You don't need science to tell you that our society is messing with dangerous things it shouldn't be messing with. All you have to do is look around you:
The amount of pavement in the world is increasing. That means that the amount of living soil is decreasing.
There is no indication of it ever stopping, nor slowing. The rate, in fact, is accelerating.
It's obviously doing so, because economic growth is accelerating, and economic growth means pavement.
A finite quantity (anything that's not infinite) cannot experience net subtraction forever. Indefinite subtraction eventually results in zero. That's simple math. Math can't be argued with.
There is almost nowhere where pavement is being converted back into living soil with trees. Effectively, all the movement goes in one direction: from living soil to pavement. Not the other way around.
Mathematically, the amount of living soil on the planet is heading in the direction of zero, at a pace that's accelerating, exponentially, AND YOU DON'T NEED A SINGLE SCIENTIST IN ORDER TO KNOW THAT.
And pavement isn't the only thing.
While pavement snuffs out living soil, even the soil that remains living and unpaved still gets reduced to a saddened and pathetic version of itself, consisting of exactly one kind of plant, in a space where there used to be thousands.
-A thriving community
-Hardly a community
-Next to no biodiversity
-A fraction of the biomass
Look at any "lawn." It used to be a thriving forest, with thousands of species of plants, fungi, and animals living in a spectacular community of amazingly diverse Life.
Same with the farms that grow our food; they're expanding (as population is expanding and getting more greedy and picky and wasteful in its habits), and they're not replacing strip malls and parking lots and housing developments - they're replacing forests.
Farms and lawns are replacing forests, and nowhere, for all intents and purposes, is it the other way around.
And it's not just land. It's the water too.
Drinkable water is turning undrinkable, almost everywhere. Need proof? Go walk to the nearest stream, and drink a glass from it.
See, you don't need a scientist to tell you something's wrong!
Although there are a few nice stories of lakes and rivers getting cleaned up and fish returning, none of them turn truly drinkable, and for every place of improvement, there are a hundred more turning more polluted by the day.
Large areas of the oceans are becoming "dead zones", as run-off from industrial fertilizer and animal agriculture waste changes the chemistry of coastal waters and decreases the oxygen levels of the water, until no living creatures can survive in it.
Fish and other creatures are washing up dead on beaches by the thousands and millions, having suffocated in the seas.
These dead zones are only increasing, both in size and in number.
Here's a brief explanation of what a dead zone is:
The ocean's size is not infinite. It's finite. So if the amount of dead zones keeps increasing, then the amount of living ocean keeps decreasing.
Again, do the math. You can't subtract infinitely from a finite quantity.
Map of oceanic deadzones, as of 2010. It's only gotten worse since then.
Meanwhile, the open oceans are filling up with plastic, and whales and dolphins are washing up ashore, starved to death because their stomachs are filled to the brim with plastic, and there was no more room for food.
Land is becoming entirely uninhabitable. Toxic waste sites, dumps, landfills, those massive trash hills you see people climbing on, nuclear accident sites, all these things are increasing, and nowhere are they being healed and turned habitable again. The rate might be slow... so far... but the amount of uninhabitable toxic land is increasing.
Biomass is decreasing, at an exponentially accelerating rate, all around the world.
Biodiversity is decreasing, at an exponentially accelerating rate, all around the world.
ALL OF THESE THINGS are things you can verify with your own eyes.
You do not need scientists to prove any of this to you. You can see it happening right outside your window, or with very simple logic.
"Well now, I'm not denying that this stuff is happening. And it does sadden me. I wish we would take better care of Nature.
But this planet is so HUGE. There is SO MUCH land, SO MUCH water, and SO MANY trees and animals. There's no way we're going to destroy ALL of it/them.
I mean, with the pavement example, are you really saying that we're gonna cover the WHOLE PLANET with pavement? Or to cut down EVERY TREE?
These are not realistic fears! You're being alarmists!"
No, it's not alarmist, because this argument fails to consider the non-linear properties of living systems.
"I've heard that term "non-linear" used by climate activists and environmentalists. What does it mean?"
To sum it up, we don't need to get "all the way to zero" before we cause catastrophic, irreversible damage.
We don't need to cover the entire planet in pavement, or cut down every single tree, in order to destroy this world.
It's best shown with an example.
We call this the Parable of Lost Cells.
The Parable of Lost Cells
Here's a little thought experiment that shows how the consequences of ecological destruction are non-linear.
First, let's meet these little guys:
These are nanobots. They're microscopic little robots, the size of a human cell.
As of 2019, they're still in the realm of Science-Fiction. (Although a lot of people have plans to develop them and use them for various purposes... and who knows what the military-industrial complex might already have...).
For the time being, let's just put on our imagination hats, and imagine the following scenario:
Every day, a swarm of little tiny nanobots go inside your body, and remove a certain number of your living cells.
After the cells are removed, they're replaced with cement, so that no new cells can regrow to replace them.
So, every day, you have a net loss of cells.
Got that so far?
The average human body has anywhere from 1 - 5 trillion cells. For the sake of simplicity, let's use the 1 trillion figure for this experiment.
Now again, for the sake of simplicity, let's set the number of cells removed each day at 1 billion.
So to recap, you've got 1 trillion cells, and every day, 1 billion are removed, and replaced with cement.
