Bare Bones Biology 006B – Frames

If you sit in one of the places in Downtown Bryan, for example, where people are discussing ideas, you can notice that most arguments that come up are caused by people using the same words to mean different things. Of course this has always been true. But in today’s world it’s more important than ever to be aware of the fact, because in addition to accidental confusions, we have to deal with intentional ones. There are campaigns to take perfectly good words and turn their original meanings upside down. It’s very confusing.

I was about to say I can’t imagine why, but in fact I can. People in power know that the real power lies with the people. If they can keep us yelling at each other over things that we basically agree about, that is one less worry for them.

So, boring as it may be, I will spend quite a lot of energy defining words and worldviews. And since I’ve recently been told that the new word for worldview is “frame,” I’ll call them frames.

My first frame is that we all need the same things, and I think the best way to get these things would be to work together to find a way to make them available.

earth-day-image-2013-20My second frame is the concept introduced by James Lovelock in his several books. That the earth ecosystem is a unit of life — just as you and I are units of life, but a good deal more complicated than we are. The earth biosystem has the same basic life needs as all other units of biological life on earth. There is ample biological evidence to convince me of this, but for not everyone cares about the biology. For you who don’t know the concept of the living earth ecosystem — or if you believe something else might be more important, I’m going to point you to the NASA pictures that were taken of Mars, and ask you to compare that red with the blue marble picture of the living earth that was taken from the moon. That is the difference between life and death on a planetary scale.

So ecosystem is a scientific word, but surely we cannot believe that the ecosystem is a scientific thing. Any more than you are a scientific thing. Biology is a science that studies life, but the ecosystem is the real deal — a real living thing that we require for our own survival.

My third frame is that our living earth exists in and is a part of the universe. If you have been following Bare Bones Biology, you know that I believe there is a basic law of cause and effect in the universe. So if the universe exists, there is a good chance that it was created or is in process of being created. And now we bump into ideas about God and Creation that are way outside of my expertise, and probably quite controversial, so I will quote the experts.

Let’s begin with God. I heard Pastor Jeff Hackleman say that: God is “the one that created the universe.” It was on KBTX, so it must be true, and I don’t have a problem with putting a name to a creator.

That leaves only to define what we mean by creation. To create. That which is created. Doesn’t sound complicated to me, but rather than argue with anyone, I will quote another of our most renowned Christian religious scholars, Huston Smith, who says that the Creation is: “everything, as it is.” That’s also hard to argue about.

mars1Next, we probably can also agree that we human persons did not create The Creation, and we do not understand everything about it.

So what is the problem here, folks? I sincerely believe that we all really need the same thing, and that is the living earth ecosystem that makes our air, water, soil and climate. This human-friendly environment is not available on Mars or on the moon, and if we have any idea that we humans can create any ecosystem anywhere — well in my lexicon that comes under the heading of excuses for not trying to take care of the one we already have.

Lynn Lamoreux

This is Bare Bones Biology, a production of and KEOS Radio, 89.1 FM, Bryan, Texas.
The podcast of this episode can be downloaded at:

Scientific Consensus on Maintaining Humanity’s Life Support Systems

By the time today’s children reach middle age, it is extremely likely that Earth’s life-support systems, critical for human prosperity and existence, will be irretrievably damaged by the magnitude, global extent, and combination of these human-caused environmental stressors, unless we take concrete, immediate actions to ensure a sustainable, high-quality future.!

As members of the scientific community actively involved in assessing the biological and societal impacts of global change, we are bringing this alarm to the world for humanity’s continued health and prosperity, we all — individuals, businesses, political leaders, religious leaders, scientists and people in every walk of life — must work hard to solve these five global problems, starting today:

1.  Climate disruption

2.  Extinctions

3.  Loss of Ecosystem Diversity

4.  Pollution

5.  Human Population Growth and Resource Consumption

Ryerson said he calls attempts to boost conservation and efficiency “greening the Titanic.”

“In reality, the problem we have is not climate change, it’s not water shortage, it’s not loss of biodiversity, it’s not degradation of soils,” he said. “It is overuse of the Earth’s resources by the human endeavor.”

