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Interesting Excerpts
The following excerpts are from articles or books that I have recently read. They caught my interest and I hope that you will find them worth reading. If one does spark an action on your part and you want to learn more or you choose to cite it, I urge you to actually read the article or source so that you better understand the perspective of the author(s).
A Gene that Keeps the Brain Sharp?

[These excerpts are from an article by Anne Trafton in the January/February 2022 issue of MIT News.]

      Researchers have long suspected that intellectual stimulation—from speaking multiple languages, reading, or doing word puzzles, for example—helps protect some people from developing dementia in old age, even if their brains show signs of neurodegeneration. Now an MIT team may have figured out why: such enrichment appears to activate a gene family called MEF2, which controls a genetic program in the brain that promotes resistance to cognitive decline.

      By examining data on about 1,000 human subjects, the researchers found that cognitive resilience was highly correlated with expression of MEF2 and many of the genes that it regulates—many of which encode ion channels, which control how easily a neuron fires.

      They also found that mice without the MEF2 gene in their frontal cortex did not show the expected cognitive benefit from being raised in a stimulating environment, and their neurons became abnormally excitable….

      The findings suggest that enhancing the activity of MEF2 or its targets might help fend off age-related dementia….

Eat to Save the Planet

[These excerpts are from an article by Naomi Oreskes in the January 2022 issue of Scientific American.]

      …About half of all greenhouse gas emissions comes from electricity generation and industrial fossil-fuel use. Substantial emissions reductions in these settings most likely will not come from personal actions; they will come from laws and policies such as carbon-pricing systems, revised building codes and supports for green investment.

      Some people have argued that calls for individual action actually distract us from corporate responsibility. That could explain whythe fossil-fuel industry is enamored of such entreaties….One study found that focusing on individual activity actually undermines support for more effective policy initiatives such as a carbon tax.

      …But one effective act, and one that can be amplified, is to eat less red meat.

      Cutting meat consumption is a powerful and personal thing most Arnericans can do to tackle the climate crisis, and they can do it immediately. About 40 percent of greenhouse gases come from agriculture, deforestation and other land-use changes. Meat—particularly beef—drives climate change in two ways: first, through cows’ emission of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, and second, by destroying forests as they are converted to grazing land….

      …if every person in the U.S. cut their meat consumption by 25 percent, it would reduce annual greenhouse gas emissions by 1 percent. That might not sound like a lot, but it would help protect the rain forest, so the positive effects—including reduced water and fertilizer use, improved biodiversity and safeguarded rights of Indigenous peoples—would be amplified.

      …Ultimately changes in demand will influence industry Forty years ago few mainstream supermarkets carried organic products; now nearly all do. Consumer demand did that.

      Cutting back on red meat also has the added benefit of being good for your health….

When Five Shrinks to Four: Assessing the Four-Day School Week in Rural Locales

[These excerpts are from an article by J. Cameron Anglum in the December 2021/January 2022 issue of Kappan.]

      ….Support for the four-day school week (4DSW) was underwhelrning: Only 25% responded favorably, and the responses varied little by where people lived or whether they had rhildren in scho oL Despite this tepid response from the public, the 4DSW proliferated rapidly in subsequent years, growing from fewer than 300 public schools in approximately 100 school districts at the end of the 20th century to 1,600 schools in 600 school districts today. The 4DSW now has been adopted by schools in more than half of U.S. states, almost all of them west of the Mississippi River.

      …4DSW districts tend to reduce their expenditures by 1 % to 2% following policy adoption, mainly because they spend less on student support services….

      …Further, according to a recent study of 12 states where the 4DSW is common, the shorter week appears to be having a negative impact on student achievement overall….

      …As yet, researchers have found that petty criminal activity has increased a rn ong students in districts that have shifted to the shorter week….

Time to Tell the Kids

[These excerpts are from an article by Tara Haelle in the Winter 2021 issue of Sierra.]

      …kids today are growing up in a world where the reality of climate change is inescapable. Most of them know—or will soon enough—that things are only going to get worse. What they don’t know is how to process this reality or what to do about it. Kid-oriented media has an important role to play in helping them prepare, but the topic of climate change has been largely absent from most children's shows. That needs to change….

      Of course, climate change has become politically charged, but that alone doesn't explain its absence from kid-oriented media….

      One obvious reason is that climate change is frightening. It's hard to portray an existential threat to humanity in a way that is emotionally manageable for children….

      But the absence of quality youth programming about climate change may actually be exacerbating young people's climate anxiety….

      Just as it’s not too late for humans to take meaningful action to alleviate the effects of climate change, it’s not too late for producers to step up and create meaningful media about it for children….

The New Abnormal

[These excerpts are from an editorial by Jason Mark in the Winter 2021 issue of Sierra.]

      Twenty twenty-one was the year that the climate crisis became unavoidable. With any luck (if you can call it that), in hindsight this will be seen as the year when Americans finally, belatedly, came to understand the severity of the crisis. The evidence has been impossible to ignore: a freakish winter deep freeze that shut down much of Texas, another horrific fire season in the West, a historic heat wave in the Pacific Northwest, a spate of deadly floods in the South quickly followed by Hurricane Ida—a storm so powerful it ended up killing dozens of people in the Northeast, more than a thousand miles from where it made landfall….

      …Climate change is, above all, chaotic, unpredictable, and disorienting…. /p>

      This, then, is the great challenge of climate discontinuity: to continue to act even in the midst of uncertainty and upheaval. With Earth systems unraveling at a frightening pace, the tasks before us are clear. We need to prepare and adapt for the worst, even as we continue to educate, agitate, and organize for the best future possible.

Key Carbon Caches Need Protection

[These excerpts are from an article by Jonathan Lambert in the 18 December 2021/1 January 2022 issue of Science News.]

      …If these natural vaults getbusted open, ture and other development pressures through deforestation or dredging of wetlands, it would take centuries before those redwwoods or mangroves could grow back to their former fulness and reclaim all that carbon. Such carbon is “irrecoverable” on the timescale—decades, not centuries—needed to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. Keeping it locked away is crucial….

      The estimate puts the total amount of irrecoverable carbon at 139 billion metric tons….That’s equivalent to about 15 years of fossil fuel emissions at current levels. If all that carbon were released, it's almost certainly enough to push the planet past 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming above preindustrial levels.

      …Current efforts to keep global warming below the ambitious target of 1.5 degrees C require that we reach net-zero emissions by 2050, and that carbon stored in nature stays put. But agriculture and other development pressures threaten some of these carbon stores….


[These excerpts are from The Book of Hope by Jane Goodall and Douglas Adams that were in the December 2021 issue of Population Connection.]

      “When I went to Gombe in 1960,” Jane said, “it was part of the great equatorial forest belt that stretched across Africa. By 1990, it had become a tiny oasis of forest surrounded by completely bare hills. More people were living there than the land could support, too poor to buy food from elsewhere, struggling to survive. Trees had been cleared to grow food or make charcoal.

      “I realized that if we couldn’t help people find a way of making a living without destroying the environment, there was no way we could try to save the chimpanzees….”

      “By destroying habitats we force animals into closer contact with people, thus creating situations for pathogens to form new human diseases. And as the human population grows, people and their livestock are penetrating ever deeper into remaining wilderness areas, wanting more space to expand their villages and to farm. And animals are hunted, killed, and eaten. They or their body parts are trafficked—along with their pathogens—around the world. They are sold in wildlife markets for food, clothing, medicine, or for the trade in exotic pets. Conditions in almost all of these markets are not only horribly cruel but usually extremely unhygienic—blood, urine, and feces from stressed animals all over the place. Perfect opportunity for a virus to hop onto a human—and it is thought that this pandemic, like SARS, was created in a Chinese wildlife market. HIV-1 and HIV-2 originated from chimpanzees sold for bushmeat in wildlife markets in Central Africa. Ebola possibly started from eating gorilla meat.

      “The horrific conditions in which billions of domestic animals are bred for food, milk, and eggs have also led to the spawning of new diseases such as the contagious swine flu that started on a factory farm in Mexico and noninfectious ones like E. coli, MRSA (staph), and salmonella. And don’t forget that all the animals I’ve been talking about are individuals with personalities. Many—and especially pigs—are highly intelligent, and each one knows fear, misery, and feels pain….”

President’s Note

[These excerpts are from an editorial by John Seager in the December 2021 issue of President’s Note.]

      …Before the modern era, we coexisted with nature—if only because we lacked the ability to bend it to our selfish will. Not only did we lack modern technology, there were far fewer of us….

      For the past two centuries, we’ve generally acted as if we are the only creatures on earth. To call our own human species heedless is a gross understatement, as our global numbers soar toward 8 billion and beyond….

      Many of the world’s travails—ecological and otherwise—can be traced directly to our failure to recognize both the rights of women and the laws of nature. We could do much to prevent catastrophes by lessening population pressures. If every woman had reproductive freedom, family planning knowledge, and access to modern contraception, family sizes would plummet. Benefits would accrue to our own species, and to the natural Lworld that sustains us all….

Animals Are Already Coping with Climate Change

[These excerpts are from a book review by Erika Engelhaupt in the 4 December 2021 issue of Science News.]

      …Hanson doesn’t waste much breath trying to convince doubters of the reality of climate change, instead showing by example after example how it is already playing out. The book moves quickly from the basic science of climate change to the challenges and opportunities that species face—from shifts in seasonal timing to ocean acidification — and the ways that species are responding….

      In the end, the outcomes for species will probably be as varied as their circumstances. Some organisms have already moved, adapted or died as a result of the warming, and many more will face challenges from changes that are yet to come. But Hanson hasn't given up hope. When it comes to preventing the worst-case scenarios, he quotes ecologist Gordon Orians, who is in the seventh deCade of a career witnessing environmental change….

      …this is exactly how plants and animals are responding to climate change: by doing everything they can….

Were "Penis Worms" the First Hermits?

[These excerpts are from an article by Sid Perkins in the 4 December 2021 issue of Science News.]

      …Remains of ancient squatters are preserved in rocks laid down as seafloor sediments during the Cambrian Period about 500 million years ago in what is now southern China….Previously, the oldest known fossils suggesting hermiting behavior dated to about 170 million years ago….

      Today, aside from hermit crabs, a few other species of crustaceans and worms will inhabit the cast-off shells of other marine creatures, mostly for protection against predators.

      …But four of those shells appear to have been inhabited by priapulid worms commonly known as penis worms, thanks to their suggestive body shape. Because there were no free-ranging priapulids preserved in the ancient sediments, the researchers propose that the worms were living inside the shells.

      A relatively consistent ratio between the size of a worm and the shell it was preserved within suggests that the animals picked a shell based on size and then moved to another after outgrowing an adopted home….

Whales Eat More Than We Thought

[These excerpts are from an article by Jonathan Lambert in the 4 December 2021 issue of Science News.]

      A new study finds that baleen whales, including blue and humpback whales, eat on average three times as much krill and other food as previously thought, and more food in means more poop out. Paradoxically, the collapse of the krill may stem from fewer whales excreting iron-rich, digested krill, denying ecosystems some crucial nutrients they need to thrive. Phytoplankton blooms, which sustain krill and many other parts of the food web, rely on that iron. Restoring whale populations to prewhaling levels could help bolster these ecosystems and even store more carbon inthe ocean….

      Assessing the diet of Boeing 737-long creatures that gulp down hordes of centimeters-long invertebrates far below the surface of the ocean is not a trivial undertaking. Previous estimates relied on dissections of dead whales or inferring whales’ metabolic needs based on their size….

      It turns out that, on average, baleen whales eat about three times as much food as earlier estimates suggested. For example, a blue whale on average puts down 16 metric tons of krill in a day….Energetically, that’s equivalent to around 10 million to 20 million calories….

      Whales aren’t eating that much every day. The animals go for months without a bite when migrating vast distances.

Recycled Materials Can Make Long-Lasting Batteries

[These excerpts are from an article by Carolyn Wilke in the 4 December 2021 issue of Science News.]

      Lithium-ion batteries with recycled cathodes can outperform batteries made from pristine materials, a study finds.

      Demand for the batteries — which power devices from smartphones to electric vehicles may outstrip the supply of some key ingredients. Ramping up recycling could help avert shortages. But some manufacturers worry that impurities in recycled materials may cause performance to falter….

      Using shredded spent batteries, Wang and colleagues extracted the electrodes and dissolved the metals in an acidic solution. By tweaking the solution’s pH, the team removed impurities such as iron and copper and recovered over 90 percent of three key metals: nickel, manganese and cobalt. Those metali formed the basis for the team’s cathode material.

      In tests, it took 11,600 charging cycles for batteries with recycled cathodes to lose 30 percent of their initial capacity. That’s better than the 7,600 cycles for bat-teries with new cathodes….Those extra cycles could translate into years of better performance….

Early Lab Studies Shed Light on Omicron’s Behavior

[These excerpts are from an article by Gretchen Vogel and Kai Kupferschmidt in the 24 December 2021 issue of Science.]

      The new SARS-CoV-2 variant exploding around the planet is forcing humanity to adapt at a breakneck speed. Late last week, countries across Northern Europe imposed stringent new measures to try to bring down soaring case numbers….

      South Africa has seen only a modest increase in hospitalizations for severe COVID-19, even 1 month after cases started to explode there….

      But early data from Europe, which has an older population than South Africa, are less hopeful….

      Lab data offer a little more hope. Antibodies resulting from vaccination or infection have been shown to lose most of their power against Omicron, but another immune system defense—T cells, which recognize and kill infected cells in the body—appears to do better….

Green Ammonia

[These excerpts are from an article by Javier Garcia Martinez and Sarah E. Fawcett in the December 2021 issue of Scientific American.]

      The Haber-Bosch process—arguably one of the most important inventions of the 20th century that many people have never heard of—enables synthesis of ammonia on an industrial scale. This ammonia is used to produce the fertilizers that fuel 50 percent of global food production, making it a key to food security around the world. Ammonia synthesis, however, is an energy-intensive chemical process that requires a catalyst to fix nitrogen with hydrogen.

      Unlike nitrogen, which makes up most of the air we breathe, hydrogen must be synthetically produced and is currently generated using fossil fuels….

      Green hydrogen, produced by splitting water using renewable energy, promises to change that. In addition to eliminating carbon emissions during hydrogen production, the process has a significantly purer end result….

      A major obstacle is the current high cost of green hydrogen. To help solve that problem, 30 European energy players have launched HyDeal Ambition, a project aiming to deliver green hydrogen at 1.5 euros per kilogram before 2030 through innovations in the production, storage and transport of hydrogen. if successful, the effort could unleash a whole range of new applications for green ammonia, including its ability to be decomposed back into hydrogen—enabling a virtuous green hydrogen-ammonia circle.

Breath Sensors Diagnose Diseases

[These excerpts are from an article by Rona Chandrawati and Daniel E. Hurtado in the December 2021 issue of Scientific American.]

      …When a person puffs into a sampler, that breath is fed into a sensor that generally makes detections based on changes in the electrical resistance of metal oxide semiconductors. Within minutes, a software analysis by an external computer generates a profile of the compounds present.

      Beyond delivering results far faster than a blood draw, breath sensors could streamline medical diagnostics by providing a noninvasive way to collect critical health data….

      Critical challenges need to be met before breath-sensor technology becomes widespread. First, detection accuracy must be improved for some diseases, particularly for tuberculosis and cancer. Second, various compounds in a breath sample can confound test results, creating false positives. The algorithms that analyze sensor data will also need to be improved to reach greater accuracy. Finally, bigger investments in clinical trials are needed to help validate this technology in large populations.

Crops that Self-Fertilize

[These excerpts are from an article by Wilfried Weber and Carlo Ratti in the December 2021 of Scientific AMerican.]

      …Whereas staple food crops such as corn and other cereals rely on inorganic nitrogen from the soil, legume plants such assay and beans have maintained a clever way to produce their own. The roots of legumes interact with soil, leading to bacterial colonization of the root and formation of symbiotic organs called nodules. Within these structures, the plant provides sugars to sustain the bacteria and profits from the bacteria’s ability to fix nitrogen—that is, to convert atmospheric nitrogen into ammonia. Thus, through an evolutionarily ancient symbiosis with soil bacteria, legumes are independent of modem nitrogen fertilizers.

      …soil bacteria that naturally colonize the roots of cereals but cannot fix nitrogen are taught to produce nitrogenase, the key enzyme that converts nitrogen from the air into plant-compatible ammonia.

      With governments and private foundations recently providing strong support for research and development in the area of engineering nitrogen fixation, crops that harness the power of natural symbiosis might soon become a key element of a more sustain-able food production.

Decarbonization Rises

[This excerpt is from an article by Bernard S. Meyerson in the December 2021 issue of Scientific American.]

      More than a century after the first scientist argued that carbon dioxide could trap heat in the atmosphere and decades after “climate change” entered the vernacular, countries and industries have been making new commitments to cut their carbon footprints. In 2021 the U.S., the second-largest source of national carbon emissions, committed to halve its output relative to 2005 levels by 2030. The U.K. announced its own aggressive goal of a 68 percent reduction compared with 1990 levels by that date. The European Union Parliament recently passed a law requiring carbon-emissions reductions by at least 55 percent by 2030 compared with 1990 levels. Although industries such as oil and aviation are more resistant to change, the rate at which companies are joining the Science-Based Targets initiative, which helps them reduce their emissions to stay in line with the Paris agreement, has doubled since 2015. General Motors, Volkswagen and other major auto manufacturers have set ambitious targets for decarbonization in the pastyear.

      This acceleration of commitments—along with its associated challenges—is a clear indicator of decarbonization’s emergence worldwide….

      Today 2 percent or less of global private and commercial roadway transportation fleets produce zero emissions, despite Tesla’s highly visible initial success in driving consumer interest. Meanwhile bulk shipping, both rail and sea-borne, has devised low-carbon solutions….

      In the U.S., an estimated 13 percent of total carbon emissions come from fuel used for heating and cooking in residential and commercial buildings. Reducing that number in America and elsewhere will demand net-zero-emission HVAC (heating, ventilation and air-conditioning), and passive solar environmental systems must become commonplace….

      As renewable energy sources become abundant, we will need to employ them to decarbonize pervasive sources of greenhouse gases….

      Meeting the power-generation goals set by nations and industries requires a radical expansion of photovoltaic, wind, hydroelectric, tidal, nuclear and other zero-emission tech….

      In addition to the myriad technological challenges to rapid decarbonization, nations must develop global governance methods to ensure energy equality. Emergent economies cannot face identical carbon-reduction targets that would stifle development. Nations will also need to thoughtfully allocate land to expand infrastructure for renewables….

Radioactive Recyclingn

[These excerpts are from an article by Nikk Ogasa in the December 2021 issue of Scientific American.]

      Fission in nuclear reactors forges radioactive metal by-products so toxic that they must be stored deep underground, at great cost and effort, for millennia. But a protein made by a common microbe could help ease this hazardous burden….

      Two of nuclear waste’s most problematic is ingredients are metals called americium and curium; each has particularly long-lived forms that decay much more slowly than uranium. They need to be monitored for thousands of years—and because they radiate so much heat, waste packages containing them must be buried far apart. Isolating them properly is critical to avoid radiation harm to people or the environment….

      …Methylorubrum extorquens (an innocuous bacterium commonly found in soil and on plants) produces a protein called lanmodulin. The microbe uses this protein to grab naturally occurring metals, typically from a group, researchers report in called the lanthanides, to drive its metabolism.

      …lanmodulin binds tightly and readily to americium and curiurn—and prefers them to many of its regular dance partners. Plus, the bond was thousands of times stabler than that of the next-strongest naturally occurring molecular suitor. They are not sure if lanmodulin produced by the ubiquitous M. extorquens naturally captures or disperses americium and curium ions already in the environment, such as those released by nuclear weapons tests and waste leaks—a possible future study focus.

      The researchers propose integrating the protein into radiation detectors and filters to extract these long-lived radioactive metals from contained nuclear waste. They could then be sequestered separately, decreasing the volume of material that needs extended monitoring and spacing. Alternatively, Cotruvo suggests, captured americium and curium could be recycled back into nuclear fuel.

      It is serendipitous that a bacterium-created molecule might help build tools to scavenge hazardous human-made contaminants….It is serendipitous that a bacterium-created molecule might help build tools to scavenge hazardous human-made contaminants….

Expand Mental Health Care

[These excerpts are from an editorial by the editors in the December 2021 issue of Scientific American.]

      …COVID has already killed or disabled millions, deepened economic insecurity and racial inequality, and forced radical adaptations to daily life; its serious effects on mental health and well-being very likely will continue and in ways still unknown.

      In 2020 the U.S. Congress responded to the mental health crisis by providing temporary funding for services and forcing the expansion of insurance coverage. These emergency measures must be permanently extended to meet emerging needs—and expanded to tackle long-standing and systemic inadequacies in care….

      The idea that mental health is less legitimate than physical health has led to paltry insurance coverage, a scarcity of counseling professionals, and regulatory hurdles that make finding care especially difficult in rural and other underserved locations. Yet research has continued to reveal that the separation between mind and body is a false one: chronic emotional distress can significantly increase the chances of developing serious physical disease.

      …Video-based sessions work as well as, if not better than, in-person sessions, perhaps because it is easier for people to show up consistently. Insurance companies must continue to cover virtual appointments….

      Young people, in particular, have been hurt by pandemic disruptions. Many are struggling to see a hopeful future for themselves—a key to resilience. Researchers agree that preempting behavioral problems and mental illness makes more sense than beginning treatment after a crisis….

      …Severe wildfire seasons, rapidly intensifying hurricanes and deluges of rain—all consequences of climate change—mean that more and more people are experiencing terrifying disasters and loss. Such upheavals will keep overlapping rather than dissipating. It is long past time to prioritize mental health as essential to overall health. Fostering resilience in a world of accelerating uncertainty depends on it.

Climate Change in the Classroom

[These excerpts are from a book report by Ashley Hunderson in the 17 December 2021 issue of Science.]

      …the US has created an educational environment in which “children in some places are required by law to learn about the phenomenon...while in others, students may not hear the words ‘climate change’ in class at all.”

      Worth writes of an Advanced Placement science teacher in Oklahoma who refuses to teach anthropogenic climate change because her family is in the oil and gas business. Another teacher, who does not believe in climate change, chooses to discuss the topic but refuses to cite any scientific data and laces his teaching with his own personal beliefs, casting doubt in the young minds he has been charged with molding.

      Many districts and states forbid the inclusion of climate change in the curriculum. These states are filled with teachers who cast doubt on the concept of human-induced climate change, textbook publishers eager to avoid upsetting school boards, and editors who rewrite commissioned science pieces to fit political formulas….

      Such practices create adults who struggle to understand the current state of affairs surrounding climate change and have resulted in a political divide….

      …Taking lessons from earlier debates over evolution and tobacco, oil corporations, state legislatures, school boards, think tanks, lobbyists, and textbook publishers are now sowing uncertainty, confusion, and distrust about climate science. Until we confront these wrongs within the US educational system, the battle to mitigate climate change will never be won.

India Defuses Its Population Bomb

[These excerpts are from an article by Fred Pearce in the 17 December 2021 issue of Science.]

      Back in the 1960s, India faced an exploding population, with a fertility rate of nearly six children per woman. When famine struck, U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson initially refused to deliver food aid, citing the country’s high birth rate. In response, India’s Prime Minister Indira Gandhi dramatically expanded the first national family planning program in a major developing country, offering cash incentives for both men and women to be sterilized….

      For the next 60 years, India continued to focus on sterilization as well as contraceptives and education for girls. Now, Indian health officials say the task of defusing their population bomb is finally done….

      India’s population growth is not over yet, however. Thanks to past high fertility rates, two-thirds of the population is under 35 year old, and a large cohort of people is now entering childbearing age. Even at replacement fertility rates, the children of these young people will continue to push up numbers, and India may exceed China as the world’s most populous nation as early as next year.

      Still, India’s population is set to decline in about 3 decades…

      And education is playing an ever bigger role in encouraging smaller families. In the 1960s, about 90% of Indian women were illiterate, but by the 2011 census illiteracy had fallen to 35%, concentrated among older women….

Key Antarctic Ice Shelf Is within Years of Failure

[These excerpts are from an article by Pail Voosen in the 17 December 2021 issue of Sciencen.]

      An alarming crackup has begun at the foot of Antarctica's vulnerable Thwaites Glacier, whose meltwater is already responsible for about 4% of global sea level rise. An ice sheet the size of Florida, Thwaites ends its slide into the ocean as a floating ledge of ice 45 kilometers wide. But now, this ice shelf, riven by newly detected fissures on its surface and underside, is likely to break apart in the next 5 years or so….

      Once the ice shelf shatters, large sections of the glacier now restrained by it are likely to speed up….

      …A collapse of the entire glacier, which some researchers think is only centuries away, would raise global sea level by 65 centimeters. And because Thwaites occupies a deep basin into which neighboring glaciers would flow, its demise could eventually lead to the loss of the entire West Antarctic Ice Sheet, which locks up 3.3 meters of global sea level rise….

Science while Brown

[These excerpts are from an article by Christopher J. Hernandez in the 10 December 2021 issue of Science.]

      …As a young boy, I was keenly aware that if I wanted to succeed in school, I had to be sensitive to rules and authority. An infraction such as correcting an adult, exploiting a loophole, or pulling a prank might have been seen as cute if a white kid did it, but the same activity would get me labeled a troublemaker or lead to punishment. As I saw it, getting ahead meant I not only had to color within the lines, but had to make sure I was nowhere close to the lines.

      By never pushing the limits, I became a model student and received admission to prestigious universities for my undergraduate and graduate studies. I ended up having access to career opportunities my family never even imagined. But my risk-averse approach had unintended consequences. /p>

      …I realized that by choosing to do less-risky research, I had lost out on a chance at the flashy publications and prestigious awards that catapulted the careers of some of my peers….

      It has taken me time to unlearn my cautious approach. Getting tenure helped me feel freer. But I also made a conscious decision to take more risks even when that meant leaving my comfort zone….

Humanity Versus the World

[These excerpts are from a book report by Mary Ellen Hannibal in the 10 December 2021 issue of Science.]

      While global concern is focused on how to avoid climate cataclysm, more attention is needed on the myriad other ways humanity is affecting the living world. Even if we could halt fossil fuel emissions tomorrow, we would still need to make some big changes….

      …We have failed to take sufficient notice of nature’s implacable power, both invisible in the machinations of natural selection and overwhelmingly present in drowned shorelines and skies blackened with wildfire smoke….

      Of all human-made habitats, our mono-cropped farms are the largest. According to Dunn, the collective area of corn planted on Earth is the size of France. Wheat, barley, rice, sugarcane, cotton, and tobacco fields make up a human-jiggered geography. These vast areas produce food for us—humanity eats more than half the net primary production of photosynthesis—but they also destroy habitats that for millennia hosted birds, native plants, mammals, butterflies, bees, and other diverse life-forms.

      …Dunn estimates that more new species have evolved in our crops than on the Galapagos Islands….

Academic Freedom under Fire

[These excerpts are from an editorial by Jonathan R. Cole in the 10 December 2021 issue of Science.]

      …The defense of academic freedom is never easy because the university is not a cloister and is no more a safe space from criticism or conflict than the society at large. Thus, there will be unpopular opinions expressed in scholarly research and in the classroom. But it is often unpopular opinions that shift paradigms, fell orthodoxies, and advance knowledge and inquiry to new levels of achievement….Robert Hutchins, perhaps the greatest defender of academic freedom, said that the problem with witch hunts was “not how many faculty would be fired for their beliefs, but how many who think they might be….”

      Academic freedom can slip away slowly, and if ignored, could leave society in a climate of censorship, mistrust, and even fear. Now is the time for bold and courageous leadership….People across this country, no matter what side of the political divide, want excellent education for their families. Universities must make the case that excellence is threatened by political interference….

      The university has a central role in the growth of knowledge, the exposure of students to diverse thoughts and differing views, and the preparation of a next generation for civic life. If that role is being undermined from outside or even within the university, its leaders should rise to its defense, even if it means jeopardizing their own jobs, or removing those leaders who are a threat. It is a public principle worth defending at a high personal cost….

Why Do Experts Change Their Minds?

[These excerpts are from an article by Robert Kidd in the December 2021 issue of ChemMatters.]

      …During a global health emergency, government and health experts have a responsibility to regularly provide guidance to keep people safe. During the pandemic, some people have become wary of public health advice because it switched course a few times.

      …At first, we didn’t know how the coronavirus was being transmitted from person to person. We didn’t know if it was via surfaces or through the air. We also didn’t know if masks would effectively prevent the virus from spread-ing. And there were concerns that if people were told to wear masks, they would feel overconfident that they were protected and then take more risks—for example, by hanging out in a crowded room with lots of unmasked individuals.

      It's understandable for people to become confused when advice changes or because sci-entists are sometimes reluctant to give definitive guidance. But experts have to be cautious. Giving the wrong advice during a pandemic could have disastrous effects….

      …Research takes time, and is an iterative process. Data have to be collected, analyzed, and reviewed, often through multiple studies….

      …The point of research is to find things out by gathering data to make informed decisions. Changing a recommendation isn’t a bad thing—it means new evidence has come to light that calls for an update.

      In other words, scientists draw conclusions as you would, based on what you know. But you’d be willing to change your mind as you gain new information and insights.

Paying the Price of Palm Oil

[These excerpts are from an article by Tyler St. Clair and Kristen Conklin in the November/December 2021 issue of The Science Teacher.]

      The American consumer is inextricably linked to the pain; oil industry. Palm oil is found in consumer products including peanut butter, ice cream, soap, baked goods, lipstick, and margarine. While sometimes it is relatively easy to identify palm oil as an ingredient on product packaging, it often is listed under. unrecognizable names such as cetyl alcohol, sodium lauryl sulfate, or stearic acid. This lack of transparency makes it difficult for the average consumer to know whether or not palm oil is in a given product….

      Worldwide demand for palm oil continues to increase. The palm oil industry is now expanding to locations with rich biodiversity such as South America, Central America and parts of Africa….

      Palm oil production has led to the destruction of primary forests in the tropics; however, tropical forests generally have greater long-term economic value when preserved in their natural states. The economic value of leaving the forests untouched includes local flood prevention, a clean water supply, tourism, increased food supply, increased biodiversity, carbon sequestration, timber and forest products….

      …It may be a new concept that discussions about culture would take place in a science classroom, yet doing so is one way to contextualize science and give students a powerful reason for why they should care about what they're learning….

Out of the Frying Pan

[These excerpts are from an article by David L. Chandler in the November/December 2021 issue of MIT News.]

      You may have noticed droplets of water skittering around on the film of hot oil when you’re frying something in a skillet. Now MIT researchers have analyzed that seemingly trivial phenomenon and its implications for the first time.

      A droplet of boiling water on a hot surface will sometimes levitate on a thin vapor film, a well-studied phenomenon called the Leidenfrost effect. If the surface is coated with hot oil, which has much greater friction than a vapor film, the droplet should be expected to move much more slowly—but the MIT experi-ments showed that it actually zooms away 10 to 100 times faster.

      …Under the right conditions, it turns out, the oil will coat the outside of each droplet, and tiny bubbles of vapor will form along the interface between the water and the oil as it heats. Because these bubbles accumulate randomly along the droplet's base, asymmetries develop, and the lowered friction under the bubble loosens the droplet from the surface.

      Without the oil cloak, the vapor bubbles would flow out of the droplet in all directions, but the cloaking effect holds them in like the skin of a balloon. When the bubbles burst through, however, they impart a force, and “the balloon just flies off because the air is going out one side….”

      Once the researchers figure out how to control the process, it could potentially be used for self-cleaning or de-icing systems, or to propel tiny amounts of liquid through microfluidic devices.

Stop the Bleeding

[This excerpt is from an article by Anne Trafton in the November/December 2021 issue of MIT News.]

      Blood loss is a leading cause of death following a traumatic injury, especially in the military. Now MIT engineers have drawn inspiration from barnacles to design a glue that can seal wounds to stop bleeding in a hurry.

      The biocompatible glue can adhere to surfaces even when they are covered with blood and forms a tight seal in seconds. This could be lifesaving in situations where stitching a wound is impractical, the researchers say, and it could also help control bleeding during surgery….

      For their new glue, the researchers examined how barnacles cling to rocks, ship hulls, and even other animals—surfaces that are wet and often dirty, which makes adhesion difficult. The sticky protein molecules that do the job, they found, are suspended in an oil that repels water and contaminants, allowing the proteins to attach firmly.

      To mimic this glue, they adapted an adhesive they had developed previously. They froze sheets of the material, ground it into microparticles, and suspended those particles in silicone oil.

      When the resulting paste is applied to a wet surface such as blood-covered tissue, the oil repels the blood and other substances present, allowing the particles to cross-link and form a tight seal. With five to 15 seconds of gentle pressure, the glue sets and bleeding stops, the researchers demonstrated in rats.

      One advantage of this material over the surgical tape is that it “can flow in and fit any irregular shape and seal it….”

      Tests in pigs by researchers at the Mayo Clinic showed that the glue rapidly stopped bleeding in the liver, and it worked much faster and more effectively than commercially available blood-clotting agents. These studies showed that the seal remains intact for several weeks, giving the tissue time to heal, and causes little inflammation. The glue is assimilated by the body over months, and it can also be dissolved if needed.

      The researchers now plan to test the glue on larger wounds, which they hope will demonstrate its usefulness for traumatic injuries.

The Trouble with Tyson

[These excerpts are from an article by Bryan Wadsworth in the Fall 2021 issue of the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Catalyst.]

      …Tyson's home state of Arkansas is arguably the center of the US market for broiler chickens (those raised for meat): Arkansas has more poultry processing plants than any other state, accounting for $8.1 billion in sales, of which Tyson operates nearly half….

      …These large farms also produce large amounts of waste that pollutes the air and water in the surrounding area, putting both people and the environment at risk. Even though the waste is used as fertilizer on cropland, it often runs off in rainstorms and contaminates drinking water supplies. And federal laws governing how large livestock farms manage their waste currently lack enforcement mechanisms. UCS estimates that Tyson’s Arkansas broiler farms produce almost 25 million tons of waste each year, much of which is concentrated in three counties that are home to a large share of the state’s t_ Hispanic and Native American populations….

      How does the company get away with these practices? It’s partly due to a decades-long process of deregulation begun by the Reagan administration, which significantly weakened a 1921 law giving the federal government the regulatory power to ensure fair competition in livestock markets. The resulting consolidation of power into a few hands accelerated under the Trump administration, which essentially stripped the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) of any remaining policy levers by which it could combat the problem….

      How does the company get away with these practices? It’s partly due to a decades-long process of deregulation begun by the Reagan administration, which significantly weakened a 1921 law giving the federal government the regulatory power to ensure fair competition in livestock markets. The resulting consolidation of power into a few hands accelerated under the Trump administration, which essentially stripped the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) of any remaining policy levers by which it could combat the problem….

ExxonMobil Continues to Fund Climate Disinformation

[These excerpts are from a brief article in the Fall 2021 issue of the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Catalyst.]

      …Since 1998, ExxonMobil has paid a network of think tanks and advocacy groups at least $39 million to manufacture doubt about climate science and stymie government action….

      …Regardless of the amount, the company’s continued funding of disinformation…makes a mockery of its purported support for a carbon tax.

A Better Plan for Coal Ash Cleanup

[These excerpts are from a brief article in the Fall 2021 issue of the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Catalyst.]

      A steady procession of coal-fired power plant closures over the last decade has reduced air pollution and markedly improved public health. But another coal-era legacy continues to pose a serious threat long after power plants are closed: the leftover ash from burning coal, which is chock-full of arsenic, lead, radium, and other toxic contaminants.

