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What Can A Higgs Boson Teach Us About Global Warming?

Discovery use to be quite a bit easier. We were dealing with the basics, with the visible world, the world at the right size for us to see it plainly. But as we’ve gotten past the basics, past the surface of things, we need to try a lot harder. We’ve been smashing subatomic particles and nuclei into each other for quite some time now, so we’ve gotten many of the pieces of what we call the Standard Model down. All except for something called the Higgs Boson. Until now. We think.

Whoa, either you have it, or you don't have it, right?

Not that simple.

A lot of the particles we deal with as basics, like neutrons, protons, and electrons are fairly low energy, and stable. Your average Proton, which could decay at some point, according to certain findings still has a minimum half life of 6.6 * 10^33 power. 10^12 power is a trillion, so we're talking 6.6 billion trillion trillion years.

The universe is estimated to be about 13 billion years or so. Our protons are going nowhere.

The Higgs Boson, though, does have somewhere to go, at least at our energy levels. It quickly decays into other particles before it can do much of anything, so you have to look at indirect evidence to tell whether it's real.

Determining whether a theory is real is an important part of science, one that some of its critics neglect to their discredit. It's not simply one argument or its alternative being right. You have reality, you have your theories, and you can have outcomes that are inconsistent with any or all theories. Some people mistakenly take the science philosophy notion of paradigm shift to think that what they believe to be right is destined to take its rightful place as the theory du jour at some point.

Not that simple.

All theories have to be subject to test. Endless, unterminated controversies might seem attractive to those with political agendas and a conclusion they want to argue or indoctrinate everybody into, but it's toxic to science to teach the controversy. Controversies exist to be settled. We're looking for the means to determine what the right theory is, the right explanation, and it's not your logic that's going to determine that.

Logic can go in any direction people imagine. What we employ in the service of science is a kind of logic that depends on the verification of evidence to become accepted. We ask, "If this is true, what would we see?"

Or, the other way around, "If this isn't true, what do things look like?"

Scientists looking for the Higgs Boson set out a curve, a range of expected values for the energy coming off of the collisions. If the Higgs Boson, or something like it, were real, you'd see an energy spike somewhere along a predicted range.

Scientists have seen it. But you know something? The real world's messy, the quantum world's uncertain by nature, and you know what? The Higgs Boson is not the only particle that can decay into something like what they're looking for, nor do the collisions constitute the only possible source for a given particle.

They didn't want to announce a finding based on a mere fluke of the data. They wanted to make sure, so they repeated these experiments over and over again, building a statistical picture.

It's that picture they're talking about when they start talking about Sigmas. Sigmas represent standard deviations, percentages of a graph of a normal curve. With each additional sigma, you gain certainty of a result. No result is perfect, this being the real world where phenomena often confound each other, but if you demonstrate the greater likelihood of your hypothesis being the case to a great enough degree, The result can be described as conclusive. In this case, the result is quite close to 5 Sigma, which means the chances of this being a fluke are 1 / 1,744,278, literally less than one in a million.

In other words, they've hammered the uncertainty down far enough to say that the alternative is vanishingly unlikely. But it's still there.

What they're certain about at this point is that they've got something at that level that looks like a Higgs. There's a particle there, no doubt about it, and it decays like a Higgs. But they're looking to see whether this new particle behaves like it's supposed to.

The importance of this deals with the very successful, but still tentative theory of quantum mechanics known as the Standard Model. So far, most of its predictions have come true, but as with all human theories, there are discrepancies and imperfections. We decide whether we keep the theory or start from scratch again depending on the results. This particle, if real, helps the Standard Model make sense.

But it could be something entirely different, point us to new theories altogether.

We're not going to get their, though, on mere imagination.

We have whole libraries of results telling us what theories and ideas did and did not work, and those there is dispute sometimes between different theorists as to what the right hypothesis is, that dispute is typically being tested on an evidential basis. Otherwise, it would be little more than olde-tyme philosophizing.

Global Warming is uncertain for different reasons. On the subatomic level, it's the fact that anything you're measuring gets measured by, something else that's quantum. If you throw a photon at a house, you're not going to change it's position or its motion that much. If you throw one at an electron, the electron's going to take, as the old show title popularized, an actual quantum leap, showing up somewhere else , going somewhere else, instantly. Additionally, you can only measure something by the wavelength of the particle, but to get the wavelength small, you have to make things more energetic. A gamma ray will measure something very precisely at the moment it hits, but it will punch that thing way the hell out from where it was. You can get a better idea of where it's going, but then you have to settle for a much vaguer measurement.

