Tag Archives: science

Climate Change made easy

One of the very first posts I ever published on Meeka’s Mind was this one. It hit the internet on December 29, 2011 and received two likes and two comments.

In that post I wrote:

‘…ordinary people like you and me are at the top of the list. We don’t understand the science – no surprise there – so we only know what the media choose to tell us, and the media are having a field day playing both sides against the middle.’

Absolutely nothing has changed since 2011. In fact, things have gone from bad to worse with idiots in the Federal government professing their undying love of coal on the floor of parliament:

As for the mainstream media, it continues to capitalise on the confusion by giving climate change deniers equal air time with genuine scientists. Sadly, even when the scientists do get to put their case to the general public, they lack the communication skills to present the data in a way non-scientists can understand. That’s why some deniers can get away with saying:

‘Yes, things are getting warmer, but its just natural cycles.’

‘Yes, things are getting warmer, but its just sun spots.’

‘Yes, things are getting warmer, but humans aren’t to blame.’

‘Yes, things are getting warmer, but technology will fix it.’

‘Yes, things are getting warmer, but it’s an act of God or Nature, and there’s nothing we can do.’

‘Yes, things are getting warmer, but it’s the fault of industry and there’s nothing I can do about it.’

‘Yes, things are getting warmer, but trying to fix it is too hard and we’ll all give up our comforts, so let’s just pray for a miracle.’

‘Yes, things are getting warmer, but it’s just the UN spruiking for more funding.’

‘Yes, things are getting warmer, but its just scientists scrambling for more research grants.’

I could go on, but I think you get my drift. Like all forms of manipulation, the most effective denials are the ones based on a tiny kernel of truth. Sifting the truth from the lie, however, requires the skills of a people person, someone who knows what they’re talking about but can communicate it in an easy to understand way.

One such communicator is my friend, Yorgos. We met on Twitter [@YorgosKC] but he also has a blog on WordPress and publishes novels on Wattpad. As an Indie author, Yorgos really does know how to communicate, but perhaps the most amazing thing about him is that English is not his mother tongue. I wish I could write as well in a second language!

Anyway, Yorgos commented on my recent reblog about climate change, busting climate change myths left, right and centre. The chart he refers to is on the original post which you can find here. Yorgos’ reply was so good I simply had to reproduce it here:

‘I got scared about it [climate change] a few years ago when I was in uni, studying physics and in “physics of atmosphere” we’ve been learning (to write it at exams to pass the lesson, mind you!) “We currently burn a year as much oxygen as earth created in a thousand years, which is not alarming, at all”. This, to me, was alarming. To save you the maths, it actually means, even if we forget this oxygen turns into carbon dioxide (which cause the global warming), human’s future is bound to be shorter than human’s past. And we were thought to consider that as “not alarming”. If “we”, the “specialists” think that, try to convince the ones that don’t know any better.
Now, to make a few things clear, if I may, global warming would have happened even if humans had never existed. But, as the chart shows, in a much slower pace. Also, the Sun’s regular 11-year circle raise of activity affects Earth’s temperature. But right now, Sun’s activity is at its lowest. Therefore, 2019 – if the Sun was the reason – would have been one of the coolest years of this decade. So, no, don’t blame the Sun. If you don’t believe me, check SOHO’s photos and you’ll see there are no spots on the Sun (the more the spots the hotter the Sun is). I’m mentioning this, because I’ve heard more than a few saying, “it’s the Sun. We can’t do anything!” It’s not! Furthermore, immigration to Mars (or anywhere, if that matters) is something that is not feasible, and won’t be feasible for centuries, but let’s say, 50 years. So, no, this isn’t a solution.
Finally, Earth is not in any danger. This change that affects less than 32km ring (including Troposphere) of a 16,400km radius sphere (including the whole atmosphere) doesn’t bother Earth, at all. But! It affects nature and life on Earth. And this nature, indeed, has its ways of “reducing damage” but doesn’t care about a few species, like humans. It won’t protect us, by all costs. Cockroaches and plants are enough for it. Also, neither a God, nor an alien super-civilization cares to save us. So, we should not expect a miraculous solution.
So, then “It’s the governments”. Right. That’s true, I won’t deny that, but, it’s also in the hands of each of us. Do you leave your router on while sleeping? Do you leave other devices on stand-by, instead of turning them off? Do you leave lights on, when you don’t need them? Do you use your car, unnecessarily often? These and so many other things we do daily, without giving them a second thought, are translated in raise of carbon dioxide (why the electricity part? because of the factories creating it). And you may think, “what difference will it make if I don’t do that?” A small one, true. But if all people do that it will make a huge one. So, it’s a start. So, yes, the governments and the industries should adjust, but this isn’t in my hand, but there are things that are in my hand. And your hands, too, so, let’s do what we can do.
That’s all. Sorry for the long, boring reply. Thank you for the very interesting post. And let me correct a fact on the chart: There are still Pokemons in North America 😁’

