#42: The Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything

OK, let's knock this out in the intro. Our dear leader dropped his budget this week and it's no bueno.

But, as always, I encourage you to manage your expectations. None of this should surprise you.

But it's also important to remember as you pull your hair out skimming Twitter and Facebook and a billion alarmist think-pieces that a president's budget isn't law, or even actual government policy. It's like a wish-list or starter-kit for messy and convoluted Congressional negotiations, will take months (at least) to be decided upon, and any final version, however changed through the two houses, will require 60 votes.

So no, Trump didn't kill the NEA yesterday, or NIH, or Meals on Wheels, or Big Bird, or basically all scientific and research fundingHe just really WANTS to, and used his budget to express that, and now Republicans, with their majorities, are going to try to merge his hopes and dreams with their own and then try to get a lot of it passed. It's going to take fucking forever and probably almost lead to another government shutdown, and then, to be honest, they'll probably get a lot of what they want, because that's what majorities do.

However, please remember these three things:

1. You're NOT a Congressperson
2. You CAN run for Congress
3. In the meantime, you can also call your Congressperson, or even talk to them in person, to explain how you feel about said plans. You can do this every single day. Every day. This is called taking action, and I know you guys are already killing it, because from all accounts, working the phones in Congressional offices is a pretty awful job right now. So keep it up. Tell them what you want. That's your job. It's their job to listen.


That said: this week, we're gonna talk about Australia, and baby-making. Happy (maybe last ever) St. Patrick's Day!

On to the news!

1. Australia's in on the docket quite a bit this week. Why? Probably because it's a harbinger of things to come, climate-wise. 

First up: the Great Barrier Reef is in deep shit. - NYTimes

"Huge sections of the Great Barrier Reef, stretching across hundreds of miles of its most pristine northern sector, were recently found to be dead, killed last year by overheated seawater. More southerly sections around the middle of the reef that barely escaped then are bleaching now, a potential precursor to another die-off that could rob some of the reef’s most visited areas of color and life.

“We didn’t expect to see this level of destruction to the Great Barrier Reef for another 30 years,” said Terry P. Hughes, director of a government-funded center for coral reef studies at James Cook University in Australia and the lead author of a paper on the reef that is being published Thursday as the cover article of the journal Nature. “In the north, I saw hundreds of reefs — literally two-thirds of the reefs were dying and are now dead.”"

+ MY NOTES: This goes right along with recent news that CO2 is skyrocketingand the ocean is heating up 20% faster than we thought. And by "we", I mean scientists who study the ocean, because most of us don't think of it very often. Just a friendly reminder that the ocean has so far been our saving grace in this whole calamity, taking on most of the warming. This, and increased hurricane activity, just goes to show she can only take so much.

2. Major institutional investors insist Australia put a price on carbon - The Guardian

"The advocacy comes as the Climate Council will on Wednesday release a new report arguing that the heat Australia experienced this past summer demonstrated the energy grid was unable to cope with escalating extreme weather.

“Climate change is worsening the impacts from heatwaves and hot weather and is putting a strain on critical infrastructure,” the new report says.

“This summer alone has shown the vulnerability of the electricity grid to heatwaves, with power outages during peak times in South Australia during a severe February heatwave, while New South Wales narrowly avoided widespread outages several days later.”

The report notes that in just 90 days, more than 205 records were broken around Australia this summer, with the state-wide mean temperature the hottest for NSW since records began, with temperatures 2.57C above average, and Brisbane and Canberra recording their hottest summers on record.

The report argues that the only viable approach to slowing and eventually halting the increasing trend of heat-related extreme weather is to “rapidly increase the uptake of renewable energy and to phase out all forms of coal-fired power plants, as well as phasing out other fossil fuels”."

+ MY NOTES: The time is now, folks. Good to see financial pressure coming down.

3. Elon Musk thinks he can help fix their little power issue in just 100 days, which prompted calls from a few other super-duper interested parties - CNBC

"SolarCity could provide the energy storage required through the battery technology it produces and this would be possible within 100 days. Mike Cannon-Brookes, the Australian founder of Nasdaq-listed tech firm Atlassianasked Musk on Twitter if this was a real bet. Musk replied that it was, adding that if the company couldn't do it within 100 days, the contract would be free. SolarCity makes solar solutions for areas which can store up energy during the day and feed that back into an area's grid.

The promise was applauded by Australians including Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who thanked Musk on Twitter for an "in-depth discussion".

Musk's response prompted Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman to ask for Musk to talk (a similar) proposal "over in details"."

+ MY NOTES: A big bet, but this is how the game changes. 

4. Scientists have created the first human embryo without egg OR sperm, so I guess that's pretty much it for guys. Been a good run, fellas. - Gizmodo

"Being able to study the way the cells develop in the very early days of an embryo’s life could shed important light into early development. The Cambridge researchers, for example, engineered different cell types to glow different colors so that they might track how they behave as the embryo develops. The work provided insight into how those two types of cells work together to form the blue print for the mouse body."

+ MY NOTES: Look, yes, there's a decent chance this ends up with people farms, which -- not great, Bob. But let's try to look on the bright side.

5. There's quite a few technical innovations we still need to crack before we colonize Mars, or anywhere else, but add another to the list: how best to make sweet, sweet love in zero-G. - FiveThirtyEight

"Space travel can affect reproduction in a couple of ways. First, most obviously, is the radiation. Space is full of subatomic particles moving very quickly. Those particles can slam into DNA like a bowling ball laying down a sweet split. The damage they leave behind can alter genetic instructions, setting up a path that leads to cancer, genetic mutations that can be passed down to children, and other problems. Life on Earth is protected from more than 99 percent of this radiation by our planet’s atmosphere and magnetic field. The magnetic field provides some protection in orbit as well. But the farther from Earth you go, the less you’re shielded. And “if you look at the list of organs sensitive to radiation damage, the gonads, the ovaries and testes, are always in the top two or three,” said Joseph Tash, a professor at the University of Kansas Medical Center who has studied animal reproduction in space. Any trip to Mars would result in radiation exposures exceeding the current allowed limits for astronauts."

+ MY NOTES: See? You scoffed, but this is serious stuff!


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More gigafactories!

Grail and Freenome racing to find extremely-early-stage cancer - everybody wins

General Mills signs up for Kernza, the grain that could save the world

More on quantum computing: scientists find "time crystals", which is an amazing movie title and I can't figure out what the movie is yet but I'm getting there

Intelligent drones are here! Bye!

And finally...humpback whales are organizing in huge numbers and I'll tell you exactly why