Tag Archives: global warming

Climate Change Is Real And I’m Old Enough To Feel Its Impact

Rising U.S. concern about climate change is mostly among Democrats | Pew  Research Center

Science is a long, laborious, and often tedious process. That’s to be expected. It is, by far, the most effective tool that humanity has in terms of gaining greater knowledge and understanding the world around us.

It’s not always intuitive. There are times when science has revealed just how wrong we were. It’s not that we were all stupid beforehand. We just didn’t have all the data. We could only assume as much as our current understanding allowed.

That’s fine.

That doesn’t make anyone a bad or ignorant person for having held those assumptions.

Science, by its nature, is a self-correcting process. It doesn’t assume anything. It’s always taking in new information, running more tests, and expanding on previous hypotheses. Most of the time, it affirms what we already suspected. Sometimes, though, it completely defies everything we thought we knew.

For that reason, some people just love pointing out all the times science was supposedly wrong to cling to dogmatic assumptions like creationism and Flat-Eartherism. These people really are idiots and they’re often asshole grifters who don’t deserve the slightest bit of sympathy.

Then, there are the climate change deniers. They’re not just skeptics, which I can understand to some extent. They’re outright deniers in that they work under the assumption that the whole study of climate change is a hoax or some environmentalist conspiracy.

Now, not everyone in that camp is a stupid asshole grifter who probably leans conservative and has connections to oil companies. Those people are certainly there and they deserve plenty of scorn. At the same time, I’m willing to give the benefit of the doubt to some who just can’t see the forest from the trees.

To the latter, I’d like to share my own personal testimony that I hope will improve your understanding of the topic. Whether you believe it or not, climate change is a serious issue that could have serious consequences for billions of people all over the world. We can and should do something about it while we still have time.

I say that as someone who has been hearing about these environmental for most of his life. When I was a kid, I grew up watching cartoons that often threw in a few pro-environment messages. There were even shows that presented global warming as a serious issue and I’m not just talking about “Captain Planet.”

As a kid, I didn’t understand much of the science. Even most of the adults I talked to didn’t understand it. Some showed concern, but most weren’t inclined to give it much credence. Some even thought it was all just environmentalist propaganda.

It didn’t help that many of them lived in parts of the country where the weather didn’t change considerably from season to season. Many lived in the southern United States where they rarely got snow or cold temperatures of any kind. If the Earth was getting warmer, they weren’t going to notice.

The same could be said for the family I had living in the north. Some lived in areas that got a lot of snow. Talk to them about global warming and they’d be more likely to welcome it, often joking about how they wouldn’t mind shoveling less snow every winter.

Again, both these perspectives miss the forest from the trees. Climate, by definition, doesn’t focus on weather from day to day or even year to year. It tracks temperatures and conditions over a long span of time. For people who don’t pay attention or live in areas with relatively bland weather, it can be hard to sense.

For where I live, however, that’s not the case. I live in the Mid-Atlantic area of the United States. It’s an area that sees a wide range of conditions between winter and summer. I’ve lived through summers where it has been over 100 degrees for weeks on end. I’ve also lived through winters that have had multiple blizzards. I’ve experienced both extremes.

As a result, I take notice when those extreme change considerably. It doesn’t happen all at once. Sometimes, it’s subtle to the point where you don’t realize it until years later. Now, given my age and how long I’ve been living in this area, I can safely say that I have felt the affects of climate change.

It has only become obvious to me over the past few years. In that time, I’ve really taken note of how mild every winter has been lately. It used to be things got pretty brisk in mid-October. In the weeks before Halloween, I had to stop wearing shorts and keep a sweatshirt handy. For the past couple years, it only seems to get chilly for a couple of days. Then, it’s up over 70 degrees again.

The winter months have been even more noticeable. When I was a kid, it rarely snowed in December, outside a few rare occasions. However, it was still usually cold, so much so that I had to wear a heavy coat for most days. These days, it has rarely gotten overly cold. I can go almost the entire month of December without having to wear more than a sweatshirt.

It’s still January and February that have been the most noticeable. For so many years, right up until 2015, I could usually count on at least two significant snowstorms. They were rarely full-blown blizzards, but it was still common to see some snow on the ground for the majority of the month.

