Check out Dot Earth

It’s good to know there are so many meetings on the subjects of climate change, energy, global warming and population. I’ve commented on climate change meetings in Copenhagen that are warming up to the international meeting to be held there in the fall. I’ve also commented on the recent report of Britain’s Sustainable Development Commission and the meeting last week, of the Optimum Population Trust.

It’s good to know because there is an urgency about these issues, and it looks like the United States of America is now ready to join the conversation with the rest of the world in efforts to resolve them in our behalf.

At the same time we address the long term issues, it is important to remember that we need to nourish and support and protect what we have today. We don’t want to lose tomorrow from focusing on today; we also don’t want to lose tomorrow from not focusing on today, because ecosystems and the individual species of which they are made are unique and precious creations that can not replace themselves, not as they were. Once gone, they are gone. And perhaps more importantly it is the broad diversity that these ecosystems have evolved over the millenia that stabilizes them. That’s why people fuss over diversity; it stabilizes the ecosystem.

So today I want to refer you to my favorite blog, Dot Earth, where a short-term emergency need is described.

And right below that piece Dot Earth reports a long-term success. It seems that our government is informing itself about our biological challenges. At least I hope that subject comes up in the meetings, and if so we can at last join the conversation for real.

It’s not clear whether or not we expect to resolve these problems that were caused by growth — by creating more growth. But if there is a real discussion, then that point can be raised. Right?

We Had Friends Over

090328dogsp1030706-ssWe had company over yesterday. Four dogs came to visit Bitsy. It was quite fun watching their silly games. The neighbor dogs, two greyhounds and a pitbull, are locked up after an encounter with a possibly rabid skunk, but who needs them. Bitsy and Shelley were running their little legs off going nowhere. Bitsy had taught the younger Shelley the stick game that she tries unsuccessfully with me. She delivers the stick into my hand or Shelley’s mouth. We are supposed to take a tight hold and pull. Luke, old and tired, just hangs on to what he’s got. Collie and Shetland Sheepdog watching the uproar, too fine to dirty their feet in public.
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So that was fun, and when they went away I opened up the New York Times to do my homework.

Not much difference there. If I had time and permissions I’d take some politicians’ pictures off the NYT page and match them up with the dog pix. But on the other hand,these games are not as much fun when you add hatred, envy and greed into the mix. Maybe it’s better to just do my homework. Quick. And go back to the dogs.

Oh no I’m preaching again, I’m supposed to be doing a political analysis.

Photo by Mary Ann

Stop and Think

This sounds all too familiar. (“Enough, population doom merchants,” Dominic Lawson, Sunday Times of London).

Didn’t I write not too long ago about the reactions of the press in response to biological realities?  I said in the mainstream media their usual response, especially to big problems like AIDS and global warming, seems to be denial for a period of about ten years, during which time crises that could have been contained (if the press had fulfilled its responsibility to educate and inform) reach fairly unmanageable proportions. I’m not the first to notice this. For example, Dot Earth.

That’s what happens when we pretend that all of reality is nothing but fun and entertainment — that we should not discuss any other kind of reality.  Then they look around and wonder why the scientists never told them this was coming.

Oh, well, when I went into university teaching (thankfully now behind me) my mentor said:  “Nobody will understand you when you tell them; then when they figure it out for themselves they will come and ask why you didn’t tell them.”  That is indeed what happened, and it’s probably a good thing in an educational setting that the students should learn to think.  But it’s not an intelligent way to deal with real crises.  A much better approach is to listen to a variety of experts in different fields and pool our expertise.

Mr. Lawson’s article in the Times purports to address a report to be issued by the UK’s Sustainable Development Commission, but he never really discusses the reportand.  He gets off on Optimum Population Trust (OPT), a British organization concerned with issues of population, that held its annual conference last week.  Invitation only.  His article is basically a “bait and switch” attempt to change the subject from discussion of real population issues to the personalities of individuals at OPT for whom he apparently has little or no respect.

080420funeral_dsc6582fs-copyI happen to have it first hand — from a respected scientist who attended — that the OPT meeting was both sane and sensible.  It makes me wonder what are the credentials of this reporter that he is able to so confidently second-guess the real data.  So I looked him up on Google.  Apparently he has quite a lot of money, a cousin who is a biologist, and an iffy reputation with regard to serious journalism.   Unless he has qualifications not mentioned, I certainly would not trust his opinion with regard to scientific or economic decision making.

Think about it.  What is our best response here?  Should we just wait and see what happens?  Or might it be better to pool our expertise, discuss the issue, and make some plans just in case the scientists are not as crazy as Mr. Lawson thinks they are.

Crash

My readership crashed yesterday.  I have spent some effort trying to build the numbers, so the crash was — well, nobody likes a crash.

So I’m glad that almost everyone likes Thomas Friedman, because he is facing facts in his opinion piece today: “Our current financial crisis is the product of the Market and Mother Nature hitting the wall at once.”  !!   Sound of applause from a person whose expertise is biology.  Mr. Friedman’s expertise is in politics and the economy.  I say that nearly covers the field, and I hope Mr. Obama is paying attention.

