Cary Neeper's Blog: Reviewing World-changing Nonfiction

December 7, 2020

Uncommon Sense by Peter Seidel

"Uncommon Sense--Shortcomings of the Human Mind for Handling Big-Picture, Long-Term Challenges" by Peter Seidel, Steady State Press, Arlington, VA, 2020.

I received this book from CASSE, the Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy, . It focuses directly on the "root causes of our problems"--climate change, overcrowding of Earth with people, products, and pollutants, and biodiversity loss. The author blames our human inability to deal with the "big Picture"--Earth's "long-term problems."

The author argues that "positive thinking" is not necessary. We need to focus on what we can do to fix the planet we are using up and destroying. He asks why this is so hard?

Seidel suggests that we must realize that we are a part of nature. Where does our food, water, and clothing come from? And how? Earth would need to be 2.8 larger for everyone to live like Europeans. Why is "questioning economic growth taboo? "Continuous population increase and economic growth on a finite planet is impossible." That should be an obvious truism."

We are seeing the beginning in tragic population shifts going on now. The collapse of the Mayan and Easter Island civilizations are early examples of what is beginning on the entire Earth now. We are "losing species 10 to 100 times faster than the average rate of extinction over the last million years, and "that rate is accelerating."

The author helps us focus on specific problems and solutions, like our dependence on electricity. For specific "to dos" please study this small 100 page book.Peter Seidel
 •  0 comments  •  flag
Share on Twitter
Published on December 07, 2020 09:56 Tags: big-picture, overuse, saving-earth, solutions, steady-state

September 23, 2020

Reviewing “The Social Behavior of Older Animals”

The Social Behavior of Older Animals by Anne Innis Dagg “The Social Behavior of Older Animals” by Anne Innis Dagg, Baltimore,The John Hopkins University Press, 2009

Author Dagg details the behavior of many different animals, those near the end of their life. She makes a good deal of generalizations, but in one chapter focuses on the four methods animals use for teaching: imitation, making deliberate "opportunities" to learn, encouragement, and punishment.
Most other chapters include descriptions of adapting, sociability, reproduction, hierarchy, mothering and family, as seen by elder animals. Then the reader discovers amazing stories--interactions and behavior that reveal the wisdom, acquired knowledge, and deliberate teaching that individual animals exhibit, independent of their human connections.
We learn how similar animals are to us, not only in their interest in training the young but in their ability to play-act, or deny emotion when needed, or appreciate music, or play, or initiate brave behavior in fire emergencies, or mourn the death of loved ones.
Our denial of animal emotion illustrates a long history of human ignorance.
One of the most striking examples is the author's description of a big (440 lb.) male lion in the Kenya savanna who was apparently "knocked flat" by a 11 pound cub, who proceeded to grip with his teeth the big male by the throat. The big male pawed the air, groaned, then lay still, while the cub "slid to the ground and pranced off." Then the male sat up and gazed calmly into the distance. What a great parent!
Often, elder males may do battle to stay with their pride, but the loser will go off as a lone nomad.
 •  0 comments  •  flag
Share on Twitter
Published on September 23, 2020 15:26 Tags: animals, behavior, elder-animals, family, hierarchy, parenting, sociability

Half Earth---Our Planet’s Fight For Life by Edward O. Wilson

Half-Earth Our Planet's Fight for Life by Edward O. Wilson Half Earth---Our Planet’s Fight For Life by Edward O. Wilson, W.W. Norton and Co., N.Y., 2016/

The problem is described in Part I. The Earth and its ocean is the focus of Part II, and the solution is made clear in Part III. E.O. Wilson’s message is summarized in his Prologue. Human beings are talented, awesome in some ways, yet “yearning to be more master than steward of a declining planet.”

He suggests we could “…survive and evolve forever if we didn’t favor a short-term future and be “contemptuous toward lower forms of life.” The problems are global: a human population too large, a shortage of free water is coming, the air and seas are polluted, and climate change will do in all but “microbes, jellyfish, and fungi.”