Here's the 64,000 dollar question:
How long would you survive like this?
"Well that's easy! Just divide 1 trillion by 1 billion."
Really? That's it? Are you sure?
"Sure! 1 trillion / 1 billion = 1000 !
Easy answer: 1000 days.
Ummm..... no. Not right. Not even close to right.
You would NOT have to arrive at "zero cells" before you died. Do you think you'd still be alive after 999 days, with only 1 billion cells remaining, 1/1000th of your current body mass?
"Oh wait, you're right. I didn't realize that."
Do you think you'd be alive after 900 days, with 9/10 of your body mass gone, and only 1/10 remaining?
"Good point. Definitely not."
What about after 667 days, after 2/3 of your mass is gone, and 1/3 is remaining?
What about after 500 days, with 1/2 your current mass?
You might still survive at half your weight - you'd be emaciated, and look like someone from a charity commercial - but you MIGHT be alive.
However, that assumes that all the cells are being taken from body fat and non-essential muscle mass. But our scenario has them coming uniformly from all areas and organs. What if the cells are also coming out of your brain?
Would you be alive if half of your brain cells were gone?
If half of your liver cells were gone? Half of your heart cells? Your lung cells?
"My guess is no."
What about after 333 days? Would you be alive if 1/3 of your brain was gone, and 2/3 remained? How would all of your "functions" look?
"If I were still alive, I'd probably be a vegetable."
What about after 200 days, with only 1/5 gone, and 4/5 remaining?
"Perhaps not a vegetable, but I surely wouldn't be able to function normally."
What about after just 100 days, with 1/10 gone, and 9/10 still remaining?
"Hmmm... not sure. Maybe functional, but just barely."
The point is this:
1. You don't have to get to zero before your systems would start to break down.
2. You don't even have to get anywhere NEAR zero.
3. Just a fraction of your system destroyed would have dire consequences for your functioning.
4. And there is a point at which your entire system would collapse completely.
5. That point, also, is nowhere near zero.
6. Nobody knows exactly where such a point is.
It's impossible to know for sure exactly how many cells you can be reduced to, and still live - but we can DEFINITELY say, for sure, that the answer is nowhere near "zero."
It's nowhere near 1/10th. It's nowhere near 1/3. It's probably nowhere near half.
Nobody knows the answer.
You cannot extrapolate linear trends in a dynamic system.
"Linear" means subtracting the same exact number, at a regular pace. (In the case of our scenario, 1 billion cells per day).
Dynamic systems (like the human body, or the planetary ecosystem) don't work that way. Since every component of the system affects every other component, the further into the future you extrapolate, the faster the effects compound on each other and accelerate. This makes the equation NON-LINEAR.
"OK, I think I get it."
But that's not all.
In addition to the 1 billion cells converted to cement each day, there are other things going on too:
Other tiny robots simply hack and slash and kill cells.
Others inject poisonous chemicals.
Others emit microwaves.
Others deposit microscopic pieces of plastic in gaps between cells.
Others extract blood and other fluids.
Others extract vitamins and minerals.
Others conduct microscopic science experiments.
Others produce dissonant sound vibrations.
Others erect walls and other barriers between cells.
And so on. They're messing with your biology in a thousand ways.
"Yikes! I see what you're saying."
The overall point is, do you know how much of this you could take, and still be alive?
"No. I guess no one can ever predict this kind of thing."
And if you understand the danger
of performing such an experiment
on a body (e.g. yours),
then why in the world would you want
to perform it on the planet?
"Hmm... this is a new way to look at things. I get what you're saying. But... just one thing though...
I can see how this applies to individual bodies, but not a planet. A planet isn't the same as a body."
Actually, yes, it is.
It's bigger, and more complex, but it has the same properties, and is subject to the same rules, as your body.
The planet is a living organism.
And like any organism, there's a thing called "health." And if health decreases too much, there's a thing called "death."
"But that sounds like Gaia Theory."
So? What's wrong with that?
"Because it's against my religion."
Why is that?
"Well, it's what's called "worshiping the creation, instead of the Creator." And that's idolatry. It's heresy."
How does recognizing the existence of a living organism equate to "worshiping" them?
"Well, what about God? Where does God fit into this picture?"
Why would you assume otherwise?
Whoever you believe created the universe, created the planet. Right?
And that planet is a living organism.
How exactly does this deny or go against God?
"Well the Bible doesn't mention anything about it..."
So? There are myriad things the Bible doesn't mention, which exist. Computers, cellphones, protein, carbohydrates, DNA, the moons of Jupiter, radio waves, the Amazon rain-forest, Eskimos, walruses, the Atlantic Jet-stream, Antarctica, the internal combustion engine, atoms, TV, the ionosphere, and 10,000 other things make no appearance in the text of the Bible, yet are real. And acknowledging their existence does not constitute heresy.
"Hmm... OK. But how exactly does this... work? Does the planet have a face? A heart? Organs?"
The planet is a living organism, consisting of a great many smaller ones, called plants, and animals, flora and fauna, people, and so forth.
And each of those consists of a great many smaller organisms called cells.
Cells combine to form individuals.
And individuals are like cells in a larger body called an ecosystem.
And ecosystems combine to form a biosphere.
And all of these units share the same general characteristics.
