Thursday, December 16, 2010

Can we still make a difference?

Global warming, climate change, rising sea-level…oh my. Some believe it is real, some believe it is a myth. Regardless of what you believe, it seems we hear about it constantly these days. You cannot escape it.

I personally think that some level of global climate change is real. We just cannot possibly be emitting that much pollution and smoke and carbon products into the atmosphere and not have some impact. How big is the impact? I don’t really know. But I am willing to try to do my bit to make the impact a little less. Whether you believe the earth is a gift from a Creator, or that it was created by the Big Bang, either way it is now ours to care for and we should indeed do our best to do so.

The problem is that this global climate change stuff is so hyped up by the media that we have become numb. The ‘doom and gloom perspective’ is that things are so bad, you just cannot think about the repercussions of all this global change without basically wondering why we should even bother. It is the only alternative. If you believe the doom and gloom, and lets face it, the media is driven by such extremes, then it almost paralyzes you with fear. If you think about it too hard, it could send you into a full on panic. What will our kids’ lives be like? Our kids’ kids?

And, so, we are largely numb to the problem. So numb that it has become almost hip to not care. It is like a defensive mechanism we collectively have evoked.

So, it is wonderfully reassuring to read a story where we find we can still make a difference. Recent research into the fate of the polar bears and the retreating sea ice gives us that hope. Polar bears, as a species, were given a fatal diagnosis a couple of years ago. With the loss of sea ice, they were losing their habitat, and were predicted to be extinct by 2050.

The most recent models still support that result, as reported by the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado. However, they also have begun to experiment with the effects of reductions in green house gasses. The good news is that rather moderate reductions, like those being planned by some countries, would actually slow the ice loss to a point that major areas of polar bear habitat would be protected.

Are we going to be able to do that – to reduce emissions? Only time will tell. But it is sure reassuring to know that we can still stop the effects of what is so often pitched as ‘the end of the world’

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Wikipedia – Why you should care…

Today’s column is not so much a scientific rant, like I normally provide, but a plea:

Support Wikipedia.

What is Wikipedia? It is an on-line encyclopedia of sorts. It is the 5th most visited site on all of the internet. More than 400 million people use Wikipedia and its sister sites every month, so they claim. It has information on just about everything. I use it often when I teach, admittedly checking the facts against my own understanding of a subject before referring students to the site, but it is nearly always correct. It has a level of accuracy, I think, that shames the entire rest of the internet, all sites combined.

Why is Wikipedia amazing? It provides information, for free, to anyone and everyone that wants access. And, after all, that is my motto, Science Is For Everyone. Although wikipedia is not just science, it is a collection of facts that has the same appeal as science, at least for me.

John Goma, an editor for Wikipedia, recalls “I found a Wikipedia article on a topic that I had studied when I was a math student. I noticed that a few important points were missing. I hit the edit button, made some changes, and I've been writing and editing ever since. “ He states “Wikipedia is the sum of all those moments of discovery by millions of editors like me. People across the world add their time and energy to the vast, ever-growing store of knowledge that Wikipedia has become. But what's really remarkable about Wikipedia is that it's the product of volunteers working one entry at a time. And because Wikipedia is free of advertising, those of us who create and use Wikipedia have to protect and sustain it.”

Imagine a world in which every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge. That's Wikimedia’s commitment. The Wikimedia Foundation is the foundation raising the funds to keep Wikipedia alive.

Want to know where your money would go? A donation to Wikipedia/Wikimedia supports technology and people. The Wikimedia Foundation develops and improves the technology behind Wikipedia and nine other projects, and sustains the infrastructure that keeps them up and running. The Foundation has a staff of about fifty, which provides technical, administrative, legal and outreach support for the global community of volunteers who write and edit Wikipedia.
Many people love Wikipedia, use it every day, but a surprising number don't know it's run by a non-profit.

Just type Wikipedia in your browser search bar and you’ll be there. Support the quest for knowledge and free access to it.