TIME Science

Love, Not Fear, Will Help Us Fix Climate Change

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Retreating glacier in the Arctic Anna Henly—Getty Images

Dean Ornish is Founder and President of the non-profit Preventive Medicine Research Institute and Clinical Professor of Medicine at UCSF.

The U.N. Climate Summit has galvanized support—for now. But we're going to need much more

Superman’s father, Jor-El, was a leading scientist who tried for years to warn his fellow inhabitants that their home planet, Krypton, was about to explode. But they didn’t take the necessary actions until it was too late.

Something similar is happening with global warming on our planet. In some ways, Al Gore is our Jor-El. (Gore-Al?)

At first, people were captivated by his warning about warming. An Inconvenient Truth won an Oscar, Gore won a Nobel Peace Prize, and global warming was on everyone’s mind.

But not for long. It’s been eight years since the documentary came out, but despite accumulating scientific evidence, not much has happened to address global warming, until recently.

The United Nations Climate Summit last week, with more than 120 world leaders, galvanized everyone’s attention again. More than 400,000 people from around the world marched through the streets of Manhattan to raise awareness of global warming.

Why did it take eight years to bring global warming to our awareness again?

Because fear is not a sustainable motivator—in health or in politics. In the short run, fear is powerful, it gets our attention. It activates a primal part of our brain, the amygdyla, that helps us survive a short-term crisis (e.g., the proverbial saber-toothed tiger jumping out in front of us).

In the long run, though, it’s too scary to think that something really bad may happen to us, so we usually don’t, at least not for long. The human mortality rate is still 100%—one per person—but it’s not something most people think about very often. Until something bad happens, but, even then, only for a short while.

Something similar happens on an individual level when a person has a heart attack. The physician has their full attention, and they’ll do just about anything the doctor tells them they need to do—but usually only for about four to six weeks or so. Then, they often go back to their old ways. They tune out.

Preventive medicine is often fear-based. “Don’t smoke that cigarette, you’ll get lung cancer!” “Put down that cheeseburger, you’ll get a heart attack!” And so on. That doesn’t work for very long.

What enables people to make sustainable changes in their lives, both personal and planetary, is not fear of dying; it’s joy of living.

Love is more powerful than fear as a sustainable motivator. We will address tough challenges to help our loved ones that we might not do just for ourselves.

One of the most powerful moments at the recent UN climate summit this week was when Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner from the Marshall Islands received a standing ovation after she recited a poem written for her seven month old daughter, which included:

We are spreading the word

and there are thousands out on the street

marching with signs

hand in hand

chanting for change NOW

they’re marching for you, baby

they’re marching for us

because we deserve to do more than just

survive

we deserve

to thrive…

so just close those eyes, baby

and sleep in peace

because we won’t let you down—

you’ll see.

Recently, I gave the matriculation lecture at the Army War College in Carlisle, PA, to almost 400 future generals from 67 countries representing all four branches of the U.S. military. Since the title of my talk was “The Power of Love,” I asked former four-star General Stan McChrystal to make a short video to provide much more street cred than I would have at a military gathering on why love is more powerful than fear.

“If you think about why people do extraordinary things—why on the battlefield soldiers will sacrifice themselves, why they will make extraordinary efforts not to let down their comrade on the left or right—it’s got nothing to do with fear or coercion from their corporate or sergeant or officers.

“It has everything to do with commitment and wanting to have a relationship with people and with an organization in which they feel like they’ve given part of themselves so that they can, in fact, feel like they are a very important part of that team.

“No matter how much fear we create in subordinates, that’s just not strong enough to force them into actions where they’re more scared of something else, particularly a situation like combat when the chances of being killed or injured by the enemy is great—any fear they have of their chain of command is likely to be very insignificant.

“So, when we talk about the power of love, I think it’s the most powerful force that moves soldiers. You’re not going to stand in the sports bar and talk about how much you love each other, ‘I love you man!’ But when people put on the equipment, when they really have got to do difficult things, that’s what makes people operate, that’s what makes people give, that’s what makes organizations strong.”

