Ruth Gates Helped Create Strains of Coral Resilient to Acid and Heat

(p. B12) Ruth Gates, a renowned marine biologist who made it her life’s work to save the world’s fragile coral reefs from the deadening effects of warming water temperatures, died on Oct. 25 [2018] in Kailua, Hawaii.

. . .

Dr. Gates was one of the leading scientists trying to protect coral from such a fate. As director of the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology, which is part of the University of Hawaii at Manoa, she was developing a “super coral” that could be bred to be more resilient to the heat and acidity assaulting the marine environment.

. . .

In 2013, the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation offered $10,000 for the most promising proposal to mitigate problems caused by an increasingly acidic ocean. Dr. Gates and Madeleine van Oppen, of the Australian Institute of Marine Science, won the challenge with their plan to develop highly resilient coral strains, much the way farmers breed stronger crops.

The foundation subsequently awarded them a five-year, $4 million grant, with the longer-term goal of creating a stock of tough coral strains that could replace dying coral reefs around the world.

For the full obituary, see:

Katharine Q. Seelye. “Ruth Gates, a Champion of Coral Reefs in a Time of Their Decline, Dies at 56.” The New York Times (Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2018): B12.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date Nov. 5, 2018, and has the title “Ruth Gates, Who Made Saving Coral Reefs Her Mission, Is Dead at 56.”)

Lacking Absolute Certainty, Evidence Can Get Us to “True Enough”

(p. A17) As in his earlier books, Mr. Blackburn displays a rare combination of erudite precision and an ability to make complex ideas clear in unfussy prose.

If truth has seemed unattainable, he argues, it is because in the hands of philosophers such as Plato and Descartes it became so purified, rarefied and abstract that it eluded human comprehension. Mr. Blackburn colorfully describes their presentation of truth as a “picture of an entirely self-enclosed world of thought, spinning frictionless in the void.”

The alternative is inspired by more grounded philosophers, like David Hume and especially the American pragmatists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries: Charles Sanders Peirce, William James and John Dewey. Mr. Blackburn repeatedly returns to a quote from Peirce that serves as one of the book’s epigraphs: “We must not begin by talking of pure ideas—vagabond thoughts that tramp the public highways without any human habitation—but must begin with men and their conversation.” The best way to think about truth is not in the abstract but in media res, as it is found in the warp and weft of human life.

Put crudely, for the pragmatists “the proof of the pudding is in the eating.” We take to be true what works. Newton’s laws got us to the moon, so it would be perverse to deny that they are true. It doesn’t matter if they are not the final laws of physics; they are true enough. “We must remember that a tentative judgment of truth is not the same as a dogmatic assertion of certainty,” says Mr. Blackburn, a sentence that glib deniers of the possibility of truth should be made to copy out a hundred times. Skepticism about truth only gets off the ground if we demand that true enough is not good enough—that truth be beyond all possible doubt and not just the reasonable kind.

For the full review, see:

Julian Baggini. “BOOKSHELF; Beyond a Reasonable Doubt; A philosopher argues that truth is humble, not absolute: “A tentative judgment . . . is not the same as a dogmatic assertion of certainty”.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, July 25, 2018): A17.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date July 24, 2018, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘On Truth’ Review: Beyond a Reasonable Doubt; A philosopher argues that truth is humble, not absolute: “A tentative judgment . . . is not the same as a dogmatic assertion of certainty”.”)

The book under review is:

Blackburn, Simon. On Truth. Reprint ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2018.

“The Grapes Are Beautiful, the Heat’s Good for Them”

(p. A4) A 2016 study by NASA and Harvard of grape harvest dates going back to the 1600s found that climate change pushed harvests forward drastically in France and Switzerland in the second half of the 20th century.

. . .

(p. B5) Claudio Roggero, who as enologist at the Castello di Neive, decides, among other things, when to pick the grapes, strolled with satisfaction through the corridors of vines, saying the grapes looked perfect.

