Archive | March 2014

Hey climate change deniers, I’m talking to you!

I recently read an article on my hippie dippie news site Grist imploring scientists to get real about climate change. Scientists are trained to speak about all things science in a very academic way. That means now embellishment, no emotion, just facts, plain and simple. The problem is, we get so into this mindset we forget the rest of the world doesn’t work this way. I can tell you all about extreme weather events, future flooding, drought, etc. But these are vague ideas somewhere off in the future, and humans are notoriously bad for getting excited about long term hazards. So right now, I’m just going to tell you how I really feel about climate change, and why it concerns me. I will do my best not to get political which will be tricky, because if ever an issue has become embroiled in politics, it’s this one. For any climate change deniers out there, I hope you will read this and think about it. Things that you disagree with and make you mad, challenge me on them. This needs to be a discussion, and so often it just seems to be people talking at each other instead of with each other. We need to change that.

Have you ever thought to yourself, in total sincerity, “Hey look it’s snowing, so much for climate change amiright!”

Here we have a common confusion with weather and climate. Weather is what is happening RIGHT NOW. Climate is a trend that occurs over many, many years. Good for you, you figured out it’s cold RIGHT NOW. Now tell me, how cold has it been lately compared to the past 100 years? My mom in particular recently told me how frustrated she gets when the weatherman says it will be “colder than normal.” What’s normal? Like this temperature drop is abnormal and should be locked in an insane asylum away from all the happy normal temperatures. Average is the word you were looking for here, temperatures will be below average. What’s the difference between normal and average? Normal implies good, average is the standard. Just because something is below average doesn’t mean it’s bad, especially if the average has crept upward for the past 20 years.

That said, I feel like most people these days can agree that the average global temperature is warming. The most common argument I hear against taking any action to fight climate change is something like “So the temperature of the planet is changing. Big deal! Ever hear of the ice age? The planet’s climate changes all the time, and it still seems to be doing OK. We should just let it happen.”

OK, I see your point. Yes, the earth has undergone many major climate changes through the history of its existence. The ice age for one, the meteor that hit the earth at the end of the Cretaceous period for another. You know what all these events have in common? A TON OF THINGS DIED. And you know what most of those things that died were like? They were the large animal living above ground. Does that

"Yeah, I hear this whole meteor thing is just part of the raptor agenda."

“Yeah, I hear this whole meteor thing is just part of the raptor agenda.”

sound familiar? Yeah, if things keep going the way they’re going you know what, the earth might recover. There could be plenty of life crawling around that can tolerate the new climate. But guess what, it probably won’t be you. The earth isn’t what’s in danger, we are.

Now you can sit there and say to yourself “Oh come on, it won’t happen that fast, it will never be my problem. Whatever.” But that comes down to one of the biggest problems with combating climate change: selfishness. You don’t care if your kids starve to death because no one can grow enough food? You think I’m being an alarmist right now? I live in California, things are a little dry here. My sister was living in Texas during their recent major drought. You’re not being affected right this moment? Oh well, then it must not be a problem. I hear that poverty and polio are all BS too. Come to think of it, I have never seen a single person with malaria, why are we spending so much money trying to eradicate this made up disease? OK, maybe you have some tragic wrist injury that makes it incredibly difficult to replace you iridescent light bulbs with energy efficient ones. Maybe you really need your microwave plugged in 24/7 because the gnomes in your basement like to make popcorn in the middle of the night. After all this is America right? If you want to leave every light in your house on you be damned if I try to take away that freedom! Who cares if turning the lights off will literally take a fraction of a second of your time. Ain’t nobody going to tell you how to live your life!

OK, I promised I wouldn’t get into politics, but I just need to say this. Do you know why most climate deniers in the media exist? Because they have something to gain from keeping things at the status quo. The last thing big oil wants is restrictions on burning fossil fuels, and neither do any of the politicians or companies they sponsor. You may say I’m one of those people just pushing the liberal agenda. Let me ask you, what exactly is my agenda? To impose stricter limitations on your life and making the government larger to take away more of your freedom? I’ll admit, I do wish we could all just get along and help the poor, spread the wealth, and just be nicer to each other. But if you want to sit in your mansion in your bathtub of $100 bills counting your gold coins fine. I will think you’re disgusting, but I respect your right to do that. What I don’t respect is if you refuse to make small changes in your lifestyle just because A. you don’t like the people who are advocating for it or B. it will stop you from buying a pool of $500 bills.

