Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach
I had the great pleasure of being invited to give a presentation at the Doctors for Disaster Preparedness (DDP) conference this weekend in Knoxville, Tennessee. It was a very interesting and professionally run conference, and I offer my thanks to Dr. Jane Orient for her invitation, and to her team for the doing endless logistic work that such a conference entails in a most efficient and nearly invisible manner.
The conference featured a host of fascinating speakers, and the city itself was most pleasant and interesting. I came with a stack of Powerpoint slides and a presentation on climate science. But then I thought “Wait a minute, these are doctors, not climate scientists”, and I ended up putting them aside and speaking for an hour with the main theme being the ancient medical admonition, “First do no harm”.
One of the first people I met carried around a portable CO2 meter. We were indoors at the reception dinner in a large banquet hall, and here is the CO2 concentration:
About 800 ppmv … it gave me a better understanding of why ground level CO2 is not necessarily a good measure of the background levels.
One of the best parts for me of such conferences is that I get a chance to meet my heroes. When I began studying climate science I soon identified the scientists that I thought were doing interesting and outstanding work … but I never imagined that I would meet them, much less get a chance to speak at a conference with them. Dr. Fred Singer, the dean of skeptics, was at the conference, and paid me the compliment of quoting some of my scientific results in his speech. I’ve met him several times before, he’ll be 90 this year, still sharp, still funny. I also got a chance to share a meal with Dr. Art Robinson, the originator of the Oregon Petition. He turns out to be a most interesting man, a PhD biochemist who is doing fascinating research on the diagnosis of the state of a persons health by using mass spectrometry to analyze the trace molecules in their urine. He was most complimentary, and said that my presentation was “absolutely perfect”. I felt quite honored.
It was a very eclectic collection of speakers, including a man whose work is the identification of the various types of ebola viruses, and the kinds of precautions necessary for dealing with the disease. He showed slides of him in Africa in a full moon suit, and spoke of how the hospitals often deal with the ebola patients without even gloves, because the hospitals are too poor to buy them and their stocks have run out in the current medical emergency. Given the recent and continuing ebola outbreak in Africa, it was most timely.
And unlike the ICCC9 conference where I spoke a few weeks ago and the talks were limited to twelve minutes (and unavoidably so given the number of noted speakers), we each got an hour to talk about our subject, which was a great boon.
I ended up speaking on how increases in the cost of energy for any reason are the most regressive tax imaginable. If you make very little money, for example, you pay no income tax. But the poorer you are, the larger a percentage of your expenses goes to energy costs (primarily heating, cooling, and transportation), and there is no exemption for those at the bottom of the heap. My message was, if you think CO2 is a problem, fine, but when you fight it first do no harm … and while increasing the price of energy is an inconvenience for many people, for the poorest of the poor it can mean impoverishment, sickness and death. So fight CO2 if you must, but if you increase energy prices to do it, you are actively harming the poor. I’ve requested the video of the speech, I’ll post it up on youtube when I get it. My speech stole shamelessly from my writings, and it’s nothing I haven’t said before, but it was the first time I’d put it into a one-hour speech. It was very well received.
In between sessions, I wandered around downtown Knoxville. It’s an old city, with a marvelous “Market Square”. Ironically, the huge building across the street is the offices of the TVA, the “Tennessee Valley Authority” which did so much to relieve poverty in the area by providing cheap electricity for the local people. The TVA building, fittingly, has a long lovely fountain symbolic of the renewable hydropower that the Authority provides …
There is also a display of old machinery in the foyer of the TVA building which you can see from outside. It’s all from the time when such machines were works of art. One that caught my eye was a “flyball governor”, first invented by James Watt of steam engine fame. As someone who holds that the climate is regulated not by feedback but by a governor system, it was of great interest, and is a stunning example of the genre:
When the pulley-driven wheel turns, the vertical shaft with the four steel balls (one unseen behind) suspended on flexible spring steel blades spins as well, and the balls are driven outwards by
centripetal centrifugal force. This pulls the upper brass ring downwards against the adjustable tension of the spring at the upper right, and controls a valve which regulates the amount of energy entering the system … a most elegant version of an ancient design.