The one thing I’d like to add to Yorgos’ comment is a little bit about the time factor. During the normal warming and cooling cycles of the the planet, change happens very slowly, literally over thousands of years. This slow pace of change allows life on Earth to adapt to the changing environment, but this adaptation isn’t a conscious thing. Animals don’t look up and go ‘Ut oh, things are getting colder/hotter, I’d better start growing a longer/short coat’.

No. Adaptation to change in the environment happens at the species level…if the particular species is lucky. That luck depends on two main things:

  1. Firstly, individuals in the species have to be born with small mutations that make them better suited to the changing environment. For example, if it’s getting colder, a mutation that made an animal’s undercoat thicker would help it survive the cold better. If it survives better, there’s a chance it’ll have a better chance of reproducing and passing the helpful mutation to the next generation. As more individuals are born with this helpful mutation, they are more likely to meet and interbreed. If this happens, there is a chance that the mutation may become stronger. In time, there’s a chance that this new, helpful mutation will spread throughout the entire population, making the whole species better able to survive the cold.
  2. But spreading a helpful mutation through an entire population requires time. This is why cockroaches [and insects in general] possess a huge advantage over mammals like homo sapiens. Unlike us, all insects reproduce very, very quickly.

The following article talks about the four main types of cockroaches found in North America – German, American, Oriental and brown-banded:

https://animals.mom.me/long-roaches-reproduce-11115.html

I found this factoid particularly disturbing:

‘German cockroaches mature so fast that only a few weeks after hatching, they’re ready to make babies of their own. When you take all the different generations into consideration, one female can be the matriarch of up to 35,000 roaches.’

Now, let’s imagine that one of those German cockroaches is born with a mutation that makes it immune to cockroache bait. If it survives to adulthood and reproduces, it could make all the cockroaches in its area immune to the bait too. If we substitute ‘tolerance to CO2’ or ‘tolerance to heat’ for ‘tolerance to bait’, you can see how in a very short space of time, all the cockroaches could become better at surviving climate change.

Humans do adapt to environments too, but as it takes a minimum of 15 years for us to reproduce just once, spreading a helpful mutation through the entire population might take millions of years. When natural cycles happen very, very slowly, humans have a chance to adapt. When those same cycles happen quickly, as is happening now, we haven’t got a prayer of changing ourselves quickly enough to survive in the new environment. Genetically modified humans might survive, but they’ll be few and the modification may have unintended side effects that stop them from reproducing effectively.

Reading back over what I just wrote, I can see GM humans as the basis for an interesting sci-fi story, but that’s all it would be, a story. In the real world, technology will create domes and underground cities and all sorts of high-tech ways of adapting to the changes happening outside. But who will get to live in those rather large ‘bunkers’?

I don’t think I’m being cynical when I say that only the rich will get to survive climate change long term. For the rest of us, life will simply become more and more unbearable until one day it finally stops.

So… Do we stick our heads in the sand and pretend climate change is not happening? Do we pray for a ‘miracle’? Or do we pull up our big girl pants and do something?

Before you make up your mind, one way or the other, I’d like to leave you with a thought about the power of the ‘small’. The following quote comes from:

http://rc3.org/2009/07/30/stealing-a-penny-from-every-transaction/

‘…mobile carriers increase their profits by inserting that annoying instructional message that’s played after your personal greeting but before the beep when you get someone’s voice mail.’

