Attn, NYC Reasonoids: Ron Bailey on the "Human Footprint," Tues., Feb. 13—Tonight!

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Tonight Reason Science Correspondent Ronald Bailey will be debating in midtown Manhattan, courtesy of The New York Salon!

Details:

The Human Footprint—has civilization gone too far?
Tuesday February 13, 2007
7-8.30pm
Theresa Lang Center, The New School,
55 West 13th Street, 2nd Floor, New York, NY 10011

Advance tickets $5 from
The New School box office 212-229-5488
boxoffice@newschool.edu

Increasingly we are being warned about doomsday scenarios. Whether it is the depletion of fossil fuels or the rising water levels due to melting of the polar caps, the tenor of the discussion is alarmist. James Lovelock, author of Revenge of Gaia warns us of approaching Armageddon-like destruction if we continue to live the way we do and there are a host of commentators who deplore the idea of progress and development, suggesting that if China and India continue on the path that America and Europe pursued the end will be nigh.

From Hurricane Katrina to the 2004 Tsunami we are continually told by serious commentators that we are experiencing 'nature's revenge.' Human hubris is sited as reason for what were once seen as natural disasters that happened from time to time. We are told to switch off our lights, recycle our garbage and try not to have too damaging an impact and 'footprint' on the world.

Are we really facing such a calamity? What is the role of rational enquiry and science in the debate about the environment? Why does it seem like the debate is often infused with panic and urgency? Should we demand a more sober reflection or are we up against the clock? How is it that we have come to perceive ourselves as the biggest threat to our existence, rather than a solution provider and innovator?

Joining Ron in debate will be Corey Powell, executive editor of Discover magazine; Austin Williams, director of the Future Cities Project; and Martin I. Hoffert, Professor Emeritus of Physics and former Chair of the Department of Applied Science at New York University. The panel will be moderated by Alan Miller, director of The NY Salon.

For more info, go here.

NEXT: Why Does Thomas Paine Hate America?

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  1. I’d like to attend, but as a human virus, I am not allowed to fly.

  2. But no hint of political/sociological debacles?
    Geeez, we have an extensive history of civilizations rising and collapsing. Do they think it can’t happen to us?

  3. Name me one society that ever collapsed because of environmental degradation.

    Go ahead, just one.

  4. Are we really facing such a calamity?

    At current rates of consumption and waste production, um yeah.

    What is the role of rational enquiry and science in the debate about the environment?

    You mean the kind the Bush administration has fought tooth and nail since the day it was appointed?

    Why does it seem like the debate is often infused with panic and urgency?

    Because of the concept of thresholds. It’s not Henny Penny whining to point this out. We’ve got one planet to work with (for a while at least).

    Should we demand a more sober reflection or are we up against the clock?

    Sober reflection?!? Like the kind ExxonMobil pays for or the slow accumulation of nearly unanimous scientific wisdom? Pick one please.

    How is it that we have come to perceive ourselves as the biggest threat to our existence, rather than a solution provider and innovator?

    Hmmm I think a lot of it has to do with the global warming deniers who for so long had an equal place at the table despite their dwindling numbers and unseemly confilct of interest. Oh, and also the subsidies that have continued to flow to the non-innovating and less efficient industrial sectors. Hello corn-based (not sugarcane-based) ethanol.

    Can I go home early now?

  5. er “conflicts of interest”

  6. How is it that we have come to perceive ourselves as the biggest threat to our existence, rather than a solution provider and innovator?

    Because our techological development has advanced to the point that we could do ourselves and our planet real damage, which we couldn’t do before? We didn’t used to have nuclear arsenals, or enough industrial capacity to put meaningful amounts of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere.

    Because our scientific understanding has advanced to the point that we can appreciate the consequences of our actions?

  7. “James Lovelock, author of Revenge of Gaia warns us of approaching Armageddon-like destruction if we continue to live the way we do and there are a host of commentators who deplore the idea of progress and development, suggesting that if China and India continue on the path that America and Europe pursued the end will be nigh.”

    Unless these people have decided to stock up on black leather outfits festooned with metal spikes, shotguns and skills that are useful in the post-apocalyptic world (how to turn pig shit into energy) they can all blow me.

