Only Radical Transformation…

The “Great Dying” Has Begun. Only Transforming the Economy Can Stop It.

Life is once again headed for total collapse. While coverage of last week’s major Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) report on biodiversity loss rightly played up the dire numbers — an estimated 1 million species gone by 2050 — what’s truly remarkable are the solutions the authors offer in response. Ditching the timid pragmatism of technocrats, these scientists are calling for nothing less than the total transformation of the global economy. Producing for profit has failed us, they say, and failed the planet. We need a new system.

Only “transformative change” can stop massive species loss, according to the report’s conclusion. That means overhauling the global economy to prioritize human well-being and environmental sustainability rather than the pursuit of profit. “We’re not addressing the underlying causes of biodiversity loss, which is the way we organize economies, production and consumption patterns, our institutions, and our rules,” says Ingrid Visseren-Hamakers, associate professor of environmental science and policy at George Mason University and a coordinating lead author of the IPBES report. “We need to transform the sheer fabric of our society to become more sustainable.”

Today’s great dying is happening faster than ever before, and its causes are clear: breakneck development, fossil-fueled global warming, industrial pollution, single-crop agriculture. Complex as these processes are, they point to a common culprit: A growth-based economic system bent on wringing cash from nature has exploited the planet’s ecosystems beyond what they can bear. Now, Earth’s fragile life-support system is entering a death spiral that threatens human existence and which no one is prepared to stop.

— Read on


May 11, 2019

This. Yes, this says it well.

Alexandra Petri writing for the Washington Post about the recent UN Report: Nature’s Dangerous Decline ‘Unprecedented’; Species Extinction Rates ‘Accelerating’,

Just admit it! You don’t care about other species!

Look, let’s abandon this charade, all right?

I understand: You do not give a ringtailed lemur’s posterior about the majority of life on earth. I fully get it. Believe me, I barely give a carp about it, and some of it is my family. Just — respect me enough to admit it, okay?

For years I have come to you with news that the prairie chicken is not doing so well, and you have furrowed your brow and made concerned sounds. But — the prairie chicken does no better. I am sure you intend to do something about the prairie chicken, but “doing something about the prairie chicken” has slid somewhere on your priorities list below “doing nothing about the prairie chicken” and “forming strong, detailed opinions about the coffee cup that briefly appeared in a single shot of ‘Game of Thrones.’” And that’s fine! I mean, it’s not fine, but it’s between you and your God. Just, admit it, so we can stop wasting time.

I feel like the hardest part of my job right now as a scientist is how you pretend you care about other living beings (apart from dogs and cats, the dunking otter, the new dunking otter, or the occasional octopus who has on account of his exceptional gifts risen from straitened circumstances, pulling himself up by eight bootstraps). To save the rich and glorious tapestry of species that makes life possible on earth, there is nothing you would not do, except alter the way you live in even the slightest bit or be mildly inconvenienced for a very brief time. That is the sense I’m getting? I guess I understand why it is an important element of your self-image that you care about such things, but — look, you are not fooling anyone.

More on the report.

And more…


May 10, 2019

As is often the case I have a tendency to become less regular in my posting here. As I was writing up a description of a recent episode of the Discovery Podcast to share on a slack channel it occurred to me that this is exactly the sort of thing I should post here.

So, this was a fun podcast to listen to… about the perception of the passing of time in different animals. Basically, the perception of time is different based on sensory input, audio and visual, which varies. Flies, bats, and birds are discussed as examples of animals that have a higher frame rate of perception. In a sense, time seems slower for them or at least can be. For bats who can control their frame rate through clicks in the audio-echo based system, time can be slowed down as needed. So, when flying through an open space with little action they can conserve energy with fewer clicks but when hunting an insect they can speed it up from 1 click a second to 200 a second and slow their sense of time for accurate hunting. Kind of like increasing the resolution of what they hear/see as they need to.

Give it a listen!

Climate Change, Corporations AND Us

I was reading my news feed this morning and hit upon this article about zero-waste which highlights the efforts of people and businesses to pre-cycle. Which is to say, eliminate trash via the re-use of containers for shopping. Excellent. That’s exactly what we need to be doing. But that’s actually not the point of the post.

Early in the article I hit upon this and it struck a nerve:

In response to these bleak realities, we’re often told that it’s all our fault. Because you didn’t bring your reusable tote bag to Trader Joe’s, that polar bear is now dead. This is a lie, of course — the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a damning report that revealed just 100 companies are responsible for 71 percent of global climate emissions, most of them oil and gas companies like ExxonMobil, Shell, and BP. But it would also be a lie to claim that online shopping isn’t terrible for the environment — in 2016, transportation overtook power plants as the top producer of carbon dioxide emissions in the US, with a quarter of that coming from medium- and heavy-duty delivery trucks.

Are just 100 companies responsible for 71% of global climate emissions? Well, for fuck’s sake, no. One hundred companies might be the source but we are also responsible because those companies are selling their product to us. However you want to break this down, ultimately, the chicken comes home to roost on our porch. We drive. We purchase products that are sourced, manufactured, packaged and shipped to us. Then we throw away the packaging (or try to recycle it). Then we use it and throw it away (or try to recycle it).

