Friday, June 20, 2014

Human Society - Going the Way of the Dinosaur?

Dinosaurs didn't go extent. They just flew away!

The word sustainability has almost lost all meaning in environmental discussions, as it has been applied to all manner of human activity. Many are inclined to drop this word and use others in their stead.

Resilience, sustainability, adaptability. I hesitate to throw away any words, as words have meaning and reducing our vocabulary creates a depauperate language.

The word "sustainable" is particularly difficult because it is used to opposite meanings in economics and biology. Sustainable in classical economics means: "making decisions and strategic investments to sustain the community over the long-term." In biological terms, sustainable means "making decisions and strategic investments that are not harmful to the environment or deplete natural resources, and thereby support long-term ecological balance."

The concept I'm searching for is a quality of human society that allows it to continue indefinitely into the future without reducing the carrying capacity of the biosphere that sustains it. This concept embraces sustainability, resilience and adaptability.

Adaptability is a particularly slippery concept, because humans do not adapt to the world in the biological sense that others species adapt through the process of biological evolution. Rather, humans actively adapt the environment to human needs and desires. We do not grow fur to live in northern latitudes, we take from natural resources to invent fitted clothing and insulated houses. We do not grow gills and flippers to fish in the sea, we invent boats and fishing tackle. We change our environment to suit our needs. We are an impatient species, with no time for mundane evolution to bring us into conformity with existing conditions.

What is needed rather than adaptability is forbearance, the quality that Scots call ”let-a-be,” that Taoists call "wu-wei," allowing the world to rise of itself, rather than to shape it into predetermined human patterns.

What would a "wu-wei" human economy look like? Such an economy would take no more resources than are naturally replenished, leaving sufficient resources to support all life. Wastes would not be produced in greater amounts than are naturally assimilated through existing geophysical processes. Food for humans would be grown within existing cycles of resource availability and biodiversity.

In short, human societies would exist in a dynamic equilibrium with all other species, subject to natural cycles of resource availability. Humans would a be a part of, not apart from, the non-human world.

Non-human species have lived this way all the time. Those that fouled their nests or outgrew their food supplies declined or went extinct (or adapted and flew away). The process continues today, with the addition that non-human species must now adapt to the human propensity to ignore evolution and demand dispensation from adaptation.

Human economies are created and maintained to suit human desires and needs. They are a mental constructs subject to human construction and modification. We "Homo sapiens" invented our way into the environmental mess that our economies have created. We have the capacity to invent our way back into a cooperative, co-evolutionary relationship with non-human species that will benefit all and ensure our species' place on this planet in the future.

If only we would.

Friday, June 06, 2014

Be patriotic - Boycott Fireworks

Fireworks - Cheap Thrills with Toxic Consequences


Just a month from now, the United States goes through its annual paroxysm of patriotic excess, marked by ubiquitous fireworks displays that last from... well, now, until long after our country's largely imaginary birthday.

It's an American tradition. John Adams set it off, so to speak, before the ink was dry on the brand new Declaration of Independence, asking that the nation's birthday be celebrated: “with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”

Fast forward to the 21st Century, where the fireworks industry has taken over the "Shew" and has substituted blowing shit up for any meaningful activity in support of a democratic country.

If it were just a bright display and a pop or two, all would be well, but modern fireworks deliver a toxic legacy that pollutes land, air and water, while the noise and bright flashes disrupt the normal life activities of wildlife, people and their pets. Many living beings flee, if they can, when the glorious 4th arrives, and those that remain are scared out of their britches, if they wear any, as the celebration progresses.

Americans are not good at polite restraint and the 4th of July is no exception. Not content with sparklers and glow worms on the front driveway, freedom lovers of all stripes travel for hundreds of miles to buy the biggest, loudest, flashiest and better-than-the-neighbors showiest fireworks for their 4th of July exhibition.

The results are wildlife fleeing in panic in every direction, attempting to get away from the last booming outrage, only to be confronted with other assaults on their flight path. Domestic cats and dogs cower in closets and under beds attempting to escape the din. Sleep for everyone is interrupted by aerial bombs.

If it was just the one night, it wouldn't be quite so egregious, but the aerial assault goes on for a month or more on either side of the 4th, with some fireworks saved up for New Year's Eve and any other occasion demanding rude noises and excessive celebrations.

Americans seem to be locked into a perpetual adolescence, unable to grow out of youthful exuberance and uncaring self-interest. It's time to soberly rethink this bombastic 4th of July celebration. Do we really want to pollute the neighborhood, drive off the neighbors, human and non, interrupt everyone's healthful sleep in the name of patriotism?

I think not.

Let's be patriotic this year. Wave the flag, watch a parade, sing the national anthem. Give money to your favorite charity and eschew their fireworks incentives.

Let's have a truly Safe and Sane 4th of July.

Monday, June 02, 2014

Reducing Coal Power Plants, and Increasing... What?

BBC News - US unveils sharp curbs on coal power plants: risks to health, communities and the economy

The Obama administration's proposal to reduce dependence on coal fired power plants is not a "climate" proposal. 

The "climate" connection assumes a causal relationship among extreme weather events that impact local economies, and human anthropogenic CO2. As climate scientists have repeatedly stated, this connection cannot be demonstrated with any certainty for any extreme weather event. The most that can be said is that weather extremes are consistent with projections from mathematical computer models used to test theories to explain observed climate variation. To date, these models have been unsuccessful in projecting present trends in global climate variation.

It remains to be seen whether or not a reduction of coal fired power plant effluent will have any effect on observed climate variation. Since global average surface temperature has remained statistically stable for the past decade and a half, while global atmospheric CO2 concentrations continue to rise linearly, the anthropogenic CO2/climate change connection is called to question. Observable results of a reduction in CO2 production, if any, must be weighed against complex and chaotic natural climate variation resulting from existing solar, geophysical and cosmic energy cycles.


Of greater concern is that this push to reduce existing energy sources, with no concomitant reduction in energy demand, will result in increased emphasis on energy production from nuclear power plants, fracked natural gas, and hydropower, prospects that threaten greater risks to public health, communities and their economies, and the natural environment.