Additionally, all the big black holes and stars and supernova throw out their own compliment of particles, which we shorthand as cosmic rays.

But with Global Warming, the problem is, you're trying to determine what the normal behavior is for a system that never stands still, and changes its behavior based on what begin as rather minor differences in starting conditions. And you can't just do it in one place, you have to do it all over, because, of course, the neighboring parts of your model feed into your chosen part's behavior, just as the wind coming down from the arctic feeds into the US's weather picture.

You look at situations with El Nino and La Nina, and you see situations where if this Equatorial Pacific Phenomenon flips one way, all kinds of other parts flip in different directions based on that in synchrony.

Nobody's going to drop the Earth's Weather into a lab, where we can run experiments like those the Large Hadron Collider's scientists ran to find this new particle. On the other hand, we're not talking about observing any especially rare events. Climate, as a matter of fact, is about what weather is common.

Weather can be fairly uncertain, but when we're asking about weather, we're talking about some rather precise conditions, here and now, not averages over a number of decades. Where weather does figure into things, is what happens when your average relative humidity drops, but your temperature regularly hits 95 in places instead of 85 in the summer. Given the consequences of freezing water to so much of climate, it's also important where seasonal highs get above freezing where they haven't been before.

One thing the contrarians have a tendency to emphasize is that climate change happens naturally. It does, of course, but that doesn't prevent any forcing that comes from what we do from having an effect. At best what might happen is that natural variability might interact with our contribution. It's not either/or, it's both/and.

And yes, there's uncertainty about it. But be blunt about what's happening here. Folks cite the Medieval Warm Period, but while certain parts of the globe might have experienced higher temperatures, you weren't changing things as a whole.

It's worth keeping in mind that whatever variability you're claiming, the changes that seem to be on their way are greater than any we've faced in the last 8000 years. We've had a pretty stable run of it, and cycles have not been intense enough to cause many of the glaciers we're looking at to retreat, nor to cause so much of the melting of Ice Shelves and other features we've been seeing in the arctic and antarctic.

Scientists have been applying the same sort of principle, modelling things with and without the carbon increase which we know are occurring in the atmosphere. The simple fact is, you don't have a real model out there that can account for temperature changes like we have without Carbon in the picture.

There is always the possibility that there's an alternate explanation, where the rise in Carbon Dioxide and other Greenhouse gases doesn't have that big of an effect, and something else can explain what's going on. But nobody's really found it.

Some believe the reason for that is political, and that's certainly a difficult idea to shake for many. But not everything's political, and personally, that's part of why I don't like the GOP's approach to science. When you start imagining Marxist conspiracies just because scientists aren't compliantly changing their theories to match what fossil fuel energy companies need to profit, when you start short-sightedly talking about jobs when the effects of the climate shift could put a lot of people out of work itself, then you've got yourself in a peculiar kind of trouble.

Yes, the scientists could be wrong. But it's not as if they are unaware, and if they are wrong, then you will see a shift at some point, as the evidence begins to overwhelmingly support the theory.

For the time being, though, what they are saying could be pretty stark.

For one thing, some crops simply don't function photosynthetically over a certain temperature. For another, water, whether it's for humans or for agriculture, is a precious resource, and where it's available and not will shape where we can cultivate our crops and raise our livestock. For another, our cities and communities are built and planned with certain weather in mind. Significant changes in what your average day of weather is like will alter the shape of our communities, at our expense, of course.

It's not simply about hurricanes coming and wiping us all out, or that implausible The Day After Tomorrow scenario, with warming helping to bring on an ice age. It's not about a few major disasters alone, it's about changing the way the weather we're dependent on behaves on average. If food and water become more scarce, that means you pay more for it. If your city, state, or the nation as a whole has to change its infrastructure to handle new flooding, you pay. If you have to move your house, or you lose it to the weather, well of course you pay. If wildfires caused by dry conditions burn down your house, you pay.

And yes, if the sea rises, we all pay, as we have to move and duplicate every bit of infrastructure that we lose to the rise. That is, if we're able or willing to. You have to start from an intense and naive belief that the Scientists must be wrong to risk this scenario, because if you lose the bet, you're very much screwed.

