Bare Bones Biology 098-Climate Change-What Can We Do?

The ecosystem is not a democracy. Neither is it a matter of opinion, nor can we match its power. Not in our wildest dreams. The ecosystem – whatever it is – it is a factual reality. Just look at the veins in your hand. Then look out the window. Then remember where your food, water and air are created – no, not in the supermarket – the ecosystem. It’s a fact that the ecosystem is constantly changing in response to its interactions among all the factors that make up its existence. My critics and their grandchildren will not be at all happy about our choice to continue destroying the climate that the ecosystem created, that has been our cornucopia of life.

So to round out this series on climate change, I want to play some quotes. Here is a short one from an activist at the climate talks that recently took place in Durban, South Africa. Amy Goodman is interviewing Kumi Naidoo on Democracy Now (the only good coverage of the talks that I know about, see dates 12/05/2011 and 12/06/2011 as part of the series).

“the problem is that the level of ambition and the level of urgency in these talks do not match what the science is telling us to do.” He means the science tells us the problem is urgent.

Climate change is just as real as overpopulation, and if you know a few facts (facts are realities that aren’t about people and people can’t change them, like gravity for example) if you know a few facts, then climate change will be as common-sense as my story about overpopulation. The one about putting a cow and a bull in a pasture with plenty of water, and never feeding them any hay and see if they eventually have a population problem. Or a resource problem, which is nearly the same thing. Common sense.

“The greatest challenge for Burma and the countries of the Arab Spring, as well as all peoples who hope to enjoy the flowers and fruits of their endeavors in 2012, will be to bring wisdom to bear on passion and power, and to create a blend of the two that is both effective and wholesome.” Aung San Suu Kyi

This is Harvard Professor E. O. Wilson on Earth/Sky

“Biology is going to be crucial also in feeding the world. We’re about to run out of water, and we’re running low on arable land. And we’re just now reaching 7 billion people on earth, and we’re not going to slow down or peak until somewhere in the vicinity of 10 billion, the most recent projections indicate. We don’t have enough water in enough countries to feed all those people and to restore soil to arable condition. And then there comes the matter of saving the rest of life, which is a major concern of mine. We’ll have to do a better job of exploring the natural world and figuring out how to carry it through what I like to call the bottleneck of the 21st century, when we go through the population crunch and use every bit of information – science based — that we can get, to make that journey through with the least amount of damage to the world.”

So what can we do to help? Number one, find a way to provide birth control for every person who wants it on earth. Number two, work to provide a reasonable standard of living for those who are living. This will require dethroning the corposystem and the growth ethic in favor of a sustainable economic system. Number three, join together with other countries of the world and let them help us do these things. How do we do those things? In any way we can, so long as what we do does not cause more long-term harm than help. That’s practical, self-serving compassion.

Bare Bones Biology 098 – Climate Change-What Can We Do?
KEOS FM 89.1, Bryan, Texas
Audio download available later this week
here and at http://www.BareBonesBiology.com

Trackbacks and Recommended References:
Bare Bones Biology Ecology Handbook downloadable on lower right of this blog.
http://www.DemocracyNow.org
http://www.earthsky.org

Behind all Religion is Human Ethics

Often it is very well disguised. That doesn’t mean anything about the ethics. Just about some humans in all cultures. We probabaly will not be happy with our lives if we are one of those who do not look Beyond Religion for a better future. I downloaded it for free from Audible.com. I thought it was a gimmick. Of course the gimmick was FINDING what I wanted among all the digital diversions, but the book itself came up for a free download straight onto my computer. Or you can get the real book. The music of this Youtube clip would set you teeth on edge, but in the download it goes away quickly.

Bare Bones Biology 084 – Imagine

This is the last in the series describing what I think are the bottom line requirements to grow a better future for our human lives within this living earth ecosystem. It’s been tried before, with varying levels of success, and other people are proposing other, equally serious recipes for our future welfare. We’ll look at a few of them later. First I want to summarize.

Compassion and basic scientific knowledge should be applied to our interactions with each other and with all other living things including the ecosystem. To do this we should each, as individuals, first try to separate out the immutable facts from our personal opinions, and if they don’t line up we should try to figure out why not.

Second, we each need to understand the basic requirements for life, the fact that life is the whole earth ecosystem, so far as we know, and that we are a subunit of that life. A living thing (which is not the same as ”life”) can be defined as an entity, either an ecosystem or a part of the ecosystem that carries within itself the genetic information that is required to drive all the functions of its life. The functions of life consist of cycles of interactions within the entity and between entities at all the multiple levels of complexity.

We are not the director of this symphony of life. The whole ecosystem does not revolve around humans, any more than the whole solar system revolves around the earth. We don’t even really know how it works. Only that it does. And that it operates according to the laws of physics, primarily, as well as other natural laws that we cannot change. Humans cannot improve on the nature of nature, but we can do a lot of harm to ourselves if we unbalance the functions of life and reduce the resilience of the ecosystem. The term resilience refers to the capacity of the ecosystem to rebalance itself.

