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In Praise of Global Warming - The Annals of Young Geoffrey: Hope brings a turtle [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Young Geoffrey

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In Praise of Global Warming [Feb. 10th, 2007|04:51 pm]
Young Geoffrey
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A Winter's Tale


Mighty Lada - Whoo!

After a balmy December when it seemed everyone suddenly was suddenly a long-time believer in Global Warming, General Winter has struck back with a vengeance. Here in Toronto, the past week has seen temperatures dipping to -15 or so - chilly enough, but nothing compared to the Winter of '88 to make hopping on my bike in the morning an excersise of will, though I'm always sweating by the time I get to work.

But -15 isn't really cold ...

Back in the late 1980s I found wintering in Sudbury, living out in the bush with my mother. I had a temporary job as a production assistant on what was then known as CBC Northern Ontario Radio's flagship program, Morning North. It was during the winter of that 16-week stint that I experienced real cold.

My mother and I usually drove in to work together (she too worked for the Mother Corp - but that tale of semi-nepotism is one for another day) but she was out of town the night the temperature dropped to -44 celsius (for you Yanks, that's about 47 below F). And note: that figure did not include the windchill factor!) and I forgot to plug in block-heater. For those not familiar that term, please see sooguy's post about his return to the north.

Now this car was a Lada, a vehicle of Soviet make that was then probably pushing 10 years old.

And so it was with little confidence that I slipped the key in the ignition. Instinctively, I knew the key itself was at risk of snapping from the cold. Gingerly, I tried turning it.

Nothing. Not a hint of motion.

I tried again, with just a little more force. Still nothing.

I decided to apply heat and drew forth my lighter, held the key in the flame almost until my fingers burned.

And tried the ignition again. Still no movement.

I decided on a little more force - and the key snapped in two, leaving the head between my thumb and fingers, the shaft lodged in the ignition.

At which point, no longer worried about breaking the key, I a quarter from my pocket (and yes, I was fucking cold by this point!), slipped it into the slot and twisted for all it was worth.

Awwwooouurrrggghhh, said the Lada.

Amazed, I turned the key again, and stomped the gas peddal like a madman.

Aawwoouughggg ...

Awougghh

Awough! Woouughh, roooouuu, brroooommmm!

It cost me $275 to get the ignition drilled later, but I was always proud of that car. -44 is cold!

The Ice Age That Wasn't


Mighty Analog - Whoo!

As most of you know, I'm a year-round cyclist, and this cold-snap hasn't stopped me. But it has led me to reflect that, although I really do like winter, the warm weather makes life a good deal easier.

Thursday morning, I was gifted with an early visit by Canada Post and so was able to giddily stow the latest issue of Analog in my backpack before hitting the frigid January streets.

Now, I haven't read the whole issue yet, so you needn't worry that I'm going to bore you with more science fiction critiques (not yet, at any rate). No, it's science I want to talk about.

Analog's science column this month, by Richard A. Lovett (who seems to be almost a non-entity on the web - no link, for once) is entitled, "The Ice Age That Wasn't", and it's a fascinating read.

Back in the 1970s, there was a lot of talk about the possibility the earth was heading into another ice-age, something that those who question the science behind global warming still like to brandish like an ex-lover's mash-notes to support their contention that global warming isn't "proven" and so we need do nothing about it.

Lovett's article makes a strong case for the idea that "those scientists" weren't so dumb after all. The article is based on a paper, paper"The Anthropogenic Greenhouse Era Began Thousands of Years Ago</a>, by one William F. Ruddiman, PhD.

Over the past 400,000 years, the earth has gone in and out of glacial ages on a regular schedule and, according to Ruddiman via Lovett (I have not yet read the paper), by all rights we should be heading towards - if not already be in - another ice-age. Ice-cores, pollen samples and other methods all point to the same pattern. "You have to throw 395,000 years of history out the window to come up with a natural explanation" for the fact the earth is heating up right now, rather than cooling down, Ruddiman said in 2003. "Something's overridden the natural system."

Most of us associate the increasing levels of green-house gasses - carbon dioxide and methane, in particular - with the industrial revolution, but Ruddiman claims humanity has been altering our planet's natural balance for a good deal more than a few hundred years.

In fact, according to the Professor's thesis, humanity began to modify the planet's natural cycle some 8,000 to 12,000 years ago, when we began the shift from living as hunter-gatherers to farming.

We cut down trees for cropland, and flooded fields to grow rice. Enough so, that the resulting loss of carbon sinks and increases in methane output changed the composition of the atmosphere enough to stop the global cooling trend that "should" have been happening.

If professor Ruddiman is correct, at least those of us living north of the 49th parallel should probably be giving a huge vote of thanks to global warming, as the normal cycle would have seen the world cooling for another few thousand years before it went once again into an inter-glacial period.

Which doesn't mean we shouldn't be concerned about what is happening now of course. The 20th century saw the human influence on our atmosphere's composition grow vastly stronger and the consequences - at best - are going to be difficult to deal with. Rising oceans, changing rainfall patterns, all happening quickly and concurrently are going to cause a great deal of suffering, and not just to people. Between the changing weather and the loss of habitat, species are going extinct at a rate not seen in millions of years.

