Joshua David Stein, writing for Wired:
According to some linguists, the writing has been on the wall for years. “What you are seeing is a very natural process – the omission of the letter in final unstressed syllables before /r/, is something that has been a feature of written English since Anglo-Saxon times,” said Professor David Crystal, OBE, a linguist and author of Internet Linguistics. “‘Gather’ in Old English was spelled both ‘gaderian’ and ‘gadrian,’ for example.” In other words, the law of lex parsimonae doomed the E’s of Flicker, Tumbler, and Gather a long time ago.
Less an obit for the letter “e” than for the suffix “er”, but still an interesting observation.
Liz Stinson, writing for Wired:
[Joana] Pacheco, who heads up architecture firm UMA, just launched the Paperhouses, a platform that’s looking to bring high-quality open source architecture to the masses. For its initial launch, Pacheco rounded up 12 well-known architects from around the world to contribute a house blueprint that the public can access for free.
Knowing that someone else could have your exact house takes some of the shine off having an architect to design your house, but at least they probably won’t be your neighbor.
Coral Davenport, reporting for the New York Times:
A new report by the environmental data company CDP has found that at least 29 companies, some with close ties to Republicans, including ExxonMobil, Walmart and American Electric Power, are incorporating a price on carbon into their long-term financial plans.
Perhaps more interesting than which companies that are on the list—it also includes Microsoft, General Electric, Walt Disney, ConAgra Foods, Wells Fargo, DuPont, Duke Energy, Google and Delta Air Lines (though unsurprisingly not Koch Industries)—is the amount they expect a ton of carbon to cost: $60. Five years ago when I interviewed Dan Kammen, director of Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory at UC Berkeley, he said that to significantly reduce emissions, carbon would need to cost—you guessed it—at least $60 per ton.
John Timmer, writing for Ars Technica:
Overall, the report comes to a conclusion that’s pretty difficult to argue with: it would be nice to know when these sorts of tipping points are approaching, rather than scrambling to adjust to them once they’ve already tipped. This is especially true because a number of them will affect human infrastructure. We’ve built many roads and pipelines (ironically, many of these were built to handle fossil fuels) on top of permafrost, which we’re now realizing isn’t going to stay frosted if our carbon emissions continue. We’ve also built lots of port facilities (again, including many that handle fossil fuels) that would be at risk for sea level rise.
In fact, the stakes are so high that the report recommends setting up a formal early warning system for these sorts of tipping points. This would involve a group that identifies systems where abrupt climate change is a risk and directs research into the factors that control the behavior of these systems, as well as how their behavior changes as it approaches a tipping point. The group would also identify the human infrastructure and ecosystems that would be most vulnerable to sudden changes.
But not of the kind you’d suspect.
Scott K. Johnson, writing for Ars Technica:
Ars asked for your questions about the recently released final draft of the first section of the new Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, and you delivered. A number of the questions were about the climate change impacts and mitigation sections that have not yet been released, but we’ll certainly keep those topics in mind when that information comes out next spring. There are also a few questions related to complex topics that we plan to cover in more detail soon.
All that said, here are some of the biggest reoccurring questions we were able to answer.
David Biello, reporting for Scientific American:
Abrupt climate change is not only imminent, it’s already here. The rapid dwindling of summer Arctic sea ice has outpaced all scientific projections, which will have impacts on everything from atmospheric circulation to global shipping. And plants, animals and other species are already struggling to keep up with rapid climate shifts, increasing the risk of mass extinction that would rival the end of the dinosaurs. So warns a new report from the U.S. National Research Council.
That’s exactly why longtime climate scientist James Hansen and a panoply of scientists and economists are urging in another new paper that current efforts to restrain global warming are woefully inadequate. In particular, global negotiations to limit global warming to no more than 2 degrees Celsius risk “wrecking the planet,” in the words of lead author Hansen, recently retired head of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies and a researcher at Columbia University’s Earth Institute.
Hannah Hoag, reporting for Nature News:
Over 50 years, an increase in fat and meat consumption has moved us further up the food web, with the global median human trophic level increasing 3% — or about 0.06 — during the period.
