Climate Science Glossary

Term Lookup

Enter a term in the search box to find its definition.

Settings

Use the controls in the far right panel to increase or decrease the number of terms automatically displayed (or to completely turn that feature off).

Term Lookup

Settings


All IPCC definitions taken from Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Working Group I Contribution to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Annex I, Glossary, pp. 941-954. Cambridge University Press.

Home Arguments Software Resources Comments The Consensus Project Translations About Donate

Twitter Facebook YouTube Pinterest

RSS Posts RSS Comments Email Subscribe


Climate's changed before
It's the sun
It's not bad
There is no consensus
It's cooling
Models are unreliable
Temp record is unreliable
Animals and plants can adapt
It hasn't warmed since 1998
Antarctica is gaining ice
View All Arguments...



Username
Password
Keep me logged in
New? Register here
Forgot your password?

Latest Posts

Archives

Climate Hustle

Remember, we’re only human

Posted on 5 August 2010 by mothincarnate

Guest post by Tim from Moth Incarnate

Human consciousness dawned from an animal that instinctively responded to a dynamic environment. Here, there was little forward planning – little awareness of tomorrow – but simply eat and endure as long as an exposed organism can in a harsh and unsympathetic world.

Here, we woke to the abundance of life and thus food, to the idea of tomorrow, to the power of fire and of protection. The human became a nomad that could increase its odds of survival and could plan to follow the wealth of food that migrated or bloomed with the seasons.

The ingenious members soon realised that if a cave was not present, shelter could be built and by closely watching the species around them, they discovered that life could be controlled for the production of food. Humanity became the farmer, the villager and ultimately, societies sprung into existence which in turn paved the way for culture, study and intergenerational improvements.

We became the modern human.

We were, however, still fragile. The people of Pompeii; the civilizations that came and went along the banks of the Nile or throughout South America; the famines and plagues that tarnished the heart of every culture; we remained aware of how much we were dependent on the natural world. Nothing was completely within our control.

The Age of Enlightenment expanded the ideas of the modern human. Indeed, one could argue that over the past 500 years, we have begun to question our Gods and our kings, we have rebelled and we have produced wave after wave of fights for equality. The printing press, the locomotive, eventually modern medical science and telecommunication; all of this wonderful curiosity, investigation and modern education has swept many of our species out of the muddy squalors of ignorance and into the climate controlled office cubical of some city skyscraper.*

Many of our species now enjoy a life where nature seems a novelty and the comforts experienced by the kings of old are now easily affordable. The deep-dark foreboding forest belongs to the fairytale as does many of the past trials to the history books, void of lingering emotion. The advancements (largely over the past 200 years) have produced the assumption that we have truly become masters of this planet.

It’s difficult to think harshly of such an assumption; when combustible liquid erupts from the land and bigger nets pull in huge quantities of fish (apparent natural wealth provided for our disposal); when it’s no longer unreasonable for a middle-classed person to live into their 90’s and mortality related to childbirth is at an all time low; when mangos are delivered fresh to high latitudes and foreign delicacies are inexpensive on supermarket shelves. We have achieved amazing things and enjoy wonders that our great-grandparents couldn’t have even imagined. Such things, of course, encourage a certain amount of pride and arrogance.

This complacency towards ecology is obviously erroneous.

 

If you were to move into a new place which had a well maintained, fruitful vegetable garden in the backyard and quickly removed all the produce and neglected the patch, you would soon find that you have lost this resource. Likewise, with the initial (and continuous) removal of forests, the rapid burning of millions of years of collected carbon, the changes to watercourses and overall environmental polluting, you cannot expect that we could avoid a number of significant changes to the environment.

You often hear, with pride, that human activity is visible from space, but truly think about it; our activities are so immense in scale and impact that they can be observed outside of this plant! It’s staggering and is a true example of how we are, without a doubt, a force of nature. Such power demands respect from those to yield it.

John Cook, Peter Sinclair and Scott Mandia among many others have done an excellent job to provide the wealth of scientific understanding in a user-friendly fashion that demonstrates the evidence of why we believe that our activities are changing the climate. It seems, at this point, unnecessary to repeat their work. However, what I run up against is the idea that a warmer, CO2 richer atmosphere is beneficial for life.

We could first turn to Rosenzweig et al. (2008), who looked at over 29,500 data sets of physical and biological responses (from 1970 to 2004) and found roughly 90% were in the direction expected with warming. Deutch et al. (2008) looked at insects across latitudes and concluded that those at lower latitudes are already living near their optimum and are likely to suffer greater detrimental consequences (compared to higher latitude species) as climate continues to change. Long-distance migrating birds in The Netherlands have also suffered a decline in population size, which Both et al. (2010) conclude is the result of an increasing mismatch in timing of prey-predator events. Very recently, Cantin et al. (2010) showed that in the Red Sea, the coral species, Diploastrea heliopora, has suffered a colony decline of about 30% since 1998. They go on to suggest that warming of the Red Sea will stop coral growth before ocean acidification does.

All the above example organisms play an important role in the overall ecosystem to which they are involved, whether it’s as pollinators, transferring of nutrients, providing nursery shelter for other species, for example. All will decline with increasing climate change along with their ecological services to their environment and thus a degradation of the relevant biodiversity.

Climate change will hardly be beneficial to the biodiversity present on this planet.

