Sometimes I don’t consider myself ‘human’ anymore.

I find it extremely depressing…

That the majority of people don’t seem to be talking about real world problems. Many people seem to be overlooking their duty of care towards the environment, and I find that very sad. Very sad. It’s always the same few people who seem to care and the rest don’t seem to give a fuck about where their oxygen comes from…

And I’m sorry if this post makes you feel down. But sometimes I wonder whether I am even getting through to people?

You know, we could probably genetically engineer entire houses one day, in situ… provided enough biodiversity remains for scientists to study long into the future…

Imagine just… planting a seed in the ground and then the house just builds itself. Right? That’s what I see when I think about “the future”. I think about organic materials.

Instead, what I see today, now, is that people are still aspiring to be millionaires, billionaires and trillionaires.

You know, someone posted a picture of luxury super yaucht yesterday on LinkedIn. But if this is what remains of The Great Barrier Reef, what’s the point in even owning a nice boat? If all there is to see is one species of algae when you look overboard?

And I know that rich people really care a lot about emotions. That’s why they spend so much money trying to make themselves feel more comfortable and ‘happier’.

What I would like to know is: how big does the boat have to be before you can overlook the fact that all the coral is dead? What’s the point? Surely people aren’t stupid. Surely they realise it would be better to own a friggin tinny, if it helps to restore the reef to its former glory. But no.

Why do I say “Sometimes I don’t consider myself ‘human’ anymore”? Well, I say that because, although I am concerned for humanity and its long term the survival (and that does depend on other species by the way), right now, I actually think we humans have reached plague proportions. A disease needs to come along and wipe half of us out… that would restore some balance in the ecosystem. I don’t wish death upon anyone. But if I had to choose between saving the life of an endangered animal, or that of a trophy hunter, I would choose to save the animal every single time.

Well those are my thoughts for today… depressing as they are…

The value of NAT and ENV shares on the the global stock exchange.

Here’s the kind of thing you see when you hang out on LinkedIn for a while:

RECAP FOR THOSE I LALA LAND THE MARKET HAS BEEN ON FIRE BECAUSE OF TRUMP UP 2500 POINTS IN 6 MONTHS MOST IN THE FIRST 60DAYS NOW OMG DOWN 200 BECAUSE OF THE SPIN OF WORDS BY THE MEDIA…THE TRUE AMERICAN ENEMY IS BLM OBAMA CLINTONS AND THIS F… UP MEDIA GIVE TRUMP A BREAK AND SUPPORT HIM STOP WASTING HIS TIME DEALING WITH THE STUPIDEST PEOPLE ON THE PLANET AND THERE BS STOP THE HATE NOW WE ARE ONE AMERICAN Mike Pienciak

And here is my response to that:

Did you see the stock price for NAT shares though, since Trump got in? NAT shares are down. Way down. And when I say NAT, I don’t mean “Nordic American Tanker Ltd” on the NYSE. I mean NAT, on the global stock exchange, the GSE.

ENV shares are down too! Once again, I don’t mean “Envestnet Inc”. I mean ENV, on the global stock exchange, the GSE.

And isn’t it telling of business today that NYSE:ENV and NYSE:NAT do not represent nature or the environment? Quite the opposite. In actual fact they represent gas pipelines and supermax oil tankers, respectively.

Every time the Nasdaq, the S&P, the Dow jones go up, GSE:NAT and GSE:ENV invariably go down1. Way down. I think it’s because we don’t know any other way.

Maybe the only reason the stock market “is on fire” is because Mr. Trumpet wants to abolish the EPA? Maybe it’s very telling of business today. That while stock markets are, as you say, “on fire”, the Earth is figuratively burning up also.

The trouble is this: when GSE:NAT and GSE:ENV go down, all other stocks will soon follow. This should be like a law already.

It’s not all about the stock market. Do you know WHY there is not stock market on planet Mars or planet Venus? Because there is no breathable atmosphere. So maybe “business at all cost” types should consider that before their next next trade? You know, invest in something other than money?

If you could measure the worth, the market capital of GSE:NAT and GSE:ENV, it would put the rest of the worlds’ stock exchanges to shame. If we had to pay for these services, humanity would be bankrupt. Bankrupt I tell you! Bankrupt!

Traditional economic stock markets are all but a meaningless evaluation. All of them incorrectly report the true value of the Earth’s assets. If our environment cannot even be maintained, then one must ask the next logical question: just how ‘sustainable’ are “sustainable business models”?

 

By the way, I’m not here to make friends. I’m not here to get more connections. Or leads. Or clients. I’m here to make people think. Clients will always be there, biodiversity won’t. 2c

Oh and it is ‘their’. The word you are looking for is their, not there.

What is environmental corruption?

Allow me to explain:

I actually see corruption a little differently from most people. Not only do I think that most of ultra-rich are in a sense “environmentally corrupt” (unless they give a sizeable amount of their wealth to environmental causes, which sadly, not a lot of them seem to do). For me when I use the term corrupt, I mean it in environmental terms, not in financial terms. A bit like how the QLD government has been accused of being “morally bankrupt” w.r.t the Adani coal mine. I’d hope they are not financially bankrupt.

