Monthly Archives: November 2013

Caribou Cam Proves Reindeer Are Real

Every now and then, more often than you might expect, I mention something in lecture (usually in a classroom in front of students) and a small number of individuals express incredulity that the thing exists. Pygmies are one of those terms that garners disbelief. Many people assume they are made up. At the same time, a disconcerting number of times the opposite happens. Mermaids, aliens, dragons, Atlantis, etc. are not real but many students, educated by the History and Discovery channels, apparently, (I don’t watch them but I hear things), think they are.

Strangely, one of the things that people often think to be fiction is the venerable Reindeer. The first part of this confusion may be that we use two words for them: Reindeer and Caribou. Also, since Caribou is now a kind of coffee shop, there may be additional confusion.

Anyway, reindeer are real, and caribou too. And, the Como Zoo in Saint Paul, Minnesota has set up a web cam that lets you watch some of the deer (caribou is kind of deer, of which there are many) live. They don’t do a lot, but they are cute.

Click here to watch the Reindeer Cam, which really should be called the Caribou Cam but maybe they tried to use that term but got sued by some coffee shop, I don’t know.

What does the fox say?

Did you know that a fox’s tail is called a “brush”?

There are 12 species of fox, but 37 different dogish animals are called fox. But somewhere along the line we figured out what true fox is, and there are only 12 of them. These are member of the genus “Vulpes.” Vulpes is Latin for … wait for it … fox. Something that is fox-like is “vulpine.”

What does the fox say? They bark (sort of), scream, and sometimes they howl.

Here’s a red fox screaming. May not be work safe, depending on where you work:

In the case of the television network, FOX, the fox says “bla bla bla” and no one quite knows why. Or what it means.

A Russian scientist named Belyaev ran a series of experiments that included breeding foxes that had somewhat tame behavior (i.e., the pups tended to bite less) and in so doing invented a dog. It wasn’t really a dog, but it was dog like in some interesting ways, and it barked more.

In popular culture, of course, the fox does this:

#ClimateThanks Meme Heats Up

An Update on #ClimateThanks.

Heather Libby has a nice piece on Climate Thanks here. The Denialists have started to spam the hashtag with their insipid, unoriginal drek. Tallbloke, whom I do indeed consider to be a criminal (as are the rest of them) carrying out crimes against humanity (he sued me once for saying that, which was totally lame) has even joined in, as have some members of the SlymePit adding that special MRA-Science Denailist crossover stink to the mix. But for the most part it is just good people thanking other good people for doing good stuff having to do with climate science and global warming and such.

Also, Climate Thanks now has a twitter account, named @ClimateThanks. You can follow them.

Go to Twitter and thank somebody!

Thank you very much.

Screen Shot 2013-11-27 at 6.59.34 PM

I for one welcome our new Lesbian Overlords

Did you know that there is a “Lesbian Apocalypse” coming? No? I didn’t either, but apparently there is one. From Wipedia:

Catherine “Cathy” Brennan is an attorney in the state of Maryland and a prominent supporter of “trans-critical” radical feminism. Her main accomplishment in this regard is coauthoring a letter to the United Nations, insisting that trans people’s gender identity should not be legally recognized and protected. She is also a frequent columnist for Baltimore OUTloud’s LGBTQ blog section, which she uses to warn of the coming “lesbian annihilation” at the hands of “the queers” and trans people and stridently argue against legislation protecting gender identity.

I received a note from Secular Women linking to a petition to the Southern Poverty Law Center asking for the SPLC to treat Brennan’s organization as a hate group. Having never heard of trans-critical radical feminism, I worried at first that this was one of those awful breakdowns among allies (in this case, feminists) over how some issue or another is being handled, which had escalated to the extreme outcome of labeling a group with different views but within the same movement as a hate group. This didn’t seem like something Secular Women would do. So, I followed the links and read up on it a bit, and apparently this is a thing. Here’s the letter I got from Secular Women:

Southern Poverty Law Center:
Monitor “Gender Identity Watch”
as a Hate Group

As a feminist organization, Secular Woman promotes gender equality. We stand against and combat sexism, hate, intolerance, and misogyny.

