Earth will become like Mars: Discoverer of Global Warming

The great science reporter Andrew Revkin has been posting early newspaper stories about global warming (as we call it today). These stories go back a hundred years and more, interestingly.

From his Twitter account, here’s an interesting example, featuring a talk given at a Midwestern college by the Swedish scientist, Svante Arrhenius, who first calculated the consequences of adding vast amounts of a trace gas, carbon dioxide, to the atmosphere.

In an Illinois paper focusing on a talk Arrhenius gave in May of 1911, the story is headlined:


The subheadlines read:

Dr. Arrhenius of Sweden says Change is Gradually Taking Place


However, It May be 10,000 Years or More Before Carbon Di-Oxide Is Exhausted. 

The first lines of the story (sent by a reader and excerpted by Revkin) read:

“That this earth will become like the planet Mars, incapable of sustaining life, was the prediction made by Dr. Svante A. Arrhenius, Stockholm, Sweden, in a lecture at Augustana college on the subject, “The Development of the Atmosphere of Planets,” Saturday night. Dr. Arrhenius, who won the Nobel prize in chemistry in l903 because of his electrolytical dissociation theory, is regarded as the world’s foremost authority on cosmogony.”

Arrhenius may have been too optimistic by 9795 years, argues Matt Davies, a Pulitizer Prize winning editorial cartoonist for Newsday.




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Baked Alaska


From The New Yorker, of course, in today’s daily cartoon.

It’s worth noting that in earth’s long history yes, evidence of the existence of palm trees and other tropical plants living at the North Pole has been documented. A tropical Arctic existed for over a million years. Runaway global warming is not only possible, it’s already happened.

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Low fat, saturated fat, and sugar: the confusion continues

This month two reputable doctors, horrified by the rise in bariatric surgeries to reduce the harms associated with diabetes, published an op-ed on the front page of the Sunday Review of the NYTimes sharply suggesting that we’re doing it all wrong with it comes to medical measures recommended for diabetics.

Most doctors — and the diabetes associations — portray diabetes as an incurable disease, presaging a steady decline that may include kidney failure, amputations and blindness, as well as life-threatening heart attacks and stroke. Yet the literature on low-carbohydrate intervention for diabetes tells another story. For instance, a two-week study of 10 obese patients with Type 2 diabetes found that their glucose levels normalized and insulin sensitivity was improved by 75 percent after they went on a low-carb diet.

At our obesity clinics, we’ve seen hundreds of patients who, after cutting down on carbohydrates, lose weight and get off their medications. One patient in his 50s was a brick worker so impaired by diabetes that he had retired from his job. He came to see one of us last winter, 100 pounds overweight and panicking. He’d been taking insulin prescribed by a doctor who said he would need to take it for the rest of his life. Yet even with insurance coverage, his drugs cost hundreds of dollars a month, which he knew he couldn’t afford, any more than he could bariatric surgery.

Instead, we advised him to stop eating most of his meals out of boxes packed with processed flour and grains, replacing them with meat, eggs, nuts and even butter. Within five months, his blood-sugar levels had normalized, and he was back to working part-time. Today, he no longer needs to take insulin.

The paper ran a follow-up story by one of its best medical reporters, Gina Kolata, that cast some doubt on the simplicity of this recommendation.

But there are no large and rigorous studies showing that low-carbohydrate diets offer an advantage, and, in fact, there is not even a consensus on the definition of a low-carbohydrate diet — it can vary from doctor to doctor.

“There have been debates for literally the whole history of diabetes about which kind of diet is best,” said Dr. C. Ronald Kahn, chief academic officer at Joslin, and no relation to Dr. Richard Kahn. But, he said, “the answer isn’t so straightforward.”

The diet question arose again in the public discourse with the revelation last week that the sugar industry (the Sugar Foundation) backed a study way back in the 1960’s that shifted blame for heart disease from sugar — which is where the evidence was pointing at the time – to saturated fat.

The sugar industry paid scientists in the 1960s to play down the link between sugar and heart disease and promote saturated fat as the culprit instead, newly released historical documents show.

