It sounds like the opening plot to a made-for-TV horror flick: Global warming renders an Arctic land bridge habitable, spurring a race of “monstrously big ants” to blaze a trail between Europe and America. This particular horror story actually played out 50 million years ago, and the monstrously big ants were only about 2 inches long, about the size of the smallest known hummingbird. Archeologists recently unearthed the fossilized remains of this new giant ant species—one of the largest ant species ever seen—in Wyoming, making it the first complete giant ant fossil found in America. And because similar giant ants have been found in Europe, they think this is the first reported example of a tropical insect traipsing across the Arctic.
It all started when paleoentomologist Bruce Archibald spied a fossil that was sitting in a drawer at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. “I immediately recognized it and said, ‘Oh my god, this is a giant ant and it looks like it’s related to giant ants that are known from about this time in Germany,'” as he told Live Science. The fossil they found was a queen ant, so we still don’t know how large the average worker was. Because of its whopping 2-inch length, he included the word “titan” into the new species, dubbing it Titanomyrma lubei.
What global warming?
What the weather’s like affects some people’s beliefs about global climate change, a new study found: On hot days, they’re all over it, but on cold days, they’re not so sure.
This is not impressive, people. It’s called “global,” meaning not just what you personally felt when you walked out the door this morning. “Climate” also means something different from “weather”, and “change” could mean things will get warmer, colder, or just plain different. On unusually chilly days, these climatically labile folks are 0 for 3.
If only that was the worst of it. A string of studies have shown that people are comically bad at consistently thinking, well, anything when it comes to climate change. Even miniscule differences in what we’re up to at the moment or how we’re asked can have a big effect on what people think of climate change and what they’re willing to do to help. Here are five more ridiculously simple things that get people to change their minds:
What’s on TV. I’m sure you all remember the 2004 hit film The Day After Tomorrow, in which global warming throws Earth into a new ice age, all of a sudden, much to everyone’s surprise. After the movie came out, one study showed, people believed in global warming more, worried about it more, and felt it was more dangerous than they had a few weeks earlier. Where data fail, have Jake Gyllenhaal run through the streets of an ice-bound New York.
Wording of what’s happening. About 10% more people think weird things will happen to Earth’s climate when you call those weird things “climate change” than “global warming,” a study in March found—because the exact phrasing is what’s really important here, not the weird-climatic-things part.
The chain of cause and effect seems clear: climate change causes Arctic temperatures to fluctuate, which causes ice build-up as snow repeatedly thaws and refreezes. And to Arctic reindeer herders–who want their herds to continue to eat the nice lichen underneath all that ice–the next link in this chain is also clear: castrate your reindeer.
“Males castrated in the traditional way would have an increased chance of survival over other males since they maintain body weight and condition during the rutting season,” according to a research document by Eli Risten Nergaard of Sami University College.
But that’s not all. Researchers have found that castrated male reindeer are larger than their un-castrated brethren, are therefore better able to pound through the thick Arctic ice; they’re also more willing to share their food with calves. In other words, castrated male reindeers facilitate the survival of the entire herd–that is, assuming they’re not all castrated.
Sick of chasing down climate denialists himself, Nigel Leck put his programming skills to use for him. He created the Twitter bot @AI_AGW, who also goes by the name “Turing Test.”
Every five minutes the bot searches Twitter for tweets relating to climate change denialism, and automatically responds to the posters using a database of hundreds of rebuttals, which include links to information and videos. Christopher Mims at Technology Review talked to Leck about the project:
The database began as a simple collection of responses written by Leck himself, but these days quite a few of the rejoinders are culled from a university source whom Leck says he isn’t at liberty to divulge.
Warning: Some viewers might find the video below disturbing and graphic.
In a move that some are calling a misguided publicity stunt, the environmental activist group 10:10 Climate Change Campaign produced and released a gory and disturbing short film, similar to Plane Stupid’s “Polar Bear” video (warning: also gory), to promote the climate change action day scheduled for October 10, 2010 (or 10/10/10).
In the video above, people who don’t pledge themselves to 10:10’s cause (including school children and Gillian Anderson) are exploded into red, chunky goo with the press of a button. It was released last week and has resulted in a media backlash, including Sony’s retraction of support of the cause. It even inspired a cartoon.
