Friday, December 4, 2015

Climate Summit: Costumes and a Smog Brick

Climate change talks in Paris started this week, with the usual protesters and editorials.

Meanwhile, folks in Minnesota are shopping at Christmas tree farms: and a performance artist in Beijing made a brick from smog.
  1. Costumes, Protesters, and Something Serious
  2. Tree Farms
  3. Climate Change, Today's Problems, and a Brick Made With Smog
I'm convinced that climate change happens: and has been happening since before life began on Earth, 3,800,000,000 or so years back. As I've said before, the natural world got along fine without us. Now that we're here, however, we're responsible for its maintenance. (July 3, 2015)

United Nations Climate Conference, 2015

Another big United Nations Climate Conference started Monday, November 30, 2015.

I'm pretty sure some folks will think it's some sort of plot because the United Nations is involved: and that others will think it's wonderful for the same reason.
2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference

"The 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP 21 or CMP 11 is being held in Le Bourget, from November 30 to December 11. It will be the 21st yearly session of the Conference of the Parties to the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the 11th session of the Meeting of the Parties to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. The conference objective is to achieve a legally binding and universal agreement on climate, from all the nations of the world....
My guess is that achieving "...a legally binding and universal agreement on climate, from all the nations of the world..." isn't likely.

Not when we've got leaders like Kim Jong-un, Saparmurat Niyazov, and Sweden's Regeringen in the mix. I think getting that many folks agreeing on where to eat lunch would be an accomplishment.

Basically Good

As Johnny Cash sang, there's a problem with being "so heavenly minded, you're no earthly good." (No Earthly Good, from Cash Unearthed (Box Set), via

Somebody said that first: maybe Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., or Jr.; or D. L. Moody. Or maybe it was Terence, or Petronius — the Roman courtier, not 3244 Petronius, that's an asteroid.

Aristotle said that virtue is practical, or should be: and I think he's right.

I've talked about faith, works, and getting a grip, before. Basically, If I've got faith that's worth something, it'll affect how I live. (November 22, 2015; September 6, 2015)

Then there's the notion that 'spiritual' is good and 'material' is bad. (June 26, 2015; April 24, 2015)

The idea that the physical world " evil, the product of a fall, and is thus to be rejected or left behind..." is not what the Catholic Church teaches. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 285)

I see the natural world as basically good, since I believe that:
I've used that list before. (June 26, 2015; June 15, 2014)

The world is God's property. We're stewards, responsible for maintenance of natural resources: for our use, and for future generations. (Catechism, 339, 952, 2402-2405, 2456)

We're also responsible for the other critters here.

Human Dignity and Blue-Eyed-Lemurs

This is not a good time to be a Madagascan blue-eyed black lemur. (BBC News)

Folks living in Madagascar have used slash and burn agriculture: felling and burning trees in a field-size area, planting crops on the exposed ground, then moving on in a few years when the soil is depleted.

It's a very low-tech approach to farming, and works: as long as population density is very low, and the forest is very large.

Madagascar isn't all that big.

Although there's enough woodland in the island's northeast region, black-eyed lemurs would have to cross cleared land to get there. My guess is that someone will think of catching the critters and carrying them to a new habitat: or not.

I've got blue eyes, but I'm not a lemur: so why should I care what happens to them?

I must care, within reason, because I'm human. We're expected to respect the "integrity of creation," including animals. (Catechism, 2415-2418)

Making animals needlessly suffer or die is "contrary to human dignity," and we shouldn't do it. On the other hand, spending money on them instead of relieving human misery is wrong, too. Loving animals is okay: but we should love humans more. (Catechism, 2418)
"The seventh commandment [You shall not steal] requires respect for the goods of others through the practice of justice and charity, temperance and solidarity. In particular it requires respect for promises made and contracts agreed to, reparation for injustice committed and restitution of stolen goods, and respect for the integrity of creation by the prudent and moderate use of the mineral, vegetable, and animal resources of the universe with special attention to those species which are in danger of extinction."
(Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 506)
Does that mean God will smite us if we let Madagascan blue-eyed black lemurs, or any other species, go extinct? And what about species that we've intentionally exterminated, like the smallpox virus?

