Bailing Out the Biosphere

The biosphere and global ecological systems deserve to be bailed outGlobal ecological sustainability is threatened [action] by a massive ecological bubble [search] — whereby there are not enough intact global terrestrial, aquatic and marine ecosystems to maintain life. Now this — the destruction of our very being — is a crisis worthy of some serious emergency funding. The Guardian shows what the $2-4 trillion financial bailout could achieve if invested for the environment [ark] . It notes funding on this “scale to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and protect nature would… be repaid up to 100 times over.”
Bailing out the biosphere would support up to 8 years of needed greenhouse gas emission reductions [search], going a long way towards averting abrupt and deadly climate change. Alternatively it could pay for 80 years of forest and biodiversity protection [search], would be 2-3 times what is necessary to fully protect global ecosystems [search], or could entirely transition the U.S. away from coal and oil for electricity generation. For “only” a one time $50 billion investment, access to safe drinking water [search] could be given to the 2.5 billion living without, and for $30 billion a year all future threats of conflicts over food could be averted.

I suppose something had to be done to stop a global bank collapse, however deserved through decades of conspicuous consumption at the expense of the biosphere. But rescuing troubled bankers when the Earth and her life is dying is a bit like redecorating the Titanic as it sinks. Yet the speed and extent of the financial sector's massive bailout shows what is possible when society perceives a calamitous problem and rises swiftly to the challenge. If fat cat bankers are deserving, the biosphere and global ecological systems are much more worthy and in need of a bailout.
The ginormous task of our generation's environmental movement is to demand action and expenditures commiserate to the threats posed. It remains to be seen whether growth obsessed capitalism is redeemable; yet interestingly, prudent and ethical banks [ark | search] have largely been untroubled.

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5 Responses

  1. Art Clack says:

    Dew ponds have been around for tens of thousands of years. They work by insulating against conduction from the earth while encouraging re-radiation to the sky. (Neolithic man couldn't do anything about convection.) The result is that on nights when heat radiates into the night sky faster than it can be replaced by conduction and convection, the local energy deficit results in dew; the cold spot causes condensation.
    This the very same mechanism that causes your Highway Department to post all those signs saying “Bridge May Be Icy”, but it has been harnessed to provide water for man and his animals. (Insulated below and impervious above, a bridge is a very inefficient dew pond. The windshield of your automobile, now, that is a much more efficient implimentation of the principle. That is why you have to garage Mr. Boing-Boing if you don't want to deal with all those water spots every morning.)
    To the extent that the dew pond “rejects” heat into the sky, it could be a weapon for combating global warming. The patented S.B. Russell “dew reservoir” produced water at the rate of about 36 gallons per year per square foot of reservoir. Thirty-six gallons represents 36 days water for some desert dwellers, or one day for a rural dweller in the US, but only five hours for an urbanite, whether in Denver or Bejing. On the other hand, 36 gallons represents almost a third of a million BTU of energy of which we have rid the earth.
    A million BTU is insignificant, but imagine how much energy would be rejected if we built dew ponds to provide water for our cities. A dew pond sized to provide Denver – Denver uses a quarter million acre feet of water a year – would occupy about 2% of neighboring Washington County and would reject 16.2 billion BTU per year. It is boggling to imagine paving 2% of a county, but that only represents about 0.01% of the land Denver has paved as road, street, and alley. It is a pitance compared to our highway system.
    There would be side effects if cities “produced” their water instead of buying and transporting it. The side effects would include increased flooding, abandoned farmland going back into production, aquifers being replenished,… and rivers like the Rio Grand running again. Whoever owns the south coast of the Island of Belize will make a killing when homeowners can reliably provide their own water.
    During the Dark Ages entire fortified, hilltop villages were watered by dew ponds… some of which might have already been tens of thousands of years old. All those guys had to work with was clay and chalk and straw and muscle, but they produced ponds able to “reliably provide for 300 sheep and 20 bullock”.
    Neolithic man didn't even know whether dew came up from the earth or down from the sky. Surely a college educated American farmer equipped with plastics and metals and tractors can build as well… even if it won't endure for 10,000 years.
    Art Clack
    Rt 2 Box 507
    Bayard, NE 69334

