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Terraforming Earth
Jamais Cascio, 14 Jul 05

As long as humans live on our home planet, we will change its environment. Even the most sustainable cities change wind and weather patterns; even the most ecologically sound farming changes the local biosphere. This was true when the Earth held far fewer people; even if every human and human artifact disappeared tomorrow, the changes we've made to the water, soil and atmosphere would continue to exist for decades, centuries, even millennia. The question isn't how can we stop changing the planet, the question is how we can do so more wisely, avoiding the changes most harmful to the planetary ecosystem, and applying greater recognition of the long-term effects of our changes.

I say this to preface a look at a set of proposed feats of ecological engineering on a scale never before attempted intentionally. They may not be the best courses of action -- they may not be wise, or evince a good balance of benefit and risk -- but we should not rule them out simply because they involve making big changes to the environment. We're already making big changes, only without any foresight or design; to paraphrase Stewart Brand's 1968 epigram, we are already terraforming Earth, and might as well get good at it.

The August edition of Popular Science includes a relatively brief article by Michael Behar entitled "How Earth-Scale Engineering Can Save the Planet." In it, he looks at a series of massive projects intended to curb global warming. None of them could be considered easy; all are expensive, and carry a measure of risk. A few refer to ideas we've touched on here, and some border on science fiction. They don't address energy use efficiency, a reduction of CO2 outputs, or any other way to slow the increase of greenhouse gases. These are all responses to the unfortunately-too-plausible scenario of climate disruption going too far to be stopped with windmills, insulation and bicycles.

Of the six proposals, four focus on ways to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Carbon dioxide sequestration by burial is the first one, and is clearly the most feasible of the various ideas. We know how to liquify CO2, and we know how to trap it underground. The main physical risk, according to Behar, is of leakage getting into buildings. That may be so, but a greater problem may be that sequestration by burial is simply not big enough of a project. The world's largest sequestration operation, according to the article, is the Weyburn Project in Canada. Over the last five years, it has pulled and stored six million tons of CO2; it's projected to hold 25 million tons by 2033. That sounds like a lot, and it's certainly not bad, but to give some context: US households in 2003 alone produced 1,215 million metric tons of CO2. We'd need close to 5,000 Weyburn-scale storage facilities to extract the CO2 produced in the United States alone at 2003 rates.

CO2 filtering is the next proposal, using smallish "wind scrubbers." Each beach towel-sized device would pull 25 tons of CO2 from the air annually; the scrubbers themselves could be widely distributed. Unfortunately, the CO2 still needs to be stored somewhere, so the scale problem of sequestration remains. Another proposal in the list -- #4, "Turn CO2 to Stone" -- has similar difficulties. The project may well work to pull some CO2 out, but the magnitude of the problem is likely overwhelming to the available resources (in the case of #4, the availability of the mineral serpentine as a feedstock for turning CO2 into the benign magnesium carbonate).

Less mechanical but better able to meet the scale of the problem is the remaining CO2-removal proposal: seeding the southern ocean with iron to trigger plankton blooms. Plankton reproduction requires iron, and a very small-scale experiment in 2002 demonstrated that seeding the ocean with iron could trigger rapid plankton growth. Oceanographer kenneth Coale of the Moss Landing Marine Laboratories estimates that, at maximum efficiency, a pound of iron could lead to a sufficiently large bloom to pull 20 tons of CO2 out of the air; even fractional efficiencies would still make plankton blooms for CO2 removal both economically feasible and able to work at the scale required.

However:

“What is still a mystery,” Coale says, “is the ripple effect on the rest of the ocean and the food chain.” One fear is that huge plankton blooms, in addition to gorging on CO2, will devour other nutrients. Deep currents carry nutrient-rich water from the Southern Ocean northward to regions where fish rely on the nutrients to survive. Says Coale, “A fertilization event to take care of atmospheric CO2 could have the unintended consequence of turning the oceans sterile. Oops.”

Obviously, further study is required.

