Tag Archive | science

Repost: Don’t underestimate the life-saving power of urban trees

Health in Harmony is one of my favourite charities. HIH is dedicated towards rain forest conservation and tree planting efforts in critical south Pacific ecosystems where many of endangered plant and animal species make their home. Along with the Rain Forest Alliance they are doing vital work in combating global warming and numerous other environmental challenges facing our world.

Through these charities I found the following article regarding urban forestation and the importance of trees in our communities. Author: Matt Hickman

“Don’t underestimate the life-saving power of urban trees

Major new study details the pollution-scrubbing, temperature-lowering qualities of the urban canopy.

We already know that urban trees can help deter crime and prompt us to smile a bit more. We know that they mitigate stormwater runoff, sequester carbon and provide vital habitats to city-dwelling critters while lending invaluable visual appeal to otherwise foliage-starved concrete jungles. No argument here; urban trees are pretty much the best.

We also know that the health benefits attached to urban trees extend well beyond their uncanny mood-improving abilities. Urban trees are air scrubbers nonpareil, dutifully sucking up the pollutants that city dwellers release. This, in turn, helps the denizens of major cities breathe a bit easier — or, in more stark terms, breathe at all.

A comprehensive new study recently released by the Nature Conservancy titled “Planting Healthy Air” takes an eye-opening deep dive into the relationship between urban trees — or lack thereof — and public health, particularly potentially fatal respiratory diseases linked to dirty city air. The takeaway of the study — at 136 pages, there’s a lot to digest — is this: the planting of trees in cities cannot and should not be underestimated as it serves as one of the most cost-effective methods of curbing urban air pollution levels and combating the urban heat island effect. We’ve all taken refuge under the shady canopy of a tree to escape from the sweltering heat at one time or another, looked up and thought to ourselves phew, what a lifesaver. As the Nature Conservancy details, this is one hell of an understatement.

Nature Conservancy, the impact of urban trees on air pollution graphic (Graphic: The Nature Conservancy)

The lead authors of “Planting Healthy Air” conclude that by investing just $4 per capita in tree-planting efforts, cities could have a lasting impact on the respiratory health of residents. Additional trees planted in cities could potentially help reverse a truly troubling reality: more than 3 million people across the globe perish each year from air pollution-related illnesses brought on by the inhalation of fine particulate matter released by human activities that involve the burning of fossil fuels. Transportation-borne particulate matter — that is, the deadly air pollution released when firing up the engine of a car — is a biggie here. Trees can remove particulate matter released within their immediate vicinity by as much as a quarter.

What’s more, tens of thousands of city dwellers die each year from devastating heat waves. Given that canopies do a bang-up job of effectively cooling urban environments, their role in preventing heatwave-related deaths is also critical.

“Trees can have a significant local impact on pollution levels and temperatures,” notes Rob McDonald, the study’s primary author and a scientist for global cities at The Nature Conservancy, in a press statement. “Urban trees can save lives and are just as cost-effective as more traditional solutions like putting scrubbers on smokestacks or painting roofs white.”

Globally, a “conservative” investment of $10 million in urban tree planting activities could help 68 million people breathe cleaner, less deadly air and provide 77 million urbanites with the peace of mind that the next heat wave won’t be their last. As the study’s authors point out, trees are the only solution that can do both: cool and clean air.

Nature Conservancy, the impact of urban trees on urban temperatures graphic (Graphic: The Nature Conservancy)

Of course, certain cities would benefit more from per capita tree-planting efforts than others. Looking at 245 of the world’s largest cities, the study identifies which urban areas would reap the greatest return on investment (ROI) from more trees — and a lot of them. Obviously, densely populated cities that suffer from both high levels of air pollution and are often struck with deadly heat waves top the list.

A majority of the cities found to have the greatest ROI in terms of both cleaner air and cooling are (somewhat predictably) big, crowded, hot and located in South Asia: Delhi and Mumbai, India; Dhaka, Bangladesh; Karachi, Pakistan; Kathmandu, Nepal, and on. The African cities of Cairo, Dakar and Freetown, Sierra Leone, also make the study’s top-ROI list as does the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince.

While the study doesn’t provide case studies for all 245 cities taken into consideration, 15 cities across the globe with a desperate and not-so-desperate need for major tree-planting investments are further examined.

Atlanta, for example, was found to have a low ROI thanks in part to one of the densest urban canopies in North America. With trees covering 47.9 percent of the sprawling southeastern metropolis (the national average for U.S. cities in 27 percent), Atlanta’s “city in the forest” nickname is more than well deserved. However, the study does point out that Atlanta’s densely populated — and only getting denser — downtown neighborhoods could benefit from additional street-side trees, particularly with regard to heat mitigation.

