Climate Check: Where Are We on Global Warming?

So, where are we in saving our planet? It’s 2017 and nothing has changed to stop the earth from growing successively hotter each month, each year.

As of October 2017, all but two nations on Earth had signed onto the Paris Climate Agreement. One of those had signed onto the Agreement but then this year decided to sign off: the United States. That then left the United States and Syria — Syria was enveloped in a serious civil war and in a battle for its life against ISIS/ISIL. Then in November, Syria announced it was going to sign the Agreement. That leaves the United States alone. Good ol’ “America First”.

There are those who cling to the dream that if we just ignore the science the problem will go away. What is science, anyway? Just a bunch of self-serving know-it-alls who get into research for the money, right? They never really solve anything, like cancer or MS or gravity because they can keep feeding off the federal science grant teat if they just keep studying the problem instead of solving it, right? On the other hand, the fossil fuel industry is just in it to solve the energy crisis. There’s no money in that! What sacrifice on behalf of our cars and pickups, belching energy grids, and manufacturing plants. And Congress, why they wouldn’t dream of rocking the donation boat by solving global warming. Enough of my sarcasm. Let’s be real.

Scientists get into science because they like discovery and they like solving problems. They do it for money because they have to make a living. But once they solve a problem or a mystery, there is always another problem or mystery to solve. To suggest they are in something like climate science solely to get rich is a disingenuous argument and a deflection from the real problem: The fossil fuel industry and the Congress and White House that support it don’t want to solve global warming and climate change because it would gut the industry and the campaign donation pipeline.

So here we sit. We’re headed into winter, which will make it harder to debate about global warming, because senators and congressmen and other ignoramuses who want to stall action will be able to go outside, grab a handful of snow, and say, “See, there’s no global warming.” But that’s a false narrative. Global warming doesn’t say there will never be a winter, doesn’t say that there will never be snow. What is says that the average temperatures across the globe (take all the temperatures across the globe and average them out) are rising, month after month. Even in winter. And each year, the average global temperature is rising. The data shows this.

And during the warmest time of the year at each pole – Arctic and Antarctica – the ice extent is growing smaller. And the ice there is thinning. The Antarctica, once seemingly stable, has begun to break off great slabs of ice more frequently and melt off has finally begun. They are the areas most sensitive to warming. The data shows this.

Glaciers have melted and retreated, and mountain snow packs have reduced. The data (and photos) show this.

Meanwhile, we find other signs of global warming in the form of climate change. The oceans and seas have gotten warmer. The oceans and seas have grown higher. The droughts have gotten deeper and longer in some areas. Where there is rain and storms, the rain has gotten heavier and storms more fierce. The fire burn season has grown. Storm seasons have been extended earlier and later in the year. Sure, there are occasional retreats during El Niño and La Niña years, but the trends are still there. The data shows us this.

And we haven’t yet even reached the 2-degree Celsius limit climate scientists have warned us about. Now climate scientists tell us heating may have accelerated and we could be headed in a dangerous new direction.

Yes, China and India are significant contributors to carbon pollution. But they are signatory to the Paris Climate Agreement and have pledged to take action. America is also a significant contributor to carbon pollution and even if we don’t match China and India, by no longer pledging action we are more complicit. We know there’s a problem and we’re ignoring it. The executive branch of our government is trying to tear apart the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that is responsible for keeping our air and water clean and safe from pollutants, and muzzling scientists working for or with all executive departments from even talking about climate. They are complicit as well.

All the real science on this issue points to a human responsibility for global warming. The only way to solve it is to respond to human involvement. We can’t do that by ignoring the science and hoping it goes away. It won’t go away.

During the year I keep an eye on the Arctic and Antarctic ice extent. There is a lot of data that shows how the climate is doing at the poles, all year long. Again, it is the most sensitive to warming. Here’s where you can watch, too. Don’t believe climate change deniers. Believe the science and the 97 percent of climate scientists who say our earth, and we who live on it, are in grave danger.

