Class: Informatics, Computing, and the Future
Instructor: Dan Berleant
Transcriber: Brooke Yu
Date: Tuesday, March 12, 2013
Professor: Okay, first thing- there's an announcement about career connection day, which is tomorrow. Anyone interested? They gave free candy. Just take one and pass it around. It's a career fair tomorrow in the DSC, 10-2.
So it's not a bad thing to check out. Appropriate attire required.
There's also a homework due on Thursday, and has anyone got any questions about it or anything?
There won't be any homework due over spring break, but there is one due Thursday.
Alright, any other questions? So let's finish talking about that movie about global warming.
I can't remember where we got to. I think we got to around here. We talked about how four earths would be required to produce enough food for everyone with an American diet.
Male Student: We decided the rest of the world doesn't need to eat like us.
Professor: Well, the problem is the rest of the world might not agree with that.
Male Student: Candy?
Professor: Alright, so there was a climate control meeting that failed. Why?
Male Student: China and India wanted the technology to do it but the west wouldn't give it to them.
Professor: The argument that's typically used in real climate change summits is- there have been attempts before- usually the idea is that the world is warming because the rich western nations have burned all this fossil fuel, and now is it really fair for them to not do the kind of thing we did over the past 50 years. They think that's not fair and that they should build up their economies to burning oil like we did.
So it's kind of an interesting argument, you know. One argument is we're all in trouble so we should all do something now. The other side the argument is, well, America benefited from doing things that warmed the climate, so America should do the things to stop it.
From a purely ethical standpoint it's hard to really break through that impasse, and that's basically why climate control summits have failed in the past. Do you all understand both arguments?
Female Student: Yeah.
Professor: So what is the difficulty here then?
Female Student: Well, the other side is trying to justify that we built our way up so it would be okay for them to use it. But on the other side we think they should slow down because it's ruining the planet.
Professor: Perfect. So any opinions on that?
Male Student: It's literally a global affair. We should all participate in fixing it.
Professor: Yeah, you know, my opinion is that even if there's some success in slowing down carbon dioxide emissions, if the fuel is out there it's going to get burned, so it's just the rate at which we burn it. I hope I'm wrong about that.
Alright, let's suppose.... there have been agreements before, but they've been weak they don't really have an effect. I hate to be a pessimist, but it's so hard to come to an agreement that it might not happen.
The next question- what if we let all that stuff get burned and the CO2 flow, but instead of letting the world warm up, we'll emit something to counteract the CO2 to help counteract the emissions and everything is fine?
That's called geoengineering or earth engineering. One way to mitigate global warming is to emit large quantities of sulphur dioxide to counter the carbon dioxide.
I used to try to buy boxes of sulfur from the store, but they would never sell it to me.
So anyway, you know, it oxidizes thing. It would go into the atmosphere and make the atmosphere cooler.
So there's a serious proposal to cool the earth to counter balance the warming by shooting shells full of sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere to reduce the effects of carbon dioxide.
Here's a story about that- they found that when there's large volcanic eruptions the earth gets cooler for a couple years after the volcano explodes because the volcano shoots up a lot of sulphur dioxide gas which turns to sulfuric acid droplets which cools the atmosphere.
They've measured cooling of the earth after huge volcanic eruptions.
So what do you think? Do you think it's a good idea?
Male Student: Triggering a volcano to erupt?
Male Student: No, I think it will have the effects but not the actual volcano.
Professor: Yeah, we can't make a volcano erupt. But we could send up massive quantities of sulphur dioxide through a hose or something.
The idea is to get it into the upper atmosphere because released at ground level it doesn't do much.
Does that make anybody uncomfortable? The idea of intentionally trying to change the earth's climate?
Male Student: Are there any side effects to that?
Professor: Well, that's part it. The human race has never done anything like that before, and if we did, we don't know what will happen. We know the sun sets would look nice.
Male Student: What else do you need?
Professor: Haha, even if you cancel out global warming, it's still probably going to be warmer in some places and cooler in others because of the dynamics of how weather is produced would be different.
Well, we don't even know if it will work, but what do you think? Could we try it?
You could probably send up enough sulphur dioxide to test the hypothesis.
What do you think?
Male Student: Why not?
Male Student: Over china.
Male Student: Or somewhere more remote
Professor: Well, it would probably be distributed world wide because of the winds. It wouldn't matter where you released it. Once you get stuff in the upper atmosphere the wind blows constantly and disperses over the world.
