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Gender: Male
Current location: New Jersey
Member since: 2002
Number of posts: 28,189

Journal Archives

Nature: "Current models of climate economics assume that lives in the future are less important...

than lives today, a value judgement that is rarely scrutinized and difficult to defend..."

This language comes from a news feature "focus" article from Nature featured on this issues cover: Nature, Vol. 539 Iss. 7591 pg 397 (2016)

The issue, at least in its news and viewpoint sections, is devoted to reflections on scientists' need to reflect on how their work will impact future generations.

One "news" article asks the question, "Should parents edit their children's genes." Nature 530, 402405 (25 February 2016) It now seems perfectly technologically feasible to do so, owing to the invention of CRISPR-Cas, a technique using complementary genetic material to carry a protein which is a nuclease, designed to clip sections of DNA enabling the insertion of other genes.

This has very high potential to edit the genome in a very facile and efficient way, not only humans, but practically every other high species on the planet. Ultimately it is a technology by which humanity could, were it so inclined, design its own ecosystem and all of the creatures in it?

Were this technology fully developed when the embryo that ultimately became me, my parents might have considered snipping and replacing the gene for type II diabetes, which I apparently carry. Would I be me? Would I know that I wasn't me? Would I care?

My son, who just was admitted to a fairly prestigious art school, is dyslexic, generally associated with chromosome 18. Would I have been wide or foolish to edit it?

Of course, the implications go way beyond any particular individual, myself included. These are not easy questions to answer.

(One of two independent discoverers of CRISPR-Cas, Jennifer Doudna, wrote a wonderful rumination a few issues back, also in Nature on how ill equipped she was to deal with the ethical implications of her work, the emergence of which surprised her and got her to thinking in new ways: Genome-editing revolution: My whirlwind year with CRISPR (Nature 528, 469471 (24 December 2015))

One of the articles in the current issue also features a rumination on the Environmental issue before us, climate change. An economist, Nicolas Stern, authored an article titled Current climate models are grossly misleading. The point here is that climate models talking about a 2[sup]o[/sup]C increase is a global average, but the economic effects locally can hardly be expected to the same everywhere. The author writes:

Current economic models tend to underestimate seriously both the potential impacts of dangerous climate change and the wider benefits of a transition to low-carbon growth. There is an urgent need for a new generation of models that give a more accurate picture.

Dark impacts

...The Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), published in 2013 and 2014, provided a comprehensive overview of the literature on the costs of action and inaction. But the assessment understated the limitations of the research done so far. Essentially, it reported on a body of literature that had systematically and grossly underestimated the risks of unmanaged climate change. Furthermore, that literature had failed to capture the learning processes and economies of scale involved in radical structural and technical change, and the benefits of reducing fossil-fuel pollution, protecting biodiversity and forests, and so on...

An article with a larger physical science focus was published a few weeks ago:

Allowable CO2 emissions based on regional and impact-related climate targets (Nature 529, 477483 (28 January 2016))

The authors show that a 2[sup]o[/sup]C "average" temperature increase in the climate is dominated by the relatively mild changes over the oceans; elsewhere the impacts will most extreme.

The following graphic demonstrates this:

Here's another plot from their paper:

The authors write:

This figure is compelling because it shows a clear linear relationship between cumulative CO2 emissions and a measure of the global climate response. The obvious consequences are (1) that every tonne of CO2 contributes about the same amount of global warming no matter when it is emitted, (2) that any target for the stabilization of ΔTglob implies a finite CO2 budget or quota that can be emitted, and (3) that global net emissions at some point need to be zero2, 3, 4, 5, 6.

"Every tonne contributes the same amount of global warming no matter when its emitted."

This includes tons emitted when the wind isn't blowing and the sun isn't shining. We may think we're doing something by mouthing mindless platitudes about how great wind and solar and other forms of so called "renewable energy" are, but we are lying to ourselves.

What we are doing isn't working; it isn't working at all.

