Climate Flog -- Andy Long

September, 2015

9/4/2015 — Labor day weekend

Burning man leaves a trace — leaves a terribly large footprint.

May, 2015

5/5/2015 — Cinco de Mayo, and Aunt Lila's 90th birthday

The benefits of owning a farm, even if you never make a penny in monetary profit:

  • Purchasing (or not selling) land keeps it safe from development and environmental damage.
  • Low-density population in rural areas conserves our depleting water supply.
  • Growing and eating your own food is healthy and delicious!
  • The money you spend on supplies and tools creates jobs and tax revenue.
  • Managed correctly, your farm is a giant carbon offset, building soil and protecting trees that remove carbon dioxide and generate oxygen in our atmosphere.
  • Protecting wildlife habitat protects biological diversity.
  • And most important of all, owning a farm can benefit your quality of life.

Which of these have we managed to do (while never making a profit on our own farm)?

  • Keeping the land safe from "bad development" and environmental damage — check
  • No water depletion on our farm
  • Growing and eating our own food (even the chickens) was indeed healthy and delicious.
  • Money spent did go into the local economy.
  • We're planting trees, and protecting forests. Our sheep are generating methane, however.
  • We're all about protecting habitat.
  • And I think that my quality of life was much better (in most ways) up there. One downside was burning wood — I got many lungfuls of smoke by heating our house with our outdoor wood-burning furnace, and I think that my respiratory health was a little worse up there. The surrounding air, by contrast, was certainly better than the air of Cincinnati, however. I also was lifting a lot more, and risked blowing out my hernia repair.

March, 2015

3/11/2015

In my pursuit of my personal acquaintanceship with climate change (see 2/7 entry below), I found what may have been an earlier reference while up in Canada — among my books was WorldWatch Paper 138: Rising Sun, Gathering Winds: Policies to Stabilize the Climate and Strengthen Economies. So WorldWatch may have beaten EDF to me. At any rate, this paper (by Christopher Flavin and Seth Dunn) provides a good basic overview of many topics, including sequestration, and a look at what many countries are doing (at the bottom were, in descending order, the US, Australia, and Canada….).

3/9/2015

We are Now Entering the Noosphere (David Wilson): quotes Sir Julian Huxley, but goes from Huxley to Teilhard — a much more compassionate scientist:

There is no separate supernatural realm: all phenomena are part of one
natural process of evolution. There is no basic cleavage between science
and religion…I believe that [a] drastic reorganization of our pattern of
religious thought is now becoming necessary, from a god-centered to an
evolutionary-centered pattern.

Many people assert that this abandonment of the god hypothesis means the
abandonment of all religion and all moral sanctions. This is simply not
true. But it does mean, once our relief at jettisoning an outdated piece of
ideological furniture is over, that we must construct something to take its
place.”

No wonder that Huxley praised Teilhard’s own grand vision in The Phenomenon of Man,
even though Teilhard would certainly disagree with the notion of his Catholic faith as an
outdated piece of ideological furniture!
How on earth did this kind of expansive optimism lead to the cynicism and
limited expectations of today? Why have Teilhard and the humanistic side of Huxley
been forgotten by professional evolutionists, who continue to celebrate Huxley as one of
the fathers of the modern synthesis? A large part of the answer is contained in this third
quote from Huxley, written in 1941:

The lowest strata are reproducing too fast. Therefore…they must not have
too easy access to relief or hospital treatment lest the removal of the last
check on natural selection should make it too easy for children to be
produced or to survive; long unemployment should be a ground for
sterilization.

This passage sounds horrifying to most of us today, certainly to myself. Even
more horrifying is the fact that Huxley had lots of company. It was acceptable at that time for passionate humanists such as Huxley to argue that mankind should take charge of its destiny in this particular way. More horrifying still, their talk was not idle and led to social policies on both sides of the Atlantic that can only be looked back upon with shame.

I add this to my discussion of 3/5, in which I make certain arguments about the relationship between faith and science. Teilhard seems a wonderful example of the clash of these: " Throughout his life, Teilhard struggled to remain an obedient servant of his church without sacrificing his scientific integrity or spiritual vision that he was convinced was truer to the church than
the dogma forced upon him." (p. 9)

"Teilhard was not the slightest bit tempted to attribute supernatural agency to the
origin of life, despite his spiritual nature and Jesuit training. He assumed that life was a
purely physical process, but one that was qualitatively different from what came before."