      Since the mid-1960s, US electric utilities have produced 4.5 billion tons of ash, and despite recent plant closures, they still churn out an average of 100 million tons annually, which they pile in landfills or mix with water and store in all-too-often leaky ponds. There are more than 700 federally regulated ash disposal sites across the country; and more than 20 percent of them are in the Ohio River Valley….

      The clean-closure approach would initially cost more, but the authors calculated that their approach would generate more jobs and produce more than $100 million in additional Leconomic output in each state.

      …It calls for fully funding federal programs and enforcing federal standards that are already in place, but also stresses that nearby communities must have a say in cleanup decisions and displaced workers should have the first crack at cleanup jobs….

Becoming Obi-Wans

[These excerpts are from an article by Joshua P. Starr in the November 2021 issue of Kappan.]

      …One of the most obvious lessons of Star Wars is that no one succeeds alone. We all know this, but too many leaders try to push an agenda by themselves….

      The original Star Wars movies don’t give us Obi-Wan’s perspective, but he models a kind of sagaciousness that rubs off on other people. He doesn’t tell Luke what to do, so much as he asks him important questions and challenges him to consider big ideas….

      However, the most poignant of Obi-Wan’s actions occurs during his battle with Darth Vader. He knows he’s going to die. In fact, he sacrifices himself, knowing that he must do so in order for the others to succeed. That is, he understands when it’s time to pass the torch to someone who is better able to continue the mission….

      …A leader’s job is to ensure that the team they’ve helped build can continue winning battles when they're not around. To do that they need to know when to listen to the voices in their head and trust the Force, because they’re the only ones who can blow up the Death Star.

A Curriculum that Promotes Civic Ends and Meets Developmental Needs

[These excerpts are from an article by Carol D. Lee in the November 2021 issue of Kappan.]

      If we hope to create a truly equitable and excellent public school system in the coming decades, then we must begin by asking what we, as a society, consider to be the most consequential goals of public education, and for whom. What sort of curriculum would best serve the public good? And, perhaps even more important, who do we imagine that public to include? Who is the “we” that our schools should aim to serve?

      There is no doubt that a key goal of education is to prepare active, engaged, and intellectually robust adults and community members….We concluded that all students require a solid grounding in academic content and skills from across the traditional subject areas, including an understanding of how abstract concepts and modes of reasoning relate to real-world public problems. Further, we concluded that all students must develop a number of key intellectual dispositions and habits of mind, including an eagerness to engage with complex ideas, assess the credibility of evidence, explore multiple points of view, sift through moral and ethical dilemmas, empathize with people from differing backgrounds, and appreciate the power of literature and the arts to teach about others' experiences and worldviews….

Who Should Teach? Kappan Authors Weigh In

[These excerpts are from an article by Theresa Preston in the November 2021 issue of Kappan.]

      One hundred years ago, in November 1921, Kappan published the initial findings from a survey that attempted to uncover why the most capabld high school graduates weren’t pursuing careers in education….The salaries are too low, the profession isn't respected, and those in the profession don't present themselves as positive examples for young men….one way to shift public opinion is to raise standards and increase professionalism among teachers.

      …An article in the October 1932 issue….actually showed no correlation between intelligence and tearhing success. On the contrary, the article explained, “Such factors as leadership, social attitudes, social feel-ings, judgment, assurance, emotional intensity and breadth contribute more to good teaching than does superior intelligence”….The trouble, however, is that the importance of each specific trait is hard to measure….in March 1956, Roy Cochrane…considered the role of intelligence in teaching success….

      First, a high moral sense. Second, compulsive orderliness. Third, a feeling of mission. Besides these qualities are many lesser characteristics that distinguish the man. A favorable IQ a voice that can be understood, tolerable posture, gentle forcefulness, deep understanding of human nature….

      In February 1969, Don Hamachek…noted that a single definition may not be feasible….

      …There is no one best kind of teaching because there is no one kind of student….That is, the good teacher is able to influence both student feeling and achievement in positive ways….

      …Concerns about the low value decision makers placed on expertise in education date at least as far back as the 1930s….Too often,…teachers were selected on the basis of their personal relationships to school board members, rather than their degrees or professional certifications….

      …In June 1995, Martin Haberman…argued that, particularly when it comes to teaching children in poverty, “selection is more important than training”….

Footprints Point to an Early Arrival in the Americas

[These excerpts are from an article by Freda Kreier in the 6 November 2021 issue of Science News.]

      Footprints left behind by prehistoric people may be some of the strongest evidence yet that humans arrived in the Americas earlier than once thought.

      Sixty-one “ghost tracks” — so-called because they pop up and disappear across the landscape suggest that people romped through what’s now New Mexico 23,000 to 21,000 years ago….If true, the fossil findings would be definitive proof that humans were in North America during the height of the Ice Age.

      When people reached the Americas is highly contested. Many scientists have thought that humans traveled across the Bering land bridge that connected Asia to North America around 13,000 years ago, after the ice sheet that once blanketed much of North America started to retreat. But a slew of more recent discoveries suggest that humans arrived much L earlier….

      But some archaeologists aren’t yet convinced of the footprints’ age….

      The tracks were created over two millennia mostly by children and teenagers wandering through a patchwork of waterways. The footprints were found alongside those of mammoths and other large animals that flocked to water in the llargely arid landscape.

Dinosaurs Got Big during Rainy Spell

[These excerpts are from an article by Megan Sever in the 6 November 2021 issue of Science News.]

      …The first dinosaurs were cat-sized, lurking in the shadows, just waiting for their moment. That moment came when four major pulses of volcanic activity changed the climate in a geologic blink of an eye, causing a roughly 2-million-year-long rainy spell that coincided with dinosaurs rising to dominance, a new study suggests.

      Clues found in sediments buried deep beneath an ancient lake basin in China link the volcanic eruptions with climate swings and environmental changes that created a globe-spanning humid oasis in the middle of the hot and dry Triassic Period….During this geologically brief rainy period between 234 million and 232 million years ago, called the Carnian Pluvial Episode, dinosaurs started evolving into the hulking and diverse creatures that would dominate the landscape for roughly the next 165 million years.

      …the evidence suggests that the Carnian Pluvial Episode was actually four distinct periods of environmental change, each triggered by volcanic eruptions that were capable of impacting the global carbon cycle….The eruptions injected huge amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere, boosting temperatures and rainfall….As the rains created wet environments, humidity-loving flora became predominant and large dinosaurs began to thrive….

New Views on Ancient Peoles

[These excerpts are from a book review by Erle C. Ellis in the 26 November 2021 issue of Science.]

      …In his words, “what species of creature, must Europeans be, that they have to be forced to do good, and only refrain from evil because of fear of punishment?”

      Kandiaronk’s brilliance as a debater and social critic was unexceptional among Native Americans….Such skills were common in people living in societies governed by convincing, rather than coercing, collective action….

      …Historical hunter-gatherers built major permanent settlements, produced and stored surplus food in granaries, and built massive earthworks on scales similar to the first Eurasian cities….

      …many societies chose to shift seasonally from dense settlements and intensive gardening to more-dispersed hunting and foraging activities, and their social arrangements shifted accordingly. Agriculture, in other words, did not represent a point of no return but rather one of many cultural practices within the diverse lifeways of evolving cultures.

      The notion of cities as technology-driven crucibles of stratified states is also called deeply into question….

      …Nor was Sumerian Mesopotamia “an eternal ‘land of kings.’” Its first cities…were likely “organized into autonomous self-governing units” that operated for centuries before any sign of monarchy….

Vax the World

[These excerpts are from an editorial by Madhukar Pai and Ayoada Olatunbosun-Alakija in the 26 November 2021 issue of Science.]

      …Both climate change and pandemics require countries and people to act as global citizens and go beyond nationalism. If countries cannot share resources to end COVID-19 everywhere, it does not bode well for the world’s ability to deal with the broad impacts of climate change….

      Over 5 million people have died from COVID-19 so far, but the true death toll is probably three-fold higher….Whereas 66% of the people in high-income countries are fully vaccinated, only 2.5% of the population in low-income countries are fully protected….If the world does not tackle this inequity, all countries will face collateral damage of unimaginable proportions….

      …In 2020, the pandemic led to nearly 100 million more people in poverty, and the UN estimates that developing countries will suffer economic losses of $12 trillion through 2025….

      Health services for the continuing threats of tuberculosis (TB), malaria, and HIV have been severely disrupted by the pandemic as well….People with noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease are more likely to have poor outcomes after COVID-19 infection….

      …Even as rich nations are administering booster shots, more than 3.5 billion people are waiting for their first dose….

Stranded Red Mangroves Thrive Inland

[These excerpts are from an article by Trishla Ostwal in the 20 November 2021 issue of Science News.]

      …genetic analyses, surveys of vegetation and sediments, and simulations of shifts in sea levels show that the red mangroves (Rhizophora mangle) are part of a “relict ecosystem” that has existed for more than 100,000 years. During the last interglacial period, which peaked about 130,000 years ago, warming raised sea levels about nine meters above current levels, and the lowlands of what’s now the Yucatan Peninsula flooded. As a result, the mangrove forestwas displaced and transplanted inland by today’s standards….When sea levels dropped as the world cooled again, the trees were left far from the coast….

      To estimate where the mangroves may have been displaced from, the team collected leaves from the trees and from other mangrove forests along the coasts of the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico. Comparisons of the plants’ DNA pinpointed the origins of the inland mangroves to about 170 kilometers away along the Gulf of Mexico….

      In addition to the mangroves, other plants in the inland area have a coastal heritage, the team found. More than 30 percent, or 112 species, of the total flora growing along the river, including orchids and legumes, are typically found in coastal lagoons or along shorelines.

      With those findings in hand, the team looked at the soil too. A geologic survey of sediments near the mangroves revealed coastal gravels, shells of marine gastropods, large oyster shells and clay sediments rich in shell fragments….

Flamingo Dye Fights Sun Damage

[These excerpts are from an article by Rebecca Dzombak in the 20 November 2021 issue of Science News.]

      …Scientists have known that the leggy birds touch up their color by smearing their necks with a serum produced by glands near their tails. But greater flamingos (Phoenicopterus roseus) aren’t simply enhancing color that’s already there; they’re also fighting the bleaching effect of the sun….Feathers with a thicker coating of this serum held their color better than those with less serum, an analysis shows.

      …The red hue of the plumage comes from carotenoids, molecules responsible for many natural pigments, found in the birds’ diet of shrimp and algae.

      When flamingos preen, they care for their feathers a bit like how we care for our hair, cleaning out dirt and parasites. And like some of us, they add color….

      But the sun’s ultraviolet radiation can break down carotenoids…..

      Male and female flamingos actively work to maintain their blushed necks throughout their display season as they prepare to mate, the research suggests.

      …Without flashy feathers to advertise their health, flamingos probably struggle to find a partner….

Saving Arizona

[These excerpts are from an article by Ronna Kelly in the Fall 2021 issue of Solutions.]

      As a crippling drought sears the American West, Arizona’s growing population faces a hotter, drier future. This summer, when the federal government declared a water shortage at Lake Mead, a water source for 25 million people in the West, Arizona was prepared. Three years ago, Arizona was the only holdout among the seven Colorado River Basin states on a historic plan to conserve Colorado River water. Under the plan, each state agreed to limit the amount of water it could draw from the river when reservoirs fell below certain levels. Otherwise, the federal government would impose its own limits.

      As Arizona state and local leaders, farmers, businesses and tribes struggled to reach consensus on who should give up how much water, the Colorado River Indian Tribes, also known as CRIT, representing the Mohave, Chemehuevi, Hopi and Navajo, stepped forward. CRIT — whose farmland runs along more than 110 miles of Colorado River shoreline agreed to leave nearly 49 billion gallons of its water in Lake Mead over three years. The Gila River Indian Community provided additional water….

      But there was one problem: The agreement called for the tribes to receive $38 million in exchange for their river water, and Arizona legislators would commit only $30 million….

      The funds needed to realize this crucial and innovative agreement came from more than a dozen corporations and philanthropies….

      The funding announcement came as Lake Mead fell to its lowest level since 1935, triggering water cuts for Arizona, Nevada and Mexico.

      Under the Colorado River plan, Arizona’s supply will be cut 18% in 2022—with central Arizona farmers losing nearly 33% of their river water. All told, the state will lose as much water as 4.5 million residents would use in a year.

      The situation would have been even worse had the tribes not agreed to forgo part of their water entitlement.

      To keep their water in Lake Mead, CRIT stopped farming more than 10,000 acres. They plan to use the money to modernize their irrigation infrastructure, which dates back to 1867 and is the oldest system built by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The improvements include lining canals to reduce seepage, making for more efficient water use…..

Solar’s New Frontier

[These excerpts are from an article by Joanna Foster in the Fall 2021 issue of Solutions.]

      …While critical clean energy requirements and carbon pollution limits for power plants are in place in 30 states, what’s needed…is a national clean energy standard, as pledged by President Biden on the campaign trail and embraced by Congressional Democrats. A CES would not only be a game-changer for the clean energy industry, but if well designed, would be the linchpin to get the U.S. to meet Biden’s commitment to slash greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50% across the economy by 2030.

      …Next year Arctic Solar Ventures will begin construction on the largest high-latitude solar project in the world, for an Alaskan air force base that has run on coal for decades….

Clean Cars for Everyone

[These excerpts are from an article by Shanti Menon in the Fall 2021 issue of Solutions.]

      Ford’s F-series pickups have been the top-selling vehicles in the country for nearly 40 years and, this fall, buyers will be able to order the new F-150 Lightning. It’s the fastest F-150 yet, with a towing capacity of 10,000 pounds and a near-instant torque….

      Ford’s decision to make its brawny, beloved workhorse vehicle fully electric represents a turning point in the auto industry, as does GM’s decision…to sell only zero-emission vehicles by 2035….

      As recently as 2017, some major auto manufacturers lobbied the Trump administration to roll back U.S. and California clean car laws. But this summer, the Big Three automakers and United Autoworkers stood beside President Biden as he announced his goal of making half of all new cars sold by 2030 free of tailpipe pollution. Ford, GM and others envision EVs meeting the needs of every driver, not just a select few….

      Transportation is the number one source of climate pollution in the United States and a major source of air pollution. Making all new passenger cars and trucks zero-emissions by 2035 and freight trucks and buses zero-emissions by 2040 is critical for the U.S. to reach its climate goals and protect the health of communities….

      The U.S. government is not the only driver of change. In July, the EU proposed legislation that would require all new cars and vans sold to be zero emissions by 2035. The UK and Canada have also announced similar plans. California is expected to adopt standards in 2022 that would hit this target….

World Leaders Take Aim at Climate Pollution from Methane

[These excerpts are from an article by Shanti Menon in the Fall 2021 issue of Solutions.]

      …Methane has more than 80 times the near-term climate warming power of carbon dioxide and is responsible for at least a full quarter of the warming that we are L experiencing today….

      As millions sizzled in the record-breaking heat, Congress cleared the way for the EPA to act. Delivering a big win for climate, a bipartisan majority hi Congress voted to reinstate Obama-era regulations on methane pollution from the oil and gas industry. The vote reversed one of the Trump administration’s most damaging climate rollbacks and immediately restored protections for communities affected by oil and gas pollution.

      …Cutting oil and gas methane pollution is the fastest, cheapest way to slow down global warming. Methane is the main component of natural gas, and it can leak or be purposely released from oil and gas operations and equipment. EDF estimates show that the industry is responsible for nearly half of U.S. methane pollution.

      Once detected, many leaks can easily be fixed. The industry can cut its methane pollution by 75%, according to the Inter-national Energy Agency, by widely adopting technologies and practices already in use. More than half of those reductions can be made at no net cost to industry….

A Global Climate Reckoning

[These excerpts are from an article by Joanna Foster in the Fall 2021 issue of Solutions.]

      …According to the most recent United Nations report, climate change is accelerating, the world is locked into 30 years of worsening impacts and the planet is poised to blow past the crucial 1.5°C (2.7°F) warming limit by the early 2030s. After decades of procrastination, the world now has just a few short years left to slash greenhouse gas emissions in half or face catastrophic climate change….

      Whether they will do enough to stave off climate catastrophe, or continue to kick the can down the road, remains to be seen.

      …The EU, U.K. and U.S. have all come forward with solid targets in line with the scale of emissions cuts needed to cap global warming at 2°C or even 1.5°C. But immense challenges remain. China has pledged to be carbon neutral before 2060, but hasn’t yet submitted nearer-term goals. Other major emitters, such as Australia, Brazil and India, have yet to make pledges of their own….

      Another sticking point is ensuring the richest countries, which include some of the biggest polluters, support developing Land emerging economies….

The Dynamic Tension at the Core of the Grammar of Schooling

[These excerpts are from an article by David F. Labaree in the October 2021 issue of Kappan.]

      It’s no secret that the American system of schooling has effect on how teachers teach and students learn. Over many been remarkably resistant to change. Innovative reform decades, various core elements of K-12 education — such as efforts bombard schools constantly, but they nearly always teacher-centered pedagogy, tracking and ability grouping, and seem to bounce off the classroom door, having little to no effect on how teachers teach and students learn. Over many decades, various core elements of K-12 education – such as teacher-centered pedagogy, tracking and ability grouping, and the batch processing of students by age group — have proven to be remarkably durable….

      …while educators do sometimes make dramatic changes to their curriculum, instruction, and other practices, those changes tend to be confined to discrete organizational niches and programs, rather than prevailing across whole schools or districts….that’s in large part because school systems in the U.S. tend to be decentralized (or “loosely coupled”) organizations, with administrators having power to launch big initiatives but not to monitor or control what actually goes on in classrooms. This has both pros and cons….

      …the most deeply entrenched school practices — the ones that have proven to be hardest to budge, like age-graded classrooms and teacher-centered instruction — strike a balance between what we want our schools to do and what those schools can realistically accomplish. These two forces are continually in tension, and their constant pushing and pulling, back and forth, drives the slow evolution of American education and leads, every so often, to meaningful change….

      …Children spend 13 or 14 years oftheir lives in schools, families organize their schedules around the school calendar, and state and local governments spend about a third oftheir finances in support of the schooling enterprise. So, to be seen as legitimate, and in return for all we invest in them, schools must credibly serve one or more of the social missions we’ve assigned to them, such as promoting democratic equality, social efficiency, and social mobility….

      …We expect schools to I be meritocratic mechanisms for socializing members of the next generation and selecting them for the social positions they have earned. Unless they meet such aims, schools are failing at their job.

      …Schools must serve their social mission, but they need to do so in a way that takes into account the challenges of operating in the real world….This system needs to be able to function within budgetary and logistical constraints. And it also needs to be a manageable place where teachers and administrators can effectively carry out the task of educating the young while pursuing sustainable careers that enable them to support their families and enjoy some degree of job satisfaction.

      …The history of public education is littered with such abandoned initiatives in which reformers, pursuing idealistic goals, required schools to attempt things that simply weren’t doable on a large scale….

      …In education, as in medicine, our guiding principle should be “First, do no harm.”

      …the much-maligned bureaucracy of public education deserves some respect. While often ineffective and easily ridiculed, it also serves as an important stabilizing force, helping to protect the civic mission of our schools from those who would undermine it. At a time when privileged parents have come to exert greater and greater pressure on the system, seeking advantages that will help their children win the increasingly intense competition to get into the best colleges and capture the best jobs, the bureaucracy insists on treating all students the same. Perhaps the schools' profound resistance to change deserves a bit of respect as well….

Preschool Perspectives in Kappan

[These excerpts are from an article by Teresa Preston in the October 2021 issue of Kappan.]

      …Providing high-quality early care and education is essential, but it’s challenging to make that happen.

      …In March 1967, William Brazziel…examined how the Head Start program was faring after its first two years. At the time, 1.3 million children from low-income families were enrolled, with 171,000 attending year-round and receiving not just education but also health and psychological support as part of the program’s effort to link families and children to community resources. Studies were underway to determine results, but, Brazziel said:

      …Readiness for formal schools is the prime wish; gains in achieve-ment and achievement motivation are important corollaries. It is also hoped that parents and other adults will know more and do more about preparing underprivileged children for school by providing the psycho-logical, social, and physical support necessary for achievement motivation and success….

      …By the 1980s, the benefits of early childhood education were well established, and, as Lawrence Schweinhart, Jeffrey Koshel, and Anne Bridgman explained in March 1987…."A growing constituency, which includes chief executive officers as well as welfare mothers, considers public spending for such programs worthwhile"….The authors looked at the research into early childhood programs for insight into how governments might best spend any funds provided for these programs…..

      In the February 1989 issue, Sharon Kagan…offered an overview of the early education landscape, noting that despite clear research showing the benefits of early education, the obvious need for childcare as more women entered the workforce, and a consensus about what good programs for young children would look like, “the hoped-for promise of a new era in childcare and early education faced complex, deeply rooted challenges”….

      However, although the benefits of early education crossed class boundaries, children from low-income families had to rely on subsidized programs, while other children attended paid programs. Thus, early education was economically (and, by extension, racially) segregated….

      …In November 1994, Sharon Kagan…once again reflected on the state of early education….

      …interest in young children has been piqued by the surprising, if not stunning, first national education goal — by the year 2000, all children will start school ready to learn….

Incomplete Indigenous Landscapes

[These excerpts are from a book review by Paulette Stevens in the 19 November 2021 issue of Science.]

      Non-Indigenous people's ideas about Indigenous communities ' of the Americas have been broadly shaped by Euro-American anthropological perspectives that frequently misrepresent Indigenous culture and history….

      The idea of stockpiling Indigenous cultural information was built on a common assumption ton in the mid-1800s that the Indians of the Americas were fated to become extinct….During this period, Indigenous societies were considered primitiye by many anthropologists of European descent This racistview aligned with commonly held notions -within Euro-American society….

      Salvage anthropology, which relied on se-curing philanthropic contributions to fund fieldwork and establishing relationships with Indigenous communities, frequently led to biases with regard to which artifacts and traditions were collected and from which communities….

      The efforts of Euro-American salvage anthropologists of this era were not entirely unwarranted, misguided as their execution often was. The lifeways, cultural practices, and homelands of many Indigenous communities were indeed being decimated at this time….

      Scholars today are increasingly heeding the challenge to “decolonize” their worldviews in an effort to understand how colonization and racism have informed long-held and often erroneous beliefs about Indigenous populations….

COVID-19 Vaccines for Children

[These excerpts are from an editorial by Jeffrey S. Gerber and Paul A. Offit in the 19 November 2021 issue of Science.]

      …Make no mistake—COVID-19 is a childhood illness. When SARS-CoV-2 entered the United States early in 2020, children accounted for fewer than 3% of cases; today, they account for more than 25%. More than 6 million US children have been infected with SARS-CoV-2, including 2 million between the ages of 5 and 11. At the end of October 2021, about 100,000 children per week were infected….Almost 700 children have died from COVID-19, placing SARS-CoV-2 infection among the top 10 causes of death in US children. No children have died from vaccination.

      …In a study of approximately 2400 children between 5 and 11 years of age, performed when the Delta variant was the dominant strain, vaccine efficacy was 90.7% against% symptomatic disease….

      …Children need to go to school, play with friends, and participate in extracurricular activities for their social and emotional development. This is their life….The disruption of school activities has harmed children more than any detectable vaccine side effect, including worsening of mental health, widening education gaps, and decreased physical activity. These harms have disproportionately affected people of color, Indigenous persons, and individuals of lower socioeconomic status, further exacerbating inequities….

      …It’s why children are vaccinated against influenza, meningitis, chickenpox, and hepatitis—none of which, even before vaccines were available, killed as many as SARS-CoV-2 per year.

      …a choice not to get a vaccine is not a risk-free choice; rather, it’s a choice to take a different and more serious risk….

Iterations of Evolution

[These excerpts are from a book review by Itai Yanai and Martin J. Lercher in the 12 November 2021 issue of Science.]

      …Life emerged on Earth not long after the planet’s aggregation, writes Gee, and faced its first major challenge about 2.4 billion years ago. Until this point, bacteria and archaea had been confined to the oceans, where they evaded the Sun’s deadly rays, which were not yet tempered by a protective atmosphere. Bacteria eventually learned to harness sunlight to produce energy, with oxygen as a by-product; but as oxygen levels rose, generations of bacteria and archaea that had evolved in its absence were burned alive.

      Later, continental collisions and volcanic eruptions caused waves of extinctions that wiped ancient species from the face of the Earth and propelled previously insignificant lineages into suddenly emptied ecological niches. The book returns often to this theme, reminding readers how creatures that dominated certain periods of Earth’s history—the dinosaurs of the Jurassic, for example, or the mammals of the Cenozoic—spent millions of years as minor players before taking center stage. Life, it seems, cannot help but exploit each new crisis it encounters as an opportunity for diversification. In this way, it is akin to the mythical phoenix, which is regularly consumed in a fiery inferno, only to rise again from the ashes.

      …Early vertebrates, which began as fish, evolved jaws, the better to shred other organisms -with. Even after they began moving onto land, they still returned to the water to reproduce. Vertebrate embryos, notes Gee, need a liquid medium in which to develop. Thus, the most crucial vertebrate adaptation may have been the egg, which provides a liquid capsule in which life can unfold on dry land.

      Another amazing early vertebrate adaptation was the development of air sacs, which first arose in dinosaurs and are still found in birds. This adaptation, which enabled a one-way system of air flow, also doubled as an efficient cooling system for internal organs.

      As forests became more and more fragmented owing to climate changes linked to continental drift, primates started to venture into the open grasslands, from where the earliest hominins arose 7 million years ago….

      About 2.5 million years ago, Homo erectus arose, a territorial savannah predator, deadly thanks to two traits: it was a powerful long-distance runner and a social animal. From this lineage, Homo sapiens evolved. Humanity’s first attempt at worldwide dispersal failed, shattered by the cold of an ice age 200,000 years ago. Confined to an oasis in what is now the Kalahari Desert, humankind nearly went extinct. We, as a species, are just as fragile as all the others….

      …the reader is rewarded with a deeper appreciation of our own place in the grand scheme of life, where even the best-adapted species disappear within a time that is minute on the scale of evolution.

Antiviral Pills Could Change Pandemic’s Course

[These excerpts are from an article by Jennifer Couzin-Frankel in the 12 November 2021 issue of Science.]

      Last week’s announcement by drug behemoth Pfizer that its 5-day pill regimen powerfully curbs many early SARS-COV-2 infections opens a new chapter in the battle against the virus….it slashed hospitalizations by 89% among those treated within 3 days of symptom onset….

      …the company reported that just three of 389 people, or 0.8%, who took the antiviral within 3 days of testing positive for COVID-19 were hospitalized, compared with 27 out of 385, or 7%, in the placebo group. Six out of 607 who began the antiviral within 5 days, or 1%, were hospitalized, versus 41 out of 612, or 6.7%, on a placebo. Ten patients who got the placebo subsequently died; no one on the Pfizer pill did. Side effects were mild.

      All the trial participants were unvaccinated and had at least one medical con-dition that put them at higher risk of severe C0171D-19….

      …Some scientists worry the drug could cause mutations in people or that, in the long term, widespread use of the drug may create harmful viral variants, but little evidence supports either concern so far….

Self-Inflicted Wounds

[These excerpts are from an editorial by H. Holden Thorp in the 12 November 2021 issue of Science.]

      …caveats about the children’s vaccine have provided more ammo for anti-vaxxers. None of these miscues say anything substantive about the science and the conclusion that the virus is almost certainly of zoonotic origin and that the vaccine is safe for children. But clumsy behavior is more eye-catching than the details of research, especially when scientists are so often held to unrealistic standards, expected to be both experts in their fields and skilled communicators.

      …on the Pfizer vaccine for children ages 5 to 11, one member abstained and issued a statement implying that the vaccine was inadequately tested and marginally effective—another scrap to be exploited by anti-vaxxers. Once more, by seeming to contradict themselves, scientists look like they can’t get their stories straight and are hiding facts.

      …Scientists have consistently put forward a picture of themselves as highly objective automatons governed solely by their data, when in reality; science is a messy, human process subject to all features of human frailty. Scientists are expected to balance this reality with the fact that their every word and action, when it comes to the pandemic, is under intense scrutiny.

      It may seem unfair that scientists are being held to such a high standard. But that is where we find ourselves right now So, let’s strive to be much more thoughtful, because ineptness can cut deep and damaging wounds.

Embodying Consciousness

[These excerpts are from a book review by Alex Gomez-Martin in the 5 November 2021 issue of Sciencer.]

      …Noting that the entirety of one’s nervous system is situated within one's body, Damasio argues that “feelings are not conventional perceptions of the body but rather hybrids, at home in both body and brain.” In the intimate exchange between neurons and flesh, he seeks to bridge Descartes’s split.

      …Sensing comes first, he proposes, followed by mind and then feeling, which in turn opens the way to consciousness.

      All living organisms, from bacteria to Bach, are capable of basic sensing, allowing them to survive and thrive in Earth’s ever-changing environments. The simplest of life-forms can perform wonders….Feelings and emotions are related but different. Whereas emotions are physical reactions of the body (dry mouth, goose bumps), feelings involve the mental awareness that accompanies such changes (fear, joy). Emotions are public, feelings private….

      Altogether, Damasio’s concise, precise, and lucid prose effectively conveys the core insight he has distilled over decades (2): that affect—encompassing emotions, feelings, motivations, and moods—is central to understanding what we do, how we think, and who we are.

Methane Removal Seen as Tool to Slow Warming

[These excerpts are from an article by Cathleen O’Grady in the 5 November 2021 issue of Science.]

      …more than 100 nations have agreed to cut their methane emissions by one-third by 2030. Officials hope cracking down on the potent greenhouse gas will help limit global warming to a 1.5°C rise, the goal established by the 2015 Paris agreement.

      Now some researchers say they want to m not only put less methane into the atmosphere, but also actively pull it out. At a side event at the summit, researchers with the advocacy group Methane Action argued that so-called negative emissions technologies—alongside every trick in the book to reduce emissions—could restore methane to pre-industrial levels and trim an estimated 0.4°C to 0.6°C of warming….

      Methane is a ripe target for climate action because it traps 84 times more heat than the same amount of CO2 over 20 years. It has more than doubled since preindustrial times and accounts for about half the 1.1°C of global warming to date. Big offenders include leaks from coal mines and oil and gas operations, burps and farts from cattle, and landfills, where methane-spewing microbes consume organic matter. Emissions from natural sources such as wetlands are picking up, too, as the planet warms.

      Thankfully, methane is short-lived, breaking down into water and CO2 in about 10 years. That means methane cuts would quickly translate into lower atmospheric levels.

      …Lab experiments show that adding iron to sprays of seawater can boost production of both chlorine and hydroxyl and significantly speed up methane destruction….

      Another option is to deploy a catalyst across large areas. One candidate is titanium dioxide paint, which in the presence of ultraviolet light can oxidize methane in air that blows across its surface….

      But the technologies face many challenges. For starters, methane only exists at levels of 2 parts per million, whereas CO2 has now surpassed levels of 400 ppm….

      …Although technologies to remove carbon from the atmosphere have received billions of dollars in subsidies and incentives, methane removal has gotten next to nothing….

A New Lane for Science

[These excerpts are from an editorial by Enola K. Proctor and Elvin Geng in the 5 November 2021 issue of Science.]

      …Broadly, Americans receive about 55% of clinical interventions known to benefit their health.

      To address this failing, science needs to add another lane—one called implementation research. Implementation scientists move beyond medication and device development and study how to facilitate their use by clinics, front-line health care providers, patients, communities, and policy-makers. Public health failures that could have been avoided, as well as successes attributable to this science, illustrate the importance of this work….

      Society needs a lane of science that studies rapid uptake of proven interventions. Questions pursued in implementation research require cross-disciplinary collaborations among scientists who understand communication, marketing, anthropology, economics, and social psychology—disciplines that have not historically interacted with one another.

      …At least 10% of the NIH budget should be dedicated to this work. If this seems expensive, consider the costs of not taking these steps: Effective interventions that are not used optimally will fail to reap value from existing investments.

      COVID-19 has shown the world that “knowing what to do” does not ensure “doing what we know.” It demonstrates that intervention discovery is the start, not the end, of the scientific journey….

IPCC, Your Job Is Partly Done

[These excerpts are from an article by Naomi Oreskes in the November/December 2021 issue of Scientific American]

      …This past August one of the IPCC’s three working groups issued its sixth comprehensive report. One media outlet called it “devastating.” Another called it “grim.” Crucially, the report confirmed that the current level of warming…has crossed the DAI threshold.

      The report was released during a catastrophic summer of fires and floods during which ordinary observers could see the effects of climate change unfolding in real time, and this no doubt contributed to a high level of media and public interest. But for those of us who have been following the issue, there was little that was really new….The main thing that was new in the latest IPCC report was not so much the science but the tone. In the past, IPCC scientists have bent over backward to be calm and not to overstate the case. But in the latest report, the tone was alarmed. That’s good because when the facts are alarming, it is rational both to be alarmed and to convey that alarm to others.

      …Now that we know that DAI is fully underway, it’s time to focus on preventing the problem from getting even worse and figuring out how to adapt to the changes we can no longer prevent….

      Over the past 30 years the physical science that explains the dangers of our interference with the climate system has become ever clearer. Yet our ability to tackle the problem seems to have stood still. When the IPCC first gathered in 1988, the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide stood at 352 ppm (parts per million). Today it is 410 ppm and rising. More than half of all emissions have been generated since the IPCC began. Climate change is no longer a question of physical science. So let’s thank the climate scientists who have worked so hard to clarify the problem and look to others who can help us figure out how to solve it.

Vapor Storms

[These excerpts are from an article by Jennifer A. Francis in the November/December 2021 issue of Scientific American.]

      …Water vapor…is playing an outsized role in fueling destructive storms and accelerating climate change. As the oceans and atmosphere warm, additional water evaporates into the air. Warmer air, in turn, can hold more of that vapor before it condenses into cloud droplets that can create flooding rains. The amount of vapor in the atmosphere has increased about 4 percent globally just since the mid-1990s. That may not sound like much, but it is a big deal to the climate system. A juicier atmosphere provides extra energy and moisture for storms of all kinds, including summertime thunderstorms, nor'easters along the U.S. Eastern Seaboard, hurricanes and even snowstorms. Additional vapor helps tropical storms like Ida intensify faster, too, leaving precious little time for safety officials to warn people in the crosshairs.

      Scientists have long anticipated that climate change would create more airborne vapor, fueling what might be called “vapor storms” that are unleashing more rain and snow than storms did only a few decades ago. Measurements confirm that heavy-precipitation events are hitting harder and occurring more often across the U.S. and the globe. Since the late 1980s about one third of U.S. property damage caused by flooding—$73 billion—has been attributed to increases in heavy precipitation.

      In August 2017, for example, Hurricane Harvey dumped a mind-boggling five feet of rain in some Houston neighborhoods over the five days it dawdled in the region, leaving even well-weathered meteorologists speechless. At times the rainbands dropped an astounding six inches of precipitation per hour….

      …heat in the climate system causes water in moist soil, plants, oceans, lakes and streams to evaporate into the air. The vapor carries with it a form of energy called latent heat. If the vapor later condenses back into liquid—forming a Cloud or dew on a lawn—that heat is released into the atmosphere. The resulting bubble of warm air is lighter than the air around it, so it rises. Because temperatures are generally cooler at higher altitudes, the bubble can continue to rise and grow, all the while condensing additional water vapor into cloud droplets and releasing yet more latent heat. If you have flown in an airplane through a big, cauliflower-shaped cloud, you have felt the turbulence created by these towers of rising air.

