Category Archives: Humanity

50 Years after landing on the moon: Thoughts on a the potential of humanity

I turned 50 years old on June 5 so I was alive for the moon landing but just 6 weeks old. But in thinking about that accomplishment and the 50 years that have passed, my lifetime thus far, I am struck by two things. First, humans can do amazing things when they work together. Second, humans are often not very good at working together.

It’s often said as common knowledge that humans went to the moon primarily as a result of the Cold War between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. It was that competition and division that drove each country. In 2019 humans we find ourselves in a similar state of fracture and division. In the U.S. we seem to be caught in a cultural, political and economic war with ourselves. Internationally we can see that humans, divided into political entities called countries, also continue to fight with one another.

On this morning of the anniversary of humans landing on the moon I took a walk with my dogs. It just so happens that the moon, in it’s waning phase, was visible in the western sky. I looked and imagined those men 50 years ago. I imagined looking back at Earth from their perspective on the moon. This fragile planet that we call home. We’re not very good at seeing ourselves as humans. As a species we share a home with one another and with countless other species but we don’t view ourselves as a family or as a community. We still fight with one another based upon our skin color, our language, our beliefs or any possible difference we might have. We seem to be stuck in a way of thinking and being that emphasizes the negatives of diversity rather than celebrate the symphony of the whole that might be possible.

As I think about humans in 2019 I wonder about the next 50 years. Will we continue to fight one another? Are we doomed to struggle in this self-inflicted process? We show amazing promise when we work with one another rather than against one another. We achieve amazing things when we collaborate as allies. We have before us many challenges, difficult problems which we have ourselves created. I’d like to Imagine, as John Lennon did, a world in which humans go beyond the gravity of our past, that force that binds us to conflict and division. What might we achieve as a common community working together rather than against one another. It seems like a beautiful, if distant possibility.

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 onezero.medium.com/the-great-dying-has-begun-only-transforming-the-economy-can-stop-it-4eadd8f7ccf8

Denny

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…

The U.S. nightmare

What the fuck is happening in the United States. This is a fucking nightmare.

Youngest migrants held in ‘tender age’ shelters

Trump administration officials have been sending babies and other young children forcibly separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border to at least three “tender age” shelters in South Texas, The Associated Press has learned.

Lawyers and medical providers who have visited the Rio Grande Valley shelters described play rooms of crying preschool-age children in crisis. The government also plans to open a fourth shelter to house hundreds of young migrant children in Houston, where city leaders denounced the move Tuesday.

Voyager at 40

A great thread by @justinhendrix over on Twitter:

The solar eclipse Monday is set to overshadow another significant event for space nerds like me. Tomorrow, August 20th, is a special day.

August 20th is the 40th anniversary of the 1977 launch of @NSFVoyager2, the first of two Voyager probes to explore the outer planets.

Its sister probe, Voyager 1, was launched 16 days later. These two probes represent one of humanity’s most extraordinary achievements.

Voyager 1 is nearly 13 billion miles from Earth; it takes a ray of light more than 19 hours to travel from here to its position.

Voyager 2 is nearly 11 billion miles and 16 light hours away. 5 years ago Voyager 1 entered interstellar space, on 25 August 2012.

Incredibly, both spacecraft are still sending scientific information about their surroundings through the Deep Space Network.

In the late 1960s that NASA determined a once-every–176 year alignment would allow a spacecraft to to visit all four outer planets.

Voyager delivered the first single frame photo of the Earth and the Moon together from space. https://twitter.com/justinhendrix/status/898891148495912962/photo/1

The probes carried radioisotope thermoelectric generators powered by plutonium, and carry an array of scientific instruments. https://twitter.com/justinhendrix/status/898891697496637441/photo/1

The computers aboard the Voyager probes each have 69.63 kilobytes of memory in total. That’s about enough to store one average .jpg.

