All posts by vasenj

Could the cure create problems worse than the disease itself?

The ideas that come out of geo-engineering to me all seem like insane ideas. Like trying to expand the Earth’s orbit so that the sun’s radiation isn’t as strong, and therefore cooling the Earth down. Not only would the act of moving the Earth probably kill everyone because of the amount of energy needed, but there is no knowledge of whether the resulting Earth system would have the right amount of solar radiation to still support the same life systems it has now. Other ideas like cutting down all of the forests in Siberia and Canada in order to create more white, light-reflecting surface, seem problematic because of the vital services forests provide such as carbon dioxide absorption and habitat for many species.

The common denominator between most of the geo-engineering ideas is that they would involve cooling the Earth down by changing how the Earth absorbs/reflects the sun’s radiation. This is an idea to combat climate change that has a lot of ethical and economical debate. On one hand, this “Plan B” solution is much cheaper than the “Plan A” of reducing our carbon emissions. It was mentioned in both articles how cheap sulfur aerosol injection is, and how easy it would be to implement right now. I found it interesting how many scientists didn’t want to release their findings about these geo-engineering solutions because of their fear of the public or politicians taking these findings and disregarding any efforts towards Plan A, and just following the cheaper alternative.

Ethically however, there are reasons to hold back on geo-engineering efforts. For one, it is very risky to take the Earth’s climate into our own hands and “play God.”  Without knowledge of the real effects of these solutions, this “cure” for climate change could possibly create much worse problems. The other outcome is that once we start for example, pumping sulfur aerosol into the atmosphere, we will need to continue to do that forever, because as soon as we stopped, climate change would come back in even greater effect.

These articles were very interesting to me and they made me think about the possible geo-engineering solutions that aren’t as insane or potentially destructive. It is clear to me after reading these articles that something needs to be done to combat climate change, and it is possible that getting people to change their behavior is something that might be too little too late. Other solutions might need to be placed into effect, whether or not we know the full consequences of them. Hopefully it doesn’t come to the point where we feel desperate enough to implement any of the solutions mentioned here, but that’s not to say we should give up researching geo-engineering, as there are possible successful solutions just waiting to be discovered.

Just one generation and everything is different

It is crazy to think about how just under 100 years ago, people didn’t have an easy way to just record a sound they heard,  they had to carry around a whole bunch of recording equipment sometimes weighing hundreds of pounds. The story about the researchers trying to record the ivory beaked woodpecker really interested me, because it made me think about how much has changed in just the last decade, and how that bird is now most likely extinct.

We have changed a lot about the Earth, and what is scary about that is it has happened so fast. We are in the period right now of the Great Acceleration. This period only started in the 1950s, which is only about 70 years ago now. That the population has changed from less then 3 billion people in 1950 to almost 7.5 billion in one lifetime is crazy. We are currently witnesses to the most influential period of humans on Earth. We are changing things so fast because we as a population is growing so fast, but there has to be a limit to all of this. There is no finite system that can handle infinite growth. We are already seeing the consequences of climate change, as well as the world domination of humans.

The story of the ivory beaked woodpecker is an example how of how we are changing as a species and a culture. A century ago the researchers were excited to try to record this rare bird even though the technology made it difficult. Now, we have the power to record any sound we want to at the touch of a button on our phones, but we don’t care to, and we also don’t seem to care about the millions of animal species that are going extinct because of us. It is ironic that all these species will soon be gone, and now that it is easier to record their sounds, we don’t care enough to do it.

Let us make this be a reminder to think about and notice things before they disappear, possibly for good.

 

climate change is an injustice to those most vulnerable

While this week’s reading was a bit heavy with technical words and confusing language, the basic idea of environmental justice makes sense to me. The fact that the people most affected by climate change are some of the least impactful people to the cause of it, is definitely an injustice. The fact of the matter is that the indigenous peoples all over the world hold nature as an important part of their culture. While this may mean that they take from nature in order to survive, but they do it in ways that are sustainable and not influential to climate change. This directly opposes how the rest of the developed world impacts the earth, as we culturally feel further away from it, and so we don’t think about how much we are abusing it.

Unfortunately, some of the efforts by indigenous people to preserve their environmental heritage and identity are met with violence and harsher regulations. However, the fights fought by the indigenous people for their culture are fights that should be fought by all people in the developed world that want things to change. In order for things to change quickly enough for the earth to not feel very dramatic changes, the government and corporations who control the environmental regulations that strongly affect climate change need to feel direct opposition. This hopefully should not come to violence, but in order for things to change we need to start feeling culturally attacked when decisions are made that go against sustainability and reducing the impacts of climate change.

Is science suddenly not as important to our current crisis as art is?

I am beginning to realize that most dystopian stories I grew up reading were not as far into the future as I originally thought. Our world could very well see something like the water crisis in The Tamarisk Hunter in the next century or two if we continue on the path of carbon increase and climate change that we are on now.

