All posts by willime3

Geo-engineering is chopping off a few branches in the forest of climate change

With all the damage that’s already been done to the environment, hopes for reversing climate change are increasingly diminishing recently. As fossil fuel companies refuse to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and people all over the globe continue to drive everywhere they go, seemingly not a lot of progress is being made ecologically. It is because of this that some scientists have begun to consider alternative options to simply trying to cut worldwide carbon emissions.

One of the upcoming ideas is titled “geo-engineering.” I had heard the term before these readings but hadn’t known what it was really about. In essence, geo-engineering describes deliberate, large-scale intervention in the climate system to counter global warming or offset some of its effects—and not in the way you might think. Instead of focusing on cleaning up the globe, or reducing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, geo-engineering attempts to mask the warming of the earth in a dangerous but surprisingly cheap way.

My big problem with geo-engineering, one I’m sure others share with me, is that it isn’t really a solution to the problem. It might make the earth cooler short-term, but as the article Re-Engineering the Earth states, “geo-engineering is so risky that the cure might be worse than the disease.” I agree with this statement. Although a last-ditch effort to save the planet may become necessary sometime in the future, I believe that it shouldn’t be necessary now. If people around the world stepped up and cared more about the future than their jobs or money, we might be able to make a substantial change purely because of the amount of people on earth that could direct an effort. Ideas such as pumping sulfur in the air to reflect the sun are only going to make problems worse the second we stop doing that and acid rain and years’ worth of accumulated carbon pour down.

But, the fact remains—as long as carbon emissions remain constant, the atmosphere will fill with more and more greenhouse gases. Blocking the sun will do absolutely nothing to stop the buildup. A solution to climate change lies in political changes that will influence the masses to make a lifestyle change that could greatly reduce our emissions. It also lies in green technologies being improved and expanded. To save the planet we need to kill global warming at the root—not just simply chop off a few branches.

Sound may be just as important to an ecosystem as anything else

When I picture an ecosystem—for example, a rain forest—my first thought is the lush greenery and animals prowling around, or the humidity in the air. Even though sound is an integral part of that kind of habitat, it’s never the first thing that comes to my mind. However, sound presents itself in every little thing. It’s an incredible sensory experience that adds so much depth to biology. The science of sound is quite interesting as well, and I immensely enjoyed reading the first couple chapters of Bernie Krause’s The Great Animal Orchestra.

It’s a bit unbelievable to imagine that there’s a whole world of sound that we can’t noticeably hear with our human ears. As the reading said, our ears can only hear a range of sounds from about 5 to 20,000 decibels. There’re some whales, though, that can hear up to 200 kHz, nearly four octaves beyond the highest pitch we can hear. What are we missing out on? On the other side of the spectrum, there’s a realm of minute sounds that we don’t notice—breathing, a bird’s wings beating. Sound provides a whole different way to interpret the world.

One of the most interesting things I found in the reading was the idea of sounds being completely individual to the environment that they’re in. For example, Krause explains that hilly habitats produce more contained sounds, whereas flat, open areas disperse the sound a lot more. The density and type of vegetation affect sounds as well, in addition to the area’s basic geological features (rocky, hilly, or mountainous). When nighttime comes it changes the whole atmosphere of sound as well. These are things I never considered—in the past if you asked me about sound I wouldn’t think that it would be so different depending on where you were. It just supplies so much more depth and importance to ecosystems.

This is another factor that makes saving the environment so important. If climate change alters the environment in which species reside, even the sound of the space they live will change. Animals, although able to adapt, have built up reliance on the space they live in. Sound makes it possible for lions to detect their prey nearby before they even see it. It makes it possible for birds to communicate with one another while focusing on their path of flight. Global warming is already altering the temperatures, the sea levels, and causing more natural disasters, but we need to consider that even the minute details of ecosystems, such as their unique sounds, will change too. It’s such precious and important thing that we need to save.

