Wednesday, March 28, 2012


Just got an indoor grill/panini press; wow!  We've made vegetarian and vegan paninis and hot cubanos: grilled red peppers, grilled zuchini, marinated  artichokes, tapenade with or without cheese.  Also playing around with mustard, smoked salmon, cream cheese.  It's easy to get great looking grilled vegetables (450 for about 8-10 min). 

The rub: our regional nuke has been shut down (San Onofre).  I fear that the carbon free energy produced by that is now coal based.  Wonder if I should be using my gas grill?

Monday, March 26, 2012

It's gonna get hot!

The newest bad news is that in a report published the other day (25 March 2012) in Nature Geosciences, Daniel Rowlands and colleagues develop a more-sophisticated climate model than has been used in the past and suggest that a 1.4-3 °C increase in temperature is likely under a 'mid-range forcing model' by 2050 (there's a lot of press on this, e.g., USA Today).  That's not too far away and that is an amount of temperature increase that is more consistent with the 'no mitigation' scenario developed by the IPCC. In other words, whatever we're doing now isn't going to have much of a future impact and it's getting hotter faster than we thought it was.

In a line, this is a real problem.

A 3°C hotter world is much hotter world that will be characterized by more poverty, more suffering, and more conflict.  Want to know that that might look like?  Look no further than a mega-city in a third world country (Karachi, Pakistan, for instance...).  Do you want your future (or the future of much more of the earth) be like Karachi?  I don't.

A 3°C hotter world is also a world that isn't going to just cool down and 're-set itself' if we do sort out our carbon addiction.  It's going to continue to get warmer for hundreds or thousands of years.  The time lags built into the climatic system are genuinely scary and have convinced me that now is the time to act.  Everything we do now matters.  A lot.  It's simply not right for us to guarantee future generations a future filled with suffering and conflict.

A 3°C world will be drastically different, less biodiverse, and less compatible with our current lifestyles.  And lifestyles are at the crux of the problem of reducing the likelihood of this happening.  We all want to maintain our current lifestyles. So, got concerns about not changing your lifestyle?  Well, a 3°C hotter world will change it for you!

Thus, I read this report with extreme sadness. Indeed, I've not been writing much recently because I've been kinda depressed about the scale of the problems we have to solve and how most of the indictors I've been reading suggest we're not even trying to do so.  We simply have to work together to create the momentum to reduce or eliminate carbon consumption--and fast. We simply have to work together to create a more sustainable future that is driven by solar power (as I've written before, solar is genuinely renewable and should not have as many negative effects when we scale up, like wind or other forms of renewable energy). 

The irony:  a lot of people will get really wealthy creating and distributing the technology that's needed to re-set our lives and lifestyles.  Jobs will be created.  Lifestyles will be supported.  So why don't we all agree that this is both the right and a productive thing to work towards?

Discussion topic
What are the impediments you see towards convincing others that climate change is a moral issue that requires us to act now?

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

NY Times contest

The NY Times has an essay writing contest on developing an argument on why it's not ethical to eat meat.

I'll share what I just hammered out for them.  

Eating meat is like slavery, or sexism, or three-martini lunches.  It’s something that’s ethical and accepted as long as a preponderance of the citizenry believes it is. Cow eating isn’t accepted in Hindu countries. Three-martini lunches are not sanctioned in Muslim countries. For me the key question isn’t whether it is ethical, but what will the arguments that make it unethical be?

Will it be health? Of course too much meat isn’t so good for you, but then again too many three-martini lunches aren’t either (how did big-business make it through those Mad Men days?). It’s quite possible to live a healthy and satisfied life eating no or very little meat. Probably will make you live longer too. Of course, we all know (or think we know) what’s good for us food-wise and that hasn’t stopped our obesity crisis. Eating smaller portions and exercising can accomplish the same goals.

