In today's On the News segment: Last month was the hottest June on record; new research says that giving up your hamburger may have a bigger impact on reducing global emissions than giving up your car; adults often struggle trying to learn a new language, while children seem to pick it up without a hitch; and more.
Thom Hartmann here - on the best of the rest of....science & green news.....
You need to know this. Last month was the hottest June on record. According to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – aka NOAA – land and ocean temperatures around the world reached an average of 61.2 degrees. That temperature topped the previous record set in 1999 by 1.3 degrees. Except for February, every single month this year ranked within the four warmest of all time for its corresponding month. We may have cooler temperatures now and then, but our planet as a whole just keeps getting hotter. In an interview with the Associated Press, University of Arizona climate scientist Johnathan Overpeck said, "This is what global warming looks like. Not record hot everywhere all the time, but certainly a reflection that the odds of record hot are going up everywhere around the planet." Last month's temperatures broke records on every continent except Antarctica, and the warming trend is only going to bring even hotter months in the years ahead. There's no question that we need to be doing everything we can to fight global warming, but we also need to prepare for the rising temperatures that are already inevitable. Heat waves, droughts, and super storms are here now, and they are only going to get worse as temperatures rise. As Mr. Overpeck said – this is what global warming looks like. Climate change is here, it's happening now, and we better get busy getting prepared.
Would you give up your hamburger to save the planet? New research says that doing so may have a bigger impact than giving up your car. Last week, the journal Climatic Change published a study saying that "agriculture is a significant driver of global warming and causes 15% of all emissions, half of which are from livestock." The researchers said that red meat requires 28 times more land than chicken or pork, 11 times more water, and causes five times the climate-warming emissions. Comparing beef to staple crops is even more eye opening – red meat uses 160 times as much land and produces 11 times the greenhouse gases of crops like rice, wheat, or potatoes. While these scientists are not suggesting any government intervention in this issue, they do suggest that subsidies to the livestock industry should be reconsidered to factor in this new data. If we advocate ending the corporate welfare going to Big Oil as a way to protect our planet, shouldn't we be doing the same when it comes to beef?
Adults often struggle trying to learn a new language, while children seem to pick it up without a hitch. A new study from MIT says that grown ups may be trying too hard to learn that second language. Adults typically use so-called declarative memory to understand foreign grammar and sentence structure, but kids use procedural memory, which is the kind of learning that happens without even thinking about it. The scientists tested their theory on two groups of adults who listened to 10 minutes of a made up language. One group was told that they would be quizzed on the language, and the other group was asked to color while they listened. The group that focused on the language, knowing they'd be tested, actually scored lower than the group that simply listened while they were distracted. Researches explained that having some subjects color while they were learning forced them to use their procedural memory, which ended up absorbing much more of the made up language. So, if you want to learn a second language, your best bet may be to simply stop trying.
It's always great news when large businesses do more to conserve energy, but it's even better to hear that one British supermarket chain will be generating its own electricity. Last week, Sainsbury's – the second largest grocery chain in the U.K. - announced that one of their locations will be powered solely by the chain's own food waste. Even after donating left-over food to charity, grocery chains often end up with tons of spoiled food. Sanisbury's is going to take all that expired meat, produce, and other food waste, and use a special anaerobic digestion facility to generate electricity. According to EcoWatch.com, large silos at that facility break down the spoiled food like a human stomach would, and the process creates a gas that can be turned in to electricity. The grocery chain's food waste will produce enough electricity to power their Cannock location, and another 2,500 homes. Grocery stores here in the US also donate tons of left over food to charity, but they often toss out items that can't be donated. Rather than winding up in a landfill, that food could be creating energy. Along with solar, wind, and other renewable energy, we should be using every tool at our disposal to end our addiction to fossil fuels.
And finally... In 2018, NASA will launch the next-generation James Webb Space Telescope, and experts say it may be our first real chance to discover life on other planets. The new telescope will search for so-called bio-signatures in the atmospheres of distant planets, like oxygen, water, or carbon dioxide, which could indicate an environment that's hospitable to life. While many of us think that means intelligent beings, experts say that life in outer space may not be anything like E.T. Astronomer Sara Seager of MIT said, "We believe we're very close to finding life on another planet." However, the new telescope won't be able to tell if those life forms are intelligent beings or single-celled microbes. She said, "I think everyone wants to see intelligent life – it's sort of part of our culture," but said that the discovery of simple organisms would still be "phenomenal." The presence of microbes in the galaxy would increase the chance that intelligent life could exist somewhere in outer space, and mean that a bigger discovery may not be far off. Even if the first life forms we discover in space aren't quite ready to "phone home," it would still be pretty cool to know that we're not alone in the galaxy.
And that's the way it is for the week of July 28, 2014 - I'm Thom Hartmann, on Science & Green News.