Eventorum – Warning Sirens…

Thinking on the anomalous weather across North America this past December, capped by a tragic, drought-fueled, out of season wildfire in CO…

Nature is sounding the alarm; her civil defense sirens are blaring.

Humanities’ response is to design better hearing protection.

Photo of the Marshall Fire, Boulder County, CO on December 30th, 2021: by J.S.

Copyright ©️ 2022 T. Schneider All Rights Reserved

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

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 – 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

 

Provocations #4 – A Matter of Scale

Provocations #4 is a wake-up call that should scare the bejesus out of you.  Here we take a look at questions of scale, the second of the ‘trinity of the unwise’.

In this context I am referring to the scale of the problems that we are facing.  The factual reality is that everything is amplified by the sheer scale of humanity and by how we chose to live.  There are two sides to this same coin: the explosive growth of the human population, and the increasing rate at which each person is consuming resources.  In the simplest terms, there are more people and each person is having a greater impact on the planet.

Let’s Start With the Numbers

As I write this, the world is very quickly approaching 7,500,000,000 people according to the US Census Bureau.  That is seven and one half BILLION people (7.5B)!

An overcrowded train leaves Dhaka's Airport rail station ahead of the Muslim festival Eid-al-Adha

An overcrowded train leaves Dhaka’s Airport rail station.

This is the scaling factor: take everything that you might do over the course of a day —flushing the toilet, commuting to and from work (consuming and emitting hydrocarbons), throwing away your old plastic toothbrush, whatever— and multiply it by 7.5B.  There is of course nuance and variability from person to person, and from region to region, but the general argument holds.  The point is, that the scale of humanity is staggering. It is so mind-bogglingly huge, that it is likely beyond our capacity to comprehend.

Exponential Growth

But … it gets worse. The population is growing exponentially, presently at a rate of 1.1% per year.  This looks like this:

World Popluation

Estimated global human population (billions) from 10,000 BCE to 2000 CE.  Source: Wikipedia.org

If the growth rate were to remain constant at 1.1%, the human population will double approximately every 63 years. Informed estimates put the global human population at about 9.8 billion by 2050 (e.g. the United Nations).  The population scale factor is growing, and our future generations will face much greater challenges than we do today.

Never before has the world seen a single species (Homo sapiens) become so absolutely dominant, so quickly.  The Earth, as an ecosystem, is in uncharted territory.  It is entirely novel, so much so in fact that scientists are now considering (and debating) that we may have entered a new epoch, the Antropocene.  But we know from systems and complexity theories that this does not bode well. These topics will almost certainly be the subjects of future blogs.

Impact

While the population is growing explosively, the impact on the planet that each person has is also growing.  It’s a scaling factor double whammy. Let’s take the example of a simple and seemingly (to some) harmless plastic bottle of water.  Twenty years ago, give or take, most of us were content to drink water from a public source, out of a cup or a drinking fountain. Today bottled water has become commonplace and is now globally ubiquitous. The simple arithmetic is scary.  PET-water-Bottle

You think, “Hey, it’s just one plastic water bottle, what impact can that have?” Now imagine that every person thinks the same thing: one bottle a day for one year: that’s suddenly 2,737,500,000,000, nearly 3 trillion water bottles per year.  We’re not there yet, but we’re heading in that direction.  Once estimate from 2014 had us using more than 100 million bottles per day.

Let’s think about those water bottles a little bit more (to say nothing of soda, juice, plastic-lined paper cups from the ‘green mermaid coffee company,’ etc.).  These bottles are filling our landfills, clogging our waterways, hell they’re even beginning to overwhelm the oceans.  Beyond the simple disposal of this bottle, the waste is equally staggering.  The oil for that bottle has to be extracted from deep underground, shipped, refined, shipped some more, turned into plastic, shipped again, turned into a bottle, shipped once more to a bottling plant, filled with liquid, shipped yet again, and so on.  It is endless!

A vast supply chain is needed and it too is driven by the consumption of raw materials and energy, and the production of waste.  It is fractal-like, in that the deeper you dig, the more similarities you see in consumption at every level of the process.  Do you see? The global impact of your humble bottle of water is almost infinite. I could go on and on, the ship to transport the oil is made of steal which had to be mined; so too for the oil rig…

In just a few decades there has been an explosion of personal disposable stuff.  Everyone didn’t need to have their own smartphone, tablet device and laptop, bluetooth speakers, printers, toys, and what not.  And all of these are designed with planned obsolescence and destined for the landfill after a very short period of use.  Virtually everything we consume is toxic. Each year we invent more things we didn’t and don’t need.  Now, multiply that by 7.5B.

To Recap

There are two dimensions that amplify mankind’s impact on the planet: exponential human population growth and a similar growth in our per capita consumption and waste. These scaling factors greatly exacerbate all of our problems.

