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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).
Why We Do What We Do

[These excerpts are from a book review by Rob Dunn in the 5 August 2022 issue of the EDF newsletter, Science.]

      …what to some will be a radical idea: that humans are just another animal species. We may be unusual, and hence “special”, in some of our behaviors, but so too, she argies, is the sea slug that abandons its body when attacked by parasites only to grow a new one from its disembodied head.

      …Genes, she argues, influence behavior, but how they do so depends on the environment. Similarly, the environment influences behavior, but how it does so depends on the genes….

      The book also considers those cases in which animals’ behaviors help them to avoid disease, Chimpanzees self-medicate by eating plants that help to kill their intestinal parasites, as do goats and sheep. Some populations of house sparrows bring cigarette butts to their nests to kill ticks. Ants gather antimicrobial resins and incorporate them into their mounds.

      …Like chimpanzees, humans use plants as medicines. Like many animals, humans exploy social distancing in the presence of parasites. And like one African ant species, humans use a mix of techniques to wash pathogens off their bodies to reduce the risk of infection….

Ambitious Bill Leads to 40% Cut in Emissions, Models SHow

[These excerpts are from an article by Erik Stokstad in the 5 August 2022 issue of the EDF newsletter, Science.]

      …They plugged major provisions, including subsidies for renewable energy and tax cuts for electric vehicles, as well as controversial incentives for the fossil fuel industry, into their models. Three models now agree that if the bill’s provisions are carried out, U.S. greenhouse gas emissions would fall be perhaps 40% by 2030, although only part of that stems from the bill alone. One model also finds that the renewable energy subsidies will likely create 1.5 million jobs and prevent thousands of premature deaths from air pollution, especially in disadvantaged communities.

      …Variables such as the price of natural gas account for much of the uncertainty: If gas prices drop, utilities might favor gas over renewable power, slowing the decline in carbon emissions….

      All the analyses find the two most important factors driving down emissions are clean electricity tax cedits—which the bill provides for at least a decade—and expanded tax credits for both new and used electric vehicles. The subsidies will help utilities install more capacity from wind farms and solar panels and help keep nuclear power plants financially viable as they face competition from cheap natural gas. Previous analyses had also pointed to green electricity generation and transportation as crucial to reducing emissions….

      The measure won’t be enough, however, for the United States to reach its Paris goal of a 50% greenhouse emissions reduction by 2030….

Climate Miseducation

[These excerpts are from an article by Katie Worth in the July 2022 issue of Scientific American.]

      …Over the past two years school board meetings around the country have erupted into shout fest over face masks, reading lists and whether to ban education about structural racism in classrooms. In Texas, a quieter political agenda played out during the lightly attended process to set science education standards—guidelines for what students should learn in each subject and grade level. For the first time, the state board considered requiring that students learn something about human-caused climate change. That requirement came under intense dispute between industry representatives interested in encouraging positive goodwill about fossil fuels and education advocates who think students should learn the science underlying the climate crisis unfolding around them….

      For at least a decade the fossil-fuel industry has tried to green its public image. The Texas proceedings show that the actions do not always reflect that image. In little-watched venues, the industry continues to downplay the crisis it has wrought, impeding efforts to provide clear science about that crisis to a young generation whose wor;d will be defined by it….

      All sources of energy come with costs. But a fixation on “cost-benefit analysis” is a plank in a raft of arguments supporting what climate scientist Michael Mann has called “inactivism”—a tactic that doesn’t deny human-caused climate change but downplays it, deflects blame for it and seeks to delay action on it. Sure, this brand of thinking goes, fossil fuels have their ills. But what form of energy doesn’t? Mann and others have criticized such arguments for their false equivalencies: the environmental and health costs of rare earth minerals for certain renewable energy sources are small compaired with hose of fossil fuels….

      …The nation’s most popular middle school science textbooks are replete with language that conveys doubt about climate change, subtly or otherwise. In one textbook that, as of 2018, was in a quarter of the of the nation’s mddle schools, students read that “some scientists propose that global warming is due to natural climate cycles.” In fact, the number of climate scientists who support that idea is effectively zero.

      Texas isn’t the only major buyer of textbooks. Other large states such as California have adopted standards that embrace the science of climate change, leading to a divide. Textbook publishers create one set of products to sell in Texas and states that lean the same way and a second set of products for states aligned with California. This poses an equity problem: the education a child receives on an issue central to the modern world depends on what state they happen to live in….

Constriction Site

[These excerpts are from an article by Lars Fischer and Joanna Thompson in the July 2022 issue of Scientific American.]

      …Instead of using a diaphragm muscle to inflate their lungs as mammals do, snakes activate a series of muscles around their extremely long rib cage. But crushing a struggling animal restricts these muscles, and scientists have long puzzled how the snakes survive this constriction contradiction.

      …boa constrictors can selectively move individual rib muscles in whatever parts of their chest are unlocked at a given moment. This lets small areas of the lungs function like a pump, sucking air through the constricted zones to absorb as much oxygen as possible….

      To discover this process, the researchers wrapped boa constrictors with blood pressure cuffs to prevent certain parts of their chests from expanding. Then they measured respiratory flow using small masks strapped to the reptiles’ snouts. Unfortunately, the snakes proved to be mask skeptics….

      But the researchers eventually saw how the the snakes used selective breathing to take in adequate air despite the cuffs. Recording of electrical activity and x-ray images confirmed that nerve impulses strategically activated specific muscles in free areas. The snakes did not even attempt to breathe with the restricted parts of their rib cage—instead they exclusively used muscles on ribs that could still move….

Thirsty Air

[These excerpts are from an article by Ula Chrobak in the July 2022 issue of Scientific American.]

      Drought is typically thought of as a simple lack of rain and snow. But evaporative demand—a term describing the atmosphere’s capacity to pull moisture from the ground—is also a major factor. And the atmosphere over much of the U.S. has grown a lot thirstier over the past 40 years….

      …examined five data sets covering 1980 to 2020 that included temperature, wind speed, solar radiation, and humidity—all of which contribute to evaporative demand. They found the biggest U.S. increases occurring over Southwestern states, whereas rising humidity offset higher temperatures in the East. In the Rio Grande region, the atmosphere craved 135 to 235 millimeters more water annually in 2020 than it did in 1980, an 8 to 15 percent increase. That water vaporized instead of quenching crops and filling aquifers….

      Along with higher temperatures and lower humidity, the study also noted rising wind speeds and increasing solar radiation. In arid regions, humidity declines as temperatures warm….

      Rising evaporative demand adds to the strain as the West continues to endure megadrought conditions that have not been seen for 1,200 years. The increase contributed to low spring runoff from the Sierra Nevada in 2021, when much less stream water came from snow that precipitated….A thirsty atmosphere also dried out Western forests, leading to larger wildfires….

Spider Launch

[These excerpts are from an article by Jack Tamisiea in the July 2022 issue of Scientific American.]

      For some spiders, love is all-consuming. In a grisly practice known as sexual cannibalism, females of many species devour their mates after procreation, either for sustenance or to keep their sexual options open.

      Female spiders are usually much larger than their male counterparts and thus have a strong physical advantage. But…some males protect themselves. Using energy stored in their front leg joints, the males of the orb-weaving spider species called Philoponella prominens can fling themselves off of a ravenous mate in a split second….

      These orb weavers live together in complexes, formed from many interconnected webs, that can house more than 200 individuals. With so many leggy bachelors roaming around, females can afford to devour a few—so to avoid becoming a postcoital snack, male spiders must flee immediately after procreation. The researchers discovered that during the deed itself, male spiders fold their front legs against the female. Immediately after mating, they straighten their legs, using the hydraulic pressure built up along their tibia-metatarsus joints to launch themselves as if to spring.

      The spiders fly off their mate so fast that ordinary cameras cannot capture the behavior….Breaking down the dramatic escapes at 1,500 frames per second, the scientists found that the three-millimeter-long spiders launched themselves at speeds approaching 88 centimeters per second….

      Although sexual cannibalism seems gruesome from a human perspective, the behavior makes evolutionary sense….In most spider species, males contribute nothing to the next generation beyond their sperm, and females have nothing to lose by eating them….

Electrifying Everything

[These excerpts are from an editorial by the editors in the July 2022 issue of Scientific American.]

      Converting a home to run on renewable energy has never looked more appealing. Oil and gas prices have surged while material costs foor solar panels and other clean technologies continue to fall. Billions of dollars have been proposed for carbonizing efforts in the Biden administration’s Build Back Better plan. And, of course, the climate crisis is urgent….

      We’ve been told that individual actions won’t make a dent in the climate crisis without structural change, but people are hungry to participate directly in solutions. Lobbying efforts that push back against the renewables and incentives make the goal of net-zero homes out of reach for most in the U.S. Our policy makers at every level of government must make it easier for all to take part and to benefit….

      The biggest barriers to residential energy conversion are political and psychological. Our love of gas cooking, for example, comes from industry’s success in convincing us that real cooks prefer gas. Yet recent studies have shown that stoves running on natural gas and other fossil fuels create indoor air pollution and elevate risk levels for asthma and other health issues, especially in children. Meanwhile improved induction stovetop technologies (which use an electromagnetic field t heat pans directly) are widely available. They ffer more temperature precision than flames and don’t heat up the kitchen while you’re cooking. But they still account for less than 2 percent of the U.S. market and are more expensive than their fossil-fuel-burning counterparts….

      …Smaller, community-based utilities that are trying to set up clean energy and are more dependent on tax credits and vulnerable to politics. Because utilities need investors, banks are often the beneficiaries of the tax incentives, rather than the fledgling company or the customers it serves. That is why supporters of the congressional Green New Deal, for instance, suggest more publicly owned power companies that give agency to customers, especially as more people are contributing to the electricity grid with rooftop solar panels….

The Hidden Costs of Batteries

[These excerpts are from a book review by Benjamin K. Sovacool in the 29 July 2022 issue of Science.]

      …Batteries are ubiquitous because they can do many things: They can store energy in homes, improve the resilience of electric grids, and assist with the integration of low-carbon electricity sources such as wind farms and solar photovoltaic panels….

      Charged is more critical of battery power than most other books on this topic, noting that they appear “clean” only because they obscure other, more discrete, impacts. In the environmental dimension, batteries depend on some of the most toxic metals and materials in industrial supply chains. The list of environmental insults is long and sobering: lead, sulfuric acid, mercury, manganese, zinc, steel, carbon, graphite, ammonium chloride, potassium hydroxide, cadmium, lithium, nickel, cobalt, and sometimes rare easth minerals. Batteries are thus intimately connected with mining and extraction and with energy0intensive processing. When they are used up, they often return to the earth in the hazardous form of waste or pollution.

      The material economy behind batteries also has a poignant human and social cost. People at both ends of the battery supply chain—extraction and waste—must handle the toxic materials they contain, either coping with the precarious practices of artisanal mining for lithium and cobalt or managing burgeoning flows of electronic waste at at scarpyards. Everey step in the battery manufacturing process moves toxic materials such as lead or cobalt into workers’ bodies….

      …policies are needed to promote more responsible sourcing of battery materials and more responsible manufacturing and production of batteries. He argues in favor of new and expanded mining operations (as well as more sustainable refining operations) in the United States….

The Court Is Lost

[These excerpts are from an editorial by H. Holden Thorp in the 29 July 2022 issue of Science.]

      …Science and technology marched ahead against a backdrop of devotion to a set of founding documents that didn’t contemplate any of these advances….

      The court’s recent spate of bad decisions mocks scientific facts. It obviated a modest and reasonable gun control law in New York despite research showing that gun control saves lives. It removed a woman’s right to abortion even though the Turnaway Study and others like it show that access to abortion improves health. They attributed their rulings to fealty to a document written by slaveowners who had no idea about automatic weapons and who didn’t even think women should participate in the government.

      …The court objected to the fact that that the plan would have shifted production from coal to natural gas. Apparently, they couldn’t find any support in the Constitution for environmental regulation. The notion that the Constitution would contemplate climatr change is ridiculous….

      …The scientific community must value and partner with communicators and policymakers who can help show that scientific advancement demands that the nation operate as a work in progress. Otherwise, America will be stuck with a government that worships a set od documents created by men who had no idea about evolution, dinosaurs, hydrocarbons, women’s health, or digital communication….

How Will ERA Regulate the Power Sector?

[These excerpts are from an editorial by Richard L. Revesz in the 29 July 2022 issue of Sciencee.]

      …The court objected to the Clean Power Plan’s reliance on “generation shifting,” a partial shift in electricity production from coal to natural gas, which generayes fewer emissions, and from coal and natural gas to renewables, which produces no emissions. According to the court, the Clean Air Act didn’t authorize EPA to base its standard on this technique. Climate regulations for other sectors, including transportation, oil and gas, and manufacturing, are likely to be source specific, and therefore unaffected by this decision.

      With generation shifting now off the table, EPA must choose the “best system of emission reduction” under the relevant provision of the Clean Air Act. This system must be “adequately demonstrated,” which means that it cannot be too speculative. And the agency must “take into account the cost achieving such regulation….”

      …unfortunately, other regulatory approaches for the power sector will be more costly or less effective. Moreover, these regulations, as well as other regulations in the climate change and environmental sectors, may be slowed or stalled on other grounds. The fallout from the Supreme Court’s decision across the economy is likely to have only just begun.

Black Unicorns Are Real

[These excerpts are from an article by Alexis Pauline Gumbs in the Summer 2022 issue of Sierra.]

      …The tusks coming out of their heads can be 10 feet long. Narwhals are so good at hiding in the ice at the top of the planet that for centuries they were a myth. For many years, European hunters hid the fact that narwhals existed so they could sell “unicorn horns” at a premium. Queen Elizabeth I bought one for the price of a castle.

      Right now, scientists are watching narwhal movement patterns from outer space.On a clear day, space-camera observers will notice how narwhals “seek areas of complex shorelines” to avoid orcas. We can watch 12,000 narwhals converge every summer in a place called Eclipse Sound. We can speculate about whynarwhals on opposites sides of Greenland, separated for 100 centuries and genetically distinct from each other, appear to be changing their migration patterns in similar ways to adapt to melting ice.

      …The narwhal’s tusk senses changes in temperature, pressure, percussion. It accurately measures the levels of salt in the water. It reaches forward and translates all that information through a nerve that goes directly to the brain. Information transmitted by the tusk changes a narwhal’s heart rate. The tusk gives the heart and mind details about the ocean of the narwhal’s own existence….

Suck It Up

[These excerpts are from an article by Paul Rauber in the Summer 2022 issue of Sierra.]

      …We haven’t done that—at least, not yet, and not at the scale that’s required. Had we listened to Hansen in 1988, we could have limited global warming by simply pivoting to clean energy. The world could have decarbonized by 2 percent a year and met the Paris goal. Even in 2015, a rapid transition to clean energy might have done the trick. But after decades of manufactured climate denial, governmental foot-dragging, and desperate delaying tactics by the fossil fuel corporations, we now need to decarbonize three times as fast, by 6 to 7 percent a year. Carbon emissions need to peak by 2025 at the very latest, and investments in clean energy need to increase three- to sixfold….

      Both the Obama and Biden administrations bought heavily into CCS. Obama supported billions of dollars in funding through the Department of Energy…..Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure bill included $12 billion for carbon capture.

      The first recipients of the DOE’s carbon-capture largesse were coal-burning power plants. Every single one has been a failure….

      …Conveniently for the petroleum industry, the Internal Revenue Service ingeneously takes it at its word regarding the actual storage. In 2020, the US Treasury inspector general for tax administration found that 87 percent of the credits awarded under 45Q—nearly a billion dollars, at that point—were improperly claimed, with no verification that the promised carbon storage had actually occurred….

      Remember: We don’t have 30 years. The IPCC says that carbon emissions need to peak within three years from now. Its latest report is unequivocal that no new fossil fuel infrastructure can be built if we want to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. Yet Big Oil is forging ahead with continued exploration and extraction and using the promise of carbon capture as political cover….

      Pulling carbon out of the atmosphere may well be necessary (“compulsory” and “unavoidable”) to meet the Paris Agreement climate targets. But it cannot substitute for not putting CO2 there in the first place….Unlike the options for carbon dioxide removable, renewable energy technologiesaren’t bedeviled by what environmental journalist Elizabeth Kolbert calls “solution bias”—the belief that a particular solution must work because we so desperately need it to. Clean energy comes with no moral hazard….

Carry the Zero

[These excerpts are from an article by Holly Jean Buck in the Summer 2022 issue of Sierra.]

      …What’s clear is that some redistribution of carbon will be required to reach global net-zero emissions, which is necessary to fulfill the ambitions of the Paris Agreement. Here’s where it gets tricky: Net zero does not mean zero emissions. It means that any remaining, hard-to-avoid anthropogenic emissions need to be zeroed out by carbon dioxide removal—that is, taking some amount of carbon out of the atmosphere and putting it someplace else.

      It's reasonable to wonder if net zero is a greenwashing scam, because it sound like one at first glance—and some governments and corporations appear to be using vague net-zero goals to procrastinate on decarbonizing. But scenarios used by the International Panel on Climate Change assume we’ll need to deploy carbon dioxide removal at some scale for two main reasons. First, some industrial emissions are genuinely difficult to eliminate. The IPCC states that using carbon removal to counterbalance these emissions is “unavoidable” if net-zero targets are to be achieved. Second, since governments and corporations have spent 40 years delaying greenhouse gas reductions, we are now backed into a corner and will likely need to recapture some of what has already been emitted….

      Above all, there is a real risk that carbon removal could distract from the effort to transition away from fossil fuelsby creating a “moral hazard”—it might allow politiciansand companies to focus on negative emissions while avoiding the harder challenge of ending fossil fuel production. The danger that carbon removal might delay the phaseout of fossil fuels is one reason that carbon-removal debates need the voices of grassroots climate advocates. People who care about climate justice can make sure that carbon-removal policies do not serve the interests of big corporations. They can keep the pressure on governments to ensure that the leftover emissions are truly hard to abate and set out a path for net zero to be a temporary step toward reaching true zero by the end of the century.

      Given the risks of distraction and knowing that vested interests—from agribusiness and forestry to carbon traders and fossil fuel corporations—are tangled up with emergent ideas about carbon removal, it might seem simpler to just say no to carbon removal. Unfortunately, the science tells us that we are past that point. Without public guidance, the risk of carbon removal becoming a dangerous distraction is much higher….

Trash Nerd

[These excerpts are from an article by Edward Humes in the Summer 2022 issue of Sierra.]

      Recycling in Maine, as in the rest of the country, has taken a double hit in recent years. In 2018, China stopped accepting the enormous quantities of US trash that used to provide raw materials for its factories. Suddenly, once profitable “recycling” (a lot of it was actually just offshoring) became a net cost that many communities could no longer afford. Then the pandemic accelerated the crisis with enormous amounts of packaging waste from online purchases….

      Instead of giving up on recycling, however, Maine responded by changing the game, passing a first-in-the-nation law that shifts 100 percent of the cost of recycling from communities and taxpayers to the makers of wasteful products….

      The new law, which begins its gradual rollout this July, will expand recycling in participating communities, requiring them to collect everything on a “readily recyclable” list and providing funding for them to do so. Overseen by the state Department of Environmental Protection, a new stewardship organization will collect fees from producers and reimburse towns and cities for their recycling costs. Any fees left over will be used to fund schools and infrastructure, or go to governments and private entities wanting to beef up their packaging and recycling systems.

      In the new system, the recycling infrastructure remains the same; just the billing address changes. Manufacturers pay based on the tonnage and volume of the packaging they sell, or they pay a fee if their materials are too expensive or difficult to recycle. The smaller their packaging and the more readily it can be reused or recycled, the less manufacturers pay. (Small businesses are exempted if they have less than $2 million in annual gross revenues or sell less than one ton of packaging per year to consumers in Maine.) It’s a form of extended producer responsibility, similar to requirements long in place for recycling computers and electronics. But now the target is the much larger and fast-growing tide of packaging and containers that make up a third of all city and business trash nationally and 40 percent in Maine….

2030 Vision

[These excerpts are from an article by Dan Chu in the Summer 2022 2021 issue of Sierra.]

      We are living in a now-or-never moment. This next decade will be decisive in our effort to address the climate crisis and the extinction emergency. We must make a major leap from an economy built on extraction and fossil fuels to a regenerative economy centered on clean energy, good jobs, and freedom from oppression. Failure is not an option: On our current trajectory, we will pass an average global temperature rise of 2.7oF (1.5oC) as early as 2030. If we blow past that threshold, we will experience deadlier hurricanes and wildfires, the loss of communities to sea level rise, and even more species extinctions. According to the World Health Organization, between 2030 and 2050 an additional 241,000 people per year will die from climate-related causes such as malnutrition, heat streaa, and malaria….

      …We will build power together through recruiting our friends and family to join us on outings that inculcate a love of nature, speaking out about environmental injustices, and holding our representatives accountable for acting on climate change….

      Together, we hold the power to advance climate solutions, be in solidarities in the journey for environmental justice, restore the promise of our democracy, and protect our lands, water, air, and wildlife. Together, we will win the fight for a healthy climate built on a foundation of environmenta; racial, economic, and gender justice. We will work toward a future in which all people benefit from a healthy, thriving planet and a direct connection to nature. Our new 2030 strategic framework lays out our path to getting there….

Moral Hazards Ahead

[These excerpts are from an editorial by Jason Mark in the Summer 2022 issue of Sierra.]

      …If we’re going to stay within the goals of the Paris Agreement, a new process will have to enter the equation: subtraction. To keep average global temperature rise beneath 2.7oF (1.5oC), we’ll have to begin deliberately removing carbon dioxide from the air. In its most recent report, released in April, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change declared, “All available studies require at least some kind of carbon dioxide removal to reach net zero.” The math is implacable.

      As a matter of global justice and ecological solidarity, the obligations of the Paris Agreement should also be implacable. Tweo degrees Celsius of global warming would be a “death sentence” for island nations, Mia Mottley, the prime minister of Barbados, has warned. Temperature overshoot will also spark more environmental losses….

      Then there are the whizbang, high-tech solutions. The cool kid in this space is direct air capture—literally sucking CO2 out of the air. The thing that’s really supposed to save our bacon is something called bioenergy with carbon capture and storage, a Rube Goldberg scheme to generate power from biomass and then capture and store all the emissions. These technologies have the advantage of being fast-acting. They are also going to be expensive, since they’ll require massive new infrastructure to collect and store all that CO2….

      Carbon dioxide removal may be a mathematical necessity. But if we have to engage in this costly endeavor, let’s at least make sure that the climate criminals don’t profit from the chaos they’ve created. The calculus is clear: The Carbon Barons are the ones who need to pay.

SHalf of Americans Anticipate a U.S. Civil War Soon, Survey Finds

[These excerpts are from an article by Rodrigo Perez Ortega in the 22 July 2022 issue of Science.]

      …Firearm deaths in the United States grew by nearly 43% between 2010 and 2020, and gun sales surged during the coronavirus pandemic….

      Although almost all respondents thought it’s important for the United States to remain a democracy, about 40% said having a strong leader is more important. Half expect a civil war in the United States in the next few years….About 7% of the participants—which would correspond to about 18 million U.S. adults—said that they would be willing to kill a person in such a situation.

      …conspiracy theories, some rooted in racism, are helping shape views about political violence. They found roughly two in five adults agreed with the white nationalist “great replacement theory,” or the idea that native-born white voters are being replaced by immigrants for electoral gains. And one in five respondents believed the false QAnon conspiracy theory that U.S> institutions are controlled by an elite group of Satan-worshipping pedophiles….

Confronting 21st-Century Monkeypox

[These excerpts are from an editorial by Michael T. Osterholm and Bruce Gellin in the 22 July 2022 issue of Science.]

      …People 40 years old and younger who have had not benefitted from the immunization campaign that eradicated smallpox by 1980 are now susceptible to monkeypox (which is the same virus family as smallpox), and this lack of population community has contributed to the current outbreak. Most of the cases to date have occurred among men who have sex with men (MSM), particularly those with new or multiple partners. Epidemiologic investigations indicate that the predominant mode of transmission is through skin-to-skin and sexual contact, not contact with contaminated clothing or bed linens. Although respiratory droplet transmission might occur, transmission as there is with COVID-19. And because smallpox is a self-limited infection with symptoms lasting 2 to 4 weeks, there isn’t a chronic carrier state as there is with HIV, which would increase the risk of ongoing transmission.

