Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category
Three Koi joined our family yesterday.
Our pond has settled to the point where Jean thought it would be good to get some fish. So off to a pond and fish supplies store in Grants Pass to seek advice. We settled on some Koi and a water lily plant.
We were advised to acclimatise the fish in terms of water temperature by slowly mixing pond water into the bags containing each fish.
Meanwhile, Pharaoh took advantage of clean, green grass to give his back a bit of a rubdown.
And Hazel pondered what ‘Dad’ was up to.
But eventually it was time for the three Koi to slip away into the depths of their new home.
Nine dogs, five cats, four chickens, two miniature horses and three Koi!
A guest post from John Hurlburt.
The trouble with today’s post title is that while the analogy with the loss of the Titanic is accurate, indeed too bloody accurate, the phrase has dissolved into the depths of the barrel of smart, clever-dick sayings. The brutal consequence of ‘fiddling while Rome burns‘, to use another ‘smart’ saying, is obscured.
So before you read this guest post from regular contributor, John Hurlburt, let me plead for something?
That is that you don’t treat this as just another anecdote in the affairs of man, but a symptom of the blindness of societies right across the world. As my guest essay tomorrow reveals, waiting for leadership on this planet is a wait that you and I and millions of others just can’t afford. Each and every one of us has to do something, however minute, to make a difference. Even just sharing John’s words.
It seems that there’s no escaping politics in daily life.
I recently got together one evening with two friends at our local Elks Club.
They are a couple. Two old friends of about ten years who live across the street and around the corner from me during the summer season. They’ve been together for more than half their lifetimes and spend the fall, winter and early spring in Yuma.
He is a frequent fishing buddy. Sometimes wears a side arm when we fish the beautiful mountain lakes above Payson. Mountain lakes and related campgrounds that are maintained and supervised by the U.S. Forest Service. Rather cheekily, I once asked if the plan was to hook trout or shoot them!
Anyhow, this was our first get together of the season. It was noted that attendance and participation is down in Arizona for such fraternal organizations as the Elks and the Moose. We had a discussion with club management about the nature of the problem.
Fraternal club management tends to be cautious and well paid. However, it seems that placing discomforting restrictions on people is not popular. The case in point was a recent club smoking ban. The logic seemed reasonable enough. Unfortunately, no realistic accommodation was made for the members who chose to smoke. The reaction was emotional.
For many, it was apparently the last straw. There were perhaps four other people at the Payson Elks club at 5:30 p.m. that Friday evening. An evening with a moderately priced dinner buffet on hand that had been advertised online, in a newsletter and by word of mouth.
There was a point when a comment seemed appropriate. I offered the observation that the source of the problem might be political. No one seemed to register the observation.
We talked a bit about aches and pains; the usual organ recital. We spoke about what we’ve been doing. I told them about church and transition town activities. The conversation turned to our illusion of a stable economy. An observation was made that the USA was leveraged over twenty-two times above any material foundation. There was no disagreement.
Despite the clear New York Times warning that morning, climate change never entered the conversation. A remedy was to note that so far Katrina has cost U.S. taxpayers over sixteen Billion dollars and climbing. Sandy is expected to cost American taxpayers as much as sixty Billion dollars.
It was a pleasant evening and we plan to get together again soon.
Take care out there.
The sound of scraping deckchairs is deafening!
Day three of recognising the passing of 400 ppm atmospheric CO2.
In nearly four years of writing for Learning from Dogs, I can’t recall devoting three days of posts to a single subject. To put that into context, today’s post is number 1,683 since the first one was published on July 15th, 2009; not all of them from the brain of yours truly by any means you understand!
Today, I’m going to feature a recent essay written by George Monbiot finishing up three days of ‘reporting’ on the deeply disturbing, but fully anticipated, news that the planet’s atmosphere has reached a concentration of 400 ppm CO2.
Last Monday, I published What legacy do we wish to leave for others?
Then yesterday, a post under the title of 400 ppm, as the BBC reported it. I closed with a reference to a remark made by Professor Sir Brian Hoskins, director of the Grantham Institute for Climate Change at Imperial College London; the remark being “A greater sense of urgency was needed.“
I wrote that those wishy-washy words were pathetic. That we needed the sort of words that George Monbiot penned a few days ago in the Guardian newspaper. There it was entitled “Climate milestone is a moment of symbolic significance on road of idiocy“.
But I think the title that Mr. Monbiot chose to use on his own blog was far more apt: Via Dolorosa. (Note that I haven’t formally requested permission to republish the essay but trust that the following is acceptable to both Mr. Monbiot and the Guardian newspaper.)
Here’s how it opened:
May 10, 2013
Corruption and short-termism are pushing us along the path of sorrows.
By George Monbiot, published on the Guardian’s website, 10th May 2013
The records go back 800,000 years: that’s the age of the oldest fossil air bubbles extracted from Dome C, an ice-bound summit in the high Antarctic. And throughout that time there has been nothing like this. At no point in the pre-industrial record have concentrations of carbon dioxide in the air risen above 300 parts per million. 400 is a figure that belongs to a different era.