      Latent heat is the main fuel that powers hurricanes, thunderstorms and normal bouts of lousy weather. The energy contained in latent heat is substantial; in a typical hurricane, the amount of heat energy released in one day is more than 200 times the energy in all the electricity produced worldwide per day. A hurricane can release the explosive power of 10-megaton nuclear bomb about every 20 minutes.

      The most worrisome consequence of increasing atmospheric water vapor may be its role in the rapid intensification of tropical storms….

      …rapid intensification becomes increasingly likely as oceans warm, evaporating more water and delivering more latent heat to the atmosphere. Oceans absorb about 90 percent of the heat trapped by extra greenhouse gases we humans have emitted. That heat raises water temperatures both at the surface and deeper below; the warm water acts like a powerful battery that storms can draw energy from….

      For more than two decades much of the tropical North Atlantic Ocean has been abnormally warm, creating excess evaporation that fuels strong hurricanes. Nontropical storms are gorging on the atmosphere’s extra vapor and energy, too, leading to more heavy-precipitation events and perhaps even heavier snowfalls….

      Since the mid-1990s summer nighttime minimum temperatures over global land areas have been rising faster than daytime highs. That is because vapor is a greenhouse gas, and more of it means more warming: heat that would normally escape to space at night is instead trapped, preventing Earth’s surface from cooling. And unlike carbon dioxide, which spreads worldwide regardless of where it is emitted, vapor tends to stay local.

      More vapor also makes hot nights perilous. High-er nighttime humidity prevents your sweat from evaporating—the body’s natural cooling system—leaving you to overheat and interfering with sleep….Heat stresses livestock and pets, too, and animals in the wild are adapting by moving toward higher latitudes or higher elevation if they can. Without a period of nighttime cooling, heat can also build up in soils, killing some plants and insects while allowing other, warmth-loving species to flourish….

      The heat-trapping effect of additional vapor could perhaps be offset by an increase in cloud formation. Clouds reflect the sun’s rays (leading to a cooling effect) but also trap heat. Over oceans the cooling effect tends to dominate, but the warming influence wins out at high latitudes. Recent studies suggest that on average over the entire globe, the heating effect is greater, establishing yet another vicious cycle involving water vapor….

      Increasing water vapor deserves more attention. Unfortunately, we cannot directly control the amount of it in the atmosphere. We can, however, reduce it indirectly by reining in the warming caused mainly by our emissions of carbon dioxide and methane, as well as by the clearing of trees that help to absorb carbon from the air. By reducing the warming rate, we can lessen the surge in vapor. If we succeed, we can slow the future intensification of vapor storms—and the havoc they can wreak.

Mercury Flow

[These excerpts are from an article by Elise Cutts in the November/December 2021 issue of Scientific American.]

      Rivers may carry as much as 1,000 tons of mercury to the world’s coastlines every year….This would make rivers the main way this potent neurotoxin reaches coastal oceans, where it most threatens public health.

      Human mercury exposure is largely linked to coastal fisheries, where the heavy metal accumulates in marine life that we eat. But relatively little of this pollution originates along coastlines; much comes from inland sources such as wildfires, mines and coal-burning power plants. Scientists have long thought this mercury traveled primarily through the atmosphere as vapor or bound to small particles. But the new findings suggest rivers are the greatest pathway for coastal mercury.

      …The researchers’ new model indicates that rivers could carry approximately three times more mercury to the coasts than the atmosphere does—and that half of this total can be traced to the planet’s 10 largest rivers.

      …models of the mercury cycle—how the substance enters, leaves and moves through the environment—are “the bread and butter” of mercury risk assessments….

      The researchers note that many large rivers are expected to flush more water and sediment to the coasts as the climate warms, and this process could increase mercury transport. Thawing permafrost and shifting ocean temperatures could also affect the mercury cycle….

      Understanding rivers’ role is a step toward a more complete understanding of this cycle—knowledge that could help experts anticipate and respond to mercury hazards in an uncertain future and better predict how our planet will react to global efforts to reduce mercury emissions.

Seabird Hotspot

[These excerpts are from an article by Rebecca Dzombakn in the November/December 2021 issue of Scientific American.]

      Halfway between Scotland and Bermuda, a wild expanse of ocean draws millions of seabirds from vast distances every year….at least five million migratory birds, representing about two dozen species from both hemispheres, rely on a North Atlantic hotspot of almost 600,000 square kilometers for food.

      Ecologists have long suspected that the North Atlantic served as a critical foraging zone for migrating seabird species, but they lacked data on birds’ travel patterns to justify protecting these international waters….Seventeen of the 21 species studied, including Atlantic puffins, Arctic terns and Bermuda petrels, face declining populations. The birds are harmed by pollution, overfishing and industrial fishing operations that net the animals along with their catches. Although seabirds’ breeding zones on land tend to be protected, their foraging sites are typically in the high seas, beyond any country’s jurisdiction.

      Analyzing individual birds’ satellite-tracked migration patterns, the researchers were stunned by their sheer numbers and diversity, as well as how steadily this part of the ocean is used year-round….

      The “something fantastic” is likely a buffet delivered by converging ocean currents….

      Within the hotspot, seabirds stuck to these food-rich currents….

      The researchers hope these new data will lead the international Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic to designate the seabird hotspot a Marine Protected Area—and maybe set a precedent for shielding other areas in the high seas.

Next-Gen Nuclear Reactor Hype

[These excerpts are from an editorial by Elliott Negin in the November/December 2021 issue of Scientific American.]

      The U.S. nuclear power industry is at an impasse. Since 2012, 11 of the 104 light-water reactors in operation at the time have closed, mainly as a result of aging infrastructure and the inability to compete with natural gas, wind and solar, which are now the cheapest sources of electricity in the U.S. and most other countries worldwide.

      One way the industry is trying to reverse the trend is by looking to what it likes to call “advanced” reactors. Despite the name, these designs are largely based on unproven concepts from more than 50 years ago. Unlike conventional light-water reactors, these rely on sodium or molten salt or gas for cooling, and their proponents claim they will be less expensive, safer and more secure than their predecessors. Some claim that these innovative devices will L be ready for prime time by the end of this decade.

      …an analysis of non-light-water reactor concepts in development bythe Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) has found that these designs are no better—and in some respects significantly worse—than the light-water reactors in operation today….

      …According to the UCS report…sodium-cooled fast reactors such as Natrium would likely be less uranium-efficient and would not reduce the amount of waste that requires long-term isolation. They could also experience safety problems that are not an issue for light-water reactors….

      …if federal regulators require the necessary safety demonstrations, it could take at least 20 years—and billions of dollars in additional costs—to commercialize such reactors, their associated fuel-cycle facilities, and other related infrastructure….

      Lyman’s report recommends that the DOE suspend its advanced reactor demonstration program until the NRC determines whether it will require full-scale prototype tests before any designs are licensed for commercial deployment, which the report argues are essential…. /p>

      Finally, it recommends that the NRC and Congress consider spending more research and development dollars on improving the safety and security of light-water reactors rather than on commercializing immature, overhyped non-light-water reactor designs….

States vs. Health

[These excerpts are from an editorial by the editors in the November/December 2021 issue of Scientific American.]

      …During the COVID pandemic, public health officials protected people by requiring masking and physical distancing. In 2020, for instance, Kansas counties that adopted mask mandates, aided by health departments, had significantly fewer hospitalizations, deaths and cases than did counties that rejected masks.

      But now politicians in many states are trying to prevent this kind of lifesaving work. They are passing laws that take control of public health and safety measures away from local agencies and put it in the hands of state legislatures, which have no medical expertise. In recent months at least 15 states have enacted or are considering laws that severely limit the authority of county and city agencies to close dangerous facilities or isolate people infected with deadly and contagious illnesses such as measles or COVID, as well as other public safety actions….

      …The bills and laws prevent local authorities from responding quicklyto local conditions, which is dangerous because things change fast during a disease outbreak and different threats require different responses.

      Many of the bills appear fueled by the misplaced anger of Republican lawmakers at health measures taken to contain the pandemic, including activity restrictions and business closures s or occupancy limits….

      It is true that health orders such as quarantines restrict individual freedom. But agencies cannot impose such measures arbitrarily…and they are subject to quick review by courts. Health officials have had tremendous success in preventing the spread of illness and saving lives by customizing fast responses to different diseases. A salmonella outbreak at a restaurant calls for different measures than a hepatitis outbreak in a homeless population, or a person with tuberculosis who has been traveling around a county, or a bacteria-contaminated city water supply. Limits such as an automatic seven-day cutoff will prevent the most effective reactions and lead to illness and death.

      It is true that health orders such as quarantines restrict individual freedom. But agencies cannot impose such measures arbitrarily…and they are subject to quick review by courts. Health officials have had tremendous success in preventing the spread of illness and saving lives by customizing fast responses to different diseases. A salmonella outbreak at a restaurant calls for different measures than a hepatitis outbreak in a homeless population, or a person with tuberculosis who has been traveling around a county, or a bacteria-contaminated city water supply. Limits such as an automatic seven-day cutoff will prevent the most effective reactions and lead to illness and death.

Waste Not. . .

[These excerpts are from an article by Jacob Sweet in the November/December 2021 issue of Harvard Magazine.]

      …Except for infant formula, federal laws do not regulate date labels, which vary widely in their helpfulness….But the apparent precision of date labels masks the fact that many don’t signify much….

      …91 percent of consumers at least occasionally discarded food past its “sell by” date out of concern for the product’s safety. A quarter of respondents said they always did so. Grocery stores often throw out safe, healthy food because they worry donating it will lead to a lawsuit. Some food banks are not allowed to accept food past its labeled date—regardless of its meaning or accuracy.

      Such waste is especially damaging in the face of food insecurity, or lack of access to safe, nutritious foods. Counting “off-date” disposals, restaurant and food-service waste, and other sources, an estimated 40 percent of all food is thrown away, even 55 10.5 percent of U.S. households were deemed food insecure in 2019. In April 2020, at the depth of the pandemic-related economic closures and job losses, researchers found that proportion had more than doubled, with estimates ranging from 22 to 38 percent of the population. Households categorized as “very low food security” or where “normal eating patterns were disrupted to lack of resources” increased from 4 percent to n percent.

      Even as food banks saw demand soar, farmers were forced to discard more food than ever. As restaurants and schools closed, supply chains that got them milk, cheese, and butter seized up, so dairy farmers dumped an estimated 37million gallons of milk daily. Produce rotted in fields or was plowed under for lack of markets….

      Redistributing unused food has never been easy or cost-free. But the pandemic exacerbated these problems, putting the unnecessary food waste on full display….

The Mystery of Smell

[These excerpts are from an article by Lydialyle Gibson in the November/December 2021 issue of Harvard Magazine.]

      In the early weeks of the pandemic, as scientists and physicians scrambled to find the edges of this new, dangerous disease—how it spread from person to person, how it behaved inside the human body, and how they might be able to stop it—one emerging symptom sent a jolt of recognition through Sandeep Robert Datta: the sudden disappearance of many patients’ ability to smell.

      A professor of neurobiology, Datta studies olfaction: what hap-pens between nose and brain as sensory neurons pick up a smell and the signal makes its way to the olfactory cortex, where the information is transformed into something we recognize as cof-fee, or roses, or dirty socks….

      Researchers do have a grasp of the rudiments: that specific odor molecules bind to matching receptor proteins in the nose’s sensory neurons like keys in a lock, and that when each lock is opened, an electrical signal travels to the braids olfactory bulb, which in turn relays the message to other parts of the brain, where it is processed further—the pixiform cortex, which identifies smell; the thalamus, which acts as a relay station; the orbitofrontal cortex, which is involved in taste. But even this knowledge is somewhat recent. The landmark genetic study identifying hundreds of different olfactory sensors in the nasal neurons was published only in 1991. That breakthrough won the Nobel Prize for its authors….

      …Fully one-third of the human brain is devoted to processing visual information. No surprise, then, he says, that from the beginning, modern neuroscience focused most intensely on deciphering sight (and, then, hearing)….Vision and hearing abound with adjectives, but humans’ vocabulary for what something smells like is fuzzy and fragmentary and highly variable. This is a huge hurdle for science: it’s extraordinarily difficult for people to convey their olfactory perceptions in a way that is comprehensible to researchers.

      …Sulfur, the rotten-egg smell so noxious to humans it is added to odorless natural gas as a safety warning for gas leaks, is also an essential component of garlic, onions, and certain perfumes; the purified compound MivIB, which is what makes cat urine smell intolerable, is also sold, at low concentrations, as a food additive to enhance flavor….

      Odors have the power to trigger intense memories and emotions, and can profoundly influence mental health—as many COVID patients attest, people who suddenly lose the ability to smell often struggle with depression and emotional wellbeing. Loss of smell is linked to increased mortality risk and considered an early warning signal for neural illnesses like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson's disease, and schizophrenia…. /p>

      The reasoning was partly practical. In neuroscience, one common research subject is mice, whose neural circuitry approximates humans’ in important ways; and for mice, smell is dominant, the most profound sense they have for navigating the world. (In mice, it is smell that takes up one-third of the brain.) Researchers can train rodents to respond to specific odors remark-ably easily….

      Recently, Murthy has been investigating a new mystery: how animals follow scent trails. It’s a deeper question than it seems….

      About 85 percent of COVID patients with mild infections seem to suffer loss of taste and smell—for many, it is the earliest symptom, or the only one. And although most regain their ability to smell within three or so weeks, for as many as 35 percent, the loss lasts longer….But the lack of proven, reliable treatments can drive patients to desperation….

      Olfactory sensory neurons are a rare part of the human nervous system capable of regeneration….After neurons die, they can come back….

Ancient Survivors

[These excerpts are from an article by Sandy Ong in the Winter 2021 issue of World Wildlife Magazine.]

      …just 20 years earlier encountering a black rhino was incredibly rare—fewer than 2,500 individuals remained in eastern and southern Africa. Due to intense poaching, 96% of the population was wiped out between 1970 and 1990.

      Today, black rhino numbers have more than doubled, thanks to concerted conservation efforts by the government, local nonprofits, and the communities who manage the land. Today, Namibia is home to the largest black rhino population…

      In recent years, two other rhino species have seen a similar rise in population numbers. White rhinos are now thriving in parts of southern Africa, and greater one-horned rhinos have rebounded in Nepal and India.

      But Africa’s black rhinos and the two other species in Asia, Sumatran and Javan rhinos, are still critically endangered. Today, an estimated 27,000 rhinos remain in the wild—a far cry from the 500,000 or so that existed at the turn of the last century—and all five species face ongoing threats.

      Their decimation is linked to demand for their horn, which is prized by high-paying customers in Viet Nam and China for medicinal properties that are unsubstantiated….

      One of Namibia’s biggest successes has been the government’s ability to intercept poachers before animals are harmed and to secure meaningful sentences for higher-level criminals….

      Key to this proactive intervention is the strong sense of pride and responsibility felt by local communities, who allow rhinos to roam through their lands without barriers or fences. Though the population of rhinos on these communal lands is smaller than that found in some national parks, it is significant—especially when you consider the African continent as a whole….

      Etosha and other national parks hold a portion of Namibia’s black rhinos but comprise only a fraction—roughly 17%—of the country’s total land area. The rest of the rhinos reside on private and communal lands, including communal conservancies….

      Most important, initiatives such as ecotourism activities help local people reap tangible benefits from sharing their lands with rhinos….

      The results speak for themselves: Poaching in communal conservancies fell by over 80% between 2011 and 2017 and had dropped to zero before the pandemic hit….

      Black rhinos are highly territorial and largely solitary, so they require vast areas to roam. The population density of black rhinos, for example, can be as low as one animal per 40 square miles in Namibia’s arid deserts….

      Translocation has helped expand and increase populations not only of Africa’s rhinos but also of Asia’s….

      Habitat loss is also a big problem. Lands favored by rhinos—grasslands, open savannas, bushlands, and deserts for the two African species; lowland forests and grasslands for the three Asian ones—are increasingly encroached on by people, particularly for agriculture. Plus, rhinos and other wild species may face competition for these resources from domestic cattle and other livestock….

      Of course, rhino conservation wouldn’t be possible without the help of those who live in the buffer zones surrounding the national parks….

      While overall rhino numbers are a small fraction of what they were earlier in the 20th century, concerted conservation strategies have begun to bring populations back from the brink….

Dinosaurs Thrived until Asteroid Hit, New Fossils Suggest

[These excerpts are from an article by Michael Price in the 29 October 2021 issue of Science.]

      When a massive asteroid struck Earth some 66 million years ago, were dinosaurs around to experience the cataclysm? Two years ago, a paleontologist claimed to have found evidence at a fossil-rich North Dakota site called Tanis that dinosaurs were alive until moments after the impact, when floodwaters surged over them. But many paleontologists were skeptical, especially because the dinosaur data were first discussed in a magazine story rather than a peer-reviewed journal.

      Last week, at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America in Portland, Oregon, paleontologist Robert DePalma and colleagues added detail to their claims. They presented evidence of fossils from Tanis—including stunningly well preserved bones, skin, and footprints from what’s probably a Triceratops—that suggest dinosaurs were indeed witnesses to the asteroid that ushered them out of existence….

      Many scientists agree the dinosaurs lived until the asteroid impact, but some paleontologists are reserving judgement on the new data from Tanis….

      The fateful asteroid that struck what is today Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula near the town of Chicxulub Pueblo left a crater 150 kilometers in diameter. It sent violent shock waves across the globe, kicked up plumes of hot dust and ash, and triggered volcanic eruptions and roiling tsunamis. The apocalyptic spectacle marked the end of the Cretaceous period, during which dinosaurs had dominated the landscape, and the start of the Paleogene era.

      …described fossilized bones and a piece of remarkably well preserved bumpy skin identified as likely belonging to a Triceratops. These fossils came from the same layers that appeared to record the sedimentary surge that buried the fish. The partially decayed skin indicated the animal had died a few weeks before the impact….

      …In a layer of clay immediately below the impact layer, the researchers report several fossilized footprints they say most likely came from an infant Triceratops, infant and adult footprints from hadrosaurs, and several less-distinctive tracks attributed to the broad group of carnivorous dinosaurs called theropods….

Cruel Inventions

[These excerpts are from an article by Sam Kean in the November/December 2021 issue of Discover.]

      We all know the story. Despite less than three months of formal schooling, Thomas Alva Edison, through a mixture of gumption and genius, helped invent (or at least develop) dozens of innovative technologies — stock tickers, vote recorders, movie cameras, fire alarms, and more. And while Edison didn’t invent the lightbulb, he and his team of tinkerers did turn a dim, fragile, expensive fire hazard into a cheap, reliable device capable of illuminating the world.

      That said, Edison could be a real bastard sometimes. He and his assistants all put in grueling hours, regularly working past midnight and sleeping in closets at the lab. But Edison alone hogged the glory for “his” inventions. He was a backstabbiiig businessman, too. Many people agreed with one executive who sneered that Edison “"had a vacuum where his conscience ought to be.”

      In the 1880s, Edison came up with his killer idea: wiring cities for electricity. Even at that time, the residents of most big cities walked around beneath a cat’s cradle of wires strung overhead. These were mostly telegraph and arc-lighting wires, specialized for one purpose and restricted to certain businesses.

      Edison proposed threading electrical wires into every business, and even into people’s homes. What’s more, Edison’s wires wouldn’t be restricted to one purpose, but would supply power for everything — motors, looms, lightbulbs, you name it. He understood, as few contemporaries did, just how revolutionary electricity would be — and he wanted to be the man to power America.

      It was a grand vision. But scientists with delusions of grandeur like this often fall for the means-end fallacy. They convince themselves that their research will usher in a scientific utopia, and that the bliss of that utopia will supersede, by many orders of magnitude, any suffering they’re causing in the short term….However, as history shows, when we sacrifice morals for scientific progress, we often end up with neither….

      The problem with direct current was that DC powerlines — which carried the electricity from power plants into homes and factories — needed fat, expensive copper wires, while AC systems didn’t. As a bonus, thanks to higher electrical voltage, AC systems didn’t need to have power plants every few blocks; a single plant could serve a whole city. All these factors put Edison’s plan to wire cities with DC at a big disadvantage.

      …the 37-year-old Edison hired Tesla as an engineer, but the two clashed over scientific differences. Edison favored DC, while Tesla believed the future belonged to AC. After quitting the job, Tesla landed with entrepreneur George Westinghouse, who was investing heavily in AC technology.

      …Westinghouse continued to crush Edison in the marketplace. By the end of 1888, Edison’s company was building and selling enough equipment to power 44,000 lightbulbs per year. Westinghouse sold enough equipment to power 48,000 lightbulbs. in October 1888 alone.

      Edison eventually conceded defeat in the War of the Currents. Few people in history can match his record of innovations, but his beloved direct current played almost no role in the 20th-century revolution in cheap electric power transmission….

How Leopard Kills Rewrite Our Prehistory

[These excerpts are from an article by Riley Black in the November/December 2021 issue of Discover.]

      The teenager probably didn't see it coming. One moment, they were carrying on with life as usual in South Africa circa 1.8 million years ago. The next, blinding pain, a crunch, and then darkness — dead at the paws of one ofprehistory’s greatest carnivores.

      We know the story because of a single fossil….The specimen, SK-54, is nothing more than a skull roof from an early human Paranthropus — an evolutionary cousin who was characterized by deep jaws and broad teeth. What makes the fossil special, and horrific, are two punctures in the skull.

      The holes line up with the conical lower canines of a leopard. The longer upper canines of the cat’s maw likely stabbed through the hominin’s forehead or eyes — perhaps as the leopard carried its dinner to the recesses of the cave.

      SK-54’s fate likely wasn’t unique. Leopards have acted as bone collectors for millions of years, helping to create the fossil record….

      As Dart wrote in the article “The Predatory Transition from Ape to Man” in 1953, “the blood-bespattered, slaughter-gutted archives of human history” was apparent, from early records of humanity through the atrocities of World War II. We’d been violent from the beginning, Dart believed, with our “bloodlust” and “predaceous habit” making us deadlier than any lion or hyena.

      In this view, the australopithecines turned on each other and made the most of the fresh meat, perhaps during some disputes or when there weren’t enough herbivores like antelope to hunt. Other early human sites, such as Beijing's Dragon Bone Hill in China, were interpreted in similar ways — damaged hominin bones seen as signs of habitual cannibalism.

      As anthropologists and archaeologists went back to the fossil record, however, the idea that early humans were predisposed to violence and cannibalism faded away. By the 1980s, the next generation of experts grew skeptical of the “blood-bespattered” history Dart laid out….And among the culprits were leopards.

      But observations of living leopards indicate that the recesses of a cave can suit the cats as well as an elevated branch: When the cats make themselves at home, leopards leave signs of their presence both through what they eat and how they eat it….

      The chimpanzee may have suffered a similar fate to SK-54. The toothmarks don’t seem to indicate feeding, or even trying to crush the skull. The cat, Eller says, was likely dragging the body, using its canine teeth to grip the skull. Such a moment is an echo of prehistory when our own relatives and ancestors were apparently upright sources of sustenance to leopards. Our predecessors couldn’t have known that we'd one day learn to read such marks, reminders of a time when we were prey.

Sea Otters to the Rescue

[These excerpts are from an article by Chris Iovenko in the November/December 2021 issue of Discover.]

      The brutal consequences of climate change in California — the record-breaking heatwaves, droughts, and wildfires — have been well documented. But the climate crisis has also taken a terrible, if more hidden, toll on California’s marine ecosystems.

      Marine heatwaves in 2014 and 2015 stressed kelp forests, which need colder water to thrive. They also fueled sea-star-wasting disease, which began in 2013 and ultimately resulted in the largest marine extinction event in modern history: Untold billions of sea stars, or starfish, from at least 20 species disappeared from the entire Pacific coast, from Alaska down to Mexico. Enormous sunflower sea stars, now functionally extinct in California, were a major predator for sea urchins; in their absence, the urchin populations exploded.

      No longer restrained by predation, urchins, a voracious herbivore, moved out of their former rock crevice habitats and laid waste to kelp forests already weakened by high ocean temperatures. Tragically, Northern California has now lost 95 percent of its once-verdant kelp forests. Where these richly biodiverse marine ecosystems once thrived, little more now remains than a seaflo or carpeted with spiky urchins, dubbed “urchin barrens.”

      The precipitous decline of kelp forests not only dealt a devastating blow to marine biodiversity, but it has also had dire economic consequences for the coastal communities that formerly depended on fish, abalone, and other marine resources the forests generated. Kelp forests, which can be up to 20 times more efficient at sequestering carbon than land forests, are also a very important ally in the fight against global warming.

      …Central California’s kelp ecosystems have fared somewhat better than those in Northern California….

      …Sea otters have very high metabolisms that keep them warm in icy waters and which also make them ravenous consumers of shellfish, urchin, and fish — sea otters can eat 25 percent of their body weight in food in a day. At the observed sites, as the urchin population grew, the otter's diet shifted to become more heavily reliant on urchins. In fact, the otters were eating three times as many urchins as they had been before 2014. As a result, they provided crucial protection from urchins to the remnant kelp forests….

Overpopulation Extrapolation

[Yale Zussman sent this letter to the editors of Discover in April 2021 and the first paragraph was printed in the November/December 2021 issue.]

      Let me recommend adding a curve for the human population to your graph of the CO2-loading of the atmosphere. The two will roughly coincide starting about two centuries ago because the growth in the human population is the root cause of all environmental issues, but is never mentioned in articles such as yours. The global population has roughly quadrupled during my lifetime, destroying habitats, increasing the resources consumed, and generating waves of refugees. Without the growth in human numbers, none of these problems would have occurred.

      If we are to get serious about environmental issues, we have to pursue measures that will lead to curbing and then reversing the growth in our numbers. Since essentially every First World ethnic group now has an average children per woman below the replacement level, this means addressing population growth in the Third World, the only part of the human population that is still growing.

      The ongoing failure to even mention population growth in the Third World as a source of environmental problems undermines the credibility of the case for addressing climate change. Most people believe that advocates for a solution to a problem who won't even address the primary cause can't be taken seriously. This is why "climate change" continues to be controversial. You have to choose between being politically correct and being taken seriously.

When to Say ‘No’

[These excerpts are from an article by Mingda Zheng in the 22 October 2021 issue of Science.]

      I was sitting at my desk when another grad student in my lab approached me. “Can you help?” he pleaded. His experiment wasn’t working and he desperately needed help troubleshooting. I was a fifth year Ph.D. student at the time, and I took pride in being the senior member of the lab, whom everyone looked up to. But that also meant I was the one everyone turned to for help—which ate away hours, days, and sometimes weeks that I could have spent on my own research. As I had many times before, I caved and said yes. It was a habit that took years to break.

      There were many reasons I had a hard time saying no to such pleas….

      It was wonderfully addictive to be needed. My own experiments were technically challenging and never went the way I planned. I got a much-needed confidence boost when I could solve a problem or do a service for someone else.

      But the extra responsibilities came at a cost. I had to work extra hours to catch up with my own work, and I often made sacrifices to my personal life. One holiday break, I spent hours in the lab fixing a piece of equipment that I rarely used, when I could have been spending time with my family, who had traveled from China to see me.

      After I graduated and started ajob in industry, I continued to carry the same mentality with me, and it continued to cost me….

      It wasn’t until my wife gave birth to our first child that I realized how thin I had stretched myself—and how misguided my priorities were….

      From then on, I resolved to carve out more time for my family by paring down my work tasks and carefully considering each request for help. I still enjoyed collaborating with others, but I prioritized mutually beneficial tasks or those my manager asked me to take on, rather than accepting everything that came my way.

      I noticed many benefits, and few downsides. My daily work agenda became less crammed, I no longer worked overtime—affording me more family time—and I was able to improve my work performance by focusing more on core assignments. I was also pleased to discover that “Sorry, I’d love to help but I have a deadline coming up” is an acceptable response to a request for assistance. Most colleagues seem to understand.

      It’s hard to say “no” to those you work with. But I’ve learned that sometimes that’s the best course of action to avoid an excessive workload and lead a freer and happier life.

The Myth of Healthy Smoking

[These excerpts are from a book review by Mark Parascandola in the 22 October 2021 issue of Science.]

      A defining characteristic of the tobacco industry over the past century has been its ability to adapt to a changing world. When the link between cigarette smoking and lung cancer first gained public attention in the 1950s, for example, cigarette manufacturers responded by putting filters on their cigarettes. Although there was no evidence that filters provided any protection to the smoker, vigorous marketing from the tobacco industry drove smokers to adopt them.

      …The tobacco industry had recognized an opportunity to increase its customer base in predominantly Black, inner-city neighborhoods, and…the menthol cigarette was at the center of this push. It was not an accident or innate preference, Wailoo argues, that led Black smokers to take up menthol cigarettes but rather a highly organized, data-driven targeted marketing campaign.

      Menthol cigarettes were first promoted to soothe the airways of “health conscious” smokers. Long used as an analgesic, menthol evokes a cooling sensation that masks the harshness of tobacco smoke. In the competition to capitalize on the growing menthol market, the industry’s marketing experts “carved up, segmented, and fractionated” the population, exploiting psychology and social attitudes to shape product preferences….

      In the 1960s, analysts advised tobacco companies that a growing African American market was “open to exploitation.” When the Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corporation sought to revive its flagging Kool menthol brand in 1964, it targeted Black consumers through a national media campaign that featured images of an attractive Black couple sitting by a fountain surrounded by lush greenery with the tagline “feel extra coolness in your throat.” Kool soon became the leading menthol brand.

      …the tobacco industry exploited broader social trends and attitudes about racial identity in its marketing efforts….By focusing on urban centers, cigarette companies were able to exploit a national demographic shift in which Black Americans became more and more concentrated in the inner cities. But this strategy required advertisers to tread a narrow line, as they remained wary, amid ongoing racial tensions, of alienating white consumers….

      The 2009 Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which exempted menthol from the list of banned cigarette flavors, also left the door open, temporarily, for a new generation of electronic cigarettes. By 2014, there were nearly 500 e-cigarette brands and 8000 flavors being sold online, but in this crowded field, one product stood out. With its sleek design, which more closely resembled a USB stick than a cigarette….

      One of the features that distinguished JUUL from its competitors was its ability to deliver a far bigger nicotine hit. The nicotine content of one pod was roughly equivalent to that of a pack of Marlboros, and some teenagers were going through multiple pods a day….in August 2018, early data from the National Youth Tobacco Survey revealed au alarming 80% increase in e-cigarette use among high school students compared with the previous year. Teenage vaping was now officially an “epidemic,” according to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

      As regulators closed in, JUUL Labs began to look and behave increasingly like a cigarette company, offering its own youth vaping prevention curriculum to schools, just as Philip Morris had done for youth cigarette smoking, and fighting local regulations on vaping products….

      ”There’s always been an art to running a tobacco company, a company that sells a product almost guaranteed to kill its customer,” Etter writes. This subtlety was lost on the Silicon Valley set, who were accustomed to asking for forgiveness rather than permission….

      In 2019, vaping teenagers began showing up in emergency rooms with alarming respiratory symptoms. Laboratory data pointed to vitamin E acetate, an ingredient used in some tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)-laced vaping products, as the likely culprit. However, the experience added to growing concerns about youth e-cigarette use. Later that year, JUUL removed most of its flavored pods from store shelves. The company's valuation has since shrunk to less than $5 billion. But it is too soon to count the company out. On 12 October 2021, the FDA cautiously authorized the sale of an e-cigarette called Vase, a move that could provide a path forward for other e-cigarette manufacturers.

      …The parallels in strategy and rhetoric employed by traditional tobacco companies and today’s tech-infused disrupters are undeniable. In a dynamic world characterized by changing technology, shifting demographics, the growth of social media, and even the COVID-19 pandemic, the world of tobacco marketing has remained exceptionally, and disappointingly, constant.

How Ambitious Are Oil and Gas Companies’ Climate Goals?

[These excerpts are from an article by Simon Dietz, Dan Gardiner, Valentin Jahn and Jolien Noels in the 22 October2021 issue of Scientific Americar.]

      The oil and gas (O&G) industry faces an existential threat from the transition to a low-carbon economy. Companies are increasingly responding by setting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions targets, which are presented as being compatible with this transition. Many stakeholders, including investors that own O&G companies, want to understand how ambitious these targets are….The sector is not on track Recent trends in emissions intensity have been mostly flat. Nearly half the companies we assess have yet to set emissions targets or provide sufficient clarity on them. Of those that have set targets, most are either too shallow or too narrow….

      In 2019, the O&G sector supplied 55% of global primary energy…and was responsible for 56% of all energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions (40% of total GHG emissions)….To meet international climate goals, the world will need to transition away from burning O&G, and the O&G sector itself will need to curb its operational emissions.

      …typical carbon footprinting methods have several limitations. First, they are often limited in scope to companies’ operational emissions, whereas substantial emissions can occur either further up the value chain or, as in O&G, farther down (e.g., when burned in automobile engines). Second, emissions are often normalized by company revenue, but revenue is both volatile and difficult to project into the long run, compared with measures of physical production. Third and most important, by being restricted to historic emissions, they provide limited information about companies’ future emissions and therefore about companies’ preparedness to undergo a low-carbon transition….

      Companies’ targets fail to align with 2°C or below for one of two reasons: Either the targeted reduction is insufficient, or the targeted reduction does not apply to all company emissions….

      Many companies are presenting their targets as compatible with international climate goals, either in a specific sense or in terms of a broad direction of travel, so that they can claim to still be good investments and more broadly still deserve a social license to operate. But as a group, the world’s largest public O&G producers are far from being aligned with limiting global warming to 2°C or below. Some companies have yet to set emissions targets, and some others provide limited clarity on what they cover and how they will reduce company-wide emissions. Even for companies whose targets appear to be more ambitious, attention turns to the credibility of the strategies underpinning the targets.

Of Wars, Tusks, and Genes

[These excerpts are from an article by Chris T. Darimont and Fanie Pelletier in the 22 October 2021 issue of Science.]

      Elephants have long been dragged into war. Referred to as “elephantry,” military units rode into battle atop these giants over millennia….Seeking ivory to finance a civil war in Mozambique, poachers relentlessly targeted specific African elephants (Loxodanta africana), individuals with tusks, sending the population—and the frequency of this important trait—into decline….The findings bring new evidence to inform debates on the roles of environmental and selective forces underlying trait variation in populations subject to harvest.

      Over and above the environmental variation to which populations are subject, selective killing of specific phenotypes can influence traits such as body or ornament (for example, horn, antler, or tusk) size….intensive selective killing of African elephants caused the rapid evolution of increased tusklessness in females. Field data revealed that the proportion of tuskless females increased by more than 30% as the population declined over 28 years, which included 15 years of civil war. The frequency of tuskless phenotypes among adult females born after the war was also higher than be-fore the conflict, suggesting an evolutionary response. Simulations showed that the observed increase in tusklessness is extremely unlikely to have occurred without selective killing of tusked animals. Model outputs estimated that the survival of tuskless individuals was five times higher than that of tusked individuals.

      …Analyses of whole-genome sequences from individuals with and without tusks supported the hypothesis of a more severe population decline among tusked compared with tuskless individuals….The observed sex bias in the offspring pro-duced by -tuskless mothers suggest that tuskless male offspring were nonviable….

      Generalization of the findings on African elephants fs constrained by the relatively simple genetic basis underlying tusklessness….

      More broadly, even perfect knowledge of underlying genetic contributions do not address social-evolutionary processes that influence nonhuman life in today’s world. An extreme social event (a war, in this case) that triggered intense, selective exploitation of elephants crisply illustrates the pronounced coupling between human societies and evolutionary processes in other life forms. Through humanity’s cultures, economies, medicines, built environments, and more, societies have set in motion selective landscapes never before experienced by the world’s biota….

