COMM:ing to a close

With the end of the semester just around the corner, many of my classes are in full review mode. Looking back at the past couple of months we’ve covered quite a bit of material, it’s not often you get a class that covers three topics. From the inequality in health around the world, and how even racism can cause complications with health to the global catastrophe in the making, climate change.

As an engineering major, my other classes don’t offer a lot of material to talk to non engineers. This class however, has consistently given me something to talk to friends and family about that are real and relevant. From the Bhopal disaster to green washing, every class ends up giving me something to talk about to people outside of class.

The thing that stuck with me the most was a video we watched near the beginning of the semester. It was about stress and its adverse health effects. I’ve always heard stress is bad for your health, I think most of us have. The surprising part was exactly how, I had always assumed it was because of your behavior when you’re stressed, not directly as a result of the hormones you release when you’re stressed. The more far reaching implications of stress having that kind of effect are for those who have stress from things that are out of their control. It was really eye opening and allowed me to look at health and especially communication in health in a completely new perspective.

I’ll admit, coming in to the class I was skeptical on how useful the class might be beyond fulfilling my BoK requirement, but I am coming out the other side with a fresh perspective, a new understanding of many of the areas we discussed in class and a bolstered appreciation for hearing both (all) sides of an issue.

Image result for taco

Enjoy

 

Dylan Nourse

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Will Fossil Fuel Trump Renewables?

The short answer is yes, if we do nothing about it. Our new administration has run on a platform of reinstating fossil fuels to their former unregulated ‘glory.’ The new director of the EPA is likely to be Myron Ebell, a man who believes global warming is not only a hoax and ‘silly’ but that a vast majority of scientists agree with him on this matter.

Despite a significant majority of Americans speaking out in favor of the Paris agreement President-Elect Trump has vowed to ‘cancel’ the United States’s participation in said agreement. This withdrawal could have devastating fallout given the US’s position as a world leader and a country that has the capital to break new ground on the renewable energy front. If the US caves and dismisses the issue, what hope is there for smaller and poorer countries that would have to put forth a tremendous amount of effort and sacrifice to achieve these ends? All this aside, the earth is already at a tipping point with global warming, even slowing progress to correct the ship might ensure our demise.

Trump is in very isolated territory on this front. As you can see in the chart above, a majority are in favor of upholding that specific agreement. Additionally, a majority feel that at least some steps need to be made towards cleaning up our act and reducing dependency on fossil fuel.

Even those who don’t see it as a pressing concern believe we need to be making steps towards a solution now. Only a fairly small percent of the population share Trumps view that the fossil fuel industries should be deregulated and the emissions ignored. Another part of Trumps transition team includes Steven Groves, he shares the transition teams ideology in exiting the Paris agreement and has even written an article for the Daily Signal titled “The Pathway Out of Paris.”

It’s going to be difficult to combat this administrations stance on these issues, but we all have to continue to fight for what is necessary for our health and safety. Write your congressmen and women. Contact the white house. Let it be known that you do not accept the status quo and that you are in favor of eliminating emissions. Will your submissions be read word for word by the president? No. Your words will however become part of the statistics politicians look at when making their decisions. If something is overwhelmingly opposed to their vote they risk political suicide. Make your voice heard and change those votes!

https://www.donaldjtrump.com/contact  <- The Donald

https://www.whitehouse.gov/contact   <- Current Administration (Obama)

http://wenstrup.house.gov/contact/     <-House Rep

http://chabot.house.gov/contact/   <-House Rep

https://www.brown.senate.gov/contact/  <-Senator

https://www.portman.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/contact-form  <-Senator

 

Dylan Nourse

 

 

 

He Speaks for the Trees… And Sells SUV’s

Image result for lorax mazda

Here is the ad

Looking for greenwashing in advertisements this week I came across countless examples, but none quite as absurd and, quite honestly, offensive as this one. The beloved Dr. Seuss character who is the only environmentalist left in an industrialized world, who has his habitat torn apart, who hates the deceit and outright lies of the faux green world that is built using his Truffula Trees, ‘endorses’ a Mazda. I couldn’t believe it when I saw it the first time, and it’s no better now. I don’t know how much money the production team received to allow Mazda to use the character, but it is a bold testament to just how far companies are willing to go to deceive you. The willingness to drag Dr.Seuss, an american legend, to drag his magnum opus through the mud just to try to tell you that their car is good for the environment. Not only is it lying about being good for the environment, a standard that no vehicle to date has passed, it is lying about even being less bad than most other vehicles. The Mazda in question is a midsize SUV and gets 35 mpg in a year where the average light duty vehicle passenger car got 36.4 mpg. It isn’t even above average in that regard, yet suggest that it has won the only ‘Truffula Tree Seal of Approval.’ It’s almost comedic how they used a cartoon trying to expose the horrible nature of corporations and greed to indulge their greed. In addition to being Lorax themed and fully animated, the commercial has a sky blue colored car, features many of the Lorax characters up close as the car drives through the background (on a paved road I might add), and makes several references to it’s ‘skyactiv technology.’ I assumed this meant technology that was polluting the skies, but looked into it a little more than my base assumption. Skyactiv is the name Mazda uses to refer to its ‘fuel efficient’ engine, transmission, body and chassis. So in short, skyactiv means all the parts of a car with below average fuel efficiency.