This is an issue bigger than us

Indigenous knowledge is immensely important in that it provides traditional arts, languages, folklore, and customs of cultures that expand and enrich human nature and society. It’s no question that said cultures that rely so heavily on the environment are feeling the effects of climate change much more than urbanized communities. And yet, those urbanized people are contributing the most to increased carbon emissions that are exasperating the problem. The reading defines environmental identity as the amalgamation of cultural identities, ways of life, and self-perceptions that are connected to a given group’s physical environment. Yet, in the wake of climate change, extensive damage is posed to the ecological relationships that bind indigenous knowledge and culture.

One of the most overwhelming and urgent problems, in my opinion, is partial and total displacement of climate refugees. For example, in the South Pacific, over 2500 Carteret Islanders have been relocated to Papua New Guinea due to tsunamis and rising sea levels that are flooding coastal cities. Where goes the environment, so goes the culture. And yet, likely those islanders contributed little if at all to global warming in the first place.

This problem is not only an environmental one, but equally a social one. It requires empathy and caring by those that aren’t so vulnerable to climate change to make a difference to those that are. For example, tribes that require good water quality for religious and cultural reasons previously had no control over the discharges that came from non-reservation point-sources, because those decisions were made in Washington D.C., an area far removed from the reservation both physically and socially. Environmental justice is a good approach to understanding the cultural loss to indigenous people that face the direct adverse consequences of global warming due to their dependence upon and close relationship with the environment and its resources. It’s painful to imagine the cultural losses are mostly due to the inability of the indigenous peoples to make decisions that affect them personally, and mostly urbanized communities that aren’t feeling the blow of climate change (yet) are doing the most to contribute to it.

So, what do we do? Well, the simple answer is to care more. I also have the feeling that not enough people are informed on this issue, which means that the more complex answer is to get informed and share what you know in order to influence others to change as well. Not for ourselves, but for individuals that encompass cultures and languages more important to humans than the carbon we pump into the air to power our sports cars.

That “dystopian future” is not as far in the future as we may think

Paolo Bacigalupi’s “The Tamarisk Hunter” paints a bleak dystopia in which water is in extremely low supply, driving families to look to crime to secure enough fresh water for their own household. How far in the future this story lies is unknown, but it sure depicts a setting that doesn’t seem too far from what could be if we as humans continue down the path we’re on. The droughts in California that occurred only a few short years before now are indicators that a future of that sort is highly possible.

It’s terrifying to think that a resource as essential to all parts of life would be in such limited supply. It makes me feel privileged to have what feels like unlimited access to it now—it’s something myself and a lot of others definitely take for granted. The droughts in California were only a miniscule preview of what it could be like if global warming continues to get out of hand and we as humans do nothing about it. People involved felt a small inkling of responsibility to maybe take shorter showers or do less loads of laundry, but it never quite hit home like this story. Bacigalupi wrote this story to insight fear in his readers in hopes that it may inspire them to take action to prevent that sort of future.

In the introduction of this book, the author brings up that everyone can have their own role in saving the environment, whether you’re a scientist or not. At this point, climate change is just as much a social issue as it is an ecological one. Making people aware and knowledgeable is the only way to prevent a dystopian future of the sort depicted in “The Tamarisk Hunter.” This is something that is very evident—that the job for writers and artists at this time is to make people feel something that will inspire transformation. And like Bill McKibben says, whether that feeling is fear or hope doesn’t matter, as long as it motivates a change.

Can we make a fork in the road when there is only one path?

The debate on whether or not climate change is real has certainly declined as its effects have taken place more prominently in recent years. With the increase in devastating natural disasters, record-breaking summers, and less and less snow during the winters, it’s undoubtedly becoming a more tangible problem. However, largely those who questioned the science in the first place now find themselves asking a new question: is it humans that are causing global warming? Those who have every desire to oppose the idea and no research to back their beliefs up may argue that we have no effect. But anyone who’s done any research, who’s gone over any data, or who thinks logically about the effects that human processes have on the environment is certain that climate change is real, impending, and largely human-caused.

After reading this paper by many scientists at Harvard, I have realized that the Earth is in a lot more immediate danger than I had before thought. The main point of the article was that human societal and technological trends over the next decade or two have the power to significantly influence the trajectory of the Earth for hundreds of thousands of years. This is due to what is called a “threshold” that, if crossed, may prevent stabilization of the climate at intermediate temperature rises and cause continued warming on a “Hothouse Earth” pathway, even if human emissions were to be reduced. This impending danger requires deliberate, immediate, and adaptive human action on a global scale.

