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Sci Tech

Existential Threats

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If we listen to the news out of Washington, we may think that the gravest threat to humanity comes out of Syria, or maybe this week it's Iraq. The global "terrorist threat" is a red herring, a distraction, an excuse for war, repression, and domestic spying. But that doesn't mean that there are no real threats to our future. The biggest may be human numbers, combined with the capitalist life style, based on profligate consumption. There are two good reasons to throw yourself into a global movement for environmental sanity. One is reconnection to nature, to people, to your own soul. The other is that everything we hold dear may depend upon it.


Me, my and mine: The Human Species and the Terrible Twos

Before we learned empathy, before we learned to share and to wait our turn, before we learned to provide for others and to trust that our needs would be provided in turn--we were Terrible Two-year-olds. Everything was me, my and mine.

Before humanity, Gaia was a diverse and wondrous beast, a many-headed Hydra, with different local faces in mountain and forest and desert and ocean environments, every acre a unique ecosystem.

Henry David Thoreau spoke of teaching the earth to say "beans" instead of "grass" -- "this was my daily work." The history of humanity on this planet has been to divert the Earth's primary productivity from the diverse cycles and epicycles in the tangled bank that is nature, to align the primary productivity in the service of man, to feed and clothe and house us, to provide our comfort and transportation and amusement.

As humans spread out of Africa some 60,000 (or was it 200,000?) years ago, every place that we appeared, the charismatic megafauna would disappear, and humans would replace them at the top of the food chain. Giant bears in Europe, Giant Sloths in South America, Mastodons and Sabre Tooth Tigers in North America, Great Awks in Iceland, 7-foot Kangaroos and 3-ton Wombats in Australia, 8-foot Moas in New Zealand (the original Big Bird). All the largest animals that thought they were safe from predation succumbed to the chiseled flint spearheads and the clever tricks and traps of small bands of humans. Ecosystems were made over in our service.


Moa skeleton by Wikipedia

For thousands of years, we humans thought only of me, my and mine. We understood that as we domesticated the planet there would be victims. There are winners and losers in the game of life. It is our mission, our destiny to make sure we are among the former.

Recent centuries have seen an acceleration of this process, impressive increases in the conversion of grass to beans. Hunting and gathering yielded to agriculture, then factory farms. Monoculture has replaced the tangled bank. Greater triumphs for humanity, greater losses for the lower plants and animals that we displace.

Blowback

We all live in artificial environments, "Little we see in nature that is ours," wrote Wordsworth over 200 years ago, and I daresay he never saw Walmarts or even Manhattan. We take a moment to remember the plight of the dying birds and the frogs, the poor frogs -- the world's amphibian populations have been disappearing at the rate of more than 3% per year. We miss nature, we truly do, but we imagine all the same that their loss is our gain. Man is no longer dependent on the ecosystem that birthed us. We can live in an engineered world. We will cover the Earth with farms and factories and housing, and human life will go on, even if what we know as Nature is dead as a Dodo.

What if it isn't true? What if human life is more dependent on a functioning ecosystem than is apparent? We are already coping with a precipitous decline in pollinating insects by renting out mobile beehives to our farmlands. We don't really know to what extent our farms are dependent on the ambient ecology. Bacterial communities recycle carcasses into nutrients. Wetland ecologies purify water. Oceans buffer our atmosphere.



Would you mind rephrasing that in bureaucratically-appropriate language? by Bilidi

California grows half of the produce consumed in the United States, and continues to do so by mining a fossil water table which is down 40 feet in the last 40 years. The American Midwest is the breadbasket not just for the US of A, but for much of the world; and there a rich layer of topsoil, laid down over tens of thousands of years, is being washed into the Mississippi in a few decades.

Putting a dollar value on "ecosystem services" may be an absurdity, but here is a study that sought to catalog some of the value of Nature, and stopped when they got to a number that was twice the economic output of the entire world.

