Untitled photo

Knowledge and Concepts

Different categories of knowledge have different sets of concepts.

I became aware of this when hiring marketing people at Bose. I could teach marketing concepts to almost anyone, but technical concepts only to people with technical training. Marketing relates to everyday life. Technical concepts need to be learned in school or as intense hobbies. Climate is even more difficult because it is a group of scientific concepts that interact with each other while seeming not to be scientific at all. Climate is the long-term average of weather. Not as simple as it sounds because a surprise in weather ("its never been this cold here before") requires some depth of understanding to not throw off ideas about climate.

An example I read of a denier who insisted he was having a cool summer because it had been the latest date ever that the temperature reached 95°F, whereas the reality is that the weather can set records of all kinds while having no effect on the climate. Or: the pie crust can be perfect with burnt apples in a bunch of places beneath it. So how do we form our opinions about climate?

When we do not have a deep understanding, we believe what we want to believe, either from fear or from friends. A strong voice in a group will ridicule anyone who disagrees, and soon you dare not speak against the current, and you end up with a rock-solid set of beliefs. If you follow the news and there are enough spectacular weather anomolies and media that sheds light on the situation, you may begin to see the light. But media is unreliable. The news may be burried (as I have often seen in The New York Times) or too cataclismic to ever be explined and so is forgotten.

Then we add the greenhouse effect which is the source of our interest in climite and its problems.

Climate involves the sun, the oceans, land, atmosphere, all bodies of water, deserts, wetlands and so forth all interacting with each other to create the weather. The climate is the average of the weather. We can claim that the climate is stable while the weather is setting new records for temperature, precipation, storms, etc. and so it is difficult to sound credible to a non-scientist. We can claim the earth's temperature has risen by two degrees and have a record cold winter and so the climate issue gets blown off. Yet we are on our way to a potential calamity that could destroy the earth. We are at a place where just a bit more heat and we completely loose control. There are many signs already. Islands in the Pacific are being abandoned due to the rise in sea level. Sea ice off the coast of Alaska has melted and no long protects seacoast villages from giant waves and they have to be moved in land. In India Moonsoons are no longer reliable but heat is now deadly. The sea has risen a foot or so, but can rise another 120 feet. Government planners intend to put up sea walls to protect cities, yet these will likely be obsolete before they are finished.

Perhaps above all if a solid plan were proposed the cost of perhaps a trillion dollars would be laughed at.

The Paris Accords put a strong priority on holding the earth's temperature increase to 1.5°C but net emissions are not going down (see the graph below). Many scientists insist we can overcome these problems with nuclear power generation yet the public has become more and more freightened due to television series such as the one on HBO. Yet nuclear my be necessary.

The IPCC and various other science groups involved in global warming as well as most scientists seem desperate to hold the temperature rise of the globe to 1.5°C. But the oil industry is barging ahead, crude prices are up and the diagram to the left shows progress made toward zero emissions is about zero.

There are many attempts to move away from fossel fuels but no progress since the Paris Accord and the follow up Katovice meeting in Poland. And we are moving into a narrow channel of opportunity where much longer (20 years or thereabouts) and the earth's temperature will just keep risiing and we will be talking about 3°C or more. That is disaster.

Writing about the earth's climate compels me to think about how the earth came into existence which takes me back to the beginning of time. What happened is so spectacuar there are no adequate words. Scientificly the very beginning is beyond its laws. Together it all seems a miracle.

It all rubs off in my thinking about or viewing the earth. To give a hint I have reproduced a cosmological "time line" (below) that links the beginning of space and time as we know them to the steps that brought us from the smallest thing there can be (I choose to call it the Grand Singularity instead of the big bang) to our universe which is the largest thing we know.

My point is simply that I begin my thoughts about the earth's climate from an attitude of reverence and astonishment and wherever you are, the climate is a sizeable part of what the place is. Its temperature, humidity, winds (or not), the tendency to a certain kind of weather, what is in the air besides the air is part of its idendity. And photogrphic views I have of wilderness and cities (especially at night) all contribute.

As to the cosmology of the earth, if this is something you are not familiar with, click HERE

Within the universe, following the laws of physics, eventually stars, many with planets, were created. To give a sense of the magnitude, there are about 1022 galaxies each with about 1022 stars all the result from the cosmic singularity far, far smaller than a proton. It astonishes me that this is virtually never a topic of conversation. Why the singularity appeared is unknown to science but an instant (and I do mean an instant) after it appeared, the laws of physics as we know them took over.

None of these impinges directly on climate change except it places me and everyone else in what to me is a place of honor for that singularity was the origin of everything. The earliest member of the genus homo is homo habilis which evolved around 2.8 million years ago. Homo habilis is the first species for which we have positive evidence of the use of stone tools.

Archiology dates humans, homo sapiens, from about 200,000 to 100,000 years ago. Their effect on the climate was small for a very long time. In fact there really was none until the development of the steam engine in the mid-1800s. Then the imact grew as the fossel fuels provided power generation and heat. The impact was small at first but grew rapidly. Even in 1968 when "earthrise" (above) was made it was a different planet from the earth today. Technology found thousands of ways to use energy in the form of fire, burning oil, natural gas or wood. Oil in particular is transformed into plastics, rubber and liquid fuel. Beyond energy there are few materials, devices, machines that do not require burning or modfying fossel fuels. Every "plastic," every container, every metal requires fossel fuesls either as raw material and/or energy for processing, transportation or supplementary materials (fertilizer for eample).

The impact on the climate is illustrated in the graph showing the beginning in the rise of temperature of the earth starting about 1860, a result of the greenhouse effect.

The "actual temperature" comes from NASA. I made the blue curve by the simple method of guessing a basic curve shape (in this case a power function) and then "curve-fitting" by adjusting constants in the equation until I got the best fit. This is partly by eye but mostly by calculating the RMS error. (Note that having Excel do the fitting gives a polynomoninal expansion of the same shape, but-depending on the number of terms-it is either higher or lower than my curve. All would be reasonable guesses for the track the temperature would follow depending on a host of other variables.

Since 1°C has caused considerable havoc there is serious concern what the Paris Accord of 1.5°C might do, and considerable concern that it can be achieved at all. Most countries, especially the larger ones, are making little progress in reducing emissions. Consequently 2°C is now being conidered a more achievable target. This would seriously increase problems with more intense storms and precipetation, winds, droughts, etc.

In either case there are many jokers in the deck. A climate that is out of equilibrum is particularly dangerous and there is no way of predicting what might happen. A respite is very unlikely simply because more carbon is constantly being added to the atmosphere.

Reverence and joy have turned to regrets for not haveing been aware of what was happening. Dissapointment in humanity is should br deep and full of sorrow.

Powered by SmugMug Owner Log In