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Waterworld: Becoming the Kevin Costner Movie We Didn’t Know We Could Be

In Career, The Great Outdoors on April 10, 2014 at 4:05 pm

Why Sea Level Matters – Even if We’re Not Waterworld

Environmental textbooks like to emphasize that ours is a water world, driven by a complex hydrological system that both regulates global temperatures and nourishes the land.  But that’s not the kind of water world I’m talking about.

I’m talking about Waterworld, the 1995 post-apocalyptic sci-fi movie starring Kevin Costner.  It’s a bizarre film – and not just because its eco-friendly protagonist sports webbed toes and gills.  Waterworld’s western parallels play out on a vast, post-apocalyptic ocean where the desert is made of water and all the horses are boats.

Costner plays The Mariner, a drifter whose very nature makes him unsuited for civilized life.  The gruff nomad finds himself drawn into a woman’s quest to find Dryland, a mythic place in this distant future where the polar ice caps have melted and drowned all dry land.

dystopian sci-fi, waterworld dystopian sci-fi, climate change in pop culture,

Check out what the world will look like after the ice melts!

The good news is that scientists think it will take up to 5,000 years for all the ice on Earth to melt – not the mere 500 years it took in the movie universe.

The mechanics of sea level rise are fairly simple.  Heat absorbed from the sun is warming ocean water.  Warming water expands, its extra space contributing to higher sea levels while its heat melts smaller ice caps and glaciers.

Most of the Earth’s warming over the past 40 years has been hidden in the ocean, and that’s unsettling because it took scientists almost as long to figure that out. Meanwhile, the combination of atmospheric warming and ocean warming has helped global sea levels rise 1.0 – 2.5 millimeters per year over the last century.

At the same time, global warming patterns are expected to speed glacial melt and increase tropical sea temperatures.  Sea levels are difficult to predict but could rise between 6 – 37 inches by 2100 … if Antarctica holds.

WAIS, antarctic ice sheets, map of antarctic ice sheetsThere’s a reason most research on sea level rise leads to the Antarctic.  The continent, which is covered in snow and glacial ice, holds more than 800,000 years of climate history in its ice.  With ice shelves extending off 75 percent of its coastline, Antarctica is the Big Boss for climate change.

Glaciologists agree that the Come-to-Jesus moment for sea level rise will happen when and if the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) collapses.  A marine ice sheet, the WAIS could become unstable if ocean warming trends continue.  If this one ice sheet melts, it could raise sea levels more than three meters (about 10 feet).

Evidence from sediment samples in ice cores suggests the WAIS melted in previous interglacial periods.  Keeping a watchful eye is not unreasonable, especially after the recent collapses of two major Antarctic ice shelves:  The Larsen A in 1995 and the Larsen B in 2002.  While studies have since shown the Larsen A previously melted and returned, they also concluded that the Larsen B Ice Shelf was a permanent fixture during previous warming cycles.

This begs the question:  Is Waterworld even possible?

Nope!  Melting polar ice caps will not drown the entire known world – but they would rewrite it. If the polar ice caps, land ice and glaciers all melted, the Earth’s sea level would rise more than 200 feet. Swaths of North America would disappear into the Atlantic and whole countries erased, but there would still be land.

While this isn’t exactly Waterworld-type ocean rise, it would devastate already at- risk coastal cities and upend today’s geopolitical structure.

And that’s kinda the point of the film.

For a film that doesn’t openly discuss ecology, Waterworld is surprisingly preachy.  The reluctant hero is a man whose mutations enable him to live in harmony with the environment.  The antagonists, pirates who cobbled together smoke-belching combustion engines, terrorize society from an old oil tanker called Exxon Valdez.  Even its premise evolved with the idea that humans created ecological factors resulting in their own destruction.

“What was different about [Waterworld] was that it had to do with an ecological conflagration, a whole world covered in water because of human stupidity and greed,” said director Kevin Reynolds in a 1995 interview.

the mariner boat, exxon valdez waterworld,

Scientists don’t expect Antarctica to melt any time soon.  The continent, which is buried beneath feet of ice sheets, can survive warmer climates for some time before it gives way.

