Archive for May, 2007

It’s not your fault, but it *is* your problem

May 25, 2007

Dealing with change is difficult.  I think it may be more difficult for the haves than the have-nots (even though really the haves are better prepared to deal with change in general), but that’s a different post.

This post is about global warming, basically, but not really.  It is really about my recent insight into the Volcano God.  We, as humans, seem to have a natural tendency to believe everything is our fault.  When mommy and daddy argue/get divorced, we feel it was our fault.  More primitive societies felt the various gods of the earth were angry with them when they experienced a volcanic eruption, an earthquake, a drought, etc.

The equally natural human response is to attempt to appease the power you have offended (or destroy it, if you feel it is within your means to do so).  You throw a virgin into the volcano, you sacrifice a goat, you dance a special dance.

Add to that our willingness to accept statistically unsupported correlations (hey, there have been no quakes since we sacrified that goat!) and a short attention span (oh, a new quake, time for a new sacrifice since that worked last time) — as opposed to accepting that the sacrifice didn’t work at all.

Oh, and don’t forget the times we actually get it right (eating the moldy bread really DID make the illness go away).

Anyway, blend the above and you get Homo Sapiens of the 21st century who are easily convinced it is their fault there is an ozone hole or global warming, and that it is their actions which are needed to solve it (let’s dump huge amounts of iron into the sea to cause algae blooms to sop up some CO2… no way can THAT have any adverse reactions.)

By the way, have you READ the warnings on the Celebrex package?  Basically it’s “Given the high probability this drug will kill you, SOME doctors feel that for CERTAIN patients, the rewards may actually outweigh the risks!” (on TV, this is read aloud breathlessly as if it is exciting good news, while beautiful calming images play in the background).  I dunno.. if that’s the most positive marketing message I am legally allowed to make for my product… would I continue to sell the product?

Anyway, I just wanted to say we’re all too easily convinced large problems are entirely our fault and that there is something weird we should do about them (it’s your hairspray!  The Ozone gods are offended!).  When it seems quite possible that large changes happen completely outside our control and we really need to be thinking more about dealing with it.  Doing some of that adapting that we’re famous for.  This would, for example, be a terrific time to secure a water supply for our future… which, in addition to hoarding our rain, probably means looking at that big ol’ ocean and figuring out how we might drink it.

 Now, again, I don’t want to be interpreted as saying we have no responsibility for the CO2 we emit as a species, nor whether it is on net a good thing or a bad thing (at what point are we staving off an ice age? What’s worse anyway, inundated coastlines or a mile of ice on Chicago?), though I suspect it is a bad thing.  I am just impressed by our willingness to accept blame and pray at the temple of priests willing to lay that blame upon us, and take our tithes in response.

Now, speaking of that terrific graph in “An Inconvenient Truth” — of inferred atmospheric CO2 over the ages and the sudden exponential rise during recent times.  I have to comment on the (mentioned, but dismissed) fact the graph mixed CO2 samples from multiple sources.  For most of the graph it was ice core data, and showed a ‘natural cycle’ over the last 600K years (I don’t think the movie made an attempt to explain those cycles), then at the end they added actual atmosphere samples. 

I think there might have been some apples and oranges in that mix.  For example, we don’t exactly know what the relationship is between actual CO2 in air, and what gets trapped (and held) in an ice core for zillions of years.  Perhaps the Atmospheric measurement is always much higher than what gets trapped in the ice.  Perhaps the top layers of ice can’t hold the signal effectively since they are still weakly coupled with the atmosphere.  What caused the prior sudden onsets? I dunno.  Anyway, it seemed suspicious to mix the data, as if the ice data alone didn’t support the thesis.  But it does making a chillingly powerful chart.

If you look at the shape of the ancient CO2 pulses, do they look sinusoidal, implying a pattern we have no control over (such as long term energy fluctuations in the sun, or the passage of our solar system around the galaxy) or do they look organic (which I would think would be exponential growth followed by malthusian collapse).  I think they looked more sinusoidal, but I haven’t seen the chart since thinking that, so I don’t really remember.

OK, just looked at it again and… dunno.  Actually looks more like sudden onset followed by decay.  That and we were already on a steep rising slope before the human-generated CO2 hits the scene, so change looks like it is well on the way. 

Anyway, it’s our problem to deal with/react to, no matter what triggered it.