Tag: climate change

Revolutionising climate science

Humans have always been a curious species. If they observe something, they desperately seek answers to the ‘how’ and the ‘why’. Study of climate was also born this way. On October 11, Kerry Emanuel spoke to us about the various revolutions in the field of climate study, and how how these revolutions have shaped climate science as we know it. These revolutions include various feats by mankind like the discovery of the greenhouse effect to the determination of the causes of the ice ages.

Some people might be wondering that amidst some revolutions capable of overthrowing governments and changing major political landscapes, do revolutions in climate science actually have any major significance? Well, the answer is yes. For it will be a revolution in climate science itself which finally finds solution to the externalities of global warming. This brings me to my next point, the motivation to address these particular externalities. There has been ample evidence throughout history which suggests that the field of climate science has not always been given its due respect by people. The classic example would be the greenhouse effect. This particular phenomena appears to be something which was recently discovered. However, some argue that this effect was actually known since around 200 years, but nobody just cared about it. When it finally got to the point where the living conditions were in possibility of grave jeopardy, only then did the people wake from their slumber.

Yet, it is believed that the best of climate revolution is still to come. Analysts argue that series of technological developments would play a crucial role in the future. Chris Goodall, an expert in New Energy Technologies, in his book ‘The Switch’ touches upon various aspects of future climate revolutions. Now, the question arises, will we let that future in climate revolution happen? There are dangerous indications which might lead us to conclude with a ‘no’. For all his business acumen, it is widely known that President Elect Donald Trump has not always believed in the idea of climate change. His cabinet selections further seem to indicate that he might not bother about it during his tenure.

This is what needs to be different about a future climate revolution. It has to global. Not China’s, where living conditions are insufferable due to vast amounts of carbon dioxide. Not India’s, where smog envelopes even the capital city, Delhi. And not USA’s. The global community needs to come together and support the climate science community so that the revolution can happen. Otherwise, we are done for.

Revolutions in Climate

Curiosity on the magic of life itself has always been a driving force towards discoveries in the scientific field of study. Revolutions, by nature, shatter the existing order of whatever it is they are ‘revolutionizing’ and lay the groundwork for a new paradigm and understanding. In her lecture, Dr. Kerry Emanuel spoke of how this pertained to one of history’s largest, most important and currently ongoing revolutions: the Climate revolution. As humans, we question and we search for answers, and this has given birth to some of the most interesting fields of study out there.

It is important to note that revolutions do not appear out of nowhere rather they have a source that fuels them. Questioning natural elements has led scientists and experts of other related fields of study to discover their answers and through this, humans understanding of our climate has drastically advanced. For instance, decades ago when climate research was still in its early stages, discoveries of large ice sheets led to questions and a new understanding of what caused the Earth’s surface temperatures to shift – this, in turn, helped lead to our understanding of greenhouse gasses. Beyond that figure, it has been over the past two-hundred years that small steps have gradually been taken to understanding the field of science. It is small steps that carry big ideas, and our understanding of such big ideas evolve over time deductively becoming comprehensive.

Climate change is in a current crisis and it has been curiosity about our natural elements that has evolved over time and gotten us to our current state. We are more aware than ever of the challenges facing our planet and because of the knowledge which we have accumulated over time, we are in a technological position where we are able to fight such dangers. Alternative energy courses, for instance, have been a rising industry and countries are becoming more united to pass multilateral legislation.

Every revolution, by nature, comes with an opposing force and the climate revolution is no exception to such rule. Legislative actions are stuck in gridlock as climate change opponents continue to block efforts at taking action. Our society has a greater understanding than ever of the world around us and we now need to embark on the next step to save our planet. Revolutions come from a series of small steps, no matter how small or how large, and our current understanding of climate change has taught us that the planet is in danger and needs saving.

Climate Science and Our Curiosity

For a long time, climate change has always been an important topic. Especially in this presidential election, different groups represented different ideas on climate change. However, what is the science foundation of the study of climate science? How did people get to know about climate? Dr. Kerry Emanuel, professor of atmospheric science in MIT, provided us with some of methodologies in his lecture.

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One of the key things that Dr. Emanuel mentioned was that while a series of revolutions are very notable and important, equally important is the gradualism in between. After all, some build up, slow as it may be, must be in place to spark a revolution. Unfortunately, this sounds kind of like global warming. Global average temperatures have risen slowly but surely yet there has not been any revolutionary action by us. Yes, there has been slow but useful response to climate. Things like the Paris Climate Agreement are steps in the right direction. Hopefully past and future solutions will be enough to prevent any revolution inducing natural disaster.