If it’s meaningful, then it’s sustainable. In 2010, I consulted with President Clinton after his bypass grafts occluded and encouraged him to make healthy lifestyle changes including a whole foods plant-based diet low in refined carbohydrates. He has been doing so since then, lost more than 20 pounds, and looks and feels great. He’s inspired many others. Although I’ve been consulting with him since 1993, he has talked publicly about why he made these more intensive changes in diet: because he wanted to live long enough to walk his daughter down the aisle and to live to be a grandfather. Those meaningful goals make these dietary changes sustainable.

Almost 70 years ago, Viktor Frankl’s classic book, Man’s Search for Meaning, described what he learned as a concentration camp survivor in World War II. He found that prisoners who were able to find meaning in the midst of extreme suffering—e.g., “I have to survive to be reunited with my loved ones; to bear witness; to complete my life’s work”—were much more likely to survive, even if they were not physically as strong as those without meaningful goals.

If it feels good, then it’s sustainable. There’s no point in giving up something you enjoy unless you get something back that’s even better—and quickly.

The biological mechanisms that control our health and well-being are much more dynamic—for better and for worse—than most people realize. So, when people eat well, move more, love more, stress less, and quit smoking, they generally feel so much better, so quickly, it reframes the reason for making these changes from fear of dying (which is not sustainable) to joy of living (which is).

For example, nicotine in tobacco makes your arteries constrict. So does chronic stress. In your brain, that can cause a stroke; in your heart, a heart attack. But in your face, it makes you wrinkle and age faster. Supermodel Christy Turlington has a wonderful web site, www.smokingisugly.com.

And in your sexual organs, nicotine is the anti-Viagra. Instead of dilating blood flow to your sexual organs, it constricts and reduces it. Men who smoke are 200% more likely to have erectile dysfunction than those who don’t. Fortunately, quitting quickly reverses impotence.

Telling someone that quitting smoking makes you sexy and beautiful is much more motivating and sustainable than telling them that it causes heart attacks and strokes. That puts it into present tense—what is happening, making it much more motivating—rather than fear of what might happen later.

One of the reasons I’m excited by what visionary Elon Musk has done with the Tesla is to show that you can reduce global warming and drive a powerful, fun car. A cool car helps make a cooler planet.

If we are going to find sustainable ways of dealing with global warming, we have to base it on love and feeling good, not fear and loathing. If it’s fun, then it’s sustainable.

Dean Ornish is Founder and President of the non-profit Preventive Medicine Research Institute and Clinical Professor of Medicine at UCSF. He is the author of The Spectrum and five other bestsellers. He was the first to prove that comprehensive lifestyle changes may reverse heart disease and other chronic illnesses without drugs or surgery and may even begin to reverse aging at a cellular level.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Science

50 Years Ago, Doctors Called Domestic Violence ‘Therapy’

"The Wife Beater & His Wife"
From the Sept. 25, 1964, issue of TIME TIME

In light of recent news about domestic violence, looking back at a 1964 study that extols its benefits

In the last month, issues of domestic violence in the news have spurred discussion about why women stay in abusive relationships. The Twitter campaign #WhyIStayed allowed victims to share their rationales: some felt too scared to leave, some had grown up with domestic abuse and others always thought that their partners would finally change.

Though the NFL’s handling of domestic violence scandals suggests that our society still has a long way to go when it comes to understanding domestic abuse, we’ve made a lot of progress since 50 years ago when doctors thought “wife beating” was therapeutic. An article in the issue of TIME dated 50 years ago today — Sept. 25, 1964 — highlights a mind-boggling study that concludes couples stay in abusive relationships because their fighting can “balance out each other’s mental quirks.”

Yep, seriously. “Mental quirks.”

The study, which was published in the Archives of General Psychiatry, looked at 37 cases of assault between couples in Massachusetts courts and found a common trend: “though reasonably hard-working and outwardly respectable, [the husbands] were in reality ‘shy, sexually, ineffectual mother’s boys.’ The wives also fitted a pattern—’aggressive, efficient, masculine and sexually frigid.'”

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that 1960s scientists subscribed to such rigid gender norms wherein shy men were “mama’s boys” and bold women were “frigid.” But the science behind alcohol causing a role reversal in every couple, which was another element of the study, is questionable at best: “Usually the wife was boss, and her weak-willed husband was content to play the subservient role — until he had a few drinks. Then ‘role alternation’ would take place, and the husband would insist belligerently upon his conjugal rights.” (By “insisting on conjugal rights” the writer does probably mean rape.)

