bull gene, as some laws do.

I see such action as canine profiling, which recalls another legal fiction: the taint or stain of blood that ordained human degradation and race hatred in the United States.

Painting of a black and white dog looking into the horn of a Victorian record player
English artist Francis Barraud (1856-1924) painted his brother’s dog Nipper listening to the horn of an early phonograph in 1898. Victor Talking Machine Co. began using the symbol in its trademark, His Master’s Voice, in 1900. Wikipedia

Bred to fight

The pit bull is strong. Its jaw grip is almost impossible to break. Bred over centuries to bite and hold large animals like bears and bulls around the face and head, it’s known as a “game dog.” Its bravery and strength won’t allow it to give up, no matter how long the struggle. It loves with the same strength; its loyalty remains the stuff of legend.

For decades pit bulls’ tenacity encouraged the sport of dogfighting, with the dogs “pitted” against each other. Fights often went to the death, and winning animals earned huge sums for those who bet on them.

But betting on dogs is not a high-class sport. Dogs are not horses; they cost little to acquire and maintain. Pit bulls easily and quickly became associated with the poor, and especially with Black men, in a narrative that connected pit bulls with gang violence and crime.

That’s how prejudice works: The one-on-one lamination of the pit bull onto the African American male reduced people to their accessories.

A dog confined in an animal crate, with police in the background.
A pit bull-type dog seized during a 2007 raid on an illegal dogfighting operation in East Cleveland, Ohio. Owen Humphreys – PA Images via Getty Images

Dogfighting was outlawed in all 50 states by 1976, although illegal businesses persisted. Coverage of the practice spawned broad assertions about the dogs that did the fighting. As breed bans proliferated, legal rulings proclaimed these dogs “dangerous to the safety or health of the community” and judged that “public interests demand that the worthless shall be exterminated.”

In 1987 Sports Illustrated put a pit bull, teeth bared, on its cover, with the headline “Beware of this Dog,” which it characterized as born with “a will to kill.” Time magazine published “Time Bombs on Legs” featuring this “vicious hound of the Baskervilles” that “seized small children like rag dolls and mauled them to death in a frenzy of bloodletting.”

Presumed vicious

If a dog has “vicious propensities,” the owner is assumed to share in this projected violence, both legally and generally in public perception. And once deemed “contraband,” both property and people are at risk.

This was evident in the much-publicized 2007 indictment of Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick for running a dogfighting business called Bad Newz Kennels in Virginia. Even the Humane Society of the United States and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals – two of the nation’s leading animal welfare advocacy groups – argued that the 47 pit bulls recovered from the facility should be killed because they posed a threat to people and other animals.

If not for the intervention of Best Friends Animal Society, Vick’s dogs would have been euthanized. As the film “Champions” recounts, a court-appointed special master determined each dog’s fate. Ultimately, nearly all of the dogs were successfully placed in sanctuaries or adoptive homes.

This 2010 report describes the successful rehabilitation of dogs rescued from Michael Vick’s Bad Newz dogfighting operation.

Debating breed bans

Pit bulls still suffer more than any other dogs from the fact that they are a type of dog, not a distinct breed. Once recognized by the American Kennel Club as an American Staffordshire terrier, popularly known as an Amstaff, and registered with the United Kennel Club and the American Dog Breeders Association as an American pit bull terrier, now any dog characterized as a “pit bull type” can be considered an outlaw in many communities.

For example, in its 2012 Tracey v. Solesky ruling, the Maryland Court of Appeals modified the state’s common law in cases involving dog injuries. Any dog containing pit bull genes was “inherently dangerous” as a matter of law.

This subjected owners and landlords to what the courts call “strict liability.” As the court declared: “When an attack involves pit bulls, it is no longer necessary to prove that the particular pit bull or pit bulls are dangerous.”

Dissenting from the ruling, Judge Clayton Greene recognized the absurdity of the majority opinion’s “unworkable rule”: “How much ‘pit bull,’” he asked, “must there be in a dog to bring it within the strict liability edict?”

It’s equally unanswerable how to tell when a dog is a pit bull mix. From the shape of its head? Its stance? The way it looks at you?

Conundrums like these call into question statistics that show pit bulls to be more dangerous than other breeds. These figures vary a great deal depending on their sources.

Any statistics about pit bull attacks depend on the definition of a pit bull – yet it’s really hard to get good dog bite data that accurately IDs the breed

Prince George’s County, Md., is negotiating with advocates suing to revoke the county’s pit bull ban.

Over the past decade, awareness has grown that breed-specific legislation does not make the public safer but does penalize responsible owners and their dogs. Currently 21 states prohibit local government from enforcing breed-specific legislation or naming specific breeds in dangerous dog laws. Maryland passed a law reversing the Tracey ruling in 2014. Yet 15 states still allow local communities to enact breed-specific bans.

Pit bulls demand a great deal more from humans than some dogs, but alongside their bracing way of being in the world, we humans learn another way of thinking and loving. Compared with many other breeds, they offer a more demanding but always affecting communion.

Colin Dayan, Professor of English, Robert Penn Warren Professor in the Humanities, and Professor of Law, Vanderbilt University

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

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That is a very interesting account of the breed and shows the complexities of owning Pit Bulls in certain States, or rather local communities enacting breed-specific bans.

However, in our experience, we have found them to be smart, loving animals, and we know we are not alone in having those thoughts.

Ancient history of the climate.

Showing that droughts have been in evidence for 1,000 years or more!

It is very easy, well it is for me, to think that the changes we are seeing in the climate are purely recent. There is no question that we are experiencing changes in the global climate. But it would be too easy to think that these changes are only the result of recent times.

My way of an introduction to this post from The Conversation.

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1,000-year-old stalagmites from a cave in India show the monsoon isn’t so reliable – their rings reveal a history of long, deadly droughts.

