Thursday, 28 April 2016

Climate change checklist

image credit WWF
My belief is that climate change is likely over the coming decades and that we should prepare for it, both  by reducing emissions and taking measures to protect us from floods and extreme weather events. However, we need to retain humility and recognize that effects known only to the Creator could occur (e.g.:  the influence  of dark matter or some cosmic connection via quantum entanglement). I have drawn up this list as a reminder of the complexity of the problem of predicting climate change.

Radiant energy output of sun. This has increased by around 25% since the sun was formed, i.e. over more than 4 billion years.  Very small variations occur over decades and centuries and bear some relationship to the number of sunspots (which is related to solar activity). The Little Ice Age  included  a period of low sunspot activity, with no sunspots observed over 1650-1700, when the mean temperature was lowest.

Milankovitch cycle. The amount of sunlight reaching the earth varies according to the changing shape of the earth’s orbit (eccentricity), the tilt of the N-S axis and the precession of this axis. The crucial factor appears to be the amount of sunlight falling on the northern hemisphere in any one year. Milankovitch (1970s, Serbia)  showed that the coming and going of ice ages over the last 600,000 years was due to these factors.  If there were no other factors we would expect to be entering another ice age now, instead of a warm period.

Heat from below the crust. The biosphere has more heat going into it than can be accounted for by the sun. The difference is believed to be due to  radioactive decay in the earth’s core.

Atmospheric composition. The importance of this arises from the way it affects the absorption and reflection of radiation coming in from the sun or being reflected back upwards from the earth’s surface. Carbon is the main gas responsible fo the greenhouse effect – it acts like the glass in a greenhouse to trap in heat. Methane is also a greenhouse gas, much more powerful than CO2 but also much less prevalent.

Plants.  While alive these take in carbon dioxide from the air, thereby cooling it through the reduced greenhouse effect. But as they decay they give it out again,  but over a longer period. Large areas of trees affect the climate not only in this way but also by their moistening effect on the air.The Amazon rain forest appears to have a pivetol role in determining the global climate.

Animals . The main effect of these is due to the methane from  their defecated waste and rotting carcasses. Methane produced in this way is more of a problem than automobile greenhouse emissions as livestock herds grow in response to the westernization of diets in China, India etc.

Microscopic life. Bacteria and spores living in  land, sea and air sometimes affect rainfall. E.g. spores in the ocean can be whisked up into the atmosphere by strong winds and dispersed. Here they act as condensation nuclei for the formation of the water drops and thence clouds. Insects can reduce the balance of combustible debris in a forest and this in turn means fewer and smaller forest fires emitting CO2.

Clouds. The type of cloud and its coverage affect the amount of sunlight striking the earth’s surface and the amount of radiation reflected back to its surface instead of radiated away into space. They have been and still are a problem in creating global warming models.

Atmospheric convection.  Heat from the ground boils up the air and the convection currents (i.e. wind) produced distribute warm air over the planet and also affect the cloud type, amount and global distribution. This in turn affects temperature, rain and snow.  Hurricanes, tornadoes, gales and the jet stream are all driven by atmospheric convection.

Ocean currents. The bulk of the heat in the biosphere which we inhabit is stored in the ocean and it the global currents in the sea (e.g. the Gulf  Stream) which determine the global patterns of temperature in the air over the sea.

Methane from seabed and tundra deposits. As the climate warms it releases large bubbles of methane trapped in fozen deposits under the ocean or in tundra.  This causes further warming.

Polar ice caps. Both Arctic and Antarctic  ice sheets reflect large amounts of heat from the sun back into space. Small reductions in area cause significant increases in the amount of heat absorbed from the solar heat reaching the earth’s surface. Similarly, the greater the ice coverage  the more incident radiant heat will be reflected.

Snow cover. As with snow in the polar regions the snow settled on large mountain ranges like the Himalayas and the Alps affects the percentage of sun radiation reflected or absorbed by the earth’s surface.  

