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The Wizard and the Prophet (Ch. 4) Earth: Food 
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Post Re: The Wizard and the Prophet (Ch. 4) Earth: Food
Robert Tulip wrote:
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.

Mann's brief discussion of discount theory explains that unfortunate disconnect. As urgent as the need to act is, the threat of climate change still does not penetrate into psyches the way that an epidemic does. It is too abstract and relatively distant. At such time as the climate threat does assume a comparable immediate urgency, then of course it will be much too late to do anything about it. Preparing to combat Covid-19 is nothing compared to readiness for climate change.
Robert Tulip wrote:
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."
The projections of flattened population growth probably depend on large reductions in poverty. That makes sense, though it's hard to understand the relationship between having fewer kids when you have more money to support them. It happens that way. And that is what makes our situation more frightening (although not for you). We need economic growth to further reduce poverty. That puts more carbon in the atmosphere. It would be less bad if the growth went to raising the poor, but a lot of it will go toward making the affluent more so.
Robert Tulip wrote:
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.

That is another of the many examples of the Wizard/Prophet divide, which on certain points does appear to be unbridgeable. Another BT book, The Righteous Mind analyzes moral foundations and can be applied to Wizards and Prophets especially on the Sanctity foundation. When you talk about re-engineering the planet or reinventing nature, I feel a strong aversion, as from a threat of degradation (the other pole of the Sanctity/Degradation foundation). This is not a rational reaction, but neither, I would contend, is the faith that Wizards have in technology. As Mann says, it is a difference of the heart.
Robert Tulip wrote:
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.

I'm looking forward to population growth subsiding, because that will take pressure off the resources of food and water and will less directly help in fighting temperature rise. Multiple plans are going to be implemented simultaneously. It wouldn't make sense, certainly, to wait until temperature is stabilized before acting on food and water. The fact is, we can and we must cope with these problems as it gets hotter.



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Post Re: The Wizard and the Prophet (Ch. 4) Earth: Food
DWill wrote:
Mann's brief discussion of discount theory explains that unfortunate disconnect. As urgent as the need to act is, the threat of climate change still does not penetrate into psyches the way that an epidemic does.
Disclaimer: still not reading the book. I enjoy commenting more than I enjoy reading, evidently. :blush:
There are two kinds of discounts that are relevant. (I don't know which Mann discusses). One is financial, the other is psychological. Clearly the second one is at work - people have little bandwidth to spare for warnings from scientists, in the same way teenagers ignore medical advice about smoking because they are too consumed by the pressures of their own social anxieties.

Financial discounting is supposed to reflect the capacity of an economy to grow in overall capacity at a pace which allows superior response in the future. In theory we will have the economic capacity to move all of New York City (and the other coastal cities) inland in response to the rising waters. Or perhaps we will be able to conduct large scale geoengineering because we put our resources into growth now, rather than into fighting GHG accumulation. You may think I am making this up, but it was at the heart of the debate over the Stern report, the most comprehensive effort to date to take stock of costs and benefits of fighting climate change.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stern_Review

Geoffrey Heal and other leading economists took issue with Stern's use of a zero discount rate, which Stern justified on the basis of intergenerational equity, the precautionary principle and the possibility that there will be no response available when the crunch comes. Ironically, within two years of the release of the Review, actual (risk-free) interest rates dropped to zero and have not recovered since. This means that the world is not increasing its capacity at all, but simply piling up cash, and Stern's choice could be justified on the basis of pure market logic.

DWill wrote:
The projections of flattened population growth probably depend on large reductions in poverty. That makes sense, though it's hard to understand the relationship between having fewer kids when you have more money to support them. It happens that way.
Around here there is a tendency to think human life is determined by biological, evolutionary imperatives. And yet we know there is a fairly constant (actually, currently increasing) rate of suicides flying directly in the face of such logic. The cross-currents of psychological, social and spiritual forces are far too complex to be susceptible to easy analysis. Opportunity cost of women's time is a critical variable, (as has been demonstrated in numerous studies) but so is understanding and agency that come with education.

My current perspective comes from having had Boko Haram explained to me. In Northern Nigeria there is a social system in which older men who have been successful accumulate land and wives (as labor and a source of offspring) to become still richer. They have paid the young men to kidnap women and to terrorize schools in order to maintain the system and their status. From the time that Indo-Europeans began to feed cereal to their babies so that mothers would wean the children, lose the natural child-spacing that comes from breast-feeding, and have bigger broods, there has been a dynamic at work of men's urge to dominate overpowering natural checks on population growth, and women being the unfortunate victims of the process.

