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
Friday, 14 December 2012
In the last few posts I have concentrated on geoengineering. I have considered both the need for geoengineering and why such an outcome would be a positive event for life on Earth. This need and outcome are firmly embedded within a view of the universe, and life on Earth, as evolving entities. I was slightly disturbed by some of the anti-evolution views expressed in the Metro on Wednesday (12/12/12) and thought I should write about them here.
'Gaps in our fossil records only open door to attacks on Darwin's Theory' (Metro, 12/12/12, p. 14):
"Creationists accept variation within a kind (ie within the dog 'family', cat 'family', bovine 'family', equine 'family', etc) but reject the notion of one type of creature, such as a wolf, turning into a completely different creature, such as a whale."
"the fossil record contains exactly what you would expect to find if the biblical account of creation were true."
"As a creationist, I agree there is such a thing as micro-evolution (changes within species). However, the fossil record does not support macro-evolution, which claims all species are related to each other and, for example, that we are related to apes and descended from fish. Tens of millions of fossils have been dug up and still there is not a single clear, undisputed case of a 'missing link' between species. The fossil record consistently supports creation of separate species, not gradual evolution from micro-organisms to humans."
There appear to be lots of people who believe that if Charles Darwin's proposed mechanism of evolution is false, then this is a good reason to reject evolution and embrace creationism. This misunderstands Darwin's legacy. There are three meanings of evolution:
1 Evolution as Fact - species are not fixed but arise out of and develop into other species.
2 Evolution as Path - the actual routes that evolution has taken.
3 Evolution as Mechanism - the power that lies behind evolutionary change.
Darwin's achievement was to establish beyond reasonable doubt the truth of 1). He had very little to say about 2) and he did his best to postulate a possible mechanism for 3) - 'natural selection'. If one rejects Darwin's proposed evolutionary mechanism, as many evolutionists do, then one really needs to look for a more plausible evolutionary mechanism in accordance with 1). One cannot reasonably reject 1) on the basis of rejecting a single possible mechanism (there are other possible mechanisms which can occupy 3) above).
The Metro quote above states:
"The fossil record consistently supports creation of separate species, not gradual evolution from micro-organisms to humans."
The important word here is "not". In other words, the belief is being expressed that IF "separate species" came into existence THEN this entails that there was no "gradual evolution from micro-organisms to humans". Of course, there is no actually no such entailment. If one rejects "gradual evolution from micro-organisms to humans" then one is rejecting 1) above. However, such a rejection does not follow from an acceptance that "separate species" came into existence. This is because there are very plausible evolutionary mechanisms which entail that "separate species" came into existence. In other words, one can believe, like I do, that there is "gradual evolution from micro-organisms to humans" AND that "separate species" come into existence throughout the evolutionary process. In Acquiring Genomes Lynn Margulis and Dorion Sagan propose one such evolutionary mechanism with their symbiogenetic theory of animal speciation.
The conclusion seems to be that those who jump straight from a belief in "separate species" to creationism do not understand that there are evolutionary mechanisms which entail "separate species" coming into existence. The alternative is that they simply choose to ignore this fact.
For more on evolutionary mechanisms and paths see:
An Evolutionary Perspective on the Relationship between Humans and their Surroundings: Geoengineering, the purpose of life & the nature of the universe
Saturday, 1 December 2012
An article in yesterday's i newspaper highlights the accelerating rate of polar ice melting ("Polar ice melting three times as fast as 20 years ago", Lewis Smith, Friday 30 November, p.25). The article states that:
"More than 4,200 gigatones were lost from the polar ice sheets from 1992 to 2011, an average of 223Gt a year and rising. Researchers described the rate of losses as being at "the very upper end" of forecasts published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2007."
"During the 1990s ice sheet loss accounted for 10 per cent of sea level rises, but in the last five years it has risen to more than 30 per cent, the researchers said."
"The Antarctic ice sheet contains 30 million cubic kilometres of ice and holds around 90 per cent of all the fresh water on the surface of the Earth. If the whole Antarctic ice sheet melted, sea levels would rise by more than 60 metres."
What are we to make of this? I think we need to accept our limitations, utilise our strengths, and properly acknowledge the level of uncertainty about what might happen in the future. Perhaps the most important of these is to accept our limitations. Let us consider the forces at work on the Earth:
1 Biogeochemical Forces - There have been biogeochemical forces slowly building up in momentum over hundreds of years which are resulting in the current changes we are seeing on the planet, changes such as a worrying acceleration in polar ice melting.
2 Socio/Economic/Political/Cultural/Individual Forces - These forces have been slowly building up for thousands of years, they have propelled cultural evolution towards globalisation and the human modification of large parts of the planet.
These forces are very strong and they are not about to suddenly weaken. In other words, if human 'interference' with the planet ceased tomorrow (no construction, no greenhouse gas emissions, no car or airplane travel, no deforestation, etc.) then the polar ice would still continue to melt at an accelerating rate for the foreseeable future. In other words, the two forces are interconnected, but also largely independent when they pick up their own momentum (think of a large boulder on the top of a hill; it might need a human to push it to get it to start rolling, but once rolling the human cannot stop it - it keeps on rolling until it gets to the bottom of the hill!).
We need to accept the reality of the situation. We need to accept the existence, the strength, the inertia, of these two forces. We need to accept our inability to stop these forces. For the foreseeable future humans are going to keep on consuming, modifying and altering, and greenhouse gas emissions are going to stay at a very high level - a level which will cause potential catastrophe if we don't utilise our strengths.
