Archive for the ‘Nature’ Category

The beauty of fog

February 18, 2017

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I never thought of fog as beautiful.  Or that it could come in waves.

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These photographs were taken by Nick Steinberg over an eight-year period in the San Francisco Bay area, using high peaks such as Mount Tamalpais as his vantage point.  What a labor of love that must have been!

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It’s good to remember that there are other things in the world besides politics and economics.

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Seeing with an eye of an eagle

February 4, 2017

An eagle with a Sony video camera flew off the top of Burj Khalifa, currently the world’s tallest building, in Dubai, enabling us to (sort of) see what an eagle in flight sees.   It’s too bad there is no footage of the eagle’s last few feet of flight before landing, but the footage is still something to see.

Winning underwater photography of the year

March 5, 2016

Organizers of the 2016 Underwater Photographer of the Year Contest shared some winning entries with The Atlantic’s In Focus feature.

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Davide Lopresti’s photograph of a seahorse was the overall winner.  It was taken off Trieste, Italy, in a part of the Mediterranean set aside for the restocking of this endangered species.

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‘Despite all our accomplishments …’

November 26, 2015

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And also to those who farm the land.

Source: The Grey Enigma.

Hat tip to The Tin Foil Hat Society.

The wonders of weather

September 30, 2015

1. Brinicle

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Brinicles are the underwater equivalent of icicles. They form beneath ice when a flow of saline water is introduced to ocean water.

2. Volcanic Lightning

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Volcanic plumes produce immense amounts of electrical charge and static. In rare cases, this can spark a violent lightning storm.

3.  Sprites, Elves and Blue Jets

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These colorful shapes are the result of electrical discharges in the atmosphere.

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The Superman of the animal kingdom

August 23, 2015
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Click to enlarge.

Source: Medium-Large

Hat tip to Avedon’s Sideshow

Dolphins enjoy surfing

August 15, 2015

Hat tip to kottke.org.

The passing scene – August 9, 2015

August 9, 2015

These are links to interesting articles I’ve come across in the past day or so.  I may add links during the day.  Please feel free to make general or off-topic comments.

Coyotes in New York and Chicago by Lance Richardson for Slate.

150731_WILD_CoyoteLIC.jpg.CROP.promo-xlarge2Coyotes now inhabit New York, Chicago and other big American cities.  Lance Richardson thinks they may well fit the urban and suburban environment better than the rural environment.

Coyotes eat rats and mice.  They eat feral cats, which prey on songbirds.  In suburbs, where hunters are forbidden to discharge firearms, they keep the deer population down.

Farmers and ranchers kill coyotes because coyotes destroy poultry and livestock.  But in cities and suburbs, most pets and other domestic animals are locked up, and coyotes survive by eating vermin.

Meet the electric life forms that live on pure energy by Catherine Brahic for New Scientist.

Scientists have discovered bacteria that eat and breathe electrons, and they can be found nearly everywhere.  All life and all chemical reactions are based on a flow of electrons, but these bacteria survive on electricity in its purest form.

Kropotkin on the Hudson by Polly Howells for In These Times.

Members of the Long Spoon Collective in Saugerties, New York, try to live by the anarchist values of voluntary sharing.   I highly approve of what they’re attempting and wish them well.  I’m not sure such communities can work without extra-ordinary dedication, but I’d be happy to be proved wrong.  I don’t have it in me to live as they do myself.

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Some of the world’s most ancient trees

February 7, 2015

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Beth Moon, a photographer based in San Francisco, has spent 14 years photographing the world’s most ancient trees.  These photos are from her new book, Ancient Trees: Portraits of Time.

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Why rivers almost never run straight

January 17, 2015

 

Octopus unscrews lid and escapes from jar

January 5, 2015

Hat tip to Jack Clontz.

An octopus brain is not configured like a human brain.  Zoologists say the octopus mind is as much in the tentacles as in the head.  However that may be, octopuses are pretty smart.

The passing scene: January 1, 2015

January 1, 2015

The Tragedy of the American Military by James Fallows for The Atlantic.

Gun Trouble by Robert H. Scales for The Atlantic.

HighAirfare35e18The U.S. armed forces have greater prestige than at any time in American history, and the nation spends almost as much on its armed forces as the whole rest of the world put together.  Yet the USA doesn’t seem to be able to win wars, or even provide troops with a gun that doesn’t jam.

James Fallows wrote in The Atlantic that the United States has become a “chickenhawk nation.”  The majority of Americans do not wish to serve in the military and have no real desire to understand the military, so we take the easy way out which is to say, “thank you for your service,” and go about our business.

