Sunday, 13 March 2016

Why Geo-Humanities ?

Introduction*


Throughout their history humans developed their skills to alter their environments and nowadays it is obvious that they are altering Earth. So far, this kind of ' human geo-biosphere intersections' was collateral to the human activities, which are undertaken to appropriate resources or to shape the environment in view of world-views and preferences. Thus anthropogenic global change is a composite societal and natural process at a planetary scale, which includes attributes of the geo-biosphere and artefacts of the noosphere [1 - 5]. 


The noosphere is understood to be the ensemble of shared mental concepts, such as social, cultural or political insights of people and their interactions [6:130]. Understanding the features of the noosphere belongs to scholarly disciplines summarized as "humanities". 
With the aim of describing the composite of human geo-biosphere intersections that characterize the Anthropocene, this essay proposes the notion ‘geo-humanities' and presents some aspects of its scope. In such a synthesis (‘geo-humanities'), the natural sciences contribute to understanding the abiotic and biotic processes, which determine earth-systems dynamics. The humanities contribute to understanding how people interact given their subjective characteristics, which are expressed as world-views, culture, values, preferences, etc. [7 -10].

Observations: Scope of geo-humanities

The scope of matters that could be gathered into a corpus of “of geo-humanities may be derived from the purpose that a respective scholarly subject should address [11 - 15]. We propose as outset, four goals: i) the particular knowledge about the functioning of the intersections of geosphere and noosphere, ii) the societal and individual intentions how to handle these intersections, and iii) the ethical choices how to intersect in a particular manner; [from 30]:

Managing Knowledge  

Many people may not recognize how geoscience know-how mediate the interaction of human activities and processes in the geosphere because that know-how is part of habitual experiences, common sense, general education or specific vocational training. Nevertheless, societies abundantly apply geosciences for their economic activities, e.g. the features of rock, soil, water and air is essential for the production of many goods. Craftsmen, technicians, architects, and engineers apply geoscience know-how when engineering environments or creating artefacts, e.g. extraction of minerals, the laying foundations for buildings, or managing floodplains. Geoscience know-how makes the engineering works (transport systems, energy systems, dwellings, agriculture, waste treatment, etc.) dovetailing the economic activities and geosphere. Likewise, maintaining living conditions and individual well-being requires geoscience know-how, e.g. ventilation, evacuation of excess water, controlling pollution from combustion engines, or maintaining radio connections when solar storms hit the Earth.
Among people's "works", engineering has the peculiarity to be the intended a value-driven change of environments with the purpose to facilitate production and reproduction. To that end, for example, engineering includes the building of infrastructures like shore defences, which visibly interact with the geosphere. Likewise, engineering includes designing production systems, urban dwellings and consumption patterns that firmly but invisibly couple human activity with the geosphere through cycles of matter and energy. Last but not least, engineering is about how people arrange the appropriation of living and non-living resources from the environment. Thus, intrinsically engineering is about value systems, cultural choices and lifestyles because it reflects the societal choices of people.
At present times, the production and consumption pattern of humankind causes fluxes of matter that modify Earth-system dynamics. The notion Anthropocene captures this feature and conveys the message that the development paths of humankind's history and natural earth-systems intersect. Therefore to understand global processes, know-how of social sciences, humanities and natural sciences have to be synthesized. The link from the noosphere to the geosphere is provided by insights on how people collectively pursue their economic activities with the purpose to maintain their well-being, mutual care-taking, reproduction, and interaction. Through their "works" people couple humankind's activities to the geosphere. The particular manner how these 'works' are conceived, designed, built and maintained depends on people's world-views, culture, values, and preferences.
Understanding anthropogenic global change is a demanding process that has to handle multifaceted content. Understanding and addressing the problem of stratospheric ozone depletion has taught a first lesson on this. The impact of increased UV-radiation because of a depleted ozone layer in the stratosphere was quite easy to conceptualize, as there were observed and reported effects ranging from increased mutation rates to abandoning sunbathing on Australian beaches. Likewise addressing a solution through some quite limited technological changes was relatively easy. As later experiences with climate change processes confirmed, the cause-effect relations of the human geosphere intersections are difficult to determine, even in hind-cast. The processes are non-linear, networked having positive and negative feedbacks. Such systems exhibit chaotic dynamics that show a behavior that is difficult to forecast. Notwithstanding this difficulty, when human geosphere intersections get altered, then some forecasting skills will be needed.


