Archive for December, 2009

Senate and Climate Change/AGU meeting

Thursday, December 17th, 2009

SceinceInsider, put out by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, has a series on The Climate in the Senate. While 60 Senate votes are needed for climate change legislation, 67 are needed for a treaty. No one finds that scenario likely.

There are a number of bloggers reporting on the annual American Geophysical Union meeting. One, at Nature’s Climate Feedback, includes an interview with climatologist Steve Schneider (OK, that’s Copenhagen), and a report that whatever is happening with the Greenland glaciers, speeding glacier loss, it’s not all that increased meltwater lubricating the bases. Time to change my slides.

The AGU blog roll is here. There’s one on contrails,

In 2005, aviation represented 3.5 percent of anthropogenic radiative forcing, up to 4.9 percent if you include cloudiness caused by the contrails. Future contrail impacts could be two to three times higher by 2050, a 20 percent increase per decade.

one on What Does More Atmospheric Carbon Mean for Plants? discussing the complex interplay between nitrogen deposition and carbon sequestration.

one on sea level rise in the SF Bay Area

plus discussions of a number of other geophysical topics, including earthquakes, volcanos and Mars. One, Would Finding ET Collapse Religions?, discusses a challenge that may face Earthlings soon, as astronomers improve their ability to find smaller planets.

NASA’s Climate Kids

Thursday, December 17th, 2009

Are you young? Are you any age, but looking for a few explanations with big print and lots of pictures? Are you a teacher looking for help? Check out NASA’s new site, Climate Kids.

For those living in areas that haven’t seen much climate change over the last decade or 3, check out Climate Time Machine.

Update: Climate Time Machine shows the history of temperature, effects of sea level rise on New Orleans, etc. With sea level rise expected to be between 3 and 6 feet this century, what are we going to do for the people there?

Americans’ Eating Habits More Wasteful Than Ever

Wednesday, December 16th, 2009

How much food do we waste in the US? The old numbers are shocking, but new research using a different methodology produces scary numbers: “Nearly 40% of the food supply in the United States goes to waste.”

According to the ScienceNow post,

Food waste is usually estimated through consumer interviews or garbage inspections. The former method is inaccurate, and the latter isn’t geographically comprehensive. [Kevin] Hall [a quantitative physiologist at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) in Bethesda, Maryland] and his colleagues tried another approach: modeling human metabolism. They analyzed average body weight in the United States from 1974 to 2003 and figured out how much food people were eating during this period. Hall and Chow assumed that levels of physical activity haven’t changed; some researchers think that activity has decreased, but Hall and Chow say their assumption is conservative. Then they compared that amount with estimates of the food available for U.S. consumers, as reported by the U.S. government to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

The difference between calories available and calories consumed, they say, is food wasted. “We called it the missing mass of American food,” says co-author Carson Chow, a mathematician at NIDDK. In 2003, some 3750 calories were available daily per capita; 2300 were consumed, so 1450 were wasted, comprising 39% of the available food supply, the team reports in the November issue of PLoS ONE. This figure exceeds the 27% estimated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) from interviews with consumers and producers.

Much of the waste is probably happening at home, say experts. A study published earlier this year by Jeffery Sobal, a sociologist at Cornell University, and colleagues examined food waste in Tompkins County, New York, through interviews. They found that production accounted for 20% of waste, distribution for about another 20%, and consumers for the remaining 60%. “Food waste used to be a cultural sin,” Sobal says.

Food Waste
Food Waste picture credit

For those wanting the report, The Progressive Increase of Food Waste in America and Its Environmental Impact begins

Food waste contributes to excess consumption of freshwater and fossil fuels which, along with methane and CO2 emissions from decomposing food, impacts global climate change. Here, we calculate the energy content of nationwide food waste from the difference between the US food supply and the food consumed by the population. The latter was estimated using a validated mathematical model of metabolism relating body weight to the amount of food eaten. We found that US per capita food waste has progressively increased by ~50% since 1974 reaching more than 1400 kcal per person per day or 150 trillion kcal per year. Food waste now accounts for more than one quarter of the total freshwater consumption and ~300 million barrels of oil per year.

Every Day is National Lab Day

Wednesday, December 16th, 2009

Teachers and scientists now have a web site to connect to each other. From the press release:

National Lab Day will promote hands-on learning throughout the year and culminate each year with special events the first week of May. Volunteer science and technology professionals and educators will work together with students to improve America’s science labs and offer inquiry-based STEM experiences in classrooms, learning labs, and after-school programs.

“We wouldn’t teach football from a textbook,” said John P. Holdren, President Obama’s science advisor. “It is even more important that America’s youth have the opportunity to learn math and science by doing. The President and I strongly support efforts to raise the level of project-based learning, to help cultivate the next generation of doers and makers.”

The website – – was launched in November

to invite volunteer science and technology professionals as well as educators and others to sign up to participate. The website will automatically match volunteers to requests from educators to participate on the basis of geography and interests. The website also provides resources and ideas for hands-on learning experiments and invites the public to suggest new materials.