Friday, May 14, 2010

Ecological and resource crises facing industrial civilisation

Some threats to life as we know itSince my research involves responses to the perception of threats to life as we currently know it, I thought it might be useful to compile a list of some the serious ecological and resource difficulties that have resulted from the spectacular success of industrialism. This is not an exhaustive catalogue (I'd appreciate further suggestions), nor an attempt to rank the various issues, many of which are deeply interconnected. Some of these issues are more pressing than others.

• Climate change: including global warming, precipitation shifts (floods, droughts and shifting agricultural patterns), sea level rise, intensification of extreme weather events, cryosphere shrinkage, and more, including the subsequent risk of various geoengineering attempts (like this one by Bill Gates).

• Fresh water use (aquifer depletion, equity of access, water-borne diseases, local water stress, etc.). Thirty-six US States are predicted to have water shortages by 2015 and rainy London is building a desalination plant.

• Peak oil (and perhaps further off, peak gas and coal): the end of cheap energy. Note that warnings are coming from more and more credible/mainstream sources.

• Biodiversity loss (including extinction, functional extinction, decline in ecosystem complexity and resiliance and loss in genetic diversity within species)

• Destruction of natural habitats (especially forests, wetlands and coral reefs)

• Desertification

• Soil degradation (erosion, depletion and salinisation)

Ocean acidification

• Fisheries decline and collapse

• Phytoplankton decline

• Toxic pollution: plastics, heavy metals, hormones and other chemicals in the soils, air, oceans, aquifers, rivers and lakes

• Alteration of the nitrogen cycle (with many consequences, including marine hypoxia - "dead zones")

• Invasive species

• Increasing human share of global photosynthetic capacity (primary production), which is also in modest decline

• Radioactive waste

Pollinator decline

• Peak phosphorus (and a number of other minerals, though phosphorus seems to be the most pressing and crucial)

• Stratospheric ozone depletion and tropospheric ozone pollution

Antibiotic-resistant microbes (a.k.a. "superbugs")
Are there any here which you hadn't heard of? Any that I've missed? Part of the point of this list is to stress that climate change is but one of many threats, though it is a multiplier of a number of these problems (water access, soil degradation, biodiversity loss, habitat destruction, ocean acidification and so on). The root cause of most of them is the combination of global population growth coupled with growth in per capita ecological footprint, though it is particularly the consumption patterns of the developed world over the last six decades that bear the lion's share of the blame.

For a partial list of some arresting statistics, try this post.

52 comments:

Anthony Douglas said...

It might be buried in a category above, but the half-baked medico in me feels compelled to mention the pharmacological one - the loss of effectiveness of drugs, the movement towards superbugs etc.

byron smith said...

Ah, yes, good point. I'll add it.

jessica smith said...

I don't really get what "Increasing human share of global photosynthetic capacity" means. Can you clarify?

David Palmer said...

Hi Byron,

You mention your project is about the perception (definition) of threats to life as we currently know it

Whilst I don’t wish to add to your list of serious ecological and resource difficulties that have resulted from the spectacular success of industrialism – and I think you would need to apply some level of significance as to a) relative importance, b) uncertainty in being able to define the precise threat and c) ability to adjust to eliminate each threat, my thoughts lie elsewhere.

My instinct as you may guess, and here I see myself as a half glass full person rather than the half glass empty person that I take you to be, is to list the benefits alongside the threats so as to achieve some sort of balanced view.

Personally I view the changes brought about by the sexual/cultural revolution of the 1960’s as great if not greater threat to life as we once knew it.

BTW, I’ve enjoyed reading your joust with Sam Norton over at Elizaphanian. I thought his analogy with the Reformers rather good.

Cheers

David

byron smith said...

