Planetary thinking

I was wanting to write a brief post about a recent Adam Frank article in the New York times called Earth Will Survive. We May Not. I also have a post about an earlier Adam Frank article, and I also listened to a podcast with Adam Frank and Joe Rogan, which somewhat influence my understanding of his recent article, and which I will post at the end of this.

The basic argument seems to be that life has always influenced the climate of the Earth, and that even though some of these changes have been quite cataclysmic, the biosphere has always endured and, ultimately, thrived. Therefore, the biosphere will almost certainly survive anything we might do.

My understanding, based partly on listening to the podcast with Joe Rogan, is that one of the ideas is to try and frame this whole topic slightly differently to how it is often framed. If life has always changed the climate, sometimes substantially, the idea that we have developed our advanced civilisation without doing so is bizarre. Additionally, the possibility that our activities can’t produce a substantial changes is similarly bizarre.

If we’re not careful, though, the biosphere might survive our impacts, but we (our civilisations, at least) might not. We can’t stop ourselves having any kind of impact, but we can think of ways to optimise our impact, so that we can continue to thrive.

In some sense, this argument makes sense, and since many other framings have been ineffective, maybe it’s worth promoting this basic idea. I do, however, have some concerns, and I’m interested in what others think. One concern would be the possibility that this gets interpreted as simply describing a perfectly natural process; it’s not really our fault, it’s simply a natural consequence of life thriving on this planet. Another is that we perceive protecting the environment only in terms of optimising the state of our civilisation. We don’t protect polar bears, the Great Barrier Reef, or whales because there is intrinsic value in doing so; we do so if it makes the biosphere more suitable for the survival of our civilisations.

I have to admit that I don’t actually have particularly strong views about this. I realise that we can’t avoid changing the climate/biosphere and that we will have to make difficult decisions. However, even though life has always changed the climate/biosphere, we’re probably the first to do so while being conciously aware of this (on this planet, at least). Hence, maybe we should take more responsibility for our actions and not suggest that this is all somehow part of a natural process. Thoughts?

The podcast with Joe Rogan is below.

Links:

Thinking like a planet (post about an earlier Adam Frank article).

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74 Responses to Planetary thinking

  1. for years, I have been hearing from folks that we are destroying the planet. Of course, the truth is we can’t destroy the planet. the ecosystem and biodiversity has crashed and rebounded many times and it usually takes 10 million years from crash to rather verdant green and blue planet. Planet will be fine. We are destroying the planet for the other current inhabitants and our collective offspring. Pretty stupid, but there it is. It’s not hard to see.

  2. angech says:

    “We are destroying the planet for the other current inhabitants and our collective offspring.”
    True.
    Could it be a necessary phase, a rite of passage top something better.?
    Are we Helicopter Warmists trying to prevent a natural and unavoidable evolutionary development?
    At the same time we are the first creatures to tap into and find new ways to use the resources of the planet. Theoretically a bacteria that liked uranium could grow a nuclear bomb. Solar panels are old hat, the trees do that but again a life form or symbiote with no photosynthesis could now be made to produce energy, electricity and light.
    We are the first to dig up and use carbon for power, does this have to be a bad thing?
    We are actually reducing our risk re survival of advere climate events by greenhouses, cloning and genetic modification.
    One thing we never hear about is the development of new species, Theoretically this should be happening at an enhanced rate now. Birds, lizards, foxes and rabbits in the heart of big cities. Well Gecko’s are the masters but still adaptation is also marvelous.

  3. Steven Mosher says:

    its not super natural
    its not un natural.

    first order of business ATTP is to banish the word natural. it smuggles in various assumptions and value judgements.

    organisms change their environment.
    their environment changes them.

    duh.

    drop the word natural. you will lose nothing and get closer to the correct framing

  4. Yail Bloor says:

    Policeman: Well, this one definitely didn’t die of natural causes. Looks like an assailant used this gory axe handle to bash this guy’s cranium all the way down into his neck hole. Shall we look for suspects now?

    Detective Mosher: Sergeant, it’s not supernatural, it’s not unnatural. First order of business is to banish the word natural. It smuggles in various assumptions and value judgments. Organisms change their environment and their environment changes them. For instance, the deceased had his head bashed in while the assailant probably got some nasty splinters. Even-Steven. While these nice paramedics toe-tag Mr. Decedent and Uber him to a comfy morgue, let’s knock off early for a drink, shall we?

    Your career as a detective would likely be brief but very memorable.

  5. Joshua says:

    Anders –

    Stop using the word “natural.” It isn’t politically correct.

  6. Harry Twinotter says:

    Humans destroying the biosphere because they can is indeed “natural”. Pretty much any life on earth will expand until it exceeds it’s resources, if it is allowed to. But yeah, it is just the naturalistic fallacy rearing it’s head again, equating “natural” with good.

    If the human race wanted to be truly “natural” we should bio-engineer some new alpha predators that are powerful enough to take us on, this will help to keep numbers in check 🙂

  7. Steven,

    first order of business ATTP is to banish the word natural. it smuggles in various assumptions and value judgements.

    I’m not quite sure what you’re suggesting. I wasn’t suggesting this as a framing, I was suggesting that this could be how it would be interpreted. Use a word other than “natural” if you prefer, but I was suggesting that it could be interpreted as something that we should just accept as a normal part of how life influences the planet – do nothing.

