An Emission Control Study That May Actually Do Some Good

The family of a dear friend of mine was invited to China on a cultural visit. She said that the most striking thing about visiting The Middle Kingdom was the shabby hygiene. Many of the people there didn’t have access to the technology that we take for granted, and so lived at a more primitive level.

But the one thing that bothered her the most was the smell. Besides the open sewers that were common in every city, the air became filled with smoke at meal times as people burned whatever they could to cook their food.

This news story reports that a team of researchers led by Chandra Venkataraman of the Indian Institute of Technology in Bombay have discovered that soot and other particulates are a greater factor in potential climate change in south Asia than greenhouse gasses. The best way to avoid any future problems would be to introduce more advanced ways to cook a meal.

This is hardly surprising, considering my buddy’s tales of the conditions when she visited. One thing that is surprising is the news article itself. The author, Randolph E. Schmid, makes an effort to write an even-handed account. No mention of the Kyoto Protocols or the US reaction to them is anywhere to be found.

I’d have to say that it certainly sounds like a good idea if the Chinese make an effort to upgrade their cooking technology. It would make the air in the region easier to breathe, if nothing else.

Score another for Niven & Pournelle

As you may know, these are the guys who wrote a novel about a comet-strike disaster – before anyone had a notion that such a strike might have killed off the dinosaurs, and more than 20 years before observations of comet strikes on Jupiter pretty much confirmed their predictions of its effects. (Update: I’m speaking of Lucifer’s Hammer)

Now a new study suggests that another of their works (with Michael Flynn), Fallen Angels, is much closer to the truth than one might have assumed when it first came out. In the novel, the ecofanatics prevail, the use of technology and particularly energy is severely restricted, and the emission of greenhouse gases by human activity is successfully curtailed – and as a result, a new ice age grips the Earth, with parts of the US and most of Canada covered by thick sheets of ice.

According to the article, “there is evidence that changes in solar radiation and greenhouse gas concentrations should have driven the Earth towards glacial conditions over the last few thousand years. “, but such a disaster was prevented by the release of those dreaded greenhouse gases by humans over the last 8000 years.

Now those favoring severe restrictions on the use of energy have spent the last couple of years insisting that the evidence for global climate change is pretty rock-solid and leaping from there to the notion that their favored restrictions need to be enacted without delay to head off disaster, without ever pausing to consider the question of whether human-caused climate change represents a degradation or an improvement of the environment. If it’s caused by humans, and especially if it’s caused by humans acting to solve their own problems and make their own lives better instead of wagging their tails and waiting for their betters to give them what they need, then it must be bad. Now this assumption that H. Sapiens and all his works are a blight upon the Earth is receiving closer scrutiny, and so far it’s not looking good for the prosecution.

I highly recommend you read both novels if you haven’t already. It’s nice to read stories and writings by people who believe that human beings using their minds and building progressively more powerful tools for solving their problems is fundamentally a good and noble activity rather than a desecration of some mythical benevolent “nature”.

New Diamond

Reference to Michael Hiteshew’s review of Guns, Germs and Steel.

Last week, I enjoyed reading Hiteshew’s remarks (Dec. 28) and they brought back memories of a book I also enjoyed. Diamond’s insights have seemed to me useful and interesting. I was less happy to wake up to an NPR interview with him this morning, as he complained about global warming and overpopulation. It seemed, well, more trite than I’d remembered. These days I (appropriately) trust my memory less and less. However, when a friend sent “Kicking the Habitat” by Francis Fukayama, a review of Diamond’s Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed this afternoon, I began to suspect a more politicized or at least transitory agenda.

I certainly don’t get much read – Lex is intimidating – but thought the review might prompt discussion so I could learn more about both Diamond and Fukayama.

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Borlaug & Egeland

Our lives are easy – whether from the perspective of Jared Diamond’s book or our own lifetimes (my brother was out moving irrigation pipe in fifth grade and I was peddling around our village hawking newspapers – stories my children see as quite far from their experience). The deaths from the tsunami are hard to imagine, are horrible. The level of this human suffering seems beyond our ability to understand, to feel.

So, when a pompous and dry UN guy gets up and says we’re stingy, well, I’m likely to fall back on guilt. I could have put more into our Iraqi fund, I could be putting more into Tsunami relief. The charity to which our family devotes most of its energy is an ivory tower, designer one – setting up exchanges with Czech scholars, encouraging the teaching of Czech literature. But it does good and there is 0% overhead. You notice, these are all “I’s” – we think that way.

Okay, so I’m still on the defense but I am also not too crazy about my tax money’s “good deeds” being funneled through the UN conduit. We are always told to check out charities, to notice overhead – the UN’s percentage seems a bit too high for a good rating. (That’s part of the “I” – we notice things like that.)

But this post was prompted by one of those “good news we take for granted” moments – the “allies” Bush has lined up in his “coalition” are Australia, Japan, and India. And I observe, there he goes, being unilateral again. Australia’s like us – well, some would say “cocky” but we like to think we “honor indiviudualism.” But, let’s think about Japan & India.

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