Home » Posts tagged 'nature'

Tag Archives: nature

Olduvai
Click on image to purchase

Olduvai III: Catacylsm
Click on image to purchase

Post categories

Nature is a jazz band, not a machine

Nature is a jazz band, not a machine

We treat it so at our peril

21 07 29.Nature machine

From genetic engineering to geoengineering, we treat nature as though it’s a machine. This view of nature has deep roots in Western thought, all the way to Descartes and Hobbs, but it’s a fundamental misconception with potentially disastrous consequences, argues Jeremy Lent.

Climate change, avers Rex Tillerson, ex-CEO of ExxonMobil and erstwhile US Secretary of State,  “is an engineering problem, and it has engineering solutions.” This brief statement encapsulates how the metaphor of the machine underlies the way our mainstream culture views the natural world. It also hints at the grievous dangers involved in perceiving nature in this way.

This mechanistic worldview has deep roots in Western thought. The great pioneers of the Scientific Revolution, such as Galileo, Kepler, and Newton, believed they were decoding “God’s book,” which was written in the language of mathematics. God was conceived as a great clockmaker, the “artificer” who constructed the intricate machine of nature so flawlessly that, once it was set in motion, there was nothing more to do (bar the occasional miracle) than let it run its course. “What is the heart, but a spring,” wrote Thomas Hobbes, “and the nerves but so many strings?” Descartes flatly declared: “I do not recognize any difference between the machines made by craftsmen and the various bodies that nature alone composes.”

In recent decades, the mechanistic conception of nature has been updated for the computer age, with popularizers of science such as Richard Dawkins arguing that “life is just bytes and bytes and bytes of digital information” and as a result, an animal such as a bat “is a machine, whose internal electronics are so wired up that its wing muscles cause it to home in on insects, as an unconscious guided missile homes in on an aeroplane.”…

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

Earth and Humanity: Myth and Reality

Earth and Humanity: Myth and Reality

 

Radical changes are needed for transformations to a good Anthropocene

Radical changes are needed for transformations to a good Anthropocene

Abstract

The scale, pace, and intensity of human activity on the planet demands radical departures from the status quo to remain within planetary boundaries and achieve sustainability. The steering arms of society including embedded financial, legal, political, and governance systems must be radically realigned and recognize the connectivity among social, ecological, and technological domains of urban systems to deliver more just, equitable, sustainable, and resilient futures. We present five key principles requiring fundamental cognitive, behavioral, and cultural shifts including rethinking growth, rethinking efficiency, rethinking the state, rethinking the commons, and rethinking justice needed together to radically transform neighborhoods, cities, and regions.

Radical departures

The scale, pace, and intensity of human activity on the planet1 is driving global biodiversity and ecosystem decline2, fundamentally altering earth’s climate system3, and increasing social and economic global connectedness4 in ways that threaten stability, resilience, and sustainability of local and regional human and ecological systems5. These patterns suggest we are living in what has been described as the Anthropocene Epoch6 characterized by rapid and fundamental human-driven alterations of earth systems across the globe7. These major shifts to the stocks and flows of human life-support systems8,9 challenge sustainability at any scale without fundamental and radical transformations in human activities and supporting financial, legal, political, and governance systems10.

To shift the human enterprise toward a sustainable relationship with, and within, the earth system requires much more than small tweaks and incremental change11. Instead, it will require radical departures from the status quo8,12,13,14,15,16 where the complex system of intertwined sustainability challenges17 are confronted in order to shift multiple unsustainable trajectories toward ‘good’ Anthropocenes18 where normative goals for sustainability are achieved19 and political and economic power structures deliver the common good20.

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

, , Urban Sustainability , anthropocene, human activity, nature,

Climate Campaigners Say ‘Listen to the Science’ as New Study Shows Earth Now Warmer Than Any Time in Last 12,000 Years

Climate Campaigners Say ‘Listen to the Science’ as New Study Shows Earth Now Warmer Than Any Time in Last 12,000 Years

The study “changes the baseline and emphasizes just how critical it is to take our situation seriously,” its lead researcher said.

A protester is seen holding a placard during a climate change demonstration. (Photo: Ronen Tivony/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

A new study published in the journal Nature shows the Earth is now hotter than it’s been at any time during the past 12,000 years. (Photo: Ronen Tivony/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Climate campaigners on Thursday pointed to a study showing that Earth is hotter than it’s ever been during the entire epoch of human civilization as the latest proof of the need to treat human-caused global heating like the dire emergency that it is.

