Found: a ‘Baby Planet’

Pictures of PDS 70b show a planet that’s still forming. It’s the youngest planet scientists have imaged so far.

They figure studying it will help them learn more about how planetary systems develop. I think they’re right.


Beliefs

I’m quite sure Professor Ferguson was wrong about Earth being square and stationary. But I’ll give him credit for having a lively imagination.

Professor Ferguson’s “Scripture that condemns the globe theory” starts with Exodus 17:12. His translation says that Abraham’s hands were steady “until the going down of the sun.”

Ferguson’s 1892 “Map of the Square and Stationary Earth” came complete with quotations from the King James Bible. Folks could get a copy for 25 cents.

I don’t know how many bought one. An online inflation calculator said that $100 in 1892 was equivalent to $2,663.74 in 2018. That may or may not be exactly right, but I’ll assume it’s close enough for a quick estimate.

The 100 to 2,663.74 conversion ratio makes $0.25 1892 dollars equivalent to about $6.66 2018 dollars — which I do not think proves that End Times are Nigh. I talked about numbers, Nero and getting a grip back in 2016.

England’s state church gave the King James Bible its stamp of approval — probably between 1600 and 1613. There’s a story behind that, which will wait until some other time.

I like the KJB’s flowery semi-Elizabethan style. But the Bible I read and study wasn’t approved by an island nation’s official church. Here’s Ferguson’s Exodus 17 verse, from my non-British Bible:

“Moses’ hands, however, grew tired; so they took a rock and put it under him and he sat on it. Meanwhile Aaron and Hur supported his hands, one on one side and one on the other, so that his hands remained steady until sunset.”
(Exodus 17:12)

American beliefs and traditions being what they are, I’d better explain why I don’t insist that Helios sets the sun down in the west each night. Or think that our sun literally sinks.

Basically, it’s because I’m a Catholic. One who learns what the Catholic Church says by studying resources the Church provides: not by absorbing my native culture’s traditions.

I also realize that words like “sunset” and “nightfall” are figures of speech: like “hedge fund,” which don’t necessarily involve a row of shrubbery. Folks who get hurt at nightfall aren’t crushed by Nyx falling on them.

Wisdom

I don’t know how many folks seriously believe Earth is flat.

I’ve read that a few do, but never met one. Apparently they haven’t all been ‘Bible-thumpers.’

On the other hand, I’ve run into Christians who seem convinced that the entire universe is no more than a few thousand years old. Because, they sometimes explain, ‘it’s in the Bible.’

They’ve got a point. Select Bible verses, assumptions and 17th-century scholarship helped Ussher pick 4004 BC as the beginning. Folks in Mesopotamia and India started making wheels around that time, and that’s another topic.

Finding ‘Biblical’ proof that Earth is a flat plate is a little more straightforward:

“He has marked out a circle on the surface of the deep as the boundary of light and darkness.”
“Into what were its pedestals sunk, and who laid its cornerstone,
“While the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?”
(Job 26:10; 28:67)

I figure Job’s imagery shows that descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob lived in a world where Mesopotamian beliefs and stories were well known.

It’s a bit like today’s Western way of life: an influence that’s just about everywhere.

The comparison isn’t exact. Ishtar and Gilgamesh, for example, aren’t just like Marilyn Monroe’s Lorelei Lee and Harrison Ford’s Indiana Jones. Or today’s Homer Simpson. The Simpsons and Indiana Jones??

The point I was stumbling toward is that many folks who aren’t Western are familiar with my culture’s ‘big names.’ Major Mesopotamian powers had a similar influence in their day.

History doesn’t repeat the same events. But I think human nature hasn’t changed. Learning how folks coped, and didn’t, makes sense. (May 12, 2018)

Mesopotamian culture wasn’t the only show in town when the book of Job took form. The morning stars singing together reminds me of Pythagoras and his celestial music. (December 2, 2016)

So does this:

“For the elements, in ever-changing harmony, like strings of the harp, produce new melody, while the flow of music steadily persists. And this can be perceived exactly from a review of what took place.
“For land creatures were changed into water creatures, and those that swam went over on land.”
(Wisdom 19:1819)

Pythagorean cosmology wasn’t a good match with what we’ve learned since. But his idea of universal harmonies was on the right track. (June 2, 2017)

Reality

Others folks apparently assume that since the Bible isn’t ‘scientific,’ it can’t be true.

I think that makes as much, or as little, sense as ignoring what we’ve learned since Job’s day. Or believing ‘creation science.’ (July 23, 2017)

In principle, I could decide that Babylonian astrologers had all the answers or that science gives me everything I need.

Those aren’t my only options. I could believe only what my senses show me. Or that physical phenomena are illusions.

Or that ‘spiritual’ is good and ‘material’ is bad. Or some other worldview.

I think what we see is real and that we can’t see all reality. That God creates the visible and unseeable world, and that what God creates is basically good. (Genesis 1:31; Catechism of the Catholic Church, 282299, 325346)

I don’t expect the Bible to be ‘scientific.’ It’s not the Christian equivalent of Aristotle’s “History of Animals” and “Physics.”

God could, I’m sure, have given us all the ‘science’ we’ll ever need. But that’s not how it is.

Curiosity, a thirst for knowledge, is part of being human. We can and should be learning how this universe works, using our God-given brains. (March 26, 2018; January 12, 2018; March 26, 2017)

Our search for truth, including what we learn about the world around us, will lead us to God. If we’re doing it right. (Catechism, 2743, 282289, 2467)

There’s more to God than what we’ll find in nature, which brings me back to the Bible.

The Bible is what God has been saying to us, using human words and speaking through human authors. Knowing and understanding Sacred Scripture is part of being Catholic. Trying to believe that the Bible is word-for-word true, in today’s Western scientific sense, isn’t. (Catechism, 101133, 144159, 390)

Folks warping Bible quotes around personal opinions isn’t new. Copernicus delayed publication of his “De revolutionibus,” partly to avoid “babblers:”

“To His Holiness, Pope Paul III,
Nicholas Copernicus’ Preface
to his Books on the Revolutions”

“…Perhaps there will be babblers who claim to be judges of astronomy although completely ignorant of the subject and, badly distorting some passage of Scripture to their purpose, will dare to find fault with my undertaking and censure it. I disregard them even to the extent of despising their criticism as unfounded….”
(“De revolutionibus orbium coelestium,” Niclaus Copernicus; translation by Edward Rosen, Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University Press (1992) via Calendars Through the Ages)

Four centuries later, newfangled ideas are still upsetting some folks. And fascinating others. Including me. (April 28, 2017; March 17, 2017)

“Strange New Worlds”


(From Survata, used w/o permission.)

