A couple of videos that caught my eyes. First is one on an upside of technological progress -- cars today are enormously safer in a crash than cars 50 years ago. This video shows the collision, and the driver crash test dummies, between a 1959 and 2009 car. The 2009 car undoubtedly weighed far less than the 1959. Superior engineering is the key -- a point that Consumer Reports routinely winds up making in their vehicle reviews.
Crash test video.
Digressing a second: It occurs to me that Consumer Reports is probably the popularly available magazine that does the most consistent job of displaying a scientific approach. The typical review article shows what they were testing, how they tested it, adds information about how significant the test differences are like, and so on.
The second video is one on a topic that weather and climate folks are probably more than a little tired of. Namely, the accusation that we didn't realize that there's such a thing as an urban heat island effect. I've never taken up the search seriously, but a few years ago, an urban heat island reference was in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society's '50 years ago' column. So, well-known (the referenced article was clearly not the discovery of the effect, just another illustration) by the early 1950s.
The video is from Peter Sinclair's Climate Crock of the week. In it, he carries out a good practice for science -- suppose an argument is correct, then look for observations that will confirm or reject that argument. The argument is that the urban heat island is producing the observed warming trend. Ok, says Peter, if that's the case, we should see that the trend is the strongest (most positive) in urban areas. Now, it isn't hard to figure out where the urban areas are. Nor is it hard to map out what the trends are for different areas of the globe. Compare the two.
In truth, as he illustrates, the warmings are highest in areas that have very few people -- Siberia, the Arctic, and Hudson Bay being leading zones. His figure is for the 2008 anomalies -- after the 'decade of cooling' (what cooling?), rather than the 30 year trends ending that date. If anything, the trend map is worse for the urban heat island fans, as it shows large trends across northern Canada as well.
Nothing obvious connecting the two videos. But the thing is, I have a lot of confidence in engineers to solve engineering problems. One such problem is car safety. Others would be things like more efficient cars, new and better ways of producing energy, and so on. In the 1950s and 60s, it was an article of faith in the car industry that customers did not care about safety. And that if they were forced to engineer safety, they'd go out of business (it would be too expensive). Instead, we have vastly safer cars today, and tens of thousands of people are still alive because of it. The engineers were more than up to the challenge. On the other hand, if the engineers aren't allowed to work on a solution, they won't find it.
I'm not taking up geoengineering in this; that's a topic for a lengthier post of its own. I'm just minded that there are quite a few climate-related technology issues that exist regarding efficiency of old technologies, or new technologies to develop, that we're being told would drive companies out of business, cost jobs, and other alarmist statements -- as there were in the 50s and 60s regarding automobile safety. Yet the engineers found ways of improving safety even as we drove more, drove lighter cars, and so on. And the companies didn't go out of business, indeed make quite a lot of money.
When an honest man discovers he is mistaken,…
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