Oregon writer, Rain Trueax, and Oregon painter, Diane Widler Wenzel co-author Rainy Day Thought. Diane generally posts on Wednesdays and Rain on Saturdays. There may be extra days or changes as situations warrant. Comments are always welcome and appreciated as it turns an article into a discussion.

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?


Paul said...

Climate Change has occured in cycles throughout history. Man's fixation with doom regarding it is a rather recent phenomenom. It has become a political and a monetary issue infected with partisan politics on both extremes. Cultures disappear as do species-this is a historical and a biological fact. Oddly the Mayans could not predict the end of their own culture. Having a beginning and an ending is normal-it is part of existence.

Rain said...

While climate change is natural, mankind wants to be a species that survives, not disappears into the fossil record. If we are doing something that is hastening our demise, we would be wise to change what we can even if it costs money.

What is hard is that third world countries were not held to any standards in the Kyoto Accord which makes the standards worthless. I understand their logic but they were using emotion, not physical evidence for it. Given that, the US is still the biggest contributor due to our size and consumption or resources. We do not have to live as 'big' as we do. Many have been forced to reduce their lifestyle by economics but it has not really been made into a cultural imperative for us all. Homes that are built have been way huge for what any one family can use for space but it's about prestige. Too bad the prestige doesn't come from living simply. Even if it didn't stop global warming, it would improve our cultural life as more people could enjoy something if a few people didn't want it all.

Rain said...

It all reminds me of cockpit doors that were not solid. Too expensive to change it-- right up until terrorists used the weak ones to destroy the Twin Towers, part of the Pentagon, and a lot of lives. Expensive is relative.

And on doomsday with 2012, that's silliness and brought on more by programs on History or National Geographic channels intended to intrigue people enough to get ratings.

From what I have understood of it (and having grandkids I have done some looking), the Mayan calender's end simply meant what 2000 meant-- end of a dating system. Most New Agers, who I know, don't expect it to mean anything and the few who do are looking for a new era of enlightenment. It's good for movies to have dates but dates aren't going to be that exact if we are facing devastation due to a climate shift we cannot stop. 'Day After Tomorrow' made it all come fast for drama but what is likely to happen will not be instantly unless it's being hit by a comet or a huge meteorite. A big volcano going off can make some huge shifts pretty fast also.

Dion said...

Given the enormous increase in anthropogenic gas over the last 120 years or so, we all should learn more about climate and the effect humans have on our one precious Earth. Alarms are sounding about man-made gases by an overwhelming number of scientists who specialize in climate. I think we should listen to them. *Scientific Consensus* is the term they use when all but a few agree and scientific data is all pointing in a similar direction. Yes, the few climate change deniers deserve a voice but let's not pretend they have much respect by their peers as evidence of man made climate change is a fact and denial is unsupported quackery. Exxon-Mobile can indeed find a few scientists who will say everything is copacetic with regard to burning fossil fuel. Money can buy people. Money can burn people too. And again, I must reiterate, the deniers do not have science on their side. They'll say things like, "CO2 is needed on the planet for plants to grow". Yes, that is true but it doesn't mean we can increase the CO2 parts per million in the atmosphere and claim climate change is part of Gaia's natural cycle.

Dion said...

Climate Change: Those Hacked Emails

Ingineer66 said...

To prepare for rising sea levels is a smart idea. To say that it is caused by man is very arrogant that we have the ability to change the climate on a planetary basis, even if we wanted to. If the CO2 levels get to high then there will be massive algae blooms in the oceans that will suck it up and then die off and fall to the ocean floor to become oil in 20 million years then earths inhabitants can drill it and make plastics out of it and start a new cycle of irritating people.

As for fossil fuels being the damnation of the planet, they are limited and we only have so much left. We have been hearing for 30 years that we need to conserve because it is running out. So the entire lifespan of fossil fuel burning on the earth is but a blink in the lifespan of the planet. The earth is a resilient place and it will survive the period that we burn fossil fuels for energy. In 50 or 75 years we will have new energy types that cannot even be imagined right now and when those come, what will all the whiners have to whine about? I am sure there will be plenty of new things to protest like the colonization of the Moon or planetary litter on Mars.

We are not using logic, we are letting people with an agenda make the rules based on emotion.
We have greatly curtailed freeway construction in California and other places based on the premise that cars cause smog and cars drive on freeways so we must not allow new lanes to be added to the freeways to stop smog. What we did not limit was how many cars were sold in California or how many people moved here from other states and across the Mexican border so now we have parking lots with idling smog belching cars sitting on our freeways. And we are moving to electric and electric hybrid vehicles. The one thing that is most detrimental to an electric cars efficiency is stopping and starting. We should be building more freeway lanes to keep traffic moving, but we have no foresight by the policy makers, just a bunch of reactionary fear mongers.

Rain said...

Everywhere I go freeways are expanding. I have driven over a lot of roads this year and see no sign of limiting road work. Isn't it possible that your problem in California is matching funds? Your state is in a budgetary crunch and it may be more of a factor than environmentalists which you like to blame for everything.

As for whether man is influencing carbon dioxide and what that can do to our climate, you are ignoring the data they do have which is that where the levels are the highest is where man is. Not just us but those doing polluting factories in developing nations and China.

