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The Wizard and the Prophet (Ch. 4) Earth: Food 
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 The Wizard and the Prophet (Ch. 4) Earth: Food
The Wizard and the Prophet (Ch. 4) Earth: Food

Please use this thread to discuss the above chapter.



Tue Dec 10, 2019 1:52 pm
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Post Re: The Wizard and the Prophet (Ch. 4) Earth: Food
In his intro, Mann said he borrowed the structure for the third part of the book from Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma. The mythical four elements are each the subject of a chapter. The "Earth" chapter is about food that comes out of the soil. Mann narrows the Wizard/Prophet debate over resources, begun in chapters 2 and 3, to a debate over how to feed a still-rapidly expanding population. Wizards have now gone far beyond Norman Borlaug in their capabilities to engineer plants for greater productivity. They currently are trying to alter the way rice plants photosynthesize water and CO2. As is well-known, Vogtians object to genetically modifying plants, not entirely rationally, Mann says, pointing to much less concern over genetically modified e coli and baker's yeast used in medicine. When it comes to common foods, produced by large corporations, however, the perception is different. Prophets have little faith that corporations will prioritize public safety over profits. GMO foods have been banned in several countries, and in the U.S., where they are allowed, the GMO-free label appeals to many consumers for whom "natural" and "organic" also confer reassurance.

Mann continues to portray the Wizard/Prophet conflict as philosophical or spiritual as much as scientific. There was a book long ago called The Soul of Soil, a title that sums up some Prophets' view of soil, imbued with spiritual essence, or pneuma. Less mystically, others emphasize the complex community of microbes, fungi, and animals that needs to be nurtured in order for the soil to produce good food. Prophets accuse wizards of lacking reverence for soil and an understanding that it is not simply a medium for roots and needs more to function well besides the addition of chemical fertilizer and water.

Well and good to have such affection for soil, say the Wizards, but if the choice is between hunger and a chance at real life, what system is the practical one? Organic agriculture is more expensive due to more labor needed, so its constituency is those of us with disposable income and less true need.

Mann is evenhanded, giving each side its due. This is how he sums up with soaring language the achievement of mass production of fertilizer through the Haber-Bosch process, :
Quote:
The magnitude of the change wrought by artificially fixed nitrogen is hard to grasp. Think of the deaths from hunger that have been averted, the opportunities granted to people who would otherwise not have had a chance to thrive, the great works of art and science created by those who would have had to devote their lives to wringing sustenance from the earth. Particle accelerators in Japan, Switzerland, and Illinois; One Hundred Years of Solitude and Things Fall Apart; vaccines, computers, and antibiotics; the Sidney Opera House and Stephen Holl's Chapel of St. Ignatius--how many are owed, indirectly, to Haber and Bosch? How many would exist if this Wizardly triumph had not produced the nitrogen that filled their creators' childhood plates? (172)



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Post Re: The Wizard and the Prophet (Ch. 4) Earth: Food
Chapter Four: Food
The Rockefeller Foundation, funders of Borlaug’s work to increase agricultural yields, became worried by Vogt’s idea that increased population would hasten the day of reckoning. Warren Weaver, a Rockefeller mathematician who discovered key themes in complexity theory and information theory, provided the wizard creed: humans only need usable energy, and total planetary energy is enough for the USA to support a human population of eighty billion.

I love it!! All we need is better organisation, and our planet could easily support far more than ten times the current population on a fraction of the land mass. Weaver worried that would make things too crowded, but I disagree. Building floating cities a hundred stories high on the world ocean could easily fit that many people with abundant space, while giving the continents back to nature for re-wilding. The point here is that the real physical carrying capacity of our planet is vastly higher than is commonly imagined.

So how do we tap all that energy? Recall that the sun pumps out ten billion times as much energy as hits the earth, with our planet equivalent to a lentil on a sphere of radius ten metres. The world ocean has energy in tide, current, wave, wind, geothermal, ocean thermal and solar that we can use, noting that our messing with the climate is adding the equivalent of four Hiroshima atom bombs of energy to the planet system per second.

A key is to improve the efficiency of photosynthesis, which uses barely one millionth of the available solar energy falling on the leaf. Weaver suggested improving the food potential of the sea. My idea on this is that industrial algae farms on about one percent of the world ocean would be enough to convert all the dangerous carbon that humans have dumped in the air into useful commodities.

It may be possible to achieve such results with only minimal genetic engineering. I wrote a paper on algae production ten years ago with some Chinese scientists who advocated turning off the quorum sensing gene, to enable algae to multiply well beyond its natural ‘quorum’ limit. I have some sympathy for Mann’s comment that prophets view such ideas as an ecologically foolish mania, since safety must be paramount. The underlying problem is that private corporations are not to be trusted, so the need is to implement such concepts in ways that build in ethical controls.


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Post Re: The Wizard and the Prophet (Ch. 4) Earth: Food
Robert Tulip wrote:
Chapter Four: Food
The Rockefeller Foundation, funders of Borlaug’s work to increase agricultural yields, became worried by Vogt’s idea that increased population would hasten the day of reckoning. Warren Weaver, a Rockefeller mathematician who discovered key themes in complexity theory and information theory, provided the wizard creed: humans only need usable energy, and total planetary energy is enough for the USA to support a human population of eighty billion.

I love it!! All we need is better organisation, and our planet could easily support far more than ten times the current population on a fraction of the land mass. Weaver worried that would make things too crowded, but I disagree. Building floating cities a hundred stories high on the world ocean could easily fit that many people with abundant space, while giving the continents back to nature for re-wilding. The point here is that the real physical carrying capacity of our planet is vastly higher than is commonly imagined.

Oh boy, I thought you'd go for that 80 billion population idea, Robert :) But don't forget, this chapter is about food, and Weaver was less sanguine when it came to feeding these 80 billion (just in the U.S. alone). I must ask, though, why anyone would find a world population of 500 billion something to plan for, rather than to head off, even assuming the world could sustain it? Is there a quasi-religious belief behind this willingness to contemplate such a future? Is the human destiny to expand to the very limits of its endowments something sacred? Why would you want to consign humans to artificial landscapes on the high seas in sky scrapers? It sounds dreadful, and that is far from an unimportant feeling. There seems to be an urge behind wizardry that is not entirely connected to the need for it, as though wizards are under the spell of of their magical ability to surpass nature.

We appear recently to have reduced our worries over the adequacy of our food supply. Famines are said to have mainly political causes. Whether or not current production is adequate, Mann reports that experts believe that production will need to increase by as much as 100% by 2050 to feed expanding populations. Since further exploitation of resources to produce this food will inevitably degrade the environment or simply not be available, wizards look to genetic modification to escape that bind. Then, perhaps, the impact of growing much more food will be no greater than it is now, due to improvements in the efficiency of photosynthesis (one thrust of research). Global warming throws a monkey wrench, however, into the dreams of wizards.

Mann also cites the data on the burden that raising farm animals places on the planet. To feed them vegetable matter and later slaughter them for meat is wasteful of calories, because the plants can instead be eaten by humans. There then is only one waste stream of these nutrients rather than two when animals expel waste throughout their lives. Vegetarian diets allow more people to be fed. Vegetarianism also means reductions in greenhouse gases.



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Post Re: The Wizard and the Prophet (Ch. 4) Earth: Food
DWill wrote:
Oh boy, I thought you'd go for that 80 billion population idea, Robert :)
I don’t think numbers anywhere near that are likely in the short term, but the point is that our assumption that the earth is now already too crowded may be completely wrong. Many countries with high population density (eg Holland, South Korea and Taiwan with over 500 people per square mile) have high living standards and quality of life.

If all the earth had that density the population would be nearly 100 billion. If everyone lived in cities with the density of Tokyo, 100 billion people would fit on about 3% of the planet surface. New York is nearly twice as crowded.