But I also think that that the general population is in a sense ‘complicit’ because most of us pay taxes. Which is another way of saying: “yes, we 100% agree with what you are doing and we will even give you a large proportion of our money to you to help you to continue to do what you do”. This is why I think Aboriginal people are basically passively objecting and have always done so, because they don’t agree with the central way that government ‘works’. I am not even a part-Aborigine, but I think the majority of Westerners have a very flawed mentality of ‘sustainability’ and ‘development’ (and especially “sustainable development”). The whole point now is that we are trying to be more sustainable. That’s why it’s supposed to be an eco lodge and not some other type of lodge. But we never really ask the experts in sustainability for their advice. Right?

I have only been living in Bundeena for a few years. I also do not like the horrid construction around the Aboriginal rock engravings over at Jibbon Point for example. Why couldn’t they just leave it alone? Low key? No. They had to build all around it. It looks like scaffolding. It’s just that ugly. They had to use helicopters to help build it. Helicopters are not the most efficient transport vehicles ever devised, are they? They put some kitsch statues there made of metal with horrid stencil-like animal shapes cut out of them (well ok, they have probably been there a while). But were those works commissioned by Aboriginal artists? Not likely. My point is, all that concrete and steel had to be mined from somewhere else. I think many people in general see this kind of development as ‘progress’ — but I think we are going backwards.

Do you know what the saddest part for me is? That one of the most truly sustainable races on the planet Earth, the ingenenous Aborigines, have some of the highest rates of suicide on the planet Earth! In the case of Australian Aborigines, for one age group, 5x above average. I think we need to ask them for their help and stat. The highest suicide rate on planet Earth is not the Japanese or the Finnish or other Northern Europeans, it is for the Inuit peoples… 190/100,000 per year. That is quite alarming and indicative of our predicament.

Do you know what my shrink tells me when I tell her all this stuff? [Yes I see a shrink, no secret there, it’s the ones that don’t you have to worry about LOL] She says: “Who’s to say we’ll be here in another 500 or 1000 years?”. And I’m like: “Well that’s my point. Do we actually *want* to still be around or not? I mean, if the ancient Egyptians said things like that, we’d have been fuckéd several millenenia ago. Time has a way of catching up with us.”

I do see money as a form of corruption, yes. Why? Well here’s why. I have even heard first hand (about a decade ago) that ecologists are told to “tone down their report writing”. I suppose if they were really 100% truthful about things, nobody would hire them because not as many constructions would be approved…

For instance, one ecologist who was hired to report on this local Spring Gully construction at that the edge of the Royal National Park states:

“It is possible that, with appropriate management, the biodiversity of the existing vegetation could be increased – indeed this should be the aim of developing and maintaining a low-impact camping area.”

Well ok. But also says in the same report:

“the conservation value of the vegetation on the site has been reduced by fragmentation, as a result of residential development to the north and clearing for the night-soil dump to the south; and reduction in biodiversity as a result of past land use and bushfires.”

I.e. admits that reduction in biodiversity was caused by previous human interferance, yet now advises that it would be beneficial to put more humans there (rather than none). So now more ‘weeds’ will encroach even further into the RNP… Now imagine if the author *always* added this clause to every single ecological report: “we recommend that the area be left to regenerate for another 20+ years at which point biodiversity will be on par with surrounding regions” Would they be as likely to be hired for future work? I don’t think so.

Quite frankly I think we all know that the current political system “sucks” (if only in terms of the environment). I suppose it could always be worse though. They do acknowledge some things but then with other things like coal mining and whatnot it’s merely lip service.

So to sum up, I think if you’re working for some chemical company, or construction company, or engineering company, and you’re being paid a massive salary, then yes I see that as a form of corruption.

What scientists fear most.

I don’t even think  this debate is merely about “global warming” anymore…

I think it’s more about whether you believe humans can alter the environment at a global as well as a local scale. I mean, all of us can accept that even cockroaches and rats can change their local little jaunts easily enough…

(either inadvertently and/or purposefully; it doesn’t really matter for the sake of this argument whether the changes are intended or not) 

There is no question that we alter things at a local scale. We can directly manipulate the atomic, molecular and microscopic scales. We manipulate things at the ‘macro’ scale, too (the scale of what we can see without the aid of a microscope). We make things, change things, on the scale of millimetres, centimetres, metres, even kilometres. We make runways for instance. How long are they? Right?

Here’s a timely reminder — Earth’s atmosphere is only about 10km ‘thick’. I’m sure most people don’t stop to appreciate this on their morning or afternoon commute: most people travel more in one single day –be it driving a car or walking in the Ethiopian desert– than the Earth’s atmosphere is ‘deep’. They most likely travel at least this distance every single day of their lives, perhaps more.

One only needs to look around a city, any city, to know that the human civilisation built it. We most definitely changed it. Why? Because it doesn’t look like it did before humans settled there, that’s why. Isn’t it obvious? Before that, it was a forest or a jungle, a river’s edge or a peat bog.

And so we continue to dam rivers and build bridges. We build skyscrapers and oil tankers and cruise liners. We construct entire airports offshore.

