"The Battle of the Biosphere"

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"The Battle of the Biosphere"

Postby tas-man » Mon 24 Sep, 2012 3:23 pm

I found this article in the Melbourne Bushwalkers 1970 "WALK" magazine, and felt that this prophetic article should be ressurrected for today's generation. As the concerns raised have "come home to roost," it's a salutary warning to listen more carefully to today's prophets :roll:

THE BATTLE OF THE BIOSPHERE
By Judith Wright McKinney ( First published in "Outlook" magazine 1970)

A science-fiction title? No-though ten years ago it might have sounded like one. This battle is really on.
Some eight years ago I became involved in it in a minor and piecemeal way. With a few others, I helped start a magazine (WILDLIFE in Australia) and a society called the Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland. The title is now getting rather outdated by events; the battle, which at that time looked like a sideline engagement, is part of the most important, perhaps fatal, crisis of our time.

It has turned out to imply far more than just a battle for a few nature-reserves, for the saving of a few threatened species, or more even than a rescue-operation for the Great Barrier Reef or the beaches of Queensland. The larger battle of which it is part extends to the whole of the biosphere, the thin covering of living organisms supported by earth, air, water and sunlight; and to win it will imply a change of attitude in ourselves so drastic that it may never be won.

We have always been predators, armed only with our wits and a pair of clawless hands; but as consciousness emerged those weapons became more and more deadly. It's a legitimate cause for pride that we overcame those other predators that might have wiped us out. Wolves, lions, tigers and the rest of them are no more than curiosities now, where they have managed to survive; we are safe from all but the worst of the elemental disasters, and we are largely in control of bacteria and viruses (though our present overcrowding of the world may give some adaptable strain new chances).

For the rest, we have conquered jungles, learned to live in polar and equatorial regions, taken over all the lands we can at present cultivate, and are increasing far faster than any species near our size has ever done. But in the process we are altering the checks and balances of the whole biosphere, and doing it in ways that have more and more unpredictable side-effects. Only over the past few decades have we begun to realise that our proliferation, industrialization, and increasingly terrible technological weapons have put us in the position of masters over the earth with powers of life and death over the nature of which we are part.

So many aspects of the problem are emerging, and many of them are so unexpected, that we can be excused for being bewildered. Problems of soil erosion, and the exhaustion of soils through exposure and unwise use, have long been known, but we still know little of chemical and bacterial interaction and the function of soil-living organisms. Our increasing water-problems drive us to water-conservation schemes, but these change water-tables and drainage patterns and destroy wetlands which are important breeding and living areas for fish and birds. The constant and increasing wash of fertilisers and insecticides into streams, lakes and finally the ocean causes pollution which has chain-reactions on freshwater and sea organisms, and probably is already affecting ourselves. (Nitrite poisoning from ingestion of fertiliser has been identified as an important medical problem in the United States.) The dumping of industrial and human wastes into streams cause massive fish-kills, and these are easily observed, but the deterioration of living conditions for smaller organisms which are food for fish is equally destructive and not so obvious.

Discharge of detergents into streams is well-known to be damaging, but we are doing nothing about it; the newer detergent types are more or less non-bio-degradable (can be ingested but cannot be broken down by living organisms); a letter on this subject to a chemical firm elicited the answer that the need for bio-degradable detergents in Australia has not been proved.

Wastes from mining operations are often allowed to pollute water, and can cause "aquatic deserts". Silt from beach-sand mining destroys fish and littoral life; dissolvable chemicals do the same (look at the problems caused by tin-mining wastes from the Captain's Flat operations near Canberra, for instance).

One of the worst modern forms of pollution is caused by oil spillage into water. Petrochemicals such as benzine and toluene, which are dissolvable, are especially poisonous and persist as toxins in water for long periods. They can accumulate in living tissues in many marine animals, even at sub-lethal levels. As for "cleaning-up" oil slicks, the present methods are more destructive than the oil itself. (Their use was forbidden in the case of the off-shore blow-out in Californian waters.) And small frequent spills from ships, tankers, and refineries on waterways, which are not spectacular enough to attract attention, are going on all the time. These can accumulate over years into an even bigger problem than that caused by single large spills that do get into the news.

