Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

U.S. sees first case of bacteria resistant to all antibiotics

Friday, May 27th, 2016
  • This story has been on its way for a very long time.  I recall the possibility being discussed when I was in University studying Microbiology in the 1970’s.  We are our own worst enemies.  We don’t use antibiotics intelligently and this is the result – bugs that become immune to the best weapons we have against them.

dennis

  • Update on this story here.  It’s not as bad as it first sounded.  Thx Alan T. for the research.

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U.S. health officials on Thursday reported the first case in the country of a patient with an infection resistant to all known antibiotics, and expressed grave concern that the superbug could pose serious danger for routine infections if it spreads.

“We risk being in a post-antibiotic world,” said Thomas Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, referring to the urinary tract infection of a 49-year-old Pennsylvania woman who had not traveled within the prior five months.

Frieden, speaking at a National Press Club luncheon in Washington, D.C., said the infection was not controlled even by colistin, an antibiotic that is reserved for use against “nightmare bacteria.”

The infection was reported Thursday in a study appearing in Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy, a publication of the American Society for Microbiology. It said the superbug itself had first been infected with a tiny piece of DNA called a plasmid, which passed along a gene called mcr-1 that confers resistance to colistin.

“(This) heralds the emergence of truly pan-drug resistant bacteria,” said the study, which was conducted by the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. “To the best of our knowledge, this is the first report of mcr-1 in the USA.”

The study said continued surveillance to determine the true frequency of the gene in the United States is critical.

“It is dangerous and we would assume it can be spread quickly, even in a hospital environment if it is not well contained,” said Dr. Gail Cassell, a microbiologist and senior lecturer at Harvard Medical School.

But she said the potential speed of its spread will not be known until more is learned about how the Pennsylvania patient was infected, and how present the colistin-resistant superbug is in the United States and globally.

The colistin-resistant gene was found last year in people and pigs in China. That discovery followed a different superbug gene that emerged in India in 2010.

In the meantime, Cassell said people can best protect themselves from the superbug and from other bacteria resistant to antibiotics by thoroughly washing their hands, washing fruits and vegetables thoroughly and preparing foods appropriately.

She said experts have warned since the 1990s that especially bad superbugs could be on the horizon, but few drugmakers have attempted to develop drugs against them.

“The medicine cabinet is threadbare because not enough has been done.”

  • To the original article:  

Paul Chefurka and the Fermi Paradox

Tuesday, May 24th, 2016

I’ve had a link from this Samadhisoft Blog to Paul Chefurka’s Blog for a long time.  I’ve always found what’s he’s written to be interesting and insightful.

Recently, he and I engaged in an on-line chat in which The Fermi paradox was mentioned.

Read this Wiki article to come up to speed on the Fermi Paradox if you are unsure about the idea.

Paul directed me to an article he’d written on The Fermi Paradox which I quite enjoyed and it inspired me to write one of my own in response.  

You will find Paul’s article is here.

My article is below.  My article will make a lot more sense to you, if you read Paul’s first.

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Paul,

The Laws of thermodynamics are, indeed, an excellent base upon which to begin any chain of reasoning.

It wasn’t until I read, “Into the Cold – Energy Flow, Thermodynamics and Life” by Eric D. Scheider and Dorion Sagan, that I really ‘got’ thermodynamics.

Before that, I wondered how, in an existence where the Second Law held sway, life could manage to evolve and get more complex. I’d worked out for myself that in excess energy environments, such as on a planet near a sun, the excess energy could be stored as organization and complexity. but this book really put it all together for me.

For me, the conservation of energy idea is a deep principle. Nature rarely, if ever, does anything wasteful. I see this idea as extendable into evolution, biology and psychology. I often talk about the ‘conservation of cognitive energy’.

So, back to your treatise on Fermi’s Paradox.

I quite agree that the laws of thermodynamics will, in energy abundant situations, tend to support self-replication mechanisms and these will eventually lead to simple life.

I also agree with your Carbon-Oxygen logic. Carbon’s four bonds are a wonder among the denizens of the periodic table.

But then I think there’s a jump in your story that could be better paved with connecting logic. That is the jump from simple life (prokaryotic bacterial) to complex (eukaryotic multicellular).

Here I can highly recommend a seminal book; “Rare Earth – Why Complex Life is Uncommon in the Universe” by Peter D. Ward and Donald Brownlee.

They show, pretty convincingly, that the jump from simple to complex life is a very tough jump and may be quite rare.

If we assume that the jump to complex life has occuured someplace (and obviously it has here) and that the environment there has remained stable enough for the complex life forms to advance to generalized intelligence, then I quite agree that the local environment needs to provide certain things to support their ascension to civilization. I.e., energy in the form of hydrocarbons and also easily available metallic ores.

