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V. Shining Light On The Subjects


People, Science And Climate

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Looking and Seeing ~ Listening and Hearing


V. Modifying Evolution

Global warming brings to the fore virtually the entire gamut of civilization’s woes, many interwoven with each other. It is a perfect storm with the rise of nationalism, racism, religious fundamentalism (at least in Trump’s base), and ignorance of the meaning of science.

Donald Trump could not have come at a worse time. I believe he is unaware of his own limited intellect. This, in combination with a deep need for praise results in an inability to engage in learning. The threat of having to admit a lack of knowledge or understanding by asking for an explanation is too much. Unfortunately he is in the most critical position on the planet to affect how we deal with climate change. The vast problems and needs of the planet could only be met by the United States just as in World War II it was American’s prodigious industrial might that saved the world and that is just we we need now, but with with a leader of great intellect and an ability to influence others.

With carbon dioxide at over 415 ppm (versus the historical level of about 270 ppm) and oil pumping as rapidly as the rapaious oil barrons can pump it all scenerios require an almost instantaneous turnaround in emissions. However, in addition to oil, China and India are building coal fired power plants and Australia, despite record heat, drought and fire is selling as much coal as it can. It seems there can be no explanation of this irrational behavoir, but there are at least hints.

The Biology of Behavior

Human behavior is the biggest puzzle of all. My inclination is to step as far back as I can.

First, we do not know why we have been created. Religion gives a name (god) to an explanation but in a purly logical sense it provides no insight unless you are willing to assign power to the logic by faith. This is satisfactory for many but does not aid in understanding. However, science provides little help. In theories of everything (for example: A Brief History of Time) there is no mention of emotion, joy and the purpose and meaning of life. So there is a gap. I discuss the possibility of a partial answer below.

Of all the upheavals of climate change, most disturbing, upsetting and life-ruining to me has been the failure of the greater part of humanity make an effort to comprehend that something of truly earth-shaking and life-shaping consequences is happening. My own reaction was instantaneous: “we’re screwed.” I cannot think of an individual I know who has had a similar reaction. Certainly a small nummber of technically trained friends understood what was happening, but the general reaction was, until very recently that this too shall pass.

Of all non-comprehenders the media I think is the most guilty. In the fifteen hears since I first read of climate change, and despite multitudes of UN reports, cautions as they were, they nevertheess spoke of coming catalysms. James Hansen testified before congress in 1988 and Edward Teller warned the oil companies in 1959 who did their own honest research and confirmed his warnings, and burried the results. But a newspaper, such as the New York Times I would expect to make this a subject of serious inquiry and attention-getting reporting. No such luck. Burried on page 13 most of the time, but whever it appeared there was no implication that this phenemoma had at the potential to have a major impact on civilization. Then about two years ago they published s whitewash of two full magazines essentially blaming their readers for not figuring this out. The theme was that we could have solved this decades ago if we had just noticed.

Then recently an editorial advised that if we just used the methods that worked to curb the use of aerosals that affected the ozone layer we could solve global warming. I e-mailed them with the point that this would be like trying to empty Lake Erie with a coffee cup. They had not a clue and this is a deep and fundamental problem.

Understanding science is in a different conceptual relm than history, English, psychology, journalism. These all have connections to day to day life. Understand the concepts underlying serious science requies a four-year degree. Calculus is foreign territory. Fluid dynamics, stress tensors, Maxwells Equations, one could spend an eveing on any one bit of it and get nowhere. It is course after course combined with a passionate interest that makes one reaize that solving the four Maxwell equstions and arriving at the equation for light waves is somewhat of a miracle. It is science doing what science does. A century of experiments by Faraday and others working to understand electric charge and magnetism were finally syntheiized by Maxwell in four equations established the entire science of electro-magnetism. Students at technical wear T shirts with these equations.

The bottom line is that a highly regarded newspaper reporter, editor or publisher can consider themselves highly educated and fully capable of comprehending climate change while not having a clue. And the Times does not have a science editor that might give them a fighting chance or even a degreed stringer or reporter. That, in my opinion, is enought to have done in the earth, for the simple reason that readers get their educated information from the media.

But it doesn’t stop their. My science minded friends either don’t want to hear about it or brush it off: ”high technology” will take care of it. Or the data is bad.