David - My research is not attempting to define or evaluate the ecological and resource threats, nor to offer a critique (or appraisal) of industrialism's benefits and costs, nor to compare ecological with social and cultural threats. It takes the increasingly widespread perception of ecological threats at face value in order to ask after the theological grounds for a healthy response to the typical effects (fear, guilt, impotence) of these perceptions on ethical thought. Hope that helps.

byron smith said...

Jess - Increasing human share of photosynthetic capacity is an idea I have seen in a few places (though I haven't seen it in many, and perhaps it is not widely accepted, so maybe I should drop it). Basically, it is the idea that of the total share of solar energy utilised by plants, humanity are taking an ever greater share, leaving less to be used for the maintenance of natural systems and non-human life generally.

byron smith said...

PS David, I do think that there are good answers to the questions you raise (for example, do you really think that the extinction of 70% of species would be a lesser catastrophe than the social changes brought about by the 60s sexual/cultural revolution? The latter has had both benefits and costs; the former would be an unmitigated disaster for human culture, societies, economies, agriculture and demographics). It is just that these are not directly part of my current research.

David Palmer said...

HI Byron,

It takes the increasingly widespread perception of ecological threats at face value in order to ask after the theological grounds for a healthy response to the typical effects (fear, guilt, impotence) of these perceptions on ethical thought.

Why don't we say fear, guilt and atonement - I think that might be closer to the mark

do you really think that the extinction of 70% of species would be a lesser catastrophe than the social changes brought about by the 60s sexual/cultural revolution?

I don't really think extinction of 70% of species is likely, but I do know we live today with the terrible effects of the the 60s sexual/cultural revolution

byron smith said...

Why don't we say fear, guilt and atonement - I think that might be closer to the mark
I don't understand what you mean. Can you fill out this thought a little?

I don't really think extinction of 70% of species is likely, but I do know we live today with the terrible effects of the the 60s sexual/cultural revolution
You were talking about threats, which are by definition future possibilities.

As for the likelihood of a very significant loss of biodiversity, what are you basing your evaluation of likelihood on? I assume you have scientific references to doubt the latest UN report on biodiversityreleased this week?

BTW, I’ve enjoyed reading your joust with Sam Norton over at Elizaphanian. I thought his analogy with the Reformers rather good.
Can you explain what you think Sam means by the analogy?

David Palmer said...

Hi Byron,

Re your question concerning my substitution of atonement for impotence.

I take it as a given that deep within the human psyche, post the Fall, there is this human experience of guilt in relation to our sin (OK, I can say this in different ways), fear of having given real offence to a higher (God) authority and the concomitant need for forgiveness which always involves the payment of a price.

We readily understand this in Christian terms but it applies equally well to much of the environmental argument over global warming – but you understand all of this.

Again in relation to 70% species going extinct you know perfectly well that I’m not going to cite contrarian scientific references – it is just my incredulity coming into play. I’ve become rather inured to these kinds of predictions, which I’m sure are framed as a classic kick in the backside exercise in order to make the powers that be do something.

I suppose I might ask you, why stop at 70%, why not 80%, 90%, 100%?

As a conservative I deeply regret the loss of anything that might fall into the category of “whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable”, but I recognise we cannot, as it were, freeze the present for the future.

As we both know should the IPCC claims be correct, taking globally preventative measures to hold, even reverse current positions will be an incredibly difficult, seriously expensive and uncertain exercise with absolutely no assurance of success, given all of life’s uncertainties with not-to-be forgotten non environmental factors such as warfare, cultural suicide, epidemics, etc, liable to intrude at any time.

As Christians we must (I’m not ignoring the imperative of Genesis 2:15, just setting it aside for the moment) always recognise and live with the effects of human culpability which bastardises every good and honourable intention, whilst at the same time, most importantly, recognise and hold fast to the knowledge that our sovereign God never forsakes the works of His Hands, - indeed has promised to liberate, in the coming again of His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the whole creation, box and dice, from its bondage to decay, even if this means firstly fire and destruction, en route to His glorious recreation, the new heavens and new earth, our home of righteousness.