After this point in your discussion, you move into a projection of how the newly intelligent species will learn to use carbon to power its civilization’s rise.  And you surmize that this use of carbon and the associated rise of a civilization will prove to be a fatal feedback loop for them.

I agree, my friend, but I think there’s another link in all of this that would more causally connect it all.

What I find needed here is the ‘why’.

Why would an intelligent species engage in a self-destructive pattern and continue on with it even when, apparently, it has the intelligence to see the error of its ways and the consequences thereof.

This is a subject I have been thinking about for years. And I think the answer lies in our evolutionary psychology.

Our perceptions and thoughts have not been bred for fidelity; much as we might imagine they have been. They have been bred, rather, for survival through unrelenting evolutionary selection pressures.

Thus we do not see all colors equally, for example. We see many more shades of green than we do shades of red or orange. Seeing what was in the green foliage around us was quite important for our survival. We do not have equal fidelity across the range our hearing range. We hear best in those sub-ranges most critical for our survival.

It is the same with our ability to think logically.

 

There is, for example, no real difference between something happening now verses something happening at another time. Nor is there a real difference between something happening here or something some miles from here. And, finally, something can be equally significant regardless of whether it is a concrete thing or an abstract idea.

And yet, unless we are cognizant of these biases and consciously train ourselves to oppose them, we will in general, as a species, react more to now vs then, more to here vs. there and more to concrete vs. abstract.

It is why we generally favor the short-term gains over the long-term consequences so many times and so irrationally.

It is why we don’t mind killing people and animals at some time in the future in a remote part of the planet due to some abstraction like our need for Palm Oil.

If you set yourself to watch for the now vs. then, here vs. there and concrete vs. abstract dichotomies, you will begin to see them in the irrationally all around you.

Consider where expressions like, “Once burned, twice shy” come from. They are born of folk observations of these same truths.

One of the most important legacies of our environmental heritage that lives on in us is what I call our biological imperatives:

The idea is that all biological forms here on earth, from very near the beginning of biological evolution until the present, share a deep inborn imperative to propagate their genes forward in time and to create and protect spaces within which their progeny can grow to maturity so that they can, in their turn, propagate their genes forward as well.

It is a strategy which has served all of biology very well up until now.

But now, one species, us, has become so powerful that we’ve broken free of all the checks and balances of the natural world.  And we’ve grown until we’ve covered the planet.

And now, with no more frontiers to conquer and no more spaces to fill, our biological imperatives driven strategies have finally, after billions of years, come to the place where its applicability has run out and a new strategy that acknowledges limits has to be implemented or we are going to self destruct and take much of the biosphere with us.

All around us, the collect ‘we’ is still trying to maximize power, sexual partners, calories, military power and etc. And virtually all of ‘us’ are still driven by our biological imperatives.

It’s not surprising.  3.5 billion years of evolution have conserved, enshrined and focused these urges in us. Realize that all those who were less driven by these urges, fell before those who were more driven. And those who survived these contests became our ancestors and, finally, they became us.

The old brain still speaks these urges to us. Hunger urges, sexual urges, urges to manage our space for our progeny and so on.

Our irrationality as a species arises largely, I think, from these biological imperative urges. And we, the supposedly rational creatures that we fancy ourselves to be, think that we’ve conquered and controlled these urges. The evidence that this is ludicrous lies littered all around us.

So, I think that if a species could somehow, through conscious intentionality, control or transcend these biological urges in itself, that species would have little trouble seeing the logic of forming a civilization with the goal of living within a sustainable footprint on its’ birth planet.

And such a species could survive indefinitely on that planet nurturing the biosphere around it and sharpening its technological prowess so that its quality of life could continue to improve even while it held its population and its the footprint constant.

And, in time, as its technology matured, it might manage to venture into the stars.

But, we haven’t heard from anyone.  And one wonders is complex life is a very rare phenomenon as per Ward and Brownlee?

And if, when life does manage this rare jump to complexity, if it then almost invariably fails to manage the next jump; the need to transcend its own biological urges?

And if, very very rarely, some planet’s biology has managed to do both jumps, then what are the chances that they are, right now, in a technological window now where we could even recognize them?

With events so rare, they could easily be, and probably are, a million years behind us or ten million ahead of us. Time is a vast and deep thing.

And with events so rare, might not they be on the other side of our galaxy or even in another?

And then there’s the speed of light.

All our science fiction authors like to posit that we’ll learn to break it. But it may be simply an absolute limit. And anyone wanting to go voyaging to the stars will have a very slow time of it.

And then there’s the question of motivation.

I’m sure we would be motivated, as we are now, to engage in such explorations.

But would the species we would be, if we learned to transcend our biological imperatives, still feel those same expansive urges?

Perhaps after seeing 100 other planets or 1000 other planets after such long and grinding sub-light speed journeys, a star faring civilization would just get ‘get over it’ and turn to some more local form of navel-gazing that we cannot even imagine now.

