July 31, 2006

Climate Scientist Hansen

Here are a few gleanings from the work of NASA's leading climate scientist James Hansen:

A global tipping point will be reached in 10 years if levels of greenhouse gases like methane and CO2 are not reduced. Global warming at this point becomes unstoppable. He claims that the tipping point (also known as the runaway effect) is upon us, and that if in 10 years the human population is unable to reduce greenhouse gases, that the oceans might rise as much as 10 feet by 2100.

Global warming is 1 to 1.4 °F in the past century, and about 0.5 °F or more in the last 25 years.

Climate sensitivity to CO2 doubling is 5.4 ± 1.8 °F (Under 'business as usual' this will occur by the end of the century).

Some "greenhouse skeptics" subvert the scientific process, ceasing to act as objective scientists, rather presenting only one side, as if they were lawyers hired to defend a particular viewpoint.

In 2000 he authored a paper called Global warming in the twenty-first century: an alternative scenario in which he presents a more optimistic way of dealing with global warming focusing on non-CO2 gases in the short run, giving more time to make reductions in fossil fuel emissions. This is a result both of the fact that CO2 is responsible for a minority of greenhouse gas warming, and because fossil fuels also emit climate-cooling aerosols which offset the effect of CO2. From the paper,

Thus, assuming only that our estimates are approximately correct, we assert that the processes producing the non-CO2 GHGs have been the primary drive for climate change in the past century.

In 2004 he wrote a paper called Defusing the global warming time bomb, containing:

At present, our most accurate knowledge about climate sensitivity is based on data from the earth’s history, and this evidence reveals that small forces, maintained long enough, can cause large climate change.

Human-made forces, especially greenhouse gases, soot and other small particles, now exceed natural forces, and the world has begun to warm at a rate predicted by climate models.

The stability of the great ice sheets on Greenland and Antarctica and the need to preserve global coastlines set a low limit on the global warming that will constitute “dangerous anthropogenic interference” with climate.

Halting global warming requires urgent, unprecedented international cooperation, but the needed actions are feasible and have additional benefits for human health, agriculture and the environment.

July 28, 2006

No Fear

There is a gorilla in the living room and we have been ignoring him long enough. I wish he'd just go away because he looks like he is going to rip the place apart.

I just read a piece by the government's chief climate scientist James Hansen in the New York Review of Books. He was there to review Tim Flannery's Weather Makers, Field Notes from a Catastrophe by Elizabeth Kolbert and Al Gore's book and film. The short version is that global warming is causing a mass extinction of geological proportions. And, if we do nothing to limit greenhouse gas emissions the temperature will be 5 F warmer on average at the end of the century. Scientists know that at past times when the planet was that warm sea levels were 80 feet higher than they are today. During the past when sea level was rising quickly in response to climate change, it rose at a rate of about 3 feet every twenty years. That means a lot of New Orleans style disasters in the coming century, especially if sea surface temperatures stay high, spawning hurricanes.

So it would be so damn nice to sit and eat my berries. They do look nice, don't they? After all, what can I do?

One thing I do is get philosophical and I think, I am here today, I have family and friends, a handfull of berries and clothes on my back.

Another thing I do is look for someone to blame. Like those Americans in their SUVs! Americans use twice the energy per capita as Europeans do, but as far as I can tell much of this is wasted: Americans are only about equally content as Europeans, certainly not twice as content. Or I'd like to blame those big businesses!

But nations and corporations are just made up of people like you and me. What I am looking for is a way to take personal responsibility for this. Have I done my part to treat the world responsibly, for my kids and their kids and their friends and even people they don't know, or have I commited a sin of omission, by not acting.

Life involves risk, that's fine, I'm an adult:

From Bob Dylan's Highway 61:
Oh God said to Abraham, “Kill me a son”
Abe says, “Man, you must be puttin’ me on”
God say, “No.”
Abe say, “What?”
God say, “You can do what you want Abe, but
The next time you see me comin’ you better run”
Well Abe says, “Where do you want this killin’ done?”
God says, “Out on Highway 61.”

From The Reaper by Blue Oyster Cult
Seasons don't fear the reaper
Nor do the wind, the sun or the rain
We can be like they are

The reason we pretend the gorilla isn't there is that we fear him. But that doesn't get rid of the gorilla now does it? I would like to get beyond the fear/avoidance and instead start to act morally and rationally when it comes to global warming. Sure, the world may go under but I'm not going without a fight. Open the door, let the gorilla out, then we'll have a little peace around here.


