Thursday, December 3, 2009
Monday, November 23, 2009
For over two months, Dan Opalacz (2010) and I (Foster Huntington 2010) have been working on a project to build small autonomous planes for aerial mapping and imaging at Colby. On Sunday we had our first successful flight of out airframe, a Multiplex Easystar, at sunset.
Dan and I will keep you updated with pictures and videos from our project.
Thursday, November 19, 2009
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Historical Perspectives on “Fixing the Sky”
Prepared Oral Remarks
Dr. James Fleming
Professor and Director of Science, Technology and Society
Committee on Science and Technology
U.S. House of Representatives
November 5, 2009
Thank you Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Hall, and members of the Committee on Science and Technology for the opportunity to discuss the history of geoengineering and its governance. “In facing unprecedented challenges, it is good to seek historical precedents.” History matters –— and informed policy decisions will require interdisciplinary, international, and intergenerational perspectives.
I was once asked when humans first became concerned about climate change — I immediately responded, “In the Pleistocene.” Modern humans emerged during the ice ages, and all of recorded history lies within the latest interglacial era, which began about 12,000 years ago. With huge temperature swings of up to 27o F, I am sure early humans had important tribal councils to discuss changes in the environment and how they might adapt to climate change. Mitigation was not yet an option.
European explorers and early American settlers were surprised that the New World was so much colder than areas of the same latitude in Europe; for example, Washington, DC and Lisbon, Portugal. Colonists worked to “improve” the climate by cutting the forest, tilling the soil, and draining the marshes. Benjamin Franklin thought this was possible. Thomas Jefferson thought it was actually happening. He called for an “index” of the American climate to document the changes being caused by human intervention.
The quest to control nature, including the sky, is deeply rooted in the history of Western science. Some climate engineers claim they are the “first generation” to propose the deliberate manipulation of the planetary environment, but history says otherwise. In the 1830s America’s first national meteorologist, James Espy, who worked for the US Army Surgeon General, advanced a large-scale engineering proposal to emulate “artificial volcanoes.” He proposed lighting huge fires each week (he preferred Sunday evenings) all along the Appalachian Mountains to control and enhance the nation’s rainfall. Espy argued that the heated updrafts would trigger rain and would not only eliminate droughts, but also temperature extremes, and would render the air healthy by clearing it of miasmas. A popular writer at the time, Eliza Leslie, immediately pointed out that manufactured weather control would generate more problems than it solved and would satisfy no one.
This image of a technocrat pulling the levers of weather control appeared on the cover of Collier’s Magazine in 1954. We were in a weather control race with the Soviet Union, and an airforce general had just announced in the press that “the nation that controls the weather will control the world.” The magazine article inside, by President Eisenhower’s weather advisor Harold Orville, provided detailed ways of conducting weather warfare.
A year later the noted Princeton mathematician John von Neumann asked, “Can We Survive Technology?” He wrote that climate control through managing solar radiation was not necessarily a rational undertaking. In his opinion, climate control could alter the entire globe, shatter the existing political order, merge each nation's affairs with those of every other, and lend itself to forms of warfare as yet unimagined. He compared climate control to the threat of nuclear war.
Here Archimedes is acting as a geoengineer and technology is his lever. But where is he standing? And where will the Earth roll if tipped? Geoengineering is not “cheap” since the side effects are unknown. Quoting Ron Prinn of MIT, “How do you engineer a system you don’t understand.” While some argue we can control the temperature of the globe, ironically, at a recent NASA meeting on the topic of “Managing Solar Radiation,” a meeting coordinator apologized for not being able to control the temperature of the room.
This is the track of Hurricane King, which the US air force seeded with dry ice as an experiment in 1947. Immediately after the intervention, the storm turned ashore and scored a direct hit on Savannah, Georgia. A planned press conference was immediately cancelled. Natural steering currents were later blamed for the change of direction, but Nobel Laureate Irving Langmuir, whose lab developed the technology, continued to claim that such storms could be controlled. He also claimed that one of his small seeding devices in New Mexico was influencing the weather across the entire country and proposed that a mega-experiment in the Pacific Ocean would generate climate-scale effects. Such scientific claims I call “pathological.”