Such population would generate culture as the primary economic activity, while material needs can readily be met from high carbon technology while regulating the atmosphere to keep the climate stable.
DWill wrote:
But don't forget, this chapter is about food, and Weaver was less sanguine when it came to feeding these 80 billion (just in the U.S. alone).
High intensity algae farms on 5% of the world ocean, generating abundant biomass, can easily feed that number of people with a high quality diet.
DWill wrote:
I must ask, though, why anyone would find a world population of 500 billion something to plan for, rather than to head off, even assuming the world could sustain it?
I think fifty billion is a good target for world population, enabling human flourishing at levels of complexity that we cannot imagine today.
DWill wrote:
Is there a quasi-religious belief behind this willingness to contemplate such a future?
Religion is fundamental to human identity, serving psychologically to produce group cohesion and direction and ethics. The optimism that technology can generate further step changes in world productivity has to be grounded in the primary Christian values of faith, hope and love.
DWill wrote:
Is the human destiny to expand to the very limits of its endowments something sacred?
I don’t think that pushing the ‘very limits’ is a good idea. Systems break when they push the limits. But nor do I think a world population of fifty billion necessarily runs up against that boundary. Imagine if New York was set free from its continental shackles and enabled to float every year around the North Atlantic gyre. Same with all the big cities. That could drastically cut the pressure humans put on earth systems while also enabling a big population increase.
DWill wrote:
Why would you want to consign humans to artificial landscapes on the high seas in sky scrapers?
People already love the ‘artificial landscapes’ of cities. Designer cities can make transport and communication super easy, delivering high levels of freedom and creativity.
DWill wrote:
It sounds dreadful, and that is far from an unimportant feeling.
Sure, just like cars seemed 'dreadful' in the horse and buggy age.
DWill wrote:
There seems to be an urge behind wizardry that is not entirely connected to the need for it, as though wizards are under the spell of their magical ability to surpass nature.
My view is that the challenge is to live in harmony with nature, not to ‘surpass’ it. The best way to become natural is to embrace the complex spirituality of high technology, seeing wealth as the source of freedom and stability, finding ways to create wealth that repair and restore the planet and its biodiversity.
DWill wrote:
We appear recently to have reduced our worries over the adequacy of our food supply. Famines are said to have mainly political causes. Whether or not current production is adequate, Mann reports that experts believe that production will need to increase by as much as 100% by 2050 to feed expanding populations. Since further exploitation of resources to produce this food will inevitably degrade the environment or simply not be available, wizards look to genetic modification to escape that bind. Then, perhaps, the impact of growing much more food will be no greater than it is now, due to improvements in the efficiency of photosynthesis (one thrust of research). Global warming throws a monkey wrench, however, into the dreams of wizards.
Your claim of inevitable degradation is not true. The world ocean contains 1.2 billion cubic kilometres of water, all of which has abundant nutrients that we have scarcely begun to tap. Mining the phosphate and nitrate and carbon from the world ocean can easily feed the world while also enabling restoration of degraded environments and protection of the climate.
DWill wrote:
Mann also cites the data on the burden that raising farm animals places on the planet. To feed them vegetable matter and later slaughter them for meat is wasteful of calories, because the plants can instead be eaten by humans. There then is only one waste stream of these nutrients rather than two when animals expel waste throughout their lives. Vegetarian diets allow more people to be fed. Vegetarianism also means reductions in greenhouse gases.
People like eating meat. This popular myth about a plant diet as better for the environment is superficial and wrong, grounded in a simplistic idea that cutting economic activity is the only way to cut impact. More activity can have less impact if it is well designed.

The challenge is to address our problems on industrial scale. Crossing the oceanic frontier will enable us to make trillions of tonnes of biochar from marine carbon, which will then be added to agricultural and forest soils to vastly lift their productivity, while also freeing up space for wild animals.


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Post Re: The Wizard and the Prophet (Ch. 4) Earth: Food
I'll try to reply more fully in few days, after returning home. Here I'll just mention the appropriateness of visionary solutions to immediate problems. Compare what leaders are advocating as responses to GW to your advocacy. There isn't even a thin strand between the two that could someday be a bridge, leading me to say again that after some planetary catastrophe, perhaps humankind could sail the seas forever. But I don't see any non-forced way that this could ever happen.

My other comment is that the Prophets' ethic may not be fully sustainable in the face of our species ' drive to dominate. But at least an ethic is there. I frankly have difficulty seeing one at all in the wizardly extremes you're promoting. The lesson we shouldn't need to learn at this point is that a trail of unforseen consequences always follows in the wake of grand ambitions to reengineer nature. Our science will improve in regard to predicting consequences, and as it does, we'll be less and less likely to go boldly where some Wizards would lead us.



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Post Re: The Wizard and the Prophet (Ch. 4) Earth: Food
DWill wrote:
after some planetary catastrophe, perhaps humankind could sail the seas forever. But I don't see any non-forced way that this could ever happen.

Of course there is a "non-forced way that this could ever happen." People move to where they can make a living. You can't force them to stay put when the opportunities beckon.

The bridge between my vision of a sustainable planetary future and the current mess emerges from the practical question of how to stabilise the climate. We have to recognise that emission reduction is marginal to regulating the atmospheric carbon level, which will primarily rely on converting carbon into useful commodities. Only the world ocean has the area, energy and resources to deliver that global agenda, primarily through industrial algae production.

Managing an oceanic scale of operation will create the technological ability for people to live in floating cities, which will create an attractive and desirable quality of life. Without such a pressure valve the current global drift toward autocratic coercion will lead to collapse and conflict.

The real potential is for the produced material abundance from an ocean civilization to generate increased freedom, enabling steady cultural evolution towards higher levels of social and human capital in a new ocean world, just as the American frontier generated boundless optimism of a new world in earlier times.


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Last edited by Robert Tulip on Thu Mar 05, 2020 7:33 pm, edited 1 time in total.



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Post Re: The Wizard and the Prophet (Ch. 4) Earth: Food
Robert Tulip wrote:
DWill wrote:
Oh boy, I thought you'd go for that 80 billion population idea, Robert :)
I don’t think numbers anywhere near that are likely in the short term, but the point is that our assumption that the earth is now already too crowded may be completely wrong. Many countries with high population density (eg Holland, South Korea and Taiwan with over 500 people per square mile) have high living standards and quality of life.

The problem with this concept of carrying capacity, as I see it, is that it appears to spur us to believe that since our total numbers are expanding, we haven't yet reached capacity. The obvious flaws in that attitude are basically two: that a significant portion of our population has a miserable quality of life (with environmental reasons not being the only ones), and that while many regions do well in quality of life measures, this may not be sustainable given pressures placed on resources. Because there is serious doubt about the future of water supplies in California, the current wealth of that state does not mean that all sorts of room exists in the capacity of the land to support even the numbers there now. It could be, rather, that the area is poised on the precipice, ready to slide off. Many other civilizations have gone from boom to bust, not even understanding what they were doing to bring about collapse.

Before we start thinking that extra billions should be welcome, we need to prove that we can provide decent lives to everyone in the near term, in a sustainable way. Sustainability is the greatest challenge.
Quote:
If all the earth had that density the population would be nearly 100 billion. If everyone lived in cities with the density of Tokyo, 100 billion people would fit on about 3% of the planet surface. New York is nearly twice as crowded.

Such population would generate culture as the primary economic activity, while material needs can readily be met from high carbon technology while regulating the atmosphere to keep the climate stable.

It appears as a utopian vision in which satisfying material needs will suffice, material wants no longer getting in the way. That would indeed seem to be the only way that 100 billion could have even a slight chance of existing.
Robert Tulip wrote:
DWill wrote:
Is there a quasi-religious belief behind this willingness to contemplate such a future?
Religion is fundamental to human identity, serving psychologically to produce group cohesion and direction and ethics. The optimism that technology can generate further step changes in world productivity has to be grounded in the primary Christian values of faith, hope and love.

The reason I inquired is that I was getting a sense of "destinarianism" from your vision of the future, especially regarding living on the sea. It seems a bit similar to the vision that advocates of extra-planetary travel have, that the destiny of humanity lies beyond our solar system. My own feeling is that "frontierism" needs to mature, to become uncoupled from the physical. There are frontiers to attain, yes, but these should have more to do with perfecting (if that is the word) our ability to get along and care for one another. I don't particularly care for the word "spiritual," but it'll do in this instance.
Robert Tulip wrote:
DWill wrote:
Is the human destiny to expand to the very limits of its endowments something sacred?
I don’t think that pushing the ‘very limits’ is a good idea. Systems break when they push the limits. But nor do I think a world population of fifty billion necessarily runs up against that boundary. Imagine if New York was set free from its continental shackles and enabled to float every year around the North Atlantic gyre. Same with all the big cities. That could drastically cut the pressure humans put on earth systems while also enabling a big population increase.

