Remember chemistry?  Remember physics?  I like to think I do, and I spend a great deal of time thinking about basic properties.  Systems guy, here.  I believe in systems, and replication of systems, voluntary or not, on macro scales.

I shall now proceed to ramble.  Or have already begun.

Heat from the sun is actually radiation. Particles of matter are under such intense pressure, as a result of the force of gravity, that a fusion reaction happens: nearby hydrogen atoms are excited (vibrate; shoot about) to the point of intense heat and sublimate into plasma; they lose their electrons and become hydrogen isotopes; their electrostatic charge is lost by the loss of their electrons; the leftover nuclei are then able to collide and form helium isotopes.  This happens many times over, with the fused isotope [singular] being LIGHTER than the sum of their parts [i.e. plural], and happens FAST. 

Energy is equivalent to mass times the square of the speed of light.  So the difference in weight between your “before” and “after” is expelled as energy.  Again, it needs to go somewhere, and Einstein would tell you that if it’s not coming out as mass, it will come out as energy.  Radiated (highly excited/vibrating) particles. 

Radiation.  Cuts through the sun’s core, passes through the layers of insanity wrapping around it (photosphere, chromosphere), and is ejected into space as various types of human-killing nonsense, as well as sunlight, which we generally enjoy when we’re not thinking of the UV radiation that gives us skin cancer.  The heat is the radiation: the atoms that comprise the mass of our bodies are affected by interaction with these highly-charged particles.

(Physics is awesome, but weird as hell.  The particles have no mass.  It’s just a wave coming at you.  But they also exist as point particles—i.e. the wave can display the same properties as discrete particles when you run experiments to isolate them as such, like tracking their momentum.

Physics is also awesome in that one may infer that in order for the physical world to exist as it does, we NEED photons to exist both as waves and particles.  It’s not a trick of science or a thought experiment; this shit is REAL.  But discussing that gets into quantum physics, and I’ve limited time before I fall asleep.)

When we don’t get that radiation, it gets cooler.  Happens in winter, when we’re tilted further away; happens when clouds block that radiation from getting to us with their radiation-absorbing mass.  Of course, if something should befall the sun in a permanently unfortunate way, we’d be screwed.  Fortunately, that appears unlikely for a good long while.  And if something did happen, we’d know it in about 8 minutes, and then it’ll have happened already.

The thing, though, is that reduction in radiation.  Sometimes the sun goes through periods where the internal reactions aren’t as frequent.  We can tell by recording sunspot activity: solar storms that are the result of particularly violent reactions within the clusterfuck that is plasma swirling about at millions of degrees Fahrenheit, Celsius, or Kelvin.  Fewer violent reactions mean less radiation coming our way—not calamitously less radiation, necessarily, but certainly inconvenient and, at times, approaching dire.

More radiation means more heat.  We plan on this; we build economies on this.  More than just a quick run out to St. Croix, or Six Flags for the roller coasters and water slides: we depend on fairly consistent weather patterns for food and textile crops.  Consistent summers, consistent winters.  Consistent rain.  When that doesn’t happen—when we don’t get consistency—that’s when things start going wrong.

So the sun having these periods of reduced activity can be difficult.  They’re called solar minimums, and are supposed to occur every 11 years or so.  Reduced activity for a couple years, then heightened activity, followed by a leveling-off to the tried and true solar belches that regularly put on a light show for those lucky bastards in Canada, and on occasion can muck up your cell or radio reception.

While the cause of the specific Year Without A Summer mentioned in the title is generally believed to be more frequent volcanic eruptions that obscured the atmostphere with ash in the year leading up to the one in question, 1816, it also occurred during the deep well of what is called the Dalton Minimum. 

John Dalton, a meteorologist and one of the fathers of atomic theory (that atoms exist), noted a 40-year period of reduced solar activity, culminating most drastically with the minimum he observed; average temperatures around the globe dropped about three degrees.  (One can tell by carbon-dating tree rings.  Not me. It’s been almost 15 years since I barely passed my high school carbon-dating experiment I couldn’t find a mass spectrometer with two hands and a flashlight.) 

Cold ruins crops.  On the most elemental level, the crops we sow for growth in the summer have plants with thin cell walls.  If the molecules forming the matter of those cell walls are not sufficiently excited by the radiation of the sun, they will slow, grow brittle, and keep the processes that keep a plant alive (intake of carbon dioxide, synthesis of oxygen) from happening.  In short, they will freeze, and then they’ll die.  That 40-year period of reduced activity with the double-dip occurring in 1816 is part of a macro cycle that occurs every 200 years.  So: our usual minimum was supposed to end around 2007 or 2008.  Instead, the reduced activity has not changed, and we may well be in a double-dip.

The same atomic process that gives birth to an amazingly powerful form of energy can, if not properly accessed, swing in the opposite direction and kill what we cultivate and ingest to provide a very manual sort of energy.  From deuterium to sprouted bread.

As humans, aside from some remarkable examples of banding together to face shared disaster, we suck at coordination.  Too often we’re petty, manipulative hosers who’d just as soon chuck a stick at you than share the last loaf of bread.  Even one of the phrases we use to breed fealty to the common good is some snarky, clever bullshit: “There’s no ‘I’ in ‘team.’”  If you can’t spell “team,” you’ve got larger problems than trying to get on mine.  We’re individuals, not atoms or isotopes, and thus shouldn’t necessarily be entrusted as individuals with access to a similar level of power. 

So we exist in a delicate balance between Sun Tzu/Machiavelli/Smith/Nash, and governments that often do what they can to keep us from running at each other’s throats.  We’re much like the global climate and all that depends on it in this way: too hot or too cold, and we scorch or freeze.  The Year Without A Summer allowed folks in New York to ride sleighs from the tip of Manhattan to Governor’s Island over a frozen New York Bay, but it also killed tens of thousands in Europe and led to food riots, and the poverty that comes from a bushel of wheat taking an astronomical jump in price year-over-year.

I believe in systems, and the replication of systems, which is why I took a left turn in the paragraph above.  Whether the global climate improves or doesn’t, we’re going to have to find a way to rise above this particular system we’re locked in, and be of heartier constitution than a plant that could freeze in a cold snap. 

There are plenty of examples of constancy.  Gravity’s one.  We all like keeping our feet on the ground while conducting everyday activities.  Maybe we should follow gravity’s example, and realign our perspective.  Start from bedrock truths, rather than a suggestion that, as long as we remain in a sweet spot everything will be ducky.  Build from the strengths, not on a wing and a prayer.  That way, if the sun craps out, we won’t freak.

Or, in short: it’s been raining in New York since Saturday.  It will keep raining through next Saturday.  It’s cold, and my hands and feet are cold, and it’s making my prematurely arthritic joints ache.  I miss going out to ball games; I miss going out at all; I miss some people a whole hell of a lot.  And I miss the sun.  And it’s making me crabby and paranoid. 

But, I’m keeping my feet on the ground.  Getting stuff done.  And hopefully we’ll all catch a sunny break here or there.

And not fracture OUR FUCKING BACKS