Doug's Darkworld

War, Science, and Philosophy in a Fractured World.

Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

RANDOM FRIDAY NONSENSE

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In a desperate bid to come up with a topic to write about, I Googled unsolved scientific mysteries. And as is so often the case, the results were less than stellar. Sure, any number of sites with scientific mysteries, almost all of which were repetitive and, well, boring.  Things like “How did life originate?” or “How did the Universe begin?” I mean yes, they are mysteries, but everyone has heard of them before, and speculation runs rampant. I want mysteries that people have never heard of, we need entertainment here. Fortunately, using advanced Googling techniques I developed in another life, here are some new and exciting mysteries. Science still hasn’t answered everything, only Evangelicals and my old friend Vince can do that. Enjoy:

Facetotecta. It’s a larva, illustrated above. It’s a crustacean. Lots of legs. Lives in various oceans. First described in 1887. What do they grow up into? No one knows! It’s suspected it’s some sort of endoparasite (a parasite that lives inside its host, like a tapeworm.) So, maybe we don’t really want to know. Could be something like this critter, which can never be unseen so don’t click here if you are faint of heart. You were warned, nature trumps Steven King every time when it comes to horror.

And that’s all I could find. I’m just going to forge ahead, God only knows where to. So, August 2nd in history!  Well, the Battle of Cannae, 216 BC. One of the most crushing victories in history. I’ve blogged about it several times no doubt. The Battle of  Chaeronea in 338 BC where Philip II of Macedonia (his kid is pretty famous) destroyed the Greek armies of Athens and her allies. No details of the battle have survived, so no book or movie deals there. The Battle of the Nile raged in 1798, where Admiral Nelson utterly destroyed a French Fleet anchored off Egypt. Napoleon was not happy. August 2nd, a day for crushing victories.

And August 2, 1990, who can forget? Saddam, remember him, invades Kuwait. The bastard! What is always conveniently overlooked is that Kuwait did everything in its very considerable power to goad Saddam into taking military action against them. And clearly they would not have done so without explicit assurances from the USA. So basically Saddam walked into an ambush. And once America finally had an excuse to put boots on the ground in the Middle East, they never left. And that folks is why America’s infrastructure, schools, and health care systems are a disaster to this day. But boy, we really showed those people. (Sarcasm alert.)

Did I mention I’m in a very odd mood today? I suspect it’s clear from my odder than usual musings. Or rantings. Or whatever. Maybe the heat is  getting to me. Moving right along, I came across this interesting article. Basically the Navy’s latest supercarrier, the greatest and most expensive warship ever to be built, is having all sorts of expensive problems. More on point, which the article doesn’t really mention, why, exactly, are we building the greatest warship in history? The last time supercarriers won a war for us was in 1945. Even all our designated enemies combined are no threat to our fleet. Another example of “This is why we can’t have nice things.”

Fortunately in the upcoming election we will get to choose between a candidate who will give the military more than it asks for, and a candidate who will give the military all that it needs plus some. On such subtle differences we will all pretend we still live in a democracy. Sorry, drifted into politics there. Is talking about Trump’s claim he was with the first responders on 9/11 politics? With Trump I don’t even know anymore, his miasma has seeped into every pore of American life. I did realize he does have one thing in common with a certain dead dictator. They were both able to inspire fanatical blind loyalty in their core followers. Make of it what you will.

I was going to discuss the Texas tower shooting, 56 years ago yesterday. It’s depressing on multiple levels though. 18 dead, 31 wounded. One of the victims didn’t die until 2001. And depressing because events like that used to be rare. It would be nearly twenty years before a similar crime. Now they are a common occurrence. Maybe the new supercarrier will be able to do something about mass shootings? Oh, right, nothing can be done, the NRA, the fourth branch of government, assures us of that. Phew. And anywise, mass shootings are just a liberal plot to justify taking everyone’s guns away.

I think there was a power surge or some such in the computer that’s running our simulated reality, or maybe a virus. Cause things have sure gotten wonkey in the matrix . Have a great weekend everyone!

Copyright © 2019 Doug Stych. All rights reserved.

(Image: Facetotecta larva. Credit: Pérez-Losada, M., Høeg, J. T., Crandall, K. A. (2009). Remarkable convergent evolution in specialized parasitic Thecostraca (Crustacea). BMC Biology 7:15. doi:10.1186/1741-7007-7-15)

Written by unitedcats

August 2, 2019 at 3:35 am

Posted in History, Politics, Science

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME, DEBATES, ETC.

