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Life Below Ground – at 250 Degrees!

By   Shlomo Maital

 A lot of money is being spent looking for life on Mars.

   What about looking for life on Earth – in unexplored places. It’s called “deep life”.

   A fascinating report by AFP, a global news agency, informs us:

   “Scientists have drilled a mile and a half (2.5 kilometers) beneath the seabed and found vast underground forests of “deep life,” including microbes that persist for thousands, maybe millions of years, researchers said Monday.   Feeding on nothing but the energy from rocks, and existing in a slow-motion, even zombie-like state, previously unknown forms of life are abundant beneath the Earth despite extreme temperatures and pressure.   About 70 percent of Earth’s bacteria and archaea — single-celled organisms with no nucleus — live underground, according to the latest findings of an international collaboration involving hundreds of experts, known as the Deep Carbon Observatory, were released at the American Geophysical Union meeting in Washington.   This “deep life” amounts to between 15 and 23 billion tons of carbon, said the DCO, launched in 2009, as it nears the end of its 10-year mission to reveal Earth’s inner secrets.   The deep biosphere of Earth is massive,” said Rick Colwell, who teaches astrobiology and oceanography at Oregon State University.

   A Japanese scientist who led the study said the following:

   “Most of deep life is very distinct from life on the surface,” said Fumio Inagaki, of the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology.   Using the Japanese scientific vessel Chikyu, researchers have drilled far beneath the seabed and removed cores that have given scientists a detailed look at deep life.   “The microbes are just sitting there and live for very, very long periods of time,” he told AFP. He described the team’s findings so far as a “very exciting, extreme ecosystem.” Among them may be Earth’s hottest living creature, Geogemma barossii, a single-celled organism found in hydrothermal vents on the seafloor. Its microscopic cells grow and replicate at 250 degrees Fahrenheit (121 Celsius). [This is well above the boiling point of water!]  “There is genetic diversity of life below the surface that is at least equal to but perhaps exceeds that which is at the surface and we don’t know much about it,” Colwell said.    

       Brought up from these ancient coal beds and fed glucose in the lab, researchers have seen some microbes, bacteria and fungi slowly waking up. “That was amazing,” said Inagaki.   Scientists have found life in continental mines and boreholes more than three miles (five kilometers) deep, and have not yet identified the boundary where life no longer exists, he added.

           These microbes way underground are important, because they have captured huge amounts of carbon, leaving the oxygen we humans breathe.

           And perhaps they hold the key to removing the carbon spewed into the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels, causing climate change and global warming.

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 Kids Sue Elders: Is This What We’ve Come To??

By   Shlomo Maital

   I recently wrote a column in the fortnightly magazine Jerusalem Report, titled “Waging War on our Children”. The title was a direct quote from Professor Larry Kotlikoff, Boston University. Kotlikoff pioneered economic studies of “intergenerational equity” – how one generation passes on a better (or a worse) economy and society to the younger generation.

   Today, Kotlikoff’s meticulous studies show, it is …worse! Much much worse. Because, when you take the present value of US spending obligations (education, health, pensions), and the present value of US tax revenues, there is an enormous fiscal gap of $200 trillion, or 10 times US GDP.   This is the debt burden the US is dumping on its young people. And this is true of other countries too, including my own, Israel.  (see Kotlikoff.net)

       In the latest issue of NATURE magazine (Nov. 8), I spotted this amazing short article.   American ‘kids’ (young people) are suing the government (older generation), for ruining the climate and leaving them with a bloody mess.

       This is a serious suit. Of course the Trump administration seeks to have it dismissed. But the Supreme Court will debate it seriously.

       Is this where we’re at? Is this how low we’ve sunk? Our kids have to sue us, to get us to do something about the god-awful mess we’ve left them?  

       Hey kids. It’s not just the climate. It’s the toxic volatile divisive angry political situation, the hollowed-out economy (industry sent abroad), the spend-and-borrow society, the crummy schools, and much more.   Broaden your suit. Sue us for the mess in general, not just climate change.   Maybe that will wake us up?!

How to Explain Global Warming to Donald Trump

By Shlomo Maital

                              Ocean Temperature 1880-2017

Dear President Donald Trump,

       Donald, sir, I have a problem. How do I explain global warming and climate change to someone like yourself, with the attention span just a bit less than a goldfish ?   Who does not read anything, and gets information from Fox News? To someone with untreated attention deficit disorder from childhood ?

     Hmmm.

     Here is my best shot.

     Suppose this next sentence is a Tweet, Donald. Read it as such. I mean no disrespect.

         93 per cent of the added heat generated by global warming is absorbed by the oceans; only 7 per cent, by the air.

         That’s only 23 words.   Well within 140 characters.

         Don’t believe it? Please, look at the graph. OK?

         Why is warmer ocean temperature a problem?   Why do we care that up to 30% of the Great Barrier Reef has already disappeared, because the coral can’t stand the warmer temperatures?

         Well, Donald, let’s take your own body. Uh, rephrase that. YOU take your own body. Suppose you are running a temperature. Say, two degrees. Instead of 98.6 F., 100.6 F.?   Would you go to a doctor? Feel ill? Take medicine?

         Well, the ocean is like our human bodies. It is feeling unwell. And it has been running a fever for quite a while. And it is getting worse. Your decision to leave the Paris Agreement made the oceans feel sicker.

         So while we think global warming is about, say, heat waves, it is really about destroying the ecology of our oceans and melting the ice caps.   The oceans are huge heat sinks. And they just don’t like it all, nor do the creatures who live there.

