Open letter response to Malcolm Roberts

Here is what this Australian sentator said on his maiden induction speech:

“It is basic. The sun warms the Earth’s surface. The surface, by contact, warms the moving, circulating atmosphere. That means the atmosphere cools the surface. How then can the atmosphere warm it? It cannot. That is why their computer models are wrong.” [source]

Excuse me? Are you fucking kidding me? You’ve got to be fucking kidding me. You’re basically using your own anecdotal observations because “you think it’s all a global conspiracy”.

See, this is a big worry. When politicians have such power and are that blatantly stupid, basically we are all doomed. That’s why scientists are getting pissed off.

Maybe scientists need to dumb it down so that you can understand?

Now, I could link to research papers, but if you don’t even understand basic science, what’s the point? So I’ll link to other places on the web to make it simpler for you to understand.

Yes, space is freezing cold. Yes stars warm up planets. But that’s where your logic ends. And forget the actual data proving that the global mean temperature is rising. Forget it.

Just take one look at the planets Mercury and Venus. Venus has an atmosphere of 96% carbon dioxide.

Mercury doesn’t have an atmosphere. In fact it has the least amount of atmosphere of all the planets in the solar system.

Mercury is closer to the sun, right, (are you still with me Malcolm?), and yet, strangely enough, it’s surface temperature is LOWER than that of Venus.


Numbers? Okay. Sure.

The surface temperature of Mercury ranges from -173°C at the poles (at night) to 427°C (daytime, equator).

In fact, at a searing 750 K (477 °C), the surface of Venus is the hottest in the solar system. Venus is closer to the Sun by 108 million km, (about 30% closer than the Earth), but it is mainly due to the planet’s thick atmosphere. Unlike Earth’s, which is composed primarily of nitrogen, oxygen and ozone, Venus’ atmosphere is an incredibly dense cloud of carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide gas.

The combination of these gases in high concentrations causes a catastrophic greenhouse effect that traps incident sunlight and prevents it from radiating into space. This results in an estimated surface temperature boost of 475 K (201.85 °C), leaving the surface a molten, charred mess that nothing (that we know of) can live on. Atmospheric pressure also plays a role, being 91 times that of what it is here on Earth; and clouds of toxic vapor constantly rain sulfuric acid on the surface.

In addition, the surface temperature on Venus does not vary like it does here on Earth. On our planet, temperatures vary wildly due to the time of year and even more so based on the location on our planet. The hottest temperature ever recorded on Earth was 70.7°C in the Lut Desert of Iran in 2005. On the other end of the spectrum, the coldest temperature ever recorded on Earth was in Vostok, Antarctica at -89.2 C.

But on Venus, the surface temperature is 460 degrees Celsius, day or night, at the poles or at the equator. Beyond its thick atmosphere, Venus’ axial tilt (aka. obliquity) plays a role in this temperature consistency. Earth’s axis is tilted 23.4 ° in relation to the Sun, whereas Venus’ is only tilted by 3 °.

The only respite from the heat on Venus is to be found around 50 km into the atmosphere. It is at that point that temperatures and atmospheric pressure are equal to that of Earth’s. [source]



Some perspective

Imagine if 7 billlion people had always lived on a dust-bowl Mars-like planet with no life outside of the base stations. Imagine if that’s the way it had always been. Imagine if that was humanities’ entire existence, on the red planet…

With that in mind, I’d like to do a little thought experiment. I want you to imagine what would happen if we were to start exploring the solar system, from our home Mars.

The closest other world, Earth, looks very promising. We’ve spent a hundred trillion dollars on this latest space mission, okay. It’s been 30 years in the planning stage alone…

So we go to this new place called ‘Earth’.

And we don’t find another dust-bowl freeze-your-arse-off planet with no oceans, a toxic atmosphere* and a severe lack of oxygen. We don’t find it to be uninhabited. We don’t find the gravity extremely off-putting. We don’t find a desolate, barren wasteland devoid of all life like the home planet. No.

Instead, what we encounter is another world no unlike this one, the one we already know as ‘Earth’, exactly the way it is now, but without all the humans. Without any civilisation.

Imagine if we found 60 amur leopards, 400 Sumatran tigers, 880 mountain gorillas, 1826 giant pandas, 4080 snow leopards, 4848 black rhinos and 10000 blue whales!

Impenetrable jungles! Countless species of insects! Fish! Crustaceans! Molluscs! Birds! Frogs!

“Frogs? What an unusual name. What are they? Oh they’re slimy but harmless critters –amphibians– that thrive both on the land and in the water and use jumping as a form of locomotion.”

[Read more…]

In the future we will engineer termites to build skyskrapers.

Yes. In the future, I can confidently predict that we will engineer termites to build skyskrapers.

