Pollution cures global warming

Climate scientists–the established ones, not the renegades–have found that global surface temperatures did not rise from 1998 to 2008, despite heightened carbon emissions, and they have been trying to figure out why.  Now they are saying the temperature drop is anthropogenic, the result (like they had been saying of global warming) of pollution, just a different kind:

Smoke belching from Asia’s rapidly growing economies is largely responsible for a halt in global warming in the decade after 1998 because of sulphur’s cooling effect, even though greenhouse gas emissions soared, a U.S. study said on Monday.

The paper raised the prospect of more rapid, pent-up climate change when emerging economies eventually crack down on pollution.

World temperatures did not rise from 1998 to 2008, while manmade emissions of carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuel grew by nearly a third, various data show.

The researchers from Boston and Harvard Universities and Finland’s University of Turku said pollution, and specifically sulphur emissions, from coal-fueled growth in Asia was responsible for the cooling effect.

Sulphur allows water drops or aerosols to form, creating hazy clouds which reflect sunlight back into space.

“Anthropogenic activities that warm and cool the planet largely cancel after 1998, which allows natural variables to play a more significant role,” the paper said.

Natural cooling effects included a declining solar cycle after 2002, meaning the sun’s output fell.

The study said that the halt in warming had fueled doubts about anthropogenic climate change, where scientists say manmade greenhouse gas emissions are heating the Earth.

“It has been unclear why global surface temperatures did not rise between 1998 and 2008,” said the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States.

via Asia pollution blamed for halt in warming: study | Reuters.

Good thing it exactly balanced out!  Otherwise we’d be causing a new ice age that would also destroy civilization as we know it.

Public vs. Private tourist spots

My wife had a meeting in Lynchburg, Virginia, last week, so I tagged along.  While she was busy, I explored.  I went to Appomattox Court House to see where the Civil War ended.  (Did you know that Appomattox Court House is not the name of the building where Lee and Grant met to sign the terms of surrender?  Rather, Appomattox Court House is the name of the TOWN.  Not to be confused with Appomattox, Virginia, which is nearby.   Appomattox Court House was a little town that doesn’t exist any more, but the National Park Service has rebuilt part of it, restoring about half of the original buildings.  You can go to the Court House, but it’s now the Visitors’ Center.  The site of the surrender is the McLean House, which was owned by a prominent local merchant.   Most of the population had fled the war, but Grant’s adjutant, looking for a place to hold the meeting, did not want to break into someone’s home without permission.  Fortunately, Mr. McClean was still around and offered his home.   The site today is very moving, portrayed as the place where the nation came together again.  The film and exhibits put a lot of emphasis on how Grant and his army honored Lee and the defeated Confederates, refusing to vaunt over them and how both armies put on elaborate rituals of mutual respect.

Then I went to Red Hill, which was Patrick Henry’s home.  He had a nice spread, on the top of a beautiful hill, but his house was tiny, just a simple square whitewashed dwelling, far different from the palatial Mt. Vernon of George Washington and the sophisticated Monticello of Thomas Jefferson.  The obligatory movie had some fascinating clips of Henry’s speeches.  He really could turn a phrase, and his eloquence is moving even today.  Red Hill is run by a privately endowed foundation.  It is quite nice and well-preserved, out in the middle of nowhere, and I was the only visitor at the time.

Later, on our way back home, we stopped at Natural Bridge, a huge stone archway some 200 feet tall.  Perhaps Virginia’s oldest tourist attraction, George Washington as a young surveyor supposedly carved “G.W.” in the stone, initials that go way back and that are currently marked with a white rectangle.  Then we drove home by way of the Blue Ridge Parkway, which turned into Skyline Drive at Shenandoah National Park, 105 miles of a 35 mph speedlimit, winding roads of sublime vistas.

Here is my topic for discussion:  Conservatives generally prefer privatization to the government running things.  But when it comes to National Parks and other National Monuments (such as Appomattox Court House and Shenandoah National Park), they tend to be better presented than commercially-run attractions.   The Natural Bridge was magnificent, but you had to go through a souvenir shop to get to the path through the woods, and it was accompanied by a wax museum, an Indian village, a toy museum, a butterfly exhibit, and a hotel.   Don’t get me wrong:  the attraction is worth going to, with well-kept paths and helpful staff.  But there sure was a lot of commercialism.  The National Park service, in contrast, made everything accessible, but it was also kept relatively pristine, with a helpful ranger to tell you all about it.  I suppose the Patrick Henry site shows another option:  It is private but not commercial, with the foundation being devoted to preservation rather than turning a profit, so it doesn’t matter that much whether anyone comes to see it or not.  Still, could we agree that certain historical and natural sites are best thought of as public goods, like roads and the military, and so the legitimate business of the federal government?  Or do you think the principle of private ownership should extend even to what are now national parks and monuments, with the inevitable commercialization simply the price we have to pay?

