In March, UN high seas treaty agreed which should help to protect vast swathes of the planet’s oceans but deep sea mining may be inching closer. To be continued…
Unprecedented floods affect one third of Pakistan, killing 1,739 people. In the same year, a heatwave of up to 60C, threatens the lives and livelihoods of millions of people.
The UK broke its record for the hottest day ever
Wildfires in Europe brought chaos to people and animals and the river Rhine in Germany and the river Po in Italy all but dried up.
In Brazil, President Lula is elected, giving fresh hope for future protection of the Amazon Rainforest.
United Nations Biodiversity Conference (COP15) ends in Montreal, Canada, on 19 December 2022. Result is Kunming-Montreal agreement to guide global action on nature through to 2030.
Colourful corals and other wonderfully diverse sea creatures
Extreme weather on every continent makes it obvious to anyone that climate chaos, predicted by science, is already with us. Also, it’s obvious that these climate woes go hand in hand with the destruction by humans of biodiversity. Few people seem to have got the idea that all people are dependent on the natural world.
The city of Glasgow in Scotland is almost overwhelmed by 25,000 extra visitors in November 2021. This is because of the critically important UN climate change conference (Cop 26). Once again, Greta Thunberg, now world famous for dressing down senior diplomats accusing them of much blah blah blah and no action.
The pandemic continues with over 5 million deaths by late 2021. The virus continually mutates forming new variants come, some of which are more easily transmitted and more dangerous, requiring continual monitoring.
The entire human race is thrown into chaos by a tiny but deadly virus. Coronavirus (COVID-19) has caused the human economy to more or less shut down. Meanwhile, climate breakdown continues even though fossil fuel emissions dip slightly. “Things will never be the same again,” as many people push for green opportunity now. No more “business as usual” which will certainly cause terrible destruction and suffering if it does. Hopes surge when Joe Biden is elected president of the USA. His choice for his Vice President, Kamala Harris, is the first female and first ‘woman of colour’ to serve as VP. Under their watchful eyes, the US will rejoin the world’s nations in combating climate breakdown.
2020 was the hottest year since measurements began (NOAA). CO2 reaches 417ppm
Tropical Cyclone Idai, one of the worst storms ever recorded in the Southern Hemisphere, causes devastation in Mozambique with hundreds of thousands of people made homeless and more than 1000 dead 7,700,000 people on the planet.
Climate scientists warn that carbon pollution (burning fossil fuels) will have to be cut in half by 2030 and stopped totally within 30 years.
USA, under newly-elected president Donald Trump, opposes climate change regulations such as the Clean Power Plan and the 2015 Paris Agreement
Strongest El Niño ever recorded in Pacific affects the weather all around the world, causing serious droughts in many places and heavy rainfall and flooding in others. Cyclone Wiston devastates parts of Fiji (South Pacific)
Zika virus spreads through South America
2016 even hotter than 2015
Earth over 7.4 billion people on the planet
Category 5 cyclone devastates Vanuatu (South Pacific) with winds up to 200 miles per hour
United Nations Climate conference in Paris, France: At last, agreement to cut carbon pollution and try to keep global temperature rise to less than 2 degrees Celsius
2015 is the hottest year since records began
Ebola epidemic finally under control after killing thousands of people in west Africa
Whales saved! The International Court of Justice rules that Japan’s Antarctic whaling program must stop immediately. It doesn’t!
Last Ice age at its peak. Ice covers most of Britain and Canada.
First humans in Australia. Megafaunas extinct shortly after. First humans migrate into Europe and north Asia. Many megafaunas go extinct. First humans migrate into Asia. Much of megafaunas extinct shortly after. Height of warm period (interglacial) between Ice age conditions, lasting about 15,000 years. Temperatures like today’s but sea levels up to 8 metres higher CO2 levels around 280ppm First modern humans evolve in east Africa
4,000,000 10,000,000 = Ten million years
Main Ice ages begin affecting most of the planet, continuing on and off until 11,500 years ago
CO2 levels around vary between 160ppm (glacial periods) and 300ppm (warm interglacials)
First penguins (yesssss!!!)
