Friday, December 3, 2010

"How to live with climate change" (in a yellow submarine) [revised version]

Last week's The Economist has the best climate change cover picture ever, which gives a good leitmotif for Cancún and beyond (more than the articles). The articles in this issue focus on adaptation, on winners, losers and  consequences of global warming. It's definitively a post-Copenhagen attitude, ready for smaller steps and a more pragmatic perspective. Climate change "won't be stopped, but its effects can be made less bad". It's no longer an alarmist rhetoric between salvation or getting burned in hell; instead the title  imitates the pragmatic American "how to do " attitude: "How to live with climate change". Whatever we do, "none of this will make climate change all right. It remains the craziest experiment mankind has ever conducted. Maybe in the long run it will be brought under control. For the foreseeable future, though, the mercury will continue to rise, and the human race must live with the problem as best it can." I highlighted "craziest experiment", because this illustrates a really interesting attitude towards climate change and what to do about it. In my understanding it says that the whole world has turned into a laboratory now, and all of us are part of this experiment.
"The craziest experiment" is beautifully illustrated on the frontispiece: The farmer on his dry land underneath a merciless blue sky wears a diving helmet. This might be an allusion to rising sea levels, but I prefer another interpretation. Just like divers adapt to life underwater we have to adapt to life in the atmosphere, we have to control our air supply, the air that we breathe.  Just like astronauts in their spaceship we have to control everything in our environment in order to stay alive; we are engineers of our environment, including the atmosphere. It's not easy to be a farmer these days, or a politician, or a scientist.
addendum: artists imagined life as a technological enterprise already in the 20th century. Here you can see Salvador Dali in London, delivering a lecture in a diving suit; in the sixties, it was the Beatles who imagined 'fields of green' from inside a yellow submarine, and finally you can see a vision of spacehip earth by Buckminster Fuller - a metaphor that's still with us. (for further explication,  see comments 2 & 3):


wflamme said...

"It remains the craziest experiment mankind has ever conducted."

Who could have imagined the Amish omce would provide the ultimate world standard for sanity?

Werner Krauss said...

The vision of spaceship earth goes back to Buckminster Fuller /1969), of course. The late sixties were pretty visionary, just remember this one from the Beatles:

"As we live a life of ease /
Every one of us has all we need/
Sky of blue and sea of green /
In our yellow submarine."

Diver's or astronaut's helmet - in any case, both anticipated that someday we will depend on technological air supply.

Werner Krauss said...

Even earlier, Salvador Dali had his share in demonstrating the importance of artificial air supply, when in 1936 he held a performance lecture on the occasion of the International Surrealist Exhibition in London in order to demonstrate his famous “paranoid critical method”:

"So that his mere appearance made it perfectly clear to the audience that he was speaking to them as a radical representative of “Elsewhere” and in the name of the “Other,” Dali decided to deliver his address in a deep-sea diving suit, (….) a car radiator was mounted above the helmet, the artist was carrying a billiard queue in his hand, and was accompanied by two large dogs. (in: Sloterdijk 2009, 72f. Terror from the Air)

As Dali himself reported, many things went wrong. Due to amateurish technical understanding, he ran out of air in his closed helmet during his lecture and started to gesture wildly in search of help, red-faced and wide-eyed. The audience was enthusiastic and considered this as a part of the performance, which it definitively was not. He was finally rescued and had, according to Sloterdijk, delivered more than expected. While Dali’s initial topic was to make explicit the unconscious, he eventually made explicit the fragility of the air that we breathe.
What do we learn from this? Artists are visionary, but technologically handicapped, some times.

Alexander said...

Unfortunately, there's no direct evidence for high feedback CO2-AGW [median 0.4 W/m^2 is insignificant compared with a range of 'global dimming' of -0.4 to -2.7 W/m^2]. This prompted modeller Kiehl in 2007 to say we have to wait until CO2 has increased before we are certain the signal is genuine.

Unfortunately, this is likely to take a very long time because a basic error in the physics of the 'two-stream' approximations used to predict cloud albedo** means 'cloud albedo effect' cooling is imaginary and most likely heating, another AGW. Its median value is -0.7 W/m^2, 44% median present AGW.

This is a game changer because CO2 loses its AGW monopoly and must be at least a factor of three lower than predicted. Also, because this new AGW, probably a result of the 'Asian Brown Cloud', is self limiting, that may account for the end of rising ocean heat content in 2003: global warming stopped.

**The assumption of constant Mie asymmetry factor of the isolated sphere value is wrong because Mie assumed a plane wave, not true in a cloud. The equations may fit albedo-apparent optical depth data but that's fortuitous because as well as symmetrical internal diffuse scattering [the two stream approximation assumes it's biased upwards] there's shielding by direct backscattering at the upper cloud surface, greater for larger droplets [rain clouds are dark underneath].

So for thicker clouds, pollution increases light transmission rather than decreasing it as the climate models predict. It's amazing no-one has spotted this: Sagan's CAGW fears were misconceived: all present climate models are probably wrong.

[An albedo of 0.7 for a non-absorbing cloud is 40% direct backscattering, 30% diffuse downwards, the same upwards. The direct backscattering causes the angle-dependence noted by satellites etc.]

Hans von Storch said...

Wonderful analysis - and an optimistic outlook that after overcoming the entertainment of drama, there may be a chance to deal with the issue of climate change realistially - to take the challenge of man-made climate change seriously.

Reiner Grundmann said...

thanks for this post which I find very inspiring. From the Economist article and your comments arises the challenge of a technical utopia. Utopia not understood in a denigrating way but as the opposite of dystopia. We have to leave behind the dystopian narrative of the past decades ('it is the end of the world') and imagine a future we want to live in.

Utopian thought is, of course, as old as mankind. And technical utopias go further back than Dali I think. Marx is probably the best known author who imagined a future society based on technical possibilities of his time.

It is telling that many of today's technical utopias are based on the dystopian premiss that we need to find new planets we can colonize because he have trashed our own.

itisi69 said...

"all present climate models are probably wrong" Yes, but some are useful...

Robert J. Guercio said...


I’m not sure if I’m going about this correctly but if not, please accept my apologies.

I wrote a blog explaining how greenhouse gases cause the stratosphere to cool. Here I offer a summary:

Temperature is a measurement of the translational Kinetic Energy (KE) of the particles. When CO2 and other particles collide with each other, some of the translational KE is converted into vibrational KE of the CO2. The loss of translational KE lowers the temperature and thus excites the CO2 molecules.

Nature prefers the lowest energy state and the excited CO2 molecules give up the vibrational Kinetic Energy by returning to the unexcited ground state. In so doing, they emit Infrared radiation. In the rarefied atmosphere of the stratosphere, this radiation does not impinge on stratospheric particles and simply escapes into space.

If the CO2 level of the stratosphere increases, there are more of these reactions and the temperature is lowered.

For a complete explanation, please see my blog:

Please consider posting this blog on your site.

Thank you,