Bringing Environmental Activism Home

Recently, I’ve reviewed environmental policies and legislation promulgated by our local Santa Cruz County and its municipalities (Santa Cruz, Capitola, Scotts Valley and Watsonville). County government has a good General Plan and well crafted County Code, but the municipalities are woefully inadequate. But even in County government, those codified policies are rarely followed to the letter, or in most cases even unto intent.

A recently published petition: William J Ripple, Christopher Wolf, Thomas M Newsome, Phoebe Barnard, William R Moomaw, World Scientists’ Warning of a Climate Emergency, BioScience, , biz088, https://doi.org/10.1093/biosci/biz088) includes descriptions of immediate actions needed to reduce human impacts on the biosphere. While they are predicated on reducing greenhouse gases and climate change, they also apply to very real immediate human impacts on the non-human world.

In my next post, I’ll compare these actions with local existing county and municipal codes, and suggest new policies to bring our local government into alignment with these global concerns.

Energy
The world must quickly implement massive energy efficiency and conservation practices and must replace fossil fuels with low-carbon renewables and other cleaner sources of energy if safe for people and the environment. We should leave remaining stocks of fossil fuels in the ground and should carefully pursue effective negative emissions using technology such as carbon extraction from the source and capture from the air and especially by enhancing natural systems (see “Nature” section). Wealthier countries need to support poorer nations in transitioning away from fossil fuels. We must swiftly eliminate subsidies for fossil fuels and use effective and fair policies for steadily escalating carbon prices to restrain their use.

Short-lived pollutants
We need to promptly reduce the emissions of short-lived climate pollutants, including methane, black carbon (soot), and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). Doing this could slow climate feedback loops and potentially reduce the short-term warming trend by more than 50% over the next few decades while saving millions of lives and increasing crop yields due to reduced air pollution. The 2016 Kigali amendment to phase down HFCs is welcomed.

Energy
The world must quickly implement massive energy efficiency and conser- vation practices and must replace fossil fuels with low-carbon renewables and other cleaner sources of energy if safe for people and the environment. We should leave remaining stocks of fossil fuels in the ground and should carefully pursue effective negative emissions using technology such as carbon extraction from the source and capture from the air and especially by enhancing natural systems (see “Nature” section). Wealthier countries need to support poorer nations in transitioning away from fossil fuels. We must swiftly eliminate subsidies for fossil fuels and use effective and fair policies for steadily escalating carbon prices to restrain their use.

Short-lived Pollutants
We need to promptly reduce the emis-sions of short-lived climate pollutants, including methane, black carbon (soot), and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). Doing this could slow climate feedback loops and potentially reduce the short-term warming trend by more than 50% over the next few decades while saving millions of lives and increasing crop yields due to reduced air pollution. The 2016 Kigali amendment to phase down HFCs is welcomed.

Nature
We must protect and restore Earth’s ecosystems. Phytoplankton, coral reefs, forests, savannas, grasslands, wetlands, peatlands, soils, mangroves, and sea grasses contribute greatly to sequestration of atmospheric CO2. Marine and terrestrial plants, animals, and microorganisms play significant roles in car- bon and nutrient cycling and storage. We need to quickly curtail habitat and biodiversity loss, protecting the remaining primary and intact forests, especially those with high carbon stores and other forests with the capacity to rapidly sequester carbon (proforestation), while increasing reforestation and afforestation where appropriate at enormous scales. Although available land may be limiting in places, up to a third of emissions reductions needed by 2030 for the Paris agreement (less than 2°C) could be obtained with these natural climate solutions.

Food
Eating mostly plant-based foods while reducing the global consumption of animal products (figure 1c–d), especially ruminant livestock, can improve human health and significantly lower GHG emissions (including methane in the “Short-lived pollutants” step). Moreover, this will free up croplands for growing much-needed human plant food instead of livestock feed, while releasing some grazing land to support natural climate solutions (see “Nature” section). Cropping practices such as minimum tillage that increase soil carbon are vitally important. We need to drastically reduce the enormous amount of food waste around the world.

Economy
Excessive extraction of materials and overexploitation of ecosystems, driven by economic growth, must be quickly curtailed to maintain long-term sustainability of the biosphere. We need a carbon-free economy that explicitly addresses human dependence on the biosphere and policies that guide economic decisions accordingly. Our goals need to shift from GDP growth and the pursuit of affluence toward sustaining ecosystems and improving human well-being by prioritizing basic needs and reducing inequality.

