Tuesday, 6 February 2018

The New, The Unknown and The Counter-Intuitive

#SGSCULTURE @SalzburgGlobal 
What will our planet look like in 2050 or 2100? 
Who or what will control our lives? 
What will it mean to be human?
In times characterised by complexity, disruption and unprecedented speed of change, uncertainty about the future is staring us in the face; with a bold smile displaying its teeth. It is 'The New' looking at us!. 

'The New', our big, common, they-did-it Future stretches our imagination; possibly, to the breaking point.  Irritation! They! We!

In past times, and for many people still today, Future, with capital "F", was the march towards "About-the-Same". Natural disasters and war may disrupt its gentle pace. The Future did not seem to be something 'new & made'; expectations and plans belong to the private sphere, the 'little future'. Instead, 'the Future' is something to be endured when things turn out badly. Otherwise 'the Future' was perceived as a known reference frame for embedding the 'little futures'. Yet, what to do when this frame changes, wobbles and gets uncertain? Disaster looms! 

Through aeons, a 'little new' percolated slowly into the societies, once a while. It came in tiny drips of innovation, in small numbers of new things, and was made by some strange people, only.   Daily practice and experiences gently chewed the 'little new', and persecuting the innovator did the rest, when needed. Hence, neither the size of the 'little new' nor its approach velocity could challenge the status quo. During the 20th Century, this century-lasting pattern got modulated. The collective experiences of people wobbled. The aeon-old common experience of the "Nihil sub sole novum" (nothing new under the sun) faded. The 'culture of growth' [1], which had matured in Europe since the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, had broken into the daily drain-drain of people. Initially, it offered just "more of About-the-Same" [2]. Now, after the turn of the 20th Century, even this quite modern pattern of experiences is going out of the picture [3].  'The Unknown' comes on the stage. Even worth, it consolidates on stage irritatingly emerging from within our ongoing plays. The size of change to come and its velocity of approach challenge the conventional actors, profoundly. 

Only some people relish 'The Unknown'. The art-of-the-new-Possible, with capital "P" gives 'The Unknown' a deep sensual pleasure.  For many, however, 'The Unknown' means insecurity, loss of competences, altered divisions of societies, lost sense! Uncertainty makes it so much harder to embrace the own future with a little self-confidence.
meaning and excitement to their lives.  When facing it then the explorer's spirits, the innovator's minds, or the researcher's souls vibrate with passion. Giving sense to their lives.

The shock of change can paralyse rather than energise. Making sense of 'The Unknown' lying ahead, looming around will become ever more demanding. Science reaches further out, deep into 'The Counter-Intuitive'; as Quantum-Technology, Earth System Sciences, Artificial Intelligence, Synthetic Biology and Big Data will transform daily life. Where are the 'guides to these galaxies?' Is '42' still the right answer? Will my  towel be sufficient? Who moved the restaurant(s) at the end of the universe(s)? [**]

Artists, cultural practitioners, inventors and scientists push the boundaries of the human imagination. Together they facilitate the making of 'The New'. Jointly they move beyond the familiar and transcend the borders towards the future. To be curious about what is new and emergent that is part of their lives. Driven by their imagination, they invest collaboratively into path-changing discoveries, different fates of our planet, and charting pathways to liveable futures! 'The New', 'The Unknown', and 'The Counter-Intuitive', they all face this broad, vigorous smile of 'The Imaginator': Surrender!

[*] This post is 'modulating' the scene setter for the Salzburg Global Seminar #593 (20-25 February 2018). Borrowing a notion from music: this post may be seen as a variation of the theme of the seminar #593, "The shock of the New: Arts, Technology and Making Sense of the Future." Due to this drafting process the text contains unmarked sections that are copied from the description of the seminar. The reader is invited to compare the variations and the original tune. 

[**] The questions refer to different plots in "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" by Douglas Adams.

[1] Mokyr, J. (2016). A Culture of Growth - The Origins of the Modern Economy. Princton: Princton University Press.

[2] Sachs, W. (1990). On the Archaeology of the Development Idea. Interculture 23(4):1-37.

[3] Ellis, E.C: (2013). Used Planet: A global history. PNAS 110(20):7978-7985.

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

A hybrid Earth - Art, Culture & Engineers

How to handle the shock of the new? 
How do arts, technology and making sense of the future link?
Four line of thoughts #SGSCULTURE, @SalzburgGlobal.

The author at Senaatintori
 Helsinki (Finland)
Nowadays, people are altering the Earth at an accelerating pace. A new, disrupted world is in the making; research & supply-chains ahead, politics lagging behind.
Since aeons, people have built on Earth their 'sociocultural-ecological niche' through purposefully engineering their environments to sustain their existence and reproduction. Starting from the fringes, in deep time, now human activity substantially shapes the dynamics of Earth. People's activities mark the globe at least since the industrial revolution. Taking this perspective I like to argue that, since the onset of agriculture in the Neolithic age, 'design and engineering' has been an all-purpose cultural activity of people to shape their 'sociocultural-ecological niches' to maintain their well-being, mutual care, and reproduction.

Tell the people, they are marvellous niche-builders!

What people like to happen, what they fear and what they cherish, that is at the core of their cultures. It gets pictured in their visual arts and other means to express feeling, perceiving and sense-making. Hence, culture and arts describes the sociocultural-ecological niches of our species, in history, today and as vision of the future.

The history of altering Earth exhibit complex social and cultural processes. For example, Denevan [1992, 2011] illustrates what happened in the Americas, Purdy [2015] describes the USA, Fressoz [2012] studies France, and Chew and Sarabia [2016] or Kowarsch [2016] describe an extended historical period or the philosophical context, respectively.

