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New Paradigm for the Earth’s Ecosystem: Anastassia Makarieva Speaks about the Biotic Pump in Florence

A New Paradigm for the Earth’s Ecosystem: Anastassia Makarieva Speaks about the Biotic Pump in Florence

Everything began with the idea of Charles Darwin of “evolution by natural selection.” It was a dangerous idea according to Daniel Dennett, but there was nothing dangerous in it unless you misunderstood it. And we know how it was misunderstood by the various suprematists, racists, white-supremacists, white-man-burdenists, and the like. But Darwin’s idea was simple: the biosphere is not static but adapts to changes in the ecosystem. That’s all. There is no species in the biosphere that is superior to other species, there is no collective movement towards some kind of “progress” – nothing of the kind. Everything changes to keep the biosphere alive.

Among other things, Darwin’s idea (dangerous or not) was the first attempt to understand the functioning of complex systems – among which one of the most complex is the planetary ecosystem. Curiously, the human brain, itself a complex system, often finds it difficult to understand complex systems, there must be some profound reason for this, but let’s skip the subject. Rather, the concepts proposed by Darwin have also evolved – or adapted – in time. We are beginning to understand that it is not enough to say that the biosphere adapts to changes, is too simple. This is not how complex systems work. They work through the mechanisms we call feedback where each element of the system influences others.

The step forward came from James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis with their concept of Gaia, a name that describes the fact that the biosphere adapts to changes in the ecosystem and at the same time generates changes in the ecosystem. The adaptation is mutual and two-way. Feedback, in essence.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Rethinking Renewable Mandates

Rethinking Renewable Mandates

Powering the world’s economy with wind, water and solar, and perhaps a little wood sounds like a good idea until a person looks at the details. The economy can use small amounts of wind, water and solar, but adding these types of energy in large quantities is not necessarily beneficial to the system.

While a change to renewables may, in theory, help save world ecosystems, it will also tend to make the electric grid increasingly unstable. To prevent grid failure, electrical systems will need to pay substantial subsidies to fossil fuel and nuclear electricity providers that can offer backup generation when intermittent generation is not available. Modelers have tended to overlook these difficulties. As a result, the models they provide offer an unrealistically favorable view of the benefit (energy payback) of wind and solar.

If the approach of mandating wind, water, and solar were carried far enough, it might have the unfortunate effect of saving the world’s ecosystem by wiping out most of the people living within the ecosystem. It is almost certain that this was not the intended impact when legislators initially passed the mandates.

[1] History suggests that in the past, wind and water never provided a very large percentage of total energy supply.

Figure 1. Annual energy consumption per person (megajoules) in England and Wales 1561-70 to 1850-9 and in Italy 1861-70. Figure by Tony Wrigley, Cambridge University.

Figure 1 shows that before and during the Industrial Revolution, wind and water energy provided 1% to 3% of total energy consumption.

For an energy source to work well, it needs to be able to produce an adequate “return” for the effort that is put into gathering it and putting it to use. Wind and water seemed to produce an adequate return for a few specialized tasks that could be done intermittently and that didn’t require heat energy.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Collapse Is Already Here

Collapse Is Already Here

It’s a process, not an event.

Many people are expecting some degree of approaching collapse — be it economic, environmental and/or societal — thinking that they’ll recognize the danger signs in time. 

As if it will be completely obvious, like a Hollywood blockbuster. Complete with clear warnings from scientists, politicians and the media.  And everyone can then get busy either panicking or becoming the plucky heroes. 

That’s not how collapse works.

Collapse is a process, not an event.

And it’s already underway, all around us. 

Collapse is already here.

However, unlike Hollywood’s vision, the early stages of collapse cause people to cling even tighter to the status quo. Instead of panic in the streets, we simply see more of the same — as those in power do all they can to remain so, while the majority of the public attempts to ignore the growing problems for as long as it possibly can.

For both the elite and the majority, their entire world view and their personal sense of self depends on things not crumbling all around them, so they remain willfully blind to any evidence to the contrary.

When faced with the predicaments we warn about here at PeakProsperity.com, getting an early start on prudently shifting your own personal situation is of vital strategic and tactical importance. Tens of thousands of our readers already have taken wise steps in their lives to position themselves resiliently.

