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The Evolution of Climate Science
Since the late 1800s, what we know has advanced light years ahead.
If you bring up climate science at Thanksgiving dinner this year, what do you think will happen? Well, if you are like a lot of people, you might find yourself in the middle of a fight about the end of civilization or vast global hoaxes.
The instant polarization concerning climate science is nothing short of bizarre when you take the second part of the term—science—seriously. That’s because the science of climate science has made such remarkable advances over the last half-century, it should rightly be considered one of the great triumphs of humanity.
To understand how far climate science has come, you really have to focus on how far climate science has gone. That’s because we have a lot more than one planet, and one climate, to study these days.
Climate science is often called the study of long-term weather patterns. It may or may not rain tomorrow—that’s “weather,” not climate, and it gets hard to predict beyond a few days. But global circulation patterns, which move water around over yearlong timescales, are quite predictable. That’s because rotating planets with atmospheres that are heated on one side by a star represent a physical system that obeys very well-understood laws. Those laws translate into a basic understanding of how climate works and how it can change. Of course add an ocean, glaciers, volcanoes, and perhaps even life into the mix, and the whole system gets very complicated. But it’s still just the laws of physics and chemistry at work, and that means with enough effort, climate systems can be understood.
Earth was, of course, the first climate system people studied. It began back in the late 1800s when it became clear that the planet had undergone prolonged periods of cold called ice ages. Having huge areas of the Northern Hemisphere under a mile or two of ice for 100,000 years is definitely a problem of climate and not merely weather. The pioneers of the field struggled to understand what forces could drop the planet into the freezer for so long and, just as important, what forces got it out.
Anthropogenic climate forcing
It’s worth noting that one consequence of these early climate study efforts was the first recognition of “anthropogenic climate forcing.” The Swedish chemist Svante August Arrhenius was trying to understand the role of CO2 in ice ages when his calculations revealed the human use of coal was already starting to warm the planet. (Tell that to your climate-denying uncle who claims “global warming” is a modern hoax.)
But as the 20th century progressed, scientists eventually found themselves with more than one climate to study. Telescopic investigations of Mars and Venus opened up questions of a distinctly climatic nature. Radio observations of Venus implied surface temperatures of 700 degrees Fahrenheit, hotter than anyone could understand initially. And Mars not only showed seasons in the form of polar ice caps that grew and retreated, it also appeared to change color for months at time.
Once the space program took off, robotic probes to the planets gave scientists such a rich treasure trove of data that “comparative climate studies” became an actual thing. The insanely high temperatures on Venus were found to come from a runaway greenhouse effect. The occasionally strange colors of Mars came from planet-enveloping dust storms where tiny wind-blown particles absorbed sunlight, darkening the world below. What was learned from both of these planets was soon incorporated into the study of Earth’s climate where, for example, the role of dust became essential to understanding the terrifying possibility of a “nuclear winter.”
Soon every planet in the solar system with an atmosphere joined the comparative climate studies list. Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune—they have all been investigated and they have all yielded new insights and new mysteries. We even have Titan, the giant moon of Saturn with a dense hydrocarbon atmosphere. Titan is the only other world with liquid on its surface—but you wouldn’t want to swim in it; it’s liquid methane.
These days, the frontiers of comparative climate studies lie light years out in space. We have discovered so many planets orbiting so many stars that the study of their possible climates now occupies a lot of astronomers. For a few worlds, we already have observations that translate into day and nighttime temperatures, the most basic of climate data. More important, over the next few decades telescopes will come on line that will let us study these climates in remarkable detail. The most exciting possibility is that we’ll find biospheres existing as part of the climate systems on some of these other worlds.
So don’t let anyone fool you. The “science” in “climate science” is not just healthy and robust; it’s some of the most exciting work out there.
How would the ability to genetically customize children change society? Sci-fi author Eugene Clark explores the future on our horizon in Volume I of the "Genetic Pressure" series.
- A new sci-fi book series called "Genetic Pressure" explores the scientific and moral implications of a world with a burgeoning designer baby industry.
- It's currently illegal to implant genetically edited human embryos in most nations, but designer babies may someday become widespread.
- While gene-editing technology could help humans eliminate genetic diseases, some in the scientific community fear it may also usher in a new era of eugenics.