If God exists, then the fact that He's able to create Life - and not only create it, but create it on so many levels and scales, from small to large to planetary - is a testament to His/Her genius. Is it not?
"Good point. I guess the idea isn't so bad. As long as you're not demanding that I... like... worship a tree... or pray to an idol... or anything like that."
We're not here to convert you to a religion! Just to explain how ecology works.
"Cool. Anyway, you said that each "level" of Life shares the same characteristics with all the others. I'm guessing you mean that a biosphere behaves like an individual. How is that?"
Because the universe has a fractal structure. What you see at any scale resembles the other scales, because all the scales of the universe are built with the same laws of physics.
The Fractal Structure of the Universe
"As on Earth, so in Heaven."
The universe is made up of layers of organization.
Particles, atoms, molecules, minerals, planets, solar systems, galaxies, super-clusters.... each of those is a layer of organization - a scale at which energy organizes itself.
"I don't believe in a 'self-organizing universe". I believe God created it."
Alright. Change "organizes itself" into "is organized by whatever intelligence, deity, or consciousness you believe does the organizing."
And the layers have a lot of things in common. They're similar in the way they behave.
Some refer to this as a fractal structure, because fractals reiterate themselves at multiple scales of size - just like the universe seems to do.
Zoom in really close, and you see a certain shape. Zoom out really far, and you see the same shape!
Solar systems mimic the structure of an atom, with nucleus + orbiting bodies. And galaxies repeat the same shape yet again. Crystals have the same shape as the molecules of which they're constituted (for instance, a hexagonal crystal, such as quartz, is made up of atoms with hexagonal bonds). The macro reflects the micro.
Electrons orbiting an atomic nucleus
An atom, solar system, and galaxy each have different scales, but similar properties. All three involve a dense nucleus, which exerts a pull on smaller components near it, which orbit it.
Next, we have crystals:
Shape of the crystal
A hexagonal molecular lattice makes a hexagonal rock.
molecular lattice makes a
(table salt -NaCl)
A funny-lookin' molecular lattice
The visible shape (or "superstructure") of a crystal reflects its molecular shape, or microstructure.
Galaxies in a supercluster
Could this be what the phrase,
"As on Earth, so in Heaven",
(or "as above, so below")
Wanna see more amazing and beautiful fractals found in nature?
Life is organized at several different scales - but all the scales share similar characteristics.
The properties that apply to cells also apply to the individuals made out of those cells.
And the same apply to the ecosystems made out of those individuals.
And to the biosphere made out of those ecosystems.
"And what properties might those be?"
Here are the properties of biological systems, at all scales:
1. Systemic interrelation(every part affects every other part)
2. Component interdependence (every part depends on the functioning of every other part).
3. Susceptibility to feedback loops
4. Thresholds of breakdown (tipping points)
5. Unfathomable complexity,and near-impossibility of predicting with full confidence the outcome of any alteration
"Can you explain what some of that means?"
Let's use an example. Let's say you puncture the cell membrane of a cell.
Usually, if the wound is small enough, it will be able to repair itself.
Well done, cell!
Living organisms are resilient. They can absorb damage, and repair it, and go on living.
There is only a finite amount of damage a cell can absorb. If you damage it enough, and/or enough times, simultaneously, or in quick succession, it can't repair, because the repair function depends on activities and organelles inside the cell. By puncturing the membrane, you allow all that stuff to spill out!
If it's spilled out, it's not in the cell anymore, and can't do the repairs on the membrane.
And without repairs, more stuff spills out.
Which means less repair.
Which means more spillage.
This is an example of afeedback loop.
A feedback loop is a situation in which:
X leads to more of Y...
Y leads to more of X.
They cause each other.
The same phenomenon can occur with a whole body. Suppose a fighter gets wounded, and loses blood. The blood-loss saps his coordination, his ability to stand, to move, to fight. And with those abilities decreased, he's even more vulnerable to further wounds... which further decrease his fighting ability, leading to more wounds... and so on.
A feedback loop.
Another example: Let's say a farmer has a bad crop year, and has to cut back on his personal spending, and has to eat cheap, low-quality food for the upcoming year. His poorer diet will make him weaker, and less able to do his farming... which means fewer crops the next year, and even worse nutrition...
A feedback loop.
Here's another one that a lot of folks might be familiar with. The stampede feedback loop:
So now we know what a feedback loop is.
The next concept is a threshold of breakdown - also known as a "tipping point."
"What is a threshold of breakdown?"
Again let's use examples.
In a cattle stampede, there may be a brief initial frame of time in which the herd can be calmed down. But once the level of panic reaches a certain level, and crosses a certain threshold, there is no turning back. Those cattle are going to stampede.
For all of the examples - the punctured cell, the bloody fighter, the malnourished farmer - the resilience of Life can fight the feedback loop, and restore balance. But only up to a certain point. If enough damage is sustained, the feedback loop will spin out of control, and there's no stopping it.
If there's only a little bit of X and Y, the living system can repair itself. But if there's too much, it can't keep up, and total systemic breakdown occurs.
That's what "dying" is. Dying is the feedback loop that occurs after the tipping point of damage has been crossed. And it's an exponential feedback loop. It tends to happen very fast.
A person might spend an entire lifetime with poor habits, constantly doing damage to their body. But when they start to actually die, an entire lifetime's worth of damage is matched and exceeded within minutes.
