All posts by ledav

Let’s Axe bomb the atmosphere?

Upon reading the article about “geo-engineering,” I realized that this is not the first time I have come across these types of ideas about how to save the planet. For instances, I heard of the phosphorus and iron fertilization scheme to increase the population of photosynthetic phytoplankton. On paper, doing so would help decrease atmospheric CO2 levels due to the increase in aquatic photosynthetic activity. However, as with every solution, there are major drawback that must be mitigated or accepted. For instances, there could be an increase in harmful algal blooms due to the increase in nutrients. Thus, these ideas look good on paper, but the Earth is a “non-linear” system with too many variables to consider for drastic decisions to be made.

In engineering, all designs and decisions must be vetted by experienced or licensed engineers before they can be approved for industrial or public use. This involves extensive analysis of things that can go wrong along with determining what can be avoided, how they can be avoided, and what risks are acceptable. Changing the climate by cooling it down with sulphate aerosols may reduce global temperatures, but its effect is localized and temporary. Climate systems such as monsoon systems and rainfall may be affected in ways that cannot be predicted; in the long run, the effects are unknown if any harmful ones exist. If “geo-engineering” is like any other engineering discipline, then precautionary principles must also be applied to its practices. That includes not taking unnecessary risks if not much information is known about it. Otherwise, it would be just making hasty decisions that may bring more harm than good.

In the past, many examples of uninformed decisions resulting in catastrophic consequences involved the release of invasive species. For instances, the cane toad was successfully used as a pest control vector for beetle infestations on sugar cane plantations in Puerto Rico. As a result, many other regions such as Australia, Florida, Papua New Guinea, and the Philippines adopted this pest control tactic for their own beetle problems. In Australia specifically, the toads could not prey on grey-back cane beetles as the beetles lived at the top of sugar canes where the toads could not climb one. The toads instead targeted several local species of lizards, snakes, and crocodile as they proliferated throughout the island. Ultimately, this was an example of how hasty “miracle solutions” can carry devastating impacts.

I am not completely against geoengineering as it can have positive effects on a small scale. However, I kind of agree with the article about how it could be a so called “ethical hazard.” People could become more complacent with their carbon-intensive lifestyle when easy solutions like pumping sulphate aerosols exists. It is similar to how pedestrian fatalities increase at crosswalks and how ABS in modern cars increased reckless driving. So rather than just engineering schemes such as these, we need to slowly shift everybody’s lifestyle to a more sustainable one as their current ones may negate any positive effects of geoengineering.

Preserving the Soundscape

Reading the “Great Animal Orchestra” by Bernie Krause really made me think of my own experiences being out in the wilderness. I recall walking out in the Columbia Gorge and actually taking some time to just listen to the sounds of the woods in an overarching theme of serenity. Everything was so calm and peaceful from the sounds of the roaring falls to the scuttling squirrels to the occasional woodpecker. I also remember the nights camping by the beachside and stargazing while listening to nothing but the soft ebb and flow of the waves. The lack of light pollution made the stargazing part easy, but more importantly, the lack of sound made it easier to appreciate our surroundings and nature.

 

This is heavily contrasted with the constant mechanical sounds that living in a city entail. I remember growing up in my home country living in my grandparent’s house by the highway. Here, the busy commuters and the use of horns as a constant expression of emotions contrasts the quietness of the nature in Oregon. Even then, most of us are probably pretty removed from the pure aspects of nature. The diversity of sound is related to the diversity of organisms. With climate change, I’m afraid that the “Great Animal Orchestra” will become smaller and smaller over time.

 

On another note, I thought it’s interesting that Bernie noted that the vocal syntax learned by male humpbacks featured themes and structures commonly found in human music. Maybe it’s a sign that we’re merely a part of nature and should consider ourselves as more of a piece in the grand scheme. We can preserve sound in a CD, but it won’t be the same as experiencing sound in a “3-D” aspects. Maybe that’s what preserving nature is so important to us.