The answer is also clear. We must learn to get along with half the Earth, not use it all up. We must commit “…half of the planet’s surface to nature as quickly as possible. EO Wilson’s argument appeared first in 2002 in the book The Future of Life, then expanded in the book “A Window of Eternity…” in 2014. Preserving half is a real goal. We could save a vast majority of Earth’s species by doing so.
 •  0 comments  •  flag
Share on Twitter
Published on September 23, 2020 15:13 Tags: carbon, earth, environment, eowilson, fossil-fuels, global-warming, population

Inheritors of the Earth--How Nature is Thriving in an Age of Extinction

Inheritors of the Earth How Nature Is Thriving in an Age of Extinction by Chris D. Thomas Inheritors of the Earth--How Nature is Thriving in an Age of Extinction
By Chris D. Thomas, Hatchette Public Affairs, N.Y., 2017.

Author Chris D. Thomas is a biology professor at the University of York, UK. As a “prolific writer” of “210 scientific journal articles and 29 book chapters,” we welcome his conclusion: Though we humans have “irreversibly changed” our planet home Earth, not all the news is bad. New species on Earth are being formed at the highest level ever.

In his Prologue, Thomas treats us to a summary of Earth’s “diversity of immigrant critters,” and trees and shrubs, while we humans leave our “indelible signature.” Earth’s vegetation is now 1/3 human food. Though we are responsible for the acidification of the oceans, climate change, and the loss of many species, there are others that are thriving. Since we “live in a globalized world,” we need to understand what we can do to encourage the “new hybrid plant species” and keep “as many species as possible alive on our global Ark.” We do no good with a “loss-only view.”

Thomas leaves us with the duty to “maintain robust ecosystems,” using “maximum efficiency to “fulfill all human needs” while “generating the least possible collateral damage.” While accepting inevitable change, flexibility is required while we minimize the number of species that become extinct. We could hybridize new species, even create biological diversity. Such new species may have future importance.

We can “shed self-imposed restraints” and “introduce new species” to new geographic regions, diverse landscapes, even develop new insects that eat our weeds. We can “help direct the evolutionary process.”In five million years, we could be credited with increasing Earth’s biological diversity. We could be responsible for a ‘sixth genesis.”

The author doesn’t forget to remind us that humans need to do the obvious: stabilize and then reduce the human population, minimize consumption, reduce our foot print obtaining food, recycle the water we use, and reduce greenhouse emissions. Those are the tall orders, recognized in this creatively hopeful but realistic book.
 •  0 comments  •  flag
Share on Twitter
Published on September 23, 2020 14:56 Tags: climate, conservation, drought, population, saving-earth, todos, water

September 18, 2020

Earth Masters by Clive Hamilton

Earth Masters Playing God with Climate by Clive Hamilton Yale University Press, New Haven, 2013

Note the publication date! The author explores the pros and cons of geoengineering to “deal with carbon emissions. He asks why we should “construct an immense industrial infrastructure” to correct the carbon problem when “we could just stop burning fossil fuels.”

Professor Hamilton (Public Ethics at Charles Stuart University in Canberra) also looks at three ways of controlling solar radiation problems: “…marine cloud brightening, cirrus cloud modification, and …sulphate aerosal sprayings.” The only answer to avoid too rapid warming on Earth is to reduce the level of pollution” until CO2 can be reduced by “natural or artificial means.”

The author looks at current ideas, such as Bill Gates’s “Silver Lining” to brighten marine clouds. He also looks at the politics of geoengineering in 2013. His review of how politics has tarnished science is a scary warning, when he suggests that geoengineering is a necessary global technofix. The “strident tone of environmentalists doesn’t help. The author explores these problems in depth in his chapter “Prometheus Dreams.”

Is engineering the climate inevitable? The author suggests and may believe it is, and that the largest nations will need to act. In 2011 China gave geoengineering priority. Some people suggest that “changing peoples lifestyle” is be a better option.