Terracide and the Terrarists

To destroy our planet with malice aforethought, with only the most immediate profits on the brain, with only your own comfort and wellbeing (and those of your shareholders) in mind: Isn’t that the ultimate crime? Isn’t that terracide?

Destroying the Planet for Record Profits 
By Tom Engelhardt

We have a word for the conscious slaughter of a racial or ethnic group: genocide.  And one for the conscious destruction of aspects of the environment: ecocide.  But we don’t have a word for the conscious act of destroying the planet we live on, the world as humanity had known it until, historically speaking, late last night.  A possibility might be “terracide” from the Latin word for earth.  It has the right ring, given its similarity to the commonplace danger word of our era: terrorist.

The truth is, whatever we call them, it’s time to talk bluntly about the terrarists of our world.  Yes, I know, 9/11 was horrific.  Almost 3,000 dead, massive towers down, apocalyptic scenes.  And yes, when it comes to terror attacks, the Boston Marathon bombings weren’t pretty either.  But in both cases, those who committed the acts paid for or will pay for their crimes.

In the case of the terrarists — and here I’m referring in particular to the men who run what may be the most profitable corporations on the planet, giant energy companies like ExxonMobilChevronConocoPhillipsBP, and Shell — you’re the one who’s going to pay, especially your children and grandchildren. You can take one thing for granted: not a single terrarist will ever go to jail, and yet they certainly knew what they were doing.

It wasn’t that complicated. In recent years, the companies they run have been extracting fossil fuels from the Earth in ever more frenetic and ingenious ways. The burning of those fossil fuels, in turn, has put record amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere. Only this month, the CO2 level reached 400 parts per million for the first time in human history. A consensus of scientists has long concluded that the process was warming the world and that, if the average planetary temperature rose more than two degrees Celsius, all sorts of dangers could ensue, including seas rising high enough to inundate coastal cities, increasingly intense heat waves, droughts, floods, ever more extreme storm systems, and so on.

How to Make Staggering Amounts of Money and Do In the Planet

None of this was exactly a mystery. It’s in the scientific literature. NASA scientist James Hansen first publicized the reality of global warming to Congress in 1988. It took a while — thanks in part to the terrarists — but the news of what was happening increasingly made it into the mainstream. Anybody could learn about it.

Those who run the giant energy corporations knew perfectly well what was going on and could, of course, have read about it in the papers like the rest of us. And what did they do? They put their money into funding think tanks, politicians, foundations, and activists intent on emphasizing “doubts” about the science (since it couldn’t actually be refuted); they and their allies energetically promoted what came to be known as climate denialism. Then they sent their agents and lobbyists and money into the political system to ensure that their plundering ways would not be interfered with. And in the meantime, they redoubled their efforts to get ever tougher and sometimes “dirtier” energy out of the ground in ever tougher and dirtier ways.

The peak oil people hadn’t been wrong when they suggested years ago that we would soon hit a limit in oil production from which decline would follow.  The problem was that they were focused on traditional or “conventional” liquid oil reserves obtained from large reservoirs in easy-to-reach locations on land or near to shore.  Since then, the big energy companies have invested a remarkable amount of time, money, and (if I can use that word) energy in the development of techniques that would allow them to recover previously unrecoverable reserves (sometimes by processes that themselves burn striking amounts of fossil fuels): fracking, deep-water drilling, and tar-sands production, among others.

They also began to go after huge deposits of what energy expert Michael Klare calls “extreme” or “tough” energy — oil and natural gas that can only be acquired through the application of extreme force or that requires extensive chemical treatment to be usable as a fuel.  In many cases, moreover, the supplies being acquired like heavy oil and tar sands are more carbon-rich than other fuels and emit more greenhouse gases when consumed.  These companies have even begun using climate change itself — in the form of a melting Arctic — to exploit enormous and previously unreachable energy supplies  With the imprimatur of the Obama administration, Royal Dutch Shell, for example, has been preparing to test out possible drilling techniques in the treacherous waters off Alaska.

Call it irony, if you will, or call it a nightmare, but Big Oil evidently has no qualms about making its next set of profits directly off melting the planet.  Its top executives continue to plan their futures (and so ours), knowing that their extremely profitable acts are destroying the very habitat, the very temperature range that for so long made life comfortable for humanity.

