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'Playing God' with the climate?

Richard Black | 15:34 UK time, Friday, 21 May 2010

Biotech supremo Craig Venter's latest foray into "synthetic life" is raising all sorts of questions within the domain of medical and scientific ethics.

One of the potential uses which he's looking at for synthetic bacteria - sucking carbon dioxide from the atmosphere - potentially also breaks new ground in the ethics of human effects on the natural world.

Craig_VenterDr Venter's proposed CO2-suckers, if they ever materialise, would basically constitute a new entry into the field of geo-engineering - using technology to ameliorate human-induced climate change.

Existing proposals include those with a notion of biology, such as using iron filings to stimulate the growth of oceanic plants or switching to growing crops with reflective leaves.

But most lie firmly in the physical domain - whitening roofs, putting a giant sunshade in space, or spraying the atmosphere with dust to mimic the sun-reflecting and planet-cooling effect of volcanic eruptions.

What should we call Dr Venter's vision? "Bio-geo-engineering"? "Geno-geo-engineering"?

If you tend towards apocalyptic thoughts, here's one for you: out-of-control CO2-sucking bacteria that multiply beyond measure, hoovering up every last molecule of the stuff and leaving none for plants and trees.

OK, it's a bit Night of the Living Dead, I know - but even if your thoughts don't run in a B-movie direction, you might conclude that here is a technology that would require a great deal of contained research and soul-searching and international agreement before it was ever let loose on the natural world.

So far, the international community of nations has been lagging behind the entrepreneurism of start-up geo-engineering visionaries.

Ocean fertilisation was first out of the blocks, with universities and research institutions mounting so far a dozen or so field investigations over the last decade, with mixed results - and with at least two companies, Climos and Planktos, aiming to use the approach commercially.

Ocean_cloud_shipA couple of weeks ago, The Times reported that Bill Gates was funding a project co-ordinated by the San Francisco-based Silver Lining Project that would trial cloud-building - sucking up water from the sea and spraying it into the air, providing nuclei for the formation of clouds that would reflect solar energy back into space.

As Ben Webster noted in his article:

"The British and American scientists involved do not intend to wait for international rules on technology that deliberately alters the climate.
 
"They believe that the weak outcome of December's climate summit in Copenhagen means that emissions will continue to rise unchecked and that the world urgently needs an alternative strategy to protect itself from global warming."

Russia, too, is seeing the beginnings of real-life geo-engineering experiments.

Last summer, Yuri Izrael - a former deputy chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and a senior governmental adviser - oversaw experiments that injected sulphate aerosol dust into the atmosphere at low levels, and claimed to see a reduction in solar energy transmitted to the Earth's surface.

I'm told that this summer, the Russian group may try larger experiments that involve ejecting the dust from the back of a plane.

Why senior Russian advisers should be interested in this technology isn't immediately obvious, given that Russia is more lukewarm than most other countries to the idea of curbing global warming, and given that ex-President Vladimir Putin has spoken of the benefits that a bit of warming could bring to his nation.

Irrespective of the whys and wherefores though, the point is that geo-engineering research is happening, here and now.

So far it's been on a fairly small scale. But at some point, if you're talking about technologies with the potential to have a planet-wide effect, you have to move out into the big field - and if you take the IPCC's projections seriously, you'd need to start doing it soon.

How any such large-scale research projects should be evaluated, regulated and monitored - and who should control such undertakings - is an issue that's slowly emerging into the daylight.

The American Enterprise Institute, for example, argues that there should be no real international participation, either in the technology itself or in making rules that would regulate it.

The institute's Lee Lane recently blogged:

"About 40% of the world's population, mostly those in very poor countries, has not even heard of climate change; therefore, insisting on proof of global informed consent as a precondition for testing climate engineering amounts to saying that climate engineering can never be tested."

He continues:

"The US constitution enjoins our government to promote the general welfare, and the context is clearly a national one. A US government that allowed abstract notions of global informed consent to block action needed to protect Americans from harm would soon find itself out of office - and rightly so."

Others argue that all the world's peoples are absolutely entitled to have a say in issues that may affect them markedly.

Sun_shield_in_spaceLast year, a paper in Science contended that sun-obstructing technologies could increase drought. And if aerosol deployment in northern Asia, for example, affected the monsoon further south, shouldn't countries such as India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Nepal have a say in whether the aerosols are deployed or not?

Three years ago, the London Convention, which deals with maritime pollution, declared that deployment of ocean fertilisation should not happen yet: a yes to research, but a no to actual use for the time being.

Since then, the UN biodiversity convention has tightened the line, requesting governments:

"... to ensure that ocean fertilisation activities do not take place until there is an adequate scientific basis on which to justify such activities, including assessing associated risks, and a global, transparent and effective control and regulatory mechanism is in place for these activities; with the exception of small scale scientific research studies within coastal waters."

This had practical ramifications for the German/Indian Lohafex expedition, which endured an on-off existence even as the Polarstern research ship was on its way to dump six tonnes of iron filings into the Southern Ocean (with negligible results, in the end).

For the last two weeks, government delegates have been meeting in Nairobi to make recommendations for measures that should go before October's summit of the UN biodiversity convention.

For the first time in an international treaty organisation, there is a concrete move [58Kb PDF] to go beyond iron fertilisation and apply international oversight across the field - including, presumably, anything that Dr Venter or his genome-engineering peers might come up with.

It tells governments to ensure...

"...that no climate-related geo-engineering activities take place until there is an adequate scientific basis on which to justify such activities and appropriate consideration of the associated risks for the environment and biodiversity and associated social, economic and cultural impacts."

In the time-honoured way of UN matters, the paragraph is swaddled in square brackets, so isn't universally approved - Canada was reportedly leading opposition - but it's likely to receive some kind of airing, if not resolution, in October.

Critics could certainly say it looks vague as it stands - does the word "activities" encompass research, for example, and if so, at what scales?

You could also argue that the potential risks of geo-engineering affect much more than biodiversity, and ask why, therefore, it should be dealt with under this convention.

Activists, though, were delighted that the step had been taken, Neth Dano of the ETC Group commenting:

"Big industry and big science increasingly want to press ahead with geo-engineering either as a 'plan B' or a free pass to avoid reducing emissions.
 
"It's the big lie that lets them pretend that we can all carry on flying, driving, and consuming- business as usual!"

So there it is: the gauntlet has been laid down to those who argue that research into and deployment of geo-engineering should be left to the world's major powers and the companies that reside in those nations.

But if it's accepted, would that mean research slows to a snail's pace, risking the corollary that if and when we find the Earth needs a sunshield in space, we won't be ready to build one?

Comments

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  • 1. At 4:12pm on 21 May 2010, Barry Woods wrote:

    When I saw 'The Road' I imagined the unexplained disaster in the film, to be a geo-engineering attempt at controlling CO2 having gone disastrously wrong... ie out of control removing all the co2 and consequently plant life dying...


    What if, AGW is all a delusion, a very small minor effect of additional man made co2, still with no evidence of actually having any distinguishable effect on the climate (no proved human signature identified)

    just one scientific theory, hyped up beyond all observational evidence, used by evry political/pressure group for their own intentions...

    How much funding that could have been spent on real issues, has been wasted on AGW delusions.

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  • 2. At 4:26pm on 21 May 2010, LabMunkey wrote:

    second picture. cloud ships.

    already debunked due to serious issue with the maths.

    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2010/05/12/every-silver-lining-has-a-cloud/#more-19413

    really lazy journalism there richard.

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  • 3. At 5:04pm on 21 May 2010, ghostofsichuan wrote:

    Nature did a pretty good job in the development of our environment and evolution. There are two issues: 1) to limit the negative impacts of human development on the environment and, 2) the creation of new biological and chemical entities that will be introduced in the environment. The law of unintended consequences makes the second issue one that should be developed with caution. Many early introductions have been found to be hazardous to health and the environment and the public ends up being the "canary in the coal mine."
    Random discoveries and directed discoveries are often pushed forward based on commerical applications and the consequences are downplayed until the realities of death and harm are apparent. Science is always a two-headed coin and the human approach has been to alter the natural pocesses rather than return to a state where the natural processes work in the way they have. As governments attempt to tax the air rather than address the source of the issues there is little sign that human ego will not proceed down the path of trail and error and as in medicine, the treatment being as harmful as the condition.

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  • 4. At 5:51pm on 21 May 2010, Jack Hughes wrote:

    There's some crazy logic in these people's heads.

    The idea that the "weak outcome of December's climate summit in Copenhagen" gives anyone the green light to embark on these schemes is just weird.

    The Copenhagen bunch decided that doing nothing was the best option - and I agree.

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  • 5. At 5:58pm on 21 May 2010, Jack Hughes wrote:

    BBC radio programme about Rare Earth Metals running out very soon.

    These metals are vital ingredients in electric batteries, dynamos, magnets - the building blocks of the "green hi-tech future". Except that they are going to run out soon. And the Chinese have a stranglehold on supplies.



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  • 6. At 6:06pm on 21 May 2010, Brunnen_G wrote:

    This comment has been referred for further consideration. Explain

  • 7. At 6:11pm on 21 May 2010, ChangEngland wrote:

    For the attention of Barry woods: (#1)

    The next plot of your sea ice "recovery" graph:

    http://climateprogress.org/2010/05/21/arctic-sea-ice-area-extent-volume-record-low/

    ...

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  • 8. At 6:25pm on 21 May 2010, CanadianRockies wrote:

    This is scientific hubris gone completely over the top. This so-called synthetic biology goes far beyond "the domain of medical and scientific ethics."

    And Richard greatly understates its potential consequences to say that it "potentially also breaks new ground in the ethics of human effects on the natural world."

    The same is true in spades for this whole concept of geoengineering.

    Pandora's box. Mad Scientists.

    When I read things like this I realize how totally insane the world is and am very, very happy to be retired and leav




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  • 9. At 6:37pm on 21 May 2010, manysummits wrote:

    As patriotism may well be the last refuge of the scoundrel,

    so geo-engineering is too.

    I am categorically opposed - in the sense that it is presently envisaged - as an alternative to emissions reductions, reforestation, restoring the Earth's natural systems.

    We are learning, or we will be shortly - to be humble in the face of Nature's fury.

    As Bill Tilman - sailor - pointed out - being on the face of the deep in a small boat brings to one the salutary emotion of respect.

    - Manysummits -

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  • 10. At 6:41pm on 21 May 2010, bowmanthebard wrote:

    When you hear people talking about us "running out of oxygen" because the "pollutant" CO2 is soaking it all up out of the atmosphere, you've gotta be a bit worried in case these lunatics don't get into positions where they can actually DO anything.

    Apart from all the usual individual worries about money, health, etc., I'd say the only thing that really worries me at the moment is the possibility that ecologists will eventually manage to DO something! In the name of all that is holy, let it never happen!

    That amusing Newsweek article doing the rounds about the horrors of global cooling mentions one of the proposed solutions: spreading soot over the ice caps to absorb more heat from sunlight.

    Nothing changes, does it? Apart from the direction the crazies are pointing in, that is.

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  • 11. At 6:58pm on 21 May 2010, thefrogstar wrote:

    If Craig Venter put leather seats in a Ford Escort and said a cow had given birth to a car then some people would believe him.

    And Greenpeace would get on top of a soap box and starting droning on about keeping gearboxex out of the food chain. And the same people would believe them too.

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  • 12. At 7:22pm on 21 May 2010, bowmanthebard wrote:

    #11 thefrogstar wrote: "...some people would believe him."

    Interesting. Is it all a fabrication do you think?

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  • 13. At 7:23pm on 21 May 2010, Barry Woods wrote:

    7. At 6:11pm on 21 May 2010, ChangEngland wrote:
    For the attention of Barry woods: (#1)

    The next plot of your sea ice "recovery" graph:

    http://climateprogress.org/2010/05/21/arctic-sea-ice-area-extent-volume-record-low/

    It goes up it goes down..
    Is that any evidence of anything other than natural oscillations of the artic ice..

    As has been said, it compares to an avergae period, no one has any idea whether that 'average period' is a high low or average over the much longer term..

    If the artic is ice free, or much thicker... still no actual EVIDENCE - ie proof than man has anything to do with it..

    ie someone actually does some real science..


    30 years of satellite records, vs hundreds of maritime,

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  • 14. At 7:47pm on 21 May 2010, Brunnen_G wrote:

    The Arctic being ice free is about as likely as anything other than hysteria everytime there is a scientific breakthrough of some kind.

    Remember all the prophesies of doom and black holes surrounding the Large Hadron Collider? Now we have to listen to morons predict 'Frankenstien' bacteria will consume all the CO2 in the atmosphere.

    Same song, different tune.

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  • 15. At 7:58pm on 21 May 2010, Brunnen_G wrote:

    And just because I'm new on here, what's going on with #6? That post is 2 hours old and I haven't heard anything...

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  • 16. At 8:20pm on 21 May 2010, Barry Woods wrote:

    Follow up: (from Bishop Hill comments:)
    http://bishophill.squarespace.com/blog/2010/5/19/the-idea-of-oxburgh.html?currentPage=3#comments
    ie millions of dollars of funds wasted on malaria - climate change
    probably to the detriment of REAL malaria prevention/research.

    I see the malaria study by Peter Gething in Nature has caused quite a stir.

    http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v465/n7296/abs/nature09098.html

    In particular, it has upset Matthew Thomas, researcher at Pennsylvania State University.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/may/21/climate-change-insects

    You may ask who is Matthew Thomas?

    Well he is Professor of Entomology, at Penn State's Center for Infectious Disease Dynamics, who explores explores the ecology and evolution of "enemy-victim" interactions (malaria).

    In 2009 he published a paper; Paaijmans, KP, Read, AF & Thomas, MB (2009). Understanding the link between malaria risk and climate. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 106:13844-13849.

    The Nature study by Peter Gething clearly debunks any serious link between malaria risk and climate. No wonder Matthew Thomas is angry. Gething has attacked his academic credentials, he could put Thomas out of the climate change business.

    Now you may argue that is not really important.

    Well it is really important to Thomas, Penn State and others. For you see Thomas was awarded a very large grant last year; “2009-2013 Quantifying the influence of environmental temperature on transmission of vector-borne diseases, NSF-EF [Principal Investigator: M. Thomas; Co-Investigators: R.G. Crane, M.E. Mann, A. Read, T. Scott (Penn State Univ.)] $1,884,991"

    $1,884,991 is a lot of money to be investigating the influence of environmental temperature on malaria when such influence has now been shown to be of little consequence. It is interesting to note that you could buy a lot medicine and nets with $1.8 million.

    More intriguingly is the name of one of the co-investigators - M.E. Mann.

    Now that couldn't be Michael E Mann of Hockey Stick fame, could it? Oh yes it is!

    Now you see why it is so important for Penn State to discredit Gething's study.

    Mann provides the temperatures, Thomas provides the link with malaria and Penn pockets the money.
    -----------------------------------------------------------

    As the climategate emails show:

    Michael Mann has Richard Blacks phone number....

    (He was going to give Richard a ring, because BBC's Paul Hudson, wrote an article, whatever happened to global warming - how dare he 2 months before copenhagen)
    So, I guess Richard will have Michael Mann's phone number

    May I ask the BBC to investigate?

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  • 17. At 8:36pm on 21 May 2010, CPslashM wrote:

    AFAIK, the sunlight coming in isn't a problem. It causes water to evaporate so that rain falls and shines on green stuff so that food grows.

    The problem is the amount of infra red (not) going out.

    Blocking or reflecting the sunlight high up to mitigate the latter will have adverse affects on the benefits of the former.

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  • 18. At 8:57pm on 21 May 2010, bowmanthebard wrote:

    #9 manysummits wrote:

    "As patriotism may well be the last refuge of the scoundrel,
    so geo-engineering is too."

    I'm genuinely relieved to hear this. I thought you guys were all mad for innovation -- anything to stave off (what you think is) the impending apocalypse.

    What's kind of funny about "man-made bacteria to absorb CO2" is that it would simply be doing what plants do already. Minus the beauty and large-scale structure. It would just be man-made green slime all over the place (as if it isn't all over the place already).

    Here's the funny thing: one of the earliest forms of life was so-called "blue-green algae", which sounds a lot like green slime, but is apparently badly mis-named. So it turns out that man makes life in his own (wrong) image of how life started!

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  • 19. At 9:26pm on 21 May 2010, Barry Woods wrote:


    a couple of extracts from:

    http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2010/may/19/nero-was-hotter-than-al-gore/

    According to the study, the "reconstructed water temperatures for the Roman Warm Period in Iceland are higher than any temperatures recorded in modern times." The heat lasted from approximately 230 B.C. to 140 A.D. After that, temperatures rose and fell over time with a second peak taking place during the better-known Medieval Warm Period.

    And:

    The punishment for failure to render carbon sacrifice is environmental disaster, according to the alarmist movement's high priest, Al Gore.

    The following easily could be a passage from his book "Earth in the Balance" describing the consequence of failure to act on climate change:

    "Either the scorching sun burns up your fields, or sudden rains or frosts destroy your harvests, or a violent wind carries away all before it."

    Inconveniently for Mr. Gore, the Roman poet Lucretius expressed those sentiments around 50 B.C. That's because weather back then was just as hot - or hotter - and as extreme as it is today

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  • 20. At 9:56pm on 21 May 2010, jr4412 wrote:

    Richard Black.

    "..but even if your thoughts don't run in a B-movie direction, you might conclude that here is a technology that would require a great deal of contained research and soul-searching and international agreement before it was ever let loose on the natural world."

    "would require", yes, but pressure from investors will see to it being commercialised at the earliest opportunity.

    while I realise that you are bound by the BBCs rules and reg's, a little exploration of the potential for misuse of this technology would have been welcome.

    personally -- you won't be surprised to learn :-) -- I'm with CanadianRockies (#8) on this: "Pandora's box".

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  • 21. At 10:01pm on 21 May 2010, jr4412 wrote:

    Barry Woods #16.

    also on previous blog: 513. At 3:58pm on 21 May 2010.

    I'm sure that reporting on developments as you do is important to you, but is it really worth repeating??

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  • 22. At 10:36pm on 21 May 2010, JaneBasingstoke wrote:

    Yay. Sceptics discover Craig "he is the human genome" Venter, and start grumbling about mad scientists.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2002/apr/28/medicalscience.research

    LOL

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  • 23. At 11:16pm on 21 May 2010, bowmanthebard wrote:

    #22 JaneBasingstoke wrote:

    "Yay. Sceptics discover Craig "he is the human genome" Venter, and start grumbling about mad scientists."

    Would you mind explaining yourself a bit more here? I'm sure you see something funny, and I'll bet I'll see it as funny too -- when I see what you're talking about!

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  • 24. At 11:40pm on 21 May 2010, blunderbunny wrote:

    @JaneBasingstoke

    Personally, I think it's fairly cool stuff. Not sure why other sceptics would be jumping up and down about it either (generally, we're all pro-science), it strikes me that it's the green and god lobby that would be upset..... not us

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  • 25. At 11:47pm on 21 May 2010, melty wrote:

    Barry Woods (#19) cirtes a Wash. Times editorial that is laughable. It says:

    "A study published in the March 8 edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (sic; should be Sciences, plural)..."

    I went looking for the article but could find no March 8 edition. All PNAS articles are free folks! Just go here. Checked the March 9 edition: no dice.

    Anyway this is irrelevant. There were less than 200 million people on the planet in Roman times: now there are more than 6.5 BILLION, capable of vastly increased environmental impacts.

    Earth 2 WT: Don't Be Evil.

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  • 26. At 11:50pm on 21 May 2010, JaneBasingstoke wrote:

    @bowmanthebard #22

    Sorry Bowman, forgot you don't like clicking links.

    This is not the first time Venter has been in the news.

    Back in early 2001 there was a big announcement. The human genome had been sequenced by both the public Human Genome Project and a commercial organisation run by Craig Venter called Celera Genomics.

    Celera's version was supposed to be the DNA of multiple different anonymous human beings. But in 2002 Craig Venter announced that most of it was his own personal DNA.

    His Celera colleagues were not best pleased when they found out, but not entirely surprised.

    New Scientist links are working, you may prefer them to the Guardian
    http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn412-code-clash.html
    http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn2227-celera-human-genome-largely-the-bosss.html

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  • 27. At 11:52pm on 21 May 2010, CanadianRockies wrote:

    Well, this is unusual.

    I find myself in agreement with manysummits (#9). Now that's "unprecedented" as they say.

    And with jr4412 (#20), though that's less of a surprise since we have agreed before on some points while agreeing to disagree on the big ones.

    But, like bowmanthebard, I'm baffled as to what JaneBasingstoke's comment (#22) is supposed to mean, and her comments are usually rather clear.

    So Jane, I'll guess. Are you trying to pigeonhole sceptics in some way? If you are you have missed the whole point, at least from my perspective. Like most people here, I'm guessing, I have heard of this guy before. But there is zero comparison between the genome project and this latest step toward 'synthetic biology.' Sort of like the difference between nuclear power and nuclear warfare.

    I definitely consider it Mad Scientist material because of the risks it poses. Even if it is just Accidental Mad Scientist. And scientists are just humans working in science, as fallible and corruptible as anyone else.

    And, in my opinion, the potential rewards are simply not worth the potential risks.

    And what are the potential rewards supposed to be?

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  • 28. At 00:10am on 22 May 2010, JaneBasingstoke wrote:

    @blunderbunny #24
    (@bowmanthebard)
    (@CanadianRockies)

    I'm having trouble with the term "synthetic" for this new bug.

    Apparently it's a normal bug, except that its original DNA has been replaced with "synthetic" DNA. And the "synthetic" DNA was made by a DNA sequencer using exactly the same sequence that is found in this type of bacterium, combined with some non-coding markers to identify the DNA. Which surely makes this "synthetic" DNA functionally indistinguishable from the natural DNA on which it is based.

    So rather than describing it as "synthetic" it might better be described as a technology that allows this type of bacterium to have its DNA hacked, and so far they haven't actually changed the functional part of the sequence from the natural one.

    More detailed explanation here.
    http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn18942-immaculate-creation-birth-of-the-first-synthetic-cell.html

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  • 29. At 00:11am on 22 May 2010, manysummits wrote:

    Not all scientists are mad - I hope!

    "Only fools find joy in the prospect of climate engineering...

    There is a sense of despair that we are not seeing deep emissions cuts quickly, and that is pushing us to consider these things."

    - Ken Caldeira; Special Report - Geoengineering; New Scientist; 28 February 2009.

    - Manysummits -

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  • 30. At 00:17am on 22 May 2010, manysummits wrote:

    Here is a very good article from Nature; vol 458; 30 April 2009; p1097-1100, by Oliver Morton:

    Great White Hope"

    http://www.nature.com/news/2009/090429/full/4581097a.html

    - Manysummits -

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  • 31. At 00:21am on 22 May 2010, JaneBasingstoke wrote:

    @CanadianRockies #27

    You don't consider tricking his colleagues into sequencing his own personal DNA first among all humans mad scientist material?

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  • 32. At 00:22am on 22 May 2010, JaneBasingstoke wrote:

    @CanadianRockies #27

    And then making sure the world knew all about it?

    http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn2227-celera-human-genome-largely-the-bosss.html

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  • 33. At 00:28am on 22 May 2010, JaneBasingstoke wrote:

    @blunderbunny #24
    (@bowmanthebard)
    (@CanadianRockies)

    Correction to my #28

    There is a functional difference in the DNA of the new bug. Some of the genes were taken out because the original bug causes disease in goats.

    I'd still describe it as looking like a "natural" bug with minor hacks to its DNA.

    http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn18942-immaculate-creation-birth-of-the-first-synthetic-cell.html

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  • 34. At 00:31am on 22 May 2010, blunderbunny wrote:

    @melty

    Apparently an apt screen name, maybe something's been melted that shouldn't have been.

    If you had bothered to look around on the PNAS site you'd have found the article under the early content for March. I'd link to the pdf file itself, but the mods would get annoyed.

    So, as it seems as though intellectual capacity is no barrier to internet access, if you Google the following you will find the paper that you happily questioned the existence of:

    "Two millennia of North Atlantic seasonality and implications for Norse colonies"

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  • 35. At 00:35am on 22 May 2010, manysummits wrote:

    \\\ Blogging is like CO2 - A Climate Forcing ///

    Before geo-engineering, there are a few preliminary things we could do, discounting for the moment the Hartwell approach:

    From Al Gore's "Our Choice" (2009)

    1) Up until the 1970's, de-forestation was probably the leading cause of CO2 emissions.
    (currently ~ 20 to 23 percent)

    2) Larry Linden, a forestry economics expert, has calculated that at "a $30/ton price on CO2," there would probably be an 80 percent reduction in deforestation, and at $20/T - a 60 percent reduction.

    (It's not clear to me if this is metric tons, or whether it is per ton of carbon, as opposed to CO2)

    - 'Forests,' chapter nine.

    - Manysummits -

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  • 36. At 00:37am on 22 May 2010, GeoffWard wrote:

    Richard,
    I have just recommended your blog as a haven of erudition, closely-argued logic, and good analytical sense .....
    Then you come up with this seriously under-researched piece!
    Lets hope that Nick Robinson fails to find the time to see this, your latest offering!
    Geoff.

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  • 37. At 00:52am on 22 May 2010, manysummits wrote:

    Here is what we should be doing:

    Bolivia seeks deep climate cuts for “Mother Earth”

    "(Alister Doyle, Reuters) – Bolivia’s president defended on Thursday draconian demands for rich nations to cut greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2017, saying tougher action was needed to save “Mother Earth”.

    Evo Morales said a U.N. climate pact should set a goal of quickly slashing such emissions and of limiting any rise in average world temperatures to 1 degree Celsius (1.8 F) above pre-industrial times — the toughest goals set by any nation."

    http://pwccc.wordpress.com/2010/05/21/bolivia-seeks-deep-climate-cuts-for-mother-earth/#more-2010

    - Manysummits -

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  • 38. At 00:57am on 22 May 2010, blunderbunny wrote:

    @JaneBasingstoke and others

    I thought it was just a synthetic copy, I didn't realise that it had been in anyway edited. Apparently to include James Joyce quotations........ go figure.... and people call me a geek!

    Been busy last few days, so I've been a bit remiss in checking the science news - mea culpa. By the way, I'm still not upset about either it or Venter. Given the stuff they've (whoever they are) already been playing with, synthetic life is just one of very many scary things.

    Personally, I'd be more worried about asteroids, comets, super volcanoes, flood plain basalts, stars on close approach, GRB’s and ice ages ;-)

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  • 39. At 01:01am on 22 May 2010, CanadianRockies wrote:

    JaneBasingstoke - Thanks for that info.