What’s most shocking is that doctors believed that a man beating his wife under these circumstances was actually a good thing. They called it “violent, temporary therapy”:

‘The periods of violent behavior by the husband,’ the doctors observed, ‘served to release him momentarily from his anxiety about his ineffectiveness as a man, while giving his wife apparent masochistic gratification and helping probably to deal with the guilt arising from the intense hostility expressed in her controlling, castrating behavior.’

The idea that women ought to feel guilty for being more assertive than their husband is tantamount, of course, to victim blaming. But the study also overly simplifies the assailant-victim relationship to a temper tantrum. We now know that physical violence is only one part of domestic abuse: abusers often use other means like isolation, threats to family members and pets, controlling of personal finances and psychological abuse to hurt their victims. Domestic violence is not a way to sort out issues: it’s a systematic and calculated means for perpetrators to control their victims.

And, of course, it’s very possible we’ll yet learn more about the causes of such violence. Though the science of the ’60s can be cringe-worthy, articles like these are also a reminder that studies can be the product of their times, used to justify the cultural norms: perhaps in 50 years some of our psychological research will seem backwards too.

Read the article here, in TIME’s archives: The Wife Beater & His Wife

TIME

Single Parents With Young Kids Have As Much Sex As Singles Without Kids, Study Says

Young couple lying in bed under sheets, low section, close-up of feet
Jonathan Kirn—Getty Images

No, this is not a headline from "The Onion."

Turns out that single parents are dating and having as much sex as singles without children.

A new study from The Kinsey Institute has found that single parents of children younger than age 5 date and are sexually active as often as singles without children — and more often than single parents of older children. (I’m guessing that later bedtime and increased ability to lay out guilt trips is to blame for this last phenomenon.)

Researchers began the study thinking that single parents would put hooking up on the back burner while trying to make a human being from scratch. Apparently, not so much. “For single parents, there is only so much time and so much energy to be used for a variety of competing demands in their life. Without the help of a partner, singles often have to divert more energy to parenting and so in theory one might think single parents would not be dating as much. But that’s not what we found,” Justin R. Garcia, an evolutionary biologist at The Kinsey Institute and assistant professor of gender studies at IU Bloomington, said in a press release.

Turns out it’s pretty easy to right-swipe on Tinder while watching Yo Gabba Gabba. Still, it’s news to me that having a kid under the age of 5 is no longer a barrier to a swingin’ single lifestyle. When my son was a toddler he was a barrier to just about everything, including showering, grocery shopping, using the restroom and doing anything alone with my husband. “These data are counter to theory and what was previously assumed about patterns of dating and sexual behavior among U.S. singles,” said Garcia.

But what’s a little less clear is exactly why this counter-intuitive phenomenon is true. The study gives us a few hints: “Male and female parents of young children experience hormonal changes that can affect their sexuality.” It also says that with single moms there’s a desire to find a partner again and people with young children are often younger themselves and tend to have a higher sex drive than older moms.

Remember, this study doesn’t say that single parents are having more sex than married parents. Although, or more realistically, married couples without children or married couples trying to have children probably have more sex than anyone else on earth. “We know that on average, singles have relatively less sexual activity than coupled people — singles tend to have lower rates of sexual frequency likely because they have to first find a partner to have sex with,” Garcia said.

TIME Science

If Synthetic Biology Lets Us Play God, We Need Rules

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MOLEKUUL—Brand X/Getty Images

Zocalo Public Square is a not-for-profit Ideas Exchange that blends live events and humanities journalism.

How can we prevent these technologies from falling into the wrong hands?

Synthetic biology has been called “genetic engineering on steroids.” It’s also been described as so difficult to pin down that five scientists would give you six different definitions. No matter how this emerging field is characterized, one thing is clear: the ability to synthesize and sequence DNA is driving scientific research in brand-new and exciting directions.

