Monday, April 24, 2006

Global Dimming: How has it Affected Our Minds?

I start the day off cranky (courtesy of The Toronto Star whose carrier has a knack for slamming the paper into the door just as I'm falling asleep again) and wonder whether Global Dimming is having an effect on our collective psyche?

I'd already read about Global Dimming when I heard that the PBS series Nova was running a story on this hitherto litte known problem. As usual, PBS did a bang-up job of explaining the science, showing the evolution of the discovery of Global Dimming, and exposing just how far our heads are in the sand and just how hot our butts are soon going to get as a result.

The surprise of the hour was that Global Dimming was mitigating the effects of Global Warming. In an nutshell, as the sun disappears behind reflective particle-laden clouds, the temperature cools and less water evaporates. Yet temperatures have been increasing. So do we have Global Dimming? One piece of proof is in the 1 degree change in 24-hour temperature range in the days after all flights were grounded after 9/11. Turns out all those contrails, particularly in flight corridors, are hiding the sun and causing the days to be cooler and the nights warmer. Clear the air of contrails and the temperature rises in the day and drops more at night.

Like North America and Western Europe before them, countries like India and China are apparently working on reducing particle emissions because they create visible pollution. As they decrease the particles in the air, we will face the full effect of Global Warming. If we don't want to face a disaster of disappearing polar bears, disappearing glaciers, melted methyl hydrates releasing masses of CO2 in the air, rising seas of up to 25m, and a possible return to the climate of 50 million years ago, our leaders have to reduce the hidden gases at the same time as they reduce the visible particles. This is a pretty brutal truth we're not facing. TVO's DI did a survey a week or so ago, and Global Warming as a concern came in 3rd out of 5 or 6. But one question kept nagging me during the whole of Nova: how has Global Dimming affected our psyche?

Are we crankier, more depressed, less sociable because quite frankly we're receiving up to 30% less sunlight than 50 years ago? Did previous generations have more energy, were able to cope with bigger stressors (like war and the Depression) because they were getting an adequate amount of sunlight? Are movements like the Suffragette Movement and the 60s protests impossible today, during a time of less sunlight? Our collective response to ongoing problems like Miller's incompetent handling of trash and McGuinty's inadequate response to the looming hydro crisis and the non-leadership of Canada since the early 1990s, is a collective shrug because with less sun we're too lethargic to get actively outraged? What other effects on our health has happened: more broken bones?

It's interesting and terrifying to learn about these phenomena -- because our leaders will not listen, and play the violin like Nero, instead of manning the barricades like Churchill -- but we don't have the full picture of what Global Warming and Global Dimming has done to us as individuals. And because we are a species that believes it knows everything it needs to know upon any new invention or about any existing knowledge, we only wake up to effect of a particular harm when disaster strikes; yet still believe we know all we need to when it comes to all other chemicals and human activities aside from the one we've experienced as harmful. I believe that this mindset is made worse by the dumbing-down effect of less sun. When the sun shines upon us again in all her full force, we will be like a butterfly awoken, but what will we awake to?

3 comments:

James said...

Click on the following link to read about Dalton McGuinty's flip-flop on hydro electricity privatization in Ontario.

This is from the Ontario Tenants Rights website that has a lot of information about Ontario hydro electricity energy issues.

Anonymous said...

Bingo! is this not obvious to everyone? Why do psychiatrist use light thearapy nowadays? I can only speak for myself when I say that sunshine lifts my spirits. I spent 4 years in sunny south florida and can say for certain that my seasonal mood swings were almost non-existant.

talk talk talk said...

I'm lucky in I don't have those swings, but for those who are susceptible, it's bad enough in the winter when Canada gets a normal amount of sun during the short days, but to have 2 weeks less... I hadn't thought of the rise in light therapy being concomitant with the decline of sunlight. Interesting theory!