Monday, 14 December 2015

Entertainment stuff from the week 7-13/12/15

Hi pedologists,

So, we have peace in our time. Or at least, another climate agreement.

On Saturday, the 12th December 2015, 195 nations agreed, following UN talks, to commit to... something about global warming.

- To staying below 2 degrees above industrial-era global temperatures

- To reduce CO2eq emissions "as soon as possible"

- To have reached a stage, by 2050, where anthropogenic emissions might be absorbable by forests and oceans

- To set national targets, ever 5 years, for CO2eq emissions; 180 have already done this for 2020

- To "encourage" 'developing' nations to cut their emissions too

- To review targets in four years' time

- To encourage nations to publish data relating to their emissions, but not to punish those that fail to meet them

- To continue to promise money for helping out with reducing CO2eq emissions

- To provide small reparations to submerging island nations, without placing blame on the offenders

Now, to you, this might look fine and dandy, but to me it looks as weak as a homeopathic battleship. The targets are vague, and often optional; and there are no declarations of commitment by any nation, with any timescale stated.

I mean, really, if you were set a target that were to be met "as soon possible" on a timescale of decades, how soon would you start working at it??

'Scientists welcome climate pact but still alarmed'

"Many scientists highlighted the imbalance created by boosting the ambition of the temperature target on the one hand, while removing the yardsticks against which progress toward that goal could be measured, on the other."

"Humanity would be better served by a greater focus on binding agreements and mechanisms to achieve the two degree target, rather than 1.5-degree Celsius tokenism," said Peter Cox,a scientist at the University of Exeter and a lead author on two IPPC reports.

The only thing that really has to be done, to mitigate the pace of advancing climatic changes, is to mitigate further CO2eq emissions. The only way to do this, is to make a committed effort to replace the fossil-fuel-based power industry with one that is not fossil-fuel-based.

This is quite simple, and quite easy to put targets on. It is also one that requires governments to stand up to lobbyists, and make subtle but far-reaching changes to the energy industry that funds their economies.

As a consquence, this is the meally-mouthed commiseration that humanity has been fed for decades: vague promises, and lack of commitment to the actual things that actually have to be done, to actually achieve the intended change.

The UK's Conservative government has been a prime example of this ideological failing. New Scientist outlined 2015 as its 'Green Annus Horribilis':

March 2015: The UK’s chancellor announces £1 billion worth of subsidies for North Sea Oil. In 2009, G20 countries including the UK pledged to phase out “inefficient” fossil fuel subsidies.

16th June: The EU says the UK is set to miss its renewables target.

18th June: New onshore wind farms will be excluded from a subsidy scheme from 1 April 2016.

25th June: The UK says it will sell off up to 70 per cent of its Green Bank, set up to lend money to risky green schemes.

30th June: The Climate Change Committee warns the UK is not on course to meet targets after 2020.

8th July: Budget changes reduce the incentive to buy low-emission vehicles.

10th July: The zero carbon homes plan is scrapped. From 2016, all homes built in the UK were supposed to be carbon neutral.

22nd July: Plans to cut subsidies for solar power and for converting power plants to use biomass are announced.

23rd July: The Green Deal plan to help people make homes more energy efficient is scrapped.

4th September: The energy minister admits nothing is being done to ensure coal use doesn’t rise again if prices drop.

16th September: The UK falls from the top 10 in a list of the best countries in which to make renewable energy investments.

2nd October: Plans to build £1 billion tidal power scheme in Wales are delayed by a year.

Cammers and the Conservative gang have pledged commitment to climate change targets, but they have done everything in their power to make that achievement impossible!

What the world needs less of, is vague rhetoric, and what it needs more of, are empirically verifiable metrics that are difficult to weasel out of.

This UN agreement has been praised basically for being a bunch of nice ideas, committed to by a lot of nations' representatives. But nice ideas aren't going to change the world on their own.

To save the billions of dollars-worth of expense, and the huge moral cost of ill-adapted human beings living in an increasingly rapidly changing world, requires demonstrable achievement at reducing CO2eq emissions. When that has happened, then we can think about going 'carbon negative' (actively reducing the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere) which looks increasingly likely to be necessary.


The 4th of December was World Soils Day. See more in the 'In other news' section...

In other news:

Astronomy and superstition meet once again. Earlier this year, we heard about telescopes on Hawaii being forced to shut down, because superstitionists on the island claimed that the mountains are a 'sacred' site. In this instance, it's believers in 'Planet X' and 'Nibiru' that are threatening science abuse. Researchers from Sweden and Mexico independently observed a faint formation in the same region of the sky, on the outer reaches of the solar system, and superstition went from a walk to a canter. When the Mexicans extemporised that it might be a brown dwarf star, it went from a canter to a gallop. Maybe-coincidental-smudge -> maybe-star -> Nibiru, come to kill us all. Nope, the science stopped a long time ago - only further research can tell us whether there's realy anything there at all.

