Ultimate Fighting, Round 3

Welcome to our third round of the ultimate fight between humanity in one corner, and Mother Nature in the other.  Mom, as I like to call her, is absolutely radiant and beautiful, but she packs a wallop.  Humanity, as we all know, also has a certain beauty.  But, since we ourselves are all too human, we can also see many blemishes and frailties.  Keep your fingers crossed!

In a real sense, we have been ‘fighting’ Mom since our birth.  Humanity is the one species that keeps pushing the boundaries of what Mom says we can, and can not do.  Don’t play with fire, she said.  Then one day one of us discovered how useful fire could be, and so we tamed it.  Don’t jump off cliffs, she said.  Yet, here we are, with all sorts of people jumping off cliffs wearing wing suits.  And so it goes.

Climate change is one of those battles.  In the fight with Mom, however, it’s a relatively minor spar.  One, maybe two jabs at the most.  Why?

Because there are even bigger issues at stake.  Just because we can see a single punch coming doesn’t mean that the entire fight can be described by one punch.  The reason most boxing matches go “the distance” and are decided on technical factors is because the fight is composed of many different components.

We are fighting Mom on many fronts, and taking many jabs.  We are experimenting with new compounds in our products.  As a result, those compounds end up in our food, our water, our bodies.  Most frightening is that all of these compounds haven’t been fully tested on people.

I’ve only recently learned that a woman, pregnant with her daughter, can ingest or breath some of these compounds.  Once these compounds are inside her body, they can be taken up by her embryonic daughter.  This is scary in and of itself, but we’ve known this for some time.  But it’s not the truly scary part.

Our technology has gotten good enough such that we can now prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that those same compounds are not only taken up by the embryonic daughter, but that those same compounds are incorporated into her eggs.

The mother has been poisoned.  She has also poisoned her unborn daughter.  And her grandchild.  In many ways this is more critical than climate change.

Who says Mom can’t pack a wallop?

Ultimate Fighting, Round 1

Imagine entering a huge arena.  A spot of intense light reveals a boxing ring in the distance, spotlights lining the edges of the arena, all seats filled.  The audience?  Every life form that exists, and ever has existed.  Elephants sitting next to amoebas, an octopus next to the hummingbird, and even the lowly virus has shown up to see the event sitting in special quarantine box seats.

The referee grabs the microphone.  “In this corner, we have the young upstart – Heeu-man-itee!”  A small cheer goes up, mostly from the primates.

“In the opposing corning, we have the reigning cham-peen, vanquisher of all things, the bringer of life, and incarnation of death itself, Muth-Er Nay-chur!”  A huge roar as almost every living thing vibrates the air in some way.

“All right you two.  I want a clean fight, no cheating!”  DING!

The fight is on in the form of today’s rancorous political debates about climate change, and an undercurrent of bravado exists in all camps.  The deniers claim that the scientists have their signals wrong, or that everything they are seeing is simply a “new normal.”  The doomsayers are equally intent in their own convictions, as well as confident as to their suggestions for addressing the problem.

The details of either side aren’t important for now.  What we’re going to focus on is the single confrontation between humans and Mother Nature.  Let’s call her Mom for short.

People feel powerful.  We have conquered fire, we build houses that touch the sky.  We build large lakes where none existed in order to generate power and feed a billion people.  We fly through the air even though we haven’t any wings.  We swim deep under the water, even though we have no gills.  We have seen the atom, and the edge of the observable universe.  No wonder we feel powerful.

On the other hand, what has Mom done lately?  She’s pretty tame, for the most part.  In fact, 999 times out of a thousand, Mom is nothing but peace and quiet.  Waves gently lapping at the shore, gentle breezes rustling the leaves, puffy clouds.

Don’t be fooled.  Mom can jostle a tectonic plate and bring down entire cities.  She can burp a volcano and cancel summer.  She can twist a hurricane out of thin air and wash away a coastline.  And she can parch an entire continent for decades without even trying.

Here’s where bravado meets reality.  Mom is all powerful.  She represents forces many times greater than we can even dream of harnessing.  What little we have accomplished was done with her passive acquiescence.  Should she ever object, there is nothing we can do that can stop her.

This is an important reality check for all true students, whether of behavior or civil engineering or anything else.  We succeed only as much as Mom allows.  We must show her respect, and pray for mercy.

Now, back to our boxing ring.  I hope we didn’t miss anything.

DING!   “And the weenner is …!”


Polar bears in Hawaii?

I’m going to miss polar bears in the arctic.  The way the ice is melting, they are going to have to relocate to Hawaii.  They are a grand mammal.  As a human, I’m reconciled to the fact that my species has put many other species out of business.  It’s unfortunate, because there is so much that they could teach us.  They don’t call it survival of the fittest for nothing!

Melting ice, rising seas, stronger storms and longer droughts.  Instead of complaining about them, let’s do something about them.  How about moving our cities to higher ground?  That will make a lot of great job openings in the construction and furniture moving industries.  Insurance rates will have to rise.  That will mean lots of great jobs for adjusters, actuaries, and salespeople.  Food prices will rise and become less predictable.  Maybe that will help drive more people to buying good, natural, organic local produce.

There’s a good chance the next hurricane or earthquake will catch us by surprise.  Precious funds will be spent rebuilding instead of relocating.  Those same funds won’t be available for science, or for maintaining our infrastructure.  Society will slowly decline.

