Category Archives: Environmentalism

Early Morning Geologising…

 

…which basically means I am unable to sleep!

I promised a somewhat more geological blog post, so here you go! The single biggest geological story doing the rounds at the moment is the huge oil-slick in the gulf of mexico, caused by an explosion on a BP oil rig called “Deepwater Horizon”. The oil has been leaking for exactly a month as of tomorrow and was caused by a large combination of factors, primarily the failure of the blow-out preventer which should in theory have halted the flow of oil can capped the well the moment the pressure of the well increased. I’m not going to speculate as to who is to blame for the ecological disaster that will no doubt result, nor am I going to bemoan it because at the end of the day the earth will recover.

Firstly it should be noted that this is the first time this sort of event has occurred on a deep oil rig (i.e.: ocean depths >1km) and is not likely to be the last. When it happened, everyone started heckling and moaning at BP as if “they should have known better” but to be fair no-one has ever had to deal with this sort of thing before so who are you to judge? The company in question and it’s sub-contractors took (presumably) all the normal precautions involved in drilling the well, including employing the blow-out preventer which has now failed. Should they have employed more – back up – systems? possibly, but at the time the cost-benefit analysis probably meant it wasn’t worth it, and you’d only end up in an infinite regression…

“well what if the BOP fails?”

“oh… we’ll have a back-up.”

“and if that fails?”

….and so on. Which helps nobody.

So why don’t we wait until all the various senate committees have done their jobs before we go blaming BP? After all this problem will have to be faced repeatedly as oil companies have to constantly drill in deeper water because the shallow or terrestrial reservoirs run dry… all because modern society NEEDS oil so much.

 Anywho, something interesting occurred when BP tried to siphon off the oil with a funnel… the funnel filled with Gas Hydrates (or Clathrates) and this made it unstable – it started to float – which is fascinating… and I can’t wait to find out why these clathrates formed, something for my to-do list after exams!

I have a couple of Geology related links for people too if you want to have a look…

Palaeontologically, Archaeopteryx soft tissue preservation and a “missing link” between it and modern birds: Eoconfuciusornis has been found in china!

In the world of engineering vs. geology… rules for aviators have been relaxed so that airlines can fly with higher atmospheric ash concentrations caused by the volcano under Eyjafjallajökull glacier in Iceland… and yes that is the name of the Glacier, not the volcano… the volcano is called something far simpler but I cannot find out at present (media has decided it will be called Eyjafjallajökull so web swamped with this… probably because they put in so much effort learning to pronounce it).

Finally for tonight… The Science Museum bows to public opinion and sells out on anthropogenic climate change; something for which I think they should be very ashamed… it’s a SCIENCE museum… so report the damn science, not the general public’s (mis)conceptions of it!!!

Ben Brooks

Shortlink for this post: http://wp.me/pFUij-3C

Scientific consensus reached on End-Mesozoic Mass Extinction

On the 1st to the 5th of this month, the Lunar and Planetary Institute held their annual conference, and published at the event and in the Journal Science was an article confirming and bolstering the consensus on the asteroid-kills-dinosaurs paradigm (Schulte et al. 2010).

I know what you’re thinking… “we already knew that!”

Well if your only access to science is independent TV, “common” sense and a secondary level education then you’d be right, but actually whilst the asteroid camp is in the majority, there are people out there including some of my lecturers at university who champion the idea that Flood Volcanism caused massive climatic perturbations which in turn killed off the dinosaurs, Such as Glasby and Kunzendorf (1996).

Now to be fair to the Flood Basalt proponents, their case is an interesting one, and one might expect a series of eruptions that emanate over one million cubic kilometres of lava would have a massive impact on the planet, and indeed the new paper admits that there are some shorter term effects from each eruptive event.

The Chicxulub impactor however would have ejected 5000 times more sulphur in a matter of minutes than erupted from the Deccan Traps in a whole year according to current models and measurements. Thus ensuring a major climatic spanner was well and truly thrown into the works which even anthropogenic global warming and its few but outspoken sceptics would swoon over.

Hopefully I’ve peaked your interest… which will make you want to go and read the paper; go on you know you want to!

