Archive for the ‘Environmental Ethics’ Category
NATURE’S CODE of ETHICS
It’s clear that Earth is a living planet, unique in our solar system and perhaps beyond. As a geologist/earth scientist I can speak with some authority about our planet, and there exists scientific support for the following professional/personal conclusions in spite of its necessarily deduced origins. I welcome your checking the facts.
Although Earth was born devoid of life, it seems to have created its own unique environment for it, and has remained alive since the advent of prokaryotic bacteria some 600Million years ago. That the geologic and biologic realms are interrelated is supported by the coevolution of organisms, climate and the earth’s crust as deduced from the geologic record.
We don’t know the origin of the simple prokaryotic (photosynthetic) bacteria that started it all in the preCambrian period, but the fossil record supports their existence. These simple cells (without nuclei) were responsible for altering the atmosphere from anaerobic to aerobic to enable the support of life beginning with the basic eukaryotic cell (with a nucleus) typical of plants and animals. This cell is the progenitor of all life forms that have evolved from it, including us.
Organisms co-evolve with their environment, the biotic system influencing the abiotic system that supports it. Organisms interact with the inorganic environment to complete a self-regulating system that maintains life-supporting conditions on Earth. The biosphere, atmosphere, lithosphere and hydrosphere combine to maintain the balance necessary for our living Earth. That’s the way it started, and that’s the way it remains. http://www.extremeethics.org/?p=594
Solar energy apparently has increased by 25-30% over time but surface temperatures seem to have remained within the limits of habitability in spite of it. Apparently the life-friendly environment has withstood all of the many violent (literally earth-shaking) changes that have occurred since life appeared—vulcanism, sea-floor spreading and plate tectonics, meteor strikes and other cosmological hazards known to have occurred—to maintain conditions suitable for life to continue and develop to the current level. The system shows every sign of being self-regulating since its inception, and why wouldn’t it? It’s the system—Earth, the living planet.
The gases of our atmosphere are produced by biological reactions with Earth’s soils and rocks and are maintained in spite of changes in earth processes. Atmospheric conditions have remained constant enough to maintain conditions necessary for life, and are kept in a narrow range by the life it supports. Air is 78% Nitrogen, 21% Oxygen, 0.04% Carbon dioxide, and just under 1% Argon and traces of other gases. Oxygen is a very reactive element that if much higher would lead to dangerous conditions (fire). That this probably occurred in the past is supported by the occurrence of natural charcoal in the Carboniferous coal measures, deposited when oxygen exceeded 25%.
Carbon dioxide is critical to maintaining atmospheric temperatures and in maintaining the oxygen level. Its major contributor is vulcanism, an apparently chaotic occurrence that nevertheless exerts some control over concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that help maintain our climate within acceptable limits. Another is animal life—it produces carbon dioxide by processing life-giving oxygen. Carbon dioxide is removed by vegetation, carbonate rocks, and certain phytoplankton. When carbon dioxide increases, more plants grow to process it. This includes certain algal blooms in the oceans, which increase with increasing carbon dioxide concentrations. The oceans are instrumental in controlling carbon dioxide, and there’s a lot of water–and plant life–in them.
There is feedback between the oceans, the atmosphere and the entirety of the hydrosphere. Ocean salinity remains near-constant at about the 3.4% necessary for life to exist in spite of natural phenomena that would seem to alter this number. This is partly a function of organic processes; organisms naturally improve their environment in order to survive. It’s natural, not planned.
THERE’S A SYSTEM AT WORK HERE. Call it a complex adaptive system or, if you prefer, spontaneous order. While it may appear from our limited perspective to be a chaos of pressures, tensions and constraints with no hope of resolution, that’s not the case. It’s not the case because Earth has its own code of ethics, It is innately ethical. And it’s innately ethical because it’s the way it is–a first principle. The environment as an ethical whole will handle whatever nature throws its way. Nature always adapts, and it’s always done “on the fly.” And we, individually or collectively, haven’t a clue as to how it really works. But one thing we do know is that it does work in spite of whatever happens to thwart it because the norm is innately ethical. If it weren’t, mankind would have been done for long ago. This, the way it is, is beyond our control.
