As The Future Melts Away

I’ve always been a sucker for a good time lapse.  This one strikes me as a time lapse within a time lapse.  It’s half a day, compressed into less than 5 minutes, with people flitting around like moths, posing for pictures with an ice sculpture of the future.  Only the time lapse eyes of the camera can see what’s happening.  And by the end the passers by probably can’t even tell what the message might have been.  But the art is a piece of time lapse too.  A century or a millennium compressed into a day of melting.  Even that is a stretch for our attention span.  Even the 5 minute video seems long and slow.  How can we create a society with a more meditative mindset?  With an attention span that reflects the extent of our impacts in deep time?


A Love Story And A Clearance Sale

A Love Story And A Clearance Sale, musings of an arctic sea ice researcher on the fact that he will probably outlive the object of his professional affections.  A minimum of zero sea ice appears likely between 2015 and 2020, and models suggest that once you get to a minimum of zero, the ice-free season is likely to expand quickly, with significant impacts to northern hemisphere weather patterns.

Timelapse Arctic Icebound Eyes

The human timescale isn’t appropriate for climate change.  We can’t see it minute to minute.  Day to day.  Year to year.  Like watching an analog clock, you never see the hands move, and yet time passes.  We need more time lapse eyes.

The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) in Boulder automatically generates this plot of arctic sea ice extent (and many others) every day:

It’s probably not horrifying unless you’re a geoscientist.

Continue reading Timelapse Arctic Icebound Eyes

The Yeti Homeland Project

I’m not sure what to make of our willingness to participate in the terraforming of the Earth.  To explore it, I’ll consider an alternative history in which Antarctica was marginally habitable, and colonized a million years ago by woolly hominids who developed a Yeti civilization.  Our whaling vessels meet up with them in the 1820s, but it’s so cold down there that nobody feels the need to molest them except for few hardy anthropologists, the occasional overzealous missionary expedition, and the usual cohort of scientists who will study the ends of the Earth, no matter how inhospitable.  Inevitably, the Yeti spend some late nights with the scientists in their hot tubs watching the aurorae.

They get to talking about the magnetosphere, some atmospheric physics, and the geology of their ice-clad homeland.  One day they decide their lives would be better if they could inhabit the entire continent, instead of just clinging to the coastal fringe, and so with the help of some misguided sympathizers, they develop a vast clandestine industrial complex pumping long-lived fluorinated super greenhouse gasses like CF4, C2F6, and SF6 into the atmosphere to warm things up.  These compounds are vastly more powerful warming agents than CO2 and methane.  They are also long lived atmospheric species, sticking around for up to 50,000 years.  If a serious industrial complex were set up to produce and release them en masse, they would close a good chunk of the atmosphere’s thermal infrared window and radically alter the climate for tens of thousands of years.  This atmospheric engineering could be done over the course of an election cycle, especially if the Yeti bastards had help from the cold-hearted Canucks and Russkies.

Would the G-20, the OECD or the UN Security Council stand by while a rogue Yeti nation threatened the billions of people who live in coastal cities, or depend on glacial water supplies, all in the name of Manifest Destiny?  Of course not.  We’d be more likely to bomb their furry white asses back into the Ice Age.

Continue reading The Yeti Homeland Project

Shared Links for Jun 26th – Jul 7th

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Shared Links for Apr 8th

  • The secret, social lives of bacteria – Cooperative behavior between bacteria, both inter and intra species, coordinated via chemical messages. Behavior like "should we make light?" and "should we kill the host now?". Scary, awesome, and a beautiful system to investigate with algorithmic game theory! (tagged: cooperation biology technology bacteria science )
  • Computational Legal Studies – More people using machines to understand politics. A whole new class of dual use technology. Propaganda or transparency? Manipulation or clarity? Unauthorized social networking. (tagged: transparency technology government law )
  • Public Private Investment Partnerships a la Enron – Giving banks the ability to both buy and sell into the toxic asset markets being set up under PPIP is a recipe for market gaming in the tradition of Enron, as outlined in this example. Great, a trillion dollar Enron! (tagged: finance bailout economics policy enron ppip banks )
  • The New Nostradamus – Bruce Bueno de Mesquita uses large game theory simulations to try and predict the outcomes of complex negotiations involving many parties, both economic and political. Sounds interesting. Also sounds a little bit like bullshit. But apparently the CIA did a prospective trial (no backtesting bias) and found that the models made accurate predictions something like 90% of the time, when the analysts providing the inputs to the model made wrong predictions. Not so surprising that computers are better at synthesizing massive logical datasets into an outcome. The hard part seems like it would be getting the right inputs, and also trusting that people behave rationally, and (perhaps) know what's good for them. (tagged: economics politics science math prediction gametheory technology )
  • Ice Shelf Instability Backgrounder – A good backgrounder from last summer on the Wilkins Ice Shelf (which has just collapsed), and shelf dynamics in general, with links to the relevant literature. None of this is quite as sudden and shocking as the media reports have made it out to be. (tagged: climate antarctica ice shelf )