Tag Archives | Nature

Putting a Price on Nature

If we “do the math,” we can preserve that amorphous thing popularly referred to as “nature,” according to Anna Lieb at PBS Nova:

I’ve done the math, and for $1.20, you can preserve a 19-inch by 19-inch square of rainforest habitat—home, on average, to 0.000006 long-tailed macaques and 0.0000001 pangolins. All you have to do is pay a bit more for palm oil, found in roughly half of all grocery store items: chocolate bars, cereal, and lipstick, to name a few.

Palm oil plantation. Photo: Achmad Rabin Taim (CC)

Palm oil plantation. Photo: Achmad Rabin Taim (CC)

 

“Most people probably consume some palm oil every day,” says David Wilcove, a professor of ecology at Princeton University. The ubiquitous stuff is squeezed from the fruit of trees whose rapidly expanding cultivation has infamously contributed to widespread deforestation in southeast Asia, and increasingly, parts of South America and Africa.

derived the numbers above from a study appearing this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), part of a collection authored by over 80 researchers from 50 institutions spanning ten different countries.

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Aesthetics, Immanuel Kant & Imagination

Irving Guyer

Does an artist perceive or invent his creation? How does imagination relate to freedom, beauty and nature?
Paul Guyer talks to four by three about the relationship between aesthetics and morality in the work of Immanuel Kant, Hegel’s rejection thereof and Schopenhauer’s positive conception of the aesthetic experience.


four by three: A substantial part of your work as a philosopher has been in the field of aesthetics. What motivated you to start working on this discipline of philosophy?

Paul Guyer: In hindsight, three things.  First, I started taking classes with Stanley Cavell as a freshman at Harvard (his large humanities class, some of the material from which turned up forty years later in his last book, Cities of Words). Cavell did not teach any conventional aesthetics in that course, or at any time during my undergraduate and graduate years at Harvard, but his title was ‘Professor of Aesthetics and General Theory of Value,’ and that may have both piqued my interest and licensed the subject of aesthetics for me.… Read the rest

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Which Life Form Dominates Earth?

Springtails can be smaller than a pinhead (Credit: Sinclair Stammers / NPL)

Springtails can be smaller than a pinhead (Credit: Sinclair Stammers / NPL)

Nic Fleming Via BBC:

We humans tend to assume we rule the Earth. With our advanced tool making, language, problem solving and social skills, and our top predator status, we like to think of ourselves as the dominant life form on the planet.

But are we?

There are organisms that are significantly more numerous, cover more of the Earth’s surface and make up more of its living biomass than us. We are certainly having major impacts in most corners of the globe and on its other inhabitants.

But are there are other living things that are quietly having greater, more significant influences? Who or what is really in charge?

If world domination is a numbers game, few can compare with tiny six-legged, shrimp-like springtails, or Collembola. Ranging from 0.25-10mm in length, there are typically around 10,000 per square metre of soil, rising to as many as 200,000 per square metre in some places.

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Magic mushrooms ‘less harmful than thought’ and should be reclassified, says leading psychiatrist

RuthArt (CC BY 2.0)

RuthArt (CC BY 2.0)

Charlie Cooper via The Independent:

Psychedelic drugs including LSD and magic mushrooms are much less harmful than has been claimed, and should be reclassified to make it easier for scientists to research their potential benefits, a leading psychiatrist has said.

Promising medical research into psychedelics ground to a halt as long ago as 1967, when they were made illegal amid widespread concern about their psychological and social harms.

However, writing in the BMJ, psychiatrist Dr James Rucker, said that no evidence had ever shown the drugs to be habit-forming. There is also little evidence of harm when used in controlled settings, and a wealth of studies indicating that they have uses in the treatment of common psychiatric disorders, he said.

Researchers are beginning to look again at how LSD and psilocybin – the active compound in magic mushrooms – might be of benefit in the treatment of addiction, for obsessive compulsive disorder and even, according to one small Swiss study, to alleviate the symptoms of anxiety in terminally ill patients.

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Mysterious Anti-electron Clouds Inside Thunderstorm

Daniel Mösch (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Daniel Mösch (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Via Fosters.com:

DURHAM — A terrifying few moments flying into the top of an active thunderstorm in a research aircraft has led to an unexpected discovery that could help explain the longstanding mystery of how lightning gets initiated inside a thunderstorm.

