Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

Earth Hour Can Bite My Ass

April 2, 2008

Today is the day of Earth Hour, where everyone is supposed to turn off their lights for an hour tonight in a pointless show of support for global warming. Global warming is currently under such an attack that, like deities in every religion, it must be constantly re-assured that it is foremost in everyone’s mind. Also, don’t look too closely at the tenets of the cult of climate change. I’ll save the similarities between environmentalism and religion for another entry.

Google adopted a black theme for the occasion, though they had the courage to admit that it doesn’t save an ounce of energy to do so. It’s probably to promote “awareness” and demonstrate their environmentalist chops. Did they power down any of the hundreds of data centers they run in a show of solidarity? Of course not. It’s still a business, and that sop would be expensive.

The thing that most bugs me about Earth Hour is that it celebrates darkness. The light bulb is perhaps the greatest invention ever and we’re told that we need to turn it off in order to save the earth. The position is clearly us (our technological way of life) versus nature. It’s Rousseau for the modern man.

If you think that Gore et al. don’t really want to turn back the clock or rollback the economic progress, then consider his recent plea to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from the United States by 90% by 2050. 90%! In the best case, where we switch from coal to nuclear power and internal combustion engines to electric ones, I doubt that we could get down to 10% of our current emissions and the dislocations in trying would be absolutely astounding. Worst case, we’d have to just shut down.

All of this just leaves me speechless, but I mustn’t avoid speaking out. I will most likely be alive in 2050 and I do not want to live a “nasty, brutish, and short” existence. If the global plan to turn Earth Hour into Earth Year succeeds, I’m afraid that my future will be exactly that.

[UPDATE (4/2/2008): Keith Lockitch puts it well: “But during Earth Hour we see the disturbing spectacle of people celebrating those lights going out—of people rejoicing at the sight of skyscrapers going dark. If anything, what Earth Hour represents is the renunciation of civilization.”]

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An Inconvenient Uncertainty

August 5, 2007

It’s time to make up my mind about global warming. I’m sure that that statement is leaving many of you scratching your heads—most people I know or encounter view global warming as unassailable and cannot fathom how anyone could question such a settled matter. To be honest, I haven’t seriously surveyed the science since 1999 but my position has always been that I was skeptical of the claims for anthropogenic global warming. The time has come for me to re-examine the scientific findings since then and re-acquaint myself with the chief arguments for and against the skeptical position. In the next couple months (or less), I’ll review the links I’ve collected at del.icio.us and the links presented by those links. In the end, I hope to have a much firmer grasp of the issues as they stand today so I can make a decision about what I believe.

For the record, I don’t believe that man has had anything to do with a global increase in mean surface temperature if such a thing has actually happened. That means two things: I’m dubious that surface temperature has increased significantly and I don’t believe that man’s activities on the planet have affected the climate globally. My scientific basis for believing that was quite solid back in 1999 (and earlier) but I’ve really grown out of touch with the current scientific body of evidence one way or the other.

The global warming faithful always have trotted out the fact that 2,500 scientists signed a position for this or that contention or that the entire world (except us) ratified the Kyoto Protocol. Such arguments don’t hold much sway with me and they shouldn’t with anyone, except that the consensus position deserves greater attention. All the scientists in the world can be wrong about something and all of the Third World nations might accept a treaty that adversely affects the United States. There are definite incentives in believing the global warming hype or taking America down a peg; whether they are currently at work remains to be seen.

The modern environmentalist movement espouses what I call a “watermelon” ideology. It’s green on the outside and red on the inside. (I’m not sure where the black seeds fit in to this analogy.) In other words, the environmentalists frequently take positions that Marxists and Communists wouldn’t have a problem with. Carbon reductions will stifle nascent economies and cause substantial displacements in established ones. The United States, with the largest economy in the world, will bear the brunt of environmental restrictions—and there’s a sizable contingent of the green movement that is positively giddy at that thought.