Other diplomatic disasters included Project Storm Fury in the 1960s during which Fidel Castro accused the United States of diverting hurricanes to damage Cuba and operation POPEYE, the top secret military cloud seeding operation over Vietnam that was made public right here in Congress and led to the 1978 treaty by the United Nations outlawing the hostile use of environmental modification. Who among us would want to make such decisions?
My final historical example comes from Harry Wexler, Head of Reasearch at the US Weather Bureau, who warned in 1962 of the dangers of climate control. Using computer models and space technologies, Wexler described ways to warm or cool the planet by several degrees. He also warned, notably, that the stratospheric ozone layer was vulnerable to inadvertent or intentional damage, perhaps by hostile powers, from small amounts of a catalytic agent such as chlorine or bromine.
Wexler wrote in 1962, “[Climate control] can best be classified as “interesting hypothetical exercises” until the consequences of tampering with large-scale atmospheric events can be assessed in advance. Most such schemes would require colossal engineering feats and contain the inherent risk of irreparable harm to our planet or side effects that outweigh any possible short-term benefits.” This is still true today. In 2007 the distinguished Swedish meteorologist Bert Bolin, first chair of the IPCC, wrote the following: "The political implications [of geo-engineering] are largely impossible to assess and the idea is therefore unrealistic.... In general, geo-engineering is not a viable solution because in most cases it is an illusion to assume that all possible secondary changes can be foreseen."
At recent meetings those calling for the study of history, politics, and governance of geoengineering have been compelling, more so than geo-scientific speculation of a more technical nature. It is an emerging view in climate studies that historical and governance perspectives are sorely needed that transcend the limits of our individual memories.
History matters—it shapes our identity and behavior; it is the sum total of our integrated collective past; and its perspective is needed to inform sound public policy. History can provide scholars in other disciplines with detailed studies of past interventions by rainmakers and climate engineers as well as social analysis and analogues from a broad array of treaties and interventions. Only in such a coordinated fashion, in which researchers and policymakers participate openly, can the best options emerge that promote international cooperation, ensure adequate regulation, and avoid the inevitable adverse consequences of rushing forward to fix the sky.
Climate change is simple, and we all should seek ways of having less impact on the planet though a “middle course” of reducing emissions that is amenable to all, reasonable, practical, equitable, and effective. But the climate system is extraordinarily complex, perhaps the most complex system ever modeled or observed, with the most important consequences imaginable for life and ecosystems. Certainly clouds, oceans, ice sheets and even monsoons make it more complex. But the wildest of the wild cards in the system is the human dimension, so studying that is absolutely essential.
Throughout its long and checkered past, weather and climate control were motivated by the pressing issues of the day and were proposed or practiced using the most current technologies. But today’s science is tomorrow’s history of science. We simply cannot proceed without integrating the history of climate change and geoengineering with public policy. I suggest this should be Interdisciplinary in essence and International in emphasis, with Intergenerational training and participation. In these ways I believe history can effectively inform public policy.
Thank you for your attention.
Monday, November 2, 2009
Sunday, October 18, 2009
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
You are cordially invited to “Scone Fest II” — a fancy English Tea
to welcome Dr. Vladimir Jankovic to Colby
for a discussion of
Science Studies in the UK and the EU
Tea, Scones, Jam, Clotted Cream, Real China, and White Tablecloths
Thursday, Oct. 8, 2009, 4:00-5:00 pm
in the Whitney Room of Robert’s Union
Vladimir Jankovic is Wellcome Research Lecturer at the University of Manchester, UK and was a Goldfarb Visiting Fellow at Colby last spring. He has just completed a new book on the history of British environmental medicine in understanding the functioning of the body in relation to seasons, places, and artificial atmospheres. He is now working on an international project that examines the (lack of) resilience of cities to climate change. He is the author of the critically acclaimed book, Reading the Skies: A Cultural History of English Weather, 1650-1820 (University of Chicago Press, 2000) and the co-editor of Osiris, volume 26. As an STS professor, he teaches big picture courses such as Science and the Modern World; The Crisis of Nature: Issues in Environmental History; History of Climate Change; and Biosciences, Medicine, and Technology.