Shaping Intentions

The interactions of people in the noosphere are of diverse nature and form, e.g. of technical, economic, social, cultural, artistic nature, and of public, collective or individual form. Furthermore, these people-people interactions are both loaded with worldviews and preferences, and purposefully shape personal and shared views and coordinate actors. Thus, the making of the Anthropocene is as much a ‘mental' process in the noosphere, as it results from the ‘material' intersection of humankind's activities and the bio-geosphere. In that context, civil engineering and applied geosciences are the human activities that shape the “Commons” of the Anthropocene, and thus their implementation is prescribed by how these activities are intended in the noosphere. 
During the last centuries, the scholarly studies records show both, the appraisal of human works and concern of the state of flora and fauna impacted by these works. The scholarly study records includes tales how to master hostile conditions, description of processes (in the noosphere), how skills developed, and accounts of deplorable intersections of human activities with the biosphere. Following an extended period of admiration for human prowess to intervene into biosphere and geosphere, today anthropogenic global change is part of a widespread perception of ‘an endangered state of the globe'. That change of opinion began during the previous century with concerns about the state of the biosphere. It was perceived as endangered at the regional scale by industrial pollution, the inherent risk of chemical or nuclear technologies, or losses of species. Similar concerns about the biosphere were also voiced in the 18th and 19th century at local scale when industrialization started. Nowadays, people worry about the implications for their lifestyle and well-being, and also they wonder how 'to better design' human interventions into biosphere and geosphere.

Justifying Choices

The manner how the debate on climate change is evolving shows that this debate is about world-views. Specialists, decision makers, and people ponder what hypotheses, theories or facts are. It is discussed how to handle uncertainty or hazards or whether to consider benefits for other people, in the past or for future generations. 
When making choices people are driven by both, their world-views and preferences and their insights into societal, technical or natural processes. Within that context, the attitude of people towards risk, uncertainties, perception of facts and theories is very different. People's choices are subjective and vary with the context, e.g. whether the own person, the relatives, or the own group is concerned, or whether an action is immediate, has happened, or will happen in the future. Going beyond concerns like 'whether it is functioning', people intuitively tend to opt for what they consider as 'right' or 'worth' in the context of their individual world-view. When people are debating opportunities, changes or risks then much of the debate is about 'virtue' and what course of action is 'worthwhile' to take. 
Anthropogenic global change is loaded with implicit societal issues (ethical dilemmas) to an unprecedented level because of the impact on all people. Among these issues there will be conflicting values, uneven distribution of risks, impacts, losses, and benefits, or collateral impacts including exposure to unexpected side-effects. The side-effects may range from challenging individual lifestyles to compromising basic needs. Nowadays the altering of human geosphere intersections is an intentional act or an act of intended negligence. Thus ethics of risk-taking, managing uncertainties or revising options will be needed in a context of applied geoscience. 
People need insights into how the intersection of human activity and geosphere function to make these intersections work. The Anthropocene brings these insights to the centre of people's lifestyles. The degree of understanding "how to build a habitable planet" may vary depending on the paradigm. Notwithstanding the different degree or form of people's insight, they have to acknowledge both, the existence of human geosphere intersections and the challenges that their alteration at planetary scale implies.
The non-linearity of process at human geosphere intersections renders design, implementation, and operation of change processes challenging; Further, a non-intended and counter-intuitive system behaviour is likely to manifest, and with that the societies have to cope. In the past when societal or environmental problems could not have been tackled successfully then emigration was an option. Evidently, leaving Earth is not an option. However, 'internal migration' to avoid the regional impact of the anthropogenic global change is an option that already is depicted by some as an emerging feature of world-politics. That dimension of “non-escape” sharpens the issues of anthropogenic global change.

Discussion

Our species has acquired the power to engineer planet Earth. However, even if many people may not take notice of the processes and phenomena that characterize the intersections of human activity and geosphere, the anthropogenic global change is subject to the human value-systems, which underpin people's world-views and preferences. People can tackle anthropogenic global change as part of their world-views and preferences only if insights into human geosphere intersections become integrated into their interactions in the noosphere; e.g. reflecting people's lifestyle, preferences, values, and world-views. To that end, the practitioners, professionals, and researchers who understand how intersections of human activity and geosphere function have to share their insights and have to show how value-loaded are the interventions into human geosphere intersections. For any 'culture', the particular issues of 'altering Planet Earth' require that people have insights into the functioning of the human geosphere intersections. Thus for 'altering planet Earth', reliable insights provided by humanities and social sciences are needed, which have to enlarge sound scientific, engineering, technical and economic knowledge that was accumulated during the last decades. Such an enlarged body of knowledge could settle under the notion of "geo-humanities".