What are our strengths? This is obvious. We have walked on the moon, sent probes to Mars, and created a feast of engineering delights across the planet which would have utterly bewildered our ancestors. Surely, with all of that engineering expertise, pulling some carbon out of the atmosphere should be a very simple affair. Releasing carbon from its underground storage areas and releasing it into the atmosphere was a fairly simple human activity; the reverse movement is surely not beyond us. We just need to realise the urgency of the need. Unfortunately, there are many powerful voices which are 'emission-reduction obsessed'; they do not see the need, so they definitely do not see the urgency of the need. These voices could be piloting us towards a very dark future.
Finally, let us move towards uncertainty. There is obviously a very high level of uncertainty about the future. Forecasts have been made in the past, and as time passes the outcomes have been at the very worrying end of forecasts (the most extreme changes, as with polar ice melting). As the Biogeochemical Forces accelerate then it is likely that the changes which occur will far exceed the most extreme forecasts which are currently made. Whilst there is uncertainty, all the danger is on the upside. In other words, the most extreme forecasts could be overshot by a small amount, a large amount, or an exceptionally massive amount! In the face of all this uncertainty we most definitely need our most precious gift at our disposal, our exceptional ability to modify, to geoengineer.
So, we need to accept our limitations, utilise our strengths, and properly acknowledge the level of uncertainty that we face. This seems like a sensible strategy for the future. And all of these factors lead to the conclusion that we need to overcome the current 'emissions-reduction fixation' and push ahead with geoengineering efforts in the immediate future. Our future, and the future of life on Earth, could depend on it.
Tuesday, 27 November 2012
In the last few posts I have been considering greenhouse gas emissions. I have cited journal and newspaper articles which reveal a growing realisation that greenhouse gas emissions are at a level which makes it very likely that there is going to be an extremely dangerous increase in the temperature of the planetary atmosphere later this century.
Despite the increasingly widespread realisation that this is so, there is still optimism that this extremely dangerous scenario can be averted if governments get together and agree to significantly reduce their emissions. One is tempted to believe that many people are blinkered into thinking that the only solution is to significantly reduce emissions. So, whilst the reality is that this isn't going to happen, people still want to believe that it can happen. People are, in the main, optimistic; so, if there is only one solution to a problem, then it is natural to keep on hoping that this solution can be attained, whatever the reality of the situation. There is clearly a gap between ambition and reality. Indeed, in the recently published Emissions Gap Report 2012, Achm Steiner, the executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme, states that the report:
"provides a sobering assessment of the gulf between ambition and reality"
The gulf between the reality of emissions being way too high to prevent dangerous warming is accepted; this reality is completely out of kilter with the ambition to have massively lower emissions. Yet, the report still tries to be optimistic in its conclusions, stating that it is "technically possible" that emissions can be slashed and that dangerous warming can be averted.
What does it mean to be "technically possible"? This way of looking at the situation seems to simply be a case of misplaced optimism and it could be extremely dangerous; it just seems to mean not theoretically impossible (which is, of course, true). It is also "technically possible" that I could win the National Lottery Jackpot every week for a year. However, when one gets serious, one needs to leave these theoretical "technical possibilities" aside, and return to reality! The reality is that 'the force to environmental destruction' (see Is the Human Species Special?: Why human-induced global warming could be in the interests of life ) will continue to dominate; greenhouse gas emissions will not be slashed in the time-frame that is required.
Another report has just been released by the World Bank:
According to this report:
"the world is on track to a “4°C world” marked by extreme heat-waves and life-threatening sea level rise"
"As global warming approaches and exceeds 2°C, there is a risk of triggering nonlinear tipping elements. Examples include the disintegration of the West Antarctic ice sheet leading to more rapid sea-level rise, or large-scale Amazon dieback drastically affecting ecosystems, rivers, agriculture, energy production, and livelihoods. This would further add to 21st-century global warming and impact entire continents.
The projected 4°C warming simply must not be allowed to occur—the heat must be turned down. Only early, cooperative, international actions can make that happen."
In this report there is clearly an admirable ambition to avoid the extreme danger that we face from a massive increase in temperatures triggered by an above 2°C rise (due to the associated nonlinear tipping points which are likely to result in a runaway warming effect). Yet this ambition is again out of kilter with reality. This is because there is a misplaced belief that the desired outcome can be achieved through emissions cuts.
The sooner that reality is fully accepted the better it will be. When one realises that one's proposed solution to a problem is completely out of kilter with reality, then it is usually best to seek another solution. This isn't a bad thing, a sign of failure. In this case, the realisation will simply cause one to shift one's energy and focus to a real solution to the problem; a solution which is in accordance with reality. Of course, you know what this solution is: the geoengineering of the temperature of the atmosphere.
As a final note, many people still seem to believe that if emissions were 'magically' slashed from tomorrow, that everything would be fine. However, this seems to be another case of the widespread human need to be optimistic; there are good reasons to believe that in reality even this would not make any difference; the 'damage' has already been done due to past actions whose time-lag biogeochemical perturbation effects have yet to be manifested in increasing atmospheric temperatures. For more on this see: An Evolutionary Perspective on the Relationship between Humans and their Surroundings: Geoengineering, the purpose of life & the nature of the universe .
So, the World Bank report is right that "only early, cooperative, international actions" can avoid a 4°C rise. The real question which needs to be addressed is what these actions are. When reality is accepted then the ambition to avoid such a rise can be met with a solution that can work (geoengineering), rather than with the current obsession with the completely ineffectual alternative (attempting to slash emissions). So, if reality can be widely accepted then there is still reason to be optimistic; one just needs to place one's optimism in the right solution.
