Tag: James Lovelock

Smoke and Mirrors

Let me start with a quotation:

I’m not a pessimist, even though I do think awful things are going to happen.

James Lovelock

The author of that quote is fellow Englishman, albeit a tad older than yours truly, Mr. James Lovelock. WikiPedia describes him, thus (in part):

James Ephraim Lovelock CHCBEFRS[2] (born 26 July 1919) is an independent scientist, environmentalist and futurist who lives in Devon, England. He is best known for proposing the Gaia hypothesis, which postulates that the Earth functions as a self-regulating system.[5]

Moving on.

These times in this fine country, The United States of America, are troubling as Rebecca Gordon set out so compellingly in yesterday’s post.

But what is so terrible about these times is the failure to put integrity at the heart of every pronouncement that comes from a Government. And it would be grossly unfair to pick on the present US Government as the only example of this failure.

Because just a few mouse clicks can inform millions of us as to the real issues. Such as the effect that Climate Change is having on our health, as this recent Grist article so aptly put it in the opening paragraphs:

Here are 4 ways climate change is messing with our brains — for the worse.

We might think of climate change as purely physical: wildfires blazing through forests, rising seas lapping at the doors of coastal homes.

But those brutal conditions also affect our mental health, changing how we think and act. Mental health professionals are paying attention to the link between climate change and emotional health — and health insurance companies are, too.

Or take the issue of the state of America’s water. Recently the subject of an important essay just presented by Naked Capitalism:

America’s Hidden Water Affordability Crisis

Yves here. Grist has been doing an admirable job of keeping on top of this important yet oddly still-under-the-radar story. In the US, the big driver of rising water costs is the need to invest in aging, neglected water works. But water is going to become an issue in many places for differing reasons. As we have been saying for years, the natural resource that is projected to come under pressure first is potable water. And please don’t push desalination as a magic bullet. That costs money (both the plants and new transportation infrastructure, uses energy, plus has the not-trivial problem of how to dispose of the salt residues.

By Ciara O’Rourke, a freelance writer and 2015-16 Ted Scripps Fellow in Environmental Journalism at the University of Colorado Boulder. Originally published by Fusion and reproduced at Grist as part of the Climate Desk collaboration

When Elizabeth Mack wondered about a future in which Americans wouldn’t be able to pay for water, a couple of colleagues waved her off. “Don’t be ridiculous,” they said. But the idea niggled at Mack, an assistant professor at the Department of Geography, Environment, and Spatial Sciences at Michigan State University. And in January, in an article published in the science journal PLOS ONE, she asked a new question: Is there a burgeoning water affordability crisis in the United States?

Mack, along with research assistant Sarah Wrase, determined that if water rates increase at projected amounts over the next five years, the percentage of households that can’t pay their water bills could triple from 11.9 percent to more than a third. Nearly 14 million households nationwide already struggle to afford water services. An additional 27.18 million — or 8.5 percent of the country’s population — could soon face the same challenges.

Yes, integrity in politics is more, so much more, than a nice idea from this silly old Brit now living in Oregon. Here’s a post I published some four years ago that says it as clearly as it needs to be said.


Reflections on Integrity.

Going back to basics.

Many will know the origins of this blog; a chance comment by Jon Lavin back in England in early 2007 that dogs were integrous, (a score of 210 as defined by Dr David Hawkins).

Way back in 2009, I wrote this:

“There is nothing to fear except the persistent refusal to find out the truth, the persistent refusal to analyse the causes of happenings.” Dorothy Thompson.

When I started Learning from Dogs I was initially rather vague but knew that the Blog should reflect the growing need for greater integrity and mindfulness in our planetary civilisation. Here are some early musings,

Show that integrity delivers better results … integrity doesn’t require force … networking power of a group … demonstrate the power of intention … cut through the power of propaganda and media distortion …

Promulgate the idea that integrity is the glue that holds a just society together … urgent need as society under huge pressures …. want a decent world for my grandchildren … for all our grandchildren …. feels like the 11th hour….

But as the initial, rather hesitant, start to the Blog settled into a reliable, daily posting, and as the minuscule number of readers steadily grew to the present level of many hundreds each day, the clarity of the purpose of Learning from Dogs also improved.

Because, while it may sound a tad grandiose and pompous, if society doesn’t eschew the games, half-truths and selfish attitudes of the last, say, 30 years or more, then civilisation, as we know it, could be under threat.

Or, possibly, it’s more accurate to say that our civilisation is under threat and the time left to change our ways, to embrace those qualities of integrity, truth and consciousness for the very planet we all live on, is running out.

Time left to change our ways is running out.

So what’s rattled my cage, so to speak, that prompted today’s reflection? I’ll tell you! (You knew I was going to anyway, didn’t you!)

