Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

…carbon emissions were at their worst-ever levels last year, despite a massive global recession.

But don’t worry, I’m sure everything will be just fine. We’ll just adapt to it.

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Cats are killing migratory birds. A lot of them.

The American Bird Conservancy estimates that up to 500 million birds are killed each year by cats — about half by pets and half by feral felines. “I hope we can now stop minimizing and trivializing the impacts that outdoor cats have on the environment and start addressing the serious problem of cat predation,” said Darin Schroeder, the group’s vice president for conservation advocacy.

OK, OK, so building collisions still cause the bulk of migratory bird deaths. But that doesn’t mean cats are off the hook. They may also be making cat people crazy. Careful with that litter box, folks!

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Ducks help you read!

I was dismayed by the article in the NYTimes today that described the decline of picture books for children. I found the article a bit suspect, possibly falling into the “phony New York Times trend” category. After all, the empirical data cited in the article is a bit thin. Still, some of the information points to a general trend away from picture books:

At Scholastic, 5 percent to 10 percent fewer hardcover picture books have been published over the last three years. Don Weisberg, the president of the Penguin Young Readers Group, said that two and a half years ago, the company began publishing fewer titles but that it had devoted more attention to marketing and promoting the ones that remain. Of all the children’s books published by Simon & Schuster, about 20 percent are picture books, down from 35 percent a few years ago.

I appreciate the move for early literacy, even the goofy “infant reading” quasi-scams. Still, there’s much value in teaching reading with pictures, and the propagation of junk science has led many parents to make ignorant decisions about their children’s reading:

Some parents say they just want to advance their children’s skills. Amanda Gignac, a stay-at-home mother in San Antonio who writes The Zen Leaf, a book blog, said her youngest son, Laurence, started reading chapter books when he was 4.

Now Laurence is 6 ½, and while he regularly tackles 80-page chapter books, he is still a “reluctant reader,” Ms. Gignac said.

Sometimes, she said, he tries to go back to picture books.

“He would still read picture books now if we let him, because he doesn’t want to work to read,” she said, adding that she and her husband have kept him reading chapter books.

As an avid early chapter book reader and a big proponent of content-heavy canonical reading curricula, this kind of derision for picture books as “easier” or “lazier” than chapter books is beyond idiotic.

Picture books help students learn vocabulary quickly, relate more closely to the story, grasp highly abstract concepts, etc. We use pictures to communicate or enhance written words all the time. We have structure models for chemistry, diagrams for mathematics, paintings and photographs for history. Treating “chapter books” as inherently superior to “picture books” misunderstands how reading functions.

If your kids would rather read picture books, pick good ones! Pick picture books with high vocabulary levels or important messages. The key is broad content area learning, not particular focus on the medium.

The unfortunate characterization of picture books as “kids’ stuff,” by parents and educators, has led generations of American kids to believe that they should be ashamed of picture books. And yet, picture books help students learn — social studies, chemistry, current events, and yes, English. Picture books help us visualize distant lands or kingdoms. Picture books introduce us to the interplay between symbols and ideas.

I would rather have students read We the People: The Story of Our Constitution than Twilight.

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Saletan says is better than anything else I’ve read. Read the whole thing:

“BP treats the awkwardness of this technology as an excuse for its difficulties. “Five thousand feet of water, no humans could go down there,” the company’s managing director, Robert Dudley, pleaded last week on Meet the Press. “We’re reliant on the robots. These guys that are working offshore are incredibly skilled at this. We’ve been asking them to do the equivalent of open heart surgery on television.”

But if this is heart surgery, the wound that made it necessary was inflicted by the surgeons themselves. BP drilled the well. It did so knowing that its robots couldn’t handle a blowout and its people couldn’t get there. If a surgeon did that—if he opened a hole he couldn’t reach to stop the hemorrhage—he’d lose his license.

Of all the lessons we can learn from the BP fiasco, the simplest, and the first we should apply to offshore-drilling laws, is this: Don’t open any holes you can’t close. If the well site is too deep for humans to reach, drill a simultaneous relief well so you can plug a blowout promptly. If a relief well is too expensive, don’t drill at all. Or you can keep robots on hand to shut down leaks. But they’ll have to be better robots than the ones we’re now watching.

Today’s laws don’t come anywhere near this standard.”

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But you have to.

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An oil well in the Gulf of Mexico suffers a well blowout, exploding the rig and releasing a gusher of oil that would eventually become the largest oil spill in history, coating thousands of miles of coastline and devastating wildlife.

Except this wasn’t 2010; it was 1979. And instead of being near the U.S. coast, it was near the Mexican coast, where most of the damage ended up.

The entire coast of Texas was eventually affected, and it took 10 months to clean up the spill. Two relief wells had to be drilled, and cleanup and damage costs remain unknown.

A few things to point out (you can read an extensive JSTOR article here, if you have access):

  1. They were talking about mandatory shut-off valves in 1979; they were never made mandatory. Surprise, surprise.
  2. Once the oil is out, there’s really not that much you can do other than plan for sucking up as much oil as you can.
  3. Natural seeps do occur and the Gulf of Mexico has a number of natural factors in its favor (as opposed to, say, Alaska), such as sun and warm water.
  4. This will probably take a long time to clean up. It is very doable, just very expensive.
  5. It sure is a lot easier when the oil ends up on someone else’s coast, not yours.

As long as we are reliant on oil, there will be accidents. As long as oil companies avoid liability and regulation, the accidents will get worse.

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The more I read about the oil spill, the more I rage and despair. Here are just a few of the questions I have. If anyone can answer any of these, that would be great:

Why was the “top kill” not tried a month ago? Was it only because top killing seals the well, and they were hoping to keep it productive in the future?

Why did all the headlines say yesterday that the top kill seemed to work, while they admitted two nights ago that they had suspended the procedure and that oil was still seeping out?

Will drilling additional wells nearby be the only way to alleviate the pressure and stop the spill? How long would that take? Months, right?

Will we ever have an accurate estimate of how much oil spilled? By dumping tons of dispersant chemicals into the ocean, has BP made it more difficult or impossible to get an idea about that?

Are those dispersant chemicals safe?

Why is there a liability cap on how much BP will have to pay? Why do Republicans oppose changing the law? Free marketers would presumably oppose corporate handouts.

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