Prof. Brian Cox Has a Maddening Conversation with a Climate Science-Denying Politician

According to NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, July 2016 was the warmest month ever recorded. 2016 will likely be the warmest year on record. And the decades ahead will only get worse, much worse.

And yet, notes physicist Lawrence Krauss in The New Yorker this weekend, we have the GOP's Frankenstein trying to demagogue his way into the presidency by calling climate science into question. Krauss writes:

In May, for instance, while speaking to an audience of West Virginia coal miners, Trump complained that regulations designed to protect the ozone layer had compromised the quality of his hair spray. Those regulations, he continued, were misguided, because hair spray is used mainly indoors, and so can have no effect on the atmosphere outside....

Often, Trump is simply wrong about science, even though he should know better. Just as he was a persistent “birther” even after the evidence convincingly showed that President Obama was born in the United States, Trump now continues to propagate the notion that vaccines cause autism in spite of convincing and widely cited evidence to the contrary... In other cases, Trump treats scientific facts the way he treats other facts—he ignores or distorts them whenever it’s convenient. He has denied that climate change is real, calling it pseudoscience and advancing a conspiracy theory that “the concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing noncompetitive.”

And way across the pond, we have another politician, Australian Senator Malcolm Roberts, making his own kind of laughable claims. In a recent television broadcast, Roberts asks physicist Brian Cox for empirical proof that climate change exists. Cox offers evidence gathered by NASA, to which Roberts responds, NASA's "data has been corrupted and manipulated." Not good enough. If you regularly read our site, you know that this is not the first time that NASA has been accused of manipulating data. Conspiracy theorists have long accused NASA and Stanley Kubrick of faking the moon landing in 1969. Roberts bristles at being associated with these loons. But frankly it's an apt comparison. And if anyone should be bothered by the comparison, it's the moon landing conspiracists. However strange their theories might be, no one doubts that they're heartfelt, genuine, and seemingly free from the hint of political and financial influence.

In the meantime, in a new video from NASA, you can see the Arctic ice levels retreating to one of the lowest levels in recorded history. Call the video "corrupted" and "manipulated" at your own peril.

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In 1988, Kurt Vonnegut Writes a Letter to People Living in 2088, Giving 7 Pieces of Advice

vonnegut drawing

Image by Daniele Prati, via Flickr Commons

The mind of Kurt Vonnegut, like the protagonist of his best-known novel Slaughterhouse-Five, must have got "unstuck in time" somewhere along the line. How else could he have managed to write his distinctive brand of satirical but sincere fiction, hyper-aware of past, present, and future all at once? It must have made him a promising contributor indeed for Volkswagen's 1988 Time magazine ad campaign, when the company "approached a number of notable thinkers and asked them to write a letter to the future — some words of advice to those living in 2088, to be precise."

The beloved writer's letter to the "Ladies & Gentlemen of A.D. 2088" begins as follows:

It has been suggested that you might welcome words of wisdom from the past, and that several of us in the twentieth century should send you some. Do you know this advice from Polonius in Shakespeare's Hamlet: 'This above all: to thine own self be true'? Or what about these instructions from St. John the Divine: 'Fear God, and give glory to Him; for the hour of His judgment has come'? The best advice from my own era for you or for just about anybody anytime, I guess, is a prayer first used by alcoholics who hoped to never take a drink again: 'God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.'

Our century hasn't been as free with words of wisdom as some others, I think, because we were the first to get reliable information about the human situation: how many of us there were, how much food we could raise or gather, how fast we were reproducing, what made us sick, what made us die, how much damage we were doing to the air and water and topsoil on which most life forms depended, how violent and heartless nature can be, and on and on. Who could wax wise with so much bad news pouring in?

For me, the most paralyzing news was that Nature was no conservationist. It needed no help from us in taking the planet apart and putting it back together some different way, not necessarily improving it from the viewpoint of living things. It set fire to forests with lightning bolts. It paved vast tracts of arable land with lava, which could no more support life than big-city parking lots. It had in the past sent glaciers down from the North Pole to grind up major portions of Asia, Europe, and North America. Nor was there any reason to think that it wouldn't do that again someday. At this very moment it is turning African farms to deserts, and can be expected to heave up tidal waves or shower down white-hot boulders from outer space at any time. It has not only exterminated exquisitely evolved species in a twinkling, but drained oceans and drowned continents as well. If people think Nature is their friend, then they sure don't need an enemy.

You can read the whole thing at Letters of Note, where Vonnegut goes on to give his own interpretation of humanity's perspective at the time, when "we were seeing ourselves as a new sort of glacier, warm-blooded and clever, unstoppable, about to gobble up everything and then make love — and then double in size again." He puts the question to his future-inhabiting readers directly: "Is it possible that we aimed rockets with hydrogen bomb warheads at each other, all set to go, in order to take our minds off the deeper problem—how cruelly Nature can be expected to treat us, Nature being Nature, in the by-and-by?"

