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Posts Tagged ‘climate change

“Rather than heralding a new era of easy living, the Agricultural Revolution left farmers with lives generally more difficult and less satisfying than those of foragers”*…

Lest we wonder if climate change might have fundamental effects…

Why was agriculture invented? The long run advantages are clear: farming produced food surpluses that allowed population densities to rise, labor to specialize, and cities to be constructed. However, we still don’t know what motivated the transition in the short run. After 200,000 years of hunting and gathering, agriculture was invented independently at least seven times, on different continents, within a 7,000 year period. Archeologists agree that independent inventions occurred at least in the Fertile Crescent, Subsaharan Africa, North and South China, the Andes, Mexico, and North America. Moreover, the first farmers were shorter and had more joint diseases, suggesting that they ate less than hunter gatherers and worked more. Why would seven different human populations decide to adopt remarkably similar technologies, around the same time, and in spite of a lower standard of living?

I propose a new theory for the Neolithic Revolution, construct a model capturing its intuition, and test the resulting implications against a panel dataset of climate and adoption. I argue that the invention of agriculture was triggered by a large increase in climatic seasonality, which peaked approximately 12,000 years ago, shortly before the first evidence for agriculture appeared. This increase in seasonality was caused by well documented oscillations in the tilt of Earth’s rotational axis, and other orbital parameters. The harsher winters, and drier summers, made it hard for hunter-gatherers to survive during part of the year. Some of the most affected populations responded by storing foods, which in turn forced them to abandon their nomadic lifestyles, since they had to spend most of the year next to their necessarily stationary granaries, either stocking them, or drawing from them. While these communities were still hunter-gatherers, sedentarism and storage made it easier for them to adopt farming…

During the Neolithic Revolution, seven populations independently invented agriculture; a new paper argues that climate change was the cause: “The Ant and the Grasshopper: Seasonality and the Invention of Agriculture,” from Andrea Matranga (@andreamatranga)

[image above: source]

* Yuval Noah Harari, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

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As we reap what we sow, we might spare a thought for Clarence Birdseye; he died on this date in 1956.  An  inventor, entrepreneur, and naturalist, he was the founder of the modern frozen food industry.

On Arctic trips as a field naturalist for the United States government, he noticed that freshly caught fish, when placed onto the Arctic ice and exposed to the icy wind and frigid temperatures, froze solid almost immediately. He learned, too, that the fish, when thawed and eaten, still had all its fresh characteristics. He concluded that quickly freezing certain items kept large crystals from forming, preventing damage to their cellular structure. In 1922, Clarence organized his own company, Birdseye Seafoods, Inc., New York City, where he began processing chilled fish fillets.  He moved on to vegetables and other meats, then to the “fish stick,” along the way co-founding General Foods.  In the end, Birdseye had over 300 patents for creating and handling frozen food.

Clarence_Birdseye

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“When the accumulation of wealth is no longer of high social importance, there will be great changes in the code of morals”*…

It’s said that nothing lasts forever…

In 1930, the English economist John Maynard Keynes took a break from writing about the problems of the interwar economy and indulged in a bit of futurology. In an essay entitled “Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren,” he speculated that by the year 2030 capital investment and technological progress would have raised living standards as much as eightfold, creating a society so rich that people would work as little as fifteen hours a week, devoting the rest of their time to leisure and other “non-economic purposes.” As striving for greater affluence faded, he predicted, “the love of money as a possession . . . will be recognized for what it is, a somewhat disgusting morbidity.”

