It’s Shark Week! That time of year where television networks pretend sharks are the most dangerous animal out there. Here we compare how many people are killed by sharks per year versus the two deadliest animals for humans – mosquitoes and other people. Want to learn more? Watch the video here where we highlight 15 of the deadliest animals out there.
How profoundly depressing this is…
July 10, 2015
Susan Schneider of the University of Pennsylvania is one of the few thinkers—outside the realm of science fiction— that have considered the notion that artificial intelligence is already out there, and has been for eons.
Her recent study, Alien Minds, Schneider asks: “how might aliens think? And, would they be conscious? I do not believe that most advanced alien civilizations will be biological, Schneider says. The most sophisticated civilizations will be postbiological, forms of artificial intelligence or Alien superintelligence.”
Search for Extraterrstrial Intelligence (SETI) programs have been searching for biological life. Our culture has long depicted aliens as humanoid creatures with small, pointy chins, massive eyes, and large heads, apparently to house brains that are larger than ours. Paradigmatically, they are “little green men.” While we are aware that our culture is anthropomorphizing, Schneider imagines that her suggestion that aliens are supercomputers may strike us as far-fetched. So what is her rationale for the view that most intelligent alien civilizations will have members that are superintelligent AI?
Schneider presents offer three observations that together, support her conclusion for the existence of alien superintelligence.
The first is “the short window observation”: Once a society creates the technology that could put them in touch with the cosmos, they are only a few hundred years away from changing their own paradigm from biology to AI. This “short window” makes it more likely that the aliens we encounter would be postbiological.
The short window observation is supported by human cultural evolution, at least thus far. Our first radio signals date back only about a hundred and twenty years, and space exploration is only about fifty years old, but we are already immersed in digital technology, such as cell-phones and laptop computers.
Devices such as the Google Glass promise to bring the Internet into more direct contact with our bodies, and it is probably a matter of less than fifty years before sophisticated internet connections are wired directly into our brains.
Jeb’s family is in the oil business. Jeb’s brother fabricated a war over oil. Jeb’s dad started a war over oil. Does anyone connect the dots? [Via teabonics-fb]
WEDNESDAY, JUL 8, 2015
The oil industry has been spreading climate denial for years — and there’s proof it knew better
LINDSAY ABRAMSWhile evaluating the potential impact of developing a gas field it was interested in off Indonesia, ExxonMobil found one major reason for concern: the field in question was 70 percent carbon dioxide. If the field were developed, and that gas vented into the atmosphere, it could become the “largest point source of CO2 in the world,” accounting for a full one percent of climate change-causing emissions.According to Leonard S. Bernstein, a former chemical engineer at the company, Exxon recognized the potential for global warming concerns to lead to regulations that would impact the project and others like it.
The year was 1981.
The Union of Concerned Scientists has brought to light Bernstein’s claims, which he first made in an email posted online last October, as part of a new report. Called the Climate Deception Dossiers, it uses internal memos to trace the denial and deception practiced by Big Oil over the nearly three decades since 1988, when NASA scientist James Hansen testified before Congress that man-made global warming had begun. And if Bernstein is to believed, then Exxon, at least, knew about it years earlier.
“Whatever their public stance, internally they make very careful assessments of the potential for regulation, including the scientific basis for those regulations,” Bernstein wrote in the email. And while it did question some of the science being floated at the time, he added, “Exxon NEVER denied the potential for humans to impact the climate system.”
We can consider that the start of a long-standing pattern. While none of the documents released by UCS are new, taken together they show that the world’s oil giants — ExxonMobil, BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Peabody Energy and Royal Dutch Shell – have been fully aware of their contributions to climate change and the danger that can result, and has at the same time been spending tens of millions to convince the public that that’s not at all the case.
In one more well-known example, experts wrote an internal report for an industry coalition acknowledging that the science of man-made climate change “is well established and cannot be denied.” Yet just three years later, the American Petroleum Institute drafted a strategy to sow misinformation: “Victory will be achieved,” a memo read, when “[a]verage citizens ’understand’ (recognize) uncertainties in climate science; recognition of uncertainties becomes part of the ‘conventional wisdom.’”