Image result for lorax mazda

Dr.Seuss’s reaction to this, probably

Here is the ad

 

Dylan Nourse

The Most Dangerous Oil On The Planet Might Surprise You

In class we spoke about human generated disasters, namely the Buhpal gas disaster. I was recently made aware of another environmental and human catastrophe we are bringing upon ourselves, except this has a much larger scale. I want to start by saying, if you haven’t already, you should watch Leonardo Dicaprio’s documentary in partnership with National Geographic called Before The Flood. It is extremely well done and informative. One topic they brought up in that documentary was that of palm oil. Now, you could make the argument that most agriculture, especially modern agriculture is pretty bad for the environment, but palm oil runs away with the competition.

Being a palm it must be planted in a tropical area, so to start your own palm oil patch just find a nice chuck of the tiny remaining rain forest we still have; now burn it to the ground. You can’t possibly be bothered to simply clear cut, you don’t have that kind of time. After burning down one of the most complex, intricate and bio diverse areas on the planet, simply disregard the displaced species including Sumatran orangutan, elephant, and tiger, all of which are critically endangered, and plant row after row of  oil palms. You know there will be a demand for your palm oil because it’s in everything. Now, you may think that last sentence was an exaggeration, but it’s a very slight one. You can find palm oil under many names and in nearly half of all packaged goods in a supermarket. It’s in everything from shampoo to bread to (ironically) bio fuels to Ramen to pizza and lipstick.

This completely irresponsible and destructive method of ‘farming’ is so impossibly near sighted and arrogant. We can not continue to feed a system that operates like this. Palm oil is just vegetable oil, and can be replaces as such, but it’s profitability makes it the obvious choice for both producers and blind consumers. This type of farming will wipe out entire species and at least endanger many more. We are quite literally playing with fire with this idiotic farming method and it is already coming back to burn us with ever rising CO2 and methane emissions, rising oceans, and permanently scarred and destroyed ecosystems. At what point does the means of making something slightly cheaper become not worth the method. That point will never come if consumers continue to remain blind on environmental issues and exactly where their products are coming from.

 

Dylan Nourse

The Fight Against Global Warming Heats Up

As Global Warming becomes an ever greater threat, many of the worlds greatest minds have set their sights on solutions. It is both fascinating and encouraging to see all the different ways we can mitigate our emissions. One such contributor was Professor of aquaculture at James Cook University in Townsville, Rocky De Nys. His project aims to reduce the CO2 emissions from the agriculture industry. Livestock accounts for 18% of our CO2 equivalent emmissions, takes up 30% of the land and 33% of global arable land. Professor De Nys study suggests that substituting as little as 2% of the cows diet with this specific strain of red seaweed could reduce their methane emissions by up to 99%. Methane is an extremely potent greenhouse gas having an estimated impact 72x greater than the same amount of CO2.

Another solution with mass appeal is carbon capture ans sequestration. This can come in a variety of ways. One particularly interesting method is being researched at a local power plant, Duke Energys East Bend Station only about 30 miles from Cincinnati. They are running a portion of the exhaust from the power plant through an additional filtration system. This system is a series of clear PVC tubes with algae. The CO2 from the exhaust is consumed by the algae and allows the algae to grow, eventually reaching a large enough size to be harvested. This algae is turned into biofuel and can be used a number of ways around the power plant to mitigate fossil fuel consumption or sold to provide food for livestock.

My favorite of these innovative approaches to alleviate our growing global warming threat is capturing solar wind for energy use. This would occure by placing a satallite at a LeGrange point in the solar system (quite far away in human scale, relatively close in space scale). In a complex process explained in the link, high energy protons being shot off the sun are captured by a giant ‘solar sail,’ turned into energy, and keep the satallite in place. This energy would then need to transmitted using lasers to relay satellites all the way back to earth. Data suggests that a satellite with a solar sail just 2km^2 would generate enough energy to meet the energy demand of the entire earth. All this, without any burning of fossil fuel, without any harmful environmental impact.

Some other solutions include seeding the oceans with iron to spur phytoplankton growth, one of the biggest contributors to removing CO2 from the atmosphere. Using reflective sails on satalites to limit the amount of infrared radiation reaching the planet. There are obviously many I didn’t and can’t mention due to length constraints. The best solution is to simply limit our emmissions, however attacking the problem from multiple angles will give the most effective solution.

 

Dylan Nourse

Do We Have to Pick: Science or Religion?

With the “Christian” right opposing the progressive left at every turn, it may seem like Christianity and science or progress just can’t get along. When did the rift begin to form between scientists and clergy? Has it always been this was?

The church and science used to be inseparable, throughout a fairly vast majority of human history the church was the catalyst by which knowledge was expanded and disseminated to humanity. The Catholic church specifically is the largest and longest-term patron of science in history.