What are these limits? How would we know when we've surpassed them? Are we surpassing many of them now? If we think we're okay, as far as limits go, because apocalypse hasn't happened, that is an extremely low bar to set. I think that our science is getting to the place where we can pinpoint areas of concern, the first step to effectively dealing with them. To this point, our habit as a species has been to plow ahead and deal with the consequences later. I'm optimistic that that will be changing. Environmental impact studies are decried as bureaucratic logjams that constrain development. But that is precisely the point, to constrain or at least to channel development.
Robert Tulip wrote:
DWill wrote:
It sounds dreadful, and that is far from an unimportant feeling.
Sure, just like cars seemed 'dreadful' in the horse and buggy age.

That is my reaction, sorry if it seemed rude. There was some initial resistance to the newfangled automobiles, but there is no comparison between their introduction and going off to live on a terra less firma.
Robert Tulip wrote:
DWill wrote:
There seems to be an urge behind wizardry that is not entirely connected to the need for it, as though wizards are under the spell of their magical ability to surpass nature.
My view is that the challenge is to live in harmony with nature, not to ‘surpass’ it. The best way to become natural is to embrace the complex spirituality of high technology, seeing wealth as the source of freedom and stability, finding ways to create wealth that repair and restore the planet and its biodiversity.

This could be a partly Prophet-like goal, in that Prophets need to employ many advanced technologies in order for the democratic, distributed energy model to work. Mann doesn't seriously consider "back-to-nature" communal types as part of the Prophets' solution, as he should not. Why Prophets look askance at your vision is that material wealth is viewed as unlimited, and that powerful, monopolistic interests will be driving algae farming and geoengineering. It becomes clear that Prophets aren't opposed to Wizards based on anti-tech feelings, but on fears that Wizards want to be masters of the world.
Quote:
Your claim of inevitable degradation is not true. The world ocean contains 1.2 billion cubic kilometres of water, all of which has abundant nutrients that we have scarcely begun to tap. Mining the phosphate and nitrate and carbon from the world ocean can easily feed the world while also enabling restoration of degraded environments and protection of the climate.

In other words, exploiting the oceans in ways we haven't yet thought of. I'm heartened by the ability of science to be able to predict the effects and feasibility of such wizardly ideas, and put up stop signs if need be. The problem may be that if the harms will be "merely" ecological," we still might not listen. Mining the ocean floor is surely one thing that should be stopped. Mining phosphate and carbon from the waters--who knows. Other means of food exploitation may also need to be ditched; we simply don't know yet.
Robert Tulip wrote:
DWill wrote:
Mann also cites the data on the burden that raising farm animals places on the planet. To feed them vegetable matter and later slaughter them for meat is wasteful of calories, because the plants can instead be eaten by humans. There then is only one waste stream of these nutrients rather than two when animals expel waste throughout their lives. Vegetarian diets allow more people to be fed. Vegetarianism also means reductions in greenhouse gases.
People like eating meat. This popular myth about a plant diet as better for the environment is superficial and wrong, grounded in a simplistic idea that cutting economic activity is the only way to cut impact. More activity can have less impact if it is well designed.

The better efficiency of eating vegetable matter instead of feeding it to animals is a simple truth, one of the few we can rely on in this huge task of making our presence more benign. It isn't simplistic to assert that. I don't want people to lose their livelihoods, and with a slow transition to a predominantly plant-based diet, they won't have to. When meat becomes a niche, those of us who want it can still get it. It may cost us more.
Quote:
The challenge is to address our problems on industrial scale. Crossing the oceanic frontier will enable us to make trillions of tonnes of biochar from marine carbon, which will then be added to agricultural and forest soils to vastly lift their productivity, while also freeing up space for wild animals.

This is one example of the need for scientific vetting. What will be the composition of this biochar? If it can be mined economically and used, what processing might it need? There are strict standards for the biochar that is currently used on a limited scale in gardens. It's a case of premature chicken-counting.



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Post Re: The Wizard and the Prophet (Ch. 4) Earth: Food
DWill wrote:
The problem with this concept of carrying capacity, as I see it, is that it appears to spur us to believe that since our total numbers are expanding, we haven't yet reached capacity. The obvious flaws in that attitude are basically two: that a significant portion of our population has a miserable quality of life (with environmental reasons not being the only ones), and that while many regions do well in quality of life measures, this may not be sustainable given pressures placed on resources.
I see the flaws a bit differently. The fact that human population is expanding does not directly indicate what the planetary carrying capacity may be. Vogt thinks it is already exceeded, while Borlaug thinks ingenuity can tap new resources to sustain growth. So capacity is really a function of our methods of social and economic organisation.

In this chapter, the argument about carrying capacity is a simple function of system energy, but the obvious problem is that the governance systems and technology to tap that abundant available planetary energy require significant social evolution from our present global situation.
DWill wrote:
Because there is serious doubt about the future of water supplies in California, the current wealth of that state does not mean that all sorts of room exists in the capacity of the land to support even the numbers there now. It could be, rather, that the area is poised on the precipice, ready to slide off. Many other civilizations have gone from boom to bust, not even understanding what they were doing to bring about collapse.
The wizard line today is that we can use science to understand what we are doing to bring about collapse, and can use technology to overcome that extinctive trajectory. The primary planetary arithmetic is that we are adding about fifty gigatons of carbon dioxide and equivalents to the air each year, and have to shift that around to physically remove that much each year, so the net volume of CO2 falls and we step back from the hothouse precipice.

You might recall I supported Terry Spragg, the California waterbag inventor who proposed towing water through the ocean from Washington state, but could never get anyone to engage. I thought the problem there was primarily political, both corruption and a failure of imagination, not anything economic or environmental or technological. The same psychological inertia is preventing serious public engagement on effective climate change strategies.
DWill wrote:
Before we start thinking that extra billions should be welcome, we need to prove that we can provide decent lives to everyone in the near term, in a sustainable way. Sustainability is the greatest challenge.
I completely agree. Current methods are not sustainable and cannot continue, much less expand. A step-up in global population can only happen with a range of paradigm shifts in how we manage resources.
DWill wrote:
It appears as a utopian vision in which satisfying material needs will suffice, material wants no longer getting in the way. That would indeed seem to be the only way that 100 billion could have even a slight chance of existing.
Considering the utopian vision against religious frameworks, part of the paradigm shift is to a universal “Be-Attitude”. The Biblical idea of ‘blessed are the poor in spirit’ enables joy to arise from spiritual identity and community rather than relying on the pleasure of material possessions.
DWill wrote:
I was getting a sense of "destinarianism" from your vision of the future, especially regarding living on the sea. It seems a bit similar to the vision that advocates of extra-planetary travel have, that the destiny of humanity lies beyond our solar system. My own feeling is that "frontierism" needs to mature, to become uncoupled from the physical.
There is a big difference between imagining human destiny as involving a mass migration to the world ocean and imagining the migration as off the planet. Migration to the ocean would be physically possible as a way to sustain abundance, whereas moving to Mars is an impossible and costly fantasy and distraction.

We cannot “uncouple from the physical”, since the only real frontiers are those which are physically possible, even while clarifying their potential is akin to an act of transcendental imagination. An oceanic migration is both possible and necessary, unlike moving to outer space. Its starting point should be making life on the ocean desirable, while constructing systems that will enable human stewardship of the planet by regulating the parameters of earth systems to remain within stable boundaries.
DWill wrote:
There are frontiers to attain, yes, but these should have more to do with perfecting (if that is the word) our ability to get along and care for one another. I don't particularly care for the word "spiritual," but it'll do in this instance.
That focus on building community shared identity is a really important point about a relational spirituality of love, as the necessary basis of authentic religion. My view is that this frontier goal of mutual care is encapsulated in the seven practical Christian virtues (Matt 25:31ff) - feeding the hungry, visiting the sick and prisoners, clothing the naked, giving drink to the thirsty, welcoming strangers and treating the least as though they were Jesus Christ. The Bible says performing these works of mercy is the key to salvation. That appears to be an entirely scientific perspective.
DWill wrote:
What are these limits? How would we know when we've surpassed them? Are we surpassing many of them now? If we think we're okay, as far as limits go, because apocalypse hasn't happened, that is an extremely low bar to set. I think that our science is getting to the place where we can pinpoint areas of concern, the first step to effectively dealing with them.
The 2018 Steffen et al article Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene https://www.pnas.org/content/115/33/8252 identifies key planetary tipping points that we are now crossing as part of our great acceleration. It is not okay by any means. Basic system reconfigurations are essential to enable a future earth system to provide universal abundance for a planetary civilization. The turkey feels okay until Thanksgiving, indicating that a trajectory toward apocalypse has to be identified and reversed before the doom becomes inevitable.
DWill wrote:
To this point, our habit as a species has been to plow ahead and deal with the consequences later. I'm optimistic that that will be changing. Environmental impact studies are decried as bureaucratic logjams that constrain development. But that is precisely the point, to constrain or at least to channel development.
Yes, we have a dominant heedless materialism that fails to engage with consequences. The prophets have focused on systemic scientific prediction of impacts, providing the baseline to inform the need for wizard technology that can provide any hope of escape from the fate of collapse.
DWill wrote:
There was some initial resistance to the newfangled automobiles, but there is no comparison between their introduction and going off to live on a terra less firma.
I believe it will be possible to construct ocean cities on such a large scale that they will be entirely stable, providing universal high quality of life. The scale of transformations in the last century with transport, communications, agriculture and finance to name a few produced upheavals that are comparable to what will be needed this century.
DWill wrote:
Prophets need to employ many advanced technologies in order for the democratic, distributed energy model to work. Mann doesn't seriously consider "back-to-nature" communal types as part of the Prophets' solution, as he should not. Why Prophets look askance at your vision is that material wealth is viewed as unlimited, and that powerful, monopolistic interests will be driving algae farming and geoengineering. It becomes clear that Prophets aren't opposed to Wizards based on anti-tech feelings, but on fears that Wizards want to be masters of the world.
'Back to nature' is more a philosophy of simplicity than a practical scaleable solution. This point about mastery of the world underscores the essential need for a spiritual philosophy to be central to our planetary paradigm shift. A religious humility with a long-term vision of planetary repair is essential to overcome the catastrophic destruction that humanity has wreaked upon the world.

