Thursday, April 23, 2015

climate control Crow

Here's another of those hastily made travel postcards sent by Crow after he viewed one of the proposals put forward by the Gates Foundation toward geoengineering a solution to Anthropogenic Global Warming. The device you see is a very very large vessel that will suck up ocean water and blast it into the atmosphere in an attempt to make clouds. Projects similar to this, called Albedo Modification, are proposed to reflect sunlight back into space through one or all of several methods. The wildest one is the idea of using orbiting space mirrors to deflect the sun's rays (unknown weather effects, fails to prevent acidifying oceans); another is to spray aerosols into the stratosphere (risk of ozone depletion as well as unknown weather effects and ocean acidification); cloud seeding by using atomised sea water (same possible negative consequences). 

A number of other geoengineering proposals have been suggested including fertilizing the ocean with iron filings to stimulate plankton growth or pouring tons of ground limestone into the sea to absorb CO₂. The effects on the ecosystems by these methods are also unknown.

Naturally enough, Crow had some thoughts to share about all this that he appears to have written on a number of tiny scrolls that began arriving by carrier pigeon earlier today. Here are a few I've been able to decipher so far:

First and foremost, the idea of geoengineering is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of what climate is, and why it is important. Although I have the greatest respect for many climate scientists and engineers, most do not understand ecology, or have a particularly good grasp of it. I have not, for instance, found any of them flying with condors or guarding eagle nests.

The failure in thinking about geoengineering is it wrongly assumes that the only issue is temperature, and that if you simply bring the temperature back down, then the problem is solved. This is so ecologically naive that I may need a shot of brandy before I start. Ahh, there - deep breath. Even if geoengineering did manage to bring the temperature down, it is likely to fundamentally change how ecosystems experience climate, or have other serious ecological impacts - ones that are inherently unpredictable and likely to cause far more problems than they solve. Ecosystems don't just experience climate in terms of crude average temperature. There's the amount of sunlight, precipitation, wind strength, wind direction, humidity and so on. In crude terms, it would be creating another type of climate change.

Geoengineering is based on the credulous concept that the world is rather like a giant room, and you can just raise or lower the temperature, and the rest or room stays the same. In reality, ecosystems interact with the climate in very complex and circular ways. They not only are effected by climate, but they also effect the climate. The geoengineering concept is based on a fundamental failure to understand the dynamic and highly interlinked nature of the natural environment and natural ecosystems. Any whale or dolphin could tell you this.

Geoengineering is essentially a convoluted form of denial saying that humanity should carry on as usual, to the extent of taking absurd gambles to try and control the climate. Missing the 'big picture' entirely, this thinking does not take into account that the present economic model (and industrialization) is highly unsustainable, even if climate change never existed. There is ongoing massive biodiversity loss, ocean depletion, the depletion of natural resources like water, human  population growing out of control, and a 1001 other environmental problems, which geoengineering will not address, and might make worse. It is an artifact of people who reject the idea that the global system has to change to make it environmentally and ecologically sustainable. 

Anticipate my early return, dear susan, and a period of relaxed enjoyment when we can discuss these matters more fully. Meanwhile, you may feel free to share my thoughts with our friends. Please keep the brandy warm and the fruitcake moist.

Your Crow

ps: Perhaps they should try their experiments in an environment where no living beings are likely to be hurt - Mars, for instance.

On a lighter note, here's some video evidence that sometimes a regular person can make a difference. You can see it now and I'll show it to Crow when I see him:

The United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP21 or CMP11 will be held in Paris, France in 2015. The objective of the 2015 conference is to achieve, for the first time in over 20 years of UN negotiations, a binding and universal agreement on climate, from all the nations of the world.

Shall we keep our fingers crossed?

Saturday, April 18, 2015


 Here is the latest in the mysterious ongoing adventure of a girl child and her not always entirely faithful canine companion. It could well be said of him: "I'm a good dog, but sometimes I do bad things." I'm still not sure where this journey is headed - time will tell.. or maybe not.

