Monthly Archives: February 2009

Al Gore: We thank you for your genius.

I had the pleasure of hearing Al Gore speak at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) conference last week. We were not permitted to video or audio record any content from the conference, otherwise you can be assured that I would have posted video of the talk. It was a closed talk, so only conference attendees were able to hear him speak, but believe me when I tell you that it was a wonderful. very inspiring talk that made me want to do more, now. Here are the Cliff’s Notes of his talk:

The economy and climate are intertwined, and the war in Iraq was largely driven by our dependence on foreign oil. Twice in ten years we’ve engaged in wars in the Middle East, and this is strongly linked to our dependence on foreign oil. There are ideas whose time has come, and there are ideas whose time has passed, and their collapse has come. Our dependence on foreign oil is one such idea. How quickly can we shift to alternative fuels and renewable resources? We now have carbon waste sitting around. We are in the midst of a global recession. The burden falls on fiscal policy, and we currently need a global, synchronized stimulus. The economy, national security, and climate crisis have a common thread-our dependence on carbon sources.

We need to use this crisis as an opportunity to shift to free, clean, renewable sources of energy. When you look up at the sky, it looks limitless, we tend to think that there is no way we could impact that limitless sky. What we know, however, is that the sky is shockingly thin, and we can impact it.

Carbon dioxide absorbs infrared energy, which is essentially heat. Earth and Venus are the same size, and at one point they had similar levels of carbon dioxide. Over many years, carbon dioxide was removed from earth’s atmosphere, and Venus is now 855 degrees and rains sulphuric acid, while earth is 59 degrees, on average, so you can see the importance of controlling the levels of carbon dioxide in our environment. As carbon dioxide grows in our environment, IR is trapped, and the last eleven years have been the hottest years in recorded history.

In 2005, the polar ice caps melted such that an area equal to 1/3 of the Eastern United Stated were lost. The ice caps are like a beating heart, expanding in the winter and contracting in the summer. More and more is lost each summer, and less and less is restored in the winter. It’s predicted that the caps will disappear completely within our lifetime. Additionally, there is frozen carbon in polar ice that is released and processed by microbes, converting it into methane, and it could double our atmospheric carbon dioxide.

[I should mention that at this point, Mr. Gore showed terrifying footage of the ocean basically boiling as methane gas was released from the deep as a result of this process. More terrifying was the footage of the researcher who dug a hole in ice, put a flame source near the hole, and was blown back by a large, blow torch-like jet of flame, resulting from the ignition of methane escaping from the ice.]

To put things in perspective, as the polar ice caps melt sea level rise. For every meter of rise in sea level, there are and will be 1,000,000 climate refugees on the move.

When the ice is gone, water is gone, and drought results. 40% of the world’s people get their drinking water from rivers fed by glaciers. The loss of the ice caps has numerous impacts in this respect.

There are numerous ad campaigns that are deceptively promoting dirty energy. The Alliance for Climate Protection is doing a good job of promoting genuinely good environmental policies.

When a man went to the moon, the entire control room cheered. The mean age in that room was 26 years old. That means that they were eighteen when Kennedy announced the possibility of putting a man on the moon in the first place. Our young people do hold the key to the future.

Upton Sinclair said that, “It’s difficult to get someone to understand something when his salary is dependent on him not understanding it.” We need to make polluting our environment unprofitable.

We as a species must make a decision. We can continue out present course, which will threaten human civilization, or we have about ten years to make major changes. There is no line between the work you do and the civilization in which you live. The time to get involved is now.

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WTTW – Chicago Tonight Recent Stories

The video itself…

Vodpod videos no longer available.

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Night Lab on PBS

My event was featured on WTTW (Chicago’s PBS station)-Laura Baginsky covered it on Chicago Tonight (thank you!). Come down to Schubas tomorrow to check it out. View the clip on the WTTW website-just scroll down to Timeout Chicago’s Weekend Picks and watch the clip!

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Citizen Science-The Great Backyard Bird Count

On Friday February 13, people will have the opportunity to participate in a large-scale science project. You don’t need fancy equipment, quantitative prowess or background. Just look outside the window and count birds for ten minutes. That’s right, you heard me. The Great Backyard Bird Count will be taking place from the 13th-16th. The goal is to engage people in the scientific process and enable researchers to acquire data about bird populations that would be impossible to get with isolated research teams. Who cares about birds? Well, if you’ve ever taken the time to bird-watch you’d know that birds are beautiful. But that aside, understanding bird populations and changes in bird communities gives researchers information about the ecological health about the surrounding environment and lends critical insights into needs for conservation efforts, how diseases (like West Nile Virus) are taking hold in one place versus another, and the pattern of bird populations studies over years can help scientists understand more global changes in the environment that could be worrisome (or encouraging). Learn more and participate at the website for the Backyard Bird Count and take a few minutes to become a scientist yourself.

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Demystifying Sex

I am hoping that most of you caught the January 22 NYT article on the science of sex, but if you didn’t, you can find it here. I love the idea of people bringing themselves to orgasm while hanging upside down in an MRI machine in order to better understand which parts of the brain light up during sexual response. Anything for science, right? It did get me thinking about the quest for a female version of Viagra, it seems elusive based on what I know of current research (which is extremely limited), but is that the product of limited efforts on the part of scientific community? Is it that the product of the old observation that women’s sexuality is often portrayed as a subject of ownership by someone else rather than a source of power and pleasure for the woman herself? I’m not sure, but I loved reading about how sexuality studies are undertaken, and what they’re finding. A good warm-up for next week’s event…I’m sure Dr. Woodley will be able to shed some light on all this.

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