Climatically Speaking: The Best Stories on Climate, Food, Science and Culture, (4th ed.)
(Last updated June 2, 2018 to make a correction, noted at the end of this post)
Heat wave in Pakistan; carbon dioxide, a scorched planet and an asteroid from the past; an eco-community in Paris; living near coal- and oil-fired power plants and premature birth rates; joining hands in Massachusetts to prepare for climate change; seeds from Syria; intermittent fasting; pesticides and Parkinson's disease; an earworm and more.
Welcome to the 4th edition of Climatically Speaking: the best stories on climate, food, science and culture. Until recently, I had been reveling in Sacramento Valley's mild spring—cool mornings with bright green flora and cloudless sapphire skies. I was even blessed by a chorus of crickets last week while out for my morning walk. Though I thought it was odd to hear them chirping like that so close to noon. They were hiding in a patch of weeds between two driveways—a refuge from sprinklers and fussy gardeners. But by Memorial Day, temperatures rose to 97°F (36.1°C), and I was reminded of summer's approach, when cool and lovely mornings become sweltering days with temperatures above 100°F (37.8°C).
Yet, we are fortunate compared to those enduring the current heat wave in Pakistan (e360.yale.edu), where temperatures reached 111.2°F (44°C) and over 60 people have died. By June, temperatures in that region could reach 122°F (50°C). In fact, Eric Holthaus reports at Grist that April was the 400th month in a row of above average global temperatures (data from NOAA). And this trend is expected to continue into the future, which is one reason why climate change is such a threat to humanity. If you would like to know more about why heat waves in South Asia are so deadly, take a look at this piece by Brian Kahn at Earther.
But I have other stories to share in today's edition of Climatically Speaking, and not all of them are bleak. Besides, the Earworm makes a guest appearance at the end. And I know you don't want to miss that!
new post from the blog
Is it wise to post a poem you wrote in third grade? Probably not. But some of the poets I follow have done the same, and I find reading these first works refreshing. Here's mine:
climate, environment and energy
a blast from the past that increased carbon dioxide levels
Have you ever wondered about the species-slaying asteroid that crashed into present-day Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula around 66 million years ago? No? Well, I'm going to tell you about it, anyway. I bet you saw that coming!
At first, the planet cooled because all the smoke and debris kept the sun's rays from warming Earth. But as Robinson Meyer reports at The Atlantic, the cataclysmic event unleashed so much carbon dioxide from fires and limestone evanescing into gas that Earth's temperature rose 5°C. Scientists know this by studying computer models and the bones of fish.
Though what's not clear is exactly how high CO₂ levels rose to produce such a large temperature increase. Some studies suggest that atmospheric CO₂ increased fivefold after the asteroid made impact. Other studies, however, indicate that CO₂ levels doubled. And that's where the problem lies: If a twofold increase in CO₂ caused global temperatures to rise by 5°C, then scientists could be underestimating carbon dioxide's future impact on climate.
In other words, Earth could get much hotter than scientists previously predicted, given the current rate of CO₂ emissions over the last 100 years. But, rest assured, according to a piece by Emily Atkin at The New Republic, Kilauea, the volcano currently erupting in Hawaii, is not expected to have a measurable effect on climate.
an eco-community in paris
Did you know that some people who fret about climate change and possible planetary collapse often muse over where they would ride out an apocalypse? Though I admit if things got that bad and I had to make a choice, I most likely would not choose a big city—unless it's Paris, of course. Learn more about the eco-community that Paris is building in this piece by Susannah Shmurak at Ensia.
And just so you know, the article isn't at all about surviving an apocalypse. In fact, projects like this could help us avoid the most serious consequences of climate change. Here's a short video that summarizes Clichy-Batignolles, an eco-village with a vision to be carbon neutral:
climate, environment and energy in brief
It's likely you've heard this before, but, as Damian Carrington reports at the Guardian, "even with all the carbon cuts already pledged by nations so far, climate change would make almost half of insect habitats unsuitable by the end of the century, with pollinators like bees particularly affected."