I don’t “believe in” extraterrestrial life. I don’t disbelieve either. I think there’s life elsewhere in this universe, or there isn’t. If life is out there, I think we’ll find it. Eventually.

Even if Star Trek’s “new life and new civilizations” aren’t there, I’m quite sure some of us will keep looking. We’ve already found many “strange new worlds” since 1992, when scientists announced confirmation that a pulsar had planets.

The planets themselves aren’t particularly odd. What’s strange is that they exist at all. Scientists hadn’t expected to find planets orbiting a pulsar.

The pulsar and its planets have had official names since 2014.

PSR B1257+12, the pulsar, was named Lich. PSR B1257+12 B and C are now Poltergeist and Phobetor. A third planet’s name is Draugr — appropriate for a system NASA described as “a graveyard.”

Phobetor is a super-Earth, a rocky planet more massive than our home. Poltergeist is probably rocky, too. Draugr is less massive than any planet in the Solar System.

Apart from their mass, super-Earths probably aren’t much different from the Solar System’s inner worlds.

The Extrasolar Planets Encyclopedia’s catalog listed 3,797 confirmed planets in 2,841 systems on July 1, 2018. The total may have gone up since then.

Worlds circling other stars aren’t ‘headline news’ any more, unless there’s something really odd about them.1

Or if there’s a ‘first-something’ to report. Like an image released this month, showing a planet we call PDS 70b.

PDS 70b isn’t the first exoplanet imaged by astronomers. That was Beta Pictoris b. Or 2M1207b. Or some other one. Which you pick depends on what’s meant by “first” and “imaged.” Among other things.

Beta Pictoris b is on an image made in 2003, but not particularly noticeable: a tiny speck. Scientists didn’t identify it as a planet until the image’s data was reprocessed in 2008.

Astronomers spotted 2M1207b on an image from ESO’s Very Large Telescope in 2004. The reddish speck could have been a star that happened to be near 2M1207 in Earth’s sky or a planet orbiting the brown dwarf. Followup images showed the object and brown dwarf moving together, so it’s most likely a planet.2

PDS 70b probably isn’t all that odd. It’s almost certainly going to be a gas giant, several times Jupiter’s mass. It’s the youngest planet that astronomers have imaged.


A Very New World


(From ESO, A. Müller et al., via BBC News; used w/o permission.)
(“The planet is visible to the right of its star, which has been obscured”
(BBC News))

Newborn planet pictured for first time
BBC News (July 2, 2018)

Astronomers have captured this image of a planet that’s still forming in the disk of gas and dust around its star.

“Researchers have long been on the hunt for a baby planet, and this is the first confirmed discovery of its kind.

“Young dwarf star PDS 70 is less than 10 million years old, and its planetary companion is thought to be between five and six million years old.

“Known as PDS 70b, it appears to be several times the size of Jupiter and probably has a cloudy atmosphere….”

Astronomers knew about PDS 70 and the gap in its protoplanetary disk at least as far back as 2004. What we’re learning about planet formation said there should be a big planet in the gap. One that’s still taking shape.

Finding PDS 70b took folks at ESO’s Very Large Telescope, the VLT, a few more years. So did confirming that it’s a planet. What they learned told them a little more about PDS 70b.

PDS 70b’s approximate temperature and size are just that: approximate. Its ‘light’ at different wavelengths is a pretty close match to better-known gas giants. Those are between six and 14 times Jupiter’s mass.

PDS 70b’s diameter is almost certainly upwards of 1.3 times Jupiter’s. Its temperature, based on wavelengths scientists used, is probably 1,200 K. Give or take 200.

That’s close to BBC’s “1,000C,” 1,832 Fahrenheit.It’s hot enough to melt lead, below iron’s melting point and hotter than any planet’s surface in the Solar System.3

Names and Stars

PDS 70 is about 370 light-years out, in Eta Centauri’s general vicinity.

“Eta Centauri” is a Bayer designation: a Greek letter plus the constellation name’s Latin genitive. Johann Bayer developed the designation system for his “Uranometria Omnium Asterismorum” star atlas. (1603)

Some stars, like Antares and Sirius, have proper names and Bayer designations. Antares and Sirius would be Alpha Scorpii and Alpha Canis Majoris in Bayer’s atlas.

Eta Centauri was called Kù lóu èr by Chinese astronomers, and that’s yet another topic.

Eta Centauri is part of the Scorpius-Centaurus Association, stars moving at pretty much the same speed in the same direction, spread across about 700 light-years.

Some, like Antares, are visible from Earth. Many aren’t. One of them, HD 113766, is more or less between Eta and Epsilon Centauri. It’s another young star. Two stars, actually.

HD 113766 A, the binary’s brighter star, has what looks like a planetary system forming around it. An Earth-like planet may be in 113766 A’s habitable zone in a few million years.

PDS 70 may or may not be part of the Scorpius-Centaurus Association. It’s at the right distance, the right age and headed in pretty much the same direction as those stars.4

More Names


(From ESO, IAU, Sky & Telescope; used w/o permission.)
(Part of Earth’s southern sky. PDS 70 is in the red circle.)

I don’t think we’ll be sending a probe to PDS 70 or Eta Centauri any time soon. If we did, it’d go past Theta Centauri on the way out. That star is just shy of 60 light years away.

It’s an evolved giant star. The star Earth orbits is a main-sequence star. That’syet again another topic.

Theta Centauri has another proper name, Menkent. Calling it an “evolved giant star” isn’t improper. Not in the ‘banned in Boston’ sense. “Proper name” in this context is what English teachers call a proper noun: a particular person, place or thing’s name.

A common noun is the technical name for what we call something that’s one of a class of things, like a pencil or a bit of dust.

Common nouns aren’t capitalized. They’d blow their noses in public and don’t know which fork to use. Saying that stars have noses is farce, sort of. And that’s still another topic.

Menkent is what some folks call the “traditional name” for Theta Centauri. I’m not sure where or when the tradition started, or who started it. I’ve read that it’s an Arabic word for shoulder plus “kent.” If so, “kent” probably started as Latin “kentaurus,” or centaur.

PDS 70 doesn’t have a cool name like Menkent or Sirius. Not yet.

The “PDS 70” designation is starting to work on my nerves, so I’ll make up a proper name. That’s why I started looking for stars with names.

Menkent’s name in China was Kù Lóu sān, third star in Kù Lóu. It’s not as memorable, to my Western ears, as Menkent.

I’m not sure what Kù Lóu means. Probably “arsenal” or “library.” Or something else.

Let me think. PDS stands for Phoenix Deep Survey, which is a proper noun. But it’s a catalog’s name, not an individual star’s. And I want something short. Shorter than “Phoenix Deep Survey,” anyway.