    #31, 32 - Seriously? That's news to me. Yes, that's mad, in a self-serving, self-glorifying, megalomaniacal kind of way. And he tricked them?

    All the more reason not to let this boy go any further.

    I'm somehow thinking of the movie 'The Boys From Brazil' - though not seriously.

    #28, 33 - I think those are just the baby steps. Once they become more emboldened with their techniques, and overconfident of their knowledge, it seems that people like Vetter would eagerly take the next step to "improve" things and go more truly "synthetic."

    And we don't really know the full consequences of 'hacking' that DNA to make it goat friendly... once it gets out in the real world. What's to stop these latest creations from evolving on their own, into who knows what?

    And back to that biodiversity blog, given all the agriculatural monocultures, one little glitch in 'improving' wheat, etc. could be not so good.

    I just think they are playing with things that are beyond their full understanding, and the consequences are science fiction material, and not necessarily the kind with a happy ending.

    They're just human. Accidents happen. Consequences are unintended. And we have enough natural invasive species problems already.

    And I still don't see the rewards. Make old geezers live to 150? Just what the overpopulated world needs. Save us from The Warming? Well...

    P.S. But I do like this term "CO2-suckers." That's got some real entertainment potential.

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  • 40. At 01:02am on 22 May 2010, manysummits wrote:

    "Others argue that all the world's peoples are absolutely entitled to have a say in issues that may affect them markedly."

    - Richard Black (this article)

    =====================

    Absolutely. What depraved state are we courting?

    The comments excerpted By Richard are definitely the words of Ben Okri's "barbarians at the highest levels of state" (or science).

    eg:

    "The US constitution enjoins our government to promote the general welfare, and the context is clearly a national one. A US government that allowed abstract notions of global informed consent to block action needed to protect Americans from harm would soon find itself out of office - and rightly so."

    - Lee Lane, American Enterprise Institute

    I would think it within the realm of possibility that any unilateral geo-engineering actions on a planetary scale could be considered an act of war.

    At the United Nations we now have an International Criminal Court.

    This might be right up their allay?

    - Manysummits -

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  • 41. At 01:05am on 22 May 2010, davblo wrote:

    Not only... CanadianRockies #27: "I definitely consider it Mad Scientist material because of the risks it poses. Even if it is just Accidental Mad Scientist. And scientists are just humans working in science, as fallible and corruptible as anyone else. And, in my opinion, the potential rewards are simply not worth the potential risks."

    ..but also...
    several others who have expressed similar views on the risks of attempts at geo-engineering.

    I have to say that I find it ironic and amusing that the very people who...
    (a) know better than all the climate research scientists put together
    (b) don't accept the green-house effect
    (c) are convinced that adding massive amount of CO2 to the atmosphere cannot possible have any effect beyond natural climate variations and
    (d) have 101 other perfect reasons to deny that AGW is happening...

    ...suddenly...

    are 100% convinced...
    without the slightest evidence...
    without any experimentation...
    with no historical records...
    with no research reports...
    that absolutely all attempts to remove CO2, create clouds, or geo-engineer in any possible way...
    carries enormous and terrible risks and is guaranteed to cause total disaster.

    If that isn't proof that some people just believe what they want to believe, then I don't know what is.

    /davblo

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  • 42. At 01:17am on 22 May 2010, infiniti wrote:

    There's a RealClimate article discussing the two main potential problems with geoengineering:
    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2006/06/geo-engineering-in-vogue/

    1) "A world with higher GHGs and more stratospheric aerosols is not the same as a world with neither. Thus there will be side effects."

    2) "Could it keep up? GHGs (particularly CO2) are accumulating in the atmosphere and so even with constant present-day emissions, the problem will continue to get worse. Any sulphates put in the stratosphere will only last a couple of years or so and need to be constantly updated to maintain concentrations."

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  • 43. At 01:34am on 22 May 2010, JaneBasingstoke wrote:

    @CandianRockies #39

    He didn't trick all of them. Just most of them.

    Members of Celera's scientific board of advisers had expected anonymous donors, in line with an agreed process.

    ''I think the original idea, to keep everything anonymous, was not a bad one,'' - Dr. Richard Roberts, scientific director of New England BioLabs.

    ''Any genome intended to be a landmark should be kept anonymous. It should be a map of all us, not of one, and I am disappointed if it is linked to a person.'' - Dr. Arthur Caplan, a biomedical ethicist at the University of Pennsylvania,

    "The drive to sequence the human genome was an opportunity for personal glory as well as scientific discovery, and Dr. Venter's action emphasized the first motive" Dr. Caplan (2nd quote).

    However it seems that two of his colleagues did know, those involved in selecting DNA donors.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2002/04/27/us/scientist-reveals-secret-of-genome-it-s-his.html?scp=2&sq=venter&st=nyt

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  • 44. At 01:50am on 22 May 2010, blunderbunny wrote:

    @davblo

    I guess that I might be worried about some sort of large capacity passive C02 remover and I don't think that sun shields would be a good idea.

    But anything you could turn off or kill I would be okay with. Not that I think we need it, but then I would say that wouldn't I?

    Low Tech solutions, would be best. I've sugested it before, but if you guys are serious, you can always plant bamboo plantations (only requires very poor quality ground - widest ranging fastest growing woody plant on the planet) and pyrolyse and bury it. Use the waste heat for small scale power generation, the charcoal improves your soil and it sequesters carbon it's a win, win, win............

    Other varieties of the same sort of thing may also be useful. One could do the same with household rubbish, for instance.......

    There's literally loads of things you can have a go at, if we all decide that we want to, obviously. Apparently, those on the pro-AGW side would rather procrastinate and collect grant money ;-)

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  • 45. At 02:08am on 22 May 2010, Lina wrote:

    Unfortunately, this had to happen one day or another. Biotech research has completely gone out of our hands due to handful of people. We need more ethics in biotech research and what Craig Ventor has done essentially proves that. What took nature millions of years to we want to alter it with just a few decade worth of research.

    We create these things and regret later. Even though his intention is certainly genuine, he has possibly not thought the full impact of it yet outside his lab. I am a big supporter of biotech field but I feel that there should be limits and should not try to distrupt nature's own balance.

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  • 46. At 02:13am on 22 May 2010, JaneBasingstoke wrote:

    @CanadianRockies #39

    Agreed they are the baby steps. Agreed there is the potential to do more. Agreed there is the potential for that "more" to go wrong.

    Actually I think this is a less risky technique than other forms of genetic engineering. Other forms of genetic engineering they can't control where in the DNA new genes go. Creating the potential for a clash when the new gene goes into the middle of an existing one.

    However it is a more powerful technique, in the long term they can do more with it than older techniques that just lob a few genes at a cell and hope they stick to the right place.

    In the meantime they are severely limited by their understanding of what some genes do, how gene expression is controlled, and how it all hangs together. Shades of monkeys and typewriters and the non-appearance of Shakespearean scripts.

    So no reinventing life from scratch overnight. Instead this looks more like a new window on life. They get to tweak bacterial DNA one gene at a time and see the effect.

    Please note, none of this is intended as any sort of endorsement of any practical applications. Just debunking the more sci-fi appearance of this technology.

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  • 47. At 02:15am on 22 May 2010, Jack Frost wrote:

    Its good to see BBC journalists with non-biased reporting.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/8694544.stm

    Climate sceptics rally to expose 'myth'

    "Wine flowed and blood coursed during a rousing address"
    "Steve McIntyre, shambled on to the stage."
    "The audience disappointment was tangible - like a houndpack denied the kill."

    It goes on and on, I felt embarrased for Roger Harrabin when reading his drivel.

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  • 48. At 05:43am on 22 May 2010, CanadianRockies wrote:

    #41. davblo wrote:

    CanadianRockies #27: "I definitely consider it Mad Scientist material because of the risks it poses. Even if it is just Accidental Mad Scientist. And scientists are just humans working in science, as fallible and corruptible as anyone else. And, in my opinion, the potential rewards are simply not worth the potential risks."

    I have to say that I find it ironic and amusing that the very people who...
    (a) know better than all the climate research scientists put together
    (b) don't accept the green-house effect
    (c) are convinced that adding massive amount of CO2 to the atmosphere cannot possible have any effect beyond natural climate variations and
    (d) have 101 other perfect reasons to deny that AGW is happening...

    ...suddenly...

    are 100% convinced...
    without the slightest evidence...
    without any experimentation...
    with no historical records...
    with no research reports...
    that absolutely all attempts to remove CO2, create clouds, or geo-engineer in any possible way...
    carries enormous and terrible risks and is guaranteed to cause total disaster.

    If that isn't proof that some people just believe what they want to believe, then I don't know what is.

    /davblo

    -------

    Well, davblo, glad that you are amused. But, speaking only for myself:

    I don't [think I] "a) know better than all the climate research scientists put together"

    There are many climate research scientists who don't agree with the IPCC view. I find their views and the evidence they use more rational and compelling. You seem to believe in the "consensus" story, which I suppose is what you want to believe.

    I do "(b) ... accept the green-house effect"

    That's what keeps the world as warm as it is, within its range of natural variation related to other factors.

    I am not "(c)... convinced that adding massive amount of CO2 to the atmosphere cannot possible have any effect beyond natural climate variations"

    Compared to other sources of CO2, what we add is not that "massive." In any case, I would never say that what we do add could not "possibly have any effect beyond natural climate variations" because that would not make any sense. Everything has an effect. The question is what are they? What I don't accept are the simplistic IPCC gang straight line projections of future temperatures based on CO2. They are silly and deny climate history. The graph that makes sense to me is the long term one based on the ice cores.

    I don't have "(d) 101 other perfect reasons to deny that AGW is happening..."

    Only fools have "perfect reasons." But I do have plenty of reasons to conclude that what we have seen recently does not match what the IPCC gang has been trying to sell us.

    ------

    I am "100% convinced" that the risks of geoengineering are not worth the rewards. But I did not and would not say that they would be "guaranteed to cause total disaster."

    Only hysterical alarmists, like the IPCC or the idiot Al Gore, would say something like that.

    And, if you read carefully, you will see that I did explicitly state "in my opinion" and did not insist that "the debate is over."

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  • 49. At 06:22am on 22 May 2010, CanadianRockies wrote:

    #43, 46 - JaneBasingstoke

    Thanks for that. Very interesting. Your first post reminds me again that scientists are just humans working in science, and political animals like all the rest. Its basic primate behaviour (and in many other intelligent mammals) to form hierarchies and Vetter's quest for glory is just a manifestation of that. So is the complicity of his two colleagues, presumably below him in 'rank.'

    But it seems obvious that he can't be trusted, so...

    Hmmm... naked apes tinkering with the basic building blocks of life? In the short run it might be harmless and possibly even provide some real benefits. But it just seems to me to be a very dangerous path in the long run. Its not like rocket science where you can blow up a space shuttle and then just fix the problem and carry on. A better analogy would be the BP spill in the Gulf. And even that doesn't compare because this kind of stuff let's brand new cats out of bags, which can potentially reproduce and mutate further. In the absolute worst case scenario, impacts could go far beyond direct effects on humans to the whole biosphere.

    I just don't see the potential rewards being worth those risks. Really don't. Accidents happen.

    That said, I'm sure they will plow ahead with this. Researchers must love playing with this stuff and Big Pharma could make megabucks with some applications.

    And although I do think this is the riskiest scientific endeavor yet, I won't be losing any sleep over it. Its just baby steps for a long time.

    Hmmm... how about: Yes, Mr. Scientific Hubris, just one more wafer...




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  • 50. At 06:31am on 22 May 2010, thefrogstar wrote:

    #12 bowmanthebard regarding my post #11,

    No, not fraud (which BBC moderators might consider libelous anyway).
    But definitely 'marketing' or 'misleading advertising'.

    Craig Venter is a science/technology salesman. And a very good one too.

    ...And Greenpeace are very good at what they sell (or is it just "un-selling" science/technology?), though they often seem more like a religion to me. Their basic, unchangeing, message of "Repent, sinners, for the end of the world is nigh" could have come from the Book of Revelation.

    You certainly don't need to be clairvoyant to know what they will say about anything described as "genetic engineering".

    Then they ask for your money or unpaid labour.

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  • 51. At 07:29am on 22 May 2010, Barry Woods wrote:

    25. At 11:47pm on 21 May 2010, melty wrote:
    Barry Woods (#19) cirtes a Wash. Times editorial that is laughable. It says:

    you miss the point...

    I am not citing the washington Times, merely thay are reporting scientifically peer reviewed work, that demonstrates that temperature now are not unprecedented, not the hottest even in human history..

    ie the scare that he AGW delusion relies on..

    Also, it indicates natural mechanisms were responsible for these hot temps, and it cooled again, and as you point out less people about then, the warming then was NOTHING to do with man..

    ie you made the point for me,

    also why the IPCC tried to remove these warm periods from the historical recrd, to push alarmist AGW...

    Your tactic to site the newspapaer, rather than the science it was reporting on, is classic attemps at misdirection, from the advocates of AGW..

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  • 52. At 08:11am on 22 May 2010, sensiblegrannie wrote:

    DO NO HARM

    The artificial life breakthrough is of monumental importance for all of the reasons already stated in various media formats. I say again, DO NO HARM! I know that what I say will be ignored and many non altruistic organisations will be itching to see what negative things they can do with this new technology. My real fear is that young budding biochemists will also be itching to experiment with the new technology and may not bother with the bio-safeguards in their rush to explore the unknown.

    The Pandora box is opened, the apple of the tree of knowledge has been munched and now we will await the consequences, helpless to do anything about it.

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  • 53. At 08:13am on 22 May 2010, bowmanthebard wrote:

    #44 blunderbunny wrote:

    "you can always plant bamboo plantations (only requires very poor quality ground - widest ranging fastest growing woody plant on the planet)"

    That's interesting! I love bamboo, and if there was more of it around I'd be prepared to put up with the lowering CO2 levels. But if it's so easy to grow, how come there isn't more of it about? Shouldn't anything easy to grow act like a weed such as bindweed, or be invasive like Japanese knotweed?

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  • 54. At 08:13am on 22 May 2010, Barry Woods wrote:

    47. At 02:15am on 22 May 2010, Jack Frost wrote:
    Its good to see BBC journalists with non-biased reporting.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/8694544.stm

    Climate sceptics rally to expose 'myth'

    "Wine flowed and blood coursed during a rousing address"
    "Steve McIntyre, shambled on to the stage."
    "The audience disappointment was tangible - like a houndpack denied the kill."

    It goes on and on, I felt embarrased for Roger Harrabin when reading his drivel.
    ---------------------

    The BBC is looking ridiculous now, impartiality, professionalism?

    From another blog:

    Harrabin said:
    As the ecstatic crowd filtered out I pointed one delegate to a copy of the Wall Street Journal on the table. A front page paragraph noted that April had been the warmest on record.

    ----------------------------------------
    Is Harrabin incapable of telling the difference between "weather" and "climate"? November, through March was the coldest since 1963, and we were told that short term measurements were "weather". Suddenly, we have a warm April and MMGW is once again on the march.
    Don
    It's just another sign of their desperation and longing for global warming to actually happen. All warmists want it to be real despite the scare mongering consequences - there's nothing they'd like more than to see real global warming. They campaign to reduce harmless CO2 emmisions, but all the time hanker for "April had been the warmest on record" head lines. They claim to want global cooling but actually hate cool periods with a passion. Their agenda can only be achieved with warming.

    That's apart from the fact that the warmest whatever since whenever means nothing in terms of MMGW as there is no causality to man. Facts are facts.

    Edited for some some strange stuff going on with the nesting there, took me ages to find quote was spelt qoute lol.
    -----------------------

    of course the satellite record is 30 years old.
    temp record to be kind a 150 years old..

    as shown above, very much evidence, scientific and human record, that roman times, mediavel times much warmer, and many times earliar (the point being, now is not unprecedented, nor the warmest - ie alll the IPCC have to scare people-, and all could be totally natural)

    Roger MUST know this, or be ridulously ignorant....
    so why carry on with the dead horse flogging.

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  • 55. At 08:18am on 22 May 2010, bowmanthebard wrote:

    #46 JaneBasingstoke wrote:

    "Other forms of genetic engineering they can't control where in the DNA new genes go."

    Don't forget that the function of most DNA is simply not understood. It used to be called "junk DNA" because it looks like it's "going along for the ride" in the larger organism. But I gather that name is falling out of favour because from the gene's eye perspective (i.e. selfish genes and all that) it's really the survival machine (i.e. the larger organism) that's "going along for the ride".

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  • 56. At 10:07am on 22 May 2010, Richard Black (BBC) wrote:

    #2 LabMunkey

    This post is about regulation, not feasibility. Did feasibility back in September.

    Really shoddy commenting, Munkey...

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  • 57. At 10:07am on 22 May 2010, blunderbunny wrote:

    @bowmanthebard

    "That's interesting! I love bamboo, and if there was more of it around I'd be prepared to put up with the lowering CO2 levels. But if it's so easy to grow, how come there isn't more of it about? Shouldn't anything easy to grow act like a weed such as bindweed, or be invasive like Japanese knotweed?"

    An interesting point and oddly one that I'd never considered - Best answer that I can give you off the top of my head is that it's not quite as easy (easy being a word that comes in various grades) to grow as Japanese knot weed ;-)

    A quick wiki, does seem to indicate that there was nothing intrinsically wrong with my initial statement, at least not according to wiki. A poor argument/defence I know, as one should apply sceptical enquiry to everything one's told. So, how about, I'll try and find out and I'll get back to you?

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  • 58. At 10:16am on 22 May 2010, blunderbunny wrote:

    @Me - my own post #38

    Oops, "Flood Plain Basalts" should obviously read "Flood Basalts"

    It was late, what can I say?

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  • 59. At 11:06am on 22 May 2010, Robert Lucien wrote:

    Its funny how similar this technology is to a project I worked on about 20 years ago studying 'nanites' or assemblers. The thing about assemblers was that an awful lot of people had heard about them but very few actually understood anything about them. The amount of hype around assemblers was so huge and so much that was advertised for them was such absolute rubbish. Thinking for a moment we are still pervaded by the same rubbish today - the new Knight Rider TV series comes to mind, I wonder if synthetic life will be the same?

    The science community has been hearing about 'synthetic life' idea for several years now - its arguable but it is basically kind of assembler - that actually works. In fact this is a genuinely huge milestone and shows that genetic engineering science is really starting to become a mature technology. Its probably a much bigger milestone than say dolly the sheep. However there is a huge caveat, it is very early days for synthetic life. - Building a version that can survive and function in natural environments and magically fix say CO2 densities will be a huge challenge and might well be impossible.

    Even if and when they ever work real 'proper' assemblers -at least the ones I looked at- will not be able to tackle these broad kinds of environmental problems. Real assemblers as built out of diamond composites simply cannot function or survive in natural eco-systems at all - its just a matter of wrong environment. Diamond based assemblers are likely to need ultra clean environments and high vacuum to replicate, they need substantial sources of energy and substantial heat sinks, they will generally work best at super-cold temperatures. With true assemblers the actual question of assembly itself is very difficult (and slow) and they are likely to only ever exist in very small quantities. There are also fundamental problems linked to control and programming - the assembler 'AI', the main area I was interested in. (None of this means that real assemblers will not be useful, I was looking at computers thousands of times more powerful than anything we have even today- way back in 1990 :) A nano-computer the size of a silicon chip (1cm^2) could hold maybe 100 terabytes and a million processors!)

    Of course this new 'synthetic' life is already self replicating, but it isn't like assemblers because its chemistry is like our own - mostly quite low energy. The design of course is at least partly based on natural cells, its constructed using DNA, proteins and protein machines. As i said it shows how hugely far genetic engineering science has come in the last few years. -

    Sad to say though but being based on natural life severely limits what this new tech might really do to CO2 at least for now. - It will be probably be very difficult to get synthetic cells do any better than ordinary plant cells- if as well. Like with everything its all a matter of energy, breaking CO2 is a high energy process - and an energy consuming process. Plants do it using energy from light from photosynthesis and its a very slow process that takes all the plants resources.
    A better solution will require a lot of work and probably need an artificial factory environment to supply that power - which leaves us back with the same big tech solutions which I already advocate. Anyone who thinks you can solve this without a big source of energy is just dreaming.

    Apart from CO2 though things like cleaning up oil pollution might be very interesting (they will probably produce CO2). As an aside the same process of transcribing DNA from computer database is one of the main steps needed for really advanced genetic engineering including in humans - the first step for things like a true cure for cancer or MS or hundreds of other genetic ailments. With the speed of science don't hold your breath though - I put it at at least 10 to 20 years away.

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  • 60. At 11:20am on 22 May 2010, Barry Woods wrote:

    As Richard is commenting today:

    Perhaps he would like to respond to my question, made many times before, about the Copenhagen Tidal Wave video?

    What is the BBC's response/position on this type of fearmongering propganda?

    Blatant propaganda, using cgi tidal waves, engulfing the land and a small child, left screaming..

    all down to a sea level rise 'predicted' of 18-59cm by 2100...

    even if you use the latest, upper range of scare projections of 2m.

    that is a tidal wave of 0.02m a year..

    Nothing can justify that imagagery, yet the BBC let it go uncommented on, unexplained to the general public..

    Particulary appalling propaganda, designed to link in 'man made' global warming scares to, a tidal wave, caused by an earthquake, that killed 250,000 people just a few years ago.

    That is partly why, I am so sceptical now, the blatant propaganda, used with the intenetion to closed down debate.

    The BBC should be impartially seperating out the ridiculous from the impossible. and challenging the wild pronouncements of green peace, wwf etc..

    That is the BBC's job.. The BBC's job is NOT to be advocates of this theory..

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  • 61. At 11:21am on 22 May 2010, JaneBasingstoke wrote:

    @Barry Woods #54

    "November, through March was the coldest since 1963"

    Not globally it wasn't. Some areas were much warmer than usual. Do I have to remind you of the snow problems at the Winter Olympics.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/olympic_games/vancouver_2010/8494794.stm

    Unfortunately Roy Spencer's UAH doesn't go back to1963. But he does seem to agree that the regional cold temperatures affecting Britain and parts of the States were associated with warm global averages.

    http://www.woodfortrees.org/plot/hadcrut3vgl/from%3A1961/plot/uah/plot/rss/plot/gistemp/from%3A1961
    http://www.drroyspencer.com/2010/02/some-thoughts-on-the-warm-january-2010/

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  • 62. At 11:28am on 22 May 2010, sensiblegrannie wrote:

    If you reduce this whole issue to, the microcosm of back garden politics, what we already know, we can immediately see that there is going to be trouble. How many perfectly polite and reasonable people become enraged to the point of litigation when they see their next door neighbour encroaching onto their land; or building an eyesore building on their boundary; or planting trees that block out most of the available light; the devil dog cross-breed next door that 'wouldn't hurt a fly' and the mutant moggie that always targets the vegetable patch and eats blue tits as a side dish with bigger game. The back yard is subject to regulation at least.

    Multiply an unregulated use of 'necessary' environmental mitigation strategies worldwide. Multiply an unregulated use of 'necessary' engineered organisms worldwide and what have you got?

    The idea of an untried and engineered organism incorporated into a flu vaccine does not inspire me with pioneering enthusiasm. The engineered organism would enter the ecosystem through bodily excretions. What if that engineered organism mutated into something else? What if the 'junk' DNA that is dismissed as unimportant is a code to prevent accidental mutation or prevent replication in the wrong species?

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  • 63. At 11:30am on 22 May 2010, Barry Woods wrote:

    for the sake of argument, lets us trust the very short term history of these figures and record..

    so what?

    Stating it is hot, does not proof that man is the cause.
    It is just an observation..

    Climate science - if we can call it that, cannot explain all the natural cycles, and is frequently coming up with new theories..

    Only recently, Nature had an article stating 60+ % of warming in the 90's was down to something other than man..

    Keep repeating this is just meaningless...

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  • 64. At 11:53am on 22 May 2010, JaneBasingstoke wrote:

    Agh. Problems with New Scientist website. URLs temporarily out of action.

    Workaround for existing links in BBC thread, use their Google cache. Type "site:" plus the first part of the URL into Google, e.g. "site:newscientist.com/article/dn18942" for their article on Venter's "synthetic" cell. And then click on the cache rather than the main link.

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  • 65. At 12:04pm on 22 May 2010, Robert Lucien wrote:

    #28 JaneBasingstoke wrote:

    "I'm having trouble with the term "synthetic" for this new bug.

    Apparently it's a normal bug, except that its original DNA has been replaced with "synthetic" DNA. And the "synthetic" DNA was made by a DNA sequencer using exactly the same sequence that is found in this type of bacterium, combined with some non-coding markers to identify the DNA. Which surely makes this "synthetic" DNA functionally indistinguishable from the natural DNA on which it is based."

    Ahh you don't understand the point of this, its not the actual coding sequence itself thats important, the critical part of the process is the 'bootstrapping' and this is the first time its ever been done with a living cell.

    Bootstrapping is one of the rules from computing, from things like complier construction. (cells are basically living computers) When you build a new compiler you have to compile it on an existing architecture first - another different compiler, this creates and intermediate version but then you compile your compiler again on this and it produces a new 'clean' version - so you now have a new complete compiler- or cell. It is a precise controlled process -literally a quantum leap up from the semi-random methods genetic engineering has used up till now.

    From this first step research will no doubt go in several directions.
    One next step is to build a completely synthetic genome system, though it is likely that it will ultimately still be based on natural ones. (there's almost no way to escape this)
    Another direction is using natural genomes they already have and adding new features so they can do new tasks, standard genetic engineering but improved.
    Another is developing the same process with animal and maybe human cells - that is the route to some very interesting long term medical research.
    Another related is in improving the methods of DNA insertion and rewriting. - This is/may be the key to in-situ genetic repair.

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  • 66. At 12:05pm on 22 May 2010, CPslashM wrote:

    The local temperature effect of 9/11 grounding of flights over the US and the (albeit subjective) experience of unusually deep blue skies and hot sun over South Wales during the grounding of flights due to the Icelandic eruption leads me to think that geoengineering may have taken place unwittingly.

    Has anyone looked for a correlation between changing temperature patterns and the density of flights over different areas of the planet - taking into account prevailing winds at jet aircraft altitudes?

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  • 67. At 12:08pm on 22 May 2010, Robert Lucien wrote:

    Mmmm... New Scientist seems to be completely out of action at the moment. - Maybe too many people interested in synthetic life?

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  • 68. At 12:35pm on 22 May 2010, JaneBasingstoke wrote:

    @bowmanthebard #55

    Agreed that some of the non-coding DNA can have biological functions, particularly controlling gene expression. This is another reason that the "scattergun" effect of older genetic engineering techniques can be unpredictable, more opportunities for added genes to clash with existing DNA functions.