Took a stroll through our yard this morning and picked some berries to go with breakfast. In the NW corner of the box are wild strawberries, NE goosberries, SE raspberries and finally those berries blue. The cherries aren't really berries so I put them outside the box.
If you are looking for a good gardening project, I can't say enough good things about the blueberry bushes they sell these days. Ours are two years old and have huge clusters of berries, like you'd find in a French vinyard. The bushes are 4 or 5 feet tall. The only thing you have to pay attention to is that they require acidic soil-- sometimes this is sold as rhododendron soil, or simply as peat moss.
Its not such a good year for the raspberries. There are plenty of berries but they are limp.
Still waiting on the black raspberries, currants and green goosberries, not to mention apples and pears.

July 27, 2006

Last night I spread window putty onto a carefully split wooden wedge and we went on the offesive against a nest of hornets living in our attic.

The hornets had broken through the insect net protecting the air vent and had a nice little hive going right over the bathroom window. I eyeballed the exact angle between the overhang of the roof and the wall of the house (just a tad acute from 60), and split a wedge from a straight piece of pine. A field trial on the unoccupied side of the house showed that the wedge fit nicely. I drove a long nail in though the back side so I could tack the wedge onto a pole, and spread a thick layer of window putty on the business faces. We worked under the cover of darkness when the enemy was asleep. My better half who shows no fear stood on a chair and hit the hive with a long burst of insect spray. The hive stirred. I quickly positioned the wedge over the entrance and pushed with all my might using the pole and a hockey stick. The roofing tiles buzzed angrily. I pushed some more. The putty oozed thickly from the sides of the wedge.

This morning the hive was silent-- so far they have not been able to chew their way out, nor have they found an alternative route into the house proper. This winter when the mercury drops I will go into the crawlspace and take away the nest.

July 25, 2006

Lego kit 897

This is now my favorite lego kit of all time, released in 1978. Thanks for the link Tim!


Ten reasons why the number 897 appears at the top of the blog:
1. This is my favorite model of all-mode transciever (see picture at top).
2. Simple numerology: the number 8 is two raised to the third power, the number 9 is three raised to the second power, and the number 7 is 2+2+3 and 3*3-2.
3. Because the Wien displacement law constant is 2.8977686(51) x 10^-3 m K.
4. Because quantum chemical calculations at the B3LYP/6-311G(3df,3pd) level of theory say that dioxirane has an absorption feature at 897 1/cm.
5. Because a student once calculated that the rate of Reaction 30 is 897 molecules per second.
6. Because there are 897 steps in the staircase up to the top of the Washington Monument.
7. AD 897 was the year of the trial of Pope Formosus. During the proceedings the exhumed body of Formosus was dressed in his papal vestments and seated on a throne while his successor Pope Stephen VI read the charges against him.
8. The year 897 was the beginning of the reign of Emporer Uda of Japan, the seventh son of Emporer Koko.
9. Because at mid-year 2025, the U. S. Census Bureau predicts that there will be 7 billion 897 million 989 thousand 4 hundred and twenty people in the world
10. Because if you are 897 days old you have almost reached the cutest age, 2.5 years. Remember?

July 20, 2006

A Gypsy and Two Vets from Indiana

I always try to get a seat with a table on the train. The tables are small but large enough for a laptop. The set includes a window and four seats, two facing forward and two back.

On the way home yesterday I shared my space with a gypsy and two veterinarians from Indiana. The gypsy got on first, smelling like an Amsterdam hash cafe with nuances of beer tent and dentist's office. His skin was bothering him; he kept discretely spitting on his hands and rubbing his arms. The Americans got on next, on their way to the airport. I was trying to focus on writing but couldn't stop listening.

The vets were in Denmark for a conference. It's a short trip to the airport but I learned that they were from rural Indiana and their specialty was pigs. The gypsy explained in poor English that they were second only to the Italian Mafia in crime. The woman was polite. She explained slowly, using simple words, that 'gypsy' in America was used to describe people who moved around a lot. The gypsy complained that nobody pays any attention to the gypsies that were killed in the holocaust. The vet noted that pig doctors were at the bottom of the social ladder in Denmark. The gypsy replied that Swedes smile at your face but that they are all racists. The train pulled into the airport station, the couple was saved.

