The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life     
. . . still studying and learning how to live
Friday, August 31, 2018
Current Affairs ... Technology ... Weather ...

Eight years ago, I posted some words here about whether climate change was as serious as it was being made out to be, and whether the evidence that global warming was being caused primarily by man-made CO2 and other greenhouse gasses was as solid as climate advocates had asserted. Today, given the evolving weather trends over the past decade or so, I tend to be more sympathetic to the view that climate change is real, and I generally agree that the trend is towards higher temperatures
(both air temps and sea temps) and more instability in established weather patterns.

Personally, I don’t think that emission reduction or green energy strategies are going to do much to stem the change, at least not in the next few years or even decades. In the longer term, technology will make our industrial and transport infrastructure more efficient and less dependent upon carbon-based fuels. “Renewables” (aka “green energy” sources such as wind and solar generators) along with nuclear power now meet about 21% of global energy demand. This will get close to 25% by 2020.

Renewables and nuclear might hit 50-50 parity with carbon-based fossil fuels by around 2070, according to some optimistic projections; these scenarios assume that carbon-based fuel use starts declining by 2020. However, a 2016 US Energy Information Agency projection (made during the Obama Administration) indicates that carbon fuel usage will continue to grow thru 2040. In the EIA scenario, renewables and nuclear account for  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 6:42 am       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Wednesday, May 25, 2016
Public Policy ... Technology ... Weather ...

The world today is a really, really complicated place, and it’s hard sometimes to figure out what makes it better and what makes it worse. One confusing issue regards natural gas as a major energy source. There are some big disagreements as to whether we should encourage or discourage the production and use of natural gas. On the plus side for natural gas: as with petroleum and coal, it’s a practical way to provide energy where ever and whenever you like, in large or small quantities; it can be stored without energy loss; it’s relatively cheap and easy to produce, especially given newer drilling technologies such as fracking; there is plenty of it in the USA and in many other places around the world; and it burns relatively cleanly, without smoke and with half the carbon dioxide by-product that coal emits per unit of energy obtained (e.g. the BTU), and 2/3 of what oil emits.

Natural gas requires infrastructure to safely utilize, e.g. a network of storage tanks and pipelines and pumping stations — but most of that already exists in the US. It’s not quite as portable as a petroleum product (e.g. gasoline and diesel fuel), given that gas is harder to contain than a liquid. Thus, natural gas may not be a good fuel for most transportation needs, although there are some buses and trucks that can utilize it. But for many uses including home heating, power generation and commercial/industrial processes, it seems to be superior to both coal and oil.

Given that human-made climate change is now widely recognized and accepted as a real and significant phenomenon, a phenomenon that could have very costly and disrupting effects on human civilization in the coming decades; and also given that climate change is largely driven by carbon emissions from fossil fuel use, it would seem that we should encourage  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 5:22 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
Sunday, January 24, 2016
Photo ... Weather ...

Old Man Winter finally got around to us here in metro New Jersey. Took him long enough! Because of the big El Nino event in the Pacific Ocean, we’ve had a relatively mild and dry winter. We reached the 3rd week of January without any snow on the ground. But that’s all changed this weekend, as a big nasty nor’easter came rolling up the coast and dumped over a foot of snow on us. Right at the mid-point of winter too (Jan 23-24 is the “meteorological middle” of winter, when the temperature trend tips ever so slightly away from getting colder and starts the long path to spring, getting slightly warmer every day — on average, anyway). The snow and wind decided to decorate my kitchen window, just to remind me that this winter still has plenty of life left in it. But then again, the advance forecast for next weekend is sunny and in the mid-40s. It’s all just part of the ups and downs of the weather, and of life.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:41 am       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
Saturday, January 9, 2016
Nature ... Photo ... Weather ...

On the weather front, it’s an El Nino winter. Up here in eastern New Jersey, we’re definitely feeling it. Which is nice for us (not so nice in other places of the world, where needed rainfall is lacking or too much rain comes down), because the warm air coming up from the Pacific equatorial region (where El Nino mainly does its thing) has delayed the onset of cold and snow. The past two winters here were quite cold and snowy, and the temporary reprieve (only temporary, as we will soon get some true cold spells and a handful of snow storms) is definitely appreciated. By me, anyway; there are some “snow people” who have been upset about this, such as “Weather Willy” (who keeps a very good weather blog, despite his bias towards wintery weather).

