UN report on global warming carries life-or-death warning
By SETH BORENSTEIN
AP Science Writer
Monday, October 8
WASHINGTON (AP) — Preventing an extra single degree of heat could make a life-or-death difference in the next few decades for multitudes of people and ecosystems on this fast-warming planet, an international panel of scientists reported Sunday. But they provide little hope the world will rise to the challenge.
The Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued its gloomy report at a meeting in Incheon, South Korea.
In the 728-page document, the U.N. organization detailed how Earth’s weather, health and ecosystems would be in better shape if the world’s leaders could somehow limit future human-caused warming to just 0.9 degrees Fahrenheit (a half degree Celsius) from now, instead of the globally agreed-upon goal of 1.8 degrees F (1 degree C). Among other things:
— Half as many people would suffer from lack of water.
— There would be fewer deaths and illnesses from heat, smog and infectious diseases.
— Seas would rise nearly 4 inches (0.1 meters) less.
— Half as many animals with back bones and plants would lose the majority of their habitats.
— There would be substantially fewer heat waves, downpours and droughts.
— The West Antarctic ice sheet might not kick into irreversible melting.
— And it just may be enough to save most of the world’s coral reefs from dying.
“For some people this is a life-or-death situation without a doubt,” said Cornell University climate scientist Natalie Mahowald, a lead author on the report.
Limiting warming to 0.9 degrees from now means the world can keep “a semblance” of the ecosystems we have. Adding another 0.9 degrees on top of that — the looser global goal — essentially means a different and more challenging Earth for people and species, said another of the report’s lead authors, Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, director of the Global Change Institute at the University of Queensland, Australia.
But meeting the more ambitious goal of slightly less warming would require immediate, draconian cuts in emissions of heat-trapping gases and dramatic changes in the energy field. While the U.N. panel says technically that’s possible, it saw little chance of the needed adjustments happening.
In 2010, international negotiators adopted a goal of limiting warming to 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F) since pre-industrial times. It’s called the 2-degree goal. In 2015, when the nations of the world agreed to the historic Paris climate agreement, they set dual goals: 2 degrees C and a more demanding target of 1.5 degrees C from pre-industrial times. The 1.5 was at the urging of vulnerable countries that called 2 degrees a death sentence.
The world has already warmed 1 degree C since pre-industrial times, so the talk is really about the difference of another half-degree C or 0.9 degrees F from now.
“There is no definitive way to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 above pre-industrial levels,” the U.N.-requested report said. More than 90 scientists wrote the report, which is based on more than 6,000 peer reviews.
“Global warming is likely to reach 1.5 degrees C between 2030 and 2052 if it continues to increase at the current rate,” the report states.
Deep in the report, scientists say less than 2 percent of 529 of their calculated possible future scenarios kept warming below the 1.5 goal without the temperature going above that and somehow coming back down in the future.
The pledges nations made in the Paris agreement in 2015 are “clearly insufficient to limit warming to 1.5 in any way,” one of the study’s lead authors, Joerj Roeglj of the Imperial College in London, said.
“I just don’t see the possibility of doing the one and a half” and even 2 degrees looks unlikely, said Appalachian State University environmental scientist Gregg Marland, who isn’t part of the U.N. panel but has tracked global emissions for decades for the U.S. Energy Department. He likened the report to an academic exercise wondering what would happen if a frog had wings.
Yet report authors said they remain optimistic.
Limiting warming to the lower goal is “not impossible but will require unprecedented changes,” U.N. panel chief Hoesung Lee said in a news conference in which scientists repeatedly declined to spell out just how feasible that goal is. They said it is up to governments to decide whether those unprecedented changes are acted upon.
“We have a monumental task in front of us, but it is not impossible,” Mahowald said earlier. “This is our chance to decide what the world is going to look like.”