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Lincoln_Douglas

Yesterday was my birthday. My 62nd orbit around the Sun is concluded. So far, so good. As in I woke up this morning. My life has gotten very simple since I semi-retired. Concentrate on my core friends and family, and my writing. And by my writing, I mean my attempts to understand this amazing reality we find ourselves in, and share my thoughts with the world. The now world, and people in the future. If you’re reading this years or thousands of years after I wrote it: “Hi, glad you’re reading this!” What else is there to say? Oh, right, “Sorry we fucked up the planet so badly!”

I’m not a genius, maybe 90th percentile, at most. And even at that, IQ, is a measure of problem solving ability; and say RAM, the ability to think about a lot of things at once. It’s not related to wisdom, or even logic. Even smart people can believe nonsense. Hell, they can rattle off impressive strings of false arguments. Still, IQ is pretty good at higher levels, and the scary smart people I have been privileged to know were a big influence on my life. Sally Shlaer, Steve Mellor, Peter Berck, my august father. Dozens of others have contributed to my worldview as well.  And so, using this brain gift God or evolution and my mentors gave me, I’ve spent about 60 years trying to make sense of it all.

And today’s theory, reality exists. There is actually a “truth” hiding behind all the clouds of misperception and lies. And using our brains, and the wisdom of countless brains throughout history working on this problem, we can come to some very solid conclusions about reality. Alas, and there’s the rub, due to accidents of our brains’ design, and the machinations of self-interested people, most of the human race believes at least some nonsense. The brain isn’t designed for logic, it’s designed for pattern recognition.

So, those interested in reality, here are the conclusions of a reasonably smart guy who has spent his intellectual life trying to parse the BS from what is real. All of these have codicils of course, reality is indeed complicated with infinite possibilities, nonetheless we as a species have advanced enough to make some pretty accurate determinations of what is real. Science rocks. This is a list of what I believe are true statements. Disagree? Reasonable argument and evidence will change my mind.

  1. Vaccines are safe and effective.
  2. Sleeping in a closed room with a fan will not kill you.
  3. Global warming is real, and humans are causing it.
  4. Glyphosate is harmless to animals and doesn’t cause cancer.
  5. Cell phones are safe and don’t cause cancer.
  6. Smart meters too.
  7. 5G technology as well.
  8. The Earth is an oblate spheroid.
  9. Evolution is a fact.
  10. The Earth is some 4.5 billion years old.
  11. GMOs are not inherently dangerous.
  12. Organic food is a scam.
  13. UFOs are not alien craft.
  14. Ancient aliens is a BS theory.
  15. Bigfoot doesn’t exist.
  16. Nessie doesn’t exist.
  17. Atlantis wasn’t real
  18. Ghosts aren’t real.
  19. Telepathy etc doesn’t exist.
  20. Astrology is mostly BS.
  21. Aside from a few medical conditions, gluten sensitivity isn’t real.
  22. MSG sensitivity isn’t real either.
  23. Nuclear power is the safest form of power generation, all factors considered.

I suspect almost everyone will take umbrage at one or more of these. This is why I will never be a famous blogger. Fortunately I don’t give a damn.

Note I kept the list to the purely scientific, nothing political or historical. That’s another list, for the day when I want to lose the rest of my readers. I’ve become quite the cynic about politics in America these days. I watched one of the Democratic debates last night, an experience akin to being dissected alive by aliens. The most frightening thing about it was how almost every question was framed to normalize oligarch/GOP talking points, and marginalise/discredit any actual reforms to our hideously broken system of government/health care.

As some have pointed out, the whole point of the debate appeared to be ambushing and discrediting Warren and Sanders. It was also kind of scary how so many of the debaters repeatedly referenced Trump, as if he was the problem, not the corporate oligarchy that has been getting ever richer for decades at the expense of the poor and working class. “Anybody but Trump!” will work as well in 2020 as it did in 2016. And even if someone like Sanders does get elected, Trump made all sorts of populist promises too. All of which went out the window after he was elected. Like the populist promises of Obama and Clinton.