We’re all future climate refugees

I will be honest, when I hear the word refugee, I tend to think of displaced people from conflict hotspots such as the Middle East and Central Africa. This is the first time that I have actually heard of climate refugees which is probably going to be more and more common given the trajectory of the Earth’s climate. Especially in the case of indigenous people, it seems that their concerns tend to get swept under the mountains problems that society has. With the ever so more warming environment and human destruction, natural habitats such as the Amazon rainforest and the Sahel are ever shrinking. With those losses come the losses of indigenous people’s way of life and homes. Sadly, it doesn’t seem to be a concern for most people until it affects them too. It’s already hard enough for war refugees to find sanctuary so how hard would it also be for climate refugees?

 

The world’s indigenous people population is a sizable amount too. According to a Reuter’s article, there are approximately 900,000 indigenous people living in Brazil. Over the last couple of decades, cattle ranchers have been attempting to take over rainforest land by clearing them to make room for grazing land. Many indigenous people’s effort to formalize landownership has been stagnated while ranchers and palm farmers aggressively wrestling for control of land. In many countries like Brazil, there are significant roadblocks to implementing land conservation and environmental laws. The corruption within governments and limited powers of law enforcement have contributed to the accelerated loss of indigenous land. This is also fueled by a huge emphasis on economic growth too.

 

Eventually, something has to be done about this. Regulations and strict governmental action are good starts to limiting habitat destruction and climate change. However, we need to think of ourselves as future climate refugees as eventually many of us will have to relocate due to rising sea levels and intensifying natural disasters. For instances, a good chunk of Florida and California will be underwater in the next century or so. It reminds me of the habitat climate change simulation that I did in biology lab; animal populations will eventually try to migrate more North and South as the Earth warms up until there is nowhere to go. I hope that is not the future of humankind.

Agriculture is a tamarisk

In Paolo Bacigalupi’s fictional piece “Tamarisk Hunter,” the dystrophic scenario of a dried-up California is used to illustrate a potential effect of climate change and irresponsible usage of water. The events in the short story eerily allude to the recent water shortages in California. Lolo is a tamarisk hunter which is a profession in which the government pays him to remove tamarisk plants to reduce their impact on the water supply. At first, I had no idea what a tamarisk was. After googling the plant, I discovered that it was an invasive species that is very prevalent in Southern California. It has the potential to use up a lot of water in its surrounding thus competes with many other native plants.

“The problem wasn’t lack of water or an excess of heat, not really. The problem was that 4.4 million acre-feet were supposed to go down the river to California. There was water; they just couldn’t touch it”

According to Lolo, there is plenty of water, but the people living in Southern California could not access it. All of the water went to people in other states and perhaps other uses such as for farming and industry. This situation is kind of metaphorical to me about how high industrial water usage is. When the droughts in recent years hit California, people were advised to reduce their consumption of water which would only solve a fraction of the water problem. According to the California Department of Water Resources, the agriculture industry contributes 80% of all water usage in California to bring in $20 billion dollars. In that sense, our commercial crops are almost like tamarisks who hog all of the water from the river for economic gains.

The scenario described is very much possible at the rate of our resource consumption. It is still possible for us to do something about global warming and water usage. I think we are definitely aware of the problem, but like Bill McKibben stated in the introduction, “science can only take us so far…Now it’s time for the rest of us.” We know of the issue, but we need to act before it is too late. The people in the story only started to “shower real fast” and try to enact change when it is too late. I think the real message of the story is to rethink our consumerism culture before “Big Daddy Drought” really comes.

Outlook on the Future is not so hot

It’s scary to think that the climate could be on the brink of a tipping point that could possibly spell the end of humans on Earth. Climate is the statistical sum of weather patterns over time. This is hard to observe unless you have lived in an area for a long period of time and note average sunshine, humidity, rain-days, etc. As a result, many people do not realize the imminent dangers of a “hot Earth trajectory” in the near future. I certainly have noticed the rising summer temperature averages in Oregon; the past four out of five years have brought along record averages and highs. Storms that are seen once every decade happen every other year. Yet, the messages that these studies and articles carry tend to fall on deaf ears. I believe that it may be too late to do anything when everybody is on the same page.

The true solution, but difficult solution is prescribed in the article:

“The Stabilized Earth trajectory requires deliberate management of humanity’s relationship with the rest of the Earth System if the world is to avoid crossing a planetary threshold. We suggest that a deep transformation based on a fundamental reorientation of human values, equity, behavior, institutions, economies, and technologies is required.”