This is all very relevant to our species, for we are not truly free from the humble reliance on nature of our infancy. If we look at water, we rely on numerous physical events and ecological services to treat and transport the substance. If we look at agriculture, we rely on numerous ecological services to produce fertile land, water availability, pollinators, legumes for nitrogen fixation, certain climate conditions and currently copious amounts of fossil fuel (peaking oil being the major concern). If we look at fisheries, we rely on sea grass and coral nurseries, water quality, limiting algal blooms, climate and again copious amounts of fossil fuels. If we look at the atmosphere itself, we rely on the photosynthetic qualities of countless species to produce air that is breathable.

I could go on – both in increased detail of the above examples and to highlight others – but I don’t think it’s really needed.

What is needed is a radical change in how we see ourselves and our place on this planet. Pride for the rewards of our curiosity is certainly essential. This, hopefully, will lead to greater appreciation for the scientific endeavours that have improved the standard of living immensely. However, the arrogance must be dropped and replaced again with a sense of humility for the ecological system that we are inherently tied to. We are as we are, not only because of great minds, or Newton’s giants, but also millions of other organisms that clean the waters, work and land and condition the air. We’re part of that system. We also yield tools capable to radically modifying that system and many modifications cannot be undone.

Humility and respect will promote caution in our activities, but also stimulate development that better suits multiple benefits, instead solely financial profit and other human based properties.

We truly are a remarkable species, but we’re only one of millions. We must remember that.

* I’d like to note that we have left many behind on this journey – who now many of the developed West see only in advertisements pleading for ongoing donations.

Both, C., Van Turnhout, C. A. M., Bijlsma, R. G., Siepel, H., Van Strien, A. J., and, Foppen, R. P. B. (2010) Avian population consequences of climate change are most severe for long-distance migrants in seasonal habitats. Proc. R. Soc. B. 277:1259-1266. doi:10.1098/rspb.20091525

Cantin, N. E., Cohen, A. L., Karnauska, K. B., Tarrant, A. M., and, McCorkle, D. C. (2010) Ocean warming slows coral growth in the central Red Sea. Science. 329:322-325

Deutsch, C. A., Tewksbury, J. J., Huey, R. B., Sheldon, K. S., Ghalambor, C. K. Haak, D. C. And, Martin, P. R. (2008) Impacts of climate warming on terrestrial ectotherms across latitude. PNAS. 105(18): 6668-6672. doi:10.1073/pnas.0709472105

Rosenzweig, C., Karoly, D., Vicarelli, M., Neofotis, P., Wu, Q., Casassa, G., Menzel, A., Root, T. L., Estrella, N., Seguin, B., Tryjanowski, P., Liu, C., Rawlins, S., and, Imeson, A. (2008) Attributing physical and biological impacts to anthropogenic climate change. Nature. 453(15):353-357. doi:10.1038/nature06937

Check out more of Tim's work at the Moth Incarnate blog. Some of his recent posts include some interesting thoughts about Lord Monckton and a reaction to Matthew Glover's consensus infographic.

0 0

Bookmark and Share Printable Version  |  Link to this page

Comments

1  2  Next

Comments 1 to 50 out of 55:

  1. "We truly are a remarkable species, but we’re only one of millions. We must remember that."

    No, we are not just any remarkable species, one of millions, but spiritual and immortal souls, an absolutely unique kind, created in the image of God, given freedom and responsibility. We must remember that.
    0 0
  2. The President of the world's biggest oil & gas company finds guilty party behind heat wave:

    The abnormal heat wave, severe drought and massive forest fires that hit central Russia are the result of global climate changes, President Dmitry Medvedev told an expanded meeting of the national Security Council on Wednesday.
    Medvedev blames heat wave on global warming

    Consciousness, hopefully accompanied by conscience.
    0 0
  3. Doug, it will be interesting indeed to see if that leads to action on CO2 emissions by Russia. Given their growing export income from gas & oil, I somewhat doubt it.
    0 0
  4. Your general vision of nature is a dream that doesn't exist. It's essentially romantic idealism.

    Part of the reason we live in cities is because nature is cruel, unfair, dirty, disease ridden, dangerous, unsafe, murderous, extinction ridden, forever competing, destroying, dispensing, exploiting, etc.

    We have learned to reject that within nature which we deem inconsistent with our human values, and there are plenty of them.

    There are so many other things wrong with your discussion I don't know where to start. But if you want to wake up from your dream, try The Skeptical Environmentalist, by Lomborg.
    0 0
  5. Berényi, that's your view, which you're entitled to - but the science doesn't say as much.
    Thingadonta... I reckon you're just out to disagree. I think the piece largely covers the difficulties of being an organism within the natural world and the wonders achieved through modern investigation that has improved our species life immensely.
    However, we still are subject to the services of many other species. The dreamer is the fool that believes that we can truly separate ourselves from ecology.
    0 0
  6. Berényi, what mothincarnate said. Show me the evidence, then we'll talk.
    0 0
  7. thingadonta wrote : "There are so many other things wrong with your discussion I don't know where to start. But if you want to wake up from your dream, try The Skeptical Environmentalist, by Lomborg"


    Ah, the arrogant and (unconsciously) funny Lomborg. I wouldn't hold him out as an expert on climate change, ecology or biodiversity, if I was you :


    Skeptical About The Skeptical Environmentalist

    A skeptical look at The Skeptical Environmentalist

    Lomborg-errors
    0 0
  8. “Climate change will hardly be beneficial to the biodiversity present on this planet.” “... as climate continues to change ...”

