Anthropogenic global warming – truth or fraud?

“It is very disturbing when the amorality of scientists unites the immorality of politicians.”  Jurandyr Arone Maues

“amorality of scientists”? You’ve got to be joking! Now you’ve done it.

Do you think scientists want global warming to be true? No, I can assure you that we don’t want it to be true. I personally would rather carry on regardless with my affinity for fossil-fuel powered sports motorbikes, BUT I can’t simply ‘forget’ my science education. Can I?

First of all, we’ve already told you. Many times over. But apparently non-scientists are not as ‘logical’ as scientists. Other things seem to get in the way of your reasoning. Things like lifestyle and belief systems. Social inertia. Conspiracy theories. Conservatives. Religion.

We could come up with the most irrefutable evidence you could imagine and still there would be loads of people that would think “it’s all a giant conspiracy”. Because they’re hooked on vehicles, consumer goods and international air travel. Right?

Most people are almost born with this ideology that “work is good” and “work can’t be bad”. It’s indoctrinated into us all through our schooling and beyond. We’re all taught to “do something of benefit”. People who are brought up with religion automatically think “man can do no harm”. Wrong! We invented the thermonuclear bomb. I think everyone agrees that they’re very destructive man-made things.

And the thing is, nuclear bombs are essentially atomic-scale devices. We invented all sorts of poisons that can kill off entire ecosystems. Guess what? Poisons are molecular scale devices also.

Almost every single change or consequence in this universe is brought about by the small scale influencing the big scale. For example, my expertise is in materials (that’s how I know about IR spectroscopy); every single material you can touch is influenced by the arrangement of its atoms. Every single one. It’s the difference between charcoal and diamond. They’re both carbon-based materials. The only difference is the atomic stacking. That’s it. That’s why superman can squeeze a lump of coal and turn it into diamond.

I think deniers need to just stop already and take a much-needed reality check. And fast. Just leave your preconceived ideas at the door. Is it so hard to believe that what we do affects our environment? Is it?! If we keep on making changes at the *local* scale, and we keep on doing this *all over the planet*, that means we are *already* doing things on a global scale. Just because you can’t SEE all of those exhaust pipes in front of you, doesn’t mean they’re not contributing.

Likewise, just because you can’t comprehend how a tiny thing like a molecule can influence a whole planet, doesn’t mean it’s not happening either. We already know that changes in one scale can and do influence another. There are storms all over the planet Venus for example. Do you know why? Well according to planetary scientists, it’s because of its atmosphere.

Do me a favour, read this. That’s the link between CO2 and absorption of radiation. That’s the mechanism right there. There is no doubt about the IR spectra of CO2 and other greenhouse gases.

But it’s not a question of one lone molecule, is it? Do you know how much volume of gas one tonne of CO2 represents? Do you? 1 tonne of CO2 gas occupies 557 thousand litres.

Now try to imagine the NUMBER of molecules. It’s right up there. Forget tonnes. Forget litres. Let’s talk about the actual number of molecules for a change. The USA emits emits approximately 71,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 of these molecules every single year. Do you see how many zeroes that is? That is no exaggeration. That is a real number estimate that I have personally calculated. We are talking “duodecillions” of molecules here, all over the world.

Now granted there are a lot of molecules in a teacup (a lot less than this, I can assure you). But I hope that at least *some* people who read this can now begin to see how this goes from being a molecular-scale problem to a planetary-scale problem.

And not only that. We know there are tipping points. We know about chaos theory. We know about “sensitive dependence on initial conditions”. What the hell am I on about now? Well for example if Hitler had have got into art school, instead of being rejected, then there WW2 probably wouldn’t have happened. Would it?

And the thing is, we can see the carbon dioxide concentration is increasing all over the world. So that is measurable. And the electromagnetic spectrum of greenhouse gases are also measurable (and let me tell you, their repeatability is undeniable).

Next deniers will tell you that plants love CO2. And so does phytoplankton. Not according to this study.

Well sorry to alarm you, but forests and oceans can’t seem to keep up. Because if they could, the CO2 concentration would stabilise. But it doesn’t. It keeps rising. And the more forests we cut down, the higher it goes. Indeed, it should already be obvious. Because if they loved the extra CO2, they would already be making use of it.

Do you know what those little serrations are on this graph? I read somewhere that each one of those jumps represents and entire growing season for deciduous plants (because there are more in one hemisphere than in the other). And judging by that graph, you can even see that the leaves fall from the trees faster than they grow. That’s what that is.

Those little zig-zag jumps you can see are the effectiveness of the planet’s lungs. Each year they take a breath. And each year, it looks like they are suffocating ever so slightly more. You might say the concentration of CO2 might not matter to them. It probably doesn’t. But the fact is, global warming would still occur even without any trees, as it does on the planet Venus, the “greenhouse capital” of the solar system.

And this problem we are facing is no different to another anthropogenic global problem: ozone hole problem. Remember? Nobody denied that! And I’ll tell you why nobody denied that. Because it was EASIER to give up CFCs and swap over to a different aerosol propellant, wasn’t it? Simple. Done.

