Category Archives: Human behavior

Chart of the day II: U.S. indoor water use drops

From Circle of Blue, Americans are using less water indoors, except for those baths [though shower water use also dropped]:

BLOG Water

Maps of the day: UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Maps of the world with boundaries redrawn proportionate to the number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in each country.

And, yes, it’s rather Eurocentric, no?

From Views of the World, the blog of  Benjamin Hennig, Senior Research Fellow at Oxford University’s School of Geography and the Environment [with a larger image available at the link]:

BLOG Heritage

Quote of the day: A global catastrophe looms

From economic historian and environmental journalist Robert Hunziker, writing for CounterPunch:

20% of the world’s population consumes 100% of the ecological productive capital of the planet, beyond which natural capital goes into deficit, helping to clarify why 2.7 billion people live on $2 per day (World Bank) and will stay that way.

“It is simply not possible… for everybody in the world to consume at current industrial levels without risking irreversible resource depletion and ecosphere collapse” (Wackernagel).

In consequence, an impending clash of global warming and the planetary boundary, as it exceeds 50%, may very well trigger unimaginable colossal ecological collapse similar to an asteroid collision, loss of food resources, massive drought, brutal global warfare on a scale beyond imagination. Humankind reverts to Neanderthal survival techniques, which were able to adapt to and survive in some of the harshest environments known to humans 28,000-300,000 years ago.

All of which is a poke in the eye at political rhetoric that mesmerizes audiences with assurances of anything other than the brutal truth that the prevailing tenure of political, economic neoliberalism, which revolves around profits, is screwing things up. Maybe there’s a better way. 

Map of the day: Bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef

Map of the Great Barrier Reef showing results of aerial surveys for 911 reefs.

Map of the Great Barrier Reef showing results of aerial surveys for 911 reefs.

And the story, from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies:

Only 7% of the Great Barrier Reef has avoided coral bleaching

Australian scientists have revealed today the full extent of the coral bleaching that is unfolding on the Great Barrier Reef, off the coast of Queensland.

The final results of extensive aerial and underwater surveys reveal that 93% of the reef has been affected. It’s a mixed picture of very severe, moderate and little damage that changes dramatically from north to south along the 2300km length of the Reef.

Meanwhile on the west coast of Australia, researchers are also discovering large-scale bleaching caused by elevated temperatures on both sides of the Australian continent.

“We’ve never seen anything like this scale of bleaching before. In the northern Great Barrier Reef, it’s like 10 cyclones have come ashore all at once,” says Professor Terry Hughes, convenor of the National Coral Bleaching Taskforce that is documenting and studying the event. “Towards the southern end, most of the reefs have minor to moderate bleaching and should soon recover.”

“We have now flown over 911 individual reefs in a helicopter and light plane, to map out the extent and severity of bleaching along the full 2300km length of the Great Barrier Reef. Of all the reefs we surveyed, only 7% (68 reefs) have escaped bleaching entirely. At the other end of the spectrum, between 60 and 100% of corals are severely bleached on 316 reefs, nearly all in the northern half of the Reef.”

Underwater, teams of scientific divers have confirmed the accuracy of the aerial surveys, and are continuing to measure the ongoing impact of the bleaching.

There’s lots more, after the jump. . . Continue reading

Radical cultural shift: Virginity now stigmatized

Back when esnl was a toddler, growing up in a small Kansas farm town during the Eisenhower presidency, three things earned a single woman slut shaming: Smoking, drinking alone in a bar, and premarital sex.

No more, at least for the second and third items, with smoking once again under a stigmatizing cloud after women had first “come a long way, baby” with their “torches of freedom.”

BLOG Long way

With drinking acceptable and smoking once again a taboo for both sexes, that leaves virginity.

And, low and behold, not only is premarital sex no longer a taboo, at least for other than Ted Cruz supporters, premarital virginity has, is seems, replaced it on the list of things not desired in a prospective mate.

From the Indiana University newsroom:

A recent study by researchers at the Kinsey Institute titled “Has Virginity Lost Its Virtue? Relationship Stigma Associated with Being a Sexually Inexperienced Adult” [Open access — esnl] found that people who wait to have sex are stigmatized, and also stigmatize other sexually inexperienced adults.

“While virginity prior to marriage has been historically valued, there has been a generational shift that has made premarital sexual activity the norm for young adults,” said Amanda Gesselman, a postdoctoral research fellow at Kinsey and co-author of the study. “For us, the biggest question was whether person’s level of sexual experience is it still a No. 1 value trait – something you think about when looking at a potential relationship partner? Our research shows that yes it is, but not in the same way.”

The three-part study co-authored by Gesselman, Gregory Webster at the University of Florida, and Justin Garcia, from Kinsey, was recently published in The Journal of Sex Research.