Also, Sabrina Shankman at Inside Climate News writes about the many reasons—besides climate change—to shut down oil- and coal-fired power plants: According to one study in California, closing these plants reduced the premature birth rate in women living nearby from 7 to 5.1 percent between 2001 to 2011.
And Paul Brown at Climate News Network reports that global temperatures can only rise by 0.5°C before the most vulnerable populations across the globe experience extreme consequences, although enacting sustainability policies could reduce those risks.
But the fact that religious and scientific leaders in Massachusetts have formed a coalition to push the state to take more action in helping communities prepare for climate change gives me hope. Take a look at this excellent piece by Brian Roewe at the National Catholic Reporter.
food and farming—rescuing wheat's wild cousin from syria
Can seeds from a wild grass that grows in Syria save U.S. wheat from diseases and pests brought on by climate change? In this fascinating piece by Mark Schapiro at Yale environment 360, learn how scientists rescued seeds from a seed bank in Syria as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's military was bombing the city of Aleppo.
Unlike modern wheat—pampered and bred to favor higher yields—Aegilops tauschii, one of wheat's wild cousins, shows resistance to many pests and diseases, including the notorious Hessian fly. Because of that, scientists plan to breed it with U.S. wheat varieties. But my favorite part of this story was learning how indigenous cultures let wild plants grow along the perimeter of fields, which encourages inter-breeding and gives cultivated plants greater resistance to diseases and pests. And I might add that this runs counter to current industrial farming practices.
science, health and technology
parkinson's disease and agricultural chemicals
What happens when a person with a particular genetic mutation is exposed to the agricultural chemicals paraquat and maneb? At Cosmos, Andrew Masterson reports on a recent study that looked at what takes place inside human cells—instead of just relying on animal research and epidemiological data—and found find that the combination of these two factors increase the risk of developing Parkinson's disease by 250 percent. I confess I did a double take when I saw that number. In fact, when I first read the article, I thought it said 25 percent. Nope. If you would like to learn more about these chemicals, I found an interesting piece about paraquat at Reuters, here.
Also, if you've considered using intermittent fasting to lose weight, you might want to read this piece by Robin Mckie at the Guardian, which highlights the results of a recent study on fasting-based diets. To clarify, the study analyzed the metabolic response to fasting every other day or two days a week in healthy adult rats. And I would like to point out that these fasting methods are different from extended overnight fasting, another well-known dietary trend. Even though the rats experienced rapid weight loss, the results suggest that these kinds of fasting diets can damage the pancreas, leading to an increased risk of diabetes. Also, the rats' abdominal fat increased, despite their weight loss. If this topic is something that interests you, then you might want to follow the link in the story to learn about additional studies. Will we ever get this diet stuff sorted out?
air travel and alsaska
You know it well—that surreal sense you get when flying. And it doesn't help that most passenger planes and airports are indistinguishable. That's the worst part, isn't it? Well, author Jonathan Thompson eloquently captures the realm of air travel in this short essay from High Country News. As you read along, you'll catch yourself thinking, "Yes, that's how it is, exactly!"
And while we're on the subject of air travel, take a look at these gorgeous photos of Alaska from The Atlantic. Though I couldn't help but squirm when I saw the glaciers.
on gender and writing letters to the editor
This is an interesting thread from a piece by Caroline Kitchener at The Atlantic on why so few women write letters to the editor. What do you think? By the way, I also know plenty of men who couldn't care less about replying to news articles. But still, this thread brings up relevant questions, if you even have the time to care, which is one of the points.
My childhood poem about falling leaves reminded me of "The Autumn Leaves," so I'll let the Earworm take over from here. Thank you for reading today's stories. Meanwhile, I hope you find some merry crickets chirping in your wood, too! —Laura
Please note: My editor took off for the hills and hasn't been seen for years. If you're a journalist or scientist and find mistakes in these summaries, please reach out through the contact form in the menu at the bottom of this page. I don't mind being corrected at all. Thanks!
Also, this post has been updated to correct an error in an earlier version that was sent to subscribers via email: The study on the health effects of fasting diets used rats, not humans.