Because in the future, we will start to realise the power of “bottom up” systems of engineering. Currently, we do everything from a “top down” perspective. What does that mean? We start with a mine, dig that up, we then crush and grind the ore down, melt it, form it into large slabs of metal which then get progressively smaller as they are processed. Yes, we even obtain the metallic powders that are used in 3D printing this exact same way. This is a most inefficient process.

Nature does it the other way around. It uses local materials obtained from trace chemical elements and is then able to organise, redirect and assemble those individual atoms and molecules to build its own structures, in situ. It does this without any “larger scale” instructions or guidance. And it is able to replicate itself on top of that. So the more I think about it, the more evolution amazes me.

I read this fascinating book in 2014 called “Emergence”. And one of the traits of nature is that it has “emergent” properties. What does that mean? It means that complex systems or behaviours can arise from relatively few simple rules. In other words, it is “self assembling”. Organisms can do their own thing seemingly without any intererence from the outside world. Wouldn’t we like to be able to do that? Here is where we are currently at:

The other marvel of nature is that everything is an “ambient temperature process”. Think about that for a moment. Practically every synthetic material we produce today requires some form of heat to manufacture. Metals must be smelted. Ceramics must be fired. And plastics must be obtained by “thermal cracking” of crude oil. Sure there are a few exceptions, such as sol-gel technology.

Imagine for a moment a “homogenous” material with different chemical, thermal, electrical and physical properties along its length. In other words, a single material that was flexible at one end and rigid at the other, without being formed from two separate raw materials. If we could get that to happen, spontaneously, then I think we would be quite a clever species. Because an invention like that would literally change the world.

Imagine tyres that increased their coefficient of friction and gripped more in the wet. Or indeed, slicks that morph into treaded tyres in the presence of water. You see, from what I have read, I think all of that is ‘theoretically possible’, but the more biodiversity we lose, the less chance there is that it will happen. That is why protecting biodiversity is so important, so we can understand how genes work to create any morphology and material properties we desire.

Is a ‘circular’ electronics industry possible?

I think one of the biggest problems that humanity will face in the not–too–distant future is a lack of synthetic biodegradeable semiconductors.

Okay, so I’ve put that thought out there into cyberspace and now I suppose I should explain it. Why do I think this is going to be such a problem?

As we are all too much aware, human civilisation is fast becoming dependent on technology. You might say that the 1st world is already highly dependent on technology. And a big part of current technology includes electronics devices. Electronics drive everything from robots to computers. Without electronics, we go back to the analogue era. I’m sure that I don’t even need to explain that any further, do I? Without electronics, we’re screwed.

So earlier this year, I asked two questions on Quora:

  1. What are the main semiconductor compounds used today?
  2. What elements are used in the manufacturing of circuit boards and electronic components for consumer electronic devices?

It doesn’t make any sense to totally rely on something that we can only make in limited quantities, yet we are doing just that. Because the trouble is this: the way in which we produce electronic devices today is completely unsustainable. We mine the Earth for new minerals and the only element we recover from all of our electronic waste is gold (well, okay, we do sometimes also recycle lead and copper). But what about recycling all of the other elements that are used in electronic components?

Are we recycling tantalum? No. Are we recycling indium? No. Are we recycling gallium? No. Are we recycling arsenic? No. Are we recycling cadmium? No. Are we recycling selenium? No. Are we recycling tellurium? No. Are we recycling germanium? No. Are we recycling samarium? No. Are we recycling neodymium? No. Are we recycling niobium? No. Are we recycling antimony? No.

[Read more…]

Who am I going to vote for in Australia?

A friendly reminder to both labor and liberal parties: without the environment, there IS no economy.

The world is changing and I think politics needs to change along with it. I think both labour and liberal are great at doing one thing: stalling.Maintaining the status quo. That’s it.

“The big risk in this election is that we would end up with an unstable, chaotic, Labor-Greens minority Government as we’ve seen before.”

Actually, I think the really big risk is that we’ll end up with a chaotic planet. I’m sure most people don’t care, but I’ll be voting for the GREENS. Because the price of labor/liberal winning –forever– is simply too great now.

The planet does not care whether or not liberal or labor is in power. Science does not care about politicians and the way they play their games. Atoms do not care. Reactions and interactions and natural forces simply do not care. And what I mean by that is that the consequences of not changing fast enough will happen —whether labor is in power or liberal.

This world is fast getting beyond the point where the green parties could make a difference… even if they won many elections all over the place.

I hate to be all doom & gloom and everthing, but my analogy is that I suppose it doesn’t really matter who is or was driving the car when the accident happens.

I think we need to hand over the control to more people that actually know what they are doing and can think longer-term. I think prevention is better than cure. That’s why I’m voting for Greens.