Welcome (back?)…

Welcome to Anthropocene Reality (a blog dating from August 2011). closing-down-sale
Although scientifically trained (with degrees in Geology and Hydrogeology – see my About page), this blog arises from my having also got an MA in Environmental Politics and, as such, as the tagline indicates, is a blog on “the politics and psychology underlying the denial of all our environmental problems”… I hope you will take this on board; and enjoy the discussion. “There is something fundamentally wrong in treating the Earth as if it were a business in liquidation” – Herman E. Daly (former World Bank economist). For more information on this, please see my It doesn’t have to be like this (21 May 2012).

The blog is dead. Long live the blog… (June 2016)
Sadly, I have had to delete my old blog to keep my employer happy.  However, here it is without any reference to my real name or the original blog.

If I do not kill myself as a consequence of having lost my original URL and all my original subscribers, or in protest at the utter futility of my continued existence, there may be more blog posts in the future. However, if you  know it, please do not use my real name in any comments.

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Posted in Environment

President Trump should avoid taking tea with strangers

(Given the acceptance of Climate Science by the Pentagon, CIA, MOSAD etc)

(Given the acceptance of Climate Science by the Pentagon, CIA, MOSAD, etc)

Posted in Anthropocene, Climate Science, Denial, Politics | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Happy New Year and Brain-teaser

I’d like to wish everybody a Happy New Year but, first, I’m going to give your brain a quick workout!

Are the potential benefits of scientific research now limited only by political correctness and epigenetics?

However, before giving you my answer, it might be helpful to define both ‘political correctness’ and ‘epigenetics’:

The Oxford English Dictionary website defines ‘political correctness’ as follows: “The avoidance of forms of expression or action that are perceived to exclude, marginalize, or insult groups of people who are socially disadvantaged or discriminated against…”

Whereas the ‘What is Epigenetics’ website, defines epigenetics as follows:
“Epigenetics is the study of potentially [in]heritable changes in gene expression (active versus inactive genes) that does not involve changes to the underlying DNA sequence… “; and
“Epigenetics, essentially, affects how genes are read by cells, and subsequently how they produce proteins.”

Here’s what I think:

It seems to me that just about every problem on this planet (that we are willing to acknowledge) is blamed on either Libertarians or Liberals; with the choice of ‘guilty party’ being the one an individual identifies with the least.

Thus, if we take the French Revolution as a significant event in the history of (now) globalised Capitalism, Liberal-minded people today are descended – either actually or philosophically – from the revolutionaries.  Whereas Libertarians are akin to those who defend the status quo; however corrupt or inequitable it may be.  I know that no generalisation is ever going to be perfect, but I hope the foregoing will be accepted as generally true, for the sake of building a coherent logical argument.

As such, political correctness may be an ‘article of faith’ for both Liberals and Libertarians alike:  Both groups can use political correctness to argue for the permissive acceptance of anything or anybody.  In other words, when the status quo should not be defended, political correctness can be used by both groups to argue simultaneously for and against change.

This therefore raises the question: “Is political correctness hindering medical research to eliminate the occurrence of genetic defects?”  This is the essence of an article on the NPR website in 2013, which begins as follows:

The federal government is considering whether to allow scientists to take a controversial step: make changes in some of the genetic material in a woman’s egg that would be passed down through generations.

Mark Sauer of the Columbia University Medical Center, a member of one of two teams of U.S. scientists pursuing the research, calls the effort to prevent infants from getting devastating genetic diseases “noble.” Sauer says the groups are hoping “to cure disease and to help women deliver healthy, normal children.”

But the research also raises a variety of concerns, including worries it could open the door to creating “designer babies”…

However, since then, the potential benefits of DNA-editing techniques have frequently made headlines, such as:
DNA-editing breakthrough could fix ‘broken genes’ in the brain, delay ageing and cure incurable diseases (Independent 16 November 2016)

As the above article makes clear:

“For the first time, we can enter into cells that do not divide and modify the DNA at will.  We now have a technology that allows us to modify the DNA of non-dividing cells, to fix broken genes in the brain, heart and liver… It allows us for the first time to be able to dream of curing diseases that we couldn’t before, which is exciting.” (Professor Izpisua Belmonte)

Indeed, the article concludes by quoting Professor Robin Lovell-Badge, of The Francis Crick Institute and one of the UK’s leading geneticists, as follows:

“…with improvements in this type of technology, which seem inevitable these days, it is likely that the methods developed here could prove to be a very useful way of adding genes to non-diving cells, certainly for purposes of basic research, and perhaps eventually for gene therapy to treat otherwise incurable diseases… It is a complicated paper, and it does not quite reach the level as hyped in the press release, but it is indeed rather important.”