Still unsure? Think of it this way: What if you’re wrong? What if shrugging off global warming you are exacerbating the problem and dooming your children and grand children to a future hell, a real-life hell on earth? Is that really where you want this to go? It doesn’t have to be that way. Because it’s well within our means right now to tame this ugly beast, at least to slow it down. If you’re wrong and you do nothing, you are complicit. And soon, very soon if climate scientists are right, it will become too late.

Note to U.S. industries: While U.S. policymakers are sleeping on it, other nations are taking action, helping their alternative-energy industries profit from the activity. And their alternative-energy industries are growing while U.S. industries are struggling. Fossil-fuel industries are maintaining their profits in the U.S. at the expense of both alternative-energy industries and the world’s future. U.S. policymakers are choosing winners here, despite complaining that this is what previous policymakers were doing in taking a side on global warming before. So when the time finally comes to decide that global warming is real and actually do something about it, the rest of the world will be way ahead of U.S. alternative-energy industries and in a position to lead and the U.S. won’t be. If you’re sitting on the sidelines now, this is part of your legacy.

That’s where we are on global warming, where we are headed on the only planet we have to live. There isn’t any planet B.

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Galaxies in the Time of Amazing Science

by Alan Eggleston

The farthest astronomical object observable with the naked eye in our night sky is the Andromeda Galaxy. At 2.537 million light years distance, it’s pretty close, by universe standards, especially when you consider the farthest known galaxy is 13.8 billion light years away. A light year is the distance it takes light to travel in an Earth year.

Andromeda

Andromeda Galaxy Photo credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The Andromeda Galaxy is a typical clockwise spiral galaxy with a dominant central bulge but no central bar.  Compared to our Milky Way Galaxy, Andromeda is quite a bit larger — 220,000 light years across compared to Milky Way at 100,000 and containing 1 trillion stars compared to Milky Way containing 200 to 400 billion stars. Milky Way has a dominant central bulge, but it has a central bar. Notably, while the rest of the universe of galaxies are moving away from us, Andromeda Galaxy is moving toward us, more-local gravitational attraction having a greater effect than does the expansion of space-time.

There are billions to trillions of other galaxies to observe in the universe, most of them by various kinds of telescopes. What we now know about them has changed a lot recently. I got a good look at that when I participated in citizen science through the Galaxy Zoo project beginning in 2007. Its first project was categorizing galaxies by type: elliptical or spiral and how many arms the spirals have. Then whether spirals were clockwise or counterclockwise — yes, there are counterclockwise spiral galaxies! We also studied galaxy mergers and explored the colors of ellipticals and the sizes of spiral central bulges and bars and whether the spirals were symmetrical. Then we peared into the early cosmos and looked at galaxy clumping for signs of the earliest galaxy formations. More recently, we have looked for signs that galaxies spin around their bars.

One of the more startling discoveries through the Galaxy Zoo project was the Green Pea galaxy, which occurred in 2009. They have unusual amounts of doubly ionized oxygen atoms and they form stars 10 times the rate of the Milky Way, despite being 10 times smaller and 100 times less massive.

The same citizen scientist who discovered the Green Peas also discovered another mystery associated with galaxies called Hanny’s Voorwerp, Dutch for “Hanny’s Object”. This 24 year old school teacher was looking at galaxy images in the Galaxy Zoo project in 2007 when she saw a mysterious blue object near a spiral galaxy that no one could explain. It now turns out to be associated with an active galactic nucleus (AGN) not previously associated with that galaxy and the subsequent discovery that AGN’s can switch off occasionally.

Some other things discovered include the distribution of dust lanes and its relationship to the age of galaxies, the relationship of galaxy color to age and the relationship of color to star formation, the idea that ellipticals may be older merged spiral galaxies, and the variations in color of elliptical galaxies.

Finally, we used Hubble and other images in the Galaxy Zoo project to look for gravitational lensing to help identify galaxies magnified behind other galaxies, which aided exploration of deeper field and even older galaxies, galaxies on the edge of the observable universe.

When I was a teen and in my early 20’s, we didn’t really know a lot about galaxies. There were several known categories of spirals and ellipticals and that was about it. But now, it seems every few months there are amazing new discoveries announced. And new projects open up in the Galaxy Zoo project to help astronomers and cosmologists comb through images and data to discover new insights on some of the most beautiful sights in the cosmos that are the collections of stars and other objects we know as galaxies. This really is an amazing time in the space sciences.

