The ABCs of Big Oil: Why the Fossil Fuel Industry Infiltrated Schools

Muffett shared it exclusively with Earther and Drilled, and Amy and I had him walk us through it in the episode. But it really has to be seen to get the full effect. It was made by John Tobin, a well-known oil industry consultant, for an industry-backed group called the Energy Literacy Project.

The slideshow is a little hard to parse at times, but the basic points are clear. In it, Tobin lays out the idea that public education about energy can help the oil industry maintain its social license to operate despite scientists’ increasingly dire warnings about the role it plays in driving the climate crisis and growing public desire to get off fossil fuels. In his words, “the industry can be profitable in spite of its image.”

“The public’s perception of the industry has been abysmal for years,” said Tobin in an interview. “And getting a more positive view, starting in K through 12 and keeping going, including adults and so on? We like to call it … developing science-savvy citizens, that will be able to make informed, well-reasoned decisions on their prudent use of natural resources, oil and gas in particular, and be able to make well-reasoned decisions on how they want to see the industry regulated.”

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Image for article titled The ABCs of Big Oil: Why the Fossil Fuel Industry Infiltrated Schools

Screenshot: Energy Literacy Project via Center for International Environmental Law

It’s not just any kind of energy education that Tobin’s presentation mentions, though. In the presentation, he specifically outlines an approach called the three Es, which he calls “a path to an improved image (and, potentially, improved profits).” The Es stand for energy, economy, and environment, and it seems they’re in that order intentionally.

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The idea is that every policy decision must weigh the impact on each of these three facets of human life. Exxon used this three Es paradigm, too—they called it the “energy cube.” 

Image for article titled The ABCs of Big Oil: Why the Fossil Fuel Industry Infiltrated Schools

Screenshot: Energy Literacy Project via Center for International Environmental Law

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That may sound reasonable, because sure, we have to consider the economic impacts of policies on ordinary people. Winding down the fossil fuel industry would have both environmental, economic, and energy impacts. (Done properly, those impacts are all positive.) But even though one of his Es is “environment,” Tobin doesn’t say much about considering the environmental impacts of oil and gas in his slideshow—the word “climate” appears just once and the word “pollution” doesn’t appear at all. But he does note that preserving the environment comes with a price. One slideshow shows a mountain landscape with the title [sic] “The Price of Pristiness.”

“That’s a wonderful picture of one of our mountains here in Colorado during the fall,” Tobin said in an interview, noting it’s also his screensaver. “These sort of views, these sort of things that we consider to be part of our lifestyle, what we want to have, it costs.”

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I asked Tobin if he thought that the threat of climate change should be a primary driver of changing the energy mix. “There is no question that climate change is there, and it’s not good,” he said. “Is it Doomsday? That’s a harder argument.”

There are some other interesting slides, like one where Tobin explains how different hydrocarbons end in “ane,” and then adds, for some reason, “cocaine.”

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Image for article titled The ABCs of Big Oil: Why the Fossil Fuel Industry Infiltrated Schools

Screenshot: Energy Literacy Project via Center for International Environmental Law

But though some slides are strange, the basic message shines through: The oil industry should make sure people know how dependent their access to energy—and the economy—are on the sector. In one slide, Tobin writes, “The people’s right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness shall be fueled by cheap and abundant energy.”

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I asked Tobin if he thought the public needed to be educated in school about the environmental implications of using different kinds of energy. He said, sure, but not separate from the other Es while saying “free markets” should be the driver of any energy transition. “I think the answer is yes, but within the context of the big picture of, what does the economy need in terms of energy?”

Amy Westervelt contributed reporting for this piece.

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Hacking Your Room’s Lighting to Match the Flickering Lights in Quake Makes the Game Feel Even Moodier

DIYer Makes Arduino-Powered ‘Quake’ Flicker Lamp

The flickering lighting patterns in Quake were defined by a string of letters, with ‘a’ to ‘z’ representing no light to full brightness, respectively. A string like “azazaz” would make the lights appear to turn completely on and off, while in Quake, the string looked more like “‘mmamammmmammamamaaamammma” with ‘m’ being a given light’s default brightness setting.

Feliciano was able to easily bring that same code to an Arduino Pro Mini, which he wired to a hacked emergency light featuring an array of white LEDs that could quickly flicker and dim on command. The result is a flickering lamp that looks like it was purchased from whatever the creepy Quake world version of Ikea would be. Syncing it up with the actual game should be equally trivial, but I can remember many late-night gaming sessions in the late ‘90s where Quake was already creepy enough on its own—the last thing I wanted was my entire room to feel like it was full of creepy monsters hiding behind every corner.

