Unexpected Science: Sixth Grade Edition

Lionfish live in the ocean
Little Lauren gets a notion:
Might they live in rivers, too?
Would they thrive in brackish water?
Lauren, ichthyologist’s daughter,
Knows just what to do

Slowly starts desalination
Learns some brand-new information
Of which we’re now aware
New understanding’s always great
So, never underestimate
The sixth-grade science fair! [Read more...]

“Noah” As A Stealth Climate Change Movie?

Could “Noah” be a metaphor
For global climate change?
At first, the claim is ludicrous–
At second, merely strange
The people didn’t listen,
And the global waters rose:

Replacing “God” with “Scientists”,
The story likewise goes.
Our sins will lead to flooding,
That plot, too, remains the same–
A global warming metaphor
That dare not speak its name!

It seems odd, given that more than one US congressman has cited the Noah story as proof that anthropogenic global climate change cannot possibly be happening, but the cinematographer for Noah reveals in a Daily Beast interview that the new Noah movie is actually a Global Warming Epic, a movie with a strong environmentalist, pro-science message:

That was the largest theme of the film: environmentalism. In the marketing of the film they shy away from it. I don’t know why it’s a taboo thing to say “environmentalism” cause you’re going to scare off half the population because they’ve been told “environmentalism” is a bad thing? The idea that we have to stay away from the issue because we’re going to polarize half the audience speaks to how fucking dysfunctional we are.

We also find out that Superstorm Sandy caused serious damage to the ark set, on Long Island–of course, a true global flood in the time scale of of the Noachian story would dwarf Sandy, so I guess they just don’t build arks like they used to. Or never did, or whatever.

I have not been paying attention to the reviews of Noah–indeed, this interview is the first I have heard the environmental angle spoken of.

You?

Almost Heaven?

My goodness, what they put in the water in West Virginia! But that’s the price of Freedom. Freedom Industries, that is.
From the first link:

The Freedom Industries president downplayed the chemical’s health effects, saying it has “very, very low toxicity” and poses no danger to the public.

Strange… I originally posted the following as a metaphor. Never really thought I’d repost it so literally.

There was poison in the water
And it wasn’t fit to drink;
So we got ourselves together
And we had a little think… [Read more...]

This Time, The Apocalypse Is For The Birds

Predictions of apocalypse
Are found in some religions
This week, for something different, it’s
The end of days… of pigeons

In Moscow, birds are dying—
Ah, but that is not the worst—
The pigeons don’t just die; they’ve been
Becoming zombies first!

They fall to earth as if possessed,
Their muscles strangely weak
They’re listless, twisted, twitching,
And they’re foaming at the beak

It’s probably a virus,
Or so the signs portend,
But others see a different sign:
The world’s about to end

So for the birds afflicted
With a tortured torticollis
Consider your predicament
And maybe take some solace:

Rasputin said the world would end
This August twenty-third…
You’ve only missed a little time,
You poor, infected bird

And if it is apocalypse,
And if it is the worst…
We’ll all be dead by Friday, but
The pigeons got there first

The video is in Russian, but the footage is very creepy indeed. Pigeons are falling from the skies in Moscow, twisting their necks around, seizing, foaming at the beak, and dying. It’s probably Newcastle Disease, according to researchers (viral, and contagious to humans), but it also turns out that the Mad Monk, Rasputin, predicted the end of the world… this Friday. So, clearly, it could be that.

Sure, we’ve seen end time predictions before–I think we’ve lived through 3 or 4 since the inception of this blog–but if you can’t believe Rasputin, who can you believe?

We’re Number One! (Wait, That’s A Bad Thing…)

Shockingly, rockingly,
Scientist monitors
Looked at the bullet we’d
Hoped we had ducked

Argue no longer for
Periodicity—
Carbon’s new record means
Humans are fucked.

Yup. Carbon Dioxide levels in the atmosphere are higher they have been in the history of humankind. The highest in over six thousand three million years. The New York Times reports:

The best available evidence suggests the amount of the gas in the air has not been this high for at least three million years, before humans evolved, and scientists believe the rise portends large changes in the climate and the level of the sea.

“It symbolizes that so far we have failed miserably in tackling this problem,” said Pieter P. Tans, who runs the monitoring program at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that reported the new reading.

While some groups have short-term economic reasons for denying reality, the truth is…

Carbon dioxide rises and falls on a seasonal cycle and the level will dip below 400 this summer, as leaf growth in the Northern Hemisphere pulls about 10 billion tons of carbon out of the air. But experts say that will be a brief reprieve — the moment is approaching when no measurement of the ambient air anywhere on earth, in any season, will produce a reading below 400.

“It feels like the inevitable march toward disaster,” said Maureen E. Raymo, a Columbia University earth scientist.

Or as I put it above… humans are fucked. Read the article… and not for nothing, this month is bike-to-work month.

Where The Hell Are The Bees?

The forsythia bloomed at the edge of the yard
An explosion of yellow and gold;
An abundance of nectar—but where were the bees?
Disappearing… or so I’ve been told.

So, yeah, the first few lawn-mowings of spring used to be a harrowing affair. My yard has a border of forsythia on one side, which used to be inundated with bees when it bloomed. The past few years, I can mow with impunity; I stop and scan the flowers, knowing there should be bees there! But they aren’t there. My redbuds used to attract a variety of bees and wasps; we’ll find out in a few days, maybe a week, when the buds open.

Today was the first day I saw any substantial numbers of Hymenoptera at all–some wasps, some hornets, and an astonishing number of bumblebees (or maybe carpenter bees, or probably both), far more interested in one another than in me as I made my way through them with gardening gear.