Will it be animal welfare? Welfare is a tricky issue. Greater awareness has led us to think more about how our animals are raised. Indeed, the fatty-acids in pasture-raised beef are healthier than those in feed-lot raised or ‘finished’ beef. Thus, free-range beef is a good thing for the animals and for us. But then again, you don’t have to eat beef to eat meat. What about chickens that are sold as free range but are afraid to venture out of their large indoor yards? All of these raised animals must be killed. Is killing something to eat it, just because you want to, ethical? Well, we did evolve as omnivores. But then again, we also evolved with large creative brains that can create Ponzi schemes, extortion rings, and design genocidal campaigns. As the Naturalist Fallacy says, just because it is, doesn’t mean it ought to be. But I think many arguments against meat eating fall away when you’re eating small amounts of humanely raised and humanely slaughtered animals.

Is it ethical to eat fish?  Probably not most wild fish. Not only are they caught in entirely inhumane ways--would you like to drown on a line, be scooped from your home surrounded by screaming neighbors, or be hooked, pulled outside and then left to die on ice? But, by eating fish, you’re also creating a huge ecological crisis—we’re eating our way down the food chains in the ocean. Think you can solve the wild-caught fish problem by growing them? Aquaculture creates large-scale marine and estuarine pollution. And, when you’re growing carnivorous fish, you’re catching wild fish to feed your captive fish. Now that doesn't make much sense. However, fish eating will be self-limiting as we fish down the seas (got any good jellyfish recipes to share?) and as fish-eaters poison themselves with mercury and other toxins. As long as it remains ethical to poison yourself, it’s ethical to eat fish.

Will it be climate change? Livestock production produces a healthy percentage of methane—a potent greenhouse gas. Eat meat and melt the artic ice cap! It’s funny to think what we take for granted now and view as acceptable will someday be viewed as selfish and thoughtless. Slavery used to be OK. Will car driving or meat eating fall into this category of ‘once were acceptable’?  If, however, you’re concerned about climate change, eat less meat.

What about engineered meat? Is it ethical to eat a cell culture that involved no suffering? PETA seems to think so because they, and other welfare organizations, are supporting research into ways to mass produce engineered meat.  But why would you want to?  Wild fish and animals taste so much better.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Is red meat bad for you?

A new study, widely reported in the press (e.g., LA Times), reports that mortality rates of a group of people studied were higher in those that ate red meat compared to those who did not.  Indeed, NOT eating red meat was associated with reduced mortality rates.

If this is a robust result, it just illustrates that what's good for you is also good for the planet!  And, if it's not, what's there to lose by eliminating red meat in your diet?  You could gain a few years of life!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Nathan Myhrvold on the large climate problems we face

Nathan Myhrvold has teamed up with Ken Calderia to model efforts to reduce/manage global heating.  The take home messages are bad:  simple things that we think might work just won't work (he thinks geoengineering, new solar, new nukes, and better energy storage are essential components of a successful strategy). has a variety of reporting on the report and these worth reading.  Check out an interview with Nathan and this will get you into both the other articles and the primary paper.

Buzz kill about sustainability from Ed Barry & William Rees

I received this from a colleague and am reprinting it in its entirety because I think it's essential for us to come to grips with the concept of 'sustainability'.  The discussion topic, after reading this, are how do we shape our future without falling into the 'sustainability is easy' trap.  Because, if you really buy into what they suggest, developing a truly sustainable future will require quite a bit of work and requires a sea-change in our attitudes and desires about our lifestyles.

On the Use and Misuse of the Concept of Sustainability: Including
Population and Resource Macro-Balancing in the Sustainability Dialog.

A paper for the 8th International Conference on Environmental,
Cultural, Economic, and Social Sustainability

Mr. Ed Barry - The Population Institute, Washington D.C., USA

Dr. William Rees - University of British Columbia, Vancouver, B.C., Canada

I. Resource overshoot - today's global reality:

A. The current scale of human economic activity on Earth is already
excessive; the human enterprise is in a state of unsustainable
'overshoot.' By this we mean that the consumption and dissipation of
energy and material resources exceed the regenerative and
assimilative capacity of supportive ecosystems. Many critical stocks
of 'natural capital' are in decline and global waste sinks are filled
to overflowing. Business as usual for today's global human enterprise
is clearly unsustainable. Any society that is living by depleting its
capital assets is unsustainable by definition.