PDS 70 is also called V1032 Centauri. That’s not much of an improvement over PDS 70. Both designations are pronounceable, after a fashion: “pee dee ess seventy” and “vee ten thirty two Centauri.” Abbreviating and compressing both, I get “peedee” and “veetoo.”

“Veetoo” reminds me of “Star Wars.” “Peedee” reminds me of Dee Dee in Genndy Tartakovsky’s Dexter’s Laboratory series. This decision isn’t as easy as I thought it would be. But it’s trivial, so I’ll pick Peedee and move along.

Peedee is less massive than our star, a trifle cooler and dimmer. It’s not visible from Earth, unless you’ve got at least a small telescope.5

ESO’s Very Large Telescope


(From European Southern Observatory, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
(Paranal Observatory, part of the European Southern Observatory in Chile.)

I might have been more tolerant of PDS70 b’s designation if I hadn’t been wading through terms like NIR, VLT/NaCo, PDI and ADI. All of which relate to SPHERE on the VLT.

I don’t mind technobabble. Usually. Like any other specialized jargon, it helps folks share information without unnecessarily long words and phrases.

Imagine that you’re at the European Southern Observatory, ESO, putting a ‘where you can find me’ note on the break room message board. You’ll be using the Nasmyth Adaptive Optics System and Couder Near Infrared Camera.

You can write “I’ll be at the NaCo.” Or you could try fitting the whole name on one note. Maybe you could, and still be legible. My preference would be using the acronym.

I’ll probably more about the ESO’s tech and alphabet soup in another post. Today I’ll keep it short. Shortish. The ESO’s Very Large Telescope, VLT, is part of Paranal Observatory.

The VLT includes four optical telescopes. Each has a primary mirror 8.2 meters across. That’s more than half again as large as Palomar’s famous 200 inch reflector.

Astronomers mostly use each telescope separately. Some observations take all four telescopes working together as an astronomical interferometer. That’s how researchers got images like the ones of PeeDee and its still-forming planetary system.

Different instruments can be mounted on or connected to the VLT, depending on what astronomers are looking for. Their ‘Peedee pictures’ came from NaCo and SPHERE. SPHERE stands for Spectro-Polarimetric High-Contrast Exoplanet Research.6

Finding Answers and Many New Questions


(From ESO, A. Müller et al.; used w/o permission.)
(PDS 70’s protoplanetary nebula, viewed in near-infrared at the VLT.)

Confirming that Peedee has a planet in its protoplanetary disk is a big step forward. So is getting images of the still-forming planetary system in several infrared wavelengths.

Scientists now know more about that planet than many others. Studying the Peedee system — I like that name, but don’t expect the IAU will make it official.

We’ll learn more about how planets form by studying the Peedee system.


The Nebular Hypothesis

We know more today than we did in my youth. Or a few years ago.

But we’re not running out of questions. Scientists seem to be finding new puzzles faster than they’re solving old ones.

We still don’t know that the Solar System formed when a nebula, a cloud of gas and dust, collapsed. Or if that’s the way most planetary systems take shape.

Not the way I know that Abraham Lincoln made the Gettysburg Address.

That sort of well-documented certainty would take observations made and recorded over the last several billion years.

Our astronomical records cover interval a millionth that size. “Three Stars Each,” the first Babylonian star catalog we’ve found, is about three and a half millennia old.

Maybe some galactic philosopher’s guild left a probe in what became the Solar System, and has been keeping a file on our planetary system. I wouldn’t count on it.

Our knowledge of what’s been happening in this universe comes from studying what we’ve seen since we started paying attention.

Until about four centuries back, what we knew about stars and planets was limited to what our eyes could tell us. Then Galileo and others repurposed the “Dutch perspective glass” for astronomical work.

Many of them realized that Aristotle and Ptolemy’s conclusions didn’t match what they were seeing.

Copernicus thought Earth went around our sun. He wasn’t the first with that idea, not by several millennia. But he had data and math to back up his heliocentric model.

He wasn’t entirely right. But he showed that Aristarchus, not Aristotle, had the right idea. Basically. His 1543 “De revolutionibus orbium coelestium” got attention. (June 2, 2017; January 12, 2018)

Some folks started making their own observations and calculations. Others supported Copernican ideas and their own offbeat theological notions. Still others saw what was happening and panicked. (October 13, 2017)

Time passed. Natural philosophy became science. Swedenborg published an early nebular hypothesis. Swedenborg’s idea about planetary system formation made sense, to a point. His theology didn’t. One the other hand, I think his take on End Times was imaginative.

But Swedenborg’s nebular hypothesis seemed like a reasonable explanation for how planetary systems form. So were several other ideas. My high school science textbooks discussed several scientific ideas about how stars and planets form.

One of them was an updated version of Swedenborg’s nebular hypothesis. Scientists using new data and math were solving some ‘nebular’ puzzles. Finding nebulae at different stages in the planetary system formation process helped.

It’s still a hypothesis, but the nebular model fits what we’re finding. It’s now the model nearly all scientists think works best.7

My guess is that we’re pretty close to what will be a theory, not a hypothesis, of planetary formation. Getting closer, at any rate.

I could start denouncing the nebular hypothesis and science, spouting “Scripture that condemns” it. I won’t.

“…Whatever God Wills….”

Thinking that this universe is ancient, vast and impressive is not a new idea.

“The heavens declare the glory of God; the firmament proclaims the works of his hands.”
(Psalms 19:2)

“Terrible and awesome are you,
stronger than the ancient mountains.”
(Psalms 76:5)

“All your works give you thanks, LORD and your faithful bless you.
“They speak of the glory of your reign and tell of your mighty works,
“Making known to the sons of men your mighty acts, the majestic glory of your rule.”
(Psalms 145:1012)

“Indeed, before you the whole universe is as a grain from a balance, or a drop of morning dew come down upon the earth.”
(Wisdom 11:22)

Living in a universe that’s unlike Babylonian cosmology’s doesn’t bother me. Neither does thinking that it’s far older than a 17th century Calvinist’s chronology said.

Even if I felt distaste for God’s creation, it wouldn’t matter.