Given this, I think the story was very interesting. I am interested to read more of the short stories in this anthology. I also liked the Introductionby Bill McKibben. He mentions how important reducing the amount of carbon in the atmosphere is and how the fossil fuel industry has “won every single battle,” by arguing that “doing anything about climate change will cause short-term economic pain.” These things both are true and make sense, but the other thing he mentioned was harder to think about. He claims “science can take us only so far…the scientists have done their job,” and now it is “time for the rest of us—for the economists, psychologists … and the artists.” This made me think a little bit, because as someone perusing a science career, engineering more specifically, it discourages me a little bit to hear that there is little else for the scientists to do. Most of my career dreams include developing some sort of new efficient energy source, or solving a big climate change crisis by inventing a new technology. There has been a lot of talk in this course about whether or not technology is a solution to this impending climate crisis. I would like to think that there are things that can be done to solve the problems using efficient processes or technology. However, I understand what McKibben is saying. The main problem with this climate crisis is that no one takes it seriously. Even if a new technology could be created, will anyone in the government be willing to sacrifice the wellbeing of the short-term economy to fund the project? Will anyone outside of the science community support the project to give it momentum?

It is very true that for things to change, the greater population of the Earth needs to start caring, and not just science community who is informed. McKibben suggests “the human heart requires not just fear, but hope.” Maybe we need to not just scare the general public with these dystopian stories that sound too close to home. We also need to give them hope that there is a chance to avoid this seemingly inevitable future.

The chance for a “stabilized earth”: the new climate change debate

It is hard for people to feel the truth of this paper because many people believe that since they are not feeling any changes in the ‘weather’ that that means that the climate is not changing. The true fact is shown in the figures in this article that show the interglacial-glacial cycle. The cycle lasts millions of years and so we can’t fully know the past of the earth’s climate as we didn’t exist for a large portion of it. However, we can do tests and make predictions about how the climate will be changing in the future. From the data we are able to find from the past, it is clear that the current climate trajectory is heading in a direction that strays from the previous climate patterns.

I always knew that something like “hothouse earth” was in our future, but I wasn’t aware until recently how fast that trajectory is approaching, and how little time we have before there is no going back. The article does a good job of explaining how the choices we as humans make now, will have affects that last 100,000 years or more into the future. The paper suggests that if we can make a change in our behavior now, we have a chance to stray away from the current trajectory towards “hothouse earth” and instead towards a “stabilized earth.” This in my opinion is the biggest debate in climate change right now. I think that the people in power who are educated and know that climate change is something real that we caused, but still refuse to do much about it, are ignorant because they believe there is nothing we can do to avoid the “hothouse earth” that scientists predict. This article is an argument against that, and relates that there may be a chance for us to switch our doomed fate to one much less severe.

If a human is accused for killing other species, are all omnivores murderers?

The argument that humans are not meant to consume meat is an argument that is based on the perception that humans are separate from nature. A quote from the reading reads “Humanity’s high esteem for capacities believed to be unique to humans, such as rational thought, justify the superiority afforded to homo sapiens and define autonomy as freedom from nature.” This is the mentality of much of the human race, and it is the result of this mentality that animal agriculture exists in the form it does today. If humans think they are separate from nature, that they have a superiority above the rest of the nonhuman animals, they will not hesitate to control animals in order to provide food for themselves.

However, this is not reality, humans are animals like all the rest of the species on earth. Just because we have dominion over much of the earth doesn’t mean we have any responsibilities for it. Humans are unique in that they take species under their wing and “protect” them from harm (ex. Pets, cows in India) but they are not unique in their consumption of meat through killing other animal species. That is how the food chain works. Just because we are at the top of it does not mean we have to remove ourselves from it altogether.

If this is confusing, what I’m trying to say is that humans as a species are meant to kill other animals for food, but the animal agriculture of today is not the way to do it. Not only is it unethical to the societal norms of today, but it also violates the laws of nature. A single species should not be able to take control of its food sources in a way that does not allow any other animal to benefit from it. The food chain as a whole is balanced, the bird eats the worm, but the bird also gets eaten by something bigger. The world today is very unbalanced, with the overwhelming human population on one side of the scale and all the rest of the species on the other side. The main reasons for most environmental damage humans cause comes from unbalanced systems.

If there was some way for humans to bring balance back into the food chain without hurting our own species too much, that would be ideal, but for lack of a better solution, not eating meat is a good option. It would also lessen the amount greenhouse gas emissions, open up more land, and decrease the large, if not overwhelming, population of cows.

 

 

 

Flow of energy = flow of information?

Nature to me should not be thought of as this great and beautiful thing. The fact that we are capitalizing it and essentially romanticizing it is in my opinion, naïve. Nature is not something to be thought of as separate. Everything on the earth is “Nature,” and there is not a distinct part of this world that is impervious to the forces of it. This being said, I do agree with the thesis when it says “Human beings are a part of Nature, but Nature is not human.” This statement means that we are as much a part of nature as the trees and bugs and wind. We think we are above the forces of nature and that we can take control of it, but it is obvious that this mentality has only put us in a worse position. Nature is unpredictable, as “it can not be reduced to any calculus of probabilities.”

