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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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Sat Mar 21, 2020 11:05 am
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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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Thu Mar 26, 2020 9:59 am
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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."



Sat Mar 28, 2020 9:02 am
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Post Re: The Wizard and the Prophet (Ch. 4) Earth: Food
Apologies for being slow getting back, but I have been working on closely related themes of what we could call a Green Climate Revolution, but much more in line with Norman Borlaug than Bernie Sanders. I am writing a paper titled How to Mitigate Climate Change. My view is that climate stability requires exponential expansion of climate engineering technology, mainly large scale ocean based algae production, aiming for net zero by 2030 and then continuing the exponential scale up to deliver climate stability, with a return to the Holocene atmosphere, by 2050. That plan is what President Biden should announce on May 25, 2021, to celebrate the sixty year jubilee of President Kennedy’s visionary Apollo announcement.

The interesting thing is that this vision of a repaired and restored climate combines the prophet and wizard themes in Mann’s book, delivering an ecological vision of a circular economy through rapid expansion of technology. So finding the cultural trends and debates that influence each of these wizard and prophet themes is a fascinating aspect of the book.

The organic movement was accused of blithely ignoring costs and making exaggerated criticisms in its critique of chemical agriculture. The critics said is not possible to feed the world with compost based food. Maybe it is possible? Algae provides the mass scale of biomass that could be used to fix all the soil of the world with biochar as carbon storage, healing soils through regenerative agriculture and lifting yields and quality and reducing need for fossil fuel based fertilizer.

The organic movement is regarded by technologists as wrongly importing spirituality into what should be a scientific debate based on evidence. With spirituality comes all sorts of metaphysical ideologies and superstitions. Yes it is spiritual to grieve over the destruction of the earth. But it is wrong to say that such grief lacks evidence, even if those who mourn have not yet developed an equally productive alternative method that can be scaled to deliver industrial yields. The interesting thing is that those who claim to be scientific actually sometimes rely just as much on mythological thinking as their opponents do.

The idea that soil is magical became a key point of debate, with the regenerators pointing to the rich microbial life of healthy soil while the industrialists express disdain for such ideas as mystical nonsense. In this case it is clear that industrial agriculture has badly neglected soil health, and its contempt for spiritual perspectives has abetted this neglect, with the myth that soil carbon does not matter.

The living community of soil organisms enables trees in a forest to form a community, not as a mystical life force but as an evolutionary adaptive system of chemical signals. The role of humus in creating soil texture that retains water was not known to the apostles of NPK.

The spiritual organic view romanticises subsistence agriculture, but when dirt poor people have the opportunity for city work they move en masse to slums, dispelling the romantic dreams. Agriculture should be industrial, centralised and technological, but the technology has to deliver a circular economy that will enable sustained growth without destroying the ecological system and degrading the soil.

Both sides agreed that plants need nitrogen fertilizer, with the organicists sourcing it from manure and the NPKers getting theirs from factories. My suspicion is that the key advantage of manure is its ability to build up the carbon texture of soil, a theme neglected by the focus just on nutrients.

The ‘chemicalist versus organiculturalist’ war reflects the polarisation of modern society, and it seems the role of carbon in farming was forgotten as the two sides split.


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Post Re: The Wizard and the Prophet (Ch. 4) Earth: Food
IRRI, the International Rice Research Institute, was developed as a ‘Manhattan Project for food’, to help Asian nations defeat communist insurgencies. In my work for AusAID, I was for a while responsible for Australia’s funding to the CGIAR, the consultative group on international agricultural research, which includes IRRI, as well as Borlaug’s CIMMYT in Mexico and a bunch of other acronyms – fifteen in total – ICRISAT, CIFOR, IFPRI, ILRI etc.

I managed a design project for Australian support to the Papua New Guinea National Agricultural Research Institute, and became convinced that agricultural research should be central to development, in view of its unrivalled economic rate of return. Unfortunately such medium term quantitative thinking languished against the immediate observable benefits of investments in security, social sectors and infrastructure.

Again it is about getting the foundations right so that what is built upon them can be exponential. But there were also the problems of scale and capacity; a poor and dysfunctional country like PNG would in fact see quite low returns from agricultural research due to a number of binding constraints such as weak human capital and difficult access to markets, making humanitarian stability a higher priority than economic development.

Back to IRRI. They managed to breed a miracle rice on the Borlaug model for wheat, released in 1966, that yielded up to ten times more than some existing crops, figuring as a propaganda tool in the Vietnam War. Fertilizer and irrigation with the new rice drained aquifers, killed seas and waterlogged soils while tripling rice production.

Mann explains grain production now has to double again by 2050 to feed the world in this century, against a framework of the combination of collapsing climate and rising affluence with demand for meat. Yields have been growing by about 1% per year, but they need to grow by 2.5% to meet demand. The world’s plant breeders are running out of rabbits to pull out of their hats.