    However I was talking about non-coding DNA that was completely novel, and was not designed to have a biological function. The Feynman quote ("What I cannot build I cannot understand.") was a nice touch, but the 46 names of the scientists involved (presumably including Venter's) is reminiscent of his Celera human genome stunt.

    As for the larger organism going along for the ride that isn't true either. Any part of either the DNA or the entire organism that contributes to the survival of both cannot be a free rider. That applies at any level of organisation within the organism from individual genes, to individual cells, to individual organs, to the organism as a whole, and in social animals (hey that includes us!) to families and communities.

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  • 69. At 12:43pm on 22 May 2010, JaneBasingstoke wrote:

    @Robert Lucien #65

    You've seen the reaction on this thread to the term "synthetic life". The main point of my post was showing how much this "synthetic life" is based on and is similar to an existing bacterium.

    Meanwhile Venter himself has had problems downplaying the implications of the term "synthetic life":

    "I keep trying to make it clear - we're not creating life from scratch"

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  • 70. At 1:41pm on 22 May 2010, LarryKealey wrote:


    Dateline Gulf of Mexico, May 22, 2010 (Day 31)

    Well, BP had reported they were recovering 5,000 bbl per day yesterday, now they say it is only 2200 bbl per day.

    They at least admit now that it is more than 5,000 bbl per day leaking into the Gulf. The US governement has ordered BP to stop using the chemical dispersants and detergents on the oil - as they are as bad for the environment or worse than the oil itself. BP has continued use of these chemicals.

    Finally some good new, BP will attempt to seal the wellhead with heavy mud and concrete on Tuesday. My question is why didn't they do this a month ago? It is not a new idea, but a proven technology - of course it means the wellhead will be sealed and BP will be unable to recover a couple of thousand bbl per day...

    Here, on the Gulf coast we are seeing more and more photos of oil washing up on the barrier islands and into the marshes and swamps. The clean up will be a monumental task. I am interested to see just how they plan to clean the oil from these sensitive environments - the main hatcheries for the Gulf of Mexico.

    Well, looks like no fishing trip to Louisiana this summer. Probably next summer too...Fisherman as far as a couple of hundred miles away are reporting coughing and sickness due to air quality from all the oil on the water...the hits just keep on coming.

    Not much else to report from the Gulf today. In closing, I just want to say that it is about time that BP is actually doing something to seal the wellhead, rather than efforts directed at recovering oil after it has leaked.

    Have they no shame?

    @Richard - when are we going to get your take on this?

    Cheers.

    Kealey

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  • 71. At 1:49pm on 22 May 2010, LarryKealey wrote:


    @Richard

    Regarding this current story on 'playing god' - really bad idea. First, we don't know what will really happen if such an organism were to be released in the environment - and the only way to find out is to release it - thats a really scary experiment in my view.

    Every attempt I have seen to introduce new species into an environment has had horrible consequences and been an utter failure.

    I recall living in Puerto Rico - where poisonous snakes were a serious problem. Someone came up with the great idea of introducing the mongoose - a non-native species. Well, the mongeese did kill some of the snakes, but not all - so there are still poisonous snakes. Many of the mongeese quickly became infected with rabies. The rabid mongeese quickly became more of a problem than the snakes. A good childhood friend of mine accidently cornered one - a dozen shots in the stomach every day for two weeks - not good at all.

    Trying to control the climate - a system which we don't even really understand is just plain foolish (I would use stronger terms, but I would get moderated, I think).

    On a better note, I asked my lady to marry me yesterday and she said yes...;)

    Ya'll are invited...

    Cheers.

    Kealey

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  • 72. At 2:03pm on 22 May 2010, sensiblegrannie wrote:

    CONGRATULATIONS LarryKealey ;-)

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  • 73. At 2:07pm on 22 May 2010, shane wrote:

    this is a risk we CANNOT take.

    To try to solve the problems we face with programmes that do not even touch the core of the problem then it will never work.

    This route will FORCE people that do not wish this risk,, to go this way is planetry ABUSE, and a CRIME against ALL LIFE.

    Science will not solve our problems, only stopping the problem will, (which is our 'experiment' to try to control the world that started with total agriculture 10k years ago).
    Just as early farmers discovered things didnt work and needed to make fallow fields, we are still to discover that control of our food supply doesnt work either and has been fuelling our population growth, and in turn we need to turn our back on the cultural memes stopping us thinking clearly and not like the insane blinkered fools so high on our own achievements we cannot see biological reality .

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  • 74. At 2:10pm on 22 May 2010, BluesBerry wrote:

    I’m afraid that my middle name is "Chicken-Little". Sometimes I run around yelling “The sky is falling!”
    I’m dismayed that this type of dangerous scientific research (and perhaps testing) is occurring without approval from a United Nations' scientific panel.
    Who do these inventors think they are – Gods that can foresee each and every consequence to what they do? I see them as Dr. Frankensteins, unaware of the consequences, but arrogant enough to want to create life.
    The two companies you refer to as using "approach" commercially:
    1. Climos - American-based geo-engineering firm that's planning (?) to undertake its first ocean fertilisation pilot project. I'm not sure where this project stands.
    2. Planktos – planned to bypass dumping laws by using foreign vessels for its iron dumping. Its $800,000 research ship, the Weatherbird II, was denied entry to a port in the Canary Islands. Soon after, Planktos wound the business down blaming a disinformation campaign.
    Meanwhile the US Dept of Energy has measured carbon particles originating in plankton in the Southern Ocean (where Climos panned to work). The study reveals that most of the carbon from lush plankton blooms never reaches the deep ocean. This study is a set-back to the simplified version of the Iron Hypothesis that you could just dump iron into the ocean and change the atmospheric carbon.
    What was the point of both Climos and Planktos – to provide carbon set-offs for the good-old US of A, I'm guessing so that the Americans could continue coal mining without having to develop less primitive energy. An international team of scientists have issued a warning that it is too early to SELL CARBON OFFSETS from iron fertilization. Signatories included scientists from the UNITED STATES, Japan, Hawaii, New Zealand, The Netherlands, Germany, India and the UK.
    As for Yuri Izraewl, the best thing I heard from him was in response to someone asking: Do you feel that we need to act to slow down climate change?
    A. ”We need to act, but we first need a good scientific basis.”
    Note that Russia is about as lukewarm as the United States of American when it comes to controlling climate and climate change. Why?
    Could it because both Russia and the United States know exactly what game is being played.
    On the gameboard:
    East side of the board – Russian “Sura”
    West side of the board – American HAARP.
    East and West can both cause ionization and play weather warfare – drought, famine, floods, hurricaines, earthqukes. I may be wrong, though I don’t believe that I am, but to solve climatic change
    a) stop HAARP and SURA
    b) but control with the United Nations which will be charged with the evaluation of all program recommendations
    c) make it internationally illegal, a war crime, to fool around with Mother Nature without UN’s written approval.

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  • 75. At 3:17pm on 22 May 2010, JaneBasingstoke wrote:

    @LarryKealey #71

    "Every attempt I have seen to introduce new species into an environment has had horrible consequences and been an utter failure."

    I have big issues with your use of the word "every".

    Here in Britain many if not most of our food crops and garden plants are from outside Britain, often outside North West Europe.

    Potatoes, tomatoes and maize (corn) from the Americas. Wheat from the middle East. The strawberries and apples have local relatives but the ones that end up on our plates are originally from further afield.

    This doesn't just affect plants. The domestic chicken originated in India, which is the eastern edge of its wild ancestor's range. The horse was domesticated in the Ukraine or further East although the eastern edge of its wild relatives' range included southern France and Spain (the American Mustang had domesticated Spanish ancestors).

    Most of these introduced species cause no problems and actually enhance our lives. We would be distinctly uncomfortable without them.

    Obviously there have been big problems with knotweed and mink released from mink farms. Your rabid mongoose example sounds particularly unpleasant. And cats and rats basically did for the dodo. So yes this does mean caution when introducing new species. But it is untrue to say that all or even most new species bring problems when most actually seem to bring benefits.

    (PS, there is another reason to recognise that most new species bring benefits.
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/georgemonbiot/2009/oct/01/crayfish-bnp )

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  • 76. At 3:38pm on 22 May 2010, LabMunkey wrote:

    @ 56. touche, my mistake.

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  • 77. At 3:52pm on 22 May 2010, LabMunkey wrote:

    @56+ my own comment at 76- obviously i apologise and withdraw my post!

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  • 78. At 4:53pm on 22 May 2010, manysummits wrote:

    To Larry Kealey:

    Congratulations!

    All the best to you and your fiancee,

    Manysummits

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  • 79. At 4:54pm on 22 May 2010, manysummits wrote:

    To shane #73: re "this is a risk we CANNOT take."

    Second that !

    Manysummits

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  • 80. At 4:57pm on 22 May 2010, manysummits wrote:

    To BluesBerry #74:

    re:

    "b) but control with the United Nations which will be charged with the evaluation of all program recommendations
    c) make it internationally illegal, a war crime, to fool around with Mother Nature without UN’s written approval."

    Second that!

    Manysummits

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  • 81. At 5:18pm on 22 May 2010, manysummits wrote:

    \\\ Uncivilized Intervention ///

    Robert Pirsig's "Church of Reason" is alive and well I see, as the unreasonable idea of unleashing synthetic life upon the Earth is very reasonably discussed.

    This man Venter looks a little mad to me.

    Faces tell a thousand tales, and do not lie.

    Of course much is in the eye of the beholder, but perhaps not that much.

    =================

    \\\ Anthill ///, by E.O. Wilson (2010)

    A delight! I looked this book over because I liked his face, and I was not misled. He has a good sense of humor, and an eye for detail.

    Coincidentally, the setting is the Gulf Coast, near Mobile Alabama.

    ================

    \\\ James Hansen in France ///

    I thought one of his slides, presented to the National Assembly, worth "ten thousand words": Columbia website; p18 of PDF; May 18, 2010; Recent Communications)

    Basis of Understanding

    1. Earth’s Paleoclimate History
    2. On-Going Global Observations
    3. Climate Models/Theory

    =======================

    \\\ Elemental Bill Tilman - Un-Civilized Writer ///

    At war at seventeen - an officer and a gentleman, decorated in both World Wars' One & Two.

    A climber who left the high Himalaya in his fifties to take up sailing in a small boat to the ends of the Earth - lost at Sea in his eightieth year.

    Author of thirteen books - considered by many to be the finest of all travel-writers, with an ironic sense of humor, who could bake a cake at twenty thousand feet.

    With a good face and a ready smile.

    - Manysummits -

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  • 82. At 5:19pm on 22 May 2010, JaneBasingstoke wrote:

    @LarryKealey #71

    Minor clarification. There was a minor ambiguity in my #75. The ancestors American Mustangs were brought over from Spain, but their ancestors were domesticated further east.

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  • 83. At 5:25pm on 22 May 2010, JaneBasingstoke wrote:

    @LarryKealey #71

    On your better note, best wishes to you and your future missus.

    :-)

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  • 84. At 5:29pm on 22 May 2010, anna wrote:

    Just want to point out that all organisms, not only plants but also animals are made up with carbon, including our bodies (18%carbon). To release carbon eating bacteria would be absolute folly.

    If the bacteria are specialized on eating CO2, not only plant life would die, but also animals since the lungs have 100 times more CO2 in ppm than the atmosphere and would be the perfect habitat for such bacteria.

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  • 85. At 6:07pm on 22 May 2010, Dr Brian wrote:

    I expect he's only mentioning CO2 absorbing organisms in order to tap into bottomless AGW funding.
    At least I hope he is!!!!

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  • 86. At 6:11pm on 22 May 2010, blunderbunny wrote:

    @bowmanthebard

    As promised, Bamboo 101…

    So, first things first why isn’t it an invasive weed?

    The answer to which is, it is, it just depends where you live!

    Many people in New Zealand apparently consider bamboo as a useless weed, as do the folks at the Washington, D.C. zoo (apparently, something to do with Pandas!!! Talk about an invasive species!!)

    It comes in two types clumpy and running, the running ones are the invasive ones. It grows almost anywhere in just about any climate, from between 50 degrees north and 47 degrees south. Certain varieties can grow up to 40 cm a day, less of a growth rate and more of a speed ;-)

    Taken from a site on how to grow bamboo:

    "Running bamboo differs from clumping bamboo in so many ways that it can be regarded as a completely different group of plants. The most noticeable difference is that it is highly-invasive in nature."

    and,

    "All running bamboo grows happily in all climates and its invasive nature means that it either takes over, or has to be controlled."

    Approximately 40 million hectares of the Earth is presently covered with Bamboo, most of which is in Asia. Where about 200 (might be an old figure) million tonnes of it are harvested annually and where it’s used for building, paper-making, furniture-making, food and dozens of other uses.

    Finally and more importantly, sadly, continental Europe doesn’t appear to have a native species of it :-(

    I may actually try and plant some myself.... Plus, it seems that those of you that might be interested in green/eco investments, can actually buy yourself a few acres.....


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  • 87. At 6:30pm on 22 May 2010, Brian Newham wrote:

    Geo-engineering could be the start of a very slippery slope. Fertilisation of the sea at least addresses the direct cause of the problem by removing CO2 from the atmosphere but as recent reports suggest, could fail for many reasons. Any measures that block sunlight to address rising temperatures could have huge ramifications. Sunlight powers the earth's biological systems through photosynthesis by plants and cyanobacteria. There could be any number of effects if it is reduced including a further rise in CO2 levels if global biomass is reduced as a consequence.

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  • 88. At 7:44pm on 22 May 2010, bowmanthebard wrote:

    In his The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn made the point that science textbooks do a sort of "Whig history". That is, they tell a story about how scientific knowledge is cumulative, how scientists find out more and more by building on what their predecessors did, and as they do so they achieve greater and greater levels of certainty, and it all builds up to where we are now: a "glorious present" where almost all errors have been ironed out of a near-perfect picture of the world.

    (It's called "Whig history" because that's how the Whigs used to describe the growth of the glorious British constitution!)

    Real science is nothing like that. Science is a much more anarchic, "revolutionary", conflicted business than the textbooks suggest. (For Nietzsche scholars: it is more "dionysian".) Scientific theories are more often wrong than right. Many people swallow the Whig history whole, and in doing so the word 'science' has come to be a sort of "gold stamp of approval" -- and there are many hangers-on and charlatans eager to dignify their own dodgy work with the word 'science'. So beware!

    I accept that so-called "synthetic life" is a significant achievement. But I think it's unlikely that anything much will come of it in the near future. I think it's almost vanishingly unlikely that it will give us control over the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere.

    But I worry about something. I worry that many people have an unthinking over-confidence in what science and technology are capable of. Many people think "science" gives us a solid assurance that AGW is real, and so we've got to do something about it, now, or we'll all die... But don't worry -- they seem to think -- "science" will rescue us from the horrors of AGW with the same solid assurance that it tells us it's real. Let's go for it!

    Oh dear. I say it again: most scientific theories are false. Science isn't capable of predicting the climate, let alone controlling it. But it is capable of having pretty nasty accidents and creating pretty horrible messes. I'm not predicting an apocalypse, but Bhopals and gulf oil spills and what have you are all quite possible -- even likely, unless we stop swallowing this "Whig history" story the science textbooks tell us.

    Thanks to anna for bringing my attention to the fact that lungs are places where CO2 is concentrated. As I recall, mosquitos make their way to their next meal of blood by "flying upstream" through the CO2 gradient.

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  • 89. At 7:47pm on 22 May 2010, bowmanthebard wrote:

    @ blunderbunny:

    Thanks for that bamboo info. I hate gardening myself, but I'll get my wife right onto the project of growing some.

    I suspect that a lot of rain may be not so great for bamboo. In which case we can forget it!

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  • 90. At 7:59pm on 22 May 2010, simon-swede wrote:

    There was a good (in my opinion) description of what was done by Venter, Smith & their colleagues and a discussion about in this week's Economist.

    See:

    - 'And Man Made Life' (editorial)
    http://www.economist.com/printedition/displayStory.cfm?Story_ID=16163154

    - 'Genesis redux' (main feature) http://www.economist.com/printedition/displaystory.cfm?story_id=16163006

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  • 91. At 7:59pm on 22 May 2010, LabMunkey wrote:

    @ 71. many congratulations.

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  • 92. At 8:06pm on 22 May 2010, simon-swede wrote:

    Larry at #71 - Congratualtions, that's great!

    Larry at #70 - I think there has been a delay partly because BP needed time to get all the pieces in place to be able to try this strategy. That is to say, they have been working towards this, but were unable to try before now.

    See also 'What Lies Beneath' from the Economist on May 20th. It has a step-wise introduction to what BP is about to do...
    http://www.economist.com/science-technology/displaystory.cfm?story_id=16160853

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  • 93. At 8:19pm on 22 May 2010, manysummits wrote:

    \\\ How do you recognize an Implosion? ///

    I just ran into a man I knew from a place I worked several years ago. He and his wife had just returned from the States, by way of Port Angeles (west coast), Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana.

    He said he had never seen anything like it - malls all but deserted, people scared...

    And he told me of a trip back east, to Massachusetts a while back - again - unbelievable - people living hand to mouth.

    We're not hearing about this in our media.

    What really is going on?

    This thread is about synthetic life, and climate change, etc...

    But this weblog is about what's going on?

    There is no environment separate from us - the human element.

    This planet is an island Universe - our Universe - One Song

    When a certain type of star supernovas, there is an implosion first - and then the explosion that we see with our instruments. In dying, the ougoing shock wave can trigger the collapse of interstellar gas, all the while seeding the gas with the newly formed nuclear remnants of its death throes,

    and a new star, or stars, come into being - Emergence.

    Are we already imploding?

    I hope not, for at that point the process is unstoppable - a 'runaway,' as my old drilling partner used to say.

    - Manysummits -

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  • 94. At 8:24pm on 22 May 2010, manysummits wrote:

    From: simon-swede #90:

    'And Man Made Life' (editorial)
    http://www.economist.com/printedition/displayStory.cfm?Story_ID=16163154

    "That ability would prove mankind’s mastery over nature in a way more profound than even the detonation of the first atomic bomb."

    ==================

    We are all crazy, aren't we?

    - Manysummits -

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  • 95. At 8:25pm on 22 May 2010, bowmanthebard wrote:

    After the retreating Iraqis set fire to huge numbers of oil wells in Kuwait, there were prophecies of doom galore. "They'll be burning for a quarter of a century", we were told.

    The solution was very heavy-handed and low-tech: set off an explosion close to the source of the effluent. If it doesn't blow it out the first time, set off a bigger explosion. It was easy!

    I don't know anything about this stuff, not being in the pay of Big Oil and all, but I would guess the solution to this disaster will eventually turn out to be similarly heavy-handed and low-tech. And as easy, in the end.

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  • 96. At 8:32pm on 22 May 2010, manysummits wrote:

    \\\ Delay until Tuesday - 25 May 2010 - Gulf of Mexico - Deepwater ///

    Reading between the lines here myself, but I understand President Obama has ordered a United States team to nail down just how much oil is and has been flowing from the rupture.

    This would be significant in future lawsuits, I would imagine.

    Once BP kills the well - it would not be possible to independently ascertain this.

    - Manysummits -

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  • 97. At 8:38pm on 22 May 2010, manysummits wrote:

    Bowman #95:

    There are still guys sick from their tour over there. A Canadian firm, 'Safety Boss,' was heavily involved.

    When are the philosophers going to get their feet back on the ground, and their heads out of the clouds?

    - Manysummits -

    PS: Canada's infant mortality statistics are indicating higher rates than before, and we have now dropped to twenty-fourth place worldwide.

    Here is a paraphrase of some high powered doctor, in a position of authority politics wise:

    'That's bad - it is hurting our reputation.'

    That's it - hurting our reputation - and this guy is a doctor!!???

    "Physician - heal thyself."

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  • 98. At 9:13pm on 22 May 2010, thefrogstar wrote:

    #59 Robert Lucien a pretty fair summary, I would say.

    Some years ago there were more science disciplines (and Univerity Departments) such as Metallurgy, Chemistry, Materials-Science etc. All worthy, but struggling for funding and students.
    Then the term "nano technology" was invented (I think Drexler was the main culprit). It was good marketing, and allowed researchers to trump their peers who didn't use the "N-word" when it came to obtaining publicity and funding.

    It didn't really mark any kind of scientific or technological advances though. In fact I would argue that it actually encouraged ignoring many stark scientific principles whilst wowing credulous audiences with "visionary" science fiction.

    Good ol' Chemistry was rather dull by comparison, and discredited in the eyes of a generation of people who have been force-fed the mantra: "Green is Good. Chemicals Bad"

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  • 99. At 9:51pm on 22 May 2010, manysummits wrote:

    \\\ Core Collapse - A Mountaineer's View ///

    2008: One trillion to bail out Wall Street and friends.

    2010: One trillion to bail out Greece and to stabilize the EU.

    2010: Most Earth System Services and the Holocene Bioshere in imminent jeopardy, or actually over planetary boundaries.

    2011: Unknown $$$ to stabilize the failing fourth world (first world minus a conscience; their democracy, freedom of association, a truly free press, and an informed and well balanced electorate - in ruins) - The United States, Canada, Japan, the United Kingdom et al...

    2011: Third world still being left in the dark - with over a billion malnourished, and more to come - strife mounting ever higher.

    =======================

    What to do?

    "It should be the duty of every man and woman to take themselves into the empty corners of the world, to be truly alone and receptive, to see who they are and where they're going; and, if they glimpse there a worthy destiny, to espouse it with confidence and faith."

    - Graham MacKintosh (from the UK to Baja California - a desert explorer)
    "Into a Desert Place", 1988

    =================

    And to blog.

    - Manysummits -

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  • 100. At 9:55pm on 22 May 2010, John wrote:

    For 5 billion years, nature has always solved its own climate problems on this planet. Nature will find a solution to this problem also. I suspect nature's solution to "Human induced problem's" on Earth will be to end the "human" branch of the tree. Nature is always the winner in the end.

    John.

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  • 101. At 10:01pm on 22 May 2010, manysummits wrote:

    \\\ Thoughts from Ireland ///

    "My beautiful Mother and myself drove to the Hill of Tara and admired the wider view of the world which it was always intended to provide."

    - Manysummits, Monday 21 September 1998 -

    ============================================

    There has been synthetic life on this planet for some time now - civilized Man.

    ============================================

    "Complex forms of human organization have emerged comparatively recently, and are an anomaly of history...

    Collapse then is not a fall to some primordial chaos, but a return to the normal human condition of lower complexity."

    - Joseph Tainter, "The Collapse of Complex Societies," 1988; p193 & 198.

    - Manysummits -

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  • 102. At 10:23pm on 22 May 2010, bowmanthebard wrote:

    #97 manysummits wrote:

    "When are the philosophers going to get their feet back on the ground, and their heads out of the clouds?"

    I wonder what I said was head in the clouds?

    Ah wait -- I see now -- anything other than pessimism and apocalypse-talk is "head in the clouds".

    I suggest you look inside yourself and ask whether the problem is really "Mother Earth", or your own depressive state?



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  • 103. At 10:52pm on 22 May 2010, jr4412 wrote:

    manysummits #93.

    "I just ran into a man I knew from a place I worked several years ago. He and his wife had just returned from the States, by way of Port Angeles (west coast), Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana.

    He said he had never seen anything like it - malls all but deserted, people scared...

    And he told me of a trip back east, to Massachusetts a while back - again - unbelievable - people living hand to mouth."


    Approximately 35.9 million Americans now live in poverty.

    In 2008, households with children reported food insecurity at almost double the rate for those without children, 21.0 percent compared to 11.3 percent.

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  • 104. At 10:53pm on 22 May 2010, thefrogstar wrote:

    #95 bowmanthebard,
    The version I heard was slightly different, but made for a better story:

    The traditional "Red Adair" method involved the explosives and took them about a week per fire (that's a lot of money he could charge).

    But some (relatively poor) East-European entrepreneur put some fire hoses and an ex cold-war jet engine on the back of a truck and simply reversed it up to the fire and literally blew it out. They were soon putting out dozens per day.

    Human ingenuity (coupled with a profit motive, I suspect).

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  • 105. At 11:06pm on 22 May 2010, CanadianRockies wrote:

    #75. JaneBasingstoke wrote:

    @LarryKealey #71

    "Every attempt I have seen to introduce new species into an environment has had horrible consequences and been an utter failure."

    I have big issues with your use of the word "every".

    ---------

    I have a big problem with that overgeneralization too.

    Its like suggesting that a warming climate would be bad for everything.

    One North American example of a beneficial new species is the honeybee. Great for us. But it no doubt is not so great for some native bee species it competes with. Its always like that.

    For example you mentioned the "American Mustang" - a nice romanticized name for feral horses.

    Their introduction to North American was bad news for the bison. They enable Native North Americans to easily hunt them, and many eastern tribes moved onto the plains to do that.

    But, closer to this topic, the most significant introduced species to North and South America was the smallpox virus which arrived with the Spanish and devastated Native North American people on both continents starting just after Columbus. Cortez didn't conquer Mexico. Smallpox did. And smallpo0x reached most areas through inter-tribal contacts long before any Euros arrived to start recording history.

    Great introductory summary to this story in a book titled '1491' by Charles Mann.

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  • 106. At 11:11pm on 22 May 2010, CanadianRockies wrote:

    95. bowmanthebard wrote:
    After the retreating Iraqis set fire to huge numbers of oil wells in Kuwait, there were prophecies of doom galore. "They'll be burning for a quarter of a century", we were told.

    The solution was very heavy-handed and low-tech: set off an explosion close to the source of the effluent. If it doesn't blow it out the first time, set off a bigger explosion. It was easy!

    ----------

    Those well were all on land, as far as I know. And the purpose of the explosion was to use up all the oxygen, thus snuffing out the fire, as far as I know.

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  • 107. At 11:13pm on 22 May 2010, CanadianRockies wrote:

    Re "synthetic" life. Couldn't one argue that anything we have modified with selective breeding could be called that?

    Isn't a poodle a synthetic life form?

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  • 108. At 00:12am on 23 May 2010, LarryKealey wrote:


    @JaneBasingstoke, @CanadianRockies

    I'll take back the word 'every' - but so many 'introduced species' have resulted in very bad things happening. Ever been to California - they check you for plants and vegetables before you enter the state - mainly because of parasites hitching a ride...

    This whole geo-engineering thing with CO2 fixing microbes is just so wrong.

    We really don't know the true effects of CO2 emissions on the biosphere. I get really nervous when people talk about these wild schemes - like this one, what was the other big one - dumping massive amounts of iron into the ocean. Bad, very bad.

