Sunday, January 28, 2007

The new Blogger sucks

Today, without warning, Google forced me to upgrade my Blogger account to use their new out-of-beta absolutely stupid interface.

I'm done with Blogger and will figure out what to do with this blog over the next few days. The SEO Theory blog, I suppose, will have to be moved to the 1st Query Web site sooner than planned.

There was absolutely no compelling business reason for Google to force me to create a new account, much less to force me to use a horribly designed "upgrade".

Good-bye Blogger.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

On global warming and 'An Inconvenient Truth'

Stever has submitted some comments for publication that I have not published or rejected as I write this. I'm not impressed enough with the "new" Blogger service to upgrade this account and I don't have the ability to edit comments. I will post part of Stever's latest submission here and reply to that portion. The portion I am leaving out is a reference to Ickipedia, a source of disinformation I neither trust nor endorse.
I don't buy this partial data rebutal. have read it other places too.

Sure it's only a blip out of the 4.5 billion year age of the earth. But it is not a blip to the human race and all other forms of life on this planet today.

And just saying that 600k years does not matter is simply brushing it off. 600k years matters plenty. We don't know what the pattern was before those 600k, or how long we have been in that pattern. At some time in the past it was certainly different.

If it only shows us a cycle we have been in, for the past 5 or 6 cycles we can measure, and now shows us the cycle has drastically changed, and the timing of the change coincides with our petro burning, forest clearing, ocean raping, blah, blah, blah, etc. activities, then 600k years is more than enough data to show a significant change.

And what do you mean by "the current ice age is older that 600k years old"? What are you calling an ice age? The entire period that there has been ice at the poles? I think that what we typically like to call an ice age is that 100k cycle we see in the chart. At all the other peaks there is still ice at the poles, just much less than there was during the cold periods when the ice cap reached all the way to Florida.
I am not pretending to be a climatologist, but you somehow got the erroneous impression from my previous post on global warming that I somehow don't believe in it.

I conceded the whole global warming point on a personal level after surviving Crazy Ivan, but in my post I specifically wrote: "Okay, folks, we get it. It's going to get hot, it's going to get wet, and a lot of people will be displaced for any number of environmental reasons."

Now, does the data from 600,000 years of recent geological climactic history matter with respect to analyzing the current climatological trends?

Yes and No.

Yes, it matters in the sense that if we have indeed accelerated the process (as I wrote in my previous post) of climatological change, then current temperature trends will conflict with the recent historical temperature trends.

So Al Gore and I do, in fact, agree on the point that human activity has accelerated the process of global warming.

As far as the Earth's natural processes are concerned, what does 600,000 years' worth of data mean? Not a whole lot. Things were once much hotter and wetter in places (and drier in other places) than it's about to become in the next few hundred years of human experience. Life on Earth has survived a lot of changes far more dramatic than we're about to experience.

If you could go back in time to the age of the dinosaurs, you would have to wear an environmental suit because you would have trouble breathing the atmosphere. I loved the "Jurassic Park" movies but without some genetic modification I'm not sure reconstituted dino DNA could actually help us rebreed long-dead species that simply were not adapted to our current environment. What would an oxygen-rich atmosphere do to them? Maybe they would burn out. I don't know. Maybe a biologist would say, "Eh. Wouldn't matter as much to them as it might to us if we swapped atmospheric conditions".

Still, there was once far more CO2 in the Earth's atmosphere than there is today, than there will be in 100 years, and maybe -- just maybe -- the fact that we humans have accelerated the process doesn't mean we're about to push the Earth's climactic changes past any records set in previous geological epochs. After all, during the periods of great volacnism, the atmosphere was extremely toxic by today's standards. Somehow Mama Earth managed to change things out and here we are.

My previous post was not written in opposition to taking action about global warming. I'm not sure how anyone could possibly get that idea from what I wrote. But obviously at least one person is concerned I'm not taking the issue seriously.

Personally, I feel I am taking it as seriously as anyone else who has written on the topic lately. But I'm also proposing that we do something useful with all the additional water that is coming from the melting ice caps. We can eventually stop flooding our atmosphere with pollution and I'm all for that, but in the meantime a geologic process has begun which cannot be stopped in an instant.

So despite the fact that we can expect more ecological threats and disasters in the near future, we really do have an opportunity to change some of the desert conditions that make life extremely inhospitable to people. Furthermore, undertaking such massive ecological transformation projects would cost less than we are spending on foreign wars and would most likely win us more friends and respect around the globe than using the most powerful army in modern history to spread "democracy" at gunpoint.

