This has been China's hottest, driest summer since record keeping began 61 years ago, and the impact on the Yangtze River has been severe, with tributaries dried up and water flow in the main branch running 50% below normal. The Yangtze is the longest river in the world that runs through only one country, and five of China's megacities -- cities with a population of at least 10 million -- are in the Yangtze River basin. The Yangtze is not only a key source of water for drinking and irrigation, it is also a major source of hydroelectric power. In Sichuan Province, which gets 80% of its electricity from hydropower, factories have been shut recently to save power for home air conditioning. The next few days may also determine the impact on China's main rice crop. www.euronews.com/2022/08/21/china-declares-first-ever-drought-emergency-amid-intense-heatwave
The geologic record shows animals are not the only things that migrate: forests move hundreds of miles, back and forth, in response to changing climate patterns. Recent research, based on satellite imagery and field work, finds that white spruce are now germinating and fully establishing themselves north of Alaska's Brooks Range, which had previously been the biogeographic divide between tundra, to the north, and boreal forest, to the south. This map, from Quartz, shows the newly documented spruce in Alaska's northern tundra. (Map from qz.com/spruce-trees-have-arrived-in-the-arctic-tundra-a-centur-1849406537.)
This article looks at the Swedish philosophy of lagom, the idea that just enough is just right:
"There comes a point when a thing becomes too much. ... Lagom translates as 'just the right amount.' It means knowing when enough is enough, and trying to find balance and moderation rather than constantly grasping for more. Lagom is that feeling of contentment we all get when we have all that we need to make us comfortable. ... There are two separate strands to lagom. The first is a kind of social awareness that recognizes that what we do affects other people. In this, we might see lagom more as a kind of 'fair use' policy. If you take three cookies from the plate, two other people aren’t going to get one. If you hoard and grab everything you can, elbowing and cursing your way to the front of the line, then at best, that makes you a bit of an ass. At worst, it leaves others in ruin.The second strand, however, is a mental shift that finds contentment in satisfaction. Many of us have internalized the ideas that bigger means better, that a bank balance means status, and that excess means happiness. ... [Lagom is] not simply learning to 'enjoy the simple things,' but also appreciating that sometimes less really is more. Lagom is knowing that enjoying the now of what you have does not mean you need to add more of it. After all, talking to a friend over a coffee is nice. But meeting with ten friends after ten coffees does not make things better."
An MIT student group is launching this year's Galactic Puzzle Hunt today. Sort of like an escape room, the hunt is a series of puzzles designed to do in teams but can be done individually. The FAQ at the site has a link to examples of previous years' puzzles that might be worth checking out before diving in. The game ends at 6:02 AM ET on Sept. 6. 2022.galacticpuzzlehunt.com/
With drought impacting many of the major river systems of the Northern Hemisphere this summer, this map from Statista looks at hydropower as a percentage of each country's electrical supply: www.statista.com/chart/28032/share-of-electricity-generated-through-hydropower-per-country
The summer's drought and war have focused attention on agricultural vulnerabilities and food insecurity. This article from The New York Times profiles the work of crop scientists who are tinkering with plant genomes to improve harvests: www.nytimes.com/2022/08/18/climate/gmo-food-soybean-photosynthesis.html
California's Central Valley is one of the world's most productive agricultural regions. But it is also periodically, at least measured in geologic time, a long, thin lake. Massive flooding inundates the Central Valley when moisture-rich atmospheric rivers, like the Pineapple Express, stall over California, dumping rain and melting snow in the Sierras. Recent research shows this happens, on average, every 100-200 years. Because this happened most recently between Dec. 1861 and Jan. 1862, scientists are increasingly concerned that the region is ripe for a megaflood event. www.washingtonpost.com/climate-environment/2022/08/12/megaflood-california-flood-rain-climate/
The Economist (UK) ranked 172 cities around the world for livability, based on more than 30 factors related to stability, education, health care, infrastructure, culture, and environment. In North America, the four most livable cities were all in Canada this year, with Calgary edging out Vancouver. In the U.S., this year's most livable city was Atlanta, followed by Washington, D.C. and Honolulu. www.economist.com/graphic-detail/2022/08/05/the-best-places-to-live-in-north-america
Just in time for back to school, MIT Technology Review's podcast "In Machines We Trust" looks at how AI is being used to monitor students (and perhaps parents when they click on their child's homework) outside the classroom, with interesting questions about informed consent, bias, and the trade-offs between privacy and security. The episode "Who Watches AI Watching Students?" is available wherever you get your podcasts.
This geo-graphic from Visual Capitalist shows oil production, by country, as of 2021: elements.visualcapitalist.com/largest-oil-producers/
Test your geography: how many countries can you name in 15 minutes? [Note: you don't have to label them, just name them (spelling counts).] This Sporcle quiz courtesy of my older son (yes, we are that nerdy!): www.sporcle.com/games/g/world
The fight for eastern Ukraine is not just about land or population or territorial integrity. It is also about Ukraine's mineral wealth, a disproportionate share of which lies east of the Dnieper River, as these maps show. (Maps from www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/08/10/ukraine-russia-energy-mineral-wealth/.)
