Showing all posts tagged: climate change
6 October 2023
American climate scientist Zeke Hausfather has described global temperatures in September 2023 as gobsmackingly bananas.
This month was, in my professional opinion as a climate scientist — absolutely gobsmackingly bananas. JRA-55 beat the prior monthly record by over 0.5C, and was around 1.8C warmer than preindustrial levels.
See also the daily temperature anomalies heatmap for 2023, where September, to use Hausfather’s words again, “stands out like a sore thumb.”
22 September 2023
Poison ivy is poised to be one of the big winners in this global, human-caused phenomenon. Scientists expect the dreaded three-leafed vine will take full advantage of warmer temperatures and rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to grow faster and bigger — and become even more toxic.
20 September 2023
American journalist and cartoonist Malaka Gharib used to visit her father in Cairo, Egypt, during the summer school holidays, in the mid-nineties. It was hot, as anyone who’s been to Egypt in June or July (yours truly) could tell you.
Like many Egyptians though, her father’s home did not then have air conditioning. It was certainly warm, but somehow everyone managed. Thirty years later, Gharib wonders how Cairo residents get by when climate change is slowly pushing up temperatures, in a comic strip she drew.
While the use of air conditioning has become more widespread in Cairo, experts warn it alone is not a long term solution to the ever warmer summers parts of Egypt are presently experiencing. In some cases their operation can exasperate the problem, by placing stress on the power grid, and upping local temperatures through the heat the units themselves expend.
5 September 2023
Ways are being sought to reduce the harmful environmental impact of air conditioning (AC) systems, which remain essential for health and well-being, starting with how buildings are designed and constructed in the first place:
“We need to design our buildings in a way that consumes less energy. We need to insulate them better. We need to ventilate them better,” explained Ankit Kalanki, a manager at Third Derivative, a climate tech accelerator co-founded by the sustainability research organization RMI. “These strategies are very important. We can reduce the air conditioning demand in the first place, but we cannot eliminate that.”
8 August 2023
The new book is based upon a 2018 partnership Hawking’s family had with the European Space Agency, along with the Greek composer Vangelis (“Blade Runner”, “Chariots of Fire”, “Cosmos: A Personal Voyage”.) The message used words adapted from Hawking’s book for adults, “Brief Answers to the Big Questions” (Bantam, 2018), set to music by Vangelis.
The book is co-written by Hawking’s daughter, Lucy, and illustrated by Li Xin. You and the Universe asks readers to imagine themselves as time travellers heading towards the future, and to work together to ensure the future will be a place free of the ravages of climate change.
31 July 2023
Heatwaves, which have been experienced in a number of regions in the northern hemisphere in recent weeks, are being aggravated by increased levels of humidity, which is being precipitated by climate change. While it might be thought higher temperatures would cause moisture to evaporate, warmer air is capable of holding more water vapour than cooler air.
Sea surface temperatures have been steadily climbing globally, as the oceans absorb something like 90 percent of the excess heat that humans are adding to the atmosphere. But since March, global sea surface temperatures have been skyrocketing above the norm. The North Atlantic, in particular, remains super hot, loading Europe’s air with extra humidity.
Parts of the east coast of Australia saw higher levels of humidity last week, which had the effect of “taking the bite” out of otherwise relatively cooler temperatures. That’s about the only instance when high humidity has an upside. Those sorts of humidity levels will be far from welcome come summer.
28 July 2023
The world has sweated through its hottest three weeks on record, as heatwaves continue to ravage parts of the northern hemisphere. Possibly the last time temperatures were this warm was one hundred thousand years ago.
Typically these records, which track the average air temperature across the entire world, are broken by hundredths of a degree. But the temperature for the first 23 days of July averaged 16.95 degrees Celsius (62.51 Fahrenheit), well above the previous record of 16.63 degrees Celsius (61.93 Fahrenheit) set in July 2019, according to the report.
I’m dreading the upcoming Australian summer. As I type, the forecast high today is 23° Celsius, in this part of the world the July (middle of winter) average is meant to be closer to about 16° Celsius.
7 July 2023
Temperatures on Monday reached an average of 17.01 Celsius, up from the previous high of 16.92 Celsius, recorded in August 2016. This as parts of the United States, China, and Africa, have sweltered through oppressive heatwaves in recent weeks.
5 June 2023
Image courtesy of Pete Linforth.
Warning: spoilers ahead. Return to this article once you’ve finished reading the novel.
Every Version of You, published by Affirm Press in 2022, is the debut novel of Melbourne based Australian author Grace Chan. Set in the late twenty-first century, primarily in Melbourne, Chan’s novel is about a young couple, Tao-Yi and her boyfriend Navin, and a momentous decision they need to make, which has life changing consequences.
Climate change has rendered Earth almost uninhabitable. Outdoor activities have become uncomfortable and dangerous. People need to don protective clothing and equipment before leaving the cocoon-like sanctuary of their dwellings. Body suits to block the Sun’s burning rays. Goggles and facemasks to combat dust, and other airborne irritants.
But the creation of a would-be new world, a “hyper-immersive, hyper-consumerist virtual reality” named Gaia, offers humanity an alternative to the world outside. And while this digital, artificial, macrocosm, mimics the old world in virtually every way, it also offers inhabitants a whole lot more.