We don't know how much we can grow or how many people we can support on this planet sustainably, because we've never tried. But there has been one small-scale experiment that may be instructive. In the late 1980s, visionary scientists constructed Biosophere II [link] in the Arizona desert. It was conceived as a self-contained microcosm of Planet Earth (re-named "Biosophere I"), complete with farmlands, forest, wetlands, a desert, a miniature ocean with coral reef and a tropical jungle modeled on the Amazon -- all in an enclosed dome that covered 3 acres. The biological community was engineered to be a closed, self-sufficient artificial ecosystem, recycling oxygen with its plants and purifying water in its wetlands. There was solar energy aplenty.


Biosphere II by John Dedios

The experiment was a disaster. Atmospheric oxygen was permitted to decline to 2/3 of its ambient value before the project doctor rebelled and insisted on fulfilling his Hippocratic oath. Neither was the community ever self-sustaining in food or clean water. The residents/scientists/pioneers had no idea what they had committed to, and relations became contentious when the basics of life were in short supply. Stories survive of smuggled food, fistfights, and residents who took survival into their own hands, breaking windows to permit air exchange.

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Josh Mitteldorf, an editor at OpEdNews, blogs on aging at http://JoshMitteldorf.ScienceBlog.com. Read how to stay young at http://AgingAdvice.org. Educated to be an astrophysicist, he has branched out from there to mathematical modeling in a (more...)
 
