Monthly Archives: June 2015

Gemini

Gemini is what got me into space, science, all of it. Amy Shira Teitel can bring you up to speed.

Gemini worked out almost everything that had to be worked out to go to the moon. Not the part with the big fire cracker under the tin can to take off from the moon, but most of the rest of it.

Science Communication Gone Rong!

And, just for fun, right after I tweeted this post, I got this:

Screen Shot 2015-06-23 at 2.59.41 PM

The New Andrew Revkin Fan UPDATED

See below for update.

Andrew Revkin has a new kind of fan. These are fans that agree with much of what Revkin says, or at least feel comfortable in his community of commenters. These fans feel their views are substantiated by what they read in Revkin’s New York Times column, Dot Earth. They seem to be Libertarian, anti-environment, anti-science, pro-fossil fuel, and frankly, anti-green. Not just one or two of Andrew Revkin’s fans, but a bunch — with numbers possibly growing — are of this mind, and this is very disturbing. If we had the technology to transport these fans back in time and put them in a small room with Andy Revkin back in the days of the Bush administration, the room would melt down. They would not be his fans, and he would be shocked to be told that some day they will be.

Revkin still has his old fans, people who are actively and intentionally green, concerned about the environment, not willing to accept a world run by fossil fuel or other major environment-harming industrial interests. These are often activists, people who take seriously their individual responsibly to be good to the only planet we have, the Earth. And I’m sure there are many ways in which these more traditional Revkin-readers still fit with and relate to the folk singer and former New York Times journalist.

I’ve been noticing this for months. I speak with a green activist about climate change. The activist is very concerned about climate change due to human produced greenhouse gas pollution, can see the effects of it, worries about future generations that will be unspeakably harmed by it. Annoyed, the activist is, with deniers of climate change, deniers of the science, those who incorrectly say that even if it is real we can’t do anything about it, or should not, falsely claiming that curtailing fossil fuel use will be worse than using the Sun’s energy to fuel our lifestyle, or perniciously saying this simply can’t be done.

And right there in the middle of the conversation about how global warming is real, human caused, important, and fixable, and about how deniers of these things are truely some kind of bad guy, I’ll hear something about how Any Revkin is great. Writes great stuff. Says great stuff. And I’m sure that to a certain extent, taking a life long career into account, considering it all, this is true.

But then I look at Dot Earth, and I see two things. First is Andy Revkin’s tendency to occupy that space between serious concern about climate change and acceptance of consensus science on one hand, and questioning of the reality and importance of climate change, on the other. In other words, Andy likes to write, often, in the space between what deniers call “warmists” and what warmists call “deniers.”

There was a time, perhaps, one could argue, and many did, that there was a valid intersection between these space, an overlap, a place where an honest broker could be effective in shepherding those who might be antagonistic towards better solutions to our existential problems in a better direction. But that ship has sailed. There is plenty of room for variation in policy approaches to climate change. But there is absolutely zero room for considering the reality of climate change or its severity. We can honestly argue about thresholds, and which decade will see what severe effects, but we can no longer argue about the existence or overall seriousness of the problem. Within climate science, scientists argue over the relative importance of Arctic Warming vs. Pacific surface warm anomalies in relation to quasi-resonant Rossby waves, about the complex dynamics of transient climate sensitivity vis-a-vis positive feedbacks, or about the order in which to load variables into climate models running on supercomputers. But nobody, really, in climate science is arguing about any of the things that are being discussed in that space between consensus science and denial.

Except Andy and a few other people, and many who call themselves green, because they are honestly and honorably green or at least want to be green, see Andy in that space and think, well, if he’s there, maybe I should be there.

As the gaping maw between good climate science on one hand and pro-fossil fuel activism on the other has grown, almost everybody has moved to one side or another, most moving towards the science unless they have some motive to be on the side that we now understand is clearly wrong. Most green people have moved to the side that prefers to save the Earth and has little interest in saving the Koch Brothers. And as this tectonic event, this rifting, in perspective has happened, Andy Revkin’s Dot Earth blog has stayed in the widening valley, initially I assume because it seemed like the right place to be, and eventually remained there for reasons I would feel uncomfortable guessing at.

