Friday, March 5, 2021

Links 5 March 2021

Stone bowl with lion's head, Syria, 900-700 BC. Now in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art

The Dragon Witches of Renaissance Germany: "In 1652, a woman from Saxony who claimed to be  able to identify witches explained to the authorities that she’d seen a number of women from her neighborhood having sex with a flying dragon." Seems to have been an explanation of why some people were richer than others.

High-resolution 360 degree panoramic photo of the Perseverance landing site on Mars.

Threatened by a long-term drought, some people in late Neolithic China responded by improving their irrigation systems and diversifying the crops they grew, leading to a major rise in population in the early Bronze Age. People have been adapting to climate change for as long as we have existed, sometimes with great success.

Kevin Drum does some math, estimates that 700,000 American women have dropped out of the workforce to take care of children during the pandemic.

The "darkness to light" festival at Salisbury Cathedral, delightful photographs from 2014.

The thing to wear for winter outdoor social distancing, at least for the rich, is a jacket from Norwegian Wool (New York Times)

The saga of 2,4 dinitrophenol, a "mitochondrial uncoupling agent" that can either cause weight loss or kill you.

Delightful photographs of firefly mating season in Japan.

Why are young adults in the US having less sex? "Among young women, the decline in the frequency of drinking alcohol explains about one quarter of the drop in the propensity to have casual sex. Among young men, declines in drinking frequency, an increase in computer gaming, and the growing percentage who coreside with their parents all contribute significantly to the decline in casual sex."

Review of Jordan Peterson's new book (The Atlantic). Not very interesting about the book but more so about Peterson's life.

Pondering Elon Musk's plan to settle people on Mars, Shannon Stirone  says this is a ridiculous way to help humanity: "Mars is a hellhole. . . . Mars will kill you." (The Atlantic)

How Jeff Bezos and Martin Baron transformed the Washington Post from a struggling regional newspaper with a shrinking subscriber base to a global news website with more than 3 million subscribers. (New York Times) Honestly I think that while Donald Trump was a disaster in most ways he was the greatest gift the news industry has received in a generation or two. The appetite for crazy conspiracies certainly grew, but so did the appetite for serious reporting, and I suspect most of the people who bought new subscriptions during 2020 will keep the habit.

The Worshipful Company of Glovers of London has a web site with photographs of their historic glove collection.

Ice on wind turbine blades, and how to cope with it.

Making Heidelberg, Germany a car-free city (New York Times)

The "charter city" of Prospera is being launched on an island off Honduras; the backers are hoping to create a business-friendly, international hub.

Computer modeling confirms the old theory that the deaths of nine Russian hikers in the 1959 Dyatlov Pass Incident were caused by an avalanche. (National Geographic)


G. Verloren said...

"People have been adapting to climate change for as long as we have existed, sometimes with great success."

The problem with this line of thinking is that it fails to recognize the scope of the impending catastrophe, and how nothing in recorded history comes even remotely close to the sheer magnitude of global temperature change we're going to face.

The webcomic "xkcd" coined a term I find tremendously helpful: the "Ice Age Unit".

The coldest part of the last ice age was 20,000 years ago. This was a time when much of North America (basically all of Canada) and most of Northern Europe (basically the British Isles and the entire Baltic) was beneath colossal sheets of ice frequently half a mile thick.

The average global temperature back then was "only" 4.5 degrees celsius colder than the modern average. That sounds tiny, but it's actually a massive difference in overall warmth, because the planet itself is utterly massive and we're averaging extremes. The coldest parts of the planet were literally so insanely cold as to be uninhabitable to all plant and animal life, basically akin to Antarctica, but the equatorial regions were still warm enough to lift the average.

Now, we're slated to hit 4.5 degrees celsius ABOVE the modern average before the end of the century. That's a massive amount of extra heat. It's going to be indescribably bad.

How bad will it actually get? We don't actually know. But we know that during the Cretaceous era, when temperatures were 9 degrees celsius hotter than the modern average (twice as big of an increase), there were no glaciers anywhere on the planet and palm trees could grow at the poles.

By the year 2100, we will be halfway to that Cretaceous Hothouse climate. Whatever climate change the ancient Chinese faced was pathetically minuscule in comparison. In fact, the ancient world was pretty consistent in temperature, hovering somewhere below 0.25 degrees celsius warmer than the modern average, and shifting perhaps 1/10th of a degree or two during especially big swings.

We're going to see temperature changes 10 to 20 times that size, easily. You probably don't even have the slightest clue just how much energy that is. The enormity of it is staggering. It dwarfs the combined power of all nuclear weapons ever created. Supervolcanoes are nothing compared to it.

The seas will roil. The storms will be like nothing we can imagine. Our major food production centers will dry up and become arid wastelands. Billions will be on the brink of starvation, or pushed beyond it. We can't even just relocate where we grow crops - soil composition is not the same, access to fresh water is not the same, infrastructure simply doesn't exist. Most of the world's largest urban centers will become uninhabitable - many flooded by the rising tide, others dying of thirst and unable to supply water to their millions, still others simply unable to import enough food from close enough by to be sustainable.

And this has all been warned about for generations. And it has been ignored, over and over. It has been downplayed, by complacent older generations who won't be alive to see the bitter fruits of their selfishness and callousness. It has been idiotically compared to previous "climate changes" just like the one you mention, which is like comparing a paper cut to a sword through the gut. Scientists - reputable experts with clear and compelling data - have been sounding the alarm since the 1950s, to no avail. And since then, greed and the pursuit of the status quo have simply eroded our chances of enacting meaningful change more and more.

Your grandchildren are going to grow old in a world which you would not recognize, and which you would not wish upon your worst enemies.

And people wonder why the younger generations have so little hope for the future, and why so many idiots are sticking their heads in the sand and believing in "alternative facts" instead of trying to face reality...

David said...


Hear, hear.

Shadow said...

Love those firefly photos.

Musk's attempt to send people to Mars reminds me the SF short story/novella "The Marching Morons." Not saying he's doing this for the same reason, just that it reminds me of it. Wikipedia has a synopsis if anyone is interested.

Shadow said...

So Person ended up marrying Tammy. What a hoot.

John said...

Actually there is no agreement over how much warmer the planet is going to get; the error bars on those calculations are larger than the projected changes. You all know that as an archaeologist I read about climate change all the time, so I know something about this topic. I would emphasize three points: first, the existing models cannot be made to produce the known history of the earth's climate over the past 10,000 years. Cannot. Second, they cannot generate Ice Ages. Cannot. So the models we are talking about cannot produce the most important climate fact of the past 2 million years. Whatever causes Ice Ages, it is something completely outside the models. Third, if the models are right, then they tell us how to cool the planet. If they are right, this should not be very difficult, and could easily be done for less than the US defense budget. We would know a lot more about this if environmental activists were not blocking experiments in climate manipulation.

As you all know, I support phasing out fossil fuels, because I think we are doing a crazy experiment with the only atmosphere we have. But I do not believe that we are facing catastrophe. I think we are still more likely to mess ourselves up with nuclear or biological weapons than with greenhouse gases. So I think that we, growing up, faced a much greater risk of planetary catastrophe than young people today do.