Fusion’s First Good Day on Earth

The fusing of small atomic nuclei into larger ones, with the associated release of particles carrying a lot of motion-energy, is the mechanism that powers the Sun’s furnace, and that of other stars. This was first suspected in the 1920’s, and confirmed in the 1930s. Nuclear fission (the breaking of larger atomic nuclei into smaller … Read more

Polar Vortex, Climate Change, Red Herring?

Wow, it was unusually cold last week. In a small fraction of the globe. For a couple of days. And what does that cold snap, that big wiggle in the Polar Vortex that carries high-atmospheric winds around the North Pole, imply about “climate change”, also known as “global warming”, also known as “global weirding”?

The answer is very simple. Nothing.

If you heard anyone suggest otherwise — whether they said that the extreme cold implies that there is no global warming going on, or they said that the extreme cold implies that global warming is happening — you should seriously question anything that person says when it comes to climate change. Because that person does not respect (or perhaps even understand) the difference between anecdote and evidence; between weather and climate; between a large fluctuation and a small but long-term trend. Or between media hoopla and science.

In the interest of an imperfect analogy: Let me ask you this. Are you generally happier, or less happy, than you were five years ago? Answer this as best you can.

Now let me ask you another question. Did you, within the last month, have a really, really bad day, or a really, really good one?

Does the answer to the second question have much to do with the answer to the first one?

Barring an exceptional recent disaster in your personal or professional life, the fact that, say, last Thursday your car broke down, you locked yourself out of your house, your dog vomited on the carpet and you got caught in the rain without your umbrella does not have anything to do with whether you are a happier person than you were five years ago. Being a happier person has more to do with whether you have a better job, a happier family, a better sense of self-esteem, and things like that. And even if you love your job, you know there are going to be really bad days in the office sometimes. That’s just the way it goes. We all know that.

It’s the same with daily and monthly and yearly fluctuations in the stock market compared to the slow but fairly steady century-long growth of the U.S. economy (both curves corrected for inflation.)

So why, when there’s a big fluctuation in the daily, monthly or even seasonal weather, do people jump up and down about what the implications are for the long-term trends in climate?

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An Interesting Data Point on Climate

Particles are just so cool, and so very useful.  Scientists can learn about the past — for example, past climate — using “carbon dating”, a combination of biology and nuclear physics.

In this article in Geophysics Letters, covered in this Colorado University press release (with a somewhat inaccurate title), the abstract contains the statements…

…the extent to which recent Arctic warming has been anomalous with respect to long-term natural climate variability remains uncertain. Here we use 145 radiocarbon dates on rooted tundra plants revealed by receding cold-based ice caps in the Eastern Canadian Arctic to show that 5000 years of regional summertime cooling has been reversed, with average summer temperatures of the last ~100 years now higher than during any century in more than 44,000 years,…

Now how does this work?

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Change of Climate on the Right

There is no room for politics when we are playing for keeps. So say four Republicans, who served four Republican presidents as heads of the Evironmental Protection Agency.  The climate is changing in Washington D.C., though still more slowly than in the Arctic. My own view? Our uncontrolled experiments on our one and only planet … Read more

Humans, Carbon Dioxide and Climate

Professor Richard Muller of UC Berkeley isn’t the first scientist to be converted to the idea that humans are causing a change in the climate through carbon dioxide emissions.  Nor is he, by a long shot, the most expert among them.  But he’s one of the most famous, now, because he was also a loud skeptic not long in the past. He’s described the reasons for his conversion, based on a scientific study that he organized and helped lead, in a recent op-ed post in the New York Times.  It’s a little self-serving at best, but makes for interesting reading.

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