Urban TreesUrban trees aren’t just easy on the eyes. In densely populated cities with high levels of air pollution, they’re also a lifesaver. (Photo: Takyua ASADA/flickr)

Denver, touted as being a success story in combating rampant air pollution that once held the city in a sooty grip, is also noted as having an all-around low ROI that’s largely due to extensive sustainability efforts and a low population density. However, like Atlanta, Denver’s increasingly crowded downtown neighborhoods sport a high ROI.

And there’s Los Angeles. While drought-ravaged, car-dependent L.A.’s citywide ROI is moderate when compared to other major global cities, localized tree-planting action is suggested in denser neighborhoods of central L.A. along with the cities of Santa Monica and Long Beach. The study concludes that an annual investment of $6.4 million in new trees in targeted neighborhoods could bring temperature-decreasing relief (a 2.7-degree Fahrenheit drop) to more than 400,000 Los Angelenos during Southern California’s sweltering summers.

Click here to view “Planting Healthy Air” in full and to see how your city stacks up on the tree-planting ROI scale compared to other cities around the globe. While most North American cities do rank on the extreme low end of the ROI scale compared to let’s say, Ho Chi Minh City, there is of course, always room for improvement. After all, a few more trees never hurt anyone.”

 

 

Repost: Punishing kids for lying doesn’t work, study suggests

Reposted from World Science:

If you want your child to be truth­ful, it’s best not to threat­en pun­ish­ment if she or he lies, a study sug­gests: child­ren are more likely to tell the truth ei­ther to please an adult or be­cause they be­lieve it’s the right thing to do.

That’s what psy­chol­o­gists found through an ex­pe­ri­ment in­volv­ing 372 chil­dren be­tween the ages of 4 and 8.

“If chil­dren fear po­ten­tial neg­a­tive out­comes for dis­clos­ing in­forma­t­ion, they may be more re­luc­tant to dis­close,” the re­search­ers, led by Vic­to­ria Tal­war of McGill Uni­vers­ity in Can­a­da, wrote in a pa­per for the Feb. 2015 is­sue of the Jour­nal of Ex­pe­ri­men­tal Child Psy­chol­o­gy.

The re­search­ers left each child alone in a room for a min­ute with a toy be­hind them on a ta­ble, hav­ing told the child not to peek dur­ing their ab­sence. Ex­pe­ri­menters told some of the chil­dren they would “be in trou­ble” if they lied about that, while for oth­er young­sters the ex­pe­ri­menters men­tioned only pos­i­tive rea­sons for tell­ing the truth.

A hid­den vi­deo cam­era filmed what went on while the child was alone. Up­on re­turn­ing, the ex­pe­ri­menter would ask: “When I was gone, did you turn around and peak at the toy?”

About two-thirds of the chil­dren peeked, though for eve­ry one month in­crease in age, chil­dren be­came slightly less likely to peek, the study found. More­o­ver, about two-thirds of the peek­ers lied about hav­ing looked, and month-by-month as chil­dren aged, they both be­come more likely to tell lies and more ad­ept at main­tain­ing their lies.

The re­search­ers al­so found that the threat of be­ing “in trou­ble” alone led to more than twice the rate of ly­ing as the ap­peals to con­science or good feel­ings alone. Com­bina­t­ions of both types of in­duce­ments led to in-be­tween re­sults.

The in­ves­ti­ga­tors al­so ex­pected and found, they said, that while young­er chil­dren were more fo­cused on tell­ing the truth to please the adults, old­er chil­dren had bet­ter in­ter­nal­ized stan­dards of be­hav­ior that made them tell the truth be­cause it was the right thing to do.

“The bot­tom line is that pun­ish­ment does not pro­mote truth-tell­ing,” said Tal­war. “In fact, the threat of pun­ish­ment can have the re­verse ef­fect by re­duc­ing the like­li­hood that chil­dren will tell the truth when encoura­ged to do so.”

 

Distinguishing Between History and Theology

Distinguishing Between History and Theology

Creationism, Biblical Literalism, and History

June 18th, 2012

 

On May 15th, Gallup completed a poll on American attitudes on the role of divinity in creation. Respondents were asked if they believed deity had no role in human evolution (evolution), a guiding roll in evolution (theistic evolution), or if they believed deity had created humans in pretty much the same form as it is now less than 10,000 years ago (creationism). 46% of the respondents answering accepted the creationism explanation of human evolution. 32% took the theistic evolution position. Only 15% of Americans surveyed believed in straight, no deity, evolution. Demographic data from the poll revealed that more than half of people with a high school diploma or less, and of those who attend religious services regularly believe in Creationism.

