Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Responses in a Complex System

In the beginning the Creator designed a cosmic system of incredible complexity. Within our cosmos there are multiple subsystems. For example, there are multiple physical systems operating together on our planet. Each functions according to a system of physical constants which are inviolable. Humans discover these constants and must operate their daily lives accordingly. Each activity must conform to the physical constants of natural law whether we enjoy the result or not.

Let us take the discussion from the realm of the theoretical to the realm of the practical. This year our discussions with friends have been transformed from the light banter of an abnormal January and February with its snowless warmth, to the excitement of spring “busting out all over” more than a month early, to the wilting heat of June and July, and finally to week after week of dreaded rainless skies. We are suffering through a drought of rare intensity. For a succession of years our region has experienced relatively cool summers, plentiful rainfall including flooding at times, and bountiful crops.    

With respect to the system of rainfall distribution necessary for thriving agricultural crops to feed our planet’s inhabitants, there is satisfying delight when our weather cooperates and a bountiful crop follows. In the world’s mid-latitude agricultural zones man has learned to harness and conform to our complex weather system. Agricultural experts have learned more about adapting their agricultural practices in keeping with the Creator’s initial mandate to humans to “subdue the earth.” When the earth’s complex meteorological systems produce favorable “normal” conditions, laypersons rest in the knowledge that things are proceeding as they had anticipated.

Since the onset of the drought of 2012, many have discovered more about the operation of a complex system such as earth’s weather. There are multiple complexities governing our weather both short term and long term. Many laypersons are content with a simpler explanation. We are now more informed about climate patterns called oscillations (back and forth swings) in our hydrosphere and atmosphere affecting our short and long term weather even at distant locations. Such oscillations such as ENSO (El Nino-Southern Oscillation) and the AO (Arctic Oscillation), among many others, instruct us in the scope of the complexities.

The oscillations, for instance, between periodic cool and warm ocean water episodes in ENSO and between high and low atmospheric pressure in the AO mirrors the cool and warm and dry and moist variations in our complex weather patterns. Some droughts and flooding incidents are long lasting and severe. A favorite explanation of extreme weather in modern reporting is anthropogenic global warming, climate change triggered by the release of greenhouse gases resulting from man’s burning of fossil fuels. A careful study of the research and analysis of these issues provides understanding to the enormous complexity of weather cycles prevalent on earth for many thousands of years. During most of this time many fossil fuels had not even been discovered, much less consumed. We will devote more time to the hot social issue of anthropogenic global warming in future posts.

Let us briefly comment on some historic drought cycles. Tree ring studies and other paleoclimate studies have provided evidence for historic droughts in North America and around the world since the time of Christ. Such evidences are present in several forms and are termed “climate proxies,” preserved physical characteristics which stand in for direct measurements of precipitation hundreds of years distant. Petroleum consumption was not a factor. Moreover, population levels had not come close to today’s seven billion souls.

As many as thirty million people perished in the “Great Drought” of the Victorian era from 1876-1878 reaching to India and China. The East India drought, 1790-1796, reached countries as far away as Mexico and caused crop failures in Europe. In North America the “Lost Colony” of Roanoke mysteriously vanished, perhaps the result of the driest three-year period in 800 years between 1585 and 1587. The Medieval Period drought was recorded between 1150 and 1450, reshaping the Indian culture of the southwest and forcing migrations from the area. Around 200 AD drought conditions persisted in North America for several decades. There is some evidence that humans are learning to respond more effectively to serious droughts in modern times.

Why did our Creator create a world where living sometimes becomes a struggle for existence? Notwithstanding, our world climate has the potential to sustain and prosper billions of people. Our planet supports seven times as many people as it did 200 years ago. Could we consider that our world climate is inhospitable to the human race? Or should we judge that the human struggle for existence in terms of climate and the challenges of living in our physical world are designed by God to accomplish a greater benefit known ultimately by Him? “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and his ways past finding out!” (Romans 11:33 KJV)