The internal sugar industry documents, recently discovered by a researcher at the University of California, San Francisco, and published Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine, suggest that five decades of research into the role of nutrition and heart disease, including many of today’s dietary recommendations, may have been largely shaped by the sugar industry.

“They were able to derail the discussion about sugar for decades,” said Stanton Glantz, a professor of medicine at U.C.S.F. and an author of the JAMA Internal Medicine paper.

It’s now the medical consensus that processed foods — which typically include unnecessarily added sugar — worsen heart disease. But it’s easy to overlook the fact that — then and now — researchers also suspect that saturated fat worsens heart disease. Saturated fat vs fat overall was an issue I wrote about a couple of years ago: although unsaturated fats, such as the olive oil that is at the heart of the Mediterranean diet, are considered healthy, the saturated fats found in butter, meat, and cheese do not get off so easily.

As NPR said, discussing the sugar study from the l960’s:

The review minimized the significance of research that suggested sugar could play a role in coronary heart disease. In some cases the scientists alleged investigator incompetence or flawed methodology.

“It is always appropriate to question the validity of individual studies,” [JAMA author] Kearns told Bloomberg via email. But, she says, “the authors applied a different standard” to different studies — looking very critically at research that implicated sugar, and ignoring problems with studies that found dangers in fat.

Exactly. As Dr. David Katz, editor of Childhood Obesity, and a professor at Yale, put it in a Forbes column:

Almost everyone who ultimately winds up considering bariatric surgery has tried every diet under the sun. When you recall that some of the most popular diets of recent years, from Atkins to South Beach, have been “low-carb,” the notion that this is the road too seldom taken can only be proffered by those lost in the woods.

A low-carb diet has certainly been among the attempts made by almost every patient I have ever referred for bariatric surgery, helped to find an alternative to it or treated after. Low-carb diets work in the short term like almost every other diet, and generally fail over time like every other diet for just about everybody.

Katz writes unusually sharply for a doctor:

As I noted recently, there is a booming cottage industry now, amplified at every turn by those directly interested in selling beef and perhaps butter, in peddling the notion that saturated fat has not only been exonerated of all ills (it has not), but is actually good for us now (but for biochemical nuance, this is plain baloney).

The problem with “the sugar did it!” is that we tend to process such revelations as an endless sequence of either/or choices: it was either sugar or saturated fat. That’s perilously silly.

Leaving aside the truly devastating environmental implications of encouraging moremeat intake by nearly 8 billion Homo sapiens at a time of climate change, desiccating aquifers, deforestation and biodiversity itself on the endangered list–there is the simple fact that dietary patterns reliably associated with good health outcomes across study methods, global populations and decades are high neither in sugar nor in saturated fat. They are, instead, high in wholesome foods, mostly plants–every time.

Or, as HL Mencken put it:

There is always a well-known solution for every problem — neat, plausible, and wrong. 

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Who is the biggest climate villain in the land?

Well, we know who is the biggest, um, talker:


From Tom Toles, of course, who follows up with a Denier’s Club of the usual misleaders. A deep post, adapted from his new book The Madhouse Effect with scientist Michael Mann, who originated the famous “hockey stick” graph that some folks very much do not want to see, and, having seen, want to forget.

The almost famous stick figure cartoonist XKCD came up with a wonderful and clever version of that graphic that’s just too darn big to post here, but is very much worth seeing.

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Tennessee Williams and the “basket of deplorables”

Hillary Clinton stepped in it over the weekend by throwing “about half” of Donald Trump’s supporters in a “basket of deplorables.” She said (to repeat her phrasing, a lumpy blend of awkward and wonky):

To just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right? The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic — you name it. And unfortunately there are people like that. And he has lifted them up.”

Sharp commentators like Jamelle Bouie at Slate have pointed out that there is a good data to back up the idea that half or more of Trump’s supporters exhibit racist attitudes in polling, such as believing against all evidence that Barack Obama is a Muslim, and was born perhaps in Kenya, or in any case outside the United States.