Resource overshoot can be demonstrated empirically in at least four ways:

1. Direct observation of the degradation of resource ecosystems
(e.g., marine fisheries and tropical rain forests) and the depletion
of non-renewable resources (e.g., conventional petroleum and various
industrial minerals and metals);

2. Direct observation of the gross pollution of major ecosystems and
the global commons (e.g., expanding ocean anoxic zones and the
accumulation of atmospheric green-house gases [carbon dioxide is the
largest waste product of industrial economies]);

3. Macro-economic analysis that compares traditional GDP with
indicators that incorporate physical assessments and appropriate
valuation of natural capital stocks and pollution damage costs (e.g.,
the 'Genuine Progress Indicator' or the 'Index of Sustainable
Economic Welfare');

4. Ecological footprint analysis, a quantitative method that compares
human demand for bio-capacity (ecosystem services) with sustainably
available supply. The aggregate human eco-footprint is already
approximately 50% larger than the available bio-capacity. Moreover,
demand is increasing and supply is in decline. How is this possible?
Remember, at present, the growth of the human enterprise is being
unsustainably funded by permanently depleting critical natural capital stocks.

B. Climate change, fresh water shortfalls, biodiversity loss, food
shortages (and price increases), and global oil supply 'peaking'
along with increasing energy costs are all additional symptoms of
ecological overshoot.

C. Achieving a positive balance between production in nature and
consumption by humans is not merely one of many 'options,' it is an
obligatory requirement for sustainability. We must eliminate
overshoot as a prerequisite to preserving social justice, creating
intergenerational equity and securing a future for global
civilization. Otherwise we will continue to undermine the Earth's
natural resource assets, which will cause hardships and suffering for
future generations of life on the planet.

D. All nations are responsible for integrating physical assessments
of their natural capital assets (renewable, replenishable and
non-renewable 'resources') into their systems of national accounts
for policy and management purposes. Overcoming overshoot and
adherence to the strong sustainability criterion requires that we
maintain sufficient supplies of natural capital per capita to ensure
an adequate flow of 'natural income' (consumption) and life-support
services indefinitely into the future. Note that if populations are
increasing, either natural capital stocks must also increase or
average quality of life will decline.

     Bio-physical resource sustainability must be evaluated in an
integrated manner, and periodic national resource 'balance sheet'
evaluations should be used to inform policy decision making. Resource
Sustainability Evaluation and Reporting (SER) must be adopted by
national governments and supported by international institutions, as
an appropriate response to today's fundamental reality of global
resource overshoot.

E. Technological optimism and techno-fixes do not provide viable
solutions to the challenge of global resource overshoot. On the
contrary, historical data show that technological gains stimulate
economic growth and enable further exploitation of resources rather
than induce conservation.

F. Any sustainability assessment and corrective policies must include
consideration of all factors contributing to overshoot, including
population numbers and growth, our socially-constructed consumer
life-styles, and gross social inequity. For example, empowering women
and expanding access to family planning services, being essential to
preventing unwanted pregnancies and achieving sustainability, must be
part of the global sustainable development dialogs and solution.

II. SUSTAINABILITY - Conceptual ambiguities:

"Sustainable economic growth" is an oxymoron. Historically, rising
incomes have invariably been accompanied by rising material
consumption despite (or because of) technological advances. Clearly,
since the world is already in 'overshoot' further increases in energy
and material throughput will only exacerbate the situation. Can we
realistically expect to continue growing the material economy without
compromising both our own future prospects and those of future generations?

"Sustainable development" is not necessarily an oxymoron as long as
development is not equated with growth. 'Development' means
qualitative improvement or 'getting better' whereas growth means
quantitative accretion or 'getting bigger'. Development can obviously
proceed without growth but it is possible to have growth without
development. Indicators of development include improving
opportunities for personal development, falling unemployment rates,
decreasing poverty, greater income security, a narrowing income gap
(greater social equity), falling rates of alcohol and drug addiction,
improving mental health indicators, etc. By such measures as these,
the considerable GDP growth of the past few decades in the US, Canada
and other rich countries has been accompanied by regressive de-development.

