The choices that societies make concerning the treatment of children can bring about the greatest of debates and prompt significant political action. Our research teaches us that the question of a how a child should be treated—what value societies place on children—is not only a modern question, but an ancient one.
As historians whose work is related to understanding the texts of the Hebrew Bible and the world it was written in, we trace clues to understand the lives of children over 3,000 years ago. Through data from archaeology, letters, contracts, laws, material culture, ancient stories and religious practices, we study the children in the ancient lands of the Middle East, in the region now encompassing Egypt, Israel and the West Bank, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Iran and Turkey.
In our recent research we learn how children were both valued and vulnerable—in many ways, similar to children today.
Children experienced violence and vulnerability at the hands of adults. And the same adults wove a child’s religious and economic value into society through laws, religious expression and what happens in homes.
Making and raising babies
For ancient people in the region we study, the focus on children began before children were conceived. Without modern medical practices, women turned to their medical world, and thus magico-religious answers.
Texts from the Hebrew Bible and Mesopotamia relate that when women had trouble conceiving, they might use plants, like the mandrake, known to increase fertility, or prepare fertility aids.
After children were born, women continued turning to magico-religious practices to protect the child. Scholars believe fertility figurines found in archaeological contexts attest to mother’s prayers for ample milk supply. Most women would nurse on demand, but breast-feeding contracts tell us that the wealthiest families could afford to employ wet nurses, since even they knew breastfeeding could limit fertility.
Mesopotamian texts contain an intricate series of contracts and laws outlining the years children spent in the wet nurse’s house, and the consequences if the wet-nurse tried to steal the child. These contractual forms are embedded in later Biblical stories.
Children in the home
The sleepless child was well known to parents. In the ancient world lullabies were used to calm inconsolable infants. For example, in one old Babylonian lullaby written sometime between 1894–1595 BC, the sleep-deprived mother begs the child to fall asleep like one passed out drunk.
Biblical studies professor David Bosworth of the Catholic University of America discusses this in his book Infant Weeping in Akkadian, Hebrew and Greek Literature.
But sleep, while desired, also brought with it danger. Scholars believe that what we know today as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome was attributed by the ancient people in this region to the demoness Lilith or Lamashtu creeping in the house and suckling the infant with poisonous milk. Various amulets warding off this demoness have been found in sleeping chambers, along with a lamp, which like today helped scare away “bad things” that went bump in the night.
Play was an important part of life. Small perforated discs found in some parts of the region suggest the use of spinning tops.
Mesopotamian texts speak of familiar games, like jump ropes, wrestling, running races and games of hide and seek. But life was not all play for children. For the most part, older girls would help the mothers with domestic activities, while boys would follow in their father’s footsteps. But for a limited few male children, education was an option.
Child adoption, abandoment, slavery
But children also moved in and out of domestic units. Adoption and slavery are social institutions that are well-documented in various contracts preserved in libraries from the ancient cities of Nuzi Emar and Nippur.
The ancient poem, Enki and Ninmah, encourages parents to adopt children with deformities: this poem, over 4,000 years old, has the gods ordaining a place in society for all, even those with deformities.
The ancient Babylonian code of law, the The Code of Hammurabi, laws 18 5-191, shows that formal adoptions came with a strict set of rules so the child could be fully integrated into the new family.
Sometimes parents rescinded legal responsibility for a child. One set of texts discusses this as children “thrown to the dogs’ mouth.” In such cases children might be left at the local dump, the “safe-drop” zone for children. These children often entered a life of slavery.
Individual slave sale documents from Mesopotamia, as well as the biblical laws concerning slavery, tell us that slavery was a part of ancient life, but there are important nuances. Not every child slave was chattel. In cases of debt-slavery, a child could serve in another household to pay off a family debt and then return to their own family.
A child’s value was not just part of the physical world, but extended to the spiritual realm as well. Children participated in the household religion in gender-specific ways. A disinheritance contract from Emar notes that children who are disinherited lose the right to care for the gods of the house.
