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Planet Earth Under Threat

First Rule of Intelligent Meddling

  • Julian Hector
  • 31 May 06, 02:01 PM

Gabrielle and I have just come back from Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire (UK) to record the dawn chorus and hear about the ambitious expansion project of the National Trust to recreate "The Great Fen" of 300 years ago. This is a massive 100 year vision which we'll tell you about in another blog. bill-adams-and-gab-for-blog.jpg
But we also picked up an interview from Bill Adams (Professor of Conservation Development, Cambridge University). We asked him the question - why bother to protect anything: Bill came up with the best quote ever on that one. Keep an eye on this entry because we're going to give you a taster of the dawn chorus for you to enjoy.

We asked Bill Adams why bother to try to conserve biodiversity and he quoted Aldo Leopold (one of the great conservationists of the 20th century). "The first rule of intelligent meddling is to keep the pieces". Isn't that brilliant. So when it comes to climate change and conservation BIl argued we should "keep as many pieces on the board as possible (and if that takes) nature reserves and new strategies for conserving landscapes, then fine!" He recognised that to many in the southern hemisphere conservation can be seen as a northern neo-colonial plot - And his work related to linking the know how and resources of the north to the people of the south. We're planning to go to Madagascar to report one of his projects for you.

dawn-chorus-blog-pic.jpg
Listen to the dawn chorus at Wicken Fen:
Download file

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  • 1.
  • At 03:38 PM on 31 May 2006,
  • peter wrote:

Interesting article but what does medalling mean? Am I missing something?

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I should have asked you to look in on Oliver Rackham, the dean of landscape archaeology (my designation), author of Trees and Woodland in the British Landscape, and a Cambridge man. Worth looking into. Sorry it didn't occur to me while you were in his patch.

Only medal intelligently, and
Vaya con Gaia
ed

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  • 3.
  • At 03:45 PM on 31 May 2006,
  • julian Hector wrote:

Hello Peter, Medalling means fliddling with or mucking about with. You can damage something if you have been medalling with it.

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Aldo Leopold's Land Ethic is at
http://home.btconnect.com/tipiglen/landethic.html
But don't tell a soul.
Vaya con Odysseus
ed

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  • 5.
  • At 05:15 PM on 31 May 2006,
  • Euan Gray wrote:

Perhaps the authors could explain this novel meaning of the word "medal," which to the rest of humanity means, when used in verb form, either to win or to award a medal. What does this have to do with species preservation?

Also, perhaps they could explain by what possible logical process anyone could conceivably consider conservation as a "northern neo-colonial plot" - the environmental lobby does itself no favours when it invents arbitrary new meanings for words, or for that matter when it adopts uncritically such eccentric notions as conservation as neo-colonialism. Just because someone in the South (or any other patronisingly favoured minority-du-jour) considers something to be so does not actually make it so, and a little discrimination and thought would be appreciated.

And how does jetting off to Madagascar help the environment? Surely, by your own logic, you should not be going there but should ask some local teams to collate the information and send it to you electronically? Wouldn't that be a bit greener than unnecessary flights, aircraft being the worst polluters per tonne-kilometre and all?

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  • 6.
  • At 05:18 PM on 31 May 2006,
  • Euan Gray wrote:

It also occurs that interference in the natural order by artificially preserving species otherwise headed for extinction is gross meddling (note the distinction from medalling) of precisely the kind the environmentalists decry.

Why, therefore, is such gross and ultimately pointless interference justified, even lauded?

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Did you ever feel like this environmentalism thing is hopless?

http://www.rustletheleaf.com/media/comic-page-rustle.asp?strip=rustle060521.jpg

xx
ed

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  • 8.
  • At 11:34 PM on 31 May 2006,
  • Euan Gray wrote:

Everything is not at stake, Ed. Only the millenarian and the zealot think it is - and given the quasi-religious nature of much environmentalism there's enough people like that, perhaps as witnessed by the "go with God" style of your own "go with Gaia" signature. Gaia is the new God, environmentalists the new priests. One awaits the new Inquisition, of course.

More realistic people probably do on the whole appreciate that things may change, and thus that we may have to change in turn. This does not mean it's all our fault (it plainly isn't), nor does it mean there is only one way to change.

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Euan,
So you would argue that everything is not at stake if, instead of going with the Earth, we take charge and take the Earth with us, according to our overwhelmingly superior understanding of systems?

You will find friends in Dick Dorkins and E O Wilson, but the latter does believe everything is at stake, unless we humans gain total knowlege and take charge.