I think that one of the biggest barriers that prevent people from taking individual action against climate change is short-sightedness and selfishness. Because most of us likely won’t be alive in 50-100 years, it’s difficult to imagine the effects that could take place in hundreds or even thousands of years. But we must consider more than ourselves. The Anthropocene represents a new era of a very rapid human-driven trajectory toward hotter climatic conditions. The work we do now either changes that trajectory or further pushes us over the edge to a point where we won’t be able to fix it from there. That’s why earth stewardship and other human efforts towards reducing climate change are so important. Although it’s an ecological and environmental issue, the only solution may be in societal change.

Stop Going to Chick-Fil-A

Animal rights is an issue that is near and dear to me, as I have been a vegetarian for over 2 years now. I chose to become a vegetarian, not because I don’t support humans eating meat, but because I don’t support the way we eat meat. In On the limits of food autonomy, one point that’s brought up is that we have made ourselves “continually dependent on ecology and others.” This was said in a negative way in the reading, but I don’t see it in a negative way at all. It’s fundamental for species of different ecosystems to rely on each other—for shelter, food, or nurture. In this way, I don’t think it’s fundamentally wrong for humans to consume meat, in the same way it’s not wrong for lions to prey on antelope. Predators are an important part of a healthy ecosystem.

However, the way that humans have transformed the meat industry is inhumane and ecologically detrimental. First of all, one of the biggest causes of deforestation in the Amazon is the meat industry. Close to 70 percent of deforestation occurs as a direct result of the increasing demand for beef. In addition, it’s a leading cause of ocean dead zones and water pollution. Every year, livestock produce 130 times as much waste as humans, and most of this waste is unfortunately deposited into the oceans. And in my opinion the worst impact of the meat industry is its contribution to global warming. Carbon emissions made by livestock production produces 65 percent of human-related emissions, which is an outstanding number. Not to mention how inhumane the cattle farms and slaughterhouses are, and how poorly they treat the animals from birth. Chick-Fil-A is currently under attack by many for using farms and slaughterhouses that severely abuse chickens.

Therefore, my issue with the food industry is fully based on my ethical and environmental issues with the way the meat industry is set up. In this way I want to educate the world that buying animal products from sustainable, local farms is the way to go. Eating those products is not the problem—but eating them from big companies or restaurants, like Chick-Fil-A or Tyson, is.

Separate From Or A Part Of?

When considering the exquisite intricacy of every piece of nature, it can be difficult to imagine that you may be a part of that too. That the delicate hand that traced the veins on a leaf made the creases on your palm. The question of whether or not humans are a part of nature has been greatly debated in the past. Writing on the Center for Humans & Nature website, a man called Vucetch proposes that “we are one and the same. In fact,” he says, “humans and nature are so intimately connected that acting as if we are separate and abusing nature is tantamount to abusing ourselves.” Yet today, so few people will admit that the natural world is as interconnected as it is. This is demonstrated in our abuse of animals, in deforestation, in the combustion of fossil fuels that pollute our skies. But it is so necessary to understand, as the first thesis of the Twenty-Two Theses of Nature states, that “human beings and their productions are not separate from Nature; they are just as much, or as little, ‘natural’ as everything else.” This understanding is fundamental to protecting the world that we live in as it is in an ecological crisis.

The Twenty-Two Theses of Nature encompass the idea that nature is all-encompassing and therefore one and the same with the human race. It is a foolish and selfish idea to say that nature is centered upon human beings or anything human. I enjoyed the ideas presented in some of the later theses concerning the difference between information and perception. It’s interesting to think that information exists primarily in our brains and in the way we communicate things to each other. An individual piece of nature has in itself so much information but it itself is not information. Therefore, it is important to note that what we understand about nature and the planet lies almost entirely in our minds—a bear hunting only understands and cares about catching its next meal, whereas we have the opportunity to see the future of the world and therefore help it. If we realize and accept that we ourselves are a part of nature, maybe we can turn our selfish mindsets toward aiding it instead of being against it.

