Saturday, September 06, 2008

Fixing Climate, Episode 1

Last weekend I read Fixing Climate, by Wallace S. Broecker and Robert Kunzig. Broecker is a scientist at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory who is known for his work on the ocean conveyer belt and rapid climate change. Kunzig is a terrific science writer. I liked the book so much that I’m going to write about it here for a while.

Episode 1 (text from the book is given in italics):

Broecker gave his first scientific talk, as a graduate student, at an archeology meeting in Los Angeles on September 1, 1955. It was the hottest day ever to that point in LA – 110 degrees. He had been asked to give the talk by J. Laurence Kulp, who was a pioneer in the newly developed field of Carbon-14 dating. The archeologists were arguing about when people first arrived in the New World. After Broecker’s talk, Phil Orr of the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History came up to him:

Phil Orr … was clearly more of a digger than a scholar; although he smoked a pipe, it had a cigar butt in it. He was a short man with a potbelly stuffed into jeans and cowboy boots. His face was shaped like an interstate highway shield – a wide forehead, uncluttered by hair, narrowing to a pointy, straggly bearded chin. That forehead overhung deep-set eyes that seemed made to squint. Orr eyeballed Broecker.

“Kid,” he said, for he was plenty old to be Broecker’s father. “I can see that you know a lot about physics and math. But I also see that you don’t know a goddamned thing about the earth.”

He paused to let that sink in, and to relight the cigar butt.

“Come with me for three weeks and I’ll change your life.”

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