Saturday, October 20, 2012

Post Script: The Medieval Warming Period and Climate Stasis Hypothesis

    Last May, the Village Elliot made a rather brash and slightly heretical prediction that future refereed scientific studies might revisit the historical periods known as the Medieval Warming Period and the Little Ice Age ). This poses a mild challenge to conventional wisdom, which claims that global average temperature has been highly stable for thousands of years, until the 20th century, at which point carbon dioxide caused global warming to occur.  The majority of climatologists believe that only carbon dioxide has made a major change in global average temperature over the past several thousand years, and non-CO2 effects can probably be  neglected.

    Being not terribly bright, the Village Elliot wondered whether the climate stasis hypothesis is consistent with the historical record, which describes events such as the settlement of Greenland by the Vikings as well as the Inuit during the Medieval Warming Period; with those settlements being scaled back or disappearing during the Little Ice Age which historians say followed.  After all, a 1 degree Celsius temperature variation is less than the average difference in annual temperature between Cleveland and Columbus (or Boston and New York, if you prefer) which doesn't seem like the difference between an ice age and a warming period even when you factor in the fact that temperature change is higher at high lattitudes.  During the warming period, people were raising crops in Greenland, and during the Little Ice Age the Baltic Sea froze solid in the wintertime.

     Hence I was interested to read a recent article by Christiansen and Ljundqvisk, "The extra-tropical Northern Hemisphere temperature in the last millennia: reconstructions of low-frequency variability" (Climate of the  Past, 8, 765–786, 2012), in which the authors examine 91 proxy data sets.  To make a long story short, Christainsen and Ljundqvisk suggest among other things, that the Medieval Warming Period and Little Ice Age may have been more significant than previous reconstructions have thought.  Like, the Medieval Warming Period may have actually been warmer, and the Little Ice Age may have actually been colder. 
    Now, this does not in any way disprove a role for carbon dioxide in contributing to 20th century global warming, and in fact the paper does not directly invoke carbon dioxide at all. If you have enough confidence in computer models, you might still conclude that 20th century warming was due to CO2.  However, to my thinking the door is left ajar for continuing consideration of the various forces that affect our climate, both natural and human-caused. The question is how much warming is due to carbon dioxide, and how much is due to something else?  Although some people are certain of that answer, I'm not there yet.  
   A single article is rarely decisive, so it will be interesting to see whether future studies tend to support or refute Christiansen and Ljundqvisk's analysis. 


  A recent reconstruction by Christiansen and Ljundqvisk suggests that the Medeival Warming Period might have been roughly similar to the 20th century in terms of average temperature in the Northern Hemisphere.

Previous reconstructions have suggested that the Medieval Warming Period was not particularly warm compared to the 20th Century.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Why I Love Central State University

     In addition to my primary job as a research scientist, my second job is as an adjunct professor of mathematics at Central State in Wilberforce Ohio.  I don't like Central State--I love it!  The reason is that I feel that I can make a difference in the lives of young people, many of whom were uncertain about attending college, and who find themselves once they attend Central State.  This is an incredible opportunity, and I hope that Historically Black Colleges and Universities--like Central State--continue to be supported nationwide.
     There is an ongoing debate at both the national level as well as the state level about whether there should be such a thing.   

    Central State was once part of Wilberforce College, but they split into two institutions in 1887.  Wilberforce University is supported by the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and Central State University is supported by the State of Ohio.  

     Some educators ask whether it makes sense to use state tax dollars to support a historically black university.  Is that in some way discriminatory?  The short answer is that there are no race factors in the acceptance process for CSU. I think a better question, however, is what the purpose of education is.  Aren't we trying to train people in our state to become better more productive workers, and to get jobs?  And does Central State appeal to enough people who want to go to school there?  Will they be better off if they are involved in higher education at Central State?

     The answer to those questions is definitely, unequivocally yes.  There are many fantastic schools in Ohio, but for a substantial number of people I have no doubt that Central State is the best alternative.  
     Although you shouldn't get the idea that everyone at Central State comes from a disadvantaged inner city background, a lot of our students do.  Many are the first in their family to ever attend college.  In many cases we are attempting to break the cycle of disregard for the importance of education.  Thus for many families we are helping to create a culture of higher education for the first time.