We tear down forests and we mine the Earth. At every and any opportunity. Why? To make it more ‘comfortable’ for ourselves. We spew out all kinds of gases and chemicals into our waterways and our atmosphere. And somehow, miraculously, none of this can even remotely alter something so basic as “the average temperature”. Somehow “that’s impossible”1.

At what point along the size scale do people go from accepting that “yes absolutely humans can and do cause local changes in the form of urbanisation” to becoming ones of “oh no, humans are too puny to have caused this, this is god’s realm, carry on” in someone’s mind? At what scale? Where exactly do they let go of reality?

Here’s the thing that most people don’t seem to understand or comprehend: if you do enough “local-scale things” all around the planet, then it has to change at a global scale as well. It has to! Indeed, there really is no black and white distinction between ‘local and global scales’. The cosmos presents a continuous scale, all the way from the very tiniest subatomic particle (and probably smaller) right the way through to galaxies and beyond. And I don’t care what you think you want to believe, each scale does affect the other.

Man is not exempt from the effects of any of these scales (at either the very large-scale end, the very small end or anywhere inbetween). All scales can potentially be ‘dangerous’ to us. We have radiation, we have poison, we have knives, we have trucks crashing into things, we have nuclear bombs. And we also have something else. Something else we can’t quite control as well. The environment: the oxygen in our atmosphere, fresh water, food (and to a lesser extent, gravity). Each represents a different scale. And the presence or absence of each one can equally kill, albeit at different timescales.

There is simply no getting around it… “do enough shit” to the surface of this planet, any planet, and you’ll most likely fuck it up completely rather than make it only slightly ‘better’2

Whether carbon dioxide gas, or any other compound, it really wouldn’t matter what is causing it either, would it? Would it matter to people if it were a different compound such as methane, krypton or something else they’ve never even heard of? Would that help them understand what is going on with vibrational modes of this molecule at infrared frequencies?

Actually, surprisingly, I think the answer to that question is: “it depends”. I think the answer lies in how much this presence or absence of whatever it is we have to give up contributes to our current lifestyle. And I think we all know that we are far less likely to give up our ‘comforts’ than if it’s something we never (or rarely) use anyway.

If we don’t have much to give up, like with CFCs for example (because we simply used a spraycan with a different propellant inside of it), then by all means “let’s do this right now, starting today”. The Result? Ozone hole partially closed already.

A scientist might say that our reluctance to change is “inversely proportional” to the amount that it affects our present and future lifestyle. Lots to give up? Climate change = fake news. Not real. Not happening. Nothing to give up? No reason why it couldn’t be true.

On the other hand, if you’re talking about giving up the power of your very own automobile, reducing your electricity consumption, buying and using less stuff, travelling less, or just even generally using less and less technology instead of more and more — then on second thought, “perhaps not quite so fast”. Right?

Do you know what scientists fear most? Do you know what scares scientists absolutely shitless? Well they might not know it, but I think all scientists inherently fear that one day we’ll lose control of nature. Because right now, science can control nature (well sort of).

Now we don’t want you to panic. But quite frankly, it’s fast getting to that point. Because species are becoming extinct all over the place… and it’s an understatment to say that biologists, entomologists, and soil scientists are not happy about that.

I think to many people, technology may make it seem like “we can do whatever the fuck we want, however we want, whenever we want and wherever we want” and still we’ll all be okay. That no matter what happens, scientists will be smart enough to “figure a way out it”. I mean heck, “who ‘invented’ the ipad?”. People. People are smart. Right?

Wrong. Because even today, in the ‘modern age’ (whatever that is) we don’t have to create our own gravity, sunlight, air pressure, oxygen and water. Do we?

And somehow –some truly clueless, ignorant people– think that “everything’s going to be alright, Jack”. Maybe because it always has been. Maybe because they don’t have a very good imagination about the future. Maybe because they are ignorant. Or maybe they believe in some kind of higher power and that “man can do no harm”, that man’s job is to “work and be more productive”.

These “deniers” generally retort: “the sky is falling, the sky is falling” whenever anyone becomes even remotely ‘alarmist’. As if all alarms are false ones. Even if the alarmists do have a higher IQ.

But I really would really like to see those very same [science] deniers in another, very different, scenario. Say they we have organised a tour of a nuclear power station for them. Just say. Would they stick around, for example, if/when a nuclear scientist is yelling at them: “THE CORE IS GOING INTO MELTDOWN, GET THE FUCK OUTTA HERE!!!!!”. Would they be hanging around the containment building, tardily and proudly proclaiming “the sky is falling, the sky is falling!”? Would they be so quick to make a cup of coffee in that instant? Or would they, far more likely, heed the scientists’ advice and flee their sorry arses right on out of there as fast as their legs could carry them? Yes I think the latter.

Or maybe I reall am missing something. Maybe we really are puny. Maybe. Maybe we are so fucking puny, nature will continue to evolve and adapt all around us.

But then I recall biololgists tellings us that the less biodiversity there is, the slower nature recovers from all kinds of change.

The problem with modern agriculture.

I know there is a problem with ‘pests’ in agriculture. I know.

But from the point of view of the fungus, the wheat is the pest. Right? That is how nature/biodiversity works. If one species reaches plague proportions, like a vast field of wheat with nothing else growing in it, another comes in to take advantage of it.