“Our God is in heaven; whatever God wills is done.”
(Psalms 115:3)

As it is, I like being surrounded by beauty and wonders. I see scientific discoveries as new opportunities to admire God’s “mighty works:”


1 Humanity’s new horizon:

2 Finding other worlds:

3 A very young planet:

  • Wikipedia
  • Planet PDS 70 b
    The Extrasolar Planet Encyclopedia
  • First Confirmed Image of Newborn Planet Caught with ESO’s VLT
    ESO Science Release (July 2, 2018)
  • Discovery of a planetary-mass companion within the gap of the transition disk around PDS 70 ★
    M. Keppler, M. Benisty, A. Müller, Th. Henning, R. van Boekel, F. Cantalloube, C. Ginski, R.G. van Holstein, A.-L. Maire, A. Pohl, M. Samland, H. Avenhaus, J.-L. Baudino, A. Boccaletti, J. de Boer, M. Bonnefoy, G. Chauvin, S. Desidera, M. Langlois, C. Lazzoni, G. Marleau, C. Mordasini, N. Pawellek, T. Stolker, A. Vigan, A. Zurlo, T. Birnstiel, W. Brandner, M. Feldt, M. Flock, J. Girard, R. Gratton, J. Hagelberg, A. Isella, M. Janson, A. Juhasz, J. Kemmer, Q. Kral, A.-M. Lagrange, R. Launhardt, A. Matter, F. Ménard, J. Milli, P. Mollière, J. Olofsson, L. Pérez, P. Pinilla, C. Pinte, S. P. Quanz, T. Schmidt, S. Udry, Z. Wahhaj, J. P. Williams, E. Buenzli, M. Cudel, C. Dominik, R. Galicher, M. Kasper, J. Lannier, D. Mesa, D. Mouillet, S. Peretti, C. Perrot, G. Salter, E. Sissa, F. Wildi, L. Abe, J. Antichi, J.-C. Augereau, A. Baru, P. Baudoz, A. Bazzon, J.-L. Beuzit, P. Blanchard, S. S. Brems, T. Buey, V. De Caprio, M. Carbillet, M. Carle, E. Cascone, A. Cheetham, R. Claudi, A. Costille, A. Delboulbé, K. Dohlen, D. Fantinel, P. Feautrier, T. Fusco, E. Giro, L. Gluck, C. Gry, N. Hubin, E. Hugot, M. Jaquet, D. Le Mignant, M. Llored, F. Madec, Y. Magnard, P. Martinez, D. Maurel, M. Meyer, O. Möller-Nilsson, T. Moulin, L. Mugnier, A. Origné, A. Pavlov, D. Perret, C. Petit, J. Pragt, P. Puget, P. Rabou, J. Ramos, F. Rigal, S. Rochat, R. Roelfsema, G. Rousset, A. Roux, B. Salasnich, J.-F. Sauvage, A. Sevin, C. Soenke, E. Stadler, M. Suarez, M. Turatto, L. Weber; ESO Astronomy & Astrophysics manuscript (July 30, 2018)

4 Stars, dust and names:

5 Names and designations:

6 Tech and technobabble:

7 Stars and science:

Posted in discursive detours, science news | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Another Student Suicide

I can see why a young man like Edward Senior would choose Swansea University.

Swansea’s website promises a nearly-ideal environment for students aspiring to careers in medical sciences and practices.

Swansea achieves highest rating for learning and teaching
“Swansea University has achieved a gold rating, the highest rating possible, in the national Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework.”

“Swansea ranked top university in Wales”
(Swansea University)

The trick, of course, is getting good grades in enough classes to graduate.

Being excluded from lectures wouldn’t help. Neither would wondering whether university brass would eventually investigate the allegation that resulted in exclusion, and what further punishments they’d impose.

I was angry when I read what happened to Edward Senior. I still am. That won’t help him, or anyone else. Certainly not me. Sharing what I think about his experience might.

Death and Lectures


(From BBC News, used w/o permission.)
(“Mr Senior’s family said he had a ‘rare ability to light up any room with his wide smile, mop of blonde hair and special charm'”
(BBC News))

Swansea University student’s suicide after ‘WhatsApp mistake’
BBC News (July 2, 2018)

A medical student killed himself after a WhatsApp message about a romance with a classmate was shared on social media, an inquest heard..

“Newport Coroner’s Court heard Edward Senior’s private message about the ‘brief relationship’ was seen by hundreds of people.

“A complaint was made which led to Swansea University excluding him from lectures while it investigated….”

I’m not surprised that Edward Senior was feeling less than perky when he was blacklisted. Killing himself wasn’t the ideal coping mechanism. But it relieves whoever was deciding his fate the trouble of completing that task.

I don’t know how much fuss and bother Swansea’s faculty face when a student cracks under the pressure, with lethal consequences. There’s some paperwork, most likely. The same is probably true no matter what takes a student out of the school’s roster.

It’s not all bad news. A great many college and university students survive at least until graduation. Those who die first aren’t all suicide victims. Suicide isn’t even the leading cause of death for folks age 15 to 24. Not in America, anyway.

Unintentional injury was the number one killer 2016. Suicide ranked second, by a score of 23,984 to 7,366. (CDC, Centers for Disease Control, statistics)

“One Mistake”


(From BBC News, used w/o permission.)
(“Aspiring doctor Edward Senior was described as caring and compassionate by family and friends”
(BBC News))

“…The 22-year-old’s body was found in a wood near his home in Monmouthshire.

“Senior coroner Wendy James said: ‘Despite having the support of a loving family, it was not enough for him to get through a stressful period in his life.

“‘Not knowing what the ramifications would be, he felt isolated and became overwhelmed.

‘It is not unusual for young people to make mistakes. But his biggest mistake was dwelling on that one mistake.’…”
(BBC News)

I don’t know who made the complaint or what prompted it.

Apparently Mr. Senior mentioned a brief romantic experience in an online community. What he posted was supposed to be part of a private conversation.

Someone else apparently shared what he said with others.

I see Mr. Senior’s experience as the information age equivalent of talking with friends at the corner bar, coffee shop, or whatever — and learning that what’s said in private doesn’t always stay private.

If I was British and upper crust, maybe I’d think of it in terms of talking with my fellow-gentlemen at our club. Or maybe not. I’m not British, not in America’s equivalent of English aristocracy and that’s another topic.

I’ve seen Mr. Senior’s post described several ways, some more colorful and derogatory than others. I haven’t read it, and so cannot offer an informed opinion. BBC News says he used Facebook’s WhatsApp. That’s likely enough. The site and the app are in common use.

Speculation and Loss

Details of Mr. Senior’s offense are not clear. Not to me, not based on what I’ve seen. Whatever it was involves his Facebook post and a brief “romantic” experience.

My imagination posted its own suggestions, inspired by that BBC piece and flotsam from my mind’s sump pit.

Those internal posts were really private, appearing only on my mind’s virtual desktop. Some may be more reasonable than others. I see them all as figments of imagination grown from fragments of fact. Including this selection —

Maybe Mr. Senior offended traditional values by crossing class lines. Or new traditional values by using politically incorrect words. Or violating a university policy regarding something: social activity at an improper time or place, using Facebook, whatever.

Again — they’re merely speculations. I don’t know the details. Only the immediate result: one dead student.

Whatever this “caring and compassionate” young man might have done won’t happen now. We’ve lost him, and whatever his actions would have added to humanity’s story.

