All posts by lauba

Entropy

“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe” – John Muir

As I read this article, I can’t say I had too much of a reaction. I am an earth science major working on a thesis regarding glacial retreat. I work under a mentor who has worked as the head of a working group for the most recent IPCC report, and who has studied climate feedback cycles for the bulk of his research. Having taken most of his classes, these along with other geoscience classes have exposed me to the concepts of climate feedback cycles, the consequences of exceeding 2-degree Celcius, and the reality of our.

Rather than a reaction, this article just made me think about the tendency for human behavior to be entropic. As a greater society, as a group of nations, humans have tendencies to create chaos before they will create a sense of unity. This issue requires us to change our morals, values, and least of all practices. Many countries ultimately depend on resources like oil to stay afloat, so to adjust all of our climate values to create a united mindset will be nearly impossible without war or alienation. To assume that countries will willingly give up their biggest export without a fight seems naive.

Hunting for Truth

Owens River from tableland-750px.jpg
Owens River via Wikipedia

While reading The Tamarisk Hunter, I found it crazy how digestible and tangible this reality felt; fiction has a way of doing that. While the story depicts a future in which California has purchased significant water rights for the Colorado River, causing many upstream inhabitants to suffer, this story is but a hypothetical depiction of a reality that has already unfolded in front of our eyes.

The Owen’s Valley and the Mono drainage basin have already been subjected to these exact circumstances, so much so that the Mono Lake water level dropped so low that the Mono County Water Committee sued LAPD over misuse of the water from the drainage. Many inhabitants of the Owen’s valley have dry wells, and native American populations in particular struggle to acquire sufficient water because of the comfort necessities of the rich in LA. While this story depicts national struggles across state borders, we don’t need to look that far to see the present truth in this.

Being as anthropocentric as we are, we neglect to see the effects of the misuse of water rights that are already effecting ecosystems relatively uninhabited by humans, such as LA’s extraction of water from underneath the Mojave desert, an aquifer which is nearly the only water supply to many plants which sustain desert life.

For a couple years, LA’s misuse of water rights has been a fascination of mine which I hope to soon start combatting from a political side by joining the Mono County Water Committee. I have spent the last few years preparing to move to Bishop, CA to work to return sovereign water rights to its’ locals. This story is not fully a false narrative, it is a fictional depiction of present truth.

drowning in Predictable chaos

Songs I listened to while writing this:
Everything – Healy
Birds, Pt. 1 – Chassol
Morning Dew – Matt Quentin

“Everything has melody, that’s the crazy thing. It has some sort of melody; it may be dissonant at times. But everything has tone if it has energy.” – Healy, from “Everything”

As I sat in Dream on Monroe late Tuesday evening, reading these articles, I couldn’t help but be distracted by cheerful laughter from the bar, the high pitch ringings of the multiple electronic signs, the faint mumbling from two separate tv channels, the clanking of metal oven doors and draws slamming closed, “Everything” by Healy playing in the headphones I had playing into my right ear only, and the crunch of thin crust resonating through my skull. As I started the Murray Schafer paper, the silent sound of the words I read passing through my mind only added to the chaos of sounds I was attempting to intake all at once. This has been a resounding depiction of my life for the past several weeks, one seeking out silence and solitude in order to focus but surrounding myself with noise to drown out the true distraction, human voices.
Just a few months ago, all the work I was invested in led me to the backcountry of Yosemite National Park where I found a unique silence. More than anything, I found peace of mind in the chaotic soundscape of nature where little is predictably cued, yet all sounds seem familiar and expected. In this chaotic soundscape, I found the ability to focus. Chaos created clarity.
As I sat in Dream, I couldn’t help but notice a stark difference in the chaotic soundscape I found myself in. While the sum of all things was unpredictable, each aspect was rhythmic, harmonic, and repetitive. Laughs were every few seconds, the high pitch electronic humming was constant, the commentators were high paces and relentlessly rhythmic, cars passed at a droning beat, and the clock ticked by, reminding me of the seconds I was wasting trying to read in the midst of this predictable chaos. Everything that ran through my ears was man-made. There was no wind, no water running, no rockfall or melting ice, no sound of silence. It was then I realized both how easy it had become for me to rely on this chaotic soundscape to drown out so many other distractions, yet how hard this soundscape has made it for me to find clarity of mind beyond time I spend working.

