Miskatonic University Press


climate.change talks

I was at Libraries and Archives in the Anthropocene: A Colloquium, 2017 on 13–14 May. I’ll be posting more about it soon, but here is the audio and text of the five-minute talk I gave: “GHG.EARTH.” I was delighted to be there. My thanks to Rory Litwin, Madeleine Charney and Casey Davis Kaufman for organizing it.


I have five minutes.

Before I start: this talk is CC-BY; it is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Near NYU.
Near NYU.

5: Introduction

Minute five. Introduction.

Hello. I’m William Denton, a librarian at York University in Toronto, Canada. I’m going to talk about GHG.EARTH. GHG is for “greenhouse gases” and EARTH is for “earth.”

This is a web site. But do not look at it right now! Please get ready to look at it. Open a tab in a browser (Chrome or Firefox, any device), type in GHG.EARTH, but don’t hit Enter yet. Do not hit Enter! Wait until minute four.

Some background. I’ve been working on sonifications, turning data into sound. Climate change research produces a lot of data, especially time series, and it’s interesting and useful to turn that into sound or music. Sonifying atmospheric carbon dioxide you hear the yearly fluctuations as the northern hemisphere takes in carbon in the summer and releases it in the winter. And you hear the rise, year after year, of the greenhouse gases we are adding to the atmosphere. Sonifying long time series of climate data makes very clear the sudden changes we have caused since industrialization.

GHG.EARTH, however, just does one thing. It plays yesterday. It turns yesterday’s CO2 measurement into sound.

4: Performance

Minute four. Now we’re going to perform it.

Get ready: when I say “now,” hit Enter. You’ll see a number and you’ll hear a sound. At the end of the minute I’ll count down to five, then please close the tab. Everybody ready? Now!

[At the end of the minute, count down: five, four, three, two, one, STOP.]

Thank you for the performance.

3: The Number

Minute three. The number.

The number is yesterday’s CO2 reading, in parts per million (ppm), taken at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration observatory in Mauna Loa, Hawaii. This is where the famous Keeling Curve is from. A script scrapes the data every day from its web site. Follow the details link for the code and everything else.

The usual estimate is that before the Industrial Revolution CO2 was at 280 ppm. We’re over 400 now, and it won’t go back under in our lifetimes.

IPCC models make predictions about how much CO2 will be in the air depending on different actions we take. In the best-case scenario emissions peak very soon, then decline, and by about 2070 we’re actually removing CO2 from the air. In that case in 2100 we’ll be at about 420 ppm.

In the worst-case scenario, by 2100 we’re at 936 ppm, which would mean unprecedented global catastrophe.

So far we have consistently been beyond the worst-case scenario. There is no indication that will change.

2: The Sound

Minute two. The sound.

This is a composition. The score is: “Play the tone (Hz) equal to the atmospheric CO2 concentration (ppm).” There is no end specified. There is no arrangement or instrument specified. Anyone can play this for as long as they want, however they want, wherever they want. Like we just did.

A piano has just over seven octaves, with pitches from 27.5 Hz to almost 4200 Hz. All current and historical CO2 readings map to a pitch somewhere in that range. 440 ppm, for example, is A above middle C, “concert pitch”—what an orchestra plays when it tunes up.

280, the pre-industrial number, is a C#, the black key above middle C in the fourth octave of the piano.

410, where we are now, is a little higher, just below G#.

420, best case, is just over G#, still in the same octave.

936 is an octave up, into the fifth octave, at A#5. That is incredibly, dangerously high.

It’s hard to hear the day-to-day changes in GHG.EARTH because it’s microtonal. I’ve never been able to remember yesterday well enough to distinguish it from today, but I keep trying.

1: One Octave to Live In

Minute one. One octave to live in.

Doubling the frequency makes a pitch go up one octave. 440 is A in the fourth octave and 880 is A in the fifth octave. The musical scale is a geometric progression. It’s exponential.

An arithmetic progression is linear: it changes by the same amount every time. Annual CO2 concentration is almost arithmetic. It actually grows slightly differently every year, 2 or 3 ppm, but close enough.

The two numbers, the musical and the atmospheric, are literally working on different scales.

That means we only have one octave to live in. That fourth octave on the piano, from middle C up to B, that’s where we have to stay.

Pre-industrial we were at C#. Now we’re getting close to G#. All of human existence has been in just a few piano keys above middle C. We need to stay there. We definitely do not want to get into the next octave, which starts at about 525.

But that’s long term. GHG.EARTH is there to tell us what CO2 concentration sounds like right now. Play it in the background, quietly, and after a while it will fade out of your attention. You’ll start thinking about other things, but then it will come back—sharply. You’ll remember what it means, and you’ll remember the situation we are in.

Thank you.

I'm a guest on 25 Minutes of Silence


As I’ve mentioned, I’m a big fan of 25 Minutes of Silence, hosted by Joey Clift. I’m delighted to say that I was the guest on episode 27! It was a great experience—Joey made everything very easy.

I encourage everyone to subscribe to the show. It’s wonderful listening.


The links I mention at the end are GHG.EARTH and STAPLR.

Damn straight


Recently Toronto librarians Jane Schmidt and Jordan Hale published Little Free Libraries®: Interrogating the Impact of the Branded Book Exchange in the Journal of Radical Librarianship.