It seems that humanity has been playing god for millenia, but is only now becoming aware of it. Which begs the question: now that we do have an inkling of our power, and that our inadvertent use of it has kept the ice-sheets at bay, what are we going to do with that power?

Clearly, if it were put to a vote, the side wanting a complete return to the "natural cycle" would lose in a landslide. At the same time, I doubt most of us want a world with rainforests growing on Antarctica, either. But Ruddiman's thesis, for me at least, somehow makes it clear that we are gods now, and in the 21st century, we had better face up to our power and figure out what we want to do, and what we should do, with that power.

Like it or not, the earth is ours. We can nurture it or destroy it, and pretending we can "go back to the natural order" can only guarantee we will do the latter.

linkReply

Comments:
[User Picture]From: colinmarshall
2007-02-11 06:44 am (UTC)
A Lada? How in the name of all that's good and pure did you end up with a Lada? You were... on this continent, right?
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[User Picture]From: ed_rex
2007-02-11 01:41 pm (UTC)

It Was a Lada Car for the Many

You were... on this continent, right?

It is remarks similar to yours, above, that drives some Canadians (not this one - but others, less secure in their sense of home and country) into foaming, rabid anti-American rants.

There really are not one, but in fact two different countries in North America. (Note to any suddenly-appalled Central Americans or others with a geographically-correct bent: politically and culturally, I consider the bridge between North and South America a sub-continent in its own right. Now please stop, before I digress again!)

In the late 1970s and well into the 1980s, there was an entire network of Lada dealerships across Canada. They were - even at that time - a primitive car, but once their electrical parts - according to my mother's dealer, everything from the spark-plugs to the alternator were stripped out when the cars were landed at Halifax, replaced with British or even Czech(!) parts - and they had a Ford-like propensity to rust, but they were otherwise fairly reliable (provided your dealer was - a Volskwagen Beatle it was not) and they were the cheapest car on the market - which was why my mum bought two in a row.

In any case, at that time, Canadian foreign policy was inclined towards a "Third Way", between the US and Soviet imperia. We were more closely connected with the Non-Aligned Movement, we weren't boycotting Cuba, and we were attempting to engage the Soviet Union economically, rather than only confronting it.

And so it came to pass, that Lada's were freely available (well, free to those prepared to pay 6 grand for one) in this country and even enjoyed a certain popular cachet in some parts of it for a brief time.
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[User Picture]From: colinmarshall
2007-02-11 04:48 pm (UTC)

Nothing says "Third Way" like a two-cylinder engine

It's not a good sign when your car's electrical components are replaced with British ones and it's considered an improvement. That Lucas crap almost put Jaguar into receivership.

But anyway, that's interesting; I never realized that actual Ladas were available for purchase just across the border. I guess I always assumed that it wouldn't be possible to move Ladas, Škodas, Trabants, etc. off of their lots in countries where consumers have, uh, another choice.

I've known people who have driven those sorts of cars, but they were on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain at the time and now tend to regard them as symbolic of Soviet deprivation. I suppose that it's possible to have good memories of them if you had the vehicle and not the bread queue.
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[User Picture]From: ed_rex
2007-02-11 09:52 pm (UTC)

Re: Nothing says "Third Way" like a two-cylinder engine

It's not a good sign when your car's electrical components are replaced with British ones and it's considered an improvement.

Yeah, no kidding. I can only presume that the Russian parts tended to catch fire, instead of just not working when it got damp or some such thing.

I guess I always assumed that it wouldn't be possible to move Ladas, Škodas, Trabants, etc. off of their lots in countries where consumers have, uh, another choice.

Well, they were cheap. And, the electrical components aside, they were reasonably reliable. Though I should note: I am not aware that Canada ever boasted even a single Trabant dealership! (I did get a ride in a Skoda once, while hitch-hiking, and it seemed significantly superior to the Lada. Which illustrates one of the ironies of the Soviet empirium - that the citizens of its Eastern European colonies/protecterates in most cases enjoyed a much higher standard of living than did the Soviet citizens themselves.)

I suppose that it's possible to have good memories of them if you had the vehicle and not the bread queue.

Yes. Especially when it cold-starts at -44 C. You have to admit, it was kind of impressive.
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[User Picture]From: colinmarshall
2007-02-11 10:15 pm (UTC)

Re: Nothing says "Third Way" like a two-cylinder engine

I freely admit that. Man, -44 C. I literally cannot even envision that kind of temperature. I don't think I've even experienced below-zero temperatures at all let alone 44 below it.
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[User Picture]From: sooguy
2007-02-12 01:31 am (UTC)
There are so many things in this post I want to respond to. A good post like this is great fodder for talking about over a beer. Of course being this far away makes it hard to take you out for a beer and discuss the merits of Global Warming and Sudbury winters.

Maybe I will find time to write a lengthy and proper reply to this post.
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[User Picture]From: ed_rex
2007-02-13 01:24 am (UTC)

March Drink?

