CO2 – present and past

Can you spare just four minutes to watch this (silent) video, please?

Good words thieved from the YouTube comment thread (reinventing the wheel is futile):

David Furphy: “Watch this excellent 3 minute animation  and you’ll immediately get how much Industrial Age humans have altered carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere and how different the current level (400 ppm) is from the last eight hundred thousand years (180-280 ppm).

It also shows how the northern hemisphere, with so much more land mass and industrial activity than the southern hemisphere, appears to “breathe” carbon dioxide in and out on an annual cycle.”

Max Yekhlakov: “keep calm and carry on
we’re just returning to pre-Carboniferous levels of atmospheric carbon oxides, it is all part of the plan ;)”

Jari Juslin: “Yup. If you are an insect, lizard or algae, you have nothing to worry about!”

More on this subject (much more!) is available from NOAA (the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) and CO2now.org. Visit 350.org for T-shirts and other useful ideas.

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Goldilocks zone, planet, idea

I was watching the BBC’s marvellous ‘Wonders of the Solar System‘ documentary series the other day. Somewhere within it (I can’t recall exactly where), Brian Cox, the charismatic presenter of the series, refers to our Earth as ‘the Goldilocks planet‘. This little infonugget has been trundling about in my noggin ever since, and I finally realised why: it reminds me of a rather poorly phrased comment I made on Lack of Environment some time ago (I can’t find the comment).

In my comment, I referred to what I think of as the ‘Grand Experiment’ of homo fatuus brutus — our tinkering, in recent times, with the very air we breathe. Our combined inability to admit that this is unwise (such admission, naturally, being a prerequisite to actually doing something about it) may be the biggest mistake we’ll ever make. The ‘poorly phrased’ part was the suggestion that this mistake might be our last, if our actions were to succeed in, as I recall putting it, “moving the Eaarth outside the Goldilocks zone“.

Habitable zone relative to main star's luminosityIn retrospect, my reference to the Goldilocks ‘zone‘ was a poor choice; that zone is the region around a star within which planets are capable of supporting life-as-we-know-it. Recent research does suggest that our own planet is much closer to the inner boundary of our solar system’s ‘Goldilocks zone’ than previously thought (see eg here, although I admit I’ve “done a James Delingpole” — I haven’t actually looked at the research). And the additional heat being absorbed by our biosphere as a side-effect of our polluting activity is truly colossal (around four Hiroshima atomic bombs worth of heat every second).

Even so, suggesting that our actions could physically alter our planet’s orbit was a poor metaphor. My comment, on the face of it, should quite rightly have been dismissed out of hand as being made by a total and utter phlyarologist (by the current dictionary definition, ie ‘one who speaks nonsense’). I should have referred to our Goldilocks planet, not the Goldilocks zone in which it sits. Rest assured that I have slapped myself on the wrist for making such a dumb mistake.

What I was actually trying to say, as opposed to what I said, makes sense when one considers the Goldilocks concept, which is based on the “not too hot, not too cold, just right” principle from the tale from which the label arose. If our planet is indeed close to the inner edge of our sun’s habitable zone, then this means our biosphere is almost (but not quite) ‘too hot’ by dint of its position relative to the source of most of our energy — the sun. What this suggests, though, is that it wouldn’t take much to tip our biosphere over the edge, into the runaway greenhouse effect (the one that James Hansen believes is inevitable if we continue on our present course of inaction against the causes of climate change).

Which, of course, would mean that the ‘Grand Experiment’ could well be the biggest mistake we’ll ever make — since it would also be the very last one.

I’ve come to conclude that if we burn all reserves of oil, gas, and coal, there is a substantial chance that we will initiate the runaway greenhouse. If we also burn the tar sands and tar shale, I believe the Venus syndrome is a dead certainty.