This transformation hasn’t taken place yet, and most economic policymakers remain committed to maximizing the rate of economic growth. But Keynes’s predictions weren’t entirely off base. After a century in which G.D.P. per person has gone up more than sixfold in the United States, a vigorous debate has arisen about the feasibility and wisdom of creating and consuming ever more stuff, year after year. On the left, increasing alarm about climate change and other environmental threats has given birth to the “degrowth” movement, which calls on advanced countries to embrace zero or even negative G.D.P. growth. “The faster we produce and consume goods, the more we damage the environment,” Giorgos Kallis, an ecological economist at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, writes in his manifesto, “Degrowth.” “There is no way to both have your cake and eat it, here. If humanity is not to destroy the planet’s life support systems, the global economy should slow down.” In “Growth: From Microorganisms to Megacities,” Vaclav Smil, a Czech-Canadian environmental scientist, complains that economists haven’t grasped “the synergistic functioning of civilization and the biosphere,” yet they “maintain a monopoly on supplying their physically impossible narratives of continuing growth that guide decisions made by national governments and companies.”

Once confined to the margins, the ecological critique of economic growth has gained widespread attention. At a United Nations climate-change summit in September, the teen-age Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg declared, “We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!” The degrowth movement has its own academic journals and conferences. Some of its adherents favor dismantling the entirety of global capitalism, not just the fossil-fuel industry. Others envisage “post-growth capitalism,” in which production for profit would continue, but the economy would be reorganized along very different lines. In the influential book “Prosperity Without Growth: Foundations for the Economy of Tomorrow,” Tim Jackson, a professor of sustainable development at the University of Surrey, in England, calls on Western countries to shift their economies from mass-market production to local services—such as nursing, teaching, and handicrafts—that could be less resource-intensive. Jackson doesn’t underestimate the scale of the changes, in social values as well as in production patterns, that such a transformation would entail, but he sounds an optimistic note: “People can flourish without endlessly accumulating more stuff. Another world is possible.”

Even within mainstream economics, the growth orthodoxy is being challenged, and not merely because of a heightened awareness of environmental perils. In “Good Economics for Hard Times,” two winners of the 2019 Nobel Prize in Economics, Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo, point out that a larger G.D.P. doesn’t necessarily mean a rise in human well-being—especially if it isn’t distributed equitably—and the pursuit of it can sometimes be counterproductive. “Nothing in either our theory or the data proves the highest G.D.P. per capita is generally desirable,” Banerjee and Duflo, a husband-and-wife team who teach at M.I.T., write…

As the estimable John Cassidy (@JohnCassidy) explains, the critique of economic growth, once a fringe position, is gaining widespread attention in the face of the climate crisis: “Can We Have Prosperity Without Growth?

See also Branko Milanovic (@BrankoMilan): “Degrowth: solving the impasse by magical thinking.”

* “When the accumulation of wealth is no longer of high social importance, there will be great changes in the code of morals. We shall be able to rid ourselves of many of the pseudo-moral principles which have hag-ridden us for two hundred years, by which we have exalted some of the most distasteful of human qualities into the position of the highest virtues. We shall be able to afford to dare to assess the money-motive at its true value. The love of money as a possession — as distinguished from the love of money as a means to the enjoyments and realities of life — will be recognized for what it is, a somewhat disgusting morbidity, one of those semi-criminal, semi-pathological propensities which one hands over with a shudder to the specialists in mental disease.” — John Maynard Keynes, Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren

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As we internalize externalities, we might send carefully-conserved birthday greetings to Gifford Pinchot; he was born on this date in 1865.  An American forester, he became the first chief of the Forest Service in 1905. By 1910, with President Theodore Roosevelt’s backing, he built 60 forest reserves covering 56 million acres into 150 national forests covering 172 million acres.  Roosevelt’s successor, President Taft– no environmentalist– fired Pinchot.  Still Pinchot’s efforts earned him the honorific, “the father of conservation.”

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

August 11, 2021 at 1:00 am

“People seemed to believe that technology had stripped hurricanes of their power to kill. No hurricane expert endorsed this view.”*…

Tropical Storm Bertha approaching the South Carolina coast, May 27, 2020

For six straight years, Atlantic storms have been named in May, before [hurricane] season even begins. During the past nine Atlantic hurricane seasons, seven tropical storms have formed between May 15 and the official June 1 start date. Those have killed at least 20 people, causing about $200 million in damage, according to the WMO.

