Thanks to Sean Schmidt, I’ve been introduced to yet another pro-science musician: country music star Brad Paisley. I didn’t follow country before, so I’d never heard of him, but wow–Paisley’s song “Wecome to the Future” is just about the most stirring paean to American technological ingenuity and progress that I’ve ever heard or seen. And the whole message comes wrapped in a stars-and-stripes packaging that even a Tea Partier could love.
Watching Paisley’s video, I don’t see how anyone can question the fundamental premise of the Rock Stars of Science™ campaign--that musicians are some of our most powerful allies in spreading the good word about science and its importance to our lives, health, and national future.
Watching this puts me in mind of something about tomorrow’s election, by the way, and I wonder if others would agree.
Seeing those images of windmills, and hearing kids talking about how they want to be scientists while country rock jangles in the background–it all makes me think that even if we do elect a crop of know-nothing climate deniers tomorrow, the message about clean energy and keeping America ahead in technology is not something that can ultimately be kept down. It’s simply too resonant, and too powerful. Too groovy, and too infectious.
That’s the reason clean energy and tech innovators are expected to soundly defeat dirty out-of-state oil interests in the Prop 23 showdown in California. The clean energy and tech guys have got a much better message, because a) no one can question their fundamental contribution to America’s prosperity; and b) they have the future (“Welcome to the Future”) on their side to boot.
We’re very lucky that’s the case. And we’re very lucky to have musicians like Brad Paisley singing the same tune.
The sea turtle to the left has fibropapillomatosis, a tumor-forming disease linked to a herpes virus. While these tumors can appear grotesque, not all are malignant. Fibropapillomatosis has been around since the 1980s, but the cause has been unknown. A new paper in PLoS ONE by Van Houtan, Hargrove, and Balazs analyzed clusters of the virus in locations with high nutrient runoff. And here’s where the story gets interesting…
The authors discovered a relationship between eutrophication (excess nitrogen), an invasive species of algae, sea turtles, and the disease. It goes like this:
So it turns out that the root cause of the whole chain of events–leading to the large tumors we’re observing in sea turtles–is not the result of one of the usual suspects (i.e. carcinogens such as PCBs or 3-Nitrobenzanthrone).
When I spoke to lead author Kyle Van Houtan, he explained, “To me what is really fascinating about the whole argument is how it all begins with simple nitrogen [inputs from runoff] and how that travels through the physical watershed, the ecosystem, and ends up promoting tumors.”
The paper identifies the amino acid arginine as being involved in this process and, coincidentally, clinical trials for cancer drugs for human liver cancers are specifically targeting and destroying arginine. So as Van Houten points out, “There is perhaps more to this than simply sea turtle tumors. After all, 15-20% of human cancers are viral in origin.” In other words, understanding the cause of tumors in sea turtles may help researchers understand why they form in our species too.
It’s just the next stage in the mainstreaming of geoengineering: Now the House Committee on Science, chaired by Bart Gordon, has released a report supporting further research on the topic–not to the detriment of capping emissions, but because capping emissions might not be enough. Here’s the punchline:
Climate engineering, also known as geoengineering, can be described as the deliberate large scale modification of the earth’s climate systems for the purposes of counteracting and mitigating climate change. As this subject becomes the focus of more serious consideration and scrutiny within the scientific and policy communities, it is important to acknowledge that climate engineering carries with it not only possible benefits, but also an enormous range of uncertainties, ethical and political concerns, and the potential for harmful environmental and economic side effects. I believe that reducing greenhouse gas emissions should be the first priority of any domestic or international climate initiative. Nothing should distract us from this priority, and climate engineering must not divert any of the resources dedicated to greenhouse gas reductions and clean energy development. However, we are facing an unfortunate reality. The global climate is already changing and the onset of climate change impacts may outpace the world’s political, technical, and economic capacities to prevent and adapt to them. Therefore, policymakers should begin consideration of climate engineering research now to better understand which technologies or methods, if any, represent viable stopgap strategies for managing our changing climate and which pose unacceptable risks.
You can access the full report here.
Honestly, one shouldn’t find the conclusion surprising. Anyone who really understands the scope of the climate problem, and the cost considerations that go along with mitigation, ends up being forced toward a view like this one. That’s just how reality works these days.