The end result of such public-facing climate denial, of course, has been to allow these companies to continue to pollute the atmosphere. And according to the UCS, more than half of all industrial CO2 emissions have been released since what should have been the watershed year of 1988:
All of this represents more than just shady business practices, argues UCS president Ken Kimmell in a blog post. With its chilling parallels to the strategies used by the tobacco industry to obscure the link between smoking and cancer, the oil industry’s morally corrupt conduct over the past decades should be more than enough for us to revoke its “social license” — there’s no reason for the public, or the government, to assume Big Oil is acting in good faith.
And it’s time, Kimmell contends, for the industry to start earning some of that trust back — not just by ceasing to actively disinform the public and block regulations, but also by taking an active role in working toward solutions. Some have (kind of) started to get on board with that: BP dumped the notorious climate deniers at ALEC; Shell and BP passed shareholder resolutions to factor climate change into the cost of doing business (Exxon and Chevron did not, and Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson decided to stay the course by continuing to question the legitimacy of climate models).
But compared to the deceitful actions these companies have taken in the past, it’s all way too little — and it’s coming decades too late.
JUL 7, 2015 // BY BRIAN KAHN, CLIMATE CENTRAL
It appears that Greenland’s melt season is making up for lost time.
After a cool spring kept Greenland’s massive ice sheet mostly solid, a (comparatively) warm late June and early July have turned half the ice sheet’s surface into liquid, well outside the range of normal for this time of year.
Despite the ice sheet’s remote location, its slushy fingers reach across the globe, influencing sea levels and how fast the Gulf Stream current moves. As temperatures rise, its influence could grow larger as major summer melt events become regular occurrence. Recent warming has already contributed to ice loss in some areas previously thought to be stable and sped the trip of some glaciers into the sea.
Persistent high pressure has been camping over Greenland since mid-June. More recently, the weather pattern driving the European heat wave, dubbed an atmospheric shruggie — ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ — by Mashable’s Andrew Freedman (and an omega block by stodgy, old weather watchers), is also responsible for continuing to help keep Greenland warmer than normal.
The high temperatures in Europe have been more eye-popping, clearing 100°F from Spain to the Netherlands and setting an all-time July temperature record at London’s Heathrow Airport. But temperatures in the upper 30s and low 40s are still doing a number on Greenland’s ice sheet. Estimates from the National Snow and Ice Data Center indicate that roughly half the ice sheet’s surface is melting, well above the average of around 25 percent for this time of year.
In addition to warmer than normal temperatures, Greenland’s ice sheet has been getting steadily darker. This year currently ranks as the third-darkest on record for early July.
The darker the ice sheet is, the more incoming radiation from the sun is absorbed and the more it can melt. Water is darker than snow, but dust as well as soot from wildfires can also be swept up from far off locales and deposited on the ice sheet. It’s unclear if the wildfires currently raging in Alaska and Canada are having an impact.
But in July 2012, a combination of soot from fires in Siberia coupled with warm temperatures caused a record-setting 95 percent of the ice sheet to melt over the course of a week. That event in turn contributed to the largest annual ice loss on record. From June 2012 to June 2013, the island shed 474 gigatons of ice, enough to cover the National Mall in layer of ice 189 miles thick.
This year’s sudden uptick doesn’t necessarily portend a similar monster melt. But rising temperatures and a corresponding increase in wildfire activity could make 2012-level melt happen yearly by 2100. More dust has also been accumulating on the ice in recent years as spring snow recedes early in the Northern Hemisphere.
With 684,000 cubic miles of ice, the complete disappearance of the ice sheet isn’t going to happen anytime soon. But any speed up in the melting could have major global consequences.
The ice sheet’s fate is intimately tied to sea level rise. Its melt is responsible about 30 percent of observed sea level rise since the 1990s. Over the past two decades, Greenland has seen its contribution to sea level rise increase.
That trend is projected to continue as the planet warms and could put coastal cities at risk and cause trillions of dollars in damage.
In addition to sea level rise, the influx of freshwater could also be slowing the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation, a crucial ocean current that transfers heat from the tropics poleward. If that pattern stalls out, it could reduce nutrients in the North Atlantic and alter circulation in other parts of the world’s oceans.