Well, we’ll see. I hope America finds its way out of the mess it’s in, and I support the efforts of those working for positive change. I just won’t be blogging about it much. I’ll stick to science, history, space exploration, and interesting things. Anatomically possible suggestions welcome. ;)

Copyright © 2019 Doug Stych. All rights reserved.

(Image: Composite photograph of Lincoln and Douglas, who debated famously in 1858. Mostly about slavery, oddly enough. Credit: Scewing for making the composite. The photographs themselves, and thus their composite, are Public Domain under US copyright law.)

Written by unitedcats

July 31, 2019 at 5:04 am

TO INFINITY AND BEYOND!

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Daedalus_ship

Every once and awhile the topic of interstellar travel comes up in my Facebook meanderings, and usually people say the distances are too great, humans will never spread to the stars. And I helpfully point out that flight times of 50-100 years to nearby stars are feasible, so there’s at least some chance humans will slowly spread out among the stars.* At this point there’s usually a chorus of people pointing out that the fastest probe humans have ever built will take tens of thousands of years to reach even the nearest star.

True enough. However, and it’s a big however, none of the probes we have launched were designed to travel to nearby stars. So it’s comparing apples to oranges. A number of design studies have been done, and without any exotic technologies, speeds of .12C (or higher!) are possible. 12% of the speed of light, IE up to 22,000 miles per second (35,000 kps) or 80 million mph (130 million kph.) These would be with some version of nuclear powered drives. That would get us to the nearest star in about 50 years. Of course that would be a flyby, basically a probe. Still, that means young people today could conceivably be alive to see the first images sent back from nearby stars. And assuming our hypothetical ship wants to stop when it gets there, flight times of 100 years so are possible.

Flight times like that are good for a probe, but even 50 years is stretching it for travellers. And I checked, even though .12C is a relativistic velocity, time dilation is minimal at that speed. Still, generation ships would be possible, that’s basically sending a colony into space, the colonists knowing that while they wouldn’t live to see Proxima Centauri, their children and grandchildren would. A more promising approach, and favored in so so much scifi, would be some sort of induced hibernation.

These sort of details seem solvable, but what if they hit something on the way? At .12C even a marble would likely do the trick. Still, interstellar space is very barren compared to the Solar System’s environs, and with hundreds of probes etc sailing around for decades, none has ever been hit by anything remotely large. And even then, a beryllium shield, and firing a dust cloud ahead of the ship to vaporise any large particles, should do the trick. Outer space really is incredibly empty. That’s why we can see stuff that’s billions of light years away, there’s very little between us. Would it be risk free? Of course not. Has that ever stopped human exploration before?

Which leads to another objection, are humans capable of projects that will take lifetimes to complete? To us westerners in our infantile instant gratification culture, yeah, seems unlikely. Historically speaking, there are examples of great projects being started that wouldn’t be finished for generations. The great cathedrals of Europe for example. And plenty of people travelled to the new world knowing full well their chances of ever coming back were minimal. So it’s easily within the range of human capabilities. And some people are trying at least.

So why aren’t we building and launching these bad boys? Easy, we need the money for the rich and our giant militaries. Yachts with their own yachts cost serious money people. Even a probe such as we are talking about would be hundreds of billions of dollars with no guarantee of success, and a century or more for results. I mean the money is there, but the human race at this point in time is ghastly with its spending priorities. And that’s a topic for historians and sociologists. My theory is that we’re not really an intelligent species.

Have a great weekend everyone, comments, suggestions, shares appreciated.

*This is what the Fermi Paradox is all about, even if only spreading at light speed, intelligent aliens should have colonized the entire galaxy long ago, where are they?

Copyright © 2019 Doug Stych. All rights reserved.

(Image: Proposed Daedalus starship. Credit and copyright: Gerritse, used in accordance with Wikipedia guidelines.)