“The modern, human-caused global warming period is accelerating a long-term increase in global temperatures, making today completely uncharted territory.”
—Samantha Bova,
Rutgers University

On Wednesday, the peer-reviewed scientific journal Nature published a report revealing that an analysis of ocean surface temperatures found that the planet is hotter now than at any other time in the past 12,000 years, and that it may actually be warmer than at any point during the last 125,000 years.

Researchers Samantha Bova, Yair Rosenthal, Zhengyu Liu, Shital P. Godad, and Mi Yan detemined this by solving what scientists call the “Holocene temperature conundrum.” This was the mystery of why the global heating that began at the end of the last ice age 12,000 years ago peaked around 6,000 years later—before giving way to the onset of a cooling period that lasted until the Industrial Revolution, when the current anthropogenic warming period began.

It turns out that the collected data, obtained from fossilized seashells, was innacurate, showing only hot summers while missing the colder winters.

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

Panicking about societal collapse? Plunder the bookshelves

Panicking about societal collapse? Plunder the bookshelves

As civilization seems to be lurching towards a cliff edge, historical case studies are giving way to big data in authors’ search for understanding.
Four Moais, the typical large monolithic human figures statues, on Easter Island

Monuments to resilience or collapse? The 800-year-old statues of Easter Island.Credit: Andia/Universal Images Group via Getty

In case you missed it, the end is nigh. Ever since Jared Diamond published his hugely popular 2005 work Collapse, books on the same theme have been arriving with the frequency of palace coups in the late Roman Empire. Clearly, their authors are responding to a universal preoccupation with climate change, as well as to growing financial and political instability and a sense that civilization is lurching towards a cliff edge. Mention is also made of how big-data tools are shedding new light on historical questions. But do these books have anything useful to share? Any actionable points besides that on my coffee mug: “Now panic and freak out”?

The newest is Before the Collapse. In it, energy specialist Ugo Bardi urges us not to resist collapse, which is how the Universe tries “to get rid of the old to make space for the new”. Similarly, Diamond’s 2019 book Upheaval suggested that a collapse is an opportunity for self-appraisal, after which a society can use its ingenuity to find solutions. Both writers seem to accept that collapse is inevitable, but they take very different approaches to analysing it. Diamond zooms in to glean lessons from historical case studies; Bardi zooms out to view societies as complex dynamic systems that behave cyclically. Numerous books published in the past few decades chart how research has shifted from Diamond’s approach to Bardi’s.

THE BOOKS

Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed Jared Diamond Viking (2005)

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

Climate Campaigners Say ‘Listen to the Science’ as New Study Shows Earth Now Warmer Than Any Time in Last 12,000 Years

Climate Campaigners Say ‘Listen to the Science’ as New Study Shows Earth Now Warmer Than Any Time in Last 12,000 Years

The study “changes the baseline and emphasizes just how critical it is to take our situation seriously,” its lead researcher said.

A protester is seen holding a placard during a climate change demonstration. (Photo: Ronen Tivony/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

A new study published in the journal Nature shows the Earth is now hotter than it’s been at any time during the past 12,000 years. (Photo: Ronen Tivony/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Climate campaigners on Thursday pointed to a study showing that Earth is hotter than it’s ever been during the entire epoch of human civilization as the latest proof of the need to treat human-caused global heating like the dire emergency that it is.

“The modern, human-caused global warming period is accelerating a long-term increase in global temperatures, making today completely uncharted territory.”
—Samantha Bova,
Rutgers University

On Wednesday, the peer-reviewed scientific journal Nature published a report revealing that an analysis of ocean surface temperatures found that the planet is hotter now than at any other time in the past 12,000 years, and that it may actually be warmer than at any point during the last 125,000 years.

Researchers Samantha Bova, Yair Rosenthal, Zhengyu Liu, Shital P. Godad, and Mi Yan detemined this by solving what scientists call the “Holocene temperature conundrum.” This was the mystery of why the global heating that began at the end of the last ice age 12,000 years ago peaked around 6,000 years later—before giving way to the onset of a cooling period that lasted until the Industrial Revolution, when the current anthropogenic warming period began.

It turns out that the collected data, obtained from fossilized seashells, was innacurate, showing only hot summers while missing the colder winters.

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

Spiked. BC Profs Protest after Publisher Drops Book on Canadian Mining

Spiked. BC Profs Protest after Publisher Drops Book on Canadian Mining

UNBC researchers’ book alleging wrongdoing in Guatemala was accepted, reviewed, then cancelled.

Two British Columbia university professors are accusing a major academic publisher of blocking scrutiny of Canadian mining companies by cancelling publication of their book.