      …Transmission among MSM populations must be reduced through aggressive public health measures, including increased vaccination and diagnostic testing and extensive education campaigns targeted at populations at risk and minimizing social stigma….

      …Long-term control of monkeypox will require vaccinating as many as possible of the 327 million people 40 years of age and younger living in the 11 African countries where monkeypox is endemic in an animal (rodent) reservoir. This effort should include childhood vaccine programs….

      The smallpox eradication program was a 12-year effort that involved 73 countries working with as many as 150,000 national staff. Because of its animal reservoir, monkeypox can’t be eradicated. Unless the world develops and executes an international plan to contain the current outbreak, it will be yet another emerging infectious disease that we will regret not containing.

Paper-thin Loudspeakers

[These excerpts are from an article by Adam Zewe in the July/August 2022 issue of MIT News.]

      MIT engineers have developed a paper-thin, low-power loudspeaker that can turn any surface into an active audio source.

      This paper-thin loudspeaker produces sound with minimal distortion while using a fraction of the energy required by a traditional loudspeaker. A hand-size version weighs about as much as a dime and can generate high-quality sound no matter what surface the film is bonded to.

      The researchers’ deceptively simple fabrication technique requires only three basic steps and can be scaled up to produce ultrathin loudspeakers large enough to cover the inside of an automobile or to wallpaper a room….

      A typical loudspeaker uses electric current inputs that pass through a coil of wire, which generates a magnetic field. This moves a speaker membrane, which moves the air above it to make the sound we hear. By contrast, the new loudspeaker uses a thin film of a shaded piezoelectric material that expands the contacts when voltage is applied over it, which moves the air above it and generates sound….

A Better Heat Engine

[These excerpts are from an article by Jennifer Chu in the July/August 2022 issue of MIT News.]

      Engineers at MIT and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) have designed a heat engine with no moving parts. It converts heat to electricity with over 40% efficiency—making it more efficient than steam turbines, the industrial standard.

      The invention is a thermophotovoltaic (TPV) cell, similar to a solar panel’s photovoltaic cells, that passively capture high-energy photons from a white-hot heat source. It can generate electricity from sources that reach 1,900 to 2,400 oC—too hot for turbines, with their moving parts. The previous record efficiency for a TPV cell was 32%, but the team improved this performance by using materials that are able to convert higher-temperature, higher-energy photons.

      …The system would absorb excess energy from renewable sources such as the sun and store that energy in heavily insulated banks of hot graphite. Cells would convert the heat into electricity and dispatch it to a power grid when needed.

      …they hope to scale up the system to replace fossil-fuel plant on the power grid….

Discovering the “Hobbit”

[These excerpts are from a book review by Richard G. Roberts and Thomas Sutkins in the 15 July 2022 issue of Science.]

      On 28 October 2004, Homo floresiensis became a scientific and and media sensation. Dubbed the “Hobbit” after J. R. R. Tolkien’s wee folk, this primitive little hominin was thought to have survived on the island of Flores in Indonesia until just 18,000 years ago (subsequently revived to 50,000 years ago). H. floresiensis stood only 1 meter tall and had several odd features, including a small head, hunched shoulders, short legs, and long flat feet with curved toes. The news was greeted with glee, astonishment, skepticism, and counterclaims….

      Ancient DNA has yet to be recovered from hominin remains older than a few thousand years in the tropics, and the use of ancient proteins to elucidate hominin taxonomy is in its infancy. Revealing the history of the Hobbit, its contemporaries, and their ancestors therefore depends on detailed analysis of the few and typically fragmentary bones and teeth preserved over the eons….

      …the available skeletal evidence supports the evolution of Hobbits from small-bodied hominins who dispersed out of Africa more than 2 million years ago, rather than from a large-bodied ancestor (H. erectus) who dwarfed over time in response to environmental pressures on Flores, which is the alternative hypothesis still in contention….

Ominous Feedback Loop May Be Accelerating Methane Emissionss

[These excerpts are from an article by Paul Voosen in the 15 July 2022 issue of Science.]

      If carbon dioxide is an oven steadily roasting our planet, methane is a blast from the broiler: a more potent but shorter lived greenhouse gas that’s responsible for roughly one-third of the 1.2oC of warming since preindustrial times. Atmospheric methane levels have risen nearly 7% since 2006, and the past two years saw the biggest jumps yet, even though the pandemic slowed oil and gas production, presumably reducing methane leaks. Now, researchers are homing in on the source of the mysterious surge. Two new preprints trace it to microbes in tropical wetlands. Ominously, climate change itself might be fueling the trend by driving increased rain over the regions.

      If so, the wetlands emissions could end up being a runaway process beyond human control, although the magnitude of the feedback loop is uncertain….

      …Most researchers think a mix of cattle ranching and landfill in the tropics are the main driver of the post-2006 increase, because they have expanded dramatically alongside populations in the region.

      But the sharp acceleration in the past couple of years seemed to require some other source. Studies are now implicating the Sudd in South Sudan, the continent’s largest swamp and a region researchers have been unable to study on the ground because of the long-term conflict in the region….the Sudd had grown as a methane hot spot since 2019, adding some 13 million extra tone per year to the air—more than 2% of annual global emissions….When combined with smaller increases from the Amazon and the northern forests, it largely explains the observed rise in the atmosphere….

Nailing the Nuance on COVID-19

[These excerpts are from an editorial by Robert H. Wachter in the 15 July 2022 issue of Science.]

      …policy-makers must produce overarching recommendations that are understandable to the public. In doing so, such recommendations occasionally trade accuracy for simplicity. Although sometimes necessary, the message can end up more confusing than clarifying….

      But for an individual trying to decide whether to eat indoors or wear a mask while shopping, hospitalization rates are nearly meaningless. Instead, the salient question is: What are the odds that a person standing near me in an indoor space has COVID-19? For that, local case rates (even though they are underestimates because of home testing that goes unreported), test positivity rates, and wastewater detection rates provide far more useful information….

      …For example, rather than implying that most people are not contagious after day 5 of infection, it would be preferable for officials to explain that a patient with improving symptoms, the chance of spreading infection to others is low (but not zero) after day 5, which is why further isolation is not required. However, to be safe to others, individuals exiting isolation should wear a mask until day 10….

Nukes on the Moon?

[These excerpts are from an article by Fred Nadis in the July/August 2022 issue of Discover.]

      …While robotic rovers on Mars indicate a thirst for scientific knowledge and the International Space Station (ISS) symbolizes cooperation, peaceful and purely scientific aims in outer space have always contended with military. And no one better embodied the tension between militarism and the high ideals of spaceflight than Wernher von Braun….

      President Dwight D. Eisenhower offered a more moderate vision of the advance into space. In 1958, he proposed to Congress that NASA be established under civil control, with the aim tha “outer space be devoted to peaceful and scientific purposes.” But Eisenhower also made the Department of Defense responsible for “space activities perculiar to or primarily associated with military weapons systems or military operations.” Eisenhower’s dual approach indicated that exploration and the military use of space were not easily separated: Space-based surveillance and communication had both military and peaceful applications, and the same rockets that launched satellites could be armed as missiles. In fact, ballistic missiles, in their parabolic flights, have the potential to reach altitudes of thousands of miles….

      Eisenhower not only rejected Project Horizon, but questioned the strategic value of any nuclear weapons in space. His Scientific Advisory Committee had reported in March 1958 that while reconnaissance and communication from spaceflight would have important military applications, there was no real value to releasing atomic or other weapons from space….

      While space is currently free of nuclear weapons, it is stocked with satellites that spy and guide weapons systems on Earth. These satellites, in turn, have long been strategic targets….While shared concern over space debris may eventually shape a new consensus, a diplomatic resolution to curtail antisatellite weapons is not in sight….

Editor’s Note

[These excerpts are from an editorial by Marian Starkey in the June 2022 issue of Population Connectione.]

      …From a Supreme Court on the brink of a decision that will take away a fundamental right to bodily autonomy for Americans in half the states in this country to the despicable failure of Susan Collins…to vote for the Women’s Health Protection Act despite her pro-choice claims to the state abortion bans that are getting passed faster than you can say mifepristone, I just cannot….

      The madness of it all is heightened by “pro-life” (give me a break) members of Congree failing to extend the expanded child tax credit that reduced child poverty by 50 percent in 2021 and refusing to vote for a bill to address the critical shortage of baby formula in the United States. So make sure every fertilized egg becomes a baby, but then once those babies are born, let them starve. Got it….

      As tired as we all are, we can’t let the cynicism and misogyny of a few hundred right-wing politicians bring us down and snuff out our spirits—we can’t afford to let them win the long game. They might be creating chaos and catastrophe right now, but the midterms are coming up this fall, and before we know it, there will be more Supreme Court seats to fill….

What Makes Tardigrades So Tough

[These excerpts are from an article by Douglas Fox in the 16 July 2022 issue of Science News.]

      No beast on Earth is tougher than the tiny tardirade. It can survive being frozen at -272o Celsius, being exposed to the vacuum of outer space and even being blasted with 500 times the dose of X-rays that would kill a human.

      In other words, the creature can endure conditions that don’t even exist on Earth. This outerworldly resilience, combined with their endearing looks, has made tardigrades a favorite of animal lovers. But beyond that, researchers are looking to the microscopic anials, about the size of a dust mite, to learn how to prepare humans and crops to handle the rigor of space travel….

      As a tardigrade dries out, its cells gush out several strange proteins that are unlike anything found in other animals. In water, the proteins are floppy and shapeless. But as water disappears, the proteins self-assemble into long, crisscrossing fibers that fill the cell’s interior. Like Styrofoam packing peanuts, the fibers support the cell’s membranes and proteins, preventing them from breaking or unfolding….

Butterflies May Lose Tails Like Lizards

[These excerpts are from an article by Jake Buehler in the 16 July 2022 issue of Science News.]

      On some butterfly wings, tails may be more than just elegant adornments. They might be survival tools too….

      In summer 2020, the team collected 138 sail swallowtail butterflies (Iphiclides podalirius) in France. Sail swallowtails sport a conspicuous black tail on each hind wing with some blue and orange spotting, contrasting with the rest of the body’s yellow striped coloration.

      Among the collected swallowtails, 65, or 47 percent, had damaged wings. Of all of these mangled wings, more than 82 percent had damaged tails, suggesting that predators might target the spindly parts….

      The findings, the researchers argue, suggest that swallowtails deflect attacks from a butterfly’s vulnerable body to brittle extensions that easily tear off, allowing the insect to escape. This may be similar to how some lizards sacrifice their detachable tails to predators….

Foodmaking Microbes Bear Marks of Domestication

[These excerpts are from an article by Elizabeth Pennisi in the 1 July 2022 issue of Science.]

      …Like the ancestors of the corn and the dog, the fungi and bacteria that drive these transformations were mofidied for human use. And their genomes have acquired many of the classical signatures of domestication….

      …But humans can grow microbes and select variants that best serve our purposes. The studies how the process, repeated over thousands of years, has left genetic hallmarks similar to those in domesticated plants and animals: The microbes have lost genes, evolved into new species or strains, and become unable to thrive in the wild….

      The yeasts used in making bread have lost genetic variation and can’t live in the wild. But for other microbes, scientists have been “lacking clear evidence of domestication … in part because [their] microbial communities can be hard to study….”

Science, Health, and Truth

[These excerpts are from an editorial by William L. Roper in the 1 July 2022 issue of Science.]

      …The COVID-19 pandemic has brought illness, hospitalization, and death near to many people. In the United States, people are divided not only on what they should do but also on what constitutes the facts. Many are seemingly in an alternate world, driven by disinformation, conspiracy theories, and anti-science beliefs. How can health and medical leaders do their jobs while trying to cope with a polarized public? They must be more effective on explaining and persuading the public on matters of science and health. This will require better clarification of two things to the public—the roles of science and politics in public policy decisions, and the means by which scientific truth is established and updated.

      …The reality is that both science and politics are essential for public health to work well. Scientists inform public understanding of the patterns of health and illness in populations, especially when epidemics and pandemics strike. And politics—the way decisions are made in a democratic society—is vital for acting on the information and insights that the scientific community provides for the benefit of everyone

      …society needs to understand better how scientific truth is established and updated. It is based on verified and reproducible facts. The scientific method of gathering data, debating various formulations of the information, and arriving at consensus understandings of what is “true” about a particular matter has been the bedrock for establishing scientific truth for centuries….

      This knowledge-certifying system is under concerted attack today, most notably in polarized political conflicts, including about maks and vaccines, climate change, and gun violence. Restoring confidence in messages regarding science for the public good will be challenging, but it can only be done if there is an effort to explain, defend, and reinforce this public system for shepherding new knowledge….

Dispatches from the Redwood Rebellion

[These excerpts are from a book review by Jeremy B. Yoder in the 24 June 2022 issue of Science.]

      The concept of stealing a tree seems, at first, like a category error. Under the spreading boughs of a centuries-old valley oak or amidthe green-lit colonnade of a basswood forest, a tree theft seems as likely as the theft of a mountain or a river. Of course, we do take trees out of the forest for fuel and timber and fiber, just as we exploit mountains for mining and reroute rivers for irrigation. And if trees are a resource for monetary value, then it follows that they can be stolen….

      The Redwood National and State Parks were first established in the early 20th century to protect old-growth coast redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens). These trees can live more than 2000 years, growing into enormous pillars of fine, durable wood, taller than any other tree species. A grove of old-growth redwoods is a living cathedral, valued for its beauty and for the foundational role these trees play in the ecosystems they inhabit. It is also worth a fortune as timber. That dual statis means that efforts to protect redwoods are often in direct conflict with the needs of communities that depend on them for income….

      Tree Thieves places the Outlaws’ actions in broader context, providing a pocket history of forest regulation in English law that explains how public rights to forest resources were guaranteed from the time of the Magna Carta and how the privatization of forests by the wealthy has been a continual source of discontent for those without privilege. Errol Flynn’s Robin Hood delivering one of “the king’s deer” to Prince John’s banquet table is an echo of such struggles….

      The book’s unavoidable conclusion is that the problem manifest in timber poaching is not the destruction of a particular tree or the failure of a conservation plan but rather a social and economic system that roots personal identity in wage-earning work (or lack thereof) and that describes a tree by its value as board feet in a lumberyard….

The Matter of a Clean Energy Future

[These excerpts are from an editorial by James Morton Turner in the 24 June 2022 issue of Science.]

      A clean energy transition will create jobs, promote energy independence, improve public health, and, ultimately, mitigate climate change. But getting to this new future will require more tha just phasing out fossil fuels. The production of a wide range of energy-relevant materials—lithium, cobalt, and nickel for batteries; rare earth elements for wind turbines and electric motors; silicon for solor panels; and copper to expand the electric grid—must be scaled up substantially. Mobilizing these materials without reproducing the environmental harms and social inequities of the fossil fuel status quo poses an urgent challenge.

      Studies project that producing the materials to enable a clean energy transition will be a massive undertaking….will require expanding production of energy-relevant materials six-fold between 2020 and 2040, to 43 milion tons per year. At first glance, that may seem to pale in comparison to the fossil fuel industries, which produce roughly 15 billion tons of coal, oil, and natural gas globally in 2020 alone and added 32 billion tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere when burned.

      But the transition will be even more difficult than it first appears. Nickel, cobalt, and copper and many other energy-relevant materials occur in low-grade ores, which entail far more mining, processing, and waste than fossil fuels. Securing the millions of tons of finished materials needed will require mining hundreds or thousands of times more raw ore. Although this transition will ultimately lower greenhouse gas emissions, especially as more renewable energy powers mining processes, it will require processing metal ores at a scale that rivals the material through-put of today’s fossil fuel industries….

      To meet the global clean energy challenges, government policies supporting public and private sector investments are needed at every stage of extraction and processing….

      Ultimately, innovation will reshuffle the burdens of resource extraction in ways that cannot be fully aanticipated….

Confronting the Climate Crisis

[These excerpts are from a book review by Joseph Swift in the 17 June 2022 issue of Science.]

      In ancient times, it was common to divine the future by watching animal behavior. For example, an unexpected appearance of a bear or serpent could indicate the will of the gods. As we slide further into a future of climate change, there is no shortage of such omes. Around the world, animals are acting unusually—ticks are migrating northward into Canada, swarms of jellyfish are invading the Sea of Japan, and bats are dying in the thousands in eastern Australia….

      Each essay in the book serves as a type of local dispatch, with the authors sharing how climate change has shaped their own sense of place and self. On the surface, what they choose to share can appear unrelated and even irrelevant—readers learn about nuclear contamination, Arizona cacti, mold allergies, dam building, grief, commune life, raising children, and, of course, COVID-19. But as a collection, these narratives work together to shift the audience’s perception of the environment, unsettling assumptions that it is something to be controlled or conquered….

      Even as they challenge the ways we rationalize our relationship with nature, the book’s authors do not attempt to promote an alternate philosophy….

      …The World As We Know It is resoundingly articulate about climate change in ways that dispassionate scientific inquiry cannot be. By taking a more off-one feels the-cuff approach, the essay collection is so razor sharp, it has chance of reaching even the most hardened climate skeptic.

Ancient DNA Reveals Black Death SoOurce

[These excerpts are from an article by Ann Gibbons in the 17 June 2022 issue of Science.]

      …In European historical accounts, the Black Death appears first in 1346 at ports on the Black Sea. Within a year it was in Europe, where scholars estimate it killed more than half of the population by 1353. In 1894, microbiologists identified Y. pestis as the cause. Ever since, they have debated where and when the deadly strain was born, considering China, Central Asia, India, and Genghis Kahn’s armies marching from Mongolia….

      One branch of the tree underwent a “big bang” explosion of diversity at the time of the Black Death, creating a starlike pattern of four new lineages of Y. pestis whose descendant strains still persist in 40 species of rodents around the world. One of those lineages was the source of the Black Death and later outbreaks in Europe until the 18th century….

      …The authors suggest it spilled over to humans, perhaps from a marmot, which are abundant in the Tian Shan mountain region of northern Kyrgystan, southern Kyrgystan, and northwestern China. Sudden changes in rainfall or temperature could have led to surges in local rodent populations and the fles or other insects they harbor. More rodents and their pests meant more opportunities to hop to a new host—humans—and adapt to it….

      The remaining mystery…is how the Black Death traveled 3500 kilometers from Central Asia to the Black Sea, where historical accounts describe the Mongolian army hurling the bodies of plague victims into the besieged city of Caffa in Crimea in 1346 in an early form of biological warfare….

A Future for Ukranian Science

[These excerpts are from an editorial by Jerzy Duszynski, Marcia McNutt and Anatoly Zagorodny in the 17 June 2022 issue of Science.]

      As the war in Ukraine enters its fourth month, Russian forces continue to destroy the nation’s scientific institutions and infrastructure, signaling Russia’s intent to obliterate the future for Ukraine….

      Lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic can also be applied to help Ukrainian researchers form virtual networks with international colleagues, with international encouragement from institutions and researchers. These efforts cost little but would keep these scientists engaged and involved.

      Once the war is over, it is hoped that Ukraine will swiftly begin the monumental task of rebuilding. National science academies around the world should advocate that international aid to Ukraine be directed to rebuilding science infrastructure alongside other critical needs such as transportation, energy, and health care….

      The stakes of the war in Ukraine are high—the future of democracy in Europe is at risk. The global science community should not only help guarantee that Ukrainian science remains a vital source of national advancement, but also ensure that it is part of international science so that its values of collaboration, cooperation, and mutual trust continue to contribute to a better world.

G7: Balance Security and Collaboration

[These excerpts are from an editorial by Harry G. Broadman and Chaouki Abdallah in the 17 June 2022 issue of Science.]

      …When the leaders of G7 meet in late June…, they should make it a priority to coordinate controls of knowledge flow and technology. They need to act together to demonstrate how democracies can counter illicit activities for acquiring technologies.

      The issue of research security bubbled up on university campuses in the US almost 5 years ago as questions about technology exports to, and acquisitions of US firms by, China raised concerns about the economic, military, and intelligence vulnerabilities of G7 nations. Then in February 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine. Many of the world’s liberal democracies banded together—in record time and a highly coordinated fashion—to impose far-reaching export controls to prevent advanced technology products from reaching Russia. Democracies in general, and the G7 in particular, have awoken to the fact that they have the means and powerful new motivations to more carefully control the diffusion of dual-use knowledge and advanced technologies to adversaries.

      The result is looming changes—to law and enforcement—of national policies in advanced democracies. The new approaches fall to different governmental entities, depending on whether the policy is the granting of export licences; agency clearance of inbound—and likely soon even outbound—foreign direct investment; or the funding of university research. The result…is predictable: regulatory confusion for both researchers and companies engaged in cross-border activity, and a reduction in international flows of scientific and engineering knowledge and personnel….

      The first step is for the G7 to agree on the principles of a new regime: making the implementation of national regulations smarter about global knowledgenetworks, coordinating to facilitate openness among the G7 nations and control at the interface between those within the group and those outside; and ensuring harmonizationthat supports cross-border collaboration in public and private R&D and innovation within the G7….

Swapping Meat for Microbial Protein May Take a Bite out ofClimate Change

[These excerpts are from an article by Carolyn Gramling in the 18 June 2022 issue of Science News.]

      “Fungi Fridays” might save a lot of trees. Eating one-fifth less red meat and instead munching on fungi- and ahgae-derived microbial proteins could cut annual deforestation in half by 2050….Just 20 percent microbial protein substitution cut annual deforestation rates—and associated greenhouse gas emissions from clearing trees for cattle pastures—by 56 percent. So eating more microbial proteins could help address global warming.

Revising Leonardo da Vinci’s Rule for how Trees Branch

[These excerpts are from an article by James R. Riordon in the 18 June 2022 issue of Science News.]

      …More than 500 years ago, the multi-talented Renaissance genius wrote down his “rule of gtrees,” describing the way he thought that trees branch. It was a brilliant insight that helped him to draw realistic landscapes, but Leonardo’s rule breaks down for many types of trees. A new branching rule—dubbed “Leonardo-like”—works for virtually any leafy tree….

      Leonardo’s rule says that the thickness of a limb before it branches into smaller ones is the same as the combined thickness of the limbs sprouting from it. But…it’s the surface area that stays the same.

      Using surface area as a guide, the new rule incorporates limb widths and lengths, and predicts that long branches end up being thinner than short ones. Unlike Leonardo’s guess, the updated rule works for trees that range from slender to sturdy….

      The connection between the surface area of branches and overall tree structure shows that it’s the living, outer layers that guide tree structure….And two factors are key for determining structure: the width of each limb and the length between branchings on a limb. As a result, when trees are rendered in two dimensions in a painting or on a screen, the new rule describes them particularly well….

Did Black Volcanic Rock Help Spark Early Life?

[These excerpts are from an article by Robert F. Service in the 10 June 2022 issue of Science.]

      When life emerged, it did so quickly. Fossils suggest microbes were present 3.7 billion years ago, just a few hundred million years after the 4.5-billion-year-old planet had cooled enough to support biochemistry. Many researchers think the hereditary material for these first organisms was RNA. Although not as complex as DNA, RNA would still be difficult to forge into the long strands needed to convey genetic information, raising the question of how it could have spontaneously formed.

      Now, researchers may have an answer. In lab experiments, they show how rocks called basaltic glasses help individual RNA letters, known as nucleoside triphosphates, link into strands up to 200 letters long. The glasses would have been abundant in the fire and brimstone of early Earth; they are created when lava is quenched in air or water or when the melted rock created in asteroid strikes cools off rapidly….

      Origin-of-life researchers are fond of a primordial “RNA world” because the molecule can carry out two distinct processes vital for life. Like DNA, it’s made up of four chemical letters that can carry genetic information. And like proteins, RNA can catalyze chemical reactions needed for life….

