"It doesn't matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn't matter how smart you are. If it doesn't agree with experiment, it's wrong." Richard P. Feynman

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Somewhere a village has lost its idiot!

Treehugger has plumbed new depths with its latest offering linking a minute change in temperature to a shifting of tectonic plates following the disaster in Japan. In the process of writing this I realised that the headline was incorrect as there seems to be quite a bunch of villages missing one of their own.
Treehugger's caption reads  " Yes,Climate Change May Cause More Tsunamis, No That's Not Alarmism"
I know headlines like that might just make most folks roll their eyes at this point -- I mean, what doesn't climate change cause these days, am I right?
At this stage with eyes rolling I am in complete agreement with him .
 And I realize that people are skeptical of news-cycle tie-ins, like this very story appears to be. But just because it's sort of depressing to keep tabs on all of the myriad impacts of ol' climate change occurring the world over, doesn't mean we should be glossing over facts like this: Geologists believe that global warming may already be causing more earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanic eruptions. After all, screwing with the world's ornery climate system to the extent which we have is bound to have far-reaching effects -- effects like huge amounts of melting ice causing the earth's crust to "bounce" up, potentially triggering earthquakes.
It seems that the real sensationalists are those that disagree with this claptrap.
It's interesting stuff, and a little frightening. But it's not sensationalism. What does, ironically, veer more towards sensationalism, are the attempts by opponents of climate action to lambast such discussions as opportunistic, to try to shut down the dialogue. For instance, the right-wing blog the Daily Caller has a very poorly reported article that attempts to poke fun of Twitter users who've tweeted links between climate and earthquakes. "Twitter blames earthquakes on global warming," the headline mocks. The author then gathers some tweets that make the whole idea sound stupid, and contacts an "expert" who confirms her suspicions:

"Global warming alarmists will exploit any natural disaster to promote their anti-fossil fuel agenda," Tom Borelli of the Free Enterprise Project told The Daily Caller, adding that the climate change reaction is a result of the "global warming spin machine. First it's global warming, then it's climate change, now it's probably tectonic instability - no doubt all caused by man," he said."
Case closed -- Lefty global warming alarmists are nincompoops!
Now I am nodding again especially about the nincompoops!
Even most of the Treehugger readers are bagging the article and one comment sums it up:

This is nonsense. I'm a geologist and I can assure you that firstly there are no huge masses of ice that are now melting over continental crust. Secondly, the "bounce" you mention takes thousands of years and is of course an imperceptible move. We're still moving a little from the last ice age melt of about 12,000 years ago.
Earthquakes cause tsunamis. The vast majority of quakes are caused by crustal movements connected to plate tectonics.
Some people will do anything it seems to save the planet - except take a science course.

It is interesting to note that the "good" article from Grist on which the article is based has already changed it's headline with an apology but then later in the article we find this:

Melting ice masses change the pressures on the underlying earth, which can lead to earthquakes and tsunamis, but that's just the beginning. Rising seas also change the balance of mass across earth's surface, putting new strain on old earthquake faults, and may have been partly to blame for the devastating 2004 tsunami that struck Southeast Asia, according to experts from the China Meteorological Administration. [This claim is from a secondary source -- it was an error to include it.]
Even a simple change in the weather can dramatically affect the earth beneath our feet:
David Pyle of Oxford University said small changes in the mass of the earth's surface seems to affect volcanic activity in general, not just in places where ice receded after a cold spell. Weather patterns also seem to affect volcanic activity - not just the other way round, he told the conference.
Scientists have known for some time that climate change affects not just the atmosphere and the oceans but also the Earth's crust. These effects are not widely understood by the public.
"In the political community people are almost completely unaware of any geological aspects to climate change," said McGuire.
This means a world in which we are warming the earth by pumping greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere at a pace that is unprecedented in Earth's history is also a world in which the consequences of climate change could come hard and fast, including tsunamis and earthquakes. The pace of the response of earth's geosphere to the rapid climate change we are currently experiencing is up for debate. It seems logical that rapid climate change would lead to rapid geological response, as in past eras of climate change as revealed in the fossil record.
Crossing out errors in an article isn't good journalism - removing them completely is!

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