Bill McKibben

My approach to telling people what to believe in our current biological crisis has been to not tell, but to explain the biology so people can see for themselves what to believe. After all, in an argument between me and FOX, people tend not to believe me, especially when FOX is pretending that science is evil and FOX is willing to lie while I am not. The advantage of my approach is that the solutions to problems are immediately obvious the minute we understand the problems (as opposed to evaluating them according to who said what). HOWEVER, if you want the short, clear, true reality, I urge you to read Bill McKibben’s current post on TomDispatch, below. The advantage to that approach is that we can begin to deal with it now rather than wait till it is too late.

Please go to the original that is posted above after you read the below (or before) because, as is always the case with posts on TomDispatch, it is extremely well referenced with links. Then, if you disagree, please send me your data and explain why we should not worry about this BIOLOGICAL problem that basically impacts the survival of the living earth ecosystem as a place where your grandchildren can survive with a reasonable quality of life. I keep hearing that we have another ten years. No indeed we do not, because what we do (or do not do) TODAY will determine what the world will look like in ten years. And twenty.

I understand the corposystem. What I don’t understand is US. Not caring. How old are your children? When will they be coming on the job market?

Tomgram: Bill McKibben, Why the Energy-Industrial Elite Has It In for the Planet
Posted by Bill McKibben at 9:39am, February 7, 2012.

The Great Carbon Bubble
Why the Fossil Fuel Industry Fights So Hard
By Bill McKibben

If we could see the world with a particularly illuminating set of spectacles, one of its most prominent features at the moment would be a giant carbon bubble, whose bursting someday will make the housing bubble of 2007 look like a lark. As yet — as we shall see — it’s unfortunately largely invisible to us.

In compensation, though, we have some truly beautiful images made possible by new technology. Last month, for instance, NASA updated the most iconic photograph in our civilization’s gallery: “Blue Marble,” originally taken from Apollo 17 in 1972. The spectacular new high-def image shows a picture of the Americas on January 4th, a good day for snapping photos because there weren’t many clouds.

It was also a good day because of the striking way it could demonstrate to us just how much the planet has changed in 40 years. As Jeff Masters, the web’s most widely read meteorologist, explains, “The U.S. and Canada are virtually snow-free and cloud-free, which is extremely rare for a January day. The lack of snow in the mountains of the Western U.S. is particularly unusual. I doubt one could find a January day this cloud-free with so little snow on the ground throughout the entire satellite record, going back to the early 1960s.”

In fact, it’s likely that the week that photo was taken will prove “the driest first week in recorded U.S. history.” Indeed, it followed on 2011, which showed the greatest weather extremes in our history — 56% of the country was either in drought or flood, which was no surprise since “climate change science predicts wet areas will tend to get wetter and dry areas will tend to get drier.” Indeed, the nation suffered 14 weather disasters each causing $1 billion or more in damage last year. (The old record was nine.) Masters again: “Watching the weather over the past two years has been like watching a famous baseball hitter on steroids.”
In the face of such data — statistics that you can duplicate for almost every region of the planet — you’d think we’d already be in an all-out effort to do something about climate change. Instead, we’re witnessing an all-out effort to… deny there’s a problem.

Our GOP presidential candidates are working hard to make sure no one thinks they’d appease chemistry and physics. At the last Republican debate in Florida, Rick Santorum insisted that he should be the nominee because he’d caught on earlier than Newt or Mitt to the global warming “hoax.”

Most of the media pays remarkably little attention to what’s happening. Coverage of global warming has dipped 40% over the last two years. When, say, there’s a rare outbreak of January tornadoes, TV anchors politely discuss “extreme weather,” but climate change is the disaster that dare not speak its name.

And when they do break their silence, some of our elite organs are happy to indulge in outright denial. Last month, for instance, the Wall Street Journal published an op-ed by “16 scientists and engineers” headlined “No Need to Panic About Global Warming.” The article was easily debunked. It was nothing but a mash-up of long-since-disproved arguments by people who turned out mostly not to be climate scientists at all, quoting other scientists who immediately said their actual work showed just the opposite.

