environment/nature

NASA has posted a series of pairs of satellite images that show a range of changes around the world. They’re great for illustrating human-environment interactions; some of the changes are directly human-caused, while others, while others show the changing consequences of floods and fires as our settlement and agricultural patterns change.

For those of us living in Las Vegas, these images of the shrinking Lake Mead reservoir, which provides water and electricity, is not reassuring. The reservoir has gotten smaller due to multiple factors, including a long-term drought and more water being taken from the Colorado River upstream:

Deforestation in Niger, as land has increasingly been turned over to agriculture:

Here, we see increasing urban growth around Denver International Airport, which now takes up 53 square miles of what used to be farmland:

Algal blooms due to agricultural and household runoff into Lake Atitlan, Guatemala:

Changes to the Sonoran coastline in Mexico due to shrimp farming:

The dramatic shrinking of the Aral Sea, largely due to the amount of water taken out of rivers for irrigation:

The full set of 167 paired images is really striking, and if viewed in the “all images” layout, you can select among various topics, focusing on cities, water, human impacts, and so on.

 

Cross-posted at Montclair SocioBlog.

Hot enough for you?  Your answer might depend on who you’re voting for.

World views affect not just how we interpret what we see; these views influence what we actually experience.  That was the point of the previous post.

Do people who reject the idea global warming perceive the weather as being cooler?  Gallup just published the results of a poll that asked people if this winter was warmer than usual. Unfortunately, Gallup asked only for political affiliation, but it can stand as a rough proxy for ideas about global warming.  So the data are suggestive, not conclusive. But for what it’s worth, Democrats were more likely than Republicans to say yes, it’s been a warm winter.  Some of the difference can be attributed to geography (Democrats living in places that had a much warmer winter than usual). But I suspect that at least part of the 11-point difference is political.

Republicans reject the idea that the world is getting warmer — that’s a question of science — but they also experience their own immediate environment as cooler, which is a matter of perception.

As the graph shows, Gallup then asked those who did think that the winter was unusually warm what they thought the cause was — global warming or just normal variation..  As you might expect, political affiliation made a difference.   Democrats were more than twice as likely as Republicans to cite global warming as the cause.

Mother Jones magazine offers some comparisons. Highlights:

  • Its net sales is greater than the GDP of Norway.
  • Its entertainment sales is triple that of Hollywood.
  • It emits more CO2 than the 50 lowest-emitting countries together.
  • It employs a workforce the size of the population of the 50 smallest countries in the world.
  • Its square-footage exceeds that of the island of Manhattan.

The data:


Via SocProf.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Evolutionary psychologists argue that when we find certain traits sexually attractive in others it may be because they signal reproductive fitness.  It goes something like this: People who have been sexually attracted to traits that tell the “truth” about genetic superiority have been more likely to choose mates with superior genetics and, therefore, have been more likely to produce healthy offspring that live to an age where they, in turn, can reproduce themselves.  Accordingly, nature has selected for individuals attracted to people who display signs of genetic excellence.

Culture throws a wrench in this theory because human can create their own systems of meaning, collectively convincing each other that certain traits are desirable regardless of the relationship between the trait and reproductive fitness.  The thinness ideal for women is an excellent example.  Judging by pop culture, heterosexual men have a strong preference for very thin women.  In fact, however, the weight idealized in mass media is not conducive to reproductive fitness; women won’t ovulate or menstruate below a certain weight because their body recognizes that it can’t support a pregnancy.

A new study — by Leigh Simmons, Marianne Peters, and Gillian Rhodes — offers another tantalizing piece of information regarding the relationship between attractiveness and reproductive fitness.  Pre-existing research shows that men with lower voices are judged more sexually attractive, so the authors decided to measure one indicator of their reproductive fitness, sperm count.

The results? Voice attractiveness is related  to sperm count, but in the opposite direction expected.  Men with higher voices, in fact, have higher sperm concentration, not lower.

The jury is still out about what this means, but it’s an intriguing addition to the ongoing conversation that social and biological scientists are having about how culture and nature interact to shape human experience.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

This photograph is of the Love Canal neighborhood in Niagara Falls, New York, where Hooker Chemical (now Occidental Petroleum Corporation) buried 21,000 tons of toxic, chemical waste:
In 1953, Hooker Chemical sold the land that they had been using for toxic waste disposal to the Niagara Falls School Board for $1. The sale deed contained warnings about the chemical waste and a disclaimer of liability. However, planners hastily built schools and homes on the contaminated land to accommodate the city’s growing postwar population. By the late 1970s, residents were reporting a litany of illnesses and birth defects. Scientists discovered high levels of carcinogens in the soil, groundwater, and air. The community mobilized to bring attention to the situation, and President Carter declared a federal health emergency in the area.
Elizabeth Blum, a professor of history at Troy University, has written about the environmental activism of Love Canal residents. Such activism, called “popular epidemiology,” attempts to link spikes in localized health issues to their origins. Despite such grassroots movements, though, the media tends to show little interest in the causes of cancer and greater interest in finding the cure.

The many “Stand Up to Cancer” ads, for example, urge people to donate money (or just use their credit card for purchases) to help fund the development of cancer treatments:

When media attention is focused on the causes of cancer, it usually takes an individualistic tone. Risk factors (smoking, poor diet, etc.) are blamed for various forms of cancer.

The thing is: there’s no money in prevention.

Mainstream media outlets have a vested interest in not exposing the causes of cancer.  The companies that pay to advertise on their channels, and often their parent companies or subsidiaries, often traffic in known carcinogens. Pharmaceutical companies, likewise, have a perverse incentive. Healthy people make them no money, neither do dead people; sick people though, they’re a goldmine.  Many organizations, including the multi-million dollar Susan G. Komen Foundation, are in the business of raising money “for the cure,” more so than prevention.

The politics of cancer, then suffer from the individualism characteristic of modern American and capitalist imperatives, leaving the causes of the cancer epidemic invisible and, accordingly, the unethical and illegal behavior of companies like Hooker Chemical.

Dan Rose is an assistant professor of sociology at Chattanooga State Community College in Tennessee.  His research focuses on medical sociology and health inequalities in minority neighborhoods.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

I’m a particular fan of looking at ways that society and nature intersect and a new study is a fantastic example.  Analysis of 15 years of storm data revealed that twisters and hailstorms were significantly more likely to occur during the week as compared to weekends.

According to the authors, Daniel Rosenfeld and Thomas Bell, the cause is pollution caused by commuting.  Charles Choi, writing for National Geographic, explains:

…moisture gathers around specks of pollutants, which leads to more cloud droplets. Computer models suggest these droplets get lofted up to higher, colder air, leading to more plentiful and larger hail.

Understanding how pollution can generate more tornadoes is a bit trickier. First, the large icy particles of hail that pollutants help seed possess less surface area than an equal mass of smaller “hydrometeors”—that is, particles of condensed water or ice.

As such, these large hydrometeors evaporate more slowly, and thus are not as likely to suck heat from the air. This makes it easier for warm air to help form a “supercell,” the cloud type that usually produces tornadoes and large hail.

So, there you have it. No need to choose between nature and nurture. We interact with our environment and shape it, just as it shapes us.

(Via BoingBoing.)

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Updated; originally posted July 2009.

Americans are notorious for their ignorance of global issues and international news.  This may be because Americans aren’t interested or it may be that our news outlets feed us fluff and focus us only on the U.S.  Probably it’s a vicious cycle.

This month, for example, Time magazine’s cover story is about the political strife in Egypt… everywhere except the U.S. that is.  Americans get “pop psychology” (via Global Sociology):

It turns out you can go to the Time website and compare covers from previous issues going back a long ways.  Here are some more examples from the last couple years (I cherry picked just a bit):

Dmitriy T.M. sent in these previous examples a while back.

The cover story for Newsweek magazine’s September 2006 edition was “Losing Afghanistan” in Europe, Latin America, and Asia.  It was “My Life in Pictures,” a story about the photographer Annie Liebovitz in the U.S. (via):

newsweek

The cover story for Newsweek magazine’s October 2006 edition was “Global Warming’s First Victim” in Europe, Latin America, and Asia.  It was “Off Message,” a story about Republican Congressman Mark Foley’s sexually suggestive emails and IMs to teenage boys (via):

frogs

The cover story for Time magazine’s April 2007 edition was “Talibanistan” in Europe, Latin America, and Asia.  It was “Why We Should Teach the Bible in Public Schools” in the U.S. (via, also see Time):

Capture2

As SocProf writes:

Talk about self-fulfilling prophecy: Americans are assumed to not be interested in international and global affairs… ergo, Time decides to replace a perfectly legitimate and newsworthy cover on a significant event in Egypt with some pop psychology item. As a result, Americans are less informed and knowledgeable on global affairs because they do not get intelligent coverage on that topic.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

This week I listened to a Freakonomics podcast featuring Economics PhD-student twins, Alison and Steve Sexton.  They had studied the phenomenon of conspicuous conservation, which I’ve defined elsewhere as “the (often lavish) spending on ‘green’ products designed mainly to advertise one’s environmentally-moral righteousness.”  The Sexton’s studied how much people are willing to pay for the conspiciousness of their conservation.

They found that, in places where being environmentally-friendly is looked upon positively, people will spend more (or gain less) to ensure that their conservation efforts are obvious. For example, people will sometimes have their solar panels mounted on the shady side of their house. Why? It’s the side that faces the street. Why have solar panels if no one in the neighborhood can see that you do?  Likewise, the Prius is so popular in part because it is obviously a hybrid; no other car looks like it, so it can’t be mistaken for a “regular” (person’s) car.

I thought of this willingness to pay to display one’s environmental thoughtfulness while visiting Goldstein’s Bagels in La Cañada, CA this week. They had this photograph proudly displayed:

I just love how not only are they paying to keep the highway clean, they’re being rewarded with a big advertisement for their store alongside the freeway, AND they get to take a picture of that sign and put it up for all to see.  It’s win-win-win; a win for the environment and a double win for Goldstein’s.

The Sexton’s argue that all of this conspicuous conservation is probably good.  Competing to be environmentally-friendly translates into more conservation, no matter what the motivation. (Especially as compared to conspicuous consumption; remember the Hummer?)  Accordingly, they suggest that public policy should focus on incentivizing the types of conservation efforts that aren’t visible, like insulation and weather-proofed windows, and leave the showy stuff to the market.

For another example of conspicuous conservation, see our post on faux-oil slicked shoes purchased to benefit the Gulf; on conspicuous consumption, check out the Louis Vitton mommy diva birthday cake; and see this post on conspicuous intellectual consumption.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.