Category Archives: Natural Science

Global Warming VII – Carbon Dioxide History

Wayne,

Continuing my series of posts (see Global Warming I, Global Warming II, Global Warming III, and Global Warming IV, Global Warming V, Global Warming VI) about Global Warming I have graphs of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. I think that these are significant for several reasons and in several contexts.

First, these data support my contention that no citizen should vote for any Republican for any office from school crossing guard and dog catcher and higher. That party must be delivered an unmistakable message from voters that it cannot invent its own reality, and it must stop damaging the world.

Second, these data show powerful evidence, through correlation, if nothing else, that human activity has led to a major and still unending increase in CO2 in the atmosphere. As the knowledge that tells us that water vapor and carbon dioxide and some other gases are major factors determining Earth’s climate and temperature goes back more than 100 years and is not in question even by global warming deniers, those deniers have the serious problem of demonstrating why the major increase in atmospheric CO2 has not caused the observed surface temperature increase of recent decades.

Third, these data show that, as many of those who deny the importance of global warming assert, the climate has always changed and will continue to do so. But those who deny the importance of global warming with this true claim, many politicians among them, neglect to mention that the change in CO2 concentrations that we are experiencing is unprecedented in the past million years, at least, and that it extends far beyond the range of any earlier fluctuations.

Fourth, those who assert that humanity should and can merely adapt to these changes, an adaptation that they claim will not be difficult, neglect to mention that the entire span of human civilized existence, about 10,000 years, has also been a span of stable CO2 and stable climate. Thus, we have no certain ideas as to what will happen to the climate in the future nor any way to predict whether civilization will be able to maintain itself. Although this will not make much difference to me, now that I am an old guy, I am an alarmist because I believe alarm is justified.

Fifth, I apologize to coming generations for the mess my generation and a few earlier ones are leaving for them. We have much to be proud of, but global warming is a horrid blot upon our reputations. Continue reading

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Evolution is a result, not a cause

Bernard, This New York Times article, Meet Luca, the Ancestor of All Living Things, exemplifies what I see as wrong-way thinking about evolution, thinking that directly or indirectly attributes purpose and foresight to evolution. Below are examples of what it says as opposed to what I believe it should say. Added text looks like this, deleted text. The article says: A surprisingly specific genetic portrait of the ancestor of all living things has been generated by scientists…

  • I maintain it should say: A surprisingly specific genetic portrait of a proposed ancestor of all living things has been generated by scientists…
  • Comment: Is it absolutely certain that change and natural selection didn’t winnow down more complex microbes, filtering out unused genetic material, resulting in what looks like an ancestor but is actually a residue?

Wayne,

I saw that interesting report too. The researchers applied powerful tools to uncover what genes might have been those of the now long extinct Last Common Ancestor of all living things, LUCA. All knowledgeable scientists, and me too, agree with you that evolution has no purpose or goal to achieve. The fancy way to say this is that it is not teleological. The sources of modification to any creature’s genome are random, and their direction is random. Some of these changes produce changes to the reproductive fitness of that organism in its particular environment, leading to the increase of the fraction of the population with those particular changes. But natural selection is not the only mechanism that leads to changes in a population’s genome. Research in recent decades has shown that random drift in a population the result of genomic changes that are either neutral with respect to natural selection or not exposed to natural selection are important sources of genomic and species change. Continue reading

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AlphaGo Computer Defeats World Champion Go Player. But Does AlphaGo Think?

Bernard,

This Google blog entry nicely summarizes what happened when a computer beat a world-champion Go player 4 games to 1 last month: “…while the match has been widely billed as ‘man vs. machine,’ AlphaGo is really a human achievement. [Korean champion] Lee Sedol and the AlphaGo team both pushed each other toward new ideas, opportunities and solutions…”. The outcome surprised many or most Go players and artificial intelligence (AI) people, coming perhaps even decades sooner than expected.

(For context, I play but not strongly, best-ever rank maybe 6 or 7 kyu. Wikipedia has a good article about the game. In chess you kill the opposing king, but in Go you only need to carve out more market share than your opponent.)

AlphaGo remembers, reasons (applies logic) and learns. But does AlphaGo think? Does it exhibit intelligence? And what does its victory say about artificial intelligence? I answer yes, yes, and some but not much.

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Global Warming VI

Wayne,

As I mentioned in Global Warming V, climate scientists published a major review and additional new work about sea level rise. Here’s the excellent New York Times article about it, and here’s an informative blog about these results written by one of the scientists. I showed a couple of the graphs from Dr. Rahmstorf’s blog post to my Physics 125 students for a recent Science in the News. We don’t get to climate change in the book for several weeks, but along with that temperature graph for 2015 in Tampa, sea level rise is directly relevant to my students. Our classroom is about 10 feet above the normal level of the Hillsborough River flowing about 50 meters away.

Here’s what Dr. Rahmstorf calls “the main result.”

Fig. 1 Reconstruction of the global sea-level evolution based on proxy data from different parts of the world. The red line at the end (not included in the paper) illustrates the further global increase since 2000 by 5-6 cm from satellite data.
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Filed under Climate Change, Natural Science, Science in the News

Global Warming V

Wayne,

I confess that I have not posted Climate Change IV yet, about comparing the surface and satellite temperature measurements, but the graph below appeared along with an excellent New York Times article that reported on a recent major study and review of long term trends in sea levels. Seas Are Rising at Fastest Rate in Last 28 Centuries .

Here’s the main part of the interesting graph, which I showed to my U of Tampa students for our Science in the News discussion.

Here’s the link to this: How Much Warmer Was Your City in 2015? . Continue reading

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Does Evolution Have a Direction?

Bernard,

Makes me go ballistic every time (says my wife) – here’s another example of anthropomorphic description of how evolution seems to have a purpose, in the sense of proactive adaptation (“driving”) versus what I claim MUST be viewed as passive filtering by an always-changing environment.  

Through random mutation, evolution is relentlessly tinkering with the animal body plan, driving species toward diversification and various modes of living.

And this from the Skeptic! No, evolution is a result and not a cause. The cause is always the simplest conceivable cause that could exist: change. Time is change, change is time, that is all we know and all we need to know to understand evolution. The sentence should read something like this: 

Through never-ending change in the external environment – some of which life feeds back into, for example a growing reef newly shading the bottom beside it – species thrive or fail according to how well they happen to fit today’s conditions and how well their offspring, randomly mutated, happen to fit tomorrow’s evolving conditions. Environmental changes filter changes in species.

 Do I make sense? Does it matter? Clearly I think it does…

 Wayne


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Global Warming III

Wayne,

My first two posts on Global Warming, I and II, dealt with the First Law of Thermodynamics, otherwise known as the Conservation of Energy, and carbon dioxide, an important greenhouse gas. By carefully accounting for energy flows and balances, I showed how researchers establish that increases in carbon dioxide must produce global warming. While the fundamentals, which is all I’m dealing with, are simple, the details and the magnitudes are complicated and turn on details. This is why there are professionals in the business. The professionals are of the view that, when all the details are considered, humans are warming the climate and the warming will be significant.

In this post, I’m going to show some of the temperature change data, as I showed to my students. Of course, the purpose is not to help them to become climate scientists. The title of the book I use is Physics and Technology for Future Presidents, by UC Berkeley physics Professor Richard Muller. Thus what I have in mind for these climate change blogs is to help future presidents and citizens think about this issue, and about scientific claims in general. Also, to tell some stories. Continue reading

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Filed under Climate Change, Natural Science, Physics, Science in the News