Sunday, September 24, 2006

Waiting till it's too late

On August 2, model Luisel Ramos strutted down the catwalk, walked back, had a heart attack, and died. What caused her heart attack? What do you think? She'd been starving herself for weeks, consuming nothing but leaves and Diet Coke, in order to get thinner and more "beautiful."

Nutritionists and other health officials (not to mention many people with common sense) have long been pointing out that there's a problem here, but no one listened. Now that it's too late, and a model has died because of this, some are finally starting to get the message. Madrid's Fashion Week organizers have put a ban on models with a Body Mass Index (BMI) of less than 18 (the healthy range is considered to be 18.5-26), blocking out more than 30% of models. Is this the best measure to take? That's debatable, but at least they're finally doing something.

Of course, many in and out of the fashion industry aren't happy about this. Allow me to satirize the debate if I may...

Random Model "Jane": Why should we have to pay the price for Luisel's mistakes? Thin is beautiful, do you want to ugly up the modelling business?

Random Expert "Dan": First of all, it's not a price, it's a precaution. We want to prevent more tragic deaths like this from happening. Secondly, look at people like Charlotte Coyle, who's gorgeous despite being technically overweight. The push towards being thin isn't leading people to beauty, it's leading them to death.

Jane: But none of us have died yet! We're obviously handling it just fine.

Dan: And before Luisel Ramos died, she hadn't "died yet," and would probably claim she were handling it just fine. Some of you may well be handling it fine, but many aren't, and they're putting themselves at risk. We need to something to stop this before more of you die.

Jane: Aha! So you admit that Luisel would agree with us!

Dan: Jane, you ignorant slut...

Okay, how many of you could tell by the second line that I was setting that one up? Anyways...

There are a ton of points I could use this as a springboard into making. I could go into the superficiality of the whole modelling thing. I could discuss the arbitrary reasons why thin is what's considered beautiful (hint: Twiggy). But no, I'm going to talk about Global Warming.

The problem in both of these issues is that society often doesn't take measures to fix problems until it's too late. We didn't ban CFCs until after there was a huge hole in the ozone layer. America didn't enter World War II until after Pearl Harbor was bombed. We didn't take measures to prevent models from dying of starvation in the attempt to look thin until one actually died (and even now, many countries who haven't had a model over there die are doing nothing).

And on the horizon is the problem of Global Warming. Scientists know it's a problem, but it's in the interests of too many people for it to not be real, so we're doing nothing. We've already seen the ice shelves of Antarctica start to crumble. We've seen one of the largest lakes in Africa dry up to almost nothing. We've had extreme droughts, extreme floods, and the worst hurricane season on record. All of these are the results of Global Warming, but it still isn't enough. For something this bad, even all of this isn't enough to convince the people in power that we need to change.

Many less-knowledgeable-than-they-think people who try to raise awareness of Global Warming claim that we have to worry about the polar icecaps melting, as they have enough water in them to raise the global sea level by 20 feet. This is a bit less than half true. You see, all of the ice at the north pole and a good portion of the ice at Antarctica is floating. And when floating ice melts, it results in no net increase in the water level. You can test this for yourself if you'd like. Take a glass of water, and put an ice cube in it. Mark the water level, then leave it for some time to let the ice melt. Come back, and when the ice has melted, the water level should be the same (if not a bit lower thanks to evaporation).

So, when it comes to the polar ice caps raising the water level, we don't have quite that much to worry about. There is still a significant amount of land-bound ice in Antarctica, however, which could pose a problem. There's also one other huge deposit of land-bound ice we have to worry about: Greenland. The ice in Greenland is currently plugged in, but if the plug melts, we're, quite simply put, screwed. No, scratch that. This one is worth breaking out a swear for. We're fucked. Coastal cities the world over are doomed. Imagine New Orleans during Katrina happening to thousands of cities simultaneously.

Hopefully this time, we won't wait until it's too late.

EDIT: As I calculated in the comments, thermal expansion of the water in the oceans could be an even worse threat. An overall change of just one degree Celsius in ocean temperature would result in an increase of global sea level of over 5.5m. The only saving grace here is that it will take a while to heat up the oceans, but if we don't stop Global Warming, it's still inevitable.


TheBrummell said...

We didn't ban DDT until after there was a huge hole in the ozone layer.


DDT has nothing to do with either a) global warming or b) ozone layer depletion. It's a pesticide, it kills insects (like mosquitos), and was banned in many countries because it has detrimental effects on animals (ie, big, noticeable, likeable vertebrates, especially birds) that are higher up the food chain.

Ozone layer depletion was caused by many things, principally the buildup of Chloro-Flouro-Carbons (CFCs) in the high atmosphere. CFCs were banned (it's actually a fairly complex history) in many places by about 1994. Eroding a big hole in the ozone layer over the south pole had negligible effects on global temperatures - global warming is a separate phenomenon, and is being driven by many, many complex factors, of which Carbon dioxide accumulation is perhaps the best-studied.

I'm not here to deny global warming, ozone layer depletion, or that DDT is pretty nasty. Please check your acronyms to avoid argument-weakening statements.

TheBrummell said...

While it's true that if the ice sheet on Greenland melted (or partially melted), global sea-levels would rise (yes, that would be very bad), the concern about sea-level rise stems mostly from thermal expansion - water, like most other chemicals, expands as temperature increases. I've seen estimates that, for example, should the oceans warm by a few degrees, global sea-levels would rise by a meter or more, without any additional ice melting.

Infophile said...

RE: DDT/CFC - Yeah, sorry, getting my acronyms mixed up. Also, after doing so much checking into the modeling story, I got a bit cocky with the science part. Thanks for catching that.

On Thermal Expansion - Interesting point, which I haven't heard before. Let's do some quick math to check it:

The length expansion coefficient of water is cuberoot(1.0046) = 1.00153 or .153%/degree

The average ocean depth is 3600m.

Assuming a temperature rise on one degree Celsius, that's .00153*3600m = 5.5m

Yeow, that's more than even you'd said. I guess the only reason this hasn't happened yet is that it's taking time to heat up the huge amount of water in the oceans. However, it's something we can expect to happen in time. How long will it take? I have no idea.