*Summary of  our  (R. Casals i Graells, A. Sibilla, M. Bohle*) presentation “Why Geo-Humanities” (poster 1300) at EGU General Assembly (Vienna 17-22 April 2016), session: Geoethics: theoretical and practical aspects from research integrity to relationships between geosciences and society”; * European Commission, DG RTD / Corresponding Citizen Scientist – IAPG (Rome), orcid.org/0000-0002-8794-5810, ResearchGate: D-4508-2014; Disclaimer: For the lawyers, this are my views and not of my employer.

[1] Bonneuil, C.; Fressoz, J.-B. L’événement Anthropocène - La terre, l'histoire et nous; Le Seuil, 2013.
[2] 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.
[3] Ellis, Erle C. “Ecology in an Anthropogenic Biosphere.” Ecological Monographs 85 (3) 2015.: 287–331. doi:10.1890/14-2274.1.
[4] Monastersky, R. The Human Age. Nature 2015, 519 (7542), 144–147 DOI: 10.1038/519144a.
[5] Waters, C. N., Zalasiewicz, J., Summerhayes, C., Barnosky, A. D., Poirier, C., Galuszka, A., Cearreta, A., Edgeworth, M., Ellis, E. C., Ellis, M., et al. “The Anthropocene is functionally and stratigraphically distinct from the Holocene.” Science (80) 2016, 351 (6269), aad2622–1 – aad2622–10 DOI: 10.1126/science.aad2622.
[6] Deutsch D. The Beginning of Infinity – Explanations that Transform the World; Allen Lane 2012. ISBN: 978-0-141-96969-5 [page 130: “people consist of abstract information, including the distinctive ideas, theories, intentions, feelings and other state of mind that characterize an 'I' “]
[7] Palsson, G.; Szerszynski, B.; Sörlin, S.; Marks, J.; Avril, B.; Crumley, C.; Hackmann, H.; Holm, P.; Ingram, J.; Kirman, A.; et al. Reconceptualizing the “Anthropos” in the Anthropocene: Integrating the Social Sciences and Humanities in Global Environmental Change Research. Environ. Sci. Policy 2012, 1–11 DOI: 10.1016/j.envsci.2012.11.004.
[8] Wilson, E. O. The meaning of human Existence; W.W. Norton & Company New York, 2014.
[9] Latour, Bruno. 2015. “Fifty Shades of Green.” Environmental Humanities 7: 219–225. doi:10.1126/science.269.5220.31. http://environmentalhumanities.org/archives/vol7/.
[10] Hamilton, Clive, Christophe Bonneuil, and Francois Gemenne. 2015. The Anthropocene and the Global Environmental Crisis. Routledge.
[11] Hulme, Mike. 2011. “Meet the Humanities.” Nature Climate Change 1 (4) (June 26): 177–179. doi:10.1038/nclimate1150. http://www.nature.com/doifinder/10.1038/nclimate1150.
[12] Fressoz, J.-B. L’Apocalypse joyeuse - Une histoire du risque technologique; Le Seuil, 2012.
[13] Hamilton, C. Bonneuil, Ch. Gemenne, F. “Thinking the Anthropocene.” in Hamilton, C. Bonneuil, Ch. Gemenne (eds.) The Anthropocene and the Environmental Crisi 2015, Routledge, ISBN:978-1-138-82123-8
[14] Bai, Xuemei, Sander van der Leeuw, Karen O’Brien, Frans Berkhout, Frank Biermann, Eduardo S. Brondizio, Christophe Cudennec, et al. 2015. “Plausible and Desirable Futures in the Anthropocene: A New Research Agenda.” Global Environmental Change (October). doi:10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2015.09.017. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0959378015300546.
[15] Brondizio, Eduardo S., Karen O’Brien, Xuemei Bai, Frank Biermann, Will Steffen, Frans Berkhout, Christophe Cudennec, et al. 2016. “Re-Conceptualizing the Anthropocene: A Call for Collaboration.” Global Environmental Change (March). doi:10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2016.02.006. http://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S0959378016300176.
[16] Bohle, Martin. “Handling of Human-Geosphere Intersections.” Geosciences 6 (1): doi:10.3390/geosciences6010003. http://www.mdpi.com/2076-3263/6/1/3.

Sunday, 6 March 2016

Humans are a kind of an 'engineering species'...

 …[*] and 'People consist of abstract information, including the distinctive ideas, theories, intentions, feelings and other states of mind that characterize [them]" [1, p.130].