© 2017. Alan Eggleston. All Rights Reserved.

Water: The Most Important Ingredient for Life and Its Greatest Limit?

by Alan Eggleston

Earth has an abundance of water, right? When you look at pictures of Earth from space a majority of its surface is covered in water. But that surface water is thin compared with the thickness of the crust, the mantle, and the core of the Earth – similar to the peel of an apple compared with its “meat” and core inside.

Earth as seen from space.

Photo: NASA. Public domain.

And the potable drinking water is a small portion of the water on the surface. Most of what you see on the surface is salty ocean water, which although it can be desalinated, is difficult and expensive to do.

So how abundant is that water actually? A new article on space.com by David A. Weintraub (professor of astronomy at Vanderbilt University) suggests that while it may be abundant now, if global warming continues at its current rate and beyond a few degrees above average (we’re currently at 0.8 degrees Celsius above average), we could go the way of Venus and Mars. Research suggests they originally had vast oceans of water but lost them. We know that Venus lost them to heat.

One effect of warming is that warmer air can hold more moisture. It doesn’t cool and let the water rain out as easily. Moreover, as the air warms, it dries the soil and evaporates the bodies of water more quickly. The oceans warm up; although more slowly overall, the surface heats up and the ocean circulation brings that warmer surface water to lower depths and as the cooler water comes to the surface, it is heated. Warmer water in the tropics is circulated to the northern latitudes as well, and cooler northern waters are brought to the tropics where it is heated. Thus, the oceans just keep getting warmer, and even if we were to stabilize carbon and methane levels to reduce global warming, the effect would be slow to affect the oceans, so the warm up of the oceans and the atmosphere would just continue.

I recommend reading the book Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet by Mark Lynas, which details the effects by degrees of increase in global warming on our planet. It really spells out the future of the Earth if we continue to ignore this critical issue. Written by a journalist but based on the review of a slew of science research, it is no sci-fi apocalyptic fantasy. I’ll warn you that it becomes bleak at the 4-degree chapter and beyond.

The article by David Weintraub says that part of the problem of losing water is because of the make-up of water (hydrogen or deuterium and oxygen) and the ability of a planet to hold those constituent elements due to gravity. As water is broken down from natural processes, the lighter hydrogen gets lifted higher into the atmosphere and escapes, which is what happened on Venus and, potentially, what happened on Mars. Mars eventually had a much thinner atmosphere and a weaker magnetic field and the water boiled away, but when its atmosphere was thick enough to hold water its temperature was higher and could have led to this same effect.

Thus Weintraub asks us to consider, are we doomed to the same future as Venus and Mars when we ignore global warming or put off doing something about it? We would be wise to consider the question.

As a sidebar to this story, and as an update to my last article, I wonder if global warming or loss of water might not be added to the list of reasons we haven’t been contacted by extraterrestrials or they aren’t visible. It may be one of those natural disasters that complex cultures don’t address in time, or it may be that the water on some planets is so precarious that even if it sustains life at some point, it boils off or evaporates too quickly for them to mature to a stage where they can either attempt to communicate beyond their solar system or even leave the bounds of their atmospheres.

Perhaps water isn’t just the most necessary ingredient for life but also its greatest limit.

© 2015. Alan Eggleston. All Rights Reserved.

What About Life Elsewhere in the Universe?

by Alan Eggleston

Back to my articles on space topics, for my earlier followers.

NPR (National Public Radio) recently ran an article, “Why Aren’t the Aliens Here Already?” While the hunt for aliens isn’t always a topic of interest for astronomy buffs, the search for exoplanets and life elsewhere is. And it’s worthwhile asking: If life exists elsewhere, is it detectable and if so, why haven’t we found it yet? If life is elsewhere might some of it be advanced enough to travel the stars, and if so, why haven’t they contacted us yet?

It’s reasonable to believe that we will one day soon learn if life exists elsewhere in our own solar system. Missions are right now being planned for the ice moons of Saturn and Jupiter that have the high potential to harbor life, with their sub-surface oceans.