Sculpture "Emiigrants on Fish" - Carl Milles,
Milles Garden - Stockholm (Sweden)

People are marvellously ingenious, also when altering the Earth. To that end they deploy three dominant traits of our species. First, all people - even the artists - seem to be engineers or designer who are determined to carve out a sociocultural-ecological niche from Earth. Second, people 'consist of abstract information, including the distinctive ideas, theories, intentions, feelings and other states of mind that characterize' them and shapes their thoughtful insights [Deutsch, 2011, p.130]. Third, whatever people engineer (or design) that they do conceive through mutual sharing of insights into sense-making. Hence, humankind's multiple cultures inevitably lead to various 'particularly engineered systems for producing, distributing and consuming goods and services'. In making these systems, people face choices and constraints; that may take physical or mental form. 

The individual and collective responses to the global and self-inflicted altering of Earth are various. They may be visionary, confident, or concerned. However, they also include 'cognitive dissonance', or manifest as doomsday scenarios and denial of change. Addressing people's concerns appropriately through action, including politics, require shaping public and individual discourses. Discourse is a prerequisite for handling 'weird(ing) power relations enlivened by times of radical uncertainty' [Sweeney, 2014, p. 10], hence, doing politics. The discourse should be non-technical, non-expert. Rather, they must relate to people's preferences and world-views. Hence, they have to have a cultural meaning and have to relate to collective sense-making.

At very first view, people express their preferences and world-views through their lifestyles. However, the genuine societal expression of preferences and world-views is the particular engineering / design (and 'modus operandi') of the production systems and consumption patterns that support people in maintaining their lifestyles. The 'engineering/design and operation of production systems and consumption patterns' in turn shape the intersection of societies with the biotic and abiotic environments of Earth. Whatever shape these intersections may take given the scientific-technical means and economic resources, essential for the respective design-decision will be people's world-views, their preference regarding their lifestyles, and their values.
People's preferences and values are shaped by and expressed through art, for example, narratives, that is here, tales about the purpose of actions and views about 'what is right'. Nowadays, as global change is intentional and massive, the arts shall capture the underpinning social and cultural features, such as preferences of people, their world-views, and reflect general purpose. Furthermore, the arts should extend the discussions between specialists beyond the respective realms of professional competence and influence the sense-making of how to design production systems and consumption patterns.

We, the Terra-Former.

What's the New?
Examples to illustrate the perspective of the central role of engineering/design in our cultures are many.

Civil engineering builds visible intersections of the Earth and (economic) activities of people, for example, dredging a waterway, building a bridge or constructing a hydroelectric power plant and other more subtle changes of Earth's geomorphology.

A less visible although powerful intersection of the Earth and (economic) activities of people are the various production systems and consumption patterns, which couple through fluxes of matter and energy.

Urban dwellings may serve as a further example; they constitute a visible intersection with the biogeosphere, and massive fluxes of energy and matter couple them to the Earth. For example, cities are receiving drinking water and ejecting wastewater, receiving electric power or fuels and ejecting heat, receiving food and ejecting manufactured goods that at the end of their life-cycle are discarded or recycled elsewhere on the globe.

An effective terra-engineering, that is 'design at a planetary scale', is taking place on Earth to sustain a human population of 9 to 11 Billion people by the end of the century. That's the New!

Bingo, Geo-Bio-Noosphere!

Obviously, culture and arts are parts of the Earth.
But, how does culture, arts relate to Earth?
To keep it simple, the Earth is composed of three spheres, a 'geosphere' of abiotic features, a 'biosphere' of biotic features, and a 'noosphere' of cognitive features. The meaning of notions 'geosphere' and 'biosphere' seem evident. To match to these two notions, what is meant by 'noosphere' needs re-focussing compared to its habitual (metaphysical) meaning.
The notions 'biosphere' and 'geosphere' are built in a similar manner. On one side they refer to physical features of the Earth, respectively biotic and abiotic objects that alter in time and space. On the other side, they refer to processes that govern the interaction of these physical features (objects) in space and time. To relate culture and arts to 'biosphere' and 'geosphere', the notion 'noosphere' should be re-coined referring also to particular 'physical features' (objects) and 'processes'.

The 'physical features' of the 'noosphere' are the artefacts that people make, not limited to but including 'engineered/designed systems for production and consumption'. The 'processes' in the 'noosphere' are the thoughtful insights of people about how to design, use and deploy these artefacts. Obviously, culture and arts are part of these thoughtful insights. Hence, the re-coined notion noosphere refers to physical features (artefacts, engineered systems) and processes (the intentional use of these artefacts).

The notions 'biosphere', 'geosphere' and 'noosphere' describe Earth as being composed of physical features and processes that govern interactions. Culture and arts are part of these processes. Consequently, a description of the Earth deems possible in which culture and arts are integral parts; 'a kind of hybrid Earth, of nature injected with human will, however responsible or irresponsible that will may have exercised' [Hamilton and Grinevald, 2015, p.68].

The Culture of “Ingenieurskunst" **

How does culture and arts relate to the engineering/design
of production systems and consumption patterns?
The engineering/design of production systems and consumption patterns happens in a double framework. The first framework is set by the scientific-technological means, which are deployed within the available economic resources. The second framework is set by the "narratives" about what an engineered/designed system/pattern shall deliver.

The construction and operation of any 'engineered / designed system / pattern' links people's activities to the Earth, either in a direct physical manner or through fluxes of energy and matter, or through both. The 'engineering / design
narrative' describes people's sense-making of their sociocultural-ecological niche. Hence, the engineered / designed system, as well as the particular operation procedures for its use, depend on natural and technical constraints, on economic means, and on societal choices.

For example, the design of the high-water spillway of a hydroelectric power plant applies safety rules and the laws of hydrodynamics. The retention of water in the lake behind the dam is managed in function of the hydrological regimes, the intended use of water downstream of the dam, and the needs of the society for electrical power. The design and operation of an engineered / designed system in is about the appropriation of resources, that is value-driven societal choices to allocate opportunities.