We have got into the habit of building industrial complexes near waterways and discharging their wastes into streams, which are regarded as natural drains. Organic wastes from dairy factories, tanneries, meatworks, sugar-mills, paper-mills, etc., set off an interesting chain of cause and effect: first, a huge increase in the micro-organisms which live on proteins and carbo-hydrates, then a decrease in the dissolved oxygen in the water, which these aerobic organisms need to live and which is also necessary for fish and other organisms; finally, when the pollution level is high enough, a "dead stream" in which anaerobic organisms produce the characteristic smell of hydrogen sulphide, which is a poisonous gas. Then we begin to complain; but by that time the living creatures are dead, or have moved away, and we have a cesspool on our hands.

This has happened, or is happening, in most of the important water- ways in Europe and the United States. The Great Lakes are almost lifeless; the Swiss Lakes, especially the Lake of Geneva, support little or no aquatic life; great rivers like the Rhine in their lower regions are very highly polluted. All this is discharged into the seas, and since continental shelves are by far the most important breeding-grounds for fish, the problem is obviously only beginning to show up.

Radio-active wastes are especially menacing, both in air and water. Even sub-lethal concentrations build up in tissues and cause deterioration of reproduction processes. Here, it is said that, though the Cape Keraudren project has been shelved, it will be "possible" to use nuclear blasts for dams and harbour projects. The Richmond Shire Council in Queensland, hit by drought, wants nuclear explosives to blast a huge irrigation dam; physicists and biochemists have reacted with horror and alarm, but politicians are talking in different terms. They want nuclear power- stations, though experience overseas has been hardly reassuring. Accidents are bound to happen, plan as we may. As for uranium mining, wastes and debris have got into the water-supplies of a number of states in the U.S., and though the Public Health Department has taken some action, it seems to have been, as usual, too little and too late.

There are other sources of pollution as well, some perhaps not yet identified; and the result is a steady and increasing worsening of the conditions for life itself. This deterioration shows up first, of course, at the level where the great energy interchanges begin-the bacterial, algal and micro-levels on which everything else depends. It shows up later in man, probably, since the generations of micro-organisms and smaller wildlife breed millions of times faster than we do and absorb pollution much quicker. But already a Mayo Clinic medical authority believes that human deaths from poisoning by petro-chemicals and insecticides are now greater than those from road-accidents. Many of these pollutants areproved to be carcinogenic. It is difficult to estimate the number of human deaths and illnesses caused in these ways, since there are not many foolproof methods of diagnosis as yet.

But the poisoning of our total environment through chemical and organic wastes is measurable, and it is increasing. Here in Australia, we haven't very high levels of air and water pollution as yet, and if we are willing to learn, we have the chance of applying controls before they are forced on us. But it won't, even now, be an easy job. The Senate Committees of inquiry into some of the problems are a good start at identifying some of the worst cases; whether we can or will act on the information is another question. We have a fine easy habit of making inquiries and reports and leaving it at that.

What about the land-use problems-soils, forests and wildlife? Our record again is very unreassuring. In Australia there is the major example of what we have done, and are still doing, to the marginal and sub- marginal inland pastures that support a very large proportion of our grazing flocks and herds. We moved into them only late last century. Already our introduction of hoofed animals and the rabbit have massively altered the former delicate balance of arid-adapted plants and animals, and set off an "advance of the desert" that takes a further step with every drought. About this we are doing practically nothing. On the coastal strip, we have raped the forests pretty thoroughly, and the soils they built up have been mismanaged so that water and wind-erosion have stripped them of much of their fertility, and silted our rivers. Introduced weeds keep farmers fighting for a living, and weeds mean expensive chemical-spraying programmes (more pollution). Where we have done away with the native trees, we plant huge areas of introduced pines instead. These are soil-exhausting mono-crops in which very few native animals and birds can make a living-ecological deserts. Now comes the woodchip industry, with its concept of Total Tree-use and its capacity for using native eucalyptus hitherto too small or too diverse for foresters to bother with. Many of these remaining forests clothe steep slopes and hold them against erosion; they are protecting watersheds and drainage patterns. They will vanish, and vanish on a massive scale, and when they go, weed-growth and erosion will follow. But as they go, they bring in a quick dollar, and that's what counts.

The list of our misdeeds is formidable enough to dismay even the fastest talkers who try to justify or minimise them. But it is all part of one big world-wide process, the Quiet Crisis of our time-not newsworthy, often unnoticed because gradual, but accelerating with its own momentum.

The fact is that we just don't know what we are doing in any one aspect of the problem, Jet alone overall. We do know, now, that all life, including our own, is interdependent, as well as dependent on sunlight, air, water and soils-that any action taken in one place may have unexpected repercussions in another. But the science of ecology is a very recent one; it involves the study of these interdependencies, but most of them are still largely unknown, and may only be perceivable when we have already interfered clumsily enough to cause obvious damage.

