Looking for Wildlife


Like everyone, lock-down is beginning to wear on me. And even though the corona virus is more likely to result in complications and death for those 60+ and the infirm, media reports have shown that these can also strike the young and healthy. So, deciding to go back to our work and social settings is a bit like playing Russian Roulette, isn’t it? The whole experience is quite surreal. The world around us appears as it was, but it’s not.

Despite a still growing number of Covid-19 cases in Maine, the governor is starting to open things up, slowly. Recently, I’ve been out with the camera looking for some good places to photograph, though trips to the mountains and back country will have to wait. The object is to find out what hangs out where, then return later (typically at twilight periods) and take up a hidden position and wait.

 

Another Short Bike Ride

South Portland from the Maine State Pier

back on the bike a couple of days ago. There was little or nothing in the way of tanker or freighter traffic. Nor was there much in the way of street traffic, much to the delight of myself and other cyclists. Very unfortunately though, no cafes to duck into, either.

JPL’s Deep Space Network (Hold the Baloney)

After reading my Earth Day 2020 post you might be wondering how on “Earth” NASA keeps track of all the probes way out there in space. We all know that boats, cars, and airplanes all need constant course corrections. So, how is this done? It all happens at Cal Tech’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in southern California where I had the opportunity to visit in 1986. In fact, I was there just as the very first close-up images of Halley’s Comet taken by the deep space probe, Giotto, were being displayed on the internal monitors. How neat was that! These would later be cleaned up before sending them out to the media.

Later, our guide met us and showed us around the facility’s technical equipment, including the mission control room, as you can see in the link. Looking much like an air traffic control radar room, here the controllers monitor the probes, not with radar but with radio communications. Just as with all the manned spaceflight missions, there are three antenna stations located at Goldstone, Southern California; Madrid Spain; and Canberra, Australia. Together, these enable constant communication with the probes as the Earth rotates.

Communication is a bit tricky since commands have to be issued well ahead of time, depending on how far out the probe is. Commands also have to be timed within micro (or Nano?) seconds so any course corrections don’t send the probe off the adjusted course. This has to be done by computers since they are much better than humans at dealing with microseconds or less. There is, however, a digital atomic clock (based on the radioactive decay rate of Cesium) on the wall for human reference. It has an accuracy of +/- 1 second every 3 billion years, so you don’t have to reset it too often.


During this time of growing distrust of science and more acceptance of superstition and unsubstantiated beliefs, Carl Sagan’s Baloney Detection Kit might help you discern what’s possibly real.

Lies, Lies, and the Administration That Tells Them

The New York Times reports how the current administtation inserts distortions of credible environmental scientists into government climate reports. This is made possible by the people he has appointed to head government agencies, people who are loyal to the president, not to the principles of the agency that they head.

This is just one more example of how the United States is moving away from democracy to a more Orwellian state.

I’ll continue to review reports that I cite in this blog for these distortions. However, if you find something you question, do let me know.

Fossil Fuels: “Opioid” of the Industrial Period

Hurricane Dorian, at Category 5 over the Bahamas, tracks toward the Florida coast on Sept. 1. NOAA GOES-East satellite handout/Getty Images


Humans are making hurricanes worse, as reported in the New York Times. In fairness to us, just imagine when we figured out how to build furnaces and other machines that could harness all that pent up energy in fossil fuels. Wow! All the stuff we could produce. We built better shelter, increased food production, could move us and freight longer distances in far less time (oh, there are a few labor and social issues, but we don’t need to belabor those here). What’s not to love? Well, there are downsides. Human population rapidly increased requiring more fossil fuel energy. Along with this was an increase in our wants, requiring more, you guess it, fossil fuel energy. The results are warming temperatures, expanding landfills, ocean and (somewhat less) air pollution, sea-level rise, more extreme weather, and the sixth extinction of species.

Today we are faced with a choice. Go to negative carbon emissions (i.e., no fossil fuel use and carbon recapture) by 2050 or so or go on as we are doing and run out of resources within the next hundred years, along with the loss of much humanity. It’s a formidable societal “addiction” requiring policymakers willing to risk their careers. You can read more about this elsewhere on my site.

