Eventorum – Adaptation

Got heat? Global warming, it’s what’s for dinner.

The only viable form of mitigation to “climate change” at this point, is adaptation and resiliency. And a good place to begin is through cooperation and collaboration. The alternatives, competition and violence –the normal “go to” human response– are disastrous for everyone.

Another manifestation of mitigation, would be to reduce the human population. It would make all of the challenges we face today, and will face in the future, more manageable.

Copyright ©️ 2020 T. Schneider All Rights Reserved

Provocations # 15 – Food Webs, Old and New

Image: Lake Shinji, Japan Wikimedia Commons

We Shouldn’t Be Surprised

On Saturday, November 2, 2019 NPR’s Program, The Salt, aired this story: Controversial Pesticides Are Suspected Of Starving Fish.

The story describes how the once thriving fisheries on Japan’s beautiful Lake Shinji, began to decline about a decade ago. New research suggests that runoff of the neonicotinoid pesticides (the same ones implicated in the decline of pollinators such as bees), which are used on nearby rice paddies, may be responsible for declining fish populations. The research suggests that the pesticides are killing off the food sources at the bottom of the food chain, such as insects and crustaceans, and the fish that prey on them are starving.

Startling on Two Levels

This is startling to me on at least two levels. The first is that humans keep making the same mistakes over and over (see: Provocations #2 – Whither Wisdom), and we cannot claim ignorance.  I recall being taught in elementary school (a very long time ago) about food chains and food webs.  That we have not learned anything in the intervening decades is stupefying and troubling.  It is of course self evident that pesticides applied on farmland will find their way through the landscape, through runoff and other processes, and affect other ecosystems adversely.  

Secondly, it seems to me that more and more environmental reporting is find its way onto food programs (like The Salt).  This is heartening because there is such a strong link between what we grow, how we produce it, and the health of the planet (to say nothing of human health).  There is an old, outdated and non-politically correct statement ‘that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.’ Perhaps our stomachs are a good way to our to our heads as well.

Flashback to Provocations #14

In Provocations # 14 – Managing Ourselves, I wrote: “What we need to manage is ourselves. We should manage humans and work with Nature.” But I just stumbled across this, much more eloquent statement from Rachel Carson, who put it this way in her June 1962 commencement address at Scripps College in California:

Yours is a grave and sobering responsibility, but it is also a shining opportunity. You go out into a world where mankind is challenged, as it has never been challenged before, to prove its maturity and its mastery — not of nature, but of itself.”

Rachel Carson, June, 1962

Copyright ©️ 2019 T. Schneider All Rights Reserved

Provocations # 14 – Managing Ourselves

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Recently I was at a scientific conference about observing the oceans. My colleagues, learned and well intentioned all, kept talking about sustainability and development and the need to manage nature in one way or another. “We must manage the oceans for…”, insert your favorite noun here; fisheries, marine debris, commerce, etc. Immediately this did not sit well with me and as the conference progressed I became more and more convinced that this was simply wrong.

It soon came to me during one talk about how a fisheries recovered when policies were implemented in order to give the ecosystem a break — a chance to recover (it was a regional example in Europe). That’s the key. Nature does not need to be managed. She has managed quite well on her own for billions of years without human intervention. [I must interject that the word, “billions”, leaves me feeling suddenly nostalgic for Carl Sagan.] In fact when humans try to intervene to improve nature, the result is often the opposite.

What we need to manage is ourselves. We should manage humans and work with Nature.

It is that simple. One might argue that this is semantics. But language matters. If we view Nature as a resource to be exploited, then that is what we will do and eventually it is game over; the planet is finite. If we recognize Nature as having inherent value and rights, and begin to manage ourselves –our population, our consumption, our pollution, how we treat one another and the planet– well, therein lies our hope. Nature is resilient. Give her a chance and she will recover and thrive and support us. If we do not, then she will die and so will we.