Suicide

I think suicide is a bad idea.

As a lifestyle or career decision, there’s no future in it.

That helped me decide against acting on my first suicidal impulse. So did recognizing my mulish stubbornness.

Outlasting the painful circumstances seemed unpleasant, but possible. Decades later, I still get the occasional self-destructive impulse. Dealing with them has gotten easier. But not easy, even now.

Practice doesn’t, I’ve found, make perfect. But it does help.

Consequences

So does knowing a bit more about why suicide is a bad idea.

Human life is sacred. Yours, mine, everyone’s. It’s a gift from God. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2258)

That’s why murder is a bad idea. I’d be taking someone’s God-given life. (Catechism, 22582317)

Killing myself would be murder, with me as the victim — making a bad decision worse. I’d be going directly to my particular judgment. No time to reconsider and repent, no time for anything. (Catechism, 10211022, 22802283)

Heaping abuse on suicide victims doesn’t strike me as a smart move either. I shouldn’t kill myself, but I shouldn’t give up hope for folks who do. Hope is a good idea. So is prayer:

“We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance. The Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives.”
(Catechism, 2283)

Besides, I’m nowhere near so virtuous or delusional that I feel like ignoring Matthew 6:1415 and 7:15. I’ve got quite enough trouble as it is, and that’s yet another topic:

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Being Put on Hold

Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time:


No Fun When You’re Put on Hold

By Deacon Lawrence N. Kaas July 1, 2018

Reverend father’s brothers and sisters in Christ. I suppose we could title this homily, when your life is put on hold.

Being put on hold is a familiar and a frustrating experience for many of us, and particularly frustrating when the matter you’re calling about is urgent. They even add pleasant music to the hold buttons now days. Maybe it’s meant to keep you entertained but that’s a laughable scenario too, isn’t it? It really doesn’t help much when the situation is serious, in fact it is even more irritating! Life is no fun when you are put on hold.

Picture this frustrated father in the gospel reading for today. His daughter is dying. He has no phone, of course, and no ability to dial 911. He did hear there was a specialist nearby who may be able to save his daughter. So he puts on his coat and searches the community for this esteemed physician. When he finds him he hurries up to him, even though he is a man of some importance and power in the community. This worried father lays aside his pride and literally gets down on his knees at the physician’s feet and begs him to come to see his daughter.

The father’s name is Jairus. This esteemed physician’s name is Jesus. He asked Jesus to come and lay his hands on the little girl? Of course He would! And Mark tells us simply, “Jesus went with them.”

But wait, there’s a break in the story. While Jesus is making his way through the crowd, a woman with an issue of blood reaches out and touches the hem of Jesus’ garment. Jesus stops, engages her in conversation and minsters to her in a beautiful way.

Can you imagine, how Jairus felt watching this? His young daughter is dying and this irksome woman is trying to tie up Jesus’ time with her complaint. Can you imagine the stress that frantic father was under at this particular moment? He is being put on hold while the master ministers to another.

The same thing happened to Mary and Martha. They sent for Jesus at the sickness of their brother Lazarus but it was days before Jesus responded. “If you had been here,” they said, with a hint of accusation, “our brother would not have died.”

Why isn’t the master quicker to respond, doesn’t he know that the matter is urgent? Is there anyone here who has not asked that question at one time or another about God? So also, we are told, nurses have more stress than physicians because they have less control but still having the responsibility. My short stay in the hospital about a month ago certainly supports that statement. For the nurses do a wonderful job!

Going back to the story of Jairus, we find Jesus ministering to the woman who has been ill for a very long time. Then Jairus’ worst fears are realized, some friends came from his house to inform him that his daughter had died. Why bother the master any longer? Poor Jairus, can’t you feel a tug at your own heart for his loss! His friends are trying to console him but there is really a limit to how much help your best friend can give you at a moment like this? Something more is needed.

Fortunately Jesus was there. He had not forsaken Jairus just as he does not forsake us. He probably even touched him on the arm or shoulder as he said, “don’t be afraid, just believe.” He was asking a lot of this man as he so often says to us, just have faith!

A man by the name of Roger lost a little daughter in a car accident; and being he was steeped in music he listened to a little tape repeatedly, that said,

“in a world that’s wracked by sin and sorrow.
“There is peace.
“When you hind no hope for your tomorrow, there is peace.
“When it seems your heavy burden is too much to bear.
“There in Jesus, there is perfect peace.”

Now we find Jesus approaching Jairus’ house along with three of his closest friends. There is Peter, James, and John. When he came into the house he saw family and friends weeping loudly. “Why all this crying and commotion?” Jesus said, “The girl is not dead she is only sleeping.”

Those gathered there ridiculed his diagnosis. He asked them to leave the house. Then he went into the room where the little girl lay. Taking her by the hand he said to the little girl, “Talitha cumi.” “Little girl, I say to you arise.” And she arose.

Does your faith tell you that yes, Jesus can do that? We can tell stories of how we know Jesus has intervened, and sometimes we can even tell stories of how it seems that Jesus’ response was on hold.

A short personal response would go something like this: It appears I can account for more failures than for successes. But after Agnes and I married I studied the repair of office machines and you know what happened to that? One day electronics took over and all of our mechanical machines were virtually worthless. Now what? Putting into practice what I learned not only in school but in everyday life I was able to keep the shop open doing a variety of things. To shorten the story I want to share with you the fact that Agnes and I prayed for a long time, it seemed that I could get into something I can handle. Then one day my mother asked me to take her cuckoo clock to Lawrence Lahr to have it repaired. He said “I can’t do that anymore;” his hands were shaking and I could readily see why. He said, “with your background why don’t you want to do this?” Almost under my breath I wondered if it was beneath my dignity to work on clocks. His wife called their customers and sent the clocks they had, home with me. By the weekend I had them all running and without knowing it, had found a new trade.

How long it took for us to realize that it was an answer to prayer, I do not remember. But I remember, when I did thank God, I was ashamed that it took so long to realize that the hold on our prayers was now fully realized. It’s hard to believe sometimes that all the work I had done on office machines now comes back to be used in value in repairing of clocks even to the point where I now use the same toolbox.

It’s kind of like one day I was trying to explain to a young lady how all our prayers may have been already answered in heaven, but for some reason the time isn’t right for them to be brought to earth, and we must have patience, we must have faith.

Checking my watch: I find it’s high time to move on.

So, you all be Good, be Holy, preach the Gospel always and if necessary use words.


(‘Thank you’ to Deacon Kaas, for letting me post his reflection here — Brian H. Gill.)


I think these posts are related, your experience may vary:

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Power and Climate

Pope Francis told oil company executives what he thinks about clean energy, climate change and social justice. What he said reminded me of London’s pea soup fog, horses, smog and why we have environmental laws.