  8. gammacrux says:

    However, even though life has always changed the climate/biosphere, we’re probably the first to do so while being conciously aware of this (on this planet, at least). Hence, maybe we should take more responsibility for our actions and not suggest that this is all somehow part of a natural process

    Not sure many tribes of our hunter gatherer ancestors were not already quite conscious of their impact on biosphere and some already struggled to minimize it and prolong their way of life.
    The trouble is that these efforts cannot be really successful because they invariably and necessarily clash with the tremendously powerful driving force of life that makes it thrive and grow as long as resources to do so are still available or new ones become available because of innovation.
    One may certainly hope that civilized man may escape this fate and do better in this respect but this is highly unlikely.
    IMO it’s rather hubris to claim that we may ever seriously control such things .

    For instance it is obvious from a simple technical point of view that fossils fuels cannot any soon be replaced by carbon neutral energy sources to power a 7+ billion people civilization. It’s impossible at this scale simply because physics doesn’t permit it. Just another inconvenient truth and wishful thinking won’t help. 90 % or more of Earth inhabitants won’t accept to die (for sure) right now in order to (perhaps) “save the climate” in 2100.

  9. gammacrux,

    For instance it is obvious from a simple technical point of view that fossils fuels cannot any soon be replaced by carbon neutral energy sources to power a 7+ billion people civilization. It’s impossible at this scale simply because physics doesn’t permit it.

    I don’t think this is true. We could go massively nuclear. The problem here isn’t physics, but politics, society, and also whether or not we actually have enough people to implement this on the required scale. Having said that, in reality you may well be right (although, it’s not physics doesn’t permit it, but politics and other societal factors).

  10. Steven Mosher says:

    I’m suggesting that “natural” doesnt really illuminate anything.

    “Hence, maybe we should take more responsibility for our actions and not suggest that this is all somehow part of a natural process. Thoughts?”

    Here you appear to suggest that calling something natural means we should not take resposibility.

    We naturally procreate. Its natural. Yet we still should procreate responsibly.
    Organisms change their environment. The question is not whether it is natural or not.
    The question is are the changes the organism makes “responsible” or irresponsible in some way.
    I see use of the word natural in your question to miss the opportunity to make a stronger case.

    I dont mean to banish the word natural from all discussion. there are cases where the term “natural” doesn’t smuggle in moral values ( see the example on cause of death). but the way
    you used it you opposed taking responsibility to natural. And my point would be
    that this use doesnt achieve what you want. Organisms naturally change their environment
    and that doesnt absolve them of responsibility to not shit in their own drinking water, for example.

    Just a suggestion. Ignore it if you like.

  11. Steven,

    Here you appear to suggest that calling something natural means we should not take resposibility.

    That is a fair point and, in a sense is what is being suggested in the article. My concern was that it would be interpreted as something that we shouldn’t be bothering to do anything about (i.e., I was suggesting that this was how it could be interpreted, not how it should be interpreted).

    In a sense, this is all about framing. If people interpreted things as intended, we probably wouldn’t need to worry about how we frame things. The idea that Adam Frank is promoting – I think – is that this might be a more effective way to frame things. Effective in this context means (I think) that it may make us simply accept that we can substantially alter the climate/biosphere and that we should then be thinking about how to optimise our influence. I can see the logic in this, and I was simply suggesting that it may not be effective if people then go “natural part of life evolving, don’t do anything”.

  12. Jeffh says:

    This is exactly what I said in the previous thread. Frank hits the proverbial nail squarely on the head. Humans can greatly simplify the biosphere, and indeed based on what we can extrapolate about the extinction rate of species and genetically distinct populations, we already are. The biggest threat we pose is essentially to ourself. We have been lulled into thinking that we are exempt from the laws of nature, and that my some miraculous quirk of technology we have developed the ability to exist outside of constraints imposed by natural systems. Our growing understanding of the critical role that biodiversity, complex adaptive systems and ecosystem services play in permitting us to exist and persist (Simon Levin describes this well in “Fragile Dominion [1999], a book I reviewed for Nature) should be a warning that we heed. But all indications are that we won’t acknowledge the extent of our dependence on nature or the depth of the predicament we are facing until it is too late.

  13. Hyperactive Hydrologist says:

    I work for one of the largest engineering consultancy firms in the world and everyday I hear about new innovative ideas around energy, transport, infrastructure, urban planning, carbon management and many other areas. A couple of weeks ago I attended a presentation on how wind farms are becoming more efficient due to larger more efficient turbines, that only a decade ago was a pipe dream, and optimisation through improved grid connection, onsite pump storage and integration of battery technology. My colleagues in the energy team are using the term energy “disruption” to describe the changes coming with a drive to decentralise our energy networks with the possibility homes or communities becoming self sufficient through the use of solar power and local energy storage.

    In my area of expertise, flood risk management, there is a real emphasis on working with nature to mimic natural processes particularly in the urban environment. I see a huge opportunity in cities to improve the quality of life by re-greening and providing a much nicer environment where people will want to walk and cycle and will be more engaged with their community and with each other. The challenge is about understanding all the additional benefits that this type of vision will unlock and valuing all the intangible benefits both financially and as a society.

    My company, at least the UK part, is also aiming to be carbon neutral by 2025. I think we want to provide an example to our clients, promote the discussion internally and externally and understand the process of achieving the the goal.

    Everyday I go to work I feel more positive about the future, however there are challenges, particularly politically, and I think as a society we have to think about what we value, not just financially, and what type of world we want to leave our children

  14. Steven Mosher says:

    “I can see the logic in this, and I was simply suggesting that it may not be effective if people then go “natural part of life evolving, don’t do anything”.

    Fair enough. It’s one of the reasons why you have to stay alert to claims about “nature”
    It never enters the conversation innocently

  15. Steven,
    Indeed, which was sort of what I was getting at. On the other hand, I don’t really have any real idea as to what would be an effective framing and what would not (okay, I probably have some idea of framings that we should avoid).