Ancient DNA Reveals Long-Sought Homeland of Modern Horses

[These excerpts are from an article by Ann Gibbons in the 22 October 2021 issue of Science.]

      About 4200 years ago, a few herders on the western Eurasian steppe got a brand-new mount. They were experienced at herding wild horses for food, but their new steeds had a calmer disposition and a stronger back, making the horses easier to train and ride, perhaps for the first time. The new model galloped across Eurasia within a few centuries, triggering major shifts in Bronze Age human cultures….

      The first evidence of horse domestication comes earlier, from Kazakhstan, where herders of the Botai culture corralled mares for meat and perhaps milk about 5500 years ago. Researchers haven’t proved the Botai horses, whose teeth show wear likely from bits, were actually ridden, but archaeologists assumed for years that they were ancestral to modern horses. Then in 2018 Orlando and colleagues tested ancient DNA from the Botai horses and got a surprise: The horses were not the fore-runners of modern horses. Instead, they were the ancestors of today’s Przewalski’s horses, endangered “wild” horses found only in Mongolia that escaped domestication long ago….

      But starting by about 4200 years ago, thatt diversity began to disappear. The genetic profile of one type of horse, closely related to modern horses, began to spread rapidly across Eurasia, replacing the others. By 4000 years ago, the new horse dominated a region from central Anatolia to central Russia....By 3000 years ago, the replacement was complete….

      The new horse’s spread and takeover between 4200 and 3000 years ago coincide with a “cultural genesis” during the late Bronze Age in the Volga-Don region….First came the DOM2 horse, followed by the spoked wheel and chariots. Together, those innovations gave people the ability to travel off well-trodden paths, allowing them to find new sources of tin, gold, and other metals; set up long-distance trade networks; and herd other. livestock farther to new pastures….

Share Vaccine Know-How

[These excerpts are from an editorial by Priti Krishtel and Fatima Hassan in the 22 October 2021 issue of Science.]

      Leaders of the world’s major economies, representing 80% of the world's gross domestic product, will meet at the end of this month at the G20 meeting in Rome to address issues of global importance, including how to increase the worldwide supply of COVID-19 vaccines. How the world addresses the current state of vaccine inequity will affect how we meet future global disease challenges. /p>

      It has been 10 months since a vaccine became available, but only 27% percent of people in low- and lower-middle-income countries—home to the majority of the world’s population—have received a first dose, compared with over 10% in many high- and upper-middle-income countries. The push for booster shots in wealthy countries will further stratify vaccination access. It will take almost 1 billion doses annually to offer boosters to people age 50 and over in wealthier countries, which is enough to vaccinate nearly 40% of the entire continent of Africa.

      …Pharmaceutical companies will also need to share knowledge, including the “secret sauce,” to accelerate vaccine production by other manufacturers.

      Pharmaceutical companies have been prioritizing wealthy countries….This imbalance has been attributed primarily to preorders and stockpiling of existing supply by wealthy nations, who are likely to have 1.2 billion extra doses available that they do not need by the end of this year.

      …To date, only 371 million doses have been shipped, falling far short of a targeted 2 billion doses by the end of 2021. It remains to be seen whether this goal will be reached in 2022.

      …Moderna’s refusal to license technology to other manufacturers has been criticized because its vaccine was- developed primarily with public funds…. /p>

      An incorrect claim often made is that the capability to produce the vaccines does not exist outside of the United States and Europe….

      The shared goal should be to save as many lives as possible, which means swiftly addressing obstacles that have been revealed during this pandemic. Going forward, our collective survival will depend on both sharing knowledge and ensuring equity in accessing medicine.

Preparing for “Disease X”

[These excerpts are from an editorial by MariaD. Van Kerkhove, Michael J. Ryan and Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in the 22 October 2021 issue of Science.]

      The past 30 years have exposed the global public health and economic threats posed by the emergence of infectious pathoiens with epidemic and pandemic potential. Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), middle east respiratory syndrome (MERS), influenza, Ebola, Marburg, Lassa, Nipah, Zika, and now SARS coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) each have been the “Disease X” of their time. The risk of future emergence is driven by multiple forces, including climate change, ecosystem changes, and increasing urbanization. The next Disease X could appear at any time, and the world needs to be better prepared.

      …developing a framework to define comprehensive studies on the origins of such pathogens, including SARS-CoV-2—information that is essential for developing policies and enhancing preparedness to reduce the possibility of future zoonotic spillover events (transmission of a pathogen from animals to humans) and the chance that those events become major outbreaks….

      Since the beginning of this pandemic, scientists from around the world have worked together to understand the events that led to the first human infections….But it’s clear that the scientific processes have been hurt by politicization, which is why the global scientific community must redouble efforts to drive the scientific process forward….

      …Recent findings on the potential for zoonotic spillover of SARS-CoV-2 to humans, either directly from bats or through other animals, include, but are not limited to, studies of wildlife sold in markets in and around Wuhan, China…; studies of SARS-like coronaviruses circulating in bats in China and Southeast Asia; studies on prepandemic biological sampling around the world; and other animal susceptibility studies….

      COVID-19 will not be the last Disease X. We need scientific collaboration, data sharing, and implementation of a robust “one health” approach that brings together the human, animal, and environmental spheres to boost risk identification, reduction, and surveillance in animals and at the human-animal-environment interface. This must be linked to early action to investigate, characterize, and contain threats….

      Globally, at least 4.8 million people have died from COVID-19. They and their families are owed answers as to where and how the virus originated. It’s in everyone’s interest to better prepare for the next Disease X.

The History and Future of Fire

[These excerpts are from a book review by Mary Ellen Hannibal in the 15 October 2021 issue of Science.]

      In The Pyrocene, Stephen J. Pyne takes a measured, historical, and ecological approach to fire. A revered fire historian and a prolific author on the subject, he argues that we ought to embrace and not shun combustion. For one thing, we need it. And for another thing, it is not L. going away.

      …Burning decomposes biomass, taking apart what photosynthesis has cohered. In doing so, it helps redistribute and stimulate the elements of life. Burned biomes regenerate and thrive.

      …Fire was a tool, a weapon, and a complete game changer for the creatures who would eventually give rise to Homo sapiens and their cousins. Pyne credits one particular “pyrotechnology”—cooking—for changing the evolutionary trajectory of hominins. Processing meat and vegetation with fire essentially predigests it, allowing the human gut to complete the combustion process more quickly and efficiently. This led to better nutrition and increased the amount of time available to develop tools, resulting in the burgeoning dominance of our once unassuming ancestors.

      Humanity’s use of fire was initially bounded by ecological parameters such as seasonality and weather, which influenced the timing and extent of intentionally lit fires. Indigenous people burned landscapes in cycles to stimulate the growth of various plant species, not only to use the plants themselves but also to attract and hunt the creatures that arrived with the various successional stages of vegetation.

      …humans figured out how to move combustion into machines and to direct flame with ever more increasing intensity. Alongside this revolution came an even more impactful upheaval in fuels. Humanity once focused on setting fire to aboveground products of photosynthesis—trees, shrubs, and grasses. With third-fire, we turned to belowground sources of yesterday’s photosynthesis such as coal, oil, and natural gas….All of this combustion, now freed from the fetters of ecological seasonality, has pumped effluents into the atmosphere that have “unhinged the old climate” and are currently driving record warming and drought.

      …Indigenous burning practices have been curtailed nearly worldwide, and biomes that evolved alongside first- and second-fire are now often deprived of both.

      …We must ratchet down fossil fuel burning, he argues, and we must bum living landscapes more widely and frequently….

China Embraces Global Biodiversity Push—Cautiously

[These excerpts are from an article by Dennis Normile in the 15 October 2021 issue of Science.]

      China took advantage of an international stage this week to show it’s serious about protecting the planet’s threatened species. But what it had to offer left some conservation advo-cates disappointed.

      …But Xi didn’t mention a goal some other countries have embraced: setting aside 30% of the world’s land and sea areas for conservation….

      …China also recently pledged to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060 and to end Chinese financing for overseas coal plants….

      The latest draft of the framework lists 31 targets and milestones to reach by 2030. In addition to the 30% set-aside, it calls for halving the introduction of new invasive species, eliminating plastic pollution, and increasing financial support for conservation efforts in developing countries by $200 billion….

      China has made significant progress protecting its own biodiversity….

      But China has made less progress battling invasive species, and whereas air quality in the country has improved, “water pollution is not getting any better….”

Analyzing Mass Incarceration

[These excerpts are from an editorial by Sean Joe in the 15 October 2021 issue of Science.]

      …Can the largest prison population in the world be attributed to greater criminal behavior by Americans? Not likely—the US crime rate is comparable to those in many Western industrial nations. Although the national violent crime rate increased during the crack-cocaine epidemic, peaking in 1993, the rate has steadily declined to a low not seen since the 1970s. Yet the incarcerated population has increased by an estimated 700%.

      …Since 1984, the number of people serving life sentences has nearly quintupled, even though serious violent crime has been declining for the past 20 years.

      These government policies have led to only minor gains in crime reduction. Notably, the majority of incarcerated people in the United States are not charged with violent crimes. Every year an estimated 13 million misdemeanor charges sweep masses of Americans into the criminal justice system for behaviors as benign as jaywalking, sitting on a sidewalk, or technical parole violations….

      Misdemeanor arrests may not sound like a big deal, but they carry serious personal, social, and financial costs, especially for defendants. The earnings lost each year by the roughly 14% of the US population with a misdemeanor criminal record is about $238 billion. There are also monetary costs to society for a “mass misdemeanor” system that pays for processing these court cases and the resulting incarceration. The US carceral system operates at the scale of billions of dollars and is financed mainly by the government and banks. To better understand this sustained investment, it is necessary to assess the economy that the carceral system upholds. The direct economic beneficiaries are largely the rural towns where prisons are built, those employed by these prisons, and the state-owned and private correctional industries that manage prisons and prisoner services. So stakeholders have a vested economic interest in building more jails and expanding the market for prisoner services.

      The policies that have increased the “mass misdemeanor” system have also resulted in the “mass criminalization” of mostly Blacks, Latinos, and the poor for nonviolent misdemeanor violations and drug possession. Blacks make up 13% of US residents yet are 40% of the incarcerated population….

      There is no simple solution to these problems. A giant step forward would be to better understand how policy and spending sustain the US carceral economy….

Ancient DNA Alters Migration Timeline

[These excerpts are from an article by Bruce Bower in the 9 & 23 October 2021 issue of Science News.]

      A young woman who lived on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi as early as around 7,300 years ago had a surprisingly ancient East Asian pedigree, mixed with a dash of Denisovan ancestry, a new study finds.

      Researchers excavated the woman’s partial skeleton from South Sulawesi’s Leang Panninge cave. An analysis of her DNA shows that she was a descendent of mainly East Asian Homo sapiens who probably reached the tropical outpost at least 50,000 years ago….

      Until now, many scientists thought that skilled mariners and farmers called Austronesians first spread East Asian genes through Wallacea — a group of islands between mainland Asia and Australia that includes Sulawesi, Lombok and Flores — around 3,500 years ago.

      The ancient Sulawesi woman’s DNA provides the first indication that an Asian ancestry was present in Wallacea long before Austronesians….

      After arriving on Sulawesi, the wornan’s ancestors mated with Denisovans who already inhabited the island, the investigators suspect. Known mainly from ancient DNA samples, Denisovans are a group of mysterious ancient hominids who date to as early as around 300,000 years ago in Siberia and survived on nearby Papua New Guinea until as late as 30,000 to 15,000 years ago….

      The discovery of Besse shows that the peopling of Southeast Asian islands was much more complex than has typically been appreciated….

      …the ancient Sulawesi woman inherited about 2.2 percent of her DNA from Denisovans. That's a bit less than some other groups in the region. Indigenous groups in the Philippines carry the highest known levels of Denisovan ancestry, topping out at about 5 percent….

      Earlier genetic evidence suggested that different Denisovan populations interbred with H. sapiens groups in the Philippines and on a landmass that included what's now Papua New Guinea and Australia. The Sulawesi woman’s DNA indicates that interbreeding occurred in Wallacea as some Stone Age H. sapiens made their way toward Papua New Guinea and Australia….

      The woman’s DNA more closelyl resembles that of present-day Papuans and Indigenous Australians than of any current mainland East Asians….

      Carefully crafted stone points that had been placed in the ancient woman’s grave identify her as a member of South Sulawesi’s Toalean hunter-gatherer people….Toalean stone artifacts date to between roughly 8,000 and 1,500 years ago. Evidence of Toalean culture disappears after that….

      Radiocarbon dating of a burned seed from a common Southeast Asian tree, which was found near the skeleton, provided an age estimate of between around 7,300 and 7,200 years….

Amazon Fires Intrude on Wildlife Spaces

[These excerpts are from an article by Jake Buehler in the 9 & 23 October 2021 issue of Science News.]

      Much of the Amazon’s biodiversity is under fire—literally.

      In the last two decades, deforestation and forest fires have encroached on the ranges of thousands of plant and animal species in the Amazon rainforest….Fire has singed the ranges of up to 85 percent of threatened species in the region.

      Since much of the rainforest is within Brazil’s borders, the extent of the damage is closely tied to the enforcement, or lack thereof, of the country’s regulations aimed at protecting the rainforest from widespread logging and fires often used to clear open space. The findings illustrate the key role that forest use regulations have in the fate of the Amazon rainforest….

      …A deep bench of tree species allows the plants to replace those that may not survive drought conditions….

      As fires advance deeper into the rainforest, more species will experience fire Lfor the first time….Such consequences may include increased risk of population declines or extinction, similar to what was feared following wildfires in Australia in 2019 and 2020….

      In recent decades, ongoing deforestation and periodic drought in the Amazon basin have been associated with intensifying fires there. In 2019, a particularly severe series of fires scorched the region….

p style="text-indent: 40px;">       …Comparing these maps with satellite images of Amazon forest cover and fire location data let the team track how logging and fires degraded rainforest habitat from 2001 to 2019.

      Fire impacted up to 190,000 square kilometers — an area roughly the size of Washington state — the team found. Up to about 95 percent of the species in the study had ranges that overlapped with fires during this nearly two-decade period, though for many species, burned areas made up less than 15 percent of their overall range. In 2019 alone, over 12,000 species experienced fire somewhere in their geographic range….

      The shift suggests that effective forest preservation policies can slow destruction, and may be crucial for preventing the region from reaching a tipping point. That point would occur when the cycle of deforestation, drying and fire triggers transformation of large parts of the Amazon basin into a savanna-like habitat….

A Pinch of Fat Could Make Tempering Chocolate a Breeze

[These excerpts are from an article by Nikk Ogasa in the 9 & 23 October 2021 issue of Science News.]

      Glossy, velvety chocolate that snaps in the fingers and melts in the mouth is the chocolatier’s dream.

      But crafting cocoa confections with this optimal texture is no easy feat. The endeavor, known as tempering…, demands carefully warming and cooling liquid chocolate until it crystallizes into its most delectable form. Now, scientists may have found a shortcut: adding a small pinch of fatty molecules called phospholipids….

      Curious about what occurs on a molecular level during tempering, Marangoni and colleagues focused on the ingredient that gives chocolate its texture — cocoa butter. While previous tempering research had targeted cocoa butter’s main component, triglycerides, the team set its sights on a different sweet spot: the minor components, which include free fatty acids and phospholipids. Removing these minor components from the cocoa butter and adding them back in one by one allowed the researchers to figure out the role of each during tempering.

      With just a pinch of phospholipids added to the cocoa butter — achieving a concentration of 0.1 percent of the chocolate's total weight—the mixture rapidly crystallized into the elusive, melt-in-the-mouth texture. The process required a single cooling to 20° Celsius rather than multiple heating and cooling cycles as tempering typically demands.

      Next, the team increased the phospholipid concentration in melted dark chocolate by an extra 0.1 percent and easily produced high-quality textures. The result suggests that phospholipids could be used to simplify chocolate tempering….

COVID-19 Vaccines Are Doing Their Job

[These excerpts are from an article by Erin Garcia de Jesus in the 9 & 23 October 2021 issue of Science News.]

      …from the week ending January 30 to the week ending July 24, vaccinated individuals…were hospitalized with COVID-19 at a much lower cumulative rate than unvaccinated individuals….And the difference in rates between the two groups grew over time. By late July, a total of about 26 adults per 100,000 vaccinated people had been hospitalized for COVID-19. That's compared with about 431 adults hospitalized per 100,000 unvaccinated people….

      That trend held when researchers charted hospitalization rates on a weekly basis too….From January to July, weekly hospitalization rates among unvaccinated people…were six to 31 times as high as those among vaccinated people….

      The cumulative rates and the weekly rates send two clear messages: If you’re vaccinated, your overall risk of hospitalization is much lower than if you're not vaccinated. And, even as hospitalization risk among unvaccinated people fluctuates week by week, probably as a result of community transmission, risk remains low for vaccinated people….

The Making of a Scientist

[These excerpts are from An Appetite for Wonder, an autobiography by Richard Dawkins.]

      …As I have put is before, if the second dinosaur to the left of the tall cycad tree had not happened to sneeze and thereby fail to catch the tiny, shrew-like ancestor of all the mammals, we would none of us be here. We all can regard ourselves as exquisitely improbable. But here, in a triumph of hindsight, we are.

      …I have always been interested in the deep questions of existence, the questions that religion aspires (and fails) to answer, but I have been fortunate to live in a time when such questions are given scientific rather than supernatural answers. Indeed, my interest in biology has been largely driven by questions about origins and the nature of life, rather than – as is the case for most young biologists I have taught – by a love of natural history….

Burning Up the Past

[These excerpts are from an article by Rebecca Dzombak in the October 2021 issue of Scientific American.]

      With smoke from blazing forests in the U.S. West tinting skies ochre this year and last, residents and researchers alike asked, “How much worse can fire seasons get…?”

      The central Rocky Mountains’ subalpine forests grow in cool, wet conditions and burn less readily than their lowland counterparts. To find out how frequently these tough woodlands nonetheless have caught fire through the ages, Higuera and his colleagues combined records from modern satellite-observed fires, fire scars in tree rings from the 1600s onward, and flecks of charcoal that settled in lakes over thousands ofyears. The study found that from 2000 to 2020, the forests burned 22 percent faster than they did during an unusual warming period that started in A.D. 770 and saw the area’s highest temperatures prior to the 21st century. Most of this burn rate increase, as well as 72 percent of the total area burned between 1984 and 2020, resulted from fires in 2020 alone.

      Overall, these forests have not burned frequently—until the past two decades. The gap between extreme fi re years in the U.S. is narrowing as the climate warms, and Higuera does not think this pattern will reverse any time soon….

      This work shows that the past may no longer guide us when it comes to understanding and handling wildfires….

Scientists: Please Speak Plainly

[These excerpts are from an article by Naomi Oreskes in the October 2021 issue of Scientific American.]

      With the persistence of vaccine denial, as well as many Americans still reluctant to face the facts of climate change even in the face of devastating floods and record-breaking heat, social media has been suffused with theories about why people don’t trust science. In my own work, I have talked about how 40 years of partisan attacks on government have led to distrust of government science and then of science generally.

      But this past year another issue has been bugging me. It’s the way scientists talk….

      Examples of confusing and misleading scientific termsl abound. When astronomers say “metals,” they mean any element heavier than helium, which includes oxygen and nitrogen, a usage that is massively confusing not just to laypeople but also to chemists. The Big Dipper isn’t a constellation to them; it is an “asterism.” Computational scientists declare a model “validated” when they mean that it has been tested against a data set—not necessarily that it is valid. In AI, there is machine “intelligence,” which isn’t intelligence at all but something more like “machine capability.” In ecology, there are “ecosystem services,” which you might reasonably think refers to companies that clean up oil spills, but it is ecological jargon for all the good things that the natural world does for us. And then there’s my favorite, which is especially relevant here: the theory of “communication accommodation,” which means speaking so that the listener can understand.

      Studies show that alien terms are, in fact, alienating; they confuse people and make them feel excluded. One study showed that even when participants were given definitions for the terms being used, jargon-laden materials made them less likely to identify with the scientific community and decreased their overall interest in the subject. In plain words: jargon turns people off….

The Confidence to Question

[These excerpts are from an article by Samantha J. Butler in the 8 October 2021 issue of Science.]

      It was almost business as usual when I rose from the audience to ask a question after a research talk. I was nervous, as I often am in these situations. Since the beginning of my career, my brain’s fear center in the amygdala has been determined to warn me that no good will come from speaking up. Over the years I’ve learned to project confidence, even though I still question the validity of my question right up to the moment I start to talk. But I also know a penetrating question can be invaluable. I hope to receive such questions when I give a talk, and I teach my students to lean into them. So, I asked the presenter to put her data slides back up and drilled into them for a couple minutes. I posed an alternative hypothesis; the presenter pushed back. Others bad questions, so I sat down. It was a tense but healthy debate, I thought.

      But this exchange didn’t happen at a scientific meeting. It was at an informational session at my child’s elementary school, which is run by my university. The speaker, a colleague in the education department, had presented data showing pupils’ math test scores had increased, which the school attributed to its teaching method emphasizing storytelling and group discussion. I had countered that, because the school did not keep statistics on which children were tutored—something that my casual observations suggested was increasingly common—it was impossible to determine whether its teaching method or the tutoring was responsible for the test score gains.

      I had hoped I was helping the school and the research group. That’s not how they saw it. Within days of the meeting, the principal called me into her office to tell me that my behavior was “a threat to the democratic values of the school.” I was asked to pledge my loyalty to the school’s leadership and educational methods. When I refused, I was removed from the school’s board of advisers….

      It was unnerving to find myself questioning a hard-won capability that is central to my success as a scientist. In graduate school, I lacked the confidence to ask questions in most public settings, but I greatly admired a student who did so at the end of every seminar. As a. postdoc, inspired by brilliant, fearless friends who asked the most devastating questions, I finally mastered my anxieties enough to begin to do so myself….

      Yet what made me good at my job had now made me an unacceptably confrontational mother. My professional and personal roles seemed to be pushing me in opposite directions, leaving me feeling stuck in the middle.

      …A school mother I didn’t know well confided that she admired what I had said, which added to my confidence that I had done the right thing. When I agonized to a colleague that perhaps I bad spoken too stridently, she fiercely defended my right to speak critically.

      Slowly, a tide turned in my mind. I have worked hard at generating and asking probing questions, and it’s a valuable skill. Yes, speaking up can take an emotional toll—but staying silent would be so much worse.

Pandemic Enters Transition Phase—but to What?

[These excerpts are from an article by Kai Kupferschmidt in the 8 October 2021 issue of Science.]

      Life in Denmark now feels so much like it did before the pandemic that it can put visitors on edge….The country lifted all of its remaining coronavirus restrictions on 10 September. Copenhagen clubs are buzzing, music lovers flock to festivals, and buses are packed with unmasked commuters. The government has given up its power to close schools and shut down the country….

      Denmark is a pioneer. As the second coronavirus winter approaches in the Northern Hemisphere, Denmark and a few other countries where vaccines now protect a large percentage of the population from severe disease are entering a momentous transition: from pandemic to endemic COVID-19, when the virus is still present but now faces a population that is mostly immune to it. Researchers are closely watching what happens next, because it could yield valuable information about what lies ahead for the rest of the world.

      There are many unknowns: how best to manage the transition out of the public health crisis, how it might go wrong, and exactly what endemicity will look like once it arrives….

      Denmark has fully vaccinated more than 88% of people older than 18 and an astonishing 97% of those over age 60, the group most vulnerable to serious COVID-19. That allows the country to try to treat SARS-CoV-2 like influenza and other infectious diseases instead of a threat to the entire health system….

      …Two weeks after the measures were dropped, case numbers in Denmark started to slowly rise, after a monthlong decline; they now stand at about 450 a day in the country of 5.8 million….

      Norway, with a similarly high vaccine uptake, followed Denmark’s lead and lifted all restrictions on 25 September. But many countries around the world do not have access to enough vaccine for even the most vulnerable groups. And even in Europe, awash in vaccine, few countries are as ready as Denmark is to attempt this transition….Israel, which fully reopened on 1 June, has double-vaccinated about 90% of its population older than 60, meaning that per capita, it has several times as many unvaccinated people in that vulnerable group as Denmark does. It is now struggling to contain a big new wave of cases.

      …But given SARS-CoV-2’s high transmissibility. and the low vaccine uptake in the United States, he thinks it might well infect one-third of the U.S. population every year, causing 50,000 to' 100,000 deaths, after society fully reopens.

      It’s a grim vision of endemic COVID-19. Measures like better ventilation and even continuing to test, trace, and isolate could reduce the toll, but Bedford questions the appetite for prolonging those measures, given that the United States routinely accepts 30,000 deaths each year from flu….

A Decade for Restorimng Earth

[These excerpts are from an editorial by by Bernardo B.N. Strassburg in the 8 October 2021 issue of Science.]

      …As the world reels from the COVID-19 pandemic and its associated socioeconomic tragedies, it is confronted by worsening climate change and the extinction of life forms on Earth. Both are ranked in the top four threats to the global economy by the World Economic Forum, compound global health and social crises, and threaten vulnerable people the most. A message of hope and the promise of healing Earth could not come at abetter time.

      The massive scale of action envisioned over the Decade is key to this promise. The multiple targets it aims to support amount to 1 billion hectares of restoration on land—equivalent to the area of the United States—while calling for similar efforts in marine areas. If achieved, this recovery would amount to the fastest reshaping of Earth’s surface by humans ever achieved—this time, in a direction of harmony with the rest of life on the planet. These actions can deliver one-third of the climate change mitigation needed by 2030 while preventing two-thirds of projected global species extinctions. It makes economic sense too, because each US dollar invested in ecosystem restoration generates $30 in economic benefits. Implemented with appropriate social participation—including but not limited to the free, prior, and informed consent of local communities—the conservation and recovery of nature provides multiple social and cultural benefits.

      These goals are realistic. Scientific studies have shown that with proper planning and implementation, we can reconcile agricultural production alongside substantial increases in the area and quality of natural ecosystems….

      Fortunately, the science and practice of ecological restoration has matured, providing a growing body of evidence and practical techniques tailored to local conditions. We have a better understanding of how to tap into nature’s ability to heal itself through natural regeneration, which slashes recovery costs. New arrangements can combine the restoration of ecosystems with the provision of marketable goods and services, making such recovery in certain conditions more financially attractive than alternative uses, such as low-yield pasturelands.

      We need, however, to give the Decade attention and investment commensurate with its potential….The 12,000-years-long process of converting natural into anthropic lands was made possible by combined economic, political, cultural, and innovation forces. We need to redirect such resources away from degradation-inducing activities toward restorative ones. Steered correctly, the massive impending public investment in post-COVID-19 recovery could serve as the catalyst for such transformative change….

More Food, Less Waste

[These excerpts are from an article by Chad Frischmann and Mamta Mehra in the October 2021 issue of Scientific American.]

      Imagine going to the market, leaving with three full bags of groceries and coming home. Before you step through your door, you stop and throw one of the bags into a trash bin, which later is hauled away to a landfill. What a waste. Collectively, that is exactly what we are doing today. Globally, 30 to 40 percent of food intended for human consumption is not eaten. Given that more than 800 million people go hungry every day, the scale of food loss fills many of us with a deep sense of anguish.

      If population growth and economic development continue at their current pace, the world will have to produce 53 million more metric tons of food annually by 2050. That increase would require converting another 442 million hectares of forests and grassland—far greater than the size of India—into farmland over the next 30 years. The escalation would also release the equivalent of an additional 80 billion tons of carbon dioxide over the next 30 years—about 15 times the emissions of the entire U.S. economy in 2019. Food waste already accounts for roughly 8 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases….

      Opportunities to reduce waste exist at every step along the supply chain from farm to table. We harvest crops, raise livestock, and process these commodities into products such as rice, vegetable oil, potato chips, perfectly cut carrots, cheese and New York strip steaks. Most of these products are packaged in cardboard boxes, plastic bags and bottles, tin cans and glass jars made from extracted materials in industrial factories, and then they are shipped on gas-guzzling trucks, trains and planes all over the world.

      After arriving at stores and restaurants, food is held in energy-hungry refrigerators and freezers that use hydrofluorocarbons—powerful greenhouse gases—until purchased by consumers, whose eyes are often bigger than their appetites, particularly in richer communities. In high-income countries, restaurants and households turn on their energy-consuming stoves and ovens, and in developing nations, billions of people burn biomass in noxious cookstoves that spew polluting, unhealthy smoke and black carbon.

      After all these waste-producing activities, too much of the food that makes it to a consumer’s table is thrown in the garbage, which then is typically transported by fossil-fueled trucks to land fills where it decomposes and emits methane, another potent greenhouse gas. Tossing that leftover lasagna accounts for far more emissions than a rotting tomato that never leaves the farm gate. We can do better.

      …less waste, fewer emissions and a cleaner environment.

      If half of the world’s population consumes a healthy 2,300 kilocalories a day, built around a plant-rich diet, and puts into practice already proven actions that cut waste across the supply chain, food losses could decline from the current 40 percent to 20 percent, an incredible savings. If we were even more ambitious in following the same practices, food waste could be cut to 10 percent….

      Reducing waste by adjusting how food is produced and consumed can greatly help the environment as well. Different types of foods such as grains, vegetables, fish, meat and dairy have very different environmental footprints. On average, growing and harvesting one kilogram of tomatoes creates about 0.35 kilogram of carbon dioxide emissions. Producing the same amount of beef creates an average of 36 kilograms of emissions. With the entire supply chain taken into account, greenhouse gas emissions from plant-based commodities are 10 to 50 times lower than from most animal-based products.

      Additionally, industrial agriculture has spread monocropping, excessive tillage, and widespread use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. These practices degrade soil and emit avast amount of greenhouse gases. Staples are still destroyed in the field by pests and disease and can rot in storage. Livestock consumption of grasses and feed adds further emissions.

      Agroecological pest-management practices, such as planting different crops together, and smarter crop rotation can suppress pests and weeds, reducing these losses. Improved livestock-management practices, such as silvopasture, which integrates trees into foraging land, can improve the quality and quantity of animal-based products: more food from fewer hooves in the field and thus fewer resources used and fewer losses. And because regenerative farming practices—which can increase yield from 5 to 35 percent, restore soils and pull more carbon from the air—use compost and manure instead of artificial fertilizers, any food that fails to leave the farm gate can be recycled as natural fertilizer or can be converted by anaerobic digestors into biogas for energy on the farm….

      The real magic happens when a variety of solutions are adopted in parallel and sustained overtime. The decisions people make as farmers, executives, grocers, chefs and consumers can prevent enough food loss to feed the world through 2050 without converting any more land. That means together we can eliminate hunger and support a healthier global population. And there would still be enough cropland available to grow plants for organic materials such as bioplastics, insulation and biofuels.

      Revamping the food chain and adjusting eating habits will not happen overnight. Nor should we expect to immediately become perfect, regeneratively minded, plant-rich connoisseurs who are fastidious about our purchases and what we waste. Our most fundamental task is to be conscientious about the choices we make—to try to be “solutionists” as much as we can. Together we can save that third bag of groceries.

A Solid Charge

[These excerpts are from an article by Sophie Bushwick in the October 2021 issue of Scientific American.]

      Concrete, after water, is the world’s most used material. Because it already surrounds us in the built environment, researchers have been exploring the idea of using concrete to store electricity—essentially making buildings that act as giant batteries. The idea is gaining ground as many places come to increasingly rely on renewable energy from the wind and sun. Rechargeable batteries are necessary when winds die down or darkness falls, but they are often made of toxic substances that are far from environmentally friendly.

      Experimental concrete batteries have managed to hold only a small fraction of what a traditional battery does. But one team describes in the journal Buildings a rechargeable prototype material that could offer a more than 10-fold increase in stored charge, compared with earlier attempts.

      …mimicked the design of simple but long-lasting Edison batteries, in which an electrolyte solution carries ions between positively charged nickel plates and negatively charged iron ones, creating an electrical potential that produces voltage. In this case, conductive carbon fibers mixed into cement (a main ingredient of concrete) substitute for the electrolyte. The researchers embedded layers of a carbon-fiber mesh, coated in nickel or iron, to act as the plates.

      This setup proved capable of discharging power and then recharging….

      Although the new design stores more than 10 times as much power as earlier 4_ attempts, it still has a long way to go….

      The earliest batteries, including Thomas Edison's, were simple and bulky. Researchers experimented with new materials and designs for more than a century to develop today’s small, efficient devices….

Abortion Rights at Risk

[These excerpts are from an editorial by Elizabeth Nash in the October 2021 issue of Scientific American.]

      When Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed a new abortion restriction into law on May 19, 2021, it marked a chilling milestone--a staggering 1,300 restrictions enacted by states since the U.S. Supreme Court protected abortion rights in 1973 in its Roe v. Wade decision. Unless rejected in court, it could block most abortion care in the state. Among many other harms, this would force Texans to travel an average 20 times farther to reach the nearest abortion provider….

      But the news from Texas wasn’t the only bad news for abortion rights that week. Just two days earlier, on May 17, the Supreme Court announced that it would hear oral arguments on a Mississippi law—currently blocked from going into effect—that would ban abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy. The news alarmed legal experts and supporters of abortion rights alike, with good reason.

      A central tenet of Roe and subsequent Supreme Court decisions has been that states cannot ban abortion before viability, generally pegged at about 24 to 26 weeks of pregnancy. By taking a case that so clearly violates almost 50 years of precedent, the court signaled its willingness to upend long-established constitutional protections for access to abortion. As the legal experts at the Center for Reproductive Rights put it, “The court cannot uphold this law in Mississippi without overturning Roe’s core holding.” And in fact, Mississippi followed up in July with a brief asking the justices to explicitly overturn that historic decision.

      The Supreme Court that former president Donald Trump shaped, possibly for decades to come, by appointing conservatives handpicked by abortion rights opponents, is thus poised to deliver a potentially severe blow. Conservative state policy makers clearly feel emboldened by the 6-3 majority of justices opposed to abortion rights and a federal judiciary transformed by Trump’s more than 200 appointments.

      The decision to hear the Mississippi case comes as abortion rights and access are already under threat nationwide, with states on pace to enact a record number of abortion restrictions this year. As of August 5, 97 laws had been enacted across 19 states. That count includes 12 measures that would ban abortion at different points during pregnancy, often as early as six weeks—before most people even know they are pregnant. That is the highest number of restrictions and bans ever at this point in the year. For many people, affordable and accessible abortion care has already become an empty right on paper, even before the Supreme Court takes any new action. Currently 58 percent of women of reproductive age live in states that are hostile to abortion rights, facing multiple restrictions—from bans on insurance coverage to days-long waiting periods to intentionally onerous regulations that close down clinics—that build on one another to make abortion unobtainable for many.

      The risks of serious consequences do not end with a safe delivery. The Turnaway Study by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, found that denying wanted abortion care can have adverse effects on women’s health, safety and economic well-being. For example, among women who had been violently attacked by an intimate partner, being forced to carry an unwanted pregnan cy to term tended to delay separation from that partner, leading to ongoing violence. In addition, compared with women who got the abortion they sought, those who did not obtain a wanted abortion had four times greater odds of subsequently living in poverty. They also had three times greater odds of being unemployed and were less likely to be able to have the financial resources for basic needs such as food and housing.

      The impact of restrictive policies is even further magnified in regions of the country where hostile states are clustered together, such as the South, the Great Plains and the Midwest. For people in those regions, traveling to a state with better access may not be an option because of the long distances and logistical or financial hurdles involved. /p>

      These barriers to abortion care are the biggest obstacle for people who are already struggling to get by or who are marginalized from timely, affordable, high-quality health care—such as those with low incomes, people of color, young people, LGBTQ individuals and people in many rural communities. Any further rollback of abortion rights would once again affect these populations disproportionately.

