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America vs. The World

The big trouble with dumb bastards is that they are too dumb to believe there is such a thing as being smart. — Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Is it getting hot in here?

Mandasaurus' parents recycle everything and she aspires to as fabulous to the earth as they are.

Gordon's right. It's not just me. Or Gordon. (Although Gordon and I are hot to trot in our own right.)

Global warming is happening for real.

As Earth Day No. 37 dwindles away I'm going to spread some tree-hugging ideas. Because we can stop damage from climate change. We need to act now. All of us. Even you.

It's actually not even that hard. We can take little steps to make big changes. And if we don't polar bears will drown. Seriously. I'm not letting the deaths of polar bears around the world fall on my shoulders.

Pardon me, I'm off to sort my recycling, unplug my chargers and keep those polar bears happy. Get to it!


Anonymous tet said...

Very recently, an economics student who is a friend of mine emailed me, very worried, after seeing "An Inconvenient Truth." She wanted to know my opinion on the subject of global warming. I took the time, as a scientist, to write this reply:

"'s delightful to hear from you again. I am more than happy to take some time this morning to address this subject for you....

I'm going to mainly reference wiki articles rather than scientific journals, since often wikis are the best way to impart information quickly to non-professionals. Please don't tell any of my colleagues, ok?

....There is no such thing as a "consensus" among scientists. By the scientific method, a hypothesis can be discussed, but even one piece of real, contradictory evidence will cause the theory to be discarded and a new one formulated. I am intimately familiar with these concepts, since I worked on the experiments that ultimately proved the existence of the Top Quark at Fermilab.

First of all, lets distinguish between weather and climate. Weather is the short-term environment that you see outside your window every day. Scientists have been keeping reasonable records about weather for over a hundred years now. Even so, every day, a record of one kind or another is set somewhere on earth for a high or low temperature or wind velocity or rainfall amount. Humanity is still in the process of obtaining enough data about weather and will be doing so for the forseeable future with some surprises in store for us.

Climate is the long-term environmental story of an area of the Earth. It comprises the averages of weather over that area and is what determines the ultimate fate of that limited area and the Earth in general. Scientists can look at past climate change by drilling ice-cores in Antarctica and Greenland, taking soil-cores in North Central Illinois and looking at the sediments at the bottom of the oceans. Paleo-climatologists can look at the fossil record and attempt to derive understanding of what the climate would have to be, say, 80 million years ago in order for the plant-types found in oil shale to be in found in Wyoming.

What this means is that a winter temperature of 75 degrees in Washington DC, an April snowstorm in Missouri or a Gulf hurricane that devastates New Orleans tells us absolutely nothing about climate change. All of these examples are WEATHER, and subject to the year-to-year variations and cycles that the Earth has possessed for a long time.

Here's what we absolutely know as true, as of 2007:

The Earth is getting warmer and the average temperature of the continents have been doing so for the past 10,000 years. This is because we are in the midst of a glacial interstitial period. Here's a decent wiki article on Ice Ages:

The last million years or so have been uncharacteristically cold on earth. In 10,000 BC, there was a mile of ice sitting adjacent to the hill that Parkland College was built upon. By the time you get to LaSalle County in northern Illinois, the ice had thickened to two miles in depth. Lake Michigan is the remainder of the water from the time that particular glacier melted. So, obviously, global warming is real and has been going on for some time now.

If you look at the Paleontological records, you find that this past million years is very unusual. During the billion years or so of multi-cellular life on Earth, there have been no polar ice caps for about 80% of the time. As a matter of fact, there were dinosaurs during the Cretaceous that lived in both the Yukon area of Canada and on the continent of Antarctica itself.

If you examine separately the various periods in this chart, you'll see that the occurance of ice ages is mainly driven by the position of continents:

In addition to the continental drift, we also have four other factors driving ice ages and periods of warmth.

First of all, we have impacts. Every so often, an asteroid smacks into the planet. We had three tiny ones last century that only had the power of a few H-bombs apiece--one in Brazil and two in Siberia (the larger being the Tugunska explosion.)

Everyone knows about the big impact at the end of the Age of Dinosaurs, but there was an even larger one at the *beginning* of that Age that killed off about 95% of the life on Earth. When an impact occurs, two major things happen--there are world-wide forest fires that throw massive amounts of carbon dioxide into the air and, if it's an ocean strike, it evaporates gigatons of water into vapor which falls as acid rain and snow over large portions of the surface of the planet. Weather forcast: Armageddon.

