The Brights' Bulletin


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Issue #190

(Note that links in archived Bulletin issues may no longer be valid.)


BRIGHTS BULLETIN -- MAY 2019 


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Awakening Humans to Nature’s Dangerous Decline

After extensive work accomplished across the past three years involving numerous entities, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) has just this past week issued a summary report for public consumption. Its conclusions are ominous:

Nature is declining globally at rates unprecedented in human history…Current global response is insufficient.”

The media statement begins with a clear warning of the likelihood of grave impacts on people, as well as a threat of extinction facing over a million different species.

Remarking on this first such global appraisal since 2005, Sir Robert Watson, Chair of the global body (132 member governments), points to “overwhelming evidence” of effects on humanity:

“The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever. We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.”

In its call for (and specifying of) “transformative changes,” the global assessment does offer some hope that opposition from vested interests can be overcome for the public good.

The IPBES's official media release encapsulates what is to be a very lengthy full report document while pointing out some of its notable forthcoming conclusions. (So does the news about the report in Science Daily.)

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Detailing the Global Assessment

About IPBES: The body was set up to strengthen policy and decisions through science with a view to long-term human well-being and sustainable development.

It is tasked to assess the state of biodiversity and nature's contributions to people in response to requests from decision-makers, and to outline options for the future based on different socio-economic choices. IPBES's work involves scientific assessments, policy support, building capacity and knowledge, and communication and outreach.

The Global Assessment: The full account to be released later in the year draws upon a wide range of different fields of knowledge. Its picture of the current state of Nature is ominous, since goals for achieving sustainability cannot be met by current trajectories. It projects that sustainability goals - even for 2030 - require urgent and concerted efforts across economic, social, political and technological factors.

The blue image link here leads to a 40-page rendering that offers you a somewhat closer look at the basuc findings and recommendations of the assessment. It is a version intended for policymakers, pointing to and then substantiating four major ideas (A – D).
[Example Idea A: “Nature and its vital contributions to people, which together embody biodiversity and ecosystem functions and services, are deteriorating worldwide.”]

An online preview of the 2019 Global Assessment outlines its processes.

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Humans/Animals – A Requisite Repositioning?

Many a child has been well taught that humans are different, odd, special, thanks to some attributes and abilities that make our species unique in the animal kingdom.

Children learn that humans can exhibit oh-so-many capabilities that are far beyond what plants and other animals can do. (Countless examples of the reverse exist, but instances of a plant’s or animal’s “gift” exceeding that of human capacity are typically given far less attention.)

In many religious settings, youngsters may be instructed to think not only about how extraordinarily special we humans are (“having souls that live on after bodily death,” for example) but also how our very specialness calls us to be good stewards, protecting the environment for the benefit of “the plants and the animals.”

Surely by high school, students are becoming versed in the vast complexity of life, learning about ecosystems and biological diversity. They become attuned to organic commonalities and recognize the physical and chemical processes that underpin life in its varied forms. Still, with “human specialness” so well taught early on, one can wonder how thin may be their crucial realization that humans are, in so many ways, very like those other animals. It is in humans' own self-interest to also be aware of and protect what the earth has for us.

In view of what science is concluding about the rapid pace of change taking place on the planet, this realization ("we humans have ecosystem requisites") deserves emphasis. Recognizing human animals as having basic environmental dependencies may merit far more educational prominence than is customarily given. On so many crucial aspects of life, humans cannot stand separate and apart. We must elevate and deepen the understanding that humans must not simply be environmental protectors of those other species of life, we need to do it also for our own.

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Teaching about Climate Change, or Not (USA)

The US-focused nonprofit National Center for Science Education, which promotes and defends evidence-based science education, has for years worked diligently to elevate the teaching of evolution in American schools. In doing so, NCSE has long encountered and attempted to buck the cultural headwinds, particularly in communities where creationism - not evolution – is the favored explanation of how life has come about on earth.

More recently, NCSE has had to direct its efforts toward a different topic: climate change.

Despite human-caused climate change being a reality about which virtually all scientists agree, in recent years it has, much like evolution before it, turned into culturally controversial subject matter, a topic that some American parents simply do not accept and do not want taught.

According to a recent National Public Radio/Ipsos poll, most teachers are not talking about the subject in their classrooms despite 80% of American parents favoring climate change instruction in U.S. schools,  (A small but nationally representative survey of teachers revealed only 42% of them saying that they do deal with the topic. Almost 30% the surveyed teachers “worry about parent complaints when it comes to teaching about climate change.”)

It's not just parents. Even 12% of teachers responding in the aforementioned poll said that “the world’s climate is not changing”!   

For teachers who do want to teach it, NPR education correspondent Anya Kamenetz has offered 8 Ways To Teach Climate Change In Almost Any Classroomregardless of the classroom subject.

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Recognizing Real Change 

Brights Central receives by email lots of "over the transom" type items that contain a link or two that the sender deems worthy.

When we can, we do visit the sites suggested, but seldom would the recommended link(s) be found later in a bulletin.

