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The reason there are no simple answers - Tactical Ninja

Jan. 16th, 2012

08:29 pm - The reason there are no simple answers

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I have a set of word fridge magnets, haiku themed, that were a gift for Christmas. They are quite cool. We have made such poetic lines as "She investigates concrete" and "We like mushrooms". However today I noticed there is no 'woman' in the set. And before you ask, there is a 'man'. We have 'him' and 'her' and 'his' but not 'hers'. I am unimpressed by the lack of haiku-able femininity.


Today we looked at variations in climate - or, the things that mean you can't just say "If we do X, then the temperature will go up by Y, and the future weather will be Z, A, B." Top tip : there are lots of them - some natural and some anthropogenic.

Some of the things that affect the global climate (and also local ones) include:

Volcanoes, sunspots, greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, aerosols in the atmosphere, cloud cover, land use changing albedo.

Then we have the things we know are feedbacks, ie they change due to changes caused by those things above and have further impacts on the climate:

Water vapour in the atmosphere (causes heating, which causes more water vapour to end up in the atmosphere); Ice albedo (reduces when ice melts, reducing reflectivity, increasing temperature); cloud feedback (which may or may not alter how much sun gets in and how much heat escapes - they don't actually know but they know it does something; the biosphere (things like photosynthesis of plankton and its 'eating' of carbon dioxide, reduction of forest causing increases albedo but decreased carbon dioxide uptake).

So, it's complicated. And known as a dynamic equilibrium. Insert stuff about the Gaia hypothesis and Daisyworld here.

And then we have stuff like the difference between the land and ocean heating rates from the same amount of sun, the earth's rotation creating weather patterns including global ones like trade winds and ocean currents like the thermohaline circulation - which, incidentally, will not create an ice age in two days if it stops. It might make Europe a bit colder. Um, where was I? That's right, variables. We have seasons, axial tilt, large land masses affecting currents and winds, and things like El Niño and La Niña - and I finally found out what causes them.

Incidentally, we're currently in La Niña, which in NZ is quite pleasant because it makes things a bit warmer and reduces the wind somewhat.

And there are other effects similar to those ones like decdal variabilities and annular modes - none of which have any net effect on global balance, but which do affect what weather we're having in any given year - thus, if the climate increases in temperature by 2 degrees and we get La Niña, it'll be still warmer, whereas if we get El Niño on top of that, it may cancel out the increase - but only for that year.

The upshot of all this is that it's really, really hard to predict what effects climate change will have, because there are so many variables and those variables produce feedbacks which create further variables, and on top of that we have variations that will exacerbate or cancel out the effects of our double-decker variable stack.

Lost yet? Well, the climate folks are trying to make exactly such projections using models. It's got a lot easier since the advent of computers. The history of climate modelling goes like this:

Mid 70s - the variables the models took into account were rain, CO2, and solar radiation.
Mid 80s - the model worlds got land, clouds and some ice.
1990 - they realised the worlds should have oceans, but only included them as static bodies of water.
1995 - added volcanic activity, sulphates, and circulation in the oceans.
2003 - added the carbon cycle, aerosols, rivers, and overturning circulation in the oceans (thermohaline).
2007 - models now include atmospheric chemistry (such as CFC effect on ozone and the repair of the ozone hole) and interactive vegetation.

And all the time, as processing power increases, the resolution of these models is improving. Also, if this stuff interests you, you can add your machine to a network and help run models at this site. Neat!

So the upshot of all that is that models to make projections for climate change have come a long way since climate change was first a thing. The models are now (in retrospect) able to pretty accurately predict rainfall, effects of volcanic activity, model water vapour feedback and global cooling, and project long term trends. The modelling hardware at NIWA is currently doing about 50 teraflops of projecting long term trends. It has to, with all those variables.


And in case you haven't been paying attention, these increasingly-accurate models are projecting a minimum of two degrees warming even if we reduce our emissions today. Two degrees? Not much eh? Have a look at what the increasingly accurate models are saying the impact of two degrees would be. And remember, they are now saying a minimum of two degrees. Meanwhile, 2010 was a record year for emissions, and 2011 is shaping up to be another.

So, um, do something* please. Like, now. And convince those around you to do something too - including voting with this as a major issue. Because if you don't, we are all fucked, essentially.

Finally, we lost Ben Hana yesterday. Ben was an institution in Wellington. He wasn't only a character who pretty much everyone recognised, he was a symbol of a city in which homelessness did not make one invisible. Tell me something, Wellingtonians - now Ben is gone do you know the names of any of the homeless people here any more? Because there's a bunch of them. I hope the outpouring of *dunno what to call it* for Ben doesn't lead to self-satisfied backpatting and ignoring the issues that he made plainer by his presence.

* I feel pretty justified in spitting on people who drive inessential SUVs to be honest. Those folks? Don't care if I die and they place their status above my survival. Fuck them.