Tuesday, 13 November 2012
If you have been following my blog posts, or been reading my books, then you will be aware that there are 3 key aspects to my view of the place of humans in the cosmos:
1) Humans will (well, already have, but this was 'inevitable' from the moment life first arose on the Earth) 'inevitably' set in motion the forces which will potentially cause very severe global warming.
2) This is not a bad thing. This is because it is a side-effect of the planet giving birth to the technological protection which benefits life on Earth. Technological protection takes many forms, but the most important one is the ability of life to technologically regulate the temperature of the atmosphere. Without this ability the planet will inevitably fall back to a state of lifelessness. So, 1) above, and in particular, concerns about 1), will lead to the human species regulating the temperature of the atmosphere and will thereby significantly bolster the chance that life will continue to exist in this region of the cosmos in the future.
3) The popular view which states that "life has existed for millions for years without humans, and that humans are the destroyers of life, and that life would survive on the planet into the distant future if humans were to go extinct" is wrong. Simplistic and plain wrong.
Of course, there are those who disagree with everything I have just said. In recent posts my focus has been on convincing you of the truth of 1). I will provide a little more support for the truth of 1) here. A recent study has concluded that most predictions of the amount of global warming that we can expect on the planet by the end of the century are way too low. The authors claim that we should expect what are currently "the most extreme predictions" (the most massive amount of warming) to prevail. This implies to me that new predictions will soon be needed which are even more extreme, than the present most extreme ones!
John Fasullo of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, summarises the report:
“Warming is likely to be on the high side of the projections”
The current extreme projections are a "devastating" increase of eight degrees Fahrenheit by 2100. According to the Washington Post:
"Such an increase would substantially overshoot what the world’s leaders have identified as the threshold for triggering catastrophic consequences. In 2009, heads of state agreed to try to limit warming to 3.6 degrees, and many countries want a tighter limit."
It is surely only a matter of time before everyone - environmentalists, climate scientists, politicians, everyone on the planet - comes to realise the truth of 1), and comes to realise that the active control of the temperature of the atmosphere is the only feasible solution. The sooner this day of realisation arrives the better it will be for all of the life-forms which currently inhabit the Earth (the better it will be for 'life on Earth').
Friday, 26 October 2012
In the previous post, in response to an article in The Metro, I claimed that attempting to deal with global warming by making efficiency/resource savings is hopeless. I concluded that:
"Don't fool yourself into believing that your time would be well spent "urging politicians to make efficiency savings". If you want to do something of real value then spend every waking moment urging politicians, environmentalists, academics, the media, charities, and everyone you meet, that the need for full-scale geoengineering of the temperature of the Earth's atmosphere is real and imminent."
Since this post a paper has been published by scientists Dr Jasper Knight and Dr Stephan Harrison in which they claim that it is too late to deal with global warming though emissions cuts. In other words, attempting to deal with global warming by making efficiency/resource savings is hopeless. Knight and Harrison state that:
"At present, governments' attempts to limit greenhouse-gas emissions through carbon cap-and-trade schemes and to promote renewable and sustainable energy sources are probably too late to arrest the inevitable trend of global warming,"
Nature Climate Change, Monday, 14 October 2012:
I am glad that Knight and Harrison can see the futility of emissions cuts. What do they suggest we should do? They argue for a switch in concentration from mitigation policies to adaption policies. This means that, in the face of global warming, optimal outcomes can be attained in terms of sustainability, food security and biodiversity. They claim that much more research is needed into how global warming will impact on Earth surface systems so that these optimal outcomes can be attained:
"Earth surface systems provide water and soil resources, sustain ecosystem services and strongly influence biogeochemical climate feedbacks in ways that are as yet uncertain"
When one appreciates that there are forces which are hurtling the planet towards future global warming, forces which themselves cannot be stopped, then it is understandable to conclude, "we cannot stop these forces/global warming, so let's adapt to global warming".
However, I find this conclusion a deeply troubling one; troubling because it seems clear to me that we are not talking about just a small degree of global warming. If in the future there was only a small amount of global warming, then Knight and Harrison would be spot on in their urgings for adaption policies to attain optimal outcomes for food security, sustainability and biodiversity.
There is obviously a wide range of views, and a great degree of uncertainty, concerning exactly how much global warming can be expected in the near future. As I've said, my interpretation of the way that the biogeochemical cycles of the Earth have been 'temporarily temporally perturbed', leads to the conclusion that there are time-lag forces which are set to unleash a massive amount of global warming; an amount which would wreak devastation on the human species and most of our fellow planetary companions.
If this is right, then whilst Knight and Harrison are sensible to call for a greater emphasis on adaption policy research, we should fully embrace the reality that adaption policies cannot adequately deal with anything other than a trifling amount of global warming. The policy we need is to offset the forces which are set to cause global warming; in other words, we need to actively regulate planetary conditions to stop global warming from occurring.
Find much more here:
An Evolutionary Perspective on the Relationship between Humans and their Surroundings: Geoengineering, the purpose of life & the nature of the universe
Tuesday, 2 October 2012
I thought I would share with you an article from The Metro newspaper (1 October 2012). On page nineteen there is a very small article entitled: Earth ‘four years from disaster’. Here is the article in its entirety:
FAILURE to address the threat of climate change is ‘reckless and short-sighted’, campaigners claim. Global policies have ‘taken us backwards’, with the world four years away from dangerous surges in temperature, a collection of dozens of charities and individuals say. The EU agreed rises should not exceed 2C (3.6F) if the worst impacts were to be avoided. Supporters including designer Dame Vivienne Westwood urged politicians to invest in a huge energy efficiency drive.