Transgender women are women.

Cisgender women are women.

We do not, in any way, view the existence of transgender women, genderqueer individuals or transgender men as a threat to the safety of women, female identity, or the goals of feminism.

As intersectional feminists we acknowledge the privilege that cisgender people experience. We aim to dismantle the axis of oppression that this represents.
Unfortunately, not all who claim the label “feminist” agree with us. They do not represent us and we reject their actions and views as unethical and devoid of reason.
We stand in opposition.

Members of our community have been targeted by trans-exclusionary radical feminists (TERFs). Personal information such as former names, current legal names, and photographs have been compiled and displayed on the website “Name the Problem”. Several of the entries are self-attributed to “Pegasus” (“PegasusBug” is a pseudonym of Cathy Brennan, the head of Gender Identity Watch). This information was presented alongside reports describing rapists and batterers of women.

Countless others, including members of transgender advocacy groups have reported similar treatment, as well as other alarming behavior, such as Cathy Brennan contacting employers, schools and medical doctors of transgender women, girls and young men.

This is unacceptable.

It is anathema to our vision of a future in which women have the opportunities and resources they need to participate openly and confidently in every aspect of society.
Cathy Brennan’s tactics, as described, are reprehensible, reckless, and irresponsible as they have the potential to embolden violence and harassment of those she targets and to result in job loss and other discrimination informed by the open knowledge of the target’s transgender status.

Refusal to afford transgender women inclusion, safety, and civil rights is a form of misogyny that is antithetical to feminism.

We invite fellow feminists and secularists, as well as others concerned, to proactively affirm the inclusion of all women as women. Condemn the toxic ideologies used to rationalize hate, fear, and discrimination based on gender.

Stand with us in petitioning the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) to track the activities of Cathy Brennan’s Gender Identity Watch as a hate group in accordance with SPLC’s stated mission.

Signed in Solidarity,

Secular Woman
Stop Abuse Online

Trinity Aodh, Melody Hensley, M. A. Melby, Veronica K. Berglyd Olsen, Kim Rippere, Mary Ellen Sikes, Dana Lane Taylor

Please sign the petition here!

Click through to follow the documenting links. Sign the petition.

Interactive Graphic: growing fossil fuel reserves v. shrinking global carbon budget

This just in:

New Oil Change International interactive graphic shows growing fossil fuel reserves in contrast to shrinking global carbon budget

WASHINGTON, DC – New analysis by Oil Change International shows that global fossil fuel reserves continue to expand while the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and other scientific and industry analysts repeatedly show that our remaining budget for burning fossil fuels has shrunk to less than one third of existing reserves.

The Oil Change analysis shows that fossil fuel companies gained access to more than twice as much in fossil fuels as they produced between 2007 and 2011. They replaced the 377 billion barrels of oil equivalent (BOE) consumed and added another 415 billion BOE on top of that.

The numbers are presented in a new interactive online graphic, which can be found at

“The first rule of holes is simple: when you’re in one, stop digging. We are in a huge hole when it comes to the climate and yet we continue digging our way to climate catastrophe,” said Stephen Kretzmann, Executive Director of Oil Change International. “There is no logical reason to continue expanding our fossil fuel reserves; doing so only continues to line the pockets of Big Oil, Gas and Coal executives while putting our communities and planet in peril.”

Oil and gas companies in particular continue to spend billions to explore for new reserves, bolstered by massive subsidies from governments. Recent estimates of subsidies for fossil fuel production range from the hundreds of millions to many billions per year.

“Our governments continue to use massive amounts of taxpayer dollars to incentivize exploration for new oil and gas at a time when science is telling us we already have far too much to burn,” said Kretzmann. “It’s time our leaders put an end to fossil fuel subsidies, starting immediately by ending subsidies that encourage the expansion of fossil fuel reserves.”

