Posts Tagged ‘human beings’
The news today that the crash in the French Alps of Germanwings Flight 9525 was almost certainly caused intentionally by co-pilot Andreas Lubitz was the talk of much of the world today. News media around the world, and investigators in Europe, are already dissecting the life of one apparently normal young man who not only decided to kill himself but to murder 149 other people. Why did he do this?
When I first heard of the plane’s odd course yesterday, its calm preprogrammed descent into a cold mountainside, I thought of William Langewische’s November 2001 article in The Atlantic examining the 1999 crash EgyptAir Flight 990. That plane, too, was intentionally crashed by its pilot, one Gameel al-Batouti. The consensus seems to be that al-Batouti killed hundreds of people because of personal problems, the consequences of reprimands from his employers at EgyptAir ranking highly. What will we find out about Lubitz?
This intentional crash, this mass murder, seems to have created a certain sense of unease. Philip Gourevitch’s essay in The New Yorker, “A Bewildering Crash”, caught the reality that, from the perspective of victims and non-victims alike, this seemed almost a random occurrence. These people died for no reason, and nothing could have been done to prevent this.
They could have been any of us, anywhere—whoever flies or rides a train or takes a bus or in any way entrusts her life to strangers, as we all must regularly and routinely to get through this world. That sense of investment in calamity—it could have been me—is true, of course, of accidents and targeted acts of terrorism as well. But to be told that a scene of mass death is the result of an accident or terrorism is to be given not only an explanation of the cause but also an idea of how to reckon with the consequence–through justice, or revenge, or measures meant to prevent a recurrence. After the massacre at Sandy Hook, we could at least dream of gun control. But the story of Lubitz, suddenly in control of a plane flying all those aboard to their deaths, offers us only a cosmic meaninglessness and bewilderment.
It would almost be more comforting if the Germanwings crash did turn out to be some sort of terrorist attack, after all, if this terrible action can trace its roots to some sort of dark conspiracy. It would almost be nice if, as seems quite possible, this wasn’t the action of a single man who had a single bad morning and decided, kilometres above the ground, to commit mass murder. Then, there would be a proportionality between the act and its origins. Things would match up. As things stand, as James Follows observed earlier today, there really is very little that can be done to prevent future occurrences of this sort.
But then, this sort of thing is common in all catastrophes of this kind. Look at September 11th conspiracy theories, particularly the ones alleging the active involvement of the American government. Yes, it would be a terrible thing if there was a conspiracy by powerful people in the United States to destroy two skyscrapers at the cost of thousands of lives in order to manipulate global politics, but at least the terrible outcomes of 9/11 would seem to have proportionately weighty origins. The reality of 9/11–the fact that a couple dozen men working on a shoestring budget directed by people on the other side of the planet could wreak such havoc, could change the world–demonstrates how fragile our civilization is.
If Germanwings 9525 means anything, it is as an illustration of the reality that modern globalized civilization relies on the good will of its members to avoid catastrophe. Knowing about this fragility is unsettling, I grant, but it’s rather better to know about this than to remain in ignorance. We need to be prepared.
Sitting in a pizzeria in the Annex this evening, as I ate my slice I read a complimentary copy of today’s Toronto Sun. My attention was caught by Lorne Gunter’s QMI Agency column arguing that global warming will be a thing of the past, that the sunspot cycle of our local star is heading towards a new Maunder Minimum that will lead to global cooling.
Forget global warming, it’s more likely we’re on the cusp of another Little Ice Age than of a warming Armageddon. The brutal winter that has hammered the U.S. Northeast, Atlantic Canada, Ontario and Quebec could become the norm in the Northern Hemisphere for the next 30 years if a growing number of solar physicists are right.
Our sun goes through very predictable 11-year cycles. The current one began in 2008 and is expected to produce among the fewest sunspots and most diminished solar radiation of any of the 24 cycles that have been carefully recorded by scientists going back nearly three centuries.
And Cycle 25, which will “peak” in 2022, is expected to be the weakest cycle since the 17th century, when the Earth last encountered such a feeble sun, our planet was plunged into the depths of what has become known as the Little Ice Age.
The sun-climate connection makes perfect sense; far more sense than the theory that a buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is trapping solar radiation close to the Earth’s surface and dangerously warming the planet and changing our climate.
This is especially true because even according to the most devoted global-warming believers, a buildup of CO2 is not enough to trigger dangerous warming. Some other “forcing” factor is needed to push worldwide temperatures higher. But so far, no one knows with certainty what that factor might be. And given that global temperatures have not risen appreciably in 17 years, no forcing seems to be occurring.
This actually is not a bad argument. The middle of the Little Ice Age, a time when the Thames River froze solid to the benefit of skaters, did in fact coincide with the Maunder Minimum. Brian Koberlein’s October 2014 phys.org article “Is the sun at Maunder minimum?” does agree that somewhat decreased luminosity will lead to some global cooling, specifically to colder winters in the Northern Hemisphere. How can it not? Assigning a very substantial amount of responsiblity for global climate change to the sun only makes sense. If it gives the world a respite, so much the better.
This is not the same thing as saying that the sun has sole responsibility for global climate. Heightened volcanic activity also led to the Little Ice Age, as did the Earth’s changing orbit around the Sun, as did changing patterns in ocean circulation. Critically for our purposes, the depopulation of the Americas after Columbus–the disappearance of carbon dioxide-producing populations and their industries across the Western Hemisphere and the rewilding of lands once home to tens of millions–also played a role. Human activity may not play a dominant role, but is there any reason to think it would play no role when it clearly can? Increased carbon dioxide is increased carbon dioxide regardless of the source.
(It’s worth noting that Wei-Hock Soon, a climate scientist who has assigned most responsibility for global climate change to solar output and little to human activity, has just this weekend been revealed to have accepted more than a million dollars from fossil-fuel companies without revealing it in his papers.)
In any case, even if a new Maunder Minimum did happily counterbalance the effects of human industry and more–ignoring, for the moment, effects like the acidification of the oceans–what would happen when the Maunder Minimum ended? Wouldn’t an acceleration of global warming be potentially catastrophic? A new Maunder Minimum could give us precious extra time, decades within which we could try to geoengineer away as much of our carbon dioxide as possible. Assuming this temporary phenomenon would exempt us indefinitely from our issues would be foolish.