Science! I Can Smell the Chemicals!

As always, just perusing the Google News Science! feed.

1. Global Warming: Plants Absorbing More CO2 Than We Thought

(There’s that ‘we’ again. I’m supposing that ‘we’ doesn’t include commercial greenhouse operators.)

Global warming may be slightly less devastating to the Earth than feared, as new research has found that plants can absorb more carbon dioxide than we previously thought.

Climate models have grossly underestimated the power of our plants because they failed to take into account that when carbon dioxide (CO2) builds up in the atmosphere, plants actually thrive, become larger, and are able to soak up more CO2. As part of photosynthesis – a natural cycle that helps plants convert sunlight into energy – plants capture CO2 to help them grow and then release oxygen as a waste product.

Just from this natural process alone, scientists estimated that living things absorbed as much as 16 percent more of the harmful greenhouse gas than previously thought.

Harmful? Do I detect, amidst the attempts to maintain the proper panic level, a note of disappointment? Why yes, I think I do.

The new work may help set the record straight and clarify past climate models, but it does not, however, downplay the urgency in dealing with global warming.

While the research does offer some hope, researchers emphasize that plants make it “slightly easier to fulfill the target” of keeping global warming below two degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) – slightly being the operative word.

A 2 degree rise in global temperatures would be catastrophic. This is the mantra that must be chanted, and asking exactly how, and over what time frame we’re talking about, makes one a denier. Pointing out that it’s a trade-off – more CO2 will help our tropical forests regrow, and help us produce food crops more abundantly, at the cost, over the course of several centuries, of some coastal flooding and (highly debateable) more extreme weather events (even though climate doesn’t equal weather)  – well, that makes one a denier, too, somehow. Even more basic, noting that we’re in the middle of an ice age at the moment, and that it seems very likely that the glaciers will return any time now, from right away to maybe a few thousand years out – I suppose that makes one a denier as well? Or, most double plus ungood of all, noting that since keeping the climate exactly the same is unprecedented – the climate always changes over enough time – and almost certainly outside human control, and so asking if warmer isn’t to be preferred to colder – an end to the ice age versus a return to glaciation – well, clearly my check from the big oil companies must be in the mail.

None of the remotely realistic projections I’ve seen worry me in the slightest. We have centuries to come up with a technological solution for pulling CO2 out of the atmosphere, should that be desirable. The only catastrophe we’d experience would be having missed a golden opportunity to install a totalitarian world government – a necessity, if we really mean to control world-wide CO2 output. A ‘crisis’ would have been wasted, making the baby Rahm Emanuel cry.

2. New snail species named for marriage equality

If I had grant money to give, I’d be sending a big fat check to – somebody a little less enamoured of trends in popular culture.

3. Study: Giant icebergs once cruised by Florida

I hear the on-board buffets were awesome! I wonder: did the passengers wear plaid anoraks? Don’t forget to tip your waiter, and try the baby seal!

Here’s a quote that sums up a lot of issues:

“The mechanisms of climate change and ocean currents are more complex than we previously thought,” Jenna Hill said.

Ain’t that the truth? One fun thing I’ve noticed over the years is that scientists, at least insofar as they get into popular media, are always both A: making bold and confident predictions about stuff they haven’t got a good look at yet, and B: being surprised by what they see once they DO get a close look. Thus, years ago, scientists would confidently describe, say, the surface of Europa, based on images gotten through earth-based telescopes, then, when a probe sends back close-up images, they are surprised by what they see. Happens All The Time. Thus proving, once again, that ‘we don’t know’ is the best, most scientific answer in a surprisingly larger number of cases.

Question: where did their previous thoughts about climate change and ocean currents come from? What was the information upon which these thoughts were based? What can we learn about our old ideas from having them overturned by our new information (or, more likely, guesses)? Why did they have an opinion at all? As Mouse would say: That makes you wonder about a lot of things.

4. And, in the ‘It’s not ALL junk science!’ department: we have pictures of a comet taken from a space probe set to try to land on the comet soon. Think about it – getting a probe to intercept a comet is hitting and matching speeds with a small moving target over millions of miles away with a shot taken from a moving platform – with bullets whose paths curve. Sure, it’s the same problem with a Mars lander, but, somehow, comet kicks the cool of it up a couple notches.

Philae selfie

This is the kind of stuff that makes rocket science hard. And makes real science coooool!


Author: Joseph Moore

Enough with the smarty-pants Dante quote. Just some opinionated blogger dude.

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