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Fossil Rock Anthem November 30, 2012

Posted by Jill S. Schneiderman in geologic time, geology.
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For those of you who like your science set to music here’s the latest from “science populariser” Tom McFadden who is on a Fulbright Scholarship at the Centre for Science Communication at the University of Otago in New Zealand.

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The Sexual Politics of Meat Redux November 29, 2012

Posted by Jill S. Schneiderman in feminism, food justice, Vegetarianism/veganism.
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Image

 

“Everything should taste like Bacon.” Really? Bacon lip balm, Baconnaise, Bacon Salt, Bacon MMMvelopes, and all of it Kosher-certified? I’m really confused. I heard this supposed-to-be cute story on NPR this morning about “Baconentrepreneurs”Justin and Dave and their line of Bacon-tasting products, the NPR story focussing specifically on Bacon Shaving Cream.

But I’m not confused on this: even without the shaving cream, it had to be a guy-gimic. And not girly guys, I mean manly men. I went to their website, to the “about” section and found, no surprise, that they characterize themselves as:

… just two regular guys who love grilling and football on Sunday afternoons, eating until we can’t get off the couch and of course, the taste of great bacon. And it’s our dream to make everything taste like bacon.

I know it’s not really bacon in their products and I know it’s supposed to be weird and satirical but I was bugged. Why encourage and try to gratify the bacon-craving? Why exploit the manly man trope? I won’t go on about these fellas.

What I really want to do is call attention to QueerVeganFood.com, a blog by Sarah E. Brown that promotes a vegan diet for the sake of improved personal and planetary health. Queer Vegan Food  is a plant-source only site, posting recipes that don’t include animal products of any kind. And it posts truly queer recipes –like chocolate-covered kelp noodles, for instance–in an effort to expand the vegan culinary world beyond vegan cuisine which imitates the non-vegan food world.

NPR should cover that!

Time Travel at Ausable Chasm November 23, 2012

Posted by Jill S. Schneiderman in geologic time.
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Today  I traveled back to a time 500 million years ago. At Ausable Chasm I descended 150 feet through layer upon layer of sandstone. Carved by glacial meltwater a mere few thousand years ago, the Ausable river now flows along the bottom of this slot canyon into Lake Champlain.

Known to some as the “Grand Canyon of the East” it really is a remarkable geological site. One drops beneath the rim that’s populated by tall spruce, fir, pine and hemlock trees and immediately steps into another time–a time when the Iapetus Ocean, ancestor of today’s Atlantic, encroached on the shore of a North American continent whose remnants we see in the high peaks of the Adirondack mountains.
 It was a sandy shore. We know this because the Potsdam sandstone exposed in the walls of Ausable Chasm  is composed of tiny quartz (SiO2) grains that are held together by quartz cement. This very  hard, compact and weather-resistant rock contains few fossils because beds of sand, unlike mud, are ill-suited for the preservation of organisms. But traces of the one-time presence of life 500million years ago are abundant in the form of tracks and trails and vertical burrows dug by animals feeding on microorganisms and detritus in the sands.

Citizen-Scientist and Meditator November 16, 2012

Posted by Jill S. Schneiderman in contemplative practice, meditation, mindfulness practice, science.
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A recent Scientific American article reports on a new study published in Annals of Family Medicine that found that adults who practiced mindful meditation or moderately intense exercise for eight weeks suffered less from seasonal ailments during the following winter than those who did not meditate or exercise.

Participants who had meditated missed 76 percent fewer days of work from September through May than did the control subjects while those who had exercised missed 48 percent fewer days during this period. The severity of respiratory ailments also differed between the two groups. Those who had meditated or exercised suffered for an average of five days while the colds of people in the control group lasted eight. According to Scientific American, lab tests confirmed that the self-reported length of colds correlated with the amounts of antibodies in the body, something considered to be a biomarker for the presence of a virus.

I’m not surprised by this report. But I am taken by the fact that, once again, your average meditating Jo, is supposed to feel validated by the fact that science confirms what she already knows to be true. That we have been forced to wait for scientists to confirm observations that are obvious, such as the fact that water that omits odors is contaminated with toxic chemicals has gotten us human beings into quite  a few predicaments. I need to look no further than the Hudson valley where I live as the U.S. EPA stops for this season it’s dredging of Hudson River sediments long contaminated with PCBs.

 

As a person who sits 30-minutes daily, I know that I am quite aware of what is going on with my body. This is not news to anyone who has a regular sitting practice. Thus, when I read the Scientific American report of the study of meditators and those who exercise regularly, I hardly thought it was news. An intuitive explanation for the fact that those who meditated or exercised suffered for a shorter period of time the colds or flus they contracted is easily explained as follows. A person who meditates is much more likely than one who does not to note the fact that she is feeling unwell; such a person then has the opportunity to choose to take the time for rest and renewal and thus shorten the period of illness. This is common sense.

 

I have no complaint with looking to science for confirmation of reality but I think we need not depend on it to the exclusion of one’s own basic powers of observations, which are of course enhanced by mindfulness practice.

