07.01.2016

What We’re Reading

Jan Bogumił Plersch, Fireworks in honor of Catherine II in 1787. Via Wikimedia Commons.

While a bunch of NCSE staff members are rafting down the majestic Colorado River and another is making his way to Washington DC for the National Education Association’s annual meeting and others are, presumably, moping Cinderella-fashion at home, we offer the following links for you to beguile the long fireworks-filled holiday weekend away.

  • 97% Global Warming Consensus Paper Surpasses Half a Million Downloads, The Guardian, June 23, 2016 — You know that 2013 paper by John Cook and his colleagues that demonstrated upward of a 97% consensus on anthropogenic global warming in the peer-reviewed literature. But did you know that half a million people have downloaded it? Dana Nuccitelli concludes, “The good news is that there’s a remarkable amount of public interest in the expert consensus on human-caused global warming, and public awareness of the consensus has grown. However, with only 11% of Americans realizing that over 90% of experts agree on human-caused global warming, we still have a long way to go before the public becomes sufficiently aware of the magnitude of the consensus and urgency of the climate threat.”  
  • Dear Science: Why Aren’t Apes Evolving Into Humans? The Washington Post, June 27, 2016 — I'm always happy to see the popular press tackle evolution misconceptions and I’d give this explanation a solid B. But there are a couple of phrases that made me cringe, like “Living things are just trying to adapt...” and “Australopithecus afarensis (Lucy’s species) evolved human-like hips that let them walk on two feet because it let them carry things.” Both play into another misconception—that is, the idea that species make an effort to evolve various advantageous characteristics because they need them. Otherwise, author Sarah Kaplan did a pretty good job explaining why there are still apes. A concept that, as NCSE’s own Steve Newton explained, eludes certain radio personalities.
  • What Can Ancient Amber-Encased Bird Wings Say About Flight? The Christian Science Monitor, June 28, 2016 — From the paleontology beat comes some fairly exciting information about 99-million-year-old baby bird wings preserved in amber. It seems likely that these fledgling enantiornithines were able to fly straight out of the nest, without the intense parental investment of modern birds. ”These birds did not hang about in the nest waiting to be fed, but set off looking for food,” commented a researcher, adding, “and sadly died perhaps because of their small size and lack of experience.” This article includes nice pictures of the specimens.
  • 107 Nobel Laureates Sign Letter Blasting Greenpeace Over GMOs, The Washington Post, June 29, 2016 — Over one hundred winners of the Nobel Prize have written a letter to Greenpeace asking the organization to stop trying to scare people about GMOs. The letter states, in part, “Scientific and regulatory agencies around the world have repeatedly and consistently found crops and foods improved through biotechnology to be as safe as, if not safer than those derived from any other method of production. There has never been a single confirmed case of a negative health outcome for humans or animals from their consumption. Their environmental impacts have been shown repeatedly to be less damaging to the environment, and a boon to global biodiversity.” The ​letter also point​s​ out that Greenpeace has spearheaded efforts to block Golden Rice—a variety of rice engineered to produce Vitamin A, potentially protecting hundreds of millions of children in developing countries from the blindness that vitamin A deficiency can cause.
  • Here’s What Your July 4 Road Trip Means for the Climate, Climate Central, June 30, 2016 — At least while drifting down the Colorado River, NCSE’s excursion isn’t going to contribute to global warming. But what about other holiday road trips? Bobby Magill reports, “This winter, for the first time since 1979, carbon dioxide emissions from cars, trucks and SUVs surpassed the carbon pollution from electric power plants, which have been America’s chief climate polluter for more than 35 years, U.S. Energy Information Administration data released this week show.”
  • Discouraged by Climate Change? Luther Students Dig into the Psychology of Hope in New Podcast, All Things Considered/National Public Radio, June 30, 2016 — “When Luther College students Laura Proescholdt and Amy Thor first watched An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore’s documentary about climate change, they realized that their generation would face major environmental issues. And they wanted to do something about it, but what? The answer: a podcast on “the psychology of hope as it applies to caring about environmental problems”! These students are overcoming discouragement around climate change through connecting with others who are fighting to make a difference.