Summarizing, the engineering / design of the intersections of people's activities and the Earth is much more than science, technology and economy. The intersections are as much a reflection of our value systems, cultural choices, lifestyles, virtues and good courses of action. It is in addressing these matters of sense-making that cultures and arts play their role as essential cognitive features of our species.

* The essay is a contribution to the Salzburg Global Seminar (593) The Shock of the New: Arts, Technology and Making Sense of the Future; 20-25 February 2018; #SGSCULTURE.  The essay is derived from reflections in my paper Ideal-Type Narratives for Engineering a Human NicheGeosciences 2017,7(1), 18; doi:10.3390/geosciences7010018. Copyright / pictures: The author.

** The notion of 'engineering' is referred to in French and German as 'genie civil' and 'Ingenieurskunst', respectively. Rather than the English 'engineering', the corresponding French or German notions historically connote a more substantial concept,  'the ingenious civil' or 'the arts of engineering', respectively. Hence, both notions refer to the design and operation of purposely built and often larger-scale environments of artefacts.

Publications that were used to write this post:.

Allenby, B. R.; Sarewitz, D. The techno-human condition; The MIT Press: Cambridge, USA 2011.
Amundsen, H.; Berglund, F.; Westskog, H. Overcoming barriers to climate change adaptation—a question of multilevel governance? Environment and Planning C: Government and Policy 2010, 28, 276–289, doi:10.1068/c0941.
Anshelm, J.; Hansson, A. Battling Promethean dreams and Trojan horses: Revealing the critical discourses of geoengineering. Energy Research & Social Science 2014, 2, 135–144, doi:10.1016/j.erss.2014.04.001.
Banerjee, B. The Limitations of Geoengineering Governance In A World of Uncertainty. Stanford Journal of Law Science Policy 2011, 240, 15–36, http://www.stanford.edu/group/sjlsp/cgi-bin/orange_web/users_images/pdfs/61_Banerjee%20FInal.pdf (accessed 10 Januray 2017).
Barnosky, A. D.; Hadly, E. A.; Bascompte, J.; Berlow, E. L.; Brown, J. H.; Fortelius, M.; Getz, W. M.; Harte, J.; Hastings, A.; Marquet, P. A.; Martinez, N. D.; Mooers, A.; Roopnarine, P.; Vermeij, G.; Williams, J. W.; Gillespie, R.; Kitzes, J.; Marshall, C.; Matzke, N.; Mindell, D. P.; Revilla, E.; Smith, A. B. Approaching a state shift in Earth's biosphere. Nature 2012, 486, 52–58, doi:10.1038/nature11018.
Barnosky, A. D.; Ehrlich, P. R.; Hadly, E. A. Avoiding collapse: Grand challenges for science and society to solve by 2050. Elementa: Science of the Anthropocene 2016, 4, 94, doi:10.12952/journal.elementa.000094.
Barry, A.; Maslin, M. The politics of the Anthropocene: a dialogue. Geo: Geography and Environment 2016, 3, e00022, doi:10.1002/geo2.22.
Biermann, F. “Earth system governance” as a crosscutting theme of global change research. Global Environmental Change 2007, 17, 326–337, doi:10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2006.11.010.
Biermann, F. The Anthropocene: A governance perspective. The Anthropocene Review 2014, 1, 57–61, doi:10.1177/2053019613516289.
Bohle, M. Handling of Human-Geosphere Intersections. Geosciences 2016, 6, 3, doi: 10.3390/geosciences6010003
Bonneuil, C.; Fressoz, J.-B. L’événement Anthropocène - La terre, l’histoire et nous; Le Seuil: Paris, France, 2013.
Braje, T. J.; Erlandson, J. M. Looking forward, looking back: Humans, anthropogenic change, and the Anthropocene. Anthropocene 2013, 4, 116–121, doi:10.1016/j.ancene.2014.05.002.
Brown, A. Just Enough: lessons in living green from traditional Japan; Tuttle Publishing, Tokyo, Japon, 2012.
Brown, A. G.; Tooth, S.; Bullard, J. E.; Thomas, D. S. G.; Chiverrell, R. C.; Plater, A. J.; Murton, J.; Thorndycraft, V. R.; Tarolli, P.; Rose, J.; Wainwright, J.; Downs, P.; Aalto, R. The Geomorphology of the Anthropocene: Emergence, status and implications. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms 2016, 42, 71-90, doi:10.1002/esp.3943.
Bugliarello, G. Ideal of civil engineering. Journal of Professional Issues in Engineering Education and Practice 1994, 120, 290–294, http://www.scopus.com/scopus/inward/record.url?eid=2-s2.0-0028467239&partnerID=40&rel=R7.0.0.
Cairney, P. The Politics of Evidence-Based Policy Making; Palgrave Macmillan UK: London, 2016.
Chakrabarty, D. The Anthropocene and the convergence of histories. In The Anthropcene and the Environmental Crisis; Hamilton, C.; Bonneuil, C.; Gemenne, F., Eds.; Routledge: Abingdon, USA, 2015; pp. 32–43.
Chew, S.; Sarabia, D. Nature–Culture Relations: Early Globalization, Climate Changes, and System Crisis. Sustainability 2016, 8, 78, doi:10.3390/su8010078
Chopra, A.; Lineweaver, C. H. The Case for a Gaian Bottleneck: The Biology of Habitability. Astrobiology 2016, 16, 7–22, doi:10.1089/ast.2015.1387.
Crona, B.; Wutich, A.; Brewis, A.; Gartin, M. Perceptions of climate change: Linking local and global perceptions through a cultural knowledge approach. Climatic Change 2013, 119, 519–531, doi:10.1007/s10584-013-0708-5.
Dalby, S. Framing the Anthropocene: The good, the bad and the ugly. The Anthropocene Review 2015, 3, 1–19, doi:10.1177/2053019615618681.