The probes used assembly languages such as FORTRAN. Recently the Voyager program hired a new FORTRAN programmer. http://www.popularmechanics.com/space/a17991/voyager–1-voyager–2-retiring-engineer/

The probes visited all the giant outer planets, including Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. They made numerous important discoveries.

For instance, erupting volcanoes on Jupiter’s moon Io, the first evidence of volcanic activity elsewhere in the solar system. Alt text

The volcanos on Io were discovered by a JPL Voyager imaging scientist named Linda Moribito Kelly. http://www.planetary.org/blogs/guest-blogs/a-j-s-rayl/stories_kelly.html

Voyager discovered an ocean beneath the icy crust of Jupiter’s moon Europa, waves and fine structure in Saturn’s icy rings, Neptune’s…

Great Dark Spot and 1,600 kilometer-per-hour winds, geysers erupting from the polar cap Neptune’s moon Triton, and eventually…

The termination shock where supersonic solar wind slows down, forming the final frontier of the solar system. http://ibex.swri.edu/students/What_is_the_termination.shtml

You can see many of the images that the Voyagers took during their trek through the outer planets here: https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/voyager/galleries/images-voyager-took/

Jupiter. https://twitter.com/justinhendrix/status/898897243201167360/photo/1

Saturn. https://twitter.com/justinhendrix/status/898897459061174273/photo/1

Uranus. https://twitter.com/justinhendrix/status/898897744714190848/photo/1

Neptune. https://twitter.com/justinhendrix/status/898902872473186304/photo/1

And the famous Pale Blue Dot photo, which inspired Carl Sagan’s speech, which we should all listen to & consider https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=1&v=p86BPM1GV8M

The Voyagers also famously carry a Golden Record, which carries the sounds of earth into space- Sagan’s idea. http://www.npr.org/2017/08/11/542867050/40-years-ago-nasa-launched-message-to-aliens-into-deep-space

Blind Willie Johnson’s ‘Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground’ is one of the songs now in interstellar space https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V8AuYmID4wc

The Voyagers represent the best of humanity. The best scientific thinking, engineering, ambition, curiosity, passion, arts and culture.

We’d do well at this moment, 40 years hence, to look at the legacy of these probes, and consider what we can learn from their journey.

It’s more than the sum of their scientific discoveries. They explore the universe, but they also tell us something about ourselves.

Our best selves. Voyager is the best of humanity. We need to remember the aspiration to be our best selves, to advance the species.

So enjoy the eclipse, but spare a moment tomorrow at 10:29 AM Eastern to remember the launch of @NSFVoyager2, a great human achievement.

Here is an excellent hour on the history of Voyager from the BBC. h/t @acinonnap http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/w3csvntg

Pale Blue Dot


With all of the craziness of the past couple of days (and really, the months since DT took office) it’s good to get some perspective with Carl Sagan.

The original image was taken in 1990 at Sagan’s request. I used the new image taken July 19, 2013 by the Cassini spacecraft in an event called “The Day the Earth Smiled”. Look closely at DOT and you’ll find the Earth at the center. 

Story behind original image taken in 1990 at Penny4Nasa.

Denny

August 11, 2017

The world is all upside down these days. It’s a good time for deep breaths and time under the stars. Last night I spent a good long while looking at Saturn and a few of it’s moons. Then I spent some time looking at the Lagoon Nebula.

Apple and the environment

If you’ve read this blog for long you may have picked up that I’m a bit of an Apple fan. But it’s also true that I have, since around 1990, I have oriented the way I live my life around the question, “Is this good for the health of the Earth?” Those that know me would probably agree with the suggestion that I’m a bit extreme in that regard. The way I look at it is that it is, fundamentally, a question lived ethics and survival. What we do everyday impacts not only our future survival but the survival of countless other species with which we share the planet. Our choices thus far have been leading us to the extinction of other species and quite possibly our own. Our time on this planet does have an expiration date. One day humans will no longer exist on this planet. That’s a given. But will we end our time here prematurely due to poor behavior? Increasingly it looks as though we will.

