“I Wanna Be At a Loss So F’en Bad”

My attitude regarding “growth” obsession is pretty clear. I would argue that my points on the subject should be universally acknowledged and applied to human activity. It ought to be a no-brainer that you simply cannot avoid degrading vital resources with perpetual growth ideologies. The two are simply inconsistent.

It is fair to then ask, how can we otherwise prosper? Here’s a couple thoughts on that.

Resources

As discussed in my post on Wednesday, growth and resources in no way are compatible unless both are perpetually growing at the same rate with infinite spatial range. This, of course, is not reality. Limiting resource extraction to a certain upper threshold is the only way that we can manage to utilise renewable resources indefinitely. That a person requires a certain amount of resources to persist, thus demands that a maximum population much also be fixed.

I have argued in the past that, by maintaining a population far below this maximum subsistence value, populations would enjoy overall wealth in having more disposable resources allocations per capita.

Moreover, limitations provide motivation for innovation.

First and foremost, one can ask how best to obtain economic wealth from material resources. Two simple principles are efficiency (ie. more from less) and cyclic processing (ie. the waste from one process provides input for the following process). Yet, these measures can only go so far, being limited to limited resources and ingenuity.

A more radical approach comes from non-material resources. Our species produces an immense amount of it. This covers knowledge and arts. There are no limits to how many forms of art we can create or how much design we can add to the human environment. Coupled with knowledge, we can explore new ways of living as well (I would note, biophilia, which too, promotes resource resilience and abundance as well as access to ecological services).

Such non-material resources provide the greatest room for wealth creation and, in both cases, tend to be the hardest hit as luxuries when we have economic downturns, in favour of material resource extraction (think stimulus packages). This is something that is obviously counterproductive.

A booming, busy economy can enjoy greater activity, job prospects and overall prosperity where people have the time (ie. limited working hours) and money (ie. reduction of personal debt) to enjoy live shows, a dinner out with friends or an afternoon with the family are a fair, market or something similar (of course, such events can be heavily dependent upon material resources, but this is where ingenuity plays a role). Having a new wide screen TV that dies every other year is a sloppy substitute for economic growth.

Of course, this would also rely upon the following.

Equality

I do harp on about Wilkinson and Pickett’s The Spirit Level and the Equality Trust for the points they raise are valuable.

Material growth depends largely on inequality. If the social divide was small and people did not distinguish themselves are very different from one another by what they have or don’t have, then the urge to have would not be so strong. That is to say, without Arnie in his Hummer and Oprah with her gold plated toilet, or more locally, Fred two houses down with the newest SUV, we would not feel as inclined to keep up with the Jones.

Status seeking means that we are never really happy with what we have (because someone else has more) and thus cannot be good for us. Status seeking drives resource degradation and so will not be good for the futures of our children and their own. It also requires downsizing overheads (replacing local workers for cheap foreign labour and robots) and provides profits largely to the top jobs and shareholders; all of which increases local loss of prosperity.

This is all contrary to the avenue for non-material resource processes discussed above.

For instance, the movement of money happens more freely and rapidly when more people have money to dispose with and others are locally accessible to entertain, provide a meal or coordinate activities than the current system. Where the social mobility is increased, thus social equality favoured, you provide fertilisation for the establishment of a community which is active and thriving. That most of the activities are non-material resource dependent, such prosperity is less hinged on resource acquisition. It also reduces the potential for debt creation.

We are on a road that none of us would vote for. We are creating a future that none of us would like to be provided to us. We are undertaking such behaviours because it favours a few and most of us want to be one of those few, “…so f’en bad.”

Of course, it is a situation that only exists if the minority remain the minority. We cannot all be billionaires without inflation working its magic, returning us to normality. All the while this behaviour is a sideshow, behind which the climate changes, oceans acidify and are stripped of life, forest come down and we start to contemplate doing things the hard (and expensive) way – think de-salination. We are going nowhere desirable and for the most part, we are ignorant to the fact.

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Drowning out the truth about the Great Barrier Reef

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Mass bleaching at the Keppel Islands in 2006. Our greatest natural asset is under threat, but you wouldn’t know it from reading Andrew Bolt.
Ove Hoegh-Guldberg

MEDIA & DEMOCRACY – Ove Hoegh-Guldberg dives into the media’s coverage of an Australian icon’s future.

