Monday, September 28, 2009

Climatology: The Black Art

Climate is what we expect; weather is what we get. ~ Mark Twain

Okay, class, it's time once again to sum up the current foolishness about the global warming situation.

This article says we can fix everything by building ships that create clouds, which will be a whole lot cheaper than sending sun shades into space (I'm not making that up).

If you don't like the boat thing, there's a genius that wants to re-forest the Sahara. Forget that not too many months ago, global warming enthusiasts were warning against planting trees because they would increase the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Instead, try to imagine the number of ways the climate of the planet might be completely screwed up Hold that thought.

Here we are told it's the sun that is driving out climate. In fact, thanks to an incredibly quiet sun cycle, there are those suggesting we may be looking a new Maunder Minimum, which was a period during the middle ages that became known as the Little Ice Age.

Some scientists seem to think we're in for a spell of global cooling. Oopsie. And that arctic ice melt-off? Postponed for the next 20 or 30 years.

The U.N. has pushed arctic melting out another 10 years, but goes on to say that cutting US CO2 emissions by 80% won't help. Well, that's a fine kettle of fish.

For our final bit of humor, we find the noted climatologists at Clemson decided that we have
more hurricanes but they're not as severe (despite having heard the "more and meaner" drumbeat for years now). However, the problem is that they just have their geography messed up; it's Japan that's getting the stronger storms.

And I didn't even bring up the cosmic ray nonsense.

The simple fact is that no one knows what the climate is going to do. Even if they had a reasonable forecast of the climate, they wouldn't know what to do to change the future climate without creating a situation that's far, far worse.

The bottom line is that no one knows how the climate works. That's nothing to be ashamed of, because we don't even know all that factors that make the climate do what it does. We've had warm periods on the planet that are beyond even the wildest predictions of global warming fanatics. In fact, for much of the planet's history, there hasn't even been an arctic icecap during the summer. Yet during those times, like the Cretaceous, there wasn't a single factory or Hummer in sight.

What's frightening is people talking about geo-engineering the Earth. If we don't know how the climate works, how can we reliably judge how to fix it? The potential for creating totally unpredictable consequences is so high as to be nearly a sure thing. Look back at those stories and note the various disagreements.

Two years ago, I wrote about the chinks in the CO2 fortress. The reaction of the global warming guys, who had the upper hand with governments and the media at the time, is to simply ostracize those who disagree with them (same sort of thing happens with physicists who thing string theory is bunk, but that's another article). It's time for some serious evaluation of data.

It's also time to recognize the role of the sun, the state of the Earth's magnetic field (which is moving and may flip polarity, as it has done many times in the past) and even cosmic rays on our weather. Global warming nuts simply pretend that data doesn't exist or warp it to fit their own preconceptions. And, in global warming, preconceptions is the name of the game.

In the 1980's, the prevailing climatological thinking was that we were heading for a new ice age. The hope was that the additional CO2 in the air would mitigate the effects. I am willing to be those guys had some terrific data, too.

We don't need any cockamamie schemes for changing the climate. We need to improve our predictive abilities, quit relying on computer models that can't predict the motion of a tropical storm more than 15 minutes in advance, and quit using scare tactics to get hold of government grants.

If, in fact, global warming is real, we aren't going to be able to change it. Sure, it's a good idea to cut down CO2 emissions, if only because the reason they exist is because we need to quit using inefficient energy generation methods. We should get rid of fuel-guzzling vehicles, because they don't make sense in any way, shape or form when there are alternative methods of getting from one place to another.

Oh, and we should be careful about those alternative propulsion methods. People are hyping hydrogen-powered vehicles because their only emission is water. Well, if those cars become the standard, we'll be putting massive amounts of water vapor into the air.

Care to speculate on what that might do to the climate?

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Trouble With NASA

I understand that NASA reported that there's new evidence of water on Mars. I'm here to report that we still don't have any evidence of affordable gasoline in Michigan. ~ David Bonior

It was inevitable that reality would set in with respect to the US space program. The reader may recall when George W. Bush, trying to distract everyone's attention from the various disasters of his administration (including that lack of affordable gasoline), came up with his "plan" for space exploration. The "plan" called for a return to the moon and then a mission to Mars, all conveniently to occur after he was out of office. To perform all these wonderful things, NASA was to get more money. Also, the shuttle and the ISS were to be scrapped.

One would think that there would have been some sort of outcry about shutting down a space station that would take 20-plus years to build after just 5 years of useful life, but this bit of twisted logic seemed to escape the notice of most people. Some did wonder how exactly the ISS would be supplied without a shuttle, especially given that NASA didn't have anything that would be ready in time.

Oh, there was the nonsense about "commercial" space flight picking up the slack. "Commercial", of course, means private companies taking taxpayer money without NASA oversight, which in turn means getting not a damn thing for our money. Events so far have shown that so called "commercial" space ventures beyond Proton and Arianne (both funded by various governments) have been so much moon dust.

None of this would have mattered, of course, because if the space station couldn't be supplied, it would just be brought down a couple of years sooner.

I've never thought much of the ISS because it's never seemed to have a purpose, other than to suck up money that could have been used for space science and exploration. To turn around and trash the thing, though, is a complete travesty. I mean, as long as it's there, let's get something out of it.

Now a Presidential committee has come along and admitted what we all knew to begin with, that the Bush "plan" was a joke all along.

The trouble is that NASA has been a bit of joke for a long time now. Take a look at this little slide show of abandoned NASA projects. There's a theme that runs through all of them. Cost overruns and various changes of mind caused most of them to have their funding yanked.

Now part of the problem has always been that when Presidents and Congress is looking to pretend to worry about spending the first thing they cut, even before education and human services, is NASA's budget. After the heyday of space exploration that took us to the moon in the first place, NASA has watched one President after the other promise all sorts of things while whacking their funding.

But, that doesn't really explain why NASA can't stick to a budget once they start on a project. The problem here is more complex, just as it is in business. Part of the problem in developing any project is trying to think of everything that you need to consider. In the euphoria of a new objective, most people, whether corporate or government, will understate the costs that will ultimately be incurred. NASA, though, has made cost overruns standard practice.

Partly, this is because the head of NASA is an appointed official. Presidents come in, put their genius into the director's seat. The new director, either under orders from the boss or just because he can, proceeds to shuffle positions, change procedures, revisit all current projects, and redoes all the objectives. As a result, projects that were killed a few years ago are suddenly resurrected while ongoing projects are dumped, only to be reanimated when the next guy comes in.

In the unlikely event a project actually survives the change at the top, the contractors (like Lockheed) will think up all sorts of little goodies that ought to be added, or the project managers start changing the mission ("Y'know as long as we're out there we might as well ..."). As a result, costs keep going up.

The problem is that the US still has no national science, technology, or exploration policies. Bush's flight of fancy about going to Mars had no rhyme or reason, no stated goal. When Kennedy dictated that we would go to the moon, it was part of a program to improve US science and engineering education (begun by Eisenhower, when the Soviets embarrassed the crap out of the US). But even Kennedy, and later Lyndon Johnson, never seemed to have an idea of what would follow. That made it very easy for Nixon just to call the whole thing off.

President Obama's committee has shown we don't know what we're doing or why. Now the challenge to come up with a real plan.

You'll excuse me if I don't hold my breath waiting for one.