Circumstances have prevented me from having any time for blogging, but hopefully I can begin to ease back into it again, esp. when I see simple articles that so clearly demonstrate a point.
Some of the anti-science denialist crowd, esp. creationist use the argument to deny science by claiming it’s not really science unless it’s experimental. So since we can’t create the big bang in a test tube (fortunately, would be as bad as one of the wingnuts predicts LHC will do to end the world on 24Sept) or start evolution running at 10^6 pace so we can watch “macro”evolution (since it’s somehow different than observed “micro”evolution in test tubes). Of course the climate change deniers really use this claim, that the scientific consensus on AGW is just models and hasn’t really been observed and can’t be created in experiments, thus it must be wrong, and oil crowd should continue to make fortunes (not so easy for them lately with the crash in oil prices, but they’ll solve that).
So where is this all going? Here’s the picture that is an experiment (on mass scale) that disproves some lower-grade denialism I once encountered:
This is the Beijing skyline with and without smog. The without-smog isn’t a Photoshop trick or a computer simulation – it’s a real photo. And the photo below is also a real photo just days later. China decided to do an experiment, not for environmental or scientific reasons, but as a PR stunt. They basically shut down most smog emissions, 1/2 their cars, most of their factories, all the other sources. And amazing, amazing, the smog disappeared, but only for the couple of days China was conducting a celebration it knew would be on world TV and they wanted to look good (actually attempt to deny they even have smog).
The reason this caught my attention was that I encountered exactly this same thing on two of my trips to China. On my first trip I had the usual jetlag and was up very early in the morning and so walked around outside my hotel (on a huge street very near the Tiananmen Square). I was sort incoherent but something seemed wrong with the sky and the sun (almost like the twilight very far north where sun doesn’t completely set). I kept looking at the sky and then, boom, all of a sudden I realized, I know what this is, haven’t seen it for decades, but IT’S SMOG, lots and lots of smog, perhaps even worse than the worst I ever saw in LA in the early 70s.
So when I returned to the hotel I was asking about the smog in the hotel, how often it happens, is this bad or just average, etc. Several people (local Chinese) denied it was smog at all. But I’d say the sky is so dirty you can’t see the sun, you can look directly at the sun and it’s only an indistinct blob, not the bright sun that would burn out your eyes to look at directly. Then they admitted it was not a clear day, but then claimed it was a sandstorm from the Gobi Desert. Now since I couldn’t confirm or deny this (exactly how far away from Beijing is the Gobi Desert) I “accepted” their explanation.
But it sure looked like smog to me. I move to California in the early 70s and remember my first experience in LA (which, thankfully, I was only visiting). We’d gone to Disneyland on the Friday after Thanksgiving (which was a holiday for most workers) and it was a beautiful day with mostly blue skies. The next day, Saturday (still only a bit of work day) we drove to San Diego and around Anaheim I could not see anything. Plus often near the San Jose Airport on 101 in the early 70s it was awful smog. And then gradually it got better, of course due to those horrible things called regulations since once upon a time our country wanted health for its citizens rather than unbridled profits for its billionaires.
And I grew up in the Texas Panhandle, where dust storms were fairly common and sometimes huge and blocked out the sun. So I know what those look like.
So, sorry, Beijing, you’ve got smog, not dust storms.
Little did I know that in just weeks after I was there China would actually conduct its first smog experiment, for the Olympics. With all the foreign visitors they were willing to cut profits for a few days to get the positive PR of what all those TV cameras would show, clear skies instead of horrible smog. It worked as a PR stunt and of course once most of the foreigners were gone it was back to usual, i.e. horrible smog, just as the picture in this post shows. But smog creeps up on you little by little, but this experiment can reverse it almost immediately and millions of people in Beijing woke up realizing it was smog AND it can be FIXED (of course only for rich visiting foreigners).
I was back in Beijing a few months after the Olympics and now the normally reserved Chinese discussion about anything that smacks of politics did include discussion of how nice their brief interlude of blue skies had been and how nice it would be if every day was like that. Of course smog is not a priority for China’s rich, any more than climate change is a priority for the West’s oligarchs, so nothing happening in China about smog, except more denialism.
But now we have confirmation of that first experiment. Again China wanted to look good on TV so, poof, they made the smog disappear for a few days. Pretty hard to deny what’s causing smog when you have a dictatorship that can, briefly, abolish it by some simple rules.
It’s too bad we can’t do this with climate change (esp. today as I’m heading to football game in mid-summer type heat and it will be suffocating, a little less warming would be nice). But we can’t and so the denialists are able to claim there is no proof and it’s all a hoax. So it will just get worse until the ice all melts and the seas rise and the rich move up to the hills with their private armies to keep out the starving masses (they should note that’s not going so well in Europe right now, really desperate people will charge the walls and the guards).
So anyone who’s not convinced – look at the picture again. Not just scientists, but government bureaucrats knew exactly what was happening in Beijing and exactly how to stop it, but they do nothing except when they want to show off on world TV.
Let’s act without needing a publicity stunt to justify it!