Reflections upon conservation education

by Nathan Dunn

It is hard to know where to begin, as there have been so many fits, stops, and starts. In keeping with the tradition here, I will offer several biographical notes. My first summer after high school was spent with an organization called the Student Conservation Association (SCA). After spending five weeks in the wilderness with a pick and a shovel, I hope that the place made a greater impact upon me than I did on it. I suspect that the place really does not miss me at all.

After several weeks, a man was sent out to check on us. He found us to be seventeen and sitting around a campfire supper talking about the city. He suggested that rather than our practice of building an ever-greater fire to entertain ourselves that we might turn our backs to only enough of a fire to keep warm. That way we could take the opportunity to look out upon the wilderness. We were still close enough to converse. “The fire constantly changes, but not in any meaningful way. It is the same any place that you go. Is such a simple, destructive thing really so interesting as to be the center of attention here?” I met another gentleman a few weeks ago and related that experience to him. He works for a Presbyterian youth group and shared with me that his goals are to have a similar impact upon youth at just the right time in their lives. “In fact we have a sister group in another, um, less timid church that uses the motto: Ruined for Life!”

The SCA experience established a distinct marker in the course of my life. At that signpost I was ruined for empire. I did not really know it then and neither did anyone else around me. My parents signed the waivers and such things that were necessary, but they had no idea. I returned to them skinny and they could see that, but they had no idea how hungry I was. My mattress was strangely peculiar, so I slept on my camping pad beside the bed. The grocery store seemed shiny and surreal. I could not imagine what compelled the decadence of more than 120 varieties of cereal. Oatmeal is great and there is simply no other water that tastes like fresh glacier. Ruined.

There are these snarky voices everywhere in the city though. They do not sound like old growth forests. Surely you have heard the sounds. “Well, but how will you make money then? We are concerned about your future, son. What do you mean you won’t own a car?” Everything that I found myself doing was in direct contradiction to protecting what had replaced most of the feelings I found associated with the word home. “Why are you so negative? Your sister didn’t have a problem finding a job! We must attack Iraq.”

I bowed to societal convention. If formal learning was virtuous and college meant success in life, then Sallie Mae was right there ready to help me. I stared at the catalog and the course offerings. I took the personality tests. I went to the college and career center. I just had to write down all of the things that I was good at, and suddenly I would have this resume thing to give to people. I would be off and running, making money. All I needed was an apartment and a steady supply of bad food that also came in boxes. So began the accrual of interest on my account.

I can still remember the picture in the career manual under the heading the computer labeled me. Forestry Technician. There was a black woman cutting a tree down while wearing a hard hat. (Oh, we have come a long way, and yes we can!) … Associate’s Degree Required, $19,000/yr. “Hmm, so I cut trees down and they pay me $19,000? Surely there must be some boss in the picture.” I spent at least a week, maybe a month, reading those books. The woman at the center couldn’t help me to figure out how to make enough money to have a family, even while being the boss of the lady that cut trees down, especially since I wanted the lady to not cut the trees down. She did not look forward to any more questions, but assured me that I NEEDED to go to college. I just had to figure out some classes I could pass, and then I could list them as accomplishments on the resume. Somebody would give me a job. I would help people and nobody would yell at me. Lucky for her, I caught on. I suspect that the place really does not miss me at all.

It was pretty obvious that I was never going to be the boss in the picture, at least not because I was good at chemistry or genetics. Looking at what I could do, and what equaled a degree, there was this thing called Conservation Biology. The classes even looked exciting. I could imagine the work it would be, but I was going to make a difference, I was going to do something about it. The feeling was tremendous, like finally knowing that I had found my way to a trail that was going to lead to the parking lot. I could drink the last of the water in my canteen and know I would not die. I was going to finally be sustainable. A man with a job has spring in his step.

I was taught things like how to manage deer and ducks for wealthy hunters to shoot, but also deeper theoretical things, like that there is this thing called population dynamics. We read from a book called The Economy of Nature. So, births minus deaths equaled recruitment, and this thing called carrying capacity was the result of environmental resistance. Otherwise, you were dealing with things like bacteria and on the fifth day, or so, of incubation the toxic byproducts and lack of food killed all of the organisms. “So, as you can see class, we are not knee-deep in bacteria.” I wanted to ask questions like, “But why don’t human populations follow these natural laws?”

They had just taught me that the entire field of Conservation Biology was a result of academics like themselves realizing that for all the studying they had done and all of the forestry technicians they had created, nothing was being meaningfully conserved. In fact, they were cataloging the extinctions, and some old British guys knew that was the best they could do before they did. Malthus was almost right, and this other dead-white-dude Jevons did not think it was possible to grow more vegetables than you ever thought possible, but that really the more we conserve, the more we consume. Time and time again that could be demonstrated, so, you know, a revolt was necessary. It would be on the exam. I studied these concepts inside and out, night and day.