  16. Dave_Geologist says:

    Theoretically a bacteria that liked uranium could grow a nuclear bomb.

    Already happened angech. Sorta.

    Uranium is only soluble in oxygenated water so the Great Oxidation Event was required to liberate the uranium from its original host rocks. You need reducing conditions to precipitate it out, which here are attributed to waters which had interacted with an overlying organic-rich black shale. Nothing organic around in those days but bacteria and archaea. Nowadays any organic matter in a reducing environment with sulphate available gets eaten by sulphate-reducing bacteria. Probably the same back then. There are sulphide ores locally which would have been oxidised by pore waters, producing sulphates. All the components are there to form thriving colonies of SRBs. I like to think the 16 or so reactor cores were super-colonies of SRBs, which created a very reducing environment and precipitated lots of uranium. They were then cooked when the reactors reached critical mass, so ending their ‘civilisation’ in a Nuclear Armageddon (they can metabolise up to about 50-60°C, and go dormant but survive up to about 80-90°C, but the reactors heated up to 400°C in half an hour).

    Fun factoids:

    You could say they were also geoengineers. Their metabolic by-product, marcasite, helps keep their local environment nicely reducing, in a world made inhospitable by the GOE. And their filaments can burrow into the rock for extra security, leaving behind marcasite pseudomorphs when they die.

    As of course the cyanobacteria were also geoengineers, changing the world to their liking in the GOE. And mass murderers of uncounted anaerobes. Gaia is a harsh mistress. There were some earlier, abortive attempts at a GOE which I like to think of as the cyanobacteria growing too fast, too soon. With the cool young sun, sucking most of the CO2 out of the atmosphere would have initiated a snowball earth, snuffing our aerobic life just as it got started. Until the sun warmed up enough, they had to lurk in the crevices, like anaerobes do today.

    I used to attend and sometimes lead a field trip where we said to people “don’t worry about the nuclear power station on the horizon, just make sure that if you pick up an piece of rock with a nice bitumen-filled fracture, you don’t put it in you pocket: put it in your rucksack but not against your skin”. Uranium and gold mineralisation is co-located with some bitumen veins, and in the field it can be hard to tell the difference between bitumen and finely divided marcasite or pitchblende. No kidding, I have seen some samples that just look like a bitumen vein but make a Geiger counter tick. The bitumen comes from oil, generated deeper and seeping to surface. It probably came first, with the metals precipitating out when oxygenated pore water met a reducing environment..

    And, desperately trying to return to the topic, 😉 , there is a moral in (a) the temperature tolerance of these critters and (b) their ability to engineer a habitable environment via their metabolism, as opposed to a hostile one. The world will cope just fine with global warming, but it’s the meek who shall inherit the earth, not us.

  17. Dave_Geologist says:

    One thing we never hear about is the development of new species

    Too soon angech. Look at the geological record. Recovery from a mass extinction takes in the order of a million years.

  18. gammacrux says:

    I don’t think this is true. We could go massively nuclear.

    Indeed, you’re right, this seems the option left and is also largely the conclusion Nobel prize laureate R. B. Laughlin arrives at in his book: “Powering the Future”
    http://large.stanford.edu/publications/coal/
    Now, nuclear energy is “fairly easily” converted into electricity. Powering tractors, planes, trucks etc in agriculture and transportation is much harder with nuclear energy but again possible in principle with synthetic fuels.
    Here in France the grid is already less than 10% fossil fuels and 80 % nuclear. Yet, as you rightly suspect, “societal factors” act not to augment but to diminish this proportion…

    .

  19. Dave_Geologist says:

    Cool! I found another paper on the Oklo deposit and had to share it:

    In this common ore, pitchblende is always associated with hydrocarbon material of high catagenetic rank. The mineralized organic matter consists of solid bitumen (asphaltite) with a hydrogen/carbon ratio of less than 0.5 atomic percent (Fig. 11), and releases only a little methane when it is pyrolyzed. Petrographic observations show that the bitumen consists mostly of spherical particles in the secondary porosity of the sandstones. The secondary porosity is created by the microfracture network and by the corrosion of detrital quartz and quartz overgrowths.

    Spherical particles! Bacteria! At least that’s what I’m claiming 😉 .

  20. Steven Mosher says:

  21. Steven Mosher says:

  22. Steven Mosher says:

  23. Steven Mosher says:

  24. JCH says:

    People should not build in places where beavers live.

  25. Steven Mosher says:

  26. Dave_Geologist says:

    People should not build in places where beavers live.

    They need to put in a Beaver Deceiver 🙂 .

  27. JCH says:

    Looks to me like moving away from beaver regions would be less work.

  28. I’ve been to the world’s tallest gravity dam Dixence in Switzerland and learned that had an accident early on, which had to be freakish to witness
    http://www.waterpowermagazine.com/news/newspenstock-rupture-causes-floods-and-landslip-at-cleuson-dixence/

  29. dikranmarsupial says:

    Humans are capable of rationality, so while it may be in our nature to consume without too much thought about the consequences we are capable of over-riding the less useful aspects our evolutionary inheritance. Just because something is natural, doesn’t mean it is what we ought to do.

  30. Ken Fabian says:

    I don’t see any special problem with the word “natural”. I think we can use the word and not be misunderstood – I didn’t think I misunderstood the above post in any way because of it. People in positions of trust and responsibility ought to possess the literacy to be capable of sifting the loading of key words with value judgements from the necessary distinctions the word and it’s antonym are used to convey.