Last year, the hurricane center issued 36 “special” tropical weather outlooks before June 1, according to center spokesman Dennis Feltgen. Tropical Storms Arthur and Bertha both formed before June 1 near the Carolinas.

torms seem to be forming earlier because climate change is making the ocean warmer, University of Miami hurricane researcher Brian McNoldy said. Storms need warm water as fuel — at least 79 degrees (26 degrees Celsius). Also, better technology and monitoring are identifying and naming weaker storms that may not have been spotted in years past, Feltgen said…

With named storms coming earlier and more often in warmer waters, the Atlantic hurricane season is going through some changes with meteorologists ditching the Greek alphabet during busy years…

A special World Meteorological Organization committee Wednesday ended the use of Greek letters when the Atlantic runs out of the 21 names for the year, saying the practice was confusing and put too much focus on the Greek letter and not on the dangerous storm it represented. Also, in 2020 with Zeta, Eta and Theta, they sounded so similar it caused problems.

The Greek alphabet had only been used twice in 2005 and nine times last year in a record-shattering hurricane season. 

Starting this year, if there are more than 21 Atlantic storms, the next storms will come from a new supplemental list headed by Adria, Braylen, Caridad and Deshawn and ending with Will. There’s a new back-up list for the Eastern Pacific that runs from Aidan and Bruna to Zoe.

Meanwhile, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration is recalculating just what constitutes an average hurricane season… But the Atlantic hurricane season will start this year on June 1 as traditionally scheduled, despite meteorologists discussing the idea of moving it to May 15…

With so much activity, MIT’s [Kerry] Emanuel said the current warnings are too storm-centric, and he wants them more oriented to where people live, warning of specific risks such as floods and wind. That includes changing or ditching the nearly 50-year-old Saffir Simpson scale of rating hurricanes Category 1 to 5. 

That wind-based scale is “about a storm, it’s not about you. I want to make it about you, where you are,” he said. “It is about risk. In the end, we are trying to save lives and property”… Differentiating between tropical storms, hurricanes and extratropical cyclones can be a messaging problem when a system actually has a cold core, because these weaker storms can kill with water surges rather than wind… For example, some people and officials underestimated 2012’s Sandy because it wasn’t a hurricane and lost its tropical characteristic… 

Rethinking hurricanes in a time of climate change: “Bye Alpha, Eta: Greek alphabet ditched for hurricane names.”

* Erik Larson, Isaac’s Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History

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As we accommodate climate change, we might spare a thought for George Alfred Leon Sarton; he died on this date in 1956. A chemist by training, his primary interest lay in the past practices and precepts of his field…an interest that led him to found the discipline of the history of science as an independent field of study. His most influential work was the Introduction to the History of Science (three volumes totaling 4,296 pages). Sarton ultimately aimed to achieve an integrated philosophy of science that connected the sciences and the humanities– what he called “the new humanism.” His name is honored with the prestigious George Sarton Medal, awarded by the History of Science Society.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

March 22, 2021 at 1:01 am

“The picture itself is just the tip of the iceberg”*…

Your correspondent’s rendering of an iceberg

Icebergs are less dense than water, so they always float with about 10% of their mass above the water. But which way up? An iceberg wouldn’t float exactly like on this page in reality. Its three-dimensional distribution of mass and its relative density compared to the water are both significant factors that are only approximated here.

From Joshua Tauberer (@JoshData), a tool that will let you draw an iceberg and see how it will float: “Iceberger.”

For inspiration, see Frederic Edwin Church’s 19th century iceberg paintings.

Frederic Edwin Church, Drawing, Floating Iceberg, June or July 1859
Brush and oil, graphite on paperboard, 18.8 x 37.5 cm (7 3/8 x 14 3/4 in.)
Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum

* Sebastiao Salgado

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As we seek balance, we might note that today is International Polar Bear Day. an event celebrated each year on this date to raise awareness about the conservation status of the polar bear.

