Everything is energy, including Earth and everything in and on it. Awesome look at the interwoven energetic systems of our planet from TED-Ed.
Here and there awareness is growing that man, far from being the overlord of all creation, is himself part of nature, subject to the same cosmic forces that control all other life. Man’s future welfare and probably even his survival depend upon his learning to live in harmony, rather than in combat, with these forces.
Last Week Tonight with John Oliver pretty much nails the television news media’s treatment of the climate change (non)debate.
Come for the Bill Nye cameo, stay for the overwhelming weight of scientific evidence and universal consensus showing that man-made climate change is real and happening now.
Another way to sum up the problem with how climate change science is represented by the news: We have to tune in to comedy shows to get a straight look at the facts.
"[E]veryone’s an environmentalist — and yet the environment appears to be in worse shape than ever. The problems of the seventies are back with a vengeance, often transposed into new landscapes, and new ones have joined them. Species we hardly knew existed are dying off en masse; oceans are acidifying in what sounds like the plot of a second-rate horror movie; numerous fisheries have collapsed or are on the brink; freshwater supplies are scarce in regions home to half the world’s population; agricultural land is exhausted of nutrients; forests are being leveled at staggering rates; and, of course, climate change looms over all.
These aren’t issues that can be fixed by slapping a filter on a smokestack. They’re certainly not about hugging trees or hating people. To put it bluntly, we’re confronted with the fact that human activity has transformed the entire planet in ways that are now threatening the way we inhabit it — some of us far more than others. And it’s not particularly helpful to talk in generalities: the idea that The Environment is some entity that can be fixed with A Solution is part of the problem.
The category “environmental problems” contains multitudes, and their solutions don’t always line up: water shortages in Phoenix are a different matter than air pollution in Los Angeles, disappearing wetlands in Louisiana, or growing accumulations of atmospheric carbon. So instead of laying out some kind of template for a sustainable future, I argue that there’s no way to get there without tackling environmentalism’s old stumbling blocks: consumption and jobs. And the way to do that is through a universal basic income.
Every Birdy Must Get Stoned
Gizmodo has a fascinating and mildly creepy story about Tanzania’s Lake Natron titled “Any Animal That Touches This Lethal Lake Turns to Stone.” It features the haunting black and white photos of Nick Brandt, who placed the calcified carcasses of dead fauna in “living” poses above the alkaline salt lake that was the likely cause of their demise. The whole gallery’s got a very “Weeping Angels" vibe to it, eh?
There’s just one catch. Lake Natron shouldn’t really be called a “lethal lake”, because not every living thing that touches it turns to stone. But it is one of the most interesting bodies of water on this here planet, and a very important one, if you happen a flamingo.
Lake Natron is fed from underground hot springs, which keep its temperature near 50-60˚C. The shallow lake also has an extremely high pH, approaching that of an ammonia solution (pH 10-11). This is because of the high levels of sodium carbonate and sodium bicarbonate that are dissolved in its sweltering waters, along with a host of other mineral salts.
It’s those mineral salts that give the lake its name (“natron" is another name for a mix of soda ash and other minerals) and its rather lethal reputation. Most animals know that it’s a good idea to avoid Natron’s caustic waters, on account of how bathing in ammonia is discouraged by 10 out of 10 dermatologists. Fail to heed that warning? Brandt’s photos show the consequence.
But as we have seen so many times, no matter how inhospitable a place on Earth may seem, Mother Nature operates strictly under what I call the Ian Malcolm Principle:
Numerous salt-loving algae call Lake Natron home, their pink and red hues staining the serene saline slough a shade of reddish orange:
This color (let’s call it “roseblood”) is common in salt lakes around the world, perhaps most famously in Australia’s Hutt Lagoon, which glows Pepto-Bismol pink thanks to a microbe named Dunaliella salina:
But little pink microbial aliens aren’t the only biology that Lake Natron is host to. They attract a much larger form of life, one that shares the pink hue of its smallest residents: The lesser flamingo (Phoenicopterus minor):
Lesser flamingos feed on salt-loving pink algae, spirulina and other halophiles, filtering food as small as two hundredths of an inch in diameter using its unique filter-like beak. And like Goose (from Top Gun, not the bird), they do it while inverted. The skin on the flamingos’ legs has adapted specially to resist burns from this high pH water. It’s one of the more basic tales of evolution (puns!), if you think about it.
Lake Natron’s waters are so inhospitable to other animals (as Brandt’s photos demonstrate), that lesser flamingos have sort of cornered the real estate market. It’s their primary breeding ground. That means the future of their species literally depends on this place. Good thing they’ve got it all to themselves!
Except that they might not. Not for much longer, anyway. A few members of our own species see money in Lake Natron’s mineral deposits and want to set up industrial plants to extract them from the water. Tanzania’s government is pushing hard to build factories there. And that doesn’t even begin to include the effects that a changing climate could have on Lake Natron, flooding its delicate balance with excess rain, or drying it up completely.
It’s painfully ironic that the very chemistry that makes Lake Natron such a perfect home for the lesser flamingo, those same alkaline salts that have directed their evolution and the history of their whole species, could be the cause of the bird’s demise. If we aren’t careful, Brandt’s photos might foretell the future of one of the one animal that breathes life into this deadly lake.
(painting by C.G. Finch-Davies)
Anything else you’re interested in is not going to happen if you can’t breathe the air and drink the water. Don’t sit this one out. Do something. You are by accident of fate alive at an absolutely critical moment in the history of our planet.
Carpe that diem, folks. You know how on the subway, they say “If you see something, say something”?
Well, if you see something about the planet that you’d like to change, do something. You’ve been given the gift of being right here, right now, so why not make the most of it?