ayjay + climate   17

Bruno Latour Tracks Down Gaia - Los Angeles Review of Books
What happens when you combine the insights of Lovelock and Margulis? In the course of a seminar that I attended the next day, before the snow came to engulf the south of England, the answer came to me quite clearly: with the Gaia theory one can grasp the “power to act” of all the jumbled-up organisms without immediately integrating them into a unity that is superior to them and which they obey. In this sense, and despite the word “system,” Gaia doesn’t act in a systematic fashion, or at least it isn’t a unified system. Lenton has shown that the regulation can be very strong or very lax, depending on the scales of space and time. The homeostatis of an organism and the more erratic regulation of the climate are not of the same type. The Earth is not an organism. Unlike all living things, it lives off itself in a way, through continuous recycling with very little help from external matter (apart, of course, from solar energy). One cannot even say that Gaia is synonymous with the globe or the natural world because, after all, living things, even after several billion years of evolution, only are in charge of a thin skin of the Earth, a sort of biofilm, what the researchers with whom I am working at the moment call “critical zones.” [...]

Galileo invented a world of objects placed beside each other, without affecting each other, and entirely obeying the laws of physics. Lovelock and Margulis sketched a world of agents constantly interacting with each other. When I came back from this amazing day in Dorset, I said to myself that taking on board such a world had nothing to do with ecology, but quite simply with a politics of living things. And as I was going down the coast, I had the thought that another Brecht was needed to write a “Life of Lovelock.”
climate  biology  from instapaper
july 2018 by ayjay
The Manifesto | The Dark Mountain Project
If we are indeed teetering on the edge of a massive change in how we live, in how human society itself is constructed, and in how we relate to the rest of the world, then we were led to this point by the stories we have told ourselves — above all, by the story of civilisation.

This story has many variants, religious and secular, scientific, economic and mystic. But all tell of humanity’s original transcendence of its animal beginnings, our growing mastery over a ‘nature’ to which we no longer belong, and the glorious future of plenty and prosperity which will follow when this mastery is complete. It is the story of human centrality, of a species destined to be lord of all it surveys, unconfined by the limits that apply to other, lesser creatures.

What makes this story so dangerous is that, for the most part, we have forgotten that it is a story. It has been told so many times by those who see themselves as rationalists, even scientists; heirs to the Enlightenment’s legacy — a legacy which includes the denial of the role of stories in making the world.
civilization  futurism  history  climate  anthropocene 
november 2017 by ayjay
Uncivilisation: the Dark Mountain Manifesto (response by John Gray)
The notion that the conflicts of history have been left behind is truly apocalyptic, and Kingsnorth and Hine are right to target business-as-usual philosophies of progress. When they posit a cleansing catastrophe, however, they, too, succumb to apocalyptic thinking. How can anyone imagine that the dream-driven human animal will suddenly become sane when its environment starts disintegrating? In their own catastrophist fashion, the authors have swallowed the progressive fairy tale that animates the civilisation they reject.

A change of sensibility in the arts would be highly desirable. The new perspective that is needed, however, is the opposite of apocalyptic. Neither Conrad nor Ballard believed that catastrophe could alter the terms on which human beings live in the world. Both writers were unsparing critics of civilisation, but they never imagined there was a superior alternative. Each had witnessed for himself what the alternative means in practice.

Rightly, Kingsnorth and Hine insist that our present environmental difficulties are not solvable problems, but are inseparable from our current way of living. When confronted with problems that are insoluble, however, the most useful response is not to await disaster in the hope that the difficulties will magically disappear. It is to do whatever can be done, knowing that it will not amount to much. Stoical acceptance of this kind is practically unthinkable at present - an age when emotional self-expression is valued more than anything else. Still, stoicism will be needed if civilised life is to survive an environmental crisis that cannot now be avoided. Walking on lava requires a cool head, not one filled with fiery dreams.
futurism  history  climate  anthropocene 
november 2017 by ayjay
The energy expansions of evolution
From the start, fire has had both geological and biological impacts. Fire regimes drive the evolution of plant traits; fires affect soils and air quality; and although, each year, a significant amount of biomass goes up in smoke, fire can promote biodiversity. Fire may even have driven the initial spread of flowering plants—an event that led to radiations of many other groups, including ants, bees and mammals. Furthermore, fire contributes new material to the Earth—charcoal, ash and soot—and may also act as a control on planetary oxygen levels. But as an energy source, per se? That's a more recent development, and has come in two phases.