    Characteristics of cold–warm variation in the Hetao region and its surrounding areas in China during the past 5000 years, Li et al., 2010.
    Certainly this work relates to one region but (among others) because they correlate well with temperature changes not only the NH, but also around the world is not "cherry picking".
    From Figure 3 we see that approximately 4.5 B.P. (Abrolhos?) there were warmer than today, with circa 2 ° C.
    “This period was the end of the Holocene Megathermal Maximum Age.” “These facts are also corroborated by many worldwide studies.”
    Then we see the temperature fluctuations of 2 - 3 ° C during up to 100 (max. 200) years. (“2600-1450 cal yr BP: The temperature decreased rapidly and was lower than the mean value of the WHOLE series.”).
    “300 cal yr BP to present: The climate has been warming. Shen et al. (2002) found out that the water temperature in Daihai Lake had been rapidly warming since 300 yr BP, increasing from 16.2 deg. C to 17.5 deg. C.” 1.3 deg. C - excellent correlation with global data.

    Older Peron was even warmer than the Abrolhos - began to seven thousand years ago."It began in the 5000 BCE to 4900 BCE era, and lasted to about 4100 BCE (different climate indices at different locations over the globe yield slightly varying chronologies)." (Wikipedia).
    "The Older Peron was a period of generally clement and balmy weather conditions that favored plant growth ..." "At least a few commentators — anthropologists, folklorists, and others — have linked era of the Older Peron transgression and the Neolithic Subpluvial with tales of a "time of plenty" (Golden Age ; GARDEN OF EDEN ) that occur in the legendary backgrounds of many cultures." (Wikipedia).

    "However, the ARROGANCE must be dropped and replaced again with a sense of humility for the ecological system ..."
    0 0
  9. Wonderful article. The key take-away should be the word "humility". Those who believe they have discovered all the mechanisms that control the mathematically chaotic workings of our climate should get a big helping of it.

    rmp @#6 is asking for evidence. If you want some, please read Hayek's "Fatal Conceit". It describes and explains the disasters produced by the foolish human lack of humility in economics. Hence it is not "proof" in the context of ecology, just "evidence"; which is all we can ask for in this context.

    Is it not thought provoking that the same type of political movers and shakers whose line of thinking produced demonstrable economic disasters are behind the climate change movement as well today?

    This of course does not mean disregard for the environment. But again, the same ones who thought they could control and plan the economy, produced the biggest man-made ecological disasters known to date.

    Why not just keep the research going and stay away from major changes. And while there is undoubtedly evidence pointing toward AWG, there is equally strong evidence that the cures proposed are worse than the ailment.

    And if you want to expand the argumentation from the world of economics, think of the wisdom of the Hippocratic Oath.
    0 0
  10. While I do not agree with BP, he should still being to mind the concept of stewardship, which is espoused by Christians like Al Gore, and which is gaining ground among all faiths.

    If we are absolutely unique souls, then we were given a unique place to flourish in. God hardly wants us to screw it up.

    It seems to me that the concept of a finite world is not really considered in traditional religion, in economics or in political systems. Since the 17th century, when humans started to harness fossil fuels on a large scale, we have been living in a bubble generated by their easy availability.
    0 0
  11. 1077, you are arguing from a foundation of fiction;

    "Those who believe they have discovered all the mechanisms that control the mathematically chaotic workings of our climate" - Fiction. No one has made any such claim. Everyone acknowledges that there are many uncertainties in climate science. However, if you look at the history of estimates of warming from a doubling of CO2 over the past 40 years you will see that the uncertainty range has been shrinking... it used to be 1 to 6 C, then 1.5 to 5, and so on until now most estimates are in the narrow range of 2 to 3.5 C. We have had time to check and double check the climate feedbacks over that period and they are clearly enhancing the warming from CO2 and other GHGs. That's not 'arrogance'. That's observed reality.

    "Why not just keep the research going and stay away from major changes." - We are making 'major changes' to the entire planet RIGHT NOW. Yes, caution is good... but continuing with actions which have been observed to be throwing the entire global ecosystem out of balance is NOT 'caution'.

    "And while there is undoubtedly evidence pointing toward AWG, there is equally strong evidence that the cures proposed are worse than the ailment." - No, there isn't. All remotely balanced estimates (i.e. those that don't engage in nonsense like assuming immediate loss of 100% of fossil fuel economic input and 0% new economic input from renewable power) show that 'the cure' is easily achievable... on the order of 2% of GDP. Less than half what the US currently spends on the military.
    0 0
  12. Thingadonta.

    Your comment and anthropomorphic view of nature both horrifies me and fills me with despair.

    The problem with the stance that you outline (at 19:36 PM on 5 August, 2010) is that it suggests a belief that human existence can operate independently of the natural world. It simply cannot. To operate the way you appear to believe it can, our civilisation would need to take over control and responsibility for all the complex and inter-related mechanisms that have evolved over the millennia to make life on Earth sustainable. Can we even begin to imagine the scale of that task? And to what end? Because we think we can do it better? What; when we cannot even agree on a course of action to deal with the current problems we are creating?

    I can only hope that -- for the survival of our species -- your point does not gain mainstream acceptance.
    0 0
  13. You do a good job in the first part of this article in describing the remarkable journey humanity has taken. Ever since we started thinking about that journey we've also had the idea that the journey will come to an end. The Greeks and Romans got it wrong 2000 years ago during periods of crisis for their society. Malthus got it wrong 300 years ago during a period of uncertainty in revoltutionary Europe. Huxley and Orwell got it wrong in their dytopian ideas that grew out of the carnage of WWI and WWII. And I think you're wrong to suggest we might be in a similar position in our present uncertain times.