The computer label on the personality test must have been changed. I would no longer become a forestry technician boss (Wildlife Biologist), but a Conservation Biologist. The department was first the School of Renewable Natural Resources, then the School of Natural Resources, and finally the School of Natural Resources and the Environment, just during the time it took to earn a degree. Things were getting done and society was better off for all of their taxpayer-funded tenures. I wanted examples. Proof. I wanted to read the journal articles that explained this and cite them in my writing. That was required by the rules. That was an “A” grade. With insistence that my questions were not getting answered and the ability to speak the language of the institution, it was revealed to me that I am not much fun at parties anymore. I suggested that things do not improve when a mountain lion is shot with a tranquilizer dart and forced to wear a computerized collar. I was sent places like the Dean of Students for, you know, talking out of turn and stuff. My attitude was a definite problem, not the lack of examples, and I was advised to change my major to find happiness. Recruitment of debt-addled students might have been interrupted or even undermined if business as usual was in fact, business as usual. Lucky for them, I caught on. I suspect that the place really does not miss me at all. Sallie Mae still sends me love letters.

There I was, ready to be the change I wanted to see in the world. I volunteered to be molded into the agent of positive change and offered economic bondage for the opportunity. Though still willing and paying diligently, I do not really care about the cost or what I might earn. $19,000 would be just fine at this point. Any place where I apply for work rejects me for being a big-time college grad, or not having a Master’s. Comedy is tragedy. I serve coffee to professors and administrators. I look for inklings of how to proceed. I frequent this website. I keep looking for a sign that tells me I am not walking down a dry wash, but a true trail leading to the parking lot. As long as there are glaciers, I will feel at home, but my canteen has run low. There are several parking lots and I haven’t got a car parked in any of them. Here IS home. I know that people earning the equivalent of $30,000 per year are in the top 1% of earners worldwide. We are the 1%. Even economically impoverished, I am wealthy beyond measure. Aldo Leopold said that the challenge we face is to live on a piece of land without spoiling it. We seem mindlessly unable to find a way to make do with what we have. If that is not the challenge we face, then tell me what the problem is really. WE do face a life or death matter, and I do not mean to trivialize it, but it is in our minds. No spirit, or science, or administration will intervene. We have to see it for that, a state of mind, and have the will to wake up in the morning, to not commit suicide, to face the wilderness and to make it a wonderful day. Stark honesty does not inhibit happiness.

Perhaps what Aldo Leopold wrote in A Sand County Almanac (1949) should be mentioned:

Conservation is a state of harmony between men (sic) and land. Despite nearly a century of propaganda, conservation still proceeds at a snail’s pace; progress still consists largely of letterhead pieties and convention oratory. On the back forty we still slip two steps backward for each forward stride.

The usual answer to this dilemma is “more conservation education.” No one will debate this, but is it certain that the volume of education needs stepping up? Is something lacking in the content as well?

It is difficult to give a fair summary of its content in brief form, but, as I understand it, the content is substantially this: obey the law, vote right, join some organizations, and practice what conservation is profitable on your own land; the government will do the rest.

Is not this formula too easy to accomplish anything worth-while? It defines no right or wrong, assigns no obligation, calls for no sacrifice, implies no change in the current philosophy of values. In respect to land-use, it urges only enlightened self-interest. Just how far will such education take us? An example will perhaps yield a partial answer.

No important change in ethics was ever accomplished without an internal change in our intellectual emphasis, loyalties, affections, and convictions. The proof that conservation has not yet touched these foundations of conduct lies in the fact that philosophy and religion have not yet heard of it. In our attempt to make conservation easy, we have made it trivial.

________

Nathan Dunn lives for a living in Tucson, Arizona. He is an active member of his community and neighborhood laborer. He enjoys music, sculpture and distance running. Otherwise you might find him at the coffee shop, farmer’s market, or driving his grandmother to the doctor. He is an avid gardener. Some of his best friends are chickens. He still hopes to one day be offered forestry technician work focused upon agricultural and wilderness issues of concern for society.

Comments 39

  • Nathan, you are an echo of the past for me (paralleled in many ways). Yes, there are opportunities for you that align with your values. Don’t give up. We need more like you.
    Thank you for the engaging essay. It speaks volumes for many of us.