      If the Supreme Court uses the Mississippi case to further undermine women’s rights to health care, things will get ugly—and fast. Twelve states have so-called trigger bans on the books (or nearly so)—meaning they would automatically ban abortion should Roe fall. Also, 15 states (including 10 of the states with trigger bans) have enacted early gestational age bans in the past decade. None of these early abortion bans are in effect, but with Roe overturned, many or all of them could quickly be enforced. Even if abortion rights are weakened by the Supreme Court rather than overturned, these same states will look to adopt restrictions that build on the decision.

      But there are lots of ways to fight back. States supportive of abortion, primarily in the West and the Northeast, must step up to protect and expand abortion rights and access—both for the sake of their own residents and for others who might need to travel across state lines to seek services. Congress and the Biden administration must do their part by supporting legislation such as the Women’s Health Protection Act that would essentially repeal many state-level restrictions and gestational bans. Another bill that needs support is the EACH Act; it would repeal the harmful Hyde Amendment, which bars the use of federal funds to pay for abortion except in a few rare circumstances, and allow abortion coverage under Medicaid…..

      Abortion is health care, plain and simple. There were more than 860,000 abortions in the U.S. in 2017, and at current rates almost one in four women will have an abortion by age 45. Supporters of abortion rights have to hope for the best and prepare for the worst. Most of all, we must stay in this fight until every person who needs an abortion is able to get safe, affordable and timely care.

Protect Biodiversity’s Protectors

[These excerpts are from an editorial by the editors in the October 2021 issue of Scientific American.]

      In the late 19th century Yellowstone, Sequoia and Yosemite became the first of the great U.S. National Parks, described by author and historian Wallace Stegner as America’s “best idea.” But the parks were devastating for the Native Americans who lived or hunted within their borders and who were expelled—essentially an act of colonialism in the name of conservation. In the 20th century similar reserves began to carve out the developing countries, creating millions of “conservation refugees” even as neighboring forests were given over to extractive industries. The protected areas failed to offset the destructive aspects of development. Plant and animal species are disappearing faster than at any time since the event that wiped out most of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. Even humans aren’t guaranteed to survive….

      In 2016 biologist Edward O. Wilson responded to the biodiversity crisis by calling for half of Earth to be left to wilderness. His rallying cry has birthed the “30x30” campaign to protect 30 percent of Earth’s land and sea surface by 2030. Backed by many scientists, major conservation organizations, the more than 60 member countries of the High Ambition Coalition for Nature and People, and $1 billion from a Swiss entrepreneur, the target is likely to be adopted….

      But critics charge that some advocates of 30x30 seek “a new model of colonialism” that forces those least responsible for climate change, biodiversity loss and other environmental crises to pay the highest price for averting them. 30x30 could be used by elites in democratically challenged natin-states as a pretext for seizing land from marginalized groups. The home ranges on Indigenous peoples currently shelter 80 percent of Earth;’s remaining biodiversity and sequester almost 300 trillion tons of carbon. Precisiely because of this abundance, these areas are likely to be some of the firstplaces targeted for “protection.” If that happens, the very people who defend nature from the voracious appetites of the Global North, often at the cost of their lives, would be penalized for their efforts. Up to 300 million forest dwellers and others could be forced out of their territories, by one estimate.

      Such seizures are already happening. In the Congo Basin, for example, armed eco-guards have brutally evicted Indigenous Pygmies from the rain forest to carve out protected areas….Yet the protected areas are surrounded by or sometimes even overlaid with oil, mining or logging concessions. Unsurprisingly, chimpanzee, gorilla and elephant populations have continued to decline even as Pygmy people have been consigned to poverty and misery.

      There is a way to do global conservation right. Indigenous communities are as good or better than governments at protecting biodiversity and already conserve a quarter of Earth’s terrestrial surface….

      The U.S. could lead the way in this effort. The Biden administration’s vision of 30x30, released in May 2021, includes a pledge to support local populations, in particular Tribal administrations, in conserving and restoring biodiversity. The U.S. needs to take that resolve to the global stage at the U.N. meeting and help rescue nature and its most ardent defenders from the militarized conservation model it pioneered one and a half centuries ago. That is a crucial step toward a reprieve for the incredible life-forms that share our planet, as well as their Indigenous guardians.

Survival Strategies for a Changing World

[These excerpts are from a book review by Devin Reese in the 1 October 2021 issue of Science.]

      …Hanson is quick to clarify that the book is not a “crisis” work but is intended as an accessible introduction to climate change biology. He opens with a history of human perspectives on extinction and climate change, describing Georges Cuvier’s initial inklings about the possibility of extinction in 1798 and the concept of punctuated equilibrium articulated by Niles Eldredge and Stephen Jay Gould in 1972….

      …Adapting species include Kodiak bears that are eschewing salmon as berries become available earlier each year and butterfly fish that act more docile as coral bleaching triggers food scarcity. Color changes associated with climate are also rampant: tawny owls are getting browner, male flycatchers’ forehead patches are getting smaller, and cutthroat trout are getting more colorful as they breed with rainbow trout whose range has shifted…. /p>

      The book’s forward-looking approach seems intended to encourage readers’ curiosity about climate change, with the notion that, once suitably informed, they will feel compelled to take action. The title of the concluding chapter, “Everything You Can,” conveys the author’s hope that we will all make changes to reduce our carbon footprints. Here, Hanson cites both “urgency and agency,” noting that an individual’s inability to do everything should not prevent him or her from doing something. >

      The book begins with a stark chapter (titled “Earth”) on the destructive power of lithium and rare earth element mining that provides the raw materials that underlie artificial processing power. In “Labor,” a visit to an Amazon fulfillment center in New Jersey inspires reflection on the crushing effects of the “logics of production” that undergird just-in-time synchronization of humans by machines and their builder-owners. Hanson celebrates the remarkable plasticity of humans as evidence of our capacity to respond to environmental changes. Pointing to other species, such as dandelions, that survive in a variety of conditions through physical and behavioral adjustments, his tone challenges us to show that we can be highly adaptable to the face of climate changes….

Tropic Lessons from the Past

[These excerpts are from a book review by Kamaljit S. Bawa in the 1 October 2021 issue of Science.]

      Tropical ecosystems, with their extraordinary richness of distinctive life-forms, are much more than storehouses of biodiversity. Home of many Indigenous societies, they also represent singular cultural sites, rich in traditional kbowledge. Such ecosystems pump vast quantities of water into the atmosphere, driving water cycles for the world’s largest rivers. With vegetation and soils acting as major reservoirs of carbon, tropical regions also drive the global carbon cycle….

      Roberts begins in the Carboniferous period, 359 to 298 million years ago, when forests and trees first appeared in the regions we now refer to as tropical. These early forest ecosystems created soils and modified the climate in a way that ultimately enabled the evolution of other organisms, including animals, thereby changing the planet forever.

      Interactions between flowering plants, which first appeared ~125 million years ago, and animals drove widespread diversification that gradually led to present-day tropical forests. After the sudden extinction of the dinosaurs, the stage was set for mammals to dominate. As Roberts puts it, tropical forests then acted as the “leafy cradles” for the evolution of the early hominins. /p>

      Millions of years later…these same regions nurtured great cities of the preindustrial world. He claims that ancient cities such as Tikal in present-day Guatemala and Yasodharapura in present-day Cambodia were as complex as other more proximate ancient cities, such as Rome and Constantinople.

      Control of tropical resources dominated the colonial era, causing large-scale deforestation, social upheaval, and decimation of local populations. Roberts describes how within 150 years of the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the Americas, 90% of Indigenous people—estimated at 55 million in number—had perished, largely as a result of diseases brought by the colonists.

      As Europeans “explored” and colonized tropical regions in the Americas, Africa, and Asia, they ushered in an era of unprecedented transformation to these areas. Trade in tropical resources such as sugar, cotton, tea, timber, and many other commodities resulted in extensive deforestation and entailed large-scale movement of not only goods but also people. Roberts notes that “between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries, approximately 12 million to 13 million Africans were forcibly removed from their homes and transported across the Atlantic as part of the transatlantic slave trade.”

      …Creation of protected areas often marginalizes local communities and limits their management of natural assets. These dynamics perpetuate poverty, inequity, and disenfranchisement, in turn exacerbating the effects of land transformations, extractive economies, and climate change….

Time to Unfriend Facebook?

[These excerpts are from an editorial by H. Holden Thorp in the 1 October 2021 issue of Science.]

      For the past 18 months, communicating the fluidity of science to the world has hit what sometimes seems like an all-time low. Nevermind the years of failure in convincing much of the public about climate change; the pandemic has revealed shocking ineptness by the scientific establishment at conveying messages about masks, vaccination, or the dangers of consuming horse drugs and aquarium cleaners—even in the face of a rising death toll from COVID-19. One puzzling element of this crisis is how social media has been skillfully exploited by antiscience forces. Given all of this, what is our game?

      …the world’s largest social network, Facebook, fills its coffers by exploiting the viral spread of misinformation while trying to convince everyone of its noble mission to connect the world….the algorithms and business practices of Facebook and other social media companies that encourage misinformation erect huge barriers, keeping people from paying attention to authoritative scientific information. Her ideas for combating this begin with understanding two kinds of misinformation that propogate through these powerful social networks. One is the news that is blatantly wrong. These posts are sometimes taken down but mostly flagged by Facebook’s algorithms with a disclaimer, which most people ignore. This has only a minor effect on stopping their spread. Kang sees an even bigger problem: the misinformation that arises from conversational posts among individuals. This kind of informal misinformation is frustrating because it’s not easy to police the people you know from saying crazy things on Facebook. The result is that both kinds of misinformation tend to rise to the top of Facebook’s new feeds because they get more engagement than posts about recent research finsings reported in scholarly scientific articles or even in the mainstream press.

      Communicating abour research in real time is hard because science is always a work in progress, with caveats and answers that are not always definitive. That doesn’t translate well in social media or Facebook’s algorithms that determine which posts to promote….

      The antiscience opposition doesn’t care about the caveats….

      …Kang believes that a better approach for them is to engage more aggressively by being “out there,” competing for people’s attention by the same rules. Refusing to play hardball on the social media field is not serving science or society well….To do battle in this arena, science will need to find its own super figures who can compete directly with the…antiscience world. Some of these new figures might be practicing scientists, and some might be science communicators. What is crucial is a knack for cutting through the caveats and conditions and forcefully conveying the bottom line. Like their opponents, they need to be adept at strategically exploiting the algorithms that can push a post to the forefront or bury it in the never-ending racket.

      Since the end of World War II, scientists have clung to the idea that if they stay objective and state the science, then the rest of the world will follow. As climate change rages and the pandemic cycles on, it’s time to face the fact that this old notion is naïve.

What’s the Deal with Climate Change?

[These excerpts are from an article by Jeffrey Deakin in the October 2021 issue of ChemMatters.]

      …Climate change caused by human activity is not new. The scientific community has recognized for decades that large-scale burning of fossil fuels affects climate. More than 30 years ago, in recognition of the dangers that climate change poses, the United Nations (U.N.) established a body called the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Yet today tehre is more CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere than at any point in the past 3.6 million years….The 10 warmest years on record have occurred since 2005, with 2020 ranking second.

      Change (IPCC) to assess the science around the global problem. A few years later, members states of the U.N. negotiated an international treaty to combat climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

      Now, CO2 and climate change are so frequently covered in the news, talk has moved away from why these two things are intertwined in the first place….

      Here’s what’s happening. CO2 is what’s called a greenhouse gas (GHG), which means it’s capable of absorbing thermal infrared (IR) radiation from the sun-warmed surface of the planet….when molecules of greenhouse gases absorb IR waves, they then collide with and transfer energy to neighboring N2 and O2 molecules. That’s how greenhouse gases trap thermal energy and raise atmospheric temperatures….

      Another must-know greenhouse gas, methane (CH4), lasts about 12 years in the atmosphere, CH4’s global warming potential (GWP) is much greater than that of CO2….We hear a lot more about CO2 in the context of climate change because we emit way more of it than other greenhouse gases.

      Water is another potent greenhouse gas, but human activity doesn’t have a lot of direct influence over its levels….

      This November, the 26th annual gathering of heads of government, environmentalist, business leaders, and scientists will take place to coordinate action on climate change….

      One thing is for sure. Thunberg and other activists will continue to speak out on climate change, pressing world leaders to act.

Editor’s Note

[These excerpts are from an editorial by Marian Starkey in the September 2021 issue of Population Connection.]

      …Population stabilization—which is nowhere near happening at the U.S. or global level—would be a boon to everyone’s quality of life, to say nothing of the benefits to the natural world. Yes, there would be challenges to how economies are structured. But those challenges would be far easier to address than the permanent environmental tipping points that humanity is already beginning to breach and that we'll only exceed more frequently as world population continues to grow. After all, America’s Social Security program was only introduced in 1935. Surely we can rejigger a system that has been in place for less than a century in order to preserve the only planet we have….

      Americans burn more fossil fuels each day than many poor countries burn in years….

      …The United States has more than enough people—what it lacks is adequate investment in its population ofyoung people who will be tomorrow’s workforce. Healthy economies don’t need more people; they need people who are more productive.

      We currently have nearly 12 million children growing up in poverty in this country—let's invest in their futures so they can become healthy, well-educated, productive adults. And let’s educate the next generation to think of themselves as citizens above consumers….

President’s Note

[These excerpts are from an editorial by John Seager in the September 2021 issue of Population Connection.]

      …We’re an adaptable species—but only within biological limits. Columbia University's Professor Radley Horton reports that vast swaths of our planet, from Mexico to Southeast Asia, are racing toward levels of heat and humidity where “it’s no longer possible to be able to sweat fast enough to prevent over-heating.” Death ensues.

      We’re engaged in planetary anarchy by ignoring the rules of nature as we pack ever more people into Earth’s closed system. What’s truly maddening about overpopulation is that we know what to do: Remove all barriers that prevent women from choosing smaller families, and we could achieve zero population growth and then begin to lower our numbers.

      Why are humans so willing to embrace some changes, from indoor plumbing to online shopping, yet so many actively oppose measures such as voluntary family planning that can reduce population pressures on our life-sustaining ecosystems?

      When it comes to urgently needed changes, education is the key….

      As for dramatic change, just imagine if instead of adding 80 million people to the planet annually, we added zero. Medical staff now assigned to maternity wards could provide relief to those working with elderly patients. Schools could transition to less-crowded classrooms. In the poorest places on earth, families could have more food to go around so their children wouldn’t be stunted. And those children could become productive adults who choose to have smaller families….

Vermont Values

[These excerpts are from an article by Jim Motavalli in the Fall 2021 issue of Sierra.]

      …Of the electricity generated in-state, 99.9 percent is from renewable sources, “a larger share than in any other state,” according to the US Energy Information Administration. Most is from hydropower, about 20 percent from biomass, and 18 percent from Vermont's five wind farms—a larger share than in 80 percent of the other states.

      …The state has embraced small-scale solar, and unobtrusive installations dot the roadsides. All told, Vermont produces 245 megawatts from the sun, which accounted for 11 percent of its electricity in 2018. But while Vermont has been called the nation’s greenest state, that reputation may no longer be deserved. Since the 604-megawatt Vermont Yankee nuclear plant shut down in 2014, the state has generated only two-fifths of the electricity it uses. The rest is imported from other states and Canada, with gas L and hydro (plus New Hampshire nuclear) in the mix….

      Some opposition to renewable energy projects is based on legitimate concerns about protecting natural spaces. But a good portion of the resistance is due to NIMBYism—the “not in my backyard” syndrome. Both anti-development gadflies and wealthy communities with big bankrolls have become adept at stopping needed projects. In Vermont—as elsewhere in the nation—you can’t underestimate the power of people not wanting to look at something and having the means to make the problem go away….

      All those turbines and solar panels (plus the requisite transmission lines) have to go somewhere. But many communities—including those full of avowed liberals and environmentalists—are working hard to make sure they go somewhere else….

      In terms of organizing heft, no rural mom-and-pop NIMBY group can rival the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, which waged a 16-year battle to kill the Cape Wind Project, a 130-turbine, 454-megawatt offshore wind farm that would have provided 75 percent of the energy for Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard, and Nantucket. The powerhouse group spanned the ideological spectrum, with support from both the Kennedy family and billionaire William Koch, and was known for burying opponents in blizzards of filings and technical arguments. The late Ted Kennedy, then a Democratic senator from Massachusetts, expressed his objection simply: “Don’t you realize—it’s where I sail.” Koch, who donated $5 million to the cause, is a big sailor too….

      The would-be developers of Cape Wind surrendered their federal lease in 2017 after a series of setbacks orchestrated in part by the Valiance to Protect Nantucket Sound….

      The world invested half a trillion dollars in decarbonization in 2020, reports BloombergNEF, which says that more than half the world's electricity will be produced by wind and solar by 2050. The long-term prospects are very good—the price of offshore wind turbines has fallen by 80 percent in the past 20 years, and solar installations are growing rapidly and becoming more affordable. Yet solar accounted for only 2.3 percent of US generation in 2020. And though as many as 16 offshore wind farms have been proposed on the East Coast, the United States has a total of seven offshore wind turbines. Europe has 5,400.

      In May 2021, the Biden administration approved what will be the country's first commercial-scale offshore wind project in the waters off Martha’s Vineyard. With up to 84 turbines and 800 megawatts, Vineyard Wind will generate enough power for 400,000 homes. Commercial fishers aren’t happy—their Responsible Offshore Development Alliance condemns the approval as “scattershot, partisan, and opaque.” But at least so far, there are no legions of lawyers to rival those arrayed against Cape Wind. It helps that wind technology is advancing, enabling larger farms farther out at sea—and out of sight…..

In Equity Efforts, Which Voices Should Be Included—and Excluded?

[These excerpts are from an article by Joshua P. Starr in the September 2021 issue of Kappan.]

      …The uproar this summer, as Republican state legislators, school board members, and parent activists started crying foul over critical race theory (CRT), shows that some white people don't want to take responsibility for this work. Their battle cry; stoked by right-wing media, against something few districts use as the basis of their instruction or equity initiatives, is a sign of their fear. Within the next generation, white Americans will be the minority in our country, and many of them are afraid of losing power as that happens.

      …It’s obvious that a superintendent has a responsibility to include multiple stakeholders in discussions about an equity initiative. But do they have a corollary obligation to exclude some people — or at least minimize their influence?...

      At the same time, there may be value in acknowledging that equity agendas come with loss, or at least a perception of loss. White people may fear losing access to the best teachers, schools with more resources, and exclusive entry to advanced courses. Yet, when schools serve everybody well, our young people of color, their families, and entire communities have much more to gain than what white people may lose. This equation is the crux of the issue, and there are white citizens who will support equity initiatives once they recognize where they stand in the equation. Their voices are essential so that people of color do not have to bear the burden alone.

      The vocal opponents of equity, who are shrinking in size every year due simply to demographic shifts, will do everything they can not to lose. Superintendents must consider that the growing number of young people of color is the public that they are more beholden to than the politically powerful and vocal opposition. Thus, excluding the most staunch opponents to equity (who are not willing even to acknowledge the problem) from the debate may, in fact, be the most effective way for leaders to meet their obligation to serve the public good….

Even as Our Nation Seeks Unity, Let There Be Dissent in Schools

[These excerpts are from an article by Sarah M. Stitzlein in the September 2021 issue of Kappan.]

      …If we hope to salvage our damaged democracy, then the solution isn’t to smooth things over but to become more determined to identify our points of disagreement, challenge each other, and freely express our competing views. Unlike the unprincipled and uncivil negativity that has been common in recent years, good dissent challenges the status quo, criticizes accepted views, and puts forward principled alternatives….

      When political conflicts arise, we must ask each other, “What should we do?” The American experiment has always depended on our willingness to begin with this open-ended question, one that invites dialogue about how best to solve our shared problems….

      Despite the essential role that dissent plays in a healthy democracy, we rarely teach it in our schools. This is a mistake, and it is one that is being exacerbated by recent legislation that further curtails the discussion of politically contentious views in schools. As educators, we must lead the way in protecting the free expression of dissenting views, and we must make it a priority to model civil dialogue, showing our students that when they challenge each other, even sharply, they tend to arrive at better solutions to their shared problems….

      To analyze complex matters of public importance, separate facts from disinformation, and arrive at viable solutions to the shared problems we face, we must bring many different voices to the table, ensuring that we air all legitimate concerns and tap into every available source of insight. By helping young people learn about and practice this sort of healthy civic dialogue, we can build the kind of social trust that will allow them, as adults, to engage in thoughtful, fact-based deliberations, grounded in mutual respect for free speech, dissent, and the value of coming together, whatever our differences, to ask ourselves what should we do ?

A Broader Conception of School Choice

[These excerpts are from an article by Sigal Ben-Porath in the September 2021 issue of Kappan.]

      …As the pandemic has illustrated so clearly, Americans depend upon their public schools for far more than academic instruction. When they cannot attend school in person, millions of students lose access to social and emotional supports, learning materials and tools, health care, food, and more. And virtual schools, while attractive to some families, threaten to further segregate communities and isolate underserved students.

      Whatever else we learn from the COVID crisis, the inequities that it has exposed should force us to rethink age-old assumptions about the kinds of educational choices, and the quality of schooling, that ought to be made available to all students and their families. So, too, should it force us to reckon with decades of state and federal policy strategies that have served to circumvent the promise of Brown v. Board of Education, leaving our schools racially and economically segregated.

      It’s time to reset the whole debate about school choice, returning to more fundamental questions about how best to balance the competing demands we place on our schools: What do children need? What do families want? And how can we ensure that the system is equitable, accountable, and able to provide quality schooling for all? For too long, the preoccupation with charter schools and vouchers has blinded us to other options that don't force families to compete for limited spots in the “best” schools, but that offer meaningful choices for all families….

      If you visit well-funded suburban districts, it’s not hard to find schools that strike a balance, providing a structured and coherent curriculum while also allowing students to make a range of individual choices, based on their needs and interests: They can join small learning communities organized around a theme or pedagogical approach; use resource rooms that support children with differing learning needs; sign up forafter-school clubs and teams; enroll in an Advanced Placement class or International Baccalaureate program, or opt for a technical or early college program.

      Such schools offer many of the things that Americans tend to want from their schools. They balance discipline with freedom; they are free and therefore accessible regardless of family income; they allow students to stay close to home (which is a major consideration especially for younger children), and — if their zones are mapped thoughtfully or if they are magnets drawing from diverse areas….

      Helping larger numbers of urban and rural schools to offer similar opportunities would do far more than current policies to address Americans’ demands for greater choice. The prevailing logic of school reform holds that parents should be able to take their children out of a bad school and enroll them in a better one. But this does nothing to ensure that either the bad school or the “better” one is, in fact, responsive to children and families’ needs, balancing their desires for structure, freedom, quality, convenience, inclusion, and more. The priority should be to help every school provide its students with meaningful choices and opportunities, just as the best public schools already do, rather than giving a few lucky children the chance to attend a “choice school.”

      …We cannot expect vouchers and charter schools to accomplish anything like the outcomes their supporters have promised over the decades. School choice is not a magical mechanism for educational transformation, promoting equality and efficiency, parental authority, religious freedom, fairness, innovation, accountability, and so on. The fact is that current forms of school choice in the U.S. mostly benefit those. who are already well-off, who can move to the catchment area of a desirable public school, who can pay private school tuition, and who have the means to work the charter or exam school admissions process.

      Realistically, the only way to create more and better choices for all families, including those in struggling rural and urban school systems, is for state and federal officials to make much greater investments in those systems. Ultimately, if we want low-income parents and their children to have anything like the choices and opportunities found in affluent suburban and private schools, then we'll have to do more than innovate and disrupt, and we'll have to acknowledge that “school choice” that benefits the lucky few, while siphoning opportunity from everybody else, is a poor choice indeed.

Footprints Support Claim of Early Arrival in the Americase

[These excerpts are from an article by Lizzie Wade in the 24 September 2021 issue of Science.]

      Between 23,000 and 21,000 years ago, people squished through the mud along a lakeshore in what is now New Mexico, alone and in small groups, leaving behind their footprints….If the dates are right, the discovery would be the strongest evidence yet that people reached the Americas during the middle of the last ice age, thousands of years earlier than many archaeologists thought….

      During the maximum extent of the last ice age, from about 26,500 to 19,000 years ago, land connected Russia and Alaska, allowing people to settle the now mostly submerged region archaeologists call Beringia. But glaciers covered much of Canada, blocking the way south into what’s now the continental United States and beyond. Archaeologists once thought the first people arrived in the Americas by walking through a corridor that opened between the glaciers by about 13,500 years ago. In recent decades, however, data from multiple sites have suggested people were in the Americas at least 16,000 years ago, leading many researchers to suspect that the first arrivals skirted the ice by traveling down the Pacific coast by boat.

      …the researchers radiocarbon dated seeds embedded in several layers of earth between the footprints. The dating put the seeds between about 23,000 and 21,000 years old, during the height of glaciation. If the footprints are that old, people must have made it. to the Americas before ice sheets blocked the path, meaning an early land journey might have been possible….

A Cautionary History of Eugenics

[These excerpts are from an an editorial by Adam Rutherford in the 24 September 2021 issue of Science.]

      A century ago this week, 300 scientists, policy-makers, and campaigners gathered at the American Museum of Natural History in New York to discuss their work about heredity and eugenics—the political ideology designed to sculpt societies through biological methods of population control….The aims of eugenics were to nurture the propagation of people deemed “desirable” and to reduce the number of “undesirable” or “defective” people, primarily through enforced sterilization. Although recognized as toxic now, back then, eugenics enjoyed popular and bipartisan support and would grow to be one of the defining ideas of the 20th century.

      …It would eventually be translated and adopted by the Third Reich. The conference treasurer was Madison Grant, best known for his popular book The Passing of the Great Race—a treatise on white supremacy that was pivotal in developing the policies of racial hygiene in Nazi Germany. These zealots and other scientists carved out specious ideas of human population control, which would lead to the coerced sterilization of some 70,000 in the United States and to genocide in Nazi Germany.

      It is sobering to look back from today’s perspective and see how mainstream such jarring ideas were only a century ago, and how integrated they were with the nascent science of human genetics. Eugenics policies emerged from racist, classist, and ablist beliefs and co-opted vague, nebulous definitions and pseudo-clinical categories—feebleminded, defective, imbecile. From its inception, eugenics was a political creed, but one that was wedded to a science that was immature and frequently wrong. Ultimately, in the US, forced sterilization primarily targeted the poor and those with disabilities and was deployed against African Americans, Indigenous Americans, and other marginalized groups. These policies lasted late into the 20th century, but coercive sterilization still occurs in the US today. Globally, this practice continues as a strategy for oppression and population control.

      After the atrocities of the Holocaust were exposed, popular support for eugenics waned, and it became a poisonous idea. Many eugenics offices around the world were shut or evolved into 'genetics research laboratorieS. The majority of scientists abandoned this now reviled ideology and applied their growing knowledge of heredity to better ends—techniques such as preimplantation diagnosis, which identifies possible genetic defects in embryos created through in vitro fertilization. Our understanding of polygenic traits and diseases has sky-rocketed in the past few years, revealing the complex relationship betWeen nature and nurture—a phrase coined by Francis Galion, the man who also invented the term “eugenics.”

      …With modern genetic techniques, including precision gene editing, we are inventing unprecedented possibilities for control of human biology, and society should proceed with a clear understanding not just of the limitations of this science, but of its grim history….

      Scientific ideas are easily marshalled into political ideologies, regardless of whether the science is well understood or not….

Climate Justice: Science for a Better World

[These excerpts are from an article by Kottie Christie-Blick in the September/October 2021 issue of The Science Teacher.]

      Climate justice is many things. It is inseparable from social justice. It is the fact that some people are more vulnerable than others to the effects of the destabilization of Earth’s systems caused by our changing climate. It is understanding how this scientific concept has become a wide-ranging. societal issue, with implications for individuals, communities, and international stability. It is recognizing that science learned in school is important and relevant.

      If you teach just the facts about our increasingly unstable climate, but fail to address questions such as who wins and who loses from this change, you are missing out-on the opportunity to influence history….Climate change is primarily caused by emissions from richer countries, and the wealthiest within those countries; yet it is usually the poor and disadvantaged who are most vulnerable to the consequences. Climate justice raises ethical and political concerns about who drives climate change, who is most affected, who makes decisions about responding to climate change, and how climate policy can address. problems of inequality in developingareas around the world….

      In 2019, I spent three weeks in Madagascar, off the east coast of Africa. It is one of the poorest countries in the world. With over 25 million inhabitants, 74 percent live in extreme poverty. Only 13 percent have access to electricity. Madagascar is one of the African countries most severely affected by climate change. It now experiences an average of three cyclones per year….The locals told me about their fears regarding changing climate: extended drought in the south and west, increased cyclone activity in the north, and torrential downpours in the cast. And then, of course, there's sea level rise. Most do not own a car, and their houses are insubstantial protection against severe weather events and the encroaching ocean….

      If we teach climate change as merely an academic subject to be learned and assessed, without addressing its significance, it's an opportunity lost. Focusing a few lessons on climate justice encourages students to think about how a scientific phenomenon has become a societal issue, making their academic studies all the more necessary and relevant to them, and perhaps even nudging them in the direction of becoming respon-vible global citizens.

A Socially-Just Science Classroom: What Will We Teach with Critical Race Theory Under Attack?

[These excerpts are from an editorial by Ann Haley MacKenzie in the September/October 2021 issue of The Science Teacher.]

      Twenty-one states (as of this writing) have ambiguous bills in their legislature to limit the discussion of racism and sexism in classrooms. Ten states have passed this legislation. In Ohio, the bill includes language precluding students from doing community service work with organizations such as Black Lives Matter and any organization working with the LGBTQ+ community. For many schools, community service is a prerequisite for graduation from high school.

      …Critical race theory (CRT) is not the latest fad to hit schools and their curriculum; it is a concept that has been in the literature for more than 40 years. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, legal scholars developed the tenets of CRT as a way to look at systematic bias. The main idea is that “race is a social construct, and that racism is not merely the product of individual bias or prejudice, but also something embedded in legal systems and policies….”

      Critics of CRT feel that it divides people into “oppressed” and “oppressor” groups and fosters intolerance. The political debate over CRT has shifted to highlight power relations, focusing on how white students might be made to feel uncomfortable by studying such topics….

      Furthermore, there is a belief that schools should be neutral spaces that treat everyone justly. However, all one needs to do is examine the graduation rates among all students, standardized test scores (ACT and SAT), and prevalence of tracking that still exists and often precludes students of color from taking college preparatory courses. The curricula used in most schools continue to be created and implemented around mainstream white, middle-class values. The racial achievement gap continues to widen. Who are schools actually serving? Whose needs and values are being served? Definitely not students of color.

      …Policies and practices that lead to the disproportionate disciplining of Black students, barriers to students of color taking AP science courses, underrepresentation of students of color in gifted programs, and curricula that reinforce racist ideas are pervasive in science departments among the majority of students who are now non-white. How many scientists of color do we share with our students? Will the banning of CRT prevent biology teachers from discussing race as a social construct? Our science students need to be able to live out their dreams and not worry about operating in a school system that places them at a disadvantage because of their (socially-constructed) race….

How to Mend Your Broken Pandemic Brain

[These excerpts are from an article by Dana Smith in the September/October 2021 issue of MIT Technology Review.]

      …During the winter of 2020, more than 40% of Americans reported symptoms of anxiety or depression, double the rate of the previous year. That number dropped to 30% in June 2021 as vaccinations rose and covid-19 cases fell, but that still leaves nearly one in three Americans struggling with their mental health. In addition to diagnosable symptoms, plenty of people reported experiencing pandemic brain fog, including forgetfulness, difficulty concentrating, and general fuzziness….

      Every experience changes your brain, either helping you to gain new synapses—the connections between brain cells—or causing you to lose them. This is known as neuroplasticity, and it’s how ourbrahis develop through childhood and adolescence. Neuroplasticity is how we continue to learn and create memories in adulthood, too, although our brains become less flexible as we get older. The process is vital for learning, memory, and general healthy brain function.

      But many experiences also cause the brain to lose cells and connections that you wanted or needed to keep. For instance, stress—something almost everyone has experienced during the pandemic—can not only destroy existing synapses but also inhibit the growth of new ones.

      One way stress does this is by triggering the release of hormones called glucocorticoids, most notably cortisol. In small doses, glucocorticoids help the brain and body respond to a stressor (think: fight or flight) by changing heart rate, respiration, inflammation, and more to increase one’s odds of survival. Once the stressor is gone, the hormone levels recede. With chronic stress, however, the stressor never goes away, and the brain remains flooded with the chemicals. In the long term, elevated levels of glucocorticoids can cause changes that may lead to depression, anxiety, forgetfulness, and inattention.

      …One of the brain areas hardest hit by chronic stress is the hippocampus, which is important for both memory and mood. These financial stressors would have flooded the hippocampus with glucocorticoids for months, damaging cells, destroying synapses, and ultimately shrinl. dug the region. A smaller hippocampus is one of the hallmarks of depression.

      Chronic stress can also alter the prefrontal cortex, which is the brain’s executive control center, and the amygdala, the fear and anxiety hub….

      The social isolation brought on by the pandemic was also likely detrimental to the brain’s structure and function. Loneliness has been linked to reduced volume in the hippocampus and amygdala, as well as decreased connectivity in the prefrontal cortex. Perhaps unsurprisingly, people who lived alone during the pandemic experienced higher rates of depression and anxiety.

      …These negative changes ultimately come down to a stress-induced decrease in neuroplasticity—a loss of cells and synapses instead of the growth of new ones. But don’t despair; there’s some good news. For many people, the brain can spontaneously recover its plasticity once the stress goes away. If life begins to return to normal, so might our brains.

      …just as social isolation is bad for the brain, social interaction is especially good for it. People with larger social networks have more volume and connections in the prefrontal cortex, amygdala, and other brain regions….

Rice in Trouble

[These excerpts are from an article by Nikk Ogasa in the 25 September 2021 issue of Science News.]

      …today the soil lies naked and baking in the 35° Celsius (950 Fahrenheit) heat during a devastating drought that has hit most of the western United States. The drought started in early 2020, and conditions have become progressively drier.

      Low water levels in reservoirs and rivers have forced farmers like Rystrom, whose family has been growing rice on this land for four generations, to slash their water use….

      California is the second-largest U.S. producer of rice, after Arkansas, and over 95 percent of California’s rice is grown within about 160 kilometers of Sacramento. To the city’s east rise the peaks of the Sierra Nevada, which means “snowy mountains” in Spanish. Rice growers in the valley below count on the range to live up to its name each winter. In spring melting snowpack flows into rivers and reservoirs, and then through an intricate network of canals and drainages to rice fields that farmers irrigate in a shallow inundation from April or May to September or October.

      If too little snow falls in those mountains, farmers like Rystrom are forced to leave fields unplanted….

      Not too long ago, the opposite too much rain stopped Rystrom and others from planting….

      Climate change is expected to worsen the state’s extreme swings in precipitation….

      Farmers in China, India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Vietnam — the biggest rice-growing countries — as well as in Nigeria, Africa's largest rice producer—also worry about the damage climate change will do to rice production. More than 3.5 billion people get 20 percent or more of their calories from the fluffy grains. And demand is increasing in Asia, Latin America and especially in Africa.

      To save and even boost production, rice growers, engineers and researchers have turned to water-saving irrigation routines and rice gene banks that store hundreds of thousands of varieties ready to be distributed or bred into new, climate-resilient forms. With climate change accelerating, and researchers raising the alarm about related threats, such as arsenic contamination and bacterial diseases, the demand for innovation grows.