More From Climate Central:
A new study explains why we owe the spiciness of mustard, horseradish and wasabi to an ancient ‘arms race’ between plants and caterpillars that dates back to the dinosaurs.
By: Russell McLendon – July 1, 2015
Mustard is a summertime staple in the U.S., from the yellow spread on hot dogs to the piquant greens in salads. But while people have eaten it in various forms for several thousand years, its tang has a much longer — and less benign — history.
The origins of mustard, along with related foods like horseradish and wasabi, date back nearly 90 million years. As a new study explains, they’re the result of an “arms race” between plants and insects that’s been going on since the age of dinosaurs.
Despite humans’ taste for mustard, it evolved as a pest deterrent. Mustard plants start by making compounds known as glucosinolates, which in turn produce pungent mustard oils when chewed or crushed. This was prompted by relentless nibbling from butterfly larvae, but as caterpillars evolved new ways to cut the mustard, plants had to up the ante — thus growing zestier and zestier over time.
The new study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, sheds light on the genetics behind this co-evolution of butterflies and Brassicaceae, a plant family that includes more than 3,000 spicy species.
“We found the genetic evidence for an arms race between plants like mustards, cabbage, and broccoli and insects like cabbage butterflies,” says co-author and University of Missouri biologist Chris Pires in a statement.
Mustard and catch-up
Plants began evolving glucosinolates sometime in the late Cretaceous Period, and eventually diversified to produce more than 120 varieties. These compounds are highly toxic to most insects, but certain species evolved ways to catch up with mustard by detoxifying the plants’ chemical defenses.
This is an example of co-evolution, in which two species can mutually influence the way each other evolves. It was first revealed by scientists in a famous 1964 study, but the new research offers details on how it happened — and how humans might leverage this relationship for more than just a spicy condiment.
The researchers used genomes of nine Brassicaceae plants to make an evolutionary family tree, letting them see when new defenses emerged. They compared that with the family trees of nine butterfly species, revealing three big evolutionary waves over 80 million years in which plants debuted defenses and insects adapted.
“We found that the origin of brand-new chemicals in the plant arose through gene duplications that encode novel functions rather than single mutations,” says Pat Edger, a former postdoctoral researcher at University of Missouri and lead author of the study. “Given sufficient amounts of time, the insects repeatedly developed counter defenses and adaptations to these new plant defenses.”
The spice of life
The pressure of this rivalry led to more biodiversity, of both plants and insects, than in other groups without the same back-and-forth battles. It also led to the spicy flavors now enjoyed by modern humans, although we’re starting to discover our debt to these caterpillars and plants may be even greater than we thought.
For one, learning the secrets of natural insect deterrents might help farmers protect crops without synthetic pesticides. “If we can harness the power of genetics and determine what causes these copies of genes,” Pires says, “we could produce plants that are more pest-resistant to insects that are co-evolving with them.”
And despite their effects on insects, mustard and its relatives also offer notable health benefits for humans who eat them. Mustard seeds are high in selenium and magnesium, for example, and research suggests the glucosinolates in both mustard greens and seeds may reduce the risk of heart disease and even fight cancer.
Beautiful rainbow-like phenomenon is awe-inspiring, and can be a rare sight in many parts of the world.
By: Bryan Nelson – May 25, 2015Have you ever seen this optical phenomenon? Though it looks rainbow-esque, it’s not a rainbow. Nor is it a 22-degree halo or an instance of cloud iridescence, though it is occasionally confused with that phenomenon. No, it’s not the tracks left by a unicorn galloping across the sky either. Rather, this beautiful phenomenon is called a circumhorizontal arc, and if you spy one, you can consider yourself blessed, as they only form in certain parts of the world.
Circumhorizontal arcs, or “fire rainbows” as they are sometimes called, are essentially ice-halos formed by the refraction of sunlight or, occasionally, moonlight, in plate-shaped ice crystals suspended in the atmosphere. They are most commonly spotted in cirrus or cirrostratus clouds, and they can be easily distinguished from 22-degree halos depending on the distance they appear below the sun or moon — twice the distance of the 22s. (As their name suggests, 22-degree halos form a circle with a radius of about 22 degrees around).