But Bouie bemoans the “theater criticism” of the remarks, saying that questions of how the remarks “might play with a broader audience” misses the point. He goes on to marshall an impressive array of numbers pointing to a truth that by now is not even controversial among the well-informed:

The Republican Party of the Obama years is an ethno-nationalist formation of white Americans. the ideological conservatism of its elites is less important than the raw resentment of its base.

Even if this is about as verifiable as data about “racial attitudes” will allow, it also misses the point of political speech. “How remarks play with a broad audience” — articulation, in a word — is the essence of political skill, and very much to the point of any candidate’s ability to bring together a coalition, especially a coalition of diverse peoples.

It’s also the essence of dramatic speech, and it so happens that one of this nation’s greatest playwrights — who had to suffer the ill effects of many of the attitudes deplored by Clinton — movingly dramatized the dangerousness of racism in a play that’s now running in a little theater in Hollywood.

Although the 1956 “Baby Doll” is famous for its sexual look, at the heart of its drama is a burning motivated by a Trumpian blend of xenophobia, racism, and resentment. The play includes a memorable passage on how this can happen. A bright young immigrant named Silvia (a dark-skinned Sicilian, as it happens) tries to explain to a poor but unbigoted white American why racist language is dangerous to the community and to the Republic:

“I believe in evil spirits,” the character of Silva begins. “…Spirits of violence — and cunning — malevolence — cruelty — treachery — destruction…”

“Oh, them’s just human characteristics,” responds Baby Doll practically.

“They’re evil spirits that haunt the human heart and take possession of it, and spread from one human heart to another the way that fire goes springing from leaf to leaf and branch to branch in a tree till a forest is all aflame with it,” says Silva. “The birds take flight — the wild things are suffocated…everything green and beautiful is destroyed…”

Baby Doll still isn’t having it.

“You have got fire on the brain,” she says, knowing that Silva suspects her husband Archie Lee of burning down Silva’s cotton gin the night before in a rage of resentment.

“I see it as more than it seems on the surface,” Silva replies. “I saw it last night as an explosion of those evil spirits that haunt the human heart — I fought it! I ran into it, beating it, stamping it, shouting the name of God at it! They dragged me out, suffocating. I was defeated! When I came to, lying on the ground — the fire had won the battle, and all around me was a ring of human figures. The fire lit their faces! And they were illuminated! Their eyes, their teeth were SHINING! SEE! LIKE THIS!

He twists his face into a grotesque grimace of pleasure. He thrusts his face at her. She springs back, frightened.

“Hey! Please!” says Baby Doll. “Don’t do that! Don’t scare me!”

“The faces I saw — were grinning!” he warns her, and holds her at the door, not letting her leave his presence. “Then I knew! I knew the fire was not accidental!”

“Not accidental?”

“No, it was not accidental! It was an expression, a manifestation of the human will to destroy.”

“I wouldn’t feel that way about it…” counters Baby Doll weakly.

“I do! I do!” replies the immigrant. “And so I say I believe in ghosts, in haunted places, places haunted by the people who occupy them with hearts overrun with hatred and destruction. I believe this place, this house is haunted…”

Williams, following Abraham Lincoln, more than once chose the metaphor of a house to stand in for the Republic. In the l950’s, arguably, that house was on fire with racism. Despite decades of assiduous effort on the part of many national leaders, including conservative Republicans such as George Bush, racism has not vanished but moved into the political arena. It’s now up those who would prevent those fires from destroying our union to find a way to keep these “evil spirits” from flaring up again.

Is it asking too much to expect Hillary to dispel evil spirits? To unhaunt this house of ours?

Perhaps — we can’t blame her when we see an elderly protester at a Trump rally smashed in the face for protesting. Josh Marshall at TPM describes what happened today:

Shirley is apparently a lifelong protester. She told local reporters she participated in Civil Rights and anti-war protests in the 1960s. And now Donald Trump is among her list of people she’s protested against. As she describes it, the early part of the protest was relatively good natured: Trumpers shouting, Trump, Trump, Trump; her crew would respond Dump, Dump, Dump.

