Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Climate Change And Modern Technology


We Have Conquered Nature -- Now What?
In my last blog I outlined how the modern world refuses to deal with the reality of climate change by using more Earth friendly technologies and practices. In this blog I want to expand on Dr. David Burney's finding that all Paleolithic humans radically changed their environment by applying that insight to today's modern world.

Time-lapse photo of a busy US highway at night.

To solve our problems as a species, we must come to terms with our human nature.

We, homo sapiens sapiens, who have been around about 200,000 years have always made drastic changes to the environment -- at least according to Dr. David Burney who studies such matters. In addition he invited others in his field to challenge this finding -- and so far no one has.

Speaking about the movement of early humans from Africa across the globe, Dr. David Burney made this observation in his TED talk. 
A global pattern of human arrival to previously uninhabited land masses, followed by faunal collapse and other ecological changes, appears WITHOUT KNOWN EXCEPTION. No one has contradicted or found exception to this idea.
Rewilding, Ecological Surrogacy, and Now... De-extinction?
David Burney at TEDxDeExtinction

The effect of humans on their surroundings was always significant -- but it was held in check by the earlier technologies that were not sophisticated enough to make major alterations to the Earth's environment. 

A Watt type stean engine, built in 1859 and operated for about 40 years.

However because of the industrial revolution about 200 years ago, we now have much more power to do what we have always been doing -- which is to alter the natural environment and to create a man-made environment where we spend most of our time and effort. The invention of the steam engine and then the internal combustion engine, for example, meant that humans simply had more raw power.

This process, which started around 1800, has only accelerated. Today this power has become widespread with a billion motor vehicles worldwide, tens of thousands of large aircraft that transport about four billion passengers a year ( plus countless factories and electric generating plants. 

Volkswagen assembly lines.

The US publisher Ward's, estimates that as of 2010 there were 1.015 billion motor vehicles in use in the world. This figure represents the number of cars; light, medium and heavy duty trucks; and buses, but does not include off-road vehicles or heavy construction equipment.
As we now know our technology is starting to alter the Earth's total environment in a variety of ways, from greenhouse gases to plastic in the oceans to the extinction of a wide variety of species. 

I am suggesting that we are doing this simply because this is what we have always done. But the difference now is that we have amassed so much power that we can alter the Earth itself. Unless we understand our own nature -- what drives us and what messages we respond to -- we will continue on our 200,000 year-old path. Only this time we have tools that can overpower the immensity of the Earth itself, creating perhaps a toxic situation or at best a fundamentally altered one.

In a sense we are now doing what the famous scientist Archimedes of Syracuse only imagined around 200 B.C.E. He said, "Give me a place to stand and with a lever I will move the whole world." We, as humans today, have leveraged our power so that we can actually change the world.

Humans Probably Move More Earth Now Than Is Moved By Natural Forces
As an example of how human technology has become so powerful it can alter the Earth itself, here is one report:
In 2004 it was reported that humans probably moved more sand, dirt etc. than the Earth's natural forces of wind, tides, earthquakes, floods, rain etc. Now more than ten years later it seems almost certain that we do. See the following article in Science Daily: Humans May Surpass Other Natural Forces As Earth Movers 

Sigmund Freud and Conquering Nature
During the last few generations mankind has made an extraordinary advance in the natural sciences and in their technical application and has established his control over nature in a way never before imagined. ... Men are proud of those achievements, and have a right to be... This newly-won power over space and time, this subjugation of the forces of nature, ... is the fulfillment of a longing that goes back thousands of years...Sigmund Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents

(Left) A German model of the human brain that operated like a machine,
(Right) Sigmund Freud who tried to understand the forces that drove human nature.


Understanding our human nature is not simple. We are complicated animals who operate like no other on the planet. As I have written many times, I believe we are the only animal that has a complex understanding of time, for example.

Part of the problem is that we tend to think of ourselves as civilized rational beings who respond reasonably. I think it makes more sense to think of ourselves as animals who are doing our best to become rational -- when the situation requires it.

And to make matters even more complicated, I believe that many of our animal traits overlap with the rational conscious reasoning of our civilized cultures such as our intelligence, our ability to make symbols and our curiosity. Even the word 'wise' is part of our animal nature as sapiens means wise.