    Public perceptions of this issue may be effected by framing and unwelcome rhetorical use of common words but I don’t think that is anywhere near the top of the problems we have with the politics of energy, emissions and climate. We have powerfully influential people, in commerce, industry and politics, who we should be able to rely on to uphold the trust and responsibility their positions entail, who are engaged in breathtaking irresponsibility – using PR, advertising, lobbying, strategic donating, tankthink and more to bamboozle everyone about how real or serious it is and moulding public perceptions – and here we are discussing the potential for using alternative words to “natural” to better communicate?

    I don’t know how this entrenched obstructionism can be defeated – it appears to be thriving even as global temperatures hit record highs, ocean heat content hits record highs, sea levels reach record highs etc. When real world evidence of global warming is right up front and current it still thrives; we have a US President and numerous governments that reject climate science and oppose action. I don’t think avoiding the word “natural” would have changed that.

    I do think the solar and wind success story offers an unparalleled opportunity to shift perceptions, because the other main obstructionist meme, more effective even than undermining trust in climate science, is that any shift to low emissions will lead to economic ruin. But renewable energy is defying all expectations, to the point where business operators are investing in it, to reduce costs. That shift – inevitable once crucial price thresholds were undercut – may drive the most important shift in the politics; it is undercutting what was strong majority support of commerce and industry for that anti-climate action, obstructionist agenda.

  31. Dave, I am thinking thermodynamics, as spherical blobs are the lowest energy state of liquids organic and inorganic. A few billion years ago, a pegmatite Oklo reactor could have happened too..

    As to Adam Frank’s thesis Life ll survive, species not so much, which tends to make room for mre species.

  32. Dave_Geologist says:

    Dixense dam failure – poor welding practices and inadequate post-welding inspection.

    https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1179/174329306X113244

    http://www-it.jwes.or.jp/proceedings/en/3-08.pdf

    1. Several cracks were found at different locations in the weldings of the original shaft which is evidence that insufficient NDT was performed before the start-up of the power plant.
    2. Both surface breaking and embedded cracks showed typical features of cold cracking.
    3. This type of cracking can be avoided by a proper welding procedure specification with special attention to preheating, interpass and post-weld heat treatment.
    4. Furthermore, hydrogen uptake has to be considered. By drying (rebaking) of electrodes and/or flux, the amount of absorbed hydrogen can be limited significantly.
    5. Additionally, it is very important to perform a diligent non-destructive testing at least 2 days after
    welding for the reason that the formations of cold cracks have enough time to be finished before tested so that they can be detected.

  33. Dave_Geologist says:

    Russell, I hope it was clear that I was indulging in wishful thinking rather than proposing a rigorous hypothesis 😉 . Nevertheless, it is hard to envisage another ultimate source for the organic molecules, whatever the process that made them spherical. Obviously there is a whole history of controversy about rods and spheres, in ancient earth rocks and in meteorites. Once it’s cooked to asphaltite, all internal texture is gone. Although you could perhaps use carbon or nitrogen isotopes if they haven’t re-equilibrated.

    I’d find fibrils penetrating fracture wall-rock convincing, because I’ve seen that in photomicrographs from an oil field where SRBs are clearly implicated.
    1) The sulphides are only in the oil field.
    2) The oil-water-contact rose when gas escaped millions of years ago and there are oxidised sulphides in the former oil leg invaded by aquifer water.
    3) There are no sulphides in the underlying aquifer.
    4) They’re still there and were reactivated when we started up seawater-injection for secondary recovery, producing H2S and contaminating the produced oil. The injected seawater provided an oxygen source and cooled the environment enough for their metabolism to reactivate. IIRC in this case we generally did a good job of scavenging oxygen and sulphate but let too much nitrate through. There must have been some sulphate left in the grain-coating pore water and the bacteria had been inactivated either by heat or due to nitrogen deficiency. Although it is also possible that they reduced the nitrates to generate energy. IIRC some species can switch to nitrate reduction if they run out of sulphate. Under normal circumstances, nitrate reduction would not be favoured as it is more valuable as a fertiliser. You can’t use sulphur to make proteins and amino acids.

    It’s clear from the geological description that this is a cold-water or hydrothermal system with redox concentration, not a high-temperature pegmatite system with concentration by fractional crystallisation.

  34. Steven Mosher says:

    “Just because something is natural, doesn’t mean it is what we ought to do.”

    yes, hence my suggestion that “natural” is not particularly useful in these types of discussions.
    Like I said the term is not innocent. Some folks will use the use word natural to ground an appeal to leave nature untouched. Others can use the same term to point out that we human organisms naturally modify our environment like other organisms. So the appeal to nature is not very useful.
    ( I would talk about de Sade, but only willard would get it )

    If I had to tell a story that framed a way to think about it in this spirit of the rogan disccusion it would
    go like this

    The human animal, like other animals, has evolved ( or been created if you want to appeal to
    “believers”) to modify its environment in ways that are beneficial to it. Even the simple beaver
    geoengineers. But unlike the beaver who takes no care of those downstream from its fabulous creations, humans have now developed the foresight to modify their environment with a vision toward its impact on other species. witness the Sea city in Kuwait, a marvel of the ingenuity and foresight of the human animal. However, we do face situations where our marvelous foresight falls short. Witness one of the worst manmade disasters in human history. In that case, no one foresaw that the mountain would become waterlogged and collapse. And when the early signs appeared the best science predicted a rate of collapse that turned out to be drastically wrong. They predicted a landside that was 1/3 the speed of what eventually happened. No one could run experiments.
    They only had the best science could tell them, and that science was not good enough. Uncertainty was not their friend, and thousands died. Faced with uncertain threats where the normal tools of experiment and test cannot be used, there is another approach: rather to be safe than sorry.
    Faced with a threat of Tsunami, a mayor in Japan erected a huge tsunami wall. For decades it was seen as a folly, until one fateful day. As a nation Japan has taken a lesson from that mayor.

    of course there a many who would take issue with this framing approach. It basically accepts the fact that we change our enviroment, celebrates our inventiveness, recognizes the limitations our our knowledge and appeals to a engineering safety factors when acting under great uncertainty. and it uses a cute animal that is not a polar bear! Even Jordan peterson would understand the appeal of telling moral stories using animals as characters.