Because we pay for mobile phone use by the second, those ‘instructional messages’ cost us time which translates into dollars, every single time. From the same article:

‘..If Verizon’s 70 million customers leave or check messages twice a weekday, Verizon rakes in about $620 million a year…’

Just from a few seconds worth of wasted time multiplied by millions of times… Wow…

So don’t ever think that little things don’t add up, and up and UP. We have power; we just need to work together to make it count.

cheers

Meeks

 


CLIP – a new kind of 3D printing

The one problem with printing ‘layers’ of material is that it leaves ridges. Those ridges can be seen quite clearly in this example of super large scale 3D printing:

 

But 3D printing is still in its infancy. Allow me to introduce CLIP, a new kind of 3D printing invented by ‘…two chemists and a physicist, ..[who].. came in with a different perspective.’ That perspective is ‘continuous liquid interface production technology’, CLIP for short.

‘To create an object, CLIP projects specific bursts of light and oxygen. Light hardens the resin, and oxygen keeps it from hardening. By controlling light and oxygen exposure in tandem, intricate shapes and latices can be made in one piece instead of the many layers of material that usually make up a 3-D printed object.’

That’s the gist of it, but if you go to the Washington Post article here, you can get a much better understanding of the process. You can also watch two amazing time-lapse video clips that show the magic of CLIP at work [pun intended]. 😉

cheers

Meeks

 

 

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/speaking-of-science/wp/2015/03/16/this-new-technology-blows-3d-printing-out-of-the-water-literally/?noredirect=on&pi_adid=48343&pi_clickid=91b86c6b5b584f2fa25fee579eacd5b5&pi_creativeid=173761&utm_medium=email&utm_source=powerinbox-revenuestripe&utm_term=.62c51a7e2952


The City of Bones by Martha Wells

When asked, I’ve always said I prefer science fiction to fantasy because of the possibility, however remote, that some part of the story might be true. Or become true. Some day. Yet if I’m honest with myself, I have to admit that I do love sci-fan as well.

To me, sci-fan is pragmatic fantasy in which the real and the unreal blend seamlessly to create impossible worlds that we nevertheless accept as possible. Dune, by Frank Herbert is probably the best known example of sci-fan, closely followed by Tad Williams’ Otherland. And then there’s Robin Hobb’s Farseer saga. It’s more fantasy than science, and yet the life-cycle of the dragons is no more unbelievable than the metamorphosis of caterpillars into butterflies.

Well now I have a new sci-fan author to add to my pantheon – Martha Wells.

In The City of Bones, Wells tells the story of a young Krismen called Khat. He’s part of a species that was biologically engineered to survive in the Wastes after the land burned and the seas boiled away. But there are human survivors of the destruction as well, and the two species exist in an uneasy alliance against the deadly creatures of the Wastes.

Khat lives in Charisat, a human city, making a precarious living as a relic trader. Relic traders are like a combination of archeologist/palentologist/anthropologist, with a bit of a conman/thief added in, and relics are fragments from the lost world of the Ancients.

That would have been more than enough to grab my attention, but Wells weaves in history, politics, conspiracy, intrigue and a bit of classic who-dunnit to make the story an absolute page-turner. I loved it.

If you like sci-fan too then I strongly recommend The City of Bones.

The Kindle version is $2.25 on Amazon and there’s a paperback as well. 6/5. 🙂

cheers

Meeks

 


New genetic modification techniques – Australia

The following is a quote from an email I received today regarding the approval of new GM tech in Australia:

Next week Dr Michael Antoniou, Reader in Molecular Genetics at King’s College London School of Life Sciences will be visiting Melbourne. He is here to discuss his concerns with a range of new genetic engineering techniques that the Federal Government is currently proposing not to regulate.
If the Government deregulates these techniques anyone from amateur biohackers – to industry – would be free to use them to genetically modify plants, animals and microbes. And they could enter our food chain and our environment with no safety testing and no labelling. The results could be catastrophic.

The key phrase is ‘proposing not to regulate‘, closely followed by ‘no safety testing‘ and ‘no labelling‘.