Military procurement has become a business subsidy and job creation program.  If the USA reduced its military force and weapons spending to what is needed to defend the nation, and nothing else was done, a recession would result.

Infrastructure advances in the rest-of-the-world will blow your mind by james321 for Daily Kos.

We Americans used to pride ourselves on our mega-engineering projects, but now the rest of the world is leaving us behind.

China has opened direct rail service from the China Sea to Madrid.  Switzerland is about to open its 35-mile Gotthard Base Tunnel under the Alps.  Italy is soon to start high-speed rail service between Milan and Rome, capable of speeds up to 250 miles per hour.

We Americans don’t even perform maintenance on what we’ve got, and that’s a sign of a society with a fatal loss of concern for its future, just as our military strategy is a sign of a society with a fatal loss of a sense of reality.

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Nicholaus Wegner’s Stormscapes

December 13, 2014

Time lapse photography of storm clouds over the American Great Plains

Hat tip to kottke.org.

These are best enjoyed full screen with the sound turned up.  Awesome!

Heaviest snowfall, warmest winter in 46 years

December 10, 2014
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Temperatures colder and warmer than average

Via Washington Post

As odd as it may seem, this past September and October were the warmest on record worldwide and this past November was the second warmest on record, while, at the same time, the Northern Hemisphere has had the heaviest snowfall on record (that is, in 46 years).

Except that most of the United States is experiencing both unusually cold temperatures and unusually heavy snow fall.  Lucky us!

Meteorologists have various theories as to how this can be so, which are explained in the linked articles below.  Snowfall can happen anytime the temperature is nearly or below freezing, and it is likely to be heavier when temperatures are slightly below freezing because there is more moisture in the air than when temperatures are way below freezing.

All that’s known for sure is that overall global warming won’t make winter go away.  Some theories say that it can make winter worse.

Naturally, living in upstate New York, which historically is known for severe winters, I’d prefer this not be the case.  Mother Nature, however, is not in the habit of catering to my wishes.

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Fall snow cover in Northern Hemisphere was the most extensive on record, even with temperatures at high mark by Jason Samenow for the Washington Post.

Snowed under and frozen over: U.S. weather is off the rails, but why? by Jason Samenow for the Washington Post.

There’s growing evidence that global warming is driving crazy winters by Chris Mooney for the Washington Post.

Why rivers almost never run straight

December 6, 2014

The passing scene: Links & comments 11/19/14

November 19, 2014

The Myth of AI: a conversation with Jaron Lanier for Edge.

Jaron Lanier, a computer scientist, social critic and pioneer virtual reality researcher, said a computer algorithm is no more a form of life, and artificial intelligence is no more a form of intelligence, than a computer is a type of person.

The great danger is not that intelligent computers will take over, but that human beings will abdicate their decision-making to computer algorithms.  This is especially true, Lanier noted, as corporate managers increasingly make decisions based on computer algorithms.

Lanier warned against “premature mystery reduction”—the assumption that when we learn interesting and important new things, these are the key to understanding everything.

The Scheduled Crisis by Jeannette Cooperman for St. Louis magazine.

William Harmening, who was an Illinois state investigator for 34 years and now teaches forensic psychology, criminology and crisis intervention at Washington University in St. Louis, gave a wide-ranging interview on what to expect when a Grand Jury decides whether to indict Ferguson, Missouri, police officer Darren Wilson in the killing of Michael Brown.

Harmening spoke of the process of “deindividuation” in which people in a crowd are so caught up by anger that they lose the capacity for thought and self-control and become caught up in something that seems like a group mind.

There is an opposite process, he said, in which people are so caught up by fear that they lose any sense of being a part of organized society and do whatever they think will make them safe, at whatever cost.

High Tide in Republicanland by John Pennington.

John Pennington collected photographs for his blog of water in the streets of American  coastal cities at high tide.   He said these photos weren’t taken in the aftermath of storms or anything like that, just after regular high tide.

This is something that will only get worse.  How much worse depends on what Americans and others do to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which are making the climate change and the ocean rise.

View of a living Earth

November 3, 2014

Hat tip to Bill Elwell.

This video from NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio is a simulation of the development of a typhoon off the coast of China during seven days in 2005.

I could do without the corny musical score and sound effects, but I do agree with the video makers that the Earth, with its ecology of topsoil, waters, atmosphere and web of living organisms, is more like a living thing itself than it is like anything else.

The Gaia hypothesis is a metaphor, not a fact, but it is a good metaphor.   The Earth is more like a living thing than it is like an economic system subject to cost-benefit analysis, or a cybernetic feedback system that can be reprogrammed, or any of the other metaphors that blind us to our world’s inter-connectedness.