     Let me put it this way.  My own kids come from a culture in which Daddy went to college, and so did Grandpa and Grandma and even Great Grandpa and Great Grandma.   They have an excellent chance for academic success and a good job in adulthood.  But it's not necessarily the same for someone that grows up in predominantly African American West Dayton.  

    As  a society, we could just throw up our hands and say, "Well we're sorry, West Dayton kids.  You just don't have the money, the grades or the test scores or other academic achievements. And it's your own fault.  So, we're going to spend all our money on rich kids from the 'burbs, so college is not for you." 
    Some people would say that's exactly the right approach.  But to me the right answer is to continue to encourage everyone in our society to maximize their potential and to improve their ability to work and to contribute to our society.  It does make a difference to get people into higher education. Their lives will be more productive with college than they would be without it.  Or, from the State's perspective, you're going to get more tax revenue by having more college educated workers in your state than if you don't reach out.  We're also going to make a difference in the communities and help to develop depressed locations such as West Dayton.  It will make a big difference. 

    In particular a summer program called Upward Bound made a huge impression on me.  In Upward Bound, high school students come to college and are exposed to college, usually for the first time.  The program does not target the best students, but rather focuses on students that have potential but who might not be in a family or economic situation that encourages college.  I was amazed at the change in attitude that occurred with these kids.  Many were indifferent to the educational process when they came in, but by the time they left virtually all of them were determined to study hard and go to college--and not necessarily Central State.  Many hoped to apply to Ohio State or even some private colleges.

    The Upward Bound program makes an incredible difference for this group of students.  Being able to attend classes at an HBCU like Central State was unquestionably the best place for them to be exposed to Upward Bound.  I'm glad to have played a small part in it.  I think a few kids learned a little about math by attending my class.  I hope to see a few of them again in a few years when they sign up for my class at Central State! 

      If anything, I would like to see more programs like Upward Bound that get high school students in touch with the college process.  Too many of our young people are not exposed to college life and never consider entering college at all.  For too many Americans, colleges are little more than athletic clubs to be seen on TV.  But in fact, education is where it's at!  This is our hope for the future.  We're going to have a better future with higher education than without it.
        I think it is a great idea to locate a branch campus in West Dayton. It's on Germantown Pike, in one of the neighborhoods that was severely damaged in the riots of the late 1960's and which is only now recovering.  I predict Central State will become a pillar of the West Dayton community in time.  
        I might add that I actually went to school not far from there, at United Theological Seminary which at the time was located on Harvard Blvd.  Since that time, the property has been taken over by Omega Baptist Church, with our former Dean, Daryl Ward, as the Senior Pastor.  I might not be the greatest churchperson, but I had the greatest education possible, and I will always be grateful to UTS as well as the community.

     Of course, not everyone who is given the opportunity to attend college will run with it.  One of the things that gets me down is the large number of students that basically flunk themselves.  I have almost never had a student fail my class who attended every class and turned in each homework assignment.  Nevertheless, university-wide more than half the college freshmen do not complete college, and many students wipe out in freshman mathematics. I don't believe it's a lack of ability.  More than anything else it is a lack of vision, and a lack of belief in the possibility of academic success and future success as a person.  Sometimes, young people buy into the critics and the people who say they can't do it and that they're no good, instead of listening to those who say that they CAN succeed.    
   My biggest task as an educator is not to transmit information about factoring binonial equations, but to help people to believe in themselves.  Maybe it sounds corny, but it is absolutely true.  

    Central State University is making a big difference in the lives of its students  (not to mention its adjunct faculty!).  I believe it occupies an important niche in our educational system, and I hope it continues to be strong force to enrich people's lives, as well as the community it serves. 

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Destroying Jobs in America

   What should the US do in order to improve its economy and help create jobs?  Suggestions are varied and run the gamut from conservative to liberal.  However, as a public service, the Village Elliot wishes to point out that we actually do the opposite.  Namely, our elected officials, both Republican and Democrat, are busy thinking of ways to destroy jobs.  This may seem odd, but it is actually true, despite the fact that President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney will protest loudly to the contrary in their upcoming debates.  Here are some examples of our national priorities

1.  Stop drilling for oil.  The US has recently found massive sources of oil in North Dakota as well as New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania that will extend the fossil fuel age another 50 years.  Well that is just silly.  Better that we should kiss up to our friends in OPEC.  We can just borrow money to pay for what we want and they will give it to us.  