I’m drafting these thoughts around noon Pacific Standard Time on Sunday, 17th. At the same time, tens of thousands of ordinary good folk (40,000 plus at the latest estimate) are gathering by the Washington Monument ready to march past the White House demanding that President Obama block the Keystone XL pipeline and move forward toward climate action.

Do I trust the US Government to take this action? On balance, no! That hurts me terribly to write that. I really want to trust and believe what the President of my new home country says.

State of the Union speech 2013. AP photo.
State of the Union speech 2013. AP photo.

Here’s a snippet of what the President did say in his State of the Union speech on February 12th.

Now, it’s true that no single event makes a trend. But the fact is, the 12 hottest years on record have all come in the last 15. Heat waves, droughts, wildfires, floods, all are now more frequent and more intense.

We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence. Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science and act before it’s too late.

A frank admission that the climate is changing in dramatic ways; the overwhelming judgment of science – fantastic!

The evidence that burning carbon-based fuels (coal, oil, gas) is the primary cause of today’s high CO2 levels is overwhelming. As a recent BBC radio programme reveals (being featured tomorrow) huge climate changes going back millions of years are a natural part of Earth’s history. However, as one of the scientists explains at the end of that radio programme, the present CO2 level, 395.55 ppm as of January, is now way above the safe, stable limit for the majority of life species on the planet.

But say you are reading this and are not yet convinced?

Let me borrow an old pilot’s saying from the world of aviation: If there’s any doubt, there’s no doubt!

That embracing, cautious attitude is part of the reason why commercial air transport is among the most safest forms of transport. If you had the slightest doubt about the safety of a flight, you wouldn’t board the aircraft.

If you had the slightest doubt about the future for civilisation on this planet likewise you would do something! Remember, that dry word civilisation means family, children, grandchildren, friends and loved ones. The last thing you would do is to carry on as before!

Which is where my lack of trust of leaders comes from!

Back to that State of the Union speech. Just 210 words after the spoken words “act before it’s too late” (I counted them!) Pres. Obama says, “That’s why my administration will keep cutting red tape and speeding up new oil and gas permits.

Here’s the relevant section:

I will direct my cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy.

Now, four years ago, other countries dominated the clean-energy market and the jobs that came with it. And we’ve begun to change that. Last year, wind energy added nearly half of all new power capacity in America. So let’s generate even more. Solar energy gets cheaper by the year. Let’s drive down costs even further. As long as countries like China keep going all-in on clean energy, so must we.

Now, in the meantime, the natural gas boom has led to cleaner power and greater energy independence. We need to encourage that. That’s why my administration will keep cutting red tape and speeding up new oil and gas permits.

We don’t require any more oil to be used. We are already using a staggering amount of it. Let me refer you to an essay on Nature Bats Last called Math. The scary kind, not the fuzzy kind. Prof. McPherson wrote:

I performed a little rudimentary math last week. A little because even a little pushes my limit for math, these days. And rudimentary for the same reason. The outcome was staggering: We’re using oil at the rate of 5,500 cubic feet per second (cfs).

5,500 cubic feet per second” Don’t know about you but I have some trouble in visualising that flow rate. Try this from later in the essay:

Here’s another shot of perspective: We burn a cubic mile of crude oil every year. The Empire State Building, the world’s ninth-tallest building, towers above New York at 1,250 feet. The world’s tallest building, Taipei 101, is 1,667 feet from ground to tip.

Put those buildings together, end to end, and you have one side of a cube. Do it again, and you have the second side. Once more, but this time straight up, and you have one big cube. Filling that cube with oil takes nearly 200 billion gallons … which is about one-sixth the size of the cube of oil we’re burning every year.

Burning a cubic mile every year! Yes, Mr. President, more oil permits is a wonderful way of taking action before it’s too late!

cubic mile
Image taken from http://www.flashevap.com/bigthings.htm

So let’s see what transpires? Let’s see if integrity is given the highest political focus. As in “adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty.” Because if there’s ever been a time when all of us, from every spectrum of society need honesty about what we are doing to the planet, it’s now!

As the tag on the home page of this blog says, “Dogs are integrous animals. We have much to learn from them.


Going to close with two more quotations from Mr. Lovelock.

The first:

You never know with politicians what they are really saying. And I don’t say that in a negative way-they have an appalling job.

And the second one to close today’s post:

If you start any large theory, such as quantum mechanics, plate tectonics, evolution, it takes about 40 years for mainstream science to come around. Gaia has been going for only 30 years or so.

Voices from a Professor of Peace.

Our Planet is a living entity, which means…. well, allow Professor Klare to spell it out.

