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Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Will We Miss the Mississippi When it's Gone?

I'm a skeptic about man-made global warming. Perhaps man's collective efforts have had an effect on our planet's fever; however, the Earth has been warming and cooling long before we came along. You don't have to delve too deeply into geology, geophysics or other earth sciences to learn that we have had fairly recent cycles of Ice Ages that have blanketed much of North America with hundreds of feet of glaciers. Those vast ice fields pushed forward and retreated several times in the Earth's immediate past and all without the help of man. What goes around has a tendency to come around again. Cyclic events are normal in nature so I don't see warming and cooling trends as necessarily man-made. Perhaps the earth is warming now, but plausibly, future North Americans as far south as Kansas and New York City may once again have to move out of the way of another advancing ice field.

Being a skeptic goes hand-in-hand with being trained in science. Not much is gained if we accept wholeheartedly whatever theories seem to make sense. For most of man's history, it seemed that the sun went around the earth and that was accepted as fact. The scientific method requires skepticism - it's healthier to test our theories from a doubtful perspective than starting with a preconceived bias regarding the outcome.

The Global Warming debate is often linked to environmental cleanliness. Would the world be a better place if we humans picked up after ourselves? I can't think of anyone who wants to promote a legacy of dirty air and water. The goal of leaving the planet a better place than we found it, in theory, is universal. Unfortunately, human civilization needs energy and the competition for finding the cheapest and most abundant sources - predominantly burning fossil fuels - has contributed to pollution even if it hasn't contributed to global warming.

When it comes to the science surrounding the Global Warming debate, I recalled writings of Mark Twain. He too was a sometimes skeptic. In Chapter 17 of his book "Life on the Mississippi" he was describing how the Mississippi River became shorter due to the serpentine bends being cut off, either through natural forces or by man's desire to navigate the river without taking hours to proceed around a long river bend that would gain only a half-mile or less as the crow flies. Here's a piece of Twain's chapter where he explains the Mississippi river cut-offs as a "scientist" might see them:

"Since my own day on the Mississippi, cut-offs have been made at Hurricane Island; at island 100; at Napoleon, Arkansas; at Walnut Bend; and at Council Bend. These shortened the river, in the aggregate, sixty-seven miles. In my own time a cut-off was made at American Bend, which shortened the river ten miles or more.

Therefore, the Mississippi between Cairo and New Orleans was twelve hundred and fifteen miles long one hundred and seventy-six years ago. It was eleven hundred and eighty after the cut-off of 1722. It was one thousand and forty after the American Bend cut-off. It has lost sixty-seven miles since. Consequently its length is only nine hundred and seventy-three miles at present.

Now, if I wanted to be one of those ponderous scientific people, and 'let on' to prove what had occurred in the remote past by what had occurred in a given time in the recent past, or what will occur in the far future by what has occurred in late years, what an opportunity is here! Geology never had such a chance, nor such exact data to argue from! Nor 'development of species,' either! Glacial epochs are great things, but they are vague--vague. Please observe:--

In the space of one hundred and seventy-six years the Lower Mississippi has shortened itself two hundred and forty-two miles. That is an average of a trifle over one mile and a third per year. Therefore, any calm person, who is not blind or idiotic, can see that in the Old Oolitic Silurian Period,' just a million years ago next November, the Lower Mississippi River was upwards of one million three hundred thousand miles long, and stuck out over the Gulf of Mexico like a fishing-rod. And by the same token any person can see that seven hundred and forty-two years from now the Lower Mississippi will be only a mile and three-quarters long, and Cairo and New Orleans will have joined their streets together, and be plodding comfortably along under a single mayor and a mutual board of aldermen. There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact."

2 comments:

  1. It is interesting that the Torrey Pines Golf Course is over 300 ft above the Pacific today. (I posted some pics of earthquake faults on the cliffs on Facebook about 2 weeks ago). It was once under the ocean! Geologic time is so comforting. Dave

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  2. Glad you had a good trip to the "Middle of Nowhere". I'm looking forward to going in a couple of weeks for spring branding and other related cattle work and business.
    Weather in Minnesota has been great altho we are VERY DRY!! Early spring and perennials are popping up fast.
    Off for a week-end with two 25 year old granddaughters in Fergus Falls, MN Juanita

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