To limit warming to the lower temperature goal, the world needs “rapid and far-reaching” changes in energy systems, land use, city and industrial design, transportation and building use, the report said. Annual carbon dioxide pollution levels that are still rising now would have to drop by about half by 2030 and then be near zero by 2050. Emissions of other greenhouse gases, such as methane, also will have to drop. Switching away rapidly from fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas to do this could be more expensive than the less ambitious goal, but it would clean the air of other pollutants. And that would have the side benefit of avoiding more than 100 million premature deaths through this century, the report said.
“Climate-related risks to health, livelihoods, food security, water supply, human security and economic growth are projected to increase with global warming” the report said, adding that the world’s poor are more likely to get hit hardest.
Princeton University climate scientist Michael Oppenheimer said extreme weather, especially heat waves, will be deadlier if the lower goal is passed.
Meeting the tougher-to-reach goal “could result in around 420 million fewer people being frequently exposed to extreme heat waves, and about 65 million fewer people being exposed to exceptional heat waves,” the report said. The deadly heat waves that hit India and Pakistan in 2015 will become practically yearly events if the world reaches the hotter of the two goals, the report said.
Coral and other ecosystems are also at risk. The report said warmer water coral reefs “will largely disappear.”
The outcome will determine whether “my grandchildren would get to see beautiful coral reefs,” Princeton’s Oppenheimer said.
For scientists there is a bit of “wishful thinking” that the report will spur governments and people to act quickly and strongly, one of the panel’s leaders, German biologist Hans-Otto Portner, said. “If action is not taken it will take the planet into an unprecedented climate future.”
Follow Seth Borenstein on Twitter: borenbears . His work can be found here .
The Associated Press Health & Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.
How wasp and bee stinger designs help deliver the pain
Study shows the efficiency of stingers in piercing skin
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Next time you’re stung by a wasp or a honeybee, consider the elegantly designed stinger that caused you so much pain.
In a new study, researchers found that the stingers of the two species are about five times softer at the tip than at the base to make it easier to pierce your skin. The stingers are harder closer to the insect’s body so they don’t bend too much, or break, as you yelp in agony.
“Wasps and bees don’t want to create too much pain to start with, and we believe the softer tip makes it less likely that you’ll notice the initial insertion,” said Bharat Bhushan, Ohio Eminent Scholar and Howard D. Winbigler Professor of mechanical engineering at The Ohio State University.
“If you felt the pain right away, you would react and swat the insect away before it finished injecting its venom.”
Bhushan conducted the study with colleagues from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), led by Navin Kumar, associate professor of mechanical engineering. It was published Oct. 8 in Nature Scientific Reports.
The scientists collected wasps (Vespula vulgaris) and honeybees (Apis cerana) near IIT. They examined the stinger in unprecedented detail using sophisticated 3D imaging, a tool to measure hardness and elasticity, and numerical modelling to calculate the most efficient penetration angle.
“When you really study these stingers, you see how elegant and mechanically durable they are,” said Bhushan, who realizes “elegant” is probably not the first word a person thinks of after being stung.
“Other words might come to mind first,” he said with a laugh. “But when you’re looking at it from an engineer’s perspective, the stingers really are elegantly designed.”
The stingers of bees and wasps are different in some ways. The wasps’ are curved, for instance, while those of the bees are straight. But they have much in common.
In both species, the stingers have two serrated lancets (think needles) that project from the end of the stinger. The lancets move back and forth to pierce the skin. A channel between the two delivers venom.
Imaging showed the stingers had hollow spaces to reduce weight while maintaining strength.
“It is a clever design to optimize the mechanical properties of the stingers without being too heavy,” Bhushan said.
In addition to being softer at the tip, the study showed that the stingers were about seven times more elastic at the tip than at the base.
“The differences in hardness and rigidity along the length of the stinger helps ensure it can penetrate as deep as possible while maintaining its structure,” he said.
Findings suggested that bees and wasps probably wouldn’t sting straight down into a person’s skin. The researchers calculated that the most efficient angle for penetration would be 6 degrees for the honeybee stinger and 10 degrees for the wasp stinger. These are the angles that would best maintain the structural stability of the stingers.