Suddenly education ("Boko") has intruded in this dynamic and put the brakes on so that women could participate in the flowering of cultural opportunities which is the wonderful side of modernity. Economists talk about quality of life taking precedence over quantity of children, but that does not nearly do justice to the way the choices feel.

DWill wrote:
And that is what makes our situation more frightening (although not for you). We need economic growth to further reduce poverty. That puts more carbon in the atmosphere. It would be less bad if the growth went to raising the poor, but a lot of it will go toward making the affluent more so.
My goodness. So many false dichotomies, so little time.

First, economic growth does not necessarily mean burning more carbon. With a little nudging from appropriate prices, which was agreed on way back at Kyoto, there could have been almost as much growth with far less carbon in the atmosphere. But in practice, one might object, it will mean more carbon burned. Pouring concrete, for example, is a source of huge carbon emissions (to cook the lime, basically) and India, to choose an example, has a long way to go to get urban infrastructure (including housing) in place. True, but carbon capture can mitigate a lot of that, and it would pay the rich countries to provide the carbon capture. The list is almost literally endless, of all the many ways that incentives can motivate the modern economy to trim GHG's. If the list wasn't so long we could just order up a few key changes. But we need the decentralized incentives of price modification.

Second, the economy is moving on-line. As Amazon has demonstrated, the efficiencies of replacing a bricks-and-mortar system of distribution with an on-line system are too big to ignore. And the pricier heating and cooling get, the more obvious this will be. When all those delivery trucks are moving around on the power of renewable energy, people will get by with a lot less shopping in person and a lot more delivery to the door. But it isn't just retail space and labor that are phasing down. Headquarters jobs, the excuse for much of the commute into the city, are moving on line (with encouragement now from COVID-19). Recreation is moving to virtual reality, including, one supposes, virtual tourism. I could go on, but my point is simply that growth can actually mean less carbon, not more, and that the rich countries are the early adopters for methods showing how to organize modernity more efficiently.

Third, you worry that there is not enough growth to lift the truly poor (such as Northern Nigeria) out of poverty. But the real opportunities for financial returns are in the poor countries. The countries with abundant financial capital have not yet figured out how to move it there in large enough quantities to get the full benefits, but the urgency of accelerating economic growth in the developing countries (to defuse the ticking time bomb of population growth) means we need to give it serious attention. You note that a lot of the growth will go to rich countries. But that can, at least potentially, be an accelerant to the process of de-carbonization. And economic advancement is not zero-sum. More growth in the rich countries is likely to mean more growth in the poor countries, leading them to transition to a modern, education-based economy.

Robert Tulip wrote:
Without such a ride the tiger attitude, refusing to cross the frontier, we face the peril of the Margulis prophecy.

Riding the tiger is a good metaphor for relying on technological advance alone. The disrespect for nature is endemic, and such an approach at the level of society's grand strategy encourages people to neglect the spiritual aspect of engagement with wildness, in some kind of frantic effort to use off-roading and zip-lining as a substitute for coming to grips with life. Life has limits. As anyone who works with teenagers can tell you, limits are a blessing. They feel frustrating at the time, and an adolescent attitude responds with "Challenge accepted!" But there is too much ultimacy at stake to stay in that fevered state.

Margulis may not have spelled out the nature of the future with any accuracy. But, as with most prophecy, the imagery speaks to us. It invites us back into the proper relationship with the wildness that gives life richness, and pulls us aside from the scramble for status and "achievement" into a quest for harmony with others, with nature and ultimately with the limits we inevitably face.

DWill wrote:
That is another of the many examples of the Wizard/Prophet divide, which on certain points does appear to be unbridgeable. Another BT book, The Righteous Mind analyzes moral foundations and can be applied to Wizards and Prophets especially on the Sanctity foundation. When you talk about re-engineering the planet or reinventing nature, I feel a strong aversion, as from a threat of degradation (the other pole of the Sanctity/Degradation foundation). This is not a rational reaction, but neither, I would contend, is the faith that Wizards have in technology. As Mann says, it is a difference of the heart.
I'm not sure the "evolutionary roots" of Sanctity have anything to say about this difference of the heart, but I do think the heart difference is a deep truth about these choices. Those of us who think technocratic solutions still offer hope need to think deeply about how the emotional flavors of motivation lead people to think about, or deny, the fateful choices that humanity faces. Proposals for a Carbon Tax now automatically come with a Carbon Dividend. If we had thought that deeply in 1990, the resistance organized by the evil Gingrich (whose heart is three sizes too small) might never have ambushed our progress.