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Terribly good though sorry summary of where humank... by Daniel Geery on Friday, Jun 20, 2014 at 11:20:52 AM
Thanks, Daniel. I, too am a fan of Eisenstein. H... by Josh Mitteldorf on Friday, Jun 20, 2014 at 3:57:14 PM
This article is beautifully written and expresses ... by Pal Palsimon on Saturday, Jun 21, 2014 at 7:47:08 AM
Agreed, Pal. My slight difference on the populatio... by Daniel Geery on Saturday, Jun 21, 2014 at 11:57:28 AM
Sterilization of both Parents and taxation, for th... by Daniel Penisten on Saturday, Jun 21, 2014 at 3:31:19 PM
See my comment below to Pal, and take a good look ... by Daniel Geery on Saturday, Jun 21, 2014 at 6:01:07 PM
Thanks for the link, Daniel. I'll check it out. ... by Daniel Penisten on Saturday, Jun 21, 2014 at 9:04:25 PM
Ooooh Weee! Daniel? My initial reaction to this "m... by Daniel Penisten on Saturday, Jun 21, 2014 at 9:36:59 PM
Simply to make us think. If you are going to have ... by Daniel Geery on Tuesday, Jun 24, 2014 at 7:58:51 PM
Well replied Daniel and thank you for it.I have te... by Daniel Penisten on Wednesday, Jun 25, 2014 at 12:19:59 PM
Not so. Don't do it as long as you are enjoying l... by Pal Palsimon on Thursday, Jun 26, 2014 at 6:17:36 AM
Well, you and I'm sure many others ARE indeed thin... by Daniel Geery on Thursday, Jun 26, 2014 at 2:24:38 PM
Well, it's a thought (voluntary extinction), but I... by Pal Palsimon on Sunday, Jun 22, 2014 at 2:42:19 AM
Pal, Thus far, we have clearly opted for the killi... by Daniel Geery on Sunday, Jun 22, 2014 at 12:51:22 PM
You can't tax poor people for having more children... by Pal Palsimon on Saturday, Jun 21, 2014 at 4:47:43 PM
Taxation only would allow "the rich" to reproduce... by Pal Palsimon on Saturday, Jun 21, 2014 at 5:19:22 PM
I do hear you. I had one biological son, another ... by Daniel Geery on Saturday, Jun 21, 2014 at 5:59:24 PM
Hi Daniel. The "hard" seeming nature of somewhat d... by Daniel Penisten on Saturday, Jun 21, 2014 at 8:35:55 PM
Yes. True. We don't like it when it becomes necess... by Pal Palsimon on Wednesday, Jun 25, 2014 at 12:29:40 AM
This consideration for "Hard Law" should be temper... by Daniel Penisten on Saturday, Jun 21, 2014 at 9:01:56 PM
I think we have to get away from the idea that the... by Charles Roll on Saturday, Jun 21, 2014 at 9:27:23 PM
I agree Charles.But We should be careful who decid... by Daniel Penisten on Saturday, Jun 21, 2014 at 9:44:35 PM
This is why I said the law must apply equally to e... by Pal Palsimon on Sunday, Jun 22, 2014 at 2:28:35 AM
The Quality Of Humanity is part of the problems, a... by Daniel Penisten on Sunday, Jun 22, 2014 at 12:11:56 PM
Killing people or discrimination would be in dir... by Pal Palsimon on Sunday, Jun 22, 2014 at 5:19:31 PM
Keep in mind that the major religions all incorpor... by Rob Kall on Sunday, Jun 22, 2014 at 9:51:57 AM
Rob what do you think about taking religions head ... by Bill Johnson on Sunday, Jun 22, 2014 at 10:15:40 AM
Good morning Bill. You have shared that: "As I see... by Daniel Penisten on Sunday, Jun 22, 2014 at 12:22:52 PM
Obviously we can have a social democracy without n... by Pal Palsimon on Friday, Jun 27, 2014 at 2:13:39 AM
Bill, click here Available also on Kindle or Ama... by Daniel Geery on Sunday, Jun 22, 2014 at 12:41:38 PM
DG -i am checking out your link to your The Founda... by Charles Roll on Sunday, Jun 22, 2014 at 6:32:02 PM
Primary reality is that the river does move under ... by Charles Roll on Sunday, Jun 22, 2014 at 6:39:38 PM
Thanks, Charles. I will be looking for Julian's bo... by Daniel Geery on Tuesday, Jun 24, 2014 at 11:11:11 AM
There is something to be said for logic. And much ... by Charles Roll on Tuesday, Jun 24, 2014 at 12:42:38 PM
I actually live in Utah. I hadn't heard of the boo... by Daniel Geery on Tuesday, Jun 24, 2014 at 3:37:52 PM
Thanks for the link to your article from 2006! ... by Charles Roll on Tuesday, Jun 24, 2014 at 6:21:11 PM
Only one religious rule needed. The Golden Rule. A... by Pal Palsimon on Sunday, Jun 22, 2014 at 5:20:54 PM
True, but ancient creeds... probably declining....... by Pal Palsimon on Monday, Jun 23, 2014 at 5:19:05 PM
I can't think of any "excuse" to break Queen Pal's... by Pal Palsimon on Wednesday, Jun 25, 2014 at 12:34:03 AM
Our dearest Pal. Benevolent Queen Of Our World. I ... by Daniel Penisten on Wednesday, Jun 25, 2014 at 12:44:41 PM
Even if we are betrayed or manipulated, we must ob... by Pal Palsimon on Thursday, Jun 26, 2014 at 6:08:36 AM