In effect, we are carrying on a world-wide experiment on nature itself that amounts to vivisection. But we are making money out of it, for we are cashing in on age-old natural capital reserves of minerals, soils, plants and animals. So the danger-signals are going to be ignored as long as possible, and maybe longer. With the success of our medical and health-schemes, and food-aid programmes to the poorer countries, populations everywhere are exploding upwards, even where there is clearly not enough food to support them. We trust science to solve all this- since science created it; but our spaceship has its limitations, and we are coming up against them.

The fact is that we are faced with the biggest transformation in ourselves since the birth of consciousness. We have to cease being predators and become managers. If we are to do this, we must first manage ourselves, and this looks like being the biggest problem of all. For compared to our ancestors, whose development of consciousness and thought have landed us now with the world at our feet, we have it soft And we feel we have a right to have it soft, and even softer. There's plenty of wealth around, and plenty of food, and it's for us. As for the future, it can take care of itself.

Most of us live in cities, and don't notice that the cities depend on what is outside them. Cities are highly organized, industrially and economically; and their institutions- business, government, education, public service and the rest -are not nearly as adaptable as the individual himself is. They take a long time to change with changing circumstances, and they are hard to convince that change is needed. How are you going to convince, say, directors and shareholders in oil companies of the need to exercise choice in the areas of oil-search, so as to minimise ecological damage? Or to devote a very much bigger proportion of their profits to research into ways of preventing and cleaning up oil spills before damage is caused? Or get shipping companies to accept longer and less economical shipping routes so that important reefs and beaches are spared the danger of such spills by tankers and other ships? Or change our present educational emphasis so that everyone learns about the need for individual responsibility in the conservation of our earth? And these are small and piecemeal approaches to the problem.

It's a challenge, and one whose size and shape bring us hard up against, not only the whole direction of our past development, but even against our genetic equipment and natural impulses.

We have generated plenty of other problems which look more sensational, more interesting, more attractively immediate. Political, eco- nomic, social, important-looking problems that demand attention and get into the news. This problem doesn't get into the news, except when somebody makes an extra-big mistake-guides a tanker onto a rock off a highly-populated coastline, or allows oil-drilling that causes an extra-big blowout with obvious severe economic and biological results. Cumulative long-term damage grinds slowly on; but it grinds relentlessly, and the pace is speeding up.

Meanwhile, the earth deteriorates in ways we hardly observe. It is difficult to remember what this landscape, that beach, looked like ten or twenty years ago; the young don't know in any case. Trees, forests vanish; with them go the populations of insects, birds and animals they supported; marginal areas become potential dust-bowls; industrial and other wastes go on pouring into air and water; perhaps no living organism now does not carry somewhere in its tissues traces of residual insecticides. Beautiful, interesting and potentially valuable species vanish, while we fail to make nearly enough reserves of natural land for our future recreation, let alone species survival. Aesthetically and otherwise, the "progress from wilderness to dump-heap" is bad for our mental, psychological and even physical health. But we don't notice it; and it is not to the interest of a society bent on industrialization and exploitation to notice it. To do anything about it will cost money and mean inconvenience. It will need planning, research, a massive reallocation of resources.
Are there any takers for that?

(This article was republished with the kind permission of the author and the editor of the journal OUTLOOK in which it originally appeared.)
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Re: "The Battle of the Biosphere"

Postby north-north-west » Mon 24 Sep, 2012 7:34 pm

40 years later and what have we learnt? Sweet Felicity Arkwright. :roll:
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Re: "The Battle of the Biosphere"

Postby Mark F » Mon 24 Sep, 2012 7:51 pm

While we may do a certain amount of damage, possibly quite large, to the biosphere, ultimately the biosphere will disarm us by destroying our civilisation , but not our species.
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Re: "The Battle of the Biosphere"

Postby geoskid » Mon 01 Oct, 2012 2:17 pm

Scientists estimate 99.9% of all species that have ever existed have gone extinct.

Our species will eventually become extinct by non-human causes, if not by human causes.

The 'battle' is the attempt, by our species, to ensure that our species does not cause an effect or combination of effects that
render the Biosphere incapable of sustaining our species.

Our species is currently on a trajectory of unsustainability.