The author suggests the obvious--international coordination, regulation of climate engineering, and international governing of geoengineering. Is the social change required to solve our problems of overuse ‘utopian?” Are we unwilling today (in 2020) to change the “economic, social and political structures” required for the needed “technofix?” Or is that social change “inconceivable?” Is the only answer to”buy time…to deal with an inevitable climate emergency”?

The author reminds us that the CO2 we put in the atmosphere will…alter the climate of the Earth for thousands of years.” Are we too addicted to “endless expansion?”
 •  0 comments  •  flag
Share on Twitter
Published on September 18, 2020 11:27 Tags: carbon, earth, environment, fossil-fuels, geoengineering, global-warming, population

“Outgrowing the Earth” by Lester R. Brown

Outgrowing the Earth The Food Security Challenge in an Age of Falling Water Tables and Rising Temperatures by Lester R. Brown WW Norton and Co, New York, 2004.

When this book was published, 16 years ago!, climate change was “widely discussed,” the author wrote, but “…we are slow to grasp its full meaning…there is no normal to return to.”

Listening to the evening news makes it clear that we are still not grasping what we need to be doing. In 2004 Brazil was the “…only country with the potential to expand world cropland area measurably.” and now? What is happening in Brazil? Have we already outgrown the Earth and failed to recognize that fact?

In 2004, “falling water tables and rising temperatures” were already slowing the growth of world food production. Lester Brown’s list of “environmental fallout from overuse” goes on and on, on page 8.

Mortality and fertility of humans were “…essentially in balanced in some countries, and others were able to “reduce family size” quickly. Has it been enough? Have fisheries continued to collapse, as Brown saw.? Have the world’s range lands been overgrazed in 2020?

Earth’s productivity was increasing in 2004. What are we doing now to recycle plant nutrients, as we did when “the world was largely rural? Are we we using crop residues, animal manures, soil rebuilding, leguminous plants? Have we learned to avoid overgrazing and overplowing?

Have we confronted the fact that in 2004 “…waste tables are falling in scores of countries…”? Are we all being efficient by using drip irrigation? Are all our choices water-efficient? No more water wasting coal-fired power plants? Recycling urban water supplies?

Stabilizing water tables was urgent in 2004, and now as urgent as stabilizing global temperatures and atmospheric carbon dioxide. Sea levels will rise. It’s probably too late to stop that. Wind energy is being used now, but is it enough? How can we reduce our use of electricity--everywhere?

In 1991 the U.S. Dept. Of Energy concluded that three states alone could provide the entire nation’s electricity needs. As we deal with the pandemic of 2020 and plan to rebuild the future, there will be chances to rethink and reinvest more wisely the way we use Earth’s gifts. The lessons are clear in books such as this one.
 •  0 comments  •  flag
Share on Twitter
Published on September 18, 2020 11:13 Tags: earth, economy, lester-brown, needs, plan-b, population, resources

2 Reviews:How To Give Up Plastic and Coming Apart

How to Give Up Plastic A Guide to Changing the World, One Plastic Bottle at a Time by Will McCallum Coming Apart The State of White America, 1960-2010 by Charles Murray

How To Give Up Plastic by William McCallum, USA, Penguin Books, 2019

It isn’t easy. It requires minute by minute awareness of how much plastic runs our lives. Photos tell the tale. The oceans are full of it, over 90% gets into birds, and the finest, toughest plastic wraps are choking small ocean dwellers. One third of plastic in the ocean is microfibers released when washing clothes!

The answer is difficult for all of us, since we rely on so many handy items.made of plastic. The hard part is to recognize the plastic item and find a substitute. Ultimately, however, its the manufacturers and waste managers who hold the ultimate keys to saving the oceans

For starters, this small book gives us a very useful list of finding plastic in our houses, room by room.

Coming Apart: the State of White America 1960-2010 by Charles Murray, New York, Cox and Murry, 2012-13.

In his crystal clear prologue, author Charles Murray paints a detailed portrait of America before 1963, when President Kennedy was shot. The “civil religion” that held America together after World War II began to “unravel” with rumors of a class with an “independent ethnic heritage” in the country.

Today, in 2020, it is all too clear: “…an evolution of America…has taken place since November 21, 1963, leading to the formation of classes that are different in kind--a separation from anything that the nation has ever known.” The differences “…diverge on core behavior and values.”The whys …involve forces that cannot be changed.”

Examples explored in the book include marriage, “residential segregation,” job types, industriousness, crime, honesty, and religion. After 300 pages we have a long list to support Murray’s theses, with suggestions to compare differences between parents at a school in a median income zip code and from an “elite private elementary school”.

The author suggests that the solutions require the “new upper class” to focus on restoring “what makes America different,”… “ to restore our “precious” and “exceptional…different way for people to live together…”

“A life well lived requires engagement with those around us.”
 •  0 comments  •  flag
Share on Twitter
Published on September 18, 2020 10:29 Tags: carbon, charles-murray, environment, fossil-fuels, oceans, plastic, population, solutions, stability, trends, w-mccullum

September 17, 2020

World on the Edge--How to Prevent Environmental and Economic Collapse

World on the Edge How to Prevent Environmental and Economic Collapse by Lester R. Brown Lester R. BrownWorld on the Edge--How to Prevent Environmental and Economic Collapse by Lester R. Brown, WW Norton and Co. N.Y. 2011.

Early studies have concluded that human demands on Earth’s resources exceeded its natural systems in 1980 and in 2007 exceeded Earth’s “sustainable yields by 20 percent.” In contrast, economic date of about 2010 showed a “10-fold growth in world economy since 1950. The fourfold increase in world income was celebrated.

That is good news, Lester Brown tells us in 2011, until we realized that Earth’s recent environmental declines suggest inevitable economic and social collapse following the shrinking of Earth’s forests, soils, aquifers, fisheries and high temperatures

Brown’s Plan B focused on cutting global carbon emissions, stabilizing the human population at 8 billion by 2040, eradicating poverty, and restoring forests, soil, aquifers, and fisheries. Costs, he said, were 1/8 of the 2011 world military spending.

What were we thinking? He also predicted that by 2020 up to 60 million people would migrate from Sub-Saharan Africa to North Africa and Europe. CO2 emissions should be cut to 400 ppm by 2020 so we can reduce it to the 350 ppm recommended. In 2020 a worldwide carbon tax of $200 per ton could be offset by reduction in income taxes. An additional $200 billion could restore Earth’s national systems, by 2020 we should stabilize population and eradicate poverty--paid for by “updating the concept of national security. How different are questions for the world now? It’s already 2020.

Brown’s ideas could still help, if we could change our individual focus. CO2 emissions per passenger mile on high speed trains are about 1/3 those of cars and 1/4 of planes. Do we have to be slaves to saving time? We have been using more solar and building more efficient buildings, but we need to do more. The oceans are filling with plastic, People are desperate for food and safety on too many places for too many wrong reasons. In 2011 government were spending $500 billion per years to subsidize the use of fossil fuels. Simple requirements like rooftop solar, water heaters and energy efficient building.

Brown’s ideas are simple once fully realized. They could reverse the downward trend we have taken since 2011. Think wind, solar and geothermal, a tax on carbon. Raise gasoline taxes and cut income taxes. We could still do it--build a new economy--carbon free. Oystein Bahle of Exxon Norway noted that “Capitalism may collapse because it does not allow the market to tell the economical truth.
 •  0 comments  •  flag
Share on Twitter
Published on September 17, 2020 16:12 Tags: earth, economy, lester-brown, needs, plan-b, population, resources

Tipping Point For Planet EarthTipping Point For Planet Earth

Tipping Point for Planet Earth How Close Are We to the Edge? by Anthony D. Barnosky Tipping Point For Planet Earth by Anthony D. Barnosky and Elizabeth A. Hadly, St. Martin’s Press, N.Y., 2015.