It’s no secret where this denialism comes from: the fossil fuel industry pays for it. (Of the 16 authors of the Journal article, for instance, five had had ties to Exxon.) Writers from Ross Gelbspan to Naomi Oreskes have made this case with such overwhelming power that no one even really tries denying it any more. The open question is why the industry persists in denial in the face of an endless body of fact showing climate change is the greatest danger we’ve ever faced.

Why doesn’t it fold the way the tobacco industry eventually did? Why doesn’t it invest its riches in things like solar panels and so profit handsomely from the next generation of energy? As it happens, the answer is more interesting than you might think.
Part of it’s simple enough: the giant energy companies are making so much money right now that they can’t stop gorging themselves. ExxonMobil, year after year, pulls in more money than any company in history. Chevron’s not far behind. Everyone in the business is swimming in money.

Still, they could theoretically invest all that cash in new clean technology or research and development for the same. As it happens, though, they’ve got a deeper problem, one that’s become clear only in the last few years. Put briefly: their value is largely based on fossil-fuel reserves that won’t be burned if we ever take global warming seriously.

When I talked about a carbon bubble at the beginning of this essay, this is what I meant. Here are some of the relevant numbers, courtesy of the Capital Institute: we’re already seeing widespread climate disruption, but if we want to avoid utter, civilization-shaking disaster, many scientists have pointed to a two-degree rise in global temperatures as the most we could possibly deal with.
If we spew 565 gigatons more carbon into the atmosphere, we’ll quite possibly go right past that reddest of red lines. But the oil companies, private and state-owned, have current reserves on the books equivalent to 2,795 gigatons — five times more than we can ever safely burn. It has to stay in the ground.

Put another way, in ecological terms it would be extremely prudent to write off $20 trillion worth of those reserves. In economic terms, of course, it would be a disaster, first and foremost for shareholders and executives of companies like ExxonMobil (and people in places like Venezuela).

If you run an oil company, this sort of write-off is the disastrous future staring you in the face as soon as climate change is taken as seriously as it should be, and that’s far scarier than drought and flood. It’s why you’ll do anything — including fund an endless campaigns of lies — to avoid coming to terms with its reality. So instead, we simply charge ahead. To take just one example, last month the boss of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Thomas Donohue, called for burning all the country’s newly discovered coal, gas, and oil — believed to be 1,800 gigatons worth of carbon from our nation alone.

What he and the rest of the energy-industrial elite are denying, in other words, is that the business models at the center of our economy are in the deepest possible conflict with physics and chemistry. The carbon bubble that looms over our world needs to be deflated soon. As with our fiscal crisis, failure to do so will cause enormous pain — pain, in fact, almost beyond imagining. After all, if you think banks are too big to fail, consider the climate as a whole and imagine the nature of the bailout that would face us when that bubble finally bursts.

Unfortunately, it won’t burst by itself — not in time, anyway. The fossil-fuel companies, with their heavily funded denialism and their record campaign contributions, have been able to keep at bay even the tamest efforts at reining in carbon emissions. With each passing day, they’re leveraging us deeper into an unpayable carbon debt — and with each passing day, they’re raking in unimaginable returns. ExxonMobil last week reported its 2011 profits at $41 billion, the second highest of all time. Do you wonder who owns the record? That would be ExxonMobil in 2008 at $45 billion.

Telling the truth about climate change would require pulling away the biggest punchbowl in history, right when the party is in full swing. That’s why the fight is so pitched. That’s why those of us battling for the future need to raise our game. And it’s why that view from the satellites, however beautiful from a distance, is likely to become ever harder to recognize as our home planet.

