A Winter's Tale
Mighty Lada - Whoo!
After a balmy December when it seemed everyone suddenly was suddenly a long-time believer in Global Warming, General Winter has struck back with a vengeance. Here in Toronto, the past week has seen temperatures dipping to -15 or so - chilly enough, but nothing compared to the Winter of '88 to make hopping on my bike in the morning an excersise of will, though I'm always sweating by the time I get to work.
But -15 isn't really cold ...
Back in the late 1980s I found wintering in Sudbury, living out in the bush with my mother. I had a temporary job as a production assistant on what was then known as CBC Northern Ontario Radio's flagship program, Morning North. It was during the winter of that 16-week stint that I experienced real cold.
My mother and I usually drove in to work together (she too worked for the Mother Corp - but that tale of semi-nepotism is one for another day) but she was out of town the night the temperature dropped to -44 celsius (for you Yanks, that's about 47 below F). And note: that figure did not include the windchill factor!) and I forgot to plug in block-heater. For those not familiar that term, please see sooguy's post about his return to the north.
Now this car was a Lada, a vehicle of Soviet make that was then probably pushing 10 years old.
And so it was with little confidence that I slipped the key in the ignition. Instinctively, I knew the key itself was at risk of snapping from the cold. Gingerly, I tried turning it.
Nothing. Not a hint of motion.
I tried again, with just a little more force. Still nothing.
I decided to apply heat and drew forth my lighter, held the key in the flame almost until my fingers burned.
And tried the ignition again. Still no movement.
I decided on a little more force - and the key snapped in two, leaving the head between my thumb and fingers, the shaft lodged in the ignition.
At which point, no longer worried about breaking the key, I a quarter from my pocket (and yes, I was fucking cold by this point!), slipped it into the slot and twisted for all it was worth.
Awwwooouurrrggghhh, said the Lada.
Amazed, I turned the key again, and stomped the gas peddal like a madman.
Awough! Woouughh, roooouuu, brroooommmm!
It cost me $275 to get the ignition drilled later, but I was always proud of that car. -44 is cold!
The Ice Age That Wasn't
Mighty Analog - Whoo!
As most of you know, I'm a year-round cyclist, and this cold-snap hasn't stopped me. But it has led me to reflect that, although I really do like winter, the warm weather makes life a good deal easier.
Thursday morning, I was gifted with an early visit by Canada Post and so was able to giddily stow the latest issue of Analog in my backpack before hitting the frigid January streets.
Now, I haven't read the whole issue yet, so you needn't worry that I'm going to bore you with more science fiction critiques (not yet, at any rate). No, it's science I want to talk about.
Analog's science column this month, by Richard A. Lovett (who seems to be almost a non-entity on the web - no link, for once) is entitled, "The Ice Age That Wasn't", and it's a fascinating read.
Back in the 1970s, there was a lot of talk about the possibility the earth was heading into another ice-age, something that those who question the science behind global warming still like to brandish like an ex-lover's mash-notes to support their contention that global warming isn't "proven" and so we need do nothing about it.
Lovett's article makes a strong case for the idea that "those scientists" weren't so dumb after all. The article is based on a paper, paper"The Anthropogenic Greenhouse Era Began Thousands of Years Ago, by one William F. Ruddiman, PhD.
Over the past 400,000 years, the earth has gone in and out of glacial ages on a regular schedule and, according to Ruddiman via Lovett (I have not yet read the paper), by all rights we should be heading towards - if not already be in - another ice-age. Ice-cores, pollen samples and other methods all point to the same pattern. "You have to throw 395,000 years of history out the window to come up with a natural explanation" for the fact the earth is heating up right now, rather than cooling down, Ruddiman said in 2003. "Something's overridden the natural system."
Most of us associate the increasing levels of green-house gasses - carbon dioxide and methane, in particular - with the industrial revolution, but Ruddiman claims humanity has been altering our planet's natural balance for a good deal more than a few hundred years.
In fact, according to the Professor's thesis, humanity began to modify the planet's natural cycle some 8,000 to 12,000 years ago, when we began the shift from living as hunter-gatherers to farming.
We cut down trees for cropland, and flooded fields to grow rice. Enough so, that the resulting loss of carbon sinks and increases in methane output changed the composition of the atmosphere enough to stop the global cooling trend that "should" have been happening.
If professor Ruddiman is correct, at least those of us living north of the 49th parallel should probably be giving a huge vote of thanks to global warming, as the normal cycle would have seen the world cooling for another few thousand years before it went once again into an inter-glacial period.
Which doesn't mean we shouldn't be concerned about what is happening now of course. The 20th century saw the human influence on our atmosphere's composition grow vastly stronger and the consequences - at best - are going to be difficult to deal with. Rising oceans, changing rainfall patterns, all happening quickly and concurrently are going to cause a great deal of suffering, and not just to people. Between the changing weather and the loss of habitat, species are going extinct at a rate not seen in millions of years.
It seems that humanity has been playing god for millenia, but is only now becoming aware of it. Which begs the question: now that we do have an inkling of our power, and that our inadvertent use of it has kept the ice-sheets at bay, what are we going to do with that power?
Clearly, if it were put to a vote, the side wanting a complete return to the "natural cycle" would lose in a landslide. At the same time, I doubt most of us want a world with rainforests growing on Antarctica, either. But Ruddiman's thesis, for me at least, somehow makes it clear that we are gods now, and in the 21st century, we had better face up to our power and figure out what we want to do, and what we should do, with that power.
Like it or not, the earth is ours. We can nurture it or destroy it, and pretending we can "go back to the natural order" can only guarantee we will do the latter.