The death of children
A child’s value does not come without vulnerability. As the youngest and most defenseless members of society, they were not immune to the effects of invading armies. Mesopotamian war records (ca. 880-600 BC) demonstrate rare but violent practices, such as burning adolescents and violence against pregnant Arab women. In best-case scenarios, children were deported with their families.
Heath Dewrell, assistant professor of Old Testament at Princeton Theological Seminary, also notes that the Hebrew Bible records children, foreign and Israelite alike, experiencing violence resulting in death. Troubling texts include the outrageous tale of two female bears mauling 42 children for offending the prophet and references to child sacrifice.
Archaeological data shows that the infant mortality rate was 50 percent in the ancient world, but children who died were often cared for. Sometimes they are buried in jars with the common grave goods indicating their status in the family. And other times they were buried under the household floor, which in a way kept them a part of the household unit.
Ultimately, coming to a greater understanding of children in history raises important questions for how societies respond or not to children’s vulnerability. The challenge of protecting our most vulnerable has not disappeared.
People from highly educated neighborhoods are more likely to help a stranger, according to a study by researchers at The University of Western Australia and Edith Cowan University.
Study author Dr. Cyril Grueter, from UWA’s School of Human Sciences, said that while altruism was a universal human trait, little was known about its specific links to someone’s socio-economic background.
“Previous research by us and others has suggested that residents of high-SES areas are more likely to feel concern for the welfare of others,” Dr. Grueter said.
“What we’ve found is that a person’s willingness to help a stranger depends on their socioeconomic environment.
“But what exactly is it about socioeconomic status that makes people go out of their way to help a stranger?”
The study, published in Evolutionary Human Sciences, investigated the relationships between various underserved measures of socioeconomic status and acts of kindness.
The researchers used a field experiment to investigate pro-social behavior. Study co-author Grace Westlake dropped 600 envelopes across a range of 20 Perth suburbs and recorded how many were delivered.
The results show that the usual suspects—crime and economic resources—were not associated with the likelihood of a letter being returned. Instead it was educational attainment and occupation status that had a profound positive effect on helping behavior.
“The precise reason why altruism flourishes in areas that are populated with highly educated individuals working in high-status jobs requires further investigation,” Dr. Grueter said.
“But these results offer a fascinating glimpse into community attitudes and may also prove relevant for policy development and intervention.”
The heady aroma of magnolia blossoms and lotus flowers might have wafted to your nostrils if you had gone for a walk 56 million years ago in the lush green forest which covered Canada’s northernmost islands.
Now covered in ice and snow, present-day Ellesmere and Axel Heiberg islands in Nunavut were once home to a vibrant, temperate forest, according to fossil research just published by University of Saskatchewan (USask) scientists.
“It’s very surprising how similar these ancient polar forests were to some of our modern forests. I identified fossil plants related to many modern temperate trees: birch, alder, elms—even plants belonging to the grape family. Some of the fossils are related to trees now found only in east Asia,” said paleobotanist Christopher West, a recent USask Ph.D. graduate.
“The presence of these forests gives us an idea about what could happen over long periods of time if our modern climate continues to warm, and also how forest ecosystems responded to greenhouse climates in the distant past,” said West.
West examined more than 5,000 fossil samples to develop the only comprehensive analysis of fossil plants ever undertaken from the Canadian Arctic.
“This research is the cumulative effort of almost 40 years of work on fossil plants of the Canadian North undertaken by me and my students, including 20 field seasons on Ellesmere and Axel Heiberg islands,” said USask geologist Jim Basinger, who co-supervised the work with David Greenwood, USask adjunct professor of geology and Brandon University biology professor.
The results published today in the highly respected journal Palaeontographica B include identifications and detailed descriptions of 83 types of plants from high arctic latitudes in Canada during the early Eocene epoch, around 56 million years ago.
“We won’t see a return to a forested polar region in our lifetimes, but it is important to remember that we as humans have become agents of climate change, and that our warming climate will have potentially dramatic effects on our modern ecosystems,” said West.
While Earth was considerably warmer during the early Eocene, the continents were mostly situated where they are now, and northern latitudes would have had lengthy periods of darkness. Despite the nearly total lack of light, the forests persisted, likely because of just how warm it was.