Then this happened. I quote from Western NC’s WLOS 13

After the rally, Teeter experienced something she had never seen in all of her protests. Peace teetered over into something else.”I said you better learn to speak Russian, and I said the first two words are going to be, ha ha. He stopped in his tracks, and he turned around and just cold-cocked me,” Teter said.

She was punched in the face.

She says she fell on her oxygen tank and has sore ribs, a sore jaw, and cut her elbow. She later went to the hospital and is thankful she did not break any bones.

In case you’re keeping score at home, this is the same rally where a Trumper inside the arena assaulted three other protesters. Police have so far made five arrests during and after the rally, not including the man they plan to arrest for assaulting Teeter.

To expect Hillary to explain why racism is dangerous may be too much. But she might do better by taking a tip from Tennessee Williams. When talking about a difficult subject (racism) bait the audience with something else.


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The earthquake in Oklahoma in 2016 — and in Colorado in 1966

Oklahoma is now the most earthquake-prone state in the nation, considerably outdistancing California, according to the USGS. Yesterday morning a 5.6 in magnitude quake hit northcentral Oklahoma, with shaking felt as far away as Arizona and the Midwest. The record-settling quake has been linked to oilfield wastewater disposal, according to state regulators, who ordered a 500-square mile shutdown in disposal activity Saturday, according to the Washington Post.

Not so coincidentally, the discovery that disposal of liquid wastes underground causes seismicity was first discovered fifty years ago due to an earthquake measured at a very similar 5.3 in magnitude. How that happened was part of one of my favorite story leads a couple of years ago, so forgive me for reposting — it’s a really interesting story.

The U.S. Army had a problem, a big problem: 165,000 gallons of some of the deadliest war materials known to man, including napalm, chlorine gas, mustard gas and sarin, a nerve gas developed by the Nazis, tiny doses of which can kill in minutes. After stockpiling these weapons of destruction for decades in its Rocky Mountain Arsenal near Denver, the government decided the time had come to dispose of the hazardous wastes but didn’t know how.

The solution? In l961, authorities drilled a well 12,000 feet deep, far below any aquifer, and over the next five years pumped hundreds of thousands of gallons of toxic wastes into a cavity in the rock miles beneath the surface.

One problem: Not long after the pumping began, Denver and nearby suburbs began to experience swarms of earthquakes. Most of them were quite small, less than 3 in magnitude, but in a region that rarely experiences earthquakes, 1,300 earthquakes in four years raised questions. Then, in August 1967, a significant earthquake — magnitude 5.3 — shook the city of Denver and the nearby suburb of Commerce, with damages that totaled over $1 million.

The Army stopped pumping the toxic wastes into the injection well. Geologists discovered the liquids had been pumped into an existing fault deep in the “basement” rock. The fault had begun to lose strength and slip, even after the pumping stopped

For city officials, this was alarming, but geologists were intrigued to discover it was possible to trigger earthquakes along existing fault lines, and a team of scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey soon launched into an experiment in an oil field with known earthquake faults in Rangely, Colo. The goal? To learn what volume of fluid pressures were required to trigger earthquakes, and to see if seismic activity could be stimulated and then brought to a halt. The experiment worked, on a small scale, and encouraging results were reported in the journal Science in March of 1976.

“We may ultimately be able to control the timing and size of major earthquakes,” the team, led by C.B. Raleigh and J.H. Healy, speculated. They suggested drilling wells along the San Andreas Fault, and injecting water to release seismic pressures with little earthquakes. They hoped in this way to prevent the legendary “Big One,” an earthquake comparable to the massive and ruinous l906 San Francisco earthquake, which has a 3 percent to 30 percent chance of occurring in the next 30 years in California.

“They actually proposed this idea, to drill wells and pump in water and trigger small earthquakes along the San Andreas,” said William Bilodeau, who chairs the geology department at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks. “And they got fairly far along in the planning process and then people began to say, ‘Wait a minute — what happens if we set off a really big earthquake? What’s the [legal] liability?’ ”

The rest of the story is about Ventura County in the present day, which (fortunately!) turns out for geological reasons not to be particularly vulnerable to this kind of oilfield waste disposals.

The county still has plenty of earthquake issues of its own, not to mention oilfield waste disposal problems.

