What global change and allergies have to do with each other

Some people are angry when TV/radio stations allow people in their programs who don’t believe in anthropogenic climate change. I don’t see what is wrong about listening to what other people think and having conversations with them and I said that on Twitter (while I was on the road). That does not make me Donald Trump’s favorite cousin.

Green roof, part of a hotel in Utrecht, the Netherlands

We don’t have merely climate change. We have GLOBAL change.

Among other things, we appear to be at the brink of the 6th mass extinction, with the difference that this one is entirely caused by the activities of  the human species, including how we see and treat other species. It also indicates that our habitat is likely becoming unsuitable for ourselves too.

I think it’s a stupid excuse to blame people like Donald Trump and some person called Watson Lawson, who apparently was on TV/radio in some program, for what is going on and for what other people are doing.

Companies in the United States have a CHOICE, for example. They can stick to emission targets no matter what Donald Trump says. it’s a matter of taking personal responsibility. They can even make industry-wide decisions, no matter what Donald Trump says.

I don’t know who this Watson Lawson person is, but I can understand why some people don’t want to believe in global change and refuse to believe that it is mostly caused by us. First of all, the idea is scary as hell (because it threatens our own existence as a species). So the idea that it is not happening is much more likeable. So it isn’t stupid for people to stick to such a belief. It means they’re human.

Secondly, because science is big business – requiring and using but also generating loads of money – it is easy for some people to believe that scientists sometimes say things merely to get more money. it’s happened! More than once.

Also, science has fashion trends just like everything else. I remember when more and more people started asking money for CO2-related research. Suddenly, doing that was hot.

Some scientists (Bob Berner, for instance) had already been doing that for a long time but until then, not a lot of attention had been paid to them. Others were (also) experts in topics like ocean pH (Bob Byrne, for instance). CO2 and pH have a heck of a lot to do with each other.

It used to be quite hard to get earth and ocean sciences into Science or Nature. These sciences weren’t deemed of interest to a larger audience. They were for and about people who studied fossils or looked at seals and fishes. Duh.

Fossils writing about fossils for other fossils. Fossils. That was the image a lot of people had about the earth (including ocean) sciences. Stuffy people. (Okay, there were also some who thought “oil and gas” and some who thought “shiny  minerals” and “shells”.)

Suddenly, CO2 (carbon) was where the money was so CO2 was what lots of people wanted to work on.

That does not mean that it’s useless research. Far from it. Neither does it mean that researching something else suddenly became stupid. I have had all sorts of people tell me that earth science was a stupid thing to be interested in. It was never a “sexy” science – until the world started to become aware of global change.

Many other disciplines have since jumped on board of the train, often reinventing wheels that earth scientists had already not only invented but developed. Earth science also had the undeserved stigma of not having any modellers, people able to do complicated calculations. Those other disciplines had no idea how much computer power 3D structural geology modelling took or how much math there was in hydrology or how much thermodynamics in rocks and minerals.

(Not that I mind that those other disciplines have joined because they contribute their own insights.)

It takes time for new discoveries /ideas to grab hold.

There was a time – none of us were around back then – when some dudes started suggesting that the earth wasn’t flat, but round. They met with an incredible amount of resistance! They were banned, vilified, crucified, prosecuted. It was heresy! The earth was flat and that was that.

The notion that the earth isn’t flat has taken a very long time to sink in. I am sure there are still plenty of people who are unable to grasp that we are living on a large sphere. That doesn’t make them evil people. It doesn’t necessarily make them stupid people either.

It makes them HUMAN.

I have other examples. I am sure that the ones who think I am stupid when I say it isn’t stupid to talk with and listen to people who disagree on important issues occasionally get very drunk or pig out on food and then regret it deeply the next day.

They KNOW that they shouldn’t do it. They KNOW that they will get sick. They KNOW that they will regret it the next day. Yet, they still go ahead in spite of knowing all that. Why?

Because they are HUMAN.

To be human means to be fallible. None of us are perfect and none of us are 100% right about everything.

