By Ross McCluney
In an amazing one-two punch of scientific understanding, the University of Georgia and Arizona State University have, independently, brought new insights into the root causes of accelerated climatic disruption, unprecedented species extinctions, resource depletions—all at the hands of humanity—plus a dramatic spurt of population growth in the last couple of centuries and the resulting threat of human self-extinction.
“You can think of the Earth like a battery that has been charged very slowly over billions of years. The sun’s energy is stored in plants and fossil fuels, but humans are draining energy much faster than it can be replenished.”
In just the last few hundred years, humans extracted exploitable energy from these living and fossilized biomass fuels to build the modern industrial-technological-informational economy, to grow our population to more than 7 billion, and to transform the biogeochemical cycles and biodiversity of the earth.
This rapid discharge of the earth’s store of organic energy is what fuels the human domination of the biosphere, including conversion of natural habitats to agricultural fields and the resulting loss of native species, emission of carbon dioxide and the resulting climate and sea level change, and use of supplemental nuclear, hydro, wind, and solar energy sources.
The laws of thermodynamics, part of physics, govern the trickle-charge and rapid discharge of the earth’s battery and are therefore universal and absolute. In the long span of universe history, Earth is only temporarily poised on its outpost, some distance away from the thermodynamic equilibrium of outer space.
With the rapid depletion of the chemical energy stored in planetary biomass, however, the earth is shifting back toward the inhospitable equilibrium of outer space—with fundamental ramifications for the biosphere and humanity. Because there is no substitute or replacement energy for living biomass, the remaining distance from equilibrium that will be required to support human life is unknown.
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.