Their prior knowledge of the damage they are doing is what should make this a criminal activity.  And there are corporate precedents for this, even if on a smaller scale.  The lead industry, the asbestos industry, and the tobacco companies all knew the dangers of their products, made efforts to suppress the information or instill doubt about it even as they promoted the glories of what they made, and went right on producing and selling while others suffered and died.

And here’s another similarity: with all three industries, the negative results conveniently arrived years, sometimes decades, after exposure and so were hard to connect to it.  Each of these industries knew that the relationship existed.  Each used that time-disconnect as protection.  One difference: if you were a tobacco, lead, or asbestos exec, you might be able to ensure that your children and grandchildren weren’t exposed to your product.  In the long run, that’s not a choice when it comes to fossil fuels and CO2, as we all live on the same planet (though it’s also true that the well-off in the temperate zones are unlikely to be the first to suffer).

If Osama bin Laden’s 9/11 plane hijackings or the Tsarnaev brothers’ homemade bombs constitute terror attacks, why shouldn’t what the energy companies are doing fall into a similar category (even if on a scale that leaves those events in the dust)?  And if so, then where is the national security state when we really need it? Shouldn’t its job be to safeguard us from terrarists and terracide as well as terrorists and their destructive plots?

The Alternatives That Weren’t

It didn’t have to be this way.

On July 15, 1979, at a time when gas lines, sometimes blocks long, were a disturbing fixture of American life, President Jimmy Carter spoke directly to the American people on television for 32 minutes, calling for a concerted effort to end the country’s oil dependence on the Middle East.  “To give us energy security,” he announced,

“I am asking for the most massive peacetime commitment of funds and resources in our nation’s history to develop America’s own alternative sources of fuel — from coal, from oil shale, from plant products for gasohol, from unconventional gas, from the sun… Just as a similar synthetic rubber corporation helped us win World War II, so will we mobilize American determination and ability to win the energy war.  Moreover, I will soon submit legislation to Congress calling for the creation of this nation’s first solar bank, which will help us achieve the crucial goal of 20% of our energy coming from solar power by the year 2000.”

It’s true that, at a time when the science of climate change was in its infancy, Carter wouldn’t have known about the possibility of an overheating world, and his vision of “alternative energy” wasn’t exactly a fossil-fuel-free one.  Even then, shades of today or possibly tomorrow, he was talking about having “more oil in our shale alone than several Saudi Arabias.”  Still, it was a remarkably forward-looking speech.

Had we invested massively in alternative energy R&D back then, who knows where we might be today?  Instead, the media dubbed it the “malaise speech,” though the president never actually used that word, speaking instead of an American “crisis of confidence.”  While the initial public reaction seemed positive, it didn’t last long.  In the end, the president’s energy proposals were essentially laughed out of the room and ignored for decades.

As a symbolic gesture, Carter had 32 solar panels installed on the White House.  (“A generation from now, this solar heater can either be a curiosity, a museum piece, an example of a road not taken, or it can be a small part of one of the greatest and most exciting adventures ever undertaken by the American people: harnessing the power of the sun to enrich our lives as we move away from our crippling dependence on foreign oil.”)  As it turned out, “a road not taken” was the accurate description.  On entering the Oval Office in 1981, Ronald Reagan caught the mood of the era perfectly.  One of his first acts was to order the removal of those panels and none were reinstalled for three decades, until Barack Obama was president.

Carter would, in fact, make his mark on U.S. energy policy, just not quite in the way he had imagined.  Six months later, on January 23, 1980, in his last State of the Union Address, he would proclaim what came to be known as the Carter Doctrine: “Let our position be absolutely clear,” he said. “An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.”

No one would laugh him out of the room for that.  Instead, the Pentagon would fatefully begin organizing itself to protect U.S. (and oil) interests in the Persian Gulf on a new scale and America’s oil wars would follow soon enough.  Not long after that address, it would start building up a Rapid Deployment Force in the Gulf that would in the end become U.S. Central Command.  More than three decades later, ironies abound: thanks in part to those oil wars, whole swaths of the energy-rich Middle East are in crisis, if not chaos, while the big energy companies have put time and money into a staggeringly fossil-fuel version of Carter’s “alternative” North America.  They’ve focused on shale oil, and on shale gas as well, and with new production methods, they are reputedly on the brink of turning the United States into a “new Saudi Arabia.”

