The Case for No Tomatoes

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(…continued from Ice, Ice, Baby)

My friend Connie’s tomato plants did not do well this year.  Spring came in rather chilly, and when summer arrived, it never got warm enough for the tomatoes to yield much fruit.  I would normally visit Connie’s house during the summer time and enjoy her sweet tangy tomato fruits sliced fresh with a touch of salt, or cut in juicy luscious chunks on beds of lettuce.  This year, however, the only fruits that her vines produced were tiny little green things that clung to life with desperate fingers, hoping to ripen enough before the frost set in.  I would be lucky to get even a single slice of this year’s spotty yield.  Surely, I thought, there must be a mistake.  Why has it been so unseasonably cold this year?

tomatogirlSo I go to a trusted name in weather forecasting to see what the deuce is going on—Britain’s Met Office’s Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research.  Mind you, the Met Office is not just any weather forecasting organization, it is the relentless champion of global warming.  I figured if anybody knew why the weather was so cold, it would be them.

Their answer was that they were going to scale back the degree of warming by about 20% from their earlier prediction of a global temperature rise all the way through to 2017.  This means that according to them, the peak of the warming trend was back in 1998, and ever since then, there’s been this strange plateau where there was no global warming at all, even though CO2 production was rising at a rapid pace around the world.

In the words of another respected scientific journal, Nature: “Despite a sustained production of anthropogenic greenhouse gases, the Earth’s mean near-surface temperature paused its rise during the 2000–2010 period.” [1]  In fact, not even the so-called ‘proxy’ sources such as tree rings, ice cores, ocean sediments, and stalagmites show any global warming since 1940 [2] (see graph).

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This graph shows three lines.  The red line is a study done by K. R. Briffa et al. Nature, in press.  The yellow line is from M. E. Mann, R. S. Bradley, M. K. Hughes, Nature 392, 779 (1998), and the green line is from P. D. Jones et al., The Holocene 8, in press.

These are three separate studies that have been printed in Nature, going from 1998 to the present time.  That’s over seven decades of predictions that hadn’t borne fruit, just like Connie’s tomato plants this year.

By rights, with the amount of industry going on since the turn of the 1900s, there should not be a dip in the numbers going across the board.  It should, in fact, be hockey-stick-like, and run away, upwards.  Instead, the results are plateauing, even going back down, especially within the last fifteen years.  Since (my) inquiring mind wanted to know what’s up with that, I went digging in my usual armchair scientific way.  Here’s what I found.

The Earth has a cycle of cooling/warming trends.  I did touch upon it in my previous post She Blows Hot and Cold, which is part of this grouping of exploratory global temperature postings.  Earth’s (and man’s) activities, from volcanic eruptions to axial shifting, to atmospheric conditions ABSOLUTELY affect global temperatures.  In fact, let me be real clear about this.  Changes in her condition will change global temperatures, there’s no doubt about that.

However, Earth is not the only mover and shaker on the block.  In fact, external sources account for at least some, if not a big chunk of the warming and cooling that occurs on Earth.  These sources which cause all the melodrama that’s been going on for all these billions of years, external AND internal, are all collectively called Climate Forcing.  NASA’s definition of climate forcing is “an imposed change of Earth’s energy balance, as may be caused, for example, by a change of the sun’s brightness or a human-made change of atmospheric CO2.” [3]

Sun’s brightness?  What the hell does that mean?  

“Human activity and industrial discharges do have a great impact on environment, but forces of nature are far more powerful,” says Vladimir Kotlyakov, head of the Institute of Geography at the Russian Academy of Sciences.  He is talking about all the various other forces that are concurrently occurring alongside the human-generated CO2, most notably, the sun’s activities, and he is not the only scientist who is rethinking that CO2 is the only source to affect a global climate change scenario.  

It is becoming more and more apparent that climate change is driven by events and activities greater than the small changes in the partial pressure of a trace gas.  Instead of relying on a single factor which would tip the scale of climate change, it is most likely going to happen due to a combination of factors that normally occur in random fashion, and out of phase with each other.  However, once these factors merge, major events occur.  

It looks like I need to do me some talking to the sun.

(…to be continued)

1.  Nature Journal
2.  It Was the Best of Times, It was the Worst of Times
3.  NASA Research

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She Blows Hot and Cold

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Here’s a big HELLO to all my netizen friends, trolls, and accidental-surfers!

Today we will be talking about global warming.  Except that it’s probably going to be global cooling.  But not until global warming happens, which will kill one billion of us people (that’s one-seventh of the world population, a very large number indeed).  But then global cooling will happen and then…

 THEN WE ALL DIE!!!