And third, we must understand that the universal law of cause and effect operates no matter what we choose to do. We cannot change it with our technologies. The commonest inquiry that I get is: “What can I do?” or “What would you do?” (to fix things.)

The answer is that there is nothing on earth that we can do to change the universal law of cause and effect. That means, if the earth is now overpopulated and we are using more natural resources than are available – then that’s the way it is and we cannot change that fact because the cause is back in our history somewhere and we cannot change history.

That does not mean you should be sitting on your keester enjoying TV when there are things you can do to change the history of the future generations, so that they will not be worse off because of us being here sitting on our keesters watching TV.

We cannot avoid the crunch that is coming. But right now is the time to build a version of human society that could bring to the future something better than a corrupt corposystem that sucks the life out of life. That seems to be the culture we will grow unless we pluck up a little pluck, stop being afraid of words, learn how to LISTEN to people who are not exactly like we are, or like we think they should be, and collaborate, starting today in every small way that we can, to build a future for us all – no matter what happens next.

I’m saying that I think the minimum requirement to grow a viable, sustainable 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.

Bare Bones Biology 084 – Imagine
KEOS Radio, 89.1 FM
Audio will be posted later at
WWW.BareBonesBiology.com

Bare Bones Biology 083 – Imagine

“Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity that’s in the wrong hands . . . And so we must say to men, love God with all your heart, with all your soul and strength, but go on to say, love God with all your mind.”

That is edited from a speech Martin Luther King Jr. made on the subject of love and forgiveness. He was a well-educated preacher, talking to a group of Christian leaders.

I am a well-educated scientist. If I am talking with other well-educated scientists and technologists, let me ask how you respond to the word God in this speech. Does it make you feel uncomfortable, superior, more knowledgeable, better educated or scornful? Then I say you are the first person, before even the religious extremists, you are the first person who must examine your own ignorance of the real world and your failure to understand the uses of practical compassion.

Science is very badly needed to help guide our struggling culture today, but it is needed in the hands of people who are sincere and conscientious and compassionate and looking for real answers to real problems. Science knows nothing about God, one way or another, because science deals with measurable facts. However, scientists exist on planet earth in the solar system in the universe. This suggests that somewhere in our past there was a creation event. You, technical person, do not know any more than anyone else about the why and who of that creation event. There is nothing wrong with the word God, (or Allah, or other expresssions) of the power and glory and responsibility that it represents.

And for the religious extremist. If God created all this, then God created the things that are studied by the sciences. The fact that science – as an applied discipline – functions as much as possible without emotional content, that fact does not mean that scientists are either unemotional or irreligious. My high-level scientist colleague recently told me that of the eight people in her lab all are religious. However, scientists do have a lot of training in the use of measurable facts, and that probably does mean they can help us focus on how best to express our compassionate need to help our hurting earth in a way that might really help.

All we require, to accomplish our task of growing a better future for the grandchildren is a population of sincerely compassionate (fake compassion doesn’t count), ecologically literate voters, who are willing to discuss issues with each other. If you don’t qualify, there is nothing stopping you, now that we have access on the internet to all the knowledge of the world. But if all the world’s knowledge seems a bit much to tackle, you can start with the Bare Bones Ecology Energy Handbook that you can download free of charge from the right side of my blog.

Let’s close with the words of Karen Brown of the Ecoliteracy Center, speaking last month at Bioneers.

“Here’s what Scott Carpenter said, and here’s the kind of thing I never heard from an astronaut when I was in school. ‘This planet is not terra firma. It is a delicate flower and it must be cared for. It’s lonely. It’s small. It’s isolated, and there is no re-supply. And we are mistreating it. Clearly the highest loyalty we should have is number two to the family of man, and number one to the planet at large. This is our home, and this is all we’ve got.’ And I’d like to think we have one other thing. A generation of young people who are healthy, well educated, ecologically literate, and who know how to be strong and powerful when they need to be strong and powerful, and how to be tender and caring when they need to be tender and caring.”

Bare Bones Biology 083 – Imagine
KEOS Radio, 89.1 FM
Audio will be posted later at
WWW.BareBonesBiology.com

Bare Bones Biology 082 – Compassion

Practical compassion, energizes life-affirming behaviors. Sometimes known as win-win, practical compassion requires us to understand the needs of the others, and to use that understanding to develop mutually rewarding long-term outcomes. This is not easy when we interact with other living things that aren’t human, because many of the needs of other organisms are different from our own. That’s where science can help us out.

But, you may well say, we have given up on science. We tried it and it clearly didn’t do what we wanted. I would agree completely if we were talking about technology. We have mostly used our technology to despoil, not to affirm life. Especially in recent time. But I’m talking about science, not technology. Science doesn’t do things. Science is a method to learn about the laws of nature and how they function. To learn about light, for example, or how does energy work.

But science doesn’t do anything, therefore science does not promise anything. It simply tries to learn about the laws of nature. The laws of nature are not our responsibility. If we use our knowledge of science to do something or make something, that would be technology. It is our responsibility how we use our knowledge. There is no way that humans can change the laws of nature, but what we humans decide to do with our understanding of the laws of nature is our human responsibility, and I agree with you completely. For the most part our recent uses of technology have not been life affirming. We have failed in our responsibility.