Ice age begins to build up in Antarctica. Climate very warm. First grasses First large mammals
100,000,000 = One hundred million years
Asteroid hits Earth causing mass extinction. Volcanoes erupt in India producing half a million cubic kilometres (!!!) of lava. Many life forms become extinct, notably the dinosaurs
First Tyrannosaurus and other large, flesh-eating dinosaurs First theropod dinosaurs, a very successful group which were the ancestors of birds and large land flesh-eating dinosaurs. They had three toed feet and walked upright (bipedal)
First dinosaurs — this one is just coming out of its egg — and mammals. Life recovers slowly after the worst mass extinction ever.
Sudden “explosion” of animal life: shellfish, trilobites and many others
First animals with many cells (Ediacarans) sponges and worms
Ice age during which almost the entire planet was frozen solid for around 200 million years (Cryogenian Period)
First complex single cell life (cells with central nucleus: eukaryotes)
Banded iron formations (iron-rich rocks) start to form on a large scale. This meant that there was free oxygen in the atmosphere which ‘rusted’ iron minerals to the red oxide colour. The oxygen was the waste
Banded iron formations reach their peak, forming in shallow seas all around the planet, especially Western Australia
First oxygen-making (photosynthesising) bacteria begin to alter the atmosphere
First definite life on Earth formed mounds called Stromatolites (Western Australia). But the first life forms (Jack Hills, Western Australia) may be as old as 4.1 billion years old
4.28 billion years
Oldest-known rock: 4.28 billion years, Hudson’s Bay coast, Canada
Oldest-known mineral on Earth
4,543,000,000 (4.543 billion years ago)
The sun and its solar system of planets (including Earth) form. Shortly after Earth forms, it is hit by a small planet. A large blob spins off to form the Moon
“BIG BANG” 13,700,000,000 (13.7 billion years ago)
Beginning of time
This was the beginning of the cosmos as we know it. Most cosmologists agree that the universe began with a ‘big bang’ from a tiny point called a singularity. After millions of years of expansion and a short period of ‘inflation’, matter began to clump together to form stars and galaxies. Planet Earth is one tiny part of one large galaxy (The Milky Way) which is just one among millions of others.
What are ice ages?
What are ice ages?
Ice ages are periods when the Earth is colder than usual. Being colder means that water which would fall as rain in warmer times tends to fall as snow. As you know, if the temperature stays below freezing, snow doesn’t melt. It just sits there and any more snow that falls on it adds to its thickness. If the temperature doesn’t rise high enough over a year, the snow just carries on getting thicker because it doesn’t melt. Eventually it can get so thick that the sheer weight of the top layers pushing down on the deeper layers turns it into ice. Whole areas of the planet near to the poles can becomes completely covered in ice, some of it floating if that area happens to be sea (like the Arctic Ocean). The ice can build up into vast sheets which can be many times thicker than the highest buildings. During past ice ages, the ice has spread south (in the northern hemisphere) as far as the northern states of the USA and northern Europe. Almost the whole of the Britain has been covered with thick ice sheets several times in the last 3 million years. These icy periods are called Ice Ages and can last for many thousands of years.
Why do ice ages happen?
There is no simple answer to this. It’s a puzzle that has perplexed scientists for some time. The main cause seems to be slight variations in the Earth’s orbit round the Sun and changes in tilt of the planet’s axis of rotation. The ice ages of the last 3 million years more or less follow a predictable pattern, called Milankovitch cycles (after the Serbian mathematician who first worked them out). But there are many other factors too.
Big volcanic eruptions can trigger global cooling for several years afterwards and could, at the right point in the Milankovitch cycles, tip the balance, plunging the planet into an ice age.
Ocean current circulation is also very important. When the currents flow, heat from the tropics spreads out to the poles and keeps them relatively warm. If the currents shut down, as they have done many times in the past, the heat they carried no longer reaches the polar regions and an ice age starts.
But which comes first? The chicken or the egg?
What switches on or off the ocean currents? Is it Milankovitch cycles? Is it something else… or a combination of other things like the quantity of greenhouse gases in the air? These are important questions to know the answers to: understanding how our planet warms and cools is vital to predicting what could happen if things continue to heat up as they are today, because of humans burning fossil fuels. For more on this, take a look at my global warming guide.
Clues about fossil fuels? Here’s my mini-guide!