University of New Hampshire physicist Joseph Dwyer and lightning science colleagues from the University of California at Santa Cruz and Florida Tech describe the turbulent encounter and discovery in a paper to be published in the Journal of Plasma Physics.

In August 2009, Dwyer and colleagues were aboard a National Center for Atmospheric Research Gulfstream V when it inadvertently flew into the extremely violent thunderstorm—and, it turned out, through a large cloud of positrons, the antimatter opposite of electrons, that should not have been there.

To encounter a cloud of positrons without other associated physical phenomena such as energetic gamma-ray emissions was completely unexpected, thoroughly perplexing and contrary to currently understood physics.

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Nature’s Global Warming Fix

Mikael Miettinen (CC BY 2.0)

Mikael Miettinen (CC BY 2.0)

Robert Hunziker writes at CounterPunch:

Mother Earth has experienced five extinction events, but she’s still standing.

Like a prizefighter, she is the Milky Way Galaxy Grand Champion.

Our tenacious planet is armed to fight and conquer global warming without fancy gadgets or special geo-engineering techniques. She can do it on her own, having proven herself time and again, restoring one extinction event after another, and the rest.

We only have to give her a chance, some elbow room to strut her stuff.

Good news, there is no reason to go thru another extinction event to see if nature still has “her stuff.” She does!

In large measure, it’s about dirt versus soil: “Absent carbon and critical microbes, soil becomes mere dirt, a process of deterioration that’s been rampant around the globe. Many scientists say that regenerative agricultural practices can turn back the carbon clock, reducing atmospheric CO2 while also boosting soil productivity and increasing resilience to floods and drought.

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Iconic boab trees trace journeys of ancient Aboriginal people

Legend tells that huge hollow boabs were used as prisons in north west Australia. Robyn Jay/Flickr, CC BY-SA

Legend tells that huge hollow boabs were used as prisons in north west Australia. Robyn Jay/Flickr, CC BY-SA

Haripriya Rangan, Monash University

Baobabs, the iconic bottle trees of Africa and Madagascar, have a single relative, the boab, living in the Kimberley region of northwest Australia. No one knows when and how the boab came across from Africa to Australia, or why its natural range is limited to this region.

In a study published recently in PLOS ONE, we solve one part of this mystery by showing that ancient Aboriginal peoples were responsible for spreading the boab in the Kimberley.

The boab mystery

An early hypothesis was that baobabs existed in parts of the supercontinent of Gondwana, which split up and became Africa, Madagascar and Australia more than 50 million years ago. This was not very convincing because, for one thing, peninsular India was part of that massive continental break-up, but does not have any of its own baobab species.… Read the rest

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This Is Absolutely Terrifying: “There Are Really Only Two Big Patches of Intact Forest Left on Earth”

Alias 0591 (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Alias 0591 (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Lindsay Abrams writes at Salon:

Can a forest that exists only in the spaces between roads and patches cleared for human settlement and agricultural development truly be called a forest?

Not so much, say researchers studying the growing, global problem of forest fragmentation. And the “persistent, deleterious and often unpredicted” consequences of human activity, finds a new study conducted by a team off 24 international scientists, and funded by the National Science Foundation, may be ruinous for plant and animal life.

“There are really only two big patches of intact forest left on Earth — the Amazon and the Congo — and they shine out like eyes from the center of the map,” lead author Nick Haddad, a professor at North Carolina State University, told the New Yorker.

“Nearly 20 percent of the world’s remaining forests are the distance of a football field — or about 100 meters — away from forest edges,” he elaborated in a statement.

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The Octopus Tree of Oregon

Alicia Mueller (CC BY 2.0)

Alicia Mueller (CC BY 2.0)

The Octopus Tree, a Sitka Spruce, is located on the Oregon coast, only a few hundred feet from the Cape Meares Lighthouse. The tree is suspected to be between 250 – 300 years old.

How the Spruce came to be shaped like an octopus is unknown, but there are two popular theories. Some suspect that it was used formed by Native Americans to hold canoes and the dead. Others think it was just formed by extreme weather.

The sign posted in front of the tree reads:

The Forces that shaped this unique Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis) have been debated for many years. Whether natural events or possible Native Americans were the cause remains a mystery.

The tree measures more than 46 feed in circumference and has no central trunk. Instead, limbs extend horizontally from the base as much as 16 feet before turning upward. It is 105 feet tall and is estimated to be 250 to 300 years old.

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