And today, I took a look into that rift to see what was in there and what I saw was disturbing.

Tony Dokoupil of MSNBC produced some commentary about how Dot Earth has degraded to little more than Andy Revkin’s hobby blog. He makes a number of points you can agree with or not, and Andy, much to his credit — he could have ignored this but chose not to — addresses those points. I have opinions and observations I could express about Dokoupil’s commentary and about Revkin’s response, but that is neither here nor there. What I would prefer to focus on is the nature and character of the supportive commentary, a subset of the folks who jumped in to say Andy’s doing it right. The new fans.

Following is a sampling of comments on this most recent post which give a flavor for what I’m talking about. Much of what is repeated below is discredited by current science or misrepresents science. For the most part it isn’t even very skilled denialism. The denialism part is not what bothers me. Well, science denialism bothers me, but that is not what I’m talking about here. What concerns me is the apparent comfort level found among those who really want us to do nothing to address climate change with the middle ground, the honest broker. What might have once been a true middle ground is now a place where the anti-science troops hunker down and from which they snipe, like the various demilitarized zones of past meatspace wars throughout the 20th century. It is a place that should not be groomed for use in the national paper of record, and especially on a green blog.

Laird Wilcox Kansas City is comfortable at Dot Earth and appreciates Andy’s approach:

What may bother some global warmists is that Dot Earth actually opens issues up to comment in an honest way. For ideologues, and especially dogmatic AGW warmists, this is anathema — it’s giving the hated demonic “other” a voice and allowing him a voice to undermine the group consensus that drives dogmatic causes and crusades to greater and greater levels of intolerance of opposition.

To allow skeptics and others who see issues with global warmist dogma that require reconsideration of basic premises, additional testing of claims and declarations, reanalysis of date and perhaps honest and unsparing consideration of what it is that they really fear from open and vigorous debate in the public domain. Why is it necessary that “denialists” are driven from web pages, comments sections of journals and newspapers as well as warmist meetings and conventions? I don’t this this happens because everybody is assured they are full of c**p but rather that they have cogent arguments worth considering.

This tendency to reject the hated “other” with broad campaigns of marginalization, vilification, stigmatization, stereotyping and name-calling is allowing public awareness of what the AGW warmist movement harbors in its ranks – deeply insecure believers drawn to the apocalyptic catastrophizing their movement demands and a deeply dark paranoia toward all who question the dogma, writ and scripture that supports it.

It’s own intolerance and extremism should give it away in normal times.

Trusted Commenter Kip Hansen implies a link between the Dot Earth approach and a well known scientist turned (sadly) denialist:

Dr. Judith Curry, in her opening remarks at the ” Circling the square: universities, the media, citizens and politics.” conference in Nottingham, England, concluded with this:

“In conclusion, my concern is that the scientific community is extremely confused about the policy process and too many climate scientists are irresponsibly shooting from the hip as issue advocates. Apart from the damage that this is doing at the interface between science and policy, the neglect and perversion of uncertainty is doing irreparable damage to the science and to the public trust of scientists.”

I would support the same statement, with the subject being Environmental Journalists, transmogrified to: (this is a paraphrased quote, with substitutions):

“….my (Kip Hansen’s) concern is that the environmental journalist community is extremely confused about the policy process and too many environmental journalists are irresponsibly shooting from the hip as issue advocates. Apart from the damage that this is doing at the interface between journalism and policy, the neglect and perversion of uncertainty is doing irreparable damage to journalism and to the public trust of environmental journalists.”

When journalists no longer question the pronouncements of advocates — political or scientific — then they fail at their sacred trust.

Has Andrew Revkin become *that* kind of journalist here at Dot Earth? Is he “just another advocate”?

Kurt notes:

If I understand correctly, part of the criticism from “Climate Hawks” is that YOU don’t take a strong stand. (For the record, NOT my criticism; im Gegenteil: a good journalist, like a good scientist, should not let his ideology cloud facts or data!). Nevertheless, they probably wonder why you’re not fighting in the trenches like Joe Romm or Susan Goldenberg.