Written by unitedcats

July 26, 2019 at 4:00 am

MOON ROVER DREAMS

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Slow news week. History kind of goes in spurts, every once and awhile something big happens that shifts gears, but for the most part it’s just more of the same. (Iran and North Korea are great cases in point, while there is the occasional blip, for the most part things have been the same since 1979 and 1953 respectively.) So no big news, but I have a few half written posts. None I am inspired to finish right now. There’s always more Trump follies, but how people aren’t bored of that already is a mystery to me. In this day in history, well, 700 odd years ago the largest trebuchet in history was used to knock down a castle, but getting a whole post out of the story proved … challenging. So here we go, random inspirations …

Japan is planning a lunar rover for use in 2029. Pretty cool, inspired by this no doubt. OK, lots of doubt, but it’s still a cool parallel. We’re talking the full deal here, manned and pressurized. Refrigerated sake storage, the works. The sci fi of my youth finally coming true. I still remember stories and books from when I was a kid, where humans would have moon bases, if not interstellar travel, by the 70s. A wee bit optimistic it turns out, but better late than never. I know, I’ll write a post about interstellar travel. That’s the ticket. My desperate search for today’s content has borne future fruit. Interstellar travel is possible with today’s technology, and whenever I say that there are howls of protest. It will be a fun post.

In the opposite direction, a well preserved 500 year old ship has been found at the bottom of the Baltic Sea. Too cool for words, even some of its rigging appears intact. It’s nearly 500 feet down, hopefully beyond the reach of looters. And hopefully we have the technology to investigate it properly. It would be nice (I almost said ‘awesome’ but caught myself) if they could bring it up intact, but alas I suspect the cost would be prohibitive. At least to a species with priorities like ours. The best part, guess why it is so perfectly preserved? Viking cowshit! I kid you not. Parts of the Baltic have been low oxygen dead zones for much of the past 500 years, and the culprit is thought to be human activity. Too much nutrient load washed into the sea causes algal blooms, which die, sink to the bottom, and their decomposition uses up oxygen faster than it can be replenished by the mixing of seawater. See, there is a silver lining to wide scale ecological destruction.

A truly nuts conspiracy theory is making the rounds. Birds aren’t real. That’s right, the government killed them all in the sixties and replaced them with bird mimicking drones. They were killed off with specially modified B-52s, hat tip to the chemtrails folks I guess. Of course it’s absurd. In fact the “theory” was made up by one guy, it’s little more than a thinly veiled marketing scheme. Still, won’t surprise me if some take it seriously. If the Flat Earthers have taught us anything, there’s no bar too low for a conspiracy theory to squirm under. That’s why no links here, the times are crazy enough as it is without encouraging more.

And speaking of truly nuts, another from my “Gee, I guess normal people don’t do that file.” I miss a lot of memos it seems. Or my ‘update normal human behavior file’ is corrupt. Who knows, teams of mental health specialists have no clue. That was a joke. Was it an ableist joke? I don’t know, I hope not. Moving right along, I am active on the social site Agnostic.com. I have a profile, it has a section for pictures. I have a few of me, but mostly it’s a dozen or so of my all time favorite memes, cartoons, pictures, etc. I like to amuse people, and I think they give insight into what kind of person I am. So the other day I thought I’d check out what kind of pictures other people had posted in their profiles. And to my dismay, every single profile I checked only had a few pics posted, and all were pictures of the person in question, maybe some with pets and family. Oh well, another reason I’m still single.

So Friday, interstellar travel, already I have lots of thoughts. As always, comments, suggestions, shares appreciated.

Copyright © 2019 Doug Stych. All rights reserved.

(Image: Apollo Moon rover. Credit: NASA, used in accordance with NASA guidelines.)

Written by unitedcats

July 24, 2019 at 4:02 am

THE FIRST MANNED MOON LANDING, A GREAT DAY FOR AMERICA?

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July 20, 1969. The first time human beings walked on the Moon. I was 11 years old, we lived in a split level home in a small subdivision surrounded by farmland, near Crystal Lake, Illinois. It was actually the favorite place I lived as a kid, endless woods and farms and nearby lakes to explore and fish and catch snakes. And I was at the age where I was able to ride out on my bike on my own, it was heaven. Visited a few years back, now it’s strip malls and tract homes forever, such is progress.

And I was old enough to appreciate the first Moon walk, sort of. We watched on a TV in the rec room. Do people have rec rooms any more? The whole family watched, the image was grainy black and white, but it was sent from the Moon! I was filled with pride and excitement! Snort. I did mention I was 11? I was filled with the hope Armstrong would step out and be greeted by something really cool. Aliens, ruins, monsters. Anything! (I was an avid Star Trek and Lost in Space fan.) What did we get? A couple of guys traipsing around in a lifeless, airless, dusty, desert. Boring!