Re Sam over at Elizaphanian, I don’t think you need me to explain the analogy. I think in his polite way he has thrown down a challenge to you and I will be interested in how you respond, hopefully in due course

Eclipse Now said...

@ Dave P
I’ve become rather inured to these kinds of predictions, which I’m sure are framed as a classic kick in the backside exercise in order to make the powers that be do something.
No David, these issues are framed in the discourse of the most accurate and latest peer reviewed papers modern science can produce.

Species really *are* going extinct, fisheries really *are* going into decline, the globe really *is* warming, Antarctica really *is* starting to melt, and many resources really *are* threatened.

Now I for one am a technological and market optimist, but my theology teaches me that human sinfulness and foolishness are also at play in the decisions our governments and corporations and consumers will make as we drive stubbornly blindfolded towards this cliff.

The information is there for anyone who watches Catalyst regularly or reads just ONE science magazine or ONE science podcast. The ecosystems on this planet are simply dying, being ploughed under or paved over.

So can I please suggest that you stop trying to place a wedge between Christian morality and ecology? It's not a case of being concerned about the trends in society OR being concerned about the environment. That is a rather disingenuous false dichotomy.

Does recognising human culpability mean not doing anything as future generations lose access to countless species and genetic codes that could have provided our grandchildren with everything from the proverbial cure to cancer to some new fuels or materials sciences?

We just cannot imagine the potential benefits that we are robbing future generations of — and this is happening right now. And as you mentioned Genesis, surely God's creatures have a right to exist independent of their economic worth simply because our God made them and this is His world, not ours to destroy?

"Our God never forsakes the works of His Hands" is THE excuse I hear Baby Boomer conservatives and neocons give to do God's "forsaking" of this world for him.

Sorry for being so blunt brother, because while I also look forward to a new heaven and new earth, it is by no means an excuse to totally stuff this one for the next generation.

David Palmer said...

Hi Eclipse Now,

I checked you out and found you identify yourself only as Dave.

I have an aversion to debating someone who does not identify themselves.

However, I have a sneaking suspicion this Dave is me ol' mate Dave Lankshear with whom I enjoyed a spot of sparring in the good old days of the SydAng forum - those were the days!

Now come on Dave, come clean. Are you Dave Lankshear?

If not, profoundest apologies, but I won't respond until I have a name.

Eclipse Now said...

Yes, of course it's me.

(I've become a little bit more circumspect in my online debates due to some weird internet-stalking and phone call harassment by some of the greenies I've been in contact with online, asking me to adopt positions that were more extreme than I was comfortable with, and generally trying to recruit me into running a number of extra campaigns that I just don't have time for.)

Eclipse Now said...

This just in from Scientific American...


"The sharp edges of the blue spiny lizard will not protect it against climate change. New research shows that it has gone extinct at 24 out of 200 sites in Mexico since 1975. The cause was not loss of habitat to spreading agriculture or sprawling cities. Rather, it was hotter springs, according to research published in the May 14 issue of Science.

And that means climate change could end up driving nearly 20 percent of existing lizard species extinct by 2080.

That's odd, given that lizards are known to thrive in heat and have evolved to conserve water. And their forebearers the dinosaurs certainly didn't mind a much warmer climate...

...In fact, as much as 39 percent of all lizard populations around the globe could disappear by 2080. What's worse: extinctions caused by climate change are already happening—no matter what we do to try and stop them."

Lizards feel the heat!

Or this...
"The situation in India is particularly grim, as the Bengal tiger (Panthera tigris tigris) population there has dropped from 3,600 to just 1,400 in the past eight years."
Tiger Conservation

These 2 stories come from the SCIAM Department "Extinction countdown". It documents both inspiring stories of conservation successes and heartbreaking stories of the immoral plundering of our world. One thing is for sure. The successes would never have happened if everyone just shrugged and took the Neocon perspective. "God never forsakes the works of His Hands — so crank up the Tar Sands to run my Hummer as we bring The Goodness of Suburbia to the Amazon jungle!"

