Year 3, Month 7, Day 27: Sex Laxar I En Laxask

The New York Times reports on a nice piece of science:

Alaskan salmon are apparently evolving to adapt to climate change.

Researchers have suspected that temperature-driven changes in migration and reproduction behaviors — which have happened in many species — may be evidence of natural selection at work. Now there is genetic evidence to confirm the hypothesis.

For their study, published online last week in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, the scientists studied Alaska pink salmon in a small stream near Juneau where there have been complete daily counts of all adult fish since 1971.

The salmon migrated in two distinct populations, one appearing toward the end of August, the other starting in September. In 1979, scientists introduced a neutral genetic marker into the later-migrating population so it could be identified and tracked without affecting its fitness.

A small prize to anyone who can tell me something about the headline. Sent July 16:

The news that pink salmon are beginning evolutionary adaptation to a rapidly transforming environment should be a powerful signal to those people still actively denying the reality of global climate change. But there’s a big gap between “should” and “is,” and it’s spelled “rejection of science.”

The same people proclaiming evolution a blasphemous falsehood are at the forefront of the climate-denial pack, rejecting as absurd the suggestion that two centuries’ worth of CO2 emissions might have an effect on Earth’s atmospheric equilibrium. Such ignorance would be merely risible but for the fact that blinkered rejection of facts is now an absolute prerequisite for electability in today’s Republican party.

As the scientific evidence for climate change keeps accumulating, the GOP’s positions will evolve — incorporating even-more-convoluted explanations for the inconvenient facts. 2016’s Republican convention will likely be a sea of tinfoil-hatted conspiracy theorists. Can those Alaska salmon produce their birth certificates?

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 4, Day 20: He That Troubleth His Own House…

This is entirely expected — but it still sucks:

NASHVILLE — Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today allowed a controversial bill allowing teachers to discuss the “weaknesses” of evolution and other scientific theories to become law without his signature.

It is the first time Haslam, a Republican, has refused to sign a bill passed by the GOP-led General Assembly.

The legislation has been derided by critics nationwide as a modern-day “monkey bill,” a reference to a 1920s Tennessee law that outlawed the teaching of evolution and spurred the arrest and trial of Dayton, Tenn., teacher John Scopes in the infamous 1925 “Monkey Trial.”

“I have reviewed the final language of HB 368/SB 893 and assessed the legislation’s impact,” Haslam said in a statement. “I have also evaluated the concerns that have been raised by the bill. I do not believe that this legislation changes the scientific standards that are taught in our schools or the curriculum that is used by our teachers.

“However,” Haslam added, “I also don’t believe that it accomplishes anything that isn’t already acceptable in our schools.”

I wish they’d never been allowed to rejoin the Union. Sent April 11:

Although he’s allowing HB 368/SB 893 to become law without his signature, Governor Haslam cannot avoid soiling his fingers on a dirty piece of legislation. The bill’s language is entirely disingenuous. It is absolutely obvious that this is an attempt to undermine a genuine and robust scientific consensus under the guise of “discussing the weaknesses” in scientific opinion on evolution and climate change.

Will Tennessee’s teachers really explore the relationship between feedback and forcing in climate models — or will they promulgate attractive and convenient pseudo-facts (“carbon dioxide is our friend!”) offered by well-funded denialist groups? Will they explore the relationship between punctuated equilibrium and phyletic gradualism in our understanding of evolution — or will they offer attractive and convenient pseudo-facts from well-funded creationist groups?

When the world’s climate is perilously close to spinning entirely out of equilibrium, we can no longer afford the luxury of substituting ignorance for knowledge under the guise of “teaching the controversy.” This will not end well — for Tennessee, for America, or for the world.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 1, Day 10: I, For One, Welcome Our New Blattarian Overlords

The Christian Science Monitor (which has never yet printed one of my letters, but a boy can dream, can’t he?) notes the work of a Dr. Mark Urban, who has some bad news for lovers of our Earthly flora and fauna:

As climate change progresses, the planet may lose more plant and animal species than predicted, a new modeling study suggests.

This is because current predictions overlook two important factors: the differences in how quickly species relocate and competition among species, according to the researchers, led by Mark Urban, an ecologist at the University of Connecticut.

Already evidence suggests that species have begun to migrate out of ranges made inhospitable by climate change and into newly hospitable territory.

“We have really sophisticated meteorological models for predicting climate change,” Urban said in a statement. “But in real life, animals move around, they compete, they parasitize each other and they eat each other. The majority of our predictions don’t include these important interactions.”