    The unfortunate fact is that lack of resourses is still the greatest problem facing us all. We still have to continue to reshape our environment to satisfy those needs. I'm not against doing that in a more enlightened way but we need to be clear that we still have to consume more.
    0 0
  14. 1077 writes: Why not just keep the research going and stay away from major changes.

    CBDunkerson addresses this, but I also want to point out the fallacy involved. You're placing all of the burden of the uncertainty and risk on one side of the argument. This isn't a choice between "acting" versus "not acting", it's a choice between "taking action A" versus "taking action B" ... unless you're planning on stopping all GHG emissions while we do the research and figure out whether it's safe to proceed!

    And while there is undoubtedly evidence pointing toward AWG, there is equally strong evidence that the cures proposed are worse than the ailment.

    Sources, please. Pacala and Socolow present a range of options for stabilizing CO2 emissions:

    Pacala, S and R Socolow. 2004. Stabilization Wedges: Solving the Climate Problem for the Next 50 Years with Current Technologies. Science, 305:968 - 972.

    All of the "wedges" would be challenging, although many of them would be good things to do even without the incentive of preventing a doubling of CO2. None of them require new technology, though presumably technological advances will make them easier to accomplish.

    The point is, we should have started years ago. Still, starting now would be much better than waiting until much more drastic action is needed!
    0 0
  15. The other point that tends to be overlooked is that there are just too many folk on the planet, all demanding natural resources and contributing to CO2. Generous maternity leave doesn't help. China at least has done something (the things one can do when voters don't have to be appeased!) Perhaps a cap and trade on offspring would be an idea?
    0 0
  16. HumanityRules writes: Ever since we started thinking about that journey we've also had the idea that the journey will come to an end. [...] And I think you're wrong to suggest we might be in a similar position in our present uncertain times.

    What journey is "coming to an end" exactly? Not technological growth or social progress, both of which are necessary for addressing climate change. Perhaps the fossil fuel era is coming to an end, but that's been only a blip in human history. The human journey didn't end when we stopped burning whale oil for lighting.

    I don't see anything in the original post that suggests that human civilization is coming to an end. I see suggestions that our civilization has to change, just as it has done so many times in the past.

    Our civilization is better ever since we renounced chattel slavery. Ending the systematic oppression of women is likewise a good thing. Likewise, reshaping our social/technological infrastructure so that we can provide a high quality of life for future generations without turning the oceans, atmospere, and biosphere into one large garbage dump is also something we should see as positive.
    0 0
  17. "I'm not against doing that in a more enlightened way but we need to be clear that we still have to consume more."

    I don't understand this. If we take farming and gardening as models for other activities, we know that it's not a matter of taking stuff from the soil to make other stuff to consume. All the atoms, molecules, building blocks we will ever have are already in the system. Fertility is not a function of maximum extraction of nutrients and other substances. Fertility is a function of how rapidly we can get those atoms and molecules cycling through that system to benefit all who might feed from it.

    So we don't throw organic waste into landfill or elsewhere where it might be lost to the system for a long time. We put it where it will do the most good straight away - back into the system of reproducing more organic materials.

    And the same can be said for most economic and other processes. Money is most valuable when it is working - to enhance the material wellbeing of all who are involved in its various transactions through a society. Technology can always be used better and its use and development can create better technologies.

    I do not see where this fear of loss of some mysterious quality of life comes from. Unless the world is comprised entirely of elderly weirdos clinging to their mouldering stacks of 30 year old newspapers, the idea is just silly.
    0 0
  18. Following on from John Chapman's comment, this might be a useful time to introduce this information which I was sent the other day.

    It's a tough subject to raise -- the voice of experience -- but if humans don't tackle the fact that nine billion people* puts an unimaginable strain on our environment, the vast majority of our offspring face a catastrophic future. Discuss.

    [*9bn is the figure the world population the UN projects for 2050]
    0 0
  19. HumanityRules at 23:34 PM on 5 August, 2010

    I gave a wry laugh when I read your words...

    "Malthus got it wrong 300 years ago..."

    Followed soon after by your comment, "The unfortunate fact is that lack of resourses is still the greatest problem facing us all."

    Oh, the irony!
    0 0
  20. Humanity Rules, #13,

    It is surely the height of hubris to boast that "The Greeks and Romans got it wrong 2000 years ago". Who ever got it right? Rome existed as a state and an empire for much longer than most modern states have existed, including the United States. Greece enjoyed a long silver age as the Byzantine Empire, longer than the United States has existed.

    Huxley and Orwell got it "wrong" only in so far as their works of art focussed on exaggerating particular trends in society. No one says that "Picasso got it wrong in Guernica". Both wrote their books as warnings, and they were pretty damn good ones.

    We do have the first world civilization in history, but it is no point in pretending it is not vulnerable - to nuclear attack, to internal revolution, to a new strain of disease, environmental decay or climatic shift. The main difference from the Romans is that the mass of people have come confidence in receiving their next 9 meals. It is said that every civilization is only 9 meals away from collapse, because no society can survive if hunger persists beyond that point.