In California, scientists have created a breakthrough antimalarial drug—baker’s yeast made in a lab that contains the genetic material of the opium poppy. The drug has the potential to save millions of lives—and to ensure drug production that independent of poppy flowers. At MIT, researchers are working on a way for plants to “fix” their own nitrogen, so farmers will no longer need to use artificial fertilizers. And, in the far future, scientists and NASA researchers are looking to create a “digital biological teleporter” to bring to Earth life forms detected on Mars via a sort of biological fax.

What should we worrying about in this moment of tremendous, and potentially cataclysmic, scientific discovery? In advance of the Zócalo/Arizona State University event “How Will Synthetic Biology Change the Way We Live?, we asked experts the following question: Soon we’ll be able to program DNA with the same ease we program computers. What new responsibilities will be imposed on us?

1) Stepping ahead of technology to imagine the world we want to live in

Synthetic biology sees life as an engineering project— a repertoire of processes that can be reprogrammed to produce technologies and products. It envisions powerful new tools for constructing biological parts. Many in synthetic biology celebrate technologies like automated DNA synthesis as agents of “democratization,” potentially allowing easy and widespread access to custom-made DNA. According to their vision, these technologies will enable bioengineers to freely experiment with living systems, accelerating progress in innovation and producing enormous benefits for society.

But there are risks. The question is often raised: How can we prevent these technologies from falling into the wrong hands? DNA synthesis machines cannot distinguish between tinkerers and terrorists. Though this question is crucially important, it is revealing for what it leaves unasked. Why are synthetic biology’s tinkerers presumed to be the safe hands for shaping the technological future? Why do we defer to their visions and judgments over those that we collectively develop?

We tend to focus governance not on projects of innovation, but on how resulting technologies might be used in society. By attending primarily to technology’s “misuses,” “impacts,” and “consequences,” we confine ourselves to waiting until new problems—and responsibilities—are imposed upon us. Science is empowered to act, but society only to react. This leaves unexamined the question of who gets to imagine the future and, therefore, who has the authority to declare what benefits lie ahead, what risks are realistic, and what worries are reasonable and warrant public deliberation?

Our imaginations of the future shape our priorities in the present. It is a task of democracy, not science, to imagine the world we want to live in. Genuine democratization demands that we embrace this difficult task as our own, rather than wait to react to the responsibilities that emerging technologies impose upon us.

Benjamin Hurlbut is an assistant professor of biology and society in the School of Life Sciences at Arizona State University. Trained as a historian of science, he studies the intersection of science, politics, and ethics, with a particular focus on governance of emerging biotechnologies in the United States.

2) Addressing the gap between scientific innovation and human need

When it comes to programming DNA, the greatest challenge we face isn’t how to do it but rather for what purpose. How will we use the molecular tools we develop? The much-heralded promise is that genetic technologies will reveal clues to more effective treatment of disease. A serious challenge to making good on this promise is recognizing the social context—the values, beliefs, and structure in which these tools are called into being— that informs how scientists, policymakers, and the public prioritize their use.

We can start by asking why cutting edge biotechnologies have yet to solve our most intractable and dire global health problems. We assume that these new tools can be used to identify molecular targets to develop vaccines for neglected diseases disproportionately affecting low resource countries. And yet, a 10/90 gap persists in which a mere 10 percent of research is devoted to 90 percent of disease burden worldwide. In a market where male baldness and cellulite reduction take precedence over diarrheal diseases, malaria, and tuberculosis, we need to creative economic solutions to bridge the widening expanse between scientific innovation and human need.

Our social agenda will inform not only what is programmed into DNA, but also who will ultimately benefit from this new technology. Will our efforts bolster advantage among the select few or alleviate the suffering of the invisible many? The answer to that question depends upon whether we decide to leverage our shiny, new tools to address head-on the very old and obstinate problem of inequity.

Sandra Soo-Jin Lee, Ph.D., is a medical anthropologist and senior research scholar at the Center for Biomedical Ethics at Stanford University School of Medicine. Her current book project is entitled American DNA: Race, Justice and the New Genetic Sciences.

3) Rethinking DNA as a building tool

For much of the late 20th century, scientists, writers, and the general public imagined DNA as information. It was code in the form of a chemical, a molecule that directed our development and determined our destiny. This discourse served to organize, guide, and inform the research agenda of scientists for decades.

