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Posts Tagged ‘climate

“Civilization is a race between disaster and education”*…

 

pre-human

 

One of the creepier conclusions drawn by scientists studying the Anthropocene—the proposed epoch of Earth’s geologic history in which humankind’s activities dominate the globe—is how closely today’s industrially induced climate change resembles conditions seen in past periods of rapid temperature rise.

“These ‘hyperthermals,’ the thermal-maximum events of prehistory, are the genesis of this research,” says Gavin Schmidt, climate modeler and director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. “Whether the warming was caused by humans or by natural forces, the fingerprints—the chemical signals and tracers that give evidence of what happened then—look very similar.”

The canonical example of a hyperthermal is the Paleocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM), a 200,000-year period that occurred some 55.5 million years ago when global average temperatures rose by 5 to 8 degrees Celsius (about 9 to 14 degrees Fahrenheit). Schmidt has pondered the PETM for his entire career, and it was on his mind one day in his office last year when the University of Rochester astrophysicist Adam Frank paid him a visit.

Frank was there to discuss the idea of studying global warming from an “astrobiological perspective”—that is, investigating whether the rise of an alien industrial civilization on an exoplanet might necessarily trigger climate changes similar to those we see during Earth’s own Anthropocene. But almost before Frank could describe how one might search for the climatic effects of industrial “exocivilizations” on newly discovered planets, Schmidt caught him up short with a surprising question: “How do you know we’re the only time there’s been a civilization on our own planet?”

Frank considered a moment before responding with a question of his own: “Could we even tell if there had been an industrial civilization [long before this one]?”

Their subsequent attempt to address both questions has yielded a provocative paper on the possibility Earth might have spawned more than one technological society during its 4.5-billion-year history. And if indeed some such culture arose on Earth in the murky depths of geologic time, how might scientists today discern signs of that incredible development? Or, as the paper put it: “If an industrial civilization had existed on Earth many millions of years prior to our own era, what traces would it have left and would they be detectable today?”…

The entire fascinating piece at “Could an Industrial Prehuman Civilization Have Existed on Earth before Ours?

* H. G. Wells

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As we ponder predecessors, we might recall hat it was on this date in 1974 that Nature published a paper by F. Sherwood Rowland documenting his discovery that chlorofluorocarbons (like freon in aerosols and refrigeration units) contribute to ozone depletion.

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA source

 

Written by LW

September 25, 2019 at 1:01 am

“Not taking risks one doesn’t understand is often the best form of risk management”*…

 

climate and risk

 

Jerry Taylor is the CEO of the Niskanen Center.  A veteran of conservative and libertarian think tanks (including the infamous ALEC) who spent much of his career working to thwart climate change mitigation moves, he has had a change of heart…

I spent the better part of my professional life (1991-2014) working at a libertarian think tank—the Cato Institute—arguing against climate action. As Cato’s director of Natural Resource Studies (and later, as a senior fellow and eventually vice president), I maintained that, while climate change was real, the impacts would likely prove rather modest and that the cost of reducing greenhouse gas emissions would greatly exceed the benefits.

I changed my mind about that, however, because (among other things) I changed my mind about risk management.

If we think about climate risks in the same fashion we think about risks in other contexts, we should most certainly hedge—and hedge aggressively—by removing fossil fuels from the economy as quickly as possible.

Let me explain…

And so he does, at “What Changed My Mind About Climate Change?

* Raghuram G. Rajan

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As we struggle to be good ancestors, we might recall that it was on this date (as nearly as scholars can mark it), that the first long-distance electric power transmission line in the United States was completed: 14 miles between a generator at Willamette Falls and downtown Portland, Oregon.  While the distance seems trivial today, the feat was considered a major engineering accomplishment in its time.

transmission

An illustration of the Willamette power station and transmission line painted by one of its engineers

source

 

Written by LW

June 3, 2019 at 1:01 am

“One of the biggest obstacles to making a start on climate change is that it has become a cliche before it has even been understood”*…

 

iceage

 

Once upon a time in Europe, the winters got very very cold and the summers got unbearably hot. “The spring of this year was like winter, cold and wet, the wine blossom terrible, and the harvest bad,” wrote the Swiss theologian Heinrich Bullinger in 1570.

Initially, this seemed like a temporary problem, just one bad year. So across the continent, cultivators shrugged off their poor harvests, and vintners sold wine made of sour grapes which consumers drank angrily as they contemplated rising grain prices.

But the extreme weather continued, season after season after season, until abnormal became the new normal. As William Shakespeare put it in the 1593 play Richard III, “Now is the winter of our discontent.”

In his book Nature’s Mutiny, German journalist Philipp Blom posits that Shakespeare wrote those words as a literal description of the string of difficult winters he’d just endured. This period of extreme weather, which would continue for more than 100 years, is now known as the “Little Ice Age,” and Blom argues that if we look back at its effects in Europe—where they were best documented—we’ll better understand how we got to where we are today and anticipate what’s ahead as climate change increasingly affects our lives…

Lots of cautions– with an optimistic kicker– at: “What the 17th century’s “Little Ice Age” teaches us about climate change.”