The first phase began with the evolution of a fire creature. This creature—a member of the genus Homo—began to control the use of fire, deliberately setting fires alight and using fire for cooking. Exactly when cooking began remains controversial, with possible dates ranging from 1.5 Ma to 0.4 Ma. The important point, though, is that cooking is a kind of predigestion: cooked food, be it meat, vegetable or lipid, delivers more energy than the same food eaten raw. In using fire to cook food, hominins thus developed a way to extract more energy from their diets, and to eat a wider variety of food.

The second phase of fire as an energy source is even more recent—but the onset is nonetheless difficult to pinpoint. Does it start with the use of fire to manufacture labour-saving tools? With the smelting of iron, something otherwise energetically impossible? With the burning of fossil fuels such as coal to generate heat and light? With the invention of the internal combustion engine? Or with the discovery of the Haber–Bosch process for fixing nitrogen—which, in 1925, Alfred Lotka described as the start of “a new cosmic epoch”? Perhaps these last three are the most important contenders, as together, they have transformed the planet. In particular, the human input of energy to manufacture and deliver an otherwise limiting nutrient has produced far higher crop yields, enormously larger human populations, and gigantic populations of human-associated animals such as pigs, cows, horses and chickens. Erisman and colleagues estimate that between 1908 and 2008, industrially produced nitrogen fertilizer supported an additional four billion people and that by 2008, nitrogen fertilizers were responsible for feeding 48% of the human population. Meanwhile, Pimm and colleagues judge that extinction rates are now 1,000 times greater than the typical background rate. In sum, in this epoch of fire, total biomass has remained high, but biodiversity has begun to fall.
climate  energy  science  anthropocene  from instapaper
august 2017 by ayjay
How to Worry about Climate Change | National Affairs
A more dispassionate placement of climate change alongside a range of worrying problems does not mean there is nothing to worry about. But it points away from sui generis mitigation at all costs and toward an existing model for addressing problems through research, preparation, and adaptation. It suggests that analytical exercises that would never be applied to other worrying problems, like assigning a "social cost" to each marginal unit of carbon-dioxide emissions, are as inappropriate as estimating a "social cost of computing power" as it brings humanity closer to a possible singularity, or a "social cost of international travel" as it elevates the risk of a global pandemic. Taxes on any of them are closer to political statements than efficient corrections of genuine externalities, and each would be more likely to stall meaningful economic and technological progress than to achieve a meaningful reduction of risk.

Lessons might run in the other direction as well: We are not focusing as much on other challenges as we should. And perhaps, if climate change were consigned to its rightful place in the crowd, some additional attention might be available to concentrate elsewhere. If the level of research support, policy focus, and international coordination targeted toward climate change over the past eight years had gone instead toward preventing and managing pandemics, imagine the progress that could have been made. For a fraction of the cost of de-carbonizing an industrial economy, it could be hardened against cyber attacks; with a fraction of the attention corporations pay to their own purported climate vulnerability, they could make real strides in their own technological security.
climate 
june 2017 by ayjay
Humans Accidentally Created a Protective Bubble Around Earth
According to satellite data, the inner edge of the belts is much further from Earth now than it was in the 1960s, when humans sent fewer VLF transmissions. Scientists suspect that VLF wasn’t around, the radiation belts would hover closer to Earth.

The researchers believe the bubble could help protect Earth from solar flares, which release huge amounts of energy, or coronal mass ejections that discharge hot material called plasma. Both events send can radiation particles into Earth’s atmosphere, which could disrupt radio waves and overload electrical power grids.