"Now for Teilhard’s own contribution. He asks the reader to imagine excavating
layers of soil. Deep down there is only the physical earth. Closer to the surface, organic
materials begin to appear. Then, still closer to the surface, human artifacts start to appear.
At first they are barely present, such as flakes of stones chipped from rocks to make tools.
Then they come more abundant. In the immensity of space and time, the artifacts of
human activity spread over the surface of the planet and form a kind of a skin, like the
skin of life that proceeded it. A word is needed for the human skin. The noosphere."

As with the origin of life, Teilhard was not the slightest bit tempted to attribute
human origins to a divine spark. “Man came silently into the world”, as he put it, a
species like any other. A chance combination of biological adaptations led to the
metamorphosis. The convergence might have been serendipitous, even highly
improbable, but once accomplished it literally took on a life of its own. The term
noosphere therefore has two meanings; the physical skin of the human presence on earth
and the new process of evolution that Teilhard loosely referred to as “thought”.

The new process necessarily relied upon different mechanisms than biological
evolution but its outcome was essentially the same. Teilhard was adamant that human
cultural diversity is like biological diversity. He asked the reader to imagine the
biological tree of life branching over a period of hundreds of millions of years. Then one
of its tips becomes a new evolutionary process that starts branching at an incomparably
faster rate, overtopping many of the previous branches as human cultures spread over the
earth and displaced other species. Teilhard did not pass moral judgment on the
replacement of biological diversity with human cultural diversity. His main point was to
stress that both biological and cultural diversity obey the same laws of natural history.
Culture did not free humanity from evolution. Culture was evolution at warp speed.

References:

3/5/2015

Interpolation: a parable of climate change

I was reading my numerical analysis text concerning interpolation when I came upon this:


Example 5.5: Suppose we want to derive a formula for approximating $f(\frac{3}{2})$ in terms of $f(0)$, $f(1)$, $f(2)$, and $f(3)$ where $f(x)$ is generally unknown. There is no one correct way to approximate in a situation like this. (my emphasis)


I'll go further: There is no correct way to approximate in a situation like this; that is, there are zero correct ways to approximate. There are, however, sensible ways to approximate, and there are senseless ways to approximate. One of my favorite expressions (coming from my training as an applied mathematician) is this: "All models are wrong; some models are useful."

In order to help ourselves out, scientists observe something called "Occam's Razor", best described perhaps by Einstein's observation that we should make things as simple as possible, but not simpler[1].

It is also sometimes stated this way: the simplest consistent theory is the best.

There are two important words there: "simplest" and "consistent". Scientists would certainly add one more word to tighten things up: "falsifiable". That's an odd one, which may be unfamiliar; it may also be the most important. The only good theory is a falsifiable one.

A theory must travel from the known to the unknown, making conjectures in line with its assumptions: if the conjectures are found to be false, then the theory is considered falsified. It is false. So Newton's laws were useful and "believed" to be true for awhile, until seen to be false (but at scales unimaginable to most humans); Einstein patched things up a bit, and now we feel that we have a better theory. So a falsified theory may be repaired and live to fight another day. And, until that theory is falsified, it remains in contention as a candidate for reality.

When we go to choosing between competing falsifiable theories, we choose that which is simplest (they are all consistent with the known facts — if not, then they are pre-falsified!).

So Jim Inhofe has a theory about the climate — humans can't change it, because God is in charge and won't ever destroy the world again (because we've got God's rainbow promise in Genesis). Inhofe's theory cannot be falsified — we can't tell if God's in charge or not. So it's not a scientific theory, let alone a contender for the best theory. One might just as well believe in Greg Cravin's "Giant Space Hamster" theory of everything… or Inhofe's theory that a snowball in Washington, D.C. in winter disproves global warming.

This is not to mock Inhofe's religion per se, except insofar as he chooses to put it up as a scientific explanation. Religion and Science are generally completely independent of one another. Scientists don't dispute faith, and faith cannot dispute science. Faith (miracles, angels, etc.) cannot be tested by science; and science cannot generally be ignored even by the faithful. Stepping off the balcony at the 7th floor is generally a bad idea, no matter what miracles one might like to believe in. Gravity has a way of winning out.

