A Climate Change Question

I want you to do me a favor, and read this speech given by Micheal Crichton at the Washington Center for Complexity and Public Policy in Washington DC on November 6, 2005.  It’s long, but it’s VERY important that you get where Crichton is coming from so you can get where I am coming from.

I love when he talks about how our worst fears are mostly unfounded, but that’s not what I’m here to talk to you about.

Complexity Theory is very dear to me, and key to the way I look at the world, both at work and at home.  At work, it manifests itself in changes to programs, which in turn cause incredible problems in other programs that on the surface do not seem to be related.  Sometimes I fall prey to linear thinking, when computer systems, no matter what Cobol programmers tell you, are in no means linear.  It is EXTREMELY important to view a computer system in a holistic way.  I think this is also true in “the way the world works”.

So, I want to apply this thinking to our modern discussion about climate change.  (By the way, if you think the name of the crisis changing to “climate change” from “global warming” is happenstace – you have a thing or two to learn about marketing).

Now, don’t worry, I’m not appraoching this as a “denier”. In fact, I’ll grant every assertion ever made by Al Gore for purposes of this discussion.  But, understanding how the world works (especially from a systems engineering perspective), I wonder if we know what we’re doing as much as we claim.

Here’s my question: Let’s say we institute every proposal out there, and it works.  We reverse the upward temperature trend to a downward one.  Have we given any thought to how we’ll stop the downward trend?

Do the scientists who study these things know, really know, what the ideal concentration of CO2 would be to maintain the ideal temperature? And do we know the ideal temperature?  What happens if we overcompensate, as one would do when his car begins sliding on ice?  How do we reverse THAT trend?  Start burning wood and coal on a massive basis?

There are no Change Control policies in complex systems such as the earth’s climate.  We have to think these things through, and I’m not sure we have, because we’ve been so focused on the problem.

Certainly there are scientists who have given thought to this, right?  Can one of you point me to a layman’s synopsis, because I am genuinely curious.

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4 Responses to “A Climate Change Question”

  1. nm Says:

    That would be a fantastic question if anyone had any suggestions on how to reverse the warming. No one does. What some people do have are suggestions on how to slow down or even stop the human-caused component of what’s happening. If that can be achieved, the worst-case scenarios won’t happen, and we can figure out ways to keep the ‘new normal’ normal.

    An analogy: your dinner is getting overcooked, and one person suggests turning off the stove, another suggests taking the pan off the heat, a third suggests dumping some ice cubes into the pan, but no one is going to have ways to uncook what has already been cooked. So, if you fixed it in time, good; if not, what’s burned is burned.

  2. dolphin Says:

    nm’s got it right.

    A downward trend would be as detrimental as an upward trend. The best we can hope for is to reduce the piece of the upward trend that is due to human activity (stopping it is a pipe dream in my opinion). The idea isn’t to establish what the “right” temperature is but rather to avoid having too much influence on it.

    Perhaps I may offer a different kind of analogy than did nm. There is almost certainly a “appropriate” number of species on the planet. Too many would be detrimental, too few also detrimental. But we as humans would be far better off letting mother nature decide for herself than to go around trying to drive specific species into extinction (or for that matter, trying to stop the extinction of species who are going extinct through no fault of our own).

  3. annieepoetry Says:

    scientists are saying, doom or another way to say it, change is happening and it was too late in the 90s…. tree huggers say, we can still change for the better.
    Scientists are saying, lets save what we can.

    Lets hope the tree huggers are right.

    Now that we understand everything is complicated and interconnected, that fear is stupid, and thoughtful action is needed, can we stop doing what is harmful( or identify it)? Management is harmful, but so is neglect.

    Learning how energy works is what scientist are trying to understand, but even with computer models, (which predict doom) its hard to get a clear picture.
    or what action is needed.

    Facts can’t be argued… are can they? What is an “appropriate” number of species for earth?

    and the population bomb, what about Africa and China and India?

    There seems to be some problems from over population but starvation is helping which is linked to over population.

    What about fish and toxins? What about CO2 impact on temperature? Saying “what if it gets too cold” is changing the subject, sort of. (the earth system will respond to low levels of CO2 as well) Because climate change is happening, thats the truth. CO2 does impact the earth. thats true too

    Balance is key. How do we learn the earth’s natural balance?
    observation. How do we observe without an impact? Take a view from as far away as we can. and realize that we will have an impact at the same time we are trying not to.

    and of course, like or not, the earth will fix the problem… doom

  4. Ashley Says:

    I’m new here and I have to say that I was impressed with your brain in the Carter post, but honestly – this one is just dumb. I mean, stopping the man-made pollution component of global warming is one thing and reversing the effect is ridiculously far fetched. Nature will sustain itself if we stop torturing it. End of story. This is literally the dumbest, desperate-ass grapple at disproving the global warming theory I”ve ever heard. I don’t understand why most people think this is a partisan issue at all? And there are plenty of people (even scientist people 😉 who have carefully thought through this problem and have real and rational solutions for it. The only thing standing in their way are greedy corporations and good old boys who don’t want to face the fact that they’re going to have to stop ‘business as usual’..


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