To summarise the article:
1 We are 4 years away from dangerous surges in the temperature of the Earth’s atmosphere.
2 Lets deal with this scenario by urging our politicians to engage in energy efficiency savings.
It is hard to take this even remotely seriously. The situation we are in is assumed to be so dire that we are only 48 months from immense danger, and the proposed solution is to campaign politicians to make efficiency savings! The nature of the twin time-lags – the time-lags of the biogeochemical cycles of the Earth, and the time-lags inherent in cultural/political change, combined with the reality of the societal situation we face (the push for growth in recession-hit ‘developed’ economies, the push for growth in ‘developing’ countries, individual human motivation/desire), mean that this is nonsense. If we are 48 months from immense danger, then the solution is not to urge politicians to make efficiency savings! If we are 48 months from immense danger then the immense forces which are propelling us towards disaster are not going to be stopped by such a futile campaign.
Hope is an admirable attribute. However, if as one gazes up at the night sky one puts a straw into ones mouth and asserts I am hopeful that I can blow the moon out of its orbit, then one should not be taken seriously. One can be admired for one’s ambition, but when the realities of the situation are explained to one then one will come to understand why one’s ‘moon-blowing efforts’ were greeted with laughter.
Clearly, if we are 48 months from dangerous surges in temperature, due to the immense forces that have been gradually unfolding on the planet for thousands of years (the force to environmental destruction), then our only hope is to put the maximum amount of resources possible into our attempts to technologically control the temperature of the atmosphere. The forces which are still building up, the forces which are lurching us towards dangerous future temperature surges, can only be offset by an opposing matching force. If we are able to master the mechanics of technologically regulating the temperature of the atmosphere then dangerous temperature surges can be averted.
I will assume that you want to help the human species and that you want to help the rest of the life-forms which we currently share the planet with. I will assume that you want to prevent dangerous surges in temperature which would threaten humans and our non-human companions. I will assume that you believe that we are 48 months from dangerous temperature surges in the planetary atmosphere. What should you do to help the situation?
Don’t fool yourself into believing that your time would be well spent “urging politicians to make efficiency savings”. This would be a complete waste of your time. Even if you were successful, and the politicians made some efficiency savings, these savings would be swamped by increasing global carbon dioxide emissions over the next 48 months. Besides, the time-lags in the biogeochemical cycles mean that the atmospheric temperature over the next 48 months is largely determined by events that have already happened (in the absence of future technological regulation).
If you want to do something of real value, rather than waste your time, then spend every waking moment urging politicians, environmentalists, academics, the media, charities, and everyone you meet, that the need for full-scale geoengineering of the temperature of the Earth’s atmosphere is real and imminent. You might initially be met with resistance, even derision, but in the future you will be looked back on as a hero.
Wednesday, 26 September 2012
In my first book:
I outline why humans came to see themselves as fundamentally different to all of the other species of animals that have inhabited the Earth. I also explain why all of the attempts which have traditionally been made to create a rational barrier which elevates the human species to a position of superiority fail. In other words, humans have been grasping around for an attribute which 'elevates' them above the rest of the animals which inhabit the Earth - an attribute which engenders human uniqueness - but all of these traditional attempts have been misplaced.
You will be aware of many of the attributes that supposedly 'elevate' humans to a position of superiority - possession of a soul, tool use, language, emotions, rationality, morality, consciousness, self-awareness, culture, and so on. We are now living through an epoch in which it is slowly being realised that none of these attributes 'elevate' humans to a position of superiority. These attributes are possessed by many other non-human animals which inhabit the Earth; they cannot in themselves elevate the human species to a position of superiority.
A sign of this growing realisation is The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness (July 2012). In the declaration leading cognitive neuroscientists state that it is unequivocal that non-human animals are conscious and possess the cognitive ability to assess situations based on prior experience, and then act accordingly:
I am glad that we are now entering the stage of planetary evolution in which we cease to see ourselves as being surrounded by 'inferior' animals with lesser attributes, and start to fully accept that there are no unique 'superior-making' attributes which humans possess and that all other animals lack.
This stage of planetary evolution is one in which necessary exploitation slowly gets replaced with care and compassion. It is also a time in which humans start to realise exactly why they have a special place on the Earth. The human species will come to fully embrace its role as the saviour of the life, in all of its current manifestations, that currently exists on the Earth.
Thursday, 23 August 2012
Today I would like to say a little more concerning the following:
1 The way that humans see their place in the cosmos
2 The place of humans in the cosmos
Let us start with the first of these. Most humans don't seem to spend too much time pondering the question of whether the human species has a special place in the cosmos. However, many humans consider the question of how humans relate to the non-human animals which inhabit the Earth. And these two questions are, in effect, the same. So, if humans think of themselves as simply one species of animal among many then they are subscribing to the view that humans do not have a special place in the cosmos. Whereas, if humans think that the human species is 'special' in some way, distinguished from all of the other non-human animals which inhabit the Earth, then they are subscribing to the view that humans have a special place in the cosmos.
Due to the spread of evolutionary thinking - the fact that the human species evolved from non-human animals - there is an increasing tendency for humans to think of themselves as simply 'one species of animal among many'. This way of thinking arises largely because the thinker is simply considering a limited and narrow range of facts: 1) humans evolved from non-human animals, leads to 2) humans are simply one species of animal among many. This entails: 3) humans do not have a special place in the cosmos.
