Snowflakes, sap and socialist plots

Unfortunately, Bentley’s love of snow was not reciprocated: He died of pneumonia in 1931 after walking home in a blizzard.

November 20, 2010 | | Back Issues | Countryside Digest | Departments | Environment | Winter 2010


“Before Wilson Bentley discovered the joys of taking photographs down a microscope, few people considered the snowflake a thing of beauty. Last week, the Carl Hammer Gallery in Chicago, Illinois, was selling 20 Bentley prints for $4,800 apiece.”

“Bentley was a Vermont farmer and self-taught scientist who in 1880 received a microscope for his fifteenth birthday. After focusing on snowflakes, he was staggered by what he saw. ‘Every crystal was a masterpiece of design,’ he said later. He first tried sketching them, then turned to a primitive camera. It took four years to find a way of making snowflakes hang around long enough – up to ninety seconds – to get a successful shot.”

“Ultimately, Bentley became a pioneer in photomicrography, recording 5,318 different snowflake images… Unfortunately, Bentley’s love of snow was not reciprocated: He died of pneumonia in 1931 after walking home in a blizzard.” From Science, Feb 5/10.

Snow Job

“Historians a thousand years from now may wonder what went wrong: How, after scholars had so thoroughly nailed down the reality of anthropogenic climate change, did so many Americans get fooled into thinking it was all a left-wing hoax?

“Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway give us some very good – if disturbing – answers in their fascinating, detail-ed and artfully written new book, Merchants of Doubt. In it they show how a small band of right-wing scholars steeped in Cold War myopia, with substantial financing from powerful corporate polluters, managed to mislead large sections of the American public into thinking that the evidence for human-caused warming was un-certain, unsound, politically tainted and unfit to serve as the basis for any kind of political action.

“Oreskes and Conway show that climate change was really a surrogate for larger fears of a regulatory state – a state seen as increasingly willing to curtail free-market liberties in the name of environmental protection. When the Soviet empire collapsed in 1989, these Cold Warrior physicists moved on to attack a new enemy, environmentalism, which they saw as furthering the same anti-American agenda. Environmentalism (and in particular climate science) was conjured up as the latest in a long line of threats to liberty – ‘a green tree with red roots,’ as conservative journalist George Will once put it.” From Robert N. Proctor’s review of Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming, by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway (Bloomsbury Press, 2010), in American Scientist, Sept-Oct/10.

Job Done

“I have been reading Mother Earth News for as long as I have been able to read. I like the content and have enjoyed your magazine. However, since ‘green’ has become a political movement, and those who I would term communists or die-hard socialists have taken the non-existent, scientifically disproved global warming crisis and used it to control us, I have started to skip articles and at times the whole magazine. Please hear my plea. The political nonsense should be left out of my Mother Earth News.” Letter to the editor from Dennis Douglas of Consort, Alberta [k.d. lang’s hometown], in Mother Earth News, June-July/09.

Edible Forest

“In his visionary book, Forest Gardening: Cultivating an Edible Landscape, Hart notes that Kerala boasts an estimated half million small-scale forest gardens managed for subsistence and income by the millions of people that live within them. Hart’s research revealed that these tropical gardens, typically half an acre in scale, had up to ‘23 young coconut palms, 12 cloves, 56 bananas, 49 pineapples, 30 pepper vines and numerous other herbaceous perennial plant species and small livestock.’ With little or no outside inputs, such intense production could supply most of a family’s food needs plus medicine, animal fodder, building materials, feedstock for micro-biogas digesters and fibre for crafts. Similarly, Hart discovered that forest gardens on the island of Java of just over an acre in size routinely support-ed families of ten or more persons.

“Over the next thirty years, Robert Hart and his brother began to transform their own property [in Shropshire] into perhaps the first known temperate forest garden in the west. Although Hart passed away in 2001, his garden remains an inspiration to would-be forest gardeners around the temperate world as he has demonstrated that the agro-forestry principles practised for hundreds, if not thousands, of years in the tropics can be successfully adapt-ed to colder climates.” From Edible Forest Gardens, by Ron Berezan, in Canadian Organic Grower, Fall/10.

Ancient Acoustics

“Trevor Cox’s discussion of the acoustics of ancient theatres [New Scientist, Aug 21/10] reminded me of a trip to Greece with my medical student colleagues.

“We tested the acoustics of the amphitheatre at Delphi by going to the top tier of seats and sending one of our number down to the stage. Not having memorized a speech from Aristophanes, but being in the throes of learning anatomy, he intoned the longest Latin name for a muscle in the body, the levator labii superioris alaeque nasi – a facial muscle that lifts the upper lip and dilates the nostril.

“The theatre acoustics were so impressive that all the other visitors stopped in their tracks and crossed themselves.” Letter to the Editor, from John Davies of Lancaster, UK, in New Scientist, Sept 4/10.

Creative Flame

“Without basic research, there can be no applications… After all, electricity and the light bulb were not invented by incremental improvements to the candle.” President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, announcing France’s plan to increase spending on higher educa-tion and basic and applied research by 35 billion Euros for the next four years as part of the country’s bailout strategy. Cited in Science, Aug 6/10.

Syrup Cure

“A recent study discovered 13 com-pounds linked with human health in samples of maple syrup. Among the previously unidentified chemicals were phenolics believed to have anti-cancer properties. When it is tapped for its sap, the wounded sugar maple may be secreting these phenolics as a defence mechanism.” From “News of Diversity,” by Hugh Daubeny, in Seeds of Diversity, Summer/10.

About the Author More by Douglas G. Pearce

Douglas G. Pearce is a retired scientist who lives in Mono, you can read more miscellany in other issues of Countryside Digest.


1 Comment

  1. Nice article, Mr. Pearce.

    Don Lemna on Nov 28, 2010 at 11:41 am | Reply

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