Insects are dying off — alarmingly fast – Vox

Insects are the most abundant animals on planet Earth. If you were to put them all together into one creepy-crawly mass, they’d outweigh all humanity by a factor of 17.

Insects outweigh all the fish in the oceans and all the livestock munching grass on land. Their abundance, variety (there could be as many as 30 million species), and ubiquity mean insects play a foundational role in food webs and ecosystems: from the bees that pollinate the flowers of food crops like almonds to the termites that recycle dead trees in forests.

Insects are also superlative for another, disturbing reason: They’re vanishing at a rate faster than mammals, fish, amphibians, and reptiles.

“The pace of modern insect extinctions surpasses that of vertebrates by a large margin,” write the authors of an alarming new review in Biological Conservation of the scientific literature on insect populations published in the past 40 years. The state of insect biodiversity, they write, is “dreadful.” And their biomass — the estimated weight of all insects on Earth combined — is dropping by an estimated 2.5 percent every year.

In all, the researchers conclude that as much as 40 percent of all insect species may be endangered over the next several decades. (Caveat: Most of the data was obtained from studies conducted in Europe and North America.) And around 41 percent of all insect species on record have seen population declines in the past decade.

“We estimate the current proportion of insect species in decline … to be twice as high as that of vertebrates, and the pace of local species extinction … eight times higher,” the authors write. “It is evident that we are witnessing the largest [insect] extinction event on Earth since the late Permian and Cretaceous periods.”

Source: Insects are dying off — alarmingly fast – Vox

The subscription-pocalypse is about to hit » Nieman Journalism Lab

How many things are you subscribed to right now?

How many news organizations or writers or blogs or podcasts do you pay for every month?

How many do you plan on being subscribed to at this time next year?

The growth of the subscription model has been one of the biggest developments in online journalism in the past few years. In the sports world, where my research is situated, this is most clearly seen by the growth of The Athletic, the subscription-only site that’s expanded into every major pro market in the U.S. and in November received $40 million in venture capital funding.But in 2019, it feels like there’s a bit of a reckoning coming. There’s a subscription-pocalypse looming. And newspapers are going to get hit by it.

Source: The subscription-pocalypse is about to hit » Nieman Journalism Lab

Apple’s new deal for journalism should send publishers running – The Verge

Social networks influence democracy in part because they occupy a large portion of our shared information sphere. Which voices bubble up there — and which are smothered — affect the discussions we have, and the actions that we take as a result. But a tech giant doesn’t need to have a social network to alter our information environment. If Apple is to have its way, all it may need is the iPhone.

[…]

It’s easy to see why Apple favors the scheme. It gets a windfall of new revenue at a time when the decline in iPhone sales has made selling additional services a high priority. It gets to bring more high-quality publishers onto its platform, burnishing its reputation as a premium brand. And it gets to talk loudly about how much it loves journalism, as Apple vice president Eddy Cue did when announcing Apple’s acquisition of the subscription news app Texture last year. “We are committed to quality journalism from trusted sources and allowing magazines to keep producing beautifully designed and engaging stories for users,” he said at the time.

Source: Apple’s new deal for journalism should send publishers running – The Verge

U.S. GAO – Key Issues: Disposal of High-Level Nuclear Waste

The United States has over 90,000 metric tons of nuclear waste that requires disposal. The U.S. commercial power industry alone has generated more waste (nuclear fuel that is “spent” and is no longer efficient at generating power) than any other country—nearly 80,000 metric tons. This spent nuclear fuel, which can pose serious risks to humans and the environment, is enough to fill a football field about 20 meters deep. The U.S. government’s nuclear weapons program has generated spent nuclear fuel as well as high-level radioactive waste and accounts for most of the rest of the total at about 14,000 metric tons, according to the Department of Energy (DOE). For the most part, this waste is stored where it was generated—at 80 sites in 35 states. The amount of waste is expected to increase to about 140,000 metric tons over the next several decades. However, there is still no disposal site in the United States. After spending decades and billions of dollars to research potential sites for a permanent disposal site, including at the Yucca Mountain site in Nevada that has a license application pending to authorize construction of a nuclear waste repository, the future prospects for permanent disposal remain unclear.

Source: U.S. GAO – Key Issues: Disposal of High-Level Nuclear Waste

Opinion | Awash in Radioactive Waste – The New York Times

On its 60th anniversary, the civilian age of nuclear power in America appears to be almost over. But with the country awash in radioactive waste and plutonium stockpiled for warheads, the task of managing this atomic legacy grows ever more urgent. Opening a long-delayed waste repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada is imperative.

President Dwight Eisenhower formally opened America’s first commercial nuclear power station at Shippingport, Pa., near Pittsburgh, on May 26, 1958. He declared it would “put the atom to work for the good of mankind, not his destruction.” His nuclear cheerleader, Lewis Strauss, chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, had promised power “too cheap to meter.”