The Market Center is the showpiece and heart of the city. It’s a long open space, and every time I went there it was full of people and something was going on—jugglers, Shakespeare plays in an outdoor theatre …
.. a magician, people break dancing, newspaper sellers, a variety of street musicians, it went on and on. Outdoor cafes ring the Market Square, and the people of Knoxville have turned the outdoor cafe into an art form … now that’s outdoor eating in comfort.
There is only one statue in the square, and contrary to my expectation when I saw it from a distance, that it would be something honoring Civil War heroes, to my surprise it honors heroes of an entirely different kind:
One of the inscriptions on the pedestal was particularly moving …
” … the monstrous injustice of including educated women with felons and lunatics as persons denied the right of suffrage”, indeed. We forget the cost it took to purchase the rights and freedoms we take for granted.
Knowing that if you build a fountain kids will want to play in it, the Market Square also has a fountain specifically designed for kids, with benches nearby for the parents to watch the joy …
There is a museum on the corner of the square, featuring a complete reproduction of an apothecary shop, with reminders of how far medicine has advanced in the last 150 years.
The maids in the hotel who came in to clean my room were great. One was a very large black woman. When I told her I was there to give a speech, she said proudly “I just gave my very first speech myself”. I asked for the details, and she said it was at the drug rehab center where she used to live. I asked her what she’d told them. She said “I told them you can’t just sit around for the rest of your lives drawing government money and using it to buy drugs. You have to get up and stand up and make something out of your lives” … words to live by. She said the management of the rehab center wanted her to go speak to other groups, and I applauded her resolution to do so.
The next day another maid told me she’d been upset when she saw the word “Climate” on some paperwork in another guest’s room, she was all upset about the idea of a climate conference … but then she read a bit more and realized it was skeptics, not alarmists, and after that everything was fine again. So I guess the word is getting out.
One of the best parts of the conference was after it was all over. Everyone was eating dinner, when a loud buzzing went off all around the room, including on my hip. I looked at my phone … tornado alert, take shelter now. I’ve never lived in tornado country, so I followed the example of the locals in the hotel who did … well … nothing. It started pouring down rain, a torrential downpour, lots of wind. When that cleared, I went outside to look for the tornado. I walked up on the hill behind the hotel to get a good view. It’s part of a long ridge, and a sign said that during the war the Union troops (locally called “Federal troops”, I noted) erected ten forts with batteries of artillery during the siege of the town. I could see why, it overlooks the whole city. The sky was chaotic …
… but no sign of a tornado. As soon as I got back to the hotel, the rain and wind started up again, and in a half an hour it was dark, and the sky was full of lightning. I watched the storm from my 11th floor hotel window, I could see the window glass flexing in and out with the force of the gusts. And the lightning was everywhere, cloud to cloud, cloud to ground …
From the news tonight:
Tornadoes were also reported in Tennessee and West Virginia Sunday afternoon and evening. Just north of Knoxville, Tenn., near the Kentucky border, the Claiborne County emergency manager reported that 10 homes had been “completely destroyed.”
A most fitting end to a most diverse and interesting conference. Lightning and wind have picked up again as I write this, here’s the radar from my phone. Knoxville is the blue ball in the middle, the storm is moving southwards, and the lighting is getting amazing again.
Anyhow, that was my weekend. My thanks again to the DDP for putting on a good show. After three hours sleep I’ll fly out tomorrow at 4:35 AM, home for one day to see the good lady, and then off again Wednesday to Vancouver Island, where I’m signed on as first mate on a fishing boat delivery to southern Oregon.
My best to all, keep up the struggle, I’ll post when and as I can.