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Cold Weather Doesn’t Disprove Climate Change

One common misconception about global warming is that it’ll impact each part of the globe in the same way. If it’s a global warming than why are some places getting cold winters? As it turns out, climate change is a bit more complicated than the Earth simply heating up in a uniform way. Climate change is exactly what it sounds like—a general change in the climate, not necessarily a single change that affects the entire planet evenly.

spring snow

Modern climate change, which scientists agree is largely caused by human activities, is a global change in climate. Although often called “global warming”, some scientists are shying away from the term because it makes people think that the entire Earth is heating up uniformly. In reality, while most of the planet is heating up (2016 was the hottest recorded year since 1880—the third year in a row to set this record), climate change doesn’t mean that every single part of the world will get hot immediately. Parts of the globe that are already hot, however, will begin to experience extremely high temperatures and serious droughts. This is not only unsafe for humans but will affect crops and livestock. Global warming is technically a correct term since temperatures are increasing overall but it doesn’t mean that every region will be affected the same way—weather is a bit more complex than that.

As the planet heats up, there are changes in jet stream patterns and precipitation. Heat is energy and moist warm air can fuel intense tropical storms and other weather anomalies. This can cause extreme lows and extreme highs—snow in Egypt and temperatures above 125 degrees Fahrenheit in Iran. Jet stream patterns shift as Arctic ice melts; this can actually lead to colder temperatures in certain areas, as intensely cold Arctic air hits regions that aren’t normally exposed to such low temperatures. This explains some of the recent record low winters in parts of the United States. There are also plenty of weather events that aren’t directly caused by global warming—sometimes a cold winter is just a cold winter!

Cold weather happens, regardless of global warming or other types of climate change. A single event, whether it’s a drought or a blizzard, isn’t enough to prove or disprove climate change. Instead, scientists look at overall trends; the current analysis is that we are experiencing a global warming—and the global temperature is going up fast.

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Photo: Fort Wainwright Public Affairs (cc)

Sources: noaa.gov, yaleclimateconnections.org, usa today

December 4, 2018 at 4:01 am Leave a comment

Poinsettia Plants Aren’t so Bad after All

As the holidays draw near, there are PSAs everywhere about how to protect your pet from the most dangerous of plants: the poisonous poinsettia. While the holidays do bring some extra challenges and risks for our pets, that particular danger is a bit overblown. Think twice before you ditch yours just because of a pet (or curious toddler). As it turns out, the poinsettia’s reputation is rather undeserved.

poinsettia

The poinsettia is naturally found in Mexico and has become a traditional holiday decoration. The plant has bright red and green leaves reminiscent of the Christmas season. For some reason, the poinsettia has been labeled as a toxic plant—dangerous to children, pets, and maybe even your spouse! In reality, there is very little evidence to back up this claim and Snopes believes the myth began as a faked news story about a toddler dying after eating a single leaf.

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November 15, 2018 at 10:27 pm Leave a comment

Seabirds Eat Plastic Because it Looks and Smells Like Food

Marine pollution is a well-known, continuous problem in our world’s oceans. Of the types of anthropogenic debris (waste originating from human activity), plastic is perhaps the most dangerous. Few plastics are biodegradable, which means they stick around for a very long time without breaking down. According to NOAA and the Mote Laboratory in Florida, it can take hundreds of years for plastics to degrade. The length of time varies based on the type of plastic, product, and environmental conditions—but that doesn’t change the fact that it takes an average of 450 years for a plastic bottle to break down! A fishing line can take 600 years. Even when they do break down, they release tiny pieces of plastic that seem to persist indefinitely. Even worse, they’re regularly consumed by marine animals—often by accident. This can cause serious health problems, resulting in mortality for a large number of birds and other sea critters.

bird with plastic

Recently, a dead sperm whale was found with 64 pounds of plastic and other human waste in its stomach. It’s believed that the large amount of plastic was a major contributor to the animal’s untimely death. Plastics are even polluting the deep ocean, with many deep-sea creatures consuming microplastics (pieces of plastic about the size of a sesame seed or smaller) on a regular basis—including lobsters, crabs, and sea cucumbers. Of all the animals being affected, the worst off are probably the seabirds.