In the first part of the study, researchers asked 560 heterosexual adults ages 18 to 71 – of which, 25 percent had no sexual experience – the “normal” age for men and women to begin having sex and to express their own perceptions of how they are viewed by others based on their level of sexual experience or lack there of.

Of those surveyed, a majority indicated they regarded between the ages of 16 and 19 as the normal age for both men and women to begin having sex. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the average age of sexual debut in the U.S. is 17 for both men and women, and nearly 90 percent of people between the ages of 22 and 24 report having had sex.

According to the Kinsey study, those surveyed who were sexually inexperienced perceived themselves to be more stigmatized than those who were sexually experienced. The study did not look at people’s motivations for remaining sexually abstinent, such as moral or religious reasons or to what extent people divulge their sexual experiences.

“Typically, we tend to think negatively about ‘slutty’ girls or ‘promiscuous’ guys, but the virgins in our study thought they were stigmatized more,” Gesselman said.

In the second part of the study, researchers looked at almost 5,000, heterosexual singles, 21 years of age and older, to determine potential discrimination against sexually inexperienced adults in the form of limited dating opportunities.

The results? Single adults who were surveyed may be less likely to consider sexually inexperienced adults as committed relationship partners, should they be made aware of a prospective partner’s sexual history status. That also goes for sexually inexperienced people’s attitudes toward other sexually inexperienced people.

“That part of the study was surprising,” Gesselman said. “Not sure why, except that sometimes when people are stigmatized you internalize that and think something is wrong with you. So maybe they see other virgins and think something is wrong with them.”

In the third part of the study, researchers asked 353 college students to rank dating profiles based on sexual and relationship experience. Most people made their decisions based on their own sexual experience, and everyone gave a higher ranking to people with more romantic relationship experience.

For Gesselman, the study shows a cultural shift in how people treat sexuality.

“We’ve really seen this generational shift where people are becoming more sex-positive as a culture,” she said.

Psilocybin reduces the stress of social isolation

Yet another study reveals that a powerful psychedelic drug, the same organic compound already shown to be the longest-lasting and most effective antidepressant yet discovered, has yet another powerful therapeutic property: Relief from the overwhelming stress of social isolation.

The research is just the latest in a series of studies showing the efficiacy of psychedelics in treating a wide range of psychological afflictions.

From the University of Zurich:

Social problems are key characteristics in psychiatric disorders and are insufficiently targeted by current treatment approaches. By applying brain imaging methods, researchers at the University of Zurich now show that a small amount of psilocybin changes the processing of social conflicts in the brain. As a result, participants experienced social exclusion and social pain as less stressful. This could help to improve therapy of social problems.

Social ties are vital for mental and physical health. However, psychiatric patients in particular frequently encounter social exclusion and rejection. Furthermore, psychiatric patients often react more strongly to social rejection than healthy persons and this can have negative consequences for the development and treatment of psychiatric disorders. However, social deficits in psychiatric patients are only insufficiently targeted by current treatment approaches, in particular because so far little is known about the neuropharmacological mechanisms underlying these processes in the brain.

Social rejection is less painful after psilocybin intake

Researchers at the University Hospital of Psychiatry Zurich now showed that psilocybin, the active component of the Mexican magic mushrooms, influences these processes in the brain. In particular, it stimulates specific receptors of the neurotransmitter serotonin. This results in a reduced reaction to social rejection in the associated brain areas. Consequently, participants felt less excluded after psilocybin administration than after the intake of a placebo. Furthermore, they report having experienced less social pain.

The increased processing of and reactivity to social exclusion and social pain can increase the risk of patients withdrawing from social life and therefore experience less support. “Increased activity in brain areas such as the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex is associated with an increased experience of social pain. This has been shown to be present in different psychiatric disorders. Psilocybin seems to influence these particular brain areas”, says Katrin Preller, first author of the study. The researchers applied functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to investigate these processes. Using a second imaging technique, magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS), they additionally showed that a further metabolite is involved in the experience of social pain: aspartate.

New approaches for the treatment of social problems

“These new results could be groundbreaking for the illumination of the neuropharmacological mechanisms of social interaction and may help to develop new treatments”, emphasizes Franz Vollenweider, director of the Neuropsychopharmacology and Brain Imaging Unit. On the one hand, the results can help to develop more effective medication to treat psychiatric disorders which are characterized by an increased reactivity to social rejection, such as depression or borderline personality disorder. “On the other hand”, Vollenweider adds, “the reduction of psychological pain and fear can facilitate the therapist-patient relationship and therefore the psychotherapeutic treatment of formative negative social experiences.”


