Last night I watched a movie that somehow I missed when it was broadcast on ABC on November 20, 1983. It is the most compelling dramatization I have seen of why we need to rid the world of all nuclear weapons. Frankly, this movie is terrifying, but as stated at the end, a real nuclear war would be far, far worse. This movie ought to be required viewing for every American over the age of 12. Though the Cold War is over, the Soviet Union is no more, and the two Germanys reunited, the threat of nuclear warfare is just as relevant today. In fact, the Doomsday Clock of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists is closer to midnight now than it ever has been—even during the height of the Cold War.
What else can we do? Here in the United States, we must reject and oppose tribalism at every opportunity. Our political system is dysfunctional, both in practice as well as structurally, and it needs to be dramatically reformed. Our politicians are completely unable to address the many existential crises currently facing our nation and the world, and most citizens feel powerless—or worse yet—dispirited, apathetic, or willfully ignorant. At the same time, we must root out lies and misinformation, and rely upon facts and hard-earned expertise.
Globally, we must work toward establishing a global “supergovernment” that enacts and enforces binding international laws that are in the best interest of all the world’s peoples. Individual nations will have to give up some sovereignty in order to effectively address global threats such as nuclear weapons, warfare, human rights violations, pandemics, climate change, pollution, environmental degradation, and loss of biodiversity. Whether the United Nations can be strengthened to serve in this role or a new organization created will need to be explored.
Another pandemic casualty: intercity bus service. The Dubuque – Waterloo – Cedar Rapids – Marshalltown – Ames bus route shown on the 2015 map below is no more. When I called Burlington Trailways yesterday, they told me that this bus route will not be coming back after the pandemic. What a shame.
Not everyone who would like to ride a regional bus has no other transportation option, though that demographic is sizable and certainly needs to be served. Some of us like to ride a bus because we simply don’t want to drive long distances, especially alone. I lived in Ames, Iowa for nearly 30 years, and go back periodically to visit friends and family. I currently live in southwest Wisconsin, and prior to the pandemic, I was able to board a bus in Dubuque at 10:55 a.m. on any day, and would arrive in Ames on the same bus at 5:00 p.m., in time to pick up a rental car at Enterprise before they closed for the day. On the return trip, I could return the car in the morning, after Enterprise opened, board the bus in Ames at 9:45 a.m., and would arrive in Dubuque at 3:30 p.m. It was all very convenient.
Now, your only choice for using public transportation from Dubuque to Ames is the following:
Board the bus at Dubuque at 3:50 p.m.
Arrive at Davenport at 5:05 p.m.
Layover at the Davenport bus station until 6:55 p.m. (1h50m)
Transfer to a new bus and leave Davenport at 6:55 p.m.
Arrive in Des Moines at 11:10 p.m., with a 20 minutes layover
Transfer to a new bus and leave Des Moines at 11:30 p.m.
Arrive in Ames at 12:10 a.m. (no rental car companies open at that hour of the night)
The return trip is even worse.
Board the bus at Ames at 10:20 p.m.
Arrive in Des Moines at 11:05 p.m.
Transfer to a new bus at Des Moines
Arrive in Chicago at 5:35 a.m.
Transfer to a new bus in Chicago
Leave Chicago at 6:30 a.m.
Arrive in Davenport at 9:55 a.m.
Transfer to a new bus at Davenport
Leave Davenport at 10:10 a.m.
Arrive in Dubuque at 11:25 a.m.
A parenthetical note about this trip. The eastbound bus arrives at the Davenport Flying J’s Travel Shop, 8200 Northwest Boulevard at 1:55 a.m. Instead of going on to Chicago, you could take a 16-minute cab ride the 7 miles to the Burlington Trailways bus station in Davenport at 304 W River Dr. and then wait at the bus station for the 9:55 a.m. bus to arrive that will take you on to Dubuque. Or rent a motel room to sleep for a few hours first.
This is crazy! Who would put up with this unless they were desperate and had no other travel option? Certainly not a good way to build demand for public transportation across a broader demographic, is it?
Public transportation has been underfunded for decades in the United States and it shows. We ought to be ashamed. We really do need a much better bus and passenger rail network, with good intermodal connections.
Sadly, there was not a single news article on the internet that announced or lamented the cancellation of the Burlington Trailways bus route from Dubuque to Ames (and beyond). I guess intercity bus service isn’t deemed newsworthy, as many bus passengers are considered to be second-class citizens at best.