That is a vision that can emerge from a reformed Christian theology grounded in science. Language about wealth being unlimited can be addressed by new systems that generate sustained universal abundance with a technology of simplicity. In practical terms, to call potential ‘unlimited’ just means that the real limits appear to be much greater than our current level of activity. That is the case for energy, considering the real scale of energy pumped out by the sun, a billion times the amount that hits the earth.
DWill wrote:
In other words, exploiting the oceans in ways we haven't yet thought of.
The ways to use the ocean that I am suggesting are ways that I have thought of, but which are so distant from current ways of thinking that they have no traction.
DWill wrote:
I'm heartened by the ability of science to be able to predict the effects and feasibility of such wizardly ideas, and put up stop signs if need be.
Too often these stop signs are political and cultural rather than scientific and economic. New ideas should be evaluated on the basis of evidence and logic. Any other measure is morally corrupt, recognising that logic should embed safety precautions. As well, new ideas have to be assessed against necessary goals, justifying resource allocation to make them happen, as seen in context of war. The security peril of global warming means we should consider achieving net zero by 2030 as an imperative on the scale of defeating Hitler.
DWill wrote:
The problem may be that if the harms will be "merely" ecological," we still might not listen.
That misses the point in my view, which is that industrial algae production can be squarely targeted at ecological repair and restoration.
DWill wrote:
Mining the ocean floor is surely one thing that should be stopped.
I agree. Mining should be restricted only to locations and methods that do not cause ecological destruction.
DWill wrote:
Mining phosphate and carbon from the waters--who knows.
Likely to enable significant enduring growth in planetary biomass, and protection of global biodiversity.
DWill wrote:
Other means of food exploitation may also need to be ditched; we simply don't know yet.
The basic problem is linear systems that treat the environment as a dump. Food systems can only be sustained by a circular economy that reuses waste as asset.
DWill wrote:
The better efficiency of eating vegetable matter instead of feeding it to animals is a simple truth, one of the few we can rely on in this huge task of making our presence more benign. It isn't simplistic to assert that.
True, but decisions about what people should eat are not just matters of efficiency. Many large areas of agricultural land have no more economic use than as pasture for animals. But the big issue is that stopping eating meat would have a miniscule, perhaps undetectable, effect on the temperature. Its real impact would be symbolic, in the change to spiritual identity.

We should consider all our climate related actions against the metric of radiative forcing, how much they affect the global warming potential of greenhouse gases. There are far better methods than decarbonisation. Using the technological wizardry of geoengineering offers real potential to stabilise the temperature, but this approach is sidelined by factors including the cultural focus on individual response such as this vegetarian distraction.
DWill wrote:
I don't want people to lose their livelihoods, and with a slow transition to a predominantly plant-based diet, they won't have to. When meat becomes a niche, those of us who want it can still get it. It may cost us more.
Quote:
The challenge is to address our problems on industrial scale. Crossing the oceanic frontier will enable us to make trillions of tonnes of biochar from marine carbon, which will then be added to agricultural and forest soils to vastly lift their productivity, while also freeing up space for wild animals.

This is one example of the need for scientific vetting. What will be the composition of this biochar? If it can be mined economically and used, what processing might it need? There are strict standards for the biochar that is currently used on a limited scale in gardens. It's a case of premature chicken-counting.
No, the suggestion of massive ramping up of productive ways to store carbon cannot be rightly dismissed as counting chickens before they hatch. The planetary task is a conversation at the scale of transcendental imagination, applying a finite and immanent recognition of how earth systems can be stabilised, repaired and restored through human ingenuity. That means identifying what is necessary, so the possible paths to achieve it can then be mapped and pursued.

Considering the planet as a whole means the primary necessary security task is to reduce the CO2 level back to the Holocene level of 280 ppm. Without that we face inevitable conflict and collapse of civilization. A range of technologies will contribute to this rather Herculean task, but investment in these efforts is largely stymied by failure of conversation, with inadequate strategic visions excluding the planetary perspective that should provide the foundation for assessing shared investment priorities.


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Post Re: The Wizard and the Prophet (Ch. 4) Earth: Food
Robert Tulip wrote:
DWill wrote:
The problem with this concept of carrying capacity, as I see it, is that it appears to spur us to believe that since our total numbers are expanding, we haven't yet reached capacity. The obvious flaws in that attitude are basically two: that a significant portion of our population has a miserable quality of life (with environmental reasons not being the only ones), and that while many regions do well in quality of life measures, this may not be sustainable given pressures placed on resources.
I see the flaws a bit differently. The fact that human population is expanding does not directly indicate what the planetary carrying capacity may be. Vogt thinks it is already exceeded, while Borlaug thinks ingenuity can tap new resources to sustain growth. So capacity is really a function of our methods of social and economic organisation.

In this chapter, the argument about carrying capacity is a simple function of system energy, but the obvious problem is that the governance systems and technology to tap that abundant available planetary energy require significant social evolution from our present global situation.

In meaningful human terms, carrying capacity has to be viewed not in terms of how many people can be born--who really cares about that?--but in terms of the quality of life they can have. Since under current conditions we aren't doing well enough by our fellow humans, let's show first that we can do better--let's evolve socially--before looking forward to quadrupling our numbers. That sounds to me like advising slowing the car by stepping on the gas. I sense that you see opportunity, not obstacle, in having much greater numbers--something to do with greater complexity, perhaps?

Robert Tulip wrote:
DWill wrote:
Because there is serious doubt about the future of water supplies in California, the current wealth of that state does not mean that all sorts of room exists in the capacity of the land to support even the numbers there now. It could be, rather, that the area is poised on the precipice, ready to slide off. Many other civilizations have gone from boom to bust, not even understanding what they were doing to bring about collapse.
The wizard line today is that we can use science to understand what we are doing to bring about collapse, and can use technology to overcome that extinctive trajectory. The primary planetary arithmetic is that we are adding about fifty gigatons of carbon dioxide and equivalents to the air each year, and have to shift that around to physically remove that much each year, so the net volume of CO2 falls and we step back from the hothouse precipice.

Collapse has more dimensions than just that of the planet's rising temperature. Mann has done a service by reminding us of this. Your statement implies that science will find a way to bail us out again and again, so that we can do whatever we want. I'm a bit puzzled by your statements about spiritual or religious transformation, in relation to this attitude. There seem to be no changes in behavior that accompany such a revolution. Science will do it all, so why bother with doing anything different from business as usual in our daily lives?
Quote:
You might recall I supported Terry Spragg, the California waterbag inventor who proposed towing water through the ocean from Washington state, but could never get anyone to engage. I thought the problem there was primarily political, both corruption and a failure of imagination, not anything economic or environmental or technological. The same psychological inertia is preventing serious public engagement on effective climate change strategies.

But will you allege such corruption or short-sightedness whenever the ruling goes against you? It seems facile to make such a charge without more than conviction to back it up. Couldn't the idea really have been not such a good one?
Robert Tulip wrote:
DWill wrote:
Before we start thinking that extra billions should be welcome, we need to prove that we can provide decent lives to everyone in the near term, in a sustainable way. Sustainability is the greatest challenge.
I completely agree. Current methods are not sustainable and cannot continue, much less expand. A step-up in global population can only happen with a range of paradigm shifts in how we manage resources.