  • Ruined for empire, Nathan, in a way I envy you that. Here’s a parable for you. In England, most peppered moths were white or light colored, until the pollution from coal turned everything black with soot. Then the suddenly conspicuous and out of place white moths were gobbled up by birds and bats. Success favored the dark varieties – until the white variant became rare and beleaguered. And then, many lifetimes later, coal soot stopped falling and lo and behold, the white peppered moths, which had persevered unchanged through the dark times, once again thrived. I think you are a white peppered moth, and I hope you persevere until the soot stops falling.

  • Nathan – thank you. Reading your essay lit a fire in my mind – I spilled about 400 words before I sighed, deleted them and left the following.

    I have an 18 year-old who just graduated HS. He will be reading your essay later today. I have to get him out in the woods, to make a fire, and turn his back to it. We start with this spring “austerity camping” and end this fall with “wild-ricing camping.”

  • “white peppered moth” …. or Red Claw crayfish… or small mammals from the days of dinosaurs.

    If we can blend into the back ground, can tolerate each other, and stay out from underfoot of the industrial dinos… maybe some of us survive with our sanity intact ; )

  • Nathan, thank you for the wonderfully written essay. It evoked many emotions in me, which, alas, I find frustrating as I’m still tethered to empire struggling to break free.

    Of course, conservation is impossible with an overshot species, by definition. Until humans go through die-off, conservation will be unattainable. Once we’ve experienced die-off, conservation will no longer be necessary. Funny how that works. 🙂

  • Differing perspectives assign different meanings to conservation. For a small mammal in a forest, conservation would be allowing the forest to maintain itself. To the human settler, it may mean crop rotations to maintain the soil after the forest has been cleared. Or replanting a modest number of trees to combat desertification of marginal croplands. 

    the challenge we face is to live on a piece of land without spoiling it

    That again depends on what one means by “spoiling”. Living within the ecosystem, humans were hunter-gatherers. Agriculture is the deliberate alteration of an ecosystem to meet human needs. Left to themselves, agricultural lands revert to a “wild” state: agricultural activity is the continuing battle to fend off this tendency. Permaculture employs nature to do much of this work on behalf of humans, horticulture even more so. 

    No matter which way we slice it, industrial civilization is antithetical to conservation in the ecological sense. The only thing that matters is growth of capital, with “capital” being a fancy way of saying “a claim on resources”.

  • Nathan, you were probably always different. I bet none of the other students at that campfire were affected like you. I have had events in my life that affected me profoundly that did not affect others at all. What that difference in some is I sure don’t know, but for all the problems it has caused me I would rather be different, see the world through different eyes. I am glad you are so wonderfully different.

    TRDH – “Once we’ve experienced die-off, conservation will no longer be necessary. Funny how that works.” Yeah. But as I always say everyone who is born is going to die, so dieoff is just a timing issue, and looking at it that way helps me at least deal with what will and needs to happen.

  • Nathan, I salute you. I started my life in a country that was ripe with opportunity. I even had a job with the Forest Service in Idaho for 3 months in the 60s and loved it. Then I succumbed to the Empire.

    Over the 45 years since that time, I have consumed/wasted enough resources to fill a long convoy of trucks and have about a pickup load left from all of it that might be worth keeping. I also have only a few thousand of those Charmin dollars in the bank, and they are shrinking daily. I ‘sat with my back to the fire’ for 90 days. I saw parts of West Yellowstone Park that tourists never see. I saw elk and moose and grouse, and many other animals close up an personal. Even grizzly marks scratched high up on a tree trunk. That was Heaven.

    Today, I live in one of the world’s largest cities dreaming of being able to spend my last years living in the jungle of the Philippines with cobras and monkeys and other exotic neighbors. Don’t wast your life pursuing ‘stuff’. Pursue your dreams.

  • You know you’re on the “right” path when few others are on it, it doesn’t “pay” and nobody is there to tell you which way to go. As opposed to human education, you’re given the test first and nature teaches you the lesson afterward.

    My life in education is filled with disappointment, purposely missed “opportunities” and now nothing to show for it (like a big retirement package from some flagship school and “retirement”) – but i’m content in my 8 x 80 ft raised bed garden.

    i know how you feel with regard to our completely insane “way of life” where we waste precious resources cutting our lawns every week instead of digging up the grass and planting something worthwhile (for example) and working for money and finding little satisfaction in the work.

    Don’t worry, this will all collapse before long.

  • Perhaps the planet saving collapse is quite near?

    Snippet below, full story at the link
    http://www.endoftheworldasyouknowit.com/showthread.php?17803-647-762-000-000-000-Reasons-to

    647,762,000,000,000 Reasons to Worry: The Derivatives Time Bomb
    by John Galt
    June 3, 2012 19:10 ET

    The hits just keep coming and with $647 trillion reasons to worry, aka, the total notional derivatives now outstanding as of Q4 in 2011 per the Bank of International Settlements just released this afternoon and published officially on Monday (click here for the PDF of the full report). The really, really good news is that our Federal Reserve has this completely under control and the trillions of dollars in Credit Default Swaps (CDS) and European Interest Rate Swaps will as always settle without concern.

