Bare Bones Biology 100 – Climate Change, The End

On a Thursday I went to two local meetings, one right after the other. The first was a seminar — a group of people who are concerned about the health of the whole ecosystem that we live in. Second, I went to a political meeting. All the people I met at both meetings are concerned for the welfare of our whole community. But their views of what is a community are so different that, if they were talking together, they probably would not recognize our common motivation.

I despaired of explaining this gap until I once again realized that we are talking about levels of organization. BBB-051 and BBB-052. By my system, individual is level one. Level two is the population level, our local community of humans or all humans as a species. Level three is the entire worldwide ecosystem, which is a super-organism that consists of all the species on earth and the environment we all create to live in.

People who work at the population level need to understand as much as they can about the social sciences, because that’s how we humans manipulate other people, for good or for ill. That’s all about hopes and dreams and kindness and cruelty and good and evil and empathy and compassion, as defined by our common human values. This is different from individual, level one welfare, and the difference is the cause of most of our political battles. That’s because, instead of trying to understand the differences in a way that will generate a living space for individual welfare within the communal welfare, in our culture of today we are choosing to fight over those conflicts of interest. For example. My neighbor’s oil well is giving me nosebleeds, shortness of breath, and I think maybe affecting my memory, which at my age is a concern. Good for him, bad for me, a simple individual level-one difference, he is bigger than I am so I will move. However, a more
difficult problem is the effect that his oil well has on the rate of asthma, alzheimers and obesity and other problems of the people of the whole community. That’s level one welfare, conflicting with the welfare at level two. At that point, we need a serious human discussion or we will likely end up with a serious human fight. That’s the kind of thing that good politics should be addressing. The welfare of the individual within the population of humans. There is always a conflict of interest. That’s what the social sciences are about.

The ecosystem is the level that includes all of life on earth. Everything alive is part of the whole earth ecosystem and requires a healthy ecosystem to stay alive, because the ecosystem literally makes the air, water and rich soil, and it makes these things by balancing extremely complex cycles of energy and climate and organic molecules. That’s not a matter of opinion. Without the ecosystem, there is no population to worry about, and that’s what the folks at the seminar mean when they are concerned about the common welfare.

We need the so-called “hard sciences” to understand what the ecosystem requires to stay healthy. Because the ecosystem does not function according to human values or emotions, the social sciences will not help us understand what the ecosystem requires. That’s why we need biology and ecology. And facts. And our unique human brain that can understand the difference between ecological facts and human emotions and desires. And our unique human language that can share knowledge and information over space and time.

There are measurable facts in this world. Our opinions are fun and they make us feel important, but they do not change facts. Science does not change facts. Nothing changes facts; that’s why we call them facts. Thermodynamic relationships are real, and all of life is based on them. The law of cause and effect is real. It is a fact that what we do today will influence the level of human suffering in the ecosystem of the future. The world keeps changing; that’s a fact, and we need to deal with it.

Bare Bones Biology 100 – Climate Change, The End
KEOS FM 89.1, Bryan, Texas
Audio download available later this week
here and at http://BareBonesBiology.com

Recommended References:
https://factfictionfancy.wordpress.com/ Levels of Organization
https://factfictionfancy.wordpress.com/2011/04/24 Emergent Properties
Bare Bones Biology Energy Handbook is available on my blog for free download
Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World, by H.H. The Dalai Lama

Bare Bones Biology 091 – Evolution

Last time I told you what I know about the reality of our human position on the earth, and more importantly what we don’t know and therefore cannot control. Next I’ll tell you a little why and how story of the past couple of hundred years that have grown our destructive modern economies.

The theory of evolution was a brilliant breakthrough that took place a couple of hundred years ago. After that, it was studied rigorously until the evolutionary scientists and the geneticists realized they were all studying different parts of the same creature, and they got together. Now, 200 years later, we know a great deal more about how this beautiful life form, the whole earth ecosystem, manages to survive through the millennia by changing in response to changing conditions. We know that these changes are mediated for the most part by organisms that, by their interactions with each other and with the environment, carry the genetic information for the life of the whole system forward from one moment of time to the next. The correct term for this kind of study is evolutionary ecology. We left Darwinism in the dust at least a hundred hears ago.

The corposystem and modern politics and economics do not want us to know about evolutionary ecology, I guess because they have a strong foundation in that little nonsense phrase: “Survival of the fittest.” You have heard me say many times: “That’s not how it works.” I didn’t tell you how it does work for two reasons. One is that I don’t completely know how it works – nobody does – the other is that evolution is so complicated that most people don’t even TRY to understand how it really does work. Not even a massive computer could do the job because we don’t know all the parts of the whole earth ecosystem, so we can’t plug the information into the computer. We don’t even know all the species that do the work of keeping us alive. That’s why biologists are concerned about us humans killing them off – the other species – without even knowing what they are and how they contribute to our well being. The bottom line is that our modern corposystem is partially justified by a false or fake belief in survival of the fittest.