“If we are able to understand how ecosystems long ago responded to global warming, we may be able to better predict how our own modern ecosystems will respond to our own rapidly warming climate,” said West. “This research will also help climate modelers as they use data from the past to better understand our own climate.”
The next steps in the research are to examine fossils from Axel Heiberg Island from a slightly younger vintage—roughly 45 million years old—to understand better the ancient impacts of that climate change.
New USC research into how teachers evaluate the mathematical ability of students suggests that white teachers and teachers of color alike have biases that favor white and male students.
The researchers asked two questions: First, when reviewing the work of fictitious students, do teachers’ ratings of students’ abilities differ depending on the gender or race/ethnicity of students’ names? And second, do teachers’ own race, gender and educational backgrounds predict their implicit biases?
The study, published in the December 2019 edition of Educational Researcher, found that teachers evaluated students’ performance equally along racial and gender lines but assumed that girls—and especially girls of color—had lower math abilities than boys and white boys. According to their findings, the lowest-rated group was always females of color.
“Our study suggests that even teachers affected by harmful stereotypes are not free of bias,” said lead author Yasemin Copur-Gencturk, assistant professor of education at the USC Rossier School of Education. “The findings suggest that implicit stereotypical messages people may have received throughout their lives could lead them to internalize these messages.”
White-sounding names were rated significantly higher
To conduct the study, the researchers selected math problems from across a decade of National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests and surveyed middle school students for answers that included both the solution to the problem and the reasoning for that solution. Those answers were then assigned randomized combinations of student names associated with black, Hispanic and white girls and boys. All participating teachers then rated the same student work.
The results indicated that teachers evaluated the correctness of students’ solutions evenly, regardless of a student’s assigned gender or race/ethnicity. However, analysis of teachers’ ratings of students’ mathematical abilities—based on each student’s stated reasoning—revealed biases for partially correct and incorrect responses.
The study found that white-sounding names were rated significantly higher—both by white teachers and by teachers of color—than those of black- and Hispanic-sounding names. Non-white teachers’ estimations of students’ mathematical ability also favored white students—both boys and girls—over students of color, and white teachers’ estimations of students’ mathematical ability favored boys over girls.
“As educators and teachers, we need to disrupt this pattern by paying close attention to how our implicit beliefs might affect our students,” Copur-Gencturk said.
Few studies have examined biases at the intersection of race and gender
Data for the study came from 390 mathematics teachers who participated in professional development activities provided by state-funded Mathematics and Science Partnership (MSP) programs from 2014 to 2017.
While the field of experimental psychology has done significant research on implicit bias, only a handful of studies have deployed experimental methods to examine teachers’ implicit biases. Additionally, very few studies of classroom instruction have examined biases at the intersection of race and gender.
The authors suggest that their results may be consistent with previous studies showing that oppressed groups sometimes accept and perpetuate negative racial and gender stereotypes. In other words, teachers of color may be more critical of students of color because internalized stereotypes may manifest as lower expectations for students of their own race. These stereotypes consequently have a negative impact on student achievement.
Similarly, female teachers may also have internalized sexism so as to perceive boys as more mathematically capable than girls.
“Students’ perceptions of their academic ability are developed based on messages they receive from their social environment, especially those of their teachers and parents,” the authors wrote. “These messages potentially contribute to their self-efficacy, self-competence and decision to select a STEM career.”
Authors say teachers need more opportunities to overcome implicit biases
Noting research on how teacher-student racial match can be beneficial for students of color, the authors suggest that students of color may benefit even more from a teacher of color who does not have internalized stereotypes. The authors suggest this as a topic for future research, in addition to suggesting studies that examine the underlying reasons for teachers’ implicit biases.
“To create equity in our school systems and society,” Copur-Gencturk said, “we need to provide more opportunities for teachers and educators to overcome their potential implicit biases.”
Constructivism is an educational philosophy that deems experience as the best way to acquire knowledge.
We truly understand something—according to a constructivist—when we filter it through our senses and interactions. We can only understand the idea of “blue” if we have vision (and if we aren’t color blind).
