Scientific Scribbles

The voice of UniMelb Science Communication students

A green earth: electric cars role in this future

There are so many discussions going on about a green future and how it is important for the survival of mankind, but what exactly is a green future.

A Green future is essentially a future or a reality in which the activities carried out by humans, and the effects of the tools that we humans use, have are more environmentally friendly and ecologically responsible. This means we actively strive to produce less of the chemicals that cause a warmer climate change.

Therefore, in light of having a green future, research has shown that vehicle emissions are one of the biggest contributors to air pollution. In Australia, for instance, it is estimated that transport is the third-largest contributor of greenhouse gas emissions. This is where electric vehicles come in. Unlike their combustion engine-powered counterparts, Electric vehicles have eliminated the need to produce emissions. A research conducted in 2019 shows that Electric vehicles have a net positive impact on the quality of our air and climate change in general. This result stays true, even when the electricity is sourced from a combustion system.

What exactly are Electric vehicles?

Electric vehicles are the type of vehicles that make use of one or more electric motors, which are powered by batteries to serve as the power source for the vehicle. In this article, hybrid cars are not considered. Hybrid cars can run partially on fossil fuel and also electricity.

The reason why the use of electric vehicles is gaining so much traction in recent times is because of the massive shift in the policy-making nature of many countries to now support less emission. The goal is to use Electric vehicles to reduce the harmful effect caused by emissions of greenhouse gases such as CO2. Electric vehicles suit this role well because they do not produce any gas exhaust, and are therefore rated zero on the carbon emission scale.

Some of the various advantages of opting for an electric vehicle is because it reduces the amount spent on fuel. For an average electric car, it is estimated that it will cost about $4.50 for it to travel for $100km, while an average car that runs on a combustion engine will cost $16.65.

The future is all about trying to save energy so that we don’t have to stress mother nature too much in our quest to satisfy our needs. Electric cars make this possible because, at an average, an electric car is 60 to 77% energy efficient. Electric cars even use regenerative brakes, which makes use of the kind of energy that would have been otherwise wasted by a combustion engine car.

Electric cars can also help to improve the economy in terms of saving money spent on building infrastructures non-renewable energy. By using electricity, a lot of effort can be put into building infrastructures that support renewable energy, which will help nature in the long run.

With the use of electric cars, we can save the planet and even save the economy by spending less on non-renewable natural resources.




Electric vehicles: a ride to a Greener Future? (2019). Retrieved from Infinite energy website:

Electric vehicles: a smart choice for the environment (2019). Retrieved from the European Environment Agency website:


Dangers to e waste you might never knew about

Much of the activities of we humans today revolve around things that run on electricity. Equipment that runs on electricity and electric circuitry are known as electrical and electronic equipment (EEE). With rapid improvements in the way these kinds of products are produced, we now have a lot of these electronic wastes (e-waste) lying all around us. Some of this equipment includes computers, Televisions, fax machines, printers, and other electronic products. There are many precious elements that can be found in many of the e-waste that we dispose of every day, but apart from the benefits that can be derived from them, it is good that you know the dangers that they pose to the environment too.

In many e-wastes, harmful elements and materials like lead, cadmium, chromium, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), brominated flame, and more can be found in them. Also, in many industrially developing countries, the recycling processes are primitive that the workers handling them are liable to be exposed to harmful substances, and even the people living around these recycling plants can inhale some of the harmful fumes.

Environmental pollution

When e-wastes are not properly disposed and sent in for proper recycling, it can lead to the accumulation of toxic chemicals in the soil, water, and food. When e-wastes are processed but are not processed properly, they can lead to a rise in the number of harmful bi-products that can potentially affect the health of the people around where they are processed. Dismantling e-wastes can also lead to injuries when they are nor properly handled.

Exposure to hazardous chemicals

Sometimes, when e-wastes are processed, the chemicals that are used are sometimes stronger than those chemicals that are found in the electronics and electrical appliances that are being processed. In countries where the rules regarding the processing of these e-wastes are somewhat non-formal or lenient, the workers are very liable to workplace hazards.

Health defects

Also, lots of children get exposed to e-waste derived chemicals through their daily activities at home because many of the recycling processes are usually carried out in the homes of many families in developing countries. Children are especially at risk because they are still growing, and little changes in things like the air, water or food that they take in can result in them becoming seriously ill. They are prone to experiencing the side effects of the chemicals released from e-waste because their bodies’ systems like the central nervous system, reproductive, and digestive system are still developing. Any exposure to any of the chemicals released during the processing of e-waste, handling of the materials used to make electronic products, or just being in areas where e-wastes are processed can lead to developmental problems and could cause irreparable damages to the kids that are exposed.