Keep your balance, your open mind and vor allem: keep playing music!

and, in support of Andy Revkin,

it was Revkin himself who posted the criticism on his own blog. Revkin doesn’t make the silly statement that Dokoupil lacks a scientific background; indeed, none of Dokoupils’ arguments are remotely scientific – they are about Revkin’s attention being split between competing interests, his blog style, his interaction with commenters and hosted writers, and regaining his former gravitas: “… quite simply one of the very best reporters to ever push a green noun against a green verb in newsprint.”

Robert disagreed, but wmar has a response to that:

You forgot the most important part of the list:

The Data –

for that is what is primarily on Kip and Kurt’s ‘side’. When Andy notes this it is indeed refreshing and valuable.

Adrian O has a nice example of denial in response to Portia‘s quip “Man walks into a bar in the Kirabati Islands.
Oh. Wait
“:

precisely mapped how Tarawa, the main atoll and the capital of Kiribati, has GROWN CONSIDERABLY in surface since 1940.
The study and a dozen others are quoted by the IPCC which mentions that out of ALL Pacific small islands measured, a large majority, 86%, are GROWING IN SURFACE or are stable.

IPCC concludes, in section 29.3.1. OBSERVED impacts on Island Coasts (2014)
QUOTE
Sea-level rise did not appear to be the primary control on
shoreline processes on these islands
END QUOTE
http://tinyurl.com/nb5he7h

So now that you see in detail that when measured the islands are NOT sinking, you have two alternatives

1) You are relieved. You were worried that islands are sinking, but now you know that careful maps and the IPCC show that that is not the case.

2) (sadly much more likely) You feel ambushed by right wing deniers, and you know better than to look at measurements, even official: you always choose propaganda, and think that measured reality is Satan. You want Andy’s blog closed.

This can happen in two cases.
a) You are totally uninterested in those islands, but you NEED to feel desperate in order to feel good about yourself, or

b) You are totally uninterested in those islands, but you have considerable gain if you seed despair, e.g. you have green investments, you are a green CEO, etc.
*
Denver and Kirbati are submerged.
Why Denver?
Why Kiribati?

I’m going to include a comment by Robert to address some of the issues above lest I be repeating a bad message:

i see we’re still not reading the material, AO. well, I’m here to help, though I do think that the masters of science generally do try and do their homework before spouting off.

1. Both the IPCC appendix and the unpublished study you cited agree on two things: a) sea levels generally continue to rise in the Pacific (and have risen approx. 200 mm. over the last 130 years).

2. The rises, together with other natural and “anthropogenic,” events, continue to change islands, reefs and atolls in ways that are not clearly understood.

3. Very generally speaking, Kiribati’s bigger islands have gained in area, while the smaller have lost area.

4. Some of this is wholly natural, in the sense that this sort of geography tends to move, shift, and change a fair amount.

5. However–and your authors are explicit about this–a large part of the reason that the larger islands have tended to grow is that more people live on them, and they’ve been building sea walls, retainers, dredges, etc. like crazy.

In brief, no, these islands don’t just sink. (Actually they don’t really sink at all; they get eroded away, the sea level rises, etc.) The processes involved are complex, just as they are with global warming.

However, the overall pattern is clear.

So read your own material, willya? And grow a sense of humor.

That there are denialist comments on Andy Revkin’s blog is not an issue at all. What he or his editors allow is entirely up to them. My position on blogging comments will be well known to my own readers. There can’t be hard and fast rules. It is entirely appropriate to exclude any and all trolls and at the same time it is entirely appropriate to allow their discussions. There is no free speech issue here (anyone who feels excluded from a given outlet can go get their own outlet). The problem, to reiterate but it probably needs to be said a couple of times, is that Andy Revkin’s approach to many of the climate related issues is to give service to positions that are simply untenable and, very likely, damaging.

Andrew Revkin is not a climate science denialist. But he is occupying a space where, given the evolution of this issue in recent years, few who understand the severity of the problem occupy any more, for good reason. So, as long as people are lining up to advise Andrew Revkin as to what he should do, I’ll add this. Take one of your feet off the dock or the boat, before you fall in!


Update Added June 25

In a response to my post, regarding my assertion that there is zero room for debate about the reality of climate change, Andy Revkin wrote, at Dot Earth:

“Zero room.” That’s scientific.