Denevan, W. M. The Pristine Myth: The Landscape of the Americas in 1492. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 1992, 82, 369–385, doi:10.1111/j.1467-8306.1992.tb01965.x..
Denevan, W. M. The Pristine Myth: Revisited. Geographical Review 2011, 101, 576–591, doi:10.1111/j.1931-0846.2011.00118.x.
Deutsch, D. The Beginning of Infinity; Alan Lane Pinguin: London, UK, 2011.
Dietz, S.; Groon, B.; Pizer, W. A. Weighing the cost and benefits of climate change to our children. Future of Children 2016, 26, 133–155, http://www.jstor.org/stable/43755234.
Egré, D.; Milewski, J. C. The diversity of hydropower projects. Energy Policy 2002, 30, 1225–1230, doi:10.1016/S0301-4215(02)00083-6.
Ehrlich, P. R.; Kareiva, P. M.; Daily, G. C. Securing natural capital and expanding equity to re-scale civilization. Nature 2012, 486, 68–73, doi:10.1038/nature11157.
Ellis, E. C. The Planet of No Return Human Resilience on an Artificial Earth. The Breakthrough Institute 2011, 2, 37–44.
Ellis, E. C. Anthropogenic transformation of the terrestrial biosphere. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences 2011, 369, 1010–1035, doi:10.1098/rsta.2010.0331.
Ellis, E. C.; Kaplan, J. O.; Fuller, D. Q.; Vavrus, S.; Klein Goldewijk, K.; Verburg, P. H. Used planet: A global history. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 2013, 110, 7978–7985, doi:10.1073/pnas.1217241110.
Ellis, M. A.; Trachtenberg, Z. Which Anthropocene is it to be? Beyond geology to a moral and public discourse. Earth’s Future 2014, 2, 122-125, doi:10.1002/2013EF000191.
Ellis, E. C. Ecology in an anthropogenic biosphere. Ecological Monographs 2015, 85, 287–331, doi:10.1890/14-2274.1
Ellis, E. C.; Richerson, P. J.; Mesoudi, A.; Svenning, J.-C.; Odling-Smee, J.; Burnside, W. R. Evolving the human niche. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 2016, 113, E4436–E4436, doi:10.1073/pnas.1609425113.
Foley, S. F.; Gronenborn, D.; Andreae, M. O.; Kadereit, J. W.; Esper, J.; Scholz, D.; Pöschl, U.; Jacob, D. E.; Schöne, B. R.; Schreg, R.; Vött, A.; Jordan, D.; Lelieveld, J.; Weller, C. G.; Alt, K. W.; Gaudzinski-Windheuser, S.; Bruhn, K.-C. C.; Tost, H.; Sirocko, F.; Crutzen, P. J. The Palaeoanthropocene – The beginnings of anthropogenic environmental change. Anthropocene 2013, 3, 83–88, doi:10.1016/j.ancene.2013.11.002.
Fressoz, J.-B. L’Apocalypse joyeuse - Une histoire du risque technologique; Le Seuil, Paris, France, 2012
Fu, B.; Wang, Y. K.; Xu, P.; Yan, K.; Li, M. Value of ecosystem hydropower service and its impact on the payment for ecosystem services. Science of the Total Environment 2014, 472, 338–346, doi:10.1016/j.scitotenv.2013.11.015.
Fuentes, A. The Extended Evolutionary Synthesis, Ethnography, and the Human Niche: Toward an Integrated Anthropology. Current Anthropology 2016, 57, S000–S000, doi:10.1086/685684.
Hamilton, C.; Bonneuil, Ch.; Gemenne F. The Anthropocene and the Global Environmental Crisis: Rethinking modernity in a new Epoch; Routledge: London, UK, 2015.
Hamilton, C.; Grinevald J. Was the Anthropocene anticipated? 2015, Anthropocene Review 2, 59-72, doi: 10.1177/2053019614567155.
Hamilton, C. Human destiny in the Anthropocene. In The Anthropocene and the Environmental Crisis; Hamilton, C.; Bonneuil, C.; Gemenne, F., Eds.; Routledge: Abingdon, USA, 2015; pp. 32–43.
Hamilton, C. The Theodicy of the “Good Anthropocene.” Environmental Humanities 2015, 7, 233–238,. doi:10.1215/22011919-3616434.
Head, B. W.; Alford, J. Wicked Problems: Implications for Public Policy and Management. Administration & Society 2015, 47, 711–739, doi:10.1177/0095399713481601.
Helbing, D. Globally networked risks and how to respond. Nature 2013, 497, 51–59, doi:10.1038/nature12047
Hutchings, J. A.; Stenseth, N. C. Communication of Science Advice to Government. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 2016, 31, 7-11, doi:10.1016/j.tree.2015.10.008.
Koch, F. H. Hydropower—the politics of water and energy: Introduction and overview. Energy Policy 2002, 30, 1207–1213, doi:10.1016/S0301-4215(02)00081-2.
Jones, N. A.; Ross, H.; Lynam, T.; Perez, P.; Leitch, A. Mental Model: An Interdisciplinary Synthesis of Theory and Methods. Ecology and Society 2011, 16, 46–46, http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol16/iss1/art46/.
Kleinhans, M. G.; Buskes, C. J. J.; de Regt, H. W. Philosophy of Earth Science. In Philosophies of the Sciences; Wiley-Blackwell: Oxford, UK, 2010; pp. 213–236, doi:10.1002/9781444315578.ch9.
Kowarsch, M. A Pragmatist Orientation for the Social Sciences in Climate Policy; Boston Studies in the Philosophy and History of Science; Springer International Publishing: Switzerland 2016; Vol. 323.
Krauss, W. Anthropology in the Anthropocene : sustainable development, climate change and interdisciplinary research. In Grounding Global Climate change. Contributions from the Social and Cultural Sciences.; Springer, 2015; pp. 59–76, doi:10.1007/978-94-017-9322-3.
Kvellestad Isaksen, K. Where does nature end and culture begin ?, http://cas.oslo.no/full-width-article/where-does-nature-end-and-culture-begin-article1830-1082.html (accessed 10 January 2017)
Landes, D. S. The Unbound Prometheus; Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, UK 2003.