  35. dikranmarsupial says:

    “yes, hence my suggestion that “natural” is not particularly useful in these types of discussions.”

    I disagree. “natural” provides an antonym for anthropogenic and artificial, but in terms of our behaviour to distinguish between what is innate and what we rationally chose to do. In science it is best to try and be unambiguous, but outside science sometimes it is best to allow the nuances in language in order to convey nuances in meaning (indeed sometimes words are loaded for good reason). I’m not generally very good at picking up on them myself, but if in doubt, you can always ask.

    “The human animal, like other animals, has evolved … to modify its environment in ways that are beneficial to it.”

    I don’t think that is really true, unless you add “in the extreme short term” at the end! ;o)

    Personally I can do without “framing” – just talk to me.

  36. Dave_Geologist says:

    The human animal, like other animals, has evolved … to modify its environment in ways that are beneficial to it.

    I don’t agree with that either. It carries a sense of directedness. That somehow the ancient human genome “knew” that an ability to modify its environment would lead to preservation and proliferation of its genes. And that an ability to modify its environment is indeed beneficial in the long term, and not just into the next generation or two which in all evolution has to work with. The myths of the Great Chain Of Being, the Noble Savage, Nature Good/Technology Bad and Four-legs Good/Two-legs Bad are so deeply embedded in our collective psyche that it introduces a whole crowd of hostages-to-fortune.

    Better to say “The human animal, like other animals, has evolved the ability to modify its environment” and leave it at that. No directedness, and no guarantee that the modifications will be beneficial, to humans or to others. You’re just as much a loser in the inclusive-fitness race if your genes die out in five or ten generations, as you are if they die out in five or ten years. The Easter Islanders modified their environment to short-term gain, but long-term pain. There are so many Decline-And-Fall books written that it appears every past empire has carried the seeds of its own destruction within it. In my speculative examples above, the first flourishes of oxygen-producers happened too early because of the cold sun, and after a runaway early success, they killed themselves off in a Snowball Earth. And the Oklo anaerobes who built supercolonies cooked themselves when the reactor went critical (or died earlier from radiation poisoning). We’re perfectly capable of using the tools of civilisation to destroy civilisation and devastate the human gene pool, even without pushing the WWIII button.

  37. Jeffh says:

    Let me correct Steven’s comment. A correct version reads, “The human animal, like other animals, has evolved to modify its environment in ways that provide short-term benefits to itself. Unlike other animals, however, these benefits are largely appropriated by the privileged few, and also are accumulating costs that threaten the well being of future generations”.

    Also replace the term ‘modify’ with more appropriate words like ‘looting’, ‘plundering’, ‘destroying’, ‘simplifying’ and others that convey what our species is really doing to the ecosystems across the biosphere. The word modify is benign and in no way describes the true scale of the human onslaught.

  38. I am reading your discussion in the context of this article I read over the weekend, and an academic work that I was not aware of “The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis” :
    https://slate.com/technology/2018/06/evangelicals-lack-of-environmentalism-explains-scott-pruitt.html


    Historian Lynn White Jr. offered a theory that remains explosive today: Christianity is inherently anti-environmental. He pointed out that many pre-Christian religions worshipped the natural world, and Christianity defined itself partially in opposition to that worldview. Writing in 1967 in Science, White argued, “Christianity is the most anthropocentric religion the world has seen. … By destroying pagan animism, Christianity made it possible to exploit nature in a mood of indifference to the feelings of natural objects.”

  39. Dave_Geologist says:

    I remember reading about the religion of one of the US Plains tribes. The buffalo herds migrated across their lands from east to west, but returned by a very different route. They decided that God had provided the buffalo for their benefit. They’d hear about the distant salt lakes from traders (i.e. the oceans). So they concluded that the buffalo ended their western journey by plunging into the western sea and drowning, then God created a new population of buffalo which swam out of the eastern sea and crossed the Plains. Yes they worshipped or at least admired the buffalo, they knew they relied completely on their regular return, and they believed God had provided them. But if they ever got into a situation where they had to kill all the buffalo to survive, they’d have said “OK, no problem, God will make a new batch next year”.

    Don’t fall into the primitive or naturalistic fallacy. The Celts were supposedly nature-worshippers, in the sense that they had earth-goddesses, river-gods, tree-gods etc. rather than the anthropomorphic pantheon of the Greeks or Romans. But that didn’t stop them deforesting much of Europe and just-about extinguishing the aurochs, which only survived into the Middle Ages on protected hunting reserves. When modern ex-hunter-gathers get hold of skidoos, or outboard motors for their canoes, they up their kill rate and sell the excess for petrol and Nice Stuff. Because everyone wants to have Nice Stuff. And I bet most of the people who exterminated the hordes of Pleistocene megafauna were nature-worshippers.

    Re evangelicals: they’ve ditched all the stuff about kindness to neighbours, turning the other cheek, blessed are the poor, planks and eyes or camels and needles. Disregard for Nature is small beer by comparison. There are some crackpots who believe AGW can’t be real because God promised Moses he wouldn’t send another Flood, but most can surely see that is silly. Nothing AGW can do will over-top Mount Ararat. And some who are keen to bring on the End Times. But I’d have thought they’re a minority and even their fellow evangelicals dismiss them as cranks.