...and again. What killed off the dinosaurs? Rapic climate change instigated by asteroid impact. Done. Full stop. Period. End of story. The bulk of this article is speculation about a groovy-kind-of-dark-matter somehow making that impact more likely... even though impacts like it are very rare. {Argumentum ad fine-tuningem coming up} Because they're rare, this one had to be made slightly less rare, or it couldn't have happened at all; just like rolling '6' with a die is unlikely, and so no-one ever rolls sixes. Shock and exasperation are all that anyone reacts with, when they roll a '6' <s>. But it's in the last paragraph, that the industrial bullshit comes out: "a companion star, called Nemesis". [mwah-mwah-mwah-mwaaah] Like Nibiru and Planet X, Nemesis is the subject of a superstition - all evidence says it's not there. This is equivalent to saying "i can't believe i got a '6' so Yahweh must have pushed the dice" - it doesn't make sense! Plus, invoking it just makes less sense of the subject - if there were a second Sun out there, it would mostly draw asteroids away, not swing them in. The inner planets of the Solar System are protected, in this way, by Jupiter, which absorbs much of the rocky debris, and protecting the inner planets (including Earth) from a large portion of potential asteroid impacts. Nemesis existing would make the Chicxulub asteroid impact less likely. SciFi FAIL :-D

The Spitzer and Kepler space telescopes have been used in conjunction to identify a star with a spot. Not this kind of spotted star - an astrophysical star, with an atmospheric storm. The star - an L-Dwarf - which is like a brown dwarf, but unlike them, still manage some amount of nuclear fusion. They're very cool (only a few thousand kelvin) and about the size of a Jupiter or two. This particular L-Dwarf, called W1906+40, emits light, but is cool enough to have clouds in its atmosphere, like a gas planet; and using Spitzer's data, researchers have worked out that a storm has been raging there for at least two years, and that it's not a magnetic storm - a sunspot.

Sixty species of dragonfly have been added to the list of recognised species living in Africa, increasing the number from 700 to 760. Because dragonflies are dependant on purely-freshwater environments, and clean ones at that, they are taken as good markers of local water quality. They're the canary in the coal mine, but for water quality instead of air. Dragonfly populations are monitored around the world, and hopefully will be in the future, to track economic impacts on local water quality.

How did skates and rays get such flat bodies? Well apparently, by surprisingly simple genetic changes. Batoids, as they are collectively called, are characterised by their flattened bodies and broad pectoral fins, fused with their heads. A group of genes and growth factors are expressed, that determine the growth of the apical ectodermal ridge (AER) which in turn determines limb development. Uniquely, it seems, batoids develop two AERs, influenced by different groups of genes - 3'Hox transcription and Fgf7 growth factors toward the head, and 5'Hox transcription and Fgf10 growth factors toward the tail. All of this genetic investigation can help contribute to a general understanding of how genetics and epigenetics and outside environment contribute to resultant morphology, especially in the much-studied area of the development of tetrapod morphology - possession of four limbs.

The FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations) has a released a report by its Intergovernmental Technical Panel on Soils. It states that the world's soils are at best in fair condition, and in some areas are very poor. This might seem boringly academic, but soil quality is of huge importance to agriculture. Declining soil quality means lower food production, and lower food quality, and that means increasing overpopulation, even if the number of people stays the same. (Overpopulation = too many people, too few resources). Decreasing soil quality also deleteriously affects the surrounding environment, with biodiversity, and other important elements of our world taking a toll. The whole report runs to 648 pages, so read it if you like, but i don't think i'm going to have time :-D

It's been revealed that VW engineers were working on a software program to deceive emissions tests, in 2005. Before then, they had been working on a physical method to achieve the same result. VW has officially confessed only to attempting this in the USA's market, which is easily explained by the greater motive - regulations are more restrictive there, for diesel-powered vehicles.

Who invented Bitcoin? Well, that's easy - Satoshi Nakamoto. But who's that? Um... nobody knows except them. An anonymous 'source' sent New York Times' Nathaniel Popper documents and emails "leaked" to them by Anon, who then discarded the claim that the man from whom the emails had been stolen, was the real Nakamoto. Their profile just didn't fit. Anon, however, then tried their luck with Wired and Gizmodo, and they of course fell hook, line, sinker, and copy of Angling Times. Last year, BTW, Newsweek was fooled in similar fashion. Just sayin' :-D

------------------------------------------------------ contemporary stuff

'What Does Earth Look Like From Space? An Astronaut's Perspective'

'What Exxon Knew'

'My Experiences WIth Psychic Sally'

'8 Weirdest Racing Cars In History?'

'Amazing Anamorphic Illusions II'

'Image: Copernicus Sentinel captures Les Deux Alpes and surroundings'

'Image: Prometheus up close'

'The Chaser's Media Circus - Season 2 Episode 12'

------------------------------------------------------ of the weeks

Word Of The Week: odonatology -- the study of dragonflies; coming from 'odonto-' which means 'tooth' in Greek, as dragonflies were some of the first insects to be observed as having teeth on their mandibles

Quote Of The Week: "History is an illusion caused by the passage of time, and time is an illusion caused by the passage of history" - Douglas Adams, H2G2S2E2

------------------------------------------------------ non-contemporary stuff

'Homeopathic Battleship'

'Slap George Osborne'

'A re-creation of the Battle of Minas Tirith! (EPIC SIEGE) Third Age Total War!'

The Greatest Total War Player Of Our Time™ brings home an unimpeachable victory :-D

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