Tags: global warming

Absolutely Fabulous!

We Drink Ethanol, So Why Not Burn It?

Gentle Readers,

Due to the paucity of my own entries here lately, and to my concern for the mental well-being of you, my Gentle Readers, I have decided to hand this space over to my good friend William Needle, whose occasional thought-provoking essays will, I hope, provide you with alternate views that are both entertaining and provocative. Take it away, Bill!

Let Them Buy Wheat!

There's been a lot of talk lately about how food prices going up all around the world. Folks are rioting from Mexico to Haiti to Somalia, just to name a few hot-spots of socialist discontent. They say they they can't afford to feed their families, as if any of us have a God-given right to eat. This world is one where only the fit survive and always has been, folks. I figure, if you don't earn enough to buy food and you're not competent enough to steal it, well, that's just part of God's plan. Unlike the Hindoos, the way I see it, you don't get punished for what you did in a past life, you get punished for what you didn't do in this one.

Of course, the usual trouble-makers are complaining, not just poor people. The tree-huggers and do-gooders are all out in force, trying to socialize this and socialize that while they make a fat living in their back of their air-conditioned SUVs, doling out so-called aid to lazy graspers from Haiti to Somalia

And of course, they point their fingers are everyone but the starving folks themselves.

The price of corn is going up because: the Americans are too fat; the Chinese are getting too fat (and who can blame 'em for wanting a steak, after so many decades of living off rice and locusts?); or because we here in North America (and Europe - gotta give the great unwashed credit when it's due) are finally starting to do something about global warming, turning our corn into gasoline.

You can't win with those people for losing, folks. First they complain that global warming is causing droughts and floods (after all this time, you'd think they'd get their stories straight). Then, when we get suckered into doing something about it by turning corn into fuel, they blame us for making food too expensive for the poor in the world.

Now even the International Monetary Fund is jumping on the bleading heart socialist bandwagon. Monday's Globe and Mail quoted its managing director, a certain Dominique Struass-Kahn - whose name alone maybe explains a few things, though I'm damned if it tells me whether its a mister or a missus - as saying, "Hundreds of thousands of people will be starving. Children will suffer from malnutrition..." I know I'm not the most subtle guy in town, and maybe he was misquoted, but it sure sounds to me like he's saying it as if it's a bad thing.

It's not that I'm in favour of human suffering, don't get me wrong. And I don't know it it's us or God to blame for this global warming, but it seems pretty clear there's something to it - and that it's too late to do much about it. The oceans are going to rise by 1.5 metres (that's about five feet, if I remember my conversion tables) over the next 90 years whether we all start eating grass or not. Sure, a black child feels pain just as much as a white one, but if you've got to choose, well, you stand by your own, don't you? It's only natural.

What I'm trying to say is, it's too late folks. There's more than six billion of us kicking around this little space-ball and like a herd of deer after one too many easy winters and the wolves are about to close in during the first deep freeze (or big melt). A hundred years from now, we'll count ourselves lucky if there are a billion of us left, and I say we cup our balls and start staking out the high ground now.

And one way to do that is bio-fuels. The only problem with them is we haven't gone far enough! Here in Ontario, every gallon (or socialized litre) now contains 5% ethanol - I say, why not 50%? Ethanol which comes from corn, grown right here in Ontario! Sure the price of corn is going up, but we all have to do our part, and there's no denying our farmers have been hurting lately, so it's good for them, too.

Okay, it's true that it takes almost as much fuel to grow the corn as the corn provides in ethanol, but "almost" isn't the same as "as much" - and every drop counts. And sure, growing all that corn to run your Hummer is corn that doesn't go to fatten a heifer or a hog, or make into a taco down south.

But that's the Free Market, isn't it? It's not my problem if the Mexicans can't afford to buy our corn, and it's not your problem; it's the Mexicans' problem. And if the Bangladeshis can't buy their own rice now, how are they going to do afford to import our corn when their whole country is under water?

Ethanol is just a way to limit the suffering. Most of the world is going to starve to death in the next few decades, so why not speed things up and put them out of their misery before they breed more babies who are just going to starve to death anyway? Meanwhile, those of us with the means might as well keep on enjoying our life like civilized folks.

Well, all this typing has created in me a powerful thirst. I'm going to fire up old Bessie and leave that Hummer running while parked in the handicapped zone at the beer store. Just doing my part for the greater good.

Well, Duh!
(Bryan Gable, Globe and Mail, 2008-14-15
Baby and me

In Praise of Global Warming

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 ...


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.