One of the most straightforward climate change storylines is the link between global warming and coral reefs such as the Great Barrier Reef.

When our reef waters get too warm, corals sicken (bleach), often causing disease and death. And when the corals go, many of the other organisms go with them. At the current rate of ocean warming, we will soon exceed the critical temperature at which this happens every year, causing the Great Barrier Reef to rapidly degrade.

The greater the amount of human-driven climate change, the less will be left of the Great Barrier Reef as we know it today. And the less fishing, tourism and other benefits we will derive from it as a country.

The science tells us that exceeding 2°C in average global temperature will largely exceed the thermal tolerance of corals today. It is already happening. Rolling mass bleaching events, unknown to science before 1979, are increasing in frequency and severity.

This simple set of linkages demonstrates the risk that climate change generally places on natural ecosystems.

It is supported by hundreds of papers and highly experienced and published experts from oceanography, climate science and marine biology.

Why is it then that commentators in the media such as Andrew Bolt and Jamie Walker consistently take a different view and posit, either directly or indirectly, that all those leading experts are fraudulent, dishonest or at best shoddy scientists?

Is it a genuine lack of understanding of the facts, or is it a deliberate strategy to confuse people about what is otherwise a very clear message about climate change and coral reefs?

Could it be that confusing Australians about the risk to our reef is highly prized by the people that fund their operations?

Let’s take Andrew Bolt. Andrew has been vociferous in his claim that scientists like me are alarmists, even deliberately deceptive.

He wraps us all up in the same blanket: me, Flannery and Garnaut. Quite an honour really, given the eminence of my co-accused.

Apparently, we do it because we are mad, we do it because we are on the take, and we do it because we are zealots!

Bolt has repeatedly claimed, for example, that I warned in 1998 “that the Great Barrier Reef was under pressure from global warming, and much of it had turned white. In fact, [I] later admitted the reef had made a “surprising” recovery.”

This implies that I got the events of 1998 wrong. Let’s examine his claim.

In 1998, more than half of the Great Barrier Reef experienced bleaching and about 5 to 10% of the corals that make up the reef died (about 4000 km²).

This was the largest mass coral bleaching event in Australian recorded history.

All of this has been reported in the scientific literature.

Other coral reefs did not get off so easily. In the Western Indian Ocean, 46% of corals were eliminated by the underwater heatwave that swept through the region in 1998. An estimated 16% of the corals were eliminated worldwide.

While 1998 was an extraordinarily hot year, it will be commonplace in a few decades time at the current rate of global temperature increase. As if to emphasize this point, 2010 was a shade hotter then 1998 and saw record bleaching in many regions.

If conditions had been as hot on the Great Barrier Reef as in the Western Indian Ocean, similar events would have transpired.

We did fear the worst, but we got lucky, hence the reference to “surprising recovery” when the heat stress was abbreviated by storm activity.

It is hard to see what I got wrong.

Despite my having responded to these issues, Andrew Bolt has not removed the misinformation and continues to this day to chant its content on a regular basis. I find it hard to believe that Andrew cannot understand this critical issue. Perhaps he doesn’t.

It is hard to practice as a humble scientist when powerful columnists like Bolt run amok. Drawing attention to their fundamental scientific errors and distortions only brings more insult and abuse.

Hardly what I signed up for when I began training in science over 30 years ago.

Is this simply bad journalism or an attempt to deliberately mislead the Australian public on this issue? It’s an interesting question, given the fact that Bolt receives direct support from Australia’s richest mining magnate and climate denialist, Gina Rinehart. Cash for comment?

Bolt is not alone.

The Australian has also been ahead of the charge with commentators such as Jamie Walker either not understanding or deliberately distorting the information on the risks of climate change to the Great Barrier Reef.

Jamie has published a number of incorrect statements about the Great Barrier Reef, rarely, withdrawing statements when they were proved wrong.

Jamie published the following opening statement to an article in February last year:

“Kevin Rudd’s insistence that the Great Barrier Reef could be “destroyed beyond recognition” by global warming grates with new science suggesting it will again escape temperature-related coral bleaching.”