I don't like being screwed. I don't like being stuck in a bad situation with no choices. Our economy hasn't grown and developed, either, by accepting bad situations with no choices. Instead, the history of our economic advancement has been written in terms of coming up with new options, adapting to realities in a way that gives us new choices, new ways out of old dilemmas.

Until somebody can come up with a decent alternate explanation for why the weather is acting the way it is, and pound down the uncertainty for it far enough to make it the real plausible alternative, our best proven theory is the one that tells us we need to change our behavior. Not even our most ardent greenie will tell you we can just shut down all the coal plants and take all the gas-guzzling cars off the road right now.

The key to things will be starting early, and developing the new infrastructures. Costly, but something we can do now with economics on our side, rather than later with economics against us. We have the ability to improve our options now. We wait, and these will be opportunities lost.

Speaking of which, I remember that we were once going to build a particle accelerator. Now it could have been America that built the next research platform that the world flocked to in order to do tomorrow's hard science, but instead it will be Europe that gains those honors.

We can be the folks who help solve the problem, as much as we've helped create it, and we can profit from that, with jobs and investment coming our way. Or we can let somebody else do the honors. With developing countries fast approaching our level of technological advancement and lifestyle complexity, we are going to fast see an age where energy demands outstrip energy supply, and prices will reflect that.

If we deal with this ahead of time, we can come out ahead, profit by the transition. If not, we will be paying the cost for our refusal to adapt in time.

I'd rather we start making decisions that make this country and this world a better place for our children, rather than continuing to cling to the old ways and old technologies simply to keep from having to do anything now. I want my options open, and the only way to do that is to respond to things as they are, not simply as we might imagine them to be. The closest we can get to that, being fallible human beings, is to follow the science.

Posted by Stephen Daugherty at July 4, 2012 4:08 PM
Comment #347845


I believe that global warming is happening and that human activities are affecting it.

On the other hand, your idea re explanation is not supported by facts. It is true that the climate has been mostly stable for 8000 years, but before that things were really different. My birthplace in Wisconsin was under a mile of ice until a rapid global warming melted all that ice, w/o the help of any humans. In the climate over long periods, many things have happened.

It is also true that the world has changed a lot even the relatively stable period of the last 8000 years. Our scientific power to make measurements is not very good. We know that the Romans produce Mediterranean style crops in what is now the UK. We are also finding evidence of human settlement under ice sheets that are now retreating, which tells us that things were warmer in recent history. We know that prolonged drought destroyed native American cultures in the Southwest and that cooling climate destroyed Viking colonies in Greenland.

There were also profound changes caused by humans in various ways. The Romans bred horses in what is now North African sandy desert. I have visited Roman cities in the Middle of Deserts. They prospered in places where nobody can live today. The invading barbarians destroyed the economic and ecological base of these places. The armies of the prophet didn’t know how to maintain aqueducts. On the other hand, in Israel places that have been rocky deserts for 2000 years are today covered in forests and crops.

We also have the challenge of what to do. The U.S. has reduced greenhouse gas emissions more than any other country or region during the last five years. It is likely we are in a long term decline trend as we have more efficient processes and change from coal to natural gas and alternatives. However, our Chinese friends are more than making up. IN 2020, China alone will emit more co2 than the whole world did in 1990. What do we do about that?

Posted by: C&J at July 4, 2012 10:51 PM
Comment #347846

I think I already explained that nothing about Anthropogenic Climate Change means that natural variability ceases. You just don’t have it there, purely, alone.

I’d like to know what standards you’re applying to “our scientific power to make measurements is not very good.” I’d like to know what the dates on these settlements are. And no, those would not be ice sheets, those would be glaciers. There’s a difference, a matter of dates, if you will, and the fact that ice sheets would be miles high formations of ice, as still exist in Greenland and Antarctica.

Also, I would direct your attention to the passage where I said that variability among local climates was not unknown, either.

As for what we do about it? In my opinion, we do the right thing, we set the example, we start saving the energy that will make us competitive, forcing China, which is already confronted with the need to go greener to reduce its energy needs, to go even further. At the very least, if all else fails, we can at least say we weren’t the idiots who let things go to hell. I don’t find much merit in reasoning that says, “because China will cheat or fail to address this problem, neither should we.” That’s like saying, “Because China has the front seat in the handbasket carrying us all to hell, we ought to sit there, too.”

