At the heart of science is curiosity about the universe in which we live. This is the motivation from which science was born. Curiosity remains the driving motivation behind it today.
Because we are sentient and somewhat intelligent creatures, many of us follow our curiosities with further observation. As children we learned/evolved to explore our world, test our bodies, and learn how best to navigate our surroundings. This process, especially the curiosity part of it, was critical to the proper developments of our bodies, our neurons, our muscles, our coordination, and the learned abilities to walk, talk, and think clearly.
Paul and Anne Ehrlich recently offered what is likely the latest, carefully considered assessment of our chances of avoiding a collapse of civilization. It began with the publication of their findings in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B with a paper titled, “Can a collapse of civilization be avoided?” A summary of the findings was published on a blog of the Millenium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere (MAHB) hosted by Stanford University. I think you will find this assessment both interesting and sobering. Take a look at it.
 Ehrlich PR, Ehrlich AH. 2013. Can a collapse of civilization be avoided? Proceedings of the Royal Society B http://rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/280/1754/20122845.
Senator Lamar Alexander was President of the University of Tennessee in Knoxville when I was a grad student there. He served as Governor of the State of Tennessee 1979-1991 and as the U.S. Secretary of Education 1991-1993. In 2001 he was named the Roy M. and Barbara Goodman Family Visiting Professor of Practice in Public Service at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. With such an august background, one might expect the Senator to be fairly literate about the facts of nuclear power in the U.S. and abroad.
In an email to me dated January 17, 2014, he pointed out that “wasteful wind subsidies” by the federal government to promote wind power as an alternative to fossil fuel in Tennessee does not produce sufficient return in Tennessee with its relatively low wind resource to justify the subsidy. He went on to claim that “Furthermore, windmills are destroying the environment in the name of saving the environment. For example, you can see their flashing lights for 20 miles, and you would have to stretch wind turbines the entire length of the Appalachian Trail, from Maine to Georgia, to equal the power produced by eight nuclear plants on one square mile each – and you would still need the nuclear plants or some other form of power generation for when the wind doesn’t blow.” Continue reading
If the Earth were tiny, much smaller than it is, and contained a reasonably small population, say a few hundred people, and were faced with a threat, we can envision how the people of the world would face it: Ten to twenty proven leaders of that population might get together as a group, ask for facts and evidence from the scientists, scholars, and experienced business and other informed people in the population, then put together an action plan they hope will avoid the danger, and finally rally the whole population around the plan and its execution. That is the rational, reasonable, logical way to deal with a crisis.
However, with an Earth as large and diverse as the current one, with huge populations separated by oceans, by races, by tribes, by cultures, and by language, plus variations in natural resource abundance, such a reasonable course of action seems fruitless. The United Nations was created to overcome that difficulty. But it lacks the teeth and coherence to carry out such a plan. It has prepared some good plans, but they don’t go anywhere close to the scale needed to solve the problem. Continue reading
This is perhaps the most confusing, complex, and debated topic on the political burner these days. As we enter the New Year, talk is increasing that the U.S. Congress seriously may take up a reform of U.S. immigration policy. I think it is not so complex and confusing. Let me explain my view and see what you have to say.
Humanity is possibly on the verge of species collapse. I know, most people absolutely do not want to accept this statement. Surely we can find ways to avoid this calamity. Well, possibly. But, the way we’re going, don’t count on it. If you are a doubter, please stay tuned for a later blog posting by me on “Bad Thinking—Wrongheaded Action.”
What I mean by collapse may not include extinction of humans from the Earth (but it could). What is clearly threatened is a painful, possibly abrupt, large decline of global population, with varying magnitudes by region, mainly as a result of knocking out many of “nature’s services.” These are ecosystems and other parts of nature necessary to support human life at the current population level of over 7 billion (and growing). They include the fresh water we drink, the food we eat, the minerals we extract from the Earth, and the supplementary energy sources we think we need to have a good life (beyond what comes from the sun automatically). If we knock out too many species, bees for example (critical to the pollination of our crops), human life will suffer, not just due to loss of our numbers in a fairly precipitous manner, but from a rapid change in the industrial way of life which will create incredible hardships, discomfort, and premature deaths. Continue reading
The U. S. military, always alert to threats facing our country, has been studying the alterations we humans are making to the biosphere, our life-support system. Military leaders have concluded what I have been saying for some time: The threats to our future from global warming and other serious human alterations of the planet are far more dangerous than any terrorist threat.
“This March, Admiral Samuel J. Locklear III, the commander of the United States Pacific Command, told security and foreign policy specialists in Cambridge, Mass., that global climate change was the greatest threat the United States faced — more dangerous than terrorism, Chinese hackers and North Korean nuclear missiles. Upheaval from increased temperatures, rising seas and radical destabilization ‘is probably the most likely thing that is going to happen…” he said, ‘that will cripple the security environment, probably more likely than the other scenarios we all often talk about.’’
“Locklear’s not alone. Tom Donilon, the national security adviser,said much the same thing in April, speaking to an audience at Columbia’s new Center on Global Energy Policy. James Clapper, director of national intelligence, told the Senate in March that ‘Extreme weather events (floods, droughts, heat waves) will increasingly disrupt food and energy markets, exacerbating state weakness, forcing human migrations, and triggering riots, civil disobedience, and vandalism.’ “
So wrote Roy Scranton, U.S. Army veteran who served in Iraq, in an eloquent statement, recently published in the New York Times. Even the World Bank, no bastion of liberal do-goodism, presented a surprisingly dour assessment of the human predicament in its June 2013 report, “Turn Down the Heat: Climate Extremes, Regional Impacts, and the Case for Resilience.” Jim Young Kim, President of the World Bank Group, described the conclusions in a 4 minute YouTube video. Continue reading
There is so much information on the web about stresses to the biosphere, it’s difficult to keep up. From time to time I plan to offer a few internet links to material of interest and relevancy. Here’s my current installment, several more below it.