So scientists have put forth some theories for why the climate is changing, and the best one (so far) is this:

  1. John Tyndale showed 150 years ago that carbon gases would trap infrared radiation;
  2. If we put carbon gases into the atmosphere, they'll keep the infrared radiation from the Earth from leaving for space, and hence heat up the planet (not just its atmosphere, but also its oceans);
  3. We've put a boatload of carbon gases into the atmosphere (and also into the oceans, by the way):
    totalEmissions.png
  4. As the Earth heats up, there will be lots of repercussions (e.g. melting glaciers and snowpack, droughts, wilder weather, ocean acidification, movement of species and diseases, etc.).

And that's exactly what we're seeing.

So: there's no correct way to explain what's happening in the world. But climate scientists are painting a consistent, verifiable, testable picture, and, so far at least, their predictions are holding up. There is no better contending scientific theory of why the climate is behaving as it is (no theory which neglects to include humans — e.g. solar effects, or wobbles in Earth's orbit is consistent with the data we are seeing — these theories, neglecting human impacts, have been falsified). So let's go with it, and do the hard work which the theory requires: if we want to reduce the impacts, we're going to have to stop pouring greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

References:

  1. "It can scarcely be denied that the supreme goal of all theory is to make the irreducible basic elements as simple and as few as possible without having to surrender the adequate representation of a single datum of experience." Albert Einstein, "On the Method of Theoretical Physics" The Herbert Spencer Lecture, delivered at Oxford (10 June 1933)
  2. Richard Feynman gives a specific example of this "iterative improvement" in a theory (versus experiment), recounted in a wonderful lecture at the University of Auckland (about minute 9:20).

3/2/2015

The Earth farts (and it's better if the Earth lights them).

Craters have been forming in the Siberian permafrost — pock marks on the Earth's face, a likely result of the explosive release of a belch or fart of methane gas (but likely ignited, a fireball). Satellites first picked up these new features, which were then explored on the ground. The guess is that something is triggering an explosion, but what? Lakes form in the wake of the crater formation, with gas bubbling up to the surface. This seems to me an opening salvo in the methane wars of the north….

Better that the methane ignites, however: that way the gas goes up as CO2, rather than as methane (which is a more potent greenhouse gas). Be thankful for small favors.

Naomi Klein (Canadian) is arguing that it's the core belief of capitalism, the doctrine of unlimited growth, that is at odds with the planet. So we must reject that core belief (because we're not going to get nature to change her laws for us). Instead she's going to show us things that we've never seen before, like Earth farts.

February, 2015

2/26/2015

I just had to say something about this Bloomberg News item: Alberta in Talks on Climate Policy With Eye to Keystone Approval. Alberta wants to say all the right things about climate so they can go about dredging out all that crappy, carbon-intensive diluted bitumen "oil" and dumping it into our atmosphere.

Let's also put Michael Vick in charge of Animal Shelters, and Dick Cheney in charge of our investigations into torture.

What foolishness! Talk about wanting to have your cake and eat it, too. Listen Alberta — Earth to Alberta! — we can't develop the tarsands if we care about our planet. Period. Get over it. Move on to building wind power generators, or something ethical, and stop trying to rape the planet to satisfy your economic greed.

Alberta says "Do as I say, not as I do." There's this button, and it's labelled "Game over for the planet." Alberta is saying "What can we tell you so that you'll let us hit this button?"

2/18/2015

I want to throw in a few historical comments (after last time noting when I first became concerned about warming). I'm basically transcribing some notes, but these indicate the level of my concern in 2011. I'm no less (and frankly much more) concerned today. This is a rather scattered post, but I'm putting it in because it was really a set of musings, about several angles on climate.


[My brother] Steve and I were talking about what to attempt to communicate to our loved ones about the future. I argued that we could begin with the dramatic steps we're preparing for:

  • move to Canada for the Andy Longs, and
  • movement [investment] of resources for the Steve Longs.

Then open with some basic pieces of information from the National Academies:

  • Greenhouse effect, and Keeling's CO2 data (and keep the focus on data);
  • Lake Powell (Ogalalla aquifer, a recent newsletter from Campbell County documenting concerns for the future [in other words, bring it home — make it personal]
  • Warming scenario of Lovelock, and his notion of sustainable retreat.