Yes, it is. There is zero room for debate when an issue has been pretty much settled. In science debate can come up anywhere, you never know, but for all practical purposes we do not debate if the Earth is hollow or solid or flat or round, or that germs cause many diseases, or that frogs reproduce as most other tetrapods do rather then spontaneously emerging from mud.

The Earth is warming. No room for debate there. Many factors affect global surface temperatures. Some are natural, some are human-caused. The sum of the natural effects does not produce the warming we see. The human effects have caused, over the last several decades, a certain amount of cooling (from aerosol pollutants) and a certain amount of warming (from greenhouse gas emissions and related positive feedbacks, and damage to Carbon sinks). So the warming trend is human caused. No room for debate there. Climate change is causing loss of life, damage to property, and threats to food production through drought and excessive rain. Sea levels can not possibly fail to rise over coming decades, wiping out coastal properties including human settlements, harbors, agricultural lands, etc. No room for debate on these effects. Killer heat waves have become more common and this will get much worse. No debate about that. Ocean acidification is happening and will get worse. This is not debated. There is some debate about how much we can adapt to some of these effects, but adaptation will be costly and there are limits. So, yes, there is some debate there. There is no debate that we need to keep the Carbon in the ground. There is some debate (but it is highly questionable) about the idea that we can get energy by releasing Carbon but at the same time use energy to un-release the Carbon. There are serious physical limitations to such an approach. There is a vibrant and real debate about which non-fossil-Carbon technologies we should use to produce energy, given the possible mix of technologies such as wind, PV solar, thermal solar, passive geothermal, tidal, hydro, and nuclear. That’s a real debate. There is real debate about pricing carbon or regulating energy production, about subsidies and incentives, etc.

So to repeat my original post, I said “… there is absolutely zero room for considering the reality of climate change or its severity.” Andy Revkin claimed that this is not true, that there is a debate. Until he said that I had not realized that Revkin was on the fence about the reality of climate change. I wrote “Andrew Revkin is not a climate science denialist,” but I have now been corrected. Apparently that is not true. This comes as an utter surprise to me.

And, in fact, I don’t believe it. I think his “that’s not scientific” argument was not well thought out, something of a knee-jerk reaction, in which you tell the person who seems to be disagreeing with you that they don’t know how to think rationally. (In fact, in his comments, he did that twice. Wrong both times.)

In the comments section (below) Andy wrote:

If you’d asked me about my comment policy and your concerns about my “fans” in that space I might have reminded you that comment contributors — as at most blogs — are a tiny subset of the overall readership. I find it puzzling that someone with scientific training would claim to detect significant trends in such a small and skewed sample (commenters tend to have lots of free time and strong opinions) and then use those “findings” to demean the work of someone whose second National Academy of Sciences Communication Award was for Dot Earth. It’s always imperfect. I don’t have enough time to vet all comments for factual content. Folks can feel free to dive into the conversations there or ignore them. They don’t even appear unless you click.

But I had written in my post “that there are denialist comments on Andy Revkin’s blog is not an issue at all. What he or his editors allow is entirely up to them. My position on blogging comments will be well known to my own readers. There can’t be hard and fast rules. It is entirely appropriate to exclude any and all trolls and at the same time it is entirely appropriate to allow their discussions.

I’m not talking about comments. As Andy and others have pointed out, denialist comments on Dot Earth get addressed by those who disagree. I often do the same thing on my blog.

The point I made in this (original) blog post is that Andy Revkin operates a forum that caters to a middle ground that has disappeared, and that feeding activity in this middle ground is counter-productive, demanding a cost we can’t afford to pay. That is my criticism. I further noted that this is important because of Andy’s cachet with the green community.

Susan Anderson (below) says:

Andy’s promotion of voices from the so-called middle has become a reliable indicator prompting people like me to, for example, look up the credentials and work of Martin Hoerling, Roger Pielke Jr., and a variety of others. I don’t remember if he promotes Lomborg.

Meanwhile, it is very sad, Andy is a fine writer, an excellent researcher, has a reputation deep and wide from his history (he turned around 2008), and is an attractive speaker who gets invited everywhere.

His less popular articles on local ecology and initiatives are more than fine, and it is sad that they are not given top billing by his audience, while the fight goes on … and on … and on … getting nowhere and encouraging apathy.