The truth couldn’t be further from Jamie’s clumsy spin.

First, there was no “new” science or report, given the story was based on a single year of data from a survey program that the Australian Institute of Marine Sciences has been running for 19 years. It’s literally published every year.

Second, AIMS responded by saying “The latest AIMS monitoring observations of the Great Barrier Reef do not contradict projections of potential harm caused by rising sea surface temperature or any other consequences from increasing concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide.”

According to AIMS CEO, Dr Ian Poiner, “One or two seasons of no bleaching do not mean that the GBR is not threatened. It is over-generalisation to the point of unreality to extrapolate from one set of observations to what is going to happen to the GBR in the long term.”

As you can see, Dr Poiner statement is pretty unambiguous. Hardly grating up against Kevin Rudd’s statements!

These statements are also relevant to Andrew Bolt’s misunderstanding (deliberate or otherwise) of statements relevant to what will happen within a single year, versus what will happen in the long term.

But this is what happens over and over again in the Australian media.

By misreporting “facts” and smearing scientists’ personal reputations, journalists are willfully misleading the public about the nature of the threat to one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world, and one of our most valuable tourism assets.

And ultimately to our world.

This article is part of the Media & Democracy series. Read the rest of the series here.

This article is about the media’s representation of climate change – we’d love to hear your opinions on that topic. If you would rather discuss the existence of climate change, there are many other articles on the site covering that issue: please take your comments to one of those discussions.

This article was originally published at The Conversation.
Read the original article.

Unpalatable Oceans?

Here’s a little thought that struck me earlier today which I initially wanted to turn into a comic for the Business As Usual 2.0 project, somehow. I’ve been playing with it and no matter how I try to arrange it, there doesn’t seem a clear method of constructing it concise enough for such a medium.

So instead I’ll just write it out.

The plight of the ocean is heart breaking. Overfishing is a subject that is far too overlooked. Basically, I envisioned a world where all palatable species had been removed. With only inedible species remaining and many newly open niches available to these species, is it possible that by the year 3000, we will have yet a new ocean, rich with life – all of which are nasty if not toxic?

And many believe the ocean to be a hostile place today!

*Do excuse my taking this situation so light-heartedly. When we have bozo’s like Andrew Bolt telling his sizable readership what he thinks of ecology, when genuine and evidence-based discussions are continually stunted by poll-driven leadership, it’s hard not to have moments of pessimism.

Blind to Oceans as They Feel the Heat.

(H/T to MT at Only in it for the Gold)

With this video, the video I posted last week, about the massive coral bleaching that recently occurred and another that looked at recent Geese egg predation by polar bear, I want to provide a clear example of how much our oceans are already feeling the heat. We have a terrible history of ignoring ocean health with both pollution and over-fishing and now the results of a warming atmosphere.

I hope these images re-appear in the readers mind when they hear the usual lines of denial, for this behaviour and encouraging pointless, unending (indeed unendable) debate is in short, condoning inaction, ever increasing species loss and environmental degradation, all of which will eventually bite our species in the arse when many of the ecological services which we currently depend upon are no longer available.

Remember, We’re Only Human

(Originally published on Skeptical Science)

Human consciousness dawned from an animal that instinctively responded to a dynamic environment. Here, there was little forward planning – little awareness of tomorrow – but simply eat and endure as long as an exposed organism can in a harsh and unsympathetic world.

Here, we woke to the abundance of life and thus food, to the idea of tomorrow, to the power of fire and of protection. The human became a nomad that could increase its odds of survival and could plan to follow the wealth of food that migrated or bloomed with the seasons.

The ingenious members soon realised that if a cave was not present, shelter could be built and by closely watching the species around them, they discovered that life could be controlled for the production of food. Humanity became the farmer, the villager and ultimately, societies sprung into existence which in turn paved the way for culture, study and intergenerational improvements.

We became the modern human.

We were, however, still fragile. The people of Pompeii; the civilisations that came and went along the banks of the Nile or throughout South America; the famines and plagues that tarnished the heart of every culture; we remained aware of how much we were dependent on the natural world. Nothing was completely within our control.