     Oops.     286 words. Too long. I’ve lost your interest.

     Can anyone help? Maybe – the Russian spooks you seem to love?

 

Gardens of the World – Seeing is Believing

By Shlomo Maital

   Gardens of the World singapore

Yesterday, Sunday, my wife and I visited Singapore’s remarkable Gardens of the World – domed gardens, showing the amazing flora and fauna of various regions of the world, including a man-made mountain with a walkway (that spiral trail you see is where you walk, viewing an incredible man-made waterfall).

   Singapore is only a small archipelago with some 5 million people.  Yet it has higher GDP per capita, by some measures, than the U.S.  It exports twice as much as its GDP.  How?  By value-added manufacturing – import components, assemble them, export them. 

   Singapore, the country, has exceptionally deep pockets, that enable it to afford such incredible structures as Garden of the World.  Its Central Provident Fund is the repository for compulsory savings – about a sixth of every pay packet by the employee, and an equal payment by the employer.   Singaporeans can draw on this not for consumption but for things like housing.  So by law, Singapore’s personal saving rate is a third of national income. 

   Singapore has a remarkable mindset.  As a small country, in a neighborhood that is not always totally friendly to Singapore,  it must be alacritous and resilient, to ‘remain relevant’, as a close friend from the Singaporean Foreign Ministry told me.  To remain relevant as a small country,  you have to be the best at everything you do. Singapore Airlines must have the most video movies of any airline and the best business class.  Singapore itself must have attractions for tourists that surpass anything you can see elsewhere.  Singapore has to be #1.  No excuses. And that no excuse mindset creates remarkable excellence. 

     Moreover, Gardens of the World has a strong message.  Here is the full beauty of G-d’s world, laid out before you, flowers, plants, trees…    and we are ruining it through climate change.  Let’s take action.  When you see the message vividly, first hand, in this manner, it is very powerful.  Will our children and grandchildren see the world of beauty as we do? Or will it be gone, as will be the case if we continue to pollute our air and our water and our land. 

The World Can Live WITHOUT Perpetual Growth—and It Must

By Shlomo Maital  

                                                            Zero Growth

Today’s Global New York Times (June 5/2014) has a fine column by Eduardo Porter.  He refers to Prof. Tim Jackson’s 2009 book, Prosperity Without Growth, and Jackson’s back of the envelope calculation.   It shows a bitter truth:  The macroeconomic assumption, that continual perpetual growth in GDP per capita is both good and feasible, cannot be sustained.  We have to have policies that seek a stable level of per capita GDP, while redistributing wealth and income from rich countries to poor —  a very tall order.

   Here is the simple arithmetic.   Assume that developing nations citizens are entitled to roughly the same level of per capita income as Europe, by 2050 (that’s 36 years away, about a generation and a half!).  By then there will be 9 billion people in the world. 

  • If European incomes grow by 2 per cent annually through 2050, and
  • If we want to keep the Earth’s temperature from rising more than 2 degrees C. (3.6 degrees F.) above what it was before the industrial era [in order to prevent violent, unpredictable environmental upheavals],   then: the world can emit at most 6 grams of carbon dioxide for each dollar of GDP it produces.   

 

     Hmmm…   Advanced nations emit 60 times that much, at present!   Developing nations emit 90 times that much!    

     If we want to eradicate poverty (we do) and save our planet (we do), we are going to have to reduce carbon emissions by an order of magnitude. A very tall order, one that will take massive investment of resources, huge creativity, a pro-environment mindset, global cooperation, and a wide variety of new technologies.

      President Obama’s new proposal, for limiting carbon emissions, falls far short of what is needed, and even THAT could be sabotaged by Congress (though Obama claims he will implement it as an executive order).    

     Is no-growth economics possible for rich countries? It is. Look at Japan. Despite Japan’s huge efforts, its per capita GDP has grown very little for two decades. Yet Japan remains a prosperous country, with a high living standard. Is Japan a natural experiment, showing that zero growth is not only possible, but desirable – provided we change our mindset?

 

        I’m afraid that my generation is delivering a ruined planet to the younger generation. They have the right to put us all in jail for this.

      

Can We Feed 9 Billion People?

By Shlomo Maital

hunger  FAO Food Price

The new United Nations report on climate change * is very disturbing. It shows climate change is far worse than we had feared, with average temperatures liable to rise by as much as four full degrees, flooding coastal cities and creating turbulent weather.

   Today, in the New York Times, Eduardo Porter invokes the ghost of Thomas Malthus, who wrote two centuries ago that population growth would generate famine, starvation, plagues and war. It didn’t happen – yet. Could it?

   In case you haven’t noticed, the FAO global food price index rose from 100 in the year 2000 to 160 today, 2014. This is nearly as high as it was in 1970, when the world faced rapid food price inflation.  

   The IPCC report refutes the idea that climate change will help food production by making food-growing areas warmer. Apparently, faster photosynthesis caused by more carbon dioxide in the area helps weeds more than crops, while ozone and high temperatures actually reduces yields of major grains, according to the report.

   To feed over 9 billion people worldwide in 2050 will require 70 per cent more calories than the world consumes today. That’s a huge increase. Where will it come from? Or will we see growing numbers of hungry people?

   We’d better tackle the problem right now. Because, Malthus forecasted in 1800, hungry people go to war, desperately, to feed their kids. Especially when half the world overconsumes and grows obese, while half the world goes hungry. There must be a better way.


* U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (UN IPCC), report issued Monday.

* Eduardo Poter, “a forecast of famine, revisited”, International NYT April 3, p. 16.

   

Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

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