 America may be afflicted with trillions of dollars of oil in the Bakken formation in North Dakota and Montana, and the Utica in Ohio, New York and Pennsylvania.  This has to be stopped or the gross domestic product will start growing again.  Shouldn't we rely on OPEC instead?  Why risk hurting their feelings?

2.  Stop drilling for natural gas.  Within the past five years, industry has brought shale gas to the market, which is going to buy us another 100 years to figure out how to go nuclear and solar.  That would be terrible.  So let's stop drilling for natural gas now, reduce our standard of living and wait for exciting green technologies to emerge now, rather than 100 years from now. 

Shouldn't we listen to the voice of reason and eliminate a trillion dollars worth of natural gas from our national portfolio?

3.   Stop mining coal.  Coal can be converted to oil, which would buy another 300 years of the fossil fuel age.  Well, we don't want that.  We must stop mining coal now, or the evil corporations will continue to impove the standard of living in America, which we don't want.  

4.  Shut down power plants.  That is definitely good for the economy and helps polar bears.  Don't forget, for every job that is destroyed by the government, two green jobs will certainly emerge to take their place. 

For God's sake, let us shut down power plants NOW, while there is STILL a few more days or even hours, it may be TOO LATE!! 

5.  Shut down steel plants.  Steel is also very icky.  Hence we are muc better off now that  China produces 7 times as much steel as the US.  We can buy it on credit, so there is no need to return to the bad old days when America had to be the world leader in steel production. 

Steelworkers' Unions are difficult to deal with, so why not simply close the plants and move steel production to China?  That's the kind of efficiency American politicians strive for. 

6.  Shut down aluminum plants.  Who needs aluminum anyway, since beer can be contained in glass?  So what if China now produces 9 times the aluminum that we do?  We can buy it on credit.  

America will save a lot of energy by eliminating energy intensive aluminum plants like this one in Ravenswood WV.

7.   Shut down the lighting industry.  Let China figure out how to protect its workers from mercury poison.  We need to buy the light bulbs in order to shut down the filament light bulb industry.  We also hope to save some electicity so we can shut down some more power plants (although Chinese fluroscent lights don't deliver nearly the performance that the government allows them to advertise).  We can buy these on credit, so don't worry.  American politicians can proudly announce that there are now ZERO light bulb plants in the United States!  American politicians are absolutely beaming over their accomplishments

GE closed its last American incandescent light bulb plant in 2009. It is now illegal to manufacture light bulbs in the US!

8.  If you are a Republican, you can advocate shutting down the Big Three Automakers, but if you are a Democrat, you probably will advocate teaching them to manufacture government-designed fuel efficient wonders that run on batteries.  We can buy the batteries from China on credit, so no need to worry about that.  

Economic growth is known to be bad for the economy.  With any luck, American leadership will succeed in eliminating manufacturing, a key factor for economic growth.  It's working in Detroit, and it can work in your area as well.  

9.  Shut down electronics manufacturing plants.  It is ridiculous for the US to manufacture antiquated designs for televisions, DVDs, cell phones, etc.  All these are made more inexpensively overseas, and we can buy them on credit.  Hence, we need to make sure that these companies are kept off American soil.  

10.  Shut down chemical plants.  These plants increase the value of petroleum, and thus threaten to continue economic prosperity based on fossil fuels, which we absolutely don't want.  And don't forget, we can import these products using our magnificent credit line.  

Well, these are just a few ideas, but I think you get the idea.  American leadership has taught us that we really don't need drilling, mining,  manufacturing or other industries that result in environmental issues or politically fractious workers.  Let's keep the unemployment level high, borrow money for what we want, and enjoy life, shall we? 

Some of you wimps out there may think that the Village Elliot is exaggerating, but in fact American really has banned light bulbs, slashed production of steel and aluminum and is shutting down power plants as we speak.  

Meanwhile, don't forget to re-elect your leaders this November!