Recalling the non-linear principle explained earlier, this is very, very important to understand, because the linear progression seen in the early stages of breakdown can mislead us into thinking the system is more resilient than it actually is, and thinking that we have more time to stop a feedback loop than we actually have.
Let's revisit the Parable of Lost Cells for a moment, to see how this would play out in your body.
You wouldn't be subtracting just 1 billion cells per day, because, after subtracting a billion cells, OTHER CELLS would die due to the structural damage incurred by the overall system (your body as a whole). The deaths of those cells would in turn lead to the deaths of yet more cells, which would lead to still more - in a cycle that compounds upon itself. This is a "feedback loop."
At first, your system would be able to compensate, and regrow those "extra" lost cells. Remember, those ones aren't getting replaced by cement, like the 1 billion are - they're just dying. And "Nature" can regrow them, that's true.
At least in the early stages of the experiment.
But as the days wear on, and more and more of your body becomes cement, your system would start losing its ability to regenerate itself, due to the structural decay of the overall system, which all this subtraction, both linear and exponential, is causing.
The amount of biosphere that humans took 5000 years to eliminate was quickly matched in just 200 years of the industrial revolution. Then that same number was again matched in just the last 40.
Just like the cemented body in our scenario, death is accelerating for the biosphere. How much time do we have? Where EXACTLY is the tipping point of no return? Nobody knows. But it is INSANITY to push the experiment.
Even if our "best scientists" put the number at 50 days (500 billion cells), would you still feel comfortable pushing the envelope to EXACTLY that? Right up against that wall?
"No, I wouldn't be comfortable doing that. I'm starting to see what you mean by "insanity." We really are taking a huge risk here, aren't we...
I mean, I get these concepts... I think. Everything you explained so far, it makes sense. I know what a feedback loop is, and a tipping point, and all of that stuff.
But how would an entire PLANET actually, like... die? HOW?
I just can't picture it. Theoretically, OK, maybe it's possible... But what would be the actual "mechanism" (or set of mechanisms) by which the whole planet would die?
What would that even look like? How would it unfold?"
There are many ways. In fact, "many" is the wrong word. Due to how complex the systems are, there are innumerable ways.
"Not really helping. Do you have anything specific?"
Sure. Let's talk about Water and Fire.
Starting with Water.
If you look at a water droplet sitting on a surface, it forms a dome. Since it's a liquid, it "shouldn't" have a shape like that. You'd expect it to just flatten out. But it doesn't. Because it holds itself together, though the magnetism of the water molecules.
And this magnetism does more than just hold droplets together. Its range is farther-reaching. You could even say that it has its own type of "gravity."
Yes. While all physical matter has general gravity (the kind that keeps objects on the ground), water has an additional type, on top of that, called self-affinity. Water attracts more water, specifically, through its magnetic properties.
And the molecules don't have to be touching for it to work. If they are touching, the effect is stronger, obviously, as we see in the droplet. But even if they're not touching, they still exert this "gravity" upon each other. If you have air with humidity in it, the microscopic droplets in the air can pull each other together.
Water draws in more water. You may have noticed this in regard to your clothes on a rainy day. If you go outside on a rainy day with clothes that are completely dry, they'll stay dry throughout the day (as long as you don't get directly under the rain).
But if you go out with clothes that are slightly wet - just a wee bit moist - then you'll find that, by the end of the day, you're wetter than when you went out, even if you were not directly under the rain! Because the water on your clothes drew in more water from the air.
The small amount of water in your clothes attracted more water from the air. And the wetter they got, the more water they attracted!
If there's water, there will be more water. And if it's dry, it stays dry.
"Got it. So what's this got to do with ecosystems?"
Because this applies to forests. And understanding this process is the key to understanding desertification.
Compare a forest to desert; obviously, the forest has more water in it. The more trees, plants, and living creatures, the more biomass - and thus, the more water.
On the left, we have a forest. On the right, a semi-arid chaparral landscape.
Regardless of how recently it rained in each place, the land on the left has more water than the land on the right, because it has more biomass - more plants - and plants hold water. The more plants, and the larger the plants, the more water.
A forest is more than just a bunch of trees. It's a self-sustaining water-attractor. Think of a forest as a water droplet, on a larger scale. It holds water in its biomass, and that water makes it more likely that clouds will arrive from the ocean to deliver more water. An area of land is more likely to get rainfall, and to get a greater quantity of rainfall, if it already has a forest on it. The clouds are drawn towards the forest, due to the water inside it - just like mist droplets to damp clothes. And so, a forest will sustain a cycle of rain, and hence, Life.
But that's not all!
In addition to water attracting more water through its self-affinity properties, the forest itself is deliberately attracting rainfall!
Trees release a type of chemical that can cause raindrops to condense, and then fall.
Raindrops can't form on their own. They need a tiny particle around which to grow. It's called a "rain seed." It's like a pearl needing a grain of sand to get started. It could be a piece of dust, a piece of pollen - anything really tiny.
Every place on Earth has humidity - even the driest deserts. But in a desert, the humidity is just not condensing into rain. It passes over the land, without falling. And part of the reason why, is because deserts have no rain seeds. Because they have no trees.
But if there are trees - enough of them, that is - then they can cause that moisture to condense, making rain.
