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).

[Read more…]

Open letter response to Malcolm Roberts

Here is what this Australian sentator said on his maiden induction speech:

“It is basic. The sun warms the Earth’s surface. The surface, by contact, warms the moving, circulating atmosphere. That means the atmosphere cools the surface. How then can the atmosphere warm it? It cannot. That is why their computer models are wrong.” [source]

Excuse me? Are you fucking kidding me? You’ve got to be fucking kidding me. You’re basically using your own anecdotal observations because “you think it’s all a global conspiracy”.

See, this is a big worry. When politicians have such power and are that blatantly stupid, basically we are all doomed. That’s why scientists are getting pissed off.

Maybe scientists need to dumb it down so that you can understand?

Now, I could link to research papers, but if you don’t even understand basic science, what’s the point? So I’ll link to other places on the web to make it simpler for you to understand.

Yes, space is freezing cold. Yes stars warm up planets. But that’s where your logic ends. And forget the actual data proving that the global mean temperature is rising. Forget it.

Just take one look at the planets Mercury and Venus. Venus has an atmosphere of 96% carbon dioxide.

Mercury doesn’t have an atmosphere. In fact it has the least amount of atmosphere of all the planets in the solar system.

Mercury is closer to the sun, right, (are you still with me Malcolm?), and yet, strangely enough, it’s surface temperature is LOWER than that of Venus.


Numbers? Okay. Sure.

The surface temperature of Mercury ranges from -173°C at the poles (at night) to 427°C (daytime, equator).

In fact, at a searing 750 K (477 °C), the surface of Venus is the hottest in the solar system. Venus is closer to the Sun by 108 million km, (about 30% closer than the Earth), but it is mainly due to the planet’s thick atmosphere. Unlike Earth’s, which is composed primarily of nitrogen, oxygen and ozone, Venus’ atmosphere is an incredibly dense cloud of carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide gas.

The combination of these gases in high concentrations causes a catastrophic greenhouse effect that traps incident sunlight and prevents it from radiating into space. This results in an estimated surface temperature boost of 475 K (201.85 °C), leaving the surface a molten, charred mess that nothing (that we know of) can live on. Atmospheric pressure also plays a role, being 91 times that of what it is here on Earth; and clouds of toxic vapor constantly rain sulfuric acid on the surface.

In addition, the surface temperature on Venus does not vary like it does here on Earth. On our planet, temperatures vary wildly due to the time of year and even more so based on the location on our planet. The hottest temperature ever recorded on Earth was 70.7°C in the Lut Desert of Iran in 2005. On the other end of the spectrum, the coldest temperature ever recorded on Earth was in Vostok, Antarctica at -89.2 C.

But on Venus, the surface temperature is 460 degrees Celsius, day or night, at the poles or at the equator. Beyond its thick atmosphere, Venus’ axial tilt (aka. obliquity) plays a role in this temperature consistency. Earth’s axis is tilted 23.4 ° in relation to the Sun, whereas Venus’ is only tilted by 3 °.

The only respite from the heat on Venus is to be found around 50 km into the atmosphere. It is at that point that temperatures and atmospheric pressure are equal to that of Earth’s. [source]



Our environmental footprint

Most of the global economy is based on the idea of selling physical products. And if you’re not selling something yourself, your clients are people that do.

B I’ve noticed that in some environmental discussions and debates, Westerners automatically assume that their country is less polluting than poorer countries. I don’t think pointing the finger at China really helps. And here’s why:

I think our blatant consumerism in the West doesn’t compare favourably to the third world, because all of the things that we buy have a kind of “environmental footprint” if you like. And note that I’m not even really talking about CO2 emissions here (even though the US carbon emission per capita is 17.56 metric tons while that of China is ‘only’ 6.19 metric tons per capita). Carbon is not the only element on the periodic table although it is the one that goes into the atmosphere more than the others.

If China pollutes rivers or whatever making loads of stuff for the West, who is really doing (causing) the polluting? The chinese manufacturers? Or is the Western consumer demand for those products ultimately to blame?

My main backround if materials science. One of the more eye-opening subjects I found out about (in terms of environmental degradation) is called “extractive metallurgy”. Extractive metallurgy is the study of chemical processes that we use to extract an refine metals from their ores. Basically, in a nut shell, all materials have to come from somewhere. Ususally it’s either the Earth’s crust itself or sea water.