Dr James Hansen (2009) Storms of My Grandchildren p236

[edit 10May2014]
This is one of those rare and wonderful blogglings in which the comments add much to the original offering. Having admitted one mistake already, I am indebted to ccgwebmaster for having pointed out that Dr Hansen has recently clarified the position regarding the possibility of the Venus syndrome on Earth. (Read on for more…)

[/edit]

Posted in ... wait, what?, Climate, Communication, Core thought, Culture, Education, Energy, Environment, GCD: Global climate disruption, History, memetics, Phlyarology, Science, Strategy | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

A date with sanity

I would like to refer you back to the second video clip on ‘We are what we do‘, the one entitled ‘Arctic Death Spiral and the Methane Time Bomb’. It’s a bit long by today’s go-faster standards: well over an hour. Time well spent, I suggest. In fact, if you haven’t already seen it, your time would be better spent watching that than continuing to read my feeble drivel.

You may want to download the video via deturl.com. Deturl.com is a bit cryptic, but the time spent figuring it out is a good investment — the site will enable you to download many video clips so that you can watch them at your leisure instead of having to download them afresh each time — which may also save you money. I also like to think that the (admittedly tiny) reduction in the load placed on the Internet’s infrastructure by doing so helps the global digital commons in a small way — an example of something that, if scaled up, could have a big impact.

Now, on to the point of this post…

There are several places within ‘Arctic Death Spiral and the Methane Time Bomb’ that feature dates, at the lower right. For instance, at time 58:39 there is a legend ’3/6/13′.

Clearly, the ’13′ refers to 2013 — just a baker’s dozen years after we learnt what a mistake it was not to store years as four digits. So short, our attention span: we’ve forgotten the millennium bug lesson already.

But, it’s worse than that.

These dates are associated with clips from other video footage, and there is no way to be sure whether the date format used in those clips is month/day/year (which USAns and others will assume) or day/month/year (which Brits like me, and others, will assume). The date ’3/6/13′ could thus be either 06Mar2013 or 03Jun2013 [1]. So much for data accuracy in scientific material.

My main point, though, is this: if we cannot even agree upon a universal date format, what chance have we of co-operating on anything more important?

Homo fatuus brutus strikes again.


Image of an unusual 'rocking' calendar (for the year 2014)[1] A long time ago — well, for me, anyway: and, as it happens, in a galaxy that resembled this one but was very, very different — during my early interactions with these new-fangled computer thingies, I taught myself BASIC (beginner’s all-purpose symbolic instruction code). My first computer was a ZX Spectrum; my second was an Amstrad PCW (personal computer word-processor).

Why am I waffling on about this? I’m getting to it…

There was a magazine dedicated to the PCW, ’8000 Plus’, that ran a regular feature showcasing BASIC programs that were written in just ten lines of code. I toyed with the idea for some time before coming up with such a program of my own, in 1986: I called it ‘valiDATE’. I recall struggling to coerce the mass of code into the requisite ten lines, and the sense of achievement when I finally succeeded. Sadly, I no longer have a copy of the program (such is the fleeting nature of digital memory).

What valiDATE did was accept any date in any format and convert it into what I call ‘UUDF’: universally unambiguous date format. UUDF is ‘nnMmmyyyy’; ie two digits for the day, three letters representing the month (the first upper case, the next two lower case) and then — anticipating Y2K — a four-digit year. UUDF has the benefit of a fixed length (any date from 01Jan0001 through to 31Dec9999 is just nine characters) and it features inbuilt separation of the three fields, by virtue of the switch from numeral to letter and back again.

<detour type=’minor’>

It’s true that from 1988 we’ve had the option to use ISO 8601 — which has many advantages, but to my mind the biggest downsides with that standard are a) it’s hard to read and b) it offers too many choices which overcomplicate it; YYYY-MM-DD or YYYYMMDD; YYYY-MM but, importantly, not YYYYMM (so as to try to avoid confusion with the ‘truncated form’ YYMMDD — though the attempt fails because that format is still used, and there are similar conflicts with the very common DDMMYY and MMDDYY, albeit that separators are often used in those).

Unsurprisingly, nobody at the ISO asked me for my opinion when they were deciding on the ISO 8601 standard. There is, of course, absolutely no reason why they should as I’m just another grunt; though if they had I might have tried to argue that UUDF is more legible than an all-numeric code, and that, while it might seem that only using the digits 0-9 might make data entry easier, what it really does is makes it more error-prone because it’s all too easy to enter a wrong digit and not realise it.