That has changed considerably in recent years. In my area, there hasn’t been a significant snowstorm in over five years. The most we’ve gotten is, at most, four inches in a single storm. It usually turns to rain and melts within a day.

It’s a hell of a contrast to the winters I remember. Add that to summers that feel hotter and more humid for longer stretches of time and there’s no getting around it.

Climate change is real.

I’ve felt it. I’ve witnessed it. I’m seeing it happen within my lifetime.

I understand that climate involves weather patterns over a long period of time, often exceeding that of a typical human lifetime. However, even if it is anecdotal, I’ve still felt it. That’s deeply concerning to me. Even if it means I don’t have to shovel snow quite as often, it’s still cause for concern.

If the climate is changing that much in this span of time, then I think that’s going to be a bigger problem as time goes on. Moreover, it’s a problem we shouldn’t ignore or underscore. Regardless of your politics, you’re going to be affected by the weather, whether you like it or not.

Much of our civilization depends on weather patterns that are stable and consistent. Climate change will disrupt that stability. We might be able to adapt to some extent, but not if it happens all at once. In that instance, it could lead to a lot of upheaval and suffering. At that point, it’ll be too late.

Now, I’m not qualified to know what the best solutions are. I know they do exist and we need to invest in them because if we don’t, it could end up costing us much more in the future and not just in terms of money.

Regardless of how you feel about modern science, at least consider this personal testimony. Climate change is real. It’s happening. It could potentially lead to some serious problems down the line. Now is not the time to whine about the shortcomings of science. We all live on this planet together. Let’s do what we can to keep it comfortable.

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Recent Advances In Nuclear Fusion (And Why We Should Cheer Them On)

Nuclear fusion: Building a star on Earth is hard, which is why we need  better materials

There a great many technological advancements that are touted as “game changing” or “revolutionary,” but very few end up delivering on that promise. I still remember all the hype surrounding the Segway and the Virtual Boy.

Granted, these might have been just a byproduct of market hype, but there was a genuine belief that this technology would revolutionize the world. It just didn’t pan out.

I know I’ve discussed a number of technological advances that are very likely to deliver on that hype. I still believe that artificial intelligence, brain computer interfaces, and human enhancement will be true game changers for the future of humanity.

However, there’s one technology that I haven’t really touched on. Arguably, it’s the most needed technology in the world right now. It wouldn’t just revolutionize the world as we know it. It might literally save it.

That technology is nuclear fusion.

Now, there’s a reason I haven’t talked about it much, aside from it not being in any particular area of expertise for me. Nuclear fusion doesn’t exactly have a lot of sexy implications like AI or human enhancement. It also has a bit of a bad reputation among those who speculate about the future.

The running joke is that nuclear fusion is 30 years away and always will be.

If you’re not laughing, don’t worry. It’s not a very good joke and it’s not the least bit funny in the grand scheme of things. That’s because nuclear fusion, if we could get it to work on a large scale, would effectively solve the world’s energy problems. It would largely eliminate the need for oil, coal, natural gas, and most other forms of energy.

If it sounds too good to be true, then you’re starting to get the joke. However, this is no magical fantasy power source on par with Dilithium Crystals. Fusion power is very real. We feel it every day. It’s what powers the sun. It’s what powers all the stars we see in the night sky.

Most people who passed high school physics know what fusion is. Basically, you take a bunch of hydrogen atoms, the most abundant element in the universe, and fuse them together under tremendous pressure and heat. The end result is helium, the second most abundant energy in the universe, and a whole lot of energy.

Unlike nuclear fission, which splits larger atoms into smaller atoms, this form of power doesn’t rely on heavy radioactive elements. As such, it produces next to no waste or greenhouse emissions. It also allows us to use seawater as fuel, since all you need is hydrogen. As a power source, it is as close to perfect as you can get.

Naturally, countless engineers and scientists have spent years trying to make fusion a viable power source. For decades, it was promised to be the ultimate solution to our energy needs. However, no matter how many times someone said viable fusion was close, it never came to be. That’s where its reputation as always being 30 years away came from.