For now, Antarctica’s western ice sheet is safe.  But should it fail in the future, we may well be on our way to the water world Kevin Reynolds and Peter Rader envisioned.  And, as in the movie, it would be society’s destructive practices that caused it.


8 Books I Can’t Wait to Read in 2014

In Career, Fun on February 20, 2014 at 8:05 pm

Ruins, Dan Wells (March, 2014)

Ruins, Partials trilogy, Dan Wells partials, I honestly don’t know what to expect from the third book in Dan Wells’s dystopian YA trilogy. The first novel, Partials, introduced Kira Walker, a headstrong nurse trying to cure humanity’s cruelest epidemic in the twilight of human civilization. The pathogen causing the disease originated in Partials, synthetic life forms who had rebelled in a fight for civil liberties. With political tension increasing, Kira and her friends set out to capture a Partial and find the cure.

In Fragments, Kira set off across the wastelands with a Partial, Samm, and a paranoid computer hacker. She hopes to find an answer to who she is and how her dad had a part in the Human-Partial war that devastated the country, but the discoveries she makes are not ones she anticipated.

Where can it go from here? Wells left the second novel at a critical point, making it one of the cruelest book endings after Suzanne Collins’ Catching Fire. Kira is captured by the Partial army, Samm stays behind in Colorado and the final disease capable of wiping out humans and partials alike is still out there. Thanks, Mr. Wells.

Jesus: A Pilgrimage, James Martin, SJ

Jesus: A pilgrimage, why should I read Jesus a pilgrimage, Fr. James Martin books, James Martin Colbert Report

I’ve watched Fr. James Martin research and write his latest book for almost a year now, and I’m excited that I’ll finally be able to read it.  Martin combines his firsthand travel through the Holy Land with  Scriptural scholarship and insights into Jesus within the context of history.

I have no doubt that Jesus: A Pilgrimage will be lighthearted, but it’s also guaranteed to give the reader pause for reflection.  Martin aims to bring readers to a side of Jesus you might not get from the Bible: as the man who confounded pharisees and used witty anecdotes to describe the Kingdom of Heaven.

And, I know it will answer some questions we’ve all been wondering: Why did Jesus preach to the crowds from a boat? (Hint: It’s because water amplifies sound, providing a natural amphitheater.)

Saint Odd, Dean Koontz (Dec., 2014)

Odd Thomas, Anton Yelchin odd thomas, Odd Thomas Series

FYI: Not an Actual Book Jacket.

I’ve been reading through the Odd Thomas series in anticipation of Koontz’s newest novel. Odd Thomas could be your average character – he’s young, talented and heroic – but Koontz gave him one trait that made Odd Thomas soar: humility.

Odd Thomas does not fit into the modern world. He doesn’t aspire to be famous, doesn’t want to be burdened by possessions and does not want to be rich. He is not materialistic and is the first to admit himself a fool. But even as he tries to make sense of the world around him and come to terms with loss, supernatural forces push him into heroic situations.

Odd bears it all in stride, but I worry what the world will throw at him this time.

The Dresden Files: Skin Game, Jim Butcher (May, 2014)

Skin Game, Dresden Files, Jim Butcher, Harry DresdenSometimes book releases are as exciting as catching up with an old friend, and I’ve been friends with Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files for 15 books now. The series is your childhood friend who keeps learning cool new things long after it was socially acceptable to be average. We’ve grown together, learned and lost loved ones together.

Skin Game, the fifteenth installment of Butcher’s urban fantasy series, finds Harry Dresden in unfamiliar and especially hostile water. After his near-death at the end of Changes, Harry is brought back by Mab and Demonreach to take on the Mantle of the Winter Knight in the novel Cold Days. He learns that Nemesis, a sort of mental sickness from beyond the walls of the universe, poses a greater threat than he’d imagined through the years. At the same time, he discovers Demonreach – his island (also a prison for a terrifying number of magical monsters) – is under attack and needs his protection.

