Science and Technology Blog
This blog contains articles about science, technology and a life of faith.  Written by the rector of Grace, these articles first appeared as the trailer articles in the Weekly Grace email newsletter.

So what if you killed the planet?

The rainforests of Brazil are up for grabs, literally. Ranchers, gold miners and anyone who wants to make a quick buck head for the hills. No one will stop you. The president pledged a loosening of environmental restrictions. In reality, he eliminated them. The plumes of smoke from people burning the rainforest are visible from the space station with the naked eye.

Why is this bad? Don’t people need to earn a living? Brazilian scientists monitoring the devastation measure about 2,400 square miles of illegal burning last year and 3,600 square miles this year. All together, that’s a square of about 80 miles on each side. The devastation continues.

The planet, and all human life depends upon the rainforests for several things, 1 as a carbon sink where CO2 from the atmosphere is rapidly taken up into plants to become “biomass.” 2 as an oxygen source. In a big sense, the rainforests are the lungs of our planet. And 3 as a source of atmospheric moisture. Moisture from Brazil become rain in North America. But political expediency has now given our planet emphysema. Instead of breathing, the rainforest is belching out more CO2 as trees and plants are burned to clear land.

It is a global outrage. The only purpose of this destruction is to keep one autocratic politician in power. When a sovereign nation holds a major portion of vital resources for life on the planet, we may need to reconsider our notions of sovereignty.



Our Worldview is Conditioned by the Human Condition

Some species of birds have four color receptors in their retinas instead of three like most mammals and humans. These receptors process light in the ultraviolet spectrum that is invisible to humans. Since fructose and sucrose sugars have big peaks in their UV spectra, this gives me a clue why birds can watch our grape crop and know exactly the morning of peak ripeness (sugar concentration) of the grapes. The birds have additional information that humans don’t (at least visually), and they use it to their advantage.


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It’s Like This

For the umpteenth time, someone asked me if I really thought climate change was caused by humans burning fossil fuels. In shear frustration, I said, “It’s like this. If you heard a gunshot and then you opened the door in front of you to discover: 1) One person pointing a pistol at another. 2) The pistol is still smoking. 3) The other person is falling to the ground with a gunshot wound. What would you conclude?” That’s the level of confidence in the case supporting anthropogenic warming, i.e. man-made climate change.

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Get Real

In other spheres of worldly endeavors, I have been quoted as saying that “any moron can make decent wine from California fruit.” To which I sometimes add, “If a California winemaker wants a real challenge, come out to Oklahoma and try it with our fruit.” California has many advantages over much of the rest of the world. Good for them. Because of the unique situation in many parts of California, lessons learned there may not apply elsewhere. Recently a radio program had a high school English teacher as the featured speaker. She had won many awards and had recently written a book titled “How to Raise Successful People.” I was intrigued. Then when the moderator told us where the teacher worked, I turned off the radio in disgust. She teaches at Palo Alto High School – a public school but you would never guess it driving by the place.

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Nero’s Fiddling

It appears that over the past ten years, many people have come to accept the fact that the climate is changing and for the most part, not in a better way. While some people dispute the claim that the extra CO2 in the atmosphere comes from burning fossil fuels and is responsible for the warming, we should bear in mind that no reputable, peer-reviewed scientific paper has come forward to counter the claim of human-caused warming and climate change. The natural variations theory does not hold up to the facts.


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Cowabunga and the Star of Bethlehem

After centuries of study and careful observation, we still don’t have a good understanding of what the Star of Bethlehem was.  Most astronomers would bet on a supernova which is the final explosion of a dying star, because such events are extremely bright and last from a few weeks to a month or more.  

Way back, when dinosaurs ruled the earth, between the Jurassic and Triassic eras, 200 million years ago, an unremarkable star on the outskirts of a small galaxy, collapsed.  These are the death throes of every star.  They literally run out of fuel to support continuous nuclear fusion, so the fusion reactions slow down and stop.  Then there is no outward pressure of the constant fusion explosions.  Then all that hot matter begins to collapse under its own gravitational attraction. 

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Toothpaste

I start the new year with a reflection about something most of us use every day and we don’t give a second thought to it.  I don’t object to whiter teeth or reduced halitosis, because those are good things for us socially and personally.  But the lowly toothpaste tube is emblematic of a subtle disease that has crept into our collective thinking unawares.

In the early days of toothpaste in the old lead-tin tubes (yes, before plastic and the FDA, lead was used to provide a flexible and malleable container – it took a metal shortage in WWII to get the lead out) the nozzle on the tube was about half the diameter of today’s tubes.  Consumers used far less toothpaste to brush their teeth because, for practical reasons, the brush sizes were about the same, so a smaller diameter but same length squeeze of toothpaste meant that consumers must have used less of it back then.  (I have no scholarly data to back this up other than the size of the original nozzles).

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Seven and other natural variations

It’s a good prime number.  The Greeks considered it the perfect number as it was the number of intervals in a musical octave.  The number of days in a week, what’s not to like about the number?   Expressed in “Miles per Second,” it is the escape velocity of the planet earth.  For any object to leave our gravitational field, it must be travelling radially (vertically) at that speed or in more familiar units, 25,200 miles per hour.  That’s fast.  Most of us have a hard time imagining moving as fast as our astronauts must.  But I want to take your thoughts in a different direction on this.  Not going up but coming down.


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What’s the use of that yucky old marsh anyway?

Driving into New York City, from the west, you must first endure miles and miles of salt marsh punctuated by industrial ruins.  You can see the factory here or there, the abandoned railroad beds, odd pieces of steel jutting from the water.  At night with a little fog on the water, it looks like a scene from the old Twilight Zone television show, not the western gateway to one of the world’s favorite cities.  The decaying infrastructure in the marsh also belies a set of assumptions and values.  The land for that old salt marsh never was worth much anyway.  Or was it?


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Twin Devils (part 2) – In the Hopeful Season of Advent

In a second scenario, I imagine my teenaged grandchild asking me this question, “Grandpa, you’re a scientist and a priest, what did you do to prevent all those people who deny human-caused climate change from causing all the problems we have today?”   I have mentioned this before, but, at least in one sense, scientists are incredibly conservative.  Why would someone who worked super hard to get to a respected position in the scientific academy be willing to throw all that away in exchange for taking a position that could not be substantiated?  Is it likely that 2,000 scientists from respected universities around the globe all be willing to drink the Kool Aid of public scorn and ridicule?


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