Humans have built an 'anthropogenic biosphere' [2,3] through engineering production systems, patterns of consumption of resources, and use of environments. Throughout their biological and cultural evolution, humans extended what they know to engineer with the purpose is to sustain human existence and reproduction. Embedded in this process, anthropogenic global change is a historical process [4,5] that relates features of the planetary bio-geosphere with matters of social, cultural and political nature, i.e. the 'noosphere' of people interactions. The views about 'what engineering works shall endeavor, how and why' are part of the noosphere framed by scientific-technological means. 

Philosophically, engineering works relate human activities, i.e. economic and the natural planetary systems to build an 'anthropogenic biosphere', and thus are applied geoscience [6,7]. To that end, engineering shapes the intersection of the noosphere and the bio-geosphere and the societal paradigms that frame engineering works are an essential feature of how that intersection is operated [8] . 

It is obvious that mankind is altering Earth with an accelerated pace [9,10]. So far, this “terra-engineering” or “applied geoscience” was collateral of the human activities; nowadays it is intentional. To describe underpinning concepts, four paradigms to engineer anthropogenic global change are presented here that emphasize in different manners how humans intersect the bio-geosphere. They are labelled "adjustment", "dovetailing", "decoupling" and "modulating" to distinguish conceptually four manners how production systems and consumption patterns could be organized.. Although conceptually disjunctive, their application is interwoven, e.g. tangled by the particularity to apply them on a planetary scale what needs both, sound professional ethics and robust ethical considerations about purposes.


Four Paradigms to Engineer at a Planetary Scale

The first paradigm is labelled "adjustment". People adjust to collateral effects of how production systems and consumption patterns are engineered. E.g., increased mean temperatures or modified precipitation patterns, which are driven by emissions of anthropogenic systems, is perceived as an external factor that is impinging on production systems and consumption patterns. Therefore efforts focus on adjusting these systems and patterns to these external factors by modifying the engineered environments of humans. The purpose of the “adjustment paradigm” is to stick to the intrinsic development paths of societies, and preferably keeping unchanged the production systems and consumption patterns. An example of an application of that paradigm is the Dutch plan to heighten their sea-dikes to cope with sea-level rise. 

The second paradigm is labelled "dovetailing". People alter incrementally production/consumption patterns so that anthropogenic fluxes of matter and energy dovetail with the respective natural fluxes. The Montreal Protocol that is regulating the abatement of ozone depleting substances provides an illustration, i.e. a particular production/consumption pattern is modified by international agreement. The “dovetailing paradigm” applies political and economic practices, which were developed successfully to reduce a regional impact of pollution. 

The third paradigm is labelled "decoupling". It is proposed, under the notion "eco-modernism", to segregate the human production/consumption patterns from the bio/geosphere. Evidently, to decouple human activities from the environment (bio/geosphere) reflects the common purpose of civil engineering; e.g. shore defences or setting up an economy with circular matter fluxes. Under the "decoupling" paradigm more of such kind of engineering is proposed. I.e. eco-modernists envisage intensively urbanized societies of a stable global population using nuclear power and closed fluxes of matter.

The fourth paradigm is labelled "modulating". It is proposed, under the notion geoengineering, to modulate processes in the bio-geosphere in such a manner that they counteract the side-effects of human activities. Its protagonists advocated another classical human view, namely that "nature" is to be adapted to fit to "culture"; i.e. to render the environment suitable for human appropriation. Evidently, engineering environments reflects what people did since prehistoric times, be it "slash and burn agriculture" or irrigation agriculture in demi-deserts e.g. Central Valley in California nowadays. Under this "modulating" paradigm more of such kind of engineering is proposed, to be undertaken with the intention to change processes a global scale; e.g. ocean fertilization to capture excess carbon dioxide.

The Camaraderie of Paradigms


Taking as metric the growth of the number of people, "terra-engineering" – applied geosciences - qualifies as a prosperous activity of the human species. However, the times have passed that anthropogenic global change could be perceived as an incidental collateral of humankind's activity. Instead, the intentional engineering of the anthropogenic bio-geosphere is the ongoing endeavour of humankind, which may apply different scenarios and their respective paradims.

The "adjustment paradigm" advocated a conservative scenario, regarding preserving past investments (economic, social, cultural). In comparison, the current mainstream scenario is much about an incremental modification of the present societal development paths for production systems and consumption patterns; thus applying more a "dovetailing paradigm". That possibly is a pragmatic choice, because of the insight that costs of adjustment are high. Consequently, some depreciation of past investments is accepted and a 'local end-of-the-pipe adjustment engineering approach' is replaced incrementally by a 'global start-of-the-pipe dovetailing engineering approach'.