The bubble also extends the reach of human influence on this tiny dot in the universe. Technology has, in a very short time, left a mark on the landscape of the Earth in countless ways, diverting whole rivers, razing forests for farmland, and pumping enough gases into the atmosphere to alter the global climate. In the early 1960s, the U.S. military tried to build an artificial bubble of its own, and launched billions of whisker-thin copper wires into orbit. Scientists hoped the material would coalesce into a ring around the Earth that would protect the nation’s communications systems—crucial in the fight against the Soviets—from solar storms. It didn’t work, though. The key, it appears, is a little help from the universe itself.
science  climate 
may 2017 by ayjay
It might be time to begin experimenting with geoengineering schemes to test what works
It would work like this: Fleets of large drones would crisscross the upper latitudes of the globe during winter months, sprinkling the skies with tons of extremely fine dust-like materials every year. If Mitchell is right, this would produce larger ice crystals than normal, creating thinner cirrus clouds that dissipate faster. “That would allow more radiation into space, cooling the earth,” Mitchell says. Done on a large enough scale, this “cloud seeding” could ease global temperatures by as much as 1.4 °C, more than the planet has warmed since the Industrial Revolution, according to a separate Yale study.

Big questions remain about whether it would really work, what damaging side effects might arise, and whether the world should risk deploying a tool that could alter the entire climate. Indeed, the suggestion that we should entrust the global thermostat to an armada of flying robots will strike many as preposterous. But the real question is: preposterous compared to what?
climate  from instapaper
april 2017 by ayjay
What Warm Texas Winters Really Mean
Nielsen-Gammon notes that the DFW airport normally records its last freeze of the winter in mid-to-late March, with the earliest last freeze recorded on February 5. This year, DFW dipped below 33 last on January 7. “This would be so far earlier than the previous date, the odds of this happening are somewhere in the one-in-10,000 range,” Nielsen-Gammon says. “If there was no global warming.”

Our even warmer than usual winter puts us about a month ahead of schedule for spring, according to Nielsen-Gammon. Real-world manifestations were everywhere. I’ve been recording the first bluebonnets in my own Houston neighborhood since 2010. This year, I saw my first ones on February 8, about a week earlier than any I’d seen before. At least this year you can make your sweetie a truly Texas-style Valentine’s bouquet.
texas  climate 
april 2017 by ayjay
My Unhappy Life as a Climate Heretic - WSJ
I believe climate change is real and that human emissions of greenhouse gases risk justifying action, including a carbon tax. But my research led me to a conclusion that many climate campaigners find unacceptable: There is scant evidence to indicate that hurricanes, floods, tornadoes or drought have become more frequent or intense in the U.S. or globally. In fact we are in an era of good fortune when it comes to extreme weather. This is a topic I’ve studied and published on as much as anyone over two decades. My conclusion might be wrong, but I think I’ve earned the right to share this research without risk to my career.

Instead, my research was under constant attack for years by activists, journalists and politicians. In 2011 writers in the journal Foreign Policy signaled that some accused me of being a “climate-change denier.” I earned the title, the authors explained, by “questioning certain graphs presented in IPCC reports.” That an academic who raised questions about the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in an area of his expertise was tarred as a denier reveals the groupthink at work.

Yet I was right to question the IPCC’s 2007 report, which included a graph purporting to show that disaster costs were rising due to global temperature increases. The graph was later revealed to have been based on invented and inaccurate information, as I documented in my book “The Climate Fix.” The insurance industry scientist Robert-Muir Wood of Risk Management Solutions had smuggled the graph into the IPCC report. He explained in a public debate with me in London in 2010 that he had included the graph and misreferenced it because he expected future research to show a relationship between increasing disaster costs and rising temperatures.
climate 
december 2016 by ayjay
Giants in the Face of Drought
Above him stood a grand old monarch. The crown of the tree was almost entirely brown, a scale of dieback he’d never seen. He searched for other trees displaying similar stress and when he found one with branches close to the ground, he touched it. The foliage crumbled off. In more than 30 years of studying these trees Stephenson had only seen two die on their feet. Five years into the current drought, he’s now seen dozens of standing dead.
trees  climate  from instapaper
december 2016 by ayjay
“Today’s world has no equivalent”
There is something so incredibly haunting in this image, of thick forests growing at the bottom of the world in a state of “unremitting” darkness, often lit only by the frozen light of stars, swaying now and again with hurricane-force winds that have blown in from an island-continent that, today, no longer exists.

