Friday, December 31, 2010

Historicity of Climate Change Phenomena

   My tenth grade history teacher, good old Mr. Hennis, used to paraphrase the philosopher George Santayana:  "Those who do not remember 10th grade History are condemned to repeat it."  Well, a number of people seem to have trouble remembering history when it pertains to climate change. 
   First,  the Earth was in an Ice Age some 10,000 years ago, and for some imperfectly understood reasons, that Ice Age came to an end, and the globe warmed abruptly.  Our current warming period is believed to be long lived but ultimately it is expected to end, , and we expect to go back to an Ice Age someday (but probably not this year despite our lousy weather, which is due to La Nina plus the North Atlantic Anomaly and the Polar Oscillation all going haywire at the same time). 
   In addition, more recently there was a Medieval Warming Period from 950 to 1250, which coincided with the rise of the Vikings, and the colonization of Greenland, which really was green at the time.  
   There was also a Little Ice Age, from circa 1650 to 1850, during which time the Thames River in England froze in the wintertime, and in addition Charles X of Sweden marched an army from Sweden to Estonia in 1658, over a frozen Baltic.
   We had a Year Without a Summer in 1816.
   In the 1920's, through the 1930's significant glacier melt was recorded in Greenland.  The amount of melting is estimated to be 50% higher than similar melting that occurred in the 1990's and 2000's, according to Petr Chylek's group at Los Alamos National Lab. 
    There was also a major disruption in climate observed in the 1930's in which the Western US was besieged by the Dust Bowl.  Some ecologists believe that it is a historical fact that poor soil management was the sole cause of the Dust Bowl, although others wonder if it might be part of a larger pattern.  
   After a long warming trend, from 1940 to 1975 there were colder temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere (i.e., a least squares plot of global average temperature as estimated by the National Climatic Data Center shows a gradual cooling trend).  
  Then from 1976 to 2002, global average temperature rose by about 0.5 degrees Celsius.
   From 2002 to 2010, however, the global temperature has been about constant, as estimated by the NCDC.  Some of my passionate friends have had trouble believing that global average temperature has not risen since 2002, but, as Casey Stengle used, you say, you can look it up: 
   Many skeptics have expressed doubt concerning the observed global warming that occurred from 1975 to 2002.    However, the Village Elliot believes that the data, though a bit fuzzy, is clear enough that there can be no mistake. The earth did get warmer, at least until 2002, and it's silly to argue otherwise. 

  Left to be determined is how much of that warming is due to natural cycles such as the North Atlantic Oscillation and the Arctic Oscillation, versus anthropogenic causes and specifically carbon dioxide.  The Village Elliot believes that other human-caused environmental issues such as ocean pollution may also play a major role. 
  What should be done about this?  That also is up for grabs.  Currently most of the Western nations urge a general dismantling of the fossil fuel economy, with the brave hope that something else will soon pop up to replace it.  So far, however, an inexpensive substitute for fossil fuels has not be identified, at least not anything that can replace the billions of tons which we now use.  
   However, climate change is not a simple subject, and if we hearken back to a time in history when climate was totally predictable, well, that probably is a fantasy. 

     The Village Elliot also despairs of the ability of the scientific community to have reasonable discussions on this subject.  In recent years, it seems that it has become acceptable to present a slanted, unbalanced view of the information in order to win an argument rather than to emerge with the best science.  It's more about what is persuasive, rather than what we actually believe to be true.  

Monday, December 27, 2010

Cold Weather, not Climate Change

Readers of the Village Elliot's blog are aware that he predicted that we would have a cold winter this year, based on three simple observations:

   a.  We are in a La Nina phase, in which an upwelling of cool water in the Pacific equatorial region usually leads to colder weather worldwide. 

   b. The Polar Oscillation favors a cold winter.  This weather pattern led to last year's cold winter as well as the cold winters of 1978-1979.

   c.  The North Atlantic Anomaly also is shifting in a way that favors cold winters in Northern Europe.

