Showing posts with label NASA. Show all posts
Showing posts with label NASA. Show all posts

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Much Ado about Nothing

When people set their minds against something, they'll use any excuse to pull it down. Even the smallest molehill is blown out of proportion to become a mountain. In "Much Ado about Nothing" Shakespeare poked fun at protagonists who duelled over a verbal insult. They were ready to risk their lives for something Shakespeare saw as little more than nothing.

Similarly today, climate change deniers make a big fuss about little more than nothing. They exaggerate the importance of small differences to deny the broad consensus that exists among climate scientists.

This NASA graph shows global temperature anomalies 1880-2012 according to four main agencies (click to enlarge).

The agencies are NASA GISS, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Climatic Data Center, the Japanese Meteorological Agency, and the Met Office Hadley Centre in the United Kingdom. All four institutions tally temperature data from stations around the world and make independent judgments about whether the year was warm or cool compared to other years.

Though there are minor variations from year to year, all four records show peaks and valleys in sync with each other. All show rapid warming in the past few decades, and all show the last decade as the warmest.

Scientists at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) say 2012 was the ninth warmest year since 1880, continuing a long-term trend of rising global temperatures. The ten warmest years in the 132-year record have all occurred since 1998. The last year that was cooler than average was 1976.

Contrarians and deniers who have their minds set against climate change pretend that the overall pattern isn't real, instead they make much ado about minor differences.

No wonder they are regarded as figures of fun who can't be taken seriously.


News from the Transformation tab.  

Australian carbon emissions fell 8.6% in the first six months after the introduction of a carbon price in July 2012. 

Friday, June 1, 2012

Who to believe? Grandma or NASA?

I grew up in Queensland, the tropical State in Australia's north east. Apart from sugar cane, macadamia nuts, mangos and pawpaw, Queensland is famous for its distinctive houses, called Queenslanders. These timber houses emerged in the 1800s, influenced by the bungalows that were common in India (one of the world's oldest civilisations).

Quite a number of British Raj types chose to retire to Australia rather than go back to damp and dreary Britain, and they brought this tropical housing style with them. Here, it was interpreted in a uniquely Queensland way so that the more elaborate examples have fancy painted lattice or iron lacework.

The houses I grew up in had the four distinctive features of the typical Queenslander:
  • Wide verandahs for shade and sheltered outdoor living spaces
  • Lifted off the ground to allow cool breezes to circulate
  • Timber construction which allows the building to cool at night
  • High pitched metal roofs – the metal was reflective and cooled quickly at night

I remember lying in bed at night listening to the house creak and crack as it adjusted to cooler nightime temperatures. It was a friendly sound. And, oh! the secret adventures we had in the cool dark spaces under the house. Here's a poem about my sister's house.

Queenslanders were built from the 1800s through to the 1920s when Californian bungalows influenced the classic Queenslander. The climate-friendly features still prevailed.

After WWII, houses got wonderfully modern and all four climate-friendly features were ditched. Brick replaced timber, verandahs and window awnings were old-fashioned, houses were built on concrete slabs, and roofs became fashionably coloured. Increasingly, air-conditioning replaced ceiling fans.

All this came flooding back to me when I saw this Climate Progress article about an initiative in New York to paint roofs white.
A NASA survey of New York City’s rooftops last July showed that dark, heat-absorbing rooftops were up to 42 degrees F hotter than white rooftops. And that difference in heat can make a big difference in on-site energy use; painting a roof white can reduce air conditioning demand as much as 20 percent.
I slapped my head and stomped around the house for a few minutes, muttering,
We're going to hell in a handbasket! What have we come to that we need the Big-Bertha-gun-scientists at NASA to tell us to paint our roofs white?
It's not rocket science. It's common sense.

In Grandma's day, we listened to the traditional wisdom of our elders and made some sensible decisions. Now we get rocket scientists to tell us what to do (and then a whole bunch of people diss it anyway).

After I calmed down a bit, I took heart from a recent resurgence of the vernacular Queenslander house style. Lots of builders now offer Queenslander designs. You can even buy kit homes (exported world wide).

Here in New South Wales we don't build Queenslanders, but 12 years ago the State government implemented BASIX (Building Sustainability Index) to require all new dwellings and renovations to have climate-friendly features like insulation, window shades, and, yes, pale roofs. Roofing manufacturers now specify how their products comply with BASIX colour classifications.