The Age of Enlightenment expanded the ideas of the modern human. Indeed, one could argue that over the past 500 years, we have begun to question our Gods and our kings, we have rebelled and we have produced wave after wave of fights for equality. The printing press, the locomotive, eventually modern medical science and telecommunication; all of this wonderful curiosity, investigation and modern education has swept many of our species out of the muddy squalors of ignorance and into the climate controlled office cubical of some city skyscraper.*

Many of our species now enjoy a life where nature seems a novelty and the comforts experienced by the kings of old are now easily affordable. The deep-dark foreboding forest belongs to the fairytale as does many of the past trials to the history books, void of lingering emotion. The advancements (largely over the past 200 years) have produced the assumption that we have truly become masters of this planet.

It’s difficult to think harshly of such an assumption; when combustible liquid erupts from the land and bigger nets pull in huge quantities of fish (apparent natural wealth provided for our disposal); when it’s no longer unreasonable for a middle-classed person to live into their 90’s and mortality related to childbirth is at an all time low; when mangos are delivered fresh to high latitudes and foreign delicacies are inexpensive on supermarket shelves. We have achieved amazing things and enjoy wonders that our great-grandparents couldn’t have even imagined. Such things, of course, encourage a certain amount of pride and arrogance.

This complacency towards ecology is obviously erroneous.

If you were to move into a new place which had a well maintained, fruitful vegetable garden in the backyard and quickly removed all the produce and neglected the patch, you would soon find that you have lost this resource. Likewise, with the initial (and continuous) removal of forests, the rapid burning of millions of years of collected carbon, the changes to watercourses and overall environmental polluting, you cannot expect that we could avoid a number of significant changes to the environment.

You often hear, with pride, that human activity is visible from space, but truly think about it; our activities are so immense in scale and impact that they can be observed outside of this plant! It’s staggering and is a true example of how we are, without a doubt, a force of nature. Such power demands respect from those to yield it.

John Cook, Peter Sinclair and Scott Mandia among many others have done an excellent job to provide the wealth of scientific understanding in a user-friendly fashion that demonstrates the evidence of why we believe that our activities are changing the climate. It seems, at this point, unnecessary to repeat their work. However, what I run up against is the idea that a warmer, CO2 richer atmosphere is beneficial for life.

We could first turn to Rosenzweig et al. (2008), who looked at over 29,500 data sets of physical and biological responses (from 1970 to 2004) and found roughly 90% were in the direction expected with warming. Deutch et al. (2008) looked at insects across latitudes and concluded that those at lower latitudes are already living near their optimum and are likely to suffer greater detrimental consequences (compared to higher latitude species) as climate continues to change. Long-distance migrating birds in The Netherlands have also suffered a decline in population size, which Both et al. (2010) conclude is the result of an increasing mismatch in timing of prey-predator events. Very recently, Cantin et al. (2010) showed that in the Red Sea, the coral species, Diploastrea heliopora, has suffered a colony decline of about 30% since 1998. They go on to suggest that warming of the Red Sea will stop coral growth before ocean acidification does.

All the above example organisms play an important role in the overall ecosystem to which they are involved, whether it’s as pollinators, transferring of nutrients, providing nursery shelter for other species, for example. All will decline with increasing climate change along with their ecological services to their environment and thus a degradation of the relevant biodiversity.

Climate change will hardly be beneficial to the biodiversity present on this planet.

This is all very relevant to our species, for we are not truly free from the humble reliance on nature of our infancy. If we look at water, we rely on numerous physical events and ecological services to treat and transport the substance. If we look at agriculture, we rely on numerous ecological services to produce fertile land, water availability, pollinators, legumes for nitrogen fixation, certain climate conditions and currently copious amounts of fossil fuel (peaking oil being the major concern). If we look at fisheries, we rely on sea grass and coral nurseries, water quality, limiting algal blooms, climate and again copious amounts of fossil fuels. If we look at the atmosphere itself, we rely on the photosynthetic qualities of countless species to produce air that is breathable.

I could go on – both in increased detail of the above examples and to highlight others – but I don’t think it’s really needed.