Oil, petroleum, natural gas, gasoline, petrol, coal, coke: all these are types of what people call ‘fossil fuels’. So why are they called ‘fossil fuels’? Because, like fossils of shells or plants which you can find in some rocks, they are old, often hundreds of millions of years old. In fact, fossil fuels are part of the remains of living things which once flourished on the planet, but died and became buried under thick layers of younger rocks. Coal is the best example of this. If you pick up a lump of coal, it’s black and shiny. What made it? Occasionally, you’ll find a clue in the form of impressions of plants, usually tree trunks. For coal started out as lush tropical swampy forest, bursting with rapidly growing trees and smaller plants. As they died, more plants grew in the swamps, covering and burying the dead ones whose remains did not decay because they were soaked by stagnant water. No air could get at them. Instead they became peat which got thicker as more swamp forest grew above them. Eventually, the weight of all the material above them became so great it squeezed the peat into the rock you call coal. It is almost pure carbon. And that’s where the trouble starts because carbon (coal) will burn in air (oxygen) to make heat. It is this which makes coal and the other fossil fuels so useful for people because the heat from them can be used to make homes comfortable in the winter. It can also be used to boil water and make steam to drive turbines and generators and so produce electricity. And carbon in its liquid form, petroleum, can make all kinds of chemicals and, of course, fuel for transport: cars, trucks, ships and aeroplanes. Petroleum and natural gas are not pure carbon. They are chemicals which contain hydrogen as well. So they’re often called ‘hydrocarbons’.
Plants are remarkable. They can suck carbon dioxide out of the air and build their bodies out of the carbon. This carbon – along with water – becomes part of their skeletons, holding them up in the air like grass or even giant trees. Plants grab the carbon out of the air using a complex process called photosynthesis. Photosynthesis needs energy to make it happen and this comes from the sun.
Air and swamps
If air (or rather the oxygen in the air) can get at dead plants, they decay (rot). This happens because microbes, which need air, feed on the plant remains and turn their carbon into carbon dioxide. It’s really like slow burning. And as with burning, there’s hardly anything left afterwards. All the carbon the plants took out of the air has gone back into the air. But when plants die and become part of a stinky swamp, the air and microbes can’t get at the dead plant remains. Scientists call the resulting black stinky sludge ‘anoxic’, meaning ‘without oxygen’. This means that the carbon of the dead plants stays put and eventually becomes coal.
This extinction seems to have been caused by a massive series of volcanic eruptions in Siberia, Russia. Enough lava erupted to cover the whole globe in a 20-foot layer. The volcanoes would have also spewed out billions of tons of poisonous gases . As if that wasn’t enough, very recently a huge new crater has been discovered in Australia, the second largest direct hit from an asteroid or comet in the last billion years. This could have occurred around 250 million years ago and may have been the trigger for the devastation suffered by life on Earth at that time .
It’s likely that the volcano eruptions and possible asteroid hits triggered rapid global warming (like today, but for different reasons) which may in turn have set off something much more scary that people are only just beginning to discover about. This warming may have unfrozen strange stuff called gas hydrate which normally sits on the bottom of oceans. If this stuff is uncorked by warming, it fizzes and melts and blasts off lots of gas called methane. Methane is a very strong greenhouse gas when it gets into the air. And today, there are billions of tons of this stuff lying on the bottom of the oceans… and the oceans are warming up! . If you want to find out more about greenhouse gases and global warming, take a look at my Global Warming Guide..
The red line shows how total carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations in the air have gone up since 1750. The blue line shows now much CO2 humans have added to this. Result? After about 1970, the total CO2 in the atmosphere really starts to climb fast. Today it’s reached 400 parts per million by volume (ppmv) and accelerating each year. The higher it goes, the hotter the planet gets. And it’s not just the CO2 that people release; it’s methane too. Methane is a much stronger greenhouse gas than CO2, trapping over 21 times more heat per molecule than carbon dioxide, but it counts for less than 10% of all carbon released by humans. In various parts of your time travel into the past, you’ll see yellow boxes with something like this: ‘CO2 levels around 300ppm’. This tells you how much CO2 there was in the air at that time. ‘ppm’ means ‘parts per million’ (see above).
To find out more about CO2 and its importance for the greenhouse effect (global warming), check out my guide.
What are Megafaunas?
‘ Mega’ means ‘big’ and ‘fauna’ means ‘animals’: big animals. There were a lot of these megafaunas in many parts of the world… until humans came on the scene. Then most of the megafaunas became extinct. This may have been coincidence but it seems likely that newly-arrived humans viewed these giants as large walking meals. Because the animals had never seen humans before, they didn’t realise that they were dangerous until too late. And so a long list of remarkable big creatures died out.