Aside from a handful of upset winter-weather fans, the El Nino has also caused some consternation in the natural world. We had a relatively cool and normal November, so the 50 and 60 degree temps in mid-December confused a lot of trees and plants. Just a few blocks from my house are these fruit trees, which took the bait. These photos were taken last Saturday, the day after New Years Day. A few days later it was down in the teens and twenties, and the little taste of “way too early spring” was over.

We might still get a handful of temperate afternoons with temps in the lower 40s, but for the most part, the party is over. It’s time to get on with winter.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 3:58 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Wednesday, April 1, 2015
Photo ... Weather ...

It’s finally April here, and a long winter is just about over. For a while there in February, we had to go almost a week just to get a day where the high was above freezing. Now finally, we’ve probably seen the last day for the season where the low gets below 32. So, one more memory of this memorable winter. This was the last real snowfall in my town, which happened on March 20 (the day before Spring started). It was just barely cold enough to snow, as you can see on the thermometer. This was a winter of old, one that didn’t give in too easily. I’m not sure that I want to see one like this again anytime soon, but it’s nice to look back on and feel good about having survived.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 12:12 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Wednesday, March 11, 2015
Photo ... Weather ...

This is what it looked like about a week ago near my residence. A few days later, the 40 day pattern of frigid cold and frequent (if not terribly big) snowstorms finally broke. It was one of the coldest February’s on record, but the mild air found its way back to New Jersey and everything is changing. We still have some dirty old snow yet to melt before the flowers start poking through, but the long winter is becoming a fading memory.

But best not to let it fade completely. When the weather gets tough, the eternal student gets studying . . . learning more and more about what’s going on up in the skies. This past winter season I’ve learned even more than I picked up last winter about polar vortex’s and teleconnection patterns. And based on what I learned, I know that there are signs out there saying that winter has an encore performance coming up in about 10 days or so. (I.e., positive PNA, negative AO, NAO and EPO, and MJO going to zone 7). So, although we’re enjoying the early taste of April this week, we may have to wait until early April until it really settles in. For now . . . don’t put the gloves, caps, scarves and shovels away!

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:40 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Thursday, January 8, 2015
Weather ...

In December, 2012, there was an article in Scientific American (called “Winters of Our Discontent” by Charles Greene) saying that global warming was causing the Arctic ice cap to melt, and that such melting would mess up the usual Arctic air oscillation patterns. As a result, the eastern half of the USA would allegedly experience very cold winters starting in 2012-13. So, SciAm was warning us to expect a cold winter in return for the sins of our carbon-based civilization. But it didn’t happen that year; the winter of 2012-13 was mostly normal here in the east, temperature-wise. However, we did get socked the next year (last winter); the polar vortex kept on dipping downward from Canada and everyone east of the Mississippi did a fair amount of shivering, especially in February and early March. (And yes, I acknowledge that the shivering is relative; we coastal people who are used to 25 degree winters were really suffering at 10; but you inland people had to get down below zero before you started noticing it).

So, does this prove that global warming is here, clear for everyone to see in the eastern USA to see? (Not to mention the far West, with its extended heat and drought). The experts are arguing both ways on that idea. Recall that since 2000, we’ve had a very active hurricane pattern in the Atlantic; according to Weather Underground, 2003, 2005, 2008, 2010, 2011 and 2012 were on the top 10 list of hurricane seasons since 1851. These years gave us famous storms like Katrina, Wilma and Sandy. Various articles appeared attributing this trend to global warming. However, some studies go the other way on this. Since 2012, the Atlantic basin seems to have quieted down; 2014 was one of the least active years for hurricanes on record. IMHO, it’s still too soon to conclude that bigger and more frequent hurricanes are going to become a way of life because of CO2.

But what about those cold waves here in the east? We are in one right now,  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:26 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Sunday, July 20, 2008
Current Affairs ... Weather ...

It’s that time of year in northern NJ — temperatures in the mid-90s and near-liquid humidity. And I hear a lot of people complaining about the discomfort of it all. They’re ready to cry bloody murder as they break a sweat while walking between their air-conditioned cars and their air-conditioned houses or offices or shopping malls. Air conditioning has become a social expectation here, as in most other places outside the “third world”.

Being a bit out-of-step with the world around me, I don’t embrace air conditioning. I have one in my apartment, but it doesn’t work anymore. I never use the one in my car; I’d rather get a few extra miles per gallon, especially now with four-dollar gas. The only place where I do need air conditioning is at work. And even there, the system can barely hold 80 degrees on summer afternoons. Obviously there is a lot of complaining. But not by me.