Comprehending science takes a bit a work. The concepts are not part of everyday experience. Taking a four yeaar course in a scientific field gives all of this plus much more time to sink in, and it must sink in. A good example might be explaining a atomic bomb to someone. It is trivial to view it as a big explosive, really big but not fundentally different from TNT and in fact early on an atom bomb was equivalent to so many tons of TNT. Until someone brought up how it works. And you said simply E = MC2 and explained that this meant “the conservation of total relativistic energy.” Bingo. You lost me. A lot is wrapped up in that little equation including the concept of a “conservation” law. I think you get the idea.

To an engineer (like me) there is also the idea of risk analysis. What is the worst that can happen, and how quickly could it happen and what do I do about it. Well, you size it up ASAP and jump on it before it gets out of hand, which is what should have happened when the oil companies own research found the carbon dioxide problem or Edward Teller lectured them on it at the 100th anniversary celebration of the start of the oil industry. Now, that is what I know and how come we are up shits creek sixty years down the road.

It strikes me as the influence of two things: 1. the difficulty of the science; 2. the psycholological problem of dealing with long range and far away (for most people) problems.

The science part has the extra dimension of it being hard to explain and hard to understand. So unless you are quite bright and open minded you pull a D. Trump and just dismiss it. And that is still happening. The news reports are that many more people believe in climate change and that it is caused by humans, but their comprehension of what must be done to deal with it is very limited. It is far easier to join the red side and dismiss the whole thing than to do what is needed.

Worse. Like it or not, the president of the United States is in charge. The world may not like him, but he sets the attitudes of the United States and that spills over without anyone realizing it. Imagine, well who? A superb speaker, steeped in the knowledge of the climate, comprehending fully what needs to be done, having the full weight and power of America behind him or her addressing the United Nations. A grown up scientifically educated Greta Thurnberg. A combination of Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, Elenor Roosevelt, John Kennedy and Winston Churchill. Now that would be one amazing set of genes. If you had to turn the aircraft carrier Lyndon Johnson on a dime, that is what you would need. And that is what we need to do.






IV. A To-Do List: The MIT Model

What expertise I have tells me it is time to turn the problem over to those with some expertise. My alma mater has perhaps the most formidable program underway, although it is still lacking the sense of urgency I believe is necessary.

MIT has created an informative, creative and useful aid to determining the effect of different combinations of actions on climate change. The MIT CLIMATE SOLUTIONS SIMULATOR lets you simulate any number of plans that, if chosen carefully, could solve the climate crises and even bring the expected temperature increase down to nearly 1.5°C, which is the goal of the Paris Accords and the best that experts believe could be accomplished.

However, even the extra 0.5°C would leave us considerably worse off than we are now.

(Full disclosure: I have three engineering degrees from MIT: SB 1963, SM 1965, EE 1967. The EE is given as a consolation to those in electrical engineering who complete all requirements for a PhD but do not complete a dissertation.)

MIT is conducting a series of six symposia on climate change. These can be accessed for viewing at the MIT CLIMATE PORTAL).

However, with the simulator, as well as with the programs presented at the symposia, the fundamental problem remains: how to get the leaders of the world, who do not understand the problem, to face the collosal job ahead to decide on a program and to implement it. This problem, I believe, cannot be solved without a nation or nations, taking the lead and virtually imposing a solution on the world.

Without this, because of decades wasted and incompetence in science, we may be at a place where nothing we do can save us from the “horrible” fate of a greater than 2°C temperature increase.

Whatever the situation, a glance at Figure 1 (above) shows the necessity of negative emissions which means taking carbon dixoide out of the air. If there is to be a bearable future for the earth two elements are necessary: shut down emissions as rapidly as possible and remove carbon from the air as rapidly as possible. I believe the first will require nuclear power (see the MIT report) and the second research to find the best methods and deployment as rapidly as possible. Both together will require trillions of dollars. It will take some convincing, but there are no other tolerable choices.

There is more bad news.

MIT developed its models prior to the most recent events: 90°F in the Arctic, 7 times faster Greenland melt than expected, the destruction of the Amazon rain forest among others. The models cannot keep up nor can they take into accout human stupidity happening all along the way. We are in a place where models do not do it and the only possibility is to move as fast as possible on all fronts and damn the money. But to make the world understand this is impossible Australiaa is selling coal and China and India are building coal fired power plants. Urgency is everything and you must comprehending the deep essence of what is happening and be willing to turn on a dime. There are no signs of this.

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