If everything isn't at stake, what is and what isn't?

xx
ed

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  • 10.
  • At 04:30 PM on 01 Jun 2006,
  • Euan Gray wrote:

In reponse to Ed, it is first important to recognise that the Earth or "Gaia" is not a conscious thing or a single entity. It is rather a haphazard collection of subsystems, of which we are one, which has evolved over the aeons and which is still evolving and which will keep evolving. Talk of going "with the Earth" or "with Gaia" is meaningless because there is no single coherent entity with which to go, nor does that collection of subsystems have any plan, aim or objective towards which, or indeed away from which, one could go. It will work without some of these subsystems, or with other new ones, whatever we do.

Like all species, we are principally concerned with our own fate. Unlike any other species, we are capable of consciously deciding the fate of others. We should exercise this capability responsibly, but if we are forced to choose between ourselves and another species it is inevitable that we will as a species favour ourselves. Although we can destroy species, we cannot permanently destroy life on the planet - Gabrielle noted elsewhere the remarkable persistence of life.

To say some things are "at stake" is somewhat emotive. Certainly things will change, but they would change anyway even in an utterly stable climate. Some conveniences will disappear, such as cheap petrol and in certain cases ready supplies of clean water. But these will be replaced with alternatives, such as biomass, electricity or hydrogen, or some mix of these and others, or in the case of water perhaps by desalination plants augmenting the natural supply. This is nothing new - previously, deforestation meant that cheap firewood became scarce, for example. As some things become difficult or expensive, we will find alternatives.

Similarly, if a species becomes extinct it may be supplanted by another better suited to the changed environment. This is evolution, and it has been happening for billions of years and will continue to happen, with or without us. There is nothing sacred about a given species of animal or plant, after all.

Things will change, but things have always changed. The part of environmentalism I object to, and most strongly, is the naive and ridiculous desire to prevent change, to try and maintain things as they are now. We simply cannot do that, and nor are the consequences of trying to do it really predictable. In trying to maintain a status quo or in puruit of some lofty environmental goal, we may end up causing more damage to the environment that if we had done nothing.

If you really want to "go with Gaia" then let evolution do its work, let species fade in the face of threat and new ones rise to exploit the new opportunities. They'll do it anyway, whatever we do. That is the natural way, interfering and trying to preserve some arbitrary condition is profoundly unnatural, doomed to failure and very probably going to result in a worse outcome. However, since many environmnetalists seem deeply ignorant of just how complex things are, or how much they have changed in the past, it's not surprising many advocate such silliness.

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Euan,
"In reponse to Ed, it is first important to recognise that the Earth or "Gaia" is not a conscious thing or a single entity. It is rather a haphazard collection of subsystems, of which we are one, which has evolved over the aeons and which is still evolving and which will keep evolving."

How do we know it isn't 'conscious'?
It is certainly an entity.
It is far from haphazard.
It certainly continues to evolve.

You say environmentalists fear change, but you hang onto the very recent ideas of progress and techno-optimism with a drowning man's tenacity, ideas which have emerged only in the merest blink of the history of Gaia.

You do so at great length.
Vaya con Gaia
ed

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  • 12.
  • At 05:01 PM on 01 Jun 2006,
  • Euan Gray wrote:

Are you seriously postulating that the Earth has some conscious intellect? And do you expect to be taken at all seriously in this?

Of course it is haphazard. If you think it's not, perhaps you could speak to the plan which has produced the current range of species and conditions. If there is no plan, it is haphazard. If it is not haphazard, there must be a plan. So where's the plan?

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  • 13.
  • At 05:03 PM on 01 Jun 2006,
  • sheila hillier wrote:

I ,too, was confused by "medalling".

If they had written "meddling", I would have understood. Historically, the Great Fen was the haunt of some rather unpleasant human life - gangs of robbers holed up there. Hope the future plans don't include that !

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I didn't say Gaia was conscious, only asked how you (or anyone) knew it wasn't. As to haphazard and 'plan',

"`When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, `it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less.'"

There may (or not) be a plan, but there is certainly a pattern, and many patterns therein. Haphazard?

Vaya con Gaia
ed

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  • 15.
  • At 06:37 PM on 01 Jun 2006,
  • Euan Gray wrote:

The definition of "haphazard" from American Heritage Dictionaries:

"Dependent upon or characterized by mere chance." There's no "whatever I want it to mean" about it, Ed. Either there's a plan or it's haphazard. As for pattern, perhaps you're getting confused between a plan producing pattern on the one hand and on the other a pattern suggesting the existence of a plan - you're simply saying post hoc, ergo propter hoc. Just because something exhibits a pattern does not mean there is a plan behind it.