Melting glaciers.  When a glacier melts it not only  causes flooding but reduces the area of earth which reflects incident sunlight away from the surface, i.e. the ground retains incident solar energy instead of reflecting it  back into space. When melt water flows into the sea it dilutes the concentration of salt in the seawater and this has a major effect on ocean currents which in turn affects the climate. (The more salt the denser the water.)

Volcanoes. Eruptions from these inject huge amounts of sulphur dioxide into the air and, like carbon dioxide and methane, this produces a greenhouse effect. The ash and dust from eruptions also affects cloud formation and directly blots out sunlight.

Meteor  impacts. Hits by large meteors can have global repercussions including climate change. If a large enough object hit the earth it would of course cause a mass extinction event, like the one which wiped out the dinosaurs 66 million years ago.

Cosmic rays.  These  can also affect cloud formation , since the particles which make up cosmic rays can cause nucleation of water drops.  There does seem to be some link between them and average temperature/rainfall.

Human activity. Carbon dioxide from fossil fuel burning and methane from livestock farming are the main human source of global warming gases which appear to be tipping the global balance towards warming rather than the cooling we would expect according to the Milankovitch cycle (see above).

John Sears
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Thursday, 7 April 2016

Female status in the west and its debt to Christ

Jesus Christ has had a huge and growing effect on history, as described in Who is this man? By John Ortberg. He grew from  humble beginnings in Galilee  to  inspire the lives of billions and transform societies  2000 years later in a variety of ways and His influence continues to  grow. 

The historian’s view of an individual’s greatness is ‘what did he leave to grow?’ Did  he start men to thinking along fresh lines with a vigor that persisted after him? By this test Jesus stands first.

The incarnation of our Creator into humanity not surprisingly had numerous profound effects, including the infusion of the divine into situations of suffering and sin, something requiring deep prayer and meditation to comprehend but  God chooses to make spontaneously available in many cases.  Even though only partially understood and sometimes wrongly portrayed by the powerful institutions, both secular and clerical, Christ has transformed the world to a degree which makes Christian society more humane, free, democratic  and technologically advanced than any other (look around the world today and tell me you don't agree, bearing in mind that most non-Christian nations, such as India and China, have been  influenced by the west in modern times).

One of the many unique contributions of Jesus Christ to human progress was the effect on the place of women in society and how he overturned tens of thousands of years of entrenched exploitation of females worldwide. Here I will list just a few points:

Image result for imago dei virgin maryThe Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus. Hundreds of virgin births occur in nature every year. The divine  birth of Jesus from the virgin Mary has theological significance, signalling that God had not favoured any biological blood line for His entry into humanity. It also illustrates the essential complementarity  between the gender roles which God chose for his incarnation.  He could have just appeared out of nowhere, like an angel, but to be fully human He had to go through all the stages of life from visceral birth to  physical death and interact fully with both genders.

The Samaritan woman at the well.   Jesus’s  longest recorded conversation with one person was with a woman, a Samaritan (a sect despised by the Jews) who had been married 5 times.  It was a conversation about her relationship to God and  ‘many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony.’  It was to her that Christ gave this eternally powerful statement:  But whosoever drinketh of the water I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life. (John 4:14)

Women followers.  Jesus travelled from place to place spreading the gospel.  Following him were the 12 disciples, Mary Magdalene, Joanna wife of Chuza from Herod’s court, who was the manager of Herod’s household,  Suzanna and a host of others (see Matthew 27:55, Luke 8:1-3).  Joanna used her comparative wealth to help in spreading the word. This was unprecedented and must have raised many an eyebrow. Respectable women and unmarried girls were expected to remain at home, out of sight.

Healing and resurrection of women. Jesus healed a woman who for 12 years had been sick with a flow of blood and, uniquely, without a word having been spoken beforehand.  She just touched his cloak from behind while being surrounded by  a crowd and the healing power flowed into her.   Later that day  he resurrected the daughter of Jairus, the ruler of a synagogue, having been called to his house.  (see Matthew 9:18-26, Mark 5:22-42, Luke 8:41-55.)