Join In #ClimateThanks

Here is a letter from the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication:

Dear Friends,

The Yale Project on Climate Change Communication has much to be thankful for, including wonderful support from our friends and colleagues. That is why this Thanksgiving, we’re giving #ClimateThanks. Together with the climate community, we are taking a moment to tweet or post who or what we are thankful for in the fight for a safe climate. Please tweet #ClimateThanks and help us raise awareness about the amazing things people here in the US and around the world are doing.

Starting on Monday, November 25th, as the pies bake and families start to gather, we encourage you to add your voice to the #ClimateThanks chorus.

To participate, just go to Twitter and post your #ClimateThanks messages (remember the # – you can also use this on Facebook). The more the better! If you’re thanking an organization or a person with a social media presence, let them know about your gratitude by including their twitter handle (@ipcc_ch, for example). If you’d like to highlight an example of their great work, include a shortened url to their website, recent article etc. Not sure what to post? Here are a few examples, but anything goes:

#ClimateThanks to Philippines climate negotiator @YebSano for his hunger strike for a climate deal.

#ClimateThanks to the hundreds of climate scientists volunteering thousands of unpaid hours writing the latest @IPCC_CH report

#ClimateThanks to my sister for installing #solarpanels on her roof!

Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc.

You can keep track of the conversation by following the #ClimateThanks thread. Please join us on Twitter this Thanksgiving to tell us who and what you are thankful for!


Anthony Leiserowitz, Ph.D.
Director, Yale Project on Climate Change Communication
School of Forestry & Environmental Studies
Yale University
(203) 432-4865

How much global warming is there in terms of atomic bombs? The Hiroshima Widget.


h3>One Hiroshima, Two Hiroshimas, Three Hirosimas, Four

On August 6th, 1945, the United States military detonated what was to date the largest and most terrible bomb ever created by humanity in the city of Hiroshima Japan. Since that time, the word “Hiroshima” has come to mean awesome power. In fact, the energy released by this bomb is beyond comprehension by the average person. Aside from the unbelievable power associated with that one human made machine, we also think, when we think of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, of horrible consequences arising from human activity. It does not matter what one thinks today of whether or not that bomb should have been dropped or how the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki influenced the end of World War II in the Pacific; the war was a horrible thing, and in both Germany and Japan and their captured territories the loss of human life and destruction of property needed to end the fascist regimes that controlled those countries was beyond measure.

For these reasons it seems appropriate to describe what humans are now doing with many of their other machines to the planet and by extension to themselves with the virtually unchecked alteration of the chemistry of the Earth’s atmosphere in terms of Hiroshimas. And when we do this, the result is astounding. The addition of extra greenhouse gases to the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels causes the atmosphere to retain more heat than it otherwise would. This has enormous consequences. A huge amount of the world’s water is normally trapped in glaciers, and these glaciers are melting. The ocean absorbs about 90% of this extra heat, which causes it to expand in size. Between the melting of the glaciers into the sea and the expansion of size from heat, unchecked emission of greenhouse gas will eventually cause sea level rise to the extent that most of the world’s large settlements will be inundated, and huge expanses of cropland that supply our food will be ruined. Accelerated melting of the Arctic has caused a change in weather patterns that causes “stalling” and “blocking” events to occur many times a year instead of now and then. These events cause huge floods in some areas and “flash droughts” in other areas. The additional energy added by this accidental and catastrophic transformation of our planet to the atmosphere and the sea has caused an increase in the frequency of major storms and has increased the strength of these storms on average, and in addition, tropical storms of a given magnitude have more severe effects because of sea level rise. And more problems beyond this have happened and will happen in the future.

So, how do we describe this awesome (and I use the term “awesome” with its more traditional definition, not as a good thing) increase in energy in terms of “Hiroshimas” … how many atomic bombs per unit time is equivalent to the increase in additional, unwanted energy in our atmosphere?