NASA Chose a Really Sweet Spot to Land Its Upcoming Lunar Rover

Indeed, the lunar South Pole is among the coldest places in the solar system. No space agency has ever attempted a landing there, and it’s only been studied from a distance. Evidence suggests water ice exists in meaningful quantities within the southern polar regions, hiding in shadowed craters and cold traps. By sending VIPER to Nobile Crater, NASA hopes to uncover signs of this ice and other resources, both on the surface and subsurface of the Moon.

“The data VIPER returns will provide lunar scientists around the world with further insight into our Moon’s cosmic origin, evolution, and history, and it will also help inform future Artemis missions to the Moon and beyond by enabling us to better understand the lunar environment in these previously unexplored areas hundreds of thousands of miles away,” Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for science at NASA Headquarters, said in a statement.

Big picture is that NASA wants to create a global resource map and be able to predict where similar resources might exist elsewhere on the Moon. This information will be of benefit to future crewed missions to the lunar surface, while furthering NASA’s goal of establishing a long-term presence on the Moon. The $433.5 million VIPER mission could also set the stage for future mining efforts on the surface.

Conceptual image of VIPER.

Conceptual image of VIPER.
Image: NASA Ames/Daniel Rutter

VIPER will launch aboard a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket and be delivered to the lunar surface via Astrobotic’s Griffin Lander. The 8-foot-tall (2.5 meters) rover is expected to travel between 10 to 15 miles (16 to 24 km) over the course of the mission, during which time it’ll explore a region measuring 36 square miles (93 square kilometers).

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Nobile Crater features accessible terrain and a trove of nearby sites worthy of scientific exploration, including a bunch of small shadowed craters that VIPER will be able to explore with its headlights—the first for an off-world rover. The four-wheeled rover also features an advanced suspension system to help it navigate through even the softest regolith. Several spectrometers and a hammer drill will enable VIPER’s scientific endeavors.

Data visualization showing the mountainous area west of Nobile Crater.

Data visualization showing the mountainous area west of Nobile Crater.
Image: NASA

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This mountainous region features many areas permanently cast in shadows, but also areas exposed to sunlight. These illuminated areas will be of crucial importance to the mission, as VIPER will use its solar panels to recharge and stay warm—another factor for choosing Nobile Crater.

The current plan is for VIPER to visit six distinct sites of scientific interest, with “additional time to spare,” according to NASA. Samples will be extracted from at least three different drill sites and taken from various depths and temperatures. The mission could provide insights into how the Moon acquired its frozen water and other resources, how they’re preserved over time, and how much of it escapes into space.

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More: NASA’s big Moon news: there’s water all over the place.

Dark Energy Could Be Responsible for Mysterious Experiment Signals, Researchers Say

Despite constituting so much of the universe, dark energy has not yet been identified. Many models suggest that there may be some fifth force besides the known four known fundamental forces in the universe, one that is hidden until you get to some of the largest-scale phenomena, like the universe’s ever-faster expansion.

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Axions shooting out of the Sun seemed a possible explanation for the excess signal, but there were holes in that idea, as it would require a re-think of what we know about stars. “Even our Sun would not agree with the best theoretical models and experiments as well as it does now,” one researcher told Gizmodo last year.

Part of the problem with looking for dark energy are “chameleon particles” (also known as solar axions or solar chameleons), so-called for their theorized ability to vary in mass based on the amount of matter around them. That would make the particles’ mass larger when passing through a dense object like Earth and would make their force on surrounding masses smaller, as New Atlas explained in 2019. The recent research team built a model that uses chameleon screening to probe how dark energy behaves on scales well beyond that of the dense local universe.

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“Our chameleon screening shuts down the production of dark energy particles in very dense objects, avoiding the problems faced by solar axions,” said lead author Sunny Vagnozzi, a cosmologist at Cambridge’s Kavli Institute for Cosmology, in a university release. “It also allows us to decouple what happens in the local very dense Universe from what happens on the largest scales, where the density is extremely low.”

The model allowed the team to understand how XENON1T would behave if the dark energy were produced in a magnetically strong region of the Sun. Their calculations indicated that dark energy could be detected with XENON1T.

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Since the excess was first discovered, ​​the XENON1T team “tried in any way to destroy it,” as one researcher told The New York Times. The signal’s obstinacy is as perplexing as it is thrilling.