Any way… The Dinosauria (Aves Excepted), Pterosaurs and Marine Reptiles, Coccolithophores etcetera met their demise at the hands of an Asteroid… until the next paper comes out with some new but contrary evidence!

IN OTHER NEWS:

There’s a new paper out in Science about the Snowball Earth Hypothesis (Kerr, 2010)… I haven’t read it, but you might find it interesting.

Here is the reason why your university lecturers insist on you using scientific journals and search engines such as Scopus or GeoRef…

If you want to see this for yourself, just go to http://scholar.google.com and search for "Deccan Traps KT Extinction".

When searching for articles for this post, AnswersinGenesis came up as the "Best" link according to Google Scholar! - yes that load of creationist crackpots who reckon the earth to be ~6000 years old.

Anywho, I’m now off for dinner and a kip.

Ben Brooks

Short-link for this post: http://wp.me/pFUij-1o

REFERENCES

Glasby, G.P. and Kunzendorf, H. (1996), Multiple factors in the origin of the Cretaceous/Tertiary boundary: the role of environmental stress and Deccan Trap volcanism in Geologische Rundschau Vol. 85, issue 2, pp.191-210. [DOI: 10.1007/BF02422228] [ONLINE] Available: http://www.springerlink.com/content/v335477328613407 (Accessed 10/03/2010)

Kerr, R.A (2010), Snowball Earth Has Melted Back To a Profound Wintry Mix in Science vol. 327, issue. 5970, pp.1186, [DOI: 10.1126/science.327.5970.1186] [ONLINE] Available: http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/327/5970/1186 (Accessed: 10/03/2010)

Schulte. P, et al. (2010), The Chicxulub Asteroid Impact and Mass Extinction at the Cretaceous-Paleogene Boundary, in Science 327 (5970), 1214. [DOI: 10.1126/science.1177265] [ONLINE] Available: http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/citmgr?gca=sci;327/5970/1214 (Accessed 10/03/10)

BBC Article: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/8550504.stm

>50% of Britains do not believe the science of AGW

Wow, the British public never cease to amaze, astound and shock. More to the point, they never cease to disgust me either.

Yes that’s right, I just insulted the British public on the web, get over it, I am entitled to my opinion, and for those who doubt the sincerety and gravity of that statement… I am British, I am white, and I am lower middle class.

According to a poll cited on Newsnight tonight, greater than 50% of the British public do not believe the science of Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW). In simple terms they do not think we are doing it, which although I would have considered this view to be valid some years ago, It is not today because of the overwhelming (scientific) evidence opposing it.

The report then went on to show two scientists trying to convince a group of british citizens of some of the science of AGW. On the one had one scientist was using a very simple scientific experiment that has been used on TV and in the RI Christmas Lectures in the past, and is easy to do in science classes at school. On the other you had the ex-chief scientist (who advised the UK Government) answering the questions of the public.

So where did the BBC get their “representative cross section of the british populace?” – the answer – the TOP GEAR AUDIENCE, about the most anti-AGW biassed group in creation, thanks to the likes of Mr. Clarkson (and I like Clarkson).

inevitably the CRU email scandal known as “Climate-Gate” came up, and when it did, the reporter abandoned any pretence of neutrality and decided to assist in berrating the ex-chief scientist over the stolen emails, which when read completely and IN CONTEXT show no evidence of fraud of any kind. However don’t just take my word for it, here are some links:

National/International Agencies
http://www.aaas.org/news/releases/2009/1204climate_statement.shtml
http://www.ametsoc.org/policy/climatechangeclarify.html
http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/presentations/rkp-statement-4dec09.pdf
http://www.agu.org/sci_pol/positions/climate_change2008.shtml
http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/presentations/WGIstatement04122009.pdf
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/environment/article6950783.ece

Honest Media coverage
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/guest_contributors/article6948008.ece
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/environment/article6951029.ece
http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1946082-1,00.html

… so why did these questions even get asked? Well the answer to that is that the Mass Media, especially the TV, tend not to report on the Fraud behing Climate-gate, and by that I mean the quote-mining and misdirection of sceptics, not the email contents. The net result of this is that people believe that this is fact rather than fiction.