  40. The Very Reverend Jebediah Hypotenuse says:


    But unlike the beaver who takes no care of those downstream from its fabulous creations, humans have now developed the foresight to modify their environment with a vision toward its impact on other species.

    Recent evidence suggests that the beaver are far less damaging to their environments than homo sapiens, foresight notwithstanding.

    One of the reasons why you have to stay alert to claims about “foresight”.
    It never enters the conversation innocently.

  41. izen says:

    @-SM
    “Faced with a threat of Tsunami, a mayor in Japan erected a huge tsunami wall. For decades it was seen as a folly, until one fateful day. As a nation Japan has taken a lesson from that mayor. ”

    Build a bigger wall ?

    Eventually the market adjusts.
    https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/2018-climate-change-home-sales/

  42. Chris says:

    Armed protesters block access, burn equipment at PNG’s biggest resources project
    (because I posted something about it before…)
    http://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-06-19/lng-attack-in-papua-new-guinea/9885952
    And..
    http://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-06-19/families-plead-for-action-over-uranium-in-drinking-water/9879748

  43. Dave_Geologist says:

    PNG: But are they greenies, is it part of a wider political protest and XoM were only targeted because delays hit the government in the pocket, do they just want a bigger slice of the tax cake, or do they want the jobs to go to locals not city-folk?

    Uranium: Most likely natural uranium in the aquifer, given that the water is from a borehole and too deep to be contaminated by tailings water. Probably why there are uranium mines thereabouts 🙂 . Like the arsenic in Bangladeshi boreholes. Or the radium in Aberdeen basements. Or the tarballs rolling onto Moray Firth beaches*.

    Mother Nature isn’t our friend. She isn’t our enemy either, just supremely indifferent to our welfare.

    * There was an offshore oilfield nearby, which passed down the major-to-small-operator food-chain and is now decommissioned (but being turned into a wind farm). One of the jobs the chemistry lab had was to test tarballs brought by tourists to the onshore tank farm (the locals knew about the natural oil seeps). The natural seeps are 100% sourced from Devonian lacustrine shales. The oilfield is sourced about 50/50 from them and from Jurassic marine shales, which have different biomarkers. So you can tell a spill from what’s natural.

  44. Jeffh says:

    Actually Dave, mother nature is most certainly our friend in the most colloquial of interpretations. Our existence depends on it. Sure, it may be indifferent to our interests, but our survival is dependent on nature. This is a subtle lesson that many in our industrialized ‘civilizations’ fail to recognize.

  45. angech says:

    It seems the world is going through a natural cooling phase following the large El Nino which is leading to a recovery in the ice volume and extent figures. Zwally is publishing something which should make most here reflect on how well they trust and interpret science results.
    If the only reason for claiming melting in Antarctica is based on rubbery figures from an imperfect algorithm.
    I.e. it must be right because it should be warming.
    Rather than it should be warming but this figures are open to interpretation then I despair about scientific rigour.

  46. angech says:

    Not to mention my spelling rigor.

  47. Harry Twinotter says:

    “which is leading to a recovery in the ice volume and extent figures.”
    No it isn’t.
    “If the only reason for claiming melting in Antarctica is based on rubbery figures from an imperfect algorithm.”
    No, they are claiming melting because they have evidence of melting.
    “I despair about scientific rigour.” I despair about your anti-science.

  48. Jeffh says:

    Angech as usual is wrong. There is no recovery in ice volume whatsoever. The rate of melt in the Antarctic has increased dramatically with time – it is ablating. The current La Nina has probably bottomed out according to James Hansen with global surface tempertaures still well above any El Nino event except the most recent. Angech appears to rely on denier blogs for his world views. His comment, as Harry said, is a textbook case of anti-science.

  49. angech says:

    Take them one by one I guess.
    “Angech as usual is wrong. There is no recovery in ice volume whatsoever.”
    then?
    “According to the PIOMAS model, volume decrease for May 2018 has been below average: 2285 vs 2650 km3. This means that 2018 is 5th lowest right now, and the difference with last year has grown to a massive 1915 km3, which is 299 km3 more than last month.”
    1915 km3 is a definite recovery in ice volume, Arctic, which is the “only”‘ ice volume we have proper data for.
    On land, in Antarctica, 2018. The expert.
    “Zwally, on the other hand, claims ice sheet growth is anywhere from 50 gigatons to 200 gigatons a year.”
    “The rate of melt in the Antarctic has increased dramatically with time – it is ablating.”
    repeat
    “Zwally, on the other hand, claims ice sheet growth is anywhere from 50 gigatons to 200 gigatons a year.”
    Harry Twinotter evades the heart of the claim but is quite right when he says
    “No, they are claiming melting because they have evidence of melting.”
    We both know part of Antarctica is melting, the same study that shows this shows overall ” ice sheet growth is anywhere from 50 gigatons to 200 gigatons a year.”
    Overall it is making more ice volume than it is losing by ablation or melting.
    Why is this so hard to admit?
    That is that the observations we are using are not up to the claims we are making.
    Is PIOMAS wrong?
    Is Zwally wrong?
    ARE you that sure and fixed in your beliefs that we say black is white? Why?

  50. Andrew Dodds says:

    Well, yes, the biosphere has survived some pretty catastrophic events in the past. Indeed, it’s possible that life actually needs catastrophic events to drive evolution; you don’t get much innovation in a mature ecosystem because every niche is occupied. Only by destruction or other change of environment to you get the chance to evolve into something new.