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July 7, 2018 at 3:01 am 1 comment

Lone Baby Animals are Rarely Abandoned

The wealth of available resources and mild weather make spring the perfect season for most animals to raise offspring. When these helpless (and often adorable) babies are in danger, it’s natural for people to want to provide aid. Unfortunately, these altruistic actions tend to do more harm than good. Most seemingly abandoned or vulnerable young animals aren’t actually in trouble—in most cases, their parents are nearby and keeping a close eye on them. Although people have good intentions, “helping” these animals generally leads to more problems, especially for the wildlife rehabbers left to pick up the pieces.

bunny

Bunnies

Wildlife rehabilitators tend to cringe whenever someone brings in a litter of “abandoned” rabbit kits. The truth is that it’s very rare that the bunnies have actually been abandoned. Rabbits are prey animals and babies are easy pickings for nearly any predator. Mother rabbits don’t want to draw attention to their nest so they actually stay far away, returning to feed their litter just twice a day for a few minutes. After nursing their young, they go back to foraging far from the nest.

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June 16, 2018 at 4:01 am Leave a comment

Essential Oils Aren’t Essential

Essential oils are popular in all sorts of alternative medicine practices—everything from aromatherapy to oil massages. The name sounds rather scientific as if these are important chemicals for everyday health. In reality, essential oils aren’t so essential after all.

What’s so essential about these oils?

Essential oils sound as if they’d be vital for health just like vitamins and minerals. In reality, the name is a bit of a misnomer. In chemistry, “essential” means “essence of”. In other words, peppermint essential oil is the “essence” of peppermint—it’s a super-concentrated form of the peppermint scent. The terminology does, unfortunately, make it easy to market essential oils as must-have health products. Everything from sandalwood to sage oil can be purchased and some of these products are quite popular. For example, some people buy lavender oil to relax or help with headaches. Eucalyptus oil is used to treat coughs. There are even tips about using oregano oil on your feet to boost your immune system! However, essential oils are volatile chemicals and not cure-all health products.

lavender

Do any of them work?

A few of these oils are actually backed by science. Tea tree oil can treat or prevent specific types of infections and it’s been used this way for a long time. Citrus oil has similar properties, leading some scientists to recommend it as a food preservative due to its bacteria-killing ability. The majority of essential oils have no scientific evidence backing up their uses, however, and this can be dangerous. Waiting for an essential oil to work, rather than going to the doctor right away, can make an illness worse.

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June 4, 2018 at 10:07 pm Leave a comment

Pink wasn’t always for girls

Pink is for girls and blue is for boys—or at least that’s what marketing tells us. Interestingly, it wasn’t always this way. In fact, it was the opposite for a long time, with boys being dressed in pink while blue was preferred for girls. No one is completely sure why the colors flipped but as it turns out, catalogue marketing teams may be partially to blame.

Traditionally, pink was associated with boys because it was a shade of red and considered to be a “stronger” color. Blue was thought of as pretty and delicate, making it suitable for girls. In reality, though, children of both sexes tended to be dressed in white for simpler cleanup. Kids’ clothes were rarely gendered during this time period. Even an 1890 copy of the Ladies’ Home Journal (a US publication) reads, “Pure white is used for all babies—blue for girls and pink for boys, when a color is wished.” (more…)

November 10, 2017 at 11:00 am 1 comment

Coconut Water Is Not a Health Drink

Coconut water is a trending drink in the United States. Two common health claims are that coconut water is more hydrating than sports drinks and that it contains large amounts of potassium (which isn’t especially helpful to athletes—more on that later!). Modern research is beginning to prove otherwise, however, and it turns out that coconut water is basically just sweetened water.

Coconut water is the liquid found inside of coconuts and should not be confused with coconut milk, which is derived from the fleshy fruit. The drink was traditionally popular in tropical countries such as Thailand but the United States quickly adopted the drink as a health food. Over the past few years, coconut water sales have skyrocketed in Western countries. This sudden surge in popularity has led to some pretty outrageous health claims. (more…)

November 6, 2017 at 11:00 am 2 comments

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