A forest has many ways of sustaining itself, and promoting its own health.
The trees form a canopy, which keeps moist air inside.
The trees protect each other from wind.
The trees share nutrients with each other, through their root network. When one tree is not getting enough of some nutrient, the other trees nearby send that nutrient to it, through the root network. They support each other. A forest is truly a community.
Even mushroom mycelia (the parts underground) can help transfer water and nutrients to different places, where they're needed most.
A forest is a living system - an organism - a community of Life.
This is why forests have always been seen from time immemorial, as living beings, with a spirit and consciousness. They are self-sustaining living systems. Life begets Life. The more Life there is somewhere, the easier it is to create more Life. And the more water there is, the easier it is to draw in more water.
But if people start cutting down the forest, and replacing it with pasture (or buildings), then there are several feedback loops that can accelerate the loss of water.
1. First of all, as there is less biomass, there is less water. And that means the self-attracting principle of the water won't be as strong - meaning there could be less rainfall there in the future.
Just like your dry clothes on a rainy day, a dry forest doesn't attract as much water. And less rainfall means less biomass - less forest - which, in turn, means less rainfall.
A feedback loop.
2. Fewer trees means less of the rain-drop-seeding chemicals that trees release, and thus, less rain, and thus, fewer trees, and so on.
A feedback loop.
3. A closed canopy holds in more moisture. If you cut down even a single tree, you open up a hole through which that moisture escapes, causing the forest to become drier, which means fewer plants, which means less water, and so on.
Another feedback loop.
4. There's also the fact that trees stop wind. If a tiny seedling is trying to grow, wind can disrupt and uproot it. When you cut down a forest, there's more wind, and it's harder for a new seed to grow, even if you plant it, and thus, fewer trees, and more wind.
Another feedback loop.
5. Trees share nutrients with each other, through their root networks, but this only works if there is a continuous network of roots. If you break it up, and have a gap, then the trees obviously can't do this, which means less nutrient sharing, and thus, fewer trees and plants.
...yet another feedback loop.
6. Mushrooms provide essential services to the forest. They help with rain seeding, and their underground networks facilitate nutrient exchange. But mushrooms require very wet environments to survive. Less moisture means less mushrooms. Which means... less moisture.
...yet another feedback loop.
There are so many factors, so many variables, and so many potential feedback loops. X causing Y, which is causing X again. And they can all combine to form the overall desertification feedback loop.
The less forest, the less... forest.
And like any feedback loop, there is a level that Nature can absorb and recover from, as well as a threshold of breakdown - a tipping point - beyond which it can't.
Nature does of course have the ability to recover when we do damage, but there's a tipping point, where it's unrecoverable, and we don't know where that point is.
So if a region is on the cusp between wet and dry, the presence of a forest is what determines whether it stays wet or goes dry.
If you look at a world map, you'll notice that many of the forested areas - like in Southeast Asia, or the Eastern USA - are at the same latitudes as deserts in other parts of the world. Why do some areas get so much rainfall, while others get so little - despite being at similar latitudes?
"Because they have forests!"
Yes. Many forests are forests solely because they're continuations of primeval forests from times so long ago that the weather was wetter. The forest grew to have great big old trees back when the climate was wetter, and now, the climate is drier, but since the forest is already there, it's able to retain its water, like a living organism preserving itself. But if you were to kill it, it would not grow back, because the water would be spilled out. A "recovery" would mean a chaparral landscape, or some semi-arid ecosystem, but not the grand old forest it once was.
"Aha! So that means the forest can take care of itself! And we don't need to worry! See? Nature is so wise! God is so wise! There's nothing we can do to mess any of it up!"
No. Nature has self-correcting mechanisms, but they only work up to a point. Just like we saw with the cell, it can repair itself, but there is a threshold of breakdown, at which this repair mechanism can no longer suffice. In a forest, it would be a point of dryness at which there are no more mushrooms. Mushrooms, as you may know, require a lot of moisture to survive. If the forest falls below a certain moisture point - and becomes too dry, then the mushrooms won't exist anymore, an this function will no longer take place.
Here's another factor determining what regions are wet and which regions are dry: global atmospheric circulation patterns. Just like air circulates throughout your house, it also does so throughout the planet. There are certain patterns that have been in place for millions of years. For example, the Atlantic Jet Stream.
Why does the air circulate in these specific ways? Well, there are innumerable factors that go into it.
Temperature plays a part. Both in the air, and in the ocean. So does chemistry. Both in the air.. and in the ocean. If we change the temperature and chemistry, we are playing with fire.
"But so-called "scientists" have been predicting, for ages, that the patterns would change. They said the Jet Stream could shut down decades ago - and it didn't."
Science works with models that are largely linear. But that's not how Nature works. Nature is not linear. These systems are held in place by infinitely complex sets of factors. Changing variables linearly might not lead to linear change in outcomes. Instead, it could be an all-or-nothing phenomenon. The weather patterns could stay the same until a particular threshold is reached, and then rearrange with startling suddenness.
"But how do you know this?"
NOBODY KNOWS. That's the whole point! Due to the nearly infinite complexity of the system, we cannot predict how it will turn out. We cannot predict where the threshold of change is.
So to mess around with it, like our civilization is currently doing, is pure suicidal insanity.
