Monday, 14 October 2013

As It Is Climate Scientists Call Decrease of Arctic Ice ‘Unprecedented’

From VOA Learning English this is As It Is.

Welcome back! I’m Caty Weaver. The United Nations and the World Meteorological Organization created the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 1988. The panel is a committee made up of hundreds of scientists. Last week, an IPCC working group released a report about climatic conditions around the world. Today, we will tell you what it says.                      
And later we visit India where shrinking glaciers and melting Himalayan snow could affect millions of people below.

Scientists are surer than ever before that the Earth is warming and that human activity is to blame. That is the message of the new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. As we hear from Christopher Cruise, the report’s findings will help inform policy makers and the public as they consider action to fight climate change.  

One-hundred-ten governments approved this scientific agreement:

“It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of observed warming since the mid-20th century.” 

The head of the World Meteorological Organization, Michael Jarraud, spoke at a press conference about the new report.

“It should serve as yet another wake-up call that our activities today will have a profound impact on society, not only for us, but for many generations to come.”

Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets have been losing mass and glaciers continue to shrink, the report says. It calls the decrease of Artic sea ice, “unprecedented,” meaning nothing like this has been noted before. The report also examines the mean rate of sea level rise. It says that since the middle of the 19th century, the rate is higher than at any time in the past 2000 years.

The working group also examined the connection between extreme weather events and climate. Brenda Ekwurzel is a climate scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists, a non-profit group. She has worked with the scientists who prepared the IPCC report.

“The most we can say is that extreme events dealing with coastal flooding and extreme heat, (we have) very, very high confidence with these events being highly linked to climate change.”

She says the report blames human activity for half of the increased warming over the past fifty or so years. One such activity is the burning of fossil fuels in factories, buildings and cars. This produces heat-trapping gasses.

Past IPCC reports have led the way to international agreements like the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. It ended in 2012. The United Nation’s top climate official, Christiana Figueres, says the new report will help move new climate talks forward.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is sometimes criticized as appearing to be too conservative in its predictions. But, Ms. Figueres says this report is right on the mark.

Everything that we thought we knew about climate change has been underestimated, that we will have much faster and much more intense effects from the growing concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. So, it’s a very sobering message that calls for a more invigorated and more accelerated policy response to address that.”

Government leaders and climate experts will get a chance to do that at the climate negotiations next month. The talks will take place in the Polish capital, Warsaw.

I’m Christopher Cruise.

You are listening to As It Is from VOA Learning English.

Now we go to the northern Indian state Himachal Pradesh to look at the effects of rising temperatures right now. The town of Manali is in the Kullu Valley. It is economically dependent on the thousands of people who travel up the Himalaya Mountains every year to escape the heat of the Indian plains.

D.S. Aditya is manager of Sterling Resorts in Manali. He says many people like to visit a snow-covered pass that lies about 50 kilometers up one mountain.

Wherever you go like there’s one destination, this is famous. If you visited Manali, Rohtang is main attraction. Because of the snow.”

The Rohtang Pass has many more visitors now than it did 10 years ago, thanks partly to the growing financial success of India’s middle class. In summer months, more than two thousand vehicles crowd the narrow mountain road.

Ravi Thakur of Himalayan Caravan Adventure has lived in Manali since he was a child.

Twenty years ago, we could count how many cars are here in Manali. Now, if you come in season time, we do have traffic jam for four, five, six kilometers on the Rohtang Road.”

Visitors enjoy the beauty of the pass. But environmentalists are warning about the increasing traffic on mountains and glaciers.

J.C. Kuniyal is a scientist at the GB Pant Institute of Himalayan Environment and Development. He is studying temperature changes in the Rohtang area. He says temperatures in the Kullu Valley have risen be about six-tenths of a degree Celsius. That is about the same as the average increase worldwide.

But, what worries him is the effects of uncontrolled tourism on the mountain ecosystem.

“I have seen that the regions which are facing a high influx due to floating population or human activity, there aerosols are increasing. These are supposed to be the main causes to melt the Himalayan glaciers.”

The aerosol gases come both from diesel-powered vehicles and burning of wood for cooking by local people. The smoke leaves thick black ash on the glaciers. This causes them to absorb, or take in, more heat.

