Uncertainty can accelerate climate action

The paradox of uncertainty

The primacy of doubt: From quantum physics to climate change, how the science of uncertainty can help us understand our chaotic world
by Tim Palmer
Basic Books, 2022 ($ 30)

Certainty is the currency of politics and social media, where it is now the norm to reduce complex issues to small nuggets. In his new book, The primacy of doubt, climate physicist Tim Palmer argues that the science of uncertainty is sadly underestimated by the public even though it is central to almost every field of research. Embracing uncertainty and harnessing “the science of chaos,” he says, could help us unlock new understandings of the world, from climate change to emerging diseases to the next economic crash.

The first section is an intense discussion of the main questions and concepts in physics that illustrates how, among other things, systems can go from a stable state to a wildly chaotic one with few caveats, but the book picks up speed as Palmer gets specific with, everyday examples. The sharper chapter is a crash course in predicting the weather, a process Palmer helped modernize. Explore the history of forecasting, starting with the first public storm warning in 1861 using data from telegraph stations across the UK and leading us to ENIAC, the first programmable electronic computer.

Such efforts have paved the way for the probabilistic forecasts used today, which predict the possibility of rain at a given hour and provide the “cone of uncertainty” for hurricane trails. This background puts our weather apps in a new light: if we needed certainty to make choices, these tools wouldn’t exist.

Palmer is also a major contributor to improving climate models and is among the researchers who won the 2007 Nobel Prize for writing the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports. His chapter on the subject, however, is a mixed bag. It excels at explaining areas of evolving research where reducing uncertainty is key to understanding how things could make things worse, such as whether clouds will accelerate or slow warming. Palmer proposes some interesting avenues for making the most of, and in some cases resolving, uncertainty, most notably by calling for a “CERN for climate change” that would focus on modeling how carbon dioxide rises and natural climate changes. they will interact regionally in the foreseeable future two decades (rather than globally over the course of the century). This could help predict, for example, long-term drought in the Sahel region of Africa, giving governments and humanitarian agencies a head start in averting famine.

But Palmer struggles to frame both the uncertainties of climate change and the severity of its effects. He begins the chapter (subtitled “Catastrophe or Just Lukewarm?”) By defaulting a bilateral approach: the “maximalists” are right to suggest that we are in an emergency and that we should decarbonise as quickly and as quickly as possible, or the ” minimalists “are right in suggesting that uncertainty is a reason to delay action? The truth, he writes, is somewhere in between. Palmer notes that just doubling atmospheric carbon dioxide would heat the planet by one degree Celsius. (This is without taking into account the feedback loops it might cause, such as loss of ice cover or more water vapor to the atmosphere, which would further increase the heat.) This is, he says, “maybe it’s not something to do a big deal about. issue of.”

But look at a planet that is already a degree warmer today than it was in pre-industrial times, and the view is rather alarming. This incremental shift has fueled unprecedented heat waves across continents, inflamed the American West with fierce intensity, and led to deadly floods in areas that have never experienced such extreme consecutive rainfall. Furthermore, the most recent IPCC report, to which Palmer urges his readers to refer, paints an increasingly dire picture that would appear to support a more maximalist view. Camille Parmesan, an ecologist at the University of Texas at Austin and one of the lead authors of that report, said in February 2022 that “we are seeing that negative impacts are far more widespread and far more negative than predicted in previous reports.”The primacy of doubt it represents a valid argument for reducing uncertainty or operating with confidence in the “reliability” of the remaining uncertainty. But it can obscure the much bigger picture of the climate action. It is impossible not to reflect on how neglecting these nuances can make readers sit in search of reasons to wipe out the urgency of new climate policies.

American scientist the book by columnist Naomi Oreskes and science historian Erik M. Conway Merchants of doubt, along with exhaustive journalistic and academic investigations, it has shown how the fossil fuel industry, conservative politicians and a small group of scientists have played on uncertainty with the intent of delaying meaningful carbon regulation in the United States Palmer acknowledges with a cheerful neutrality, saying “we should be wary of both the inflation of uncertainty and attempts to make predictions more certain than can be justified. In doing so, it inadvertently sweeps away the reality that uncertainty is too often used against society. rather than to its advantage. —Brian Khan

Brian Kahn is an award-winning writer and editor. He is the climate editor of the Protocol technology site.

Radical banality

By Wendy Pini. Copyright © 1975 by Warp Graphics, Inc. Reprinted with permission from Warp Graphics, Inc. From THE FUTURE IS FEMALE! vol. 2. Copyright © 2023 by Library of America. Used with permission of the publisher.