Secondly, the sun is getting warmer as it burns hydrogen into helium and the core expands. This has been ongoing since the Cambrian era and will continue. Within a billion years, no liquid water will be able to exist on Earth. Within only a couple hundred million years, life as we know it will not be able to thrive here. This warming is absolutely inevitable--it's stellar astrophysics.

Thirdly, there is a cycle that involves the tilt and eccentricity of the Earth's axis and revolution about the sun. These vary with time, and are probably what really drives Ice Ages when the continents are in the right places for them to occur.

Fourth, there are changes to the Earth's atmosphere due to the affects of life. These are called biogenic in the case of animals and plants and anthropogenic if they're caused by humans. The most extreme example of biogenic change is called the "oxygen disaster", which occurred before the beginning of the Orosirian Period. Green Algaes appeared, and began releasing oxygen into the atmosphere. This killed nearly every other life-form on the surface of the planet, since the others were methane and sulfur-breathing forms. The only survivors of that earlier period are the anaerobic bacteria like botulism and the sulfurphilic high-temperature bacteria that inhabit the immediate areas of volcanic vents on the ocean floors.

Okay, so what can we conclude from above? The most obvious is that warming on a global scale is occuring and that we are heading towards a much more historically typical temperature than the planet has experienced lately. It is possible that humans' civilization may be contributing a bit to the rise in temperature. Comparing the affects of humanity's contribution to the past history of extreme occurances, however, it is obvious that we, as a species, are fundimentally incapable of creating any disaster that could come within a dozen orders of magnitude of what the Earth has weathered (pun intended) in the past, even if we were to set off every nuclear warhead in our collective arsenals. The planet would shrug its shoulders and the rats would start evolving thumbs to fill our ecological niche while the cockroaches and pillbugs did little happy garbage dances, as they have done since the Devonian.

However, this does not mean that humanity is off the hook. Since we have, for economic reasons, built most of our cities on the seacoasts and there won't be another Ice Age for more than 50,000 years, most likely, we need to begin moving the populations of cities like New Orleans and countries like Bangladesh to higher ground. Plans need to be made to take advantage of the longer growing seasons in places like Canada and Siberia to feed the population of the planet as the equatorial regions begin to acquire climate zones that haven't existed for a few million years or so.

These changes are going to be hard on species that are already succumbing to pressures from humanity's expansion into their ecologies. It is our responsibility as the most intelligent species on the planet to preserve as much of the biodiversity as we can, since it is the variety that allows niches to be refilled in case of disaster and life to go on here.

And we need to find the next big asteroid that's going to smack us and do something about it. If we can find it and bring it into orbit around Earth as a new, small moon, we can move a lot of mining operations to it for natural resources and end strip and shaft mining here. It would also have ample solar power to run manufactories and there would be no pollution of the planet's environment from them any longer. Of course, this assumes a collective will to do so.

Now, I'm sure you're asking yourself why there's currently such a massive hoo-rah about anthropogenic warming. To the best of my ability to discern, it seems to be politically and economically motivated. Quite a number of organizations and individuals stand to make a lot of money in the transition to "greener" technologies. In addition, in order to enforce the kind of lifestyle changes that would be necessary, more government power and regulation would be required at the cost of personal freedom. This appeals to the folks who believe that they can rule others better than they can rule themselves (like Al Gore).

And, lastly, I believe that it is a geopolitical attempt to tear down the power structure of the United States and Western Europe. While I cannot prove this, I do point to one major piece of evidence:

This year, China will pass the United States in total emissions of Carbon Dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Yet, it is EXEMPT, as is India, from the provisions of the Kyoto Accords forcing reduction in the output of such gases, since they are considered "developing" countries.

In my opinion, if there was an immediate and pressing danger from man's greenhouse gases, there would be pressure on all nations to cut back, not just the successful ones.

I hope that this clears up some things for you. I will be happy to answer any questions that you may still have on the subject.

Best always,


You can read my opinions on other subjects, scientific or non-scientific in Urbanagora, where I am a regular contributor

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Jeff Goldstein is a wanker.