The best known were the North American megafaunas which included giant sloths, the American lion, cheetahs, saber-toothed cats, dire wolves, camels, at least two species of bison, horses, mammoths and mastodons, giant beavers, and giant condors. The only ones to survive (and only just) were bison. The rest disappeared at the end of the last ice age at about the time people were migrating across the land bridge (what is now the Bering Strait) from east Asia.
This coincidence of the arrival of migrating humans and extinction of megafauna has happened many times around the world. It happened in Australia. People arrived there around 40,000 years ago and within 5,000 years, all the giant carnivorous kangaroos, giant wombats, marsupial lions, giant flightless birds, giant snakes and giant lizards had all vanished.
Moas were up to 3 metres highIt happened again, much more recently, when people first arrived in New Zealand in about 1000 AD. Within a few centuries, all the giant flightless moas (picture on left), giant eagles (picture on left) and gorilla-sized lemurs had all vanished.
The first oil wells were drilled in China and were up to 240 metres deep. The people drilled them by attaching special hard ‘bits’ to bamboo poles. They used the oil to burn and evaporate seawater to make salt.
The American petroleum industry began with Edwin Drake’s discovery of oil in 1859, near Titusville, Pennsylvania. In those days, the demand for oil was for making kerosene for heating and lighting. Cars had not yet been invented.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
On 3rd August 1492, three small ships left Spain on a voyage which was to be the beginning of an astonishing and bloody phase in history. The ships were the Santa Maria, the Niña and the Pinto.They were commanded by Cristóbal Colón or Christopher Columbus as he is known in the English-speaking world. On 12th October after over 30 days out of sight of any land, Columbus and his men arrived in what is now the Bahamas. They went on to discover the large islands of Cuba and Hispaniola where he founded the first Spanish settlement, La Navidad, by courtesy of the friendly native chief. Columbus went on to make several more voyages. On the last of these, in 1502, he discovered central America (what are now Honduras, Costa Rica and Panama). Columbus was looking for a new trading route to the ‘Indies’ (south and east Asia) but, of course, he never found it. European navigators like him didn’t know that there were two large continents in the way: North and South America. Also unknown to them was that these continents were already populated by ‘Indians’ who, in central and South America had developed into advanced civilisations which were in many ways as accomplished as those of Europe. What they lacked were iron, gunpowder, writing, horse cavalry and ships. This meant that once Columbus ‘discovered’ the Americas, news quickly spread and over the next few years, many more Spanish conquistadores (conquerors) headed for the Americas and began land-grabs on an astonishing scale. Not only were they able to quickly subdue and kill native peoples by means of their vastly superior military equipment (guns, steel swords, cavalry), they unintentionally introduced terrible diseases like smallpox to which the native peoples had never been exposed. Within a few years, many of the local populations had more or less died out and the Spanish – followed by other European powers – were able to claim whole chunks of the two continents as their own. The surviving native peoples were often made into slaves or simply retreated into remoter areas where they wouldn’t be found. The driving force at the outset was greed, mostly for gold, but also for new land for European empires to claim. A useful excuse for the conquering Europeans was that the local people had to be converted to Christianity. So within a few centuries, half of North America had been unified into what is today the most militarily powerful country the world has ever seen: the United States of America.
What if history had been different?
Suppose the natives who had been so friendly to Columbus and his exhausted men at their first landfall in the Bahamas had instead killed them? Probably many decades would have passed before anyone else dared to head west across the Atlantic to search for… well, nobody would have known, but they would have known that three ships had set out in 1492 never to be seen or heard of again. How different history might have been.
The industrial revolution, as it is called, started in Britain in the late 18th and early 19th century and quickly spread throughout the world. This really was just a change of energy source from renewable to fossil fuel – something people are now realising was a serious mistake because of climate change and the pollution burning coal (and, later, oil) causes. Previously, all energy needed for any type of industry came from either musclepower (humans, oxen and horses), charcoal (from trees), windmills and waterwheels.These were – and still are – all renewable resources.
When people discovered that coal could be burned and used to heat water to raise steam, or to smelt iron ore, heavy polluting industry really got going. Steam engines were much more powerful than waterwheels or animals and soon were in use for pumping water from mines, driving machines in the new factories and, soon, powering steam locomotives which made transport much faster. Industrialisation has never faltered since its beginning just over 200 years ago. It’s still going on as poorer countries like China and India ‘catch up’.