    No doubt at some point Romans shrugged "Barbarians? Who cares?". Our civilization needs to be cognisant of threats and prepare for them. Lack of resources (food, medicine) face only the very poor on the globe. If by some consuming less, others receiving the wherewithal to consume more, our world civilization would become more stable and more secure, than why not?
    0 0
  21. Saying 'Malthus' got it wrong is oversimplifying... but so is saying that population growth will lead to resources running out by date XYZ.

    The problem is with assumptions that the current paradigm will remain valid well into the future. The pace of technological change has shown us repeatedly that this is a sucker's bet. Chances are that by the time we get to 9 billion people we'll be using technologies we haven't even imagined yet. Doubtless it won't be a seamless transition... any more than the rise of modern agriculture FULLY prevented the kinds of famine events Malthus predicted. Mostly yes, but not entirely.

    It would be reckless to assume that technologies which can save us WILL come along, but it is equally unreasonable to insist that they won't. We don't know yet. Which is a terrible situation to be in... because if you assume future populations will be limited to current technology you may find yourself justifying draconian emergency measures (e.g. quotas on how many kids people can have) that may turn out to have been unnecessary, but if you assume that future technology will save the day and it DOESN'T then you've got massive suffering.

    A middle course would seem prudent. Do enough to stave off catastrophe in the short to mid term and hope for technological improvements to avoid the problem without drastic measures in the long run. Rather like what has been proposed (though not yet enacted) with CO2 reductions to stave off global warming.
    0 0
  22. Malthus, wrong. Hmm, do the conditions described by Malthus exist nowhere in the world?

    It would probably be a mistake to think that some critical point would come everywhere at once. With BAU, limited resources and no limit on population, it is only a question of 'when' and 'where', not really 'if'.
    0 0
  23. I'll play devil's advocate for a moment w/regard to upcoming technology.

    Our confidence in technological strides being a more or less continuous and boundless prospect may be a warped perspective.

    For the past few hundred years we've enjoyed the fruit of a rather instantaneous explosion of basic scientific insight as well as sudden progress in mathematics. These intellectual leaps opened a void of potential technologies which we've steadily filled; the first and easiest hurdles of intellect once crossed lowered the slope of technological progress.

    As well, we've had the benefit of hydrocarbons unleashing staggering amounts of energy to do things that are unlikely without copious joules being available. We've become so accustomed to this flood of energy that it's become strangely invisible to us; we swim in energy like fishes swim in the ocean. A huge proportion of what we proudly point to as progress is stretched thinly over a balloon of ergs.

    Ahead we face a scenario where intellectual progress is more difficult, where putting very simple physics and coal together will not yield a Newcomen engine, where getting from the Newcomen engine to the Watt engine is not going to be an easy leap. The easy strides are over but we're still basking in the glow of accomplishment.

    Thinking ahead, we're applying our past experience with filling a vacuum of opportunity with copious physical and energy resources to a future where opportunities are smaller and resources more scarce. As an example, there are some promising developments in nanotechnology applications to photovoltaic panels emerging but these are little steps being carved out of an increasingly steep hill.

    I think it's possible we'll arrive at a ledge on what has become a precipice past which further progress is extraordinarily difficult, failing some kind of avalanche of understanding of the kind we saw leading up to the 20th century. Whatever the insight may be, it won't have the long lever of fossil fuels to help shift it into a useful position.
    0 0
  24. Doug, you may be right... but I doubt it. The article at the top tells us to remember that we're only human... by the year 2100 I highly doubt that will be the case.

    Advances in biotechnology and brain-computer interfaces both have the potential to transform not only our underlying technological infrastructure, but the human race itself. Rather than an upcoming plateau I see entirely new paths to technological advancement opening up.
    0 0
  25. One other thing to ponder. Comb through various lists of "world's greatest scientists" and you'll see a feature of what might be termed as diminishing returns.

    Most of those we consider to be intellectual luminaries and who produced fundamental insights leading to a myriad of less profoundly significant explorations lived at or before the point where world population was 2 billion persons. The subsequent growth to 7 billions and beyond appears to be producing ever-fewer Einsteins and the like, despite our better facilities for intellectual growth.

    This apparently nonlinear relationship between important, world-changing insight versus population is intriguing. People today are not more stupid. The fruit we're reaching for is becoming ever higher on the tree is one possible conclusion.
    0 0
  26. On the other hand I can be quoted as foolishly saying to my family that the television game "Jeopardy" won't be played by computers at a human level for another 30 years. Turns out IBM now has a machine that plays very competitively at the expert level. That's a pretty huge accomplishment even though it did not depend on any particular leap of insight, rather was a meticulous integration task.

    Hmmm.
    0 0
  27. #4: "we live in cities is because nature is cruel, unfair, dirty, disease ridden, dangerous, unsafe, murderous, extinction ridden, forever competing, destroying, dispensing, exploiting, etc."

    I've lived in cities that are described in exactly the same way. Not to mention foul air, traffic, noise and heat.
    0 0
  28. thingadonta:

    "Part of the reason we live in cities is because nature is cruel, unfair, dirty, disease ridden, dangerous, unsafe, murderous, extinction ridden, forever competing, destroying, dispensing, exploiting, etc."

    extinction ridden??

    How many extinctions are caused by non-human intervention?
    The only thing I can think of is volcanoes or something similar.

    thingadonta:
    We have learned to reject that within nature which we deem inconsistent with our human values, and there are plenty of them.