"But this whole idea of the Earth being a living organism... it sounds like "Gaia Theory." And my pastor told me that that's incompatible with my religion."
And which part of the theory do you disagree with?
The idea that we live on a planet?
The idea that the size of the planet is finite?
The idea that it's impossible to subtract indefinitely from a finite quantity? That if you keep subtracting, you'll eventually hit zero?
The idea that the various components of an ecosystem are causatively related to each other?
The idea that actions can have unforeseen consequences?
What part of this is THEORY?
This is MATH. What exactly are you disagreeing with?
And there are signs that major forests, like the Amazon (arguably the most important forest in the world) is starting an aridification (drying out) feedback loop.
The Amazon has so much water in it, and produces so much evaporation, that it creates a "river in the sky" - a major current of water on this planet with a volume comparable to an ocean current.
While the Amazon River carries water from the forest to the sea (in a west-to-east direction), there is another river, of comparable size, in the sky above the forest, carrying water from the sea to the interior (in an east-to-west direction).
And there are signs that this river is getting smaller and slowing down. And the more it slows down, the less rainfall the forest will get. As this happens, that Amazon could be entering an aridification feedback loop.
And as one forest dries out, it decreases the overall amount of moisture in the planet's atmosphere - which hurts every other forest in the world, even on opposite sides of the planet.
Most people think the oceans are the primary source of evaporation, but that's not true. It's actually trees. Even though the ocean holds 99% of all the planet's water, it has a very low surface area. If you have 1 square mile of ocean, that's basically 1 square mile of water surface area.
But in a forest, every leaf is a surface area for evaporation. There is much, much more surface area for evaporation in a forest, compared to the ocean.
So when we cut down trees and eliminate forests, we're destroying the main source of moisture in the atmosphere.
And this could have cascading effects, as more dry = less forests, and less forests = more dry.
"So you're saying the entire planet could dry out this way?"
"But you're not sure?"
Do we have to be sure?
If there's even a chance of it, doesn't that render any amount of short-term economic profit insignificant in comparison to the destruction we might cause?
"But you don't KNOW for sure."
That's the point. Nobody knows. Nobody CAN know. The system is far too complex for certainty to ever be possible.
We don't know that this scenario will happen, and you don't know that it won't. In the absence of certainty, we should follow the Precautionary Principle, and play it safe.
"But is there any existing example of this kind of thing happening? A model that we can reference?"
Yes. The planet Venus.
As everyone knows, Venus is really, really hot. Its surface is hot enough to melt lead. It's a literal hellscape.
"Well of course! It's closer to the Sun!"
Yes, but proximity to the Sun doesn't account for all of it. Mercury is even closer to the Sun, and yet Venus is hotter than Mercury!
Why is that?
"Because Venus has an atmosphere, and Mercury doesn't?"
Right. Atmospheres trap heat. That's what they do.
There are two ways to transfer heat from one place to another:
Radiation and Convection.
Radiation is light. It travels through space, and when it hits an object, it becomes heat, in that object.
Convection is when heat transfers directly from substance to substance, through physical touch.
Atmospheres allow radiation, but prevent convection.
Therefore, radiation from the Sun passes easily through an atmosphere, and hits the ground - but then the atmosphere insulates that heat, and prevents it from escaping.
Venus's atmosphere is made of carbon dioxide.
And here on Earth, we are pumping more and more of that stuff into the air.
There is nowhere where carbon is being sequestered out of the air in any major way, and it's being released into the air, everywhere.
"But carbon is plant food! The more carbon there is, the more plants absorb it! So all that extra carbon is just getting recycled back into plants!"
This is not true, because carbon is not a limiting factor in plant growth. There is no climate or biome, anywhere on Earth, in which plants don't have enough carbon to grow. So adding more doesn't make them grow more.
The limiting factors in plant growth are:
and most importantly of all:
In a desert, the limiting factor is water. A plant in a desert is not going to grow more from having more carbon, because it's already being limited by the availability of water, and as along as the amount of water is not increasing, no amount of carbon is going to make it grow more.
Adding more carbon to the air will
not make more plants grow here.
And all plants are limited by space. A little square of soil, in between two pieces of pavement, can only grow so much plant mass. First of all, people are going to come along and mow it, or trim it. Is more carbon going to make people mow/trim the plants less? No. Is more carbon going to make the plants able to grow on pavement? No.
Adding more carbon to the air will
not make more plants grow here.
No matter how much carbon you add, plants aren't going to grow on pavement. They're not going to grow taller, because they're already limited by the simple maximum growth height - in other words, a tree that can support 100 feet of height before collapsing, is not going to grow taller than 100 feet just because there's more carbon in the air.
This whole "carbon is plant food" argument is nonsense. Yes, it's plant food, but no plant is lacking it, and every plant is limited in its growth by something else.
"But there will never be enough carbon in our atmosphere to become like Venus! Even if we burned all the oil, coal, and natural gas in existence, it wouldn't be nearly enough."
But there is enough carbon in the biosphere to produce a Venus-like atmosphere. Thankfully, it's currently trapped (the science term is "sequestered") in trees, plants, animals, and all the living things around us If it were somehow released from those living things... it would be enough to turn the plant into a Venus.
"But how would it be released?"
It's being released right now. Every time a forest burns, that carbon gets released into the atmosphere.