“If I left these grapes another week they could have been like this,” he said stopping in front of a rare sunburned bunch. “It’s very dangerous.”

In the middle of August, a thermometer planted in one of their vineyards showed heat in excess of 104 degrees Fahrenheit. “It went off the charts,” the wine estate’s owner, Italo Stupino, 81, said as he looked over the hills.

Mr. Stupino also pointed at vineyards destroyed by a hailstorm in April, and yet he expressed doubt that global warming drove the change.

“I believe it up to a certain point,” he said with a shrug. “The temperature goes up and down. We had hail in April, and I remember some hot, hot Augusts as a boy.”

That sentiment ran through the hills.

In Monforte d’Alba, just outside the town square, Giovanni Rocca stepped out onto his hills and happily chewed a grape he picked from his vineyard.

“The grapes are beautiful, the heat’s good for them,” he said, arguing that the vintage, which he said would probably come 10 or 15 days earlier than usual, was likely to yield a lower-quantity but higher-quality Barolo.

His son, Maurizio, 37, also spoke of the benefits of the sunshine. But he added that temperatures above 100 degrees “are not good for the wine; the berries become unbalanced and too fat, with too high an alcohol content.”

He said that they knew how to deal with anomalies, but that if intense heat waves became permanent, “We’ll have to plant bananas and pineapples.”

. . .

An enclosed observation deck hangs like a giant helicopter cockpit over the hills of Alba at the headquarters of the Ceretto family, which produces nearly a million bottles a year.

The company’s employees will be out in the fields a week earlier than usual to pick arneis grapes for its wildly popular Blangé white wine, said Roberta Ceretto, 44.

But she was mostly unbothered by the heat, saying that while her employees might not be able to go on vacation in August in the future, the quality and culture of the area’s wines would survive.

“The dinosaurs didn’t go extinct in 20 years,” she said with a smile.

For the full story, see:

Jason Horowitz. “LA MORRA JOURNAL; The Harvest of a Changing Climate.” The New York Times (Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2017): A4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Aug. 22, 2017, and has the title “LA MORRA JOURNAL; In Italy’s Drought-Hit Vineyards, the Harvest of a Changing Climate.”)

Foresters Using “Assisted Migration” to Help Forests Adapt More Quickly to Global Warming

(p. A14) Most trees can migrate only as fast as their seeds disperse — and if current warming trends hold, the climate this century will change 10 times faster than many tree species can move, according to one estimate.

. . .

So foresters in Rhode Island and elsewhere have launched ambitious experiments to test how people can help forests adapt, something that might take decades to occur naturally. One controversial idea, known as assisted migration, involves deliberately moving trees northward. But trees can live centuries, and environments are changing so fast in some places that species planted today may be ill-suited to conditions in 50 years, let alone 100. No one knows the best way to make forests more resilient to climatic upheaval.

. . .

It is also complicated. On Lake Michigan, one adaptation planner trying to help the Karner blue butterfly survive is considering creating an oak savanna well to the north, and moving the butterflies there. But the ideal place for the relocation already hosts another type of unique forest — one that he is trying to save to help a tiny yellow-bellied songbird that is also threatened by warming.

In other words, he may find himself both fighting climate change and embracing it, on the same piece of land.

For the full story, see:

Moises Velasquez-Manoff. “Can Humans Help Trees Outrun Climate Change?” The New York Times (Friday, April 26, 2019): A14-A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 25, 2019, and has the same title as the print version.)

Mayor de Blasio Seeks “Ban” on “Glass and Steel Skyscrapers”

(p. A23) As he stood on the Queens shoreline on Earth Day, Mayor Bill de Blasio issued a stern warning that the familiar Manhattan skyline behind him was about to change.

“We are going to introduce legislation to ban the glass and steel skyscrapers that have contributed so much to global warming,” he said on Monday. “They have no place in our city or on our Earth anymore.”

. . .

“Everyone is trying to figure out what the mayor meant,” said Adam Roberts, director of policy for the American Institute of Architects New York. “We just hope that the mayor misspoke.”