Langmuir, C.; Broecker, W. How to build a habitable planet; Princton University Press, 2012.
Latour, B. Face à Gaia Huit conférences sur le Nouveau Régime Climatique; Editions La Découverte: Paris, France 2015.
Latour, B. Telling Friends from Foes in the Time of the Anthropocene. Thinking the Anthropocene, Paris, 14-15 November 2013 2013, 12, http://www.bruno-latour.fr/sites/default/files/131-FRIENDS-FOES.pdf (accessed 10 Januray 2017).
Lewis, S. L.; Maslin, M. A. Defining the Anthropocene. Nature 2015, 519, 171–180, doi: 10.1038/nature14258
Loevbrand, E.; Beck, S.; Chilvers, J.; Forsyth, T.; Hedrén, J.; Hulme, M.; Lidskog, R.; Vasileiadou, E. Who speaks for the future of Earth? How critical social science can extend the conversation on the Anthropocene. Global Environmental Change 2015, 32, 211–218, doi 10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2015.03.012 .
Monastersky, R. Anthropocene: The human age. Nature 2015, 519, 144–147, doi:10.1038/519144a.
Moore, A. Anthropocene anthropology: reconceptualizing contemporary global change. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 2016, 22, 27–46, doi:10.1111/1467-9655.12332.
Morton, O. The Planet Remade - How Geoengineering could Change the World; Princton University Press: Princeton, USA, 2015.
Pagel, M. Wired for Culture Origins of the Human Social Mind; W.W. Norton & Company New York, USA, 2012.
Phillips, J. Storytelling in Earth sciences: The eight basic plots. Earth-Science Reviews 2012, 115, 153–162, doi:10.1016/j.earscirev.2012.09.005.
Pollitt, C. Debate: Climate change—the ultimate wicked issue. Public Money & Management 2016, 36, 78–80, doi:10.1080/09540962.2016.1118925.
Purdy, J. After Nature A Politics for the Anthropocene; Havard University Press, USA 2015.
Rayner, S.; Heyward, C.; Kruger, T.; Pidgeon, N.; Redgwell, C.; Savulescu, J. The Oxford Principles. Climatic Change 2013, 121, 499–512, doi:10.1007/s10584-012-0675-2.
Rickards, L. A. Metaphor and the Anthropocene: Presenting Humans as a Geological Force. Geographical Research 2015, 53, 280–287, doi:10.1111/1745-5871.12128.
Sayre, N. F. The Politics of the Anthropogenic. Annual Review of Anthropology 2012, 41, 57–70, doi:10.1146/annurev-anthro-092611-145846.
Schmidt, J.J. Historicising the Hydrological Cycle. Water Alternatives 2014, 7, 220-234.
Schmidt, J. J.; Brown, P. G.; Orr, C. J. Ethics in the Anthropocene: A research agenda. The Anthropocene Review 2016, 3, 188–200, doi:10.1177/2053019616662052.
Schwägerl, C. The Anthropocene - The human era and how it shapes our planet; Synergetic Press: London, UK, 2014.
Sternberg, R. Hydropower: Dimensions of social and environmental coexistence. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews 2008, 12, 1588–1621, doi:10.1016/j.rser.2007.01.027.Steffen, W.; Grinevald, J.; Crutzen, P.; McNeill, J. The Anthropocene: conceptual and historical perspectives. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences 2011, 369, 842–867, doi:10.1098/rsta.2010.0327.
Sweeney, J. A. Command-and-control: Alternative futures of geoengineering in an age of global weirding. Futures 2014, 57, 1–13, doi:10.1016/j.futures.2013.12.005.
Tattersal, I. Masters of the Planet: the search for our human origins; Palgrave Macmillian, New York, USA, 2012.
Veland, S.; Lynch, A. H. Scaling the Anthropocene: How the stories we tell matter. Geoforum 2016, 72, 1–5, doi:10.1016/j.geoforum.2016.03.006.
Viollet, P.-L. L’hydraulique dans les civilisations anciennes: 5000ans d’histoire; Presses Ponts et Chausssées, 2000.
Waters, C. N.; Zalasiewicz, J.; Summerhayes, C.; Barnosky, A. D.; Poirier, C.; Galuszka, A.; Cearreta, A.; Edgeworth, M.; Ellis, E. C.; Ellis, M. A.; Jeandel, C.; Leinfelder, R.; McNeill, J. R.; Richter, D. d.; Steffen, W.; Syvitski, J. P. M.; Vidas, D.; Wagreich, M.; Williams, M.; Zhisheng, A.; Grinevald, J.; Odada, E.; Oreskes, N.; Wolfe, A. P. The Anthropocene is functionally and stratigraphically distinct from the Holocene. Science 2016, 351 (6269), doi:10.1126/science.aad2622.
Wilson, E. O. Half-Earth -our planet’s fight for life; Liveright Publishing Corporation, 2016.
Zalasiewicz, J.; Waters, C. N.; Williams, M.; Barnosky, A. D.; Cearreta, A.; Crutzen, P.; Ellis, E. C.; Ellis, M. A.; Fairchild, I. J.; Grinevald, J.; Haff, P. K.; Hajdas, I.; Leinfelder, R.; McNeill, J.; Odada, E. O.; Poirier, C.; Richter, D.; Steffen, W.; Summerhayes, C.; Syvitski, J. P. M.; Vidas, D.; Wagreich, M.; Wing, S. L.; Wolfe, A. P.; An, Z.; Oreskes, N. When did the Anthropocene begin? A mid-twentieth century boundary level is stratigraphically optimal. Quaternary International 2015, doi:10.1016/j.quaint.2014.11.045.
Zalasiewicz, J.; Williams, M.; Waters, C. N.; Barnosky, A. D.; Palmesino, J.; Ro nnskog, A.-S.; Edgeworth, M.; Neal, C.; Cearreta, A.; Ellis, E. C.; Grinevald, J.; Haff, P.; Ivar do Sul, J. A.; Jeandel, C.; Leinfelder, R.; McNeill, J. R.; Odada, E.; Oreskes, N.; Price, S. J.; Revkin, A.; Steffen, W.; Summerhayes, C.; Vidas, D.; Wing, S.; Wolfe, A. P. Scale and diversity of the physical technosphere: A geological perspective. The Anthropocene Review 2016, 10.1177/2053019616677743 (accessed 10 Januray 2017).