I agree that the flow of energy is an essential process. However, the flow of information was one that stumped me for a little bit. At first I was very skeptical, as information is something I associate with the brain, and consciousness. Thesis 16 gives an example of a tree drawing water from its roots and reacting to an insect eating its leaves. To me, it doesn’t seem to match up in a biological standpoint, as those processes work in a cyclic manner, and it has nothing to do with awareness or information – the tree has no brain, it is not aware that insects are eating its leaves. All of these processes are cause and effect. But, a tree could not choose one day to not draw up water to its roots, unless there was a chemical process that blocked it for some reason. Information processing to me assumes choice. The tree will automatically shed its leaves during the winter if it is deciduous. If it doesn’t, it is the cause of a genetic mutation, not because the tree chose not to.

After reading on to Thesis 17 however, I started to think about it differently, as it mentions that information requires ‘sentience’ which means being ‘able to perceive or feel things,’ instead of consciousness. I agree that sentience would lead to information processing, but I don’t know how sentient much of the natural world is, other than animals of course. If they are able to ‘feel’ things, what kind of reaction would that mean chemically? Personally I think ‘feel’ is the wrong word. They have forces acting upon them, sure, but that is different than the organism ‘feeling or perceiving’ the force.

Whether trees can feel things or not, it is an interesting topic to bring up and it makes me realize how lucky humans are to be able to process information. It is what has brought us to our current level of domination. While that level has brought down some unfortunate negative anthropogenic effects on the earth, perhaps our higher processing power can be the vital savior to our all encompassing, radically open, ever beautiful “Nature.”

Any scientist would be able to recognize that a system with a positive feedback loop usually leads to instability and collapse.

An exponential curve is not something commonly found in nature, and when it is, it is usually dangerous. Just like how populations in an ecosystem have a carrying capacity, our economy should be limited. A lot of times people say that the economy needs to grow to keep up with the continually growing human population, but I would argue that they are less dependent on one another than one would think, and if there is no stabilization factor, they are both going to reach an undeniable, disastrous natural limit or “carrying capacity.” This limit is already being shown, in the very real threat of climate change, deforestation, mass extinction, population density, food scarcity and the list goes on.

This idea of “degrowth” may be radical and non-capitalistic, but the idea of zero/negative economic growth is very appealing. It is clear that as our economy grows, the amount of waste and use of fossil fuels also grows. A quote from the article states that, “to date, there are hardly any countries who can claim an absolute reduction in material use or carbon emissions while growing.” This is very important because while some people would think that we can continue to do what we are doing as long as we just make an effort to clean up waste better or invest more in renewable energy, the reality is that we are already past the point of human destruction. We are in the Anthropocene. We have caused species to go extinct, we have changed the chemical makeup of the atmosphere, we have put so much plastic in the oceans that it has essentially created land mass. We need to stop what we are doing, and so a radical idea actually isn’t so far out of the range of thinking.

I don’t think that the idea of “degrowth” is perfect. The focus on the evils of capitalism seem pointed and accusatory. The article states that ecological technological advancements are not in the scope of degrowth because they also promote growth and consumption, but I would argue that we need more technology to make processes more efficient so that they consume less.  It also assumes that this new society of simplicity and care/education/environment is something everyone would be susceptive to, however I don’t believe that is something our era of humans could transition to, maybe an earlier, more primal era would be. However there are things about degrowth that I find promising. Such as the idea that science should become more political, or the argument that growth can never produce enough for everyone because if everyone is growing, then no one is actually gaining anything. The main idea I appreciate from the degrowth argument is the criticism of the social idea that growth is a good thing. As I mentioned earlier, anything with unlimited growth is bound for an unwanted fate. The idea of limiting our growth before nature does is mature, productive, and maybe even revolutionary.

IF THE WORLD WAS “MADE FOR MAN” HE REALLY SHOULD TRY BETTER TO TAKE CARE OF IT

Lynn White’s The Historical Roots of our Ecologic Crisis gives an opinionated approach to a common question which is what is the root cause of all this environmental destruction? White proposes that it is the Christian/Western mentality that the world was made for man and he is the so called “master” of it. This is a good guess, as it creates a lack of responsibility which leads to decisions being made without thinking of the environmental consequences. As shown in the Pope’s Encyclical Letter, there are many environmental consequences that are being felt all over the world and humans are at the root cause. This is unfortunate because at this point it is hard to fix all of the problems and so people spend time pointing fingers and blaming different parties for the reality we are all facing. The Western mentality may be that the world was made for man, but as shown by the Pope’s Letter, that mentality may be changing. Eventually, things need to be changed and as White states when he says, “we must rethink and re-feel our nature and destiny,” it is not just technological advances and science breakthroughs that will reverse these harmful consequences, it is also an attitude and perspective change. It needs to be switched to “Man may be the master of the world, but he still needs to take care of it.”