GLOBAL WARMING IS A PERFECTLY NATURAL OCCURRENCE, and MAN IN ALL HIS ARROGANCE IS UNABLE TO CONTROL IT. Earth is in an interglacial period, and nature is adapting and will continue to adapt to it as it has for millennia. It’s the system at work, and it’s a good thing, not bad. We need only act responsibly, relax, enjoy it and stop trying to change it. We can’t (and that, too, is a good thing). http://www.extremeethics.org/?p=708
Global warming is a fact, so is global cooling. But global warming caused by man-made carbon dioxide is not a fact (because it’s not proven and it’s not true). But climate change, as a perfectly natural phenomenon, is a fact. Currently we are in an interglacial phase which means a general warming trend. (Glaciers require cold climate, and they are receding; therefore, earth ought to be warming…) The ‘global warming’ scare is ill-intentioned and immoral. Just because a politically-motivated group says that their science is right and someone else’s is wrong doesn’t mean that’s the way it is, because it isn’t. Examine the source (and follow the money)…
For another pertinent example of questionable academic certainty, consider the saga of the ivory-billed woodpecker (IBWO) of the Arkansas swamps. The bird had not been seen since 1940 and was thought to be extinct, when in 2004 an ivory-bill was sighted(?). Several subsequent sightings were soon reported. The project was taken up by The Cornell University Laboratory of Ornithology, experts all. Not one photograph was produced save the blurry original. They positively identified the IBWO, and an article written by 17 acclaimed experts confirming seven sightings was published in Science Magazine. The project was highlighted in the media, and environmental groups took up the cause. The US Department of the Interior, Fish & Wildlife Service committed to it, setting aside $10.2M of federal money for the project. (Additionally, Fish and Wildlife has $27M to produce a recovery plan for the bird.) The area was researched for more than a year by 22 paid staff overseen by a 16-member board of experts. The Governor of Arkansas issued a commemorative stamp of the bird. A book was written about it. It became accepted fact. The only problem was that it was not a fact at all. It was a product of hype.
I quote Jack Hitt, author of Bunch of Amateurs: “The story of the ivory-billed woodpecker is a case study of how professionals in our time can deploy new tools and media to proclaim a new truth. But it is also about how outsiders, many of them amateurs, can swarm this new fact with questions and contradictions to uncover an even more intriguing…opposing reality. The story of the IBWO is a tale of professionals erecting a citadel of expert opinion around a new truth, with a sequel about…amateurs assaulting that fortress and tearing it brick by brick to the ground.” Sound familiar?
A fortress of academic certainty was debunked by reality. Shades of Bigfoot, that enigma of the deep woods for which absolutely no evidence has been produced over a period of many decades save for questionable sightings, very blurry photos of what could be anything and some indistinct ‘footprints,’ yet is sworn to exist by phalanxes of complicit fans.
The IBWO project was largely abandoned in 2010, although Fish & Wildlife offers a sizeable award for positive evidence. The money is still in the bank, and Bigfoot remains invisible.
Earth’s conditions continue to change because of constant cosmological and geological activity, and most of it has to do with the oceans that cover more than 70% of it (that’s right—land is limited to less than 30% of the earth’s surface, and much of that is undeveloped). The earth precesses (wobbles on its axis) and its poles shift. The atmosphere is chaotic: temperatures change; sunspots affect climate; recent studies show that the sun’s activity affects the formation of certain clouds (water vapor), which themselves affect climatic conditions. Plate tectonics move entire continental masses, and sub-sea rifting and vulcanism affect ocean currents and temperatures world-wide. Earth is not a static entity—it’s dynamic, constantly changing, chaotic, and it’s big. Conditions on earth and in its atmosphere change as well—they must. Refer to http://www.extremeethics.org/?p=148
Spending years and billions to try to “correct” a condition that man cannot alter is an expensive exercise in futility. Treat the planet with respect—that’s all that’s required. It will take care of us as it will.
Sometimes the answer to an important question is so obvious that it’s easily overlooked. Think about this:
What’s so abundant that we hardly consider it as pivotal? Try WATER. Oceans cover more than 70% of the earth—the amount of water in the oceans is unfathomable (pun intended). Water vapor is an integral part of the atmosphere—75% of all ‘greenhouse gases’–(think humidity, clouds, rain, snow). And the human body is largely water, as are the bodies of other animals (and plants as well). Water is not merely necessary for living, it’s necessary for life to even exist. It is an integral part of ALL living things and the earth generally.
Water exists in all three forms of matter—solid(ice), liquid(duh), and gas(water vapor) and as such is virtually indestructible, changing form easily within a temperature range tolerable by life: solid to liquid (or the reverse) at 32-degreesF, liquid to gas (or vice-versa) at 212-degreesF. What else is so adaptable?
The earth’s water is constant—it neither increases or decreases—and remains balanced between its three phases, transferring easily between the lithosphere, atmosphere, hydrosphere and biosphere so easily that we don’t even notice it. (And we adapt to it, without even thinking about it.) What else is so constant? Or mobile? Or reliable?