As to consciousness, the reason that I - and I suspect the vast majority of people - say there is no conscious "Gaia" is that there is no known plausible mechanism by which such a thing could exist. Using the principle of Occam's razor, one concludes that the idea of an inanimate Earth devoid of conscious mind is far preferable to the absurd notion of Gaia as a sentient entity. The burden is on you if you think otherwise.

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The idea of an inanimate Earth is absurd.

The idea of an animate Earth devoid of conscious mind makes you and me unconscious. We can neither encompass that by which we are contained, nor can we comprehend it. Through you and me, if in no other way, the Earth is conscious.

Read some Gregory Bateson. As to plans, Lovelock plainly demonstrates no dependence upon such a thing for Gaia to exist. He spends an inordinate amount of energy on denying teleology.

vaya con Gaia (there is little choice)
ed

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  • 17.
  • At 07:57 PM on 01 Jun 2006,
  • Euan Gray wrote:

The planet is a ball of molten rock and metal 13,000km in diameter with a thin solid crust upon which various species live. The planet itself is not alive, however, and there is no plausible mechanism by which it could be. If you think it is, describe its life cycle - what does it eat, what excrete, what breath, what is the postulated mechanism for these processes to take place?

The fact that conscious minds have evolved on the planet does not mean that the planet itself has a conscious mind, nor can it possibly be said in any meaningful sense that the evolution of conscious intellect on the Earth makes the Earth itself conscious. Nor can it be said that an absence of a conscious Earth makes man unconscious - there is simply no connection there. If you think there is, what is it?

Did the Moon, devoid of life, suddenly become conscious when conscious astronauts step onto it? If so, how? If not, why not? There's nobody there now, so is it still conscious?

Your argument is essentially religious. Basically you're saying "Gaia" is a living entity, it's conscious if only because we're conscious, you can't explain why or how this happens because it's too big for us, but we'd better believe it because some bloke you think is clever said so.

Explain what exactly is the difference between that and saying God exists and is a living conscious entity, He must be because we are here and we needed to be created, but you can't explain how or why this happens because God is too big for us to understand but we'd better believe it because some blokes you think are right wrote this down in the Bible? What is the difference of kind in these two arguments?

As I said before, environmentalism is the new religion. God is too silly a concept for modern man, one assumes, therefore we need a new metaphysical concept, a new crutch of a superior form which we'd better obey, worship, respect or grovel before.

No thanks.

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Euan
Glad to know you can say you're a total materialist so efficiently.

You may say my argument is essentially religious, but I consider it essentially respectful of what I cannot know. I consider your absolute and fundamentalist materialism indistinguishable from any other blind faith.

Vaya con Gaia
ed

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  • 19.
  • At 08:23 PM on 01 Jun 2006,
  • Euan Gray wrote:

But you CAN know these things. Through sciences such as geology, biology, chemistry and physics we can understand perfectly well the mechanisms by which things live, die and evolve. There isn't a lot of mystery there, so why add metaphysical nonsense just because you don't, won't or can't understand technical issues?

I'm not a materialist. I'm just not gullible enough to get suckered into the New Age touchy-feely Gaia lunacy, nor do I feel the need to anthropomorphise or reify things bigger than me or which I have difficulty understanding.

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Tell me about life, then. Describe exactly how it happens.
xx
ed

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  • 21.
  • At 08:59 PM on 01 Jun 2006,
  • Euan Gray wrote:

What do you mean, how life happens? You mean how it works? How it arose? Why living things live and then die? How it evolves?

The origins aren't known for certain, but the most likely hypothesis thus far appears to be the creation of organic molecules, especially amino acids, from inert sterile gas and water mixtures. You may wish to look up Stanley Miller's experiment. Compare also the type and proportions of amino acids found in the Murchison meteorite - the same as in Miller's experiment. This strongly suggests these basic building blocks are not exactly hard to make.

Next step is the combination of simple amino acids into proteins and the combination of proteins into complex molecules like precursors of RNA and DNA. Metallic catalysis on a clay substrate seems a very good candidate for this, and it is known that like processes do in fact happen predictably. Certainly clays are good at helping the construction of protein polymers, and that's at the most fundamental level what RNA is.

Going from there to what we might recognise as life is the next step, although it's hard to agree on what is and is not life. Is a virus alive? A yeast? But once you've got replicating forms using external energy sources you for all practical purposes have life.

The evolution of complex multicellular life is next, and from here onwards the process is pretty much known and is the same process of selection of random genetic mutations still observed today. Evolution on the genetic level is undisputed fact, and the evolution of species is not seriously disputed but is not quite at the level of fact.