      Still, the results leave questions unanswered. One is how the nucleoside triphosphates could have arisen in the first place…..

Climate Risk Is Financial Risk

[These excerpts are from an editorial by Gernot Wagner in the 10 June 2022 issue of Science.]

      …showed a profound lack of understanding of climate risks and their financial implications. Despite much progress, some of these views remain troublingly widely held among many in the financial sector, whose well-informed engagement is essential to mitigating and adapting to climate change.

      Climate risks are neither distant nor small. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s latest assessment report cites a litany of studies showing how climate damages have material impacts now. Insurer Aon tallied over $343 billion in weather- and climate-related economic losses in 2021 alone….

      Climate risk includes both the risk of unmitigated cliame change and the risk to a business’s bottom line posed by climate policy….But the world cannot rely on informed business decisions alone. It takes policy to internalize the risks businesses would otherwise offload onto society.

      Climate risk has some other distinctive properties that ought to worry financial risk managers as much as regulators. Correlated risks linked to rising global average temperatures, sea levels, and related climate impacts everywhere all but ensure systemic risks propogating throughout the global financial sector. Diversifying risk is nigh impossible when it affects the entire planet. Global reinsurance companies have been concerned about climate change longer than most for good reason….

Innovations Ventered on Developing World

[These excerpts are from an article in the Spring 2022 issue of Spectrum.]

      …India has millions of small farms cultivating rice, wheat, sugarcane, and other staple crops. Twice a year, when the harvest is in, farmers burn the remaining stalks and other waste, releasing carbon dioxide and particulate matter into the atmosphere, profoundly degrading the air quality in downwind cities….

      Rapid urban growth has led to an increaee in overcrowded informal settlements—particularly in and around the major cities of the developing world. A lack of infrastructure and open spaces as well as unsafe structures make such areas difficult places to live and work….

      Having developed a relicable and sustainable methodology for transforming spaces, Vargas went on to found Trazando Espacios (Tracing Spaces), a Venezualan nonprofit that develops training programs aimed at children between the ages of 9 and 13 who live in communities with the potential for transformation. In 2015, Vargas received the Dubai International Award for Best Practices in recognition of her innovative work on public spaces around the globe….

      Damak and Varanasi found that vapor collection could be made much more efficient by applying a charge to the tiny droplets that make up fog and then collecting them on an oppositely charges wire mesh. The project ultimately led them to cofound Infinite Cooling to capture and reuse water evaporating from cooling towers at power plants, reducing water consumption for some plants by more than 20%. The technology was successfully piloted at MIT’s Central Utility Plant and is now being deployed commercially around the world….

Tyson Is Too Big for Our Own Good

[This excerpt is from an article by Karen Perry Stillerman in the Spring 2022 issue of Catalyst.]

      …Corn and soybeans take up more than half of this country's total cropland, and the dominant way those crops are grown is anything but sustainable. It relies on the overuse of fertilizers that contribute to climate change, pollute drinking water, and produce coastal “dead zones,” uninhabitable for marine life. Plus, the damage it does to soil leaves farms and surrounding communities more vulnerable to drought and floods.

      This status quo threatens to lead our food system to disaster. Tyson has the size to help us avoid that outcome, but isn’t doing nearly enough. After committing in 2018 to achieve “improved environmental practices” on 2 million acres of cropland (about 20 percent of the total under its influence), the company dropped the ball: by 2021, it had taken initial steps on just 408,000 acres. Tyson is thwarting the changes we need by choosing not to support them.

      Moreover, Tyson’s unchecked size and power enables it to engage in numerous abusive practices while earning record profits. It has been sued for price fixing and toxic spills. It was accused early in the pandemic of lying to its workers about the dangers of COVID-19 and then went on to force employees to work six days a week regardless of whether they were ill—or risk being fired. And the company employs a stock structure that allows the Tyson family to vote down any and all calls for change made by other shareholders.

      For all these reasons, federal regulators should take bold action to rein in Tyson and its ilk. With stronger enforcement of antitrust laws and continued investment in smaller meat and poultry processors, the Biden administration can decrease Tyson’s power by increasing competition. Congress and the US Department of Agriculture should also boost investments in conservation and research programs that help farmers producing corn and soybeans—often used for feed—adopt more sustainable practices….

Electric Cars Charge Ahead

[These excerpts are from an article by Elliott Negin the Spring 2022 issue of Catalyst.]

      …After all, cars are the largest source of carbon emissions for most people in this country, so going carless can dramatically shrink your carbon footprint. Each typical gasoline-powered passenger vehicle emits about 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year from tailpipe emissions alone, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, assuming it gets about 22 miles per gallon and travels around 11,500 miles annually. Many city dwellers with decent public transportation options report they have had little trouble hanging up the keys.

      …charging the average EV in this country for driving now produces global warming pollution equivalent to a gas-powered vehicle getting about 93 miles per gallon—roughly half the emissions of today’s most efficient gasoline-only models….

      Charging—and the question of how far a vehicle can go on a charge—also remains a concern for potential EV drivers. Depending on battery size and the price per kilowatt-hour of electricity, a full charge will normally cost a small fraction of what it takes to fill up a gas-powered car’s tank. But things get trickier if drivers don't have a garage or a driveway, or their apartment’s parking lot doesn’t have chargers….

      As more charging stations are installed in cities and along highways, so-called “range anxiety” (concerns about the distance an EV can go between charges, and the availability of stations) will surely dissipate. Some EVs are already meeting and even exceeding the range of gasoline vehicles….

On the Road to 100 Percent Renewables

[These excerpts are from an article by by Michelle Rama-Pocciain the Spring 2022 issue of Catalyst.]

      …Formed in 2017 to fill the void left by the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement, the USCA pledges to reduce its collective global warming emissions some 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025 and 50 to 52 percent below those levels by 2030, achieving overall net-zero emissions no later than 2050.

      The new analysis finds that the USCA states in the contiguous United States can meet 100 percent of their electricity needs with renewables by 2035. What's more, they can do so even with strong increases in demand resulting from efforts to electrify transportation and heating. Even more promising, the process could create hundreds of thousands of good-paying jobs, lower energy costs, and reduce the number of premature deaths and illnesses from pollution….

      Perhaps the most eye-opening benefits of a rapid transition to renewables are the vast improvements to people’s health and economies. Across all the USCA states, the move to 100 percent renewable energy would result in approximately 6,000 to 13,000 fewer premature deaths due to pollution, 140,000 fewer cases of asthma, and 700,000 fewer lost workdays over the next two decades—adding up to almost $280 billion in health benefits t. from 2022 to 2040….

      Accelerating the deployment of renewable energy creates new opportunities in solar array and wind facility installation, increasing demand for electricians, pipefitters, and welders. It also creates opportunities in component manufacturing, sales, financing, and maintenance for those and other renewable energy technologies….

      Similarly, states should prioritize the accelerated reduction of emissions in communities overburdened by pollution, and make sure these communities are fully involved in decisionmaking about the policies that affect them, including proposals to retire fossil fuel plants or to build renewable energy infrastructure….

Clean Trucks Drive Change across the Country

[This excerpt is are from an article in the Spring 2022 issue of Catalyst.]

      Trucks and buses remain a major source of both climate pollution and localized air pollution that takes the form of smog and fine particulate matter, which irritate and inflame the lungs, worsen asthma, and cause tens of thousands of premature deaths nationwide each year. The impact on public health is especially pronounced in Black and Brown communities adjacent to ports, rail hubs, and freight corridors.

      Using electric trucks and buses for shipping and transportation is one promising solution toward addressing this toxic pollution, and many are readily available for deployment. Transitioning to electric trucks and buses would also cut down on climate pollution, save money for fleet operators, lower electricity bills, and allow communities to breathe more easily.

      In recent years, California has taken the lead in passing innovative.clean truck policies, and the rest of the country is only just catching up. In the summer of 2020,15 of the state's jurisdictions signed a nonbinding memorandum of understanding that lays out truck electrification goals. And over the past year, five states—Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, and Washington—have followed California's lead by adopting the Advanced Clean Trucks rule, which is a first-of-its-kind regulation that guarantees an increasing number of electric Ltrucks sold in these states….

Public Health Experts: Your Voice Is Needed on Chemical Safety

[These excerpts are from an article in the Spring 2022 issue of Catalyst.]

      Facilities that produce and contain dangerous chemicals are subject to an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rule called the Risk Management Plan (RMP), which requires a written set of procedures for handling accidental chemical spills or releases. This may seem like common sense, but without rules in place, many companies don’t bother to map out their worst-case scenarios—which puts the communities they’re located in at risk from health hazards related to water, air, or soil contamination.

      There are more than 12,000 “RMP facilities,” as these sites are known, throughout the United States. Exposure to the chemicals they produce can be dangerous and even deadly. And according to the Government Accountability Office, a nonpartisan congressional watchdog agency, one-third of RMP facilities are at risk of future disasters due to climate change….

      The current rule does not mandate that chemical facilities consider the impending effects of climate change such as sea level rise—creating disproportionate risk for people of color and people with lower incomes, who are more likely to live near such facilities. The EPA is currently working on a new rule, slated to be open for public comment by September 2022, with a final rule to be issued by August tr2023….

Hawai’i Cast against Fossil Fuel Companies Moves Forward

[These excerpts are from an article in the Spring 2022 issue of Catalyst.]

      In a major milestone, a judge in Hawai’i recently ruled that a lawsuit seeking damages from major oil and gas companies for their climate disinformation campaigns can move forward in state court. The ruling sets an important precedent that the fossil fuel industry has been fighting to prevent in similar cases across the country.

      In the lawsuit, the city and county of Honolulu charge that Chevron, ExxonMobil, Shell, Sunoco, and other major oil and gas producers have worked for decades to deceive the public and policymakers about the devastating impacts of climate change. As a result, it claims, communities in Hawai'i now face increased flooding, more extreme weather events, and rising seas. Under the current emissions trajectory, the state faces more than three feet of sea level rise within the century, putting more than $19.6 billion of land and infrastructure at risk. The lawsuit charges these impacts were exacerbated by the companies’ deliberate decisions to hide findings and sow public mis-rust in climate science….

      The Hawai’i ruling is particularly notable because it marks the first time a climate disinformation case has moved to the legal “discovery” phase, in which the companies charged can be forced to disclose internal company documents and correspondence. Its findings could have a bearing on dozens of similar lawsuits now pending in the United States, including cases brought by the attorneys general of Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Rhode Island, Vermont, and the District of Columbia.

      Notably, during efforts to hold US tobacco companies liable for the damages caused by their products, scores of cases were defeated and dismissed before one brought by the state of Minnesota advanced to the legal discovery phase and subsequently to trial. The documents that came to light, combined with grassroots campaigning, played a major role in eventually forcing tobacco companies to shut down their lobbying efforts, cease certain marketing tactics, and pay out billions of dollars in damages and penalties….

These Bats Buzz Like Wasps and Bees

[These excerpts are from an article by Jake Buehler in the 4 June 2022 issue of the Science News.]

      Some bats buzz like wasps and bees when grasped, and the sound seems to deter predatory owls….

      …the researchers decided to 11 test the idea that the uncanny buzzing was a defense mechanism called Batesian mimicry. Batesian mimics are themselves harmless but resemble — visually, acoustically or chemically — a different species that is distasteful or dangerous to predators. When wary predators can’t tell harmless mimics from the noxious originals, the mimics are protected….

      Birds tend to avoid stinging insects, Russo says. The negative association might be evoked if an owl grasps a bat and hears an indignant buzz, he and colleagues suspect. If so, this scenario is the first known example of mimicry — acoustic or otherwise—where a mammal copies an insect….

      But behavioral ecologist Matthew Bulbert isn’t convinced the new finding is mimicry. Owls encounter bats and stinging insects in different contexts, so it’s unlikely that bat buzzes fool the birds, says Bulbert….Instead, the buzzing might startle an owl, increasing the chance it releases the bat. “That in itself is still pretty cool,” he says.

A Weapon against Mosquitoes

[These excerpts are from an article by Tina Hesman Saey in the 4 June 2022 issue of Science News.]

      …Normally, any particular version of a gene has a 50 percent chance of being passed from parent to offspring. But with the copy-and-paste CRISPR system, gene drive-carrying mosquitoes pass the drive to about 96 percent of male progeny and more than 99 percent of females. With that genetic cheat, the gene drive spreads rapidly through the population….

      Female offspring that inherit two copies of a broken doublesex gene develop mouthparts and genitalia that are closer to the male form. Those females are sterile, and they cannot bite people with their malformed mouthparts. Unable to bite, those mosquitoes can’t transmit malaria-causing parasites from their bodies to humans.

      In those naturelike cages in Terni, when gene drive-carrying mosquitoes were introduced, the populations died out in 245 to 311 days….In two cages where no gene drive mosquitoes were added, mosquito populations lived normally to the end of the experiment….

      At least 46 theoretical harms could arise from the use of gene drives on mosquitoes….Those potential downsides include reductions in pollinators and other species directly or indirectly related to the disappearance of the mosquitoes. It’s possible that people could develop allergic reactions to the bite of mosquitoes carrying a single copy of the gene drive, or to fish that eat the altered mosquito larvae. There could be a decline in water quality caused by large numbers of mosquito larvae dying. There's even a set of scenarios in which malaria cases increase if, for instance, mosquito species that are better malaria spreaders take over in areas where a gene drive has thinned out less-troublesome mosquitoes.

      Dreaming up possible nightmare consequences was an exercise intended to tell researchers what they might need to plan for and test before releasing gene drive mosquitoes into the wild….

Trilobite Eye Inspires a New Camera

[These excerpts are from an article by Anna Gibbs in the 4 June 2022 issue of Science News.]

      Roughly 400 million years before the founding father invented bifocals, the now-extinct trilobite Dalmanitina socialis already had a superior version….Not only could the sea critter see things both near and far, it could also see both distances in focus at the same time — an ability that eludes most eyes and cameras.

      Now, a new type of camera sees the world the way this trilobite did. Inspired by D. sacialis’ eyes, the camera can simultaneously focus on two points anywhere from three centimeters to nearly two kilometers away….

      To mimic the trilobite’s ability, Agrawal and colleagues constructed a metalens. This flat lens is made up of millions of rectangular nanopillars arranged like a cityscape, if skyscrapers were one two-hundredth the width of a human hair. The nanopillars act as obstacles that bend light in different ways depending on their shape, size and arrangement. The researchers arranged the pillars so some light traveled through one part of the lens and some light through another, creating two focal points.

      The team then built an array of identical metalenses into a light-field camera that could capture more than a thousand tiny images. Combining all the images results in a single image that's in focus close up and far away, but blurry in between. The blurry bits can then be sharpened with a machine learning computer program….

A Calming Brew for Child Sacrifices

[These excerpts are from an article by Bruce Bower in the 4 June 2022 issue of Science News.]

      Two Inca children slated for ritual sacrifice more than 500 years ago quaffed a special soothing concoction that has gone undetected until now.

      Those young victims, identified from their remains as a girl and a boy roughly 4 to 8 years old, drank a liquid that may have lightened their moods and calmed their nerves in the days or weeks before they were ceremonially killed and buried on Peru’s Ampato Mountain….

      The youngsters’ bodies contained chemical remnants from one of the primary ingredients of ayahuasca, a liquid concoction known for its hallucinogenic effects….Analyses focused on hair from the girl’s naturally mummified body and fingernails from the boy’s partially mummified remains….

      The sacrificed children were found during a 1995 expedition near the summit of Ampato….It would have taken at least two weeks and possibly several months for the children to complete a pilgrimage from wherever their homes were located to the capital city of Cuzco for official ceremonies and then to Ampato Mountain….

Corals Turn a Sunscreen Chemical Toxic

[These excerpts are from an article by Erin Garcia de Jesus in the 4 June 2022 issue of Science News.]

      A common chemical in sunscreen can have devastating effects on coral reefs. Now, scientists know why.

      Mushroom coral and sea anemones, a coral relative, can turn the chemical, oxybenzone, into a light-activated toxin that’s deadly to them….

      The good news is that algae coexisting with coral can soak up the toxin and blunt its damage. The bad news is that bleached coral reefs, where helpful algae have been ejected, may be more vulnerable to death….

      Whether sunscreen components similar to oxybenzone have the same effects is unknown….The answer could lead to better reef-safe sunscreens.

Flowers Use Sex to Lure Pollinators to their Deaths

[These excerpts are from an article by Susan Milius in the 4 June 2022 issue of Science News.]

      …The fatal part isn’t the surprise. Jack-in-the-pulpits are the only plants known to kill their own insect pollinators as a matter of routine….The new twist, if confirmed, would be using sexual deception to woo pollinators into the death traps….

      Until now, biologists have found only three plant families with any species that pretend to offer sex to insects….But unlike the proposed jack-in-the-pulpit deceit, the other cases aren't fatal, just phony….

      Two jack-in-the-pulpit species in Japan, Arisaema angustatum and A. peninsulae, have now raised suspicions that their family should be added to the list of sexual cheats. These oddball flowers, with floppy canopies bending over little cupped “pulpits,” depend mostly on punctuation-sized fungus gnats for pollination. The plants have a strong scent to lure mate-seeking gnats. But for gnats that enter the pulpit, things will go terribly wrong….

      Biologists had assumed that jack-in-the-pulpits seeking fungus gnats were perfuming the air with mushroomy, nice-place-to-have-kids scents. But homey smells don't explain one of Suetsugu’s odd observations: Almost all the gnats found in A. angustatum and A. peninsulae traps were males….

We Know What the Problem Is

[These excerpts are from an editorial by H. Holden Thorp in the 3 June 2022 issue of Science.]

      …One argument used to justify continued gun ownership is that mass shootings are often the result of shooters with severe mental illness. No doubt that mental health is a factor. But the rates of mental illness in the United States are similar to those in other countries where mass shootings rarely occur. It’s access to guns that is the problem….less than a third of the people who commit mass shootings have a diagnosable mental disorder.

      Another argument is that however strict we make gun control laws, would-be shooters would find ways to get around them. This is also misleading. As the 2017 analysis of Cook and Donohue conclusively shows, extending criminal sentences for gun use in violent crime, prohibiting gun ownership by individuals convicted of domestic violence, and restricting the concealed carry of firearms lead to demonstrable reductions in gun violence. It's not a stretch to assume that further restrictions would save even more lives.

      It’s also argued that gun ownership is guaranteed in the Bill of Rights by the Second Amendment. But a lot of things have changed since 1789, and there are many times when the American people have concluded that rights granted at the nation’s founding could not be reconciled with modern conditions and knowledge. It was decided that owning other human beings was not consistent with the founding principles of America. It was decided that prohibiting women from voting was not consistent with a representative democracy. And now it needs to be decided that unfettered gun ownership by American citizens is not consistent with a flourishing country where people can worship, shop, and be educated without fear….

      Women’s suffrage, the end of slavery, and civil rights were not won without struggle. Courageous activists put their lives and livelihoods on the line to achieve these advances. The victims of gun violence are not here to fight for their rights, which were taken away against their will. But the economic and social success of the country affects everyone. If children do not feel safe, they cannot learn. And a country that cannot learn cannot thrive. A nation of children threatened by gun violence does not have a future….

Justices Allow Higher Carbon Cost

[This brief note is from an editorial by William C. Kirby in the 3 June 2022 issue of Science.]

      The U.S. Supreme Court last week allowed the Biden administration to use a higher number for how much carbon pollution costs society; after declining to take up a challenge from energy-producing, Republican-led states. Federal agencies use the figure, known as the social cost of carbon, when evaluating the costs and benefits of regulations; it attempts to capture costs, such as adverse health effects, that aren’t reflected in market prices. The court’s refusal to take the case means the administration can use its proposed cost of $51 per ton of carbon dioxide emissions. That figure was used by former President Barack Obama’s administration before former President Donald Trump’s administration cut it to $7 per ton.

Zeroing Out on Zero-COVID

[These excerpts are from an editorial by William C. Kirby in the 3 June 2022 issue of Science.]

      …Two trajectories have defined China’s response to COVID-19. Its centuries-long engagement with science and engineering has fostered a culture that reveres institutions of science and technology and a public that appreciates basic science. Its government and academic laboratories are among the best in the world. But China's Marxist-Leninist political system, led by an infallible Party, often defines what is, and is not, “science.” These two beliefs have been in tension since the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949, aggravated by the rise of pseudoscience during the 1950s and the privileging of “red” over “expert” during the isolationist years of the Cultural Revolution….

      This global pandemic should have been an opportunity for strengthening US-China collaboration. Ever since the two nations signed the US-China Agreement on Cooperation in Science and Technology in 1979, scientific cooperation between the two has produced break-throughs in the development of cancer treatments, AIDS research, influenza tracking, and climate change technology. Over the years, even when political relations cooled, bilateral scientific research persisted. Now, this collaboration is threatened….

      China’s deep respect for science still provides an opening for better collaboration with the West in COVID-19 and future pandemics. International vaccines can help China boost vaccination rates among its elderly to prevent massive loss of life when it does drop zero-COVID. We must remember that China’s scientific and economic strengths have risen because of, not despite, China’s integration into the larger world of international education, research, and technology….

      As history shows, a self-isolating China is a threat to itself and a loss to the world.

Project Hail Mary

[These excerpts are from a book review by Holly Amerman in the May/June 2022 issue of The Science Teacher.]

      …Because of the nature of the story, an invasive species, interstellar space travel, a slowly dying Earth, and meeting another form of life, there is barely a high school science topic that is not covered in this book….The characters must use the stars and astronomical calculations to find a location, navigate, and much, much more. For chemists, the construction of a wall between the two space ships to determine which material is best for the task is a treasure trove of exploration for chemistry students learning about atoms, molecules, compounds, and their many interactions. The way Grace learns to talk to his new alien friend is based on the periodic table—if your kids can unravel the mystery before Grace does, they can count themselves as molecular experts!

      Anatomy and physiology teachers can make comparisons between alien species and humans. And as the book goes in-depth into both the anatomical and physiological structures and needs of both humans and the alien, the text is rich for exploration and project ideas. Physics students can think about force, motion, energy, velocity, and vectors, and even try to replicate the many mathematical calculations Grace must use to solve exceedingly complex and deadly situations he encounters in another galaxy. Environmental scientists will love the climate change take in this book, which will turn what may be a controversial topic in their classrooms into an engineering issue that requires both lowering AND raising the temperature on Earth by changing the structure of the atmosphere.

      And finally, the biologists, oh, the phylogenies you can draw! The evolutionary nature of all interdependencies and interactions and some fascinating ideas about what is and what is not required for life are captivating. One of these debates is a central theme, and as the story slowly expands, every added detail helps to both deepen and unravel the mystery simultaneously. Set your students on an evolutionary biology quest as they read….

      Overall, my favorite thing about this book is not the educational value, for which I hope I have convinced you there is plenty, but the story of a science teacher. A science teacher who proves that this is not something we “have” to do or are doing because there are no other good options for us, but because there is something extraordinary in loving science and sharing that love with teenagers….

Inclusive Strategies for the Science Classroom

[These excerpts are from an editorial by Ann Haley MacKenzie in the May/June 2022 issue of The Science Teacher.]

      …We strive to make our classroom and our teaching welcoming for all students, regardless of their social identity, gender-identity, ableism, cultural or sexual orientation, race, and a multitude of others.

      No student wants to be “othered.” To be othered means feeling invisible, having a voice unheard, and an identity undervalued. Teenagers in particular want to fit in, to belong, and to feel accepted. By having inclusive science classrooms, we can strive to reach this goal….

      The STEM pipeline is leaky and we, as science teachers, must do all we can to ensure that all of our students know the STEM career door is open to them if they choose to enter. However, once they enter that door, we must do all we can to keep them exploring and engaging in STEM careers in order to reduce the current attrition rate….

      By providing an inclusive classroom, there will be less need for redirection, consequences, and oppressive strategies, because the students will have greater ownership of their work. The classroom environment also provides space for building meaningful relationships among students, the teacher, and the curriculum, making the entire classroom ecosystem a healthier place for all members….

The Myth of the Lost White Tribe

[These excerpts are from a book review by Laura Stark in the 27 May 2022 issue of Science.]