I have a personal example too. I love pasta but I’ve recently discovered that I seem to be allergic to wheat (not gluten-intolerant; that’s something else). So I get “punished” by my body for eating pasta. It’s taking me longer to stay away from wheat than is logical.

it’s like the dialogue with someone who does not believe in human-made climate change. My body says to me: “Do not eat pasta”. I keep responding: “But I like pasta!” I have the evidence, but I like pasta and it’s taking me a while to stop liking pasta and coming around to the idea that maybe I should stop liking pasta. The idea of not liking pasta any longer just seems … odd? My body says: “Eat gnocchi instead!” But I still haven’t fully made the switch.

I don’t know exactly how this works.

All I know is that it makes me HUMAN.

Why cut off communication simply because you don’t agree with someone about a topic as important as this? It is usually not a crime to disagree with someone.

I may be seeing something similar with nanoparticles. There may be people who don’t like it when I point out that we don’t have technologies yet for removing them from waste streams. Some may be thinking that if they don’t reply to me, I will go away, even though we literally used to sit at the same table in the past.

Are they thinking that if they ignore the fact that we don’t have technologies yet for removing them from waste streams long enough, it will go away? I am not saying that this will lead “to the end of the world”, but it does seem pretty stupid to me, with all that we’ve learned from all the mistakes we’ve made in the past, to keep barging ahead with new technologies before we’ve fully figured them out and mastered them.

Yes, progress is cool. Very! I get that! And Donald Trump digs coal. Really digging something isn’t always enough justification for doing it.

I don’t know who this Watson Lawson person is, but I remember a British guy telling me, years ago, that he thought Britain was so small that nothing the British did or didn’t do would make a difference to the planet.

When all the people in the world say “I only have one dollar, so I can’t contribute much, so I won’t contribute” you end up with nothing yet when (almost) all people say “I only have one dollar, so it’s not much but that’s what I can contribute” you get a fortune!

If two or three people want to keep their dollar note to themselves, oh well. I don’t mind hearing what they did with their dollar. Because I know that what I did with my dollar.

But until it’s only two or three people, stopping the conversation does not seem a good idea to me.

In no way does any of the above translate in me saying “Go ahead, trash the planet.”

Do I wish I had much better answers? Hell, yeah! I wish I had a magic wand and could fix the entire planet with one graceful wave of my wand-holding hand. But I can’t. And I feel that the way I live, including all the plastic waste I produce, is horrible, just horrible. And it makes me despair at times.

Instead of buying new shelving, I paint and stack and sometimes first fix small tables I find thrown away along the streets. My microwave is a discard from someone else’s kitchen renovation. It stands on two small cardboard boxes. I catch the cold water when I run a shower till the water gets warm. But it’s too damn little.

Read up on people like Rachel Carson, too.

PS
Sending me a stupid spoofed e-mail about a non-existing job in Germany doesn’t do anything for the planet either, whoever…

PPS
If you don’t get my stupid analogies, reader, that’s okay.

PPPS
No, it is not embarrassing or bad to have dissenting views around the table and have a dialogue. it’s what grown-ups do in a democracy. (It’s also the sort of thing people like Donald Trump don’t do.)

 

 

 

How do we approach the future?

In the science, health and environment section of thehindu.com, an article appeared under the heading “Do we understand the genome well enough to let Big Pharma jump into it?”.

I left the following brief reply.

You make important points.

Markus G. Seidel, who works at the Department of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine of Medical University Graz in Austria, just wrote something similar on the site of the BMJ, with regard to babies. He asks whether genome screening for newborns will pave the way to genetic discrimination. He too raises the question about interpretation (and reliability) of such data. He also discusses privacy issues.

http://blogs.bmj.com/bmj/2017/07/05/markus-g-seidel-baby-genome-screening-paving-the-way-to-genetic-discrimination/

But I wanted to write more…

With regard to the latter, I think that humanity will slowly have to accept that the digital age comes with the loss of privacy in many ways. Privacy is a changing concept and there also is a cultural angle to it, so people from different generations and from different cultures have slightly different views on what privacy is. We probably should become more relaxed about the loss of privacy as we knew it and focus more on preventing and ameliorating potential negative consequences.

In my opinion, what we need to do is ensure non-discrimination and ensure that genomic information will only be used to improve any individual’s (medical) care. In other words, genomic information must only be used to enable and allow human beings to flourish. All human beings. In a non-materialistic way.

