The Philosophy of Global Warming
If you are interested in the relationship between the human species and the rest of life on Earth, individual and collective human purpose, evolution, cosmology, the nature of reality, astrology, spirituality, and how all of this relates to global warming & the environmental crisis of modernity, then I am sure that you will like my new book 'The Philosophy of Global Warming'. In the post below I have provided the book description, the list of contents and the first two sections of the book. You can find out how to get hold of the book by clicking on this link:
The Philosophy of Global Warming
Tuesday, 19 April 2016
You might well be aware that some of my old colleagues at the University of Reading have been in the news recently because of their research into the extinction of the dinosaurs. You will almost certainly be aware of the idea that the reason that the dinosaurs went extinct was because of a meteor strike on the Earth. Those people who hold this view, a view which I have known to be false for decades, use it to draw the conclusion that the evolution of the 'human' was a fluke, because if that meteor had just missed the Earth then the dinosaurs would still be the rulers of the Earth and the 'human' would never have evolved.
If you have read my books, or previous blog posts on this site, then you will be aware that for years I have written that the evolution of life from simple beginnings to the 'human' is inevitable, and that 'fluke' events such as whether or not a meteor strikes the Earth make no difference whatsoever to this process, this inevitable evolution of the 'human'.
The opposite view, that evolution is directed by fluke, that if were not for that random meteor strike, that the dinosaurs would still be ruling the roost is still surprisingly common in the collective psyche. This is why the researchers at the University of Reading were so surprised by the outcome of their research, which is that the dinosaurs were well on their way to extinction before the meteor strike. The lead researcher, Dr Manabu Sakamoto, states that: "We were not expecting this result".
In other words, whilst doing the research the researchers had the belief that the dinosaurs went extinct because of a meteor strike! At least they are not so clueless now. You will see from the above link that their conclusion is described as "revolutionary". Well, not that revolutionary! Revolutionary suggests something utterly new. If you have been reading this blog since 2010 then you will have known since then that the extinction of the dinosaurs had nothing to do with a meteor strike.
The simple fact is that the primal forces which drive the evolution of life forwards to the 'human' are not affected by random events. As the Earth ages through time, there are stages of evolution through which various life-forms arise and fall away on the planetary and Solar-Systic journey towards the technological zenith that we call the 'human'. The dinosaurs had their time, their role in this unfolding process, and their demise had nothing whatsoever to do with a meteor strike,
This has been obvious to me, and hopefully to you, for a very long time. Despite the surprise of the researchers, there is nothing 'revolutionary' about this conclusion.
Saturday, 30 January 2016
A few days ago I came across an article concerning the Goldilocks Zone in the latest edition of the New Scientist magazine. It is a terrible article. The author clearly has no idea what the Goldilocks Zone is, yet he has written an article about it which was published in the magazine.
The Goldilocks Zone is that part of a solar system in which life can survive and thrive. Life can pop up all over the place in terms of microbes, but if this occurs outside of the Goldilocks Zone then this life is doomed to a simple and relatively short existence; it won't be able to evolve into complex life-forms, it won't be able to flourish. For life to flourish it needs to be in the Goldilocks Zone, the segment of a solar system which is neither too close to the Sun (too hot for life to flourish), nor too far from the Sun (too cold for life to flourish). In our Solar System the Earth is in the heart of the Goldilocks Zone. The Earth is the womb of solar-systic life. The Earth is thus the only part of the Solar System which can bring forth complex life-forms like humans, dolphins and dinosaurs. Of course, life has popped up elsewhere in the Solar System, after all, life pops up wherever it possibly can. Indeed, the entire universe is continuously striving to bring forth life wherever it possible can. However, the existence of life in terms of microbes and the flourishing of life within the Goldilocks Zone are two very different things.
In the New Scientist article the author writes:
"What if the Goldilocks story is just a fairy tale?...It's entirely possible that the Goldilocks formula for habitability no longer holds water. Instead, perhaps we should be thinking of habitable worlds as more like raisins in a fruit cake - they can crop up randomly, almost anywhere."
('Where can life exist' by Joshua Howgego, New Scientist, 23 Jan 2016, p. 29)
The mistake that the author makes is to believe that if a simple microbe can exist outside of the Goldilocks Zone (he refers to such an existence, very grandly, as a 'habitable world'), that this undermines the very idea of the Goldilocks Zone. This is a fatal error. Microbes can exist all over the place in a solar system (like "raisins in a fruit cake") but this fact does nothing to undermine the reality of the Goldilocks Zone. The Goldilocks Zone is the only part of a solar system in which these microbes can evolve, thrive, develop and flourish into an amazing plethora of complex life-forms which come to dominate their home / host planet.
