Saturday, 30 March 2019
Thursday, 28 March 2019
There seems to be a lot of hype around a woman in Scotland who reportedly has a 'genetic mutation' that results in her feeling no pain or fear (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2019/mar/28/scientists-find-genetic-mutation-that-makes-woman-feel-no-pain). It is suggested that studies on her condition might well lead to new methods of pain relief. The only comment that I would make is that this condition has been well-documented on other occasions but has been regarded as detrimental (as it removes an essential warning of the danger of damage).
It's a difficult call to make but it has been suggested that an effective way of protecting island species (the most seriously endangered) is to remove inadvertently-introduced mammals, notably dogs, mice, pigs and rats (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/mar/27/cull-invasive-mammals-to-save-island-species-experts-urge). This has been shown to be doable, humans are generally responsible for their introduction in the first place but the 'offending mammals' are only doing what they are programmed to do.
Sunday, 24 March 2019
A study has estimated that the emissions of 'greenhouse gases' generated by fracking in the UK would be equivalent to the life-time fumes produced by more than 290 million cars (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/mar/24/fracking-plan-carbon-release-300m-cars-uk-labour-study). It is remarkable that the government could be actively pushing this development when they are already in breach of air quality standards in many parts of the country!
Saturday, 23 March 2019
It has been officially admitted that the UK will miss most of its 2020 targets for the conservation of the natural world (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/mar/22/ukmiss-almost-all-2020-nature-targets-official-report-admits). We do seem pretty good at assuming we are enlightened about our environment without putting in the cash to achieve even self-selected aims.
- March 23, 2019
Friday, 22 March 2019
A haul of amazingly preserved fossils, some of soft-bodied animals like Comb jellies, have been unearthed in China (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2019/mar/21/mindblowing-haul-of-fossils-over-500m-years-old-unearthed-in-china). The fossils are more than 500 million years ago representing the pre-Cambrian 'explosion' of new animal forms. They provide intriguing insights to a period when animals almost seemed to be experimenting with form and life-style.
The German Company Wepa is reportedly stock-piling toilet and kitchen rolls in the UK as insurance against a no-deal Brexit (https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/mar/21/uk-biggest-toilet-roll-supplier-wepa-stockpiling-no-deal-brexit-avoid-customs-delays). They are also shipping supplies in from a manufacturer in Naples via the port of Swansea (to avoid delays in the Calais-Dover link).
Wednesday, 20 March 2019
Schoolchildren in many countries object to their perceived lack of environmental action (particularly in relation to climate change) by the 'adults'. In Whitehaven, in the UK, local politicians of all 3 major parties, approve the setting up of a new deep coal mine 'because it will bring jobs to the area' (and will get some of its required energy from solar panels): Discuss.
There has been much debate about whether humans have maintained the ability to detect the Earth's magnetic field and to use this sense to orientate themselves. A recent experiment on 34 people (a bit small) has suggested an individually variable brain wave response when subjects are exposed to perturbations of fields in a cage-like enclosure (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2019/mar/18/humans-earth-magnetic-field-magnetoreception). If humans have this capacity, it is generally weak. I think we still need the compass.
It just shows you how stories can be twisted to 'reveal' untruths. On every measure, the UK has a poorer cancer cure rate than virtually all its current EU partners. But a story that predicted declines in breast cancer mortalities in the UK would be greater than in France and Germany (https://metro.co.uk/2019/03/19/uk-predicted-to-have-one-of-the-biggest-falls-in-breast-cancer-deaths-across-eu-8941591/) was reported as if it was a great achievement! This is a predicted decline and does no journalist appreciate that it is easier to get a 'substantial' decline when the initial baseline is higher?
Sunday, 17 March 2019
Saturday, 16 March 2019
An interesting study suggests that soft foods (notably porridge and gruel) have shaped our facial equipment, enabling us to incorporate 'v' and 'f' sounds in our languages(https://www.theguardian.com/science/2019/mar/14/soft-foods-helped-humans-form-f-and-v-sounds-research). The more substantial diets of hunter-gatherers apparently rarely incorporates these 'baby sounds'.
One might be tempted to feel a certain amount of optimism about the facts that the current crop of schoolchildren, in over 100 countries, are effectively agitating about the lack of action by 'adults' to counter the effects of climate change (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/mar/15/its-our-time-to-rise-up-youth-climate-strikes-held-in-100-countries) and that its initiator has been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. We have, however, to focus on the truism that the window of opportunity where anything really meaningful can be done, is painfully short (expiring long before these intelligent, young humans will have attained positions where they could direct government policies). We really do need the 'adults' to step up to the mark rather than bury their heads in the sand!
Friday, 15 March 2019
It has been reported that US Food giants have swallowed up many of the countries family farms, converting them to Factory operations, with devastating effects on local economies (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/mar/09/american-food-giants-swallow-the-family-farms-iowa). Somewhat scarily, the article predicts that they are looking for opportunities in post-Brexit UK, they might well be able to pick up a lot of cheap properties.
- March 15, 2019
Monday, 11 March 2019
Friday, 8 March 2019
Thursday, 7 March 2019
A recent UK study looking at genetic-predispositions for producing elevated testosterone levels has apparently confirmed the view that the higher incidence of heart disease and blood clots in men is at least partially accounted for by the hormone (https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/mar/06/testosterone-linked-to-higher-risk-of-heart-disease-research-finds). They suggest that statins (commonly prescribed to counter elevated cholesterol levels in mature men to reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease) also lower testosterone levels and that men taking testosterone supplements might be putting themselves at risk. Naturally, one could reduce such risk by castration but, I suspect, that would not prove a popular 'remedy'.