At this point, we don't expect folks to catch our vision, but to

  1. beware of danger signs, and be prepared to go quickly, and to
  2. make choices in the light of global warming:
    • gymnastics versus self-defense,
    • learning to shoot, hunt, fish, spin, knit, crochet, versus other hobbies.

In Elie Weisel's book Night, there's the story of Moshe the Beadle. He returns
to warn the Jews of Nazi atrocities, and that what he saw happened (a massacre
of innocents) could happen again, to them. But no one listened.

People seem to be doubting the science — there isn't much doubt in the
scientific community, or even the business community (other than those who
stand to profit)

Furthermore the things they're saying so blandly can be exceedingly
frightening. There's a risk of catastrophic change.


Issues:

  1. While the status quo reigns
    1. proximity to
      • supplies
      • work
      • education
      • health care
    2. Preparation and study — preparing a community
  2. Post-status-quo:
    1. Feeding oneself/sheltering/clothing
    2. Providing for all needs — soap, medicine, preserving food
    3. Security/defense/re-assembling of society

Vicious cycle (p. 17, Unscientific America, by Chris Mooney):

  1. Scientists don't trust public
  2. Public responds in kinds, leading to
  3. Negative attitudes toward science
  4. Repeat.

"A society shot through with scientific illiteracy poses a threat… repeated failure as a nation to take forward-looking actions before it's too lates." (p. 18).

Glenn Beck and CO2:

  1. There's a video of Glenn Beck exhaling, and saying "So let me break it down. Carbon dioxide is basically this. (Exhales.) Look at how much pollution I just put out."
  2. Because CO2 is a good thing for plants, because humans exhale it, lots of CO2 is a great thing for all concerned!
  3. What if we sealed up Glenn in an airtight room for a few days. Do you suppose he would gain a new-found respect for CO2? We might have a new-found respect for it!
  4. Paracelsus: "The dose makes the poison." (all things are poisons, in the wrong dose…)

At the 2011 Joint Math Meetings in New Orleans, John W. Day gave a very bleak
assessment of our oil future.

Citing Constanza, et. al, the value of the ecosystems (usually externalized) far exceeds the value of the oil.

At the joint meetings I've learned over time that

  1. copper reserves are vanishing
  2. the Ogalalla aquifer is vanishing
  3. oil is vanishing

We're E. coli despoiling our environment, poisoning our world, squandering our resources. Yet we've become so supremely overconfident that we'll drown in our hubris.

John, in reponding to questions, said that in 10 years we won't be flying into New Orleans for meetings. "$150/barrel oil almost destroyed the airline industry." 10 years. 2021.


This (very large) clip from the movie "Apollo 13" always seemed to me a good analogy for our current situation: people looking to solve problems as though they operate independently, whereas in fact there is a terrible constraint that we must acknowledge, and even serve. For example, the UN projects a population of 9 billion by 2050 — but it assumes that food supplies will continue to grow. Throw in climate change, and your food supplies look shaky. Throw climate change into most projections, and things start looking shaky.

2/7/2015

The first record that I have of particular awareness of climate change is from a log entry I wrote from Benin, West Africa, on July 16th, 1998:


This off the EDF newsletter:

NEWS FROM GREENWIRE: A study published in the current issue of
the journal Science suggests that the west Antarctic ice sheet
collapsed into the sea hundreds of thousands of years ago and
could be doing so again today, possibly in response to global
warming. If that occurred, sea levels could rise by a
"catastrophic" 13 to 20 feet.

[Why did they put "catastrophic" in quotes?]


Clearly I was a little stunned by the projections. There was no timeline associated with that sea level rise, and perhaps I hoped that it was millennia into the future. But I was stunned. In particular, I'm clearly befuddled by someone's need to put the word "catastrophic" in quotes, given the evidently catastrophic consequence of 13 to 20 feet.

So that was the beginning, for me. In spite of my years of graduate school in a Program for Applied Math, it hadn't hit my radar until then.

Thank you, EDF: I should send in another contribution, in your honor.

2/6/2015

I have to mention a beautiful 50-year-old artifact of climate change history, which was celebrated just a week or so ago on its birthday. It was in 1965 that a committee sent a report to President Johnson entitled "Restoring the Quality of Our Environment" (Report of the Environmental Pollution Panel, President's Science Advisory Committee). The nominal date on the report is November, 1965 (so we might have to have another party in November). There is an appendix on "Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide", written by Roger Revelle, Wallace Broecker, C. D. Keeling, Harmon Craig, and J. Smagorinsky.