The difference between 399 and 400ppm is small, in terms of its impacts on the world’s living systems. But this is a moment of symbolic significance, a station on the Via Dolorosa of environmental destruction. It is symbolic of our collective failure to put the long term prospects of the natural world and the people it supports above immediate self-interest.
The symbolic significance of the planet’s atmospheric concentrations of CO2 passing 400ppm is that, I hope, with all the hope that my heart can summon up, it will bring us back from the brink. Then one ponders about this possibility as Monbiot’s next paragraph unfolds:
The only way forward now is back: to retrace our steps along this road and to seek to return atmospheric concentrations to around 350 parts per million, as the 350.org campaign demands. That requires, above all, that we leave the majority of the fossil fuels which have already been identified in the ground. There is not a government or an energy company which has yet agreed to do so.
“not a government or an energy company … has yet agreed to do so.”
I’m going to repeat that again, with emboldening; “not a government or an energy company … has yet agreed to do so.“
In fact, one could reasonable argue that having any hope for a turning back is utterly naive. Look what the essay goes on to say:
Just before the 400-mark was reached, Shell announced that it will go ahead with its plans to drill deeper than any offshore oil operation has gone before: almost three kilometres below the Gulf of Mexico.
A few hours later, Oxford University opened a new laboratory in its department of earth sciences. The lab is funded by Shell. Oxford says that the partnership “is designed to support more effective development of natural resources to meet fast-growing global demand for energy.” Which translates as finding and extracting even more fossil fuel.
The European Emissions Trading Scheme, which was supposed to have capped our consumption, is now, for practical purposes, dead. International climate talks have stalled; governments such as ours now seem quietly to be unpicking their domestic commitments. Practical measures to prevent the growth of global emissions are, by comparison to the scale of the challenge, almost non-existent.
As an example of the scale of the hypocrisy in which we are all immersed, last week’s The Economist magazine carried a full-age advertisement from Chevron on page 5 under the banner of ‘Protecting The Planet Is Everyone’s Job – We agree‘ and going on to explain:
We go to extraordinary lengths to protect the integrity of the places where we operate. Places all over the world, like Australia’s Barrow Island. It’s home to hundreds of native species of wildlife, including wallabies, ospreys, and perenties.
We’ve been producing energy on the island for more than 40 years, and it remains a Class A Nature Reserve.
Didn’t take me two moments to find this image:
To my mind this advertisement completely misses the point; deliberately or otherwise. Chevron and all other oil producing companies in the world are endangering the future of the entire planet by continuing to ‘produce energy’, aka oil. Period. Full stop.
Or to put it in the words of George Monbiot’s essay:
The problem is simply stated: the power of the fossil fuel companies is too great. Among those who seek and obtain high office are people characterised by a complete absence of empathy or scruples, who will take money or instructions from any corporation or billionaire who offers them, and then defend those interests against the current and future prospects of humanity. This new mark reflects a profound failure of politics, worldwide, in which democracy has quietly been supplanted by plutocracy. Without a widespread reform of campaign finance, lobbying and influence-peddling and the systematic corruption they promote, our chances of preventing climate breakdown are close to zero.
Thus the final sentence in GM’s essay carries a deep sadness.
So here we stand at a waystation along the road of idiocy, apparently determined only to complete our journey.
Why are we not seeing, hearing and reading words of a similar weight and power from just about every ‘opinion maker’ in the world?
Why not? Why not?
Staying with the terrible news that we are now above 400 ppm atmospheric CO2.
If there is anything of comfort to be drawn from the news that we are above 400 ppm CO2 it is that the mainstream media are running with it. I shall focus on the reportage from the BBC News website.
First, there was the news of the passing of that “symbolic mark”.
10 May 2013 Last updated at 11:39 ET
Carbon dioxide passes symbolic mark
Daily measurements of CO2 at a US government agency lab on Hawaii have topped 400 parts per million for the first time.
The station, which sits on the Mauna Loa volcano, feeds its numbers into a continuous record of the concentration of the gas stretching back to 1958.
The last time CO2 was regularly above 400ppm was three to five million years ago – before modern humans existed.
Scientists say the climate back then was also considerably warmer than it is today.
Carbon dioxide is regarded as the most important of the manmade greenhouse gases blamed for raising the temperature on the planet over recent decades.
Read the rest of the news release here.
Then David Shukman, Science editor BBC News added this further background, that I am going to republish in full:
Near the summit of the Mauna Loa volcano, the carbon dioxide monitors stand amid one of the world’s remotest huddles of scientific instruments. To reach them you have to leave the steamy Hawaii coast and climb through barren lava-fields.