DNA, as any high school science student knows, exists as a double helix. Its structure is made of four different types of nucleotide subunits—adenine, cytosine, guanine, and thymine. The exact sequence of an organism’s DNA is determined by what scientists call complementary base pairing: adenine always pairs with thymine; guanine connects with cytosine. This predictability allows scientists to synthesize strands of artificial DNA—a technique perfected in the 1980s—which, when properly treated in the lab, can link up to form the desired structure.

Today, a community of scientists has adopted a different way of thinking about DNA. No longer just an information-containing biomolecule, DNA is now used as a building material by chemists, computer scientists, and molecular biologists. Starting with simple two-dimensional geometric shapes, DNA nanotechnologies can now fabricate complex three-dimensional objects capable of performing elementary mechanical functions and computations.

DNA nanotechnology is one part of the growing field of synthetic biology. What scientists will be able to do with the rapidly increasing capabilities is hard to project. To date, successes with DNA nanotechnology have included the construction of increasingly complex three-dimensional shapes, carrying out massively parallel computations, and building “DNA walkers” that can traverse a substrate and deliver “cargoes” of nanoscale particles.

For a historian of science, what is fascinating about this evolving field is this new perspective of DNA. We can no longer see it as just a blueprint for life … we now must also think of it as a building material. What kind of future will we build?

Patrick McCray is a professor in the history department at the University of California, Santa Barbara and the author, most recently, of The Visioneers: How a Group of Elite Scientists Pursued Space Colonies, Nanotechnologies, and a Limitless Future.

4) Ensuring careful consideration of potential impacts

In the decades just before the turn of the 20th century, there was great hope among researchers, lawmakers, and the public that our (then) new understanding of genetics could help to alleviate disease. It was from this promise that the world witnessed the emergence of—and later the horrors of—institutionalized eugenics. Synthetic biology offers similar promise and requires vigilance on the part of those developing the technology to ensure its careful implementation.

Scientists and policymakers have a responsibility to think holistically about how synthetic biology could affect individuals as well as populations, societies, and the human species as a whole. If synthetic biology is carelessly used to create genetic homogeneity as a means to cure genetic disorders, it could be detrimental. From an evolutionary perspective, genetic diversity has been key to the success of our species as it offers alternate solutions to environmental stressors. Alternatively, synthetic biology could also be used as a tool to create new types of genetic variations that, in the right environment, could ensure the survival of our species.

The development of this technology should be driven by the same ethical tenets that drive all current scientific research: respect, beneficence, and justice. The promise of synthetic biology rekindles hope in the discovery of a kind of genetic panacea. But the advent of this technology should, at the very least, solidify our resolve not to repeat the errors of the eugenicists of the past.

Jada Benn Torres is an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Notre Dame. As a genetic anthropologist, her research interests include genetic ancestry, human variation, and women’s health.

5) Developing governance as innovative as our science and technology

Synthetic biology will present us with an ever-growing number of choices. Choices about what we eat. Medicines we take. Fuels we use. Products we buy. Clothes we wear. Pets we own. Enhancements to our bodies and minds. These new choices will provide us with many important benefits—but they will also confront us with challenging dilemmas.

Some choices made possible by synthetic biology will affect only individuals and their families, while others will have a much wider reach. For example, buying goods made by synthetic biology may displace workers in other nations who make the same products using older technologies or raw materials. When we enhance our own capabilities using synthetic biology, we put pressure on others to make similar enhancements or risk being left behind.

There may also be safety and health risks from the individual choices we make. If people create new organisms in their garage or basement using DIY biology, they may inadvertently create pathogens that put others at risk in their neighborhoods, cities, or even beyond.

Individual choices empowered by synthetic biology with the potential to adversely affect others will put additional burdens and pressures on our societal institutions to make more (and better) governance decisions.

And that is where the problem and danger really lies: At the very moment that new technologies like synthetic biology require us to make more complex decisions, our societal decision-making institutions have never been more broken. Our regulatory agencies are overwhelmed, under-funded, and ossified, our legislatures are gridlocked by partisan bickering and too much information and issues, and our courts are glacial and lacking scientific competency. We urgently need new innovations in institutions and governance to match the rapid new innovations in the science and technology of synthetic biology.