The 'fire and brimstone' approach to God notwithstanding, the Almighty does not have anger management issues. We developed a distorted image of God after the Eden incident. I think it's more accurate to say that God 'gets angry' at our behavior: not us. (Catechism, 397-401)

I've discussed disease, Edmund Massey, and Pope Pius Pius VII, before: and healing the sick is not wrong. (January 23, 2015)

My guess is that maintaining the integrity of creation does not mean trying to keep everything exactly the way it was at some arbitrary date. Species have been appearing and disappearing since life began here, 3,800,000,000 years ago. Maybe longer. (October 23, 2015)

Change Happens

Getting back to climate change and that United Nations conference, Earth's current ice age started about 2,580,000 years back.

So far, we've uncovered evidence of five ice ages, starting with the Huronian glaciation. That one started about 2,400,000,000 years ago, after the Great Oxygenation Event, or GOE. (June 27, 2014)

The GOE happened when critters like today's blue-green algae started making oxygen, triggering the Huronian glaciation. Some anaerobic species died out, and some didn't.

Critters that use oxygen to 'burn' organic stuff emerged: like fungi and animals. The new oxygen-using metabolism let critters process and store more energy, and get bigger.

More recently, some 555,000,000 years back, Albumares, Dickinsonia, and Pteridinium — weren't like anything alive today.

Neither was Dendrogramma enigmatica. (September 12, 2014)

We've learned that Tribrachidium, a three-lobed animal (?) was a filter-feeder. Apparently life in the Ediacaran was more complex than we thought, and that's another topic: maybe for next Friday's post.

Where was I? The United Nations, Deuteronomy, lemurs, ice ages. Right.

Climate, and everything else, on Earth has been changing since the planet formed, some 4,540,000,000 years ago. I've talked about change, God, clay, and getting a grip, too. A lot. (June 26, 2015; May 8, 2015; December 5, 2014; July 11, 2014)

Let's take a closer look at that chart, the one that shows temperatures for the last 5,000,000 years.

(From Lisiecki and Raymo (2005), via Wikimedia Commons; under GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later; used w/o permission.)

The 41 kyr (kiloyear) and 100 kyr cycles may be coincidences — or not. Either way, Milankovitch cycles, periodic and predictable changes in Earth's movements, line up pretty well with shifts in Earth's climate. Scientists still aren't sure why.

Earth has been cooling off, on average, for the last 5,000,000 years. But that's just recent geological history: very roughly 1/900th Earth's age. The story's a bit more complicated as we look further back.

(From Robert A. Rohde, from published and publicly available data, incorporated into the Global Warming Art project; via Wikimedia Commons; under GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later; used w/o permission.)

"Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum" is a fancier name for the Eocene Optimum. It was 170,000 years of good times for critters that like it warm. That didn't last; and about 34,000,000 years back, Antarctica started looking the way it does now: with lots of ice.

There have been ups and downs since then: but we never quite got back to the 'good old days' of the Eocene Optimum, when something killed off deep sea life in spots.

Antarctica, South America, Africa, India, and Australia, used to be part of the same continent, and that's yet another topic.

(From Ron Blakey, NAU Geology; via Wikimedia Commons; used w/o permission.)
(Earth during the Late Triassic, 220,000 years ago.)

Scientists call Earth's current eon the Phaerozoic It started 541,000,000 years ago, give or take 1,000,000, when critters with hard parts like Trilobites and reef-building Archaeocyatha appeared, and I'm drifting off-topic again.

(From Dragons flight, from publicly available data, part of the Global Warming Art project; via Wikimedia Commons; under GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later; used w/o permission.)

Psalms and Antarctica's Rainforest

Over the last few centuries, we've learned that Earth is billions, not thousands, of years old, and has been changing since day one.

I'm okay with that.

Some folks aren't, but I see what we're learning as opportunities for "even greater admiration" of God's greatness. (Catechism, 283)

If anything, what we're learning of this creation's cosmic scale emphasizes the Creator's majesty. (July 26, 2015; July 15, 2014)
"3 Terrible and awesome are you, stronger than the ancient mountains."
(Psalms 76:5)

"Yours are the heavens, yours the earth; you founded the world and everything in it."
(Psalms 89:12)

"Your throne stands firm from of old; you are from everlasting, LORD."
(Psalms 93:2)
Earth's ice caps aren't as large as they were during the last glacial maximum, 26,500 years ago, but a mile-deep glacier still covers most of Greenland.

That's not "normal" for this planet. Our home hasn't always been as warm as the early Carboniferous and early Paleogene: and it's been colder. The Marinoan glaciation, some 650,000,000 to 635,000,000 years back, may or may not have covered the planet.