“We have a responsibility to publicize what happened,” wrote University of Northern British Columbia geography professor and department chair Catherine Nolin and UNBC adjunct professor Grahame Russell in an open letter to Springer Nature. Russell lives in Toronto and runs UNBC field courses in Guatemala with Nolin.

Nolin and Russell co-edited Canadian Mining in the Aftermath of Genocides in Guatemala: The Violence, Corruption, and Impunity of Contemporary Predatory Mineral Exploitation. Russell is also a founder and director of the advocacy group Rights Action.

The book had passed peer review and was ready last February for publication, but after several months delay Springer Nature notified them that after a legal review it had decided to cancel their contract and return the rights to the manuscript to them. It cited libel concerns.

“They didn’t engage in any sort of tweaks,” Russell said in a Zoom call. “We didn’t think it would be five months of silence and then shut the door.”

Headquartered in Europe, Springer Nature publishes thousands of titles a year according to its website, as well as journals including Nature.

“A major theme addressed in the articles, testimonies and analysis that comprise our book is the endemic corruption and impunity with which the mining companies addressed in the book have, variously, been able to operate in Guatemala, with their Guatemalan economic and political partners,” Nolin and Russell wrote in their letter.

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

New Harvard Study Finds “Elevated Radiation” Levels Near Fracking Sites

Fracking has been one of the keys to helping the U.S. achieve its energy independence and become the world’s largest oil and gas producer over the last ten years. But now, it looks like it may be coming with some unintended consequences, according to Reuters.

Researchers have found elevated radiation levels near U.S. hydraulic fracking drilling sites, according to a newly released study by Harvard researchers this week. The study looked at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s radiation monitor readings nationwide from 2011 to 2017.

The study was published in Nature and found that areas within 12 miles downwind of 100 fracking wells had radiation levels that were about 7% above normal background levels. Readings can go “much higher” as you move closer to drill sites, the study reported. Radioactive particles can be inhaled and “increase the risk of lung cancer,” Reuters noted.

Petros Koutrakis, who led the study, said: “The increases are not extremely dangerous, but could raise certain health risks to people living nearby.”

He also said that further study is needed: “Our hope is that once we understand the source more clearly, there will be engineering methods to control this.”

He attributes the radiation to “naturally-occurring radioactive material” rising to the surface as a result of the drilling.

The study also found that the largest increases occurred in places like Pennsylvania and Ohio, where naturally occurring radioactive material is found in higher concentrations than other states.

It’s unclear whether or not this could become an election talking point with less than 3 weeks until the Presidential race. We already know where President Trump stands on fracking. If only Joe Biden and Kamala Harris could remember what, exactly their position is…

Five ways to ensure that models serve society: a manifesto

Five ways to ensure that models serve society: a manifesto

Pandemic politics highlight how predictions need to be transparent and humble to invite insight, not blame.
Cartoon of scientists and policymakers inspecting the inside of a black box that is outputting a policy document

Illustration by David Parkins

The COVID-19 pandemic illustrates perfectly how the operation of science changes when questions of urgency, stakes, values and uncertainty collide — in the ‘post-normal’ regime.

Well before the coronavirus pandemic, statisticians were debating how to prevent malpractice such as p-hacking, particularly when it could influence policy1. Now, computer modelling is in the limelight, with politicians presenting their policies as dictated by ‘science’2. Yet there is no substantial aspect of this pandemic for which any researcher can currently provide precise, reliable numbers. Known unknowns include the prevalence and fatality and reproduction rates of the virus in populations. There are few estimates of the number of asymptomatic infections, and they are highly variable. We know even less about the seasonality of infections and how immunity works, not to mention the impact of social-distancing interventions in diverse, complex societies.

Mathematical models produce highly uncertain numbers that predict future infections, hospitalizations and deaths under various scenarios. Rather than using models to inform their understanding, political rivals often brandish them to support predetermined agendas. To make sure predictions do not become adjuncts to a political cause, modellers, decision makers and citizens need to establish new social norms. Modellers must not be permitted to project more certainty than their models deserve; and politicians must not be allowed to offload accountability to models of their choosing2,3.

This is important because, when used appropriately, models serve society extremely well: perhaps the best known are those used in weather forecasting. These models have been honed by testing millions of forecasts against reality.

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

Why am I feeling so anxious? The end of modernism arrives

Why am I feeling so anxious? The end of modernism arrives

A friend of mine quipped that it is one thing to talk about the end of modernism—as the two of us have been doing for over 25 years—and quite another to live through it. It might seem that such notions are far too abstract to account for the anxiety of our fraught times. But underneath all the disorder we see in our pandemic-plagued economic, social and political lives is the crumbling of key assumptions about what we call modernity, a period of “enlightenment” that has supposedly freed us from the past.