Guidelines such as the Paris Accord agreements and United Nations Sustainable goals of keeping global warming under 2°C try to set benchmarks on what we should do, but probably aren’t convincing enough for everyone to get on board with saving the environment. As the article states, these agreements are “matched carbon reduction commitments by countries, cities, businesses, and individuals,” but they simply are not enough to reach the goals of the Paris agreements. Simply said, an exponentially human population and global economic growth cannot coexist with environmentalism in their current states. It would take an astronomical change in our culture, way of thinking, and economy to make any meaningful dent. Commitments to renewable energy, recycling, and conservation may be excellent step in the right direction, but I think that “hothouse Earth” is almost certainly inevitable with the way the world is set up. We can only try to delay that as much as possible for future generations.

Eat more Chicken

As a meat eater, I do love a good steak, but I am also aware of the environmental impact that eating beef has on the environment. One kg of beef produces 27 kg of CO2 while the same amount of chicken produces 6.9 kg and rice produces 2.7 kg. I am also aware of the other impacts such as methane emissions—a much more potent greenhouse gas—and the tremendous waste that the meat industry produces. As a result, I try to limit the amount of certain meat that I eat, but I do not think it is necessarily easy to convince everybody to go completely vegan or vegetarian. Nor do I believe it is necessary to go to that extreme as it would be better for everybody to compromise and choose to limit our carbon footprint. I agree with some points but have different opinions on others: here are two of my thoughts.

 

Firstly, I am a bit confused about the analogy between cannibalism and the consumption of meat. I think that for the majority of other animals out there, they would agree that eating their own kind is morally taboo too. It is strange that the author uses the phrase “the role of the principle or norm of autonomy in naturalizing the killing of animals for food consumptions” when carnivores and omnivores exist in nature. I think that argument is a bit inadequate and stretching it a bit too much, but I certainly agree that we must revise the way we mechanized the slaughter of animals. Industrial meat production has removed us from reality and perhaps objectify the sacrifices of the animals. We waste a substantial amount of food and overconsume leading to environmental and health issues. However, our consumption of processed food high in excess carbs and fats is more to blame for our obesity crisis than meat has.

 

Lastly, I strongly agree that we need to rethink our diet and consume everything in moderation. It is probably very difficult for everybody to eat the “utopian diet” because not everybody has consistent access to fresh fruits and vegetables. Not to mention that finding alternative protein sources would be difficult for those without much disposable income. I think that the true solution for everyone will come in the form of lab-grown meat which has proven to be very likely viable. Even when it is commercially available, the technology may still too costly to justify for everyone. I think that saying that “actively desiring the taste, smell, visual presentation and texture of meat” and “mistaking that appearance of choice is autonomy” is as judgmental as judging a balanced vegan diet as unhealthy. Any drastic change will not happen, but we can encourage others to mind their environmental impact as we all share this same planet. Maybe instead of eating meat, maybe eat more chicken (I am not sponsored by Chick Fil A) or some other meat with less CO2 output. It’s easier to change in small steps, not huge leaps.

Is Nature out of our grasp?

Humans are naturally curious from the time we were toddlers to when we become adults. We tend to want to know more in order to understand our surroundings to exploit for our own advantages. For instances, since the advent of agriculture, humans have been manipulating plants to be more nutritious and high yielding through artificial selection and more recently genetic modification. Through technological advances, people have bettered the lives of others using nature as both a resource pool and catalysis for innovations. However, we also overexploit Mother Nature because we sometimes think of ourselves as against nature. As thesis 1 states, “it makes no sense to oppose nature to culture” as we depend on nature itself for our successes. How can we be against nature when human inventions such medicines are derived from plants in nature and flight was achieved by observing birds? By that logic, destroying nature slows our rate of technological advances.

 

I also find that thesis 3’s quote about how “Nature itself is always in movement” which is very true to me. Nature will always move on without humans as it had when humans did not exist. The concept of nature conservation is conserving nature so that it is habitable for us, not that it will be destroyed for all life. Life in nature will always appear in some form just as how it appeared out of simple chemicals through abiogenesis during the Planet’s infancy. In that sense, we do not control nature as it is something that defines us and our culture. We do not build dikes and earthquake to quell nature, but rather to live with nature. Like the article says, “we must think of Nature without any residual anthropocentrism” because nature does not care if we’re in the way.