That is the reason why we don’t see quintillions of wall-to-wall cockroaches, rats, or anything else taking over whole cities, countries, continents and eventually the entire planet with nothing else in sight. Because as soon as that happens, natural predators have a field day with them until the balance is restored.

That is the fundamental problem with modern agriculture isn’t it? The monocrop. So I don’t see how spraying ever-increasing quanities of poison onto the one species of plant you are trying to grow is going to change this fact. Even if you genetically engineer new species of wheat, the same principle applies. It’s like asking nature to change. It won’t ever happen because that’s the ‘nature’ of nature.

I think you need a different approach, to grow different species together.
Maybe let the birds and frogs take care of the insects?

Same goes for humans, if there are too many humans, a disease will eventually come along and wipe half of us out too.

The true value of biodiversity.

Without insects, it has been said that most of humanity would die within a few months. Without trees and phytoplankton and thousands of other species with chlorophyll, we would all die.

Knowing that, I just can’t understand why billionaires such as Bill Gates are so intent on alleviating poverty in the 3rd world above all else. They make that their priority. In my opinion, it makes more sense to me ot protect nature first, and then when we have that sorted, let’s see if this planet can comfortably support more than 7 billion people.

So I think that environment should definitely be funded first. And then people. I have always thought that. Why do I think that? It’s not because I am cruel. It’s not because I don’t like people. It’s because people do not live in isolated bubbles. People depend on nature.

I think most people don’t appreciate this, but there’s another angle to valuing biodiversity (besides being fundamental for our own survival).

And it’s this. We still don’t really know how embryos form and develop. Sure we can characterise each of the stages of blastulation. We can draw little pictures of each step along the way. But it’s a lot harder to know how and why embryonic folding occurs. So what are there are underlying reasons that each stage of development occurs when and where it does?

I mean, it’s not really a ‘miracle’. Scientists don’t accept ‘miracles’ as answers. There are chemical and physical reasons why cells spontaneously split into two halves. A cell doesn’t just split into two because it feels like it. And there are chemical and physical reasons why this occurs. And from what little I have read on the subject in the book “How the leopard changed it’s spots”, it’s not due to the DNA molecules alone. In actual fact, the first splitting of a cell is caused by a concentration gradient that is set up inside the cell’s plasma. And according to this book, it’s due to flluctuations in calcium concentrations within that first cell.

Okay. Now we are getting somewhere. You might then ask, “Well what causes those fluctations then?“. Most likely, I would say, gravity. Because gravity is a force that acts in one direction relatively to a cell. So there are underlying reasons as to how embryos proceed to develop and they are not always to do with DNA alone.

And those are the real answers that science seeks. It’s not good enough to ask “which genes cause which traits?”. A real scientist wants to know how genes work. How do the chemical variations in a strand of encoded DNA produce the morphological changes? Now, I’m only talking very basically about this subject. It’s an extremely superficial discussion. And so if you’re a developmental biologist or a genetic engineer and you’re reading this, you’re probably laughing at me.

Where am I going with this? Well, until we know *exactly* what causes a rhinos eye to form where it does, or what causes a tiger’s stripes, or the forces that shape an elephant’s tusk, well, I think we owe it to nature to protect all of these things. Because they are a vault of information that can unlock life’s secrets. If we knew the answer to that, then we’d have at least earned the title of cleverest species.

Imagine if we could ‘program’ certain trees genetically to display a road signs such as a speed limits with differently coloured bark. Imagine if you could reprogram the tree to automatically change its bark pattern and display a different speed zone at differnt times of the day? That is all possible.

sustainable morphogenesis.

And I don’t simply mean “what genes are found in a rhino or a monkey”. I mean, what is it about those genes that controls protein folding? If we could create our own strand of DNA, could we predict what the resulting organism looks like?

From what little I have read on the subject, it’s not just DNA. The patterns and shapes seen in nature are caused by physical and chemical forces. Because one day it might be possible to make whatever shape we want at the mere press of a button. Imagine if we could simply grow an organic skyscraper. Right now I don’t think we are ready for that.

Just today, I learned that biology may even be taking advantage of quantum effects.

Even then, all these species are beneficial to us in terms of mental health. We also owe it to this world not to simply destroy everything in our path.

Why do I seem to ‘hate’ the rich?

Ecologists have always said that one of the greatest threats to our natural environment is habitat destruction.

One of the main gripes I have against ultra-high net worth individuals is that they cause the most environmental degradation of all groups on this planet and they don’t tend to offset this with direct contributions back towards the natural environment.

I think the following advertisement nicely sums up the ‘attitude’ that some rich people seem to have:

bentleyfinger

So the reasons that I question ‘rich’ people are:

  1. Because rich people are usually responsible for more environmental destruction than poor people, they have brought about more degradative environmental changes.
  2. Because rich people are primarily motivated by money, they are more likely can be bought out (corrupted) with even more money.
  3. When the rich do give, they tend to give back to humanitarian causes. And if they do give, is it really enough of an offset? Not always, but often. One exception I have found is Mohammad Bin Zayeed; the man started his own species conservation fund. Another is the Betty and Gordon Moore Foundation.