At the top, above 11,000ft, the air is thin and the sun piercing. During my visit, I watched rain clouds boiling in the valleys below me. Charles David Keeling chose this otherworldly spot because the air up here is neither industrial nor pristine; it is “well-mixed” which means it can serve as a useful guide to changes in the atmosphere.
Despite their global significance, the devices he installed back in 1958 do not look impressive. But he battled bureaucratic objections to fund them and his legacy is the longest continuous record of a gas, linked to much of global warming, that just keeps rising.
A day later, the BBC released this:
1 May 2013 Last updated at 03:52 ET
Scientists call for action to tackle CO2 levels
Scientists are calling on world leaders to take action on climate change after carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere broke through a symbolic threshold.
Daily CO2 readings at a US government agency lab on Hawaii have topped 400 parts per million for the first time.
Sir Brian Hoskins, the head of climate change at the UK-based Royal Society, said the figure should “jolt governments into action”.
China and the US have made a commitment to co-operate on clean technology.
But BBC environment analyst Roger Harrabin said the EU was backing off the issue, and cheap fossil fuels looked attractive to industries.
The laboratory, which sits on the Mauna Loa volcano, feeds its numbers into a continuous record of the concentration of the gas stretching back to 1958.
‘Sense of urgency’
Carbon dioxide is regarded as the most important of the manmade greenhouse gases blamed for raising the temperature on the planet over recent decades.
Human sources come principally from the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas.
Ministers in the UK have claimed global leadership in reducing CO2 emissions and urged other nations to follow suit.
But the official Climate Change Committee (CCC) last month said that Britain’s total contribution towards heating the climate had increased, because the UK is importing goods that produce CO2 in other countries.
Rest of that news article is here. But I can’t resist the picture and quote from Professor Sir Brian Hoskins, director of the Grantham Institute for Climate Change at Imperial College London.
“A greater sense of urgency was needed.“ I’m going to be emotional! Frankly, those wishy-washy words are pathetic.
We need the sort of words that George Monbiot penned a few days ago. Those I will share with you tomorrow.
What on earth are we all doing!
I started writing this early morning last Friday, 10th May. It was prompted by a post then just in from Christine’s blog 350 or bust. I didn’t have the heart to republish it for a few days.
Then as the news of the atmospheric CO2 concentration passing 400 parts per million (ppm) moved more and more into mainstream news, I found myself morphing from sadness and puzzlement into anger and then into some form of determination to ‘do something‘, however insignificant that might be.
Because if humanity does not turn back from our carbon-based lifestyle pretty damn soon then those who are, say, 20 years or more younger than me (I’m 68), are in for some very tough, very rough times indeed.
So over the next two or three days, I shall focus on this topic simply from the motivation of wanting to join the numerous others around the world who are also recognising this moment in the history of man.
Ergo, for today that post from Christine. But I make no apologies for staying with the theme for much of this week.
Rolling The Dice: CO2 Concentration Hits Record High Amid Global Inaction On Climate Change
Via The Guardian:
The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has reached 399.72 parts per million (ppm) and is likely to pass the symbolically important 400ppm level for the first time in the next few days.
Readings at the US government’s Earth Systems Research laboratory in Hawaii, are not expected to reach their 2013 peak until mid May, but were recorded at a daily average of 399.72ppm on 25 April. The weekly average stood at 398.5 on Monday.
Hourly readings above 400ppm have been recorded six times in the last week, and on occasion, at observatories in the high Arctic. But the Mauna Loa station, sited at 3,400m and far away from major pollution sources in the Pacific Ocean, has been monitoring levels for more than 50 years and is considered the gold standard.
“I wish it weren’t true but it looks like the world is going to blow through the 400ppm level without losing a beat. At this pace we’ll hit 450ppm within a few decades,” said Ralph Keeling, a geologist with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography which operates the Hawaiian observatory.
For more on the awful implications of this milestone in human history, check out the links below (hint: it isn’t good news for humans or animals or the ocean).
Now I did say this was going to be an odd assortment of posts for a few days!
Back in my ‘previous’ life in SW England and together with a group of friends we formed an online aviation briefing company, called AvBrief rather unimaginatively! The UK Met Office have their headquarters in Exeter, Devon and AvBrief had a commercial relationship with the Met Office.
Cyclone twins form in the Indian Ocean by Dave Britton
11th May, 2013
April to June each year usually sees the transition from the southern to the northern hemisphere tropical cyclone season.
During this time it is possible to see cyclones in both hemispheres simultaneously. Furthermore, cyclone ‘twins’ sometimes develop at approximately the same longitude either side of the equator.
For the first time since 2009 cyclone twins have developed in the Indian Ocean.
This was caused by a strong burst of westerly winds along the equator about a week ago. A large mass of clouds located in the same area initially moved eastwards with the wind.
The clouds furthest from the equator then started to curl northwards in the northern hemisphere and southwards in the southern hemisphere due to the earth’s rotation. Over time these cloud masses have consolidated and started to rotate to produce twin tropical storms.