The last two proposals have nothing to do with carbon dioxide, instead focusing on the other part of the global warming phenomenon: sunlight. Both a project to increase the reflectivity of clouds and a suggestion of putting a massive mirror in space between the Earth and the Sun seek to cut the amount of sunlight reaching the surface by a fraction. The former would require thousands of boats churning up salt spray in tropical latitudes, so as to enable more water vapor droplets to form in clouds; just 3% of marine stratocumulus clouds would need to have a greater albedo for this to work. The latter would put a humongous mirror (~600,000 square miles in area) made up of a fine metal mesh at the Lagrange point between the Earth and the Sun, reflecting just 1% of the incoming heat; on Earth, it would appear (to anyone actually looking at the Sun) as a tiny dot on the solar surface. Oh, and it would be humongously expensive, too.

As the plankton-seeding idea demonstrates, we would need to think through the long-term repercussions of any of these ideas. What happens when the trapped CO2 does eventually leak? What would be the effect of replacing mined serpentine with magnesium carbonate? What kind of effect on plants and animals would a 1% reduction in light hitting the Earth's surface have?

The additional unstated risk in all of these proposals is reflected in the tag line for the article: "Maybe we can have our fossil fuels and burn ’em too." The idea that we can simply pull the extra CO2 out of the air or block the additional heat could make some people believe that no other changes are necessary, ignoring the other problematic aspects of continued fossil fuel dependency and use.

That said, it behooves us to take these ideas seriously as choices for the global warming century. It is entirely possible that what we've already put into the air would be sufficient to do even more than boost storm strength, raise sea levels and lead to droughts; if the ocean warms sufficiently, the methane clathrates "frozen" at the sea floor could melt, putting literally gigatons of methane into the ocean and atmosphere. Previous methane clathrate excursions in the deep past coincided with large-scale ocean extinctions and abrupt, large increases in global temperatures. In short, if we let the oceans get too warm, we could be in far, far greater trouble than even the worst-case IPCC scenarios.

That's not the kind of terraforming of Earth we want to see.

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Comments

Guess I wasn't completely tripping when I wrote this:

http://mikecapone.blogspot.com/2005/03/global-warming-crazy-solution-to-buy.html


Posted by: Mikhail Capone on 14 Jul 05

Either that, or you're in good company with your tripping...


Posted by: Jamais Cascio on 14 Jul 05

Really, really, really long-term, having reservoirs of CO2 around would be a desireable thing.

You'd use it to make up for a lack of outgassing from volcanoes about a hundred million years out.

Of course, by then you'll also be dealing with a brighter sun.

Messy business all around.


Posted by: Stefan Jones on 14 Jul 05

Well, even before then, we'll reach the end of this interglacial period, and being able to push global temperatures up sufficiently to head off another ice age might be useful, too.

Heck, we could even send the CO2 off to Mars to assist with terraforming that planet instead!


Posted by: Jamais Cascio on 14 Jul 05

"We are as killers, so we might as well get good at it."

"We are as rapists, so we might as well get good at it."

"We are as torturers, so we might as well get good at it."

Aren't there times when it's quite an accomplishment NOT to be good at something?


Posted by: David Foley on 14 Jul 05

David, that's an unfair comparison, and you know it. You can change the words in any saying to change its meaning; that doesn't mean the point of the original is erased. It's crude shock value instead of debate.

To be clear: being good at something doesn't necessarily imply doing more of it, it means doing it "better" -- more wisely, more carefully, with fewer costs or unintended consequences. It means being less clumsy and imprecise. It means making fewer mistakes, and not repeating the same mistakes. It can mean doing something less often, because you can do it more efficiently or cleanly.

The point of the Brand quote is to emphasize that we can't escape the consequences and reach of our actions, so we can't pretend that they don't matter. Rather than denial or pointless wailing, it's better to learn how to make our civilization function in a way to make sure the consequences and reach are what we intend.

And it is quite an accomplishment to be good at that.


Posted by: Jamais Cascio on 14 Jul 05

Jamais you're right, and I feel like a fool. I posted that quickly and thoughtlessly, and I apologize. I think I was aghast at the idea of "planetary engineering" as a solution to anything. Most of these proposals are vaporware or in some cases, such as plankton seeding, have had very little real-world success. They seem more like desperate attempts to "escape the consequences of our actions."

Meanwhile, there's the good old windmills, insulation and bicycles, tried and true, ready when we are.

The Earth has been terraforming itself quite well for eons. We're not terraforming Earth - we're veneraforming it. Big difference. I don't think we should get any "better" at that.