    Really. Just how many people do you speak for?
    Yourself?
    And your personal views about nature?

    What exactly do we reject?
    Or is this some religious view?
    eg. anti-gay or something?
    0 0
  29. Arkadiusz Semczyszak
    I've done, and will do much much more posts, regarding ecological loss with climate change. You may have regional examples where local climate fluctuates a fair amount and the species handle the change well. As I state in the article, insect species at higher latitudes are likely to fair better than their lower latitude counterparts - they have more room.
    That said, the fossil record tells us that climate change relates to increased extinction rate, decreasing ocean pH increases extinction rate and we know that our modification of landscapes increases extinction rate. We know we the cause of all these impacts and we also know that we rely on numerous ecological services.
    Using ideal regional examples does nothing but send us further up the river without a paddle.
    0 0
  30. The Ville #28

    In this case thingadonta is correct. Almost every species that has existed during the history of life has gone extinct, and the only known trajectory for a top-of-the-food-chain predator like us is to extinction.

    Personally I feel that with the human intellect, it may be possible to prevent this to some extent, but with peak oil, population overshoot, and climate change being pretty pressing concerns the crunch time to deal with it is aproximately now.
    0 0
  31. #25: "This apparently nonlinear relationship between important, world-changing insight versus population is intriguing. People today are not more stupid. The fruit we're reaching for is becoming ever higher on the tree"

    I once heard it this way: If you and I are at a conference and Bill Gates sits down next to us, the average income at our table goes up enormously. But you and I make the same as when we walked in. Same analogy for an Einstein sitting with us.

    One problem with our species is a form of 'perceptual inertia': We have a hard time perceiving and reacting to things that are slowly changing, even when they are right in front of our eyes. Animals that sense their habitat is under stress will move to more hospitable sites. We just crank up the AC another notch.
    0 0
  32. Muoncounter, I'm thinking in a slightly different way, I think.

    The relative number of latter-day Einstein analogues is not keeping up with the count of scientists who resemble Einstein in many other ways, have the capacity to have been Einstein. In fact, I'm quite sure there are plenty of people alive today who would have been Einstein (Freddie Fudpucker's Theory of Relativity?) if Einstein had not already grabbed the brass ring that was available only once at a particular level. The ring gets higher each time somebody lays a hand on it, faster than we produce people capable of reaching it.
    0 0
  33. CBDunkerson
    "Advances in biotechnology and brain-computer interfaces both have the potential to transform not only our underlying technological infrastructure, but the human race itself. Rather than an upcoming plateau I see entirely new paths to technological advancement opening up."
    This will require a lot of energy and even more unlikely (as BP, the 1st comment here illustrates) a massive overhaul of how we see ourselves and our moral and ethical systems. Currently most people are still horrified by GM food (I wrote a piece about this a while ago and got into an interesting debate that was as far as I could see a scientific verses ideological debate). Many people are appalled by being (rightfully) titled an animal species.
    We still have so much dogma and arrogance to overcome before we can be so objective with our investigations to achieve what you point out here. So much so that I suspect we will not reach such a point (Clark often wrote about such a future, and when we look at the scientific breakthroughs, we could be forgiven for jumping on board with his outlook - whoever in retrospect we can see that the sociological constraints make such improvements sluggish unless they prove to be immediately imperative or massively profitable).
    0 0
  34. 16 Ned

    Contained in this article is the sense that we're on a doomed trajectory ATM. That underlying assumption is wrong.

    17.adelady at 01:14 AM on 6 August, 2010
    "I'm not against doing that in a more enlightened way but we need to be clear that we still have to consume more."

    I don't understand this.

    If you need clarification on this I suggest you go speak to a few people living on 1 or 2 dollars a day. The problem I see with the rest of your argument is that the sort of thing that this article is against, such as industrialised, modern farming techniques, is the method that most effiently cycles nutrients through the system and generates great yields. While organic farming may fed the paranoid middle classes, industrialised farming will feed the 6 billion other souls on this planet.

    19.John Russell

    Yep very funny, but I guess you understand that Malthus believed in absolute natural limits. I'm more arrogant in the belief that our huge brains will never allow that to happen. The problem of limited resourses today is not a natural one but socially imposed.

    22.Chris G

    Yep Malthus was wrong. He believed the Isles of Britain could not support more than 7 million people. He was wrong.
    0 0
  35. "1 or 2 dollars a day" means we could increase their income with direct support by an order of magnitude without lifting a finger. We don't choose to do that. We can debate why that may be but it's not a case for some sort of hard physical limit we're up against w/regard to lifting the poor out of poverty.
    0 0
  36. HR
    But recycling all locally available nutrients is *exactly* what subsistence farmers need to do. The people who currently have the least resources are the ones who most benefit from getting the most out of what they do have.

    Those of us in wealthier cities would do well to have a good hard look at approaching peak oil. If the price goes the way it looks that it might, then being a bit more frugal with what goes into landfill may be obligatory if the price of oil-based fertilisers rises as far as it could. Anyone who thinks that consuming less means choosing to have fewer handbags or gadgets should bear in mind it's more likely to mean spending so much on food and transport that those luxuries are unaffordable. There won't be a choice.

