Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Children, and Adults, Should Be Allowed to Get Bored

A recent article on the BBC, Children Should Be Allowed to Get Bored, pointed out that children, and adults for that matter, should be allowed to get bored to develop creative abilities and self-reliance, and that constant stimulation limits the use of their imagination.

I can't say anything about raising children, other than having been a children raised by my parents. I have only my experience (and a thankfully brief stint as an adoptive parent) to judge by.

Fear of the Outdoors
Two things come to mind. Most children in our developed world are largely indoor children, kept in isolation by fearful parents and school administrators, fed by daily doses of lurid headlines, violent TeeVee and movies, and a steady diet of cacophonic computer input. Compared to the snug safety of the confines of home, the unstructured, untrammeled out of doors has little appeal, other than as a venue for organized sports and the regrettable necessity of walking from the house to the car.

The Necessity of Technology

One thing I learned in college, studying something called "Instructional Technology," is that technology creates its own necessity. Technological applications are invented for problems that don't yet exist. Technology is developed, marketed, sold, and consumed without thought for, or even the ability to contemplate, the unintended consequences of its adoption and ubiquitous presence in society. Who'd have thunk that the 80 pound "car phones" in the doctors' cars in the 70s would morph into the tiny pink plastic devices glued to the ears of every nubile young girl in malls across America?

The ubiquitous presence of cell phones quickly led to smart phones, tablets and other mini-computers, iPods and who knows what other electronic distractions that have become the norm rather than a remarkable exception. Plugged-in is the preferred state of the human being in this day and age, child or adult.

Compared to this onslaught of electronic stimulation, soon to be upgraded with "virtual reality glasses," the natural world bears little appeal. Why even go to a natural area when you can "see" and "hear" it from the comfort and safety of the home or mall? Why care about the preservation of natural areas, when we can "experience" them electronically without muddy feet, bug bites and danger from homeless people in the bushes?

Everything is Entertainment
As a museum curator, I witnessed the transition of museum management from conservation, preservation and presentation to entertainment. Every new  technology had to be employed to entertain the children and relieve the children's parents from their responsibilities to the charges, if just for a brief few moments of respite. Museums are becoming theme parks, where visitors are plugged in to canned tour guides and explanations, rarely encouraged to explore and discover on their own, experiencing a mediated version of the already limited museum experience. A simulacrum of a simulacrum.

And so life has become a mediated experience of a world bounded by fear, ignorance and superstition. The Dark Ages have returned in the full glare of media exposure.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Has Global warming stopped or paused to catch its breath?

Continuing reports of a “global standstill” in average surface temperatures compare the flat temperature trend since 1998 with the continuing linear increase in atmospheric CO2 concentration, reducing the correlation between them and arguing that increasing CO2 does not cause increasing global average surface temperature. (

It has also been pointed out, sometimes in the same articles, that paleoclimate proxy records indicate that increasing global average surface temperature precedes increases in atmospheric CO2 concentration by 200 to 800 years, indicating, therefore, that increased temperature causes increased CO2 concentration, not the other way round. Oceanic temperature lag is proposed as the mechanism for this lag in ocean CO2 absorption/emission.

If both the above are true, that would mean that the observed rise in CO2 concentration is caused by global average temperature increases that occurred 200 to 800 years ago, not by the presently observed temperature increase. That would place the temperature increase that caused the present CO2 rise from ~1200 to ~1800 AD.

This would mean, then,  that the present increase in atmospheric CO2 concentration is the result of the continuing rebound from Little Ice Age temperatures at the end of the 16th Century, as global average surface temperature returns to the long-term normal average surface temperature of 15 degrees C. As average temperature approaches the long-term “normal,” we would expect a flattening of the rate of increase until a plateau is reached, all other influences remaining equal.

Natural Climate Variation
Holocene temperature fluctuations are the result of combinations of natural insolation cycles, overlain by much shorter cycles of multi-decadal oscillations and periods of varying volcanic activity. (See Akasofu, S., 2010, On the recovery from the Little Ice Age, Natural Science, Vol.2, No.11, 1211-1224)

This does not mean that anthropogenic CO2 does not affect climate variation, but it cannot be supported as the sole cause of observed climate variation in the historical record. Until we understand and quantify natural climate variation and its proximate causes, we cannot fully quantify the effects of anthropogenic CO2. However, if the above proposition is true, the contribution of anthropogenic CO2 to the atmosphere can have only a minimal effect on global average surface temperature, in the range of .5C per century or less. (Akasofu 2010)

This understanding of the causes of atmospheric CO2 increase undercuts the IPCC policy position on anthropogenic global warming, as well as the political and economic arguments for lowering anthropogenic CO2 emissions as a means of influencing observed climate variation. Under this scenario, reduction of fossil fuel use and the revival of a nuclear energy program will not reduce observed increases in global average surface temperature to any significant degree.

The Decline of Environmentalism
This growing realization of the nature of observed climate variation is already finding expression in popular press and is changing the rhetoric of the global warming debate. Unfortunately, the contentious debate between “deniers” and “alarmists” has poisoned the well of environmental activism and popular appreciation and understanding of science in general. It will be an uphill struggle to reestablish a public appreciation for the necessity of continuing work in pollution reduction, habitat preservation, energy conservation and renewable energy production. 

Ironically, it may well turn out that the recent unwarranted concentration on “global warming” has set back the cause and the course of working toward resilient societies that are better able to accommodate to a naturally variable climate.