Well put, Susan.

Metzomagic (below) notes that Revkin brought some standard “middle of the road” questions to bear in his interview with Jeremy Shakun. Yes, he did, but if I was interviewing him I would have asked similar questions to give him an opportunity to address them, which he did. Indeed, Andy points out that the current change in surface temperatures is not so much as hockey stick but rather something much more serious and severe. (In thinking about an alternative to hockey stick to represent the shape of the time serious I keep coming back to various dentistry tools.) This makes me believe that Andy is is on board with the reality of and seriousness of climate change.

And that, really, is the problem as I see it. Andy has one foot on the dock, one foot on the boat, but he really wants to be on the dock. Questioning of the reality and importance of climate change, that boat won’t float. I think it is time for Any to just get himself fully and squarely on the dock.

Another update: This discussion continues with Andy Revkin’s new post: In Weighing Responses to Climate Change, Severity and Uncertainty Matter More than ‘Reality’

What Woman Should Be On The Ten Dollar US Bill?

The US Treasury Department has announced that the $10 bill will have a depiction of a woman, in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment, which allowed women to vote.

And now, apparently, everyone can vote on who that woman will be. Or, at least, make a suggestion.

The bill will be come on line in 2020.

You can learn more go HERE.

So, who do you think it should be?

May 2015 Global Surface Temperatures Break Record

NOAA has released the data for average global surface temperature for the month of May. The number is 0.87 degrees C (1.57 degrees F) above the 20th century average for their data set. This is the highest value seen for the month of May since 1880, which is the earliest year in the database. The previous record value for may was last year. This year’s May value is 0.08 degrees C (0.14 degrees F) higher than that.

According to NOAA:

<li>The May globally-averaged land surface temperature was 2.30°F (1.28°C) above the 20th century average. This tied with 2012 as the highest for May in the 1880–2015 record.</li>

<li>The May globally-averaged sea surface temperature was 1.30°F (0.72°C) above the 20th century average. This was the highest for May in the 1880–2015 record, surpassing the previous record set last year in 2014 by 0.13°F (0.07°C).</li>

This is the NOAA graph for May temperature anomaly values from 1880 to the present:

NOAA-Monthly_Through_May_2015

Here is a graph showing the surface temperature averaged over the 12 month periods ending in May (inclusively) for the entire data set:
NOAA_12-month-June-to-May_Surface_Temp

Just for fun, I requested the same graph but with a trend line plotted for the time period sometimes referred to by climate science denialists as the “pause” period, which Wikipedia defines as 1998 – 2012. Notice that the trend for the “pause” (aka “FauxPause”) is still rising, and that it sits among data that are rising much faster.

Screen Shot 2015-06-18 at 10.15.08 AM

And, for the record, the following plot shows a trend line running from the publication of the famous Hockey Stick research by Mann, Bradley & Hughes to the present. This is the amount of surface warming that has happened since, more or less, the full-on birth of the climate science denialism industry.
Screen Shot 2015-06-18 at 10.18.20 AM

The amount of warming in the US (where a majority of you’all live) is less than globally, because certain other regions have warmed much more (like the Arctic). But the warming still has an effect. Considering just heat, which for many is compensated for by potentially costly building cooling system, there is more heat and thus more demand for cooling. Heating and cooling engineers express this in terms of “cooling degree days.” This is essentially the number of degrees you have to cool a structure accumulated over days, making certain assumptions you can read about here.

So, how have cooling degree days changed in the US? Here’s the graph.

Screen Shot 2015-06-18 at 10.26.58 AM

If you live in certain parts of the country, this can be more extreme. The graphic at the top of the post is the change over time in cooling degree days in the American Southwest.

Skeptics Dare Heartland Institute to Take Up $25,000 Climate Challenge

This is a press release from the Center for Inquiry:

Skeptics Dare Heartland Institute to Take Up $25,000 Climate Challenge

A leading science advocacy group is throwing down the gauntlet to the Heartland Institute, a group that claims that global warming stopped in 1998, with a stark, simple challenge: If the 30-year average global land surface temperature goes up in 2015, setting a new record, the Heartland Institute must donate $25,000 to a science education nonprofit.

