14 April 2008

It's probably a good time to buy stock in Soylent Green

Recently, listening to a conservative Christian talk radio program, I was treated to the host and his callers mocking and ridiculing media mogul Ted Turner for his outlandish predictions on the grim meathook future, due to the impending doom of unchecked global warming.

If steps aren’t taken to stem global warming, “We’ll be eight degrees hotter in 30 or 40 years and basically none of the crops will grow,” Turner said during a wide-ranging, hour-long interview with PBS’s Charlie Rose that aired Tuesday.

“Most of the people will have died and the rest of us will be cannibals,” said Turner, 69. “Civilization will have broken down. The few people left will be living in a failed state — like Somalia or Sudan — and living conditions will be intolerable.”

Turner’s remarks are indeed alarmist exaggerations, but the central theme about getting serious and attacking the problem should resonate with serious minded Americans. Let’s put our best and brightest minds on the tackling the “dwindling resource” problem. Past efforts in a similar vein resulted in spectacular technology advancements that ensured victory in World War II, put a man on the moon and gave us the internet.

And as we watch daily the escalation of energy prices, it should serve as a warning beacon.

According to the IPCC, the Earth is going to warm up between 1.4 degrees Celsius and 5.8 degrees Celsius in the next century (equivalent to 2-10 degrees Fahrenheit). According to National Geographic science writer Mark Lynas, an increase of 4 degrees Celsius would mean massive species extinctions, more powerful hurricanes, increasing areas of the earth rendered uninhabitable, food supplies critically endangered, complete disappearance of Arctic ice cap and resultant rise of global sea levels.

On another conservative talk radio station (basically, that is what dominates the radio dial), another host trivialized the current episode of warming mark of 0.7 degrees Celsius as insignificant. Of course, global warming deniers disregard the 99% consensus of mainstream scientists and declare that we keep our heads buried in the sand like an ostrich.

Maybe the breakdown of civilization won’t be trigged by the onset of catastrophic climatic change due to global warming — perhaps the advent of peak oil, where we will be incapable of burning ourselves to extinction. But if many geologists, oil investment bankers, etc.… are correct, we’ve reached the point where we’ve extracted half the oil that exists in the world. The remaining half will be much more costly to extract, and production will not keep pace with the increasing demand, as emerging developing nations like China and India seek to ramp up to the level of the United States and Western Europe. The inelastic demand for oil translates into skyrocketing prices.

Geologist/petroleum engineer Kenneth Deffeyes declared 2005 to be year global oil “peak happened”, as global oil production in 2006 and 2007 declined slightly. In January, 2008, the 2005 mark may have been eclipsed, but at best, production seems to have stagnated. And there have been no big oil strikes in over 30 years. Instead, the solution space seems to range from alternate energy sources that offer no comparable ERORI (Energy Return on Energy Invested) to burning food for fuel.

The U.S. circa 2008 is built almost entirely on the existence of cheap and plentiful oil. From the affordable Wal-Mart consumer goodies to our food that travels an average of 1,500 miles to get to our dinner table (or favorite restaurant/short order takeout joint). Food production itself is heavily reliant on cheap oil. Everything is wrapped around the price of energy, and even adjusting energy prices for inflation is a pointless, circular exercise.

If a massive recession strikes the U.S., many Americans are going to find themselves in a world of hurt. $10 per gallon gasoline will make it economically prohibitive to travel distances typically driven from exurban and suburban homes to urban centers. And runaway food costs could trigger hunger, perhaps food shortages, and paralyze many, as many no longer know how to even cook, let alone grow their own food.

Even more sad is that self-professed American Christians who give little regard how less than 5% of the world’s population consumes 25% of its resources (and create 30% of its major pollution). They have no qualms over workers in the third world that toil from dusk to dawn for a bowl of a rice (a tiny fraction of the end product price) so American consumers can enjoy cheap disposable plastic household goods and overpriced tennis shoes. They snicker at any mention of population increases and dwindling resources, and wish to remain to oblivious to the fact that if all the world’s inhabitants adopted an equivalent American level of consumption, it would not even be feasible or sustainable.

I will not wager what condition and state the future will deal us and will not dispense apocalyptic scenarios. But blind ignorance is not a prudent course either.

23 March 2007

Nothing new here that we have not heard ad naseum from the same handful of global warming deniers

And they still sound like tobacco company lawyers of olden days, that for years spread around chests of money to successfully cast doubt on the truth — that use of their products caused disease and death.

A followup to my piece earlier posted in response to spoken words on the KPXQ 1360 AM Andrew Tallman Show, now that I had a chance to listen to the entire program and review the host’s argument. It seems that Andrew placed a lot of stock in the BBC documentary The Great Global Warming Swindle, and for him, was much more persuasive than the overwhelming consensus of scientists and Al Gore’s Oscar winning An Inconvenient Truth. And the fact that all of the scientific journals, including National Geographic, Scientific American, New Scientist, and others have all declared the debate on anthropogenic global warming over.