      …One archetypal white American origin story is the myth of the lost white tribe. In the 19th century, a vaguely documented theory took hold among white elites and everyday folks that a tribe of white people inhabited North America prior to the people we rightly regard as Indigenous to the land. At stake was the project of manifest destiny, the idea that white settlers were the (Christian) God- given inheritors of the land, a notion that still has legs today….

      The myth of this lost tribe wandered northward into white people’s explanations for oil wells dug into the Appalachian foothills, apparent when settlers arrived. Native communities had dug holes to draw petroleum for purposes of ceremony, fuel, and trade. For very different reasons, white speculators pocked the same ground when oil was given commodity value in the late 19th century. They made shallow use of techniques appropriated from Native life—as mere guides to the oil’s location—without the corollary commitment to long-term care….

      By the early 20th century, the myth of the lost white race began to recede, but the anxieties that nourished it sprouted another theory that justified white dominance over Native communities. The theory of the “vanishing Indian” taught that Native people would soon be extinct, but not for obvious reasons of dispossession and extermination….

      Despite their whiff of falseness, the theories of the lost white tribe and vanishing Indian work a strange magic. They reproduce white dominance, while the landscapes to which the stories refer appear as evidence of dominance’s end….

How Mammals Prevailed

[These excerpts are from an article by Steve Brusatte in the June 2022 issue of Scientific American.]

      …For the next 160 million years dinosaurs and mammals went their own separate ways, but both were successful. Dinosaurs became giants and excluded mammals from large-bodied niches. Mammals did the opposite: with their small body sizes, they could exploit ecological niches that the bigger dinosaurs couldn’t access. Having attained a competitive edge in those habitats, they effectively prevented T. rex, Triceratops and kin from becoming small. Between 201 million and 66 million years ago, during the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods, a bounty of pint-sized mammals—none larger than a badger—lived underfoot of the dinosaurs. Among them were scurriers, climbers, diggers, swimmers and gliders. It was these animals that developed the classic mammalian blueprint: hair, warm-blooded metabolism, a complex lineup of teeth (canines, incisors, premolars, molars), and the ability to feed their babies milk….

      The earliest Paleocene scene is dire. There is a fossil locality in Montana dated to approximately 25,000 years after the asteroid hit, called the Z-Line Quarry. It reeks of death. Almost all the mammals that flourished in the region in the Cretaceous are gone; only seven species remain. Several other fossil sites divulge what was happening over the next 100,000 to 200,000 years. If you pool together all mammals from this time, there are 23 species. Only one of these is a metatherian; these marsupial ancestors, once so abundant in the Cretaceous, were nearly extinguished. All told, if you consider the entire Montana fossil record, along with other data from across western North America, the statistics are grim. A paltry 7 percent of mammals survived the carnage. Imagine a game of asteroid roulette: a gun, with 10 chambers, nine of which hold a bullet. Even those odds of survival are slightly better than what our ancestors faced in the brave new world of the Paleocene.

      …The survivors were smaller than most of the Cretaceous mammals, and their teeth indicate they had generalist, omnivorous diets. The victims, on the other hand, were larger, with more specialized carnivorous or herbivorous diets. They were supremely adapted to the latest Cretaceous world, but when the asteroid unleashed disaster, their adaptations became hardships. The smaller generalists, in contrast, were better able to eat whatever was on offer in the postimpact chaos, and they could have more easily hunkered down to wait out the worst of the bedlam….

      This sudden global warming event, called the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, was yet another hurdle that mammals had to overcome. But this time, unlike the asteroid 10 million years earlier, very few mammal species were extinguished. Instead they went on the move, following new high-latitude migration corridors that opened as temperatures warmed. Some of the migrants boasted new adaptations, notably much larger brains. They debuted other new traits, too: primates evolved nails on their fingers and toes to grip branches, even-toed artiodactyls developed pulley-shaped ankles that facilitated fast running, and odd-toed perissodactyls acquired big hooves that made them champion gallopers. These more modern-style mammals swarmed across the interlinked continents of North America, Europe and Asia, and their mass migration over-whelmed the archaic placentals….

One Million Dead from COVID Is Not Normal

[These excerpts are from an editorial by Steven W. Thrasher in the June 2022 issue of Scientific American.]

      …several large mainstream publications, as well as politicians of both major political parties, have been beating a drum to get “back to normal” for months. The effect has been the manufactured consent to normalize mass death and suffering—to subtly suggest to Americans that they want to move on….

      About 200,000 children in the U.S. have lost one or both parents because of COVID—roughly one in every 375 children. This is a big and consequential loss, and those children are probably not among the many who are ready to “move on.” So is it rational?...

      If you don’t want people to wonder why in just two years the U.S. death toll for COVID was about 130 percent of the death toll of four decades of HIV—while global COVID deaths amount to less than 20 percent of the world’s AIDS deaths—then it's rational….

      But it’s not ethical to manufacture what I call a viral underclass, and it’s incorrect to pretend the news media have no role in creating it or in persuading the public that so many deaths are inevitable….But it’s not ethical to manufacture what I call a viral underclass, and it’s incorrect to pretend the news media have no role in creating it or in persuading the public that so many deaths are inevitable….

One World or None

[These excerpts are from an editorial by the editors in the June 2022 issue of Scientific American.]

      …The doctrine of mutually assured destruction, or MAD, held that neither superpower could initiate an attack without itself facing annihilation. But in 2002 the U.S. withdrew from the ABM Treaty and began to build a missile defense system, destabilizing this uneasy balance and sparking a new arms race. In 2019 then president Donald Trump went further, abandoning the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.

      These eliminations leave the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or New START, negotiated by former presidents Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev in 2010, as the only constraint on the numbers of strategic nuclear weapons. Negotiations for renewing and possibly expanding the agreement were scheduled to begin this year; these talks have now been suspended. But if New START is allowed to lapse, a new arms race will begin. If then unregulated nuclear warheads were combined with other unregulated technologies, such as hypersonic or autonomous weapons, the consequences would be unimaginable.

      …Almost all nations signed multilateral conventions that came into force in 1975 and 1997, banning biological and chemical weapons, respectively. These agreements may be hard to enforce, but they confirm that the global community deems the use of such weapons morally repugnant.

      The U.N.’s Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, advanced by civil society in partnership with nonnuclear states, came into force in January 2021. It aspires to “completely eliminate” nuclear weapons. None of the nuclear-weapons states signed on. But the U.S. and Russia are both signatories of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty of 1970, in which nations without nuclear weapons agreed to never acquire them; in exchange, they got access to peaceful nuclear technology and, crucially, a promise from nuclear-armed nations to eventually eliminate nuclear weapons….

A Better Way to Clean Solar Panels

[These excerpts are from an article by Carolyn Wilke in the 4 December 2021 David L. Chandler in the May/June 2022 issue of MIT News.]

      …But the accumulation of dust on solar panels or mirrors can reduce the output of photovoltaic panels by as much as 30% in just one month.

      The regular cleaning that solar panels require currently is estimated to use about 10 billion gallons of water per year—enough to supply drinking water for up to 2 million people. Water cleaning also makes up about 10% of the operating costs of solar installations since water typically has to be trucked in from a distance and must be very pure to avoid leaving deposits on the surfaces. But waterless cleaning methods are less effective and labor-intensive and tend to scratch the panels, which also reduces their efficiency.

      Now, MIT researchers have devised a waterless, no-contact system to automatically clean solar panels or the mirrors of solar thermal plants. The new system uses electrostatic repulsion to cause dust particles to detach from the panel’s surface, without water or brushes….The system…can be operated automatically using a simple electric motor and guide rails along the side of the panel.

Smoking Gun

[These excerpts are from an article by Jennifer Chu in the May/June 2022 issue of MIT News.]

      …A team led by environmental studies professor Susan Solomon showed that in March 2020, shortly after the fires subsided, nitrogen dioxide in the stratosphere dropped sharply, which is the first step in a chemical cascade known to end in ozone depletion. The researchers found that this drop in nitrogen dioxide directly correlates with the amount of smoke that the fires released into the stratosphere. They estimate that this smoke-induced chemistry depleted the column of ozone by 1% for several months, canceling out the roughly 1% ozone recovery from earlier ozone decreases that had been achieved through the phaseout of ozone-depletting gases.

      …Solomon wondered whether smoke from the Australian fires, which went as high as 35 kilometers, could have depleted ozone through a chemistry similar to volcanic aerosols. Major volcanic eruptions can also reach into the stratosphere, and in 1989, Solomon discovered that the particles in these eruptions can destroy ozone through a series of chemical reactions. As the particles form in the atmosphere, they gather moisture on their surfaces. Once wet, the particles can react with circulating chemicals in the stratosphere, including dinitrogen pentoxide, which reacts with the particles to form nitric acid.

      Normally, dinitrogen pentoxide reacts with the sun to form various nitrogen species, including nitrogen dioxide, a compound that binds with chlorine-containing chemicals in the stratosphere. When volcanic smoke converts dinitrogen pentoxide into nitric acid, nitrogen dioxide drops, and the chlorine compounds take another path, morphing into chlorine monoxide, which destroys ozone….

A Superhero Polymer

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

      …Unlike all other polymers, which form one-dimensional, spaghetti-like chains of building blocks called monomers, the new material self-assembles into 2D sheets. Scientists have long hypothesized that if polymers could be induced to grow into such a sheet, they should form extremely strong, lightweight materials. Yet many decades of work led to the conclusion that it was impossible. One reason was that if just one monomer rotates up or down, out of the plane of the growing sheet, the material will begin expanding in three dimensions and the 2D structure will be lost.

      To create the monomer building blocks, Strano's lab used a compound called melamine, which contains a ring of carbon and nitrogen atoms, for the monomer building blocks. Under the right conditions, these monomers can grow in two dimensions, forming discs. These discs stack on top of each other, held together by powerful hydrogen bonds between the layers….

      Because the material, called 2DPA-1, self-assembles, it’s easy to produce in large quantities. Its elastic modulus—the force it takes to deform a material—is between four and six times greater than that of bulletproof glass. The force required to break it is twice that of steel, even though it's about one-sixth as dense. And while other polymers are made from coiled chains with gaps that allow gases to seep through, 2DPA-1 is made from monomers that lock together like Lego bricks, so molecules cannot get between them….

Flushing Our Future

[These excerpts are from an article in the Spring 2022 issue of the Friends of the Earth Newsmagazine.]

      Canada’s boreal forest is home to treasured wildlife, including billions of songbirds, boreal caribou, and wood bison. Over 600 Indigenous communities have lived and relied on the forest for thousands of years. It is also Earth’s largest terrestrial carbon sink, storing millions of tons of carbon and aiding in our fight against climate change….

      While competitors Trader Joe’s and 365 Bath Tissue have begun using recycled content for toilet paper, P&G continues to insist on sourcing virgin fiber for its products. The company refuses to acknowledge its contribution to the destruction of this crucial forest and its delicate ecosystems….

      In Indonesia, P&G works with suppliers that are trampling on Indigenous Peoples’ rights and territories while causing massive deforestation. Several of the company’s suppliers of palm oil—used in products like Head & Shoulders and Gillette—are linked to human rights abuses. Local farmers have reported rights violations, stolen land, and polluted water, due to the devastating plantation-style business model favored by agribusiness companies….

Animals on the Move

[These excerpts are from an article by David J. Craig in the Spring/Summer 2022 of Columbia.]

      The Alaskan tundra, a vast, windswept, and treeless region at the edge of the Arctic Circle, is a place of stunning natural beauty. In winter, the area is blanketed by darkness, and polar bears, wolves, foxes, and lynx rule the snow-covered landscape. In summer, when the sun floats above the horizon for nearly twenty-four hours a day, temperatures routinely hit the mid-sixties, and the tundra springs to life. Patches of grass, wildflowers, moss, and shrubs emerge from beneath the melting snow; thundering herds of caribou, moose, and musk ox travel north to feast on the lush vegetation; and millions of birds from all over the world, drawn by a bounty of insects, worms, and berries, swoop in to mate and raise families.

      But this pristine landscape, and the intricate web of life that it supports, is under stress. Climate change is warming the Arctic twice as fast as the rest of the planet and is altering the habitats not only of its native species but of the countless migratory wayfarers who summer there….

      Dozens of animal species that survive on the tundra are already known to be endangered — including caribou, foxes, grizzly bears, moose, polar bears, bison, musk ox, red-breasted geese, and spoon-billed sandpipers — but Boelman’s ambitious, big-data approach to ecological research has yielded additional discoveries. She and her colleagues, who include scientists from a half dozen universities and numerous US and Canadian government agencies, have found that because spring now begins here two weeks earlier than it used to, the migration schedules of some birds, including golden eagles, are falling out of sync with the shifting seasons. The researchers fear that this could leave the eagles too little time to raise their young before the summer’s abundant food supplies run out. Warmer temperatures have also brought swarms of bloodthirsty mosquitoes, which are weakening female caribou and causing them to be late getting to their calving grounds. This could endanger their offspring, since calves need time to learn to walk before the first snowfall.

      Wolves and black bears, meanwhile, are growing more lethargic in the summer heat, which may impair their ability to hunt. Such divergence in the behaviors of predators and prey can spell serious trouble for any ecosystem. And problems on the tundra could have cataclysmic ripple effects. Whether migratory birds can successfully breed, for example, is vital for ecosystems worldwide….

The Forest Forecast

[This excerpt is from an article by Fred Pearce in the 20 May 2022 issue of Science.]

      …All around the Arctic Circle, trees are invading as the climate warms. In Norway, birch and pine are marching poleward, eclipsing the tundra. In Alaska, spruce are taking over from moss and lichen. Globally, recent research indicates forests are expanding along two-thirds of Earth’s 12,000-kilometer-long northern tree line—the point where forests give way to tundra—while receding along just 1%....

      But the calculus of forests’ climate effects is far from straightforward, and emerging re-search suggests a more forested world won’t necessarily be a cooler world. New forests could enhance warming in some areas, for example, by reducing the amount of sunlight that is reflected into space. Over time, that could offset any gains in carbon absorption….

      To account for how forests will affect future climate, researchers must not only tally current trends, such as development-driven deforestation, but also forecast how powerful forces such as surges in wildfire and warmer temperatures might affect forests, sometimes helping and sometimes harming their ability to soak up atmospheric carbon….

      But ongoing warming is working against tropical forests, even those that are still intact. An international study that has tracked 300,000 trees in more than 500 plots of intact tropical forests over 30 years finds that even without deforestation, their ability to capture CO2 peaked in the 1990s and has since declined by one-third. The decline began in the Amazon, and since 2010 has extended to tropical Africa….Remote-sensing techniques that assess changes in the total leaf area produced by trees and other plants also suggest many tropical forests are slowing their carbon intake….

      But it turns out forests can warm the planet, too, primarily by changing the reflectivity, or albedo, of land surfaces. Gleaming surfaces such as fresh snow have an albedo of 0.8 to 0.9 (on a scale from zero to one), meaning they bounce a lot of solar energy back into space. In contrast, a continuous canopy of broadleaf trees can have an albedo of just 0.15, meaning the trees absorb solar energy and radiate it in the form of heat. A canopy of conifers can have an even lower albedo: 0.08….

The Court Is Ignoring Science

[These excerpts are from an editorial by Diana Greene Foster in the 20 May 2022 issue of Science.]

      A recently leaked draft opinion indicated that the US Supreme Court is prepared to overturn Roe v. Wade as early as next month in the matter of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. In doing so, the Justices won’t just be disregarding decades of precedent. They’ll also be disregarding ample evidence of abortion’s positive impact on patients’ health and well-being.

      In Roe v. Wade (1973), the Court struck down a Texas law criminalizing abortion and held that the Constitution protects the right to decide whether to end a pregnancy. Justice Samuel Alito’s leaked opinion in Dobbs stems from the idea that abortion rights are not mentioned in the Constitution or rooted in US history. But we, as a society, are equipped with more factual information today than the framers of the Constitution were. There is a long history of Supreme Court abortion decisions drawing on evidence. In Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt (2016), the Court emphasized the importance of considering data when reviewing abortion restrictions. It is critical now that the Court adhere to precedent and insist that constitutional rights be guided by evidence, not by ideology….

      The research revealed that patients who were able to receive an abortion were more than six times more likely to report aspirational 1-year plans than those who were denied one. They are more likely to have a wanted child later and better able to take care of the children they already have. Because the majority of abortion patients are already parents, this means that being able to obtain an abortion has powerful, multi-generational impacts.

      By contrast, if people are forced to carry a pregnancy to term, they are more likely to experience lasting financial hardships. After being denied an abortion, women had three times greater odds of being unemployed than those who obtained abortions and had four times higher odds of being below the federal poverty level.

      Their physical and mental health are also at risk: Women unable to obtain an abortion said they had more symptoms of anxiety, lower self-esteem, and lower life satisfaction. They were more likely to report “fair or poor” health than those who had received abortions. And, again, their families feel the effects: Patients report more difficulty bonding with their baby, and their older children have worse developmental outcomes and are more likely to live in poverty….

Mammals Grew Big and then Got Smart

[These excerpts are from an article by Carolyn Gramling in the 7 & 21 May 2022 issue of Science News.]

      …Modern mammals have the largest brains in the animal kingdom relative to body size. How and when that brain evolution happened is a mystery. One idea has been that the disappearance of all nonbird dinosaurs following an asteroid impact at the end of the Mesozoic Era 66 million years ago left a vacuum for mammals, particularly in certain sensory mammals to fill….Recent regions, the team reports. discoveries of fossils from the Paleocene — the postextinction epoch spanning 66 million to 56 million years ago — do reveal a flourishing menagerie of weird and wonderful mammal species, many much bigger than their Mesozoic predecessors….It was the dawn of the Age of Mammals….

      What the team found was a shock: Relative to their body sizes, Paleocene mammals had brains that were smaller than those of Mesozoic mammals. It wasn’t until the Eocene that brains began to grow in many different groups of mammals, particularly in certain sensory regions….

      The really big brain changes came in the neocortex, which is responsible for visual processing, memory and motor control, among other skills. Those kinds of changes are metabolically costly….

      So as the world shook off the dust of the mass extinction, brawn was the priority for mammals, helping them swiftly spread out into newly available ecological niches….But after 10 million years or so, the metabolic calculations had changed, and competition within those niches was ramping up. As a result, mammals began to develop new skills that could help them snag hard-to-reach fruit from a branch, escape a predator or catch prey….

Food Choices

[These excerpts are from an article by Betsy Ladyzhets in the 7 & 21 May 2022 issue of Science News.]

      …The United States and the European Union are on the list because of heavy meat consumption. In the United States, meat and other animal products contribute the vast majority of food-related emissions….

      Waste is also a huge issue in the United States: More than one-third of food produced never actually gets eaten, according to a 2021 report from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. When food goes uneaten, the resources used to produce, transport and package it are wasted. Plus, the uneaten food goes into landfills, which produce methane, carbon dioxide and other gases as the food decomposes….

      “If we eat 100 calories of grain, like maize or soybeans, we get that 100 calories,” he explains. All the energy from the food is delivered directly to the person who eats it. But if the 100 calories’ worth of grain is instead fed to a cow or a pig, when the animal is killed and processed for food, just one-tenth of the energy from that 100 calories of grain goes to the person eating the animal….

      Developed countries like the United States — which have been heavy meat consumers for decades can have a big impact by changing food choices. Indeed, a paper published in Nature Food in January shows that if the populations of 54 high-income nations switched to a plant-focused diet, annual emissions from these countries’ agricultural production could drop by more than 60 percent.

U.N. Report Calls for Climate Action Now

[These excerpts are from an article by Carolyn Gramling and Nikk Ogasa in the 7 & 21 May 2022 issue of Science News.]

      …Global warming is fueling extreme weather events around the world, and Earth is on track to warm by an average of about 3.2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century….Altering that course and limiting warming to 1.5 degrees or even 2 degrees C means global greenhouse gas emissions should peak no later than 2025, the report states….

      Those tools are strategies that governments, industries and individuals can use to cut emissions immediately in multiple sectors of the global economy, including transportation, energy, urban development, agriculture and forestry. Taking immediate action to reduce emissions in each sector could halve global emissions by 2030, the report states….

      Urban areas contributed 67 to 72 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions in 2020, the report notes. To cut emissions, buildings in established cities could be retrofitted with systems that capture greenhouse gases and repurposed to make the cities more walkable and public transportation more accessible. Cities that are just getting established could incorporate energy-efficient infrastructure and construct buildings using low- or zero-emissions materials.

      …Reforestation and reduced deforestation are key to flipping the balance between carbon dioxide emissions and removal from the atmosphere. Other strategies at the world’s fingertips include more sustainable management of ecosystems, livestock, crops and soil….

Cellulose Helps Ice Cream Go Down Smooth

[These excerpts are from an article by Anna Gibbs in the 7 & 21 May 2022 issue of Sciencen News.]

      You can never have too much ice cream, but you can have too much ice in your ice cream. Adding plant-based nanocrystals to the frozen treat could help solve the problem….

      Small ice crystals in ice cream grow bigger when temperature fluctuations in freezers cause the crystals to melt and reform. Stabilizers such as guar gum slow crystal growth, but don’t stop it. Once ice crystals hit 50 micrometers across, ice cream takes on a grainy texture.

      Plant-derived cellulose nanocrystals, or CNCs, have properties similar to guar gum. An experiment with a sucrose solution — an ice cream proxy — and CNCs showed that after 24 hours, ice crystals stopped growing and remained at 25 micrometers after a week, well under the graininess threshold. In a test with guar gum, ice crystals grew to over 50 micrometers in just three days….Plant-derived cellulose nanocrystals, or CNCs, have properties similar to guar gum. An experiment with a sucrose solution — an ice cream proxy — and CNCs showed that after 24 hours, ice crystals stopped growing and remained at 25 micrometers after a week, well under the graininess threshold. In a test with guar gum, ice crystals grew to over 50 micrometers in just three days….

The Becoming of the Human Brain

[These excerpts are from a book review by R. Douglas Fields in the 13 May 2022 issue of Science.]

      Nothing in biology is more miraculous than the transformation of a fertilized egg into a complete organism. Contained within this process are all of genetics, the core of cell biology, and the imprints of evolution. The human brain in particular—formed from a teeming ball of embryonic cells—transcends anatomy to generate identity; personality, and comprehension, which make each new life different from all others….

      The narrative then jumps to genetic inheritance and single-cell organisms such as the paramecium to build an argument that “many properties that are characteristic of the brain were already encoded in the DNA of our single-cell ancestors.” A brief tour of comparative neuroanatomy—from jellyfish to humans—comes next. Then the story detours to consider the fate of a single frog egg after fertilization. The remaining portion of the first chapter proceeds through the embryological milestones of forming a blastula, gastrulation, and the rise of the neural plate, which furrows and folds into the neural tube—the forerunner of the brain and spinal cord. Subsequent chapters discuss how the general body plan is formed, the proliferation and differentiation of neurons, and the broader topics of neural plasticity and human brain evolution.

      At this point, Harris confronts a seemingly unfathomable question: How do the roughly 100 billion neurons in the human brain get wired up properly? The specific labeling of each connection is mathematically impossible. Instead, the nervous system wires itself up by refining circuitry on the basis of performance. Countless connections in a baby’s brain are winnowed away, its axons and dendrites pruned, and nubile neurons and nascent synapses that are less competitive in performance are eventually eliminated.

      The final chapter considers the questions of what makes the human brain so different from all others and what makes your brain so different from every other human’s. In large measure, the answer is found at the intersection of biology and society. Our brains continue to develop after birth, guided by the experiences we have in the environment we are born into….

Your Brain on Air Pollution

[These excerpts are from an article by Candace Pearson in the Spring 2022 issue of USC Trojan Family.]

      …Medical science has long recognized the impact of air pollution on the lungs, but now research at USC is helping define the environment’s impact on the brain. Growing evidence links the long-term effects of dirty air to accelerated cognitive decline and dementia….