The Singularity Concept says that things in the not too distant future will become so very different from how we understand things now that after that point we simply won’t be able to do any meaningful extrapolations.  So, in truth, we are really quite blind to try to look forward very far.

Thanks for sharing your piece on the Fermi Paradox, Paul. It got my own juices flowing. (smile)

Cheers,

Dennis Gallagher

None of the world’s top industries would be profitable if they paid for the natural capital they use

Saturday, December 19th, 2015
  • With truths like this laying about on the ground around us, is it any wonder some of us get discouraged about our prospects.
  • dennis

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The notion of “externalities” has become familiar in environmental circles. It refers to costs imposed by businesses that are not paid for by those businesses. For instance, industrial processes can put pollutants in the air that increase public health costs, but the public, not the polluting businesses, picks up the tab. In this way, businesses privatize profits and publicize costs.

While the notion is incredibly useful, especially in folding ecological concerns into economics, I’ve always had my reservations about it. Environmentalists these days love speaking in the language of economics — it makes them sound Serious — but I worry that wrapping this notion in a bloodless technical term tends to have a narcotizing effect. It brings to mind incrementalism: boost a few taxes here, tighten a regulation there, and the industrial juggernaut can keep right on chugging. However, if we take the idea seriously, not just as an accounting phenomenon but as a deep description of current human practices, its implications are positively revolutionary.

To see what I mean, check out a recent report [PDF] done by environmental consultancy Trucost on behalf of The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) program sponsored by United Nations Environmental Program. TEEB asked Trucost to tally up the total “unpriced natural capital” consumed by the world’s top industrial sectors. (“Natural capital” refers to ecological materials and services like, say, clean water or a stable atmosphere; “unpriced” means that businesses don’t pay to consume them.)

It’s a huge task; obviously, doing it required a specific methodology that built in a series of assumptions. (Plenty of details in the report.) But it serves as an important signpost pointing the way to the truth about externalities.

Here’s how those costs break down:

The majority of unpriced natural capital costs are from greenhouse gas emissions (38%), followed by water use (25%), land use (24%), air pollution (7%), land and water pollution (5%), and waste (1%).

So how much is that costing us? Trucost’s headline results are fairly stunning.

First, the total unpriced natural capital consumed by the more than 1,000 “global primary production and primary processing region-sectors” amounts to $7.3 trillion a year — 13 percent of 2009 global GDP.

(A “region-sector” is a particular industry in a particular region — say, wheat farming in East Asia.)

Second, surprising no one, coal is the enemy of the human race. Trucost compiled rankings, both of the top environmental impacts and of the top industrial culprits.

Here are the top five biggest environmental impacts and the region-sectors responsible for them:

UNEP: top five environmental impacts
Click to embiggen.
UNEP

The biggest single environmental cost? Greenhouse gases from coal burning in China. The fifth biggest? Greenhouse gases from coal burning in North America. (This also shows what an unholy nightmare deforestation in South America is.)

Now, here are the top five industrial sectors ranked by total ecological damages imposed:

 

UNEP: top five industrial sectors by impact
Click to embiggen.
UNEP

It’s coal again! This time North American coal is up at number three.

Trucost’s third big finding is the coup de grace. Of the top 20 region-sectors ranked by environmental impacts, none would be profitable if environmental costs were fully integrated. Ponder that for a moment: None of the world’s top industrial sectors would be profitable if they were paying their full freight. Zero.

That amounts to an global industrial system built on sleight of hand. As Paul Hawken likes to put it, we are stealing the future, selling it in the present, and calling it GDP.

This gets back to what I was saying at the top. The notion of “externalities” is so technical, such an economist’s term. Got a few unfortunate side effects, so just move some numbers from Column A to Column B, right?

But the UNEP report makes clear that what’s going on today is more than a few accounting oversights here and there. The distance between today’s industrial systems and truly sustainable industrial systems — systems that do not spend down stored natural capital but instead integrate into current energy and material flows — is not one of degree, but one of kind. What’s needed is not just better accounting but a new global industrial system, a new way of providing for human wellbeing, and fast. That means a revolution.

  • To the original article:

Sixth mass extinction has begun: Study

Monday, June 22nd, 2015

“We emphasise that our calculations very likely underestimate the severity of the extinction crisis, because our aim was to place a realistic lower bound on humanity’s impact on biodiversity,” the researchers wrote.

– We wander through our cities, each trapped in his or her little local world with no idea that the aggregate of all of us is destroying the planet’s ecosphere.  And how are we to know when those we trust to lead us sell our interests and the interests of our children and other species for momentary wealth.  They sell all the future generations and indeed a planet full of billions of years of biodiversity, they sell it all so that they can have ‘the better things’ in their small local dream of what their life’s about. Where are the leaders who truly lead and look out for the long and short term good of all of us?  Without them, we are doomed.  This beautiful world we are looking at is beginning to fade under our aggregate assault and most of us have no idea.