  8. According to my calendar, the 14th is a wednesday.

  9. I don’t know joe. If you remember it was only about 5.5 thousand years ago, or so, that civilization was wiped out by massive flooding because we were too gay or something. 🙂

  10. Learn to swim.

    P.S. I had a hallucination the other day where there were these huge tentacle vines that grew up out of the concrete and started picking up cars and smashing them into buildings and the voice said no more department of homeland security department of fight huge fucking carniverous plants.

  11. “How is it that we have come to perceive ourselves as the biggest threat to our existence, rather than a solution provider and innovator?”

    because that’s what we’ve always done.

    the nature of existence is sorrow; humans want to humanize this pain by giving it a face; being a weird, self-absorbed species, we carve our own face into the altar and call it god.

    in addition to other factors, of course, but humanity as its own destroyer – through sin, vice, or just a general lack of virtuous living – is an old, old tale.

  12. in addition to other factors, of course, but humanity as its own destroyer – through sin, vice, or just a general lack of virtuous living – is an old, old tale.

    Humanity has been it’s own destroyer because political power gives a people the illusion that they can cheat at survival.

  13. The problem with such events is that they attract the most frightening collection of lunatics that cannot by the love of gods see the truth, on one side. . . and Global Warming skeptics, on the other.

    Serioulsy, folks. Science is not about saying “Look at my computer model! We’re doomed!”. Trying to make a prediction out of what is a multivariable chaotic system is no better than guessing – and trying to establish by point of gun a policy based on such guesses is nothing short of criminal.

  14. dhex:

    “the nature of existence is sorrow; humans want to humanize this pain by giving it a face; being a weird, self-absorbed species, we carve our own face into the altar and call it god.”

    so true and beautifully expressed.

  15. I heard James Lovescock interview on the CBC not to long ago. Interesting perspective indeed.

  16. I have a hard time believing the nature of existence is sorrow with the delightful taste of a Toblerone bar dancing across my taste buds.

  17. Sober reflection?!? Like the kind ExxonMobil pays for or the slow accumulation of nearly unanimous scientific wisdom? Pick one please.

    Here are two:

    1. The song “Sober” by the rock band TOOL…

    2. The song “Reflection” also by the rock band TOOL

  18. lyrics to, well, everything as submitted to t.d.n
    Some Tool songs undergo slight lyrical variations in each performance; Maynard’s own typed versions are shown here, uncorrected, to provide you with a straight-from-the-source guide to what he has said / might say next time.

    Most of these transcriptions came straight from the Man’s computer. How he writes his lyrics/poetry and then translates that into music is up to him. Think of them as photographs; you don’t look exactly the same in every picture, but it is still you.

    now available:
    Official lyrics for “Wings for Marie”
    Official lyrics for “10,000 Days”
    Official lyrics for “The Pot”
    Official lyrics for “Rosetta Stoned”

    Posted lyrics to the new album are unofficial / not yet confirmed (except for songs listed above). It is sort of like the good old days of “Undertow”, when there were no official lyrics available for two years, and it was every word for himself.

    The redesign of this section of The Tool Page was done at lightning speed, and would not have been accomplished without the help of Systolic, Professor Pudding, awb, beLIEve, and newtnewrt from the Opinion forums.

  19. For those on this section of the tool page not currently in possession of the flesh of God I would suggest to read from the Deoxyribonucleic Hyperdimension

    deoxy.org

    concerning the emergence of a True White Brother, his Younger Brother, and Famous DMT Trips

    also

    Criminals In Action on Youtube

    trying to figure out how to hook up the black magic romancers with the acid rain dancers. I’m told it would be the most powerful alliance since NATO if we did that

    considering…

    fliers for public buses from boston to Washington DC

    sitting on the street watching the clouds come out of the Young Men’s Catholic Association educational facility

    Giving the CIA narcs that have been following me the finger

    communicating with a friend of mine currently doing time in the universal mind

    also would be nice to communicate with my friend currently doing time in the Corporate Hate Industrial Complex

  20. sorry fuzz, these aren’t the hipppies you’re looking for

    ;-P

  21. for those of you in Washington DC I would imagine that giving the middle finger to the police in public would be a very self gratifying experience

  22. This is a slightly edited copy of a comment I posted yesterday on a dead thread.

    Thirty years ago we were threatened, no, we were promised a coming ice age that would wipe us out. We were promised, like a hail of Biblical fire and brimstone, massive starvation and famine as the population bomb exploded. None of this happened. In fact, our lives are better, there is more abundance, and the planet is cleaner than it’s been in a long, long time.

