The Brick – a fable for our times

I wrote this parable in 2009 as a contribution to an online debate and then forgot about it for years. I recently came across it again, however, and thought it still deserved readers, so here it is. Feel free to share it.

The Brick

“G’day Tom,” said Jamie, “How’s things?”

“Not too bad, mate.”

“You’re limping, though. What happened?”

“Oh, I dropped a brick on my big toe when I was clearing up a couple of days ago. Continue reading “The Brick – a fable for our times”

Broecker: Fixing Climate

cover of Fixing ClimateFixing Climate
Robert Kunzig and Wallace Broecker
Profile, 2008

Fixing Climate is both interesting and useful but not in the ways that the authors intended. That’s not entirely their fault, since climate science and mitigation have changed enormously in the ten years since it was published.

The book tracks the life and work of Wallace Broecker, who was born in 1931 and was just the right age to become a pioneer and then a leader in the (then) very young field of climate history and (hence) climate change. Continue reading “Broecker: Fixing Climate”

Extreme weather around the world

For a while now the climate scientists have been warning that global warming isn’t simply a matter of the weather getting a little warmer everywhere. Rather, the warming will vary from place to place and be accompanied by changes of weather patterns, especially rainfall. That is already happening. I have mentioned extreme weather events here before over the last year or so, and in fact the last few months have seen a cluster of extreme events which are causing great suffering across the Northern hemisphere.

We know that none of these can be ascribed to climate change with any certainty but there is a growing body of knowledge (e.g. IPCC, Climate Communication) which shows that we can confidently give the odds that a particular event would have happened without global warming, and the experts are quoting high odds against any of these happening under our old weather patterns. The combined odds against all of them happening by chance are infinitesimal.

The silver lining to this litany of disaster is that ordinary people are beginning to see for themselves that weird things are happening to their weather and are more willing to acknowledge that climate change is indeed here already, that it is looking scarier every year, and that we really should try harder to avert it.

Smile: In what seems like poetic environmental justice, a brown coal mine in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley has also been flooded after unusually heavy rain.

Don’t smile too broadly: James Hansen, one of the world’s pre-eminent climatologists, has warned that the future he predicted is here here already and it is worse than he expected, sooner than he expected – almost entirely because of extreme weather events:

In a new analysis of the past six decades of global temperatures, which will be published Monday, my colleagues and I have revealed a stunning increase in the frequency of extremely hot summers, with deeply troubling ramifications for not only our future but also for our present.

This is not a climate model or a prediction but actual observations of weather events and temperatures that have happened. Our analysis shows that it is no longer enough to say that global warming will increase the likelihood of extreme weather and to repeat the caveat that no individual weather event can be directly linked to climate change. To the contrary, our analysis shows that, for the extreme hot weather of the recent past, there is virtually no explanation other than climate change.

The rest of his Washington Post article is here and if you want the whole scientific  paper you can get it – free – here.

Climate Change – Picturing the Science

Cover of Climate Change – Picturing the ScienceClimate Change – Picturing the Science
Gavin Schmidt and Joshua Wolfe, Norton, 2009

This is the perfect book to give someone who doesn’t know much about climate change but  is interested in knowing more. It is authoritative but non-technical, uncompromising but never shrill or aggressive, and lucid but not simplistic.

Schmidt is a climate scientist at NASA and co-founder of RealClimate, and in the latter role he has patiently explained climate science to all comers from school children to fellow experts, for years. He is very, very good at it and here he has recruited similarly well-qualified people to write on specific topics. Any single chapter can stand alone, making the book simultaneously very browsable and a useful fill-the-gaps reference.

Schmidt’s over-arching metaphor for the book is the health of our planet: Symptoms, Diagnosis and Cure. It’s a good metaphor (the Buddha used it 2500 years ago, so it has a good long track record!) and it lets him organise a complicated mass of material into a coherent story about how we know what’s going on around us, why it’s happening and what’s likely to happen, and how we might avert the worst of the likely consequences.

So far, so much better than most books on the subject, but it gets better still. His co-author is a photographer and the book is copiously illustrated with excellent photos – scientists at work, hurricanes, threatened species, Arctic houses subsiding into thawing permafrost, air pollution in Beijing … all sorts of images, and all relevant and memorable.

Longer reviewsNature and Daily Kos.