      The USC Children’s Health Study, launched in 1993 and now involving about 12,000 school-age children, is one of the nation’s largest and longest-running research projects on children's respiratory health. Its researchers have contributed crucial data that have deepened understanding of lung health, including evidence that kids who live in more polluted areas have poorer lung function, reduced lung growth, and more asthma and lung damage than those in less-polluted areas….

      Air pollution wreaks havoc primarily through systemic inflammation, Finch says, and that exposure can lead to the formation of amyloid plaques, the proteins that form between the brain’s nerve cells that are the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s….

      The microscopic particles can pass directly through the nose or lungs and slip through the blood-brain barrier, which is supposed to protect our brains from all invaders….

      Air pollulion also can affect children’s brain development….These pathways are critical because they form the essential brain circuitry that supports future learning and life skills. Lately, she’s focusing on kids 9 to 10, ages at which, she says, brain cells proliferate and prune themselves as kids head into adolescence. Herting’s team has demonstrated that kids exposed to noxious air have smaller areas in their brains associated with cognitive function and larger areas associated with emotion than kids breathing less-polluted air….

The Policy Changes We Need to Get There

[These excerpts are from an article by Linda Darling-Hammond in the May 2022 issue of Kappan.]

      The anatomy of inequality in the United States begins with the highest rates of child poverty in the industrialized world: More than one in five children lives in a family whose income is below the federal poverty line, and 7% live in deep poverty on household incomes of less than $14,000 a year for a family of four. These families — disproportionately Black, Latinx, Pacific Islander, and Native American — experience high and growing rates of homelessness and food insecurity. They are increasingly segregated by race and class in redlined communities where jobs and services are scarce, and where hazards ranging from regular violence to toxic waste sites pose significant health and learning barriers for children and families….

      In short, the belief that only some students are worthy of investment —and that students need to be ranked and sorted according to their potential —is deeply rooted in the organizational design of our schools, our funding priorities, our testing and grading policies, and our systems for tracking and labeling students (into, for example, gifted programs, remedial classes, special education categories, and test rankings indicating whether they perform “above” or “below” the norm)….

      The large urban schools that most low-income students of color attend are often run like huge warehouses, housing 2,000 or more students in a facility focused more on controlling behavior than on developing community. With a locker as their only stable point of contact, young people cycle through as many as six to eight classes per day. Rarely do they get to see a school counselor, who must try to meet the “personal needs” of hundreds of students at once. Most students experience such high schools as uncaring, even adversarial environments where “getting over” becomes the priority and “getting known” is impossible. Indeed, in a large national survey, fewer than 30% of middle and high school students said their school was a caring environment….

      Educators and policy makers have sought to reform this model countless times in the last century. Some have tried to perfect it: At the turn of the 21st century, for instance, the federal government required states to adopt high-stakes annual standardized testing as the lever for change. Though intended to drive more equitable outcomes, the tests were not accompanied by greater resources, and their focus on low-level multiple-choice questions reduced attention to higher-order thinking skills, often leading to a prescriptive curriculum that required teachers to ignore children’s needs and modes of learning….

A Chronicle of Kappan’s Coverage of the Reading Wars

[These excerpts are from an article by Teresa Preston in the May 2022 issue of Kappan.]

      …Although the popularity of phonics instruction has waxed and waned since then, most educators have viewed it as a major way to teach reading (if not necessarily the major way). And researchers have continued to seek evidence of its efficacy….

      …studied 10 approaches to reading instruction, five of which used what they called the analytic method, in which children begin by learning whole words, and five of which used the synthetic method, in which children begin by learning letter-sound relationships and how to combine letters into words. They analyzed how well students being taught with each program performed on assessments of word reading, paragraph meaning, vocabulary, spelling, and word study skills and found that, for the most part, results favored the more phonics-based synthetic method. When analytic methods performed better, they observed, the differences were small….

      In February 1992, Frank Smith…suggested that the debate over methods was missing the point. The real argument about reading instruction had to do with different philosophies about how people learn. Is it formal and deliberate, which would align with phonics, or informal and spontaneous, which would align with a whole language approach? Smith favored a more spontaneous model, but he expressed concern that whole language approaches were being implemented in systems that were too structured….

      However, Richard Allington…urged readers to remember that research has limits: “I think everyone can agree that children differ. Therein lies what worries me about “evidence-based” policy making in education. Good teaching, effective teaching, is not just about using whatever science says "usually" works best. It is all about finding out what works best for the individual child and the group of children in front of you….”

Discrimination Unearthed

[These excerpts are from an article by Joanna Foster in the Spring 2022 issue of EDF’s Solutions.]

      …Lead, a powerful neurotoxin known to cause irreversible organ and cognitive damage in children and adults, leaches from lead pipes into drinking water.

      With an estimated 27,500 full or partial lead service lines — the pipes that bring water from the water main in the street to a home — in its service area, you'd think Providence Water would be in a hurry to eliminate the risk. It is not.

      In common with many other utilities, when Providence Water performs work on water mains, it replaces the portion of the lead service line on public property, but leaves the part from the curb to the residence unless the customer pays for its replacement. At a cost of up to $4,500, the result is that low-income residents and many renters, the majority of whom are people of color in Rhode Island, are often left with sections of lead pipes….

      With the Biden administration committed to replacing all lead pipes, and $15 billion already set aside in the bipartisan infrastructure law to get the work started, public health advocates say it has never been more important to make sure that states use these federal dollars to replace pipes equitably….

Fishing for a Future

[These excerpts are from an article by Tom Clynes in the Spring 2022 issue of EDF’s Solutions.]

      …many of the estimated 820 million people who depend on marine foods for their livelihoods are seeing catches and incomes plummet. A combination of destructive harvesting, pollution, climate change and coastal development is degrading already stressed ocean ecosystems and reducing fishery yields. For the past three decades, the human demand for wild fish has far outpaced what the world’s waters can reproduce. Today, more than one-third of fish stocks are below biologically sustainable levels.

      The tropics have been hit especially hard, as waters overheated by climate change cause prized species to migrate poleward to the cooler waters they prefer. The smaller, nutrient-rich fish that remain are increasingly scooped up by high-volume fishing op6rations to sell in faraway countries. Without drastic action, many tropical developing nations could see catches fall another 40% by the 2050s.

      By then, the planet’s population is projected to have grown by more than 25%, making declining catches a food-security c’ncern as well as an economic and environmental one. More than 3 billion people rely on seafood as a vital source of protein in their diets, and billions more depend on it for essential nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids, calcium and iron….

      Despite the dire outlook, many experts believe that foods captured or cultivated from the ocean or other waterways —sometimes called blue foods — could be the most promising way to sustainably feed growing populations while adapting to, and even slowing, climate change….

      Peruvian anchovy, for instance, is rich in iron and protein and has some of the highest concentrations of certain fatty acids of any fish species. But when it’s sold overseas these nutrients are unavailable to the 21% of Peruvian women who suffer from anemia. In West Africa, where one-third of children under five years of age are stunted due to malnutrition, the local catch could meet the nutritional needs of people living near the ocean — and yet the global demand for fish meal has pushed the price of locally caught fish beyond the reach of many families….

Forgotten but Not Gone

[These excerpts are from an article by Shanti Menon in the Spring 2022 issue of EDF’s Solutions.]

      …Across the country, states have documented the location of more than 130,000 “orphan” wells — abandoned, unsealed wells whose owners went bust, vanished or were never recorded. Documentation is so poor, in fact, that experts estimate the actual number of orphans is far greater — likely more than 1 million across the country. They exist anywhere that anyone ever drilled for oil, from urban Los Angeles to suburban Pennsylvania, from Texas oil fields to the woods of upstate New York. They’ve been found under schools, near homes and in gardens.

      Unsealed, abandoned wells can leak oil, gas, super-salty brine and harmful chemicals into the soil and water and emit climate-warming methane into the atmosphere. Methane leaks from forgotten wells have even caused explosions, such as a 2021 blast that leveled three buildings in downtown Wheatley, Ontario, injuring 20 people. At least 9 million Americans live within a mile of a known orphan well.

      This spring, for the first time, the federal government will start disbursing $4.7 billion to states to plug orphan wells….

      In truth, the $4.7 billion from Washington is just a downpayment. The cost of plugging documented orphans alone could exceed $8 billion, according to state estimates….

      The federal package will reward states that come up with stronger regulations to prevent future orphans — like ensuring that oil and gas companies put more money into the system for plugging….

The Changing Story of Seafood

[This excerpt is from a book review by Olaf P. Jensen in the 6 May 2022 issue of Science.]

      …In the book’s first section, he recounts the transition of wild-capture fisheries in New England from a lawless coastal version of the Wild West to the highly regulated system in place today. Until the mid-1990s, fishing operations competed in a “race to fish” free-for-all: the more you caught, the more you earned, and if you did not catch a fish, someone else would. Fish populations suffered the consequences.

      Today, all aspects of a US fishing trip are tightly circumscribed. When, where, and how to fish are governed by regulation. Fishing operations must call in to let fishery managers know that they are starting a trip and then file reports on what they caught. The cowboys have been reined in by paperwork, and the outlaws—Sullivan focuses on the colorful “Codfather” Carlos Rafael, who bought up much of the New Bedford fishing fleet with proceeds from illegal cod—have been brought to justice.

      A whole ecosystem of businesses connecting fish catchers to fish eaters has recently sprung up. Sullivan tells the stories of numerous entrepreneurs who have found a niche, marketing seafood to discerning buyers—both restaurants and retailers—who want their fish to be not only fresh but also sustainable and local….

      It is not until the end of this section that Sullivan gets to the root of what has kept US aquaculture small: the lack of an efficient permitting process. Here, he quotes Scott Flood, an ocean engineer and lawyer, on the limitations of bluewater aquaculture: “It’s all in the permitting, as the technology is pretty well understood....”

Faculty Must Lead Inclusion

[These excerpts are from an editorial by Freeman A. Hrabowski III in the 6 May 2022 issue of Science.]

      …ultimately, it is the commitment of professors and teaching staff that determines whether students—all students—can pursue their interests and achieve their goals. It takes high expectations for both students and educators….

      For university leaders to achieve long-term sustainable change in diversity and inclusion, they need to bring faculty into this work as allies in a “high expectation” strategy. Staff members offer crucial support, providing advice, professional development, and programming. Faculty create an empowering culture in which students find a sense of community and help each other study and learn. Because of this, university leaders want faculty to rethink the way they teach, redesigning courses to emphasize active and team-based learning, for example….

      …Working with faculty, leaders can discuss information to understand problems, brainstorm solutions, and agree on a plan. Educators who have had success with underrepresented minority students should be invited to speak with the faculty. They can provide insight and inspire faculty members to become allies and champions by taking a lead in changing STEM education. Minority students can be invited to speak about their experiences as well….

      It takes broad institutional commitment to produce scientists. Leaders set the tone, staff provide support, and faculty lead in the classroom and in the lab….

Hunt for Color

[These excerpts are from an article by Nico McCarty in the May 2022 issue of Scientific American.]

      …Tracking 1.3 million mosquito trajectories, his team found that the insects are drawn to red and orange light (which human skin prominently reflects, regardless of race) and avoid most greens and blues—but only in the presence of CO2….

      When Aedes aegypti mosquitoes were released into the tunnel, they did not investigate objects colored to match human skin until carbon dioxide was added. When it was, the mosquitoes flocked to the objects. Filtering out orange and red light halted the attraction. In another experiment, the researchers introduced mutations in the mosquitoes’ photoreceptors to suppress their vision for Ionger light wavelengths like red. This also stopped their swarming toward human skin tones, as did mutating a CO2-sensing receptor….

      Other insects also use smell to cue visual preference. Female Asian swallowtail butterflies, for instance, “make color choices depending on the odor,” Kelber says. In a laboratory setting without scents, they preferentially land on blue objects. But when swallowtails smell a larval host plant to lay eggs on, she adds, they move toward green. Smelling oranges or lilies shifts their preference to red….

Catching Wind

[These excerpts are from an article by Jennifer Bell in the May/June 2022 issue of Discover.]

      …Construction began in November, with expectations that the 800-megawatt Vineyard Wind farm will be producing electricity by 2023. And this past February, the U.S. hosted an auction for six wind leases off the coast of New York and New Jersey. The opportunity attracted more than a dozen bidders and the plots finally went for more than $4.3 billion, signaling exceptional appetite for U.S. offshore wind….

      Hitting the 2030 goal will create approximately 80,000 jobs in the U.S. and offset 86 million tons of carbon dioxide….

      In terms of the environment and social impact, offshore wind is actually easier to develop than land-bound projects….

      The U.S. seems to be coming around to the offshore wind advantage. In 2008, the U.S. Department of Energy declared a goal of achieving 20 percent wind energy by 2030. As of 2020, the country was at 8.4 percent, with nearly 100 percent of that coming from landbound systems….

      If determining the ecological cost proves difficult, pinpointing the economic cost is perhaps more so….Factors to consider include wind speed (higher winds generate more power), financing and capital costs for structure foundations and cables, often buried under the seafloor. In an area with high wind speeds, it may take just under 10 years to pay off the investment. But…it can range from roughly five to 15 years to reach profitability….

The State of Our Environment

[These excerpts are from an article by David Holahan in the April 2022 issue of Connecticut Magazine.]

      …Or take lobsters, which were once so abundant in Long Island Sound they would wash ashore in piles 2 feet high. But what was so easily obtained was little valued —Native Americans gathered lobsters to fertilize their crops and bait their fishhooks, while colonists deemed them as fodder for the help: indentured servants and enslaved people, and for children and prisoners, too. Today, lobsters largely have departed from Connecticut waters. The commercial harvest declined 97 percent from 1998 to 2019, according to the Connecticut Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ). Long Island Sound is steadily warming, and commercially viable lobster populations are now found elsewhere in New England, at least for the time being….

      Katharine Hepburn, who narrated the 1965 documentary The Long Tidal River, described the Connecticut River as “the world’s most beautifully landscaped cesspool.” It had served for more than a century—like virtually all of the state’s waterways—as a convenient repository for industrial, agricultural and human waste. In the previous century, Mark Twain had dubbed the smallish Park River near his Hartford home as “the meandering slime….”

      Today the Connecticut River heads an impressive list of waterways that are largely safe for fishing and swimming, and that support healthy and growing populations of fish-eating raptors, such as osprey and bald eagles, along with shorebirds like egrets and herons. Dozens of fish species ply the state’s rivers, including native trout, American shad and the prehistoric-looking shortnose sturgeon….

      With Connecticut’s population qua-drupling since 1900, from less than a million to 3.6 million residents, the persistent question is how such a densely settled state can conserve its heritage of land, waters and wildlife for future generations….

Rethinking the “Western” Revolution in Science

[These excerpts are from a book review by Jorge Canizares-Esguerra in the 29 April 2022 issue of Science.]

      …The fall of Constantinople in 1453 triggered an influx of texts, exiles, and learned captives into Europe, and Copernicus drew on these resources when formulating his heliocentric theory of the Universe. It was therefore, in Poskett’s estimation, the combined effort of many scholars, rather than the work of a lone genius, that led to the demise of Aristotelian and Ptolemaic geocentric models.

      Similarly, Poskett demonstrates how all the key evidence Isaac Newton relied on to revitalize physics came from comparative studies conducted in equatorial and Arctic locations. To reach isolated islands in the Pacific to obtain such data, nations needed considerable seafaring capabilities. Ultimately, Poskett argues, it was the Atlantic slave trade that made the accumulation of evidence for Newtonian physics possible….

      It was the pursuit of communication in scattered imperial polities that led to breakthroughs in telegraphy and radio, particularly in Russia, Japan, and China, argues Poskett. The rush to industrialization in the 19th century, in turn, sparked much research in chemistry. During this period, the Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev spearheaded inquiries into the periodic table, and the Japanese physicist Hantaro Nagaoka headed up efforts that led to the first model of the atom….

      Poskett’s main contribution with this book is to demonstrate that “European” knowledge has long been the result of global efforts and that science is intimately attached to colonialism, capitalism, slavery, industrialization, and geopolitical conflict. Poskett offers countless examples of non-European scientists whose research changed the sciences in radical new ways….

The Voices We Need to Hear

[These excerpts are from an article by Joshua P. Starr in the April 2022 issue of Kappan.]

      …the many difficulties of the last two years have landed on the very people who are doing hard and heroic work in our schools every day, leaving our schools with fewer and fewer people who want to do the job (a trend we’re already seeing and that could have far-reaching implications)….

      …educators rare feeling the collective stress and anxiety that is tearing our country apart. They’re being blamed for the failures of local, state, and national leadership. It’s not the fault of a superintendent or school board members that they’re getting mixed messages and guidance, or even silence, from public health officials. It’s not the fault of principals and teachers that students are acting out and employees are absent due to illness or childcare issues. It is, though, the responsibility of leaders at the highest level to speak clearly and truthfully about what educators on the ground are facing. When educators see their work come under fire, whether from parents angry about COVID-mitigation policies or politicians objecting to equity initiatives, they need more than aspirational statements about what we can achieve when we work together. They need their leaders to tell their story.

      Leaders at the highest levels need to start forcefully arguing that schools alone are neither the cause of the problems we’re facing nor the sole solution. Many of the problems our public schools face are the manifestations of multiple decisions that have been made throughout our collective history, largely by white men. The choices to fund schools through property taxes, to prevent poor kids from attending schools in affluent neighborhoods, and to keep teacher salaries low were all made because of specific assumptions about how society should work, and those assumptions are now so deeply embedded in our system that efforts to make change are easily stymied….

      …Debates over COVID mitigation strategies have exposed the fault lines that have always run through our society. Leaders have had to balance the need to protect all children, especially those whose disabilities put them at risk, with some parents’ desire to keep their children free from masks….At the same tithe, legislators are muzzling educators who want to teach our children the truth about our history because it might make a few children (or their parents) uncomfortable, and books are being banned because a few people object to the messages within them. Never mind how many children have been made uncomfortable by sanitized history lessons and how many have benefited from the messages in books others would take away from them….

Coming to Terms with the Power of Teaching

[These excerpts are from an article by Deborah Loewenberg Ball in the April 2022 issue of Kappan.]

      …Imagining teaching toward a more just society entails confronting why ordinary teaching so effectively conserves and reproduces what is “normal.”…These aims were reinforced by the development of “normal schools,” aptly named institutions dedicated to training teachers, whose purpose was to align teaching with societal needs and values, explicitly those of a white supremacist and Christian society.

      These roots of contemporary public schooling have been durable and have foundationally shaped the practice of teaching. Designed for white children, the common schools employed white teachers, mostly women, themselves raised in the values that teaching sought to promote….Emphatically normalizing white supremacy and Christianity, white educators enforced separate systems for Black and Indigenous children. In the case of Native children, white reformers brutally removed them from their families, effecting mass assimilation and destruction of Indigenous knowledge, language, and centuries-old community traditions for raising young humans…

      These traditions that rooted the work of Black educators and that might have enriched “normal” practice in desegregated schools were lost in the aftermath of the 1954 Brown v. Board Supreme Court decision. This ruling promised a more just future for the education of Black children by uprooting the “separate but equal” logic of racial segregation….Instead, when schools were consolidated and desegregated, white school officials fired many thousands of Black educators, while retaining their white counterparts, which resulted in increased segregation, decimation of the Black teaching force, and a dramatic loss of Black principals….Black children were now taught by white teachers who lacked knowledge of Black families and communities and did not embody the pedagogical orientations held and enacted by Black teachers. And further, the collective knowledge of the overwhelmingly white teaching profession crucially lacked the wisdom and practice of the Black educators who lost their jobs. Norms of whiteness, including valued forms of behavior and creativity, forms of language, and control, were taken for granted as good and underscored deficit views of communities of color. In the aftermath of Brown, whiteness was reinforced….

      Baldwin points out that the goal of developing people who think critically and independently, who question and create, is, in fact, at odds with the perpet-uation of the social order: “What societies really, ideally, want is a citizenry which will simply obey the rules of society.” He argues that this goal of compliance to the existing order yields a “schizophrenic” identity for Black children. On one hand, they are educated as Americans, pledging allegiance to an ideal of “liberty and justice for all.” On the other hand, their education perpetuates myths about Black people, erases their culture and achievements, and distorts the nation’s history with respect to Black people and Indigenous nations and lands…. Despite rhetoric to the contrary, the education of Black and Brown children in white schooling has never been a liberatory or progressive project….

      One clear lesson is that we must prioritize the development of a diverse teaching force with the qualities needed to help children thrive. Almost half of Americans identify as people of color, as do more than half of children in school. Yet more than 80% of current teachers are white people, a consequence of the Brown v. Board decision. Black and Brown children are thus extremely unlikely to have teachers with whom they identify or who understand and share their experience. This is critical. For Black children, having even one same-race teacher across their K-12 experience significantly increases the probability of graduating from high school and enrolling in college….Further, the lack of role models means that students of color are less likely to see themselves as teachers, and less likely to become teachers, thus compounding and perpetuating the whiteness of the teaching force….White students, too, rarely have teachers of color, which leaves them without opportunities to learn from their experience and expertise. That the teaching force is so disproportionately white has consequences, too, for professional knowledge. That knowledge base continues to lack the contributions, wisdom, experience, and perspectives that would come from having a greater concentration of Black teachers and other teachers of color….

Evolving Views on Parental Engagement in Schools

[These excerpts are from an article by Teresa Preston in the April 2022 issue of Kappan.]

      …in December 1949, E.T. McSwain…pointed out that schools needed the support of parents to address a host of problems….but they could also play a part simply by helping their children with their schoolwork and encouraging them to develop good work habits….

      Similarly, in February 1981, Cy Rowell…urged educators to take a proactive approach to communicating with parents about what is happening in schools. Parents should not have to quiz their children to know what’s going on, and they should have opportunities to share in decision making….

      …In the April 2015 Kappan…Erin McNamara Horvat and David Baugh…pointed out that schools expect more and more from parents, and not all families have been able to meet the new demands….teachers sometimes assume that a lack of participation on the part of parents is a sign that they don’t care about their kids’ education. But, too often, the problem is that school-centered approaches to parent engagement fail to show care for families….

Paths to a Less Silent Spring

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

      …In 2019 a major study…showed that 29 percent of North American birds have vanished since 1970. The study was notable because of its sweep: it integrated data across scores of species and the different biomes birds live in, and it used a variety of approaches to validate its counts; an article published by the Audubon Society called the result “a sobering picture” of wide-spread avian decline. Grasslands were the hardest hit, with a documented loss of more than 700 million breeding individuals—a decline of more than 50 percent. But major declines occurred in every biome save one and in nearly every species. The net toll amounted to nearly three billion individual birds….

      …more than a third of all marine mammals are threatened. In all, biologists estimate that more than a million species are at risk. This also endangers human well-being….

      Still, the 2019 bird study, despite its grim results, also suggests 1 that protecting biodiversity (and thereby ourselves) is not a lost cause. One important exception in the otherwise bleak picture its scientists painted is wetlands (and the waterfowl that inhabit them). There bird abundance increased 13 percent. What distinguishes wetlands from other ecological areas? One answer is that wetlands have been especially shielded from excessive industrial activity for a long time. The areas have been under a host of legal protections on the federal, state and tribal level….

      The other encouraging exception in the bird study was raptors, a group that includes the majestic bald eagle. Raptor numbers have increased by 15 million individuals. Bald eagles were on the verge of extinction at the time Carson wrote, but they recovered in large part as a result of the ban on DDT….

Creek Revival

[These excerpts are from an article by Erica Gies in the April 20issue of Scientific American.]

      …For a large river the hyporheic zone can be dozens of feet deep and can extend up to a mile laterally beyond the banks. It keeps the waterway healthy by regulating critical physical, biological and chemical processes, including riverbed aeration, water oxygenation, temperature moderation, pollution cleanup and food creation. Some biologists compare the hyporheic zone to the human gut, complete with a microbiome. Others call it the liver of the river.

      A healthy hyporheic zone is full of life. Crustaceans, worms and aquatic insects constantly move between the zone and surface flow. Nematodes, copepods, rotifers and tardigrades also dig up and down, creating spaces for water to mix underground. Microbes proliferate throughout the zone. Water welling up from below brings oxygen to salmon eggs laid in the riverbed….