Do you really think we're so stupid, greedy and shortsighted that we can't learn how to live sustainably on this planet? And if we are, how are we suddenly going to become smart, farsighted and competent enough to "engineer" the planet?

We can't be good at everything, and we can't devote resources to everything. Where should the next dollar, the next hour of research, the next callus on the hands go? To planetary engineering or insulation in the attic? Carbon sequestration or improved hybrid cars? Mirrors in space or taking a good look in the mirror?

You're thoughtful and wise. I'm sure you're saying that we need to make every effort we can toward efficiency, renewable energy, elegant design, and so on, and yet we might still come up short - and need to engineer the planet. Seen that way, the idea seems prudent and benign.

But I think we won't make the personal efforts, or do the work we need to in our households, neighborhoods and cities, if we think there's a "Grand Plan" way to engineer ourselves out of trouble. The idea to me smacks of hubris and desperation simultaneously. It's the ultimate pessimism and arrogance at once.

Humility and optimism are better bets. We are as flawed, fallible mortals, so we might as well get good at it.


Posted by: David Foley on 14 Jul 05

Nice balancing statement. I think both are true.

If I wasn't clear -- yes, I do mean to say that we should of course continue on the path of more efficiency, smaller footprint and the like. The stuff I post about nearly every day, really.

But none of those changes to behavior, culture and technology actually reduce the amount of atmospheric greenhouse gases at a rate faster than the gradual, natural process.

If we have already put too much CO2 in the atmosphere to avoid a particularly bad climate scenario (and the methane clathrates scenario is close to as bad as they get), we will need to do something more than move to wind turbines and bicycles.

I agree that there's a risk of people thinking that, if we have a possible cure, we don't need prevention -- and I address that in the post.

But that doesn't mean that we shouldn't be thinking about what those big planetary engineering tasks might have to be. Yeah, they're vaporware for the most part -- but that's what we'd expect at this point. And it's good, frankly, because nobody can point to the and say that the cure's already here.

You know me by now -- I'm very much a belt-and-suspenders type thinker when it comes to planetary disasters. We should be putting our effort into preventing climate disaster from happening in the first place. If we pass the point of no return, though, I'd like us to have another trick up our sleeves.


Posted by: Jamais Cascio on 14 Jul 05

This is an argument _for_ settlement and exploration of other planets. Large scale terrestrial engineering is going to happen at some point.

It matters not if we think that it's a bad idea; if it's possible, it will happen. Better to gain a store of knowledge in advance by practicing with planets we don't depend on.


Posted by: Brian on 14 Jul 05

Geo-engineering, rather than terraforming, is the proper term for our modification of the Earth on a large scale (deliberate or otherwise). As discussed in my review last year on CO2 mitigation strategies, the simplest solution of all is probably one we've already tried (by accident): additional aerosols in the atmosphere to reflect away more of the Sun's light. As quoted from the book reviewed there, "anthropogenic sulfate aerosols in the troposphere currently influence the global radiation budget by around 1 W/m^2 - enough to counter much of the effect of current anthropogenic CO2." but we've been gradually reducing sulfates with clean air policies, and therefore reducing this countering effect. No wonder temperatures have been rising faster than expected just from CO2 in the last decade.


Posted by: Arthur Smith on 14 Jul 05

Thanks, Arthur. I'm actually aware of the difference, and used "terraforming" here as a bit of irony -- we're doing to our home planet what futurists and science fiction writers supposed we'd eventually do to other planets: a large-scale alteration of the planetary geosystems.

The question about aerosols is what we could add that wouldn't have consequences for health, as our unplanned experimental additions had...

(And yes, Brian, this is one more reason to get some of us permanently off-world as soon as we can.)


Posted by: Jamais Cascio on 14 Jul 05

First, we must stop using fossil fuels all over the world as soon as possible. We must stop adding to the problem!

The current level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is already causing the pH of surface water in the oceans to drop. That is a very bad thing.

We have to start taking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere but rather than sequestering the carbon dioxide in the ground we should chemically transform the carbon dioxide into the materials that make up our houses and cities. We could start using algae as our main chemical feed stock rather than crude oil. All the consumerist impulses could be used for beneficial purposes " Yes, I have tons of crap but 90% of it has been condensed out of thin air."