Since they require that their light source be very high in the sky — at an elevation of 58 degrees or greater — it means circumhorizontal arcs cannot form north of 55 degrees North or south of 55 degrees South. Fortunately for those who live in the continental United States, the 55th parallel rests above the border, so the phenomenon is not an uncommon sight in the summer there.
It’s a different story, however, for those living in far northern latitudes, where the phenomenon is impossible. And the closer you are to the 55th parallel, the rarer these spectacles become. For instance, in London, England, the sun is only high enough to form a circumhorizontal arc for about 140 hours between mid-May and late July.
Of course, those living in far northern latitudes get the privilege of regularly witnessing the aurora borealis, so perhaps it’s a tradeoff.
Check out the following pictures to see for yourself the variety of vistas these magnificent marvels can enhance:
Photo: Matt Hecht/Flickr
Photo: Robert Couse-Baker/Flickr
Photo: Wiki Commons
And here, a circumhorizontal arc can be seen underneath a 22-degree halo:
Photo: Wiki Commons
Stefanie Spear | June 30, 2015
Fifteen-year-old indigenous climate activist Xiuhtezcatl Roske-Martinez and actor and environmental advocate Robert Redford addressed the United Nations yesterday to encourage global action on climate change.
Xiuhtezcatl is the youth director of a non profit organization Earth Guardians. He was raised in the Aztec tradition and has been an active campaigner since the age of six. Now 15, he was selected to speak at the Opening Ceremony from among 200 applicants through a process facilitated by the UN Non-Governmental Liaison Service.
Martinez turned heads at the UN meeting calling on delegates to “dream big.” Saying, “It’s time to look to the skies for the solutions we need, because the future of energy is not down a hole.”
With only five months remaining before the COP 21 UN Climate talks in Paris, Martinez was selected by UN President Sam Kutesa of Uganda to address the assembly as a representative of civil society.
The young activist asked the delegates to imagine what could be accomplished if fossil fuel and nuclear subsides were reinvested into renewable energy. The International Monetary Fund estimates global fossil fuel subsidies are close to $10 million every minute. “The solutions are here, and they are bringing with them millions of jobs and economic opportunity,” he said.
Xiutezcatl emphasized the power of a growing youth climate movement:
“Everywhere young people are rising up and taking action to solve the issues that will be left to our generation … Over 400,000 people marched in through the streets of New York City in the world’s greatest climate march. More than 220 institutions have divested from fossil fuels with the help of student-led movements and the number continues to grow. Youth are suing their state and federal governments across the United States, demanding action on climate change from our elected officials. We are flooding the streets and now we are flooding the courts to get the world to see there is a movement on the rise and we are at the forefront, fighting for the solutions we need.”
Despite the challenging circumstances Xiuhtezcatl urged optimism, calling on delegates to stand with youth leaders.
“In the light of a collapsing world, what better time to be alive than now, because our generation gets to change the course of history,” he said. “Humans have created the greatest problem we face today, but the greater the challenge the higher we will rise to meet it. We need you to be a climate leader—not to stand up for us, but to stand with us.”
As his speech concluded, Xiuhtezcatl asked, “Who will rise with me now for mine and future generations to inherit a healthy just and sustainable planet?” Many of the delegates symbolically rose from their seats in support of Xiuhtezcatl.
Redford has been a prominent voice in the environmental movement for more than 40 years and is deeply involved in campaigns to protect air, land and water from pollution as a long-time trustee of the Natural Resources Defense Council.
“Robert Redford refuses to leave the next generation a world beyond fixing—because he knows it’s not too late,” said Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Global momentum is building to combat the gravest environmental threat of our time.”
During his speech, Redford said, “Unless we move quickly away from fossil fuels we are going to destroy the air we breathe, the water we drink and the health of our children, our grandchildren and future generations.”
UN President Sam Kutesa of Uganda shared his gratitude for Redford’s work. “Robert Redford has long been giving voice to the underdog, to the people who are trying to do the right thing, and for the environment,” he said. “His presence at the High-Level Event helped us connect with people all around the world who also want to do the right thing on climate change.”