I’ve seen several published reactions to the Pope’s ‘climate and energy’ remarks. None of which quite match mine, which isn’t surprising.


“A London Particular” — Monet’s View


(From Claude Monet , via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
(Claude Monet’s “Trouée de soleil dans le brouillard,” 1904.)

Claude Monet was at St. Thomas’ Hospital in 1899. I don’t know why.

He started painting Westminster Palace, England’s Parliament building, while he was there.

A few years later he’d made well over a dozen ‘Parliament’ pictures.

Each showed Westminster as seen from St. Thomas’ Hospital, with different lighting and weather.

I’ve seen the “brouillard” in “Trouée de soleil dans le brouillard” called “smog.” I think Wikipedia’s “Sun Breaking Through the Fog” is more accurate. Or maybe “Sunlight in the fog.”

London air in 1904 wasn’t exactly fresh, but folks weren’t calling it “smog” yet. Dr. Henry Antoine Des Voeux’s used the word in his “Fog and Smoke” paper for London’s Public Health Congress in 1905.1

The city’s distinctive air had already earned colorful descriptions:

“…He was very obliging, and as he handed me into a fly after superintending the removal of my boxes, I asked him whether there was a great fire anywhere? For the streets were so full of dense brown smoke that scarcely anything was to be seen.
“‘Oh, dear no, miss,’ he said. ‘This is a London particular.’…”
(“Bleak House,” Chapter III, Charles Dickens (1853))

“…a fog as thick and as yellow as the pea-soup of the eating house….”
(“Annals of the fine arts,” John Sartain (1820) via Wikipedia)

“A Foggy Day in London Town”


(From The Illustrated London News; via Wellcome Library, The Guardian; used w/o permission.)
(“A London Fog. — Drawn by Duncan.” (1847))

London faced an energy crisis in the 13th century. Growing energy demands outstripped wood reserves. Londoners found an alternative resource: sea-coal. Smoke from the affordable but inefficient fuel became a serious problem.

Edward I became England’s king in 1272. He banned sea-coal burning in London. (February 17, 2017)

That probably cleared the air a little, at least for a while. But sea-coal remained an affordable fuel, and coal fires returned to London.

Folks in England weren’t the first to use coal. Theophrastus mentioned that workers heated metal with it. His treatise on mining probably discussed coal, too. But it got misplaced, hardly surprising after 23 centuries.

A 17th century amateur researcher noticed connections between London’s environment and health:

“I inclined to believe, that London now is more unhealthfull, then heretofore, partly for that it is more populous, but chiefly, because I have heard, that 60 years ago few Sea-Coals were burnt in London, which now are universally used. For I have heard, that Newcastle is more unhealthfull then other places, and that many People cannot at all endure the smoak of London, not onely for its unpleasantness, but for the suffocations which it causes…..”
(“Natural and political observations mentioned in a following index, and made upon the bills of mortality….,” John Graunt (1662) via Early English Books, University of Michigan Library)

We’ve learned quite a bit since 1662, including why breathing coal smoke is bad for us — and how to make coal fires somewhat less toxic.

I think that helps explain how we can get about 30% of our energy from coal without perishing in the smoke. An obvious solution to coal’s environmental and health downsides would be banning the stuff.2

A problem with outlawing coal is that we still don’t have an effective and affordable substitute power source. And we don’t just use energy. We need it.

Folks who don’t rely on coal for much of their energy are trying to become more dependent on power plants. Understandably, I think.

Most farms use metal implements, tools forged on an industrial scale. Processing, transporting and storing food takes more energy. So does nearly everything else we do.

Not Panicking


(From NASA; via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
(“Most of India is dark at night because there is little economic activity going on”
(BBC News))

Humans don’t actually need electricity and farm tools. We got along by hunting and gathering until about eight millennia back. An estimated 5,000,000 of us still do. That leaves about 7,595,000,000 who rely on agriculture and newer technologies.

I think humanity would survive losing almost a third of our energy supply. We’ve weathered far worse. But many of us might not. Dead bodies could be a public health concern for survivors.

Environmental protesters have a point. So, I think, do folks who see environment and climate activists as crackpots.

Getting energy from fossil fuels gives us some immediate problems, with many more coming in the next few generations if we don’t change our habits.

Folks who express their concern by wearing penguin suits may be quite sincere.

I think they would improve their image considerably, and help their cause, with more substance and fewer costumes. Remembering that Americans and Europeans aren’t the only ‘powered’ people might also help.

Americans aren’t at the world’s 50th percentile. We use more power per person than average. We also lowered per-person energy use 1990 between 2008. By only 2%, but it did go down.

Residential customers use 13% of our energy, commercial customers account for 7%. Around 26% went into transportation in 2012. That’s a bit lower than the 27.3% global average. But not by much.

Industry uses 54% of America’s energy. The global average for industrial use is 27.8%.

World energy consumption was far lower when our most advanced technology was flint knapping. But each of us needed a lot more room.

A 1966 Britannica “Hunting and Gathering” article gave seven square miles per human as a population density for folks who didn’t plant crops.

That’s not a maximum number. Folks living New Guinea have a ‘hunt and gather’ economy. They pack something like 40 people into each square kilometer. If I did the math right, that’s about 103 per square mile.

But the hunting part of their food budget comes from fishing. I don’t know if the high population density includes ‘land’ that’s in the ocean.3

Remembering why folks in India and elsewhere use energy and want more makes sense. So does making better use of Earth’s resources. And not panicking.

Miasma


(From William Heath, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
(William Heath’s imaginative view of London’s water quality, 1828.)

From one viewpoint, the 19th century was good for London.

The city’s population grew from about 1,000,000 to 6,700,000, making London the world’s largest city: a global political, financial and trading hub.

Major cholera epidemics started in 1831.

Only 6,536 folks died that time, a fraction of the city’s population. The one starting in 1848 killed about 14,137.

That’s still not a big fraction of the city.

But Londoners were concerned, with reason, about their health.

The 1858 “Great Stink” wasn’t a metaphor. The city’s air stank. London’s sewers dumped untreated industrial and human waste into the Thames. Hot summer days boosted the bouquet to almost unbearable levels.

Aside from being unpleasant, folks saw the stench as a health hazard. They were right about the results, but not the cause. Not entirely.

Miasma theory, the idea that foul-smelling air causes disease, still made sense to many doctors and scientists.

Informed and popular opinion agreed that London’s foul air caused cholera and other diseases. Folks who accepted miasma theory weren’t entirely wrong. Breathing air with the wrong stuff in it can hurt us, even if it’s germ-free.

Some researchers thought microscopic critters caused disease.

