15 November 2010


GLACIERS. Whatever your views on the existence and extent of global warming, it is undeniably true that the world's glaciers, and the ice sheets of Greenland and Antartica, are melting at an alarming rate. In a thoroughly researched article, Justin Gillis writes that "many scientists now say that sea level is likely to rise perhaps three feet by 2100 -- an increase that, should it come to pass, would pose a threat to coastal areas the world over. And the calculations suggest that the rise could conceivably exceed six feet, which would put thousands of square miles of the American coastline underwater .... Climate scientists readily admit that the three-foot estimate could be wrong. Their understanding of the changes going on in the world's land ice is still primitive. But, they say, it could just as easily be an underestimate as an overestimate .... One published estimate suggested the threat was so dire that that sea level could rise as much as 15 feet in this century .... A large majority of climate scientists argue that heat-trapping gases are almost certainly playing a role in what is happening to the world's land ice. They add that the lack of policy to limit (greenhouse gas) emissions is raising the risk that the ice will go into an irreversible decline before this century is out, a development that would eventually make a three-foot rise in the sea look trivial.

"Melting ice is by no means the only sign that the earth is warming. Thermometers on land, in the sea, and on satellites show warming. Heat waves, flash floods and other extreme weather events are increasing. Plants are blooming earlier, coral reefs are dying and many other changes are afoot that most climate scientists attribute to global warming."

I grew up within a few hours' drive of Glacier National Park, and during many hiking and camping treks, had more than one opportunity to traverse its eponymous glaciers. Just within the past half century, the majority have shrunk or disappeared entirely. Why is it that humans only think and act reactively, in response to a crisis, rather than proactively, using our intellects and imaginations to plan ahead? We have passed so many environmental thresholds just during my lifetime, that it is impossible to comprehend the inexorable changes we've set in motion, in our climate and in the natural world.

CATS. When it comes to drinking water, dogs are, well, dogs. Cats, on the other hand are engineers. While dogs form a crude cup with their tongues, cats "curve the upper sides of their tongues downwards so that the tips lightly touch the surface of the water. The tongue is then pulled upward at high speed, drawing a column of water behind it. Just at the moment that gravity finally overcomes the rush of the water and starts to pull the column down -- snap! The cat's jaws have closed over the jet of water and swallowed it" .... at a rate of four laps per second. It took four engineers using integral equations to verify the cat's instinctive ability to calculate the point at which gravitational force would overcome inertia and cause the water to fall. I've said it before -- cats rule, dogs drool. Check out the videos at the link, and see for yourself.

TSA PEEPSHOW SCANNER. The Transportation Security Administration has become a royal pain. Alleged security checks at airports force ridiculous delays in boarding flights, and the tools and practices used by TSA agents have become increasingly invasive of privacy. In a recent blog post, Amy Alkon describes one passenger who had enough, and refused to submit to the voyeuristic passenger xray scanner, or to agents' groping his private parts. When threatened with a lawsuit to recover $10,000 in fines, he said, "Bring it on."

There is no empirical evidence that the draconian inspection measures at airports have substantially increased our safety. Until such evidence is forthcoming, TSA needs to back off. (Click on any image to enlarge.)

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