So how does Gaia work?

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Has anyone made life? You admit the answer is unknown, but you said we could know everything.

How do you create life? What's the difference between something living and something dead? What's gone?

Life is a miracle.
xx
ed

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  • 23.
  • At 09:34 PM on 01 Jun 2006,
  • Euan Gray wrote:

As far as I'm aware no-one has made life, in the sense of directly creating a living organism from inert chemicals. I suspect, though, that it is only a matter of (not very much) time before someone does this.

When I say we can know, I do not mean we *do* know, merely that we can. I submit that this is more reasonable than a combination of Luddism and metaphysical speculation.

The difference between life and non-life is a tricky question, as I suggested already in the case of yeast and virus. The departure of life is perhaps easier to define, being the general cessation of cellular activity within the organism. All that's "gone" is this activity, or perhaps more correctly the chemical processes which sustain it. There can be many reasons for this, but in the absence of disease the fundamental limit is that DNA only replicates a set maximum number of times, after which cells die and are not replaced, and when enough cells, or enough cells in specific subsystems, die without replacement then the organism is no longer able to sustain itself and a generalised cellular death occurs.

Whether life is a miracle or not is genuinely a religious position, although not one to which I am completely hostile. I think, though, that to say simply "it's miraculous" and leave it at that betrays a depressing lack of curiosity about these things, a fundamental lack of interest or ability to understand. You may as well say "God did it, end of story" and be done with it. I'd prefer to find out more, but I wouldn't be upset if it turned out God really did do it.

However, it really won't do to just say "life is a miracle" and leave it at that. This advances nothing and precludes rational investigation. We won't achieve anything - including fixing any supposed environmental problems - if we don't enquire, don't investigate and don't try to find out more.

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  • 24.
  • At 08:54 AM on 02 Jun 2006,
  • Marjorie Homer wrote:

A fascinating argument. Could I just add that as a system, with many subsystems (of which humans are one) we can be conscious (in the sense of self-aware) without the whole system being conscious. If we weren't conscious of course we wouldn't worry about whether we should allow natural selection to eliminate our species from the planet, or try to conserve a snap shot of a long line of evolution, whilst at the same time actively altering the systems upon which we depend.

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Thanks Marjorie from the line of great poets.

Euan,
"As far as I'm aware no-one has made life, in the sense of directly creating a living organism from inert chemicals. I suspect, though, that it is only a matter of (not very much) time before someone does this."

Like I said, a fundamentally materialistic view, and absolute faith in the abilities of science. I commend "Life is a Miracle" by Wendell Berry, for a further discussion of these matters. Mr Berry takes on E O Wilson, an eminent scientist in a far briefer essay than Mr Wilson's Consilience, which I also commend.

No doubt anyone can access reviews at the usual online booksellers or via giggle.

Happy reading as we all
vaya con Gaia (like it or not)
ed

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  • 26.
  • At 11:22 AM on 02 Jun 2006,
  • Euan Gray wrote:

Marjorie - Exactly, but with the proviso that although we depend on certain other subsystems for our existence it is NOT the case that ONLY those subsystems will permit our survival. We need clean water, for example, but we do not depend solely on natural supplies of the stuff since we can if necessary make our own. There are alternatives.

Ed - It's not fundamentally materialist nor does it display an absolute faith in the ability of science to speculate that the artificial creation of life is possible or even probable. There is no "life force" or vital essence, as it were, and there is no fundamental reason in principle why this cannot be done. Generally one finds in human society that if something can be done then sooner or later someone will do it. If you wish to take a mystical, metaphysical view of life as some miraculous thing then that's up to you, but it is somewhat at odds with reality.

What are you going to say when/if it happens? It's all a conspiracy or a lie?

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  • 27.
  • At 11:34 AM on 02 Jun 2006,
  • Simon wrote:

Some people prefer to believe there's something warm and fluffy waiting for us at the end of our time here on Earth. Strangely, these people are the first to point out the "miracle of life" as evidence for their belief, yet it seems to be the miracle of life after death they are more interested in.

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Euan,
"There is no "life force" or vital essence, as it were, and there is no fundamental reason in principle why this cannot be done."

Such confidence. Such certainty.
As to fluffy afterlives, I have no such hope nor do I consider it necessary to a proper respect, indeed awe, for the living world. The Greeks had a word for those who thought their knowlege complete - Hubris.