And there is one more point. I believe that 200,000 years ago humans were just as smart and sophisticated as we are today. Anthropologists agree. Humans have always used whatever technology they had to the Nth degree whether it was the Paleolithic era, the Neolithic era, the bronze age or iron age or today. My point is we are the same species that we were 200,000 years ago; our animal nature is the same and has not changed in any basic way. So the discovery Dr. Burney made applies to both Paleolithic people and people of the modern world.

(Left) Traffic in California USA. (Right) Traffic in Beijing, China

If we are to solve our problem with the environment, then we must find a way to appeal to our basic human nature. We need to realize that dealing with climate change is a matter of survival for our species -- but the full effects will not be felt for some time in the future, perhaps the distant future. 

However, our human sense of time is pretty much limited to our own lifetime. Yet what we do today may affect the Earth in a couple of hundred years. However, if we don't do something now the consequences of our current technology may be irreversible. 

So here's the problem:

We are constantly engineering our environment. This is what we do as humans and what we have always done, according to Dr. Burney.

To make significant changes in our technology so that it does not affect the Earth's environment, we need to learn to think long term. However, standing in our way is the immediacy of human existence, our own brief lifespan, and our animal nature that deals with the here and now and not the distant future.  

And on the other hand there is the very long time it takes for human technology to affect the Earth.

To put it simply, we in the present must give up things and do things that will not benefit us, but will benefit future generations. Long after we are dead, future generations will reap the rewards of what we did. This is a hard nut to crack.

However, recognizing that the urge to change our environment is a basic human trait could give us new insight into the problem.


1. Dr. David Burney asserts that where ever early humans migrated to previously uninhabited areas, they caused major changes in the environment without exception.

2. Anthropologists state that we today are basically the same as early humans. 

3. It therefore seems likely that changing the environment is a basic human trait -- as true today as it was 200,000 years ago.

4. Until the industrial revolution, the changes humans made in the environment had little effect on the overall environment of our planet Earth.

5. However, for the last two hundred years the massive power now available because of technology has the potential to affect the overall environment of the entire planet.

6. Before we can prevent humans from impacting the larger environment of the Earth, we need to recognize that changing the environment is a basic human trait which must be understood and addressed.

If the above summary is valid, then I feel this is an important idea that needs to be explored in more detail. As I have written, we need to understand our own human nature if we are to deal with this situation, because it is our human nature that has created this problem.

"The old bond between humans and nature has been permanently altered by technology. The task of the 21st century artist is to forge a new relationship between humans and the world, since our fate is inseparable from that of the Earth."  Rick Doble (2003)

An assembly hall at a factory in Germany in 1875. 


We humans do not have a good track record when it comes to understanding the consequences of our changes to the environment. See the following list at Wikipedia.

And the related article:

It is now clear that any new technology or major change in a technology needs an 'environmental impact' assessment both near term and long term. While many view this as bureaucratic 'red tape', it should be considered just part of doing business. Our technology today is simply too powerful to assume that it will not harm or have an effect on the environment now or in the future.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Why We Don't Deal With Climate Change

Why We Don't or Won't
Deal With Climate Change

We all know that animals adapt to their environment. This is not just true with long term evolution, it is true from year to year and season to season. If a watering hole dries up in Africa, a herd of wildebeests does its best to find another watering hole. If your favorite morning coffee shop goes out of business, you try to find another that is not too far from the route of your morning commute.

I was thinking about this when I wondered why we humans are having so much trouble coping with the certainty of climate change and the terrible consequences if some scenerios turn out to be true. In a sense this blog is my answer to the following question for this conference in Australia.