    Dr. Ed Lorenz had it correct (he was the father of both chaos theory and computer climate modeling) - he said that while we can provide 'inputs' to the climate system - we have no way of knowing the outcome or results of those inputs - this holds true for CO2 as well.

    Mother nature will take care of itself...

    Kealey

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  • 109. At 00:13am on 23 May 2010, LarryKealey wrote:


    @everyone

    Thanks for your kind wishes ;) greatly appreciated.

    Kealey

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  • 110. At 00:24am on 23 May 2010, LarryKealey wrote:


    Regarding BP's plan to stop the leak using a slurry of heavy fluid and concrete - someone (can't seem to find the post now) suggested that it took until now to put together and implement this plan - not so. This is pretty easy and simple stuff - they could have been working on this weeks ago.

    For the last month, every 'plan' has involved a scheme to capture the leaking oil rather than just seal the leak. We have seen three 'rube goldberg' contraptions thus far and only now, when all have failed is BP actually trying to seal the wellhead.

    I am also concerned that (I could be wrong here, but...) it appears that BP is 'pulling a fast one' with the second relief well. It looks like a way to avoid the temporary moratorium on offshore drilling. While I don't think we really need the moratorium on drilling - but this sure looks like a way around it. When the relief well is finished and the leaking well plugged deep below the seabed, BP should be forced to abandon the second relief well - but my guess is that as it won't be needed as a relief well, it will become the new production well. It all just sounds a bit shady to me.

    Everyone who has been here a while knows I am not 'anti-oil' or anything like that - but I do believe in corporate responsibility and at this point - I don't like BP at all. Not after the way in which they have been handling this situation. I think the senior management should be dumped - never allowed to be officers in a corporation again and an ethics program should be implemented company wide.

    When the dust settles on this - there will be a lot of tough questions and squirming executives...

    Cheers.

    Kealey

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  • 111. At 00:36am on 23 May 2010, bowmanthebard wrote:

    106. At 11:11pm on 22 May 2010, CanadianRockies wrote:

    "Those well were all on land, as far as I know. And the purpose of the explosion was to use up all the oxygen, thus snuffing out the fire, as far as I know."

    As far as I think, it was old-fashioned blowing them out.

    My point here -- if I have one at all -- is that the simplest, most obvious methods are often the most effective. Anyone wanna bet they'll end up just dropping lots of heavy stuff on top of it? That is something they could have done weeks ago, only they had their reputations to protect. Like dentists who spend months doing delicate repeated root canal treatment instead of an extraction.

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  • 112. At 01:00am on 23 May 2010, davblo wrote:

    LarryKealey #108: "This whole geo-engineering thing with CO2 fixing microbes is just so wrong."

    In a previous blog I mentioned a theoretical chemical production plant which is powered by sunlight, takes C from CO2 and H from H20 in the air, and a bit of O2 perhaps, and creates a petrol, gas or ethanol type fuel. (A bit like bio-fuels but produced directly in a factory as opposed to taking up arable land and crops.)

    My points were that (a) creating such a plant was only a matter of engineering and chemical processing technology (b) that powered by sunlight it's power source would be "free", and (c) that subsequently burning the fuel would simple put back the original raw materials into the atmosphere from whence they were taken. So minimal environmental impact, low cost, and no need to debate possible AGW etc.

    Little did I realise that the genetic research programs had such an objective; with genetically engineered life as the core of the production process.

    I'm not sure why Richard used the odd term "CO2-suckers" and why many (such a LarryKealey #108) refer to it as CO2 fixing and geo-engineering; whilst such terms are likely to shock any worry people.

    If you call it an environmentally clean, fuel production and usage cycle, which can power existing transport vehicles and use sunlight as it's only power source, and not cause any overall change to the atmosphere; why would anyone complain or object?

    /davblo

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  • 113. At 01:25am on 23 May 2010, CanadianRockies wrote:

    108. LarryKealey - I fully agree with your basic idea. My problem was with 'every.' The list of bad news introduced species is endless. Even the good news ones, from our perspective, have down sides for other species. But then, most of the bad news ones do too... there must be something that eats even those cane toads in Australia I suppose.

    And, no kidding, that idea of dumping iron filings into the ocean is so ridiculous that I can't believe any fool would have suggested it. Very large ocean. And the CO2 costs - not to mention the dollar costs - of extracting and transporting it make it a stupid idea from the inception.

    Another cure far worse than the supposed disease. Like this whole geoengineering idea. The best thing to come out of this whole AGW thing has been a heightened awareness for the need for energy efficiency and research into more alternative ideas - but that's not a new idea (I remember the 1970s oil crisis when all this came out first, don't you?) and it only makes common sense.

    Forgot to add my congratulations on your wedding news. Since I really appreciate your daily front line updates on the oil spill, I hope the big day is not next week.

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  • 114. At 01:27am on 23 May 2010, CanadianRockies wrote:

    111. bowmanthebard - Makes sense to me. The dentist analogy was spot on. But I guess that first 'top hat' thing they tried was a pretty simply method, but didn't quite work at those depths.

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  • 115. At 01:36am on 23 May 2010, CanadianRockies wrote:

    110. LarryKealey - I thought the dumbest thing BP did was when CEO Hayward said the impacts wouldn't be as bad as the media was suggesting. Whether that will prove true or not, it was a major league PR blunder. If anything they should have emphasized how bad it could be, then if it isn't as bad, it would look that much better.

    Then they can use the Wall Streeter's trick of 'better than expected.'

    Oh well. Other than this episode that CEO is an improvement over their last dud, but I'm thinking his days there are numbered.

    And there's going to be some serious squirming in the Obama administration after this is over too. BP was a big contributor and the agency let them do this well without the full review.

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  • 116. At 05:36am on 23 May 2010, simon-swede wrote:

    Canadaian Rockies at #107

    The difference I guess, is that something produced through selective breeding has real ancestors whereas a synthetic life form has a bunch of chemicals in a lab as 'parents'.

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  • 117. At 08:11am on 23 May 2010, blunderbunny wrote:

    @davblo #112
    (Plus, All)

    Not a common occurrence, but I find myself agreeing with you. I've previously posted links to Sandia National Laboratories, sunlight to petrol project. So, here it is again, for those of you that might be interested:

    http://sandia.gov/news/resources/releases/2007/sunshine.html

    And you can Google "sunlight to petrol" for lots of other interesting things........... Note: May contain .pdf's ;-)

    Whilst, some of us may not agree with the CO2 reduction aims of many of you, we do cross over on the use of alternative energies (apart from wind) and the reduction in use of oil and its various derivatives.

    So, as it seems as if there may be a "little" consesus between some of us in both camps, how about we ask Richard to look more in depth into these sorts of things?

    What say you all? Can we muster a little selective "consensus" between us?

    Even if we may disagree over the reasons or the cause, it might just be nice for a little while at least, for everyone to feel like they are making at least a little bit of progress............

    And,

    Congratulations Larry, good luck mate

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  • 118. At 08:14am on 23 May 2010, blunderbunny wrote:

    @simon-swede #116

    "The difference I guess, is that something produced through selective breeding has real ancestors whereas a synthetic life form has a bunch of chemicals in a lab as 'parents'."

    An interesting point for a bunch of chemicals to make ;-)

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  • 119. At 08:47am on 23 May 2010, bowmanthebard wrote:

    #113 CanadianRockies wrote:

    "no kidding, that idea of dumping iron filings into the ocean is so ridiculous that I can't believe any fool would have suggested it."

    It's typical of the crazy ideas that people always come up with when they're in a religious-moral "rapture". At the moment, a significant proportion of people in Western countries are fixated on what they regard as THE problem that overshadows all other problems, so they overlook the obvious problems with the proposed "solutions".

    Whenever there is a "THE" problem, it tends to snowball. People pour all of their personal failings and anxieties and internal strife into the external threat supposedly posed by "THE" problem. Depressed? -- It's "THE" problem again. If only "THE" problem were fixed, everything would be all right!

    Worryingly, history throws up many examples of a large group of people "losing their sanity" -- and their decency -- because they've got a "THE" problem.

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  • 120. At 08:54am on 23 May 2010, bowmanthebard wrote:

    #110 LarryKealey wrote:

    "I don't like BP at all."

    Their logo says it all: sunshine green, mystical lotus flower green, universal cycle of infinity green, foliage GREEN. You'd almost forget it's an oil company -- in fact the whole point of the logo is to make you forget it's an oil company.

    It's like using a fluffy bunny rabbit as the logo of a meat cleaver company.

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  • 121. At 09:16am on 23 May 2010, sensiblegrannie wrote:

    mannysummits
    What if we humans are a sort of paradox? What if we designed ourselves in the first place? What if we are at the beginning of re-designing ourselves again? Lets hope we make a better job of it this time round. ;-)

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  • 122. At 09:46am on 23 May 2010, Dr Brian wrote:

    Just to make a small point about the evils of Columbus et al introducing smallpox to North America. The Indians probably got there own back by exporting syphilis to Europe.
    .........................................................................

    Also. I'm a dentist so I'm interested in the root canal/ extraction analogy for the oil leak. The purpose of RCT is to retain the original tooth in a non-infected socket so as to maintain the original form and function rather than replacing it with something artificial (or leaving a gap; sometimes acceptable at the back but not where it shows!). RCT is undoubtedly the best route to go down but takes a lot of preparatory work before you can close off the root canal.

    Similarly BP has spent a lot of time clearing debris from the fractured pipe in order to gain access so as to be able to seal the broken end securely. I think we would all agree that would be the best solution.

    So far they haven't managed the seal. Covering the area with debris MAY NOT WORK and if oil leaks from beneath the pile it would be necessary to start from scratch.

    At that depth they are attempting to do something that has never been tried before. The US government may bluster but only BP has the capability to do the job.

    A bit less of the "hurry up" and a bit more moral support might help.

    Both from the Yanks and all you bloggers!

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  • 123. At 09:59am on 23 May 2010, Dr Brian wrote:

    Heavens. I wrote "there own back" instead of "their..."
    My Grammar school education's slipping.

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  • 124. At 11:52am on 23 May 2010, davblo wrote:

    blunderbunny #117: "Sandia National Laboratories, sunlight to petrol project"

    Thanks for the link. I remember now. Funny how things fall into place.

    I wonder if some of these ideas just get ignored because people think they are a hoax like "cold fusion". I admit I took "sunlight to petrol" as a kind of joke earlier. But now I've come around to it myself from another angle.

    By the way; I don't like wind turbines either; and they are starting to pop up around here now.

    I still find it odd though that so many agree that attempts at deliberate geo-engineering projects would be foolish, but only some see what we are currently doing as geo-engineering.

    Surely extracting coal and oil and gas from the ground and (by burning them) spurting CO2 into the atmosphere is already geo-engineering (even though the actual effect is still debated).

    Surely de-forestation and changes in land usage on such an enormous scale is geo-engineering; and surely changing the populations of species across the globe is eco-engineering.

    I realise we've built our lives them, but why are these activities any the less worrying than the remedial geo-engineering projects being discussed?

    Surely if we agree geo-engineering is wrong then we should try to stop them all, including burning fossil fuel.

    /davblo

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  • 125. At 12:39pm on 23 May 2010, bowmanthebard wrote:

    #124 davblo wrote:

    "if we agree geo-engineering is wrong then we should try to stop them all"

    What reason does anyone have for thinking "geo-engineering" is wrong? You're just appealing to the near-universal religious idea that there's a plan or design, and it's wrong to interfere with it.

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  • 126. At 12:55pm on 23 May 2010, JaneBasingstoke wrote:

    @LarryKealey #108

    "Mother nature will take care of itself..."

    Yes. That's what Lovelock has been saying for some time. He even emphasises that humanity will survive some of the more extreme scenarios that are possible with global warming and that humanity has a bright future. Unfortunately that doesn't necessarily translate as a comfortable ride for us in the geological short term.

    Some quotes from Lovelock on "saving the planet".

    "There have been seven disasters since humans came on the earth, very similar to the one that's just about to happen. I think these events keep separating the wheat from the chaff. And eventually we'll have a human on the planet that really does understand it and can live with it properly. That's the source of my optimism."

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/theguardian/2008/mar/01/scienceofclimatechange.climatechange

    "It is false pride and hubris to believe we can do anything to "save the planet". At most we can save the people here on these islands. Wind energy will hamper not help us achieve that end. It is time we fully and deeply understood that our Earth can and always has saved itself, although not necessarily for our benefit."

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/mar/29/lovelock-wind-farms

    "I cannot help feeling that attempts by us to regulate the Earth's climate and chemistry would condemn humanity to a Kafkaesque fate from which there may be no escape. Better, perhaps, to learn from the wiser physicians of the early 19th century; they knew no cure for common diseases but also knew that by letting nature take its course, the patient often recovered. Perhaps we, too, had better use our energies to adapt and leave recovery to Gaia; after all, she has survived more than three billion years and has kept life going all that time."

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cif-green/2009/sep/20/geoengineering-royal-society-earth

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  • 127. At 1:36pm on 23 May 2010, bowmanthebard wrote:

    LarryKealey #108: "Mother nature will take care of itself..."
    JaneBasingstoke #126 (quoting Lovelock): "leave recovery to Gaia"

    I cringe whenever I see the word 'Gaia'. It's a word coined by a master of self-promotion, which expresses a very straightforward idea, but tarts up that idea by adding a fruity dash of religious mysticism to make it seem "deep". Why allow yourself to be co-opted into the Lovelock promotion business like that?

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  • 128. At 2:22pm on 23 May 2010, jazbo wrote:

    "while I realise that you are bound by the BBCs rules and reg's, a little exploration of the potential for misuse of this technology would have been welcome."

    Bound by rules and regs? Really? Have you read Harrabin's write up of the Heartland conference? It reads more like a Sunday tabloid hatchet job than fair and balanced journalism. It could only ever have passed any sort of editorial process if everyone is "on message".

    Harrabin and Black are part of the "team" - the climategate emails show that.

    As for this latest piece by Mr Black, what is demonstrates is that the out-of-control green money machine is seriously considering attacking CO2 using artifical means.

    This is madness with unknown implications that makes the debate on whether we are being led astray and fed a line on "catastrophic" climate change (where are those dangerous and increasing sea level rises again?) even more important.

    I see no a period of history with the second lowest sea level in 500 million years, the lowest C02 level for millions of years, and declining temperatures over millions of years.

    To see that you do of course have to look at some long-term factual data, rather than 30 year trends based on arbitary baselines.

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  • 129. At 2:31pm on 23 May 2010, jazbo wrote:

    Many people see the period we are in as one where our unintentional intervention may have staved off a desent into another ice age.

    What scares me is the desire of the smitten to push us back to the "natural" cycle, and therefore allow us to make that descent more readily.

    I would love to have a time machine and go forward 500 years to watch the efforts to pump greenhouse gases into the atmposphere on a scale that makes our current output look pathetic, to stop the advancing cold that is decimating crops and killing billions.

    To offer another doom scenario for the needy to get their god-fearing teeth into, how about the prospect that a quiet sun and inscreasing volcanic activity could bring on a rapid cooling of 3+ degrees that would almost wipe out agriculture? Scary enough to put your shrill cried behind?

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  • 130. At 2:38pm on 23 May 2010, JaneBasingstoke wrote:

    @CanadianRockies #105

    I'm not sure your comment about mustangs is entirely consistent with some contemporary accounts of bison losses, which seem to involve scorched earth campaigns against Native Americans, the expansion of cattle ranches, a fashion for buffalo tongue in expensive restaurants and even entertainment for bored train passengers with suitable guns. Much of the carcass of some of these kills was just left to rot.

    http://www.nps.gov/archive/jeff/buffalo_hunters.html
    http://www.greater-yellowstone.com/animals/American-Bison-buffalo.html

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  • 131. At 3:43pm on 23 May 2010, JaneBasingstoke wrote:

    @bowmanthebard #127

    Gaia isn't about religious mysticism. Gaia is about the Second Law of Thermodynamics and the way that a distant astronomer might be able to infer the presence of life on earth from the chemically unstable mixture of gases in our atmosphere. Gaia is about Daisyworld and selection pressures maintaining the right mix of individuals for a characteristic such as temperature.


    Lovelock meanwhile welcomes scientific criticism

    "Good criticism is like bathing in an ice-cold sea. The sudden chill of immersion in what seems at first a hostile medium soon stirs the blood and sharpens the senses."


    And is very keen on scientific rigour

    "Fudging the data in any way whatsoever is quite literally a sin against the holy ghost of science. I'm not religious, but I put it that way because I feel so strongly. It's the one thing you do not ever do. You've got to have standards.

    You can make mistakes; they're helpful. In the old days, it was perfectly OK to make a mistake and say so. You often learned from it."


    "I remember when the Americans sent up a satellite to measure ozone and it started saying that a hole was developing over the South Pole. But the damn fool scientists were so mad on the models that they said the satellite must have a fault."

    "What I like about sceptics is that in good science you need critics that make you think: "Crumbs, have I made a mistake here?" If you don't have that continuously, you really are up the creek. The good sceptics have done a good service, but some of the mad ones I think have not done anyone any favours."

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/blog/2010/mar/29/james-lovelock


    Meanwhile if you are going to criticise Lovelock's Gaia you do need to read his disclaimer first.

    "I have frequently used the word Gaia as a shorthand for the hypothesis itself, namely that the biosphere is a self-regulating entity with the capacity to keep our planet healthy by controlling the chemical and physical environment. Occasionally it has been difficult, without extensive circumlocution, to avoid talking of Gaia as if she were known to be sentient. This is meant no more seriously than is the appellation 'she' when given to a ship by those who sail her, as a recognition that even pieces of wood and metal when specifically designed and assembled may achieve a composite identity with its own characteristic signature, as distinct from being the mere sum of its parts."

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  • 132. At 3:52pm on 23 May 2010, davblo wrote:

    bowmanthebard #125: "You're just appealing to the near-universal religious idea that there's a plan or design..."

    No bowmanthebard. they are our plans and our designs; and we have the (apparent) freedom to choose between different alternatives.

    Most on this blog seem to agree that any plan to try to control the climate by deliberate geo-engineering would be foolhardy for reasons which are entirely non-religious. I want to know why not all of those people think that what we are doing now is foolhardy, because it also rates as geo-engineering. A non-religious question.

    /davblo

    PS. Does no one have any sensible comments on my #124? I thought it was reasonably "on topic".

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  • 133. At 4:04pm on 23 May 2010, manysummits wrote:

    \\\ At The Coffee Shop ///

    for sensibleoldgrannie @121, who asked me:

    mannysummits
    What if we humans are a sort of paradox? What if we designed ourselves in the first place? What if we are at the beginning of re-designing ourselves again? Lets hope we make a better job of it this time round. ;-)

    =============================

    Hello Grannie!

    I think a new Creation Myth is evolving.

    Just now there are many sacred stories being re-told - the Indigenous Peoples' creation myths, for example, or the stories of the many religions alive today.

    But just as in the aftermath of the Cambrian Explosion some half a billion years ago, soon only a few Stories will Inherit the Earth.

    Those of Robert Pirsig's - Highest Quality.

    We on this weblog are in a sense point men and women - pioneers.

    We are the Scouts - way out in front - looking for a safe passage for the teeming millions we have had to leave behind.

    We are Questing - that most Romantic of all vocations.

    We may glimpse the Promised Land of the Future, but we are unlikely to ever set foot in it.

    If we are lucky, at some point in the Time to Come, people will tell stories about us.

    Perhaps good stories.

    Perhaps they will tell these stories to their children and grandchildren, with something akin to - Reverence - which after all, is an expression of Love.

    - Manysummits | 23 May 2010 | Dark Mountain Writer -

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  • 134. At 4:28pm on 23 May 2010, manysummits wrote:

    To davblo #124: re geo-engineering continuum

    Hello Davblo!

    Yes, I agree.

    We have been interacting with our Planet from the beginning, and, human-like, we feel the need to label everything, and so now we call it geo-engineering.

    James Lovelock's Gaia is of course a more appealing name, I think - or Mother Earth.

    The whole field is now designated Earth Systems Science, to make it more politically acceptable to the staid University group. (not all of course)

    Your discussion brought to mind an analogy - that of mind-altering substance use - and abuse.

    I think it is a valid metaphor.

    Man has always been distilling things (alcohol), experimenting with herbs and spices (magic mushrooms et al).

    So the next logical step, if this is a 'path,' would be for all of us to become heroin junkies (geo-engineers).

    As usual - it's balance that seems to matter most.

    Mind-altering drugs are a necessity, I would argue.

    There have always been natural highs - a dog running across a field at top speed - just for the fun of it.

    Shamans toking up, and painting in caves.

    Country and western singers abusing themselves - and producing art.

    But there is a point of diminishing return, to co-opt a term from economics.

    At some point it is "The Age of Stupid," to be more blunt.

    We are in the Age of Stupid - and some us are trying feverishly - to halt the madness.

    I don't know if we can stop this.

    It seems to me we should all come to a "Full Stop," - and:

    "go into a desert place, and rest awhile."

    I don't think I would hold my breath waiting for this epiphany, however, so we will have to think as we go - like climbing a mountain.

    The desert is likely to remain very empty of Humans Being.

    Regards,

    Manysummits

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  • 135. At 4:32pm on 23 May 2010, bowmanthebard wrote:


    bowmanthebard #125: "You're just appealing to the near-universal religious idea that there's a plan or design..."

    davblo #132: "No bowmanthebard. they are our plans and our designs; and we have the (apparent) freedom to choose between different alternatives."

    No davblo. You have a concept in your mind of "geo-engineering", in which humans do something (engineering or some sort) to the Earth. The way the Earth would be in the absence of this "engineering" is how you think it should be, because you think the engineering is wrong.

    Notice the word 'should'.

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  • 136. At 4:56pm on 23 May 2010, bowmanthebard wrote:

    #131 JaneBasingstoke: "Gaia isn't about religious mysticism. Gaia is about the Second Law of Thermodynamics"

    bowmanthebard: In that case it's just false. The second law of thermodynamics only applies to closed systems, and all planets are open systems. Practically all of them have some compounds that change state given their host planet's range of pressure and temperature, so in that sense they're "unstable" (although it's an odd word for it).

    JaneBasingstoke : "And is very keen on scientific rigour"

    bowmanthebard: But not keen enough to avoid theology, apparently:

    Lovelock: "Fudging the data in any way whatsoever is quite literally a sin against the holy ghost of science. I'm not religious"

    bowmanthebard: Sorry, but he just IS religious -- as is evident from talk of "holy ghosts" and "sin". You might argue that he's being metaphorical, but most religious thinking is metaphorical. Metaphors are unavoidable in sciences too when they are very young. But in science every effort should be made to avoid them as soon as possible because all metaphors are literally false. They should be "cashed in" for literal descriptions of things. That is the only way they can yield predictions and be tested as honest hypotheses.

    JaneBasingstoke: "Meanwhile if you are going to criticise Lovelock's Gaia you do need to read his disclaimer first."

    Lovelock: "I have frequently used the word Gaia as a shorthand for the hypothesis itself, namely that the biosphere is a self-regulating entity with the capacity to keep our planet healthy"[...]

    bowmanthebard: But it just isn't a self-regulating entity, or anything like an agent. And it's very misleading to assume it is such an "entity", because what distinguishes self-regulating entities is the fact that they have a "normal" condition -- i.e. a state that can be understood as a goal, usually because that's how they're designed, meant or otherwise ordained to be, as opposed the way they just happen to be. There is no condition of "health" applied to the planet: a condition of health only applies to individual organisms, and the health of one type of organism is nearly always bought at the cost of disease for another type of organism.

    Lovelock: "to avoid talking of Gaia as if she were known to be sentient."

    bowmanthebard: Crikey -- he's even madder than I thought! He obviously entertains the possibility that this "Gaia" thing is sentient, but wants to play it safe by avoiding saying we know it's sentient! -- The men in white coats are on their way!

    Lovelock: "This is meant no more seriously than is the appellation 'she' when given to a ship by those who sail her, as a recognition that even pieces of wood and metal when specifically designed and assembled may achieve a composite identity with its own characteristic signature, as distinct from being the mere sum of its parts."

    Mystical pussyfooting around with nonsense like "composite entity" and "characteristic signature". You can just feel his urge to avoid clarity, and thereby getting exposed as talking rot. Obviously, a collection of planks isn't a boat, because they're not fitted together in the right way. I can tell what coming next: "emergence"! Ridiculous -- and almost always the product of conceptual confusion.

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  • 137. At 6:01pm on 23 May 2010, JaneBasingstoke wrote:

    @bowmanthebard #136

    "The second law of thermodynamics only applies to closed systems, and all planets are open systems."

    Yes. Life relies on the Sun.

    Life on planet Earth is responsible for the mixture of oxygen and nitrogen in our atmosphere. In particular the oxygen in the Earth's atmosphere is explained by photosynthesis. And due to the constant oxidation of atmospheric nitrogen (by lightning and incoming high energy photons) life also gets to return nitrogen gas to the atmosphere.

    Geologists would be very hard put to explain an atmoshere like the Earth's without life. This compares to the apparently dead atmosphere of Venus and the almost dead atmosphere of Mars (the recent discovery of methane plumes on Mars had astronomer Patrick Moore revise his estimate of them finding life there upwards).

    Lovelock's exact phrase was "entropy reduction", this being local entropy reduction as total entropy including the Sun and deep space is obviously increasing. And he credits Erwin Schroedinger's "What is Life", where Schroedinger describes life as feeding on negative entropy, which is technically more accurate than describing life as feeding on energy.

    So. Local reduction in entropy due to life using incoming sunlight to do work. Overall increase in entropy due to the Sun using up its hydrogen in fusion. How does that get the Second Law wrong?

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  • 138. At 6:06pm on 23 May 2010, davblo wrote:

    bowmanthebard #135: "No davblo. You have a concept in your mind of 'geo-engineering', in which humans do something (engineering or some sort) to the Earth. The way the Earth would be in the absence of this 'engineering' is how you think it should be, because you think the engineering is wrong. Notice the word 'should'."

    No bowmanthebard. I don't think "The way the Earth would be in the absence of this 'engineering' is how...it should be"

    I know that we have the choice between having...

    (a) "The way the Earth would be in the absence of this 'engineering'"
    ...and...
    (b) "The way the Earth would be..." with "...this 'engineering'"

    We appear to have the power to make that choice. There is no "should" about it.

    Ask people which they prefer to take a chance on.

    /davblo

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  • 139. At 6:17pm on 23 May 2010, JaneBasingstoke wrote:

    @bowmanthebard #136

    [Bowman] "But not keen enough to avoid theology, apparently"

    [Lovelock] "Fudging the data in any way whatsoever is quite literally a sin against the holy ghost of science. I'm not religious"

    [Bowman] "Sorry, but he just IS religious -- as is evident from talk of "holy ghosts" and "sin". You might argue that he's being metaphorical, but most religious thinking is metaphorical. Metaphors are unavoidable in sciences too when they are very young. But in science every effort should be made to avoid them as soon as possible because all metaphors are literally false. They should be "cashed in" for literal descriptions of things. That is the only way they can yield predictions and be tested as honest hypotheses."

