Category Archives: video

“It’s true whether or not you believe in it. That’s why it works!” – Neil deGrasse Tyson brings Science to CNN and Colbert Nation

I don’t want to turn this blog into a Neil deGrasse Tyson fan site, but its hard not to share when he is so damned articulate about issues that concern me deeply, about the unnecessary yet ever-present culture war in America that is depriving generations of the beauty and wisdom that a scientific perspective can bring. Nobody explains this more clearly than Tyson, and in ways that should be understandable even to reasonable religious folks. I’m with him when he says that he doesn’t care what you believe—I keep telling my students the same thing—because you have the freedom to believe whatever you want in this country. But you must recognize also that your belief is not going to affect the reality that science allows us to perceive and understand. That reality, and the science of understanding it, “it’s true whether or not you believe in it!” Indeed.

So here are a few more clips from Tyson’s appearance on the telly this week, in the wake of his new fame as the host of the rebooted Cosmos. First, an interview on CNN’s Reliable Sources where he challenged the journalistic notion of “balance” which can be quite false and unbalanced when it comes to presenting science in the mainstream media.

http://www.cnn.com/video/data/2.0/video/bestoftv/2014/03/09/the-great-american-science-divide.cnn.html

And then he made his 10th appearance on The Colbert Report (presumably walking right over from his CNN gig because he’s wearing the same outfit!):

http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/433644/march-10-2014/neil-degrasse-tyson-pt–1

http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/433645/march-10-2014/neil-degrasse-tyson-pt–2

Presenting the first fruit of a sabbatical – “Cities and Biodiversity Outlook: Action and Policy”

As regular readers (and friends/followers on Facebook and Twitter) may be aware, I am currently on sabbatical from my teaching responsibilities, and am trying to make the most of this year to maximize my productivity in terms of research, catching up with paper writing, and science communication, here on the blog and elsewhere. The blogging has been rather light over the past few months as I have been traveling and getting involved in some fascinating collaborations which haven’t left me much time to write. I hope to make up for that over the coming weeks and months, especially now that I’ve moved my blog to be part of this Coyotes Network. Nice to be part of so many exciting and invigorating collaborations on all fronts! I was so ready for it after 8 years of the teaching and scholarship grind…

My sabbatical started with a lovely two months in Stockholm, working with my friend and colleague Thomas Elmqvist to put together the Cities and Biodiversity Outlook (CBO) for the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). A Professor of Ecology at the Stockholm Resilience Center, at Stockholm University, Thomas is also the chief scientific editor of this effort bringing together some 150 scientists and practitioners from the urban ecology disciplines (yes takes multiple disciplines to study the ecology of cities) to make the first comprehensive assessment of the state of biodiversity and ecosystem services in cities throughout our increasingly urbanized world. Here is Thomas explaining the mission and context of the CBO:

[vimeo 42603843]

It was quite an inspirational and productive way to begin my sabbatical – to go to a city that was so different in so many ways from Fresno, to explore a new country, to meet some fantastic new colleagues and friends from distant lands, and to engage in such a stimulating exercise as assessing the world’s urban ecosystems to help identify ways to better manage them for long-term sustainability. I may write more about these experiences and share photos from the trip as time allows.

By the end of my nearly two months there, we had finalized the text of the CBO’s first major document: the Cities and Biodiversity Outlook: Action and Policy. This is our distillation of the current scientific understanding of urban ecosystems and biodiversity, and various ways cities can and are addressing the challenge of managing cities for sustainability. We synthesized insights and case-studies from the collective expertise of our 150-odd collaborators to produce a document that is intended to help ordinary citizens and urban planners, policy makers, and non-government practitioners grapple with the challenges and opportunities of global urbanization. As such, it is a relatively concise, well illustrated document written for non-expert readers – something for which my blogging had prepared me rather well, I realized. A more detailed Scientific Assessment, comprising of chapters covering different aspects of the urban ecological challenges, and detailed case-studies, written by the world’s leading experts in urban ecology, is currently being compiled and will be released sometime in spring 2013, as a print and an open-access e-book. Stay tuned for announcements about that.

