Totally Out Of Control

I was reading yesterday that:

Release of 1000 gigatonnes of carbon would prevent an ice age for 130,000 years. If anthropogenic carbon release were 5000 gigatonnes or more, glaciation will be avoided for at least half a million years. As things stand now, the combination of relatively weak orbital forcing and the long atmospheric lifetime of carbon dioxide is likely to generate a longer interglacial period than has been seen in the last 2.6 million years.

So we can rest assured, there is no ice age around the corner.

And a few minutes later I read here that:

That insulating blanket has a bigger climatic influence than the slight flux in incoming solar energy from changes in Earth’s orientation relative to the Sun, said Dr. James A. Hansen, the director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

”We have taken over control of the mechanisms that determine the climate change,” he said.

We’re now living in the Anthropocene era, according to these people. And we can remake the world as we like.

But I’m not so sure. And for the past 3 months I’ve been thinking about a climatic cycle that the experts in the field of climate science seem not to have noticed.

It’s a very simple cycle: The hot Earth slowly cools over many millions of years. And for those many millions of years the water in its atmosphere falls on its surface as rain, and flows in rivers to the sea. But one day, as the Earth cools, the water stops flowing away in rivers, and the rain freezes on its surface. And as the rain continues to fall, and turn to ice, the ice grows deeper and deeper on the surface of the Earth. And what had been a warm, wet world turns into a cold, dry world. And it stays cold. But the mantle of ice lying on the Earth acts as a blanket to warm it. And so the rocks beneath the ice warm up. And they get hotter and hotter. And they start to melt the ice, which flows away in boiling rivers beneath it. And soon, almost overnight, all the ice has melted. And the cold, dry world turns back into a warm wet world. And the hot surface rocks start cooling back down. And they gradually cool until, once again, the rain falling on the surface of the Earth turns to ice again, and the cycle re-starts.

The two states – warm and wet, and cold and dry – are very stable. They both seem permanent. But neither of them are. And when the warm, wet world flips to become a cold, dry world, the change comes suddenly. And the same when the cold, dry world flips back to being a warm, wet world: it happens almost overnight. And both flips are accompanied by mass extinctions, as plants and animals are unable to adapt quickly enough to the changing environment.

And the same sort of cycle operates in human affairs. Everything remains stable for a long time, until it suddenly flips. And when it flips, lots of people die.

The Russian revolution of 1917 was one of those sudden flips. One day (and there was probably just one day, 23 March 1917? ) tsar Nicholas II became a prisoner in his own palace. A new regime took over, and consolidated its power. And it remained in power until suddenly, almost overnight, it was in its turn swept away. On the 19th (or maybe the 18th) of August, 1991, Michael Gorbachev was placed under house arrest. There were 27,176 days – 74 years, 4 months, and 26 days – between the two events. No doubt historians will haggle over the exact dates, maybe even the exact months and years.

Much the same happened in the palace of Versailles on 5 October 1789 when an angry mob of Parisian women marched into it, and tried to kill Marie Antoinette, wife of king Louis XVI.

Or 14 October 1066, when William, Duke  of Normandy, defeated king Harold of England at the battle of Hastings.

Long periods of stasis are interrupted by sudden revolutions in which the world is turned upside down.  But they are sooner or later followed counter-revolutions which invert the established order once again. In stable periods, stasis endures for millennia or centuries. In unstable periods, stasis endures for years or months.

And smoking bans are no different. They also appear on single days. For example 1 July 2007 in the UK. They inaugurate a new era. But no sooner has the new era dawned, than people start to work to subvert it. And eventually they succeed. One can safely say that one day the UK smoking ban will be repealed or overturned. Nothing is permanent. Everything is always in motion, even if the motion is glacially slow.

Same with the EU. Rather like the Soviet Union (of which it is an accurate reflection), it looks set to last not much longer than the political state on which it was modelled. The Treaty of Rome was signed on 5 March 1957. And so 74 years, 4 months, and 26 days later, on 31 July 2031, we may expect whoever is then President of the European Union to be locked in his office, much like tsar Nicholas II and king Louis XVI before him (or her). For a while it confidently expanded. But then it began to contract. The ice grew, and then it started melting. And 31 July 2031 looks to be a very plausible date for this particular political experiment to come to an end. And all political settlements are experiments: the USA is a political experiment, and so also is the UK, and any other country or state you care to mention.

I sincerely hope that James Hansen is right that us humans are now “in control” of the Earth’s climate. If so, climate scientists will be doing rather better than our political theorists have ever managed in keeping control of human societies for any length of time.

I also hope that our current interglacial lasts 130,000 years (or more). But at the moment I doubt it will last another 2,000 years, if that, given my new understanding.