The first manifestations of climate science began in observations of glacial erratics, glaciers, and ice sheets. It is incredible to think of the massive continental ice sheets carving out the lands that we know today. Human caused climate change is a widely accepted phenomenon (even if a major political party in the United States refuses to make it a part of their platform). The widespread evidence of an anthropogenic effect on climate seems relatively recently, but its idea was born near the end of the nineteenth century. As an EcoRep at Colby, I appreciate that we have gotten to the point of having positions everywhere to promote more sustainable and environmentally friendly activity.

All over the world greener energy production be it wind, solar, or nuclear is being implemented. A very interesting ongoing debate is over how much nuclear energy we should use. It is an incredible efficient source that many were very excited about in the 20th century, but following disasters in the USSR and more recently in Japan, interest in some places has cooled. Obviously nuclear fusion power plants have the potential to be extremely dangerous, and they generate dangerous waste (though arguably less harmful than the waste created by traditional power plants). Nuclear energy is also never going to run out, while something like coal will. But think, just creating a nuclear power plant itself is an amazing feat and took a series of revolutions and gradualism on its own.

All this said, with developing countries like China and India consuming more and more energy – often clean non-renewable energy – is putting your plastic bottle in the recycling bin rather than the trash going to cut it?

The question becomes (since stopping global climate change from human pollution seems near impossible) can technology solve our problems? It won’t be easy but I think/hope so. The main barrier to do so would be economic, but outcomes of things like sea level rise would be much more expensive. We can scrub carbon dioxide out of the air, cloud seed, artificially adjust the temperature of the planet. However, any of the things humans decide to try could have unintended consequences on a global scale. We will see, but solving this problem will also take a series of revolutions complemented by that ever-important gradualism.

The Truth of Climate Science as the Product of Many Minds

Professor Emanuel began the lecture by noting that science proceeds as series of revolutions and collective small steps taken by a large body of scientists. In a course about revolutions we tend to focus on the big jumps that caused controversy and redefined the science of an era; however, the sum progress of these “small steps” outweighs the advancement by any single jump, these small steps just tend to go unnoticed. Newton, a revolutionary scientist, accredited the large body of scientists that created the base for his knowledge when he said that “if [he] [had] seen further, it [was] by standing on the shoulders of giants.” The sum of small scientific discoveries, or even corrections of previous thought, creates a collective body of knowledge, without which large jumps in scientific knowledge could not occur.
Climate science, like all science, had progressed since around the 18th century in both small steps and large leaps. It all began with curiosity. 18th Century scientists noticed large markings, striations, on massive rocks and wondered how they got there. This sparked research into glaciers, and eventually precipitated the idea of ice ages. In 1875 James Croll published Climate and Time–an accessible book that caused in revolutionary thought by explaining climate shifts over time. Croll, however, was not a revolutionary scientists, he was a gifted writing that could explain the revolutionary ideas of the scientists before him for the greater public to understand. Without the contributions of his many predecessors, Climate and Time would not have been written, and the revolutionary ideas never circulated throughout society-at least not for some time.
Fourier and Kirchloff were among the first scientists to explore radiation of heat. Their work was not directed at explaining climate change, but rather exploring curious phenomena. Their theories and equations contributed to the work done by later scientists, like Tyndall, Stefan and Boltzmann, Planck, Arrhenius, Milankocíc and Urey who were able to, collectively, explain how the concepts proposed by previous scientists contributed to the increasing temperature of the earth.
The idea that humans have caused major and disproportionate changes earth’s climate is a revolutionary and, for some, controversial fact that prevails in the modern world. The advancement of climate science stemmed from revolutions, and small steps, in geology, physics, and chemistry. Climate change is the most relevant issue relating to the future of humankind in the modern world, or at least it’s up there with total nuclear destruction. Have we exploited the planet irreversibly, and thus ruined the existence of our kind? How much more can the planet take? What can we do to change and reverse our mistakes? Further research into climate science, geology, physics, and chemistry might be able to supply the world with some answers, but are we willing to accept them?