Now I come to this. It seems in the Bernie Sanders line to me. Bernie shrugs off pleas for the specifics of his plans with the promise of a political revolution, as though that's all we really need to know. You have "a range of paradigm shifts" as the bridge to a fantastic future. I've got too much Missouri in me.
Robert Tulip wrote:
DWill wrote:
It appears as a utopian vision in which satisfying material needs will suffice, material wants no longer getting in the way. That would indeed seem to be the only way that 100 billion could have even a slight chance of existing.
Considering the utopian vision against religious frameworks, part of the paradigm shift is to a universal “Be-Attitude”. The Biblical idea of ‘blessed are the poor in spirit’ enables joy to arise from spiritual identity and community rather than relying on the pleasure of material possessions.

And yet, at every turn you reject as insignificant changes on the individual level, such eating much less meat, traveling less, and consuming less in general. These are actions that would be the outward manifestations of inner change. I realize you do this in order to prevent us from thinking that such changes are enough to make a good dent in warming. But again, more than warming is at stake, and, we need to be frank about the situation with warming. Under no likely scenario will we escape the need for lifestyle change. Of course, you realize that on the prophet side a similar dynamic occurs: prophets believe that giving ground on climate engineering will suck the life out of their movement to effect change at the grass roots. Why get rid of the car if we can just bring our carbon back to earth?
Robert Tulip wrote:
DWill wrote:
I was getting a sense of "destinarianism" from your vision of the future, especially regarding living on the sea. It seems a bit similar to the vision that advocates of extra-planetary travel have, that the destiny of humanity lies beyond our solar system. My own feeling is that "frontierism" needs to mature, to become uncoupled from the physical.
There is a big difference between imagining human destiny as involving a mass migration to the world ocean and imagining the migration as off the planet. Migration to the ocean would be physically possible as a way to sustain abundance, whereas moving to Mars is an impossible and costly fantasy and distraction.

The problem on my end is simply the complete strangeness of the whole idea. You've lived with the idea for a while now, and maybe you're not in touch with how impossible this sounds to others. I'm unable to conceive of the rationale for it, which is why I had to speculate that you saw this ocean migration as part of human destiny, in the same way that others conceive of inhabiting other planets as destiny.
Quote:
We cannot “uncouple from the physical”, since the only real frontiers are those which are physically possible, even while clarifying their potential is akin to an act of transcendental imagination. An oceanic migration is both possible and necessary, unlike moving to outer space. Its starting point should be making life on the ocean desirable, while constructing systems that will enable human stewardship of the planet by regulating the parameters of earth systems to remain within stable boundaries.

I might be getting the message more clearly now, though I disagree with it. The mental revolution or paradigm shift you call for is identical to seeing that moving to the ocean is the only way forward for humanity. But I do agree that making it desirable would need to be the initial step. I do not see how anyone could be so persuaded, though.
Quote:
That focus on building community shared identity is a really important point about a relational spirituality of love, as the necessary basis of authentic religion. My view is that this frontier goal of mutual care is encapsulated in the seven practical Christian virtues (Matt 25:31ff) - feeding the hungry, visiting the sick and prisoners, clothing the naked, giving drink to the thirsty, welcoming strangers and treating the least as though they were Jesus Christ. The Bible says performing these works of mercy is the key to salvation. That appears to be an entirely scientific perspective.

I can't see that perspective as being derived empirically at all, Robert.
Robert Tulip wrote:
DWill wrote:
What are these limits? How would we know when we've surpassed them? Are we surpassing many of them now? If we think we're okay, as far as limits go, because apocalypse hasn't happened, that is an extremely low bar to set. I think that our science is getting to the place where we can pinpoint areas of concern, the first step to effectively dealing with them.
The 2018 Steffen et al article Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene https://www.pnas.org/content/115/33/8252 identifies key planetary tipping points that we are now crossing as part of our great acceleration. It is not okay by any means. Basic system reconfigurations are essential to enable a future earth system to provide universal abundance for a planetary civilization. The turkey feels okay until Thanksgiving, indicating that a trajectory toward apocalypse has to be identified and reversed before the doom becomes inevitable.

Perhaps there isn't a better encapsulation of the Wizard agenda than you've given above. Do not adjust human life to the world; adjust the world to human life.
Robert Tulip wrote:
DWill wrote:
To this point, our habit as a species has been to plow ahead and deal with the consequences later. I'm optimistic that that will be changing. Environmental impact studies are decried as bureaucratic logjams that constrain development. But that is precisely the point, to constrain or at least to channel development.
Yes, we have a dominant heedless materialism that fails to engage with consequences. The prophets have focused on systemic scientific prediction of impacts, providing the baseline to inform the need for wizard technology that can provide any hope of escape from the fate of collapse.

Prophets predict impacts in order to select those that will be the least harmful. It's more a matter of optimizing continually than of avoiding collapse, as that standard sets the bar very low. But I agree that at a certain level, it's all wizardry, largely dependent on further technological gains. It's ambitions on the scale of "system reconfigurations" that reveal the difference between wizards and Prophets, not technology per se.
Robert Tulip wrote:
DWill wrote:
Prophets need to employ many advanced technologies in order for the democratic, distributed energy model to work. Mann doesn't seriously consider "back-to-nature" communal types as part of the Prophets' solution, as he should not. Why Prophets look askance at your vision is that material wealth is viewed as unlimited, and that powerful, monopolistic interests will be driving algae farming and geoengineering. It becomes clear that Prophets aren't opposed to Wizards based on anti-tech feelings, but on fears that Wizards want to be masters of the world.
'Back to nature' is more a philosophy of simplicity than a practical scaleable solution. This point about mastery of the world underscores the essential need for a spiritual philosophy to be central to our planetary paradigm shift. A religious humility with a long-term vision of planetary repair is essential to overcome the catastrophic destruction that humanity has wreaked upon the world.

But Robert, humility is one thing I see lacking in some of the wizards' enterprises. Certainly proposing to readjust the planet's parameters bespeaks an overweening confidence and an unearned sense of mastery. We are but a single evolved creature fully enmeshed in the web of life, not equipped to unweave and weave it again. The very real possibility is ending up in an even worse place through our tampering.
DWill wrote:
Robert Tulip wrote:
The better efficiency of eating vegetable matter instead of feeding it to animals is a simple truth, one of the few we can rely on in this huge task of making our presence more benign. It isn't simplistic to assert that.
True, but decisions about what people should eat are not just matters of efficiency. Many large areas of agricultural land have no more economic use than as pasture for animals. But the big issue is that stopping eating meat would have a miniscule, perhaps undetectable, effect on the temperature. Its real impact would be symbolic, in the change to spiritual identity.

Meat-eating will probably decline slowly but steadily, without anyone being forced to give it up. I think the climate effects of raising animals, especially beef cattle, are greater than you're allowing, and in any case, the total environmental impact has to be considered. That leaving meat behind won't do any good is what you say about every action that applies to individuals. Individuals don't need to do anything or to change any of their ways, according to you. All of that is just distraction.
Robert Tulip wrote:
We should consider all our climate related actions against the metric of radiative forcing, how much they affect the global warming potential of greenhouse gases. There are far better methods than decarbonisation. Using the technological wizardry of geoengineering offers real potential to stabilise the temperature, but this approach is sidelined by factors including the cultural focus on individual response such as this vegetarian distraction.

Another approach, one that has more potential really to be enacted, is carbon taxing. But that is also sidelined, sidelined by free-market zealots as well as by climate change deniers. Taxing carbon would incentivize producers to develop technology to remove carbon from emissions. A part of proceeds could be used to compensate and retrain fossil energy workers and aid whole communities whose economies were based on fossil fuels. Why talk about geoengineering before such a practical method has even been tried? You may reply, "It won't be enough," but let's do it first (here in the U.S.) so that we can finally get off the dime. Geoengineering remains a very dicey prospect that faces enormous resistance geopolitically, which makes advocating for it akin to contributing to delay.