Every aspect of our lives is currently based on fossil fuels. So, those 100 companies are no more or less responsible than we are. We’re all a part of this process. Headline and story writers should be more careful of writing text that helps readers absolve themselves of their participation in the cycle.

Climate Change Gloom

(Note: This was originally written to an extended family Apple Messages thread as I shared the video there. Once I started writing what was meant to be a couple sentences I just kept going. Seems shareable here too.)

Upon reading my news feed this morning I came upon this is an excellent video. Beautiful but sad. That said, I don’t think they hit on the title as hard as they should have. It get’s mentioned once but it should be more prominent in the story.

The point about adaption is that at this point, going forward, the carbon in the atmosphere cannot be removed. Even if we stopped all fossil fuel burning now (which we obviously won’t) the carbon in the atmosphere will remain for decades. So, the melting we see happening now will continue for decades. So, the effects of climate change that we see now will continue and become more intense for decades. Droughts, wildfires, melting, changes in food production capacity, flooding… basically, more intensity, less predictability, less stable. With the carbon already in the atmosphere we’ve committed.

The scenario, as dark as it is, turns much darker when you then consider: We’ve made no progress towards decreasing our carbon output. It’s growing not reversing and is likely to do so for the next few years. Best-case scenario (which is not likely given current politics) is we slow and reverse carbon output within 15 years. The reality is that our current output will remain steady and grow slightly for the next 15 or more years. Then consider, the human population is currently at 7.4 billion and growing. Projected to hit 8 billion by 2023.

Back to the title of that video… “The only thing we can do is adapt”. The sad truth is that every new release of information that comes out now always says the same thing, “This is all happening faster than we thought it was.” It used to be 150 out. Then 100. Then 50. What’s now being talked about is that it’s not 50 or 25. It’s happening around us. But most people just say, oh, it still snowed, it’s still cold here in the winter. Everything’s okay. See, look, brrr, so cold. But the truth is most people confuse weather and climate. Most people aren’t doing the science and most people aren’t seeing the changes with their eyes yet.

So, to the younger of you, sorry. We will all have to adapt. But you will have to adapt more. I feel very guilty. The only thing that softens it is that I know you too will continue to do the things we did. You’ll make the problem worse for yourselves and for your kids. So, in the end, though you’ll suffer more, you’ll likely end up being as guilty as the previous generations.

Of course, this was written as an American for Americans (see note above). The truth is that many others around the planet will suffer far more as a result of developed nations’ lifestyles. As I get older I realize that there is no actual justice in our world. Sure, we can have social and ecological justice as a goal but too few do and looking out toward the horizon I see no sign of that changing, certainly not in the U.S.

Much, much more to say but for now this will do.

More Quickly

More quickly than predicted. Over the past 20 years that has become a common statement in every serious article discussing climate change research. Here’s the latest and as usual, it is alarming. But, it’s to be expected and more of the same will continue to come.

Ice loss from Antarctica has sextupled since the 1970s, new research finds

Antarctic glaciers have been melting at an accelerating pace over the past four decades thanks to an influx of warm ocean water — a startling new finding that researchers say could mean sea levels are poised to rise more quickly than predicted in coming decades.

The Antarctic lost 40 billion tons of melting ice to the ocean each year from 1979 to 1989. That figure rose to 252 billion tons lost per year beginning in 2009, according to a study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. That means the region is losing six times as much ice as it was four decades ago, an unprecedented pace in the era of modern measurements. (It takes about 360 billion tons of ice to produce one millimeter of global sea-level rise.)

The Beauty of Science

Came upon this article this morning: Swarm of mysterious radio bursts seen coming from deep space

Reading this article and thought I’d share for two reasons. First, it includes a very cool video that explains electromagnetism. It’s something I think everyone should have at least a basic understanding of given that it is one of the four fundamental forces of the Universe but also, it’s something we use everyday. It’s a very well done video.

Even if the actual topic of the article is not of great interest to some, it includes a very interesting discussion of the workings of science. In this case, it’s just a highlight of the process of data collection followed by an attempt to understand and interpret the data, then looking for more data and better quality data to further test the current ideas and so on. I think it’s great to see humans working together, collaborating in an attempt to understand one of the mysteries of nature. It’s the kind of example we can look to in times like these when we’re surrounded by political arguments and heightened social fractures of many kinds. It is possible for humans to play well together and, in the process, become more knowledgeable about the world around them.

This quote sums up the process and the attitude very well:

“There is a lot of fun in the not knowing,” he says. “You keep adding more information, but as in all sciences, whenever you solve one mystery, it always opens up three more.”

We’re visiting a distant world on January 1, 2019

On January 1, 2019 humans will pass and make the most distant observation of a world in our solar system. On this date just days away the New Horizons will pass Object 2014 MU69 in the Kuiper Belt. See the tweet thread by Alex Parker is fantastic as it illustrates a bit about how this observation has been made possible.

Alex Parker:

In just a few hours I will depart for Maryland for New Horizons’ New Years flyby of the Kuiper Belt Object (486958) 2014 MU69. Before I go, I thought I would re-tell some of the stories about how we came to know about this little world.

More at his article here.