There is so much more I could say about this subject, but for now I think that’s probably all you want to deal with right now. Please, if you want to discuss these issues seriously I would love to talk about it (and promise to keep the snark to a minimum).

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The five-second rule lives!

The five-second rule is a staple of many childhoods, mine included. I’m not sure where this idea came from, and the truth is I never really believed in it. But I was raised in a house where eating dirt was believed to be good for you, so I just used it as an excuse to eat things I dropped on the floor and not seem super gross. I suspect it’s what we all do.

But then science had to go and ruin everything, like science always does. Several studies (yes, that is a link to a Wikipedia article about the five-second rule) determined that no matter how long the food was on the floor, there was still bacteria on it. The Mythbusters even did an episode in which they tested and disproved the rule. The killjoys took the day.

But just like the classic underdog who everyone said couldn’t do it, the five-second rule has made a comeback! Researchers at Aston University in England have shown that there is actually less bacteria on food that hasn’t been on the floor very long. Also,

Go ahead, throw it on the floor. It will be fine.

Go ahead, throw it on the floor. It will be fine.

they found that the floor type matters. Carpet, it turns out, is the least likely to give your food bacteria. So if you don’t like bacteria but don’t mind carpet fuzzies on your food, I suggest carpeting the kitchen. They also found that 55% of the people surveyed who said they would eat food off the ground were women. Insert your own role reversal joke here.

All and all, with how clean obsessed we are these days, I somehow suspect there is very little on our sparkling floor that would get

us sick even if we licked ice cream off them every day. Though I’m not sure it would do anything for the ice cream taste wise either.

Viruses and humans, unite!

It’s a banner week for viruses in the news! Now, the word virus is not usually a good one. They cause the common cold, the flu, and lots of other less common but much deadlier illnesses. In fact, the idea of creating an alliance with these fiends seems just crazy enough to make a moderately successful rom-com. They seem like enemies at first, but find common ground and a respect that blossoms into love.

OK, maybe we can’t go that far, but there is one scientist who has come up with something of a truce with one faction of the virus coalition. Biological engineer Angela Belcher recently gave an interview with Slate about her “bio-batteries” that a run on viruses. But don’t worry, you are in no danger of using Ebola to power your cell phone. She is using viruses that only infect a certain type of bacteria (they’re called bacteriophages), and they don’t even kill the bacteria when they infect it. So don’t worry pacifists, these viruses are hippies too.

They even look like little robots! It's like they're begging us to make batteries out of them.

They even look like little robots! It’s like they’re begging us to make batteries out of them.

A separate article describes how the viruses are able to bind to wires and increase their surface area, which means there is more space for electrical activity inside the battery. This great because what many people may not know, is that our batteries kind of suck right now. Lithium batteries can be dangerous and alkaline batteries (like the AA batteries you put in your flashlight) are terrible for the environment, which is why they should always be recycled, never thrown away. But this bio-battery is safe and will hopefully someday be completely biodegradable. They are still in the developmental stage, so they might not be on the shelves for a while, but they are already able to power flashlights and watches.

So does this mean a peace agreement is forming between the humans and the viruses; are we heading towards a world where humans and viruses live harmoniously side by side? Unfortunately no, but at least now we’ve got some of them on our side!

30,000 year old virus can still kill…amoebae

Amoebae, run for your lives! (Actually, amoebas can only fake run, because they only have fake feet). All jokes aside, this could actually be a big deal. French biologists were able to thaw out a 30,000 year old virus that has sat frozen in Siberian ice like John Carpenter’s The Thing just waiting for unsuspecting scientists to release is from its frozen tomb so it can wreak havoc on the amoeba population (its target of choice). The crazy thing is, it is still infectious.

Amoebae know what evils lurk here

Amoebae know what evils lurk here

This is actually the biggest virus ever found, and is part of a group called, get this, giant viruses. And while this particular virus is not dangerous to us, could there be more viruses out there? Bigger? Deadlier? Hungrier for human flesh? Another virologist finds it unlikely. Dr. Suttle of the University of British Columbia told Scientific American he thought the idea of ancient viruses from ice melting as a result of global warming infecting the masses “stretches the scientific rationality to the breaking point.”

But I’m not sure this should be written off so quickly. Somewhere in Antarctica sits a shape shifting alien menace just waiting for the melting ice caps to set it free.