All Things in Moderation

History has often been characterized by radical ideas—that, and disagreements over which radical ideas are better, or should be put into place. For every position that a government has had on a certain topic, there’s a person or group with an opposing view. With so many brains on this earth that have so many different opinions, it’s not unrealistic to believe that there is always someone who will disagree with you. For example, it feels like it has been rooted into our world that the idea of growth is a way of measuring success, or improvement. Most people won’t argue that when something or someone has grown, it’s typically a positive thing. However, this article disagrees with that mindset, and argues that growth is actually “uneconomic, unjust, and ecologically unsustainable.” Instead, it is ideal to strive for the idea of “degrowth,” in which societies will use fewer natural resources and will organize and live differently than they do today. The author believes that degrowth will provide change in every aspect of our lives that will in turn provide a net positive impact on the world.

In my opinion, the idea isn’t completely awful—I do think there’s some good points brought up in the article. Capitalism does lie on the idea that material production is necessary for the survival of the system. Obviously, not every resource is renewable and if we continue upon this capitalist idea in every aspect of our lives, our world will start to crumble. However, I don’t necessarily agree that degrowth is the solution to that problem. Some ideas in the article remind me of some of the ideals of communism, an economic and political system that failed in many of its applications. Humans at their foundation are rooted in competition and personal growth. I mean, think of how much wouldn’t get done if everyone was equal and no one strived for better. Although, ecologically, degrowth may be necessary in order to cut down on use of fossil fuels and develop more renewable energies. In this way, I consider everything in moderation to be the best mindset. This applies to our use of resources as humans—our creation of waste, our technological developments. Too much growth too fast could end up being harmful. But degrowth in moderation as well. There are some good points brought up in the article that could do well in application, but changing every aspect of our lives for this idea may be unattainable. If everyone puts a little effort forwards, that would make a great difference on its own.

Selfish, or Simply Short-Sighted?

It’s reasonable to assess that recent worsening symptoms of global warming have introduced greater awareness of climate change around the world. From the wildfires that spanned from New Mexico to Washington, or the hurricanes that pummeled coastal cities all over the world, more people are starting to recognize the real problem arising. However, the question arises of whether simple awareness is enough to raise change. As Lynn White Jr. points out in “The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis,” the solution to this calamity may not lie in scientific or technological improvements—in fact, those specific measures may produce backlashes more serious than those they are designed to remedy. After all, a significant number of scientific studies have been done that point to the fact that most global warming in recent decades is due to the great concentration of greenhouse gases that have been released mainly as a result of human activity. That problem is made worse by society’s intensive use of fossil fuels, which lies at the heart of the worldwide energy system. While scientific and technological advancements have made the world what it is today, the ecologic effects of those advancements must be considered in reference to the future of this era.

In Pope Francis’s encyclical, he points out that the speed with which change has occurred in the human era is incredibly greater than the naturally slow pace of biological evolution. It is reasonable to assume that a reason for this is due to the accelerated industrial advancements that have been made in recent centuries. When did man become the dominant and invasive species that it is? What made humans believe that they were so much more important than all other living beings on this Earth? I think that this mindset comes partially out of the egotism of the human race, and the idea that nature is simply for us to use for our most selfish whim. It’s either that, or that humans are just short-sighted in nature, meaning that they see and care about only what may happen in their lifetime or their children’s, and don’t consider the lasting effects that their choices make on this planet. Lynn White brought up the connections that religion have to nature, which was interesting because Christianity has in the past conceived nature primarily as a symbolic system through which God speaks to man. However, when we take a step back and consider that the idea that nature has no reason for existence save to serve man is an incredibly selfish way of perceiving the world, it will perhaps influence humans to work with nature rather than against it. It is bigger than all of us and will eventually destroy all of us if we don’t help it. To do this we don’t necessarily need to work hand in hand with the birds or the wolves in order to make a change, but we need to drop the selfish and short-sighted mindset some of us have of the Earth and exchange it for an appreciation of nature and what it consists of.