“Nature does not forgive. It is caught in the finality of its impersonal structure.
Nature must be true to its immutable laws. When these laws are broken it must
go on down its path of uniformity.”

In this excerpt, Martin Luther King, Jr., is describing the basic law of cause and effect. For what we have done by misusing our knowledge of science, we are paying the price. We can’t stop the effects of what we have done any more than we could un-throw a rock. But we could stop throwing rocks if we are interested in growing a better future for human kind.

We could stop fighting over our ideas and start collaborating in a compassionate search for a better way of life. We could use our scientific knowledge to inform our practical compassion that I described last week
– and we could use our compassionate human values to inform the way we use our scientific knowledge.

Instead, we continue to fight over ideas. Like – what is more true – science or compassion.

What hogwash – it’s all true. We are human. We are compassionate beings. Our cultures function best when they affirm our compassionate needs. That doesn’t mean EVERYTHING functions better when we affirm our own compassionate needs. Science is not about compassion. Science is a way to study phenomena without the added confusion caused by our emotional needs.

Scoffing at religion because it centers around our emotional needs is self-defeating. Scoffing at science because it does not center around our emotional needs is also self-defeating. We can do better than either of these.

I think every scientist and every technologist should be responsible to learn and apply the basic principles of practical compassion. I also think that every person who claims to be compassionate, or caring, should be responsible to learn about the basic functions of our living world and use her understanding to inform her politics and her good works. Everyone else should do both.

Otherwise, the efforts on all sides, no matter how well intended, will end in ever more wars (OK, you call them debates) over silliness. Science versus compassion. Me versus you. Individual versus the population, and the population versus the whole living, breathing earth. And the result will continue to be lose, lose, lose, lose, lose and lose.

Bare Bones Biology 082 – Compassion
KEOS Radio, 89.1 FM
Audio will be posted later at
WWW.BareBonesBiology.com

Bare Bones Biology 081 – Compassion

Last week
we talked about Karen Armstrong
and her Charter for Compassion. Here she is, speaking at Peace Week on The Shift Network

“The idea always is to start to change people’s mind sets, so that instead of compassion being a word that we don’t understand, we don’t know what it means, or we think it means pity, it’s something we think about . . .”

Ms. Armstrong also talks about the Golden Rule, and I agree with her. It’s just good common sense, and I’m saying that practical compassion is just good common sense.

I remember when someone wrote a book about “win-win” negotiation. It caught my fancy strongly and now, when I am negotiating something, I try to imagine a way that the result might be a win for everyone involved, except I no longer like to think of the world as something we can “win.” But the idea is there. Try to think of a solution that will give the most positive result for the most people. It’s certainly better than running scared, and for example your considerate interaction with other drivers generally does not end in a road rage incident. That’s practical compassion. The other driver doesn’t have to subject his heart to the rage and you don’t have to bother with it.

But it’s only compassion if you take the trouble to find out what the other person really does need and not what you think she ought to need if she were the kind of person you think she should be. That latter interaction would probably end with severe aggravation for someone, and probably everyone, because imposing so-called “good works” that people don’t want or need is not compassionate. So compassion is a bit more complicated than the Karen Armstrong quote might suggest. I like to think of compassion as three types.

First there is fake compassion. Of course fake compassion is not compassion, but that’s why I mention it – we want to avoid fake compassion. Karen Armstrong’s example of pity would be one type of fake compassion. Another example would be making excuses to justify bad behavior. Excuses are an easy out for everyone, and they appear compassionate, but the long-term result is harm to everyone. Sometimes people create problems so they can appear to compassionately resolve them. Real compassion cares about the welfare of the other.

The second type of compassion that I think of is free-floating compassion. The feeling of compassion is an important human instinct, everybody feels it sometimes, and some people feel it a lot, and usually it’s a very nice feeling, and it grows positive community. It’s a good thing to spread around. But to be focused practical compassion, we need more than our instinctual emotions. We need to combine our instinctual desire to nurture with our learned understanding of the universal law of cause and effect. While free-floating compassion draws from our inherent human instincts, practical compassion draws from both our instinct and our learned knowledge of how the world works, and especially about the universal law of cause and effect, or what comes around goes around, or karma, or whatever we call it. We all recognize that people are responsible for their own behaviors precisely because our behaviors have consequences that can cause harm to others.

For this reason, practical compassion doesn’t just rush out in a thoughtless action that might impoverish another person or the community or the ecosystem. Practical compassion educates itself: What will be the short-term effect of this action? What are the most likely long-term effects? Will the action benefit the individuals involved? The community? The whole living earth? Or will the action, no matter how elegant or heroic, cause more harm than good?

Usually, it’s some of both – and then the hard work of compassion begins. But any person who sincerely wants to imagine a better future, must begin with the hard work of imagining the most likely long-term and short-term effects of her actions, on herself, on the community and on the whole earth ecosystem.

Bare Bones Biology 081 – Compassion
KEOS Radio, 89.1 FM
Audio will be posted later at
WWW.BareBonesBiology.com