    [Jane Basingstoke] Mmm, don't like the cut off point in that Lovelock quote, let's see more of it

    [Lovelock] "Fudging the data in any way whatsoever is quite literally a sin against the holy ghost of science. I'm not religious, but I put it that way because I feel so strongly."

    The quote wasn't from a scientific paper being submitted for peer review. Nor was it from a text book. It was for an interview for the Guardian. And it was not a description of a scientific theory or measurement, it was a description about Lovelock's feelings about science.

    Should scientists really have to avoid using metaphors when explaining their feelings about misbehaviour of other scientists?

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  • 140. At 6:53pm on 23 May 2010, sensiblegrannie wrote:

    Every few years there is a new splurge of climate concern. Climate anxiety appears to go in waves and so does the enthusiasm to talk about it to a wider audience. From reading through previous bouts of climate concern, it appears that nothing-much gets done and things grind on regardless. Are we currently in a 'splurge' and will the 'wave' diminish when the powers-that-be are seen to be doing nothing other than making lists and talking a lot at expensive venues? Or is this new media the arrow in the achilles heel which will eventually force a change in the global political landscape?

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  • 141. At 6:59pm on 23 May 2010, bowmanthebard wrote:

    #139 JaneBasingstoke wrote:

    "Should scientists really have to avoid using metaphors when explaining their feelings about misbehaviour of other scientists?"

    Not their feelings, no, I accept you're right there.

    I'm happy to concede that point not only because I'm wrong, but also because I'm conserving strength for my real disagreement with Lovelock, which is his (hidden, insidious) teleology.

    simon-swede keeps calling me rude names because I keep calling everyone "religious". But my real problem is teleology. Almost everyone seems to think that there's a "normal" or "proper" state of the Earth -- whether it's "healthy" or "free from geo-engineering", or whatever. And Lovelock is almost the worst offender, not just because he's cleverer than most of them, but because he's so obfuscatory about it. He's a quick-change artiste with metaphors in a way that's almost designed to disguise the teleology.


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  • 142. At 7:02pm on 23 May 2010, bowmanthebard wrote:

    Oh yeah, I almost forgot Lovelock's own words 'quite literally' when speaking of the holy ghost and sin. So we have to take him as being non-literal when speaking "quite literally"?

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  • 143. At 7:31pm on 23 May 2010, JaneBasingstoke wrote:

    @bowmanthebard #136

    " I can tell what coming next: "emergence"! Ridiculous -- and almost always the product of conceptual confusion. "

    The phrase he uses is "top-down".

    The term "emergence" has been much abused. But it is essential for science. Chemistry emerges from quantum mechanics. Biology emerges from chemistry. Thought emerges from the behaviour of individual neurons. The nitrogen cycle emerges from the actions of very different organisms, some using nitrogen for its chemistry (amino acids, nucleic acids, etc), and some using nitrogen compounds for energy.

    The correct use of emergence links related fields of science. Otherwise we'd have little islands of unrelated knowledge. And be the poorer for it.

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  • 144. At 7:45pm on 23 May 2010, JaneBasingstoke wrote:

    @bowmanthebard #142

    It could be argued that the "quite literally" only applied to the "sin" part of his statement. And the concept of sin, if not the word "sin", applies to secular morals as well as religious ones.

    However if you are going to be picky, I remind you this was a quote from an interview. You may also want to get upset with other examples of imperfect spoken English. You can find examples at Private Eye's Colemanballs page.

    http://www.private-eye.co.uk/sections.php?section_link=colemanballs

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  • 145. At 7:52pm on 23 May 2010, JaneBasingstoke wrote:

    @bowmanthebard #136

    "But it just isn't a self-regulating entity,"

    Firstly he's refering to the "self-regulating entity" as part of a hypothesis. And secondly it's the best non-teleological explanation I've come accross for how the Earth has managed to maintain comfortable temperatures as the Sun has warmed up over geological time. It's also the best non-teleological explanation for the current high levels of oxygen in our atmosphere (most of geological time had very low levels of oxygen in the atmosphere).

    "And it's very misleading to assume it is such an "entity", because what distinguishes self-regulating entities is the fact that they have a "normal" condition -- i.e. a state that can be understood as a goal, usually because that's how they're designed, meant or otherwise ordained to be, as opposed the way they just happen to be."

    Ho hum, the Bowman dictionary again.

    Lovelock's Gaia was accused of being teleological. This was why he came up with Daisyworld, which shows how conventional selective processes can maintain the right mix of organisms to maintain a comfortable temperature for those organisms. Daisyworld is no more teleological than evolution by natural selection.

    I warn you. If you ask me to explain Daisyworld I will find it difficult even though it is a simple idea. This is because Daisyworld is best explained with pictures.

    "He obviously entertains the possibility that this "Gaia" thing is sentient, but wants to play it safe by avoiding saying we know it's sentient!"

    No. He doesn't want the hassle of people accusing him of believing mystical rubbish.

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  • 146. At 8:32pm on 23 May 2010, davblo wrote:

    bowmanthebard #141: 'Almost everyone seems to think that there's a "normal" or "proper" state of the Earth'

    Please, please; where do you get this from?

    Why should my choosing between two alternatives imply that I think one of them is "the way things are meant to be"?

    Looking back through you comments I find...

    bowmanthebard #10: "Apart from all the usual individual worries about money, health, etc., I'd say the only thing that really worries me at the moment is the possibility that ecologists will eventually manage to DO something! In the name of all that is holy, let it never happen!"

    Now why would that worry you? Is it because you think it's "not the way things are meant to be"?

    Of course not.

    Please explain or desist.

    /davblo

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  • 147. At 8:34pm on 23 May 2010, manysummits wrote:

    Grannie #140: re "Climate anxiety appears to go in waves..."

    Interesting thought!

    Like a Wagnerian symphony - like climate itself.

    Have you read Dark Mountain yet?

    - Manysummits -

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  • 148. At 8:37pm on 23 May 2010, CanadianRockies wrote:

    #122. DrBrianS wrote:

    "Just to make a small point about the evils of Columbus et al introducing smallpox to North America. The Indians probably got there own back by exporting syphilis to Europe."

    Not really. The Spanish priests in Mexico documented 90% mortality from smallpox. And the source of syphillis is still debated, but in any case not comparable.

    And it wasn't evil because it was not deliberate, although there were deliberate introductions much later. They would qualify as 'evil.'



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  • 149. At 8:43pm on 23 May 2010, LarryKealey wrote:

    I know that we have the choice between having...

    (a) "The way the Earth would be in the absence of this 'engineering'"
    ...and...
    (b) "The way the Earth would be..." with "...this 'engineering'"

    We appear to have the power to make that choice. There is no "should" about it.

    Ask people which they prefer to take a chance on.

    /davblo

    ------------------------------------------------------------------

    I think you overestimate the 'power' we have.

    We don't even know what the earth will be like in 50 years without this geo-engineering - and if we do implement some sort of geo-engineering scheme, we don't really know what the result will be 50 years hence.

    Most of us can't even predict what our own lives will be like in ten years - think about it - ten years ago, where did you think you would be today?

    Forty some years ago, Rachel Carson painted a very bleak picture of where the world would be today - thankfully, she was dead wrong.

    I see a better future for most - without any geo-engineering schemes. I certainly hope that those who would implement such schemes are prevented from doing so - it sounds too much like the mad scientist in the B movie - only really scary because some of these guys are actually serious.

    I am getting married on the 3rd of July - can anyone tell me what the weather will be like just 7 weeks from now on Lake Livingston? I think not. Can anyone even tell me if the oil will have washed up on the upper Texas coast by then? I think not.

    Can anyone tell me the unintended consequences of these 'geo-engineering' schemes? I think not....

    I don't believe we have the power you credit us with.

    Cheers.

    Kealey

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  • 150. At 9:21pm on 23 May 2010, davblo wrote:

    LarryKealey #149: "I don't believe we have the power you credit us with."

    I'm not really crediting us with the power to "know what the earth will be like in 50 years".

    If you look again, you'll see I simple said that we have the power to choose between two routes, one using geo-engineering, one not using it (ignoring half-measures).

    I didn't say we know the results of that choice.

    And mainly I was struggling with bowmanthebard's #135 in which he was claiming that 'The way the Earth would be in the absence of this "engineering" is how you think it should be'.

    You state your choice, and I agree with you. But I don't think either of us think it is "the way things are supposed to be" as bowmanthebard's maintains.

    Cheers; davblo

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  • 151. At 9:25pm on 23 May 2010, CanadianRockies wrote:

    130. JaneBasingstoke - No, what you describe is all the last gasp of bison history and mostly politically correct mythology. Therefore my comments are not "entirely consistent" with that.

    For example this "scorched earth campaigns against Native Americans" only began in the late 1860's and only in the U.S. Entirely different in Canada. And this factor was not as significant as mythology suggests. It was localized and the decline of bison had begun long before then.

    Outside of Spanish California, where there were no bison, "the expansion of cattle ranches" didn't really start until the bison were almost gone. There was more overlap between ranchers and bison in Texas. In Canada (plains) the first ranchers (British by the way) didn't even start until after the bison were gone (1880s).

    This "fashion for buffalo tongue in expensive restaurants" actually started with Native North Americans because at some seasons the bison were so lean that the only fat parts were the tongue. Here's a quote on that reality:

    "Body fat in some game animals, including bison, can drop so low by late winter or early spriong that their meat, if eaten indiscriminately, cannot sustain human life. Since protein-rich food stimulates metabolism, consumption of it actually increases caloris requirements and hastens starvation at a time when food is most scarce.

    Binnema, T. 2001:50 Common & Contested Ground: A Human and Environmental History of the Northwestern Plains, University of Oklahoma Press

    Even before horses, and even in seasons when bison were fat, they drove bison off jumps and more often into pounds, and killed so many at once that most was wasted.

    Yes, for a brief period they were shot for "entertainment for bored train passengers with suitable guns" when the railway first cut through their migration routes. But that was late and not significant. As for your comment about guns, on the Canadian plains the Native people had guns as earler as the 1680's via the Hudson's Bay Company but did not use them to hunt bison because they could kill them far more efficiently with bows and arrows, from horses.

    "Much of the carcass of some of these kills was just left to rot." True, for all people, as noted above. The worst Euro-American examples of this was from the period when bison hides became the staple of the American fur trade but Euro-Americans were not who supplied most of those hides.

    Lots of books about real history. One nicely condensed one about bison history and bison in general is:

    Geist, V. 1996. Buffalo Nation: History and Legend of the North American Bison. Fifth House Publishing.

    For an introductory backgrounder on the real prehistory of the Americas and the popular mythology, check out the book '1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus' by Charles Mann (Knopf 2005).

    Most of what everybody 'knows' is just mythology.

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  • 152. At 9:32pm on 23 May 2010, manysummits wrote:

    \\\ Gulf Oil Rupture - Deepwater - Extraordinary News! ///

    US warns it may 'push BP aside' on Gulf oil clean-up
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/world/us_and_canada/10145011.stm

    ==========================

    I have never heard of this type of response before.

    Has anyone?

    This is Interior Secretary Ken Salazar speaking.

    To Richard Black:

    Any chance you will be going to Ground Zero?

    - Manysummits -

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  • 153. At 9:36pm on 23 May 2010, bowmanthebard wrote:

    #143 JaneBasingstoke wrote:

    "The term "emergence" has been much abused. But it is essential for science. Chemistry emerges from quantum mechanics. Biology emerges from chemistry. "

    You are confusing the reduction of a thing to its parts with the reduction of a theory to another theory.

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  • 154. At 9:40pm on 23 May 2010, bowmanthebard wrote:

    davblo wrote:
    bowmanthebard #141: 'Almost everyone seems to think that there's a "normal" or "proper" state of the Earth'

    Please, please; where do you get this from?

    I get it from people who use words like 'geo-engineering'. They never bother to explain what they mean, as if it's completely obvious that "natural = good".

    But really, this discussion is too boring. Please read Hume c.1739 if you can't see this for yourself.

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  • 155. At 9:41pm on 23 May 2010, manysummits wrote:

    To CR #151:

    Interesting - misinformation is indeed your specialty.

    "Buffalo Days and Nights" by Peter Erasmus, who was actually there - born in 1833, guide on the Palliser Expedition; treaty translator, etc...

    http://esask.uregina.ca/entry/erasmus_peter_1833-1931.html

    - Manysummits -

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  • 156. At 10:04pm on 23 May 2010, davblo wrote:

    bowmanthebard #154: "I get it from people who use words like 'geo-engineering'. They never bother to explain what they mean, as if it's completely obvious that 'natural = good´'."

    That doesn't even make sense.
    Geo-engineering may imply "not-natual"; but "good" or "bad" is not implied at all.

    /davblo

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  • 157. At 10:31pm on 23 May 2010, CanadianRockies wrote:

    #155 - Manysummits - Be specific. What do you allege is "misinformation"?

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  • 158. At 10:41pm on 23 May 2010, CanadianRockies wrote:

    #155 - manysummits - Forgot to add, the 1857-79 Palliser Expedition did not see any bison until they reached the Elbow of the South Saskatchewan, in southeastern Saskatchewan. None left east of there by then. Hope you have read the Palliser Papers because they were obviously there too, and they wrote down the observations daily - which is the most credible kind of historical evidence.

    Narratives written from memory are dubious on details, and sometimes not even close to being accurate. But since I haven't read that book you mentioned I look forward to hearing what he describes.

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  • 159. At 10:43pm on 23 May 2010, CanadianRockies wrote:

    #156. For me geoengineering essentially means people deluded by scientific hubris playing dangerous games with things they don't understand, with consequences for us all.

    No thanks.

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  • 160. At 10:54pm on 23 May 2010, JaneBasingstoke wrote:

    @CanadianRockies

    I bow to your superior knowledge.

    Bisons mainly wiped out by Native Americans, horses helped them do it.

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  • 161. At 11:27pm on 23 May 2010, bowmanthebard wrote:

    davblo wrote:
    "Geo-engineering may imply "not-natual"; but "good" or "bad" is not implied at all."

    davblo wrote:
    "if we agree geo-engineering is wrong then we should try to stop them all"

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  • 162. At 11:43pm on 23 May 2010, AllenT2 wrote:

    Jack Frost wrote:

    "Its good to see BBC journalists with non-biased reporting.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/8694544.stm

    Climate sceptics rally to expose 'myth'"Wine flowed and blood coursed during a rousing address""Steve McIntyre, shambled on to the stage."
    "The audience disappointment was tangible - like a houndpack denied the kill."

    It goes on and on, I felt embarrased for Roger Harrabin when reading his drivel."
    _________________________________________________________________________

    Typical BBC reporting, especially when it concerns one of their pet obsessions or goals such as global warming. They have a similar attitude when it comes to the American right to bear arms and America's health care, as if somehow such things are any of their business.

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  • 163. At 11:52pm on 23 May 2010, AllenT2 wrote:

    JaneBasingstoke wrote:

    "@CanadianRockies I bow to your superior knowledge.

    Bisons mainly wiped out by Native Americans, horses helped them do it."



    Which "native Americans" are you referring to? After all, anyone born in America is a Native American.

    Both white and red skinned native Americans are responsible for over-hunting Bison . They were also not "wiped out." They do a fine job of blocking roads in Yellowstone National Park and occasionally attacking cars and people.

    By the way, they make for good barbecue.

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  • 164. At 11:59pm on 23 May 2010, ViktorT wrote:

    OK! I honestly cannot understand why people who don't know what they are actually talking about always have a say and express opinion publicly. Why is everybody so scared from the advances in technology and science? Why can't people just for once for the past 2000 years make a decision based on rational thinking and not one based on emotional and silly religious believes. When there is a major technological or scientific advance the public provoked by different pressure groups, who I can't understand on what they do their assessments, never allows it to flourish and progress. There might be even benefits that haven't even occurred to us. Of course there would always be dangerous. This is why the technology is first tested in a controlled environment and then it is released for common use. As far as I can understand from what I've read about the subject the scientist can direct how this synthetic organism behave. There for all the possible risks can be taken in consideration and then only the benefits to be utilized.

    Last but not least the reason why we have to permit similar advances in the field of biology and physics is that it is much better to know that such researches take place than having some group of poorly supplied and completely unmonitored vigilantes who are going to perform such research in secrecy.

    As far as it goes to god if he didn't want us to "play god" he wouldn't even give us the knowledge and the ideas in the first place, would he. Not to mention he wouldn't need us to have control. It is time to put an end to the human arrogance.

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  • 165. At 00:20am on 24 May 2010, CanadianRockies wrote:

    #160. JaneBasingstoke - When you put it like that, I feel like a schmuck. And,as usual, it wasn't that simple.

    For example, on the Canadian plains the Blackfoot group, who ruled the best bison range, supplied the Canadian fur trade with 'pemmican' or dried bison meat. So they were killing more bison than they 'naturally' would. And after about 1840 the Metis, who were a Euro-Native mix of mostly Cree, Assiniboine, and Ojibwa plus Euro, played a major role. They were primarily based in the Red River settlement in southern Manitoba, plus other satellite settlements later, and expanded westward in pursuit of the shrinking bison herds. They made major expedition with carts to haul back (dried) meat... and because their home bases were agricultural settlements, they could still survive if they couldn't find the bison in any given year or as the herds dwindled.

    Needless to say, this westward expansion of the Metis, as well as the Cree and Assiniboine, created conflict, and many wars, with the Blackfoot.

    The exact scenario varied on the area. In the US on the northern plains there was something vaguely similar. The Mandan villages on the upper Missouri (and several other tribes) were agricultural centers, and those settle people traded maize (and other crops) to the more nomadic people who lived in that region. That trade network extended north into Canada as well.

    Further south the more nomadic people traded with the settled agricultural people. So the bison hunters of Texas supplied the farmers of the Rio Grande and present New Mexico.

    The main advantage of guns to plains people was in war. A single shot gun could not kill bison nearly as fast as a hunter with bow and arrow, and those arrows were as deadly as bullets. That changed when repeating rifles were introduced but that was much later, after the American Civil War... and that's when almost all of those points you mentioned started to happen.

    For forest hunters, guns were more of an asset as they were typically going after single or relatively few prey (like moose or elk) which they stalked or tracked down.

    Its all much more interesting, and complex, than popular mythology. There's lots of excellent books about this which I can list if you like.

    That '1491' I mentioned is excellent overview but rather light on western North American history because there are others that already covered that.

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  • 166. At 00:40am on 24 May 2010, Dr Brian wrote:

    148. CanadianRockies wrote:
    "#122. DrBrianS wrote:

    "Just to make a small point about the evils of Columbus et al introducing smallpox to North America. The Indians probably got their own back by exporting syphilis to Europe."

    Not really. The Spanish priests in Mexico documented 90% mortality from smallpox. And the source of syphilis is still debated, but in any case not comparable.
    And it wasn't evil because it was not deliberate, although there were deliberate introductions much later. They would qualify as 'evil.'"

    I agree on both points. The origins of syphilis are indeed still debated (but are probably of Amerindian origin as the modern spread of accurately identifiable syphilis occurred immediately after the return of Columbus to Europe) and the original introduction of both smallpox, and worse influenza, were unintentional and thus not evil.
    UNLESS you are a devoted defender of all aspects of the North American Indians (noble savage, natural environmentalist, innocent and defenseless victim)in which case the mythology accuses the whites of all evils and the redman with none. I was usung the term evil as irony.

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  • 167. At 00:45am on 24 May 2010, davblo wrote:

    bowmanthebard #161: "davblo wrote..."

    What are you trying to show?

    The first statement says that geo-engineering is not inherently "good" or "bad". That is for us to decide.

    The second acknowledges that many on this blog think it would be "bad" to use geo-engineering right now.

    Under other circumstances that view could change.

    What don't you understand?

    /davblo

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  • 168. At 01:27am on 24 May 2010, CanadianRockies wrote:

    #166. BrianS - On the bright side, syphillis did get rid of Henry VIII.

    Sorry I missed your irony. Since so many people do believe in the mythology you described, I usually just expect to hear that kind of thing.

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  • 169. At 01:29am on 24 May 2010, CanadianRockies wrote:

    163. AllenT2 wrote re bison - "By the way, they make for good barbecue."

    My favourite meat, by far.

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  • 170. At 01:46am on 24 May 2010, JaneBasingstoke wrote:

    @AllenT2 #163

    "wiped out"

    Yes, should have been "nearly wiped out". I know conservation efforts have helped to massively improve numbers.

    "Native Americans"

    Sorry. I gather I should have said "American Indian". (I think.)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Native_American_name_controversy

    However my #160 was a gross oversimplification of CanadianRockies #151, which was far more nuanced. My contribution was not really appropriate given the sensitivity of the subject matter.

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  • 171. At 03:47am on 24 May 2010, CanadianRockies wrote:

    #170 - JaneBasingstoke - No, you were right. Except for some wood bison (a pseudosubspecies) up in Canada's Wood Buffalo National Park, wild bison were indeed "wiped out." The plains bison was only saved from extinction because of a very few small herds that were saved in captivity. All the plains bison are descendants from them, including the ones in Yellowstone.

    And while conservation efforts have played a role in the current situation, for plains herds in parks and a few small 'wood bison' herds up north, ranching them is why there are so many now. There are far, far more ranched bison than wild ones.

    As for "Native Americans," go for it. Some people don't like "American Indians" because of the origin of the word "Indians." Some people say Amerindians. Many call themselves "Indians," which is what I wish I could still use but... So I now usually use "Native North Americans" but its soooo long, and only applies to North America - but if I just use "Native Americans," Canadians get all twisted because they think Americans must mean from the U.S. Here in Canada the politically correct term is "First Nations" but that's too stupid for me... what is one of them supposed to be called?

    All this political correctness is getting totally ridiculous.
    In any case, no people in the Americas are truly "Native" because they originally came from someplace else, mostly Eurasia. And they came from Africa. So...

    The key point is how many different cultures there were/are. So almost everything one says about them is a false generalization, except that they were humans just like everybody else. And their history, in its essentials, was no different than, say, early European history except that nobody wrote it down.

    That book 1491 will amaze you if you're not familiar with this, and that's just the (very well researched) introduction to the story.

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  • 172. At 06:32am on 24 May 2010, manysummits wrote:

    \\\ No Common Ground ///

    This has been an illuminating discussion, particularly since so much of it has not been concerned with climate science.

    DDT; Bison; Native Americans; Playing God with genetic engineering...

    It occurred to me, seeing the pronounced differences in thinking amongst the camp I call 'the lobby' and the camp I guess we could call the warmists, that this division is a near universal trait of Mankind.

    Politically it is expressed as Conservative vs Liberal, but the differences are to my mind not confined to politics.

    It is more a mindset - a worldview - and a way of processing new information.

    The lobby represents business as usual, a conservative/military/industrial/financial bent, but perhaps most importantly, an inability to deal with new information in ways which challenge the views and norms set perhaps early in life.

    This is of course an opinion, but one based on long observation of the human condition, and intense scrutiny of this weblog's character actors.

    In my opinion, this is important, because it necessarily implies that representatives of what I call 'the lobby' need not be a lobby in the strict sense, but rather represent a way of thinking and processing ALL information.

    Thomas Jefferson spoke of this separation very clearly in his political writing, but I now believe the differences he spoke to are more all encompassing.

    The implication I draw is this:

    There is very little common ground between these two camps - on any issue or issues - perhaps especially issues which involve new information - and even more especially issues which require CHANGE.

    Hence the term CONSERVATIVE is very accurate and is applicable over a very much broader spectrum than the political.

    Further - this would imply that the two ways of looking at the world and of processing information are not equally valid in times of flux. And the greater the degree and rapidity of change - the more pronounced this disparity between camps will manifest itself.

    - Manysummits -

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  • 173. At 07:37am on 24 May 2010, CanadianRockies wrote:

    #155. At 9:41pm on 23 May 2010, manysummits wrote:

    "To CR #151:

    Interesting - misinformation is indeed your specialty."

    157. I wrote: "#155 - Manysummits - Be specific. What do you allege is "misinformation"?"

    -----------

    As usual, you make statements but refuse to back them up with anything. Because you can't.







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  • 174. At 07:42am on 24 May 2010, bowmanthebard wrote:

    davblo wrote:

    "What don't you understand?"

    You are "against" what you call "geo-engineering", right?

    Why are you against it?

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  • 175. At 08:23am on 24 May 2010, bowmanthebard wrote:

    JaneBasingstoke #143: "The term "emergence" has been much abused. But it is essential for science. Chemistry emerges from quantum mechanics. Biology emerges from chemistry."

    bowmanthebard #153: "You are confusing the reduction of a thing to its parts with the reduction of a theory to another theory."

    Sorry -- that was too terse a reply. My point is that inter-theoretic reduction is an important part of science. In inter-theoretic reduction, one theory essentially implies the central principles of another theory, and this implication can straddle boundaries between branches of science such as chemistry--biology or physics--chemistry. Such cross-boundary implications can sustain identity claims across theories such as "temperature = mean molecular kinetic energy".

    However, what is normally meant by "emergence" is the presence of something that cannot be identified with something described by another branch of science like that. So in the above example, temperature is NOT "emergent" precisely because it can be identified with physical kinetic energy. It is a macroscopic property in being a property of a large collection of molecules, but it is not "emergent".

    Traditionally, is has been said that such things as "consciousness" are "emergent" because it is speculated that they cannot ever be identified with any physical process in the brain. "Cannot" in the sense that it's impossible in principle. Personally, I think our self understanding is limited, but that we'll eventually get there, or at least get a lot closer. So I doubt very much that "consciousness" is "emergent".

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  • 176. At 08:28am on 24 May 2010, MangoChutney wrote:

    @CanadianRockies #173

    You're wasting your time, I have never known ManySummits to back up anything he says, except by an appeal to authority

    /Mango

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  • 177. At 08:30am on 24 May 2010, Dave_oxon wrote:

    @Larry Kealey, #71

    Many congratulations, that's fantastic news!

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  • 178. At 08:35am on 24 May 2010, bowmanthebard wrote:

    #172 manysummits wrote:

    "There is very little common ground between these two camps - on any issue or issues - perhaps especially issues which involve new information - and even more especially issues which require CHANGE."

    "Hence the term CONSERVATIVE is very accurate and is applicable over a very much broader spectrum than the political."

    Isn't the raison d'être of the pro-AGW camp opposition to climate CHANGE? And isn't the raison d'être of the sceptical camp the idea that change is no big deal?