When one broadens the range of facts which one considers then things get much more complicated. Evolutionary thinking is perfectly compatible with the view that the human species has a special place in the cosmos. When one thinks of the cosmos as an evolving whole, giving rise to solar systems, planets, and life; when one starts to understand how life-bearing planets age; when one starts to comprehend the forces underpinning the biological-cultural evolutionary trajectory; then, one can see why the human species has a special place in the cosmos.
The view that the human species does not have a special place in the cosmos arises largely from a simple comparison of the attributes of humans with the attributes of non-human animals. This is how the view goes: All animals have different attributes, so why should the human species (and their particular attributes) be 'special'? But, this really won't do. For, the question is misplaced. The question of whether the human species has a special place in the cosmos cannot be answered by simply comparing the attributes of humans with non-human animals. One needs to consider a very broad range of factors, such as those detailed in the previous paragraph.
The way that humans see themselves in relation to other animals goes through fads/phases - 'non-special', 'special', 'non-special', 'special'. The fact of whether the human species has a special place in an evolving cosmos is unchanging.
It is exceedingly obvious to me that the human species has a special place in the cosmos, that it is not just one species of animal among many. In the face of environmental destruction this is a source of some comfort. For, those who aren't aware of the bigger picture, those who just focus on the environmental destruction, are typically led solely to despair and frustration.
For more on this see the following:
An Evolutionary Perspective on the Relationship between Humans and their Surroundings: Geoengineering, the purpose of life & the nature of the universe
Friday, 27 July 2012
In a recent post: The Need for a New View of Humans in the Cosmos I cited evidence of the growing realisation that we need to geoengineer the temperature of the atmosphere; merely reducing emissions not being an option that is capable of stabilising the temperature of the atmosphere.
In my overall philosophy this growing realisation has a special place in the cultural trajectory of human civilisation, it is the stimulus which causes the human species to fulfil the purpose for which it came into existence. It is this realisation which causes the human species to start actively regulating the level of the GMST, as the ability of non-human life to homeostatically regulate the GMST continues to weaken.
As I outlined in this recent post, we are currently living through a time in which the realisation of the need for such geonegineering is growing, but the outcome itself is seen as an undesirable 'last resort'. In the future the outcome will be widely seen not as an undesirable 'last resort' but as an inevitable requirement for the continued flourishing and existence of life on Earth.
I would like to briefly present yet more evidence of the growing realisation of the need for active human regulation of the temperature of the atmosphere (the GMST).
Klaus Lackner and his colleagues at the Lenfest Center (part of the Earth Institute) in a paper published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences - "Urgency of development of CO2 capture from ambient air" - claim that there is a vital need for pulling CO2 out of the atmosphere in order to regulate the GMST. They claim that such carbon capture and storage is the only solution to the situation we face. Lackner and colleagues claim:
"In a way, it's too late to argue that we shouldn't consider [such] solutions. The concern that this kind of technology would give us an excuse not to do anything [to reduce carbon emissions] is wrong, because we're too late for that... We have to push very hard right now, and we have to have every means at our disposal to solve this problem."
I obviously agree that "we're too late for that". The mechanisms underpinning the trajectory of cultural evolution ensure that by the time humans realise "what they have done" that the only option, the only solution, is technological regulation of the GMST. If these mechanisms were different, and technological regulation was avoided, then life on Earth would be doomed. Life on Earth needs technological regulation of the GMST, this is why the biological-cultural trajectory of life ensures that "we're too late for that". This is how life gets what it needs in order to continue surviving.
Wednesday, 27 June 2012
I have recently had several encounters with people who think that the human population should be restricted or reduced ‘for the sake of the planet’. Anyone who has taken a course in Environmental Studies will be aware of the basic Environmental Impact formula:
EI = P x R x T
In other words, the total environmental impact of humans on the planet (EI) arises from a combination of three factors – the number of humans on the planet (P), the average per capita level of resource use (R) and the technological efficiency of producing these resources (T).
My encounters got me thinking about the nature of this formula. It is a very simple formula, if P increases then EI increases, if R increases then EI increases, and if T decreases then EI increases. However, behind the simplicity lurk a number of assumptions and complications. The primary assumption is that any increase in EI is bad. The primary complication concerns the nature of EI. What exactly is EI?
Let us first consider the primary assumption that any increase in EI is bad. This means that any increase in P or R, or any decrease in T, is bad. Now, one might believe that in the distant past, when P was very low, that an increase in P was not bad. If one believes this, then one is surely correct. However, it is important to recognise that in the distant past the EI formula did not exist. The very fact that the EI formula was devised indicates that humans see increases in P and R as a problem, as a bad/dangerous thing. So, I am suggesting that the assumption lying behind this formula has always been that any increase in EI (any increase in P or R, or any decrease in T) is bad; this seems to be intrinsic to the formula. Have you ever heard anyone say any of the following?
For the sake of the planet I think that the human population size should be increased.
For the sake of the planet I think that all humans
consume more resources.
For the sake of the planet I think that we should use resources less efficiently.
I doubt it! The assumption is always that ‘for the sake of the planet’ equates to reductions in EI, not increases in EI. Do most humans really know what is in the interests of the planet? Or, do they just assume that they know? When everyone (or almost everyone) unquestioningly assumes something to be true, then there is a reasonable chance that they are wrong! Indeed, from the perspective of my philosophy, the almost continual increase in EI from the bringing forth of the human species to the current day, can be seen as a good thing. This continually increasing EI is effectively a direct measure of the growing strength of the force to environmental destruction. And, as we have seen, the growing strength of this force is a good thing, a sign that life on Earth is thriving and heading towards a successful technological birth.
