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Dear Biosphere, Some Recent Good News and Bad About Your Future
While you are well aware of the physical inputs we humans inject into your system, you may be blind to the human politics and polling and psychology about climate change that help explain what we’re doing to you (and ourselves, of course, since the biosphere in the Anthropocene Age definitely includes us.) But it may be of interest to you to keep abreast of the latest human behavioral developments that bear on what your future (and ours) looks like. I am pleased, and sad, to say there has been good news, and bad.
You have certainly heard by now that the United States has proposed regulations to curtail carbon dioxide emissions, which is very good news, though the bad news is that the cuts don’t amount to much (just 10% of the U.S.’s 6% of overall global carbon emissions) and they won’t happen very soon (by 2030). Kind of depressing, I know, that this seems to be the best the world’s largest per capita polluter can do.
But you may be encouraged to know that the regulations on power plant emissions are not all the U.S. is doing. I am pleased to inform you that there is good news just out about the effectiveness of federal government controls on motor vehicle fuel economy slapped on manufacturers back in 2007 and ‘08 when they came hat-in-hand to the government in need of wads of cash to avoid bankruptcy. The latest Eco-Driving Index from the University of Michigan finds that vehicle emissions are 22% lower that they were just seven years ago, and over the next several years fuel economy will rise enough to cut emissions even more than the power plant regulations will. Check it out. The progress looks pretty encouraging.
Of course, that still isn't nearly enough to turn around the overall trend of what we're doing to you, and I'm afraid it doesn't look like we will. Two bits of bad news on that account; first, the sobering assessment of Vox's Ezra Klein in Seven Reasons Americans Will Fail on Climate Change, arguing that it's time to get realistic about the mess we've made rather than naively hope that innate human risk perception psychology is going to suddenly change and get us to do the really major things we need to do, now. You might recall that this is the kind of realism I called for in Andy Revkin's DotEarth blog a while back in A Risk Analyst Explains Why Climate Change Risk Misperception Doesn't Necessarily Matter.
And as if to reinforce Klein’s point and mine, Tony Leiserowitz at Yale is out with another survey of public opinion on climate change, which finds that while a slight but stable majority of Americans think climate change is real (they aren’t caught up in the ideological nonsense of Republican climate skepticism), very few Americans feel all that worried by the significant changes you are already experiencing, even though the recent National Climate Assessment made clear that bad things are already happening right here in the U.S of A. (Seth Borenstein of AP did a great job just yesterday identifying the parts of America – the Northeast and Southwest - where temperatures are changing the most, though of course you already know that).
Want to see something REALLY scary for what we’re doing to you, and likely will continue to do? And you don’t have to be a genius to understand why. You just have to understand the basic psychology of risk perception, that we worry more about things that feel like they might threaten us personally, soon, and climate changes doesn’t. Read this chart and weep.
Better not count on public opinion to turn things around.
But I don’t want to end on bad news. There may actually be a glimmer of hope on the political front. The stubborn intransigence of Republicans on climate change may be softening, at least just a bit. Facing a nationwide presidential election in a couple years (as well as the overwhelming scientific evidence, of course) GOP leaders are backpedaling from arguing that whether climate change is happening is still a matter of debate. (I know. Laughable, eh?) Speaker John Boehner and potential presidential candidate Florida Senator Marco Rubio, among others, are now saying “I’m not qualified to debate the science over climate change,” and “I’m no scientist.” Sounds like they’re giving themselves some wiggle room. Of course they are still absolute obstructionists to the government intervention necessary for progress. Boehner called the modest C02 regulations, “nuts”. And cap-and trade pricing of carbon, a free market idea that conservatives themselves came up with that helped you breath a little better when it cleaned the air of acid rain-causing pollutants in the 90’s (at far less cost that naysayers warned)? Fugheddaboutit (a phrase common in the biosphere of New York City).
There’s more possibly good news recently as well. There are some hints from China about controlling CO2 emissions, but Revkin reports those hints may just be straws in the ever-warming wind. And you may have heard about this guy Tom Steyer shelling out big bucks from his personal fortune to help political candidates who support progress on climate change, kind of the anti-Koch brothers.
It’s hard to know how all this will play out. So let me simply close by saying that as a member of a species that is having a huge impact on how you operate, I am sorry for the mess we’re making, sorry for the way our subjective psychology of risk perception is getting in the way of fixing things, and, on behalf of my fellow beings, I remain grateful for all you provide.
What is human dignity? Here's a primer, told through 200 years of great essays, lectures, and novels.
- Human dignity means that each of our lives have an unimpeachable value simply because we are human, and therefore we are deserving of a baseline level of respect.
- That baseline requires more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose.
- We look at incredible writings from the last 200 years that illustrate the push for human dignity in regards to slavery, equality, communism, free speech and education.
