Archive for the 'Environment' Category

Fireworm Spectacular

Saturday, April 11th, 2015

Sitting on a dock in Isla Morada, watching the stars come out as dusk turned into night, when suddenly a bright green luminescence appeared in the water. At first I thought it must be a glowing jellyfish. Then more appeared, and looking more closely I saw each was a brightly glowing wriggling worm, a couple of inches long, creating around it a luminescent pool about a foot across. They were there for a minute then vanished. Altogether forty or so must have suddenly appeared, and just as suddenly disappeared. Within minutes the show was over.

Subsequent research revealed I had just seen the mating ritual of the bearded fireworm. It happens on the third quarter of the moon in Spring, fifty-six minutes after sunset. The females come out of the mud, swim up to the surface and put on this spectacle, attracting the males up to them.

But how come such exact timing, I wondered? At first I must I thought be triggered by the degree of darkness reached 56 minutes after sunset, on a day when there is no full moon. But a day or two after the full moon, the sky would be that dark. Why did it not happen till the third quarter – and this was exactly on the third quarter, seven days after the full moon.

I was left in wonder. One of those fascinating ways life on Earth is linked to the cycles of the moon – and so precisely.

And my own timing was perfect too. Had I not stayed on the dock till it got dark, I would not have seen them. Had it been en another day, I would not have seen them. Perhaps this is the only time in my life I will be privileged to witness this magic luminescent dance. But I shall be eternally grateful for having done so. (Or maybe I will return on the third quarter of the April full moon next year.)

Running Dry – II

Tuesday, April 7th, 2015

Five years ago I posted a blog (Running Dry) charting the water levels in California’s reservoirs for the previous five years, pointing out that if the trend continued California would begin literally running out of water in a few years. Fortunately the following winters brought increased rainfall and the immediate danger was averted. But since then, with four consecutive winters of low rainfall, the situation has become even more dire—and much more so than most realize. Jerry Brown’s order of a 25% cut in consumption, and his $6 billion for better collection and distribution, which won’t come on line for another five years, may be respectively too little and too late.

CA reservoir levels

Looking at the graph above, it is clear that if the winter rains over the next couple of years follow the same pattern—and current models of climate change suggest that this is indeed the long-term expectation—and people, farming, and industry don’t drastically curb water usage, then the reservoirs will begin to run dry.

What will happen then? California will no longer be such an attractive place to live in. The net influx of people attracted by the many opportunities California has to offer, will give way to a net outflow. People and corporations will begin migrating elsewhere—just as other civilizations have when faced with prolonged drought. And the greatly inflated property prices around San Francisco and Los Angeles will begin to fall, perhaps collapse. What will happen when people have to move elsewhere, but cannot sell their homes? There’s another economic disaster waiting in the wings. And it may well be the first major such disaster directed related to climate change.

Moreover, since over 40% of North America’s fruit and veg is grown in California’s central valley, less water will mean reduced crops and higher prices throughout the USA. Moreover any shortage in the US will be made up by imports, raising prices in the developing world.

Many central-valley farmers have turned to pumping out the aquifers to irrigate their crops. But it doesn’t take any great brains to see that this is a short-term solution and will lead to even greater tragedy when the aquifers run dry.

See also:
California Wake-Up Call
What if California’s Drought is Permanent
It takes one gallon of water to produce one almond!

Gaian Perspective on Gulf Oil Leak

Saturday, May 29th, 2010

The Global Brain is Watching.

(This is text from video. Watch the video.)

The live video feed from the fractured oil pipe a mile beneath the surface is allowing anyone with Internet access (currently more than 1.7 billion of us) to watch the plume of oil pouring into the Gulf of Mexico. And, moreover, to watch live the various attempts to plug the leak. It has become, in the words of Associated Press, “an Internet sensation.” Thank you Obama for insisting that BP didn’t cut the video feed.

When I wrote The Global Brain, 30 years ago, I (and just about everyone else in the field) was imagining the embryonic Internet in terms of text and data processing. None of us foresaw the rich audio-visual medium it would become. Or that we, the neurons of the global brain, would be able to watch live as global catastrophes such as this unfold. Our eyes have become the eyes of Gaia, collectively observing our unfolding collective destiny.

And what, from a Gaian perspective, is this oil that threatens, not just the fishing business in Louisiana, but, far more importantly, the coral reefs and sea floor life that lie at the base of the ocean food chain?

Oil is but highly concentrated life. Dead forests from hundreds of millions of years ago, compressed by immense geological pressures into this hydrocarbon rich liquid that we prize so much for all the energy it contains. As Tom Hartmann points out in his book Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight, it is, in the final analysis, energy captured by plants way back in the past.

To the energy of the trapped sunlight was then added the energy of the immense compression it underwent beneath the weight of continents. That compression changed the chemical nature of the vegetable remains. The hydrocarbons we prize so much are seldom found in nature. It took unimaginable pressure to force the chains of carbon atoms to be found throughout life on Earth into rings of carbon atoms. (Today we have taken this a step further, using intense pressures in the laboratory to create spheres of carbon atoms – so-called Buckyballs.)