Then again, perhaps the rising sea will activate a country like China to take a bold move.  Something we have been dreaming about for decades, but never had the courage or commitment to enact.  Perhaps, like a tiger backed into a corner, the Chinese will spend their resources on developing a colony on the moon.  In this way, though many would perish on the shrinking coastline remaining on Earth, a few courageous colonists would transport the culture to a new world.  It’s like putting some of your valuables in a safe, or putting your eggs in two baskets instead of one.  The Chinese may be able to safeguard their culture in ways our own nation can no longer afford.

After all, it first takes recognition of the problem (climate change – rising seas – etcetera), the ability to plan for the long term (Chinese communist government creates 5 year plans), a population that is relatively easy to lead, and a whole lot of cash!

So, climate change may not be as bad as “they” say it is.  Warmer winters up north, and maybe a Chinese colony on the moon.

As far as our behavior is concerned, there is a far more serious threat to our existence.  science likes to say that in climate change we are fiddling with Mother Nature.  And Mother Nature does NOT like fiddling; and she takes no prisoners.  However, we are fiddling with Mother Nature in ways that are far more serious than anything climate change can bring.  But that’s for next week.

In the meantime, I’m going to hug my stuffed polar bear.


Terran Fever

Earth is warming!  CO2 is bad!  What should we do?

First, don’t panic.  Let’s look at our behavior in order to understand where the problem comes from.

Scientists call climate change that is mostly influenced by people by a fancy name; anthropogenic forcing.  All this means is that us people are the main suspect.

The reason we are all suspects is because we are holding a smoking gun.  Carbon dioxide.  Turns out that CO2 does a great job of trapping heat in our sky.  Thanks to some scientists back in the 50s, we’ve been measuring CO2 in the air pretty continuously.  Guess what?  It’s going up.  Turns out that it started going up back when the industrial revolution was invented.  We know this because other scientists have helped push back our understanding of CO2 far back in time.

As students of behavior, we shouldn’t be surprised.  After all, the smoking gun of CO2 is exactly that, smoking.  The very day our first ancestor, Glog, nurtured a wild fire is the day climate change started.  Glog learned that by nurturing a wild fire, she could use the fire to cook her meat, or warm her children, and maybe even both.  Women probably had to be multi-tasking even in those days.

Through her entirely willful act, a typically natural occurrence was kept going longer than normal.  That makes it ab-normal!  If today’s scientists had tools that were infinitely accurate, they could tell us that day.  Alas, they can’t.

But we know that day exsts, because we ultimately tamed fire.  After fire, we developed tools, discovered oil, invented internal combustion engines, and all sorts of other nice toys.  Today we are feeling some more of the after-affects of our decisions.

So climate change is not new, only our recognition is new.  Now that we recognize the first, what do we do next? Stay tuned!


Can you change your underwear without changing the climate?

The North Pole is melting!  My beach is getting smaller!  Polar bears are moving South!  And carbon dioxide is hazardous to your health!

We’ve all heard the news, especially on a hot or cold day.  In the US we have the added benefit of also hearing from climate change deniers.  It remind me of when most Europeans thought Columbus would fall off the edge of the Earth.  Denying reality can make for good politics, but lousy science.  Oh heck, who am I kidding?  Denying reality is what politics is all about!  We’ll focus on politics another day, when we’ve both had more to drink.

Today I want to talk about climate.  What is climate?  Climate is the weather that you expect to get.  What is weather?  Weather is what you actually get!

Now, here’s the big idea for today’s entry; mankind has been altering the climate ever since we’ve been old enough to smoke!  No, I don’t mean smoking the evil weed.  I’m referring to FIRE!

But wait, there’s more.  We’re not the only species that’s guilty of this heinous crime, if it really is a crime.  It turns out that all life has been altering climate ever since, well, life itself!  Here’s the crime scene.  A tiny rocky planet, bombarded with watery comets and lots of dust, about 4 billion years ago.  It gets cool enough to start thinking about a vacation in Alaska when suddenly some blue goo appears on the beach.  Fine, not exactly “suddenly,” but you get the idea.  In fact, we have no idea how life started, but we do know about the goo.  There was enough of it that it formed hard layers in the early seas and hardened into rock.

The cool thing about this blue goo is that it was able to use the sunlight to take apart the atmosphere in such a way that it could feed itself; photosynthesis.  The blue goo was algae, and the atmosphere was pretty much all nitrogen and carbon dioxide.  A real bummer if you were an oxygen breather, but for CO2 beings life was great.

The greatest think about blue goo was that it took in CO2 and “pooped” oxygen.  In fact it took a few BILLION years for the algae to make enough oxygen to make it worthwhile for us oxygen breathers to bother being born.  Today there’s just enough oxygen to keep us breathing easy, but not enough to set the world on fire.  Literally.

So the algae “terraformed” the planet, making it habitable for us humans.  Did anyone complain back then?  I can imagine the cover of the “Algal Times” as it must have appeared 2 billion years ago.  “Experts claim climate change inevitable. Oxygen rising to dangerous levels! All life in danger!  Film at 11!”

The papers were partly right – climate change did occur.  But life didn’t die out, not all of it anyway.  It partially died, while others took the opportunity to use this new powerful gas and went on to create millions of new species… including us.

All life changes our planet in some small way, simply by existing.  The real question is, how much will it change?  How much of that change is due to our “natural” behavior, and how much is “willful” or unnatural?  Even more important are these last questions, how do we want to react to the coming changes.  Can we ignore it?  Or should we start learning how to swim?

I hope I don’t run into a polar bear.