Local people are witnessing the effects of climate change and human activity on glaciers. Ravi Thakur has been walking the mountains since childhood. He says he has seen a loss of mountain snow and glacial ice.

“We keep going every year, almost to the same routes, and I have seen that glaciers, they are receding. In 15 years I have seen that big change.”

That has raised concerns. The area’s local glaciers are the headwaters for rivers like the Indus and the Ganges. The two rivers are the source of fresh water for millions of people in South Asia.

Pradipto Ghosh is a director at the Energy and Resources Institute in New Delhi.

If the present trend of gradual loss of net glacial mass continues, then over time the flow from the glaciers would reduce.”

Scientists say there is serious concern about water for agriculture on the Indian plains. Arun Shrestha is a climate change specialist at the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development in Nepal.

Those communities, their agricultural system relies quite heavily on melt water.”

Some people, like mountain guide Ravi Thakur, worry about possible changes in the future.

Till I leave my life, we won’t be facing those scarcity of water, but later on, the coming generation, they will have problems.”
Environmentalists will continue trying to establish how deep those problems might become.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Which drink makes you more creative?

When this happens, normally I grab a coffee to help get the ideas flowing, but for the last few days in Montreal, no one’s been allowed to drink the water due to a bacteria leakage, which also means, no coffee.
So instead, I grabbed the next best thing to help me get going – a beer.
This got me wondering about coffee and beer and which one would actually help me be more creative and get work done. Hopefully, this will help you decide when it’s best to have that triple shot espresso or ice cold brew.

What is creativity really?

From a scientific perspective, creativity is your ability to think of something original from connections made between pre-existing ideas in your brain.
These connections are controlled by chemicals called neurotransmitters. One of these neurotransmitters is adenosine, which alerts your brain when you’re running out of energy and reacts by slowing down the connections made between neurons by binding to adenosine receptors.
Adenosine is kind of like your brain’s battery status monitor. Once your energy levels get low, adenosine starts to slow your brain functioning down.
This is why after a few hours of intense work, you begin to feel tired, like your brain has run out of juice.
The only way to recharge it is to take a break; unless, you’ve got a secret weapon handy.

Your brain on coffee

Every coffee drinker is familiar with the feelings after drinking a fresh cup of java.
I know after I’ve had a latte or espresso, I feel more focused.
If I’m having a conversation with someone, words seem to flow without pauses, ums, or ahs.
If I’m writing, my fingers never stop typing.
This happens because caffeine blocks adenosine receptors, preventing adenosine from binding to it’s receptors and tricking your brain into thinking you have lots of energy.
Here’s a comic illustration of what caffeine does when it makes it to your brain:
This effect happens within just 5 minutes of drinking your coffee.
When adenosine receptors are blocked, chemicals that increase the performance of your neural activity, like glucose, dopamine, and glutamate, are allowed to work overtime.
So while you may feel that coffee is giving you more energy, it’s simply telling your body that your energy reserves are good to go even when they’re long gone.

Coffee is like a bottle rocket

The peak effect of caffeine on your body happens between 15 minutes and 2 hours after you consume it.
When caffeine from your coffee enters your bloodstream, you become more alert from an increase in the production of the hormones adrenaline and cortisol.
The problem is, if this over-stimulation of adrenaline and cortisol occurs too regularly, your adrenal glands, which absorb adrenaline to help make you feel energized, gradually begin to require more adrenaline to give you the same ‘pick-me-up’ feeling as before.
When researchers at Johns Hopkins University looked at low to moderate coffee drinkers (as little as one 14-ounce mug per day), they found that even this little amount of coffee can cause your body to develop a tolerance to caffeine and require more of it to get the same stimulation.
Just like the thrill of lighting a bottle rocket and watching it explode all within a few seconds, the good feelings associated with coffee are short-lived and pretty soon you need another hit to feel good again.