Constructivism is an education philosophy, not a learning method. So while it encourages students to take more ownership of their own learning, it doesn’t specify how that should be done. It is still being adapted to teaching practice.
The philosophy underpins the inquiry-based method of teaching where the teacher facilitates a learning environment in which students discover answers for themselves.
How developmental psychology shapes learning
One of the earliest proponents of constructivism was Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget, whose work centred around children’s cognitive development.
Piaget’s theories (popularized in the 1960s) on the developmental stages of childhood are still used in contemporary psychology. He observed that children’s interactions with the world and their sense of self corresponded to certain ages.
For instance, through sensations from birth, a child has basic interactions with the world; from two years old, they use language and play; they use logical reasoning from age seven, and abstract reasoning from age eleven.
Before Piaget, there had been little specific analyses on the developmental psychology of humans. We understood that humans became more cognitively sophisticated as they aged, but not exactly how this occurred.
Piaget’s theory was further developed by his contemporary, Lev Vygotsky (1925-1934), who saw all tasks as fitting into:
tasks we can do on our own
tasks we can do with guidance
tasks we can’t do at all.
There’s not a lot of meaningful learning to be made in the first category. If we know how to do something, we don’t gain too much from doing it again.
Similarly, there’s not much to be gained from the third category. You could throw a five year old into a calculus class run by the most brilliant teacher in the world but there just isn’t enough prior understanding and cognitive development for the child to learn anything.
Most of our learning occurs in category two. We’ve got enough prior knowledge to make sense of the topic or task, but not quite enough to fully comprehend it. In developmental psychology, this idea is known as the zone of proximal development—the place between our understanding and our ignorance.
Using the zone for learning
Imagine asking ten-year-old students to go about adding every number from one to 100 (1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 5 and onwards). They could theoretically do this by brute force addition which will likely bore and frustrate them.
A constructivist inspired teacher might instead ask: “is there a faster way of doing it?” and “is there a pattern of numbers?”
With a bit of help, some students might see that every number pairs with a corresponding number to add to 101 (1 + 100, 2 + 99, 3 + 98). They end up with 50 pairs of 101, for a much easier, faster sum of 50 x 101.
The pattern and easy multiplication might not have come intuitively (or even at all) to most students. But facilitation by the teacher pushes their existing knowledge into a meaningful learning experience—using a completely mundane problem. It then becomes a process of discovery rather than monotonous addition.
Medical students began using constructivist pedagogies in US and Australian universities in the 1960s. Instead of teachers showing students exactly how to do something and having them copy it (known as explicit instruction), tutors prompted students to form hypotheses and directed them to critique one another.
Constructivist pedagogy is now a common basis for teaching across the world. It is used across subjects, from maths and science to humanities, but with a variety of approaches.
The importance of group works
Learning methods based on constructivism primarily use group work. The emphasis is on students building their understanding of a topic or issue collaboratively.
Imagine a science class exploring gravity. The question of the day is: do objects drop at different speeds? The teacher could facilitate this activity by asking:
“what could we drop?”
“what do you think will happen if we drop these two objects at the same time?”
“how could we measure this?”
Then, the teacher would give students the chance to conduct this experiment themselves. By doing this, teachers allow students to build on their individual strengths as they discover a concept and work at their own pace.
Experiments in science class, excursions to cultural landmarks in history class, acting out Shakespeare in English—these are all examples of constructivist learning activities.
What’s the evidence?
Constructivist principles naturally align with what we expect of teachers. For instance, teacher professional standards require them to build rapport with students to manage behavior, and expert teachers tailor lessons to students’ specific cultural, social and even individual needs.
Explicit instruction is still appropriate in many instances—but the basic teaching standard includes a recognition of students’ unique circumstances and capabilities.
Taking the constructivist approach means students can become more engaged and responsible for their own learning. Research since the 1980s shows it encourages creativity.
Constructivism can be seen as merely a descriptive theory, providing no directly useful teaching strategies. There are simply too many learning contexts (cultures, ages, subjects, technologies) for constructivism to be directly applicable, some might say.