"Sustainable city;" what does this wide-spread phrase mean? We assert
that it is, in fact, meaningless as currently employed. In an
integrated globalizing world, no sub-system-no individual, no city no
country-can achieve sustainability on its own. Even a city with
minimal auto use, exemplary public transit, renewable energy supplies
and life-styles that require only an equitable share of global
bio-capacity will not be unscathed if the rest of the world maintains
its unsustainable tack. Despite its best efforts, this exemplary city
will eventually succumb to climate change, rising prices, resource
scarcity, civil unrest and geopolitical instability. This reality
underscores that (un)sustainability is a collective problem demanding
collective solutions and therefore an unprecedented level of
international cooperation in the implementation of difficult policy
choices for sustainability. In short, we have entered an era in which
the future of global civilization can be assured only through "mutual
coercion mutually agreed upon" (to use Garrett Hardin's classic phrasing).

"Sustainable growth in businesses, jobs, and the economy;" this
politically correct mantra continues to ignore the reality that
resource goods and services are required for all human societal and
economic activity, and that the Earth's capacity to supply these
resources is finite. The political response to this criticism is
technology advancement and the "decoupling" of our economic activity
from resource demands. But technology optimism is, in itself, a
conceptual ambiguity.

"Technology advancement" is the means that humanity can deploy to
continue economic growth, and thus improve overall global
prosperity.   Yet the historical record does not bear this out (see above).

"There is no conflict between economic growth and environmental
quality" or "there is no conflict between a growing economy and
nature." This is an obligatory mantra uttered by almost all
politicians in their efforts to reconcile the irreconcilable; it is
patently untrue. As previously noted, economic growth (rising
disposable income) has historically stimulated increased personal
consumption. This results in increased energy and material throughput
and consequent ecological damage. The reason is simple: the human
enterprise is a growing sub-system of a non-growing finite ecosphere.
Any diversion of energy and material resources to maintain and grow
more humans and their 'furniture' is irreversibly unavailable to
non-human species (what we get, they don't). Biodiversity declines as
humans displace other species from their habitats and appropriate
'primary production' (nature's goods and services) that would
otherwise support other species. Meanwhile, the increased
production/consumption for humans adds to the pollution load on
natural ecosystems. As noted, these trends can actually be
accelerated by technological improvements that increase access to
resources or improve efficiency (both of which tend to lower costs and prices).

"Shifting to a knowledge-based or service-based economy will reduce
environmental impacts." This is a common illusion voiced to support
structural economic change and continued economic growth; it is
patently untrue. The reasons are simple. By 'knowledge-based economy'
people generally mean an economy driven by high-end services such as
engineering, information technology, financial services, etc. These
activities are often seen as having less direct ecological impact
than primary and secondary sector activities such as logging, mining
and manufacturing. Herein lies the illusion. High-end service jobs
pay much higher incomes than employment in the low-end material
economy. Participants in the knowledge-based economy therefore have
bigger houses, cars, flat-screen TVs and generally consume more than
primary and secondary sector employees (see previous point). They
therefore have much larger per capita ecological footprints than
workers in the basic economy; those countries with the largest
high-end service sectors have the largest national eco-footprints.

     There is another dimension to the illusion. The structural
shift to a knowledge/service-based economy is invariably accompanied
by the migration of manufacturing to low-wage developing countries
that generally have lower environmental standards (or good standards
that are not enforced). These countries (e.g., China) then sell much
of their manufacturing output to wealthier consumer societies. Hence,
the ecological impact per unit consumption in knowledge-based
economies may increase with the total volume of consumption.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Paul Gilding: The Earth is Full

Paul Gilding has a remarkable TED talk on the importance of how fear will motivate ourselves out of a global collapse.  Now, we just need to get scared and get motivated!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

good news?

A new study suggests that more Americans believe that humans are causing global warming and that this is an issue.

Discussion topic:
OK, now what do we do?