Who dares to bring harm this way? A list of names ... by Daniel Penisten on Thursday, Jun 26, 2014 at 1:24:11 PM
Also, the continuing threat of privatization will ... by Pal Palsimon on Thursday, Jun 26, 2014 at 4:26:48 PM
....you are assuming the worse, of course. I hope ... by Pal Palsimon on Sunday, Jun 22, 2014 at 2:25:29 AM
I am not sure which assumption you mean. However, ... by Daniel Geery on Tuesday, Jun 24, 2014 at 8:01:21 PM
You said "On sterilization, even in the most un... by Pal Palsimon on Wednesday, Jun 25, 2014 at 12:41:06 AM
Ah, so! Yes, well, I generally do hope I'm wrong. ... by Daniel Geery on Wednesday, Jun 25, 2014 at 9:20:14 AM
Check out the work of Voltairine de Cleyre, Americ... by Charles Roll on Saturday, Jun 21, 2014 at 9:09:59 PM
"Money can be hoarded in the basement, buried in t... by Charles Roll on Saturday, Jun 21, 2014 at 9:42:02 PM
Charles has shared: "The true "gold standard" is c... by Daniel Penisten on Saturday, Jun 21, 2014 at 9:50:54 PM
Charles, Eisenstein made a superlative case as to ... by Daniel Geery on Wednesday, Jun 25, 2014 at 1:34:22 PM
Well said Josh. ... by Rob Kall on Friday, Jun 20, 2014 at 2:11:25 PM
Good article, thanks. There is at least one other... by Leftcoast7 on Friday, Jun 20, 2014 at 5:12:05 PM
I know I didn't mention global warming anywhere in... by Josh Mitteldorf on Friday, Jun 20, 2014 at 5:27:23 PM
Fair enough. I just thought I'd throw this partic... by Leftcoast7 on Saturday, Jun 21, 2014 at 5:20:43 PM
Great Piece. It made me think of Bucky Fuller and... by Kevin Tully on Friday, Jun 20, 2014 at 5:57:51 PM
I don't think it is leadership we need. A leader ... by Patricia Gray on Friday, Jun 20, 2014 at 9:23:27 PM
Patricia, I agree absolutely with you that we need... by Kevin Tully on Saturday, Jun 21, 2014 at 8:21:08 AM
I know you are right about need for leadership. I ... by Pal Palsimon on Saturday, Jun 21, 2014 at 9:25:58 AM
Doing the right thing is where we are stuck right ... by Kevin Tully on Sunday, Jun 22, 2014 at 10:20:39 AM
It is very difficult not to know what the "right t... by Pal Palsimon on Monday, Jun 23, 2014 at 5:26:50 PM
I love this article. It really goes to the heart o... by intotheabyss on Friday, Jun 20, 2014 at 6:22:27 PM
Beautifully written, too bad there are several typ... by Deena Stryker on Friday, Jun 20, 2014 at 6:25:40 PM
Not worthy Deena. ... by Paul Repstock on Friday, Jun 20, 2014 at 10:02:45 PM
This is an important and insightful piece that mer... by lila york on Saturday, Jun 21, 2014 at 6:58:09 AM
Great article. I learned a lot. I have been readin... by Michael David Morrissey on Saturday, Jun 21, 2014 at 7:40:46 AM
Good article. Obviously you are concerned about th... by Fernando Macias on Saturday, Jun 21, 2014 at 12:46:34 PM
I'm an inveterate footnoter - a habit I acquired i... by Josh Mitteldorf on Saturday, Jun 21, 2014 at 1:47:24 PM
Loss of the ego sounds good, but how does it relat... by Michael David Morrissey on Sunday, Jun 22, 2014 at 2:30:42 AM
The loss of ego certainly can make connecting with... by Fernando Macias on Sunday, Jun 22, 2014 at 1:03:22 PM
A new study by GRAIN reports that small farmers ... by Ms Nan on Saturday, Jun 21, 2014 at 2:08:35 PM
A very valuable over view, that really needs to be... by Daniel Penisten on Saturday, Jun 21, 2014 at 2:22:45 PM
The nearest, very possible and completely unexpect... by Guglielmo Tell on Saturday, Jun 21, 2014 at 8:05:54 PM
My friend, you and I may be the terrorists being s... by Pal Palsimon on Monday, Jun 23, 2014 at 2:03:42 AM
It's too late for me anyway. ... by Guglielmo Tell on Monday, Jun 23, 2014 at 2:05:36 PM
Terrific article. I wrote this about a year ago. ... by Philip Pease on Sunday, Jun 22, 2014 at 9:31:07 AM
Well said and asked, Phillip Pease."Wake up people... by Daniel Penisten on Sunday, Jun 22, 2014 at 12:33:31 PM
I agree that capitalism is fundamentally antagonis... by Josh Mitteldorf on Sunday, Jun 22, 2014 at 5:57:11 PM
It has always been my wish and dream and governmen... by Pal Palsimon on Monday, Jun 23, 2014 at 1:55:28 AM
More existential threats too:From truth-out.org: b... by Pal Palsimon on Monday, Jun 23, 2014 at 2:04:20 AM
Wolf PAC From d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net: bit.l... by Pal Palsimon on Wednesday, Jun 25, 2014 at 1:10:29 AM
It is Good to see this report Queen Pal. Thank you... by Daniel Penisten on Wednesday, Jun 25, 2014 at 1:00:54 PM
More existential threats, especially to me and oth... by Pal Palsimon on Thursday, Jun 26, 2014 at 6:13:16 AM