First, let me recount what I regard as four key assumptions of modernism—I’ve written about them before—which are being demolished every day right before our eyes with the help of an invisible virus.

  1. Humans are in one category and nature is in another.
  2. Scale doesn’t matter.
  3. History can be safely ignored since modern society has seen through the delusions of the past.
  4. Science is a unified, coherent field that explains the rational principles by which we can manage the physical world.

The next thing I need to remind you is that modernism is as much a religion as any other. In the not-too-distant past, whenever anyone raised questions about its basic tenets—directly or indirectly in one form or another—that person was quickly shushed. If the person persisted, he or she was then shamed. If shaming didn’t work, then that person was shunned or even unceremoniously ejected from the party.

Enter COVID-19.

The very first thing COVID-19 reminded us is that humans and nature are both in the same category, whatever you want to call it. (My favorite living French thinker Bruno Latour proposed the compound term “nature-culture” in his seminal book We Have Never Been Modern.)

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

Scientists’ warning on affluence

Scientists’ warning on affluence

Abstract

For over half a century, worldwide growth in affluence has continuously increased resource use and pollutant emissions far more rapidly than these have been reduced through better technology. The affluent citizens of the world are responsible for most environmental impacts and are central to any future prospect of retreating to safer environmental conditions. We summarise the evidence and present possible solution approaches. Any transition towards sustainability can only be effective if far-reaching lifestyle changes complement technological advancements. However, existing societies, economies and cultures incite consumption expansion and the structural imperative for growth in competitive market economies inhibits necessary societal change.

Introduction

Recent scientists’ warnings confirm alarming trends of environmental degradation from human activity, leading to profound changes in essential life-sustaining functions of planet Earth1,2,3. The warnings surmise that humanity has failed to find lasting solutions to these changes that pose existential threats to natural systems, economies and societies and call for action by governments and individuals.

The warnings aptly describe the problems, identify population, economic growth and affluence as drivers of unsustainable trends and acknowledge that humanity needs to reassess the role of growth-oriented economies and the pursuit of affluence1,2. However, they fall short of clearly identifying the underlying forces of overconsumption and of spelling out the measures that are needed to tackle the overwhelming power of consumption and the economic growth paradigm4.

This perspective synthesises existing knowledge and recommendations from the scientific community. We provide evidence from the literature that consumption of affluent households worldwide is by far the strongest determinant and the strongest accelerator of increases of global environmental and social impacts. We describe the systemic drivers of affluent overconsumption and synthesise the literature that provides possible solutions by reforming or changing economic systems. These solution approaches range from reformist to radical ideas, including degrowth, eco-socialism and eco-anarchism. Based on these insights, we distil recommendations for further research in the final section.

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

New Study Finds Far Greater Methane Threat from Fossil Fuel Industry

New Study Finds Far Greater Methane Threat from Fossil Fuel Industry

The gas plays a powerful role in driving up global temperatures.

COVER.Methane-Fossil-Fuel-Industry.jpg
A new study found that methane emissions from human activities — mainly fossil fuels — are probably 25 to 40 per cent higher than previously estimated. Photo via Shutterstock.

A new study published in Nature may have ended a long scientific debate about the key source of rising methane levels in the atmosphere.

It found that methane emissions from human activities — mainly fossil fuels — are probably 25 to 40 per cent higher than previously estimated, while natural sources of methane emissions are up to 90 per cent lower than previously estimated.

In plain English, that means the fossil fuel industry is having a much greater impact on climate destabilization than previously thought.

Methane, the main chemical constituent of natural gas, is a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide in the short term. Although methane dissipates faster than carbon dioxide, it has 80 times the climate warming impact over a 20-year timespan.

Every day, the oil and gas industry burns or releases methane by design, often as an unwanted byproduct of oil production, or leaks it accidently through faulty or aging equipment — a form of chronic spillage known as “fugitive emissions.” The Tyee is supported by readers like you Join us and grow independent media in Canada

Methane also escapes while industry strips a number of impurities and contaminants from natural gas gathered in gas fields, including hydrogen sulfide and carbon dioxide.

For years the fossil fuel industry has claimed that natural gas is a clean fuel that will serve as bridge to a renewable future, but recent studiesshow leakage rates are highly underestimated, thereby challenging that claim.

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

The Uninhabitable Earth.

The Uninhabitable Earth.