Oddly enough, I came across this very problem just this past week: I had entered ’12022010′ instead of ’12122010′. The error there is easily overlooked: and yet the difference between ’12Feb2010′ and ’12Dec2010′ is immediately obvious.

I do grant you that I had made the mistake of using a dash of parochial thinking in my design of UUDF; I had neglected to consider that those whose first language is other than English will have different names for each of the months. But even so, catering for all such differences is infeasible, and English, by dint of Old Empire (and the linguistic laziness of your average Brit) is more common across our world than almost all other languages.

Given the unlikelihood of our calendar system being changed anytime in the near future, what’s needed is twelve short, unique alphabetic labels, and, though these could be chosen from any language, the set Jan/Feb/Mar/Apr/May/Jun/Jul/Aug/Sep/Oct/Nov/Dec is as good as any and better than many.

</detour>

For instance: consider the UUDF 01Apr2014. The same date is commonly expressed in a multitude of different ways. In ISO 8601 it could be either (!) 2014-04-01 or 20140401. In fact I often use the latter when naming computer files because of the automagical-date-sort-on-name feature. Alternatively, you can take your pick from many other formats, including 1.4.14, 4/1/14, 1st April ’14, April 1 2014, 1 April 2014… and, of course, All Fools’ Day.

Yes, I chose that date for this example for good reason. We are all fools. I say again: if we cannot even agree upon a universal date format, what chance have we of co-operating on anything more important?

Posted in ... wait, what?, Communication, Computers and Internet, Core thought, Culture, Drama, Education, History, Ludditis, Phlyarology, Science, Strategy | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 21 Comments

Change: solar, IPCC and Bundy

Cartoon depicting how the fossoil industry would be tempted to claim that solar power is infeasible -- because it doesn't own the sun. Loses a lot in translation :/

All your base are belong to us

I saw this cartoon on Peter Sinclair’s Crock of the Week, and it tickled me. It only sort of half fits the theme of this post, which is change — or rather, resistance to it; reluctance to do it, and the importance of making the right changes.

Adapting to the theme, instead of me pontificating I’m going to chicken out and leave the subject as an exercise for you, Dear Reader, to ponder, and instead, I’ll change… the subject.

Can I ask you to consider signing my recently-approved HM Government e-petition to rename the Independent Police Complaints Commission to remove confusion over ‘IPCC’? It’s a small change, but I believe it’s an important one. The petition would need 100,000 signatures for it to get debated in the House of Commons, so if you have any spare minor miracles, I’d appreciate one.

Moving on… another item I discovered just this morning is a real item of ‘news’ in the US, and one that doesn’t seem to have impinged on the radar of the UK’s mass infotainment industry (which seems obsessed by lost aeroplanes and capsized ferries — I can’t grok what message they’re trying to push). The key phrase for more information is “Bundy Ranch”. I don’t know much about the ins and outs, but this video seems to provide a good overview, and many interesting insights (hat tip to LadyBlueRose and Tales from the World). I hope that if there is to be a new American Revolution, it’s a bloodless one and that the good guys win…

Consider this: Remember back in 2011 when riot police swooped in to brutally crush the Occupy movement? Remember how you felt? No one stood up for them. No one fought back. And what was the result? The thugs won; media quickly switched to a new distraction — and the public forgot.

One of my more chaotic blogglings, I fear. No tick-vg gold star for me today.

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We are what we do

United Nations conference on environment and development
Rio de Janeiro 3-14 June 1992

Severn Suzuki:

Coming up here today, I have no hidden agenda. I am fighting for my future.

I am here to speak for all generations to come.
I am here to speak on behalf of the starving children around the world whose cries go unheard.
I am here to speak for the countless animals dying across this planet because they have nowhere left to go.

And now we hear of animals and plants going extinct, every day, vanishing forever. All this is happening before our eyes and yet we act as if we have all the time we want and all the solutions.