I have long argued (as many have) that capitalism is incompatible with the longterm health of the planet. As an economic system it is focused on profit and specifically short-term profit. Corporations have demonstrated time and time again that they don’t do well when it concerns the environment and questions of human social justice. In the past ten years Apple has begun to demonstrate that it is possible continue making a profit even as it undergoes a dramatic shift in it’s social and environmental impact from a negative to a positive. Apple isn’t just minimizing its negative impact but is attempting and succeeding at creating a significant positive impact.

In recent years as it makes these changes it has made an effort to communicate to the public what it is doing. On the face of it it’s pretty easy to dismiss as the usual greenwashing that many companies engage in when they care about that aspect of how they appear to the public. In other words, marketing. But here’s the thing, Apple has gone so far in changing the way it operates that it no longer appears to be trying to convince the public that it is a good corporate “citizen”. They have seemingly made it a part of their mission to set the bar of conduct at a new level. This is a sustained effort to shift the fundamentals of the company from one that prioritizes profit to one which puts environmental impact on an equal footing.

In the lead-up to Earth Day 2017 we’ve seen a push by Apple to share what it’s been doing in these areas. In past years they have done the same but with each passing year as the scope of their commitment deepens it seems to be a shift from corporate marketing to one in which Apple sees a “teachable moment” and is educating the public not for it’s own benefit but for the public good. They are setting an example not just for corporations but even for citizens and governments. They aren’t just meeting the too-low requirements and goals set out by governments. They are exceeding them and raising the bar and not just by a little. And then they are saying to the world, do better. Do much better.

A day or so ago John Gruber of Daring Fireball and The Talk Show published an interview with Lisa Jackson, Apple’s VP of Environmental Policy. I remember when Lisa Jackson moved over to Apple having served 4 years as head of the EPA under Obama. At the time I just figured, oh, the usual high-level corporate/government revolving door. I didn’t pay much attention to her. But listening to that interview I can only say that I am really impressed. She’s a fantastic asset to Apple as well as an excellent STEM role model who also addresses the connection between STEM and our social and ecological problems and needs. I’ve listened to it twice and might give it a third go. She offers some fascinating details about how Apple operates in relation to resources.

As an activist who protested Nike in the late 90s for it’s overseas labor policies I was keenly aware that Apple was having it’s own labor issues in the early 2000s (and probably before). I began paying attention then to both the labor and environmental practices of my favorite technology company with some hope that they would “Think Different” in their dealings with the world around them. They have not disappointed. While progress was made when Jobs was at the helm their move towards greater social and environmental responsibility really increased when Tim Cook took over. The focus on the social and environmental responsibility has intensified greatly over the past 5 years. This interview is an excellent summary of those changes. But what is truly breathtaking is the scope and depth to which they have gone.

It’s easy these days to become mired in a mix of hopelessness, despair, frustration and disgust. Our political system seems equal parts corrupt, inept, and circus. On the issue of climate change the U.S. has proven largely ineffectual and confused. From the public to government to business, we’ve made little progress at far too slow a rate. It seems very likely that we are past the point of no return and that all there is to do now is adapt and attempt to minimize what now seems to be inevitable. But I listen to this interview and not only am I inspired but I’m embarrassed that it is a company… a capitalist enterprise that is actually leading the way, that is setting the best possible example not only for other companies but for citizens. As someone who has long considered himself an activist (of sorts) I suddenly feel a bit ashamed of my despair. That might not be exactly it or quite the best way to put it but it’s close.

Also, Apple has put together four videos for Earth Day 2017. Good stuff.

And yet another bit of Apple and the environment bit of news, Macworld reports that Apple will return heat generated by data center to warm up homes:

Apple is building a new data center in Denmark, and it has some interesting ideas on how to power the data center with renewable energy, while also giving back to the community.

Excess heat generated by the data center will be captured and returned to the local district’s heating system, which will warm up homes in the community.

This is just one example of many that illustrates the scope of commitment that Apple is making to this effort. This is exactly the sort of project that Lisa Jackson is describing in the above linked interview with John Gruber.