It is true that tooth and claw is an important reality of life. It’s also true that tooth and claw is a necessary component of life because it contributes to the flow of energy through the ecosystem, but tooth and claw is only a subset of how evolution works. How does it work? I lay out the background in pages 32 onward in Bare Bones Ecology Energy Handbook you can download from my website, FactFictionFancy. The shortest version I can tell you in a five-minute spot is that life evolves by generating functionally effective systems out of pre-existing systems.

A cell is a functionally effective system that is made of thousands of molecules – the key is that all these molecules work together perfectly. The problem, from our point of view, is the millions and millions of functional systems that did NOT work together perfectly within the system and so they became extinct. The way evolution works is to generate millions and millions of functional systems, by recombining the older systems, until a new system emerges that works together positively with the whole of life. That one SYSTEM (species) out of all the millions that unbalanced the systems of life, that one survives over time to become a part of the living whole earth ecosystem. We are unbalancing the life systems of the earth. The difference between us and all the other species is that we KNOW these things.

And the reason I am trying to explain this to you is that I see some new social movements coming up that are based on the reality of evolution instead of the failed models that were in part based on a false view of evolution. I’ll talk more about these in future.

Bare Bones Biology 091 – Evolution
KEOS FM 89.1, Bryan, Texas
Audio download available next week
here and at http://www.BareBonesBiology.com

His Holiness and Ecology

I am forwarding this to our whole group of nearly 200 people and posting it on my blog, at the last minute, because I sincerely believe we will require the blending of the practical compassion and practical ecology if we humans are to make it through this biological bottleneck. As the Mind & Life announcement states (see the announcement below, a sincere effort at synergy is needed. Not only lip service and not a vague, fuzzy-bunny understanding of what is a hard-edged biological reality. Neither free-floating, unfocused compassion, nor prayer can save us from ourselves if we fail to also fulfill our obligations — both as individuals and as organizations — to our human future and to the earth.

Mind and Life Institute works with His Holiness The Dalai Lama to coordinate scientific research with issues of importance to the compassionate community. In the past, in my opinion, the Mind and Life science initiatives have expended far too much of their unique potential in the study of human physiology that won’t even exist if we don’t get our act together. I hope the work they describe here is fruitful. I know it is of the highest possible priority, and many of you will be interested in the outcome. The webcast begins in our time zone at 9:30PM today (Sunday) streaming live on line. I will download the podcasts and share them.

I hope they include at least one qualified ecological scientist in this workshop. So many people believe that they understand ecology simply because they do understand interconnectedness. Because we are interconnected doesn’t mean we can do anything we want to do with the ecosystem. If we want it to stay alive and healthy, we need to know specifically HOW the ecosystem is interconnected – how it functions — so we can avoid breaking the critical connections. If we haven’t already.

Let’s see how well the meeting is able to accomplish this effort and let’s support them fully if they are effectively addressing our real survival problem. We do need to unite behind an effort that has a chance to succeed. I don’t think the Peach Clubhouse can do it alone.

The regular Peach Clubhouse newsletter will follow later this month

__________________
The minimum requirement to grow a viable human social structure is that the citizens must be educated in the skills of: practical compassion applied to problem solving; the nature and needs of a healthy ecosystem; a rule of law that recognizes the conflicting human values at the individual level and the level of the whole.

http://FactFictionFancy.Wordpress.com
http://www.BareBonesBiology.com
___________________________________Here below is he announcement

http://dalailama.com/live-english
Mind and Life XXIII
Ecology, Ethics and Interdependence
with His Holiness The Dalai Lama
Dharamsala, India • October 17 – 21, 2011

Live webcast
Live broadcasting by Ustream
Unfortunately, as this will be a small, private meeting, it will be impossible to invite additional participants to attend Mind and Life XXIII. However, the proceedings of the conference will be webcast live, beginning October 17th. Please note that the sessions begin at 9:00 am and 1:00 pm Indian time. If you experience problems viewing this video, you can also see it at http://dalailama.com/live-english The sessions will be available for streaming and download after the event at http://dalailama.com/webcasts.