    Right?

    Of course the problem is that as one can see in the graph above, the amount of Gross Credit Exposure has returned to 2008 levels, something the world might want to pay attention to. Once the lessons of the mistakes of the past are ignored, the risk factor increases proportionally and with Europe teetering on the edge of a Lehman event, the increase in interest rate derivatives might well indicate a new risk that has not been accounted for:

    A sudden collapse of the Euro currency below the 1.20 or even parity level.

    Such an event would make Lehman look like a picnic but there is more bad news beyond that as it is not just interest rate derivatives that have increased past 2008 levels as the chart above demonstrates, but some idiots placed bets on the currency markets which means that a collapse of the Euro creates an irreversible game of dominoes and destruction:

  • Conservation education –

    According to these guys, “preservation is futile, conservation is tougher but we can probably get there.”

    ————
    David Gallo on life in the deep oceans (13 minutes)

    (last 2 minutes)
    “…there’s a story in the sea, in the waves of the sea, in the rocks and sediments of the sea… it’s incredible. What we see is when we look back in time, in those sediments and rocks… everything on this planet works in cycles and rhythms … the continents move apart and come back together again, oceans come and go, glaciers come and go, El Nino comes and goes- it’s not a disaster, it’s rhythmic.

    What we are learning now is it’s just like music, almost like a symphony, it really is just like music … and what we are learning now is you can’t just listen to a 5 billion year-long symphony, get to today and say, “stop, we want tomorrow’s note to be the same of today”

    http://www.ted.com/talks/david_gallo_on_life_in_the_deep_oceans.html

  • I have had similar thoughts about our conservation efforts, good to know I’m not the only one. Doing things like asking everyone to recycle will do little when probably less than a few percent of industrial products have recyclability built into them. Most companies tout their recycling programs which consist of putting a blue bin in each office. The janitor then comes around at night and throws it all in the trash. All whitewash and BS. It’s more important to count the dead than save a life in this culture.

  • Not that it would surprise anyone here – but more people are getting it (now that it is too late IMO). Doubt this will filter down very much to the general public or up to TPTB before it is definitely too late.

    Full article at http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/47708896/ns/us_news-environment/#.T9ByBrBYuCM

    By Stephanie Pappas

    Earth is rapidly headed toward a catastrophic breakdown if humans don’t get their act together, according to an international group of scientists.

    Writing Wednesday (June 6) in the journal Nature, the researchers warn that the world is headed toward a tipping point marked by extinctions and unpredictable changes on a scale not seen since the glaciers retreated 12,000 years ago.
    “There is a very high possibility that by the end of the century, the Earth is going to be a very different place,” study researcher Anthony Barnosky told LiveScience. Barnosky, a professor of integrative biology from the University of California, Berkeley, joined a group of 17 other scientists to warn that this new planet might not be a pleasant place to live.
    “You can envision these state changes as a fast period of adjustment where we get pushed through the eye of the needle,” Barnosky said. “As we’re going through the eye of the needle, that’s when we see political strife, economic strife, war and famine.”

  • Brace yourself for the next global recession: It’s already begun
    by Andrew McKay
    The global economy is based on transportation networks that are propped up by cheap energy. Because of this we can be relatively certain that when demand for energy begins to fall that the economy is slowing. And when energy prices fall sharply we can be relatively certain that the economy is not just slowing but entering into a recession.
    Rest at http://www.energybulletin.net/stories/2012-06-07/brace-yourself-next-global-recession-it%E2%80%99s-already-begun

  • “Nathan Dunn lives for a living…”

    Then why, Nathan, do you want to be “offered forestry technician work?”

    When you “live for a living,” you don’t need to be “offered” anything, because it’s all there.

    Don’t wait to be “offered… work.” Just get out there and do the work that is needed. You already know the “living” part of it just happens.

    For example, rather than take a crummy $19,000/year job helping big companies cut down trees (“in a sustainable way,” of course), why not take a $0 job helping a non-profit preserve them? If you’re good at it, they’ll find a way to keep you housed and fed and clothed.

    We have a great guy doing $0 work for us at the moment. We will make sure he has food and shelter as long as we do. I don’t think the CEO of the forestry company who pays you $19,000 will make such a commitment.