Another sign of the times: neither the bus companies nor anyone else posts bus route timetables on the internet, and even the Amtrak ones are hard to find these days. They all want you to enter your origin and destination on their website, but what if you want a “big picture” timetable for the entire route? You’re usually out of luck.
I subscribe to The Week which does a good job summarizing news events of the past week from a number of sources. In the May 21, 2021 issue, they quote an article from Noah Smith on Bloomberg.com that tells us, once again, how bad it is that the U.S. birth rate is declining.
Birth rates need to decline everywhere in the world because population growth is the cause of climate change, loss of biodiversity, and increasing poverty, conflict, suffering, and inequality. It is obvious by now that if we want to avoid a dystopian future for the human race, we’d better start encouraging people to have fewer children (one or zero is enough). That is the only humane way to reduce human population. Why would any sane person want to reduce our population through any other means?
Quoting from the article, “America’s declining birth rate”,
A “baby bust” points to “a grim economic future” for America, said Noah Smith.
Not as grim as the economic future that awaits us as the world’s resources are rapidly depleted and the natural world collapses due to too many people on our planet.
U.S. births fell 4 percent in 2020 to their lowest rate since World War II, the federal government reported last week.
Is it any wonder? The pandemic has upended all of our lives. That would have been reason enough, but add to that the toxic politics of this country which is like a horribly abusive marriage from which there is no escape. Then, add the host of existential crises facing the world, plus powerful manipulators constantly lying to us and distracting us to keep us from doing anything about these problems, and you have a country that clearly is on the verge of open warfare, if not collapse. Why would anyone want to bring a beautiful child into such a hopeless future?
“This puts an increasing financial and physical burden on the young,” who must pay the soaring costs of Social Security, Medicare, and caring for their own aging family members.
We have no one to blame but ourselves for the world’s most expensive medical care that for many is no longer of the highest quality. We need a non-profit, single-payer system such as Medicare for All.
“In 2010, the number of working-age adults per older adult was 4.8; by 2060, it’s projected to be only half that”—meaning that the tax burden on workers will need to double.
We are not paying enough taxes as it is. This is especially true for the wealthiest among us, including large corporations. And spending less on the military would help a lot, as it already consumes an obscene percentage of our federal budget.
The graying of the population will also lead to lower productivity and economic stagnation.
It depends on how you measure productivity and economic growth. Many seniors are highly productive members of society, even when they are not paid for their work. These encore careers allow many seniors to contribute directly to the betterment of society in more substantial ways then when they were traditionally employed.
If humans are to survive on this planet, we must transition away from an ever-increasing-consumption approach to economic growth and towards one of sustainability and improving everyone’s quality of life (not only materially).
Per-capita productivity will increase if we build robots and other machines to do the most unrewarding and dangerous work that humans now do. People can be retrained for more interesting work and more service-oriented careers.
And it will put the U.S. at a marked disadvantage in our competition with China, which has four times our population.
So what? Why must we continue to take this “us vs. them” approach? We need to think, and act, globally.
Increased immigration would help, but it’s not enough to keep our population growing.
Why must our population grow? Growth is killing us and this planet. We need a new economic system where progress isn’t equivalent to unbridled growth.
“Americans need to have more children,” and surveys show they want to—but are held back by the high costs of housing, education, and child care.
Well, then don’t vote Republican. And one child is enough.
America has a choice to make: to be a graying nation in decline or a great nation, “confident enough in ourselves to believe that there should be more of us.”
This is nonsense. Since when is a graying nation in decline? Let’s value every individual for who they are and what they can contribute, regardless of their age. And who cares about a “great nation”? I’m more interested in a “great world”. And making a “great contribution” of my time and energy to others.
We need a new economy. Where everything is recyclable. Where everything is built to last. Where everything is repairable. How are we ever going to get to that without strong government regulation to encourage needed behaviors and discourage harmful ones? And binding international laws?
A few quotes come to mind when considering the current hyperpartisan and politically polarized environment in the United States.
“The beatings will continue until morale improves.” – Anonymous
“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” – Albert Einstein
“Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.” – H. G. Wells
One thing is for sure. The systemic problems in our political system will remain firmly in place no matter who wins the election.
I want to live in a place where we can work together, despite our differences, to make real progress towards the following goals:
Free or inexpensive basic healthcare not tied to one’s employer
Free or inexpensive post-secondary education
Affordable housing and tiny house villages for the homeless
Universal Basic Income (UBI)
An economy based on building things that last and are able to be repaired or recycled, rather than rapidly consumed and thrown away
Currency that is neither artificially scarce nor debt-based, and that takes into account everything of value to society
Public policy based on a humanistic worldview where decisions are guided by facts not faith, science not religion
A gradual reduction in the world’s population through the only humane way available—having fewer children
Tight restrictions on gun ownership and training requirements for those who do own guns
Binding and enforceable international laws
A stronger and more effective United Nations
A completely decentralized power grid powered by renewable energy sources, primarily solar and wind
Substantially scale back on the use of fossil fuels
A strong public transportation system, including high-speed passenger rail
I’m sure those of you of a similar persuasion could add many more items to this list, but you get the idea which “side” I am on. (Hint: It is not the side that has most of the guns.)
There are many people who want these things. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could live someplace where we could work towards these goals without our every effort being blocked?
We have built a lifestyle that is economically and ecologically unsustainable. We are fast running out of time and options. Smart people address problems before they get to be crises.
What are our options, besides a slow, miserable, and probably violent descent into dystopia (i.e. life’s a bitch and then you die)?
Divide the U.S. into autonomous enclaves
Leave the U.S. (if anyone will have us)
Form or join an intentional community where people with similar goals and beliefs can demonstrate to the wider world a better way to live, a better way to govern
1 and 3 are similar, but 3 would be on a much smaller scale—no more than about 150 people. Small is beautiful.
A few years ago, at a friend’s recommendation, I watched a movie based on a brilliant idea but crudely executed (and I do mean crudely): Idiocracy. It seems we are already well on the way to the dystopian existence portrayed in that 2006 movie. Though Idiocracy is brilliant satire, I would love to see a remake that is more discerning and family friendly so it can reach a wider audience.
There’s a great divide in my life, too. On the one hand, I want to finally live far away from city lights during my retirement years in an astronomy-friendly intentional community that has no dusk-to-dawn lighting. But on the other hand, I would love to live in a politically progressive city with a first-rate symphony orchestra and a vibrant classical music scene. Observational astronomy and classical music are my two biggest interests, but their venues are mutually incompatible.
Challenges, large and small.
Imagine there’s no heaven It’s easy if you try No hell below us Above us, only sky
Imagine all the people Livin’ for today Ah
Imagine there’s no countries It isn’t hard to do Nothing to kill or die for And no religion, too
Imagine all the people Livin’ life in peace You
You may say I’m a dreamer But I’m not the only one I hope someday you’ll join us And the world will be as one
Imagine no possessions I wonder if you can No need for greed or hunger A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people Sharing all the world You
You may say I’m a dreamer But I’m not the only one I hope someday you’ll join us And the world will live as one
The Mirador specifications document located in our Files section and here gives a lot of detail about our vision for an astronomy-friendly residential community and astronomy resort & learning center. But before any of this can be developed, we need to have land.
The next step for Mirador is to create a legal entity that can raise money for a land purchase.
Some challenges we face:
Mirador could be located in Arizona, New Mexico, or West Texas. We don’t want to limit our land search to one state, but incorporating in the state where land will be purchased is less complicated.
We need an attorney who is familiar with Arizona, New Mexico, and West Texas law, but especially with real estate law and corporate law.
Does anyone know an attorney who is interested in astronomy, might want to become involved with this project, and might be willing to do some pro bono work?
Does anyone know a fundraising professional who is interested in astronomy and might want to become involved with this project?
Our most immediate need is to find an attorney to help us create the legal entity that will be necessary to raise money for a land purchase. This legal entity will exist for one and only one purpose: to purchase land for Mirador Astronomy Village.
Here is what we currently envision for the land-purchase legal entity. Would appreciate your thoughts before we submit this to a prospective attorney.
Issuance of Shares
1 share = $1000
No limit on the number of shares that can be purchased
Initial shares and additional shares can be purchased at any time
Hold the money in an FDIC-insured interest-bearing account
Value of shares remains unchanged except for interest accrued
Shareholders can return shares and remove their investment (plus interest) at any time up through the point of the shareholders voting in favor of making an offer on a property but before an offer is actually made
1 share = 1 vote
Funds can only be used to purchase a property for Mirador Astronomy Village; any leftover funds will be returned to the shareholders proportional to the number of shares they own.
If there are insufficient funds to purchase the property without financing, the shareholders will not be a party to that financing arrangement.
It is possible we may acquire land that is “partially donated”, that is the land owner may agree to sell us the land for the amount of funds we have raised to date.
Shareholders will be known as Community Founders.
After the property is purchased, the monetary value of the shares goes to $0.
Benefits for shareholders after the property is purchased will include free RV, camping, and astronomy access to the property as soon as it is acquired; after development, no-additional-cost benefits such as free access to astronomy programs will be offered.
Benefits will be proportional to the number of shares owned.
If Mirador Astronomy Village isn’t established on the property within five years, the property will be sold and the proceeds returned to the shareholders in proportion to the number of shares they own.
Some Reasons Why I Want to Live in a Dark-Sky Community
Posted 13 July 2020
I drove 20 miles round-trip early Saturday morning to view Comet NEOWISE (C/2020 F3) for the first time. It is beautiful! Easily visible to the unaided eye and spectacular in binoculars. And now, in the more convenient evening sky!
I had to trespass onto private land (as I often do) because we are not allowed to be in any of our state parks here in Wisconsin during the hours of 11:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. (unless you are a paid camper at a campsite).
One of my motivations for living in a dark-sky community is having a great view of a comet like C/2020 F3 literally right outside my door night after night. The same goes for watching meteors. The visibility of comets and meteors are severely impacted by light pollution—both the general urban skyglow but also nearby lights. Along with just about every other aspect of observational astronomy.
All my adult life I have spent significant time and energy educating (and becoming educated myself) about light pollution, environmentally-friendly lighting, and, of course, astronomy. There have been small victories, yes, but overall I feel my contributions have been a drop in the proverbial bucket.
Living in a “regular community” (as I have all my life), there is always the trepidation with every new neighbor or lighting technology change that your view of the night sky will be degraded even further than it already has, and there is not a darned thing you can do about it if the perpetrator (be it a neighbor or the city) chooses to marginalize you and your kindly-presented concerns. Heck, this can even be a problem living in a rural area. When I had my Outdoor Lighting Associates, Inc. business in Iowa from 1994-2005, I can’t count the many times I got a call from a distressed rural resident that had a new neighbor who decided to light up their place like Las Vegas.
Sure, a lighting ordinance would help a lot, but in most cities and towns these days they’ll look at you like you’re from Mars if you try to make enacting one a priority.
There are many advantages to living in a small community, but where I live now (population 4,700) there is no community will nor interest in reigning in bad lighting or in protecting the night sky. However, in 1999 I was deeply involved with writing a lighting ordinance and getting it approved in Ames, Iowa, a university town of 50,000 (at the time). Being a well-educated university town had a lot to do with our success there. Those were kinder, gentler times then, too.
Lighting at Mirador
I’d like to take this opportunity to explain more about the outdoor lighting aspects of an “astronomy-friendly” community. Indoor lighting would have no restrictions except the amount of light shining outdoors at night would need to be controlled with some sort of window covering.
Ideally, an astronomy-friendly community would not allow any dusk-to-dawn lighting. Why have a light shining all night long when most of the night no one will be making use of its illumination? Modern light sources such as LEDs, occupancy sensors, and control electronics have advanced to the point (both in terms of technology and affordability) that dusk-to-dawn lighting is no longer needed, at least not in the kind of small community we are talking about here. I would like Mirador Astronomy Village to be an ongoing demonstration project for the wider world showing a better way to do outdoor lighting. By “better” I mean lighting that provides needed illumination where and when it is needed without adversely affecting the nighttime environment, including our view of the night sky. By “better” I also mean using passive reflective or light-colored materials where possible to reduce the need for—or brightness of—outdoor lighting.
There’s a lot to be said in favor of using “personal lighting devices”, also known as flashlights, when walking about at night.
The permanent outdoor lighting that is installed should be properly shielded and directed so that only what needs to be illuminated is illuminated, thus eliminating glare, light trespass, and direct uplight. The right amount of light for the intended task should be used, never more than is needed.
We certainly will need to be mindful of anyone visiting or living in our community with vision limitations. This is most likely going to be an issue in the areas open to the public at night. Observational astronomers, as a general rule, have learned to see better at low illumination levels through familiarity and experience, but the same is not true for the general public. Accommodations will need to be made with this in mind, and I would expect the public areas to have more illumination.
Getting this project off the ground has been challenging in the midst of a pandemic. There is at least one of several things you can do right now to help this project along.
Post a comment here!
Join the Dark-Sky-Communities discussion group at https://dark-sky-communities.groups.io/g/main. There are several subscription options for your convenience, and even if you subscribe to receive individual emails, the traffic on this moderated group is light and focused specifically on astronomy-friendly residential communities.
Lewis Thomas (1913-1993) wrote in his essay Late Night Thoughts on Listening to Mahler’s Ninth Symphony,
“I cannot listen to the last movement of the Mahler Ninth without the door-smashing intrusion of a huge new thought: death everywhere, the dying of everything, the end of humanity…How do the young stand it? How can they keep their sanity? If I were very young, sixteen or seventeen years old, I think I would begin, perhaps very slowly and imperceptibly, to go crazy…If I were sixteen or seventeen years old…I would know for sure that the whole world was coming unhinged. I can remember with some clarity what it was like to be sixteen…I was in no hurry…The years stretched away forever ahead, forever…It never crossed my mind to wonder about the twenty-first century; it was just there, given, somewhere in the sure distance.”
Thomas was referring to the threat of nuclear war, which is still very much with us. Now, can you imagine as bad as the COVID-19 pandemic has been, what a nuclear war would be like? We need to rid our planet of these weapons, now.
As I was listening to the final movement of Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 9, the Adagio, this past Monday, I was also thinking, of course, about the frightening ravages of COVID-19, but also climate change and the precipitous decline in biological diversity caused by humans. All of this is driven by the fact that there are too many people on the planet, and the answer is not to kill (by whatever means) people who are already here, but to bring fewer children into the world so we can lower human population to a sustainable level in the coming generations. We could all have a higher standard of living without trashing the planet.
On Wednesday, the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, PBS aired a new BBC documentary, Climate Change: The Facts. I was riveted by the program, presented by Sir David Attenborough, who will turn 94 next month the day before I turn 64. David Attenborough is an international treasure. Watching him so expertly present, as he always does, the urgency of this climate crisis and remembering his many outstanding documentary series such as Life on Earth and The Living Planet, I became teary eyed knowing that he will not be with us for very much longer. You wish someone like David Attenborough or Carl Sagan could live for hundreds of years. Because, when our life is over, we will cease to exist as a conscious entity, for all eternity. I am now certain of that. Realizing that this is our one and only life gives one a very different perspective on what we are doing to this world—and to each other. Humanists value the sanctity of each human life more than anyone who believes in an afterlife. Humanists fully understand the enormous responsibility each of us living in this current generation has to ensure that our civilization does not descend into a dystopian existence. There will be no salvation, just unimaginable pain, suffering, and destruction of all that is good, if we fail.
I am so inspired by young Greta Thunberg, who features prominently in the documentary. Greta and the many other young activists around the world give me hope for the future. Her words and conviction brought more tears to my eyes. I may be 63, but I’m with you 100%, Greta. Sign me up!
In 1908 and 1909, Gustav Mahler finished his last completed work, the Symphony No. 9. There was much turmoil and tragedy in Mahler’s life prior to the writing of this symphony. His beloved oldest daughter, Maria Anna Mahler, died of scarlet fever and diphtheria on 5 July 1907 at the age of 4. Immediately after Maria’s death, Mahler learned that he had a defective heart. And his relationship with his wife Alma had become strained. Gustav Mahler died on 18 May 1911. He never heard his Symphony No. 9 performed. It received its premiere on 26 June 1912 in Vienna with Bruno Walter conducting the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.
The final movement of Mahler’s Symphony No. 9, the Adagio, is one of the most moving pieces of music I have ever heard. While listening to it, one thinks of all the beauty that was and is in the world, and how terribly much we have lost.
The most expressive recording of the Adagio I have heard is by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Sir Georg Solti (Decca 473 274-2). If this movement of 24:37 does not bring you to tears, I don’t know what will.
Climate change is a serious problem requiring immediate attention. We need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions into our atmosphere as fast as possible. Half measures will not do. We are rapidly running out of time before the quality of life for all humans on planet Earth declines, especially for the economically disadvantaged.
A precipitous decline in biological diversity due to habitat loss and extinction of species is of greater concern, and yet it gets very little attention in the mainstream media. While climate change will render large areas of the Earth uninhabitable, biodiversity loss will lead to a partial or complete collapse of the ecosystem humans depend upon for food.
Getting even less attention is the cause of both of these problems: overpopulation. If you were born in 1973, the world’s human population is now twice what it was then. If you were born in 1952, there are three times as many people alive now than there were then. We have a climate emergency and a biodiversity emergency because we have a population emergency. The number of humans on this planet needs to decline, and the only humane way to accomplish that is to have fewer children. It is that simple.
And, yet, we often see this or that news article lamenting the fact that the birth rate in this or that country is too low. That’s crazy! A low birth rate should be a cause for celebration given the current state of the world and its environment. Certainly, a low birth rate does lead to some economic challenges, but these pale in comparison to the challenges we will face if population (and consumption) continue to grow.
As a humanist, I believe that we should do all we can to alleviate and eliminate human suffering. It is our highest moral calling. To be sure, some human suffering is inevitable and necessary when an individual makes poor decisions and suffers the consequences before hopefully making a mid-course correction. But the kind of suffering I am talking about is suffering that is imposed upon a person through no fault of their own, be it the cruelty of other human beings, or the cruelty of nature.
In this light we can see that our economic systems, governments, and most religions are utterly failing us. Nothing short of drastic changes will solve these problems. May wisdom, intelligence, ingenuity, and compassion guide us, rather than fear, ignorance, hatred, and dogma.
There is an organization dedicated to stabilizing human population throughout the world by lowering the birth rate: Population Connection. I encourage you to support their work as I do.
Are any of you nearing retirement (as I am) or already retired who might be interested in moving to an astronomy-oriented retirement community? If you are, I encourage you to join the moderated Groups.io discussion group Dark-Sky Communities at
I am working to establish such a community and would value your input and assistance. That work involves extensive research, networking, writing articles in various publications to reach a wider audience, finding a suitable developer, and seeking benefactors.
Some characteristics of the community I envision include:
Rural location with a dark night sky, but not too far from a city with decent medical facilities, preferably to the northeast or northwest;
Location with an abundance of clear nights and mild winters, probably in Arizona, New Mexico, or West Texas;
Lighting within the community that does not interfere with astronomical activities, strictly enforced;
Community is owned and operated by a benefit corporation or cooperative that will rent a house or apartment to each resident;
Observatories will be available for rental by interested residents who will equip them;
Pro-am collaborative research opportunities will be developed and nurtured;
A community observatory and a public observatory for astronomy outreach will be constructed and maintained;
Lodging will be available for visitors and guests;
There will be opportunities for on-site income operating and maintaining the community or, alternatively, a reduction in monthly rental fees.
Many of us have spent a significant amount of time and energy over the years trying to rein in light pollution in our respective communities and in the wider world, with varying degrees of success. Those efforts should continue, but the grim reality is that light pollution is continuing to get worse almost everywhere.
The opportunity to live in a community of varied interests but with a common appreciation for the night sky and a natural nighttime environment will appeal to many of us. Furthermore, a dark-sky community will afford us opportunities to show the world at large a better way to live.
Traditionally, in the United States at least, if one wants to live under a dark and starry night sky, your only options are to purchase land and build a house on it, or purchase an existing rural home. Not only is buying and maintaining rural real estate unaffordable or impractical for many, many would prefer to live in a rural community, provided that the night sky and nighttime environment are vigorously protected. Rental will also make it easier to move into and out of the community as circumstances change.
In terms of bulk properties, Venus is the most Earthlike planet in the solar system. The diameter of Venus is 95% of Earth’s diameter. The mass of Venus is 82% of Earth’s mass. It has a nearly identical composition.
But…the average surface temperature of Venus is 735 K (863˚ F) and the surface atmospheric pressure is 91 times greater than Earth’s—equivalent to the pressure 3,000 ft. below the ocean’s surface. The present atmosphere of Venus is composed of 96.5% carbon dioxide (CO2) and 3.5% nitrogen (N2), plus a number of trace elements and compounds.
Venus was not always so inhospitable. What happened?
