Cosmic Queries: Human Impact on Earth with Dr. FunkySpoon

Composite map of the world assembled from data acquired by the Suomi NPP satellite in April and October 2012. Credit: NASA Earth Observatory/NOAA NGDC

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About This Episode

Planetary scientist Dr. David Grinspoon is back as guest host for this week’s StarTalk Radio podcast to answer your questions about the human impact on Earth during the “Anthropocene Era.” Join David and comic co-host Chuck Nice as they examine the impact of the Industrial Revolution and the morality of nuclear power. Find out if dilution is the solution to pollution and what might happen if we had a sudden decrease in atmospheric CO2. Discover the connection between fracking and increased earthquake activity – and why it might not be as bad as people fear. Learn about the possibility of using magma in subduction zones to eliminate the plastic in the Pacific Garbage Patch. And see how our current carbon dioxide emissions compare to the origin of photosynthesis billions of years ago, when oxygen-exhaling cyanobacteria wiped out most life on Earth. As Dr. Funkyspoon says, “We’re slime, but we’re smart.”

NOTE: All-Access subscribers can listen to this entire episode commercial-free here: Cosmic Queries: Human Impact on Earth with Dr. FunkySpoon.

In This Episode

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  • Arlen Kundert

    I’m thinking that for the most part the word “BAD” fits human impact to the Earth.

    • Taxil Necrobane

      Human impact on earth has been so short, we’ll likely never know how it will turn out in the end. If we can move everyone off earth into space colonies and other planets, then earth will be just fine by itself. Leave the earth alone long enough, and it will heal by itself just fine.

  • Joey DiAngelo

    Ugh. While the stand in host does a great and informative job, the co-host is painfully obnoxious.

    He is constantly cutting in with a very smug and condescending attitude. And when you take this type of attitude instead of a professional one, with any subject, you only hurt your own cause.
    Yea, we get it, energy companies use their power to confuse the issue, we know this. Instead of derailing the conversation with how evil companies and humans are; how about we talk about how to fix the problem?

    Tackle the problem in the fastest and most efficiently way possible. Bringing up the subject of corrupt companies is changing the focus of the issue entirely. Don’t cut through the mountain, go around it. These companies only care about money? Okay, lets make a new source that is appealing in a profitable way. Effort spent cursing the mountain could be better spent planing the roadway, and you get more workers with cool heads and sugar, than you do with anger and vinegar.

  • Joey DiAngelo

    Ugh. While the stand in host does a great and informative job, the co-host is painfully obnoxious.

    He is constantly cutting in with a very smug and condescending attitude. And when you take this type of attitude instead of a professional one, with any subject, you only hurt your own cause.
    Yea, we get it, energy companies use their power to confuse the issue, we know this. Instead of derailing the conversation with how evil companies and humans are; how about we talk about how to fix the problem?

    Tackle the problem in the fastest and most efficiently way possible. Bringing up the subject of corrupt companies is changing the focus of the issue entirely. Don’t cut through the mountain, go around it. These companies only care about money? Okay, lets make a new source that is appealing in a profitable way. Effort spent cursing the mountain could be better spent planing the roadway, and you get more workers with cool heads and sugar, than you do with anger and vinegar.

  • Taco Ninja

    Dr Funky Spoon is not bad 🙂

  • Darth Gaddy

    I love these podcasts, however, they are in mono! Nooooo!!! 😛

  • Papaya Guy

    Re astrobiology and evolution, do we think that life itself has voted against homosexuals by removing the attraction to the opposite sex which means that we pass on our genes or could it be a path to asexual reproduction?

    • DrG

      Well, homosexuality is quite common in the animal kingdom as well as among humans. In fact, it seems to correlate with intelligence and is widely seen, for example, among dolphins and other intelligent cetaceans. These species are not at all in danger of extinction, at least not through a lack of successful mating behavior, so I don’t see how you could conclude that life has “voted against homosexuals”. But certainly it is an interesting thought that there may come a time when, through technology, we don’t need sex at all to reproduce. And it will be very interesting, when we discover alien life, to learn whether it is sexual, asexual, trisexual (as in one Isaac Asimov story I recall), or whatever.
      –David Grinspoon

      • Papaya Guy

        I have seen many instances where homosexuality is present in the animal kingdom and even sometimes making social interactions smoother such as with the bonobos however, they seem to be bi sexual which is important to create new combinations of DNA. They still have the desire to make new life via sexual relations which as far as I can think of is the only manner of creating new life in mammals (I’m not speaking of the platypus here, but are we?). Homosexuality seems to be the end of the “random” combinations of RNA. By “life voting against…” I mean to say that homosexuals will not pass on their DNA in a traditional manner. I am just wondering about the implications of the lack of desire….Thanks for your time, aloha.