    Either way, sensible use of what we have, whoever we are, makes a better life for ourselves and our neighbours.
    0 0
  37. Humanity Rules #34
    "Contained in this article is the sense that we're on a doomed trajectory ATM. That underlying assumption is wrong."
    No, contained in this article is the argument that our practices are unsustainable and our impact is exacerbating the problem.
    "...the sort of thing that this article is against, such as industrialised, modern farming techniques, is the method that most effiently cycles nutrients through the system and generates great yields."
    The article is not against industrial improvement at all - in fact I make many points that we have achieved amazing things. We need to remain mindful, however, of the ecological services on which we rely.
    "The problem of limited resourses today is not a natural one but socially imposed."
    Baseless... Look at peak oil (within the next decade) for an excellent example, however, you should also look into whatever local natural resource management processes you have - almost all will have some form of depletion, largely the using up of resources quicker than they can be regenerated. In other cases, it's that we're changing the process (such as watercourse and landscape use changes) thereby diverting typical ecological pathways.
    Also, I make no point about population size here. It not a question of the amount of people, but how we manage, how we exploit and how we live. We could, I believe, have 9 billion people and be sustainable - but we cannot live as we currently are. Space,sprawl alone demonstrates this.
    0 0
  38. HumanityRules at 09:50 AM on 6 August, 2010:

    I can't agree with the bald statement that 'Malthus was wrong'. Malthus was right in principle, but couldn't take everything into account. Most notably he didn't foresee the massive increase in carrying capacity cheap fossil energy would provide. That's a perfect example of why scientists should avoid making predictions. They can be essentially correct but if they gamble on occasional 'best guesses' in order to create their equations it will often be those weak links that let them down.

    You say, "Malthus was wrong. He believed the Isles of Britain could not support more than 7 million people."

    That's a bit like seeing a field full of cows and saying, "see how many cows that field can support". There's current population and there's sustainable population. The difference is quite dramatic. See where the UK comes on this list .
    0 0
  39. "Malthus was wrong. He believed the Isles of Britain could not support more than 7 million people."

    Malthus may have had an adjacent country in mind when he was writing: Ireland, where the population was exploding in his time, millions of those dependent on a single crop: potatoes. Ireland was place with many poor, and early, fecund marriages.

    Malthus' critics argued that birth rates would adjust to circumstances, but many thought the Irish Famine of 1845-1852 was his vindication. All in all, 1 million Irish died of starvation and disease, a further million fled overseas. Yet, the aftermath to an extent vindicated Malthus' critics - Ireland became a country of late marriages with small numbers of children. Sexual repression and clerical control became notorious. The birthrate only began to rise again, and emigration reverse, in the 1960s.

    Today, demographic historians see these trends beginning BEFORE the famine, but they were too late to mitigate the catastrophe of the potato blight, which no one foresaw.

    So Malthus was possibly only half right - the Irish were cognisant of there situation and the population was adjusting - families were getting smaller, marriages later, the safety valve of emigration was coming into use. But with the onset of blight these adjustments were insufficient in the short time abvailable & a terrible tragedy ensued. As an Irishman, I would be loath to write off old Malthus as totally "wrong". Contingencies can happen that drive an already precarious situation past a tipping point.

    It is tempting to see 21st century civilization dependent on a limited supply of carbon-based fuels as similar to the 19th century Irish poor, dependent on a single food crop. Is that too simplistic?
    0 0
  40. #38 John Russell at 18:09 PM on 6 August, 2010
    See where the UK comes on this list.

    If I were you I would not use the list of the Optimum Population Trust. It is absolutely bogus.

    It says "All source data from The Ecological Footprint Atlas 2009 (Global Footprint Network), based on 2006 figures". They also say actual population of EUROPE (EU) is 731.28 million.

    Now, in fact actual population of EU was 493,226,936 in 2006.
    0 0
  41. mothincarnate, plenty of people reject evolution even today... that has not prevented it from transforming the biological sciences and resulting in many advancements which benefit even those who disbelieve the science. I think it will be the same with advances going forward. Just as some religious groups reject modern medicine now others in the future will reject gene therapy, performance improving implants, cloned organs, and many other things... and just like the groups that reject modern medicine this will lead inevitably to those groups becoming marginalized minorities.

    When a new advancement gives the ability to save their life or their child's life most people are going to take it. GM foods are stigmatized without much justification now... but not so much in places where they are the only way of stopping starvation. If food availability becomes scarce people WILL change their tune on GM foods VERY quickly. Religions get re-written on a regular basis... the survival instinct does not.
    0 0
  42. Tim, that's a fascinating read.

    My take on the situation is broadly similar in that in the most technologically-advanced societies today a great disconnect has occurred between humanity and the environment - so that people perceive the environment as somewhere "out there" - somewhere they perhaps go on vacation, for example.

    This is a very dangerous mindset to get into, given that without a functioning environment there is no breathable air, potable water or food, and any environmental malfunction can have severe effects on humanity - as the Russians are finding out. Muscovites are now well aware of the environment as it continues to give them a hard time.

    Cheers - John
    0 0
  43. Do scientists believe that carbon derivatives trading will make significant reductions in carbon fuel usage?

    The U.S. government seems hell bent on passing Cap and Trade but, without a full-time alternative energy source, how would it force manufacturers to stop using carbon fuels?

    Should industrialized counties jointly conduct R&D to find a full-time energy source that would replace carbon fuels?
    0 0
  44. The cap and trade mechanism is a way of setting a cost on C02 thus bringing it into our accounting system so we no longer consider C02 pollution to be a "free" resource.

    As long as we ignore the accumulating cost of C02 while relying on the market to choose fuels we're not going to reduce emissions or provide sufficiently strong incentives to find alternatives to the biggest elephant in the room which is coal.