David Attenborough’s wonderful world

November 2, 2014

Hat tip to Elizabeth Mummert and Joyce Ireland.

Before and after autumn photography

October 28, 2014

These photos from Bored Panda show the beauty of the transformation from summer into fall.

Central Park, New York City, in summer

Central Park, New York City, in summer

Central Park, New York City, in autumn

Central Park, New York City, in autumn

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Paying the bill to stop climate change

October 28, 2014

This Moyers & Company broadcast was aired about a year ago.

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Naomi Klein’s THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING: Capitalism vs The Climate has convinced me that, in order to maintain a habitable planet, it’s necessary to limit and maybe eliminate the burning of coal, oil and gas, and that energy companies will never do this unless they are forced to do so.

What I’m not convinced of is that it is possible to painlessly transition to some green utopia, in which everybody’s material standard of living is the same as it is now, except for a small group of plutocrats.

naomi-klein.book0coverMy house is heated with natural gas, and my gas bills lately have been low, due to an abundance of gas supplied by hydraulic fracturing (of which I disapprove).   My car runs on gasoline, and the computer on which I write this post is powered by electricity.

Over the years I’ve read books by Lester R. Brown, George Monbiot , and Al Gore making the case that with smart technology, I can heat my house with solar energy and better insulation, I can ride a streetcar that is almost as convenient as a private automobile, and that electricity can be provided by windmills, solar panels, other innovative sources of energy and a smart electrical grid that eliminates waste in the system.

I don’t have the knowledge to question their proposals on technical grounds.  I agree with Arthur C. Clarke—that the only way to test the limits of the possible is to venture a little way into the impossible.   And the alternative to trying is to accept the “long emergency” foretold by James Howard Kunstler.

But even at best, the transition will cost enormous sums of money.  Who would pay?  Naomi Klein says that rich people in rich countries should pay, especially countries that enjoy a high level of consumption based on fossil fuels.   This means first and foremost the USA.

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Blockadia: the climate fight’s new front

October 25, 2014

The fight against global warming consists of many local struggles that, at first glance, don’t have anything to do with climate change.

These struggles include resistance to hydraulic fracturing for natural gas, to the Alberta tar sands industry and the Keystone XL pipeline, to deep ocean oil drilling and to other destructive practices by oil, gas and coal companies.

Such destructive practices are necessary to keep the fossil fuel companies in business because all the easy-to-get oil, gas and coal has been used up.  And greenhouse gas emissions will decrease only when oil and gas drilling and coal mining decrease.

naomi-klein.book0coverNaomi Klein in her book, THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING: Capitalism vs The Climate, reported on how these scattered local resistance movements are coming to realize they are part of a common cause.

In just one chapter, she touched on protests in Greece, Rumania, Canada’s New Brunswick, England’s Sussex, Inner Mongolia, Australia, Texas, France, Ecuador, Nigeria, West Virginia, South Dakota, North America’s Pacific Northwest and Quebec—all related directly or indirectly to stopping fossil fuel operations that would produce greenhouse gasses.

She and others call this alliance “Blockadia”.   Unlike some of the big, established environmental organizations, the grass-roots protesters do not limit themselves to lawsuits and political lobbying.  They engage in nonviolent direct action, the kind of mass defiance that Gene Sharp advocated.   These movements, more than the lobbying and lawsuits of the Big Green environmental organizations, will determine the future climate, she wrote.

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A liveable climate and its enemies

October 23, 2014

Here are links, with transcripts, to the complete Sept. 18, 2014 interview.

Naomi Klein on the Need for a New Economic Model to Address Ecological Crisis.

Naomi Klein on the People’s Climate March and the Global Grassroots Movement Fighting Fossil Fuels.

Naomi Klein on Motherhood, Geoengineering, Climate Debt and the Fossil Fuel Divestment Movement.

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Naomi Klein thinks that, if governments had taken action in the 1990s to curb greenhouse gas emissions to control climate change, it could have been accomplished without drastic upheavals in society or in people’s lives..

Unfortunately another movement arose at the same time, a movement to remove restrictions on corporate activity, and this movement has proved more powerful than the climate movement.   The corporate movement has produced privatization, deregulation, repeal of anti-trust laws and a strong and enforceable body of international law to block environmental regulation and subsidies of renewal energy.

naomi-klein.book0coverThe first chapter of Klein’s new book, THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING: Capitalism vs the Climate, is about how the real objection of climate change deniers is their realization that climate change, if real, would mean an end to free enterprise as they know it.  She said they’re right.