The future is feminine! vol. 2: The 1970s: More Classic Sci-Fi Stories of Women
by Lisa Yaszek
Library of America, 2022 ($ 27.95)

The first volume of the Library of America’s “The Future Is Female” series collected science fiction stories written by women from the era of pulp fiction to the year of the moon landing. It closed with a 1969 knockout story by Ursula K. Le Guin who dared to suggest that our future in the space age could be an alienating obstacle. Le Guin’s “Nine Lives” delves into the loneliness of astronauts and clones alike, suggesting that advanced technology and interplanetary adventure could make real human connection even more rare. She imagined not only what the future might be like, but how we might feel in it.

That shot doubles up in volume two, also edited by Lisa Yaszek, which sees women writing science fiction in the 1970s throwing themselves into topics of sex, power, mundane routines of domestic life, and whether civilizations can ever achieve true equality. While “Nine Lives” was still male-centric and offered pulp thrills, the overtly feminist stories here (including a Le Guin classic about the elderly leader of an anarchist revolution looking back as her movement bears fruit) focus about women whose choices are limited by societies that are distinctly similar, or decidedly dissimilar, to ours.

The results are still gasping, 50 years later. Set in a 2021 where humanity is facing a serious problem of overpopulation, Doris Piserchia’s “Pale Hands” is narrated by the cleaner of the government masturbation stalls. Nebula Award winner Joanna Russ’s “When It Changed” finds a planet where women have thrived without men for 30 generations, suddenly reintroduced to what a newly arrived male astronaut calls “sexual equality.” (“Seals are harem animals,” she says, “and so are men.”) In the opening story, “Bitching It,” Sonya Dorman imagines the bored warmth of housewives in a world where women are they act like alpha dogs in heat and men must take it passively.

Other works in this bold collection delve into the warmth of what we now know as influencer culture, as in the prescient “The Girl Who Was Plugged In”, by the alias of James Tiptree, Jr. Sia “View” by Joan D. Vinge from a Height ”and Cynthia Felice’s“ No One Said Forever ”detail everything a woman must give up in order to be free to embark on old school adventures. And by dramatizing a science fiction author’s effort to write a story that gets richer the more it draws on her own life, Eleanor Arnason’s “The Warlord of Saturn’s Moons” makes explicit these authors’ mission to reclaim the genre for a passionate personal expression. In their hands, the future is not just feminine, it is personal. –Alan Scherstuhl

A traveler’s guide to the stars
by Les Johnson.
Princeton University Press, 2022 ($ 27.95)

What will it take to explore a distant star within 100 years? To shed light on the importance (and ethics) of sending humans light-years from home, NASA scientist Les Johnson helps us digest astounding numbers – the distance between the stars, the energy needed to travel this far. – while outlining the opportunities and limitations of existing technologies. Whether we get there with solar sails, ion thrusters or nuclear bombs, the progress we make in the search for interstellar travel will likely change the way we live on Earth as well. After all, we would have no electricity or cell phones “if our predecessors hadn’t conducted science for the sake of science.” –Fionna MD Samuels

Nineteen ways of looking at consciousness
by Patrizio Casa.
St. Martin’s Press, 2022 ($ 26.99)

Fortunately, this book does not attempt to explain what consciousness is, how it arises or why. Neuroscientist Patrick House instead sketches a pattern of how we might look at who we are from the inside out through witty observations ripped from neuroscience, quantum mechanics, and beyond. Recurring examples, such as the curious case of a teenager’s laughter during brain surgery, provide an idea of ​​questions that could help us understand how our cells collectively evoke ourselves. As befits a phenomenon that still eludes a unifying theory, House’s collage forms an image of our minds that is far more nuanced and more puzzling than the sum of its parts. –Sasha Warren

Darwin’s love of life: A singular case of biophilia
by Kay Harel. Columbia University Press, 2022 ($ 26)

In these delicate but moving essays, writer Kay Harel happily diagnoses Charles Darwin with “a singular case of biophilia”, or deep love for life, which generates empathy, creativity and an intuitive sense of truth. Harel postulates biophilia as the root of Darwin’s genius and the influence behind it all, from his love of dogs to his fascination with the insect eater. Drosera He plants his rejection of the mind-body dualism and his sense that estimates of the age of the earth would one day align with the timeframe of evolution. Harel’s focus on the confluences of Darwin’s life rather than his conflicts offers a refreshing insight into his legacy. –Dana Dunham

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