These hydrocarbon rings don’t fit well with life back on the surface of Gaia. Being immiscible with water, they clog up the metabolic processes of most lifeforms. To us, liberated oil is pollution.

A few bacteria do like this dense nutrient-rich material. They live on the sea floor happily gobbling the trickle of oil that oozes through numerous cracks in the ocean bed, breaking down the carbon rings into more hospitable molecules. But they never evolved to cope with hundreds of thousands of barrels a day pouring out of a single vent.

Where will it end? No one knows. Eventually, microbes on the ocean floor will slowly break down the carbon rings, feeding them back into the food chain hundreds of million years after they were first formed. And life will, in time, cope with the dispersants that have been added to the mix (themselves a product of the oil industry.) In the long term, Gaia shows a remarkable resilience.

Meanwhile, the world watches with baited-breath, half mesmerized, half devastated – and perhaps just a tiny part glad that it may take such a catastrophe to bring this crazy bunch of monkeys to their senses.

2012: Temporal Epicenter of a Cultural Earthquake

Monday, December 14th, 2009

In recent times there has been growing interest in the possibility that the global crisis is coming to a head in the year 2012. It will be a time when we will see major changes, major transformations of humanity, perhaps an awakening of the human spirit. Most of this focus on 2012 stems from the Mayan calendar and the fact it completes its 5125 year cycle on December 21st, 2012.

There are other predictions in the world which may not be so precise in terms of the date, but which also suggest we are facing major changes. In ancient India the Vedas talked about an age of Kali Yoga which lasts thousands of years and is dominated by greed, corruption and materialistic values. They say this age is coming to an end and we are entering an age called Sat Yoga, a golden age.

In North America the Hopi Indians talked about the coming of an end of an era, when there would be a great purification. Astrologers talk about the Age of Aquarius that we are entering into, a time when we learn to live in peace with each other and with the planet.

Many other people have had similar visions that we are moving into times of catastrophic change which will be accompanied by a great spiritual awakening and a shift to a wiser, more loving, more compassionate way of being, perhaps the emergence of a global consciousness.

Whether there will actually be momentous changes in 2012, or even on December 21st, 2012 remains to be seen. For me the exact date is not so important. I see 2012 as a symbol of a critical period in human history. The first two decades of the 21st century seem to be the time when this crisis is really coming to a head. In fact many environmentalists say that if we don’t change by 2020 we are going to be in deep trouble.

The year 2012 sits in the middle of this period. Rather than being a precise date at which major changes happen, I see it as the temporal epicenter of a cultural earthquake. No one actually knows what is going to happen in the coming years. There may be breakdowns in the systems, major social disruptions, perhaps even completely unexpected calamities. And at the same time there’s probably going to be breakthroughs, some positive transformations, people letting go of old attitudes ands beliefs. In reality its probably going to be both. All that we can probably say with certainty is that there is going to be a lot more change, and some of it totally unexpected.

People sometimes talk about the winds of change. I think we’re heading into a storm of change. The question is how can we prepare ourselves for this, how can we cope with an increasingly unpredictable world?

We can get some clues by looking at what helps a tree survive a storm. First, it needs strong roots, so it does not blow over. Similarly, we need to be able to remain stable so that we are not shaken by every unexpected change. If we loose our inner balance, if we react emotionally to everything that happens, we end up getting more stressed and more likely to burn out.

Second, like a tree we also need to be flexible. We need to be able to move with the flow of change. This means letting go of past assumptions. We need to learn to think more clearly, allow new ideas in, let deeper intuitions and feelings come to the surface.

And third, just as a tree is much better off if it is protected by other trees in the forest, so too we will be much better able to withstand change if we have a strong sense of community. We need to care for each, support each other in times of need. We need to develop greater care and compassion, to open our hearts to kindness, and have our vision guide us in these turbulent times.

See Also: A Singularity in Time

The Wake-Up Call

Saturday, April 25th, 2009

The ancient Chinese symbol for crisis, wei-chi, combines two elements: danger and opportunity. The danger is that if one continues to pursue approaches that are no longer working, then disaster is imminent. The opportunity is to let go of the old patterns and find new ways of being that unleash new, and possibly unforeseen, potentials.

The many global crises we are now facing are symptomatic of set of values and mode of thinking that is no longer working. Our tools and technologies have given us unprecedented control of the world around us. We have thus fallen into the trap of believing that the path to human fulfillment lies in manipulating the world us, manufacturing ever more things, and so creating ever more waste. This is clearly no longer working. Over consumption of resources and unbridled pollution of the oceans, atmosphere and soil are now threatening human civilization, if not humanity itself.

This approach also no longer works on an individual level. Despite all our burgeoning material comforts people as a whole are no happier than they were fifty years ago. The need to feel in control of events leads to greed, anxiety and fear, states of mind which, by their very nature, take us away from the peace and fulfillment we truly seek.

Many in the past have seen through the illusion that fulfillment comes from what we have and do. We call them the wise ones, the liberated, the enlightened. These are people who have discovered a deeper meaning to life, an inner joy that is not dependent on circumstances, and a compassion that leads to care for other beings. Such people are often revered as saints, yet there is nothing special about them — apart from the fact that they have woken up from the dream in which the rest of us live. They hold the key to our future. A world in which we can live together, free from unnecessary fear, and in harmony with our surroundings.