Bill McKibben is Schumann Distinguished Scholar at Middlebury College, founder of the global climate campaign, a TomDispatch regular, and the author, most recently, of Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet.
Follow TomDispatch on Twitter @TomDispatch and join us on Facebook.
Copyright 2012 Bill McKibben

Global Warming, this is new measurable facts

On the face of it, it wasn’t anything to shout about — just more stats in a world drowning in numbers. These happen to have been put out by the U.S. Department of Energy and they reflected, as an Associated Press headline put it, the “biggest jump ever seen in global warming gases.” In other words, in 2010, humanity (with a special bow to China, the United States, and onrushing India) managed to pump more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than at any time since the industrial revolution began — 564 million more tons than in 2009, which represents an increase of 6%.

According to AP’s Seth Borenstein, that’s “higher than the worst case scenario outlined by climate experts just four years ago.” He’s talking about the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, which is, if anything, considered “conservative” in its projections of future catastrophe by many climate scientists. Put another way, we’re talking more greenhouse gases than have entered the Earth’s atmosphere in tens of millions of years.

Check it out – it has lots of references and much more info on TomDispatch

No transcript yet

Sorry I haven’t put up a transcript for this week’s Bare Bones Biology, because — my computer is in the hospital. Oh no, you say, you should have backed it up!! Oh yes, I say, I thought I did, but that automatic backup software didn’t back it up. I will get a copy of the disk from Stevo and put it up before next week (I hope) and meantime, I’ve been watching my little pond ecosystem slowly die in the drought.

You know, about 50 years ago when I was taking ecology and studying a beautiful little ecosystem along a river at UC Davis, I thought in my dissociated moments that it might be interesting to watch and record the result of human overpopulation. But – no, I thought. It won’t happen in my lifetime.

HA! Check out Crash Course on Youtube if you want to understand exponential growth.

And then I thought — after I wrote my report — who would there be to read it? A vision of Professor Salt pops into my mind. He was a nice man and a good professor, but – – –

The answer is that human societies have crashed under population pressures quite a number of times in the past and it has already been recorded. For example, read COLLAPSE by Jarrod Diamond. It’s not a slow thing in my pond; these fish were all alive the day before I took this picture, and the water is not that much different today from yesterday, and it seems not to have been a slow thing in past human events. That’s what is meant by a “tipping point,” when all the factors TOGETHER, climate, temperature, food energy, water, all that and more, in their interacting effects, are outside the limits of tolerance of (whatever species) — And yet people keep telling me “it’s always been the way it is and it always will be.” The fact is the whole earth ecosystem is a living entitity that is always changing in response to the environment. The internal environment in this case.

But wait — that’s what I’m trying to tell you. The law of gravity, the second law of thermodynamics, the law of cause and effect. They are not changing. They are what make life possible on this earth. If they change, life is not possible. If they don’t change, then our life is not possible unless we abide by the natural laws, and the best way to do that is to understand the natural laws — not pretend they don’t exist or are under our control..

Check out this article by McKibben

Check out Bill McKibbon’s article. You can ignore the advertising and all that if you choose, but nobody should miss the straight stuff about global warming from McKibbon when he finally gets down to saying it like it is. It is not possible to negotiation with the laws of God and Nature.
Second Law of Thermodynamics
Law of Cause and Effect

Energy and Global Warming (or heat is energy)

Energy is everywhere. Physicists have the entire spectrum of electromagnetic energy to play with, from X-rays to radio waves and beyond. Engineers have a whole array of different kinds of energy to employ. New Age has a set of healing energies and mental energies that nobody else knows anything about. The sun is shining on our pasturelands and the energy flowing to us from the Gulf is plumping up the clouds overhead.  And all of life throbs with the organic food energy that it generates within itself.

The organic food energy of life is captured by plants from light energy and it is stored in the chemical energy bonds of organic molecules such as proteins, carbohydrates, lipids, nucleic acids and almost everything else that living cells are made of. The organic food energy of life is generated by the process of photosynthesis in plants and other green organisms. Then we eat it and our bodies know how to use it to do the work of staying alive. It is the foundational miracle of life.

Photosynthesis is the only source of energy, out of all that energy out there, photosynthesis is the only source of energy for us to stay alive, and whenever our bodies use some of the organic food energy to do the various jobs of staying alive (for example digestion, walking, thinking) — whenever that happens, which is all the time, organic food energy is broken down and heat is released, along with carbon dioxide and water. Energy does not recycle. The plants generate more, and THAT’S what life is all about.