Conference Overview
The slow meltdown of Earth’s capacity to sustain much of life, as we know it, poses an urgent challenge for both spiritual traditions and science. These two ways of knowing have developed distinctive responses, which are potentially synergistic. The goal of the meeting is to provide an opportunity to articulate an engaged environmental ethics. This would include the understanding of interdependence through an examination of the most recent data on the scientific case for effective ecological action. Furthermore, it will be a unique opportunity to meet with other faith traditions that have arrived at a religious basis for motivating environmental activism. A dialogue between contemplative scholars, activists and ecological scientists could enrich the response to our planetary crisis. Insights from the new thrust in ecological science evoke the deep interconnections between individual choice and planetary consequence as well as through cross-fertilization of ideas and meaningful action among activists working within their own spiritual framework. We will explore many dimensions, from the human-caused deterioration in the global systems that sustain life, and the role each of us plays as seen through the lens of industrial ecology, to a view from Buddhist philosophy and other faith traditions, to the on-the-ground realities faced by ecological activists. Our hope is that this conference will be a significant catalyst for the formulation of new research ideas in these fields and solutions to our planetary crisis.

Questions Answered

• What is your stance on overpopulation?

My stance is not relevant. Measurable facts are what we need to understand problems, whenever they are available. It is not difficult to know these facts. After we understand the problem, then we can have opinions about how to fix it. The basic problem is a balance of how much food is available and how many living things need it to eat. This can easily be measured. The person I know who has done the best job of measuring is Lester Brown (because he has been doing it for about 40 years and because he is honest).

• How can we stop it?

Overpopulation is a very complex problem to stop. Again, Lester Brown may have the most balanced view, because he tries to measure all the different factors that need to be addressed. I say balanced view because he studies many parameters: food resources, non-food energy resources, climate change and other problems that are brought about by an imbalance in the ecosystem. But we will need information from all fields of research to bring the problem under control in time. Apparently some people don’t want to control the problem, because there is one thing we could do tomorrow that would have a dramatic positive effect, and that would be to make birth control available to all women and men and families who want it. At the present time we are withholding this technology from the people who need it. Other kinds of solution would take longer and might be too late.

• Should we slow down birth rates?

If we don’t slow down birth rates, then they will slow down anyway beause the population will be reduced by war, starvation, genocide and epidemics. Providing birth control for people who can’t afford children or don’t want them would be very, very much kinder than killing them with war and genocide or letting them die in famines and epidemics. Those are the options — because this is a problem that is controlled by the ecosystem and neither humans nor the economy are more powerful than the ecosystem. We can’t change the natural laws that control the ecosystem, and if the ecosystem dies then everything inside it also dies.

The problem is very simple:

a) All food for humans and for all animals and for all ecosystems and also for all plants and most micro-organisms comes from photosynthesis. Only plants and green bacteria can do photosynthesis. They can make food for themselves. Every other living entity in the earth ecosystem must eat plants (or eat something else that eats plants or green bacteria) in order to stay alive. This is a good system as long as you have more photosynthetic organisms (producers) than you have of non-photosynthetic organisms (consumers).

b) The problem arises when you get more consumers than producers, and that is where the world is right now. From then on, something has to die so we can eat. For about the past 50 years it has been other species dying so we can use their portion of the available food. Now we are at the point where we are beginning to kill of each other and the plants. That’s when starvation begins because the plants make our food. The climate change question is similar. Photosynthesis makes oxygen. Eating and digesting food makes carbon dioxide, and it’s a cycle. I can send you a handbook that explains in more detail if you want it. Or you can download from this blog on the right side, Bare Bones Ecology Energy Handbook. The earth has a circulatory system of oxygen and carbon dioxide that must stay in balance. The circulatory system basically runs by the climate. Or is the climate. When that gets out of balance, the ecosystem will react. Just as any living thing will react when its physiology gets out of balance. It will try to not die. One of the important things that will then happen is that a lot of the plants will die because they are adapted to the balance we did have. It is the plants that make our food. We do not get food from oil wells or from the sun or from the wind, and we can not make food. (Because of the natural laws of thermodynamics that is also explained in the Bare Bones Ecology Energy Handbook.)

• How could we slow down birth rates?

Answered above.

• Is a bigger population hurting the economy? Is it helping it?

That question is not relevant to the problem. It is a question economists like to ask so that we will not be thinking about the real food resource problem. The economy has no power in this relationship. The ecosystem has the power. The economy is inside the ecosystem. The economy cannot make food, and neither can it change the laws of nature that keep us all alive. A bigger population is hurting the ecosystem very badly and if the ecosystem crashes we will all die and there won’t be any economy.

• Why is population often so centered? For example 8 million people in NYC.