The natural soundscape, the undisturbed way of life provides dissonant beauty. It is inherently unpredictable, yet if soothes so easily. It has been human nature to create rhythm, order, and predictability, not only in sound and music, but in all aspects of life. These developments have led us to stray from the beauty of chaos, as we are not inherently comfortable not having control and understanding of our future. If there is a need to tie this all back to climate change, that is the notion. We are making the climate trajectory predictable, structured, and rhythmic. We have chosen to sacrifice a dissonant melody for one that is clear, despite its unpleasantness.

The climate-trolley problem

Coming from a geology undergraduate study where I have been repeatedly exposed to artificial and natural carbon sequestration, the concepts of ocean and atmospheric circulation, and the intertwined nature of all earth systems, it does not seem far-fetched to ponder the plausibility of acting as God like figures and manipulating the dynamics of Earth systems. By no means do I intend to justify the use of geo engineering, however, I do not have the same surprise by its relevance as a new growing field of science.

As we have hit on repeatedly in this class, human nature seems to be inexplicably intertwined with this desire for dominion, while at the same time having a twisted view of how we define this relationship. We have a need to control, be it each other’s beliefs, actions, environment, each other as beings, and from this scientific perspective, to control our world. We have a newfound passion to pursue the supra Darwin an species.

In a way, geo engineering is a reaction to the inability to control others. We have proven unable to act with unity, and have remained politically divided when it comes to climate policy. Geo engineering is in many ways an attempt to place science in front of all beliefs, with the belief that science is a perfect art. We know this is not true. Geo engineering is a process we have theorized and practiced on the small scale. We do not truly know the impacts of attempting to control the large scale processes which have permitted life as long as life has persisted. We act like gods, when we are no where near that level of understanding.

Not only does geo engineering attempt to control the world around us, but also the fates of those distant from us. 1 in 6 people will be adversely effected by the processes involved in geo engineering. But this isn’t an unfamiliar problem. Any philosopher would say that it is not our responsibility to reverse the climate trend, just as it is not our job to pull the lever to kill 1 but save many. Philosophically it is not our responsibility to geo engineer, but we know the potential.

Given our history of playing God, it seems that geo engineering is the logical step for humanity, not necessarily the ethical step, but at least the logical progression given our track record. Maybe it could be in our benefit to learn from our habits and avoid playing God again before we make a discovery for which the severity of the implementation cannot be undone.

I will leave you all with one last metaphor that I learned about while reading Kurt Vonnegut’s “Cat’s Cradle,” the concept of the black marble. In this book, a discovery is made of a crystal that can turn liquid water into ice. All water in contact with the crystal changes immediately. This powerful discovery intended to help soldiers travel across muddy fields has unexpected deadly implications when a crystal is dropped into the ocean. The analogy is as follows: you are reaching into a bag of marbles, you do not know what is inside, other than marbles. You have pulled white marbles from the bag for as long as you can remember, but who is to say there is not black marble. We have been making discoveries in the name of science for years. These discoveries are intended to help us understand and grow. But there may be a discovery along the way which may appear to be a blessing, but is truly a curse. When dealing with God like control, we must ask ourselves if we may have a black marble in our hands.

We Invented Everything, Right?

Taro Farming in Hawaii – Image provided by Kim Vukovich

In “Sustainability” from the series: Lexicon for an Anthropocene Yet Unseen by Emily Yates-Doerr, Maria Garcia Maldonado, and Rosario Garcia Meza, Doerr and co. talk about the importance of a reference frame when addressing global topics, in this case the way in which sustainability is presented globally, and particularly the way in which the United States and the western world in general approach sustainability. While the western world has progressed rapidly in terms of technology and mass production, it tends to assume that it has many if not all solutions. When addressing the concept of sustainability, it goes to follow that the western development of this practice will be the ideal manifestation of sustainability, an example that should be used as a model for the rest of the world. Like science, religion, and philosophy, the western world now seems to be pushing it’s approach to sustainability on the rest of the world.

While Doerr and co. spend some time pointing out the ways in which western world’s approaches to sustainability do not apply ideally to the entire world, what I feel this article is really getting at is that each culture, each natural environment, each society has a form of sustainability that suits them best. There is no end all be all approach. Something that shows this well is the variation in dialect surrounding the concept of sustainability. While we have our terms, other cultures and languages have words which fit their styles of life, their approach to land use, their resources in ways that describe the practices which they employ. Sustainability is not a universal end all be all concept, it is an approach to the world around us which varies in practice from place to place. That said, it may not be our place, as the western world, to implement our views of sustainability onto other cultures and countries.