The Centre for Time 
at the University of Sydney in Sydney, Australia 
offered the following conference about the future of humanity:
An interdisciplinary conference on the relationships 
between time, personal identity, and the future of humanity. 
Blue Lagoon Geothermal Spa, Grindavik, Iceland: 6th-8th July, 2015
Despite being aware (and reminded on a frequent basis) of the difficult future we face (both as individuals and as whole, including future people) if we don’t curb our consumption, our numbers, our carbon footprints and so on, in general we tend to fall back into our old ways. This is despite the fact that the future people might include ourselves and our family and offspring. Why is this? Is it not deeply irrational? Why do we privilege the now (present selves) and discount the future (and future selves)? Of course, there has been much work conducted on impulse control, self-regulation, temporal discounting and on the identity over time of selves, but rarely are these approaches brought together in the study of the pressing problem of humanity’s future. Time is deeply entangled with the problem, and so this conference aims to bring together researchers from a diverse set of fields, all engaged in some way with our behaviour over time, our stance towards time, or the nature of time in the universe, to think of new ways of integrating knowledge both to get a better grasp on the sources of humanity’s projected problematic future, and to possibly serve up some initial strategies for resolution.
And then it occurred to me: With modern civilization we live most of the time in a man-made environment. The natural environment is removed from us. [See my blogs about this listed at the bottom of this page.] So what we are doing, without really thinking about it, is adapting to our man-made environment since that is the environment we actually do live in.

For thousands of years humans worked to tame, cultivate and conquer nature. We have been so successful we live in a world almost entirely of our own making with all-weather roads, cars, antibiotics, central heat and air conditioning, etc. 

Now the problem is that we must conquer our own nature -- which is to not passively adapt to this man-made environment but instead to shape our overall man-made environment so that it is in tune with the larger natural environment of the Earth.
Mankind has made an extraordinary advance in the natural sciences and in their technical application and has established his control over nature in a way never before imagined. Men are proud of those achievements, and have a right to be. But they seem to have observed that this newly-won power over space and time, this subjugation of the forces of nature, which is the fulfilment of a longing that goes back thousands of years, has not increased the amount of pleasurable satisfaction which they may expect from life and has not made them feel happier. ...a suspicion dawns on us that...a piece of unconquerable nature may lie behind - this time a piece of our own psychical constitution. Sigmund Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents

We have met the enemy and he is us.
Walt Kelly, Pogo

However, it is only with a major storm, tornado, flooding, heat wave, blizzard, drought and such that the larger natural enviornment gets our attention.

As a result most people don't bring their own cup to a coffee shop, but drink out of a disposable cup that they then discard. Bringing you own cup every day would take some time and organization. You'd have to wash it each night, remember to bring it in the morning, then remember to take out of your car and wash it etc.

A simple coffee cup is not so simple. (Left) Cutaway of a coffee cup showing the air layer that insulates the coffee to keep it hot. (Middle) More accessories added to a simple coffee cup: a sleeve, a lid and a 'hot stopper' to keep hot coffee from splashing. (Right) A full trash can of disposable coffee cups.
Most paper cups are designed for a single use and then disposal. Very little recycled paper is used to make paper cups because of contamination concerns and regulations. Since most paper cups are coated with plastic (polyethylene), then both composting and recycling of paper cups is uncommon because of the difficulty in separating the polyethylene in the recycling process of said cups...Over 6.5 million trees were cut down to make 16 billion paper coffee cups used by U.S. in 2006, using 4 billion US gallons (15,000,000 m3) of water and resulting in 253 million pounds (115,000,000 kg) of waste.

People don't go slower down the highway, even though they would get much better mileage, because they are in a hurry. 

Remember that song with the line, "I can't drive 55."
I Can't Drive 55 by Sammy Hagar
"When I drive that slow, you know it's hard to steer.
And I can't get get my care out of second gear.
What used to take two hours now takes all day. Huh!"

With a popular attitude such as in this popular song, 
states ramped up their speed limits as high as 85 mph. 

However, "If the national speed limit were reset to 55, 
it would save 1 billion barrels of oil per year." 

Texas proudly displaying its new higher speed limit.

Texas, for example, has speed limits of 75-85 mph. At 85 mph the average car is 30% less efficient. At 75 mph more than 20% less efficient.

In the US time is precious and people want to 'save time' and not 'waste time.' So spending time to use less resources, to recycle, to avoid throw-away items is not easy -- instead we are moved in the opposite direction: We are pushed to find more ways to save time.

In addition the man-made environment we live in puts pressure on us to be on time, to be focused on the task at hand -- which becomes our immediate concern. The natural environment is, for most people, far removed and even remote. 

A busy highway at night.

But the cost to the environment is huge.

