TIME climate change

Global Warming Is Coming, but Climate Hysteria Doesn’t Help Anyone

The Guardian's dire report of a climate-change catastrophe unfolding in Miami is a case of premature evacuation

Help us! We’re drowning! It’s a catastrophe! DO SOMETHING!

Well, we’re not actually drowning. We do get damp every now and then, but it’s hard to see how some modest sunny-day flooding in my neighborhood at high tide justifies the Guardian headline that’s been generating so much buzz: “Miami, the great world city, is drowning while the powers that be look away.” I’ve described South Beach as the canary in America’s coal mine for climate change, and the canary has started coughing a bit, but it isn’t dead or even very sick. I’m sorry to spoil the climate porn, but while the periodic puddles in my Whole Foods parking lot are harbingers of a potentially catastrophic future, they are not currently catastrophic. They are annoying. And so is this kind of yellow climate journalism.

The Guardian article — by Robin McKie, the science editor (!) — begins a block from my home, on Alton Road, which is “hemmed in by bollards, road-closed signs, diggers, trucks, workmen, stacks of giant concrete cylinders and mounds of grey, foul-smelling earth.” That’s a pretty ominous description of a basic construction project. The state is rebuilding the street, in part (not entirely) because Biscayne Bay is backing up through storm drains at high tide, in part (not entirely) because global warming has helped increase the sea level around South Florida by about 10 in. over a century. McKie describes this gentle backwater flooding with absurdly apocalyptic prose: “Tidal surges are turned into walls of seawater that batter Miami Beach’s west coast and sweep into the resort’s storm drains.” He also claims that the water then “surges across the rest of the island,” which simply isn’t true.

“The effect is calamitous,” McKie writes. Calamitous!

“City life is paralyzed,” he continues. Paralyzed!

Well, it does get hard to park at Whole Foods. Puddles form in front of Walgreens. A few cars have been damaged — or, as McKie described it, “ruined” by “surging seawaters that corrode and rot their innards.” McKie was apparently too lazy to talk to any actual victims of our ongoing calamity, but he did rip off a quote from a laundromat owner who told the New York Times that Alton Road flooding once blocked the entrance to his front door. What’s happening in the Middle East right now is calamitous. A blocked entrance is inconvenient.

Hey, it’s been inconvenient for all of us. I’m bummed that my favorite Alton Road burger joint just closed, although its downfall was the construction mess, not the flooding. But let’s get real. The Pacific island of Kiribati is drowning; Miami Beach is not yet drowning, and the Guardian’s persistent adjective inflation (“calamitous,” “astonishing,” “devastating”) can’t change that. We should fight global warming — and the powers that be, including Senator Marco Rubio and Governor Rick Scott, should stop looking away — because it’s a potential disaster for Miami and the rest of this very nice planet. But we shouldn’t pretend it’s a disaster now.

I get why the Obama Administration wants to emphasize that global warming is a today issue, not a someday issue. I understand that stories about how climate change is already affecting our cities and our farms and our lives — even our wine — can make the issue feel more pressing to ordinary Americans. But fortunately, the effects are not yet calamitous; the reason we ought to DO SOMETHING is that they’ll get calamitous if we don’t. If we think once-a-month ankle-deep water is drowning, then why should Americans care whether we drown?

TIME space

Now You Can 3D-Print Your Own Stellar Nebula

A new study makes it possible for you to hold one of astronomy's great mysteries in your hands—and understand it better too

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People alive in 1841 understood the Eta Carinae nebula better than we do. They were the ones who were actually around to watch when an enormous star weighing about 130 times as much as our sun erupted more than 7,500 light years from Earth. Maybe if modern astronomers had been on the scene they could have figured out what caused the blast—and specifically why the vast cloud of dispersing matter that makes up the nebula assumed its signature peanut shape.

Still, the good thing about those modern astronomers is that when they put their minds to something, it’s never too late to get some answers. An international team of researchers has just announced that they have done just that, publishing a new study in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society that may at last unravel the Eta Carinae mystery.

The investigators did their work with the help of the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (VLT), conducting elaborate cross-sectional observations of Eta Carinae. These allowed them not only to develop a solid theory about how the star blew, but to create a 3D-printed model of the two-lobed space cloud that came from it.

The model is not much to look at—two irregularly shaped balls of plastic that resemble extracted molars as much as anything else. Still, NASA has made the program necessary for printing your own version of Eta Carinae publicly available. Whether you think it’s display-worthy or not, the model tells a complex story.