Just when you think Harry Dresden’s life can’t get any more complicated, it does. Butcher weaves all the storylines so tightly that the reader gets just as stressed out as the main character. No detail is without purpose. Even if it isn’t part of this book’s main plot, details such as Harry’s daughter, the swords and his relationship with Karren Murphy are all going to surface soon. I can’t wait!

Saga Vol. 3, written by Brian K. Vaughn; art by Fiona Staples (April, 2014)

Saga Vol. 1 was my first glimpse into the potential of comic books beyond the superhero genre. When I picked it up at my college bookstore, I found a well-written story supported by gorgeous artwork – and science fiction. Saga tells the tale of Marko and Alana, soldiers on opposing sides of a galactic war who fall in love and get married.

Marko and Alana, Saga Vol. 3, Saga

See? Gorgeous artwork.

Saga is the story of their life and struggles as the young family is pursued by bounty hunters and the armies from both sides. It manages to be simultaneously poignant, crude and humorous while delivering just enough foreshadowing to keep the reader nervous. The good times – if these can be called good – never last.

I’m sticking around for Saga Vol. 3 because, beneath the adventure and science fiction, I love that it’s a story about a young couple trying to raise a family across a culture divide. They argue with the in-laws, get into fights and try to understand each other’s customs – all while traveling space and evading the law.

The Future of the Mind, Michio Kaku (Feb., 2014)

Michio Kaku has the distinction of being both an amazing scientist and an excellent communicator. His books offer compelling and thought-provoking looks at physics and the future. I am especially fond of Physics of the Impossible, which approaches science fiction technology from a point of technological possibility.

Kaku is attempting to unify all the branches of physics into a single equation, but he’s also fascinated by the human mind and has a deep appreciation for the complexity of the brain. Consciousness is precious, he says.

After reading his latest book, I think I’ll share his enthusiasm. Check out his video explaining why he wrote The Future of the Mind:

Lumberjanes, by Noelle Stevenson and Grace Ellis; art by Brooke Allen (Spring, 2014)

Lumberjanes, women-friendly comics, I’m sold on the premise of Lumberjanes: Five friends attend scout summer camp and battle supernatural critters. The description combines several things I keep a lookout for: female characters with nuanced characterization kicking butt in situations you wouldn’t normally see.

I jumped aboard this train when I heard it was being co-written by Noelle Stevenson, the same comic artist who created Nimona (what’s Nimona? Only my favorite webcomic right now!). Stevenson also stokes heated discussions about media representations on social media that advocate for better diversity in characters, plot themes and creators.

This Star Won’t Go Out, Esther Grace Earl (Feb., 2014)

TSWGO, Nerdfighters, Esther Earl book, Okay, so this book is already out. I didn’t have the money to buy it when it arrived on store shelves, so technically I’m still anticipating it.

This Star Won’t Go Out is a collection of writings, including letters, fiction and journal entries, by Esther Earl, who died of cancer in 2010 at 16. She wanted to be an author when she grew up; four years later, she is a published writer.

More than anything, I expect this book to be a tribute to Esther’s life and spirit. She was a Nerdfighter, a rare person with the power to be a positive force in the world and in the lives of those surviving her.  With essays by her family and friends as well as a foreword by John Green, who dedicated his bestselling novel The Fault in Our Stars to Esther, TSWGO promises to be both tragic and uplifting.

While building my list, the volume of books coming out this year surprised me. James Patterson authored or co-wrote 15 books being released in 2014. Nora Roberts wrote four, and Stephen King and Cassandra Clare are each releasing two novels.

I might have chosen a book by any of these authors. I’ve read each of them at least once, and they are popular for a reason. Cassandra Clare understands her audience. James Patterson tells gripping stories. Nora Roberts entertains. Stephen King horrifies.

But I’m not looking forward to any of their latest novels in the same way that I bite my fingernails over Skin Game or Saint Odd.   They don’t provoke the same contemplation as Michio Kaku or James Martin.  To each their own, I suppose.

What new books are you looking forward to this year? Why do you yearn for its papery goodness?  Leave a comment below or get @ me on Twitter!