Posted by: jim moore on 14 Jul 05

Don't take Brand's epigram as a brag . . . think of it as an acknowledgement that, given our powers, we have a lot of growing up to do, a lot changes to make and lot of work to get done.


Posted by: Stefan Jones on 14 Jul 05

I wrote up a scheme for an energy system which would remove net carbon from the atmosphere; I called it Going negative.


Posted by: Engineer-Poet on 14 Jul 05

Jamais (and others),

I read your post more carefully, read the "Popular Science" article, and had an exchange with my brother Jon, one of the world's best climate scientists (no brag, just fact).

I need to eat crow in public. You're right, and I was wrong. The CO2 imbalance is huge and delayed - we're only now seeing the effect of emissions made in the 1960's. It's too late to avoid thinking about geo-engineering. It's brave and correct of you to do so. And you were careful and clear to say well everything I said badly in my outburst.

We don't talk much about emotions on this site. But I'm just devastated by this. How can I ever look at a little child, someone who will inherit this world, and even imagine explaining to her what we did?

I think I'm going through the early "stages of death" as described by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross: denial, isolation, anger, bargaining and depression. Perhaps acceptance and hope will come later.

After all, it's emotionally devastating to realize that we've screwed up so badly that we need to put the Earth on dialysis.

But we can't deal with what we deny. So in addition to the insulation, bicycles and windmills, we'll need some form of geo-engineering. You had it exactly right Jamais.

Here's a proposal for evaluating such schemes: do they lead in a direction we want to go anyway, or do they divert resources from things we'd otherwise want to do?

Increasing soil organic matter sequesters carbon, increases crop yields, reduces erosion, helps plants through droughts, helps plants stave off disease and pests, and deals with a "waste" problem.

People who practice "Permaculture" call this "stacking": designing one action to have multiple benefits. This is a good idea, because you can never do one thing. We are as organisms embedded in an ecology, and we might as well get good at it.

We need to become skilled at "forest farming". Trees can store carbon, build soil (storing more carbon), yield fruit, nuts, oils, medicines, animal feeds and fodder, building materials and fuel; forests can mitigate climate extremes, act as habitat, riparian buffers, windbreaks, condensation traps, mountainside holders, etc.

Restoring reefs sequesters carbon (as calcium carbonate), provides habitat, helps prevent coastal storm damage, etc.

You get the picture. We'll face huge problems in the coming decades, and our resources will be strained to the utmost. If we put our energy merely into staving off bad, we won't make it. Every move we make will need to to provide as many benefits, and as much progress toward sustainability, as possible.

Before we head off to "colonize" other planets, let's get good at this one. For instance, let's plunk down on a strip-mined coal bench in the Powder River Basin, and see if we can make that thriving habitat again. Kind of a shakedown cruise, if you will.

I've spent 17 years trying to restore 12.5 acres (5 hectares) of worn-out land to health. It's been a humbling experience, so I'm wary of grand proposals to "engineer" this or any other world. Planets are not video games. But as Jon says, "We've got a long, long way to go. And I think we're going to need every trick in the book to pull it off."

Thanks. I should be on a couch and paying you $150 an hour for dealing with this.


Posted by: David Foley on 15 Jul 05

The fact that anyone can even imagine that humankind possesses the intelligence to intervene in the global ecosystem strikes me as utterly appalling! We are only just beginning to understand complex ecosystems and there are a whole load more revelations yet to come about the consequences of our short-sighted actions. We haven't a clue what we're doing. Our success rate is pathetic. So what are the bets that yet another grand scheme to solve the problem of the moment will end up creating even greater havoc another couple of decades down the line?

The global ecosystem knows what it's doing though. Give it half a chance and it'll restore things to balance. But to allow it to do so, we have *got* to stop meddling. Seems to me that until people start grasping to what extent we are part of this ecosystem and subject to whatever we do to it, until we start caring for it deeply and submitting to *its* dictates and needs rather than our own selfishly anthropocentric ends, then we will continue behaving like a cancer in the body of the planet and ultimately end up as victims of our own unconscionable hubris.