  • Marginally on-topic:

    http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2012/06/07/shell-oil-launch-party-for-new-arctic-drilling-rigs-goes-hilariously-awry/

    What a great metaphor for what will eventually happen once full-scale drilling is taking place in the arctic. The most telling line is the executive saying “I can’t turn it off!”. The little old lady who doesn’t get out of the way even though she can easily do so is analogous to the public who does nothing but throws up their hands and screams once the spill starts, but who willing drinks from its wealth until then.

  • Fantastic essay! Hilarious, too. Loved the bits about the two British chaps Malthus and Jevon, niggling questions that remained unanswered by the so-called experts, conservation efforts that conserve nothing, and the notion of being ruined for empire. So much good gallows humor here. It’s also a clear indictment of the programming we’re all subjected to — at least until one stumbles into some sort of deprogramming, though such efforts never really truly intend that one go another way than into a job/career/life of productivity and consumption.

    The nature experience you had reminded me of my own youthful experiences in the Boy Scouts, where the conservation drum was beaten with persistence but with little or no worthwhile effect. I knew then it was a sham of sorts, that we basically carried civilization into whatever wild place we inhabited for a weekend. But I did love the campfires. Lots of singing, storytelling, and fellowship as we watched things burn. Never thought of turning my back on that since I had other experiences that were more direct communion with and observation of unperturbed nature.

  • http://www.getreallist.com/what-eroi-tells-us-about-roi.html

    Excellent. I had no idea we were getting that close to 10, and the consequences.

    TRDH: Don’t let that rotti out before daylight. Ours has 3 skunks to his credit in the last 10 days, running free in the daylight. Cat food works just as well as meat for oppossum.

    http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/ Running of places that don’t have a drought.

    Anyone hear from Jean in a while. His always candid thoughts on Spain would be welcome.

  • Speaking of nature:

    http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2012/06/06/environmental-collapse-now-a-serious-threat-scientists/

    “PARIS — Climate change, population growth and environmental destruction could cause a collapse of the ecosystem just a few generations from now, scientists warned on Wednesday in the journal Nature.

    The paper by 22 top researchers said a “tipping point” by which the biosphere goes into swift and irreversible change, with potentially cataclysmic impacts for humans, could occur as early as this century.

    The warning contrasts with a mainstream view among scientists that environmental collapse would be gradual and take centuries.

    The study appears ahead of the June 20-22 UN Conference on Sustainable Development, the 20-year followup to the Earth Summit that set down priorities for protecting the environment.

    The Nature paper, written by biologists, ecologists, geologists and palaeontologists from three continents, compared the biological impact of past episodes of global change with what is happening today.

    The factors in today’s equation include a world population that is set to rise from seven billion to around 9.3 billion by mid-century and global warming that will outstrip the UN target of two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit).

    The team determined that once 50-90 percent of small-scale ecosystems become altered, the entire eco-web tips over into a new state, characterised especially by species extinctions.

    Once the shift happens, it cannot be reversed.

    To support today’s population, about 43 percent of Earth’s ice-free land surface is being used for farming or habitation, according to the study.

    On current trends, the 50 percent mark will be reached by 2025, a point the scientists said is worryingly close to the tipping point.

    If that happened, collapse would entail a shocking disruption for the world’s food supply, with bread-basket regions curtailed in their ability to grow corn, wheat, rice, fodder and other essential crops.

    “It really will be a new world, biologically, at that point,” said lead author Anthony Barnosky, a professor of integrative biology at the University of California in Berkeley.

    “The data suggests that there will be a reduction in biodiversity and severe impacts on much of what we depend on to sustain our quality of life, including, for example, fisheries, agriculture, forest products and clean water. This could happen within just a few generations.”

    The authors stressed it was unclear when this feared tipover would happen, given blanks in knowledge about the phenomenon.

    And they said there were plenty of solutions — such as ending unsustainable patterns of growth and resource waste — that mean it is not inevitable.

    “In a nutshell, humans have not done anything really important to stave off the worst because the social structures for doing something just aren’t there,” said Arne Mooers, a professor of biodiversity at Simon Fraser University in Canada’s British Columbia.

    “My colleagues who study climate-induced changes through the Earth’s history are more than pretty worried,” he said in a press release. “In fact, some are terrified.”

    Past shifts examined in the study included the end of the last Ice Age, between 14,000 and 11,000 years ago, and five species mass extinctions which occurred around 443 million, 359 million, 251 million, 200 million and 65 million years ago.

    Earth today is vulnerable to fast change because of the growing connectedness between ecosystems, voracious use of resources and an unprecedented surge in greenhouse gases, the authors concluded.

    In a report on Wednesday issued ahead of the “Rio+20″ summit, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) warned that burgeoning populations and unsustainable patterns of growth were driving Earth towards “unprecedented” eco-damage.”

