GHCN Monthly and MS Access

For some of the last few evenings, I have been learning about MS Access’s data import functionality in order to interrogate the data of the Global Historical Climatology Network-Monthly dataset. This dataset holds records of temperature readings dating back to the beginning of the eighteenth century from more than seven thousand stations around the globe.

GHCN Monthly

The data are in text files with a fixed width format. It’s very straightforward to set up the import format (although there are many columns!) and save the import specification so that future datasets can be imported as they are released with ease. The largest data files have almost half a million rows, yet Access can import the data in a few seconds. The resulting table of readings of average, minimum and maximum temperatures for each month for each station has more than one million rows. I have not experimented with adding indexes yet but, in spite of this, I can run queries that are not painfully slow.

Now that I have the data into an Access database, I hope to start analysing the data. I have produced a couple of charts for a single station but am yet to run any serious calculations. I have read of a similar project at:

A Quick and Dirty Analysis of GHCN Surface Temperature Data

The algorithm that caerbannog (the blogger) uses in his C++ program to smooth the data and calculate averages is fairly simple. Something similar should be possible (or even easy) using the MS Office tools.

Ultimately, my aim for this is to make this the basis of an ICT lesson or project. As caerbannog notes “Never in history has science been more accessible to the general public than it is now.” The quantities of data that can be accessed for free are as enormous as the power of the computers that are now cheaply available. I hope that my students will be inspired to look deeply into the issue and this will help develop their sense of empirical curiosity.

Mouse Utopia

I’ve just read an interesting piece on a scientist who tried to create a utopia for mice and his results.

Science fiction writers have often presented a pessimistic vision of the future, where overpopulation is the problem and nihilism and violence are the consequences. That authors take this route is understandable as a functioning society is not much of a backdrop for a story. Also, despair is easier than hope.

It’s heartening that the scientist in the piece to which I link above was disappointed by the pessimistic fiction that he inspired. Whatever happens to our population and environment, we’re going to have to keep on keeping on.

In spite of the recent ugliness in the streets of London, I still feel that urban living and constantly being surrounded by other people is infinitely to be preferred to living like Robinson Cruesoe.

How much does your carbon footprint affect your happiness?

I clicked through to take a look at the following article:

Britain 74th in world happiness rankings

Such surveys are always a bit of fun. The “Happy Planet Index” apparently places Britain way down the list. I thought that this was a bit disappointing but not contrary to impression given to me by the many miserable gits that I have encountered over the years. However, the rankings seem especially spurious. It’s calculated using life expectancy (measurable), “happiness” (not sure about what units we use for that) and the environmental impact of the country.

What’s the last one got to do with anything? I once flew to Thailand for two weeks in the middle of winter. I’m sure that my carbon footprint must have rivalled Bono’s that January, but I was a lot happier that the S.A.D. sufferers that I left behind. I’m sure there are many people who feel a little bit guilty about not reusing their shopping bags and not unplugging their mobile phone chargers when not in use, but I don’t think that it makes them unhappier than the people of Burma. Nagging guilt about flying with Ryanair to Prague for a stag-do versus cyclones, war and oppression. Hmm? Which is more likely to make people unhappy?

King Canute got his feet wet

In an article to do with G8 leaders and climate change

G8 leaders to set emissions goals

the journalist reports that “Leaders of G8 nations are to set a target to cut greenhouse gases by 80% by 2050”. This seems like something that is difficult but possible. It is something that can be controlled by humans. I doubt that the leaders of the G8 actually have such power. They might represent the populations that emit the greatest amount of carbon dioxide, and measures that they take might reduce carbon dioxide emissions in their countries. However, their power does not extend to every other nation on the planet, which will probably produce a greater share of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions by the middle of the century. However, global carbon dioxide emissions are controllable by humans.

The article goes on to say that “[the G8 leaders] will also call for any human-induced temperature rise to be held below 2 degrees Celsius”. Is this going to be a legally binding limit? What sanctions will they take against the earth’s climate if it disobeys they proclamations? Xerxes once had the Hellespont whipped after a storm washed away a bridge, will future leaders resort to such tactics? King Canute order the tides to stop but ended up getting his feet wet.

I do not want to appear defeatist. I think that there are measures that we can take in order to reduce the impact of human activity. There are clearly much better ways of producing energy than burning coal and petrol. Governments have a role to play in moving to newer technologies. But politicians are no more able to ban global warming than they are able to set the ration the circumference of a circle to its diameter.

burning up huge amounts of carbon dioxide

I read the Guardian every day. I don’t think that I will ever have the stomach to take without feeling a little nauseous. The self-loathing of middle class lefties and defeatism inherent in an ideology that holds that levelling down is a price worth paying for aiming for equality makes me feel more than a little bit sick.

Another problem with the paper is that it’s not always very accurate. In this article:

the writer complains about “air conditioning systems burning up huge amounts of carbon dioxide”. How much does this guy know about climate change, electricity production or even high school level chemistry? If a/c systems burned up CO2, then climate change could be solved in about five minutes. We would simply need to turn them all on, burn up the excess CO2 and not worry about the coal power stations belching out CO2. The only conclusion that I can draw from this article is that the journalist knows next to nothing about chemistry and has probably read very little on climate change, the science, as opposed to climate change, the social phenomenon. However, we read articles by such people arguing about draconian measures to combat climate change. Such measures might have a drastic impact on the quality of life whether we take them (in terms of lost productivity) or if we don’t (in terms of environmental chaos). If we get our news from such uneducated fools, what hope have we?

How not to fight global warming

Above is a link to an article on the carbon footprint of the internet. In the comments, we can find the normal luddite opinions. If only people didn’t like the modern world, we could live in pre-industrial simplicity.

It seems embarrassingly obvious to me that if we have any hope of survival, it is in moving forward, rather than backwards. If we think that we can solve the world’s environmental problems by rejecting technology, then we’re sunk. Do the troglodyte commenters on the Guardian really think that the world is going to be able to implement the sort of engineering projects that are going to be necessary for a revolution in the world’s energy industry without the internet? How do they imagine engineers study and design things like solar panels, wind turbines or smart electricity grids? Using pencils, recycled paper and 30 year old text books?