Most people have never heard of the Anthropocene era and with good reason—it is not an officially recognized geologic time period. It is the invention of a small group of scientific busy bodies who evidently have nothing better to do than try to effect a change in the official timeline of Earth's past. The International Commission on Stratigraphy, the body charged with formally designating geological time periods, has been petitioned in the past and just recently a group of chuckle-heads attending the Society for American Archaeology meetings in Hawaii have brought the idea up again. Only problem is, the proponents of the Anthropocene have fallen to arguing amongst themselves—when did the “Age of Man” really start?
Recent comet sightings and the fiery path blazed across Russian skies by a large meteor have people pondering the possibility of a collision between Earth and some other heavenly body. Lost in the discussion is news from NASA that Mars is on schedule for a close encounter of its own in 2014, and the visiting comet may actually strike the red planet. Comet C/2013 A1 (Siding Spring) will be rendezvousing with Mars in October 2014, most likely passing by the planet at roughly the height of an earthly communication satellite. Estimates of the minimum distance between planet and comet range from about 100,000 km and 0, meaning a collision. If the comet does collide with Mars it is estimated the blast will be equivalent to that of a billion megatons of TNT. It would be an event of the same magnitude as the impact that killed off the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.
It's everywhere on Earth, on the other planets and moons of the solar system, and even in comets from deep space. It is the frozen form of water, commonly called ice. Something so ubiquitous and familiar, one would think that science knows a lot about ice. It turns out science knows less than we might suppose. In a commentary in the journal Nature, an ice scientist raises ten open questions about ice. For example, the article states: “We cannot predict with certainty when and where ice clouds will form in the atmosphere; areas of the sky remain humid when we would expect them to freeze.” Ice is a fundamental part of Earth's climate, yet these questions and others remain unanswered. How can climate science claim to predict the fate of the polar ice sheets or mountain glaciers when we do not really understand the substance that they are made of?
Just when it seems that public figures can sink no lower, be more cynical, act more duplicitous, a news story comes along that plumbs new depths in ideological betrayal. And so it was this week when the shocked staff at Current TV was called to an all hands staff meeting. They were informed that the Current TV network, supposedly a bulwark of liberal green thought holding back the barbarian hoards from FOX and talk radio, had been sold to those leading mideast liberals at Al Jazeera. Former Vice President and self styled eco-prophet Al Gore has made himself a much, much richer man by doing what the political class has done since the dawn of human history—sell out to the other side.
Heralded far and wide as a harbinger of global climate change, this year's record Arctic ice melt has the uninformed climate alarmists celebrating and the more knowledgeable scratching their heads. You see, this summer's ice retreat was predicted by no computer model and few scientists even though it possible. While climate scientists ponder what is wrong with their theories nature has carried on—no fuss, no muss, no drama. Circulation patterns are shifting and living creatures from zooplankton to megafauna are taking the change in stride. What has flummoxed environmental scientists is the simple and now demonstrated fact that successful life forms have a common trait—they are adaptable, something many scientists are not.
A study of ancient volcanic ash found at key archaeological sites across Europe suggests that early modern humans were more resilient to climate change and natural disasters than commonly thought. The study, which appeared in PNAS, analyzed volcanic ash from a major eruption that occurred in Europe around 40,000 years ago. The volcano spewed so much ash that the event probably created winter-like conditions and a sudden colder shift in climate. Scientists have generally suggested that the spread of modern humans, and the decline of our cousins the Neanderthals, was primarily due to ancient volcanic eruptions and deteriorating climate conditions, but this study shows that stone-age man rolled with the punches and shrugged off the sudden shifts in climate. This new evidence flies in the face of modern predictions that a shift of a few degrees in average yearly temperature will decimate human populations world wide.
A new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (Early Edition on-line), is shaking up science's view of polar bear evolution. Previously, it had been suggested that the white bear of the north was a relatively young species that diverged from brown bears during the last glacial period. That glaciation started after the Eemian epoch (~125,000 years ago), peaking around 25,000 years ago. New genetic analysis pushes that estimated divergence back to 4-5 million years ago, though there seems to have been a significant level of interbreeding between the two species over time. Another important finding is that the polar bear population underwent a significant contraction around 500,000 years ago. According to this new information the polar bear has been around for much longer than previously thought, implying that it has survived many interglacial warm periods. In other words, those who think the polar bear cannot survive the shrinking of Arctic ice packs are dead wrong.