"But not enough forests will burn for that to happen."
This is where feedback loops come in.
The more forests we cut down, the drier the planet gets (as explained above).
The drier it gets, the more forests burn down - which reinforces the dryness, while also releasing more carbon, making the planet hotter still, causing more forests to burn, making the planet drier and releasing more carbon, making it hotter... and so on.
Plus, there's all that carbon stored beneath the Arctic permafrost. As the Arctic melts, it's getting released.
Carbon dioxide causes oceans to become more acidic. As the oceans acidify, bacteria will produce more sulphur dioxide, which could replace the oxygen in the atmosphere, leading to a hypoxic event in which we can no longer breathe. (Interestingly, Venus has clouds of sulfur dioxide... indicating that it may indeed have had a similar history to our planet, and may have undergone the same transformation that we're currently causing).
The bottom line is: This planet is very complex, we don't fully understand how it works, and we are insane to mess with it.
Water and Fire
In metaphysical terms, our current civilization is all about Fire - it burns everything, and Fire is its obsession. Meanwhile, it's cutting down forests, and poisoning water.
Our civilization is all about increasing the Fire element, and decreasing the Water element.
And many religious traditions, including Christianity and Hinduism, have prophecies about the world being destroyed by Fire.
We are really playing with fire.
"But... don't we have scientific models that can predict where the limits are? Can't we just... push it up kiiiinda close, but still give some room for error..."
No scientific model can predict where the limits are. Not with certainty. Anyone who thinks they're certain about such things, is a fool.
This is because living systems are unfathomablycomplex, and no one can account for all the variables, and all possible interactions. There are far too many for any accurate model.
The Unfathomable Complexity
of Living Systems
Chalk it up to evolution, or to a Creator - either way, you can't deny that Life is a work of art, which our current scientific knowledge barely even scratches the surface of.
And this complexity makes our predictions even more difficult. There could be variables we don't even know exist, and we could be hurting them without even realizing it.
Other variables, which we do know exist, can interact with one another in ways we didn't anticipate.
Our first example (the punctured cell) only used 3 variables:
But, in reality, there are thousands of variables in a cell. And the ways they can relate to each other, and affect one another, are of such multitude that it's impossible for anyone to fully understand them all, and hence, impossible to know for sure where the thresholds of breakdown are, no matter how smart you are, or how much data you have, or how fast your computers are.
"OK. So that's for cells. What about the other levels? Bodies? Organisms? Ecosystems? Planets?"
It works the same way in a body. In your body, organs work together. Each is related to all others. What happens in one affects the entire body.
What happens to the body affects all the organs - as well as all the cells.
And what happens in the cells affects the body.
Big affects small, and small affects big.
As above, so below.
And here's an important thing to note: since the body is a thousand times more complex than a cell, there are a thousand times more variables in play. Instead of dealing with a thousand variables relating in infinitely complex ways, we're probably dealing with a million!
Good news is, we usually don't have to worry, because Nature takes care of almost all of it, without us needing to do anything. We just have a few variables to focus on - like eating, drinking, sleeping, and so forth. Nature takes care of the rest.
IF we don't mess around, that is.
When we start putting ourselves in unnatural conditions, it opens up a Pandora's Box of innumerable variables going out of whack - usually beyond our ability to predict.
And that's why the best variables - the best living conditions, the best diets, etc. - are the most natural ones. All the experts are finally starting to conclude that the best conditions for us, in all areas of life, are conditions that are as close to natural as possible. (This isn't really "news" anymore).
"So let me guess... ecosystems behave in the same way as the other scales?"
Precisely! Ecology is the recognition of another layer of organization, on top of cells and bodies.
Cells... organisms... ecosystems.
Except, instead of dealing with a million variables we're now dealing with trillions.
Bottom line: nobody can predict the results of messing with the planet.
And this brings us to the Precautionary Principle, which is the only sensible attitude to have, once you realize just how complex living systems are, and how little we know about their workings, and how bad we are at predicting the outcomes of messing around with them.
The Precautionary Principle
It shouldn't require a single scientist... or a single institution... or a single research paper... to tell us what we need to know.
Here's ALL we need to know:
1. We live in an ecosystem.
2. The ecosystem is very complex.
3. Nobody fully understands how it all works.
4. There is no way to predict how altering it might affect it in the future.
5. Interference can come with unintended consequences.
6. The health of the ecosystem is absolutely essential to our survival.
7. The ecosystem is most stable when least interfered with.
8., Therefore, we should minimize our interference with it.
That's it! It doesn't take a scientist to tell you to be careful with the only planet we have.
In other words..
It's way bigger than us...
we don't know what we're doing...
and we shouldn't mess around with it!
It is profoundly unwise to alter the biosphere, and we should seek to develop ways of living and meeting our needs that cause as little disruption to the biosphere's systems as possible.
And that, friends, is the meaning of conservatism.
Conservatism is all about caution. What did your grandpa tell you?
Anyone who tells you know how it all works is lying. And humans have a terrible track record on predicting this stuff.
As you can see, unintended consequences are myriad. We think we're just getting rid of one species... but we're really degrading the whole ecosystem.
"If you don't know how something works, don't mess around with it!"
If you're not cautious - especially with the things that matter most for our survival - then how can you call yourself "conservative?"