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at July 4, 2012 11:17 PM
Comment #347849


The Chinese are going to pump more CO2 into the air in the next decades than we did from 1776-1990. This train has left the station.

We have “set the example” for the last five years and in fact our emission per unit of GDP has been falling for years. If China was as efficient as the U.S., they would be producing only about half the CO2 they do today.

Think about it - NO country on earth has reduced its emissions more than the U.S. has over the past five years. Over the past 10 years (yes the Bush time) we did better than the countries of the EU.

Re the dates of settlements - they are finding medieval settlements under the glaciers in the Alps, Pyrenees and Greenland. The cities in the desert are Roman, usually they thrived from about the second century until about the fifth. Israel was largely deforested by around 500 BC. The forests have been regenerated in the last 50 years.

The bottom line is that climate was variable in the past. The other lesson is that land use patterns make a big difference beyond climate. In much of the Med and Middle East, the actions of people have made deserts into liveable cities or the reserve. We will need to adapt and we can adapt to a variety of climates. Many of the forests of Israel could be and were barren deserts when they were managed differently. The climate didn’t change.

We are making some mistakes in the U.S. west. For example, we are not properly managing and thinning pine forests because of misguided environmental concerns. As a result, the forests are too thick, which provide good habitat for pine beetles, which weaken and kill trees. Then they burn. People blame climate change. This is a factor, but not the biggest one. The forests mostly burn due to poor management and - ironically - because earlier government policies too effectively excluded fire for too long.

Posted by: C&J at July 4, 2012 11:54 PM
Comment #347859


“IN 2020, China alone will emit more co2 than the whole world did in 1990. What do we do about that?”

We go on about our business and continue to do the right thing.

IMHO, China is attempting to make up time and compress the last hundred years so that they can compete in the global marketplace.

I’m not saying it’s right, I’m just saying…


Posted by: Rocky Marks at July 5, 2012 7:26 AM
Comment #347865

Great explanation Stephen. The denial of the scientific method or the lack of understanding that has been going on around this issue makes it impossible to have a dialog about what we do as a society to address these very serious issues. Currently it seems like, “this is too hard so let’s do nothing and hope that the scientists are wrong,” is winning the day. This is made worse by those that have degrees taking money from industries that stand to take a hit to try to muddy the water on an issue. This has worked because of some bizarre notion that scientists are willing to tarnish their reputations to make oil companies look bad and that political bias has guided their research and not as an attempt to understand the world.

This issue has fallen off the menu for both political parties because there is no one in Washington to champion the issue since Al Gore’s clownish behavior made him politically irrelevant. You are also right that time is running out to get ahead of this issue and this whole denial of basic science that has been coming from the right is doing as much as anything to ensure that the US will no longer be a leader in the world but left to play catch up.

Neil DeGrasse Tyson said, “the great thing about science is that it’s true whether you believe it or not.” Though, I would say that it’s an awful thing, at least on this issue.

Posted by: tcsned at July 5, 2012 12:40 PM
Comment #347867

First, let me start by saying that your friends have been harping on this one finding by a Scientist Zunli Lu at Syracuse University, but he’s basically saying they have no business extrapolating his findings that far.

Second, let me address the subject of the Medieval Warming Period. Natural variability has always carried with it the likelihood that local climate might change. But every time, say, Europe gets warmer, doesn’t mean the whole rest of the planet got warmer with it.

Here’s evidence of that.

Think of our influence as something like a cowboy trying to rope in a steer. That we’ve gotten something of an influence, like the rope on the bull’s head, doesn’t mean we control the bull’s every movements. It will pull this way and that. In fact, the last few decadesmay have been cooler than otherwise because the climate was pulling in the other direction. Now, it might just be pulling with our influence, instead of against it.

The thing to keep in mind is that we’re talking a radically different climate all around, and that’s going to shift things in ways we can’t even begin to anticipate.

Remember the Sahara? That dried out, in part, because things got cooler in certain parts. But if the Sahara gets wetter for being warm, other climatologists suggest that the Amazon might become dried out instead, or at least more like a grassland, and less like a forest.

Climate is complex, and we’ve been performing a radical experiment based on poking this bear in a cage with a stick.