The idea goes back at least to the 1st century BC. Marcus Terentius Varro called them “animalcules.”

Thinking animalcules cause disease was one thing.

Showing that they exist and make folks sick took nearly two millennia.

John Snow’s analysis of the 1848 epidemic told him that cholera was probably spread through water, not air. Snow published his findings in 1849. The folks in charge promptly ignored his research.

Snow tracked the 1854 Broad Street cholera outbreak to one well. He took the well’s handle, making it unusable: documenting the drop in fatalities. This time the powers that be took notice.4 (July 21, 2017)

Equine Crisis, 1894-1898


(From Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)

Horse-drawn vehicles sound like the ideal green transportation technology. Running on renewable resources, they produces virtually no carbon monoxide. Waste products are biodegradable. Besides all these advantages, literal horsepower is eminently scalable.

A single semi-autonomous unit powers a wide variety of personal vehicles.

Multi-unit configurations serve mass transit and freight applications.

There’s just one problem.

The solid and liquid biodegradable waste biodegrades. Fast.

That was a serious issue for cities in the late 19th and early 20th century.

More than 50,000 horses served London’s transit needs in 1900.

They pulled hansom cabs, buses, drays, wagons and carts. Besides hauling people and freight, each horse produced about two pints of urine and between 15 and 35 pounds of manure per day.

A Times report in 1894 said that if this kept up, every street in London would be under nine feet of manure by the end of 1903.

Disposing of dead horses was an issue, too. Horses usually live 30 or 40 years. Each of London’s lasted about three.

Horses often weigh around a half-ton. Draft horses are almost double that.

Knacker’s yards could recycle the carcasses, and often did. But hauling a half-ton carcass to the yard took time and labor.

I’ve read that street cleaners sometimes left dead horses near where they dropped. Purification made dismembering the bodies easier. It also added to London’s aroma, which should have been a concern for folks who accepted either miasma or germ theories.

London wasn’t the only city facing an equine crisis. An 1898 international urban planning conference did not find a solution.

Our cities, perhaps civilization itself, seemed doomed.

That would have been true if horse-drawn vehicles were the only practical transportation technology.

They weren’t. London’s Met, the world’s first underground railway, opened in 1863. It grew into the Underground. Other cities followed London’s lead.

Subterranean urban rapid transit’s name varies. It’s the Untergrundbahn in Germany, Tunnelbana in Sweden and metro in many English-speaking countries.5 I think of it as the subway.

Railways, above or below ground, have their own problems. But they’re part of many urban transit networks. And, I think, an improvement on horses and 1950s sedans.

New tech and rules won’t make cities perfect. But I think they can make our lives better. If we use our brains. (December 22, 2017)


Energy, Outrage and the Pope


(“The Pope has taken the business world to task on issues ranging from poverty to tax haven”
(BBC News))

Climate change: Pope urges action on clean energy
BBC News (June 9, 2018)

Pope Francis has said climate change is a challenge of ‘epochal proportions’ and that the world must convert to clean fuel.

“‘Civilisation requires energy, but energy use must not destroy civilisation,’ he said.

“He was speaking to a group of oil company executives at the end of a two-day conference in the Vatican.

“Firms present included ExxonMobil, BP, Royal Dutch Shell, Norway’s Equinor and Pemex of Mexico….”

The Energy Transition and Care for Our Common Home two-day conference ended June 9, 2018. I’ve seen the usual opinions about the conference and what Pope Francis said.

Some apparently don’t approve. I’ve read that the Pope doesn’t understand the situation, won’t listen to experts and told executives to stop destroying civilization. Others indulged in colorful commentary. One headline started with “Mammon Goes to the Vatican….”

Online outrage at the Pope’s latest ‘environmental’ statement has been remarkably mild. What I’ve seen of it. By today’s standards. One reason may be that it’s been overshadowed by other topics.

The comparative calm is almost enough to make me glad that American news media’s denunciations of the president and his policies is matched only by the fury of those with other views.

Making Sense

Almost, but not quite.

The good news is that most folks I meet online aren’t having emotional meltdowns.

Flinging epithets isn’t an ideal persuasive strategy. My opinion, and another topic.

Another bit of good news, for me, is that at least some of the wrath — on all sides — could easily come from feelings of wounded justice. (September 17, 2017)

Back to what Pope Francis said.

I’ve read “Laudato Si’, so I wasn’t surprised at his ‘clean energy’ statement. I wasn’t sure that the BBC News ‘climate change’ focus mirrored the Pope’s emphasis, so I found and read a transcript.6

When I hear that a Pope said something I don’t like or don’t understand, learning more makes sense. Assuming that I’m right and the Pope is wrong doesn’t. Neither does thinking that Popes never make mistakes. (August 11, 2017; July 30, 2017)

Pope Francis did talk about a challenge of “epochal proportions.” He also discussed “climate changes.” That’s from the English-language transcript. I’m not sure which of the five listed languages he used on June 9.

In the Pope’s position, I probably wouldn’t have said exactly what he did. I almost certainly would have come at the issues from a different direction. Quibbling over details is an option. Sometimes it’s important.

In this case, I’d rather look at the Pope’s central idea.

I think he’s right. “Civilization requires energy, but energy use must not destroy civilization!” And keeping future generations in mind is a good idea. I agree that we need energy and should keep looking for alternatives to burning fossil fuels.

Learning more about how Earth’s climate works is important too.

This is our home. Taking care of our home makes sense. So does acting like we think others, including future generations, matter as much as we do.


Predictions and Prudence

Letting each new apocalyptic prediction inspire frenzied action isn’t a good idea.

Many doomsayers turn out to be wrong.

Lord Kelvin predicted that we’d consume all Earth’s fossil fuels in 500 years. He also said we only had 400 years of oxygen left.

His math was right. So were his facts. But he didn’t have all the facts.

We’ve learned more about the oxygen cycle, among other things. Oxygen is a renewable resource. It’s getting renewed. We won’t suffocate in a few centuries.

Ignoring an unpleasant analysis isn’t a good idea either.

Kelvin was right, basically, about coal. Our fossil fuel supply won’t last forever. I’ve seen reasonable estimates of our deadline ranging from decades to a century or so.

Coal is, theoretically, a “renewable resource.”

Today’s supply mostly formed in the Carboniferous, about a third of a billion years back. We haven’t had swamp forests that big since, but Earth’s climate keeps changing. An era like the Carboniferous could happen again. A few million years after that, we’d have renewed coal deposits.

I think long-range planning makes sense. But not in this case. We have at most a few centuries of coal left. Theorizing is fun, but won’t solve our energy issue. Even if we knew exactly what will happen over the next several geological ages, we can’t wait that long.

Some predictions have been accurate.