The southern hemisphere storm has been named Jamala and is currently not expected to affect any land areas.
The northern hemisphere storm has been named Mahasen and there is a stronger likelihood of this making landfall next week on one of the Bay of Bengal’s coastal regions.
Regional warnings for Tropical Storm Jamala are produced by the Tropical Cyclone warning Centre at La Réunion in the South Indian Ocean.
Regional warnings for Tropical Storm Mahasen are produced by the Tropical Cyclone Warning Centre at New Delhi, India.
The Met Office routinely supplies predictions of cyclone tracks from its global forecast model to regional meteorological centres worldwide, which are used along with guidance from other models in the production of forecasts and guidance.
You can see the latest image of Tropical Storms Jamala and Mahasen at:
Fascinating. Well, it is this far from the Indian Ocean.
How libertarian ideology is holding back our liberty to change.
Martin Lack, he of the popular blog Lack of Environment is taking a small break from his writings. In his own words,
I am afraid this may be the last post on this blog for a while because – what with the all the willful blindness and ideological prejudice that seems to stop people from recognising what an Eff-ing mess humanity is in – and my as yet unresolved employment situation – I am feeling somewhat emotionally drained. However, please don’t cancel your subscription (as who knows how quickly I may recover).
So what a pleasant surprise when less than a day after those words in came an email that read, “Since I have told readers of my blog that I am taking a rest, I offer you the text appended below to post on your blog instead (or not – as you see fit).“
On reading the text I most certainly ‘saw fit‘ to publish it!
It is a very interesting approach to climate science denialism resulting from an analysis of conspiracy theories.
So over to Martin.
Libertarian ideology is the real road block
I have recently been catching up on a bit of reading – focusing on the recent work of Professor Stephan Lewandowsky (and others). Following in the wake of James Hansen, Ben Santer and Michael Mann, Lewandowsky has recently been the target of hate-mail campaigns by climate change sceptics. Unlike all the others, however, Lewandowsky (formerly at the University of Western Australia but now at Bristol University in the UK) is not a climate scientist. This is how Bristol University announced his recent appointment.
Steve is an internationally renowned cognitive scientist who has joined us from the University of Western Australia. His research has already revolutionised our understanding of human memory and cognition, and he now stands poised to build upon his impressive body of work with a project as ambitious as it is timely. In particular, Steve’s intention to improve our understanding of how people choose to acquire information, and to use this understanding to help create a more informed populace, is a unique and much needed undertaking. Thus, this research offers enormous benefits in the fields of experimental psychology, climate research and the wider public engagement with and understanding of scientific research.
I must admit that, until recently, I had not sat down to read either of the papers by Lewandowsky et al ( ‘Motivated Rejection of Science’ [PDF] or ‘Recursive Fury: Conspiracy Ideation in the Blogosphere’ [PDF] ) – I had only read about them.
However, now that I have read them, the thing that strikes me most forcefully is not the stupidity of conspiracy “ideation”, the invocation of conspiracy theories, it is the fact that, as Lewandowsky et al acknowledge, their work confirms the findings of many previous studies; that climate change scepticism is associated with prejudicial adherence to libertarian ideology. Also key is that climate change scepticism can be predicted by that prejudicial adherence to libertarian ideology.
Amongst many other things, this explains why EU sceptics are climate sceptics and why the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) do not like Wind Farms. I had understood this for some time. However, I had not fully realised its importance; it was just one theme among others. Anyone who has read my blog recently will probably have noticed my post about New World Order (NWO) conspiracy theory, in which I acknowledged that I had not realised just how significant such thinking is, and how subliminal and subconscious it may be.
Although adherence to free-market economics and libertarian ideology were themes I highlighted in my MA dissertation and in my subsequent book, and mentioned on my blog numerous times, everything I have read in the last few days points to one conclusion: We will not succeed in communicating the urgency of the need for radical changes in energy policy until we can convince people that climate scientists are not trying to perpetuate their research funding or halt human progress.
Professor Lewandowsky’s research shows that little can be achieved by simply telling people they are wrong. Far better is pointing out to people that Limits to Growth and Peak Oil have already halted the progress of globalised Capitalism, as recent times prove dramatically. In other words conveying facts to people rather than ideology.
I must admit that this has been a tough pill to swallow. I am not naturally progressive and certainly not naturally “liberal”. On the contrary, I am socially and politically conservative. However, the reality of anthropogenic climate disruption is a game-changer. Therefore, unlike members of the Flat Earth Society or Young Earth Creationists (YECs), I do not refuse to accept what scientists tell me simply because I don’t like the message.
We cannot defeat such obscurantism by telling people they are irrational; we can only defeat it by focusing on the evidence that suggests strongly that they are mistaken. To this end, I think the words of St Augustine of Hippo are an important consideration; words going back over 1,400 years before anyone started to question the Age of the Earth or the Origin of Species! Words echoed by Thomas Aquinas, (often quoted to those YECs):
“… since Holy Scripture can be explained in a multiplicity of senses, one should adhere to a particular explanation only in such measure as to be ready to abandon it if it be proved with certainty to be false, lest Holy Scripture be exposed to the ridicule of unbelievers, and obstacles be placed to their believing.”
– Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica (1273).
In the last 150 years or so, most Christians have now come to reject conspiracy theory explanations for fossils, for example, and have realised that it is inappropriate to treat the Bible as a scientific text book. Regretably, the main source of ideological blindness today is not conventional religion; it is adherence to free-market economics.
Therefore, it is important that we acknowledge the ideological nature of the communication problem we face. That is that the research by Prof Lewandowsky and others has discovered a tendency for libertarians to prefer conspiracy theories to reality. Perhaps, therefore, not surprising that he has been attacked; no-one likes to be told they are deluded.
Roadblocks to policy change will not be cleared by social and political scientists telling libertarians that they are deluded. All that will do is confirm their suspicions and reinforce their prejudices! No, what is needed is for climate scientists to be bolder in stating the facts.
The majority of climate scientists seem content to continue to soft-soap the issue; afraid of “telling it to people straight” because it may induce despair.
No, it is not too late to prevent an ecological catastrophe but I am certain that we are now very short of time and, as everyone from the International Energy Agency, the Pentagon and the IMF agree, further delay will not be cost-effective.
At the same time, I think social and political scientists need to focus on debunking the ‘New World Order’ conspiracy myth and pointing out the logical fallacy in the idea that all Greens are Communists in disguise (the so-called ‘Watermelons’).
The environment has become a political football when it is nothing of the kind. It is our life support system and we have pushed it near to the point of collapse, as E.F. Schumacher once said, by mistaking Nature’s capital for a form of income. Therefore, if we do not change course, bankruptcy would seem inevitable.
Having read and reflected on Martin’s essay, a couple of recollections surface. The first is Guy McPherson’s book Walking Away from Empire that I reviewed earlier this year then referred to in a recent republication of a George Monbiot essay:
So very difficult to pick out the sentence that carried the most power, for the essay is powerful from start to end. But this one did hit me in the face, “The impossibility of sustaining this system of endless, pointless consumption without the continued erosion of the living planet and the future prospects of humankind, is the conversation we will not have.“
Finally, I can’t resist reminding you, dear reader, of the point made by Prof. Guy McPherson in his book Walking Away from Empire, which I reviewed on March 6th. particularly in the first paragraph of the first chapter; Reason:
At this late juncture in the era of industry, it seems safe to assume we face one of two futures. If we continue to burn fossil fuels, we face imminent environmental collapse. If we cease burning fossil fuels, the industrial economy will collapse. Industrial humans express these futures as a choice between your money or your life, and tell you that, without money, life isn’t worth living. As should be clear by now, industrial humans — or at least our “leaders” — have chosen not door number one (environmental collapse) and not door number two (economic collapse), but both of the above.
The second recollection comes most recently; from yesterday’s The story of carbon. A story that showed the power of academic, peer-reviewed, properly conducted, rational science!
I will close with a repeat of the closing words from yesterday:
“By my calculation, we have a 5–10 year window to avoid the catastrophe. It won’t be easy — we’re past the point where any transition will be smooth — but we can make the transition and survive as a civilized species, humans in a recognizable world.”
Nothing counter-intuitive about that!
Looking back enables us to look clearly ahead.
I struggled for a while to decide what to call this post, the first of three. Explain why in just a moment.
The post is predominantly from the hand of a professional writer who goes under the name of Gaius Publius. He is described as contributing editor on AMERICAblog from where one also learns that:
Gaius Publius is a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States. Gaius has written in a variety of genres and styles. He’s published short stories and poetry, books on education & technology, and is currently working on two book-length projects, including one novel.
In addition to writing, Gaius has been a professional educator and currently manages a small publishing consultancy. He holds a Bachelors degree in Great Books with a side concentration in physics and math, and a Masters in English and Communication.
A web search soon comes across a blog where there is a collection of the gentleman’s works.
OK, back to the theme.
Five days ago I read an essay on Yves Smith’s Naked Capitalism blog that struck me as a fabulously bold and clear presentation of the climate crisis. The essay, written by Gaius, also derived a positive message from the boldness and clarity of the argument. I dropped Yves an email asking for permission to republish on Learning from Dogs and not only did I get a quick reply from Yves, that reply included approval for the reposting from Mr. Publius. Thank you both.
The essay was called: The climate crisis in three easy charts. However, I was uncomfortable that the word ‘crisis’ might be a turn-off in a blog post title, so opted for The story of carbon. So with that off my chest, let me go straight to the essay as it appeared on Naked Capitalism.
The Climate Crisis in Three Easy Charts
Yves here. This post is the first in a series by Gaius. It starts by looking at the larger climate picture over larger swathes of time and showing what level of temperature changes led to mass extinction events.