Hal Brands, professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and former Special Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Strategic Planning and lead writer for the Commission on the National Defense Strategy for the United States, released an important and somewhat contrarian new book this week arguing that China is likely to try to invade Taiwan within the next five years. Danger Zone lays out the case that far from being a rising power, China is a peaking power due to the convergence of a variety of serious demographic, economic, and geopolitical constraints, a situation that tends to make countries more reckless. "When you think about revisionist powers - so that's just a fancy political science word for countries that want to change the way the world works; they're dissatisfied with the existing order. They tend to become most aggressive, most rash, not when they are very confident about the future, when they think that things will be better a decade from now than they are now, but when they worry that their window to change the system is closing. That, either because their economy has stalled or they're becoming encircled by their enemies, or sometimes both, that they have a closing window of opportunity to achieve their objectives. And when that is the case, they become more prone to use coercion, to use violence, to use force to get what they want while they can still grab it. That's been the case historically in a variety of instances, from ancient times up to the 20th century. And it's the trap that we worry that China may be falling into today. ... [A] lot of the tailwinds that propelled China to where it is today have now become headwinds. Assets have become liabilities, so to speak." The book makes the argument for China's status as a peaking power and details what the U.S. and its allies can do, now, to head off possible Chinese aggression in the Pacific. (Quote from Brands' interview with the "Intelligence Matters" podcast: www.cbsnews.com/news/hal-brands-on-potential-of-future-conflict-with-china-intelligence-matters/.)
One of the terms my biogeography students learn is "extirpated," which means a species has gone extinct in part of its former range. India is undertaking a project to reverse extirpation: cheetahs are being reintroduced to Kuno National Park in north-central India. Cheetahs were extirpated from India more than 50 years ago. The cheetahs being reintroduced to India are African cheetahs; today, all that remains of the Asiatic cheetah that once roamed from India to the Arabian Peninsula is 12 individuals, 9 males and 3 females, in Iran. www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-62377387
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), this year high-tide or "sunny day" flooding -- when water floods streets and bubbles up through storm drains without storm activity -- on the East Coast of the U.S. is expected to show an increase of more than 150% since 2000. NOAA's calculations are based on data from a network of water-level stations along the U.S. coasts and Great Lakes. This interactive mapping site shows past, present, and anticipated 2050 sunny day flooding levels. (In Washington, DC, for example, the average number of high-tide flooding events in 2000 was three; in 2021, it was five, and by 2050, it is forecast to be 55-85.) tidesandcurrents.noaa.gov/HighTideFlooding_AnnualOutlook.html
Following on its work with mouse stem cells, an Israeli biotech company is planning to start work creating embryos from human stem cells. Created without egg or sperm, the embryos are incubated in artificial wombs. The vision of the company is to use these "organized embryo entities" for possible organ and tissue transplant. Scientists can already use stem cells to create some tissues in vitro, but an embryo can make more complex organs, organs that would be resistant to rejection because they would be genetically identical to the intended recipient. Interesting science aside, this project creates a host of philosophical issues, from "what is a human?" and "what is life?" to "what are individuals allowed to do with their own cells?" and "are organs a crop that can be grown and harvested like any other?" www.technologyreview.com/2022/08/04/1056633/startup-wants-copy-you-embryo-organ-harvesting/
This geo-graphic compares per capita spending on pharmaceuticals in the U.S. to that in a sampling of peer-group (OECD) countries: www.statista.com/chart/3967/which-countries-pay-the-most-for-medicinal-drugs
This website assembled by a young programmer offers a curated list of resources (many free) to help young would-be programmers learn about computer languages, coding, and computer science: lihackhers.com/programing-resources/
This series of maps details recent Chinese military exercises in the area around Taiwan and Japan's southernmost islands: www.nytimes.com/interactive/2022/world/asia/taiwan-china-maps.html
If you are tracking U.S. wildfires this season, ArcGIS is providing a free real-time look at U.S. wildfire activity based on open-source data, including thermal satellite imaging: www.arcgis.com/apps/mapviewer/index.html?webmap=df8bcc10430f48878b01c96e907a1fc3#!
Classical philosophy is generally focused on providing tips on how we are to live our best life. Contemporary philosopher Avram Alpert instead argues that the unrelenting social obsession with "the best" is poison, preventing us from living a good life as individuals and preventing us from acknowledging the contribution of all of the people who toil in obscurity, including those who make society's superstars possible. Alpert argues that the real secret to a good life -- for individuals and for society as a whole -- is figuring out how to value a good-enough life. www.amazon.com/Good-Enough-Life-Avram-Alpert/dp/0691204357
For those interested in learning about what's going on in Ukraine that might not make the news in the U.S. or for those interested in supporting a free press in Ukraine, the English-language Kyiv Independent operates a website and a free daily e-newsletter: kyivindependent.com/ At the top of the website are GoFundMe options to allow visitors to support the Independent or a broader group of Ukrainian media organizations.
The ocean's fish are on the move in response to climate change. What happens when "your" fish move to someone else's territorial waters? This article from The Independent (UK) looks at new research about fish movement and the impact these movements may have on international fishing agreements. www.independent.co.uk/climate-change/news/fish-stocks-climate-crisis-disputes-b1996157.html
Plants, animals, and microbes move around based on changes in the physical environment and human activity. This shifting geography was documented recently by the appearance in southern Mississippi of a dangerous microbe previously found only in tropical and subtropical zones, including northern Australia, parts of Central and South America, and South and Southeast Asia: www.nytimes.com/2022/07/27/health/deadly-bacteria-us-soil-water.html
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