  • One a year?
  • Ten a year?
  • Two a month?
  • One a day?
  • Ten a day?
  • One an hour?
  • Ten an hour?
  • One a second?

No. None of those numbers. The actual amount of energy added to our atmosphere because of the effects of human-caused changes in its chemistry is four. Four Hiroshimas per second.

The Hiroshima Widget

There is now a widget you can put on your blog, or if you like, use as a Facebook or iPhone app, that demonstrates the addition of energy into our atmosphere in terms of Hiroshima’s. From the creators of the widget:


Our climate is absorbing a lot of heat. When scientists add up all of the heat warming the oceans, land, and atmosphere and melting the ice, they find our climate is accumulating 4 Hiroshima atomic bombs worth of heat every second.

This warming is due to more heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The burning of fossil fuels means we are emitting billions of tonnes of carbon dioxide every year. This is the main contributor to global warming.

To communicate the sheer amount of heat our planet is accumulating, we have created this widget, embeddable on blogs and also available as a Facebook app, an iPad app, and an iPhone app. To help get the word out on just how much global warming our planet is experiencing, add the widget to your own blog or use the widget on Facebook, like it and share it.

To get the iPhone or iPad app, visit this site on your device and use the big “Get…” button to get instructions. The app is not available through the Apple App Store.

You can get your own copy of the widget HERE.

You can find out more about it HERE.

Catching Fire. The other one.

Catching Fire is apparently a very popular book and/or movie that everyone is very excited about. But Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human is a different a book about some interesting research I was involved in about the origin of our genus, Homo.

You can pick up a copy of our paper on this page. We call it “The Cooking Hypothesis.” The basic idea can be summarized with these points:

1) Cooking food transformed human ecology. Many potential foods in the environment can’t be consumed by humans (or apes in general) without cooking. But adding cooking to our species-specific technology, we can access those foods effectively transforming our ecology to a much greater extent than the vast majority of evolutionary transitions, especially single-event transitions, have ever done. The total number of calories in the natural environment that become available to an ape that can cook goes up by orders of magnitude.

2) This increase in available calories left a biological signal that is very impressive. Two major changes happened in the hominid body (in early Homo erecuts/ergaster). One is an approximate doubling in body size from an earlier Australopithecine or “Early Homo” ancestor. The other is a reduction in tooth size. Less eating equipment with a body demanding so much more in energy to grow and maintain signals a fundamental change in the food supply. There may be more than one way this could have happened, but so far adding cooking to our technology seems to be the best explanation.

3) Related, this is when we see brain size, relative to body size and in absolute terms, increase. Neural tissue is picky, expensive, and costly. Having a significant increase in brain size may be related to the demands (on the brain) of adding cooking to our behavior in that the size increase is allowed by the extra energy. And, it may be related in that the larger brain may provide the capacity to have this behavior.

4) The actual act of cooking, as a technology, may or may not demand a larger brain. But the process of cooking almost certainly involves central place foraging (bringing all the food back to one place, much of the time, to cook it) and delayed consumption (as opposed to eating the food where you find it). The basic pattern for a chimpanzee-like ancestor is to eat the food where you find it. Bringing food into close proximity to other members of your group virtually guarantees direct competition for food, which makes getting to food to begin with a highly questionable thing to do. In order for cooking to work, the social interactions typical of an ape have to be modified significantly. Cooking demanded, facilitated, and made major changes in social structure “worth it” from the point of view of natural selection.

5) These changes in social structure are probably indicated as well by changes in stone tool technology. Early cookers also were early hand-ax makers, for example. Human ancestors went from making primarily expedient, one time use, very simple stone tools to making tools that required a great deal of investment in time and energy to learn the technology, get good at it, and even for the production of individual tools (including acquisition of better than average raw materials in many cases). Once the tools were made they seem to have been used, often, for long periods of time. It is hard to imagine a chimp-like creature carrying around a tool into which she invested time and energy without it being taken away. This is an important transformation.