(Note that this is not the same as eradicating everything we may not like. But we seem to have a tendency to want to do that, unfortunately, and we need to curb that urge. We need a great deal of diversity to function well as a species and as a society, for many reasons. Good and bad cannot exist without each other – as cheesy as it may sound. There simply is too much we don’t know yet, and we therefore cannot foresee all possible consequences of everything we do. Eradicating everything that seems bad to us may be bad too.)

That will require two things: good legislation and regulations and a global consensus on these issues.

Particularly the latter is a major challenge. That is why we need to discuss these topics broadly and entice people to move out of their mental comfort zone, allowing them to explore other people’s views without instantly rejecting them. Our own views aren’t the only valid or even valuable views, but they tend to feel that way to us.

Legislation, however, also has a problem as it currently tends to display a big lag relative to what’s technologically possible. It does not anticipate (much), but responds after what is happening in practice forces it to respond. Also, legal scholars still tend to contemplate situations and consequences with regard to their own jurisdictions only.

So it looks like there is a great need for discussions pervaded by a spirit of tolerance (the willingness to step out of one’s mental comfort zone and listen to people from other cultures and generations) and a forward-thinking attitude.

By “forward-thinking”, I don’t mean “blindly embracing everything science and technology have to offer” because in the past, we’ve often forgotten to ask many questions we should have asked. That, for example, appears to have happened when we embraced pesticides. They seemed such a good thing, initially, that we never considered their obvious potential for bad.

Do you agree or do you see it differently? Do you think we also need to change big pharma, and if so, in which ways, and how could we approach that?

PS
I write from my own perspective of an opinionated white woman in the west without ties to big pharma.

The tubs! They’re coming!

Years ago, I had the great pleasure of attending a talk by J. Craig Venter. And as I sat in the audience, looked at the images of metabolic pathways he was displaying on the screen, I suddenly realized I was looking at electronic circuits. Undoubtedly, many others had already seen that before me.

Next I read that some microorganisms use extracellular electron transport, on the sea floor.

And it started to look, to me, like the future may contain tubs of bacteria in our attics or basement spaces. To generate energy for our homes, I mean.

Now that’s happening. That research is underway (methane-producing bioelectrochemical systems, for instance).

I can’t wait to see how this is going to work out in practice.

You can cut the power losses currently sustained during transport to homes, factories and other facilities, but keeping the things running has to be very easy, too. We would also have much fewer power lines that way, which would probably save a bird life or two and the occasional hot air balloon. And it would likely result in much less pollution as is currently still associated with old-fashioned power generation.

 

 

Who loves to be glued to a desk?

There are very few geologists who went into earth science because they loved sitting at a desk behind a computer all day long (though particularly structural geologist do a lot of modelling).

I am no exception. Below is a view from the lamproite plug that I had in my fieldwork area in south-eastern Spain one year (Cancarix).

See what I mean?

By the way, a lamproite plug is like a tiny volcano with molten rock that came up from very deep in the earth. Kimberlite – which can contain diamonds – is a bit like that too.

I loved doing fieldwork, and I miss it. In fact, when I spend too much time behind a computer, typing up reports and so on, I tend to develop neuromusculoskeletal complaints of shoulders, arms, wrists and hands. I don’t like being indoors all the time either.

It is one of the reasons why I enjoy working with wildlife. It enables me to spend more time outside. I even have a small tent for this purpose.

You, me and plastic

Like just about everybody else, I use too much plastic and have started to take small steps toward reducing my plastic footprint.

Instead of toothpaste, I use baking soda that comes packaged in paper and cardboard. Using baking soda is cheaper than using toothpaste.

Instead of buying containers of liquid hand soap, I make my own from a quarter bar of soap and refill the containers I already have. This too is much cheaper than purchasing ready-made liquid hand soap and the effort involved in making my own is negligible.

I try to keep plastic food containers and reuse them at least once for seedlings on my window sill. It’s nowhere near enough. I would like to see a system geared toward collecting and reusing  the plastic used to package food.  Maybe I’ll start one myself one day.