      The scientists sampled water packets before they entered the stretches of hyporheic and after they emerged and compared them with water flowing downstream above the stretches. The surface flow reduced the concentration of about 17 percent of the chemicals by at least half. The seven-foot stretch of the hyporheic reduced the concentration of 59 percent of the chemicals by at least half, and the 15-foot stretch reduced the concentration of 78 percent of the chemicals by at least half. Because water spent so little time in those short hyporheic stretches, the team thinks the pollutants mostly got stuck on sediments or biofflms rather than being broken down immediately by microbes, although that decomposition is common over longer time periods….

      The Thornton Creek findings are encouraging. The neighborhoods around the creek have not flooded since the restorations were finished in 2015, even during large storms. The stream’s temperature and flow are more consistent year-round. The city needs to dredge less often, saving money, and neighbors love spending time in the expanded green space. Yet the work also reveals how complex nature’s systems are and how difficult it can be to restore them once damaged….

      Still, small restorations cannot fully compensate for insults to long streams and rivers. “Stormwater runoff, biodiversity, flooding—these are watershed-scale problems….”

Let Oceans Breathe

[These excerpts are from an editorial by Nathalie Goodkin and Julie Pullen in the April 2022 issue of Scientific American.]

      …Much of the conversation around our climate crisis highlights the emission of greenhouse gases and their effect on warming, precipitation, sea-level rise and ocean acidification. We hear little about the effect of climate change on oxygen levels, particularly in oceans and lakes. But water without adequate oxygen cannot support life, and for the three billion people who depend on coastal fisheries for income, declining ocean oxygen levels are catastrophic….

      As the amount of carbon dioxide increases in the atmosphere, not only does it warm air by trapping radiation, it warms water. The interplay between oceans and the atmosphere is complex, but to put it simply, oceans have taken up about 90 percent of the excess heat created by climate change during the Anthropocene….warmer water holds less oxygen. This decrease in oxygen content, coupled with a large-scale die-off of oxygen-generating phytoplankton resulting not just from climate change but from plastic pollution and industrial runoff, compromises ecosystems, asphyxiating marine life and leading to further die-offs. Large swaths of the oceans have lost 10 to 40 percent of their oxygen, and that loss is expected to accelerate with climate change….

      As the financial world invests in climate change solutions, possibly including future geoengineering efforts such as iron fertilization, we run the risk of exacerbating oxygen loss. We need to evaluate potential unintended consequences of climate solutions for the full life-support system….

      Putting oxygen into the climate story motivates us to do the work to understand the deep systemic changes happening in our complex atmospheric and oceanic systems….Roughly 40 percent of the world’s people depend on the ocean for their livelihoods. If we do not save marine life from oxygen starvation, we starve ourselves.

How Life Recovered after ‘Earth’s Worst Day’

[These excerpts are from a book review by Sid Perkins in the 23 April 2022 issue of Science News.]

      Some 66 million years ago, give or take several millennia, a 10-kilometer-wide asteroid slammed into our planet. The impact blasted out an enormous crater and heaved large amounts of material into the atmosphere. Some of the sulfur-rich debris poisoned the sky, unleashing downpours of acid rain. Heat generated by ejecta falling back to Earth ignited wildfires worldwide that blazed for months, if not years. In the wake of the event, as many as 75 percent of all species were wiped out….

      …the largest part of Black’s book recounts how life rebounded in the 1 million years after the impact. Forest floors served as natural seed banks to feed surviving insects, birds and small mammals. These seeds, some of which had previously evolved to withstand wildfires, were also the sources of forests that grew back. Those initial forests were stubby and dominated by ferns for years. Some ecosystems— especially freshwater lakes and rivers whose waters were chemically buffered from acid rain by dissolved carbonates derived from limestones — emerged relatively unscathed and so species persisted there.

      Evolution is usually driven by gradual change, Black notes. But the dinosaur-killing impact was so abrupt and caused such extreme environmental changes that most species couldn’t adapt….

      Yet in devastation lay opportunities: Ecological roles that had been occupied by dinosaurs for at least 100 million years were suddenly available, setting the stage for the slow but steady rise of mammals and the world we inhabit today….

Forests Cool Earth in Multiple Ways

[These excerpts are from an article by Nikk Ogasa in the 23 April 2022 issue of Science News.]

      …Tropical forests help cool the average global temperature by about 1.5 degrees Celsius….The effect stems largely from forests’ capacity to capture and store atmospheric carbon. But about one-third of that tropical cooling effect comes from several other processes, such as the release of water vapor and aerosols….

      Researchers already knew that forests influence their local climates through various physical and chemical processes. Trees release water vapor through pores in their leaves — a process called evapotranspiration — and, like human sweating, this cools the trees and their surroundings. Uneven forest canopies can also have a cooling effect, as they provide an undulating surface that can bump hot, overpassing fronts of air upward and away. What’s more, trees generate aerosols that can lower temperatures by reflecting sunlight and seeding clouds.

      …Tropical forests, located from 30° N to 30° S, provided alternative benefits that cool the planet by about 0.5 degrees, about half as much cooling as carbon sequestration provided. About 0.2 degrees of that cooling came from forests in the core of the tropics (within 10° of the equator). Canopy topography generally provided the greatest cooling, followed by evapotranspiration and then aerosols.

      Forests in the far north, beyond 50° N, however, appear to have a net warming effect. Clearing the boreal forests in Canada, Alaska, Russia and Scandinavia would expose more snow cover during winter. This would decrease ground-level temperatures because snow reflects much of the incoming sunlight back into the sky. Still, looking at the world’s forests collectively, their net effect is to cool the global average temperature by about 0.5 degrees….

Inside the Dinosaurs’ Demise

[These excerpts are from a book review by Victoria Arbour in the 22 April 2022 issue of Science.]

      …Starting just a few days before the asteroid impact, Black centers the story on the animals present in the Hell Creek Formation of the western United States, a geological unit that has been extensively studied for more than 100 years and that provides the best window we have into the time before and after the mass extinction. Through the eyes of the inhabitants of Hell Creek, readers pass through the moment of impact and then the first hour, day, month, and year of the Cenozoic era.

      The story continues with chapters set one hundred, one thousand, one hundred thousand, and one million years after the asteroid impact, charting the slow but steady reshaping of the world. The final chapter includes a visit to a geological site preserving markers of the impact itself and reflections on the nature of mass extinction and what lessons humanity can take away from this singular event. Each chapter ends with a detour to somewhere else on the planet—Antarctica, India, and the Atlantic Ocean, for example—providing a global balance to this otherwise tightly focused narrative.

      Unlike the other mass extinctions recorded in the fossil record, extinction for most species at the end of the Cretaceous probably happened within a few hours or days after the asteroid impact….

      Many of the main players in the book’s first few chapters—Tyrannosaurus, Triceratops, and Ankylosaurus, to name a few—will be familiar to most readers. But the animals often overshadowed (metaphorically and literally) by dinosaurs are given some much-deserved attention here, too. Black recounts stories of lucky survivors whose descendants will be familiar to many readers—frogs, snakes, turtles, and crocodiles—and organisms that rarely get a mention in dinosaur stories, such as the planktonic coccoliths and coil-shelled ammonites. And of course, as the nonavian dinosaurs pass into history, we see the changes that happen to the ancestors of today's mammals, who evolved into new forms in the empty spaces created by the asteroid’s aftermath….

Animal Agriculturists

[These excerpts are from a book review by Julio C. Postigo and Joan E. Strassmann in the 22 April 2022issue of Science.]

      …Some insects have been agriculturalists for tens of millions of years longer than humans. It is therefore possible that we can learn from their agricultural practices to both improve our own and to see what our future might hold….

      …Agriculture itself they expected to be preceded by cultivation and domestication, where the former simply facilitates growth and proliferation of the crop, be it animal or plant, and the latter requires some form of genetic change that makes the crop more suitable for the farmer and less able to proliferate on its own.

      …its focus is on the relationship between macrotermitine termites and Termitomyces fungi more than 24 million years ago and the relationship between attine ants and their fungi more than 55 million years ago. In each of 4these cases, domestication of the fungus arose only once and caused their hosts to proliferate, making them dominant in their ecosystems….

      Perhaps the difference between these symbioses and those relationships we call agriculture lies only in that agriculture requires deliberate action and behavior and the other symbioses arise from processes that occur at the physiological or cellular level. But is this really a meaningful difference? If ants and termites cultivated plants rather than fungi, they would not have to perform the behavior of bringing in food, because plants and dinoflagellates grab their carbon from the air….

Pterosaurs Were Clad in Colorful Plummage

[These excerpts are from an article by Rodrigo Perez Ortega in the 22 April 2022 issue of Science.]

      The idea that dinosaurs sported colorful feathers, once outlandish, has become conventional wisdom. Now, a new study of a Brazilian fossil suggests that pterosaurs—leathery winged, flying reptiles only distantly related to dinosaurs—were also clad in tiny feathers of varying hues. The finding suggests feathers may have evolved more than 150 million years before the heyday of the dinosaurs, probably for display….

      How feathers arose has been a big question in paleontology for more than 150 years, since the first Archaeopteryx—a feathered dinosaur once thought to be the first bird—was found in Germany. Many researchers think feathers arose for insulation and were co-opted only much later for flight and other uses, such as courtship displays. As for pterosaurs, researchers had previously reported their bodies were covered in pycnofibers, single-stranded structures that formed a “fuzz,” presumably for warmth.

      Then in 2018, McNamara and her colleagues reported that two well-preserved Chinese pterosaurs showed what seemed to be a defining feature of feathers: a central shaft with branches….

      …Under the scanning electron microscope, both skin and feathers had melanosomes, intracellular structures containing melanin that give pigment to skin, feathers, and fur in living animals, with differently shaped melanosomes conferring different colors. The pterosaur’s melanosomes had diverse shapes—ovid, spherical, and elongated—something until now only seen in mammalian fur and dino-saur and bird feathers….

Confronting Climate Injustice

[These excerpts are from a book review by Miriam Aczel in the 15 April 2022 issue of Science.]

      …Chomsky argues that scientific interventions are not sufficient to combat global warming. Our current economic paradigm, she argues, relies on “extracting and consuming the earth’s resources in ever-increasing quantities, and turning them into waste,” and such a system is incompatible with a healthy planet.

      Moreover, she posits, the approach to development that has intensified since the Industrial Revolution is fundamentally unfair. Groups that have historically maintained control of fossil fuels have achieved greater growth and and prosperity than others, often at the disadvantaged groups’ expense. Many from the latter groups argue that they are due a piece of the development pie, but Earth’s resources are inherently limited.

      …Cripps argues that we all share a responsibility to combat the effects of a changing climate that is disproportionately affecting those who have done the least to cause it. She presents clear and compelling evidence of the burden borne by disadvantaged populations, maintaining that climate change is, above all, “about privilege.”

      Ten countries, Cripps notes, are responsible for 60% of greenhouse gas emissions—a major driver of climate change—and while the impacts of climate change are global and include severe winter storms in Texas, wildfires in Australia, and floods in Europe, the Global South has suffered the most devastating consequences. Between 2008 and 2016, she writes, roughly 22 million people were displaced in the Global South each year. The consequences of such displacements include child marriages, loss of schooling and employment opportunities, food insecurity, and more….

      We are facing a global existential threat that is exacerbated by the accelerating impacts of a changing climate and environmental destruction. How we respond will determine the future of life on Earth. As both Chomsky and Cripps show, addressing climate change is not just about devising technical or scientific solutions, it also requires acknowledging and addressing social, racial, and economic injustices that have played a role in the crisis….

Thermal Batteries Could Back Up Green Power

[These excerpts are from an article by Robert F. Service in the 15 April 2022 2021 issue of Science.]

      …Another strategy is to use surplus energy to heat a large mass of material to ultrahigh temperatures, then tap the energy as needed. This week, researchers report a major improvement in a key part of that scheme: a device for turning the stored heat back into electricity.

      A team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory achieved a nearly 30% jump in the efficiency of a thermophotovoltaic (TPV), a semiconductor structure that converts photons emitted from a heat source to electricity, just as a solar cell transforms sunlight into power….

      The idea is to feed surplus wind or solar electricity to a heating element, which boosts the temperature of a liquid metal bath or a graphite block to several thousand degrees. The heat can be turned back into electricity by making steam that drives a turbine, but there are trade-offs. High temperatures raise the conversion efficiency, but turbine materials begin to break down at about 1500°C. TPVs offer an alternative: Funnel the stored heat to a metal film or filament, setting it aglow like the tungsten wire in an incandescent light bulb, then use TPVs to absorb the emitted light and turn it to electricity….

Rewilding Iowa

[These excerpts are from an article by Stephen Robert Miller in the Spring 2022 issue of Sierra.]

      …According to the Department of Natural Resources, the water in more than half the state’s lakes and rivers is unsuitable for swimming, fishing, or drinking.

      …in the early 2000s—when the federal government mandated that ethanol be added to gasoline to produce cleaner emissions—farmers took on powering it too. Today, about 40 percent of Iowa's corn becomes ethanol fuel, and this new market’s potential has encouraged intensive planting on every available acre.

      …In an extension of political anxieties around the threat of eminent domain, the Republican legislature has been working to block the state’s Department of Natural Resources from buying land at auction from farmers who are ready to hang up their hats.

      …By attracting carrion and keeping herbivores on the move, predators play a central role in a web of relationships and feedback loops that create ecosystem resilience. They pave paths for the migratory trickle of animals driven on by rising temperatures and shifting seasons….

The Trickle-Down Effect

[These excerpts are from an article by Charlie Hope-D’Anieri in the Spring 2022 issue of Sierra.]

      …When nitrate levels get too high, and there are no other feasible water sources, Water Works runs state-of-the-art nitrate-removal equipment at a cost of $10,000 per day. In 2015, 177 days of removal cost $1.4 million. But the system is overburdened by a cascade of contaminants, and Water Works is scrambling to shore up its response, spending $30 million to build new wells that draw shallower, safer groundwater, expanding capacity for winter storage, and beefing up treatment capacity in new plants….

      After World War II, synthetic fertilizers became widely available and affordable, and farmers began liberally applying them to their fields. Excess phosphorus and nitrogen seeped into groundwater and flowed through the drainage pipes into streams, setting in motion the disruption of the largest watershed in North America….

      In 1974, the EPA set a standard for nitrate concentration in drinking water at 10 milligrams per liter….Since then, increasing evidence has pointed to serious health issues related to nitrate levels far lower than the EPA standard. Levels below 10 mg/1 have been shown to lower blood oxygen in adults and increase the risk of miscarriages, low birthweight, preterm birth, and birth defects. Numerous cancers have also been linked to low levels of nitrate exposure.

      …Farmers have used manure as fertilizer for thousands of years, but with concentrated livestock populations, the sheer volume of waste overwhelms ecosystems. Widespread mismanagement—including spreading manure on frozen ground, where it sits until spring rains wash it into the nearest stream—is common….

      The United States has one of the most lax regulatory regimes for agricultural chemicals in the world. European companies such as Bayer and Syngenta export compounds that are banned in the EU and sell them to America’s farmers. In a typical year, fertilizer and crop-chemical sales in Iowa exceed $3 billion….

      …Since 2013, 400,000 acres of wetlands have been restored, and farmers have reduced tillage on millions of acres. So far, though, these efforts have only reduced nitrogen runoff by 1.6 percent. Furthermore, during this same period of “progress,” enough land was converted from pasture and hay to cornfields that it increased the amount of nitrogen runoff overall….

      There is one voluntary practice that could make a meaningful difference in the effort to repair Iowa’s water quality. It involves planting an area of vegetation known as a saturated buffer between fields and waterways. A water control box is installed with pipes to channel water draining from the field to vegetation that absorbs excess nitrogen. Once installed for a maximum cost of $5,000, the saturated buffer can last for 50 years….

Bitcoal Mining

[These excerpts are from an article by Kate Morgan in the Spring 2022 issue of Sierra.]

      The Scrubgrass Generating Plant in Venango County, Pennsylvania…burns 600,000 tons of coal a year. The resulting electricity goes no farther than the 2,000 computers in nearby shipping containers. They run day and night, powering the energy-intensive work of mining for Bitcoin.

      Since 2021, when new laws in China devastated cryptocurrency mining there, the United States has become the sector’s global hub—not least because it has lots of idled fossil-fuel-powered plants. Purchasing and reviving them is an efficient way for crypto entrepreneurs to make millions. But environmentalists are aghast at the lifeline being thrown to these dirty power plants.

      …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.

      …over the next 30 years, Bitcoin’s growth could produce enough carbon dioxide emissions on its own to raise global temperatures by 3.6°F.

      …Waste coal is the dirtiest coal because of its high levels of mercury, sulfur, chromium, and lead. In a circulating fluidized bed, more refuse is needed to produce the same amount of energy as regular coal, so the toxic byprod-ucts are multiplied….

Greener Acres

[These excerpts are from an editorial by Jason Mark in the Spring 2022 issue of Sierra.]

      …In recent years, environmental groups have coalesced around the idea of protecting 30 percent of global lands and waters by 2030, as a sort of midway goal on the way to Half-Earth. The Sierra Club is busy promoting the 30x30 goal, philanthropists are committed to funding it, and the Biden administration has released a preliminary blueprint for reaching 30x30 within the United States. An international summit later this year will consider advancing the 30x30 goal globally under the auspices of the Convention on Biological Diversity.

      Reaching 30x30 will rest, in part, on the old-fashioned conservation strategy of sparing large swaths of intact ecosystems from human domination (though not necessarily a human presence, as Indigenous cultures are proven stewards of many landscapes). We’ll have to provide new protections for still-wild woods, shorelines, and grasslands; here in the United States, the 50 million acres of national forest roadless areas are prime candidates for stronger protection via wilderness designations. At the same time, we will have to do a better job of sharing landscapes with other creatures. And that will require, above all, a rethinking of our agricultural systems.

      …Grassroots groups have mapped some 12 million acres that would be ideal for ecosystem connectivity. As they seek to buy up conservation parcels piecemeal, those visionaries are also doing small-scale work to restore riparian zones and return fire to the landscape. Their ultimate goal is to reintroduce carnivores like cougars, wolves, and bears to the Hawkeye State.

      That’s exactly the kind of experimentation that we’ll need to get to 30x30. Protecting what remains of the planet’s biodiversity will demand new forms of conservation, much of it focused in places that may seem like unlikely candidates for ecosystem protection. Just imagine it: biodiverse carbon sinks in place of monocultures, flyways in place of dead zones, clean water for people to drink. Maybe, just maybe, we can discover ways to feed ourselves and leave space for other species to thrive as well.

Editor’s Note

[These excerpts are from an editorial by Marian Starkey in the March 2022 issue of Population Connection.]

      The right to abortion across the United States is likely in its final season, after a half-century of being established precedent. In June of this year, the Supreme Court is expected to rule in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, the case that could overturn Roe v. Wade or degrade it to the point that it might as well be overturned….

      While countries around the world (e.g., Argentina, Benin, Colombia, Ireland, Mexico, Thailand) are decriminalizing abortion and expanding the circumstances under which the procedure is legal, affirming the right to bodily autonomy, the United States is going backward and removing that right….

      Eight in 10 Americans believe abortion should be legal in at least some circumstances, according to a 2021 Gallup poll, and yet here we find ourselves, facing the most ominous challenge to reproductive rights since 1973….

President’s Note

[These excerpts are from an editorial by John Seager in the March 2022 issue of Population Connection.]

      …The right to abortion is critical. And we know the best way to reduce the need for abortion is to ensure universal access to all forms of modern contraception. Smashing barriers to reproductive health care also results in smaller families. And fewer people leads to lower greenhouse gas emissions. The climate fight should put the sexual and reproductive rights of women front-and- center.

      So it pains me to note that most leading voices on climate adamantly refuse even to mention the vital connections between population growth and climate change. They fail to acknowledge that one of the best ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is by promoting family planning and unfettered access to reproductive health care….

      Peer-reviewed research finds that we can get between 37 and 41 percent of needed emissions reductions by moving toward population stabilization. Many of those most at risk around the world as the climate crisis deepens are women and girls in less developed nations. While climate advocates support mitigation measures to avert impacts such as those resulting from severe weather, most flatly refuse to acknowledge that population growth plays a major role in the climate crisis.

      It’s time to end this glaring omission about the links between population growth and climate-altering emissions. It's time to stop ignoring the fact that reproductive autonomy leads to smaller families and that smaller families are key to meeting the climate challenge….

Fighting for Fair Representation

[These excerpts are from an article by Jay A. Fernandez in the Spring 2022 issue of ACLU Magazine]

      …Rife with political gamesmanship and gerrymandering, especially in the Southern states, the manipulated maps undermine the bedrock principle of equal representation. In the heated run-up to the November midterms, the ACLU is fighting for fair representation to make sure that voters are choosing their politicians and not the other way around.

      Congressional and state legislative district maps determine the allocation of not-only political power but also community resources. The threat to underrepresented communities of color is especially acute, as corrupt redistricting can further dilute voting power and thwart efforts to block legislation that sustains inequality….

      The stakes are high, and the timeline crunched, since the census data used in redistricting was released four months late, and the 2022 primaries and general elections are fast approaching….

      …Voting access is a civil rights issue, and the preservation of civil liberties depends on fair representation….

Sex Traps Trick ‘Murder Hornets’

[These excerpts are from an article by Erin Garcia de Jesus in the 9 April 2022 issue of Science News.]

      …scientists identified three chemicals in the sex pheromone of Asian giant hornet queens. When traps with those chemicals were placed near the hornets’ nests in southern China — part of their native range — the traps ensnared thousands of males but no other insects….

      Starting in 2019, nests housing Asian giant hornets (Vespa mandarinia) — nicknamed “murder hornets” for their habit of feeding honeybees to their young—have popped up in a few places in western North America….

      The male hornets had a clear preference for the queen extracts, though the isolated chemicals and mixes of the three trapped many hornets as well. In one test. for example, extracts from just one gland trapped about 500 male hornets — more than twice the number trapped by full concentrations of the three-chemical cocktail, which itself performed on par with two of the undiluted isolated chemicals. Control traps lacking the extracts or pure chemicals attracted few males.

      Because male Asian giant hornets were most attracted to the pheromone gland chemicals compared with the individual acids or the mix, there are probably other compounds in the pheromone that could make traps even more effective….

Deep-sea ‘Octomoms’ Seek the Heat

[These excerpts are from an article by Katherine Kornei in the 9 April 2022 issue of Science News.]

      …Off the coast of central California in 2018, scientists discovered thousands of deep-sea octopuses (Muusoctopus robustus) congregated on the seafloor about 3,200 meters below the surface. Many of the grapefruit-sized animals were females brooding eggs, leading researchers to dub the site the Octopus Garden.

      With water temperatures hovering around 1.6° Celsius, growth in this garden was predicted to be leisurely. In octopuses, embryonic development tends to slow down at low temperatures….

      The record for the longest brood period of any animal, just over four years, is held by a different species of octopus living in warmer water….M. robustus was therefore a serious contender to snatch that title, Barry says. “If you look at its predicted brood period at 1.6° C, it’s over 12 years.”

      …Relatively warm water, up to 10.5° C, bathed the egg clutches. Females preferentially lay eggs in streams of geothermally heated water, which is much warmer than the ambient water, the team realized….

      There’s an evolutionary advantage tom octopus moms seeking out warmer water: Shorter brood periods mean fewer eggs are likely to be gobbled up by predators….

Lithium Mining Puts Flamingos at Risk

[These excerpts are from an article by Jake Buehler in the 9 April 2022 issue of Science News.]

      …One of the world’s richest deposits of lithium spans parts of Chile, Bolivia and Argentina, an area dubbed the “lithium triangle.” The region is also home to the Atacama Desert and a series of shallow, salt flat lake ecosystems, known as salars, that depend on the area's limited water supply. These ecologically sensitive salars nourish the cyanobacteria and algae eaten by three types of flamingos, half of the world’s flamingo species.

      This ecosystem is in an existential conflict because lithium refinement ponds and other industrial mining processes use a vast amount of water — an estimated 400,000 liters per ton of lithium….