Try to realise that if the Earth’s atmosphere doesn’t actually go on forever. It’s less than 10km thick. People commute more than that on a daily basis. Ethiopians walk more than that on a daily basis just to get enough water. It’s actually very thin when you think of it like that (as all astronauts and cosmonauts will tell you).

And that was what Carl Sagan was trying to say with his book “Pale blue dot”. Carl Sagan was truly brilliant at making ordinary people appreciate big and small numbers. Well I’m going to go one further than Carl. And I’m going to bring it right down to human-scale proportions. If the Earth’s atmosphere was condensed into a solid, it would be only 12.2 metres thick. That’s it. That’s all we’re playing with.

Now try to recall every single time you filled up your fuel tank. Can you remember? That’s 50kg or more at a time. If you had to carry that 50kg every time you filled up your car, you’d probably be more aware of the amount of carbon you’re burning. But it just flows up into the petrol bowser, down through the hose and out the nozzle without you even lifting a finger.

Now try to remember every single time you turned on a light switch or plugged something in. All that electricity had to come from somewhere too (like when coal and gas were scooped up by the truckload at all the mining sites dotted around this planet and burned in power stations that you can’t even see).

And now try to remember every single thing you have ever bought. Tonnes of invisible (invisible to you) carbon dioxide went into making all the stuff we buy. Tonnes. Incidentally, that is why the manufacturing industry doesn’t want to talk about climate change either (because they’re too involved in it).

Now. All that CO2. Have you planted that much carbon in the mean time? Has your garden grown and gained tonnes and tonnes of weight? Or has it been urbanised instead– chopped down and flattened? Has your soil got that much richer? No. The answer is “no it hasn’t”. All of that carbon has been taken from underground mines and dispersed into the atmosphere.

Try to think of all of that carbon being sprinkled onto the 12.2 metre frozen sea of air. Try to think of it that way. Try to think of all those duodecillions of molecules “doing their thing”. Try to think of it that way.

QED.

The true value of soil

Food practically grows all by itself on planet Earth.
Illustration by Leslie Dean Brown. © 2015. All rights reserved.

Let me ask you something: do we actually ‘make’ our own food? Do we? The answer is “no we do not make our own food”. We just throw pre-existing seeds in the ground and make sure most of them get enough water to sprout. We don’t make it from first principles; it grows all by itself from the soil! We simply harvest that food (once it has already grown).

Let me ask you the next question: do we humans ‘make’ soil? Not can we make it, do we make it? Again, no. Bacteria, worms and insects do that for us. Sure we might put organic matter such as apple cores, banana skins and orange peels onto the old compost pile and think we’re making

loads more soil. We might even throw things like paper and cardboard onto our compost as well and think we’re creating heaps and heaps and heaps of soil.

But are we? What are we really doing? Once gain, where did that apple core come from? Where did that banana skin come from? Where did that paper come from? Where did those trees come from? The chances are you’ll find that most of it wasn’t hydroponically produced (using liquid fertilisers and zero soil). Was it? No. It was mosty farmed, from pre-existing soil. And I’m guessing that that soil, ladies and gentlemen, took thousands and thousands and thousands of years to form.

And so you might say: “well okay, I know people that actually eat 100% hydroponically-grown foods, I’ve seen it”. And again I ask: but the people who made the hydroponic setup, did they also get all of their food from hydroponically grown plants? What about the people who made all that fertiliser? What about the people who built the whole darn fertiliser setup? What about the people who transported all of the above? And what about the people who built the vehicles so that all of that lot could be transported? Did they all eat hydroponically grown food too?

Is everyone in that hydroponics industry only eating 100% hydroponically-grown foods? Short answer? No. So my point is that at the moment, even if we can hydroponically grow a bunch of food, it’s being heavily, massively subsidised by nature.

Do you know how many apple cores, banana skins and orange peels it takes to make just one kilogram of soil? The answer is: I don’t know, because I lost count. What I can tell you is that I have been throwing ALL of my organic scraps, and those of a second person, into one giant green 400L bin for the past two years. Everything from my hair to my paper offcuts. And it has never filled up. But how much soil did all that organic matter take to produce in the first place, for two people? I’m willing to bet that it was WAY more than just 400 litres.

So is it any wonder that farmers commit suicide, when they tell us that the quality of soil is falling?

We certainly tend to the plants. We avoid flooding unless we’re growing rice. But what I think humans really do is collect, store and distribute food. If we had to do all of that for 7 billion people, for 7 million people, for even 7 thousand people, with no air, no water and no soil to begin with, I think you’d see scientists really starting to scratch their heads. Can’t be done! It just can’t be done.

In other words, we’re not somehow magically separated from nature. Scientists are never really able forget this. If seven, eight, nine or ten billion people want to live on this planet for more than a few centuries into the future, then we’re going to have to re-evaluate our values and our priorities. I think it’s time we refocus our efforts on Earth (even Carl Sagan’s last book, pale blue dot was as much about Earth as deep space and look how ‘into’ deep space adventures he was).

The principle of “the five whys”.

It’s called “the five whys”. And it’s one of the most powerful tools we have at our disposal.

I think more people should use this technique so that we can improve society. What is it? What does it entail?