    And now, with the fervor of a Pentecostal preacher at a tent revival, we are promised climate change so dramatic that it will alter everything there is about life as we know it. Until I get some valid explanations for the gross errors in past forecasts, I can’t take seriously the idea that the pretty people in Malibu are going to have to move up into the hills.

  23. tros, interesting site, is it yours?

  24. Human destruction of the planet is a serious and real issue, but unfortunately many of its proponents are unintentionally abetting it by being total fucking nutjobs. Although I do wonder if anyone was actually whacked out enough to blame the Tsunami on people (how the hell can we cause earthquakes?) or if that was just made up by the writer of the debate description to score points for the anti-environmental team.

    For those who actually do care about our earth but see some of the solutions proposed by environmentalists as too out there I strongly recommend reading about natural capitalism.

  25. Andy,

    Good call…
    You can read about Natural Capitalism here

    http://www.natcap.org/

    TWC

    You forget, or ignore, that the last warning resulted in some changes in people’s behavior and the beginning of the ecology movement. Ever wonder if that has anything to do with the cleaner environment?

    Things don’t get better automatically. They get better through human agency. That means people recognizing the issue and changing behavior, developing technology and solving the problem before it comes about. (Don’t read too much into that).

  26. MSM, There is no bright shiny line that anyone can point to and say, there it is, that’s when we started to clean things up.

    100 years ago we were shoveling tons of horseshit off the city streets every single day. That came with flies, filth, and disease. I submit that modern transportation methods are a big step up. Even the Model T was a vast improvement for both humans and the environment in which humans lived.

    That is just one item on a long line of evolutionary improvements to the environment, accidental or on purpose, that stretch back as far as you care to look, none of which have any connection to Rachel Carson’s wake up call.

  27. andy, your link is broken. 🙂

  28. I meant that many significant environmental improvements predate MSM’s citation of the origins of the ecology movement in the US.

  29. joe | February 8, 2007, 10:55am | #
    Name me one society that ever collapsed because of environmental degradation.

    Go ahead, just one.

    Easter Island – overpopulation for the food source coupled with climate change.

    Haiti – Now experiences deadly mudslides on a yearly basis due to deforestation.

    If you want to exclusively worry about global warming/cooling then it can be expanded extensively. Mayan Civilization died out due to drought in the same climatic optimum that allowed the growth of Viking lands in the 9-12th c. Then with the climatic shift towards cooling, Greenland is practically abandoned in the in the 13th c. and it makes for the expansion into the new world, particuarly in N.E. area of the current U.S., very difficult. This same global cooling trend established a northern climate that was unfavorable for grain production that contributed heavily to the irish potato famine 500 years later.

    If you want to count biological agents, the Black Death epidemics were due to humans living in dense population centers coupled with inadequate knowledge of pathenogenic routes via rats. Then of course there is the Aztec empire and Native North American tribal structures completely destroyed by smallpox.

  30. “Mayan Civilization died out due to drought in the same climatic optimum that allowed the growth of Viking lands in the 9-12th c.”

    there isn’t total agreement on what caused mayan high culture to disperse as it appeared to do, btw.

    (a good book on this particular facet is called “a forest of kings” – i forget the authors right now)

  31. I hesitate to use the word “liberal”, but it’s the only one that fits in this context:

    It’s a typical liberal view that suggests that all our problems can be solved by government intervention upon everyone’s lives.

    I know that’s not an original thought, but it seems to be one lost in the global warming debate. Richard Branson has offered a $25 million prize to the person that comes up with a way to reverse global warming. He hasn’t given a damn bit of thought to what might be the repercussions of any solution that is undertaken.