Water changes temperature readily, providing a stabilizing influence. For instance, the temperature of ground water (that which is tapped by wells) tends to reflect the average temperature of the system of which it is a part (ground water varies in temperature from about 53-degreesF in the Northeast to perhaps 56-degreesF in the Southwest in keeping with the regional average annual temperature). It’s natural.
Could it be possible that water provides a mechanism whereby the earth system is kept in balance? Not only possible, but it does.
Changes in the earth’s temperature are unremitting and automatic, part of the planet’s ability to sustain itself. Earth has survived glacial ages and periods of ‘excessive’ warmth. Through it all the total amount of water has remained constant while it changes form as necessary. Amazing? Actually not, because it is the system. We just have to accept it for what it is, and don’t try to change it (because we can’t). That these conditions will not last forever should be obvious, but just as obvious should be the fact that life adapts as the earth adjusts—that is to say, v e r y s l o w l y.
Not to worry…humanity and the world we live in are compatible. That’s what nature’s all about. So long as we live responsibly (ethically, in the large sense), it will all work out for us. Just my opinion? Perhaps, but a well-considered one…
Comments are of course welcomed.
Yes, the earth’s climate is changing, and no, there’s no need for immediate panic. That about sums up the current state of affairs re: global warming.
In the first place, personal experience suggests that the climate IS getting warmer, at least in the US. I support that view because I’ve witnessed winters becoming somewhat milder over my 75 years of life on this planet. But is there any reason to panic? No. The earth is in an interglacial stage, a perfectly natural phenomenon supported by the geological record. That said:
The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) completed a controversial study a few years ago supporting the political drive to control carbon emissions, concluding that man is primarily responsible for the ‘global warming’ reportedly underway. Soon afterward, it was found that the study was biased–far from objective, resulting in further polarization of arguments for and against.
More recent studies found the current apparent warming trend to be not at all unusual. Apparent? Yes, according to some studies at least. This from the UK’s Meteorological Office: “global warming has been virtually nonexistent for the last 16-years,” citing that prior to that time was a 16-year period when temperatures rose. Before that, temperatures had been stable or declining for 40-years. (This finding is in keeping with my personal experience cited above.)
Record highs (still standing) were set in the 1930s. The IPCC itself recently reported that drought in the Central Plains has decreased in recent decades (ostensibly meaning subsequent to the ‘dust bowl years’ of the ‘30s). It’s been confirmed as well that there was a period of higher temperatures in Medieval times (some 1000-1400 years ago), warmer and longer than today—1150-1200 AD seem to have been the warmest years. Apparently this is true not only of the Northern hemisphere, but the Southern as well. Man certainly was not the cause of rising temperatures during these periods.
Currently, the stress is being placed on the amount of carbon dioxide (a minor gas when compared with water vapor which makes up about 75% of the greenhouse) in the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide is necessary for plant life; plants absorb carbon dioxide and expel the oxygen necessary for animal life; there is mutual support without which life as we know it could not exist. Somehow nature has provided a balance in the past. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: The very existence of greenhouse gases (a necessary part of the atmosphere) speaks volumes for the ability of earth processes to have created the system necessary for life as we know it and to make the ‘automatic’ corrections necessary to maintain that life system—the biosphere. How does this balance come to be? This is a natural system we’re dealing with, not just a collection of neatly-categorized variables, and to think that we can model or control something so massive and complex without having a clue as to how it operates (let alone what it consists of) has got to be an exercise in futility.
Global warming (and global cooling) is a function of natural processes properly dealt with by the natural sciences, primarily geology, the science(s) of the lithosphere, hydrosphere and atmosphere, which provide the foundation for the biosphere. All of the earth sciences (including particularly meteorology and climatology) are involved. That the subject has been co-opted by politicians and scientists looking for government funding is not only unfortunate, it is unethical. Politics and law should not drive science nor should they direct funding to those who may be sympathetic to their cause.
Climate change normally takes place relatively slowly (a notable exception being vulcanism). The earth is in constant flux, and so necessarily is its climate. Data-gathering methods (and precision of measurement) have literally exploded over the past few decades, providing reams of detailed information about recent conditions. This introduces the problem of an abundance of recent directly-recorded detailed data to be integrated with sparse historic data necessarily deduced from such evidence as can be gleaned from the geologic/biologic record.