Meanwhile, I found myself reading some mystery novels by Oakley Hall about his only mildly fictionalized version of Ambrose Bierce, a writer very famous in 19th century America who lived through several battles in the Civil War. The experience left him somewhat jaded. In 1914, in his early 70s, Ambrose Bierce went to Mexico to participate in Pancho Villa's revolution, a journey from which he never returned.

The first chapters of the books I read all began with quotes from Ambrose Bierce's 'Devil's Dictionary'. I thought you might enjoy reading a few of them:

“Apologize: To lay the foundation for a future offence.”

“Bore, n.: A person who talks when you wish him to listen.”

“Cogito cogito ergo cogito sum -- "I think that I think, therefore I think that I am;" as close an approach to certainty as any philosopher has yet made.”

“Corporation, n. An ingenious device for obtaining individual profit without individual responsibility.”

“Cynic, n. A blackguard whose faulty vision sees things as they are not as they ought to be.”

“Education, n. That which discloses to the wise and disguises from the foolish their lack of understanding.”

“Egotist, n. A person of low taste, more interested in himself than in me.”

“Inhumanity, n. One of the signal and characteristic qualities of humanity.”

“Love, n. A temporary insanity curable by marriage.”

“Ocean, n. A body of water occupying about two-thirds of a world made for man — who has no gills.”

“Patience – A minor form of despair, disguised as a virtue.”

“Pray, v. To ask that the laws of the universe be annulled in behalf of a single petitioner, confessedly unworthy.”

“Scriptures, n. The sacred books of our holy religion, as distinguished from the false and profane writings on which all other faiths are based.”

“Selfish, adj. Devoid of consideration for the selfishness of others.”

“Sweater, n. Garment worn by child when its mother is feeling chilly.”

Good wishes to all until next time,
and yes, not only is the snow going fast, but yesterday I saw the first stinkweed flower of spring. Although they may not be as beautiful as snowdrops and crocus, they were a welcome sight.

Monday, April 13, 2015

our singular satellite

Some years ago I read a story about a man who was trying to sell a movie idea proposing that if you wanted to meet real aliens all you had to do was to go to a part of the world where a full eclipse of the sun was about to occur and look around for odd creatures. Perhaps there'd be one or two peculiar beings wearing long coats and breathing apparatus or you might notice some strange sealed vehicles. You see the idea the man had was that solar eclipses seen from Earth may be one of the wonders of the universe and there could very well be tourists from distant places who come to witness them.

Have you ever wondered how marvelous total eclipses are?

It is a very strange quirk of fate indeed that the disc of the Moon should seem, from an Earthly perspective, to be exactly the same size as the Sun. While we take it for granted that the two main bodies seen in Earth's skies look the same size, it is actually something of a miracle. Most people are fully aware that the Moon is tiny compared to the Sun but that it is much, much closer to us causing them to appear equal in size. To be precise the Moon is 400 times smaller than the star at the center of our solar system, yet it is also just one 400th of the distance between the Earth and the Sun.

The odds against this optical illusion happening at all are simply huge - but how bizarre that both values are the same, perfectly round number. Isaac Asimov once described this perfect visual alignment as being:

"The most unlikely coincidence imaginable".

Even more amazing is the fact the Moon also manages to very precisely imitate the perceived annual movements of the Sun each month. The full Moon is at its highest and brightest at midwinter, mirroring the Sun at midsummer and at lowest and weakest at midsummer when the Sun is at its highest and brightest.

Life is strange. I'll check outside again to see if there's an alien waiting for the moon to rise. Maybe the snow will be gone.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Crow contemplates space

Mars is very far away. While Crow and I sipped brandy and nibbled on pieces of the fine antique fruitcake saved for his homecoming, our conversation turned to an enterprise that's been widely reported this past year or two, namely, the all volunteer mission planned to colonize the planet that's even further from the sun than this one - Mars One. The general idea behind the plan is that it will be a televised reality show whose ultimate goal is to see how four human beings will react during a 7-9 month flight to Mars where (all being well) they will land near some habitat buildings sent separately. Considering the fact it's to be a one way journey the televised program will then see how they get by - the ultimate Lost program.

