Archive for the ‘Holy Flurking Shnit!’ category

Getting Warmer

June 11, 2007

For those of you avidly following the slugging match between myself and bullying science blogger Kate of The Anterior Commissure on the topic of global warming, I highly recommend reading New Scientist‘s “Climate Change: A guide for the perplexed.” This feature is billed as a debunking of climate change myths (perpetrated mostly by its deniers) so some of its tone is a little testy, but overall this is the most comprehensive and fair-minded analysis of climate change and its attendant controversies I’ve read, a welcome change from the usual alarmist and poorly contextualized coverage. I will say that perhaps too many counterarguments are rejected by referring to the IPCC report as holy writ, side-stepping the accusations of critics that the reports themselves are a product of an over-hyped and politicized point of view. Then again, the IPCC reports do seem to represent the current consensus of climate scientists and I’ve seen no particularly compelling critique that suggests they should simply be dismissed.

Overall, the picture that emerges is of a broad consensus among climate scientists that a significant process of climate change is occurring, caused in great part by the release of extra CO2 into the atmosphere from man-made sources. This theory is based on CO2’s properties as a “greenhouse gas,” which means that CO2, along with various other gases in the atmosphere, absorbs radiation from the sun and so causes the atmosphere to get warmer. This, coupled with a strong correlation between CO2 levels and global temperature observed far back into the past (by tapping into air bubbles trapped in polar ice and the like), leads to the conclusion that the extra CO2 produced by us naughty humans is causing and will cause global temperatures to rise. While short-term weather conditions are too chaotic to predict with great accuracy, aggregate climate conditions over much longer periods of time – decades or centuries say – can in fact be predicted with some accuracy, as the parameters within which the climate oscillates – such as absorption of the sun’s radiation – are far more stable.

The extent to which temperatures will rise and what the effect of those changes will be are a lot more unclear, however, with climate modelers conceding that major factors such as cloud cover and the release of sulphate aerosols* into the atmosphere – and the assumptions that they make about them – create a good deal of uncertainty about what’s in store. It is, for instance, rather unclear whether warming oceans will create ever more ferocious hurricanes or instead produce cuddly little kitten storms. And many of the drastic changes reported in the newspapers with such alarm are in fact forecast to occur only over the next 100 years.

None of this is to suggest that action isn’t warranted. Let me put it this way: rather than basing pretty much our entire civilizational prosperity on carbon-based fuel, wouldn’t it be better to try and find an alternative to carbon-based, non-renewable energy sources, stores of which may run out in the course of our lifetimes and reliance on which puts us at the mercy of psychotic fundamentalists, grotesque dictators and delusional butchers while their emissions make our climate radically unpredictable at best and intensely damaging to life, liberty and the energy-intensive pursuit of happiness at worst?

How’s that for some anthropocentric thinking, AC? (The rest of you Yanks could take some convincing.)

*A product of heavy industry whose concentration in the atmosphere is thought to have actually had a cooling effect from 1940 to 1970, and which ironically was eliminated by clean air legislation. The heavy use of sulphates by newly industrializing nations such as China and India may have a similar effect, although some aerosols warm the atmosphere rather than cooling it.


Kate-tastrophe Watch

April 23, 2007

I have had no need to wax pontifical on current events of late, as I have been engaged in mortal blogbat with my charming and delightful colleague, Kate of The Anterior Commissure. (She named her blog after part of the brain that you’d need to be a neuroscience Phd candidate like her to have a clue about, so you know she’s wicked smaaart.) Kate has been laying the science-blog smackdown on my ignorant behind ever since I aired my objections to the tenor of the public climate change debate. I feel this back and forth is too intriguing (at least the back maybe, not so much the forth) to relegate to a bloggish backwater. So I encourage you to go and see the rhetorical sparks fly.

Catastrophe Watch

April 17, 2007

“Warming Predicted to Take Severe Toll on U.S.”

-Headline from The Washington Post.

So here’s an example of what irritates me about reporting on global warming. The ur-narrative in the global warming story, in case you’ve been on some other planet in the last few years that isn’t doomed (doomed!) by its human inhabitants, is that the end is nigh – catastrophe is coming; the planet is on life support. When it comes to specifics, however, things get a little more hazy. And all the doomcasting has a chilling (warming?) effect on rational discourse, leaving the debate to the sanctimonious, the eggheads, and the conservative scoffers and chucklers.

Now, I’m no global warming skeptic. I frankly don’t have anything approaching the training or knowledge to challenge the scientific consensus or majority on this one. I don’t doubt that we’re seeing climate change, that carbon has something to do with it, and that man-made carbon emissions have something to do with all that carbon. But I also watch and listen enough to know (or at least suspect) that much of what’s pumped out into the political and media environment on this topic is pure cant – pious repetition of conventional wisdom accompanied by self-purifying hand-wringing. Climate modelling, as far as I can tell, is not an exact science. Such predictions are notoriously difficult, which is why there is still much debate as to what exactly will happen in 10 or 20 years times with all those tidal waves, coastal floodplains and so forth, and why Al Gore can get called out by some climate scientists (and not all of them kooky, carbon corp-funded wackjobs either) for exaggerating. It may be the best that we can do but to treat educated guesses as holy writ is bad policy.