Problems begin to arise when people begin interpreting their holy texts and reading between, and even outside, the lines. This problem is exacerbated when you have a situation like what was present in the middle ages. Most could not read, of those who could most couldn’t read Hebrew and Arabic, of those who could there is complex language that is hard to understand. As a result, most of the knowledge an average middle ages person got was from someone in the Clergy. There have been numerous accounts of people abusing their power in this system, calling for indulgences and excessive tithes. The system relied on ignorance and an established chain of command manufactured by those in control to stay in control. Anything that questioned what these elite few said were condemned and excommunicated. This leads to a very information hostile environment and condemns expanding our knowledge or even learning about what has already been discovered. This brought rise to several branches of the church that were opposed to this method of rule and misinformation such as the Protestant, Lutheranism and many more.

A more modern look has people questioning evolution and its scientific roots. Again, this all comes back to people reading outside the lines, establishing what they want to believe, or what is simplest to believe, and calling that fact. If you believe God created everything, then you must believe that physics and chemistry and biology, and yes even evolution, all of these are rules set in place by God for his creation. In much the same way a programmer sets patterns and rules in a simulation with lines of code. The order and patterns in the universe are exactly the reason that science can even exist. If there was no order and anything could happen at any time to anything else then science could not exist. This whole tumultuous debate arises over one sentence in the bible “Then the Lord God formed a man[c] from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being” Genesis 2:7 NIV translation. Copied and pasted. You can even see the little notation ‘c’ indicating that in ancient Hebrew the word adam(ah), which in this example has been translated as just ‘a man’ can mean mankind, ground or a man. Which means that later in that sentence ‘from the dust of the ground‘ could also be from the dust of mankind or from the dust of a man. Which, if the bible said God made modern man beginning with Adam from another man or another mankind, aka evolution, then this wouldn’t be much of a topic. That’s not what people do however, they read their translated version, ignore notations and tiny print at the bottom of the page and hold fast to their interpretation as if they saw God himself deliver that message to them earlier that morning at their kitchen table.

In summary, it has been easy for me to be in a scientific field (Electrical Engineering) and have a passion for science and still be an active and studious christian. If you sift through all the screaming and yelling there is often common ground between the arguments of science with religion and the remaining positions lie on the non overlapping portion of the Venn diagram labeled misinformation and misunderstanding. God provides many examples where he makes something using something else, water to wine, fed five thousand from a single loaf of bread and fish, the coin in the fish’s mouth. So it seems reasonable that this instance would be no different in that he takes something, and changes it into something else vis-a-vis evolution.

 

A great link that sums it all up Here.

 

Dylan Nourse

Global Warming: The Cost of Simplicity

I always find it interesting when people feel they can summarize a problem or even a solution of enormous magnitude and complexity in a 140 character tweet, or 1 sentence Facebook status update. Far too often we sacrifice accuracy for simplicity. We want a binary reality when it comes to politics so we can feel as informed as possible without having to dive in and understand all these issues. Now, I am not saying we shouldn’t want to know what issues are being discussed and which are relevant for an upcoming election, but far too often the science gets left behind for convenience. Global warming is one such issue. It’s implications are as far reaching as any problem we’ve ever faced, but it has been treated as a non issue in this presidential election cycle.

The earth is getting warmer. There is no intelligent debate saying that it isn’t. The debate comes into play when you ask yourself why, and is it our fault, and is it within reason. The earth goes through cycles of warmer and cooler periods. This cyclical process takes about 100,000 years and has been very stable over the past million years. In this cycle there is about an 80-90 thousand year ice age complimented by a 10-20 thousand year ward period. You can find out more about the natural cycle of earths climate here. There was a recent high point in temperature 8,000 years ago and that marked the beginning of a relatively stable cooling trend. That is, until the industrial revolution.

Since then we have seen a reverse in the expected trend of global cooling. Despite the fact that we shouldn’t be experiencing a global warming trend for another 90,000 years we have found ourselves in a very steep upward trajectory. You can see in the chart below that we have risen quite dramatically in temperature to above the peak temperature in the past warm period. To understand why exactly this is alarming, it is important to know why the earth naturally goes through these cycles in the first place, known as the Milankovitch Cycle. This isn’t a spooky geologically internal phenomenon, this is very straight forward orbital mechanics, since the earth rotates on an axis, it causes our orbit around the sun to ‘wobble’ a little bit. Think of how a top can be spinning very fast, but you will see secondary cyclic motions as a result of that spin, the head of the top might move in a little circle, or the top itself will traverse the table in a circle (assuming the table is flat enough). This is basically what happens to the earth but on an orbital level. This changes our distance from the sun, resulting in a very obvious mechanic to increase or decrease the temperature. We are in a state of moving away from the sun in the cycle, yet our temperature has skyrocketed. That is the root of the issue, and that has been caused by our massive increase of greenhouse gasses and in much the same way our bodies raise in temperature to kill bacteria, the earth is heading for a feedback loop that takes control of this process out of our hands.

Holocene Temperature Variations

note: the multicolored lines are temperatures at various locations that make up the global average (black)

 

Dylan Nourse