Thursday, 11 January 2018

Speculating? Marine Heavens found on a Snowball Earth?

Time has passed, admittedly, since the Proterozoic eon - meaning the "eon of early life" - had reached its last phase 635 Million years ago. The continents were barren land [1] under an oxygen rich atmosphere, dusty and reddish since more than a billion years. But for the very first time multicellular, mostly sessile marine organisms had emerged, populating the Ediacaran seas [2]. They were descendants of the lucky survivors of global glaciation during the preceding geological era. Since the Ediacarian the global ocean stayed open and is prospering with life. However sea-life flourished since billion of years. Stromatolites populated freshwater of inland seas and coastal marine environments long time ago and still today. Different varieties of chlorophyta (green algae), bacteria and other unicellular marine algae, Acritarchs, prospered in the Proterozoic eon and were preserved as micro-fossil in marine sediments [3]. Many of these species were living on sulphur chemistry in an oxygen-poor sea through the billion years of the Proterozoic eon, including too a period that geologist like to call the "boring billion" [4], although certainly it was full of unknown adventures of evolution of life. 

The Neoproterozoic era - meaning "recent era of early life" - was a dramatic time [5]. Twice Earth was ice-covered and was looking more like a ball of slush or snow. Twice Earth was sweating in run-away greenhouse grilling the barren land. Life in the sea went through big swings.

Carbon isotope records in carbonate rocks and Neoproterozoic glacial deposits found in Namibia suggest that biological productivity in the surface ocean collapsed for millions of years. Thus life faced a dramatic bottleneck after nearly three billion years of evolution of multiple forms using either chemical process (chemotrophic) or light (phototrophic) as source of energy. Geological findings show that marine ice extended from the Poles to the Equator at least twice during the Neoproterozoic era.

It is a teasing question whether open water was found along the Equator during that periods. How would phototrophic life survive when the entire planet, land and seas, are covered by ice? The kilometre-thick layer of ice of the Neoproterozoic ice-age made Earth looking like Jupiter's icy moon Europa. "Snowball Earth" looked far different from the blue ball that fascinated so much the first astronauts. However the global ocean kept active under the global ice cover. Survival of phototrophic life in a Snowball Earth climate possibly depended, as outcome of research [*] can be interpreted, on the ocean circulation and mixing processes that kept local patches of water open and thus created "marine heavens" in which phototrophic life could survive. 

Ocean circulation and mixing processes set the melting and freezing rates of the "marine glaciers" today and in the Neoproterozoic era; the same physics apply. The melting and freezing rates determine ice-extend and the local ice thickness. Modern computer models of ocean circulation and ice-dynamics can simulate the physical behaviour of the global ocean of "Snowball Earth" and addressing the question where to look for patches of open water for survival of phototrophic species.

The ocean of "Snowball Earth" was not freezing to the bottom. Salinity of seawater, high pressure and geothermal heat-flux from the bottom prevented that. The ocean is insulated at the surface from atmospheric forcing by the thick ice cover. This ice-cover also is a very good thermal isolator preventing heat loss from the ocean. These features make up the very particular ocean dynamics of "Snowball Earth". Water flows are driven by heat-flux from the sea-bottom and freezing at the surface. That is limiting a vertical stratification of the water column. Today wind, radiation of the sun and evaporation drive the ocean currents from the surface and create a stable stratification of the water column. Geothermal heat-flux from the sea-bottom has not stopped, but its impact on the ocean dynamics is much less than the forces acting at the surface.

A recent study [*], modelling dynamics of the Neoproterozoic ocean, highlights the processes that could maintain spots of open water (or thin ice) that phototrophic forms of life need for survival at the ice-margin. Today marine life prospers at the margin of sea-ice because of the particular dynamics of ice water interactions. Likewise life dwells at the bottom of sea-ice as long as some light penetrates through the ice. It is a teasing hypotheses that similar "marine heavens" were found in the ice-covered Neoproterozoic ocean.

The Neoproterozoic ocean of "Snowball Earth" is isolated at the surface by a kilometre-thick ice-layer. This layer cuts off effectively wind, solar radiation, evaporation and radiation losses. Water freezing at the bottom of the "marine glaciers" and the heating of water at the sea bottom are the dominating processes, which drive water flows. Vertical convective mixing occurs. Water gets warmed at the sea-bottom by geothermal heat and rises towards the surface. Salt is leaking out of the water freezing to ice at the bottom of the marine glaciers. Adding salt to the cooled water is making it heavier so that it sinks towards the bottom. Therefore the ice-covered Neoproterozoic ocean is less stratified and properties of water, such as salinity vary with latitude. Lateral differences are maintained by the Coriolis-force [6] and related currents. Thus, in the Neoproterozoic ocean, close to the equator warmer and less-salty water rises to the surface, moving poleward and is sinking down again when cooled and enriched in salt-content. Similar overturning circulation cells are found in modern oceans but away from the equatorial zone.