Genetic modification is here to stay and we have to accept that, but we do not have to accept a wild, wild west style free-for-all. Surely an ethical approach is not too much to ask from our government, even the Liberals?

The ‘GM 2.0: What the Government isn’t telling you’ forum is being held next Monday:
6.30 (for a 7pm start) – 9pm, Monday 20th March
William Angliss Institute: Rm. A337, Building A, 555 La Trobe St., Melbourne

Please email Louise Sales <louise.sale@foe.org.au> for a ticket if you can attend [they’re free].

If not, please get people talking about this issue. Isn’t it time our opinions were heard? Corporations may stand to make a lot of money out of this, but you and I will be the bunnies who have to live with it.

cheers

Meeks


Stubbing your toe will hurt – that is a fact

First came the Women’s March. Now comes the March for Science. Given the ongoing protests sweeping the US, one might assume that scientists are organizing to voice their general disagreement with Donald Trump’s policies—or perhaps that they simply want to protect their grants and jobs from federal funding cuts. But what’s at stake is much…

via The March for Science isn’t partisan or anti-Trump—it’s pro-facts — Quartz

This article is about facts and the threat facing science in tRump’s America. Not ‘alternate facts’ but the kind that always hurt, no matter how much you may try to explain them away. One such fact is that the US became great because of its science. The only way to make it great again is to give science, and facts, the respect they deserve.


DNA snippets for virus communications

Some of the greatest scientific discoveries have been accidental. To that list, Israeli scientists have added one more. They’ve discovered for the first time an instance of viruses leaving messages for other viruses. What makes the discovery remarkable is that scientists expect such communication systems to exist among other kinds of viruses. If true, we’ll…

via Scientists have caught viruses talking to each other—and that could be the key to a new age of anti-viral drugs — Quartz

This is quite astounding. Not quite the equivalent of dogs leaving scent markers so other dogs will know they’ve been there, but a form of communication nonetheless. From a virus. And there’s a good chance other viruses use a similar method to communicate as well. More amazing ‘accidents’. 😀


When science meets fiction, and they have a love-child

Vuk picMy thanks to the Passive Guy for highlighting the following article in the Guardian.

http://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2015/jan/21/real-science-science-fiction-sf-scholar

The article talks about the symbiosis that exists between hard science, and the speculative, highly imaginative and sometimes unlikely stories we weave from it.

I count myself as one of the ‘we’ even though most of my formal education was in the humanities – philosophy and languages to be precise. But before I began my arts course, my favourite subject at school was biology. Sadly I was not so fond of math, and no one told me you needed both to take biology past year one level at uni. so… -sigh-

Just because I could no longer study biology did not mean I stopped being interested in it. I continued to read layman’s articles in the area for years [thank you New Scientist!]. And that interest manifested itself in every weird and wonderful creature in Vokhtah, including the Vokh themselves.

Did you know that there is a species of worm that is essentially an hermaphrodite? When these worms mate, they literally duel with their penises to determine which becomes the sperm donor, and which the donee [?].

I swear, I did not make that up! It was one of the many, many things I researched before I created the Vokh. In fact research is the core link between scientists and writers because a world, no matter how imaginative, has to follow rules, plausible rules, otherwise it becomes fantasy not science fiction.

For example, although there are some elements of Vokhtah that are more ‘fantasy’ than anything else, [the power to heal, for example] I did spend months researching what my creatures would see when day changed to night, and one sun followed the other across the sky. I knew very little about binary star systems, and even the scientists could not tell me precisely how two suns would affect things like weather, and the day/night cycle, so the Vokh calendar is very speculative indeed. But I did try.

Other, ‘softer’ areas of knowledge informed my writing as well. Hungarian is my so-called mother tongue, and I studied French and Japanese at uni, along with a smattering of Mandarin and Spanish, so it was almost inevitable that I would get carried away with the Vokh language.

At first, I only wanted a few alien sounding names so I drew on Hungarian for the name ‘Vokh’. The word was based on ‘Vuk’, the name of a popular child’s toy in Hungary. That’s what the cute picture up the top is all about. You were wondering, weren’t you? -smirk-

Once started, however, I could not seem to stop and ended up with a Vokh to English dictionary-slash-encyclopedia.