Let us now consider the nature of EI. It doesn’t seem to be a very useful thing to imagine. EI is an attempt to envision the total environmental impact of all humans that live on the Earth; it is a formula, an image constructed in the human mind. ‘Out there’, on the planet itself, there are simply a diverse range of individual environmental impacts. Believing that any reduction in EI (this creation of the human mind) is a good thing has some seemingly unsavoury implications. For example:
1. If 50 humans die in a motorway pileup this is good, as reductions in P reduce EI.
2. If unemployed people are put to work using simple technology, in the process replacing technologically more efficient machinery which requires no human labour, then this is bad, as reductions in T increase EI.
3. If 100 people move out of extreme poverty/near starvation and start eating more food this is bad, as increases in R increase EI.
4. If 100 people start eating less food and move into a state of near starvation this is good, as decreases in R decrease EI.
I am not convinced that we should see any of these things (these changes in EI) as being either good or bad for the environment. I am not convinced that these supposedly ‘good’ eventualities (the reductions in EI) would be ‘for the sake of the planet’/beneficial outcomes for life on Earth. I think we would be much better off simply looking at individual situations/problems and giving up on the EI formula. When we do this then we can give up the simple idea that increases in P, or increases in R, are automatically bad.
For example, one major environmental problem is biodiversity loss. If P or R increase in a particular location this might lead to a serious loss of biodiversity. However, if the same increase in P or R occurred in another location there might actually be a resulting increase in biodiversity. The realities of the state of the planet cannot be adequately captured in a simple formula.
Another major environmental problem is climate change. I am sure you can easily appreciate that P and R can increase without having any impact on the climate; this means that EI would be increasing but that this wouldn’t affect this environmental problem (although there could be a tipping point past which an increase in EI would have an affect).
Then, of course, there is human-induced global warming. Let us look at this environmental problem from the perspective of the EI formula. The assumption is that an increase in P (or an increase in R; or a decrease in T) is bad because it contributes to global warming. So, ‘for the sake of the planet’ P should be reduced, or maintained, or restricted in its growth. You will be aware that I believe that a proper assessment of the situation that we are in reveals that this environmental problem needs a particular solution; this solution is the active technological regulation of the GMST. So, this means that maintaining P, or restricting the growth of P, or reducing P, is not a solution to the problem. Future changes in P are of minimal significance to either the problem or the solution to the problem. The EI formula effectively becomes redundant. Future changes in P, R and T will affect EI, but they will not affect this environmental problem, or its solution, in any meaningful way.
So, the EI formula doesn’t seem to be that useful, and it also leads to simplistic broad-brush thinking. For example, ‘for the sake of the planet we should reduce P’.
Monday, 4 June 2012
You will probably be aware that the phenomenon of technology is central to my philosophical worldview. The human species IS that part of life on Earth which has become technological, and it is this fact that distinguishes the human species from the rest of life on Earth, this fact that elevates it to a position of 'superiority'.
In my writings I have outlined why it is obvious to me that technology is in the interests of life on Earth, obvious that the bringing forth of technology is a positive event in the evolution of the planet. This view does not entail that ALL aspects of technology are positive/beneficial/in the interests of life on Earth. Indeed, such a view would be blatantly absurd. Everyone knows that technology has both positive and negative aspects.
Yet, when it comes to the environment, people typically have a very polarised view of technology. The neo-Luddites see technology as a wholly bad phenomenon which is the cause of the environmental crisis. At the other extreme is the view that whatever environmental problems arise technology can provide a solution; technology is conceptualised as a silver bullet, a panacea.
Sometimes people mistakenly believe that the Silver Bullet view of technology is part of my philosophical worldview. The reason for this mistaken belief seems to lie in the conflation of two different beliefs: 1) The belief that the evolution of technology is a positive event for life on Earth. 2) The belief that technology can provide a solution for every environmental problem. These are two very different beliefs; I advocate the first belief and reject the second.
In my latest book:
I outline the environmental realms in which technology is obviously in the interests of life on Earth. I also outline the environmental problems which seemingly cannot be solved by technology; non-technological solutions are required. A serious view of the place of technology in an evolving planet needs to do this, needs to embrace both the positive and the negative aspects of technology. Technology simultaneously eliminates risks which threaten the survival of life on Earth, and presents a danger to life on Earth. A serious approach to the 'environmental crisis' needs to outline which areas require technological solutions and which areas require non-technological solutions. The extremes of the neo-Luddite view and the Silver Bullet view are equally useless.
In a broad sense the suffering caused by technology is crystal clear for all to see. When one hears on the news, as one regularly does, that a bus full of children has crashed and that the vast majority have died, what is one to think? One thinks if it wasn't for the technology of cars/buses etc. that this death and suffering wouldn't have occurred. One wonders: Why on earth do we whizz around at 80 miles per hour in bits of metal in confined spaces? Of course, the death and suffering which results from such whizzing about is a wholly negative effect of technology, but it is a price to be paid for the benefits of technology for life on Earth. Non-human animals also suffer immensely because of technology. Hit by cars, ripped to shreds by airplane propellers, shot by guns, harpooned in the ocean, killed by wind turbines. The suffering is there for all to see, a price to be paid for the benefits of technology for life on Earth.