The star at the center of the Eta Carinae nebula is actually two stars—a binary pair in perpetual orbit around each other. That had been known for a while, but how—or if—they worked together to shape the nebula was never clear. The international team now believes that the eruption occurred when the smaller star—which measures about 30 solar masses—was at the closest point in its orbit to the larger one. It does not appear that a collision triggered the explosion. That seems to have happened on its own, with the blast beginning at one of the poles of the 130-solar-mass star and propagating across its entire body to the other pole.

But the close approach of the smaller star does seem to have had a powerful influence on shaping the eruptive cloud that resulted—and that star had a lot of material to work with. The larger star, which still exists, is now thought to weigh in at just 90 solar masses; the missing material—about 40 times the mass of our sun—is what we see when we look at the huge cosmic peanut.

Why does any of this matter? Well, it doesn’t, if you take “matter” to mean influencing the well-being of the human species responsible for the finding. But if you mean making that species smarter, explaining to it how some of the universe’s most extraordinary and violently beautiful formations came to be, then it matters indeed—and quite a lot, in fact.

TIME Exercise/Fitness

Athletes Should Not Play With Head Injuries, Say Doctors

Christoph Kramer of Germany receives a medical treatment during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Final match between Germany and Argentina on July 13, 2014 in Rio de Janeiro.
Christoph Kramer of Germany receives a medical treatment during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Final match between Germany and Argentina on July 13, 2014 in Rio de Janeiro. Shaun Botterill—FIFA/Getty Images

Germany’s decision to let midfield Christof Kramer keep playing in the World Cup final yesterday after being slammed in the head was understandable—if this were 1962, anyway. Back then, a little concussion wasn’t seen as much of a big deal.

That’s not true anymore, and given the fact that everyone from kids’ coaches to the NFL (if grudgingly) recognize that even mild head injuries can have serious consequences, that decision looks close to insane—especially given that Kramer “looked as if he was on another planet and had to be helped off the field,” as TIME’s Bill Saporito observed.

Of course, it’s possible that the German team didn’t realize that this sort of thing can cause permanent brain damage. Or maybe they think that what applies to American football is irrelevant to real football. Except that studies have shown that soccer players are equally at risk.

Clearly, they didn’t read the editorial in The Lancet Neurology published the day before the game reminding coaches and team officials that “cerebral concussion is the most common form of sports-related traumatic brain injury (TBI), and the long-term effects of repeated concussions may include dementia, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and other neurological disorders.” The decision to let players continue in a game, wrote these learned medical experts, should be made solely by doctors.

It turns out that FIFA doesn’t have any clear rules about what to do in case a player suffers an apparent concussion. But the fact that Kramer stayed in the game, no matter how important a World Cup final match might be, was at best highly questionable. “I can’t remember very much but it doesn’t matter now,” the dazed player reportedly said after the game was over.

If the medical professionals are right about how serious concussions can be, Kramer and his teammates might well have a different take on things a few years down the road.

TIME Research

The Alarming Reasons Infants Die in Bed

Teddy bears on crib
Image Source/Getty Images

New study reveals the greatest risks

Sharing a bed and objects in bed are the biggest risk factors for sleeping infants, according to a new study.

The study published in the journal Pediatrics on Monday found that babies aged 0-3 months were most likely to die as a result of bed-sharing. For older infants ages four months to a year, the greatest risk for sleep-related death is objects in the sleep environment, the study found.

The study relied on a database compiled between 2004 and 2012—using information from 24 states—by the National Center for the Review and Prevention of Child Deaths. Researchers analyzed 8,207 deaths in total.

Of the younger victims, 74% were sharing a bed at the time of their death. The study defines “bed-sharing” as sleeping with a person or an animal. Of the older victims, 39% of deaths happened in a sleep area containing an object such as a blanket or a pillow. And 18% changed their sleeping position from on their side or on their back to prone.

But the study makes it clear that it hasn’t uncovered any clear cause and effect. Instead it states its “objective was to determine any associations between risk factors for sleep-related deaths at different ages.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines on safe sleep environments suggest placing babies on their back on a firm surface, in the same room as their parents, and with no soft objects or loose bedding until the age of one.

TIME space

See the Supermoon from the International Space Station

The Supermoon captured from the International Space Station.
The Supermoon captured from the International Space Station. Alexander Gerst—NASA


Astronaut Alexander Gerst tweeted this amazing picture of the above-earth view of a supermoon early Monday, when the moon was still behind the horizon.