A few months back, specifically on the 3rd May, I reflected on views that the Planet Earth was a living entity responding to how it was treated.  One of those views was the now-famous Gaia hypothesis from Prof. James Lovelock; the other idea, of an avenging planet, was from Michael T. Klare, a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College.

Then in June, Tom Engelhardt, of TomDispatch fame, published a further article from Professor Michael Klare.  Tom’s generosity allows me the permission to re-publish the article, which is riveting reading.

The Global Energy Crisis Deepens

Three Energy Developments That Are Changing Your Life 
By Michael T. Klare

Here’s the good news about energy: thanks to rising oil prices and deteriorating economic conditions worldwide, the International Energy Agency (IEA) reports that global oil demand will not grow this year as much as once assumed, which may provide some temporary price relief at the gas pump.  In its May Oil Market Report, the IEA reduced its 2011 estimate for global oil consumption by 190,000 barrels per day, pegging it at 89.2 million barrels daily.  As a result, retail prices may not reach the stratospheric levels predicted earlier this year, though they will undoubtedly remain higher than at any time since the peak months of 2008, just before the global economic meltdown.  Keep in mind that this is the good news.

As for the bad news: the world faces an array of intractable energy problems that, if anything, have only worsened in recent weeks.  These problems are multiplying on either side of energy’s key geological divide: below ground, once-abundant reserves of easy-to-get “conventional” oil, natural gas, and coal are drying up;above ground, human miscalculation and geopolitics are limiting the production and availability of specific energy supplies.  With troubles mounting in both arenas, our energy prospects are only growing dimmer.

Here’s one simple fact without which our deepening energy crisis makes no sense: the world economy is structured in such a way that standing still in energy production is not an option.  In order to satisfy the staggering needs of older industrial powers like the United States along with the voracious thirst of rising powers like China, global energy must grow substantially every year.  According to the projections of the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE), world energy output, based on 2007 levels, must rise 29% to 640 quadrillion British thermal units by 2025 to meet anticipated demand.  Even if usage grows somewhat more slowly than projected, any failure to satisfy the world’s requirements produces a perception of scarcity, which also means rising fuel prices.  These are precisely the conditions we see today and should expect for the indefinite future.

It is against this backdrop that three crucial developments of 2011 are changing the way we are likely to live on this planet for the foreseeable future.

Tough-Oil Rebels

The first and still most momentous of the year’s energy shocks was the series of events precipitated by the Tunisian and Egyptian rebellions and the ensuing “Arab Spring” in the greater Middle East.  Neither Tunisia nor Egypt was, in fact, a major oil producer, but the political shockwaves these insurrections unleashed has spread to other countries in the region that are, including Libya, Oman, and Saudi Arabia.  At this point, the Saudi and Omani leaderships appear to be keeping a tight lid on protests, but Libyan production, normally averaging approximately 1.7 million barrels per day, has fallen to near zero.

When it comes to the future availability of oil, it is impossible to overstate the importance of this spring’s events in the Middle East, which continue to thoroughly rattle the energy markets. According to all projections of global petroleum output, Saudi Arabia and the other Persian Gulf states are slated to supply an ever-increasing share of the world’s total oil supply as production in key regions elsewhere declines.  Achieving this production increase is essential, but it will not happen unless the rulers of those countries invest colossal sums in the development of new petroleum reserves — especially the heavy, “tough oil” variety that requires far more costly infrastructure than existing “easy oil” deposits.

In a front-page story entitled “Facing Up to the End of ‘Easy Oil,’” the Wall Street Journal noted that any hope of meeting future world oil requirements rests on a Saudi willingness to sink hundreds of billions of dollars into their remaining heavy-oil deposits.  But right now, faced with a ballooning population and the prospects of an Egyptian-style youth revolt, the Saudi leadership seems intent on using its staggering wealth on employment-generating public-works programs and vast arrays of weaponry, not new tough-oil facilities; the same is largely true of the other monarchical oil states of the Persian Gulf.

Whether such efforts will prove effective is unknown.  If a youthful Saudi population faced with promises of jobs and money, as well as the fierce repression of dissidence, has seemed less confrontational than their Tunisian, Egyptian, and Syrian counterparts, that doesn’t mean that the status quo will remain forever.  “Saudi Arabia is a time bomb,” commented Jaafar Al Taie, managing director of Manaar Energy Consulting (which advises foreign oil firms operating in the region). “I don’t think that what the King is doing now is sufficient to prevent an uprising,” he added, even though the Saudi royals had just announced a $36-billion plan to raise the minimum wage, increase unemployment benefits, and build affordable housing.