    Just like with the IPCC models being woefully underestimated due to the influence of politicians, i think these people know what’s going on and that the tipping point has already been reached or we’re a lot closer than they’re saying here (due to methane geysers, radiation problems and current volcanic and earthquake upticks not even being mentioned).
    People better wake up, we don’t have any time left to dilly-dally around. Obama – supreme disappointment on climate change stance and lack of action.

  • I am glad to hear the author is a distance runner…I hope you are copying the Taraumara(spelling)runners in Mexico(talked about in a book about barefoot running)..Michael Parenti talked about these people in connection w deforestation ..any how they seem to know how to be happy and pleasant.

  • Jan:

    The hope for an “offer” is a hope for confluence. I seek to accept. I would like to find something that makes greater use of my skills, takes me to a more durable set of living arrangements, and amortizes my debt.

    Regarding non-profits, I admire your work. I do. I also see non-profit resting upon profit (uncertainty) at present. I see some role for governance to play. I can also see, to use the forestry example, that subsidized logging of public lands forces private landowners to manage in a way that might not be in their own best interest.

    So, I want to do more and talk less, to a greater degree. I do not feel unemployed, but probably under-employed and suffering from slacker stigma.

  • Just like with the IPCC models being woefully underestimated due to the influence of politicians, i think these people know what’s going on and that the tipping point has already been reached or we’re a lot closer than they’re saying here (due to methane geysers, radiation problems and current volcanic and earthquake upticks not even being mentioned).

    If one posits that we have not yet reached the tipping point, then one has to explain exactly how we are going to reverse the methane geyser phenomenon, re-freeze the ever-melting tundra, reverse glacier shrinkage, reverse acidification/warming of the oceans, reverse ice shrinkage in the Arctic, increase biodiversity, reverse soil erosion and reverse ever-increasing climate instability. The first place to have even a chance at any of these would be to re-structure massively human society and outcomes – given the people in power and the ubiquitous perception held by most people that we are in dire need of economic growth, how likely is that? We, as a society can’t even take the first step towards a solution (not that one truly exists any more!) as long as we insist upon economic growth.

    We can’t predict with accuracy when the state change will take place or how long it will take to arrive at the next state (indeed, there might well be several future state changes before we arrive at a climate equilibrium) – we simply do not know enough about the complex factors that make up the planet’s natural processes.

    But I can tell you one thing for certain – it doesn’t take Einstein to deduce that the tipping point has been reached.

  • Re long distance running, I read a story years ago about a man who had gone to an African country to provide some sort of aid in a poor rural area. He decided one day he needed a long run to help his mental state. So he took off running. An African stopped him and said “why you run up the road?” He tried to explain but made no headway. When calories are scarce running for any reason other than necessity makes absolutely no sense. We don’t even begin to realize what good lives we have even when we live well below the standards of most Americans.

  • Visions of a hotter future….
    “Pilgrims to the holy city of Mekkah (Mecca), Saudi Arabia must have been astonished on Tuesday afternoon, when the weather transformed from widespread dust with a temperature of 113°F (45°C) to a thunderstorm with rain. Remarkably, the air temperature during the thunderstorm was a sizzling 109°F (43°C), and the relative humidity a scant 18%. It is exceedingly rare to get rain when the temperature rises above 100°F, since those kind of temperatures usually require a high pressure system with sinking air that discourages rainfall. However, on June 4, a sea breeze formed along the shores of the Red Sea, and pushed inland 45 miles (71 km) to Mekkah by mid-afternoon. Moist air flowing eastwards from the Red Sea hit the boundary of the sea breeze and was forced upwards, creating rain-bearing thunderstorms. According to weather records researcher Maximiliano Herrera, this is the highest known temperature that rain has fallen at, anywhere in the world. He knows of one other case where rain occurred at 109°F (43°C): in Marrakech, Morocco on July 10, 2010. A thunderstorm that began at 5 pm local time brought rain at a remarkably low humidity of 14%, cooling the temperature down to 91°F within an hour” rest at http://www.wunderground.com/blog/JeffMasters/show.html

  • “Experts were shocked to find a thick, 60-mile-long “phytoplankton megabloom” under Arctic sea ice, announcing in a study Thursday that ice made thinner by warming temperatures has, for now at least, created ideal conditions for the microscopic, single-cell plants to flourish.”
    Rest at http://usnews.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2012/06/07/12108925-megabloom-of-tiny-plants-under-arctic-sea-ice-tied-to-climate-change?lite

  • Economic steady state is a steady rate of conversion of resources into products and wastes, and products into refuse. Economic growth is an INCREASE in the rate of conversion.