The inherent worth of all human beings<p>Human dignity is the inherent worth of each individual human being. Recognizing human dignity means respecting human beings' special value—value that sets us apart from other animals; value that is intrinsic and cannot be lost.</p> <p>Liberalism—the broad political philosophy that organizes society around liberty, justice, and equality—is rooted in the idea of human dignity. Liberalism assumes each of our lives, plans, and preferences have some unimpeachable value, not because of any objective evaluation or contribution to a greater good, but simply because they belong to a human being. We are human, and therefore deserving of a baseline level of respect. </p> <p>Because so many of us take human dignity for granted—just a fact of our humanness—it's usually only when someone's dignity is ignored or violated that we feel compelled to talk about it. </p> <p>But human dignity means more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose—a freedom that can be hampered by restrictive social institutions or the tyranny of the majority. The liberal ideal of the good society is not just peaceful but also pluralistic: It is a society in which we respect others' right to think and live differently than we do.</p>
From the 19th century to today<p>With <a href="https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?year_start=1800&year_end=2019&content=human+dignity&corpus=26&smoothing=3&direct_url=t1%3B%2Chuman%20dignity%3B%2Cc0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Google Books Ngram Viewer</a>, we can chart mentions of human dignity from 1800-2019.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0ODU0My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTUwMzE4MX0.bu0D_0uQuyNLyJjfRESNhu7twkJ5nxu8pQtfa1w3hZs/img.png?width=980" id="7ef38" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9974c7bef3812fcb36858f325889e3c6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist James Baldwin at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, southern France, on November 6, 1979.
Credit: Ralph Gatti/AFP via Getty Images
The future of dignity<p>Around the world, people are still working toward the full and equal recognition of human dignity. Every year, new speeches and writings help us understand what dignity is—not only what it looks like when dignity is violated but also what it looks like when dignity is honored. In his posthumous essay, Congressman Lewis wrote, "When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war."</p> <p>The more we talk about human dignity, the better we understand it. And the sooner we can make progress toward a shared vision of peace, freedom, and mutual respect for all. </p>
Scientists find that bursts of gamma rays may exceed the speed of light and cause time-reversibility.
- Astrophysicists propose that gamma-ray bursts may exceed the speed of light.
- The superluminal jets may also be responsible for time-reversibility.
- The finding doesn't go against Einstein's theory because this effect happens in the jet medium not a vacuum.
Jet bursting out of a blazar. Black-hole-powered galaxies called blazars are the most common sources detected by NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope.
Cosmic death beams: Understanding gamma ray bursts<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="cu2knVEk" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="c6cfd20fdf31c82cb206ade8ce21ba3f"> <div id="botr_cu2knVEk_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cu2knVEk-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/cu2knVEk-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cu2knVEk-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div>
Philosophers have been asking the question for hundreds of years. Now neuroscientists are joining the quest to find out.
- The debate over whether or not humans have free will is centuries old and ongoing. While studies have confirmed that our brains perform many tasks without conscious effort, there remains the question of how much we control and when it matters.
- According to Dr. Uri Maoz, it comes down to what your definition of free will is and to learning more about how we make decisions versus when it is ok for our brain to subconsciously control our actions and movements.
- "If we understand the interplay between conscious and unconscious," says Maoz, "it might help us realize what we can control and what we can't."
Puerto Rico's iconic telescope facilitated important scientific discoveries while inspiring young scientists and the public imagination.
- The Arecibo Observatory's main telescope collapsed on Tuesday morning.
- Although officials had been planning to demolish the telescope, the accident marked an unceremonious end to a beloved astronomical tool.
- The Arecibo radio telescope has facilitated many discoveries in astronomy, including the mapping of near-Earth asteroids and the detection of exoplanets.
Bradley Rivera via twitter.com<p>In 1963, the concave dish was built into a natural sinkhole on the northern coast of Puerto Rico. The location was <a href="https://www.space.com/20984-arecibo-observatory.html" target="_blank">picked because it was near the equator,</a> providing scientists a clear view of planets passing overhead, and also of the ionosphere, which is the uniquely reactive layer of Earth's upper atmosphere where the northern lights form.</p><p>Since its construction, scientists have used the Arecibo telescope to map near-Earth asteroids, detect gravitational waves, study pulsars, detect exoplanets and <a href="https://www.seti.org/goodbye-arecibo" target="_blank">search for alien civilizations</a>, among other projects. Here's a brief look at some of the discoveries and accomplishments made using the Arecibo telescope:</p><ul><li>1964: Astronomer <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gordon_Pettengill" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Gordon Pettengill</a> discovers that Mercury's rotation period is 59 days, significantly shorter than the previous prediction of 88 days.</li><li>1974: Physicists Russell Alan Hulse and Joseph Hooton Taylor Jr. discovers the first binary pulsar, for which they won a Nobel Prize in Physics.</li><li>1974: Scientists use the telescope to transmit the "Arecibo message" to <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Globular_Cluster_in_Hercules" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">globular star cluster M13</a>. The message, when translated into image form, contains basic information about humanity and human knowledge: the numbers one to 10, a map of our solar system, an illustration of a human being, and the atomic numbers of certain elements.</li><li>1989: Scientists use the telescope to image an asteroid for the first time.</li><li>1992: Astronomers Alex Wolszczan and Dale Frail become the first to discover exoplanets.</li></ul>
The Google-owned company developed a system that can reliably predict the 3D shapes of proteins.