The summary of the relationship between humans, carbon dioxide, and climate on pages 112-113 is dead on. It could have been written today. So could the summary section on climate impacts. This is one that everyone who doubts, who squawks about "global cooling" being predicted back in the day (maybe the 70s) — this is one that everyone PERIOD should read. Scientists — real, white-coated, geeky, intelligent, wise — scientists have known about climate change, and have been dead on, for 50 years. And we're staying right on track — dead on — for a disaster.

2/3/2015 — 2/6/2015

We live in a culture of dissatisfaction and distraction, entertaining ourselves to death ("because we can!", said with excited perkiness, as in a commercial for a cleaning product).

We're living like short-termers — which we are — but we are leaving a few kids behind, and they might actually want a sustainable world to live in.

My friend Jay Kaufman sent me a couple of items from a recent Harper's Magazine — "The War of the World", by Rebecca Solnit, and an essay by Wendell Berry, from an upcoming collection called "Our Only World". The essay is entitled "The Melancholy of Anatomy". Both of these, published in the same issue, must have "made Jack a dull boy", or at least a gloomy one.

I take issue with each, however, not that my feelings will lighten the mood (as one might tell from my opening lines). Solnit's thoughts are a welcome reflection on the ways in which we ruin our world. Our world can be ruined in so many ways — psychologically, for example, given the horrors visited upon our world (the Arab world, in particular) by Isis, or by Boko Haram in Nigeria; by drug dealers in Mexico; or by CIA torturers in black sites around the world. But Solnit describes the way that the human world suffered under the bombardments of WWII — the incredible physical destruction (millions of homes destroyed, 14 billion cubic feet of rubble, etc.), but, more poignantly, the loss of life (and how — firebombings of Tokyo and Dresden getting special attention).

After that barrage, that mental beating, she turns the tables: all that, all that incredible destruction, was nothing compared to the damage that we've piled up since, in a new war which she claims we wage against nature. At the end of WWII, "…elephants and rhinos thrived in intact ecosystems, and in Asia, the Bengal tiger and snow leopard were similarly doing fine. The Amazon rainforest was still largely intact, and the California sardine fishery had not yet collapsed."

Here's where we part company. Nature is collateral damage in this war — humans have no beef with nature (although we certainly don't respect her). We just expect nature to be there for us, however we mistreat her.

So back to Solnit's argument: if there's a war going on, and nature isn't our opponent, then who is our opponent? The obvious answer is Pogo's: we've met the enemy, and he is us.

Pogo_-_Earth_Day_1971_poster.jpg

How is it that we can war on ourselves, and scarce know it? Is it just a case of a slippery slope of ease, down which we have gently slid, often gleefully?

Perhaps. Or perhaps the answer is more nefarious. Solnit asserts that "it's the great majority of us against a small minority who have chosen short-term individual benefit over long-term global survival." Now she's on to something. This is really a war we're fighting against capitalism, and the libertarianism of people like Rand Paul. We're fighting against a fossil fuel industry that has trillions of dollars worth of carbon under ground — and if they don't dig it out, or suck it out, or blast it out with a super high pressure poison cocktail in the process called "hydraulic fracturing", then they don't get their money. And it breaks their oily-black hearts to think that their assets might be stranded there. "Stranded assets" sounds so poignant. They might call them "stranded puppies", instead, and then we'd even help them to get those assets — I mean puppies — out (and blast all that carbon into the atmosphere, and into the oceans).

Wendell Berry is wonderful, of course, and has a lot of ideas for us to chew on in his essay, "The Melancholy of Anatomy". So much beautiful language: e.g., "We may know that the earth turns, but we believe, as we say, that the sun rises. We know by evidence, or by trust in people who have examined the evidence in a way that we trust is trustworthy."

Berry, too, puts the onus for our self-destruction on a science of dissection, and the technology which it inspires. We break the world into bits, and then think of the world as a pile of bits. There's no synthesis — there's no synergy. It's just bits, and if we can put a price tag on them, then we're really making progress! "[T]he industries of landscapes: agriculture, forestry, and mining. Once they have been industrialized, these enterprises no longer recognize landscapes as wholes, let alone as the homes of people and other creatures. They regard landscapes as sources of extractable products."