   This is just simple stuff you can get from reading the paper or checking out websites like the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC), or the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).  The fact that we are having a cold winter doesn't mean squat as to whether the climate is changing over the long run. 
   Let's review, however, that carbon dioxide induced global warming is supposed to make the earth 2-3 degrees celsius warmer from 1999 to the hear 2100, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. 
   The Village Elliot is certain that the mechanism exists, based on studies of the planet Venus, which is definitely warmer than we would expect, and the reason is carbon dioxide, over a thousand psi of it.  Will similar effects occur if CO2 is present at a few hundred parts per million? 
   The Village Elliot also believes that the globe certainly heated up between 1975 and 2002, using data from the NCDC.   The same data, however, points to no significant warming since 2002. 
   TheCO2 hypothesis also suggests that the difference between summer and winter should decrease, with most of the warming haplpening during the winter.  This has simply not happened, however.  Nor do we see warmer nights compared to days. 
    Is this confusing?  Well, fear not!  Here, from our friends in England, is the definitive video which will tell you how to be politicially correct:  

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Xmas from OPEC: $100 Per Barrel

   Today Kuwait's oil minister suggested that the world economy can withstand $100 per barrel petroleum. 

   The Village Elliot is quite angry about this on two accounts:  first, the rapid rise in oil prices, necessary to fuel the world's economies, is certain to cause painful repercussions around the world.  Second, the majority of the people in the United States still subscribes to a fairy tale version of energy, in which solar and windpower are supposed to somehow replace the 11 million barrels per day of oil that we currently import.  To put this into perspective, 11 million barrels * $100 * 365 = 400 billion dollars a year that goes overseas for oil.  That's $1300  per year for every man woman and child in America.  That's how much you are paying for the privilege of using oil from other countries, while you wait for some other energy source to appear.  The granola heads tout wind and solar power, along with teeny little cars, but it says here that it ain't happening. 
   America is in real danger of being ruined economically  We are afraid to drill in Arctic wasteland, fearing that caribou quality of life might be affected in a very small area.  We were also hurt by the BP Horizon fiasco, which has raised legitimate fears about the competence of the petroleum industry to safely carry out drilling in deep water.
   Meantime, researchers know how to convert natural gas and coal to liquid fuels, but we are paralyzed with fear, believing that increasing levels of carbon dioxide will set off an economic catastrophe, causing the heat death of the world.  These fears, it says here, are grossly overstated, as the global average temperature has stabilized even as carbon dioxide production has increased. 
   Nevertheless, the American public has been fed a series of half-truths about energy for years.  The fact is we can not use energy sources like solar, wind or ethanol to make up a substantial amount of the energy we currently import.  We are still a petroleum based economy despite two decades of song and dance about "getting off petroleum."  The reality is that it isn't happening, and we can not "get off petroleum" unless we are willing to "get off money."
   $100 per barrel oil ought to be a signal that it is time to develop new sources of North American oil, including coal and gas liquefaction, shale oil, Anwar drilling, and even deep sea drilling. 

NASA's Arsenic Life Forms Looking Pale

I'm still hoping that NASA's latest wild claim, about finding a new form of life totally separate from the rest of earth's lifeforms, which incorporates arsenic in its DNA will prove to be true.

But in an earlier blog (on, I pointed out that this line of research sounds kind of flakey. There don't seem to be control experiments, and the whole thing hangs on some supposedly infallible experimental measurements.  This leads NASA, and some imaginative science writiters, to conclude that this unique organism can incorporate arsenic its DNA, making it the equivalent of an alien life form, but occuring here on earth. 

But by now other skeptics are weighing in, and they suggest that the claimed arsenic-DNA molecules could not be stable in water.  Moreover, there is another test which could be done to prove that DNA molecules have arsenic in them, but which the NASA scientists didn't bother to do:

Oh yech.  Well, there is still an opportunity for advocates to prove themselves, but the more I find out about this business the more depressing it seems. .  I would/ have thought that NASA would be more careful, especially after their fiasco a few years ago in which they claimed to have found fossilized bacteria from Mars in a meteorite fragment.  The US needs NASA to be a careful advocate for space exploration, rather than being an incubator for weird science. 