6) Less visible but very likely is a change in social system which could be called the rise of proto marriage. Sexual arrangements of a human-like kind are very different than for chimp. The ability to allow others to possess food or invest in more sophisticated technologies may be parallel to the ability to have more or less exclusive sexual contracts among individuals. This is indicated independently in the fossil record by a large decrease in sexual dimorphism in body size. In polygynous species like chimps males are often much larger than females, and this seems to have been the case with pre-Homo erectus/ergaster ancestors. But at the same time the body size increase and tooth size decrease happen, we also see a reduction in sexual dimorphism in body size, strongly indicating a major change in social arrangements. The best two explanations for this may be a shift to a gibbon-like pattern of paired-off monogamous adults living more or less alone, or a human-like pattern of paired-off monogamous adults living in larger social groups.

It is an idea that would have caught on. It would have selected for more nuanced communication, and may thus have facilitated the origin of what we now know of as human language and symbolic processing.

So when you are eating your Thanksgiving dinner this year, most of which will be cooked, look around at the people at the table and, briefly, imagine them to be chimps. Then go back to your meal and try to put all those thoughts aside…

The strangest supposed “fish” yet?

I’m sure that several years ago a bunch of out of work “oceanographers” like the people here got board and started faking various “fish” that only they ever saw in the wild and only they ever photographed and that lived in the “deep” ocean where nobody could verify their existence. I assume this was a funny joke that got out of hand and now they’re stuck with having to come up with a new “fish” every so often to keep up the ruse. Here’s the latest, a fish with a see-through head:

For the first time, a large Pacific barreleye fish – complete with transparent head – has been caught on film by scientists using remotely operated vehicles at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute. The deep-sea fish’s tubular eyes pivot under a clear dome.

Has The New York Times Dropped The Ball On The Most Important Story Ever?

“Simply assuming that this is an interesting controversy that we should check in on occasionally is not correct. The survival of human civilization is at risk. The news media should be making this existential crisis the No. 1 topic they cover.”

That was Vice President Al Gore being quoted in a New York Times piece by the newspaper’s public editor, Margaret Sullivan. Sullivan’s article, “After Changes, How Green Is The Times?” examines environmental reporting since the Times dismantled its environmental reporting facility last January. Sullivan’s analysis, which seems fair, actually shows the Times as not having entirely dropped the ball, but it is clear that coverage of environmental issues since the Time scrapped its special team (called, ironically, a “pod”) to have diminished in both quantity and depth. Environmental issues have become more numerous and more important nearly every month over the last few years, and as Vice President Gore notes, there is no longer any question that these issues are existential. Seeing a drop in environmental reporting at America’s Most Important Newspaper now would be analogous to seeing a drop in reporting of World War Two after the invasion of Normandy. It is impossible, in fact, to see the New York Times being relatively blasé about the environment as something other than bad management or sloppy journalism. Seeing this sort of thing sends one to Wikipedia to find out who owns the newspaper. So I did. I was surprised. Murdock and Big Oil don’t own them, they don’t own stakes in coal mines, nothing. The company that owns the Times seems to also own the Boston Red Sox. That doesn’t explain much.

Consider for a moment what some of the most influential or important news stories have been. Looking at “top ten stories” internet lists for just 2010-2012, here’s what people have listed as the most important stories (I’ve added the term at the beginning of the phrase to place them into categories):