There have been other proposals- here's one- all those ships on the ocean- make then squirt salt water mist into the air as they go. So much salt water mist would be emitted and the water would evaporate and leave salt crystals, which would go into the atmosphere, reflect sunlight, and make the earth cooler. So there's another proposal.
Okay, well, here's a possible problem. The problem with the sulphur dioxide is it only lasts a couple years, whereas carbon dioxide lasts for hundreds. So we'd have to keep doing it.
So the climate would change very rapidly to be hotter because the sulphur dioxide would disappear after a couple of years.
Male Student: So it's not exactly a solution.
Professor: Well, it's a solution if you remember to keep shooting the stuff into the atmosphere. But the problem is that we'd have to keep doing it every couple of years for hundreds of years. And something might prevent that.
It's a little scary because it would be much more sudden. In two years the climate would change dramatically instead of over decades or centuries.
So personally I'm with you- I think we could try it and test it, but there's that risk that if we rely on it we might be relying on own.... we might be depending too much on our ability to keep doing it without a hitch.
What about moving north or moving inland as a solution? Hey, things are getting too hot- just move north.
Male Student: I don't think that'd work.
Professor: Why not?
Male Student: Because. Eventually the whole planet's going to be warm. It wouldn't matter where you are.
Professor: I guess if everyone moved to Canada Canadians might get upset about American illegal aliens.
Another answer is that for you and me it doesn't matter whether the winters are warmer or summers are too hot because we can adapt. But other kinds of organisms would not be able to do this. They can't move fast enough or there aren't enough places to move to. It would cause ecological problems and possible extinctions which could affect humans.
In the movie there was a disease breakout. Do you remember that? How did that happen?
Male Student: Populations moving together in close quarters.
Professor: Well, in the movie too many people moved to NYC and worked in work camps and it was crowded so disease could spread. I argued last time that I didn't see why people would be flooding across the border as a consequence of global warming.
When the climate warms up, then disease travels too if it likes warm climates.
Some of these ancient and tropical diseases could get into the united states like malaria.
So that's moving north. What about moving inland?
Male Student: As far as like the middle of land itself?
Professor: Well, what looks like this?
Male Student: Water.
Professor: So what's the connection between that and moving inland and global warming?
Anybody remember? The water would rise. Remember how they moved to new York and her husband was going to work on the sea wall because the sea level was rising.
Increasing temperatures melt the iceburgs and make the ocean higher. That's one source of rising sea level.
Another is that the sun warms the ocean and as it warms up what happens to things as they warm up?
You take a piece of metal and heat it in the fire. What does it do before it melts?
Hot things are what compared to cold things?
Male Student: Moving faster.
Professor: Well, the atoms and molecules do too, and that's a reason why.... I saw this once. Here's a handle with a ring and the ball fits perfectly through the ring and it makes a little... you can take this and put it through the ring and the edges of the ball rub against the side but it goes through.
Then you heat the ball up in the fire. Will it still go through the ring?
Male Student: It expands
Professor: Right. Heat causes things to expand. Have you looked at bridges? There are expansion joints on them. Even the railings sometimes have space like this. If the rail expands in hot weather, these two pieces can move without these butting against each other.
Bridges and railings on bridges are built to expand and contract in hot and cold weather.
Check it. Next time you find a bridge or something... sidewalks even. They make spaces between the pieces so that the concrete doesn't crack.
Alright, so hot things- the science fact of the days is hot things expand and cold things contract. If you put the ring in dry ice the ball won't go through the ring.
When you apply that to the ocean, the heat will make the ocean bigger which will cause the sea level to rise.
If you have to three mile long column of sea water, it doesn't take much to make it a few inches higher.
Okay, so that's one problem of global warming is temperature issues and spread of disease. Another is the expansion of water and the increase in sea level.
Okay, let's go back to this issue of producing food. Everyone might want to eat like Americans do. Why do Americans eat that way? Because it tastes good.
What about solving this problem that we need four earths to produce the food, but by growing meat in a vat. They can grow cells in labs, you know. Well, taking that approach and applying it to meat, you can grow meat in a lab. It's more expensive than regular meat, but it can be done. But it probably will become practical pretty soon.
What do you think? Should that be encouraged? Growing meat in a lab?
It's more ecologically efficient than growing it on an animal because in animal takes up a lot of vegetables to grow. But if you grow the meat in the lab then you don't have that problem.
Would you eat meat grown in a lab or in an industrial vat?
How long would it grow? They would have a nutrient solution and they would just keep growing until they wanted to sell it. Hot dogs are already so processed you can hardly tell they're from animals.