My view, as mentioned above, is that the key will be large scale ocean based algae production, which I believe can easily deliver the biomass required to enable such a revolution. Algae may be the next rabbit, lifting actual yields by exploiting the area, energy and nutrients of the world ocean, while also lifting potential yields through a range of unit productivity measures to create new varieties and methods.

I confess that Mann’s enthusiastic explanation of C4, the leaf molecule that could do most to lift rice yields, is not easy to understand, with all the detail of plant biology.
But the C4 Rice Consortium is the world’s biggest genetic engineering project, trying to stick this growth gene into rice. I confess further to a fear of genetic engineering, especially in view of speculation about the origins of the corona virus. This may be what the chemicalists would call spiritual mysticism on my part, but I prefer the idea that algae farming can feed the world through more conventional breeding methods than genetic engineering.


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Post Re: The Wizard and the Prophet (Ch. 4) Earth: Food
Robert Tulip wrote:
Apologies for being slow getting back, but I have been working on closely related themes of what we could call a Green Climate Revolution, but much more in line with Norman Borlaug than Bernie Sanders. I am writing a paper titled How to Mitigate Climate Change. My view is that climate stability requires exponential expansion of climate engineering technology, mainly large scale ocean based algae production, aiming for net zero by 2030 and then continuing the exponential scale up to deliver climate stability, with a return to the Holocene atmosphere, by 2050. That plan is what President Biden should announce on May 25, 2021, to celebrate the fifty year jubilee of President Kennedy’s visionary Apollo announcement.

I should have known it would be something ambitious that deterred you. Ah, President Biden-- do you think or dare to hope? I don't see Joe as a wonderful prospect, but a good one compared to the alternative. I become paranoid that some weird fatedness will ensure Trump's re-election.

I'm re-reading the "Climate Change" chapter in Mann. The discussion on the discount rate I'm thinking is extremely important--how people will pay much less to head off a still-distant problem than they'll pay to solve an immediate one. Try as one might to hammer home the urgency of dealing with climate, climate does not operate on the same timescale as coronavirus, hunger, rebuilding Europe with the Marshall Plan, or getting to the moon. This explains much of why people may accept the incremental efforts you decry, but won't be ready for the massive projects that might make a bigger difference. I don't think it's a real solution to call for a revolution in human psychology, enabling us to act decisively for non-existent future people. We have to be able to connect in the present with any measure proposed. The Trump Administration recently rolled back scheduled auto emissions reductions, which will result in a billion additional tons of carbon as well as more-potent nitrous oxide over the lifetime of these less efficient vehicles. Such an effect can be appreciated easily; it feels immediate. I feel sure that a poll of Americans would support keeping the Obama regulations in place, even though the price of new cars would have to increase. If Biden wins in November, he will be able to prevent the changes from happening.

Something that needs to be frankly faced is that we can realistically hope only to reduce the damage from carbon build-up in the atmosphere. I feel that a return to Holocene atmosphere isn't an appropriate goal, because it will create more polarization and result in a standstill.
Quote:
The interesting thing is that this vision of a repaired and restored climate combines the prophet and wizard themes in Mann’s book, delivering an ecological vision of a circular economy through rapid expansion of technology. So finding the cultural trends and debates that influence each of these wizard and prophet themes is a fascinating aspect of the book.

The organic movement was accused of blithely ignoring costs and making exaggerated criticisms in its critique of chemical agriculture. The critics said is not possible to feed the world with compost based food. Maybe it is possible? Algae provides the mass scale of biomass that could be used to fix all the soil of the world with biochar as carbon storage, healing soils through regenerative agriculture and lifting yields and quality and reducing need for fossil fuel based fertilizer.

I think a "vision of a repaired and restored climate" has less potential to move the worldwide population than you might think. Give people a rung of the ladder they can see or think they can reach. Then give them one more, and so on. This is going to be and feel incremental. The results compare to reducing the number of deaths that Covid-19 would have produced had little been done to stop it. The same incrementalism applies to the question you raise about organic agriculture feeding the billions. You need to first see how the specifics pan out, such as whether algae has enough NPK to begin to rival chemical fertilizers. I believe it doesn't, so that could be an obstacle to the vision.

Technology is okay with Prophets. They will be thrilled if solar or wind has a breakthrough in new technology. They may reluctantly go along with big, utility-scale renewable installations. So there is a certain common ground with Wizards. But any manhandling of the planet through geoengineering will continue to be a bridge too far, I believe.
Quote:
The organic movement is regarded by technologists as wrongly importing spirituality into what should be a scientific debate based on evidence. With spirituality comes all sorts of metaphysical ideologies and superstitions. Yes it is spiritual to grieve over the destruction of the earth. But it is wrong to say that such grief lacks evidence, even if those who mourn have not yet developed an equally productive alternative method that can be scaled to deliver industrial yields. The interesting thing is that those who claim to be scientific actually sometimes rely just as much on mythological thinking as their opponents do.