“The authors propose an exciting and interesting possibility to expand the scope of the dark matter detection experiments towards the direct detection of dark energy,” Zara Bagdasarian, a physicist at UC Berkeley who was unaffiliated with the recent paper, told Gizmodo in an email. “The case study of XENON1T excess is definitely not conclusive, and we have to wait for more data from more experiments to test the validity of the solar chameleons idea.”

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The next generation of XENON1T, called XENONnT, is slated to have its first experimental runs later this year. Upgrades to the experiment will hopefully seal out any noise and help physicists home in on what exactly is messing with the subterranean detector.

More: What Is Dark Matter and Why Hasn’t Anyone Found It Yet?

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More Murder Hornet Nests Found in Washington State

More Murder Hornet Nests Found in Washington State

Invasive murder hornets (Vespa mandarinia) are a growing headache, as they pose a threat to the environment and human life.

Measuring 2 inches (5 cm) in length, murder hornets can destroy an entire honeybee hive in just a few hours. The gigantic hornets feed on larvae after decapitating mature honeybees with their spiked mandibles, and then—in a truly macabre display—they feed these severed thoraxes to their own young. Conservationists are desperately trying to curb the spread of murder hornets, which also like to gorge on paper wasps, beetles, yellowjackets, dragonflies, other hornets, moths, and mantises. The attacks on bees are particularly problematic owing to bees’ importance as pollinators, and because bees already have a lot working against them, such as diseases, parasites, and pesticides.

Murder hornets also pose a threat to humans. In Japan, murder hornets kill upwards of 50 people each year. Their stings have been compared to red-hot thumbtacks, and if that’s not enough, they’re known to spit painful venom into eyes.

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Nests of this invasive species are tough to spot, as they’re often tucked away in deep forests. The WSDA tags live individuals and then tracks them to their nests. That’s how they spotted the first nest of the season, located less than a mile from the Canadian border in Whatcom County. WSDA staff destroyed the colony by vacuuming 113 worker hornets from the nest, located at the base of a dead alder tree.

WSDA says it’ll continue this work until the end of November, and it’s asking people to report sightings here.

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The ABCs of Big Oil: A Podcast Coming Soon From Earther and Drilled

The ABCs of Big Oil: A Podcast Coming Soon From Earther and Drilled

The energy sector has been engaging in this surreptitious behavior for the better part of a century, and have gone to great lengths to spread their message. They’ve also enlisted a bizarre cast of characters to help them, from the Department of Energy to William Shatner. In The ABCs of Big Oil, we’ll take you inside the campaigns to shape children’s view of the world, introduce you the characters behind these efforts, and cut through the barrage of misinformation.

The new podcast will be launching in just a few weeks. Meanwhile, you can check out a trailer now, so go download it. And while you’re at it, like and subscribe to Drilled wherever you get your podcasts.

What Astronomers Thought Pluto Looked Like Before They Saw It Up Close

Pluto, Charon, Nix and Hydra.

A Hubble Space Telescope image taken in 2005 shows a bare-bones view of Pluto and three of its moons: Nix, Hydra, and Charon. At the time this image was taken, the two smaller moons were newly discovered and are visible as the two fainter dots to the right of Pluto and Charon (and the image doesn’t even capture Kerberos and Styx, two other moons found later). Charon was only discovered in 1978, nearly 40 years after Pluto, which should tell you how hard it is to understand something from over 3 billion miles away. Nix and Hydra are about 5,000 times fainter than Pluto and up to three times farther from the dwarf planet than Charon, according to NASA.

The New Horizons spacecraft captured this enhanced-color view of Pluto’s moon Charon in July 2015:

The New Horizons spacecraft captured this enhanced-color view of Pluto’s moon Charon in July 2015.

Adorable, Highly Inbred Land Parrots Are Somehow Genetically Thriving

Hunted by invasive mustelids (which were introduced by humans to cull booming rabbit populations), kākāpō easily could have followed in the footsteps of the similarly ground-bound dodo, but surviving populations of the birds were moved to predator-free islands around New Zealand in the 1980s. Since then, attempts to reduce inbreeding and maintain genetic diversity in the minuscule population have been paramount.

“We show that the single male survivor from the mainland, Richard Henry, has more harmful mutations than Stewart Island birds,” said paper co-author Love Dalén, a researcher at the Centre for Palaeogenetics and the Swedish Museum of Natural History, in a statement. “Therefore, there could be a risk that these harmful mutations spread in future generations.”

The bird up close.

