October 21, 2011

The Six Americas of Climate Change

In 2009 Yale and George Mason universities teamed up to do a study called “Global Warming’s Six Americas: An Audience Segmentation Analysis, which groups Americans into 6 groups, based on their views on climate change:  Alarmed, Concerned, Cautious, Disengaged, Doubtful, and Dismissive. (I would also include Dopey, Bashful, and Grumpy, but maybe they wanted to limit things to an easy half-dozen.)  They did an updated version, “Knowledge of Climate Change Across Global Warming’s Six Americas,” which talks about where people get their information and which groups trust which sources.

A Columbia blog checked out the study and says:

It is clear that the same message, no matter how scientifically accurate, will not reach all of “the six Americas.”  A messenger must also possess the same values and beliefs as the audience being addressed.

Wonder what the results would be if they did this study in Canada? I’m guessing Freaked, Frustrated, Embarrassed, Polite, Pessimistic, and Hockey.


October 12, 2011

‘We must do all we can to find the resources’


The International Council for Science, or ICSU, which has played a behind-the-scenes role in fostering scientific integrity and global collaboration since 1931, has elected Nobel Prize-winning scientist Yuan Tseh Leah of Taipei (Taiwan) to be president of its Earth System Sustainability Initiative  for the next three years.  Yuan addressed the assembly that elected him and talked about the enormous challenges humanity faces:

If we are to avoid catastrophe and ensure humanity’s continuation on this planet, the keyword for the next few decades will be transformation. That is, we must begin to transform our global society into a truly sustainable civilization…

In the past many excellent ideas were abandoned because there was no funding.  This is really heartbreaking.  If there is a worthy idea, we must do all we can to find the resources. Just imagine what we could do if just 1% of the estimated US$1 trillion spent by governments on defense every year could be devoted to global sustainability research. After all, the greatest threats to security today no longer come from across borders but are caused by humanity on humanity itself….

Our primary theme for the coming years must be “Action – and solutions -now!”

Needless to say, we couldn’t agree more, as we count the ever-greater number of creatures on the Endangered Species list.  Occasionally we joke about feeling jealous of our scientific colleagues who work for the defense industry, with its seemingly inexhaustible supply of funding and enthusiasm.  Mustn’t get bitter, though.  Chin up and all that.

September 21, 2011

The more, the merrier

Protecting biodiversity is good for the environment AND your immune system. In the last few years, scientists keep noticing when biodiversity dips, rates of Lyme disease, West Nile virus, SARS and other infectious diseases rise.

At a field site in Panama in ‘09, scientists found that rates of hantavirus tripled in rodents as the number of rodent species dropped. Hantavirus is an often-fatal disease that is zoonotic, meaning it can be spread from animal to animal (and naturally, animals to people).

For most zoonotics, a small number of host species act as ‘reservoirs’for the infection. Mice and chipmunks are the main reservoirs of Lyme disease, for example, although the ticks that carry Lyme-causing bacteria will bite pretty much any warm-blooded vertebrates including raccoons, foxes and squirrels, which don’t carry the disease.

In other words, when there are loads of species around, chances are greater that ticks will bite animals that don’t carry Lyme disease, making them less likely to be infectious themselves when they later bite people. As diversity drops, though, mice and chipmunks are the types of species that tend to stick around, which allows the disease to spread more easily.

One of the hantavirus researchers says it’s been hard to convince people to care about biodiversity, so these new studies might help convince people to protect species they may not have bothered about before.

Nothing like a human health scare to make people snap to attention.

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    "The Next Forever" is a song from The Great Immensity. The footage was taken on Barro Colorado Island in the Panama Canal by videographer David Ford. Music and lyrics by Michael Friedman.
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