The ocean temperature, salinity and density of Neoproterozoic ocean was fairly uniform in the vertical direction but showed lateral differences. These lateral differences of density sustained, because of the rotation of earth, jet-currents along the Equator. These currents were unstable and were shedding off eddies. These eddies transported warm water away from the Equator to the ice-margin. There the water was melting ice, was cooled, partly frozen to the ice, partly enriched in salt so that it sunk downward. A compensating upward flow of warm water occurred at the Equator to close the circulation cell. Ridges at the sea-bottom or continental margins brought the source of heat closer to the surface and were interacting with the equatorial jet-currents. This interaction caused local jets, eddies, coastal up-welling and down-welling as well as convective mixing . The weak stratification made up-welling and down-welling far easier to happen than today in our well stratified ocean. Thus "Snowball Earth" ocean was not a stagnant pool of cold water, it was highly dynamic; at least to the eye of the oceanographer.

from [*]: Temperature at 1,200 m depth (colour scale), areas of enhanced geothermal heating (black contour lines) and land masses (white areas). b, Salinity at 1,200 m (colour scale). c, Ice thickness (colour scale), and ice velocity vectors 

These insights in dynamics of the Neoproterozoic ocean were gained recently by computer simulations using models that couples ice flow and ocean circulation; and as the authors summarize [*]: "Compared with the modern ocean, the Snowball Earth ocean had far larger vertical mixing rates, and comparable horizontal mixing by ocean eddies. The strong circulation and coastal up-welling resulted in melting rates near continents as much as ten times larger than previously estimated."

And marine life? It survived "Snowball Earth". Both, the chemotrophic life that is using sulphur as source of energy and the phototrophic life that is using light as source of energy. Chemotrophic life would have survived in the depth of ocean under total ice-cover, but phototrophic life would have needed patches open surface water or thin ice; at least temporarily. The physics of ocean dynamics make it likely that these patches, "marine heavens" existed regularly in the ice-covered Neoproterozoic equatorial seas.
The geochemical carbon cycle on a Snowball Earth
An essential prerequisite for existence of these "marine heavens" is that geothermal heat-flux through the sea-bottom was bigger as heat loss through the layer of marine glaciers at the surface. This ice-layer was moved and cracked by tides (as for example satellite pictures from Jupiter's moon Europa show for its ice-cover) and therefore the very thick ice-layer was not a perfect isolator. Heat will have been lost through the ice-cover. Further studies of ice-dynamics may constrain what minimum geothermal heat-flux is needed to keep patches of the Neoproterozoic ocean ice-free where ocean dynamics causes heat to be accumulated. Geophysical research then may assess whether this geothermal heat-flux is likely to have happened.

The end of Snowball Earth likely was caused by volcanism blowing carbon-dioxide into the very dry and cold atmosphere of that time [7]. Rain must have been seldom, and without rain little carbon-acid weathering of rocks occurs and no carbonates are flushed into the sea. Thus carbon-dioxide accumulates in the atmosphere building up a greenhouse effect that finally caused Earth to warm again.

If that scenario to end "Snowball Earth" happened, then Earth was saved from staying frozen in snowball stage by its active geophysical processes. To note the difference, Jupiter's moon Europa is frozen in snowball stage; likely the moon is too small for having an active geophysical evolution as planet Earth. However, researchers are quite certain that under the icy surface of moon Europa an ocean is alive. If it bears life we don't now. But if, then it will be of a chemotrophic form, likey. Luckily survival of phototophic life on Earth in the global glaciations of the Neoproterozoic era has happened and likely because ocean dynamics on a geophysical active planet with continents moving, plate-tectonics and a robust geothermal heat-flux created some "marine heavens".

[*] Dynamics of a Snowball Earth ocean; Yosef Ashkenazy, Hezi Gildor, Martin Losch, Francis A. Macdonald, Daniel P. Schrag & Eli Tziperman; Nature 495, 90–93, 7th March 2013 March 2013 

[1] for a debate about life on land see:http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v493/n7430/full/nature11777.html 

[2] from Wikipedia (simplified): (a) The Ediacaran Period named after the Ediacara Hills of South Australia, is the last geological period of the Neoproterozoic Era and of the Proterozoic Eon, immediately preceding the Cambrian Period. Its status as an official geological period was ratified in 2004 by the International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS). Although the Period takes its name from the Ediacara Hills where geologist Reg Sprigg first discovered fossils of the eponymous biota in 1946, the type section is located in the bed of the Enorama Creek within Brachina Gorge in the Flinders Ranges of South Australia, at 31°19′53.8″S 138°38′0.1″E. (b) The Ediacara biota consisted of enigmatic tubular and frond-shaped, mostly sessile organisms. Trace fossils of these organisms have been found worldwide, and represent the earliest known complex multicellular organisms. The Ediacara biota radiated in an event called the Avalon Explosion, 575 million years ago, after the Earth had thawed from the Cryogenian period's extensive glaciation [and] disappeared contemporaneously with the rapid appearance of Cambrian biota [which] completely replaced the organisms that populated the Ediacaran fossil record.