The coyote, also known as the American jackal or the prairie wolf, is a canine predator found throughout North and Central America. Ranging from Panama in the south, north through Mexico, the United States and into Canada the wily Canis latrans has been spreading into new territory in the Eastern US, filling a void left at the top of the food chain by the virtual extinction of the gray wolf. But these new coyotes are not the little dog sized creatures from the South West—the new coyote is larger, stronger and more aggressive than his ancestors. Well known as a master of adaptation, new studies over the past few years are now revealing how these relatives of wolves and dogs are evolving into a new top predator thanks to humans. They have expanded their diet to include squirrels, household pets and even deer. Supposedly, coyotes killed a 19-year-old female hiker in Nova Scotia in 2009. It seems that this new breed of predator is actually a wolf in coyote's clothing.
A new Current Biology paper proposes that the accumulated output of dinosaur flatulence could have changed the global climate during the age of the dinosaurs. Insert dinosaur fart joke here. No, seriously, this is a real report in an actual scientific journal. It just happens to be on a subject that the news media could not resist blowing out of proportion on their best day. Given that much of the CO2 in Earth's atmosphere was emitted by some form of living creature this is a serious area for study by environmental scientists. So after giving the chattering media magpies some time to calm down, here is a more serious take on this heady topic.
In 2009, the International Commission on Stratigraphy, the body charged with formally designating geological time periods, decided the Anthropocene concept “has some merit.” To investigate further they formed the Anthropocene Working Group, which published their initial findings this past February in a special issue of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A. The group reported a wide range of human impacts that could leave a stratigraphically significant mark on the planet's geological record. There is no doubt that humans have changed the world we live in, but has the change been significant enough to declare a whole new epoch? The Anthropocene debate is continuing this week at the 2011 Geological Society of America conference.
Recent days have seen a number of announcements about our changing climate. As it turns out Arctic ice is rebounding, sea levels are dropping and things just are not going according to the IPCC's plan for catastrophic global warming. Faced with reversal after reversal, it might seem logical for mainstream climate scientists to admit that they are wrong, that global warming is not taking place at a breakneck pace, but this has not happened. Instead, climate change apologists are weaving a tangled web of excuses—hot is cold, wet is dry, up is down. No matter what happens to the world we live in, the root cause according to the doomsayers is always the same: it's always global warming's fault.
Recently, a US Federal Court ruled that placing polar bears on the endangered species list in 2008 was justified because it was based on the science available at the time and thus met the letter of the law. Yet the Polar Bear Specialist Group of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has issued a report indicating that there was no change in the overall global polar bear population in the most recent four-year period. Nonetheless, a Federal Judge ruled that, even though the EPA's action was based on bad science, the misclasification was justified. As Dickens' put it in Oliver Twist: “If the law supposes that, the law is a ass — a idiot.”
Recently, the 3rd Nobel Laureate Symposium decided to hold a trial, charging humanity with ruining the planet. Based on the so called 9 Planetary Boundaries, a jury of 20 Nobel Laureates sat in judgment while “compelling evidence” was presented showing that “humanity may now be capable of radically altering the remarkable conditions for life on Earth.” The Planetary Boundaries approach was developed by 28 scientists, who estimated that three of the boundaries, climate change, the nitrogen cycle and biodiversity loss, have already been crossed and that several others are all ready in dangerous territory. We have all been charged with transgressing boundaries laid down by a group of scientists most people have never heard of, judged and found guilty by a gaggle of Nobel Prize winners, and been remanded to the UN for punishment. This sham trial does not represent justice but an attempt to place humanity in ecological bondage.
When night falls, many insects come out to feed, often on human food crops. Helping to turn back the pillaging insect hoards is an aerial armada of unsung and unloved heroes—bats. Bats are voracious predators of nocturnal insects, helping to control the populations of many crop and forest pests. Tragically, several migratory tree-dwelling species are being killed in unprecedented numbers by wind turbines across North America. Recent analysis presented in the journal Science suggests that reduced bat populations cause agricultural losses estimated at more than $3.7 billion/year and could rise as high as $53 billion/year if bats are driven to extinction. Oblivious to the carnage being caused by wind turbines, climate change alarmists and green political dupes have continued to push for rapid expansion of wind power. It is time to call a moratorium on wind park construction until a more realistic and less damaging policy can be formulated.
Precaution is now an established tenet of environmental governance, law, and public policy at the international, national and local levels. When it comes to pollution, toxic chemicals, genetically modified organisms, endangered species and climate change, the so called precautionary principle has become the guiding doctrine for timorous souls everywhere. But more than that, it is a codification of the idea that before anything new is allowed, it must be proven, beyond a shadow of a doubt, to cause no harm to anything in anyway, under any conditions, anywhere—period. It is “look before you leap” on steroids and a major legal weapon used by environmentalists and neo-Luddites everywhere to hamstring human progress. Raising angst to an art form, progress hating activists have managed to block needed energy and industrial expansion at a critical time in humanity's development.