Too bad then, toward the end of his op-ed Mr. Friedman went all mealy-mouthed and proposed human cures for what is basically a confrontation with the limited resources of the earth.  We can not cure a problem that is caused by growth — by generating more growth, because neither the people nor the DOW can exist on thin air, “breathaterians” notwithstanding.

The NYTimes (Burns & Thomas) also claims that “Anglo-American Capitalism is on trial.”  And it’s about time too.  The bottom line is that Anglo-American Capitalism is not biologically or physically sustainable, and it’s time we took a look to the future.  Like all Ponzi schemes, our economy is based upon unlimited growth, which sounds real dandy in human terms, but the real fact is that unlimited growth is impossible on a limited earth ecosystem, and we have “hit the wall” to use Friedman’s term.  We will not cure global warming nor will we long-term cure the Dow by continuing to pursue our growth ethic, no matter how hard we try to limit consumption.  Limiting consumption is a good and necessary thing, but it is a bandaid, not a cure.

The bottom line fact is there are NOT two causes of our nature problem and our DOW problem — there is one cause, and that is  Overpopulation.

Mr. Friedman is too chicken to say it.

Are you too chicken to hear it?

Why, I wonder, did my modest cadre of readers desert me on the last column that I wrote?   I can only speculate that the word God in the title had something to do with it.  Or was it because I mentioned the war?  Mr. Friedman also left that one out — and starvation.  None of these NEED to exist.  Many people at this point will say:  “They have always existed.”  Yes and they have always been problems related to not enough resources — and then we went out and found another continent.  There aren’t any more continents now, and once again there is not enough STUFF for all the people.

The primary goal of this blog is to face reality on her own terms, and the point of my piece about “God” (it’s just below the story here) was the reality that we humans are not the biggest fish in the pond.  Whatever name we use for the big one makes no difference to reality.  The point is, it’s bigger than us, and we will not fix our problems until we learn to play by the real rules.

Economists and biologists and politicians do not make the real rules; we only study them.  The real rule is that infinite growth is impossible in a finite space.  Human kind has the potential for infinite growth — the earth ecosystem does not.  The earth ecosystem IS the pond; it will win.

True Story

Out at the ranch I have his cute little travel trailer. I like to stay over sometimes, with the cat and the dog, leave the door open so the horse can stick her head inside if she wants to join the game.

One time when I was sleeping out there, quite a few years ago when southern nights were soft and sweet, I woke straight up WHAM with the certain awareness that a fire ant was trapped inside my ear. Well, actually, it took a little thinking time to figure out exactly what was happening, but that was it. A dog and a cat and a horse are not much help at a time like this, and nobody else was around.

What to do?

It’s just a little thing, what about a Q-tip?

No way. Have you ever been bit by a fire ant? Definitely we do not want to start a war even with one little fire ant. Especially when it is inside my ear.

My next impulse was to panic, but I wanted the thing out of my ear and couldn’t think of any way panicking would help. Instead I tried to think. What does this little fire ant want? How/why did she get there in the first place? What do fire ants DO?

Times like this it’s good to realize that — more than anything else — we both want the same thing. And find a way to give it to her. ASAP.

God

I think of God as the most powerful force in the universe, or at least the most powerful force on earth — well, not the most powerful force on earth because if God is God, then He must have dominion over the earth. Then that would have to include gravity, wouldn’t it, and the sun. And the moon. The solar system at least. Probably if I were a physicist I would learn that the solar system can not exist without the rest of the universe. It seems like The Creation must be the whole thing, the whole universe, because any part of the physical world could not exist in the way it is existing without the other parts. I think that’s what Einstein loved about the whole big beautiful construct. All the systems and all the “laws of nature” and all of everything is like one humongous internet with every part interacting with every other part.

I think of God as the most powerful force in the universe.

Some people believe that God IS the power of the universe. I don’t know, but I couldn’t prove they are wrong. The important thing to remember here is — that is not me. I am not the most powerful force in the universe. I don’t know even as much as Einstein knew, and he died. Also it is not you and it is not the President of the United States of America. I think we have recently learned what happens to individual people, nations and the ecosystem when we forget that human people are not God.

I think we need to find a more effective way to contribute to the welfare of human kind. Better than trying to beat God at His own game, because we already know who will win that fight. So maybe it’s not better and better fighters that we need. But — what else can save us? Don’t we need more power and yet more power to win this battle with the universe? Isn’t that what all the hot air coming out of DC, not to mention Austin, is all about?

Wait — we can’t win a battle with the universe, so why do we keep trying? Is there any other way that we could survive here where we are? Let’s think about it. Who in all of human kind knows how to get along in a world where they are not the most powerful thing around?

Women (well, not so much any more, we won the “equality” fight).

Minority peoples and populations.

Children.

Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr. harvested the Powers of the Weak, and you can go to Amazon and buy an excellent if overly intellectual book on the subject of Powers of the Weak, written by Elizabeth Janeway — not the novelist the other one.