You don’t know how to fix the holes in our ozone layer.
You don’t know how to bring the salmon back up a dead stream.
You don’t know how to bring back an animal, now extinct.
And you can’t bring back the forests that once grew where there is now a desert.

If you don’t know how to fix it, please, stop breaking it.

I am only a child yet I know we are all in this together and should act as one single world towards one single goal.
If a child on the streets who has nothing is willing to share, why are we who have everything still so greedy.
I am only a child yet I know if all the money spent on war were spent on finding environmental answers, ending poverty, and finding treaties, what a wonderful place this Earth would be.

At school, even in kindergarten, you teach us how to behave in the world. You teach us: not to fight with others; to work things out; to respect others; to clean up our mess; not to hurt other creatures; to share, not be greedy.

Then why do you go out and do the things you tell us not to do?

You are deciding what kind of a world we are growing up in. Parents should be able to comfort their children by saying: “Everything’s going to be alright,” “It’s not the end of the world,” and “We’re doing the best we can.” But I don’t think you can say that to us anymore. Are we even on your list of priorities?

My dad always says, “You are what you do, not what you say.”

Well, what you do makes me cry at night.

You grown-ups say you love us, but I challenge you, please: make your actions reflect your words.

Thank you.

The video clip and the text above are an extract from the final scene from ‘Arctic Death Spiral and the Methane Time Bomb’:


Many thanks to:
Peter Sinclair – Greenman Studios
David Suzuki – David Suzuki Foundation
Dr. Guy McPherson – Professor Emeritus University of Arizona
Pauline Schneider – Filmmaker
Dr. Richard SomervilleScripps Institution of Oceanography
Severn Cullis-Suzuki – Activist
Thom Hartmann – “The Man”
Dr. Natalia ShakhovaInternational Arctic Research Center
Nick Breeze – Filmmaker
Dr. James Hansen – NASA (Ret.)
Dr. Alun Hubbard – Aberystwyth University
Dr. Marco TedescoNOAA
James Balog – Filmmaker “Chasing Ice
Dr. Peter Wadhams – University of Cambridge
David Wasdell – Apollo-Gaia Project
Omar Cabrera – Methanetracker.org
Lester R. Brown – Earth Policy Institute
Dr. Richard Milne – University of Edinburgh
Dan Miller – A REALLY Inconvenient Truth
Dr. Charles Miller – NASA JPL
Dr. Kevin Schaefer – USNSIDC
Dr. Jason Box – GEUS
Ben Abbott – University of Alaska
John Tyndall – Tyndall Centre
Uli Hamacher – Filmmaker
Dr. Igor Semiletov – International Arctic Research Center
Dr. Richard Alley – Penn State University
and all the others who made this film possible…

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IPCC* — straight talking

With thanks to Echoes from a Pale Blue Dot, whose post ‘Too important to ignore!’ explains more:

It’s good to see a message that makes it clear that mitigation and adaptation are complementary; though, personally, I would like to see more emphasis on the truth that mitigation must come first. The message is not (as those who seek business as usual would have us believe) “Adapt–or die”; it’s “Mitigate FAST, and adapt where we now absolutely must because we ignored wake-up calls for decades–or die”. It’s pretty much a Fundamental Split.

* ‘IPCC’ here refers to the ‘Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change‘ (established 1988), not the UK government’s ‘Independent Police Complaints Commission‘ (established 2004). And, yes, the conspiracy theorist in me feels that whomever it was that decided to name the latter so as to cause the clash of abbreviations was almost certainly a merchant of doubt and should be held to account for adding to the overall level of confusion (though, naturally, this will never happen).

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Water is life

In the wake of Earth Hour on Saturday, here’s an appropriate post for All Fools’ Day.

Although there are many things about which there is disagreement, there can be no argument that water is necessary for life. Humanity’s probes into the cosmos strongly suggest that life can only exist in the presence of water. In all our travels, we have found just one place where life exists: and that place is our home planet.

There is a lot of water on Eaarth. About 70% of the surface is covered by the stuff. But, as with so many things, how one looks at it can make all the difference.