Thank you graphic artist Henning Wagenbreth and coastal geologist Orrin Pilkey November 15, 2012

Posted by Jill S. Schneiderman in art, beach erosion, climate change, global warming, Hurricane Sandy, Orrin Pilkey, science, sea-level rise, slow violence.
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As a follow-up to my op-ed yesterday, “Science Fiction Science Fact,” I’d like to call to readers’ attention the Op-Ed in today’s New York Times by Orrin Pilkey. Orrin of course hits all the salient points. Blessings to him for never tiring of trying to get people to face the reality of beach erosion.

 

Significantly for me, the illustration that accompanies Orrin’s op-ed directly answers my final imploring question: “Will an artist please render that scientific fact?” [The fact of inevitable beach erosion]. Graphic artist Henning Wagenbreth has done so. His image shows a dark storm cloud exhaling wind above a stormy sea whose waves tickle the feet of a fleeing beach house that carries with it an uprooted tree and automobile.  With words and images, Pilkey and Wagebreth bring science and art together to once again try to capture the reality of today and tomorrow.

Science Fiction and Science Fact November 14, 2012

Posted by Jill S. Schneiderman in beach erosion, climate change, Ecozoic, Hurricane Sandy, Orrin Pilkey.
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Cross-posted on Truthout.org

Long before teenagers were imbibing dystopian fiction with unquenchable gusto, my teenage cohort was captivated by Planet of the Apes, the 1968 sci-fi film in which a crew of astronauts crash-lands on an unknown planet in the distant future. More recently, a photograph of a person walking by the remains of a roller coaster in Seaside Heights, New Jersey, demolished by Hurricane Sandy reminded me of the final scene of the film; two human beings along the shore in the “Forbidden Zone”—a region outside of “Ape City” that has remained quarantined for centuries subject to an ancient taboo—stumble upon the charred and buried remains of the Statue of Liberty. Thus they realize that the “alien” planet that was once supposedly the home of other humans is in fact the post-apocalyptic Earth.


David Gard / Associated Press 

Still from closing scene of Planet of the Apes.

Now I don’t mean to be overly dramatic. But if scientists can’t convince the powers that be that our manner of inhabiting this planet is unskillful, perhaps artists can help conjur some sense of forboding.

It’s the beginnng of week three of post-Sandy life here in the New York/New Jersey metro region and plenty of people unfortunately are still suffering the effects. News coverage has focused national attention on the role of climate change in worsening the effects of the hurricane. But there’s another important lesson we shouldn’t miss: beaches are the most dynamic geomorphic feature on the surface of the Earth and we build fixed structures there at our peril.

My hero, Orrin Pilkey, professor emeritus of geology and of earth and ocean sciences at Duke University says that part of the problem is that “we scientists tend to be dullards when it comes to selling our case.” Nonetheless, we have a responsibility to try to do so. As a coastal geologist who has long advocated for retreat as a strategic response to beach erosion, Orrin has definitely done his part. Coining the term “New Jerseyization” to describe the results of unimpeded development and expensive attempts to stabilize beaches with sandbags, groins, jetties, seawalls or “renourish” them with pumped sand, Orrin has been as relentless as the sea in trying to make the point. Check out his warning in the October 1983 issue of Popular Science: “We have two mutually exclusive choices: beaches or buildings. We can’t have both.” And if you want even more on this subject, in The Corps and the Shore (1996) Pilkey and colleague Katharine Dixon examine comprehensively the impact of coastal processes on developed shorelines.

But the fundamental scientific fact is this: beaches move. Look at the image below to see the substantial westward migration of Breezy Point spit, Rockaway, Queens, New York in less than 150 years.NPS display at Fort Tilden NPS Visitors Center, Rockaway, Queens, NY

 

Like it or not, do not doubt that the future will provide photo-ops for Planet of the Ape-like shoreline scenes if we persist in arming beaches with sea walls, groins or jetties and continue to dump more sand on beaches from which we refuse to relocate. Will an artist please render that scientific fact?

Who Does’t Need a Sabbatical? November 13, 2012

Posted by Jill S. Schneiderman in sabbatical.
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An upublished Letter to the Editor of the New York Times, re: Hillary’s Next Move
To the Editor:

Re: Secretary Clinton’s comment: “I just want to sleep and exercise and travel for fun. And relax. It sounds so ordinary, but I haven’t done it for 20 years.”
It sounds to me like Hillary Clinton intends to take a sabbatical. I’m a college professor on a seventh semester sabbatical right now. Academics fortunate enough to teach at institutions that grant sabbaticals are eligible every seventh semester or every seventh year. This makes sense given that the word “sabbatical” derives from the word “sabbath,” a time for rest, reflection, and renewal. Many academics forget this and rush to try to accomplish something during a sabbatical. But the real rejuvenation comes from embracing  the ordinary sleep, exercise and fun to which Secretary Clinton refers and in which I’m currently engaged. I just wish that Hillary Clinton hadn’t had to wait twenty years for the opportunity. And I wish that all human beings might be granted  opportunities to take needed rest from the demands of daily life. All life on the planet, and the planet itself, would benefit from regular rest and reflection.

