Four Fifteen

415, sliced a few different ways.

We just hit 415 ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere.   Why this particular number, like others before it, have warranted a flurry of articles, I don’t quite know. Humans typically count in base ten (although base 60 was used by the Sumerians, and base 2 is used in computers), and when we hit 400 ppm, there was also a small blizzard of articles on this milestone.

420 (which may get some chuckles), 425, 430… they are all coming, but what of it?  When will people realize we’ve got a real crises, so much so that real change will happen?  My guess is that it will take a lot more than a number,. written in any numeric format to change our attitude.   An ice free arctic; the collapse of the Gulf Stream; regions becoming uninhabitable without artificial cooling – these are all possibilities (and with increasing probabilities).

What will it take for people (and more importantly, governments) to realize and act on these troubling data points, and have this part of our daily discussion?


The Sheep Look Up – Again

doublesheep ; By George Gastin – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,, x2

A quick note – the BBC just had an article that chimes in with more detail on John Brunner’s The Sheep Look Up as written here a few posts back.  Perhaps his legacy might outshine more of the well known sci-fi authors.  Stay tuned, of course.

Erasing the past, Public Domain

With friends on both sides of the aisle, you occasionally get forwarded articles with a particular slant on the news.  This week, it was news that some folks wanted to erase a mural that depicted George Washington having slaves, and showing some of the realities of how people treated Native Americans.   The commentary article was here, and the original article was here.   The second, original article is worth a read, since it brings up some more detail about the artist (no right winger, by any stretch), and some other solutions (like covering up parts of the mural with a screen) that weren’t as drastic. The comments on the original article, some by the school’s alumni, clearly refer to erasing the past not being the best of plans, and that seems to be the general response.

Erasing the past isn’t a particularly good idea.   Coming to grips with what we’ve collectively done is probably the most constructive way of handling these issues.   There are some issues where a plaque, another piece of art, or a sober explanation can do wonders.  My first reaction when reading the first article was to think of how modern collections of older cartoons have a small introduction which recognize the era they came from.  Whoopi Goldberg (another certainly not right-leaning icon!) did a bit on Tom and Jerry cartoons; it’s been done with others. The folks having issues with George Washington might have put up a plaque or something else, but tearing it down?  Washington was the man who declined a crown, set the stage for being president, and gave his all for his fledgling country.   This story alone makes you wonder what the country would be like without his character.


  • What is the cutoff between celebrating the past, and remembering it?  Germany bans Nazi iconography unless it is used for “art or science, research or teaching.”   How about the Confederate flag?
  • What is going on with the people who are suggesting these more extreme courses of action?  Are our echo chambers becoming so well “echoey” that we can’t see or hear the questionable logic that is underpinning these arguments or suggested irreversible actions?
  • If we start erasing the past, or how other eras remembered the same pasts, won’t we walk straight into philosopher George Santayana‘s oft-quoted observation that “those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it”?  Modern Germans seem to have a plan that works.

The waiting, the waiting

By Sun Ladder – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Yesterday’s post by James H. Kunstler reminded me of something written here last year.  The waiting is the hardest part, and frankly, almost maddening.  Wiley Coyote seems to have a magic carpet, and rather than plummeting off a cliff after a few seconds, he seems to have been flying along for years.  It almost makes you wonder if cartoon physics has intertwined with that of the real world, in a sort of Who Framed Roger Rabbit way.

Any more thoughts on why we are still waiting for something to crack?  For a system that needs a lot of propping up, it seems quite resilient…





King Canute and the tide

381px-MANTE(1800)_p1.133_KING_CANUTE.jpg; Public Domain

Sometimes, even leaders know that their power is limited.  Case in point; King Canute.  The Wikipedia entry has this great bit on him:

“…Canute set his throne by the sea shore and commanded the incoming tide to halt and not wet his feet and robes. Yet “continuing to rise as usual [the tide] dashed over his feet and legs without respect to his royal person. Then the king leapt backwards, saying: ‘Let all men know how empty and worthless is the power of kings, for there is none worthy of the name, but He whom heaven, earth, and sea obey by eternal laws.'” He then hung his gold crown on a crucifix, and never wore it again “to the honour of God the almighty King”.”