At present, the world can accommodate a prolonged loss of Libyan oil.  Saudi Arabia and a few other producers possess sufficient excess capacity to make up the difference.  Should Saudi Arabia ever explode, however, all bets are off.  “If something happens in Saudi Arabia, [oil] will go to $200 to $300 [per barrel],”said Sheikh Zaki Yamani, the kingdom’s former oil minister, on April 5th.  “I don’t expect this for the time being, but who would have expected Tunisia?”

Nuclear Power on the Downward Slope

In terms of the energy markets, the second major development of 2011 occurred on March 11th when an unexpectedly powerful earthquake and tsunami struck Japan.  As a start, nature’s two-fisted attack damaged or destroyed a significant proportion of northern Japan’s energy infrastructure, including refineries, port facilities, pipelines, power plants, and transmission lines.  In addition, of course, it devastated four nuclear plants at Fukushima, resulting, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, in the permanent loss of 6,800 megawatts of electric generating capacity.

This, in turn, has forced Japan to increase its imports of oil, coal, and natural gas, adding to the pressure on global supplies.  With Fukushima and other nuclear plants off line, industry analysts calculate that Japanese oil imports could rise by as much as 238,000 barrels per day, and imports of natural gas by 1.2 billion cubic feet per day (mostly in the form of liquefied natural gas, or LNG).

This is one major short-term effect of the tsunami.  What about the longer-term effects?  The Japanese government now claims it is scrapping plans to build as many as 14 new nuclear reactors over the next two decades.  On May 10th, Prime Minister Naoto Kan announced that the government would have to “start from scratch” in devising a new energy policy for the country.  Though he speaks of replacing the cancelled reactors with renewable energy systems like wind and solar, the sad reality is that a significant part of any future energy expansion will inevitably come from more imported oil, coal, and LNG.

Read this book.

The disaster at Fukushima — and ensuing revelations of design flaws and maintenance failures at the plant — has had a domino effect, causing energy officials in other countries to cancel plans to build new nuclear plants or extend the life of existing ones.  The first to do so was Germany: on March 14th, Chancellor Angela Merkelclosed two older plants and suspended plans to extend the life of 15 others.  On May 30th, her government made the suspension permanent.  In the wake of mass antinuclear rallies and an election setback, she promised to shut all existing nuclear plants by 2022, which, experts believe, will result in an increase in fossil-fuel use.

China also acted swiftly, announcing on March 16th that it would stop awarding permits for the construction of new reactors pending a review of safety procedures, though it did not rule out such investments altogether.  Other countries, including India and the United States, similarly undertook reviews of reactor safety procedures, putting ambitious nuclear plans at risk.  Then, on May 25th, the Swiss government announced that it would abandon plans to build three new nuclear power plants, phase out nuclear power, and close the last of its plants by 2034, joining the list of countries that appear to have abandoned nuclear power for good.

How Drought Strangles Energy

The third major energy development of 2011, less obviously energy-connected than the other two, has been a series of persistent, often record, droughts gripping many areas of the planet.  Typically, the most immediate and dramatic effect of prolonged drought is a reduction in grain production, leading to ever-higher food prices and ever more social turmoil.

Intense drought over the past year in Australia, ChinaRussia, and parts of theMiddle East, South America, the United States, and most recently northern Europehas contributed to the current record-breaking price of food — and this, in turn, has been a key factor in the political unrest now sweeping North Africa, East Africa, and the Middle East.  But drought has an energy effect as well.  It can reduce the flow of major river systems, leading to a decline in the output of hydroelectric power plants, as is now happening in several drought-stricken regions.

By far the greatest threat to electricity generation exists in China, which is suffering from one of its worst droughts ever.  Rainfall levels from January to April in the drainage basin of the Yangtze, China’s longest and most economically important river, have been 40% lower than the average of the past 50 years, according toChina Daily.  This has resulted in a significant decline in hydropower and severe electricity shortages throughout much of central China.

The Chinese are burning more coal to generate electricity, but domestic mines no longer satisfy the country’s needs and so China has become a major coal importer.  Rising demand combined with inadequate supply has led to a spike in coal prices, and with no comparable spurt in electricity rates (set by the government), many Chinese utilities are rationing power rather than buy more expensive coal and operate at a loss.  In response, industries are upping their reliance on diesel-powered backup generators, which in turn increases China’s demand for imported oil, putting yet more pressure on global fuel prices.

Wrecking the Planet

So now we enter June with continuing unrest in the Middle East, a grim outlook for nuclear power, and a severe electricity shortage in China (and possibly elsewhere).  What else do we see on the global energy horizon?

Despite the IEA’s forecast of diminished future oil consumption, global energy demand continues to outpace increases in supply.  From all indications, this imbalance will persist.