But most of the majority won’t get started until it’s entirely too late to make any difference at all. Which is sad but perhaps unavoidable, given human nature.

If everybody around you is saying “Everything is awesome!”, it can take a long time to determine for yourself that things in fact aren’t:

Real collapse happens slowly, and often without any sort of acknowledgement by the so-called political and economic elites until its abrupt terminal end.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Museletter #314: Human Predators, Human Prey

Society as Ecosystem in a Time of Collapse, Part I

This month’s MuseLetter is Part I of a 3-part essay that uses predation as a metaphor to unpack power relations in human societies. Stay tuned!

Introduction

A lion runs down a gazelle; a raiding band brandishing clubs, bows, and arrows descends on a tribal village; a loan shark confronts a delinquent borrower.

In each of these three scenarios one party seeks to gain at the expense of the other. Without a moment’s hesitation, we classify the first interaction, between the lion and gazelle, as a predator-prey relationship. Biologists and ecologists have studied such relationships in detail for many decades, codifying principles that help us understand and predict the behavior of entire ecosystems. Could we use predator-prey relationships among widely divergent species in nature as a metaphor to help in understanding the behavior of people in complex human societies, in which some people gain at the expense of others? Even the best metaphors have limited usefulness, and this one certainly has potential for misapplication; however, as I hope to show, it also has the ability to illuminate.

A complex or stratified human society can be thought of as an ecosystem. Within it, humans (all a single species), because of their differing social classes, roles, and occupations, can act, in effect, as different species. To the extent that some exploit others, we could say that some act as “predators,” others as “prey.” There may even be human analogues to subcategories of predatory behavior such as parasitism and infection.

Within non-human species in nature, forms of competition or exploitation unquestionably exist. For example when a shoebill gives birth to two chicks, the mother and father tend to favor one of them; then the favored offspring attacks the unfavored, which inevitably dies.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Fierce Urgency of “How”

The Fierce Urgency of “How”

When we have reconsidered the lives we have built, how will we live?
Petter Buffett.jpg

There is only one pathway to avert the crisis humanity is heading toward, and it is to deeply feel the connection with the ecosystem we are a part of. But understand, this is not an ecological argument, this is not about the climate or other environmental systems.

The latest exposure of the predatory behavior of some men is much closer to the core. I’m talking about the massive weight that has been holding our species frozen in a seemingly intractable structure of power and control.

But it’s melting. The climate is changing. The culture is shifting.

This may take decades, it may take weeks. It took thousands of years to get to this point in time. It may rip people and the planet apart as the future unfolds. Or it may bring us together in some sort of evolution of consciousness. The truth is somewhere in the middle as both extremes play out their respective parts in this latest version of the tale of our species.

In the beginning was the word. And the word was used for naming. And naming was used for possessing. At first, possessing meant survival. And then survival meant power—power to acquire more for more people. It was land first, then animals and slaves.

Of course, before the word, humans were on the planet for roughly 200,000 years. It would be no surprise that those years have left an indelible impression on our collective psyche.

Technology has played a central role in every step along the road of “progress.” Language, fire, mathematics, the printing press. And here we are. At another Gutenberg moment, with infinitely more complex implications not just for humans, but for all life on Earth.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Ecosystem is Breaking Down 

The Ecosystem is Breaking Down 

Photo by Richard Allaway | Public Domain

The ecosystem is the quintessential essence of life on our planet, and this crucial life system is showing signs of breaking down. It is likely a more pressing problem than climate change. Time will tell but time is short.

The ecosystem consists of all living organisms that interact with nonliving components like air, water, and soil contained within the biosphere, which extends from the bottom of the oceans to the top of the mountains. Although unannounced by authorities or professional orgs, it is already becoming evident that the ecosystem is breaking down. Alas, it’s our only ecosystem.

The evidence is too prevalent to ignore. For example, when (1) abundance of insects plummets by 75%, and (2) tropical rainforests mysteriously emit CO2, and (3) Mt Everest’s snow is too toxic to pass EPA drinking water standards, and (4) squid at 1,000 fathoms carry toxic furniture protection chemicals, and (5) ocean oxygen production plummets, then something is wrong, horribly, horribly, horribly wrong. But, nobody has announced it. Global warming gets all of the attention.

