Posts Tagged ‘earth’

Earth Day means nothing if We Don’t Limit Carbon Emissions

April 22nd, 2012 Comments off

The first observance of Earth Day was March 21, 1970. I was 17, and along with other students at Broad Run High School, went out with garbage bags to clean up the side of the road leading to the school. Even then, of course, the world faced much more serious pollution issues than roadside litter. But that problem was one we students could do something about.

Given the magnitude of the challenges the earth now faces, provoked by man-made global climate change as a result of our spewing massive amounts of carbon dioxide and soot into the atmosphere, the problems that were on our minds in 1970 seem in retrospect miniscule. Moreover, the idea that individuals could resolve this problem by taking individual action is a non-starter. It is a collective and infrastructural problem and we have to band together and do something about it through the instrumentality of the government. Unfortunately, our government has mostly been bought by Big Oil, so that the crisis of the environment is also the crisis of American democracy.

In 2011, fossil fuel emissions jumped about 6%, and over the past 20 years these emissions have risen half again as much. The likelihood that the world can keep the average temperature increase to only 2 degrees C is rapidly receding. We are likely headed for a 5 degrees C (over 7 degrees F) increase over the next century or two. The full impact of this radical heating of the earth won’t become apparent for centuries, since the oceans are cold and deep and will only gradually warm. If we produce the 5 degrees C. increase, the whole world will eventually be tropical, including Antarctica, and we probably will lose about a third of the world’s land mass to rising seas, displacing hundreds of millions of port city dwellers and destroying a significant percentage of global wealth. Worse, we as a species evolved and lived during relatively cold eras, and it is not clear whether we can survive in so extensively altered a world. Food issues may arise. The oceans will absorb some of the carbon dioxide, becoming acidic and inhospitable to many marine species. We could lose a lot of those species, with implications for human food sources.

Although the oceans will probably only rise a few feet this century, we could see some severe effects of the warming oceans much sooner. A US Senate hearing just pointed out that there could be storm surges and floods in coastal regions, affecting populations living 4 feet or less above sea level, and affecting energy plants along the shore. Some 4 million Americans live on the coasts at 4 feet or less above sea level, and 287 energy facilities are that low along the shores.

We are not well positioned to deal with this man-made looming catastrophe. Distant harm versus present pain at the pump makes for a very difficult calculation. Even now, government subsidies to promote clean energy are on the chopping block in the US and Germany. China has ambitious plans for renewable and nuclear energy, but is also the world’s leading carbon polluter as things now stand.

The price of solar power is falling, and will probably cross with hydrocarbons in this decade if it has not already done so. But in a world that took seriously the findings of climate science, there would be Manhattan Project-style crash programs to move the world to solar, wind, geothermal and hydro-electric power more quickly. There are many research projects, and some breakthroughs. But what we are doing now isn’t nearly enough.

So from conceiving ourselves as merely littering and poisoning the earth when I was a teenager, we have gone to a realization that we are threatening the earth with heat stroke and drowning. We have taken giant strides backwards. Our laws at state and federal levels, should reward innovation and risk-taking in the clean energy sector. Too often they do not. We need to get the right laws passed to deal with this crisis, and if representatives won’t pass them, we need new representatives.

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Kepler 22b and Climate Change: Instead of Obsessing over Earth-Like Planets, lets Try to Keep this one Earthlike

December 6th, 2011 Comments off

Dear earthlings:

It doesn’t do you any good to get all excited about finding earth-like planets like Kepler 22-B where the average temperature is 72 degrees F (22 C.), if you are going to turn your own planet into a sweltering tropical swamp.

Kepler 22b system

The Durban climate conference about the fate of our own planet has been a miserable failure. Even China’s surprise announcement of willingness to talk about binding emissions limits is less than meets the eye. We are on track for a rise in average temperatures of some 5 degrees Celsius, something the earth hasn’t experienced since the Eocene 50 million years ago (when there was no surface ice and the world was tropical to the poles, and a third more of the land mass was under water).

It is all very well to wax poetic over earth-like planets out there, but let’s try to keep this one earthlike.

NASA Ames news conference on Kepler 22b:

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‘Punching Above Its Weight’

April 13th, 2011 Comments off

“… So what on Earth is a tiny country the size of Connecticut doing waging war on a much bigger fellow Arab state thousands of miles away? Has Qatar gone crazy?…  Qatar’s intervention makes perfect sense, for three broad reasons. First, Qatar loves the limelight….  Second, and as unfashionable as it may be to say so, there are genuine humanitarian concerns afoot…. 