Take oil.  A growing number of energy analysts now agree that the era of “easy oil” has ended and that the world must increasingly rely on hard-to-get “tough oil.”  It is widely assumed, moreover, that the planet harbors a lot of this stuff — deep underground, far offshore, in problematic geological formations like Canada’s tar sands, and in the melting Arctic.  However, extracting and processing tough oil will prove ever more costly and involve great human, and even greater environmental, risk.  Think: BP’s Deepwater Horizon disaster of April 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico.

Such is the world’s thirst for oil that a growing amount of this stuff will nonetheless be extracted, even if not, in all likelihood, at a pace and on a scale necessary to replace the disappearance of yesterday’s and today’s easy oil.  Along with continued instability in the Middle East, this tough-oil landscape seems to underlie expectations that the price of oil will only rise in the coming years.  In a poll of global energy company executives conducted this April by the KPMG Global Energy Institute, 64% of those surveyed predicted that crude oil prices will cross the $120 per barrel barrier before the end of 2011.  Approximately one-third of them predicted that the price would go even higher, with 17% believing it would reach $131-$140 per barrel; 9%, $141-$150 per barrel; and 6%, above the $150 mark.

The price of coal, too, has soared in recent months, thanks to mounting worldwide demand as supplies of energy from nuclear power and hydroelectricity have contracted.  Many countries have launched significant efforts to spur the development of renewable energy, but these are not advancing fast enough or on a large enough scale to replace older technologies quickly.  The only bright spot, experts say, is the growing extraction of natural gas from shale rock in the United States through the use of hydraulic fracturing (“hydro-fracking”).

Proponents of shale gas claim it can provide a large share of America’s energy needs in the years ahead, while actually reducing harm to the environment when compared to coal and oil (as gas emits less carbon dioxide per unit of energy released); however, an expanding chorus of opponents are warning of the threat to municipal water supplies posed by the use of toxic chemicals in the fracking process.  These warnings have proven convincing enough to lead lawmakers in a growing number of states to begin placing restrictions on the practice, throwing into doubt the future contribution of shale gas to the nation’s energy supply.  Also, on May 12th, the French National Assembly (the powerful lower house of parliament)voted 287 to 146 to ban hydro-fracking in France, becoming the first nation to do so.

The environmental problems of shale gas are hardly unique.  The fact is that all of the strategies now being considered to extend the life-spans of oil, coal, and natural gas involve severe economic and environmental risks and costs — as, of course, does the very use of fossil fuels of any sort at a moment when the first IEA numbers for 2010 indicate that it was an unexpectedly record-breaking year for humanity when it came to dumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

With the easily accessible mammoth oil fields of Texas, Venezuela, and the Middle East either used up or soon to be significantly depleted, the future of oil rests on third-rate stuff like tar sands, shale oil, and extra-heavy crude that require a lot of energy to extract, processes that emit added greenhouse gases, and as with those tar sands, tend to play havoc with the environment.

Shale gas is typical.  Though plentiful, it can only be pried loose from underground shale formations through the use of explosives and highly pressurized water mixed with toxic chemicals.  In addition, to obtain the necessary quantities of shale oil, many tens of thousands of wells will have to be sunk across the American landscape, any of one of which could prove to be an environmental disaster.

Likewise, the future of coal will rest on increasingly invasive and hazardous techniques, such as the explosive removal of mountaintops and the dispersal of excess rock and toxic wastes in the valleys below.  Any increase in the use of coal will also enhance climate change, since coal emits more carbon dioxide than do oil and natural gas.

Here’s the bottom line: Any expectations that ever-increasing supplies of energy will meet demand in the coming years are destined to be disappointed.  Instead, recurring shortages, rising prices, and mounting discontent are likely to be the thematic drumbeat of the globe’s energy future.

If we don’t abandon a belief that unrestricted growth is our inalienable birthright and embrace the genuine promise of renewable energy (with the necessary effort and investment that would make such a commitment meaningful), the future is likely to prove grim indeed.  Then, the history of energy, as taught in some late twenty-first-century university, will be labeled: How to Wreck the Planet 101.

Michael T. Klare is a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College, a TomDispatch regular, and the author, most recently, ofRising Powers, Shrinking Planet. A documentary movie version of his previous book, Blood and Oil, is available from the Media Education Foundation. To listen to Timothy MacBain’s latest TomCast audio interview in which Klare discusses the U.S., Saudi Arabia, and resource conflicts, click here, or download it to your iPod here.

Copyright 2011 Michael T. Klare

The only certainty is uncertainty.

The fascinating aspects of chaos.