It’s a shame we don’t have leaders, from any party, with this sort of humility. Of course, a few folks today think they can even outsmart the tide.  Case in point; those responsible for the levees in New Orleans.  According to a recent Scientific American article, after ten billion dollars and over a decade of construction, the levees that were built will may be useless in as little as four years.  Coastal cities such as New York and Boston are making extravagant and costly plans to handle sea level rise; how long will those projects save those respective cities?

The first reaction to events like the flooding during Katrina is generally one of concern and help.  People need homes and food, and want to get back on their feet.  But as that zoom lens pulls back, we should be asking – should we (or can we) afford to rebuild in that same location?

There’s no doubt that some sort of mitigation is worth it, as it takes time to plan and move people and institutions.   At the end of the day, however, it appears that all everyone wants to do is build bigger levees, walls, and pumps, so that the ‘status quo’ can be maintained.   Has anyone said, “Our city is going to be underwater in N years; let’s think about what we can do to mitigate for the short term, and abandon/move/migrate in the near future.”?

More questions:

  • If New Orleans was flooded again, would this thought (of abandoning the city) gain any more traction?   Pripyat (the main population center, with 50,000 people) near Chernobyl was vacated, but New Orleans has almost eight times that number.  Could it be done?
  • What big public works projects will be made irrelevant in the strange climate future we’ll be having?  Expansion of airports near the ocean come to mind.
  • Is this lack of humility simply due to our ‘advanced’ technology?  Or is there something else going on here?
  • What sort of cost-benefit metric should we be using for any sea level rise mitigation?  Likewise, who will be paying the costs, and who will receive the benefits?


On reparations


Reparations?  Own work; Public Domain.

The talk on reparations for slavery has been getting more traction.  What troubles me is that although the idea of doing something (or anything) to reverse or compensate for decades of discrimination might appear to have some validity, doing so would have to clear many hurdles, and possibly open up a can of worms.

What are the actual legal reasons to give reparations?  I believe there is a statue of limitations for crimes, is there one for civil situations?  A quick search turns up, and the statute of limitations isn’t decades in any jurisdiction.  Who gets to claim, and for how much?  If your great-grandparent was black, and the rest of your family was white, do you get a 1/8th cut, even if you look white? A friend made some other good points on this a few weeks ago – who did the actual selling of slaves?  Should West Africans pay something?  What about recent immigrants, both black and white?

The first point is probably the most salient – what is the legal time limit on bringing any complaint into a courtroom?  I know murder has no statute of limitations, but are things different when governments are involved?  What if all parties are all long dead and gone?

My non-lawyer gut says you could have up to 99 years to petition for grievances between groups; and perhaps the same goes for land holding.  But this is a real stretch, given the complexities.  Of course, ultima ratio regum (the last argument of kings) – force – overrides all this.  I’ve always joked that if Vermont declared itself its own republic, people would laugh, and the US Army would show up to put down the rebellion in short order. But if the Vermont folks had a death ray/bong-powered cannon that could defeat F-35s (OK, perhaps a bad example, given all their problems), helicopter gunships, and main battle tanks, suddenly we’d all be talking about a ‘peaceful settlement’ and how we could ‘all get along with our new neighbor’.

This idea of reparations would have been easier just after the Civil War, but many things have changed since then, and it has been a long time.  Folks, mostly in jest, have been bringing up the question of other historic slights; why make reparations only applicable to that situation?   If any group has had a claim for reparations, Native Americans (who had signed legal treaties with the United States government) might have an easier time in court.

Is it possible, like with so many other slights and wrongs, that we will just have to “move on?”


  • How long does anyone have to hold a piece of land for it to be considered “theirs”?  This reminds me of the current Golan Heights issue; Israel, for better or worse, controls that region, and the US recognizes that.  Have they held that land for “long enough”?
  • Would a ‘Truth and Reconciliation’ commission. without reparations fare any better?
  • As we traditionally pull the zoom lens back on this ‘reparations’ bit, what about the folks in our own future, who may want payback for the way we have polluted the earth, air, and water, or who have used profligate amounts of energy? Who is responsible for pollution anyway, especially when pollution wasn’t recognized at the time? What if some people knew, and some people didn’t know about what was harmful, and what was safe?