I think this is a masterful piece of understatement.

So, if this is ‘game-over’ for genetic defects, are there any conditions we should not fix? Indeed, could fixing them be considered tantamount to discriminating against those living with the consequences of such defects?  I believe that all reasonable people would say that is ridiculous.  If we can, we should fix all genetic defects.

However, what if political correctness prevents us from recognising or acknowledging the persistence of uninheritable genetic defects?  1998 saw the publication of a highly-controversial book written by Bill and Anne Moir: Why Men Don’t Iron: The Real Science of Gender Studies.  As the publishers material points out:

“Men are not women and yet for the last decade have been told to get in touch with the feminine side of their nature. Men have in fact been told to connect to parts of their brain that do not exist. So what are the essential, unique qualities of men?”

At the core of the book is the assertion that both gender traits and sexual orientation are things we are born with.  Whilst the former is obvious; the latter is highly controversial.  Some might say, why controversial?  Anyone who is homosexual would, I am sure, be very offended by the suggestion that their sexuality is a product of their upbringing or environment.  Indeed, “Nature not nurture” is the postmodernist mantra.  However, what are the implications of accepting that nature is not always perfect?

In terms of evolutionary biology, genetic defects can be either advantageous or detrimental to survival; and the most detrimental defects are those that render individuals incapable of sexual reproduction.  Importantly, however, it should be noted that this does not imply any judgement of morality or relative value. All it does is accept the imperfect nature of evolutionary biology.

In essence, a great deal of Bill and Anne Moir’s book is about actually about epigenetics:

As stated above, the ‘What is Epigenetics’ (WIE) website includes these definitions of epigenetics:
“Epigenetics is the study of potentially [in]heritable changes in gene expression (active versus inactive genes) that does not involve changes to the underlying DNA sequence… “; and
“Epigenetics, essentially, affects how genes are read by cells, and subsequently how they produce proteins.”  As the latter webpage explains, here are a few important points about epigenetics:
— Epigenetics Controls Genes:  Certain circumstances in life can cause genes to be silenced or expressed over time. In other words, they can be turned off (becoming dormant) or turned on (becoming active).
— Epigenetics Is Everywhere:  What you eat, where you live, who you interact with, when you sleep, how you exercise, even aging – all of these can eventually cause chemical modifications around the genes that will turn those genes on or off over time. Additionally, in certain diseases such as cancer or Alzheimer’s, various genes will be switched into the opposite state, away from the normal/healthy state.
— Epigenetics Makes Us Unique:  Even though we are all human, why do some of us have blonde hair or darker skin? Why do some of us hate the taste of mushrooms or eggplants? Why are some of us more sociable than others? The different combinations of genes that are turned on or off is what makes each one of us unique. Furthermore, there have been indications that some epigenetic changes can be inherited.
— Epigenetics Is Reversible:  With 20,000+ genes, what will be the result of the different combinations of genes being turned on or off? The possible permutations are enormous! But if we could map every single cause and effect of the different combinations, and if we could reverse the gene’s state to keep the good while eliminating the bad… then we could theoretically cure cancer, slow aging, stop obesity, and so much more.

And so, in 2016, theory may have become reality.  However, where does that leave sexuality? Since it can be neither inherited nor passed-on, the persistence of homosexuality throughout human history can only be explained in epigenetic terms. If so, however:

  • Acknowledging the epigenetic origin of homosexuality is no more an excuse for homophobia than acknowledging the epigenetic origin of any other imperfection in gene transmission would justify any other form of discrimination.
  • The only thing that prevents scientists from identifying the epigenetic cause of homosexuality is the fact that this would require the co-operation of those who live with its effect.

However, did you spot the fatal flaw in a line of argument that could have led to a very ‘politically incorrect’ conclusion?

The potential benefits of scientific research may not, ultimately, be limited by political correctness.  However, despite what the WIE website appears to imply, embryonic errors in gene copying (i.e. which lead to people being born with conditions they did not inherit from their parents) can only be corrected in the embryo itself (i.e. before the error is duplicated by cell division).

At this point, however, we enter the realm of science fiction, as it is possible to foresee a dystopian future where all human reproduction is via IVF, with all embryos being frozen; scanned for epigenetic conditions; and either corrected or destroyed.

For now, however, we must all live with – or alongside – individuals who unquestionably have a right to “life, love and the pursuit of happiness”.