I heard Doug Welsh on the radio yesterday say that green plants give off oxygen (they do) and “that’s what it’s all about.” IT’S NOT. We could get oxygen from some technology if we had to. Like astronauts. What we can not do with any technology is maintain the balance that is required for all of life on earth to stay alive, and evidently we can’t think about the real cause of global warming.

That’s too bad because we could control global warming, and the awful wars and famines, if we had a mind to, but not with any technology. Only if we decide to behave in a responsible fashion upon this living earth and stop using up more organic food energy than the green plants are capable of producing.

It’s all about food for living things; it’s all about global warming; it’s all about the balance between the producers (plants) and the consumers (us) that must be maintained. If it is not maintained, we will never control global warming and we won’t need any oxygen because humans will not be living here in this amazing garden of eden.

Light Energizes Life

Energy Flows-Or Nothing Happens

Light is one kind of energy. There are many things about light that we don’t understand, but we only need three bits of very well established scientific fact to cover the most important aspects of how energy flows through the ecosystem to keep all of life alive.

1. Light is energy. We have defined energy as the ability to make actions happen, and light can make actions happen. For example, when light hits your eyes it activates molecules in a nerve cell that sends the message to your brain. That is one kind of work. Energy is the ability to do work.

2. According to the second law of thermodynamics, pushing anything from a lower level of organization to a higher level requires work. Work is necessary to push any kind of action “uphill,” but “downhill” actions can happen without help. It requires energy for you to climb the stairs to the top of the Empire State Building, but it requires no energy to get to the bottom if you fall off. In a more relevant example, anything that is more complicated or more powerful is “uphill.” To make a cake requires energy, but it can fall apart by itself. Cake is more complicated than flour. Life is the most complicated thing on earth. Cells require energy all the time in order to maintain their complex organization. They do this, with regard to energy, by balancing the “uphillness” of complexity with the degradation of energy. The light gives its energy to maintain the complexity of life. This is possible because energy takes different forms.

3. Some forms of energy are “uphill” from others. For example, light energy can release some of its energy to become heat, but heat energy can not spontaneously change back into light, because heat is a lower form of energy. Plants use light energy to make what I am referring to as organic energy (in food). Light energy is a higher form than organic energy, and organic energy is a higher form than heat energy.

So, the bottom line is that life maintains its “uphill” complexity, by changing light energy to organic energy and using the organic energy to feed the whole ecosystem. For some people, this is the definition of life. Life is working, working, working all the time to keep itself from falling apart, and — if it stops working — it does fall apart. It dies.

That’s why people are alive and cake is not. Once you turn off the oven, the cake has no way to maintain its high level of organization and eventually it will fall apart. The miracle of life is that it can use light energy to keep itself organized and functioning — and it does this inside of itself. Inside every cell in our bodies and every organism in the ecosystem. So far as we know, nothing else in the universe can do this. Only life.

So the first half of our life story is about the amazing way that plants, and some bacteria, are able to capture light energy and convert it to food energy that we have referred to as organic energy. The process happens only in green plants and bacteria and it is called photosynthesis. Photosynthesis is the process of capturing light energy and converting it to form the energy attractions that bond together groups of atoms and small molecules to make large organic molecules. They capture the light using a pigment molecule that is called chlorophyll.

Capturing, or absorbing light energy is no problem. Absorption of light energy happens all around us; it is what makes the colors. Pigment is any substance that absorbs light. Light from the sun includes (contains, is made of) several different kinds (different wave lengths or different energy types) of light. We see some of these in rainbows, and we can see them because our eyes are activated differently by the different wave lengths of light energy.
We see a cat because sunlight hits the cat and bounces off the cat into our eyes and energizes some nerve cells. This cat is orange, because only the orange light bounced off her. The other wavelengths were absorbed by the pigments in her hair. (We wrote a whole book about hair pigments, soon to be published, called The Colors of Mice, but that is blatant advertising and has nothing to do with our story here.)

