Numlock News: September 23, 2019 • Asteroid Dust, Extinctions, Downton Abbey
By Walt Hickey
In a surprise twist, Downton Abbey beat out Ad Astra and Rambo: Last Blood in a competitive weekend at the U.S. box office. The British period drama — which capped off the run of the beloved television show about how landed gentry and peasantry in their employ experienced the Edwardian years — made $31 million from over 3,000 theaters, besting the Brad Pitt starring Ad Astra’s $19.2 million and the Sylvester Stallone resuscitation of Rambo’s $19 million. The Downton movie — basically The Avengers but where everyone’s superpower is never talking about their feelings in any direct way — has made $61.8 million globally on a $13 million budget. The film, released at a time when the British establishment is in a state of effective collapse, is particularly killing it among older adults: in the U.S. half the audience was 45 and over.
While so much of Silicon Valley today makes their business in the sterile world of application development and software, the area was the site of legitimate computer chip manufacturing for many years. That has left more than a legacy of innovation, it’s also left a legacy of pollution as former industrial sites where semiconductors were manufactured still haven’t been cleaned up. Santa Clara County has 23 active Superfund sites, which is the most of any county in the U.S., most of which were contaminated with chemicals involved in semiconductor manufacture like trichloroethylene. In 2014, government officials said there were 518 toxic plumes in the groundwater of the county, likely an underestimate.
Off the coast of California, purple sea urchins have exploded in population since 2014, with their concentrations increasing to anywhere from 60 to 100 times as many urchins since then. The tens of millions of urchins are devouring the seaweed and giant kelp that fuels the entire ecosystem, and the effects can be traumatic for decades. Lifeless, barren stretches of seafloor covered in urchins — which live decades — have persisted off the coast of Japan for 80 years, and off the Aleutian Islands for 25. The urchins need a ravenous predator, and luckily humans fit the bill, provided that the companies trying to save the ecosystems can get the American palate where it needs to be.
Researchers found evidence that 466 million years ago a 150 kilometer wide asteroid exploded, and the dust from its destruction blanketed Earth. What followed was an ice age, sure, but what followed that was an explosion in animal life known as the Great Ordovician Biodiversification Event. The link between the asteroid detritus and the GOBE ties together nicely and is just a theory, but geoengineering ideas have long considered the possibility of using asteroid dust to affect the climate. A 32 kilometer asteroid ground into dust could block 6.6 percent of the sun’s light. A 1.7 percent decrease in sunlight would be enough to offset the 2 degrees Celsius of expected warming from climate change. Now, I’m not saying we should duct tape a belt sander to a Falcon 9 and hope for the best, yet, but let’s hear them out.
They may not be as eye-popping as a dodo, but plants have seen dire rates of extinction since 1750, with a new study in Nature Ecology & Evolution citing at least 571 species of plants that have gone extinct in the wild since 1750. Since 1900, the pace of plant extinction has been estimated to be 500 times the background extinction rate for plants. Since 1900, 8 plant species disappear every 3 years. One hopeful note is that the authors identified 431 plants that had been believed to be extinct but were later rediscovered, however 89 percent of those are still at serious risk of extinction.
The uncertainty surrounding the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union has had a serious impact on British businesses, with a new paper estimating that business investment has fallen by 11 percent over the three years since the 2016 vote, with a further 2 percent to 5 percent decrease in productivity. Until there’s a determination of the it and the when and the how, the fear is that uncertainty associated with the U.K. exit will continue to encourage businesses to keep their powder dry and hold off on investments. Another recent study found that the average CEO in the U.K. has spent an hour and a half per week on Brexit issues, and the average CFO spent over 2 hours per week.
College student turnout doubled in the 2018 elections compared to the 2014 midterms according to a new study of 10 million students on 1,000 campuses. The average college student voting rate in 2014 was 19.7 percent, which rose considerably in the 2018 midterms to 39.1 percent. That’s presidential-election level of turnout, as in 2016 the turnout at those colleges was 51.3 percent. The change? Well, it all comes down to being asked to Pokemon Go! to the polls, that turned out to be the turning point, who could have guessed.
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