Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Duke Energy fuels the extreme weather that drives up our bills

This letter to the editor was written in response to "Scientists connect global warming to extreme rain" (Feb.17) and "Duke earnings up 23% in 2010" (Feb. 18)

"Thursday the Observer reported that 'telltale fingerprints' in scientific data confirm that manmade climate change is fueling extreme weather events such as massive snowstorms and rainstorms. Friday we learned that Duke Energy's 2010 earnings were up 23 percent, in large part because of extreme weather.

"Now, Duke Energy wants to raise rates to pay for new coal-fired power plants. Burning coal is a huge cause of the climate crisis. Climate change is not a "victimless crime." Extreme weather hurts people. But it's great for Duke Energy.

"Let's call on Duke Energy to stop fueling the extreme weather that's driving up our electric bills and Duke's profits. Duke should shut down some coal plants and promote drastic conservation and energy efficiency."
 Keywords: Duke Energy coal emissions climate change energy efficiency Duke Energy drives up energy bills Duke Energy drives up coal emissions Duke Energy fuels climate change Duke Energy fuels extreme weather coal fuels extreme weather coal fuels climate change

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

We are family: new evidence of our close link to chimps

Photo: wikimedia commons

People are good at detecting human personalities accurately, even from expressionless mug shots. A study last year showed that we can reliably tell who is extroverted, emotionally stable, agreeable or imaginative - just from their blank and expressionless faces.

We can read chimps too

A new study shows that we can also predict personality traits accurately from expressionless photos of chimps!  In the new study from Bangor University of Wales, 139 college students looked at pairs of chimpanzee mug shots.  In the photos, the chimps looked straight ahead or at a slight angle with no teeth showing and no shadowing over the eyes which could make them look threatening. Sixty to 70% of the students accurately identified which chimps were dominant and which were not.  Accuracy was better with male chimps than females.

The researchers, led by Robert Ward, say they don't know exactly what characterizes the face of a dominant chimp or an extroverted person. Ward suspects that chimps can detect the difference too.  He plans to test that next.

Study underscores our genetic similarity to chimps

What's the significance of these studies? The researchers conclude that the ability to detect important personality traits from facial structure (not expressions) evolved 7 million years ago in a common ancestor of both chimps and humans.  The fact that humans can read chimp facial expressions suggests that this ability is "part of an evolved system."

Chimps are our closest relatives, sharing 98% of the our DNA. It's not too surprising that we should able to read their faces in the same way we read human faces.

Wouldn't it be nice...

I'm always glad when I see a study like this.  I have this fantasy that once we realize how smart and how like us chimpanzees and other great apes are, the tide will turn on protecting our ape relatives from impending extinction. 

For more information about what you can do to protect wild apes, see these links to primate conservation NGOs:

Jane Goodall Institute
Orangutan Outreach
Sumatran Orangutan Society
Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International
Orangutan Land Trust
International Primate Protection League
TRAFFIC:the wildlife trade monitoring network

Some of my previous posts about primates and primate conservation:

Is males' attraction to trucks and balls genetically based? Jan 14, 2011
Hunting may threaten orangutans even more than habitat loss Dec 6, 2010
Keywords: chimpanzees chimps Robert Ward University of Bangor

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

New study: Women's tears contain pheromones that turn men off

Female tears affect men's desire. Photo: wikimedia commons

An old friend told me once that she intentionally cries in conversations with her husband when she's not getting her way.  She might want to consider a different tactic.  New evidence suggests that a pheromone in women's tears turns men off rather decidedly.

Two researchers at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel have just published a study in the journal Science which demonstrates that the tears of human females turn men off.

Tears contain pheromones, apparently
The researchers, Shani Gelstein and Noam Sobel, have apparently shown that human female tears contain a pheromone that reduces men's sexual arousal.  A pheromone is a chemical produced by the body that communicates with others of the same species. For example, female dogs in heat have a scent that attracts males. Males of many species have a scent in their urine, or in glandular secretions, that advertises the boundaries of their territories and keeps competitors out.  Pheromones are very common among other mammals but have seldom (if ever) been identified in humans.