2016 has been an unprecedented year, with the weekly data as compared to the same week the year before routinely being over 3 ppm higher. February 21, 2016, 3.33 ppm higher than the weekly average of 2015

I don't think we'll find the wherewithal to stop at 2C. It's going to be much worse.

Have a nice week.

I'm so embarrassed. My governor endorsed a raging racist to be President of the United States.

The State of New Jersey is, I think, one of the best places in the world to live, but somehow we have a problem electing decent Governors.

Now we have the height of obscenity. Our useless Governor, Chris Christie, a blubbering incompetent buffoon, announced that he supports a freak racist.

I'm so embarrassed.

It's looking very bad these last few weeks at the Mauna Loa carbon dioxide observatory.

At the Mauna Loa carbon dioxide observatory website, they have a data page which compares the averages for each week of the year with the same week of the previous year.

The data goes back to 1974, and comprises 2,090 data points.

I import this data into a spreadsheet I maintain each week, and calculate the weekly increases over the previous year. I rank the data for the increases from worst to best, the worst data point being 4.67 ppm over the previous year, which was recorded during the week ending September 6, 1998, when much of the rain forest of Southeast Asia was burning when fires set to clear the forests for palm oil plantations got out of control during unusually dry weather. Six of the worst data points ever recorded occurred in 1998 during this event, another was recorded in the January following that event.

Of the twenty worst data points ever recorded out of 2090 two of them have occurred in the last four weeks. The week ending January 31, 2016 produced a result of a 4.35 ppm of increase. The week just passed, that ending, 2/14/2016, produced a result of 3.79 ppm increase, tying it for the aforementioned week in January 1999, that ending on January 24, 1999, and that of January 2, 2011.

Of the twenty highest points recorded, 9 have occurred in the last 5 years, 10 in the last 10 years.

The week ending February 7, 2016 was until today's data was published, the 20th of the top 20, it was pushed out and is now the 21st worst.

I also keep a record of the monthly data that is similar to that for the weekly data. This data, unlike the weekly data, goes back to 1958.

November of 2015 was the second worst November ever recorded, 3.08 ppm over the previous November, December of 2015, the worst ever recorded, 3.07 ppm over the previous December, and January of 2016 the 4th worst ever observed, 2.56 ppm over the previous January.

The observatory is still evaluating the final results for 2015; it involves a running average from November through February compared with the data of the previous year. A few weeks ago the preliminary data suggest that 2015 was the worst year ever observed, the data today declares that it is actually a few hundredths of a ppm (a few hundred millionths of a part) behind 1998.

There is no event of which I'm aware comparable to the 1998 fires, and that makes this doubly disturbing to me at least, since it suggests what may be an out of control event such as temperature driven out gassing of sequestered carbon dioxide from permafrost or from oceanic hydrates.

But there's no reason that you should be disturbed as I am. Don't worry, be happy: They're building a solar roadway in France, and even if it ends up covered with grease, skid marks, tire wear marks, sand and salt, it's the thought that counts.

My worry that we are kidding ourselves to the point of suicide by thinking we're actually doing something is pure "Chicken Little," I'm sure.

I now return you to the Hillary vs. Bernie cartoon show.

Enjoy what's left of the weekend.

Nature: Historical Nectar Resources of the British Isles Reflects Their Rise and Fall.

This paper really caught my eye when I was leafing through the current issue of Nature:

Historical nectar assessment reveals the fall and rise of floral resources in Britain (Nature 530, 8588 (04 February 2016))

An excerpt of the opening lines from from the text:

There is considerable concern over declines in insect pollinator communities and potential impacts on the pollination of crops and wildflowers1, 2, 3, 4. Among the multiple pressures facing pollinators2, 3, 4, decreasing floral resources due to habitat loss and degradation has been suggested as a key contributing factor2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8. However, a lack of quantitative data has hampered testing for historical changes in floral resources. Here we show that overall floral rewards can be estimated at a national scale by combining vegetation surveys and direct nectar measurements. We find evidence for substantial losses in nectar resources in England and Wales between the 1930s and 1970s; however, total nectar provision in Great Britain as a whole had stabilized by 1978, and increased from 1998 to 2007. These findings concur with trends in pollinator diversity, which declined in the mid-twentieth century9 but stabilized more recently10. The diversity of nectar sources declined from 1978 to 1990 and thereafter in some habitats, with four plant species accounting for over 50% of national nectar provision in 2007. Calcareous grassland, broadleaved woodland and neutral grassland are the habitats that produce the greatest amount of nectar per unit area from the most diverse sources, whereas arable land is the poorest with respect to amount of nectar per unit area and diversity of nectar sources...

