Category Archives: Science

Day 101: Standing on a legacy

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Taughannock Falls, Trumansburg, NY.

I’m standing on the edge of a gorge and I’m looking at millions of years of rock history in front of me. You don’t have to be a geologist to know that these rocks are telling a story. In this case, the rocks under my feet were deposited 380 million years ago – before the supercontinent called Pangaea was formed, before dinosaurs crawled the Earth, and much, much before human beings were even thinking about existing.

The forest and the gorge that cut through the rock are also very, very old. The ecosystem that comprises the forest must have settled as the temperatures stabilized in the last couple thousand years, and the canyon that is in front of me had to due with the way things ended at the last Ice Age ten thousand years ago – with deeply dug out lakes and streams that now have to plunge into these lakes. This situation, along with the erosion of the underlying soft, silty rocks gave Ithaca its catchphrase – Ithaca is Gorges.

I’m standing at the rim of this gorge admiring the beautiful landscape that took millions of years to form. Not only that, I’m appreciating that I have a body that took millions of years to evolve, too. In fact, if we get into it, most of what makes us up isn’t really us, but our inheritance. Our bodies and the atoms and fluids that make up our bodies have been around for millions, maybe billions of years. Our evolution from a lowly life form, like from one of Earth’s first known organisms, stromatolites (cyanobacteria, or blue green algae) to a rationally thinking mammal took billions of years.

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500 million year old stromatolites in Saratoga Springs, NY. The bacteria formed sticky mats which trapped sediments, forming these odd rings that fossilized.

But we don’t have to think in billions of years to realize the small creatures that we are. We’ve inherited a lot ever since we were born. We inherited knowledge from previous generations, infrastructures that were already in place, education from our parents that has been passed down from generations. In fact, a lot of where we are in life has to do with the cards we were dealt at birth. If you know how to play your hand well, you make progress, and you may leave something behind to be used for future generations.  If you don’t, you wreck a lot of your inheritance and then some – you become a hinderance to mankind as you waste its resources, instead of becoming an asset.

Knowing that, how do we make better use of the “hand” we are dealt? What sort of legacy are we leaving on the Earth, and for the next generations?

The first step, I think, is recognizing how really small we are, recognizing all the work that already has been done in our favor, and feeling grateful for it.

A lot of our “pride” and “success” is actually 99% due to the work that was already set in place by our ancestors and 1% knowing how to make good use of it. We get a “free ride” just by being born into the 21st century and into a family who will raise us to adulthood. Being grateful for our quota of privileges makes us realize how much other people influence our existence, which brings around the second step: feeling how interconnected life is.

Your accomplishments are likely the result of hard work, perseverance, practice, and patience. But they are also the result of your parents, family, educators, coworkers, and the work of whichever scientist/musician/government/you-name-it you’re building on. Let’s face it – you’re where you are because people have helped you, and because systems/knowledge have already been set in place by other people who are long dead – which brings us to step number three: being an asset to humanity by encouraging this interconnectedness.

You know you could have never gotten where you are without help – so naturally, this should prompt you to be the most helpful, loving citizen/family member/student you can be. Do we always do/remember this? Of course not. But it makes sense that if you want to further the evolution of mankind, you have to be a working cog in the machinery of life, and not a stuck piece of metal that is grinding on the rest . . .. which brings me to step four: What are we doing to the Earth?

All of our impacts are being felt on the Earth. Are you helping or hindering the Earth? Are your actions impacting positively or negatively the environment around you? When students study rock walls millions of years from now, will they find more fossilized traces of your destruction than foundation laid out for their success?

Being humble, realizing how much your life is weaved with the lives of others, and being a positive force in the machinery of life is essential to leaving behind a positive legacy for our future generations. The future of our Earth is not so much whether we will find the resources to erase our destruction, but stopping our destruction by its roots. It means forgiving within our own family, if we wish to see this forgiveness extend to countries at war; it means adapating our own lives to minimize our impact on the Earth, if we wish our government to do the same; it means living life in a way that favors warmth, understanding, and compassion, as we needed to have that in our lives to get where we are – and so will future generations.

Saving the Earth is more about giving up our ego than anything else – what do you think?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Day 65: The Carbon cycle – The Impacts (Part 3)

Disrupting the carbon cycle has serious impacts on the planet. Something as “little” as offsetting the natural flow of carbon affects everything that is linked to carbon (in other words, all life on Earth). Let’s take a look at how pumping more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and the ocean impact the planet. Continue reading

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Day 64: The Carbon Cycle – how do humans affect it? (Part 2)

Like I mentioned in Part 1, the scary part about analyzing the carbon cycle is realizing how much humans are affecting it. If we look at the diagram of the carbon cycle, one of the ways carbon transits from sphere to sphere is from the subsurface (fossil fuels) to the surface by extraction, then to the atmosphere by burning the fossil fuels. The atmosphere also exchanges with the hydrosphere, so part of the carbon that we burn is then absorbed by the ocean. Continue reading

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Day 63: The Carbon Cycle (Part 1)

The most powerful way to learn something isn’t to read it in a paper somewhere – it’s to actually do it. That’s why I love teaching – there’s a lot I get out of it for my own learning. Often the best way to teach something is to let the students arrive at their own conclusions and construct their own knowledge. That’s why today, instead of explaining something, I’m presenting the carbon cycle and (hopefully) letting people arrive at their own conclusions. Continue reading

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Day 55: Why 70°F in February isn’t good news

I could have sworn I woke up in the wrong country this morning. Clear blue skies, sun-bathing conditions, robins singing in the trees? Are those piles of snow on the lawn really from a Nor’easter that hit Albany ten days ago? You could’ve kidded me. The 69°F registered at the Albany International Airport today (72°F on my phone) was a record-setting temperature – never in recorded history has February been this warm in Albany (record temperatures also happened in Boston, Chicago, Minneapolis, and in the Southeast).

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Day 54: Resilience

Resilience is one of the definitions they make us learn in Ecology. It’s the capacity to bounce back quickly after adversity. Resiliency is not the same as resistance, which is the degree to which one is affected by something. Why do they make us learn these two terms in ecology? Continue reading

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Day 39: What does “sustainable” mean?

People often use the word “sustainable” to describe ecologically friendly actions.  Is using renewable energy sustainable? Sure. Using real forks and knives instead of plastic ones? That too. How about eating food that is in season? Definitely sustainable. These are all great “save-the-world” actions that entertain the notion of sustainability – but they don’t complete it. A sustainable individual, society or planet is  more than just being friendly to the environment. It’s about living a lifestyle that doesn’t harm others.   Continue reading

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