Cause or Symptom?

Last edition I complained that biologists are seldom consulted on issues that involve the ecosystem.  The earth ecosystem is, of course, a biological unit, and its rules of operation are not under human control.   We should consider the real rules of operation when dealing with the ecosystem.  And so I began to prepare a little blog about global warming from an ecosystem point of view.  One thing led to another, as it often does on the internet.  Bottom line — it will take a while to pull that together.

In the process, I imported the list of speakers at a conference on climate change that is finishing up today in Copenhagen, and scanned through it.  I again found no significant representation of experts on the biology of the ecosystem.  Lot’s of economists and the like (reminder, economics is a human invention, the ecosystem is not).  Then I checked the very long list of blogs that mention climate change or global warming as a key word (well over 10,000 in WordPress alone) and the very short list of blogs that mention overpopulation as a key word. (here are two thoughtful and balanced examples)

From the viewpoint of our power over our own humanity, this dichotomy seems to be upside down.  If this biological problem were a disease, another biological sort of event, we would know exactly what to do.  We would be trying our very best to deal with the cause of the disease at the same time as we treat the symptoms.

It is clearly established that global warming is caused by people.  Obviously, then, the more people there are, the bigger will be the problem.

Because our power to cope with any problem lies in the choices that are available to us, we should at the very least be talking about those choices.  Step one (1) should be obvious.  If a problem is caused by growth, we should not try to solve the problem by bigger and better growth.

That leaves two other choices.  (2) Decide to do something to affect the CAUSE of the problem — we begin by talking about it.  (3)  Don’t decide to do something — or — decide to do nothing, which is the same thing.

Only one of these three options offers us any power over our outcomes.

It reminds me of the title of a recent seminar:  “Talking about death won’t kill you.”  Are we more afraid of words than of the suffering that will result from doing nothing?

Our greatest power in any situation is to study the cause of the problem. And then talk about it, among the experts of all the disciplines.

Sooner or Later, Global Warming

Heartland Institute, the same people who think tobacco is not harmful and who apparently do not believe in evolution are now using evolutionary “evidence” (and other assertions) to claim that human activity does not cause global warming (perhaps it’s a normal oscillation of the sun).

When I want reliable information on a subject, I look to how the source handles facts, and when I run across a statement such as: “Most scientists do not believe human activities threaten to disrupt the Earth’s climate” (and several similar statements quoted in Wikipedia the source of which has apparently been removed from the web) — ZAP — crossed him off my list. Perhaps that is his opinion, but it can not be a documented fact because there is no way he could know.

Or perhaps Wikipedia is wrong, so let’s look further. Heartland’s evidence is presented at a conference that includes speakers on climatology, paleoclimatology, politics and economics. I think economics may be the key word here.

And why does all of this irritate me? After all, they might conceivably be right. Stranger things have happened.  Not many, but  – – –

It irritates me because we — we who are doing all this — we are biological organisms feeding upon the earth, and so I wonder why it is that we so seldom hear BIOLOGISTS invited to discuss the impact of biological organisms upon the earth ecosystem? We ask climatologists, economists, physicists, politicians and the man on the street, none of whom really understands how ecosystems function.  But biologists seem to be excluded from the general conversation. I wonder why that is? (Disclaimer – I am a biologist.)   So maybe that is the real reason I am irritated.

But really — why?  The power question so often involves the word why.

Do you suppose they are trying to deflect our efforts away from their turf?

The most common way to do this is to argue about the wrong question, so let’s think about the assertion they are trying to debunk — that human activity is causing global warming. Politically and economically, that is the wrong question. It’s not important to the icebergs or the polar bears (or other biological organisms, that is us) whether or not global warming is a normal oscillation. The political and economic question is — what should we do about it.  So clearly whatever we should do about it in some way threatens their power base.  What could that be?

Are they trying to draw our attention away from the FACT that there is a limit to the amount of available carbon energy that we can mine? And they don’t want to let go of their monopoly?   Or are they afraid to talk about the problem of overpopulation?

Too many people; not enough oil.  Facts.  No matter what causes global warming, sooner or later we will have to deal with these facts.  The sooner we deal, the more power we have to deal with.

Power to do What?

The Saturday (02/07) New York Times, in an article entitled Environmental Views, Past and Present,

compared the actions of Pres. Bush and Pres. Obama:

“Through most of his presidency, Mr. Bush largely framed his approach to global warming around two talking points: the uncertainties in forecasts of a dangerously human-heated world and the certainty that economic harm would come from mandatory cuts in emissions of heat-trapping gases.”


How often we have heard the argument that we aren’t certain about the future, therefore we should do nothing. The do-nothing approach certainly enhanced Pres. Bush’s short-term political power as a representative both of big business and of the people, in the immediate effort to fend off the reckoning. But if we want preserve our long-term options (that is our power to respond, whatever the future may bring) then we must begin now and seriously to modify our impact upon the ecosystem. Our dedication to the problem can not do any long-term harm if the scientists are wrong about global warming; it will definitely improve the lives of our grandchildren if the scientists are right.

As is often the case, we are caught between the short term power individually or collectively to line our own pockets and the long-term power to provide for our young. Most often, we can’t have it both ways.   Our power to influence the outcome of such a situation lies in our ability to evaluate and balance the long and short term benefits of the available options.