Our approach is shaped by large communities, big businesses, big agriculture, national and international commerce. It is far removed from the small scale practice of sustainability; ideas such as horticulture, local resource reliance, community gardens, and other small scale practices that we have historically dismissed, discouraged, and now no longer what shape our view of sustainability (for example look at the alteration of Hawaiian culture through the destruction of it’s local and sustainable practices during the time before the United States decided to invade). Our concept of sustainability is created to continue our way of life, and given the impact of our capitalist and consumerist mind state, it might be time that we think about learning from less developed countries for once.

Still Lookin’ Out for #1

Photo was taken from in-class lecture slides – Peter Clark [Data from SSP database (IIASA), CDIAC/GCP]
In his paper, “A World They Don’t Deserve,” Allen Thompson clearly concludes that the current generation that controls climate policy has failed, will fail, and can conceivably do nothing but fail to consciously act with the best interest of the human future in mind. He makes it clear for an ethical and physical need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, yet argues that there is little evidence to suggest that this will happen, largely based on the capitalist mindset that drives a materialistic perspective. He further argues that the current generation’s land-use policies continue to drive the current climate crisis, a problem which is also linked largely to a capitalist perspective of resources. Ultimately, Thompson points to human greed, a reoccurring theme throughout the past few weeks – as the root of the problem; a problem he seems to say “we” will not change, largely due to the narcissistic philosophy shared by the current dominant generation.

While these points are largely true and disheartening, what is most disheartening is the ethical debate offered throughout the paper of whether we should give up, rollover, and simply forfeit to climate change and try to improve the lives of future generations in other aspects of life be it cancer research, or literally doing nothing because of the Non-Identity Problem, or invest in social institutions as a form of apology to future generations.

First, the argument that cancer research may better benefit future generations RATHER THAN climate change mitigations is honestly quite appalling. It suggests that we can continue to make conditions worse for some while making some conditions slightly better for all. By this, I mean that climate change will ultimately impact certain communities more than others, such as southern countries, coastal cities, impoverished communities, and minorities (such as indigenous groups). Cancer research will help only those impacted, and not to be too morbid, but it’s only going to keep more of us around to further the effects of climate crisis (not that I don’t value cancer research, just not INSTEAD of climate change mitigation).

Secondly, the Non-Identity Problem is not something that really has a place in the climate crisis. This isn’t some philosophical debate. The effects may be uncertain, but the baseline for the disaster is comprehensible enough to propose this argument is to devalue the lives of all future generations. This argument is an interesting philosophical idea, but not here, not now, and not one that will hold any ground later.

Finally, an apology is good if it holds true to what Thompson proposes as the third element of a good apology: “restitution, actions in an attempt to rectify or compensate for the transgression.” Social institutions are not adequate restitution. If you can go as far as considering an apocalyptic scenario in a hypothetical playout of a climate change scenario (no matter how theoretical), you can’t possibly suggest social institutions as adequate compensation for climate destruction.

The problems outlines are too grave, and it is clear that the understanding of these problems is quite solid. To propose such inaction followed by such a soft apology feels like an insult to the future and a way to justify inaction in order to continue the “aim to lead good [life].” Start looking out for the future, not always the self.

Dead or alive

Image by JonHee Yoon from NY Times article, “The Earth Is Just as Alive as You Are”

To say that geology is a study of non-life or the inert would be the same as qualifying the geologic science as the study of the current state of the planet, thus viewing the planet as a static system. 

Even from an elementary level, school curriculums teach the basics of the geologic rock cycle. This process started with heat and the formation of the first minerals and igneous rocks, and over billions of years has decayed into cycles of heating and cooling. Heat from the earth’s core radiates outward, bringing energy to matter, so much so it becomes liquid. This liquid heats and cools, convecting and bringing heart to the plastics above (core and mantle processes). These material cool at varying rates depending of their properties, and this forum unique solids (Bowens mineral series). This underlying heart allows large masses of these soils top move, colliding in to one another (plate tectonics). These collisions are capable of forces strong enough to build the highest mountains, where matter, once to hot to solidify, now reaches high enough into the atmosphere to store the coldest regions of the solid surface (mountain belts and metamorphic rocks). These landscapes bring energy of their own in the forum of potential energy. Here, erosive forces create sedimentary rocks. This new form of the same matter is transported to the lowest reaches of the surface, where the heat created from the same matter gives rise to more tectonic activity, returning the matter to whence it came. 