The alternative paradigms "decoupling" (eco-modernism) and "modulating" (geo-engineering) stand for engineering approaches that currently are advocated by some. Both paradigms have in common that the traditional development paths of industrialized societies are emphasized. However, the choice what to emphasis is different, namely 'engineering noosphere through eco-modernism' or 'engineering bio-geosphere through geoengineering'. Thus, the paradigms differ in the aspect which part of Earth systems should be altered.

Whatever paradigm will be retained to frame the decisions to engineer anthropogenic global change, it will depend much more on people's preferences and world-views and than on scientific-technical know-how. Therefore, protagonists argue why choices represent sound science and engineering, are economically feasible, and are ethically (philosophically) "right"; e.g. the "Eomodernist Manifesto" [11] or the "Oxford Principles" [12] in support of geoengineering. Thus much of the argument is on the level of paradigms. The public policies that are regulating production systems and consumption patterns apply a mix of "adjustment" and "dovetailing" paradigms depending on the opportunity to preserve past investments or the expected cost-effectiveness.

Outlook 

Applying any of these these paradigms involves particular ethical issues, such as to assess whether the scientific-technical approaches are professionally "sound". However these issues seem minor and confined when compared to the overarching social-cultural and political-historical issues. This second set of issues is loaded with major ethical concerns, e.g. responsibility for past emissions, distribution of poverty and wealth, access to resources, or opportunity for sustainable development. Notwithstanding that these ethical issues are of universal nature, nevertheless, the complexity to address them for handling anthropogenic global change has little precedence. In that context a conceptual frame of paradigms to orientate terra-engineering choices , i.e. applied geosciences may be helpful.
  1. Deutsch D. The Beginning of Infinity – Explanations that Transform the World; Allen Lane 2012. ISBN: 978-0-141-96969-5
  2. Monastersky, R. The Human Age. Nature 519(7542) 2015, DOI: 10.1038/519144a.
  3. Ellis, Erle C. “Ecology in an Anthropogenic Biosphere.” Ecological Monographs 85 (3) 2015.: 287–331. doi:10.1890/14-2274.1.
  4. 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.
  5. Hamilton, C. Bonneuil, Ch. Gemenne, F. “Thinking the Anthropocene.” in Hamilton, C. Bonneuil, Ch. Gemenne (eds.) The Anthropocene and the Environmental Crisi 2015, Routledge, ISBN:978-1-138-82123-8
  6. Morton, O. The Planet Remade: How geoengineering could change the world; Princeton University Press, 2012.
  7. Bracmort, K.; Lattanzio, R. K. Geoengineering: Governance and Technological Policy; 2013. https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=oAI4ojo7uNAC&oi=fnd&pg=PA1&dq=Geoengineering:
    +Governance+and+Technological+Policy&ots=yj3hXmgKCT&sig=7UVdHFnwftfEK1agl8V-uYzNYZ0#
    v=onepage&q=Geoengineering%3A%20Governance%20and%20Technological%20Policy&f=false (accessed on 12 November 2015).
  8. Bohle, Martin. “Handling of Human-Geosphere Intersections.” Geosciences 6 (1): doi:10.3390/geosciences6010003. http://www.mdpi.com/2076-3263/6/1/3.
  9. Schwägerl, C. The Anthropocene - The human era and how it shapes our planet; Synergetic Press, 2014.
  10. Waters, C. N., Zalasiewicz, J., Summerhayes, C., Barnosky, A. D., Poirier, C., Galuszka, A., Cearreta, A., Edgeworth, M., Ellis, E. C., Ellis, M., et al. “The Anthropocene is functionally and stratigraphically distinct from the Holocene.” Science (80) 2016, 351 (6269), aad2622–1 – aad2622–10 DOI: 10.1126/science.aad2622.
  11. Asafu-Adjaye, J., Blomquist, L., Brand, S., Brook, B., DeFries, R., Ellis, E., Foremann, C., Keith, D., Lewis, M., Lynas, M., et al. An Ecomodernist Manifesto www.ecomodernism.org (accessed on 10th November 2015).
  12. Rayner, S., Heyward, C., Kruger, T., Pidgeon, N., Redgwell, C. Savulescu, J. The Oxford Principles. Clim. Change 2013, 121, 499–512 DOI: 10.1007/s10584-012-0675-2.

[*] Summary of my presentation “Engineering Paradigms and Anthropogenic Global Change” (poster 1235) at EGU General Assembly (Vienna 17-22 April 2016), session: Geoethics: theoretical and practical aspects from research integrity to relationships between geosciences and society



Monday, 21 December 2015

Geoethics and the Anthropocene

Introduction

To put the notions 'Geoethics' and 'Anthropocene' into a mutual context, this essay applies the notions 'engineering' and 'anthropogenic global change', and reflects on the 'noosphere' - the ensemble of people-people interactions and their 'shared mental concepts'. It is within the 'noosphere' that people conceive 'how to shape the world?'