I’m preparing to pivot back to climate crisis, starting with some reformatting of the earlier Climate Series posts — the transition to WordPress wasn’t kind to them — and the organization of this material into book form. (There’s also a climate-themed novel in the works; thriller fans, stay tuned.)
As a result, I’m doing serious study to refine both the concepts (or rather, the explanation of them) and the dating of coming events (the crisis in its various stages).
The first part of that pivot includes two media appearances this week. I’ll be on Virtually Speaking With Jay Ackroyd this Thursday (May 2) at 9 pm ET to discuss climate crisis for a full hour, followed by a Sunday appearance with Avedon Carol as part of the Virtually Speaking Sundays weekly media panel.
It’s the climate discussion I want to focus on here, and I’d like to do it by focusing on three diagrams and a few references back to my earlier climate pieces.
Climate catastrophe will usher in a new geologic era
Long-scale earth history is divided into Eons, then Eras, then Periods. But in fact, prior to the Cambrian Period, when life on earth exploded in number and variety, earth history is the story of non-life or small single- or multi-celled life. And starting with the Cambrian period, there’s just one “eon” anyway. It’s eras and periods we care about.
So let’s start there, with the Cambrian Period and the flourishing of life on earth. Consider the chart below:
The divisions across the top are geologic periods, starting with the Cambrian (“Cm”), the period of “visible life”‘ — meaning a proliferation of hardshelled species. It’s the big explosion of life on earth. The numbers across the bottom are millions of years ago. The spikes show extinction events, with the percentage of marine species going extinct expressed on the vertical or Y axis.
The chart doesn’t call them out, but starting with the Cambrian period, we’ve had three geologic eras (the larger divisions):
The Paleozoic Era runs from the start of the graph to the big spike at 250 million years ago on the X axis. It encompasses six geologic periods and ended in the greatest mass extinction event on the planet — geologists call it the “Great Dying”.
The Mesozoic Era runs from the Great Dying at 250 million years ago to the big spike at 65 million years ago, the event that wiped out the dinosaurs — and every other large species. That cleared the way for mammals to grow big and thrive.
We’re now in the Cenozoic Era. Keep those transitions in mind — when mass extinctions change which groups of species can evolve and rule, it’s the end of an era and the start of another. Now look at the chart again. The whole chart shows 540 million years, and just three geologic eras. The next extinction event on the scale of the one at 250 million years ago, or the one at 65 million years ago, will change the shape of life on earth and usher in a new era. Ready for that?
Where does man fit in?
Great question — where does man fit in? Answer: We come in very late.
First, notice the last three geologic “periods” at the top-right in the chart above. The period marked “K” is the Cretaceous, the period at the end of the Mesozoic Era. The next period (“Pg”) is the Paleogene, the one that marks the start of the Cenozoic (new life) Era. The period after that (“N”) is the Neogene, which ended just 2 million years ago. The period after that, not shown, is the Quarternary Period, our current one.
The Neogene-Quarternary boundary is the start of the time of great glaciers, and the best way to show that is with the chart below, showing earth temperatures mapped across the geologic periods (at the left end) and geologic epochs (the rest of the chart).
First, get oriented. On the Y axis is global temperature using change — in °C — from global temperature in the year 1800 as the norm or zero mark. (The global pre–Industrial Revolution temperature is generally the mark from which other global temperatures are measured, unless otherwise noted. To convert from °C to °F, just double the number; you’ll be pretty close.)
On the X axis, the first big division — from 542 million years ago to 65 million years ago — represents the first two geologic eras, the Paleozoic and Mezozoic (which unfortunately aren’t called out on this chart). “K” at the top and bottom is still the Cretaceous Period, and the end of the Cretaceous Period is also the end of the dinos and the end of the Mesozoic Era.
In this respect, both charts are the same. Man hasn’t showed up yet — our mammal ancestors were the equivalent of field mice in that world, small prey with soft shells and hiding skills.
But before we look at the rest of the X axis, notice that in the left-most part of the chart, the Y axis shows a huge change in global temperature relative to pre-Industrial norms. Looks like a monster spike, especially the first one, doesn’t it?
The Cambrian temperature spike is 6–8°C (about 11–14°F) higher than pre-Industrial levels.
It’s also the temperature we’re headed for by 2100.
But let’s not get distracted. Let’s set some markers in this chart in the horizontal (time) dimension. The whole rest of the chart — the part after the period called “K” — shows the Cenozoic Era (“new life” or Age of Mammals). From here to the right, the chart’s subdivisions show Epochs, which are sub-parts of Periods.
[Update: For a chart that shows the relationship between eras, periods and epochs, Quarternary Period, the one we’re in, and the one we’re interested in.