Therefore, I can now say, “Happy New Year to one and all!”

Posted in Liberalism, Populism | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Merry Christmas Mr Trump

xmas2016ra

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Is this ‘Game Over’ for climate change mitigation?

Last January, I posted It’s ‘Game Over’ for Fossil Fuels because… “I’d really like to think oil companies will soon admit the game is up: The extraction of fossil fuels is going to become increasingly financially uneconomic and socially unacceptable.”

However, at the time, I could not imagine that almost half of USA voters would willingly choose Donald Trump to be their next President.  I could also not imagine that their incredibly anti-democratic electoral system would enable Trump to lose the popular vote but win the election.

trump2016Maybe I am singularly unimaginative?  However, who would have imagined that a serious member of the ‘Commentariat’ like Time magazine would choose Donald Trump as ‘Person of the Year’ for 2016?

Are they serious?  Possibly they are not.  At least one critic has suggested the cover image, shown here, has been deliberately composed to make Trump look like the devil incarnate.  For this, and many other brilliant reactions to this news, see this compilation published by the Australian GQ magazine recently.

On 17 November, John Abraham, who is famous for his take-downs on numerous climate science deniers  like Christopher Monckton, published a very incisive summary of the dangers of Trump in the White House.  He started by admitting he had also thought things could not be as bad as many feared:

[Trump] only said those crazy things during the campaign to get elected.  He wouldn’t really follow through on his plans to completely gut the US commitment to keeping the Earth habitable.  Oh how naive we were.  Trump’s plan to fill positions in his administration shows things are worse than we could have ever feared.

Abraham then goes on to state very clearly why so many Americans have made a catastrophic mistake:

According to recent reports, Trump has picked long-time climate denier and spokesperson for the fossil fuel industry Myron Ebell to head the Environmental Protection Agency transition.  This basically means the EPA will either cease to function or cease to exist…

It means we have missed our last off-ramp on the road to catastrophic climate change.  That may sound hyperbolic, but I study the rate that climate change is happening – the amount of heat accumulating in the Earth’s system.  We didn’t have any time to waste in implementing Obama’s aggressive plans, and Trump will result in a decade of time lost.

So who is Myron Ebell? He is a director at the Competitive Enterprise Institute and chair of the Cooler Heads Coalition. Where did he get his PhD in science?  Nowhere.  In fact, he isn’t a scientist at all, but he does have a degree in economics…

Myron Ebell is not new to obstructing action on climate change. Years ago, it was reported that he favored editing Bush-era scientists’ reports on climate change… It isn’t just Ebell. Trump has other insiders, some of who represent fossil fuel companies, working on the transition.

However, even John Abraham did not see Trump’s latest insane appointment coming: Former CEO of ExxonMobil, the biggest ever corporate funders of climate science denial, is now to be USA Secretary of State.

On Twitter, Bill McKibben put it very succinctly: “I guess we live in an official petrostate”.

Even though Abraham did not see this coming, he did finish his article by being philosophical:

Maybe someday Trump will realize that he actually could be the savior of the Earth.  Could you imagine the transformative power of a Republican president getting the Republican party to find solutions to climate change?  It would fit a megalomania frame.  It would be powerful and inspiring.  However, the chances it will happen are about as good as the chance we can avoid our targeted 2C temperature rise (almost zero).  Not if you surround yourselves with foxes as you go in to raid the hen house.

And by being equally succinct:

At the risk of losing objectiveness but keeping candor, we are fucked.

Posted in Anthropocene, Climate Science, Denial, Environment, Fossil Fuels, Insanity, Politics | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Troubling times indeed

This mini-post has been prompted by a recent post on LearningFromDogs.com, entitled Troubling Times.

I often wish I were not so well-informed because, whereas power without knowledge is very dangerous, knowledge without power is very frustrating. However, as Leonardo Di pointed out in his brilliant Before The Flood documentary on the National Geographic channel, governments will only take the action required once the vast majority of people accept that fossil fuel companies have been lying to them for decades.  I don’t believe they can get away with it for much longer.