It is a modern epidemic
xx
ed

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  • 29.
  • At 12:26 PM on 02 Jun 2006,
  • Euan Gray wrote:

So, Ed, where is the life force? If you analyse a live organism and then analyse it again after it is dead, what difference do you find? What do you think is missing?

I think Simon makes a good point, which I'd amplify to say that many people appear to have a hard-wired need to believe in something bigger than themselves, whether this be God, Gaia or some other metaphysical concept. It strikes me that there are a huge number of parallels between theistic belief and belief in Gaia as some organism, force or entity. It just changes the name, the underlying concept is the same. Ed expects no fluffy afterlife, but substitutes for this the ineffable Gaia as his metaphysical crutch.

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Euan

"many people appear to have a hard-wired need to believe in something bigger than themselves,"

whereas others have a hard-wired mechanistic hubris that nothing is bigger than our capacity to encompass all knowlege.

You ask me where is the life force? Gone from the dead thing in your hand. Does that prove or disprove its existence. Something WAS there which neither you nor I can understand or create.

The parallels between systems of belief extend to your fundamentalist materialism as well. You have given plenty of evidence of your complete and unquestioning faith.

Vaya con Gaia
ed

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  • 31.
  • At 03:52 PM on 02 Jun 2006,
  • Euan Gray wrote:

Ed, you haven't answered a single question put to you other than to say "it's mystic, innit" and yet you say I am the one with the complete and unquestioning faith.

What, other than something you cannot understand, is this mystic "life force" you talk about? Could it not be that there is, in fact, no such thing and the reason that you cannot understand it is that you are trying to understand something that basically doesn't exist?

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You first used the term. I asked you to explian life. You remain unable to explain it - the difference between a bunch of chemistry and physics and a living thing. It either is there or it isn't and that is all the difference.
xx
ed

P.S. I never said "it's mystic innit", or anything similar. Please don't put words into my mouth.

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  • 33.
  • At 11:14 AM on 03 Jun 2006,
  • Euan Gray wrote:

Ed, life basically IS just a bunch of chemistry and physics.

Your view appears to be that it's not, that's it's something more miraculous, metaphysical. But you cannot explain this, and indeed you say you are unable to understand it. You ARE in effect saying "it's mystic, innit" and you're leaving it at that. I think you're trying to see in life something that simply is not there, which could be why you're unable to understand it.

There is no evidence, nor is there any reason to suppose, that there is anything at all more to life than simply a bunch of chemistry and physics. If you think otherwise, it will not do just to say it's miraculous, you need to say WHY it is or must be more than just physics. An argument from personal incredulity ("I cannot understand it, therefore it is miraculous") will not wash.

If you think there's more to life than physics, explain WHAT and WHY and HOW this should be so and WHY you think so on the basis of WHAT evidence. If you cannot or will not do that, you're just saying it's mystic, as I said.

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Neither chemistry nor physics has yet made anything live, and I do not share your confidence they can or will.

We are encompassed within the universe, and thus logically unable to encompass it, mentally, physically or otherwise, any more than The Economy can contain or control The Environment - a very common fallacy these days.

You are the one who is confused.
Bye
ed
Zeus was right. We weren't mature enough for fire.

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In response to Euan's demand that I describe what he terms a 'life force' or a viewpoint beyond the reductionist scientific (I have degree and post graduate experience of chemistry and human ecology, btw), I offer better words than mine as a partial answer:

"Needham describes it not so much as a force, but as a 'kind of natural curvature in time and space'.4

Like most later anarchists, the Taoists see the universe as being in a continuous state of flux. Reality is in a state of process; everything changes, nothing is constant. They also have a dialectical concept of change as a dynamic interplay as opposing forces. Energy flows continually between the poles of yin end yang. At the same time, they stress the unity and harmony of nature. Nature is self-sufficient and uncreated; there is no need to postulate a conscious creator. It is a view which not only recalls that of the Greek philosopher Heraclitus but coincides with the description of the universe presented by modern physics. Modern social ecology, which stresses unity in diversity, organic growth and natural order, further reflects the Taoist world-view.

The approach to nature recommended by Lao Tzu and the Taoists is one of receptivity. Where the Confucian wants to conquer and exploit nature, the Taoist tries to contemplate and understand it."

Sound familiar? Follow the link:
http://home.btconnect.com/tipiglen/taoanarchy.htm

Enjoy the weekend and the excellent weather. I've just scythed half an acre of Japanese Knotweed.
Vaya con Tao
ed
http://home.btconnect.com/tipiglen/tao.html

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  • 36.
  • At 05:19 PM on 03 Jun 2006,
  • Euan Gray wrote:

Ed, life IS chemistry. Please show one mechanism of a living creature which is not chemical. Just one.