It was ‘invented’ at the Toyota corporation as a method of determining the root cause of something unwanted. You keep asking the question why, a bit like a bratty little kid who first figures out the true power of the word ‘why’.

The central idea is to keep on asking ourselves the ‘why’ questions — we keep asking ourselves why something is so, even if we might not like the answers.

For example, if we apply the principles of the five whys to depression, we may discover the true cause of depression (at least in some people). Scientists have got to the point that they can determine whether someone is depressed based on their brain chemistry. Right, but do they then ask the further question: what causes those brain chemicals to be different? One line of research will lead to a ‘cure’. But the other will lead to ‘prevention’. Which is better? I already know the answer.

It’s no good knowing about brain chemicals if we don’t know what factor change the chemicals in the first place. Otherwise we will never prevent depression, we will only have a ‘cure’. So I think asking the five whys in terms of depression is a simple but effective approach. I think that is part of the success of the very simple approach to holistice medicine.

And this is why I think psychology is a very powerful and underrated tool. Because psychologists, unlike psychiatrists, get to the root causes. Psychologists are already three steps ahead of the scientists studying brain chemistry. Because first of all, psychologists have already figured this out. Secondly, they are already asking the five whys. In fact, they are asking a hundred or even a thousand whys. And they already know that depression has triggers. It’s their job to look for the triggers.

The triggers in my case are a mixture of genetic and environmental. They are genetic because I’m told that I have the ‘melancholy’ or inhereted type of depression as opposed to aquiring depression. That’s all I know.

I can tell you right now what causes my depression, what triggers it. I’m going to do this in point form:

  • Firstly, seeing concrete everywhere. I believe that it’s a horrible ugly material. It’s overused, it’s grey and —unlike nature— it’s very prone to being sprayed with graffiti.
  • Suburbs. Yes. suburbs. I generally find suburbs ugly and therefore depressing. Particularly places that have been either not well designed or overdesigned. That includes all forms of urbanisation, land clearing and ‘development’.
  • I generally find any place without trees quite literally depressing. So in my opinion, if you’re a town planner or an architect, and you’re reading this, the best thing you can do is a) design around existing trees b) plant more trees (and not just in a hole in the asphalt, because as one person put it: “a tree is a community”)
  • Cars with exhaust pipes. Because I have known for some 25 years now about global warming. It’s time to stop producing fucking internal combustion engines already and build more electric-powered cars.
  • Grass. I find the patch of mono-specific grass to be unnatural and therefore depressing. I think back gardens need to look more like meadows. That would attract bees and other insects like dragonflies.
  • Lately, mowers. Why do we even mow grass? Really, what for? If we don’t like long grass, why did we put it there to start with? Depressing.

Today, that’s all I’d like to talk about. But in future I will return to the subject of the five whys, but next time it will be applied to GMOs.

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.

This is your mother Earth speaking.

Hello, this is mother Earth speaking.

Look, I’m sorry but we really need to talk. This has gone on long enough. I thought I wouldn’t come to this. But you leave me no choice. You’re one of my three dearest children. I know I gave birth to you all and everything…

But you’ve been living under my roof for tens of thousands of years now… and you still haven’t moved out yet! Your father isn’t around anymore so I’m just going to have to start charging you board and lodgings. You’ve always using up all my oxygen and you never contribute to making any of it! So I’m just going to have to start charging you for it.

It costs money to produce pure oxygen you know! And you keep burning it all! Oxygen does grow on trees you know! But you insist on cutting them all down now, don’t you? What do you have to say for yourself? Well?! So what do you think is going to happen?

Look. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Don’t come crying to me when your room fills up with CO2!

What’s that? You don’t believe me? You still don’t believe in climate change? Just look at your sister’s room! Now tell me… I bet you’d conveniently forgotten about her. No, I didn’t think so.

Venus left her room in one hell of a state when she moved out. And now look at it! Look at it!! It’s a right runaway greenhouse mess now – I’ll never be able to clean it up! There’s acid rain in there and everything! I can’t even touch the floor of her room, it’s so hot. 462°C. What kind of a temperature is that? So let that be a lesson to you!

And what’s going on with your water? You keep pissing in the fresh water! Your father and I have told you time and time again not to do that. And all this time we thought you were toilet trained. But if that weren’t bad enough – you try to hide the evidence by flushing it all with even more fresh water! As if that helps anything!

You sneak about after dark poisoning all of that valuable organic waste with all sorts of horrible drugs. I don’t know where you even get a hold of those chemicals!

And if that weren’t bad enough, then you go out into other people’s backyards, dig everything up trying to look for something to fertilise the plants here with! Didn’t your aunt teach you better than that? Where are your manners? You know you should be going to the toilet directly in the garden. How many times do I have to tell you? Why do you insist on wasting all of our hard-earned nutrients like that? I just don’t understand it. You’ll send us all broke if you keep it up! Don’t make me force you to wear diapers again! Just imagine the look the asteroids would give you…

Do I really have to remind you of your little brother Mars? To this day nothing will grow in his room! To this day!! I thought you would’ve known better. That’s what happens when you don’t take responsibility for your own water usage. There’s barely a drop in the whole room now! Nothing will grow there anymore — and I do mean nothing.