Third and crucially, on this occasion a number of unusual international factors coalesced, including Western and — most importantly — Arab support for action. The Arab League’s call for a no-fly zone effectively allowed Qatar to send its Mirage jets. Without this explicit political cover, had Qatar intervened unilaterally, breaking one of the key tenets of international relations — noninterference in the domestic affairs of other states — it would have been deeply isolated and unpopular at a governmental level…  What’s next? How about: sending in ground forces?……  Qatar clearly thinks that such a role is currently vacant. Gen. Mubarak al-Khayanin, the Qatari Air Force chief of staff, recently noted that traditional leaders of the region “like Saudi Arabia and Egypt haven’t taken leadership for the last three years” — a comment that no doubt raised a few eyebrows in Riyadh. The risks involved in such a deployment would be huge, not only in terms of the unprecedented notion of body bags returning to Doha or the difficulties of planning such an operation amid the highly fluid situation on the ground in Libya, but also in terms of how the likely reaction of traditional regional powers to yet another example of Qatar seeking to “rise above its station” could severely complicate intraregional relations…”

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A Geography Lesson from 1879: #1: The Earth is not a Plain

January 21st, 2011 Comments off

Once upon a time Geography went right along with the three r’s in the school curriculum. I have a copy of the geography text my great, great Aunt Ida used. This was Colton’s Common School Geography illustrated by numerous engravings and twenty-two study maps, drawn expressly for this work, and specially adapted to the wants of the class-room, to which are added two full-paged railroad maps, showing the chief routes of travel, and a complete series of twelve commercial and reference maps of the United States. It was published by Sheldon and Company, located at the time on 8 Murray Street in New York, in 1879.

In 1879, when my discipline of Anthropology was still in academic diapers, Geography was defined as “that branch of science which describes the surface of the earth, the divisions and inhabitants” (p. 3). Apparently back then it was still important to show why we knew the earth was not flat. As the text explains:

We know that the earth is not a plain, because 1. Navigators have sailed around it; 2. The upper portions of objects at a distance, as a ship at sea, are seen before any other part; 3. The shadow of the earth, as seen at the time of an eclipse of the moon, has always the form of a circle or a segment of a circle. (p. 3)

In discussing land divisions some 20 different kinds are listed, including a desert (“a tract of land nearly or quite barren”) and an oasis (“a fertile spot in the desert”) with both of these rating an illustration as shown above.

to be continued

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Shin Bet Chief on Internet Dangers

November 2nd, 2010 Comments off

They say when you have a hammer, every problem begins to look like a nail. I suppose when you’re an internal security service, everything begins to look like it’s helping your enemies.

Israeli Shin Bet Chief Yuval Diskin told a conference on homeland security that Google Earth, the Internet, and smartphone apps have given terrorists access to intelligence they didn’t have before. He said:

“The terrorist threat in the future has become more complex,” Diskin said. “The world has turned into a ‘global village’ and everything is available to everyone. The world is smaller and broader and technology can cross continents.”

Don’t you just hate it when that happens?

The Internet has made it possible for a lot more openness: this blog once had some fun with Google Earth that might not sit well with Shin Bet, but that I would consider liberating, not threatening. On the whole, I think technology has opened things up, because it empowers everyone, not just the terrorists. Arabs can read the Israeli media. Arabs and Israelis quarrel all the time on forums, but at least they’re interacting. Technology is opening up the world, and that’s for the best. They can have my Google Earth when they pry it from my cold, dead hands.

Oh, yes: those dangerous IPhone apps Diskin mentioned: are they available for Android?

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Climate Change: 18 Percent more Freshwater circulating into Oceans

October 7th, 2010 Comments off

“Freshwater is flowing into Earth’s oceans in greater amounts every year, a team of researchers has found, thanks to more frequent and extreme storms linked to global warming. All told, 18 percent more water fed into the world’s oceans from rivers and melting polar ice sheets in 2006 than in 1994, with an average annual rise of 1.5 percent…”

‘…. “precipitation is increasing in the tropics and the Arctic Circle with heavier, more punishing storms. Meanwhile, hundreds of millions of people live in semiarid regions, and those are drying up.” ‘

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Google Earth helps discover massive meteor crater

September 29th, 2010 Comments off

Google Earth has helped spot a meteor crater in Egypt that lay undiscovered, which could help scientists size up risks of potentially catastrophic impacts.
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Noah and the ark, seven centuries ago

July 6th, 2010 Comments off

The story of Noah is shared in the three main monotheisms and still inspires creationists who are convinced that opportunist quasi-Neptunist forces from the great Deluge laid down almost all sedimentary layers on Earth. Above is an illustration from the Jami‘ al-tawarikh, produced in 1314/1315 for the Iranian vizier Rashid al-Din. In this case the ark was not the biblical box but a typical Arab dhow of the time with two masts, two steering oars and a rudder. The manuscript is housed in the Nasser D. Khalili Collection of Islamic Art in London.

Illustration from Art of the First Cities, edited by Joan Aruz (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2003), p. 491.

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Lanterns on for Earth Hour in UAE

March 27th, 2010 Comments off

Hundreds, from white-robed Emiratis to foreigners in shorts, march with small lanterns for Earth Hour.
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Heard before…: "Netanyahu, to press the US to release sophisticated bunker-buster bombs for Iran strike"

March 21st, 2010 Comments off

LT/ here … Another earth shattering piece of complementary news: “Ban Ki-moon, said: “Let us be clear: all settlement activity must stop”

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