Monday, December 14, 2009
Science and earth
Humans have incredibly sophisticated cultures across the earth today. Mankind is king of all he surveys. We aren't the first beings who thought that way and easily may not be the first to find catastrophically that we were wrong.
With the climate summit in Copenhagen and the email scandals over whether scientists have fudged the data on man's responsibility for global climate change [Scientists and global warming], the subject is again in the news. (It should be in the news all the time since it's so important.) Climate-Gate Beyond the Embarrassment.
The debate is resented by some who are convinced that 10,000 years of man's ascension to power proves the earth will always support his burgeoning lifestyle (I suggest those who think thusly try watching History Channel's How the Earth was Made).
The main arguments over global warming mostly seem to often resolve around costs. How much does it cost to cut down on carbon dioxide in the atmosphere? Would anything we do make a difference? What will it cost if we do face global climate changes? The opinions vary markedly depending on who paid for the studies. Your concern for it could relate to how much money you have and how much you think that might insulate you from the worst case scenarios.
One of the key points to keep in mind when looking at this is that global warming doesn't mean necessarily warmer climates. Climates come out of bigger cycles. The end result of a global warming cycle could be a new ice age one place with prolonged drought another. It could mean intense heat, violent storms or oceans that die. Man's record for the earth is a short one and the span of time where humans flourished is even shorter. In earth's 4.5 trillion year history, we are a smudge on the timeline.
Can science predict anything definitely where it comes to earth dynamics? It is best at measuring what did happen. It can measure what was in prehistoric ice, but it cannot tell what that will definitely mean for today. It can make some educated guesses.
Recently Schwarzenegger showed a map of what San Francisco might look like if the oceans rise due to ice melt. That's the kind of thing that we need to be thinking about. If the oceans rise, many peoples will be displaced but it's not the end of what might result.
What if ocean currents change? What if a rise in the temperature of the oceans accelerates shifts in temperature? What if the oceans stop producing food for much of the world? What if something else happens to change the whole cycle like say a super volcano on the level of Yellowstone?
Saturday I walked through what had once been a village of, at its highest population, 300 people. They had lived on this ridge for 800 years or more. First they built pit houses, then homes where they dug a foundation into the ground. Using rocks, they formed a base with mud walls and sticks for the roofs. They grew corn, gathered mesquite beans, hunted on the mountains. At one point they built a wall around their village. What you see is what is left of their way of life.
The Hohokam people who lived here may have survived the collapse of their culture. The archaeological record only reveals that they were in this area for over a thousand years; then their culture disappeared. Maybe the people died because of insufficient planning for the future or drastic changes in their environment. Perhaps a spiritual omen caused them to abandon their homes. Except for possible predictions from their spiritual leaders, using visions and astrology (and many did use the sun and moon to predict seasons), they would have had no clue major climatic change was coming.
Today, we can look at fossil and geologic record, does it help?
When one doesn't know what might happen, being prepared is usually wisest. Isn't that what we would have once called being conservative?