      Since 1984, the five salars have shrunk by more than 30 percent in surface area, the researchers found. The decline is partially due to increased evaporation, which is influenced by climatic factors. Water levels also varied greatly across years. Those fluctuations appear to strongly dictate the number of flamingos present in a given year by determining the availability of food….

      …As mining ponds in the salar grew, nearby James’ and Andean flamingo populations dwindled. Water loss from new mining activity may be a major culprit. Between 1986 and 2018, groundwater pumping for lithium production increased from zero to an average rate of 1.8 cubic meters per second, and the salar lost about five football fields’ worth of surface water area every winter….

Gender, Biology, and Behavior

[These excerpts are from a book review by Barbara J. King in the 8 April 2022 issue of Science.]

      …De Waal embraces gender variability even as he describes evolutionary influences on gender by comparing humans to our closest living relatives, chimpanzees and bonobos….

      …de Waal offers solid evidence to show that across primates—including our own species—physical violence is associated with males far more often than with females, and attraction to infants with females far more often than males, in alignment with evolutionary pressures that differ by sex. Along the way, he effectively deploys anecdotes from primate research to emphasize how far biology is from determinist….

      Moving into the realm of gender identity, a person who is assigned female at birth may be assumed by others to be a woman on the basis of external cues, whereas in fact they may identify not as a woman but as non-binary and agender. Similarly, transgender people may not inevitably feel that they “belong to the opposite sex.” Such language fails to recognize people who identify, for example, as both man and woman, or neither….

Investing in what Matters Most

[These excerpts are from a book review by Steven Mana’oakamai Johnson in the 8 April 2022 issue of Science.]

      …a globe-trotting adventure to fight for the future of coral reefs—a world of million-dollar prizes for ecosystem-saving breakthroughs and where a trillion dollars could potentially save one-tenth of Earth’s reefs….Corals and their endosymbionts provide each other with the ecological and evolutionary ingredients for success. This partnership, rooted in cooperation and coordination, is so beneficial to both parties that it is responsible for the most biodiverse ecosystem on the planet….

      The leading cause of coral bleaching is elevated ocean temperatures. Climate change is increasing the frequency of severe bleaching events, and the long-term projections are bleak: Annual bleaching is expected to occur in nearly every coral reef by 2050….

      …What would it look like to overcome the legacies of colonialism that persist in the form of capitalism and climate change? Can we pair the technological advancements of the 21st century with Indigenous worldviews that continue to be cast out and marginalized?...

Looking for Leadership in a Time of Crisis

[These excerpts are from an article by Maria Ferguson in the March 2022 issue of Kappan.]

      …We would all like to believe that in our darkest hours, someone or something will provide us with just enough light to find our way. Unfortunately, that light remains faint for most communities struggling with the challenges of COVID-19. National leaders, such as Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, have tried to keep the narrative warm and sympathetic but positive….

      In the secretary’s defense, it’s hard to imagine a visionary federal role in education while COVID is still sucking the air out of everything….

      …According to many experts, we are now entering the recovery and rebuilding stage. While that may sound peaceful, for educators and state and local leaders, there will be no rest. An entire generation of students and a nation of local schools need everything we have to offer. More than anything, though, they need bold and innovative leaders who will put students’ needs above all else, including politics.

Schooling and the Power of Perception

[These excerpts are from an article by Lewis Andrea Brownlee in the March 2022 issue of Kappan.]

      …Economic status was a stronger predictor of student grouping than any assessment. Rist deduced from his statistics that by the eighth day of kindergarten, each child was assigned a label that set them on a path that might have long-term consequences, entirely due to the unconscious biases of the teacher….

      …We have tremendous power to influence and impact young minds, adults who are seeking career development, and first-generation students seeking to uplift their families and communities out of poverty. I suggest, as educators, we turn the negative self-fulling prophecy on its head in favor of the Pygmalion effect, a term that refers to the phenomenon in which the greater the expectations placed upon children, students, or employees, the more they achieve.

      So, in limited words, teachers can be emancipators or captors — what power to have unchecked! How we view students could have either a highly uplifting or deeply damaging effect on a child's success in the classroom and beyond. School districts develop their own cultures, and we need to make sure that these cultures focus on understanding and encouraging students. Positive expectations influence students’ performance positively, and negative expectations influence students’ performance negatively. How we see students will have an impact on their success. So it starts with us.

White Educators Working with Black Parents: Resistance and Trust

[These excerpts are from an article by Pamela D. Brown in the March 2022 issue of Kappan.]

      …But for many parents, pushing back against negative reports is a way to protect their children from harm. Indeed, every educator should keep in mind that a parent’s first responsibility is to ensure their children’s physical and emotional safety. The more a parent believes a child to be at risk, the more protective that parent will be….

      …And while it may be uncomfortable for white educators to receive pushback from those parents, they shouldn’t be surprised to receive it, given the history of negative interactions that many parents of color have had with academic institutions…

      …Perhaps most important, higher levels of trust tend to be correlated with higher levels of parental involvement and engagement, better parent-teacher communication, stronger relationships, more positive teacher beliefs and attitudes about students and their parents, and more teacher outreach. Trust has also been found to be fluid, appearing to be at its strongest when children are in elementary school, decreasing in the middle grades, and falling still further in high school….

      It is important to note, however, that when it comes to the importance of trust in schools, teachers appear to matter even more than parents….That is, the level of trust that teachers have in students and parents is an even stronger predictor of student outcomes than is parents’ level of trust in teachers….

      …teachers were more likely to reach out to Black and Latinx families if their children misbehaved, but they were less likely to tell them about their children’s accomplishments than they were to inform white families. And they were less likely to reach out to Asian parents to share any feedback — positive or negative. These patterns can leave parents of color feeling marginalized and believing that their engagement is unwanted….

Big Questions about Special Education

[These excerpts are from an editorial by Rafael Heller in the March 202issue of Kappan.]

      The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) – along with its predecessor, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EHA) – is widely viewed as one of the 20th century’s most important pieces of civil rights legislation. When EHA was passed in 1975 (with strong bipartisan support), it opened the doors of the nation’s schoolhouses to millions of children who’d long been denied access to public education, while also creating many of the resources and legal protections that children with disabilities, and their families, continue to rely on today….

      And yet, IDEA often seems to receive just as much criticism as praise. For one thing, the fereal government has never funded special education at anything close to the levels it promised in 1975. For another, although Congress is supposed to reauthorize the law every five years, it is now 18 years (and counting) since the last reauthorization, and a host of serious concerns about IDEA’s design have piled up since then.

      When it was reauthorized in 1990, and renamed IDEA, the law was expanded to include new programs for infants and toddlers, greater emphasis on educating students in their neighborhood schools, and more support for research on special education. And when it was reauthorized in 2004, provisions were added to improve the identification of children with disabilities and strengthen the preparation of special education teachers. But in the intervening years, many advocates have come to believe that the law needs a much more significant overhaul.

      …IDEA has spawned a massive bureaucracy that is preoccupied with monitoring school systems’ procedural compliance with the law, while doing little to ensure that special education programs actually provide the equitable, high-quality services that civil rights advocates have always called for….

Carbon Removal Factory

[These excerpts are from an article by James Temple in the March/April 2022 issue of MIT Technology Review.]

      …The facility, outside Reykjavik, Iceland, can capture 4,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide every year….

      To be sure, 4,000 tons isn’t that much. It's less than the annual emissions of 900 cars. And it’s a tiny fraction of the billions of tons of carbon dioxide the world will likely need to pull out of the atmosphere to prevent global warming from soaring past 2 °C over preindustrial levels….

      Far larger facilities are in the works as well….

      The hope is that building more and larger plants to capture carbon from the air will help companies figure out how to optimize operations, drive down the costs, and realize economies of scale….

Practical Fusion Reactors

[These excerpts are from an article by James Temple in the March/April 2022 issue of MIT Technology Review.]

      …Fusion power has been a dream of physicists for decades. At temperatures well above 100 million degrees, as in the sun, atomic nuclei mash together, releasing a massive amount of energy in the process. If researchers can bring about these reactions in a controlled and sustained way here on Earth, it could provide a crucial source of cheap, always-on, carbon-free electricity, using nearly limitless fuel sources.

      In one approach, magnets are used to confine a gas of ions and electrons, known as a plasma, within doughnut-shaped reactors. More powerful magnets mean less heat escapes and more fusion reactions can occur within a smaller, cheaper facility. And not by just a little: doubling the strength of the magnetic field reduces the volume of the plasma needed to generate the same amount of power by a factor of 16.

      Despite decades of research and billions of dollars' investment in the past, nobody has yet built a fusion plant that can produce more energy than it consumes….

      …If all goes as hoped, the startup plans to deliver fusion energy to the electric grid by the early 2030s.

Intersecting Vulnerabilities, Cascading Consequences

[These excerpts are from an article by Shirley Ann Jackson in the March/April 2022 issue of MIT Technology Review.]

      The speed with which vaccines against covid-19 were developed and deployed demonstrates the power of the US innovation ecosystem when mobilized in a crisis. Remarkably effective vaccines were funded, developed, tested, approved, manufactured, and distributed in a fraction of the usual time. Yet they did not come out of nowhere. The vaccines were based on decades of fundamental scientific and engineering research conducted at MIT, the University of Pennsylvania, the National Institutes of Health, and elsewhere….

      Other areas critical to economic and national security are those that can mitigate climate change—everything from direct air capture of carbon dioxide to smaller, safer advanced nuclear reactors to—down the road—commercial-scale fusion energy. We also need to view such systems within the context of our built environment, which generates about 40% of annual global carbon emissions through construction. Our cities are not optimized for sustainability, climate resilience, or human well-being. We need advanced technological solutions—renewable energy systems, sentient building platforms, new materials—to decarbonize the systems of our daily lives and make sure they work for the benefit of all.

      Our vulnerabilities in cybersecurity—particularly in physical systems that give bad actors an opening to cause grave damage from afar indicate that we need to work vigorously on creating inherently secure quantum communication technologies and moving toward a quantum Internet….

      Pandemic preparedness and early warning systems for health threats are also a clear priority. We have underfunded basic research on infectious diseases and must correct this….

      Finally, because there is no innovation without innovators, we need to invest more in our human capital. It is an enormous advantage to our innovation ecosystem that US universities continue to draw the best and brightest students in science and engineering from around the world….

To Solve Climate, First Achieve Peace

[These excerpts are from an editorial by H. Holden Thorp in the 1 April 2022 issue of Science.]

      …The only truly life-sustaining climate will be one accompanied by international peace.

      …for too long, this geopolitical tension has been kept in a separate bucket from climate dangers….People should be made aware that the future of the planet is inextricably intertwined with international conflict. Many fossil-fuel-dependent countries, including the United States, have long been subjected to a volatile global oil market that is largely controlled by the Middle East. The war in Ukraine has served as a grim reminder that Europe has allowed itself to become dependent on fossil fuels from Russia—a country that is now an enemy….

      Meanwhile, China keeps building coal-fired electricity plants. Why aren’t countries working with China to slow this down? While the United States hurls invectives toward Beijing about the origins of COVID-19, economic espionage, and intellectual property protection, it is losing the opportunity to cooperate with China on energy sources cleaner than coal….

      Last year, President Biden said that climate change was the greatest threat to national security. That is correct and a reassuring statement from a president when so many climate deniers vie for power in the United States and around the world. But the reverse is also true….

      …Without working toward peace as the first step, international efforts to tackle global climate change and promote renewable energy and sustainable development cannot progress….

Social Life in the Jurassic

[These excerpts are from an article by Jennifer Chu in the March/April 2022 issue of MIT News.]

      To borrow a line from Jurassic Park: Dinosaurs do move in herds. And a new study by researchers from MIT, Argentina, and South Africa shows that they lived that way 40 million years earlier than previously thought.

      Since 2013, members of the team have excavated more than 100 dinosaur eggs and the partial skeletons of 80 juvenile and adult dinosaurs from a fossil bed in Patagonia….The embryos confirmed that the fossils were all Mussaurus patagonicus—a plant-eating dinosaur of the early Jurassic period that is considered a sauropodomorph, a predecessor of the massive, long-necked sauropods….

      Surprisingly, the fossils of eggs and hatchlings were found in one area, juveniles in another, and adults throughout the site. This “age segregation” may indicate a complex social structure. The dinosaurs likely worked as a community, laying their eggs in a common nesting ground. Juveniles would have congregated in “schools,” while adults roamed and foraged for the herd.

      Sauropodomorphs originated in the late Triassic, shortly before many other animals went extinct, and held on to dominate the early Jurassic….

Waiting to Hatch

[These excerpts are from an article by Timothy Pratt in the March/April 2022 issue of Discover.]

      …Manning had revealed dinosaur embryo skeletons and what may be soft tissues such as cartilage, both of which are exceedingly rare in paleontological research. Yet nearly 30 years later, only about half of Manning’s collection has ever appeared in public, at a single exhibit in 1995. Beyond that, just a few scientists have been able to publish research on some of the eggs — producing novel findings.

      Scientists had used acetic acid to dissolve rock surrounding vertebrate fossils since the 1930s. So Manning experimented with various concentrations and other materials to slowly dissolve enough of the dinosaur eggshells to see inside — at a mind-numbing rate of about 1/2000 of an inch per day. If the eggs appeared to contain promise, he would dissolve the silt and stone covering the delicate bones of the embryos. On a good day, he could remove 1 teaspoon of silt from around the embryo he was working on. He created a Rube Goldberg-esque setup, with bowls for the eggs, tubes running from water faucets and airbrushes spraying stabilizing solutions on the bones….

      Until something else happens, the experiment continues. On his ranch in Arizona, Manning is working on other eggs that he says contain fossilized yolks of oviraptors — a long-misunderstood dinosaur that science named an “egg thief” before newer specimens revealed they were likely egg protectors. When asked about this collection, Manning calls these eggs “the ones nobody knows about” Similar to his embryos from China, they too have been waiting more than 70 million years to emerge.

Hugging’s Evolutionary Origins

[These excerpts are from an article by Sara Novak in the March/April 2022 issue of Discover.]

      …many of us are yearning for the warmth of a hug after long stretches of social isolation. Humans, according to experts, biologically need touch, and a good long hug is one of the I best ways to get it.

      …our need for a hug goes all the way back to the survival of our species. When we’re born, we can’t care for ourselves and we need to be comfortable with being held in order to survive. We’re rewarded with a rush of feel-good hormones that come from a cozy embrace….

      This bond and sense of community has an important evolutionary role because for humans, the security of our small groups and later communities was crucial to survival. Close contact helped build civilization. As a result, our brains need each other — and when we miss out, it can have psychological repercussions….

      We may not know what we’re getting from greeting our friends and family with a hug; we just enjoy it. It isn’t until those experiences are taken away that we feel pain and sadness…. /p>

Redo College Intro Science

[These excerpts are from an editorial by David Asai, Bruce Alberts and Janet Coffey in the 25 March 2022 issue of Science.]

      …Annually in the United States, nearly a million students enroll in an introductory college biology course. Whether to fulfill a general education requirement for nonscience majors or act as a gateway for students intending to pursue careers in science or health care, this course represents an enormous opportunity to develop scientific fluency.

      …Far too often an introductory course asks students to merely repeat what they “know,” instead of to explain what they think. With so many facts and concepts to cover, faculty have little time to engage students in what should be the most important learning goal: to understand how the scientific process advances knowledge and arrives at evidence-based judgments on issues such as clean drinking water, climate change, and vaccination.

      …The restructured courses should empower students through active learning pedagogies and replace their standard “cookbook” laboratories with course-based research experiences….

      …develop a single-semester course for both majors and nonmajors that has no prerequisites beyond high school algebra. This will require grappling with important design questions….

Climate Change’s Toll Is Escalating Fast

[These excerpts are from an article by Nikk Ogasa in the 26 March 2022 issue of Science News.]

      …Many countries understand the need for climate adaptation. Modern solutions, such as building urban gardens or adopting agroforestry, where implemented, appear to show promise. But the majority of such efforts are reactionary, small and drastically underfunded, the report finds. As a result, about 3.3 billion to 3.6 billion people remain highly vulnerable to climate risks, including extreme weather events, sea level rise, and food and water shortages. The need for adaptation is greatest — and growing larger — in low-income regions, most notably in parts of Africa, South Asia, Central and South America, and small island states.

      …By 2030, carbon emissions need to be cut in half to prevent global temperatures from climbing 1.5 degrees Celsius above the preindustrial baseline, that report found. Beyond that threshold, nature and humankind’s capacity to adapt will severely deteriorate. But the report also found that we can still make a timely impact. If all carbon emissions ceased today, global temperatures would stop rising in about three years, not the 30 to 40 years once thought.

      Still, climate change is already affecting many parts of Earth. And some of the consequences aren't going away anytime soon. Sea level will continue to rise for decades. Extreme weather events and climate-fueled wildfires have pushed entire species toward extinction. Mosquito-borne diseases such as dengue are spreading to new regions as warming helps the insects expand their reach.

      As a result, people are being forced to relocate, and many are moving to cities. Urban centers are expected to contain two-thirds of the world’s population by 2050, including climate refugees….

A Fabric of Life View of the World

[These excerpts are from an editorial by Sandra Diaz in the 18 March 2022 issue of Science.]

      …Most of the biodiversity goals that have gained public attention are not consistent with the connectedness between humans and other organisms, or between different places and peoples through living bodies. This is in part reinforced by technical definitions, metaphors, and social narratives associated with biodiversity that are not explicit about this connectedness. Public understanding is crucial because to achieve the transformative change called for by nearly all recent environmental reports, all sectors of society—not just academics and policy-makers — must weigh in on decisions about the future of life on Earth. Better ways to convey this picture are needed.

      …The fabric of life on Earth has been described as “woven” by natural processes over many millions of years and in conjunction with people—our livelihoods, our institutions, our stories—for many thousands of years. The expression is starting to emerge at the interface of science and policy….

      Why dwell on metaphors at a time when each day of inaction counts? Because action is urgently needed. Metaphors help make sense of the world. They provide a scaffold for thinking, which in turn frames action.

      …The evidence is overwhelming for pervasive and deep connections between people and the rest of the living world everywhere, and for socioecological systems increasingly being influenced by distannt demands and decisions. However, the science-policy interface has yet to catch up….

      By thinking about the living world as an intermeshed fabric, we start to shift (or broaden) the spotlight of inquiry and action, making them more focused on connections and entanglement, and more interdisciplinary and socially inclusive….

Healthy Skepticism

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

      …Often popular wisdom turns out to be only sort of true….a scientific review in 2002 found “no scientific studies” that support the eight-glass claim for healthy adults in a temperate climate. That doesn’t mean it’s wrong, but it does mean we probably shouldn’t worry if we drink only six.

      It’s worthwhile to dig a bit into often heard health maxims before accepting them literally….

      For decades women have heard distressing warnings about their “biological clocks.” We have been repeatedly told that fertility drops dramatically after age 30, so people who want children either need to get moving or else freeze their eggs….

      …the claim is based on very sparse data, much of them of dubious quality or relevance. The notion stems largely from a 2004 paper based on records from 1670 through 1830. Many things have changed since then, including medical care and nutrition….It is also worth noting that when infertility treatments started to become more common and more clinics began opening in the 1980s and 1990s, alarms over biological clocks were being sounded by this growing industry with a self-interest in the matter….

Fault Lines in American Society Got Deeper

[These excerpts are from an article by Aldon Morris in the March 2022 issue of Scientific American.]

      …Not only was the structural racism in American society displayed in all its hideousness, but people were dissecting and debating it across social media in a way that had never been possible before….

      These protests led to important gains. For the first time, there is serious public deliberation on the disparities in health, schooling, access to universities and wealth that persist along racial lines….

      The recent Kyle Rittenhouse case, in which a vigilante who shot white people participating in largely Black protests was completely exonerated, is also alarming….Now white people know that not only can conservatives attack them if they participate in protests, but the courts may also side with the attackers….

      As I see it, a very serious clash is taking place between progressive and conservative forces, between people who are fighting for equality and people who are fighting to maintain the status quo. It is not clear who will triumph. What is clear is that America is at its highest level of polarization in modern history….

Work Changed Forever

[These excerpts are from an article by Christina Maslach and Michael P. Leiter in the March 2022 issue of Scientific American.]

      Hardly anyone has made it through the pandemic with their work life unchanged. Millions of people have lost jobs, been placed on furlough or switched to working from home. Essential workers have continued in place but often with major changes to their workloads….

      The shift to remote work led to the complete collapse of the work-home boundary, especially for parents juggling child care and homeschooling with job demands….

      But solving the burnout problem cannot fall to individual workers. The workplace must change. People burn out because their employers have not successfully managed chronic job stressors. We must place a stronger focus on modifying or redesigning work-place conditions….

      …workers were less distracted by pointless meetings and open office settings and were able to focus on meaningful tasks rather than being burdened by busywork. Some companies are trying to entice workers with higher pay or time off. Improving job conditions has even more potential for enduring impact.

      Work takes up a lot of people’s time, talent and potential—and workers are increasingly demanding that it offer a sustainable and rewarding quality of life in return.

Inequality Got Much Worse

[These excerpts are from an article by Joseph E. Stiglitz in the March 2022 issue of Scientific American.]

      …The pandemic’s most significant outcome will be a worsening of inequality, both within the U.S. and between developed and developing countries. Global billionaire wealth grew by $4.4 trillion between 2020 and 2021, and at the same time more than 100 million people fell below the poverty line….

      In part because of its huge income and wealth inequalities, the U.S. suffered the most COVID-attributed deaths of any country. SARS-CoV-2 went after those with poverty-related health conditions and with jobs that cannot be done in isolation….

      The poorest will also suffer the most from the pandemic’s economic aftermath—in particular, from the loss of jobs, disproportionately concentrated in low-wage service sectors. Just as worrisome, poorer children have experienced terrible educational setbacks as schools moved online, presaging a potentially long-term aggravation of inequality and deprivation.

      …It will be those at the bottom—poorer Americans and most people in poorer countries—who will still suffer the consequences years from now. Not doing everything we can to control the disease and its economic aftermath everywhere is shortsighted….

Lockdowns Showed the Promise of Cities with Fewer Cars

[These excerpts are from an article by Andrea Thompson in the March 2022 issue of Scientific American.]

      …Lockdowns had meant fewer cars on the roads, and the effects were unmissable. Levels of nitrogen dioxide—a by-product of fossil fuels burned in cars and in electricity generation—were 30 percent lower along the l-95 corridor from Washington, D.C., to Boston in March 2020 compared with previous years….

      Some fought to keep it that way….

      …the health benefits of reducing car emissions, calling pollutants and a contagious respiratory virus “a dangerous cocktail.” In other cities, like New York, changes were more modest or temporary. Shutdowns may have revealed the possibility of safer, healthier streets—but it was often a fleeting vision.

Science Journalism Shifted with New Realities

[These excerpts are from an article by Tanya Lewis in the March 2022 issue of Scientific American.]

      …The underlying science was evolving daily, so there was no expert consensus or body of established research to draw on. And there were plenty of people willing to exploit this information vacuum, creating a secondary epidemic of misinformation.

      Early on Chinese authorities suppressed information about the virus, and the Trump administration downplayed its threat to the U.S….

      …At the same time, CDC and WHO officials specifically told people not to buy high-quality respirator masks because health-care workers needed them—breeding confusion and mistrust….

      It didn’t take long for bad actors to weaponize the confusion to spread misinformation. Patient zero in this “infodemic” was Donald Trump. The former president routinely downplayed the virus’s severity, calling it “no worse than the flu.” He blamed China, stoking xenophobia rather than urging people to protect themselves and others. He mocked people who wore masks, politicizing a basic public health measure, while promoting baseless COVID treatments. It wasn’t just Trump—Fox News personalities and celebrities such as Joe Rogan and Aaron Rodgers have used their platforms to spread falsehoods about the virus and the vaccines….

      …COVID anti-vaxxers promoted their dangerous claims under the guise of “freedom,” never acknowledging that it comes at the cost of people’s lives and the freedom to live without threat of a deadly virus….