Which we already are. 17 million of us -- the equivalent of a tsunami every 5 days -- are dying every year from cardiovascular disease alone. I think I may have identified the underlying mechanism at work. It's written up in an article on my website. The introduction and link to it is at http://www.smeddum.net/content/general_essays.htm#cvd. Incidently, if any of you out there are ecologists, researchers, statisticians, biochemists, etc, I'm looking for collaborators to help gather evidence to substantiate this (or otherwise). Please get in touch if you'd like to lend a hand.


Posted by: Wendy Howard on 15 Jul 05

I think many here might agree that the long term solution is to get most of the people off the Earth. If we put most of the economic activity in space, people, over decades and centuries, will migrate there--just as people migrate to cities in the developing world now.

That's for the distant future. What do we do right now?

I think David makes a good point in his last post. Learning how to fix the damage we've caused, learning how to avoid futher damage, increasing the subtlety of our technology will teach us a lot when we build artificial habitats in space in the distant future.

We just have to keep the social, political and economic pressure on to keep technology headed toward that elegance. Between the arrogance of the techno-anarchists and the defeatism of the deep ecologists there is another way. (That's the reason I keep coming back to this site. It's one of the best voices for that third way.) The mere fact that it looks so hard and daunting suggests to me that it's the right way. The right way is almost always the hardest.


Posted by: Mr. Farlops on 15 Jul 05

Farlops:  I'd say "preach on" except that this exercise is not a spiritual journey of self-denial and selecting a way just because it's hard is going to defeat the purpose.  We need to set a goal, yes... but the easiest way which still satisfies this goal, not the hardest, is probably the best.

David Foley:  Forests are one thing, but I personally doubt that growing trees can compensate for empty coal seams and oil reservoirs with the necessary quantity and speed.  It seems that at least part of the problem has to be addressed at the source, with human energy systems.  The obvious solution is a process takes carbon that's been fixed from the atmosphere, uses it to drive the energy-production cycle, and then does not return the carbon to the atmosphere.  I've been thinking about this for years, and when the solar thermochemical zinc reduction process came to my attention... well, good blogging favors the prepared mind.

Ponder the concept and see what flaws you can find in it.  (Easy proposals that won't work are even worse than hard ones which will - the errors have to be shaken out of every concept before they're worth anything, including mine.)


Posted by: Engineer-Poet on 15 Jul 05

E-P, I'll check that link. Thanks.

David, I think you're exactly, precisely right when you say this:

Here's a proposal for evaluating such schemes: do they lead in a direction we want to go anyway, or do they divert resources from things we'd otherwise want to do?

We need to get a lot better at figuring out the deeper implications and longer-term effects of our actions. As Wendy suggests, we don't currently know enough to do that very well at all. But I do believe it is possible to gain a better understanding of the processes at work; we might fail, but declaring that we'll never understand the planet and that we should stop trying guarantees it. That's a trite and commonplace observation, but it's still true.


Posted by: Jamais Cascio on 15 Jul 05

E-P, I'm not qualified to comment on your proposed zinc reduction process. It looks like something worth further investigation, and you're to be commended for the work and thought you've put into it. Maybe there's a Nobel Prize in your future!

I agree that trees alone can't sequester enough carbon. No one thing can. We'll need a multi-pronged approach, with each "prong" delivering multiple benefits. Trees do many, many good things, including helping with the CO2 problem.

I also agree that we'll need to fix the problem at the source, with human energy production systems. We've discussed before the relative merits of increasing efficiency while retooling supply systems. Unfortunately, we need to act in a hurry, so I think we need a massive effort to reduce energy waste now, while the inevitably slower process of industrial conversion occurs.

And of course, Jamais was saying all this originally, including asking us to face up to the fact that it will take a planetary engineering effort to deal with the mess we made. I was slow to catch on.


Posted by: David Foley on 15 Jul 05

I'd like to comment on the common instinctive reaction, for which I have much personal sympathy: The fact that anyone can even imagine that humankind possesses the intelligence to intervene in the global ecosystem strikes me as utterly appalling!

Architect Christopher Alexander likes to point out that the now-sadly-destroyed hedgerows, landscape and agriculture of his childhood in England were not only beautiful and full of life (both in the values-sense of Tolkien's idylls and also in the biodiversity sense of wildlife) but they had also been sustainable for hundreds of years, and finally and most importantly, were thoroughly "artificial" products of human intervention on the land.