    So as long as we don’t fully ‘go venus’ then life will be fine and new forms will evolve to replace those driven extinct, almost instantly on geological terms.

    However, on astrological terms, since we could be the only technological species that ever arises on this planet, we could also be the only chance that life ever gets to leave this planet – which has perhaps 1 billion years of habitability left. On that timescale, it is critically important for life on earth that we survive, and move into space with that life.

  51. dikranmarsupial says:

    “According to the PIOMAS model, volume decrease for May 2018 has been below average: 2285 vs 2650 km3. This means that 2018 is 5th lowest right now, and the difference with last year has grown to a massive 1915 km3, which is 299 km3 more than last month.”

    1915 km3 is a definite recovery in ice volume, Arctic, which is the “only”‘ ice volume we have proper data for.

    Looking at the anomaly, it is clearly just in the noise and isn’t any sort of “definite recovery”. You are bullshitting again.

    “Rather than it should be warming but this figures are open to interpretation then I despair about scientific rigour.”

    ROFLMAO

  52. Jeffh says:

    Antarctica has lost nearly 3 trillion tons of ice since 1992: (Mass balance of Antarctic ice sheet from 1992 to 2017, Nature, 558, 219-222, 2018). Surface mass balance reports a loss of 2,720 +/1,390 billion tons of ice over that period. This has been all over the news the past few days. Clearly Angech has his head buried somewhere. Moreover, a new article reveals tens of thousands of biological responses to warming since the 1980s across the biosphere. This includes changes in phenology, voltinism, and other responses to warming. Nature doesn’t lie, it responds. Throw in glacial retreat among piles of other proxies and its clearly evident that its warming. The point that Angech and other deniers seem to miss is the temporal lag between cause and effect. Heck, simpletons like Angech think that it cools a bit in 2017 and 2018 and that is reflected in global ice volume virtually instantaneously. Why do these time wasters persist?

  53. Dave_Geologist says:

    angech: what dikran said. ROFLMAO. Squared.

  54. Marco says:

    JeffH and others: Angech has probably read a report somewhere (as usual it is making the rounds in the deniosphere) that Zwally somewhere (the story ultimately links back to a piece in the Daily Caller, but obviously is also repeated in different places) has stated he’s got a publication in press or in prepration that findss mass losses in West-Antarctica are balanced by mass increases in East-Antarctica.

    Of course, that Zwally paper will be the truth even if there are multiple other papers that contradict it, because it fits the desired narrative.

  55. Marco says:

    Crap. I forgot to note that the deniosphere also ignores that if Antarctica isn’t melting as fast as some recent papers say, we’ll have to find another place to close the sea level budget. Like in “more warming in the oceans than we actually thought we had” or “more melt elsewhere”.

  56. Jeffh says:

    Exactly Marco. Ignore countless other studies and highlight the one that says what they want to believe. The Nature paper tells a very different story. And besides, thousands of biotic proxies umambiguously prove that its warming.

  57. The Very Reverend Jebediah Hypotenuse says:


    The Nature paper tells a very different story. And besides, thousands of biotic proxies umambiguously prove that its warming.

    The only biotic proxy that denialists care about is this: Al Gore is fat.

  58. John Hartz says:

    ATTP: Fodder for a new OP?

    The sensitivity of the Earth’s climate to increases in atmospheric CO2 concentration is a question that sits at the heart of climate science.

    Essentially, it dictates how much global temperatures will rise in response to human-caused CO2 emissions, but it is a question that does not yet have a clear answer.

    For many years, estimates have put climate sensitivity somewhere between 1.5C and 4.5C of warming for a doubling of pre-industrial CO2 levels. This range has remained stubbornly wide, despite many individual studies claiming to narrow it.

    Here, Carbon Brief examines studies of climate sensitivity published over the past two decades. These studies use climate models, recent observations and palaeoclimate data from the Earth’s more distant past to estimate climate sensitivity.

    There appears to be no evidence that recent studies show a substantially different range of sensitivity than in the past, though some approaches generally result in lower or higher sensitivity than others.

    While narrowing the range of sensitivity will not change the need for rapid decarbonisation, it may help policymakers fine-tune their plans for the future.

    Explainer: How scientists estimate ‘climate sensitivity’ by Zeke Hausfather, Carbon Brief, June 19, 2018

  59. Steven Mosher says:

    “@-SM
    “Faced with a threat of Tsunami, a mayor in Japan erected a huge tsunami wall. For decades it was seen as a folly, until one fateful day. As a nation Japan has taken a lesson from that mayor. ”

    Build a bigger wall ?

    yes he built a bigger wall, and everyone laughed… until their wall was overtopped.

    Here is the point for the engineering types.

    You all know that there are situations where your best knowledge says X, you best tests
    your best models, your best intuition, your best information, your best engineering study says X

    and you design to 2X and call it a safety factor.

    Let me make the point from a Lukewarmer standpoint. I may beleive that ecs is less than 3C
    But that does not compell me to plan and take action with no regard to safety factors.
    to wit, I think 3C is most likely, but we should act and plan on the basis that it could be 4C.

  60. Steven Mosher says:

    “Recent evidence suggests that the beaver are far less damaging to their environments than homo sapiens, foresight notwithstanding.

    One of the reasons why you have to stay alert to claims about “foresight”.
    It never enters the conversation innocently.

    Of course they are less damaging all the more reason for us to take our responsibilities more seriously.

    Thanks for making my point. Like our fellow creatures we change our environment. Unlike them
    we have the capacity for more harm to them and ourselves.

    yes foresight is not innocent. what could substitute “predictive abilities” but that would make the argument more sciencey, and scientists already believe, no need to appeal to them
    unless you think they are dumb.