– dennis

New York, June 20 (IANS) The world is witnessing the sixth mass extinction that threatens even our very own existence, warns a new study.

The new study, published in the journal Science Advances, shows that even with extremely conservative estimates, species are disappearing up to about 100 times faster than the normal rate.

The world has seen five recognisable mass extinctions till now and the final one wiped out the dinosaurs 66 million years ago.

“(The study) shows without any significant doubt that we are now entering the sixth great mass extinction event,” said Paul Ehrlich, senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment.

The researchers have warned that humans could be among the species lost as a result of the current mass extinction event.

“If it is allowed to continue, life would take many millions of years to recover, and our species itself would likely disappear early on,” said lead author Gerardo Ceballos from the Universidad Autonoma de Mexico.

There is general agreement among scientists that extinction rates have reached unparalleled levels since the dinosaurs died out 66 million years ago.

However, some have challenged the theory, believing earlier estimates rested on assumptions that overestimated the crisis.

Using fossil records and extinction counts from a range of records, the researchers compared a highly conservative estimate of current extinctions with a normal “background” rate estimate twice as high as those widely used in previous analyses.

This way, they brought the two estimates – current extinction rate and average background or going-on-all-the-time extinction rate – as close to each other as possible.

“We emphasise that our calculations very likely underestimate the severity of the extinction crisis, because our aim was to place a realistic lower bound on humanity’s impact on biodiversity,” the researchers wrote.

Now, the specter of extinction hangs over about 41 percent of all amphibian species and 26 percent of all mammals, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which maintains an authoritative list of threatened and extinct species.

“There are examples of species all over the world that are essentially the walking dead,” Ehrlich said.

The Surprising Brain Differences Between Democrats and Republicans

Thursday, March 19th, 2015

A conservative is a man with two perfectly good legs who, however, has never learned to walk forward.

– Franklin D. Roosevelt

The modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.

– John Kenneth Galbraith

Two new studies further support the theory that our political decision making could have a neurological basis

It is still considered highly uncool to ascribe a person’s political beliefs, even in part, to that person’s biology: hormones, physiological responses, even brain structures and genes. And no wonder: Doing so raises all kinds of thorny, non-PC issues involving free will, determinism, toleration, and much else.

There’s just one problem: Published scientific research keeps going there, with ever increasing audacity (not to mention growing stacks of data).

The past two weeks have seen not one but two studies published in scientific journals on the biological underpinnings of political ideology. And these studies go straight at the role of genes and the brain in shaping our views, and even our votes.

First, in the American Journal of Political Science, a team of researchers including Peter Hatemi of Penn State University and Rose McDermott of Brown University studied the relationship between our deep-seated tendencies to experience fear—tendencies that vary from person to person, partly for reasons that seem rooted in our genes—and our political beliefs. What they found is that people who have more fearful disposition also tend to be more politically conservative, and less tolerant of immigrants and people of races different from their own. As McDermott carefully emphasizes, that does not mean that every conservative has a high fear disposition. “It’s not that conservative people are more fearful, it’s that fearful people are more conservative,” as she puts it.

I interviewed the paper’s lead author, Peter Hatemi, about his research for my 2012 book The Republican Brain. Hatemi is both a political scientist and also a microbiologist, and as he stressed to me, “nothing is all genes, or all environment.” These forces combine to make us who we are, in incredibly intricate ways.

And if Hatemi’s and McDermott’s research blows your mind, get this: Darren Schreiber, a political neuroscientist at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom, first performed brain scans on 82 people participating in a risky gambling task, one in which holding out for more money increases your possible rewards, but also your possible losses. Later, cross-referencing the findings with the participants’ publicly available political party registration information, Schreiber noticed something astonishing: Republicans, when they took the same gambling risk, were activating a different part of the brain than Democrats.

Republicans were using the right amygdala, the center of the brain’s threat response system. Democrats, in contrast, were using the insula, involved in internal monitoring of one’s feelings. Amazingly, Schreiber and his colleagues write that this test predicted 82.9 percent of the study subjects’ political party choices—considerably better, they note, than a simple model that predicts your political party affiliation based on the affiliation of your parents.

I also interviewed Schreiber for The Republican Brain. He’s a scientist who was once quite cautious about the relevance of brain studies to people’s politics. As he put it to me: “If you had called me four years ago and said, ‘What is your view on whether Republicans and Democrats have different brains?’ I would have said no.” Now, his own published research suggests otherwise.

One again, though, there’s a critical nuance here. Schreiber thinks the current research suggests not only that having a particular brain influences your political views, but also that having a particular political view influences and changes your brain. The causal arrow seems likely to run in both directions—which would make sense in light of what we know about the plasticity of the brain. Simply by living our lives, we change our brains. Our political affiliations, and the lifestyles that go along with them, probably condition many such changes.