I must immediately volunteer the fact that the thrust of this article is the result of a programme that we watched last Thursday night.  It was a programme originally featured on the UK BBC 4 channel in 2008.  Called High Anxieties, The Mathematics of Chaos, it is a fascinating examination into the way that mathematicians have fundamentally adjusted their views, from the certainty of Newtonian principles to the certain uncertainty offered by mathematicians such as Henri Poincare and Alexander Lyapunov.  The 60-minute documentary, directed by David Malone, is wonderfully interesting and much more relevant to the uncertainty surrounding all our lives than one might anticipate from any references to mathematicians!  It puts the collapse of Lehman Brothers, some 2 years ago, last Thursday, into an interesting perspective.

Here’s the first 9 minutes as offered on YouTube, introduced thus,

David Malone http://golemxiv-credo.blogspot.com author of The Debt Generation, directs and presents this film, It is the first part of a documentary first shown on BBC4 Television in the UK in September 2008. The film was first broadcast 2 days after the collapse of Lehman brothers at the start of the financial crisis. It looks at the discoveries in mathematics during the 20th Century which have challenged the view that the world is an essentially knowable and therefore controllable place. The film focuses on the economy and the environment and suggests that ideas about unpredictability, the butterfly effect and tipping points, stemming from mathematics, are part of what underlie some modern anxieties about the world we live in.

If this first part grabs your attention then finding the other 8 parts is easy on YouTube.  Alternatively, the complete set of videos is linked together as one film on Top Documentary Films, click  High Anxieties: The Mathematics of Chaos. where it is described as follows,

The documentary looks at the modern advances in mathematics and how they affect our understanding of physics, economics, environmental issues and human psychology.

The film looks at how developments in 20th Century mathematics have affected our view of the world, and particularly how the financial economy and earth’s environment are now seen as inherently unpredictable.

The film looks at the influence the work of Henri Poincare and Alexander Lyapunov had on later developments in mathematics. It includes interviews with David Ruelle, about chaos theory and turbulence, the economist Paul Ormerod about the unpredictability of economic systems, and James Lovelock the founder of Gaia theory about climate change and tipping points in the environment.

As we approach tipping points in both the economy and the climate, the film examines the mathematics we have been reluctant to face up to and asks if, even now, we would rather bury our heads in the sand rather than face harsh truths.

Very, very interesting and rather puts the pictures of the Petermann Glacier shown here into context.

Sanity out of insanity

Dogs are such a great metaphor!

There’s no question that when one stays very still and closely watches a dog’s behaviour you see an amazing level of awareness.  Even when they appear to be deeply asleep anything sensed by their ‘being’ is registered immediately.  A small tale, by way of example.  Many years ago when Pharaoh and I lived in the Devon village of Harberton, we  frequently shopped in the town of Totnes, just 3 miles away.  Many times, I would be walking up the High Street with Pharaoh nicely to heel being passed by many people walking the opposite way on the same pavement.

Totnes High Street

Every once in a while, during the fraction of time that it took for someone to pass us by, Pharaoh would utter a low, throatal growl without even slowing his pace.  I always presumed that something, way beyond my level of consciousness, had disturbed Pharaoh during that instant of time.

Real awareness, or if you prefer, consciousness is not some touchy/feely concept but a true understanding about just what the heck is going on.

So do watch the following video of Peter Russell discussing Rediscovering Ourselves; it’s very relevant.

Then have a read of a couple of items on Peter’s website.  The first is about runaway climate change, and here’s an extract,

Runaway Climate Change

The most dangerous aspect of global warming.

Global Warming is bad enough. Over the last hundred years, average global temperatures have increased by 0.75°C, one third of that rise occurring in the last twenty years. The 2007 report by The Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC) forecast that, by 2090, temperatures will have risen between 2 and 6 degrees.

Even a two degree rise in temperature would be disastrous. Changes in climate will lead to more intense storms, longer periods of drought, crop failures in many developing countries, the destruction of nearly all the coral reefs, the melting of much of the polar ice, the flooding of many low-lying urban areas, the possible collapse of the Amazonian rain forest, and the extinction of 20-30% of the planet’s species. The IPCC projects that this could happen by 2050.

If the temperature were to rise by six degrees, the prognosis is extremely bleak. At this temperature, the entire planet will be ice-free. Sea levels will rise by 70 meters. Many species of tiny plankton will cease to exist, and the problem would echo up the food chain, bringing the extinction of many fish, sea mammals, and the largest whales. Much of the land will now be desert. Hurricanes of unimaginable ferocity will bring widespread ecological devastation. If, as is possible, the ozone layer were destroyed, the burning ultraviolet light could make life on land impossible. Evolution would have been set back a billion years. It would be a planetary catastrophe.

Read the rest of that essay here.  Now on to the next extract, from here,

The Under-rated Approach to Carbon Reduction

As critical as it is to reduce future carbon emissions, it is equally critical, perhaps even more critical, to get much of the CO2 that as already been released—and which is responsible for the current warming—out of the atmosphere and back into the ground where it belongs.