We can no longer afford, conceptually, to separate Humanity from Nature. We are a part of nature, and we must recognize that. There is no alternative but to seek a conscious understanding of the principles of living structure to govern our actions. As many voices have said above and elsewhere, hands-off is no longer an option.

(The principles of living structure can be seen to have been embodied almost "by accident" in some, though not all, traditions. Google "Christopher Alexander" for more of his theoretical work in this direction. He has a nifty but very confusing website. I don't mean to suggest that he has immediate answers to the problems at hand, but merely want to make use of his example to make a single point, which is that "hands off" may even be a false historical idea.)


Posted by: anonymous worker on the cathedral on 15 Jul 05

David, if you can even check the numbers that would be worth something.


Posted by: Engineer-Poet on 15 Jul 05

E-P, like I said, I'm not qualified to evaluate the technology, but here's a quick check on the "magnitude" numbers on your web site. You calculated that 30 million acres planted to high-yielding biomass crops like switchgrass would, in theory, produce about 317 gigawatts of power production.

A terrawatt is 1000 gigawatts (of course). Photosynthesis is not very productive; plants generally convert sunlight into power at the rate of 0.7 watts/M^2. (With optimum plant breeding, artificial fertilizer, irrigation, etc., the theoretical maximum is 4.7 watts/M^2.) To produce 1 TW would require 1.43 trillion M^2 of land, equal to about 1/7 of the United States. U.S. primary energy is presently about 3 TW; the world's is 12 to 13 TW. (These figures are from my friend Tyler Volk, professor of biology at NYU.)

So, assuming you could glean all of the photosynthetic productivity of this land, your 317 gigawatts would need 31.7% of 1/7 of the United States, which turns out to be 102,525,060 acres, not 30 million acres.

This is in no way to disparage your work, only to say that it may not be able to have the impact you want. It looks very promising as a technology, but only after we've made massive increases to the end-use efficiency - that factor-of-ten reduction that we've discussed before. Fossil fuels are millions of years' worth of storage of annual solar flux; replacing that with just the annual solar flux necessitates incredible increases in efficiency. Sure, there's abundant sun, but that's not the point - hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe, but that fact doesn't mean our energy problems are solved. Our current system requires "dense" energy - biomass and solar flux are relatively "wispy" energy.

Here's a paper which might interest you: "Advanced Technology Paths to Global Climate Stability: Energy for a Greenhouse Planet," by M.I. Hoffert, T. Volk and T.M.L. Wigley, "Science" #298, pp. 981-987, 2002.

And if you go to this link, you'll find some information about switchgrass and carbon sequestration:

http://www.sage.wisc.edu/pages/news.html


Posted by: David Foley on 15 Jul 05

David, I fear you've misconstrued the technology; the switchgrass is only used as a carbon source, not the primary energy supply.  The energetics are documented in the post linked at the bottom; most of the energy comes from solar heat fed directly to a thermochemical step which converts zinc oxide and carbon to zinc metal and carbon monoxide.

If I need to be more explicit there, I suppose I should do a re-write.


Posted by: Engineer-Poet on 15 Jul 05

Thanks E-P. I understand now. You might be on to something. Too busy to comment more now.


Posted by: David Foley on 15 Jul 05

Anonymous worker on the cathedral said "We can no longer afford, conceptually, to separate Humanity from Nature. We are a part of nature, and we must recognize that. There is no alternative but to seek a conscious understanding of the principles of living structure to govern our actions. As many voices have said above and elsewhere, hands-off is no longer an option."

Exactly! And well said. Hands-off is not an option, and I didn't mean to convey the sense that I was advocating we do that. It's *how* we intervene that's critical. Hands-on has to be done with sympathy and understanding for what we *do* understand of the functioning of the global ecosystem, rather than flying in with another grandiose large-scale intervention derived from limited and linear thought processes.

Intervention needs to be informed by an attitude that values and respects the Earth and ourselves, with the understanding that we are a member (and junior member at that) of a *team* trying to put things right. The workings of the global ecosystem demonstrates a vast intelligence at work, one way in excess of our own. The idea that we know better is insane.

We apply that same idea to the workings of our bodies and how we feed ourselves. That's the idea that's resulted in the fact that in the last half century, the fundamental health of the human race has declined so severely that if we carry on in our present fashion we'll simply wipe ourselves out. 50 years ago you might have had one or two kids in an average class in an average school who were chronically sick. Now it's more like half the class.