This is why organizations like WHO (World Health Organization) are working to identify the main sources of e-wastes and the potential health risks of e-waste exposures so that methods that will ensure successful intervention and prevention can be put in place. An initiative like the E-Waste and Child Health Initiative was started by the WHO to protect children and their families from the life-threatening effects of e-wastes.


Children’s Environmental Health (2019). Retrieved from World Health Organization website:

E-waste: The hidden dangers of technology (2019). Retrieved from Purdue Global University website:

Why is the climate changing?

So many people confuse the phenomenon of global warming and climate change; in many discussions, these two phrases are used interchangeably, but they are not the same. However, global warming can bring about climate change. So, what then is climate change?

Climate change, in its simplest terms, can be referred to as the expected weather condition at a given location over an extended period (National Research Council of the National Academies). This is like saying, you know that certain locations are usually hot or cold during certain times so, that’s their climate. Climate change is, therefore, refers to the change in the Climatic condition of a certain area or a geographical location over an extended period; it could be years, decades or even centuries (National Research Council of the National Academies).

Climate change has always been a part of the natural process of nature. The earth’s climate is always changing, but it has always been progressively slow, and it could take decades or centuries to notice a major shift in the earth’s climate. The major climate change that occurred before the modern climate era happened about 7,000 years ago; this marked the end of the last ice age and the beginning of human civilization. This kind of climate change used to be caused by a small change in the way the Earth orbit’s around the sun. However, the current warming of the earth which is causing a great shift in the earth’s climate is attributed to a probability of 95% to be a result of human activities. Evidence shows that we are warming up the planet 10 times faster than it normally would after an ice age.

Scientists have found evidence to show that the activities of humans are causing the greenhouse effect. The greenhouse effect is the warming of the planet as a result of the atmosphere trapping heat that radiates from earth towards space, and therefore, warming up the earth. The greenhouse effect is caused by the release of various gases into the atmosphere that can cause heat to be trapped in the atmosphere. Some of these gases include Carbon dioxide (CO2), Water vapour, Methane, Nitrous oxide, and Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs).

The greenhouse effect is also caused by human activities like the burning of fossil fuels like coal and oil, which increases the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere. Other activities that have similar effects include mass clearing of land (Deforestation) and industrial wastes.

Some of the effects of the Greenhouse effect are that the earth will become warmer, and while this will be good in some regions, it will be bad for some other regions. Evaporation and precipitation of water will occur in various regions, which will cause more rainfall in some areas, while some regions will experience lesser rainfall, or even have droughts.

A more serious effect of the greenhouse effect is that the oceans will warm up, and glaciers and other ice will melt partially. This will cause the sea level to increase. The ocean water will also expand when it is warm, which in turn will also lead to a rise in sea level and consequently the flooding of some areas close to the sea.


Shifting Summers


Photo taken in Orange (New South Wales, Australia), showing a farmer helping a sheep suffering from drought conditions (the sheep survived!) | Photo by Jasper Wilde (@jasperwilde Unsplash) |


We never know what we are getting when it comes to Summer. Sometimes they scorch the Earth: widespread drought upper-cuts Australian farmers and bushfires burn without break. Other times, it’s not nearly as hot. Summer passes without any fuss and we’re left in peace. But why does this happen? Why aren’t all Summers made equal? 


The main reason we have unequal summers is due to a large pool of warm water that sloshes back and forth between Australia and South America. This may seem strange that water controls our weather, but it is actually one of the largest influences of the world’s weather outside of the Sun. 


This is no small amount of warm water, it covers most of the Pacific Ocean and can increase the sea surface temperatures around Australia by 4˚C. 4˚C may not sound like much, but this is a massive amount of energy. Energy that works its way into the surrounding atmosphere, causing updrafts, bringing more water vapour to the upper-atmosphere. Thus, more clouds and rain.


When warm waters border Australia, we receive a bit more rain and bit less heat.  Any threatening bushfires get doused with rain and transforms into less of a threat. Here’s a simple way to remember this: warm water = more rain and less heat.


And, you guessed it, when these warm waters leave Australia, and is replaced by cold waters, we are confronted with extreme Summers. Coldwater suppresses water from rising up to the upper atmosphere. Less rain causes hotter weather, and the Summer from hell returns with a fiery fury. More simply: cold water = less rain and less heat.


Unsurprisingly, since it seems to be human nature, we have given a name to the wet and the dry phases. The wet phase goes by La Nina, and the dry phase El Nino. They are both different phases of the El Nino Southern Oscillation –  an oscillation of warm water back and forth in the Pacific ocean. One oscillating cycle takes anywhere between 2 to 7 years. This is the main reason why not all Summers are equal. We have our scorchers and our peaceful passers. 