Robert Tulip wrote:
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.
An ecological vision suggests decentralized implementation, rather than handing the responsibility to a few engineers and scientists to somehow solve the problems everyone else goes on creating. If we can't integrate the two approaches, one might even say the two cultures, then we are putting all our eggs in too few baskets.

DWill wrote:
I'm looking forward to population growth subsiding, because that will take pressure off the resources of food and water and will less directly help in fighting temperature rise. Multiple plans are going to be implemented simultaneously. It wouldn't make sense, certainly, to wait until temperature is stabilized before acting on food and water. The fact is, we can and we must cope with these problems as it gets hotter.
I fully agree about the priority on food and water. And once again, pricing plays a role. The most acute water deficit in the world is in Pakistan and Western India, where the water table is dropping by half a meter per year. As The Economist magazine has repeatedly observed, this is made worse by the unwillingness to apply pricing for a scarce resource, (mainly because the relative harm to small farmers would be worst) and many, many helpful steps would be taken if the pricing was in place. They are so far from the management approaches taken by places like Windhoek, Namibia that one imagines it might even be easy to fix the deficit, but it is unlikely to happen without incentives.



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Wed Mar 25, 2020 10:57 am
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Post Re: The Wizard and the Prophet (Ch. 4) Earth: Food
Robert, good summary. But this extolling of biochar as a godsend for climate and the rest I have to question. If you're calling the stored carbon in the atmosphere biochar, what's the basis for that? What is recognized as constituting biochar is wood mass burned with low oxygen--charcoal. Biochar has been touted as a significant tool in reducing the carbon load in the atmosphere and in improving the ability of soils to retain nutrients, but here I'd have to adopt your skepticism about the difference-making of particular industries, such as solar and wind, on climate. There are many tributaries to the river of climate defense, biochar being one, perhaps. It's not likely to be the panacea you still seem to be seeking.



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Post Re: The Wizard and the Prophet (Ch. 4) Earth: Food
Robert Tulip wrote:
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.

I just think that, surely, we must be beyond labeling a woman "barren" who either cannot or chooses not to have children. "Barren" women were held to be of less worth, pitied and subject to exclusion from the community. Happily, that is less the case today. I think of a childless, married woman I know who had a long career as a teacher and now spends her time benefiting the community in many other ways. She's a gift, and so can others like her be.



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Post Re: The Wizard and the Prophet (Ch. 4) Earth: Food
Sorry, but I was not just referring to women, or this historic cultural usage, rather taking a poke at the whole idea that personal decisions about family size will be a decisive factor in achieving climate stability. I simply believe that thinking along those lines of just consuming less is a counsel of despair, excluding on principal the type of economic transformation I suggest the world needs to deliver sustained abundance.

George Monbiot, a prophet in the line of Vogt, has just issued a Jeremiad on food supply. He says COVID-19 is nature's wake up call to a complacent civilization, and prophesies doom, famine and Biblical plague. I agree with him on the challenge of complacency, but see the solutions very differently.


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Post Re: The Wizard and the Prophet (Ch. 4) Earth: Food
Harry Marks wrote:
My current perspective comes from having had Boko Haram explained to me. In Northern Nigeria there is a social system in which older men who have been successful accumulate land and wives (as labor and a source of offspring) to become still richer. They have paid the young men to kidnap women and to terrorize schools in order to maintain the system and their status. From the time that Indo-Europeans began to feed cereal to their babies so that mothers would wean the children, lose the natural child-spacing that comes from breast-feeding, and have bigger broods, there has been a dynamic at work of men's urge to dominate overpowering natural checks on population growth, and women being the unfortunate victims of the process.

Suddenly education ("Boko") has intruded in this dynamic and put the brakes on so that women could participate in the flowering of cultural opportunities which is the wonderful side of modernity. Economists talk about quality of life taking precedence over quantity of children, but that does not nearly do justice to the way the choices feel.