The scientific community is still interested in the possibility of extra-terrestrial life, but it is in spite of research like this, not because of it.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Fabulous Fiddler Elmer Rich

     Most every Friday night at the Westover Senior Center, a group of old-time musicians gets together and puts together a wonderful display of old time fiddle music.  Most of the time, Elmer Rich leads the group.  Now, Elmer is a most interesting fellow.  Who among your friends was given an award by Eleanor Roosevelt?  Well this halppened to Elmer when he did well at a fiddle contest back in 1936.  Since then, he has won an incredible number of awards and accolades, and is known throughout Appalachia and America as wonderful musician and warm human being. 

Note:  if you learn to play rock guitar as well as Elmer learned the mountain fiddle, you get a recording contract for about a zillion dollars.  It's a pity that the mountain fiddle is not as well appreciated.  But it is a distinctly American instrument and sound, and nobody does it better than Elmer.

The first time I sat down with this group, I figured that I was home.  This is really something I want to do for the rest of my life.  I want to be surrounded by friendly people, carrying on our American traditions and passing them down to our kids.  I've got a renewed interest in improving my abilty to play the mandolin and other instruments. 

It's not that I expect to necessarily live as long or as well as Elmer, but that's really not the point.   The point is that for every day we are given on this Earth, we are blessed to be able to share it with others, and making music is one of the best ways to do that, for however long we are around. 

Thanks, Elmer, for being the unofficial King of Appalachian music.  I'm going to enjoy the rest of my musical journey, inspired by people like you.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Morgantown WV Brew Pub Wednesday Night Jam

   The most fun I know how to have (besides being married to my beautiful wife Daphne) is to participate in a folk jam at the Morgantown Brewing Company (know locally as the Brew Pub), each and every Wednesday night, starting at about 930 PM.  The music there is referred to as "Old Timey,"  which refers to Appalachian style music as it was played 70 years ago or more. The big difference between Bluegrass and Old Timey, is that Old Timey does not use the Scruggs style banjo, because that really works best as a solo instrument due to its rapid fire picking and loud resonator. On a given night at the Brew Pub,  there might be three or four banjos playing together, and a like number of guitars, Dobro, mandolin and fiddles.   

I don't know the names of all the people who attend, but I'll just say that if you come on Wednesday you might meet people like Keith McManus, Bob Shank and others from the Stewed Mulligan band.  Fiddler Keith and banjo player Vince Farsetta are the main organizers, while Bob also plays clawhammer banjo as well as the meanest hammer dulcimer in these parts.

and you might see Libby Eddy and the Weathered Road, back from New York, no less.

As you might expect we also have some young people from West Virginia University who are interested in learning the folk style.  I got a kick out of a fellow named Carlos, from Brazil, who has become interested in Appalachian folk music.  He's learned all the songs, so sometimes if I am not sure what we are supposed to play I look over to see what he's doing, and he's always right on. 
Yesterday we had a fellow named Isaac who is interested in percussion, and he brought an African talking drum, plus an unusual instrument he made from PVC pipe which made a variety of sounds ranging from a bass, to a sound kind of like the Touvan throat singers from central Asia. It was great, and believe it or not it meshed very well with the Old Timey style of music we play. 

Sometimes a woman named Sue (sorry I don't know her last name) brings a cello to the mix, and a guy named Richard brings a National resonator guitar, which is usually thought of as a blues instrument, though it appears in folk and bluegrass as well.

As for me, I'm not nearly as talented as most of the others, but I've been bringing my mandolin, tuned to a mountain tuning GDGD which gives it kind of a Scotch-Irish resonance.  I'm learning some of the songs and can add a little, and when I'm not completely sure what I'm doing I just muffle the strings with my right hand and keep on playing.

So you are going to get an amazing blend of sounds.  It is really incredible when  you get 20 or so musicians going at the same time.  It wouldn't be possible to have a single band with so many  musicians, so having a jam is the only way to get this sound.

 Here's kind of what it sounds like, though this particular jam was actually carried out at the nearby Blue Moose Cafe.