Accessing Gaia, called logging in, is facilitated by climbing into a small, diving bell like chamber, filled with a gel-like liquid, called a neupod. While people’s bodies lie immersed in the pod’s gel, their minds roam free in Gaia, and they go about their lives, as normal. Except here, their presence takes the form of a digital avatar, one they are able to continually customise.
They go to work and school. They see friends and family. They engage in sporting and recreational activities. People “live” in Gaia just as they do in the real, outside, world. But within its realm, people can do more than live their old lives. They can venture to places they once only dreamed of, and become someone they could never have been otherwise.
Gaia, a promise of eternal life, but at a cost
Like everyone else, Tao-Yi and Navin switch back and forth between Gaia and the outside world, although Navin spends more time in Gaia than Tao-Yi. But one day a technology emerges allowing people to permanently meld with Gaia, through a process called “Uploading”.
In essence, Uploading, also known as mind uploading, allows a person to live forever within Gaia’s seemingly boundless domain. But there is a crucial caveat. Once uploaded, a person cannot return to the old world. Not, at least, as a corporeal entity. Uploading transforms a person into a conscious digital entity, through a procedure that extracts their every thought, memory, and personality.
A person’s no longer needed body is disposed of in manner they choose beforehand, once Uploading is completed. Despite Tao-Yi’s misgivings, Navin was a keen proponent. And not just because he saw himself as an early adaptor. Navin was also afflicted with a chronic illness, one that medicine could not alleviate. Uploading would allow Navin to live disease free.
And there were doubtless others in Navin’s position. Medical science could offer these people no hope, but Uploading, and becoming a digital version of themselves, would completely eliminate their ailments. For some, the decision to Upload was easy to make. They could enjoy full “health”, and also be free of the ravages of climate change. To say nothing of “living” forever.
Although in a minority, there were people — called holdouts — who refused to Upload. They wished to remain in the “meatspace”, a derogatory term given to the old world. Xin-Yi, Tao-Yi’s mother, was among them. And even Tao-Yi — for the benefits Uploading bestowed upon Navin — was far from convinced that permanently merging with Gaia was the right thing to do. And for good reason.
Gaia, a symbol of climate change denial
Tao-Yi knew Gaia was not a solution to climate change, only a means by which to escape it. To her, and other holdouts, Gaia was humanity’s way of signalling defeat in the battle to restore Earth’s environment to the way it once was. But not only that. Gaia, while being heralded as a new beginning for humanity, also potentially spelt the end of the line for humans.
Aside from a small number of holdouts braving life in the near inhospitable real world, all of humanity’s eggs were in the single basket that was Gaia. Its digital inhabitants had condemned themselves to eternal imprisonment on Earth. Gaia also left humanity all the more vulnerable to some sort of planet-wide calamity, such as the asteroid impact that brought about the end of the dinosaurs.
It was be hoped the tech savvy denizens of Gaia would eventually figure out a way to leave Earth, and at least put down roots elsewhere in the solar system. If not beyond. But a global catastrophe was not the only danger facing Gaia. The digital realm also depended on an army of (presumably self-replicating) robots to maintain its infrastructure.
There would be the hope the robots continued to serve, and replace themselves. But what if these maintenance droids infused themselves with an intelligence of their own? And what if they one day turned against their digital masters, and pulled the plug on them?
Some of these concerns — and could they be the basis for a sequel, or even an Every Version of You expanded universe? — are alluded to in the novel, even if they are beside the point. Gaia is a potent symbol of climate change denial, and the unwillingness, by some people, to do anything about it. Gaia might promise eternal life, but that could be an eternity spent regretting sacrificing Earth to climate change.
Gaia, why does the name sound familiar?
In Greek mythology Gaia is the goddess of Earth, and the mother of all life. She is one of the “primordial deities”, the first generation of Greek gods, and the grandmother of Zeus, god of sky and thunder, and later king of the cosmos, and the other Greek gods.
As a name for the digital realm humanity withdraws to, Gaia may also derive from the Gaia hypothesis, which was formulated by late British scientist and futurist James Lovelock in the 1970s. His theory proposes “living organisms interact with their inorganic surroundings on Earth to form a synergistic and self-regulating, complex system that helps to maintain and perpetuate the conditions for life on the planet.”
In Every Version of You, humanity has well and truly failed to “maintain and perpetuate the conditions for life on the planet.” But by creating a new, artificial, domain named Gaia, perhaps the people of the late twenty-first century — up to their eyes in denial — could claim to have succeeded in achieving this goal.
3 November 2022
The Climate Book, written by Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg, and published this month by Penguin Books, sets out the facts about climate change, and outlines solutions for dealing with it. As Thunberg says, we need to act now, if we want to make a difference.
In The Climate Book, Greta Thunberg has gathered the wisdom of over one hundred experts – geophysicists, oceanographers and meteorologists; engineers, economists and mathematicians; historians, philosophers and indigenous leaders – to equip us all with the knowledge we need to combat climate disaster. Alongside them, she shares her own stories of demonstrating and uncovering greenwashing around the world, revealing how much we have been kept in the dark. This is one of our biggest challenges, she shows, but also our greatest source of hope. Once we are given the full picture, how can we not act? And if a schoolchild’s strike could ignite a global protest, what could we do collectively if we tried?