Monday, September 28, 2009
Thursday, September 17, 2009
Family Homecoming Special Event
"Can Climate Engineering Serve as a Complementary Step to Aggressive Mitigation?"
Friday, Sept. 25 at 4:00 pm in Olin 1 -- with cookies and cider
Michael MacCracken, The Climate Institute, Washington, DC
Changes in climate are already having important regional impacts, especially in polar regions, and further warming is inevitable as the climate comes into a new equilibrium with the present concentrations of greenhouse gases. With the rising risk of greater adverse consequences, and with the elimination all greenhouse gas emissions certain to take many decades or even centuries, there is growing discussion about whether deliberate intervention (often referred to as geoengineering) merits consideration. Preliminary analyses appear to indicate that, assuming the success of further research, regionally focused geoengineering could limit at least a few of the most severe potential impacts of global warming at a relatively low cost.
Michael MacCracken is a distinguished scientist with the Climate Institute in Washington, DC. He directed the U.S. Global Change Research Program (1993-2002), edited the IPCC AR4 (2007), served as president of the International Association of Meteorology and Atmospheric Sciences (2003-07) and was as a lead author for the UN’s report Confronting Climate Change: Avoiding the Unmanageable and Managing the Unavoidable (2007). He is prominent in science-policy circles discussing “What shall we do?” about climate change.
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
Jack London's two most famous works, The Call of the Wild and White Fang, follow their protagonists, two male sled dogs, through their exploits and experiences with rural and urban settings. Through the use of an approachable creature, a strong and faithful dog, London offers valuable insight into the growing resentment and fear of the modernization of America at the turn of the century. These popular books romanticized the appeal of the rustic life offered in Alaska and contrasted the increasing buzz of modern cities with the frontier of the Alaskan wilderness.
As the title denotes, The Call of the Wild, focuses on Buck's inherent desire to leave society and humans behind and return to the purity of nature.
Instead of tracing the journey of a domesticated dog from California to Alaska, London's follow up White Fang follows White Fangs through his domestication as a wolf dog in Alaska and eventual role as a family dog in California. White Fang's journey showcases a different side of an animals inherent desires for the freedom offered only by the wilderness.
Many students of Science, Technology and Society would turn their nose up at Jack London's "childrens books," however their lasting popularity indicates the warrants of their insight into people's desire to leave the confines of a modern city in search of the wild.
Here are some more links,
The Call of the Wild (Amazon),
White Fang (Amazon),
Jack London (Wikipedia).
Tuesday, May 5, 2009
Despite being written over 150 years ago, Walden remains the de facto manual of the rustication movement and the preferred reading of many rejeceters of technology such as Theodore Kacynski. However, Walden doesn't only influence extremists like Kacynski. In an STS class taught by visit professor Dale Potts on the history of Environmentalism, we discussed the seminal nature of Thoreau's works with regards to environmentalism as we know it today. Many scholars believe that the modern study of Science, Technology and Society was born in the turbulent decades surrounding the Vietnam War as intellectuals became more apparent of some of the negative aspects of technologies effect on society and started a large counter culture. Maybe Thoreau was a hippy born 120 years before his time?
Here are some more links,
Henry David Thoreau (Wiki),
Monday, May 4, 2009
"In an endlessly fascinating article published two years ago in The Wilson Quarterly, historian James R. Fleming describes – among many other things – how a "weather race with the Russians" was fought on the level of climatological R&D between the U.S. and U.S.S.R. during the Cold War.
For instance, "In the 1940s," Fleming writes, "General George C. Kenney, commander of the Strategic Air Command, declared, 'The nation which first learns to plot the paths of air masses accurately and learns to control the time and place of precipitation will dominate the globe.'"
Here is the links,
Monday, April 27, 2009
Thursday, April 23, 2009
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
Kacynski moved into this small cabin without water or electricity in Lincoln Montana as an attempt to connect with nature and promptly started reading political theory and writing commentaries on his dislike of technology and its negative effects on society. Urban sprawl and lack of self sufficient specifically agitated Kacynski and prompted him to dedicate his life to raising awareness and enacting change, with terrorism. He argues,
In his paper, Industrial Society and its Future. He also recognizes our societies reliance on this technology and the potential downfall of this addiction, "If the system breaks down the consequences will still be very painful. But the bigger the system grows the more disastrous the results of its breakdown will be, so if it is to break down it had best break down sooner rather than later."