  2. No bail-out from global warming………..
    There's no bailout for the next crisis
    Monday, October 20, 2008 The Oregonian
    The recent haggling over how to solve the nation's economic crisis seems to have done little to ease the anxieties of either Wall Street or Main Street. And with good reason: Intuitively, we know we haven't seen the worst of it yet.
    Watching a lifetime of stock options head south? Worried about where you'll find the money to pay for college or about the spiraling costs of health care? Certainly nothing could hurt worse than a foreclosure, could it? Well, maybe it could. If $700 billion sounds like a lot, try fathoming $9 trillion — roughly 13 times the cost of today's hotly debated bailout. That's the projected cost of letting global climate change go unaddressed within this decade.
    The thorough shakeup of today's economic climate foreshadows an even more disastrous global crisis heading our way. The same belief in unlimited, unchecked growth (some would say outright greed) that fattened our economy on a diet of junk bonds and hollow lending is also strip-mining our planet's environment of the currency that nature safely invested for us over millions of years, and upon which all life — including our own — depends.
    The concept of peak oil is not just some naysayers' delusion. According to the U.S. Energy Department's own findings, commonly called the Hirsch report and issued in 2005, it's an unavoidable reality, one that is hurtling toward us faster than we know what to do about.
    But like the blind eye that was turned on the proliferation of high-risk, foolhardy mortgages in the midst of a slowing economy, we've bolstered our bravado in the face of such warnings while enthusing about drilling offshore and in the arctic.
    While we've been busy digging our fossil-fuel foundations out from under us with the same kind of naive bluster and faith in infinite growth that gutted the economy, we've also been busy ruining things at the top as our upper atmosphere becomes choked with carbon dioxide, leaving us in an environmental demise of our own doing.
    When it comes to the economy, a few sleights of hand and a heavy toll on taxpayers, all partisan bickering aside, can be called upon to help us avert disaster and restore faith in the unlimited expansion model. But when it comes to nature's bank, cashing out is forever. No amount of midnight meetings, government-ordered buyouts or credit freezes can save a habitat laid fallow by years of unregulated dumping of chemical waste, nor can they lower our thermostats to an inhabitable temperature in the face of global warming.
    Sound policy and the pursuit of new technologies might ameliorate some of our excesses, helping to slow down the rate of climate change and postponing the date of disaster. But like the banking and credit crisis that arrived to the surprise of so many experts — despite the many warnings sounded years earlier — environmental failure is going to rear its ugly head someday.
    And when mother earth forecloses on us, there will be nowhere else to go.
    Lisa Weasel is an associate professor of biology at Portland State University and a board member of The Greenhouse Network.
    Steven Earl Salmony
    AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population,
    established 2001

  3. Thanks to Glen Barry, R. Gates and everyone else for what has been communicated in the Climate Ark Blog.
    Please understand that Dr. Lisa Weasel is an honorable scientist. She neither hides, nor hides from, the empirical evidence to which she refers in her letter, “There's no bailout for the next crisis” (see above). At least to me, her behavior is exemplary. We need to see her example displayed in the actions of many other scientists who presently seem to be unwilling to communicate what their science tells them is real and true.
    So far as I can tell, Dr. Weasel does not formulate policy or engage in action planning. She does the work scientists are supposed to be doing: helping people see the world we inhabit as it is.
    Of course, her reporting is off-putting precisely because the message from science is apparently unforeseen, distinctly discomforting and most unwelcome.
    Reports of good science, when that science is new, is routinely difficult to acknowledge, much less address. But that is what we are called upon to do. Grasping good science and adjusting to whatsoever could be real is required of us, I suppose. Nothing else will do as an adequate substitute. It appears that the human community could soon have genuine challenges to overcome.
    Despite all the efforts of denialists and naysayers, scientists need to do their duty, as Lisa Weasel is doing, by urging the family of humanity to open our eyes and see what looms ominously before us on the far horizon. By avoiding science, we are losing the exquisite value found in one of God's gifts to humanity.
    Ignoring Dr. Weasel's science cannot be allowed to prevail, even though her reasonable and sensible evidence comes into conflict with what culture prescribes as real and true. Is it possible that the standard for determining what is real and true in our culture is often this: whatsoever is widely shared, consensually validated and judged to be economically expedient, politically convenient, socially agreeable is true and real? In that case, Dr. Weasel's science does present our culture with evidence of inconvenient truths.
    Each culture presents its membership with much that is real and also much less that is illusory. From the standpoint of a psychologist, because humans are shaped early and pervasively by cultural transmissions in our perception of reality, it looks like an evolutionary challenge for humankind to see the world as it is.
    It appears that cultural transmissions or memes generated within a culture may at times mesmerize human beings in that widely shared and closely held memes occasionally “produce” illusions of the world as it is. Dr. Weasel's research seems to be disturbing in some basic way because her work comes into conflict with certain culturally derived notions held by leaders of our culture about what it means to be human and about the “placement” of humankind within the natural order of living things. Unexpected scientific evidence of this particular kind is uniformly difficult for people to see immediately, I suppose, because such evidence undercuts the 'pedestal' from which human beings prefer to arrogantly look upon other creatures and nature. We humans may introject culturally biased and scientifically unsupported transmissions (i.e., memes) that confuse human reasoning and promote a certain cortical conceitedness which is not helpful when trying to see what is real or to recognize certain requirements of practical reality. For a very long time cultural transmissions or memes appear to have been passed from generation to generation, distorting human perceptions and making it difficult for us to see scientific evidence for what is real about it.
    When a psychological practitioner like myself thinks a patient is suffering from a mental illness, that determination is a matter of evidence-based clinical judgment. However, general standards of what is normal are not clinical judgments (and sometimes do not objectively correlate with reality), but are often unverified, specious 'evidence' of cultural norms and social conventions that contain occasional misperceptions of what is real. Because some misperceptions are valued by those who share them, these memes get passed along as if they represented reality.
    In cases of deeply disturbed mental patients, they are inclined to distort reality so drastically that their distortions are not widely shared and closely held by other people. Instead, these mistaken impressions are labeled as examples of craziness and disregarded. By contrast, human aggregations in governments, social organizations and cultures appear not to misperceive and misrepresent reality so sharply, yet distortions of what is somehow real are still taken to be true and shared as if factual by aggregates of people.
    A term of art in psychology is useful here, folie a deux. The term means that two people share an identical distortion of reality. This understanding leads to other terms, folie a deux cent million for a social order or folie a deux billion for a culture. These terms refer to misperceived aspects of reality commonly shared and held by many people in aggregates. One way to define the highest standard of what is normal for the individual and for people in aggregations is in terms of being able to see what is reasonably and sensibly free of illusion, what appears to be real based on scientific evidence. Hence, in taking note of the process of humankind becoming evermore aware in the passage of space-time of whatsoever is somehow real by means of acquiring good scientific evidence, we can track the evolution of science.
    Steven Earl Salmony
    AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population,
    established 2001