Whatever “novel climates” and unimaginable geographies lie ahead for the Earth, it will be a shame not to see them.
climate  from instapaper
august 2016 by ayjay
Why Climate Skeptics Are Wrong - Scientific American
At some point in the history of all scientific theories, only a minority of scientists—or even just one—supported them, before evidence accumulated to the point of general acceptance. The Copernican model, germ theory, the vaccination principle, evolutionary theory, plate tectonics and the big bang theory were all once heretical ideas that became consensus science. How did this happen?

An answer may be found in what 19th-century philosopher of science William Whewell called a “consilience of inductions.” For a theory to be accepted, Whewell argued, it must be based on more than one induction—or a single generalization drawn from specific facts. It must have multiple inductions that converge on one another, independently but in conjunction. “Accordingly the cases in which inductions from classes of facts altogether different have thus jumped together,” he wrote in his 1840 book The Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences, “belong only to the best established theories which the history of science contains.” Call it a “convergence of evidence.” ...

“There is no cohesive, consistent alternative theory to human-caused global warming,” Nuccitelli concluded in an August 25, 2015, commentary in the Guardian. “Some blame global warming on the sun, others on orbital cycles of other planets, others on ocean cycles, and so on. There is a 97% expert consensus on a cohesive theory that’s overwhelmingly supported by the scientific evidence, but the 2–3% of papers that reject that consensus are all over the map, even contradicting each other. The one thing they seem to have in common is methodological flaws like cherry picking, curve fitting, ignoring inconvenient data, and disregarding known physics.” For example, one skeptical paper attributed climate change to lunar or solar cycles, but to make these models work for the 4,000-year period that the authors considered, they had to throw out 6,000 years’ worth of earlier data."
climate  science 
december 2015 by ayjay
The Science of California's Unprecedented Drought - Scientific American
Given the micromanagement of California's surface water, it is shocking that the taking of groundwater, by far the majority of the state's water, is almost completely unregulated. California is the only state where you can pump as much groundwater as you like as long as you do not waste or sell it. The current drought has set off a kind of arms race in the Central Valley, with every farmer eager to go deeper than his or her neighbor, “like a bunch of four-year-olds with one milk shake and lots of straws,” in the words of one agricultural economist. Nobody knows how much is being pumped out, but groundwater levels are historically low. The farmer with the deepest well in a given area draws down the water, and if that means the neighbors' wells go dry, so be it.

