Excited to see these two papers out! Continue reading
At the end of each year, dictionaries (and other linguistically-minded groups) release their Word of the Year. The metrics used to rate these words vary by organisation, and the methods (if described) are always a bit vague. But the rating usually involves how often the word was searched for on the dictionary’s site, or how often the word was used in popular online media.
Unlike other ‘of the year’ or ‘best’ ratings, Words of the Year are rarely ‘happy place’ words. They’re a measure of contemporary cultural usage, a sign of the times, not a rigorous measure of meaningfulness or popularity.
We often discuss Word of the Year retrospectively – why did it matter so much last year? But, if you don’t like repeating the same mistakes, it also matters for this year and beyond.
My top picks are: Continue reading
There has been a flurry of excitement in the media over a recently-published observational study describing the “behavioural flexibility and adaptation” of solitary bees to our “plastic-rich environments”. In a nutshell, during the course of a larger field study looking at wild bees in urban landscapes, researchers in Toronto discovered that some urban Megachile bee species in the city had lined their nest cells with plastic materials. Continue reading
Once upon a time…shoes lasted for hundreds of years, yet they left no footprint on the Earth.
The oldest known shoes were found at Fort Rock, Oregon USA, preserved under layers of volcanic ash. They were sandals woven from sagebrush and are around 8-9000 years old, possibly older. The meticulous weaving and shaping of the sole indicate that these shoes had an intellectual heritage much older than this – they certainly don’t look like the experimental result of a “lightbulb” moment for the first ever shoemaker! Continue reading
[Odysseus] never closed his eyes, but kept them fixed on the Pleiades, on late-setting Bootes, and on the Bear – which men also call the Wain, and which turns round and round where it is, facing Orion, and alone never dipping into the stream of Oceanus – for Calypso had told him to keep this to his left.
–The Odyssey (Book 5) Homer
Celestial navigation is as old as the stars (I apologise, I couldn’t resist the pun!). The night sky was used as a navigation tool long before compasses were invented, and it helped most of the ancient explorers gad about the globe without maps. Even today, anyone who doesn’t trust Apple Maps knows how to orient themselves using Polaris in the northern hemisphere and the Southern Cross in the south.
But, like a lot of things we think we’re pretty good at, animals figured it out long before we did. Quite a few interesting experiments have shown that birds or animals can navigate using the stars and now, the dung beetle has become the first insect proven to navigate by the stars (although, maybe the ancient Egyptians already knew this when they elevated the dung-rolling scarab to sacred status?).
I came across a blog called TapThat that is documenting a campaign to eradicate the deadly water bottle from the University of New South Wales campus. It makes my soul do tiny little jigs inside when I discover groups like this that are trying to stop the problem of ubiquitous plastic at its source.
Some of you may remember, in 2009, when Bundanoon in the Southern Highlands of NSW became the first recognised town in the world to ban the sale (or giveaway) of bottled water, instead installing public water fountains.
Last year, the University of Canberra became the first uni in Australia to ban bottled water across its entire campus. (Check out the website http://www.gotap.com.au/for more examples of bottle-banning initiatives, both here and around the world).
I’ve begun to realise how much time I spend thinking about rubbish – literally. One of my very first posts on this blog was about the repercussions of our disposable lifestyles, such as the Pacific waste island. I’ve also talked about how much food and ‘stuff’ we waste in other posts.
I’ve always felt strongly about waste, especially the plastic variety, but I never grasped how much it was affecting me. I was brought up with the time-honoured “can’t leave the table until you’ve eaten everything on your plate” philosophy (I can clearly remember the nights I spent gagging over my pumpkin until long past bedtime). As a uni student, moving house was great – I had a legitimate excuse to throw out all the broken, useless things and unwanted gifts I had hoarded in the cupboards all year out of guilt. Continue reading
Newspapers in Australia, the UK, Ireland and the USA have sacked hundreds of staff recently, and all are blaming the digital age – higher printing costs, reduced ‘hard-copy’ readership, and, therefore, reduced print advertising revenue. But is Homo digitalis really the culprit? Roy Greenslade, a professor of journalism and ex-newspaper editor, thinks otherwise.
Whatever the reason, it’s making me mighty anxious. The journo in me is just downright teary, while my ecologist side is sad that the poor old Environment becomes an eco-blackmail pawn yet again.
Many people eulogise the benefits of reading news online –tablets and internet-friendly mobile phones make it so thrillingly easy (and oh, so trendy) to catch up with the news on the bus, on the toilet, or even hanging off a cliff face in Patagonia. Also, you’re “saving trees” by doing so! Continue reading
This post started as an embryonic thought in my mind nearly a year ago. It’s about coal seam gas (CSG) mining and hydraulic fracturing or ‘fracking’ – terms that are even more of a conversation-killer than the topic of my last post.
There is still a great deal of vagueness around the CSG industry, and I think the exploration companies prefer it that way.
Yet there is enough information out there if you look for it. I won’t list all the (reputable and rational) discussions of evidence that fracking or CSG mining is bad for the environment and bad for people – if you’re interested, they’re not hard to find. DeSmogBlog, Yale environment360 and Mother Jones are a good start. Also a must-see is the movie Gasland, by Josh Fox. Continue reading
I was reading about a study published last year that highlights the kind of scientific sleuthing that got me hooked on research in the first place.
A group of researchers sampled marine shoreline habitats across six continents and found that shorelines near densely-populated areas had higher levels of microplastic debris. This type of debris is not often considered in pollution debates, usually because we’re too caught up with the obvious Uglies like plastic shopping bags and the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which I have discussed in ‘All Hail the Goddes Disposability’ (see also ‘A Ghost of an Idea’ and ‘The Hare and the Tortoise’). Microplastic debris, on the other hand, includes tiny polyester or acrylic fibres that escape from their parent bodies through normal break-down processes … or from household laundry. Continue reading