The two new studies described here are likely connected: It is hard not to infer that fear of outsiders or those different from you—along with greater fear dispositions in general—may be related to the role of amygdala, a brain structure that has been dubbed the “heart and soul of the fear system.” The amygdala has been repeatedly implicated in politics. Indeed, Schreiber’s research builds on prior brain studies: In a group of University College of London students, for instance, conservatives showed more gray matter in the right amygdala.

So what’s the upshot? How about this: We need a much broader and more thoughtful discussion about what it means if political ideology turns out to be nothing like what we actually thought it was. Scientists working in this new field tend towards the conclusion that the new research should make us more tolerant, not less, of political difference—not to mention a whole lot more humble about our own deeply held beliefs.

– To the original in Mother Jones:

 

Warming Pushes Western U.S. Toward Driest Period in 1,000 Years

Friday, February 13th, 2015

Study Warns of Unprecedented Risk of Drought in 21st Century

During the second half of the 21st century, the U.S. Southwest and Great Plains will face persistent drought worse than anything seen in times ancient or modern, with the drying conditions “driven primarily” by human-induced global warming, a new study predicts.

The research says the drying would surpass in severity any of the decades-long “megadroughts” that occurred much earlier during the past 1,000 years—one of which has been tied by some researchers to the decline of the Anasazi or Ancient Pueblo Peoples in the Colorado Plateau in the late 13th century. Many studies have already predicted that the Southwest could dry due to global warming, but this is the first to say that such drying could exceed the worst conditions of the distant past. The impacts today would be devastating, given the region’s much larger population and use of resources.

“We are the first to do this kind of quantitative comparison between the projections and the distant past, and the story is a bit bleak,” said Jason E. Smerdon, a co-author and climate scientist at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, part of the Earth Institute at Columbia University. “Even when selecting for the worst megadrought-dominated period, the 21st century projections make the megadroughts seem like quaint walks through the Garden of Eden.”

“The surprising thing to us was really how consistent the response was over these regions, nearly regardless of what model we used or what soil moisture metric we looked at,” said lead author Benjamin I. Cook of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. “It all showed this really, really significant drying.”

The new study, “Unprecedented 21st-Century Drought Risk in the American Southwest and Central Plains,” will be featured in the inaugural edition of the new online journal Science Advances, produced by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which also publishes the leading journal Science.

Today, 11 of the past 14 years have been drought years in much of the American West, including California, Nevada, New Mexico and Arizona and across the Southern Plains to Texas and Oklahoma, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, a collaboration of U.S. government agencies.

The current drought directly affects more than 64 million people in the Southwest and Southern Plains, according to NASA, and many more are indirectly affected because of the impacts on agricultural regions.

Shrinking water supplies have forced western states to impose water use restrictions; aquifers are being drawn down to unsustainable levels, and major surface reservoirs such as Lake Mead and Lake Powell are at historically low levels. This winter’s snowpack in the Sierras, a major water source for Los Angeles and other cities, is less than a quarter of what authorities call a “normal” level, according to a February report from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. California water officials last year cut off the flow of water from the northern part of the state to the south, forcing farmers in the Central Valley to leave hundreds of thousands of acres unplanted.

“Changes in precipitation, temperature and drought, and the consequences it has for our society—which is critically dependent on our freshwater resources for food, electricity and industry—are likely to be the most immediate climate impacts we experience as a result of greenhouse gas emissions,” said Kevin Anchukaitis, a climate researcher at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Anchukaitis said the findings “require us to think rather immediately about how we could and would adapt.”

Much of our knowledge about past droughts comes from extensive study of tree rings conducted by Lamont-Doherty scientist Edward Cook (Benjamin’s father) and others, who in 2009 created the North American Drought Atlas. The atlas recreates the history of drought over the previous 2,005 years, based on hundreds of tree-ring chronologies, gleaned in turn from tens of thousands of tree samples across the United States, Mexico and parts of Canada.

For the current study, researchers used data from the atlas to represent past climate, and applied three different measures for drought—two soil moisture measurements at varying depths, and a version of the Palmer Drought Severity Index, which gauges precipitation and evaporation and transpiration—the net input of water into the land. While some have questioned how accurately the Palmer drought index truly reflects soil moisture, the researchers found it matched well with other measures, and that it “provides a bridge between the [climate] models and drought in observations,” Cook said.

The researchers applied 17 different climate models to analyze the future impact of rising average temperatures on the regions. And, they compared two different global warming scenarios—one with “business as usual,” projecting a continued rise in emissions of the greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming; and a second scenario in which emissions are moderated.

By most of those measures, they came to the same conclusions.