What is needed is a radical change in how we see ourselves and our place on this planet. Pride for the rewards of our curiosity is certainly essential. This, hopefully, will lead to greater appreciation for the scientific endeavours that have improved the standard of living immensely. However, the arrogance must be dropped and replaced again with a sense of humility for the ecological system that we are inherently tied to. We are as we are, not only because of great minds, or Newton’s giants, but also millions of other organisms that clean the waters, work and land and condition the air. We’re part of that system. We also yield tools capable to radically modifying that system and many modifications cannot be undone.

Humility and respect will promote caution in our activities, but also stimulate development that better suits multiple benefits, instead solely financial profit and other human based properties.

We truly are a remarkable species, but we’re only one of millions. We must remember that.

* I’d like to note that we have left many behind on this journey – who now many of the developed West see only in advertisements pleading for ongoing donations.

References
Both, C., Van Turnhout, C. A. M., Bijlsma, R. G., Siepel, H., Van Strien, A. J., and, Foppen, R. P. B. (2010) Avian population consequences of climate change are most severe for long-distance migrants in seasonal habitats. Proc. R. Soc. B. 277:1259-1266. doi:10.1098/rspb.20091525
Cantin, N. E., Cohen, A. L., Karnauska, K. B., Tarrant, A. M., and, McCorkle, D. C. (2010) Ocean warming slows coral growth in the central Red Sea. Science. 329:322-325
Deutsch, C. A., Tewksbury, J. J., Huey, R. B., Sheldon, K. S., Ghalambor, C. K. Haak, D. C. And, Martin, P. R. (2008) Impacts of climate warming on terrestrial ectotherms across latitude. PNAS. 105(18): 6668-6672. doi:10.1073/pnas.0709472105
Rosenzweig, C., Karoly, D., Vicarelli, M., Neofotis, P., Wu, Q., Casassa, G., Menzel, A., Root, T. L., Estrella, N., Seguin, B., Tryjanowski, P., Liu, C., Rawlins, S., and, Imeson, A. (2008) Attributing physical and biological impacts to anthropogenic climate change. Nature. 453(15):353-357. doi:10.1038/nature06937

A handful of American parents make an anti-science stance

Last night, I jumped onto Twitter. Prof. Mandia had a post regarding a book on global warming being withdrawn from Millard Public Schools. This came after the complaints of a few parents, including the wife of US Rep. Lee Terry of Nebraska. Read the article here.

One of the parents said ‘that the materials used in [her son’s] class portrayed global warming as fact when scientists disagree’.

The last paragraph of the article was the most humorous;

“[The associate superintendent for educational services] said the committee recognized there are “multiple viewpoints” on global warming. The committee recommended that all teachers using the book “make students aware of both sides of the global warming theory,” he said.

You would’ve thought that we’re finally beyond this point. This reads more like creationists demanding a “balanced” teaching of both evolution and intelligent design and further demonstrates the similarity to faith bound ideologies.

“When scientists disagree”

Anderegga, W. R. L., Prall, J. W., Harold, J., and, Schneidera, S. H. (2010) Expert credibility in climate change. PNAS. doi:10.1073/pnas.1003187107

Various contributors (2010) Letters; Climate Change and the Integrity of Science. Science. 328(5979):689 – 690. doi10.1126/science.328.5979.689

Oreskes, N. (2004) Beyond the ivory tower: The scientific consensus on climate change. Science. 306(5702):1686 doi: 10.1126/science.1103618

Not to mention the bulk of scientific papers ever mounting on the subject (of which I’ve only covered a handful of recent papers as references for the Innovation is key currently in progress)

I would strongly argue that there is a scientific consensus regarding anthropogenic influence on climate change.

“both sides of the global warming theory”

There is only one real side – that of the scientific literature. This includes a number of physical indicators (some of which are briefly discussed in chapter 4), bio-physical indicators (some discussed in chapters 5, 6, 7, and 8).

Whatever records you look at, whether it’s ice melts, species distribution, bloom timing, weather patterns, ocean pH, climate zone shifts, temperature trends etc; there are multiple examples of a changing world.

The “other side” of the “debate” is nothing more than ideology based rubbished fueled on propaganda spread by lobby groups and think tanks funded by oil companies (eg. Exxon secrets).

“Multiple points of view” is just a cover to allow anti-scientific noise when the evidence tells us something we don’t like. What makes it worse is that a small group of parents have successfully manipulated and led to the misinformation of a new generation.