A Microbe Proved That Individualism Is a Myth

[These excerpts are from an article by Robin G. Nelson in the March 2022 issue of Scientific American.]

      …But when COVID-19 hit, relying on our immediate networks was not sufficient….The fallout from the pandemic is an L. urgent call to strengthen our aid systems….

      Similarly, Taiwan defied predictions that it would struggle with COVID infections like its neighbors in China by instituting a 14-day isolation policy for travelers entering the country, stepping up mask production, increasing border controls and deputizing quarantine officers who could help isolated citizens. By March 2021 there had been only 10 COVID deaths in a country of nearly 24 million people. Taiwan has fought each new wave of the pandemic with these tactics….

      As a result, even though we now know how the virus spreads and causes disease and we have effective vaccines against it, the death toll from COVID is higher in the U.S. than anywhere else….

      …Committing ourselves to upholding our evolutionary mandate to help one another—not just the people we see every day but everyone, everywhere—is the only thing that will save us.

Abortion Pill Barriers

[These excerpts are from an article by Claudia Wallis in the March 2022 issue of Scientific American.]

      …Yet decades of study have shown that the medication is safe and that those restrictions are needless….The rules have more to do with politics and ideology than with science.

      It took the COVID pandemic to strip away the fig leaf of scientific justification from one regulation. The U.S. and several other countries that restrict mifepristone suspended the requirement of in-person distribution. Patients could access care via telemedicine and get the pills by mail rather than risk catching COVID at a clinic….

      During the COVID era, at least three studies showed that the efficacy and safety hold up without in-person clinical visits. In fact, a large study done in the U.K.—where the government also provisionally allowed telehealth care—identified distinct advantages. It compared outcomes in more than 52,000 medication abortions during the two months before and after the government decision. Researchers found no increase in complications….

      Ironically the FDA’s sensible move on telemedicine is likely to widen state-by-state inequities in access to abortion. In most states access will improve. But 19 have laws mandating in-person abortion care, and “six specifically ban mailing the pills….”

Get Ready for the Next One

[These excerpts are from an editorial by the editors in the March 2022 issue of Scientific American.]

      …The National Academy of Medicine predicted in November 2021 that a flu epidemic akin to the one in 1918 and 1919 could prove more catastrophic than COVID-19. The preconditions for such a disaster are in place. A warming planet, megacities, mass migration, intercontinental travel and habitat loss are among the reasons that infectious diseases, like intensifying typhoons and hurricanes, have become part of our lives.

      …Also notable, however, is the failure of governments and international organizations to use our current predicament to rectify glaring public health deficiencies….

      The most pressing priority should be a return to basics, both globally and locally. COVID has served as a painful demonstration that public health is as essential to national security as a standing army. And the cost of health security is minimal….An investment of $4.5 billion—far less than the price of a single new ballistic missile submarine—might prevent the global loss of millions of lives and an economic hit in the trillions of dollars.

      …Deaths from COVID worldwide by mid-January about equaled the population of Norway—and the pandemic is still with us….

All Hail the Queen of Carbon

[These excerpts are from a book review by Vijaysree Venkatraman in the 11 March 2022 issue of Science.]

      …The appointment was for a single year, but it was still notable because it was the first time MIT’s electrical engineering department had hired a female professor. Before that year was out, the department would offer Dresselhaus a full professorship with tenure.

      …Dresselhaus’s exceptional career, which included foundational research on various forms of carbon that has enabled other scientists and engineers to make tremendous advances with nanoscale structures “on the order of one-hundred-thousandth the width of a human hair.” Such materials—which include cylindrical nanotubes, iconic buckyballs, and two-dimensional graphene—have applications in energy storage, medical research, and uantum computers.

      …Her research into the undergraduate admissions process revealed that “it was harder for women to get into MIT than for men,” and over the years she made useful recommendations to level the playing field for women in science at MIT and elsewhere….

“Back to Normal” Is Not Enough

[These excerpts are from an editorial by Christina Pagel in the 11 March 2022 issue of Science.]

      …The past 2 years should prompt everyone to revisit the long-standing problems considered too difficult to solve because traditional practice is too sticky, or because people “will never go for it,” or because it’s just too expensive, or it will cost the next election….

      Then there are the problems so ingrained that they are not even recognized as solvable. Consider annual hospitalizations and deaths from influenza and other pneumonias. These have been treated as a known winter burden of ill health, although many public health experts argue that surges in winter deaths are not inevitable and are mainly due to poverty and health inequalities….

      But measures taken against one infectious disease can be effective against others, as proven with COVID-19 mitigations. Influenza almost disappeared from the world in the first year of the pandemic….Since October 2021, England has had just over 2000 influenza admissions—10% of equivalent periods in the 2 years prepandemic. The annual winter burden of respiratory diseases is clearly not inevitable….

      Humans have evolved to perceive urgency on the order of hours and days, not years or decades….But the biggest global crisis—the climate emergency—struggles to provoke such a response because catastrophes are fully experienced only decades after they became inevitable….The climate emergency requires solutions far greater in their scope than those for COVID-19, and it requires them now. It is imperative that the world uses science to inject that sense of immediacy for tackling the greatest challenges….

A Decade for Restorimng Earth

[These excerpts are from an article by Elliott Negin in the Winter 2022 issue of Catalyst, the newsletter of the Union of Concerneed Scientists.]

      …In July 2015, for example, UCS released a report documenting that ExxonMobil and five other top carbon polluters—BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, coal giant Peabody Energy, and Shell—were cognizant of the looming climate crisis for decades but spent tens of millions of dollars promoting contrarian arguments they knew to be false. UCS also uncovered evidence that Exxon had been factoring climate change into its oil and gas extraction plans as early as 1981—much earlier than anyone had realized and years before there was much public awareness of the problem….

      Yet another confirmation of ExxonMobil’s deceit surfaced last summer from an unlikely source. Caught in a secretly videotaped interview, an ExxonMobil lobbyist conceded that his company had colluded with “shadow groups” to block government climate action and publicly supported a carbon tax only because it assumed Congress would never pass one….

      …presented participants at that meeting with a preview of his pathbreaking project quantifying the annual and cumulative carbon emissions attributable to each of the world’s major fossil fuel and cement companies. Published in November 2013, the peer-reviewed study found that just 90 companies were responsible for two-thirds of human-made carbon emissions since 1854—the dawn of the Industrial Revolution….

      Two years later, Heede published another analysis that determined that just 20 state- and investor-owned companies accounted for 35 percent of the world's fossil fuel and cement industry carbon dioxide and methane emissions between 1965 and 2017. Of the eight investor-owned corporations on the list, Chevron was the biggest emitter, followed closely by Exxon-Mobil, BP, and Shell. Together they were responsible for more than 10 percent of the emissions….

      Equally encouraging, a 2019 survey…found that a majority of people in the United States-57 percent—think fossil fuel companies should pay for the damages caused by global warming. That majority held true even for the oil-dependent states of Louisiana and Texas….

Illinois Adopts a Path toward Clean, Equitable Energy

[These excerpts are from a brief article in the Winter 2022 issue of Catalyst, the newsletter of the Union of Concerneed Scientists.]

      …First, the state took the bold step of becoming the first in the Midwest to pass legislation that will phase out fossil fuels in its power sector, charting a path to achieve 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2045….Where renewable energy accounts for only 9 percent of Illinois’s electricity today, the new law will boost that figure to 50 percent by 2040.

      Second, Illinois’s new energy law combats climate change by slashing carbon emissions not only from electricity generation but transportation as well—now the largest source of heat-trapping pollution in the state and the nation….

      Third, the law prioritizes an equitable clean energy future for all Illinoisans based on dialogue with community and environmental justice organizations throughout the state….

Putting a Stop to a Toxic Pesticide

[These excerpts are from a brief article in the Winter 2022 issue of Catalyst, the newsletter of the Union of Concerneed Scientists.]

      Last August, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) took the welcome—but long overdue—step of banning the use of the pesticide chlorpyrifos on food crops, eliminating a threat to farmworkers, their families, and rural drinking water….

      Chlorpyrifos is derived from a class of World War II-era nerve agents. Because even small amounts have been shown to hinder the development of children's brains, potentially leading to lower IQ and autism, scientists and scientific organizations including the American Academy of Pediatrics had called for it to be banned. In 2000, the EPA did indeed ban chlorpyrifos from household use, but allowed its agricultural use to continue. The agency was moving in the direction of an outright ban before Donald Trump became president, but a little more than two months after his 2017 inauguration—to which chlorpyrifos’s manufacturer, Dow Chemical, contributed $1 million—the EPA scrapped its proposed ban, rejecting the advice of its own scientists and two federal court orders….

Speaking Scientific Truth to Pollution Power

[These excerpts are from an editorial by Johanna Chao Kreslick in the Winter 2022 issue of Catalyst, the newsletter of the Union of Concerneed Scientists.]

      In the face of our intensifying climate crisis, it can feel enormously frustrating to watch fossil fuel companies continue to deflect responsibility year after year for their role in polluting our planet.

      The companies have moved in recent years from outright denial of their role in our global climate emergency to responses based on a broader deception playbook. They are downplaying the urgency and delaying action. Working to shift blame to individual consumers (as the tobacco industry did). Touting their paltry investments in renewable energy. And claiming that people and communities will suffer more from transitioning to clean energy than from maintaining business as usual—an approach that has made their top executives among the richest people in the world….

      BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil, Shell, and others aren’t getting the benefit of the doubt anymore. Through the persistent efforts of lawyers and shareholder advocates, and the voices and actions of a growing wave of concerned laypeople, especially youth, the polluters are losing their license to operate with impunity….

Homo sapiens’ First Foray into Europe Revisited

[These excerpts are from an article by Bruce Bower in the 12 March 2022 issue of Science News.]

      …Discoveries at a rock-shelter in southern France put H. sapiens in Europe as early as 56,800 years ago….That’s about 10,000 years earlier than previously thought….

      The French site, called Grotte Mandrin, was alternately occupied by the H. sapiens newcomers and Neandertals native to Europe, replacing each other a couple of times before Neandertals died out roughly 40,000 years ago….

      Dating of each sediment layer relied on radiocarbon age estimates for bone artifacts, as well as calculations of the time elapsed since each set of finds was buried and certain stones were heated during toolmaking….

      After H. sapiens' initial 40-year stay, Neandertals returned to the rock-shelter, where their earliest occupations date as far back as 120,000 years ago, the team found. H. sapiens reoccupied the site between about 44,100 and 41,500 years ago — roughly 14,000 years after their inaugural visit. After that, Neandertals Lleft no signs of having come back….

Arctic Sponges Feed on Ancient Fossils

[These excerpts are from an article by Richard Kemenye in the 12 March 2022 issue of Science News.]

      …A vast community of sponges, the And though sponges are largely densest group of these animals ever immobile, members of this colony move found in the Arctic, is consuming the using microscopic skeletal structures remains of an ancient ecosystem to survive….

      …Evolutionarily speaking, sponges “are more than 600 million years old, and they inhabit all parts of our globe….”

      And though sponges are largely immobile, members of the colony move using microscopic skeletal structures called spicules….The sponges leave behind a thick brown trail of spicules in their wake…..

      Radiocarbon dating suggests the adult sponges — spread across more than 15 square kilometers on an underwater volcanic mountain range — are 300 years old on average. Many of the sponges appear to be actively reproducing by budding, or breaking off parts to form new individuals….

      The dead ecosystem beneath the colony is around 2,000 to 3,000 years older than the sponges. It had been a thriving community of animals that lived in the nutrient-rich conditions created when the volcanoes were last active….

Why Aren’t We Listening to What Science Is Telling Us?

[These excerpts are from an editorial by Nancy Shute in the 12 March 2022 issue of Science News.]

      …It wasn’t until 1938 that the burning of fossil fuels was linked to rising temperatures worldwide, and not until the late 1950s that scientists showed that atmospheric carbon dioxide is increasing, and that human activities, including fossil fuel burning and land use changes, are to blame.

      Now the relatively new field of attribution science is showing us how climate change is fueling extreme weather, including the 2021 extreme heat wave in western North America….

      There’s good reason to be furious at the fossil fuel companies and politicians who have invested vast effort into denying the legitimacy of climate science, thus delaying the coordinated efforts required to safeguard our future on Earth. But few of us are blameless….

      Humans have been ingeniously adapting fossil fuels for millennia. The bricks in Mesopotamian ziggurats were set with bitumen from oil seeps, and people in China were drilling oil wells in the fourth century. It’s time to apply the same ingenuity, industriousness and attention to inventing a world where we can flourish without having to rely on burning fossil fuels….

Life-Changing Biology

[These excerpts are from a book review by Adrian Woolfson in the 4 March 2022 issue of Science.]

      …They assert that we are rapidly approaching a time when it will be possible to design and artificially synthesize the genomes of living things, including those of humans, from first principles.

      …At a minimum, they may eliminate the “bad genes” underlying straightforward genetic diseases and remove some of the anguish and uncertainty of human reproduction. They will also establish the foundations of a biologically inspired industrial revolution and initiate a disruptive new bioeconomy….

      Even more challenging and time-consuming than DNA writing is the debugging that synthetic genomes will likely require. Efficient genomes writing will need to be tightly couled to quality control.

      It is one thing to have the ability to write genomes and another to know what to say. In this regard, databases of DNA sequences derived from natural organisms will help elucidate the principles necessary for effective genomeauthorship….

U.N. Panel Warns of Warming’s Toll and an ‘Adaptation Gap’

[These excerpts are from an article by Paul Voosen in the 4 March 2022 issue of Science.]

      …Humans aren’t immune. Rising heat and humidity are increasing the number of days where outdoor exertion is nearly impossible and worsening pregnancy outcomes….Disease vectors such as mosquitoes have benefited from longer warm seasons and expanding ranges. Worsening fires have increased smoke exposure and incidence of respiratory disease….

      Drought has slowed the global growth in farming productivity, needed to feed growing populations. Ocean warming and acidification have damaged fisheries and shellfish aquaculture. Storm surge and flooding, worsened by rising seas, are damaging coastal cities. Although the influence of climate on migration and human conflict is murky, severe weather is already displacing populations….

      …up to 3 billion people could face water scarcity. SnoNvinelt for irrigation could decline by 20% in many river basins; ocean saltwater could displace fresh groundwater on small islands. Food insecurity will worsen, with malnutrition increasing in the global south. Exposure to dengue fever will grow.

      No matter the scenario, 1 billion people will be exposed to chronic flooding from rising seas. If warming reaches 3°C or higher, it's possible that in some locations, sweating will no longer be enough to keep the human body from overheating….

Dismantle Racism in Science

[These excerpts are from an editorial by Ebony Omotola McGee in the 4 March 2022 issue of Science.]

      …I’ve spent years studying how racism operates in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields, especially in higher education institutions in the United States. Structural inequities perpetuate tendencies that discriminate against STEM faculty of color and stifle their progress….

      Moreover, to function in the present biased ecosystem, underrepresented people of color are pressured to conform to a predominantly white male culture and are discouraged from bringing their authentic selves into the workplace….

      Students, faculty, and administrators who are women of color experience both raced and gendered forms of abuse in academia. Hostile environments span from negative comments about their abilities, qualifications, and performance to sexual harassment….

Curriculum, Conflict, and Critical Race Theory

[These excerpts are from an article by Kenneth Teitelbaum in the February 2022 issue of Kappan.]

      …While racism may have been more blatant and explicit during and immediately after the Jim Crow years, mountains of empirical and anecdotal data suggest that our country continues to be plagued by racial bias and that the racist ideas, laws, and practices of the past continue to inflict harm in the present….

      …What we require today is thorough and honest study of how racism has shaped our history and continues to influence us in significant ways. We need open and respectful conversation about these issues, followed by more inquiry and more reasonable discussion, both in and out of schools.

      Far from the way it has been demonized by Rufo, Carlson, and other conservative ideologues, CRT is an effort to encourage such exchanges, asking people to learn about and make sense of our country’s historical wrongs, and perhaps find ways to right them….

Building a Caring Climate that Promotes Belonging and Engagement

[These excerpts are from an article by Denise Pope and Sarah Miles in the February 2022 issue of Kappan.]

      …when students find meaning in what they are studying — when they are not just working for the sake of a grade or to check off an assignment on a to-do list — they are more likely to be academically successful. We also know that all students need to feel cared for and respected to thrive in school….

      We have known for years that social, emotional, and cognitive processing are all neurologically intertwined. When students of all ages and stages feel they belong to a community, they are more likely to thrive — and students don’t learn as much when they feel uncertain about their belonging. These conclusions don't apply to just a select few; they cross income levels, ethnic and racial backgrounds, geographic differences, and gender identities….

      …With our country divided in so many ways, it can be challenging for educators to foster a caring and inclusive space for productive dialogue. Students need to know that their opinions will be respected, even when they differ from those of their teachers or peers….

Caring about Caring in Kappan

[These excerpts are from an article by Teresa Preston in the February 2022 issue of Kappan.]

      …the conversation in the education community had historically shifted between a single-minded focus on students’ academic development and concern for their emotional well-being. The better approach, they maintained, was to take a broader view, because, as their research had found, social, emotional, and intellectual growth were interconnected….

      …caring is essential not just to student learning, but to the proper functioning of society….

      …teachers demonstrate caring through the relationships they have with students….

      …students assume that teachers will hold a grudge after a student misbehaves, so it's important that teachers keep relationships intact by consciously reaching out to let students know their mistakes are in the past….

      Getting away from the safe and sterile to create communities of care is not just about making students feel comfortable and happy; it is about creating conditions where they are able to become the intellectually and emotionally competent adults who will shape the future of our nation and our world.

Orcas Are Caught Killing a Blue Whale

[These excerpts are from an article by Anna Gibbsin the 26 February 2022 issue of Science News.]

      Killer whales are skilled assassins, hunting everything from herring to great white sharks. For the first time, scientists have witnessed a pod of killer whales bring down the world's largest animal: an adult blue whale….

      It’s been debated for decades whether killer whales, or orcas (Orcinus orca), are capable of preying on full-grown large whales. Past accounts have described attacks on blue whales, but scientists had not observed areas completing the job until March 21, 2019.

      …Orcas will target the fins, tail and jaw, possibly to slow the whale. They will also push the whale’s head underwater to prevent it surfacing for air, while others below push it up so it can’t dive….

      It’s uncertain if large whales played a significant role in orca diets before industrial whaling removed nearly 3 million whales from the oceans, including up to 90 percent of blue whales — but it’s definitely possible….

Major Methane Emitters ID’d

[These excerpts are from an article by Carolyn Gramling in the 26 February 2022 issue of Science News.]

      …Analyses of satellite images from 2019 and 2020 reveal that a majority of the 1,800 biggest methane sources in the study are in six major oil- and gas-producing countries: Turkmenistan led the pack, followed by Russia, the United States, Iran, Kazakhstan and Algeria.

      Plugging those leaks would not only be a boon to the planet, but also could save those countries billions of dollars….

      Ultra-emitters are sources that spurt at least 25 metric tons of methane per hour into the atmosphere. Such occasional massive bursts make up a sizable fraction of the methane from oil and gas production shunted into Earth’s atmosphere annually.

      Cleaning up such leaks would be a big first step in reducing overall emissions….

      Methane has about 80 times the atmosphere-warming potential of carbon dioxide, though it tends to have a much shorter lifetime in the atmosphere: 10 to 20 years or so, compared with hundreds of years for carbon dioxide. Methane seeps into the atmosphere from both natural and human-made sources….

      Stopping all of these big leaks, which amount to an estimated 8 to 12 percent of total annual methane emissions from oil and gas production, would be about as beneficial to the planet as cutting all greenhouse gas emissions fromAustralia since 2005, or removing 20 million vehicles from the roads for a year….

Clues to COVID-19 Brain Fog Emerge

[These excerpts are from an article by Laura Sanders in the 26 February 2022 issue of Science News.]

      A tussle with COVID-19 can leave people’s brains fuzzy. SARS-CoV-2, the virus behind COVID-19, doesn't usually travel into the brain directly. But the immune system’s response to even a mild case can affect the brain, new preliminary studies suggest. These reverberating effects may lead to fatigue, trouble thinking, difficulty remembering and even pain months after the infection is gone.

      It's not a new idea. Immune systems gone awry have been implicated in cognitive problems that come with other viral infections such as HIV and influenza….

      What’s different with COVID-19 is the scope of the problem. Millions of people have been infected during this pandemic with a new viral foe….

      It’s becoming clearer now that the brain fog that comes after an infection may be “rooted in neuroinflammation….”

      Identifying the cause ofthe neurological problems may reveal a treatment. Laboratory studies have pointed to potential therapies that can interrupt this immune system overreaction, particularly for brain inflammation caused by chemo….

United Nations to Tackle Global Plastics Pollution

[These excerpts are from an article by Erik Stokstad in the 25 February 2022 issue of Science.]

      Each year, an estimated 11 million tons of plastic waste enter the ocean, equivalent to a cargo ship’s worth every day. The rising tide—in the oceans and beyond—is just a symptom of . much wider problems: unsustainable product design, short-sighted consumption, and insufficient waste management….

      For one thing, rigorous, comparable numbers on the scope and sources of the problem are scarce, making it difficult to identify pollution hot spots or detect trends….

      …a method known as mass balance analysis, which tracks the amount of material entering and leaving production processes, holds promise for quantifying the amount of recycled plastic used in new products.

      …How much plastic pollution is too much? It's clear that plastic bags, discarded fishing gear, and microplastics can kill wildlife, but scientists are just beginning to figure out how to calculate the risks.

      …many uses of plastic are seen as essential. Single-use plastic items are common in health care, for example, to prevent contamination and infections, and in the food industry to keep fruit, vegetables, and other products from spoiling. Even disposable bottles can be vital in areas without clean water….

We Are All Gang Chen

[These excerpts are from an an editorial by Gang Chen in the 25 February 2022 issue of Science.]

      …I was investigated under the DOJ’s China Initiative, an effort launched in 2018 by the Trump administration to counter Chinese government’s espionage and threats to national security….

      …MIT leadership, under President L. Rafael Reif, supported me morally and financially after I was detained at the airport, and the university made its support public soon after I was arrested….

      MIT has supported other faculty under similar investigation, but other universities have mostly remained silent….

      …In my case, Dr. Chris Fall, the former director of the Office of Science of the US Department of Energy (DOE), stated recently that I did not violate any DOE reporting rules regarding foreign ties that were in effect at the time. Where was the agency's clarification 2 years earlier? The indictment mentioned DOE 18 times, only to miss this basic fact. The DOE should have spoken up when it counted. That is a lesson for all federal agencies.

      …People need to raise their voices so that the government and public understand the evil of wrongful prosecutions. I call on Congress to investigate the wrongdoings of the government in my case and similar cases. And I call for continued vigilance to end the China Initiative, however it is repositioned by the DOJ. As Martin Luther King Jr. wrote from a Birmingham jail, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Cleaner Air for Pennsylvanians

[These excerpts are from an article by Joanna Foster in the Winter 2022 issue of the EDF newsletter, Solutions.]

      …Pennsylvania has some of the worst air quality in the country, and more premature deaths per capita from air pollution than any other state. It’s no coincidence that Pennsylvania is also the nation’s third-largest producer of electricity, and the majority of it comes from burning coal and natural gas. This spews more than 73 million tons of climate-warming gases into the air each year, together with toxic mercury and other heavy metals, as well as the soot, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides that contribute to the formation of the smog….

      RGGI cuts carbon dioxide emissions by placing a declining cap on the amount that power plants are allowed to emit. It also makes the power plants pay for each ton of CO2 they do release into the atmosphere. In addition to creating an enforceable limit on pollution, this makes the electricity from dirty power plants less competitive than cleaner sources, such as wind and solar….

      After Pennsylvania joins RGGI, its carbon pollution will be reduced by some 188 million tons over the next 10 years — equal to taking four million cars off the road….

      Despite the fact that 79% of Pennsylvanians — including 66% of Republicans — support limiting carbon pollution from power plants, getting RGGI across the finish line in Pennsylvania has been an uphill battle, with the state’s Republican-controlled legislature attempting to block the process at every opportunity….

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