The challenge, then, is to bring about a change in human behaviour. To change human behaviour, we must first understand human behaviour and what drives it.
Here is an article from the Ecological Society of America, Titled "Human Behaviour and Sustainability".
http://mahb.stanford.edu/wp-content/upl ... bility.pdf

From the article:
" In a Nutshell
. Human actions and behaviours, both by individuals and societies, are resulting in the ongoing degradation of the Biosphere.
. The social sciences have generated useful knowledge on how to foster behavioural change.
. Acheiving large-scale behavioural change requires a powerful movement within civil society.
. For sustainability science to be effective, it needs to engage with civil society and support appropriate initiatives, such
as the Ecological Society of Americas Earth Stewardship Initiative and the Millenium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere."

The article "proposes five priority themes that focus on the nexus of human behavioural sustainability", and goes on to expand on them.
The 5 priorities are:
"1. Reforming formal institutions at the level of Nation states.
2. Strengthening the institutions of civil society and fostering citizen engagement.
3. Curbing consumption and reducing population growth.
4. Routinely considering equity and social justice in decision making.
5. Reflecting on deeply held value and belief systems."
It is well worth reading the full article to get an inkling of how enormously complex each of these 5 priorities are.
The last 2 sentences of the Article
"Put bluntly, we know what needs to happen to work towards a more sustainable future: we know that a social avalanche is needed. The challenge now is to get it started."

I was suprised that the article did'nt explicitly mention the problems inherent in native human thinking itself as a barrier to acheiving these behavioural changes.
It is known that human thinking informs human actions and behaviours, and that native human thinking produces erroneous conclusions about the nature of reality.

Here is a book about the systematic errors inherent in human thinking, by Daniel Kahneman, "Thinking, fast and slow" :
http://www.amazon.com/Thinking-Fast-Slo ... 0374275637

I think it crucial that part of the social avalanche required includes awareness raising of the importance of developing Critical Thinking and Critical Societies.
Here is an aricle from the Foundation for Critical thinking, on developing Critical Societies.

"A critical society is a community of people who value critical thinking and value those who practice it. It is a society continually improving. Its most distinguishing characteristic is its emphasis on thinking as the key to the emancipation of the mind, to the creation of just practices, to the preservation and development of the species.

Unfortunately there are no critical societies in the world. Nor have there ever been. The idea represents an ideal not yet achieved, a possibility not yet actualized. There is no culture on earth where critical thought is characteristic of everyday personal and social life.

On the contrary, the world is filled with superficiality, prejudice, bias, distortions, lies, deception, manipulation, short sightedness, close-mindedness, righteousness, hypocrisy, on and on, in every culture in every country throughout the world. These problems in thinking lead to untold negative implications - fear, anxiety, sadness, hopelessness, pain, suffering, injustices of every imaginable kind.

Yet humans have great capacity for rationality and reasonability. The history of human accomplishments, achievements and contributions well documents this fact. But for the most part this capacity must be developed, actively, by the mind. It is our second, not our first, nature.

What is more natural to the mind, what comes first in terms of human tendencies, and often takes precedence, is an orientation focused on self-gratification, self-interest, self-protection. This perspective is innate, and many would say, necessary for survival. Still it leads to many problems and ultimately stands as a barrier to the development of fairminded critical societies.

To envision a critical society, imagine a world in which problems are routinely solved through reasoning based on openmindedness and mutual respect, rather than vested interest and power. Imagine a world which protects maximum freedoms and liberties, a world free from hunger and homelessness, a world in which people work to understand the viewpoints of others, especially those with whom they disagree. Imagine a world in which people are encouraged to think for themselves, rather than mindlessly conform.

There has never before been a more important time to foster and develop critical societies. With the dwindling of the earth’s resources, with vast declines in natural habitats, with impending extinctions of growing numbers of animals, with the melting of arctic ice, with wars and hunger and hopelessness on the part of so many, with all of the monumental problems we now face, it is vital that we turn things around and get them right. Whether and the extent to which we do will depend directly on our ability to solve the complex problems before us, to follow out the implications of our actions, to develop and use our collective intelligence in doing so.

To fix the problems looming before us, there is one thing we must get command of – our thinking. Everything we do is determined by some thinking we do. Critical societies can and will emerge only to the extent that human thinking becomes a primary interest of people living in societies, only to the extent that thinking comes to be understood as a complex phenomenon routinely highlighted and discussed and critiqued in every relationship, in every family, in every business, in every organization, in every field and discipline, in every part of the culture. In short, because the human mind is naturally riddled with problems, the creation of critical societies depends upon people within the societies taking thinking seriously, studying its problems, its tricks and stratagems, its weaknesses and strengths, its native tendencies, its rational capacities.