There is already a successful search underway for exoplanets (planets in other solar systems), and our technology has advanced that allows us to study their atmospheres from Earth. One day soon, we will be able to detect their habitability.

Astronomers have recently searched nearby galaxies for signs of advanced civilizations based on our assumptions of their advanced technological use of energy. So far we haven’t found such signs, but as we broaden our search perhaps we will find them.

Another allied field of study, perhaps on the fringes of actual science, is the search for signs that extraterrestrials have visited Earth or are currently visiting Earth. And the question arises, as in the NPR article, if extraterrestrial exist, why aren’t they here on Earth already?

First, can we assume that they haven’t already been on Earth? Some who study that possibility suggest that they have in our distant past. There is no hard scientific evidence that they have, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t.

Second, can we assume that they aren’t here now? There are plenty of people who suggest that aliens exist among us, although they seem to always be just beyond our grasp of detection.

Either way, there is no definitive proof that life exists beyond what we can see on Earth. And if life beyond Earth hasn’t come knocking on our doors, perhaps there are plenty of reasons why.

Why we may not have found life beyond Earth yet

  • The most obvious though least agreeable reason is: Life doesn’t exist outside of Earth. There’s scant proof of that yet.
  • Life exists but it isn’t technologically advanced enough to show up in our searches or to do searches to find us. Kind of hard to believe that of the number of chances of life there wouldn’t be some advanced enough to show up or to do an advanced search.
  • At 13.7 billions years old, the universe is of an age in which advanced civilizations may exist and have tried to contact other civilizations but we missed the call, being only technologically savvy for a relatively short period ourselves. They may call in the future and we will miss the call again because we gave up trying or have some technological failure that means we can’t “hear” the call.
  • Aliens have sent out signals searching for life but at the size and age of the universe, we simply haven’t received the call yet.
  • Extraterrestrials are actively traveling the galaxy or galaxies, but at the size and age of the universe, they haven’t found a way around traveling near, at, or beyond the speed of light to get here yet.
  • Aliens have prioritized their search and just haven’t gotten to us yet.
  • They use different technology and we simply can’t receive the call. By the time we discover the technology or realize we need to use it, we may have missed the opportunity.
  • Aliens have been here and not liked what they have found and so have not contacted us.
  • Other civilizations have not come to the realization that there are other species in the universe and have not sought to contact anyone else.
  • They imagine there is other life “out there” but decided there is no way to reach them, either through travel or communication, and so haven’t even tried.
  • Extraterrestrials have other priorities than using their resources for contacting other civilizations. Searching for other civilizations in space would be a distraction in time, effort, and other resources.
  • They see no reason to contact another civilization, either out of fear our out of practicality.
  • There really is such a thing as a “Prime Directive” and more advanced civilizations haven’t been allowed to contact us.
  • Other civilizations never get beyond the technical ability to destroy themselves.
  • They never get to the technical ability to avoid annihilation from natural disasters.
  • They never get beyond the stage of development where they eventually destroy themselves or knock themselves back to the dark ages, or perhaps they never develop to a stage where they can annihilate disease and they all die. I find this highly unlikely as a generalized statement.
  • What do you mean there has been no contact? Who do you think all those trolls are on Twitter? (Just a joke!)

Really? Just because we haven’t found life outside of Earth yet doesn’t mean we won’t find any in the future. The universe is billions of years old and we’ve only been “looking” for a few decades. It’s multiple billions of light years across and difficult to traverse. Give time a chance. If other civilizations are anything like us, let’s hope they aren’t as impatient and lacking in hope as we humans seem to be.

An Open Letter to Graduates

by Alan Eggleston

I don’t rise to the level of commencement speaker, but let me share some thoughts with you as you finally graduate.

First, let me congratulate you on your achievement.

Whether you are graduating from college or from high school, whether you are graduating with a diploma, a certificate, an advanced degree, or a GED, you just did something totally amazing. After a long period of study and the discipline of consistently meeting class requirements, you showed you are ready to move ahead in life. Job well done!

Second, let me give you a little life advice.