The lack of knowledge of non-anthropogenic power

For years, humans have been influencing the natural world as one single species. With the creation of words such as “untouched nature,” we kind of distinguish ourselves from the environment that sustains us. Although we humans have been modifying the landscape intentionally selecting the species that is beneficial for us, we should not ignore the fact that a lot of non-anthropogenic power has also affected our well-being and social structure.

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Climate Change Death Anxiety

We are the only species capable of modifying our climate. Just let that sink in. We’re messing with the entire planet. We’re tampering with one of the fundamental natural aspects of the earth as if it were nothing. I mean, we’re all going to die, right? Climate change doesn’t seem like such a bad way to go: the rise in temperature will make some strange infectious virus kill us all, the economy will collapse and we’ll run out of food and water, the political tensions will become unbearable, some suicidal terrorist group will act up, and we’ll basically die in an environment incompatible with human life.

But we might have a chance.

Although there is no terminal horizon to our climate crisis now, we do have time to enjoy some good dystopian entertainment. In such books and movies, we’re pitted against monsters, aliens, natural disasters, giant robots, genetically modified dinosaurs… and somehow manage to survive. Our fears are manifested in creatures, monsters, or situations that imply that we’re tampering with nature at a greater, more abstract scale. And as always, our entertainment manages to mirror the time and culture we’re immersed in with precision and critique. Climate change is terrifying and makes me think that we’re a time-bound species on Earth. We can live under certain conditions that by chance emerged on Earth and just as they emerged, they can disappear. We’re making all of these changes happen and affect our environment and just don’t think about how fragile we are. What’s also more surprising about the scale of our impact is that long after we die, the effects of our actions here will leave geological scars on earth.

Even though part of dealing with extreme weather events is denial, paralysis and overall losing faith, instead of intimidating us and describing what dangers we’ll face, it should inspire us to change (or move to change). Just as the protagonists of our favorite movies accept their fears and overcome them, so can we. Thinking about climate change and even naming it “climate change” already reflects not only a change in the weather, but also a change in the way we think about change. We’re already realizing that this is a multidisciplinary issue that is challenging all of our faculties and everything we thought we knew about the world. We’re becoming more careful about overstepping nature’s boundaries and our involvement with it, and becoming more sensitive about overstepping human boundaries as well.

We need to save us from ourselves. There’s not much we can do about a climatic event, but we can do something about the way we react to it. Although we can’t adopt an idealistic and naïve perspective about saving the world, we shouldn’t fall to the cynical opposite either. If not, what hope for humanity is there?

Let’s do something about it

Tambora eruption of 1815? Hmm, maybe vaguely rings a bell. The “Year Without a Summer”? Yup, I definitely know about that! But not really – the bits and pieces I heard on NPR a few years ago barely touched on the deeper issues that Gillen Wood approached. Tales of Frankenstein, violence, eating horses, feeding the starving, and revolution! And when you think about it, why wouldn’t a global scale geological event disrupt society and spur a “revolution” of sorts? Using our word, “revolution,” as a metaphor, you could say that we are going through a climate change revolution right now.

Technology has allowed humans to adapt and live relatively comfortably in almost all regional climates across, the earth. Whether it is the bitter cold of Antarctica or the deserts of the southwestern United States, we have climate controlled our living environment and diverted water to where this is none. The potential irony is that cooling down your home in the hot weather is contributing to that warmer weather! Weather and climate drove the human race to innovate shelter, and mechanisms for storing and transporting food, yet can we rely on technology to dig us out of a changing climate, a warming planet? Yes, technology is an answer. But will we be proactive or reactive? At the time of the Tambora eruption, many countries did have fail safes in place for a couple years of food shortages, but not enough. However, they didn’t even know what happened, and obviously had no control over a volcanic eruption. Today we have clear links to earth’s climate change, and we have the time (barely) and the ability to make a change, prepare, and solve the problem of waste and pollution.

Unfortunately, there are already many people suffering from climate change and a shortage of food and water. Why must it be that events of extreme human suffering and war be the events that spur our large scale innovation? Gillen Wood noted how following the Tambora eruption, the food shortage was just enough to cause mass stress, political unrest, and violence, and that true famine and starvation occur in silence. One would hope that we have learned the lessons from the past and need not let our environment get to such a point where we are underprepared. When a major political party does not even include the issue of climate change in their platform then I get less optimistic. I embrace the technological advancements that come from our responsibility to reduce our impact on the climate and hope that we invest more in that innovation. I would rather have a methodical well planned and efficient introduction of green frustration, than be forced into unknown territory and a violent revolution.

