Physicist Richard A. Muller was in the news last year after his Koch-funded study of global climate change concluded that it’s real, surely to the Koch brothers’ dismay. Now he’s penned an on-ed for the New York Times in which he says that his ongoing research has led him to the same conclusion as 99.9% of other experts in the field—that "essentially all of this increase results from the human emission of greenhouse gases." Muller’s research shows that the UN and the IPCC actually understate the problem. He researched the climate change causes claimed by non-scientist skeptics (urban heating biases, cherry-picking data, faking data, solar activity, and global population), and found that none of them explained climate change. What did explain it perfectly was atmospheric carbon dioxide. →
We have gone 332 months in which every month has been above the historical average temperature. There hasn’t been a single colder-than-average month since 1985. →
Physicist Richard A. Muller was in the news last year after his Koch-funded study of global climate change concluded that it’s real, surely to the Koch brothers’ dismay. Now he’s penned an on-ed for the New York Times in which he says that his ongoing research has led him to the same conclusion as 99.9% of other experts in the field—that “essentially all of this increase results from the human emission of greenhouse gases.” Muller’s research shows that the UN and the IPCC actually understate the problem. He researched the climate change causes claimed by non-scientist skeptics (urban heating biases, cherry-picking data, faking data, solar activity, and global population), and found that none of them explained climate change. What did explain it perfectly was atmospheric carbon dioxide. →
It’s been hypothesized that pesticides are the source of the global collapse of bee populations, but there had been no controlled experiments demonstrating correlation. A French government group performed just such an experiment and found that, indeed, colonies exposed to low levels of imidacloprid (a common, Bayer-developed insecticide) failed to thrive. They were 100–200% more likely to die while away from their nests, possibly because imidacloprid damages their ability to navigate back. →
Here’s something I never thought to wonder about: the average height of clouds. From March 2000–February 2010, clouds got 100–130 feet lower. There’s no long-term monitoring, so it’s not clear whether this is part of a larger trend. One theory is that this might be part of a negative feedback loop as the planet responds to global climate change, allowing the surface to release heat into space to counteract warming. →
- BBC News: CO2 climate sensitivity ‘overestimated’
Of all that is very clearly known about global climate change, the one connection that is not well understood is the quantity of climate forcing that results from each unit of CO2. That is, exactly how much additional heat can the atmosphere store for each each ton of CO2 that is added to it? One new study proposes that the existing model might be too pessimistic, basing that on the authors' theory that the last ice age wasn't as cold as has been believed. Their theorized rate of increase is still globally catastrophic, but comparatively speaking, it would be good news. The team's paper is published in Science magazine.
- Wikipedia: Franksgiving
In 1939, President Roosevelt made the annual declaration of a day of Thanksgiving—as had been done such President Washington—but selected the third Thursday in November, rather than the traditional last Thursday. That was at the request of retailers, who didn't want to violate the taboo of starting Christmas sales before Thanksgiving, but were worried that the fourth Thursday would fall too late in the year—November 30—to give them enough sales time. The moved date split the country, both along partisan lines and along state lines. Many states declared Thanksgiving holidays on the third Thursday, some on the fourth. This was repeated in 1940 and 1941, but it was settled by Congress, who officially designed the annual holiday as being the fourth Thursday, as of 1942.
- American Radio Relay League: US Amateurs Now 700,000 Strong!
There are more ham radio operators in the U.S. than ever before. Over 700,000 now. When I got licensed, in the early nineties, there were just under 500,000 licensed operators. I was one of the first people to get a codeless license, meaning that I didn't need to learn CW (aka Morse code); if that new class of license hadn't been established, I couldn't have passed the test. These days, I don't think CW is required for any of the three license classes—Technician, General, and Amateur Extra—which has surely helped this surge in licensing. (Fun fact: Long-time ARRL president Harry Dannals, aka W2HD, is a Charlottesville resident.)
- Science News: Columbus Blamed For Little Ice Age
Here's a fun theory of the origin of the Little Ice Age, lasting from around 1550–1850: that massive losses of New World population, as a result of disease spread by explorers, resulted in reforestation of huge swaths of the Americas, removing billions of tons of CO2 from the atmosphere, decreasing its capacity to hold heat. The theory itself isn't new—it was first proposed six years ago—but this new theory is based on a combination of evidence that CO2 levels dropped then and archeological evidence that charcoal accumulation plummeted during the period, evidence that the smaller populations weren't burning trees to clear land for crops. No doubt the link between exploration and climate would have struck people as impossible at the time. Kind of like how many Republicans will feel about it now.
- LA Times: Dietary supplements linked to higher risk of death in older women
A longitudinal study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine has found that women who take multivitamins regularly die younger than those who do not. Of all of the supplements studied (B6, folic acid, magnesium, zinc, copper, iron, and more), only calcium appeared to lower the risk of death. More and more data show that supplements simply aren't useful, save for to compensate for a shortage resulting from a health problem, and prescribed by a doctor.