Haruhi2

We are getting hotter!  AND we are getting colder!  The heat will kill us!  AND the cold will kill us!  Everything will kill us!

WE ARE GONNA DIE!!!!

(…sigh)

Nobody can agree.  Nobody can even agree to disagree.  No wonder we’re all confused and arguing with each other.  We are looking at the situation, cross-eyed and without any fixed point of reference, so we end up seeing what we are able to see from the vantage point that we are stuck at.  This is not a good place to be for science, and yet, it is all we have.  This makes for a truly stressful situation.

Calgon, take me away!  Better yet—let some random extra-terrestrial take me away, off this rock, and then let me look at it from a distance so I can actually see where the problem lies.  I have found that if I look at a situation from a distance, things become clearer, less immediate, more generalized, less stressful, more solvable.

So, from what I can see, we are in for one of these two scenarios in the future.  Since I am not a psychic monkey, I can’t say exactly when, but the propensity for heading in one of these two directions is proportionally higher if certain things occur in proportionally significant amounts.

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On the left, we have what’s called a Snowball Earth.  It is called a snowball Earth because it is completely (or almost completely) covered in ice, from pole to shining pole.  From space, it will look like a bright white billiard ball with blue veins of slush ocean and brown veins of jagged rock (tips of tall mountains) showing through the cracks.

On the right, we have a No Ice Earth.  No ice means no white stuff, either at the poles or on mountain tops.  This picture to the right is not quite correct, because with the huge influx of water that has melted from the poles, there will be somewhat of a loss of dry land, but the areas of dry land will be greener due to wetter conditions which will cause desserts to change into grasslands and tropical forests.

I can’t tell which side will win out.  Maybe we can have a poll about it.

Regardless of what your choices are, these are the two extremes—of which we are currently occupying a fairly happy middle ground.  I say ‘fairly happy’ because we’ve gotten used to the flux state, one in which the world is undergoing a rapidly changing state which could tip in either direction depending on lots of different variables.  Currently, we are enjoying an unusually long and benign stretch of interglacial, one which has allowed Earth to manifest itself as a garden of Eden.  It is not a fixed state, nor is it something to be taken for granted.  Earth will, one day, revert to its hellish, hostile state of extreme cold where nothing grows and nothing lives, except perhaps the tiniest of microbes.  I am not talking about possibilities which may or may not happen, because fact of the matter is, it has already happened several times in the life of Earth (that we know of).

At least twice in the distant past, there had been a snowball Earth phenomenon.  The first event, called Marinoan, occurred around 750 million years BCE and lasted between 6 and 12 million years.  The second event was called Sturtian and that one happened 710 million years BCE. [1]  During one of these snowball Earth events, temperatures would have been so low that the equator would be just as cold as Antarctica is today.  Had any nomadic bands of humans been alive at that time and in constant migration to maintain a distance between themselves and the encroaching ice would eventually find, in the far-off distance, the onslaught of ice coming to meet them.  They would have died of exposure and lack of food in the middle of the equatorial region, trapped between two bands of ice sheets meeting up in the middle.

Of course, the Marinoan and the Sturtian are just two of the most intense icy periods that scientists have been able to identify.  Scattered between 750 million years ago up until the present-time, there were many other glacial periods that were, although not as globally wide-spread, still fairly intense.  It is interesting to note that the two ice ages that humans have had to endure through nearly wiped us out, whereas during the interglacials (or interstitials, whichever they happened to be), we thrived and bloomed like runaway algae growths.  So, as far as I can tell, warm = good and cold = not so good.

Sure, we may not thrive quite as well if temperatures get a bit warmer.  Some of our low-lying areas may drown.  We may lose some valuable crop lands.  A billion of us may die due to weather-related stresses such as lack of food-sources and scarcity of fresh water.  But we can muddle through another interglacial.

We cannot muddle through another ice age.

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What we need to do then, is to figure out how to indefinitely extend the current interglacial period.  How to do that will take all the ingenuity that humankind can muster up, and even then…even then, we may fail.  But we have to give it a try.  We have to know, at the very least, what it will take to maintain the hair-trigger balance which will allow us to remain on this side of the thermal grid.  One thing is for sure.  We have not exceeded yet, our allotment for global CO2.  How much more do we need to add to the environment to maintain our interglacial?  Well, that’s another discussion for another day.

(Continue to The Heat is On—Barely)

1.  http://www.snowballearth.org/when.html