Governments around the world, including those at the state and federal levels in the United States, can see the expediency of using global warming as a pretext for increased economic and social regulation. At the very least, global warming has allowed for greater expenditures and taxation. If people believe that the seas will rise 150 feet over the next century or that the global average temperature will rise 10°, then they’ll accept a lot of internal restructuring of society. Most people will accept a deterioration of rights in return for safety and security.

Those are the reasons for my skepticism at present. They are largely based on the arguments put forth by proponents of global warming and my experience with past movements. At one time, as I mentioned, I could marshal scientific rationales for my positions as well. That made the arguments of the other side seem much more dishonest. Now, though, I’m inclined to think that there might be some merit to the belief that global surface temperatures are rising. My review of the scientific literature will focus on that aspect: I have plenty of questions on the methodology of determining a global surface temperature as well as about the specific mechanisms by which the minor amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere can cause such significant variances.

Once I’ve determined whether or not the basic scientific questions have been answered, then I’ll be in a better position to evaluate the proposed solutions. If the science doesn’t jibe, then the proposed solutions’ motivations will be exposed quite readily. If the science is good, then I’ll look at man’s role in the matter and whether it can be mitigated at this point. I’m quite unsure as to which route my study will take and I will post my findings on this blog once I’ve settled my mind.

The Pleasure of Finding Things Out

July 4, 2005

I just finished listening to an audio version of Richard Feynman’s The Pleasure of Finding Things Out. Overall it was pretty mixed in its content, but what was good was really, really good.

One story he repeatedly shared—the book is a collection of individual essays and documents from Feynman’s life so it’s replete with repetition—is about the walks through the woods that he used to take as a child with his father, a uniform salesman. Other boys in his peer group would ask him if he knew what some bird or tree was called and mock him when he didn’t know because their fathers taught them such things. The difference was that his father taught him that knowing what something is named tells you absolutely nothing about the thing itself, only what words humans use to refer to it.

His father would ask him how a squirrel moves and Feynman (the child) would reply that it was by using his muscles. His father would say, “Nope, it’s because the sun shines.” Feynman would look at him quizzically and his father would then ask a series of questions that delved deeper into each succeeding premise until the ultimate cause was clearly that the sun was shining. His father had no scientific training, but he wanted his son to become a scientist. (I must confess now that I may have gotten the specifics of this story—and any others I relate—incorrect since I can’t readily go back and verify my memory. I do, however, know the gist of them.)

On another walk, they were really studying trees and Feynman’s father told him that on all these walks they had really only gotten to know half of the forest’s workings. Feynman was again curious and his father pointed out that they had been focusing solely on living things. Death was an important process in the forest and so he proceeded to search for evidence of chains starting with things dying. They found rotting trees, animal carcasses, and so on.

The last story about the interaction between the Feynmans that struck me was how Feynman’s father used to tell him bedtime stories from different perspectives and Feynman the child had to guess who his father was using. Sometimes it might be a Martian, other times it was a bug in the carpet. Feynman related that these stories exerted a powerful influence on him at the time because they seemed so vivid as his father described the world as viewed from an ant’s perspective.

These stories (and there were many more that I enjoyed) illustrated the power of showing rather than telling. Feynman’s father could have delivered extensive tales of biological processes or everyday bedtime stories. Instead, he took the opportunity to present lessons—in stepping out of your own way of looking at things, in looking beyond the obvious workings of our world, in getting to the root causes of the way things are. He did it through means a child could understand, which made it accessible.

The main thing that Feynman says his father instilled in him was that the world was full of wonder. This curiosity manifested itself in his interest in physics, but it could also show up in his forays into psychology and his generally skeptical manner. He emphasized that curiosity was its own reward.

These are the things I want for my children, things that I have enjoyed throughout my life. I hope that I can do it in a similarly inspiring fashion, rather than a clumsy, lecturing style that turns them off. Feynman’s The Pleasure of Finding Things Out is an excellent source for the former and well worth it for any parent who desires the same.

Questions of Science

November 14, 2003

25 Questions of Science, with answers (or at least thoughtful essays explaining the questions).