I thought after your little NASA moon escapade over the weekend that you’d have a little more respect for your own mother, after you saw first hand how hard it is to live in outer space on your own. I thought you’d begin to appreciate exactly how hard it is to make it by yourselves. But no. Do you think it ever becomes ‘easy’, to live in outer space? I can assure you it’s not! Not even for me. And I’ve had 5 billion years of practice.

There are bills to pay. Laws. Regulations. Responsibility. Right now you just don’t have enough responsibility!

I told your father I didn’t like you hanging around that crowd of friends at school! You’ve picked up all these bad habits from them haven’t you? It’s not like you don’t have your own income either. Is it? You’ve got more than enough money coming in. But you waste it all on bullshit material things. Things you don’t need instead of the things that really matter. So how about you helping out your ol’ mum from time to time?

What a monkey space mission!

They’re planning on sending monkeys into space in 2017…

Please, don’t send monkeys into space to try and ‘fix’ everything. If you do, you’re only abusing and exploiting monkeys for humanity’s benefit.

Where is the ‘reward’ for the monkeys? What’s in it for them? Have you asked them whether they know how many banana trees grow on the planet Mars or in Space? Because I’m sure if you could communicate that to them, they would jump on your face and start scratching at your eyeballs in order not to go.

See, this might have been okay in the 60s. But now we know better.

Fellow humans, the ‘answers’ (and by that I mean a technical solution to all the problems we face down here on Earth) won’t be found in exploring Mars. You’re not going to like this, but the answer to our survival is in making less, doing less. Not more. Less. Minimalism. That is the only way we can move forward.

We need to respect animals in order to survive as a species. We ourselves are animals!

So ban the whole darn mission I say. And my message to scientists is: ask yourselves why you are doing research. Are you doing research just to do research or to better humanity? If you’re trying to make us better humans, this is not the way. How does it make us better? How does it make our future better?

 

When is donald trump going to be president?

CORRECT ANSWER: well, assuming he hasn’t been assassinated yet, January, 20th, 2017.

And now that I’ve got you here with my keyword spamming trickery, I’ll spend the rest of this post talking about carbon dioxide with respect to climate change — and how it’s the volume that counts.

I know half of you are interested to know “when donald drumpf is going to be president” (for the right reasons). And half of you are interested to know “when donald trump is going to be president” (for the wrong reasons)1.

Yes. That’s right. This blog partly makes up or all the climate change deniers. And it’s precisely YOU I’m targeting here.

So. I’ve noticed that people always talk of gas emissions in terms of mass, which severely understates the quantity…

Exactly how much space does 1 tonne of CO2 gas occupy? You only need to look at molar volumes of gases:

People talk of gas emissions in terms of mass, which understates the quantity…  But exactly how much space does 1 tonne of CO2 gas occupy? You only need to look at molar volumes of gases:

1 tonne = 1 million grams.
44g of CO2 = 1 mole = 24.5L of gas (at 25ºC and standard atmospheric pressure)
Therefore, just 1 tonne of CO2 gas occupies 557 thousand litres. (= 22.7 kmoles or 557 m3)

Taking the figure above, annual global CO2 emission at 7910 million metric tons (7,910,000,000), multiply that by the volume occupied by one tonne (557,000), and we come up with 4.4 thousand trillion litres of CO2 gas produced every year.

We spew 4,400,000,000,000,000 litres of CO2 into the Earth’s atmosphere every single year.

We do not live in an infinite space, not in area, nor in volume. Yes, gravity sucks back all those CO2 molecules to planet earth. So I take the thickness of the atmosphere, from wikipedia:

I think we as people have forgotten the following important factoids:

50% of the atmosphere by mass is below 5.6 km altitude (18,000 ft).
75% of the atmosphere’s mass is within 11 km of the planetary surface.
90% of the atmosphere is below 16 km (52,000 ft).
99.99997% of the atmosphere is below 100 km (62 mi; 330,000 ft).

And the Earth’s total surface area from another source:

The total area of the Earth is approximately 510 million square kilometres.

My ultra quick calculation of volume of Earth’s atmosphere, up to 100km (yes let’s include all of it) = 51 trillion trillion cubic metres or 51,000 trillion trillion litres. That includes the atmosphere, the stratosphere, the troposphere, the mesosphere -yes, the entire fucking quota.

It appears some people claim that we can produce that much CO2 gas, 4.4 thousand trillion litres every single year, and it no way affects the limited volume of ‘our own’ atmosphere (51,000 trillion trillion litres)! That’s equivalent to an increase of 86 parts per billion CO2 gas every single year.

A few points:

  1. Of course, much of these emmissions are recycled into oxygen by trees and plants during photosynthesis. But while we continue to cut those down that won’t help us with our CO2 problem!!
  2. The upper atmosphere, the stratosphere, is extremely low pressure & doesn’t actually “hold” much gas.
  3. CO2 is 1.5 times denser than air.
  4. Using other estimates of the mass of the Earth’s atmosphere (5 quadrillion metric tonnes) used in the above calculation results in an increase in CO2 concentration of 1.6ppm per year!
  5. The world’s oceans can also dissolve some  CO2, acting like a large reservoir. But here again, there is a limit to how much seawater can take.