Maybe historians of the future will look back and see the industrial revolution for what it has been: the biggest disaster to overtake the planet since the asteroid impact 65 million years ago which drove much of life into extinction. The same is happening today.
Our modern understanding of evolution is based on the theory of natural selection, first made public by Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace in 1858. It became well known after Darwin published his book The Origin of Species the following year. The theory caused trouble right from the start and still does today because it challenges humans’ position as somehow being superior to the rest of nature. It shows clearly that humans are directly related to other similar animals such as chimpanzees, orangutans and gorillas. So humans are just very clever apes.
Evolution was an idea which had been around long before Darwin. Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, for example, had suggested that giraffes got their long necks by stretching and could somehow pass this ‘slightly more stretched’ character on to their offspring. But Darwin realised that true evolution occurred by natural selection of species. The fittest and best-adapted flourished and produced lots more of themselves. The rest died out. You can find many of these extinct forms as fossils today (like the dinosaurs).
Although still challenged by some religious groups today, particularly in the USA, evolution is accepted by scientists because of the overwhelming evidence now available from a whole range of sciences — including genetics which provides all the details of how evolution actually works. Darwin had no knowledge of genetics because genes hadn’t been discovered but the evidence that he had collected, careful observer that he was, left him in no doubt. It’s incredible to realise that Alfred Russel Wallace, who was working at the same time as Darwin but in a different part of the world (Malay peninsula and Indonesia), had come across the same unmistakable evidence and come to the same conclusions at the same time as Darwin. In the interests of fairness, their dramatic theory was presented to the world in a joint paper although Russel hadn’t returned to England at that time. Darwin and Russel became friends after his return.
The thick black liquid which comes out of oil wells is called petroleum. As it is, it’s not much use. But chemists have developed ways to refine it into a host of useful products, the best known of which is petrol or gasoline. The basic process is called ‘fractionation’ or ‘distillation’ in which the different types of oil products are heated and boil off at different temperatures. Gasoline comes off at about 150 degrees Celsius whilst diesel fuel (thicker and heavier) boils off at closer to 300 C.
The first oil refinery, built in 1861 at Baku in Azerbaijan (on the shore of the Caspian Sea) by Russian engineers, was simply for producing kerosene for heating and lighting. Baku was then and still is today the centre of important oilfields.
The first prediction that climate change would take place because of human industry was by the Swedish chemist, Svante Arrhenius, in 1896. Arrhenius saw how the industrial revolution was releasing more and more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. He expected that carbon dioxide concentrations would continue to increase as more fossil fuels, particularly coal, were burned. Arrhenius’s genius was to grasp the problem and, with his understanding of physics and chemistry, predict that if atmospheric carbon dioxide doubled, Earth would become several degrees warmer. But he was a scientist before his time and nobody took any notice. 110 years later, there are still many people who refuse to accept that Arrhenius was correct, despite the mass of evidence and agreement between almost all the world’s climate scientists that climate change is real and deadly. This continuing delay in doing anything means serious trouble ahead.
Oxfam began its life as the Oxford Committee for Famine Relief. It changed its name to Oxfam in 1965 and now has branches in many different countries. Oxfam uses a range of approaches to achieve change and improve peoples’ lives, including saving lives through emergency response; longer term development programmes; and campaigning to achieve lasting change. It is probably the best-known of the world’s NGOs (Non-Governmental Organisations). Find out more by clicking the logo on the left.
On 6 and 9 August 1945, the US Air Force dropped two huge bombs on two Japanese cities. The first city was called Hiroshima and the second Nagasaki. These were the first atomic bombs and – so far – the only ones that have ever been used in war. By 1950 those two bombs and the radiation from them had killed 350,000 people. By today’s standards, those two bombs were very small. Hydrogen bombs are hundreds of times more powerful and the nuclear-armed states (the USA, France, Russia, China, Britain, Israel and, now, India and Pakistan) have thousands of them. I wish people would unite and make governments give up nuclear weapons.
DNA is the stuff which makes genes and chromosomes. It is the ultimate in DIY instruction ‘tapes’ for self-building of living organisms. Scientists know a great deal about this double-stranded molecule and its related single-strand ‘messenger’ RNA (ribonucleic acid) which acts, among other things, as a template for building proteins. The basic code is incredibly simple. There are just four chemicals (called bases) Adenine, Thymine, Guanine, Cytosine – A T G C. The code is built up from combinations of those four. A always links to T; G to C. So when the molecule uncoils, as it does to make copies of itself, each base seeks out and links to its new partner (A to T, G to C) – and two new molecules build up where there was just one before. The details of this are very complicated but you’ll get the main idea of how DNA is the genetic code for how to build proteins – which are the building blocks of bodies. The DNA also contains instructions for how to assemble everything, how big to make it and where to put it. That’s why my beak and your nose is on our faces – and not somewhere else on our bodies. Nobody yet understands how all this works in detail.
Greenpeace is an independent, campaigning organisation which uses non-violent, creative confrontation to expose global environmental problems, and to force solutions for a green and peaceful future. Greenpeace’s goal is to ensure the ability of the earth to nurture life in all its diversity. It was founded in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
In its day, videotape recordings of TV were a big step forward. At last anyone with a machine could both record and play back programmes from television. This meant that people could watch their favourite programmes when they wanted rather than when they were transmitted by the TV company. At the beginning, there were three competing types of video recorder, each made by rival manufacturers. In the end, the VHS (Video Home System) made by the Japanese company JVC, won the race and became the standard within a few years. Although still popular for home recording, the VHS tape has largely been replaced by DVDs.
Many of these incredible superhot ‘smokers’ have now been found on the inky-black ocean floors around the planet. The black boiling-hot clouds you see coming out are not really smoke but superheated water (at temperatures as high as 400 degrees Celsius) mixed with sulphide minerals. The very hot water does not boil due to the high pressure it is under at that depth, usually around 2000 metres or more. What really surprised scientists when they first found these vents – peering out of the tiny thick glass windows of a special submarine called ‘Alvin’ – is that they are the home for all kinds of organisms like bacteria (called Extremophiles because they can withstand high temperatures), giant tubeworms and clams. Before these discoveries, scientists thought that the deep oceans were cold lifeless deserts. What makes these ecosystems of bacteria and animals unique is that they are not dependent on sunlight to make food, unlike any other ecosystem on Earth. The bacteria can live off the (to us) poisonous chemicals which spew out of the vents. They then become food themselves for the other animals which live nearby.
On Saturday April 26, 1986 just after one o’clock in the morning, reactor 4 at the Chernobyl power station exploded starting a fire, followed by more explosions and a nuclear meltdown. [A meltdown is what happens when the solid uranium fuel rods in the reactor get so hot that they melt and flow like lava down into the base of the reactor.] This was the worst nuclear disaster ever and has convinced many people that nuclear power is too dangerous to use for making electricity. Radioactive contamination spewed out of the wrecked reactor like a plume of smoke for days afterwards, contaminating enormous areas of Europe, especially Belarus. Around 336,000 people had to be evacuated from their homes and to this day, the towns and villages downwind of the radioactive plume are deserted because of the radioactivity which will take many years to die away. Around 50 people died at the power station itself, mostly attempting to tackle the fire and throw highly-radioactive pieces of blasted-out reactor materials back into the wreck so that the worst contamination could be sealed away. By December 1986, a giant concrete sarcophagus was completed, sealing off the damaged reactor building to prevent more leakage and stop rain getting in. All four of the Chernobyl power plant reactors are now closed but the area will continue to suffer the effects of radiation for many years.
When this large oil tanker hit a reef on March 24th, 1989, it spilled an estimated 11 to 30 million U.S. gallons of crude oil. As a result of the spill thousands of animals died right away: at least 250,000 sea birds, 2,800 sea otters, 300 harbor seals, 250 bald eagles, up to 22 orcas (killer whales). It was one of the most devastating environmental disasters ever to occur at sea.
Ozone is a poisonous form of oxygen which gets made high up in the atmosphere because of radiation from the sun. It is very useful to all life on Earth because it filters out much of the dangerous ultraviolet radiation (UV) from the sun which would otherwise prevent life. Even small amounts of this UV are damaging to life and cause skin cancers in people. It became clear to scientists in the 1970s that something was damaging this vital layer of ozone high up in the atmosphere. That ‘something’ turned out to be certain types of gases, made by humans for making refrigerators work, for blowing out liquids from aerosol cans (like deodorants) and several other things. The gases are called CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons). The Montreal Protocol is the most successful international treaty so far. It’s intended to protect the ozone layer by phasing out the production of CFCs and similar gases which cause ozone depletion. It came into force in 1989 and although the ozone holes got worse for a few years (look at the picture on the left, taken by a NASA satellite in March 2002), there are signs that things are beginning to improve.
