Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Superstition?

My grandmother, literate in two languages with only a 5th grade education, blamed the moon landing for unusual weather. Recently, I received mail from a marine supply company saying that although they have been mostly focused on their business model, they want people to contact legislators about the impending acidification of the ocean from the demon (my word, not theirs, except by context) carbon dioxide.

These struck me as similar. Assume that nothing was known about ocean chemistry and you heard this. The end of the world from the collapse of ocean ecosystems. It would be the street corner prophet who continually changes the date as each passes. Is it different because it comes from a mathematical model published in a presumably competent scientific journal? Such models require assumptions and if this came from the one I saw, it had an important caveat, but I will have to check.

The problem is that such hypotheticals are hard to disprove (or prove). The ocean carbon dioxide cycle is simple in outline, but has all sorts of complications. However, if we assume the model is correct, what will happen to the critters? I cite conclusions from a recent paper.

There is also huge uncertainty as to what extent organism adaptation or acclimation will mitigate the long-term effects of ocean acidification.
There are clearly many gaps......” From page 199, volume 366 (2008) of the Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology. There are others, but to be fair the believers should be cited. One I have uses the word “hypothesized” prominently in the abstract. My world is not hypothetical as I keep rudely discovering. More later.

It may be that the company is just adjusting to a “Green” business model. Those with business experience may know more about this sort of thing. Decades ago when the recent (this is not a new phenomenon) “Green” revolution really began and the oil industry was moving offshore, they were required to put elaborate septic systems on their platforms. It was a relatively tiny cost, but lost on the regulators were the facts that the amount of effluent became untraceable rapidly and some systems were used so infrequently that they lost the biological bugs that ran the system. This might have made it worse, but again the magnitude of the ocean would have swallowed it.

Most have not heard about the “Precautionary Principle,” which may be the superstition, if it really is that. More on that later, but what it evolved into seems to be a no-risk concept. This would be new to religion, science, law and common sense.

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