  4. Cyber-Rain says:

    Scary as all of the scenarios may be if we do nothing, there is still hope! And there are amazing new technologies coming out, catering to a desire to conserve and live more responsibly. One of these is the Cyber-Rain “smart” sprinkler controller. Estimated to be able to save thousands of gallons of water per year, it's a pretty big step in the right direction. There is a lot more information at

  5. Rocky says:

    Bailing out the Biosphere? A caution concerning geoengineered fertilization of the oceans:
    Ocean Fertilization and Depletion of Deep-sea O2
    (a recipe for a catastrophic anoxia in deep sea water strata)
    Typical deep-sea water masses have been isolated from the surface for long periods of time and have limited supplies of dissolved oxygen that are replenished at extremely slow rates.
    Multiple strata separate these deep waters from the surface waters and from the atmosphere, so that O2 equilibria in these deep water layers are (a) slow to replenish, and (b) likely to be highly-sensitive to disruption.
    Given what we already know about nutrient-induced eutrophication in freshwater systems and the catastrophic effects of the anoxia that results, we should be quite skeptical of schemes that imagine wide-scale fertilization of the ocean's surface layers (see also a recent overview of dead zones in the sea in the 15 August 2008 issue of Science; Diaz, 2008).
    While fertilization of the sea's surface waters (with a dusting of iron, for example) may enhance phytoplankton growth, the increased biomass will not be confined to surface waters, but will result in export of tons of additional organics to the deep-water layers.
    Heterotrophic microbes in the deep-sea can be expected to respond to an increased import of such organics with a burst of exuberant growth – quickly depleting already limited supplies of dissolved oxygen, and producing a cataclysmic deep-sea anoxia.
    In addition, the particular mechanism of fertilization does not matter. It makes little difference if the fertilization/algal bloom results from pollutants, fertilizers, or nutrient run-off carried by rivers, or thousands of geoengineered "ocean pumps" that pump deep-sea waters to the surface, or from repeated dustings of the ocean's surface with powdered iron. It would seem that any combination of such ongoing and large-scale insults constitute a sure recipe for ever-expanding dead zones, extinctions, and deep-sea anoxia.
    On a century-to-century time scale, deep-sea organisms are currently adapted to one of the most stable, unchanging environments on earth. Oxygen depletion, human-induced changes to O2 levels, and/or chemical-physical changes induced by anthropogenic mixing schemes are virtually certain to drastically or fatally perturb existing deep-sea systems.
    Since the ocean covers approximately 70% of earth's surface (and produces the greater part of our atmospheric oxygen), advocates of wide-scale fertilization, if successful in their campaign, may unwittingly trigger ecosystem disruptions and an extinction events on an unimagined scale.
    Even our most well-meaning intentions need to be measured against the human propensity to error and the likelihood of unintended consequences.
    Current projects that envision re-engineering the operation of 70% of earth's biosphere when armed with our currently incomplete understandings would seem to risk an assortment of such unanticipated or undesirable outcomes.
    Our central problem today is overpopulation – and with our 7th, 8th, and 9th billions on track to arrive by mid-century (along with more and more additional millions on the road to industrialization), attempts to "fix" earth's atmosphere with planetary engineering distracts us from the true nature of our problem.
    In addition, holding out the hope of geoengineering schemes simply tempts economic interests and policymakers to continue with their "business as usual" policies that have brought us to the current precipice, and permits them to avoid facing up to the true nature of our problem which is overpopulation.
    Let us hope that today's policymakers and leaders will not overlook the root cause of many, if not most, of our problems today which is overpopulation and the demographic corner into which we have painted ourselves.

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