A kākāpō.
Image: Jake Osborne

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Richard Henry the kākāpō was found in Fiordland in southwestern New Zealand, and his genetic diversity and virility were imperative in pulling the birds back from extinction. At the same time, though, Henry’s DNA harbors more harmful mutations than kākāpō from Stewart Island. (Richard Henry is named after a human who devoted much of his life at the turn of the 20th century to saving the species. Henry the human’s work has been resumed by a handful of New Zealand conservationists, many of whom co-authored the paper published today.)

The kākāpō’s genetic success story could be contrasted with that of the Isle Royale wolves, whose population of about 50 in 2011 plummeted to just two in 2016 after a new individual messed with the genetics of the already dangerously inbred group. A study of that situation, published last year in Evolution Letters, indicated that sometimes pushing high genetic diversity too quickly in a group with low genetic diversity can cause the population to collapse.

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It’s also, perhaps, a warning for the kākāpō, as the bird is hardly out of the proverbial woods and, genetic diversity aside, has to worry about the predatory stoats and weasels that prowl its territory. The recent research will help to refine the breeding program approach, Dussex said, and new island populations could be established now that researchers have a better understanding of how all those in the current population relate.

If researchers manage to keep the kākāpō population genetically healthy, it’d be a big win in the battle for the animal’s survival. There are many threats ahead, but the portly green bird has a chance.

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More: Fat Endangered Parrots Finally Boning

Rare Sighting of Angel Shark Raises Hope for the Critically Endangered Species

“Wales hosts one of the last Angelshark populations in the northernmost part of their range, and this footage provides additional evidence that they are using waters around Wales to give birth,” Joanna Barker, senior project manager at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and a co-founder of the Angel Shark Project, explained in an email. “This is a really good sign that the population of critically endangered Angelsharks using this area are actively breeding.”

The Angel Shark Project is led by Natural Resources Wales and ZSL, and it works with local communities and fishers to gather information about the species. It’s currently against the law in Wales to hunt or disturb angel sharks.

These predatory fish can be found in shallow waters along the entire Mediterranean coast, and also the coasts of northwestern Africa and western United Kingdom. Recreational and fishing activities have led to their critically endangered status, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

Geographic range of angel sharks. Tan areas show where angel fish are resident, red shows where they’re possibly locally extinct, and grey indicates where their presence is uncertain.

Geographic range of angel sharks. Tan areas show where angel fish are resident, red shows where they’re possibly locally extinct, and grey indicates where their presence is uncertain.
Image: IUCN

These marine animals have flattened bodies similar to rays. When hunting, they bury themselves in sand or mud, where they lie in wait for unsuspecting fish, crustaceans, or cephalopods to pass by. Angel sharks have sharp teeth, so you wouldn’t want to disturb one as it goes about its daily business.

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The diminutive size of the animal caught on camera, along with white markings on its dorsal fin edges, suggests this angel shark was born this year, Barker explained. The new footage also shows that “juvenile Angelsharks use both sand and mixed habitats and they prey on gobies,” which is “vital information to build our understanding of Angelshark ecology in the region.” Gobies are small to medium-sized, bony bottom-dwelling fish.

Davies spends a lot of time diving in Wales, so Barker was “delighted” that he finally managed to spot and film an angel shark after searching for so long. He managed to catch a range of behaviors on camera, including footage of the angel shark feeding, which Barker described as a “highlight.”

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Anyone with records of this species can submit them to the Angel Shark project via an interactive map. “These records are vital for our project,” said Barker.

Warning, This Sci-Fi Trailer Will Leave You Endlessly Curious

Warning 2021 Trailer: Thomas Jane Sci-Fi Thriller

If you’re like us, you watched that trailer and thought “What the heck is going on?”—because there is a lot going on. You’ve got Jane’s character in space, a killer asteroid, disturbing visions, mind control, immortal beings, Alexa as God, a creepy countdown, snow angels, dancing, you name it. So here’s where an official plot description comes in more than handy to tie everything together. Lionsgate describes Warning as follows: “Set in the not too distant future, this intense sci-fi thriller explores the repercussions that humanity faces when omniscient technology becomes a substitute for human contact. But life begins to unravel when a global storm causes electronics to go haywire, leading to terrifying, deadly consequences.”

Basically, it’s a Warning for everything we’re living through now, which is sufficently messed up and terrifying. Fingers crossed Alexander is able to tie all those characters (it also stars Patrick Schwarzenegger, Rupert Everett, and James D’arcy, among others) and ideas into one, satisfying narrative. We’ll find out in a few weeks when Warning arrives.


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