From here on in, you will be working for a living. Yes, you may get a little break after studying to relax. You may have to job hunt for a bit. You may even have to take on something temporary before you find the job you actually want or studied for. But eventually, you will be working earnestly to make a living. That’s just the way life is.

Likely what most of you found was that in studying, you got to explore a lot of new things. Some of them were boring, but some of them were also very interesting. They piqued your curiosity, which should have been the fun part of going to school. And when you graduate from school, that shouldn’t be the end of exercising your curiosity.

Curiosity is a creative process. It is exploring the unknown. It is discovery and the joy of becoming something that you weren’t before.

If you are fortunate (I don’t believe in luck, so I say fortunate), you will get to work in the field in which you studied. If you aren’t so fortunate, you will end up in a job that has nothing whatever to do with your field of study. Granted, for some of you that may serrendipitously be a good thing. But after you spent all that money, you probably would like to end up working in the field in which you studied, even tangentially. But if you aren’t so fortunate, that doesn’t mean you have give up learning more about your field. And if you are fortunate enough to work in your field, it shouldn’t mean you have arrived at the penultimate place in the universe – there will always be more to learn.

My little bit of life advice is to never stop learning, never stop exploring, never stop being curious.

Every one of us has something in life we have always wanted to do. For some of us, it is doing what we will be doing as a profession. But for others of us, it is some far flung dream or obsession. Maybe it’s to travel the world, or write a best-selling novel, or go on an archeological dig, or create a sculpture, or climb Mount Everest, or cure cancer. Each of us has something that we always wanted to do. We are deeply curious about something, about trying something, about experiencing something, about doing something. And we ought to do it at some point in our lives.

My challenge for you is to write down what that dream is and make it a goal in your life to do that one thing – sooner than later.

Too many of us get that first job or start that first career and lose the vision for that one big dream and then fail to ever achieve it. And that’s a shame.

You are graduating from school. All that time spent learning was more than sitting in a classroom being babysat while your parents worked. It was learning how to use a set of tools that can help you explore your curiosity and give you access to that dream.

Sure, go out into the world now. Get a job. Make some money. Have a home. Start a family, if that’s your thing. But never give up on achieving that dream – your dream. If you write it down now and keep it in front of you, just as you are graduating now you will surely achieve that dream.

Like your diploma or certificate or degree, you will earn it. It will be your achievement.

Life’s dreams. Don’t live life without one.

© 2015. Alan Eggleston. All Rights Reserved.

The Big Bang Theory Review: Mother Madness

by Alan Eggleston

Their mothers couldn’t be any more different. Sheldon Cooper’s mother Mary, a devoted Bible thumper from Texas, is nurturing and loving. Leonard Hofstadter’s mother Beverly, a formidable psychotherapist from out East who lives by science, uses nurture as a reward. Could sparks fly when they meet for the first time on this week’s new episode of The Big Bang Theory, “The Maternal Combustion”?

Mother of all love envy

Leonard has always suffered from mother’s-love envy, and it isn’t helped when Beverly seems to heap praise on Sheldon for his collaboration with Leonard on their paper, while downplaying Leonard’s contribution. On the other hand, Mary couldn’t be prouder of Sheldon and hardly approves of Leonard and Penny’s long-term status as lovers without vows.

Warned separately by their respective sons to be civil, Mary and Beverly are at first respectful while parrying each other with veiled barbed quips. Hostility slowly builds.

Meanwhile, Leonard and Sheldon hold a contentious sidebar conversation when Sheldon seems to hog all the love and attention, Leonard accusing Leonard of being a “dirty double mother suckler.”

When mothers and sons trade off briefly, each son talks to the other mother about their relationship with their son and making peace with the other mother. When they return to the apartment, Beverly says she respects Mary’s right to her beliefs. Mary returns the favor, saying, “I will pray for you.” They may not be friends, but they are finally civil.

Then Beverly admits she hasn’t been as nurturing with Leonard as perhaps she should have been.

Beverly opens her arms to Leonard. “I will shower you with unconditional love,” she says awkwardly. Leonard wonders aloud when it will start, and Beverly summons him: “Come to … mommy.” The scene ends in an uncomfortable but endearing hug.