If true, this would be the worst, not the best, of news.  In a world where what used to pass for good news increasingly guarantees a nightmarish future, energy “independence” of this sort means the extraction of ever more extreme energy, ever more carbon dioxide heading skyward, and ever more planetary damage in our collective future.  This was not the only path available to us, or even to Big Oil.

With their staggering profits, they could have decided anywhere along the line that the future they were ensuring was beyond dangerous.  They could themselves have led the way with massive investments in genuine alternative energies (solar, wind, tidal, geothermal, algal, and who knows what else), instead of the exceedingly small-scale ones they made, often for publicity purposes.  They could have backed a widespread effort to search for other ways that might, in the decades to come, have offered something close to the energy levels fossil fuels now give us.  They could have worked to keep the extreme-energy reserves that turn out to be surprisingly commonplace deep in the Earth.

And we might have had a different world (from which, by the way, they would undoubtedly have profited handsomely).  Instead, what we’ve got is the equivalent of a tobacco company situation, but on a planetary scale.  To complete the analogy, imagine for a moment that they were planning to produce even more prodigious quantities not of fossil fuels but of cigarettes, knowing what damage they would do to our health.  Then imagine that, without exception, everyone on Earth was forced to smoke several packs of them a day.

If that isn’t a terrorist — or terrarist — attack of an almost unimaginable sort, what is?  If the oil execs aren’t terrarists, then who is?  And if that doesn’t make the big energy companies criminal enterprises, then how would you define that term?

To destroy our planet with malice aforethought, with only the most immediate profits on the brain, with only your own comfort and wellbeing (and those of your shareholders) in mind: Isn’t that the ultimate crime? Isn’t that terracide?

Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project and author of The United States of Fear as well as a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture, runs the Nation Institute’s His latest book, co-authored with Nick Turse, is Terminator Planet: The First History of Drone Warfare, 2001-2050.

[Note: Thanks go to my colleague and friend Nick Turse for coming up with the word “terracide.”]

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook or Tumblr. Check out the newest Dispatch book, Nick Turse’s The Changing Face of Empire: Special Ops, Drones, Proxy Fighters, Secret Bases, and Cyberwarfare.

Copyright 2013 Tom Engelhardt

Bare Bones Biology 153 – Compassionate Earth Walk

Shodo Spring is leading the Compassionate Earth Walk along the route of the Tar Sands Pipeline, beginning July 1, 2013.  If you want to participate in this walk, contact Shodo at

I asked for the story behind this walk, and here is her answer.

Shodo Spring – “Let’s go back to about 2005.  At this point I had heard about global warming.  I had heard about peak oil.  And I wasn’t sure my facts were correct.  I went to a talk by Richard Heinberg (, and after the talk I thought — not only I was right, but it’s a lot worse than I thought it was.  And then I went into a state of sort of horror and depression for a couple of years, and then there was a new baby in our family.

sitting 2011 DCI went to visit them when he was five months old.  He laughed all the time.  I would look at him laughing, and he was completely trusting and confident, and I thought:  “How can we do this?  This is just so bad.”  A year or so later I took a permaculture class, and I realized that we already have the technologies.  It has nothing to do with developing technologies.  It simply has to do with political will.

I started learning to garden.  I became involved with the local transition group, and everything I was doing was local and small.  There’s a lot you can do at the level of the local community.  It’s called resilience, and it’s a matter of preparing to be ready when bad things happen.  (Note from LL – folks in our Brazos Valley Community who want to become involved with a resilience group get in touch with Charlie Lindahl.  Everyone else, check out Rob Hopkins’ publications and his Resilience movement, which started in Great Britain and now is nearly everywhere, at

Our focus was mostly on peak oil ( because that’s a little easier to deal with and because climate change wasn’t as obvious then as it is now.

So now it’s 2013, and on a national and international scale there has been essentially no action to do the things that we already know how to do that we could do without even denting our life style, that we could do and create lots and lots of jobs.  For instance rehabilitating housing stock, stopping the subsidies to agriculture and moving them to a sustainable kind of agriculture, stopping the subsidies to big oil and moving it to alternative energy.  None of this stuff has happened, except in a few countries.  Germany has done some good things.  Basically, our country and most of the rich countries of the world have proceeded merrily along the path to destruction.  So there we are.  I am horrified.