 

Green roofs

I spent some time in a green hotel in the Netherlands last week. I initially didn’t have a lot of attention for the details of my location as I was focused on meetings – and on getting my key card to open doors. Then one morning, at the top of the stairs, I realized I was surrounded by green roofs and snapped some photos. Yes, these are flat roofs that cover the ground floor level.

I later spotted more small green roofs in an office area in Amsterdam South-East, from my train. One appeared to include an entire tree! A big one, too.

It’s time to re-evaluate our relationship with animals

From the description (6 May 2014):

Lesli Bisgould is Canada’s first animal rights lawyer. For ten years, she acted for individuals and organizations in a variety of animal-related cases in the only practice of its kind in the country. She has fought for the rights of students who objected to dissection in science class, for critics of facilities where animals are held captive, and for changes in the law to ameliorate the legal status of animals. Lesli is an adjunct professor at the University of Toronto’s faculty of law where she instructs a course on animals and the law. Lesli is the author of “Animals and the Law”, the only Canadian law text on the subject, published by Irwin Law. Lesli was the 2012 international law lecturer for Australian animal protection institute, Voiceless – she undertook a 12-stop lecture tour of Australia, comparing the commercial hunts for seals in Canada and kangaroos in Australia. In recent years, Lesli’s full-time work has been in the human rights and poverty law fields, and she is currently the Barrister at Legal Aid Ontario’s Clinic Resource Office.

BP oil spill settlement (2010, Gulf of Mexico)

Remember the big oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico a few years back? In 2010, that was. 11 people died in the disaster. I used Twitter to get a shipment of Dawn sent to a group of people who were cleaning up oiled sea birds in Florida, back then. (I used to volunteer there in the mid-1990s.)

Cleaning up oiled pelicans after the 1993 oil spill in Tampa Bay. Photo: Dawn Waldt.

Cleaning up oiled pelicans after the 1993 oil spill in Tampa Bay. Photo: Dawn Waldt.

Well, the damages have finally been settled, and approved by a judge. BP will pay the US government and the five affected states up to $18.7 billion in penalties.

Read more about the settlement: here.

There is also a film about the disaster now.

pelican

Pelican cleaned up after 1993 Tampa Bay oil spill. Photo: Dawn Waldt.

Less-waste living

I am not happy with how much plastic I put in the trash all the time and want to change that.

I am going to start by making my own tooth paste. That’s a baby step. That’s how we all learned to walk. Baby steps. Easy does it.

Here are three useful pages with information:

http://askthedentist.com/homemade-toothpaste/

http://www.diynatural.com/homemade-toothpaste/

http://www.diynatural.com/whitening-tooth-powder/

I am also going to start using a wooden toothbrush and I am going to experiment with making my own shampoo.

I noticed that that could produce more waste instead of less if I am not careful. Coconut milk usually is not packaged in plastic but in cans/tins (easy to recycle) and I can use the remainder of the coconut milk in food, but liquid soap is packaged in plastic. Then I found directions for turning bars of soap into liquid soap do I will look for bars that are packaged in paper and turn them into liquid soap.

There is also this method for washing hair with baking soda.

I am going to give the coconut shampoo version a shot to see how it works out and to that end, I will first try to turn bars into liquid soap. If the latter works, I also will no longer have to buy liquid hand soap in plastic. I can use the plastic pump flasks that I already have. (The pumps don’t work on many of them, so I’ve kept a few that work and I refill those anyway.)

Another advantage of using home-made toothpaste is that it won’t contain any nanoparticles. Many products contain nanoparticles these days, but there is no technology yet for removing them from waste streams.

Grow your own food inside a computer

At least, that is what it looks like, like you’re growing vegetables inside a computer case. This is a TED Talk by Caleb Harper.

TED Talks won’t let me embed this TED Talk, so you will have to click on the above link.

You can grow your own tasty Isle of Wight, Spanish or Floridian tomatoes, lettuces, broccoli, and a lot more, by recreating local climate and nutritional conditions with the aid of a computer, using recipes that you can exchange for free.

I want one!!!

This YouTube video show you how you can build one. This is not for everyone, so it is a great projects for neighborhood communities!