I would suggest something else, too: Yes, we can bring parts of the desert to life, but climate found is always cheaper than climate faked. Just ask folks in California, with their “Cadillac Desert”

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at July 5, 2012 12:46 PM
Comment #347874

Good article. Thank you for writing it.

We are performing the greatest uncontrolled experiment in the history of the world: what will happen if we pump large amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere?

Past episodes of warming and cooling can generally be explained by natural cycles, things like predictable changes in the earth’s orbit, tilt, and so on. To put it simply, in the past, additional energy from the sun increased temperatures, which increased atmospheric carbon dioxide, which increased temperatures, in what constitutes a feedback loop.

This time is different. We’re adding carbon dioxide (and other gases) and we’re going to find out what happens. Right now, today, CO2 is at the highest level the planet has seen in 800,000 years, and it’s rising. CO2 persists in the atmosphere for about 100 years. (Methane, a far more serious greenhouse gas, only lasts four years).

So, one way or another, we’re going to find out what happens with this uncontrolled experiment. Like the quote from tcsned suggests, it is what it is, whether you believe it or not.

Posted by: phx8 at July 5, 2012 3:37 PM
Comment #347879

There’s another statistical issue that has allowed the right to claim that first that global warming is not man caused but also to promote any cockamamie theory that they are pushing. To prove causation you need some specific things like a control and a random sample. The best we are ever going to be able to prove with any statistical certainty is correlation. We don’t have a group of planets to act as a controll group nor can we randomly assign planets to pump full of CO2. I think the correlation has been pretty much settled. In the abscence of another source of CO2 in the amount we are talking about it leaves human beings as the source.

It’s the same crap that the cigarette industry uses to deny that cigarettes cause cancer though all of the evidence points towards it and nothing has come out to the contrary.

Posted by: tcsned at July 5, 2012 5:57 PM
Comment #347883


We are doing the right things and it looks like we will continue to do the right things. If the scaremongers don’t stop us from using the clean and inexpensive natural gas we have here in America, U.S. emissions will continue to drop even when the economy begins to grow again.


“Climate is complex, and we’ve been performing a radical experiment based on poking this bear in a cage with a stick.”

I would prefer not to experiment, but I am not sure we have much of a choice, given the CO2 already in the air and the inevitable growth of emissions from China et al.

I also understand that we do not understand climate. I do not believe that data on the medieval warm period is as precise as your article implies. I would point out, however, that there is no doubt that the Wisconsin glaciation period froze half of North America for around 100,000 years. Then about 10,000 year ago rapid global warming melted most the “permanent” ice from what is now Illinois and Ohio to Hudson Bay.

We are living in an interglacial period, a warm period between glaciation. Interglacial periods have lasted 10,000-15000 years. Our current warm period began around 11,000 years ago. Scientists think that we would be naturally heading into a cooling period, although nobody knows exactly when. If human induced global warming was to stave off mother natures snowball attack, it is a good thing in my opinion.

In any case, the experiment is underway and always has been.

I don’t mean this as a “denial” of global warming, which I know is a big sin. I do believe that we might better spend our time and energy figuring out ways to adapt to the changes that are indeed on the way.

Microclimates can be very important. We already have techniques to grow forests in places that were barren. I have felt the difference between a cool forest and a hot barren land, as we all have. Beyond that, new biotechnology techniques can improve species, allowing them to grow under harsher conditions.

Let me sum up a little. I have been a “believer” in global warming since the early 1980s. But I don’t think that the hysteria about it is justified. It is a big challenge, but not an insurmountable one.

Beyond that, I find that many who claim to believe in warming fail to pick up both sides of the stick. If you believe in warming, for example, you must also accept that the concept of “native” plants and animals no longer makes sense. Yet we hear in the same breath that we need to counter global warming by relying on native species. A species that adapted to the climate of (e.g.) North Carolina in the last 1000 years, may be no more adapted to the climate there 100 years from now than a wholly mammoth is adapted to the current climate of southern Illinois. We need to recognize that we will need to manage the changes, using new crops, genetic engineering and innovative land use adaptions.

We can proposer only by moving forward. The die is cast. Going back is not an option.

Posted by: C&J at July 5, 2012 7:08 PM
Comment #347890

You’re walking an unnecessary tightrope here, you know.

Science is not about making pronouncements from up on high about what’s true. It’s about using evidence, either generated from observation or experiment to put theories to the test, and then generate the next batch of theories, which then get put to the test.