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  • 179. At 08:36am on 24 May 2010, MangoChutney wrote:

    @Richard Black

    Richard,

    Do you think there is a need for us to try to play God, when we don't really know what is happening?

    We've had claims that Greenland ice is melting and sea levels will rise etc, but in Greenland we now have GRACE which tells us Greenland ice is melting at around 200 cubic kilometers per annum (http://www.grist.org/article/2010-05-13-weighing-greenland/), which sounds a lot until you realise that 200 cubic kilometers represents just 0.007% of Greenland's 3,000,000 cubic kilometers of ice.

    At a rate of 200 cubic kilometers per annum, it would take around 15,000 years for Greenland to melt

    Arrgghhhhhhh! Ice is melting - run for the hills!

    Let's not try to play God please

    /Mango

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  • 180. At 09:42am on 24 May 2010, davblo wrote:

    bowmanthebard #74: 'You are "against" what you call "geo-engineering", right? Why are you against it?'

    Actually what I wrote in #167 was...

    "...many on this blog think it would be 'bad' to use geo-engineering right now. Under other circumstances that view could change."

    I also think it could be a bad idea.

    We don't necessarily all have the same reasons.

    There can be many reasons.

    The one you seem to suggest is...
    0. Because is could change the world to a way it isn't "meant to be".
    That is not my reason.
    Other possible reasons could be...
    1. We can't afford it.
    2. We can afford it but we have better things to do with the money.
    3. It could have other side effects which are equally undesirable
    4. We can't be sure whether we will actually be better off as a result (as opposed to worse off).
    5. We can't be sure we could maintain control of the process.
    ...the list goes on...

    Do you see the words "meant to be" in 1. to 5... ?

    /davblo

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  • 181. At 11:23am on 24 May 2010, JaneBasingstoke wrote:

    @CanadianRockies #171

    You may have greater expertise than me on American history. But we're on equal ground over the use of the English language.

    "Wiped out" needs an additional qualifier because unlike the dodo we have living bison today. "Nearly wiped out" doesn't, and would appear to cover your description. I also remind you that you seemed to agree that in the last few years of the decline the vast majority of kills were directly by whites. I have also found a suggestion that this final decline during the 1870s and 1880s involved millions of bison.

    So saying they were "wiped out" and only mentioning American Indians would be unfair. AllenT2 was right to criticise my #160 on this, even after allowing for the other misunderstandings in my #160.

    As for political correctness. It's not just political correctness going into the mix here.

    I am now using the term "American Indian" because according to the link I found it seems to have the double benefit of clarity and that US based American Indians prefer it to "Native American". Seems.

    I gather they are also happy with "Indian", but the term "Indian" for "American Indian" can be confusing unless there is lots of supporting context. (Remember we cut-and-paste from each other's posts.)

    I also point out that here in Basingstoke "Indian" normally refers to someone from India, or occasionally accidentally someone from Pakistan (correctly Pakistani) or Bangladesh (correctly Bangladeshi), both which used to be part of India before Partition. So for me "American Indian" is clearer than "Indian" when talking about people whose ancestors reached America before Columbus. This issue with clarity may be true of other posters outside of the North American continent.

    "First Nations people" seems to be more of a Canadian thing. Seems.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Native_American_name_controversy#Indian_and_American_Indian
    http://www.infoplease.com/spot/aihmterms.html
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_nation#Terminology

    And a comment on "political correctness". "Political correctness" is OK where it is just a synonym for being considerate. However I don't like political correctness where it hurts clarity or otherwise mangles the language. But such political correctness is a reaction to the abuse of words by racists and other bigots. Part of the blame for problems with political correctness needs to be put at their (racist and bigots) door.

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  • 182. At 11:44am on 24 May 2010, Richard Black (BBC) wrote:

    #71 Larry,

    May I add my congratulations to the others you've received on this thread.

    And thanks for your continuing insights on the Gulf of Mexico.

    RB

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  • 183. At 11:44am on 24 May 2010, bowmanthebard wrote:

    Maybe I shouldn't jump into the bison discussion, but...

    There is all the difference in the world between making a species extinct and killing a lot of them. If you kill a lot of bison, but don't do anything else, it will create a large extra quantity of the food that bison normally eat (which I presume is grass.) Their numbers would normally shoot back up as soon as the attrition rate went down.

    Since that didn't happen with bison, I presume that something other than killing kept their numbers down. Presumably, it was the reduced area of their habitat (such as open prairie) or the introduction of other animals that occupy the same niche (such as tamer breeds of cattle on farms, rabbits, or whatever).

    I would therefore attribute the long-term reduction in the bison population to farming and the building of cities, etc., rather than large-scale killing by American Indians or anyone else.

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  • 184. At 12:21pm on 24 May 2010, JaneBasingstoke wrote:

    @bowmanthebard #175

    OK. The Bowman dictionary again.

    The thing about scientific theories is that they tend to be grounded by real things and real phenomena as the subject of those theories. We may have problems grasping the exact nature of an electron. But electrons are the subject of scientific theories at various levels, including quantum mechanics, classical electro-magnetism and chemistry.

    To confine "emergence" to theories about things and phenomena rather than the things and phenomena themselves seems ... picky.

    And I think the idea of not understanding the higher level concept at the lower level is ambiguous. You seem to be taking it to mean that there is no strong bridge of scientific understanding between the levels. Whereas I take it as meaning that some ideas don't work on their own at the lower level but that a strong bridge of understanding between the two levels can potentially be used to fully explain the higher level concept using lower level concepts and some maths/logic. Your temperature example would appear to be a good example of this.

    (Note, my use of the term "grounded" is related to the Wittgenstein's preference of the rough ground of the real to the slippery ice of the purely abstract.)

    Meanwhile the word "emergence" like the word "quantum" can be used by New Agers in situations where it is far less appropriate than where I have used it.

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  • 185. At 12:28pm on 24 May 2010, Dr Brian wrote:

    183. bowmanthebard wrote:

    "There is all the difference in the world between making a species extinct and killing a lot of them."

    Agreed but some biologists unthinkingly use the term 'extinction' when they really mean 'local extinction'.

    For example I have heard of the extinction of wolves when they were talking about their disappearance in the UK.

    Invent a new expression for it and the world will be your oyster.

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  • 186. At 12:32pm on 24 May 2010, JaneBasingstoke wrote:

    @bowmanthebard #183

    I think the key phrase there is "as soon as the attrition rate went down".

    The attrition rate didn't go down until the numbers had been reduced to hundreds.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File%3AExtermination_of_bison_to_1889.png

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  • 187. At 12:57pm on 24 May 2010, Barry Woods wrote:

    bowmanbeard..

    thing is, they DID kill ALL of them (bison)

    the people and the guns were not removed from the situation, in fact more people and more guns came. East to west.

    So the bison had no chance to recover, however much grass was there..

    Bit like the dodo (visiting sailors kept eating them, until none left), on a bigger scale

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  • 188. At 1:03pm on 24 May 2010, manysummits wrote:

    To CR #173: re Bison

    As I said: \\\ No Common Ground ///

    Journal of a Journey over Land from Buckingham House to the Rocky Mountains in 1992 &3

    - Peter Fidler (1769 - 1822), Hudson's Bay Company

    ===============================

    "Stolen Continents," Ronald Wright

    "What is America," Ronald Wright

    - Manysummits -

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  • 189. At 1:05pm on 24 May 2010, manysummits wrote:

    Bowman #178:

    re:

    "Isn't the raison d'être of the pro-AGW camp opposition to climate CHANGE? And isn't the raison d'être of the sceptical camp the idea that change is no big deal?"

    =================

    No

    - Manysummits -

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  • 190. At 1:30pm on 24 May 2010, bowmanthebard wrote:

    #184 JaneBasingstoke wrote:

    "To confine "emergence" to theories about things and phenomena rather than the things and phenomena themselves seems ... picky."

    It seems downright wrong to me. -- But what makes you think I'm doing this? I certainly don't intend to do that. The fact is that the standard understanding of "emergence" is of a thing or property (i.e. an "emergent property") that can be referred to using higher-level language (such as that of conscious experiences) but cannot be "captured in the explanatory net" of a lower-level description (such as that of brain function). This makes "emergent" things/properties inherently mysterious, because they resist explanation of the usual scientific kind.

    Some things/properties clearly are not "emergent". I gave the example of temperature in a gas, which is the same thing as mean molecular kinetic energy. Personally, I think there are no emergent properties or things, and that the whole idea of "emergence" is a conjuring trick played on our critical faculties by ambiguities in language.

    But anyway... I get the distinct impression that Lovelock is heading towards claiming that the organism-like properties of the "biosphere" are "emergent". I think he wants to claim that the biosphere (or maybe the planet itself) is like an organism in ways that cannot be "captured in the net" of ordinary physical description. Then he can attribute a "normal state" to the biosphere (analogous to the normal blood pressure of an individual organism), and homeostasis (analogous to fluid regulation of an individual organism), and darkly hint at possible "death" (analogous to actual death of an individual organism). He allows himself these conceptual excesses because it's inherently mysterious (hence the mystic word 'Gaia') -- yes, it's "emergent"!

    Well I'll none of that codology!

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  • 191. At 1:41pm on 24 May 2010, manysummits wrote:

    \\\ No Common Ground - Bison and Things ///

    I admire the research going on as regards the Buffalo (Canadian for Bison).

    Especially as North America is so far away from Jane et al, Bowman et al...

    I was born and raised in Montreal, far from the eastern slope of the Rockies.

    I have been 'out West' now for almost forty years, and only regret we didn't leave Quebec sooner. Both the American West and the Canadian are a geographic entity, the border an inconvenience to those with an itchy foot, but a blessing in other ways.

    Cowboy painter Charlie Russell was an immigrant to Montana in the last days of the Buffalo, and documented on canvas, in world class oil, the disappearance of a way of life - of the American Indian and the Mountain Men and of the 'settlers.'

    His museum is in Great Falls, Montana, and when Underacanoe, Cloudrunner and I were on a three weeks sojourn to the American West a few years ago we made Great Falls our last stop before returning home.

    The West is a way of thinking out here for many of us, and I frequently visit the First Nations reserve just a few minutes away - "for to see an' for to admire."

    Ian Tyson has documented in song the great idea of 'The West', in song, as Charlie did on canvas.

    I have pursued the history of the West for most of my life.

    It is very difficult to see members of the lobby talking about this sacred subject in their cavalier and ill-informed way.

    I can barely address them in terms of climate science and the desolation we have wrought on this planet - it is almost impossible to do other than maintain a stoic pose when they presume to know anything about the West.

    I feel much as did the American officer 'gone Indian' in "Dances with Wolves" - they are not worth talking to.

    - Manysummits -

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  • 192. At 1:50pm on 24 May 2010, bowmanthebard wrote:

    #186 JaneBasingstoke wrote:

    "The attrition rate didn't go down until the numbers had been reduced to hundreds."

    But even so, in places where they could live and breed unmolested by humans, I'm sure they numbers came back up to "carrying capacity" (of the wildlife park, or whatever) again.

    We often forget the "potentially geometric" nature of population growth, although is is a very simple point.

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  • 193. At 2:09pm on 24 May 2010, ghostofsichuan wrote:

    Dealing with the effects and not the cause..seems backwards. The winner of the race to alternative fuel will reap the riches. Tinkering with natural processes can have severe unintended consequences, as we have seen with fossil fuels and like in medicine the cure may be as harmful as the condition.

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  • 194. At 2:28pm on 24 May 2010, bowmanthebard wrote:

    #185 DrBrianS wrote:

    "Invent a new expression for it and the world will be your oyster."

    'Specific cleansing' (to echo 'ethnic cleansing'). It has that sinister euphemistic feel to it, don't you think?

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  • 195. At 3:02pm on 24 May 2010, bowmanthebard wrote:

    I wrote: I'm sure they numbers came back up to "carrying capacity" again.

    I meant: I'm sure their numbers very quickly came back up to "carrying capacity" again.

    Test question (for a child): suppose single-celled organisms in a jam-jar reproduce every minute by splitting in two, so that it takes four of them just one hour to fill the jam-jar to capacity. How long would it take one of them to do the same?

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  • 196. At 3:48pm on 24 May 2010, jr4412 wrote:

    bowmanthebard #196.

    "Test question (for a child): suppose single-celled organisms in a jam-jar reproduce every minute by splitting in two, so that it takes four of them just one hour to fill the jam-jar to capacity. How long would it take one of them to do the same?"

    is it legal to to children into jam-jars?? can children reproduce by splitting in two??

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  • 197. At 4:54pm on 24 May 2010, manysummits wrote:

    Just reading some more of Al Gore's "Our Choice."

    I am learning hand over fist in areas I am more or less ignorant of.

    It occurred to me yesterday that "Our Choice" is very much a primer on:

    \\\ Earth Systems Science ///,

    and I suppose what one might called Applied Gaian Theory.

    Since this is a comparatively new field, many mistakes are surely present in this treatise - but overwhelming that natural deficiency is the:

    \\\ Breadth of the Undertaking ///

    - Manysummits -

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  • 198. At 5:00pm on 24 May 2010, LabMunkey wrote:

    @ richard

    have you seen this??!? got to be worth an article...

    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2010/05/24/climate-craziness-of-the-week-denmark-evicting-citizens-to-clear-cut-forests-for-wind-turbines/#more-19857

    ignore the obama/spain ramblings at the bottom (interesting though they are) but concentrate on the windturnbines.

    cutting down up to 30 km2 of forest, to put up windturbines to protect the environment.....

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  • 199. At 7:33pm on 24 May 2010, CanadianRockies wrote:

    #188. manysummits wrote:

    "To CR #173: re Bison

    As I said: \\\ No Common Ground ///

    Journal of a Journey over Land from Buckingham House to the Rocky Mountains in 1992 &3

    - Peter Fidler (1769 - 1822), Hudson's Bay Company

    ----------

    Yes. You accused me of spreading misinformation. This does not support your accusation at all. Everything in it supports my statements. I'm guessing that you haven't even read it.

    Here's a quote from it, from February 10, 1793:

    "[Piegan Blackfoot] Men running the Buffalo & killed a few. The Calves in the Womb are now all well covered with hair. These calves all Indians are remarkably fond of even when not more than the size of a Quart pot they eat them. The greater part of the Cows the Indians now kill is merely for nothing else but for the calf."

    ***For Jane - They were running them on horses, of course. And note that at this time of year the cows had so little fat that they just ate the fetuses. Most of the tongues eaten came from bulls.

    Fidler also describes how they so efficiently killed them with bow and arrow from horses (Dec 25, 1792) and how wasteful they were when killing them in pounds on several occasions.



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  • 200. At 7:42pm on 24 May 2010, bowmanthebard wrote:

    #199 CanadianRockies wrote:

    "Most of the tongues eaten came from bulls."

    Now who could have guessed that the middle-aged males would be the ones with the big fat tongues?

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  • 201. At 7:45pm on 24 May 2010, CanadianRockies wrote:

    181. JaneBasingstoke wrote:

    "@CanadianRockies #171

    "wiped out" - Whatever you prefer. Just semantics.

    "I also remind you that you seemed to agree that in the last few years of the decline the vast majority of kills were directly by whites."

    The "vast majority"? No I didn't. Relatively more were killed by whites at the end but most were killed by Native Americans and Metis. There just weren't that many "whites" where the bison remained then to do what you suggest.

    In any case, this is just a race-based blame game that only applies to the end of a long and almost inevitable process.

    "I have also found a suggestion that this final decline during the 1870s and 1880s involved millions of bison."

    Please tell me where you found this and I can address your comment. By 1880 there were almost none left, by the way.

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  • 202. At 7:51pm on 24 May 2010, CanadianRockies wrote:

    183. bowmanthebard - The last wild plains bison were gone by about 1886 -before the factors you mentioned had any impact on their remaining range. This was all caused by predation by humans.

    All that grass that then became available was then available to cattle, sheep, and more horses. And most former northern plains bison range now grows wheat, etc.

    This goes back to an earlier discussion we had. So I'll just say again...
    and this is an overgeneralization but it does apply here... POTENTIAL populations are determined (primarily) by food supply but ACTUAL populations are determined by predation.

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  • 203. At 8:01pm on 24 May 2010, bowmanthebard wrote:

    #202 CanadianRockies wrote:

    "POTENTIAL populations are determined (primarily) by food supply but ACTUAL populations are determined by predation."

    "All that grass that then became available was then available to cattle, sheep, and more horses."

    Are you saying that that was irrelevant to the return of bison population to its former numbers? Because I'd that last bit I quoted was the crucial factor.

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  • 204. At 8:10pm on 24 May 2010, CanadianRockies wrote:

    187. Barry Woods wrote:

    "bowmanbeard..

    thing is, they DID kill ALL of them (bison)

    the people and the guns were not removed from the situation, in fact more people and more guns came. East to west."

    Yes they did. But it must also be understood that those people coming from the east were not just "whites."

    The Sioux, Cheyenne, Cree, Assiniboine, Ojibwa and others were all originally from the eastern forests and expanded west. The horse made bison hunting on the plains a super economic opportunity.

    And again, early (single shot) guns were not nearly as efficient as bow and arrow for killing bison. A hunter on a horse could fire arrow after arrow without stopping, and they got so close to the bison that they were very lethal.

    Another quote from that Fidler journal first noted in #188, and then in my #199, from Dec. 25, 1792, with words in brackets from Fidler this time:

    "Men killed several Cows by running them upon Horseback & shooting them with arrows. They are so expert at this business that they will ride along side of the Cow they mean to kill & while at full gallop will shoot an arrow into her heart & kill her upon the spot. Sometimes when they happen to miss their proper aim [which is very seldom] they will ride close up to the Buffalo which at full Gallop & draw the arrow out & again shoot with it. Some of the men will shoot the arrow quite thro' a Bull & fall down on the other side..."

    These people did not need guns to kill bison. The Euro invention that did help them most for this were iron arrowheads. Not because they were more lethal but because they were more durable and cheaper.

    P.S. Fidler was born in Bolsover, Derbyshire. Any of you UK folks familiar with that place?


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  • 205. At 8:31pm on 24 May 2010, jr4412 wrote:

    CanadianRockies #204.

    Dennis Skinner is probably the best known product of Bolsover.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dennis_Skinner
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2009/may/31/dennis-skinner-bolsover-mps-expenses

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  • 206. At 8:33pm on 24 May 2010, bowmanthebard wrote:

    But surely the bison would have returned to the prairie and multiplied if there had been access to the prairie, or any prairie left?

    My point is that predation has little or no long-term effect on numbers.

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  • 207. At 10:58pm on 24 May 2010, Brunnen_G wrote:

    To the moderators of this blog:

    Either restore my comment (#6) or explain to me why it is unsuitable.

    It has been in moderation for over three days, that's just ridiculous...

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  • 208. At 11:22pm on 24 May 2010, CanadianRockies wrote:

    #206. bowmanthebard wrote:

    "But surely the bison would have returned to the prairie and multiplied if there had been access to the prairie, or any prairie left?"

    They did where reintroduced to parks and, more significantly, they now raise them as they do cattle (CNN founder Ted Turner is into bison ranching in a big way). But... those herds are protected from unregulated predation. Instead they cull them in parks (or sometime transplant them to other parks, etc.) and harvest them on ranches. They must do that or they overgraze and destroy the prairie. That's why they kept moving over long distances under natural conditions.

    But I just don't get your insistence on this point: "My point is that predation has little or no long-term effect on numbers."

    Well then how did predation (by humans) drive them to effective extinction?

    Your theory is a debunked theory called 'natural regulation... or the 'balance of nature' fairy tale. Given a complete system with predators (human or natural) the predators determine the actual population of most prey species. This is being proven in Yellowstone region as we speak where reintroduced wolves have dramatically reduced all their prey populations. If what you said was true, those wolves would not matter. But they obviously do, and in the future they will be keeping their prey populations well below their carrying capacity based on their food supplies. In fact, with fewer elk, moose, etc., now, there is more food for elk, moose, etc. which, in your theory should mean a big rebound. That's not going to happen, unless they remove all the wolves again, and that's not going to happen either.

    The reason why bison were as abundant as they were is that they migrated long distances annually on a landscape where, until horses arrived, they had no significant predators and could escape them.

    I would highly recommend that book I noted earlier (#151), by Valerius Geist, as an intro to this whole story. There are plenty of other books on this but this one is short, sweet, and very much up to speed on the latest understanding of their ecology and history.

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  • 209. At 01:17am on 25 May 2010, JaneBasingstoke wrote:

    @CanadianRockies #201
    (@manysummits)

    Did a little digging.

    The reference to millions of bison at the start of the 1870s seems to be partly associated with research involving stats from the fur trade and related bison product trades and partly from numbers of professional hunters.

    Note, 1889 might seem a little old for an academic work on the subject, but it does mean Hornaday got to interview witnesses.

    http://www.gutenberg.org/files/17748/17748-8.txt

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  • 210. At 02:06am on 25 May 2010, JaneBasingstoke wrote:

    @jr4412 #205
    (@CanadianRockies)

    Ah. The Beast of Bolsover.

    "Any Tory moles at the Palace?"
    "I shall miss you Dennis"
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IcpyzwLKb1w

    :-)

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  • 211. At 02:31am on 25 May 2010, Keiron wrote:

    Perhaps the biggest thing humans can do to "re engineer" the climate is replace the rain forests. Given that each year the cutting down and burning of these forests contributes over 25% of all CO2 emissions it has the single biggest impact.

    Now personally I don't subscribe to the "manmadeCO2footprintclimategreenhousewarmingchange" idea. I'm a geologist and the planet has survived with much more CO2 than present and much less but I also know that changing the land cover that much has got to have a massive impact in the same way as large cities have changed their local climates (urban heat island). Plus if CO2 is having that big an effect then replacing the trees or not cutting them down in the first place has got to have a bigger impact than telling me to drive a small car or switch of a light bulb.

    Time to look at Mama Nature and get her back on our side instead of Dr Frankenfurter and making the situation worse. Look what happened with Miximitosis and Mousepox/Interluken B.

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  • 212. At 02:33am on 25 May 2010, CanadianRockies wrote:

    #209 - Jane - Hornaday. Well, I have two of his books, one called Campfires of The Canadian Rockies (which is not about my campfires) and his 1913 book Our Vanishing Wildlife.

    Related to his first, he played a very significant but now all but overlooked role in conservation history by successfully promoting a park in southeastern BC (now gone) that played a key role in saving several wildlife species, notably elk, in that region. He was on a hunting trip at the time... ironically most of the key early conservationists were hunters. And because he had political connections, his had the influence to get that park established.

    The second book was one of the first great wildly hysterical conservation tomes, which predicted the extinction of almost everything. However, that was justified back then because there was a real extinction crisis in North America back then and the public was generally ignorant of it, and needed to be rallied.

    This does go back to bison, as that was the first great rallying sysmbol for conservation (understandably) but it was far more widespread than that. Market hunting was pushing all sorts of bird species to the brink and everybody was eating everything... in those expensive restaurants you mentioned. And things like lady's hats with egret feathers, or decorated with hummingbirds.

    If you get a chance its a fascinating book, but he did exaggerate somewhat for effect. For necessary effect back then. Most of the species he predicted were bound for extinction have recovered, some are abundant. Conservation works.

    I'm short on time at the moment, and just quickly replying here, but I'll look at his bison stuff later and get back on this. Only problem that I immediately see with his "millions" in the 1870s is that I don't think there were that many left by then. And bison numbers are wildly exaggerated to begin with. There never were 60 million, and if you saw how that number was 'calculated' you would see why.

    And looks like I'll have to be educated on British politicians...

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  • 213. At 07:33am on 25 May 2010, JunkkMale wrote:

    207. At 10:58pm on 24 May 2010, Brunnen_G wrote:

    Either restore my comment (#6) or explain to me why it is unsuitable.

    It has been in moderation for over three days, that's just ridiculous...


    Other than seemingly making things 'go away' without needing to justify why, when does moderation have to become a 'House Rule Break' and what responsibilities for explanation are there?

    It takes but a second for a cynical system player to make a referral. 3 days to assess validity, especially without explanation so as to allow restructuring to make acceptable, does seem excessive.

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  • 214. At 07:59am on 25 May 2010, bowmanthebard wrote:

    #208 CanadianRockies wrote:

    they cull them in parks (or sometime transplant them to other parks, etc.) and harvest them on ranches. They must do that or they overgraze and destroy the prairie.

    In effect, they "prey" on them to make their numbers more reliable and the individuals more healthy (because they have a more reliable supply of food).

    I just don't get your insistence on this point: "My point is that predation has little or no long-term effect on numbers."

    Well then how did predation (by humans) drive them to effective extinction?


    Bison are emphatically not extinct, "effective" or otherwise. There are far fewer of them than before because there are fewer places for them to live, and there are different kinds of animal living where they would live. There are cities, and farmed land with different varieties of cattle grazing in them. It is not because they haven't been able to make up for numbers lost to killing in the nineteenth century. Reproduction leads to a potentially geometric increase in numbers, but in fact doesn't, because of a ceiling in the overall population set by the food supply. A proportion are lost to predation, yes, but that proportion says roughly the same no matter what the overall population may be.

    Most of the time the number of predators is a function of how much prey there is, so if there are fewer prey, there are fewer predators. (Because if there are too many predators, they run short of food, which leads to fewer predators.)

    I think you may be misled by your opposition to the ideology of "natural regulation" -- which is an ideology that I reject as well. I'm just engaging some basic arithmetic: population would increase a geometrically, but doesn't because of the ceiling set by the food supply, and a fraction lost to predation. Since that fraction stays roughly the same no matter what the overall population is, the food supply is the real determining factor.

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  • 215. At 08:12am on 25 May 2010, bowmanthebard wrote:

    On the question of "natural regulation", I meant to add: "artificial regulation" is no doubt necessary if we want to "conserve" the current "balances" as we like them. And no doubt this need for "artificial regulation" is greater the smaller the area involved, for example, on islands and in isolated wildlife parks from which there is no migration.

    But I don't really believe there are "balances" or "normal states" of nature (other than very rough ones). It's constantly in flux, but the changes are a bit too slow for us to notice.

    I'd guess that the spread of printing (of written historical records, pictures, etc.) has led to an increasing awareness -- and anxiety -- that things in nature change. Unfortunately it hasn't led to an increasing awareness that change is inevitable, and not always bad.

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  • 216. At 08:52am on 25 May 2010, Dave_oxon wrote:

    @Bowmanthebard, #195
    "Test question (for a child): suppose single-celled organisms in a jam-jar reproduce every minute by splitting in two, so that it takes four of them just one hour to fill the jam-jar to capacity. How long would it take one of them to do the same?"