For the full story, see:

Jeffery C. Mays. “Mayor’s ‘Ban’ of Glass and Steel Skyscrapers? Not Quite That Harsh.” The New York Times (Friday, April 26, 2019): A23.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 25, 2019, and has the title “De Blasio’s ‘Ban’ on Glass and Steel Skyscrapers Isn’t a Ban at All.” The online version says that the New York Edition print version had the title “A Ban on Glass and Steel? ‘Perhaps the Mayor Was Overenthusiastic’.” My National Edition print version had the title “Mayor’s ‘Ban’ of Glass and Steel Skyscrapers? Not Quite That Harsh.”)

“Nimble” Entrepreneurs May Succeed at Fusion, Where Government “Behemoths” Have Failed

(p. B1) The fusing of hydrogen atoms requires incredible heat and pressure, and for decades fusion research has been the exclu-(p. B7)sive province of big science, like ITER, a 35-nation thermonuclear project in the south of France that covers 100 acres and is expected to ultimately cost more than $20 billion.

Such initiatives, though, have made slow progress toward the ultimate goal of building a machine that generates more power than it takes in.

Fusion is now attracting science-minded entrepreneurs and investors willing to make a long bet. They see small companies as more nimble than government-funded behemoths. They are sensitive to rising alarms over the impact of climate change. They want to create a power source with enviable possibilities: millions of times the energy potential of oil and gas and substantially more than nuclear power, without the carbon emissions of fossil fuels.

Fusion proponents also say that it is free of most of the risks of contemporary nuclear plants — which are powered by splitting, not joining, atoms — and that it has advantages over wind and solar, whose output is variable and whose turbines and panels require enormous space.

“There is no doubt in my mind that humanity will eventually succeed in making fusion energy happen,” said Robin Grimes, a professor of physics at Imperial College, a public research university in London. “We’ve got no choice.”

For the full story, see:

Stanley Reed. “Fusion Powers the Sun. Can It Run Your Oven?” The New York Times (Tuesday, May 14, 2019): B1 & B7.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 13, 2019, and has the title “The Fusion Reactor Next Door.”)

Bonaire Succeeds in Coral Reef Renewal

(p. 6) Bonaire is a leader in new efforts at reef restoration, along with a nongovernmental organization called Reef Renewal Bonaire, that in just a few years has grown and replanted some 20,000 staghorn corals in the water around the island. Corals are tiny soft creatures that survive on plankton and photosynthesis, and secrete calcium carbonate. They split and clone themselves one by one to eventually form large, curious looking underwater structures — brain coral, staghorn, elkhorn, fan, star and hundreds more shapes, depending on their species.

. . .

Reef Renewal Bonaire is partly financed by local dive shops and it has successfully experimented with underwater “nurseries,” which are treelike and fiberglass, to grow new coral from tiny bits of living coral, to transplantable size. When the baby coral grows to about the size of a basketball, after about six months, volunteers and a few interns again transplant it onto the reef floor. Some 20,000 coral transplantations are thriving on reefs around Bonaire and more are being planted all the time.

. . .

(p. 7) Besides Reef Renewal Bonaire, the Marine Park also rescues and replants corals in the path of any underwater pier or mooring construction. Large transplanted colonies are now thriving in areas away from cruise ship piers. . . .

Ramon de Leon Barrios, a Uruguayan-born oceanographer who ran Bonaire’s Marine Park for 11 years, said Bonaire’s success at maintaining a pristine reef proves that local community efforts can and do make a difference, even in times of environmental degradation.

“I want people to realize that there is hope,” he said.

For the full story, see:

Nina Burleigh. “Nurturing Coral, and the Soul.” The New York Times, Travel Section (Sunday, Feb. 23, 2019): 1 & 6-7.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Feb. 18, 2019, and has the title “Bonaire: Where Coral and Cactus Thrive, and the Sea Soothes the Soul.”)