Saturday, November 21, 2009

NatGeo December 2009 Issue warns us about the Carbon Bathtub, in same issue that it looks at extrasolar planets

The December 2009 issue of National Geographic is particularly important as to “planetary futures”.

The cover asks “Are we alone?” with the caption “searching the heavens for another Earth” and has a picture of Gliese 581 e, a planet about twice the mass of Earth (probably another Venus) around a small M star 20 light years away. In fact, 581 d, another planet, may have water. The whole solar system reminds one of the one in Frank Herbert’s “Dune”.

The article, by Timothy Ferris, features a pull-out diagram of the Milky Way, with a little square showing a 400 light year neighborhood of our Earth. This fans out into the Kepler Search Arm running out to about 1800 light years. And we’re on a supplementary spiral arm, halfway out from the center of a galaxy measuring 100000 light years across, with plenty of astrophysical. Another diagram shows a 2-D blown to 3-D simulation of the immediate neighborhood. Most inhabitable planets are likely to be around M stars, and may face the same side of their sun all the time.

But the most important article may be “The Big Idea” on p 26, “The Carbon Bathtub.” The article notes the extremely long time that excess carbon takes to “drain” from the atmosphere. It is not enough to just stop increasing our carbon emissions; if we don’t decrease by 80%, our CO-2 level will reach 450 ppm by 2050. The article discusses the book “The Long Thaw: How Humans Are Changing the Next 100,000 Years of Earth’s Climate (Science Essentials)” by David Archer, from the Princeton University Press, 978-0691136547.

The article also talks about a “cognitive flaw” in human thinking”, which shows up in the way people manage debt (credit cards and mortgage), not seeing the “derivatives” of “asset” accumulation and depletion, whether physical or monetary. This is similar to moral considerations of personal behavior related to “sustainability.”

Perhaps Venus had a civilization a billion years ago and ran into tragedy, leading to some kind of runaway CO-2 apocalypse. Perhaps greenhouse gas ovens are rather common around the Galaxy. Take heed.

A short piece by Melody Kramer on the "Health page" called "Fighting the Flu" makes the case for enforced social distancing as a way of controlling H1N1 if vaccines prove inadequate.

The link for the “December Issue” of NatGeo is this.

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