Published on the 19th September, 2022 by:

  1. Gayatri Kathayat Associate Professor of Global Environmental Change, Xi’an Jiaotong University
  2. Ashish Sinha Professor of Earth and Climate Sciences, California State University, Dominguez Hills

In a remote cave in northeast India, rainwater has slowly dripped from the ceiling in the same spots for over 1,000 years. With each drop, minerals in the water accumulate on the floor below, slowly growing into calcium carbonate towers known as stalagmites.

These stalagmites are more than geological wonders – like tree rings, their layers record the region’s rainfall history. They also carry a warning about the potential for catastrophic multiyear droughts in the future. 

By analyzing the geochemistry of these stalagmites in a new study published Sept. 19, 2022, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, we were able to create the most precise chronology yet of the summer Indian monsoon over the past millennium. It documents how the Indian subcontinent frequently experienced long, severe droughts unlike any observed in the last 150 years of reliable monsoon rainfall measurements. 

The drought periods we detected are in striking synchrony with historical accounts of droughts, faminesmass mortality events and geopolitical changes in the region.

They show how the decline of the Mughal Empire and India’s textile industries in the 1780s and 1790s coincided with the most severe 30-year period of drought over the millennium. The depth and duration of the drought would have caused widespread crop failures and the level of famine discussed in written documentsat the time. 

Another long drought encompasses the 1630-1632 Deccan famine, one of the most devastating droughts in India’s history. Millions of people died as crops failed. Around the same time, the elaborate Mughal capital of Fatehpur Sikri was abandoned and the Guge Kingdom collapsed in western Tibet.

Buland Darwaza (Door of Victory) at Fatehpur Sikri, India.

Our findings have important implications today for water planning in a warming world, particularly for India, which, with its vast monsoon-reliant agriculture industry, is on pace to soon be the most populous country on the planet.

Why the monsoon’s history matters

Scientists began systematically measuring India’s monsoon rainfall with instruments around the 1870s. Since then, India has experienced about 27 regionally widespread droughts. Among them, only one – 1985 to 1987 – was a three-year consecutive drought or worse.

The apparent stability of the Indian monsoon in that data might lead one to surmise that neither protracted droughts lasting multiple years nor frequent droughts are intrinsic aspects of its variability. This seemingly reassuring view currently informs the region’s present-day water resource infrastructure.

However, the stalagmite evidence of prolonged, severe droughts over the past 1,000 years paints a different picture.

It indicates that the short instrumental period does not capture the full range of Indian monsoon variability. It also raises questions about the region’s current water resources, sustainability and mitigation policies that discount the possibility of protracted droughts in the future.

Timeline of major societal and geopolitical changes in India and the oxygen isotope record from Mawmluh cave. Gayatri Kathayat

How do stalagmites capture a region’s monsoon history?

To reconstruct past variations in rainfall, we analyzed stalagmites from Mawmluh cave, near the town of Cherrapunji in the state of Meghalaya – one of the wettest locations in the world.

Stalagmites are conelike structures that grow slowly from the ground up, typically at a rate of about one millimeter every 10 years. Trapped within their growth layers are minute amounts of uranium and other elements that were acquired as rainwater infiltrated the rocks and soil above the cave. Over time, uranium trapped in stalagmites decays into thorium at a predictable pace, so we can figure out the age of each stalagmite growth layer by measuring the ratio of uranium to thorium.

The oxygen in rainwater molecules comes in two primary types of isotopes – heavy and light. As stalagmites grow, they lock into their structure the oxygen isotope ratios of the percolating rainwater that seeps into the cave. Subtle variations in this ratio can arise from a range of climatic conditions at the time the rainwater originally fell.

Stalagmite formation are marked inside Mawmluh Cave, where the new study was based. Gayatri Kathayat
A cross-section of a stalagmite shows differences in its ring formation as climate conditions changed. Gayatri Kathayat

Our previous research in this area showed that variations in oxygen isotope ratios in rainwater, and consequently, in stalagmites, track changes in the relative abundance of different moisture sources that contribute to summer monsoon rainfall.

During years when monsoon circulation is weak, rainfall here is primarily derived from the moisture that evaporated from the nearby Arabian Sea. During strong monsoon years, however, atmospheric circulation brings copious amounts of moisture to this area all the way from the southern Indian Ocean.

The two moisture sources have quite different oxygen isotope signatures, and this ratio is faithfully preserved in the stalagmites. We can use this clue to learn about the overall strength of the monsoon intensity at the time the stalagmite formed. We pieced together the monsoon rainfall history by extracting minute amounts of calcium carbonate from its growth rings and then measuring the oxygen isotope ratios. To anchor our climate record to precise calendar years, we measured the uranium and thorium ratio.

Stalagmites grow from the ground, and stalactites grow from above. These are in Mawmluh Cave, where the authors conducted their research. Gayatri Kathayat.

Next steps

The paleoclimate records can usually tell what, where and when something happened. But often, they alone cannot answer why or how something happened. 

Our new study shows that protracted droughts frequently occurred during the past millennia, but we do not have a good understanding of why the monsoon failed in those years. Similar studies using Himalayan ice cores, tree rings and other caves have also detected protracted droughts but face the same challenge. 

In the next phase of our study, we are teaming up with climate modelers to conduct coordinated proxy-modeling studies that we hope will offer more insight into the climate dynamics that triggered and sustained such extended periods of drought during the past millennium.

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So there we are. Droughts are a thing of the ancient past. But only a partial understanding for why the monsoons failed is known. Despite these modern times with so much general access to knowledge there are still things that we do not know!

Finally, one hopes that the next phase of their study will be along in reasonable time! I would love to report on it.

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.

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

ooOOoo

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!