- AP: Nearly half of US households escape fed income tax
Republicans are complaining about how 46% of Americans pay no income tax, despite that the fact that half of them make no payments because of income tax cuts that Republicans championed and, in many cases, enacted. (The other half have little to no income, which makes criticism of their lack of payments particularly heartless.) "I'm so angry that my agenda has been enacted!"
- Washington Post: Former US Attorney General John Ashcroft joining security company once known as Blackwater
Good Lord, I'm glad that Bush is no longer president.
- A Computer Scientist in a Business School: An ingenious application of crowdsourcing
After discovering that product sales increase when reviews are well-written, Zappos has been using Amazon's Mechanical Turk to copyedit reviews that are submitted to their site. It's a clever use of Mechanical Turk.
- CBS-19: Dominion Virginia Power Pushes to Increase Rates
The average monthly bill would go up by $12.76. That's a really, really large amount of money. I'd sure like to see the state extract some concessions from Dominion for this. For starters, they should start buying back green, customer-generated power at a rate substantially higher than the rate at which they sell their lousy coal power.
- Guardian: Honeybees ‘entomb’ hives to protect against pesticides, say scientists
Bees are awesome.
- New York Times: More Physicians Say No to Endless Workdays
I'm glad to see that more doctors are ditching the habit of working endless hours. Though I appreciate that a small-town doctor or a specialist has an obligation to always be available, it's great that doctors who have a choice are working 40-hour weeks. The inventor of the residency program wrote of a doctor's obligations: "What about the wife and babies if you have them? Leave them." Enough of that.
- Good: Scientist Beloved by Climate Deniers Pulls Rug Out from Their Argument
A climate change doubter funded by the Koch brothers presented a report to Congress on climate change the other day. He intended to expose existing global temperature data as inaccurate. And, after a bunch of research he discovered that…climatologists are absolutely correct. AWK-ward.
- Discover: Sex, Ys, and Platypuses
Instead of the XY/XX chromosomes that most mammals have, the platypus has a much more complicated sex chromosomes: five pairs instead of one. The male platypus is XYXYXYXYXY. That's the biggest number of sex chromosomes of any vertebrate. Man, platypus is weird. And so are the others.
- Christian Science Monitor: Pepsi bottles—no more plastic
PepsiCo is testing out a plant-based plastic bottle, with the intention of converting all of their bottles from the now-standard polyethylene terephthalate. Coca-Cola says they're doing the same thing. What I'd like to know is whether this material will biodegrade, or if it can be composted. I hope that, at least, it can be recycled, although I'm dubious of municipalities' ability to add a new class of recycling to their systems.
- New York Times: Mormon Politicians Feel Tea Party Heat at Home in Utah
"'On a good day, he’s a socialist,' said Darcy Van Orden, a co-founder of Utah Rising, a clearinghouse group, referring to Mr. Huntsman. 'On a bad day, he’s a communist.'" That's a leader of Utah's radical conservative movement describing Jon Huntsman, the state's former Republican governor.
This is a clever little program that examines your MySQL databases and makes recommendations about how to improve your database's performance in light of the reality of your data. I'll be spending some quality time with this on a few of my websites.
- Wikipedia: Enclaved countries
There are only three countries that are completely surrounded by another country: San Marino, Vatican City, and Lesotho.
- New York Times: Ken Cuccinelli v. Climate Skeptics
Even ardent climate change skeptics—people who despise Michael Mann—are increasingly convinced that Cuccinelli's "investigation" is totally inappropriate and without credibility.
This is a NASA satellite photo of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico:
As of this morning, the slick is 100 miles long and 45 miles wide. It’s twenty miles off the coast of Louisiana, and due to hit the shore this weekend. If this wasn’t enough of a disaster in the ocean, if this stuff washes up on shore, it’ll be a nightmare. It’s so bad that officials are considering lighting it on fire. That’s right—4,500 square miles of flaming oil slick is preferable to this stuff washing up, so nasty the consequences would be. It gets worse: the slick is growing, because although the offshore drilling platform exploded, burned, and collapsed beneath the waves (killing eleven), the oil is still gushing up from the ocean floor, through the twisted and broken pipe, and out into the surrounding water, at the rate of 42,000 gallons a day. BP said this afternoon that it’ll take months to stem the flow, though now they have a never-before-tested idea that they can float in an enormous dome and drop it down over the leak, and then drill another well to suck the oil out of to stop it from coming out of the busted on. They’ve got no idea if any of this stuff will work, but they’ve got to do it, because the alternative is admitting that the gulf coast is fucked. (Again.)