All of which begs the question: What does it take to determine when the ecosystem is losing it? After all, it surely looks like it is doing exactly that. For example, the loss of 75% of insect abundance in a landmark study in Germany (referenced in prior articles) released only last month is enough, all by itself, to indicate an extinction event is in the works. That is a monstrous wake up call.

Equally horrifying, recent studies show tropical rainforests emitting more CO2 than automobiles, which is kinda like getting hit repeatedly in the head with a wooden two-by-four, a deadly serious wake up call that says the planet is breaking down.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Survival in Different Terms: A Healthy Ecosystem is Not Based on Survival of the Fittest

SURVIVAL IN DIFFERENT TERMS: A HEALTHY ECOSYSTEM IS NOT BASED ON SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST

Somewhere near the beginning of the course, caught in the midst of a closing summary, Lawton said something that really resonated with me: It’s not survival of the fittest but survival of the most cooperative. The idea seemed simple enough to me, not overly off-course to how I’ve come to approach design, but it was just a moment where I felt the need to explore that trail of thought. Then, I thought you, dear readers, might like to, too.

STRAIGHT TO THE GARDEN

Immediately with the notion of survival through cooperation, I’m taken to the garden and the notion of guilds, including the wildlife (or domestic animals) that function within them. I’ve never liked the survival of the fittest mentality, but it never occurred to me just how far away from it a permaculture garden is operating. It doesn’t take much investigating to realize success in the garden comes from cooperation much more than domination.

Guilds are, in essence, the opposite of survival of the fittest. The whole idea is to not compete but rather to thrive in cooperation, with root structures feeding form different sources on different dietary elements. Each plant in the combination is providing its own contributions that benefit the other plants. Animals come in and find comfortable habitats, often in rockeries or logs, under leaves or in the trees, that have been designed in for them specifically, and they feed on pests, turn the soil, fertilize, and contribute.

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Wilderness and Economics

Wilderness and Economics

glaciernps

“A national park will not save the area. Rather, the restrictions and red tape that come with federal control would inhibit growth. Survival requires economic development, but a national park will limit our options.”

— Kathy Gagnon editorial opposing a national park in Maine published in Bangor Daily News May 11, 2014 [i]

Wildland preservation is motivated by a variety of ethical, biological, cultural, and recreational concerns. Rarely are efforts to protect wildlands motivated by an interest in promoting economic growth. Those working on wildland preservation issues have been forced to take up with the issue of local economic impacts because those supporting commercial development of those wild natural landscapes emphatically assert that wildland preservation damages the local and national economies by restricting access to valuable natural resources and constraining commercial economic activity that otherwise would take place.

The above quote from a recent editorial in the Bangor Daily News represents a frequent response that people have to any proposal to designate lands as parks, wilderness or other wildlands reserve. Yet numerous economic studies suggest that protecting landscapes for their wildlands values at the very least has little negative impact on local/regional economies and in most instances is a positive net economic benefit.

Not only are there economic opportunities that come with protected lands, including the obvious tourism-related business enterprises, but land protection has other less direct economic benefits. Wilderness and park designation creates quality of life attributes that attracts residents whose incomes do not depend on local employment in activities extracting commercial materials from the natural landscape but choose to move to an area to enjoy its amenity values.

Wildlands designation can also reduce costs and expense for communities by providing ecosystem services that would otherwise entail costs to taxpayers.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Problem of Agriculture

The Problem of Agriculture

This is an excerpt from the new book Plain Radical: Living, Loving, and Learning to Leave the Planet Gracefully, published by Counterpoint/Soft Skull, which tells the story of Robert Jensen’s intellectual and political collaboration with teacher/activist Jim Koplin.

I was born and raised in North Dakota, a rural state with an economy that historically has been dependent on agriculture, but I knew virtually nothing about the hard work of farming—nor did I understand the way farming creates ecological crises—until I met Jim Koplin. At that time, like most people who labeled themselves as an environmentalist, I thought in terms of pollution in human communities and the need for wilderness preservation. Farming was, well, just something farmers did, not an ecological question. One of the most important contributions Jim made to my education was exposing me to a critique of the increasing industrialization of agriculture, which led me to recognize that there is no solution to environmental problems without facing the problem of agriculture.