The concern most scientists have is that it might reach a level where it cannot go back and even if you later find out automobile exhaust was a factor or any other use of energy, it will be too late. I don't think anybody doubts the earth will be here but will humans? That's the issue that is being debated.

If the oceans do rise what happens to the people who live right along the coasts? If oceans become less productive for food, what happens to those who depend on it? I know you probably aren't worried it will impact you being inland but it might if people are forced to evacuate the coastal regions and come inland to take up new places and take whatever isn't given them. A massive displacement of people could lead to chaos everywhere. That kind of thing has happened before.

We could have cut back on how much fossil fuels we used years ago but the argument was it was too costly. That was put out by those who made money from oil and they stopped a lot of development that might have lessened their profits. You know it's true; and if you don't believe any Republican would do such a dastardly thing, imagine it being Democrats and it'll be easier for you.

Rain said...

Tnanks for the informative link, Dion

Parapluie said...

In my limited travels, I see evidence of the rising sea levels. It is not an if they will rise but how quickly will they continue to rise? The Pacific islands of the Nation of Kiriabati has both a growing population and loss of beach so severe that many have migrated to their largest island south of Hawaii - Christmas Island. Only the newly populated island's well water is threatened by overuse and rising sea water. You can see how the ocean is overtaking the atoll. The highest knoll on the island is only seven feet above sea level.
I have also seen the glaciers dumping huge bolders into Magellan Straight. The sides of ice and waterfall were barren rock showing where the glacier had been recently.
A number of years ago I studied the deforestation of China and Israel. Historic record shows how deserts and climate change occured in small and larger near global areas after deforestation.

Ingineer66 said...

Yes there are budget issues here, but that is not what I am talking about. We recently passed a large transportation bond and we have high gas taxes so funding for roads in not the issue. I deal with the Federal Highway Administration people and the Air Resources Board people and all the other agencies that do everything they can to stop capacity increasing projects. What this really does is make the projects cost a lot more money because they are delayed by nearly endless bouts with red tape and studies.

There are also places where glaciers are growing. The problem in Israel is overpopulation. The Israelis allowed many Russian Jews to move into the country after the iron curtain fell because they wanted more people to defend their nation that is under constant attack from the Muslims. And the Palestinians want to increase their population to help their claim to as much of the land as they can have too. It is not a very hospitable piece of ground that they are fighting over and flooding it with people from either side of the conflict is just going to be tougher on the environment.

If only we would have made gas $5.00 a gallon nobody would have bought it and all our problems would be solved right? Only the rich would have been able to afford it. Well it has been that expensive in many places in the world for a long time and they still drive cars.

Annotated Margins said...

Having moved to Philomath, but working in Corvallis, I've been forced to drive, something I was unaccustomed to in Humboldt. Driving is driving me nuts. When I think of climate change I think of the game Jenga. For awhile, things are a bit tipsy, but we think we can still get away with one more wedge. And then suddenly that one wedge is removed that brings the whole thing down all at once. Still, I keep filling up the tank, and I keep driving, because there's still a wedge that... .

I'm not making the climate change. I'm just part of it. I recycle everything I can... but I drive. I toss out just ten pounds of garbage every three months, but I keep my house heated so that I don't have to wear a sweater. I talk a lot about decreasing my environmental footprint, but here I am on a piece of technology made of toxins that every four years gets heaped in a refuse dump.

I'll get what's coming to me, but I do feel sorry for the kid who was born just yesterday. (If I'm lucky, I'll be dead before the big volcano belches up through Omaha.)

joared said...

I think the climate change arguments are much like many other controversies -- people take a position on one side of an issue or the opposite view, expend much time and energy debating who's correct and who's wrong.

The reality is there may not be any one single cause, instead a combination of factors incorporating both natural and man-made sources.

I strongly support identifying those factors where we can realistically best effect change individually and as a nation. That doesn't mean we may be able to eliminate all man-made sources, but we would be seriously remiss to do nothing.

Paul said...

Rain I think that a lot of Americans like to talk about
living simply", but would not dare to attempt it. They are addicted to "creature comforts". And a third world person who lives in a mud hut is living simply and probably not loving it. So there it is. Wake up America !

Rain said...

Ingineer, you need to quit just accepting what the right wing says about the ice melting. There is a group out there saying it's not happening but they are either extreme righties or paid by fossil fuel interests. It is disappearing everywhere. Photos of the ice disappearing. It could be caused by nature but it more likely is at least being hastened by man.

We all do things that are probably not good environmentally. If the oil and auto companies had wanted to have machines that could get us where we need to go with less use of fossil fuel, they would have done it years ago. They were short-sighted, as we have been to let it be. Most of us are too busy just trying to make our own lives work to seriously pay attention to the rest of this. We trust our governments which is usually foolish.

Rain said...

And perhaps on your freeways, it's a California thing. I just know Tucson is expanding roadways everywhere I drive. The one I live not far off of went from two lanes to four for part of its length and now is expanding the rest down to the next major highway. Oregon has a lot of it also. So I suggest your problem is California and your own regulations because of the bad air pollution conditions you have so many places. That is something that you can blame an environmentalist for but you have to breathe good air or life won't last long.