Whether intended to help save the world from global warming or just to lower electric bills, roof materials are in the news. “Cool roofs are made of materials… that reflect much of the sunlight they receive back into space. Green roofs incorporate vegetation to keep a building cool and provide moisture to the atmosphere that cools their surroundings.” (CSM) While not every roof can be retrofitted and new construction seldom uses these types of roofs, scientists have modeled what might happen if every roof were suddenly cool or green. Which would be “better”? It’s not obvious. Cool roofs may lower summer air conditioning, but increase winter heating bills. Green roofs are heavy and can be difficult to construct, but by holding moisture they may increase local rainfall. Either way, roof choices will have an infinitesimal effect on global warming, so the immediate impact on the building’s residents will dictate which is best. That, and your budget.
I usually post a poem on Wednesdays, but I’ve been distracted this week by our project to run a water line from our newly-drilled well to the house. For ten years my husband and I have lived on top of a limestone ridge and had to haul our water to the house using a tank in the bed of our pickup truck. We are quite water-thrifty, and will continue to be thrifty even now that we have a well.
This is definitely a strange thought for most Americans, and it gets stranger. In addition to hauling our own water, we have our own septic system. That by itself isn’t rare, but because the limestone is nearly impermeable, our septic system is a “wetland”, where nitrogen is removed by cattails and sedges, and the waste water evaporates from a gravel “pond”. We also haul our own trash to a waste transfer station and drive a half hour to reach our grocery store. On the way home, once we turn off the highway, we’re on a bumpy mile-long dirt driveway we maintain ourselves with the help of our one neighbor. I’ve hauled a lot of loads of clay and rocks in my pickup, and battled pot holes and erosion with pickax and shovel. It can get quite treacherous in icy or muddy conditions and there have been times the car can’t make it all the way to the house.
Why would anyone want to live this way? Nothing we do seems strange to our neighbors; this is how many people live in rural southwest New Mexico. The area is poor compared to the rest of America. People do things themselves and there are a lot of do-it-yourself houses, sheds, gardens, and yard art. We’ve chosen this life, but some people are stuck here by poverty, lack of education, and sometimes by their own low expectations.
Rural America has been losing population steadily, and there are good reasons for that. The cities and suburbs have much to offer. I lived on Colorado’s Front Range for twenty-two years where I had museums, theaters, a nice zoo, loads of shopping and (especially) a good job. I’m glad I lived there and now I’m glad to live here.
To be happy in a rural home I think you need to be able to amuse yourself. Of course we have TV and Internet, books and magazines, and I enjoy my “town days” with visits to coffee houses, art galleries, and funky little shops. But I often go all week without seeing another person, and that’s okay. What I do see everyday is the Gila National Forest, right out my door.
Recently, I read an article about wildlife in cities. We may expect cities to displace birds, animals, and plants, but “two-thirds of the native plant and bird species continue to exist in cities” and some species are evolving to thrive in urban areas. Large parks and intentional attempts to provide habitat would improve the situation for wildlife.
Not all urban species may be welcomed with open arms. That old trickster, the coyote, adapts well to suburbs and cities, as do skunks and raccoons. All these critters can be dangerous, especially if you expect them to act like characters in a Disney movie. But if you treat them with respect and plan for your own safety as well as theirs, cities can be refuges. I live on the border of the Gila National Forest and living with wildlife is, on balance, a good thing.
“The overall picture is not bleak. Cities can provide new habitats that may be quite different from those in natural ecosystems but can still support a variety of species.”
Once upon a time
In a galaxy far away,
A star exploded.
That might have been
Nearby in its way.
Twelve million years later
With clouds closing in.
In place of lessons planned for
Scholars played with astral cameras,
Observing the pretty star machine,
The light arrived
At the students’ eyes,
A star that shouldn’t be there.
Yet safe we fare,
For our Earthly sake
The light will just illuminate.
Better than a beer bash night
Is capturing a nova’s light.
London undergrads converse
On expansion of the universe.
“The discovery was a fluke – a 10 minute telescope workshop for undergraduate students that led to a global scramble to acquire confirming images and spectra of a supernova in one of the most unusual and interesting of our near-neighbour galaxies.” www.ucl.ac.uk
This is a very cool find: human footprints more than 800,000 years old were found on a beach at Happisburgh, England.
I must admit, when I saw this headline my mind skipped to the famous English fraud of Piltdown Man in the early 1900s. “The [footprints] were washed away not long after they were identified” per the BBC, which sounded suspicious. But for two weeks the discovery was documented in video and 3-D scans, and now the study has been published in the science journal Plos One, so it can be examined by other scientists.
The creatures are considered human, but they were not “us”. Whether their species is an ancestor of modern humans or not is unclear. But I can relate to a small family, mucking around on an ancient beach, digging for Paleolithic clams. So much safer than spearing a buffalo.
At least, none we have ever tracked
Across the wild North Sea,
From Bristol in the UK
Past Holland’s Zuiderzee.
Found in a barn, alas, deceased;
This traveler verifies
Just how far migrant bat
Individuals can fly.
What inspires such journeys?
Their epics they can’t tell.
Let’s offer up some poetry
For the tiny pipistrelle.
Thanks to http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/25759149
At space.com, a reader-survey shows 89% believe alien life exists elsewhere in the universe. Seth Shostak of the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute thinks there’s a good chance we’ll find evidence of that in the next 25 years. SETI Researchers have only listened for artificial signals from a few thousand star systems so far, but in 25 years they will have listened to a million systems. “A million might be the right number to find something.” Recent evidence of exoplanets helps fuel his optimism. In addition to SETI’s listening programs, the search for life includes rovers on Mars and the possibility that space telescopes could detect oxygen or other signs of life in exoplanet atmospheres.
Ever since Frank Drake set up his famous speculative equation, the search for extraterrestrial life has been a quixotic project, always on the brink of going broke. The search seems like such a long shot, yet it’s been too intriguing to abandon.
Would a confirmed, artificial signal – intelligence! – change anything? Polls show many people already believe intelligent aliens have visited Earth; for example, a poll in 2012 found only 17% of Americans think aliens have definitely not visited Earth, and one in ten say they’ve seen a “UFO” (assumed to be of extraterrestrial origin). People were even willing to speculate on which candidate in the last US Presidential election would handle an alien invasion better. Maybe most people would greet news of an intelligent signal from far out in space with a shrug. But it would send chills down my spine.