By John C. Cannon – The loss of approximately 200 species a century might not seem extreme through the lens of one person’s lifespan, but it’s as much as 100 times faster than historical estimates, according to a 2015 study also led by Ceballos. He explained that under “normal circumstances,” it might have taken as many as 10,000 years for that many animals to vanish.
The researchers discovered that the populations of nearly one-third of these animals in this sample are on the decline. In terms of sheer numbers, the study’s maps show that perhaps half the number of individual animals that once inhabited the Earth with humans are gone—a loss that numbers in the billions.
The team also drilled down into the research on populations of 177 well-studied mammals to see how they have fared since 1900. They found every single one has lost at least 30 percent of its habitat, and around 40 percent of these mammals have lost 80 percent or more of their former ranges. more> https://goo.gl/o4dxkY
Posted in EARTH WATCH, Economic development, Economy, History, Leadership, Nature, Technology
Tagged Earth, Ecosystems, Extinction, Habitat loss, Loss of species
Raven Rock: The Story of the U.S. Government’s Secret Plan to Save Itself—While the Rest of Us Die, Author: Garrett Graff.
By Mahita Gajanan – Raven Rock is the name of the military installation built in the late 1940s near Camp David, in case of disaster during the Cold War. As Graff’s subtitle indicates, not everyone was invited to take shelter.
“It’s too hard to keep people scared enough that every family will have a shelter,” Graff said. “The planners were like, ‘This is going to be too much to save America. So, we’re going to try to figure out how to save the idea of America.'”
As we think about Russia and North Korea, these questions are more relevant today,” he said. “We just don’t know what [Trump] is doing or who might be appointed to some of these secret roles after a catastrophic incident.”
Graff said plans for a nuclear disaster today “absolutely exist,” although they remain classified. more> https://goo.gl/G1DnyD
Posted in Book review, CONGRESS WATCH, EARTH WATCH, Economy, Education, Energy & emissions, History, Leadership, Media, Nature, Science, Technology
Tagged Catastrophe, Earth, Ecology, Government, Leadership, United States
Octopus And Squid Evolution Is Officially Weirder Than We Could Have Ever Imagined
By Signe Dean – They edit their own genes!
Just when we thought octopuses couldn’t be any weirder, it turns out that they and their cephalopod brethren evolve differently from nearly every other organism on the planet.
In a surprising twist, scientists have discovered that octopuses, along with some squid and cuttlefish species, routinely edit their RNA (ribonucleic acid) sequences to adapt to their environment.
This is weird because that’s really not how adaptations usually happen in multicellular animals. When an organism changes in some fundamental way, it typically starts with a genetic mutation – a change to the DNA.
Those genetic changes are then translated into action by DNA’s molecular sidekick, RNA. You can think of DNA instructions as a recipe, while RNA is the chef that orchestrates the cooking in the kitchen of each cell, producing necessary proteins that keep the whole organism going.
But RNA doesn’t just blindly execute instructions – occasionally it improvises with some of the ingredients, changing which proteins are produced in the cell in a rare process called RNA editing.
When such an edit happens, it can change how the proteins work, allowing the organism to fine-tune its genetic information without actually undergoing any genetic mutations. But most organisms don’t really bother with this method, as it’s messy and causes problems more often that solving them.
“The consensus among folks who study such things is Mother Nature gave RNA editing a try, found it wanting, and largely abandoned it,” Anna Vlasits reports for Wired.
But now it looks like cephalopods didn’t get the memo. more> https://goo.gl/A1TS6O
Expressivism, Pragmatism and Representationalism, Author: Huw Price.
By Huw Price – One way or another, then, we are going to be sharing the planet with a lot of non-biological intelligence. Whatever it brings, we humans face this future together. We have an obvious common interest in getting it right. And we need to nail it the first time round. Barring some calamity that ends our technological civilization without entirely finishing us off, we’re not going to be coming this way again.
If we are to develop machines that think, ensuring that they are safe and beneficial is one of the great intellectual and practical challenges of this century. And we must face it together – the issue is far too large and crucial to be tackled by any individual institution, corporation or nation. Our grandchildren, or their grandchildren, are likely to be living in a different era, perhaps more Machinocene than Anthropocene.
Our task is to make the best of this epochal transition, for them and the generations to follow. We need the best of human intelligence to make the best of artificial intelligence. more> https://goo.gl/dHx4jd
Posted in Book review, EARTH WATCH, Economy, Education, History, Nature, Science, Technology
Tagged Artificial intelligence, Brain, Earth, Industrial economy, Machines, Technology
By Steve Paulson – Consciousness is a buzzing business in neuroscience labs and brain institutes. But it wasn’t always this way. Just a few decades ago, consciousness barely registered as a credible subject for science.
Why were humans able to create civilizations that have transformed the planet?
We don’t have a precise answer. We have big brains and are, by some measure, the most intelligent species, at least in the short term. We’ll see whether we’ll actually survive in the long term, given our propensity for mass violence. And we’ve manipulated the planet to such an extent that we are now talking about entering a new geological age, the Anthropocene.
But it’s unclear why whales or dolphins—some of which have bigger brains and more neurons in their cortex than we do—why they are not called smarter or more successful. Maybe because they have flippers and live in the ocean, which is a relatively static environment. With flippers, you’re unable to build sophisticated tools.
Of course, human civilization is all about tools, whether it’s a little stone, an arrow, a bomb, or a computer. more> https://goo.gl/bmNgK6