Last but not least, Apple is set to move into it’s new headquarters, Apple Park. Much work is still being done but April was to be the month that employees started moving over. To say that I’m impressed with Apple Park would be a huge understatement. From native and edible landscaping to the heating and cooling to the local energy production, it is, by all accounts, the standard for large scale green architecture and landscaping.

Star Trek: A Future Without Money?

Yes please. Where do I sign up? I’ve long thought that humanity would be better off without money. Whether this personal belief arose from my adoption of anarchism or whether I adopted anarchism because of the belief I no longer remember. Regardless, the future I wanted was a future in which humans were less concerned with the accumulation of wealth as well as the accumulation of stuff. Such a focus was holding us back from not only our individual potential but our collective potential as well.

During the same time that I was evolving into an anarchist and an activist I was also becoming a fan of Star Trek. In particular it was the then active series, The Next Generation that had my attention. Something I picked up on at some point along the way was that money and material possessions seemed irrelevant to the characters. I don’t recall now if it was explicitly discussed in the course of the show but it seemed to be the case that money simply didn’t exist. At least not on the Enterprise. The material needs of the crew were never an issue. But even more than that, the culture of the Enterprise, while organized as a hierarchy, was also egalitarian in many ways. There seemed to be an emphasis on cooperation even as personal, self development was encouraged and explored. From the arts to sciences, the crew were always engaged in self development. What was depicted was a version of humanity that evolved far beyond where we find ourselves today. It presented a better vision, an ideal, of what humanity could be. This was the future I wanted, this was the kind of humanity I hoped for.

At some point in the mid 90s I remember watching this particular Star Trek movie, Star Trek: First Contact and there it was a scene in which Captain Jean-Luc Picard explained that “The acquisition of wealth is no longer the driving force of our lives. We work to better ourselves and the rest of humanity.” There it was. Not just implied but explicitly stated. Yes! Exactly. And this, again, Picard from the episode “The Neutral Zone”:

“That’s what all this is about. A lot has changed in past 300 years. People are no longer obsessed with the accumulation of things. We have eliminated hunger, want, the need for possessions. We’ve grown out of our infancy.”

This particular aspect of the Star Trek Universe is explored in a new book, Trekonomics, by Manu Saadia:

Yet, Star Trek does not owe its enduring popularity and its place in our collective imagination to its aliens or to its technological speculations. What makes it so unique, and so exciting, is its radical optimism about humanity’s future as a society: in other words, utopia.

In Star Trek, humanity has reached abundance. Thanks to scientific progress and good governance, the Federation has overcome the social ills commonly associated with the uneven distribution of material wealth. The citizens of the Federation no longer work to sustain and provide for themselves — they find meaning in more elevated pursuits.”

I’ve not read it yet but I’ve just started it. From the Introduction:

To this day, the greatest sense of wonder I experience from Star Trek comes not from the starships and the stars, new life and new civilizations, but from its depiction of an uncompromisingly humanist, galaxy-spanning utopian society.

We are a far, far cry from that version of humanity. But that’s okay. Because, again, the point is, we can all be better humans. The world is what we make it everyday. We can choose to go with the flow which today is largely one of destruction and discordance or we can, like the characters of the Star Trek universe, strive to improve ourselves and the lives of those around us. We don’t need to be paid to be better humans, we can just do it. In fact, that’s a part of the point. Striving to be better for the sake of being better, without financial reward, is, in and of itself an immediate improvement. Even more, if our striving is cooperative and includes those around us. This is the world I want to create.

Via New Book ‘Trekonomics’ Investigates Challenges of a No-Money Universe

Big on Small

I’m big on small and have been for much of my adult life. Not just small but tiny if at all possible. What might it mean to be small?


I’d suggest that we just start by acknowledging our own smallness. We spend much of our lives in a relentless effort to find or create our identity which is a part of proving our worth to the world around us. It might be that we do this with good deeds or, as often seems to be the case, with accumulation of one sort or another. It’s this latter bit that leads so many to a lifetime of bigger houses, faster cars, prettier clothing.