It's very nice to be optimistic and upbeat about how we go about putting things right, but we also need to realise the full extent of what it is we have to put right. Which we don't yet, by any means.

Seems to me we have to work from the ground up. Literally. How we grow our food and what we do to that food before we eat it is what's ultimately destroying our health. All the technology in the world won't save us if we're all too sick to do anything with it.

And I'm not being pessimistic here. Just realistic. This is a global crisis of enormous proportions that I see walking into my clinic every day, yet people don't even seem interested, let alone motivated to address it. It seems that it's just too huge. We'd all rather focus on something we can grasp more easily and go tinker with the symptoms rather than addressing the cause.

Well you don't have to be a genius to see where that's going to get us ...


Posted by: Wendy Howard on 17 Jul 05

Anonymous worker on the cathedral said "We can no longer afford, conceptually, to separate Humanity from Nature. We are a part of nature, and we must recognize that. There is no alternative but to seek a conscious understanding of the principles of living structure to govern our actions. As many voices have said above and elsewhere, hands-off is no longer an option."

Exactly! And well said. Hands-off is not an option, and I didn't mean to convey the sense that I was advocating we do that. It's *how* we intervene that's critical. Hands-on has to be done with sympathy and understanding for what we *do* understand of the functioning of the global ecosystem, rather than flying in with another grandiose large-scale intervention derived from limited and linear thought processes.

Intervention needs to be informed by an attitude that values and respects the Earth and ourselves, with the understanding that we are a member (and junior member at that) of a *team* trying to put things right. The workings of the global ecosystem demonstrates a vast intelligence at work, one way in excess of our own. The idea that we know better is insane.

We apply that same idea to the workings of our bodies and how we feed ourselves. That's the idea that's resulted in the fact that in the last half century, the fundamental health of the human race has declined so severely that if we carry on in our present fashion we'll simply wipe ourselves out. 50 years ago you might have had one or two kids in an average class in an average school who were chronically sick. Now it's more like half the class.

It's very nice to be optimistic and upbeat about how we go about putting things right, but we also need to realise the full extent of what it is we have to put right. Which we don't yet, by any means.

Seems to me we have to work from the ground up. Literally. How we grow our food and what we do to that food before we eat it is what's ultimately destroying our health. All the technology in the world won't save us if we're all too sick to do anything with it.

And I'm not being pessimistic here. Just realistic. This is a global crisis of enormous proportions that I see walking into my clinic every day, yet people don't even seem interested, let alone motivated to address it. It seems that it's just too huge. We'd all rather focus on something we can grasp more easily and go tinker with the symptoms rather than addressing the cause.

Well you don't have to be a genius to see where that's going to get us ...


Posted by: Wendy Howard on 17 Jul 05

Intervention needs to be informed by an attitude that values and respects the Earth and ourselves, with the understanding that we are a member (and junior member at that) of a *team* trying to put things right.
And this great "brain" to which we are junior partners; how do we talk to it?  Can we determine what it's saying scientificaly and unambigiously, or do we have to leave that to some priesthood of Gaia?  If so, which sect?
The workings of the global ecosystem demonstrates a vast intelligence at work, one way in excess of our own.
If this system is so intelligent, why have we observed so many mass extinctions in the fossil record?
The idea that we know better is insane.
Coming from a person who carries on the unscientific and thoroughly discredited practice of homeopathy, I find this particularly ironic.

I'm sure by now you've heard about the homeopath who drank distilled water and died of an overdose.


Posted by: Engineer-Poet on 17 Jul 05

E-P, I like what you say most of the time, but please be civil. Wendy makes some good points, if taken metaphorically, which is I imagine how she meant them. No, we can't talk to the earth, but our philosophical approach should indeed be that it's dangerous to tinker with a system we don't understand, and that these global systems are so complex that using the metaphor of a vast intelligence is perhaps the most useful way of looking at them. The Poet half of you should understand this. Once it does, then your Engineer half can start working on a solution. We'll need both if we're going to get throught this.


Posted by: Jeff Rusch on 18 Jul 05

Please.


Posted by: Jamais Cascio on 18 Jul 05



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