This approach, known as carbon capture and sequestration, has until now been largely ignored, and for several reasons. The atmosphere is so huge, it would seem to be an impossible task. There are possible technologies, but they are not nearly so well-developed as alternative energy sources. Many are still only ideas on paper. Where technologies of carbon capture have been developed they are mostly for capturing CO2 from smokestacks. Valuable as this may be, it is still dealing with the problem of future carbon emissions. What we need are technologies that will remove from the atmosphere the carbon that we already emitted, and then sequestrate it (put it away) in a stable form.

It is to this end that Sir Richard Branson announced his $25 million prize (Virgin Earth Challenge) for technologies that could capture a billion tons of carbon a year from the atmosphere (about one tenth of what we now release each year). Nor is it just Richard Branson who believes we must make this an equally important approach to the problem. His team includes Al Gore, James Lovelock, Sir Crispin Tickell (former UK ambassador to the UN), and James Hansen, the head climate scientist at NASA).

Again, the full article, a ‘must-read, in my opinion, is here.

It is really about awareness!  Dogs have so much to teach us!

Musings about Planet Earth

Could Planet Earth really be avenging the disregard shown by man?

This is such a meaty subject that, frankly, all this article can do is to set the scene for further muses.  The trigger for the theme was a piece written by Michael Klare that I read on the Tom Dispatch blogsite.  But before going to that piece by Michael Klare, let’s step back for a moment.

Planet Earth from Apollo 8

The idea that the Planet is not a piece of rock covered in a thin layer of air, water and life but something much more deeply connected with all living organisms including the ‘higher order’ forms of life is not new.  But it was Professor James Lovelock who catapulted the idea of the living, breathing planet into the psyche of modern man as in his Gaia hypothesis.  Here’s a link to Lovelock’s original explanation of that idea.  From which is quoted,

Most of us sense that the Earth is more than a sphere of rock with a thin layer of air, ocean and life covering the surface. We feel that we belong here as if this planet were indeed our home. Long ago the Greeks, thinking this way, gave to the Earth the name Gaia or, for short, Ge. In those days, science and theology were one and science, although less precise, had soul. As time passed this warm relationship faded and was replaced by the frigidity of the schoolmen. The life sciences, no longer concerned with life, fell to classifying dead things and even to vivisection. Ge was stolen from theology to become no more the root from which the disciplines of geography and geology were named. Now at last there are signs of a change. Science becomes holistic again and rediscovers soul, and theology, moved by ecumenical forces, begins to realise that Gaia is not to be subdivided for academic convenience and that Ge is much more than just a prefix.

That article concludes thus,

If we are “all creatures great and small,” from bacteria to whales, part of Gaia then we are all of us potentially important to her well being. We knew in our hearts that the destruction of a whole range of other species was wrong but now we know why. No longer can we merely regret the passing of one of the great whales, or the blue butterfly, nor even the smallpox virus. When we eliminate one of these from Earth, we may have destroyed a part of ourselves, for we also are a part of Gaia.

There are many possibilities for comfort as there are for dismay in contemplating the consequences of our membership in this great commonwealth of living things. It may be that one role we play is as the senses and nervous system for Gaia. Through our eyes she has for the first time seen her very fair face and in our minds become aware of herself. We do indeed belong here. The earth is more than just a home, it’s a living system and we are part of it.

So back to Michael Klare.

On the 14th April, Tom Engelhardt wrote a piece on Tom Dispatch that opened as follows:

Last Monday, Yukio Edano, chief cabinet secretary, defended the Japanese government’s response to the nuclear disaster at Fukushima, insisting that the plant complex is in “a stable situation,relatively speaking.”  That’s somewhat like the official description of 11,500 tons of water purposely dumped into the ocean waters off Fukushima as “low-level radioactive” or “lightly radioactive.”  It is, of course, only “lightly” so in comparison to the even more radioactive water being stored at the plant in its place.  But that’s the thing with descriptive words: they can leave so much to the eye of the beholder — and the Japanese government hasn’t been significantly more eager than the Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco), which runs the complex, to behold all that much when it comes to Fukushima.

Engelhardt then sets the scene for the guest post by Michael Klare.

The Planet Strikes Back
Why We Underestimate the Earth and Overestimate Ourselves 

By Michael T. Klare

In his 2010 book, Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet, environmental scholar and activist Bill McKibben writes of a planet so devastated by global warming that it’s no longer recognizable as the Earth we once inhabited.  This is a planet, he predicts, of “melting poles and dying forests and a heaving, corrosive sea, raked by winds, strafed by storms, scorched by heat.”  Altered as it is from the world in which human civilization was born and thrived, it needs a new name — so he gave it that extra “a” in “Eaarth.”