Do I even need to elucidate my calculations further? People claim that our  CO2 production has no affect on our precious environment, not even cumulatively! And as an ex-research scientist, that mode of thinking enrages me.

As far as I’m concerned, anyone who thinks that our way of life doesn’t affect the environment (climate included) is an idiot. Sorry, but some people still continue believe that we can spew as much CO2 into the air as we want and it will have no long-term effect on the Earth’s climate. 

You only need to look at exactly how much CO2 is produced by man:

Since 1751 roughly 315 billion tons of carbon have been released to the atmosphere from the consumption of fossil fuels and cement production. Half of these emissions have occurred since the mid 1970s. The 2004 global fossil-fuel CO2 emission estimate, 7910 million metric tons of carbon, represents an all-time high and a 5.4% increase from 2003.

Farming Mars

Another one wants to colonise Mars! Sorry, I can’t help myself:

Breakthroughs happen only when we stretch our physical limits

To make Planet Earth survivable, we envision what’s possible on Mars.

The Mars Farm Odyssey is an international consortium of like minds: companies, researchers, NGOs and government groups from the United States to China. We connect bleeding edge technologies and science in Controlled Environment Agriculture to feed a planet of 10 billion Earthlings at home and on Mars.

http://fluxiot.com/marse.io/

Whenever I see people talking about colonising Mars, I just have to speak up. And sorry for the language that is going to come, but I feel very passionate about this.

Dreamers! I think you’ll find that Earth, even in the “semi fucked” state that it’s in, is a far better home for people. Nicer. Easier. Cheaper. Better. Better ROI. Easier for people to adjust to.

Sorry to disappoint you, but there is not enough rocket fuel on this planet for 10 billion people… not only that, but the more people you get there, the more you are going to fuck things here. The fable “the dog and the bone comes to mind”.

And if it did work, if it was self-sufficient on Mars for a few hundred or thousand people, Marslings are only going to be telling Earth people about sustainability. They’d be telling *us* not to fuck our air, water and food supply. They’d be telling us to plant more trees and buy less stuff.

I think we should only go when we can do it sustainably.

Good luck with it, seriously. I wish you good luck. And note that I’m not saying it can’t ever be done. But just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should.

Take a look at this latest graph.

Go on, have the balls to actually look at it:

nsidc_global_area_byyear_b-800x533

See where we are? We’re right at that point where we don’t want to be. That’s where we are. The appropriately red-coloured line that is beneath all the others (well beneath).

Look, I don’t claim to know much about climate science. I know about materials science. But if there’s one thing scientists know how to do, it’s to respect others’ areas of expertise. Especially the expertise of other scientists.

It’s a bit like the song:

“What you don’t know you can feel it somehow” — U2

We know that there are others who are cleverer than us. And we respect that knowledge.

So I admit that I don’t know how the Earth’s climate fully works. But this latest graph worries me. This graph worries me a lot.

Because its pretty darn obvious to anyone what is going on in this graph.

I don’t think the Earth is completely screwed just yet. But if we don’t change NOW, then it will be.

I think the Earth’s climate is remarkly resilient considering all we’ve thrown at it over the last century.

But all I know is, if man thinks he can change local environments —on a global scale mind you— without global consequences, well then he is sorely mistaken.

That is not the way this world works. That is not how any world works.

Because this is the graph of all graphs. This graph should be printed on the insides of all petrol tank lids.

Every time you wish to use your car, you should be thinking of this graph!

Every time you want to fly somewhere, you should be thinking of this graph!

Every time you eat meat, you should be thinking of this graph!

This is the “climate emergency” graph that James Hansen is referring to.

And what do I see? In reality? In reality, I look around today, and I see bugger all people talking about this problem. And yet it is a big problem. A very big problem.

People should be talking about this over their lunch break and their coffee break. And for some reason they’re not. They’re just not.

[Read more…]

My best case yet for conserving biodiversity.