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Post Re: The Wizard and the Prophet (Ch. 4) Earth: Food
DWill wrote:
carrying capacity has to be viewed not in terms of how many people can be born--who really cares about that?--but in terms of the quality of life they can have.
Very true, but this illustrates the debate over Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, as to whether material or spiritual needs are primary. The dilemma is that self-actualisation requires reliable physiological sufficiency, but the whole process is not really a hierarchy, since we must construct a spiritual civilization for our material systems to be sustained. Population can only grow sustainably when both material and cultural needs are met. The interplay between sufficiency and identity is essential, with wizards delivering sufficiency and prophets enabling identity.
DWill wrote:
Since under current conditions we aren't doing well enough by our fellow humans, let's show first that we can do better--let's evolve socially--before looking forward to quadrupling our numbers.
I don’t advocate higher population as a goal, it is rather that I react against the prophets of doom who say family planning is a key to ecological sustainability. Too often the people who choose not to have children would be great parents, but are tricked by the ideology that sees humanity as a plague upon the planet. It is about what is key – recognising that with enough focus, technological innovation is the essential priority to solve planetary problems.

Chapter Four of The Wizard and the Prophet has an excellent analysis of a comparable dilemma, around genetic engineering, with the prophetic view that somehow we must curtail growth of technology, rather than apply cost benefit analysis to assess rival strategies. I will return to that in a later post.
DWill wrote:
That sounds to me like advising slowing the car by stepping on the gas.
I see how you get this paradox, but that is not what I am saying. A better analogy might be that the climate action movement wants to install devices to limit driving speed to 15 mph, well below what is needed to ensure driving is safe, presenting solutions that don’t solve the real problem.
DWill wrote:
I sense that you see opportunity, not obstacle, in having much greater numbers--something to do with greater complexity, perhaps?
Higher population is only bad if we do not have the technology to deliver universal material abundance and biodiversity. I believe that such technology is entirely possible, and that as a result, humanity will be able to focus on higher order needs.
DWill wrote:
Collapse has more dimensions than just that of the planet's rising temperature. Mann has done a service by reminding us of this.
In causal analysis, the logical task is to isolate the critical drivers of change, the elements of the system that can most feasibly be changed in order to deliver desired results, and their hierarchical relationships. With Earth Systems Analysis, warming is fundamental. If we work out how to fix warming through new technology, we can also have a path to fix all the other drivers of conflict. Without a solution to stabilise the temperature, everything else will just get worse, so wars and recessions will become inevitably more severe.
DWill wrote:
Your statement implies that science will find a way to bail us out again and again, so that we can do whatever we want.
Well no, it is not ‘whatever we want’, it is that wizard technology will find a path to a sustainable planetary civilization, but staying on that straight and narrow way requires the insight of prophets. You are describing the classic moral hazard problem, seen especially in medicine, where promises of cure are wrongly seen as a licence to unhealthy lifestyles, the wide and easy road to destruction. Climate change is a chastening challenge, with the present risk of mass extinction and societal collapse requiring a priority focus on urgent development of new technology, while recognising that a sustainable culture will have to systematically overcome the pervasive comfort of deluded false belief.
DWill wrote:
I'm a bit puzzled by your statements about spiritual or religious transformation, in relation to this attitude. There seem to be no changes in behavior that accompany such a revolution. Science will do it all, so why bother with doing anything different from business as usual in our daily lives?
It is about timeframes. The science task is one of immediate material planetary security, requiring elite technocratic solutions. The cultural problem of personal behaviour is much more longstanding and entrenched and slow to fix, with limited direct impact on the warming problem, but essential to construct a sustainable global civilization. My view is that climate activists too often have this causal problem upside down, imagining that cultural shift at the individual level can somehow aggregate to affect global systems.
DWill wrote:
will you allege such corruption or short-sightedness whenever the ruling goes against you? It seems facile to make such a charge without more than conviction to back it up. Couldn't the idea really have been not such a good one?
The scale of cynicism and vested interest means the resources to test new ideas are simply not available. There are some hopeful signs this syndrome is changing, with big corporate climate investments, but I still see a serious lack of public conversation about a workable logical framework for climate stability. It is also the case that new ideas may be lacking a key element that will make them feasible, in which case the proper reaction should be to encourage research, not to cynically dismiss the whole idea, as seems to have happened both with Spragg’s Waterbags and NASA’s OMEGA algae system.
DWill wrote:
You have "a range of paradigm shifts" as the bridge to a fantastic future. I've got too much Missouri in me.
Fair enough. Starting from Missouri, I would like to see run of river algae farms developed to return nutrient and carbon to the soil as biochar, instead of polluting the Gulf. Development of algae bag technology in rivers will provide a profitable base to assess possible larger scale deployment at sea, aiming eventually to remove more carbon from the air than we add. That is one immense paradigm shift that fits in with the argument in Chapter Four of the organic farmers against the NPK wizards who see more fertilizer as the solution to every agricultural problem.

I set out some of my view on paradigm shifts in an essay two years ago, titled The Precessional Structure of Time, explaining a new philosophy that seeks to ground cultural analysis in empirical cosmology. My view is that a new paradigm will have to combine radical transformative insights from a range of fields, including cosmology, religion, economics and ecology, to plot an evolutionary path to metamorphose our culture into a vision of long term planetary growth. Bringing all those elements together is a great and complex challenge, but feasible and necessary.
DWill wrote:
at every turn you reject as insignificant changes on the individual level, such as eating much less meat, traveling less, and consuming less in general.
The problem is that people view the shift to a simpler and fairer lifestyle, together with using renewable energy, as a potentially sufficient response to the climate emergency. Those changes are necessary in the medium term, but the immediate climate problem is one of technocratic security, requiring deployment of carbon removal and albedo enhancement technology on a Manhattan Project style and scale.
DWill wrote:
These are actions that would be the outward manifestations of inner change. I realize you do this in order to prevent us from thinking that such changes are enough to make a good dent in warming. But again, more than warming is at stake, and, we need to be frank about the situation with warming. Under no likely scenario will we escape the need for lifestyle change.
Indeed you are correct that inner change is necessary to drive outer change. My concern is that these are in dialectical relation, with inner change among a small group inspiring outer change, which then serves to mobilise inner change at the mass popular level. But cultural change at the population level can only occur as a result of mobilising the leverage and resources and impetus of outer change. With climate change, that means a global focus on technology has to be developed in conjunction with a philosophy of personal transformation, aiming for the technology implementation to help lead and inspire the conversation about philosophy.
DWill wrote:
on the prophet side a similar dynamic occurs: prophets believe that giving ground on climate engineering will suck the life out of their movement to effect change at the grass roots. Why get rid of the car if we can just bring our carbon back to earth?
Robert Tulip wrote:
Yes, this moral hazard fallacy, the false belief that geoengineering undermines decarbonisation, is in my view a primary ethical blockage to public discussion of realistic measures to address climate change. The ethical mistake here is the belief that grass roots social change is more important than stopping the planet from cooking.

Building a progressive social movement is the tail wagging the dog, unable to see that elite technology investment will do far more than popular mobilisation. People wrongly think that grass roots action to shut down the fossil fuel industry is the key to climate stability, perhaps because such action creates the illusion of personal involvement in the solution. As I have said before, physical and political limits make efforts to decarbonise too small, slow, risky, costly and divisive to be a primary factor in mitigating climate change, so ramping those efforts up is not a viable solution.

Cutting emissions is likely able to deliver only about one four hundredth of what is needed each year to stabilise the climate, if that. Despite this weakness, the UN has the effrontery to define mitigation as cutting emissions. This toxic arrogant mythology among progressives contributes to the extreme social polarisation we see with the election of Trump. It would be far better to conciliate a negotiated solution, recognising that we should aim to avoid a highly risky accelerated decarbonisation of the economy through investment in technology for carbon removal. Minimising rapid economic upheaval is a good thing, not a coal sellout.
DWill wrote:
The problem on my end is simply the complete strangeness of the whole idea [of ocean cities]. You've lived with the idea for a while now, and maybe you're not in touch with how impossible this sounds to others. I'm unable to conceive of the rationale for it, which is why I had to speculate that you saw this ocean migration as part of human destiny, in the same way that others conceive of inhabiting other planets as destiny.
It is really about seeing providence in practical terms. Just as the New World of the Americas enabled transformation of the culture of Europe, so too the New World of the planetary ocean, more than double the area of all the continents, will transform our future. In the future, ‘designer cities’ floating around the great currents or moored in stable gyres will be able to provide far higher quality of life than naturally evolved cities. Plastic carbon technology will enable construction to miles deep and high, enabling abundant living space at low cost.
DWill wrote:
I might be getting the message more clearly now, though I disagree with it. The mental revolution or paradigm shift you call for is identical to seeing that moving to the ocean is the only way forward for humanity. But I do agree that making it desirable would need to be the initial step. I do not see how anyone could be so persuaded, though.
Moving to the ocean is just part of the required paradigm shift. A new scientific attitude to religion is one part, recognising that worship is psychologically and culturally necessary but religious language is entirely metaphorical. A second part is a cosmology that focuses on how our planet connects to the cosmos. This is something I have done a lot of work on, but it falls between the cracks of various disciplines and traditions so I have not been able to generate interest. The third part relates to the ocean, with the recognition that addressing climate change will need to focus on transforming CO2 from waste to asset at vast scale, providing the resources to build oceanic cities.