It would be wrong to do more that selectively offer extracts but here’s how Klare sets the scene,

It’s not enough to think of Eaarth as an impotent casualty of humanity’s predations.  It is also a complex organic system with many potent defenses against alien intervention — defenses it is already wielding to devastating effect when it comes to human societies.  And keep this in mind: we are only at the beginning of this process.

To grasp our present situation, however, it’s necessary to distinguish between naturally recurring planetary disturbances and the planetary responses to human intervention.  Both need a fresh look, so let’s start with what Earth has always been capable of before we turn to the responses of Eaarth, the avenger.

Michael Klare conclude thus,

Bill McKibben is right: we no longer live on the “cozy, taken-for-granted” planet formerly known as Earth.  We inhabit a new place, already changed dramatically by the intervention of humankind.  But we are not acting upon a passive, impotent entity unable to defend itself against human transgression.  Sad to say, we will learn to our dismay of the immense powers available to Eaarth, the Avenger.

Michael T. Klare is a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College, a TomDispatch regular, and the author, most recently, ofRising Powers, Shrinking Planet. A documentary movie version of his previous book, Blood and Oil, is available from the Media Education Foundation.

To close, here’s an interview of Michael Klare by Tom Engelhardt.

Professor James Lovelock, the way forward

Prof. Lovelock is a most amazing thinker.

This makes fascinating listening and thinking. I am referring to the BBC4 programme, Eureka Moment, first broadcast in March 2010.


Some frightening stuff to reflect on, however, he is a tremendously positive person. His level of thinking and orginality is breath taking. Painful and not pleasant, but a snapshot of a possible outcome.

Interesting from a David Hawkins point of view to measure his level of integrity on the scale of human consciousness that Hawkins developed.

I’m delighted to see that the BBC still has a huge amount available about Lovelock’s claims.  A small extract from here.

The man who achieved global fame for his theory that the whole earth is a single organism now believes that we can only hope that the earth will take care of itself in the face of completely unpredictable climate change.

Interviewed by Today presenter John Humphrys, videos of which you can see below, he said that while the earth’s future was utterly uncertain, mankind was not aware it had “pulled the trigger” on global warming as it built its civilizations.

Here’s a video, taken quite recently, of the Professor explaining his approach to his science.

But whatever, don’t lose heart. Keep the faith in a better future, as Paul wrote yesterday.

By Jon Lavin

Fear and the alternative

“Fear paralyzes; curiosity empowers. Be more interested than afraid.” — Patricia Alexander, American educational psychologist.

This dropped into my email in-box the other day so I grabbed it to set this Post off on the right theme.

There is much around that can generate fear, touched on in my Post a couple of days ago where I quoted Richard Branson.

Prof. Lovelock

For an example of fear, many will have listened to the recent interview of Professor James Lovelock on the BBC Today programme and wondered just where we are all heading.  ( The interview may be listened to here.  – it’s 7 minutes long but listen to it!)

Here’s a YouTube video of Lovelock being interviewed in 2009. (Also worthy of watching for the full 13 minutes and note the connection between Lovelock and Branson.)

So if you listened and watched these two interviews then one could argue that there is more than enough to be fearful of our future.

Now go back to the opening quotation: “Fear paralyzes; curiosity empowers. Be more interested than afraid.”

Being fearful is not the answer – even if no alternative appears to be a rational way of mentally processing something.

Here’s a piece from Wayne Dyer’s book, There’s a Spiritual Solution to every Problem.

We are subjected to many illusions in our daily life.  The greatest one is the one that keeps us trapped in giving our energy to what always has been.

The past is behind us.  Predicting the future accurately, even by eminent scientists such as James Lovelock, is very, very unreliable.  Thus all we have is today.  So do not be afraid, be curious.

By Paul Handover

Remarkable people: Prof James Lovelock

The father of Gaia

A week or so ago, the BBC under their Beautiful Minds series, screened a programme about James Ephraim Lovelock, more popularly known as Professor Jim Lovelock.

Prof. James Lovelock

(Picture taken from this article – in itself well worth reading.)

The programme demonstrated that Lovelock’s mind is more than beautiful, it is still capable, at 90 years of age, of thinking in ways that are very rare in today’s societies where conformity is such a powerful force.

As always, WikiPedia has an excellent reference on Prof. Lovelock and I encourage you to read it plus Lovelock’s own website which makes up in content what it may lack for presentation!

Luckily there is an extract from the BBC programme on YouTube – please watch this and reflect on exactly what Lovelock is saying.

And if you are up for more, then settle down for thirteen minutes and watch this next video.

James Lovelock is the Darwin of our times.

Now to put this into some context (this is me speaking as a layman!).

Please read the rest of this post