So, while we’re on the topic, a few points. Yes, the astronauts really did walk on the Moon! So so many lines of evidence support this fact. The Moon landings were one of the most well documented events in history, if they had been faked the Russians (among others) would have figured it out in no time. Just for starters, the motion pictures taken on the Moon couldn’t have been faked in the 1960s. The Moon rocks couldn’t be faked now, let alone in the 1960s. I could go on, but it’s all covered here. Basically, not believing in the manned Moon landings is like not believing the Holocaust happened. <insert rolled eyes>

A case that sometimes gets posited is that the space program is a waste of money. Well, yes and no, like a lot of claims, I wonder if the claimant thought it through. Even modest interwebs research shows that spinoffs from NASA research have been hugely beneficial, and impact our lives in positive ways every day. From weather satellites, to cordless vacuums, to Tang, we owe it all to NASA. So, money spent on NASA is a good thing, no brainer, right?

Well, certainly the NASA money spent developing the things we use is money well spent. Still, it’s not all been money spent on things we use. And couldn’t money have been spent on this research without all the terribly expensive manned flight programs? Cordless vacuums would be great for airplanes and submarines, it’s not like it took spacecraft to come up with the idea. It’s like the claim that war is great because it has resulted in all sorts of new technology. While neglecting to mention that this new technology is because during wars governments pour money into research! So maybe they could do that without the war part? Just saying. I’ve also heard that NASA rocket spending was cover for developing ICBMs. That I couldn’t substantiate, and since ICBMs were built before the Moon program even began, seems unlikely. Hell, the plan to nuke the Moon existed before the Apollo Program.

So kudos to all in the Apollo Program, putting men on the Moon in the 1960s was an incredible achievement with the technology of the day. One crew died in the attempt, another barely escaped with their lives. Still, I have to ask, what was the point? To beat the Russians to the Moon of course! Yes, but why was that so important that we spent billions of dollars and risked lives to do so? It wasn’t for science, science was basically tacked onto the Apollo program as an afterthought, it certainly wasn’t the impetus for the program. Everything we did on the Moon, including sample returns, could have been done far cheaper and at no risk to humans by using robotic landers. The fact that the last manned mission to the Moon was 47 years ago pretty much proves that point.

This is where I annoy people, lose readers, and just generally make an ass of myself. Still, the whole purpose of my writing is to make myself think, and hopefully make some people realize that there are different ways of looking at things. I would argue that the manned Moon program was part and parcel of American militarism and imperialism. Like the Star Spangled Banner before sporting events, it was fetishizing American militarism and the Cold War. Flag waving illustrated. Apollo helped normalize ideas of American exceptionalism, imperialism, and infinite government spending to make America “look great.” And like all great propaganda, the people people propagandized not only don’t realize it, they’re proud of it.

Have a great weekend everyone. Like this post? Please share.

Copyright © 2019 Doug Stych. All rights reserved.

(Image: Buzz Aldrin salutes the first American flag on the Moon. No comment. Credit: NASA. NASA’s photos may be used freely so long as they do not imply endorsement by NASA in any way. I can attest that not only does NASA not endorse Doug’s Darkworld in any way, they are likely not even aware of its existence.)

Written by unitedcats

July 19, 2019 at 4:12 am

WORLD STUNNED AND AWED AS SCIENTISTS ANNOUNCE THE DISCOVERY OF A NEW SPECIES OF CAT!

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cat-fox

Woohoo! A new species of cat has been semi-officially announced. That’s worth taking a break from my vacation to write about. Not the sort of thing that happens every day, or every decade even. This would bring the grand total to 41 species of cat. Cats are few in species, but a very successful animal in other respects. The ultimate ambush predator. Found in more habitats than any other animal but man. Small tropical islands, deserts, high mountains, they and many more have their cats. And now, the Corsican Cat-Fox! And while it has been announced, it hasn’t yet been officially named as a species. The people studying it believe it is a newly discovered species endemic to the Mediterranean island of Corsica.

How was it discovered? What’s it like? How come no one noticed it before? What’s it called? Where can I get one. One question at a time, I know it’s exciting. No you can’t get one! Some people, sheesh. It’s actually been around awhile, the local shepherds call it “Ghjattu volpe.” I’m guessing that means Cat Fox, and that Corisan shepherds aren’t known for poetically naming things. Long story short, one was caught in a chicken coop a few years back, and a couple of French scientists have been observing, live trapping, and studying the DNA of them since then.