Monday, 14 December 2015
It is good to see that at the recent COP21 meeting in Paris that representatives from very diverse countries and organisations were able to work together and reach an agreement concerning addressing global warming.
What is not so good to see is the way that these meetings are dominated by 'group think' concerning the situation we are in. There is too much 'finger pointing', too much discussion of who is to blame, and too much discussion concerning how those who are going to be affected by future global warming are to be compensated for the negative effects that they face due to this global warming. This is accompanied by a rosy assumption that if global carbon dioxide emissions are gradually reduced over the next half a century, and we do nothing else, that everything will work out relatively okay. Of course, we know that this assumption is completely wrong.
Here is an example of this 'group think'. It concerns the UK's approach to global warming, as expressed by the international development secretary, Justine Greening, who attended COP21:
- "Helping poor countries to go green and adapt to the effects of global warming is in Britain's "national interest" because climate change will render other countries unliveable, sending displaced people in search of new homes, she [Justine Greening] argues. In an interview with The Sunday Telegraph, Ms Greening said Britain's commitment to spend almost £6 billion on overseas climate aid in the next five years was "the smart thing to do", because climate change could trigger refugee crises similar to that caused by the conflict in Syria." ('Greening: Our choice is climate aid or more refugees' by Emily Gosden, The Sunday Telegraph, 6 December 2015, p. 18)
This is a widespread view: significant global warming is going to occur, many countries are going to be severely effected in a negative way, so lets give them billions and billions of pounds to help them deal with these negative consequences!
What we really need to see is a different way of thinking about global warming. Let us just focus on the type of global warming that is human-induced global warming (which is what they have been doing at COP21). This type of global warming is caused by rising greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere due to human activity. At COP21 thousands upon thousands of people attended and effectively said, well yes, global warming is going to occur, so let us try and limit it if possible so that the consequences are not too severe. Instead of this, wouldn't it be nice if they said; 'why don't we stop global warming completely and do it now, over the next 12 months'. This is possible, if the will was there, and it has nothing to do with cutting carbon dioxide emissions!
Rather than spending billions upon billions of pounds dealing with the negative consequences following from global warming, we could be spending this money stopping global warming. That is surely more sensible. To stop human-induced global warming we need to have an atmospheric carbon dioxide/greenhouse gas target, just like the Bank of England has an inflation target. The Bank of England has a range of measures it can deploy to reduce inflation in the economy if the inflation target is breached, or looks like it might be breached. Similarly, if inflation is way below the target, then the Bank of England can implement measures which result in the inflation rate slowly rising upwards towards the target.
We need the same range of measures to maintain the atmospheric carbon dioxide/greenhouse gas target, and thereby avert any global warming. We need measures to both increase, and decrease the level of carbon dioxide/greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. This means we need to be actively intervening on the planet in order to pull carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. Compared to sending humans to the moon, this is surely a piece of cake. Why don't we do it? Why don't we focus all our resources and energy on stopping global warming in its tracks? Of course, we will do this in the future (we will be using technology to regulate the atmospheric temperature in the future). But, why don't we do this immediately? It would save a lot of human suffering if we did.
There are a plethora of ways in which we can pull carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere in order to maintain our atmospheric carbon dioxide/greenhouse gas target. We can use human technology to directly pull carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere; maps have already been drawn up of the underground storage areas on the planet in which the carbon dioxide can be stored (as we saw in a previous blog post). We can cultivate massive seaweed farms to pull carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. We can plant more trees. There are also a whole range of ways in which the way that we manufacture goods can be made carbon-negative rather than carbon-positive; for example, plastics and cement.
We need to be able to actively control the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere through such measures. So, for example, if there are slightly too many greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, then we can immediately set the seaweed farms into increased production. In contrast, if the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere gets too low, then we can temporarily stop production from the seaweed farms.
There is no need to talk of future global warming, and no need for spending billions upon billions of pounds to compensate those negatively effected by global warming.There is no need for massive movements of global warming refugees. We just need to have the motivation and the drive to stop global warming. This won't be achieved by anything that was discussed in Paris at COP21. We need a completely new way of thinking about things, a new agenda, an atmospheric carbon dioxide/greenhouse gas target which we can attain through a range of globally coordinated measures. These measures will initially involve pulling a lot of greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere. This will mean that there is no future global warming.