abstract36
Illustration by leslie dean brown. © 2016. All rights reserved.
Scientists are time-travellers, who can glimpse ~100 years into the future. When I think of the “the future”, here is what I ‘see’:
  • I don’t see ‘manmade’ things flying everywhere; I see ‘birds’ and ‘insects’… behaving like drones. Or rather, I see drones –robots– acting like birds, fish and insects. A form of synthetic nature. Robots. Nanobots.
  • I see a completely flat biodegradable pizza box that is able to reheat your pizza… at the push of a button… biodegradable battery included. Biodegradable materials.
  • I see flexible circuit boards. Biodegradable/compostable circuit boards, adhesives and elastomers. Ones that feed nutrients into the soil rather than leaching out toxic chemicals. Compostable materials.
  • I see homogenous materials exhibiting different physical and chemical properties at each end… or wherever else you wanted. Surfaces that change colour, texture, friction coefficient, refractive index, magnetic susceptibility or any one of —or combination of— any one of thousands of desired properties… inside or outside of them… like a television screen… except displaying an array –a matrix– of different properties. Metamaterials.
  • I see changes in materials’ physical, mechanical or chemical properties… triggered in response to… other changes… such as temperature, composition, acidity. Dynamic materials.
  • I see tyre compounds that become ‘grippier’ or ‘grow’ additional/deeper tyre tread patterns in the wet… according to the conditions. Responsive materials.
  • I see trees… by the side of road… that automatically display the speed limit… and any other desired road signals… with reflective bark… again… according to the conditions. Adaptive materials.
  • I see semi-organic ‘tentacles’ mounted on aircraft carriers… that can ‘catch’ helicopters and other flying craft… in mid flight. Organic materials.
  • I see termites… genetically reprogrammed… to make skyscrapers out of biodegradable ‘cement’. Self-organising materials,
  • I see buildings that simply… build themselves. Self-generating and self-regenerating materials.
  • I see computers that never need new hardware. Computers that truly ‘adapt’ and ‘learn’. Light-based computers. Organic computers. Really advanced, biological computers.
  • I see genetically engineered bacteria that can extract any elements we wish, from landfill.

All these devices are not only possible –100% scientifically feasible– but even probable. Believe me. You ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Of what technology can deliver.

These ‘inventions’ do not break any laws of science. Far from it. They’re already in existence. And this is the potential I see whenever I look at animals and plants and think about them in terms of their material properties.

Everywhere I look, I see nano-materials that humans simply cannot yet compete with. We are not even in the race, the same league, let alone the same competition as nature.

I see people mixing cement today, smelting and forging steel —still— in the year 2016. And it’s a crude process at its very best; always from the “top down” scale direction, never from the “bottom up”.

Eventually though, as we play the game of “catch up” —by studying and ultimately copying nature— there’s really only ONE thing that stands in the way of scientists, engineers and designers creating, reverse-engineering these things (and more) in the future.

And that’s the threat of extinction. Because all of the above hypothetical inventions share one thing in common: they’re based on materials that are already found in living systems.


Nature is good for our emotional, psychological and physiological wellbeing. Nature is ‘natural’. Nature is ‘pretty’. Nature is ‘beautiful’. And all species have an equal ‘right’ to survival as any other. Isn’t that enough reason to want to protect it?

We humans cannot recreate a forest, a mountain view, a lake, a river or a natural shoreline. And where do many of us like to go for recreation, if we want to truly rejuvenate? Where do we go on holidays? We go to nature. Or even to some virtual ‘approximation’ of it.

Shouldn’t that be enough to save it? Apparently not. So if you want the cold, hard ‘justification’, the main scientific reason, to fight for all forms of biodiversity –the fundamental reason that all accountants, long-term financial planners and investors are really looking for– then here it is:

Simply put: if we scientists don’t have enough living systems –biodiversity– available to effectively be able to research, to study, then not only will the amazing device described above never get built by us, but we’ll likely find it harder and harder to survive the further we get into the future1. Indeed, we may find that at one point, it doesn’t get any easier at all — rather, that it gets harder. Much harder.

Yes we NEED different species. Not just for our own immediate survival (in terms of oxygen/air, clean/filtered water, fresh food). We need different species in order to be able to study them well into the future. We need as many different species as possible. We need species with even the most subtle differences, –in fact, especially the ones with the most subtle differences– to be able to eliminate the bane of every single well-trained scientist: variables. Or rather, more than one variable.

Suppose there were only two animal species in existence: an elephant and a stingray. Suppose. Just the two (never mind what they eat for now). Then it would be very hard to work out which genes cause which morphology in each animal. How do we know which gene causes the trunk and which forms the tusk? How do we know which gene forms the stingray’s tail or its spine? And so on. For every new variable in each animal, it becomes ever harder to distinguish between the genes, which genes cause which traits.

With insufficient samples, science is nothing. What about with no samples at all? How much is science worth then, with no samples?

Furthermore, the exact same protein may lead to different morpholgy when it is located in a different part of the genetic sequence, as in a different species. It’s not entirely predictable.

That’s why genetic engineers are never as clever as they think they are. That’s why there’s this whole “anti GMO” movement (well that’s one reason). Because if we knew EXACTLY what we doing, why, we’d be able to create practically anything we wanted. Already. Now. Today. Besides, some genes are redundant.

Do we know which ones? Do we know why? Do we know where? Do we know how? Do we know, for each and every single one of the estimated 1 trillion fast-disappearing species on planet Earth? I don’t think so. Genetics is not my area. Even so, I don’t think there are enough scientists alive today to know and study all of that genetic information; there is too much information out there. I don’t know. I know about materials science, not biology. I do know that biological materials are several orders of magnitude more complex than purely synthetic, manmade materials. [Read more…]

Wisdom

“The tree breathes what we exhale. When the tree exhales, we need what the tree exhales. So. We have a common destiny with the tree.” — Oren R. Lyons 

Wiser words have never been spoken. I think we need to really start listening to these people. Science will never be able to invent a more beautiful, efficient or sustainable oxygen factory… as the humble tree. That’s why I agree that we should all plant more trees (and also avoid cutting down any to begin with). It was also a reccommendation of the book “small is beautiful”.

