Tom Lehrer + periodic table = learning (redux)

August 21, 2007

A commenter, Aoife, pointed to another animation of Tom Lehrer’s “Elements Song.” This one has the best production values of the three I’ve posted, and it’s available on DVD (teachers, note that it comes bundled with other science stuff probably good for classroom use).

It’s Macromedia Flash animation, by a guy from Texas, Mike Stanfill; go see.

(Where are the economics, history and government flash animations of equal quality?)

Hurrican Dean, climate change, political action

August 21, 2007

Chris Mooney, the Storm Pundit, dishes out the news on the record-making severity of Hurricane Dean. Mooney’s latest book is Storm World: Hurricanes, politics, and the battles over global warming.

Hurricane Dean at landfall in Yucatan, from Weather Underground False color satellite image of Hurricane Dean as it struck the Yucatan Peninsula; image from Weather Underground, via the Intersection.

Mooney’s information on Dean is at his blog, The Intersection, at the Huffington Post stable, and at the Daily Green.

Mooney said:

Dean was officially the most powerful hurricane that we’ve seen globally so far in 2007, and was by far the strongest at landfall. It was also the first Category 5 Atlantic hurricane seen since the record-setting Hurricane Wilma of October 2005. In fact, Dean set some records of its own. Its pressure was the ninth lowest ever measured in the Atlantic, and the third lowest at landfall. Indeed, there hasn’t been a full Category 5 landfall in our part of the world since 1992’s Hurricane Andrew. Dean was in all respects a terrifying storm, and we can only hope that the damage will somehow be less than expected as it tears across the peninsula and then, after crossing the Bay of Campeche, moves on to a presumed second Mexican landfall.

Dean is already in the record books in ways that should make policy makers think hard about what to do in terms of disaster preparation, and in terms of what political entities can do to prevent actions that intensify such storms:

1. Dean is the ninth most intense Atlantic storm by pressure, and six of the top ten (Wilma, Rita, Katrina, Mitch, Dean, and Ivan) have occurred in the past ten years.

2. Dean is the strongest hurricane anywhere this year, and by far the strongest at landfall. It is the tenth category 4 or 5 hurricane globally and the 3rd Category 5.

Texas has mobilized disaster relief efforts as never before. School buses have been mustered near San Antonio for evacuations. 90,000 gallons of gasoline have been delivered to potential hurricane zones, to aid in self-evacuations. Helicopters are being mustered just outside potential storm zones. Someone is paying attention to the damage mitigation and clean up.

North American wildlife photos: Send yours in!

August 21, 2007

Elron Steele submitted one of his — I’ll wager several readers here have photos that should be included in the encyclopedic site of photos of North American Wildlife. The project is collecting mammal photos right now (birds, reptiles and invertebrates yet to come?)

Richardson's Ground Squirrel, photo by Elron Steele, all rights reserved

I note the project has only one not-very-clear photo of a tassel-eared squirrel, and I know there are at least two species of these things ranging through Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado, and I know there are no fewer than four Boy Scout Camps in those areas — so does some Scout or Scouter have a good shot of one of the tassel-eared guys to include?

So, if you have a good photo, send it along to North American Wildlife, or drop it in an e-mail to the curator of the site.

In my recent excursion into New Mexico, we were south of Raton when I spotted a fine specimen of a pronghorn antelope alongside the road. Within a few minutes we had spotted way over a dozen, and returning along the route a week later we must have seen at least 50 of them, in groups as large as a dozen. While I got no decent photos zipping along at 60 mph, surely someone from one of the mountain states has a very good picture that could be contributed.

And teachers: This is a great source of images for student projects and presentations for biology, environmental science, history and geography.

Shooting past skepticism: Solutions to global warming

August 21, 2007

It’s been about a week since some global warming skeptic pointed me toward a recent piece from Freemon Dyson, claiming that if Dyson didn’t believe in global warming, no one should. Tip of the old scrub brush to whoever that skeptic was.

Dyson’s piece is online at The Edge, dated August 8, 2007:  “Heretical Thoughts about Science and Society.” (If you are unfamiliar with Dyson, you should at least check out his biography there.  A more comprehensive biography at Wikipedia reveals why you should be familiar with him as a great father, good physicist and astronomer who tends to work well in groups, and winner of the Templeton Prize.  Then, next time you see the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode that deals with Dyson Spheres, you can nod your head as if you understand what’s going on.)

I read Dyson’s piece, and while he’s cranky, he’s not denying global warming. A good chunk of his piece discusses how to capture carbon dioxide to prevent further warming, or perhaps even reverse current atmospheric trends. Skeptics of warming who seize on Dyson’s piece as a rebuttal make a common error among the scentifically unquestioning ranters: They assume any criticism of part of an argument is a refutation of the whole. Dyson suggests we should spend time and money on figuring out how to get the microbiota in the soil to capture more CO2.

Much of the rest of the piece is hopeful.  Dyson disagrees with hysteric concerns about melting glaciers; he doesn’t think they’ll all melt or cause dramatic rises in sea level.  At the same time, he urges caution and study, noting the holes in our knowledge that most arm-chair global warming skeptics want to ignore, including the possibilities that global warming itself would trigger a dramatic shift to a new ice age, which would be at least as catastrophic.

We can separate the climate cranks from the true skeptics if we look for similar flights of reality from people:  The true skeptics will note how difficult it is to predict climate and weather, but do not deny the need to act against pollutants which are thought to cause climate change.  This is a crucial difference.  Bush administration officials originally denied the existence of global warming as an excuse to do nothing about air pollution; now they claim to recognized global warming, but still do little that might control human dumping into the air.  In sharp contrast, Dyson proposes a partly-neglected sink of CO2 and urges that we work hard to increase its effectiveness.

In the past year I have posed that question in several climate discussions:  Do you oppose controlling air pollution?  The question quickly separates cranks from others; while the scientifically literate may argue about whether we can predict human effects on weather, few argue that we should continue our present trends of dumping.

In short, regardless the science, Melissa Etheridge is right.  It’s time to wake up.

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