I didn't know anything of that development in Nigeria, so thanks for explaining it. It's in countries such as that where the very dramatic improvements in lives can be be seen, because women are so much more oppressed than in the West.

Harry Marks wrote:
DWill wrote:
And that is what makes our situation more frightening (although not for you). We need economic growth to further reduce poverty. That puts more carbon in the atmosphere. It would be less bad if the growth went to raising the poor, but a lot of it will go toward making the affluent more so.
My goodness. So many false dichotomies, so little time.

First, economic growth does not necessarily mean burning more carbon. With a little nudging from appropriate prices, which was agreed on way back at Kyoto, there could have been almost as much growth with far less carbon in the atmosphere. But in practice, one might object, it will mean more carbon burned. Pouring concrete, for example, is a source of huge carbon emissions (to cook the lime, basically) and India, to choose an example, has a long way to go to get urban infrastructure (including housing) in place. True, but carbon capture can mitigate a lot of that, and it would pay the rich countries to provide the carbon capture. The list is almost literally endless, of all the many ways that incentives can motivate the modern economy to trim GHG's. If the list wasn't so long we could just order up a few key changes. But we need the decentralized incentives of price modification.

Currently, of course, growth does mean putting lots more carbon in the atmosphere. But I take your point that if we had had the resolve or foresight to put a coordinated response into action, we might have been able to make the growth carbon neutral. Turning the needle way back, in terms of carbon, while pursuing growth? That would seem to be possible only with a full-on circular economy. If we want to talk about paradigm changes, that's one.
Quote:
Second, the economy is moving on-line. As Amazon has demonstrated, the efficiencies of replacing a bricks-and-mortar system of distribution with an on-line system are too big to ignore. And the pricier heating and cooling get, the more obvious this will be. When all those delivery trucks are moving around on the power of renewable energy, people will get by with a lot less shopping in person and a lot more delivery to the door. But it isn't just retail space and labor that are phasing down. Headquarters jobs, the excuse for much of the commute into the city, are moving on line (with encouragement now from COVID-19). Recreation is moving to virtual reality, including, one supposes, virtual tourism. I could go on, but my point is simply that growth can actually mean less carbon, not more, and that the rich countries are the early adopters for methods showing how to organize modernity more efficiently.

But I don't see as much promise in efficiency as you seem to, or maybe it's partly that people need to demand efficiency, and they still don't in general. Households could reduce their power use by 10% instantly if vampire appliances and devices were not desired conveniences that we're willing to pay for. With hybrid car technology, car makers can give consumers more powerful engines that give better mpg than the equivalent size standard engine. Energy-efficient homes probably induce people to build bigger. So efficiency might allow us to just keep the status quo rather than move ahead--or behind, in carbon terms.

I wonder about the total footprint of Amazon, but let's say that it more efficiently delivers more goods to more consumers. That's more consumer stuff that needs to be manufactured, and though Amazon says its operations will be carbon neutral fairly soon, the suppliers' won't be. Amazons's dozens of data centers and several million servers weren't built with clean energy, either, and there are many more to come.

The U.S. has reduced its carbon waste a bit since 2005, but it won't meet Paris goals without bigger yearly decreases. The year of the virus could be the year it really does well...but we wouldn't expect that to continue.
Quote:
Third, you worry that there is not enough growth to lift the truly poor (such as Northern Nigeria) out of poverty. But the real opportunities for financial returns are in the poor countries. The countries with abundant financial capital have not yet figured out how to move it there in large enough quantities to get the full benefits, but the urgency of accelerating economic growth in the developing countries (to defuse the ticking time bomb of population growth) means we need to give it serious attention. You note that a lot of the growth will go to rich countries. But that can, at least potentially, be an accelerant to the process of de-carbonization. And economic advancement is not zero-sum. More growth in the rich countries is likely to mean more growth in the poor countries, leading them to transition to a modern, education-based economy.

You are implying, of course, that growth can be helpful but there are limits to how much we can expect. That would be why slowing population growth is also necessary. But I appreciate your bringing these points to my attention.

Robert Tulip wrote:
Robert Tulip wrote:
Without such a ride the tiger attitude, refusing to cross the frontier, we face the peril of the Margulis prophecy.