And I don’t think we’re really “in control” of anything. The dream of Control (including Tobacco Control, climate control, and political control) is really just that: a dream. We live in a little solar system, with planets orbiting a central star, and it’s totally out of control. There’s no Captain Kirk at the helm of USS Earth, because there is no helm, and there is no Kirk. And everything that happens on our planet is completely and totally out of control as well. The best we can hope to do is to be able to foresee what’s going to happen outside or our control, days or weeks before it happens, because we won’t be able to stop it happening

About Frank Davis

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12 Responses to Totally Out Of Control

  1. Bill says:

    I go to sleep at night not knowing there will be a morning following. Usually there is, although those led streetlights do their level best to make day appear at night, though one night there might be no morning following.

  2. beobrigitte says:

    Release of 1000 gigatonnes of carbon would prevent an ice age for 130,000 years.
    Is that really such a good idea?

    ”We have taken over control of the mechanisms that determine the climate change,” he said.
    Is that really such a good idea?

    In my view both of these statements are pure arrogance made by people who appear to never have spent a thought on what effect this kind of interference has on the long run.

    Isn’t it difficult these days to believe any form of authority? I came across this:
    which I would have taken more seriously if the author hadn’t bleated another “settled science”:
    Today, there are nearly 7.6 billion people on Earth, twice as many as in 1970. We have drastically changed the chemistry of the atmosphere and the ocean with our activities, impairing the life support system of the planet. Humans have built huge cities, industries and networks of roads, slicing up access to safer living spaces for many other creatures. We have pushed perhaps a third of all known species toward extinction and have imperiled the habitats of many more.

    The National Geographic felt the urge to respond:
    with -again- sensationalist nonsense.
    That is, until this week, when a book excerpt describing the phenomenon appeared online. (link above) Shortly afterward, numerous websites began trumpeting the doomsday around the corner, a geomagnetic apocalypse in which tumors run rampant, satellites fall from the sky, and life on Earth will cease to exist as we know it.

    True, life on Earth almost certainly will be different than it is today in multiple thousands of years. But will these polar acrobatics have much to do with that?

    First thing’s first: Are we all going to die?


    Wait, what!

    We are all going to die, eventually. But chances are that we will not immediately—or even proximally—perish when Earth’s next geomagnetic reversal occurs.

    From what I have researched so far, surviving the next pole reversal is a raffle; those who manage 8 hours (the time it apparently takes for the magnetic field to re-establish) in night time will survive. For everyone else the outlook is grim.

    The only consolation I have is, if this should happen in my life time it would be the end of at least two powerful industries: the anti-smoking and the man-made-climate change industries.

    • Rose says:


      Tell-Tale Rocks
      JULY 8, 1997

      Q. My students tell me that rocks found on Earth show that Earth’s magnetic poles have reversed. Is this true?

      A. Yes, your students are right. In ”Understanding Earth,” by Frank Press and Raymond Siever (W.H. Freeman & Company), is the story of an Australian graduate student who in the 1960’s found rocks from an ancient aboriginal campfire, perhaps 30,000 years old, that were lying in place, magnetized in the opposite direction from the present-day orientation of the earth’s magnetic field.

      The student suggested to his amazed professor that this was evidence of a shift in the magnetic field in such a way that a compass needle would have pointed south 30,000 years ago.

      What happens is that heating destroys a rock’s original magnetism; upon cooling, it becomes magnetized in the direction of the surrounding magnetic field. This is because groups of atoms in magnetizable material organize themselves in the direction of the field when the material is hot, and are then frozen in place when it cools.

      Studying successive layers of cooled volcanic lava flows and some sedimentary rocks at the ocean floor has enabled scientists to determine approximately when several reversals of the earth’s magnetic field have taken place over the eons. This field of study is called paleomagnetism.”

  3. waltc says:

    OT: Bloomberg shifts his energy (and $125 million) to killing coal but not without likening it to tobacco, saying it’s doomed by evolution: . “If you smoke—and you’ve got to be really stupid to smoke—then Darwin is at work.”

    • Joe L. says:

      Lest the public forget, Michael Bloomberg is himself a former smoker. Therefore, by his own account, he’s got to be really stupid. What a dumb prick.

      • Vlad says:

        In Bloomberg’s case it seems there’s a mental illness at work….not only the anti-smoking stuff, but also the climate change. How can a person claim to fight climate change while at the same time:
        ”Mr. Bloomberg owns a helicopter and two jets, both Falcon 900s. He flies everywhere on private jets, by far the least efficient form of transportation on or above the earth. He takes his jet to Bermuda many weekends. He has flown around the globe on it. He uses it to go to Washington. He is planning to get to Copenhagen for the climate conference by private jet, too.”

