Tag Archives: technology

The lowly caterpillar and plastics.

It seems that scientists have discovered something that could have great consequences in reducing pollution from plastic bags. Caterpillars of the greater wax moth seem to have the ability to degrade polyethylene, the material used in plastic bags.

Scientists have exposed a hundred wax worms of the caterpillar moth to a plastic bag and holes appeared after 40 minutes. It seems that it is the chemicals in the caterpillars that break down the plastics and not the chewing of the plastics by the worms.

Hopefully if a single enzyme is responsible for this degradation then it could be possible to reproduce on a large scale using technology. Polyethylene represents 40% of the total demand for plastic products. It would therefore be possible to get rid of the plastic wastes that have accumulated in landfills as well as in the oceans. A truly remarkable discovery!


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Can plants save us from global warming?

It has been known for some time that carbon dioxide that is released in the atmosphere by man will have an effect on plants. But how great the effect and how they would be affected by global warming was unclear. Until now.

By looking at one chemical in the air bubbles trapped in Antarctic ice scientists now know the effect on the growth of plants, and it is stupendous. Plants have been growing at a rate faster than at any other time in the past 54,000 years. They have been converting 31% more carbon dioxide into organic matter than before the Industrial Revolution.

Sine 1840 carbon dioxide has increased 40%. Scientists had always wondered how all those gases were affecting plant growth. They knew that there would be an effect but to quantify it was hard. And then they discovered that by concentrating on one compound called carbonyl sulphide they would be able to have a hard measurement. Plants draw in this compound and then destroy it. Only in Antarctica is the air so well mixed that the growth worldwide of plants is reflected.

What is incredible is that the pace of change in photosynthesis has increased by 136 times what it was in the past. As the plants take in this extra carbon dioxide they are cooling the planet. The problem is that current models show that at a certain point plants will not be able to absorb all this extra carbon. According to scientists we may see plants continue on this path for another fifty years but after that they will hit a plateau and they will no longer buffer us from the effects of global warming. Let us hope that we will have reduced the rate at which the earth is warming by then. And no, plants will not save us from climate change but they sure are giving us a helping hand in fighting it.

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Solar geoengineering to the rescue!

Scientists have come out with a new way to reduce global warming, but this could entail consequences that we do not know. What would happen is that the atmosphere would be shaded from the sun and this would cool the earth, thus compensating for global warming. It is a risky plan.

The concept called solar geoengineering, implies that tiny particles would be injected in the atmosphere. These then would act as a sun shield reflecting sunlight back in space and cooling the planet.

Of course, scientists say that the scheme is not as crazy at it sounds as Nature does it all the time. When volcanoes erupt they spew particles in the atmosphere that do exactly what scientists propose. On a smaller scale the same would happen, with a fleet of aircraft spraying 250,000 metric tonnes of sulfur dioxide into the lower stratosphere. The particles would change how much sunlight is reflected back to space, with less reflection thus a cooling of the planet. Only one percent of sunlight reflected back into space could provide enough cooling to balance the effects of the warming caused by carbon emissions.

Naturally the project would have to be an international effort and would cost about 1 to 10 billion dollars per year. It sounds a lot but could be well worth the effort. After all the United States spends well over 670 billions dollars per year on the military alone.

It is a risky scheme when one tinkers with Nature and a system that has been in use for billions of years. No one can predict the consequences of rolling the dice. What if things become worse? I think it is best to think of this solution as a last gasp, a Hail Mary pass in case we really have no other choices. The best thing is still to drive down emissions and to have countries cooperate to fight global warming as it is in our interest to do so. We all have a stake in this.

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Living as a Zombie.

Are you a zombie? No, not one of those supernatural creatures who rise from the dead but those who go through life like mindless robots, who work to live and live to work. These zombies lead a life where passion is absent and where booze and drugs combined with television deaden the mind.

They are the ones who proudly say that they have not read a book since they have graduated from high school and that they can’t wait to get home from work so they can pop a cold one, and then another, and then another and so on. I never understood that kind of life. Perhaps if they were to spend more time in nature, in walking rather than driving, then maybe they would stop being zombies and would remember what it is to be a human being.

And now with all those intelligent phones everywhere you have to be careful if you don’t want to collide with them. With their beady eyes glued to their small screen they walk towards you in an absent-minded way, too busy sending and responding to texts and oblivious to where they are. I nearly collide with these individuals on a regular basis and it is I who has to step aside to avoid the collision! Nothing is worse than walking behind them when suddenly they stop in their tracks. Luckily I am still a human being and not an appendage of my phone and I am aware of what I am doing at all times.

Living as a zombie is not fun, but until you realize this by yourself you will always look askew at those who like me are not tethered to technological instruments. I use these instruments at times but I am not their servants but the master, something that these zombies cannot understand. They live as slaves and do not understand their condition. Woe to the zombies, and may they wake up one day to be fully human again. Until then, I will continue to step aside when I meet them on the sidewalks, for their sake and mine.

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