Listen! The Earth Breathes! November 8, 2012

Posted by Jill S. Schneiderman in Anthropocene, climate change, earth system science, Ecozoic, environmentalism, global warming, Hurricane Sandy, hydrologic cycle, science, sea-level rise, Teilhard de Chardin.
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This piece appears in Shambhala SunSpace.

Like many millions of people around the world, I was captivated by President Barack Obama’s election night victory speech. And my heart cheered when I heard the President say, “we want our children to live in an America that…. isn’t threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet.” Maybe the Earth has now, finally, made itself heard on the issue of the disastrous implications of global warming for all beings that live on this planet.

I’ve always favored scientist James Lovelock’s Gaia hypothesis that organisms interact with their inorganic surroundings on Earth to form a self-regulating complex system that contributes to maintaining conditions for life on the planet. And I’ve also been a big fan of Vice-President Gore’s book,   An Inconvenient Truth, especially because he makes so clear that the Earth actually breathes. “It’s as if the entire Earth takes a big breath in and out once each year,” he wrote in referring to the Keeling Curve, the diagram by scientist Charles David Keeling that shows not only the overall increase in CO2 in the atmosphere starting in the late 1950s based on measurements of atmospheric CO2 at Mauna Loa, Hawaii but also the annual cycle of increase and decrease of CO2 in the atmosphere that results from the growth and decay of vegetation.

And now at the risk of committing the sin of anthropomorphism (attributing human motivation to an inanimate subject), I’ll suggest that Earth itself cast a vote in this election.

Some pundits say that “Superstorm Sandy” helped the President win the election partly because of his compassionate and competent response to the crisis. I’m no poll, so I don’t know. I hope only that this election marks our movement into a new geologic Era thatJesuit paleontologist Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955) once proposed:  the Ecozoic, a new era of mutually enhancing human-earth relations.

In The Long Road Turns to JoyThich Nhat Hanh wrote:

You will be like the tree of life.
Your leaves, trunk, branches,
And the blossoms of your soul
Will be fresh and beautiful,
Once you enter the practice of
Earth Touching.

May the re-election of Barack Obama usher in the Ecozoic Era, a period in which we listen attentively to what the Earth tells us and live the understanding that we breathing humans are the breathing Earth.

From Science and Art, Global Warming is Real November 2, 2012

Posted by Jill S. Schneiderman in Anthropocene, art, climate change, disasters, global warming, Hurricane Sandy, science, sea-level rise.
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Friday, 02 November 2012 13:14 By Jill S Schneiderman, SpeakOut | Op-Ed

So what if global warming isn’t directly responsible for “superstorm Sandy”? Let’s not get hung up on that minor detail.

Because the planet has warmed–the average surface temperature of the Earth rose 1.08°F to 1.62°F (0.6 to 0.9 °C) between 1906 and 2006— the cryosphere has melted, moving H2O from the ice caps to the oceans.

Markers show the dramatic retreat of the
Athabasca Glacier, photo Judd Patterson

And seawater has literally expanded. As a result, sea level has risen—worldwide measurements of sea level show a rise of about 0.56 feet ((0.17 meters) during the twentieth century.

Earlier this week Hurricane Sandy pushed the sea onto land in coastal regions that are today more “low-lying” than they were a century ago. Images are still coming in of the devastation caused by such mass movement of water along parts of the northeastern coast. Earth behaved as predicted and revealed the increased risk to which we have subjected ourselves.

At a time when scientists have been convicted of not making good predictions may I be the first to congratulate Dr. Jianjun Yin, a climate modeler at the Center for Ocean-Atmospheric Prediction Studies (COAPS) at Florida State University, and colleagues Michael Schlesinger of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Ronald Stouffer of Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory at Princeton University? In 2009 these folks published their analysis of data from ten state-of-the-art climate models and warned that, considering its population density and the potential socioeconomic consequences of such changes, the northeast coast of the U.S. is one of the areas most vulnerable to changes in sea level and ocean circulation.

Yin and his colleagues advised that, since much of the New York City metro region is less than 16 feet above mean sea level—with some parts of lower Manhattan only about 5 feet above it—a sea level rise of eight inches could be catastrophic. New York City would be at great risk, they added, for damage from hurricanes and winter storm surge (emphasis mine). Yin et al are the Hurricane Sandy analogs of scientists at Louisiana State University whose models of storm tracks led a reporter for Scientific American to presage in 2001 “New Orleans is a disaster waiting to happen.”

Yin’s study, “Model Projections of Rapid Sea-Level Rise on the Northeast Coast of the United States,” produced this artist’s rendering of a flooded Manhattan.

But the images below are no artist’s rendering. They are photographs of water inundating the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s new South Ferry Terminal.

The trees and map along the walls are part of a site-specific art installation, See it Split, See it Change (2005-2008) made of fused glass, mosaic marble, and stainless steel by Doug and Mike Starn. The work of these artists has articulated themes of impermanence and transience.

Let’s heed the message from both science and art. Can we all just pay attention to the Earth?