The Great Global Warming Swindle has given skeptics some ammunition, even if its producer Martin Durkin, is tainted with disrepute for previous show productions that distorted and misrepresented, even leading to official broadcast apologies. Suffice to say, it’s not the first time Durkin has taken the liberties with the truth. Now, in the aftermath, the TGGWS broadcast has resulted in outrage and an upset scientist who participated in the program, who has written a letter protesting the distortions and twisting of his words.

What we now have is an out-and-out propaganda piece, in which there is not even a gesture toward balance or explanation of why many of the extended inferences drawn in the film are not widely accepted by the scientific community. There are so many examples, it’s hard to know where to begin, so I will cite only one: a speaker asserts, as is true, that carbon dioxide is only a small fraction of the atmospheric mass. The viewer is left to infer that means it couldn’t really matter. But even a beginning meteorology student could tell you that the relative masses of gases are irrelevant to their effects on radiative balance. A director not intending to produce pure propaganda would have tried to eliminate that piece of disinformation.

It’s interesting that the host made his case based watching the respective pro and con movies. I’ve not watched An Inconvenient Truth but I’m quite familiar with the points made in it, having read most of the material (in book form) that the slide show and subsequent movie was constructed from. However, I probably have taken in the entire TGGWS, at least in audio form, in various chunks. And minus the visuals, which may lessen its power as I’ve found that almost any video production, even on issues where I share the position of the filmmaker, can easily slant the story. Spooky music, or enticing music, with colorful backdrops tell a more vivid story than the narration, and most often, an incomplete picture is painted. I would rather chew through the numbers and weigh the evidence in written (or audio) form.

First, before addressing a few points that I did not cover in my last post, here is list of links that eviscerate TGGWS.

The major thrust the host made in favor of his position was (a) humans contribute little to CO2 buildup, (b) global warming advocates are neo-communists in pursuit of a global agenda and (c) sun spots explain heating/cooling trends much more than CO2, and that phenomenon cannot be corralled by mortal humans. Pushing aside the ludicrous business about some sort of communist conspiracy, a brief summary response to the other two charges. Other charges, like the myth of 1970’s “imminent ice age” prediction and other deceptions are addressed, again, in my previous missive.

My assessment on the matter is not a closed one, as I’m a computer programmer, not a climate scientist, or oceanographer, or involved in front line investigative science discovery. But I continue to wait to hear from a legitimate climate scientist who challenges the idea that humans are impacting global warming who is not funded by energy or similar industry interests or has a personal axe to grind. Commonly trotted out as global warming scientist skeptics are:

  • Richard Lindzen — a $2,500 per day oil and coal industry “consultant” who has also received financial backing from OPEC
  • Frederick Seitz — nearly 96 years old now, long removed from active research, a former hired gun for R.J. Reynolds, long in the employ of oil and coal interests, and a promoter of the fraudulent Oregon Petition
  • Patrick Michaels - also in the employ of oil and coal interests, and notable for dubious research
  • Timothy Ball — another climate change skeptic in the pocket of energy industry lobbyists
  • Fred Singer — has not had a single article accepted for any peer-reviewed scientific journal for 20 years, another energy lobby hired PR flack

Make no mistake, Al Gore’s AIT is a propaganda piece too. But at least his is based on sound science, not on fraudulent charts, deceitful omissions, and distortions of scientific testimonials. And of course, TGGWS forgot to mention that there has been no peer reviewed scientific paper published refuting the consensus view that global warming is real and humans are the cause.

19 March 2007

Because mercury occurs naturally in cinnabar, mankind’s handling of mercury hasn’t impacted the ecosystem

Driving home from work, listening to my favorite radio program, I heard the host express skepticism about the overwhelming scientific consensus on global warming. In defense of his position he cited, most of the common mantra that’s bandied about in global warming denial circles — science can’t be trusted, it’s inconceivable that humans could have such a planetary impact, that it all sounds like a ploy by freaky radical environmentalists, etc.… I am not sure I caught the whole segment he devoted to issue, but I’m composing this from what I did hear and from the relevant links presented on the Andrew Tallman website. This is a piece that I do not enjoy writing, as I feel hoarse already on the topic, in battling the disinformation and misrepresentations cast by science deniers. And I don’t buy into the gamut of solution spaces offered up by those on the forefront of the issue either. However, to prattle on about the myth of global warming is akin to being a flat-earther, and I’m going to address a few of their talking points.

  1. First, let’s corral the canard that there’s no way human activity can affect something as vast as the earth. Just review the historical record of temperature, atmospheric CO2 levels and carbon emissions and the matter is quite obvious. The hole in the ozone offers another example of human undoing and now, a beginning of a reversal of that misdeed.