On top of that, fusion research has had a few famous frauds. The whole failure of cold fusion was not a good look for the industry. I suspect that affair convinced too many people that we would never have fusion.

Now, there are some legitimate engineering and scientific reasons for why fusion has been so difficult. Again, I’m not an expert and I’m not qualified to explain those reasons. I’ll just say that it often comes back to making a fusion reaction self-sustaining and containing the massive heat required to keep that reaction going.

These are not challenges that require us to break the laws of physics. These are mostly engineering challenges that require study, refinement, and new materials. In the same way you can’t expect blacksmith’s from the 17th century to make a modern car, you can’t expect our current engineers to make a fusion reactor without the necessary components.

Despite what jokes and skeptics may say, we have made real progress. Very recently, an experiment at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory that utilized high energy lasers set a new energy record. That may not mean much to the average person and it certainly doesn’t mean that fusion has been perfected. It just means we’re getting closer to that magical break-even point.

That’s the point where the energy we get out of the fusion reaction is greater than what we put into it. To date, plenty of labs have created nuclear fusion reactions. They just take way more energy than they give off. Over the years, that difference has gotten smaller and smaller. Once it crosses that break-even point, then we have fusion and that will be a game-changer.

I cannot overstate just how much the world needs that kind of game-changer right now and I’m not just referring to the lingering damage of the COVID-19 pandemic. Every year, we get increasingly dire reports from the IPCC about the impacts of climate change. Despite what politicians and oil lobbyists say, we’re fueling these impacts with our reliance on fossil fuels.

Fusion, once refined and scaled, could do more than anything to reduce our emissions of greenhouse gases. It might not eliminate fossil fuels completely, but it will make them far less necessary for all the energy we need in the present and the future. I would even go so far as to say that nuclear fusion might be the only way to adequately power the future we’re trying to build.

That’s why it’s not helpful to make jokes about how fusion is always 30 years away.

Instead, this might be the best possible time to actively cheer on the people working on nuclear fusion. Only one of them needs to succeed at getting to the break-even point. Only one of them needs to succeed at making a viable fusion reactor. At that point, the world will start changing in a profound way.

It won’t happen all at once, but it will be one of the most welcome and overdue advancements in recent memory. I certainly hope that this advancement happens sooner rather than later. If nothing else, it’ll make the world feel less dire so that the other, sexier advances in technology can proceed.

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Why We Should Embrace Synthetic Meat (As Soon As Possible)

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If you’re reading this, then there’s a good chance you drank milk at some point this year. You probably drank a lot more of it when you were a kid. The fact that you’re reading this proves that you didn’t die, as a result. That may not seem like a big deal, but compared to 100 years ago, it counts as a noteworthy feat.

Between 1850 and 1950, approximately a half-million infants died due to diseases contracted by drinking milk. If you do the math, that’s about 5,000 deaths a year, just from drinking milk. Keep in mind, these are children. That’s a lot of death and suffering for drinking one of the most basic substances the animal kingdom.

These days, death by drinking milk is exceedingly rare. Thanks to processes like pasteurization, milk is one of the safest substances you can drink. If anyone does get sick, it’s usually from drinking raw or unpasteurized milk. However, it’s so rare that most people don’t think about it. It’s just a normal part of how we manage our food and nourish ourselves.

I bring up milk because it nicely demonstrates what happens when we apply technology to improve the quality, safety, and abundance of our food. Despite what certain misguided critics may say, many of which probably haven’t experienced extreme starvation, this has been an objective good for humanity, civilization, and the world, as a whole.

Modern medicine and the Green Revolution, championed by the likes of Norman Borlaug, helped give us more efficient ways of producing massive quantities of food. Now, there’s another technological advancement brewing that might end up being more impactful. You’ve probably seen commercials for it already. It has many names, but for now, I’m just going to call it synthetic meat.

It’s almost exactly what it sounds like. It’s the process of producing meat through artificial processes, none of which involve the slaughtering of animals. For those concerned about animal welfare and environmental impacts, it’s the ultimate solution. At most, the animals contribute a few cells. The rest is grown in a laboratory. Nobody has to get hurt. Nobody has to go vegan, either.

