Monthly Archives: April 2014

Are You Down With the IPCC?

The United Nations’ International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has published its report on climate change.

Last year parts of the report were leaked, and some of the corrections made to the 2007 report were a win for climate change denialists and skeptics—the report contained adjustments to modelling predictions, and included tidbits that certain climate indicators were not occuring as predicted. Nevertheless, the report included its typical warnings about the coming climate apocalypse.

This year, climate change champions are hanging the report on their banners (unless you lend any credence to the NIPCC). News article after news article expounds how the IPCC is painting a perilous picture of the future of the world…if we don’t change our ways.

I will not be treading on ‘for’ or ‘against’ arguments [Note: yes, there is a debate…maybe not on the science itself, but surely on the meaning and implications of the science…this is its own blog entry that I won’t even bother to write]. I’m not a climatologist and I just don’t have the time to wade through the science. I am an environmental scientist, true, but I am far more interested in the small ‘e’ environmentalism that the charismatic big ‘E’ environmentalism. People ask me all the time about climate change—or, according to their bias, ‘global warming’—and, quite frankly, I have nothing constructive to say. My brain shuts down when I hear the climate arguments. I blame it on years of obsessive philosophical contemplation that has led me to an existentialist nihilism on the subject, for the most part. It’s not that I don’t care; I just don’t think it really matters what we think.

James Lovelock conceived the Gaia Hypothesis in the 1960’s. My ecology instructor avoided Lovelock at all costs. I brought it up on certain occasions, and I like to feel that if it wasn’t for me, my fellow peers might not have ever even heard the word Gaia (none of them cared, anyway).

But it’s an important theory, one that really characterizes my ‘nihilism’ (for lack of a better term, right now). The basic tenet of the theory is that the Earth as a whole is a living organism, named after the Greek goddess, Gaia. This organism is evolutionarily inclined to survive. It does what it has to do. Its component parts, including biological life, all interact to support the survival of the organism.

There are some quandaries with the theory—such as what’s the point to survival? and at what point in the formation of this rock in space did it become an organism?—but the idea provides a fractal-esque postulation of the macrocosmic globe as no different than the single-celled organisms that we figure first populated the Earth.

 But why wouldn’t my ecology instructor want to include this theory in his teaching plan? Well, he said, it applies too much of a nihilist view of the world, like there is nothing we can do. He was partially right—as much as the theory promotes interconnectedness and purpose to biodiversity, it also contains the idea that humanity really means nothing in itself. Humanity is merely a component part of a larger organism, an iteration of biological life that fulfills an ecological function at this current period of time. Apparently, this is a scary thought.

 But I’m not too proud to acknowledge that humanity is not special. This isn’t even a special thought in itself. We are animals, nothing more. We are not God’s chosen creatures, or the epitome of evolution, or even the beloved experiments of a race of hyper-intelligent aliens. That’s my take, anyway.

 Ecological function is a well known and studied aspect of ecology…but one that typically excludes humans from the picture. It is a common battle cry of the environmental movement that we are all connected—when something affects one aspect of the environment it affects every aspect. But, at the same time, the movement’s arguments typically distinguishes between ‘natural’ activities and ‘anthropomorphic’ activities, as if humans are not fulfilling a suitable biological function on the earth.

 So Gaia leads me to beg the question—what if ‘destroying’ life on earth is our function? What if, like Methanosarcina, the newly proposed culprit of the largest extinction in our fossil record, humans have evolved to reduce biodiversity in the Gaia system?

Cyanobacteria were single-celled organisms that are theorized to have been the first photosynthetic life-forms—they essentially transformed earth’s atmosphere into one that had enough oxygen to support a proliferation of aerobic life-forms. Were their actions unnatural? Could the (hypothetical) carbon dioxide-supported life pre-cyanobacteria have been destroyed by the selfish bacteria and their addiction to photosynthesis?

 There is an entirely different aspect of the climate change—the urgency, the redemption, the eerie religious undertones that we shall receive the utopian Eden-on-Earth if we shall only change our shameful, sinful ways. Don’t feed me end-of-days salvation bullshit. At the same time, the corporate-driven denialist movement is just as repulsive, feeding empty and desperate rhetoric for the purpose of profit.

 Taoism has a wonderful concept, wu wei, or ‘do nothing’. In essence, act natural. Do what thou wilt, in a way. And, it would appear, acting natural to the modern human is to act in a way that we see as harmful to the Earth (which is a weird dichotomy in itself, but one I won’t delve into because this is convoluted enough).

 Who knows. I don’t. Here again, my brain is shutting down. I’ve overworked these neurons thinking in circles, only to come to the conclusion that you just need to choose what’s your natural. And who even knows what that fucking means?

 Aldo Leopold was absolutely right when he said that the environmental question is fundamentally a philosophic question. The science is auxillary to the philosophy. That’s probably why there is logic to certain arguments ‘for’ and ‘against’ climate change. I really enjoy engaging with people so embroiled in one view or another. They are unwavering. They are so fucking sure of themselves. It’s kind of like a form of yoga, to be so steadfastly sure of yourself.

 Unfortuantely I don’t have that reassurance. I have my ideas, but that’s all…par example: yes, the climate changes, and we are probably not helping it not change…but the morality of it, that is a tougher thing to chew. I’ll leave it in your mouth, mine’s getting sore.