Eclipse Now said...

David P, you might want to subscribe to Scientific American's free podcast.
Just download / install iTunes, go to the green 'iTunes Store'button and type in "Scientific American". You can also search for "NPR Science Friday" and our ABC's "The Science Show" with Robyn Williams.

A regular diet of science and the latest reports in sound-bytes for even us lay-people never hurt anyone. Great for while you're out walking off the frustration of dealing with people like me online. ;-)

In the meantime, if you just want to catch up on 2 podcasts... try these from Scientific American. (SCIAM as some call it).

7 Answers to climate Contrarian Nonsense and Are we pushing the Earth's Environmental Tipping Points?

David Palmer said...

Hi Dave,

Good to hear from you.

I must say I'm more on these guys' wavelength these days.

Eclipse Now said...

Hi David P
I'd agree with their executive summary goals of paragraph 3 on ensuring human needs being met while not destroying a stable climate and environment. I personally would achieve this without a specific 'carbon tax', which seems to me a very difficult thing to introduce and monitor.

Really, if we want to achieve maximum carbon reductions in the shortest period of time:
* Ban any new coal mine anywhere in the world
* Create a government subsidised mechanism for transfering coal employees into other sectors over the next 20 years, as all coal power must be closed ASAP
* Create dozens of carefully monitored, government inspected IFR manufacturing plants around the world on each major continent. GE's S-PRISM will do nicely at 311MWe, and can be delivered to site off the back of a truck! (Nuclear power literally off the back of a truck!)
* Build ELECTRIC fast rail around Australia to move the 97% of our freight from trucks to trains
* Mandate that all new cars are compatible with the Better Place electric car battery swap system (until such time as quick charge technologies make the need for battery swap irrelevant)
* Emphasise efficiency (around half of Australian fridges wouldn't pass European energy standards and would be illegal to sell).
* All new homes to be built with maximum energy efficiency, thick thermal mass and passive solar technologies, and New Urbanism planning to increase walkability by slightly increasing density and diversity in our cities.
* Emergency action in Africa (and other depleted environments) would probably involve Seawater Greenhouses in the deserts, massive "Greening the desert" permaculture replantings and reclamation of destroyed landscapes with Seawater Greenhouse overflows (each Greenhouse produces 5 times the water that the food grown in the greenhouse actually needs!), and meeting other human dignity and safety requirements as fast as possible.
* education for women and societies worldwide to enable a demographic transition.
* Absolute bans on development in biodiversity hot-spots, while OVERCOMPENSATING affected communities by offering enormous incentives to move to other attractive, New Urbanist developments

In other words, I firmly believe we can solve these problems through good legislation, the Integral Fast Reactor burning up the world's stockpile of nuclear waste over the next 500 years, and careful management of the environment. I am an optimist!

However, regarding your paper: I really don't have time to debate the anti-science, anti-environment rubbish in the Hartwell paper focussed on exploiting the so-called "Climategate" scandal. If you can't accept that a UK parliamentary inquiry cleared them of any wrongdoing, then I guess that's your problem.

byron smith said...

Here is a fairly recent speech by Sir John Beddington, Chief Scientific Advisor to the UK Government, outlining a series of very serious challenges we will face as we approach 2030.

eclipsenow said...

Yes, I think I heard him giving that talk on one of my science podcasts. However, all the rest of the science podcasts present a picture of exponential change still occurring, with potential carbon-nano-tube desalination that is a thousand times faster at only half the price of today's desal, through to all manner of other new agricultural practices.

There is hope! There is also despair, panic, greed, and the potential for new conflicts. I navigating the future to provide a good enough life for all is technically possible, but is it politically and spiritually?

byron smith said...