It seems too good to be true and there are certainly aspects of synthetic meats that are overhyped. However, unlike other advancements like Neuralink or nanobots, this is already an evolving market. The first synthetic burger was made and consumed in 2013. It was the culmination of a long, laborious effort that cost upwards of $300,000.

Those costs soon came down and they came down considerably. By 2017, the cost of that same meat patty was around $11. People have paid much more for expensive caviar. That’s impressive progress for something that’s still a maturing technology with many unresolved challenges. With major fast food companies getting in on the game, the technology is likely to progress even more.

It’s here where I want to make an important point about this technology. Regardless of how you feel about it or why it’s being developed, there’s one aspect to it that’s worth belaboring.

We should embrace synthetic meat.

In fact, we should embrace this technology faster than others because the benefits of doing so will only compound.

I say this as someone who has tried an impossible meat burger. It’s not terrible. I wouldn’t mind eating them regularly if they were the only option available. That said, you can still tell it’s not traditional beef. That’s because this meat isn’t exactly the kind of cultured meat that’s grown in a lab. It’s assembled from plant proteins and various other well-known substances.

Ideally, synthetic meat wouldn’t just be indistinguishable from traditional beef. It would actually be safer than anything you could get naturally. Meat grown in a lab under controlled conditions can ensure it’s free of food-born illnesses, which are still a problem with meat production. It can also more effectively remove harmful byproducts, like trans fats.

In theory, it might also be possible to produce meat with more nutrients. Imagine a burger that’s as healthy as a bowl of kale. Picture a T-bone steak that has the same amount of nutrients as a plate of fresh vegetables. That’s not possible to do through natural means, but in a lab where the meat is cultured at the cellular level, it’s simply a matter of chemistry and palatability.

Meat like that wouldn’t just be good for our collective health. It would be good for both the environment and the economy, two issues that are rarely aligned. Even if you don’t care at all about animal welfare, synthetic meats has the potential to produce more product with less resources. On a planet of over 7.6 billion, that’s not just beneficial. It’s critical.

At the moment, approximately 70 percent of the agricultural land in the world is dedicated to the meat production. In terms of raw energy requirements, meat requires considerably more energy than plants. That includes water consumption, as well. Making meat in its current form requires a lot of resources and with a growing population, the math is working against us.

Say what you want about vegetarians and vegans when they rant about the meat industry. From a math and resources standpoint, they have a point. However, getting rid of meat altogether just isn’t feasible. It tastes too good and it has too many benefits. We can’t make people hate the taste of burgers, but we can improve the processes on how those burgers are made.

Instead of industrial farms where animals are raised in cramped quarters, pumped full of hormones, and raised to be slaughtered, we could have factories that produce only the best quality meat from the best animal cells. It wouldn’t require vast fields or huge quantities of feed. It would just need electricity, cells, and the assorted cellular nutrients.

Perhaps 3D printing advances to a point where specific cuts of meat could be produced the same way we produce specific parts for a car. Aside from producing meat without having to care for than slaughter animals, such a system would be able to increase the overall supply with a smaller overall footprint.

Needing less land to produce meat means more land for environmental preservation or economic development. Farming, both for crops and for meat, is a major contributor to deforestation. Being able to do more with less helps improve how we utilize resources, in general. Even greedy corporations, of which the food industry has plenty, will improve their margins by utilizing this technology.

Increased supply also means cheaper prices and if the taste is indistinguishable from traditional meat, then most people are going to go with it, regardless of how they feel about it. There will still be a market for traditional, farm-raised meats from animals, just as there’s a market for non-GMO foods. However, as we saw with the Green Revolution in the early 20th century, economics tends to win out in the long run.

It’s a promising future for many reasons. There are many more I could list relating to helping the environment, combating starvation, and improving nutrition. Alone, they’re all valid reasons to embrace this technology and seek greater improvements. If I had to pick only one, though, it’s this.

If we don’t develop this technology, then these delicious meats that we love could be exceedingly scarce or prohibitively expensive in the future.

Like I said earlier, the way we currently produce meat is grossly inefficient. At some point, the demand for meat is going to exceed the current system’s capacity to produce it in an economical way. At that point, this delicious food that we take for granted might not be so readily available and the substitutes might not be nearly as appetizing.