“The results … are extremely unfavorable for the continuation of agricultural and water resource management as they are currently practiced in the Great Plains and southwestern United States,” said David Stahle, professor in the Department of Geosciences at the University of Arkansas and director of the Tree-Ring Laboratory there. Stahle was not involved in the study, though he worked on the North American Drought Atlas.

Smerdon said he and his colleagues are confident in their results. The effects of CO2 on higher average temperature and the subsequent connection to drying in the Southwest and Great Plains emerge as a “strong signal” across the majority of the models, regardless of the drought metrics that are used, he said. And, he added, they are consistent with many previous studies.

Anchukaitis said the paper “provides an elegant and convincing connection” between reconstructions of past climate and the models pointing to the risk of future drought.

Toby R. Ault of Cornell University is a co-author of the study. Funding was provided by the NASA Modeling, Analysis and Prediction Program, NASA Strategic Science, and the U.S. National Science Foundation.

– To the Original:  

Science Says Lasting Relationships Come Down To 2 Basic Traits

Saturday, December 13th, 2014

– I like it when science ends up saying what many of us have known intuitively.  

– There’s a lot of wisdom in this piece and, if you can see that your relationship isn’t likely to endure after reading this, I’d suggest you deal with your relationship ASAP by making it your highest priority.  

– Either mend it or end it.  

– Life is far too short to waste a significant part of it enduring a relationship rather than reveling in it.  

– It’s your life.  Make it into what you want it to be and remember, there’s no more powerful technique to shape your life than to give away that which you want to get.

– dennis

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Science says lasting relationships come down to—you guessed it—kindness and generosity.

Every day in June, the most popular wedding month of the year, about 13,000 American couples will say “I do,” committing to a lifelong relationship that will be full of friendship, joy, and love that will carry them forward to their final days on this earth.

Except, of course, it doesn’t work out that way for most people.

The majority of marriages fail, either ending in divorce and separation or devolving into bitterness and dysfunction.

Of all the people who get married, only three in ten remain in healthy, happy marriages, as psychologist Ty Tashiro points out in his book “The Science of Happily Ever After,” which was published earlier this year.

Social scientists first started studying marriages by observing them in action in the 1970s in response to a crisis: Married couples were divorcing at unprecedented rates. Worried about the impact these divorces would have on the children of the broken marriages, psychologists decided to cast their scientific net on couples, bringing them into the lab to observe them and determine what the ingredients of a healthy, lasting relationship were.

Was each unhappy family unhappy in its own way, as Tolstoy claimed, or did the miserable marriages all share something toxic in common?

Psychologist John Gottman was one of those researchers. For the past four decades, he has studied thousands of couples in a quest to figure out what makes relationships work. I recently had the chance to interview Gottman and his wife Julie, also a psychologist, in New York City. Together, the renowned experts on marital stability run The Gottman Institute, which is devoted to helping couples build and maintain loving, healthy relationships based on scientific studies.

John Gottman began gathering his most critical findings in 1986, when he set up “The Love Lab” with his colleague Robert Levenson at the University of Washington. Gottman and Levenson brought newlyweds into the lab and watched them interact with each other.

With a team of researchers, they hooked the couples up to electrodes and asked the couples to speak about their relationship, like how they met, a major conflict they were facing together, and a positive memory they had. As they spoke, the electrodes measured the subjects’ blood flow, heart rates, and how much they sweat they produced. Then the researchers sent the couples home and followed up with them six years later to see if they were still together.

From the data they gathered, Gottman separated the couples into two major groups: the masters and the disasters. The masters were still happily together after six years. The disasters had either broken up or were chronically unhappy in their marriages.

When the researchers analyzed the data they gathered on the couples, they saw clear differences between the masters and disasters. The disasters looked calm during the interviews, but their physiology, measured by the electrodes, told a different story. Their heart rates were quick, their sweat glands were active, and their blood flow was fast. Following thousands of couples longitudinally, Gottman found that the more physiologically active the couples were in the lab, the quicker their relationships deteriorated over time.

But what does physiology have to do with anything? The problem was that the disasters showed all the signs of arousal — of being in fight-or-flight mode — in their relationships. Having a conversation sitting next to their spouse was, to their bodies, like facing off with a saber-toothed tiger.

Even when they were talking about pleasant or mundane facets of their relationships, they were prepared to attack and be attacked. This sent their heart rates soaring and made them more aggressive toward each other. For example, each member of a couple could be talking about how their days had gone, and a highly aroused husband might say to his wife, “Why don’t you start talking about your day. It won’t take you very long.”

– More…

 

 

This Physicist Has A Groundbreaking Idea About Why Life Exists

Friday, December 12th, 2014

– An interesting idea and one, I think, that needs to be pushed. But, I don’t think it is original in any real sense.

– One of the most insightful and influential books I’ve ever read is “Into the Cool – Energy flow, Thermodynamics and Life” (2005) by Schneider and Sagan.