Male Student: Yeah, they show which parts of the animal everything comes from.
Professor: Yeah, hot dogs don't come from the best parts. Would you all try meat grown in a vat?
Male Student: I eat McDonald's, so why not?
Male Student: We'll probably see tofu dogs served there in a few years.
Male Student: I might try it.
Professor: Alright. You can already get vegetable based meat that tastes pretty much like meat. There's one kind that's made with fungus roots and they treat it in some way and it comes out tasting like chicken.
They're getting better at making vegetable based meat. What if it was cheaper? What if they could do it cheaper than regular meat? Suppose it was half the price and it tasted almost the same but not quite the same. Would you switch?
Male Student: It depends on the effects it had.
Professor: Let's say it's just as nutritious. It's just as nutritious, costs half as much, but it doesn't taste quite the same.
Male Student: But it's cheaper? I would go for the cheaper one.
Professor: Well, here's probably what's going to happen. First of all, the process for doing it will become cheaper and cheaper. As technology improves it'll get better. It'll be difficult to exactly imitate the taste of real meat because it's hard to imitate anything exactly.
It's just the same as if you photocopy a piece of paper with writing. It'll be almost the same, but it'd be harder to require the copier to show the difference between the color of a pencil line and the color of a pen. If you wanted a photo copy that was exactly like the original, that'd be difficult.
Same thing with imitating meat exactly.
Here's another fact about future of vegetable based meat. They'll be able to control the fat content and other nutrient content better than they can with real animals. So if your parents are worried about cholesterol, they'll be able to get the meat with any degree of fat or low cholesterol. I think in your life time this will get to be a big deal. I don't know when, but they guess is it will be.
That will also be a way to allow everyone to eat an American style diet. It won't take so much out of the earth to feed everyone like that.
Okay, well let's move on. As we were watching the movie I wrote down different questions that I thought we could talk about. In the 2030 time frame, they say shortages and high prices will be a fact of life. What's your take on that?
Male Student: Well, if they're not renewable resources I think that'll be huge. Like not enough gas.
Professor: Okay, some people think whenever there is a shortage we'll just figure out a way to make more. What do you think of that philosophy?
You seem doubtful.
Male Student: It's more like I'm in doubt of some things, but I think peak oil where we're at the top of obtaining all the oil in the world- I think it's more of a realization than we think.
Professor: Do you all know what peak oil refers to? It means that we'll never run out, but the production level will peak. There's an increase in oil production each year. They think it'll level off, and the amount of oil will decrease. The production level will start to decrease at some point, and the date at which production is peak.
In the united states, oil production peaked in the 1970s. We're using more oil, but we're just importing it now. So the concept of peak oil works for individual countries. When oil gets harder to extract, production peaks and then starts going down. Other countries have hit it more recently. A few countries have not hit their peak yet.
So that's peak oil. Did you know the US oil production has already peaked?
Male Student: I figured based on how much we import.
Professor: Right. There's been a recent flip. They found some new oil.
Male Student: Isn't there a lot in Alaska and they're not using it?
Professor: There's something like that. I have a friend here and his son was in college and he went and worked in an oil field for a year or two and made a fair amount of money. It's not a very stable lifestyle.
Okay, so here's my problem with the peak oil concept. It works for individual countries, but it's not clear how it applies to the entire world.
Demands get high, prices go up, and they'll start using more expensive ways to extract oil. When I was your age they weren't drilling to the sea floor. Now they're doing it because even though it's expensive they can sell it for more.
Male Student: If we could just get everyone on board to use renewable resources, we wouldn't have to worry about that.
Male Student: It's all about monetary gain.
Professor: Well, that's how the economy works. Money drives everything.
Professor: At some point oil will level off and people will be forced to use other kinds of energy- wind, solar- things that are a little too expensive right now to compete with oil.
We already talked about these desperate refugees. I think we might move to Canada, but I don't know why people would come to the US because of global warming.
The movie mentioned ancient mass extinctions. There was a big one about 100 million years ago that killed off those big critters. Did you hear about that?
Male Student: Dinosaurs?
Professor: Right. That's one mass extinction in history. There are only 7 in the whole history of the earth. We appear to be in one right now. So whatever is happening on the earth is pretty unusual right now.
Okay. Fast forward to 2050. In the movie, they decided they were going to build a sea barrier to protect NYC from storms.
Here's something interesting.
I'm trying to think exactly what happened. In 2050 the family moves to NY so the husband can work on the sea barrier. Then in 2075 I guess there was a big storm and the sea barrier was flooded and things went from bad to worse.