People do not worry about global warming, for example, because their car, office, home and mall are all air conditioned. 

And the consumer environment does not help either. Products are packaged for convenience, for the throw-away culture. The market place does not make it easy to live an environmentally friendly lifestyle.

And then there is the natural competitive nature of humans, where we want to have great car, a good house -- at least as good as our neighbors. Keeping up with the Joneses is still very much alive, as people often measure themselves and their worth against that of their neighbors.

Our modern world has created the problem, 
now we must use our sophisticated technology to solve the problem.

"No society has ever yet been able to handle the temptations of technology...
We have to learn to cherish this Earth and cherish it as something that's fragile, that's only one, it's all we have. We have to use our scientific knowledge to correct the dangers that have come from science and technology."
Margaret Mead


We are asking a reasonable logical question but getting a basic survival-instinct response. We should expect nothing different. We are, after all, simply animals whose instincts evolved over millions of years and direct our behavior. Only by recognizing this will we be able to deal with the problem. 

Speaking about the movement of early humans from Africa across the globe, Dr. David Burney made this observation in his TED talk.
A global pattern of human arrival to previously uninhabited land masses, followed by faunal collapse and other ecological changes, appears WITHOUT KNOWN EXCEPTION. No one has contradicted or found exception to this idea. Rewilding, Ecological Surrogacy, and Now... De-extinction?: Dr. David Burney at TEDxDeExtinction
What this means is that the arrival of humans to new areas, areas where humans had not lived before, caused many or most of the native animals to go extinct or radically decline along with other major ecological changes. Or in other words, where ever humans migrated they caused drastic changes in the environment. But there is a second part to this. Humans, after having caused massive changes, must themselves have adjused to the new environment that they themselves created.

In other words humans changed the environment where ever they went and, I have to assume, adapted to this new environment that they changed. 

To use an oversimplified example, when humans went from foraging to farming, they not only changed the environment with their farming system, they also had to adapt to the new demands that their farming put on them, such as when to plant, harvest, store, prepare tools, etc.

According to Dr. Burney this basic pattern of behavior has been going on for hundreds of thousands of years without exception. This means we have to assume this is part of human nature. 

And so today we find ourselves in the same situation. We have radically changed the world's environment and now we have adjusted to the environment that we, ourselves, created. We have adjusted to our modern world of mass production but not considered the overall and larger effect on the environment of the Earth.


We have to be realistic. Are we hardwired to deal with the moment but ignore the future, for example? And if so, how can we deal with this problem?

But if you were hoping I would have a fix for this, you are mistaken. The best I can do is to help people recognize the nature of the problem as I have described it. 

I do, however, have some tentative ideas that might get us started -- and that hopefully others might build on.

If there is hope, I believe the next generation is much more aware and in tune with the Earth's environment.  Humans seem to do better with problems that they understand from childhood. This next generation will grow up with a concern that most of us only realized in adulthood.

I also find it encouraging that the idea of the 'knowledge society' is starting to take hold. With this concept the knowledge you have is most important and the car you drive or the house you live in less important, for example.

And I do feel that there are some things people can do today to get in touch with the natural world. 


People need to get back in touch with the natural environment. And nothing is more natural or more accessible, with a bit of driving, than the stars in the sky.

A view of totality during a solar eclipse. The recent interest in the eclipse shows that people can become excited and involved with the sun, the moon, and the stars.

So I would suggest starting with astronomy. I know that sounds strange, since the stars are so far away, but stars are a natural wonder and have been a major part of human culture for at least several hundred thousand years. Viewing the millions of stars that make up the Milky Way Galaxy will give you a new perspective and take you out of the man-made bubble of cities and civilization that we live in. 

Astronomy used to be essential for telling time and keeping track of the seasons. It is only in the last hundred years that we have lost touch with the stars. And why? For the same reason we want to drive 80 mph down the highway and drink coffee out of disposable cups.

A picture of a solar eclipse totality in 1858. 
The interest in the stars is as old as mankind. 
Learning about them also puts you in touch with ancient civilizations 
that named the constellations and the planets.