We can only hope that this will be on the agenda at COP22. If not, they will once again be spending a lot of their time 'finger pointing' as to who is to blame for global warming, and spending their time discussing transferring billions of pounds to those countries who have either been negatively affected by global warming or who are 'developing'. They could, instead, change the agenda and decide to stop global warming through collective coordination in order to achieve an atmospheric carbon dioxide/global warming target! This can be achieved through the mechanisms outlined above.
Stopping global warming in this way is not a problem. The problem is changing the 'group think' and attaining a widespread realisation that stopping global warming in this way is necessary, possible and desirable.
Monday, 30 November 2015
You are probably aware that as I write these words the leaders of many of the world's countries are in Paris for a United Nations conference on climate change (COP21). The sole focus of this meeting seems to be either countries making commitments to reduce their own greenhouse gas emissions, or aiding other countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.
It is striking that all of the people involved in this conference (I assume that it is all, but at least the overwhelming majority), have a shared underlying view. It is such a common and widespread view that I am sure that you hear it on a regular basis. It such a widespread and common view that people just keep on repeating it, and it gets repeated so much that people just seem to automatically believe that it is true. When people utter this view they never, ever, seem to get questioned as to why they believe it to be true. Of course, this view is actually completely wrong! The view is, as expressed by Professor Martin Attrill from Plymouth University's Marine Institute, and concerning taking action to prevent man-made climate change:
- "It's not about saving the planet - it will carry on quite happily when we are gone... It's about protecting society. If we don't check things within 50 years, then it will be a very difficult place to live in." (Western Morning News, 29 November 2015, p. 7).
This view entails that the human species is totally insignificant as far as the planet is concerned. We are of no importance to the planet, to life on Earth, whatsoever. In other words, according to Professor Attrill, and all the people at COP21 who share this overwhelmingly dominant view, we are, as a species, a total waste of space and the planet will be happy when we are gone. How utterly clueless these people are!
Let us help these clueless people out a bit. The planet, specifically the planet as a life-bearing thriving part of the Solar System, would not "carry on quite happily" if the human species were to become extinct. This is the opposite of the truth. The human species, as the enabler of the technological birthing process, is the most precious part of the planet that has ever come into being. The future thriving of live, and ultimately its survival, depends on the continued existence of the human species. If the human species were suddenly to get wiped off the face of the Earth, then life would not "carry on quite happily". It would be a day of such great immense sadness, despair and depression for life on Earth, that we can barely comprehend the extent of this desperation; this day would be the death knell for life on Earth.
In the context of COP21, is the realisation of the planetary significance of humans important? Of course it is! If the planetary significance of the evolution of the human species in the context of the unfolding planet / Solar System is realised, then one will know that the deployment of technology to control the atmospheric temperature is an inevitability, and that it is a very good thing. If one comprehends the place of the human species in the unfolding planet / Solar System then one will also realise that the phenomenon of significant climate change (human and non-human) will not be averted by reducing fossil fuel emissions. So, focusing so much energy on this non-solution is a futile waste of energy.
Of course, fossil fuels will run out. by definition, so we do need to move to renewable sources of energy. However, this is a very different thing from believing that such a switch is a solution to the phenomenon of global warming, or global warming-induced climate change. Let me repeat this. As fossil fuels run out, the smooth operation of energy-intensive societies clearly requires renewable energy sources. Everyone knows this. The important thing to realise is that this switch is no solution to the phenomenon of imminent global warming and significant climate change. Not only is our planetary significance due to our ability to deploy technology to enable life to survive and thrive, but the only way to prevent significant global warming and climate change over the next 100-200 years is to deploy our technology to control the atmospheric temperature. Initially this just involves mastering the art of directly removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and returning them to underground storage.
Friday, 13 November 2015
You will probably be aware that there is an increasing trend for these two terms - climate change and global warming - to be used interchangeably, as if they mean exactly the same thing. Let me explain why this is slightly worrying.
Of course, both of these separate phenomena occur on the planet in the absence of human influence. Throughout the history of the Earth there has been global warming; indeed, the early Earth was too cold for life to thrive; there had to be non-human-induced global warming in order for the atmospheric temperature of the Earth to rise to a level at which life could thrive. Similarly, there has been non-human-induced climate change throughout the history of the Earth. There are obviously close links between these two phenomena - non-human-induced global warming being a partial cause of non-human-induced climate change.