Meanwhile, after spending a couple of weeks in Germany attending conferences, giving research talks, and catching up with some old friends, I wound up in India preparing for the official launch of the CBO at the 11th Conference of Parties (COP 11) of the CBD. The first public presentation of the CBO was a keynote talk by Thomas at the 2012 Urban Biodiversity and Design Conference in Mumbai on 10 October 2012. Then we moved to Hyderabad where the CBO was formally launched at last on 15 October 2012, at the Cities for Life Summit organized as part of COP 11. Here is Thomas (in the middle with the CBD Executive Secretary Mr. Braulio F. de Souza Dias on his left) showing it to the media at the launch press conference:

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That was when I finally got to see our work in print – quite nice colorful print too – and was pleasantly surprised to find myself listed among the 10 lead authors of the CBO! I honestly hadn’t really paid attention to the authorship of this report because it had been such a rich community exercise. In addition, since COP 11 was in India, and a large contingent of government officials, biodiversity scientists, and NGOs from all over India were in attendance that day, we simultaneously released another document: Urbanization, ecosystems, and biodiversity: Assessments of India and Bangalore. A smaller group of us (primarily Harini Nagendra, Maria Schewenius, and I) wrote this during a frenzied few weeks – and through an insane flurry of emails – after the CBO: Action & Policy had gone to the printers. Our initial print run of a 1000 copies of both the documents was exhausted within the hour, with journalists at the press conference fighting for the last copies of the India Assessment! I don’t think any of us were quite prepared for such an enthusiastic reception – but it has certainly reenergized the team working on the Scientific Assessment to complete the overall CBO mission.

A few hours ago, I had the opportunity to present an overview of the CBO at the December 2012 meeting of the Central Valley Café Scientifique in Fresno, to a very interested local audience of science enthusiasts and concerned citizens. Here are the slides from my presentation (adapted from Thomas’ keynote talk in Mumbai):

[slideshare id=15479286&doc=cbo-valleycafesci-dec2012-121204021824-phpapp02]

I was once again surprised, and gratified, by the keen interest and sharp questions and comments from the audience in the vigorous discussion that followed. But I really shouldn’t be surprised – after all, we are all city dwellers, so who among us wouldn’t be interested in learning about the state of our own home ecosystem? I hope the key messages (the CBO has 10 of them) we worked so hard to craft over the summer in the Stockholm archipelago, will percolate and spread beyond last night’s immediate audience and start to reach those involved in the governance of Fresno and Clovis (and other cities). I am now hoping to meet the mayors of both cities so I can present them with copies of the CBO: Action and Policy.

We urban ecologists have done our best to put together this report – now we must ensure that our messages translate into real world action in cities worldwide if we are to contain some of the alarming trends of urbanization’s impacts, and create better habitats for ourselves and for other species on an urban planet. Let me leave you with that thought, and with some links for further reading and action:

Homegrown subversive plots to feed the hungry and save the world!

It is passing strange to think that growing your own food in your own garden can be considered a subversive act! How did we come to this state, especially in the developed world, but also many cities in the developed world, that we are so alienated from the food on our own tables? Roger Doiron (see his TEDx talk below), founder of Kitchen Gardens International is correct though, in asserting that in our current industrialized global food production system, growing your own fruits and vegetables in your yard or balcony garden has become a subversive act. Because in doing so, we can take back some of the power over our own foods and lives that we have ceded to multinational corporations who control most aspects of global food production now: the policies, the money, much of the land, and the means of food production.

It is remarkable that we have lost power over something so fundamental as the food we must consume daily to survive. It was a mere 10,000 years or so ago that we invented agriculture, a huge step in humanity’s gaining power and control over our foods, and therefore our lives, by freeing ourselves from the vagaries of nature. That initial revolution fueled much of the growth of civilization and has brought us to where we are now – heavily dependent upon the industrial food production and supply system, and often with very little control over the quality of what we can put on our plates or how it is produced, or at what environmental and social costs. Yet this is one area where it should not be too hard for most of us to take back some of this power, some of the means of production: by growing our own little subversive garden plots! Doiron explains how we can do this and what we stand to gain through this subversion:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ezuz_-eZTMI&hl=en_US&fs=1&rel=0&autoplay=0&showinfo=0]

via ted.com

Hard to think of a downside to this, isn’t it? We need not stop with just our own little gardens in the small bits of urban space we may control – we can, and must, also work collectively to subvert public spaces towards food production, converting vacant lots and even lawns in public parks into edible landscapes that can feed the thousands of urban dwellers who may not have the space or the means to grow their own gardens. The city of Irvine in southern California (yes, the city in conservative Orange County) has done just that: opened up some effectively vacant land to growing vegetables, which apparently feed up to 200,000 people! Here’s a video tour:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wXLx0D9YkKA?wmode=transparent]

To put it in terms of the activist metaphor of the moment, gardening for food is an effective way to occupy the global food system, begin to wrest it back from the corporations (even though they still control it through the sales of seeds, fertilizers, pesticides and all the other paraphernalia that goes with gardening) – while simultaneously improving our health and building community. In the process, we may even begin to help heal some of the wounds we have caused in natural ecosystems, and restore some parts of local biodiversity, as is being shown by recent work on the ecology of urban gardens.