CityLab (a Buzzfeedy site by The Atlantic) picked it up first in Against Little Free Libraries and said:

In a recent article for the Journal of Radical Librarianship—this is a real publication, launched in 2014 by the Radical Librarians Collective, now three peer-reviewed volumes in—she and another Canadian library scholar outline the case against Little Free Libraries, diving deep into mapping data, network effects, and recent library history to make their stand.

Today the Toronto Star wrote about it in Toronto’s Radical Librarians Critique Little Free Library:

In a study published in the Journal of Radical Librarianship, which is real, Ryerson librarian Jane Schmidt and University of Toronto reference specialist Jordan Hale argue that the neighbourhood mini-libraries don’t live up to their stated goals.

“This is a real publication.” “Which is real.”

Damn straight librarians get radical.


This smug condescension is very disappointing, especially coming from the Star, which has pretensions to socially progressive attitudes. There are radical librarians. There have been all through the last hundred and fifty years or so, since libraries began to take the form they have now. I’m not going to try to assemble a list or a bibliography, but librarians (and our friends the archivists) have been standing up to bullshit and repressive politics for a long time. At root, I think, is a common belief: “There’s this material the government doesn’t want you to see, but we saved a copy, and you’re free to look at it. Anonymously, at no charge. I’ll be sitting over there, and when you want to know how to cite it, or wonder why this is happening in a supposedly free society, please come on over.”

Librarians and archivists don’t sneer at the idea of “radical journalism.” We know it exists. We collect it and preserve it. Give us the same respect, journalists. No more smug attitudes smearing an entire profession based on a vague outdated memory you have from childhood. That nice librarian in your high school probably thought the same thing we do now: that everyone should have free access to the entirety of human artistic, cultural and scientific output.

Interruptable power corrupts interruptably.
Interruptable power corrupts interruptably.

Carol Off interviewed Jane for As It Happens on CBC Radio and didn’t fall prey to the smugness. They get into something I wrote about in January: how bad Little Free Libraries usually are.

CO: People have pointed out in some of the reaction to your piece that if you go and open those little houses and look inside it’s quite often quite a pathetic collection. It doesn’t seem to be a real genuine threat to what libraries are providing.

JS: Exactly, right. I think that’s kind of the other thing. We didn’t want to pick on that too much.

CO: Oh, you can.

JS: It is what it is. But, again, if you get back to what we were really trying to focus on with the Little Free Libraries corporation — like the non-profit — they speak very highly of what they’re doing and the impact that they’re having on the community, but … I was like, “Have you looked inside one of them lately?”

Finally, for Jane’s response to all the heat she’s been taking (on social media, I guess, which I don’t read any more), see Oh hello there, LFL® supporters.

You can disagree with us. That’s okay. But similarly, we can disagree with you too. That’s also okay.

Damn straight.

25 Best Minutes So Far of 25 Minutes of Silence


I’ve previously mentioned the 25 Minutes of Silence podcast. If you haven’t subscribed and caught up with past episodes, then the episode 26, The 25 Best Minutes From The First 25 Episodes is a great overview of the best bits so far. Still, nothing matches listening to each episode in full (especially the one with the astronaut), so do go back and work your way through the archive.

Tasteful Corn on the Cob


Today I saw an something astounding, incredible, bizzare and inexplicable: it is possible to buy pre-cooked corn on the cob in a bag.

Front of package.
Front of package.

One dollar for each pre-cooked plastic-wrapped weirdly soft cob.

I bought this in April. The best before date is in October.

Back of package.
Back of package.

But note: they are “non-GMO.” Phew! That means healthy!

412 ppm


Two days ago atmospheric CO₂ jumped up to over 412 ppm (as measured at Mauna Loa and seen on GHG.EARTH). Not good.

412.63 ppm.
412.63 ppm.

York U job: head of science library / physical sciences librarian

code4lib libraries york

At York University Libraries, where I work, there is a search on right now for Physical Sciences Librarian and Head of Steacie Science and Engineering Library.

The deadline for applications is 2 June 2017. If you know a librarian with a background in the physical sciences who might be looking for a job, please send them the link.

I’m on the search committee, so I can’t give any tips, but I’ll point out a few things:

  • York University pays well. For historical pay equity reasons there’s a sort of grid that determines salaries based on the year one got one’s MLIS, so there’s no bargaining that will happen. Someone who got their MLIS in 2007, ten years ago, could expect to make about $120,000.
  • Librarians are in the York University Faculty Association (a union that takes social and progressive issues very seriously) and have academic status.
  • The benefits are good.
  • Americans are welcome to apply. (In Canada health care is publicly funded, etc.)
  • York University is an exciting place to work!
  • The strategic plan mentioned in the ad is a little hard to find on our site, so have a look.
  • There’s an affirmative action plan in place, and in this search we added this to the standard paragraph: “People with disabilities and Aboriginal people are priorities in the York University Libraries Affirmative Action plan and are especially encouraged to apply. Consideration will also be given to those who have followed non-traditional career paths or had career interruptions.” We mean it.

If you want to find out more about York and what the job would be like, email me at wdenton@yorku.ca and I can put you in touch with someone not on the search committee.

Close to 410 ppm


Atmospheric CO₂ is almost at 410 ppm, as measured at Mauna Loa and seen on GHG.EARTH.

409.82 ppm.
409.82 ppm.

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