Tribalism and discrimination<p>One question the "Genetic Pressure" series explores: What would tribalism and discrimination look like in a world with designer babies? As designer babies grow up, they could be noticeably different from other people, potentially being smarter, more attractive and healthier. This could breed resentment between the groups—as it does in the series.</p><p>"[Designer babies] slowly find that 'everyone else,' and even their own parents, becomes less and less tolerable," author Eugene Clark told Big Think. "Meanwhile, everyone else slowly feels threatened by the designer babies."</p><p>For example, one character in the series who was born a designer baby faces discrimination and harassment from "normal people"—they call her "soulless" and say she was "made in a factory," a "consumer product." </p><p>Would such divisions emerge in the real world? The answer may depend on who's able to afford designer baby services. If it's only the ultra-wealthy, then it's easy to imagine how being a designer baby could be seen by society as a kind of hyper-privilege, which designer babies would have to reckon with. </p><p>Even if people from all socioeconomic backgrounds can someday afford designer babies, people born designer babies may struggle with tough existential questions: Can they ever take full credit for things they achieve, or were they born with an unfair advantage? To what extent should they spend their lives helping the less fortunate? </p>
Sexuality dilemmas<p>Sexuality presents another set of thorny questions. If a designer baby industry someday allows people to optimize humans for attractiveness, designer babies could grow up to find themselves surrounded by ultra-attractive people. That may not sound like a big problem.</p><p>But consider that, if designer babies someday become the standard way to have children, there'd necessarily be a years-long gap in which only some people are having designer babies. Meanwhile, the rest of society would be having children the old-fashioned way. So, in terms of attractiveness, society could see increasingly apparent disparities in physical appearances between the two groups. "Normal people" could begin to seem increasingly ugly.</p><p>But ultra-attractive people who were born designer babies could face problems, too. One could be the loss of body image. </p><p>When designer babies grow up in the "Genetic Pressure" series, men look like all the other men, and women look like all the other women. This homogeneity of physical appearance occurs because parents of designer babies start following trends, all choosing similar traits for their children: tall, athletic build, olive skin, etc. </p><p>Sure, facial traits remain relatively unique, but everyone's more or less equally attractive. And this causes strange changes to sexual preferences.</p><p>"In a society of sexual equals, they start looking for other differentiators," he said, noting that violet-colored eyes become a rare trait that genetically engineered humans find especially attractive in the series.</p><p>But what about sexual relationships between genetically engineered humans and "normal" people? In the "Genetic Pressure" series, many "normal" people want to have kids with (or at least have sex with) genetically engineered humans. But a minority of engineered humans oppose breeding with "normal" people, and this leads to an ideology that considers engineered humans to be racially supreme. </p>
Regulating designer babies<p>On a policy level, there are many open questions about how governments might legislate a world with designer babies. But it's not totally new territory, considering the West's dark history of eugenics experiments.</p><p>In the 20th century, the U.S. conducted multiple eugenics programs, including immigration restrictions based on genetic inferiority and forced sterilizations. In 1927, for example, the Supreme Court ruled that forcibly sterilizing the mentally handicapped didn't violate the Constitution. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes wrote, "… three generations of imbeciles are enough." </p><p>After the Holocaust, eugenics programs became increasingly taboo and regulated in the U.S. (though some states continued forced sterilizations <a href="https://www.uvm.edu/~lkaelber/eugenics/" target="_blank">into the 1970s</a>). In recent years, some policymakers and scientists have expressed concerns about how gene-editing technologies could reanimate the eugenics nightmares of the 20th century. </p><p>Currently, the U.S. doesn't explicitly ban human germline genetic editing on the federal level, but a combination of laws effectively render it <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">illegal to implant a genetically modified embryo</a>. Part of the reason is that scientists still aren't sure of the unintended consequences of new gene-editing technologies. </p><p>But there are also concerns that these technologies could usher in a new era of eugenics. After all, the function of a designer baby industry, like the one in the "Genetic Pressure" series, wouldn't necessarily be limited to eliminating genetic diseases; it could also work to increase the occurrence of "desirable" traits. </p><p>If the industry did that, it'd effectively signal that the <em>opposites of those traits are undesirable. </em>As the International Bioethics Committee <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">wrote</a>, this would "jeopardize the inherent and therefore equal dignity of all human beings and renew eugenics, disguised as the fulfillment of the wish for a better, improved life."</p><p><em>"Genetic Pressure Volume I: Baby Steps"</em><em> by Eugene Clark is <a href="http://bigth.ink/38VhJn3" target="_blank">available now.</a></em></p>
Meteorologists propose a stunning new explanation for the mysterious events in the Bermuda Triangle.
One of life's great mysteries, the Bermuda Triangle might have finally found an explanation. This strange region, that lies in the North Atlantic Ocean between Bermuda, Miami and San Juan, Puerto Rico, has been the presumed cause of dozens and dozens of mind-boggling disappearances of ships and planes.
A unique exoplanet without clouds or haze was found by astrophysicists from Harvard and Smithsonian.
- Astronomers from Harvard and Smithsonian find a very rare "hot Jupiter" exoplanet without clouds or haze.
- Such planets were formed differently from others and offer unique research opportunities.
- Only one other such exoplanet was found previously.
Munazza Alam – a graduate student at the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian.
Credit: Jackie Faherty
Jupiter's Colorful Cloud Bands Studied by Spacecraft<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8a72dfe5b407b584cf867852c36211dc"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/GzUzCesfVuw?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Scientists discover burrows of giant predator worms that lived on the seafloor 20 million years ago.
- Scientists in Taiwan find the lair of giant predator worms that inhabited the seafloor 20 million years ago.
- The worm is possibly related to the modern bobbit worm (Eunice aphroditois).
- The creatures can reach several meters in length and famously ambush their pray.
A three-dimensional model of the feeding behavior of Bobbit worms and the proposed formation of Pennichnus formosae.
Credit: Scientific Reports
Beware the Bobbit Worm!<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1f9918e77851242c91382369581d3aac"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/_As1pHhyDHY?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The idea behind the law was simple: make it more difficult for online sex traffickers to find victims.