Friday, February 8, 2013

Deep snow versus fire and brimstone

As three feet of snow come to Boston, and people in tents in Staten Island
face a foot of snow there (after a storm which may have broken all records for
damage in current dollars in US history), I find myself thinking about
global warming.

My first thought is a kind of joke:"The power of faith." Folks in Boston believe
in global warming; people in Oklahoma don't. More or less. So is it poetic
justice that Boston gets another three feet of snow, not so many
months after farms in Oklahoma were practically burned out by record
temperatures and drought in their area?

But my immediate next reaction: our dialogue and understanding of climate change
has been ever so degraded by the folks forcing it into a narrow
"warming versus not warming" channel. The possibility of "Green Sky"
in the coming century is certainly a lot less likely than substantial
global warming, but the consequences are far more severe, and it is
foolhardy in my view not to try to understand the serious risks more
clearly. I wish I could point to a serious scientific analysis of just
how much we are at risk of poisoning and radiation damage enough to
kill us -- but utterly unreliable as they are, my own ruminations are
the best I seem to have to work with lately.

I am not really worried about a re-run of the Permian-Triassic mass
death, the main theme
of Peter Ward's book. But the anoxia and poisoning from the North Atlantic
at the end of the ... paleocene in the recent (cenozoic) era... was
bad enough. Enough
to kill off most species of mammals, all big ones like us. (Again, see
Ward's book.)
A fall-off in the warming current of the northerly branch of the Gulf
Stream would be the main thing to worry about, since it is the mirror
image of the currents which have brought oxygen to the deep ocean over
the past few million years.

Another consequence of such a change in ocean currents would be...
more ice and snow in Boston, New York, England and France. So of
course I am reminded of that this past month.

But how real is the danger? Even if bad stuff will start to grow in
the dark in the winter...
won't the currents in the summer flush it out and save us? Certainly
we don't seem to
have frigid summers in those areas lately. But... how do these
currents really work?

As I try to get a rough handle on this, I see at least one extremely important
paper, which has far more depth than most people may have noticed
(as with Ward's book itself):

I suppose a lot of folks said "oh yeah, that global warming stuff is
there, all right."
(As many did with Ward's book.) BUT THERE IS A LOT MORE GOING ON THAN THAT.
I suppose, if I were trying to get a really serious evaluation of the
Green Sky risk,
that this paper would be just as important as Ward's book
(and the paper by Kump which he cites) to get a handle on it. So far,
on a first read, it does seem
to leave me about where I was... worried still, but utterly uncertain
about how the various
complex variables ultimately work out.

This kind of uncertainty is not a justfication for just ignoring things...

Best of luck,


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