Our contemporary environment with our ever-present modern lights, makes finding a dark sky difficult. It might take you up to an hour to get far enough away. Google your area for a map that will tell you where dark areas are located. Go out on a clear night when the moon is a quarter or less or not visible in the sky. You can Google the phase of the moon and also a star chart for your location and time of year.

 The same region of sky near a town of about 200 people (top) 
and near a city of about 400,000 people (bottom) in Utah, USA. 
The light pollution near any urban area blots out much of the sky. 

Make a night of it. Once you arrive don't be in a hurry. Let your eyes adjust to the dark which can take up to 20 minutes. Don't turn on lights during this time unless you have a special red filter on a flash light which will keep your eyes from having to readjust to the darkness after you turn off the light. 

Screen shot from the Stellarium app 
of the constellation Orion with optional lines and labels.  
Download the wonderful free open source app Stellarium which shows you the night sky at any location and time of year along with the constellations. Fully customizable and available for Windows, Apple and Linux. It is a virtual planetarium for your computer.

If possible look at the long 'cloud' that makes up a local band of the Milky Way. With binoculars you can see that this band is made up of individual stars in the millions. Ask a friend to help you locate the Big Dipper and the North Star since these are always visible in the Northern Hemisphere. With only a few exceptions every star you see with the naked eye is in the Milky Way. 

Quite simply, the Milky Way is our home, our place literally in the Universe. To not know about the Milky Way is similar to not knowing where your family came from and who your relatives are.

Yet there is one galaxy outside our own that you can see with the naked eye and is even better with a telescope or binoculars. And that is our sister galaxy, the Andromeda Galaxy. The hundred billion stars that make up the Andromeda Galaxy will help you see our/your world in a totally different light. It is a miracle that we conscious thinking beings are alive;  we should do everything we can to protect what we have.

Virtually all stars you see at night are in our Milky Way Galaxy, 
However, our sister galaxy, the Andromeda Galaxy (above), 
is quite faint but visible to the naked eye.

Light Pollution Is Blotting Out the Stars

Here is a quote from a discussion group about why astronomy is not important:
Science & Mathematics > Astronomy & Space
I think that most people are focused on a few things that are critical to their own existence. For some, that means family; for others, a career. In those specific areas, they are generally articulate and knowledgeable...What this means is that astronomy is a backwater in the knowledge pool for most folks. They could understand it if it was a priority, but it's not. 

If we wonder why so many urban people today feel alienated, it could be that they are no longer in touch with the cycles of the Earth and the Sun and the natural sense of time told to us by the stars.

Here are some of my other blogs 
that relate to climate change.

The Protective Bubble of Civilization

Climate Change & Our Age of Denial

Global Warming & The Future: Part 1

Global Warming & The Future: Part 2

The History of the Future

Friday, August 18, 2017

What Does It Mean To Exist?

What Is Existence?

"Diagram from one of René Descartes' works."
I think, therefore I am.
René Descartes
Also: Cogito ergo sum
Je pense, donc je suis 
"A fuller form, penned by Antoine Léonard Thomas, aptly captures Descartes’s intent: dubito, ergo cogito, ergo sum ("I doubt, therefore I think, therefore I am"). The concept is also sometimes known as the cogito.
"Descartes asserted that the very act of doubting one's own existence served—at minimum—as proof of the reality of one's own mind; there must be a thinking entity—in this case the self—for there to be a thought." Quoted from:
Please read how Descartes shaped our modern world 
and our modern sense of time 
which is explained at the bottom of this blog. 

Portrait of Rousseau dressed in an Armenian outfit.
I feel, therefore I am.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau
(a distillation of Rousseau's thought)

"I felt before I thought," wrote Rousseau
or as e.e. cummings wrote,
"since feeling is first"

I continue, therefore I am.
Rick Doble

Yet even more fundamental than thought or feeling
is that awake or asleep we continue
and keep on going as long as we exist

From the moment you are conceived to the moment you die, you continue.
When a species of animals no longer continues, it is extinct.


Descartes And 'The Grid'
Of The Modern World

Descartes essentially invented the modern world from my point of view.  In a sense, he defined what it means TO EXIST in our contemporary societies because he invented "the grid" which is how the hi-tech world functions.