Comments:

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From:farmgeek
Date:January 16th, 2012 07:51 am (UTC)
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I wish the solution was as simple as recycling all SUVs, and their owners, into more productive objects (ploughs, and compost respectively). If that happened tomorrow we'd be slightly less screwed than we are now, but still not sufficiently so to be non-screwed.

SUV owners are a perfectly valid target of climate-rage (is that a thing yet?) but it does gloss over the point that all of us are the the bad guys so far as our current system of growing, making, procuring, transporting, using and disposing of stuff is concerned.

We have to change everything, or failing that, focus on mitigation and adaptation after a brief wake for "the way things used to be".
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From:tatjna
Date:January 16th, 2012 07:58 am (UTC)
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Well, yes.

SUVs are simply a large and blatantly obvious example of the way we as a species/society seem either unwilling or incapable when it comes to sacrificing lifestyle in order to do what needs to be done to make things better long-term, even when whacked over the head with evidence.

Everyone knows SUVs are bad for the environment and less safe, yet sales of them are ever-increasing. And from my perspective, that is a symptom of the actual problem and making hyperbolic statements about SUV owners is a very good way of illustrating this.

Which is just me repeating what you just said back at you. Heh.

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From:richdrich
Date:January 16th, 2012 08:11 am (UTC)
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Edge suburbs.
Coal mining.
Gas fired power plants.
Low cost airlines.

I don't believe any of it is actually amenable to people deciding to change their lifestyles, because a small minority of intelligent liberals in wealthy countries will change, and everyone else either won't or can't give a fuck. We're just going to have to live with flooded cities and food crises. Sorry and that.

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From:tatjna
Date:January 16th, 2012 08:15 am (UTC)
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Yeah, pretty much. I was sitting there today thinking about what it would take to motivate us* to make lifestyle sacrifices now for long term wellbeing, and the only scenario I could think of was when the flooded cities and food crises actually hit Western countries. By which time it's too late. ;-/

There's a school of thought that says 'tech will save us' - that's what our poster is about. My essay, on the other hand, is about how tech won't save us till governments get the will to support tech to mass implementation level, which means *loop back to first paragraph*

* where values of us includes enough of us to actually make a difference
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From:richdrich
Date:January 16th, 2012 07:37 pm (UTC)
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There's an argument that waiting for technical solutions is just an excuse for just waiting.

NZ, for instance, could get to 100% renewable electricity using standard production equipment - no research required.

Also, a lot of enthusiasm is misplaced - for example hydrogen electrolysis projects (http://ecosummit.net/articles/solarfuel-pioneers-power-to-gas-technology-and-new-multi-billion-euro-market).

The problem with that is - we actually make hydrogen today, mostly as a precursor for fertilizer. It's almost all made from natural gas (in Taranaki amongst other places), because electrolysis is uneconomic. Stopping making methane into hydrogen would seem an important first step to making hydrogen into methane.
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From:tatjna
Date:January 16th, 2012 07:58 pm (UTC)
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The majority of experts (at international panel level) seem to agree that the technology exists already to address climate change - but there's a gap between existing and being available for mass implementation, and that gap would have to be filled by political will which is currently lacking.

Thus, my wonkbrain is more interested in how to create political will than how the tech works. ;-)
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From:tyellas
Date:January 16th, 2012 08:11 am (UTC)
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I don't know if he's homeless but I am on speaking terms with "Captain Andrew" - if you see an amiable man in a green quasi-military outfit with a white rabbit skin on his hat, that's him.
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From:downwardlashes
Date:January 16th, 2012 06:31 pm (UTC)
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I think when people think about "Everyone knows SUVs are bad for the environment" they mentally equate it with things like "Everyone knows getting drunk is bad for you". So their primate brain is all "Oh, well, they say it's bad but I haven't really met with any consequences that have really bothered me."
It's depressing. Here we think we're such a smart species, when we obviously can't even take care of our world because our brains aren't equipped for it (as a species whole).

But anyway, I'm actually terrified of commenting on your discussion posts because I always get pwned even when I didn't mean to join in in any way. I'll just cross my fingers that people scroll past what I have to say.
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From:tatjna
Date:January 16th, 2012 06:44 pm (UTC)
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Awww, that's sad to hear. I know there are some scary smart people on here (at least, that's how I see them) - but I don't like to think that it's scaring people away! ;-(

Anyway, I agree with you - we seem to be very good at rationalising based on our immediate desires, especially if immediate consequences aren't forthcoming. A part of my essay is going to be (hopefully) about what I call 'the cake problem' - where you go to the gym so feel justified in having that slice of cake. I can just picture my freshly spat-on SUV owner being all "BUT I RECYCLE!" You know?

Sadly, the psychology of inaction lecture isn't till the last week. Meanwhile, there's this.
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From:downwardlashes
Date:January 16th, 2012 09:26 pm (UTC)
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It's just scaring me away I'm sure, because I'm really uncomfortable with debate or competition. Don't worry!

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