Taylor Swift’s immortal line comes to mind re: Oklahoma —

Hey now we got problems
and I don’t think we can solve them

But Oklahoma, after years of denying any possible connection between oilfield waste disposal and seismicity, this weekend shut down disposal wells in a vast area — 725 square miles, according to the Tulsa World.

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the Lyell mountains and glacier chain

The high ridge on the upper right overlooking a north face still heavy with ice and snow is Mt Lyell, at 13.100 the highest peak in Yosemite National Park. In that whiteness a hundred and fifty years ago John Muir discovered the first “living glacier” in California.


From a wonderful trip led by Pete Devine for the Yosemite Conservancy. Highly recommended.

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Trump + Mussolini: Trussolini?

Countless commentators, from a Congressman in Utah, to the President of Mexico, editors and Twitter wizards like Marlow Stern to famous comedians like Bill Mahrer to the most admired of our publications have pointed to the frighteningly fascistic tendencies of Donald Trump and specifically his alarming similarity to Benito Mussolini, in looks and in language.

But the intentionality, Trump’s part in this similarity, did not become fully evident to me until his horrific acceptance speech, in which he referred obliquely to the most famous promise of Mussolini, that he would make the trains run on time.

Trump said — although really it was more of a battle cry, in his customary language, broad to the point of meaninglessness.

We will fix TSA at the airport, which is a disaster.

To me this is a “tell” — another indication that he’s consciously playing the Fascist card.

Am I wrong? Over-reacting? Making stuff up?

You may call me alarmist, but I’m not the only one…

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PCT section L: Paradise Lake to Sierra City

Think this might be the shortest and possibly the easiest section on the entire 2663-mile PCT. That’s based on a personal knowledge of two-thirds of the trail in California. That’s all I know, admittedly, with some reading and searching, for instance such as Jeffrey Schaffer’s venerable and helpful set of guides on Wilderness Press.

Still. Turns out the section is but 38 miles long — something a experienced thruhiker can possibly do on a very good day or a day and a half, with fitness and luck. So says Schaffer and I agree (Birdman above was on that kind of schedule, having spent the night at the Sierra Club’s Peter Grubb hut, just five miles from Donner Pass).

Plus, it finishes in Sierra City, an altitude of about 5400 feet, well below the trail at the starting point of the section, at Donner Pass, which is about 7200. And the trail flows up from there to a high ridge of about 8,000 feet, following the crest as much as best as possible across the fields of so-called mules ears flowering out in the bright sunshine. Intoxicating with their beauty.



Of course a true thruhiker will not deviate from the trail without a fight, but nonetheless a night at Paradise Lake about a mile or a mile and a half down Paradise Valle, proved hard to resist. Would have been great stay — and it’s super popular — except the mosquitoes were pretty fierce.

Why in the world, may I ask, have we no measure whatsoever of the mosquito menace? Drives me crazy. We have indexes for everything else, from solar radiation to flower displays — why not mosquitoes? Something we could do towards solving a problem.

But still Paradise Lake lived up to its moniker — would like to see this lake on a chilly morning before the pests hatch out, maybe in June, with a warm sun but some snow still too. Has such a quiet beauty. .



That’ll give you some idea of the first day or two methinks — that and a mention of the fact that (at least around July 4th) this area is absolutely thronged with people. It’s still gorgeous, and it’s easy to find privacy, but know that you won’t be “alone alone” as we say today.

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People of the PCT: Birdman

Met Birdman a day or maybe two south of Sierra City, in Section L, north of Donner Pass. He’s a true thruhiker: “flip-flopped” the AT last year (meaning he went up and back down).

“And I’ll tell you, it’s a lot more dramatic finishing up at Mt. Katahdin than it is in Springer, Georgia!” he said. Think he has the right to say such a thing, given that he hails from Georgia.

Birdman (from Georgia)

Birdman (from Georgia)


Birdman was making what I would consider excellent time — 25+ miles a day — but complained of a knee that was giving him trouble, and was trying not to give up on the trail at the halfway point, just a few days ahead.

“Never quit on a bad day!”


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