If we were living on Mars…

I’d like to remind people of two things:

1. Would Mars colonists be doing things the same way that we are here and now? For example, would they be mowing grass if and when they manage to get it to grow under their domed little base stations?

I think not. Not very sustainable, is it? Using up petrol and mower parts all for what? To keep the grass shorter and produce less oxygen? (at least that’s the excuse I give now for only mowing 9/10 of our backyard rather than the whole darn lot) Why do we cut grass anyway? Those are the sorts of questions humanity ought to be asking itself.

2. Just imagine if all of 7.4 billion of us humans were *already* living on Mars (indoors) and we just happened to “find” Earth in the ‘state’ that it is in now, except with no people…

Do you think we would stay on the planet Mars? Where do you think we would move to? That’s right, we’d move right over to the planet Earth, where you can breathe freely… where the essential things like oxygen and rain are still free… where dirt is *almost* free (right now it costs $10,000,000 to launch a tonne of dirt into outer space). The planet with the deep oceans and millions of species already there. The planet that doesn’t need terraforming because its already terraformed.

So now knowing these two things.

Why the hell would we want to even consider moving away from here? Why would we want to cut down more forests here, if next-generation colonists wouldn’t do it on another planet in future? Otherwise, we’re just going to make the same mistakes on planet #2.

Here’s a simple thought experiment. Why aren’t we simply pretending to be living on a new colony already? That way we don’t even have to waste resources getting there.

Of course, getting other people to change is very, very difficult. All I can do is change myself. So what if I pretend that I am living on the planet Mars. What would I do if I was living over there? I would plant trees, not cut them down. I’d grow more forests that I cut down.

What else would I do? Why, I’d use my own urine as liquid fertiliser instead of going to the store and buying something that was obtained from a phosphate mine, wouldn’t I?

I think a lot of people on Earth have lost hope and they think that it’s almost like a “lost cause”. And I say: “fuck that”. I’d like to remind everyone that it’s FAR easier to get ourselves back on the right track here than to start from scratch over on Mars…

I hope this has given a few of you some much-needed inspiration!

LOCAL PETITION: Save Spring Gully from development, Royal National Park.

The federal heritage listed Royal National Park is the world’s oldest purpose dedicated National Park.
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Upon dedication, in 1879, it was simply named “The National Park”. The “Royal” designation was added after the visit of Queen Elizabeth II in 1954. It is the birthplace of the National Park movement in Australia. If we can’t protect the Royal National Park and if we can’t protect threatened species and ecological communities within National Parks, what can we protect?

VIDEOS:

Bundeena Landscaping and clearing – my comments PART1
Bundeena development approval – my comments PART2
Bundeena recreational facility – my comments PART3
www.springgully.org

The land clearing will significantly impact the dense Bloodwood mallee which has been cited as supporting the scientific justification for a world heritage listing of the Royal. It is habitat to threatened species and supports a local sugar glider population which extensively feed on the sugary sap of the trees that comprise this dense woodland.

There are over 1,500 trees in the before drawing on the left that are missing from the after drawing on the right. Can you find them all? Read about the trick that has been used in the development application to hide the true extent of tree and canopy removal! They only show the tree canopies with trunks larger than 15cm. Trees with trunks smaller than this are just marked with a small brown circle that is almost invisible.

These diagrams substantially misrepresent the amount of existing tree canopy to be removed. 

These drawings only show the trees in and around the proposed inner asset protection zone. Hundreds more trees will be cleared in the outer asset protection zone not shown in these drawings.

Detailed data has only been provided for the largest 237 trees to be removed or pruned, including 34 large, mature, potentially hollow bearing, angophoras (important fauna habitat) that will be pruned to leave only 31% of their current canopy. The amount of canopy to be removed from these 237 trees alone is 8,687 square metres. The other 1,300 odd trees to be removed appear on the drawing provided but without details of how much canopy loss they represent.

Many hundreds more trees, possibly another 1,500, will be destroyed in the Outer Asset Protection Zone. An accurate estimate cannot be provided because most of this area has been omitted from the tree removal plan provided (appendix 16). See diagram below for location of outer asset protection zone.

The entire Bloodwood woodland along the top, southern side of the gully will be decimated. Every tree in this dense woodland bears scars from sugar glider feeding. The gliders chew through the soft bark to release the sap below. These unique stands of bloodwood growing in the deep sands at the base of the Jibbon Hill relic cliff dune have been cited as supporting the scientific justification for the world heritage listing of the Royal National Park. They demonstrate scleromorphic adaptation in response to the unique local geomorphology that developed in this area as the sea level began to rise some 10,000 years ago and the coast receded, pushing the relic cliff dunes, including Jibbon Hill, to their present location.

Sutherland Shire Council has recommended the former Scout land be acquired for addition to the Royal National Park.

On 10 November 2014, Council resolved to write to local state and federal parliamentarians asking them to support the acquisition of the former Scout land by the state government for addition to the surrounding Royal National Park.

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…]

The solution to climate change?

I was recently asked my opionion about this article on LinkedIn.