What was that Jesus said about children? I don’t think He meant to turn them loose upon the earth with no supervision — no education. If I am honest, I must believe that God gave us this amazing brain to learn about the science, and the beauty and the ethics and the religions that all are trying to understand His universe. I think God would want us to teach the children about all His disciplines.

Maybe He just didn’t think fighting and “winning” is the answer to our problems.  Maybe He wanted us to grow a more compassionate system.

Stop the war I want to get off

For purposes of this blogging class that I am taking, I’m supposed to be following the news, which makes it a little bit difficult to follow a logical line of thought, the news being mostly not very logical.  Maybe I should talk about the power of logic some day.  In the meantime did you notice what is not in the news?

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I know someone who decided not to go to this demonstration because, he said, 16 MILLION people in over 3000 demonstrations tried to stop the war before it started, and if that didn’t work, then there isn’t much point to demonstration.  Why try?

I think that’s the wrong question.

The right question is what would have happened if there had NOT been 16 million people all over the world demonstrating.

I’m really glad we don’t have to find out.

09021520sunrise_dsc8918sOf course we all know that all these biological problems are related to each other, just as every element of the ecosystem is related to every other in a network of interacting systems.  One of my goals is to connect the dots.  Yes indeed the understanding of evolution is important to the understanding of energy, gobal warming, and the importance of green plants.  ASAP I have some things to say about green plants, if I can cut myself free of this political game playing.

Science and Evolution

I had lunch today with a friend who told me about the university professors up north.  They can’t wait for winter, she told me, when they can actually SEE their words of wisdom emerge from their mouths in a frosty puff of air.

Been there, done that.  Scientists can be very irritating, pompous, puffed up and egotistical.

Fortunately for us all, there is a method that tends to rein in the scientific ego.  More importantly, this method draws a sharp, strict line between the scientific opinions of scientists and their personal opinions.  This of course involves the scientific method, and specifically the part that requires publication in a refereed journal.  Refereed means other scientists evaluate the paper before it can be published.

Basic scientists (I’m not talking about technology here) — science requires that people who engage in research must publish that research before their efforts are recognized as valid.  That’s not like getting a poem published, or a letter to the editor.  It requires that the article be reviewed by other scientists who do the same kind of work.  Competitors.  The reviewers read the research very carefully, looking for mistakes, misinterpretations, or inappropriate use of data.  This is for the benefit of the author and of the reviewers and for the progress of scientific knowledge.  If any bad science or mistaken opinions make it through the review process, everyone would be embarrassed.  It has happened – and they were.

This system, believe me, is tough, but I have made it through a few times as you can see by Google or PubMed.

And my point is?  Besides blowing hot air.

My point is, when you are trying to evaluate conflicting claims about things that are scientific, public debates usually are not very useful.  It’s already been debated firmly and politely, and I will say wonderfully collaboratively,  in the review process.  If you want to go to the trouble to understand the scientists’ results, and you want to discuss these results with the scientist, most scientists are located in universities.  Their job is education.  If you are genuinely well informed and if you have an original idea or an important question, scientists are usually accessible by email.

If you have been hearing someone in Austin ranting and raving over the past few weeks, and trying to debate important issues that we all should be working together to solve for the benefit of the community, you can be pretty sure there is some kind of Misdirect going on.  Look them up on google and PubMed, and check out their record of publication in peer reviewed journals before you decide whether or not their opinion is equally as well informed as that of the scientists.

This advice applies only to peer reviewed science published in scientific journals.  Other methods of inquiry, other than science, do not use the scientific method, and many do not enforce a peer review system.

Then you will still need to decide which is more important, the short-term power of the loud stump speech or the long term power of raising up a generation of students who are competent and competitive because they know the difference between science and other things and they know how to use the scientific method to evaluate fact-based reality.

Because when nearly all the published, peer-reviewed biologists agree on something — it’s not “just” a theory.

Evolution

Here I was in the middle of writing something really important about global warming, and it seems what is warming up faster is some silly games about evolution.  Dominance games of course.  They have little to do with either religion or science.

For religion, you probably believe that God created the universe.  Are you telling me that you know exactly when and how he did this?  I mean — you are as smart as God that you understand everything about Him??

Well, I am a biologist/scientist, and I am not as smart as God and I do not understand everything about him, but I do know that evolution exists and also I know that the process of evolution is one of the fundamental realities of nature.  I mean it is now, and there is no doubt whatever about that.  Not only we can see it and measure it — we can also do it and we do it all the time.

So the question becomes — did or did not God create nature?

I don’t know the answer to that, and frankly I don’t very much care because I know that nature exists and I exist, and I don’t think it’s my job to second-guess God.  I also know the question has nothing to do with science.  Science is the study of measurable facts using the scientific method and it was invented by human people.

So maybe God created the earth and  I’m sure he did it however he thought was the best way.

Can anyone explain what we are fighting about?  I mean other than  what person has better words  than what other person?

Or do we just like to fight?  That would not be a very Christian attitude it seems to me.

“Faith, hope and love.  And the greatest of these is ”  (surely not fighting).