Category Archives: Noteworthy

Quote of the day: Dr. Seuss, a modern prophet


From author Lydia Millet in a short but powerful essay for the Atlantic Wire on why she believes Dr. Seuss’s brilliant parable The Lorax [the children’s book, not the treacly film version] is a seminal work of literature extremely relevant for our times with its warning of the dangers of rampant human greed:

Isn’t that a subject worthy of novels? Shouldn’t the cascades of extinction and rapid planetary warming register in our literature? And yet, despite the fact that most Americans support the work of saving species from winking out, and increasingly support strong action to curb climate change, the highly rational push for the preservation of nature and life-support systems often appears in the media—and certainly appears in most current fiction—as a boutique agenda. Climate change is shifting that marginalization, but not fast enough.

What makes The Lorax such a powerful fable is partly its shamelessness. It pulls no punches; it wears its teacher heart on its sleeve. This is commonplace and accepted in children’s stories, but considered largely undesirable in literary fiction. In fact snarkiness and even snobbishness can be brought to bear by some critics if they believe they’ve sniffed out a whiff of idea-mongering in fiction. When it comes to philosophy—just say no! Politics? Heaven forfend! If adults wish to put themselves in the path of notions about right and wrong, the theory seems to go, they can darn well seek out a house of worship or a counselor. Maybe even an AA meeting. They shouldn’t go to a book, unless it’s holy scripture or a self-help manual. Fiction should be an ethically safe space, free of fancy ideas. It should be dedicated modestly to relationships or escapism or the needs of luscious voyeurs.

But I happen to believe in the urgency of now. I don’t accept the proposition that ours is a historical moment like any other, that we can handily shrug off our duty to the future by placing ourselves in an endless, linear continuum of progress that makes its share of errors but is finally, comfortingly self-correcting. Rather I follow the strong evidence for the singularity of this human era, its unique power to make or break that future, directly linked to tipping points associated with climate catastrophe and the irreversibility of extinction. I cleave to science and the need to communicate science, or at least the products of science. Beyond and within science, love: not the love we have for ourselves, but that greater love we forget or take for granted in daily life, the love of otherness. The desperate need for otherness. And I suspect there’s no place, in art or journalism or politics, that isn’t ripe for that discussion.

Oceans losing oxygen; West Coast affected early


Deoxygenation due to climate change is already detectable in some parts of the ocean. New research finds that it will likely become widespread between 2030 and 2040. Other parts of the ocean, shown in gray, will not have detectable loss of oxygen due to climate change even by 2100.

Deoxygenation due to climate change is already detectable in some parts of the ocean. New research finds that it will likely become widespread between 2030 and 2040. Other parts of the ocean, shown in gray, will not have detectable loss of oxygen due to climate change even by 2100.

The oceans are losing oxygen, and climate change is the culprit.

Areas earliest hit are the western coasts of North America and Africa and the northeastern coast of South America.

The result will be major shifts in marine life, including the development of major dead zones.

And given that much of the world depend son ocean fish for protein, the changes could portend serious human and political crises.

From the American Geophysical Union:

A drop in the amount of oxygen dissolved in the oceans due to climate change is already discernible in some parts of the world and should be evident across large parts of the ocean between 2030 and 2040, according to a new study.

Scientists know that a warming climate can be expected to gradually sap oceans of oxygen, leaving fish, crabs, squid, sea stars, and other marine life struggling to breathe. But it’s been difficult to determine whether this anticipated oxygen drain is already having a noticeable impact.

“Loss of oxygen in the ocean is one of the serious side effects of a warming atmosphere, and a major threat to marine life,” said Matthew Long, a climate scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and lead author of the study. “Since oxygen concentrations in the ocean naturally vary depending on variations in winds and temperature at the surface, it’s been challenging to attribute any deoxygenation to climate change. This new study tells us when we can expect the impact from climate change to overwhelm the natural variability.”

The study [$6 read-only, $38 to print — esnl] is published in Global Biogeochemical Cycles, a journal of the American Geophysical Union.

Cutting through the natural variability

The entire ocean—from the depths to the shallows—gets its oxygen supply from the surface, either directly from the atmosphere or from phytoplankton, which release oxygen into the water through photosynthesis.

Warming surface waters, however, absorb less oxygen. And in a double whammy, the oxygen that is absorbed has a more difficult time traveling deeper into the ocean. That’s because as water heats up, it expands, becoming lighter than the water below it and less likely to sink.

Thanks to natural warming and cooling, oxygen concentrations at the sea surface are constantly changing—and those changes can linger for years or even decades deeper in the ocean.

For example, an exceptionally cold winter in the North Pacific would allow the ocean surface to soak up a large amount of oxygen. Thanks to the natural circulation pattern, that oxygen would then be carried deeper into the ocean interior, where it might still be detectable years later as it travels along its flow path. On the flip side, unusually hot weather could lead to natural “dead zones” in the ocean, where fish and other marine life cannot survive.

To cut through this natural variability and investigate the impact of climate change, the research team relied on the NCAR-based Community Earth System Model.