  • That was wonderful.

    Thanks for writing the Essay Nathan. Thanks for the additional links everyone else.

    Life is always interesting.

  • http://news.opb.org/article/the_word_from_colbert_to_north_carolina_sink_or_swim/
    In a segment on Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report” this week, comedian Stephen Colbert ripped into a proposed North Carolina law that would mandate that state policymakers only consider historical rates of sea level rise when planning for future increases in sea level. Sea level rise projections from climate scientists all show that, due largely to melting land ice and warming ocean temperatures, sea level rise is likely to accelerate significantly during the next few decades, possibly reaching as much as 1 meter, or 3.3 feet.

    In Wilmington, N.C., the sea rose by 4 inches between 1935-2006. According to Climate Central’s calculations, this rise is likely to nearly double by 2050, with 11 inches of sea level rise expected during that period.

    Colbert isn’t the only one who has skewered North Carolina lawmakers over this proposed bill. In commentary at Scientific American’s website, Scott Huler wrote:

    …North Carolina legislators have decided that the way to make exponential increases in sea level rise — caused by those inconvenient feedback loops we keep hearing about from scientists — go away is to make it against the law to extrapolate exponential; we can only extrapolate along a line predicted by previous sea level rises.

    Which, yes, is exactly like saying, do not predict tomorrow’s weather based on radar images of a hurricane swirling offshore, moving west towards us with 60-mph winds and ten inches of rain. Predict the weather based on the last two weeks of fair weather with gentle breezes towards the east. Don’t use radar and barometers; use the Farmer’s Almanac and what grandpa remembers.

  • Here is the Colbert Clip – no one said we can’t laugh at the stupidity of humanity on our way to climate doom
    http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/414796/june-04-2012/the-word—sink-or-swim

  • According to a recent study reported at “Nature Climate Change” people believe/reject scientific information regarding climate change based primarily on the groups they associate with, not on whether or not they are scientifically literate or if the evidence is persuasive. In other words, if a republican voices a belief in human caused climate change he/she will be shunned by his peers. Democrats are likely to believe humans are causing climate change, and that it is a serious threat to our existence, not because of persuasive arguments by scientists but because all their peers, via group-think, believe corporations are ruining our world.

    Think back to Guy’s March 10th post called “Words To Give By.” Resa, a regular correspondent, spent considerable energy questioning the factual nature of climate change. For her trouble she received considerable abuse, from me particularly, and several others as well. It is interesting to consider that exchange in light of the Nature Climate Change report.

    You can find the article at:

    http://www.nature.com/nclimate/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nclimate1547.html#/f1

    Or a commentary at:

    http://www.commondreams.org/view/2012/06/10-3

    Michael Irving

  • Glaciers must be Democrats then. Why else would they melt. I remember Resa denying that any significant number of glaciers were actually melting.

    The article about the study has an interesting last paragraph
    “Liberal defenders of science, after all, don’t always take the same hard line on facts as they do in the climate debate. They oppose, for example, the spread of genetically modified food crops, citing links to allergies, immune reactions, and the possibility of other, unknown health risks even though reams of scientific research have shown that GMOs pose little threat to the environment or human health. Last month, hundreds of protesters planned to rip up fields of genetically modified wheat crops at a research center just outside of London because they were a symbol of giant agribusiness. And giant business, no matter the kind, selfishly threatens the well-being of the rest of us, according to liberals. Mainstream science might say that GMOs are safe. But knowing that won’t change anyone’s – and certainly no liberal’s – opinion.”

    This assumes that all scientist are equal in their dedication to truth. Alternet posted an article on how Monsanto has taken over our colleges – http://www.alternet.org/food/155375/how_corporations_like_monsanto_have_hijacked_higher_education I passed it on to someone who used to work their and that person allowed how that was about right. Likewise the American Dental Association has taken over as far as research on Flouride is concerned and has a view diametrically opposed to its Canadian counterpart. The indoctrination at the college level is quite strong. Climate scientists don’t have much to gain from projecting our doom. The right would indicate that they get more funding for having the right view or are part of a cabal to create the NWO run by the blue hats at the UN. But it seems to me to be accurate to say that James Hansen had much to loose for his outspokenness when Bush was in power but that didn’t hold him back. He actually cares about his grandchildren.

    At any rate the author of the article about the study also seems to look only where he wants to look so he doesn’t know that “Genetically modified foods…Are they safe?The American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) doesn’t think so. The Academy reported that “Several animal studies indicate serious health risks associated with GM food,” including infertility, immune problems, accelerated aging, faulty insulin regulation, and changes in major organs and the gastrointestinal system. The AAEM asked physicians to advise patients to avoid GM foods.” I’ll put the link to this in a second post

    Clever article, admit one inconvenient truth that gets harder to deny by the day but deny another with is less obvious.

