Sustainability apparently means different things to different people. Fundamentally, sustainability refers to the ability of the human race to survive into the indefinite future. The crux of the sustainability dilemma is the tension between what we want to do and what Mother Nature allows us to do while remaining on Earth. I would like to summarize and expand upon an article that appeared recently in Nature Sustainability. The article’s title is “A good life for all within planetary boundaries”. It was produced by a team from the Sustainability Research Institute of the University of Leeds, UK and the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change, Berlin, Germany.
The fundamental constraint on sustainability derives from the fact that we’re stuck here on Mother Earth, therefore we must take pretty good care of her if we are to be around very long. What Mother provides us is breathable air, potable water, arable soil, sources of energy and a variety of raw materials that we can make into useful products. The fundamental constraint on “the good life” is our ability to realize at least a minimum level of health and other human needs. The researchers for the paper quoted above described this as the ability of humanity to stay within a doughnut; the inner boundary of the doughnut comprises the human needs requirements while the outer boundary comprises the constraints imposed by nature.
Continue reading The sustainability dilemma: will we make it?
In June I posted a piece about global warming. The focus was on the role that methane could play in accelerating the warming process. On 23 August 2017 the New York Times published an article about the disappearance of permafrost in Alaska. The article, by Henry Fountain, begins with this:
The Arctic is warming about twice as fast as other parts of the planet, and even here in sub-Arctic Alaska the rate of warming is high. Sea ice and wildlife habitat are disappearing; higher sea levels threaten coastal native villages.
Continue reading Global Warming, Part 2
The media have frequent stories about one aspect or other regarding global warming. What they often don’t do is discuss the tradeoffs; the rocks and the hard places on the path to a livable and sustainable climate. The problem with all these bits and pieces of information is that, while we are discussing them, the climate is changing — mostly for the worse — while we continue to be locked in unproductive discussion. The climate clock is ticking whether or not we’re paying attention. I’ve written about this before, here and here, but now it’s time to expand on those ideas.
An article by Andreas Goldthau in the 8 June 2017 issue of (paywall) Nature covers many of the main rocks and hard places. Its emphasis is on the role of the G20 nations plus China in approaching the solution. Here’s a summary of it with my own comments.
Continue reading Global Warming: The rocks and the hard places
Almost two years ago I wrote about the potential effect on telecommuting of reduced oil prices. The point was that cheap oil might spur more private auto use for commuting, thereby reducing demand for telecommuting — a new telecommuting oil crisis. Let’s see how things have turned out so far.
Continue reading The Telecommuting Oil Crisis: Part 2
The World View page in the 19 June 2014 Nature is titled: “Uprooting researchers can drive them out of science.” A key statement in the article by Russell Garwood of the University of Manchester, UK, is:
If they wish, researchers can now communicate more often, and just as easily, with colleagues in a different time zone than with those in the next office.
That’s the problem. The management techniques of science were developed in the time when scientists necessarily worked together in the same laboratory. Although the technology has changed, apparently the management attitudes have not.
Continue reading Young scientists need telework, not travel
As the “unseasonal” cold snaps and blizzards continue in parts of the US—and as other parts experience unseasonal warmth—the evidence keeps coming in that global warming is real. And largely a result of our burning fossil fuels.
To celebrate this clear trend the European Union, once a leader in the struggle to reduce greenhouse emissions, is having second thoughts. It seems that the fight against global warming is bad for business; Europe may be losing its competitiveness, according to the Financial Times. Continue reading What global warming? Part 2
The favorite retort by many of us in the midwest or eastern US in the past few weeks has been: “What global warming? I’m surrounded by icicles!” Others of us, such as in the southwest (and much of Russia), have been sweltering in temperatures dozens of degrees above normal. The key to understanding all of this is to remember that weather is not climate. The polar vortex is not all there is, even when it’s errant. For some explanation see this from the Weather Channel.
Yet all this recent weird weather does allow us to crow: “Telecommuters do it at home! They don’t need to go out in all that snow, ice and slush. When disaster strikes we can deal with it (unless the power goes out too).”
Continue reading What global warming?
In mid-May the atmospheric carbon dioxide measurement at Mauna Loa in Hawaii hit 400 parts per million (ppm). The scientists of the world (at least 95% of them) have declared that 450 ppm is the point where it may cause the atmosphere to warm to at least 2° Celsius, to the point where it was 3 million years ago (when sea levels were 75 feet higher). That, according to many forecasts, could produce many serious climate change events such as extra strength hurricanes and tornadoes—like the one that leveled parts of Moore, Oklahoma last week—not to mention inundation of all low-lying coastal areas.
Yet, apart from the immediate victims of these catastrophic events, most of us are blithely unconcerned about the omens such disruptions represent. It reminds me of the old fable about the frog in a pan of water. Continue reading Passing 400 on the way to the frog test
A recent article by Daniel Gilbert in Nature, titled Buried by bad decisions, made me rethink approaches to encouraging telework. Gilbert’s point is that humans often make bad decisions; decisions that seem sensible but aren’t because “they tend to focus on what we are getting and forget about what we are foregoing”. Gilbert continues:
For example, people are more likely to buy an item when they are asked to choose between buying or not buying it than when they are asked to choose between buying the item and keeping their money “for other purchases”. Although “not buying” and “keeping one’s money” are the same thing. . . .We will change our lives to save a child but not our light bulbs to save them all.
This description would be amusing if it were not for the fact that humanity is rushing headlong toward serious trouble because of such decision processes. Continue reading The moral imperative