For example, a friend recently asked me how much carbon would be needed to build an ocean road to travel the 1000 km from Australia to New Zealand. At a guessing rate of 200 tonnes per linear metre, such an undersea floating tunnel would require 200 million tonnes of carbon, the amount the world emits in about five days.
DWill wrote:
I can't see that perspective as being derived empirically at all, Robert.
The Biblical moral prophecy of the Last Judgement, defining performance of works of mercy as the criterion of salvation, treating the least as first, is entirely commensurable with a scientific outlook, recognising for example that ecosystems are among the least, lacking protection in the kingdom of the world, but are of the first order of importance in the Kingdom of God.

It is tragic that the conventional theology of Christendom has fatally confused the values of the world and of God, again illustrating how a paradigm shift in religion is essential to planetary salvation. The Bible is our help here, for example with the paradigm-shifting line in Rev 11:18 that the wrath of God is against those who destroy the earth, suggesting a path for transition from the paradigm of corruption to the paradigm of grace.
DWill wrote:
Perhaps there isn't a better encapsulation of the Wizard agenda than you've given above. Do not adjust human life to the world; adjust the world to human life.
No, that is a misunderstanding. What I described integrated a prophetic need to transform human life in order to achieve the wizard goal of transforming nature. We are now in the situation of blithe planetary turkeys waddling toward the Thanksgiving dinner table, and need to transform our thinking to reconfigure the trajectory of the planetary system in time to ensure humanity remains part of it.
DWill wrote:
Prophets predict impacts in order to select those that will be the least harmful.
Sorry, I don’t understand this point. Prophets predict impacts in order to open a conversation about how to respond to expected events. It is all about pure realism based on deep understanding of the logical implications of evidence.
DWill wrote:
It's more a matter of optimizing continually than of avoiding collapse, as that standard sets the bar very low.
Avoiding collapse is a low bar that the current complacency about climate tipping points shows every sign of failing to clear.
DWill wrote:
But I agree that at a certain level, it's all wizardry, largely dependent on further technological gains. It's ambitions on the scale of "system reconfigurations" that reveal the difference between wizards and Prophets, not technology per se.
The problem is that many prophets of doom see no way to reconfigure earth systems in order to avoid catastrophe, and put all the focus on reducing our impacts. One of my favourite Biblical prophets is Jonah, who expected that his prophecy would be the harbinger of collapse for Nineveh, but to his surprise and annoyance, he was successful in his preaching and the Ninevans changed their behaviour and avoided the foretold destruction. Today the world needs a combination of wizardry and prophecy to change both human thinking and planetary systems.
DWill wrote:
humility is one thing I see lacking in some of the wizards' enterprises. Certainly proposing to readjust the planet's parameters bespeaks an overweening confidence and an unearned sense of mastery. We are but a single evolved creature fully enmeshed in the web of life, not equipped to unweave and weave it again. The very real possibility is ending up in an even worse place through our tampering.
The problem noted by prophets is that we are adding too much carbon to the air, and slowing the rate of addition looks politically impossible. So the wizard task is to work out how to transform carbon on vast scale from dangerous waste to productive asset. I argue that ocean technology looks to be the only solution with the available area, energy and resources to achieve that essential security goal. That is not a matter of unweaving the rainbow of the web of life, but rather unweaving the constructed linear trajectory that the world is hurtling down, in order to reweave a path of stability, repair and restoration. Failure to consider such a task is not an option, as continuing without effort to remove carbon at system scale is a recipe for what Marvin the Martian called an earth-shattering kaboom.
DWill wrote:
climate effects of raising animals, especially beef cattle, are greater than you're allowing, and in any case, the total environmental impact has to be considered. That leaving meat behind won't do any good is what you say about every action that applies to individuals. Individuals don't need to do anything or to change any of their ways, according to you. All of that is just distraction.
http://www.fao.org/news/story/en/item/197623/icode/ calculates total emissions from global livestock at 7.1 gigatonnes of CO2-equiv per year, representing 14.5 percent of all anthropogenic GHG emissions. Realistically, perhaps say we could cut that by 10% against intense political opposition, slowing growth by 0.7 GT. My argument is that the necessary scale of CO2e removal will have to be about 100 GT, against which such a result from dietary change would be small change. So yes, vegetarianism is a distraction from the industrial scale of the climate menace. Same with all other personal footprint efforts.
DWill wrote:
Taxing carbon would incentivize producers to develop technology to remove carbon from emissions. A part of proceeds could be used to compensate and retrain fossil energy workers and aid whole communities whose economies were based on fossil fuels. Why talk about geoengineering before such a practical method has even been tried?
Taxing carbon is a great idea, but what is needed is for the next US President to follow in the leadership steps of President Kennedy’s visionary moonshot announcement of 1961 by setting a goal of net zero global emissions by 2030, based on carbon removal rather than emission reduction. The real agenda of carbon tax should be to encourage major industries to lift their R&D contribution to climate repair. Just making energy more expensive is a piffling factor, but with high irritation, as sand in the gears of the world economy.
DWill wrote:
You may reply, "It won't be enough," but let's do it first (here in the U.S.) so that we can finally get off the dime.
Geoengineering is akin to the lockdown policy in response to the corona pandemic, with every day of delay making the resulting later situation far worse.
DWill wrote:
Geoengineering remains a very dicey prospect that faces enormous resistance geopolitically, which makes advocating for it akin to contributing to delay.
This popular resistance rests upon the false belief in the deluded narrative that emission reduction could deliver a stable climate. We need to cut about 100 GT of CO2e out of the air each year to step back from the precipice of dangerous tipping points. Emission reduction even with best case scenarios offers the dismal prospect of still adding a net 50 GT in net terms by 2040, according to realistic projections such as the BP Energy Outlook. The task is to confront the popular myth of a low carbon economy as the solution to climate change, opening a public debate about the need for a new Manhattan Project to reflect heat to space and convert CO2 into useful products at global scale.

The popular myth in the climate movement is that we can undo the gift of Prometheus, that humanity can somehow dispense with the use of fire as a source of security and wealth. It is no wonder that the deluded advocates of this myth of a world without burning present Prometheus as a demon, with their siren song of a retreat from technology into some simpler life, and their cruel hoax that a shift to non-combustible sources of energy could somehow stabilise the planetary climate.


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Post Re: The Wizard and the Prophet (Ch. 4) Earth: Food
Robert, blame my faulty internet for the the bulk of my reply being dropped and lost. Time and energy don't permit the re-creation of it.

Robert Tulip wrote:
DWill wrote:
carrying capacity has to be viewed not in terms of how many people can be born--who really cares about that?--but in terms of the quality of life they can have.
Very true, but this illustrates the debate over Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, as to whether material or spiritual needs are primary. The dilemma is that self-actualisation requires reliable physiological sufficiency, but the whole process is not really a hierarchy, since we must construct a spiritual civilization for our material systems to be sustained. Population can only grow sustainably when both material and cultural needs are met. The interplay between sufficiency and identity is essential, with wizards delivering sufficiency and prophets enabling identity.

I'm afraid you've lost me here, Robert, right off the bat. I will say that you must be unique as a Wizard. The wizard-types Mann tells of solve problems; they don't envision entirely new ways of being, as those aren't technical solutions. But neither is such language similar to that of Mann's Prophets, who have a rather homely, down-to-earth message
DWill wrote:
Since under current conditions we aren't doing well enough by our fellow humans, let's show first that we can do better--let's evolve socially--before looking forward to quadrupling our numbers.
I don’t advocate higher population as a goal, it is rather that I react against the prophets of doom who say family planning is a key to ecological sustainability. Too often the people who choose not to have children would be great parents, but are tricked by the ideology that sees humanity as a plague upon the planet. It is about what is key – recognising that with enough focus, technological innovation is the essential priority to solve planetary problems.[/quote]
We will have a higher population; there isn't any doubt about that. Twelve billion is the figure I hear about, 80% higher than today. Then, the population levels off, at least in theory. That is enormous growth, and we will be challenged to accommodate it. Therefore I don't see an epidemic of voluntary childlessness occurring any time soon. I hope that humans will turn out to be the one animal that through reason can limit their numbers, in order to avoid the end that Lynn Margulis alluded to at the beginning of the book: a disastrous crash of the species as it confronts the limit of the petri dish.
Robert Tulip wrote:
DWill wrote:
I sense that you see opportunity, not obstacle, in having much greater numbers--something to do with greater complexity, perhaps?
Higher population is only bad if we do not have the technology to deliver universal material abundance and biodiversity. I believe that such technology is entirely possible, and that as a result, humanity will be able to focus on higher order needs.