Click on the image here, though, you'll encounter an exception. Because much of this May bulletin focuses on drawing Brights' attention to climate change, we are sending along an item that arrived in the inbox. We at BC simply couldn't resist letting you know about this webcomic's temperature timeline It's a diagram that makes an awfully good point, and it does so in a delightfully visual way. 

We send it along with a bit of forewarning: The webcomic chart was probably deserving of more examination for accuracy than we have been willing or able to provide. On the surface, it appears to be well-sourced, and we presume that any experts among you who encounter an error will duly note it and send it along to the timeline's creator. For the rest of us, we'll just soak in the main point of reading such a visual timeline, reaching its substantial and striking conclusion via such a pleasing journey.

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Power in the Positive - Really?

The American Christian minister Norman Vincent Peale was a prolific writer. Might his Have a Great Day! book have contributed to the prevalence of those [nice/super/wonderful] directives now uttered daily by so many people? (Perhaps not, but who knows?!)

Today, Peale is known best for his mid-20th century self-help handbook, The Power of Positive Thinking. In it, he proposed strategy for attempting and attaining a more satisfying life. It became one of the most popular books of the entire century. (Several million copies were sold, and the book continues in print even now.)

In reality, the positive thinking that Peale made popular was a form of religious guidance centered on Christianity. His rather thin volume would be shunned by most Brights or, if read, then severely derided as unscientific. However, there is this question to ponder:  Is there value and satisfaction to be found in thinking (and framing life) positively?

The naturalistic worldview, despite its offering an uplifting and affirmative way to live one’s lifetime, is a rather difficult notion to place into a positive cultural frame.

Due to prevalent religion, persons who are living their lives supernatural-free today tend to be culturally ensnared in an oppositional (negative) conception of their outlook. Their fellow citizens routinely appraise them in terms that define too narrowly and position the outlook in contrast (disagreement) to the theistic-believing (or at least some-religion-believing) citizens.

Brights can benefit from focusing on positives of their own!  Many Brights do have and express upbeat attitudes and pride in their worldview.

It also helps that we have many prolific writers to serve as guides to attaining a more satisfying life. For example, if you haven’t read Carl Sagan’s The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, you might want to try it for a rather uplifting view of science likely to spur some positive thinking of your own. Consider this inducement:

“For me, it is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring."  

In the meantime, do whatever you can to have a great day!

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BC’s “English” Draws Scrutiny

As we at Brights Central have learned before (and continue to learn with most every bulletin), extra care must be taken with the language and punctuation used in each and every sentence!  Or else we’ll hear back from some vocal Brights “out there”!

Thanks to sharp feedback from hundreds of Brights, we learned early on that we should write “Brights movement” (no apostrophe) but “Brights’ Bulletin” – a difference we were to consistently display for reasons we no longer recall.

We don’t always get it right, of course, and feedback on last month’s bulletin has taught us an additional lesson. (In it, BC had offered readers a Brights’ logo patch FREE for one month, urging any pet owners to acquire one for a pet's garment as a helpful conversation starter. Readers were instructed to employ self-addressed, stamped envelopes.

Almost as soon as the offer had been blasted to the constituency, the first complaint came rolling in.  Decipher this message:

“SASE envelopes? Really? Like PIN numbers and ATM machines?”

Okay.  We get it.  But please don’t call us names when correcting us. (Copyrighting and proofing here at BC is all volunteer.)

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Warming a Heart

Last month, Brights Central received a nice note from Professor Bob Ling, a faculty member at Kankakee Community College in Illinois (USA).

We’d like to share his sentiment, which we take to have acknowledged all Brights who have at any point given some financial support to the Brights’ evolution poster project.  Here is an excerpt from the note of gratitude:

The recent bulletin article about the poster truly warmed my heart. It's nice to know that teachers are using [this] poster and that it's making a difference... The long hours of work are paying off as I see students really learning about evolution and teachers really teaching it. Thank you so much for your support and the support of your donors.”

Who is this Professor Ling? He led the faculty project that painted the poster’s original screen print image onto walls of the science building at KCC. In next month’s Bulletin, we will include a bit of “history” so you can read how Ling first described that project to Paul Geisert, co-founder of The Brights’ Net. Dr. Geisert took up the notion of giving broader audience to that multifaceted image, and he and Ling worked out an arrangement whereby Brights could give it a functional presence within appropriate instructional settings, and not on just that single building at a single college.

Have you been (or are you now) a contributor to the evolution poster project?  Well, if so, then his thanks go to you too!  Please pat yourself on the back!

Of course, if you haven't been helping the project, now is an awfully good time to start! 

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Sharing the Care of Offspring

Birds do it. But do bees?

Biparental care, common in several groups of vertebrates, is generally rare in arthropods. The research behind this wee story shows an interesting evolutionary alternative to the usual. It presents a case of biparental care in bees based on polyandry.

A study published in March 2019 forms the basis of this month’s "Hotline Tale", which, like prior ones, is available in both Danish and English language versions.

When males guard nests, "females are liberated from the tradeoff between provisioning and nest protection." But these males are "stepfathers" who offer unique brood protection and don't necessarily obtain genetic parentage. 


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