  61. Jeffh says:

    Steven, as a lukewarmer, ‘thinks’ that 3C is the most likely scenario.

    Two questions.

    How much research have you personally done and published in the field of climate science to draw this conclusion, Steven? If the answer is nil, then do you think that your views carry any weight among climate scientists? Should they? If so, why?

    Second, in the opinion of people qualified enough to evaluate the effects of warming on complex adaptive systems, meaning ecologists and environmental scientists, a 3C increase in mean global surface temperatures in the time scale envisaged is hardly insignificant. Indeed, it is potentially calamitous, and perhaps unprecedented in millions of years. Biodiversity has enough to contend with in terms of widespread habitat loss and fragmentation, various forms of pollution and invasive non-native species without adding climate change into the mix. Given your lack of pedigree in these fields as well, how on Earth can you come up with a lukwarmer scenario?

  62. Hyperactive Hydrologist says:

    Steven,

    “I think 3C is most likely, but we should act and plan on the basis that it could be 4C.”

    ECS of 4C puts us into RCP8.5 territory so why the resistance to using it for impact studies?

    Studies like this give us a broader understanding of the range of possible future impacts, allow better planning and focus resource to the impacts that are most relevant.

  63. izen says:

    @-SM
    “You all know that there are situations where your best knowledge says X, you best tests
    your best models, your best intuition, your best information, your best engineering study says X
    and you design to 2X and call it a safety factor.”

    That is pretty much the approach used to design and build the Thames Barrier.
    The official history claims they took the then current prediction for sea level rise (1970s) over the next hundred years and designed something to protect against that rise that, with maintenance, would last in an Estuarine environment for a century.

    If you check the literature of the time it is clear they designed not to the median estimate, but a figure in the upper quartile of the uncertain range then estimated. In practise it has already been used twice as much as predicted and is only just going to provide protection at the end of its designed life-span.
    Part of risk-assessment and cost/benefit analysis is avoiding wasting money by building something (levee, barrier, wall) that will last for 50 years, but fail to protect after 35.

    Globally coasts will only be defended where there is perceived value or sunk(?!) investment and the wealth to provide protection. Where coastal plains are inhabited by a sparse population and agricultural production, the land will not provide the return to justify spending on protection.

    The rich city areas may get raised and protected, the poorer parts wont.That is what has happened post Harvey, the flooding in Houston has prompted changes in building regulations and improved water management systems. Where land/property prices are high.
    In the less affluent areas abandonment is the adaptive response.

    That is likely to be a pattern followed on a planetary wide basis,

  64. The Very Reverend Jebediah Hypotenuse says:


    Steven, as a lukewarmer, ‘thinks’ that 3C is the most likely scenario.

    He also knows all the words that everyone else should avoid using.


    Given your lack of pedigree in these fields as well, how on Earth can you come up with a lukwarmer scenario?

    Coming up with scenarios is easy.

    Based on my feelings and my self-identification as a lack-warmer, I anticipate global cooling for a decade or three.

  65. “Based on my feelings and my self-identification as a lack-warmer, I anticipate global cooling for a decade or three.”

    I spot Curry’s Chief Hydrologist hiding in there!

  66. John Hartz says:

    The Very Reverend Jebediah Hypotenuse;

    What’s the difference between a lack warmer and a fluke warmer? 🙂

  67. Steven Mosher says:

    read harder guys.. when a say let me make a point from a particular viewpoint…
    read carefully

    let me make from a viewpoint, is not let me make it from my viewpoint.

    let me make it from a skeptic viewpoint.
    i believe that ecs is 1.5, but i think we should plan for 2.75.

    sorry if this confused you.

  68. Steven Mosher says:

    yes izen… now lets see if any one can discover the saftey factor people have been using in agw discussions.

    its kind intetesting

  69. Steven Mosher says:

    reverand my good friend.

    you and others can use any words you like.
    i make suggestions only.
    you get the suggestions for free.
    others pay by the hour. they can afford
    it.

  70. BBD says:

    let me make it from a skeptic viewpoint.
    i believe that ecs is 1.5, but i think we should plan for 2.75.

    sorry if this confused you.

    I never see lukewarmers making any argument for a safety margin of any kind. Rather their ‘argument’ is that ECS is too low to really worry much about.

    So this is yet another unfounded jab at the mainstream:

    yes izen… now lets see if any one can discover the saftey factor people have been using in agw discussions.

    its kind intetesting

    It’s as if you think we aren’t clever enough to see past the rhetoric.

  71. Jeffh says:

    We get Steven’s layman views for free.

    I am honored. I will today go to a garage and ask the mechanic there if he can give me free advice on the best way to deal with my asthma. Why go a lung expert in a hospital when I can get this advice for free in a garage?

  72. The Very Reverend Jebediah Hypotenuse says:


    reverand my good friend.
    you and others can use any words you like.
    i make suggestions only.
    you get the suggestions for free.
    others pay by the hour…

    You’re obviously an expensive and busy dude – So let me take this opportunity to quickly thank you for your unsolicited magnanimity, Steven.
    Your free suggestions are certainly worth every penny.

    And now that I have your kind permission to use any words I like, I’m working on new terminologies for “natural” selection, “natural” disaster, and “natural” gas. I’ll let you know what I come up with… I’ll even discount MY regular fee!

  73. BBD says:

    I’m working on new terminologies for “natural” selection, “natural” disaster, and “natural” gas. I’ll let you know what I come up with… I’ll even discount MY regular fee!

    Someone else who didn’t get the memo…

  74. The Very Reverend Jebediah Hypotenuse says:


    Someone else who didn’t get the memo…

    And this guy too.

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