    Here’s an easy one: genetically modify algae to be able to thrive in any ecosystem. Any unforeseen consequences come with that?

    Is there a single “global warming” alarmist that has a solution that is actually productive, equitable, and non-harmful?

    Sorry for the rambling.

  32. Name me one society that ever collapsed because of environmental degradation.

    Didn’t the Indus valley civilization collapse in 8000 BC (very unsure of date) because of deforestation? IIRC, they were totally dependent on a large supply of wood to make mud-bricks, which they used to build everything. I bet they never saw Peak Wood coming.

  33. being a weird, self-absorbed species, we carve our own face into the altar and call it god.

    Or, did God carve his face into altars of flesh and call it us?

  34. “Thirty years ago we were threatened, no, we were promised a coming ice age that would wipe us out.”

    It’s truthy, but is is true?

    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2005/01/the-global-cooling-myth/

  35. 55 West 13th Street is not midtown…

  36. Don’t worry, the concensus of UFOlogists should be able to talk the extraterrestrials into helping us out with environment thingie.

    My money is on Erich Von Daniken getting the $25 millon prize.

    Besides, if we were in the “end times” why would they be visiting so much?

  37. OK fine, other than Easter Island, Haiti, the Mayans, and the Indus Valley – oh, and various Mesopotamian societies whose irrigation systems gradually salinated their fields – name me one society that has ever collapsed because of environmental degradation brought on by economic activity.

  38. Eggs and Bacon Smile | February 10, 2007, 2:29am | #
    I heard James Lovescock interview on the CBC not to long ago. Interesting perspective indeed.

    I’m sure it is interesting if you are in to that kind of thing. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

  39. OK fine, other than Easter Island, Haiti, the Mayans, and the Indus Valley – oh, and various Mesopotamian societies whose irrigation systems gradually salinated their fields – name me one society that has ever collapsed because of environmental degradation brought on by economic activity.

    Nice comeback, joe. 🙂

    Reminds me of a Monty Python skit….

  40. Until I get some valid explanations for the gross errors in past forecasts,

    Start with the fact that 30 years ago, the planet’s available number-crunching computer power could now fit into a single iPod. Science always progresses, and usually improves over time. We learn more every day.

  41. “Name me one society that ever collapsed because of environmental degradation.”

    The Sahara and Arabia areas used to be a lot more hospitable about 6,000+ years ago, until this happened.

    People were living there at the time, and presumably as a result they had to either move out or die, but AFAIK I don’t think we have a name for the “society” they would have been members of.

  42. I saw a report today that suggests that man-made global warming is but a small part of the overall climate change, and that cosmic radiation cycles are a much larger part.

    I also saw scientists who are heavily invested in promoting the man-made angle almost completely disregarding the cosmic radiation angle (although, in fairness, they are probably not representative of all climate scientists, but merely chosen for their dependability on giving a rebuttal).

  43. On the same front, for those who think its only Republicans who politicize science:

    In an interview with local NBC affiliate KGW-TV, Mr. Kulongoski, a Democrat, said he hopes to take away Mr. Taylor’s job title because his views do not mesh with the political opinions of most lawmakers in Oregon, including the governor.

    “He is Oregon State University’s climatologist. He is not the state of Oregon’s climatologist,” Mr. Kulongoski said. “I just think there has to be somebody that says, ‘This is the state position on this.’ ”

    Full story here.

  44. Screw Valentine’s Day!?

    Better yet, review this helpful list if you have company for Valentine’s Day.

  45. “Or, did God carve his face into altars of flesh and call it us?”

    in that case god has many faces.

    the first scenario seems more likely.

  46. dhex,
    If, as in your scenario, we had carved our own image into the altar and called it God, then God would still have many faces. Either way gives the same results.

  47. The punch line from Stevo’s article:

    The model suggests that land use practices of humans who lived in and cultivated the Sahara, were not significant causes of the desertification.

    So we can scratch that one off the list, right, since these modern day climate models are practically infallible.

  48. “If, as in your scenario, we had carved our own image into the altar and called it God, then God would still have many faces. Either way gives the same results.”

    exactly.

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