My apple trees are getting ready to blossom–they are young, so this is only the third year of flowers, and last year’s late frost meant that I had a total of one apple make it to maturity. It was then partially eaten by a worm, which was then thoroughly eaten by a bird. I found the half-apple on the ground. And yes, dammit, I ate it. It was superb.

But I digress. My apple trees are getting ready to blossom, and I have never hoped for bees so much as right now. Mind you, I’ve never had to–my heirloom tomatoes had plenty of bees in past years. So… Where the hell are the bees?

What we have lost in bees, we appear to be making up in reasons why we have fewer bees. I have always wanted to keep a hive (Cuttlefamily does not agree, and currently outvote me). I hope they last long enough that I will be able to.

For both our sakes. And so much more.

The Dinosaur Told Me…

The dinosaur told me “be careful”
The dinosaur told me “beware”
The dinosaur told me “it’s happened before,
And the universe just doesn’t care”

The dinosaur told me “Extinction
Is the safest, conservative bet”
The dinosaur told me “don’t think you’re immune
Just because it has not happened yet.”

The dinosaur gave me a warning
She told me to share it with you
It won’t be an asteroid this time around—
We’ll be killed by the things that we do

The dinosaur pointed to history
And biology books on the shelves
The dinosaur told me what’s different this time
Is, we’re doing it all by ourselves

The dinosaur told me “be careful”
The dinosaur told me “it’s true”
The dinosaur said, “it’s a fight to the death,
And the enemy this time… is you.”

Dinosaur
(click to embiggen, a bit.)

Today was a good day for dinosaurs. (Note–I am a big fan of Dana Hunter’s “Unidentified Flying Dinosaur” series.) Today, while watching an American Kestrel, I was completely blown away when the tiny kestrel, skittish in the presence of my camera, nearly flew right into the talons of a huge Osprey (I was reminded of fighter planes escorting bombers–the relative size of these two is astonishing). I saw five different species of ducks–mergansers, mallards, buffleheads, ring-necked ducks, and the first gorgeous wood ducks of the season (got good pics of all, too! Yes, I am obsessive, why do you ask?). And a beautiful prairie warbler, quite the tease, very keenly aware of where my camera was pointed, and pointedly staying one step ahead (well, mostly… I got a couple of nice shots of him as well).

And all of them are dinosaurs. Isn’t that just astonishing?

The dino in the pic above is one of my all time favorites, a black-crowned night heron. The first one I ever saw, I saw in Greece, at Lake Kerkini. This one, I saw… well, lemme ‘splain.

I was getting my oil changed (well, the oil in my car), at an auto-service chain that will go unnamed for now, attached to a big-box store that will also go unnamed for now, that had apparently built on cheap land that had once been swamp. Or wetlands, if you want to be a tree-hugger. While my car was up on hydraulic lifts, I walked the perimeter of the parking lot; this shot was taken from the parking lot of a big-box store.

Isn’t it wonderful, what a zoom lens and cropping can do?

What you don’t see (mostly) is the horrendous treatment of the heron’s home. Discarded automobile tires–at least 8 that I saw. Bottles and cans too numerous to count–mostly soda, but quite a bit more, including antifreeze and oil bottles. Insulated coffee mugs. Wheels from shopping carts. Hundreds of newspaper flyers–no idea what was in the ink they used. An entire single-serving coffee machine, in pieces. Plastic bags by the score. Insulated foam containers. Not to mention, the runoff from the parking lot itself ran directly into the wetlands area, not into a storm sewer–all the crap that leaks from cars on a regular basis was flowing right into that pond. I’m certain I’m leaving out as much as I’m including.

The red deally next to the heron? Near as I can tell, a plastic bread rack.

I’ll be writing to the owner of the big box store, and asking for responsible action. Failing that, I have plenty of pictures, and the addresses of the local papers.

We’ve used dinosaurs before, to warn us. The canary in a coal mine is a dinosaur warning system; we’ve seen the stomachs of starving albatrosses distended with plastics. Dinosaurs know extinction. Will we listen?

Disaster Preparation 101

There’s a chance we’ll be demolished by an asteroid from space
There’s a chance a wayward comet comes our way
There’s a certain probability the dangers that we face
Mean tomorrow is our last surviving day

There’s the promise of a super-quake that shakes us to the core
Or the ultimate volcano of them all
There are dozens of diseases we are not preparing for
Even one would be a horror to befall

We are petrified of portents; we are terrified of signs
We are worried that predictions come to pass
Whether ancient Mayan calendars, or when the moon aligns
We’re convinced the cosmos wants to kick our ass

With the slightest provocation, we will panic in the street
Cos we’re utterly convinced that we are right
Spend our savings in convincing any strangers that we meet
That the world is going to end… and, yes, tonight.

But it isn’t really crazy—no, I’m skeptical, you know,
There’s some really stupid stuff I don’t believe
Like this global warming bullshit, while I’m shoveling the snow
And the vaccination doctors who deceive

Or a change in ocean chemistry, from acids in the air
That could stunt our biggest food chain at its source
There are scientists aplenty who will tell me I should care
But they’re shilling for the government, of course

So I’ll prep for Armageddon, or for zombies on the loose,
Or a multitude of aliens from Mars
But this climate propaganda is a thinly veiled excuse
For the government to take away our cars!

There are far, far greater dangers we are certain we might face
That would bring the population to its knees
So we fret about an asteroid destroying us from space
While we’re killing off our future, by degrees

I hope it’s just an availability heuristic thing, and a handful of unrepresentative stories in the media, but wow. People prepped bunkers for the Mayan apocalypse. Harold Camping convinced people the world was going to end…like, six times. On the strength of a splinter group’s interpretation of an ancient text, or a psychic’s premonition, or the ranting of a radio host who profits when you buy gold, guns, or dehydrated food, people are moved to prepare for the worst. But when the scientific consensus points to a far more likely (but long term and slower) disaster?

*sigh*