  • Environment: World flooding
  • Environment: Deepwater Horizon
  • Environment: Mass animal deaths
  • Environment: Ajka Alumina Plant Accident
  • Environment: Superstorm Sandy
  • Nature: Eruption of Eyjafjallajökull
  • Nature/Animals: Bedbugs take over
  • Energy: Copiapo Mining Accident
  • Leaks: Wikileaks
  • Leaks: Snowden
  • Sports: Death of Nodar Kumaritashvili
  • Crime: Capture of the Grim Sleeper
  • Crime: Sandy Hook
  • Crime: Penn State, Jerry Sandusky
  • Crime: Trayvon Martin Shot, Zimmerman Acquitted
  • Crime: Aurora Shooting
  • Politics: Obama Re-elected
  • Politics: Obamacare Passed
  • Social Justice: Gay Marriage Normalization
  • Economy: Fiscal Cliff
  • Economy: Us economy upswing
  • World: Libya government turns over
  • World: Syria

Eight of the 23 stories would be top headlines covered by the science and environment “pod” reporters. Two of the stories are cases of people doing things the New York Times should probably have done, like in the old days, but didn’t. Of the other stories, one or two, including Syria and possibly Libya, have strong environmental connections. This list does not include a lot of other environmental stores such as reaching 400ppm CO2 in the atmosphere, not because they are not important, but, possibly, because new agencies like the New York Times didn’t say they were important. And the New York Times isn’t even owned by Big Oil!

And there’s another problem at the New York Times. Michael Mann wrote about this just a few days before Margaret Sullivan’s piece came out (making me wonder if Mann’s article prompted Sullivan’s) in a piece at the Huffington Post called “Something Is Rotten at the New York Times.” Mann notes, “When it comes to the matter of human-caused climate change, the Grey Lady’s editorial page has skewed rather contrarian of late.” Mann goes on to document a particular case of a broader phenomenon we see at the Times and elsewhere: The “hones broker” phenomenon. This is where all the science tells us that A is true, but there is a bought and paid for (or sometimes, just cranky “get off my lawn” motivated) “viewpoint” that is utterly wrong claiming that B is true, and the “honest broker” tries to mediate between the two views as though simply throwing out “B” wasn’t the appropriate thing to do. Mann:

The New York Times does a disservice to its readers when it buys into the contrived narrative of the “honest broker”…Especially when that white knight is in fact sitting atop a Trojan Horse–a vehicle for the delivery of disinformation, denial, and systematic downplaying of what might very well be the greatest threat we have yet faced as a civilization, the threat of human-caused climate change.

So, with that, here’s my open letter to the New York Times:

Dear Editors,

Please try to do your jobs.

Thank you very much.


Click here to send them your letter.

Will Global Warming Induced Weather Whiplash Strike The Northeast Next Week?

There is a storm (this one) moving across the southern part of the United States that forecasters predict will turn north over the Atlantic and menace the east coast somewhere between Northern New England and Washington DC or Virginia, possibly much of that area. The storm may develop, forecasters say, into a Nor’easter. I looked at the predicted Jet Stream configuration for next Wednesday and I noticed that is will be all curvy-durvy like it has been so often lately. This curvy jet stream is so much more common these days because, climate scientists think, of the phenomenon of Arctic Amplification. This is when the Arctic warms more than other parts of the globe, relatively, causing a shift in the way large scale weather patterns set up. The curvy jet stream blocks weather patterns, making them stay in place for much longer than they otherwise would. Flooding in Calgary and Colorado this summer, and a number of other major weather disasters, were caused by this.

I’m not a meteorologist so I feel comfortable going out on a limb to make a prediction about the weather because you can’t possibly think less of me as a weather forecaster if I’m totally wrong. Usually, we make note of the “Weather Whiplash” events, extreme weather caused or enhanced by climate change, after they happen. Here, I’m going to suggest that this curvy jet stream is going to enhance the storm and an especially bad Nor’easter will be closing in on the US east coast just in time to really mess up Thanksgiving; this storm will be bad because the jet stream will pull together southerly moist air and northerly cold air, and keep it all churned up in place for a relatively long time.

And no, I’m not going to bet any money on it. Hell, I might delete this post if I’m totally wrong. Feel free to yell at me in the comments.

Here’s the Jet Stream prediction for next Wednesday from HERE:


(The image at the top of the post is a random bad weather photo of no particular significance.)