Gary Marchant is Lincoln Professor of Emerging Technologies, Law and Ethics and faculty director of the Center for Law, Science & Innovation at Arizona State University. He teaches and researches governance of emerging technologies.

This originally appeared on Zocalo Public Square.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Science

Why Leaves Change Color in the Fall

Autumn leaves
Getty Images

Some good old-fashioned science unearthed from TIME's archives

It’s time to bust out your sweaters and boots, friends, because today, Sept. 23, marks the official first day of autumn. Some people love this season for its football, others love it for its lattes — but pretty much everyone loves it for its gorgeous, vibrant colors. (If you don’t love fall for the foliage you’re a monster.)

But have you ever stopped to ask, perhaps while enjoying some cider in a leafy meadow dotted with yellow, orange and red, why the leaves change color every year? Back in October, 1941, TIME explained the science behind this annual metamorphosis. And, naturally, the anonymous writer did so in the most science-y way possible — with a poem:

Fall poem
From the Oct. 20, 1941, issue of TIME

In other words, as summer comes to a close, trees lose their green color as their chlorophyll breaks down. Once the chlorophyll disappears, other substances like carotene and xanthophyll — which have been present all along but masked by the green of summertime — begin to show. “Red appears in maples, sumacs and some other plants when slowdown of the trees’ physiological processes prevents carrying away of the sugars (made with the aid of the fading chlorophyll out of air, water and light) from the leaves,” the article continues. “These sugars turn into a class of glucosides called anthocyanins, which are bright red and purple pigments. Anthocyanins develop best where 1) soil is acid. 2) nitrates are scarce, 3) light is abundant. Thus the light-bathed tips of maple leaves and the sunny sides of apples are reddest.”

But of course, all good things must come to an end. Here’s what happens as those lovely hues begin to fade:

By late autumn, the yellow and red pigments, following the green, disintegrate in the leaves. This final unmasking reveals the dull brown tannins, which are chemically so stable that they remain till the leaf rots to powder. Unlike flower pigments, which have the vital function of attracting pollen-spreading insects and birds, autumn’s colorful foliage is just a meaningless, glorious show.

So next time you’re strolling through the park with your friends on a crisp autumn afternoon and somebody comments on the colors, hit them with some science to explain the phenomenon. Surely they’ll be so impressed they’ll buy you a pumpkin spice latte, or at least some pumpkin spice Oreos.

TIME Science

Which Came First? The Egg.

An answer to the age-old question

lost-at-e-minor_logo

This article originally appeared on Lost at E Minor.

Forgot world peace, poverty and climate change. All these problems pale in comparison to an age old question that has plagued mankind since mankind had the brains to be plagued by such things. That question is: what came first, the chicken or the egg?

If like us, you’ve sat around with your clever hat on arguing with your friends that you’ve solved the millennia old conundrum, then perhaps it’s time you thought again. Then again, you could pick either the chicken or the egg and you’d have a fifty fifty chance of being right. But if you want to know the why’s and the how’s then you gotta watch this explanatory short video by ASAP Science.

(via Twisted Sifter)

TIME Environment

Hundreds of Thousands Converge on New York to Demand Climate-Change Action

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, former Vice President Al Gore, and movie stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Edward Norton all attended

At the People’s Climate March in New York City on Sunday, a 4-ft.-tall walking banana was passionately articulating his feelings about wind turbines.

“They can make things run just by the wind,” said 9-year-old Danny Haemmerle, who dressed up as the yellow fruit to attend the march with his family. “And my parents don’t have to pay as much,” added his brother Eddie Haemmerle, 11, sporting a lime green wig.

The Haemmerles were joined by an estimated 400,000-strong crowd that flooded the streets of Manhattan to demand U.N. action on global warming — a showing that quadrupled expected attendance and made the march the largest climate protest in history and largest social demonstration of the past decade.

Timed to coincide with the U.N. summit on climate change, which meets this week to discuss an international carbon-emissions agreement, the demonstration was an international effort with 2,646 events in more than 150 countries, attended by hundreds of thousands more people.

Coalesced by several organizations, including Bill McKibben’s 350.org, the swarming crowds were there to pressure Obama and other leaders to make addressing climate change a top political priority. “Today, civil society acted at a scale that outdid even our own wildest expectations,” said May Boeve, executive director of 350.org, in a statement. “Tomorrow, we expect our political leaders to do the same.”

