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The Cliff's Edge

The Cliff's Edge

Author: Cliff Hohman

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You don't need to be a scientist to enjoy biology and environmentalism. Listen to the Cliff's Edge each week for a casual chat about everything from evolution to climate change, with some off-beat humor tossed in. Bring your curiosity and become an armchair expert in scientific issues that affect our daily lives. The Cliff's Edge: Biology and environmentalism for the rest of us.
23 Episodes
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GMO... yet another thing we're supposed to worry about with our food only we're not really sure why or how big of a deal it is. Turns out, genetically modified food is... a real mixed bag. It's all over the place, from being the tool of greedy corporations, to being a useful tool for farmers, to having some potential to actually change lives. Maybe. We'll see. Turns out, folks are much more eager to try the whole being greedy thing before they get to the rest of it.Learn what GMOs are, what it has to do with your groceries, and whether or not it's something you really need to worry about, all in this episode of The Cliff's Edge.cliffsedgemedia.com
If you've ever wondered about how wolves turned in to dogs thousands of years ago, you might have thought it probably took a long time. You might have thought that it was a complicated process, that all sorts of factors came in to play to domesticate the wolf. And you would be in good company.Well, a rebellious Russian geneticist back in the 1960's wondered about this too, and he decided to try to develop a dog from scratch. Only, wolves are a pain, and he had already done work with red foxes, so he set about to turn a fox into a dog.The results were surprising. And pretty cute. And the experiment is still running to this day. Find out how to domesticate red foxes, and what that tells us about evolution and domestication in particular, in this episode of The Cliff's Edge.cliffsedgemedia.com
Like its big brother, climate change, sea level rise is not only coming... it's already here. The oceans have gotten 8 inches higher today than they were in the year 1900, and they're getting higher, faster. Given that 40% of the United States population lives in coastal areas, not to mention major cities and a multitude of communities all around the world... well it seems like maybe this is a big deal. And it's only going to become a bigger deal, depending on how much we slack off on curbing carbon emissions. We could be looking at another foot or 30 centimeters of sea level rise by 2100, or maybe by 2050. Or we could be looking at 9 feet by 2100. A lot depends on us, right now and every day moving forward. Find out how bad things could get, what could happen, and what we can do about it, on this episode of The Cliff's Edge.cliffsedgemedia.com
Remember that time when you knew the milk in your fridge was past its sell by date, and it smelled a little bit funny, but you went ahead and poured it on your cereal anyway because you wanted your breakfast more than you wanted to not vomit? Well, the Piltdown Man is kind of like that. Not because he was a man who kept giving himself food poisoning, but because the people involved with the affair probably should have known better than to swallow it whole. I mean, they didn't literally swallow a man. There wasn't even a whole man, just some bits of skull and teeth. They were supposed to be from an exciting new human ancestor, one of the first ever discovered, and it was going to shape the science of human evolution forever. But... well... it was all a bunch of rotten milk.We probably should have seen it coming. But the good news is, science didn't fail us. We failed to properly do science. You see, scientists are wretchedly human, and they can succumb to the same weaknesses and flaws that everyone else can. When circumstances are right, a whole bunch of them can screw up the same way at the same time, and that's how the Piltdown Man came to be. Hear all about it on this episode of The Cliff's Edge.
Sometimes when a species is driven to the brink of extinction, it's because of over-hunting. Or habitat destruction. More and more, it's going to be due to climate change. But in 1999, a rare species of dwarf fox was driven to the very edge because golden eagles were eating too many baby pigs. If you don't see the connection... don't feel bad. I've intentionally made it sound mysterious  ;-)  In this episode of The Cliff's Edge, hear the tale of the island fox, a unique species of fox only found on California's Channel Islands. Learn about its surprising, and surprisingly brief, history, and the chain reaction of ecological events that nearly wiped it out without anybody ever laying a finger on one. And there's a happy ending, too... the island fox is doing pretty well these days, thanks entirely to the wildlife biologists who figured out what was really going on, as well as a lot of hard work, cooperation, and luck. The island fox is a pretty cool animal, and its story is simply fascinating. Come check it out!
Ecotourism. Yet another green term you've seen floating around, but that nobody ever really explains. In this episode of The Cliff's Edge, you'll learn how ecotourism is different from your run-of-the-mill tourism, how it has both helped and hurt threatened ecosystems, what the human cost can be, and a few tips on how to be a successful ecotourist yourself. Remember, the golden rule of travel is: Don't be a jerk.
You see organic food at the grocery store, you hear people mention buying it, maybe you even buy it yourself. So it's kind of weird that you never hear anybody actually describe what it is, or why it makes any difference. Organic food actually turns out to be a kind of complicated topic, but don't worry. In this episode of The Cliff's Edge, we'll just hit the highlights, the things you need to know as the kind of person who occasionally likes to purchase food. It's not a perfect system, but hey, at least we're trying.For the list of "dirty" and "clean" produce mentioned at the end of the episode, head over tohttps://www.ewg.org/foodnews/It's their baby, I just read them to you.