It's very instructive to note that you cannot answer a single point put to you. You instead fall back on glib platitudes about how life is a miracle (it's actually entirely naturalistic), how we cannot comprehend something bigger than ourselves (in fact we can). Just because you may not understand some particular thing does not mean that no-one else can understand it, nor does it mean that no explanation is possible.

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  • 37.
  • At 12:13 AM on 04 Jun 2006,
  • Euan Gray wrote:

Ed, your post about Taoist philosophy and modish "social ecology" whilst fascinating does not actually come remotely close to any sort of reasonable explanation of what this supposed non-chemical life force is. Your view is of course fashionable, grounded as it is in Oriental mysticism and contrary to the currently derided western notion of rational enquiry, but unfortunately that doesn't mean it's actually correct.

I repeat my question - provide just one mechanism of a living creature which is not based in chemistry.

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Euan,
You seem incapable of not putting words in my mouth. Neither without chemistry or physics, but with something MORE - life.

From what I have gleaned from your postings you seem to be either quite young or very old and set in your ideas.

Did you note the comparison between Taoism and modern physics? I commen Frizjof Kapra's Tao of Physics. If you've got the time and mental flexibility.

Vaya con Gaia
ed

"But thou art far more blessed than me,
The present only toucheth thee,
But och, I backward cast my e'e
On prospects drear,
And forwadr, though I canna see,
I guess an' fear."

-Robert Burns, To a mouse.

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  • 39.
  • At 04:10 PM on 04 Jun 2006,
  • Euan Gray wrote:

Ed, it's all very well for someone to write of comparisons between physics and Tao philosophy, but it means nothing if there is in fact no connection.

So, have you figured out any mechanism of a living thing which isn't chemical in nature yet?

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  • 40.
  • At 12:52 AM on 21 Jun 2006,
  • Mike Orman wrote:

Very interesting discussion.
Does it matter whether life is explicable or not? Isn't what matters that we can see big problems looming for our own and for other species and doing nothing about it (as Euan seems to be suggesting) is just an impossibility for the beings that we are? In fact even making the decision to do nothing would be doing something.

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  • 41.
  • At 09:02 AM on 21 Jun 2006,
  • Euan Gray wrote:

Mike,

It's not a case of doing nothing about it. Rather, it is a case of doing something appropriate about the correct problem, and not pursuing entirely the wrong issues. If CO2 doesn't have the effect on warming the environmentalists say it does (and it appears not to), we are wasting our time, effort and money doing something about a thing that won't solve any problems. If the solar cycle is the true cause (and it appears to be), we cannot influence that and should rather take steps to mitigate something we cannot prevent.

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  • 42.
  • At 05:31 PM on 21 Jun 2006,
  • Euan Gray wrote:

I'd also add that if the climate changes, either hotter or colder, we will need more energy than at present. Even with no change, we should expect to need more energy to cope with increased fresh water demand, probably through desalination and quite possibly for food production.

The question becomes not one of reducing energy use - this is not realistic on any significant scale - but of producing more energy cleanly and using what we do produce reasonably efficiently. The latter point is most easily achieved by pricing, since it will be natural for individuals and businesses to reduce energy use as the energy cost increases. The former needs nuclear, whatever the hysterical and ill-informed anti-nuclear lobby might think. There isn't a practical alternative.

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  • 43.
  • At 12:35 AM on 24 Jun 2006,
  • Mike Orman wrote:

Euan,

I wouldn't claim to know whether climate change is being caused by humans or not but I think you would be in a very small minority if you take the view that it is not.
However I would be inclined to agree with you that trying to arrest it by cutting CO2 emissions might be futile.

Your view seems to be that we can go on with "business as normal" as long as we have sufficient energy and you advocate nuclear energy.
I think even if the energy problem were to be solved and the water problem too it wouldn't be a very enjoyable life living on a planet where humans had usurped every last acre for their own sustenance.
IMO, somehow we need to put a cap on human exploitation of the planet. Otherwise life will be hardly better than a prison for the vast majority of people.

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  • 44.
  • At 09:57 AM on 24 Jun 2006,
  • Euan Gray wrote:

Mike,

My view is that the human influence on climate change is likely to be negligible, since other factors are much more significant. I doubt very much that humanity has the capability to make that much difference. This is not, incidentally, a particularly uncommon view in scientific circles and it is simply not true to say that a "majority of scientists" support the anthropogenic thesis. I do not dispute that the climate is changing, I just don't agree with the notion that we are responsible.