4 Ways to Find Your Nerd Fashion

In Career, Fun on November 7, 2013 at 8:11 am

I recently went on my semi-annual shopping trip.  I take this day seriously because, since I hate clothes shopping, I crush six months of it into one long, exhausting day of malls, department stores and shoe warehouses.

I have a hard time deciding what to wear.  Nobody taught me fashion as a child, so I went through high school wearing crazy hair, clothes that didn’t fit me properly and an array of fashion accessories that only made sense if you read poor quality novels about the French Revolution.

I’m still fashion oblivious, but now I look to my favorite sci-fi characters for advice.  Channeling a beloved character lets me branch out in my wardrobe by trying outfits I like but wouldn’t think about wearing.  It also helps me put an outfit together and visualize what the final product will look like so I can incorporate it – or put it back on the rack.

Here is my very real and very serious fashion advice for all nerd girls and nerd guys out there.

Find Your Sci-Fi Doppelganger

amy pond, gingers of sci-fi, science fiction redheads, top sci-fi redheads, Doctor Who amy pond

I could put any of my redheaded sci-fi girl crushes here, but I choose Amelia Pond because she’s young, ginger, stylish and spunky.  Yeah, I said spunky (also, ginger!).  Amy’s fashion is clearly an outgrowth of her personality. You can see her style mature during her run as the Doctor’s companion, but it never strays from her personality.

Don’t Forget to Dress Professional

Sometimes you’ll need to look a little more business-casual and won’t have the luxury of wearing a “University of Gallifrey” t-shirt out in public.  It’s tragic, but it happens. 

sci-fi redhead, olivia dunham, fauxlivia dunham, olivia and fauxlivia, Fringe science, fringe agents, fringe fashion

That’s why I turn to kickass professionals Olivia and Fauxlivia for advice when it’s time to be professional. Olivia Dunham rocks sensible shoes (all the better for chasing down killers) that won’t break her ankles or maim her toes. She also has an understated wardrobe, which is fantastic because you get away with wearing the same outfit for days before someone notices you need quarters for the Laundromat.

Fauxlivia takes a more tactical approach, but the real style difference is that she adds a splash of color here and there. The moral of this story is that you can’t go wrong with simple cuts, careful use of color and comfortable attire that won’t turn you into a self-conscious clothes-picker by 10 a.m.

Be a Little Badass

Zoe Be Fearless

Don’t feel particularly powerful?  Take a page out of someone else’s book (this also applies to Fauxlivia and Captain Mal).  In general, if I want to feel confident when I’m out reporting (read: or doing anything social) I pretend I’m a gunslinger.

Dusty tones and leather jackets make me walk with a bit of “I’m the boss” swagger, but they’re also incredibly practical.  Why? Pockets, that’s why.  For female journalists, there are few frustrations greater  than having no storage space when covering a story.

Journalists require relatively few items: pen, backup pen, notepad, voice recorder, cell phone, credentials, camera (if it’s not your phone) and business cards.  It seems simple until you realize women’s pants are not built for storage capacity.

So what do you do if you’re nervous? Bring a little Spaghetti Western to the table!

Keep an Eye Out for Surprises

Obi-Wan Kenobi padawan, Star Wars Episode 1, phantom menace, obi wan padawan, padawan braid

Who wouldn’t want to be a peacekeeper of the galaxy?

Wait. I bet you’re wondering who would channel a Jedi for everyday fashion.

That would be me.

I’ve always wanted to be a Jedi *cough* Sith *cough* but thought it impractical to go around swinging a lightsaber. Functional plasma swords are years away from our technology. Also, people can get hurt.

It was a dream I wouldn’t let die, however. I like tunics that belt around my waist and billowy jackets reminiscent of Jedi robes. I also purchased a gorgeous brown dress based solely on the fact that its neckline reminded me of Obi Wan Kenobi’s tunic. Combined with dun-colored boots and a loose cardigan, that outfit is one of my all-time favorites.

I don’t care what other people say.  Look for everyday inspiration in the nerdiest corner of your heart.  The clothes that empower you to walk out your front door with confidence are fashionable.  So roll with it! And don’t forget to be awesome.
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