A Swedish man came aboard, took a seat, smelling of business, reading a section of the Financial Times. The gypsy took him in and asked in passing Swedish if he could borrow the other section of the paper; the request was granted. The gypsy asked me where he was, complained that he was tired. He clutched the paper and fell asleep. The businessman got off at the next station and left the main section of the paper behind, unread, rather than wake the man.

The gypsy stirs, comments that I have a strange accent in Swedish and asks me where I'm from. Minnesota I reply. He has never heard of Minneapolis and wants to know how many people live there. Its the same size as Copenhagen I say. He complains that his legs hurt, spits on his hands, adjusts his shirt. When he talks his eyelids are half closed. He nods off. The train pulls into Malmoe, the gypsy's stop. He askes me how much my computer is worth. I reply that I have a lot of work to do. Suddenly he realizes he has reached Malmoe and bolts from the train. Who would have guessed he could move so fast? I check my bag, my pockets, everything is there, but you read about pickpockets in the paper every day. My colleage was robbed on the train a couple of weeks ago by a foreigner asking questions in English-- she was trying to ignore him and didn't notice that he left with her bag. So far I have not had anything stolen but it's important to stay alert.

I imagined my life was over.

Lets say that you arrive to work on a warm summer day and it occurs to you that you have a bottle of mineral water in your backpack. I would advise you not do do like I did and open the warm and well-shaken bottle over your desk where your computer happens to be sitting. Because what happened to me was that the froth coming out of the neck of the bottle drenched my keyboard and caused the computer to shut down. I carefully dried between the keys with tissue paper. The machine refused to start. I imagined that my life was over. I directed a heat gun (set to 'low') at the keyboard for three hours. Finally the system has come back to life. The silver lining is that my screen and keyboard are now squeaky clean and I learned a life lesson and I finished some non-computer tasks. But take a tip from me and watch where you point that bottle!

July 19, 2006

The Emporer Nero Award

BeeDubs (nom de plume of Will Billcox?) asks about the recent hockey stick controversy. The background is differences between reconstructions of the history of the planet's surface termperature shown in this figure:

You can see that there are many such reconstructions. They are not easy to make. Some attempts had regional biases towards for example Europe where there were good records. The little ice age was associated with a recession of european culture, hard times for the settlers on Iceland, etc. and may have been a regional phenomenon, hence the different estimates above. Some attempts use bristlecone pines which have been called into question, others use corals or isotopes in ice cores. One of the most widely accepted climate histories is the dark blue line in the figure above which is pretty steady and then shoots up right at the end-- the famous hockey stick, due to Mann and coworkers. Recently Hans von Storch (who was our guest at the university not so long ago, a nice guy, mathematician by training) has questioned the validity of the algorithm used to obtain the hockey stick, arguing that it artifically supresses variability in the temperature record. von Storch could give noise to the algorithm and end up with a hockey stick and so the argument goes, what is it good for? RealClimate has published a rebuttal so I won't go into the technical details here. Here is a summary from Wikipedia:

In 2006, a panel report of the National Academy of Sciences ordered by the U.S. Congress was published. The basic conclusion of Mann et al. (1998, 1999) was that the late 20th century warmth in the Northern Hemisphere was unprecedented during at least the last 1,000 years. This conclusion has subsequently been supported by an array of evidence. The committee found it plausible that the Northern Hemisphere was warmer during the last few decades of the 20th century than during any comparable period over the preceding millennium. However the panel expressed reservations that uncertainties make it difficult to compare individual years and decades of the 20th century with any similarly short period prior to around 1600.
The report also confirmed some of the points of the criticism by M&M: the
bristlecone pines are not a good temperature proxy; the data and the software should have been made available; and the principal component analysis as used by Mann et. al. "tends to bias the shape of the reconstruction", however this "does not appear to unduly influence reconstructions of hemispheric mean temperature" [23].

My take on the debate is that the debaters are trying to throw up a smoke screen. The historical climate is fairly important and interesting, but it is not useful after the late 1800s when people started to have thermometers. After that point we have a quite accurate temperature record; the temperature rise from then to now is shown in the graph above. And so I give today's award in misdirection, named after Emporer Nero who fiddled while Rome burned, to those who try to discount climate change using the hockey stick argument.

Not the end

I have been taking a little break from blogging-- vacation, work, etc. but it's just a short break. Gathering the life experience that serves as the raw material of a blog. Catching my breath. Will continue to post, so please check back again and again.

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