Katrin H. Preller, Thomas Pokorny, Andreas Hock, Rainer Kraehenmann, Philipp Stämpfli, Erich Seifritz, Milan Scheidegger, Franz X. Vollenweider. Effects of serotonin 2A/1A receptor stimulation on social exclusion processing [$10 paywall — esnl]. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. April 18, 2016. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1524187113

Coping with the inevitability of climate change

Given that global climate change is already happening, and the reality that political leaders lack the will or ability to implement measures to head off imminent impacts, what then?

That’s the subject of How To Let Go of the World -and Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change, the new documentary from Josh Fox, direct of the award-winning 2010 documentary Gasland.

Here’s how the reviewer for the New York Times sums up the film:

The film’s title will use up many of the allotted words for this review, so it’s best to be terse when critiquing “How to Let Go of the World and Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change.” Hence, a one-word assessment of this documentary: Tough. As in, tough to watch. Tough to consider. Tough to ignore.

But beneath the despair Fox conveys a certain optimism in this discussion with Chris Hedges for the latest installment of Days of Revolt, Hedges’ weekly series for teleSUR English.

The optimism lies not in any conviction Fox has that quick, massive response may avert the worst impacts — he has none. Rather, his optimism stems from the ability of the human spirit to craft emotional responses that foster a spirit of community, responses mediated by song, dance, and the other arts.

From Days of Revolt:

Days of Revolt: Letting Go of the World

From the transcript:

HEDGES: I just want to interrupt–you in the film point out that it’s not like we stop at 2 degrees. That becomes essentially, once we hit 2 degrees, it just begins to accelerate.

FOX: The problem is we’ve already warmed the Earth by about a degree Celsius over pre-industrial times. We have enough heat and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and methane in the atmosphere now to bring us to definitely 1.5 degrees and perhaps beyond. Some of the projections for this year even bring us to 1.3 degrees, and we’re talking Celsius. Doesn’t sound like so much. But if you think about your freezer at home, if you take it from 32 degrees Fahrenheit to 34 degrees Fahrenheit, everything starts to melt and everything starts to spoil, which is what’s happening on the planet Earth right now. Everything that?s supposed to stay frozen is melting and that has created feedback loops and all the things we know will continue to accelerate.

HEDGES: Explain feedback loops.

FOX: So at the top of the Earth and at the bottom of the Earth, there are these poles which have white snow and ice, and white reflects heat and light and black absorbs it, right? So that heat that would otherwise radiate back out to space, because it’s reflecting off of the poles. As the poles shrink as we melt them, then all of a sudden there’s even less reflectivity. So that’s one feedback loop. Another feedback loop is that as we melt the permafrost, there’s all sort of methane trapped inside the permafrost that creates even greater greenhouse gas emissions. These things start to accelerate and spiral.

HEDGES: You also talk about the animal agriculture industry, which many people avoid, but is a major contributor to climate change.

FOX: Of course, there’s so many contributors. Not just oil and gas and coal but yes, animal agriculture and deforestation is another major cause because trees basically bring carbon into them and exhale oxygen which we need to survive. So the more we cut down the forest, you get less oxygen and you get more carbon dioxide. What was most startling to me is the sea level rise projections. When you 5-9 meters of sea level rise, that’s basically say goodbye to Philadelphia, Boston, Washington D.C., Baltimore.

HEDGES: You show in the film what it will look like. What these cities will look like when huge sections of these cities are gone.

FOX: In New York it’s always interesting because whenever we show that map to people in New York, you see the Lower Eastside get eaten, you see Williamsburg, Red Hook and The Rockaways. And people always go, ‘Well, I live over here in Park Slope. I’m on a hill.’ I’m like ‘Okay that’s cool. Yeah you’re right, you know. The Brooklyn Bridge won’t be under water but the onramp will be.’ Now you won’t be able to take the subway. It’s so funny how we think these things aren’t going to happen to us and yet, that is extraordinarily startling.

So what does this mean, this 2 degrees? Basically what it means is if we’re already for all intents and purposes are at 1.5 or beyond, there is no scenario in which New York, Baltimore or D.C., Miami, New Orleans stays above water if we continue to develop and drill for more fossil fuels. And just today, the oil and gas industry had a huge auction in the SuperDome in New Orleans to ten more years of oil and gas drilling offshore. We’re talking about frack gas expanding. We have proposals right now for 300 frack gas power plants throughout the United States and people are battling them every single place we go. They’re battling the pipelines, they’re battling the power plants. Hillary Clinton speaks of natural gas as a bridge fuel. So does Barack Obama, by the way. What that bridge means is 30-40 more years of dependence on fossil fuel, the worst fossil fuel that there is for climate change. That’s not responsible action, that’s not what is says in the Paris Accords. You have an incredible contradiction right now among this administration that saying, ‘We wanna take on climate change. We wanna keep climate change well below 2 degrees,’ is what they said in Paris. And yet you have FERC permitting all these pipelines.