Do you remember what the sea wall design looked like?
What did it look like in the movie?
Okay, so it had a gate which moved up and down to shut out the water. Remember that?
The movie had these two pillars moving down and then it stopped and then her husband was killed trying to fix it.
What do you think? Is that a bad sea wall design? Can you think of something better? Is that realistic?
Okay. Well, when I was looking at it, I thought "why did they design a lowering Gate?" They should design one that would close by itself under water pressure. The people who made the movie should have taken a lesson from the Dutch.
There were a thousand people killed in a storm search because much of the netherlands is underwater.
They decided they would prevent that from happening so they built a sea wall. It's the biggest in the world.
I thought I'd show you some pictures or something.
First I want to show you an article.
Well, in the move NY was flooded. Well, a few months ago there was a hurricane and subways were flooded. Here's a proposal to prevent that from happening using a Dutch style storm search control system.
It has some information about the history of the thing in this article. I'm trying to see when the major disaster was in the netherlands. Remember, people who live in the Netherlands are Dutch. Holland is a part of the Netherlands.
Sort of like the midwest is a part of the US, well, Holland is a part of the Netherlands. Part of it is below sea level.
They think they could build a sea wall for NYC for about 15 billion. That's not much for the US compared to the cost of the war in Iran,but I don't think it's going to happen any time soon.
There was a.... you know, the Holland has been long subject to flooding.
Anyway, let's go and look at a video or two about the Dutch storm search barrier.
We didn't talk about this in class before did we.
Male Student: No.
I don't know. Let's take a look at this.
Alright, this looks like it's a proposal for a Dutch style design in NYC.
So that's the key insight is that... let's try it again. Oh, that's something different.
Let's find another one. Or... I want to see this one more time.
This is the key design feature. It's a rotating thing. It's like a door that can be shut. Now this is like the one in the movie... but that's how the one in the netherlands works, I believe.
Let's look at a couple more.
We'll see what this one looks like.
So I haven't seen this before, but you can see people riding their bikes, but this is a part of the barrier.
Of course, it's very expensive to build.
Okay, this isn't very interesting. Let's try one more.
Let's see if we can find a good one here.
This is a model of it.
This is how it works. Okay.
So unlike the one in the movie, it has these rotating closing gates.
Okay, where was I.
So NYC is built on the water and it's low lying and could be affected by storms, so it might be realistically a good idea to build a sea barrier.
The movie started to focus towards the end on NYC, so for example, the movie had in 2060 NYC was hit by a disease that was very deadly.
What do you think about that? Do people ever, you know, say anything about NYC like in your high school? Anyone ever been to NYC? Anyone want to go?
Male Student: I want to go, but I don't want to live there
Professor: I grew up about an hour from NYC. Some people took the train to work there.
Male Student: I got patted down six times while I was there because I had an accent.
Professor: When I was in high school kids usually said things like they wanted to moved to California, but do people here ever talk about moving to California or NYC? What's more popular? California or NYC?
Male Student: I'd rather go to NYC but I like the cold.
Female Student: I think I'd rather do California than New York city.
Professor: Any other opinions? Doesn't seem like you're that thrilled about either one of them. I moved to California for a while and it was exciting.
If you ask me, I'd prefer California to NYC.
Male Student: Where'd you work?
Professor: I worked for a company that was a spreadsheet manufacturer. It was the second manufacturere, not the first.
Here was another thing from the movie. They suggested sea levels would rise up to 3 feet by 2070. What's why guesstimate? Is that a realistic possibility? 3 feet by 2070?
Male Student: Oh, I was going to say I don't know much about that so I wouldn't know.
Professor: It turns out the it's definitely on the pessimistic or the extreme worst case side. I think this was over exaggerated. Let's see what could really happen.
This graph shows possible sea level rises. This one was put out by NASA, so it's probably pretty evidence-based.
It'll get smaller, but it won't get bigger. Here's a graph showing the possibility for sea level rise.
Okay, so average prediction is the dark blue. That shows that by 2070 it'll be about here, so if you move over here, this is 0.2 meters, so really you're talking about something like 1/5-1/2 of a yard. So less than a foot to a foot and a half. That's less than 3 feet, but still a lot. If you expand the range of the prediction models, you get this medium blue range here, which gives you a tenth of a foot up to a little over 0.4 meters.
So... wait a second.