The natural organisation of  the river system
(Credits: http://imaggeo.egu.eu/user/tatiana1)
The notion Anthropocene implies that processes of the geo-biosphere and processes in the noosphere intersect. Ethics appraises human behavior; geoethics concern human behavior in matters that involve the process of the bio-geosphere. The making of the anthropocene, be it either as a collateral effect of humankind's engineering or an intended outcome of alterations of the noosphere or the bio-geosphere, involve ethical issues. These issues are known, they are habitual to engineering and other professional work, although their application case may be new. In that situation, what provides orientations how to make the Anthropocene? What is particular to geoethics?

About 'Engineering'

To simplify; humankind is an engineering species. Biological evolution of people came in pair with tool-making capacity. Prehistoric and historical evolution of humankind meant to modify environments to appropriate resources [1, 2, 3, 4]. During the last century the number of people on Earth, the patterns of their consumption of resources, and the engineering of their environments together accumulate in a process of anthropogenic global change [5, 6, 7] leading to the Anthropocene. Now, re-engineering of production systems, consumption patterns and related intersections of human activities with the biotic and abiotic environment deemed to be a necessary endeavor [11 / 8], and is a central feature of the anthropogenic global change process.

Eventually water
(http://imaggeo.egu.eu/user/veliooo/)
Considering engineering in a philosophical context: (i) engineering is the intended, value-driven change of environments with the purpose to facilitate production and reproduction; for example infrastructures like shore defences, which visibly interact with the geosphere; (ii) engineering includes designing production systems, urban dwellings and consumption patterns that couple human activity with the geosphere through cycles of matter and energy; (iii) engineering is about how people govern the appropriation of living and non-living resources from the environment in view of their value systems, cultural choices and lifestyles.

Anthropogenic Global Change

It is obvious that people are altering Earth [9]; it is debated 'since when' and 'to what degree'? Humankind's activity has left traces in the geological record since the onset of agriculture in Neolithic ages [10, 11]. The industrial revolution has printed a signal into the geological records at a planetary scale [12, 13]. Since some decades, humankind's economic activity intersects the geosphere in a more general manner, either directly or mediated by the biosphere. The respective geological records scale are forming [14] at a planetary. So far, this kind of 'terraforming' was a collateral of the human economic activities to appropriate resources [15, 16, 17].

Anthropogenic global change is a historical process. It is linking how people interact with features of the planetary geo-biosphere, which are undertaken to sustain a population of now several billion people. This feature advocates renaming the present times Anthropocene, the time when humankind's activities modulate state and development path of planet Earth. Thus, it is the paradigm of present times that the production and consumption pattern of humankind causes fluxes of matter that modify earth-system dynamics. Going beyond any scientific meaning, the notion Anthropocene conveys a double message [5, 18]. First, that the development paths of humankind's history and natural earth-systems intersect. Second, that to understand global processes, it requires synthesizing social sciences, humanities and natural sciences [10, 16, 17, 20].


Low tide at Conwy esturay
(credit: http://imaggeo.egu.eu/user/348/)
Regarding how production systems and consumption patterns are organized in the context of anthropogenic global change, the guiding paradigms are 'adaptation' and 'mitigation', or named differently 'adjustment to change' and 'dovetailing of processes'. These paradigms are conventional; they fit well into the development path of engineering endeavors of the last centuries. However, their conscious application on a planetary scale is without precedent [21]. In this sense, people face a double habitual context. The available technological means, scientific understanding, and resources confine the engineering efforts. Within these limits, world-views determine the choices. Thus, the habitual ethical questions that engineering and geoscience imply in a general professional context now are put into a much more complex societal context. Thus, the making of the Anthropocene is as much a process of finding 'shared subjective insights' [22], as it results from the ‘material' intersection of humankind's economic activities and the bio-geosphere [12, 13].