Martha and Mary. Jesus  was invited into the house of Martha , Mary and Lazarus of Bethany. While Martha prepared food Mary sat listening to Jesus. Martha resented this but was rebuked by Jesus who made clear to her the importance of spiritual values. This, I believe, would have been unusual, given the general status of females at that time.  He could have chosen to say this to a man but he was here to relate to and influence humanity, not just men; and humanity involved male and female in complimentary roles and equal before God.  It also emphasized that the woman’s role was not confined to domestic duties, important though these are. (See Luke 10:38-42.)

Gathering to anoint Christ's body.  The Bible relates that on the morning after the Sabbath, as early as they could possibly come without breaking the Sabbath, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the lesser and Joses (also called "the other Mary"), Salome the wife of Zebedee, and Mary the mother of the apostles James and John,  came with spices to anoint His body and prepare it for burial.(See Mark 16:1-2.)

The discovery of the empty tomb . The gospels record that the empty tomb was discovered by  Mary Magdalene of Magdala and other women, and it was to her  that an angel first announced the Resurrection, something which no one was expecting and was probably the most cosmically significant event since beings with the imago deo had  appeared on earth.   Not surprisingly Mary  initially met with disbelief  from the male disciples, who had dispersed and become demoralized as their belief in him as the Messiah ebbed away on witnessing his ignominious death. (See  Matthew 28:1-10;  Mark 16:1-8; Luke 24:1-8.)

Women in the book of Acts.  There are numerous cases of single or married women preaching or teaching the gospel, or being healed or resurrected by one of the disciples. Paul’s first European convert was Lydia (Acts 16:40), who was used by God to house him and Timotheus.  Also in Acts 9:36-42 Dorcas full of good works, died and was raised by the Lord through Peter.  For a detailed listing of women's contributions to the spreading of Christianity in the first century see

fn photo fn clayton 1891
Florence Nightingale, pioneer of modern heallthcare
Women through history. As the influence of Christ spread, however imperfectly,  throughout the world  women played an increasingly important role in history, whether as nuns in convents or  mystics [e.g. St Therese of Lisieux (1873-1897); St Julian of Norwich (1342-1416)] or major forces for good in society. Dozens could be listed. FlorenceNightingale’s (1820-1910) God- inspired initiatives in the Crimean War were an essential precursor to the nursing vocation and the founding of the NHS in the UK following WW2. She also pioneered the application of statistical techniques and is said to have invented the pie chart.   And innumerable social reformers and founders of charities throughout the 19th and 20th centuries have been women. The Quaker Elizabeth Fry, for instance, was responsible for the Prison Act of 1823, while William Wilberforce was campaigning to outlaw slavery for the first time in
Mother Teresa
Mother Teresa followed a vision from Christ
Dame Cicely Saunders
Cicily Saunders
history. The blessed Mother Teresa (1910-1997) worked in Calcutta  as a nun and a missionary. She left a privileged upbringing after a vision from Christ. Dame Cicily Saunders (1918-2005) founded the world's first hospice in 1967 after being inspired to do so by God.Thousands of hospices to care for the dying now exist worldwide.She pioneered new kinds of palliative care and set a pattern of spiritual support for people in their last days.

 The move to win votes for women in England in the early 20th century was driven and sustained by Christian inspiration, as indicated by this text from Questia

The appropriation of religion for the militant political campaign took a variety of forms. The suffragettes adopted symbolic Christian figures as well as the structure and tactics of other contemporary Christian organizations, particularly the Salvation Army. They infused their rhetoric, in both their autobiographical accounts and their novels, with the language of Christian theology and the Bible.

This had a profound and lasting effect on the whole culture and social structure of the western world.

 Harriet Beecher Stowe and Harper Lee were  Christ-inspired novelists that helped major shifts in the spiritual state of the USA, leading to the civil rights reforms. They have also taken on roles of national leadership, as did Joan of Arc.