Our civilization is based on an economic fallacy: the need for endless growth and insatiable consumption.  This is patently unsustainable, as the planet on which our lives depend is finite, it has limited resources. This is a form of insanity.  It cannot continue.  We can choose to confront this reality directly and immediately and act accordingly, or we can allow it to confront us.  Either way, this confrontation is inevitable.

Final Thoughts

In the next installment, Provocations #5 will look at Compounding Problems, the third and final of the Trinity of the Unwise.

The final word belongs to Prof. Albert Bartlett (1923 – 2013):

“The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function.”

Copyright ©️ 2018 T. Schneider All Rights Reserved

Provocations #3 – The Ratchet Effect

The Ratchet Effect

Image: A ratchet (pawl and gear) on a ballista (from: jere7my tho?rpe on flickr.com)

In Provocations #3, we will look at the first of the ‘trinity of the unwise’, the Ratchet Effect.  In case you have not read Provocations #2, the other two are ‘Questions of Scale’ and ‘Compounding Problems.’  These will be subjects of forthcoming Provocations.

According to wikipedia.org, “A ratchet is a mechanical device that allows continuous linear or rotary motion in only one direction while preventing motion in the opposite direction.”  I think this sums up my intended meaning here reasonably well.  Putting it a little less prosaically, each time we take from the Earth, there is less for the future.

Humanity is ruthlessly efficient and expeditious at seeking out and exploiting resources.  But at best we struggle to conserve, and utterly fail to place any limits on ourselves.  The general arc of our impact on the planet is one of decline and loss.  Our civilization is wired to consume, and consumption is a one-way street… it’s ratchet.

Another way of putting the ratchet effect is that the margins grow thin.  That is to say, with each societal iteration; with each new development; with each new mine or well; with each new technology; with each new industrial turning of the screw; with every human birth; the margins for error grow thinner. The margins for recovery grow slimmer.   The margins for human resurrection grow dimmer.

Here’s a very simplistic metaphor, the sharing of a candy bar. If you give half of your candy bar to a friend, then half of what is left to another friend, then half of the remaining quarter to yet another, and so on, very soon you find that there is no more candy left for anyone.  Likewise, if you sacrifice half of the existing land that has been preserved, for exploitation, then half again the next time; in a very few iterations you have no pristine, clean, wild places left.  And these places are the very well-springs of life.

The List is Long

There is currently a battle being fought at the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) Wilderness in northern Minnesota, where a Chilean mining company, Antofagasta PLC, is trying to build a giant complex of sulfide-ore copper-and-nickel mines.  Mining in this pristine region would scar the land for beyond generations and could result in acid damage to the land and waterways that can last for centuries.  See here for more information.

Another current case in point is that the current President of the United States seeks to open virtually all of our coastal waters to oil and gas drilling (as reported on January 4 2018 in Reuters and widely elsewhere).  These are just two current examples.  The list of these environmental ratchets is essentially endless; there are countless examples in the news each and every day.

There are also social ratchets.  This is a massive subject deserving of its own singular attention, but to make my point now, I will point out that the current Gini coefficient for the United States is estimated at a staggering 0.85 (see here).  You may well ask, what is a “Gini coefficient?”  It is a measure of the economic disparity, or inequality, of a society.  It was developed around 1912 by the Italian sociologist and statistician Corrado Gini. A country with total wealth equality would have a Gini coefficient of 0, whereas a country with all the wealth concentrated in one entity would be a 1.

Finite: “limited in size or extent”

(Definition complements of the Oxford Dictionary of English)

We have to recognize that the Earth and it’s resources are finite (save for the energy from the sun which is effectively infinite).  To deny this fundamental fact is to deny any form of rational thought, any perceived form of reality.  Proverbially, humanity is eating its own seed corn.  Once you despoil the land and water with nuclear waste or other toxic substances, it is useless beyond generations.  We are in the midst of a mass extinction that threatens humanity’s existence – by definition once an animal is extinct, it is gone forever. Once a mountain top has been removed, there is no longer a mountain.

We are at risk of ratcheting ourselves into oblivion.  This strikes me as a good candidate for one definition of insanity.

A Bright Thought (with Some Big “IFs”)

I will leave you with a reason to act, to counter the great Ratchet.  IF we are willing to acknowledge that the Earth and her resources are finite, and begin to act accordingly, then Nature has proven herself resilient and she can recover, and then so too can we.  That is only IF we leave a substantive and meaningful something for her to recover from.

Next up in Provocations #4, is part two of the Trinity of the Unwise, Questions of Scale.

Closing Thoughts

I am speaking of the life of a man who knows that the world is not given by his fathers, but borrowed from his children.wendell-berry-L

— Wendell Berry, The Unforeseen Wilderness: An Essay on Kentucky’s Red River Gorge, 1971

Others have written this sentiment as “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.

Copyright ©️ 2018 T. Schneider All Rights Reserved