The last I heard, some scientists figure we're in an interglacial period of the current ice age. Or maybe the Quaternary glaciation is finally over. (May 8, 2015)

As I keep saying, change happens. Around 52,000,000 years ago, for example, a rainforest covered at least part of Antarctica: where the temperature was about 20 degrees Celsius, 68 Fahrenheit:

1. Costumes, Protesters, and Something Serious

(From CNN, used w/o permission.)
("Women dressed as angels pose at the Place de la République"
"How ISIS inadvertently helped climate talks"
Frida Ghitis, op-ed, CNN (December 1, 2015)

"ISIS planners were probably not thinking about climate change when they chose the date for their terrorist attacks in Paris earlier this month. It's highly unlikely that they looked at the calendar and considered the implications of striking the French capital just two weeks before the world's most important gathering on climate change.

"And yet, by attacking Paris just before the U.N. Climate Change Conference, COP21, they inadvertently gave a boost to the chances that the conference will succeed.

"The blood drawn by ISIS christened Paris as a central stage in a momentous global drama. And then, by an accident of timing, the climate conference became a new act in this historic play. Savage violence juxtaposed against saving the planet has turned the conference into a show of resistance against terrorism...."
Not all protesters in Paris for the climate talks looked like they were attending a fancy-dress ball, but the folks cosplaying angels had company.

Photos associated with that CNN op-ed showed at least one person was dressed as a panda, and another dressed as a bear wearing a panda pin. Someone else came as Skeletor, or maybe a skeleton in a babushka; and the group in this photo sported natty penguin costumes.

I suspect Frida Ghitis is right, though: ISIS probably gave the climate change conference a bigger boost than the demonstrators.

Folks who want an effective climate agreement may or may not like what happens after negotiators from the 195 countries involved are finished. Money is apparently one of the difficulties.

A Reuters article points out that developing nations use fossil fuels: and will almost certainly need financial help to upgrade.

2. Tree Farms

(From KARE, used w/o permission.)
"We asked KARE 11 Facebook fans last week to share their favorite Christmas tree farm. Here is a list of the top 11."
"Top 11 Christmas tree farms, picked by KARE 11 Facebook fans"
Dana Thiede, KARE (November 30, 2015)

"Those Thanksgiving leftovers are likely a distant memory, and it's officially time to turn attention towards the next holiday on the calendar.

"For many, that means loading the kids in the ol' family truckster, and heading out to one of the many tree farms in Minnesota or western Wisconsin to harvest the perfect Christmas tree.

"Last week we asked KARE 11 Facebook fans to share their favorite Christmas tree farm. Here is a list of the top 11...."
The trees in that photo's background aren't dead, and neither is the grass. It's late fall or early winter in this area by the time most folks are buying Christmas trees. Autumn colors have come and gone, deciduous trees have shed their leaves, and the grass will be dormant until next spring.

Christmas tree farms are probably the best-known sort of tree farm: but I think the odds are pretty good that lumber you see at a building supply retailer came from a recent tree farm harvest.

I've been noticing fewer 'save the forests, stop using timber' op-ed pieces, so maybe word is getting around that not only does wood grow on trees: trees are a pretty good crop choice for some farmers.

Rockwood Tree Farm & Timber Frame Homes, up in Ontario, grows trees and processes them into construction materials: and that's yet again another topic.


3. Climate Change, Today's Problems, and a Brick Made With Smog

(From Getty Images, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
("The Paris conference is seen as the best opportunity in six years to agree a new global climate treaty"
(BBC News))
"COP21: Public support for tough climate deal 'declines' "
Matt McGrath, BBC News (November 27, 2015)

"Public support for a strong global deal on climate change has declined, according to a poll carried out in 20 countries.

"Only four now have majorities in favour of their governments setting ambitious targets at a global conference in Paris.

"In a similar poll before the Copenhagen meeting in 2009, eight countries had majorities favouring tough action.

"The poll has been provided to the BBC by research group GlobeScan.

"Just under half of all those surveyed viewed climate change as a 'very serious' problem this year, compared with 63% in 2009....

"...The number rating climate change as a very serious issue in richer countries declined significantly from 2009, while support for strong action at the Paris conference has only grown in three of the 20 countries polled.