And it’s true constructivism is a challenge. It requires creative educational design and lesson planning. The teacher needs to have an exceptional knowledge of the subject area, making constructivist approaches much harder for primary school teachers who have broader general knowledge.
Teacher-directed learning (the explicit teaching of content) has been used for a lot longer, and it’s shown to be very effective for students with learning disabilities.
A major challenge for constructivism is the current outcomes-focused approach to learning. Adhering to a curricular requirement for assessment at certain times (such as end-of-term tests) takes the focus away from student-centered learning and towards test preparation.
Explicit instruction is more directly useful for teaching to the test, which can be an unfortunate reality in many educational contexts.
An an education philosophy, constructivism has a lot of potential. But getting teachers to contextualize and personalize lessons when there are standardized tests, playground duty, health and safety drills, and their personal lives, is a big ask.
Rapa Nui (or Easter Island, as it is commonly known) is home to the enigmatic Moai, stone monoliths that have stood watch over the island landscape for hundreds of years. Their existence is a marvel of human ingenuity—and their meaning a source of some mystery.
Ancient Rapanui carvers worked at the behest of the elite ruling class to carve nearly 1,000 Moai because they, and the community at large, believed the statues capable of producing agricultural fertility and thereby critical food supplies, according to a new study from Jo Anne Van Tilburg, director of the Easter Island Statue Project, recently published in the Journal of Archaeological Science.
Van Tilburg and her team, working with geoarchaeologist and soils specialist Sarah Sherwood, believe they have found scientific evidence of that long-hypothesized meaning thanks to careful study of two particular Moai excavated over five years in the Rano Raraku quarry on the eastern side of the Polynesian island.
Van Tilburg’s most recent analysis focused on two of the monoliths that stand within the inner region of the Rano Raraku quarry, which is the origin of 95 percent of the island’s more than 1,000 Moai. Extensive laboratory testing of soil samples from the same area shows evidence of foods such as banana, taro and sweet potato.
Van Tilburg said the analysis showed that in addition to serving as a quarry and a place for carving statues, Rano Raraku also was the site of a productive agricultural area.
“Our excavation broadens our perspective of the Moai and encourages us to realize that nothing, no matter how obvious, is ever exactly as it seems. I think our new analysis humanizes the production process of the Moai,” Van Tilburg said.
Van Tilburg has been working on Rapa Nui for more than three decades. Her Easter Island Statue Project is supported in part by UCLA’s Cotsen Institute of Archaeology. Tom Wake, a Cotsen Institute colleague, analyzes small-animal remains from the excavation site. Van Tilburg also serves as director of UCLA’s Rock Art Archive.
Van Tilburg, in partnership with members of the local community, heads the first legally permitted excavations of Moai in Rano Raraku since 1955. Cristián Arévalo Pakarati, a noted Rapanui artist, is project co-director.
The soils in Rano Raraku are probably the richest on the island, certainly over the long term, Sherwood said. Coupled with a fresh-water source in the quarry, it appears the practice of quarrying itself helped boost soil fertility and food production in the immediate surroundings, she said. The soils in the quarry are rich in clay created by the weathering of lapilli tuff (the local bedrock) as the workers quarried into deeper rock and sculpted the Moai.
A professor of earth and environmental systems at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn., Sherwood joined the Easter Island Project after meeting another member of Van Tilburg’s team at a geology conference.
She wasn’t originally looking for soil fertility, but out of curiosity and research habit, she did some fine-scale testing of samples brought back from the quarry.
“When we got the chemistry results back, I did a double take,” Sherwood said. “There were really high levels of things that I never would have thought would be there, such as calcium and phosphorous. The soil chemistry showed high levels of elements that are key to plant growth and essential for high yields. Everywhere else on the island the soil was being quickly worn out, eroding, being leeched of elements that feed plants, but in the quarry, with its constant new influx of small fragments of the bedrock generated by the quarrying process, there is a perfect feedback system of water, natural fertilizer and nutrients.”
She said it also looks like the ancient indigenous people of Rapanui were very intuitive about what to grow—planting multiple crops in the same area, which can help maintain soil fertility.