Many important thinkers throughout history have contributed to the idea of the critical society through emphasis on the educated mind, freedom of thought, the cultivation of the intellect, and barriers to human development. We have pulled together some quotes from these thinkers for you here, and provided some little commentary in places. When we weave these ideas together with similar ideas from other great thinkers, a rich tapestry emerges, a vibrant guiding concept of the critical society. We see what we are reaching for, and the traps to be avoided."

Food for thought, and I look forward to yours.
Take care.
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http://www.criticalthinking.org/
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Re: "The Battle of the Biosphere"

Postby tas-man » Tue 02 Oct, 2012 1:29 am

geoskid wrote:<snip>
To fix the problems looming before us, there is one thing we must get command of – our thinking. Everything we do is determined by some thinking we do.<snip>

I agree, and the connection between our values, thoughts, words, and actions, was succinctly summed up in this quote from Ghandi:

Picture 7.png
Picture 7.png (26.09 KiB) Viewed 1419 times
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Re: "The Battle of the Biosphere"

Postby geoskid » Tue 02 Oct, 2012 11:35 pm

Here's a link to the Millenium Alliance For Humanity & The Biosphere

It has a Library of articles covering a range of topics. The site itself has a positive vibe.

"What happens when natural scientists and social scientists work together and discover a new type of intelligence, foresight intelligence: the ability to implement behavioral, institutional and cultural changes necessary for humans to ensure a sustainable and equitable future for all?

What happens when foresight intelligence meets the best of global civil society?

Quite simply, we can reduce humanity’s ecological footprint and social inequities before it is too late.

This is the Millennium Alliance for Humanity and Biosphere (MAHB)
"
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Re: "The Battle of the Biosphere"

Postby geoskid » Wed 03 Oct, 2012 1:31 am

tas-man wrote:
geoskid wrote:<snip>
To fix the problems looming before us, there is one thing we must get command of – our thinking. Everything we do is determined by some thinking we do.<snip>

I agree, and the connection between our values, thoughts, words, and actions, was succinctly summed up in this quote from Ghandi:

Picture 7.png


Hi Tas-man, I'm glad you agree - I think you have inadvertently attributed the words to me. I was quoting an article from the Foundation for Critical Thinking website.

Getting command of our thinking involves, among other things, applying standards (clarity, accuracy, precision etc ) to the elements of thought.

Ghandis quote is not an accurate description of the relationship between beliefs, thoughts, speech and actions, and should not be taken as literal. I wonder whether it was meant to be taken literally, given the form it takes.

Edit - link not working properly - there's an interactive model between standards and elements at bottom of begin here Tab.
Critical Thinking.. the awakening of the intellect to the study of itself.
http://www.criticalthinking.org/
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Re: "The Battle of the Biosphere"

Postby Swifty » Wed 03 Oct, 2012 4:34 pm

geoskid wrote:"What happens when natural scientists and social scientists work ...to implement behavioral, institutional and cultural changes necessary for humans to ensure a sustainable and equitable future for all?


Oh, I thought behavioural, institutional and cultural changes were determined by the duly elected representatives of the people, not scientists?
Lovely idea perhaps, revolutionary though. Who is going to enforce the changes? Through education you think? It would be impossible to achieve the "social license" for such fundamental changes I think. Imagine the opposition from the status quo, politicians and the religious orders. A lot of people have an interest in maintaining the current inequity.
We've seen the results of some other large-scale social experiments in the last 100 years or so, one called "communism" and the other "facism", they didn't turn out so well. Although admittedly they weren't run by scientists. But there is no reason why a scientist can't also be a tyrant. (Nothing against scientists, I'm one too!) You can do a lot in the name of "an equitible future for all", a lot of damage too!

No, I don't have the answer either! :oops:

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Re: "The Battle of the Biosphere"

Postby geoskid » Fri 05 Oct, 2012 11:18 am

Swifty wrote:
geoskid wrote:"What happens when natural scientists and social scientists work ...to implement behavioral, institutional and cultural changes necessary for humans to ensure a sustainable and equitable future for all?


Oh, I thought behavioural, institutional and cultural changes were determined by the duly elected representatives of the people, not scientists?

The missing part of the quote is relevant here, and the additional information that I have linked to should clear up any confusion about what the aim of the MAHB is.
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