from the world's big
Fire and Ice
The underwhelming results of the Copenhagen Accord during last month’s United Nations Climate Change Conference in Denmark sent me searching my mental files for examples of how art has documented changes in world climate. My mind immediately went to Chichester Canal (pictured) by J. M. W. Turner. Painted in 1828, Turner’s acidic yellow skies seem artistic license to us today, but scientists know that Turner probably accurately depicted the skies at the time, which were still altered by the climate-changing events of 1816—the “Year Without a Summer."
In that fateful summer of 1816, the world chilled beneath a volcanic winter. Between 1812 and 1814, several large volcanoes spewed debris into the air, but the coup de grace came in 1815 with the eruption of Mount Tambora in the then Dutch East Indies (today’s Indonesia). Mount Tambora shot more volcanic dust into the atmosphere than any other eruption in the previous 1600 years. Even more chilling for us today are some of the other nicknames that 1816 earned, such as “the Poverty Year” and “Eighteen Hundred and Froze to Death.” Climate change was literally a matter of life and death.
Among the millions cooped up inside that fateful summer were the Romantic writers Percy Bysshe Shelley and Lord Byron. Watching cold rain fall incessantly upon the windows of their Swiss chalet, the two poets proposed a story-telling contest among their circle of family and friends. Little could they have guessed that the winner of that contest would be Shelley’s young wife, Mary, whose Frankenstein still makes us scream. Ironically, during that time of naturally occurring climate change, Mary Shelley would write the ultimate story of humanity toying with nature and paying a dear price, a message we should be listening to today when facing the cost of human-driven change. The Industrial Revolution’s “dark satanic mills,” as another Romantic poet, William Blake, called them, were just beginning to belch toxicity into the environment when Frankenstein’s creation slipped off the laboratory slab into immortality.
Turner’s art is just one example of artists documenting the environment in flux. Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s 1565 Winter Landscape with a Bird Trap may show the first effects of the “Little Ice Age” of the late 16th century. The blood red skies of Edvard Munch’s famous Scream convey his inner turmoil as well as actual turmoil observed above Norway’s fjords. And, yet, we refuse to see the evidence before their and our eyes when it comes to the environment. Amazingly, Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner propose in their cult tome SuperFreakonomics that global warming can be solved by manually duplicating the same volcanic winter that brought about 1816’s misery as a counterbalance to the warming trend. Al Gore and others respond that playing God with the environment after centuries of abuse may be the last thing we want to do. Mary Shelley’s original mad scientist from the age of Turner should be cautionary tale enough to keep scientists from erupting volcanoes as a cure for past mistakes.
For all the hot air that came out of Copenhagen last month, precious little was accomplished of significance. Not even a mountain of evidence can move world leaders to sacrifice short-term economics in the name of long-term ecology. “The Year Without a Summer” and the “Little Ice Age” may seem like ancient history to us now, but the talents of Turner and Bruegel bring them to us today. They dealt with ice, but it may be the fire next time.
Ever since we've had the technology, we've looked to the stars in search of alien life. It's assumed that we're looking because we want to find other life in the universe, but what if we're looking to make sure there isn't any?
Here's an equation, and a rather distressing one at that: N = R* × fP × ne × f1 × fi × fc × L. It's the Drake equation, and it describes the number of alien civilizations in our galaxy with whom we might be able to communicate. Its terms correspond to values such as the fraction of stars with planets, the fraction of planets on which life could emerge, the fraction of planets that can support intelligent life, and so on. Using conservative estimates, the minimum result of this equation is 20. There ought to be 20 intelligent alien civilizations in the Milky Way that we can contact and who can contact us. But there aren't any.
Building a personal connection with students can counteract some negative side effects of remote learning.
- Not being able to engage with students in-person due to the pandemic has presented several new challenges for educators, both technical and social. Digital tools have changed the way we all think about learning, but George Couros argues that more needs to be done to make up for what has been lost during "emergency remote teaching."
- One interesting way he has seen to bridge that gap and strengthen teacher-student and student-student relationships is through an event called Identity Day. Giving students the opportunity to share something they are passionate about makes them feel more connected and gets them involved in their education.
- "My hope is that we take these skills and these abilities we're developing through this process and we actually become so much better for our kids when we get back to our face-to-face setting," Couros says. He adds that while no one can predict the future, we can all do our part to adapt to it.
Frequent shopping for single items adds to our carbon footprint.
- A new study shows e-commerce sites like Amazon leave larger greenhouse gas footprints than retail stores.
- Ordering online from retail stores has an even smaller footprint than going to the store yourself.
- Greening efforts by major e-commerce sites won't curb wasteful consumer habits. Consolidating online orders can make a difference.
A pile of recycled cardboard sits on the ground at Recology's Recycle Central on January 4, 2018 in San Francisco, California.
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images<p>A large part of the reason is speed. In a competitive market, pure players use the equation, <em>speed + convenience</em>, to drive adoption. This is especially relevant to the "last mile" GHG footprint: the distance between the distribution center and the consumer.</p><p>Interestingly, the smallest GHG footprint occurs when you order directly from a physical store—even smaller than going there yourself. Pure players, such as Amazon, are the greatest offenders. Variables like geographic location matter; the team looked at shopping in the UK, the US, China, and the Netherlands. </p><p>Sadegh Shahmohammadi, a PhD student at the Netherlands' Radboud University and corresponding author of the paper, <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2020/02/26/tech/greenhouse-gas-emissions-retail/index.html" target="_blank">says</a> the above "pattern holds true in countries where people mostly drive. It really depends on the country and consumer behavior there."</p><p>The researchers write that this year-and-a-half long study pushes back on previous research that claims online shopping to be better in terms of GHG footprints.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"They have, however, compared the GHG emissions per shopping event and did not consider the link between the retail channels and the basket size, which leads to a different conclusion than that of the current study."</p><p>Online retail is where convenience trumps environment: people tend to order one item at a time when shopping on pure player sites, whereas they stock up on multiple items when visiting a store. Consumers will sometimes order a number of separate items over the course of a week rather than making one trip to purchase everything they need. </p><p>While greening efforts by online retailers are important, until a shift in consumer attitude changes, the current carbon footprint will be a hard obstacle to overcome. Amazon is trying to have it both ways—carbon-free and convenience addicted—and the math isn't adding up. If you need to order things, do it online, but try to consolidate your purchases as much as possible.</p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>
Chronic irregular sleep in children was associated with psychotic experiences in adolescence, according to a recent study out of the University of Birmingham's School of Psychology.