A graphic included therein:

Another graphic showing the mass of sugars available to pollinators throughout the British Isles:

The closing text:

Our findings provide new evidence based on floral resources to support habitat conservation and restoration. First, we provide evidence of the high nectar value of calcareous grassland for pollinating insects. Calcareous grassland area has declined drastically in Great Britain, and only a small fraction of the historical national cover remained by 2007 (refs 13, 14). Second, the low availability and diversity of nectar sources in arable habitats highlights the need to provide supplementary resources to support pollination services in farmlands, especially as the use of insect-pollinated crops has increased nationally24 and globally25. The conservation and restoration of broadleaf woodland and neutral grassland as components of the farmland matrix could help to support diverse flower-visiting insect communities in arable land. The contrast in nectar productivity between linear features and the surrounding vegetation is particularly high in arable land, suggesting that linear features, especially hedgerows, provide an efficient means to enhance floral resources in farmlands if they are managed appropriately to allow flowering26. While agri-environment options such as nectar flower mixtures can also enhance the supply of floral resources locally, their contribution to nectar provision nationally remains low. The higher profile given to floral resource provision in the revised Countryside Stewardship guidelines for England16 may substantially enhance resources in future. Finally, our results indicate that improved grassland has the potential to contribute massively to the nectar available nationally. Small adjustments to the management cycle in improved grasslands, allowing white clover, the dominant resource species, to flower, would help realize this potential, although its utility might be restricted to a limited number of pollinator species (Extended Data Table 2). Together, our results on the nectar values of the commonest British plants and the historical changes in plant communities provide the evidence base needed to understand recent national changes in nectar provision and identify the management options needed to restore national nectar supplies.

This was quite an interesting perspective about which we don't think, at least about which I haven't thought. It demonstrates the importance of diversity in both species and habitats, and the important inter-dependency of the our commercial agricultural land on what surrounds it.

In New Jersey we often see bumper stickers (issued by our State agricultural department) that read "No farms, no food."

One may extend this to: "No pollinators, no food."

This speaks to efforts in some midwestern states in the US to make grassland parks, and points, one thinks to the economic as well as the aesthetic value of doing so.

Enjoy the weekend.

December 2015 is recorded as the worst ever for carbon dioxide increases over the previous...

...December at the Mauna Loa carbon dioxide observatory.

A text file for monthly mean data, recorded since 1958 at the Mauna Loa, is found here: Mauna Loa Data Page (Monthly Data).

As each month is posted, I load it into an Excel file I've built for calculation and ranking of the data. The increase of 3.07 ppm as recorded for December 2015 over December 2014, is the largest in 55 years of such observations.

November of 2015 was the second worst ever observed, 3.03 ppm increased CO[sub]2[/sub] as compared to November of 2014.

We did better in January. January of 2016 was "only" the fourth worst January ever observed.

Whatever we think we are doing to address this situation is clearly not working, and inasmuch as the majority of such feeble attempts we make: Trillions of dollars "invested" in so called "renewable energy" over the last ten years - so called "renewable energy" by the way is not sustainable in any way because of its extremely low energy to mass density (there aren't enough materials on the planet to dig up to manufacture meaningful amounts of that rickety stuff) - switching from coal to gas, and imagining that we are "conserving" energy and "becoming more efficient".

Experiment trumps theory, 100% of the time.

One may wish to kill the messenger, but the messenger is not really me, nor the scientists at Mauna Loa and elsewhere, it's the clear chemical signature registered in the composition of the atmosphere. And let's be clear that messenger is being killed.

Enjoy the weekend.
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