Microbes that control your mind

A mash-up of weird biology and invasion of the body-snatchers:

Last month, three insect and plant disease researchers in the University of California system reported a discovery about the tomato spotted wilt virus. As its name suggests, this virus infects and damages tomato plants. It’s harmless to people.

To jump from plant to plant, the virus relies on insects known as thrips. A thrip feeds by sticking its oral probe into a plant’s cells and sucking out the contents. If a cell happens to contain the virus, the thrip sucks it up, too.

Scientists already knew that virus-infected tomato plants are more appealing to thrips than uninfected plants. The California researchers discovered something else: Once a thrip consumes the virus, its behavior changes. It spends more time feeding, and it licks more plant cells in the process, coating the next tomato plant with the virus.

The virus’s goal (if viruses had goals) isn’t to mess with the thrip. It only manipulates the insect to get to the next plant. By doing so, the virus is taking away some measure of the thrip’s self-determination. It’s like a fleeing bank robber who commandeers and then abandons a bystander’s vehicle. Car theft wasn’t the criminal’s objective, but the bystander is still deprived.

Scientists have also discovered infections that alter behavior in mammals, including humans. For example, the deadly hantavirus, a distant relative of the tomato spotted wilt virus, causes infected rats to become more aggressive. Rabies, meanwhile, renders its victims crazed and unable to swallow. So rabid bats and canines are more likely to bite and spread the saliva-transmitted virus. In fact, rabies may have provided inspiration for legends of vampires and werewolves. Rabies-infected people don’t tend to bite, but they may foam at the mouth and act belligerently in the infection’s terminal stages.

Not all microbes are so obvious about influencing our behavior. If the effect is subtle, it could be hard to tell whether a behavior is coming from the person or from the thing inside them. Cold viruses, for instance, were recently found to make people friendlier, especially during the period before symptoms appear but when the soon-to-be-sick person is highly infectious to others. Evolutionarily, that helps the virus survive, because a gregarious host is a host who’s likely to spread the illness. Advanced syphilis has been reported to sometimes trigger behavioral changes including an exaggerated desire for sex.

The freakiest of the behavior-warping microbes may be Toxoplasma gondii , the parasite that causes toxoplasmosis. It can live in cats, rodents, people, livestock and other warm-blooded animals, but it reproduces only inside the feline intestinal tract. So the parasite manipulates infected rats, making them attracted to the scent of cat urine when normally they would be repulsed and terrified by it, and causing them to run toward cats instead of away from them. End of rodent. New beginning for parasite.

In some countries, up to about three-quarters of the human population carries toxoplasmosis, which can be acquired by touching cat feces or contaminated soil or by consuming undercooked meat. Normally, only pregnant women and immune-suppressed people get sick. Others develop lifelong “latent” infections, which are symptom-free. Or so it was once thought.

Research in recent years has identified several personality traits that appear to be associated with latent toxoplasmosis. Infected men are more willing to disregard social norms, for example, and are more jealous and dogmatic. Infected women are more conscientious, warm, easygoing and attentive to others. Both sexes, when infected, are more apprehensive and insecure.

One prominent researcher speculated that toxoplasmosis indirectly kills a million drivers and pedestrians a year worldwide.

Another researcher summed up the personality patterns by saying that infected men are alley cats — in other words, loners and scrappy fighters — and infected women are sex kittens. A third scientist has hypothesized that the high prevalence of toxoplasmosis in certain countries, including France and Brazil, may influence cultural stereotypes about those nations.

via The bacteria (or virus or parasite) made me do it – The Washington Post.

 

 

The new age of fossil fuels

Michael Lind, at Salon, no less, explodes the conventional wisdom:

Are we living at the beginning of the Age of Fossil Fuels, not its final decades? The very thought goes against everything that politicians and the educated public have been taught to believe in the past generation. According to the conventional wisdom, the U.S. and other industrial nations must undertake a rapid and expensive transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy for three reasons: The imminent depletion of fossil fuels, national security and the danger of global warming.

What if the conventional wisdom about the energy future of America and the world has been completely wrong?