– In it, they very effectively make the point that the logic and the fundamental nature of the Second Law of Thermodynamics explains how and why matter tends to assemble itself into ever more complex forms in the presence of excess energy. Part of what they were saying, I worked out for myself years ago but the final bit they provided to pull it all together and I find it more convincing than anything else I’ve heard.

– dennis

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Why does life exist?

Popular hypotheses credit a primordial soup, a bolt of lightning, and a colossal stroke of luck.

But if a provocative new theory is correct, luck may have little to do with it. Instead, according to the physicist proposing the idea, the origin and subsequent evolution of life follow from the fundamental laws of nature and “should be as unsurprising as rocks rolling downhill.”

From the standpoint of physics, there is one essential difference between living things and inanimate clumps of carbon atoms: The former tend to be much better at capturing energy from their environment and dissipating that energy as heat.

Jeremy England, a 31-year-old assistant professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has derived a mathematical formula that he believes explains this capacity. The formula, based on established physics, indicates that when a group of atoms is driven by an external source of energy (like the sun or chemical fuel) and surrounded by a heat bath (like the ocean or atmosphere), it will often gradually restructure itself in order to dissipate increasingly more energy. This could mean that under certain conditions, matter inexorably acquires the key physical attribute associated with life.

“You start with a random clump of atoms, and if you shine light on it for long enough, it should not be so surprising that you get a plant,” England said.

England’s theory is meant to underlie, rather than replace, Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection, which provides a powerful description of life at the level of genes and populations. “I am certainly not saying that Darwinian ideas are wrong,” he explained. “On the contrary, I am just saying that from the perspective of the physics, you might call Darwinian evolution a special case of a more general phenomenon.”

His idea, detailed in a paper and further elaborated in a talk he is delivering at universities around the world, has sparked controversy among his colleagues, who see it as either tenuous or a potential breakthrough, or both.

England has taken “a very brave and very important step,” said Alexander Grosberg, a professor of physics at New York University who has followed England’s work since its early stages. The “big hope” is that he has identified the underlying physical principle driving the origin and evolution of life, Grosberg said.

– More…

 

Salt-Water Fish Extinction Seen By 2048

Wednesday, November 12th, 2014

– Nothing new here.  Just the same slowly approaching train wreck which is being widely ignored – as if that will make it all go away.  

– I really wonder about people in general.  Not just the obsessively greedy or power-minded but just the average Joe.  

– The scientists have been sounding the ‘end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it’ klaxons for some time now and everyone’s just changing the channel to sort it out for themselves.

– dennis

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The apocalypse has a new date: 2048.

That’s when the world’s oceans will be empty of fish, predicts an international team of ecologists and economists. The cause: the disappearance of species due to overfishing, pollution, habitat loss, and climate change.

The study by Boris Worm, PhD, of Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, — with colleagues in the U.K., U.S., Sweden, and Panama — was an effort to understand what this loss of ocean species might mean to the world.

The researchers analyzed several different kinds of data. Even to these ecology-minded scientists, the results were an unpleasant surprise.

“I was shocked and disturbed by how consistent these trends are — beyond anything we suspected,” Worm says in a news release.

“This isn’t predicted to happen. This is happening now,” study researcher Nicola Beaumont, PhD, of the Plymouth Marine Laboratory, U.K., says in a news release.

“If biodiversity continues to decline, the marine environment will not be able to sustain our way of life. Indeed, it may not be able to sustain our lives at all,” Beaumont adds.

Already, 29% of edible fish and seafood species have declined by 90% — a drop that means the collapse of these fisheries.

But the issue isn’t just having seafood on our plates. Ocean species filter toxins from the water. They protect shorelines. And they reduce the risks of algae blooms such as the red tide.

“A large and increasing proportion of our population lives close to the coast; thus the loss of services such as flood control and waste detoxification can have disastrous consequences,” Worm and colleagues say.

The researchers analyzed data from 32 experiments on different marine environments.

They then analyzed the 1,000-year history of 12 coastal regions around the world, including San Francisco and Chesapeake bays in the U.S., and the Adriatic, Baltic, and North seas in Europe.

Next, they analyzed fishery data from 64 large marine ecosystems.

And finally, they looked at the recovery of 48 protected ocean areas.

Their bottom line: Everything that lives in the ocean is important. The diversity of ocean life is the key to its survival. The areas of the ocean with the most different kinds of life are the healthiest.

But the loss of species isn’t gradual. It’s happening fast — and getting faster, the researchers say.

Worm and colleagues call for sustainable fisheries management, pollution control, habitat maintenance, and the creation of more ocean reserves.

This, they say, isn’t a cost; it’s an investment that will pay off in lower insurance costs, a sustainable fish industry, fewer natural disasters, human health, and more.