The notion of humans taking on nature itself has been extolled as heroism and condemned as hubris. Wizards are more likely to credit science with the ability to manipulate nature, largely because its track record is good on that score. But scientists can also get into Dr. Frankenstein territory, in the view of Prophets, and they do when they cross certain bright, or maybe just symbolic, lines, such as genetically modified foods and, of course, geoengineering.
Quote:
The idea that soil is magical became a key point of debate, with the regenerators pointing to the rich microbial life of healthy soil while the industrialists express disdain for such ideas as mystical nonsense. In this case it is clear that industrial agriculture has badly neglected soil health, and its contempt for spiritual perspectives has abetted this neglect, with the myth that soil carbon does not matter.

The living community of soil organisms enables trees in a forest to form a community, not as a mystical life force but as an evolutionary adaptive system of chemical signals. The role of humus in creating soil texture that retains water was not known to the apostles of NPK.

I think that in the main, Prophets think the scientific facts about the life in soil are more than enough to stand on, though whenever a web of life is envisioned a spiritual feeling can be produced, too. That feeling is undeniably real and should be promoted. But the important argument is whether, the large human population having been built through fossil fuel fertilizers, those chemicals can be withdrawn without a catastrophic decrease in food supply. The substitution process would need to be gradual if feasible at all.
Quote:
The spiritual organic view romanticises subsistence agriculture, but when dirt poor people have the opportunity for city work they move en masse to slums, dispelling the romantic dreams. Agriculture should be industrial, centralised and technological, but the technology has to deliver a circular economy that will enable sustained growth without destroying the ecological system and degrading the soil.

Yet would many of those dirt-poor prefer to remain in villages if their agriculture could be made sustainable and profitable through government programs? I don't know. France is an example of a government providing great financial support for agricultural lifestyles to continue. Granted, it appears that commodities need to be produced industrially. Circularity won't be achieved unless the extra labor-intensiveness can happen without prices going way up--just another challenge.
Quote:
Both sides agreed that plants need nitrogen fertilizer, with the organicists sourcing it from manure and the NPKers getting theirs from factories. My suspicion is that the key advantage of manure is its ability to build up the carbon texture of soil, a theme neglected by the focus just on nutrients.

The ‘chemicalist versus organiculturalist’ war reflects the polarisation of modern society, and it seems the role of carbon in farming was forgotten as the two sides split.

My guess is that the matter boils down to the strength of the nutrients in each. Cow manure isn't rich in NPK compared to the typical 10-10-10. Other manures such as chicken are more concentrated, but still not as useful in producing plant growth as chemical fertilizers. Green manures are very useful, too. When you factor in the waste chemical fertilizer that gets into water, along with the soil structure benefits of organics that you mention, then it may be that organic methods could compete with large-scale with fossil fuel fertilizers.



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Post Re: The Wizard and the Prophet (Ch. 4) Earth: Food
Robert Tulip wrote:
Back to IRRI. They managed to breed a miracle rice on the Borlaug model for wheat, released in 1966, that yielded up to ten times more than some existing crops, figuring as a propaganda tool in the Vietnam War. Fertilizer and irrigation with the new rice drained aquifers, killed seas and waterlogged soils while tripling rice production.

Mann explains grain production now has to double again by 2050 to feed the world in this century, against a framework of the combination of collapsing climate and rising affluence with demand for meat. Yields have been growing by about 1% per year, but they need to grow by 2.5% to meet demand. The world’s plant breeders are running out of rabbits to pull out of their hats.

Of course, one needs to be compassionate towards everyone in our overpopulated (i.e., by humans) world. It's a primary duty to see to it that people don't go hungry. Looking at the extreme consequences for environment, though, gives us the bigger picture of what had to be done to serve the humanitarian need. We sacrificed ecological systems. I don't believe that another regime besides genetic research, chemical fertilizers, and irrigation could have met the need. Building healthier soils is a commitment that takes much more time and labor. I want to be open-minded about algae biomass, but I strongly suspect this is not an answer even to feeding our current numbers, much less the 2 billion more expected by 2050.
Quote:
I confess that Mann’s enthusiastic explanation of C4, the leaf molecule that could do most to lift rice yields, is not easy to understand, with all the detail of plant biology.
But the C4 Rice Consortium is the world’s biggest genetic engineering project, trying to stick this growth gene into rice. I confess further to a fear of genetic engineering, especially in view of speculation about the origins of the corona virus. This may be what the chemicalists would call spiritual mysticism on my part, but I prefer the idea that algae farming can feed the world through more conventional breeding methods than genetic engineering.

Ditto on the difficulty of understanding C4. Mann goes into great detail on that. Genetic engineering of plants, such as inserting the gene that makes soybeans impervious to Roundup, is again a needed measure in the struggle to feed people. Not liking such tinkering is one thing, but explaining how to circumvent it without causing more starvation is another.



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