My only issue with Berry's essay is that he begins by arguing with the "science of dissection". I'm currently reading Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinder Creek. No one tears apart nature so beautifully, and then so carefully and reverentially reassembles it as Dillard does. Many of the scientific dissectionists are the same — they take our world apart to appreciate it, to marvel at it — the body, the insect, the ecosystem, or even the climate. Were it not for dissectionist climate scientists, we wouldn't know what we need to know right now to act (even if we fail to act — someone's failed to dissect the human motivation for self-preservation and reassemble it so that we can actually save ourselves).

Berry issues the following frightening prediction: "Having squandered nature's 'resources,' it will finally yield to nature's correction, which in prospect grows ever harsher.'"

In the end, it's to the everyday citizen and education that Berry focuses his piercing beams: "Scared for health, afraid of death, bored, dissatisfied, vengeful, greedy, ignorant, and gullible — these are the qualities of the ideal consumer. Can we imagine an education that would turn passive consumers into active and informed critics, capable of using their minds in their own defense? It will not be the purely technical education-for-employment now advocated by the most influential 'educators' and leaders'." We educators have a terribly difficult mission to undertake. Let us get moving.

January, 2015

1/27/2015

I was just working on one of my "In the News" items, which started off with a piece by Andrew Revkin. Steve and I just saw him at Miami University — a fantastic speaker (and folksinger who used to play behind Pete Seeger in his jam sessions!). So Revkin cites a blog by David Roberts, who is talking about a journal article which addresses the feasability of the mitigation plans for Planet Earth — and it turns out that they're all stunningly unrealistic. Surprise! So here was that:

  • A Climate Hawk Separates Energy Thought Experiments from Road Maps: [M]ost decarbonization scenarios are thought experiments, not practical roadmaps. But when they are reported to the public, that distinction is often lost." Andrew Revkin reflects on David Robert's piece We can solve climate change, but it won’t be cheap or easy, separating delusional thinking going on at the highest levels from reality — that we're going to have to work really, really hard to get anywhere near where we need to be.
    • A critical review of global decarbonization scenarios: what do they tell us about feasibility? is the paper that Roberts discusses. The news is not good: Dozens of scenarios are published each year outlining paths to a low carbon global energy system. To provide insight into the relative feasibility of these global decarbonization scenarios, we examine 17 scenarios constructed using a diverse range of techniques and introduce a set of empirical benchmarks that can be applied to compare and assess the pace of energy system transformation entailed by each scenario. In particular, we quantify the implied rate of change in energy and carbon intensity and low-carbon technology deployment rates for each scenario and benchmark each against historical experience and industry projections, where available. In addition, we examine how each study addresses the key technical, economic, and societal factors that may constrain the pace of low-carbon energy transformation. We find that all of the scenarios envision historically unprecedented improvements in energy intensity, while normalized low-carbon capacity deployment rates are broadly consistent with historical experience. Three scenarios that constrain the available portfolio of low-carbon options by excluding some technologies (nuclear and carbon capture and storage) a priori are outliers, requiring much faster low-carbon capacity deployment and energy intensity improvements. Finally, all of the studies present comparatively little detail on strategies to decarbonize the industrial and transportation sectors, and most give superficial treatment to relevant constraints on energy system transformations. To be reliable guides for policymaking, scenarios such as these need to be supplemented by more detailed analyses realistically addressing the key constraints on energy system transformation. WIREs Clim Change 2015, 6:93–112. doi: 10.1002/wcc.324
    • … these studies tend to only superficially address the key technical, economic, infrastructural, and societal factors that may constrain a rapid energy system transition or how such constraints can be plausibly overcome. We recognize that detailed treatment of these factors is beyond the scope and purpose of many of these studies, which are intended to address at a relatively high-level the scope and pace of energy system transformation required under different assumptions or to suggest the portfolio of technologies necessary to decarbonize the energy sector. However, this point may be lost on lay audiences and the media through which these studies are reported. To be reliable guides for policymaking, these types of scenarios clearly need to be supplemented by more detailed analyses addressing the key constraints on energy system transformation, including technological readiness, economic costs, infrastructure and operational issues, and societal acceptability with respect to each of the relevant technology pathways.
    • Upshot: we're completely delusional about how easily or quickly we can address the fundamental underlying problem. I'd say that the "Risky Business" report that just came out regarding the Midwest is really a crock, as well. They talk of how "crippling temperatures will most likely claim up to 24 additional lives per 100,000 citizens by the end of the century", or "Detroit and St. Louis will see spikes of 5.9 percent and 5 percent, respectively, in their violence crime rates." They have completely missed the scale of the upcoming cultural destabilization. By many orders of magnitude.