Finally, Vonnegut issues seven commandments — as much directed to readers of the late 20th century as to readers of the late 21st, or indeed to those of the early 21st in which you read this now — intended to help humanity avert what he sees as the utter catastrophe looming ahead:

  1. Reduce and stabilize your population.
  2. Stop poisoning the air, the water, and the topsoil.
  3. Stop preparing for war and start dealing with your real problems.
  4. Teach your kids, and yourselves, too, while you're at it, how to inhabit a small planet without helping to kill it.
  5. Stop thinking science can fix anything if you give it a trillion dollars.
  6. Stop thinking your grandchildren will be OK no matter how wasteful or destructive you may be, since they can go to a nice new planet on a spaceship. That is really mean, and stupid.
  7. And so on. Or else.

Volkswagen had asked him to look one hundred years into the future. As of this writing, 2088 lies less than 75 years ahead, and how many of us would agree that we've heeded most or even any of his prescriptions? Then again, Vonnegut grants that pessimism may have got the better of him; perhaps the future will bring with it a utopia after all, one where "nobody will have to leave home to go to work or school, or even stop watching television. Everybody will sit around all day punching the keys of computer terminals connected to everything there is, and sip orange drink through straws like the astronauts," a comically dystopian utopia, and not an entirely un-prescient one — a Vonnegutian vision indeed.

via Letters of Note/Va Viper

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

French Artist Creates Digital Street Art in the Sky

We humans are a quarrelsome lot. But one thing that unites us is the time spent on our backs, gazing at clouds for the pleasure of identifying whatever objects they may fleetingly resemble.

It’s a very relaxing activity.

I was surprised there’s an actual, medical name for it: pareidolia, defined by Merriam-Webster as “the tendency to perceive a specific, often meaningful, image in a random or ambiguous visual pattern.”

Thomas Lamadieu, the artist whose work is showcased above, has a different, but not wholly unrelated condition.

A photo posted by Artzop® (@artzop) on

Most of us prefer to contemplate the heavens in a bucolic setting. Lamadieu’s art compels him to look upwards from a more urban landscape. The tops of the buildings hemming him in supply with irregularly shaped frames, which he captures using a fish eye lens. Later, he fills them in with Microsoft Paint drawings, which frequently feature a bearded man whose t-shirt is striped in sky blue. Negative space, not Crayola, supplies the color here.

Think of it as street art in the sky.

Not every day can be a brilliant azure, but it hardly matters when even Lamadieu’s grayest views exhibit a determined playfulness. It takes a very unique sort of eye to tease a pink nippled, stripe-limbed bunny from a steely UK sky.

Like many street artists, he takes a global approach, traveling the world in search of giant unclaimed canvases. His portfolio contains vistas originally captured in Hong Kong, South Korea, Germany, Spain, Austria, Canada, Belgium, and the United States, as well as his native France.

“The bearded man in my images stands for the sky itself,” he told The Independent, adding that his is a wholly secular vision.

View a gallery of Lamadieu’s sky art here.

h/t to reader Alan Goldwasser

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday

Human: The Movie Features Interviews with 2,020 People from 60 Countries on What It Means to Be Human

What is it that makes us human? And how best to ensure that we all get our fair say?

For director, photographer, and environmental activist Yann Arthus-Bertrand, the answers lay in framing all of his interview subjects using the same single image layout. The formal simplicity and unwavering gaze of his new documentary, Human, encourage viewers to perceive his 2,020 subjects as equals in the storytelling realm.

There’s a deep diversity of experiences on display here, arranged for maximum resonance.




The quietly content first wife of a polygamist marriage is followed by a polyamorous fellow, whose unconventional lifestyle is a source of both torment and joy.

There's a death row inmate. A lady so confident she appears with her hair in curlers.

Where on earth did he find them?

His subjects hail from 60 countries. Arthus-Bertrand obviously went out of his way to be inclusive, resulting in a wide spectrum of gender and sexual orientations, and subjects with disabilities, one a Hiroshima survivor.

Tears, laughter, conflicting emotions… students of theater and psychiatry would do well to bookmark this page. There’s a lot one can glean from observing these subjects’ unguarded faces.

The project was inspired by an impromptu chat with a Malian farmer. The director was impressed by the frankness with which this stranger spoke of his life and dreams:

I dreamed of a film in which the power of words would resonate with the beauty of the world. Putting the ills of humanity at the heart of my work---poverty, war, immigration, homophobia---I made certain choices. Committed, political choices. But the men talked to me about everything: their difficulty in growing as well as their love and happiness. This richness of the human word lies at the heart of Human. 