Which brings us back to the headline above. What will this “severe toll” consist of? Well, according to U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s summary report on global warming’s overall impact, North America could lose “as much as 40 percent of its plant and animal species to extinction in a matter of decades.” Note the “as much as.” That means that what is being reported here is the most catastrophic scenario, and one must therefore infer that predictive models differ, and so that there is some uncertainty as to the extent of plant and animal extinction.

Furthermore, who cares? Seriously, who cares? What does it matter if these species die out? I like plants and animals as much as the next guy but what will be the dire impact to me and to human civilization of such extinction? There may well be a good answer to this question but I’ve never heard it, and I’m not some knuckle-dragging Fox News goon who will reject all evidence. I’m quite open to the argument but it never seems to be made, simply assumed – biodiversity is inherently good, the death of any species is catastrophic tragedy. But why?

Then there’s the impact on the North American Timber Industry. The report indicates that “increases in wildfires, insect infestations and disease could cost wood and timber producers $1 billion to $2 billion by the end of the century.” Sounds like a lot doesn’t it? But not if you consider that the top U.S. companies (just the U.S., excluding Canada, and excluding all but 27 companies) produced $126 billion dollars in revenue and $5 billion dollars in profit in 2005 alone. And, in any event, so what if timber magnates suffer – we live in a global market economy, remember? Speaking of which, a corollary possible impact of climate change is that “rising temperatures could mean an economic boom for the timber industry in regions with subtropical climates, such as South America, Africa and Asia-Pacific.” In other words, massive profits from the timber industry will most likely be transferred from some of the richest countries in the world to some of the poorest. A loss of profitability in North American markets could lead to more unemployment for workers in the timber industry, which will be unfortunate. But surely the most advanced economies in the world can find a way to adjust, and the people in the developing world who may benefit from the shift are considerably worse off than an out-of-work lumberjack in the United States.

So what does that leave? Ah, yes – the snowmobile industry. “The report also suggests that skiing and snowmobiling will suffer. The $27 billion snowmobiling industry is especially vulnerable because it is dependent on natural snowfall.” Well boo-fucking-hoo. All those people tearing around in snow buggies are going to have to find something else to do on a Saturday afternoon. Might I suggest Tiddlywinks? And isn’t there some kind of ecological justice to all of this – an ecologically destructive pastime hoisted by its own retards? (A shiny green energy star for anyone who gets that reference.)

“Our members are certainly concerned about climate change because our members work with backcountry skiing, ice climbing and snowshoeing,” Outdoor Industry Association spokeswoman Megan Davis tells the Post. The end of snowshoeing – earth in the balance indeed.

Vagina With Teeth

April 11, 2007

No, really….vagina with teeth.

(Hat tip: Norm)

Cower, Iranian Nit-Wits!

April 6, 2007

“Boarding two helicopters, they left for their base in Devon, where they are to be debriefed and to undergo medical and psychological checkups, said Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, the chief of the defense staff.”

-from the New York Times, emphasis most assuredly mine.

Sir Jock Stirrup!!! Is this a belated April Fool’s joke on us limeys? How did we get from Bomber Harris to Jock Stirrup? No wonder the Dinner Jacket feels he can snatch up British sailors with impunity. Can Sir Jock at least please change his name to Sir Biggus Dickus? What’s the name of our field chief marshal one wonders – Lord Muffy Jodhpur?

(Above: image of what Sir Jock must look like.)

Being Gay is Like Eating Ham

March 30, 2007

David Gelernter has been the topic of discussion on these pages before. And the subject matter is always a bit of inside Jewish baseball that is probably a bit tedious to most — even me, who has some bizarre affinity for Jewish topics. But I could not resist pointing out the shameful and slipshod op-ed column Gelernter published today in The New York Sun. He writes in response to a decision this week by the Jewish Theological Seminary to accept openly gay and lesbian students into its rabbinical and cantorial schools. Gelernter thinks this is an affront to the role of a Rabbi, who should serve as a beacon of sorts to his congregation as a they strive to be the best Jews they can be. “A rabbi is like an officer in the Israeli army — he is expected to lead his men into battle and to say, ‘Follow me!'”

Gelernter then asks, quite ridiculously, whether we would think it alright if a certain Rabbinical student has a real persistent penchant for ham and caves in to those desire. “The Jew who publicly proclaims his love for ham sandwiches might be a wonderful person; might be a much better man than I. But he is the wrong man to be the rabbi at any kind of synagogue — Orthodox, Conservative, or Reform,” Gelernter reasons. So being gay is akin to eating ham?

But the lunacy reaches astonishing heights when Gelernter then proceeds to compare homosexual urges to heterosexual urges to commit adultery, both of which – to his mind – disqualify someone from the ranks of the rabbinate. This is really a grotesque comparison. The whole piece reads like a facile attempt to reconcile his own personal aversion to homosexuality with his equal personal – and constrained – reading of the Jewish tradition. It is pathetic.

(Blonde) Bombshell Revelation

March 16, 2007

Damn. Valerie Plame is a fox! So much for trenchant political commentary. I’d be happy to uncover her … secret identity. (For those of you appalled by this sexist banter, there’s something I could have written here that would have been a lot worse – a lot worse.)

By the way, what’s up with the smirking frog-face in the background? He looks like a perv beating off to the hearings.