We can accomplish a lot if we find the collective will to take action now.

That's all I'm saying.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Global warming: The ocean is rising! The ocean is rising!

1200 scientists and innumerable government-appointed editors are in the process of telling us that human-induced global warming has begun.

Let's get real for a moment. This has happened before. It has happened more than once before. Regardless of whether dinosaur flatulence contributed to any periods of global warming during their period of ascendancy, scientists are acting like humanity is on a self-destructive path that is altering the natural state of the universe.

I have to roll my eyes every time that card is played because it's just so false and deceptive.

Now, that doesn't mean we aren't on the verge of a long period of seeing massive environmental changes. We've seen monster storms come up and knock away whole towns and cities. Flooding has apparently increased in some areas of the world and droughts have increased in other areas of the world.

And the oceans should rise between 4 and 35 inches over the next 100 years.

Okay, folks, we get it. It's going to get hot, it's going to get wet, and a lot of people will be displaced for any number of environmental reasons.

What shames the scientific community at this point in the process, however, is their failure to suggest any practical applications that take advantage of global warming while we look for ways to reduce the amount of our industrial influence on the phenomenon. We cannot hope to stop what remains a natural process, but we can possibly reduce the amount of acceleration we put into that process through our pollution.

Meanwhile, people are dying of drought-induced famine as the oceans rise.

Has anyone considered the fact that we actually have the technology to convert salt water to fresh water?

Has anyone considered the fact that we have the technology to create huge pipelines to carry liquids across thousands of miles?

Has anyone considered the fact that if you built ten, twenty, thirty, one hundred desalination plants across north Africa and a network of pipelines to carry the fresh water you could create huge resevoirs across the desert (which was once a well-watered plain)?

Has anyone considered how many jobs would created by such a project?

Has anyone considered how many farms could be supported by such a project?

Has anyone considered how much supporting infrastructure would additionally be required by such a project, increasing the number of jobs and resources available to impoverished nations?

The north and east African nations could reinvent themselves, feed their peoples, improve their economies, and reduce their populations' sympathies for militant groups that really have no goals other than to enslave and murder as many people as they can.

And Africa is not the only continent that could benefit from this relatively simple, low-cost technology. We could rebuild depleted water reserves throughout North America's western plains and deserts, where growing cities have drained rivers dry and lowered the water levels of huge underground aquifers by hundreds of feet in some places.

Even Australia could open up its massive arid interior to channels of development that would spur growth and, most importantly, help funnel water out of the oceans into regions that haven't seen water for hundreds, thousands, perhaps even hundreds of thousands of years.

Now, environmentalists will be quick to say, "Wait! We cannot simply go flooding existing ecosystems that have adapted to arid conditions! What about all the species that will die off?"

To which one can only reply, "What about all the coastal species and ecosystems already being destroyed by rising oceans and worsening storm systems?"

There are no perfect solutions, but our problems today extend well beyond global warming. Millions of people die from starvation and disease every year simply because they lack the basic resources to survive. How many desert rats and lizards are 1,000,000 babies worth?

Yes, we contributed to the problem but the truth of the matter is that global warming began more than 10,000 years ago. It didn't begin because of human activity and it's only in the past few hundred years that human activity has become capable of accelerating the process. We are currently living in what is called an Interglacial Period. That is, geologically, the Earth is passing through an Ice Age (a period of alternating cold and warm phases), but we're in the midst of a warming phase that has put the Ice Age on hold.

Eventually, despite global warming, the Earth will again cool down and we'll enter another glacial period such as the one that ended about 12,000 years ago. Glacial periods tend to last for tens of thousands of years. Interglacial Periods can last for similar lengths of time but they tend to be shorter. The current Interglacial Period may last another 10-15,000 years. We don't know.

The last Interglacial Period warmed the Earth past the point where its climate currently stands now. Europe and North America were like tropical paradises. So the peril represented by global warming is not one that threatens Earth's ecosystem. Micro-ecosystems have risen and died out endlessly as part of the natural process for as long as there has been life on Earth. Polish aristocrats cut down an entire forest several hundred years ago, created a desert, and many of the animals in the region adapted to that desert environment. Now that desert is threatened by development and reforestation.