The cratering record suggests that nearly all of Venus has been resurfaced within the last 300 – 800 Myr. Before that, Venus probably was much more hospitable, even habitable, perhaps. The Pioneer Venus large probe and infrared spectral observations from Earth of H2O and HDO (deuterated isotope of water) indicate that the deuterium-to-hydrogen ratio in the Venusian atmosphere is 120 – 157 times higher than in water on Earth, strongly suggesting that Venus was once much wetter than it is today and that it has lost much of the water it once had to space. (Hydrogen is lighter than deuterium and therefore more easily escapes to space.) In addition to deuterium abundance, measuring the isotopic abundance ratios of the noble gases krypton and xenon would help us better understand the water history of Venus. These cannot be measured remotely and requires at-Venus sampling.
Venus receives 1.92 times as much solar radiation as the Earth, and this was undoubtedly a catalyst for the runaway greenhouse effect that transformed the Venusian climate millions of years ago.
We know that CO2 is a potent greenhouse gas, but anything that increases the amount of water vapor (H2O) in the atmosphere leads to global warming as well. As do clouds.
Climate modeling shows us that that the hothouse on the surface of Venus today is due to CO2 (66.6%), the continual cloud cover (22.5%), and what little water vapor remains in the atmosphere (10.9%).
Interestingly, if all the CO2 and N2 in the Earth’s crust were somehow liberated into the atmosphere, our planet would have an atmosphere very similar to Venus.
Venus is the easiest planet to get to from Earth, requiring the least amount of rocket fuel. There is so much we still don’t understand about how Venus transformed into a hellish world, and we would be well-advised to learn more about Venus because it may inform us about Earth’s future as well.
Tessera terrain covers about 7% of the surface of Venus. These highly deformed landforms, perhaps unique in the solar system, may allow us to someday sample the only materials that existed prior to the great resurfacing event.
If living organisms ever developed on Venus, the only place they could still survive today is 30 miles or so above the surface where the atmospheric temperature and pressure are similar to the surface of the Earth.
Even four billion years ago, Venus may have been too close to the Sun for life to develop, but if it did, Venus probably remained habitable up to at least 715 Myr ago.
Now for the bad news. All main-sequence stars, including our Sun, slowly brighten as they age, and their habitable zones move outward from their original locations. Our brightening Sun will eventually render the Earth uninhabitable, certainly within the next two billion years, and our water could be lost to the atmosphere and then space within the next 13o million years, leading to a thermal runaway event and an environment similar to that of Venus. Human-induced climate change could make the Earth uninhabitable for humans and many other species long before that.
One indication that water is being lost to space and surface warming is occurring is water vapor in the stratosphere. The more water vapor that is in the stratosphere, the more water is being forever lost to space and the greater the surface warming. Careful and continuous monitoring of water vapor levels in the Earth’s stratosphere is important to our understanding of climate change on Earth.
To conclude, Arney and Kane write:
“Venus teaches us that habitability is not a static state that planets remain in throughout their entire lives. Habitability can be lost, and the runaway greenhouse is the final resting place of once watery worlds.”
Arney, G., & Kane, S. 2018, arXiv e-prints, arXiv: 1804.05889
Bézard, B., & de Bergh, C. 2007, J. Geophys. Res., 112, E04S07, doi: 10.1029/2006JE002794.
Ostberg, C., & Kane, S. R. 2019, arXiv e-prints,arXiv: 1909.07456
The average adult weighs 15 pounds more than 20 years ago
40% of adults and 20% of children are obese
The average adult is eating ~300 calories more per day than in the 1970s
Beginning in 2015, more money is spent eating out than eating at home
Restaurant portion sizes have quadrupled since the 1950s
It’s true, we’re eating away from home more often, and the portion sizes we’re being served at restaurants are usually larger than they need to be. Have you ever had a totally satisfying meal at a restaurant that doesn’t leave you feeling like a beached whale afterwards? A well-prepared and well-presented meal does not have to be large to be loved.
Large portion sizes at restaurants are particularly a problem for those of us who are conditioned to eat everything on our plate, and who don’t like to take leftovers home.
Restauranteurs, please step up to the plate and fight obesity by making your standard portion sizes smaller. If a customer wants a larger portion, they should have to ask for it.
Briefing: The obesity epidemic. (October 18, 2019). The Week, 19(946), 12.