February 3, 2007 [LINK / comment]

Global warming is real...

ly getting a lot of attention these days. Semi-clever title notwithstanding, I don't for a minute deny the mounting evidence that the Earth's mean temperature has been rising in recent decades. Each of my previous comments on global warming (Dec. 19, 2004, July 7 and Sept. 7, 2005) combined serious concern with a bit of healthy skepticism. It is getting harder and harder to ignore all those melting glaciers and polar ice caps, however. What is causing this trend, and whether it is likely to continue, are another matter. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which is meeting in Paris, is "90 percent certain" that greenhouse gases generated by human beings are responsible for most of the rise in temperatures around the world over the past half-century. A "Summary For Policymakers" based on their Fourth Assessment Report is available from their Web site. This body was established by the United Nations Environment Programme in 1988. Of course, anything produced by the United Nations should be regarded with a grain of salt, but this is a serious matter and should not be scoffed at.

The fundamental problem is that estimates of future mean global temperatures, the causes thereof, and the effects thereof, are all subject to such great uncertainty that it renders an efficacious response extremely difficult. If human activity really is to blame, what are we to do? The Kyoto system of arbitrary emissions ceilings is probably unenforceable in free societies. One possible remedy that allows for some individual freedom would be to impose an international tax on energy consumption. Some people would no doubt regard that as the first step toward a world government, however, and indeed it might eventually drag us toward the misery of global socialism like in so many of those science fiction movies. Could we be confident that the sacrifice of our freedom and/or prosperity would really save the planet? Among the various leading proposals to mitigate global warming, any one of them might be quite effective or a complete waste of effort. Trying to manage the atmosphere when causes and effects stretch out over decades, and when there is no central authority to make the appropriate decisions, is quite probably futile. That is the meaning of tragedy, which few people in the modern world really understand. People will wring their hands in earnest angst over this predicament, but in the end that too is a waste of energy. If the human species is unable to mount a collective response and ends up making Planet Earth uninhabitable for itself, as James Lovelock's Gaia hypothesis suggests, it would be tragic beyond human comprehension.

UPDATE: On the other hand, as Donald Sensing asks, "What if global warming is a good thing?" Let's try to keep an open mind and not panic, folks.

(The) Mercury is rising

The upside of the low, low temperatures we've been suffering lately is that visibility is markedly better. This evening the sky was especially clear, so I took a look toward the southwest after sunset, where Venus is currently very prominent. Sure enough, I soon found Mercury, which has rising above the horizon for the past few days, and is presently several degrees below and to the right of Venus. It will reach its highest point ("Greatest Elongation East") on February 7, and then head back down. For a schedule of planetary appearances this year, see space.com. Mercury was part of a planetary "triple play" that I observed on December 12. It takes Mercury only 88 days to revolve around the sun, and between six and ten weeks elapse between its respective "greatest elongations" before dawn and after dusk, depending on its orbital position relative to Earth.

Rubiks Cube solution

I fiddled around with the Rubiks Cube for a while in the 1980s, and I came close a couple times, but I don't think I ever solved it. Now there is a Rubiks Cube Solution Web page, complete with bizarre mathematical symbols and nomenclature; hat tip to Shaun Kenney. Now where is that darned thing??