"Canada, France, Spain and the UK are the only four with majorities in favour of their governments taking a leading role...."
I think climate change is an issue we'll have to deal with: eventually. I do not, however, think it is an urgent problem.

The question isn't whether we can change Earth's climate. We've been doing that for the last few generations.

What we must decide, probably within the next thousand years, is what changes we should make. (February 20, 2015)

We must also, I think, learn a great deal more about how our planet's climate works.

Going straight to field tests is probably not a good idea. (February 20, 2015)

As I recall, scientists became extremely cautious about weather modification after a 1972 flood left 238 dead, five missing, 3,000 injured, and cost $165,000,000 USD in lost property and infrastructure.1

There's no evidence that a cloud-seeding experiment exacerbated the storm: but the coincidence was disturbing. (February 20, 2015)

At the moment, I think our best option is to keep learning more about Earth's climate: and clean up some of the planet's worst problem areas.

China's industrial northeast still depends heavily on coal for power, with predictable results.2
"A performance artist used a vacuum cleaner to suck up particles in super smoggy Beijing to make a brick of condensed pollution.

"Beijing has been swamped for days in a beige-gray miasma of smog, bringing coughs and rasping, hospitals crowded from respiratory ailments, a midday sky so dim that it could pass for evening, and head-shaking disgust from residents who had hoped the city was over the worst of its chronic pollution.

"But 'Brother Nut,' a performance artist, has something solid to show from the acrid soup in the air: a brick of condensed pollution.

"For 100 days, Brother Nut dragged a roaring, industrial-strength vacuum cleaner around the Chinese capital’s landmarks, sucking up dust from the atmosphere.

"He has mixed the accumulated gray gunk with red clay to create a small but potent symbol of the city's air problems...."
(Chris Buckley, Adam Wu; The Seattle Times (December 1, 2015))

People Being Human

We've been changing Earth on a local and regional level for several thousand years. That started when some of us developed agriculture, about a dozen millennia back now. (January 16, 2015)

Large-scale projects like Egypt's irrigation system are more recent. A ceremonial Egyptian macehead shows someone wearing Upper Egypt's Hedjet, or White Crown, opening dikes: or maybe cutting a furrow. Either way, it's about 5,000 years old.

Ever since the European ice cap melted, much of the Netherlands has been damp: or under water. Folks there stopped living on artificial hills a thousand years back or so, and started building dikes.

The 'up' side is that they don't have to live on terps now. The 'down' side is that if they don't maintain the dike system, quite a bit of their country will be under water.

The point of that history lesson is that we've been affecting the environment for millennia. What's changing is the degree to which we can affect our home.

I don't see a problem with it: since that's what happens when we use tools, and using technology is part of being human. Ethics apply, of course. (Catechism, 2293-2295)

When we ignore the ethical angle, bad things happen. (Catechism, 339)

I've talked about passenger pigeons, dodos, hydraulic mining, and the London death fog, before. (January 16, 2015)

A short ramble about Deuteronomy and ownership, and I'm done.

Respect, Resources, and Looking Ahead

Exodus 20:15, Deuteronomy 5:19, and Matthew 19:18 say "you shall not steal."

Owning property is fine. It helps maintain our freedom and dignity, and gives a measure of security. But the right to private ownership isn't absolute.

Other folks matter, too: and stealing is wrong, even if it's called something else — or the victim is someone who isn't here yet. (Catechism, 2401-2449)

Respecting the "integrity of creation" means taking care of this world and its resources, for the common good of all humanity: including everyone who will follow us. (Catechism, 2415)

We've made — and learned from — mistakes. We have a great deal left to learn.

After the Great Smog of '52, the United Kingdom's Parliament cobbled together the Clean Air Act 1956. America's 1955 Air Pollution Control Act and 1963 Clean Air Act were some of my country's efforts to clean up mistakes made during the first generations of industrial development.

'None of the above' are perfect solutions. But I am convinced that we can keep learning, and build a better world:

1 More about the 1972 Rapid Cities, South Dakota, flood:
2 Northeastern China's heavy industries still use coal, with familiar results:


Brigid said...

Stutter: "the notion that notion that 'spiritual' is good"

Extra article: "suffer or die is a "contrary to human dignity," and we"

Missing 'and?' "learned that Earth is billions, not thousands, of years old, has been changing since day one."

The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

Brian H. Gill said...

Quite right! Found, fixed, and thanks, Brigid.

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From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.