Climate Change

Continued destruction of Earth’s plant life places humankind in jeopardy, say researchers

That is one truly weird set of mixed metaphors and invalid assumptions.

Sure we have altered things. We have modified many earth ecologies towards their maximum human carrying capacity.

We have extracted some fossil fuels, and minerals.

Sure we have some real issues to solve.
We need to get a lot smarter about how we manage a lot of things to do with ecology.
We need to start making real progress on nutrient flows for example. Phosphorus is a real issue. We need to do a lot more recovery and recycling – separate sewer systems, with a 4 year cycle before getting back into food ought to give low enough risk of major biological infections.

We need to get much better about recycling of all unwanted products, and much better at product design with minimising environmental cost as one of the important sets of design criteria.

We need to do something soon about managing heat balance. Getting some serious engineering capacity in space soon is a very good idea. Remote manufacturing it with mass from the far side of the moon seems to make most sense.
Sea level change is normal.
Having sea levels as static as they have been for the last 10,000 years is highly unusual in the last million years of sea levels.

We actually need the engineering capacity to manage sea levels, or deal with a lot of human displacement that we don’t want to deal with (cities like New York under water).

All doable, and none of it the natural outcome of market based incentives.

We need to get some serious systems thinking into our social systems. We need to go beyond market based values to having sapient life and the liberty of all sapient individuals as our highest value set.

But the idea of a battery discharging to space is not accurate or useful.

The earth actually receives more energy every year than humanity has used in the last thousand years. And it is not unlimited, and it does support a lot of non-human ecologies. And we can retain examples of those ecosystems and manage the system as a whole for much better energy capture, and it is a very complex set of systems, and all ideas of some sort of grand Gaia balance are mythic. Living systems are open systems, prone to massive change periodically and unpredictably (with or without human assistance).

We can manage that, and it will not be management to any sort of static set of properties, but rather management within bounds of acceptable rates of change in some areas, with higher rates of change in other areas.

And we need some rapid change in our political and economic systems very soon.
We need to start acting cooperatively at the highest levels of awareness, and going beyond scarcity based market thinking and into abundance based thinking using advanced automation combined with deep ecological awareness.

All doable, and it does need doing. Business as usual has got to end soon, one way or another, and I would much rather it was managed towards universal abundance than left to free market continuation of poverty for the masses (with the instabilities that have to result from that set of incentive structures).

[followed by]

Hi Windchill

I don’t know who wrote off space based shadowing, but if you can point me to the article I will look at it.

To me it is the logical and relatively simple answer.
And it is simple only to a mind deeply immersed in the sort of exponential trends that Ray is fond of using. It requires us taking automation to the point that we can completely automate the production of a set of machines that can make a set of goods and services (using sunlight and whatever rock happens to be available).

If we export one of those to the edge of the moon (as seen from earth, and let them replicate on the far side, then if it takes them two weeks in sunlight (given that they get two weeks of continuous sunlight every month) to replicate once, it would take them 3 years to cover the far side of the moon with solar cells and build a set of linear motors capable of launching enough product back into earth orbit.

Doesn’t take a lot of mass manufactured into controllable thin film mirrors to be able to cut down the amount of sunlight reaching snow covered polar regions to reverse the warming trends and stop sea level rise.

And before a bunch of people say its more complex than that – yes I know that, and it will take a lot of ongoing work, to actively manage atmospheric circulation to reduce the risk of damage due to major events (cyclones etc) and to more actively manage rainfall to reclaim a lot of the desert regions (not all, as want to keep some examples of desert ecologies). As one example of further complexity, Earth’s ecologies are mostly adapted to periodic ice-ages renewing the supply of rock dust that delivers most of the fertility for plants. We will need to manage that in other ways – and it is doable.

Once we start on this process, we will need to actively manage the entire system, and if we do that we can effectively simulate non-human influence over about 50%, while optimising the other 50% for human needs of food production, habitation, experimentation and play (and keeping weather variation within limits of human needs).

And when using “experimentation” in that previous paragraph as a human need, most of the really novel experimentation will need to be done in orbiting habitats, which will take a while to establish full ecosystems in (decades or centuries in the case of mature forest canopy systems – and ocean systems with whales) and all that is doable. We can put up systems to allow engineering experimentation and low level biological experimentation almost immediately – and then put in a blanket ban on all such bioengineering on earth, until it has been through generational testing in orbital habitats and has been proven safe on at least a 200 year time-scale. That way we allow experimenting, and reduce the risk profile to the vast majority.

The initial “activation energy hump” is just putting the first such self replicating system together, and delivering one to the moon (should come in under two tons – so not a major issue). And to be very clear here, I am specifically not talking about AI, just very well built software that does what we tell it and knows enough to ask for human help if required, but mostly just gets on and does the job. Building such a system is perhaps the biggest single software project undertaken by humanity, and it is similar in scale to what Google and Microsoft have at present (and who knows what the NSA or the Skunkworks have buried some-place).