The challenge is presented by the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI), a program of the Center for Inquiry, which held its “Reason for Change” conference last week in Buffalo, at the same time as Heartland’s own climate conference in Washington, DC. Heartland’s gathering opened with a keynote address by Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), who believes that global warming is “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people.”

Among the key findings of a 2013 report published by Heartland was that “The level of warming in the most recent 15 year period [since 1998] is not significantly different from zero” and “natural variability is responsible for late twentieth century warming and the cessation of warming since 1998.” While the report’s authors dismissed global warming forecasts published by mainstream scientists, they have avoided making any testable predictions of their own.

“If anyone really thinks that human-caused global warming is a hoax, and that the climate has stopped heating up, they must also believe that temperatures will now stabilize or drop,” said Mark Boslough, a physicist and CSI Fellow who devised the challenge. “Well, that’s a testable claim, so let’s test it.”

“It’s time for the Heartland Institute to put its money where its exhaust pipe is,” said Ronald A. Lindsay, president and CEO of the Center for Inquiry, home of CSI. “If Earth’s climate gets hotter, and keeps getting hotter, the naysayers at Heartland should publicly own up and pay up.”

If CSI’s prediction proves incorrect, and the 30-year average global temperature does not go up, CSI agrees to donate $25,000 to an educational nonprofit designated by the Heartland Institute.

CSI offered the following challenge:

The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI) hereby presents to the Heartland Institute a challenge as to whether the Earth’s climate will set a new record high temperature this year. The challenge will be settled using the NASA GISS mean global land surface temperatures for the conventional climate averaging period (defined by the World Meteorological Organization as 30 years) ending on December 31, 2015. If the global average temperature does not exceed the mean temperature for an equal period ending on the same date in any previous year for which complete data exist, CSI will donate $25,000 to a nonprofit to be designated by Heartland. Otherwise, Heartland will be asked to donate $25,000 to a science education nonprofit designated by CSI. It is CSI’s intent to repeat this challenge every year for the next 30 years.

“The theme of Heartland’s climate conference was ‘Fresh Start,'” observed Lindsay. “By predicting that a new record average temperature will be set every year for the next 30 years, we are in effect giving them 30 ‘fresh starts.’ I fear that what we’ll all find, however, is that as temperatures rise and the crisis deepens, each ‘fresh start’ will grow more and more stale.”

Last December, Fellows of CSI – which includes noted scientists, journalists, and other luminaries such as Bill Nye, Ann Druyan, Richard Dawkins, David Morrison, Sir Harold Kroto, Joe Nickell, Eugenie Scott, and Lawrence Krauss – circulated a widely noted open letter, drafted by Boslough, calling for the news media to refrain from referring to those who deny the scientific consensus on climate change as “skeptics.” Learn more at http://bit.ly/SkepticsDeniers.

How Warm Was May?

Human released greenhouse gas pollution continues to warm the surface of the planet. May was thought to be likely a very very warm month but it turns out to be merely very warm (only one “very”) according to data released this morning.

Shockingly, May turned out to be, in the NASA GISS data set, less warm than expected. (I mainly get my cues for what to expect from my friend and colleague John Abraham, who has written up the May NASA GISS results HERE.) At the same time the May data came out (earlier today) the data for April was adjusted by NASA (these adjustments happen all the time, they are always small). So, May 2015 and April 2015 had the same anomaly value in the NASA GISS database, 71. That’s in hundredths of a degree C, which itself doesn’t mean much. The base period is 1951-1980, which is a time period after which considerable surface warming had already occurred. The lowest value in the top 20 warmest months since 1880 is 74, the highest 93, so May 2015 is not quite on that list but still warm compared to the baseline, which averages zero (because it is the baseline).

Using a 12 month moving average based on these data, we’ve had record or near record 12 month periods since some time in 2014. The present 12 month moving average is the fourth highest in the adjusted, updated data, but with all five of the highest periods occurring since the beginning of this year. Here’s a graph of the 12 month moving average:

giss_12-month_moving_average

It is also interesting to look at the year to date. How warm is 2015 compared to previous years through May? Here’s a graph of that too:

giss_FirstMonthsOnly

Either way you look at it, surface temperatures are rising. What does that mean? This.