Fact of the matter is, we don’t know everything about climate, but we understand it a hell of a lot better now than we did ten or twenty years ago.

What we’re coming to understand is that sometimes climate change is nice, and sometimes climate change is a real b****. You can card stack the Medieval Warm Periods, and I’ll show you the dessication of the Sahara, the outrageous heatwave that killed trees all over the place in my neck of the woods(Gave us the hottest summer on Record, too… for the United States, in its entire history.) I can talk about Beringia, about how Climate change may have doomed the Byzantine Empire.

As far as keeping us out of an ice age? How do you know, if you claims such ignorance about how climate works? The length of the interglacial period is a product of emergent forces, not a contract nature needs to fulfill.

I’m in the school of thought that you should only treat what’s inevitable regardless of your choices as such, because when you go further than that, it’s more like self-fulfilled prophecy than something you actually couldn’t avoid.

We’ll adapt to what we have to later, I’m concerned about adapting now so that what we adapt to is the minimum necessary, and therefore the least costly. A stitch in time saves nine, as one guy once said, and it’s a reliable principle in a complicated world were delay on dealing with problems can make things far worse.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at July 5, 2012 11:26 PM
Comment #347894


Re the ice age - I don’t know and neither does anybody else. I am making the point that the “experiment” you talk about is ongoing. This one started 10,000 years ago. We have enjoyed a stable and warm climate for about that long. It was not the result of things humans did and is not ours to maintain.

I would prefer not to put so much CO2 into the air. I am content that the U.S. is moving rapidly in the right direction to reduce CO2 emissions. But others are moving in the other direction and there is really nothing we can do to stop them.

That is why a realistic approach must be to adapt to the changes in the best way possible, taking advantage of the benefits while minimizing the costs.

Re your forests burning - climate change plays a role, maybe. The bigger role is poor management. We have been dealing with beetles and fire for a long time. The beetles are fairly easy to defeat. You have to thin the trees so that the beetles cannot easily travel from tree to tree and you have to aggressively cut trees in “beetle spots” These things are not done well in many cases because of misguided policy, some of which is dictated by “environmentalists” who don’t understand the dynamics of the forest.

You will always have fires and bugs. You can control them, or not, whether the climate is warmer or cooler.

We need to begin to adapt now. I have planted trees like longleaf pine and bald cypress, which are at the northern edge of their range on my farm. If the climate warms, they will be better adapted. We also can take advantage of the vast possibilities of plant and animal breeding and biotechnology. These are things we can do now and things we are doing now.

The more I study this subject, the more I realize that we are NOT just standing still. I am afraid that many people are still in the 2005 stage, where they express outrage but don’t do anything more than complain and show pictures of stranded polar bears.

BTW - polar bears are an interesting case. There are more polar bears today than there were 50 years ago. We can mange the polar bear population through relocation and hunting. We are not helpless in the face of change, but we do have to be willing to act.

Posted by: C&J at July 6, 2012 6:51 AM
Comment #347900

Look, my position is this: That we ought to let the evidence speak for itself, guiding our choices here, that we should adjust politics to suit what would be the best policies, less the other way around.

The Scientists looking for the Higgs Boson, or whatever particle they’ve actually found, looked in a lot of other places, and didn’t find it. But rather than say, you know, we just don’t know where it is, they said, let’s keep on eliminating ranges of energies until we’re sure. And now they have a new particle, which might just be the Higgs they’re looking for.

We can’t tell the Chinese what to do. Then again, though, our greatest influence might just be in turning away from certain technologies and reducing our consumption even further, so the Chinese look at us and say, “We’ve got a consumption problem, too, let’s do what they’re doing.”

As for polar bears? We might have stopped people from making them into rugs, but at the rate we’re going, there’s not going to be enough sea ice to support their feeding.

We are not helpless in the face of change, but keep in mind this: human being are only beginning to learn about the complexity of the real world. Often things in the natural world have a more enduring quality, because unlike man’s highly selective design, Nature often encourages double and triple redundancy in natural processes. Or, rather, it discourages creatures from just having one defense against a virus, a predator, or whatever, so that if something bad happens, its screwed. Ecosystems, also, don’t tend to be efficient on the level of just relying on one predator, or one species of herbivore, or one species of plant. When they start to do so, that’s when they get really unstable.