Wives will be mothers

While the Coopers and Hofstadters are struggling with mother-son issues, Howard and Bernadette Wolowitz struggle over wives-will-be-mothers issues.

Howard’s buds Raj Koothrappali and Stuart Bloom are spending way too much time at the Wolowitz abode – almost like they live there, and Bernadette is doing all the work. So Bernadette puts her foot down, putting them to work cleaning house.

Raj observes that Bernadette babies Howard like Howard’s mother used to do, and Howard realizes it’s true. So Howard decides to “man up” and take charge of the clean up. When he tries to haul out the trash the bag rips, spilling messy garbage all over the kitchen floor.

Howard cleans the floor on his own, and when Bernadette walks in she praises him doing it all by himself. He walks over to get his hug, but his shoes stick to the floor and he walks right out of them. “Never mind,” says a disappointed Howard, “just go!”

The scene ends with Howard, Raj, and Stewart sweeping, scrubbing, and shining, singing like Cinderellas in a rock musical.

(Originally written for ScreenFad. But a server error lost the posting and then it was too late to post.)

© Copyright 2015. Alan Eggleston. All Rights Reserved.

Interstellar: The Realistic Movie but also The Disappointment

by Alan Eggleston

It’s been a while since I’ve written in this space. And in this space,  I will write about space again — in a review of the film Interstellar. (Plot synopsis from IMBd.)

Interstellar, released in November 2014, was much-hyped for its special effects. Much was said about its realism, based on the concept of its original script by theoretical physicist Kip Thorne (executive producer), who wanted to create a very realistic science fiction movie. And true to the hype, the special effects were brilliant.

We were given an awesome sight of what a wormhole might appear like “in the wild,” and we saw a black hole up close and even traveled inside one, seeing what it might look like within the event horizon and on toward the singularity. We were also treated to a ride on a monster tidal wave driven by the action of the tides acting on a shallow sea on a world orbiting that black hole.

The problem, however, was that the special effects were only a very small part of a very … long … movie.

As intriguing as watching these special effects were, driven by the mathematics of science fed into the CGI app for the movie animation, the movie was longer than two and a half hours, and the special effects were infinitesimally short in comparison.

The main plot of the movie is that Earth is dying and humans need to find an alternative home, and the main character (Matthew McConaughey) is forced to leave behind his young family to lead a team in search of that potential home. There is plenty of conflict to raise tension. There is the fight to sustain life on Earth; the need to find an alternate home — although the actual flight to seek one seems to take longer than the scientists give Earth to last; the main character’s desire to save his family; a secondary character’s (Anne Hathaway) drive to see her father’s (Michael Caine) theory for saving humanity work and then later to meet up with a love interest (Matt Damon) who ventured ahead to find a suitable Earth substitute; and on and on. But the pace of the movie lags over that two and a half hours.

Moreover, the tone of the movie is depressing. My daughter had to leave a half hour into the movie, and my wife was listless three  quarters of an hour into it.

Quite frankly, the plot and plot devices seemed contrived and implausible to me. The big reveal toward the end seemed especially troubling.

So what is the saving grace for Interstellar? It is only the special effects and how much effort they put into being realistic, and the fun of seeing what we might really see if we approached a black hole or a worm hole. As a science and astronomy fan, I appreciated the attention to detail.

Did they take some liberties — some creative license — in the movie? I’m sure they did. But, according to Thorne, not at the expense of scientific accuracy. Of course, we won’t know for sure until the day far in the future when human space travelers actually approach a black hole or a worm hole.

By the way, this also featured a top-notch cast, many of whom played small parts. Matt Damon’s role was relatively minor, as was that of Ellen Burstyn, John Lithgow, William Devane, Casey Affleck, and Topher Grace, among a fine list of actors.

Would I suggest that you see Interstellar? That depends on why you might go see it. If you’re a fan of science like me, sure. If you want to see science-accurate special effects, again sure. Especially if you can see it free as I did by accessing a DVD through a library or at a lower cost as in a subscription service such as Netflix. If you find you don’t like it, ditch the flick early. But if you’re looking for a quick movie or an uplifting flick or a fascinating film, I’d say give it a pass.

© Copyright 2015. Alan Eggleston. All Rights Reserved.