In our current epoch these two terms are typically used to refer to human influence on the Earth, so let us focus on this influence. The phenomenon of human-induced global warming came to prominence in intellectual thought due to the realisation that the greenhouse gases that humans had released from underground storage into the biogeochemical cycles of the Earth, through the industrial revolution, would cause the atmospheric temperature to rise if they built up in the atmosphere to a significant extent.
The phenomenon of human-induced global warming struck many people to be a phenomenon which we should take very seriously. And these people are right.
There was possibly a worry that talk of global warming seems abstract and difficult, hard to get a handle on. The public at large might wonder how it would affect their daily life. So, talk switched more to human-induced climate change. Environmentalists like to talk about the climate changing because they can scare people: there will be droughts, there will be famines, there will be mass migration of climate change refugees, sea level rise will submerge populated islands!
So, nowadays, people typically use the terms interchangeably. Shall we talk of global warming? Shall we talk of climate change? Who cares, because they are really the same thing!
Let me explain why this is wrong; let me explain why this is worrying.
Humans can easily stop human-induced global warming. No problem, this is easy stuff. If the cause of human-induced global warming is a build up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere which has occurred because humans moved things (fossil fuels) from underground storage, then stopping human-induced global warming simply means that we need to put these things back into underground storage. We are already know how to do this. We also know where it can easily be stored. No problem.
But humans cannot easily stop human-induced climate change. The human influence on the planet is so pervasive in a multitude of ways, and the climate system is so sensitive, that the climate will always be influenced to some extent through human activities (even if humans do not / did not cause global warming). There can be no doubt about this. This is just something we have to live with; something we have to expect and prepare for as best as we can.
The main lesson that we can learn from this consideration is that whilst we should prepare for inevitable climate change, our main focus should be on preventing human-induced global warming through returning greenhouse gases to underground storage. If we do this then there will be no major changes to the climate due to human activity; just the inevitable minor ones which we can live with and adapt to.
It is only if we do not do this that there will be significant human-induced global warming, and the very significant changes in the climate that will result from this.
As for the futility of attempting to deal with human-induced global warming through cutting fossil fuel emissions. What a total waste of time! But I have already written about this in many places already.
Wednesday, 30 September 2015
You will have noticed that I haven't posted anything for a while; as September draws to a close I thought I should write something!
I don't have a television, but I try to keep up-to-date with what is going on in contemporary human culture through the radio, particularly Radio 4. Over the past few weeks the issue of the relationship between humans and the Earth / Solar System, framed from the perspective of the environmental crisis / human-induced global warming, has cropped up several times:
* Pope Francis has been talking about this issue as he has toured the United States. He expressed the view that it is our common duty to protect the Earth from human destruction / human-induced global warming, by cutting fossil fuel emissions.
* Yesterday, Mark Carney, the governor of the Bank of England, chimed in to the issue by warning about the massive risks to global economic stability which would be caused by a significantly changed climate precipitated by global warming. Again, we should cut fossil fuel emissions to supposedly avoid this.
* There was another interview on Radio 4 with the author of a new book called 'The Evolution of Everything'. The author seemed to appreciate the reality that human culture has a preordained directedness from hunter gatherer to global technological society. However, when it came to the environmental crisis / global warming, the author failed to have any understanding of how this fits into the unfolding cosmos. He expressed the widespread but tired old view that 'we might destroy/eliminate ourselves as a species, but life will be fine without us, it will continue to thrive and might even be much better off without us'.
* The issue of water / life on Mars has also been in the news over the last few days. New images suggest that water might be pervasive on Mars, and this in turn suggests that life is quite likely to have evolved on Mars. This is, of course, what we would expect from the perspective of the view that I express in my books. The whole universe is directed towards bringing forth life wherever possible, and then that life is directed towards surviving. The bringing forth of the human species, the environmental crisis, and human-induced global warming, are all part of this striving for survival on the part of life.