    Burgeoning exports of coal from Australia are an indicator of this very simple economic fact, one that even most economists themselves can agree on.

    Australian Coal Industry - Coal Exports Details

    Predicting the efficacy of cap and trade seems complicated, does not seem very amenable to simple scientific predictions because it collides with economics and politics(understatement!).

    I found these writeups pretty informative. They're both policy focused but have scads of references.

    CBO's An Evaluation of Cap-and-Trade Programs for Reducing U.S. Carbon Emissions (long in the tooth but the basics of this approach are old)

    A meaningful U.S. cap-and-trade system to address climate change
    0 0
  45. BP:
    No, we are not just any remarkable species, one of millions, but spiritual and immortal souls, an absolutely unique kind, created in the image of God, given freedom and responsibility. We must remember that.
    BP's belief, shared by billions, is at The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis. I'm now convinced it's also at the root of his relentless denial of AGW.
    0 0
  46. daisym @43,

    "The U.S. government seems hell bent on passing Cap and Trade but, without a full-time alternative energy source, how would it force manufacturers to stop using carbon fuels?"

    If that is a true statement, then why was the Power Bill dropped in the US Senate, without a vote, and without a squeak from the White House?

    In the 1980s and 1990, "Cap and trade" was touted as the "free market" solution to pollution and global warming. Now it is derided as "cap and tax" and is ideologically off-limits for any aspiring Republican politician, and many Democrats.

    I thought Jim Hansen has a good proposal in his book Storms of My Grandchildren. This was for a carbon tax to be paid at the point of extraction or import of carbon fuel. The tax would be paid as a dividend to taxpayers, which they could spend as they please (on carbon fuel, for example, if they so wished, but then they gain nothing).

    An alternative would use the money collected to offset payroll taxes, thereby creating jobs. This version has been adopted in British Columbia, and is working well.

    Carbon Tax

    Cap and trade just has too many complexities.

    Cap and Trade
    0 0
  47. 38.John Russell

    I wonder if you'd like to suggest the basis on which we start the cull? Or maybe forced sterilization? It seems the rational thing to do.

    I was going to read your link but the address made me feel sick. We live in a world were one prevalent idea seems to be that the very existence of human beings is a problem. It doesn't mean I have to agree with it. As I said, Malthus was wrong about the natural limits of this planet. I think the present doomsayers are equally wrong. Both are misdirected in were the real problems lie and under-estimate the ingenuity of us.
    0 0
  48. HR #47

    "one prevalent idea seems to be that the very existence of human beings is a problem"

    I'm pretty sure that'a straw man argument. Humanity's over-exploitation of the environment is a problem, and if we don't do something rational about it, the decisions will be made for us. This stuff relating to population ecology dynamics is fairly well understood, and it's pretty clear that we're very likely heading into overshoot.

    So you can moralise all you like, but I'm afraid that the scientific basis of our knowledge is distressingly amoral.
    0 0
  49. 48.kdkd

    Get yourself some optimism.

    The overshoot is BS! It's been BS for 2000 years!
    0 0
  50. Come on HR; I’ve pointed out before that quite a bit of your posting is contrived indignation arising from misrepresentation of others posts, and false précis. Your latest example is extreme bordering on the unpleasant!

    (i) population and “culls”. We don’t know what human population the Earth can support sustainably (we all agree I assume that is the only realizable long term future for humankind). We know that societies which reach a level of economic development that frees parents from producing large families (to maintain subsistence living, for support in old age and to counter high child mortality), tend to stabilize their populations. The UK had a population of 50 million in 1951, and the fact that it’s somewhat larger now is largely due to immigration. If there were imperatives to reduce population sizes this could be achieved (or might well happen naturally) as large populations became unsustainable (as they might…or might not).

    So you reference to “culls” is a pretty nasty misrepresentation.

    (ii) Your “strawman" -

    "one prevalent idea seems to be that the very existence of human beings is a problem"

    - also seems be to constructed to misrepresent sensible discussion. Throughout the evolution of human societies mankind has addressed problems. It’s one of the things we’re good at and a major impetus for scientific advance. We’ve addressed problems of infectious disease (at least in the developed world if less so in the developing one), energy supply (ditto), and more discrete problems like sulphurous industrial emissions (ditto re developed/developing world), CFC destruction of stratospheric ozone, morbidity and mortality due to ciggie smoking (ditto) and so on. We’re addressing the first of two major looming (and in fact rather helpfully linked) problems: global warming and depletion of fossil fuels, through rather rational considerations of transitions towards sustainable energy production, considering mitigation strategies and so on.

    I asked you on another thread to briefly outline your vision for the future, given that we both seem to share the ideal for economic and societal advance in poor countries. You declined to respond. But given your assertions that you “aspire to see them have everything we have, and more”, and that “we need to be clear that we still have to consume more”, it is a reasonable question how you consider those aspirations might be achieved in the real world .


    HumanityRules at 20:33 PM on 7 August, 2010

    ”The overshoot is BS! It's been BS for 2000 years! ”

    Is that supposed to be an argument HR?
    0 0

1  2  Next

You need to be logged in to post a comment. Login via the left margin or if you're new, register here.



The Consensus Project Website

THE ESCALATOR

(free to republish)


© Copyright 2019 John Cook
Home | Links | Translations | About Us | Privacy | Contact Us