Hooked on Growth
Added 12 NOV 2013
“Join GrowthBusters to find the cure for the silent killer of growth addiction. Unending economic growth, pursuit of population growth, perpetual urban growth, and increasing consumption are not the model for a sustainable culture. The GrowthBusters movie is now finished.”
Al Bartlett has Died
Added 10 SEP 2013
Prof. Bartlett died Saturday at the age of 90.
Here are two articles:
Al’s website is at www.AlBartlett.org
The Kahn Academy
Added 3 SEP 2013
Thanks to TV I found the Kahn Academy. It is a remarkable approach to offering short video nuggets or lessons for free on a variety of subjects. The platform chosen is well-suited to learning simple things in geometry, for example, but has been and continues to be extended to very much more involved subjects on its knowledge map. Of interest to this web blog are these three lessons:
These are contained in a Kahn Academy “Crash Course on Ecology.”
Once you start watching these relatively short videos, it is difficult to stop watching them.
Typical 10 minute lesson using Sal Kahn’s original presentation model: The Beauty of Algebra.
How Keystone Flunks The Climate Test
From Michael Brune of the Sierra Club, AUGUST 29, 2013
In June President Obama set a climate test for his decision on the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. He said he will not approve the pipeline if it would significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution. Today the Sierra Club, Oil Change International, and 13 partner groups have released a report that settles the issue unequivocally: Keystone XL would be a climate disaster.
Our report, “FAIL: How the Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline Flunks the Climate Test,” spells out the full consequences of building the pipeline.
Start with the one fact that the State Department, the U.S. EPA, climate scientists, and even Wall Street and industry analysts all agree on: The Keystone XL tar sands pipeline will create massive amounts of carbon pollution. Tar sands, after all, are the world’s dirtiest and most carbon-intensive source of oil. Oil Change International estimates that the pipeline would carry and emit more than 181-million metric tons of carbon pollution each year. That’s the pollution equivalent of adding 37.7 million cars to U.S. roads, or 51 new coal-fired power plants.
The State Department, though, tried to ignore this 181-million metric ton elephant. It argued in its environmental review of Keystone XL that tar sands development was inevitable, regardless of whether the pipeline is built. That’s not true for several reasons.
Arithmetic, Population, and Energy: A Tribute to Dr. Albert A. “Al” Bartlett, Professor Emeritus, University of Colorado at Boulder
As Al Bartlett nears the end of his life, I wish to honor him with this posting.
If you have not already encountered the indomitable teachings of physics professor Bartlett on the arithmetic of human population, or in his classes, below are some quotes from his work, a link to his first and most important contribution, and a few additional links.
I encourage you to share this posting and his teachings with anyone you think might be receptive and who might not already know of his work.
Text: Can you think of any problem in any area of human endeavor on any scale, from microscopic to global, whose long-term solution is in any demonstrable way aided, assisted, or advanced by further increases in population, locally, nationally, or globally?
The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function.
Occasionally I find myself spending some time with a teenager or young adult. Once in a while, I ask them a few basic questions about the world around them, how things work and what kind of lives they expect to be living as adults. I’m sometimes struck with an apparent lack of important basic information. I once was invited to speak with an elementary school class about solar energy. Rather than lecture them, I simply asked some questions and was pleasantly surprised to find that in a class of 30, usually at least one or two of them would have a fairly good answer. It seemed the kids were more interested and willing to listen when a classmate tried to answer a question. I usually amplified on the answer, in some cases steering it toward more correct information.
Thinking about this recently, it occurred to me that, on issues affecting the long term viability of the human species, few people are sufficiently informed and seldom very interested in such an important topic. While that might be understandable in youngsters, the sooner we can help them understand how the world on which they live works, the better will they be able to cope with future challenges. You might have a chance for a mini “world dialog” with the young people you know or are in your family. If so, here are some suggested questions.
Next time you are able to spend some time with a young person and are able to engage that person in conversation, you might like to ask a few questions about basic principles of nature. Here are some suggestions.
The Millenium Alliance for Humanity & the Biosphere (MAHB) of Stanford University is a collaboration of natural scientists and social scientists working together to implement behavioral, institutional and cultural changes necessary for humans to “ensure a sustainable and equitable future for everyone.”
The process is called foresight intelligence. It seems that this particular kind of intelligence is innate in humans but not well developed on a large scale. MAHB’s goal is to better tap into our foresight intelligence to reduce humanity’s ecological footprint and social inequities, moving toward true sustainability on a global scale, before it is too late.
The political class in much of the world has barely scratched the surface in pursuing this goal, leaving what MAHB calls the Civil Society to try and make a meaningful contribution.
According to MAHB: “The term ‘civil society’ includes scholars, non-governmental organizations, businesses, social activists, and individuals who share a vision for a sustainable world, respecting the rights and prosperity of all humanity. While the MAHB is pluralistic in its acceptance of differences and diversity a generally accepted core set of values has emerged globally and constitute the public good: that all humans should be able to live peacefully, securely and sustainably.”