Population
Still increasing by roughly 80 million people per year, or more than 200,000 per day, the world population must be stabilized—and, ideally, gradually reduced—within a framework that ensures social integrity. There are proven and effective policies that strengthen human rights while lowering fertility rates and lessening the impacts of population growth on GHG emissions and biodiversity loss. These policies make family-planning services available to all people, remove barriers to their access and achieve full gender equity, including primary and secondary education as a global norm for all, especially girls and young women.

 

Uncivil-ization

e6660-pulling-out-hairSomething is wrong. Something has gone terribly wrong, deep inside our dominant culture.

Recently, during a City Council meeting in Our Fair City, a council member exploded in a childish tantrum, stood up at her seat on the dais, red in the face, and screamed about being called a racist on a Facebook page. When she finally ran down, she flounced down in her chair, rolled it back from the dais and sat unspeaking, arms crossed, frowning at the shocked audience.

The surprising result was … there were no consequences. The Mayor proposed a three minute recess, but was talked out of it by other council members, and the meeting continued as if nothing had happened. The petulant council member sat at her seat and leafed silently through the agenda packet for the rest of the meeting.

If this were an isolated incident in local politics, it wouldn’t be so troubling. But this is happening, in one bizarre way after another, all around the world, from Trump to Johnson, from Congress to Parliament, from the United Nations to our local Democratic Central Committee.

Polite, civil discourse, political and personal, is disappearing, replaced by anger, disrespect, name-calling, foul language and violence.

In England, Parliament, which has always been rowdier than the US Congress, has been called to task for increasingly vituperative public rhetoric. The US President rants, whines and lambasts perceived opponents on social media, before the unprotesting press and on unguarded, but recorded telephone calls to international rulers.

Here at home, local politics has descended into personal attacks, wildly exaggerated recall campaigns, special interest lobbying groups and divisive local government policies and campaigns.

I’ve been trying for some time to puzzle out common denominators of this seeming shift in public social relationships that pop up in unexpected places, especially those places where civility has long been the norm.

Based on decades of observation of the public scene, I think several factors are at work here.

In the United States, the Trump phenomenon is a negative influence, dredging up the worst in our society’s underlying thoughts and motivations. Trump is a bully, an ignorant thug, self-centered and supremely egotistical, an isolated, frustrated corporate CEO with absolutely no experience in deliberative bodies or cooperative endeavors. Judging by his supporters, Trump is leading this country down the path to ignorant and uninformed political rebellion and social collapse.

Internationally, ubiquitous cell phone use is raising generations of young people totally devoid of social skills, ignorant of the world outside their electronic devices, expectant of on-demand responses to their slightest desires, unable to read, write and think critically about the world around them.

Corporate media has created a world of newsertainment in which information is indistinguishable from disinformation, entertainment is the desired end (as long as it brings in the bucks) and personality is the supreme quality for legitimacy and meaningfulness.

So-called “Progressive Education” (an educational theory marked by emphasis on the individual child, informality of classroom procedure, and encouragement of self-expression – https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/progressive) has produced an adult cohort that is self-centered, devoid of social norms, and deficient in basic reading, writing, comprehension and critical thinking skills.

Finally, and most recently, climate change fear-mongering is creating apocalyptic hysteria among adults and children alike, misunderstanding of science and the scientific process, and ignorance of ecology, conservation and the very real threats of human population and economic growth, habitat destruction and profligate consumption of resources.

What to do, what to do?

Got me there, haven’t a clue.

This next election, whether or not Trump participates, will be dominated by climate change hysteria, the Green New Deal and homelessness. I think the best we can hope for is for Elizabeth Warren to be elected. Perhaps a woman in the White House can calm the troubled political waters, set an example of civility, empathy and compassion and pull our troubled uncivilization back from the brink.

It’s a lot to expect from one person, history argues against it, the future is in the hands of young people ill prepared to deal with it.

“More than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly.”

Woody Allen

 

Climate Hysteria

climate-change-hysteria-400x225

I recently made a mistake by posting an entry on the Edward Abbey Matters Facebook page about the subjugation of environmentalism by climate hysteria (See HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE and HERE) speculating that “If Ed Abbey were alive now, he’d turn over in his grave.” For those unaware of Edward Paul Abbey and his works (1927-1989), see my Ed Abbey web page.