Why is this a problem? Well, because the only physical thing (that I know of) that stops our Earth from becoming uninhabitable is all the life forms found on Earth that stabilise everything for us. The biosphere.

Any biologist will tell you that, realistically, what is going to happen is that as nature continues to “bite back” with ever-greater intensity, productivity (and therefore profit) is just going to go down eventually… it has to. It must! Less biodiversity is ultimately going to lead to less profit. Do all investors and directors of the board actually realise that? Do they realise that infinite growth on a planet with finite resources is a physical impossibility?

So not only will it be harder to make profit feeling the increasing effects of climate change (like with the recent New York blizzard for example), but more damage will be likely to occur due to storms and other weather extremes. I’ll say it again. Less biodiversity is ultimately going to lead to less profit. Why do I say that? Why do I think it will lead to less profit? Read on..

So we know that there are other planets out there. We’re not living on the only planet. Planetary geologists like to compare the planet Earth with Mars and Venus. All of these three planets are very similar in size and yet they have distinctly different environments. These other planets show us what is possible. As of today, both of these other two planets are essentially uninhabitable. Yes we could put a person on Mars and they might survive for a while inside an artificially heated, pressurised and oxygenated atmosphere, but would they be self sufficient? The answer is no definitely not at first.

As is, nothing grows there on Mars. Nothing. Not even the most basic life form. So that means no food. Worse, there is no water. And worse still is that there is no oxygen.

What about Venus then? Well again, even if we could get there, even if we could live there, most businesses would be more viable back here on planet Earth than on the planet Venus. Wouldn’t they? Maybe the exception would be companies that need to utlise lots of carbon dioxide and sulfuric acid.

Let’s take sulfuric acid. Let’s go with that example. Sure its useful to us here on Earth for all sorts of industrial purposes. So say we started to mine sulfuric acid on the planet venus. Even then we’d first need to get robots over there, wouldn’t we? And then we’d need to get the sulfuric acid back here on Earth.

But what are the transportations costs? How much fuel is burned? And doesn’t burning all that rocket fuel fuck up the Earth’s atmosphere even further? Well yes it does. What about if the Venus mining corporation had to pay carbon credits on all the tonnes of rocket fuel? And once there, how would the rocket get back to Earth? It would have to take enough fuel and liquid oxygen for the entire return journey. Because there is no oxygen on Venus. So now you tell me. Would it be a profitable enterprise?

Think about this (and keep in mind that I am one of the few scientists who have also set up my own business, so I do know a thing or two about profitability). Well in my professional scientific and business opinion, if you wanted to set up a business on the planet Mars, it would be more economically viable to locate your business at the South pole instead.

Why do I even bring this up here? What’s this got to do with rich people? What’s this got to do with money? Well, I don’t know of any businesses that are viable on either the planet Mars or Venus. Do you? Not even the most basic lemonade stand would work on the planet Mars or Venus. Would it? And rich people tend to forget this fact.

The newest space mission is estimated to cost $1.5 trillion dollars. That is a lot of investment money for anyone. So where is the ‘ROI’ going to come from that lot? Here’s what I wrote in another post of mine:

To me, it’s the most expensive & inefficient way to create the most boring food menu imagineable. Really. I mean, just think about how much those first few thousand lettuce leaves are going to cost! A billion dollars per lettuce leaf. That’s really great NASA. Thanks.

You see, if we had to pay for our oxygen supply, our water supply and our food supply down here on Earth like we would have to on Mars, then I’m sure that most businesses on Earth would become bankrupt within a matter of weeks. So economists (and rich people) are forgetting to take nature’s services into account. And when they do, I think they’ll realise that a forest is a very valuable place indeed.

 

Why I am so concerned about the state of the world.

I am worried and very concerned, yes. My background is originally materials science.

From my perspective, the problem is that there is an environmental cost to every single material that you buy — be it gold, cotton, steel, or whatever. People forget that. The economy may benefit from materialism, but the environment certainly doesn’t.

Now, keep in mind that when I did my degree over 15 years ago, the ‘environment’ wasn’t even really discussed in that course. It was all about the properties and structure of materials.

First off, there is a lot of energy required to make materials. So if the country of manufacture uses coal power to generate their electricity, and they are not offsetting those emissions, then whatever physical goods you buy from them is contributing further to climate change.

Why? Because almost all materials either require either energy, heat, or other chemicals (which, in turn, require heat) in order to produce them. That’s a bit of a worry in itself. Because people are generally becoming more materialistic.

So for instance, hunters that shoot animals and think that is a ‘sustainable’ way of life, well I have news for you. If your gun is made of plastic or metal, where does that come from? It all comes from mines. And plastic comes from oil&gas. And your bullets. What are they made from? That too comes from mines. And the gunpowder contains chemicals like sulfur and potassium. And they have to come from somewhere too. And mines don’t last forever…

Currently, the manufacture of every single synthetic material results in carbon emissions somewhere along the line, if only from the energy that is required to create them. I think the correct term is “embodied energy”. [Read more…]

I was worried back in ’92.

Yes I first learned about “global warming” in 1991 or 1992.

I think I must have had a smart teacher for the subject called general studies, because she knew about this new topic and warned all of us. She probably heard all about it at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) aka the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit. I could tell she was concerned. I can still remember seeing the worry in her eyes way back then.

