Friday, August 16, 2013

Earth orbit changes were key to Antarctic warming that ended last ice age

For more than a century scientists have known that Earth’s ice ages are caused by the wobbling of the planet’s orbit, which changes its orientation to the sun and affects the amount of sunlight reaching higher latitudes, particularly the polar regions.
he Northern Hemisphere’s last ice age ended about 20,000 years ago, and most evidence has indicated that the ice age in the Southern Hemisphere ended about 2,000 years later, suggesting that the south was responding to warming in the north.
But new research published online Aug. 14 in Nature shows that Antarctic warming began at least two, and perhaps four, millennia earlier than previously thought.
Most previous evidence for Antarctic climate change has come from ice cores drilled in East Antarctica, the highest and coldest part of the continent. However, a U.S.-led research team studying a new ice core from West Antarctica found that warming there was well under way 20,000 years ago.
“Sometimes we think of Antarctica as this passive continent waiting for other things to act on it. But here it is showing changes before it ‘knows’ what the north is doing,” said T.J. Fudge, a University of Washington doctoral student in Earth and space sciences and lead corresponding author of the Nature paper.
Co-authors are 41 other members of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet Divide project, which is primarily funded by the National Science Foundation.
The findings come from a detailed examination of an ice core taken from the West Antarctic Ice Sheet Divide, an area where there is little horizontal flow of the ice so the data are known to be from a location that remained consistent over long periods. Read More

What does 'the end of the suburbs' mean for sustainability?

Have we reached "peak suburbs"? In her new book, The End of the Suburbs, Fortune magazine editor Leigh Gallagher argues that powerful social, economic, environmental and demographic forces are converging to end a half-century of suburban growth in the US.
This is good news for those who believe that the US economy must become more sustainable, and that big houses, big cars and big commutes are wasteful. "No other country has such an enormous percentage of its middle class living at such low densities across such massive amounts of land," Leigh writes. Acerbic critic and author James Howard Kunstler, who's interviewed in the book, more bluntly calls suburbia "the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world."
But if cul-de-sac living is approaching a dead end, what's next? And what opportunities for more sustainable businesses will arise as the suburbs decline? Those are among the questions I put to Leigh in this Q&A.
Let's start with the basics. Why are suburbs in decline? Are rising energy prices – or, dare we say it, concern about the environment – playing a role?
It's a number of forces all hitting at once, really. Rising energy prices play a huge role. As we've spread ourselves further and further apart, commutes have got longer and longer: some 3.5 million people now commute more than three hours a day. As I write in the book, a couple of years ago, local TV stations started moving back their first broadcasts from 5am to 4:30am, and even 4am in recognition of just how early so many people need to leave their homes to get to work. These epic commutes take a huge toll on people in terms of their health, their relationships and, yes, especially their wallets. Many people, especially in remote exurbia, now spend a greater percentage of their income on transportation costs than on their housing costs. Concern about the environment plays a role too, and is one reason movements like minimalism and LifeEdited, which I write about in the book, have gained traction. People don't want to have as much stuff anymore. Read More

Friday, August 02, 2013

Meaning Is Healthier Than Happiness



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by Emily Esfahani Smith
For at least the last decade, the happiness craze has been building. In the last three months alone, over 1,000 books on happiness were released on Amazon, including Happy Money, Happy-People-Pills For All, and, for those just starting out, Happiness for Beginners
One of the consistent claims of books like these is that happiness is associated with all sorts of good life outcomes, including — most promisingly — good health. Many studies have noted the connection between a happy mind and a healthy body — the happier you are, the better health outcomes we seem to have. In a meta-analysis (overview) of 150 studies on this topic, researchers put it like this: “Inductions of well-being lead to healthy functioning, and inductions of ill-being lead to compromised health.”

For at least the last decade, the happiness craze has been building. In the last three months alone, over 1,000 books on happiness were released on Amazon, including Happy Money, Happy-People-Pills For All, and, for those just starting out, Happiness for Beginners.
One of the consistent claims of books like these is that happiness is associated with all sorts of good life outcomes, including — most promisingly — good health. Many studies have noted the connection between a happy mind and a healthy body — the happier you are, the better health outcomes we seem to have. In a meta-analysis (overview) of 150 studies on this topic, researchers put it like this: “Inductions of well-being lead to healthy functioning, and inductions of ill-being lead to compromised health.” 
 But a new study, just published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) challenges the rosy picture. Happiness may not be as good for the body as researchers thought. It might even be bad.
Of course, it’s important to first define happiness. A few months ago, I wrote a piece called “There’s More to Life Than Being Happy” about a psychology study that dug into what happiness really means to people. It specifically explored the difference between a meaningful life and a happy life.
It seems strange that there would be a difference at all. But the researchers, who looked at a large sample of people over a month-long period, found that happiness is associated with selfish “taking” behavior and that having a sense of meaning in life is associated with selfless “giving” behavior.
"Happiness without meaning characterizes a relatively shallow, self-absorbed or even selfish life, in which things go well, needs and desire are easily satisfied, and difficult or taxing entanglements are avoided," the authors of the study wrote. "If anything, pure happiness is linked to not helping others in need.” While being happy is about feeling good, meaning is derived from contributing to others or to society in a bigger way. As Roy Baumeister, one of the researchers, told me, "Partly what we do as human beings is to take care of others and contribute to others. This makes life meaningful but it does not necessarily make us happy.” Read More

Rise in violence 'linked to climate change'

by Rebecca Morelle, BBC 

Shifts in climate are strongly linked to increases in violence around the world, a study suggests.
US scientists found that even small changes in temperature or rainfall correlated with a rise in assaults, rapes and murders, as well as group conflicts and war.
The team says with the current projected levels of climate change, the world is likely to become a more violent place.
The study is published in Science.
Marshall Burke, from the University of California, Berkeley, said: "This is a relationship we observe across time and across all major continents around the world. The relationship we find between these climate variables and conflict outcomes are often very large."
The researchers looked at 60 studies from around the world, with data spanning hundreds of years.
They report a "substantial" correlation between climate and conflict.
Their examples include an increase in domestic violence in India during recent droughts, and a spike in assaults, rapes and murders during heatwaves in the US.
The report also suggests rising temperatures correlated with larger conflicts, including ethnic clashes in Europe and civil wars in Africa. Read More