Some are going as deep as 1,500 feet to reach water that may have rained 10,000 years ago. Such “fossil” water, in contact with geologic substrata for that long, is frequently foul with arsenic, chromium, salt and other contaminants. Drilling that deep is also expensive. Farmers who can find a driller to do the job—waiting lists are a year long—might spend half a million dollars on the project, and that does not include the high cost of pumping the water to the surface from such abysmal depths.
climate  nature 
august 2015 by ayjay
How Climate Scientists Feel About Climate Change Deniers - Jason Box Tweet Controversy
The politics took its toll. Her butterfly study got her a spot on the UN climate panel, where she got “a quick and hard lesson on the politics” when policy makers killed the words “high confidence” in the crucial passage that said scientists had high confidence species were responding to climate change. Then the personal attacks started on right-wing Web sites and blogs. “They just flat-out lie. It’s one reason I live in the UK now. It’s not just been climate change, there’s a growing, ever-stronger antiscience sentiment in the U. S. A. People get really angry and really nasty. It was a huge relief simply not to have to deal with it.” She now advises her graduate students to look for jobs outside the U. S.
climate 
july 2015 by ayjay
Let It Rain
California has plenty of water to support its lifestyle. It just won’t have enough to support its crops, without significant changes to make those farms more water-efficient. It seems bizarre that a region like the Central Valley with just six million people — barely more than 10% of the state’s population — should use 80% of the water. But then you realize that the vast majority of people benefiting from that water don’t live in California at all. The Central Valley takes up only 1% of the landmass of the United States, but it produces 25% of the food we eat, and almost half of the fruits or nuts we consume. California is running through its water supply because, for complicated historical and climatological reasons, it has taken on the burden of feeding the rest of the country. The average Times reader sneering at those desert lawns from the Upper West Side might want to think about the canned tomatoes, avocados and almonds in his or her kitchen before denouncing the irresponsible lifestyles of the California emigres. Because the truth is California doesn’t have a water problem. We all do.
conservation  climate  from instapaper
april 2015 by ayjay
INTERVIEW: Kim Stanley Robinson on 2312, Mars and Climate Change | SF Signal
This kind of pseudo-sociobiology or evolutionary psychology can be much exaggerated.  In fact, to survive the ice ages and their radical climate changes, our species had to be very adaptable, cooperative, and future-oriented.  Every year they had to get through the hunger months of late winter/early spring by thinking ahead in the summers and falls, planning for group welfare, etc.  So no, we are not “hard-wired” for anything as bad as what this writer says.  We are precisely soft-wired:  the brain is labile, and culture is quick-changing and adaptable to circumstances.  However, we are in a rigid and destructive economy right now, and the material means of our existence (the base) does indeed have a lot to say in determining our beliefs and habits (the superstructure), so what this writer Beth Gardiner is pointing out, is quite true in many respects, as a description of our current culture in the USA, or at least in the dominant media culture.  “We”  are behaving as if her descriptions were true of us, at least on some levels.  But science is precisely slow-paced, delayed-gratification, reality-responsive, etc., and we live in a culture largely devised and constructed by scientific means.  So it is a much more mixed picture than any newspaper editorial can capture with a bunch of generalizations about “we,” in their usual style.   Our infrastructure will decarbonize, just as a matter of improvements normal in technology, so all this panicked talk may ride on top of a wave of good work.  Meanwhile, I suppose articles like Gardiner’s serve to point out the stupidity of some of our current practices; her mistake is to call them “human nature” which does have an evolutionary, biological and genetic component, but those components actually have made us very adaptive to deal with problems, even long-term problems.  We are smart social creatures with good imaginations.  Her article is one proof of this, maybe....

Every year I learn more and my ideas change, but my underlying principles have not changed. I am still opposed to capitalism, as a destructive unjust technology, and I still believe we can create a sustainable just civilization in balance with the planet. The means for doing these things, the means for talking about them, those I keep working on, and I am often surprised, sometimes in good ways, sometimes in bad. One change I can say for sure, since the writing of the Mars trilogy: I need always to say very clearly that Earth is and always will be the center of the human story, that Mars and the rest of the solar system can be helpful and interesting (even just as thought experiment setting) but Earth has to be our focus for the next two centuries for sure, and really, for all history to come. We all should remember that and act on that.
futurism  evolution  psychology  climate  KSR 
december 2014 by ayjay
Climate Change: Evidence & Causes
CLIMATE CHANGE IS ONE OF THE DEFINING ISSUES OF OUR TIME. It is now more certain than ever, based on many lines of evidence, that humans are changing Earth’s climate. The atmosphere and oceans have warmed, accompanied by sea-level rise, a strong decline in Arctic sea ice, and other climate-related changes.

The evidence is clear. However, due to the nature of science, not every single detail is ever totally settled or completely certain. Nor has every pertinent question yet been answered. Scientific evidence continues to be gathered around the world, and assumptions and findings about climate change are continually analysed and tested. Some areas of active debate and ongoing research include the link between ocean heat content and the rate of warming, estimates of how much warming to expect in the future, and the connections between climate change and extreme weather events.
climate  science 
february 2014 by ayjay

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