* Tim Flannery, The Weather Makers: How Man Is Changing the Climate and What It Means for Life on Earth

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As we bundle up, we might send absolutist birthday greetings to Thomas Hobbes of Malmesbury; he was born on this date in 1588.  A father of political philosophy and political science, Hobbes developed some of the fundamentals of European liberal thought: the right of the individual; the natural equality of all men; the artificial character of the political order (which led to the later distinction between civil society and the state); the view that all legitimate political power must be “representative” and based on the consent of the people; and a liberal interpretation of law which leaves people free to do whatever the law does not explicitly forbid– all this, though Hobbes was, on rational grounds, a champion of absolutism for the sovereign.  It was that, Hobbes reasoned, or the bloody chaos of a “war of all against all.”  His 1651 book Leviathan established social contract theory, the foundation of most later Western political philosophy.

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“Some people call it global warming; some people call it climate change. What is the difference?”*…

 

The Battle of Terheide.

Climate change has had, and probably will have, very unequal consequences for different groups of people. We often assume that developed societies will fare better in a warmer future than the developing world. Yet the Dutch thrived in the 17th century not simply because their republic was rich, but because much of its wealth derived from activities that benefited from climate change.

Today, we can learn from the republic by strengthening social safety nets, investing in technologies that exploit or reduce climate change, and thinking proactively about how we will adapt to the planet of our future. It just so happens that much of the federal government in the United States is abandoning these policies, but there are more optimistic stories at the state and municipal levels, and there is exciting news coming out of China and India…

Compared to the climate change we’re experiencing now, the Little Ice Age — which chilled the globe from the 13th to the 19th century — was modest. “The world has already warmed more, relative to mid-20th-century temperature averages, than it cooled in the chilliest stretches of the Little Ice Age,” says Dagomar Degroot, a historian at Georgetown University. “And there is much more warming to come.”

In his new book, “The Frigid Golden Age,” Degroot argues that the Little Ice Age– and more specifically, the Dutch experience of the period–  has a lot to teach present-day societies about coping with climate change.  He summarizes his findings at: “When the World Was Cold.”

* Frank Luntz, Republican pollster and political consultant

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As we beat the heat, we might recall that it was on this date in 1955, at General Motors cars how in Detroit, that G. M. engineer William G. Cobb unveiled the “Sunmobile”– a 15-inch prototype of an electric car powered by the sun, the first working solar-powered car.

Sunmobile_detail source

 

Written by LW

August 31, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Men argue. Nature acts.”*…

 

Scientists have converged on climate change predictions that a growing majority of Americans accept.  Still, it can be hard to understand– at a visceral level– what a warming globe might mean.  Here’s some help: a clever tool from Greg Schivley, a civil and environmental engineering PhD. student at Carnegie Mellon University (with help from Ben Noll; inspired by Sophie Lewis).  Enter some key birth dates to project how the climate will have changed from your grandma’s birth to when your kids retire.  The chart’s temperature changes are based on NASA’s historical and projected climate scenarios.

Climate change and life events

* Voltaire

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As we sweat it out, we might send temperate birthday greetings to Sir William Napier Shaw; he was born on this date in 1854.  A meteorologist and member of the Royal Society, he developed the tephigram, a diagram of temperature changes still commonly used in weather analysis and forecasting.

 source

 

Written by LW

March 4, 2018 at 1:01 am

“The best blood will at some time get into a fool or a mosquito”*…

 

Woman dressed as a mosquito at the Russian Mosquito Festival

Nine year old Irina Ilyukhina earned the title of “tastiest girl” last month at the Russian Mosquito Festival, an annual event held in Berezniki, a town in the Ural Mountains.  She and other contestants stood in shorts and vests for 20 minutes in a bug-infested wood; Irina’s winning total was 43 bites.

In 2013, the winner collected more than 100 mosquito bites; but unusually hot and dry weather in Berezniki diminished the insect population this year. Most years, attendees can participate in a mosquito hunt that rewards whomever can collect the most bugs in a glass jar; this year’s festival had to forgo the event.

More at “9-year-old wins ‘tastiest girl’ competition at annual Russian Mosquito Festival.”  C.f. also, The Great Texas Mosquito Festival, held annually in Clute, Texas.  (One notes that, Russia has confirmed just five cases of travel-related Zika in recent months, Texas has reported 125, and the United States as a whole, over 2,500.)

* Benito Mussolini

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As we slather on the DEET, we might spare a thought for Fredrick Kenneth Hare, CC OOnt FRSC; he died on this date in 2002.  One of Canada’s leading climatologists and environmentalists, he led both academic and political efforts to measure and stem the rise of atmospheric carbon dioxide, to mitigate climate change, and to prevent drought.

 source

 

Written by LW

September 3, 2016 at 1:01 am

“Some say the world will end in fire, some say in ice”*…

 

“Average Dates of Last Killing Frost in Spring,” William Reed Gardner, Charles Franklin Brooks, and F.J. Marschner, 1916.

Published in a 1936 Atlas of American Agriculture, put together by the United States Department of Agriculture, these 1916 maps of the average dates of first killing frosts in fall and last killing frosts in spring were initially intended to help farmers plan their planting schedules. Now, the maps offer a rough gauge showing how much these dates have shifted over a century…

The whole story– and larger versions of both maps– at “100-Year-Old Frost Maps Show How Climate Change Has Shifted the Growing Season in the United States.”

* Robert Frost

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As we cover our fragile plants, we might recall that it was on this date in 1927 that a tornado wiped out the town of Rock Springs, Texas, killing 72 persons and causing $1.2 million in damage. The tornado, more than one mile in width, destroyed 235 of 247 buildings, in most cases leaving no trace of lumber or contents. Many survivors were bruised by large hail which fell after the passage of the tornado.

Rock Springs, Texas after the 1927 tornado

source

 

Written by LW

April 12, 2016 at 1:01 am

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