Gerst is a German astronaut aboard the International Space Station and among many astronauts using the social media site to share incredible pictures of the view from space. Gerst often uses the hashtag #bluedot, a nod to the iconic image of Earth taken from Saturn. And earlier in July, NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman tweeted above-earth images of Super Typhoon Neoguri. Three astronauts recently spoke to TIME about life above the earth, read their comments in this week’s issue.

TIME natural disaster

7 Quakes Hit Oklahoma in Less Than a Day

Oil Drilling Earthquakes
Computer screens displaying data of real-time monitoring of seismic activity throughout the state of Oklahoma are pictured at the Oklahoma Geological Survey at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, Okla., Thursday, June 26, 2014. Earthquakes that have shaken Oklahoma communities in recent months have damaged homes, alarmed residents and prompted lawmakers and regulators to investigate what's behind the temblors — and what can be done to stop them. Sue Ogrocki—AP

The biggest temblor clocked in at 4.3 on the Richter scale

Oklahoma was rocked by seven small earthquakes in a span of about 14 hours over the weekend, the U.S. Geological Survey said.

Three quakes hit between Saturday evening and Sunday morning, centered in the areas of Guthrie, Jones and Langston, and ranging between 2.6 and 2.9 in magnitude. They followed four larger temblors earlier on Saturday, including one near Langston shortly after noon that clocked in at 4.3 on the Richter scale.

TIME Italy

It’s Make or Break for the World’s Biggest Marine Salvage Operation

The Costa Concordia salvage operation has entered its next, most dangerous phase

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It’s a record attempt in heavy lifting that nobody wishes to ever be matched. On Monday, the operation to raise and refloat the capsized 114,500-ton cruise ship Costa Concordia was finally started. If all goes well, the vessel will be towed away to the Italian port city of Genoa, where it will be decommissioned. However, after more than two and a half years on the sea floor, experts fear the delicate maneuver will rupture the prone ship’s hull, spewing out its toxic load — including fuel and dangerous chemicals — into the pristine Tuscan archipelago.

The Costa Concordia veered off course and ran aground outside the island of Giglio in January 2012, killing 32 people and leaving the enormous liner partially submerged in the shallow waters. In tandem with a legal process against the ship’s captain, a salvage operation of unparalleled proportions was commenced. All but one of the victims’ bodies have been recovered, and in a massive September 2013 exercise, the ship was turned upright (parbuckled) and secured on an artificial platform.

Now begins the final phase. Giant tanks welded to the sides of the 290-m-long wreck will be emptied of water, slowly raising it out of the water. Every floor surfaced will be cleaned of debris and potentially harmful substances that could spill into the sea. They will also be surveyed for signs of Russel Rebello, the Indian waiter who remains missing.

“I strongly believe they will find the body of my dear brother,” writes Russel’s brother Kevin in a Facebook post.

Weather conditions have delayed the operation on several occasions, but even though the forecast still isn’t ideal, the salvage crew has pushed ahead, since the hulk would unlikely survive another winter. In fact, it could already have deteriorated too badly for the refloating procedure and subsequent 240-km tow to Genoa. The first 2 m of the raising are the most dangerous, and the hull will constantly be monitored for possible cracks and fissures.

Cutting up the ship in place is not an option. “It’s far more dangerous to the environment to leave it where it is than to tow it away,” Italy’s civil-protection chief Franco Gabrielli explained to Giglio residents. With luck, they could bid farewell to their unwanted, view-spoiling neighbor in just a couple of weeks. Refloating Costa Concordia and moving it into open waters is estimated to take between five and seven days, tugging it to safety another four to five.

TIME

Behold the Supermoon: Photos from Around the World

The stunning lunar event occurs when the moon is full at the point in its orbit where it is closest to Earth

TIME Food

Study: Organic Produce Has Fewer Pesticides, More Antioxidants

Organic produce
Getty Images

New research comes down on the side of organic food, but doesn't make any claims about health effects

Organically-grown fruits, vegetables and grains have substantially higher levels of antioxidants and lower levels of pesticides than conventionally-grown produce, according to a comprehensive review of earlier studies on the matter.

Organic crops contain 17 percent more antioxidants than conventionally grown crops, according to the study, to be published next week in the British Journal of Nutrition.

“It shows very clearly how you grow your food has an impact,” Carlo Leifert, a professor of ecological agriculture at Newcastle University in England who led the research, told the New York Times. “If you buy organic fruits and vegetables, you can be sure you have, on average, a higher amount of antioxidants at the same calorie level.”

