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

Evolution versus Creationism

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:


Saturday, 1 December 2012

Accelerating Polar Ice Melting & Geoengineering

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.

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.