Human activity has pushed the Earth’s climate system way outside the envelope of the last 800 thousand years (and its accompanying ice ages).1 This is why the sixth mass extinction of species is already well underway.2 Unless radical steps are now taken to prevent it, the Earth is heading for a much warmer state; one from which it will take 100 thousand years to recover.3 Therefore, as Stephen Hawking has suggested, humanity may only survive by moving home.4

1. http://www.bas.ac.uk/data/our-data/publication/ice-cores-and-climate-change/
2. http://www.biologicaldiversity.org…extinction_crisis/
3. http://www.geolsoc.org.uk/…March-2014/Climate-Change-Statement-Addendum
4. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-35344664

Posted in Anthropocene, Civil Disorder, Climate Science, Denial, Fossil Fuels, Intergenerational Injustice, Mass Extinctions, Palaeoclimatology, Politics | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The two most terrifying graphs ever?

2016 is on track to be the warmest year on planet Earth since reliable records have been kept; and comes at the end of the warmest ever decade.  Furthermore, if and when the World’s under-developed economies get their industrial pollution under control (as over-developed countries have done in the last 40 years), any hiatus there may have been will come to a devastating end.

In fact, there is every indication that things are now very far from normal; as the following two graphs veryclearly illustrate:

figure2a

“After a quick initial freeze-up during the second half of September, ice growth slowed substantially during early October. On October 20, 2016, Arctic sea ice extent began to set new daily record lows for this time of year. After mid-October, ice growth returned to near-average rates, but extent remained at record low levels through late October. High sea surface temperatures in open water areas were important in limiting ice growth. October air temperatures were also unusually high, and this warmth extended from the surface through a considerable depth of the atmosphere.” – NSIDC

See: http://nsidc.org/arcticseaicenews/2016/11/sluggish-ice-growth-in-the-arctic/

The latter part of the above quotation leads to the second terrifying graph:

artcticatdec2016Source: Danish Meteorological Institute

See also this article by Chris Mooney and James Samenow in the Washington Post on 17 November 2016:

The North Pole is an insane 36 degrees warmer than normal as winter descends

Posted in Anthropocene, Arctic, Climate Science, Fossil Fuels, Intergenerational Injustice, Limits to Growth, Mass Extinctions | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Iceland has found the solution

icelandco2
I am almost ashamed that I had not heard of this until today but, this truly is a potential game-changer. All that is needed is to roll-out the technology to every country where suitable bedrock exists and the whole problem of fossil fuel emissions could disappear.

Thanks to the Guardian, their Open Licence conditions permit me to re-use up to 500 words so, here they are:

Carbon dioxide has been pumped underground and turned rapidly into stone, demonstrating a radical new way to tackle climate change.

The unique project promises a cheaper and more secure way of burying CO2 from fossil fuel burning underground, where it cannot warm the planet. Such carbon capture and storage (CCS) is thought to be essential to halting global warming, but existing projects store the CO2 as a gas and concerns about costs and potential leakage have halted some plans.

The new research pumped CO2 into the volcanic rock under Iceland and sped up a natural process where the basalts react with the gas to form carbonate minerals, which make up limestone. The researchers were amazed by how fast all the gas turned into a solid – just two years, compared to the hundreds or thousands of years that had been predicted.

“We need to deal with rising carbon emissions and this is the ultimate permanent storage – turn them back to stone,” said Juerg Matter, at the University of Southampton in the UK, who led the research published on Thursday in the journal Science.

Matter said the only thing holding back CCS was the lack of action from politicians, such as putting a price on carbon emissions: “The engineering and technology of CCS is ready to be deployed. So why do we not see hundreds of these projects? There is no incentive to do it.”

The Iceland project has already been increased in scale to bury 10,000 tonnes of CO2 a year and the basalt rocks used are common around the world, forming the floor of all the oceans and parts of the land too. “In the future, we could think of using this for power plants in places where there’s a lot of basalt and there are many such places,” said Martin Stute, at Columbia University in the US and part of the research team.

Testing has taken place in the Columbia River Basalts, extensive deposits in Washington and Oregon in the US. India, which has many polluting coal power plants, has huge basalt deposits in the Deccan Traps.

One potential challenge for the new technique is that it requires large amounts of water: 25 tonnes for each tonne of CO2 buried. But Matter said seawater could be used, which would be in plentiful supply at coastal sites. Another is that subterranean microbes might break down carbonate to methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, but this was not seen in the Iceland research.

The research, called the Carbfix project, took place at Iceland’s Hellisheidi power plant, the world’s largest geothermal facility. The plant pumps up volcanically heated water to run electricity-generating turbines but this also brings up volcanic gases, including carbon dioxide and nasty-smelling hydrogen sulphide.

Read more at:

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/jun/09/co2-turned-into-stone-in-iceland-in-climate-change-breakthrough

Posted in Carbon Capture and Storage, Climate Science | Tagged , , | Leave a comment