I was surprised at the virulence of the response my post received from those who thought I was attempting to speak for the late Ed Abbey, and that I was denying climate change. Yes, I should have known that irrational climate change hysteria dominates the Internet and all other forms of communication these days, to the exclusion of any rational thought about the science or the realities of climate variability and the nature of global climate change. (See Rowdy College Students Protest Campus Forum Debunking Climate Alarmism, for an extreme example.)

Much of the response to my post was in the form of “97% of scientists agree that climate change is real and humans cause it,” “What are your qualifications to question the climate change consensus?”, and “Show me scientific publications that disprove human caused climate change.”

Of course, there are a plethora of publications on both sides of the climate change argument. There is no scientific consensus, even if consensus were important in scientific investigation. Most importantly, one needs only to search the Internet and read to find a myriad of articles questioning the human caused climate change hypothesis and providing data pointing to other climate variables, such as Milankovic cycles, cloud formations, natural ocean/atmospheric dynamics and chaos and complexity theory that demonstrates that climate is basically unpredictable.

Rather than attempting to provide pointers to this documentation on Facebook, which is unsuited to such complex discussion, I’ve created pages on this blog (HERE and HERE, and more to come) to provide a detailed explanation of my position, with links to relevant documents. This is a work in progress, so bear with me for a bit as I pull this all together.

Just to let the climate cat out of its changing bag, the take home message is this:

Climate change and climate variability are natural physical processes that are influenced by the complex interplay of numerous variables, one of which is human greenhouse gas emissions.

Chaotic, nonlinear climate systems are unpredictable.

systems-04-00037-g005.png

The degree to which observed natural climate variability is influenced by human emissions is unknowable, because we do not as yet understand all of the parameters of natural climate systems.

Furthermore, coupled ocean/atmospheric climate systems exhibit chaotic, nonlinear behavior, the results of which are unpredictable due to small differences in initial conditions, and highly variable limiting factors.

Even the IPCC has repeated a caution against using models as predictions of future climate states:

AR4 Climate Change 2007:
The Physical Science Basis
Glossary. p. 950

“Predictability:
Since knowledge of the climate system’s past and current states is generally imperfect, as are the models that utilise this knowledge to produce a climate prediction, and since the climate system is inherently nonlinear and chaotic, predictability of the climate system is inherently limited. Even with arbitrarily accurate models and observations, there may still be limits to the predictability of such a nonlinear system.”

CLIMATE CHANGE 2001: THE SCIENTIFIC BASIS
Contribution of Working Group I to the Third Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

Chapter 14.2 The Climate System
14.2.2.2 Balancing the need for finer scales and the need for ensembles; page 773

“In climate research and modelling, we should recognise that we are dealing with a coupled non-linear chaotic system, and therefore that the long-term prediction of future climate states is not possible.”

This underscores the fact that the results of numerical climate models are not predictions, but are hypotheses requiring validation through subsequent observations.

Therefore, the wild, hyperbolic headlines in popular press, websites, political statements and corporate publications are baseless wastes of electrons and dead trees.

Since climate models and the IPCC can’t tell us what will happen, even in the near future, let alone a hundred years to come, our only rational response to observed climate variability is to strive toward resilience and adaptability in our physical infrastructure, our governments, economics and cultural norms. We mustn’t put all of our climate response eggs in the basket of Anthropogenic Climate Change, lest we wake up one fine morning to discover that we have invested all of our egg money in preparation for a future that has not come to pass.

As Aldo Leopold told us 70 years ago:

A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.

Quantity vs. Quality

Brave New World Revisited – Revisited – Part 2

Click HERE for Part 1

Crowds of people wait in the check-in ar

In the highly populated world we experience today along with 7.7 billion human beings, what are the effects of over-population on human health and well-being, democratic political and government institutions, and overall quality of all life?

In Brave New World Revisited, Huxley suggests that by failing to do anything systematic about human breeding, we insure that our expanding population is of inferior biological quality. Since we strive medically to make sure that everyone lives to reproductive age, we are also insuring that all genetic predispositions to disease and infirmity are preserved and spread throughout our gene pool.

As my ecology professor told me some 50 years ago, “Someday everyone will wear glasses and have diabetes.”

Huxley also suggests that in addition to a decline in general healthfulness, we are experiencing a decline in average IQ. Looking about our world as it is, one might think that, but, of course, I would never say this. Such thoughts would be hopelessly politically incorrect, harking back to the eugenics movement, which has, seemingly forever, forestalled any rational discussion of purposeful management of human development.