Copyright ©️ 2019 T. Schneider All Rights Reserved

Eventorum – Frankenfood

A less than abstract lesson from Frankenfood: why humanity is screwed. Rather than recognizing that we’re screwing up the planet, we’d rather invent a fake food to pretend that we’re not. This point is made abundantly clear in this excerpt from a recent news story about engineered coffee:

“As we got deeper into the process, we learned more about the threats to the coffee world as a whole — threats to the environment from deforestation, global warming and [a devastating fungus called] rust, and we were even more committed to making a consistently great coffee that was also better for the environment,” Stopforth says.

The future of coffee is uncertain. The amount of land suitable for growing coffee is expected to shrink by an estimated 50% by 2050, according to a report by the International Center for Tropical Agriculture.

NPR, The Salt (July 8, 2019) – A Bitter End For Regular Joe? Scientists Engineer A Smooth, Beanless Coffee

Copyright ©️ 2019 T. Schneider All Rights Reserved

Eventorum – Not so Sustainable Money

Everything comes with a cost, it is often hidden in plain sight. I stumbled across this surprising and troubling factoid on the BBC: “Bitcoin’s energy consumption ‘equals that of Switzerland’.”

Copyright ©️ 2019 T. Schneider All Rights Reserved

Eventorum – Recycling Nada

“It’s not that easy being green,” laments Oscar the Grouch and recyclers alike… National Public Radio’s Goats and Soda Program reports (13 March 2019): Where Will Your Plastic Trash Go Now That China Doesn’t Want It?

As I argue in Provocations #8 – Plastic Patches (April 14, 2018), it is time to ban plastic. The image above is of the Citarum River in Indonesia. Care for a swim?

Copyright ©️ T. Schneider All Rights Reserved

Provocations #11 – On the Wisdom of Self Storage

Lately I have been thinking about “stuff.”   That is to say, how much stuff we have, which really boils down to how much we consume and waste. This is putting it kindly because most of it is, to be honest, worthless and needless crap.  And it comes with massive environmental and societal costs in the form of extraction, production, distribution, and disposal (everything in our culture is ultimately dumped into the environment), with cascading impacts on resources, ecological diversity, pollution, and so on.  There’s lots of debate about these issues, which in social discourse always ends up being about jobs versus the environment; ignoring the hidden truth that the corporate elite walk away with the vast majority of the benefits and the rest of us, and the environment, pay all of the costs: the profits are privatized and the risks are socialized.

Rather than heading down this well trodden theme, I’d like to ask you: have you thought about the personal costs of your love affair with stuff? 

The personal costs of stuff are substantial and begin with having to pay for it, and for many this also means going into debt.  Why are you enslaved “to the man?”  Because of stuff!  But there is also an emotional toll that stuff takes on us.  Think about this for a moment… we actually have to manage the stuff.  Daily.  By the hour, by the minute even. That miracle fitness gadget sitting in the corner of the basement?  Well, we now need that space for the latest, must-have widget. So we move the miracle to the garage.  And when the garage fills, then we turn to the ultimate modern contrivance, self storage.  It’s a kind of deferred disposal; a bizarre form of landfill (landfills are themselves a bizarre concept if you think about it).

How do I know this?  Well, it’s common sense really. But one only needs to stroll through any suburban neighborhood with one’s eyes open.  The first tell tale sign is that the cars not in the garage.   Confirmation comes when you finally pass an open garage and you see that there is so much junk in there that there’s barely room for a human to walk about, let alone to park a car in it.  Frankly I’d be too embarrassed to open my garage door if that were me.  But I digress.

Another telltale sign?  Again, just move through the world with your eyes open and look.  You will notice that we are gobbling up open land to build evermore Self Storage Units.  I’ve been noticing over the past few years that more and more are going up, and less and less of the local open space remains.  Putting this working hypothesis to the test, I did a little digging.  The evidence (data found here) is presented in the figure above, which shows self storage construction in billions of US dollars by year through October 2018, adjusted for inflation to 2018 dollars by the consumer price index.  This figure confirms my suspicion that there is pronounced increase in the rate of growth of construction of self storage facilities, beginning about four or five years ago.