Whether we are responsible or not, it seems likely enough that the climate is going through a period of change compared to the last 500 years or so. This being the case, we need to do something to cope with the change anf that will inescapably need more energy. The cleanest way of getting that energy is nuclear.

I think you over-estimate man's impact on the planet with your grim scenario of every last acre dedicated to our sustenance. Everyone blames America, but few recall that only something like 5% of the US land area is built on. People say we're running out of farmland, but forget that advances in farming technique are likely to *reduce* the acreage needed for crop growing, for the first time in all human history. It should also be borne in mind that increased prosperity beyond a certain point tends to depress reproduction rates, as is clearly seen in the prosperous west and in contrast is not seen in the less prosperous third world. The population question is largely self-answering. This of course makes it plain that the surest way of letting the population increase rapidly to the general detriment of all is to keep the third world poor, and the easiest way to do that is limit their energy use.

If you really want to wreck the planet, adopt the environmentalist agenda of resticting energy use and avoiding technological advance. If you want things to improve, let people use more energy and lift themselves out of squalor and poverty.

Perhaps most importantly, people so often forget that resource use changes and that we are not dependent on any single irreplaceable resource which has no alternatives, thus the idea of human exploitation of the planet resulting in its exhaustion is risible. As I've pointed out before, a few years ago we were going to run out of copper, but there is now a glut because we have shifted to fibre optics. Further, increasing scarcity promotes things like efficiency savings in resource use, recycling, search for cheaper alternatives, and so on.

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"As I've pointed out before, a few years ago we were going to run out of copper, but there is now a glut..."
Is that why the price has more than doubled in the last year?

"we are not dependent on any single irreplaceable resource which has no alternatives...", like water, air, living space, uranium, etc.?

"People say we're running out of farmland, but forget that advances in farming technique are likely to *reduce* the acreage needed for crop growing, for the first time in all human history." And this is totally dependent upon fossil-derived fertilisers and often sends more tonnage of topsoil downstream than of crops harvested. Talk of blind faith and superstitious beliefs!

"Ravish capacity: reap consequences.
Man claims the first a duty and calls what follows Tragedy.
Insult -- Backlash. Not even the universe can break
This primal link. Who, then, has the power
To put an end to tragedy? Only those who recognize
Hubris in themselves."
-- Garrett Hardin
http://home.btconnect.com/tipiglen/capacity.html

xx
ed

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  • 46.
  • At 04:20 PM on 24 Jun 2006,
  • Mike Orman wrote:

Euan,
Your ideas sound like they come from that Danish chap who wrote "The Skeptical Environmentalist", yes I remember now - Bjorn Lomborg (?)
I bet he's been a strong influence on you or perhaps you have influenced him?
It's easy enough to pick statistics out and use them to back up pre-judged ideas. I'm sure both sides in this discussion will have used such techniques many times.
For example, from what you have written,"only something like 5% of US land area is built on" This statistic gives a totally false impression to those who don't look at it too closely. It is obvious that the effects of that built environment stretch far beyond the 5% limits. North America does still have a lot of wilderness but "modern men" (i.e. those who went there from Europe) have only been there for a relatively short time so the speed of building is actually staggering. On top of that the environmental effects of those buildings and their occupiers stretch right round the globe to every region where aircraft are flown, foods are grown, minerals mined, oil wells sunk etc.

I have heard a similar misleading use of statistics from the road advocates who say "only 2% of UK land area is covered by roads." Quite likely true but you try finding a place away from traffic noise in this country. And remember that most people live near to a road so this noise impacts on most humans in a very insidious way.

As for "advances in farming techniques". No thanks. Where I live this means many fields covered with an oil-derived white fleece in spring to protect the crops. Quite apart from the high energy consumption of such methods this doesn't leave much space for wildlife.

You do "environmentalists" a great dis-service by claiming for them such a simplistic agenda as, "restricting energy use and avoiding technological advance" This may apply to some and indeed such a policy is not without its merits. (Did you see any of the "happiness formula" series of programmes on BBC1? www.bbc.co.uk/happinessformula) However, environmentalism is a broad church (with a degree of in-fighting) and the internet and related technologies create great opportunities for energy saving and resource use optimisation but you have to keep "the environment" in mind all the time as you develop their use.

I think your viewpoint could be described as optimistic for the future of humanity. Whilst the opposing view which I tend towards might be described as pessimistic. Of course what we need to find is a realistic perspective. Let's continue the discussion and hope lots more people join in so we can get a realistic agenda sorted out!

PS Why are you so keen on nuclear? If climate change is in your view not made much worse by our CO2 emissions what's wrong with "clean coal technology"?