Eaarth, showing available water as globules on the surface (a surprisingly small amount!)

Most of the water is in the oceans. It’s salt water — and that’s toxic to beings such as us. We need fresh water to survive; and only a tiny fraction of all the water on our planet is in that form (the smallest of the three blue bubbles in the image above).

It’s surprising how much water is needed to provide us with all our stuff. For instance, it took several hundred pints of water to make the four pints of beer I had down t’pub last night.

Unsurprisingly, one of the many thresholds humanity is approaching is peak water. And yet, instead of making the most of what we’ve got, we’re busily polluting what we have.

Homo fatuus brutus is really, really good at taking natural resources from our planet and using it. We destroy whole mountains to get at the minerals below. We eradicate entire forests to cook the bitumen underneath for (a very poor EROEI) oil  — and then argue the toss about whether we should build pipelines to shift the toxic stuff.

In the UK this past winter, we’ve suffered a record deluge that flooded huge tracts of land. Meanwhile, on the other side of the globe we ‘share’ there has been a high profile record drought.

So here’s a thought: instead of discussing how we’re going to fund the additional flood defences needed by rising seas and increased precipitation (not to mention continuing to argue, in the face of all scientific evidence, whether anthropogenic climate change is causing this), and whittering on about the need for dredging (which wouldn’t work anyway)…

… why, instead, aren’t we considering how to capture all that additional fresh life-sustaining water the heavens will deliver in the future, totally free of charge, and then shipping it off where it’s needed?

Stupid question. One that would only make sense if we were capable of thinking holistically instead of parochially.

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Depressive alarmism

I wouldn’t say that I’ve had my head in the sand in recent months, but I will admit that I’ve been less actively seeking to educate myself about the triple whammy threat of climate change, overpopulation and peak everything.

My new ‘partial ostrich’ strategy has, however, not been reducing the impact of the Black Dog on my life. Upon returning to my more usual hunting grounds, I have found that evidence has continued to firm up that we as a species (one that I maintain should be redesignated homo fatuus brutus) are not just heading for a precipice: we are all complicit in actively getting there as fast as we can.

When I was growing up, the schools I attended, and my early places of work, used to hold regular fire alarm drills. I haven’t moved that far from where I was born, and yet such drills are no longer usual practise in my neck of the woods. Perhaps the reason is that infrastructure has improved to the point that such drills are no longer necessary; I wonder, though, whether it might not be a symptom of complacency.

Is it ‘alarmism’ to shout “FIRE!” when smoke and flames rage through a building? I don’t think so. I’ve never, thankfully, been in that situation, but, if I were, were I to escape alive, I believe I would thank anyone who had raised the alarm.

And yet, just as the word ‘sustainable’ has been hijacked into the oxymoronic term ‘sustainable growth’, the word ‘alarmism’ has been similarly perverted such that when attempting to highlight various home truths one constantly flirts with social taboos and risks having someone point the alarmist finger. For instance: pregnancy, childbirth, becoming a parent/ grandparent/ great-(!)grandparent: these are causes for celebration, while infertility and the declining birth rate are ‘problems’. One butts up against all sorts of knee-jerk reactions, instilled over countless generations, if one dares try to suggest that perhaps we should be encouraging adoption of those unwanted mouths already alive on this planet instead of celebrating the addition of still more. The English language itself is in opposition: antonyms of ‘celebrate’ include ‘deny’, ‘ignore’, ‘criticize’, ‘denounce’, ‘humiliate’… and: ‘be sad’.

Advice for dealing with the Black Dog includes embracing one’s problems. Quite frankly, I don’t see how that helps here. When constantly looking at your own culture and saying “OMG man that’s crazy,” your culture will look back at you and say you are crazy. A constant drip, drip, drip can be torture — and it is very, very, very hard to constantly resist.

Turn back, O Man: forswear thy foolish ways.

Earth might be fair and all men glad and wise.
age after age their tragic empires rise,
built while they dream, and in that dreaming weep:
would man but wake from out his haunted sleep,
earth might be fair and all men glad and wise.