This a collection of useful stuff which is interconnwww document addressected by hypertext links (the blue links you click on) just like the web of a spider. So it is really a ‘web’ of information. Making it available on the Internet produced what Tim Berners-Lee, its inventor, first called the World Wide Web. CERN, where Tim Berners-Lee worked, is the European Organization for Nuclear Research, home of big particle accelerators with which physicists probe the true nature of atomic particles.
About the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit
Earth Summit logoIn 1992, more than 100 heads of countries from around the world met in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for the first international Earth Summit. The idea was to really get started on doing something about human damage to our planet. Lots of speeches, lots of paper and lots of stuff about how urgent problems were going to be sorted… but the end result was that little changed. Still, it was a start.
A blog, short for weblog, is a sort of online diary which anyone can read and write on the World Wide Web.
Dolly the sheep was the first mammal to be cloned from an adult sheep cell. (The sheep was 6 years old at the time.) Cloning is the process of creating an identical copy of an organism or thing. Many plants clone themselves naturally so cloning has been around for a long time but animals like mammals don’t do this. Dolly, who later suffered from arthritis and died in 2003 (you can see her stuffed body in Edinburgh’s Royal Museum, Scotland), was cloned by a process called somatic cell nuclear transfer. Other animals that have been successfully cloned are generally not as healthy as the original animal and scientists are unsure why. Cloning is also inefficient and difficult to do because usually most of the cloned cells die.
DVD is short for “Digital Versatile Disc” or “Digital Video Disc”. Like a CD (compact disc), it is an optical disc storage media format that can be used for data storage, including movies with high video and sound quality. It can store much more than a CD so you can see full-length movies all stored on just one small disc. Amazing. They have more or less completely replaced the slow-winding and lower-quality video tapes which were the first widely-available storage media on which people could record and playback films or TV programmes.
Joanne Rowling’s first Harry Potter book was published in 1997. ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’ was rejected by 8 publishers, one of whom advised her to get a ‘day job’ as she had little chance of success… The books have now sold more than 300 million copies and have been translated into 47 languages. Then there’s the films which you’ve probably seen.
This is an agreement reached at Kyoto in Japan in 1997, signed by almost all countries. It is to try to do something about climate change. The basic idea is to commit rich countries to reduce the carbon dioxide (and other greenhouse gases) they produce, mostly because of cars, trucks, industry and electricity generation. The details are very complicated and it’s not working very well, partly because the biggest polluters – the United States and Australia – won’t sign up. …more on climate change.
Bill and Melinda Gates set up a charity using over half Bill Gates’ fortune of around $50 billion to support many projects in poor countries as well as in the USA. Bill Gates is better known for being the world’s richest man who founded Microsoft, the famous computer software company. Go to the foundation…
Genetically engineered plants for food and textiles are now widely grown around the world, especially in the USA and China, despite many people – mostly from Europe – being against genetic engineering. Most of these crops are soybeans, maize, canola (rapeseed, for vegetable oil) and cotton …more on genetic engineering
A genome is a collection of genes, assembled into structures called chromosomes. A genome is a very special and unique set of instructions carried by every living thing for how to build that thing. Humans are quite complicated animals and so have bigger genomes than, say, a mouse or a pea plant, but scientists now have unravelled the basic blueprint for humans. …more on this
The Prestige was an oil tanker which sank off Spain’s Galician coast, causing a large oil spill. The oil polluted vast lengths of coastline and more than one thousand beaches on the Spanish and French coast. It also greatly damaged the local fishing industry by killing off fish and shellfish, not to mention seabirds. The spill was the largest environmental disaster in Spain’s history.
A hurricane is a very serious storm. Katrina was one of the most powerful ever to hit the United States. It caused serious flooding throughout most of New Orleans. Around 1,800 people died because of it and wind speeds reached 175 mph. Many scientists believe that hurricanes are becoming more frequent and stronger because of higher sea temperatures in the tropics. The high temperatures are caused by global warming.