So yes, it is “easy” (as in a challenge, and the sort of challenge engineers love) to do in the engineering sense, and it does break market based capitalism, as it makes possible the delivery of universal abundance without money being involved. And markets can only work if scarcity is involved, and thus poverty is a structural part of any functioning market based system.

And yes, Marx did see one of the three currently dominant trends at play, and correctly analysed its logical conclusion, but he was completely ignorant of the other two, so his analysis was fundamentally flawed in those respects (and reading Marx was worse than reading Thomas Hardy, and that’s saying something).

[followed by]

The energy bottleneck is mostly myth.
Look at Ray’s graphs. Current trends have solar replacing fossil in under 30 years. Exponential – not linear fit.

Energy isn’t the problem.

The issue is modes of thought.

As Sam Clemens said “What gets us into trouble is not what we don’t know, it’s what we know for sure that just ain’t so.”

Most people are not only innumerate, they are still firmly in a binary mindset where terms like true/false, right/wrong, good/bad have real meaning, rather than being simplistic approximations to the infinite complexity found in reality.

Rather than acknowledging that reality gives us 4 major classes of complexity in terms of systems (simple, complicated, complex, and chaotic) they imagine that all systems are simple and deterministic in a binary sense.

I like David Snowden’s Cynefin framework where each different sort of system has a different sort of appropriate response:

Simple systems – Sense, Categorise, Respond resulting in Best Practice.

Complicated systems – Sense, Analyse, Respond resulting in Good Practice.

Complex Systems – Probe, Sense, Respond resulting in Emergent behaviour.

Chaotic Systems – Act, Sense, Respond resulting in Novel behaviour.

Reality consists of all four types of systems, but our social systems (bureaucracies and legal systems) tend to respond to all as simple – and being amenable to simple rule sets. That is not a real possibility.

The reality is actually more complex than even Snowden acknowledges, because he only deals with chaos of the determinant sort. He doesn’t yet acknowledge the sorts of chaos that arise when systems are fundamentally based on randomness within probability constraints that when massed together give the illusion of hard causality (within certain levels of measurement error).

Once people actually encounter that sort of hard randomness, the game changes at all levels. And that is maybe a topic for another time, as we are still at measurement levels where hard causality is a reasonably accurate approximation most of the time.

[followed by]

Hi Imperator

Lots of yes and no in this 😉

Actually, we do need to do quite a few things.

Yes, markets are complex, and yes markets evolve, and some systems have different types of responses to different levels of inputs – one branch of which is known as chaos.

Free and unfettered markets are a myth. One person’s freedom is another person’s constraint. The freedom of one group to establish a monopoly results in constraints on others. Technological and systems advantages tend to result in concentration of wealth and power, resulting in the sorts of distributions we see now – or even more skewed. The greater the degrees of freedom in the system the greater the range of the resulting distributions and the more people who end up at the bottom, on or below the survival boundary.

I am all for freedom, and it needs to be in a context of cooperation and responsibility. Our systems need to guarantee basic life and liberty for everyone as a minimum, then allow unlimited diversity above that. That is not what free and unfettered markets would deliver. And life in this sense means managing the physical and ecological systems to a state of health that can support all humanity.

Automation and solar power mean that unskilled labour has almost no market value.

Automation and solar power give us the tools to deliver the essentials of life and liberty to every person on the planet, at no cost. Yet no market based system can ever be internally incentivised to do that, because any such universal abundance has zero market value, and thus there will always be meta incentives to create barriers to that abundance at some level to create a marketable scarcity.

Markets are great tools where there is genuine scarcity.
Markets cannot give a non zero value to universal abundance.

We have now developed systemic tools (in terms of automated productive capacity) to the level that market values are directly at variance with human life and human liberty.

I am not any sort of communist in the sense of demanding central control or restricting the upper end of the diversity distribution.

I am a cooperative humanist in the sense of demanding systems that deliver the essentials of life and liberty to everyone as an unearned starting set of conditions.

I have owned and operated a software company for 29 years. I have some practical experience of markets, automation, law and politics.
I am not an academic.
Prior to getting into software I had 17 years as a professional fisherman (a hunter, and like all effective hunters, a keen observer of natural systems).

I do have some academic experience, and an evolving understanding of logic, systems, and complexity.

I am committed to systems that allow individuals a reasonable chance of living a very long time.

So I am not anti capitalist in any sort of classical sense. On a global scale I am one of the 1%. We own our house, our farm, our business, freehold – no debt of any sort. I started with nothing, my parents were poor. I have some friends who are millionaires, and others who are homeless and jobless.

I would not like to be starting again today. I could always get a job if I needed one. That isn’t true today.

No market in history has ever been truly free of any sort of restraint. And for most of human history it was acceptable to buy and sell human beings.
Thankfully that at least is now outlawed.

I am not a proponent of the freedom to follow whim.
I am a proponent of free action within a context of acknowledging a responsibility for the impact of actions on the life and liberty of all others.
Responsibility in this sense is acknowledging consequence, and entering the dance of mitigation of negative consequences.