NASA was not involved. All it took was dedication and commitment from a bunch of bureaucrats in the Department of Planning. Go bureaucrats! Grandma is proud of you!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Trouser fashions

Climate change deniers hope that the current scientific consensus is a fad that will pass in time. They hope to obstruct action long enough for the scientific consensus to change. 

Scientists, on the other hand, point out that every passing year adds more evidence that the planet is warming and the consequences will be catastrophic. They point to warnings made in the 1960s by scientists who probably wore bell bottom trousers. The scientists no longer wear bell bottoms, but their science has stood the test of time and become more robust.

Today, every national government and every national science academy in the world accept the evidence for climate change and the role of human activity causing it. For example, the American Physical Society (the association for physicists) says:
The evidence is incontrovertible: Global warming is occurring.
If no mitigating actions are taken, significant disruptions in the Earth’s physical and ecological systems, social systems, security and human health are likely to occur. We must reduce emissions of greenhouse gases beginning now.

Every few months we hear announcements about impacts like record breaking heat in the U.S. and record-breaking rain in Australia where 2010-2011 was the wettest two-year period on record. So it's good that we also see regular reports of actions to reduce carbon emissions, like the recent announcements from South Korea and Mexico for carbon pricing that will help their economies move away from polluting fossil fuels.

What do forward-looking fashionistas see in this situation?
  • NASA says "Bright is the New Black" in this report about roof tops in New York city.
The dark, sunlight-absorbing surfaces of some New York City roofs reached 170 degrees Fahrenheit on July 22, 2011, a day that set a city record for electricity usage during the peak of a heat wave. But in the largest discrepancy of that day, a white roofing material was measured at about 42 degrees cooler. The white roof being tested was a low-cost covering promoted as part of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's effort to reduce the city's greenhouse gas emissions 30 percent by 2030.
Companies that voluntarily issue press releases disclosing their carbon emission information see their stock prices rise significantly in the following days.
  • The National Wildlife Federation observes that species that depend on camouflage to blend in with snow in the winter face unique threats from climate change. Are they fashion victims or climate change victims?
…Winter is becoming less white: The extent of snow cover across the Northern Hemisphere has decreased by approximately 3 to 9 percent since 1978, with especially rapid declines in the western United States. Climatologists expect these trends to continue, and they project that by the end of the century, parts of the Northeast will lose as many as half of their snow-covered days each year.
And what is the fahion industry doing in response to climate change?
  • Industry observers note  an increase in lighter weight clothing for warmer temperatures, and more 'cruise' collections. Harriet Quick, fashion features editor of Vogue says, "It's climate-related. You can now buy lighter things all year round."
  • Designers are working with activist organisations to promote responsible action. 
Vivienne Westwood is working with the Environmental Justice Foundation to support their No Place Like Home campaign, which is raising awareness for the plight of people who have been forced from their homes due to climate change.
  • And then there is Eco-fashion, the trend towards sustainable lifestyle products that encompasses fair trade, organic, vegan, recycled, vintage and ethically produced products. It's a trend supported by thousands of small-scale producers as well as high profile fashionistas like Stella McCartney.
While climate change is driving some fashion trends, the enduring impact of unmitigated global warming is an underlying constant. Climate change is not a passing fashion, like bell bottom trousers, instead it is the new black – here to stay.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Safe driving

It is difficult to know whether the car in front of you is going to slam on its brakes. Once it does, you are in crisis mode and your options are limited.

It is far better to practise safe driving and pay attention to what's up ahead. That way you can take evasive action in time to avoid it altogether, or to minimise the damage.

All the best scientists agree that there is a big problem ahead – the planet is warming and the consequences will be catastrophic for human society.

James Hansen, NASA climatologist, warns us, here,  of the dangers of exploiting Canada's tar sands.
Canada’s tar sands, deposits of sand saturated with bitumen, contain twice the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by global oil use in our entire history. If we were to fully exploit this new oil source, and continue to burn our conventional oil, gas and coal supplies, concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere eventually would reach levels higher than in the Pliocene era, more than 2.5 million years ago, when sea level was at least 50 feet higher than it is now.

Matthew Huber, a Purdue climatologist, says that a 10°C temperature rise is definitely too hot for humans. He also thinks that 2°C  is a lost cause.

What happens if we ignore the problem that lies ahead and we're forced to cope in crisis mode? How can humans and animals adapt to catastrophic high temperatures? 
Burrow. Be active at night. Stay near bodies of water. Reduce activities to a minimum. Lower birth weight.
 Matthew Huber

Matthew Huber used this analogy in this interview.
Image is of a Volvo XC60 with sensor system to prevent rear impact collisions at city speeds.