I’ll let “The Minimalists” help you with your stuff problem.  Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus are great: they’re wise, witty, helpful, and most importantly, non-judgmental.  But for me the take home is that this is yet another example of the lack of wisdom of humanity (Provocations #2 – Whither Wisdom?).  We do not think through the consequences of our daily decisions and actions.  To wit, we’re willing to spend $100 a month, or more, to store the stuff we will never use again.  Seriously, who’s going to drive to some remote storage facility to dig out the miracle fitness thingy that they never used in the first place, and haul it home to use it?

So I admit that the title of this blog entry was a bit misleading; a bit of the old bait and switch.  I should really have called this ‘On the Lack of Wisdom of Self Storage.”

Copyright ©️ 2018 T. Schneider, All Rights Reserved

Eventorum – When Will We Learn?

Image:  Some people in Brazil earn their living by collecting and sorting garbage and selling them for recycling.  Credit: Marcello Casal Jr., Agência Brasil; CC BY 2.5 br, via Wikimedia Commons.

As I’ve written before, we do not understand the scale of our actions (e.g. Provocations #4 – A Matter of Scale) and we have a problem with plastic (e.g. Provocations #8 – Plastic Patches).  How do I know?  We have not started to ban plastics yet in any meaningful way.

Even recycling has its pitfalls as evidenced in this article: “China Just Handed the World a 111-Million-Ton Trash Problem. The world’s biggest waste importer is no longer buying.  So where’s all that trash going to go?”  by Eric Roston in Bloomberg, June 20, 2018.

Eventorum explained.

Copyright ©️ 2018 T. Schneider All Rights Reserved

Eventorum – Fiddling With Nature

About the Image:   The clean, white snow melts more slowly than dirty (darker) dust-covered snow because it reflects more radiation from the sun rather than absorbing it.  This Image was excerpted from NPR, and was courtesy of the Center For Snow and Avalanche Studies.

Happy Earth Day!

A day for celebration and reflection on our impact on the planet.

Eventorum:

Through humanity’s alteration of the landscape in the Southwest, we’re disrupting Nature and fiddling with the water supply of 40 million people:  “The Rocky Mountains Have A Dust Problem“.

Eventorum explained.

Copyright ©️ 2018 T. Schneider All Rights Reserved

Provocations #8 – Plastic Patches

Image: An estimate of the mass concentration of plastic in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. (from theoceancleanup.com)

I was originally going to post this as an “eventorum“, but the post, while still short, grew a little too long for that.

I had read somewhere that the mass of plastic in the World’s oceans now exceeds that of plankton.  I have not checked that fact.  But I have confirmed that there are valid, scientifically sound estimates that predict the mass of plastic in the oceans will exceed that of all living things by mid-century.  I cannot fathom why people are not alarmed about this.  Many surfers seem to get it: “Great Pacific Garbage Patch is Now Three Times the Size of France“.  This appeared March 27th 2018 on the magicseaweed.com.

It’s time to ban plastic. It’s just that simple.  Obviously this is not a simple thing to do from a socio-economic perspective.

A public service announcement:  I will continue to return to this theme until we have achieved this goal of abolishing plastic.  Sadly, I expect I will be repeating this until I die.

Case in point: as I was researching the topic online, note the first item that resulted from a search for “remote sensing great pacific garbage patch” is thus:

GPGP Screen Grab see 1st link small.jpeg

This is beyond ironic.  It is tragicomic.

We Can Clean up the Oceans

If there is hope to be found, it is from the likes of Boyan Slat, the youthful and pragmatic founder and CEO of theoceancleanup.com.  They are making an attempt to do something about the problem of plastics in our oceans.  Check them out to learn more and support them if you feel so moved.

Copyright ©️ 2018 T. Schneider All Rights Reserved