Our economy is based on what Klein calls extractivism—the idea that there can be unlimited economic growth based on the burning of a limited amount of coal, oil and gas.

This is a process that will someday end in and of itself, when it is no longer feasible to dig out what little fossil fuels remain.  We the people can’t afford to wait until that happens, because emissions from burning fossil fuels will have heated up the planet to the point where it is barely liveable.  But moving away from extractivism is easier said than done.

An end to extractivism would require, first of all, the repeal of international trade treaties such as NAFTA and the World Trade Organization treaty that allow corporations to challenge national laws that favor local industry or interfere with the international movement of goods and services.

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Naomi Klein’s new climate change book

October 22, 2014

Naomi KleinWe know that we are trapped within an economic system that has it backwards; it behaves as if there is no end to what is actually finite (clean water, fossil fuels and the atmospheric space to absorb their emissions) while insisting there are strict and immovable limits to what is actually quite flexible: the financial resources that human institutions manufacture, and that, if imagined differently, could build the kind of caring society that we need.

==Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything

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Naomi Klein’s brilliant new book, THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING: Capitalism vs the Climate, underlines two important things I had not quite realized.

The first is that the built-in financial incentives of the fossil fuel corporations, or capitalism generally, make it impossible for corporate executives to do anything on their own that would limit the greenhouse gasses that cause climate change.

The second is that many seemingly unrelated struggles against abuses by fossil fuel companies, or abuses by corporations generally, tie in with fighting climate change.

hoax-cop15When native Americans fight to have Indian treaties recognized in law, when small towns in upstate New York pass ordinances against hydraulic fracturing for natural gas, when ranchers and Indians protest the Keystone XL pipeline, when other protestors object to corporate trade treaties such as NAFTA, when Occupy Wall Street protesters advocate economic democracy—all these things help other people in danger from the increase in droughts, floods and violent storms.

I confess that I did not see these connections, or did not fully realize their significance, until I read this book.  I had thought of the question of climate change as primarily a question of how and how much I and other people are willing to reduce their material standard of living, or give up hope of increasing their material standard of living, so that future generations will have a decent planet to live on.

This is a real and important question, but it is not the only question.  As Naomi Klein points out, the well-being livelihoods of many people are threatened by continuing on the present course.   That is because the era of easily-available oil, gas and coal is long gone, and the methods of extracting them—deep water ocean drilling, tar sands, fracking, mountaintop removal—are increasingly costly, dangerous and destructive.

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The cougar, the bear cub and the grizzly

October 17, 2014

The bear cub, the adult grizzly and the cougar are actors in a feature-length film, The Bear, directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud and released in 1988.  The cub befriends the grizzly, and the grizzly protects the orphaned cub as they face non-human and human predators.  I never heard of this movie until I came across this YouTube clip on Flixxy.com.

Geo-engineering the earth’s ecology and climate

October 8, 2014

What if the world continues to fail to reduce greenhouse gas emissions?  There is a different approach to fighting global warming, called geo-engineering.  It means intentionally tampering with the Earth’s ecology and climate systems to stop global warming.

David Keith, in the video above, advocates releasing ash into the air to absorb sunlight.  Joseph Cannon, in a blog post (link below), advocates using Pykrete—ice impregnated with wood pulp—to slow the melting of Arctic ice.  Another plan is to dump clouds of iron filings into the ocean, stimulating the growth of plankton and other marine plants that absorb carbon dioxide.

Other scientists are working on genetically-engineered plants that would absorb sunlight more efficiently and suck up carbon dioxide in greater amounts.

I’m leery of such plans, without having any specific objections beyond Murphy’s Law. the Law of Unintended Consequences and the Precautionary Principle.

But if global warming starts to accelerate, the world’s people will demand emergency action, whether such action is well thought out or not.  So I agree with Joseph Cannon.  It is time to research Plans B just in case.

Keep in mind, though, that the open-ended buildup of greenhouse gasses, if not stopped, will sooner or later overwhelm any Plan B.   And that would require a Plan C, a Plan D and a Plan E.  Which would be followed by more plans to counteract the unforeseen effects of the earlier plans.

Or maybe, by that time, the problem will have been rendered moot by the scarcity and high price of what’s left of the world’s coal, oil and natural gas.

LINKS

Climate change and the limits of debate by Joseph Cannon for Cannonfire.  (Hat tip to Cannonfire for the video)

Should we upgrade photosynthesis and grow supercrops? by Michael Le Page for New Scientist.