Our various crises are pushing us towards this shift in consciousness, calling us to a collective awakening, and to a world governed by wisdom and compassion rather than greed and fear. The time to make wake up is now. The danger is too immense to risk. The opportunity is too good to miss.

Running Dry

Thursday, March 26th, 2009


They call it the Golden state. The IT capital of the world. Were it a nation it would be the seventh most prosperous in the world. But all that may be about to change.

Few will have failed to notice that the winter rains were down—again. Reservoirs are below 50% capacity. This time last year they were around 60%, and the year before, around 80%  Is this a pattern? The result of climate change? Who knows? But if the trend continues, then this time next year they will be only 30% full. And in 2011, the state starts running dry.

By then the disaster will be upon us. One third of US fruit and vegetables are grown in the central valley (consuming 85% of the state’s water). Already, 2009 food production is in serious trouble. Industry also needs the water. So do people. As rationing takes its bite, all sectors will be hit hard. (Even now farm workers are protesting – )

California is, in its natural state, mostly desert. With hundreds of dams and numerous waterways, we’ve created fertile regions—farms, cities, communities. But if the trend continues… Paint your own picture of how that pans out. An unprecedented catastrophe waiting in the wings.

I have no idea if the rain will fall short again next year, or the year after. At a guess, I’d give it a 50/50 chance.

The one thing we cannot afford not to do is ignore a 50% chance of a socio-economic catastrophe.

The graph below shows the accumulated data for the five largest reservoirs in California for the last 4 years.

The Food Crisis

Wednesday, April 16th, 2008

We have heard plenty about the dangers of peak oil, global warming, banking meltdowns, and global pandemics, but the most critical crisis of all, that of food, looms largely unnoticed.

When we have thought about a food crisis it has usually been in terms of there not being enough food. But in recent times a new specter has raised its head. The food is there, but the price of food is rising so fast that the world’s poor can no longer afford it. They can no longer afford the most basic commodity of life.

In the last three years, the global food prices have doubled. The fastest rises have been in the staple cereals. In the last year (2007), the price of corn went up by 30%, rice by 74%, soya by 87%, and wheat by 130%. The people most hit by such increases are the world’s poor. Some have to spend 80% of their income on food. What happens when they have to pay even more? The answer is beginning to hit the news—food riots in Haiti, strikes and protests in Egypt, 30 million in Bangladesh at risk of starvation.

There are several reasons for the rise in food prices. The most basic is supply and demand. Increasing numbers to feed without similar increases in supply, pushes up prices. Higher oil prices mean higher food production costs—farm equipment, fertilizers, and transport. Droughts in major wheat producing areas such as Australia and Kazakhstan have had major impact on supply. As growing numbers in India and China rise out of poverty, diets change. Hundreds of millions of people are wanting to eat more meat and dairy products; yet producing one pound of beef takes ten times that amount of grain, forcing the price of staple foods even higher.

Added to these, there is the crazy idea of alleviating global warning by growing biofuels. Leaving aside the question of whether this does or does not result in a net reduction of atmospheric carbon dioxide, every hectare of farmland given over to growing biofuels, is a hectare not growing food. To think that growing food for cars should take precedent over growing food for people shows just how crazy some people have become. Those governments, such as the USA and UK,  who have jumped on the biofuel bandwagon are about to have a very rude awakening as the food crisis begins to take center stage.

What can be done? The factors pushing food prices higher are here to stay (for a good while at least). The impact on the world’s poor (and soon, the not so poor) will increase. More and more people will not be able to afford to eat, or not afford much else. Instead of rising out of poverty they will sink back in. Increasingly, the problem will be seen as economic; the food is there, it just costs too much.

We are heading inexorably towards a time when the nations of the developed countries will have to subsidize the food of the world’s poor. Right wing conservatives in the US baulk at the idea of social welfare in their own country, and without large numbers dying of starvation in the USA they can get away with that, but when the world’s media shows food price riots across the world, and people starving by the millions. attitudes will begin to shift. The laissez-faire free market ideology that lies beneath rising food prices will have to be overridden. In its place—as far as food goes at least—we will have to move towards a form of global social welfare. Anathema as that may be to some.

Greenhouse Cost of Beef

Saturday, September 15th, 2007

Offset your driving by becoming a vegetarian!

A study by the National Institute of Livestock and Grassland Science in Tsukuba, Japan, showed that producing a kilogram of beef leads to the emission of greenhouse gases with a warming potential equivalent to 36.4 kilograms of carbon dioxide. That is about the same as driving the average European car for 250 kilometres. The production also consumes enough energy to light a 100-watt bulb for nearly 20 days.

Over two-thirds of the energy goes towards producing and transporting the animals’ feed. The calculations did not include the impact of managing farm infrastructure and transporting the meat, so the total environmental load is higher than the study suggests.

(Animal Science Journal, DOI: 10.1111/j.1740-0929.2007.00457.x).