Much has been made of the shrinking of the Arctic ice cap, but little is heard about the growth of Antarctic ice (at a rate estimated to be more than 6000 square miles per year). But note the significant differences in conditions at the poles: The arctic cap is surrounded by landmass (the presence of which limits how much ice is possible—it acts as a heat sink as well as a physical barrier), while the Antarctic is surrounded by water (which does not have those same limitations). Additionally, the Antarctic is affected more by winds than is the Arctic—another major climatological difference. The simple fact is that the polar ice conditions are polar opposites, to savage a phrase…
The amount of earth’s water—the hydrosphere—(which includes solid and vapor phases as well as the ubiquitous liquid) remains essentially constant. (Could the hydrosphere be a major part of the earth’s stability mechanism by virtue of its ability to move readily between its three phases?). The amounts in each phase are in constant flux but the aggregate remains the same. Much water vapor is a result of evaporation over the oceans (not incidentally a source of carbon dioxide as well), which make up more than 70-percent of earth’s surface area. When we can assume control over oceanic evaporation, we can think about making changes. Until that time, we ought to confine our efforts to monitoring and exercising care to minimize such emissions as exist. Spending large amounts of money to try to control the uncontrollable unknown is folly.
The Environmental Protection Agency is an administrative function not subject to control of Congress. As such it is free to operate solely at the pleasure of the current administration, subject to influence by any organization claiming to defend the plants and animals making up our environment, often to the detriment of us humans ourselves. The EPA has maintained unbridled control of our environment for more than 60-years, during which time it forced a virtual moratorium on construction of industrial facilities and hobbled development of fossil fuels (coal, oil, natural gas—the source of our power), at the same time curtailing nuclear power development on the strength of its alleged harmful effects on the environment. It champions solar and wind power (darlings of small but powerful ‘environmentalist’ groups), both of which are inefficient and expensive and, with their necessary infrastructures pose major deleterious effects (overlooked by the Agency) to the environment. EPA has mandated biofuels, thereby controlling farming while encouraging rainforest destruction. It has even classified carbon dioxide (a life-sustaining gas) as a pollutant. While demanding time-consuming and expensive ‘impact statements’ of applicants, EPA excuses itself from statements of impact resulting from its own actions.
The EPA is protected politically and does not have to be objective or inclusive. It is neither of these—it is political—in virtual control of our economy, and responsible for the ‘global warming’ issues we have today. It should be the function of EPA to encourage (and fund) meaningful and objective scientific research of climate change so that the problem, if there indeed is one, can be approached rationally.
There is no need to panic. A plethora of newly-acquired data resulting from new technology does not trump the facts of past millenia. There is time to approach the situation rationally. The issue is a scientific, not political one, and it is up to scientists, not politicians to provide the answers.
A (very) recent study by the United Kingdom’s Meteorological Office reports that “global warming has been virtually nonexistent for the last 16-years.” The report states that prior to that time was a 16-year period when temperatures rose; and prior to that (a period of 32-years) temperatures were stable or declining for 40-years. You don’t need to be told that these trends are as open to scrutiny as any others, but at least they’re not politically motivated…
What does this mean?
It certainly supports the GIGO (Garbage In, Garbage Out) phenomenon of modeling. Models are no better than their inputs. Existing models are necessarily incomplete–there are almost innumerable uncertainties that have significant effects on each other and the final output. Carbon dioxide is only a minor component of the greenhouse gases that make life on earth possible (without them the planet would freeze). Seventy-five percent of greenhouse gases consists of water vapor, which will always defy human control. Here’s why.
The very existence of greenhouse gases speaks volumes for the ability of earth processes to have created a balance necessary for life as we know it, and to make the ‘automatic’ corrections necessary to maintain what it itself has wrought—the biosphere. There have been countless variations and consequent adjustments to climate throughout geologic time. How does this balance come to be? The fact is that it’s a natural system we’re dealing with, not just a bunch of neatly-categorized variables, and to think that we can control an entire system without even knowing what it consists of, is an exercise in futility.
Professor Michael Gordin of Princeton University writes: “when mainstream science is attacked in politically-credible ways” the dangers will come not from the fringes but via the inside. Could this possibly mean that credentialed scientists might lend their prestige to whichever side will pay for their support, which may well include government? Example? The EPA acts administratively (rather than constitutionally) to impose billions of dollars in unfunded mandates on select industries without clear scientific bases for doing so (Wall Street Journal, October 23, 2012). You can think of more…
Whom do we believe?
Well, for starters we know that there are many factors affecting climate change other than carbon dioxide, and that we do not appreciate, much less understand, the effects of whatever these may be on global climate. How can one model what one does not even know about? Quite simply, we don’t have enough data to draw a meaningful conclusion.
It’s time that earth scientists (geologists, by definition) wrest the initiative from the politicians who dominate the argument currently. Political correctness is by definition a lie. Science seeks the truth, and it’s time to pursue it. Scientifically.
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