I’d say it’s pictured above, but no, no public domain images are yet available. The above image  is a European Wildcat and it is very similar, and closely related, to the Corsican Cat-Fox. The Cat-Fox has shorter whiskers, and differs in some minor coloration details. It’s about three foot (1m) long, so a bit bigger than the familiar house fleabus. Great pictures can be found here, including possibly the most awkwardly held cat in history. Way to introduce a new species, scientists and PR mix poorly.

Is the Cat-Fox really a new species? Well, the jury is still out. It’s got DNA from both the European Wildcat and the African Wildcat. There may have been a Cretan Wildcat, but scientists are still debating that. Wildcats, for my American readers, are a type of cat found all over Europe, Asia, and Africa. Bigger than a housecat, huge furry club tail, your basic grey tabby markings. Very wild. The domestic cat was indeed descended from them some thousands of years ago. At this point, since they can crossbreed, a lot of housecat DNA is mixed into the Wildcat gene pool, so figuring out just what is what is tricky.

The Cat-Fox may have evolved from a Wildcat population stranded on the Corsica millions of years ago, or it may have been introduced by humans somehow in the past 10,000 years. IE it might be an unremarkable Wildcat-housecat hybrid. Whatever the ultimate verdict, I think it’s remarkable. Wildcats are gorgeous as well, at least to my cat aesthetics. Wikipedia has some nice images on their Wildcat page. And the cover pic on this page, what a stunning cat.

So hang in there fluffy guys, hopefully efforts will now be made to keep you safe. So far my vacation is going well this year without a summer. Have a great weekend everyone.

Copyright © 2019 Doug Stych. All rights reserved.

(Image: European Wildcat. Credit: WPClipart, Public Domain under US copyright law.)

Written by unitedcats

June 21, 2019 at 4:53 am

Posted in Cats, Science

HUMANS ARE CAUSING GLOBAL WARMING AND IT’S A BAD THING

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retreat

Global warming. There’s been a lot of bad news about it lately. Not surprising, no more surprising than damage occurring when a building is on fire. The difference of course is that when a building is on fire, people band together to fight the fire. They don’t stand around arguing about who set the fire, or claiming that the fire really is a good thing and people should just let the house burn down. Especially if it’s their only house. There is no real doubt humans are causing global warming, but because science deals in probabilities, not certainties, it makes it really easy for deniers to claim there is controversy where there isn’t any. And there’s no doubt global warming is a bad thing, the only complication is there’s uncertainty as to how bad.

This is a favorite tactic of deniers of all stripes. Biblical literalists love to claim there is debate about evolution, evolution is just a theory, evolution is a theory in crisis, etc. In point of fact the scientific debate about evolution was over by about 1870. It’s a bedrock theory in biology that has been demonstrated in the field and in the lab countless times. Until someone comes up with a theory that better explains over a century of experiment and observation, evolution is fact for all practical purposes. Or even something as solid as the Sun coming up tomorrow. Scientists cannot say for certainty that the Sun will come up tomorrow, just that the probability that it will do so approaches certainty. That subatomic sliver of uncertainty is all deniers need to create the illusion of controversy.

It’s frustrating to say the least. In many areas it doesn’t really matter what people believe no matter how unscientific, flat earthers or Moon landing deniers aren’t going to cause any real problems. (Knock on wood.) Global warming deniers, yeah, major problem. An extremely well funded industry, fossil fuels are the world’s number one industry, is literally putting humanity’s future at stake in order to keep raking in profits. It was bad enough when industry did the same regarding cigarettes and leaded paint/gas, this is far worse. Granted global warming isn’t the only thing humans are doing to destroy Earth’s habitability, but it’s easily the worst.

And one of the most frustrating things about the situation is that human caused global warming is really simple. It doesn’t depend on obscure theories, complicated models, or rocket science. A freaking fourth grader can understand it. Simple physics and measurements, neither of which is debatable. We know that the huge increase in atmospheric CO2 the past two centuries is caused by humans. And we know this is warming the globe. There aren’t any alternatives, this has been settled science for decades.