 

Lastly, I believe that thesis 7’s quote “Our task today is, similarly, to conceive of Nature in ways that are grounded in, but are not reducible to, the best contemporary science” really speaks to me as a STEM student. In many ways, many of us tend to think that the math and sciences are inherent truths, but they are realistically the closest understanding of the universe at the time. “The best contemporary science” is one that evolves like an organism because there is so much information that gets supported and unsupported every day. The best mathematical models, such as ones for fluid flow in pipes, all have a degree of uncertainty because it is our best estimate. In other words, as much as we try to understand nature, we can only get closer but never achieve a “Theory of everything.”

You can take the growth out of economy, but you can’t take it out of human population

Gorz proposes a reduction in economic growth as a method of ecological conservation. He proposes that we should have “no-growth – or even degrowth – of material production” in order to preserve nature and its scarce resources. This sounds all good and excellent as we’ll have cleaner air, water, and soil as less oil and natural resources are taken out of the ground when fewer commodities are produced. But is it actually feasible?

The “American way” or quite frankly the “modern world’s way” of dealing with our natural resources is to commodify and put a price tag on them. We have been so accustomed to doing so – since ancient times even – that it would be difficult to reverse our economies into a simpler shared commons system. It would be hard to convince anyone of that fact. Yes, it is true that “growth can never satisfy positional competition” and that “growth does not increase happiness”, but I don’t think a degrowth would either.

One thing that is going to be hard to “degrowth” is the human population. This is always going to grow unless we all agree not to have kids. Even if everybody decides to have only one kid per family, there would still a net population growth. Global GDP grows every year because there are more people every year to produce and use goods and services. In order to support that growth, the economy must grow. More cars need to be made, more houses built, more food grown, more medicine discovered, and more basic necessities must be produced to accommodate a growing human population. In my opinion, there are really only a few ways to remedy this situation. One way is reducing our impact by reducing our dependence on non-renewable resources and focus on renewing energy and waste. That is not a complete degrowth of the economy but focusing on moderate consumption. The other way is to perhaps look beyond our planet.

 

 

 

Earth Yelp Review: 2/5 Stars

“Unsafe water results in many deaths and the spread water-related diseases… Underground water sources in many places are threatened by the pollution produced in certain mining, farming, and industrial activities.”

-Pope Francis

Great scenery and gorgeous wildlife, but poor management. That is what a Yelp review for Earth would read like. If the Earth was a restaurant, it would be immediately shut down by the local health department for severe health and safety infractions relating to unclean water on top of many other things. The managers of the place, the people of Earth, have neglected the establishment to the point of near-irreparability. As Lynn White beautifully stated, “surely no creature other than man has ever managed to foul its nest in such a short order.” We tend to believe that we are masters of nature and try to reign in its riches for our benefits. Yet, it is surely the actions of humans that have accelerated the end of our tenure of our planet.

 

I agree with White’s sentiment that humans have successfully used technology to further our ecological crisis. However, I am hesitant to blame technological and scientific progress as the sole culprits for the problem. I wish to point out that it is what we do with those advancements that contribute to the issue. For instance, the cattle industry has provided us with more beef products than ever before at the cost of huge energy input and greenhouse gas emissions. On the flipside, advances in renewable energy such as solar and wind energy have reduced our reliance on fossil fuels. Thus, rather than pass the blame onto the products of human ingenuity, we need to hold ourselves accountable and focus on new solutions.

 

Of course, White’s rhetoric does have merits on how we should approach the problem. I take his statement of finding a “new religion or rethink our old one” as saying that we need to rethink our societal values on waste and conservation before relying on new technology to bail us out. According to the BBC article, How many Earth do we need?, if the world lived like the average American, we would need roughly 4 Earths worth of resources to sustain ourselves. The “religion” we need is a stronger awareness for the planet and more importantly acting to preserve it.

 

As Pope Francis has stated, “We all know that it is not possible to sustain the present level of consumption in developed countries and society, where the habit of wasting and discarding has reached unprecedented levels.” I believe that further support for ecologically mindful technology such as renewable energy and sustainable manufacturing along with being mindful of how much waste we produce will help us save the planet. After all, the “species heading towards extinction” might include us too. In order to have a 5-star planet, we need to give 5-star quality effort in maintaining it.