Friday, August 08, 2014

Climate and bad news

People don't like bad news. When it comes to questions around our global climate and how news gets reported my simple assessment is that if it's bad news it tends to get moved to the fringe, rather than lead the news, not for some huge conspiratorial reason but because that's what's best for ratings.

Like consider recent news of giant holes opening up in Siberia. If you've heard of it, then it's probably because of initial news--people love novelty--widely reported, which I noticed. But why less follow-up?

I think it's because the news is bad. I'll link to an article which actually says that in the headline:

Siberian hole mystery: Scientists think they know the cause and it's bad news

And the news IS getting reported, as I can link to an article, but the follow-up should be BIG news, as it's about the possibility of releases of vast stores of methane, which is much more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

I've talked a lot about science being the art of prediction, to try and help people understand how we can have certainty about things, so that better decisions can be made. For instance, some people seem to believe in endless shades of gray, and think that proper skepticism with scientific results is simply to doubt them, but those same people casually flip a light switch without these "shades of grey" attitudes.

Greenhouse gases are why we are alive. The Earth absorbs a small amount of energy from the Sun, reflecting most of it back into space or the planet would be molten. If it reflected all of the solar energy back into space, it would be an ice ball.

We live in the balance.

So there is no doubt about what these gases do. We have scientific certainty.

What we also know is that we're putting more of these gases into our atmosphere than seem to be getting pulled back out as the planet fights for balance despite us. That fight is where we survive.

However, increasing indications are that Earth is losing that battle, and as the greenhouse gases continue to grow, more energy will be absorbed from the Sun potentially causing catastrophic changes.

The actual absolute worst case rarely reported is the possibility that temperatures soar above the boiling point of water and all life except hardy bacteria is killed, but our planet is doing quite a great job for the most part in trying to maintain the balance, and that worst case possibility is considered remote.

However, even if planet Earth saves us from this bizarre experiment where we're dumping vast amounts of greenhouse gases into our atmosphere, it's not clear how much of the world as we know it today, especially the climate we know today, will remain.

Humanity has actually arisen during a golden period in Earth's climate history when for some reason climate was really good for us. Sure there have been swings here and there like ice ages, but nothing that simply pushed us over the brink. If there had been we wouldn't be around to type about it.

The sad irony may be that with our technological development, we push things outside that special range, which may simply be how we usher in an age for some other life-form, like our own dominance required dinosaurs to take a back seat.

So maybe the final realization soon for all is that reality is bigger than all of us, and despite our delusions of grandeur or of not being natural, we are not only just a part of the natural order of our world, we're following along a predestined path to ensure our own fall from dominance.

But I like to believe we're smarter than that scenario, and understanding science is key.

Science got us into this mess, and science can get us out. But people have to understand how it works! So they can work it best.

James Harris
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