I too once believed in Creationism – when I was an evangelical christian attending church weekly. My university explorations of many spiritual traditions paired with my requisite science courses changed that position to “theistic evolution.” But perhaps the greatest influence in my own shift from Biblical Literalism to Biblical Minimalism came during my junior year of university when I took Dr. Stephen Burnett’s “Hebrew Heritage” course.

Hebrew history is one of those areas where the Bible is presumed to be literally authoritative by orthodox Jews and Christians alike and where every word of the Hebrew Bible is traditionally taken at face value. Creationism stems from a literal reading of the Hebrew Bible; the origins of humanity, let alone Hebrews and other Semites, is not really a focus in the “New Testament.” In Dr. Burnett’s class we paired Biblical texts with archaeology and primary source material from adjacent cultures.

History, Dr. Burnett taught, was not the same as religion or theology: documents must be critiqued for their authorship, bias, and collaborative physical evidence (or lack thereof). He asked us, as students of history, to consider who wrote whatever we were looking at, what they did for a living, what their socio-economic backgrounds were, and other details of context. Was this person a priest? A politician? A ruler? Male? Female? What other events were (near) contemporary? What was the world view of this culture?

In asking these questions, we learned how to evaluate primary sources and decide if a source was truly primary (such as a diary entry) or secondary (written about something not personally experienced). Important in evaluating these sources was the addition of collaborating evidence – both archaeological and textual from other sources.

This multi-faceted approach to sources is what defines the historian’s craft from the theologian. Theologians evaluate a holy book based on spiritual, religious, or moral consideration. In theology, the aim is to discover divine intent and moral wisdom. History asks the questions of “what happened, to whom, and how do we know what happened?” History applies the scientific method in evaluating sources, physical evidence, and literature. Biblical Minimalism is a literary and historical approach to the Bible which regards those parts of the Bible that cannot be collaborated by other sources as literary or metaphorical. In other words, not to be taken as literal truth, but more spiritually or psychologically true.

For me, the Bible doesn’t have to be literally true to hold value for our society. Indeed, it can teach us much about how Hebrew culture. Yet in understanding the Bible’s limits, I find myself freed to explore the breadth of knowledge being slowly revealed through archaeology and the lost cultures and ideas concealed beneath the surface of our world. As a scientist, I am thrilled!

Parrots and Popinjays: a Brief Look at the Role of Companion Birds in Medieval Europe

This next article about medieval aviculture comes from my years as Society expert on medieval aviculture in the Society for Creative Anachronism.

 

Parrots and Popinjays: a Brief Look at the Role of

1310s illumination from the Queen Mary Psalter showing a popinjay (Psittacula parakeet) at Christ's right hand and opposite a falcon.

1310s illumination from the Queen Mary Psalter showing a popinjay (Psittacula parakeet) at Christ’s right hand and opposite a falcon.

Companion Birds in Medieval Europe

An Overview to the Role Parrots, Finches, and Doves Played in Medieval History

June 7th, 2012

Medieval illuminations rarely depicted species- specific details as this 1236 illumination of a popinjay shows.

Medieval illuminations rarely depicted species- specific details as this 1236 illumination of a popinjay shows.

When most of us think of companion animals, a dog or cat probably is the first animal to come to mind. What few people realize is just how recently our canine and feline obsession really is, dating back only about three hundred years or so. In the middle ages, nearly all the animals in our lives were kept for practical reasons. Medieval Europeans distrusted cats as agents of Satan. Dogs were raised for specific jobs such as herding, guarding, vermin control (the terriers in particular were bred to kill rats and mice), hunting, and even transportation in icy and mountainous regions. Horses were transportation. Oxen pulled plows and were slaughtered for food. Chickens provided eggs and meat. Sheep were shorn for wool and slaughtered as veal or mutton. Even birds of prey served humans as hunting companions.

But three orders of birds were raised primarily for their companionship qualities: Passeriformes (includes sparrows, canaries, and finches), Columbiformes (pigeons and doves), and Psittaciformes (parrots). These were the primary “pets” of the Middle Ages and Renaissance adored by all levels of society — from the poorest to the richest, and royal down to the poorest peasant.

Birds served many companionship functions in medieval life. Among the most humble in society, the family bird kept women in the household company while engaging in the labor-intensive needs of the home. Whether it was spinning, weaving, cooking, laundry, or cleaning — the family bird broke up boredom by providing beauty, song, and social interaction.