The scientists used output from a project that ran the model more than two dozen times for the years 1920 to 2100. Each individual run was started with miniscule variations in air temperature. As the model runs progressed, those tiny differences grew and expanded, producing a set of climate simulations useful for studying questions about variability and change.

Using the simulations to study dissolved oxygen gave the researchers guidance on how much concentrations may have varied naturally in the past. With this information, they could determine when ocean deoxygenation due to climate change is likely to become more severe than at any point in the modeled historic range.

The research team found that deoxygenation caused by climate change could already be detected in the southern Indian Ocean and parts of the eastern tropical Pacific and Atlantic basins. They also determined that more widespread detection of deoxygenation caused by climate change would be possible between 2030 and 2040. However, in some parts of the ocean, including areas off the east coasts of Africa, Australia, and Southeast Asia, deoxygenation caused by climate change was not evident even by 2100.

Picking out a global pattern

The researchers also created a visual way to distinguish between deoxygenation caused by natural processes and deoxygenation caused by climate change.

Using the same model dataset, the scientists created maps of oxygen levels in the ocean, showing which waters were oxygen-rich at the same time that others were oxygen-poor. They found they could distinguish between oxygenation patterns caused by natural weather phenomena and the pattern caused by climate change.

The pattern caused by climate change also became evident in the model runs around 2030, adding confidence to the conclusion that widespread deoxygenation due to climate change will become detectable around that time.

The maps could also be useful resources for deciding where to place instruments to monitor ocean oxygen levels in the future to get the best picture of climate change impacts. Currently ocean oxygen measurements are relatively sparse.

“We need comprehensive and sustained observations of what’s going on in the ocean to compare with what we’re learning from our models and to understand the full impact of a changing climate,” Long said.

Headline of the day II: Words to help you sleep


Or not.

Probably the latter.

From the London Daily Mail:

Security alert at German nuclear power plant after computer systems are found to be infected with viruses

  • Technicians found two computer viruses at the Gundremmigen facility 
  • Officials claimed none of the infected systems were connected to the web
  • The computer systems were infected by a USB drive hiding the software 
  • The nuclear power plant is approximately 75 miles north west of Munich

Headline of the day: Sexual predation at Cal


From a must-read report in the Guardian:

‘I was expendable’: how UC Berkeley failed a woman being sexually harassed

Tyann Sorrell details to the Guardian how the school denies basic protections to victims and forces them to pursue litigation if they want a safe workplace

Drone strikes airliner? It’s in the bag. . .really


Sometimes when a story seems too good to be true it really is.

The news media have been full of scare stories warning about the threats allegedly posed by small plastic consumer drones to passenger jets.

So when initial reports suggested a British airliner had collided with a drone in the skies over London, the media ate it up.

There’s only one problem with that latest widely trumpeted horror story, as the London Daily Telegraph reports:

The drone that reportedly hit a British Airways jet earlier this week may have actually been a plastic bag, a minister has said.

Transport minister Robert Goodwill admitted authorities had not yet confirmed whether what struck the Airbus A320 was a remote-controlled device.

The collision on Sunday night is believed to have been at around 1,700 ft near Richmond Park in south west London, over four times higher than the legal height limit.

The Air Accidents Investigation Branch is investigating, alongside the Metropolitan Police.

And now for something completely different. . .


Would you believe a prescient animated documentary from the early 1970s warning us about the dangers of global warning, environmental pollution, overpopulation, and so many of the other worries dominating our thinking a half-century later?

Even better, it’s done in classic psychedelic style, drawn by artists from both sides of the Iron Curtain, executed at the height of the Cold War, with a narration by a grooovvvy Canadian professor sporting an oversized yang/yin medallion.

Yep, it’s another classic from the National Film Board of Canada.

So turn up the resolution to HD and turn off the animation slider to rid your screen of an annoying logo, then site back, relax, and enjoy:

Man: The Polluter

Program notes:

This feature-length animation is a richly illustrated cartoon film with an environmental message: how much longer can humans foul their own nest ignore the consequences? Made by a joint team of Canadian and Yugoslav animation artists, the film transmits its warning with unflagging humour, imagination, movement and design. In between animated sequences, Dr. Fred H. Knelman, Professor of Science and Human Affairs at Montreal’s Concordia University, comments on the importance of what is shown and on what lies in store if more responsibility is not taken on a global scale to conserve what is left of our vital resources.

Directed by Don Arioli, Zlatko Bourek, Hugh Foulds, Chuck Jones, Wolf Koenig, Boris Kolar, Frank Nissen, Kaj Pindal, Pino Van Lamsweerde, Milan Blazekovic, Nedeljko Dragic, Aleksandar Marks, Vladimir Jutrisa, Dusan Vukotic & Ante Zaninovic – 1973

Headline of the day: The medium is the message


From the Guardian:

No female film directors from two major Hollywood studios through 2018

Paramount’s last film by a woman was 2014’s Selma while 20th Century Fox has not released a female-directed movie since 2010, investigative report found