So I was increasingly aware of all these things, and I was in training.  I was living in Bloomington, Indiana, I was studying Zen Buddhism, I had commitments there, and the only way I could handle it was to put my commitments at the temple first.  So I did environmental work around the edges.

When I finished my training, I went, in August 2011, to the White House, to demonstrate against the pipeline.  I got arrested, wearing my Buddhist robes.  The last thing I had to do with my training was to spend six months in monastic training, and I so I then went to California to do that.

In September, I was sitting in the Zendo and I started seeing pictures.  Internal mental pictures of myself walking along the pipeline route.  I had never been there; I didn’t know what it looked like; but I kept seeing these pictures and they didn’t go away.

I thought about it, I considered it, I talked to the teachers, and basically I came to the conclusion that I actually needed to go and walk along the pipeline with a group of people.”

Shodo Spring


The Compassionate Earth Walk is a spiritual pilgrimage

honoring our place within the community of life.

The human species is at a crossroads.

Our decisions now will profoundly influence the future of our children and of the whole earth.

The Keystone pipeline has become a poignant symbol of the risks of fossil fuels, the tension between economic priorities and human well-being,
and the threat of climate change to all life on earth.

We trace its route through the Great Plains with peace and compassion,

eager to hear all voices, including the wordless voice of the natural world,

blessing the earth with each step,

listening, witnessing, and offering service.

We walk as a prayer for all earth’s children,

The walk is intergenerational, intercultural  and interfaith. 

Join us. 


This is Bare Bones Biology, a weekly production of, and KEOSradio, in Bryan, Texas. The podcast can be downloaded at:

Bare Bones Biology 005B – Gaia

Midafternoon on a shizukana Monday in Niibo Uryuya is quiet and peaceful, but if you walk along the paths and the car-width roads you find a day filled with relaxed activity.  People are meticulously fixing, mending, weeding.  I am sitting, eating an ice cream cone quick, before it melts, and reading Gaia, the new edition. The mockingbird-equivalent screeches long high notes from the electrical wire, while the local hawk paraglides the survey of his territory.

101116HickorySoft_DSC8611LCLPsAnd then I have to try to write about it.Spiders hide in the hedges, behind their webs, apparently with their bellies full of dragonflies, judging by the remains.  In Texas this time of year the dragonflies range under the electrical wires and over the goatweed, about head high to a horse, in territories about two meters square.  Sometimes they switch territories with a neighbor, but they maintain an equidistant cruising mode.  Someone said they are hunting fire ants.  Anyone who lunches on fire ants is OK by me, so I like to sit and read and watch their iridescent air dances in the middle of the afternoon when it’s too hot to do anything else.

Here in Niibu Uryuya there are no fire ants, but I’m sure there is a fire ant equivalent because today for the first time the dragonflies are flashing red over the rice fields in little equally spaced territories, about head height to a horse.  If there were horses.  I wonder if it’s the same species of dragonfly, and then I wonder if it matters.  Amateur naturalists love to learn the names of things, but I’m having trouble remembering Japanese words, which right now I could really use, and I already know there is an animal to inhabit every lifestyle on this earth – the Japanese mockingbird equivalent and the hawk and the dragonflies, all are fulfilling the same purpose, doing the same job here that they do, whatever the species, in Texas, and that is one reason the world does not grind to a halt.  The magnificence of this whole of creation, where every little bit fits perfectly into the whole fabric of life, far surpasses words for explanation.  Gaia indeed.

In fact, that’s why I never read Gaia the first time round.  The so-called “Gaia hypothesis” is one of those beautiful ideas, like evolution, that clicks open a door of the mind to a new view on the reality of creation, as it has to be (or it wouldn’t work).  If you take the time to learn all the reasons why people have discovered these concepts they seem so obvious, after they have been discovered, so elegant, so necessarily true (or we wouldn’t exist) that the reading of the book, which by the way was written by James Lovelock — no matter how well it’s written, is anticlimactic — a comparatively pedestrian recitation of specifics that clip the wings of the beauty of the creation it is trying to describe.

