Friday, October 22, 2010

That Other George: A Parabolic Response

This is the second post in a series of three posts addressing blogposts by Kent Pitman.  In my first post, I addressed Kent's desire for us to "draw a line in the ice".

This second post is related to that, because Kent gives us a parable where he described his teddy bear George, which had a music box that one day broke--and he tried to fix it by repeatedly throwing it against the wall, because that worked the first time he tried it.  Naturally, this applies to Global Warming, because we broke our planet, and now we're just throwing it against the wall, figuratively speaking, in our attempts to fix it.

I will give another parable, in response to Kent's parable:  a car driver named George, who was having engine troubles.  He had never tried fixing his car before, and hasn't even read much about engines, but he figured, how hard can it be?

So he replaced the battery, and it ran for a little bit; he replaced the alternator, and that seemed to help for a little bit; he replaced the spark plugs, tightened the bolts, adjusted the belts, and tinkered with this or that.  Sometimes it seemed to help the problem...sometimes it seemed to make things worse.  Often it had no noticeable effect at all.

Then one day, his car stopped working:  the engine wouldn't even turn over.  So, at this point, George decided to give up, and take the car to the mechanic.  As soon as the mechanic opened the hood, he gagged, and exclaimed, "What did you do to this car?!?"  It was a mess; the car finally died because an over-tightened bolt popped off and put a hole in the oil-pan, which caused the engine to overheat due to lack of lubrication--so the engine fused together.  And the problem that started it all?  A bad solenoid.

The point of this parable is this:  sometimes tinkering with a "broken" engine makes things worse.  This is especially more likely if we don't know what we're doing!

Take Cap and Trade in Europe, for example.  Currently, carbon credits are almost worth nothing, so any business in Europe that wants to pollute is free to do so.  Of course, this came at the cost of coal and steel businesses moving their operations to other nations, and importing the coal and steel--thus, a net increase in carbon footprint, because we need coal and steel to build things and keep things running.

The problem is, society is a chaotic system, made of literally billions of people, each making decisions every minute, trying to figure out how to solve the problems that are before them.  Overall, we can expect individuals to act rationally--because that's the ultimate goal of each individual--but what may actually be rational might only be viewable in hindsight, when everyone has sorted through a bunch of semi-rational, and sometimes even downright irrational, decisions.  Sometimes it may take years to figure out why people have decided to do what they did.

This problem is compounded by the fact that the Earth's climate is also a chaotic system.  197 square miles of ocean, land, mountains, islands, oceanic trenches and rifts, volcanoes, sunlight, starlight, spacedust, magnetic fields, and whatnot--each of which is subject to random fluctuations.  This doesn't take into account the cubic miles of air above, filled with clouds, pollution, dust, ionic bands, trees, buildings, airplanes, birds, and so forth; nor does it take into account the volume below the water or the land.  And all this has been morphing for over four billion years.

For the past two hundred years or so, we've been measuring temperature of the surface, and we've even been doing it sort-of accurately--although there are plenty of irregularities.  We've then used this data to try to extrapolate temperatures for the past thousand or so years, based on tree rings, ice layers, and other data.  Because there are more things than just temperature that could affect tree growth, however, this is inherently less accurate than using thermometers.

Now, we're expected to take these measurements, that, at best, only tell us what the Earth was like for the last 1,000 years or so...and then use this to prognosticate what will happen decades into the future, when (1) we only have the last 1,000 years or so of data for a system your billion years old, and (2) there's always a danger when extrapolating data, and that danger gets worse the farther out we go, because anything can mess up the trend...whether it's a trend in population growth, or in business profits, or in rising temperatures, or what have you.

Then, from our "trustworthy" extrapolations, we're supposed to fix this dynamic, chaotic system we call Our Global Climate--which, due to its chaotic nature, will respond unpredictably with even the tiniest of changes.  (It is said that a butterfly in China could cause a hurricane in New Orleans--the so-called "butterfly effect".)

And the tool we are to use to do these effects?  We are to tax, and to regulate, and to control the Population.  We will use a Smart Grid to tell people when they could run their air conditioners, and when they will just have to "sweat it out"; we'll tell them when they can use their furnaces, and when to "put a sweater on"; we'll tell them what cars they could drive, when they could drive, how far they could drive; and we're just getting started!  The funny thing is that each of these things are meddlings with a chaotic system--the actions of billions of individuals--which, each one in and of itself will have unpredictable consequences--all to control Our Global Climate.

Ohhh, boy!  Butterfly-effect squared!

bound to save the world...isn't it?

And, unfortunately, if we mess things up, we don't have a mechanic to go to to make things better.

No comments:

Post a Comment