Compare the treatment and status of women in Roman times with nowadays:  the Law of Romulus allowed routine killing of female fetuses and infants, resulting in  a gender ratio of 140 males to 100 females. Temple prostitution was widespread. Sex slavery and  child molestation were standard, default practices in most places most of the time, and even today are only regarded as wrong in societies with a Christian heritage or after recent Christian  influence.  

Wives and daughters of emperors in the Roman and other civilizations managed to maneuver themselves into positions of power, as did the males, or to exert influence behind the scenes, or even to become monarchs themselves. But this was exceptional. The push for recognition of females in society outside the home only really began in the last two centuries or so as the gospel became accessible through the printing of the Holy Bible and a growing level of literacy. Ironically, this influence even continued in Soviet Russia after it became an atheist dictatorship.

 In India gender exploitation is being slowly removed by conversion from Hinduism or Islam to Christianity. Within countries such as Saudi Arabia, Iran and China  there is a growing western feminist influence which traces back to Christianity in the west from the nineteenth century.

(My personal view is that the Holy Spirit is working through all races, religions and cultures and will eventually bring them together in Christ, even when cultural and ritual practices are retained. The world will then be in peace except for those who knowingly and deliberately reject Him. What happens next nobody can know.)

I am not an academic and became confirmed in Christ only a few years ago in my sixth decade. However,  the more I look at history the more apparent it becomes that the unique role of women in western society and their growing role in other parts of the world, even today, owe a great debt to the life, teaching and resurrection of  Jesus the Christ.  


Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Humans and the universe

We are often reminded by scientists of how BIG the universe is and it is therapeutic to occasionally reflect on this, especially when our ego is bloated. Yet to compare a human being to a grain of sand or a slime mould, as some do, is misleading.

  • You could traverse the entire universe in a fraction of a second of your life if you travelled sufficiently close to the speed of light (relativistic effects include the slowing down of time as experienced by the traveller). This is likely to remain a thought experiment since your mass would become comparable to that of the universe while your thickness would tend towards zero,  but in principle it complies with the presently understood laws of physics.
  • Regardless of the relativistic cosmic speed limit (the speed of light)  quantum entangled particles interact instantaneously, independent of distance or time. Particles are entangled when they emerge from the same quantum system, e.g. from the same atom or molecule. Once the whole universe was one infinitesimal  quantum system, i.e. as it emerged from a point just before the Big Bang. So everything is potentially connected.
  • You can see the universe but it can’t see you.
  • Every experience you have - love, kindness, tranquillity, beauty, revelation, creativity, satisfaction, fulfillment, physical pleasure or even its opposite  - is a miracle given that ultimately it originated in a point in space-time, billions of times smaller than the nucleus of an atom, from which our universe is thought to have emerged 13.8 billion years ago.
  • You can think about the universe but it can’t think about you
  • The entire cosmos would be totally pointless, in a sense non-existent, without life to experience it.
  • Even in ordinary life size has nothing to do with importance. One person in a deserted city would be more important than all the buildings and streets put together.
  • As a human being you can love and be loved.
  • You can have a multitude of experiences: pleasure, pain, heat, cold, light, darkness, sweetness, sourness, noise, silence, harmony, discord, etc. etc.
  • As a human you can create understanding of the natural world, technology, art, music and new ways of conducting human affairs.
  • You can conceive of there being entities or concepts that are beyond scientific investigation (e.g. God or infinity).
If , like me, you believe that humanity, all life and all inanimate matter, were created by a God who cares about God’s creation, then gauging ourselves by size or any aspect of the material world is a pointless exercise, since mind and soul are what connect us to the Creator, and these are independent of space and time.  Good, evil, justice, redemption and free will would also be meaningless in a humanless, godless universe.

The above assumes humans are the only sentient beings in the universe. If we are not alone then one can simply substitute ‘sentient beings’ for ‘humans’ in much of the above.

Feedback welcome.

John Sears

See also

Deep mystery of existence

Ειρηνη του Θεου

Book page for novel about a world where violence is tackled by technology and spiritual Enlightenment
2077:Knights of Peace