Forests, jungles, deserts, lakes, rivers, wetlands, and plains have formed and vanished endlessly throughout the history of life on our planet. That natural process has led to the extinction of many species, as well as to the rise of many species. We have no idea of which species will adapt to the consequences of today's global warming, but we have more than just an environmental responsibility to respect the natural existence of other species. We also have a natural biological imperative to survive.

Our survival can be enhanced in many ways if we seize the opportunity to produce more fresh water, irrigate unused desert land, and create jobs, hope, stability, and improved security for many people in lands that are now depleted of natural resources. In the long run, if we do nothing with all that water flowing into the oceans, we'll see increasing population pressures and competition for safe, dry land lead to more warfare and strife between impoverished peoples.

Is the continued survival of desert turtle and lizard habitats worth the human misery and suffering that could otherwise be avoided?

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Human genetic experiments take an odd twist

By the time a story hits the front page of CNN's Web site, it's probably been digested many times over in smaller journalistic circles. And having seen what national/international media can do to the facts of various industries, I take whatever I read there with a huge grain of salt.

Still, it's curious to find that some people with genetic variations may want to propagate them through selective embryo screening.

Now, if blond-haired, blue-eyed people wearing Swastikas (btw -- did you know that most Nazis did not have blond hair?) were to put together a breeding program to create super-human beings or some such nonsense (which has been written about in science fiction for years), nearly everyone on the planet would be up in arms, looking for the secret laboratories. We don't need no stinkin' racist supermen.

But the CNN story looks at the angle from the other direction. Will people be as incensed and offended when they realize that couples with physical disadvantages -- such as dwarfism -- may want to have children who share the same disadvantages with them?

Every time I see an article about ancient human populations or modern human genetic control ethics, I wonder how it is that we have come to be who we are through what science calls "the evolutionary process". Now, before you start branding me a "genetic interventionist" or whatever, understand that I'm only looking at the scientific side of the issues.

For decades, scientists have struggled to explain how we became human. They have proposed speciation events must have occurred, where small, isolated populations of early hominids were cut off from other hominids for long periods of time (hundreds of thousands of years). For whatever reasons, one group of hominids surpassed all others during each speciation phase.

So one group of Australopithecines (the hobbit-sized "Lucy" who lived 3,000,000 years ago was an Australopithecine) was cut off from all others and this one group evolved into the early Homo Sapiens ancestors many scientists have called Homo Erectus or Homo Ergaster. The Erectus/Ergaster groups became divided across three broad regions: some remained in Africa, some went north to Europe, and some went east to Asia.

The Neanderthals are believed to have evolved from Homo Heidelbergensis families (descendants of African Homo Ergasters) who spread north in a later migration. But there remains the question of whether Neanderthals and Modern Humans intermingled. Two interspeciation points have been proposed (that I am aware of): the Middle East and western Europe.

In East Asia, the descendants of Homo Erectus supposedly lasted about 1,000,000 years before dying out. They were ultimately replaced by Modern Humans.

Modern Humans are believed to have evolved in Africa (which means that all blond-haired, blue-eyed people are descended from dark-skinned people -- so much for the "pure Nordic race"). Every few tens of thousands of years, new waves genetically more advanced people swarmed out from Africa to expand into other regions of the world.

The statistical implication is that the human evolutionary process occurs fastest in small, isolated populations that must adapt to radical changes in environment. If a population can expand into wider and wider territory, there is no evolutionary impetus for advantageous genes to cluster together and produce a "leap forward" (as the voiceovers in the "X-Men" movies indicate).

So where does that leave modern humanity? Science fiction writers have often suggested or argued that a population which achieves a state of civilizaion stops evolving. Recent genetic evidence suggests that is not so. In fact, as recently as a few thousand years ago we acquired the ability to digest milk in adulthood (a genetic trait which is still not found in some parts of the world).

Recent research suggests that humanity's most recent common ancestor lived about 60,000 years ago. Some people are already suggesting that genetic mutations occur at a much faster pace in human experience than previously believed.

But in order for a new species to appear, more than one genetic mutation must become fixed (dominant) in a population. Despite a wide array of genetic variations in modern humans, we are still the same species. The question of whether we can spin off a new species in a world of highly interconnected sub-groups is both scientifically intriguing and ethically confusing.

The process would have to begin with intentional human genetic breeding. That is, even something as relatively simple as prescreening embryos constitutes a breeding process, in the sense that we are selecting offspring for a specific outcome. We breed dogs, cats, horses, cattle, and many other animals. Have we now come down to breeding ourselves?

And if we achieve the ability to create a species on demand, should we use it?