Nature’s stability is not to be thrown away lightly, because the alternatives can be highly bewildering to us, and a challenge for our survival. We can’t destroy the planet, or all life on it, but we can certainly screw things up badly for ourselves.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at July 6, 2012 10:23 AM
Comment #347901

Despite varying beliefs on climate change, new “technologies” come out all the time. We are hardly doing nothing as alarmists claim.

What is it that you guys want to see done? Unlimited funding? Taxation? Forced compliance?

Posted by: kctim at July 6, 2012 10:44 AM
Comment #347907
Stephen Daugherty wrote:I‘d rather we start making decisions that make this country and this world a better place for our children, rather than continuing to cling to the old ways and old technologies simply to keep from having to do anything now.
And what decisions would those be?

Unfortunately, too many voters and citizens belong to these two destructive extremes, and it is slowly, but surely, destroying the nation:

  • Extreme #1: One extreme wants regressive taxation, unfettered capitalism, little (if any) government regulations, and freedom to explore and wallow in almost every manifestation of unchecked greed.
  • Extreme #2: The other extreme wants a nanny-state with citizens increasingly dependent on the government (by design); with massive cradle-to-grave government programs (which are usually severely mismanaged and plundered) that nurture a sense of entitlement and dependency on government; tries to disguise envy and jealousy as demands for equality; wants to grow government ever larger (despite the already current nightmare proportions); rewards failure and laziness; and perpetuates the myth that we can somehow all live at the expense of everyone else.

Which category do you think you belong to?
Which category do you think readers think you belong to?
It is probably quite safe to say, based on your writings over the years, it would be category #2.

And the obvious results of so much selfishness is rampant chaos and dysfunction that will probably last years (or decades), due to massive fiscal and moral bankruptcy of our own making:

  • the M2 Money Supply of $9.94 Trillion and the Federal Reserves of $2.6 Trillion is less than 22% of the $57.6 Trillion nation-wide debt;
  • the $15.75 Trillion federal debt is $138,575 per tax payer; over 103% of the $15.19 Trillion GDP; over $180,000 per U.S. citizen; over $509,000 per U.S. tax payer; over $693,639 per family; and 3.8 times the U.S. GDP of $15.19 Trillion (over 200% higher than it was in year 1956); $120 Trillion in unfunded liabilities which exceeds the $90 Trillion in nation-wide assets;
  • No one can explain where the money will come from to merely pay the interest alone on $57.6 Trillion of nation-wide debt, much less pay down the principal, when that money does not yet exist;
  • the U.S. has fallen to 14th in Reading, 25th in Math, and 17th in Science (based on 2010 OECD scores);
  • U.S. unemployment (currently at 8.2%) has been above 8.0% since year 2009;
  • incessant inflation is used to battle debt, but destroys wages and savings; a 2001 U.S. Dollar is now only worth 77 cents; and a 1950 U$D is only worth 11 cents; and a 1913 U$D is now only worth 4 cents; the effect of incessant inflation, year-after-year-after-year; non-stop inflation since year 1956;
  • real income has been shrinking for years; Americans have lost 39% of their wealth since year 2007; incomes have not been keeping up with inflation;
  • Americans ages 35 to 44 have lost 55% of their wealth, and are 70% poorer than their counterparts of the same age in 1984 (according to a Pew Research Center study from last year);
  • many of the economic statistics are not being reported accurately, and many statistics are being manipulated to make matters look less severe;
  • State and local pensions are $3.9 -to- $5.0 Trillion in debt (much more than the previous estimate of about $900 Billion);
  • 80% of the U.S. population owns only 17% (or less) of all wealth, and 1% owns over 40% of all wealth (up by 20% from 20% in year 1976); a wealth disparity gap that has never been worse since the Great Depression;
  • millions of more foreclosures and bankruptcies are still in the pipeline;
  • many trillions spent for stimulus and increased the already massive debt, with little (if anything) but more debt to show for it;
  • regressive taxation;
  • rewards, tax breaks, and subsidies for corporations that move jobs out of the U.S.;
  • constitutional violations (e.g. Article V)

That is, in case you have not yet noticed, a financial disaster is approaching.
And it is almost certainly too late now to do much (if anything) to avoid the majority of pain and misery that will result from it, and last many years (perhaps decades).
Simply look at the wealth lost over the past decades, and extrapolate from there, based on the huge number of economic conditions which have only worsened during the last decade.