Coincidentally, or perhaps not, at the same time George Orwell was crafting 1984, and Aldous Huxley was continuing to critically examine human society, leading to Brave New World Revisited ten years later, B. F. Skinner was writing Walden Two, a novel about an experimental Utopian community based on his own ideas about behavioral engineering.

There was considerable recognition of the path modern civilization is taking, with regard to the relationship between Homo sapiens and the natural world, prompting a search for alternative lifeways that might ease the burden of human presence on the planet. I flirted briefly with the Intentional Communities movement in the 70s and early 80s, but drifted away when I found it was largely a spiritual rather than a science-based pursuit.

the-concept-of-overshootOur biggest problem as a species is that we have no predators to keep us healthy and strong, and we are incapable of rationally controlling our own breeding to keep our numbers in check to prevent environmental overshoot and resultant collapse. Overshoot occurs when a population temporarily exceeds the long term carrying capacity of its environment.

As a consequence, individually and as a species as a whole, we are becoming increasingly unhealthy, decreasingly intelligent by any measure, and decreasingly fit to the prevailing environmental conditions. We are so dependent on our constructed environment and cultural support systems, that we can no longer function in the natural world without them.

More importantly, our constant population and economic growth is rapidly changing the natural world, destroying natural habitats, extirpating species and making a wasteland of what little natural world that remains.

flush.jpg

The result is an escalating spiral down the porcelain parkway to oblivion, at least for humans and what we refer to as civilization, that is, the totalitarian domination of the entire planet, above ground, below ground, on the oceans and even unto their deeps.

Fortunately for all life, two things work against this seemingly unstoppable trend: inescapable evolution and unavoidable natural processes.

Despite overweening hubris, Homo sapiens is still subject to the processes of natural selection and evolution. Though we pretend to have substituted culture for evolution, the reality is that we are evolving (see the above mentioned diabetes and poor eyesight), though most likely not in ways we will appreciate in the long term. The culture we prize so highly is singularly out of step with the natural world and the preservation of conditions to which humans have accommodated for the past several thousand years. As those conditions change, the rigid cultural expectations of the dominant culture may be incapable of accommodating the new ecological regime.

It’s the bottom of the ninth, the bases are loaded, and Mother Nature is stepping up to the plate. Natural processes will out in the end in the fullness of time, and Homo sapiens, if we have not already joined the Sixth Great Extinction Farewell Party, will evolve and acculturate to the new conditions, fewer in numbers, greater in physical health and cultural diversity, and living in greater harmony with the many other species and ecosystems.

 

21st Century Libraries – Books or Programs?

Downtown library-2018

Recently I’ve been intimately involved in the efforts of our local Santa Cruz County library system in planning the use of funds from a county-wide property tax measure to maintain and renovate library buildings in its ten-branch library system.

The flagship of the system is the downtown Santa Cruz library branch, pictured above, which functions as the headquarters for the entire system, with other smaller branches placed in local neighborhoods throughout the county. In 1968 the city demolished the original 1904 Carnegie Library building and replaced it with the current building, now 51 years old.

The plan put forward by the City of Santa Cruz is to abandon this building in the city’s civic center and build a new library in the ground floor of a five-story parking garage in a location three blocks away.

Proponents of the proposed building project cite a need for a “21st Century Library,” following the lead of the American Library Association’s Program on America’s Libraries for the 21st Century (AL21C) which was focused on monitoring and evaluating trends in technology and society to assist the library community (the ALA program was “sunsetted” in 2014). It’s important to note that this policy emphasis in library services is entirely internal to the professional library community and is not in response to trends in library patrons’ needs or expressed desires.

The technological focus of the 21st Century Library movement is, of course on computers, internet access and digital and digitized materials. This reflects a wider social trend in the embrace of computer technology and the ubiquitous presence and use of “smart” cell phones. The perception communicated by proponents of this view and policy is that the technological and social trends cited mean that libraries should no longer be chiefly regarded as repositories of physical books and materials, but should be more service oriented and provide programs, events, learning opportunities and entertainment to their patrons.

At a recent meeting of the Santa Cruz City Council Downtown Library Subcommittee, the question was asked by the moderator: “If cost restraints on renovating or building a new library become reality, what would you be willing to give up?” Shockingly three of the eight professional and volunteer participants in the room stated they would be willing to give up books and printed material collections and keep digital access and programs.

