Saturday, February 17, 2007

Not that it will result in anything as pretty as the Sistine Chapel, alas...

An interesting convergence of the most recent two themes I've been going on about today in El Pais de Murdoch: it seems true believers can now buy indulgences to salve their consciences and aid the suffering souls in environmental purgatory.

Literary Competition Attempt, #2

I never did get any entries in my 'Borges by Chopper' competition. Neither did I ever finish writing my Christmas story about giant robots. However, today I found a file rattling around on my hard drive that contained very little beyond these opening sentences:

Alright, I should have been sober. But if they were in their right minds, they wouldn’t have made the thing so realistic. And they would have made it indestructible, or at least impossible to break off and carry away.

What happens next? That is the Dr Clam literary challenge, gentle readers!

Friday, February 09, 2007

Trying to stay away from big red buttons

This is just to expand my comment on Marco’s blog to make it, with any luck, a bit more obvious what I was trying to point out in my ham-fisted way.

Let us consider a series of questions, corresponding to different degree of ‘skepticism’ between ‘contrarian’ and ‘fanatic’. As you answer ‘yes’ to each question, you move closer to the position of the High Priesthood. It is their goal to sweep you onward from the question to which all sensible people would answer ‘yes’ to the question to which no sensible person would answer ‘yes’ on a wave of emotion, without stopping to think.

Q.1: Is the average surface temperature of the world increasing?

Those who would answer ‘no’ to this question might rightly be called ‘contrarians’ in a pejorative sense.

Q.2: Is this rise in temperature caused by human activity?

Those who would answer ‘no’ to this question are what you or I or Joe Q. Public would reasonably call ‘Greenhouse skeptics’. They are almost certainly wrong.

Q3: Is this rise in temperature a bad thing?
I don’t think anyone has seriously attempted to address this question. The answer ‘no’ is assumed by the High Priesthod and attempts to introduce the question are ridiculed on RealClimate. Most industrialised nations spend more energy on heating than cooling; most of the world has greater death rates in winter than summer; longer growing seasons and ice-free waters are clear bonuses for regions far from the tropics. Closer to the equator, common sense, extrapolation from ice age pollen data, and what tenuous experimental evidence exists suggests that the mid-latitude desert belts will shift towards Los Angeles, Santiago, Cape Town, Madrid, and Melbourne- which are well-off enough to cope with a bit of desertification- and away from Ciudad Obregon, Asuncion, Lusaka, N’djamena, and Tennant Creek- where more arable land would be welcome.

Q4: Should we try and stop this rise in temperature?
Or, would it make more sense to adapt to it? A degree of adaptation will be absolutely inevitable in any case, as we have absolutely no means whatsoever of stabilising the temperature at the status quo short of a nuclear winter. We could do our best to predict what climate would be like in the extreme scenario where the carbon dioxide bands are completely saturated, and plan for that. I have previously argued this at some length and pointed out that regions that are particularly vulnerable to climate change are regions that are particularly vulnerable to unchanged climate, anyway. Let’s get people off those marginal rangelands and marshy coasts: they are not good places to live.

Q5: Should we marginalise technical solutions to stopping this rise in temperature?
There seems to be a kneejerk response by the High Priesthood and their followers to sneer at technical solutions. You can see the lips curling when you read what they write. Whatever tinkering around the edges might be achievable by technical advance X, Y, or Z, we have a moral duty to change our lifestyles and adopt proscriptive social-engineering solutions. Even that guy I heard from the Wentworth Group, which is supposed to be a group of scientists, when he came to speak to a graduating class of scientists at Devil Bunny City University, only talked about political, social-engineering, Neo-Stalinist solutions.