The wavelengths that bounce off — that are not absorbed by the pigment — are still light energy; the wavelengths that are absorbed into the hairs change to a lower form of energy. For example, heat energy; that’s why the cat is stretched out in the sunlight on a cool day. It makes her feel warm and cozy. The pigment of a black cat absorbs most of the light that shines on it. A white cat reflects most of the different wavelengths of light. The green rug in this picture is reflecting green light back to our eyes and is absorbing the other wavelengths.

Plants, as you already realize, reflect the green light and keep the other wavelengths. Unlike cat hair pigment, however, the plant pigments (chlorphylls) do not allow the light energy to degrade into heat energy. Instead, the plant has a very complicated series of biochemical reactions that converts some of the light energy to make the energy bonds of large organic molecules. We will talk about the chemical reactions in some other post.

Absorbing the light into a pigment molecule of (mostly) plants –and then using the energy to make food molecules — is the first half of the flow of energy through the ecosystem.

The second half is distribution of the energy so that all the parts of the ecosystem can stay alive. We discussed last time why an internet requires all its parts if it is to maintain resilience and sustainability.

To recap, the energy that does all this work comes from food. And of course you know what happens when you have no food. The only food we can use to stay alive is organic molecules, and the organic molecules are made by plants. If someone tells you there is no limit to the energy available to us — because it comes from the sun — they are wrong. You and I both know we can not eat sunlight; our food comes from plants, and we are definitely limited by the amount of plants on earth, not by the amount of sunlight. If someone tells you we can make organic molecules for ourselves to eat, that is true, but unfortunately it takes more energy to make the food than we can get back when we eat it. And anyhow food is not the only thing that keeps the ecosystem alive. The ecosystem is an internet; it requires a lot of things, and the most important is to keep all those things in balance.

The whole ecosystem stays alive by keeping a critical balance among all the different life forms that do the various ecosystem jobs we talked about last time, and a balance among the three forms of energy, light energy, organic energy and heat energy.

The ecosystem stays alive because the energy from the sun flows from one of its life forms to another to another to another, doing the work of keeping cells alive. Cells of plants, cells of bacteria, cells of turnips, cells of your body, cells of trees, cells of potatoes, cells of tigers, cells of worms, cells of mosquitoes, grass, horses, fish. You get the idea but if you want a visual cue you can look to the elegant, if simplistic, diagram below.

Every time we eat a bite of food (with the energy it contains) and then our body breaks down the food to release the energy bonds, and uses that energy to do the work of keeping our cells alive — every time we do any of those things, some of the energy is lost as heat. Nobody can eat heat, so then some plant somewhere in the ecosystem must capture more light energy to make more organic energy for our next bite.

Of course we know energy is not the only good thing we get from food. We will discuss other things — primarily carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen atoms and small molecules like water and carbon dioxide — in the third section of this book when we explain how the ecosystem recycles these materials into and out of our food. The point here is that the energy does not recycle. It is lost as heat. That’s why the plants must be constantly making more organic molecules to keep the entire ecosystem alive.

For the whole ecosystem to stay alive, it must provide food for every living part of itself. It must maintain the balance among the numbers of plants and the number of organisms that eat plants and the organisms that eat other organisms. And even more, the ecosystem must maintain the balance between the light energy that it uses to make organic energy, and the heat energy that is released when organic energy is burned to do work.

That’s why we have global warming. The energy balance is off. It has been for a good while.

Therefore, the only long-term cure for global warming is to help the ecosystem to restore her balance. We could do it, but not if we try to use any method that causes more heat to be released into the ecosystem. We can not cure global warming, and the starvation that comes with it, by burning anything or by growing our economy or our population.

Because growth Is what caused the problem in the first place.

“Men are not flattered by being shown that there is a difference between their purposes and those of God.” Abraham Lincoln

A Must Read

As always but more so — Dot Earth

0: Can we outgrow growth?