This is a book review that I wrote, which will be published in the journal, Science Progress, of which I am an editor.
“The Uninhabitable Earth.” DAVID WALLACE-WELLS. Allen Lane 2019 ISBN 9780241355213; xx + 310 pp; £20.00

As set in motion by human hands, the forces of the Anthropocene – a word coined to mark the scale of our intervention in Nature as numbering among those of previous geological epochs – are predicted to drive the Earth system in expressing climate change to a degree that for many of the almost 8 billion, let alone 11-12 billion predicted to be here by 2100, the Earth would have become barely tolerable, and for some, actually uninhabitable, depending on the degree of warming that prevails by then, and the attendant consequences to the natural commons of air, land and water, which would be manifest unevenly around the globe. Even if we could halt our carbon emissions, instantly and today, the intrinsic inertia of the Earth system would nonetheless unfold the rising of sea levels, the degradation of land, and other changes (some, as yet, unknown) for centuries, perhaps millennia, to come. The book, “Uninhabitable Earth”, begins with “Cascades”, and takes a look at some of the likely consequences of climate change, the magnitude of which will be tuned according to the degree of warming that is unleashed, including mass migration of climate refugees, water scarcity, famine, a more extreme climate,  wildfires, outbreaks of disease, and extreme “once every 500 years” events that become more the norm (“rain bombs”, mighty hurricanes), since the effects are not binary – “yes”, “no”; “on”, “off” – but exponential, and worsen over time, so long as we continue to produce, and release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

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

State of Apocalyptic Nature: A Contract with Gaia

State of Apocalyptic Nature: A Contract with Gaia

As for the individual, every one is a son of his time; so philosophy also is its time apprehended in thoughts. It is just as foolish to fancy that any philosophy can transcend its present world, as that an individual could leap out of his time or jump over Rhodes.

The very fact that something is determined as a limitation implies that the limitation is already transcended. – Hegel

Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Kant, and most recently Rawls have all been exemplary practitioners of contract theory.

As is well known, all four of these political theorists began with a particular conception of the state of nature or put into other words man’s original existential situation prior to all forms of government or social contract.

In each case, the state of nature is pre-historical because pre-political.

How each thinker viewed man’s primary condition dictated the course of their further arguments concerning humanity’s fundamental political decisions and actions.

This profound intellectual tradition led most famously to the political beliefs and institutions that founded the United States (at least in theory if not in future practice) and later supplied the world, in part through the consequences of the French Revolution, with today’s democratic principles and ideals especially as they relate to Universal Human Rights.

Although, practically speaking, the fruits of contract theory have by no means been fully applied they nonetheless have provided and arguably still provide the intellectual and spiritual resources for critical projects of reform and even revolution.

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

Bold New Campaign Highlights How ‘Nature Can Save Us’ From Climate and Ecological Breakdown

Bold New Campaign Highlights How ‘Nature Can Save Us’ From Climate and Ecological Breakdown

“The protection and restoration of these ecosystems can help to minimize a sixth great extinction, while enhancing local people’s resilience against climate disaster.”

Erie National Wildlife Refuge

A new campaign launched Wednesday calls for “drawing carbon dioxide out of the air by protecting and restoring ecosystems.” (Photo: Nicholas Tonelli/Flickr/cc)

A group of activists, experts, and writers on Wednesday launched a bold new campaign calling for the “thrilling but neglected approach” of embracing nature’s awesome restorative powers to battle the existential crises of climate and ecological breakdown.

Averting catastrophic global warming and devastating declines in biodiversity, scientists warn, requires not only overhauling human activities that generate planet-heating emissions—like phasing out fossil fuels—but also cutting down on the carbon that is already in the atmosphere.

In a letter to governments, NGOs, the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity, and the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Natural Climate Solutionscampaign calls for tackling these crises by not only rapidly decarbonizing economies, but also by “drawing carbon dioxide out of the air by protecting and restoring ecosystems.”

Along with stopping fossil fuel emissions, we badly need to restore natural systems. Important new effort spearheaded by @GeorgeMonbiot https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/apr/03/let-nature-heal-climate-and-biodiversity-crises-say-campaigners …4708:58 AM – Apr 3, 2019Twitter Ads info and privacyLet nature heal climate and biodiversity crises, say campaignersRestoration of forests and coasts can tackle ‘existential crises’ but is being overlookedtheguardian.com

“By defending, restoring and re-establishing forests, peatlands, mangroves, salt marshes, natural seabeds, and other crucial ecosystems, very large amounts of carbon can be removed from the air and stored,” the letter says. “At the same time, the protection and restoration of these ecosystems can help to minimize a sixth great extinction, while enhancing local people’s resilience against climate disaster.”

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

Olduvai IV: Courage
In progress...

Olduvai II: Exodus
Click on image to purchase