…ok… so why don’t the mass media help the scientists? is it because they know something else? I very much doubt it… the simple response it this… consensus doesn’t sell but a debate; even a fabricated one does… simple as that.

To get back to the point, I wish to pose a question, If you are not willing to trust the scientific community (the scientific experts no less) on a scientific issue, who the HELL would you trust???

and that is where I am going to leave it, although I could rant on for a good while yet.

It was the longest time, and the shortest time… it was Deep Time

There is a concept in the natural sciences that, perhaps more than any other, changes the way you see the world, changes the way you think, the way you act towards people, the planetary environment and even life itself. These changes are uncomfortable for some people and they wish to avoid it, remain ignorant of it, or in some extreme cases demolish it…

…what is this concept? If you are thinking Climate Change, Nuclear Physics, or even Relativity, you might be right, especially with the first two, but the concept I am thinking of is one far more basic, one that you may have accepted for years or take for granted without being awoken to its power. This “thing” that I am talking about is known as Deep Time, or (in a more earth specific frame of reference) Geologic Time, it must be said that I do prefer the former term, because it is somewhat less detached and provokes an emotional response, however as the scientific world requires objectivity, it is rarely seen in scientific literature.

Deep Time is a time scale like any other, it contains units of time smaller than itself such as Eons, Eras and Ages, although it does not hold any specific length of time and due to the nature of time is constantly becoming longer… unless you are a physicist in which case your rules can be made to say anything… much like statistics. When you first encounter deep time it is a bit like coming across references to the Googol (a 1 with 100 zeros); you are mind-boggled, lost, confused or amazed and (at least in my case) profoundly intrigued with questions like “how long does it last?” “what does this mean for the significance of man?” or “so when does it start… and what happens at the end?” coming to me before settling down to just accepting the concept and moving on to the job at hand – wondering at the contents of a national geographic article I have long since forgotten.

It has been said by one of National Geographic’s photographers that “When people shift their thinking into and work in Deep Time, something changes inside them; you can see it in their eyes.” (or words to that effect, as I cannot find the article). This rather profound note was accompanied by a photograph of palaeontologist Robert “Bob” Bakker standing over a fossil in the dark, and it is about the only thing I remember from the entire article, but it has stayed with me for the last six or seven years, and it is something to which I can fully ascribe, because as I said in the introductory paragraph it changes your entire attitude to the world around you.

When you start to think in terms of millions, even billions of years, things that take a years to a lifetime in the human time reference become completely ephemeral and you wouldn’t even notice them (something that Dr Jeff Goldstein of Blog on the Universe (BOTU) has demonstrated rather well in his blog http://blogontheuniverse.org/2009/06/13/a-day-in-the-life-of-the-earth/ [accessed: 12/12/09]) whilst processes that are barely measurable on human timescales such as coastal erosion, plate tectonics, the expansion and contraction of glaciers and desertification become processes as fluid as the motion of the waves and tides, whilst still longer term processes become more easy to comprehend such as the stellar life cycle and the precession of the equinoxes. In fact; just thinking about what this would look like from an external vantage point if you were to speed time up is awe inspiring, you would be able to watch the earth as though it were a living organism, Gaia theory would be so powerful in that moment that you might even continue to consider the earth as such even after you were brought back to the human time reference.

This is how I view the earth, and everything on it, as a living, breathing, symbiotic set of organisms, and as such I am an environmentalist, because although I know that the earth itself, and indeed life itself will survive the coming catastrophes, to think of this symbiotic organism being made so dreadfully sick by the actions of a single species leads only one comparison to mind – Humans are like a cancer – and obviously this is disturbing to me. This isn’t the only effect of an awakening to deep time, another that I have experienced is that it makes you understand just how insignificant one human being is, you might consider yourself pretty insignificant already if you know the vastness of the universe, but add in the epic vastness of time, and you are left with the knowledge that you are about as ephemeral, as will-o-the-wisp, as transient as the changing shapes in the clouds floating over you. Does this make my existance futile, meaningless and devoid of purpose? of course not, but it does give you a deeper connection to everything else in the known universe, I can create a meaning for myself on a human timescale, I don’t need one on this deep time concept, I’m too short lived for it, it’d be like giving a purpose to candy over and above pleasure… it’s gone too soon.