So – how would you like a little healthy homegrown subversion on your dinner plate? Give me a double helping, please!

Halloween 2011: The Curse of Thomas Malthus!

Tonight, October 31, 2011, is Halloween, a night when children (of all ages it seems) dress up in scary costumes and go tricking people and/or collecting sweet treats. At least those celebrating this pagan holiday here in America (and other countries in the American cultural empire) do so. I watched my younger daughter’s first grade class participate in a costume parade this morning at her school: under the watchful eye of all their teachers and many a parent, in their school yard secure behind a high fence to keep the children safe in the downtown neighborhood which is scary year-round to people from more affluent parts of town. Tonight, I will walk with her in our own perhaps safer neighborhood, joining with neighbors’ kids in the fun annual ritual that started with celebrating the harvest and nature’s spirits, but is now mostly about making us buy cheap plastic crap and candy – to the tune of at least 7 billion dollars this year in the US, according to National Public Radio.

7 Billion dollars. That is quite a market for scares in this scarily declining American economy.

 

7 Billion is also a number that is scaring the pants off of many in my environmentalist fraternity this Halloween. Because today is the date that the UN has chosen (rather arbitrarily, of course, given that we add about 216,000 people every day, but appropriately for this scary day) to mark the official birth of the 7 Billionth human being alive on this planet!

Media_httpwwwunorgnew_nucbj

via un.org

Yes, we are 7 billion now. Doesn’t that give you the heebie-jeebies? Especially if you’ve been listening to Paul Ehrlich, that reliable environmental scaremonger who is again in the news, of course, as the expert who rang the 20th century’s loudest alarm bell about the human Population Bomb – and that was when we were a mere 3 billion or so!! We’ve managed to double, somehow, without experiencing complete collapse of civilization (arguably), but we continue to dance ever closer to the brink. Collapse is now imminent, says Ehrlich. Even Bill McKibben, more focused on climate change issues, worries about the population problem.

There are many reasons to be worried about the consequences of having so many of us crowding this pale blue dot of a planet, of course. Especially if so many of us are keen to continue spending billions of dollars on seemingly cheap plastic junk (and candy) that is actually rather expensive if we factor in the environmental costs of manufacturing (we don’t) and getting rid of after tonight (we don’t do that either). Yet, the signs may be more hopeful than in your nightmares painted by Ehrlich, our generation’s Malthus, who continues to focus on population per se as being the big problem, even while acknowledging the role of how much we consume. Other, more careful analyses of human demographics suggest, though, that our population growth is slowing down considerably, and we may not even hit the 10 billion mark projected by the UN. Rather than rehash the arguments on this otherwise busy day (even before take my child out trick-or-treating), I suggest you read this thought-provoking post about the demographic transition and what it means for us.

 

And while thinking about how many of us there are, how much we consume, and how our technology is also helping empower women to take control of reproduction and slow down our explosion, see also a wonderful talk by Hans Rosling, on the magic of washing machines.

 

A quick tangential true story: Sometime back in 1991-92, after I’d been in the US for my first year or two of graduate school, a good friend asked me a standard question that immigrants inevitably get asked at some point: what is the best thing about life in America, now that I had lived here for a while? My spontaneous answer: washing machines! Honest! No one had them in India until the late 1990s, and I was truly appreciative of the benefits of that technology. My friend (expecting perhaps something about freedom or the American dream) was nonplussed.

 

Little did I know that I was anticipating the genius of Rosling, in this lovely TED talk:

Finally, since it is Halloween and we are most haunted by the ghost of Thomas Malthus, allow me to recycle one of my musings on the topic, posted several years ago:

Malthus’ Ghost Haunted Old Delhi So…

old delhi 1960s raghu rai.jpg
(Photo of a street scene in Old Delhi taken by Raghu Rai sometime in the 1960s)

 

Four decades ago two young American men took a seminal trip (one walked, the other took a taxi) through the teeming bazaars of Old Delhi in India. The sensory overload of what was (and still is) a typical morning commute for a Delhiite awakened something profound in both young men, who went on to write about the experience famously in ways that resonate till this day.

 

Idealistic Youth #1:

“As we crawled through the city, we encountered a crowded slum area. The temperature was well over 100, and the air was a haze of dust and smoke. The streets seemed alive with people. People eating, people washing, people sleeping. People visiting, arguing, and screaming… People, people, people.”