There are good grounds for believing that the suffering caused by technology will reduce in the future, whilst the benefits will become exceedingly clear. When this happens a widespread reconceptualisation will be possible - the human species, as that part of life which has brought forth technology, is the saviour of life on Earth. The earliest stages of technology are the most dangerous ones. As time progresses technology can be more effectively controlled and suffering can be greatly reduced. For example, in the future the amount of road deaths looks set to be slashed as technological advancements enable cars to be self-driven. The Metro newspaper reported on Wed 30 May 2012 that ('Convoy of driverless cars completes 200km test run'):
"a convoy of self-driven cars took to a public road for the first time. The convoy of Volvos kept a gap of 6m (19ft) as they travelled at speeds up to 52mph for 200km (124 miles) on a road outside Barcelona. The test cars were fitted with cameras, radars and laser sensors that allowed them to maintain a gap as they copied a lorry, which was controlled by a professional driver."
Clearly, the suffering resulting from the bringing forth of mechanised vehicles and roads initially increases as they spread over the Earth. However, there becomes a tipping point, after this point technological advances enable the suffering to dramatically fall. In this realm, and many others, technological solutions ultimately reduce the suffering which was previously caused by technology.
Whilst there are these grounds for optimism, it needs to be remembered that technology is a complex phenomenon. In some areas technological development provides large benefits for life and no risk or suffering whatsoever (when the realm is considered in isolation); for example, the technology to protect life from a meteor strike. In other areas, such as geoengineering the temperature of the atmosphere, there is an absolute need for the technology, but there is also risk and a potential for suffering. In this realm, one naturally hopes that the technology will 'work first time'. But, as with the evolution of technology in the realm of road safety, there is every reason to expect progression. In other words, there will be lots of small-scale experiments which don't go exactly as planned, but these will lay the foundations for a technological solution which provides vast benefits and negligible deleterious impacts.
Tuesday, 15 May 2012
In my last post I finished by saying:
"As is normally the case, the geoengineering "result" is seen as a response to "failure". Instead, let us see the result as a cause for celebration, as the outcome which life has been seeking to attain for a very long time!"
Yesterday an article was published in The New Yorker concerning the question of whether there is a plausible technological fix to global warming. This article reinforces the point I was making; it also contains some material which concerns me:
The growing realisation of what we have done, what we need to do in the immediate future to rectify this (regulate the temperature of the atmosphere), and that this is a good thing for life on Earth, is the core of the position that I have been outlining in my books since Is the Human Species Special?: Why human-induced global warming could be in the interests of life was published in 2010.
This excerpt from the New Yorker indicates that we have now entered the state of "growing realisation". This stage will be followed by the second stage: "growing acceptance of the need for the active regulation of the temperature of the atmosphere". The third stage: "the widespread realisation that this is a good thing for life on Earth", seems to be still a long way off. Indeed, in the article, Professor Hugh Hunt (Trinity College, Cambridge) who is working on geoengineering solutions for regulating the temperature of the atmosphere states:
I understand why people have this view - they are "behind the curve". This view pervades contemporary thought. But this view is wrong. It is unhelpful. It is dangerous. If we don't replace it with a New View of Humans in the Cosmos the consequences for life on Earth, and for the human species, could be tragic.
It is our destiny, our purpose, the very reason we came into existence, to deploy/implement the technologies which Professor Hunt is working on. The deployment of such technologies would mean that everything on this planet has gone seriously right. The time of implementation would be a time of great ecstasy and excitement for life on Earth! Yet those developing the solutions which life so badly needs do so with a sense that what they are doing is a 'last resort', something done out of desperation, something done with a sense of regret! How nice it would be if these people, and the wider public, could appreciate that these people are the saviours of life on Earth. They should be treasured. They should be proud of what they are doing.
Those that are 'way behind the curve' are a danger to the survival of life on Earth. As the New Yorker article reveals:
These "50 organisations" believe they are doing the right thing; they clearly believe that they are acting on behalf of all of the wonderful life forms that have arisen on the Earth. How wrong they are! How deluded! How 'behind the curve'! In the future they will see the error of their ways. I am fairy sure that their actions will not have tragic consequences for the future of life on Earth. But if they could come to embrace the New View of Humans in the Cosmos, then we could move forwards more quickly, and speed is of the essence. The sooner that we can learn how to effectively fulfil our purpose the better.
As, Professor Hunt realises: these organisations, and their views, are "scary".
Let us embrace the New View of Humans in the Cosmos:
Wednesday, 18 April 2012
The debates between those who believe that geoengineering the temperature of the atmosphere of the Earth is an inevitability, and those who believe it can be avoided, seems set to intensify in the near future.
The philosophical view that I have been developing is a broad view which sees the current epoch of technological development as a particular stage in the evolution of a 'successful' life-inhabiting planet. By taking such a broad approach, and by seeing that this stage is actually in the interests of the totality of life on Earth, I have been able to provide a particular perspective on these debates. It is clear to me that life on Earth is currently in a great state of excitement as it brings forth the technological armour which will help to ensure its future existence. To cut straight to the conclusion, this means that the existing geoengineering debates can be seen from a different perspective. The 'inevitability' of geoengineering should not be seen, as it traditionally is, as a 'last resort', as something which is a bad thing, as something which only has to be resorted to because of the damage that humans have done due to their 'selfish ways'. For sure, all this might be true. But there is a bigger picture, and in this picture we can see the cosmic inevitability of the outcome. We can see that this 'inevitable outcome' is a 'good thing' which is in the interests of life.
The geoengineering debate is typically framed in terms of how human societies, and their environmental impacts, could change in the immediate future. Some might assert: "we can change, we can reduce our future impacts to such an extent that geoengineering can be avoided". Those who are pro-geoengineering reply that: "this is exceedingly unlikely". The debate is thus framed around how much human societies can change their future environmental impacts. In my books I have tried to convince the reader that geoengineering the temperature of the atmosphere is the goal which life has striven for for millions and millions of years. From this perspective it is an inevitability. The only question is when people en masse realise that this is so. My different perspective on the debate seems to be 'ahead of the curve'. I am glad to see a gradually increasing realisation of the inevitability. Hopefully, soon there will also be a growing realisation that such an outcome is not something to be undertaken with regret, but that it is an outcome which is a cause of celebration for all life on Earth.