“It’s not too late. We can turn this around,” Worm says. “But less than 1% of the global ocean is effectively protected right now.”

Worm and colleagues report their findings in the Nov. 3 issue of Science.

– To the original article:

Pentagon: global warming will change how US military trains and goes to war

Wednesday, October 15th, 2014

“The Pentagon was first instructed by Congress in 2007 to incorporate climate change into its long-term security planning.

But Republicans in Congress have gone on to block the military from preparing for a warmer future, cutting funds for intelligence gathering or testing low-carbon jet fuels.”

As I’ve said, the climate change nay-sayers no longer have to just sow doubt about the scientific consensus, now they have to confront the world’s militaries and insurance industries – both of which don’t care a fig about political spin.  And both of which who have to ‘get it right’ or their very missions or survival are on the line.

– dennis

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Global warming is changing the way the US trains for and goes to war – affecting war games, weapons systems, training exercises, and military installations – according to the Pentagon.

The defence secretary, Chuck Hagel, will tell a high-level meeting of military leaders on Monday that the Pentagon is undertaking sweeping changes to operation systems and installations to keep up with a growing threat of rising seas, droughts, and natural disasters caused by climate change.

“A changing climate will have real impacts on our military and the way it executes its missions,” Hagel wrote in his introduction to a Pentagon report out today. “We are considering the impacts of climate change in our war games and defence planning scenarios.”

The Pentagon’s strategic planners have for years viewed climate change as a “threat multiplier”– worsening old conflicts and potentially provoking new clashes over migration and shortages of food and water in the Middle East, Africa and Asia, and opening up new military challenges in a melting Arctic.

But with Monday’s report, climate change moved from potential threat to an immediate factor in a wide range of operational and budgeting decisions.

“It makes it a reality that climate change indeed is a risk today, and we need to plan, programme and budget for it now and into the future,” said Sherri Goodman, chief executive of the military advisory board, a group of former generals and other high-ranking officers that studies US national security.

The report – unveiled at a meeting of more than 30 defence ministers from the Americas and Europe – also signalled US intention to take a lead role at international climate negotiations in Lima in December.

From now on, the military will factor climate change into a host of day-to-day decisions, a senior defence official told a conference call with reporters.

“It’s about being baked into things we are already doing, and incorporated into all the other things we are doing,” he said.

Those decisions could include war games, training exercises, and purchasing decisions – which could all be affected by conditions such as sea-level rise, heat waves, and drought.

War games scenarios would now factor in floods or storms instead of assuming optimal conditions, said Goodman. “You could make the game more complex with sea-level rise, and extreme weather events.”

She said the navy would have to test sonar and other systems under the changing ocean chemistry. The military will have to adapt to hotter temperatures.

One of the biggest and most costly decisions ahead is the location of some 7,000 US military sites.

As the report acknowledged, US military installations and personnel are already exposed to climate change. The Hampton Roads area in Virginia – which houses the biggest concentration of US forces – already floods during high tides and severe storms, and could see an additional 1.5 feet of sea level rise in the next 20 years.

Meanwhile, military bases in the south-west are coping with water and electricity shortages, under recurring droughts. Arctic land-based installations are shifting because of melting permafrost, while retreating sea ice is changing naval requirements.

The Pentagon is not planning a wholesale relocation of bases, the officials told the call. But they said the military was already bringing in sandbags and moving generators out of basements in low-lying areas. It was also shelving ideas for new construction on flood plains.

Other potential changes include cuts to outdoor training exercises – because of heat waves, or increased weapons maintenance costs and repairs because of heat and dust.

“As we think about changing weather patterns we have to think hard about where operations might be conducted and whether we need to change the assumptions about what kind of air breathing conditions … what kind of sea state we might expect in an operating environment, and what impact they might have.”

The report said troops could also be at greater risk of infectious diseases, which spread more rapidly in hotter temperatures.

Hagel in comments to reporters at the weekend said the Pentagon anticipated an increase in humanitarian missions, because of natural disasters and recurring famines.

He also said the Arctic presented a growing military challenge.

“We see an Arctic that is melting, meaning that most likely a new sea lane will emerge,” he said. “We know that there are significant minerals and natural deposits of oil and natural gas there. That means that nations will compete for those natural resources. That’s never been an issue before. You couldn’t get up there and get anything out of there. We have to manage through what those conditions and new realities are going to bring in the way of potential threats.”

The Pentagon was first instructed by Congress in 2007 to incorporate climate change into its long-term security planning.

But Republicans in Congress have gone on to block the military from preparing for a warmer future, cutting funds for intelligence gathering or testing low-carbon jet fuels.

Officials told the call that planning for the future would help bring down climate-related costs.

“There is a lot you can do to mitigate risk and lower the cost of risks if you acknowledge the risk exists,” the officials said.

– to the original: