The Extinction Chronicles

An impartial record of articles and events leading up to the end…

The Extinction Chronicles

Liquid water on Mars? New research indicates buried ‘lakes’

Scientists say the super-salty water would significantly improve the likelihood that the red planet just might harbor microscopic life of its own.
Image: Mars Express

An artist’s render of the Mars Express, which used ground-penetrating radar to survey parts of Mars.NASA

By Tom Metcalfe

The existence of liquid water on Mars — one of the more hotly debated matters about our cold, red neighbor — is looking increasingly likely.

New research published Monday in the journal Nature Astronomy indicates there really is a buried reservoir of super-salty water near the south pole of the planet. Scientists say such a lake would significantly improve the likelihood that the red planet just might harbor microscopic life of its own.

Some scientists remain unconvinced that what’s been seen is liquid water, but the latest study adds weight to a tentative 2018 finding from radar maps of the planet’s crust made by the Mars Express robot orbiter.

That research suggested an underground “lake” of liquid water had pooled beneath frozen layers of sediment near the Martian south pole – akin to the subglacial lakes detected beneath the Antarctic and the Greenland ice sheets on Earth.

Image: Mars south polar ice cap
Image taken by ESA’s Mars Express showing Mars’ south polar ice cap.Bj?rn Schreiner – FU Berlin / ESA

Earth’s subglacial lakes are teeming with bacterial life, and similar life might survive in liquid reservoirs on Mars, scientists have speculated.

“We are much more confident now,” said Elena Pettinelli, a professor of geophysics at Italy’s Roma Tre University, who led the latest research and the earlier study. “We did many more observations, and we processed the data completely differently.”

The planetary scientist and her team processed 134 observations of the region near the south pole with ground-penetrating radar from the Mars Express Orbiter between 2012 until 2019 – more than four times as many as before, and covering a period of time more than twice as long.

They then applied a new technique to the observation data that has been used to find lakes beneath the Antarctic ice sheet, as well as an older technique used in the 2018 study.

Both methods indicate there is a “patchwork” of buried reservoirs of liquid in the region, Pettinelli said – a large reservoir about 15 miles across, surrounded by several smaller patches up to 6 miles across.

The researchers can’t tell how deep the reservoirs go, but they begin about a mile below the surface, she said.

Image: Martian south pole
The layered deposits of ice at the Martian south pole, revealed by radar from Mars Express.NASA

And while the radar doesn’t show what they’re made of, they are probably “hypersaline” solutions – water saturated with perchlorate salts of calcium, magnesium, sodium and potassium – that keep them liquid at below minus 90 degrees Fahrenheit, Pettinelli said.

The new study of a potential underground niche for life on Mars comes just a few weeks after scientists reported finding potential signs of life in the clouds of the planet Venus.

If these really are buried bodies of liquid water, they might be a prime spot where microbial alien life could survive on the red planet – perhaps a remnant of the life that might have existed there billions of years ago if Mars had seas of water on its surface.

Liquid water is a key ingredient for life as we know it – although exotic chemistries for life based on hydrocarbons or carbon dioxide have also been proposed.

Mars is now thought to be bone dry, but moisture in its atmosphere freezes during Martian winters as water ice above the permanent carbon dioxide ice caps at the north and south poles.

If the discovery is verified, this is the first time liquid water has been found on Mars, and it will have a profound impact on the search for extraterrestrial life.

Steve Clifford of the Planetary Science Institute, a nonprofit based in Tucson, Arizona, said he agrees that an underground body of water is the most plausible explanation for the radar observations by Mars Express – but he argues it might not be as cold or as salty as the researchers suggest.

Clifford, who worked on the Mars Express mission but who was not involved in the new study, said he thinks the underground liquid could be created by heat from the planet’s hot interior melting the icy sediments in the same way that geothermal heat melts the base of the Antarctic ice sheet in some regions.

Image: Radar map
A radar map of the region near the south pole of Mars where hypersaline water is thought to exist beneath the surface, shown here in shades of blue.Nature Astronomy and Lauro et al

That would mean that the underground reservoirs on Mars needn’t be extremely salty to stay liquid, he said.

Not everyone is convinced by the new study, however.

Planetary scientist Jack Holt of the University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory in Tucson said in an email that Mars was probably much too cold for even hypersaline water to exist as a liquid – and if it did, then liquid water would also exist in regions that looked the same in the radar maps.

“If we apply the same interpretation, then there should be springs flowing out along the edge of the polar cap,” he said. “And that is not the case.”

Holt works with radar on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which has seen no signs of liquid water – although the Mars Express researchers suggest it is using the wrong radar wavelengths to see them.

Holt also thinks any description of buried “lakes” of water is misleading: “At best, patchy wet sediment,” he said. “But even that is a stretch.”

Climate scientists uncover new record-low temperature in Greenland

A cold day in Greenland

A cold day in Greenland
(Image: © Shutterstock)

On the heels of the hottest summer the Northern Hemisphere has ever seen, U.N. researchers digging through the climate record have reported a chilling discovery: On Dec. 22, 1991, a remote weather station atop the Greenland ice sheet recorded a temperature of minus 93.3 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 69.6 degrees Celsius) — the coldest temperature ever recorded in the Northern Hemisphere.

The frigid new record, announced Wednesday (Sept. 23) in a statement from the U.N.’s World Meteorological Organization (WMO), shivers past the previous record of minus 90.4 F (minus 67.8 C) set in two different towns in the Siberian Arctic, first in 1892 and the other in 1933. For comparison, all three of those extreme lows sneak past the average temperature on Mars, which is roughly minus 81 F (minus 63 C), according to NASA.

“In the era of climate change … this newly recognized cold record is an important reminder about the stark contrasts that exist on this planet,” WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said in the statement.

00:00 of 03:37Volume 0%

Related: Photos: The 8 coldest places on Earth

Contrasting those lows, of course, are extreme highs that continue to set scorching new records year after year, thanks to global warming. In Verkhoyansk, for example — one of the Siberian towns that witnessed the former record-low in 1892 — temperatures reached 100 F (38 C) this June for the first time in recorded history, setting a new record-high temperature for the Arctic Circle.

Meanwhile, Antarctica — which still holds the world record for coldest temperature on Earth (minus 128.6 F, or minus 89.2 C, recorded in 1983) — saw a new  all-time high this February, when temperatures reached 69.35 F (20.75 C) during the Southern Hemisphere’s summer.

Greenland’s new record low was discovered by a team of so-called “climate detectives” working at the WMO’s Archive of Weather and Climate Extremes in Geneva. The temperature was recorded by the Klinck automatic weather station, which was active from 1990 to 1992 near the highest peak of the Greenland ice sheet, according to AP News. The WMO detectives confirmed these results with the original Klinck researchers before making their announcement on Wednesday. Formed in 2007, the WMO Archive has uncovered a slew of similar meteorological records over the years. In June 2020, Archive researchers announced the discovery of the longest lightning bolt ever recorded — a 440-mile-long (700 kilometers) bolt that stretched across Brazil and Argentina on Halloween, 2018. What could be spookier than that?

Hundreds of small tremors detected under Vancouver Island


Posted Sep 16, 2020 10:57 am PDT

Hundreds of small tremors detected under Vancouver Island

Last Updated Sep 16, 2020 at 10:58 am PDT

Hundreds of small tremors have been detected under Vancouver Island over the past week. (Courtesy Pacific Northwest Seismic Network)

Hundreds of tiny seismic tremors have been detected under Vancouver Island over the past week

No one would have felt these tremors, a seismologist explains

Tremors could may be sign of Episodic Tremor and Slip, but not necessarily warning of “The Big One”, seismologist says

VICTORIA (NEWS 1130) – Nobody will have felt it, but over the past week, more than 1,300 tiny seismic tremors have been detected under Vancouver Island.

Natural Resources Canada seismologist John Cassidy says the island is currently shifting slightly to and from the mainland.

“It’s this, almost like a tectonic dance. Vancouver Island is slowly moving to the east, but then over the course of two or three weeks, it moves backwards towards the ocean,” Cassidy explains, adding this may be a sign of an Episodic Tremor and Slip.

“It’s very different from an earthquake where you see sort of this initial burst of energy and different types of waves will follow. This is more like a slow rumbling that’s really tiny. No body’s feeling this,” Cassidy adds, telling NEWS 1130.


Geologists have warned our region is overdue for a major earthquake. While not a specific sign of the impending “Big One,” Cassidy says researchers believe these events do put additional pressure on the major fault line off the west coast of the island.

ETS events typically happen every 14 to 15 months, however, he notes these kinds of tremors are happening a lot more frequently than was originally thought.

“So it’s almost a continuous process now from different areas along what we call the subduction zone, where an ocean plate is being pushed underneath North America,” Cassidy tells NEWS 1130.

He admits the island’s “dance” is still a bit of a mystery and was only discovered about 20 years ago. Cassidy explains Vancouver Island is actually moving closer to the mainland by about a centimetre each year.

“It decreases some of the stresses in the region where the slipping is taking place, which is typically around the central Vancouver Island region, but it also adds a tiny, tiny bit of stress to the region of the fault that isn’t slipping,” Cassidy says, adding the same process happens elsewhere in the world, too.

Earth Should Be Dry – An Unexpected Meteorite Discovery Reveals the Origin of Earth’s Vast Oceans

Earth's Oceans

Meteorite material presumed to be devoid of water because it formed in the dry inner Solar System appears to have contained sufficient hydrogen to have delivered to Earth at least three times the mass of water in its oceans, a new study shows.

While the idea that enstatite chondrite (EC) meteorites contained enough hydrogen to provide water to the growing proto-Earth has been proposed, efforts to rigorously test this scenario have been hampered by difficulties in measuring hydrogen concentrations in ECs — an obstacle this study overcame.

According to models of Solar System formation, Earth should be dry. However, our blue planet’s vast oceans, humid atmosphere and well-hydrated geology boldly defy such predictions, making it unique among the other rocky planets of the inner Solar System.

Thus, while debated, the origin of Earth’s water remains unknown.

Enstatite chondrite meteorites — space rocks forged from the nebula that formed the Solar System — are known to be representative of the rocks from which Earth was built. However, because ECs formed close to the sun, where conditions were too warm for water ice to survive, ECs have been assumed to be too dry to account for Earth’s rich reservoirs of water. As such, Earth’s water is therefore generally thought to be a late addition following the planet’s formation, delivered by more hydrated materials like carbonaceous chondrite meteorites, which originated in the outer solar system where water was more abundant.

To constrain the uncertainties surrounding the origin of Earth’s water, Laurette Piani and colleagues measured the hydrogen content and deuterium/hydrogen (D/H) ratio in thirteen EC meteorites, finding that ECs harbor far more hydrogen than previously assumed. Following further analyses involving modeling of Earth’s formation that involved mixing of chondrite-like materials, the authors estimate that the EC-like materials that coalesced during the planet’s early formation could have delivered enough hydrogen to the growing proto-Earth to provide at least three times the amount of water in Earth’s present-day oceans.

The D/H ratio and nitrogen isotope compositions of the analyzed ECs closely align with those of the Earth’s mantle, supporting Piani et al.’s claims that the origins of Earth’s water lay within the rocks from which the planet was built. “[Piani et al.’s] work brings a crucial and elegant element to this puzzle. Earth’s water may simply come from the nebular material from which the planet accreted,” writes Anne H. Peslier in a related Perspective.

The authors note they cannot determine exactly when the material was delivered, but it must have been sufficiently late during Earth’s formation.

Read Unexpected Findings Result in New Origin Theory for Earth’s Water for more on this discovery.

Reference: “Earth’s water may have been inherited from material similar to enstatite chondrite meteorites” by Laurette Piani, Yves Marrocchi, Thomas Rigaudier, Lionel G. Vacher, Dorian Thomassin and Bernard Marty, 28 August 2020, Science.
DOI: 10.1126/science.aba1948

Are Tardigrades The Most Indestructible Animals on Earth? There’s a Close Contender

(Steve Gschmeissner/Science Photo Library/Getty Images)




Humans wouldn’t survive two minutes in space, but in 2007, two species of tardigrades were released into space and then collected again – still alive.

Tardigrades are a group of tiny invertebrate species that live all over the world – you can probably find one yourself on a piece of moss in your back garden or local park. Actually, you can find them pretty much anywhere – on a mountain top, at the bottom of the sea or even in a volcano!

Astrobiologist Dr Jon Stone from McMaster University summarises how they can survive a battery of extreme conditions, including temperatures as cold as -180°C for 14 days or oven heat of 151°C for 30 minutes.

They can also survive “5000 Gy gamma radiation (which is the radiation type that, in the Marvel Universe, transformed David Banner into the Incredible Hulk). Where 5-10 Gy kills humans” says Dr Stone.

They can also survive being in a frozen state for 30 years and potentially up to 100 years, although that long is still contested writes Dr Stone.

But are tardigrades the most indestructible animals on Earth? We asked eight biologists who study them – 63 percent said “Yes” meaning there is still some debate on this question. Here’s what we learned from experts.

Why are tardigrades so indestructible?

When conditions are difficult to live in, tardigrades curl up into a ball called a tun. When in a tun, the tardigrade goes into a kind of ‘paused’ state, called ‘cryptobiosis’.

During cryptobiosis, animals don’t move, grow or reproduce, but they are protected from extreme conditions. There are multiple types of cryptobiosis depending on what conditions you are dealing with.

The best-studied type is called ‘anhydrobiosis’, which protects from cells drying out when there is no water.

If cells dry out, lots of things can get damaged like their DNA and membranes. When some animals undergo anhydrobiosis, their cells become filled with a sugar called trehalose, which protects the cell contents until there is water again.

Anhydrobiosis in tardigrades was discovered way back in 1702, when scientist Anton von Leewenhoek dried out and revived the tardigrades he found on house roofs. Tardigrades can remain in cryptobiosis with no food or water for years, for at least 30 years if frozen.

Marine tardigrades are not indestructible

There are more than 1,400 known species of tardigrades and each differs in their ability to undergo different types of cryptobiosis. Biologist Dr William Miller From Baker University explains, “Terrestrial tardigrades in cryptobiosis are very resistant to destruction … But marine and freshwater tardigrades do not exhibit cryptobiosis, and thus are very destructible.”

Similarly, only some species of tardigrades make trehalose, the sugar substance that protects cells during anhydrobiosis.

The species of tardigrades that don’t make trehalose may have some other tricks to protect them from harsh conditions like special proteins that turn into a glass-like substance to protect cells. There is lots of interesting research to be done to understand this set of survival tools, but it’s clear tardigrades can’t all be lumped together.

Some things that can destroy a tardigrade

Generally tardigrades are way more resistant to changes in their environment than most animals. They are often studied in an astrophysical context – for example identifying whether they would survive if Earth was hit by an asteroid.

However, this doesn’t mean they are indestructible against everything – as expert Dr Dennis Persson puts it, “Tardigrades are certainly one of the most stress-tolerant animals on Earth, but they are very easily destroyed with the prick of a needle, or eaten by other animals, fungi and protists.”

Although tardigrades are resilient in some ways, they are vulnerable to things that most animals are in danger of, such as predators and infections.

Tardigrades vs Nematodes

Working out whether tardigrades are the most indestructible animals, we need to know about the competition. Ecologist Dr Diego Fontaneto explains that ‘other animals can survive what we consider extreme conditions for life.

Among them, there are nematodes and rotifers, which share similar life-history strategies, habitats, and body size with tardigrades. These animals survive desiccation and freezing as much as tardigrades, if not even better than tardigrades.’

Other animals that have the cryptobiosis trick up their sleeves include nematode worms, some kinds of shrimp, and even some species of plants and yeast! Nematodes have been particularly well studied, and paleobiologist Dr Graham Budd notes that “The record for survival in a dehydrated state is held by the nematode Tylenchus polyhypnus at 39 years.”

And the tardigrade Vs nematode battle has not been verified yet. “In general, as different animals have different survival capabilities in different conditions, it is difficult to single one type out as the ‘most resilient ever’,” says Dr Budd.

Takeaway: Tardigrades may be the most indestructible animal, but they are not resistant to any type of harm and many experts say Nematodes are a close challenger to this title. Despite the debate, it’s certain that we are only just beginning to learn which creatures can cope in extreme environments, and how they do it.

Article based on 8 expert answers to this question: Are tardigrades the most indestructible animal on Earth?

This expert response was published in partnership with independent fact-checking platform Subscribe to their weekly newsletter here.

Change, Pope Francis Sounds an Urgent Alarm

The encyclical ‘Laudato Si’ motivated many people to take action on global warming, but governments, the pope said, have lagged far behind.

Pope Francis delivers his blessing from the window overlooking St. Peter's Square at the Vatican during the Sunday Angelus prayer earlier this month. Credit: Filippo Monteforte/AFP/Getty

Pope Francis delivers his blessing from the window overlooking St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican during the Sunday Angelus prayer earlier this month. Credit: Filippo Monteforte/AFP/Getty

 When Pope Francis issued his landmark teaching document on climate change in 2015, his words went straight to the heart of Susan Varlamoff.

Varlamoff, 70, a biologist, read Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring in the 1960s and speaks proudly of a Catholic faith that embraces science and calls on church members to take care of the earth. Her sister, she said, died from cancer as a child, and she wondered whether her father’s liberal use of pesticides in their suburban yard might have been the cause.

She asked Archbishop Wilton Gregory, who was then the leader of 1.2 million Catholics in Atlanta and across much of Georgia, whether she could write a review for the archdiocese of the Pope’s  “Laudato Si’: On Care for our Common Home,” the first encyclical to be dedicated to the environment.

Instead, he asked for an action plan.

So with her colleagues at the University of Georgia, Varlamoff wrote and illustrated a 52-page treatise on the science of climate change that offered Georgians motivated by their faith a road map for dealing with a warming earth.

The plan strengthened climate education at Catholic schools across much of the state and prompted a series of local energy audits and efficiency improvements at churches and schools. It also provided a template for climate action among Catholics nationwide.

“Slowly, we are starting to make our way and to get this information out,” said Varlamoff, who has since retired. “We are exchanging best practices. There are so many Catholic scientists who desperately want to work for caring for creation. We are just moving forward with people who believe as we do.”

Susan Varlamoff wrote an action plan based on Pope Francis's ecology encyclical for the Atlanta Archdiocese. Credit: Susan Varlamoff

Susan Varlamoff wrote an action plan based on Pope Francis’s ecology encyclical for the Atlanta Archdiocese. Credit: Susan Varlamoff

Laudato Si’ represented a seminal integration of the environment and humanity (the title is from the first words of the encyclical, “Praise be to you my Lord”). But earlier this year, Francis criticized world governments for their “very weak” response to the climate crisis. In June, he issued guidance for carrying out his climate encyclical that included calling on Catholics to divest themselves of investments in fossil fuel companies.

With this new sense of urgency, the Vatican launched a year-long program of Laudato Si’ activities and put in place a new, seven-year call to action.

The encyclical broadly accepts the scientific consensus that climate change is principally a man-made phenomenon. Without prompt global action to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and slow the planet’s warming, it says, there will be profound environmental, social, political and economic consequences.  The pope clearly identifies the use of fossil fuels as a cause of climate change.

Yale University scholar Mary Evelyn Tucker, co-director of the Yale Forum on Religion and Ecology, described the pope’s commitment on climate as “unprecedented,” and said it represents a “structural change” in how the world is confronting climate change and other environmental issues, such as pollution.

Science and policy have led the response to environmental concerns for decades, she said, but the pope has interjected a moral force linking people with their environment.

“It’s not just social justice issues, and not just environmental issues,” Tucker said. “It’s the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor, all coming together in various movements. The encyclical names this ‘integral ecology’.”

The global coronavirus pandemic, she added, “is making the linkages even more clear. You cannot have healthy people on a sick planet.”

A Message for the Planet

To the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics—including about 70 million in the United States—a papal encyclical is a pastoral letter that carries a special gravitas. But with Laudato Si’,  the pope intended it to reach everyone on the planet.

“The encyclical stands on millennia of Catholic teachings, starting with the Genesis story,” said Anna Wagner, an engagement director with the five-year-old Global Catholic Climate Movement, which works with the Vatican on climate matters. “It takes ancient lessons of our faith and expresses them in a new way,” she said.

Upon the encyclical’s release in June, 2015, the pope took to Twitter to declare, bluntly: “The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth.”

At the time, scientists were warning that global warming, rising seas, and supercharged weather were no longer a distant threat. Five years later, scientists have documented how climate change is intensifying droughts, wildfires and hurricanes, and have said that carbon emissions need to drop 45 percent by 2030 if the world is to have a chance at fending off the worst effects of climate change.

In Laudato Si’, Francis blended the latest science on climate and the loss of biological diversity with a heavy dose of economics, Catholic teaching and a call to treat all humans with dignity and respect.

“Climate change is a global problem with grave implications,” he wrote, especially for the poor and in developing nations.

Rich countries are hurting poor countries, Francis wrote, calling for an economic system with “more balanced levels of production, a better distribution of wealth, concern for the environment and the rights of future generations.”

The encyclical was seen in some camps as an attack on capitalism, and it made some Catholic Republican leaders squirm, like former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who in 2015 observed that the pope “is not a scientist.”

The conservative Heartland Institute, which has long sought to undercut climate science, accused Francis of being misled by what a spokesman described as “false prophets,” or the “agenda-driven bureaucrats at the United Nations.”

Five years later, climate activist and journalist Bill McKibben, who has taught Sunday school in Methodist churches and has been open about his own Christian faith, described the encyclical as among the most important documents of recent decades.

“It has its roots in the climate crisis, but it understands it in a much larger sense,” McKibben said. “And it presages what has happened over the last four of five years as people realize that the environmental movement needs to be the environmental justice movement.”

It’s important, as well, McKibben said, because of the Pope’s reach as a global faith leader and “arguably the most recognizable figure in the world.”

The World’s Response Has Been “a Source of Grave Concern”

Laudato Si’ created a global buzz before and after it was published. But its impact has been mixed inside the sprawling church, a massive global institution known to move slowly.

The National Catholic Reporter, a Kansas City-based independent Catholic news outlet with dedicated climate coverage, found examples around the world in which individual Catholics, parishes and institutions had responded to Laudato Si’.

Bishops in the Philippines have been fighting coal-fired power plants. American Catholic nuns and their partners in Ghana launched a plastic recycling program to reduce waste and increase employment. The U.S. Conference of Bishops, citing Laudato Si’, has opposed the Trump administration’s rollback or repeals of key environmental regulations.

The Global Catholic Climate Movement is another example. Launched as Laudato Si’ was released, it has grown to encompass 900 Catholic organizations in dozens of countries. The organization has spearheaded some of Catholicism’s  most visible climate actions, from faith-based youth climate strikes to persuading a growing number of Catholic institutions to pull their investments in fossil fuel companies.

But the National Catholic Reporter also concluded that the pope’s message had not been as widely received as Francis had hoped.

“Sadly, the urgency of this ecological conversion seems not to have been grasped by international politics, where the response to the problems raised by global issues such as climate change remains very weak and a source of grave concern,” the pope told 180 diplomats meeting at the Vatican in January. He also praised the rising voices of young people demanding urgent action on climate change.

This summer, the Vatican announced the “Laudato Si’ Action Platform.” It asks Catholics and Catholic institutions to achieve sustainability within seven years.

The Vatican itself continues to gather advice from high-level scientists and other experts in working groups, with both climate and Covid-19 in mind.

“The Vatican is pulling expertise from all over the world to chart a course for a post-Covid world,” Tucker said. “This is a huge commitment.”

The Importance of Catholic Divestment

Experts will argue over whether divestment campaigns actually cripple the targeted industries. But to their supporters, the campaigns hurt companies by diminishing their reputations and their access to capital, the lifeblood of any corporation.

In McKibben’s mind, the Vatican’s full support for divestment of fossil fuel companies is “a big deal, since the Church is a serious financial force.”

Various Catholic institutions have been divesting from fossil fuel companies for several years, including the University of Dayton and Georgetown University, with the pace picking up since Laudato Si’, though many still have not divested, he said.

The author of more than 15 books, including The End of Nature, published in 1989 as an early warning about global warming, McKibben is also co-founder of the environmental group, which has run its own divestment campaign since 2012.

The environmental group counts more than 1,200 institutions and local governments and thousands of individuals representing over $14 trillion as having pledged to divest their assets from fossil fuels, including the Episcopal church, the Church of England, and the World Council of Churches.

S&P Global, a financial information and analysis company, has said the movement is gaining traction, and reported a new sense of clean-energy optimism in the market.

And, the  multinational oil and gas company Royal Dutch Shell in its 2019 annual report described the divestment campaigns as a significant enough risk that it felt it needed to warn investors.

Divestment campaigns “could have a material adverse effect on the price of our securities and our ability to access capital markets,” the company disclosed. Shell also recently slashed the value of its assets by up to $22 billion amid crashing oil prices, the global pandemic and pressure to move away from fossil fuels.

The Global Catholic Climate Movement called the new divestment effort  the first-ever endorsement of a fossil fuel divestment campaign to come from the full Vatican and said it followed the largest-ever announcement of divestment by faith institutions. In May 2020, 42 institutions in 14 countries announced their commitment to drop fossil fuels.

“The more that banks and fossil fuel companies and insurance companies see investment in fossil fuels is a losing strategy, the more they are going to distance themselves from fossil fuel industry projects and see them as a losing strategy in terms of finances and risk,” Wagner said.

Engaging Conservative Catholics

The pope’s renewed climate push this year comes as Americans face a presidential election pitting two candidates with widely divergent views on climate change. For nearly four years, President Donald Trump has taken the country in the opposite direction from the Vatican, working to withdraw the United States from the 2015 Paris climate agreement, a global action to fight climate change. Democratic challenger and former Vice President Joe Biden, a Catholic, has embraced the encyclical, as well as a $2 trillion clean economy jobs program and timetable to achieve net-zero carbon emissions no later than 2050.

For some Catholics, Trump’s fossil-fuel agenda has provided motivation to act on their own, said Dan Misleh, executive director of Catholic Climate Covenant, a national nonprofit based in Washington, D.C. that includes 19 U.S. Catholic partner institutions and works to incorporate the encyclical’s message in education and worship.  “People were saying nothing is going to happen on the national level, so we need to act at the local and state level,” he said.

The encyclical has inspired actions across the country, he said. His organization has encouraged the creation of dozens of so-called Creation Care Teams to lead community action. It has started Catholic Energies, focused on solar power and energy efficiency. And it is encouraging advocacy in state capitals and Washington, D.C. “It’s made a difference and it’s continued to unfold,” Misleh said.

The Atlanta climate action plan has been or is being used as a point of reference for climate plans at the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., where Archbishop Gregory now serves, and at dioceses in Boston, Columbus, Minneapolis, San Diego and elsewhere, Misleh and other Catholic leaders said.

But they acknowledged that there have been some dioceses and parishes less willing to embrace the climate fight due to competing priorities or resistance on political grounds. The Pew Research Center finds that Catholics are evenly split between Republicans and Democrats and polarized, generally.

Still, Misleh and other Catholics who are deeply concerned about climate change don’t hesitate to engage Catholic conservatives who oppose abortion and reject the urgency to act on climate—a position not uncommon among Republicans.

“One cannot be concerned about the unborn and not be concerned about the world in which they are born into,” said Michael Terrien, who works on climate issues with the Archdiocese of Chicago, which serves 2.2 million Catholics.

In Atlanta, the climate action plan Varmaloff helped write directly replies to the suggestion that the encyclical runs counter to business, a common refrain in the South. Business is a “noble vocation,” the plan says, but it adds that Francis is asking for “is a future in which ‘all people can prosper personally and economically in harmony with the gifts God has given us in nature.'”

The Atlanta Archdiocese has been able to perform or schedule energy audits on about two dozen of its 103 parishes so far. St. Mary’s Catholic School in Rome, Georgia, for example, has 1,500 new energy-saving LED lights, cutting gym energy use in half, said Brian J. Savoie, the archdiocese sustainability program coordinator.

He said he has a simple message as he works with the parishes on energy efficiency: “Stop wasting, save money and fix the environmental burden.”

Spending less on heating, air conditioning and lighting leaves more money to go toward social justice work, like feeding and clothing the poor, said Kat Doyle, who heads up the Laudato Si’ initiative for the Atlanta Archdiocese.

“We want to tie all of this climate and energy work into how we are serving the least among us,” she said. “We have to change hearts first, then we have to change minds, and then we have to change behaviors.”

And, she said, Catholics must answer the question, “What does our faith call us to do?”

Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk’s plans to colonize space are even crazier than we thought

As a child, Elon Musk would read comic books and sci-fi novels and dream of fantastical worlds. Now the tech entrepreneur is on the verge of visiting one.

Musk’s focus narrowed some 20 years ago while poking around NASA’s website. He noticed that there was no timetable for a manned mission to Mars. He later called the lack of vision “shocking.”

Musk, then already a millionaire from the sale of a software company, ditched Silicon Valley for Los Angeles, in order to be closer to the aerospace industry, and set his sights on the stars.

Now the future of space is largely in his and the hands of other free-spending, big-dreaming billionaires like him, including Amazon’s Jeff Bezos.

But what will this future look like?

Some answers can be found in the new book “Star Settlers: The Billionaires, Geniuses, and Crazed Visionaries Out to Conquer the Universe” (Pegasus Books) by Fred Nadis, out now.

“I see [guys like Musk] almost like medieval cathedral builders, with this multi-century project that they’re willing to take their time and their livelihood,” Nadis told The Post.

That said, the author thinks these billionaires may be dreaming a bit too big.

Enlarge ImageThe problem with Mars colonization is that it has a much thinner atmosphere than Earth and has no electromagnetic field leaving it susceptible to harmful-to-human energies.
As Matt Damon found in “The Martian,” the Red Planet’s atmosphere is much thinner than Earth’s and the planet generates no electromagnetic field, meaning it gets pounded by cosmic rays and other harmful-to-humans energy.©20thCentFox/Courtesy Everett C

Musk, the founder of Tesla, has said that all of his earthly business ventures are just a way to fund his true passion: colonizing Mars.

His company, SpaceX, is planning to send humans to the red planet in 2024. Within a century, Musk envisions reusable rockets blasting off every two years and ferrying some 200 passengers at a time, ultimately establishing an outpost of a million people.

It’s still unclear how they’ll survive.

At its closest, Mars is some 35 million miles from Earth, and a trip would take around nine months. Once you get there, the problem explorers will face is that Mars’ atmosphere is much thinner than Earth’s and the planet generates no electromagnetic field, meaning it gets pounded by cosmic rays and other harmful-to-humans energy.

“It’s really challenging,” Nadis says. “Not quite as simple as SpaceX might make it out to be.”

Musk has offered sketchy details of what life off-world might look like. Any Mars colony would have to be self-sustaining and not rely on supplies from Earth. Musk has suggested food be grown on hydroponic farms, either underground or in an enclosed structure to protect the crops from radiation, but because Mars’ surface gets about half the sunlight Earth does, whatever plants that can be grown will likely have to be supplemented with artificial lights — and powering those lights will be no small challenge.

Musk has said farms will be powered by solar panels, though he’s offered few details.

“Really pretty straightforward,” he told Popular Mechanics last year.

Enlarge ImagePrinceton physicist Gerard O’Neill imagined space colonies consisting of giant counter-rotating cylinders, simulating gravity.
Princeton physicist Gerard O’Neill imagined space colonies consisting of giant counter-rotating cylinders, simulating gravity.Rick Guidice/NASA

In the same interview, the billionaire suggested Mars’ inhabitants might live under a glass dome with an “outdoorsy, fun atmosphere,” until the planet is terraformed — artificially transforming the planet to make it more Earth-like, with a livable atmosphere.

But that plan also presents a problem: A 2018 NASA-sponsored study concluded terraforming Mars is impossible, because there is not enough carbon dioxide locked in the soil to release into the air.

Musk, however, isn’t daunted. He has suggested exploding 10,000 nuclear missiles over Mars’ surface in order to melt the planet’s ice reserves, thereby releasing the carbon dioxide locked within. His company has even produced “nuke Mars” T-shirts.

Scientists are divided on whether the idea would work. Penn State climate scientist Michael Mann, for example, told US News and World Report in 2015, “There are so many things that could go wrong here, it is difficult to know where to start.”

Meanwhile, Bezos and his company, Blue Origin, are also focused on moving off-world — but onto space colonies. Bezos is worried that the Earth’s resources will be gone in a few hundred years, necessitating the need to leave.

Bezos draws much of his inspiration from the work of Gerard O’Neill, a Princeton physicist who in the 1970s laid out a grand design for space colonies.

There are so many things that could go wrong here …

 – scientist Michael Mann on a plan by Elon Musk to nuke Mars

O’Neill envisioned two giant counter-rotating cylinders — rotating in order to create artificial gravity — joined at each end by a rod. The massive structures could be 4 miles in diameter and at least 16-miles long.

The interior of each cylinder would offer “controlled climates and temperate weather,” with an Earth-like landscape consisting of forests, artificial rivers and mountains. To protect from cosmic radiation, the cylinders would be lined with moon rock. Plants, pigs and chickens might be raised for food. Low-gravity sports might serve as entertainment.

Colonists might reside in apartments overlooking farmland — and “living conditions in the colonies should be much more pleasant than in most places on Earth,” O’Neill wrote in 1974.

With certain technological advances, O’Neill envisioned the size of the cylinders being able to grow to encompass some 30,000 square miles, allowing room for up to 700 million people.

The colony would likely be parked in a stable orbit between the earth and the moon, first calculated by a mathematician in 1772. O’Neill has said that there is room for “several thousand colonies” there.

Bezos is a fan of O’Neill’s designs, and has said that he one day envisions “a trillion” of us living on space colonies, though Nadis predicts that’s “hundreds of years” away.

The Amazon founder said it’s his generation’s job to begin laying the groundwork for the colonies so that future generations can actually construct them.

“The kids here, and your children, and their grandchildren, you’re going to build the O’Neill colonies,” Bezos told attendees at a Washington, DC, press conference last year.

Enlarge ImageA more realistic colony might be on Earth's moon like Sam Rockwell in "Moon."
Sam Rockwell spent three years on the lunar surface in the 2009 movie “Moon” — but filmmakers never imagined him living in a lava cave.©Sony Pictures/Courtesy Everett

A colony on the moon might be a more realistic bet in some of our lifetimes. Making it to the moon has long been a dream for many, including Bezos and the Japanese tech billionaire Yusaku Maezawa, who tweeted earlier this year that he was looking for a girlfriend to join him on a trip to the orbiting body.

Nadis said the most likely habitats at first will be simple modular units, built on Earth then flown via rocket to the moon. But one tantalizing prospect is the moon’s lava tubes — seemingly massive underground tunnels made by lava flows. Living inside them would offer protection from radiation and a more stable temperature (about -4 degrees Fahrenheit) than the surface.

Scientists aren’t yet sure how big or deep these tubes are and what they might look like inside. In his influential magazine, Moon Miners’ Manifesto, sci-fi fan Peter Kokh once described a civilization of thousands of people living on the rocky terrain, almost like setting up camp in an Earth cave. Sunlight would be piped down below via shafts or optical cable bundles. Elevators would be built to carry inhabitants to the surface. Ultimately, it might be possible to seal a tube and pressurize it, just like with an airplane, creating a breathable habitat.

But one major problem none of these dreamers have been able to solve is human procreation: It may be extremely difficult in space. Never mind the challenges of having sex in diminished gravity. The radiation in space could “render males temporarily and females permanently sterile,” Nadis writes.

In one Russian experiment, rats were unable to produce babies in space, and when those space rats returned to earth and mated with regular rats, the offspring tended to have “significant abnormalities.”

Enlarge Image

Other bodily functions might suffer in space, as well. Take sleep, for example. Our bodies are cued by light exposure and the 24-hour day. On the moon, though, a “day” lasts more than 27 Earth days, severely screwing with human circadian rhythms. (Mars’ day is very similar to Earth’s.)

One solution is to equip habitats with lights that simulate the sun. The compartments then get darkened for “night.”

And what about peeing and pooping in diminished gravity? Early astronauts had to do their business in a bag (bits sometimes missed and floated around their space capsule). But, in the future, waste might be recycled. A 2017 paper in the journal Life Sciences in Space Research detailed a compact bioreactor that could recycle Numbers 1 and 2 into an edible goo.

Even with so many potential complications, Nadis appreciates the vision of the billionaire space explorers.

“What once was fringe thought — escaping to the stars — has been inching toward the center,” the author writes. “A potentially profound cultural change appears underway, as we shift from thinking of ourselves as an earthbound species to one of (potential) spacefarers.”

But, he concludes, “whether we are worthy candidates for dispersal through the solar system or galaxy remains an open question.”

The electric hum of life may have originated with primordial lightning

lightning striking Earth

(Image: © Shutterstock)

There’s an electrical hum in most animals, including ourselves. No one knows where it came from or why exactly it exists. Now, new research suggests this electric hum came from primordial lightning.

In most vertebrates and invertebrates, there is constant background cellular electrical activity, often coursing through the nervous system, with a small frequency range from 5 to 45 Hertz — well below the range of human hearing for sound waves. A new study, published in the journal International Journal of Biometeorology, notes this extremely low frequency (ELF) range overlaps with natural vibrations in the atmosphere caused by lightning.

Related: How big can lightning get?

“About 20 years ago, we started to discover that many biological systems, from the simplest of organisms like zooplankton in the ocean to our brains, have electrical activity in exactly the same frequency range as that produced by global lightning activity,” Colin Price, lead author on the new study and researcher at the Porter School of the Environment and Earth Sciences at Tel Aviv University in Israel, told Live Science. “We think that on evolutionary timescales, over billions of years, life-forms may have used what nature has given them and have somehow either synchronized to those frequencies or adapted to them.”

Around the planet, flashes of lightning strike the ground 50 to 100 times per second. These strikes have been known since the 1960s to create extremely low frequency  waves of electromagnetic energy that resonate around the planet’s atmosphere t. Known as Schumann resonances, these ELF waves  have encircled the planetor billions of years — ever since Earth has had an atmosphere. While the strongest resonance is at a frequency close to 8 Hz, several others occur between 3 and 60 Hz.Today, Schumann resonances can be measured anywhere on Earth that is electrically quiet, such as in a desert, far from electrical grids.

The new theory proposes primordial cells may have somehow synced their electric activity with these natural atmospheric resonances, particularly the peak resonance near 8 Hz. Such synchronization isn’t uncommon. We synchronize our circadian rhythm to days and seasons; and many species navigate off  Earth’s magnetic field.

“Evolution exploits whatever it can,” said Michael Levin, a biologist at Tufts University in Massachusetts who was not involved with the new research. He noted for example, “When living things are screened [blocked] from a geomagnetic field, they don’t develop right.”

Today, not all life vibrates at exactly the Schumann resonance. The researchers suggest that while early life was synced at around 8 Hz, the cellular activity in animals slowly drifted to other frequencies as the animals evolved, with different frequencies being used for different types of activity in the brain.  For example, specific frequencies in human brain waves have been linked to specific mental states such as alertness, dreaming and deep sleep. The Schumann resonance is closest to frequencies found in humans’ deep relaxed state, suggesting primordial life could have been in a state similar to deep relaxation.

Related: 10 things we learned about the human body in 2019

While there is a possibility that this research might lead to medical applications, it is highly unlikely this resonance could be exploited for harmful applications, the researchers note. The waves, the researchers note, are a natural state and one we are constantly surrounded by.

“We’re living in these fields, we’ve adapted to them, we’ve evolved with them, and they may have affected our evolution,” Price told Live Science. “But I don’t think that these fields are affecting us directly today. Otherwise, every time there was a thunderstorm nearby, we would be falling over or something.”

The researchers haven’t yet identified how lightnings’ resonance and biological electrical activity could have become synced. One idea is that lightning strikes could have affected calcium ion transfer within the cells, which is how most electrical activity in animals arises.

Not all scientists are onboard with the new theory.. “The proposal… in all fairness, is speculative,” said James Lin, a professor emeritus at the University of Illinois at Chicago who was not involved with the new research. For example, Lin notes that some electrical signals, such as ones that control heart rate, are more correlated with body mass than the Schumann resonance.

The researchers are continuing to look at possible mechanisms as well as extending their work into the botany realm, looking for effects of these atmospheric resonances on photosynthesis.

“There’s more and more evidence that there does appear to be links between these natural atmospheric frequencies and biological organisms,” Price told Live Science. “But we don’t understand it ⎯ what the connections are and how it’s working, so it’s just a start. We just published this to kind of put it out there. Hopefully others can advance it and go further on it.”

Recipe For Disaster

Consider this blog a chronicle of mankind’s last days. What were humans thinking when they took this incredibly beautiful, fragile, planet down—in the name of greed, selfishness, arrogance, sport or self-esteem?

Some of the articles I post might seem unrelated, off-topic or out of place when examined alone. But they are all part of the bigger picture which someday may be viewed by a higher intelligence who comes across it in their quest to know just how one species—out of so many—thought they had the right to exploit all others, carte blanc, under the narcissistic delusion that non-human lives on Earth had no rights at all.

Whether or not mankind survives the assault they’re putting the planet through is a non-issue for me. Personally, I hope they don’t. They do not deserve a second chance to rule this vibrant, watery orb any more than they deserved the first chance to steal Nature, abuse and forever change her.

But why all this on an anti-hunting blog? Because hunting, and ultimately meat-eating, is where humans first started screwing things up. For a plant-eating primate to leave the trees, take weapon in hand, turn carnivorous and claim the planet and everything that walks, crawls, swims or flies as their own was a recipe for disaster…