* Whilst I was in town yesterday I noticed a poster advertising an imminent screening of the film 'The Age of Stupid'. The tagline was something like: 'we could have saved ourselves but we didn't because we are so stupid'. This is obviously a campaigning film produced by environmentalists who utterly fail to comprehend the nature of the relationship between the human species and the rest of the Earth. There is some merit to the view that we are living in an age of stupidity / ignorance. But the nature of this ignorance is that the overwhelmingly vast majority of humans who are currently alive believe that humans are a wholly destructive force on the Earth whose productive activities (their 'work' in Holderlin's terms) are fundamentally harming the rest of life on Earth. This is not true, so to believe it is to be 'stupid'. It is in the future, when the 'veil of ignorance' has been lifted, that the vast majority of humans will come to realise that they, the human species, are the saviours of life on Earth. The human species will come to realise the point of it all, they will come to realise their important place on the Earth, and how, through their 'work', their toil in bringing forth the industrial revolution, the technological revolution, the environmental crisis, the geoengineering of the Earth's atmosphere, that they have enabled wonderful life to survive and thrive. I am not seeking to label the producers of this film, or environmentalists, or anyone, as 'stupid'. It is to be expected, given the current stage of the evolution of the Earth / Solar System, that the vast majority of humans are lacking insight into the nature of things, being as they are, stuck behind the 'veil of ignorance'.
It goes without saying, that the views expressed above, the views expressed by Mark Carney, Pope Francis, the author of 'The Evolution of Everything', and the views expressed in 'The Age of Stupid', are all views firmly emanating from behind the 'veil of ignorance'.
Some people seem to get really excited by the idea that humans are a wholly and fundamentally destructive force that is destroying the Earth. This idea of stupidity and injustice seems to give meaning to their lives, it gives them a reason to get out of bed in the morning, it gives them something to 'fight for'. And this is okay. It doesn't matter that the underling view which motivates their actions is wrong. Their actions are still 'right'. Such is the nature of human motivation in the unfolding Solar System.
I hope that this has made some sense to you. On a final note, I have been reflecting recently on the fact that although I have a PhD in philosophy, that I am fundamentally a mystic. There are thousands of philosophers and the vast majority of them have nothing of any importance to say. The realm of importance is that of the mystic. So, I was wondering whether I should have called my 2014 book 'The Philosophy of Global Warming'! It makes it sound like a boring work of academic philosophy, not an inspiring insight into the nature of human existence, human purpose and the nature of reality.
Monday, 8 June 2015
A little reflection on the concept of naturalness. Many people assert that "humans are not natural". Other people take it to be obvious that humans are completely natural and ridicule those who assert that humans are not natural. Can we make any progress concerning this disagreement?
I believe that it is blatantly obvious that everything is natural; however, I think we should be forgiving of those who prefer to use the concept of 'naturalness' differently. This is because it is also blatantly obvious that there is a great chasm between humans and the rest of the lifeforms of the Earth.
One aspect of what creates the chasm between the human species and the rest of the lifeforms of the Earth, is the concept of naturalness itself. The human species is that part of the Solar System which has created the concept of 'naturalness'. The human species is that part of the Solar System which has become so separated from its surroundings that it can entertain the possibility that its surroundings are 'natural' and that it is something very different, something 'non-natural'. This fact itself is of interest, and it creates a chasm between the human and the non-human. Another related aspect of this chasm between the human and the non-human is that the human species is the technological animal; technology being the factor that stimulates the creation of the concept of 'naturalness'.
So, whilst everything is natural, there is a fundamental chasm between the human and the non-human, and in many cases we can simply think to ourselves that this chasm is what people are referring to when they utter phrases such as "humans are not natural". We need not think to ourselves that these people are stupid or have preposterous views.
It is also common to believe that "not every configuration of nature is good". However, this is actually a pretty empty statement. There is nothing obvious about whether a particular arrangement of nature is good or bad. In order to start making some progress on this question one first needs to ask the question: Good for what or for whom? Then, one needs to make progress on the question: What does good mean?
In my writings over the past decade I have made the case that the present configuration of nature (human domination of the planet, human release of fossil fuels from underground storage, etc.) is exceptionally good for life and exceptionally good for the Solar System. It is good because it is a sign that life is thriving and will thrive into the distant future. It is not so good for the human species because being the technological animal entails being a species that itself suffers terribly. However, in the bigger picture it is good for the human species, because it is good for life, and the human species is part of life. I have outlined all of this in great detail in my books 'The Philosophy of Global Warming' (2014) and 'Is the Human Species Special: Why human-induced global warming could be in the interests of life' (2010), and 'An Evolutionary Perspective on the Relationship between Humans and their Surroundings: Geoengineering, the Purpose of Life and the Nature of the Universe' (2012).