So how do I survive a weekend at home in late July and early August? I have some fans to keep the wet 90 degree air moving. But most important, I find that my body knows how to adjust to the weather. Basically, it does what people used to do in primitive hot-weather cultures; my metabolism throttles back and I sleep a lot during the day. I do all of my chores and projects in the morning, and by 2 pm I’m in my reading chair with an open book and closing eyelids. As the afternoon drifts by, I go back and forth from nap to nap. By 6 or so, I get up for dinner, and then snooze some more. Then around 9 pm I get some energy back and putter around until about midnight.

I’ve thus gone into the classic “siesta” cycle of Latin countries in the tropics. In the last 50 years or so, many people in these countries have abandoned the traditional “lazy afternoon” way of life in favor of air-conditioned hyperactivity all day long. And that has driven up the demand for oil; air conditioning, no matter how efficient, will always be an energy-intensive proposition. And now oil production is not keeping up with demand, thus threatening the world economy with spiking prices. (As I previously discussed, investor speculation in oil futures has made things worse. But until some of the speculators get hurt and the bubble bursts, there’s nothing you can do about it; it’s just a nasty little side-effect of free market dynamics).

So, perhaps our modern society will eventually be forced to re-adopt some of the old traditions like lazy, sleepy afternoons and active evenings (not all old traditions are bad; although admittedly, stuff like nationalism, racism and warfare have to go). Another thing: the heat isn’t as bad when you maintain your proper weight. Obesity is becoming an epidemic in the USA, and I think that it has something to do with the notion of universal air conditioning, air conditioning as a right. If energy scarcity forces us to restrict air conditioning to places of work and to those who need it most, e.g. the elderly and the medically frail, perhaps Americans would watch their weight more carefully, reducing diabetes and heart disease and increasing life spans.

Yea, I know, I sound like a communist autocrat telling people how they should live and forcing social changes on the unwilling masses. But no, I’m not. All I’m saying here is that if $8 gasoline and outrageous electricity bills do ever cause Americans to re-think their ways of life, their dread regarding going back to older ways of life may be somewhat unfounded. Take my word for it — a lazy, sleepy afternoon in a hot and humid room (with open windows; no more sealed-in buildings with “central air”) really isn’t that bad!

◊   posted by Jim G @ 4:55 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
Sunday, November 18, 2007
Current Affairs ... Society ... Weather ...

The UN released another big report on global warming this past week. It was about what you might expect from the UN. The quality was high, the science was reasonable and well-supported, and the conclusions were cautiously and diplomatically stated. The bottom line was that the problem is real, but with enough international cooperation, the nations can get together and keep this thing from becoming a mega-catastrophe.

Yea, that’s the old-tyme UN religion at work. It’s nice to see that the UN still dreams the dream. But the reality is that this dream has gone nowhere over the past half-century. Perhaps the UN is a century or two ahead of its time. The nations of the world basically DO NOT want to cooperate on a world-wide basis. They’ll cut deals with each other to meet immediate problems or objectives, but as to “one-worldism” . . forget about it.

I agree with the UN that it would be a really good time for one-worldism to get started, given the big mess that global warming might very well create in another 50 or 60 years. But there’s a quaint little American song from the days of World War 1 that describes the international politics of global warming: “How Ya Gonna Keep Em Down On The Farm, After They’ve Seen Paree”. How is America going to convince the developing nations in Asia and elsewhere that they’ve got to shoot for a standard of living lower than what Americans have (and won’t give up), because the world can’t afford for their citizens to create as much greenhouse gas as the average American does? It’s too late for that; the whole world knows about American prosperity, and wants its share as soon as possible.

Even if American technology manages to cut the average American’s “carbon footprint” by 20%, the world is cooked once Asians and Africans en mass reach even a “reduced” western level. There’s eventually going to be starvation and desperation over wide tracts of territory; that sort of thing usually leads to war. And war usually leads to more war, along with economic decline. With enough war and poverty, even the big nations (including the USA) are going to be in trouble. We’re not talking here about extinction of the human race, but we may well be in for a reversal of civilization, something akin to the Dark Ages.

I’m sorry to be so pessimistic, but I think that people need to grasp just how big the implications of this global warming thing are. It’s not going to be solved technically and painlessly like the other air pollution problems were (e.g. CFC’s). It’s going to require soul-searching about just how high-on-the-hog any one nation can live. It may truly mean that the standards of material wealth in America will have to go down; to prevent absolute chaos, this would somehow have to be done in a fair way, one that hurts the rich more than the poor.