This is not my kind of question, though I know it is partly a result of overpopulation because when people lose their homes from any kind of disaster they will tend to go to cities. If they had a little farm and they got their food from the farm, and they lose it – then they have no food and go where they hope to get a job.

Overpopulation causes starvation, genocide, war, disease — and global warming is melting the ice. So a lot of people are losing their homes. Melting the ice, for example, means people lose their land for two reasons. One is that the oceans get higher, so for example Bangladesh and some islands and Florida and some other places are getting smaller because the water is higher. Another reason is that the mountain glaciers are the source of the great rivers of many continents. If the rivers stop running and the deserts take their place, then the people will have to go away because the plants will die and the farmers can’t grow food anymore.

• What do you estimate the worlds population will be at in 2025?

This is not relevant. Why would we want to wait around to find out?

• Will birth rates slow down?

There are no valid statistics on this because this has never before happened to humans. However, all normal organisms make more babies than can survive. That is one of the natural laws. I don’t think there is any reason to believe that humans are abnormal in this respect.

But we can guess. A standard growth curve for most species is exponential, so long as plenty of food is available. That means the population doubles in shorter and shorter and shorter intervals until the food runs out. Then the population stops increasing. Then it crashes. The reason it stops increasing is because of war, famine, disease, genocide, etc. In mice and rats, some of the animals become crazy and start killing infant mice and rats.

The difference between humans and mice and rats is that humans have a brain that can understand what is happening and we have birth control technologies that we are not making available to the people who need it. So right now is the time we should be using both.

Richard Heinberg

Our Economic Black Hole

In recent months economist and former Labor Secretary Robert Reich has been saying that the American economy is “in the gravitational pull of the Great Recession”. It’s an interesting metaphor. The U.S. economy is assumed to be a satellite of some heavy object, and just needs a little more push (in the form of Federal stimulus) in order to achieve escape velocity and go on its merry way.

Perhaps the metaphor makes more sense if it’s reframed slightly. Maybe it is more accurate to think of the economy itself as the black hole. At its heart is a great sucking void created in 2008 by the destruction of trillions of dollars’ worth of capital. The economy used to be a star, spewing out light and heat (profits and consumer goods), but it imploded on itself. Now its gaping maw will inevitably draw all surrounding matter into itself.
You can’t see the black hole, of course; it’s invisible. It is composed largely of unrepayable debt in the form of mortgages, and of toxic assets (mortgage-backed securities and related derivatives) on the books of major financial institutions, all of which are carefully hidden from view not just by the institutions themselves but by the Treasury and the Fed. Added to those there is also a growing super- gravitational field of resource depletion—which is again invisible to nearly everyone, though it does create noticeable secondary effects in the form of rising energy and food prices.

The Treasury and Fed are perhaps best thought of as a pair of powerful Battlestars orbiting just outside the singularity, zapping propulsive jolts of energy (in the forms of stimulus packages, bailouts, and quantitative easing programs) at hapless spaceships (banks and businesses) in the vicinity in order to keep them from falling into default, bankruptcy, and foreclosure. Unfortunately, the Battlestars—with their limited and depleting energy sources—are ultimately no match for the black hole, whose power grows silently and invisibly with every further addition to its hidden mass. The Battlestars will themselves eventually be assimilated.

What are we puny, rank-and-file space voyagers to do? Sadly, we must resign ourselves to being absorbed by the black hole at some point. There’s at least the theoretical possibility, though, that at the heart of the singularity there exists a wormhole—a magical pathway to some other reality. In that alternate universe the economic rules are entirely different: money is not based on interest-bearing debt, and the economy is assumed to be a subset of the ecosystem, rather than the other way around. Unfortunately, it is impossible to get to this through-the-looking-glass world without passing through the singularity.

However, what we do now may have some bearing on our prospects: a few physicists reportedly believe that there are many alternate realities, and by visualizing and acting according to the rules of the reality we prefer, we might be attracted toward it rather than some other.

At least that’s the way it works in science fiction.

Plan B

Here is the short version of Lester Brown’s Plan B as discussed in his latest book “World on the Edge.” Or you can download it from a link on the right under PDFs or at the earth policy website that is also linked to the right.

You can also get it on his website

But the movie is better – Plan B the first program in this year Journey to Planet Earth, that runs Wednesday nights on KAMU at 10 pm.

As far as I can figure out by their website, tomorrow night they will discuss the state of the world’s oceans.

If you want to watch a tape of it, come to the Peach Clubhouse some time around noon on a Tuesday, Thursday or Friday. It’s two hours. Very good.

Lovely Bali

At least they are trying rather than denying.