Riding the tiger is a good metaphor for relying on technological advance alone. The disrespect for nature is endemic, and such an approach at the level of society's grand strategy encourages people to neglect the spiritual aspect of engagement with wildness, in some kind of frantic effort to use off-roading and zip-lining as a substitute for coming to grips with life. Life has limits. As anyone who works with teenagers can tell you, limits are a blessing. They feel frustrating at the time, and an adolescent attitude responds with "Challenge accepted!" But there is too much ultimacy at stake to stay in that fevered state.

Margulis may not have spelled out the nature of the future with any accuracy. But, as with most prophecy, the imagery speaks to us. It invites us back into the proper relationship with the wildness that gives life richness, and pulls us aside from the scramble for status and "achievement" into a quest for harmony with others, with nature and ultimately with the limits we inevitably face.

Robert seems to see no contradiction between riding the tiger of technology and revering nature. Or maybe he just honestly sees no alternative to taking planetary control. I think that's really it.
Harry Marks wrote:
DWill wrote:
That is another of the many examples of the Wizard/Prophet divide, which on certain points does appear to be unbridgeable. Another BT book, The Righteous Mind analyzes moral foundations and can be applied to Wizards and Prophets especially on the Sanctity foundation. When you talk about re-engineering the planet or reinventing nature, I feel a strong aversion, as from a threat of degradation (the other pole of the Sanctity/Degradation foundation). This is not a rational reaction, but neither, I would contend, is the faith that Wizards have in technology. As Mann says, it is a difference of the heart.
I'm not sure the "evolutionary roots" of Sanctity have anything to say about this difference of the heart, but I do think the heart difference is a deep truth about these choices. Those of us who think technocratic solutions still offer hope need to think deeply about how the emotional flavors of motivation lead people to think about, or deny, the fateful choices that humanity faces. Proposals for a Carbon Tax now automatically come with a Carbon Dividend. If we had thought that deeply in 1990, the resistance organized by the evil Gingrich (whose heart is three sizes too small) might never have ambushed our progress.

I do find useful Haidt's classification, and I feel that talk of redirecting nature triggers a different module in the Sanctity foundation, to use Haidt's jargon. I'm remembering, too, that the elephant is smart, which we might have lost sight of in our discussion. There probably isn't much difference between my feeling of violation regarding taking over nature and that of someone who feels God's word has been violated. I read a book long ago that influenced me, called The Economy of the Earth, by Mark Sagoff. I guess Sagoff tended libertarian/conservative, but he made a good case that the instrumental reasons given for protecting the environment (such as discovering medicines or treatments in plants and animals) isn't the real bottom line. It has ultimately to do with beauty, in Sagoff's view. The reasoning part is in some ways like the lawyerly strategizing of Haidt's Rider.
Harry Marks wrote:
Robert Tulip wrote:
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.
An ecological vision suggests decentralized implementation, rather than handing the responsibility to a few engineers and scientists to somehow solve the problems everyone else goes on creating. If we can't integrate the two approaches, one might even say the two cultures, then we are putting all our eggs in too few baskets.

That integration of Wizard and Prophet is what you think Mann might suggest as a solution, but in my recollection of the first reading, he doesn't. If the divide between the two is as stark as he has been presenting it, perhaps saying it could be bridged would seem facile--or just contradict a good thesis, which no writer wants to come close to.
Harry Marks wrote:
DWill wrote:
I'm looking forward to population growth subsiding, because that will take pressure off the resources of food and water and will less directly help in fighting temperature rise. Multiple plans are going to be implemented simultaneously. It wouldn't make sense, certainly, to wait until temperature is stabilized before acting on food and water. The fact is, we can and we must cope with these problems as it gets hotter.
I fully agree about the priority on food and water. And once again, pricing plays a role. The most acute water deficit in the world is in Pakistan and Western India, where the water table is dropping by half a meter per year. As The Economist magazine has repeatedly observed, this is made worse by the unwillingness to apply pricing for a scarce resource, (mainly because the relative harm to small farmers would be worst) and many, many helpful steps would be taken if the pricing was in place. They are so far from the management approaches taken by places like Windhoek, Namibia that one imagines it might even be easy to fix the deficit, but it is unlikely to happen without incentives.

Mann has an interesting section (241-243) on the French provider of water services, Veolia, which took over that utility in at least two cities in China, in the early 2000s. He details some of the issues in treating water in "Economics 101" terms instead of "as common property--free to use, no matter what you do with it and how much you use."



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