Idealistic Youth #2:

“Small animals were not the only beings in great abundance. So were people. Along one long sidewalk, I saw hundreds of wooden shelves about the size of a refrigerator lying on their sides. Each served as home for at least one person. Even less fortunate souls lay on the grass or in the brown dirt with a tattered blanket serving as their only shelter. Some had only rags to protect themselves from the elements. About a block from the YMCA, an old man grunted as he squatted and defecated in the gutter. A little further on, a bony couple engaged in mechanical sexual intercourse while two children sat beside them, taking little notice of their parents as they played in the dust. Millions in India live out their lives on the public streets awash in the dried mud. There they are born, and there they bathe, eat, sleep, excrete and copulate. As attested by the teeming population, the one thing they seem to do best is breed.”

Can you guess who the famous authors of these passages are?

 

All right, let me give you just the names – and see if you can identify who wrote which passage above: Paul Ehrlich and David Duke.

 

Yes, that Ehrlich and, indeed, that Duke. Can you tell me, before clicking on the links, who wrote what above?

 

Surely the ghost of Thomas Malthus must’ve been actively patrolling those alleys of Old Delhi back in those days, seeking out idealistic young white tourist souls to pounce upon! And yet, how different the paths that ghost led them down…

 

All this, brought to my mind by this essay in Current Biology, commemorating and reflecting upon one of these men’s seminal book published 40 years ago.

 

—–

 

Happy Halloween!!

Posted via email from a leaf warbler’s gleanings

How do we get our global economy off the endless “growth” express and on to a human-scale path of plenitude?

An image I found and shared on Facebook this week, featuring a quote from the Dalai Lama, seems to have hit a nerve among my circle of friends there:

294737_10150347822658950_682843949_8081248_1265257049_n
I’m not surprised, given the kinds of circles I hang out in, that this thought had such resonance. Most of us concerned about what we are doing to our environment and our own wellbeing and future appreciate and find much to ponder in that observation. Of course, it is nice of the Lama to share his profound insight from on high (so to speak) in his role as spiritual leader and a monk observing the rest of humanity with his cultivated sense of detachment. Would that the rest of us could also detach ourselves from the daily grind and engage in more meaningful quests for our lives. Most of us, of course, don’t really have that luxury—or have a terrible time finding a way towards that serenity. So we pause, briefly, at this poster, and share it among our friends (stepping lightly over the irony of doing so on these hyper-social online networks which may seem the very antithesis of what the Lama is talking about), file it away for contemplation, and hope we get the chance to do something about it in some small way in our own lives. And for that, we must be grateful to the Dalai Lama, for pulling us up short in our headlong rush of a life, even if for a brief moment of contemplation.

A bigger question, though, is how do we—those uf us not able to immediately extricate ourselves from the larger economy which pushes us into the endless pursuit of ever elusive wealth—begin to challenge and change the system? The dominant economic paradigm of our time is completely wedded to this pursuit of wealth, for individuals, corporations, and entire nations chasing endless growth. Even people who talk about sustainability within this paradigm talk about “sustainable growth“, an oxymoronic concept if there ever was one, given the natural resource constraints on this only planet we inhabit. More radical environmentalists and leftists have a deeper critique (e.g., read John Bellamy Foster’s “The Ecological Rift: Capitalism’s War on the Earth“) of the growth economy paradigm—but reading them often leads to more despair at the scale of the revolution we seemingly need to overthrow that paradigm.
The growth paradigm so dominates our entire public discourse that even moderately centre-leaning right-wing capitalists like Obama get labelled as communists who want to socialize everything! How then can we push the system onto a completely different path, one that may actually be sustainable in a truer sense of the word?
The burgeoning movement to Occupy Wall Street seems to have lit a spark across the US, creating opportunities to challenge at least parts of the capitalist finance-driven system. Breaking through the media narrative about how we must only “grow” our way out of the current economic crises, is an accomplishment worthy of note. The real challenge for this excitingly amorphous movement though is to present not only a coherent set of demands but actually offer alternative models (e.g. at steadystate.org) for recovering the economy, alternatives which can redress the vast social inequities of the present as well as begin healing our ecosystems. We also need models that don’t call for radical / violent overthrow of the system with alternatives that are also imposed from the top-down (putting environmentalists and ecological economists in charge, for example)—but offer instead more distributed, diverse, grassroots alternatives that have a better chance of sustaining us in the long haul; models that build upon stuff many of us are already doing in our daily lives to break free of the dominant growth paradigm and take control of our lives in more meaningful ways.