Here are some examples of the growing realisation of the inevitability:
1 In the recently released Tulsa Law Review (Volume 46, Spring 2011, No. 2) Jay Michaelson gives a paper entitled: "Geoengineering and Climate Management: From Marginality to Inevitability".
2 In May 2012 there is to be a conference at the University of Oxford (Institute for Science and Ethics) entitled: "Geoengineering: Science, politics and ethics". This is the conference introduction:
"With the failure of international negotiations, global greenhouse gas emissions are now on a trajectory that is worse than the worst-case scenario. As a result, climate scientists are beginning to contemplate a response to climate change that has previously been taboo, geoengineering—the intentional, enduring, large-scale manipulation of the Earth’s climate system. This series of six lectures will cover the broad range of issues raised by the emergence of climate engineering as a response to climate change."
As is normally the case, the geoengineering "result" is seen as a response to "failure". Instead, let us see the result as a cause for celebration, as the outcome which life has been seeking to attain for a very long time!
Wednesday, 4 April 2012
In my last post I provided the outline for my latest book:
Today I would like to briefly outline some common misinterpretations and objections which have arisen from this outline.
1 How can you claim that the idea that "the rest of the planet's biodiversity can do very well without us" is completely and utterly wrong, given that life did just fine for 4 billion years without us?
My reply to this is as follows:
Consider a human who is presently existing without food (a 'hunger strike'). I assert that "this human cannot exist without food". You say (quite correctly) "this person hasn't eaten for 3 days. You are wrong. They can exist without food." This isn't going to convince me. I'm still going to believe that "this human cannot exist without food". It is a claim not about the past, but about the non-immediate future.
2 Humans are 'obviously' a destroying species. Thousands of species are driven to extinction through human activities each and every day.
My reply to this is as follows:
I don't deny this. However, it is also obvious that that the human species is a 'saving' species; consider all of the conservation efforts which are currently going on around the world. Some human activities are 'destructive activities' and some are 'saviour activities'. The important question is which is the most fundamental activity and which is the most superficial activity.
In other words: Is the human species fundamentally destructive and superficially 'saviour'? Or: Is the human species fundamentally 'saviour' and superficially destructive? I don't deny the 'obvious' destruction; I make the case that it is 'superficial'.
3 Geoengineering is not necessary and is too dangerous.
My reply to this is as follows:
Many people seem to be 'scared' by the term geoengineering. In my early writings I did not use the term. Now I only use the term to refer to one particular type of activity; an activity which seems to be required if the human species and other complex life-forms are to have a 'long-term' future. This activity is simply to take intentional actions to counterbalance past 'unintentional' actions.
In other words, the human species has made massive 'unforeseen' changes to the biogeochemical cycles of the Earth. These changes have lengthy time-lags. The effects of the changes that have been made have barely become manifest yet. For example, a massive amount of the carbon which was previously stored 'safely' under the surface of the Earth has been moved, by humans, to a temporary storage area in the oceanic thermohaline circulation. The time-lags involved mean that almost all of the carbon which has been moved since the start of the industrial revolution has not made its way out of the thermohaline yet. When it does - from between around the years 2050-2150 the temperature of the Earth's atmosphere is likely to shoot upwards to a level which is not conducive for the existence of either the human species or other complex life-forms. For more on this see:
The damage has been done. No 'traditional' responses can stop this from happening. By 'traditional' responses I mean things such as:
The 3 R's: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
Even a complete halt on all human activities would not stop this from happening. What can stop this from happening?
The human species can take intentional actions to counterbalance the unforeseen effects of its previous activities. These activities were to release carbon from its underground storage areas to the thermohaline, and soon to the atmosphere (as it leaves the thermohaline). So, at its simplest, these intentional actions entail taking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. We are already making good progress at working out how to do this effectively. This ability to offset the changes that we have unintentionally made would mean that when the carbon emerges from the thermohaline that we will be able to maintain the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and thereby control the temperature of the atmosphere. In so doing we would both be saving ourselves and saving a plethora of non-human life-forms.
This is geoengineering. The future of the human species, and these other life-forms, seems to depend on it; it seems to be necessary. And it doesn't seem to me to be particularly 'scary', something we should be terrified about. This is not to say that it a very simple thing to do. However, simply counterbalancing what we have already done is not so 'dangerous' and 'complex' as many make out. Indeed, the danger has already been created; this is the solution. Compared to some of the things that we can do, such as sending technological creations to the planet Mars, such counterbalancing measures seem relatively simple.
Looking further into the future, this ability to regulate the temperature of the atmosphere will enable the human species to save itself, and other complex life-forms, from the main threat to the existence of life on Earth in the future. This threat is the phenomenon of non-human-induced global warming. The solution to the immediate threat of human-induced global warming is also the solution to the longer term threat of non-human-induced global warming (arising from the increasing output of the Sun). However, other more-ingenious technological solutions are likely to be required in the distant future, such as 'blocking' some of the solar input before it is able to enter the Earth's atmosphere.
As we imagine the Earth in the future, a planet on which life is flourishing - thousands of years into the future, hundreds of thousands of years into the future, millions of years into the future - we can see that all of the wonderfully interesting and complex life-forms that exist owe their existence to their technological saviour: the human species.