Nobles too kept birds, especially parrots (called “popinjays” before 1500). Noble women and noble men kept birds for very different reasons which are perhaps somewhat predictable. For the men, exotic species of birds were prestige animals through which to display wealth and power. Every royal and every noble man wanted the most rare and most expensive parrot, finch, or pigeon/dove that money and aviculture could produce. By contrast, their wives and daughters kept and demanded these birds for their species-specific social and verbal abilities.

In between, the emerging bourgeoisie pursued parrot aviculture as a means of improving and displaying social standing and wealth. As trade and crafts people flourished in cities, so did their need to show poor and very rich alike that they themselves had risen above poverty; possessing parrots served that function quite nicely, particularly as the dietary and shelter needs of the parrot species kept (in Europe, the available parrots were all from genus Psittacula, aka Asian parakeets, birds adapted to Asian rain forests) required consistent warmth and access to fresh foods and grains.

Medieval Europeans raised four species of Psittacula parakeets before 1500: the African ringneck parakeet (Psittacula krameri krameri), the Indian ringneck parakeet (Psittacula krameri manillensis), the plum-headed parakeet (Psittacula cyanocephala) and the Alexandrine parakeet (Psittacula eupatria). The highest echelons of society had access to African grey parrots (Congo and Timneh subspecies). England’s Henry VIII notoriously kept an African grey.

But the rarest parrot of the European Middle Ages belonged to Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II (von Hohenstaufen). In 1229, this noted lover of falconry received as a gift a rare bird indeed — at least to Europeans: a white cockatoo from genus Cacatua. Many believe the bird was an umbrella cockatoo, but my reading of Frederick’s “De Arte Venandi cum Avibus” (Art of Falconry) leads to a different conclusion. Nowhere does Frederick provide any detail regarding his cockatoo that applies only to the umbrella cockatoo; details like white and having yellow under the wings applies to nearly all members of that genus. He does not even tell us if the bird had a recursive (curling away from the head) or a recumbent (crest laying flat against the head) crest nor are the illuminations in the book particularly detailed in that respect. So while many believe his cockatoo was an umbrella cockatoo, I don’t see enough in primary sources to identify exactly what kind of white cockatoo it was.
The story of companion birds in our lives is long and deeply entwined with our own histories, shaping our world in subtle ways few people understand. Yet these beautiful and special birds have, indeed, been part of our lives for millennia in symbiosis with us. For our fates and fortunes are deeply intertwined with theirs; when they suffer, so do we.

This story of birds in the middle ages has just began. But one thing is certain: we must stop poaching them from the wild, destroying their habitats, and mistreating them in our homes. Only then may we all find peace and harmony.

Taste Test: Coffee-mate’s Natural Bliss Coffee Creamer Verses Whipping Cream

Results of blind taste test between Coffee Mate natural bliss verses real cream

Results of blind taste test between Coffee Mate natural bliss verses real cream

The next Yahoo Voices repost is all about coffee and coffee creamers.

Taste Test: Coffee-mate’s Natural Bliss Coffee Creamer Verses Whipping Cream

Controlled Taste Test Yields No Significant Difference Between Popular Creamer Brand and Farm-fresh Cream

originally posted March 18, 2014

 

I love coffee – you do too! Like you, I like my coffee light and sweet. Yes, I’m a cappuccino gal. I want a little bit of very strong coffee and the rest milk or milk-tasting.

This means I spend a lot of money on coffee creamer options. The market has no shortage of them. Trending right now is Coffee-mate’s “Natural Bliss” line with the sweet cream flavor promoted most heavily in my local supermarket. According to the ingredient list, the creamer is made with milk, cream, sugar, and “natural flavors,” and should be a convenient product – no need to add a separate sweetener.

But how does it taste and is it a good value for your money? To find out, I made two identical 3 ounce cups of ice coffee. In both I put a level ¼ teaspoon of Folgers instant coffee and 2 ounces of whole milk. In one cup I put the serving size of 1 tablespoon of the Coffee-mate creamer. In the other, 1 tablespoon of whipping cream from the local dairy which also happens to be the specified serving size. The Coffee-mate label claims this 1 tablespoon has 35 calories in it verses 45 with the whipping cream.

Stirring the two samples together, the appearance came out very different. As see in this picture, the Coffee-mate looks much darker than my whipping cream sample, even though everything else is the same. The Coffee-mate also did not blend as well with my instant coffee as my whipping cream, leaving more coffee on the bottom of the cup.

Tasting the coffee I was really surprised at the difference. There is absolutely no sugar in the whipping cream sample, so I expect it to taste much less sweet and much bitterer than the Coffee-mate version which does have sugar in it. Instead, I barely noticed a difference. Adding ¼ teaspoon of sugar to the whipping cream sample (remember, these samples are about ¼ the size of a regular cup of coffee) and the two samples were indistinguishable from each other in terms of sweetness and were within difference threshold on the overall taste.

