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Showing posts from September, 2014

Over one century of the science of human-caused climate change

How long has science been concerned about greenhouse gases? Originally posted to Helium Network on Feb. 10, 2013. Updated September 2020. Public domain image by NASA. Earth's western hemisphere, as seen from space. © Wikimedia Commons. The metaphor of the Earth's atmosphere as a greenhouse was born in the nineteenth century when it was discovered that atmospheric gases trap heat.  So-called greenhouse gases — including carbon dioxide, water vapor, and methane — permit short-wave radiation from the sun to pass through to the Earth but prevent long-wave radiation from the Earth from departing into space. (The metaphor is a bit of a misnomer, as part of what makes a greenhouse hot is the heating of the glass itself, whereas clearly Earth is not surrounded by glass.) All other things being equal, the temperature will rise as more greenhouse gases are added to the atmosphere. This is linked to a complex set of natural processes. For example, carbon dioxide, a byproduc

Did you ignore climate change today?

George Marshall, founder of the Climate Outreach and Information Network (COIN) based on Oxford, England, gave his first book talk on Sept. 3 at the Harvard Book Store in Cambridge, Mass. about his new book, Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains are Wired to Ignore Climate Change. The book is timely, with the massive demonstration called the People's Climate March scheduled for this Sunday, Sept. 21, 2014 in New York City, in advance of the international climate summit that will begin two days later. Coming from an anthropological point of view, with experience as a communicator about climate change, Marshall's opening question is: "What explains our ability to separate what we know from what we believe, to put aside the things that seem too painful to accept? How is it possible, when presented with overwhelming evidence, even the evidence of our own eyes, that we can deliberately ignore something — while being entirely aware that this is what we are doing?&

'God Is Not One': A book on acknowledging religious differences

Religions are different. They have different aims and fill different needs. It is respectful to acknowledge this, rather than to pretend otherwise, says Stephen Prothero. Originally posted to Helium Network on May 7, 2010. "No one argues that different economic systems or political regimes are one and the same," Stephen Prothero says in the opening to his 2010 book God is Not One:   The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World - and Why Their Differences Matter . "Yet scholars continue to claim that religious rivals such as Hinduism and Islam, Judaism and Christianity are, by some miracle of the imagination, essentially the same..." Writing in response to a philosophy embraced by academia after Huston Smith's 1958 book "The World's Religions", Prothero aims to explain, to the contrary, why religious differences are significant and important. Prothero says he teaches his students to use a four-part analytical framework: each religion identifies

Stuck in the globe

The first matter of business is that we are stuck here. We are on Earth, and only light comes in here. Unlike an aquarium, this little world [a sealed glass globe containing shrimp and algae] is a closed ecological system. Light gets in, but nothing else--no food, no water, no nutrients. Everything must be recycled. Just like the Earth. In our larger world, we also--plants and animals and microorganisms--live off each other, breathe and eat each other's wastes, depend on one another. Life on our world, too, is powered by light. Light from the Sun, which passes through the clear air, is harvested by plants and powers them to combine carbon dioxide and water into carbohydrates and other foodstuffs, which in turn provide the staple diet of the animals. - Carl Sagan We work hard to survive, and often we work hard for our mutual destruction, too. Yet somehow we human beings, made of the same material as the stars, the eucalyptus, the jaguar, and the rose, we who inherit four bill

Start with an idea

"All beliefs are bald ideas," said the French painter and poet 
Francis Picabia. It means that a belief is the starting point of an idea, but it takes a little bit extra to turn a belief into a full-fledged idea. Do we need ideas? For writing, certainly, and yes, indeed, for life itself. Ideas are like little magnetic building blocks that attract each other and click together. Eventually they make something worth having, doing or being. We don’t do anything without an idea. So they’re beautiful gifts. And I always say, you desiring an idea is like a bait on a hook — you can pull them in. And if you catch an idea that you love, that’s a beautiful, beautiful day. And you write that idea down so you won’t forget it. And that idea that you caught might just be a fragment of the whole — whatever it is you’re working on — but now you have even more bait. Thinking about that small fragment — that little fish — will bring in more, and they’ll come in and they’ll hook on. And more

The constraint of the truth: Jonah Lehrer's over-imaginative book on creativity

When Jonah Lehrer's third book, Imagine: How Creativity Works, imploded and took its author down with it, it had already sold hundreds of thousands of copies during the first half of 2012. The book has some merits despite Lehrer's admitted partial fabrication of its content, but overall it remains under the pall of scandal. Originally published to Helium Network on Aug. 20, 2012. Lying The difficulty was that Michael C. Moynihan, another journalist with a keen interest in Bob Dylan, had attempted to track down the source of Lehrer's material about the singer-songwriter. Eventually, despite Lehrer's claims to have found the quotes in unreleased footage, Moynihan had proved that the alleged Bob Dylan interview didn't exist. "I'm deeply sorry for lying," Lehrer told Moynihan. The story was revealed in Moynihan's article in "Tablet Magazine" on July 30, 2012. The Bob Dylan quotes aren't the only ones that are suspect. Lehrer ha