My advice is that your presentation should lead with the abandonment of land, since that is the means you think will preserve biodiversity and create this material abundance. Otherwise, this comes as a great surprise to hear.
Robert Tulip wrote:
DWill wrote:
Collapse has more dimensions than just that of the planet's rising temperature. Mann has done a service by reminding us of this.
In causal analysis, the logical task is to isolate the critical drivers of change, the elements of the system that can most feasibly be changed in order to deliver desired results, and their hierarchical relationships. With Earth Systems Analysis, warming is fundamental. If we work out how to fix warming through new technology, we can also have a path to fix all the other drivers of conflict. Without a solution to stabilise the temperature, everything else will just get worse, so wars and recessions will become inevitably more severe.

The problems of water supply, food production, and extinctions cannot wait until the temperature is stabilized. They are immediate and will need attention continuously. If this is like having multiple Manhattan Projects going on at once, well, that is the future we're being dealt.



Last edited by DWill on Wed Mar 18, 2020 10:37 am, edited 2 times in total.



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Post Re: The Wizard and the Prophet (Ch. 4) Earth: Food
DWill wrote:
Robert, blame my faulty internet for the bulk of my reply being dropped and lost. Time and energy don't permit the re-creation of it.
That is a shame. I make it a policy to only write in Microsoft Word, because of the vagaries of typing direct on internet platforms. Sometimes my computer gets unstable and instantly selects a whole paragraph of text, and then I press a key and it is all lost, with no option to undo if I am writing direct to a website such as Booktalk.
DWill wrote:
you must be unique as a Wizard. The wizard-types Mann tells of solve problems; they don't envision entirely new ways of being, as those aren't technical solutions. But neither is such language similar to that of Mann's Prophets, who have a rather homely, down-to-earth message
Yes, my view is that we will need to combine technical solutions with a new vision of existence, imagining life within nature in ways that recognise the orderly patterns of the cosmos as the framework. That is a more mystical religious outlook than the scientific prophecy of Vogt, which in my reading of Mann’s account does not really seek to integrate spiritual philosophy beyond a general reverence for nature. Vogt is progenitor of the modern environmental movement which has a very uneasy attitude towards religion due to the alienated supernatural fantasy mythology that is the dominant force in institutional religion. So again I point out the Bible line from Revelation 15:18 that the wrath of God is against those who destroy the earth, and say this points to a vision of God that rejects the traditional theories of dominion and providence in favour of an ecological spirituality. But ecological spirituality requires industrial technology to address the climate crisis in view of the urgency. It amazes me that we can have such scientific alacrity to respond to the covid epidemic when the same logic should generate understanding of the immediate need for geoengineering.
DWill wrote:
I don't see an epidemic of voluntary childlessness occurring any time soon.
The trends show an inverse correlation between wealth and family size, so that all the population growth is among the poor, while the rich have ‘an epidemic of voluntary childlessness’. http://bit.ly/1Kk6z4c says "Educated women face a higher opportunity cost of raising children and are more likely to be childless. The move towards more gender equality therefore contributes to the overall transformation of childlessness from involuntary to voluntary."
DWill wrote:
I hope that humans will turn out to be the one animal that through reason can limit their numbers, in order to avoid the end that Lynn Margulis alluded to at the beginning of the book: a disastrous crash of the species as it confronts the limit of the petri dish.
We can work out how to multiply the size of the ‘petri dish’ by many times, enough to protect biodiversity, by using technology to develop industrial productivity in the oceans. Without such a ride the tiger attitude, refusing to cross the frontier, we face the peril of the Margulis prophecy.
DWill wrote:
My advice is that your presentation should lead with the abandonment of land, since that is the means you think will preserve biodiversity and create this material abundance.
Rewilding the land will be a slow and gradual process, as humanity develops the spiritual awareness needed to recognise life on the oceans as an inevitable moral destiny. The release of land back to nature is an end of the process not a means as you say.
DWill wrote:
The problems of water supply, food production, and extinctions cannot wait until the temperature is stabilized. They are immediate and will need attention continuously. If this is like having multiple Manhattan Projects going on at once, well, that is the future we're being dealt.
And yet, without a realistic scientific plan to stabilise the temperature, it is physically impossible to stop the inter-related crises you mention. The problem is not to have multiple Manhattan Projects, but rather to develop an ecological vision so that strategies to address all the problems can be integrated. I see finding ways to transform CO2 into useful products at scale as the key critical factor, alongside an urgent need to send heat to space, as we are very close to some dangerous tipping points that will be far worse than the corona virus, sending planetary weather haywire.


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Post Re: The Wizard and the Prophet (Ch. 4) Earth: Food
Further on the supposed ethical choice to be barren, https://www.theguardian.com/environment ... r-children provides a false moral argument supporting this claim, explaining the popular view that children are a plague upon the planet.

There are a series of massive fails in this research, beginning with the false claim that ongoing net emissions of two tonnes of CO2 per person is compatible with climate stability. In fact we have to cut emissions to well below zero by converting CO2 into useful products at global scale. That is not something for individuals but requires combined collective action to create public policy for capital investment in promising technologies.

The entire paradigm of individual response is wrong. It is a bit like the theological debate over salvation by faith or works. Faith brings the community together in a shared recognition of deep truths about existence, whereas works enable us to divert attention from profound ideas by pretending that fidgety personal actions that are not guided by shared ideas amount to more than a hill of beans in this crazy world.


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Post Re: The Wizard and the Prophet (Ch. 4) Earth: Food
Looking at the history of agricultural chemistry, Mann explains that Aristotle wrongly believed that plants eat compost, living by a mystical vital force or anima mundi, something accepted until the modern scientific revolution, when Carl Sprengel discovered the action of nutrients in the 1830s. Justus von Liebig got the credit for explaining this to the public, especially on the role of nitrogen, leading to the invention of synthetic fertilizer in 1909 with the Haber Bosch method to produce ammonia with high pressure apparatus and effective catalysts. The German chemical company BASF scaled up Haber’s Nobel Prize winning discovery, using iron with calcium, aluminium and magnesium as the catalytic alloy, beginning commercial production in 1913, leading to a chemistry Nobel for Bosch in 1931, for the wizardly triumph of winning bread from air.

Today this HB process consumes more than 1% of the world’s industrial energy to double food production, illustrating how central fertilizer is to feeding the world with wheat, rice and corn, while also poisoning the seas with agricultural runoff, such as the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico about 7000 square miles in area.

The counter came from the Prophets, seeking to bring back the living spirit of soil. Organic farmers saw natural diets as the counter to diseases of civilization. Vitamins were the answer to tinned meat, sugary tea and poofy white bread. The next discovery was that animals fed on crops grown in manure were vigorous while those fed from fertilizer were weak. Dust to dust, soil quality requires abundant carbon, bacteria and fungi to convert waste to asset. This cyclic model remains subject to industrial scepticism, and yet production of biochar is likely to be a major factor in feeding humanity and cooling the planet. Think holistically and see the connections between different disciplines.

Hence the exuberant climax of Les Miserables by Victor Hugo is a tirade about the need for shit on fields, instead of allowing sewers to pollute the seas with golden filth. The Law of Return is the basis of natural farming, forgotten by allegedly civilized humanity.

Albert Howard, father of the organic movement with his Agricultural Testament of 1943, attacked the NPK mentality of synthetic fertilizer, run by laboratory hermits intent on the calamity of slow poisoning of the soil. Supported by aristocratic Christians, Howard decried the threat of industrial agriculture to the social and divine orders. A heady mix of money, power and mysticism (think the Balfour Declaration) saw the Kingdom of God in service to the soil.

A different mass demographic took up the cause in the USA, with Jerome Rodale founding the magazines Organic Farming and Gardening and Prevention, building what Mann calls an empire of belief.


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