The passenger pigeon filled North American skies in 1800.

Many folks had noticed the pigeons were in trouble by 1880. Legislators took action, passing laws that weren’t effective.

By the time we realized that ‘pigeon protection’ laws weren’t working, it was too late. The last known passenger pigeon died on September 1, 1914.

I think the lesson here is that the earlier we notice a problem, the easier it is to deal with. Also that good intentions don’t guarantee good results. We have, happily, learned a great deal about wildlife management since 1800.7

Understanding climate management is, I think, very much a work in progress. We didn’t even realize that Earth’s climate changes until a few centuries back.

Reviewing Our Rules


(From Dragons flight, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)

I’ve seen global warming replace the coming ice age as a secular analog to American Christianity’s End Times Bible prophecies. I suspect that climate doomsayers appeal to a different demographic. And that’s yet another topic.

The current buzzword — buzzphrase? — is climate change. The term is accurate. Earth’s climate is changing. And has been for several billion years. It’ll probably keep changing.

That said, I think reviewing and revising our environmental laws makes sense.

So does developing cleaner and more efficient technologies.

We were doing both before the 1948 air quality disaster in Donora, London’s Great Smog of 1952 and New York City’s 1966 smog. The new rules and tech hadn’t solved all our problems, obviously.

The Donora incident killed about 20 folks. London’s 1952 Great Smog death toll was around 4,000. The 1966 New York City event killed 80. Or maybe 168. It’s been debated.

I don’t think anyone gets nostalgic over mid-20th century smog. Or yearns for that part of the ‘good old days.’

Air pollution is still an issue. Emission control laws weren’t and aren’t ideal. But I think they’re better than nothing, and an overall improvement on what they replaced. So is today’s tech.8

I think we’ll be cleaning up the Industrial Revolution’s mess for centuries.

Global Climate Control: Eventually

Exhaust from centuries of coal- and oil-fueled industry almost certainly boosted carbon dioxide levels.

That probably affected Earth’s climate.

But I doubt we can thank the Industrial Revolution’s exhaust alone for ending the Little Ice Age.

Assuming that we can affect climate seems reasonable. We’ve probably been doing so for a very long time — unintentionally.

I think we have the knowledge and technology to make deliberate changes.

I’m not at all sure that applying today’s knowledge to a global climate control experiment would be a good idea.

Learning much more about how Earth’s climate works before conducting field tests seems wiser. And safer.

It’s not that I think we can’t or shouldn’t start controlling our home’s climate. The benefits seem obvious. I certainly think cleaning up vehicle and industry emissions makes sense.

But let’s say that national leaders around the world decide that climate control is a top priority, and that implementation should start right now. What could possibly go wrong?

We might get it right on the first try

Perhaps sunny skies with regularly-scheduled gentle rains would abolish famines, end poverty, usher in a Golden Age — and we’d live happily ever after.

Or, more likely, we’d have several opportunities to learn from our mistakes.

It’s happened before.

Weather control seemed like a good idea in my youth.

Meteorology was turning weather forecasting from guesswork to a somewhat-reliable science.

Scientists were learning what triggers rain and how storms work. Several experiments showed that they were on the right track.

We became much more cautious about testing weather control tech, for which I’m grateful.

Recent analysis suggests that a 1947 experiment didn’t make the Cape Sable Hurricane do a U-turn. Probably.

That storm only killed one person.

The Black Hills Flood of 1972 killed 238.

Survivors learned that scientists had used the storm for an experiment.

America’s courts decided that scientists couldn’t be held responsible for the storm. There wasn’t enough proof that their experiment enhanced the death and destruction.

Hopes that practical weather control was around the corner pretty much ended after that.

I still think learning to control Earth’s weather and climate is a good idea.

I’m quite convinced that we can control Earth’s climate, safely and effectively. Eventually. I think we should. It’s part of our job. And we should learn much more before starting large-scale field tests.9

Dominion and Leviticus 25:5

Some 19th century industrialists earned their reputation for environmental mismanagement and disregard for the lives and interests of their workers.

Careless waste management, appalling labor practices and the era’s Christian veneer left a bad impression.

But not an entirely accurate one.

Humanity’s “dominion” over this world does not give wealthy individuals and nations permission to plunder resources and exploit the poor.

God did, however, give all of us authority. Limited authority.

Our position is like a steward’s or foreman’s. We’re expected to look after our home: for our reasoned use and for future generations. (Genesis 1:2628; 2:58; Catechism of the Catholic Church, 16, 339, 356358, 2402, 24152418, 2456)

This isn’t a new idea:

“…we come together to take charge of this home which has been entrusted to us….”
(“Laudato si’,” Pope Francis (May 24, 2015))

“…Today the subject of development is also closely related to the duties arising from our relationship to the natural environment. The environment is God’s gift to everyone, and in our use of it we have a responsibility towards the poor, towards future generations and towards humanity as a whole….”
(“Caritas in veritate,” 48, Pope Benedict XVI (June 29, 2009))

“For six years you may sow your field, and for six years prune your vineyard, gathering in their produce.
“But during the seventh year the land shall have a sabbath of complete rest, a sabbath for the LORD, when you may neither sow your field nor prune your vineyard.
“The aftergrowth of your harvest you shall not reap, nor shall you pick the grapes of your untrimmed vines. It shall be a year of rest for the land.”
(Leviticus 25:35)

“The LORD God then took the man and settled him in the garden of Eden, to cultivate and care for it.”
(Genesis 2:5)

We have Work to Do

Lord Kelvin’s 1898 ‘fuel and oxygen’ prediction was right about one thing. There’s only so much coal. We can’t keep burning it indefinitely.

That’s why I think Pope Francis was right when he said “there is no time to lose….”

We need a reasonable alternative to fossil fuels. This is not the time to stop looking.

I’m quite sure the search will continue.

Scientists have been exploring several new technologies. Interest has, if anything, increased over the last few decades.

We’ve also had some disappointments.

Nuclear power looked very promising. So did biofuels and solar power. I think they’re useful, but each has its own problems. The same goes for wind power and other tech.

Fusion power research may be part of the solution, but it’s at best decades away from practical applications.

Dealing with climate change is urgent too, but not in the ‘New York minute’ sense.

We know more about how Earth’s weather and climate works than we did in 1947 and 1972. I’m convinced that we’ll keep learning more.

And, eventually, we will add controlling Earth’s climate — safely — to our tasks.

Meanwhile, there’s no shortage of work to be done:


1 Art and air quality:

2 Coal, health and history:

3 Power and people:

4 Miasma and microorganisms:

5 Horses and trains:

6 Climate and Popes:

7 Predictions and all that:

8 Attitudes, assumptions, and a few facts:

9 How I see weather, climate and being human:

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