At least the Amish had the balls to separate themselves and enjoy life as they see fit rather than inflict misinformation on the general public. Indeed if we do not start to address the various problems that I’ve covered in Innovation is Key, the later we step up to the plate, the greater the effort to address a changing world and certainly the more likely we’ll be pushed back into an Amish-like lifestyle.

More people should make noise to counteract such mindless ignorance of the evidence. Bigotry shouldn’t be given such room.

Intermission: Save Ourselves! Innovation is key to the survival of our society, Pt. 9

Victor Harbour, 2004

The next part of this piece will be far more open to debate than the previous part, as it will be more opinion based, rather than evidence based. I believe that I more or less think like an ecologist, rather than an economist and so will argue about innovation from this perspective and from similar resources. The road forward is far from clear, however, I feel that the previous parts to this piece has made a strong enough case that business-as-usual is on the way out and without properly addressing these issues sooner, rather than later, we run the risk of ever increasing species loss, being unable to meet the energy and food needs of our species, increasing the risk of illness due to pollution, environmental degradation and a reduction in ecological services and an inability to adapt to climate related changes.

Before I begin on this opinion based part, I wish to make clearer to the reader who I am and what I stand for. This is in part due to some of the criticism I’ve faced recently and also to give an indication of my motivations in the coming sections.

About me

It’s difficult for me to find the root to my views. The best that I can suggest is that I have always been fascinated by everything. Even as a young child, if something broke in the house, instead of it being thrown out, I tended to steal it and pull it to bits, just to try to work it out. In that respect, as a teenager, I showed more ability in physics, chemistry, maths and electronics. Although I was always interested in bugs and collected hundreds to my parents continuous horror, I never had more than a casual interest in biology (I even remember the resentment I felt when a biology teacher started referring to organs, all these strange enzymes and Latin derived scientific names for species – I hated how difficult it all way to remember).

I turned my back on high school at the beginning of the final year. It thought I could do better in a traineeship. That didn’t pan out (another story – also involving my son’s mother) and when 20, I returned to complete high school. I figured at this point that I would aim for astrophysics or electronics; I was still absolutely amazed by technology.

Skink, Morialta falls, 2003

However, something had changed in the few years. I had become a bit of a fitness junky. Hiking and exploring – especially for the isolation – had given me a new sense of connection with my local landscape. It had also been picked up by one of the best teachers I had come by at this point, that I had a form of dyslexia.

So by the time I actually finished high school, new worlds of literature and ecology had opened up to me, which shifted me towards biodiversity and conservation at university. Much that I remembered from my youth; the text books I had (my parents often gave me non-fiction books as presents because I was more likely to read them than fiction), the fascinating look into the world on Beyond 2000, and even the few whims into environmental concern inspired by Greenpeace and WWF campaigns mainly around the late 80’s and early 90’s; all seemed to concrete this wonderful interest in the world. It was also throughout my teens that I spent time in Far North Queensland and feel in love with the Daintree and Great Barrier Reef.

My interest in technology (especially the history on invention) had not waned, however. As I saw it, we have developed dramatically over the previous two centuries, but being beyond a life span, most people seemed to feel that what we had was “the real world” and not the product of amazing minds and abundant energy. We seemed to be unable to appreciate the amount of change that we have created to landscapes. Such ventures away from suburbia and into remnant vegetation seemed to instil this deeply into my being. What irritated me most was the effects of invasive species (for they were invaders on the few areas that we had assumed to be “protecting”).

Near Seacliff, 2002

I figured that I’d like to work with invasive species management and environmental corridor establishment, so that we could better live in balance with our local environment. Such work is in short supply however. I ended up working in air quality monitoring for the government. It was within this position that I became aware of a number of impacts within my home state, such as; dry land salinity / acidity, the poor health of the Murray Darling Basin, sea grass loss and over fishing, species loss and landscape use changes (mainly for sprawl), eco-efficiency, human health-related concerns to air quality, and climate change (relating very much, at this point, to the ongoing drought, weather pattern changes, BOM climate predictions and concerns relating to agriculture and future water security) to name a few off the top of my head. In this way, I became concerned about future food supply and learnt more about local agriculture. It also learnt in this period what it meant to collect and explore data and report on it in a politically appropriate fashion. Without elaborating, this lesson also left a strong impression on me.