Wait, how do we know these are facts? As follows. The huge increase in atmospheric CO2 the past two centuries is beyond dispute. It’s simply a matter of direct measurement, I don’t think even the hardcore deniers dispute this. And we know it was caused by human activities. How? Basically there are two types of carbon, C-12 and C-14. C-14 is an unstable radioactive isotope of carbon that is created by cosmic rays striking carbon atoms in the atmosphere. It’s created at a certain rate, and it decays at a certain rate, so the percentage of C-14 to C-12 in the atmosphere is basically constant. And since living organisms get virtually all their carbon from the atmosphere, the ratio of C-14 to C-12 in living tissue matches that of atmospheric carbon.

This is how carbon dating works, when an organism dies, it stops absorbing Carbon. The C-14 in its tissues continues to decay into C-12 though, so the older organic tissue is, the less C-14 it contains. Thus the ratio of C-12 to C-14 in organic tissue tells us when the tissue died, making it very useful for dating organic artifacts. Well, all the new carbon in the atmosphere contains no C-14. There’s only two possible sources of carbon devoid of C-14, human activity or volcanoes. Burning fossil fuels produce only C-12, the carbon in them having been sequestered in the ground for millions of years. And volcanoes can only account for less than 1% of the new carbon in the atmosphere, they contribute about 200 million tons of C02 per year. About 29 billion tons of new CO2 is added to the atmosphere every year, and burning fossil fuels are the only other possible source for this. Both these numbers are gotten from actual measurement, again, no room for debate.

So it’s a slam dunk that the huge increase in atmospheric CO2 in the atmosphere is caused by humans burning fossil fuels. The second part of the picture is even simpler. Different gases reflect heat at different rates. So one can go outside, point a spectroscope at the sky, and determine what gases are reflecting heat back towards the ground. And turns out there are five main gases that account for almost all of the heat trapped by the atmosphere: CO2, methane, water vapor, nitrous oxide, and ozone. We’ve known this for like 200 years, simple measurement and physics. Increase the amount of these gases in the atmosphere, and the amount of heat trapped by the atmosphere goes up. Solid, well established science.

Backed up by over a century of increasingly sophisticated measurements. Earth is warming up, and it’s warming up at an unprecedented rate. Sure, the CO2 has been as high as it is now in the distant past, and Earth was wildly warmer then too. Neither fact in any way, shape, or form implies that humans aren’t behind the current rise in CO2 or global warming. Worse, sometimes deniers like to claim “It’s been like this before, what’s the big deal?” The big deal is when it was like this before the Earth was a wildly different place, the oceans were hundreds of feet higher, and the tropics and continental interiors were uninhabitable.

So we are literally racing towards global calamity, all so the fossil fuel industry can keep raking in the profits. I thought about naming this post “Global Warming for Dummies” but decided against it. I want to engage the deniers, not insult them. And sadly conspiracy ideation is no indication of lack of intelligence, smart people can be anti-vaxxers or Moon landing deniers. Our brains are simply not wired for logic, and thus easily get led astray. I sometimes think that if formal logic was standard school curriculum, maybe someday progress can be made out of the scientific Dark Age we are sliding into. Still, we can’t even get teachers to stop hawking their religion in schools, let alone get them to teach logic.

So make hay while the world burns I guess. So far the effects of global warming are running considerably ahead of the worst case models, and there’s no reason to think this trend won’t continue. Unfortunately the American Empire, the new Roman Empire, is sustained entirely by fossil fuel exploitation, so it’s not going to willingly give up its oil addiction. Many actually seem to think it’s no big deal. Yes Mr Pompeo “The climate’s been changing a long time. There’s always changes that take place.” Unfortunately for your facile “analysis” Mr Pompeo the changes that took place over the past 11,000 years or so have been mild, and the Earth has enjoyed a very stable climate regime. The changes taking place now are extreme, unlike anything the Earth has seen for millions of year, and it’s only just begun.

Oh well, like always, half the reason I wrote this post was to increase my own understanding. So all I’ve done is depress myself. Our only hope is that the future is mutable, it looks grim now, but maybe our civilization will evolve to meet the challenge. We have come some ways since the Roman Empire, and despite all the parallels, at least wholesale politically motivated murder is no longer practised in Rome. I mean Washington. Those Emperors were a homicidal lot. Tell me this is an improvement. Please.

Copyright © 2019 Doug Stych. All rights reserved.

(Image: I put together the above image from images I found on Wikipedia. Credit: Public Domain under US copyright law.)

Written by unitedcats

June 10, 2019 at 6:47 pm