The findings contradict a similar analysis published two years ago by Stanford scientists, who found that there are only minor differences in the nutritional content of organic and conventionally-grown foods.

However, the new study does not claim eating organic food leads to better health. However, many studies have suggested that antioxidants have been linked to a lower risk of cancer and other diseases.

Organic food purchases accounted for just over four percent of the total food market in the United States last year, or $32.3 billion.

[NYT]

TIME review

Planet of the Apes: That Couldn’t Happen….Right?

DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, Toby Kebbell, Andy Serkis, 2014. ph: David James/TM and ©Copyright
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is the eighth film in the series. Twentieth Century Fox/Courtesy of Everett Collection

There's science behind the new sci-fi movie—some of it turns out to be pretty sound

Part of the job of any science reporter is to ruin your moviegoing experience. Blown away by Gravity? Here are all the ways they got the science wrong. Charmed by A Beautiful Mind? Sorry, it utterly fails to capture the essence of mathematics (and that moving fountain-pen ceremony is a total fabrication, says Princeton University, where it was supposed to have taken place, so there).

Now comes Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, a film rich in opportunities to take scientific potshots. I mean, c’mon—super-intelligent chimps who form their own breakaway society? Which is in some ways more gentle and noble than the human one they left behind, although they’ll fight if they must? How absurd is that? Could such a thing ever happen?

Well, not next week, but while Dawn isn’t exactly reality based, the science underneath all of that dramatic speculation isn’t entirely bogus either. Take the apes’ transition from ordinary chimpiness to hyper-intelligence, as laid out in 2011′s Rise of the Planet of the Apes. It comes about through an experimental virus that alters the animals genetically. In fact, deactivated viruses are how doctors attempt to inject new, healthy genes into victims of genetic disorders. The technology is still highly experimental, but there’s no reason to think it won’t be perfected someday.

Moreover, while it’s clear that there’s no single gene governing intelligence—and that intelligence itself comes in different types—it’s equally clear that smarts, however you define them, have a genetic component. It’s not much of a stretch to imagine that we’ll identify the genes in question, and find ways to insert them into the brains of both people and, should we be so insane as to do so, apes as well.

Ok, so apes with enhanced intelligence, check.

As for how these simian Einsteins would actually behave, the film is at least plausible on that score as well—as long as you don’t look too closely. That’s how Frans de Waal sees it. He’s an expert on primate behavior based at Emory University, and he says there are key elements in the movie that ring true.

For one thing, he says, chimps may never be fully as intelligent as humans, gene therapy notwithstanding (“our brains are physically three times bigger—this is not a small difference”). But de Waal adds, “chimps do have many mental capacities—thinking about the future, planning ahead,” which are necessary for the sort of strategic thinking they do in the movie. “So that’s not unrealistic.”

It’s also not at all unrealistic that the primates in Dawn would band together to fight their human antagonists. “Chimps do wage war,” de Waal says. “They’re quite territorial.” As an admirer of chimps and other primates, he was worried that his cross-species friends might be stereotyped. “I was afraid they’d portray the apes as aggressive and the humans as angelic—but it’s the opposite. The apes want peace in the beginning.”

Also realistic is the stormy relationship between noble Caesar, the apes’ leader, and Koba, the cranky ape who was scarred both physically and psychologically by cruel humans. “They fight,” says de Waal, “but they reconcile afterward, which is something chimps really do. I’ve studied this for many years.” In real life, he explains, chimps patch up their differences by kissing on the mouth, whereas in the film they make up with a more conventionally manly hand-clasp. But still, bonus points for truthiness.

De Waal notes a few other, less defensible inaccuracies. Real apes don’t produce tears when they’re sad, but Dawn apes do; real apes don’t walk on two legs nearly as much as the Dawn apes. They don’t use spoken language, either, and while de Waal believes they could if they really wanted or needed to, it’s not clear why they would prefer speaking to signing—something apes are already physiologically equipped for. To the extent that that and other forms of ape body language are shown, they’re misrepresented. “The apes’ nonverbal communication has been humanized,” he says.

De Waal’s other complaint, albeit a minor one: “This is very much a macho movie,” he says. “It has only a few female characters. It’s mostly just males running around and shooting each other.” A true portrayal of ape society—even one based on a science-fictional premise—would include typical behaviors like feeding, grooming and sex. “It disturbed me a little,” he says. “It was just like a Schwarzenegger movie.”

With lots more body hair, of course.

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