      …Most rice plants are grown in fields, or paddies, that are typically filled with around 10 centimeters ofwater. This constant, shallow inundation helps stave off weeds and pests. But if water levels suddenly get too high, such as during a flash flood, the rice plants can die.

      Striking the right balance between too much and too little water can be a struggle for many rice farmers, especially in Asia, where over 90 percent of the world’s rice is produced….

      In a 2015 and 2016 drought, saltwater reached up to 90 kilometers inland, destroying 405,000 hectares of rice paddies. In 2019 and 2020, drought and saltwater intrusion returned, damaging 58,000 hectares of rice. With regional temperatures on the rise, these conditions in Southeast Asia are expected to intensify and become more widespread….

      …A hot mess Water highs and lows aren't the entire story. Rice generally grows best in places with hot days and cooler nights. But in many rice-growing regions, temperatures are getting too hot. Rice plants become most vulnerable to heat stress during the middle phase of their growth, before they begin building up the meat in their grains. Extreme heat, above 35° C, can diminish grain counts in just weeks, or even days. In April in Bangladesh, two consecutive days of 36° C destroyed thousands of hectares of rice.

      In South and Southeast Asia, such extreme heat events are expected to become common with climate change….

      …as global temperatures rise, rice plants (and many other crops) at northern latitudes, such as those in China and the United States, will be at higher risk of pathogen infection.

      Meanwhile, rising temperatures may bring a double-edged arsenic problem….under future climate conditions, more arsenic will infiltrate rice plants. High arsenic levels boost the health risk of eating the rice and impair plant growth….

      One widely studied, drought-friendly method is “alternate wetting and drying,” or intermittent flooding, which involves flooding and draining rice paddies on one- to 10-day cycles, as opposed to maintaining a constant inundation. This practice can cut water use by up to 38 percent without sacrificing yields. It also stabilizes the soil for harvesting and lowers arsenic levels in rice by bringing more oxygen into the soils, disrupting the arsenic-releasing microbes. If tuned just right, it may even slightly improve crop yields.

      But the water-saving benefits of this method are greatest when it is used on highly permeable soils, such as those in Arkansas and other parts of the U.S. South, which normally require lots of water to keep flooded….

      Some researchers are looking beyond the genetic variability preserved in rice gene banks, searching instead for useful genes from other species, including plants and bacteria. But inserting genes from one species into another, or genetic modification, remains controversial. The most famous example of genetically modified rice is Golden Rice, which was intended as a partial solution to childhood malnutrition. Golden Rice grains are enriched in beta-carotene, a precursor to vitamin A. To create the rice, researchers spliced a gene from a daffodil and another from a bacterium into an Asian variety of rice.

      Three decades have passed since its initial development, and only a handful of countries have deemed Golden Rice safe for consumption….

      Climate change is a many-headed beast, and each rice-growing region will face its own particular set of problems. Solving those problems will require collaboration between local farmers, government officials and the international community of researchers….

Common Ground and the Climate Crisis

[These excerpts are from a book review by Miriam Aczel in the 17 September 2021 issue of Science.]

      …Hayhoe stresses the need to find common values that we can use to begin conversations with our families and our communities, highlighting that the climate crisis is inherently linked to the issues we all care about—human health, economic strength, and the “stability of our world.” Together, she says, we can find solutions.

      Hayhoe begins by describing the hate-filled emails and confrontations she routinely faces as a climate scientist in Texas….

      …The truth of climate change is based on scientific evidence, she explains. And climate change is unfair because it affects those, including farmers, who have done little to cause it. She ends by discussing positive steps taken at the local level to solve climate change, with resultant benefits to those communities. To open a dialogue, first take inventory of who you axe—your home, what you love doing—and what you might have in common with others, she writes.

      …She then explains, adopting a conversational tone, that, like many, she loves her country but also sees the critical threats posed by climate change: from increasingly encroaching invasive species to growing wildfires, flood risk, melting permafrost, and sinking coastlines….

      …we can discuss the implications of climate change on those we love—our families and communities—and how we can work together on solutions….

      …Climate change, she notes, poses disproportionate risk to those who are poor, hungry, or ill--those individuals that the Bible instructs followers to take care of….

      Fellow scientists may be satisfied by data, but how does one start a conversation with nonscientists about the potential impacts of climate change? Hayhoe suggests starting with a shared activity or interest—beer or wine, food, sports, etc.—and using that as a starting point for a conversation….

Climate Science Speaks: “Act Now”

[These excerpts are from an editorial by Jane Lubchenco and John F. Kerry in the 17 September 2021 issue of Science.]

      …For over 30 years, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has been assessing the science of climate change. Each successive report has provided stronger evidence and deeper understanding, giving governments much of the information they need to develop a response. The fifth IPCC report, released in 2014, catalyzed the Paris Agreement, which aspires to limit the increase in average global temperature to well below 2°C above preindustrial levels, and preferably to 1.5°C.

      …including advances that allow scientists to decipher the fingerprint of climate change in heat waves, heavy rainfall and floods, droughts, and wildfires. These increasingly frequent and severe events are dominating global headlines and stoking public awareness of the economic and humanitarian consequences facing the world because of climate change….

      Two stark findings command attention. Some changes underway in the ocean and the Arctic are potentially irreversible on human time scales. And the pathway for limiting warming to 1.5°C is narrowing rapidly. These results underscore the urgency of vastly enhancing global ambitions to tackle this threat. Every bit of avoided warming matters.

      The United States is confronting this challenge with a bold pledge to reduce emissions by 50 to 52% in 2030. To reach this goal, the Biden-Harris administration is implementing executive actions to cut emissions and bolster resilience to the effects of climate change that are already being felt. This includes mobilizing the leadership from 21 federal agencies and departments to decarbonize the power sector, spur electric vehicle adoption, conserve lands and waters, and protect public health. The White House is also working with Congress to pass the US bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to develop a new clean-energy economy. At the same time, the nation is investing in research that will guide a rapid transition to a low-carbon future while providing technical and financial assistance to communities most vulnerable to impacts such as heat waves, flooding, and sea level rise. The administration is committed to achieving this unprecedented package of actions by creating jobs and supporting communities that have been historically marginalized and overburdened by pollution and underinvestment.

      Because no single nation can solve the crisis alone, the United States is working with other countries to lower their own emissions and improve their resilience while assisting those places already suffering from climate change. The next decade will be critical. To keep the 1.5°C target within reach, all major economies must do more, with immediate, robust, and sustained action to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. This means deploying technological and natural climate solutions, such as conserving and restoring terrestrial and mangrove forests, saltmarshes, and seagrass beds. It means focusing not only on terrestrial activities but also on ocean-based ones such as generating renewable wind, current, and tidal energy; decarbonizing shipping; and protecting existing stores of carbon on the seabed. It means becoming better at helping communities, economies, and ecosystems adapt to climate disruptions….

The World in a Mug

[These excerpts are from an article by Anne Trafton in the September/October 2021 issue of MIT News.]

      Humans generate millions of gigabytes of data each day, and one promising way to preserve it is to encode it in the nucleotides of DNA. After all, DNA evolved to store massive quantities of information at very high density, and it's remarkably stable, too.

      But once the files are stored—and scientists have already demonstrated that it's possible—retrieving the one you’re looking for is a tall order. Now MIT researchers…have demonstrated an easy way to do it.

      The team encoded different images into DNA and encapsulated each file in a small silica particle labeled with single-stranded DNA “barcodes” corresponding to its contents. To pull out a specific image, they add primers to the DNA data-base that correspond to the labels they’re looking for—for example, “cat,” “orange,” and “wild” for an image of a tiger.

      The primers are labeled with fluorescent or magnetic particles, making it easy to pull out any matches while leaving the rest of the DNA files intact. The process even allows Boolean logic statements, similar to what’s possible in a Google search.

      Bathe envisions this as a way to deal with data that is not accessed very often….

      “DNA is a thousandfold denser than even flash memory,” he says: all the data in the world could theoretically fit in a coffee mug….

The Pain Switch

[These excerpts are from an article by Georgina Gustin in the September/October 2021 issue of MIT News.]

      …Wang, an investigator at the McGovern Institute for Brain Research and a professor of brain and cognitive sciences, has spent much of her career researching sensory perception and how the brain interprets touch and pain. She and her team are now working to understand new pain suppression centers in the brain with the hope of finding relief that doesn’t require opioids.

      If they succeed, their work could profoundly shift the treatment of pain and reshape the lives of countless people, potentially preventing the cascading effects of addiction that often accompany opioid use….

      But the brain areas she’s focused on—the places where anesthesia, pain, and sleep are controlled—are incredibly complex, and the task in front of her is monumental….

      Wang has always been interested in sensory perception, and her early research focused on the sense of smell, tracing the sensory neurons from the nasal cavity to the olfactory bulb, the part of the brain responsible for processing the perception of odors. Researchers had only a limited understanding of pain perception, she says. That remains true decades later….

      She was also fascinated by reports of patients under general anesthesia, undergoing surgeries, who were conscious—some even recalled hearing the surgeon speak—yet felt no pain.

      What, she wondered, was the brain doing in these cases and how could that be harnessed to blunt pain?

      In the 175 years since the first patient was successfully put under general anesthesia, researchers have not pinpointed exactly how it works. The prevailing theory has been that general anesthesia shuts the brain down, creating a loss of consciousness. But the examples of the soldiers and the patients who had awareness under anesthesia led Wang to wonder if a part of the anesthetized brain was still, in effect, working to suppress pain….

      To look for such a region, Wang and her team anesthetized mice with four common anesthetics and then, using molecular markers, found clusters of neurons that those compounds activated in a part of the brain's hypothalamus as well as in the amygdala. Since the hypothalamic neurons express a neuxopeptide that was previously linked to reducing pain, Wang focused on studyingthem first. And she discovered to her surprise that they seemed to be linked not only to pain suppression but to the loss of consciousness experienced under general anesthesia. When she and her team activated the neurons using a technique she’d pioneered at Duke (called “capturing activated neural ensembles,” or CANE), the mice entered into a long, deep sleep. The finding that multiple anesthetics all fire up a region of the brain to promote a sleep-like state provided the first clear evidence that there are active mechanisms involved in anesthesia. Because chronic pain patients are known to have sleep problems, this region could be a potential target for future sleep aids, Wang says.

      Building on that research, Wang and her colleagues turned their attention to the cluster of neurons they’d found in the amygdala that were also fired up by general anesthesia. Was it possible they might underlie its pain suppression function? It seemed unlikely, because the amygdala is the part of the brain most associated with fear and the human fight-or-flight response, triggered by the prospect of pain; it was not an area previously connected to anesthesia and active pain suppression.

      Remarkably, when Wang and her team used optogenetics to activate these specific central amygdala neurons, they discovered that the mice felt very little pain. Mice that had been exposed to an inflammatory agent or that had nerve pain caused by a chemotherapy drug or nerve pressure immediately stopped rubbing their faces and licking their paws—typical self-care behaviors induced by pain. Conversely, when the researchers deactivated these neurons, the mice responded to normal touch, such as stroking of the fur, as if it were painful….

      …In other words, it seemed that when the amygdala neurons were activated, the mice could sense stimuli that typically cause pain but did not experience the pain itself. The way these neurons were connected to many brain regions that process the negative emotions of pain suggested that the amygdala cells can inhibit all such regions.

      This was a “holy grail” finding because it meant there was a single place in the brain that could, potentially, switch off pain….

      Her current research aims to pinpoint the neural circuit mechanisms that control how expectations and memories change our pain perception….

The Keepers of the Sea

[These excerpts are from a book report by Jason W. Smith in the 10 September 2021 issue of Science.]

      …Since 1945, Easterbrook argues, American naval predominance coupled with the flourishing of seaborne commerce unimpeded by large-scale conflict has transformed much of the world, raising standards of living, life expectancy, and many other indicators of progress for most, if not all, people. Free trade under the US Navy's watch ushered in a period of unparalleled global prosperity, he maintains, elegantly dubbing this era “the Blue Age.”

      …Citing the navy’s lead in supercarriers, amphibious assault ships, and ballistic missile submarines, he notes that the United States possesses a fleet larger than the rest of the world combined….Easterbrook argues that American naval power must be maintained, particularly in the face of challenges from China and budget cuts….

Vultures Face New Toxic Threat

[These excerpts are from an article by Erik Stokstad in the 10 September 2021 issue of Science.]

      Two decades after a now-banned drug nearly -wiped out vultures in several Asian countries, conservationists have identified another pharmaceutical threat to these ecologically vital scavengers….

      Environmental groups hope the new evidence will help persuade governments to ban the use of nimesulide in cattle. They axe embracing a report last month that an antiinflammatory drug already used in cattle, tolfenamic acid, is safe for vultures, only the second such alternative identified.

      In the early 1990s, tens of millions of vultures lived in India alone. The large scavengers quickly stripped the carcasses of the country’s many cows and other animals that died in the open, helping prevent the spread of disease. Then the population of vultures crashed, especially numbers of the common white-romped vulture (Gyps bengalensis). They were suffering kidney failure after ingesting diclofenac, a drug commonly given to cattle to treat pain, fever, and inflammation.

      India banned the veterinary use of diclofenac in 2006, and neighboring nations followed. Vulture numbers stabilized, but the damage was done: Populations had dropped by up to 99%. Cattle carcasses accumulated and sustained a booming population of feral dogs, increasing the need to vaccinate people against rabies.

      The bans did not eliminate the threat of anti-inflammatory drugs, and in India the vulture population has not rebounded. It is still legal for pharmacies to sell diclofenac for human use, and covert studies of retail pharmacies have revealed the drug is being diverted to treat cattle. One reason is the speed with which it works. Diclofenac is called a “cup of tea” drug because sick cows improve by the time the veterinarian finishes a drink with the owner.

      Other drugs still legally sold cause problems, too. Aceclofenac, for example, breaks down in cattle into diclofenac. Ketoprofen is also toxic to vultures, causing Bangladesh in February to completely ban its use in order to protect “vulture safe zones.” Widely available and fast-acting nimesulide, meanwhile, has been growing in popularity. Researchers first raised concerns about the drug in 2016, after they discovered it in the tissues of several dead vultures.

      …the evidence is compelling that nimesulide should now be banned for use in cattle. Other anti-inflammatory and pain relief medications are available, they note. Meloxicam, for example, is safe for vultures. So is tolfenamic acid….

SARS-CoV-2 Infection Confers Greater Immunity Than Shots

[These excerpts are from an article by Meredith Wadman in the 3 September 2021 issue of Science.]

      The natural immune protection that develops after a SARS-CoV-2 infection is a stouter shield against the Delta variant of the pandemic coronavirus than two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, according to a large Israeli study that some scientists wish came with a “Don’t try this at home” label….

      …But infectious disease experts emphasize that vaccination remains highly protective against severe disease and death. And they caution that whatever its, immunological legacy, SARS-CoV-2 infection is extremely risky….

      The researchers also found that vaccination plus infection yields even stronger protection. People who were infected and received one dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine were half as likely to become reinfected as those who had the virus and were still unvaccinated….

      Still, Thalin, who cares for gravely ill COVID-19 patients, most of them unvaccinated, cautions that although showing the benefits of natural immunity, the study doesn’t reveal the physical toll of infection. Adds Marion Pepper, an immunologist at the University of Washington, Seattle: “[It] doesn’t take into account what this virus does to the body to get to that point.”' COVID-19 has killed 4.5 million people and left some survivors with the lingering symptoms known as Long Covid….

Wolf Pups Are Being Killed in Cold Blood—And It’s All Legal

[These excerpts are from an article in the Summer 2021 issue of the Friends of the Earth Newsmagazine.]

      Right now across the West, hunters are corralling baby wolf pups into their dens and tossing dynamite in after them. Professional trappers are using helicopters, ATVs, night vision and snares to go after these innocent pups.

      Shockingly, this horrific slaughter is completely legal.

      From a new law allowing hunters to kill up to 90% of Idaho’s wolves, to loosening of protections in Idaho, Wyoming and Montana, wolves are in trouble. Hunting is even allowed on our public lands and in wildlife preserves!

      Gray wolves are a cherished part of our natural heritage and an icon of wilderness—and they play an essential role in ensuring healthy and diverse ecosystems.

      They’re also functionally extinct in most of the country.

      With numbers so low—only about 6,000 wolves remain, on less than 10% of their historic range—you’d think these majestic creatures would be protected by the Endangered Species Act.

      The Endangered Species Act is one of our most successful environmental laws, pulling treasured species—including sea otters, bald eagles, and grizzly bears—back from the brink of extinction. It’s also been crucial to rebuilding local economies that depend on these species to thrive.

      …But the Trump administration dismantled this critically important law at every turn, including removing critical protections for gray wolves and their pups.

      Even now, trophy hunters and greedy corporations are working behind the scenes to uphold Trump-era rules and gut other animal protection laws. In fact, a new National Park Service rule is allowing the same brutal tactics to be used to hunt bears on federal land in Alaska. Shamefully, President Biden's Interior Department hasn't done nearly enough to stop this assault on wildlife.

      As a keystone species, wolves balance ecosystems and drive natural evolution, benefiting birds, beavers, grizzly bears and more. When a keystone species disappears, the ecosystem drastically changes, putting it in danger of collapsing entirely.

      In the United States more than 10 animal species have been declared extinct since 2010. If we allow wolves to be hunted with the current ferocity, they could suffer the same fate, disappearing from the United States for good.

      There’s a simple, scientifically sound and morally just solution: we must restore protections for wolves and shore up legislation like the Endangered Species Act—now, before these iconic animals are completely wiped-out….

      Allowing trophy hunters free rein to slaughter wolves is appalling, barbaric and just plain wrong….

Extreme Heat Distorts Human Behavior

[These excerpts are from an article by Sujata Gupta in the 11 September 2021 issue of Science News.]

      …Mounting evidence shows that when heat taxes people’s bodies, their performance on various tasks, as well as overall coping mechanisms, also suffer. Researchers have linked extreme heat to increased aggression, lower cognitive ability and lost productivity. With rising global temperatures, and record-breaking heat waves baking parts of the world, the effects of extreme heat on human behavior could pose a growing problem.

      Lower-income people and countries, with limited resources for staying cool as climate change warms the world, will probably suffer the most….

      Heat tends to make people more irritable….

      Such perceptions can give way to actual violence when people lack an escape hatch….

Earth Cannot Avoid a Warmer Future

[These excerpts are from an article by Carolyn Gramling in the 11 September 2021 issue of Science News.]

      The science is unequivocal: Humans are dramatically overhauling Earth’s climate. The effects of climate change are now found in every region around the globe and are intensifying rapidly….And the window to reverse some of these effects is closing….

      Climate change is already affecting every region on Earth in multiple ways, from drought and fire conditions in the American West to heat waves in Europe and flooding in Asia….

      If the world gets down to net-zero emissions, the decades afterward hold “hints of light…."

      Other changes are irreversible on near-future timescales — that is, the next century or more….Sea levels, for example, will continue to rise until about the year 2300, driven in part by Greenland’s melting ice sheet….

      The IPCC’s fifth report, released in 2013 and 2014, was a game changer. It was the first to state that greenhouse gas emissions from human activities are driving climate change — a conclusion that set the stage for 195 nations to agree in Paris in 2015 to curb those emissions….

      IPCC scientists hope the new report, with its emphasis on the regional and local effects of climate change, will have a similar impact. And the timing of its release is significant. On October 31, heads of state from around the world are scheduled to meet in Glasgow, Scotland, to discuss updated plans to meet the targets of the Paris Agreement….

COVID-19 Test Can Keep Kids in Class

[These excerpts are from an article by Jonathan Lambert in the 11 September 2021 issue of Science News.]

      With the start of fall, many parents and teachers hope to leave Zoom school behind as kids return to the classroom. But the exceptionally transmissible delta variant of the coronavirus threatens to dash these hopes. The U.S. Centers for an immunologist at the Johns Hopkins Disease Control and Prevention advises Center for Disease Control and Prevention advises that schools employ a suite of COVIS-19 mitigation measures, including social distarcing, masking, improved air filtration and testing students regularly….

      While some coronavirus outbreaks did occur in schools during the 2020-2021 school year, transmission was usually equal to or lower than community levels of the virus when schools had mitigation measures in place, the CDC says. But as pandemic fatigue has calcified, many school districts have faced pressure to remove measures like masking, social distancing a variant drives a nationwide surge in COVID-19 cases.

      A layered approach that incorporates all mitigation measures is best….

      In a perfect world, all students would be tested daily with a free test that instantly provides results with 100 percent accuracy, Gronvall says. But such tests do not exist, and schools have limited budgets. So districts have to weigh trade-offs among different coronavirus

      Lab tests using PCR, or polymerase chain reaction, detect bits of coronavirus genetic material. A PCR test will almost never say someone without the virus has it—what's called a false positive —but can miss infections, perhaps 10 to 20 percent or more of the time. Still, it’s the most accurate test in use, though that performance comes at the price of time and money….

The Costs of Climate Change Are Too High to Ignore

[These excerpts are from an article by Rachel Cleetus in the Summer 2021 issue of Catalyst, the newsletter of the Union of Concerned Scientists.]

      This spring, the Eiden administration issued an executive order calling for a comprehensive government-wide strategy to assess and disclose climate-related financial risks and estimate the investments needed to achieve net-zero heat-trapping emissions by 2050. In Congress, the House Financial Services Committee also recently passed the Climate Risk Disclosure Act, which, if enacted into law, will require publicly traded companies to reveal more information about how climate change will affect their bottom lines, so potential investors can better evaluate climate-related risks.

      …Harmful and costly extreme weather and climate-related disasters have been piling up in recent years, and we have so far failed to adequately account for the financial risks of climate change. Widespread disclosure of the risks facing businesses, consumers, and our financial systems can help us prepare for turbulent times ahead—and will help us encourage investment in the clean energy and climate-resilient economy we need.

      Much more is at stake than simply the fiscal well-being of large financial services companies, investors, insurers, mortgage companies, or other businesses. The public relies on these companies to manage our savings, investments, pension funds, future energy choices, and other long-term portfolios. As we saw during the economic crisis generated by COVID-19, economic insecurity has a disproportionate, much harsher impact on low-income communities and communities of color, especially because many have been excluded from building generational wealth due to racist policies like mortgage redlining and lack of access to credit.

      Across the nation, climate-related events have already racked up billions of dollars in economic losses. Business interruptions and supply chain disruptions are mounting….

      …It’s no longer tenable to assume that current and future climate conditions will resemble the recent past: all sectors must prepare for a climate-altered future. Despite this, many companies don’t mention—or downplay—the effects of climate change in their publicly available information, misleading investors into overconfidence about long-term returns, and propping up the oil and gas industries, which operate as though the status quo is sustainable when they are fully aware they should be moving toward a clean-energy business model. Furthermore, companies that are more transparent about climate risks often find their data aren’t easily understood by regulators or investors because there is no requirement for such data to be standardized and comparable within or across industries.

      Today, there are still no uniform federal guidelines for disclosing risks to properties from flooding and wildfires, even though the number of communities affected has grown over the past few years and is projected to increase further. Current Federal Emergency Management Agency flood risk maps do not include projections of future conditions, including climate change. This failure to include climate risk in our economic calculations stands against the backdrop of 2020—a year that set a new US record with 22 disasters resulting in damages of $1 billion or more, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration….

Big AG Is Getting Bigger—And That’s Not Good

[These excerpts are from an article by Brian Middleton in the Summer 2021 issue of Catalyst, the newsletter of the Union of Concerned Scientists.]

      Although most of us don’t think about it very often, our lives depend on farms. Farms are the foundation of our food system. Without them, we would starve.

      Farms are also the foundation of rural communities, where millions of US residents live and work. The economic and social well-being of these communities is bound up with the success of local farms and farmers. But for most of the past century, something has been happening to US farms that doesn’t bode well for rural communities: they’re getting bigger and fewer, a process known as farmland consolidation.

      …Farms can be roughly classified into three size groups: small farms of less than 50 acres, midsize farms of between 50 and 1,000 acres, and large farms of more than 1,000 acres. Historically, midsize farms have been the backbone of the nation’s farm sector. Research has shown that more midsize farms mean more equitable distribution of income, more money circulating in the local economy, more civic engagement, and a healthier social fabric.

      And yet these pivotal midsize farms have been shrinking in number in recent decades….

      When those midsize farms disappear, jobs disappear along with them. People move away in search of better opportunities. Eventually, local institutions such as schools, hospitals, and businesses may close. Physical and social infrastructure weakens. The loss of midsize farms has been called the “hollowing out” of US agriculture—and the evidence suggests that a hollowing out of rural communities follows in its wake.

      Farm consolidation damages the land as well as the people who work it. Bigger farms are associated with landscape simplification, in which large-scale monocultures—vast acreage dedicated to a single crop (typically corn or soybeans)—replace natural vegetation, and more fertilizers and pesticides are required, degrading soil health and increasing vulnerability to erosion and climate impacts. And because more of the land in larger farms tends to be rented rather than owned, there is less incentive for operators to invest in measures to improve the land for the long term by building soil health.

      …Consolidation happens when large farms acquire land that formerly belonged to smaller ones. This doesn’t happen by accident: government policies have favored larger farms for decades. In the 1970s, Earl Butz, secretary of agriculture under President Nixon, famously told farmers to “get big or get out.” Butz’s warning was backed up with policies, ranging It from crop insurance to increasing reliance on global markets, that tilted the playing field decisively in favor of larger farms. These policy incentives have combined with inherent economies of scale to make consolidation a pervasive trend for most of the past century.

      …in 1978, midsize farms comprised a total of about 200 million acres of farmland, while large farms accounted for about 100 million acres. By 2017, these numbers had essentially reversed….

      …New practitioners bring energy, innovation, and initiative that are crucial to the future of any profession—and farmers are no different. Our food system will face huge challenges in adapting to climate change over the coming decades, and we need an expanding, diversifying, creative community of farmers to meet those challenges. Consolidation operates in exactly the wrong direction….

      The same economic pressures that drive consolidation for all farmers have affected Black farmers as well. But systemic racism has amplified these pressures through discriminatory policies and laws. In one example, laws governing the way land is passed on to family members often left Black farmers without clear title to their farmland, restricting their access to credit and federal farm supports and leaving them vulnerable to losing their farms. Black farmers were also dispossessed by violence and threats of violence, and the many decades of systematic discrimination by the USDA are well documented….

      The recent economic relief package, the American Rescue I Plan, included programs that could begin to address this legacy of discrimination. The package included a debt relief program that could pay off the farm loans of nearly 16,000 Black and other minority farmers. At the time of this writing, the program has been halted by order of a federal judge in Wisconsin, as part of legal action brought by a group of white farmers who claim that the program is racist….

      Ultimately, we all have a stake in the economic, social, and environmental well-being of our nation’s farming communities. Reversing the trend toward farm consolidation is a crucial step toward revitalizing those communities—and building a healthier, more equitable, more resilient food system in the process.

Big Milestone for US Offshore Wind Power

[These excerpts are from a brief notice in the Summer 2021 issue of Catalyst, the newsletter of the Union of Concerned Scientists.]

      In May, the Biden administration took a major step toward its goal of bringing online 30,000 megawatts (MW) of offshore wind power within this decade, by formally approving the nation’s first large-scale offshore wind farm.

      Vineyard Wind will consist of 62 wind turbines south of Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, generating about 800 MW of electricity—enough to power some 400,000 homes. UCS has long advocated for large-scale deployments of offshore wind to replace overreliance on natural gas and other fossil fuels….

      At least a dozen other East Coast offshore wind projects are now under federal review. By 2030, there could be as many as 2,000 turbines in federal waters off the US coast from Massachusetts to North Carolina.

Oil Companies Can’t Ignore Call for Climate Accountability

[These excerpts are from a brief notice in the Summer 2021 issue of Catalyst, the newsletter of the Union of Concerned Scientists.]

      A flurry of developments this spring signals growing momentum in the campaign UCS and a coalition of partners have been waging to hold major fossil fuel companies accountable for their actions related to climate change. First, in a landmark verdict, a court in the Netherlands ruled that oil giant Shell must reduce its carbon emissions—including the emissions from burning its oil and gas products—to 45 percent below 2019 levels by 2030. Shell will surely appeal the ruling, which only applies in the Netherlands, but the verdict marked the first time a company has been required by law to reduce emissions, sending shockwaves through the fossil fuel industry.

      Almost immediately following the Dutch court ruling, ExxonMobil shareholders issued a stunning rebuke to that company’s leadership, with enough votes on a climate-related measure to force the replacement of three members of the board of directors. Shareholders also passed two other climate-related proposals: one calling for expanded disclosure of lobbying by ExxonMobil and its trade associations and the other calling for a report on the company’s climate-specific lobbying.

      …There have been other significant developments as well. Chevron shareholders—by a 61 percent majority—passed a proposal to reduce Chevron’s carbon emissions, including the emissions that come from the use of its products. ConocoPhillips shareholders endorsed a similar proposal calling on the company to set global warming emissions reduction targets consistent with the Paris climate agreement’s goals, something UCS has worked toward for years. That resolution passed by a 58 percent margin.

      …adding that this may be a turning point in which the major fossil fuel companies are forced to recognize that they can’t continue to mislead the public about climate change or ignore the need to reduce the emissions from their products….

UCS Report Prompts California to Cut Ride-Hailing Emissions

[These excerpts are from a brief notice in the Summer 2021 issue of Catalyst, the newsletter of the Union of Concerned Scientists.]

      In May, California approved the nation's first standard requiring Lyft, Uber, and other ride-hailing fleets to transition to zero-emissions vehicles. The Clean Miles Standard will ensure that 90 percent of miles traveled by ride-hailing fleets in the state take place in zero-emissions vehicles by 2030, while providing a model for other states….

      Approved unanimously by the California Air Resources Board on May 20, the standard is part of the state’s broader effort to phase out gasoline-powered vehicles, reduce carbon emissions, and become carbon-neutral by 2045. Last year, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed an executive order requiring all new cars and light-duty trucks sold in the state to produce no carbon emissions by 2035.

      In 2020, UCS released an analysis that gained national media attention for its finding that an average ride-hailing trip produces an estimated 69 percent more carbon emissions than the trips it replaces. The report…made clear the imperative—and feasibility—of cleaning up these trips: our research found that ride-hailing companies can electrify their fleets at a cost of less than four cents per mile, or about 43 cents per trip. Drivers, meanwhile, would benefit from the shift through lower fuel and maintenance costs, which would each save drivers roughly $1,000 annually. Regardless, Lyft and Uber are opposed to covering the cost of new electric vehicles and have called on the state to finance the transition.

      Irvin said California must hold the companies accountable…..

Too Hot to Work

[These excerpts are from an article by Michelle Rama-Poccia in the Summer 2021 issue of Catalyst, the newsletter of the Union of Concerned Scientists.]

      …These days, urban areas in the United States experience longer, more intense, and more frequent extreme heat. That means today’s outdoor workers face even worse conditions than those of my father’s generation. And if the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that workers in the United States—especially Hispanic workers and other workers of color—lack many of the protections they need to safeguard their bodies and lives on the job.

      A new Union of Concerned Scientists analysis, Too Hot to Work, examines how this failure to protect US outdoor workers from killer heat will affect their health and livelihoods if we take no action on climate change. Unsurprisingly, the analysis exposes inequities in who is most affected.

      People of color are disproportionately represented in some outdoor occupations, with 45 percent of outdoor workers identifying as Black/African American or Hispanic/ Latinx, despite collectively making up about 32 percent of the general population. This also means people of color do some of the most dangerous jobs, such as farming and construction.

      Outdoor workers, who represent some 20 percent of the entire US labor force, are already up to 35 times more likely to die from heat exposure than the general population. With the planet notching progressively hotter decades as climate change worsens, and an increasing number of days when the heat index (a measure of temperature plus humidity) reaches or exceeds 100°F, many of the 32 million people who work outdoors in the United States will face a grim choice: work on dangerously hot days and risk their health or stay home and risk losing work and income.

      …Between now and 2065—a period that covers roughly the entire career of a young adult entering the workforce—climate change is projected to quadruple the exposure of US outdoor workers to hazardous heat conditions. It finds that with no action taken to reduce emissions, about 18.4 million outdoor workers will experience a week or more of unsafe workdays annually—ix times the number of workers exposed currently.

      As dangerous as that is, it also has extraordinary economic costs for outdoor workers and their families. Under the same status quo scenario, extreme heat places $55.4 billion in worker earnings at risk annually. As many as 7.1 million workers could see 10 percent or more of their earnings at risk annually due to extreme heat.

      Workers in construction and extraction occupations face the highest total earnings at risk due to extreme heat—nearly $14.4 billion annually—followed by those in installation, maintenance, and repair occupations, who stand to lose nearly $10.8 billion annually.

      …US worker protections are the worst among major developed countries, according to a survey of labor unions that ranked the United States as a systemic violator of rights. When it comes to extreme heat, the United States has no national safety standards to protect outdoor workers; only California and Washington State have permanent heat-related protective standards enforceable under the law….

      Dozens of US workers die each year from exposure to temperature extremes, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Labor advocates say the official numbers undercount these deaths because many undocumented workers are afraid to report them, allowing employers to avoid classifying these deaths as work-related. Language barriers and concerns about immigration status currently leave some workers with little recourse should they experience dangerous working conditions.

      It’s notable, too, that heat is a problem for workers in both urban and rural areas. While urban areas have more outdoor workers that could be exposed to extreme heat, rural outdoor workers represent a larger share of their respective local economies and may have more limited access to health care.

      …No one should have to choose between their health and their job, yet millions of outdoor workers do just that—often for pay that does not amount to a living wage. Farmworkers, for instance, risk their lives and health to put food on our tables for an average hourly wage of $10.80. They are also regularly exposed to toxic pesticides, and the protective clothing they must wear increases their risk of heat illness. As climate change worsens extreme heat, increases insect populations, and makes weeds more abundant, it will likely drive more pesticide use, making these jobs even more dangerous.

      …The more intense heat means it's important to keep Cantelmo’s crew of 25 workers cool and hydrated, and he has canceled work on particularly oppressive days over 90°F. His workers take two-hour shifts during intense heat, rotating off the field to cool off at two portable shade tents and with five-gallon water tanks that must be washed and sterilized at the end of every day.

      Moving irrigation equipment in the heat is another major challenge—and one of the most physically intense jobs on the farm….

      He supports heat protections for outdoor workers but says he’s skeptical about the federal government’s ability to effectively implement such rules. He hopes the Occupational Safety and Health Administration can help farmers comply through education—"more carrot than stick”—by showing growers that employees who are hydrated and not heat-stressed are not only healthier, but also more efficient….

Crows—They’re Just Like Us!

[These excerpts are from an article by Timothy Meinch in the September/October 2021 issue of Discover.]

      We’ve long known that crows exhibit extraordinary intelligence. These birds —along with ravens, jays and others in the corvid family — have inspired myths and legends for centuries. But the more scientists unravel about their brain structure and behaviors, the more crows seem to resemble humans….

      To top that off, just last fall other researchers determined that crows seem to exhibit a level of consciousness demonstrated only in humans and very few of our mammal relatives, such as primates. This work, along with many recent neurological studies, is redefining bird brains as we have known them.

      The breakthrough study published in Science revealed that crows show signs of perceptual consciousness and an ability to draw on subjective experiences from the past in order to solve a task. This means the birds keep new information, or memories, in the front of their brains for extended periods, and use it in reasoning and navigating new situations they encounter.

      The discovery piggybacks on new knowledge about the forebrain in crows, which has proven to be exceptionally large — another trait they share with humans….For people and crows alike, the forebrain deals with higher cognitive tasks, including rational decision-making, problem-solving and executive function.