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon made an appearance, along with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, former Vice President Al Gore, and movie stars like Leonardo DiCaprio and Edward Norton. Nearly every labor union joined the march, including the Service Employees International Union, the largest union in the city. The march was supposed to start at 59th Street, but the throng of people stretched past 93rd Street, and there were so many marchers that it took the back of the line over two hours to start moving. The march was so well attended that organizers had to send a text at 5 p.m., asking marchers to leave because the route had filled to capacity.

People marched in clogs, dreadlocks, optimistic T-shirts, Native-American headdresses, bike helmets, feathered hats, Lorax costumes and biohazard suits. Babies wore diapers. One woman dressed as Charlie Chaplin and carried a sign depicting a blackened earth, with just the word “Oops.” And Danny Haemmerle wasn’t the only person dressed as a banana.

Zak Davidson, a 20-year-old junior at Tulane, iconoclastically wore a suit, explaining, “A lot of conservatives try to marginalize environmentalism as a fringe movement, like just people wearing hemp skirts. But I have a job offer in the government for when I graduate, and I’m going to continue fighting for climate change within the system.”

Davidson and 60 of his classmates drove 26 hours up from New Orleans to attend the march, and after it’s over, they’ll hop right back on the road and drive 26 hours again in order to make it to class on Tuesday.

“Moving to New Orleans really politicized me about climate change, since the Gulf Coast is predicted to have the worst sea-level rise,” said Davidson’s classmate, Emma Collin, 21. “It’s like being in Rome before the fall.”

The props at the Climate March were as colorful as the costumes: a massive model of the earth, along with hundreds of smaller balloons and beach balls; a giant, inflatable cow intended to highlight how the meat industry hurts the environment (a U.N. report found that animal agriculture accounts for 14.5% of greenhouse-gas emissions). People carried massive sunflower signs, sculptures of waves, goddess puppets and angel kites.

There was also a dinosaur, made of car parts and gas jugs, named BP-Rexosaurus, built by BikeBloc, a group dedicated to promoting bicycle transportation. “He’s here to tell us how to get pass fossil fuels before humans go extinct like dinosaurs,” explained Elissa Jiji, who was biking with the group. Other bikers dressed their bikes as swordfish, noting that swordfish bills often pierce oil pipelines. People chanted, “Exxon Mobile, BP, Shell, take your oil and go to hell!”

Often, people’s attire reflected the particular social issues within climate change to which they felt the closest.

A cohort of doctors marched in lab coats to protest the global health effects of climate change. “It’s one of the most important threats to world health, and it’s completely preventable,” said Dr. Erica Frank, who specializes in preventative medicine in British Columbia. “It would be irresponsible for us to do nothing.”

“Carbon pollution directly results in asthma, heart disease and cancer,” said Dr. Steve Auerbach, a New York City pediatrician who also marched in his lab coat. “From a micro and macro point of view, climate change is a global health issue.”

For demonstrator Favianna Rodriguez, climate change is inextricable from social issues like feminism and immigration policy. To protest a “culture of hypersexuality,” she marched topless, with yellow butterfly stickers over each nipple.

Rodriguez works with CultureStrike, an organization that supports the arts movement around immigration, but she helped design signs for the Climate March because she says climate change is an example of social inequality.

“The destruction we’re facing has been wrought under male leadership, and women and children are disproportionately affected,” she said. “Addressing climate change is going to require a very strong shift in leadership, and require us to include the vision of women and youth.”

The one thing that the whole crowd seemed to agree on, whether doctors, vegans, bike enthusiasts, hippies, feminists, students, Christians, toddlers, Native-Americans, farmers or grandparents: changing nothing about global environmental policy is a scary prospect.

“Inaction, dude,” said green-haired fine-arts student Joe George, when I asked him what was the scariest part about global warming. “I keep imagining where I live in Brooklyn, just under water. It’s horrifying. You can’t stop the Atlantic Ocean.”

TIME Science

Could Bacon Stop Nosebleeds?