In a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, What the 21st Century Library Looks Like, Shannon Najmabadi ponders these recent trends in public and academic library philosophy and policies.

“Libraries have reported spending less on print materials and more on electronic resources, including online journals and databases.

“As books are moved off-site, a question remains: What happens to the body of knowledge they contain? Irene M.H. Herold, a recent president of the Association of College & Research Libraries, says a downside to removing books is that patrons won’t be able to stumble on interesting material just by perusing library shelves.”

In addition, in my experience, thumbing through printed material to find something specific is infinitely different from searching for it on the internet. The serendipity factor is eliminated in a computer search, and, thus, any unforeseen opportunities to learn and incorporate something entirely new and unexpected are foregone.

Research suggests that digital reading results in lower comprehension and retention than reading physical books and printed materials. This, coupled with the emphasis on programs and events in libraries, many of which are noisy and obtrusive to otherwise quiet library spaces, further reduces the utility and effectiveness of digital library holdings.

From my perspective as an incipient 70 year-old, these recent professional technological and social library trends serve to reduce public literacy, critical thinking skills, and cultural and historical understanding of youth and adults alike. These skills and social awareness are absolutely necessary for functioning as a contributing member of our democratic society.

Hearkening back to the Library Committee meeting where three of the eight participants immediately expressed a willingness to get rid of books, I feel as if I’m shouting in a crowd of silent onlookers in a dark public square, watching jack-booted thugs hurl armloads of books onto a roaring bonfire.

Brave New World Revisited – Revisited

BNWRIn 1931, Aldous Huxley published Brave New World, the dystopian novel of an over-populated world dominated by a highly organized state that uses genetic engineering, hypnopaedia, promotion of sexual promiscuity, hallucinogenic drugs and organized entertainment to control and subdue the general population.

In 1948, George Orwell published 1984, the dystopian novel of a Communist inspired totalitarian oligarchy in England that uses information control, fear mongering, intimidation, and total surveillance to control and subdue the general population.

In 1958, Aldous Huxley published Brave New World Revisited, comparing Brave New World and 1984 with each other, and with events and trends from 1948 to 1958.

Let’s compare Orwell’s observations of the social world of 1958 with the world we see around us today some 35 years later.

Part 1 – Over-Population

In 1931, global population was just over 2 billion people. By 1948, population had risen to only 2.5 billion, and to 2.9 billion ten years later in 1958. Today, world population is 7.7 billion and increasing by 1.07% per year. The rate of world population increase peaked at 1.85% in 1987 and has been decreasing since then. Though the rate of increase is decreasing, world population is still growing by some 80,000,000 people per year.

In Brave New World Revisited, Huxley points out that death control has been systematically provided by benevolent societies through increased sanitation and medical intervention, while birth control requires the cooperation of all citizens, and is limited by cultural (mostly religious) sanctions.

In Brave New World, birth control is achieved through state control and management of human breeding, restricting the global human population to around 2 billion people. In this fictional world society, the human population does not threaten natural areas with excess resource exploitation, allowing some areas to return to wild states.

Huxley concludes that, in the real world, absent any form of effective birth control, “... that problem will render insoluble all our other problems. Worse still, it will create conditions in which individual freedom and the social decencies of the democratic way of life will become impossible, almost unthinkable.

We see today the outcome of Huxley’s darkest vision: democracy on the block, up for sale to the highest bidder, homeless camps in every city where the mentally handicapped and drug addicted citizens are turned loose among the populace, to support themselves and their habits through petty thievery, murder and general social disruption. Meanwhile, the over-organized and bureaucratized social agencies and local governments tie their own hands with “progressive” rules and regulations that defy any sane and effective solutions to these ubiquitous social ills.

Our Huxleyan problems are compounded by Orwellian despotic and imperialist governments, fomenting invasion and war in sovereign nations that have the misfortune of harboring large oil deposits beneath their sands, while at home graft, corruption, and malfeasance have become the norm and go unpunished, at least for those dispossessed of economic and political influence.

Huxley concludes his chapter on Over-Population with a warning:

But liberty, as we all know, cannot flourish in a county that is permanently on a war footing, or even a near-war footing. Permanent crisis justifies permanent control of everybody and everything by the agencies of the central government. And permanent crisis is what we have to expect in a world in which over-population is producing a state of things, in which dictatorship … becomes almost inevitable.

Sound familiar?

“O brave new world, That has such people in it!”