In a similar previous study, Bhushan and his colleagues investigated the proboscis of mosquitos, the part that pierces skin to draw blood. Why the fascination with insects that pierce our skin?
As an engineer who has made a career of designing products inspired by nature, Bhushan has a practical reason. He believes scientists can design a better, painless microneedle for medical purposes by mimicking some of the design elements of bees, wasps and mosquitos.
For example, he thinks needles should be designed to be softer at the tip to lessen the pain at insertion – just like the insects’ pointy parts. Health care practitioners could even use this study’s findings on the best angle for stinger insertion to guide their use of a new microneedle.
“We’re trying to put what we learned about insect stingers to productive use by imagining the design of a better microneedle,” Bhushan said.
Other co-authors of the study, all at IIT, are Rakesh Das, Ram Naresh Yadav, Praveer Sihota and Piyush Uniyal.
Why more women don’t win science Nobels
October 5, 2018
Only 3 percent of these prizes have gone to women since 1901.
Mary K. Feeney
Associate Professor and Lincoln Professor of Ethics in Public Affairs and Associate Director of the Center for Science, Technology and Environmental Policy Studies, Arizona State University
Mary K. Feeney receives research funding from the National Science Foundation and the Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics, ASU.
Arizona State University provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.
One of the 2018 Nobel Prizes in physics went to Donna Strickland, a major accomplishment for any scientist. Yet much of the news coverage has focused on the fact that she’s only the third female physicist to receive the award, after Marie Curie in 1903 and Maria Goeppert-Mayer 60 years later.
Though biochemical engineer Frances Arnold also won this year, for chemistry, the rarity of female Nobel laureates raises questions about women’s exclusion from education and careers in science. Female researchers have come a long way over the past century. But there’s overwhelming evidence that women remain underrepresented in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and math.
Studies have shown those who persist in these careers face explicit and implicit barriers to advancement. Bias is most intense in fields that are predominantly male, where women lack a critical mass of representation and are often viewed as tokens or outsiders.
When women achieve at the highest levels of sports, politics, medicine and science, they serve as role models for all of us, especially for girls and other women. But are things getting better in terms of equal representation? What still holds women back in the classroom, in the lab, in leadership and as award winners?
Good news at the start of the pipeline
Traditional stereotypes hold that women “don’t like math” and “aren’t good at science.” Both men and women report these viewpoints, but researchers have empirically disputed them. Studies show that girls and women avoid STEM education not because of cognitive inability, but because of early exposure and experience with STEM, educational policy, cultural context, stereotypes and a lack of exposure to role models.
For the past several decades, efforts to improve the representation of women in STEM fields have focused on countering these stereotypes with educational reforms and individual programs that can increase the number of girls entering and staying in what’s been called the STEM pipeline – the path from K-12 to college to postgraduate training.
These approaches are working. Women are increasingly likely to express an interest in STEM careers and pursue STEM majors in college. Women now make up half or more of workers in psychology and social sciences and are increasingly represented in the scientific workforce, though computer and mathematical sciences are an exception. According to the American Institute of Physics, women earn about 20 percent of bachelor’s degrees and 18 percent of Ph.D.s in physics, an increase from 1975 when women earned 10 percent of bachelor’s degrees and 5 percent of Ph.D.s in physics.
More women are graduating with STEM Ph.D.s and earning faculty positions. But they go on to encounter glass cliffs and ceilings as they advance through their academic careers.
What’s not working for women
Women face a number of structural and institutional barriers in academic STEM careers.
In addition to issues related to the gender pay gap, the structure of academic science often makes it difficult for women to get ahead in the workplace and to balance work and life commitments. Bench science can require years of dedicated time in a laboratory. The strictures of the tenure-track process can make maintaining work-life balance, responding to family obligations, and having children or taking family leave difficult, if not impossible.