Doctors have been recognized for using cured pork to stop a 4-year-old's uncontrollable nosebleed

The 2014 Ig Nobel Prize trophy is hoisted high during a performance at the Ig Nobel Prize ceremony at Harvard University, in Cambridge, Mass., Sept. 18, 2014. Charles Krupa / AP

Michigan doctors who used cured pork to stop a nosebleed won a 2014 Ig Nobel prize, awarded by the Annals of Improbable Research magazine at Harvard University for especially imaginative scientific achievements.

Dr. Sonal Saraiya and her team at the Detroit Medical Center decided to try the folk remedy as a “last resort” after failed attempts to stop an uncontrollable nosebleed in a 4-year-old who suffers from Glanzmann thrombasthenia, a rare condition in which blood does not properly clot. They stuffed strips of cured pork into the child’s nostrils twice, and the hemorrhaging ceased.

Why did it work? “There are some clotting factors in the pork,” she said, the Associated Press reports, “and the high level of salt will pull in a lot of fluid from the nose.”

The awards also recognized researchers who explored whether owning a cat is bad for your mental health (it might be), Japanese scientists who studied whether banana peels are actually slippery (they’re not), and Norwegian biologists who set out to discover if people dressed like polar bears could scare reindeers (they can).

TIME Environment

Ozone Layer Showing Signs of Recovery, Study Finds

Ozone Rebounds
This undated image provided by NASA shows the ozone layer over the years, Sept. 17, 1979, top left, Oct. 7, 1989, top right, Oct. 9, 2006, lower left, and Oct. 1, 2010, lower right. NASA/AP

Finally, some good news about the environment

The depleted protective ozone layer that has left a gaping hole over Antarctica is showing signs of recovering, a UN panel of scientists said Wednesday.

The report found early indications of an increase in total ozone levels, which stabilized around 2000 after two decades of decline. The hole over Antarctica that appears every year, which grew to about 30 million square km in 2006, has also stopped expanding, according to the report.

Scientists realized in the 1970s that chemicals used in refrigerants and aerosol cans known as chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, were wearing down the ozone layer, which helps the Earth repel potentially harmful radiation from the sun. But an international movement to ban or replace CFCs, buttressed by the 1987 Montreal Protocol, has helped reduce the amount of CFC in the atmosphere.

“It’s a victory for diplomacy and for science and for the fact that we were able to work together,” chemist Mario Molina, one of the coauthors of a 1974 study predicting ozone depletion, told the Associated Press.

While past studies have found slowing ozone depletion, the UN report Wednesday is the first to show indications of an increase in total ozone, Geir Braathen, a senior scientific officer with the World Meteorological Organization, which co-produced the report, told Reuters.

TIME Iceland

See Iceland’s Volcano Raging Under the Northern Lights In 1 Amazing Image

The Bardarbunga volcano erupts under the aurora borealis in the Holuhraun lava field in the east highlands of Iceland near Snæfell on Sept. 2, 2014.
The Bardarbunga volcano erupts under the aurora borealis in the Holuhraun lava field in the east highlands of Iceland near Snæfell on Sept. 2, 2014. Gísli Dúa Hjörleifsson

Since the Aug. 31 eruption of Iceland’s Bardarbunga volcano, the world has watched in awe as it spews glowing red lava into the desolate landscape. Bardarbunga has stemmed a series of earthquakes through the country, but the eruption has also become the subject of some incredible photographs, videos, and satellite images.

Icelandic photographer Gísli Dúa Hjörleifsson, who is also a ranger in the area, may have captured the most epic images of all: the hot glow of the volcanic eruption underneath cool and ethereal haze of the northern lights, or the aurora borealis.

The Bardarbunga volcano erupts under the aurora borealis in the Holuhraun lava field in the east highlands of Iceland near Snæfell on Sept. 2, 2014. Gísli Dúa Hjörleifsson

“In my many years of working in the highland of Iceland both as a photographer and ranger, I . . . have a knowledge of the nature and especially the way the light has an huge influence in the landscape,” Hjörleifsson told TIME. “Knowing the current situation of the volcano I wanted to capture this unique situation. I drove up in the area surrounding the volcano and watched the the sky until I could see the northern lights taking shape. That interaction with the heat and color from the volcano created a completely new color palette I have never seen [before].”

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