Also, like a lot of nerdy sciency kids, I already knew about the atmosphere of other planets (like Venus for example). And so I’ve known for a long time that there isn’t really anything (apart from biodiversity feedback loops) stopping this planet from becoming more like either Mars or Venus.

So I began making lifestyle choices back then, when I was 14 or 15 years old. I chose not to drive. I continued to ride my bicycle. I rode it everywhere. In fact I didn’t learn to drive a car until I was 28 years old. Not until I had to. Not until I needed to deliver a lot of bicycles for my business. But eventually, it all caught up with me again. It slowly dawned upon me that I was falling into the trap of becoming just like everyone else again.

We are supposed to be working for a better future. That is why we all work so hard. But if the future is going to be worse, what’s the point?

So now, after almost a decade of driving around, I’m slowly but surely weening myself off of it again.

Later, when I gratuated, I refused to work for oil companies. I was offered a very highly paid job investigating the steel microstructure of crude oil tankers. I just couldn’t do it. So I went straight back to university and did another 5 years there.

Climate scientists are saying now that we are in a “climate emergency”. Look, the coal industry in Australia is saying there is enough coal reserves to last another 365 years. Well okay. But if other planets are anything to go by, this world’s entire fucking oceans could potentially boil right off and disappear into deep space! Melting icecaps will be the least of our worries. Now, while that scenario is never mentioned by climate scientists, that’s what planetary scientists mean when they talk about “a climate system that is out of control”. Are people starting to get it now?

Now I still don’t think people even today fully realise the implications of climate change, 25 years later.

Development is not progress

I believe we cannot save the world by simply buying things all the time.
Illustration by Leslie Dean Brown. © 2015. All rights reserved.
Illustration by Leslie Dean Brown. © 2015. All rights reserved.

Even if we all bought 100% eco things 100% of the time instead of the plastic crap that everyone buys today, they are still ultimately things and it will mean that the demand for timber and other eco fibres will go up further, leading to further deforestation elsewhere (more plantations of whatever crop, be it corn for renewable plastic, bamboo or hemp for fibres, etc).

Personally I think the only real ‘solution’ for the entire human civilisation is … to do nothing. And by that I don’t mean “don’t change”. I literally mean: do nothing. For people to simply work less. Work a four day week. Work a four hour week.

We should be more like the Aborigines! We should look up to the Aborigines! The original (and best) custodians of this land.

More sleep and more meditation. That’s the only hope for humanity, for people to be more mindful. And that is the best that I can think of (after several years of thinking I might add).

And I can tell you first hand that it’s very hard to live with less, because we have all been brainwashed with “more more more”.

Of course it’s a huge problem because half the global economy is based on blatant overconsumption. I think one of the best things I ever did was to live in Spain — it taught me to be happier with much less.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t all try to be more eco, but what I am promoting these days is simply minimalism. So I would rather buy a wooden broom than have a vacuum cleaner (for example). Because I see the broom as being much less wasteful over the long term.

Unfortunately, when you begin to look at where all of our starting chemicals come from, the industrial processes used to get them, and where everything else is mined from, you realise how big the problem is.

People don’t want mines in their own backyard. And so the ONLY other place to get them is the natural spaces that are left. That is a very big problem. If only because “accidents happen”.

From my point of view as a former materials scientist, I find that life is so special, we should be fighting for every shred of biodiversity on this planet. We couldn’t even hope to artificially make anything like near as complicated as a fly or a worm from first principles using artificial methods (without cheating using genetic engineering etc).

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The problem with using biofuels in aviation.

Recently on LinkedIn:

First, it’s a premise of sustainable, alternative fuels that their production actually draws down atmospheric carbon–the carbon comes out of the atmosphere to make the fuel. The carbon is released again when the fuel is burned. By (albeit partial and imperfect so far) application of that principle, vastly lower net emissions (on the basis of life cycle analysis) are now possible.

I understand all abot life-cycle assessment. Yes, true, biofuel crops do take CO2 out of the air. 

But not if brazilian rainforest has to be cut down to make way for new plantation crops — because the native forest already does a way better job of taking CO2 out of the air than a crop with less biodiversity ever will. 

So my question is: where are we going to grow all of the new crops that will be needed for this additional biofuel?

It’s no good saying that new sustainable crops will reduce the CO2 from the air if you harvest the whole thing every year and burn it again. That only releases the same carbon that was absorbed by the crop in the first place… so no net CO2 increase. (well that is probably an over-simplification, because some carbon dioxide no doubt goes in to the soil) [Read more…]

In the future we will engineer termites to build skyskrapers.

Yes. In the future, I can confidently predict that we will engineer termites to build skyskrapers.

Because in the future, we will start to realise the power of “bottom up” systems of engineering. Currently, we do everything from a “top down” perspective. What does that mean? We start with a mine, dig that up, we then crush and grind the ore down, melt it, form it into large slabs of metal which then get progressively smaller as they are processed. Yes, we even obtain the metallic powders that are used in 3D printing this exact same way. This is a most inefficient process.

Nature does it the other way around. It uses local materials obtained from trace chemical elements and is then able to organise, redirect and assemble those individual atoms and molecules to build its own structures, in situ. It does this without any “larger scale” instructions or guidance. And it is able to replicate itself on top of that. So the more I think about it, the more evolution amazes me.