In Volume I, above, the interviewees consider love, women, work, and poverty. Volume II deals with war, forgiveness, homosexuality, family, and the afterlife. Happiness, education, disability, immigration, corruption, and the meaning of life are the concerns of the third volume .

The interview segments are broken up by aerial sequences, reminiscent of the images in Arthus-Bertrand’s book, The Earth from Above. It’s a good reminder of how small we all are in the grand scheme of things.

Appropriately, given the subject matter, and the director’s longtime interest in environmental issues, the filming and promotion were accomplished in the most sustainable way, with the support of the GoodPlanet Foundation and the United Carbon Action program. It would be lovely for all humanity if this is a feature of filmmaking going forward.

The Google Cultural Institute has a collection of related material, from the making of the soundtrack to behind-the-scenes reminiscences of the interview team.

Human will be added to our collection, 1,150 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc..

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Her new play, Fawnbook, opens in New York City later this fall. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Music for a String Quartet Made from Global Warming Data: Hear “Planetary Bands, Warming World”

In 2013, we featured Daniel Crawford, an undergrad at the University of Minnesota, playing “A Song of Our Warming Planet" on his cello. The song, produced in collaboration with geography professor Scott St. George, was created using a method called “data sonification,” which converts global temperature records into a series of musical notes. (More on that here.)

Now, two years later, we have a brand new video by Crawford and St. George. This one is a composition for a string quartet called "Planetary Bands, Warming World," and it's based on temperature data gathered over time by NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. As Crawford explains in the video, “Each instrument represents a specific part of the Northern Hemisphere. The cello matches the temperature of the equatorial zone. The viola tracks the mid latitudes. The two violins separately follow temperatures in the high latitudes and in the arctic.” Each note's pitch "is tuned to the average annual temperature in each region, so low notes represent cold years and high notes represent warm years." As you listen, keep in mind one observation made by Prof. St. George says. “Listening to the violin climb almost the entire range of the instrument is incredibly effective at illustrating the magnitude of change — particularly in the Arctic which has warmed more than any other part of the planet.” The time period covered here moves from 1880 to present.

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Frank Capra’s Science Film The Unchained Goddess Warns of Climate Change in 1958

Last month, we highlighted for you The Strange Case of the Cosmic Rays, a largely-forgotten 1957 educational science film. The production is notable partly because it was shot by Frank Capra, the influential director who had won not one, not two, but three Oscars for best director. And also because the film featured puppets of Fyodor Dostoevsky, Charles Dickens & Edgar Allan Poe. Don't believe me? Then watch here.

But the subject of today's post is not The Strange Case of the Cosmic Rays. It's another of the four films that Capra created for "The Bell Laboratory Science Series." It's called The Unchained Goddess, and it has its own reasons for getting highlighted here. Shown on American TV and later in US classrooms, The Unchained Goddess explains what weather is, and how weather works. And, really quite presciently, it talks about the risk of man-made climate change ... in 1958. One of the narrators declares:

Even now, man may be unwittingly changing the world's climate through the waste products of its civilization. Due to our releases in factories and automobiles every year of more than six billion tons of carbon dioxide, which helps the air absorb heat from the sun, our atmosphere may be getting warmer.

And is that bad, the question gets asked?:

Well, it's been calculated a few degrees rise in the Earth’s temperature would melt the polar ice caps. And if this happens, an inland sea would fill a good portion of the Mississippi valley. Tourists in glass bottom boats would be viewing the drowned towers of Miami through 150 feet of tropical water. For in weather, we’re not only dealing with forces of a far greater variety than even the atomic physicist encounters, but with life itself.

Interesting dialogue, to be sure. But what makes it all the more intriguing is this: Frank Capra co-wrote the script for the film, and he was no liberal. He was a conservative Republican, who strongly opposed F.D.R. and celebrated American individualism. But Capra studied chemical engineering at Caltech and put stock in scientific research -- before it became ideologically anathema to do that.

You can watch the key climate change scene from The Unchained Goddess up top, and the full film below. It's also added to our collection, 1,150 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc.:

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John Waters Narrates Offbeat Documentary on an Environmental Catastrophe, the Salton Sea

In 2004, John Waters narrated Plagues & Pleasures on the Salton Sea, a humorous documentary on the accidental lake created in the desert of Southern California. You can now find the film hosted on the YouTube channel of KQED, the public television outfit in San Francisco (where we're getting heavy, heavy rains today). They lay the foundation for watching the film as follows:

Once known as the "California Riviera," the Salton Sea is now considered one of America's worst ecological disasters: a fetid, stagnant, salty lake, coughing up dead fish and birds by the thousands. Narrated by cult-movie legend John Waters, Plagues & Pleasures is an epic western tale of real estate ventures and failed boomtowns.

Find Plagues & Pleasures on the Salton Sea listed in our collection, 265 Free Documentaries Online.

Dan Colman is the founder/editor of Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus and share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox.

via @Wfmu

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