Today, with cheap gas and falling prices for wind and solar energy, nuclear power is often now too expensive to sell. Six plants closed from 2013 to 2017. At least seven more — from the Oyster Creek plant in New Jersey to the Diablo Canyon plant in California — have been earmarked for final shutdown, often years before their operating licenses expire. About a quarter of the nation’s nuclear power plants don’t cover their operating costs, according to a recent analysis by Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

Source: Opinion | Awash in Radioactive Waste – The New York Times


Callan report can be found here. [PDF]

If true, this could be one of the greatest discoveries in human history – U.S. News – Haaretz.com

“I don’t care what people say,” asserts Avi Loeb, chairman of Harvard University’s astronomy department and author of one of the most controversial articles in the realm of science last year (and also one of the most popular in the general media). “It doesn’t matter to me,” he continues. “I say what I think, and if the broad public takes an interest in what I say, that’s a welcome result as far as I’m concerned, but an indirect result. Science isn’t like politics: It is not based on popularity polls.”

Prof. Abraham Loeb, 56, was born in Beit Hanan, a moshav in central Israel, and studied physics at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem as part of the Israel Defense Forces’ Talpiot program for recruits who demonstrate outstanding academic ability. Freeman Dyson, the theoretical physicist, and the late astrophysicist John Bahcall admitted Loeb to the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, whose past faculty members included Albert Einstein and J. Robert Oppenheimer. In 2012, Time magazine named Loeb one of the 25 most influential people in the field of space. He has won prizes, written books and published 700 articles in the world’s leading scientific journals. Last October, Loeb and his postdoctoral student Shmuel Bialy, also an Israeli, published an article in the scientific outlet “The Astrophysical Journal Letters,” which seriously raised the possibility that an intelligent species of aliens had sent a spaceship to Earth.

Source: If true, this could be one of the greatest discoveries in human history – U.S. News – Haaretz.com

Earth’s magnetic field is acting up and geologists don’t know why

Something strange is going on at the top of the world. Earth’s north magnetic pole has been skittering away from Canada and towards Siberia, driven by liquid iron sloshing within the planet’s core. The magnetic pole is moving so quickly that it has forced the world’s geomagnetism experts into a rare move.

On 15 January, they are set to update the World Magnetic Model, which describes the planet’s magnetic field and underlies all modern navigation, from the systems that steer ships at sea to Google Maps on smartphones.

The most recent version of the model came out in 2015 and was supposed to last until 2020 — but the magnetic field is changing so rapidly that researchers have to fix the model now. “The error is increasing all the time,” says Arnaud Chulliat, a geomagnetist at the University of Colorado Boulder and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA’s) National Centers for Environmental Information.

Source: Earth’s magnetic field is acting up and geologists don’t know why

Repair Cafes Aim to Fix Our Throwaway Culture – CityLab

Repair cafes. What a brilliant idea!

We were at a “repair cafe” inside the Elkridge Library in Howard County, Maryland. Instead of silence, we were surrounded by the buzzing of power drills and the whirring of sewing machines. Goedeke was one of the “master fixers” there. He doesn’t like the term, though; he says it should be reserved for the professionals. “We’re all just amateurs at this, and we’re just having fun, mostly,” the 67-year-old retired engineer said.

Around the room, 10 others were helping residents repair everything from tables and lamps to jewelry and clothing. In one corner, a handful of vacuums had begun to accumulate. These were things people normally threw away when they malfunction. “[Our society] has been inculcated in the last 50 years with this disposable concept and to buy the best and the latest,” Goedeke said. “We just don’t expect to keeps things around.”

Source: Repair Cafes Aim to Fix Our Throwaway Culture – CityLab

26 Years of Growth: Shanghai Then and Now – The Atlantic

Reuters photographer Carlos Barria recently spent time in Shanghai, China, the fastest-growing city in the world. A week ago, he took this amazing shot, recreating the same framing and perspective as a photograph taken in 1987, showing what a difference 26 years can make. The setting is Shanghai’s financial district of Pudong, dominated by the Oriental Pearl Tower at left, and the new 125-story Shanghai Tower, China’s tallest building and the world’s second tallest skyscraper, at 632 meters (2,073 ft) high, scheduled to finish by the end of 2014. Shanghai, the largest city by population in the world, has been growing at a rate of about 10 percent a year the past 20 years, and now is home to 23.5 million people — nearly double what it was back in 1987. This entry is focused on this single photo pairing, with several ways to compare the two.

Source: 26 Years of Growth: Shanghai Then and Now – The Atlantic

Twilight of the Racist Uncles | Ed Burmila

There is a family friend, a man I’ve known for decades. A highly educated man with total financial security in his recent retirement. A man who always had a good story to tell or an interesting side of a conversation to hold up. Then, a few years ago, he got on Facebook. Reading his timeline became an exercise in watching a man’s descent into madness. Over the summer I was surprised to learn that he had purchased three very expensive AR-15 semiautomatic rifles. When I asked why, he said, “For the race war that’s coming” in a tone that suggested no further explanation would be necessary.

Source: Twilight of the Racist Uncles | Ed Burmila