El Nino Southern Oscillation has played a big part in Australia’s history. Such as during first European settlement in Sydney in 1788, where a massive El Nino event was in play. Drought ensued, which crippled the crops and wasted-away water supplies. Life for these new arrivals wasn’t going well. This then took a turn to even worse, when a few years later, a strong La Nina took hold. Flooding rains poured in, river levels rose and swept away livestock, crops and houses. These new people were not used to variable weather like this before. Unlike the Aboriginal people, who new and warned the early settlers that flooding rains were inbound.


El Nino Southern Oscillation, the principal driver of variability in Australia’s weather. The sole cause of our too hot Summers, that fuels deadly bushfires and dire droughts. And when it’s not doing that, it can bring flooding rains of comparable destruction. If there is severe weather in Australia, it’s likely El Nino Southern Oscillation was one of the culprits. 

Do animals have language?

Have you ever listened to magpies warbling in the morning and wondered what they might be saying? For animals that communicate acoustically, research shows that specific vocalisations do have certain meanings including alarm calls and sounds for courtship and finding food. Some animals such as dolphins even have unique whistles for individual animals, just like we have names. But are these repertoires enough to call it language?

Australian Magpie. Hilton Hope, Alexis. Via Wikimedia commons.

What is language?

There have been numerous attempts over time to define language, yet despite being studied for over 2,500 years, the definition remains unclear.

Noam Chomsky is one of the leading experts on language today. He argues that every language has what he calls ‘The Basic Property’: “an unbounded array of hierarchically structured expressions that receive interpretations at two interfaces, sensorimotor for externalisation and conceptual-intentional for mental processes.” He states that humans differ to animals in that their communication appears to be caused by circumstances in its environment, whereas humans can voluntarily use complex language independent of environment and circumstance.

But Linguist Martin Joos took a more open-minded approach to defining language. He believed that languages can differ randomly, and that each new one should be studied without any prior conceptions to what language is.

Author Deepak Chopra offers a holistic view on the definition of language: “We think of language as a purely human trait, and that is because we experience it verbally, as linguistically structured and verbally elite. But at pre-verbal levels language is information and energy and all of nature is alive with language.”

What can we understand?

Jacob Beck, a philosopher at York University believes that there is enough evidence to suggest that animals can think, but a human’s ability to understand them is limited because of the way we are preconditioned to think about language.

There have been numerous studies of ‘theory of mind’ in great apes, where the animals are raised like humans and taught sign language as a means to communicate their thoughts and knowledge. But what is important to consider is that they have their own form of communication. As Chomsky puts it, “it’s an insult to chimpanzee intelligence to consider this their means of communication. It’s rather as if humans were taught to mimic some aspects of the waggle dance of bees and researchers were to say, “Wow, we’ve taught humans to communicate”.

Jane Goodall spent many years researching chimpanzees in the wild at Gombe and although she identified many different chimp vocalisations, she concluded that they do not have language. “They have lots of sounds, but they cannot sit and discuss. They cannot teach about things that are not present”. Instead, sounds were linked to certain emotional states. However Dr. Goodall found that chimps have other ways of communicating with each other, such as embracing, patting and looking.

Darwin, Charles. The Expression of the Emotions of Man and Animals (1872). Illustration by T. W. Wood. Via Wellcome Collection.

Going beyond words

Could it be possible that the way in which humans perceive language – a linguistically structured system – has limited our capacity to understand the language of the wild? Indigenous cultures have lived in harmony with the natural world for thousands of years and have a very different perspective on animal communication than is often found in modern minds. For example, according to the history of the Yawanawa people of the Amazon rain forest, the forest once spoke, as did flowers and animals. Perhaps living amongst animals in their natural habitat gave them a much greater opportunity to understand them better than any laboratory experiment ever could.

To give an analogy, when we hear a piece of music that we respond to, we may not be able to understand the musical notes being used, but we can usually sense the overall emotional intention of the music. For example, if you listen to John Williams ‘Theme from Schindler’s List’ or ‘Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake: Scene’, the music itself “speaks” and tells a story without the aid of visuals or words. It’s message is received not just with the ears it seems, but felt.

In the same way, perhaps we need to go beyond words and adjust our way of looking at language in order to better understand animal language. As Deepak Chopra points out, at a pre-verbal level, language is energy and information and this may just be the place where communication with all of life is possible.


Further reading

Chomsky, N. (2016). What kind of Creatures are We? Columbia University Press, New York.

Chopra, D. (1994). Sacred Verses, Healing Sounds. Audible. Available at

Corballis, M. (2002). From Hand to Mouth. Princeton University Press, New Jersey.

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