In all of my career, the biggest wonder I have ever encountered is the mystery of scale. We are so small when compared to the Earth, and yet so large compared to the microbes that surround and, sometimes, kill us. Scales are so important when trying to understand any phenomenon from a different scale that the difference is as apt to be ignored as appreciated.
In ignoring a difference in scale, we guarantee misunderstanding, at best. For example, I don’t think we will ever understand the behavior of microbes until we become fully aware that, from their point of view, they are about as big as anything ought to be. The size and age of the universe, surely, must be more irrelevant to them, than it is, even, to us. Whether there is something bigger than the universe should be as abstract a question to us as whether there is anything larger than the body that houses it must be to a microbe. Scale is as deserving of our attention as time, or dimension.

Scale seems, mostly, to constitute another dimension. Up, down, left or right, front or back, and big or little. There you go. Well, maybe long or not so much, too. Compared too our lifespan, I mean. Whether we are talking geologic time or “real” time seems to affect what we mean. Are there other considerations of like importance? I wonder.

The thinking that started all this, was about the difficulty scientists are having getting the general pubic to appreciate the potential dangers of climate change. I got to thinking about how the public generally thinks abut the problem and how scientists do. The problem is sort of a generalization of the difference in how scientists think of weather vs climate, and how the general public does.

From the general public’s view, climate is kind of a long-term way of thinking about weather. At least that is how I imagine it must be perceived. After all, if you are happy with the climate of your chosen home, you probably think the weather there is usually very nice. Not too much humidity, not too many really hot or cold days, etc. You may summarize that by saying the climate is very nice. You probably see climate as a sort of long-term weather.

Scientists do not, generally, view it this way. Sort of the opposite, in fact. Weather is more apt to be viewed as a product of climate than the other way around. Which drives which is critical in understanding the dangers that may come with climate change.

Look, for instance, at the issue of the extremes. Change in climate might end up in a Venus. Venus has a very dense atmosphere consisting mostly of Carbon Dioxide. The planet has a very hot surface, the global temperature kept high by a very strong greenhouse effect caused by this high Carbon Dioxide presence. (It is closer to the sun than Earth, but farther than Mercury, which is cooler.) Lead will melt on the surface of Venus. Many scientists conjecture that Venus may have had a runaway greenhouse period in it’s past. Runaway greenhouse effect was an early cancer amongst when the role of CO2 was first realized to be a rising presence in our own atmosphere back in the 1950’s.

The most appropriate way to think of climate change versus weather change is that Los Angeles and Beijing are to weather as Venus or Mars are to Climate.

It occurs to me that many may think that Beijing’s smog probably has something to do with climate change. I suspect this might be due to their confusing a weather event with a climate event. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Beijing’s smog is mostly a weather event, no matter how dense it may get. To be a climate event, you could not identify it with only one city, even a very large city. Beijing ‘s smog may be exacerbated by climate change, but it will always be a weather event, not one of climate. The scale of the two is different.

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2 Responses to Scale

  1. Hank Raymond says:

    There is also a lot of money being spent by special interests to make people think the science of climate change is fuzzy, and the sheeple buy into that. Have you seen “Merchants of Doubt”? You should watch it.

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