If you read nothing else today, I strongly recommend that you read The Fateful Collision – Floods, Catastrophe And Climate Denial, which is what prompted me to write this. Media Lens suggests offering the 16-minute speech by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse entitled ‘Time to Wake Up: The Climate Denial Beast’ (which I think is a rather odd title… because it’s the sleeper that must awaken, not the beast). I note that this speech was published on YouTube on 4 February 2014, but has yet to breach a measly 6,000 views. That small number, to me, speaks volumes.

‘I have described Congress as surrounded by a barricade of lies. Today, I’ll be more specific. There isn’t just lying going on about climate change; there is a whole, carefully built apparatus of lies. This apparatus is big and artfully constructed: phoney-baloney organisations designed to look and sound like they’re real, messages honed by public relations experts to sound like they’re truthful, payrolled scientists whom polluters can trot out when they need them. And the whole thing big and complicated enough that when you see its parts you could be fooled into thinking that it’s not all the same beast. But it is. Just like the mythological Hydra – many heads, same beast.’

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Here’s a surprise!

Further to my ‘Power grab on the Pacific Rim‘ bloggling last month (which caused at least Mike of Damn the Matrix, Sue of Dreamwalker’s Sanctuary and Lucinda of eek.ology to sign the linked petition — thanks for caring, guys!)…

… here’s a surprise: SumOfUs tells me that it’s not just the Pacific Rim that’s at risk.

As well as the ‘Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)’, there’s also the ‘Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership (TTIP)’ — so here’s another petition to sign, if you’re not fed up of them by now. I know I am.

Here’s some of what SumOfUs has to say about this:

Friends,

Europe and the USA are in the midst of negotiating a huge trade deal — the Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership or TTIP. The TTIP isn’t just a simple trade treaty, it’s actually a huge corporate power grab affecting literally millions of European and American citizens.

The EU is about to launch a big consultation across Europe asking organisations and everyday people for their views. There’s a real danger that the loudest voices could be coming from the very corporations that stand to benefit from such a system.

The consultation starts really soon, so we don’t have long to prove that it’s people power that counts, not corporate power.

Can you tell European leaders to reject secret courts in the TTIP?

Will we ever get ‘democratically elected’ leaders who work for the people, not just for their idealogies and their buddies?

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Power grab on the Pacific Rim

You may want to click on the image below for a better view.

I sincerely hope you do, rather than linger here.

Infographic depicting the effects of the Trans-Pacific Partnership if it's allowed to go ahead

“The largest corporate power grab you’ve never heard of”

If you haven’t yet followed the link to add your voice to object to the rug being pulled from beneath our feet, the text you will see there is as follows:

To: Governments of Brunei Darussalam, Chile, New Zealand, Singapore, Australia, Canada, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, the USA and Vietnam

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) will massively boost corporate power at the expense of our climate and environment, human and workers’ rights, sovereignty and democracy. We strongly urge you to publish the text of the TPP as it stands now, reject proposals that would undermine your regulatory power and oppose this corporate power-grab.

Why is this important?

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a highly secretive and expansive free trade agreement between the United States and twelve Pacific Rim countries, including Canada, Mexico, New Zealand and Australia. Leaked text reveals that the TPP would empower corporations to directly sue governments in private and non-transparent trade tribunals over laws and policies that corporations allege reduce their profits.

Legislation designed to address climate change, curb fossil fuel expansion and reduce air pollution could all be subject to attack by corporations as a result of TPP. Additionally, the deal could criminalize internet use, undermine workers’ and human rights, manipulate copyright laws, restrict government regulation of food labeling and adversely impact subsidized healthcare.

The movement we are building locally, nationally and globally to move beyond fossil fuels and create a safe climate future is growing by the day and the fossil fuel industry is getting scared of the uncertainty ahead. The TPP is a symptom of this fear – a massive bid to overthrow any restrictions we might throw at them. But we can stop this. The might of our movement is greater than their money or manipulation.

Words of hope and optimism… wait, why are you still here?

Say no to the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

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