Without this internal heat, there would be no new rock formation, no liquid core to create a protective magnetic field, no covective mantel to give rise to plate tectonics, minimal mountain building, minimal terrain alteration, no dynamic earth systems, no life. The heat that makes this cycle all possible is derived from small particles of a deceist start, drawn back together by the gravitational fabric we can barely observe.

To see ourselves – as humans – as independent of interstellar and geologic processes is to view the universe as a static and dead system; and yet we see ourselves as the life (the one true light in this world). This is the mindset that Lynn White argued was fostered by religion, a mindset that encouraged individuals to view all external things as tools to the self, resources to exploit, an earth made for us. If this same mindset is now being used to link geology and racial exploitation (and thus a dive into an unconscious anthropocene), it is likely that neither is the root cause of the other, but rather our narcissistic and greedy nature/tendencies that are at fault. 

It seems that neither geology or religion have given rise to the mindset which has guided us as a species to exploit, but rather our is our nature – as collectives – to desire to conquer all things. Human nature is responsible for the possessive properties and interpretations of religion, the extractive curiosities that infiltrate geologic science, the urge to dominate all things and people deemed different; human nature was destined to give rise to the anthropocene. If we apply our character defining mindset to anthropogenically driven disasters, there is yet hope that we are self aware.

A Power struggle with the He and i

I’ve spent the last few days trying to figure out how I feel about this topic and where I wanted to go with this post, and all I have found is more confusion. While I do have some thoughts I would like to share, they all feel jumbled and misguided, and thus I’m excited to listen and participate in discussions about these two texts, however I feel slightly uncomfortable and unqualified sharing opinions. 

I grew up in a Jewish household, where somewhere along the way I adopted the notion that all other religions are based on money, greed, and power, and that I was to steer clear of these for the sake of my spirituality and physical safety. Looking back on this, I can see that a lot of the views that I once carried were passed down from people who had spent much of their lives in fear of other cultures and religions. For context, my family comes from both Israel and Poland, has a rich Jewish history, and has multiple individuals who are either killed in our fought in WWII. As I grew older, I maintained the view that many religions, Christianity in particular are based on greed, power, and money, however I have done everything I could to remove myself from a feeling of superiority, or that other belief systems were wrong. I no longer associate with any religious faith, but I do not have anything against those who choose to follow a religion of their choosing, for as written by Papa Francesco “respect must also be shown for the various cultural riches of different peoples, their art and poetry, their interior life and spirituality” if we are to act in unity to make the right choices as a human race.

Coming from my background, I have unintentionally seen most religions as constructs which attempt to control various aspects of the world around us, notably other people and wealth. While this mindset created by such shortcomings of many organized religions has been easier to spot in politics, I hadn’t thought about this in The context of our collective approach to anthropogenically driven climate change.

While I understand these examples are not representative of all people and expressions of Catholicism, I would like to point to things such as the Crusades, the opulence of the Vatican and local churches, repeated diaspora due to religious persecution, the worship of gold, partial and at times prejudice views toward other religions, (most of these have to do with the “establishment” or Church rather than the context of biblical writings), etc.

To a less aware outside observer such as myself, the Catholic Church has always seemed to be plagued by an unending power struggle. As Papa Francesco reminds, “we are not God. The earth was here before us and it has been given to us.” A gift is not something to be conquered, rather to be cherished and used in good health. I feel that the aforementioned characterization of the Church comes from those who have misunderstood and, in turn, misused it’s powers, when in reality the true intent of this religion is to spread love for people and the world around us. That said, it seems that many misunderstandings come from two interpretation of love: one being to care for, replenish, and understand the world around us, and the other being to benefit from yet be grateful for. These two interpretations have far different outcomes when applied to our interactions with our environment. While some may choose to love through profit, a future is only sustainable when love is shown through awareness, care, and giving back. The importance of this understanding with respect to all other religions, individuals, and ecosystems cannot be overstated moving into the future.