I don’t think I need to elaborate too much more, as the bulk of the views I’ve developed from here on are clear throughout my writings.

The points made in the first section are based on some of the available literature. I’ve seen a lot more and have talked with a wide number public employees and stakeholders who have a strong opinions and relevant experiences with a number of these issues. I’m the first to admit that until late last year, I was fairly ignorant to the AGW debate and was more or less in the thick of discussions regarding the future of biodiversity, agriculture and our species.

It was when I listened to a presentation by Monckton last year, and the support that he seemed to have, that I decided that had to write within this blog. It was also about this time that some failed farmer went on a hunger strike because he wasn’t allowed to continue poor quality practices.

The Bullet

It is propaganda that fuels the idea the climate change is a myth. It is propaganda that suggests that the IPCC and company are trying to de-industrialize the west and reap massive profits at the common folk’s expense.

Mt Lofty, 2002

It is ignorant to all that I have written and will write to suggest that I condone a collapse of our society. I simply argue that; the world is changing, although fossil fuels can continue to assist us – oil will forever increase in price, gas is far too valuable to be burnt and coal has inspired the horribly ecologically damaging mountain top removal (which will be detrimental to human health) and also is incredibly important in steel production (something I’ll discuss later), species loss is poor addressed at the detriment to both biodiversity and human health, agricultural practices are largely inadequate and short sighted, there is an unjust stigma surrounding environmental concern (ie. “damn tree-huggers”), and an unmerited and totally trivial debate over one aspect (ie. AGW) of a range of related issues that are doing a world of damage and ensuring that we will not provide the best possible land to future generations.

I hate the greeny “save the planet” jargon. It means nothing. No matter how much damage we do to the Earth, short of the unlikely all out nuclear war, we are unlikely to destroy the Earth. We would, without a doubt make this planet uninhabitable for human life before we destroy it. In our wake, give it a few million years, life would prosper again. What “save the planet” fails to do is address the cause and effect. What we’re really talking about is ensuring our own survival; Save Ourselves (indeed from ourselves). A statement like this brings home the reality of the situation and removes the stigma. This argument is the true argument and is largely lost under a sea of political and ideological nonsense.

What I plan by writing this is not to follow the hopeless dreamers like Gore, but correctly address the situation. We will not de-carbonate our energy supply in the next decade and I doubt we will manage to keep CO2 concentrations below 450ppm. However, bickering over trivial uncertainties associated with AGW could mean the difference of peak CO2 concentrations of 500ppm or 800ppm and massive differences in potential species loss.

It is only through being a realist that we can take appropriate steps to address a changing world and not through idealism. What I’ve said to this point is the reality. The uncertainties can be ignored in the noise surrounding the certainties. If we are going to live up to this image that we egotistically hold of our species; that of the custodians and dominant species on this planet, then we need to pull our socks up and face the facts. Otherwise we are nothing more than a plague and like all plagues, we will hit a population collapse sooner or later.

A clock with loose spring keeps poor time: Innovation is key to the survival of our society, Pt. 8

This will be the last point of this section, before shifting to more of an opinion based look into the future human practices. Thus far, I’ve ventured from land, to wetland and then out to sea, but now I want to look at change as a whole. As most people would be aware, many species rely on environmental cues as part of their yearly cycle. This is everything from first bloom or chrysalis to a migration that spans many thousands of kilometres. In all ecosystems, there are many services that are provided by a species to other species which is paramount for the receiving species fitness if not local persistence, which includes nutrient, mineral and energy transfer (Traill et al. 2010). In extreme examples this is called symbiosis; where the relationship can be complex, resulting from a long co-evolutionary relationship (Hill, 2009). There are interactions that involve these environmental cues (eg. pollination, migration) that human activity is benefited by (Traill et at; 2010).

As was highlighted in part 4, there is a noticeable global warming trend, which should be evident in a change in species response to a change in timing of these cues.