Additionally, working in male-dominated workplaces can leave women feeling isolated, perceived as tokens and susceptible to harassment. Women often are excluded from networking opportunities and social events and left to feel they’re outside the culture of the lab, the academic department and the field.
When women lack critical mass – of about 15 percent or more – they are less empowered to advocate for themselves and more likely to be perceived as a minority group and an exception. When in this minority position, women are more likely to be pressured to take on extra service as tokens on committees or mentors to female graduate students.
With fewer female colleagues, women are less likely to build relationships with female collaborators and support and advice networks. This isolation can be exacerbated when women are unable to participate in work events or attend conferences because of family or child care responsibilities and an inability to use research funds to reimburse child care.
Universities, professional associations, and federal funders have worked to address a variety of these structural barriers. Efforts include creating family-friendly policies, increasing transparency in salary reporting, enforcing Title IX protections, providing mentoring and support programs for women scientists, protecting research time for women scientists, and targeting women for hiring, research support and advancement. These programs have mixed results. For example, research indicates that family-friendly policies such as leave and onsite child care can exacerbate gender inequity, resulting in increased research productivity for men and increased teaching and service obligations for women.
Implicit biases about who does science
All of us – the general public, the media, university employees, students and professors – have ideas of what a scientist and a Nobel Prize winner looks like. That image is predominantly male, white and older – which makes sense given 97 percent of the science Nobel Prize winners have been men.
This is an example of an implicit bias: one of the unconscious, involuntary, natural, unavoidable assumptions that all of us, men and women, form about the world around us. People make decisions based on subconscious assumptions, preferences and stereotypes – sometimes even when they are counter to their explicitly held beliefs.
Research shows that an implicit bias against women as experts and academic scientists is pervasive. It manifests itself by valuing, acknowledging and rewarding men’s scholarship over women’s scholarship. Implicit bias can work against women’s hiring, advancement and recognition of their work. For instance, women seeking academic jobs are more likely to be viewed and judged based on personal information and physical appearance. Letters of recommendation for women are more likely to raise doubts and use language that results in negative career outcomes.
Implicit bias can affect women’s ability to publish research findings and gain recognition for that work. Men cite their own papers 56 percent more than women do. Known as the “Matilda Effect,” there is a gender gap in recognition, award winning and citations. Women’s research is less likely to be cited by others and their ideas are more likely to be attributed to men. Women’s solo-authored research takes twice as long to move through the review process. Women are underrepresented in journal editorships, as senior scholars and lead authors, and as peer reviewers. This marginalization in research gatekeeping positions works against the promotion of women’s research.
When a woman becomes a world-class scientist, implicit bias works against the likelihood that she will be invited as a keynote or guest speaker to share her research findings, thus lowering her visibility in the field and the likelihood that she will be nominated for awards. This gender imbalance is notable in how infrequently women experts are quoted in news stories on most topics.
Women scientists are afforded less of the respect and recognition that should come with their accomplishments. Research shows that when people talk about male scientists and experts, they’re more likely to use their surnames and more likely to refer to women by their first names. Why does this matter? Because experiments show that individuals referred to by their surnames are more likely to be viewed as famous and eminent. In fact, one study found that calling scientists by their last names led people to consider them 14 percent more deserving of a National Science Foundation career award.
Female physics laureate No. 3
Strickland winning a Nobel Prize as an associate professor in physics is a major accomplishment; doing so as a woman who has almost certainly faced more barriers than her male counterparts is, in my view, monumental.
When asked what it felt like to be the third female Nobel laureate in physics, Strickland noted that at first it was surprising to realize so few women had won the award: “But, I mean, I do live in a world of mostly men, so seeing mostly men doesn’t really ever surprise me either.”
Seeing mostly men has been the history of science. Addressing structural and implicit bias in STEM will hopefully prevent another half-century wait before the next woman is acknowledged with a Nobel Prize for her contribution to physics. I look forward to the day when a woman receiving the most prestigious award in science is newsworthy only for her science and not her gender.