  2. One of the articles cited by the host is a piece by James Robison. And while Mr. Robison isn’t exactly a qualified voice on the matter, like many others in his camp, he makes reference to the Oregon Petition, supposedly a laundry list of over 1,500 scientists who don’t subscribe to the global warming hypothesis. Besides being extremely dated, and filled with all sorts of unqualified signatures (i.e., dentists and veterinarians), it also was constructed in fraudulent fashion. Basically, a mass mailing was sent out to various science departments with a “paper” that was full of deception and half-truths but was formatted to look like a paper appearing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It was accompanied by a letter from Frederick Seitz, who is an elderly physicist and was a former President of NAS some 30 years ago but is now frankly an extreme anti-environmentalist. The deception was so extreme that NAS took the unusual step of issuing a statement noting that the paper being circulated had not appeared in the Proceedings of the NAS, the mailing was in no way associated with NAS, and furthermore that the paper’s conclusions were not in line with studies by the Academy.

  3. Another leg of dissent is the oft repeated notion that these same scientists were predicting the onset of an ice age then. However, closer examination reveals that a sensationalist piece in popular press is not representative of the content of scientific journals and scientists. As this in-depth investigation reveals, this was absolutely not so.

  4. I realize Al Gore is a popular whipping boy for many a Republican, but overall, scientists are in near universal support of Gore’s message.

  5. A point made by Mr. Tallman on how is swayed to the denial side was anecdotal illustrations of global warming skeptics being treated as heretics and any free dissent stifled by the prevailing voices. While it’s possible to draw a rare example, there is ample evidence that the most suppression in this matter is being waged by the Bush administration. This NASA scientist’s story is not an isolated incident — there have been a number of accounts, similar in nature to James Hansen’s. If there is overhanded passion on the part of scientists, it’s due to the media misconception propagated by the mainstream media there exists a “debate” on the issue, that dissent in the scientific community, beyond paid think tank operatives, PR flacks, and anti-environmentalist extremists, is minimal. While I’ve devoted words for astroturf PR tools like Patrick Michaels, Philip Stott and others in the past, you can look them up and please note they are funded by organizations whose mission, like the tobacco companies, is to deny the truth. For comparison sake, it would be like the mainstream media devoting equal time to the 9/11 Truth Movement every time the official state account of the events of September 11, 2001 was repeated. If you believe that to be a crazy notion, review the roster of official 9/11 account questioners here, note their credentials and compare to (examining those who’ve taken the time to study the matter on both sides) the global warming “debate”. There, it is a ratio over a thousand to one or more.

This winter in the northern hemisphere was the warmest on record. There is no doubt, that yes, we are cooking the planet. It’s tragic that flat-earthers have embarked upon a campaign to deliberately obfuscate the issue to introduce doubt, paralysis and a continuance of the status-quo. Not that skepticism isn’t warranted, or isn’t a healthy mechanism, just that we should move past wishful thinking and begin meaningful discourse on an optimal solution space.

What is at stake? Higher sea level, reduced agriculture output, increase in disease, as well as some other surprising results that may occur. Maybe not for us in our lifetime, but our kids, grandchildren, and their kids…

29 May 2005

More people will live in rural settings, with technology enabling them to do almost anything they like, be it work or play, without leaving their homes

By 2020, a real estate crash will be in effect, due to advances in technology which will make rural areas much more desireable to live in, according to an "expert on human use of technology".
Despite these lifestyle trends, it will still be necessary to travel to central cities occasionally, and some people will continue to prefer urban life. But overall, the balance between remote regions and the center will change in favor of a more distributed lifestyle, resulting in a real estate crash.

2 April 2005

The preponderance of evidence suggests that the warming of the past 50 years has mostly come from greenhouse gas emissions

Temperatures in the Arctic and Antarctic are rising much faster than the rest of the world, which is going to result in a steep rise in sea level.
If anything, the news from the Arctic is even more troubling. In November an international team of 300 scientists completed an unprecedented four-year study of the region that found it is warming at nearly twice the rate of the rest of the planet. Average winter temperatures in much of the region have increased by as much as four to seven degrees Fahrenheit in the past 50 years, and they are expected to warm by another seven to 13 degrees by the end of the century. During that time, the scientists predict that half of the Arctic’s summer sea ice will melt, along with much of the Greenland Ice Sheet, which contains enough ice to raise sea level by some 23 feet.

15 March 2005

A wake-up call and an unequivocal message that a low-carbon global economy is necessary, achievable and affordable

Glaciers all over the world are in retreat, due to the effect of global warming, and Mount Kilimanjaro is no exception.
A photo of Mount Kilimanjaro stripped of its snowcap for the first time in 11,000 years will be used as dramatic testimony for action against global warming as ministers from the world's biggest polluters meet on Tuesday.

Even here in the U.S., in Montana's Glacier National Park area, where over 150+ glaciers once existed in the late 1800s, there exist now only 35, mostly at a small fraction of their first reported size. At the present rate, Glacier National Park will have no glaciers at all by the year 2030.

30 October 2004

Can We Live Without Oil?

As oil supply worries grow, we should seek out solutions to becoming less dependent on foreign oil. Here is a 12 step program that pledges to reduce oil consumption by 86%.

A synopsis?

  1. stay home
  2. walk
  3. cycle
  4. share rides
  5. mass transit
  6. share cars
  7. electric vehicles
  8. hybrid cars
  9. smart cars
  10. biofuels
  11. electricity
  12. smart policies

View the math.