Friday, September 29, 2017

Remarks on an Unremarkable Brain

I had an MRI last week, to diagnose a partial hearing loss, nothing horrible, especially at this stage of my life. My ENT gave me a copy of the report, and I'm drawn to this sentence: "The enhanced and unenhanced MR appearance of the brain is unremarkable."

I know that were Mom still alive, she would disagree. Mom was all about the brain, and she was sure that each of her sons had a remarkable cerebrum. She raised us to be smart. I don't know how many timed math and spelling tests she gave me after school, right in the door, before homework or play time or anything else. Mom even wrote and self-published a book about how to raise scholars, Hey, Grandmaa source of much embarrassment. I was a National Merit Scholarship semifinalist--I always tested well. But a scholar, no.

Mom would be chagrined to learn that the family ear trouble has touched me. Mom's side of the family had a history of ear problems, some of which have trickled down to my sibs and me. Mom had Meniere's disease, and besides nearly total hearing loss, she suffered from balance problems and vertigo. Tough Nordic farm girl that she was, she insisted on her independence, pulling her arm away from an offered hand and weaving her way over uneven sidewalks like a drunken sailor.

While I am relieved that the MRI report tells me that "Ventricles are appropriate size" and "The orbits, sella, and vascular structures appear within normal limits," I still come back to "appearance of the brain is unremarkable." Mom would take umbrage. Sorry, Mom.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Time to Get Ready

Evidence is mounting for future catastrophic effects of climate change and resource depletion. We need to get ready for the coming changes.

To limit the change in global average temperature to 2° C, the world must rapidly reduce and eliminate fossil fuel consumption. In fact, we have waited so long to make meaningful cuts to fossil fuel use that now, the cuts we need must happen so quickly that the effect will be similar to a collapse. But the phase-out of fossil fuels by itself will not achieve the goals of the Paris Accord. We also would need to quickly develop, test and deploy some new technology to remove and sequester carbon from the atmosphere.

Neither major US political party has demonstrated the will to either cut fossil fuel use or to develop and deploy carbon-removing technology. It seems inevitable that global average temperature will shoot past 2° C. Some climate scientists have predicted a change of between 7° and 10° C, changes big enough to endanger the survival of the human race. One "optimistic" scientist has said that change will be limited to 4° C, because civilization will collapse, limiting further greenhouse gas emissions.

Climate change is only one part of the larger, more general problem of overshoot. In 1972, the Limits to Growth predicted collapse due not only to environmental problems, but also the finite availability of resources. The study was largely dismissed, but a recent look at how the predictions from the Limits to Growth have fared has shown that the world is still on track for global collapse. In fact, according to the study, we are in the early stages of collapse.

So it's time--probably past time--that we begin to ready for collapse. There are three broad issues that we should address.

First, we need to prepare to deal with refugees. Millions of people will be fleeing increasing heat in the south and flooding along the coasts. In fact, we already have absorbed Katrina refugees from Louisiana. This problem will accelerate. We need to have a plan in place.

Second, we need to plan for less and less help from outside our area. Federal, regional and even state resources will be stretched to the breaking point. We should assume that we'll be left to our own devices to cope with local problems. Already, the Federal government has proven inadequate to deal with major disasters. We should inventory our strengths, what we have locally that will help us or be available for barter with nearby communities, and we need to account for our weaknesses, needs that will be difficult to meet. Then we should plan ways to mitigate weaknesses and build on strengths. For example, we're fortunate to have a university with a pharmacy college that can synthesize drugs, at least on a small scale--that's a strength. We lack local sources of energy--that's a weakness.

Finally, we need to make plans for an orderly out-migration of the local population, should it come to that. The area may eventually be unable to support its population. We need to identify areas that could accept refugees and develop relationships and assets along potential migration routes.

Unpleasant as the topic is, we need to start talking about collapse now, the sooner, the better.