      Taken together, these findings help explain the dynamic problem-solving and tool use in crows that humans have observed for years. The New Caledonian crow, for example, has recently gained popularity for not only tool use, but its ability to manufacture compound tools out of various materials. These innovative birds have been known to make probes, hooks and sharp spears that they use to skewer insects in hard-to-reach places. They also strip down palm fronds so that the main stem forms a j-shape that can grab food. In research labs, they’ve successfully bent wire to snatch baskets with food inside….

Plant ‘Vaccines’ Could Save Us from a World without Fruit

[These excerpts are from an article by Molly Glick in the September/October 2021 issue of Discover.]

      A future in which chocolate, wine and oranges are affordable only for the wealthy certainly feels dystopian. But this may very well become reality, as some of our favorite crops are now in danger of succumbing to plant diseases. To tackle the problem, Anne Elizabeth Simon…is attempting to create what she calls a vaccine for perennial crops, which could help protect our food supply.

      Researchers have long dealt with pathogen spread among plants by quarantining infected flora to spare surrounding ones. And, depending on the type of disease, plants may also receive pesticides or antibiotic sprays. But to create more reliable protection, Simon is part of a team developing a vaccinelike solution as an efficient and relatively quickly deployable way to preempt, or possibly cure, plant diseases.

      This potential fix can’t come fast enough. Currently, the world grapples with increasing perils to vital agricultural sectors. For example, cacao grown in West Africa, which provides about 70 percent of the world’s chocolate, faces the debilitating cacao swollen shoot disease (CSSD). Florida’s quickly spiraling citrus industry is threatened by the disease huanglongbing (HLB) — commonly called citrus greening — which has wreaked major havoc since 2005.

      Of course, plant pandemics are no new challenge. In the first half of the 20th century, for instance, a disease caused by fungus killed about 4 billion American chestnut trees. But overall, climate change, emerging pathogens and human activity, such as ramped-up global travel, have combined to create a perfect storm that endangers our food supply….

      …Simon was shocked to see that while this iRNA lacked the genes to code its own plant-generated movement proteins, it was still able to move between cells in a plant's veins — contradicting her 30 years of research. Tweaking the iRNA to carry tiny fragments of a virus can provoke plant enzymes to chop up the harmful virus into little pieces, without causing damage to the plant….

      The iRNA sample was first discovered by University of California, Riverside, researchers in the 1950s when it appeared in limequat trees. They found that the iRNA can infect many citrus species with very mild to zero symptoms. Yet its disease-fighting capabilities were only recently discovered when Simon realized IRNA’s ability to co-opt its host plant’s proteins to move from cell to cell.

      Eager to get the ball rolling, Simon co-founded a company called Silvec Biologics in 2019, and is working to develop a single-step preventative treatment that tricks trees into eradicating not only viruses that cause disease, but also fungi and bacteria — somewhat similar to how mRNA jabs force our immune systems to cook up COVID-19 antibodies.

      Because iRNA stays in trees for decades, Simon says the vaccine could possibly offer lifetime protection against several pathogens when put into newly planted trees —similar to giving children a standard set of shots. What’s less clear, however, is whether highly degraded trees that have been infected for several years can still benefit from the treatment.

      Simon hopes that the iRNA therapy can save infected trees that don’t yet show symptoms. It seems less likely for those with roots disintegrated by disease, like a growing number of Florida’s citrus trees. Even if the vaccine did work in those cases, she says, they would be too weak to recover….

      Ultimately, it will likely take a combination of approaches to keep our food system resilient to current and emerging diseases — just as we have combined masking and social distancing, along with various treatments and vaccines, to work against COVID-19. But if scientists, governments and growers don’t combine forces quickly enough, it’s possible that certain food production costs will skyrocket and affect consumer prices. Florida's per-box orange price, for example, rose by more than 90 percent between 2003 and 2018 when adjusted for inflation.

      That’s why Simon says plant epidemics require a Manhattan Project of sorts, where scientists can bring their minds together and offer their individual expertise….

Poison Ivy Relief

[These excerpts are from an article by Claudia Wallis in the September 2021 issue of Scientific American.]

      …Every year 10 million to 50 million Americans share my woes. According to some older studies, poison ivy and its cousins poison oak and poison sumac cause 10 percent of lost-time injuries among U.S. Forest Service workers and lead one third of them in California, Oregon and Washington to miss work during fire seasons. To make matters worse, the climate crisis is turning poison ivy more toxic and expanding its range….

      …pharma companies see more profit in developing drugs for chronic skin condittions such as eczema than for an ephemeral rash. Jordt is one of a handful of scientists who take this nemesis seriously, and I am happy to report that they have made progress. Among recent discoveries: surprising pathways that cause the itchy rash, new targets for treatment and—be still, my heart—a vaccine in development that aims to preven the urushiol reaction.

      …Animal studies indicate that the response to urushiol has nothing to do with histamines—bodily chemicals involved in many allergic reactions—so antihistamines are useless. Working with urushiol-exposed mice, Jordt and his colleagues found that an immune chemical called interleukin 33 (IL-33) plays a key role in causing the infernal itch. Released by skin cells, it acts directly on sensory neurons in the skin. If either IL-33 or its receptor is blocked, the mice stop scratching—a finding that suggests a new route for treatment. Because IL-33 is involved in asthma and eczema, at least two companies already are working on drugs to block it, but its role in poison ivy was a surprise.

      Dermatologist Brian Kim…has identified a second, nonhistamine pathway involved in poison ivy rashes. Also working with mice, Kim, along with scientists at Johns Hopkins University; has shown that immune system components called mast cells trigger itch neurons in the skin. The mast-cell and IL-33 pathways are both “very new mechanisms,” Kim says. In the past, dermatologists believed that urushiol rashes and itch were triggered by the immune system’s T cells, which rally antibodies to attack the skin irritant. Kim believes that T cells do cause the inflamed rash of poison ivy but that these other pathways provoke the itch….

      Both recently discovered mechanisms present new targets for treatment, but first scientists need to extend the work in humans. Jordt says it’s been difficult to attract study funding and to obtain tissue samples from poison ivy patients.

      Human research is proceeding with a compound called PDC-APB, which would be injected as a vaccine once every year or two to prevent poison ivy misery….It works well in guinea pigs (I’ve seen photos), passed initial safety testing in humans and is about to be evaluated in a small randomized controlled trial….

Bacterial Bipartisanships

[These excerpts are from an article by Jim Daley in the September 2021 issue of Scientific American.]

      …the Illinois legislature has taken things to the next (microscopic) level by adopting Penicillium rubens—a mold that produces penicillin—as the official state microbe.

      Scottish microbiologist Alexander Fleming discovered in 1928 that a fungus called Penicillium notatum produced penicillin, which became the world’s first widely effective antibiotic. But P. notatum could not generate large-scale quantities of the drug, which became especially crucial when World War II broke out. So scientists at the University of Oxford sought help from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Northern Regional Research Laboratory (since renamed the National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research, or NCAUR), in Peoria, Ill. Andrew Moyer, a microbiologist there, took on the problem.

      Moyer’s fellow researcher Mary Hunt found a moldy cantaloupe at a Peoria market and brought itto the lab for analysis….As was the case with many women conducting research in that era, Hunt’s contribution to the discovery and study of that mold—which turned out to be Penicillium rubens—was diminished at the time. Moyer’s 1944 publication on P. rubens mentions Hunt only in the paper’s acknowledgments, and the press referred to her as “Moldy Mary.” P. rubens could better tolerate a new fermentation process that let it quickly produce hundreds of times more penicillin than previously studied strains, which letthe Allies massively scale up antibiotic production. The same strain is still used to manufacture penicillin today….

      …Illinois is only the third state to take this step, joining the ranks of Oregon (which similarly honors Saccharomyces cerevisiae, or brewers’ yeast) and New Jersey, whose state microbe Streptomyces griseus also produces an antibiotic….

Living Color

[These excerpts are from an article by Maddie Bender in the September 2021 issue of Scientific American.]

      Researchers have modified a common bacterium to spit out an entire rainbow of dyes forbad, clothing, cosmetics, and more. The proof-of-concept research also detailed the natural production of two colors—green and navy blue—for the first time.

      Some dyes can be produced naturally from plants. Indigo, for example, is extracted from leaves of species in the genus Incligofera. But the task is labor-intensive, with variable results. Synthetic alternatives can involve toxic precursors and by-products, sometimes released as pollutants. And consumers are willing to pay more for natural colorants, says Sang Yup Lee….So he and his colleagues set out to engineer Escherichia coli to make seven natural hues.

      The researchers not only had to tweak the microbes by adding specific genes to produce the dyes, they also had to help the bacteria push the colors out into the world. Because the involved dyes are hydrophobic (water-repellent), they typically cannot pass through bacterial cell membranes; they would instead accumulate inside the cell and ultimately kill it. Synthetic biology researchers seeking to produce self-sustaining “cell factories” for chemicals have long been stymied by this problem.

      Lee and his team genetically altered their E. coli, first to grow longer cells and then to convert some of the extra membrane surface area into sacs that could encircle and expel the accumulated chemicals. Rather than cutting out the relevant genes entirely, which might in some instances kill the bacteria, they introduced small RNA sequences that “"silenced” such undesired but essential genes. They also inserted a human gene that caused the bacteria to form microscopic pouches on their membranes for even greater surface area….

      Lee says that his E. coli production method has no toxic properties and could be incorporated into industry today—but that “some colors will be more expensive because the [concentrations] are still quite low and difficult to produce.”

      The new technique could eventually help engineer microbes to produce hydrophobic antibiotics….

Fix Disaster Response Nows

[These excerpts are from an editorial by the editors in the September 2021 issue of Scientific American.]

      Given record-breaking wildfires, hurricanes and other weather disasters that cost lives and billions of dollars amid a pandemic that brought death to every corner of the country, the events of 2020 stretched U.S. emergency management institutions. Local governments have been unable to cope with the disasters, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Pam) has been strained. This litany of destruction has brought into stark relief problems of capacity and inequity—people of color and low-income communities have been hit disproportionately bard—that have been festering for decades in the nation’s approach to disaster preparedness. Now, with the climate crisis increasing the odds of calamities, we must stop kicking the can down the road and commit to the challenging work of revamping emergency management.

      FEMA is supposed to be the agency that steps in when disasters overwhelm local resources, whereas cities, counties and states handle smaller events. But a PEMA National Advisory Council (NAC) report last November noted that state and local emergency management operations struggle even with routine events….When Hurricane Harvey flooded southeastern Texas in 2017 with an unprecedented 60 inches of rain, for example, almost half of the agency’s emergency workforce bad already been deployed to other trouble spots. To free itself up, FEMA is now proposing to raise the damage threshold that triggers federal assistance. But that proposal simply will leave local areas more vulnerable. Congress or state legislatures need to supply sustainable funds that build and maintain local emergency management departments, along with any change in the rules for FEMA involvement.

      To address the problem that all emergency agencies do little in advance to prepare for disasters, some funding could be ear-marked for—and require—certain crucial mitigation work some-times resisted by local political forces….for every $1 that FEMA and other federal agencies spend on mitigating the risks of floods, earthquakes and other hazards, society ultimately saves $6 in costs.

      Any future mitigation and recovery funding must also be distributed in an equitable way….To remedy this disparity, FEMA, as well as state and local emergency management agencies, cannotrely solely on cost-benefit analyses to determine what projects to fund, because these weigh in favor of more expensive properties. They should also use other metrics, such as the Social Vulnerability Index, which identifies the populations with the least capacity to deal with disasters. Some local governments have begun to incorporate equity into their emergency planning….

      Everyone, not just the well-to-do, should have the opportunity to build back their lives with the resources they need in the wake of disaster.

Colleges Must Require Vaccination

[These excerpts are from editorial by Michael A. McRobbie in the 27 August 2021 issue of Science.]

      This week, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted full approval to the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine for individuals 16 years and older. This milestone decision, the first full approval of a vaccine for COVID-19, will almost certainly clear a path for businesses, hospitals, and government agencies that have not already done so to adopt vaccine mandates for their employees. For colleges and universities that have been on the fence about requiring the vaccine, the FDA’s decision may be especially welcome news.

      As of earlier this week, 753 campuses require the vaccination. According to a map from the Chronicle of Higher Education, most of these schools are in “blue” states. There is no doubt that COVID-19 vaccination has become politicized. Now, with the full FDA approval, there is even less reason for the political hue of a state to deter universities, as citadels of science and reason, from making every attempt ito implement vaccine mandates.

      Indiana University…announced a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for all students, faculty, and staff in May, just as the Delta variant was starting to surge in the United States….

      The university’s public health experts were emphatic that vaccination would be the only way to ensure a return to mostly normal operations and a more typical university experience this fall. And the university’s leadership viewed the mandate, which includes appropriate exemptions, as a continuation of its science- and public health-driven approach to manage the pandemic on all of its campuses throughout Indiana.

      Opposition to this decision was expected, and just days after announcing the mandate, 35 state senators sent me a strongly worded letter urging the university to reconsider and rescind the mandate….

      In late June, eight students filed a lawsuit against Indiana University, alleging that the vaccine mandate violated their constitutional rights by forcing them to receive unwanted medical treatment. The following month, a federal judge decisively rejected this argument on the grounds that students, in fact, do have options—they can get vaccinated, apply for an exemption, or choose to attend another school.

      Earlier this month, an appeals court unanimously upheld the judge’s decision, and on 12 August, Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett denied a bid to block Indiana University’s mandate. This third ruling, now from the nation’s highest court, signals that similar vaccine requirements are very likely to pass legal muster.

      Public data, as well as the consensus of medical and scientific opinion, indicate that the battle against COVID-19 is far from over. Vaccination rates in many areas of the United States simply are not high enough to prevent enough COVID-19 infections and transmission. In Indiana, COVID-19 case rates are the highest they have been since May, and vaccination rates languish. The highly contagious Delta variant is stoking a deadly new surge of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths, especially in places with low vaccination rates.

      As the nation’s top public health experts have repeatedly expressed, vaccine mandates, which continue to receive high public support, represent the best path to increase vaccination numbers to the levels necessary to defeat the virus and avoid the risk of continuing mutations and variants. The Delta variant has been bad. The next variant could be worse.

      As the nation’s top public health experts have repeatedly expressed, vaccine mandates, which continue to receive high public support, represent the best path to increase vaccination numbers to the levels necessary to defeat the virus and avoid the risk of continuing mutations and variants. The Delta variant has been bad. The next variant could be worse.

The Children’s Climate Crusade

[These excerpts are from a book review by Michael B. Gerrard in the 20 August 2021 issue of Science.]

      In 2010, the group Our Children’s Trust formed to pursue a legal theory developed by University of Oregon law professor Mary Wood, which states that governments owe a duty to young people to protect the atmosphere from climate change. The group brought legal proceedings in all 50 US states, but the cases did not get very far, until one—Juliana v. United States—landed before Judge Ann Aiken of the US District Court in Oregon.

      Two days after Donald Thump was elected president, Judge Aiken issued a ruling allowing the case to go forward. When Trump took office, his administration tried mightily, but failed, to get the case thrown out. Meanwhile, trial preparations went forward.

      The plaintiffs needed to prove that the federal government not only knew about the dangers of climate change but also actually helped create them by encouraging the extraction and use of fossil fuels. To make that case, they brought in James Gustave Speth.

      For half a century, Speth has been one of the nation’s foremost environmental leaders….

      Working pro bona, Speth produced a lengthy report tracing nearly 60 years of federal action on climate change and fossil fuel development….

      While Speth tells readers that key reports on climate change started coming out of Washington in 1965, his detailed recounting begins with the administration in which he was a leading player, that of President Jimmy Carter (1977-1981). We learn that during this period, the scientific findings about the causes of climate change became increasingly confident and the predictions of its impacts became steadily more alarming. Yet under every US president since Carter, fossil fuel extraction and use have continued to grow….

      Such a history of accumulating scientific knowledge of the dangers, and failure to act on them, can and has led to massive penalties against private companies just ask the asbestos and tobacco industries. But the federal government enjoys “sovereign immunity,” meaning that it cannot be sued for monetary damages unless it has consented, and in the case of climate change, it has not.

      The Juliana case was ultimately decided by the Ninth Circuit in January 2020. Speth and the plaintiffs' other experts apparently persuaded the judges of the points they were trying to make about the gravity and causes of climate change, but it was not enough to compel action. To the heartbreak of many, the majority opinion ends: “We reluctantly conclude, however, that the plaintiffs’ case must be made to the political branches or to the electorate at large, the latter of which can change the composition of the political branches through the ballot box.”

      The current administration has made an ambitious pledge to achieve a net-zero greenhouse gas economy by 2050….Ultimately, however, key choices on climate action remain in the hands of voters.

Dire Warming Report Triggers Calls for More Action from China

[These excerpts are from an article by Lili Pike in the 20 August 2021 issue of Science.]

      The sweeping new report documenting the world’s changing climate released on 9 August by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has put a fresh spotlight on China, a country responsible for more than one-quarter of the world’s annual carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Climate advocates hope the report will encourage China, which has lagged other big emitters in pledges to reduce CO2 emissions, to take bolder action. Whether it can begin to slash its output significantly in the next 10 years will help determine the magnitude of the global crisis, they say.

      But whereas many heads of state called for enhanced climate action, following the IPCC report, Chinese leaders have stayed quiet. In a statement to Agence France-Presse, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs simply reiterated China's existing climate policies and said the world should have faith in its climate actions.

      Taking firm action is in not only the planet’s interest, but China’s own. The IPCC report offers a grim synthesis of what China can expect under various scenarios. If temperatures climb 2°C above preindustrial levels, heavy precipitation will become more intense and frequent; drought will become more severe and regular in large parts of China; tropical cyclones will increase in intensity; and, by the end of the century, sea levels will rise 0.3 to 0.5 meters and temperatures in some regions could surpass 41°C on 30 days of the year.

      …the July flood in Zhengzhou, in China’s central Henan province, which killed nearly 300 people and displaced 1.5 million, was a stark reminder of the toll more extreme weather can exact. The storm’s severity surprised even Chinese climate scientists….

      But China’s current climate plans fall short of what IPCC says is needed to stave off the worst climate impacts. In September 2020, President Xi Jinping announced the country will aim to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060….China also promised to level off its emissions sometime before 2030—a deadline by which the United States and the European Union, the biggest emitters historically, have pledged to cut their emissions by half from 2005 levels.

      However, the 2018 report showed that sticking to the 1.5°C target requires countries to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, not 2060….

      To meet the earlier deadline, China needs to sharply reduce emissions in the coming 5 to 10 years….At the moment, carbon emissions are still growing; China was the only major economy where they climbed even amid the pandemic in 2020….

      European leaders and climate advocates have pushed for China to move its emissions peaking date up from 2030 to 2025, and some have called on the country to stop building coal plants. Last year, China accounted for three-quarters of the new coal power that came online worldwide; more than 200 gigawatts of additional capacity is still planned. But Jiang says the plants are being built to provide energy security and will likely only run at a low capacity….

The Matter of Mind Control

[These excerpts are from a book review by Sarah Marks in the 13 August 2021 issue of Science.]

      In 1976, Patty Hearst, the granddaughter of American publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst, was found guilty of bank robbery, a crime she committed after enduring a sustained period of time as a captive of the domestic terrorist organization known as the Symbionese Liberation Army. The trial, with its glittering cast of expert witnesses, became a test case for psychological theories of brainwashing.

      In addition to commenting on Hearst's intelligence and differentiating her behavior from those typically displayed by malingerers, the experts invoked the experiences of US prisoners of war (POWs) in Korea and the concept of “debility, dependency, and dread” to explain how Hearst, in their view, was not acting of her own free will when she committed the robbery. Instead, they argued, she was in thrall to the coercive persuasion of her captors. The jury was unconvinced and sentenced Hearst to 35 years in prison. However, President Jimmy Carter found the arguments persuasive and commuted her sentence after 22 months, and President Bill Clinton pardoned Hearst in 2001….

      The word “brainwashing” was coined in the early years of the Cold War by journalist Edward Hunter to describe reeducation techniques used for indoctrination in Communist China and was subsequently invoked to make sense of the defection of 21 American POWs to China after the Korean War. Elements of brainwashing can be traced back much further to techniques used in religious conversion and inquisition, but the fear unleashed by the provocative term precipitated the Central Intelligence Agency’s infamous MKUltra. experiments, which made use of the hallucinogen LSD, sensory deprivation, and electroconvulsive therapy during interrogations to coerce confessions and reached their bleak crescendo with a series of highly abusive experiments carried out on psychiatric patients by McGill University psychiatrist Donald Ewen Cameron between 1957 and 1964….

      While there is novelty in the synthesis of these case studies, Dark Persuasion does not offer much new material, and Dimsdale has not unearthed any substantial unexpected archival finds or generated new oral histories. However, his account of the Hearst trial is carefully researched and supplemented with a wealth of scientific papers from the time. And while the causal link he suggests between Pavlov’s experiments with traumatized dogs and the interrogation and torture processes that led to false confessions in Stalin’s show trials is based on slender evidence, Dimsdale’s observations about the proximity of these events are nevertheless astute.

      …Dimsdale’s goal is to prompt reflection on what he sees as the overlooked reality of coercive persuasion at a broader level and the ever-present threat that it poses to individuals and to society at large—a threat, he warns, that is becoming ever-amplified by new technologies and mass media. In this aim, he succeeds admirably.

Time Grows Short to Curb Warming, Report Warns

[These excerpts are from an article by Cathleen O’Grady in the 13 August 2021 issue of Science.]

      Every time the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issues a new report surveying the science of global warming, the alarm sounds louder. Now, 8 years after its last report, the message of IPCC’s latest assessment, released this week, is urgent and unequivocal: The window for mitigating the worst projected impacts of global climate change is closing. Average global temperatures are now 1.1°C above preindustrial records, and under every scenario for future greenhouse gas emissions that the panel examined, average warming of 1.5°C—a target set by the 2015 Paris climate accord—will very likely be reached within the next 20 years….

      It is “unequivocal” and “established fact” that human activities are causing Earth to warm, says the report, which was assembled by hundreds of scientists from around the world, and climate change’s impact on the planet is “unprecedented.” That blunt language reflects, in part, the substantial scientific advances that have occurred since IPCC issued its last major assessment in 2013. Climate models are more detailed and powerful, and observational records cover more ground—including the rapidly warming Arctic—as well as eight additional years of warming….

      Growing evidence from ancient climates has also helped researchers constrain estimates of what is called climate sensitivity—the amount of warming expected if concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) rise twice as high as in preindustrial times, to 560 parts per million (ppm). (Current levels are about 415 ppm and climbing fast.) The panel now estimates that a CO2 doubling would boost temperatures by 2.5°C to 4°C, a narrower range than the previously estimated 1.5°C to 4.5°C.

      In the best case scenario, with the world cutting net emissions to zero by 2050, CO2 will fall short of doubling and warming is projected to peak midcentury at 1.6°C above preindustrial levels. Even in this scenario, Arctic sea ice is likely to vanish completely in at least one summer by 2050. In the worst case scenario, warming will very likely reach 2.4°C by midcentury and rise to 4.1°C—and potentially 527°C—by 2100. At higher emissions levels, “low-likelihood, high-impact” consequences—such as mass ice sheet loss in the Antarctic or the stalling of ocean currents—become more likely. The probability of these abrupt, irreversible changes is not well-understood, the report says, but they cannot be ruled out. Current emissions are on IPCC’s mid- to higher trajectories….

      For the first time, the report elaborates on how each increment of warming could play out in different regions, stoking extreme events such as flooding, heat waves, droughts, and fire. Past reports focused on averages….

      …With 1.5°C of warming, for example, high daytime temperatures that would be rare without climate change could occur four times a decade; at 4°C of warming, such heat extremes could come nearly every year….

      It is now “established fact” that warming is fueling extreme events, the report says. And since IPCC's last report, scientific advances have made it possible to link climate change to specific events, such as the recent heat wave in northwestern North America….

      Some global changes are already locked in, the report notes, regardless of how much humanity reduces emissions in coming decades. Melting of glaciers and ice sheets and thawing of permafrost is now “irreversible” for decades or centuries to come, it says. The warming, acidification, and deoxygenation that are already damaging the world’s oceans will continue for centuries to millennia. Continued sea level rise, now estimated at 3.7 millimeters each year between 2006 and 2018, is also inevitable: Over the next 2000 years, oceans will likely rise by 2 to 3 meters if the planet warms by 15°C, and tup to 22 meters with 5°C of warming….

Clarion Call from Climate Panel

[These excerpts are from an editorial by Steven Sherwood and Brian Hoskins in the 13 August 2021 issue of Science.]

      Unprecedented flooding, searing temperatures, and raging fires across Europe, Asia, and North America this summer have created a stark backdrop for this week’s release of the sixth physical science assessment report (AR6) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). These reports, initiated in 1990, arrive about every 7 years….The reports’ future projections about climate change have remained fairly stable over the years and have, sadly, proven quite accurate. So, what does the new report add?

      Above all, AR6 expresses greater confidence in familiar findings, owing to stronger evidence. A notable example concerns “equilibrium climate sensitivity,” a measure of how much global warming ultimately occurs if the atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration doubles. Based on improved understanding of cloud processes and climate changes that have already occurred, AR6 concludes that this figure is “likely”" (a two-thirds chance or greater) to lie between 2.5° and 4°C—halving the spread of 1.5° to 4.5°C in previous reports. Global temperatures had stalled in the period before the 2013 assessment (AR5) but have since surged, reaching 1.1°C above that of preindustrial times. Atmospheric CO2 has reached concentrations not seen for at least 2 million years, and the new report expresses high confidence that oceans, plants, and soils will become less efficient at absorbing future carbon emissions.

      As always, uncertainty remains. The latest climate models predict a wider range for climate sensitivity, with projected values implausibly weak in some cases but implausibly strong in others. This disagreement is largely a result of increased complexity in model representations of cloud feedbacks in the midlatitude storm-track regions….

      The report also provides new clarity on aspects like changes in extreme rainfall and drought. Almost all robusty observed regional trends in these events are upward and are projected to continue. One sobering finding is that even if global warming is limited to 2°C, heat events that once occurred twice per century will happen every 3 to 4 years—and will tend to coincide with droughts, compounding the impacts….

      The report dives into important new territory by emphasizing “low-probability high impact events” that are hard to quantify but unwise to ignore….the probabilities of forest die-back, ocean-circulation changes, and other disturbing scenarios increase with global temperature.

      …AR6 is intended to inform discussions at the UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) meeting in November. Our children and grandchildren are waiting to see what comes out of it.

Blue Carbon Can’t Wait

[These excerpts are from an editorial by Fanny Douvere in the 6 August 2021 issue of Science.]

      When the United Nations released its World Oil Ocean Assessment in 2015, it was clear that the oceans were seriously degraded, with stressors on these environments projected to increase. The 2021 Assessment, released in April, shows that they have further declined, bringing us ever closer to losing the structure, function, and benefits of Earth's marine systems. One way forward might be to focus on “blue carbon” ecosystems and the incentives they offer through carbon credits linked to decreasing carbon emissions.

      Blue carbon ecosystems include seagrass meadows, tidal marshes, and mangroves, all of which are among Earth’s most efficient absorbers and long-term starers of carbon. This capacity for carbon storage also makes them sources of CO2 emissions when they are degraded or destroyed.

      …Restoring blue carbon ecosystems could remove about 0.5% of current global emissions, with co-benefits for local ecosystems and livelihoods. These include improved water quality; increased marine and terrestrial biodiversity; preservation of livelihoods, cultural practices, and values of local and traditional communities; and the protection of shorelines and their resilience in the face of climate change. That’s quite a return on investment.

      We can start by ensuring that blue carbon ecosystems already identified for protection get the support they need….Protecting those blue carbon ecosystems will keep billions of additional CO2 emissions from entering the atmosphere. Their carbon stores are nominally protected from degradation by the legal commitment of over 190 signatory countries to the 1972 UNESCO World Heritage Convention. But local management of these sites is 1-- i often underfunded and understaffed, and the sites face a variety of threats from pollution, coastal development, and climate change….

      …Blue carbon ecosystems can help nations avoid releasing additional CO2 and other greenhouse gases. The growing blue carbon credit market allows organizations and countries that conserve and restore blue carbon ecosystems to claim or sell credits in global carbon credit markets….

      So far, few countries have incorporated blue carbon strategies into their climate change mitigation policies. The Blue Carbon Initiative…encourages more countries to develop comprehensive methods for assessing blue carbon stores and emissions.

      But momentum is gathering. One of the largest seagrass restorations to date, in the United States, has applied for blue carbon credit certification….

      As the world aims for carbon neutrality in the decades ahead, we can take actions today to help slow climate change. The return on investing in blue carbon ecosystems is clear, meaningful, and immediate. We can’t afford to wait.

The State of the Pandemic

[These excerpts are from an article by Jonathan S. Shaw in the September/October 2021 issue of Harvard Magazine.]

      For all the havoc and death caused by the coronavirus to reflect on a few significant issues. How will humanity cope with the rest of this pandemic—and prepare to respond better to the inevitable next one?

      Much has been learned about SARS CoV-2, and more broadly, methods for combating a novel viral pathogen. Infectious-disease experts understand how the virus spreads across populations, and how contagious it has become: in the United Kingdom before vaccines were available, only national lockdowns managed to contain a fast-spreading variant. The U.K.’s experience presages disaster in the near future for low-income countries, whose access to vaccines remains limited even as more contagious variants proliferate.

      Physician-scientists, using data gleaned from clinical trials, have painstakingly worked out which treatments are most effective at each stage of COVID-19’s complex progression. They no longer need to rely on guesswork to inform their decisions. Better, targeted treatments are in development.

      Immunologists and virologists have developed safe and highly effective vaccines with extraordinary speed. Close study of these vaccines’ efficacy, and the complexity of the immune responses they elicit, has underscored the importance of clinical-trial data to assess their durability.

      Many questions, of course, remain unanswered….

      …the challenges of fighting infectious diseases in under-resourced settings, having closely observed the starkly different outcomes for countries like Rwanda, where a robust public-health infrastructure (and testing regime that put the United States's to shame), kept the pandemic in check; and Peru, where infection rates have raged E, to levels that dwarf those of other nations, including India….

      Among the most fundamental questions about SARS-CoV-2 that bedevils epidemiologists is the virus’s reproductive number: how many people the average infected person infects. This is a key parameter used to model the spread of a disease, and to estimate what percentage of a population must be vaccinated (or have acquired immunity through infection) to reach “herd immunity”: the point at which even unvaccinated individuals in a population are protected. The most reliable way to calculate the reproductive number is to trace the spread of the virus from the date that “patient zero” was infected.

      “Some researchers are estimating that the first case was in December 2019, but I really doubt that,” says Murray….

      Also complicating this picture are “super-spreader” events: the fact that under certain circumstances, one infected person can infect 90 or more others (as occurred during a February 2020 conference in Boston) while on other occasions, an infected individual infects no one….

      …The people most at risk of testing positive and requiring hospitalization were essential workers, people whose jobs did not allow them to work from home. This put their families and friends at risk, too.

      But even though such classic epidemiological factors could explain the overrepresentation of service and blue-collar workers among COVID-19 patients, it could not explain other disturbing data that began to emerge around the same time. Why were certain racial minorities approximately three times more likely to be hospitalized than whites—and more than twice as likely to die? These discrepancies could not be explained by genetic predispositions, because the observed health disparities varied from state to state. The inescapable conclusion was that socioeconomic determinants of health profoundly affect COVID-19 outcomes, including the risk of death….If lack of income or education leads to poorer nutrition, and is layered atop stress from working multiple jobs, while living near a polluting power plant, in overcrowded or substandard housing, for example, those social factors, which flow from public-policy decisions (the minimum wage, funds for public education, siting sources of pollution in poor neighborhoods) will ultimately affect health.

      The multiple causes and effects are mutually reinforcing….during pandemic-related remote learning, for example, middle- and low-income student achievement began to dramatically lag that of high-income students, who presumably had better access to technology, spaces conducive to learning, and support from parents whose employment allowed them to work from home. The pandemic has laid bare the effects of such disparities: black and Latino children were immediately overrepresented in cases of COVID-related Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children, a disease that didn’t exist before 2020.

      If resistant variants of the virus don’t defeat them, vaccines are the best hope to end the pandemic….“Across the country, wherever there is a high uptake of vaccination, there is a dramatic drop in cases.”

      …Alpha, formerly known as the U.K. variant, or B.1.1.7, which is estimated to be 50 percent more transmissible than the original strain used to create the vaccines….this strain of SARS-CoV-2 achieves heightened transmissibility in two ways: it causes patients to shed more infectious particles at peak infection, and it causes a longer, 13-day infectious period (compared to the eight-day norm). Both changes increase the chances that an infected individual will infect others, thus raising the reproductive rate. The Delta variant that devastated India and is now sweeping the world is reportedly 60 percent more transmissible than Alpha, and twice as likely to result in hospitalization….

      Clearly, as long as large numbers of people remain unvaccinated, by choice or not, the pandemic must be managed as a chronic threat. That implies continuing public-health measures that may include masks, limits on crowds, regular testing for infection, and contact tracing—as well as, inevitably, treatment for those who become ill.

      At the same time, global leaders must prepare for a successor pandemic, including one far worse than this one. Years of investment in research led to the creation of vaccine platforms, and to plans, albeit imperfect, to manufacture and distribute them globally….

      Knowing the nature of what to expect—a respiratory virus that thrives in the context of modern human behaviors—readiness will mean stockpiling nonexpired masks, working ventilators, and various levels of personal protective equipment for health-care workers. It will require that hospital systems develop strategies for swiftly expanding intensive-care capacity. Even scientists, already engaged in unprecedented collaboration, should develop even more sophisticated and deliberate ways of coordinating research and sharing results with each other and the public. To develop capacity and strategies for large-scale testing, federal and state public-health agencies will need to be strengthened. And government public-health announcements will need to convey a unified message, not just within nations, but globally. Making such investments sounds expensive. But nothing could be as costly as the loss of life and the trillions of dollars in economic damage that have already been inflicted by the COVID-19 crisis.

Why Animals Play

[These excerpts are from an article by Caitlin O’Connell in the August 2021 issue of Scientific American.]

      …As winter wears on, the environment dries out, and elephants have to venture farther from water to find enough to eat. Several days may pass before they can return to the water hole for a drink and a reunion.

      …Another elephant family was amassing in the southeastern forest and heading our way, and the adult females were wary. They stood with their feet firmly planted, ears held straight out, as they sniffed what little remained of the prevailing wind for any potential danger. Not only would exiting the security of the forest expose the family to predators, but an encounter with a higher-ranking elephant family could result in an aggressive interaction. For the youngsters in the group, however, more families meant more opportunities to play. So after thoroughly assessing the clearing, the matriarch gave the word with a rumble and an ear flap, and the family began its approach to the water.

      …It turns out that play, like other forms of interaction, has rules of engagement. And it is essential for developing the physical and cognitive faculties that animals need to survive and reproduce.

      …People tend to think of play as an activity one engages in at one’s leisure, outside of learning important skills needed to succeed later in life, such as hunting, mating, and evading predators. But although playing is fun for all involved—and fun for those who are watching—play behaviors evolved as ritualized forms of survival skills needed later in life, providing the opportunity to perfect those skills.

      Engaging in play allows animals to experiment with new behaviors in a protected environment without dangerous consequences. The unwritten code of conduct surrounding play lets them explore many possible outcomes.