As everyone who follows news about energy knows by now, in the last decade the technique of hydraulic fracturing or “fracking,” long used in the oil industry, has evolved to permit energy companies to access reserves of previously-unrecoverable “shale gas” or unconventional natural gas. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, these advances mean there is at least six times as much recoverable natural gas today as there was a decade ago.

Natural gas, which emits less carbon dioxide than coal, can be used in both electricity generation and as a fuel for automobiles.

The implications for energy security are startling. Natural gas may be only the beginning. Fracking also permits the extraction of previously-unrecoverable “tight oil,” thereby postponing the day when the world runs out of petroleum. There is enough coal to produce energy for centuries. And governments, universities and corporations in the U.S., Canada, Japan and other countries are studying ways to obtain energy from gas hydrates, which mix methane with ice in high-density formations under the seafloor. The potential energy in gas hydrates may equal that of all other fossils, including other forms of natural gas, combined.

If gas hydrates as well as shale gas, tight oil, oil sands and other unconventional sources can be tapped at reasonable cost, then the global energy picture looks radically different than it did only a few years ago. Suddenly it appears that there may be enough accessible hydrocarbons to power industrial civilization for centuries, if not millennia, to come.

So much for the specter of depletion, as a reason to adopt renewable energy technologies like solar power and wind power. Whatever may be the case with Peak Oil in particular, the date of Peak Fossil Fuels has been pushed indefinitely into the future. What about national security as a reason to switch to renewable energy?

The U.S., Canada and Mexico, it turns out, are sitting on oceans of recoverable natural gas. Shale gas is combined with recoverable oil in the Bakken “play” along the U.S.-Canadian border and the Eagle Ford play in Texas. The shale gas reserves of China turn out to be enormous, too. Other countries with now-accessible natural gas reserves, according to the U.S. government, include Australia, South Africa, Argentina, Chile, France, Poland and India.

via Everything you’ve heard about fossil fuels may be wrong – War Room – Salon.com.

The author goes on to deal discuss global warming concerns and how environmentalists are trying to shut down these new abundant sources of energy. But his conclusion is that the age of fossil fuels is just beginning.

Joplin is all but destroyed

Joplin, Missouri–an hour’s drive from where I grew up, where we would often go when we wanted a “big city”–was struck by a tornado that is said to have destroyed three-fourths of the city, killing 89 people!

UPDATE: Now the report is that “only” one fourth of the city of 50,000 was destroyed. But the death toll has risen to 116.

The mighty Mississippi

The street in Memphis where the blues were born is underwater, as are many of the towns and cities and farms along the Mississippi river:

Waging war against flooding of historic proportions that has already affected thousands of people in eight Midwestern and Southern states, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers opened a spillway Monday north of New Orleans in an effort to calm the rising Mississippi River.

A crowd gathered near the entrance to the Bonnet Carre spillway to watch workers using cranes slide open the gates to the flood control system, which was built beginning in 1929 after a devastating flood two years before. The spillway, like another that could be opened next week, is designed to divert floodwater away from New Orleans and slow the raging river to protect the low-lying city.

While the river’s highest levels may still be days away, a decision to open the second flood control structure — the Morganza Spillway — may not be, Gov. Bobby Jindal said. People with property that would flood if the spillway is opened should not dally, Jindal warned.

“My advice to our people is not to wait, to get prepared now,” Jindal said.

Upstream in Memphis, Tennessee, residents and authorities had prepared all they could Monday as they anxiously waited for the Mississippi to crest Tuesday morning at a near-record 14 feet above flood stage.

“It’s sort of torturous, we’ve been waiting so long. It’s hard keeping peoples’ attention. It’s warning fatigue, if you will,” Memphis Mayor A.C. Wharton Jr. said. “But we’re ready for it.”

The river is the highest it’s been at Memphis since 1937, when it crested at 48.7 feet — 14.7 feet above flood stage. That flood killed 500 people and inundated 20 million acres of land, said Col. Vernie Reichling, the Corps’ Memphis District commander.

The river Monday covered the lowest parts of the city’s historic Beale Street and had forced about 400 people from their homes, Wharton said. Another 1,300 remained in low-lying areas, he said.

While Corps’ officials said it appeared levees protecting the area were holding up well, with only minor amounts of water seeping in from beneath or lapping over from above, local officials were taking no chances.

“It’s a very powerful river. It looks like it’s running very slowly, but it has a very strong current,” said Bob Nations, director of preparedness in Shelby County, Tennessee, which includes Memphis. “We still don’t know (exactly what) the river might do.”

via Army Corps battles rising Mississippi from Memphis to New Orleans – CNN.com.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X