It sounds pretty silly to us for many reasons, but we wonder just how ill informed these volunteers must be. Do you suppose they've received all their information about space travel from reading the novels of Jules Verne? Just a brief look at the Wikipedia article titled 'Effect of space flight on the human body' is enough to curl one's hair - or feathers as the case may be. Without taking into account the dangers of vacuum on the human body, there are aspects of travel inside current space vehicles that should make any sensible person realize that base jumping off Mt. Fuji or street luging are far safer activities. Here are a couple of examples starting with what their ship has to dodge on its way out of Earth orbit:

There are spent rocket stages, defunct satellites, explosion fragments and even needles, bolts and paint chips up there, reminding us that we are very good at littering. Imagine how a bolt traveling at 17k mph could ruin your travel plans.

Increased radiation levels: Without the protection of Earth's atmosphere and magnetosphere astronauts are exposed to high levels of radiation. Crew living on the ISS are partially protected by the magnetosphere. Radiation can result in immune system damage, cancers, and cataracts. In 2013, NASA scientists reported that a possible manned mission to Mars may involve a great radiation risk based on the amount of energetic particle radiation outside Earth's perimeter.

Weightlessness:  Zero gravity has a nasty effect on the human body; over the course of a trip to Mars, it could result in a loss of 20% of muscle mass total and the loss of 1.5% bone density per month. When gravity is taken away or reduced during space exploration, the blood tends to collect in the upper body instead, resulting in facial edema and other unwelcome side effects such as increased intracranial pressure. This appears to increase pressure on the backs of the eyeballs, affecting their shape and slightly crushing the optic nerve. Great. You probably don't want to know about the toilets.

Motion sickness: 45% of astronauts suffer from this but generally for no longer than 72 hours.

Rest: Sleep patterns are badly disturbed by space travel, and more than half of astronauts on long-haul missions take sedatives to help them sleep. Fatigue and lethargy result in impaired cognitive functions and an increase in critical errors, which is why astronauts only have 6.5 “fit” work hours per day.

No human being (other than my friend, Andrew Scott) has left low-Earth orbit since the last Apollo mission in 1972, and the effect of long-term space travel is not a major topic in the annals of scientific medical literature.

Supposing our intrepid amateur astronauts arrive at their destination (there have been 43 unmanned missions to Mars so far - 21 have failed), they will learn for themselves:

Mars is freezing, minus 62 degrees Celsius on average.

It is barren, nothing much to see but reddish rocks.

Mars has almost no atmosphere, burned off over billions of years by solar winds, leaving the surface exposed to deadly amounts of radiation. Roughly every five years, the planet is blanketed in a dust storm that blocks the sun for months at a time.

Gravity on Mars is only 38% that of Earth’s. Effects on people are unknown.

Sunlight on Mars is very weak. Vitamin D deficiency can cause loss of muscle and bone density, can suppress immune strength, and at its most severe causes blindness.

A lack of energy can be exacerbated by the limited diet astronauts must subsist on. Once their initial supplies run out, Mars colonists would eat only food they could grow themselves - whatever that might be.

Depression, anxiety, listlessness, hallucinations, and chronic stress have all been reported in live missions and training simulations. As have communication breakdowns and conflict among crews and between mission command. Lastly, there is no way to know how a human mind will encounter passing the threshold of no return, when the Earth recedes from sight, and the pitch black enormity of deep space and the impossibility of ever turning back sinks in.

So I drew a picture of Crow with one of his friends standing outside a Mars colony base. Is it inhabited or did 2024 arrive and they'd all found something better to do?

All this may be moot since a young professor of Crow's acquaintance, Dr. Joseph Roche, who has PhD's in physics and astrophysics left the program after discovering Mars One is very likely a scam. Who could have guessed?