That phrase—the problem of agriculture, instead of problems in agriculture—is taken from Wes Jackson, who points out that our species’ fundamental break with nature came roughly 10,000 years ago when we started farming. While gathering-hunting humans were capable of damaging a local ecosystem in limited ways, the shift to agriculture and the domestication of animals meant humans for the first time could dramatically alter ecosystems, typically with negative consequences. While there have been better and worse farming practices in history, soil erosion has been a consistent feature of agriculture, making agriculture the first step in the entrenchment of an unsustainable human economy based on extraction.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Impending Ecosystem Collapse

The Impending Ecosystem Collapse

Climate change/global warming is the main protagonist on the worldwide stage of collapsing ecosystems.

The ecosystem is a combination of living organisms in harmony with nonliving elements like air, water, and mineral soil interacting as one whole. But, what if the living and nonliving elements stop interrelating as “one harmonized whole”? Then, what happens?

As things stand today, the planet’s future is decidedly in the camp of “then, what happens?”

Signals of planetary stress are literally off the charts, meanwhile the world continues spinning like always, as people go to work, drive cars, go out to dinner, and watch TV, some read books but not much these days.

Those routines of going to work, out to dinner, and so forth maintain an equilibrium, a daily pattern on the same freeways, the same faces, the same workplaces. By itself, life seems very normal, nothing much to worry about other than making monthly car payments.

Similarly, the natural world experiences its own rhythm, like the everyday cycle of people going to work, on the freeway, to dinner, watching TV. But, radically dissimilar to that everyday cycle that seems so dependable, so routine, the natural world is amiss, chaotic, crumbling apart, bursting at the seams. However, this deep trouble is not noticed, not recognized, not reported in accordance with severe levels of impending calamity. After all, as long as Wall Street goes up, all is well, isn’t it? Yet, all is not well, not by a long shot.

 

Ecosystem degradation happens in silence, not on freeways, not in theaters, not in malls. There is no ticker tape to watch or CNBC to listen to.

Consider this, what if tire blowouts occurred every day on the commute? What if the television set blacks-out every two minutes? What if faucets unexpectedly turn dry? Those situations could be metaphors for the ecosystem today, anomalous, irregular, variable, faltering! Thus, climate change is very real, and people are already starting to experience ecosystem collapse.

 

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Use and Abuse of the “Natural Capital” Concept « Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy

Use and Abuse of the “Natural Capital” Concept « Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy.

Some people object to the concept of “natural capital” because they say it reduces nature to the status of a commodity to be marketed at its exchange value. This indeed is a danger, well discussed by George Monbiot. Monbiot’s criticism rightly focuses on the monetary pricing of natural capital. But it is worth clarifying that the word “capital” in its original non-monetary sense means “a stock or fund that yields a flow of useful goods or services into the future.” The word “capital” derives from “capita” meaning “heads,” referring to heads of cattle in a herd. The herd is the capital stock; the sustainable annual increase in the herd is the flow of useful goods or “income” yielded by the capital stock–all in physical, not monetary, terms. The same physical definition of natural capital applies to a forest that gives a sustainable yield of cut timber, or a fish population that yields a sustainable catch. This use of the term “natural capital” is based on the relations of physical stocks and flows, and is independent of prices and monetary valuation. Its main use has been to call attention to and oppose the unsustainable drawdown of natural capital that is falsely counted as income.

Big problems certainly arise when we consider natural capital as expressible as a sum of money (financial capital), and then take money in the bank growing at the interest rate as the standard by which to judge whether the value of natural capital is growing fast enough, and then, following the rules of present value maximization, liquidate populations growing slower than the interest rate and replace them with faster growing ones. This is not how the ecosystem works. Money is fungible, natural stocks are not; money has no physical dimension, natural populations do. Exchanges of matter and energy among parts of the ecosystem have an objective ecological basis. They are not governed by prices based on subjective human preferences in the market.

Furthermore, money in the bank is a stock that yields a flow of new money (interest) all by itself without diminishing itself, and without the aid of other flows. Can a herd of cattle yield a flow of additional cattle all by itself, and without diminishing itself? Certainly not. The existing stock of cattle transforms a resource flow of grass and water into new cattle faster than old cattle die. And the grass requires sunlight, soil, air, and more water. Like cattle, capital transforms resource flows into products and wastes, obeying the laws of thermodynamics. Capital is not a magic substance that grows by creating something out of nothing.

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Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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