At this point in my screed I was reminded of something I was chewing on as I walked to my truck today, to my CO2-belching personal conveyance: that these sorts of analyses are frequently uni-dimensional: all else remaining fixed, let me vary this one variable and see how the world will change. So: "if hospitals are still in place, and the electric grid still functions; if people still eat, and clean water still flows through city pipes and taps; if infrastructure still stands, and people haven't all headed for the hills — then there will be an additional 24 deaths per 100,000 citizens due to heat, as well as a slight rise in the crime rate."

mash-potter2.jpg

What hogwash! What horse-hockey-pucks!

1/18/2015

Ideally each climate change publication would come with a zip file, containing all the data used and the software necessary for performing the analysis described in the paper. That way one could quickly and easily

  • reproduce everything,
  • criticize the analysis intelligently, and
  • attempt other approaches.

What do you think?

I'm excited about the prospect of working with Kelly O'Day on a related project, which has been something of a dream for us both: putting together a site where the most important climate data sets live, and are kept current, along with R files which illuminate the data.

One thing that we might do is (attempt to) reproduce the results of important papers. For example Jim Hansen just came out with a beautiful summary of 2014 temperatures, as well as prospects for 2015 temperatures. Included were various lovely graphs. I asked Kelly if we couldn't manage to reproduce Figure 1:
HansenFigure1.png

That's when he suggested that we join forces on this project. I eagerly agreed that we try. I've suggested that we being with Figure 1.

It's one thing to point to the most important climate data — it's another to manage it, and keep track of it, so that its format is maintained (even if the original source for the data decides to change that format!).

It would seem reasonable for agencies to preserve file format, and if they decide (for whatever reason) that they need to change format, they should change file names (so that there's no confusion for users).

In the near future I would like to begin to slowly and steadily add data sets to this website, figure out their formats (and how to strip them down to a header line and a matrix of data). It seems to me that this would be an important public service. Perhaps simultaneously we could be creating the R files that "show them off" in the best lights.

1/8/2015

Today I'm thinking about sustainable agriculture. In terms of impacts of climate change, one that I fear most is the chaos that will come when logistical streams which supply cities dry up, and create social turmoil. I would not want to be living in the urban environment when the Kroger trucks stop coming, bringing our food from thousands of miles away. Let them eat grass; let them eat insects; let them eat their neighbors supplies, wrestled from them with our omnipresent weapons; let them eat each other (read The Road). Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of hungry men?

Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle shows the importance and possibilities of eating locally, of Sacred Economics. My good friend Michael Waram in Calvin Township, Ontario, has been talking to me about Sacred Economics for awhile now, as he slowly works his way through it. (The author is true to his theme, making his book freely available on-line — you simply gift the author with what you will — perhaps a lamb, or a bunch of carrots?) We exchange — rather than buy and sell — our gifts, without doing the tedious accounting. This kind of society (some might say "Communism!") was practiced among early Christians. Such a society will always have cheaters (as did the early Christian church — see the story of Ananias and Sapphira, immortalized in a painting by Raphael):

1024px-V%26A_-_Raphael%2C_The_Death_of_Ananias_%281515%29.jpg

As the seed and tool catalogs begin to arrive this winter, Anna and I begin to plan out our garden. Today I'm ordering seeds from Seed Savers Exchange, a group suggested by Barbara in her book. Seed Savers specialize in heirloom/heritage varieties — and promote biodiversity in our food supply, which is being rapidly lost due to commercial large-scale agriculture. I'm able to purchase many of the varieties that Barbara touts in her book — but how will they do in Mattawa, Ontario? I'm willing to learn.

Now I need to learn how to save seeds myself: what's the process? Surely I can join this effort; shouldn't we all?

