4200 years ago, a sweeping mega-drought devastated agricultural societies across the globe, wiping out civilizations from Ancient Egypt to Mesopotamia, Palestine and the Yangtze River Valley. Now, scientists say the cataclysmic event marks the beginning of a new geologic age: Late Holocene Meghalayan, which encompasses everything from the start of the drought to the present.
science & research
From The Guardian: White’s Natural History, a founding classic of its genre, is deemed the fourth most-published book in the English language, after the Bible, Shakespeare and Bunyan, and has certainly been in print since first publication, while the benign White himself is now recognised equally as a great stylist and pioneer ecologist. A tribute.
Here is the ambitious (and controversial) proposal by E.O. Wilson —arguably the world’s most lauded living evolutionary biologist— to save life on Earth by setting aside around half the planet in various types of nature reserves. Also included is a research paper exploring the viability of Wilson’s proposal, along with a sharp critique of it.
Kerry Emanuel writes: There are strong cultural biases against discussion of ‘tail risk’ in climate science; particularly the accusation of “alarmism”. Does the dictum to tell “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth” not apply to climate scientists? If we omit discussion of tail risk, are we really telling the whole truth?
The pro-and anti-GMO positions will remain irreconcilably polarized as long as larger questions remain unexamined. What’s at stake here is much more than a choice about GMOs. It is a choice between two very different systems of food production, two visions of society, and two fundamentally different ways to relate to plants, animals, and soil.
In this keynote address delivered at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, the Post Carbon Institute’s Nate Hagens discusses how our lives will be influenced by how we react to the coming era of harder to extract and more costly fossil fuels that will be combined with cleaner but less concentrated energy types.
Limiting global warming to 1.5C requires strictly limiting the total amount of carbon emissions between now and the end of the century. However, there is more than one way to calculate this allowable amount of additional emissions, known as the “carbon budget”. In this article, Carbon Brief assesses nine new carbon budget estimates released recently.
From Down to Earth: According to an IIT Gandhinagar study, population exposure to heat waves is expected to increase by a massive 200-fold increase if carbon emissions continue under a business-as-usual scenario. Heat wave is already the third biggest natural killer in the country, but is not recognised as a natural calamity by the government.
From Financial Times: Antarctica is changing fast, including sections of the massive ice sheet that covers it. This holds so much water that if it ever melted completely, global sea levels would rise by nearly 60m. The race to understand Antarctica has become more urgent. Also watch, the documentary ‘The Antarctica Challenge: A Global Warning.’
This latest news immediately brings some questions to mind: Does this mean that we should stop working toward mitigating climate change? Should we stop worrying and enjoy mindlessly by indulging ourselves in senseless consumerism? I really don’t know. But what I definitely know is that the window of opportunity to act is closing really fast.
From ICSF: In the face of climate change and disastrous development projects like Sagarmala, stewardship of coastal land is the primary challenge for coastal communities. Sea level rise and increasing climate unpredictability require local communities to play an active role in creating knowledge-bases for appropriate action, to reduce disaster risk and recreate a healthy coastline.
Russian geochemist Vladimir Ivanovich Vernadsky (1863-1945), founder of biogeochemistry, also laid the foundations for the ‘Gaia hypothesis’ with his idea that life is a geological force that can change Earth’s landforms, climate, even the contents of its atmosphere. “What Darwin did for life through time, Vernadsky did for life through space on a geological scale”.
From Toward Freedom: The second iteration of ConCiencias, a conference creating dialogue between the Zapatista’s and leading left wing scientists from throughout the world, took place at San Cristobal de Las Casas. The struggle to decolonize knowledge is part and parcel of the Zapatista’s broader project of resisting indigenous genocide, neoliberal capitalism, and political repression.
Robert J. Burrowes writes: Just listing the types of rubbish generated by humans is a staggering task. Nevertheless, I will give you a reasonably comprehensive summary of the types of garbage being generated, the locations into which it’s being dumped and some indication of what’s being done about it and what you can do too.
Michael Sacasas writes: Melvin Kranzberg was a professor of the history of technology and the founding editor of the journal Technology and Culture. Here are Kranzberg’s Laws of Technology — “a series of truisms,” according to him, “deriving from a longtime immersion in the study of the development of technology and its interactions with sociocultural change.”
From CNet/Future of Life Institute: Autonomous weapons use Artificial Intelligence to select and engage targets without human intervention. Now, a think tank backed by scientist Stephen Hawking and entrepreneur Elon Musk, among others, offers a graphic warning against machines that decide whom to kill. This fictional video underscores how seriously these experts view the issue.
Daniel O’Neill writes: If everyone on Earth were to lead a good life within our planet’s sustainability limits, the level of resources used to meet basic needs would have to be reduced by a factor of two to six times. These are the sobering findings of our research, recently published in the journal Nature Sustainability.
Most courses on energy deal with it in an instrumentalist manner, as if it were another substance that humans can tap and use for their benefit. Platform for Sustainability and Equity and Ecologise are pleased to announce an online course that places energy at the centre of all transformations— abiotic, biotic and in human society.
Some of the most celebrated scientific ideas and books of the 20th century may not be useful for us in this century, while lesser-known works of the past acquire new relevance. Here, then, is a selection of such works, along with an invitation for readers to critique and contribute their own suggestions to this list.
Richard Heinberg writes: Many problems are converging at once because society is a complex system, and the challenges we have been discussing are aspects of a systemic crisis. A useful way to frame an integrated understanding of the 21st century survival challenge is this: we humans have overshot Earth’s long-term carrying capacity for our species.