      Animals learn the rules of engagement for play at a very young age. Among dogs, the bow is a universal invitation to engage in silliness that triggers the same bowing down and splaying of the front legs in the receiver of the signal—inevitably followed by chasing and pretend biting. Chimpanzees and goril-las motivate others to romp by showing their upper and lower teeth in what primatologists refer to as a play face, which is comparable to human laughter.

      When a young male elephant wants to play with another male of similar age, he holds his trunk up and presents it to the other as an invitation. Most often his next move would be to place his trunk over the other's head, which in adults signals dominance but in calves is guaranteed to precipitate a spirited sparring match. These encounters run the gamut from gentle shoving to intense headbutting and pushing back and forth with trunks entwining and tusks clacking. The fun continues for seconds to minutes for youngsters; for older teens and young adults, it can go on much longer. The sparring matches provide bulls with the opportunity to test their fighting ability so that they might successfully compete for a female when they reach sexual maturity and enter the hormonal state of musth around the age of 25.

      When a young male elephant is feeling particularly adventurous, he may venture far away from Mom’s protection to invite a distant relative to spar. If his foray takes him too far away or if a spar turns unexpectedly rough, the brave calf will lose his nerve and often will run quickly back to Mom’s side with ears flapping and trunk yo-yoing as he retreats.

      Occasionally an older sister will oversee a play bout between youngsters. These ever watchful siblings form part of an extended caretaking network that facilitates play, but its members also will intervene if a calf crosses an invisible bloodline and gets deflected with a trunk slap by an overly protective, high-ranking mother.

      …Scholars of animal behavior recognize three main categories of play. The first is social play, which is any kind of antic that involves others. The second is locomotive play—including running, walking, jumping and pouncing—which facilitates lifelong motor skills. In prey species, locomotive play helps perfect predator-avoidance tactics such as the springbok’s “pronking” high into the air while running as a herd and landing in unpredictable spots. In elephants, it hones predator-avoidance skills, as well as strategies for escaping an aggressive suitor or a competitor looking to inflict a mortal wound. Conversely, young predators such as lion cubs use locomotive play to sharpen their hunting ability. Chasing and tripping littermates and then giving them a good chew on the spine or throat are rehearsals of the skills needed to catch prey animals and dispatch them by severing their spinal cord or choking them.

      Many species, including our own, engage in the mock-fighting variety of locomotive play, which allows them to test their strength in a safe environment where everyone understands the rules….

      …The other variety of play that appears to be unique to great apes is make-believe. For example, a wild chimpanzee may carry around a small log, pretending it is an infant. A human child might play with an invisible toy or set up an invisible barrier that they want adults to acknowledge.

      …play increases the versatility of movements used to recover from a loss of balance and enhances the ability of the player to cope with unexpected stressful situations. The goal is not to win but to improve skills, sometimes by self-handicapping.

      Once a cub has been tackled by its littermates, roles might reverse such that a littermate handicaps itself, allowing the other cub to tackle it in return. Self-handicapping is risky and requires trust, but it is a great way to develop strength and agility. It is also an important exercise in building cooperation….In elephants, on a number of occasions I have seen older male calves crouch down to allow a much younger calf to spar with them. This is akin to an older brother handicapping himself during an arm wrestle by not using all of his strength to let his little brother win.

      …There was hardly a chance for calves of Wynona's small but growing family to get to know members of the extended family.

      Lucy changed all that. From the start, she was quite the extrovert. Maybe being born into a very small family made her all the more curious and excited by the opportunity to engage with the extended family on the infrequent occasion of their overlapping. And she was not deterred by the admonishments of high-ranking moms within the extended family, much to the seeming annoyance of the ever watchful Susan.

      Now the two-year-old Lucy knew just how to run through adults’ legs and out of trunk’s reach, navigating potential minefields and dodging her mom’s attempts to rein her in. She behaved more like Susan’s calf, Leo, who was her older sister Liza’s contemporary. When we scored Leo’s distance from his mom at the water hole, he always had a much higher score than Liza. We had assumed that was attributable mainly to his sex and the male elephant/s early experiments with independence. But the arrival of Lucy showed us that the story was not that simple.

      Lucy spent a lot of time a great distance away from her mom and played with calves of mothers of all ranks. When it came time to leave the water hole and go in separate directions, as dictated by the prevailing family politics, Lucy made that impossible. She was so busy playing with other calves that there was no extracting her, leaving Wynona no choice but to modify her behavior.

      Instead of continuing on her premeditated departure route, in the opposite direction from the Actor family, Wynona, her eldest daughter Erin and their calves turned around and followed the rest of the family so that Wynona did not risk losing her new calf. There was no guarantee that the other mothers would protect Lucy, much less allow her to suckle, as that would mean fewer precious nutrients for their own calves. But by 2018 Wynona was fully reintegrated into the Actor family, whether she wanted to be or not….

Parents Demand Action on Heavy Metals in Baby Food

[These excerpts are from an article by Tom Clynes in the Summer 2021 issue of Solutions.]

      After Congree released a report in February disclosing that popular baby foods contain the toxic heavy metals arsenic, cadmium, lead and mercuty, Cleveland pediatrician Aparna Bole started getting a lot of questions worried parents.

      …Even in trace amounts, these contaminants can alter the developing brain and diminish a child’s IQ. Since heavy metals accumulate in the body, minimizing exposure is critical.

      Many parents assumed the U.S. Food and Drug Administration was proecting them from these kinds of contaminants. But according to Tome Neltner, EDF’s chemical policy director, federal agencies have done little to tackle the stubborn issue over the past 20 years….

      Arsenic, cadmium, lead and mercury all occur naturally and as residue from pesticides, fuels and industrial processes that pollute the air, water and soil. Their sheer ubiquity causes them to appear throughout our food supply system, so even making baby food from scratch may not reduce the exposure.

      For the past four years, EDF and allies have pressed the FDA to drive down the levels of heavy metals in kids’ food. In April, after the outcry over the congressional findings, the agency finally announced a plan to develop guidance and actions to reduce toxic elements in food commonly consumed by infants and children. We are now urging the FDA to move up its deadlines and account for the cumulative effect of these metals….

The New Climate Generation

[These excerpts are from an article by Joanna Foster, Tasha Kosviner and Shanti Meson in the Summer 2021 issue of EDF’s Solutions.]

      …Etosha Cave’s company, Opus 12, has developed a device that allows industries to recycle carbon dioxide instead of releasing the climate-warming gas into the atmosphere. It bolts onto any existing emission source and uses electricity and a unique metal catalyst to convert CO2 and water into chemicals that can be used to make fuel, plastics or household cleaners.

      In a pilot project, Opus 12 worked with Mercedes-Benz to create the world’s first car part made from CO2. Another pilot with Proctor & Gamble aims to convert CO22 into an ingredient for Tide.

      With early backing of more than $25 million from government agencies, research institutes, corporate partners and top-tier investors, the Berkeley, California company is now looking to develop its carbon-recycling device in a range of sizes, including a building-sized one that can handle large volumes of CO2 from industrial facilities like power plants.

      Cave grew up in a Houston neighborhood adjacent to an abandoned oil and gas waste cite, which got her thinking about energy waste. She started Opus 12 in 2015 with two Stanford University classmates, eager to put her Ph.D. research on CO2 conversion to real-world use….

      Ultimately, Cave envisions transforming billions of tons of CO2

Biden’s Big Boost for Clean Jobs

[This excerpt is from an article by Joanna Foster in the Summer 2021 issue of EDF’s Solutions.]

      …Like so much of the economy, the clean energy sector was hit hard by the pandemic, and many jobs were lost. But the industry still employs nearly three times as many workers as fossil fuel extraction and generation and is adding jobs faster than the rest of the economy.

      Biden’s plan, which will guide congrrssional action, is focused on building a national clean energy economy while targeting investments to help regenerate communities hit hardest by job losses and the decline of coal. For example, it includes a $27 billion green bank that would help fossil fuel communities transition to a clean energy future. The proposals would help create wind, solar and electric vehicle jobs while also employing fossil fuel workers to clean up abandoned mines and plug oil and gas wells – notorious for leaking climate, air and water pollution. Biden has suggested tying clean energy tax credits to strong labor standards so workers will be protected and have access to unions.

      Perhaps most crucially, Biden’s plan invests in communities hit hardest by pollution. For decades, chronic under-investment and disenfranchisement have left many low-wealth communities and communities of color battling a disproportionate burden of pollutiuon. Biden’s plan creates a government-wide Justice40 Initiative to ensure that 40% of the benefits of climate-related investments accrue to communities who need them the most….

Accounting for Climate

[These excerpts are from an article by Joanna Foster in the Summer 2021 issue of EDF’s Solutions.]

      Place a map of U.S. internet infrastructure over a map of sea level rise projections and you’ll find alarming overlaps. Thousands of miles of fiber optic cables and more than a thousand clusters of key internet infrastructure appear destined to be underwater in the next 15 years. This could disrupt internet service for millions of Americans. Despite this, neither AT&T or Century-Link, the companies that own most of the equipment in the flood zones, made any mention of sea level rise in recent financial filings that were supposed to flag potential risks for investors.

      That’s because they don’t have to.

      The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, which is charged with ensuring that investors have the information they need to make prudent investment decisions, doesn’t require companies to report meaningful information about how climate change will affect their operations. So investors may have no idea that a particular corporation has hundreds of millions of dollars tied up in infrastructure at risk of chronic flooding.

      That might all be about to change. This spring, after years of inaction, the SEC created a task force to examine corporate environmental, social and governance issues. It has also appointed a climate czar and issues a call for public input on how best to design new climate risk regulation….In May, President Biden issued an executive order on climate-related financial risk. And ExxonMobil’s recent investor-forced changes to its board shows climate action is now an imperative for investors….

      “Climate change poses systemic risks to the financial system itself, and erlying on voluntary programs for this information isn’t good enough,” says Michael Panfil, lead counselor at EDF and coauthor of the new report. “This isn’t just about protecting investors; it’s about protecting society as a whle.”

      Climate change cost the U.S. more than $500 billion in direct damages over the last five years, and the price is rising.

      The fact is, everyone is vulnerable when there is a shock to the financial system. You didn’t have to own a subprime mortgage to take a hit when the housing bubble burst. In the ensuing financial crisis, 8.8 million Americans lost their jobs and a quarter of U.S. households lost at least 75% of their net worth. Similarly, when tough times come, you could end up just as underwater as AT&T’s fiber optic cables, even if you don’t own shares in the company….

With Antibiotics, Less Is Often More

[These excerpts are from an article by Claudia Wallis in the August 2021 issue of Scientific American.]

      …Dozens of studies show that for many bacterial infections, a short course of antibiotics, measured in days, performs as well as the traditional course, measured in weeks. Shorter courses also carry a lower risk of side effects. In April the strength of this research persuaded the American College of Physicians to issue new “best practice advice” for four kinds of infections: pneumonia (the kind acquired in the community rather than in the hospital). “uncomplicated” urinary tract infections (UTIs), skin infections known as cellulitis (provided there is no pus) and actual bronchitis in people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease….The big question going forward is: Will the medical profession heed the call and change its ways?

      The driving force between the push to use antibiotics more sparingly is the worldwide threat of treatment resistant microbes, which have evolved rapidly with excessive use of these drugs. The dangerous organisms include the dreaded “flesh-eating” MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), as well as drug-resistant strains of microbes that cause UTIs, tuberculosis and malaria. Yet many physicians have the mistaken belief that a longer course of antibiotics forestalls resistant strains….Doctors used to prescribe antibiotics for as long as it took to get an infection under control and the patient out of danger….

      Spellberg is a vigorous advocate for the shorter-is-better approach….Spellberg likes to point out that it is inherently absurd to prescribe in units of one or two weeks, which he refers to as “Constantine units” for the Roman emporer who decreed in A.D. 321 that a week lasts seveb days. There’s nothing biologically valid about this metric, he observes.

      The evidence supporting shorter courses is especially strong for community-acquired pneumonia. At least 12 randomized controlled trials in adults have shown that three to five days of antibiotics works as well as five to 14 days, and a 2021 study found the same holds true for children. More than 25 studies have shown that short courses also work well for sinus infections and acute flare-ups of chronic bronchitis….

      Shorter drug courses have other advantages. They may do less harm to helpful bacteria that are part of our microbiome (one reason fewer pills cause fewer side effects). And short prescriptions get better patientcompliance….

      Some infections do require prolonged therapy. A study published in May found that six weeks of antibiotics for infections around prosthetic joints was less effective than 12 weeks. And although antibiotics tend to be overprescribed for children ear infections, a longer course is more effective for kids younger than two.

      Right-sizing antibiotic prescriptions is a critical part of the battle against drug-related “superbugs”….Ask your doctor about shorter durations and if a pill is really likely to speed your recovery.

Cool Color

[These excerpts are from an article by Sophie Bushwick in the August 2021 issue of Scientific American.]

      The “blackest black” paint, famed for its thermal camouflage potential, has long absorbed 99.9 percent of public attention. Now it’s time to shed some light on the other end of the practical paint spectrum: the “whitest white.” Research shows that surfaces coated with a newly formulated white coloring reflect 98.1 percent of sunlight, creating a powerful cooling effect—without plugging in an air conditioner.

      This coating absorbs just 1.9 percent of sunlight compared with 10 to 20 percent for conventional white or “heat-reflective” paints….By reflecting so effectively, the noval paint can actually help a coated building release the heat inside. The authors calculate that covering a 1,000-square-foot roof with their paint could cool a building by about 10 kilowatts….

      Scientists have been developing reflective paints for decades, but commercial products still remainat or above the surrounding temperature. In the past 10 years researchers have found greater success with multilayered coatings that incorporate tiny particles of varying sizes, some on the nanoscale, to reflect many wavelengths of light….such materials can cool a surface to below the ambient temperature. Unfortunately, manufacturing precise layers of multiple substances and applying them to a surface in a set order costs more—and requires a more intense process—than simply slapping on some paint.

      Ruan decided to take a hybrid approach and create an ordinary paint that could easily be brushed or sprayed onto a surface but that would still incorporate a reflective nanomaterial. After testing particlesof several different compounds, he and his colleagues ultimately selected a relatively inexpensive one called barium sulfate. Next they calibrated the necessary concentration to make the paint as reflective as possible, without reducing its ability to stick together. Finally, they made sure the barium sulfate particles came in a variety of sizes to reflect different wavelengths.

      …any new product like this will need to stand up to the real world, where grime coats surfaces over time….

      Ruan sees his work as a tool to fight the climate emergency….”Our paint can contribute to that goal because it lets us get cooling without using power.”

Pesticides Are Killing Our Soils

[These excerpts are from an article by Nathan Donley and Tari Gunstone in the August 2021 issue of Scientific American.]

      Scoop up a shovelful of healthy spoil, and you’ll likely be holding more living organisms than there are people on Earth. Like citizens of an underground city that never sleeps, tens of thousands of subterranean species of invertebrates, nematodes, bacteria and fungi are constantly filtering our water, recycling nutrients and helping to regulate the planet’s temperature.

      But under fields of tightly knit rows of corn, soybeans, wheat and other monoculture crops, a toxic soup of insecticides, herbicides and fungicides is wreaking havoc….

      Regulations currently ignore pesticides’ harm to soil species….

      In just over 70 percent of those experiments, pesticides were found to harm organisms critical to maintaining healthy soils—harms that have never been considered in the EPA’s safety reviews. Pesticide-intensive agriculture and pollution are driving factors in the precipitous decline of many soil organisms, such as ground beetles and ground-nesting bees. They have been identified as the most significant driver of soil biodiversity loss in the past decade.

      Yet pesticide companies and our pesticide regulators have ignored that research. The EPA, which is responsible for pesticide oversight in the U.S., openly acknowledges that somewhere between 50 and 100 percent of all agriculturally applied pesticides end up on the soil. Yet to assess pesticides’ harms to soil species, the agency still uses a single test species—one that spends its entire life aboveground in artificial boxes—to estimate risks to all soil organisms: the European honeybee.

      The fact that the EPA relies on a species that lterally may never touch soil in its entire life to represent the thousands of species that live or develop underground offers a disturbing glimpse of how the U.S. pesticide regulatiry system is set up to protect the pesticide industry instead of species and their ecosystems. What this ultimately means is that pesticide approvals happen without any regard for how those chemicals can harm soil organisms.

      To add to this…pesticide companies have jumped on the bandwagon to greenwash their products. Every major company now has Web material touting its role in promoting soil health, often advocating for reducing tilling and planting cover crops.

      As general tenets, both these practices are indeed good for soil health and, if adopted responsibly, are great steps to take. But companies know that these practices are often accompanied by increased pesticide use. When fields are not tilled, herbicides are frequently used to kill weeds, and cover crops are often killed with chemicals before crop planting. This “one step forward, one step back” approach is preventing meaningful progress to protect our soils. Pesticide companies have so far been successful in coopting “healthy soil” messaging because our regulators have shown no willingness to protect soil organisms from pesticides.

      The long-term environmental cost of this failure can no longer be ignored. Soils are some of the most complex ecosystems on Earth, containing nearly a quarter of the the planet’s biodiversity. Protecting them should be a priority, not an afterthought….achieving this will require that we reduce the world’s growing and unsustainable reliance on pesticide-intensive agriculture. And it will require that the EPA take aggressive steps to protect soil health.

Anti-Trans Laws Are Anti-Health

[These excerpts are from an editorial by the editors in the August 2021 issue of Scientific American.]

      On April 6, the Arkansas state legislature passed a law that would prohibit transgender youth from receiving gender-affrming medical care. It was not alone: before 2021 had even reached the halfway point, at least 35 similar bills—all of them in Republican-controlled states—had been proposed or passed, setting a regrettable record. Advocates for these laws argue that such treatments, which usually involve hormnes that delay the changes that associate with puberty, are unproven and dangerous and that the legislation is necessary to protect children. That is unscientific and cruel.

      The actual danger comes from denying trans people the medical care they need. A 2020 study in the journal Pediatrics found that trans kids who wanted hormone treatments and did not receive them faced greater lifetime odds of suicidal thoughts than those who receive “puberty blockers.” These blockers, known as gonadotropin-releasing hormone analogues, are medically safe, and their effects are reversible. The medications have been in use for decades, most often in children who begin puberty too early. For trans kids, they buy some time for young people to explore their gender identity before their bodies develop permanent secondary sex characteristics such as breasts or Adam’s apples. When they are ready, adolescents can decide whether to stop taking the blockers and continue to develop into the gender they were assigned at birth or to take gender-affirming hormones—testerone or estrogen—to develop the features that match their geder identity.

      Anti-trans laws play on fears that children may irreversibly alter their bodies and then come to regret it. But such scare tacticsignore reality for the vast majority of people who receive treatment. Under current guidelines from the Endocrine Society, none of these medical interventions can happen before the onset of puberty. Gender-affirming hormones are usually given in the teen years and only when patients have shown consistent, well-documented distress at the mismatch between their gender identity and their physical sex characteristics, according to the standards of care set by the World Professional Association for Transgender Health. And when it comes to the more significant step of genital surgery, the organization stipulates that is should be an option only for adults who have lived continuously for at least a year in the gender role congruent with their gender identity.

      These laws would deny people safe treatments when getting them is already too hard. Many trans people—especially people of color, those from lower-income backgrounds and those who are homeless—do not have the financial resources or support they need to receive care….

      The statehouse war on trans people is not limited to bills restricting health-care access. At least 66 proposed laws would prohibit trans students from participating on sports teams consistent with their gender identity, and 15 would block trans people from using restrooms or locker rooms that match their gender identity….These callous regulations are just the latest in a long barrage of Republican attacks on gay and trans people. The Trump White House rolled back many LGBTQ protections and even refused to acknowledge Pride Month….

      In contrast, President Joe Biden issued a presidential proclamation recognizing Pride Month and signed an executive order on his first day in office comabting discrimination, on the federal level, on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation. These and other acts by the Biden-Harris administration have increased desperately neaded protections for the LGBTQ community, but they are just a start. Congress must pass the Equality Act, legislation that would establish nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people in employment, housing, credit, education, and other areas. The bill was passed by the House of Representatives in February but had not cleared the Senate at the time of this writing. And state lawmakers would do better to address the many real issues that hurt their constituents rather than enacting laws to combat nonexistent dangers.

Soldiers of Science

[These excerpts are from an article by Holly Amerman in the July/August 2021 issue of The Science Teacher.]

      …The premier of the podcast is the untold story of the “Soldiers of Science.” History buffs may remember that all men of ages 18-24 were required to enter the draft for the Vietnam War during the late 1960s. If your birthday was drawn, off you went as an enlisted man to the South Pacific….

      For medical students, there was no such choice; the Doctor Draft meant they all had to serve….But these doctors were able to choose which branch they wanted to serve in; their options were: Army, Navy, Air Force, or the Public Health Service. The most coveted and competitive of these positions was the branch of the Public Health Service known as the Associate’s Program at the National Institute of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. Because of the nature of the Doctor Draft, the desire of many of these young men not to go to Vietnam, and the competitiveness of the appointment, this process brought together the top medical students from around the country. In this unique environment, many of our most significant medical breakthroughs of the 20th century were born.

      Why have so many of us never heard the story a program that led to so many medical breakthroughs? So many that, over the last 50 years, nearly 20 percent of all Nobel Prizes in medicine or physiology were awarded to alumni of this program? Dr. Fauci is the most famous of these “Yellow Berets” (a somewhat derogatory, tongue-in-cheek term many adopted for themselves), yet his relationship to this program is seldom talked about….

      In the second podcast, one of my favorite parts is Dr. Michael Brown casually explaining the discovery of cell receptors—it’s hard to imagine a world in which scientists didn’t know about these critical molecules. His explanation not only of the discovery, but of how they work, and how they figured it out, is right up there with the best high school biology teachers I’ve encountered. His discussion could easily fit into a chemistry or biology lesson with ease….

Looking Back at a Pandemic and Preparing for the Next One

[These excerpts are from an article by Stephen Wesson in the July/August 2021 issue of The Science Teacher.]

      “In case you’re happily unaware of it, there’s an influenze epidemic due, right now.” An article from the magazine supplement of the Washington Star newspaper begins with a stern warning. The article’s next sentence, though, seems more reassuring: “It’s not the deadly type of 1918, when an estimated 25 million people throughout the world succumbed to it, but the aching variety that’s seldom fatal yet always troublesome.”

      This article, “What Science Has Learned About Flu,” was published in 1955, more than three decades after the flu pandemic of 1918. However, that global catastrophe and its staggering death toll were still well within living memory, and many of the medical interventions and public health strategies described in the article were developed in response to the 1918 flu or its aftermath….

      One key breakthrough in the battle against the flu is given a prominent place in the article: an image of “flu viruses” as seen through an electron microscope. In 1918, as the pandemic raged, it was widely believed that influenza was a bacterial infection. When human influenza virus was isolated in the 1930s, it dispelled this belief and paved the way for vaccine development in the late 1930s and 1940s, as well as fueling new work in virology, immunology, and many other fields.

      Many of the new tools described in the article, though, were institutional in nature. The article mentioned the efforts of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the National Institute of Health (NIH) to collect and analyze data on influenza outbreaks, as well as an NIH vaccine study and a program undertaken by the US Army to vaccinate all its personnel. In 1918, there were no systems in place for gathering information on flu activity on a large scale, but the League of Nations, founded in 1919, moved quickly to establish an international health organization, helping to build the foundation of internationally coordinated responses to disease and other public health threats.

      The article’s warning of an impending epidemic was a timely one. In 1957, a new influenza strain spread around the world, eventually taking the lives of more than one million people. This time, scietists recognized the pandemic quickly and were able to develop a vaccine for distribution on a large scale. Perhaps as importantly, the organizations and practices that emerged in the wake of the 1918 influenza pandemic made it possible for scientists and public health officials to study the 1957 strain and its effects more thoroughly than ever before, and to better prepare for pandemics yet to come.

COVID-19: One Year Later

[These excerpts are from an editorial by Ann Haley MacKenzie in the July/August 2021 issue of The Science Teacher.]

      …From what is causing this illness to where it is originating to the recognition of COVID as a pandemic to the development of a vaccine to the Greek naming of the COVID variants, the science and understanding of COVID was constantly changing. When science changes its opinion, it does not lie to us. Science simply learned more. Yet, the naysayers continue to exist. During early June 2021, Dr. Tenpenny, an Ohio osteopathic doctor, claimed during Ohio Statehouse testimony that the COVID-19 vaccine caused magnetism in our bodies. She stated that people who had been vaccinated were walking around capable of having spoons attached to their bodies. The CDC had to spend valuable time addressing this audacious claim….

      The scientific illiteracy of this claim and others like it must be the focus of our scientific instruction. Knowing the parts of a squid or dissecting a worm have their place in a science class but should not be all that our students experience. If our students are to grow into scientifically literate adults, we must provide them with the abilities to analyze science stories in the news, in scientific journals, and all the information spinning throughout the social media. If we choose to only teach science as a pile of factoids, the students will continue to be swayed by outlandish claims like Tenpennty made in Ohio.

      In Michael Sherman’s book Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time, he states “Smart people believe weird things because they are skilled at defending beliefs they arrived at for non-smart reasons….” We want our students to be smart people who are not gullible to illogical thinking, schemes, and premises. We want them to look behind the curtain, as in the Wizard of Oz when Dorothy looks behind the curtain actually exists. Science prevails. No, science is not perfect, but no other methodology has surfaced to help us understand the natural world in a better fashion.

      Are we, in our science classes, stressing the way science works enough? Sure, there is the introductory chapter of muost science textbooks that describes the scientific method. But often it is written in such a way to illustrate science as a linear process, which it is not. It is an iterative, beautiful, creative process. The textbooks often depict how science is written, but not how it is done. Our students continue to see science as a plethora of vocabulary and formulas that do not relate to their everyday lives, do not seem relevant, and are a set of classes to just get done. Nothing could be further from the truth.

      Students are taught what to think, but not how to think. Our mission as science teachers is clear: We must help our students think critically and to be skeptical of the information spewing forth each day. Are we up for the challenge?

Cheap Solar PV and Expensive Climate Change

[These excerpts are from an article by Gernot Wagner in the July/August 2021 issue of MIT Technology Review.]

      …In the early 2010s, the solar race looked like a tight competition between solar photovoltaic (PV) and utility-scale concentrated solar power (CSP), which uses sun-heated fluids to drive power turbines….

      …Solar PV costs felt roughly by a factor of 10 in the past decade, on top of already impressive cost declines up to that point, for a total decline of around a factor of a hundred since US President Jimmy Carter unveiled solar panels on the White House in 1979. (Ronald Reagan took them down in 1986, during his second term as president.)

      To put it in perspective, if gasoline had similarly dropped in price from 1979 levels, it would cost pennies a gallorx today….

      Financing is key to why this is true. Solar PV and other renewables such as wind have low or close-to-zero operating expenses—upfront costs have always been the big hurdle, and financing has been a big reason why. Thanks in part to various government policies, solar investment has become much less risky over the last decade or so, freeing cheap money.

      As a result, solar PV deployment has increased rapidly; it’s now the fastest growing source of electricity globally, and figures to be for some time to come. It’s starting from a low base of installed capacity, however, far behind coal, gas, hydro, nuclear—even wind, which has been cheap for longer. And therein lies one of the biggest problems for solar PV. It might be the cheapest form of electrieity for many, but that on its own doesn’t make the clean-energy transition nearly quick enough.

      We need ever further technological advances. why stop at grid parity, the point where it’s as cheap to build and operate solar PV as to supply electricity via fossil energy sources? Why not 10% cheaper? Why not strive to slash costs by another factor 10 within a decade? Such drops are needed because the hallowed grid-parity goal is misleading—the real question is at what point utilities will actually abandon existing coal plants and switch to solar, rather than merely avoid adding new coal capacity. Solar needs to be so cheap it makes financial sense to build new solar capacity and shutter working coal and gas plants still making money for their owners….

      MIT energy systems scientist Jessika Trancik and her group find that the dramatic cost declines in solar cells over the course of three decades can largely be attributed to three factors: R&D leading directly to improvement in module efficiency (how much of the sunlight is converted into electricity) and other fundamental technological advances; economies of scale attributed to the size of solar cell manufacturing plants and the increasing volume of inputs such as silicon; and improvements achieved through learning by doing.

      None of that is too surprising, but what is less obvious is that the relative contribution of each varies greatly over time. From 1980 to 2000, R&D accounted for around 60% of cost declines, with economies of scale coming in at 20%, and learning by doing a distant third at around 5%; other largely unattributable factors account for the balance. That makes sense; it was a period of impressive advances in the efficiencies of solar cells but not a time of significant manufacturing and deployment. Since then, the pendulum has swung. from R&D and fundamental technological improvements toward econonlies of scale in manufacturing, now accounting for over 40% of cost declines. It’s worth noting, however, that research advances still account for some 40% of declines.

      …Despite the dropping price of solar, the transition to renewables will still be costly. The big question, of course, is how expensive compared with wht—climate change, too, comes with costs. Cheap solar gets even more financially attractive to developers if the social and environmental costs of carbon emissions from fossil fuels are considered.

      A lot here hinges on the social cost of carbon (SCC), a tally of the financial damage each metric ton of carbon dioxide emitted today causes to the economy, society, and the environment—and, by extension, how much each ton of CO2 omitted should cost. It’s a number that says a lot about the true cost of coal and other fossil fuels—and about the appropriate support for solar PV and other renewables.

      The latest US SCC, calculated by the Biden administration, puts the number at about $50 for aton of CO2 emitted now. But that is surely an underestimate. Some calculate the SCC to go over $300 per ton of CO2, after fully accounting for the future damage caused by carbon emissions and for the uncertainties about climate change.

      Whichever number you settle on, it means coal, oil, and natural gas will be far more expensive if you account for the full costs of greenhouse-gas emissions. Only then will low-carbon technologies be on the same playing field as fossil fuels….

      The most productive policy sequence might go something like this: first drive down the cost of renewables to create an economically viable alternative to high carbon fuels, then price carbon via a new price, a clean electricity standard, or something similar. The combination of the two should then lead to rapid deployment of renewables at scale. In many ways, that is precisely what is happening….

      Solar PV is cheap, but it is not free. Paying the price to make it even cheaper will be well worth the cost.


[This excerpt by Tanya Basu is from an article in the July/August 2021 issue of MIT Technology Review.]

      Many consumers don’t realiz that indigo, the signature color of denim, requires synthetic chemicals like formaldehyde and cyanide, which can be harmful to workers and can sometimes contaminate local water sources. Given that jeans are one of the most ubiquitous clothing items in the world, this is a huge environmental problem.

      Tammy Hsu, the chief sciontific officer of Huue, worked with colleagues to study how color is made in nature and program microbes to enzymatically produce the shade they wanted. The result is a sustainable solution that doesn't rely on harmful processes or chemicals Now the challenge is to make the natural dye as cheap to use as the synthetics the industry relies upon. “The chemical industry has had 100 years to hone their process and make it cost efficient,” Hsu says. “We were founded two years ago. We’re trying to catch up with that. That’s one of our biggest goals, to drive down the price of our process.”

      Huue is on track to release its indigo dye next year. Next up for Hsu is figuring out how to coax microbes to produce a range of different dyes. “We’re trying to provide the fashion industry with an alternative way,” she says.

Those Who Fall Behind Get Beaten Up

[These excerpts are from an article by Yangyang Cheng in the July/August 2021 issue of MIT Technology Review.]

      …the Boxer Protocol, a 1901 treaty between the empire, which ruled China at the time, and 11 foreign nations. Troops from eight of these countries including the US, had occupied Beijing following sieges on their embassies by a peasant militia known as the Boxers. Among a litany of concessions, the Qing government agreed to pay the eight occupying powers an indemnity of 450 million taels of silver (about $10 billion in today's dollars), almost twice its annual revenue. The Boxer Protocol is etched Into the Chinese consciousnests as a searing reminder of the country at its weakest….

      Li Hongzhang was bonito a wealthy household in Hefei, then a small provincial capital surrounded by farrmland. Like his father and brother before him, Li excelled in the imperial exams, China's centuries-old system for selecting officials., Over six feet tall and with a piercing gaze, he commanded space and attention. He distinguished himself in suppressing peasant rebellions and rose quickly in the imperial court to become the Qing empire’s highest-ranking governor, its commerce minister, and its de facto foreign minister.

      After China lost to British and French forces in the Opium Wars, Li and his allies launched a wide range of reforms. They called it the Movement for Western Affairs, also known as “self-strengthening”….

      To the Chinese literati, the world was divided between hua, the homeland of civilized glory, and yi, the places where barbarians dwelled. British gunboats on the southern shore had shaken but not shattered this centuries-old belief. Proponents of self-strengthening claimed that Chinese tradition was the base onto which Western technology could be grafted for practical use….

      A classically trained scholar and battle-tested general, Li championed both civilian and military enterprises. He petitioned the emperor to construct the first Chinese railroad and founded the country’s first privately owned steamship company. He allocated generous government funding for the Beiyang Fleet, China’s first modern navy. In 1865, Li oversaw the establishment of the Jiangnan Arsenal, the largest weapons factory in East Asia at the time. In addition to producing advanced machinery for war, the arsenal also included a school and a translation bureau, which translated scores of Western textbooks on science, engineering, and mathematics, establishing the vocabulary in which these subjects would be discussed in China.

      Li also supervised China’s first overseas education program, which sent a cohort of Chinese boys aged 10 to 16 to San Francisco in the summer of 1872. After a promising start, the mission was derailed by anti-Chinese racism in the US and conservative obstruction at home. Some students, upon returning to China, were held and questioned by the authorities about their loyalty. After nine bumpy years, the program was shut down in 1881 on the eve of the ChinesSe Exclusion Acti.

      Meanwhile, neighboring Japan had adopted not only the West’s technology but also its governing methods, transforming a feudal society into modern industrial state with a formidable military. For centuries, the Chinese elite had looked down upon Japan, dismissing it as small and inferior. When the two countries went to war in 1894, ostensibly over the status of Korea, the real prize was status as the preeminent Asian power. Japan won decisively. It was six years after this devastating loss that Li signed the Boxer Protocol on behalf of the Qing government. He died two months later.

      By the start of the 20th century, the last Chinese empire had last its legitimacy. Armed rebellions were erupting across the country. The Qing regime was overthrown in 1911, and the Republic of China was born….

      China’s path to westernization received some early assistance from the US. Hoping to improve relations between the two countries, the US government decided to return almost half the American portion of the indemnity China had agreed to pay in the Boxer Protocol. With the US side dictating the terms, part of the remittance went toward a program known as the Boxer Indemnity Scholarships, which provided one of the few pathways for Chinese students to study in the US. The bulk of the returned payment was used to establish a Western-style preparatory school, which became Tsinghua University, China’s premier technological institution….

      Beijing’s aggressive pursuit of foreign-trained talent is an indicator of the country’s new wealth and technological ambition. Though most of these programs are not exclusive to peopie of Chinese origin, the promotional materials routinely appeal to sentiments of national belonging, calling on the Chinese diaspora to come home….

      The Biden administration is reportedly considering changes to the China Initiative, which many science associations and civil rights groups have criticized as “racial profiling.” But no official announcements have been made. New cases have opened under Biden; restrictions on Chinese students remain in effect.

      Seen from China, the sanctions, prosecutions, and export controls imposed by the US look like continuations of foreign “bullying.” What has changed in the past 120 years is China’s status. It is now not a crumbling empire but a rising superpower. Policymakers in countries use similar techno-nationalistic language to describe science as a tool of national greatness and scientists as strategic assets in geopolitics. Both governments are pursuing military use of technologies like quantum computing and artificial intelligence….

      …In the fevered race for power and supremacy, concerns about ethics and sustainability are drowned out by jingoistic cheers….

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