[3] from Wikipedia (simplified) Acritarchs have been recovered from sediments deposited as long as 3.2 billion years ago, but at about 1 billion years ago they started to increase in abundance, diversity, size, complexity of shape and especially size and number of spines. Their populations crashed during the Snowball Earth episodes, when all or very nearly all of the Earth's surface was covered by ice or snow, but they proliferated in the Cambrian explosion and reached their highest diversity in the Paleozoic. The increased spininess 1 billion years ago possibly resulted from the need for defence against predators, especially predators large enough to swallow them or tear them apart. Other groups of small organisms from the Neoproterozoic era also show signs of anti-predator defences. Further evidence that acritarchs were subject to herbivory around this time comes from a consideration of taxon longevity. The abundance of planktonic organisms that evolved between 1,700 and 1,400 million years ago was limited by nutrient availability – a situation which limits the origination of new species because the existing organisms are so specialised to their niches, and no other niches are available for occupation. Approximately 1,000 million years ago, species longevity fell sharply, suggesting that predation pressure, probably by protist herbivores, became an important factor. Predation would have kept populations in check, meaning that some nutrients were left unused, and new niches were available for new species to occupy.

[4] http://discovermagazine.com/2011/evolution/23-what-happened-earth-boring-billion-years#.UUlcMzsWm0c 

[5] from Wikipedia (simplified): The Neoproterozoic Era is the unit of geologic time from 1,000 to 541 million years ago. The terminal Era of the formal Proterozoic Eon (or the informal "Precambrian"), it is further subdivided into the Tonian, Cryogenian, and Ediacaran Periods. The most severe glaciation known in the geologic record occurred during the Cryogenian, when ice sheets reached the equator and formed a possible "Snowball Earth". The earliest fossils of multicellular life are found in the Ediacaran, including the earliest animals.

[6] from Wikipedia (modified): Coriolis force: A force exerted on a parcel of water (or any moving body) due to the rotation of the earth. This force causes a deflection of the body to the right in the northern hemisphere and to the left in the southern hemisphere.

[7] from http://essayweb.net/geology/timeline/neoproterozoic.shtml (modified): The snowball Earth scenario does not require glaciation of the continents . The ice cover on the oceans prevented water from evaporating, and therefore the climate must have been very dry. Lack of precipitation likely caused at least parts of continents to be bare rock, as ice was sublimated or flowed into the sea, and was not replaced due to the lack of precipitation. The commonly proposed scenario for the end of snowball Earth is through the accumulation of carbon dioxide. Volcanism produces carbon dioxide, which accumulates until it reaches a point where it triggers warming through its greenhouse effect. The ice sheets are melted rapidly and temperatures rise, perhaps reaching as high at 50 °C temporarily, before the carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere. There is strong evidence of such extreme rises in atmospheric carbon dioxide, in the form of cap carbonates.

Sunday, 3 December 2017

What about Geoethics v. Geosophy?

Geoethics is about responsible geosciences. Geoethics is an emerging way of thinking within the international geoscience community. Nowadays, the notion of 'geoethics' refers to i) the responsible behaviour of professionals and researchers in geosciences, and ii) the societal and cultural relevance of geosciences. In view of inquiries into 'wider geoethical thinking', this essay asks, building on the work of R. Shaw [1], whether a notion like geo-Humanities/Geosophy could complement the notion Geoethics.

Geosciences, including Earth system sciences, refer to a range of applied and fundamental research fields, as well as related engineering disciplines and commercial undertakings. Together, they address the functioning of Earth systems, the intersections of Earth and human systems, as well as the extraction and use of (non-living) natural resources. In view of this application case, scholarly inquiry into the interfaces between geosciences and the social sciences and humanities is germane.

Initially, Geoethics was about professional ethics in applied geosciences, that is, 'geo-professional ethics'. This core of geoethical thinking was documented in peer-reviewed publications and statements of professional organisations. Subsequently, this core was expanded to tackle: i) intra-professional concerns that are common to all geosciences; ii) inter-disciplinary features of global issues that involve geosciences; and iii) general societal and cultural relevance of geoscience professions. These matters of 'enriched geo-professional ethics (and action)' contribute to the wealth of modern Geoethics, as outlined in the Cape Town Statement on Geoethics [1].

In turn, the inquiry into 'enriched geo-professional ethics' triggered questions of 'wider relevance of geoethical thinking (and action)' including for anthropogenic global change, and the historical process of building a 'human niche'. Issues to consider include: i) the day-to-day functioning of modern societies that intensively apply geoscience knowledge; ii) governance issues and quests for shared normative frameworks that geosciences may underpin; iii) participatory practices and principles for research and applications , and iv) giving meaning to human action with reference to features of societies and bio-geophysical systems.

The realm of 'wider geoethical thinking (and action)' exhibits a composite structure. The first contribution is the values that geoscientists adopt as the base of the intrinsic nature of their professions. Further contributions are the professional ethics that geoscientists apply in their dealings, the societal and environmental concerns that directly stem from geoscientists' activities, and a wide range of environmental, societal and cultural considerations that any geoscientist should share with other citizens.

Such a realm of 'wider geoethical thinking (and action)' may facilitate a fruitful mutual exchange between geosciences, social sciences and humanities. Hence, a notion such as 'geo-Humanities/Geosophy' may be instrumental in distinguishing 'Geoethics' and creating a shared space for the cultural and social aspects of the geosciences. Therefore, three research questions are on offer [3]: To what subjects does the notion 'Geoethics' refer? What additional matters complement these subjects? What generic notion is appropriate to label inquiries into geosciences society interfaces?

[1] Shaw, Robert. 2017. "Knowing homes and writing worlds? Ethics of the ‘eco-’, ethics of the ‘geo-’ and how to light a planet" doi: 10.1080/04353684.2017.1311469

[2] IAPG 2016, Cape Town Statement on Geoethics, http://www.geoethics.org/ctsg

[3] EGU 2018 General Assembly (8-13 April 2018, Vienna) Session EOS4: "Geoethics: ethical, social and cultural implications of geoscience knowledge, education, communication, research and practice" https://meetingorganizer.copernicus.org/EGU2018/sessionprogramme; therein a contribution together with E. Marone, S. Peppoloni, G. Di Capua, and N. Bilham