Higher resolution graphics are available here.

What is the Magna Carta?

It begins with a garden or two. Once you have gardens, you have a resource that has the two most important characteristics anything can have with respect to human society. First, you can eat it. Second, your enemies can destroy it.

If you have just a few gardens and get your food somewhere else, no big deal. But back in the old days, and by “old days” I mean any time during the last several thousand years everywhere and anywhere that is not urbanized and has gardens, most people relied on their gardens. These gardens were maintained by families or small villages or occasionally larger cooperatives.

Since a garden can be destroyed by enemies, you have to have a way of defending the garden and everything else. So weapons, militarism, bellicosity, and all that become normal. Note that you could have a herd of beasts instead of a garden and something like this would still happen. Note that if among your beasts there are those you can mount, usually horses, then your weapons, militarism, bellicosity, and all that are now much taller and can run faster, so if you are the only ones with that setup you win.

This all leads eventually to an arms race that usually no one wins for too long. This is the Hobbesian world of Warre, where people are nasty brutish and short, or at least, their lives are. Eventually almost everyone in the world is doing this. Societies that resemble Medieval Europe’s Feudalism emerge wherever there is enough of this going on, which is why a French Knight and a Japanese Shogun and a Shona Chief are all kinda alike.

Then, something like climate change happens. Not the globally devastating climate change we are seeing today, but something likely more regional and not as severe, but that affects everyone’s gardens in roughly the same way. Over here you have famine more often, but over there you have higher productivity many years in a row. Maybe there is a three year long drought that causes mass migration, or maybe there is a summer with out a winter.

Or, if not climate change, population density increases too much and the gardens are not enough. So less than ideal land is planted, or more rapid turnover of cropping in a swidden system becomes normal, or something like that happens. People need to cooperate more to irrigate more, or to store or move around food more. The garden’s of the village become something slightly different.

In any event, the pot is stirred, but when you stir the Stone Soup of society over a large area, you don’t increase homogeneity like when you put all the different stuff in a blender to make a smoothy. Some stuff gets all mixed together evenly but other stuff clumps up and gets all goopy. The goopy parts, the clumps, those are Lords, or Bishops, or Shogan, or Overlords, or something that is bigger than in the old days. Instead of the guy in charge (and it will almost always be a guy because men can’t have babies and thus feel the need to take over everybody else’s junk all the time) being older and stronger and better connected than the other guys in a village, the guy in charge is the one with an extra 100 horses or a better blade or a clever strategy like stabbing the other guys up close instead of throwing something at them.

This is how you get a king.

Once you have one king, you’ll get other kings, or emperors, or whatever, until finally the only way somebody can be a lord or a chief is to suck up the king and that means fighting for the king. And taxes, you get them too. The gardens are now owned by the king, or if not, might as well be. The most convenient way to make this work, by the way, is to make sure that most people are not valid individuals, that they don’t have a place at the table. Those would be the slaves, or peasants, or whatever you want to call them.

Now there are kings or the equivalent everywhere, and some of them are relatively good and some are relatively bad. Badness may be enhanced by technology. Perhaps you’ve invented beer or wine but store it in lead casks so the privilaged few with the drink are more likely to be brain damaged. Or perhaps there is a mind-damaging venereal disease kings tend to get. Or perhaps just bad upbringing. Sometimes you get boy kings because the system of inheritance of power requires it, even though that is totally dumb. Boy kings can go either way. They tend to totally burn out or, alternatively, take over the world, eventually.

And you have kings with more power or with less power.

Eventually, in a region, something the size of a European Country or so, you get both a bad bad man as a king and a king that is very powerful all wrapped up in the same person. Everything that is bad about this sort of self organized system is now worse than it has ever been in anyone’s memory. It isn’t just the peasants taking it in the neck, but also, people in the middle who have power, lords and chiefs and such. Straws fall among the elite breaking one camel’s back after another.

This is when the people in the middle, who have now lost their power, insist on an agreement with the King that happens to benefit the peasants and slaves of the very distant future. That would be the Magna Carta, in the case of England. Other parts of the world have had other outcomes.

The BBC on the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta, has produced a fun and interesting video exploring this history (though it starts later in time than the history I just outlined above.)