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“The nations of the world must now stay united in the struggle against unknown forces instead of fighting each other”*…

Toho’s [see hereThe Mysterians (1957) is a mammoth sci-fi spectacle, featuring giant lasers, flying saucers, underground domes, alien invaders, and robot monsters. Lying beneath its visual prowess is a set of questions, themes, and ideas that elevate The Mysterians as one of the decade’s most fascinating films. It asserts a warning for humanity: don’t misuse science. For 1957, in the midst of a spiraling nuclear arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union, the film is chilling; but when examined through the lens of 2020, The Mysterians is arguably even more frightening today.  

In the film, a series of earthquakes and forest fires precedes the appearance of a giant robot, Mogera. The mechanical monster wreaks havoc before it is blown up by the self-defence forces. The next day, a gigantic dome emerges from the ground, and we are introduced to the robot’s creators: the Mysterians. They beckon key scientists to meet them in their base, where they explain themselves as a race ravaged by atomic war. The Mysterians want three kilometres of land on which to live, but they also have an unpleasant stipulation. The Mysterians’ bodies are so damaged by radiation that they can no longer birth healthy offspring; and so, they want to mate with human women. Having already used Mogera to show that conflict is useless, the Mysterians appear to have the upper hand. However, forces from East and West unite, and Earth is poised to take on the Mysterian menace. 

The Mysterians features Akihiko Hirata in a role similar to his turn in Godzilla (1954). Hirata plays the enigmatic Shiraishi, a scientist who discovered the home planet of the Mysterians, Mysteroid. Shiraishi disappears before the Mysterians emerge, and we later discover that he has joined them. Seduced by their scientific achievements, Shiraishi admires the Mysterians; he believes that they simply wish to stop mankind from destroying itself, ignorant to their real plans for conquest. His assertion of science above all else prevents him from considering the ethical horrors that come with the Mysterians’ terms.  

Shiraishi is the personification of director Honda’s concerns over the misuse of science. “At that time I feared the danger of science, that whoever controlled it could take over the entire Earth”, Honda observed…

There’s also something else that makes The Mysterians all the more chilling today. The film’s concern that we could become like the Mysterians may have already come to pass – though not in a way that’s immediately apparent. The Mysterians have gone through an unimaginable horror in the form of atomic annihilation; and yet, they haven’t learned from their own nightmare. Instead of renouncing war or seeking peace, the Mysterians have looked to further conquest. For them, there is no recognition of the horror of war, just the restart of its engine.  

At the film’s climax, when the Earth has successfully fought back the invaders, we see scattered Mysterian bodies in their decimated dome. Many of their helmets are cracked and split, revealing their faces; they look human, with very little to distinguish them from us except their wounds and radiation scars. One looks at their damaged faces and sees a miserable, endless cycle…

The Mysterians is also striking in its depiction of a united Earth, with both Russia and America working side by side. The nations of the world join to fend off the new danger, with earthbound conflicts rendered banal in the face of collective oblivion… Director Ishiro Honda’s [see here] concern was in presenting a united planet – a recurring tenet of his genre work. Of The Mysterians, Honda said, “I would like to wipe away the [Cold War-era] notion of East versus West and convey a simple, universal aspiration for peace, the coming together of all humankind as one to create a peaceful society.” As noted by his biographers (Steve Ryfle and Ed Godziszewski), the visual composition of scenes involving international meetings shows a symmetry that affirms Honda’s egalitarian view; no one country is seen above or below another…

From Christopher Stewardson (@CF_Stewardson), an appreciation of a classic that’s all-too-timely again: “Thoughts on Film: The Mysterians.”

[[TotH to our buddies at Boing Boing]

* “Dr. Tanjiro Adachi,” The Mysterians

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As we think globally, we might recall that it was on this date in 2018 that Sir David Attenborough (a naturalist and producer/host of the BBC’s epic Life on Our Planet) spoke at the UN’s climate summit in Poland. Sir David warned that climate change is humanity’s greatest threat in thousands of years, and that it could lead to the collapse of civilizations and the extinction of “much of the natural world.”

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

December 3, 2020 at 1:01 am

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