You know, what with the big move and the new baby and the new job, I suspect you could use a good talk over a beer (or three - we'll both take a cab, how's that?).

It's looking as if I will be in Sudbury sometime in March, and I think that would be an excellent time we meet in the flesh.

Since that's where I'll be staying, I will start the negotiation by suggesting some place within walking distance of 4 Corners, but if (I know you've told me, but I forget these things) if you're out in Levac or something, we can dicker.

Not that that possibility need stop you from writing a lengthy reply.
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[User Picture]From: sooguy
2007-02-13 02:58 am (UTC)

Re: March Drink?

I will bookmark this entry for a lengthy reply at a future date. I am off for three days later this week maybe I will have time to formulate a coherent response then.

Hey, if you are coming to Sudbury in March definitely look me up. I have YET to go out for a beer in Sudbury. My social contacts here are few and far between. I've got a few things up in March (like my son's birthday), but hopefully are schedules will mesh at some point. The 4 Corners area is fine by me. I am out in New Sudbury near the Kingsway, but getting to the South End is not a big deal.
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[User Picture]From: ed_rex
2007-02-14 12:18 am (UTC)

Re: March Drink?

Nor would it be a big deal for me to get out to New Sudbury; since I gave up drinking and driving when I was 20 or so, I just like walking distance, and my mum lives just south of 4 Corners.

We'll negotiate, closer to the actual occurence.
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[User Picture]From: rev_jo
2007-02-12 03:20 pm (UTC)
coldest i remember was the winter of 93-94.. it was -59 with the windchill

and i've never actually heard of anyone outside of europe driving a Lada.. then again, in my neck of the woods, a Porsche is considered horribly exotic..
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[User Picture]From: ed_rex
2007-02-13 01:40 am (UTC)

Lots of Ladas In Canada ...

... or at least, there were quite a few on Highway 17, between Sault Ste-Marie and Thunder Bay more than 20 years ago, when I was hitching through that glorious (yet mostly uninhabited) country.

Er, a Porsche is considered pretty exotic here, too. And they cost quite about more than $6K, even back in 1989.
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[User Picture]From: rev_jo
2007-02-13 03:57 am (UTC)

Re: Lots of Ladas In Canada ...

they are pretty costly, but are exotic by the fact that Ford, Chevy, or Dodge doesn't make them...
I think I've only seen a Yugo around here once, and most people had no idea what it was
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[User Picture]From: ed_rex
2007-02-14 12:21 am (UTC)

Re: Lots of Ladas In Canada ...

Quite a few years ago, while hitch-hiking somewhere or other, I hopped into a sportscar. I'd been sprinting to where it had pulled over and didn't notice what it was.

When my driver started moving, I started to look around while at the same time noticing some ... some quality in the ride itself.

"Nice car," I said.

"It should be," quoth my chauffeur, "it's a Porsche."

And it was. From the smallest finishings to the clunk when I closed the door, to the sound of the motor and the sheer feel of the ride, it had Quality written all over it.

The gas mileage was probably lousy, but what a sweet ride.
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[User Picture]From: rev_jo
2007-02-14 03:51 am (UTC)

Re: Lots of Ladas In Canada ...

they are.. my dad has one...
of course i've only been able to drive it a couple of times.. but.. oof.. give me a straightaway and i'd push the envelope
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From: kimchalister
2007-03-30 05:11 pm (UTC)
Thanks so much for your great review of this article. I thought it was an important article. I hope you don't mind that I copied your comments on it and sent it to some of my friends (attributed, of course.) I should have asked first -- my bad.
I added this comment:
Kim's Comment:
Whether or not humans are causing Global Warming really doesn't matter -- we still need to deal with it. If we are really in a cooling cycle but warming it so much that we are suffering from too much warmth, then maybe getting the Earth back to where we would like it will be easier than predicted, because we don't have to get rid of ALL of the greenhouse gasses, just enough to get back to where we want it! That doesn't mean we should do nothing, that means it is much more hopeful that if we start now, we can actually do it! It makes the job smaller and more manageable. Good News!
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[User Picture]From: ed_rex
2007-04-02 01:11 am (UTC)

Goodness!

Thanks for your kind remarks - and I don't mind at all that you quoted me (with attribution!).

Whether or not humans are causing Global Warming really doesn't matter -- we still need to deal with it. If we are really in a cooling cycle but warming it so much that we are suffering from too much warmth, then maybe getting the Earth back to where we would like it will be easier than predicted, because we don't have to get rid of ALL of the greenhouse gasses, just enough to get back to where we want it! That doesn't mean we should do nothing, that means it is much more hopeful that if we start now, we can actually do it! It makes the job smaller and more manageable. Good News!

I'm not sure that article - if it is actually true - is good news, but I think it's a useful reminder that we are not helpless. Far from it. Collectively, we are becoming powerful indeed. And we owe it to not just ourselves, but also to the creatures with whom we share this planet, and especially to our children, to face up to our power and learn to wield it wisely.
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