A Controversial Topic in Science

Dr. Nadine Unger, an assistant professor of atmospheric chemistry at Yale , had an op-ed published in the Opinion Pages of the September 19, 2014 edition of the New York Times. Both the title of her piece and its analysis of the article’s focus — climate change — have drawn quite a response, as one would imagine.

I don’t have much to add other than asking for those interested to review what she wrote along with the responses detailing how and why what she has concluded is exactly wrong:

Manipulative or Informative Rhetoric

This colossal gaff demonstrated and confirmed for me why the thinking behind permaculture design — and how it functions as a connecting science — is so sorely needed. The kind of sophistical ‘scientific’ arguments put forth by people who are supposed to be experts, and whose message is unfortunately too often accepted by many laypersons without questioning, is precisely how the world we live in presently came to be. Information is dangerous if you don’t know how to properly act upon it or contextualize it, and those convinced that they have a thorough understanding without doing so, actually end up operating as agents of destruction.

Those of us who know better must actively counter this kind of misinformation. Correcting the error requires engagement on our part. This also demonstrates the weakness of basing arguments for acting to reverse climate change mainly on the basis of greenhouse gas emissions — it’s very easy to distort or dissemble this information due to its relatively abstract nature.

A recent study performed by researchers from Stanford University has brought this problem to light, referring to the unprecedented drought conditions prevailing in California as an example:

Scientists from Stanford have found that the meteorological conditions that have caused the California drought are far more likely to occur in today’s warming world than in one without human-caused emissions of greenhouse gases.

It shows us – ironically and tragically – that the state that leads the nation in curbing greenhouse gas emissions is right now suffering more than any other from climate change. — Environmental Defense Fund

In other words, more needs to be done than solely putting our focus on the “supply side” of greenhouse gas emissions by fixating only on the sources of those emissions — which are primarily produced from human-made industrial technologies driven by a consumer-based culture and economy. Charles Eisenstein wrote a great piece detailing the many problems associated with this approach.

Why haven’t we seen more attention paid to how land degradation influences climate change? That’s far easier and more obvious to demonstrate and prove as being the main driver of this phenomenon – and it’s something we know can be effectively and successfully remedied, providing the highest Return on Investment and Benefit-to-Cost Ratios of any of the other technologically-oriented, product-based strategies. Naomi Klein makes this very point in a number of recent articles she’s authored ahead of her most recent book’s release:

The idea that only capitalism can save the world from a crisis it created is no longer an abstract theory; it’s a hypothesis that has been tested in the real world.

We can now take a hard look at the results: at the green products shunted to the back of the supermarket shelves at the first signs of recession; at the venture capitalists who were meant to bankroll a parade of innovation but have come up far short; at the fraud-infested, boom-and-bust carbon market that has failed to cut emissions.

And, most of all, at the billionaires who were going to invent a new form of enlightened capitalism but decided, on second thoughts, that the old one was just too profitable to surrender. — Naomi Klein: the hypocrisy behind the big business climate change battle

In other words, artifice is tragically determining the direction the climate change agenda is taking at the moment.

Here’s what can be said unequivocally of what we face with land degradation – then the appropriate conclusions can be drawn given the following:

  • Less photosynthesis (or fewer things that photosynthesize), then less oxygen, more carbon in the atmosphere accompanied by a massive interruption of the water-carbon-nitrogen (i.e. – the biogeochemical) cycles
  • loss of the 2nd and 3rd largest carbon sinks on the Earth – terrestrial plants and soil – resulting in increased concentration of carbon absorbed by the oceans (the Earth’s largest carbon sink), making it acidic and hostile to life.

The dots need to be connected so our actions are properly guided — but it won’t happen magically. Engagement is the key.

Further Reading: