Yarrow Axford is an assistant professor of earth and planetary sciences at Northwestern University. She wrote this article, which originally appeared in U.S. News & World Report on January 25, 2014. With December snow still sitting on my Chicago lawn, and the latest blast of arctic air now moving through most of the country, more reasonable weather seems a distant memory.
To make temperatures that freeze your nostril hairs even less welcome, the lousiest weather every winter brings out a corresponding blast of hot air from climate change skeptics, who annually present the seasons as evidence that modern science is a scam. Take Donald Trump’s recent tweet, for example, delivered to his almost 2.5 million followers, that “global warming [bulls**t] has got to stop. Our planet is freezing...” The Donald is wrong, but many people may share his misperception. There appears to be a psychological basis for the way our collective concern about global warming tends to fall with the autumn leaves and rise whenever the mercury does. A 2011 study by researchers at Columbia University found that study participants who described the day they were surveyed as warmer than usual expressed more concern about global warming, and were willing to donate more money to a relevant charity. The opposite effects were observed in participants who described the day as colder than usual. A recent follow-up study sought to understand the underlying reasons for this effect, and found that study participants showed a preference for forming opinions based upon accessible and simple information (like today’s temperature), rather than complex and impersonal data (which probably describes anything you’ve ever heard about the science of climate change).
Unfortunately, although winter marks the end of many things — fall semester, baseball season, wearing sandals in Chicago — even the frostiest winter cold snaps do not stop or even slow down global warming. Climate change is a painstakingly well-documented long-term global trend, in which each recent decade has been warmer than the decade before. This is generally true for most parts of the globe, but more importantly is true when one considers the Earth as a whole.
As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change described in its Fifth Assessment Report released last September, “Each of the last three decades has been successively warmer at the Earth’s surface than any preceding decade since 1850,” and “In the Northern Hemisphere, 1983–2012 was likely the warmest 30-year period of the last 1400 years.” Despite the overwhelming evidence that our planet is warming, there are two points of perpetual confusion that combine with our psychology to make winter weather a seasonal boon for climate skepticism. For one, a cold snap where we live should not be confused for a global event.
While the recent polar vortex weirdness had communities across the eastern U.S. scrambling to deal with frigid weather earlier this month, it may have seemed to Americans like the whole world was locked in an icy grip. It was easy to forget that only hours before the arrival of that record-setting cold, parts of the eastern U.S. were enjoying unseasonably warm temperatures. And while Midwesterners were bundling up against the frigid cold, unusually warm winter temperatures were making the news in parts of Europe, including Russia, leading to (likely premature) speculation that the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi might not be wintery enough for winter sports. Farther away, Australia was baking in a record-setting continent-wide heat wave, which later led to suspension of play during the Australian Open due to the risks of dangerous heat for athletes. While I was worrying about my bathroom plumbing freezing up in Chicago, a friend in Adelaide wrote to say, "Just to warm you up, it is currently >110 F.”
Not only has this winter’s seemingly epic cold weather been matched nearly point-for-point by unusually warm weather in other places, but there is an even more important point to keep in mind: climatically speaking, all weather should be considered short-term noise superimposed over longer-term climate.
Lately, that means superimposed over the unmistakable decades-long warming trend described by the Panel on Climate Change. Even if it is a global event, a cold season or cold year alone does not give us a cooling climate. Similarly, the evidence for a warming climate is not based upon a single warm season or year. Take Arctic sea ice, for example. As can be seen clearly in data available from the National Snow and Ice Data Center, in recent summers sea ice has covered about half to two-thirds the area of the Arctic Ocean as it did in summers of the late 1970s and early 1980s. The downward trend is astonishing when one views the data over decades. Last year saw the sixth smallest ice extent ever recorded — better news than the record low reached in 2012, but by no means the “global cooling” touted by climate skeptics. Of course, the same faulty conflation of short-term weather and longer-term climate sometimes goes in the opposite direction, applied to hot weather. One very bad year for Arctic sea ice will not necessarily be followed by another equally bad year. A hot summer in one part of the country is not, by itself, evidence for climate change — although hotter and more frequent heat waves are an expected consequence of global warming and the probability of hot summers is going up, up, up. The bottom line is that the problem of climate change has not gone away, despite the fact that some of us can’t remember what our yards look like without snow or our spouses look like without long underwear. Given that we may be wired to worry more about climate change when we’re warm than when we’re cold, maybe it was a blessing that Trump’s misinformed tweets made me so angry and hot under the collar.
The Smithsonian Institution’s traveling exhibit “Bittersweet Harvest: The Bracero Program, 1942–1964” is on display at Northwestern University beginning February 15 and will be the centerpiece of a series of events that will take place across campus related to Latin American immigration to the United States.
Initiated in August 1942, the Bracero Program grew out of a series of agreements between the United States and Mexico that allowed tens of thousands of Mexicans to work as temporary contract laborers in the United States to fill labor deficiencies in agriculture and railroad work. By the time the program was canceled in 1964, an estimated 4.6 million contracts had been awarded. The Bracero Program is considered “bittersweet” because of its history of both exploitation and opportunity.
The opening ceremony of the exhibit and a conversation with former bracero workers will take place at 6 p.m. February 20 at the Dittmar Gallery, the location of “Bittersweet Harvest,” on the first floor of Norris University Center, 1999 Campus Drive, on the Evanston campus. Running through March 28, “Bittersweet Harvest” includes 15 freestanding, illustrated banners in a bilingual exhibition that combines recent scholarship, powerful photographs from the Smithsonian’s collection and audio excerpts by former bracero workers.
Related events on the Evanston campus will include conversations with former braceros currently living in the Chicago area, public lectures, a film series and dance performances.
Northwestern’s Latina and Latino Studies program chose to showcase “Bittersweet Harvest” to begin a conversation in Evanston and Chicago about the past and present of Latin American immigration to the United States.
Check out the official 2014 Northwestern lacrosse promotional video, featuring Kate Macdonald, Christy Turner, Alyssa Leonard, Bridget Bianco, and five-time National Coach of the Year Kelly Amonte Hiller.
Northwestern student-athletes continued their excellence in the classroom through the Fall 2013 quarter, achieving a cumulative 3.18 GPA. Sixty-six percent of Wildcat student-athletes (322 of 486) earned quarterly GPAs of 3.0 or higher, with 31 percent of these students having GPAs over 3.5 (including 25 students with perfect 4.0s).
Eighteen of Northwestern's 19 varsity athletic teams recorded team GPAs over 3.0. The top performing teams were women's volleyball (3.5), men's tennis (3.4) and field hockey (3.39). Visit nusports.com for the full story.
For the second time this season, Northwestern junior heavyweight Mike McMullan defeated a No. 1 ranked wrestler in the country. Before a season-high 1,832 fans at Welsh-Ryan Arena on January 31, the two-time All-American recorded a 3-1 overtime win over No. 1 Bobby Telford of Iowa. McMullan led Telford 1-0 going into the third period. With 1:15 left in the match, Telford tied it up with a quick escape to bring the match into the third overtime of the night. McMullan took over in overtime with a quick takedown, winning 3-1 after eight and a half minutes of tough wrestling. McMullan also defeated then-top-ranked Tony Nelson of Minnesota on January 10.
Dan and Susan Jones Family Head Football Coach Pat Fitzgerald introduced the Wildcats’ 2014 recruiting class on National Signing Day, February 5. The class is among the most highly rated in program history, ranked No. 38 nationally by ESPN. It features 15 signees — eight on defense and seven on offense — and draws from eight different U.S. states.
“This is always a memorable day for our signees and their families as they get set to embark on the next big phase of their lives as part of the Northwestern Football Family,” Fitzgerald said. “In most cases, these are young men who our coaching staff has gotten to know very well over a period of several years. We have the utmost confidence that they have the drive and determination required to thrive at Northwestern academically, athletically and socially”
The positional breakdown for this year's class is as follows: defensive linemen (4), linebackers (2), offensive linemen (2), running backs (2), defensive backs (2), wide receivers (1), quarterbacks (1), superbacks (1).
2014 Signees Auston Anderson, RB Garrett Dickerson, SB Tommy Doles, OL Nate Hall, LB Blake Hance, OL Justin Jackson, RB Jared McGee, SAF Ben Oxley, DL James Prather, DL Cameron Queiro, LB Clayton Thorson, QB Solomon Vault, WR Xavier Washington, DL Parrker Westphal, CB
Melina R. Kibbe, a vascular surgeon and Edward G. Elcock Professor of Surgical Research at the Feinberg School of Medicine, was interviewed for a recent 60 Minutes report on the importance of studying sex as a variable in research studies.
The report, which aired February 9, focused on research showing that some common medications have significantly different effects on men and women. For example, the Food and Drug Administration last year cut the recommended dosage of some insomnia drugs in half for women, after studies showed that women eliminate the drug from their bodies more slowly than men. This makes women more likely to be drowsy — and possibly impaired while driving — the morning after taking the drug.
In the 60 Minutes report, Kibbe points out that one of the reasons researchers have been slow to recognize the extent of the biological differences between men and women is because most medical studies involving animals, such as mice and rats, have traditionally used only male animals.
In addition to the interview with Kibbe, the online version of the 60 Minutes report lists Northwestern’s Women’s Health Research Institute as a resource for people interested in learning more about the differences between men and women.
A Medill professor has been awarded $100,000 from the MacArthur Foundation to help him complete a documentary about the frantic efforts of archaeologists to save the ancient Buddhist site of Mes Aynak in Afghanistan from imminent destruction.
“One of the really cool things I’ll be able to do with the MacArthur grant is to fly several legendary musicians from Kabul to the U.S. to record an original film soundtrack written by famed Afghan composer Homayoun Sakhi,” says Brent Huffman, assistant professor at the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications. “It’s kind of like a ‘Buena Vista Social Club’ from Afghanistan.”
Huffman was one of 18 out of nearly 500 filmmakers chosen to receive a MacArthur independent documentary film grant.
“I fell in love with Afghanistan when I first went there in 2004,” he says. “Now I feel an obligation to preserve on film, at least, some of this extraordinary 2,000-year-old religious site before its destruction by a Chinese state-owned mining company.”
Huffman hopes his film will screen at festivals before the site’s monastery, shrines, life-size Buddha statues and other priceless artifacts are ravaged by mining.
“The international team of archaeologists has been racing against time, but they’re only able to save a small fraction of Mes Aynak’s smaller antiquities,” Huffman says. “Its loss is an international tragedy. Being there is like touching history.”
A significant gift from David A. Savner (L68) and his wife, Libby, to Northwestern University School of Law will allow the school to sustain instructional innovation in the classroom. The gift will help outfit a new state-of-the-art classroom and also create an endowed fund that will provide ongoing support to ensure that the new classroom stays current with evolving instructional technologies.
In recognition of the Savners’ important investment in this emerging area of legal education, the dedicated classroom will be named in their honor: David and Libby Savner Hall.
“When we considered making a gift to Northwestern Law, we became intrigued with contributing to new ways of learning in the law school setting,” said David Savner. “After discussions with Dean Rodriguez and Professors [Emerson] Tiller and [Leslie] Oster, the idea of creating a classroom and technologies geared to interactive and collaborative learning became very exciting to us. We look forward to seeing these ideas brought to fruition and actively used by the students.”
The Savners’ gift makes possible the construction of a new classroom dedicated to technology-based teaching solutions. Hardware and software upgrades to existing computers and audio/visual equipment, mobile LED screens, enhanced connectivity for on-line collaboration, and flexible seating for group work are planned for the collaborative workspace. The gift also provides ongoing funding for future technology upgrades to Savner Hall, as well as technical training for faculty and staff.
“This is a wonderful gift that will allow us to significantly improve our technology infrastructure,” said Dean Daniel B. Rodriguez. “The Savners’ gift will help us meet current needs for technology-based pedagogies and scale them up as needed in the years to come.”
Your memory is a wily time traveler, plucking fragments of the present and inserting them into the past, reports a new Northwestern Medicine® study. In terms of accuracy, it’s no video camera.
Rather, the memory rewrites the past with current information, updating your recollections with new experiences. Love at first sight, for example, is more likely a trick of your memory than a Hollywood-worthy moment.
“When you think back to when you met your current partner, you may recall this feeling of love and euphoria,” said lead author Donna Jo Bridge, a postdoctoral fellow in medical social sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “But you may be projecting your current feelings back to the original encounter with this person.”
The study, published February 5 in the Journal of Neuroscience, is the first to show specifically how memory is faulty, and how it can insert things from the present into memories of the past when those memories are retrieved.
To help us survive, Bridge said, our memories adapt to an ever-changing environment and help us deal with what’s important now.
“Our memory is not like a video camera,” Bridge said. “Your memory reframes and edits events to create a story to fit your current world. It’s built to be current.”
Learn more about topics ranging from obesity to human rights when Northwestern University thought leaders from across campus and beyond gather on April 12 for TEDx NorthwesternU 2014.
This is the first-ever inclusive TEDx event at Northwestern to feature students, faculty and alumni on one stage for a full day of talks. TEDx NorthwesternU 2014 will focus on “crossing paths” — or how our increasingly complex world is driven by new collaboration and interdisciplinary thinking.
The TED organization brings together innovative thinkers and leaders from around the world. And its TEDx program enables individuals or groups like Northwestern to organize independent events in their own communities.
TEDx NorthwesternU 2014 will be held April 12, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., in the McCormick Tribune Center Forum, 1870 Campus Drive, Evanston.
Topic titles and speakers: Faculty
“Technology, Crossing Paths and Romantic Compatibility" by Eli Finkel, professor of psychology
“Pluto's Day of Reckoning" by Shane Larson, research associate professor of physics and astronomy
“No Child Is Born Bad” by Xavier McElrath-Bey, clinical field interviewer in psychiatry and behavioral sciences
“The Antidote to Obesity" by Linda Van Horn, professor of preventive medicine
“Educating the Future” by Aysha Chowdry (WCAS04)
“Schools Should Let Paths Cross More Often” by Stephen Dowling (BSM13)
“Human Rights, Sankofa and the Power of Paradigms” by Marissa Jackson (WCAS06)
“Relationship Analytics Change the Way We Manage Business” by Zach Johnson (C10)
“12 Years, Huh?” by Parag Gupta (GMcC14)
“Crossing the Paths of Culture and Human Rights” by Neha Reddy (WCAS16)
“Why Little Red Riding Hood Was Wrong” by Michael Silberblatt (C14)
“Finding Your Long Lost Twin” by Jackson Walker (WCAS17)