With his Cartesian coordinate system he assigned a mathematical value to any point in space. His idea of accurately describing space with an X/Y grid (for 3D a third axis Z was added) has become the basis for both the design and the operation of computers, GPS, airline traffic, cell phones, TV screens etc. When time is added as a fourth coordinate, just about anything can be imagined, placed, located and tracked in space and time. But for time to work as the fourth coordinate, time has to be our modern precise regulated synchronized atomic clock time with defined world time zones.

(Left) The original Cartesian X/Y graph. X = the horizonal line (axis), Y=  the vertical line (axis). Any point in the graph can be determined and also placed with these two numbers. 
(Middle) By adding a third aixis Z an object can be described in 3 dimensions. 
(Right) By adding time as a fourth dimension, as in this construction work schedule, time and place can be graphed and events can be planned. In this case the time schedule might refer to X/Y/Z graphs showing what was to be done and where in a certain time period during construction.

(Left) A mathematical structure visualized in a graph.
(Middle) A structure for a possible domed roof for a building.
(Right) A 'random walk' accurately mapped out with  X/Y/Z coordinates.

Representation of the trajectory of aircraft on an air traffic control radar screen.
On this screen space and time are represented. The x/y/z position of the aircraft is available as is the time for that aircraft at a given position..Our modern technology can pinpoint all four coordinates to display, document or record a time period in the life of an airplane.

Descartes And A Fly = The Cartesian Coordinates
"The coordinate system we commonly use is called the Cartesian system, after the French mathematician René Descartes (1596-1650), who developed it in the 17th century. Legend has it that Descartes, who liked to stay in bed until late, was watching a fly on the ceiling from his bed. He wondered how to best describe the fly's location and decided that one of the corners of the ceiling could be used as a reference point."Imagine the ceiling as a rectangle drawn on a piece of paper: taking the left bottom corner as the reference point, you can specify the location of the fly by measuring how far you need to go in the horizontal direction and how far you need to go in the vertical direction to get to it. These two number are the fly's coordinates." 

Monday, July 24, 2017

Time-Flow Photography

 My Birthday Blog: 
 This is the 5th year I have posted a blog on my birthday 

Experimenting With Slow Shutter Speed Digital Photography

"Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one."
~ Albert Einstein ~

In 2000 I crossed an invisible threshold
one that other photographers could have crossed
but which few had

Deliberately, I bought a digital camera
that would expose for seconds
and not fractions

I had guessed that there was a world
unseen and that the new technology
with its instant feedback
would give me the tool I needed

Later I would understand
that my life had been leading to this point:

A notebook about Einstein and space-time
written at age thirteen

and my decade long detour into computers
plus my study of Muybridge's figures in motion

meant that I was up-to-speed
with the new photographic medium
still in its infancy

Not understanding the dimensions
of this world at first
it took a while to get my bearings

I did it step by step:

First mounting a tripod
next to the dash
so that my camera peered
through the windshield
into the dark vanishing point
of the highway

For 8 seconds
points of light stretched across time
until the shutter closed –

now strung with bright yellow dashes
from blinking warning lights,

now streaked blood red from top to bottom
with brake and stop lights

as I slowed into stalled traffic

Prowling the highways
I cruised the dark back streets and brightly lit bridges

and coasted through the city's main drag,
all the while keeping my eye peeled
for flashing lights
neon, areas of glass and
shiny metal that added reflections

I did this
on clear nights or
when a low cloud cover lit the sky

I did this in hard rain, drizzle and mist –
the wetness acting like a mirror and a lens

After months
I pulled the camera off the tripod
and shot handheld –
the wavy lines more interesting
than the straightness
imposed by the tripod

Soon I parked the car
and panned in rhythm
to cars creeping through the downtown

or people walking on the waterfront

Then against the blackness
I took 8 second shots of my wife
from the passenger side
as she drove her car
lights streaming behind her

And later musicians on stages
their movement painted
against the blank canvas
of the night

Somewhere along the way
I began to 'get it'

What I was doing was expressive
– as I had hoped –
but more than that
these shots were glimpses
of movement through time

Where the passing moment
was now smeared across the frame

NOTE: This poem is from a book of auto-biographical poems 
I wrote about my creative evolution and the creative process in 2010.
You can view and/or download a free PDF copy of  my book by clicking on this link: