I say, Hard Cheese!

Responding to a commentor on a thread about animal rights, I again encountered this funny view of nature that some people have. Two sentences in particular just struck me as being out of touch with reality.

The alternative may be to try to live in harmony with nature.

Trying to dominate nature has only caused suffering. There are alternatives.

Where do people get this idea that nature is our friend? Hippies drive me nuts. Not only is this just totally unrealistic, but I think it also reflects a fundamental ignorance of biology, history, and the basic infrastructure of our society. I’m of the Monty Burns school of nature.

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“Oh, so Mother Nature needs a favour? Well, maybe she should have thought of that when she was besetting us with droughts and floods and poison monkeys. Nature started the fight for survival and she wants to quit because she’s losing? Well, I say hard cheese!”

Nature is not our friend, nor have we advanced our species by living in harmony with it. We have survived, and tacked decades onto our lives by bending nature to our will. Nature is trying to kill us. All the time. Bacteria, and parasites and viruses oh my, they’re out to get us. We’re not buddy-buddy with nature, we’re in competition with it for our very survival, all the time. Further there is this nonsense that messing with nature is somehow a bad thing, or frequently unsuccessful. This view can only be held by people who seem to have forgotten all the progress we’ve made in the last couple of millennia.

I think this attitude is a by-product of our modern age and an unexamined life. In the United States, we have so thoroughly subverted nature to our will that we infrequently encounter her nasty side. We eradicated the screw worm for instance, through a carefully planned genocide. And I’m more than happy we did it. This parasitic infection was caused by the maggot offspring of a fly that, unlike other maggots, would eat live as well as dead tissue. During the Civil War (since it was endemic to the South) the buggers would infest the wounds of soldiers and eat them alive – and they’re called screw worms because attempts to remove them would make them burrow deeper in the tissue. Good riddance. Same with malaria. Will eradicated the mosquitos that carried the disease by bombarding them with pesticides and destroying their habitat. And I’m more than happy to smoosh any mosquito that wants to suck my blood, the little bastards. Global efforts to eradicate the Guinea Worm bring a tear to my eye. Larger predators of humans, and of our domesticated animals, have similarly been driven off, with only the occasional mountain lion eating an unwary jogger.

And what of our success of screwing with nature to survive? We use medicines derived from other organisms, like antibiotics, to kill yet more organisms. Now that’s screwing with nature. We live in cities, drive cars, fly in planes, and extended our habitats to almost all areas of the earth. We have traveled to the moon and back – not that nature intended for us to leave our atmosphere. We domesticate animals, and use what we learn from them to screw with nature still more. Agriculturally we grow mutant plants that make fruits and grains and vegetables the likes of which nature never intended. What about our existence isn’t evidence of our massive success in using nature to suit our will?

If not for our immune system, sanitation (read mass murder with chemicals) and our medical armentarium the other beasties nature provides would eat us alive. Our body is a war zone. Our skin is the great wall of China keeping out the Mongol hoards. Once they’re through we have battalions of warrior cells to step in and eat, poison, and kill anything that might hurt us. Our digestive tract is one giant menace that kills, break apart and mash up other living things.

Do we really encounter nature anymore? Even on a nature hike? I’m not talking about trees and green things, those are plants, not nature. All our “wild” places are devoid of all those nasty parasites and man-eating animals that would actually make them wild. Nature isn’t for humans, it’s for all those other animals that have to compete for food with each other, and get eaten, and suffer the rain, and the heat and the cold.

Yes, nature is very friendly after we’ve gotten her properly under our thumb. The only way we truly experience nature in our modern age is to watch football, or boxing. There is no fight for survival anymore, and I’m damn happy about that. It lets us focus on other things.

And can we really live without dominating and killing?

Our homes are testaments to our widespread murder. We turn over the soil and lay a nice foundation of cement – take that moles and bugs. No dirt floors and living with the mice and the rats and the bugs anymore. Rodents be damned, we need a nice clean spot to live. We sterilize the surfaces of our house to kill the bacteria and fungus that would take over, and trap and poison mice and rats and cockroaches that might want to invade our homes to eat our food and spread disease (not to mention make life less pleasant). Most other bugs that make it in will soon dessicate and drop dead from the unnaturally dry environment.

We drive our cars through clouds of bugs and over scores of small slow-moving mammals not smart enough to stay off the highway. We plant crops – tasty tasty crops – why don’t they get eaten? Because we cover them with poison. Even organic crops often just use a different set of pesticides. Just because it’s organic doesn’t mean all sorts of other animals don’t want to eat them, farmers use organic approved pesticides – like sulphur – or even other animals! Actually living on a farm in Virginia you might notice a yearly invasion of ladybugs. Why? Because they’re great for killing aphids that would eat your crops. The farmers ship in frozen ladybugs (order here) by the ton and dump them on their crops, they get everywhere, it’s amazing.

Why do people think we even can live our lives without killing? If we didn’t we wouldn’t be able to live in cleanliness and comfort, protect our food (not even including meat), and get where we need to go.

Now I’m not saying that we should be cruel, or not respect nature. We simply should acknowledge that respecting nature means respecting how dangerous, and cruel nature is. Watch March of the Penguins. Watch Grizzly Man. Watch a nature show about any predator, or worse yet insects! Now that’s nature. She does not care whether we live or die, and there are plenty of other animals that would happily enjoy our niches if we were no longer here.

One does not commune with an uncaring monster. You don’t live in harmony with that which tries to kill you, at best you strive for detentes. Outright war isn’t good, a victory in a war might just be ashes in our mouth. We need her to survive, we need her to be healthy, but we should never trust her, or let down our guard. Nature is out to get us, we survive by constantly waging our battles with her, and winning. Not being the type that thinks this planet belongs to us, or that we are particularly relevant in the grand scheme of things, there’s a good chance she might win the war. I’d like to avoid that if at all possible.

Comments

  1. #1 Bronze Dog
    August 8, 2007

    I probably wouldn’t put it so harshly, but yeah, that’s pretty much how things are. Nature is much redder in tooth and claw (not to mention all-around ickier) than the woos and cranks give credit for.

    Technology and so forth are human strengths. Humans don’t have super-hardy immune systems, reproductive overdrive, big muscles, built-in multi-purpose pointy things, or any of the physical advantages other critters need to get by. Humans have brains and thumbs, and using them is what’s got us to the point that health and long life are considered the default human status in industrialized countries.

    We’ve still got a lot of issues to resolve to form a sustainable environment, but it’s either smart work and cleanup, or back to famine and disease.

  2. #2 Ted
    August 8, 2007

    You don’t live in harmony with that which tries to kill you, at best you strive for detentes. Outright war isn’t good, a victory in a war might just be ashes in our mouth. We need her to survive, we need her to be healthy, but we should never trust her, or let down our guard. Nature is out to get us, we survive by constantly waging our battles with her, and winning. Not being the type that thinks this planet belongs to us, or that we are particularly relevant in the grand scheme of things, there’s a good chance she might win the war.

    Your definition of nature is amorphous.

    The recent discussion of sci-fi/fantasy books was revealing. I don’t recall if anyone brought out the works of John Brunner, and that tells us where we stand culturally; who our contemporary literature heroes are — Stand on Zanzibar and The Sheep Look Up are a too hard for pop culture but they should be considered prophetic.

    I don’t think you have to be a dred-flinging hippie to feel that the mix of consumerism, free-market capitalism and unrestrained human ingenuity/sociopathy can be dangerous. For example, giving a world class mag lab to FSU is playing with fire. Black hole inducing technology falls in the category of things not to give to drunken frat boys just because you can.

    Detante is a good word and a good concept. Hold off, but don’t rape nature just to demonstrate her place in the hierarchy. Although I suspect that Monte Burns would.

  3. #3 Tegumai Bopsulai, FCD
    August 8, 2007

    Poison monkeys?

  4. #4 Infophile
    August 8, 2007

    A very interesting way of putting it. Of course, simply because we’re at war with nature doesn’t mean we shouldn’t respect it. On the contrary, nature is quite a formidable foe, and we ought to be careful not to let it get out of hand.

    So does averting Global Warming count as “bending nature to our will,” or is it more a case of parrying one almighty attack?

  5. #5 Cain
    August 8, 2007

    A Troy McClure film would also work for this concept: Man vs. Nature: The Road to Victory

  6. #6 parkrrrr
    August 8, 2007

    I see we have one of those poison monkey denialists posting here.

  7. #7 MarkH
    August 8, 2007

    Don’t worry Ted, my use of Burns and his quote is somewhat facetious. He’s just what I think of when I hear people saying we should commune with Nature – because as Springfield’s oldest citizen he actually remembers who nature is.

  8. #8 No1Uno
    August 8, 2007

    I agree with most of your post but I would add that nature’s very unpredictability should perhaps induce caution before messing with it. Think of the cane toad. And field after field of genetically identical food crops risks nature wiping them out with disease. Maybe I am only stating the obvious, but the other side of what you point out is that some technology and innovation provide little benefit to humanity in its fight against nature while risking becoming hugely detrimental.

  9. #9 Salad Is Slaughter
    August 8, 2007

    Well said. While on vacation in Alaska two years ago I went on a bear watching trip (and unfortunately saw no bears). Of course the guide carried a rather large rifle as we made our way through the woods to the viewing area. Not surprisingly, some people were shocked that he would do such a thing and actually shoot a bear if he had to. They just didn’t get that life isn’t like a Disney film, and wild animals aren’t our friends. Morons.

  10. #10 The Ridger
    August 8, 2007

    Not morons, just ignorant. Of course, that doesn’t help the child who’s told to go pet the big sea lion while Daddy takes a picture (he’d gone before I could stop him, and Daddy didn’t like the picture, all that blood…)

    You made me think of Tyr Anasazi’s line in the first season of Andromeda, spoken to Rev Bem who’s just said how beautiful the approaching storm is. “I wish you would stop finding beauty in things that are trying to kill us.”

  11. #11 Dirkh
    August 8, 2007

    “I wish you would stop finding beauty in things that are trying to kill us.”
    ————–

    Is there not a fierce aesthetic beauty to be found in a lightning storm, or a squall at sea, or a sandstorm?

  12. #12 TTT
    August 8, 2007

    You should know better than to seriously respond to talk of “nature” from animal rights activists. Major A.R. groups are in favor of releasing infected lab animals into the wild, and oppose culling the numbers of destructive non-native mammals in Hawaii (pigs) and Round Island (rabbits) where they decimate endangered plants and invertebrates. If you value the human conceit of “cuteness” over biodiversity, you really can’t pretend to value nature.

  13. #13 SMC
    August 8, 2007

    I’m reminded on a report from The Onion:
    Elk Majestically Tramples Three Campers.

    I think you’re approaching the correct sentiment from the wrong side, though. I like to think of “Nature” not as something to be kept away from us but something that we’re a part of….everywhere. Yes, an urban environment is no less a part of “nature” than a beaver dam or termite mound. Just ask any rat, seagull, or cockroach. The fact that the local environment has been rearranged by a human animal rather than a nonhuman animal doesn’t magically make it “not nature” as much as the hardcore earthmuffins would have us believe.

    That said, I have to admit a certain amount of emotional satisfaction when hiking around away from primarily human-controlled areas. I still don’t think the mountain lion wants to be my friend, however.

  14. #14 gaby
    August 8, 2007

    Well said! I often come across those “darn hippies” and generally just roll my eyes and ignore whatever “harmony within nature” babble they are going on about. I have never really put together a well placed rebuttal to what they say, but this really puts into words my feelings, “Yes, nature is very friendly after we’ve gotten her properly under our thumb”

  15. #15 valhar2000
    August 8, 2007

    I can’t deal with people like that; as Cletus said: “Ah cain’t. Ah simply cain’t.”.

    Every time I hear some supposed environmentalist talking about how it is bad for the environment that cities are spreading, and in the next sentence saying that individual houses with gardens are better than apartment buildings for the environment…

    Well, I guess it is true that even if religion disappeared there would still be quite a lot of silliness left in the world.

  16. #16 Drugmonkey
    August 8, 2007

    “I often come across those “darn hippies” and generally just roll my eyes and ignore whatever “harmony within nature” babble they are going on about.”

    Just keep in mind that “those darn hippies” in this particular case are trying to halt animal research. Lab invasions and the like are high profile and annoying but of minimal impact on the overall science. The much more pernicious thing is a well organized attempt to gradually define animals, legally, as autonomous citizens. Law schools now have entire courses in this. It ranges from the level of the local city ordinance (the language used in the requirement that you walk your dog twice per day matters people) to the current lawsuit against UCSF that started the original post.

  17. #17 Graculus
    August 8, 2007

    Poison monkeys?

    - Tegumai Bopsulai

    Humans.

    The “Nature is sooo huggable” and the “Nature red in tooth and claw” PoVs both make exactly the same mistake… assuming that we are seperate from “Nature”. It’s religious thinking, that humans are somehow special, and exempt from the rules.

    AGW will take care of that misconception in short (geologically speaking) order.

  18. #18 bill
    August 8, 2007

    “All our “wild” places are devoid of all those nasty parasites and man-eating animals that would actually make them wild.”

    Humm, Wisconsin has
    -lyme disease
    -giardia
    -and lately, fun algal toxins

  19. #19 Harry
    August 8, 2007

    When most environmentalists/naturalists say “harmony”, they are probably referring to “sustainability”, in that man should not engage in practices which will most likely endanger the continued existence of man (and the cuter parts of the animal kingdom).

    I cannot personally recall any mainstream environmentalist ever calling for the ultimate preservation of all insects and microbes. I guess we write off the destruction of microorganisms that hurt man (or the animals and plants man depends on) because any virus or bacteria worth its salt should evolve its way out of the genecide and move onto greener pastures.

    I spent two years teaching math in West Africa, a place where many environmentalists like to faslely believe that the inhabitants live more “in harmony” with nature. And let me tell you, most of the people there are openly in favor of combatting mother nature in order to reduce the number of deaths from dysentery and malaria (I lost a few students to “le paludisme”) and to get rid of the street beggars severely crippled from polio.

  20. #20 Suzanne
    August 8, 2007

    We are nature. We are parts of an incredibly complex system. To some extent, we can control other parts of this system, but there’s a lot we don’t understand about it.

    Some people think that we should try to control the system, but we should leave alone the bits we don’t understand. This is based on the belief that the system is somewhat self-optimising.

    Some people think we should do everything we can to control it, regardless of understanding. This is based on the belief that the system is not at all self-optimising.

    Some people think we should do nothing to control the system, even if it kills some of us. This is based on the belief that the system is self-optimising beyond anything humans can achieve.

    None of these positions is indefensible, actually. We don’t understand the biosphere well enough to judge how optimal it is, or how much better we could make it, or whether interventions that currently seem positive are actually making things worse in the long run. Agriculture enabled people to survive and breed, creating dense populations that favored aggressive pathogens, so plagues spread. In many cases, land management was unsustainable, so large populations starved and new deserts were born. Controlling nature is a nice idea, but at present we are still intimately dependent on the ecological services provided by other organisms. And connectivity in the global environment today is such that any innovation will be adopted worldwide very rapidly – even if its long-term consequences are disastrous for everyone. It’s not stupid to say we mess with these things at our peril. It’s also not stupid to say we learn about the system by manipulating it.

  21. #21 MarkH
    August 8, 2007

    I like Suzanne’s take. The issue isn’t thinking that we should be masters of the beasts and fishes of the sea, it’s of realizing our place. We are part of nature, yes, but that does not make us special, nor does it confer upon us some protected status. Nature isn’t about harmony. It’s a roiling churning, chaotic thing, and like a poincare plot it finds patterns that are stable – but don’t mistake that for balance or purpose.

    We exist as successfully as we do because our human nature is to figure out, dissect, understand and control our environment. It is a great survival mechanism, but we shouldn’t think that it confers upon us some special status, or that big momma won’t come along some day with a smack-down we weren’t ready for. But the way to survive that isn’t to retreat to some imaginary past where humans sat in fields playing with butterflies. It’s to pursue our nature.

  22. #22 Ted
    August 8, 2007

    We are part of nature, yes, but that does not make us special, nor does it confer upon us some protected status.

    Oh, wait till the aliens come down and start eating us the way we think that chicken is just yummy. Baby-back ribs will take on a new meaning.

    I bet we’re going to be all, “Oh, but wait, we’re special. We’re the tool users! With opposable thumbs! We’ve legislated ourselves to be the special branch of the DNA tree with meaningful and self-referential recognition like human rights.”

    It’s to pursue our nature.

    See what I mean when I say amorphous? Here it sounds like our nature is our destiny. To invent. To overeat. To have unprotected sex. Generally to be self-indulgent.

  23. #23 daedalus2u
    August 8, 2007

    Actually, I just posted a blog about how infanticide is a maternal instinct. Under the “right” (actually quite horribly wrong) conditions.

    http://daedalus2u.blogspot.com/2007/08/low-nitric-oxide-acute-psychosis.html

    Essentially, it takes a fairly large and steady supply of food to ovulate, start a pregnancy, maintain the fetus, give birth, nurse the infant, wean the infant and support the child until the child becomes self-sustaining in food. Any break in that chain and the child dies. The only successful reproductive strategy then is to start over. If a break is going to happen, better for it to happen earlier rather than later. The early stages of pregnancy take very little excess food.

    When times are sufficiently hard, a mother’s phsyiology forces her to make a “Sophie’s choice”.

  24. #24 MarkH
    August 8, 2007

    No Ted, what I’m saying is that if we’re going to resolve the problems of global climate change, threats to biodiversity, pollution, etc., we’re not going to do it by regressing away from technology, knowledge exploration and tinkering with nature. It’s what has made us successful, and I don’t see us going back to some agrarian ideal.

    Our success has been based on our inquisitive and inventive nature, and I’m optimistic that our nature will see us through future crises.

  25. #25 Justin Moretti
    August 8, 2007

    we’re not going to do it by regressing away from technology, knowledge exploration and tinkering with nature

    Not without at least a couple of billion people dying of famine, no. And if you thought WW2 was bad, the wars that six or seven thousand million people would fight over intrinsically insufficient agrarian-level resources would be horrific, especially since everybody has the right to not want to watch their children starve to death.

    Anti-technological regressors have absolutely no idea just what (trying to impose) their agrarian ideal would cost.

    I maintain a similar pro-technological position on nuclear weapons. Now that we know about dinosaur-killer asteroids and have the ability to track them and at least the possibility of giving them a nudge off course, to discard all nuclear weapons is to commit treason against humanity, if not all life on Earth. Because if (or more likely, when) we ever need them for this purpose, we will need lots of them in a hurry. We need nuclear bombs to save the fluffy bunnies! :-p

  26. #26 Ted
    August 8, 2007

    It’s what has made us successful, and I don’t see us going back to some agrarian ideal.

    I get that part. I’m not trying to give you a hard time; you’ve already admitted that you’d welcome the ant overlords.

    But here’s the deal — can we just unionize the shop to get a handle on the freelance and scab work? The runamuck busy beavers and the exceptionalists are pissing in the soup and making it dangerous for the rest of us.

    The thing that makes me uncomfortable about destiny/technology is that over time, the power to change nature grows exponentially with fewer people participating, and us being motivated and creative types, well we don’t really know how to apply brakes, because only pussies apply brakes; “Real Men”(tm), go full bore out…all the time. That’s what makes them Real Men(tm). Billionaires are Real Men(tm).

    Where it used to take a national level effort to build bioweapons or tinker with nature, now it can be done by smaller groups working independently. When it’s approved, it’s ingenuity and patent heaven; when it’s a bunch of disgruntled and frustrated loners, it’s terrorism. But technology aids both parties, and once the genie is out…

    When I read your article — which actually was quite good IMO — it seems a pean to full-out, full-bore human aggression/creativity, and takechargedness. Ain’t we a peach.

    And superficially, that can’t be bad — except that in a union shop, we each have a role to play — so that we can go home and Bass fish on the weekend. Fish have no rights.

    All I’m saying is, gosh if we’re all so smarty-pants what’s with the AGW and the carbon footprint?

    So your position that …regressing away from technology, knowledge exploration and tinkering with nature. It’s what has made us successful…has elements of the sort of thinking that GWB employs when he wants to keep digging the hole deeper and keep plugging away with doggedness.

    If the AGW deniers are right and this is a cyclical event — not anthropogenic in nature, then please keep plugging away. But if the mess is a result of anthropogenic activity, then I question the smartyness (technology, knowledge exploration, and tinkering with nature) that got us here.

    Don’t misunderstand me; *I* think I’m on your side; I’m just saying that practicing self-restraint and self-discipline has tangible value. And sometimes doing less does more good. You think that tinkering with nature will solve AGW (no quonset hut mentality for you). I think that tinkering with human nature will (yes on the quonset hut mentality for me).

  27. #27 Kart>Horse
    August 8, 2007

    Ted,

    Your post and that of others above assumes that unless we restrain the over-eager, we’re all going to end up dead. Why? Aren’t there smart people who want to use technology to counterract the bad effects of technology? I work with engineers and biologists every day who are coming up with more, better, faster ways to make technology less dangerous. But they cannot do their work if they are restrained by the “cautionary approach.” They have to try new things without knowing what the consequences are, in order to understand what the consequences are!

    Actually, it is much better to find out that global warming is human caused. That means -humans- can fix it. Not by cutting back on industrialization, but by applying our big, creative brains, to figuring out what we can use instead of fossil fuels and how to keep the economic tide rising so it floats the boats of the poor.

    In other words: The solution to the problems of technology is MORE TECHNOLOGY.

  28. #28 Kart>Horse
    August 8, 2007

    MarkH,

    I actually came here looking to pick a fight with you-uns, but ended up quite happy to see your blog today.

    Perhaps you could expand on the idea that there is denialism against the idea that humans can solve the problems we have created, and ones we haven’t.

  29. #29 MarkH
    August 8, 2007

    What do you mean about denialism in this instance? I have a very specific definition that revolves around deceptive rhetoric used to avoid obvious truths. The unwillingness to think that we can solve the problems of global warming with technology seems very short-sighted. But it needs other things to become denialist. It’s about tactics, not positions.

    Anyway, yes, people are short-sighted about how we will overcome the problems of global climate change. I happen to think it will be a combination of mitigation and the eventual phase-out of fossil fuels. We will never successfully stop the problem by living in quonset huts, that will just create worse problems, and there is no reason to think we couldn’t solve the technological barriers to clean energy with some good leadership. Some really smart person might come along and figure out how to trap carbon with high efficiency. You never know. Those guys throwing iron in the ocean to get phytoplankton to grow might be onto something. We might get a president that says in 10 years he’ll ensure proper investment in science and technology that will produce a carbon-neutral economy (in another 30).

  30. #30 Ted
    August 9, 2007

    Kart is Greater than Horse said:

    Ted,

    Your post and that of others above assumes that unless we restrain the over-eager, we’re all going to end up dead. Why? Aren’t there smart people who want to use technology to counterract the bad effects of technology? I work with engineers and biologists every day who are coming up with more, better, faster ways to make technology less dangerous. But they cannot do their work if they are restrained by the “cautionary approach.” They have to try new things without knowing what the consequences are, in order to understand what the consequences are!

    Actually, it is much better to find out that global warming is human caused. That means -humans- can fix it. Not by cutting back on industrialization, but by applying our big, creative brains, to figuring out what we can use instead of fossil fuels and how to keep the economic tide rising so it floats the boats of the poor.

    In other words: The solution to the problems of technology is MORE TECHNOLOGY.

    I don’t know if you’re funnin’ me or what, but I’m gonna assume that you’re earnest.

    There’s no question that we have smart people, but we also have ultracompetitive, alpha personality people and they can negate the effects of the smart ones. Besides, smart is in the eye of the beholder and has philosophical underpinnings. i.e. do you demonstrate smarts by making a bazillion dollars, by raising good kids, by leading a moral life, etc. Some of those get rewarded better, YMMV.

    The argument here is on the nature of nature and just trying to get a common definition of it, and also get a common definition of “quonset hut mentality”.

    1. AGW by definition is not “nature” trying to kill you. It’s man trying to kill you (courtesy of that leading A). If you subscribe to cyclical GW then it is nature trying to kill you in the conventional sense.

    2. Let’s define “quonset hut mentality”: When I hear it, or say it, *I* mean that we alter our style of living and thinking. It could be voluntary or coercive action, but the change is mainly in human behavior. So for example, regulations that mandate fuel consumption standards, taxation of resources, mandatory reductions in footprint, encouraging self-sufficiency in energy (wind, solar, geo, hydro), redefining human rights. That’s quonset hut mentality — although MarkH may see it as a MadMax dystopia where we all live in rusting-out quonsets, to me it means changing our nature of behavior and not relying on hope and optimism of future for the solution, but doing socially responsible things to survive.

    That would be a basic demonstration of smartness. You see an approaching storm. You take basic precautions to minimize damage.

    3. The opposite of quonset hut mentality is to do nothing to pare down our lives. Either because we’re too insignificant to make a difference, too unwilling to give up excessive comforts, too depressed to care. And how would we differentiate the exceptional among us if we’re all forced to live in 400sq feet and have the same carbon footprint? Why, that type of thinking is socialism. Maybe it’s OK for the rabble of the world but those types of rules would restrict our ability to save the planet — you don’t want to hamstring the obese rulers of the planet, do you?

    This view is in fact one that is promulgated by the denialists — i.e. you shouldn’t change your life or worry unduly about AGW; the best you can do, for yourself and the culture, is continue consuming. The economy (read technology) will come up with a solution given enough incentive. And yes, it will. For SOME.

    Technology and capitalism are a very strong engine, and MarkH (and others) makes a LOT of rosy assumptions:

    Some really smart person might come along and figure out how to trap carbon with high efficiency. You never know. Those guys throwing iron in the ocean to get phytoplankton to grow might be onto something. We might get a president that says in 10 years he’ll ensure proper investment in science and technology that will produce a carbon-neutral economy (in another 30).

    Those mights are all well and good but they sound like faith to me. You know, believing in unsubstantiated things that one reads from a religious or economics text because it makes you feel good.

    I’m not into religious faith or economic faith. You say that MORE technology will solve our problems; maybe — but I don’t think so because human nature + technology has caused these problems and I see no trend that technology alone, without changing human nature will solve diddly. Hence my affection for quonset hut mentality.

  31. #31 Caledonian
    August 9, 2007

    Ah, I see our host is an ecology denialist.

    I realize this concept may be difficult for you to grasp, but nature is not a person, nor is it a moral actor, and it isn’t trying to kill us. It’s a collection of physical processes that can cause great harm or great benefit, without intention or awareness.

    We can try to understand the nature of nature, and act accordingly, or we can try to impose our own ideas of how the world should work on the complex and intricate system of systems we live in.

    As a scientist, which strategy do you favor: changing our ideas to fit the facts, or trying to make the facts fit our ideas?

  32. #32 MarkH
    August 9, 2007

    Oh come on Caledonian, do you really think I believe in some kind of Gaia-deity type idea? I’m an evilutionist darwinist materialist. I’m just pointing out to the hippy-dippy commune-with-nature-types that if nature is a mother she’s Tony Soprano’s mom, not June Cleaver.

    Yes I wrote an essay that anthropomorphizes nature, get over it. It doesn’t mean I think it’s an actual being with motives and objectives. People can be so goddamn literal sometimes.

  33. #33 TW Andrews
    August 9, 2007

    Black hole inducing technology falls in the category of things not to give to drunken frat boys just because you can.

    Because the physics labs are totally where drunken frat boys hang out, like, all the time.

  34. #34 Nature
    August 9, 2007

    MarkH,
    It’s a bit rambling, but since your post is even more so, I don’t feel too bad about not cleaning this up:

    We are just as much a part of nature as the organisms trying to kill us. Nature is not an uncaring monster – uncaring, maybe – if we want to anthropomorphize it to make the discussion more lively. But nature also provides us with our very existence, gives us food, water and drugs, everything we need to survive, even if also sometimes a painful death. (nature can’t be both cruel AND uncaring btw)
    This whole Us against Nature argument is missing the point. Nature is not trying to kill us – for example, the trillions of microorganisms that inhabit our bodies… They aren’t all trying to kill us, in fact we couldn’t even live without them. You can’t separate yourself from Nature or call only the “bad guys” Nature.
    Anyway, I think what the commenter meant by that hippie phrase was to live in a sustaining way with our environment/nature. “Living in harmony with nature” can be used to mean using our resources wisely – don’t over-fish, protect the topsoil, protect lakes and rivers, protect bio-diversity, don’t destroy the rainforest, and all those other crazy “hippie” ideas. Granted the phrase can be interpreted differently, so I think the commenter maybe didn’t define her terminology clearly enough.
    Animal testing has probably been necessary, but the question is where do we draw the line. There are always ethical questions. How much are higher animals similar to us? Do they feel pain the way we do? Do they have emotions? Can they love? These are valid ethical questions to raise – they’re even valid scientific questions. Every day we are learning that animals are more like us than we ever imagined. The feeling of separation between humans and other animals and the thought that we are inherently better (and therefore animals should have no rights) is no longer as strong as it was before the advent of Evolution. Maybe with this new knowledge should come a more intense search for alternatives to animal testing and put into to question whether the animals we eat are being raised in a way that minimizes their suffering.
    Is it really such a “hippie” idea to care about how animals are treated? Is it bad to cherry pick the organisms we care more about? Yes, of course, when you’re talking about a cute panda versus a deadly spider, but not when you’re comparing a cute koala to a screw worm or E. coli! It’s all about where we draw the line – if we discover that certain animals have similar feelings to us then it raises ethical questions about the treatment of those particular animals. It will be a very subjectively obtained line based on a human perspective – caring about every organism equally wouldn’t be good for us.
    If that was your point, i.e. that Nature would be better off without humans, then I think you’re wrong there too, since the animals that have adapted to living with us and we ourselves are just as much a part of nature as those we harm. The “hippie” was right, striking a balance is the key, because we are still dependent on Nature. We have yet to create a purely artificial environment for ourselves.
    Back to the animal testing – we now have the ability to create animals which are much more like us – by adding human genes – think about how many human lives that will save! And since they will still be animals we won’t have to worry our consciences about performing test on them, right – their pain and death are justified, because that could help eradicate human diseases.
    I am personally afraid of scientists who want to create human-animal chimeras, just because such animals would more closely model us in experiments than rats or bunnies have or just because it can be done. Is this “messing” with nature different than animal husbandry? I think so. I think GM foods are “messing” with nature too. I don’t think we fully understand the risks yet.

    To summarize, people who can’t come up with a valid point drive me nuts. This whole argument is not sound, i.e. “Where do people get this idea that nature is our friend?”

    Granted, humans have survived for a long time without genetically adapting to the environment, which means the natural environment is no longer as ideal for us as it once was. (Not that it probably ever really was the “easy life” out on the savannah) And granted Nature, i.e. natural events and organisms, can often harm or kill us. But we shouldn’t forget that Nature also provides us with everything we need to survive. And even if we do eventually find a way to live in a completely artificial environment, Nature is at the source of our very existence. Without Nature we wouldn’t even be here.

  35. #35 Caledonian
    August 9, 2007

    Houses with gardens, sustainably managed, actually are better for the environment than apartment complexes.

    But I digress.

    ***

    Y’know, at first I thought this was just an extended, ironic joke. Now I’m not so sure – but if it is, my response can be ironic as well, and if it isn’t, completely sincere, so no worries.

    How remarkable is it that our host is identifying himself with a character meant to represent the worst, shortest-sighted, and most selfishly malevolent aspects of humanity? Mr. Burns is an absurdist representation of human evil.

  36. #36 trollanon
    August 9, 2007

    Nature sez: “How much are higher animals similar to us? Do they feel pain the way we do? Do they have emotions? Can they love? These are valid ethical questions to raise – they’re even valid scientific questions. Every day we are learning that animals are more like us than we ever imagined….
    if we discover that certain animals have similar feelings to us then it raises ethical questions about the treatment of those particular animals.”

    Agree with you here. great questions. What do you do with the answers if they come out in the negative? Suppose animals are NOT like us- compare the effort / outcome of training a chimp or gorilla to “talk” and the similar relationship for a Downs child as one example. suppose a given organism does NOT feel pain or psychological “distress” the way we do. Do you then say “well shet ma mouth I was wrong?” or do you deny the evidence? or do you get all theological and say it’s still wrong to do animal research anyway?

    and since this discussion has moved into environmentalist territory, does the fact that the fruit fly, the mouse, the rat and the macaque monkey are not even remotely endangered make a difference in their use as research animals?

  37. #37 Kart>Horse
    August 9, 2007

    “We might get a president that says in 10 years he’ll ensure proper investment in science and technology that will produce a carbon-neutral economy (in another 30).”

    Why leave it in the hands of government? If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right.

    I consider this kind of thinking to be a part of the denying of human ingenuity. It takes the form of, “Important things won’t get done unless the government does it.” But lots of people outside of the government do all kinds of important, beneficial things every day. Why not look to them for “leadership”?

    But that’s just me.

  38. #38 Kart>Horse
    August 9, 2007

    Ted,

    I don’t know what other keyboard symbol I can use to represent “before”

    “There’s no question that we have smart people, but we also have ultracompetitive, alpha personality people and they can negate the effects of the smart ones.”
    Yes. And 1) Many of those ultracompetitive, alphas are also smart, meaning they see the consquences of their actions and temper their behavior accordingly. 2) Smart people also know how to redirect the actions of the less-smart alphas. “Woman behind the throne.”

    “Besides, smart is in the eye of the beholder and has philosophical underpinnings. i.e. do you demonstrate smarts by making a bazillion dollars, by raising good kids, by leading a moral life, etc.”
    Yes. Your list is not of mutually exclusive demonstrations of smartness.

    “1. AGW by definition is not “nature” trying to kill you. It’s man trying to kill you (courtesy of that leading A). If you subscribe to cyclical GW then it is nature trying to kill you in the conventional sense.”
    I’ll opt for AGW, since it’s most popular, and everyone knows that what’s most popular is true.

    Since it is A – GW, it is caused by humans, and what humans can do, we can undo. One option is to cut back on consumption and request (perhaps forcefully) that everyone live at technological levels of 100 years ago (not across the board, just in certain areas of our lives). Another option is to redesign our technology to make it more energy efficient at the same or even lower dollar cost. For this to be more successful than it has been, we would need a more free market than we have now, as in no more subsidies for big oil or bid agriculture.

    The two are not exclusive. Those who want to be persuaded to minimize their carbon footprint will gain the economic advantage of not spending so much of their incomes on waste-producing activities. I work at this every day. There is actually a strong market for energy auditors who visit businesses and show them ways to cut their energy costs. The rising oil prices also incentivise this. Stopping oil company subsidies will incentivise it even faster. While one is waiting for the government to come around, one can actually profit from the high profits of oil companies by putting their stock in one’s investment portfolio and using the gains to fund research and application of energy alternatives, even buying a quanset hut, if so inclined.

    I do not disagree with your point #2 except for the “mandate” parts. I would prefer that we “level the paying field” by taking the subsidies away from big oil before we look at mandating actions of common citizens. Stop artificially depressing oil prices for a while, and you will see all kinds of creativity in action.

    “That would be a basic demonstration of smartness. You see an approaching storm. You take basic precautions to minimize damage.”

    Another way to avoid storm damage is to move to a place where storms don’t occur. In this case we move to a new economic place where we use technology to help us disperse our energy inputs from oil and coal.

    The first line of your point #3 invokes a false dichotomy. As I noted above, changing how we use energy is a combination of using less in the way we do now and applying new technologies to give us the same or improved lifestyles. An example can be found Texxi.com – the taxi calling service that allows people to send their route via their texting service to a central computer that then schdules taxis to pick up people along the route, saving money and fuel. This is a combination of changing one’s lifestyle – sharing a taxi when one used to go solo, and applying technology – the computer program and celluar services that collect the route data and contact the taxis.

    “This view is in fact one that is promulgated by the denialists — i.e. you shouldn’t change your life or worry unduly about AGW; the best you can do, for yourself and the culture, is continue consuming. The economy (read technology) will come up with a solution given enough incentive. And yes, it will. For SOME.”
    You are overgeneralizing. And I addressed this above.

    MarkH may have used words that sound like faith claims, but I do not. I refer to history. In the past, humans lived short lives, now they live longer ones, due to technology. In the past, humans were subject to the weather, now they are not so much so, due to technology. In the past, it took lots of acres to feed on person, now it takes many fewer acres to do the same, due to technology. In the past, many people were trapped in ignorance, now they have the option to become wise, due to technology.

    But technology is just a tool. You don’t throw away a hammer just because someone used it to build a gulag. You use it to dismantle the gulag and turn the parts into homes. Or an even more graphic exmaple: You don’t throw away the data collected in concentration camps about how cold the prisoners could get before they died, you use it to learn how to help save people with hypothermia.

    So, too, with the human causes of global warming and all the other ills we face. Every material thing we have used that has created the situation we are in can be redirected to more beneficial uses. Swords into plowshares. It’s merely a matter of choosing to do it, rather than hiding in a quanset hut and waiting for the sky to fall.

  39. #39 Caledonian
    August 9, 2007

    Let’s leave aside for the moment the issue of whether the ‘natural’ world deserves to exist for its own sake, and look merely at humans dealing with problems.

    We might be able to solve the problems we create, but if we create new problems more quickly than we can solve them, nothing has been resolved.

    We may find that we’ve come across a problem that has no solution.

    We may find that we’ve come across a problem that has solutions that are unpalatable, and the ‘problem of the solution’ has no solution.

    At present, it seems that collectively, we’re smart enough to create new problems at the cutting edge of our technology and understanding, but too foolish to allot resources to dealing with problems when they’re small, or even keep from making them in the first place.

    Shrugging off issues of ecology by resorting to techno-optimism is unwise at best and most likely actively mad.

  40. #40 Anonymous
    August 9, 2007

    “At present, it seems that collectively, we’re smart enough to create new problems at the cutting edge of our technology and understanding, but too foolish to allot resources to dealing with problems when they’re small, or even keep from making them in the first place.”

    But I consider this just to be a form of pessimism. Why are the nay-sayers to be treated as if they are more “realistic”?

    At every juncture, when we were told humanity was on its downhill slope, we found a more efficient way to feed ourselves, keep ourselves healthy, make money, clean up our world and get along better. Every thing we need to “save the planet” we have at hand right now.

    There are some as yet unsolved health problems that still need research and funding.

    We know how to use energy cleanly.

    We know how to grow enough food for every person on this planet.

    We know how to not have wars.

    We know how to cure the majority of communicable diseases and prevent the majority of lifestyle diseases.

    We know how to teach people how to earn more money and run businesses as “win-win.”

    We even know how to change people’s minds.

    We don’t have to wait for the “political will” to come around, we just need to get out there and shape the “popular will.” Acting as if the negative is all there is just slows us down.

    You know who the most ineffectual people in the world are? Those who choose to be.

    Answering my own question at the top of this post: It’s easier to be pessimistic than optimistic. Less courage is required.

  41. #41 Kart>Horse
    August 9, 2007

    Above post by Kart>Horse, not Anonymous.

  42. #42 Ted
    August 9, 2007

    I’m willing to entertain your points, but I’m slow on the uptake and need you to explain this to me:

    …and what humans can do, we can undo.

    You seem to be really sure on that point. How do you know this for certain?

  43. #43 Kart>Horse
    August 9, 2007

    Because we have.

    It goes both ways.

    Humans have built evil empires, designed to crush the life out of everyone in their way, and others have broken them apart and built shining civilizations in their stead, which rotted from the inside and became evil empires once again, only to be uprooted to let new ways of thinking grow into the light.

    Humans have faced plagues that could have ended us all just a few decades ago. We held them at bay. New ones threaten us now, and we devote ourselves to figuring out how to prevent them, and what to do to preserve the human genome if most of us become casualties in the microbe wars.

    We have been on the brink of mutually assured nuclear destruction and pulled ourselves back, way back. But new military threats have come up, and we are working on figuring out how to defuse them.

    There isn’s some evil genious out there, trying to send us all to hell in a handbasket. Even if there was, for every Ming the Merciless, there is a Flash Gordon.

  44. #44 Caledonian
    August 9, 2007

    …and what humans can do, we can undo.

    Resurrect the Yangtze dolphin.

    For that matter, resurrect a single human being killed by a suicide bomber in Iraq.

    Not so easy to undo some things, is it?

  45. #45 Kart>Horse
    August 9, 2007

    True. Does that negate everything else I wrote?

    The Yangtze Dolphin will be resurrected when people who have enough money decide to spend it on that project. Same with anything else and anyone else who has died. Right now, we should devote our attention to other tasks, I think.

    Why do you want to fight so hard for your pessimism? Why should being negative automatically mean you’re right?

    What’s in it for you to pretend we’ll never get out of our current predicaments?

    That’s a general question.

  46. #46 Dave Eaton
    August 10, 2007

    Ted-
    What’s with the crack about the magnet lab at FSU? The ‘little black hole’ experiments are at CERN. The mag lab is more about solid state physics than anything far out, from what I can tell (I post-doc’d there a few years ago). On the other hand, they use about 10% of Tallahassee’s electricity when they are running full bore, but I still don’t get your point…

    My guess is that serious ecological pessimism (pessimism enough to relinquish many personal freedoms) is probably not warranted, nor are people going to give up “excess comforts” without a fight- and as long as we get to elect leaders, and not eco-dictators, a fight is what you will get trying to decide what technology or power or comforts are excessive. While I am not a free-market zealot, one nice thing about capitalism is that it provides signals about what people actually want, despite the pretty lies they tell about how sustainable and low-footprint they are. Not perfectly. But having decisions made and enforced entirely by government short circuits that knowledge-gaining mechanism altogether.

    I just read an interesting piece on Arthurdale, a planned community in WV during the depression. Despite noble intentions, the experiment was a farce, ultimately. Off topic, perhaps, but relevant, and worth a Google. Without overstating it, if having the government mandate a “quansot hut” way of life sounds good to you, Arthurdale is an interesting case study.

  47. #47 human
    August 10, 2007

    For the record, I’m with Ted and Nature. By ‘living in harmony’ yes I meant ‘sustainable’.
    I like this site.

  48. #48 Nature
    August 10, 2007

    TrollAnon,

    Good points. The thing is, if the animals aren’t enough like us, they aren’t so valuable for research; if they are too much like us, then it raises ethical questions.

    I’m not against animal research per se – I’m against the unethical treatment of the animals being used for research. That’s a very subjective matter.

    If enough results came in proving that, for example, mice don’t feel pain or suffer in any recognizable way due to specific research, then that specific research should be allowed by all means.

    I personally don’t think it matters whether the animals are facing extinction or not – for me it’s a matter of ethics. If there is an viable alternate to animal testing that would bring verifiable results equal to that of the intended animal research, then the animal research should be deemed unnecessary.

    I have boiled many a lobster in my time. At least they lived in the ocean for a while before they met up with me and at least they died a quick death. Was it ethical? I’m not %100 sure that it was. Am I a hypocrite? Maybe, it all depends on your definition of ethical treatment. If the Hindus are right, I will be boiled thousands of times over after I die.

  49. #49 Ted
    August 10, 2007

    Ted-
    What’s with the crack about the magnet lab at FSU? The ‘little black hole’ experiments are at CERN. The mag lab is more about solid state physics than anything far out, from what I can tell (I post-doc’d there a few years ago). On the other hand, they use about 10% of Tallahassee’s electricity when they are running full bore, but I still don’t get your point…

    It was just a gratuitous swipe. I’m not doing serious peer researched work here; just wanking away. And it was a nod to the Simpsons that our host introduced with Monte Burns:

    According to the “The Simpsons,” Maggie Simpson can already teach at Florida State University.

    Simon Cowell, from Fox’s “American Idol” guest starred on the animated program Sunday evening as a pre-school instructor who was administering an IQ test to Maggie when he told the Simpsons family that their daughter — a mute baby — had what it took to be a professor.

    “Your baby is brilliant,” Cowell’s character said. “Why, she could already teach at Florida State.”

    Cowell’s comment was met by cheers from the Simpsons and a high-five from the family’s other daughter, Lisa Simpson. Homer Simpson, the father, capped the jubilant moment for the family.

    “Go Seminoles,” Homer said.

    But, the general tenor of the idea was that science funding is detached from reality and the taxpayer. FSU is not a school that one normally associates with physics, is all. Drinking and partying, well that’s another story — and the female to male ratio; something like 54-46. Combine that with general heat and humidity, and the distraction effect takes hold.

    Not that physicists would be distracted by dollar beer pitchers and readily available hot babes wearing next to nothing. But mere mortals could.

  50. #50 Caledonian
    August 10, 2007

    The Yangtze Dolphin will be resurrected when people who have enough money decide to spend it on that project.

    You can’t unscramble an egg, you twit!

  51. #51 Ted
    August 10, 2007

    My guess is that serious ecological pessimism (pessimism enough to relinquish many personal freedoms) is probably not warranted, nor are people going to give up “excess comforts” without a fight- and as long as we get to elect leaders, and not eco-dictators, a fight is what you will get trying to decide what technology or power or comforts are excessive. While I am not a free-market zealot, one nice thing about capitalism is that it provides signals about what people actually want, despite the pretty lies they tell about how sustainable and low-footprint they are. Not perfectly. But having decisions made and enforced entirely by government short circuits that knowledge-gaining mechanism altogether.

    See Dave, I think that’s where the rub is. What people want is sometimes destructive. My kids want a lot of crap. But there’s a big delta between what they want and what they need to be healthy.

    I’m not trying to be obnoxiously anti-whatever MarkH says, because I agree with him on probably 80% of the stuff that he says (and that’s a pretty good ratio).

    But I think that people read whatever they want into these discussions. For example, *I* DON’T think I’m being pessimistic. I think I’m being realistic. I don’t think that we should do NOTHING. In fact, I’m saying that we should take the personal responsibility and DO something now, and not wait for the hazy future to make all things right. And that is, start with changes to human behavior and value system.

    Unfortunately, the things that *I* think we should do isn’t viewed as smart by a lot of people because they choose to view it as regression. I on the other hand view the results of what we now have as the product of accumulated, uncontrolled change and unobserved consequences (and I think that there’s an communication/idea industry out there encouraging us to remain unobservant).

    It’s easy for us to think that rest of the world thinks just like us, or to think that Adam Smith was the greatest goddamned thing since sliced bread, but I don’t think that there is universality to some of the economic ideas we hold sacred and that guide our values.

  52. #52 Nomen Nescio
    August 10, 2007

    You can’t unscramble an egg, you twit!

    true, but Yangtze Dolphins aren’t eggs. no more than are quaggas.

  53. #53 Kart>Horse
    August 10, 2007

    Caledonian,

    “You can’t unscramble an egg, you twit!”

    So, you’ve decided to quit talking and just hurl epithets?

    There are species still extant closely related to the Yangtze river dolphin. With enough investment, someone could figure out how to resequence those genes and re-create the Baiji. Currently the costs would be prohibitive, but eventually, someone could do it.

    How do I know? because we have already proved cloning works, and we can substitute manufactured genes into goats to make them produce medicinal proteins we want.

    So your comparison to unscrambling and egg is completely inapt, and has even less to do with my post of 8/9 at 6:58 pm, than your previous one.

    But, if someone wanted to unscramle an egg, they could do that as well, it would just be a matter of breaking up the proteins of the scrambled egg and re-combining them in the same pattern one usually expects when an egg is in the shell. It might be an interesting experiment, some useful understand may come of it, or perhaps everything one could learn has already been learned through other methods.

    If you don’t know how to break up and recombine proteins, research “enzymes”, “SDS-PAGE”, “protein denaturization,” “protein sequencing” etc.

  54. #54 Kart>Horse
    August 10, 2007

    Ted,

    You are still relying on a false dichotomy. The choice is not -either- free markets -or- ecological sustainability. We can change the market to incentivize ecological sustainability. It already makes sense to do so: Save energy, save money. Reduce waste, save money. Cut the number of manufacturing steps and inputs, save money. The biggest hurdle is that market signals are being short circuited by transfers of tax money to big businesses.

    I agree with you that the future is not going to solve things by itself. Nobody in this thread said it was. Especially since the future has this present as its past, meaning, nothing will happen in the future to help us unless we get started on it now.

    Changing one’s lifesytle is part of getting started now. Figuring out ways to accomplish the same goals with lower energy inputs and less waste are good ideas, as I noted above.

    If all we did was what we needed to do, however, our lives would be pretty bleak. Or perhaps we should look at it another way:

    Humans -need- more than just basic survival – that’s why we invented language, art, entertainment, sports, love, cities, space flight, science, and blogging.

    This sentence is backwards, by the way,

    “…the economic ideas we hold sacred and that guide our values.”

    It is our values that guide our economic ideas, not the other way around. The question is which values we want to live by. Once we have decided, then the economic systems will change to match those values.

  55. #55 Havvy
    August 10, 2007

    I just wanted to say that we aren’t the only species to domesticate another one. There’s a type of ant that domesticates a different type of bug like we do cows. The milk they provide though, comes from their waste products. Oh, but they don’t kill the bugs after a period of time for the food inside like we do to cows.

    This is in response to the “We Domesticate” line.

  56. #56 Paul
    August 10, 2007

    So Havvy, what’s your point? Are you suggesting we start eating cow shit?

  57. #57 Dave Eaton
    August 10, 2007

    See Dave, I think that’s where the rub is. What people want is sometimes destructive. My kids want a lot of crap. But there’s a big delta between what they want and what they need to be healthy.

    I agree. I have kids, too. However, my point still stands- the lack of feedback in a command, non-market command economy that seems like an attractive shortcut to some people with regard to ecological problems is, I fear, likely to make things worse, despite the better data and good intentions of those in command. Whereas, in a free-ish market, the data percolates. It carries plenty of noise, but it exists, at least.

    No offense taken at the swipe at FSU. The mag lab was sort of an island unto itself, and a lot of the PIs there migrated from up Nort’ when the lab moved from Boston.

    Not that physicists would be distracted by dollar beer pitchers and readily available hot babes wearing next to nothing. But mere mortals could.

    Hmm. Maybe you only know theoretical physicists.

  58. #58 TTT
    August 10, 2007

    Kart-Horse:
    There are species still extant closely related to the Yangtze river dolphin. With enough investment, someone could figure out how to resequence those genes and re-create the Baiji. Currently the costs would be prohibitive, but eventually, someone could do it.

    No there aren’t, and no there couldn’t. The baiji was the sole representative of its family; the small handful of extant river dolphins are as genetically distinct from it as cats are from bears.

    It took hundreds of attempts to successfully clone Dolly the sheep–and that was when we had a living cell donor and living host all of the same species, a species that, not by coincidence, had been exhaustively and comprehensively researched on a genetic and behavioral level for centuries. We know very little about the baiji, and we will never know much more than we do now, save perhaps for some as-yet-undiscovered fossilized sister species.

    Techno-utopianism is not a realistic answer to environmental degradation. Just getting endangered species to breed in captivity at all is extraordinarily difficult, time-consuming, expensive (the California condor project has cost over $120 million), and succeeds no more than half the time; there’s a reason most zoos have the same animals on display.

    The only reliable way to conserve wildlife is to conserve wild habitat.

  59. #59 Jane Shevtsov
    August 10, 2007

    Kart>Horse,

    Unscrambling an egg has nothing to do with the proteins in the egg and everything to with the second law of thermodynamics. With the correct application of energy, you COULD unscramble the egg, but the only way to do that is to feed the egg to a chicken. And even that won’t be unscrambling, since most of the molecules in the new egg will not have come from the original one.

  60. #60 Kart>Horse
    August 10, 2007

    “The only reliable way to conserve wildlife is to conserve wild habitat.”

    Right now, this is true. I never said otherwise. You guys (TTT, Ted, Caledonian) are suffering under the either/or fallacy. I’ve never once mentioned that we should abandon all other ways of thinking and only hope for a technological solution. (The rest of your post actually restates exactly what I said about costs and interest.)

    In the meantime, how are we going to preserve habitat? With judicious applications of technology and other methods. If a species were dying off quickly, how would we even know what was killing them? Technology. If we had a germ line from a nearly extinct species and wanted to preserve it, what would we do, hold it in our hands all day? We’d apply technolgy to the preservation of the cells so that in the future we might be able to breed more of that species.

    *****

    Jane,

    If the egg were burned up, what you say would be true. But when you scramble an egg for eating, all you do is rearrange the yolk and the albumin and change the proteins from a mostly liquid state to a solid state through denaturization. Some bonds were broken by the heat, and new ones formed.

    But here’s the kicker: The original form of the proteins didn’t just fall out of the chicken’s butt. They were assembled by enzymes inside the chicken from raw materials. Those raw materials are still there in the cooked egg. All one would need to do is use enzymes to break up the cooked egg into the peptides (like what happens in your tummy) then use other enzymes to assemble those peptides into yolk and albumin again.

    How do I know this can be done? Because it -is- done every day in biotechnology labs around the world. However, you may be correct, because, as I said above, no one has yet reported devoting the time and money needed to reassembling an actual egg from scrambled components, so while it could theoretically be done, it has not been done yet.

    Since we have not yet done an experiment to renature the preteins in eggs, does that negate the rest of my two posts from about 9:00 pm?

  61. #61 Ted
    August 10, 2007

    Big cart pushing a small pony said:

    Right now, this is true. I never said otherwise. You guys (TTT, Ted, Caledonian) are suffering under the either/or fallacy. I’ve never once mentioned that we should abandon all other ways of thinking and only hope for a technological solution. (The rest of your post actually restates exactly what I said about costs and interest.)

    I don’t think I actually said that either. You called it a false dichotomy and I didn’t argue with you about it. I’m not calling for wholesale utopianism and social redesign; i.e., to destroy all vestiges of free-market and technology and replace with idyllic pastures, rainbows and babbling brooks — I’m thinking more in the vein of European social democracies that aren’t afraid to tinker socially with things if they think it helps. I just resent this view of “keep doing whatever it is you’re doing, technology will help us out in the end.”

    Even Dave above used the term “free-ish market” which I interpret to mean hybridized. Either that or he knows dang well that there’s no such thing as a free-market except in name and libertarian theory. We might differ in what command driven economy means; don’t monetary supply control evoke a type of command driven economy?

    There is a very important concept here that bares on the public’s acceptance of science as driving public policy. A fundamental perception is that if you’re not a scientist, you’re a rube and need a good talking down to or fisking. Scientists doan need jack from Joe Q. Public (except to be listened to, adored and funded). That approach has not been all that successful in driving public policy. It has made lots of money for scientists and technologists, but scientists have political penis-envy when it comes to public policy. How is it possible that voters choose retards to represent them — over and over and over. That one has scientists stumped….

    If scientists solve this particular problem (AGW) because the public is too busy watching Britney Paris Lohan, they’ll patent it and we’ll be paying them by every gulp of air we take. That’s the science, technology and market will save us approach. They’ll own the planet and we’ll be their slaves because we’ve grown accustomed to breathing, eating, drinking.

    On the other hand, if we all pitch in to contribute, we can take collective credit for solving the problem just by changing the way we live and the way we perceive social justice. This solution involves less reliance on scientists and more on ourselves; and since it involves a personal investment we tend to think we own a part of the solution.

    Hell, if I’m wrong, I’m wrong, but my way doesn’t require me to unbake the cake down the line and discover that I can’t. Scientists can still continue to solve issues in parallel, just at a little more controlled rate, and with a few more social brakes applied.

  62. #62 trollanon
    August 10, 2007

    Nature: “Good points. The thing is, if the animals aren’t enough like us, they aren’t so valuable for research; if they are too much like us, then it raises ethical questions.”

    This is a false dichotomy. We use different models to answer questions. Yes, anything has limits as a model of an aspect of human health, behavior, etc. Some things we learn from cells, some things from fruit flies, some things from rats..etc.

    I’m not against animal research per se – I’m against the unethical treatment of the animals being used for research. That’s a very subjective matter.”

    I’m glad you recognize this because this is the rub that started the original thread. i.e., animal rights extremists who confuse their subjective opinions with a OneValidTruth that they wish to apply to the world.

    “If there is an viable alternate to animal testing that would bring verifiable results equal to that of the intended animal research, then the animal research should be deemed unnecessary.”

    That, my friend, is indeed the policy in the US. The UCSF lawsuit is, going by one specific accusation in the AP coverage, about whether the gatekeeper IACUC *satisfied* this requirement, not about whether this *should be* a requirement.

  63. #63 Kart>Horse
    August 10, 2007

    Well, the free market is an excellent tool. Using the free market has helped me and millions of other people build our wealth. The free market is just that: A tool. If you don’t know how to use it well, you won’t get the best results from it. But anyone who can read and think can learn how to use the free market to make their lives better. Even if what they choose to call better is to live with the smallest impact on the rest of the environment they can get away with.

    That’s it. There’s nothing automatically good or evil about the free market. It’s something you use or don’t use. People who use it are not more or less moral than people who don’t.

    Technology is the same. Every tool you use is technology in action. You can learn how to use the tools well, or not. Since no one person can learn how to use all of the tools to their fullest, some people choose to specialize in which tools they want to become proficient in. Some become physical scientists, some become social scientists, some become structural engineers, some become genetic engineers, some become farmers, and some become artists. All are tool users, and therefore technologists.

    Anyone living in an earth-sheltered home is using technology. Earth sheltered homes are very energy efficient. They can become even more efficient when people think about how to apply different building techniques, heating techniques, insulation methods, etc. When people do that, they are using technology to achieve their goals. The people who will be the best at this will be those who have studied science. Making earth-sheltered homes more efficient is an application of technology to “save the world.”

    Getting people to change their minds requires understanding how people make up their minds in the first place and how they can be influenced. The people who are best at this are those who have studied science, specifically psychology, sociology and political science. They will apply technology, such as persuasion techniques, to getting people to change the way they choose to interact with the rest of the environment. Convincing people to mitigate their impact on the rest of the environment is an application of technology to “save the world.”

    Learning how to make food that takes less water and less pesticide to grow is such an application. Developing transportation systems that deliver people and goods with less consumption of energy is such an application. Redesigning cities so that people can move around in them more quickly and safely is such an application. Building economies in such a way that they rely on a broad spectrum of energy inputs is such an application.

    Unless someone is going to sit in a hollow in the ground and wait for mannah to fall from heaven, they are going to use technology, so they ought to learn how to use it well.

  64. #64 Matt
    August 15, 2007

    MarkH-
    I think this essay by natural philosopher and social theorist Murray Bookchin is very pertinent to this discussion:
    What is Social Ecology?

  65. #65 Matt
    August 15, 2007

    Er… I meant this version: What is Social Ecology?

  66. #66 MarkH
    August 15, 2007

    That essay is kind of awesome Matt, thanks. Basically, being a hippy doesn’t work, advertising will just coopt your message, and the only way to avoid real environmental disaster is by changing the consumer basis of society.

    It’s only the last part I really disagree with. It will be necessary to change the environmental impact of consumerism through technologies which eliminate petroleum and products that create permanent waste products.

  67. #67 MarkH
    August 15, 2007

    The second one, not so much. Marxist nonsense.

  68. #68 Matt
    August 16, 2007

    MarkH: Actually, Bookchin is pretty vehemently anti-Marxist, but I can see his socialist and ultra-democratic politics still not going over very well with this crowd…
    However, what I really wanted you to look at in the second essay is how ridiculous the idea of humans dominating nature is.

    Matt

  69. #69 Graculus
    August 16, 2007

    the idea of humans dominating nature is.

    Well, being as humans are also “nature”, that would involve dominating ourselves. That seems to be the hard part for most people.

    And “Free Market” is a myth, like “State of Nature”.

  70. #70 Mat
    August 16, 2007

    Grac: Exactly! And Bookchin has expressed this very eloquently and in a very theoretically-sound manner drawing on natural history/ evolution and social history, effectively combining the social with the scientific…

  71. #71 Luna_the_cat
    August 16, 2007

    Humans are not part of “nature” in a couple of respects:

    1. We are self-aware, and capable of amazing behavioral flexibility which the rest of the “natural world” does not share. i.e. we have choices, and moral responsibility for those choices.

    2. We have an unprecedented and unequalled ability, through our extended tool use, to manipulate and change our environment.

    Put the two together, and it becomes obvious that humans create a “special situation”.

    That said — when humans do NOT “try to live in harmony with nature”, to the point that they ignore ecological and environmental constraints (as an example, I am thinking of large suburbs with water-hungry bluegrass lawns in the deserts of Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico), they set up the situation for long-term disaster (such as the slowly building water crisis in the American West). There is something to be said for “respecting nature and trying to live in harmony with it” in the sense of recognising physical limitations of your environment in order to minimise damage to ecologies and to minimise self-induced resource shortages. What’s so wrong with that?

  72. #72 Matt
    August 16, 2007

    Luna: I think you bring up some very good points and I think Bookchin, in the second essay that I posted, provides a more nuanced framework that incorporates many of your points. This is an essay he wrote in 1989 trying to create a more accessible entry point into his work that he had spent over 30 years developing which spans over 100 essays and 10 books, not to mention numerous disciplines. As a thinker, I think he is severely overlooked and underappreciated. Even if you find some of his political ideas not to your liking, he is, I believe, the last great generalist following in the footsteps of Lewis Mumford.

  73. #73 Matt
    September 8, 2007

    This is simply ridiculous, but was an entertaining read nevertheless.

    Here’s a more realistic scenario of man’s successful fight against nature:

    So we’re winning against nature by destroying every tree. We’re causing the soil to dry and to lose its bindings. The soil then either turns into sand and is dragged by wind or waters, or it gets washed out by the tides causing catastrophic erosion. Eventually we realize that we’re in serious trouble. But it’s too late.

    This process happened on places such as Haiti, and is in progress in South-America and northern Canada.

    And that’s only on one front, of course. Without getting into the various problems associated with pesticides, nuclear power, pollution, reduction of genetic diversity, contamination of virgin crops with genetically modified crops, and the list could go on and on.

    Man mostly dominates its environment, that’s a fact. However we must also consider this a great responsibility and must preserve what also keeps us alive. We’re part of nature, too, and are bound to its laws. That’s what an ecosystem is about.