  • ‘Glaciers must be Democrats then’ good one, kc. and thanks for the colbert link. the only incisive reporting allowed in corporate media in ‘america’ must be in the form of satire most don’t watch or get, sadly.

    how about this, michael. birds of a feather flock together. dogma addicts like associating with other dogma addicts. free thinkers like associating with other free thinkers. one type is faith based, the other fact and reason. in civilized cultures with highly developed controlling institutions, one type predominates. that’s the main problem, imo. not peer pressure, although that certainly is a factor. peer pressure is good or bad depending on the quality of one’s associates, and one’s self.

  • Michael Irving, I’m not sure you were agreeing with the article you posted or not, but for me, I tend to associate with people who believe like I do as opposed to the other way round. I am influenced somewhat by the beliefs of my associates, but I think that influence is related more to how I feel about something as opposed to what I believe.

    As to GMO’s, the jury is still out on that one, I think. Although, ultimately, it doesn’t really matter because GMO’s take high energy technology to create and maintain. As we all know, that high energy world is headed for a fall.

  • The jury was still out when women started taking thalidomide for morning sickness until enough deformed babies began to be noted.
    The jury was still out for years on Agent Orange but finally the jury came in and allowed vets to get compensation
    I presume the jury is still officially out on Depleted Uranium

    While GMO’s take high energy to create, once created many can cross with other non GMO crops altering their genetics. There are studies that link GMO’s with dangers. Given that they could by cross pollinate many of our important crops I would say even one study with negative results should be enough to halt their use until further study is done. Meanwhile Roundup resistant super weeds are increasing and many believe soil is being ruined for other crops because of Roundup spraying of GMO plants.

    TRDH The collapse of our energy dependent civilization will stop GMOs from being created, it may not restore soil and it may be out there in the gene pool for some time to come. I don’t know if the terminator seeds can cross pollinate as well, but if they can that is another worry that may not end with collapse.

    http://www.responsibletechnology.org/article-gmo-soy-linked-to-sterility
    “Genetically Modified Soy Linked to Sterility, Infant Mortality

    “This study was just routine,” said Russian biologist Alexey V. Surov, in what could end up as the understatement of this century. Surov and his colleagues set out to discover if Monsanto’s genetically modified (GM) soy, grown on 91% of US soybean fields, leads to problems in growth or reproduction. What he discovered may uproot a multi-billion dollar industry.

    After feeding hamsters for two years over three generations, those on the GM diet, and especially the group on the maximum GM soy diet, showed devastating results. By the third generation, most GM soy-fed hamsters lost the ability to have babies. They also suffered slower growth, and a high mortality rate among the pup”

    We can be thankful that once upon a time government officials stood up and said no, before the jury was officially considered in
    “Frances Kathleen Oldham Kelsey, Ph.D., M.D., (born 24 July 1914) is a pharmacologist, most famous as the reviewer for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) who refused to authorize thalidomide for market because she had concerns about the drug’s safety. Her concerns proved to be justified when it was proven that thalidomide caused serious birth defects. Kelsey’s career intersected with the passage of laws strengthening the FDA’s oversight of pharmaceuticals.
    In the United States, pharmacologist Frances Oldham Kelsey M.D. withstood pressure from the Richardson-Merrell company and refused Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval to market thalidomide, saying further studies were needed.[13] This reduced the impact of thalidomide in United States patients. Although thalidomide was never approved for sale in the United States, millions of tablets had been distributed to physicians during a clinical testing program. It was impossible to know how many pregnant women had been given the drug to help alleviate morning sickness or as a sedative.[27]”

    All of which is to say that Democrats may mostly choose their views based on association, but the people they associate with tend to care more about others and the planet than Republicans. Thus they may have a view that is more likely to be in line with science produced by scientists who are not co-opted by business

    But Monsanto is a powerful corporation and will go on until they can’t and luckily small time homesteads are keeping the old seeds going and hopefully the crash comes before the police state takes away our seeds.

  • I’ve written and posted a new essay. It’s here.

  • Kathy C, you’re right of course, that GMOs have already caused lots of problems, at least based on what I read quickly in the news. And, based on the past performance of major petrochemical/agricultural/pharmacologic companies, I have no reason NOT to suspect that GMOs are bad. Perhaps a better way to have made my statement was that I hadn’t looked at the evidence yet and reached my own conclusions. Normally, I try not to make a judgement about things until I’ve reviewed them personally. I fail in that sometimes, but I try. 🙂