The Cliff's Edge

The Cliff's Edge

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.

Episodes

April 30, 2021 29 min

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 be...

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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...

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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 go...

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April 10, 2021 28 min

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 ...

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April 5, 2021 26 min

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 ...

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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.

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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 pe...

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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 ...

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February 25, 2021 27 min

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, t...

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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...

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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 t...

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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...

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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.

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January 21, 2021 26 min

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 commo...

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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.

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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 ou...

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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 ...

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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 ...

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December 24, 2020 19 min

Think you know what science is? Well, you might. But, our science education in the US is pretty spotty, and the media is crap at covering scientific topics. So there's a decent chance that you've got some pretty common misperceptions about how science works. Let's sort out a couple of the biggest ones right now, so you can really show those guys on Twitter who think they know everything.  

PRO TIP: Never bother trying to...

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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...

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