To recall the obvious; when making choices people are driven by both, their world-views and preferences and their insights into societal, technical or natural processes. Within that context, the attitude of people towards risk, uncertainties, perception of facts and theories is different. People's choices vary with the context [23, 24], e.g. whether the own person, the kin, or the own group is concerned, or whether an action is immediate, has happened, or will happen in the future. The manner how the debate on climate change is evolving shows that this debate is about world-views [41]. Specialists, decision makers, and people ponder what are hypotheses, theories or facts. It is discussed how to handle uncertainty or hazards or whether to consider benefits for other people, in the past or for future generations [25]. Going beyond concerns like 'whether it is functioning', people intuitively tend to opt for what they consider as 'right' or 'worth' in the context of their individual world-view. When people are debating opportunities, change or risks then much of the debate is about 'virtue' and what course of action is 'worthwhile' [2, 26]; e.g. when appraising impacts and benefits during planning, construction and operation.

The great tree
(credits: http://imaggeo.egu.eu/user/1103/)
Societies abundantly apply geoscience for their economic activities. Crafts-person, technicians, architects, and engineers apply geoscience know-how when engineering environments or creating artifacts, e.g. extraction of minerals, the laying foundations for buildings, or managing floodplains. As experience with climate change showed, the cause-effect relations of the human geosphere intersections are difficult to determine. Many people may not recognize how much geoscience know-how is needed to gain insight into the interaction of human activities and processes in the geosphere. Notwithstanding any lack of conscious insight, the noosphere of contemporary societies and the geosphere are well coupled. The ensemble of people-people interactions and the application of their 'shared mental concepts' effect the geosphere once put to into practice through engineering.

Now that people have to handle anthropogenic global change, they have to choose how to re-engineer on a planetary scale the production systems, consumption patterns, and their natural, technical or cultural environments. Although such re-engineering would fit into the human culture, engineering global systems differ from previous engineering endeavors. The scale and complexity of the endeavor are different, because anthropogenic global change - e.g. climate change - prescribes global commons for all people, whether the change is collateral or purposeful.

Normal faults
(credit: http://imaggeo.egu.eu/user/380/)
Engineering anthropogenic global change is loaded with implicit societal issues to an unprecedented level because of the impact on all people. On one hand; is intended to engineer systems that have non-linear dynamics with feedback. Such systems exhibit chaotic dynamics that is difficult to forecast. Therefore, non-intended and counter-intuitive system behavior is likely. This feature renders design, implementation, and operation of engineering works challenging [27, 28,]. On the other hand; in the past when engineering could not tackle a problem successfully then emigration was an option. Evidently, leaving Earth is not an option. However, 'internal migration' to avoid the regional impact of the anthropogenic global change is an option that already is depicted by some as an emerging feature. That dimension of “non-escape” sharpens the ethical issues of engineered anthropogenic change.

Summary

Our species has acquired the power to engineer planet Earth. Anthropogenic global change is about engineering the intersections of human economic activities and the geosphere in function of people's world-views and preferences. As any engineering work, therefore, anthropogenic global change is subject to the human value-systems, which underpin people's world-views and preferences. In that context 'geoethics' extends the application case of human value-systems.

The overarching societal matters of anthropogenic global change are value-loaded, e.g. how to appropriate and distribute natural resources for what cost, accepted side-effects, and with what risk of further collateral effects. These ethical issues seem familiar regarding their general nature. However, their complexity has no precedence, simply because of the number of people with different world-views and preferences who will be subject to consequences of the choices made. In that particular context 'geoethics' means to extend the range of applied ethics to new subjects.

Sunset on the bog
(credit: http://imaggeo.egu.eu/user/IvanovDG/)
People will appraise anthropogenic global change through their preferences, values, and world-views; and then will decide and react accordingly. To that end, the practitioners, professionals, and researchers who understand how intersections of human activity and geosphere function to bring anthropogenic global change, have to share their professional insights with decision makers and layperson and to debate value statements, world-views, and preferences. In that context 'geoethics' is about the ethics of expert advice.

If anthropogenic global change gets addressed as an engineering challenge, then the ethics of risk-taking, managing uncertainties or revising options will be needed in a context of applied geoscience [29]. Ethical dilemmas such as conflicting values, uneven distribution of risks, impacts, losses, and benefits, or collateral impacts like exposure to unexpected side-effects. Debates will be vigorous, e.g. whether a side-effect was to be expected or was intentional. The related range of scientific, technical and economic matters include their particular ethical issues namely whether scientific and engineering choices are professional ‘sound'. In that particular context 'geoethics' is about professional ethics.

So far people did not intend to modify planetary fluxes of matter and energy, although they were aware of the effect of their cumulative activities on the biosphere. People ignored the intersection of human economic activity with the geosphere. Nowadays having lost innocence, anthropogenic global change is an intentional act [30, 31]. In that particular context 'geoethics' is about taking responsibility.