Ahhh, yes — but has he taken into consideration the effect of hybrid sharks?

Sent January 6:

It’s inevitable: the results of the University of Connecticut study will be used to reinforce the notion that since scientists’ work on planetary climate change is often affected by error, the problems of global warming have been rendered nugatory. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

As anyone who’s worked on a committee can confirm, consensus-driven documents are inherently more conservative than the views of the individual authors. Conversely, lone specialists or unidisciplinary teams may apply deep levels of insight to their research while neglecting contributing factors that lie outside their areas of expertise. Both problems are common in published work on climate change, and lend fuel to a “don’t worry, be happy” interpretation that fixates on the existence of errors without noting the simple fact that almost without exception, climate scientists have erred by being too timid. As Dr. Urban’s study confirms, the problem is worse than we thought.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 1, Day 8: There Is Grandeur In This View Of Life

The Columbus, IN Republic prints an article from the Hartford Courier on evolutionary processes triggered by climate change:

HARTFORD, Conn. — Numerous species already have enough to contend with as climate changes drive them out of their natural habitats; a new study shows that they also have to compete with each other in outrunning those changes.

The University of Connecticut study, to be published Wednesday in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, suggests that the effects of climate change on wildlife are a good deal more complicated than previously thought.

Mark Urban, an assistant professor of ecology and environmental biology who led the new research, said many studies conducted on climate change and its potential impact on wildlife feature complex meteorological models to predict changes in climate.

What they don’t feature, he said, are equally complex models of how wildlife will react to those climate changes. Real-world factors — the different rates at which animals migrate, how they prey on each other and how they get in each other’s way — need to be included for a more accurate picture.

Killing two bird-brains with one stone, eh? Sent January 4:

Darwin-deniers are overwhelmingly likely to be climate-change deniers, and vice-versa; both groups can expect significant learning experiences during the coming century, as global warming pushes countless animal species out of their accustomed ecological niches and into intense evolutionary competition with one another.

However, both groups share the habit of ignoring evidence and embracing dogma, so it’s anyone’s guess how long their entrenched ideological positions will hold out in the face of rapid extinctions, extreme weather events, unexpected crossbreeds (like the new species of hybrid shark recently found off the coast of Australia), droughts, floods, and all the other epiphenomena of a runaway greenhouse effect.

Yes, biological evolution makes some people uncomfortable; yes, the notion that a century spent pumping carbon dioxide into Earth’s atmosphere might eventually have some negative effects is disturbing. But “uncomfortable” and “disturbing” won’t even begin to describe the future that awaits us should we continue on our carbon-burning, fact-phobic path.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 1, Day 7: (cue scary theme music)

The Christian Science Monitor, among others, reports on a troubling development: corporations have learned how to swim:

In what is being hailed as the world’s first evidence of inter-species breeding among sharks, a team of marine researchers at the University of Queensland have identified 57 hybrid sharks in waters off Australia’s east coast.


“Wild hybrids are usually hard to find, so detecting hybrids and their offspring is extraordinary,” said Ovenden.

Hybridization is common among many animal species, including some fish, but until now it has been unknown among sharks. In most fish species, fertilization takes place outside the body, with the males and females each releasing their gametes into the water where they mix. Blacktip sharks, by contrast, give birth to live young and actively choose their mates, which, as the scientists discovered, can sometimes be of a different species.

Ovenden speculated that the two species began mating in response to environmental change, as the hybrid blacktips are able to travel further south to cooler waters than the Australian blacktips. The team is looking into climate change and human fishing, among other potential triggers.

This is straining a bit for effect, but it was fun while it lasted. Sent January 3:

With the discovery of a new species of hybrid shark in the waters off Australia, we’re getting a glimpse of what the next few centuries have in store for us. In a post climate-change future, Earth’s fauna will respond to extreme weather conditions the only way they can — by adapting under extreme evolutionary pressure. It’s just our luck that the critters involved are vicious, soulless, mindless, predatory killing machines propelled only by the most basic of survival instincts.

Meanwhile, humanity’s attempts to mitigate runaway climate change are stymied by the corporate interests most implicated in causing the greenhouse effect — fossil fuel companies, which could just as easily be described as vicious, soulless, mindless, predatory killing machines propelled only by the most basic of survival instincts. Are twenty-first century mega-corporations the economic analogue to new species of sharks?

Will it ever be safe to go back in the water?

Warren Senders