Spring Peeper

But really, we are, each of us just a tiny being sharing a tiny planet with 7 billion other tiny beings such as ourselves. And, of course, our tiny planet is just one of many billions in our galaxy which is itself just one of many billions in the known universe. To say that we are small is an understatement. And yet, our scale, both in physical size as well as in time, is what we experience day to day. It’s what we know and what we function in.

Earthrise

Our lives are small in so many ways. In the span of humanity we are but a tiny blip. Humanity itself is just a moment in the larger span of time. It’s easy to feel insignificant and in a strange way we many of us spend much of our lives trying to prove ourselves otherwise. Steve Jobs referred to it as “putting a dent in the universe.” The striving to leave a mark, to leave our mark. Sadly, in our striving to leave a mark, the collective mark we may leave is more a scar on the tiny planet we inhabit. Our mark might well be not just our own extinction but it is, as I write these words, the extinction of many other species.


Another example of small is small as in intimate, which is to say, being aware of the simple things up close. When I take a walk in the woods I walk slowly. I’m happy to take a long hike for exercise but to truly explore I only need to venture out a few hundred feet outside my door. More often than not we miss the little detail going on all around us. It might be a cluster of tiny fungi growing in a carpet of moss. Or a snail moving across a rock. Those tiny things are easy to miss, especially for adults. We get busy with making life complicated and we tower so far above our toes that we rarely take the time or make the effort to see the world around us from a different perspective. Some of the most interesting stuff of life happens on this small scale.


What begins as awareness can grow into appreciation and respect. It’s been my experience and observation that in the hustle and bustle of “modern” life we have disconnected from many important processes that are obvious if we’re paying attention but easily invisible if we’re not. Everything from soil building via decay to the hatching of turtle eggs to the transformation of a Monarch from larvae to butterfly. Life and death is happening all around us.

Spicebush Swallowtail nectaring from Butterfly Weed

I’ll admit here the limits of these words. As much as I respect science and the scientific method I’m not a scientist and what I can offer here is personal perspective based on observation. Like many of the words shared throughout history, be it on paper or pixel, I am, in my own way, reaching out. Not so much to convince as to connect. Might I suggest we might do better embrace small? It is really just another way of suggesting that we embrace fragility. That we acknowledge that the life on our planet rests precariously on a tiny edge that we are collectively tipping out of balance.

So, how might this embrace manifest itself in how we live our lives? I’ve got a list! By no means exhaustive. Just a few of the things I try to implement in my life. Just something to get you started.

  • Take more time eating breakfast
  • Make it a point to go outside and get on your hands and knees. Find something tiny, something fragile.
  • Observe the processes going on around us, especially those of the natural variety.
  • Find nature even if you’re in an urban setting. Seek it out, preferably on foot.
  • Plant a seed and make sure it grows. Best if it is something you can eat like a tomato.
  • Be okay with being small.
  • Think about your use of resources, especially fossil fuels. Reduce travel especially if it requires a plane or auto. Embrace trains and bicycles for travel.
  • Reduce your use of resources. Then reduce it again. And again. Don’t stop.
  • Increase your capacity to renew life around you. Start small. That tomato plant needs friends. Why not grow a pepper and some basil too?
  • Take time to learn about the non-human species that inhabit your region.
  • Mulch something. Mulch some of your grass lawn if you have a lawn. Grass lawns are a waste of resources. *Plant fruit trees or fruit bushes.
  • Compost your organic waste. Don’t forget to dig into the pile every so often to check out the process.
  • *Your tomatoes, peppers and basil are probably a little lonely. Plant some native wildflowers. There’s a bird or a butterfly just waiting to be fed by the flowers you plant.
  • Remember, smaller homes require fewer resources to build, maintain, heat and cool.
  • Share resources with your friends and neighbors.

All images by me except “Earth Rise”