But I am reading the book, so I can give the guy credit for calling our attention to the beauty of our one common reality, the living earth.

And then I have to try to write about it.

A podcast of this episode can be downloaded at:

Did you Ever?


Did you ever perform a task only to fulfill a responsibility;
and then when it was over, it broke your heart to leave;
but you had to leave it behind,
to honor that same responsibility?

Maybe, could it be, that is the story of all of life.

Earth Systems Final2 copy 2

From England to Texas



What we have here is the American way of exploitation. Way out on Rabbit Lane in Bryan an oil well pops up. Somewhere back on another country road, an oil well comes down. I bet it is a big relief to the folks who live a few hundred feet away. Next there will be one over on the other side of town. Looks like we only have one oil well, right? Sure enough it looks like it, but what we have in reality is several oil wells a week coming in and staying in.

It is perhaps time we asked ourselves whether our homes and the air we breath and the water we drink are more or less important than the money. If we want to have a livable community we need to find some way to balance the power. And the oil companies are still sending out requests for information about land not already leased. Trying to buy it all up before we catch on.

Which is more important? Or do we care about the epidemics of asthma, Alzheimers, and many other unnamed illnesses that were relatively rare 30 years ago.

120509-IMG_0877-oil well Cynthia

Bare Bones Biology 004B – Power of Science

The great power of basic science is that it lets us spend our time doing things that are more useful than fighting about our personal opinions. We can use the elegant immutable facts of life to make technologies, and then we can use the technologies to do something good that we otherwise couldn’t do.

But is that what we usually choose to do? More often, after we have powerful technologies, our heads swell up until we believe our power is the same as wisdom and our opinions are the same as facts. Now that’s just silly, but that’s what some people think. And then we start to fight, we call it debating, about whose opinion is more important. And by that time we are in more trouble than we were before we had the power. Nobody’s opinion is as powerful as an immutable fact, because we can not change the facts.

A fact is a reality that doesn’t change. The most important thing we need to know about science — it’s a method to figure out what is the difference between a fact and an opinion. And it does this by physical measurements. Science is the study of measurable facts using the scientific method. The whole point of the scientific method is to prevent personal opinions from influencing our evaluation of the measurable facts.

130321-Santa Fe-ASC_2769LSs
An opinion is not any of these things. We do have the power to change our opinions, and in my opinion we should consider our opinions with great care, first on the basis of the facts we must deal with and then on the basis of good choices that reflect our positive human values.

Fighting over facts is like those gorgeous fighting fish that have long trailing fins and all sorts of colors from red to blue, and they live in little aquaria. One fish lives on each side and they are divided by a pane of glass. Apparently the fish believe they are more powerful than the glass, because they never stop fighting to get through the glass so they can tear each other to shreds. They spend their whole lives doing this, and then they die.

That’s very romantic, and I suppose it’s fun if you like nothing else more than you like fighting, or if you think winning is more important than anything else in the world. I don’t. I think winning is mostly a way to hurt other people while pretending you did something good, because whenever you win, everyone else loses. And that makes them mad. Pretty soon everyone is mad at everyone else, and looking for something to fight about, even if it doesn’t make any sense, acting like a bunch of fighting fish and never accomplishing anything more useful than proving we can do something better than somebody else can do it. Well, everyone can do something better than someone else, so what does that prove?

I can accomplish my goal better if I know the difference between the things we know to be facts, and the things we know are not facts, and the things we don’t know. So science is about facts. Technology is also about facts, but technology is not basic science. Technology uses scientific facts to make things to sell or to use. It’s too bad so many people are confused about this, because the difference is as big as the difference between God and man. God made the unchanging facts. We use basic science to study the facts. We use technology to make things to play with.

It’s not much different from a chimpanzee using a stick to dig food out of a hole. God made the tree, the chimpanzee broke it into a stick to use for a technology, but the chimpanzee did not make the tree and he cannot change the way trees are made. Neither basic science nor technology can change the facts, but science can help us to understand them, and technology can help us to do good things without causing harm.

Or not. Our job is to choose.

The podcast of this post may be downloaded at:

Squirrel in the Mulberry Tree Has No Fear