Tag: climate science

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.

Rethinking Modernity

Keith Peterson, an Assistant Professor of Philosophy from Colby gave his talk on How We Have Never Been Revolutionary. He focuses his talk on Latour, Bruno’s book We have Never Been Modern, a book that comments on science and modernity. Latour tries to relink the social and natural by arguing that modernist differentiate between nature and society which separates us from our primitive, pre modern ancestors who don’t make the same differentiation.

In our ST215 climate weather and society course we have spoken about not separating humanity from nature, its amazing to try to think if that wasn’t the case at all…its unimaginable. Humanity is a part of nature and not apart from nature. Many of who study climate change know and share the importance of how climate change shaped the new world. Thus, the history between humanity and nature is very valuable because it shines light on humanities dependence on nature making people aware that it is our atmosphere and without it, there would be no us. However, today, every day individuals, from urban areas, as an example, do not have to worry about climate shaping our lives. These individuals can live in doors with an AC if its too hot or indoors with the heat on if its too cold. Nonetheless, slowly but surely and not obviously climate affects us all.

In relation to what is happening with our climate its crazy to think that we can separate humanity from nature. The ozone debate, global warming, deforestation, even the idea of black holes shows the connection between one and the other. The prospect of keeping nature and culture separate is all mental. Latour suggests, we should rethink our distinctions and rethink the definition and composition of modernity itself, the nature/culture contrast is no longer possible.

Keith Peterson brings up another point of discussion that involves theorist Bruno Latour’s opinion on people thinking of ourselves as “revolutionary” and how this can actually be a central myth of Modernity. Latour hopes to prove that we in fact “have never been Modern,” which would support that people have not been revolutionary. The first section of Peterson’s talk addresses the revolutionary miracle. He went on to explain that westerners definition of revolutionary depends on the relationship between nature and society, and how we interpret time, which only concerns matter and mind. He also mentions how Westerners is not a culture and the aims of the revolutions that existed are for political interest.

In all, what I have taken away from his talk is that we need to see nature and society as products of a bigger picture (human and no human actions). Everything is hybrid of nature and society.



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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Coastal Living

It’s not often you read a short biography on a man whose interests include meteorology, climate, and hurricane physics, and whose lecture intro also includes a story of his participation in beer pong while visiting Colby. However, Kerry Emanuel is not your average climate scientist. One of the most renowned and prominent in his field, Emanuel takes particular interest in hurricanes and their patterns, with a faculty position at MIT and countless scientific paper publications and several books. However Emanuel’s skills are not limited to his impressive knowledge of climate science and hurricanes – he also maintains an engaging ability for public speaking, laced with humor and personal anecdotes. One anecdote included his vivid descriptions of flying into the eyes of hurricanes and the tranquility associated with such an unforgiving beast. Such an environmental paradox remains beautiful yet confusing, much like another point Professor Emanuel spoke on – the constant rebuilding of coastal destruction.

Having touched on the coastal havoc which hurricanes wreak, Emanuel received the following question from a student. “Why do we keep building in coastal regions such as New Orleans and Florida for them to be consequently destroyed?”. Emanuel shared that “culture subsides on coasts, which thus leads to lots of dangerous and risky building,” a vicious, unavoidable cycle of “death” and “rebirth” with no room for growth. But having experienced the unthinkable damage caused by hurricanes and natural disasters, why haven’t we developed more reactive and responsive infrastructure, able to withstand the perils of natural disasters? Stuck in the constant cycle of destruction and rebuilding, there lacks a growth factor due to the consistency of Mother Nature’s damage. Is our inability to respond appropriately due to the sheer strength and magnitude of hurricanes and necessity for coastal access?

In part, this is dependent on the strength of forecasting, another topic of discussion for Professor Emanuel. Coincidentally, Professor Emanuel was able to use Hurricane Matthew as an example, with Matthew’s unpredictability being such a defining mark of its pattern. While some hurricanes are much more difficult to predict, some (like Matthew) deviate from any preconceived path, or follow as they “are expected to” on one of any number of routes. A true scientific revolution would be increased storm forecasting, which would at least allow for more ample preparation if not more responsive and appropriate infrastructure. With an increase in natural disasters as a result of human contribution to unstable weather and climate, we will hopefully be able to gather a more comprehensive and predictive understanding of dangerous weather patterns, though unfortunately at the likely expense of extreme damage. Hopefully, this occurs before the threat of Emanuel’s hypothesized ‘hypercane’ becomes legitimate!

Curiosity: The Driving Force for Revolutions?

Professor Kerry Emanuel discussed the history of climate science’s revolutionizers and the path taken that has led climate science to be what it is today. Some of the major themes Emanuel emphasized include the duration of this path, its dependence on technological advancements, and the vastness of knowledge that has yet to be learned. However, during this discussion, one driving force was subtly spreadheading every part of the process: People’s curiosity in climate science. This leads one to wonder: Is curiosity the driving force for revolutions, and, or are other factors in play?


The origin of revolutions is a complex matter. Every revolution is unique, context-specific, and requires different resources to guarantee its success. Could curiosity be the sole driving force? Looking at the climate change revolution, specifically, Emanuel pointed to several early researchers. Each one of them was genuinely curious in how the world functioned. Whenever a finding arose, their curiosity only grew and prompted additional exploration, like the geologists noticing scratch marks on arctic rocks. Other major scientific revolutions originate from the power of curiosity, like the concept of evolution and even the expansion of technology.


However, did curiosity drive other revolutions’ success? One could argue curiosity for a better life and society drove the French Revolution, or curiosity of complete independence drove the American Revolution; but did other factors dominate these revolutions? I would argue for societal-changing revolutions, there are other overarching factors, such as anger, passion, and dissatisfaction. General curiosity is not bound to push for grand changes like these revolutions achieved; stronger, more pressing feelings and emotions seem to push these revolutions over the edge.


Albeit curiosity may not be the significant contributor to every revolution, it seems to be important in exploratory-revolutions, whether that be improving science and/or technology. This is intriguing, and makes one wonder about whether these fields of work foster this likely necessary curiosity.



The Evolution of Climate Science

Dr. Kerry Emanuel is a professor of atmospheric science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and he came to Colby to talk to us about his focuses on tropical meteorology and climate, and hurricane physics. Throughout his talk he made three general points: climate science being around for a very long time, the many advances in science that helped the develop the field of climate science, and how climate science continues to be a pressing study. Thus, Kerry Emmanuel’s talk exposes the evolution of climate science and from this I understood the value in expanding the exposure of this field in order to learn what is going on in our atmosphere and ultimately prevent the already fast rate of green house gases effect.

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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?