Perhaps a little sanity is finally showing? The UK High Court have reportedly ruled that it is unlawful for HM Government to insist in its guidelines that concerns about 'greenhouse gas' emissions and climate change cannot be used by parties objecting to the granting permissions for fracking in their areas (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/mar/06/high-court-rules-governments-fracking-guidelines-unlawful). It is useful that the ruling stated that the claim that fracked gas is somehow 'greener' than alternatives cannot be supported, when the only dirtier alternative of coal-fired power stations, are in the last stages of being phased out in this country.
Wednesday, 6 March 2019
Interesting news that Britain's only poisonous snake, the adder (Vipera berus) is reported to now be active in this country throughout the year, rather than hibernating over the winter (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/mar/06/adders-now-active-all-year-with-warmer-uk-weather). This seems to be a consequence of the altered weather on these islands. This species (with its capacity to hibernate and to produce live young) is actually the reptile with the widest geographical range. The change in behaviour, it is argued, could imperil these snakes if this emerge and are then hit by cold weather.
Heard an interesting radio programme reiterating the claim that ammonia may turn out to be a 'green' substitute for petroleum and diesel in motor transport (https://www.agmrc.org/renewable-energy/renewable-energy/ammonia-as-a-transportation-fuel). The ammonia can be used to power hydrogen-fuelled cars, with water and nitrogen as the only effluents. It was maintained that Australia is well-placed to generate this material on an industrial scale as, in the relatively unbuilt interior, there is much scope for efficient solar power to create ammonia as well as developments of catalysts to make the process more efficient. The ammonia could easily be transported to economies in China, India and Japan.
Sunday, 3 March 2019
There is an interesting opinion piece about the days when extreme weather events were largely viewed as sources of entertainment rather than harbingers of something more deadly and permanent (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/mar/02/freak-weatherfebruary-heat-apocalypse-climate-change). I do think that much of the media still tries to operate in the earlier mode. Wallace Broecker, the American Geophysicist who died this year, coined the term 'global warming' (some authorities suggest that the epithet 'global heating' is actually more appropriate) in 1975. The amazing thing is that it has taken so long for a substantial number of people to appreciate the urgency of the current situation. Having US Presidents who claim that their opponents are trying to ban cars and cows doesn't help.
- March 03, 2019
Saturday, 2 March 2019
The US Ambassador to the UK has apparently suggested that, to get a good trade deal, we should 'embrace' American agricultural practices (and the cheap food it generates) rather than the 'museum-like' activities of the EU (https://www.telegraph.co.uk/politics/2019/03/01/britain-should-embrace-us-farming-methods-agree-trade-deal-says/). He suggests, for example, that there is nothing wrong with chlorine-washed chicken as it kills Salmonella bacteria (and Europeans wash fruit with chlorinated water). The main point about EU objections to the process is that the US chicken wash is used in place of imposing welfare standards (the birds are crowded, dirty and often treated with antibiotics, so the wash is needed to deal with contaminating bacteria). Many other US agricultural practices e.g. indoor mega-farms and the use of antibiotics (with their potential for generating resistant bacterial populations) also seem to play fast and loose with safety in pursuit of profits. One thing is certain and that is that much of UK agriculture would find it very hard to compete against cheap US food imports. It is very much a different culture.
It must be the Ides of March! I am normally only too happy to get my news from the BBC but I have become increasingly irate about, what appears to me, their sycophantic coverage of the successful launch of the Spacex 'space taxi' from Cape Canaveral in Florida
(https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-42969020. The gushing interviews of space industry-supporting folk (without any balancing opinions) advocated the view that this development might well lead to a 'democratisation' of space travel (anyone could go, if they can afford the mega-bucks involved!) and we could possibly book flights on an app, in the same way we currently book an Uber taxi. Quite apart from the improbability of some of these claims, no mention was made of the likely impact of this activity (if scaled up in that way) on climate change (air travel is a quite modest 'greenhouse gas' emitter by comparison) . But, then, the people likely to suffer most from climate change are not likely to be rich enough to book a space taxi. There does seem to be a lack of joined-up thinking on this issue.
Friday, 1 March 2019
Plans to expand London's Heathrow airport apparently involve many of the additional flights passing over Richmond Park (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/feb/28/heathrow-expansion-plan-involves-planes-over-richmond-park). This will result in a marked increase in the stresses to which the animal (as well as the human) occupants are exposed. I appreciate that there might be some adaptation with time but the effects will be entirely negative. Also, when trying to do something meaningful about the release of 'greenhouse gases', the last thing you need is more airline activity.
There are always new oddities to be discovered in Science. Researchers have now identified a second set of twins (this time before birth) who are neither identical nor fraternal (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2019/feb/27/scientists-stunned-discovery-semi-identical-twins). The boy and girl who shared a placenta, are sesquizygotic, as established by genetic studies of their embryological membranes, being the result of 2 sperm fertilising a single egg. The surviving products of the fertilisation essentially receive identical maternal but different paternal genes.
The Bristol zoo proposal to put both Brown bears and wolves into an area of ancient British woodland for the first time in hundreds of ye...
A combination of night rain and day-time sun has resulted in more Bynea blooms. The Southern marsh orchid ( Dactylorhiza praetermissa...
A recent UK study looking at genetic-predispositions for producing elevated testosterone levels has apparently confirmed the view that t...
A study has estimated that the emissions of 'greenhouse gases' generated by fracking in the UK would be equivalent to the life-t...