Why there are lots of famous drunk artists, but no famous drunk accountants

While caffeine pulls a number on your brain to make you feel like you have more energy, alcohol has it’s own way of influencing your creativity.
After you’ve had a couple beers, drinking makes you less focused because it decreases your working memory, and you begin to care less about what’s happening around you. But as researchers at the University of Chicago discovered, this can be a good thing for creativity’s sake.
The researchers devised a game where 40 men were given three words and told to come up with a fourth that could make a two-word combination with all three words.
For example, the word “pit” works with “arm”, “peach”, and “tar”:
Half of the men drank two pints of beer before playing the game while the other half drank nothing. The results showed that men who drank, solved 40 percent more of the problems than sober men.
It was concluded that a blood alcohol level of 0.07 (about 2 drinks) made the participants better at creative problem-solving tasks but not necessarily working memory tasks where they had to pay attention to things happening in their surroundings (like driving a car).
By reducing your ability to pay attention to the world around you, alcohol frees up your brain to think more creatively.
It looks like author Ernest Hemingway was on to something when he said:
When you work hard all day with your head and know you must work again the next day what else can change your ideas and make them run on a different plane like whisky?

Alcohol produces better ideas

In an interesting study on the topic of alcohol and its effects on creativity, author Dave Birss brought together a group of 18 advertising creative directors and split them into two teams based on their amount of career experience.
One team was allowed to drink as much alcohol as they wanted while the other team had to stay sober.
The groups were given a brief and had to come up with as many ideas as they could in three hours. These ideas were then graded by a collection of top creative directors.
The result? The team of drinkers not only produced the most ideas but also came up with four of the top five best ideas.
While alcohol may not be the drink of choice when you need to be alert and focused on what’s going on around you, it seems that a couple drinks can be helpful when you need to come up with new ideas.

A creative prescription: The optimal way to drink coffee and beer

Both coffee and beer (in moderation) have shown to be helpful when you’re working on certain types of tasks, however, you shouldn’t drink either when you need to do detail-oriented or analytical projects like your finances.
The increase in adrenaline from caffeine and inhibition of your working memory from alcohol will make you more prone to make mistakes.

Beer for the idea

The best time to have a beer (or two) would be when you’re searching for an initial idea. Because alcohol helps decrease your working memory (making you feel relaxed and less worried about what’s going on around you), you’ll have more brain power dedicated to making deeper connections.
Neuroscientists have studied the “eureka moment” and found that in order to produce moments of insight, you need to feel relaxed so front brain thinking (obvious connections) can move to the back of the brain (where unique, lateral connections are made) and activate the anterior superior temporal gyrus, a small spot above your right ear responsible for moments of insight:
Researchers found that about 5 seconds before you have a ‘eureka moment’ there is a large increase in alpha waves that activates the anterior superior temporal gyrus.
These alpha waves are associated with relaxation which explains why you often get ideas while you’re going for a walk, in the shower, or on the toilet.
Alcohol is a substance that relaxes you so it produces a similar effect on alpha waves and helping us reach creative insights.
Coffee meanwhile, doesn’t necessarily help you access more creative parts of your brain like a couple pints of beer.

Coffee for the execution

If you’ve already got an idea or an outline of where you want to go with your project, a cup of coffee would do wonders compared to having a beer to execute on your idea.
The general consensus across caffeine studies is that it can increase quality and performance if the task you are doing seems easy to you and doesn’t require too much abstract thinking.
In other words, after you have an initial idea or a plan laid out, a cup of coffee can help you execute and follow through on your concept faster without compromising quality.
This graphic pretty much sums up when you should drink coffee:
Quick tip: If you drink coffee, do so before noon so it doesn’t effect your sleep. On average, it will take between 5-10 hours for the caffeine from a cup of coffee to be removed from your system and messing up your sleep cycle can have a negative impact on your creative output for days to come.

Always in moderation

If you decide to drink coffee and beer while you’re working, you should stick to no more than 2 cups of coffee or a couple beers per sitting and try to do this no more than once or twice per week.
Coffee and beer shouldn’t be thought of as magic bullets for creativity.
They are ways to create chemical changes that occur naturally in your brain with a healthy lifestyle. Quality sleep patterns and allowing yourself to take breaks by splitting your day into sprints will do the same trick.
But, if you have to choose between coffee or beer, think about what type of task you are about to do and make sure you don’t over-drink.
Too much of either and you’ll lose the benefits of both.