While slow climate change is not directly comparable to a volcanic eruption, it is widespread and not going away. It is the problem that we face today. The “Year Without a Summer” lived well beyond its name, maybe we need something less mellow than “climate change” and “global warming.”

Be Prepared

It is hard to deny, although some still do, that the world and its climate is changing. Humans need to adapt their lifestyles to accommodate and even slow down these changes. The eruption of Tambora threw the world into an environmental crisis, which in turn became a humanitarian crisis. This relatively modern event of climate change is an example of what can become of society if the environment in which we live changes too rapidly. The aftermath of Tambora can help serve as learning tool for modern society to prepare for the climate change that we are experiencing. This is important, because the main lesson we can learn from this environmental disaster is that not preparing can be fatal.

Many governments pre-Tambora took a laissez-faire approach to the way they ruled. The welfare of the citizens was not their responsibility. However, the environmental and humanitarian disaster caused by Tambora showed the world that this method was not going to be accepted by the citizens any longer. It is during this time that the responsibilities of many rulers shifted to the welfare of the people. Although reluctant, government officials were forced to help their citizens after riots broke out and it became hard to ignore the starvation and disease that plagued their communities. Modern governments now have the responsibility of taking care of their people. However, as we have seen, in such dramatic conditions it becomes impossible to take care of everyone.

The Tambora period was described by Professor Wood as an “environmental refugee crisis” that caused people all over the world to abandon their homes in hopes of escaping starvation and disease. The modern world has constantly had a refugee crisis for various reasons, some environmental, many not. The world has become a “smaller” place due to globalization, colonization, and technology. The population has dramatically increased since Tambora. The world is not as capable as it once was for dramatic resettling of people. Adding another reason for people to flee their homes and search for a new one is something we cannot accommodate. This is why we must learn from the humanitarian crisis of Tambora and take preventative measures.

Professor Wood also laid out his three states of climate shock response: Creative Sympathy, Proto-Revolutionary Violence, and “Flight into Hell.” The Creative Sympathy state was the way people of high social class involved themselves in the suffering of those of the lower class. These were people who were able to still live comfortably while suffering occurred around them, but not too close to them. The works of Mary Shelley, Lord Byron, and other literary celebrities of the time can be equated to the news sources that go in and report about the crisis, but do not offer any help. Acknowledging the suffering of those affected is an important first step, but often times that is the extent of efforts to help by the privileged. This is not an effective response. In order to deal with these issues, everyone needs to help and a plan needs to be formed. As Tambora has shown us, not preparing is simply not an option. We must learn from the past in order to be able to handle the effects of climate change.

An eruption so revolutionary……..

On April 10, 1815, on the Indonesian island of Sumbawa, Mount Tambora erupted vociferously. While it trembled, it shook the whole world along. However, two centuries later, the human race still fails to acknowledge its enormous impact properly.

The Tambora eruption didn’t just cause an “Year without a Summer”. It resulted in around three four years of disastrous climate changes around the whole world.  All in all, its impact can be broken down into two wide categories. Firstly, the great inconvenience and suffering it caused in various corners of the world where relentless weather changes resulted in numerous deaths and starvation instances. Secondly, the rapid emergence in the field of climate study it brought where its occurrence had left many people curious.

The significance of the Tambora eruptions would have been overlooked if not for the keen eyes of many historians. They have been responsible for connecting the many dots pointing towards the Tambora eruption. While the regions nearest to Sumbawa experienced extreme heat due to lava gas clouds formed over time, people without proximity to Tambora had little idea that they also had to suffer. Their hardships are recounted in various literary forms and styles, are now just as important to historical study as they are to literature.  The fact that Frankenstein was born out of Tambora can be considered a major breakthrough in our quest to fully understand the Tambora eruption.

I also say that the Tambora eruption led to wide improvement in climate study because while it caused parts of polar caps to melt, it encouraged the people that they can indeed study more about the polar caps. Thus, new scientific data accumulated in both material and non-material forms. One instance can be considered as the putting forth of the ‘Ice Age Theory’.

The argument that Tambora is revolutionary can be justified by observing the numerous lives it influenced, and still influences. However, there is an important lesson for the whole of humanity through its occurrence; Mankind does not have the right to play with nature. If it goes too far, it will pay. Remember, revolutions do occur.