Close to 0.5. If you look at the range of predictions that include uncertainties, that's the broadest they consider- it could be as low as 0.1 meters up to here in 2070, a little over half a meter. So we're really thinking a foot and a half worst case, so the three feet was unrealistic. Not that a foot and a half isn't bad.
So what would happen though if the water level rose a foot and a half?
Well, there are coastal cities which would pretty much... they'd disappear probably. Savannah Georgia is right at sea level
Male Student: New Orleans is below sea level, right?
Professor: Yeah, and they got flooded during the hurricane. As the water poured over the top, it just made things worse. You know, New Orleans is still uninhabited in some areas. Things will get worse if the sea levels rise. Coastal cities will be in jeopardy.
Bangladesh is another unfortunate situation. Anyone know what that is? Huge parts of the country are at sea level, so if the sea level rose 1.5 feet, any time there was a hurricane or flood, it would devastate big parts of the country.
Even now when a hurricane hits Bangladesh it does tremendous amount of flooding. So my solution for Bangladesh is they should... well, they don't really have the resources, but I think other countries that do things that make sea levels rise should give Bangladesh money to build a wall to prevent flooding. To me that would be fair. And labor there is cheap, so it wouldn't cost that much.
Okay. Here's another thing they suggest for 2070. They say there could be a massive methane spike. Does anyone know anything about what that is or what it does?
Male Student: I'm go to say it's a lot of methane.
Male Student: Is this where we were discussing last week where if the ice caps melt then the methane from the dead bodies that get washed up go into the atmostpher?
Professor: Yeah. If the permafrost melts it'll release method that is dissolved in the ground. Right. Then that will warm the atmosphere more. What is methane? Anybody know?
Male Student: A chemical composition? Does it have carbon in it?
Professor: It's hydro carbon, so it's CH4.
It's called methane. You've heard of octane, right? In gasoline? It's the same chemical family- methane, butane, pentane, hexane... so this is similar to gasoline but it's a smaller molecule.
It's a hydrocarbon like gasoline. It's also a major component of natural gas. So if you use a gas stove, most of what you're burning is methane, so it's like oil. It's a gas.
Where does it come from? Decaying organic matter. Methane is locked in the permafrost in the north from vegetable matter that has been there for a long time. The methane we burn is natural gas from organisms that died around the time of the dinosaurs.
Why might there be a spike? Because global warming might case the permafrost to melt which will release more which will cause more warming.
A spike would cause a spike in the global temperatures, which would lead to sea level rise.
This leads to the concept of geoengineering. Methane is more powerful at global warming than CO2.
This brings us to the thing they talk about in the movie, which is why not release sulphur dioxide into the air because it'll cool. The problem is if you shoot SO2 in the atmosphere, how long would it last?
I mentioned it.
Male Student: 3 years.
Professor: Yeah, just a couple of years. It wouldn't last long, so you'd have to keep doing it. If the human race forgot, the temperature would just rise very quickly.
So what would happen if you lapsed in, you know, geoengineering? Global warming would return with a vengeance. So it might be better than not doing anything, but it definitely has a few problems. I guess you all thought we should at least test it.
And in the movie in 2084 society breaks down for real. Do you think disease could shut down a transportation network?
Female Student: Yeah.
Female Student: People don't want it to spread.
Professor: Right. If you're a truck driver and you're supposed to deliver food to a city, if they're going through an epidemic you might think twice. So how could one prepare for emergencies? Is there something one can do that is less extreme than becoming a prepper?
You know, a week say instead of permanently.
Well, the government advises people to keep several days or something worth of supplies. You can buy big cans of stuff like cans of beans. They'll last 30 years in the can until we want to use them.
We did open up one can to see if they were still good, and they still were- just dried beans like you buy in plastic bags. I think my family, if things break down for a week we'll be okay
Male Student: Have you heard of the book the compound? It's about this wealthy father of a family and they think the nuclear bomb had been hit near them, so he moved his family to a bunker for 6 years. It's crazy all the stuff that happened in that time.
Professor: Well, the problem is it takes a lot of time to store up that much. Then you have to be prepared for after. I guess learn to farm. Okay. Any last comments or questions? I had another topic I wanted to go over, but we'll do that next time. I'll give you a hint though.
Some people claim that global warming.... CO2... it's just a theory and people say it hasn't been proven. I'm going to spend a class talking about what science is and why science does not prove things. The fact of the matter is science is not a method of proof, and I think it's important for you to understand that. That doesn't mean you can't believe things science says, but proof is not exactly what sciences is about. We'll talk about that next time. Let's call it a day. Grab another sucker on the way out.