I read this fascinating book in 2014 called “Emergence”. And one of the traits of nature is that it has “emergent” properties. What does that mean? It means that complex systems or behaviours can arise from relatively few simple rules. In other words, it is “self assembling”. Organisms can do their own thing seemingly without any intererence from the outside world. Wouldn’t we like to be able to do that? Here is where we are currently at:

The other marvel of nature is that everything is an “ambient temperature process”. Think about that for a moment. Practically every synthetic material we produce today requires some form of heat to manufacture. Metals must be smelted. Ceramics must be fired. And plastics must be obtained by “thermal cracking” of crude oil. Sure there are a few exceptions, such as sol-gel technology.

Imagine for a moment a “homogenous” material with different chemical, thermal, electrical and physical properties along its length. In other words, a single material that was flexible at one end and rigid at the other, without being formed from two separate raw materials. If we could get that to happen, spontaneously, then I think we would be quite a clever species. Because an invention like that would literally change the world.

Imagine tyres that increased their coefficient of friction and gripped more in the wet. Or indeed, slicks that morph into treaded tyres in the presence of water. You see, from what I have read, I think all of that is ‘theoretically possible’, but the more biodiversity we lose, the less chance there is that it will happen. That is why protecting biodiversity is so important, so we can understand how genes work to create any morphology and material properties we desire.

Is a ‘circular’ electronics industry possible?

I think one of the biggest problems that humanity will face in the not–too–distant future is a lack of synthetic biodegradeable semiconductors.

Okay, so I’ve put that thought out there into cyberspace and now I suppose I should explain it. Why do I think this is going to be such a problem?

As we are all too much aware, human civilisation is fast becoming dependent on technology. You might say that the 1st world is already highly dependent on technology. And a big part of current technology includes electronics devices. Electronics drive everything from robots to computers. Without electronics, we go back to the analogue era. I’m sure that I don’t even need to explain that any further, do I? Without electronics, we’re screwed.

So earlier this year, I asked two questions on Quora:

  1. What are the main semiconductor compounds used today?
  2. What elements are used in the manufacturing of circuit boards and electronic components for consumer electronic devices?

It doesn’t make any sense to totally rely on something that we can only make in limited quantities, yet we are doing just that. Because the trouble is this: the way in which we produce electronic devices today is completely unsustainable. We mine the Earth for new minerals and the only element we recover from all of our electronic waste is gold (well, okay, we do sometimes also recycle lead and copper). But what about recycling all of the other elements that are used in electronic components?

Are we recycling tantalum? No. Are we recycling indium? No. Are we recycling gallium? No. Are we recycling arsenic? No. Are we recycling cadmium? No. Are we recycling selenium? No. Are we recycling tellurium? No. Are we recycling germanium? No. Are we recycling samarium? No. Are we recycling neodymium? No. Are we recycling niobium? No. Are we recycling antimony? No.

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Biodiversity leads to biomimicry:

My response to another climate change denier…

Mike Johnson, it’s people like you that really annoy me. Sorry to say that, but you do. I look at your profile and I see that you flip burgers. Where is your science credibility? That’s okay, maybe you read in your spare time…

So to people like you, I say go and look up the CO2 content of the planet venus. Then go and look up the surface temperature of the planet venus. Seriously, what you are saying about the flea analogy is complete rubbish. And I am calling you out on it right here and now in front of the whole world. Here’s where your flea analogy would be better. Assume you have 7 billion fleas on one dog. Now half of them think that they aren’t affecting the dog, because they’re so small. They’re just fleas, right? And the other half know that there is only so much blood in the dog. If you look at my profile, you will see that I am not working for anyone. I am not working for the government. I have no vested interests in anything except the truth and the protection of biodiversity. I put my faith in fellow scientists like Dr. James Hansen:

The mass of Earth’s atmosphere is distributed approximately as follows:

50% is below 5.6 km (18,000 ft).
90% is below 16 km (52,000 ft).
99.99997% is below 100 km (62 mi; 330,000 ft.

I like to think it is about 10km thick. Why 10km? Because Everest has an altitude of 8848km and not a single person lives above the summit of Mt. Everest, do they Mr. Johnson? Why not? Too cold and barely enough oxygen. Right. So taking these numbers back to the dog analogy, if the Earth was a dog, and the dog’s body was a ball that was 1 metre (just over 3 feet) in diameter, then the atmosphere on that dog would be 0.78mm thick. For you Americans, 1/32 of an inch. Now. Are you going to sit there with your Bachelor of Hamburgerology and tell me that 7 billion fleas (even proportionately microscopic ones) all drilling for blood would somehow not affect that atmosphere? I could say the same thing about an orange. If the Earth was an orange with a diameter of 10cm, then the atmosphere would now only be 0.078mm thick. Or 1/320″ for the Americans. I suppose you are going to tell me that 7 billion fruit flies feeding on that one orange wouldn’t change the composition of the orange’s skin, not even a tiny amount?