Unfortunately, Kacynski's blind acts of terrorism eclipse his academic analysis of technology's effect on society, forever tarnishing his legacy. However, many key people in the technology community acknowledge the validity of some of his points. Bill Joy, the founder of Sun Micro Systems, once said that Kacynski, was "murderous, and, in my view, criminally insane", but, "as difficult as it is for me to acknowledge, I saw some merit in the (his) reasoning..."
Here are some more links,
Theodore Kacynski (Wikipedia),
Industrial Society and Its Future (Kacynski's paper/manifesto).
Monday, April 13, 2009
WONDERFUL conference. I sketched out my next five years of research and grant work in 20 pages of detailed notes on the way home, I was so stoked up.
From Marilyn Gaull, Boston Univ.
So many brilliant people and ideas. I am grateful to have been
included--and learned a great deal about climate and about human
behavior as well. You are so good at exchange, at listening,
nurturing, asking questions
I particularly admire the way you arranged everything in advance so
that we all felt like guests--and the students, as I have said often,
are just too amazing, intelligent, generous, civilized, articulate,
socially accomplished. Surely you hired them from central casting.
From Matthias Dörries, Univ. of Strasbourg
Thanks so much for a great conference and the hospitality. I enjoyed it thoroughly (intellectually, socially, and culinary). I have lots of new ideas now and went straight to the library today.
From Gabe Henderson
Michigan State Univ.
Thank you for the incredible opportunity to meet you all. I learned a lot and continue to be inspired as I am looking over my notes of the conference. I look forward to the next time!
From Brant Vogel, Columbia Univ.
That was the toughest week I've had since graduate exams, and I don't
regret a minute. Thanks for making it happen.
From Maria Bohn, Royal Institute of Technology, Sweden
many, many thanks for me being able to participate in the conference and for valuable days at Colby.
From Erik Conway, Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Thanks for organizing this, Jim. I came away with a lot of ideas to mull over, and some great memories. Next thing on climate I’m going to do is work out the intersection of technological enthusiasm, market fundamentalism, and global warming denial for SHOT. . .assuming my brain doesn’t explode first!
From Sverker Sörlin, Royal Institute of Technology, Sweden
thanks for hosting us so admirably! Colby was a thrill, I learned a lot. Since I am familiar with that IGY-volume in the making I now also know that some of the contributors are "family", others less so. In any case, the mix went very well.
Tuesday, April 7, 2009
On Wednesday night the conference began with a few introductions by some very intelligent and engaging people. They all spoke of the anxiety building around the world about climate change and what the world is or is not doing about it. There were several different aspects looked at and each brought a different piece of climate to the table. There was the economic outlook, the Australian outlook, the lack of imagination aspect, and many more. However, the part of the evening that really caught my attention was a comment made about “green business.” It was the statement that green business needs climate change more than climate change needs green business. This fascinated me and I decided that it was worth looking into further. The idea of environmentally friendly products is not a poor one. A world without non-biodegradable plastics, non-renewable energy, and fossil fuels is a great dream. It is something to work towards and aspire to become. Yet it seems that right now all the green businesses are doing is burying us in an economic crisis, and that is another story for another day. Despite all the negatives, there is still hope to work towards and that hope lies on the upper tiers of scientific research and not in the hands of companies that use it for their own personal gain. --Savannah Lodge-Scharff '11
While sitting in on one of the talks at the recent Climate conference at Colby College, I was surprised by the intellectual, collaborative, and light-hearted atmosphere. Without having any previous knowledge of what an academic conference on issues such as these normally entailed, this was an eye opening experience. It’s been very interesting watching these professors and scholars help mold and shift one another’s ideas into different areas that they would not have considered on their own. Colby STS Student
Here are some more links,
Day 3 (Picasa).
Friday, April 3, 2009
Wednesday, April 1, 2009
Until then, here are some links,
Humanities and Social Science Net descriptions of Conference,
Article from the Morning Sentinel,
Colby STS Department.