Environment & Sciences / Politics / Society / The Week in Review / World News

What Did I Miss? The Week in Review #6

April 14 – April 21 2015

The Week in Review is a weekly column that highlights some interesting, depressing, and heartwarming events and stories that took place or were published in the past week. Its ambition is not to be exhaustive or to recap major political events; it’s more of a personal take on news or stories that made the author strongly react.

Picture of the week

animals asia bears pool

A pool party, bear style. Image © Animals Asia / Flickr

These bears are having a pool party at the Animals Asia sanctuary in Vietnam. I previously mentioned the amazing work done by Animals Asia to rescue bears from the bear bile industry and provide them with a great natural environment to learn to be free once again (or for some of them, for the first time!).

Also read this story of a bear’s rescue as the team commemorates the 5-year anniversary of brown bear Oliver’s rescue.

Interesting read of the week

Is it safe for Sherpas to go back to Everest? asks BBC.com. One year ago, 16 Sherpas were killed by falling ice blocks as they were attempting to repair broken guide-ropes for their (mostly white, rich) clients. Since the tragedy, Nepal took measures to better protect those who risk their lives for the mountaineers who want to make it to the grail of all mountains. Even though 2/3rd of the Sherpas’ demands have been granted according to a Sherpa quoted in the article, the imbalance in risks taken on the one hand by Sherpas and on the other hand by the mountaineers remains flagrant. Sherpas carry a major load of what their clients need to complete – or just to attempt – the ascension, and have to climb back and forth the same route multiple times during one ascension in order to bring all the supplies necessary. They are also in charge of fixing the route if needed – such as in the event that caused the 16 deaths last year.

sherpas everest carrying

Sherpas carry heavy loads to help climbers attempt to reach the Everest’s summit. Image © Laurence Tan / Reuters

There has of course been a debate on whether mountaineers who continue to attempt the Everest climb are simply egoistic fame-seeking individuals who do not measure the risks they are taking and that they make the Sherpas take. And yes, I believe that there are ‘valid’ reasons why a passionate mountaineer would want to reach the top of the mythical summit. It does present unrivalled mental and physical challenges, and it certainly provides an otherworldly experience due to the need to go beyond our own limits.

Still, I cannot but feel appalled to think that some people are ready to put the Sherpas’ lives in such obvious danger just so that they can attempt to reach the top of the Everest. If a major part of the thrill is to go beyond one’s limits, then why do Sherpas have to carry your comfy tent and your yummy food (if early pioneers were eating Spartan portions of preserves, climbers are now offered sushi and white wine at base camp)? Because nowadays everyone wants to be a hero and think they can summit the Everest just because they have the money. So outfitters provide more oxygen, more guide-ropes, more comfort, more assistance, more everything to make more or less anyone believe that they can reach the ‘Holy Mother’ (the name of the Everest in Tibetan), which means that more Sherpas risk their lives for a few egos to be boosted.

The relationship between climbers and Sherpas also changed greatly. Just look at the relationship between Edmund Hillary, Everest’s first climber, and Tenzing Norgay, the Sherpa that reached the summit with him: their pairing was made of trust, respect, and they helped one another reach the top. Nowadays you’ll hardly hear the name of any individual Sherpa that contributed to the ‘triumph’ of their clients.

Besides, the trivialization of climbing the Everest has led to another major problem: the most majestic mountain on Earth has become a dump. Trash scattered around the once-pristine mountain and heaps of human feces are now part of the Everest landscape. Some steps have been taken to clean the mountain: the Indian Army has been sent to remove some of the tons of waste left behind by trekkers, and the Nepalese government has demanded that each climber bring down 18 pounds of trash with them. Although these measures are encouraging, maybe we should seriously rethink our attitudes when it comes to seeking thrilling experiences to the detriment of the local environment and of local communities.

Space news of the week

An artist's view of a Dyson sphere with its moon used for raw material (on the left side). Image © Adam Burn, via FantasyWallpapers.com

An artist’s view of a Dyson sphere with its moon used for raw material (on the left side). Image © Adam Burn, via FantasyWallpapers.com

After an extensive search for extraterrestrial civilizations, a team of astronomers reported that there was no sign of alien presence in 100 000 nearby galaxies. While previously the search for alien life was mostly focused on potential radio and TV signals, this time the researchers led by Jason Wright, from the Pennsylvania State University, analyzed infrared signals.

This unusual approach was inspired by famous physicist Freeman Dyson, who has theorized in the 1960s that alien civilizations would need an ever-increasing amount of energy, to the extent that they would end up having to reap the energy directly from their star, or in more advanced civilizations from more than one star and even from an entire galaxy. Such power-hungry civilizations would need to build structures that became known as Dyson spheres (see above picture), and these structures would in turn generate major thermodynamic releases – which would be seen in the infrared.

So it seems that no alien super civilization is yet in sight; but in somehow related news, astronomers discovered that the largest known structure of the universe is a massive supervoid: in other words, a giant zone of the universe in which the density of matter is unusually low. Scientists are still perplexed as to how such a massive void can be formed.

Discovery of the week

Each week, more than 50 million Americans ingest acetaminophen[1], the substance contained in pain-relief medicines such as Paracetamol, Ibuprofen or aspirin. Acetaminophen effectively relieves from pain, but also dulls emotions, a new study published by the Ohio State University found.

To conduct the research, 82 college students were given either a 1g dose of acetaminophen, or a placebo, and were then shown a wide range of pictures associated to various emotions, from sad to joyful and neutral. They were asked to rate the images on a scale from very unpleasant to very pleasant. It turned out that the students who had been given the pain reliever consistently rated the images less strongly, revealing a decreased emotional reaction to the stimuli.

That is just a small reminder that taking over the counter medicine is never inconsequential. And next time you take Paracetamol or Aspirin, remember that you may also be blunting your capacity to evaluate your emotions!

[1] Source: Consumer Healthcare Products Association.

Heartwarming news of the week

renewable energy wind turbines

Towards 100% renewable energy for electricity production? © Jürgen / Flickr

It is realistic to expect a 100% renewable energy mix by 2050, and would not be more expensive than the current power mix for electricity, says a French study. This extensive report emanates from the French Agency for Environment and Energy Management (Ademe), and concludes that the 100% renewable energy future could be closer than some want to make us believe (although remember that these conclusions only apply to electricity production).

The study should normally have been released last week during a symposium organized in Paris, but its publication ended up being postponed on the grounds that it had not been finalized. But this delay may well have to do with the fact that the French parliament is currently discussing the law on energy transition, which proposes to maintain a level of 50% nuclear energy.

Read more (in English) at: http://energiogklima.no/blogg/terje-osmundsen/new-study-95-renewable-power-mix-cheaper-than-nuclear-and-gas/

And in French: http://www.lemonde.fr/planete/article/2015/04/09/une-france-avec-100-d-electricite-renouvelable-pas-plus-couteux-que-le-nucleaire_4613278_3244.html

Weirdest news of the week

neanderthal modern human skulls comparison

Comparison of Modern Human and Neanderthal skulls from the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. Image via Wikimedia Commons

This week, Time reported that a team of scientists have come up with a ‘revolutionary’ working hypothesis on why we have chins. The usual explanation was that chewing demands considerable jaw strength, and that all the jaw clenching needed to chew resulted in an increase in bone mass, which in turn begot the chin. Another common explanation is that “attractive” chins increase your mating potential (!) and were therefore a needed feature in sexual selection.

But scientists at the University of Iowa are challenging these two ideas and argue that the reason of the chin’s existence is simply that “the face shrank away from behind the chin as primitive and pre-humans became modern humans, making it appear larger relative to everything else” (source: Time). Indeed as societies started forming and needed aggressive males to show cooperation instead of competition, their levels of testosterone dropped and the craniofacial structure changed, and the chin started to appear prominently as the rest of the face shrank. Anthropologist Robert Fransiscus summarizes the phenomenon as such: “There had to be more curiosity and inquisitiveness than aggression, and the evidence of that lies in facial architecture.”

Video of the week

Ashima Shiraishi is a 14 year-old rock climber who’s nothing short of amazing. When she was 13 she became the youngest person to climb a 9a+ route (which is one of the highest grade in difficulty ranking), and the first woman to do so. Here’s a new interview with the climbing genius and a glimpse at how she trains.

Also read our Celebration of Women in Sports to get to know more inspiring female athletes!

Marion Bouvier


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