        • startalkradio

          This is Jeff, from the show. I am not a scientist, so please take my comments simply as those of an interested layperson. Homosexual couples, male and female, can use artificial insemination and surrogates to incorporate their DNA into their offspring. And their choice of partner is no more or less “random” than that of heterosexual couples, which means their genetic combinations are as random, too. And one last point: the desire to create new life seems to be important to some couples regardless of their sexual orientation. I have known plenty of heterosexuals with no desire to create life, and plenty of homosexuals who not only desire it, but jump through every hoop and over every obstacle society places in their way to create that life. Also, keep in mind that there are heterosexual couples who are unable to pass on their DNA in traditional manners either, and therefore avail themselves of the same options that homosexual couples have to generate offspring.

          • Paranoidmok

            From an evolutionary standpoint, what purpose does homosexuality serve to further a species whether human, dolphin, or otherwise? Is this just beneficial on a social level or are there other factors that can affect a species?

          • Papaya Guy

            Thank you. The others just don’t seem to understand my question. Why would a human not want to procreate? Advances in technology are now making it possible to alter genes and implant embryos but this is only recent. I will bet that homosexuality has been around since near the beginning of our species existence but why? From an evolutionary standpoint, I see it to be the demise of those individuals not the entire species. Where is Neil when I need a question answered by an intelligent human..?

          • Taxil Necrobane

            I have a loose theory that maybe, just maybe that homosexuals might be one of nature’s tools to control population numbers. Granted I have never made any serious efforts to prove it one way or another. Just some musings on it.

            Also, now that we have advanced Biotechnology to the point that homosexual tendency could very well be edited out of humanity DNA pool. Maybe put back in or removed when it is fashionable to be gay or not. Human eugenics should not be taken lightly, but I fear we will as a whole.

    • Amy Newman

      Opposite sex attraction is older then our species. That’s just something various multi-celled creatures some times do. Welcome to Earth.

  • Sam McMichael

    I appreciate Dr. Grinspoon’s unwillingness to concede to the pessimistic tones of Chuck and many of the authors of the queries read. I think humanity’s sheer ability to recognize the damage we do to the earth shows our ingenuity – those bacteria were blissfully unaware of their catastrophic change to the environment, eh? We see animals “destroy” (as in, radically affect) large masses of earth in their own limited environments – just look at the havoc a swarm of locusts leaves behind. We are in a unique situation where we see what we are doing. Changing our path takes time (we are not known for being a patient species). I do believe that taking the advice of leading environmental scientists will ultimately be our game – hopefully before too much collateral damage occurs.

  • Sam McMichael

    I appreciate Dr. Grinspoon’s unwillingness to concede to the pessimistic tones of Chuck and many of the authors of the queries read. I think humanity’s sheer ability to recognize the damage we do to the earth shows our ingenuity – those bacteria were blissfully unaware of their catastrophic change to the environment, eh? We see animals “destroy” (as in, radically affect) large masses of earth in their own limited environments – just look at the havoc a swarm of locusts leaves behind. We are in a unique situation where we see what we are doing. Changing our path takes time (we are not known for being a patient species). I do believe that taking the advice of leading environmental scientists will ultimately be our game – hopefully before too much collateral damage occurs.

  • Lionella Shmakalova

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8yis7GzlXNM -If no one has shown this video to Mr. Nye & Mr. Tyson, it is a must see! <3

  • Jeff S

    Chuck Nice is Awesome!

    Pacific Garbage Patch? C’mon!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ueSma1s0W8

  • sepiae

    at one point in the show Dr. Grinspoon made a remark on an asteroid hitting the planet and wiping out ‘90% of all species.’ i’d say that’s an error, perhaps just a slip. when quoting 90% of species he’d refer to the greatest, the Permian-Triassic extinction event. however, there’s little, or rather no evidence for the cause having been an asteroid impact. consensus is that what probably caused this extreme mass dying, this very close call, was rapid climate change, which even caused the oceans to go quite a bit anoxic. the difference is quite an important one, because of its relevance in context with our current climate problem. and, of course, a science program should remain accurate, even in a side remark. don’t rush it, Doc 🙂
    otherwise, good answers to good questions.

  • debbie

    although the plastic in the Pacific garbage patch breaks down it does not ‘go away’. the tiny pieces are eaten by sea life and who knows how that affects the foodchains.

  • debbie

    how about putting the nuclear waste into the subduction zones as was discussed earlier for the plastic? there is fission going on in the core anyway so how could this hurt?

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