It's interesting that, in this experiment, the subjects could not consciously smell the pheromone. But they apparently smelled it subconsciously, because it affected their behavior.

Women's tears dampened men's sexual response
I thought the experiment was ingenious.  The researchers collected a jar of tears from women as they watched sad film clips and tears trickled down their faces. A pad containing either tears or a salt solution that had been trickled down the same faces was then attached to each male subject's upper lip.  Neither substance had a perceptible odor.  The men were then shown female faces; 17 of the 24 men found the female faces less alluring after whiffing tears than after whiffing salt solution.

Another 50 men showed less physiological sexual arousal after whiffing tears than after whiffing salt solution. Low sexual arousal was indicated by slow breathing rates and low levels of testosterone in their saliva.

In a final experiment, men watched a sad movie while sniffing women's tears or sniffing a salt solution. The men sniffing tears showed a much reduced blood flow to areas of the brain that had earlier reacted strongly to an R-rated erotic movie.

The researchers don't know what the chemical nature of the pheromone might be.  More research is need to figure that out. 

How would the pheromones in women's tears affect other women?
I never have really felt that it was to my advantage to cry in front of a man. It might catch attention, might inspire guilt or pity, but I'm not sure it's ever really worked to my advantage. I'm curious to see the experiment repeated on female subjects.  How do females respond to whiffing the tears of other females? I imagine the response would be increased blood flow to the parts of the brain involved in care-taking, nurturing, and heart-felt sympathy.

What do you think?

Keywords: Shani Gelstein, Noam Sobel, pheromones in tears, women's tears, tears reduce sexual response

Friday, February 04, 2011

Massive snowfalls due to Arctic warming, breakdown of polar vortex

 Photo by Sally Kneidel

Why are massive snowfalls and cold air walloping the U.S. for the second year in a row?

I listened to the climate reporter for the NY Times, Justin Gillis, on NPR yesterday. He said our current weather is due to a breakdown in the "polar vortex." Gillis mentioned that the U.S. had warmer winters up through 1995 - thought to be due to global climate change. Now record-setting blizzards are dumping massive amounts of snow over large areas of the U.S. And that too is thought to be due to global climate change. Does that make sense? It does.

This morning I read the newsletter of Thomas Homer-Dixon, a climate scientist in the U.K. He explained what the polar vortex is, how the melting of Arctic ice has changed it, and how that change is responsible for our brutal winter.
Even areas of the South have had multiple snowfalls this year. Photo: Sally Kneidel

What is the "polar vortex"?

Dr. Homer-Dixon explains it this way. Usually in early winter, a basin of low-pressure air forms over the Arctic Ocean's cold sea ice. Jet streams travel west to east along this basin's southern edge, creating a huge circular flow - the polar vortex - that travels counterclockwise around the Arctic. This flow acts as a fence, separating the Arctic's cold air from warmer air farther south.

A warmer Arctic apparently causes colder continents

According to Homer-Dixon and other climate scientists, heat was released last winter (in Dec and Feb) by newly exposed water in the Arctic - water that used to be ice. That heat created bulges of high-pressure air over the Arctic which pressed against the polar vortex, destabilizing it. The jet streams that comprise the polar vortex broke into disconnected segments, some of which traveled north to south, pulling bitterly cold air into North America, Europe and eastern China.
 Photo by Sally Kneidel

That change in wind directions is called the "Warm Arctic - Cold Continents" climate pattern.

Scientists can't say for sure yet whether the same thing is responsible for this year's brutal winter. But they do know that jet-stream maps for the Northern Hemisphere in late November 2010 showed the jet streams broken into "bits, pieces, loops, and circles with many north-to-south flows over North America and Eurasia."

Writes Dr. Homer-Dixon, "People who think this winter's brutish weather proves climate change isn't real might want to think again."

Keywords: climate change polar vortex Arctic ice Thomas Homer-Dixon record snow harsh winter