Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Global warming, clouds, and logarithmic change ... by gimleteye

My friend, a young fisherman in coastal Maine, is convinced the government is seeding the skies with chemicals and microscopic metal designed to promote cloud formation. His proof: common sense observations of the difference in the clouds above.

My friend isn't book smart, but I have confidence in his native intelligence. He insists he is not paranoid about "chemtrails", and my friend is not alone. Geo-engineering is a popular topic on chat boards, blogs and websites.

On the internet, we try to sip through a firehose gushing facts and opinions that, like geo-engineering, fail to meet the standards of science and empirical evidence.

Still, when I look up at the skies these days, I don't default to the foundation of secular humanism. I agree with my friend: on many days in New England the clouds are different from my childhood -- more than a half century ago.

Moreover I don't doubt our military and others' are experimenting with weather engineering. As a child I was fascinated with reports of aircraft "seeding" clouds to induce rainfall. Expensive follies.

From reading peer-reviewed papers published and freely available on the web I gather -- as a non-scientist -- that the science of cloud formation is extraordinarily complex. As difficult as computer modeling of clouds is, direct physical analyses of clouds is vastly more complicated.

From that complexity, I also conclude that governments are no match for the power of nature. Period. End of story.

Are governments trying to influence the climate by forcing clouds? Governments can and do abuse their power and conspire against citizens. History is filled with examples.

My friend believes that high altitude jets are criss-crossing the skies and spraying chemicals or metal particles, because -- to simplify his point of view -- he often sees on clear days how jet plane exhaust now forms clouds. I see something else.

This summer, around the world, the weather has been hotter than blazes. This isn't hyperbole. The world is on fire, reinforcing feedback loops that climate computer models can barely track much less anticipate. I have direct evidence from the ground, having recently returned from Greenland where I walked around in a t-shirt (covered with mosquito repellant) and on a melting ice cap with rivers and lakes criss-crossing its surface.
Grenland, 60 miles inland of Ilulissat, June 2016
I have a theory about public opinion in America and the environment. Individual issues -- like species protection, habitat conservation, clean air and clean water -- rarely rise to a top level of public concern and those occasions correlate to disasters that have strong visual elements for TV, jpegs, vimeo, youtube clips and memes. BP. Exxon Valdez. Bohpal, India, Flint, Michigan, and Florida algae blooms. Climate change is a different matter.

People on a deep, visceral level are anxious about climate change and all that it could bring in terms of wrecking peace, stability, and prosperity. Zika!

People see what is happening outside. They roll up their car windows, turn on the air conditioning and get on with business. But there is tension beneath the willingness, even insistence, to deny climate change.

The Republican Party just put its stamp on a platform that refuses any acknowledgement of man-made global warming or actions government could take to head our economy to higher ground. Meanwhile, in red and blue states, extreme weather dominates the news.

My young fisherman friend sees patterns in the clouds. I do, too. I try to explain, thanks to industry and progress, the thin layer of atmosphere that protects the earth now contains more carbon dioxide and methane gas than in tens of millions of years.

The atmosphere looks different because, it is extraordinarily different. What we are experiencing today is a reaction of the planet to the extraordinary influence of humans on the atmosphere and oceans. We are not moving to the future in a linear way. The uncertainties are unfolding logarithmically.

There are some metaphors that work to explain logarithmic change. Your birthdays occur on a linear timeline. Aging is logarithmic. For ten thousand years, roughly, we calendared the year as a linear series of seasons; spring, summer, fall and winter. With climate change, along with the weather the seasons are changing. Sea levels are rising. The skies are different.

Climatologists can predict the impacts of global warming. What they are discovering is that even the most conservative estimates have been overtaken by reality. By how much? We can't be sure. If every aspect of the weather were in a steady state and subject to observation, as scientists do with ice core samples from the polar regions, we might be able to devise more accurate computer models. But nature is dynamic, and the feedback loops so difficult to model -- like methane released from the melting permafrost -- inform us that our observations of the changing skies illustrate logarithmic change.

This is hard to explain to my fisherman friend. I don't see the intervention of an all-powerful government in the clouds. I don't for a minute doubt that the people who influence governments -- and especially the military -- know that global warming is a real and present danger. That is what I see, when I look into the sky and the clouds.

Exponential Growth and the Legend of Paal Paysam
Exponential Growth is an immensely powerful concept. To help us grasp it better let us use an ancient Indian chess legend as an example.

The legend goes that the tradition of serving Paal Paysam to visiting pilgrims started after a game of chess between the local king and the lord Krishna himself. (picture of 18th century Miniature of Lord Krishna playing Chess against Radha from National Museum, New Delhi)

The king was a big chess enthusiast and had the habit of challenging wise visitors to a game of chess. One day a traveling sage was challenged by the king. To motivate his opponent the king offered any reward that the sage could name. The sage modestly asked just for a few grains of rice in the following manner: the king was to put a single grain of rice on the first chess square and double it on every consequent one.

Having lost the game and being a man of his word the king ordered a bag of rice to be brought to the chess board. Then he started placing rice grains according to the arrangement: 1 grain on the first square, 2 on the second, 4 on the third, 8 on the fourth and so on:
Following the exponential growth of the rice payment the king quickly realized that he was unable to fulfill his promise because on the twentieth square the king would have had to put 1,000,000 grains of rice. On the fortieth square the king would have had to put 1,000,000,000 grains of rice. And, finally on the sixty fourth square the king would have had to put more than 18,000,000,000,000,000,000 grains of rice which is equal to about 210 billion tons and is allegedly sufficient to cover the whole territory of India with a meter thick layer of rice. At ten grains of rice per square inch, the above amount requires rice fields covering twice the surface area of the Earth, oceans included.

It was at that point that the lord Krishna revealed his true identity to the king and told him that he doesn't have to pay the debt immediately but can do so over time. That is why to this day visiting pilgrims are still feasting on Paal Paysam and the king's debt to lord Krishna is still being repaid.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A quick way to show the power of exponential growth, when given an annual percentage of increase, is by using the rule of 70. If something increases by 10% each year, you take the percent number 10 and divide it into 70. The result of 7 tells you the number of years it will take for that something to double. If a population increases 1% per year, then it doubles in 70 years, about one human lifetime...