I [believe?] navigating the future to provide a good enough life for all is technically possible, but is it politically and spiritually?
Aye, there's the rub!

In one sense, this is nothing new, since humanity has always been faced by the issue of short term greed potentially undermining long term flourishing, but the difference today is that the stakes are much higher than they have ever been before.

byron smith said...

Peak water.

byron smith said...

Converging emergencies.

byron smith said...

Peak wood, the story of the over-exploitation of a resource.

byron smith said...

Detailed treatment of fresh water issues around the globe, with a particular focus on the effects of climate change and also with a particular focus on the US.

byron smith said...

27-33% of all flowering plants threatened by extinction.

byron smith said...

PS Note that the study mentioned in the previous link also says: "These estimates are based on immediate threat, and do not consider further development of destructive factors - including climate disruption."

Eclipse Now said...

The right whale is nearly gone.

David Palmer never got back to us on how he maintains incredulity over the possible extinction trends this century. Scientists watching the Koorong in the lower Murray-Darling system have documented the loss of a number of species of bird, just in their lifetime. And that just appears to be the effects brought on by suburban sprawl and habitat destruction, not climate change.

Yet I'm not a total doomer: I don't believe this trend is inevitable. We can change things if society gets serious.

You write how impossible it would be to reverse climate change if the IPCC is right. I'm on the record of saying the IPCC is wrong, as my understanding is the experts have moved on from the last IPCC report. The emergency is far more urgent.

Yet there is a cheap, reliable, baseload form of power in the advanced new reactors that eat nuclear waste. Rather than an expensive custom build for each reactor, these IFR's can be built smaller, in modular form. This is exciting because it allows them to be mass produced on an assembly line. Want to replace a 2 gigawatt coal plant? Order 7 300megawatt IFR's and they might even throw in free-fries with that order. ;-)

Eclipse Now said...

Oops... I've already had an IFR rant on this thread. Not meaning to troll! I lost track of whether or not I'd shared that with Dave P.

Cheers!

byron smith said...

Dave - That is indeed sad news about the right whales. However, it is important to not overstate the case. The article points out that there are three species of right whale, and the one in question, the North Pacific right whale, has two population centres that don't seem to mix. It is the smaller of these two centres that is likely to become extinct due to low numbers and various threats. Nonetheless, this is far from the only troubled group and even local extinctions are extremely significant as they have effects (often difficult to predict) all through the local ecosystem.

You're right that we're still waiting on David P's answer to that particular question (and one or two others, but there's no rush).

When you say that you think the IPCC is wrong, can you clarify? Do you mean that more research published since AR4 makes some parts of the report out of date and too optimistic? (Such as on sea level rise) Or do you have issues with the methods, structure, assumptions, politics or otherwise of the IPCC?

As for the nuclear reactors, how much do they each cost? Do you have reliable independent figures for that?

Eclipse Now said...

I agree on being careful about the right whale story. But my concern is how sneaky various local extinctions are. I'm not sure how genetically separate these right whales are from the others? The important thing with species is not just numbers, but genetic diversity and 'depth' within the species.

Now, how much does a nuke cost? How much does a car cost? Are we talking about an individually crafted Rolls Royce or mass produced Hyundai? The GenIV reactors I'm talking about will be the Hyundai's, which should bring the price down under $2000 / kw capacity, or even down to $1000 / kw. If anyone talks about 'recent cost blow outs in France' etc, please look the particular reactor they are discussing up because the build may have blown out on legal costs due to anti-nuclear activists.

For actual costings of existing nuclear designs, try Dr Barry Brook's page.

But do keep in mind that streamlined assembly line production and safety inspections with smooth delivery to site should bring the costs down dramatically.

Renewables advocates "Beyond Zero Emissions" have said they think they can power Australia for just $320 billion. Problem is, they also assume a 50% energy efficiency cut.

Nukies I talk to at Brave New Climate say we could power Australia with reliable baseload power for 100 billion or less, and any efficiency gains would just be the icing on the cake.

That is, according to the renewables enthusiasts it is 6 times more expensive. Yet the BNC crowd, including environmental scientist Dr Barry Brook, are convinced the renewables grid would not be baseload!

(Caveat: If some kid in a nano-tech factory invents a super-cheap super-powerful battery, that might change the game. And Beyond Zero Emissions didn't count on DEEP geothermal, which has not yet been proven to be commercially viable. Either of these developments could change the picture, and I would LOVE to be proven wrong about renewables!)

Here's another way of looking at it. What's the average Co2 output for France per kw electricity after their 10 years of building nukes, and what is Denmark's emissions after decades of building wind turbines? 90grams and 650grams respectively. Wind power just doesn't close down old coal plants I'm afraid.

Eclipse Now said...

Oh, I forgot to mention why I disagree with the IPCC. It's mainly because it is still running off the 450ppm figures when there was a distinct shift a few years back towards 350ppm. James Hansen put a case that the climate world has been verifying around the globe: that we are already way past 'safe' levels at 385ppm. They used to say we had a decade to act. Now the "Climate Code Red" Australian climatologists and the 350.org movement led by Bill McKibben and James Hansen are warning we're already in dangerous climate change, and the feedbacks could kick in unexpectedly fast: as almost everything to do with climate seems to.

Which is why I'm also an optimist!

Just a little forcing up can be countered by just a little forcing down with the sulfur gun doing the job for only $50 billion. (But I've already harped on about that. And your reply was much valued! I had forgotten about this possibly shutting down the Indian Monsoon. Which raises the question — as the sulfur gun is so cheap, could some nation experiencing nasty climate changes go ahead and do it unilaterally anyway?)

byron smith said...

I'm totally with you on the loss of genetic diversity and "depth". Extinctions are sexy. Falling populations? Call us when they're extinct.

Thanks for BNC. I'll have to have a look. I also just came across this and thought of you. :-)

Eclipse Now said...

Ha ha, sounds like a good old doomer / tub thumper confronting the new and improved me. ;-)

On decommissioning... from Barry's blog link above.

***

Observers of the political turmoil now underway in Ontario over the media reports that AECL bid $26 billion to build two new ACR1000 reactors (2,220 MW) are in good company trying to make sense of these figures.

The news media, notably the Toronto Star, had a field day with the numbers sticking provincial politicians like they were morsels on a shish-ka-bob skewer. The problem with all the fire, smoke, and spit from the grill is that the numbers are undoubtedly wrong and wrongly reported in the news media.

First, $26 billion is an aggregate number that includes two reactors, turbines, transmission and distribution infrastructure (power lines or T&D), plant infrastructure, and nuclear fuel for 60 years as well as decommissioning costs. The most important number in the whole controversy has gone largely without notice and that is the delivered cost of electricity from the plants is in the range of five cents per kilowatt hour.

byron smith said...

I've written about 350 before and joined the campaign. It may well be correct, though the IPCC is not incorrect to have published 450, as the 350 concept only really took off in research published after the deadline for AR4 and still represents a minority view. It is all about risk management.

However, this doesn't at all fill me with optimism. Rather than a small forcing only requiring a small response, if the 350 crowd are correct, then it shows how sensitive the earth's climate is to forcings, meaning that geoengineering becomes even trickier to get right! And you're also correct about the dangers of unilateral action. These are precisely some of the ethical issues about geoengineering being discussed at the moment.

Eclipse Now said...

This TED talk on population is a classic. It's so good I'm adding it to my population summary page.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fTznEIZRkLg

byron smith said...

Peak phosphate in the Guardian.

Eclipse Now said...

Brilliant! I love the Guardian. Did you know The Guardian wiki explains that while the Guardian print version might come in a few places behind other British papers, the online version is the 2nd most popular paper on the planet!

What do you think the draw cards are? ;-)

byron smith said...

Really 2nd overall online? Actually, looking at the wiki, I note it is 2nd largest English-language online newspaper. Perhaps you need to watch this video. :-)

Drawcards? Hmmm, I'm no media expert, but speaking personally, the ecological coverage (while still have various problems) is considerably better than most mainstream papers (I'd be hard-pressed to think of a better one), and since I'm in the UK, I like to take in some UK-perspective news (both local and global), which it also does.

Eclipse Now said...

Hi David P,
any word yet on whether this really is the 6th great extinction event on planet earth?

byron smith said...

Helium depletion.

byron smith said...

Almost half of all wetlands lost to agriculture.

Eclipse Now said...

Again, a very real problem! But when governments and economists and big business are starting to see the sheer economic value of ecosystems, including wetlands, there is hope.

This short audio clip actually has wetland preservation as an item. EG: They wanted to fill in the wetlands for agriculture, but realised that they were processing the town's waste and an artificial sewerage treatment plant would cost 10 times the value of the farm goods grown there anyway.

Marine protection improves fish stocks. Female fish produce up to 100 times the eggs of smaller fish of the same species. Pavan Sukhdev says environmental services, provided by nature are not measured or accounted for in our economics. They are known as externalities. Examples are bees for pollination, forests cleaning air and water and oceans providing fisheries. In Costa Rica, farmers have been paid to retain forests. Deforestation has stopped, water supply increased, and overall farm productivity increased downstream. In Kampala Uganda, a swamp was saved after realising it was acting as a free cleaner of sewerage. Slowly says Sukhdev, business is getting the message that the environment has economic value despite there being no market for environmental preservation.

via Economic value of the environment - Science Show - 21 August 2010.

byron smith said...

Invasive species in the Great Lakes.

byron smith said...

Excellent summary of the various crises and their link to visions of particular kinds of economic growth.

Rich said...

One way in which these threats increase in ferocity is that humans have become deskilled in basic survival techniques. For instance, I know some people who do not know how to use public transport, since they only use their cars Many people no longer know how to cook (apart from making sammies and using a microwave), let alone find or grow their own food. If things really go bad such skills might be the difference between life and death.

byron smith said...

Yes, deskilling is a corollary of societal complexity, since it is the result of greater specialisation and thus interdependence. This is initially a good thing, in that it increases the stability of the system as a whole (e.g. it is a good thing that few people in most developed countries know how to use a gun, or how to conduct themselves in a fist fight), but it means that where there are (could be) systemic failures, the stakes are much, much higher than in a less complex society.

byron smith said...

Desertification: According to a UN expert:
"Since 1950, 1.9 billion hectares (4.7 billion acres) of land around the world has become degraded, a problem that has reduced harvests, contributed to changing rainfall patterns and increased the vulnerability of millions of people, Gnacadja said. Each year, on average, another 12 million hectares (30 million acres) of land a year is lost to the problem, he added."

eclipsenow said...

Hi Byron,

Scientific American has an article on how there is a new "Great Green Wall" growing across the Sahel as African farmers grow trees to help with their crops. It seems previous dictators declared that the peasants didn't own the trees on their land and local state officials would cut down their trees for profit. Now that the farmers are allowed to grow local native trees, they can start to use this to rebuild their soils in a polycropping technique that is slowly regreening the Sahel (south of the Sahara).

byron smith said...

Global resource use could triple to 140 billion tonnes p.a. by 2050 according to UNEP. We are currently at 59 billion tonnes, have been at 49 at 2000 and 6 at 1900.

Where does it end?

byron smith said...

Tropospheric ozone pollution and tree mortality. This is a new one for me; not yet sure how "crank" it might be.

byron smith said...

The Conversation: Phosphorus and food.

byron smith said...

This seems to be a new site about ground-level ozone by the same author as the link two posts above. The first page gives a good summary of the issue.