What are my thoughts? Well, I think it is citizens that have to change. Citizens are the ones using energy from coal. Citizens are the ones using oil. Citizens are the ones filling their tanks with petrol. How can you expect government to change when it is really all the people in society that cause the demand for such things?

I think we can change without our government’s help. I don’t think there is a technical solution. I think the real solution lies in being happier with less. I think we’re going to have to simply be happier with less. I think we should drive cars less. Use less water. Less electricity.

Hopefully this year I plan on powering my computer with a small off grid solar setup. But even the semiconductors used in solar panels have to come from somewhere… and the inverter. And the batteries. But at least it is clean energy with no constant emissions once it has been made.

I think it’s actually far better for the environment to make do with less. It’s the obvious solution, but it’s the one that people just don’t want to hear. People want to have their cake and to eat it too. Sorry, it doesn’t work that way. Because even if we start making eco cars, if we have to make 50 billion eco cars (or whatever), we’re still going to have to chop down trees in the Amazon basin to make new plantations for the eco fibres.

I think if we don’t all start changing soon, we’re all going to start becoming even more depressed than we are now. Depression is partly caused by dilemmas. And we’re in the midst of a really big fat one

High definition destruction

It always amazes me how all of these latest technologies showcase *nature*. I find that quite ironic. I find it ironic because we get the copper and other elements that are contained within electronics from mines. And it is frequently places like the forests in Papua New Guinea that are mined to get these elements.

What is the point of high-definition television, holograms, visual special effects, if we are just going to watch the destruction of nature in ever-greater detail? Or fake representations of nature? I can go outside and see it in higher definition than any screen will be able to display. It’s called “atomic resolution”. I.e. real life.

I don’t understand people. Watching nature makes us happy. As we distance ourselves further and further from nature, we think that we can live separate from it. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Yet most of us carry on our daily lives almost in fear of the natural. We go on poisoning it. Controlling it. Dominating it.

What is the point of faster or more comfortable airlines if the destinations are not as pristine as they used to be?

What is the point of creating high definition televisions, sharper lenses and ever-more megapixels, if we’re only going to witness the destruction of nature in ever-greater detail and clarity?

A common observation is that nature provides much inspiration even for 3D models. So I encourage people to donate to environmental charities instead of buying the latest technologies all the time. Half the reason we are in so much shit with the planet is because we have forgotten how to give back to nature. We are always taking and never giving back. So I encourage you to stand up, speak up . That way, you might *truly* feel better about ourselves, our civilisation, instead of feeling this ‘guilt’ for what we are doing.

The truth is, unfortunately we do not value nature as much as we should. We do not see the work that it does for us. Trees create oxygen for us for free. If we had to extract our own oxygen from carbon dioxide, how much do you think that would cost us?

 

Philosophy of green economics: promoting a new oxygen tax.

I think many people operate on the assumption that our technology makes us somehow ‘superior’ to all other species; thus we feel like we are more independent and separate from nature, we have become more detached. And therein lies the problem…

If you do think along those lines, perhaps you should ask yourself: Where does your oxygen supply come from? Where does all of our fresh water come from? And who, or what, actually cleans and maintains the health of rivers, lakes and oceans which have provided us with food for hundreds and thousands of years?

Who actually gets rid of nature’s organic waste? No, it’s not your local sewerage treatment plant. It’s bacteria. It’s algae. It’s molluscs. It’s crustaceans. That’s who.

Illustration by Leslie Dean Brown
Illustration by Leslie Dean Brown

And who renews the nutrients in the soil? And I don’t mean who fertilises the soil, I mean, who breaks down the fertiliser? It’s not the farmer. All farmers do is plant crops, remove ‘weeds’ and ‘pests’ and then harvest those same crops. In that sense, farmers don’t ‘grow’ crops — crops grow themselves! Farmers maintain crops. They guide crops so that they are more productive. The farmer doesn’t pay his legion of plant employees, does he? He doesn’t pay the organims that do all of the really hard back-breaking work right down in soil, does he? [Read more…]

What is the most valuable thing that exists today?

If you were to take a trip into outer space, you’d quickly find out that the most valuable things to us humans are the very simple resources we need to survive.

I TYPE “what is the most valuable thing in the universe?” into google and nine of the top ten ‘results’ talk about money. I might as well have typed “what is the most expensive thing in the universe?”.

It’s not the same thing though, is it? So let me tell you something about ‘value’. The most valuable things in the world cannot be bought or sold. To begin with, things are only worth what people are prepared to pay for them. Anything that can’t be recreated, replicated or reproduced by man somehow is deemed ‘priceless’ – it is a a term which essentially means we cannot place a true value on something that is irreplaceable.

We live in a very special place and every single day of our lives we take it for granted. The average place in the universe is devoid of oxygen, has no atmospheric pressure, no water, no food, no gravity and is 270.45°C degrees below freezing. If you were starving, dying of thirst, freezing or gasping for oxygen, I’m sure you’d find that all of those over-priced garbage items on any “most expensive things in the world” list would suddenly become completely useless to you and therefore utterly worthless in the whole scheme of things.

That’s why the cleverest scientists believe that the most valuable thing to us humans is [Read more…]

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…]