We do not know how spewing all of these chemicals into the biosphere will affect it in the long run.
We do not know how many trees we can cut down before the desertification feedback loop becomes self-reinforcing.
We do not know how much of the living surface of the planet can be converted into dead pavement before all of that death starts cascading upon itself.
We do not know how many fish we can pull out of the ocean before the species' populations collapse irreversibly.
We do not know how much pesticide we can use before the insect populations collapse (which they're starting to do already).
We do not know how much artificial fertilizer we can use before the soil becomes unusable.
We do not know how much of the insect population we can lose before it leads to the collapse of ecosystems.
We do not know where all of these tipping points are.
We just don't know how much of all this we can mess with, before it all comes crashing down upon our heads.
"But... if that's what conservatism means, then how come all my conservative friends don't think this way - and all the people who do think this way are liberals?"
Because our culture is confused. When caution is considered "new", "wacky", and "radical", we really have some soul-searching to do as a society.
Climate change was never supposed to be a "liberal" issue, but a conservative one.
What is liberalism anyway? It's about change.
Liberalism seeks to change society (hopefully to improve it), while conservatism is about exercising caution before changing things, to make sure the changes are actually improvements (because they aren't always).
Liberalism says, "Hey, this will be great! Let's do it!"
Conservatism says, "Hey, watch what you're doing. Be careful. You don't know what might happen."
Fossil fuels, for instance, seemed like a huge improvement when they were first discovered, and their sudden intrusion and disruption of social systems (and ecological systems) was touted as a way to change society (for the better - although it obviously didn't work out that way).
The first proponents of fossil fuels said, "Hey, look what we can do! We can go FAST now! Weeeeeee! This will make society so much better! Let's DO it!"
But if (true) conservative voices had been heard, such fuels would never have risen to prominence in the first place.
Long-term stability would have been placed above short-term gain. There's nothing more conservative than that.
If you think short-term economic gain is more important then long-term ecological stability, then you're NOT a conservative!
So be a conservative, OK?
"But you don't have any PROOF that fossil fuels are bad for the biosphere, or that the biosphere is in trouble. Until you can PROVE it, why should we trust you?"
We don't need proof because the burden of proof is supposed to be on the other side.
When you make a big alteration to a very old, very complex, and absolutely survival-essential system (like the biosphere), you're supposed to prove that the alteration won't undermine the system...
...and you're supposed to prove that ***BEFORE*** you make the alteration.
If you want to drill into the planet, suck out material, burn it at an industrial scale, worldwide, for decades, and change the chemical composition of the atmosphere, you had better damn-well prove that it won't mess things up.
You've never proved that.
The burden of proof is not on those saying "stop screwing with the system."
The burden of proof is on those saying "screw with it."
"Hmm... but the ECONOMY is also very complex and essential. And the things environmentalists want to do will harm the economy."
Our ability to have any discussion about this at all depends on the health of the planet's biosphere.
Without this - without balance - the debate is over, because there would be no one around to continue it.
In any building, the lower floors are essential to the upper floors. The lower floors CAN continue to exist without the upper floors - but the upper floors CANNOT exist without the lower ones.
It's the same in a society. The ecosystem is the foundation. The human economy is above the foundation, and rests upon it, and therefore, cannot exist without it.
The economy is the play - the biosphere is the stage. The play can't happen without the stage - the stage is infinitely more essential.
No matter what's going on in the drama, if we lose the stage, it's over.
These are the laws for civilization. They apply to any civilization, and all civilizations. If you want to be a civlization, then you have to follow these laws.
1. Don't mess around with your star.
2. Don't mess around with your orbit.
3. Don't mess around with your rotation - neither the axis nor the speed.
4. Don't mess around with your magnetic field.
5. Don't mess around with your atmosphere. Don't do geoengineering experiments on it. Don't experiment on the ionosphere. Don't mess around with the chemistry.
6. Don't mess around with the chemistry of your ocenas. Nor that of any body of water. Rivers, lakes streams. Water is Life, and every student in school should be taught that.
7. Don't mess around with your soil. Don't take nutrients out of it. Don't mess around with the microbiome - the community of microorganisms in the soil.
And don't mess around with the Community of Life. Backbone trees...
Entire biosphere, don't mess around with it. If you need to mess around a little bit, to secure your food and warmth and basic real needs, then choose ways that mess around the least. Choose ways that meet your needs while doing the least messing-around with the biosphere.
And listen when people try to explain ways in which you might e messing around wiht it,and onsqeuencnes of that messing around. Don't dismiss it, don't ignore it. Takie it seriiosly,. Giv eit serious consideration . Actively dsearch seek to learn more about your imact on your environ. and activley search for ways to develop better systems that have a better ratio of meetting real needs to messing around.
That's the precautionary principle.
And it's not optional. And everyone has to get this. Everyone has to recognize this. And this is the difference between a malignant perosn and a benigh person. / civilzation.
Difference, and how bodies respond to that
Ecological law must be recognized as real law and enforced.
The Law of the Earth.
"Are you calling humans a disease? That's not very... uh... nice... It's misanthropic..."
No, humanity is not a disease. There are humans - human cultures - who do not do the kinds of things in those pictures. They do not carry the sickness.
Since there are humans who aren't sick, then humanity itself cannot be the disease.