The issue becomes even more pressing if we wish to become a space-faring civilization, which will be necessary at some point. If we still want to enjoy burgers, chicken wings, and bacon at that point, we’ll need to know how to make it without the vast fields and facilities we currently use. Otherwise, we might be stuck dining on potatoes like Matt Damon in “The Martian.”

While the situation isn’t currently that urgent, this is one instance where a new technology is the extra push. You don’t have to be a major investor in companies like Beyond Meat or Impossible Foods. Just go out of your way to try one of these new synthetic meat products. Let the market know that there’s demand for it and the machinations of capitalism will do the rest.

I understand that our inner Ron Swanson will always have a craving for old fashioned burgers, steaks, and bacon. Those things don’t have to go away completely, just as traditional farming hasn’t gone away completely. However, when a particular technology already exists and has so many potential benefits, it’s worth pursuing with extra vigor.

The planet will benefit.

The people will benefit.

The animals will benefit.

Our society, as a whole, will benefit.

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Filed under biotechnology, CRISPR, Current Events, Environment, futurism, health, technology

Pandemics, Pollution, And The Potential Effects

For most of my life, I’ve lived in the same general area on the east coast of the United States. There was a brief four years in which I traveled south to go to college, but in general, I’ve remained in a particular area all my life.

In that time, I’ve seen many changes in the environment. Some have been good. Some have been awful. Some have attracted a suspicious number of pigeons and stoners. I like to think I’ve gotten pretty familiar with that environment, from the air quality to the weather patterns.

Now, I’m about to find out how much that environment can change in the span of a year.

A lot has been made about the effects of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. A lot is going to be made of it for years to come. Eventually, it’ll become a movie and I doubt it’ll be an uplifting one. It’ll probably take years to grasp just how much changed over the course of a year, but some changes will be more noticeable than others.

One of them involves air pollution. Some might call it the most morbid kind of silver lining, but it’s true. According to recent satellite data, the effects of the pandemic have caused record drops in air pollution all over the world, from China to Italy to the United States.

The Guardian: Coronavirus pandemic leading to huge drop in air pollution

The coronavirus pandemic is shutting down industrial activity and temporarily slashing air pollution levels around the world, satellite imagery from the European Space Agency shows.

One expert said the sudden shift represented the “largest scale experiment ever” in terms of the reduction of industrial emissions.

Readings from ESA’s Sentinel-5P satellite show that over the past six weeks, levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) over cities and industrial clusters in Asia and Europe were markedly lower than in the same period last year.

I bolded that text about this being a large scale experiment because it’s one of the major changes we’ll all feel, even after the pandemic has passed. What happens to the world when air pollution suddenly drops? What happens when the air in places like Los Angeles is cleaner than it’s been in decades?

That’s not a rhetorical question, nor is it a facetious one. For decades, we’ve heard a lot of doom-saying from environmentalists about the damage air pollution will do to us. While I have mixed feelings about the rhetoric of environmentalists, I don’t deny that this activity has had a significant impact on the planet. However, it’s difficult to appreciate the extent of that impact.

Now, we have a chance to experience it in a novel way.

I’m already seeing some of it first-hand. For years, I’ve grown somewhat used to the smog in my area that often persists in the spring and summer. For these past few weeks, the air has been so clean and crisp that I’m not even sure what season it is.

I’ve also felt it in terms of allergies. I’ve suffered from allergies all my life and air pollution only makes it worse. Every spring, I brace myself for at least a few weeks of constant headaches, congestion, and coughing. I’ve had none of that for the past two months. That’s a first since I left for college.

That has me wondering what this will mean for the coming winter of 2020 and into 2021. This concerns me more than summer because for the past five years, my area has enjoyed a long succession of mild winters. The last major winter storm we had was the infamous snowmaggedon storm of 2010. That was a decade ago. We’re overdue.

I can count on one hand all the years in which my area has had a huge blizzard. I can also count on one hand all the years in which winter was bitterly cold for months on end. It’s been years since my area had any of that. Is part of that due to climate change? It’s hard to say. Climate and weather patterns are very complex. However, this coming year will be an intriguing test.

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