Either way, the earth will survive just fine (at least for the next 500M years).

Biodiversity loss threatens humanity

Yet another major report documents the effects of climate change. Although there are many local and regional initiatives around the world that will slow this down a bit, a concerted world initiative is necessary to stop the sixth extinction. I do not see this as likely to happen, given that it has to start now. The result will be a great die-off, including some of humanity. Although the developing countries will be most affected, many in the developed world will be affected by mid-century–just thirty or so years away.

And to think that we did this in about 170 years (in the “blink of a geological eye”).

www.nytimes.com/2019/05/11/opinion/sunday/extinction-endangered-species-biodiversity.html

Lead in Our Water Supplies

I was just listening to Living on Earth on NPR. Steve Curwood was hosting Michael Pell of Reuters. Pell and Joshua Schneyer just published a report showing that many communities around the U.S. have lead levels in their water supplies as high or higher than Flint Michigan.  According to several scientific studies, lead is harmful to developing brains by hindering learning ability and causing behavioral problems, the latter related to less ability to control impulses. Until recently, lead exposure was seen as most related to living in old, run-down housing that poses the greatest risks to the poor. Though this is still true, lead contaminated water is now understood to pose a second risk that threatens all socio-demographic communities.

This is another example of how over the past 150 years we have managed to not only warm our planet, but we have also contaminated our water supplies upon which all life depends. If this isn’t bad enough, our leaders are slow to react to these fundamental threats, indeed, many will not even acknowledge that they exist.

The report lists communities around the country that identified as having  lead contamination.

“Climate change” added to my blog’s subtitle

We are truly entering Orwell’s age of doublespeak ( i.e., language used to deceive, usually through concealment or misrepresentation of truth). One such example is the Trump Administration’s  deletion of the term climate change from government websites (and funding agencies are suggesting that applicants do the same in their federal grant proposals), so it is up to the rest of us to keep this term in the public’s eye. Yes, the vast majority of us believe that climate change is occurring as we witness extreme weather events and fires in the west.

 

“It’s All Happening At the Zoo . . . .”

My friends and I recently took our “heavy glass” to photograph at the Seneca Park Zoo. It was a bright sunny day, perfect for getting sharp pictures, even though the mid-day sun creates harsh contrast. The last time I was here was many years ago with our young nieces. How the time goes by.

Today’s zoos meet higher standards to keep their accreditation than in the past. The animals’ physical and emotional needs are better met.

Elephant’s Eye

Zoos often provide safe haven for injured and nearly extinct animals. Zoos are especially great for kids, particularly since fewer of them see animals in their natural habitats.

Still, I wonder when seeing the animals’ expressions, if they are happy being fenced in. Separated from their natural habitats, they are not free to roam, associate, and mate as evolution has shaped them. According to Wikipedia:

The welfare of zoo animals varies widely. Many zoos work to improve their animal enclosures and make it fit the animals’ needs, although constraints such as size and expense make it difficult to create ideal captive environments for many species.[41][42]

A study examining data collected over four decades found that polar bears, lions, tigers and cheetahs show evidence of stress in captivity.[43] Zoos can be internment camps for animals, but also a place of refuge. A zoo can be considered an internment camp due to the insufficient enclosures that the animals have to live in. When an elephant is placed in a pen that is flat, has no tree, no other elephants and only a few plastic toys to play with; it can lead to boredom and foot problems (Lemonic, McDowel, and Bjerklie 50).[full citation needed] Also, animals can have a shorter life span when they are in these types of enclosures. Causes can be human diseases, materials in the cages, and possible escape attempts (Bendow 382).[full citation needed] When zoos take time to think about the animal’s welfare, zoos can become a place of refuge. There are animals that are injured in the wild and are unable to survive on their own, but in the zoos they can live out the rest of their lives healthy and happy (McGaffin).[full citation needed] In recent years, some zoos have chosen to stop showing their larger animals because they are simply unable to provide an adequate enclosure for them (Lemonic, McDowell, and Bjerklie 50).