Fifty percent of Earth’s land “…has been changed from forested prairies to farms and pavement.” This book gives us a laundry list of what to do. Now, five years after this book’s publication, as we dominate Earth’s global ecosystem…”we are seeing more of what the authors predicted--genocides, and scarcities of food, water and oil. As the globe’s complexity increases, irreversible “state-changes” become real, not just likely

The authors’ numbers tell the tale: Human populations have increased “threefold from 1950 to 2015, double from 1969 to 2011. Eighty percent “live below poverty levels, and nearly a billion have inadequate food and water. Drought and hot weather have “been going on since 2010, while rapid growth of the human population continues--but could be brought down fast with a promise of “education and economic betterment.”

The rest of the book focuses on “stuff” and storms, hunger and thirst, too many diseases and war--all ready to push us over the tipping point if not reduced or controlled. Five Earths are required for all the world’s population to enjoy the American lifestyle.

The needed shift in our thinking is obvious: 1)Level our percapita consumption, 2) Change economic modeling from growth to consistency, and 3) Encourage reuse, and design products that leave no environmental footprint.

On page 238 one finds the authors’ summary of ways to reverse our rush to the tipping point. Conserve water, consume less, educate women with economic opportunities and health care, recycle, buy experience not things, design products with low environmental footprints, use carbon-neutral energy sources, eat less meat and waste less in distribution, waste less water, produce energy from waste, use wind and solar, track vectors and minimize deforestation, and avoid war by lowering population growth and ensuring basic needs while recognizing the one “common theme that runs though all solutions: “There is no such thing as local any more.”
 •  0 comments  •  flag
Share on Twitter
Published on September 17, 2020 15:58 Tags: climate, conservation, drought, population, saving-earth, todo, water

Our Angry Earth by Isaac Asimov

Our Angry Earth A Ticking Ecological Bomb by Isaac Asimov Our Angry Earth by Isaac Asimov, Frederik Pohl (First Paperback Edition March 2019), Newtom Doherty Associates 1991.

There was a good reason that this 1991 book was republished in 2018. It still rings true with its 400 pages of suggestions. They’re all too familiar: carbon dioxide, CFCs, cutting down forests, rice paddies, garbage, etc. The authors saw the likelihood of an increase in violent weather and loss of water in our rivers, the breakup of Antarctic ice, the threat to island nations, more violent weather, and a “rise in sea levels.”

In all wars, it’s the environment that always loses. Species extinctions have been happening faster than ever, primarily because we humans are destroying our environment. Humans could become extinct, the authors feared in 1991, because of our “human interventions--like acid rain, the global green house warming, war, and our destruction of the environment we depend on for life” No doubt the world population is exploding alarmingly,primarily because of our “unrestrained and wasteful use of energy and resources”

Note that this quote was written before 1991, when the rate of repair was far slower than the rate at which we do damage now. Note the current effort to rid the seas of plastic extrada.

The losses are environmental at five different levels: 1) the “despoiling of national treasure,” like wild animals, plants, forests, and riversides, 2)benefits from undiscovered sources,3) pollution of benign environmental conditions, 4)greenhouse affecting warming, and 5) the extinctions of life on Earth.

In 1991 the authors blamed America for contributing “the most.problems.” Though this may no longer be true, we are still in a good, if not the best, place to do something important about the problems.”

The author lists coming problems like “sunburn, drinking water supplies, soil loss, even outer space pollution.” The last half of the book is devoted to solutions--burning waste to provide energy or using waste heat from industry, using solar power and other renewable resources

We would never run out of wind, waves, and subterranean heat if we depended on natural timing and power storage. Bookkeeping could help, like “imposing a carbon tax on electricity.” The biggest source of pollution is transportation, especially the car, crop rotation, and poor distribution of food. The last section of the book is dedicated to education, with hope that these kinds of suggestions will secure the future.
 •  0 comments  •  flag
Share on Twitter
Published on September 17, 2020 15:44 Tags: asimov, earth, environment, global-warming, population

Reviewing World-changing Nonfiction

Cary Neeper
Expanding on the ideas portrayed in The Archives of Varok books for securing the future.
Follow Cary Neeper's blog with rss.