I’m going to bring in another Dr Who reference now, my second in three posts, but I can’t help it, it’s just too fitting when describing waking up to the power of Deep Time:

 “He stood in front of the Untempered Schism. It’s a gap in the fabric of reality through which could be seen the whole of the vortex. We stand there, eight years old, staring at the raw power of Time and Space, just a child. Some would be inspired. Some would run away. And some would go mad.”

– The Tenth Doctor (D. Tenant), Doctor Who, “The Sound of Drums”

I have yet to meet anyone I would consider to have gone mad because of their discovery of deep time, though I would imagine they’re really great people to know. I have however met both those who are inspired by it, people who take this understanding of time and apply it to their physics, biology, earth sciences and activism, and I’ve met those who run away (such as Young Earth Creationists), so pending my discovery of some mad “Deep Timers” I’m going to stick with this as an analogy.

So there you are, Deep Time… I hope you enjoy the idea and run with it… I certainly intend to!

Ben Brooks

Short URL for this Post: http://tinyurl.com/deeptimeblog

Last Chance to See

Hullo all,

I just finished watching the last of Stephen Fry and Mark Carwardine’s serial “Last Chance to See” on BBC iPlayer, unfortunately i’ve been unable to see all of them, but I caught the last two (the Kakapo and the Blue Whale).

Twenty years ago Mark and the brilliant Douglas Adams adventured on the same trip to see and document some of the animals that were on the endangered species list. including the Kakapo, Blue Whale, Aye-Aye, White Rhino and the Yangtze River Dolphin, the latter now regrettably extinct due to pressure from the chinese (though not intentionally i’m sure).

A photograph of the Yangtze River Dolphin care of animalinfo.org

A photograph of the Yangtze River Dolphin care of animalinfo.org

I’m an environmentalist, i’ve even helped (in a small way through manpollo.org) with the writing of a book on critical thinking and its application with respect to climate change. No animal on the planet should have to suffer at the hands of human ignorance, Nature is full of wonderful creatures from the porcupine to the mosquito. Even the funnel-web spider, though deadly to humans; is fascinating and beautiful in it’s own right. The human race holds a huge hippocracy, a double standard if you will when it comes to extinction; if it’s cute, cuddly or majestic we mourn the loss, but if it’s not warm blooded – or especially if it’s an arthropod – we really couldn’t care less. Now i’ll admit that at the end of the day, when all is said and done, I am an environmentalist because I have grown up in the modern western world, with all its decadent luxuries, and I know climate chance will result in the end of those luxuries, in fact a mad max world if we aren’t careful, but does that mean I don’t care about the animals?

NO! I think that it says alot about our species that we are one of only two forms of life that have so far caused a mass extinction (the othere being cyanobacteria, back in the pre-cambrian), and one of a handful who’s influence can be seen from space. If we could build a non-polluting, non-extinctionist society tomorrow, and all it took was for me to lay down my own life, I think I might just take that hit, provided there were some guarantees that politicians didn’t water down the result.

I am also a card-carrying conservative, and recently had the luxury of attending an event run by my local association where one of our MEP’s gave a speach, and whilst I agreed with everything he said regarding ID-cards, the EU, and numerous other issues. His singularly ignorant view of the issue of climate change enraged me beyond words… to quote a line from his speach;

“if you look at the data, there’s been a cooling trend for the last ten years, and some scientists are starting to doubt Climate Change is even happening”

Now if you don’t know why this is patently absurd, go and look at the data, or look up how you can take any graph with variable output and slap any trend you like on it by changing the period of observation. I’d also like to meet these “scientists”… I’m pretty sure the majority would be economists, sociologists or other people with no grasp of the science involved.

Whilst I do sincerely hope that we (the conservatives) win the next General Election in the UK, I also fervently hope these hopelessly right wing idiots are not in the majority within my party.

OK, rant over for the day… have a good one everybody

Ben D Brooks