“It seems like a small difference, but when you think about how it’s calculated, it’s big,” says Thomas Kastner, an environmental scientist at Alpen-Adria University in Vienna, who was not involved in the study. An organism’s trophic level is calculated by summing the trophic levels of the foods in its diet and the proportion in which they are consumed. “A change by 0.1 means you are eating considerably more meat or animal-based foods,” says Kastner.
Frank Swain, reporting for BBC Future:
When Selena Savic walks down a city street, she sees it differently to most people. Whereas other designers might admire the architecture, Savic sees a host of hidden tricks intended to manipulate our behaviour and choices without us realising – from benches that are deliberately uncomfortable to sculptures that keep certain citizens away.
Modern cities are rife with these “unpleasant designs”, says Savic, a PhD student at the Ecole Polytechnique Federerale de Lausanne in Switzerland, who co-authored a book on the subject this year. Once you know these secret tricks are there, it will transform how you see your surroundings. “We call this a silent agent,” says Savic. “These designs are hidden, or not apparent to people they don’t target.” Are you aware of how your city is manipulating you?
Get ‘em while you can. I’ll be closing the t-shirt store tonight.
Neena Satija, writing for Quartz:
Forget about the need for high-speed rail. An investigation is underway, but yesterday’s Metro-North train derailment in New York City, which killed four people and injured more than 60, exposes the long-term lack of investment in mass transit infrastructure in the US. In July, a freight train hauling trash had derailed in the same area. And this weekend’s incident came just a day after a freight train derailed in New Mexico and plunged into a ravine, killing three crew members. More than just long delays and billions of dollars in lost economic productivity, America’s neglect of railroads has deadly consequences.
“Forget about high-speed rail” makes for a great lede, but Satija neglects the fact that investments in high-speed rail tend to be good for existing rail, especially in places where there’s shared track. It’s not necessarily an either-or situation.
Todd Woody, writing for Quartz:
In a first of its kind study released today, scientists at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver used Google Earth images to calculate how much fish was actually caught by Persian Gulf nations compared to what they reported. The result: The official numbers are nothing but one big fish tale. Researchers Dalal Al-Abdulrazzak and Daniel Pauly estimated the fish catch in 2005, for instance, was 31,433 tonnes, six times what nations bordering the Persian Gulf reported. “Our results document the unreliability of catch data from the Persian Gulf, a small part of a global misreporting problem,” the authors write in the study funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts and published in the ICES Journal of Marine Science.
David Biello of Scientific American reports from Samso, the Danish island that is carbon neutral. It’s an interesting look at what was required to get the whole project going and what it takes to keep it humming along.
Alissa Walker, writing for Gizmodo:
The Emoya Luxury Hotel and Spa near Bloemfontein, South Africa offers Shanty Town, a dozen shacks made from scrap wood and corrugated metal that it thinks is the perfect setting for your next corporate retreat or wedding anniversary. The resort has gone to great lengths to recreate the joys of slum living without the nuisances of crime, disease, or poor sanitation: “Now you can experience staying in a Shanty within the safe environment of a private game reserve. This is the only Shanty Town in the world equipped with under-floor heating and wireless internet access!”
Here I didn’t think poverty tourism could get any more…tacky.
Know someone who might like a Per Square Mile membership? The drive is still on for a few days more.
Emily Badger rounds up some pretty cool visualizations of GPS tracks from automobile traffic over highways.
Brandon Keim, reporting for Nautilus:
History loves smooth transitions, such as horses to cars. “There’s an assumption that you have this clean break between eras,” says urban historian Martin Melosi. “In the real world, that doesn’t happen.” The idea of a neat transition from horses to the automobile age is a history-as-approved-by-victors myth that elides several decades when horse travel declined but automobiles were uncommon, used primarily to haul freight. The automobile as we now conceive it, a personal transport machine, wouldn’t come along for nearly half a century.
Victoria Turk, writing for Motherboard:
There’s positives and negatives in the most recent update to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species, which tracks endangered organisms. While we humans are still generally driving the world’s largest extinction event since the dinosaurs met their fate, we’re also seeing some positive feedback from our (admittedly not nearly equivalent) conservation efforts.
Margaret Sullivan, the New York Times’ public editor, reports that quantity, quality, and depth of coverage on environmental stories has declined since the paper dismantled its environment desk.