Eloquent words

Much has been said and written about the U.S. Declaration of Independence, drafted by Thomas Jefferson and signed by Congress in 1776. The document was the fruit of many days of difficult discussions between the representatives of the original colonies, the thirteen States.

Every time I read it, I'm struck by the powerful sentiment so artfully expressed by Jefferson in the second paragraph. Much of the original draft was modified by the founding representatives who participated in those early sessions of Congress. But this paragraph, we're told, is all Jefferson. The words somehow reach down and reflect something within the human spirit that seems to resonate still:

"...We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."

I never tire of seeing these words and reflecting on how powerful they are, how much they've guided western democratic ideals, and - sadly - how sometimes we've drifted from them.

The full text of the Declaration of Independence can be read here.
More on the thoughts and writings of Thomas Jefferson here.

Feeling at home

I recently spent a few days in Newmarket, Ontario, about an hour's drive north of Toronto. We had gathered for the funeral of a close family member. It was an emotionally trying time but also an opportunity to reconnect with family, friends and acquaintances. At the reception, talk turned to the topic of home.

Since we've moved out to Vancouver, many people have asked me, "So, how do you like Vancouver?" I always respond by saying that I'm enjoying living on the West Coast and I'm starting to feel at home here. But almost in the same breath I say that for me home is relative. Home is where I am, where I rest my head after a heavy day and where my family is. Home is not that necessarily related to a specific location.

The more I travel, the more I realize that while geography offers us the infinite variety of the natural world and clues to understanding local history and culture, it is also represents simply an aesthetic aspect of life. Life, for most of the week, revolves around work, spouse and family, shopping, food and rest.

As beautiful as the country may be, so much of our daily experience looks the same after a while that in the end it doesn't matter so much whether one lives in the Rockies, the Prairies or the Maritimes. Offices are more or less the same, shopping centres offer the same types of stores and merchandise pretty much everywhere, restaurant franchises are copies of each other, and many of these companies are also national: think about brands like Tim Horton's or The Bay, for example. When you factor in the effects of network television programs, the availability of the Internet, portable music tracks that become the soundtrack of life, and the use of social media, then geography begins to matter less and less.

So as we share similar life experiences across the country, then "home" comes down to our routine and the relationships we form -- relationships at work, relationships in the house and how we stay in touch with extended family members. That emotional "place" is, for me, where home is. And, accepting that, one can, in theory, live just about anywhere in this vast country and find a way to feel at home.

Will the volcanic ash cloud cool the planet?

While the volcanic eruption in Iceland has been very disruptive for air travel, one possible benefit of the enormous ash cloud is that it may contribute to global cooling.

The spreading of suspended particles of ash in the atmosphere, particularly if they are rich in sulfur, can actually create a protective haze in the high atmosphere. The sulfur particles mix with water vapour to form clouds with sulfuric acid droplets. These are said to stay aloft for years and contribute to the cooling of the atmosphere by absorbing solar radiation and reflecting it back into space. This may give scientists and governments a little more time to find ways to reduce the harmful impact of increasing carbon dioxide emissions from human activity. Even as we struggle to find ways to reduce these emissions, scientists are starting to turn to "geoengineering" looking for ways to shield the earth from the harmful rays of the sun.

While volcanoes may damage the ozone layer, it's also very clear that certain significant eruptions in the past have contributed to recorded periods of cooler weather.

The 1991 eruptions of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines and Mount Hudson in Chile released a gigantic sulfuric oxide cloud that scientists say caused the reduction of global mean temperatures by as much as one degree Celsius for the following two years. It may not sound like much, but such a reduction is significant. To appreciate the change, let's look at the opposite scenario: think of what would happen if the temperature were to swing the other way. An increase of the global mean temperature by one degree takes us to the edge of fateful precipice: many climatologists say an increase of just two degrees would spark an unstoppable chain reaction of global warming that would increase the amount of methane in the atmosphere, choke our food supply and rapidly doom our planet. So, in contrast, a reduction of global temperatures by one degree is a big deal.

A similar global cooling phenomenon was recorded after the 1883 eruption of Krakatoa (Krakatau) in Indonesia when the world experienced very cool weather and dramatic sunsets.


The image shows the smoke plume from the Mt. Etna volcano, in Italy.

For information on climatic effects of volcanic activity, including the two eruptions cited above, click here.

For a primer on climate engineering, click here.

The story of the Krakatoa eruption is here.