        This goes well beyond hypocrisy…

    • Lepercolonist says:

      It’s Bloomberg who is a meshuggener.

    • beobrigitte says:

      Bloomberg indeed found a new niche he knows nothing about. He rambles on about “clean” energy without explaining what he thinks this is. Neither does the lady who wrote the article, it seems.
      Bloomberg drew an analogy with another of his causes, the fight against tobacco. “If you smoke—and you’ve got to be really stupid to smoke—then Darwin is at work,” he said. “The trouble with this stuff, what we’re talking about here, is you can do stupid things that hurt everybody for a long time.”
      Like using a private jet to attend climate conferences?
      When Michael R. Bloomberg travels to Copenhagen to address the international conference on climate change, he will do so on his private jet, producing 21.6 tons of carbon dioxide.
      Who can take a guy like that serious?

      Btw, Bloomberg’s obsession may put his offspring in paths of serious harm:
      Michael Bloomberg
      Rather than leave the entirety of his fortune of around $50 billion to his daughters directly, former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg plans to invest in philanthropic organizations that will help create a better future for them.

      In his Giving Pledge letter, Bloomberg writes: “If you want to do something for your children and show how much you love them, the single best thing — by far — is to support organizations that will create a better world for them and their children.”
      Poor brainwashed old fellow.
      I seriously doubt that Bloomberg’s kids do know the real world having grown up rich and become accustomed to a life style they by themselves will find difficult to support without inheritance.

  4. If you want to put the whole “The World Is Ending!” frenzy into some perspective, read “The Limits To Growth” published 47 years ago… and see how much of their predicting has come about. I think we’re doing a LOT better than expected, and in the same vein, looking forward, will probably do a lot better in the future than expected.

    – MJM, The Eternal Optimist (who some have accused of needing an Eternal Optometrist.)

    • Rose says:

      Look what they had in mind for us.

      Climate change report sets out an apocalyptic vision of Britain
      February 26 2010

      “Mass migration northwards to new towns in Scotland, Wales and northeast England may be needed to cope with climate change and water shortages in the South East, according to an apocalyptic vision set out by the Government Office for Science.

      Heathrow would be converted into a giant reservoir by 2035, there could be severe restrictions on flying and driving and farmers would be forced to sell their land to giant agricultural businesses. Greenhouse gas emissions would be controlled by carbon rationing for individuals, which would lead to “significant shifts in lifestyle as everyone tries to stay within budget”.

      The Government would ease pressure on the South East by planning to “disperse citizens to three new towns in Dumfries and Galloway, Northumberland and Powys”.

      The vision is published today in a report entitled Land Use Futures: Making the Most of Land in the 21st Century.
      John Beddington, the Government’s chief scientific adviser, who directed the research, said that climate change and the growing population would present Britain with difficult choices about how it used its land.”

      “Business as usual is not an option over the longer term. The effects of climate change and new pressures on land could escalate, seriously eroding quality of life,” he said.

      The report says that the projected population increase of nine million by 2031 and an increase in the number of single-person households would result in unprecedented demand for land for development and put pressure on natural resources such as water. By 2050, hotter, drier summers could reduce river flows by 80 per cent.

      The report, compiled by 300 scientists, economists and planners, includes three scenarios to “stimulate thought” and “highlight difficult policy dilemmas that government and other actors may need to consider in the future”.

      All the scenarios involve dramatic changes in lifestyles and landscapes in response to climate change. In the most extreme scenario, world leaders hold an emergency summit in 2014 when it becomes clear that the impacts of climate change are going to be far worse and happen much sooner than previously envisaged.

      The Government responds by taking control of vast tracts of land and using it to grow wood and crops for biomass power stations. An agricultural productivity Bill requires farmers to increase yields per hectare but most have to sell up because they lack the resources to comply. “The average farm size in the UK increases from 57 hectares to 500 hectares; farms in the East and South East of England increase to 5,000 hectares.”

      The report says that satellite images in 2060 would reveal dramatic changes in the countryside. “The landscape is mottled with wind turbines; the patches in the patchwork are bigger; there are more forests and fewer animals; there are fewer vehicles moving along the roads.”

      In another scenario, the Government redefines land as a national resource and the rights of landowners are balanced with “society’s rights to public benefits from the services produced by it”.
      Home ownership falls as people begin to embrace the idea of “stewardship” of shared natural resources.”

      Land use futures: making the most of land in the 21st century
      February 26 2010


  5. Clicky says:

  6. RdM says:

    I meant to note this earlier:
    From the Rolling Stones free concert in Havana, Cuba, to over a million people.

    Out Of Control

    Not so long ago – and Mick is over 70 now …


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