What are you grateful for today?

I just got back from walking the dog this morning. It is a sunny and blue sky morning – a classically beautiful Colorado day.
Backpacking in the Lost Creek Wilderness
I crossed paths with a man who lives in the neighborhood, and I see regularly but have never spoken with. He stands a good six inches above my 5’10”, but moves slowly. He gently stops me on the sidewalk and says to me, “May I ask you a question?” I respond “Sure.” After all, the dog is in no rush. She tends to really mosey in the morning, thoroughly sniffing every third blade of grass. So, he asks with sincerity “What are you grateful for today?” I respond with “beautiful sunny day,” “good food” (I enjoy making our oatmeal breakfast). Then he immediately follows up by asking, “Would you like to know what I’m grateful for today?”
“Of course.”
“Today is my 25th anniversary of surviving incurable brain cancer.”
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A theory of heterogeneity?

Are Scale, Perspective, and Heterogeneity Unifying Ecology Science?

Last week during a roundtable the visiting scholar challenged us, as scientists in the geospatial realm, to think about the theory underlying our studies. They specifically mentioned further development of a “theory of heterogeneity.” I think that heterogeneity/homogeneity (dis/similarity) is a concept that transcends disciplines of science. The terms are two sides of the same coin, or maybe the same side of a one-sided coin – it depends on which one you want to measure. Continue reading

Politics Invading Science?

I was reading this article from ScienceInsider, growing more appalled and frustrated when I came across this statement quoted in the article that is just terribly obviously false:

“In his written statement to ScienceInsider, Smith said only that “there are many grants that no taxpayer would consider in the national interest, or worthy of how their hard-earned dollars should be spent

Now, many who are better versed in writing, science, politics, and any slew of other related areas have demonstrated with better clarity the nuance of this debacle, but I am going to share my own thoughts anyway. I am pretty sure the scientists who wrote the proposals for these grants, the scientists who reviewed them, and the scientists who ultimately approved funding for them felt that they were worthy of being funded by the national coffers. Also, they are probably all tax payers.

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Our frontier is climate change

UPDATE: This link to recent research showing a link between human CO2 emissions and the increased water vapor in the troposphere — possibly causing a positive feedback to greater warming.

Last week one of the scientific contributors to the recently published IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) ipcc_ar55th Assessment Report, who is also an alumnus of NC State. In addition to the associated prestige, the speaker found that the force driving many of the contributors to spend countless hours working on this assessment is the hope that our global population will become sustainable. To me, this means providing avenues for equity not just in this generation, but for future generations. So, what would we have to do? Well, we can start by communicating the facts, so here are some things I learned and what I think they mean.

1. According to the analyses in 5th Assessment,  there is a 95% certainty that humans have been the dominant cause of observed warming since the mid-20th century. To me this is incredibly important, a little bit terrifying, and yet gives me hope. This means that the global human population is capable of affecting the earth systems to a degree never before seen or realized. It means that we hold some power to influence global cycles, and we can use this knowledge and our incredible ability to forecast, innovate, and adapt to sustain and prosper our existence.

2. One of the most, if not the most, important earth cycle we are affecting is the water cycle. Human bodies are made up of about 60% water. Water that is fit for consumption is the one thing we cannot live with out – something that is seldom given a second thought in the developed world. We just turn on the tap and out it comes. Yet, we have with great certainty (95%) increased the frequency and severity of drought or precipitation events in different areas of the globe (keeping in mind that no single event is attributable to human-induced changes).

3. The increase in carbon dioxide emissions caused by human’s activities were identified as one of the major influences on the rapid changes in earth’s systems. Furthermore, even if CO2 emissions were completely stopped, the inertia would continue to carry changes into the future. It is not as simple as a single consequence of increased CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere, such as warming temperatures, but also higher CO2 concentrations in the oceans causing acidification faster than species can adapt. This means that the livelihood of everyone who depends on the ocean is at increasing risk going into the future.

4. These are some indications that we will continue to exceed (mostly unidentified) resilience thresholds, where the systems we are influencing will no longer be able to self-correct. Populations of developing countries have thus far born the brunt of the consequences, with >95% of deaths related to natural disasters occurring in these locations (I do not know if this included earthquakes, or other things not related to climate/weather events).

So, with a 95% certainty that we can potentially have some control over the intensity and severity of future risks to much of the global population, why not try and do something to prevent and mitigate that risk? As a disease ecologist, it is clear to me that the cost of preventative action (e.g. vaccines) is substantially less than trying to manage the likely severe consequences (e.g. disease outbreak).