One way or another, there are going to be big changes from global warming — worldwide changes. Perhaps this is the crisis that will finally let the UN and “one-world thinking” have its day. The rich nations don’t like one-world thinking, but once they see that their wealth and power can’t survive a world catastrophe, maybe that will change. At the very least, the maligned and disrespected UN will finally be able to say “told you so”.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 5:06 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
Monday, May 24, 2004
Art & Entertainment ... Weather ...

I had a friend my age who was one of those techno-geek-loners (which I also qualify for, admittedly). Today, the younger techno-geek-loners generally do OK as software engineers. Unfortunately, the computer revolution hadn’t really begun yet back when my erstwhile friend was in college, so Rick settled for chemical engineering. In those days, computers were big, crude uncool things (such as the IBM 360 and other monsters made by Burroughs and Sperry-Rand) that were only used for accounting, payroll and inventory functions. So it wasn’t surprising that computers didn’t capture Rick’s imagination back when he was making career choices.

Rick eventually moved to Ohio, where he eventually bought a house. He lived there by himself (and probably still does). The place was rather — eh, shall we say sparsely furnished. Interior decoration and meticulous housekeeping were not exactly Rick’s forte. Rick was a good guy with a witty and intelligent air about him, but deep down there was a cloud of Sarte-like anomie hanging over his life.

I visited Rick in Ohio a couple of times before we lost touch (mainly my fault — I was entering my own “eremitic” phase). On a disinspiring Saturday afternoon while Rick and I were trying to think of something to do, I remember him making a comment about feeling down. Rick’s environment would send most people tumbling into clinical depression, but good old Rick was a hearty strain — a pack of cigarettes and couple of beers was all he needed for mental health. Well, actually more than a couple …

Anyway, I asked Rick what was wrong, and he motioned his cigarette toward the TV, where some nondescript mid-afternoon movie was on. He told me that the movie channel had an all-week Dennis Quaid festival underway. I had been reading the paper or something and generally ignoring the tube, but his comment made me pay attention to the cinematic delight in question. After a half hour or so, I started feeling blue too. There was indeed something depressing about watching Dennis Quiad in some cheesy melodrama on a cloudy mid-afternoon. I finally thought of some museum or tourist trap that I wanted to see, and we got out into the light where our moods improved a little. Rick lived outside of Akron in flatland Ohio, so they didn’t improve all that much; the overall surroundings were rather “Quaidian” in themselves.

So, when I read about Quaid’s new movie, “The Day After Tomorrow”, I was reminded of that afternoon with Rick. Yet another pepper-upper by Dennis Quiad. What’s interesting about Day After Tomorrow is that it has gained a cache of respectability by dealing with the all-too-serious environmental threat caused by global warming. As the tornadoes gather and the snow falls, Quaid is finally having his moment in the sun.

The scenario presented in the movie unfolds way too fast, in keeping with Hollywood’s need to pander to America’s 30-second attention span. However, respectable scientists have said that natural temperature trends now under way, exacerbated by industrial atmospheric emissions, could conceivably change ocean currents in a way that triggers a new ice age. (Yes, it seems strange that global warming could start an ice age; but the warming trend could break our ecosystem’s current equilibrium, and when equilibriums are broken, anything can happen). The glaciers wouldn’t arrive all at once, as in the movie; it might take 20 or 30 years before things get noticeably colder. But even 30 years would not be enough time for the human race to adapt. There would eventually be significant drops in agricultural production and mass migrations away from frozen zones and flooded coastlines, which would probably lead to resource wars. Things would get pretty nasty; the world could probably not support 6 billion people any longer. It would certainly endanger the comfortable and generally civilized style of life that about a half-billion Westerners (like myself) have become accustomed to.

It’s hard to believe that Mother Nature would betray us like that. But scientific studies indicate that the history of human civilization has occupied a temporary niche of relatively nice weather. The world climate seems to flip between warm and cold periods, maybe every 20,000 years or so. We’re not necessarily due for a change, but all the carbon dioxide and particulates and other stuff that we’ve thrown up into the atmosphere over the past 100 years or so may be pushing the system into a zone of instability and “phase shift”. The party of human prosperity is still going on, but it may be later than we think.

I thought it was quite appropriate for that notion to be popularized by a Dennis Quiad movie. As to Rick, well I recall that he was a pretty good cross-country skier and a bit of a survivalist (I think he had a gun somewhere in his house). And he just doesn’t get depressed too easily, despite his vulnerability to Quiad’s acting. Rick will probably do much better than I will if the Gulf Stream shut-down occurs within our lifetimes.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 7:55 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
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