Home > Uncategorized > Science Friday: Our race between education and catastrophe

Science Friday: Our race between education and catastrophe

November 23, 2007
  • Highly Allochthonous gives us a glimpse at an old catastrophe in Black horizon, out of the ice age and into the asteroid shower.  I just love stuff like this, it really sets my imagination going.  For example, imagine what it would be like if something like that happened now?  Because, it doesn’t really cost that much to keep our eyes open.

  • The new IPCC report may be waking up all but the most denial-bound.  It certainly got the UN’s attention:  Climate change irreversible?  UN chief urges breakthrough after dire IPCC report released.  It does remind me of that old quote from HG Wells: “Civilization is a race between education and catastrophe.”
  • If you’re a science fiction fan, you are familiar with geoengineering, or changing the surface of a planet to make it more hospitable for human life.  Waddya think, should we try it that first time on our own planet?  Check out David Keith’s TedTalk: – geoengineering for cooler climate”.  He isn’t actually advocating we try geoengineering instead of conservation and new technology, but makes a very cogent case for at least studying the idea.
  • The first-ever “State of the carbon cycle” report was just released, and it ain’t pretty.  Main problem is, a number of carbon-sinks that have moderated atmospheric carbon levels until now, may be reaching their carrying capacity.  The largest of these sinks is our oceans, which have absorbed carbon dioxide by becoming more acidic. This is actually “not” a good thing so the Senate may fund a study on it.  Well if the study reveals that it’s a problem I’m sure they’ll spring into action like they always do.
  • How about an ocean story that has absolutely nothing to do with carbon dioxide or global warming?  It turns out the old sailor’s legends of giant rogue waves in the middle of nowhere, are true.  Well I’m sure that’s some comfort to Davy Jones and all his friends.
  • While we’re on ocean ecology, it doesn’t look good for the bluefin tuna.  Amazing… if you take more adults from a population than it can replenish, the population goes down.  Who knew?  I guess it’s just another darn case of market failure.
  • Just to end on a positive note, there’s an enormous telecom satellite going up that will “deliver high-bandwidth services, such as mobile internet, to Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Africa.”  It will “allow people to set up virtual offices anywhere around the world – on land or at sea. Users get half-a-megabit connections through small, laptop-sized terminals. Customers include business travelers, disaster relief workers, journalists, and people in the petrochemical and maritime industries.”
    • What’s cool about it is that it will enable entirely new business communication models in the emerging African economy, allowing them to technologically leapfrog us dowdy old first-worlders.  If it’s anything Africa needs now, it’s a boost in prosperity.


I’m still trying to decide on the main topic for next week’s SciFri but have run into a lot of neat stuff.  Bionic prosthetics?  Algae diesel?  Train efficiency?

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. November 23, 2007 at 19:55 | #1

    If you’re a science fiction fan, you are familiar with geoengineering, or changing the surface of a planet to make it more hospitable for human life.  Waddya think, should we try it that first time on our own planet?

    It seems to me we’ve tried any number of geoengineering / terraforming efforts in the past—from introducing species to new areas, to flood control projects, to draining swamps, etc.  Such systems tend to be frightfully complex, though, and all too often, unintended consequences wreak havoc.  I’d be veeeeeerrrry careful before supporting geoengineering projects to combat climate change (other than trying to back slowly away from what we’ve been doing to date).

    Hell, it’s only in the last few decades that we’ve really gotten a handle on what we think is causing the problem (or even acknowledging that there is one)—what makes us think we can diddle with it with any confidence of not making things worse?

  2. November 23, 2007 at 20:33 | #2

    Aww gee, ***Dave, where’s your sense of adventure?  :coolsmirk:

    Keith is advocating studying the problem because 1) the technology to do it is really not that difficult, so 2) like it or not, mankind will have the ability to do it soon, and 3) if despite our best efforts global warming causes some unacceptable consequence (like the Greenland ice cap breaking up) we may find an individual nation-state going ahead with a geoengineering project on their own.  Against that eventuality it would be nice to have a body of research to draw upon.

  3. Lucas
    November 24, 2007 at 05:11 | #3

    “I guess it’s just another darn case of market failure.”

    I think that this term is not actually that useful for a lot of discussions.  It is true that “the market” is failing to keep fish stocks up.  The phrase suggests that the problem is markets, when in many cases the addition of markets can help solve the problem.  The thing is that there is now no market for fishing rights (or at least not a highly developed one).  If fishing rights for all time were to be auctioned off, then the owner of those rights would have an incentive to make sure the stocks remain high.  Of course there are problems with this approach (enforcement, the fact that tuna roams outside of territorial waters, etc), but these problems would be found in any solution, including making consumption of the fish illegal.  I think frequently when there is a market failure, we should try to see to it that someone owns the thing being destroyed. 

    This is of course impossible in many cases as well—the atmosphere being a good example.  On the other hand, a solution like this has worked well for radio spectrum.

  4. zilch
    November 25, 2007 at 15:23 | #4

    Lucas- I don’t see how auctioning off fishing rights would make the situation any different than it is now, where there are basically no restrictions enforced in international waters.  Just because one would be better off in the long run by behaving ecologically, unfortunately does not mean that one will not grab as much as one can in the short run. Global warming is basically the same problem.  It’s the tragedy of the commons, and it’s not amenable to market control.  That is, unless consumers change what is marketable, by not buying tuna, or inefficient cars, for instance.

  5. November 25, 2007 at 20:50 | #5

    In Canada milk, poultry and other production rights are sold of as a form of supply management and market stabilisation without direct subsidy.  They work very well.  The system for the fishery eventually failed because the fishery is essentially different than raising cattle, poultry, wheat, etc.  Since the fish stock is highly mobile, over-fishing by other nations in international waters caused the cod stocks to collapse.  In my mind, that is proof that supply management should be implemented on a global scale.  Starting with carbon emission.  There should be licenses for capped carbon emissions.

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