Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Does nature have a price? and other stories

Pricing nature: George Monbiot highlights the myopia of attempting to include "ecosystem services" within mainstream neoliberal economic thought. The initial government report noted that some of the services provided by natural ecosystems "may in fact be infinite in value". You don't say.

Ten Billion: A "play", reviewed here and here, in which noted Cambridge scientist Stephen Emmott plays noted Cambridge scientist Stephen Emmott. The only set is a recreation of his messy Cambridge office and the drama is Emmott delivering a lecture on our current predicament. describes himself as a "rational pessimist" and lays out the daunting, perhaps impossible, task before us in the coming decades where we face multiple converging crises. He concludes that the only rational way forward is radical cultural change with widespread embrace of lower consumption and fewer children (this is pretty close to what I think, with nuances regarding children), but thinks it is not going to happen (this is also basically what I think, though with all kinds of reasons why it is still worth trying). Given that those who will hear this are those willing to pay through the nose for a night of "theatre" more disturbingly horrifying than any fictional film, it's probably better to avoid reading too much into fact that all performances are sold out. Attempts such as this to piece together the various disparate pieces of information that float around the internet and scientific journals are to be valued. That people come away terrified ought to be entirely unsurprising. What is needed is a moral vision capable of surveying such a situation and finding reasons to throw ourselves "once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more".

Australian coal: A victory as one proposed coal plant is shelved.

Hunger games: Coming soon to a future near you. Future heat, drought, food costs and global unrest. I have long been saying that such secondary and tertiary effects of climate change are at least as dangerous as any direct physical effects, though they may not generate headlines that mention climate.

Planetary boundaries: "Approaching a state shift in Earth's biosphere", a recent paper in Nature includes this in its abstract: "Localized ecological systems are known to shift abruptly and irreversibly from one state to another when they are forced across critical thresholds. Here we review evidence that the global ecosystem as a whole can react in the same way and is approaching a planetary-scale critical transition as a result of human influence."

Solastalgia: The word is a neologism coined by psychologist Glenn Albrecht in 2003 and is gaining some recognition. It refers to nostalgia one feels for a place being lost even while you're still there, a homesickness while you're still at home, but home is becoming less hospitable. In Albrecht's own words, it is "emplaced or existential melancholia experienced with the negative transformation (desolation) of a loved home environment". I think it is a useful concept, even if I'm not convinced by the etymology.

Extreme weather: Extreme heat events experienced in many places in recent years are very, very unlikely to be unrelated to climate change. A new study by James Hansen on the attribution of extreme weather events does not use models, but is a statistical study based on observed changes that argues that the increase in what used to be extreme events (three standard deviations above the 1950-80 average) to now cover something like 10% of the globe's surface at any given time (rather than about 0.1% during 1950-80), is strong evidence that such events are vanishingly unlikely to not be related to climate change.

Overheated economy: Temperature rises correlate with declines in economic indicators and political stability, at least in developing nations. Good thing we're not expecting any discernable pattern in global temperatures over the next few decades and centuries then.

The West in Flames: The US West and Southwest is projected by most climate models to get hotter and drier. This has all kinds of implications, but this article by the author of A Great Aridness summarises the implications for trees and wildfire. It's not pretty.

400ppm CO2: Last time CO2 levels were this high. A study investigating conditions 15 million years ago found that "The last time carbon dioxide levels were apparently as high as they are today — and were sustained at those levels — global temperatures were 5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit (2.8-5.6ºC) higher than they are today, the sea level was approximately 75 to 120 feet (22.9-36.6m) higher than today, there was no permanent sea ice cap in the Arctic and very little ice on Antarctica and Greenland".


jessica smith said...

Fascinated by the piece of theatre and excited that someone is trying to engage through the arts, just what I need.

byron smith said...

Here is the original tipping points Nature article.