Not only does the video offend and disgust, but the New York Times’s Dot Earth Blog summarized another main problem with the video–the dark shadow the negative publicity has spread over the entirety of the climate change debate:
If the goal had been to convince people that environmental campaigners have lost their minds and to provide red meat (literally) to shock radio hosts and pundits fighting curbs on greenhouse gases, it worked like a charm. Of course the goal might have been buzz more than efficacy. Too often these days, that’s the online norm. They succeeded on that front. I, among many others, am forced to write about it. Congratulations.
Climate change might have one teensy good effect, at least in the United States: changes to weather patterns may make it harder for the bubonic plague to survive in rodent burrows.
Bubonic plague is spread by rodents, like the chubby little prairie dog over there on the right, and their fleas to house-dwelling rats, mice, and squirrels, which can spread the deadly bacteria to humans.
Last week, an atmospheric scientist named Kyle Vandercamp stumbled across some surprising documents at his job, and decided to blow the whistle on his employer, Bluebird Lab. The privately funded lab wasn’t just researching potential geoengineering solutions–the planet hacks that could serve as a “plan B” if we can’t get globe-warming CO2 emissions under control–it was actually preparing a full-blown, unilateral tryout for one of these schemes, he said.
Freaky, eh? Might be something to be alarmed about–if it wasn’t just a game.
The fight against global warming has a brand new weapon: whale poop.
Scientists from the Australian Antarctic Division have found that whale poop contains huge amounts of iron and when it is released into the waters, the iron-rich feces become food for phytoplankton. Phytoplankton absorbs carbon dioxide from the air, the algae is in turn eaten by Antarctic krill, and baleen whales eat the krill. Through this neat cycle, globe-warming CO2 is kept sequestered in the ocean.
Scientists have long known that iron is necessary to sustain phytoplankton growth in the oceans, which is why one geoengineering scheme calls for adding soluble iron to ocean waters to encourage the growth of carbon-trapping algae blooms. While environmentalists have fretted over the possible consequences of meddling with ocean chemistry that way, this new study on whale poop suggests an all-natural way to get the same carbon-trapping effect: Increase the number of whales in the ocean.
A second independent inquiry in Britain has cleared climate scientists at the University of East Anglia of any wrongdoing. In the ClimateGate scandal last year, thousands of emails from the university’s Climatic Research Unit were hacked into and released, after which climate change skeptics mined the emails for evidence that the researchers were distorting scientific evidence related to global warming.
The independent inquiry into “ClimateGate,” however, found such allegations to be baseless. But it seems not everyone was convinced.
Here’s a roundup of headlines from some news outlets that covered the inquiries findings: Can you spot the newsroom with an ax to grind?
The New York Times: Britain: Inquiry Finds No Distortion of Climate Data
Huffington Post: Second expert panel shows “ClimateGate” was a ClimateSham
The Wall Street Journal: Panel Says Scientists Didn’t Act Improperly
Clusterstock blogger and science-education-questioner Joe Weisenthal brings us a slideshow of “The 10 Most-Respected [sic] Global Warming Skeptics.” So who’s on there? Everyone from science giants like Freeman Dyson and Nobel winner Ivar Giaever to legitimate scientists like physical chemist (and self-proclaimed non-expert in climate change) Kiminori Itoh and physicist Will Happer, to GOP darling Alan Carlin and everyone’s favorite oil-funded soundbite artist, Myron Ebell.
Sure, it’s important to identify who the strongest voices are on both sides of the climate change debate. But can all of these names really be placed under the “most respected” banner? Dyson, whose scientific street cred knows no bounds, has certainly ruffled feathers by challenging the consensus on the dangers of global warming. But his views skew more towards a desire to balance in sociopolitical factors (such as the effects of climate legislation on poverty in India and China) with policymaking, and questions about the accuracy of climate models. Same goes for Giaever and Itoh.
Then there’s Ebell, whose scientific credentials consist of an uncanny ability to spend every waking moment on MSNBC. Which may be a skill, but hardly earns him a spot on a list with such internationally respected (and still possibly dead wrong) minds. Though we’re sure he’ll happily tout his new honor on Fox News.
This post has been appended to note that Freeman Dyson, a giant in his field, won just about every science award except the Nobel Prize.
Reality Base: Renowned Sci-Fi Novelist and Global Warming Skeptic Michael Crichton Dies
Reality Base: 20 Years Later, Andy Revkin Responds to Groundbreaking Global Warming Story
Discoblog: One More Impact of Climate Change: Longer Days (Literally)