Yet more research went into cross-over technologies such as blacksmithing and hunting. [Some of you may remember my post about the Poacher’s Knot in which I talked about hunting methods and very simple snares.]

But I digress, badly. My point in all this is that you don’t have to be a scientist to write science fiction, [although many, like Isaac Asimov were]. I believe the only necessary qualification for a science fiction writer is the need to know how things, and people tick.

-cough- Or in my case, how sociopathic, flying hermaphrodites tick. -cough-

Happy Australia Day!

Meeks

P.S.!!!! I just found my 13th review of Vokhtah on Amazon. -dance-


Bushfires – Inside the Inferno [Episode 1]

I just watched the first episode of ‘Bushfires – Inside the Inferno’ on SBS, and the one question that baffles me is why isn’t it being shown on every TV channel?

The program is brilliant and I urge everyone to watch the next episode – SBS TV, 8.30 pm, Wednesday.

Night, night

Meeks


The problem with science is…

…that we’re all human, and as such, we all have a split personality. On the one hand we are more or less hard wired for rational thought [work with me here please!], but at the same time we have the capacity to live quite happily with paradox. For example, I consider myself to be a very logical person, so I refuse to accept the idea of pre-destination, yet when things go my way I get this warm feeling that ‘fate’ is being kind to me. If a paradox becomes too painful I  do something about it, eventually, but most of the time I just live with it.

“Get to the point!” I hear you say.

“Yes, Master,” I reply as I tug my forelock.

So the fact that we can live with paradox tends to explain things like the rise of creationism. After all, you don’t see creationists giving up their cars, dishwashers, huge tv’s and all the other creature comforts that rely on the science they deny, do you? No, of course not. If asked they will say that they only deny evolution, which would be fine if evolution relied only on Darwin’s observations. The truth though, is that evolution is backed up by all sorts of other scientific disciplines, including the discipline of geology which gives us the petroleum that fuels our technology.

And therein lies another human fact : we are ignorant. We know how to use a light switch or an iPad but 99.999999% of us have no idea how either one works, or is produced. The same ignorance extends to the sciences. Notice that plural? It’s important because until fairly recently there were two types of science – pure and applied.

Back in the day, Universities used to be funded by governments and philanthropists so scientists could be free to explore new ideas just for the hell of it. From this ‘pure’ research, other scientists would come up with clever ways to put the discoveries to use. This was the ‘applied’ part of the equation. Industries then turned these discoveries into manufactured goods and services for consumers, i.e. us.

If we fast forward to the present day, however, we find that a third branch of science has been added to the family. I call this one ‘commercial’ science. Large companies with lots of money fund research and development directly. The scientists who work for these companies are paid well to do the kind of research that will benefit the company. Successes are turned into patented, goldmines. Clinical trials that fail are quietly swept under the carpet. This is not how pure and applied science is meant to work but hey, who wants to lose their job, get blacklisted and face possible litigation as a whistle-blower?

So from the heyday of the first man on the moon, we [the general public] have gradually moved to an era in which we no longer trust science quite the way we used to. We still cling to the technology, but we’re starting to feel uneasy about the juggernaut that’s bearing down on us.

The two great controversies of the present era – genetically modified food and climate change – are prime examples of our love-hate relationship with science. We don’t know who to trust any more because we don’t understand how the system works. And so we allow creationism equal time with evolution. And because we don’t understand how the politics of science work, we end up distrusting both the science that gave us genetically modified food, and the science that’s telling us our lives depend on doing something about climate change before it’s too late. As with government politics, scientific issues are now surrounded by so much spin and counter spin that no-one knows which way is up.

My compass in these murky waters is the old saying ‘follow the money’. On that basis I reject genetically modified food because it benefits huge multinational companies like Monsanto, and I accept the science of climate change because it definitely does not benefit huge, multinational corporations who might have to clean up their act.

I know this is a very unscientific way of making choices, but it works for me. Do you agree? Disagree vehemently? Have a completely different take altogether? You know I love a good debate and the weekend is looming, so let’s get this discussion started!

cheers

Meeks


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