The epoch of the Pleistocene, which starts the Quarternary Period (again, see the chart), is the great age of glaciers. Homo habilis evolves at this time, a little over 2 million years ago. Homo erectus evolves shortly afterward. Each starts in Africa — now you can probably guess why — and each leaves Africa and spreads across the globe. (Homo erectus, by the way, lasts a long time on this earth. Longer than us by a lot.)
Homo sapiens evolved much later, in the Pleistocene — the age of glaciers, remember — just 250 thousand years ago, almost died out in Africa, but rebuilt our numbers, then spread out of Africa like our cousins. Because that was the glacier age, we’re still hunter-gatherers like the the rest of our cousins. The big beasts of the earth are creatures like woolly mammoths and sabre-tooth tigers, and we’re all alive on a fairly frozen planet with glaciers coming and going.
At the end of the Pleistocene is another extinction event. At the same time that the last glaciers recede (see chart), the big mammoths and tigers (et al) die off. Simultaneous with a noticeable change in climate, what we call “human civilization” begins. You can see that above, around 12–10 thousand years ago as the planetary temperature stabilizes. From then until almost now, planetary temperature is pretty stable. Notice it doesn’t take much of a wobble to mark the “Little Ice Age”.
Just two more points to make in this piece and I’m done.
First the bad news
Folks, that little climb in temperature you see near the right end of the graph above is just the beginning. Remember the Cambrian spike at the left end of the graph? Take another look and note the increase — about 7°C. Now here’s Figure 21 from the Copenhagen Diagnosis, a report prepared by … oh … every single one of the world’s top climate scientists for the benefit of our world’s “leaders,” who met in 2009 to discuss how to pass the climate buck one more time:
What you see is temperatures from 500 AD to about 2000, with a number of prediction scenarios going forward. See the scenario called “A1FI”? It’s the one in red. That’s the one we’re on if we don’t stop spewing carbon. I call it the “do nothing” scenario — otherwise known as the “Keep David Koch Happy” scenario.
All you need to know? We’re on track for about +7°C — the peak temperature in the big Cambrian spike — by the year 2100.
Now the good news
Despite all this doom-and-gloom, it’s not over yet. Truly. By my calculation, we have a 5–10 year window to avoid the catastrophe. It won’t be easy — we’re past the point where any transition will be smooth — but we can make the transition and survive as a civilized species, humans in a recognizable world.
But two things are needed:
- This has to be our top priority, which means you and everyone you know has to be fully aware and in full battle gear. (For reference, it’s called “hugging the monster.”)
- It’s us vs. David Koch and all of his friends and enablers. Tackling any other enemy is tackling a dummy while the game is being played.
Educate your friends, and put a wrench into the Koch machine. How’s that not a plus?
If the Koch Bros keep getting rich, we move backward. If Barack “Hope & Change” Obama approves Keystone, we move backward. If the U.S. develops “domestic oil” resources, we move backward. For every new car (“carbon-delivery system”) sold, we move backward. People need to know this and think like this. We can stop the crisis, but only if we stop carbon. It’s that simple; and that stark.
But it’s also doable, and we’re the species that’s most equiped for “doable.” It’s what our big brains are for.
I’ll have more in the weeks and months ahead. I haven’t given up, not by a long shot. But you can’t pull out of a tail spin if you don’t admit you’re in one. Me, I think we can pull out.
So presumably if you are reading this, you have read the essay above. I hope so because while at first sight there appears to be much to take in, the story is clear, informed and powerful. You are unlikely to change the mind of a committed ‘denier’ but if there’s a little part of you that isn’t utterly clear about the risks ahead, then this essay is a fabulous opportunity to embrace clarity – and not to give up hope! Remember those words in the essay:
“By my calculation, we have a 5–10 year window to avoid the catastrophe. It won’t be easy — we’re past the point where any transition will be smooth — but we can make the transition and survive as a civilized species, humans in a recognizable world.”
How the linking of minds offers us vast horizons!
I subscribe to two blogs: Pendantry’s Wibble and Christine’s 350 or bust. But a temporary lack of quiet reading time has meant that recent posts from each of them were initially only briefly skimmed. I made a mental note to read the one from Pendantry, Where oceans meet, because I have always had a love affair with the oceans. When I did read it, I was blown away, to use the modern vernacular. Why? Stay with me.
Where oceans meet opened thus:
I’ve recently been introduced to two things that demonstrate (to my satisfaction, anyway) that the universe is much stranger than I first thought. Mind you, my first thought was quite some time ago, now.
Then after showing a wonderful photograph of where the Indian Ocean meets the Southern Ocean, (this one below) …
…. Pendantry goes on:
The other one of those ‘strange universe’ things is something that I find even more surprising: after decades of eating meat, an hour watching just one film has persuaded me to reconsider the habits of a lifetime.
That really jumped off the page at me because Jeannie has been a vegetarian for most of her life and I have been flirting with the idea.
That ‘one film’ was Vegucated. Here’s the rest of that Wibble post republished with Pendantry’s kind permission.
