Sunday, September 04, 2011

two graphs

Sometimes a picture does say more than a thousand words. The  quintessential information in the IPCC AR-4 report is packed in two graphs on emissions scenarios and surface warming.  Both are pretty old hats.  But this adds to their appeal, because they are dated in having been too cautious.  Climate change in the past decade has outpaced the worst of expectations.  Reality is more cartoonish than we thought. 

Trippy about this twin figure is its philosophical consequence.  The scenario storylines are where the metaphysical meat is.  The worst case scenario evokes a collapse brought about by the skepticism of Hume, the relativism of Derrida, and the selfishness of Adam Smith-slash-Ayn Rand.  The best case scenario evokes a new era guided by the wisdom of Kant, Confucius, and Laozi.  So now we know.  Some thinkers are indeed wiser than others.

While this particular consequence of the IPCC storylines is sort of an in-house provocation, the other consequence is a universal challenge for civil evolution.  The information distilled in the twin graph of the AR4 Climate Change 2007 report serves a similar cultural role as Copernicus' De Revolutionibus (1543) and Darwin's Origin of the Species (1859) did in their day.  Christian Wolff would have had a ball.  In the guise of climatology, rational dogma is back and eager to kick our collective asses if we don't get up to speed. 

But right now there are two other graphs, far more ominous, astounding, and timely, that I keep obsessing about. One is from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Drought Monitor housed at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.  I copied an image into the current climate events update at blisterdata.  Another is from a geoinformatics facility for satellite image analysis, a joint venture of the International Arctic Research Center and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.  The IARC-JAXA outfit processes information with real time updates into a graph on Sea Ice Extent.  A link is on the August post at blisterdata.  RealClimate just opened a new thread about it.

The two graphs on drought and melt speak for themselves.  Karl Marx must be laughing in paradise now: the graphs are the planetary legacy of capitalism.  And this raises two questions.  Must we sacrifice our children on the altar of corporate profit? Can we still turn civilization around?  The plot thickens.

Sixty-three months left.

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