So, seriously, what major decisions would you make now to:

Stephen Dautherty wrote: “start making decisions that make this country and this world a better place for our children” ?

In my opinion, it is not so much anything NEW that we need to do, as much as the OLD things we need to stop doing, such as these 10 major abuses, which are largely only symptoms of too much selfishness, greed, laziness, etc.

We don’t need a LOT of NEW laws as much as we need OLD and existing laws to be properly enforced.

Then perhaps, the U.S. can lead again, as it once did, because sadly, there is currently no other nation to adequately fill the vacancy.

But, at any rate, the majority of voters have the government that they elect, and re-elect, … , and re-elect, at least, possibly, until repeatedly rewarding failure, repeatedly rewarding the duopoly, and repeatedly rewarding FOR-SALE, incompetent, arrogant, greedy, selfish, and corrupt incumbent politicians in Congress with perpetual re-election finally becomes too painful.

Posted by: d.a.n at July 6, 2012 12:48 PM
Comment #347923

“Look, my position is this: That we ought to let the evidence speak for itself, guiding our choices here, that we should adjust politics to suit what would be the best policies, less the other way around.”

This is exactly my position. The evidence tells us that the world is getting warming and it implies that human activity has something to do with the change. Is your evidence different? So what do we do?

The evidence tells us that if CO2 is causing global warming, there is already enough CO2 in the air to make the world continue to warm. Experience tells us that the Chinese are building a new coal plant something like every month. They already produce more total CO2 than we do AND they do it at much lower economic level.

If China was as efficient as the U.S. is today, they would produce only half as much CO2 as they do today and if the U.S. was an inefficient as China in terms of pollution we would produce twice as much CO2 as we do today. If they the Chinese look at us and say, “We’ve got a consumption problem, too, let’s do what they’re doing.” they would be producing only half as much CO2 as they do now. This example thing is not working out very well.

Posted by: C&J at July 6, 2012 6:02 PM
Comment #347947

The question answers itself. The difficulty is in the details. The last thing we need to be doing, though, is not a damn thing. That’s just hiding from reality. Problem is, reality is pretty relentless in creeping around the corners of our hiding places. I don’t want this country feeling sorry for itself fifty years down the line because we didn’t treat this issue with its due respect. We’re borrowing this planet from our children, and the excuse that others weren’t going to do anything either will be as bewildering to them in its foolishness as it is to people like me now.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at July 7, 2012 12:40 AM
Comment #347995


U.S. emissions are dropping and natural gas is making a big contribution. If you are truly worried, you should be a big fan of natural gas.

We are also taking steps to change land use.

I understand that “your people” dislike natural gas because you fear it will postpone the advent of the golden age of alternatives. You may be right in this, but you are missing the bigger point.

If you believe something needs to be done now, gas is what can be done now. It is having the immediate effect of lowering CO2 emissions. It will not stop the development of alternatives or even slow them significantly. It is a separate track. What it MAY slow is the deployment of the current generation of solar and wind. This may be a good thing, as the technologies will improve.

The gas is producing the same reductions that you are asking of alternatives but not getting. In the short term, nothing practical will reduce emissions faster than a shift from coal to gas. In the medium term, alternatives will improve for technical reasons, w/o the need for widespread deployment. In the long term, these alternatives will replace both gas and coal in most applications.

If you look at a fifty year time frame, the bonanza of gas will reduce CO2 emissions. Even better, it will reduce them up front much faster than any alternative could be developed or deployed.

So I know what we should do. I don’t know if it will be enough, in the face of the Chinese and other rapid ramp-up.

I am not being polemical here. I really believe that people like you (and here I mean people who care about the environment) should get on board with this. Don’t let the hypothetical perfect destroy the real good.

This can also be a politically acceptable solution. Those interested in American energy (mostly Republicans) can be brought on board by the energy aspect. Those more interested in CO2 emissions (mostly Democrats) should understand that is the best and fastest way to reduce CO2.

Reasonable people need to reject the extremism of both those who want just to have cheapest energy and those who don’t want to use fossil fuels at all.

You should join me in this moderate and REAL solution, one that is being implemented as we speak/write.

The Chinese may still sink our boat but we will have taken the best option available to us.

Posted by: C&J at July 7, 2012 2:56 PM
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