It doesn’t matter how big the Sun is in comparison with the Earth Mike. What matters is that we are urbanising the entire surface of the Earth. We mine things out of the ground and then proceed to burn it in cars all over the face of the Earth. We’re burning the entire remains of all past life on Earth that has accumulated over a billion years or so and we’re pumping it all into the atmosphere in only a hundred years or so. *starts to point the finger and wave it prophetically like all great scientists do when they’ve offended/insulted and have something important to say* So don’t you come here with your government conspiracy crap, Mike. Government conspiracies about global warming don’t make any sense! No sense at all! Why not? Because the USA actually *invades* other countries so that it can get more oil!! If anything half of these STUPID politicians aren’t even convinced of it themselves! There is only ONE thing stopping this planet from becoming more like Venus, and that is this planet’s biodiversity. It’s an adaptive, interactive system. Now if that ever starts to go haywire my friends, like it or not, we are doomed. The best, most advanced ‘technology’ that maintains a healthy atmosphere is … nature itself.

To be fair, you can’t fit 7 billion fruit flies on one single orange. But eventually even those tiny billions of microbes make the orange skin go mouldy, don’t they?

What this scientist thinks of NASA’s 2035 mission to Mars…

The 2035 Mars space mission is said to cost an estimated US$1.5 trillion.


What are my thoughts on this? That sounds like an aweful lot of money to me — to keep four to six people alive on another planet— in my view it’s money that could be put to far better things, like keeping 7 or 8 billion alive on this one.

To put things into perspective, it’s the equivalent of spending 94% of Australia’s Gross Domestic Product… for what? A dozen or so people to have the trip of a lifetime… at the most? That’s one hell of an expensive postcard!

If I personally had US$1.5 trillion dollars to play with and I wanted to ENSURE the future surivial of the human race, why, do you know what I’d do? I’d buy up all the wilderness areas up in poorer countries. I’d abandon that silly space mission. That’s what I’d do. And this is coming from someone that liked reading Carl Sagan’s cosmos… [Read more…]

What is wrong with society today?

I was writing an e-mail today regarding a new illustration commission I received from the biodiversity alliance. I got a little side-tracked and this article is what came of it, although the illustration below is one I prepared earlier.
Illustration by Leslie Dean Brown. © 2015. All rights reserved.
Illustration by Leslie Dean Brown. © 2016. All rights reserved.

Yes we dance around and laugh and joke… at our peril. That is what we are doing as a civilisation. I do not think we should even have fireworks and such wasteful things unless we are meeting our targets for global emissions reductions (for example).

I’m not saying that it’s not worth talking about on your website, I just think that people have no choice left but to try to be happy and not get too sad about the state of the world… otherwise look at you and me… I suffer from chronic depression. I am sure that many other clever people suffer from clinical depression too. It is only by working at what we know is right in our hearts that we can feel better about what we are doing for the world. So I believe we must “be the change we want to see in the world”, be a part of the solution, not be a part of the problem. And to make it so that what we think, what we believe and what we do are all aligned. Otherwise, we are only fooling ourselves…

So yes unfortunately people are definitely “having fun while we roast ourselves.” But do we really want people to be miserable about our situation instead of ‘happy’? Miserable & depressed people probably cannot adjust and react to challenges as fast as happy people.

I think many older people are just “making the best of it” in the face of so many daunting challenges (and they really are and it is enough to make me not want to have children). I think a lot of young people are massively depressed because half of the older generation is still telling them what to do the old way based on the industrial model of business (sell more stuff, buy stuff because it is good for the economy, and money = happiness) and they are being simultaneously bombarded with mixed messages about the climate but I think many of them are feeling completely helpless. They are getting mixed messages (consumerism vs environment) and we are mostly stuck.

I think one of the reasons that the adolescent suicide rate has gone up is because of this (my sister who is a secondary high school teacher has told me so directly). I don’t think young people do all these ‘bad’ things intentionally; they behave how they were taught to behave, how society brought them up. I never questioned or considered the environment until year 9 general studies class. And then I heard about all these problems the world was facing essentially all at once…

One other problem is that the older generation is half-expecting that the younger generation will somehow come to the rescue and “save the planet”. How is that going to happen when the exact same mentality is being passed on? How is that going to happen when older politicians and wealthy people are essentially in charge? I think it is us older people who need to change first because all children naturally learn from role models. [Read more…]

Is societal collapse due to our own basic human stupidity?

I think one characteristic of humanity is that as a whole we are inherently stupid, very stupid!  And I think I know the reason why…

Looking back at former civilisations, it is always noteworthy how blatantly ignorant humanity was about the consequences of its own actions. We look back now and think we know better than we did before. Do we?

Even knowing what we know, time and time again we over-estimate our current intelligence level. Not only do we fail to learn by other people’s mistakes, but even when we know what is good for us, we are reluctant to change.

I think many people today are becoming too complacent. I think we think that we can still out-smart anything and everything that comes our way, that our technology will always provide us with an answer. Will it?

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The ultimate rant from an environmentalist.

So I was signing a whole bunch of petitions on care2 just now and came across this text written by a man named John Smith, which was left as a comment!

I don’t believe in any form of god, but I think this man is at his wit’s end already and I know exactly how he feels. I thought I’d save it for the sake of posterity, and to hopefully encourage some of you [Read more…]