I am very clear that simply allowing actors to act just to increase the amount of money they make, without regard to the consequence on others, is not stable. The methods used must be able to demonstrate social utility, or have all the value removed.

The financial crisis of the failure of the so called “sub prime bubble” involved deliberate deception at many levels.

It started with mortgage brokers selling mortgages to people who couldn’t possibly meet the terms, but pretending that they could (outright lies),

It continued with bankers and the constructors of financial instruments continuing to disguise this lie at ever greater levels of abstraction, and then the final blow of shorting the market (betting that their own AA bonds were in fact junk, which they knew them to be), and then demanding billions of tax payer dollars to pay out the bets when they collapsed the system.

The system as it exists today is one giant casino.
It is based on lies and deception at every level of education, law, finance and politics.

It is unstable.
It is immoral.
It is dangerous – but the danger has been mostly to those at the bottom, when those at the top get it wrong. That is now changing, which is our only real hope of substantive reform.

I’m happy to let people gamble with their own lives.

I’m not at all happy when they try and gamble with mine.

ENOUGH is enough already.

Display some moral authority.

Deliver on elimination of poverty – it is actually really easy to do, but one just has to step outside of the market model to do it.

[followed by]

Hi Paul

Whatever the mechanism (and that one looks promising) history tells us that such things do happen periodically, and we need to be able to manage them. History also tells us that climate change is “normal” and that the relative stability of the last 15,000 years is highly unusual in the larger scheme of climate history.

Either way, warming or cooling, the simplest way to be able to manage them is to have a few trillion smallish controllable mirrors in wide orbits that allow us to manage the amount of sunlight reaching selected regions of the earth, and adding or subtracting as much as is required to maintain conditions within the limits required by the numbers of people on the planet’s inhabited regions (keeping variations as close as possible to natural in the uninhabited regions).

In a sense, that is what humanity has been doing in various ways with our various technologies of irrigation and planting windbreaks etc, all we are doing in a sense is taking the management up a level.

It is all about risk identification and risk mitigation within acceptable limits, with strategies at many different levels to allow people to determine for themselves what those “limits” might be at ever finer scales – but requiring social agreement about management at the larger scales. Like you get control to irrigate your land with water stored on your land, and to climate control your dwelling with energy you control, communities will have a say at ever larger scales about climate management parameters at those scales over inhabited areas.

We just need the enabling technologies to make all this possible.

Remote automated manufacturing is the single biggest enabler of large scale risk mitigation strategies – from incident solar energy, to comet and meteor strike, to food & energy production in case of large scale volcanism. It just gives us much needed options we don’t currently have.

And it doesn’t make sense within a scarcity based economic framework – no universal abundance does. And it is so hard to see how destructive market valuation is when one is deeply embedded in market values in ways one is completely unaware of.

We have got to get exponential manufacturing capability onto the moon ASAP. Without it we (as a society, and as a technological species) are extremely vulnerable. With it we have access to huge classes of risk mitigation strategies. To me it is a “no-brainer”, but then I’ve been immersed in this strategic environment for over 40 years, and it is hard for me to imagine how other people think as they do, and obviously they do.

[followed by]

Hi Paul

Technologies for getting stuff into space isn’t the limiting issue right now.

We know how to get two tons of mass to soft land on the moon – that is proven technology (unless the moon landing disbelievers are right). But we do seem to be able to land stuff on Mars, so the moon can’t be that difficult (except we can’t do aero-braking there).

The real trick is getting a full set of replicating technologies into two tons. Biology does it in a single bacterium (about 10^-15 Kg or 10^18 smaller than our target – so that gives significant engineering leeway), but we’re not at that scale yet. Two tons, will work for us, and the software issues are challenging, and doable.

In today’s dollars about the same cost as the lifecycle cost of a single Nimitz class aircraft carrier. So a significant project, and not that big really. You guys have 10 of those big boats floating around at present. About 50,000 man years of development time – with people who are very proficient at what they do (the best of the best).

In my experience, people adapt very quickly to new realities. They may not be able to deal well with theory, and they can deal very well with practice (just look at smartphone use, and how few have any idea how they actually work – same with cars or computers for that matter).

Most people put most of their attention on personal relationships, rather than technology or mathematics or strategic systems. I was a bit of an asocial kid – being tongue tied and teased, I retreated to libraries as places of safety, and reading kept boredom at bay – so I got to spend more time with ideas than people, and so my brain prefers people in the abstract to people in person – most of the time. I grew up on farms, with free access to the old sheds with old broken machines, and free access to all the tools and machinery to enable me to try and fix things. The more things I got running, the more things I had to play with. I was driving tractors by 4 years old, and bulldozers by 10 years old. Today’s health and safety regulations prevent anyone like me from happening again, but those regulations didn’t exist 60 years ago 😉

About Ted Howard NZ

Seems like I might be a cancer survivor. Thinking about the systemic incentives within the world we find ourselves in, and how we might adjust them to provide an environment that supports everyone (no exceptions) - see www.tedhowardnz.com/money
This entry was posted in Ideas, Our Future, Politics, Technology and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Comment and critique welcome

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s