The Moai that Van Tilburg’s team excavated were discovered upright in place, one on a pedestal and the other in a deep hole, indicating they were meant to remain there.
“This study radically alters the idea that all standing statues in Rano Raraku were simply awaiting transport out of the quarry,” Van Tilburg said. “That is, these and probably other upright Moai in Rano Raraku were retained in place to ensure the sacred nature of the quarry itself. The Moai were central to the idea of fertility, and in Rapanui belief their presence here stimulated agricultural food production.”
Van Tilburg and her team estimate the statues from the inner quarry were raised by or before A.D. 1510 to A.D.1645. Activity in this part of the quarry most likely began in A.D.1455. Most production of Moai had ceased in the early 1700s due to western contact.
The two statues Van Tilburg’s team excavated had been almost completely buried by soils and rubble.
“We chose the statues for excavation based on careful scrutiny of historical photographs and mapped the entire Rano Raraku inner region before initiating excavations,” she said.
Van Tilburg has worked hard to establish connections with the local community on Rapa Nui. The project’s field and lab teams are made up of local workers, mentored by professional archaeologists and geologists.
The result of their collective efforts is a massive detailed archive and comparative database that documents more than 1,000 sculptural objects on Rapa Nui, including the Moai, as well as similar records on more than 200 objects scattered in museums throughout the world. In 1995, UNESCO named Easter Island a World Heritage Site, with most of the island’s sacred sites protected within Rapa Nui National Park.
This is the first definitive study to reveal the quarry as a complex landscape and to make a definitive statement that links soil fertility, agriculture, quarrying and the sacred nature of the Moai.
Van Tilburg and her team are working on another study that analyzes the rock art carvings that exist on only three of the Moai.
Using Keck Observatory in Hawaii, astronomers have detected two new protoclusters of galaxies embedded in primordial superclusters. The research paper presenting the discovery and providing basic information about the newfound objects was published December 3 on the arXiv pre-print repository.
Galaxy clusters contain up to thousands of galaxies bound together by gravity. They are the largest known gravitationally bound structures in the universe, and could serve as excellent laboratories for studying galaxy evolution and cosmology.
Astronomers are especially interested in finding protoclusters of galaxies, the progenitors of clusters. Such objects, found at high redshifts, could provide essential information about the universe at its early stages. However, detecting these structures at high redshifts (above 2.0) is challenging, requiring deep, wide-area surveys for proper identification.
Now, a team of researchers led by Jun Toshikawa of the University of Tokyo, Japan, reports two new high-redshift protoclusters of galaxies. The discovery was made as a result of follow-up observations of three over-dense regions of galaxies designated D1RD01, D1GD02, and D4GD01, first identified by the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope Legacy Survey (CFHTLS) Deep Fields program. For this purpose, the researchers employed the DEep Imaging Multi-Object Spectrograph of the Keck II telescope.
“In this study, we have presented optical follow-up spectroscopy on the three over-dense regions of g- and r-dropout galaxies in the CFHTLS Deep Fields,” the astronomers wrote in the paper.
As a result, the follow-up observing campaign found two protoclusters at redshifts of approximately 4.9 in the region D1RD01 and 3.72 in D4GD01, and identified one possible protocluster D1GD02 at a redshift of about 3.83.
According to the study, the D1RD01 protocluster consists of at least six member galaxies, while the one in D4GD01 was observed to contain nine galaxies. The number of member galaxies in the candidate protocluster in D1GD02 is yet to be determined.
Furthermore, the research found two small galaxy groups (each including three galaxies) in the vicinity of the D1RD01 protocluster. The astronomers expect these two groups to become a part of a supercluster rather than merge into the protocluster to form a single massive dark matter halo. A similar situation was found in the other two studied regions.
“Similarly, in the over-dense regions of both D1GD02 and D4GD01, we have found close pair-like structures whose redshift separation is only ∆z ∼ 0.05. These results suggest that large-scale galaxy/group assembly comparable to the size of superclusters start by z > 4, and the primordial satellite components of superclusters appear at z ∼ 4−5 in parallel with the formation of central protoclusters,” the paper reads.