A TED talk highlighted yesterday over on 350orbust (well worth watching — thanks, Christine) included a reference to the film Vegucated. Intrigued, was I, so I trundled off to watch it, and returned a changed man. Well, maybe that’s a bit ambitious, but I do now feel motivated to think more about what I eat, why I’m eating it, and to actively seek out vegan alternatives — something that I have never considered before.
Vegucated reinforces the betrayal of a society that has sold us all on the idea of having ‘consumer choice’ — but continues to withhold from us the information necessary to make informed choices. And on that point: don’t just take my word for it that this is a film well worth watching: there are many other reviews and quotes about it.
Our world is changing, and, one way or another, we must change with it. I believe that films like Vegucated are essential to help us to choose to move in the direction of a healthier, happier world.
“If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be vegetarian. “— Paul McCartney.
Naturally I was curious and wandered across to that post. Here are Christine’s own words,
It’s TED Talk Tuesday on 350orbust, and today’s presenter is Zoe Weil who spoke to the young people who gathered at the TEDx Youth symposium held at Cape Elizabeth, Maine, last December. Ms. Weil is the co-founder and president of the Institute for Humane Education. Ms. Weil’s inspiring talk is entitled “How To Be A Solutionary.” Enjoy!
I tell you what! That 11 minute presentation by Zoe Weil was not just inspirational, it was one of the most inspirational speeches I have ever heard! That’s EVER!
Take this quote that comes in less than 2 minutes from the start of the speech, “Never before have we had the capacity to cause the breakdown of so many ecological systems that sustain our life.“
Now if that doesn’t have you gagging for the rest of what Zoe talks about, nothing will. So here it is.
Published on Jan 11, 2013
Zoe Weil is the co-founder and president of the Institute for Humane Education and is considered a pioneer in the comprehensive humane education movement, which provides people with the knowledge, tools, and motivation to be conscientious choicemakers and engaged changemakers for a better world. Zoe created the first Master of Education and Certificate Program in Humane Education in the U.S. covering the interconnected issues of human rights, environmental preservation, and animal protection. She has also created acclaimed online programs and leads workshops and speaks at universities, conferences, and events across the U.S. and Canada. She has taught tens of thousands students through her innovative school presentations, and has trained several thousand teachers through her workshops and programs. Zoe’s most recent book, Most Good, Least Harm: A Simple Principle for a Better World and Meaningful Life, won the 2010 Nautilus silver medal in sustainability and green values. She is the author of several other books including Above All, Be Kind: Raising a Humane Child in Challenging Times for parents; The Power and Promise of Humane Education for educators; and Claude and Medea: The Hellburn Dogs, winner of the Moonbeam gold medal in juvenile fiction, which follows the exploits of two seventh graders who become clandestine activists in New York City, righting wrongs where they find them. Zoe received a Master of Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School and a Master of Arts from the University of Pennsylvania.
So from the meeting of vast oceans to the meeting of minds.
When I say tiny, I mean tiny!
A few days ago, dear friend Dan Gomez sent me a link to an article in the March/April edition of Maui Magazine (must admit not heard of it before).
It was a story written by Shannon Wianecki under the title of ‘Eight Tiny Steps for Tardigrades‘. Here’s how it opened;
Eight Tiny Steps for Tardigrades
It might sound like a fairy tale, but it’s fact: Haleakala National Park is home to a troupe of tiny bears. But don’t bother searching for these wee creatures. Tardigrades, better known as water bears, are miniscule, ranging from 50 to 1,200 microns. Which means a couple of water bears could fit into the period ending this sentence.
Water bears are so named for their appearance and form of locomotion. Like microscopic grizzlies, they pad along on eight stumpy legs, brandishing claws and short snouts. Another name — moss piglet — refers to the animal’s most common habitat. Tardigrades are aquatic, but to creatures of their size, suitable swimming holes include the moisture clinging to mosses, or the capillary water between grains of sand. They are found all over the globe: in the arctic, desert, deep sea, and — most of all — in Hawai‘i.
Now if I blow the dust off my aged brain, I recall that a micron is a millionth of a metre (or meter in American speak). Whatever the spelling, that is small.
So even if this little creature can be up to 1,200 microns ‘big’ that would still only be 1.2 thousandths of a metre.
The article is well-worth reading in full. However, I will take the small liberty of republishing the final paragraph;
In 2007, water bears joined astronauts in space to see how they handled cosmic rays. Exposed for ten days to the vacuum of space, without oxygen, water, or heat, and zapped by intense solar radiation, water bears became the first animals to survive in space.
Back on Earth, the mini-cosmonauts continued to breed successfully. Investigating the molecular makeup of these amazing creatures may show humans how to survive future space explorations.
Now without wishing to be too basic, I would love to have this question answered: How does something that small breed? Indeed, how could they ever find each other?
So if you are a pet owner and a bit worried about the costs of feeding and looking after your beloved animal, don’t worry! There’s something else in town a little bit smaller!