One such alternative is seen in this video from the Center for a New American Dream, visualizing economist Juliet Schor’s alternative model of a Plenitude Economy:

What I particularly like about this vision is that it draws its strengths from stuff we ordinary people are already doing in the US (and elsewhere) to find our own ways out of the ravages of the collapsed economy during this current great depression. Unlike the last great depression of the 1930s in the US, this time around we don’t have the political leadership or will to create and offer solutions from above, unfortunately. That does not mean, however, that people are simply standing still in despair (although there is plenty of that to go around), waiting for handouts from the government or from charities. We are, in small ways, taking charge of some of the means of production (urban farming and homesteading being great examples) and creating/reviving alternative means of sharing what we produce, away from the globalized economic mainstream. These smaller scale actions offer a good antidote against despair at the ever increasingly gloomy global picture. This is how we can really start rebuilding our world, one garden, one rooftop, one school, one swap-meet, one community at a time, each with its own local adaptation to find its own unique solution. Who needs a world revolution from above when we can have a multitude of these smaller revolutions growing from below?

Life on this planet has always thrived on diversity and local adaptation; it is time for us environmentalists to also truly embrace that truth, and participate in these many movements within our own neighborhoods, even as we seek to change the overarching paradigm globally. As that seemingly forgotten early prophet of ecological economics, E. F. Schumacher, observed a few decades ago: Small is Beautiful, after all! It is useful to remember that.

As a friend remarked upon reading the Dalai Lama’s words: not all of us sacrifice our health in order to make money; some of us do so in pursuit of environmental and human justice, to help create a better world. But maybe, just maybe, we don’t have to sacrifice our health for that either: instead, let us find the time and space to sink our hands into the soil, get dirt under our fingernails as we grow our own food and create habitats for other species amid our urban sprawl; to chat with our neighbors as we exchange vegetables from each other’s yards or balcony container gardens; to rebuild the social fabric that we worry is fraying under globalization; and take that time to also breathe in the air and simply enjoy living in the present.

I’m sure the Dalai Lama would approve of that (even if we choose to talk about it online)!

From Silent Spring to Silent Night: A Tale of Toads and Men

As the semester winds down here at Fresno State, the Tri Beta Biology Club has a couple more special treats for us. For this week’s Biology Colloquium, we bring you a real role model in Dr. Tyrone Hayes, an African American field biologist (yes, they exist, despite the stereotype) who became one of the youngest Full Professors at the University of California Berkeley. He will share his groundbreaking (and corporation-shaking) research on the effects of the herbicide Atrazine on amphibians, a taxon that has been in global decline for some time now, with pesticides hammering some of the nails in their collective coffin. Here’s an excerpt about Dr. Hayes’ work from the PBS documentary Frogs: The Thin Green Line:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nBbkwlGM7X0&hl=en&fs=1&hd=1]

And if that isn’t enough to grab your interest, this might:
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3MxrH4lN0-A&hl=en&fs=1]
Here are details of the colloquium:
Tri Beta Biology Club presents:

FROM SILENT SPRING TO SILENT NIGHT: A TALE OF TOADS AND MEN


Dr. Tyrone Hayes
Professor of Integrative Biology
University of Californa, Berkeley
on Friday, May 6, 2011
at 3:00 PM in AG 109 (download maps here)

The herbicide, atrazine, is a potent endocrine disruptor. My laboratory’s studies in amphibians have shown that atrazine both demasculinizes and feminizes exposed males at levels as low as 0.1 ppb. Our previous worked examined morphological effects, including the loss of androgen-dependent sexually dimorphic features, and the development of estrogen-dependent features in exposed males. These findings are consistent with an induction of aromatase, resulting in decreased androgen secretion and inappropriate estrogen synthesis and secretion. Our ongoing studies focus on behavioral effects in male frogs exposed throughout life and demonstrate both the loss of male reproductive behavior and the induction of female-typical behavior in exposed males. These data on amphibians and the proposed mechanism are consistent with findings across vertebrate classes, including humans, and raise concern about the role of this common environmental contaminant in reproductive hormone-dependent cancers and declining fertility in humans.

Call the Biology department (559•278•2001) for more information. You can also download the flyer here.

Winter is a time for murmurations….

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XH-groCeKbE&fs=1&hl=en_US&rel=0]

… of starlings, all over the temperate world, in places where the starlings are from, and where they are invasive commensals who have followed on humanities tailwinds into new continents. Around here in the Central Valley, native blackbirds put on such shows as well, although perhaps not quite in such large numbers as seen here in the European starlings. At least not any flocks I’ve seen locally.

Posted via email from a leaf warbler’s gleanings