So if you stick to the serving size of 1 tablespoon, this Coffee-mate sweetener equals about ¼ of a teaspoon of sugar to the taste of regular whipping cream. With one teaspoon of sugar equaling 16 calories, ¼ teaspoon of sugar adds 4 calories to the 45 calories for the whipping cream for a total of 49 calories compared to the 35 calories for the Coffee-mate, a savings of 30% on your calories.

Now to the real question: the cost. Everyday price on the Coffee-mate creamer is around $3.00 for 16 ounces. A half pint (8 ounces) of whipping cream runs around $1.50. This means the two options cost essentially the same.

In summary, my experiment yielded no significant difference between the sweet cream flavor of Coffee-mate’s “Natural Bliss” verses using whipping cream with a little sugar.

 

While there is a caloric savings, the difference of 10 calories per serving is not dramatic and is readily offset by the non-biodegradable packaging of the Coffee-mate product verses the paper carton whipping cream is typically sold in. If your community does not offer plastic recycling, you ultimately do better buying cream instead.

The Great Succession Crisis one year later

Cover art for The Great Succession Crisis, 1st edition paperback as published in September, 2012.  Thanks to constructive criticism from reviewers, this cover art changed for the revised edition.

Cover art for The Great Succession Crisis, 1st edition paperback as published in September, 2012. Thanks to constructive criticism from reviewers, this cover art changed for the revised edition.

Great Succession Crisis paperbackThis week I celebrate a big milestone as an author:  the first anniversary of the launch of my first book.

The week of my initial publication on SmashWords, I wrote a commemorative article for Yahoo Voices.  Here is what I wrote:  http://voices.yahoo.com/first-person-today-published-first-novel-11639434.html?cat=38

What I could not anticipate at the time is the way that “The Great Succession Crisis” would become my personal Montecello.  After the first reviews in 2012 showed me the almost inevitable flaws that come from self-publishing one’s first book, I found myself in a process of editing, revising, and yes, re-writing.  In January, 2013 I re-wrote about 25% of “The Great Succession Crisis,” creating the current “revised editions.”  But it went more than that.  Seeing that some readers did not pick up on the larger story, I added two more chapters, brought back data files I previously deleted after listening to other people regarding supplementary content, and finally added in non-fiction material — all of this becoming “The Great Succession Crisis Extended Edition” which, for me, is much more definitive.  GSC Ex is my “director’s cut” of that book.

Great Succession Crisis Extended paperback

Given my education is in film/stage writing, psychology (pre-counseling), and medieval history, it is pretty much inevitable that I look at stories from a more or less film and stage point of view with the sensibilities of someone who loves to write in script format.

This also means I’ve made some technical errors; novels are not the same as screenplays.  The direction to actors that script writers must insert into the text cannot be conveyed the same way in novels.  So yes, I admit to my share of errors as my brain works to convert internally to novel conventions.

All through this, my sensibilities as a low vision person persist.  I possess the almost inevitable sensitivity to the needs of different physical abilities when it comes to reading.  This is one reason why I do not use a sterile white background on my website, even though the default background from Intuit.com is actually white.  In the summer of 2013, I located new options for my website, allowing me to stand apart from generic book sites with the organic, soothing green leaf background that makes reading the content (all geared towards YOU, the reader) both easier and more pleasant.  Cool colors soothe and invite people to stay.  Our brains and our minds really love blues, greens, and purples, finding these cool colors restful.

With large print editions in hand, I hope to eventually record audio versions of Peers of Beinan books.  But first, I continue to work on a brand new innovation:  QR indexing for paperback and hypertext link indexing for digital copies.

These new innovations make reading The Great Succession Crisis and other Peers of Beinan series books easier and more interactive than ever.  Rather than me playing God, sending out my story to you from on high as if from an ivory tower, my books are a conversation with you. Together, we listen and learn from one another as you read, beginning with your decision on which format you want to read each book in.

Readers can choose between the revised and extended editions of The Great Succession Crisis in digital, paperback, QR Interactive paperback, or large print paperback.  That is EIGHT editions for the SAME NOVEL.

Ghosts of the Past paperback photoIn March, 2013 I was able to release book two, The Ghosts of the Past.  This too I offer in all four formats.

You matter to me.  I’m not some literary goddess — just a storyteller who loves to research and share my research with you in the form of great adventures.

It is my hope you will join me as I explore social issues, history, science, and so much more on planet Beinan.

To the adventure!