Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Global Warming Update: Polar Bears vs. Melting Glaciers

Let's discuss two concerns regarding the changing climate:  endangered Polar Bears vs. Melting Glaciers.

Which do you think is the biggest problem?

The findings may surprise you.

Polar BearsThe extinction of the polar bears could upset the entire ecosystem of the Arctic and may represent a "canary in the gold mine" scenario.  If they are wiped out, what species is next?There are 20-25,000 polar bears and the populations have been stable for 30-40 years.  Many areas use hunting to keep the populations in check.  The biggest threat to polar bears right now is hunters. [1]
Melting GlaciersThe melting of glaciers is a serious problem.  The areas of the glaciers will be turned into deserts and the oceans will rise and flood islands and shoreline.The glaciers have been melting since the end of the Little Ice Age 400-500 years ago and will melt even without Global Warming.
"There is high confidence that current glacier extents are out of balance with current climatic conditions, indicating that glaciers will continue to shrink in the future even without further temperature increase." [2]

I think that a bigger risk than endangerment of polar bears and melting glaciers is the lack of honesty in the climate change discussion.  This disregard for reality creates skeptics.  If climate change is real and a risk for our futures, let's be honest about it so that we can work together to figure out a solution.

[1] http://www.worldwildlife.org/species/polar-bear
Two months ago I reviewed the World Wildlife Foundation website regarding Polar Bears.  It clearly stated that the polar bear populations have been stable for the last 30-40 years and that hunting is used for population control.  The website has been redesigned and this information is no longer available.  The primary focus is on the risks of Climate Change.  The previous site had a map of subpopulations showing which ones were increasing in population, which were stable and which were decreasing.  The new site only states that 8 of 19 subpopulations are in decline.  Here is the old graphic (which I luckily saved)
[2] The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Technical Summary for 2013 regarding melting glaciers.  http://www.climatechange2013.org/images/report/WG1AR5_TS_FINAL.pdf  page 41

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Average = Beautiful?

Tom's stroke resulted in very specific brain damage.  In every way he was normal except in his ability to connect names with things.  When asked to draw a picture of a rose, what he drew was definitely a flower, but his flower didn't exist on earth.  The type of flower he drew was actually a rare glimpse into the human brain; it was the "average" of all flowers he had ever seen.  The way our brain remembers things is to create a composite picture of the "type" of thing.  Seeing new flowers is simply processing the differences.  Our brains do the same thing with faces.

In separate research, a number of photographs of faces is averaged using a computer.  The mouth, nose and eyes are average size.  The eyes are an average distance apart, etc.  Most people find the resulting "average" face more attractive than any of the original faces.

In the context of both of these ideas, the phrase "easy on the eyes" makes sense.  Someone with an attractive face resembles the average in our brain and requires less brain power for processing; literally their face is "easier" to look at.

So this got me thinking about the broader context.  What about people that look different from our "average"?  Is it really that they are "unattractive" or is it that our "average" is too narrowly focused?  If this applies to flowers and faces, can it also apply to ideas and beliefs?  What would happen if you had a greater diversity of people you associated with and exchanged ideas with?

The Tell-Tale Brain: A Neuroscientist's Quest for What Makes Us Human, V. S. Ramachandran
Try averaging faces yourself here: http://faceresearch.org/demos/average
More info here: http://faceresearch.org/students/averageness