    I think you may have inadvertently worded this question badly - the version (I think) you are referring to explicitly states the replication rate of the system involved (e.g. "the number of lilies on the pond doubles every day") whereas you have given no such information. I will therefore propose the following solutions:

    1. School-child: "Not enough information, Sir."

    2. College-student: "Assume 1) the bacterium to be of similar size to E. Coli (2 micron by half a micron) and of unknown replication rate. 2) the jam-jar to be a standard 1lb jar (454g). 3) the density of jam to be 20% higher than that of water. 4) that each bacterium requires a volume double it's length and double it's diameter in which to survive and that it can be approximated as a cylinder. This implies that the population of the "full" jam-jar is approx 12,000 billion bacteria. If this state is reached in precisely 1 hour from a starting point of 4 bacteria then the total replication of each initial bacterium is 1 quarter of the total i.e. 3,000 billion. working from the formula for replication rate:

    time-for-replication(average)={t*ln(2)}/{ln(V_total/V_individual)}

    gives 41.5 generations in 1 hour meaning replication time is approximately 87 seconds per generation.

    Since a starting point of 1 bacterium requires 2 more generations to fill the jar compared with 4, it will take 1 hour 2 minutes and 54 seconds to fill the jar."

    3. Climate modeller: "The processes we must consider include the following dependencies of replication rate on conditions within the jar: temperature and nutrient density (including their time and spatial gradients), the mortality rate of the bacteria and their subsequent removal and negative effects on the living population (toxicity), the rates of removal of toxic substances, the rate of addition and diffusion of new nutrients, and possibly some things we haven't discovered yet. There may also be chaotic components from brownian motion of the bacteria in the fluid but this is small scale and will not affect the trends that can be calculated from a detailed finite-element approach.

    I don't know how all these proceses work so I'll paramaterise some of them until such time as a better description is researched.

    Please give me a couple of million quid for a super-computer."

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  • 217. At 09:30am on 25 May 2010, bowmanthebard wrote:

    #216 Dave_oxon wrote:

    "I think you may have inadvertently worded this question badly - the version (I think) you are referring to..."

    I didn't mean to refer to any version other than my own, in which I gave the replication rate explicitly: they "reproduce every minute by splitting in two".

    No doubt in real life these things are much more complicated that in my simple example, but my point was to illustrate "geometric" population growth. The (intended answer) was "one hour and two minutes", because after one minute there would be two of them, and after another minute there would be four of them, at which point it's in the state from which it takes exactly one hour to fill the jar to capacity (given the food supply in the jar).

    I had a vague thought that some people might be surprised by that. Maybe it's obvious to everyone already -- if so, sorry!

    You're making a different point: that these things are in reality more complicated than in my example. Fair enough. I was only trying to illustrate one aspect of reality, by abstracting from all the other extraneous "noise".

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  • 218. At 09:50am on 25 May 2010, CanadianRockies wrote:

    #209 - Janebasingstoke - Follow up.

    Well, thanks to you I have learned something. Seems my recollection of bison numbers was too influenced by the scenario in Canada. So I stand corrected.

    There still were "millions" left by 1870 in the U.S. And down there it looks like white hide hunters did kill the majority of them during this last gasp for them. I've found these stats in 'The Buffalo Book,' by D. A. Dary, Sage Books/ The Swallow Press, Inc.. Chicago. 1974 - which I hadn't looked at for too many years.

    The basic story is the same. The slaughter by white Americans, using repeating rifles, got going after the Civil War (post -1865). And railways facilitated it. Prior to that bison hides were more difficult to transport. Most down there earlier were via steamboats down the Missouri. (In Canada the hide trade never was as large because of no easy transport routes and the railway didn't get to the west until the 1880s.)

    These stats, for hides shipped by all U.S. railways, tell the story:

    1872 - 497,163
    1873 - 754,329
    1874 - 126,867

    So there's about 1.4 million there. And not all ended up as prepared hides. This book cites a source that says that during those years on the U.S. plains a total of 3,158,730 were killed by hide hunters plus 1,215,000 by "Indians."

    Where those numbers came from I don't know. But definitely still "millions" left to kill in that era.

    By 1880 the U.S. southern plains herds were gone, leaving only the northern herd, which by then barely made it into Canada. This book provides these stats from an 1887 Smithsonian report from Hornaday which shows it ending; again these are the railway shipments of hides to the east but are apparently rougher numbers:

    1881 50,000
    1882 200,000
    1883 40,000
    1884 300

    That last number reflected the reality. Can't seem to find a last date for the U.S. but the last wild plains bison in adjacent Canada were seen (and killed) in 1886, and the last big herds gone by 1877. And these bison were in southern Alberta, part of the 'northern herd' which once migrated across the border to the U.S., so this American history was definitely part of their story too.
    No wonder that incredible slaughter stirred the beginnings of the North American conservation movement!

    But to get back to our original discussion, this was the "last gasp" of what was once a far higher number. The horse carried these hunters, and all those before them since the 1700's in Canada and earlier on the southern plains.

    And it was a much different scenario in Canada. There was no war on "Indians" in Canada, or big hide trade, or flood of "whites" out west after 1865 as there was in the U.S. That happened in the 1880s in Canada, after the railway was built. In the U.S. the fur trade from its inception had relied on American 'Mountain Men' doing the trapping while in Canada the Native Americans were the trappers/hunters while the "whites" (first French, then Brits/Scots) were the traders. One big similarity was that bison hides became more important after the beaver stocks were depleted, compounded by the crash in beaver pelt prices in the 1830s. Even then, bison in Canada were killed primarily for meat.

    Bottom line, humans wiped out the bison with the help of horses. And the herds were already severely reduced by 1870 - though there were still more of them in the U.S. then than I thought.

    Sorry for the long ramble here. Learn something every day! Thanks Jane.

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  • 219. At 10:48am on 25 May 2010, CanadianRockies wrote:

    214. bowmanthebard - Yes. But plains bison were effectively "extinct" in the wild. They only barely survived in captivity. But that's a minor point.

    You state:

    "Reproduction leads to a potentially geometric increase in numbers, but in fact doesn't, because of a ceiling in the overall population set by the food supply. A proportion are lost to predation, yes, but that proportion says roughly the same no matter what the overall population may be.

    Most of the time the number of predators is a function of how much prey there is, so if there are fewer prey, there are fewer predators. (Because if there are too many predators, they run short of food, which leads to fewer predators.)"

    ----------

    That makes more sense in a one prey-one predator world. But such simple systems are the exception.

    Consider a wolf population that primarily hunts elk. If there were only elk there, your description would be quite accurate. Wolves move in, reduce elk population to a point which could no longer support a pack, wolves move out (or die out), elk population increases again to a point which can support a wolf pack again. That's the simplest cycle. But note that the elk population is not limited by its food supply - unless no wolves are there or can move back in (as was the case in Yellowstone, an ecological island). Just the wolf population is limited by food supply. The elk population is limited by wolf predation.

    Are you familiar with the concept of "prey switching"? Wolves move in. Reduce elk population. Switch to deer as staple but continue to hunt elk opportunistically. Thus wolves can reduce the elk population by a far higher proportion. And in many areas there is multiple prey. Depending on the specifics, wolves can effectively wipe out one or more prey species if they have others. And the same applies to all generalized predators in similar scenarios.

    So, while I recognize what you're saying, such blanket statements as you made only apply to particular species/situations, and rarely happen in nature or anything close to 'natural' conditions.

    And, in your #215, you basically say, indirectly, the same thing!

    But maybe I missed something? Why not describe an example of a relatively natural system which illustrates your 'food as the only limiting factor' theory? That could help me understand your point.

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  • 220. At 11:28am on 25 May 2010, Annada wrote:


    It seems to me that if you have money and power or both there is a great temptation to play God to "lesser beings". Since when can people with imperfect knowledge and perception can "fix" the world by spending vast amounts of taxpayers money. All over the world there is a flurry of conflicting activity which is by it's nature disharmonious and irresponsible. As a simple woman I cringe at the abuse of energy and lawlessness, especially in the realm of science and politics.We want a sane , simple and healthy world for all of us. Any hope that clear intelligence and simple happiness can be our daily fare? Yes if we all walk the talk of common sense and decency. And the Globe we live on as a precious gift entrusted to us to care for, live in responsibly, and pass on intact for it's next passengers.


    Annada

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  • 221. At 12:54pm on 25 May 2010, Dave_oxon wrote:

    @bowmanthebard, #217

    Apologies, I didn't read your post #195 carefully enough - absolutely inexcusable for one, like myself, interested in the technical deatil.

    However, the question you posed implies an extraordinarily small jar or else an extraordinarily large single-celled organism ;o)

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  • 222. At 1:01pm on 25 May 2010, Dave_oxon wrote:

    D'oh, wrong again (I'm a bit pushed for time today...) - it's the replication rate that is extraordinarily high and thus the size of the individual cell that is extraordinarily small (not the Jar!). Your example of 60 generations, of course, compares well with my calculation of ~40 generations... but implies a cell radius of the order of that of an atom.

    Tell you what, I'll stop now and get my coat...

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  • 223. At 1:58pm on 25 May 2010, bowmanthebard wrote:

    #221 Dave_oxon wrote:

    "the question you posed implies an extraordinarily small jar or else an extraordinarily large single-celled organism ;o)"

    Really? -- I would have guessed they would have to be science-fictionally tiny as well as science-fictionally rapid reproducers! I mean, supposing none of them die, after an hour their number would be gigantic -- about 2 to the power of 60. Assuming the jar is half a litre in volume, i.e. half a million cubic millimitres, doesn't that give us many trillions per cubic millimeter?

    Nothing much turns on it -- I chose those numbers because a minute and and hour are easy to talk about.

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  • 224. At 2:04pm on 25 May 2010, bowmanthebard wrote:

    Sorry, we crossed in the post. Ignore last message!

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  • 225. At 7:11pm on 25 May 2010, bowmanthebard wrote:

    @ CanadianRockies #219: Before I respond to the points you made, bear in mind the context of my reminders that population is essentially set by the food supply. I am trying to dispel two bad ideas:

    1. The idea that humans used to be abstemious reproducers before sex was discovered circa 1963, which caused a population "explosion". What actually happened, I've been arguing, is not more sex but less death. Infant morality rates, etc., dropped when food got more plentiful and therefore cheaper. Result: more people, just as happens with animals of all species.

    2. The idea that populations take a long time to recover after large-scale killing (short of extinction). I hate large-scale killing more than extinction, as a matter of fact, because I care about sentient individuals rather than groups. But its long-term effects tend to be overestimated.

    OK, if we're clear on that context, let's go. You wrote:

    Consider a wolf population that primarily hunts elk. If there were only elk there, your description would be quite accurate. Wolves move in, reduce elk population to a point which could no longer support a pack, wolves move out (or die out)

    But there's a difference. I'm talking about "closed" systems in which there is no significant migration in or out. If elk or wolves are free to roam all over Canada, then I'm talking about all of Canada. To migrating animals, the "food supply" can come from a very large area.

    In the situation where predators switch , elk population increases again to a point which can support a wolf pack again. That's the simplest cycle. But note that the elk population is not limited by its food supply - unless no wolves are there or can move back in (as was the case in Yellowstone, an ecological island). Just the wolf population is limited by food supply. The elk population is limited by wolf predation.

    All that has happened with the more omnivorous ('bivorous'?) wolves is that is that the combined elk and deer population is subject to the same pressures as the elk population alone was subject to before. I accept it complicates things, but it complicates them in somewhat the same way as a compound pendulum is more complicated than a simple pendulum. The basic "forces" are the same, although there are many more unpredictable "oscillations" and it's more complicated.

    I get the impression that we mostly agree on the main points, but may have different emphases, because we've been focusing on different problems, trying to correct different errors and so on.

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  • 226. At 8:53pm on 25 May 2010, JaneBasingstoke wrote:

    @bowmanthebard #190

    ""To confine "emergence" to theories about things and phenomena rather than the things and phenomena themselves seems ... picky." JaneBasingstoke #184

    "It seems downright wrong to me. -- But what makes you think I'm doing this? I certainly don't intend to do that." bowmanthbard #190


    OK, misunderstanding. To answer your question I thought that was what you meant because of the combination of your #153 (which complained I was confusing different levels of things with different levels of theory) and your #175 (which OKed different levels of theory).


    "Personally, I think there are no emergent properties or things, and that the whole idea of "emergence" is a conjuring trick played on our critical faculties by ambiguities in language."

    Personally I think your version of emergence isn't used by scientists. They expect lower levels to eventually explain higher levels, even if sometimes the logic and maths is complicated (there is a whole branch of mathematics, chaos theory, applicable to many types of emergence), or if sometimes the science is currently incomplete. The nearest to your version of emergence you might get from a scientist is "we can't explain it by the sum of its parts combined with some maths because the maths is too difficult".


    Back to Lovelock. I haven't come across anything in his work that resembles your version of emergence. I have come across ideas in his work that resemble the origin of species by natural selection or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life.

    Now before you try any more second guessing Lovelock's Gaia please can you read up on his Daisyworld. It contains some very straightforward ideas. But unfortunately for these threads it really needs pictures and graphs to do it justice.

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  • 227. At 10:13pm on 25 May 2010, JaneBasingstoke wrote:

    (Sigh)

    A whole thread related to Venter and no one's mentioned patents.

    So here we go with Venter trying to patent bits of the human genome back in the nineties.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/487773.stm

    And now Venter is at it again, this time with his "synthetic" life patents being seen as too broad and too inhibitive by other scientists.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/science_and_environment/10150685.stm

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  • 228. At 10:44pm on 25 May 2010, bowmanthebard wrote:

    #226 JaneBasingstoke wrote:

    "Personally I think your version of emergence isn't used by scientists."

    Scientists rarely use the word 'emergence' at all, and when they do they're doing philosophy -- as amateurs. Some are very talented amateurs, of course. But many are really quite bad. Lovelock's hopeless.

    Scientists DO some inter-theoretic reduction, but they rarely talk about inter-theoretic reduction explicitly, because explicit talk about it can only happen when we start talking about the relation between science and the world, which is to depart from science proper to the meta-level (and less secure, less clear, more rubbishly level if you like) of philosophy.

    Scientists are good at what they do, but like all experts they're not great at everything.

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  • 229. At 11:36pm on 25 May 2010, CanadianRockies wrote:

    #225. bowmanthebard wrote:

    "I get the impression that we mostly agree on the main points, but may have different emphases..."

    Yes we do. My problem is with your blanket statement about the food factor because it only applies to specific cases, which is compounded by the vague use of the term "populations" and your focus on "closed systems."

    I find that a recognition of the details and complexities is more informative and interesting.

    You wrote that "1. The idea that humans used to be abstemious reproducers before sex was discovered circa 1963, which caused a population "explosion". What actually happened, I've been arguing, is not more sex but less death. Infant morality rates, etc., dropped when food got more plentiful and therefore cheaper. Result: more people, just as happens with animals of all species."

    Increased and better food supplies were definitely a factor in reduced infant mortality rates. But so was 'predation,' to use that term in the broadest sense. Less 'predation' by diseases to infants, and even more, less to all age classes including old people. So the reduction of 'predatory' diseases caused "less death."

    A bunch of very well fed people would still be killed off by smallpox.

    But that said, a whole ecosystem and 'food chain' is ultimately based on food - energy - supplies, starting with photosynthesis. A desert can support lower biomass period. So on that level I do agree. But when you use the term 'populations' it becomes so much more complicated in the details that I disagree.

    Potential populations are limited/determined primarily by food; actual populations are limited/determined by predation (and other factors).

    And its always in a state of flux, as you noted earlier.

    This is sort of my theme here. My very first comment on this blog, back in the article called 'The bare facts of biodiversity,' was that overgeneralization leads to too much false and simplistic thinking... and the media with its brief sound bites or short articles like the ones here just perpetuate that.

    Classic example: climate change is bad.

    The devil is in the details, as they say - not that I'm a devil worshipper ;-)

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  • 230. At 08:54am on 26 May 2010, bowmanthebard wrote:

    #229 CanadianRockies wrote:

    Increased and better food supplies were definitely a factor in reduced infant mortality rates. But so was 'predation,' to use that term in the broadest sense. Less 'predation' by diseases to infants, and even more, less to all age classes including old people. So the reduction of 'predatory' diseases caused "less death."

    The only predation by diseases that count are the ones that kill before sexual maturity ends. Resistance to -- survival of -- most of those diseases is largely determined by living conditions. As food became more plentiful and cheaper, people could afford to live in less crowded conditions, to spend less time labouring in the fields, to spend more time looking after themselves and their loved ones, to heat their homes better, even to have a larger number of children (to replace the ones lost to disease). At root it almost all can be traced back to abundance of food.

    I'm afraid I'm still opposed to your slogan here:

    Potential populations are limited/determined primarily by food; actual populations are limited/determined by predation (and other factors).

    There is no such thing as the "potential population" (except for imaginary thought experiments). It's not actual for a start, obviously, but the maths involved is too indeterminate to be useful to anyone. Geometric increase from an indeterminate number over a vague time span with a does not produce a determinate number -- or at least nothing determinate enough to be useful. Except in the short term, reduced numbers of individual animals is not attributable to "their not having had time to re-establish their numbers".

    I accept that predation and disease account for a factor in determining actual populations, and that factor has to be taken into account for small-scale work; but in the long term, and large scale, by far the biggest determinant of population is food supply.

    The human population explosion of recent centuries is almost entirely the result of advances in food technology.

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  • 231. At 7:08pm on 26 May 2010, bowmanthebard wrote:

    Potential populations are limited/determined primarily by food; actual populations are limited/determined by predation (and other factors).

    Actually, I am more sympathetic to this on re-reading. But I'd argue that there are so many different contextual ways of interpreting the word 'potential' that it's of little practical use. But I do see your point.

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  • 232. At 9:01pm on 26 May 2010, CanadianRockies wrote:

    #231. bowmanthebard - You are right. Potential populations only exist in our minds or models. But this sums up the FIRST step of estimating a given wildlife population in a given area.

    First, based on habitat analysis (primarily food but various other factors depending on the species) you 'calculate' the potential population based on that carrying capacity.

    And you do that based on accumulated information on that species - and there's been tons of research done the important ones already (it has now gone far beyond necessity for many but that's another story).

    Second, you subtract the impacts of predation (which includes human predation) and other factors - like intraspecific competition as well as competition from other species - to arrive at a rough preliminary estimate of what population you would expect.

    Then you go out in the field to verify that as much as possible, or as needed. For some species the first two steps as close enough for their management. For others it requires much more verification and monitoring.

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  • 233. At 10:27pm on 27 May 2010, JaneBasingstoke wrote:

    @bowmanthebard #228

    "Lovelock's hopeless."

    You take Lovelock's example about boats being more than the sum of their parts, you apparently find the specific example acceptable but you then use it to link in the word "emergence" and your definition of "emergence".

    There is nothing in Lovelock's work that matches your definition of "emergence". His Daisyworld is rather the opposite.

    If I was going to write someone off like you have written Lovelock off I would spend a little bit more time looking at their work first.

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  • 234. At 00:03am on 28 May 2010, JaneBasingstoke wrote:

    @CanadianRockies #218

    "railways facilitated it"

    That would be a different type of horse.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iron_horse

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  • 235. At 00:27am on 28 May 2010, JaneBasingstoke wrote:

    @CanadianRockies #218

    The 3,158,730 plus 1,215,000 may be from different sources. Note the second is in thousands.

    The 3,158,730 is in Hornaday, citing the work of Col. Richard Irving Dodge, and is based on scaling up the hide shipment figures of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fé Railroad in line with the following:

    " Of course the slaughter was greatest along the lines of the three great railways--the Kansas Pacific, the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fé, and the Union Pacific, about in the order named."

    " The officials of the Kansas Pacific and Union Pacific railroads either could not or would not furnish any statistics of the amount of the buffalo product carried by their lines during this period,"

    "Colonel Dodge considers it reasonably certain that the statistics furnished by the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fé road represent only one-third of the entire buffalo product, and there certainly appears to be good ground for this belief."

    This gives (note, Hornaday's presentation is different)

    Southern herd hides shipped (estimate)
    1872 165,721 x 3 = 497,163
    1873 251,443 x 3 = 754,329
    1874 42,289 x 3 = 126,867
    Total 459,453 1,378,359

    "According to evidence gathered on the spot by Colonel Dodge during the period of the great slaughter, one hide sent to market in 1872 represented three dead buffaloes, in 1873 two, and in 1874 one hundred skins delivered represented one hundred and twenty-five dead animals."

    This gives (note, Hornaday's presentation is different)

    Southern herd kills related to the shipments (estimate)
    1872 497,163 x 3 = 1,491,489
    1873 754,329 x 2 = 1,508,658
    1874 126,867 x 1.25 = 158,583 (rounded down to integer)
    Total 1,378,359 3,158,730


    1873 doesn't just seem to be a commercial hunting peak within the 1870s, it seems to be the commercial hunting peak. Hornaday blames the 1870s hunting peak on the triple whammy of railways for easier access, increased demand for "robes" and the new guns allowing the "still-hunt" technique (stalking from down-wind with a rifle). He refers to "a wild rush of hunters to the buffalo country" and says it was "only surpassed by the rush to the gold mines of California in earlier years".

    Hornaday also makes comments about hides being lost to incompetent beginner's marksmanship and incompetent beginner's curing during 1871 and 1872. Your "not all ended up as prepared hides" is Hornaday's "such was the furor for slaughter, and the ignorance of all concerned, that every hide sent to market in 1871 represented no less than _five_ dead buffalo" and "In the summer and fall of 1872 one hide sent to market represented at least _three_ dead buffalo."


    It is always worth asking if things could have been different. Hornaday makes three interesting comments.

    Firstly he suggests that with 1870 bison levels a harvest of 500,000 bulls a year might have been sustainable.

    Secondly he lists as one of the secondary causes of the decline "The fatal preference on the part of hunters generally, both white and red, for the robe and flesh of the cow over that furnished by the bull."

    Finally he says "For a long time the majority of the ex-hunters cherished the fond delusion that the great herd had only "gone north" into the British Possessions, and would eventually return in great force."

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  • 236. At 00:48am on 28 May 2010, JaneBasingstoke wrote:

    @CanadianRockies #218

    ""wiped out" - Whatever you prefer. Just semantics." #201

    "No wonder that incredible slaughter stirred the beginnings of the North American conservation movement!" 218

    Not just semantics. The bison being nearly wiped out is only the first half of the story. And not everyone is aware of the second half, a conservation success story. The bison were saved from extinction.

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  • 237. At 05:48am on 28 May 2010, CanadianRockies wrote:

    234. JaneBasingstoke wrote:

    "railways facilitated it"

    What I meant here, as is obvious from the source of the statistics, is that the railway facilitated the scale of this slaughter because prior to that there was no practical way to transport all those heavy hides back east to market. And at the same time, as Hornaday pointed out, trains brought the flood of hide hunters in.

    The trains stayed on the tracks. Except when a moving herd was crossing the tracks at the same time a train happened to be there, there was no hunting from trains. The hunters traveled by horse to reach the herds. The bison moved almost constantly, and in seasonal cycles. They had to because those herds grazed down their pastures.

    Now imagine Native Americans before they had horses. If they spooked a bison herd it could run 20 miles, leaving them in the dust.

    And if they killed a bison their only beasts of burden before they had horses were dogs, which meant that they could not carry much meat nor could they follow the moving herds. And in large areas of the drier plains they had to stay along rivers where there was water, while the bison did not; they could go for days without water while travelling long distances. With the horse, that new mobility changes their lives more than the auto changed ours.

    #235 - Great work Jane (and Hornaday). Makes sense to me - recognizing that the kill to hide ratio is just a guesstimate. And that second number was based on an estimate of how many the Native Americans killed so of course it would not be as precise. Of note here is that during this period the Americans were at war with many/most of the tribes in the west - so how accurate that estimate is, who knows? After the 1861-65 Civil War settlers and the Army moved west, creating the 'scorched earth' period you mentioned earlier - but it was a case of them encouraging and enabling this slaughter rather than the usual story of the US Army doing it themselves. By 1880 what was left of almost all of the western tribes were stuck on Indian Reservations.

    The 1873 peak makes perfect sense for "commercial hunting" for hides in the U.S. for the reasons stated. But that is not the same as the peak of the bison population, if that is what you are getting at. This period was when what was left of them was very rapidly killed off.

    But, again, until our discussion here and the research prompted, I did not realize that there were still that many left in the U.S. by then.

    The rifles of that period made that still hunting technique possible, or shall we say more possible. They were developed in the US Civil War. Much different than the inaccurate smoke-belching single-shot muskets available before that.

    This is good:

    "Finally he says "For a long time the majority of the ex-hunters cherished the fond delusion that the great herd had only "gone north" into the British Possessions, and would eventually return in great force.""

    The 'greener pastures' theory. The Native Americans in Canada thought just the opposite of course.

    And this is a very significant point: "The fatal preference on the part of hunters generally, both white and red, for the robe and flesh of the cow over that furnished by the bull."

    For Native Americans that did not apply just to bison. And that is, of course, the exact opposite to modern game management strategies which, like Hornaday notes, stresses harvesting males and protecting females.

    Are you starting to wonder more about the popular mythology about Native North Americans "living in harmony with nature" yet?

    1491.

    Finally... "It is always worth asking if things could have been different."

    Maybe a little bit. But under natural conditions plains bison migrated huge distances annually - that varied with the conditions each year - and ranchers and farmers now occupy most of their former range. The best wheat growing land in Canada and the US is former bison range and the world needs it.

    They could have started ranching bison earlier but they brought cattle and sheep instead. Most of the plains bison are now ranched and harvested like cattle, with far less maintenance and better meat (in my opinion), and the bison can use areas and forage that cattle barely can.

    And although nobody likes to admit it, all the parks where 'wild' plains bison are now are really just zoos/ranches because they are fenced and the bison herds are culled to keep their numbers in balance with the forage.

    Finally, I must emphasize that what happened in Canada was significantly different than the US story, although the end result was the same. As a Brit - I presume - you can take some ancestral credit for that because Canada was part of the British Empire and much more orderly than the US Wild West. In the western Canadian fur trade the Native Americans were vital partners, not 'enemies,' and the trade was run by very organized large companies; the Hudson's Bay Company ran the whole works after they absorbed all their competition in the early 1820s. The original Mounties arrived in the West in 1874, before the flood of settlers - and did so because of American troublemakers coming up from Montana.

    Amazing what a discussion of bison can lead to.

    And to think, this all started with a casual comment about horses, as an introduced species, on a blog about "synthetic life."

    I can't even think of a Monty Python analogy that quite describes it.