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  • 47.
  • At 09:09 PM on 24 Jun 2006,
  • Euan Gray wrote:

Actually, Ed, one of the most promising agricultural advances is the increasing use of genetically modified food crops, already common enough in Europe and even more so in America. Needs less fertiliser and fewer acres. On the other hand, you can do it locally and "sustainably" if you wish, putting a greater strain on the land and producing less.

Mike - Yes, I am optimistic. I've heard too many of these gloom and doom environmental catastrophe theories over the decades, and have seen in many different places around the world the way people *actually* respond to threats challenges to be particularly worried about this latest one. In a few years, the green lobby will be banging on about another threat after AGW dies a death, just as they have done with all the others. Can't you see the pattern in their proclamations of doom?

As for nuclear power, I think it is preferable to clean coal because, frankly, it kills far fewer people, simply because far less material has to be mined and transported. Nuclear power, whatever the hysterical gibberish spouted by the more extreme environmentalists, is safe, clean and efficient. What's not to like about it?

Remember the thousands that were going to die after Chernobyl? Didn't happen, the directly attributable death toll is IIRC 56. What happened to all the others? Oh, yes, now it's clarified that they are *predicted* deaths *estimated* to *maybe* happen in the future *possibly* as a result, but of course nobody said that at the time. Unimpressive - the past 20 years has shown, yet again, that the environmentalist doom-mongers are plain wrong.

So, what's wrong with nuclear? And why?

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Mike,
Thanks for your thoughts.

Euan,
"one of the most promising agricultural advances is the increasing use of genetically modified food crops, already common enough in Europe and even more so in America. Needs less fertiliser and fewer acres. On the other hand, you can do it locally and "sustainably" if you wish, putting a greater strain on the land and producing less."

This is totally unsupported assertion, unless you can provide chapter and verse. Show me greater yields with less fertiliser and fewer acres. I can certainly provide evidence of such gains using 'organic' methods. Try Vandana Shiva:
http://www.zmag.org/bios/homepage.cfm?authorID=90

I doubt you can show it with GMOs and chemical fertilisers, even via 'no-till' methods involving herbicides, but feel free to give us some references.

Vaya con Gaia

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  • 49.
  • At 12:34 PM on 26 Jun 2006,
  • Mike Orman wrote:

I may make this my last post here as I don't think many people appear to be reading this forum judging by the low number of contributors.

Euan,
Go on, tell the truth you actually are Bjorn Lomborg, aren't you?

The doom and gloom mongers have done us all a favour,IMO. Without their warnings on pollution, nuclear weapons, oil depletion, habitat destruction and so on, we would now be in an even worse position than we are because nothing would have been done. There would still be smog in London, the nuclear arms race would be continuing uncontrolled, cars would still be using leaded fuel at 20mpg, biodiversity would be even more threatened (if such a situation is imaginable). Without the doom mongers the world would be a very different place.
The evolution of human interaction with the other elements of the biosphere is an ongoing process and there will, sadly, never come a time when it will be safe to rest on our laurels. Too much optimism would be highly dangerous by leading to complacency.

The effects of Chernobyl cannot be measured simply as "how many deaths?" The effects are ongoing and yes they are difficult to assess. Additionally it has recently emerged that the concrete shell in which the exploded reactor is encased is disintegrating and will have to be strengthened/renewed. I think this may be due in part to the radiation from inside. Even if the shell can be repaired or renewed, it is discouraging that this process will have to be repeated so soon and presumably again every couple of decades for who knows how long.
Your rhetorical question, "what's wrong with nuclear?" I will not address as it has been fully covered in far more detail than I could ever hope to read a tenth of and any casual reader here would not need to use a search engine more than once to discover more than he could ever hope to have time to digest.
I was not advocating "clean coal" as "the answer", incidentally, rather trying to find out why you preferred nuclear. Your answer has not effected any change in my thinking.

Hi Ed. Unless more people get involved here I may leave Euan and yourself to slug it out. Apologies, low energy, short of time etc.
Mike.

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  • 50.
  • At 10:40 PM on 05 Dec 2006,
  • Jimmy wrote:

Thanks for the article its helped me alot with some school work but, Could you please tell me the negatives and positives of the accident??

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  • 51.
  • At 06:32 PM on 29 Dec 2006,
  • James Nierinck wrote:

Greetings all,

I have a brief question and i was wondering if anyone can help me with it....At the top of the article, it says that there is going to be a blog concerning the Wicken Fen 100 year vision project- and I was wondering if this has started up, and if not, how can we get it started?

Regards

James

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