When is a species not a species? Pretty much always, because it turns out, biologists have no clue what a species actually is. We think we know most of the time, but nature keeps throwing us curve-balls. There are so many exceptions to any rule you come up with to define a species, that it becomes impossible to make a rule. You might have thought this was pretty basic stuff, that we figured it out a long time ago, but... you'd be wrong. Learn what a complex topic this really is and why it has had biologists scratching their heads since day one on this episode of The Cliff's Edge.
In evolution, whatever works is what sticks around, even if maybe something else might have worked better. That applies to sex at least as much as to anything else. The question isn't, "Is this too weird?" Or "Doesn't that hurt?" Or "Oh my god why would anyone DO that?" No, the real question is, does it work? Does it help the species survive, or at the very least not hurt their chances? If it does, then whatever it is, no matter how freaky, can become how the species does sex from then on. And given the millions of species that are out there, some are bound to come up with some pretty unusual sexual habits. Find out about a lizard that's into games, a group of fish that loves oral sex, and... well, something else that's just bizarre. Maybe don't listen to this episode where your boss could hear it. They might start to have questions about you.  ;-)
One of the most notorious criminals of all time, Pablo Escobar left behind a legacy that doesn't get as much attention as the drugs, crime and death he spread around the world. But, it's one that Colombia is now having to come to terms with, years after his death. Hippopotamuses, originally illegally imported for Escobar's private zoo, are now breeding and spreading throughout Colombia's biggest river system. Locals love them... for now. But hippos are huge, dangerous, and... they poop an awful lot. Learn why this is a problem as well as something you never wanted to know about their genitals on this episode of The Cliff's Edge.
Does an "exotic invasive" sound like the sort of surgery you'd really rather avoid having? Not sure if "endemic" is a kind of disease? Biology type folks toss these kinds of terms around all the time, but don't always stop to think about whether people actually know what they're talking about. Learn the difference between native species, exotics, endemic species, and why it's worth knowing about in this episode of The Cliff's Edge.
If you only paid attention to one thing during the 2020 US elections, it should have been Colorado Proposition 114. Not because it was the most important thing, but just because it was a lot less stressful. Prop 114 was a voter initiative to direct the state to reintroduce grey wolves to Colorado... and it passed! What does that mean, why is it controversial, and how can the state move forward? Find out in this episode of The Cliff's Edge.
Every evil supervillain needs a sidekick, right? No. Absolutely not. Especially not when that villain is climate change. But guess what? Yep. It has one. Ocean acidification is caused by the same things that cause climate change. It can potentially devastate ocean life as we know it, and hardly anybody ever talks about it. Get caught up on this serious but overlooked problem in this episode of The Cliff's Edge.
So you think you know all about evolution, eh? Did you know that natural selection and evolution aren't the same thing? Did you know that evolutionary ladders are bogus? Did you realize that evolution can sometimes happen pretty quickly? Did you ever wonder why humans still haven't evolved to have hairless butt cracks? Catch this episode to learn about some, but not all, of these topics as we look at a few of the most common evolution misconceptions.https://cliffsedgemedia.com
How does a banned soup, international crime rings, and two species of giant fish lead to a rare species of porpoise being driven to extinction? As usual, the answer is people. People are just messed up. Learn about the mysterious vaquita porpoise in this episode, and the unlikely set of circumstances that has led to them inadvertently being wiped out. It's tragic, it's weird, and you should know about it.
So what the hell is the Green New Deal? Is it just a plot by a global conspiracy to take your milkshakes away? Or is it maybe a lot less stupid than that? In this episode, I'll go over the Green New Deal for you. What's in it, how it might work, and how it's already shaped the political discourse. It's an inspiring, ambitious plan that's worthy of being named after FDR's New Deal. So come with me and find out all about it in this episode of The Cliff's Edge.
Maybe you've heard the term "carbon footprint" tossed around, but do you really know what they're talking about? You know it's got something to do with climate change, but how exactly does it figure in to that? On this episode of The Cliff's Edge, you'll learn what a carbon footprint is, what a pain it is to calculate, and what the upshot is for ordinary folks like you and me. You'll also learn what the most effective ways are for you to manage your own personal carbon footprint.
How do you want to die? Do you want to go out with a... actually, I don't care. What I do care about is, what do we do with you after you're dead? Drain your blood, fill you with poison, stick you inside a metal box, put that inside a concrete box, and act like that's doing you a favor somehow? Or would you rather just become part of the soil and the beetles and the trees?You do have options. Green burials produce less carbon dioxide, don't expose funeral workers to cancer-causing chemicals, are less wasteful, and, in my opinion, send a beautiful message about what you're all about. They can even help to protect wilderness, under the right circumstances. Learn all about green burials in this episode of The Cliff's Edge.
California burned like a mother effer in 2020. Was that normal? Not really. Can we tell? Pretty much. Is it time to finally stop walking on eggshells and just say that these fires and storms and hordes of zombified rats are due to climate change, even if we technically can't say exactly how much climate change has contributed to them? Yeah, I think so.Is there any reason to listen to this episode, now that I've answered all the questions? Sure! Maybe! Probably! I really am not the best judge!
So what's the deal with recycling plastic? Why has it gotten harder lately? Why can't it be easier? Does it even matter? Is it worth it?Find out what's changed in the recycling world in the past couple of years, how it has impacted Americans, why we're not good at dealing with it, and what you can do about it.
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