In most of the processes, you need either need huge amounts of electricity and/or high temperatures and/or huge amounts of other chemicals to obtain the desired elements and/or compounds.

For example, here is just one of the many steps in the refinement of germanium:

GeO2 + 4 HCl → GeCl4 + 2 H2O

In this step, the reactive gas chlorine is being used to make germanium more reactive. So chlorine, which is toxic, is used in one of the processes to extract the element germanium from its oxide. Okay.

And here is just one of the steps in tellurium refinement:

HTeO−3 + OH + H2SO4 → TeO2 + SO2−4 + 2 H2O

In this step, sulfuric acid is being used to make tellurium more reactive. Okay.

And where are germanium and tellurium being used you ask? They are two semiconductors that are the basis for integrated circuits and other electronic components in all sorts of electronic devices. Not so good.

In fact, many other nasty chemical compounds are used in the extraction, refinement and manufacturing industries. Many others.

I’m not 100% sure, but I think the worst offenders are the electronic consumer devices, simply because they contain the most number of hard-to-extract elements. The harder-to-extract elements require more chemical treatment steps. That’s just one of the reasons why they these elements are so expensive (not just that they’re rare). In fact I can probably go so far as to invent a new theory, which goes something like this: “the higher the unit price of an element, the more damaging its extraction process is to the environment.” But I digress…

Here’s the thing. There are a lot of chemical elements used in computers and extracting them from the ground and processing them taxes the environment (especially when you consider all of the planned obsolesence we see today). Our current way of life creates more and more electronic waste that cannot be recovered or recycled (except perhaps the gold bits)

I recently asked a few questions on Quora and I’d like to share those questions and answers with you now. Listed here are some of the toxic chemicals and semiconductors that are used in electonic decices. Go on, take a look. Can you begin to see how big the problem is now?

The point is, nasty chemicals are used at all steps of the extraction and refinement process. We just don’t ever see them being used in industry. Oh but they’re there alright. They’re being used all the time.

Suffice it to say that if Westeners think they pollute the Earth less than a typical 3rd-worlder, in my eyes, they are sorely mistaken. [Read more…]

Some perspective

Imagine if 7 billlion people had always lived on a dust-bowl Mars-like planet with no life outside of the base stations. Imagine if that’s the way it had always been. Imagine if that was humanities’ entire existence, on the red planet…

With that in mind, I’d like to do a little thought experiment. I want you to imagine what would happen if we were to start exploring the solar system, from our home Mars.

The closest other world, Earth, looks very promising. We’ve spent a hundred trillion dollars on this latest space mission, okay. It’s been 30 years in the planning stage alone…

So we go to this new place called ‘Earth’.

And we don’t find another dust-bowl freeze-your-arse-off planet with no oceans, a toxic atmosphere* and a severe lack of oxygen. We don’t find it to be uninhabited. We don’t find the gravity extremely off-putting. We don’t find a desolate, barren wasteland devoid of all life like the home planet. No.

Instead, what we encounter is another world no unlike this one, the one we already know as ‘Earth’, exactly the way it is now, but without all the humans. Without any civilisation.

Imagine if we found 60 amur leopards, 400 Sumatran tigers, 880 mountain gorillas, 1826 giant pandas, 4080 snow leopards, 4848 black rhinos and 10000 blue whales!

Impenetrable jungles! Countless species of insects! Fish! Crustaceans! Molluscs! Birds! Frogs!

“Frogs? What an unusual name. What are they? Oh they’re slimy but harmless critters –amphibians– that thrive both on the land and in the water and use jumping as a form of locomotion.”

[Read more…]

Who are the greenest printers in Australia?

I just finished a diploma of graphic design a few months ago. And during a subject called “prepress”, I found out that printing is not the most ecological part of graphic design. In fact traditional printing is not very good for the environment at all. It isn’t all just about the paper they use, but they also use loads and loads of metal printing plates and lots and lots of water.

So I have been shopping around for the most ecological printer for some time now (like 6 months, on and off). And I think I’ve finally found a quality one that is reasonably priced. [Read more…]