    Cheers













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  • 238. At 06:42am on 28 May 2010, simon-swede wrote:

    Meanwhile, back with Venter - the US Congress is discussing the risks and benefits of synthetic biology

    From "Science": "A week after J. Craig Venter announced success in deriving a self-replicating synthetic cell, he was at the microphone again, this time testifying in front of the U.S. House..."

    See: http://news.sciencemag.org/scienceinsider/2010/05/congress-considers-synthetic-bio.html?etoc

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  • 239. At 12:42pm on 28 May 2010, JaneBasingstoke wrote:

    @ CanadianRockies #237

    "Now imagine Native Americans before they had horses. If they spooked a bison herd it could run 20 miles, leaving them in the dust."

    Or deliberately over a cliff giving a rather higher bison mortality than shooting bison from a horse. Although in those circumstances they'd obviously have the opportunity to trade the excess bison products.


    "The 1873 peak makes perfect sense for "commercial hunting" for hides in the U.S. for the reasons stated. But that is not the same as the peak of the bison population, if that is what you are getting at. This period was when what was left of them was very rapidly killed off."

    Not quite what I am getting at.

    The 1873 peak is suggestive of what sort of rate of hunting would have been necessary in earlier years to impact bison numbers more than, say, a prolonged mid 19th century drought, especially if bison numbers really were over ten times larger than 1870's four million odd.

    This can be compared against the speed at which surviving herds were built up from their 1880s minimum.

    I see that the Great Plains are susceptible to prolonged drought. Perhaps cycles of boom and bust in synch with these droughts were typical of bison numbers before hunting affected them.

    (Obviously drought + hunt has a bigger impact than just drought.)


    "Are you starting to wonder more about the popular mythology about Native North Americans "living in harmony with nature" yet?"

    Hornaday has a long list of bison products that the American Indians got (get?) from bison carcasses (starts with "fresh meat"). It is strongly reminiscent of the efficient use of carcasses by farmers in 1930s Yorkshire as described in the James Herriot books.

    Meanwhile the Hornaday / Dodge description of the wastage rate of 1871 by novice white hunters speaks for itself.


    "this all started with a casual comment about horses, as an introduced species"

    Well on their own, they're not a problem. They only seem to have been a problem when the demand for bison products in the towns and cities went up.

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  • 240. At 12:56pm on 28 May 2010, JaneBasingstoke wrote:

    @simon-swede #238

    From your link

    "Decades of work on the genetic code and on methods of manipulating it, he said, enabled Venter and his colleagues at the J. Craig Venter Institute in Rockville, Maryland, and San Diego, California, to create a genome from scratch and use it to transform a bacterial cell."

    http://news.sciencemag.org/scienceinsider/2010/05/congress-considers-synthetic-bio.html?etoc

    Just a reminder. All the functional genes in the new organism's genome are direct base by base copies from an existing organism.

    To quote Venter

    "I keep trying to make it clear - we're not creating life from scratch"

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  • 241. At 1:15pm on 28 May 2010, JaneBasingstoke wrote:

    @simon-swede #238

    Did you catch HIGNFY last night? Are you (currently) able to view iPlayer? Venter got a mention.

    without spoilers
    http://bbc.co.uk/i/sl5qn/?t=22m28s

    Venter section in full
    http://bbc.co.uk/i/sl5qn/?t=21m22s

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  • 242. At 2:37pm on 28 May 2010, JaneBasingstoke wrote:

    @CanadianRockies #237

    "What I meant here, as is obvious from the source of the statistics, is that the railway facilitated the scale of this slaughter because prior to that there was no practical way to transport all those heavy hides back east to market. And at the same time, as Hornaday pointed out, trains brought the flood of hide hunters in."

    This was why my #235 referred to "railways for easier access" rather than "railways for bison hunting as in-car entertainment".

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  • 243. At 9:21pm on 28 May 2010, CanadianRockies wrote:

    #239. JaneBasingstoke wrote:
    @ CanadianRockies #237

    "Now imagine Native Americans before they had horses. If they spooked a bison herd it could run 20 miles, leaving them in the dust."

    Or deliberately over a cliff giving a rather higher bison mortality than shooting bison from a horse. Although in those circumstances they'd obviously have the opportunity to trade the excess bison products.

    ----------

    I mentioned these 'jumps' way back at the beginning of this. Most of the plains is flat, without cliffs, so these were very local, and one had to get the bison close to one... on the other hand they didn't need to be very high to work.

    Like bison pounds, these were prime examples of wasteful killing.

    Your idea of trade would only make sense if they had someone to trade them to and some method of transporting that meat to where they were. Very limited potential for that pre-horse, although it did work locally in some areas. Again they used dogs before horses but...

    That 'use every sinew' efficiency you noted depended on the availability. When/where they had fewer bison they made better use of them. But that was the exception, not the rule.

    Yes, of course droughts or severe winters had impacts on bison numbers, but it also had impacts on Native American numbers.

    For the most severe example google 'Altithermal' which had major impacts on bison and human numbers on the plains, turning the region into a virtual desert. And, so much for 'unprecedented' climate change...

    Finally, sigh, this, re: horses, as an introduced species"

    Well on their own, they're not a problem. They only seem to have been a problem when the demand for bison products in the towns and cities went up."

    First, the period you are fixated on was about the slaughter for hides, not meat, and many of those hides were exported to Europe.

    Second, bison were previously far more widespread and by this period their range had already shrunk to these last areas of the far western plains. In Canada by then they were found only in extreme southern Alberta and adjacent Saskatchewan while in 1800 they were found as far east as southern Manitoba. So what do you suppose caused that range reduction? Not drought, because those eastern areas were moister. In the US they were found even further east then, and earlier.

    Third, on their own horses were not a significant problem, but when they were ridden by humans they enabled them to follow and efficiently hunt bison. You don't seem to understand the profound impact of the horse on Native American history - starting in the mid-to-late 1600's on the southern plains and by the early 1700's in Canada - or the expansion of MANY tribes onto the plains to hunt bison which they enabled. That was the first 'flood' of humans onto the plains.

    Here you are apparently choosing to ignore everything about the larger historical picture to use this one period in which the LAST of them were killed off, so I think I'll call parrot.

    I mentioned the book 1491, repeatedly. That provides the larger North and South American context. Now here's one that addresses western North America specifically:

    Calloway, C.G. 2003. One Vast Winter Count: The Native American West before Lewis and Clark. University of Nebraska Press.

    I would be happy to discuss this subject with you further after you have read enough to understand the larger picture. You must have access to a library???

    One final thought: Humans are humans.






    ...



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  • 244. At 00:26am on 29 May 2010, JaneBasingstoke wrote:

    @CanadianRockies #243

    "You must have access to a library???"

    http://www3.hants.gov.uk/basingstoke-library.htm

    Apparently it now looks like this.

    http://discoverycentre.files.wordpress.com/2010/05/bsdc.jpg

    Not that it covers your suggested reading

    [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator]

    [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator]

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  • 245. At 01:22am on 29 May 2010, JaneBasingstoke wrote:

    @CanadianRockies #243

    Not quite sure why those last two links didn't work, they were online searches of all the nearby libraries for your two titles. The first turned up three items with "1491" in the title, none of them by Charles Mann. The second found no matches.

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  • 246. At 01:32am on 29 May 2010, JaneBasingstoke wrote:

    @CanadianRockies #243

    "Here you are apparently choosing to ignore everything about the larger historical picture to use this one period in which the LAST of them were killed off, so I think I'll call parrot."

    It's just the numbers don't add up.

    What sort of annual cull brings bison numbers down from 20 million? Even the million a year of the early 1870s would struggle to dent the replacement rate for 20 million bison. And 20 million is at the lower end of estimates for the "normal" herd. If the carcasses of such an enormous cull were used who used them? If they were not used why did no one notice hundreds and thousands of rejected rotting carcasses?

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  • 247. At 03:15am on 29 May 2010, CanadianRockies wrote:

    Jane

    1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus

    Charles C. Mann, 2005, Alfred A. Knopf, New York

    You can look it up on amazon.com. Worth buying if need be because it is a very valuable reference (40+ pages of footnotes in very fine print plus 40+ page bibliography in the same) and mostly because it will profoundly change your view of the history of the Americas, "wilderness" and nature. Very well researched but still a nice smooth read.

    The Green and "wilderness" movement hates it and ignores it because they depend on revisionist history... but it was a big best seller over here.

    That last book (Calloway) is also a similarly seriously researched book but you really ought to read 1491 first.

    As to your second post about the numbers not adding up, I have a rtime problem right now so I'll have to get back to you on that... and again, it will all be much clearer after 1491.

    But some quick food for thought... there were far more Native American hunters on the bison plains in the horse era than I would guess you think, they killed females whenever possible (year round, no limits), and there are records of rotting carcasses though wolves, etc., cleaned them up rapidly.

    And that peak bison population happened long before the 1870s, included the whole bison range, and 20 million was the max, not the lowest by the latest estimates.

    So, just as food for thought, and off the top of my head, if say 300,000 Native North American hunters each killed 100 females per year... for say 50 years, what would that do to the population?

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  • 248. At 7:16pm on 29 May 2010, Americanzealot wrote:

    I suppose I'm old fashioned in the ideology that nature has and always will regulate itself. Our interference thus far has yielded both good and bad results yet I have to ask, how far is too far? Could we in some manner 'tip the scales' ecologically via human interference and thus create a ripple effect with consequences greater than those we already face?

    I am no expert and by that statement cannot really post any significant material to the conversation, only opinion. It just seems to me that these discussions go beyond morality and step ever so heavily into 'playing god with the climate'. Again, just an opinion. Perhaps uninformed or old fashioned, but an opinion nevertheless.

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  • 249. At 12:29pm on 31 May 2010, anthony1583 wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 250. At 3:43pm on 31 May 2010, HumanityRules wrote:

    Arghhhhhh!

    Playing God in the title is sufficient reason not to read this article.
    Get a grip! It's worth contemplating the idea that not ever human action leads to disaster.

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  • 251. At 1:57pm on 04 Jun 2010, JaneBasingstoke wrote:

    @CanadianRockies #247

    Your figures still don't add up. And your example is so over the top that if I had produced it you would have been justified in saying "straw man".

    100 bison a year is two a week. Imagine someone delivering two whole dead cows to your family a week. What would you do with them, even with the skills to process the carcasses?

    So what happened to all the carcass that they didn't need? They can't give or trade bison products with other American Indians without receiving an equal amount back. (your 300,000 hunters would appear to cover a substantial proportion of all male American Indians) They didn't sell it, that peak is definitely 1870s. They didn't leave it to rot. That peak is also definitely 1870s from the reaction of those in the 1870s who would have remembered back much further. And your comment about wolves doesn't work unless wolves were much more efficient scavengers and much shyer of humans prior to the 1870s.

    And what about all the other types of food they might prefer to eat? Venison? Duck? Turkey? Fish? "Sorry mate, the salmon are running but we've still got almost two bison cows to eat this week before they rot and stink the village out".


    Meanwhile a review of your reference suggests it debunks the more simplistic hippy-like descriptions of American Indians. But it gives no hint of blaming American Indians for bison losses.

    http://www.amazon.com/1491-Revelations-Americas-Before-Columbus/dp/140004006X


    And Hornaday documents the bison range contracting as encroaching white settlements provided access to hunters. It is true that many of the hunters were American Indians, but their payment seems somewhat inadequate given the circumstances. Hornaday quotes George Catlin from 1832:

    "It seems hard and cruel (does it not?) that we civilized people, with all the luxuries and comforts of the world about us, should be drawing from the backs of these useful animals the skins for our luxury, leaving their carcasses to be devoured by the wolves; that we should draw from that country some one hundred and fifty or two hundred thousand of their robes annually, the greater part of which are taken from animals that are killed expressly for the robe, at a season when the meat is not cured and preserved, and for each of which skins the Indian has received but a pint of whisky! Such is the fact, and that number, or near it, are annually destroyed, in addition to the number that is necessarily killed for the subsistence of three hundred thousand Indians, who live chiefly upon them."

    http://www.gutenberg.org/files/17748/17748-8.txt

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  • 252. At 02:41am on 05 Jun 2010, CanadianRockies wrote:

    Well Jane, I'd more or less given up on this discussion until you had read that book, for starters. It appears that you haven't, or you would not say "your 300,000 hunters would appear to cover a substantial proportion of all male American Indians."

    But yes, my "off the top of my head" numbers were indeed just "food for thought" - as I stated they were. And IN bison range, WHEN bison were at their population peak, that number is too high - but so is the suggested number of bison then. So...

    Briefly - because this complex story is too much for me to address here, which is why I keep suggesting you need to read up on this more - here's some feedback on your thoughts:

    "100 bison a year is two a week. Imagine someone delivering two whole dead cows to your family a week. What would you do with them, even with the skills to process the carcasses?"

    You miss the point that they did not use the whole carcass unless they were desperate. See my posts #151 and #199, the latter in particular.

    And cute the way Mr. Summits tried to bluff at #188.

    "So what happened to all the carcass that they didn't need? They can't give or trade bison products with other American Indians without receiving an equal amount back."

    Again, this reveals your lack of knowledge on this, and the need for you to read those books and more. Most groups DID trade dried bison meat and other bison products to other people who didn't hunt bison or hunted them less. There were AGRICULTURAL settlements along the Missouri and even more in the Southwest. There were also people on the northeastern margins of bison range whose staple was wild rice, and they traded that too. And many other similar examples. So there was a symbiosis between these peoples. And these agricultural staples allowed the bison hunting populations to be higher than they would have been otherwise, thus increasing the hunting pressure on bison. All of this only increased when they got horses because it increased the hunters ability to kill bison and transport trade goods, plus more people moved onto the plains to hunt bison when they got horses. Thus, when you say "They didn't sell it," that is patently false. Trading is selling. Moreover, when the fur trade arrived on the plains by just after 1700, and the Spanish arrived in the Southwest and texas even earlier, they had new customers - and dried bison meat was the staple food of the Canadian fur trade.

    "They didn't leave it to rot." Yes they did, often in huge quantities when driven into pounds (corrals) and driven off cliffs (a less frequent method). Many groups believed that if you didn't kill them all the ones that escaped would warn the other bison about these traps and they wouldn't work anymore. There are TONS of first hand historical descriptions of this and similar waste - except when they were desperate because they had so few bison that they had to use them more efficiently.

    "your comment about wolves doesn't work unless wolves were much more efficient scavengers and much shyer of humans prior to the 1870s."

    This doesn't make any sense to me, at all? There are tons of historical records of wolf packs following bison hunters to scavenge the remains. They knew to stay out of arrow then gun shot range, and they were only hunted and trapped in winter when their fur was valuable. There were also lots of other scavengers, so I don't really even get your point.

    "And what about all the other types of food they might prefer to eat? Venison? Duck? Turkey? Fish? "Sorry mate, the salmon are running but we've still got almost two bison cows to eat this week before they rot and stink the village out".

    Jane, Jane, Jane. Ever heard of optimal foraging theory? Google away. Wherever bison were available they were the preferred game, for all peoples. Besides the qualities of their meat, why hunt little deer when you can get so much more meat from a big bison?

    Same for ducks - just snacks, that little boys would hunt when they were learning how to hunt. And the range of turkeys and bison barely overlapped... and you do know that they domesticated turkeys in the FARMING villages of most of the eastern peoples and the Southwest?

    And, Jane, there was almost zero overlap between salmon and bison, and the overlap that did occur only happened when the bison pop peaked and spread to its max. Same with most of the overlap with turkeys.

    "it gives no hint of blaming American Indians for bison losses."

    Really? First, blame is not the right word. We are talking about predation, enabled by the horse. Which started in the 1600s in the Southwest and by the early 1700s on the northern bison plains.
    Again, this reveals how much you need to actually read those books for starters. You obviously haven't. Instead you are using one single source rooted in popular mythology. You need to know more about Catlin, his very, very brief actual time in the West and his romantic idealism about Native Americans.

    Now Hornaday. A New Yorker with minimal actual experience in the West, or in the field. Here's a quote from the beginning of his 1913 book 'Our Vanishing Wild life' that should tell you something about his bias and perspective:

    ""Abundance" is the word with which to describe the original animal life that stocked our country, and all of North America, only a short hal-century ago. Throughout every state, on every shore-line, in all the millions of fresh water lakes, pondsand rivers, on every mountain range, in every forest, and even on every desert, the wild flocks and herds held sway. It was impossible to go beyond the settled haunts of civilized man and escape them."

    This is pure nonsense. Period. And in this whole book he doesn't even mention the existence of Native Americans - just like the modern environmentalists who either ignore them or pretend they had no impacts because they were "rare and primitive" - a racist myth. This mythology did provide leverage for the early conservation movement, justifiable then given the very real extinction crisis that was happening then (see his 1913 book for a rather hysterical description of it or see this:
    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2010/01/04/where-are-the-corpses/). But this
    same fantasy is used today to describe a place that never existed - except where and when Native American populations were eliminated or severely reduced by SMALLPOX and similar impacts. Even then, abundance "even on every desert" is ecologically impossible, like most of this myth.

    You really need to read 1491, for starters. We can continue this discussion after that, if you like, but I give up on this for now. Its far too complicated for this forum.



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  • 253. At 2:12pm on 06 Jun 2010, JaneBasingstoke wrote:

    @CanadianRockies #252

    I am upset by the way you have taken some of my points in isolation.

    For instance my comment about trade was linked to my comment about your apparent high number (and therefore high proportion) of hunters. It was not a statement about actual trade, although it would represent a substantial restriction on possible trade if the population of hunting communities outnumbered that of non-hunting communities.

    And my comment about carcasses rotting was linked to my comment about the peak for carcasses rotting. Or did people in the 1870s really have such short memories that they made a big deal about 1870s carcasses rotting without comparing them to previous occurrences?

    I am also confused as to why you are bringing the cliffs/corrals into the argument. Surely that's before the horse "contaminated" American Indian culture, and would have predated 1491 as a hunting technique. Also the introduction of horses would appear to have reduced mortality by offering an alternative technique.


    And perhaps I need to clarify.

    I am basing my statement that 300,000 hunters seems like a large proportion of the male American Indian population on the following

    1. a total population estimate of about 2 million (so that's about a million males).
    2. a relatively high mortality rate due to lack of modern medicine (so a high proportion of children too young to hunt).
    3. European diseases would have reached the American Indians before culturally contaminating horses. I.e. before European diseases the American Indian population could have been higher than 2 million, but this would have been before horses and other cultural contamination.


    "First, blame is not the right word. We are talking about predation, enabled by the horse."

    Please don't tell me it's not about blame. Your posts need far more caveats before people stop reading blame into them, and even then most people will expect those contributing to the demise of the bison to accept some responsibility.

    Meanwhile your use of the term "predation" has connotations, with its common use for dumb animals. The only decent caveats would be "neither American Indians nor Europeans knew what they were doing" and "American Indians lost other sources of livelihood during European colonisation of the Americas, some of this was down to European diseases". The latter is in your text but not as an explicit caveat on the blame issue.


    "[on Hornaday's 1913 comment about abundance] This is pure nonsense."

    You are being grossly unfair to Hornaday. He gives a first hand account of looking for bison in the mid 1880s. Compared to what he found then the start of the 1870s could definitely have been described as "abundance". This may have been substantially below the peak, but compared to what Hornaday had seen "abundance" is completely fair.


    "the modern environmentalists who either ignore them or pretend they had no impacts because they were "rare and primitive" - a racist myth"

    Meanwhile you are asking me to accept that the American Indian is largely responsible for the demise of the bison. And as evidence you tell me to read books with reviews that suggest that the American Indian lifestyle was very different before 1491 rather than explicitly showing either lifestyle to be bad for bison, evidence that isn't even circumstantial, let alone beyond reasonable doubt.

    If your case is so good why can't you show me the evidence on the internet?

    Here in Britain we have what is sometimes referred to as the "golden thread" of justice. It means that it is the prosecution's job to prove guilt. Perhaps I am being patronising and racist in thinking the American Indians need such an approach to examining allegations against them.

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  • 254. At 2:16pm on 06 Jun 2010, JaneBasingstoke wrote:

    This comment has been referred for further consideration. Explain

  • 255. At 9:25pm on 06 Jun 2010, CanadianRockies wrote:

    #254. JaneBasingstoke - Good work Jane. You actually found one tiny notation in his book... which Hornaday conveniently misrepresents to fit his story. And note that the Cree did not move onto the plains untuil they had horses which answers your point about pounds pre-dating horses. With horses they could use them MORE, because they could travel long distances to herd the herds into them.

    The latest descriptions of the unbelievable waste involved came from 1859 in SW Saskatchewan, and the Cree were specifically involved.

    And you are "upset by the way you have taken some of my points in isolation"???

    If you want to be fixated on "blame," be my guest.

    "You are being grossly unfair to Hornaday. He gives a first hand account of looking for bison in the mid 1880s."

    That paragraph is not about bison specifically. Try reading it again. And he had no "first hand' experience to speak of. He was in the East using railway stats and other written material. And note that he says this imaginary abundance of EVERYTHING was a "half-century" ago... e.g. 1863.

    "you are asking me to accept that the American Indian is largely responsible for the demise of the bison"

    My point from the beginning is that with the horse their impacts dramatically increased. And if you read the details of my earlier posts you would see I mentioned other factors. The bottom line is that by the 1870s bison range and numbers were already dramatically reduced.

    "as evidence you tell me to read books with reviews that suggest that the American Indian lifestyle was very different before 1491"

    If you would read that book and the other one (Calloway) you would know realize that this book goes far beyond that. But...

    "If your case is so good why can't you show me the evidence on the internet?"

    If you actually want to get educated on the subject you have to make the effort. But it appears that you don't.

    "guilt" ... sigh.

    "Perhaps I am being patronising and racist in thinking the American Indians need such an approach to examining allegations against them."

    Yes you are. The idea that Native Americans were fundamentally different to any other humans is racist - by definition.

    So, Parrot. Maybe you and manysummits can continue this discussion based on mythology and false morality but it has become a waste of time for me until you make the effort to go beyond that and learn more about this history. If you want to believe in fairy tales, so be it.

    Bye.


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  • 256. At 00:18am on 07 Jun 2010, CanadianRockies wrote:

    Well, Jane , one final comment here. I was just out chopping firewood and thinking - the usual pattern for that activity - and realized that I may have been too rude, or perhaps blunt, when I signed off.

    This all began with a comment about horses. So I will leave you with this final general comment and let you fill in the myriad blanks and complexities, or not.

    The "demise" of the bison was a long process which was enabled by horses which dramatically increased human access to them and thus predation on them.




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  • 257. At 01:39am on 07 Jun 2010, JaneBasingstoke wrote:

    This comment has been referred for further consideration. Explain

  • 258. At 09:12am on 07 Jun 2010, CanadianRockies wrote:

    #257 - Jane. I am trying to quit this discussion in a nice way, hoping that you will take the time to learn more about this... after which we can carry on if you like. But your last post must be addressed.

    Re Hornaday. Yes, I should have said "And in this whole book he BARELY mentions the existence of Native Americans," and I should have specified the context of history. In that context, as you pointed out (Cree example), he does mention them ONCE, and MISREPRESENTS the facts.

    Then you point out three more contemporary points he made, all of which support the idea that they would have an impact on bison, as they did have on everything else - in contrast to modern popular green mythology.

    Moreover, you are basing everything on Hornaday - the equivalent of Greenpeace in his day. And, yes, he had minimal field experience in the West. Learn more about him - I'm sure there's enough on the net.

    The truth about history is found in first-hand historical journals, not in summaries written by late-coming advocates like Hornaday. Or in books based on those accounts, complete with direct references to them.

    You wrote: "You suggest they are largely responsible for the demise of the bison"

    This is the key point. I did not say this Jane. You did.

    160. JaneBasingstoke wrote: "Bisons mainly wiped out by Native Americans, horses helped them do it."

    165. I replied "it wasn't that simple," and explained some reasons why.

    In my #256, I finally concisely stated what I was trying to say all along, from the starting point of horses:

    "The "demise" of the bison was a long process which was enabled by horses which dramatically increased human access to them and thus predation on them."

    This began in my #105 "Their [horses] introduction to North American was bad news for the bison. They enable Native North Americans to easily hunt them, and many eastern tribes moved onto the plains to do that."

    In my #243 - "on their own horses were not a significant problem, but when they were ridden by humans they enabled them to follow and efficiently hunt bison. You don't seem to understand the profound impact of the horse on Native American history - starting in the mid-to-late 1600's on the southern plains and by the early 1700's in Canada - or the expansion of MANY tribes onto the plains to hunt bison which they enabled. That was the first 'flood' of humans onto the plains."

    #247 - "there were far more Native American hunters on the bison plains in the horse era than I would guess you think, they killed females whenever possible (year round, no limits)... And that peak bison population happened long before the 1870s..."

    And AFTER you had made your #160 assertion about what I had allegedly said, I wrote #201: "Relatively more were killed by whites at the end but most were killed by Native Americans and Metis. There just weren't that many "whites" where the bison remained then to do what you suggest.
    [see # 165 for details on this]"

    This was absolutely true in Canada, and true in the US until after the Civil War (post-1865).

    Does that make them "largely responsible for the demise"? When did the "demise" start? Long before 1865. Caused by HUMAN predation enabled by horses. Native North Americans had more early impacts because there were far more of them in western bison range.

    To repeat the key big picture point, from my #201: it was "a long and almost inevitable process."

    My other relevant posts here include #151, 171, 199, 201, 204 (212 re Hornaday), 218, 237,243, 247, 252. You need to reread them perhaps.

    And if you would just actually read 1491, for starters (yes follow its references and read Calloway too), you will begin to understand the background to this whole story. That book does not end at 1492, and this is not some simplistic story. And you will also understand the passenger pigeon story, and so much more. To understand the bison story it must be put into its whole historical context, with all the myriad details. That's why most people prefer simple fairy tales.

    But this must be the end of this for me. Life is too short. Hopefully this discussion will spur you into actually learning more about this and other North American human and wildlife history. The real story is much more interesting and informative than the popular mythology.






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  • 259. At 9:55pm on 07 Jun 2010, JadeRabbit wrote:

    Hilarious tinkering. Let's do the right thing and allow the planet to recover naturally. this means an end to our modern profligacy. It sounds harsh and ultra-green but it really needn't be. Government really does have to grasp the nettle though and do what's best for us whether we like it or not!

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  • 260. At 10:01pm on 07 Jun 2010, JadeRabbit wrote:

    Oh and maybe a few of you should exchange telephone numbers and just talk to each other.

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  • 261. At 6:38pm on 08 Jun 2010, JaneBasingstoke wrote:

    @CanadianRockies #258
    (@manysummits)

    Thanks for that. And thanks for your patience. Consider the parrot well and truly buried.

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