Response to change

Rosenzweig et al. (2009) looked at data sets from more than 28,800 biological and 829 physical systems with collections from 1970 to 2004 and found that around 90% of  changes observed in the former  group and 95% of changes in the latter group were, at a global scale, the expected result due to global warming. Of the ~80 studies (>29,500 data sets), only 3 studies (9 data sets in 4 cells) showed that the results are due to other anthropogenic drivers (ie. land use changes, harvest and pollution) (Rosenzweig et al. 2009). Rosenzweig et al. (2009) also state that it is highly likely (>90% probability) that the observed warming is the result of anthropogenic modified greenhouse gas concentrations.

A similar study was carried out in the UK by Amano et al. (2010), where data of first bloom from 405 plant species, spanning 250 years was analysed. This study showed an average 5 days earlier of flowering for every 1 degree C increase (Amano et al. 2010).

As different species will react to different cues, such as climate cues (eg. ice melt, rainfall changes and temperature) or non-climate cue (day length), it can be argued that as climate changes increase, inter-species relationships will be stressed due to shifts in timing (Brook, 2009). The greater the reliance of a species on another on a lower trophic level would determine the need to respond as peaks of that food supply shift due to climate change (Brook, 2009).

Failure to meet this change, as with all those previously discussed, would reduce fitness and lead to a reduction of biodiversity. Where it is generally believed that ecosystems are more resilient to shock when biodiversity, or at least key species are maintained (Fischer et al. 2006), all that has been discussed in previous chapters has demonstrated potential for species loss, thus exacerbating degradation of those ecosystems and certainly causing detrimental impacts on other systems that rely on those services – including our own species (Traill, et al. 2010).

Indeed, what I notice on the road already is more opportunistic farming (many farmers following the recent big rains) and a change in crops (mostly a removal of vineyards). As much as 60% of crops rely on natural pollination, not to mention the vast amount of soil conditioning and pest control and other services provided by the local ecosystem (Traill et al. 2010), it seems naïve to me to assume such opportunistic farming can remain viable under both a continuous loss of biodiversity and changing climate.

This brief example of farming is in essence my reason for writing this collection. In far too many ways, our species has developed quicker and more efficient ways to achieve the results of work. This has lead to a society unimaginable several generations ago. It has lead to an average standard of living greater than that ever known before and without a doubt has increased our potential to ever greater heights. This has, however, caused a nasty side-effect of an entirely new form of ignorance and certainly elements of gluttony.

I don’t wish to harp on, like some Tolkien nightmare of the machine, for I am happy with what we have created and that it will give my son opportunities that his ancestors, who landed in South Australia in the 1870’s, could never of dreamed of in their comparably harsh venture to establish this place as a state. On the other hand, they saw species on their plot that my son will never see. As much as we have come along way, especially over the past two centuries, we’ve also forgotten our roots and humility for a much wider world than just the cities that we have built. On a much more modern note; the more that we understand ecology and biological properties, the more we will be able to exploit such services at a reduction of economic outlay and energy. It is likely that the answers to many diseases and food source issues will be resolved through such understand, but this will be remain a decreasing likelihood as species loss and climate change continue to be ignored.

Reference
Traill, L. W., Lim, M. L. M., Sodhi N. S., Bradshaw, C. J. A. (2010) Mechanisms driving change: altered species interactions and ecosystem function through global warming. Journal of Animal Ecology. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2656.2010.01695.x
Hill, D. J. (2009) Asymmetric Co-evolution in the Lichen Symbiosis Casued by a Limited Capacity for Adaptation in the Photobiont. Biological Review. 75:326-338. doi: 10.1007/s12229-009-9028-x
Rosenzweig, C., Karoly, D., Vicarelli, M., Neofotis, P., Wu, Q., Casassa, G., Menzel, A., Root, T. L., Estrella, N., Seguin, B., Tryjanowski, P., Liu, C., Rawlins, S., and, Imeson, A. (2008) Attributing physical and biological impacts to anthropogenic climate change. Nature. 453(15):353-357. doi:10.1038/nature06937
Amano, T., Smithers, R. J., Sparks. T. H., and, Sutherland, W. J. (2010) A 250-year index of first flowering dates and its response to temperature change. Proc. R. Soc. B. doi:10.1098/rspb.2010.0291
Brook, B. (2009) In focus: Global warming tugs at trophic interactions. Journal of animal ecology. 78:1-3. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2656.2008.01490.x