Fear not: there are ships working to clean up the spill. They’re in that satellite photo. But since each ship is significantly smaller than a pixel in size, relative to the image, you can imagine how much good they’re going to do. The task is Sisyphean.
Isn’t there some kind of a government safety system in place to prevent this from happening? Well, yes, but it’s purely voluntary. There’s a proposal to make it mandatory, but—as the WSJ points out—none of these rules would have prevented this from happening. Obviously, BP didn’t want to have their drilling platform explode—this represents an enormous economic loss to them. If the fourth largest business in the world can’t stop this from happening, then is it even possible to prevent this kind of an accident?
Never mind all that, though: Governor Bob McDonnell is a “drill here, drill now” kind of guy:
Bob McDonnell supports the safe offshore exploration and drilling for oil and natural gas 50 miles off the coast of Virginia. This is not only an issue of energy independence and national security, but the development of Virginia’s offshore energy reserves will mean thousands of new jobs, billions of dollars in new investment, and hundreds of millions in new tax revenue to the Commonwealth.
Like many Republican officeholders, he likes to say that drilling offshore is perfectly safe—technology solves all!—and that it’ll put lots of people to work. The latter, as we can see from the scramble underway in the gulf right now, is absolutely true. BP is about to put thousands of people to work building a giant dome, scrubbing down oil-slicked terns, and scrubbing crude off of a hundred miles of shoreline. Offshore oil is good for the economy in the same sense that me breaking my neck is good for the economy: think of all of the doctors, therapists, etc. who will be put to work! Whether there is such a thing as “safe” drilling for oil, though, remains to be seen.
The reality of offshore oil is that we have to pick: What’s worth more, our seaside economy or oil? Can you imagine the economic apocalypse in Virginia Beach that would result from their shoreline soaked in crude? In the Bay after fisheries are destroyed, and the remaining fish migrate out of the area? Offshore oil wells present a very real risk, and we are not well served by a faith-based attempt to balance these competing interests. We’ve got to do the math, figure out the real risk, and decide if we want to stake our marine economy on the safety of drilling off Virginia’s coast.
The L.A. Times reports on Orange County’s lawsuit against a couple who replaced their lawn with xeriscaping, dropping their household water usage by 80% by simply switching from grass to native ground cover. Under county law, at least 40% of a yard has to be covered in live plants. Never mind that the southwest is a desert, likely facing becoming a long-term dust bowl, and that a lawn is the most asinine use of water that one can envision for the region. (I have a friend who lived in Charlottesville who went around and around with the city for years over his lawn. His backyard was a wetland. The city wanted him to keep it mowed and dry. He figured nature knew best.) The excellent Elizabeth Kolbert had a brilliant story about laws and xeriscaping in The New Yorker in 2008. It’s a great example of how, at its best, The New Yorker can take a topic that seems terribly boring (a history of lawns) and turn it into something vital. If you’ve got even the faintest interest in this topic, I recommend reading Kolbert’s piece, then the Times piece. (Via Slashdot)
Instead of letting G.M. go bankrupt, why not give them a bailout with strings? Say, $1B for every additional MPG/year in CAFE standards. If they agree to hit the 32 MPG mark in 2011, they get $1B. 33 MPG, they get $2B. 34 MPG in 2012, they get $2B. Etc.
Call me a huge dork, but I’m really excited about this new milk jug design taken up by Wal-Mart and Costco. They’re rectangular, allowing them to be packed far more tightly in shipment, use less packaging, and have a greatly reduced overall environmental impact. This is precisely the sort of small manufacturing modification that big business has been without incentive to make while fuel was cheap, but that has been so badly needed. (I’ve been chewing over the design of the cereal box for the past couple of years. There’s a package ripe for improvement.) It’ll take a bit for people to learn this new jug, to adapt to the idea of tilting it in place, rather than lifting it up, but that’s an easy hurdle. My only concern is who owns the patent on this jug, and whether they’re charging for its implementation. Our milk comes in glass bottles, on which we pay a deposit, so I won’t be trying these new jugs anytime soon.
I’ve helped put together a forum about the Charlottesville and Albemarle water situation for the evening of Tuesday the 10th. It’s Left of Center‘s monthly meeting, and we’ll have Charlottesville Tomorrow executive director Brian Wheeler, C’ville TJS&WCD representative Rich Collins, and Artisan Construction owner Doug Lowe (builder and owner of the area’s only LEED Platinum home) explaining what the deal is with the debate over the reservoir, the history of the region’s water woes, and the non-obvious steps that you can take to reduce your own water usage. The reservoir debate really is mystifying, and I recommend attending to learn about how the outcome will affect you. It’s at Maya, on West Main Street. The snacks and social time start at 5:30 and the discussion runs from 6:00-7:00. Do come.