1/7/2015

I had breakfast with my brother Steve today, and told him that it's nearly a miracle that I've come to the position I have on climate change: that it's real, that it's more urgent than most think, and that we need to do something perhaps draconian (e.g. become farmers) to deal with it. I outlined for him some of the things that I feel were essential for this process:

  1. Growing up with mission-oriented church people for parents, who were not afraid to take public stands in opposition to the prevailing winds (e.g. protesting nuclear energy with them, or visiting Koinonia farms as a youngster). They worked social justice into my soul, by their actions intended to achieve it (thank you Mom and Dad, for this and for so many things more!).
  2. That I gravitated to science, especially mathematics and physics (and regret not having had more — and better — chemistry classes). This made understanding the details of climate change much easier.
  3. That I struck out on my own after college, and lived on the edge a little. It's interesting to wonder where your next meal is coming from, and not pleasant as a rule.
  4. That I ultimately made my way to Togo, West Africa, in the Peace Corps, where I experienced life in the midst of want. I experienced joy in the midst of little, laughter when things are tough. I saw people living in some of the most destitute conditions imaginable — yet surviving.
  5. In particular, I experienced Niger, a country populated by people surviving on handouts at the end of a long logistical stream (see the entry below). If that logistical stream ever dries up (e.g. "Food for Peace", provided by the United States government), people there will likely starve — to death.
  6. That I returned to do my graduate work in Tucson, Arizona, which is about as unsustainable as it gets (see Barbara Kingsolver's book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle).
  7. I became an applied mathematicians, doing data analysis and modeling (two areas which are crucial to a technical understanding of climate change) and interpolation and prediction (which is the more ominous application of my skills to climate change).
  8. In the joint math meetings I began to pick up on talks which indicated that we would need to worry about "peak oil", "peak copper", and even the end of the Ogallala aquifer — in my lifetime, if I'm "lucky". Is that lucky?
  9. Finally I became aware of the climate change issue. My first dawning was actually in Benin, where I was a Fulbright scholar in 1998. I have a note indicating that I'd heard that sea-level might rise on the order of 20 feet, with "potentially catastrophic" consequences. I wondered about the value of the word "potentially" in that expression. What could be more catastrophic to humans, given how we've configured our populations about the coasts?
  10. What finally drove me to action, and what convinced me that climate change and its impacts is the only thing worth studying, is the Keeling Data. When I saw that, and put it together with the Greenhouse effect, I was hooked. And since that day, I've been following human-caused climate change devotedly.

How many people have had the experiences and have the skills needed to position them to understand climate change and its potentially devastating impacts? So very few in this world. As I told my brother, I'm evidently not an educator — I don't even have what it takes to convince beloved, intelligent family members to eschew shopping at Walmart — that cheap prices aren't really cheap; that costs, important costs, including social justice, have been externalized. How will I ever communicate climate change and its impacts to the masses? How will I ever convince anyone that the externalization of our unsustainable lifestyles are an existential threat to humanity's future?

I fear that only experience will inform the human race — and that experience is likely to be full-on nature: red in tooth and claw.

December, 2014

12/22/2014

I have plans to write a climate change piece on logistics, and the role they play in climate destabilization. I want to use Ulysses S. Grant as a "parable of climate change": Grant understood logistics (because he'd been a quartermaster in the army), and, in particular, he understood that he could lose two men to every man Lee lost, and yet still win the war.

And so he did, to many a Union mother's (and also General Lee's) chagrin….

Most folks today don't understand logistics, and why one day food will stop appearing on grocery shelves because of climate destabilization.

12/20/2014

I've hesitated to write anything resembling a "blog", but I have things to say - and I can't think of any better modern means of conveying them.

Today I'm thinking about the movie "Apollo 13", because I picked up a scrap of paper on which I've scribbled some thoughts about it. It contains a scene that I use as one of my favorite analogies for the climate situation. The accident on-board has happened, and all the engineers and systems types are scheming how they'll bring the astronauts safely home. They all have their ideas, and they seem to be making progress, but there's one guy shaking his head.

"You all don't get it," he says: "it's about energy. We have only enough energy to power a coffee pot on which to get these guys back."

Suddenly they have to rethink everything - and suddenly the chance of getting them home safely seems vanishingly small.

And so it is with climate. There are a few of us shaking our heads, as people worry about feeding the 11 billion people we're supposed to have in 2100. We're not going to have 11 million people, because we've got a crisis upcoming that's going to take a lot of us out. The more interesting question is this: just how many people will we have to feed in 2100? We'll have starved out a bunch.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License