Summing up the results, the astronomers noted that their study supports the hypothesis that the formation of a supercluster starts in the early universe, and that the main and background protoclusters at a redshift of about 3.7 show diﬀerent galaxy distributions. However, further multi-wavelength observations of more protoclusters are needed to confirm this.
Officials from almost 200 countries hunkered down for another night of talks late Friday as a U.N. climate meeting in Madrid went into overtime without agreement on key issues.
Chile, which is chairing the talks, said negotiators would continue working on two fronts trying to get deals on aid for poor countries affected by climate change and international carbon markets.
“Today is the day when we must show the world that we are capable of delivering the agreements that are needed to tackle the unprecedented challenge before us,” Chilean official Andrés Landerretche told a roomful of exhausted reporters in the Spanish capital after two weeks of talks.
Landerretche said there was “some optimism” but added that the Paris agreement’s so-called Article 6, which sets the rules for trading in emissions vouchers, “requires more work in order to come to a cleaner text.”
“We’re going to remain in the premises as long as it takes,” said Landerretche. “And that could take well into the night or early hours of tomorrow.”
European Union countries and others have said they would prefer not to finalize rules on international carbon markets rather than to approve ones that could undermine efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Economists say allowing companies and rich countries to invest in carbon-cutting measures such as forest protection in poor countries could become a vital tool for lowering emissions, provided the markets are transparent and there is no double counting.
“We are all looking for a compromise,” Frans Timmermans, the European Commission’s top official in charge of climate issues, said earlier Friday. “But there is no way, no way, we could accept a compromise that jeopardizes environmental integrity. Just no way.”
Landerretche hinted that if the issue isn’t fully resolved, some parts could be deferred till next year.
“Maybe we arrive at a general agreement on Article 6, a principal agreement and leave the technicalities for some inter-sessional period, maybe,” he said. “But it’s not something that we are entertaining at the moment”
Another topic still on the table concerns financial support for poor countries that suffer the effects of climate change, from stronger storms to droughts and sea level rise.
In 2013, countries agreed a tentative system to channel such aid, known as the Warsaw International Mechanism, or WIM. But some rich countries, particularly the United States, have resisted attempts to hold them formally accountable for the impact their greenhouse gas emissions have on the climate, prompting criticism from developing nations.
“The U.S. government is the largest humanitarian donor in the world,” a State Department official said Friday. “The WIM should be a constructive space to catalyze action on the wide range of loss and damage issues.”
“A divisive conversation on blame and liability helps no one,” said the U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the ongoing negotiations.
President Donald Trump has formally triggered the United States’ withdrawal from the 2015 Paris climate accord, a process that will be completed Nov. 4, 2020—a day after the next U.S. presidential election.
The move means the United States, the world’s second biggest emitter of greenhouse gases after China, will be excluded from many of the negotiations at next November’s climate talks in Glasgow, Scotland.
As host next year, Britain will have to tackle any issues left over from Madrid and the more daunting task of getting countries to agree to tougher emissions targets, even as it continues to negotiate its exit from the European Union.
Dozens of countries have already said they will submit more ambitious emissions targets next year, though analysts say the commitments made so far aren’t enough.
Scientists have calculated that global emissions have to drop 7.6% annually, starting next year, if the Paris accord’s goal of keeping global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) by the end of the century is to be achieved.
Environmental groups staged protests inside and outside the venue in Madrid to express their frustration at the slow pace of the talks.
Vega Minsson, an activist with Fridays for Future Sweden, criticized the lack of progress.
“We’re not here for your entertainment,” she said, adding: “If you want a future, you’d better act to the message we’re preaching and not just listen”
But observers said the protesters’ demands didn’t seem to be having an effect on the negotiations.
“They’re moving at a snail’s pace,” said Helen Mountford of the Washington-based environmental think tank World Resources Institute. “There’s a lot of breakdown in trust among negotiators and, to be frank, quite a bit of self-interest coming into the room when actually we need to globally move forward together to really tackle this climate crisis.”
Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory have developed a non-invasive way to measure the “spin tune” of polarized protons at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC)—an important factor for maintaining these spinning particles’ alignment.
The technique is similar to the way magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) manipulates proton spin to “see” structures inside the body. And like MRI, the technique can be used as a “diagnostic” tool—in this case to improve the performance of the collider as it explores how protons’ inner building blocks contribute to their spin.
“To understand how the building blocks of protons—quarks and gluons—contribute to spin, we collide beams of protons whose individual spin directions are “polarized,” meaning aligned as much as possible,” said Thomas Roser, head of Brookhaven Lab’s Collider Accelerator Department. But external forces and some methods to measure deviations can “depolarize” the beams.
The new technique measures the magnitude and frequency of the protons’ precession—a circular deviation of these spinning particles’ axes from their perfectly aligned path—without destabilizing the beams.
“We can measure precession noninvasively as the accelerator operates,” Roser said. “That gives us information we can use to make adjustments that keep the protons aligned.”
What makes protons wobble
With polarized beams in RHIC—or any circular accelerator—the average spin direction of each proton bunch aligns with the accelerator’s magnetic field. But like a spinning top that starts to wobble, a proton’s axis sometimes starts to rotate around a circular path that deviates from perfect alignment. That wobble is known as precession.
If some outside source, such as small imperfections in the magnetic field, syncs up with the frequency of precession, it can amplify the wobble of the protons and cause the beam to become depolarized.
“There have been other ways to measure the precession frequency, but the techniques used to date effectively cause the depolarization such measurements would seek to avoid,” Roser said. “Our new method measures the frequency of the precession without depolarizing the beam so we can make corrections to keep the protons aligned—or even flip their spin direction when desired.”
Roser explained how the new technique operates similar to the way MRI scans work: First, a powerful magnetic field aligns all the protons’ spins, then scientists apply a variable frequency external electromagnetic field, searching for the frequency at which the protons’ axes start to tip away from stable.
“It’s like tuning an old-fashioned radio knob to search for a station,” Roser said. “The key is to get close to the tipping frequency without triggering the destabilization.”
In MRIs, the signals generated by protons’ precession give information about the inner structures of the body. At RHIC they give information about how to adjust the accelerator’s magnets to maintain beam polarization.
The new technique will lead to more stable and optimized operation at RHIC for nuclear physics research—and could also be used at a planned polarized Electron-Ion Collider to be located in the United States.
In the world of squirrels, moving away from your home turf has better outcomes for males than for females, according to a new study by University of Alberta ecologists.
The study uses 30 years of data on a population of North American red squirrels in Yukon, Canada, examining how the number of offspring and total lifespan differed between squirrels who lived in the same area in which they were born and those who were newcomers to the area. And the results show that sex plays a major role.
“The benefits to living in a different population than you were born are sex-dependent,” explained April Martinig, Ph.D. student in the Department of Biological Sciences and lead author on the study. “Males benefit from moving away, whereas females do not. We also found that the decision to move away or stay at home has an impact on offspring.”
New research shows that male squirrels who move outside of the population they were born to live longer and have more offspring.
For male squirrels, moving away is beneficial because they no longer need to compete with their siblings for limited resources, such as mates or food. Males also benefit, because female squirrels prefer to mate with newcomer males. Female squirrels, on the other hand, do not reap the same benefits, and instead lose out on the support of nearby family—something that male squirrels don’t receive.
“Squirrels live in a world where there are only so many ’empty apartments’ to live in,” said Martinig, who is conducting her Ph.D. studies under the supervision of Professor Stan Boutin. “Sometimes one sibling is allowed to stay at home—so everyone else must go. If there are no vacancies nearby, squirrels then have no choice but to move further away. This is what females face: losing the benefits of having family nearby.”
“Movement is a crucial component of species persistence,” added Martinig. “Understanding how and why certain individuals move is key to protecting populations as climate change impacts their distribution on the landscape.”
The paper, “The new kid on the block: Immigrant males win big whereas females pay fitness cost after dispersal,” is published in Ecology Letters.