Notes

This essay prepares my keynote ”Geoethik: Richtschnur für's Anthropozän” at the meeting 'nANO meets water VII'. The meeting is organized by the Fraunhofer UMSICHT Institute (Oberhausen, Germany) at 18th February 2016; see: http://nano-water.de/flyer/nano-meets-water-VII.pdf. The essay extends some reflections from my paper: Martin Bohle Handling of Human Geosphere Intersections, Geosciences 2015, (accepted).

Geoethics (Wikipedia; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geoethics) is the branch of ethics which relates to the interaction of human activity with our physical world in general, and with the practice of the Earth sciences in particular. It may also have relevance to planetary sciences. There are two international geoethics organizations, the International Association for Promoting Geoethics (IAPG) and the International Association for Geoethics (IAGETH).

Geoethics (IAPG, http://www.geoethics.org) consists of the research and reflection on those values upon which to base appropriate behaviors and practices where human activities intersect the Geosphere. It deals with the ethical, social and cultural implications of geological research and practice, providing a point of intersection for Geosciences, Sociology, and Philosophy. Geoethics represents an opportunity for Geoscientists to become more conscious of their social role and responsibilities in conducting their activity, and Geoethics is a tool to influence the awareness of society regarding problems related to geo-resources and geo-environment.

Geoethics (IAGETH; http://tierra.rediris.es/IAGETH/Statutes_IAGETH.pdf) is an interdisciplinary field between Geosciences and Ethics which involves Earth and Planetary Sciences as well as applied ethics. It deals with the way of human thinking and acting in relation to the significance of the Earth as a system and as a model. Not only geoeducational, scientific, technological, methodological and socialcultural aspects are included (e.g. sustainability, development, geodiversity and geoheritage, prudent consumption of mineral resources, appropriate measures for predictability and mitigation of natural hazards, geosciences communication, museology, etc.), but also the necessity of considering appropriate protocols, scientific integrity issues and a code of good practice, regarding the study of the abiotic world. Studies on planetary geology (sensu lato) and astrobiology also require a geoethical approach.

References

  1. Smith, B. D.; Zeder, M. A. The onset of the Anthropocene. Anthropocene 2013, 4, 8–13 DOI: 10.1016/j.ancene.2013.05.001.
  2. Tickell, C. Societal responses to the Anthropocene. Philos. Trans. A. Math. Phys. Eng. Sci. 2011, 369 (1938), 926–932 DOI: 10.1098/rsta.2010.0302.
  3. Bugliarello, G. Ideal of civil engineering. J. Prof. Issues Eng. Educ. Pract. 1994, 120 (3), 290–294.
  4. Bonneuil, C.; Fressoz, J.-B. L’événement Anthropocène - La terre, l'histoire et nous; Le Seuil, 2013.
  5. Monastersky, R. The Human Age. Nature 2015, 519 (7542), 144–147 DOI: 10.1038/519144a.
  6. Fressoz, J.-B. L’Apocalypse joyeuse - Une histoire du risque technologique; Le Seuil, 2012.
  7. Syvitski, J. P. M.; Kettner, A. Sediment flux and the Anthropocene. Philos. Trans. R. Soc. A-Mathematical Phys. Eng. Sci. 2011, 369 (1938), 957–975 DOI: 10.1098/rsta.2010.0329.
  8. Schwägerl, C. The Anthropocene - The human era and how it shapes our planet; Synergetic Press, 2014.
  9. 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.; et al. Approaching a state shift in Earth’s biosphere. Nature 2012, 486 (7401), 52–58 DOI: 10.1038/nature11018.
  10. 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.; et al. The Palaeoanthropocene – The beginnings of anthropogenic environmental change. Anthropocene 2013, 3, 83–88 DOI: 10.1016/j.ancene.2013.11.002.
  11. Sirocko, F. Wetter, Klima, Menschheitentwicklung; Theiss, 2012.
  12. Ellis, E. C.; Goldewijk, K. K.; Siebert, S.; Lightman, D.; Ramankutty, N. Anthropogenic transformation of the biomes, 1700 to 2000. Glob. Ecol. Biogeogr. 2010, 19 (5), 589–606 DOI: 10.1111/j.1466-8238.2010.00540.x.
  13. Ellis, E. C. Anthropogenic transformation of the terrestrial biosphere. Philos. Trans. A. Math. Phys. Eng. Sci. 2011, 369 (1938), 1010–1035 DOI: 10.1098/rsta.2010.0331.
  14. Zalasiewicz, J.; Waters, C. N.; Williams, M.; Barnosky, A. D.; Cearreta, A.; Crutzen, P.; Ellis, E.; Ellis, M. a.; Fairchild, I. J.; Grinevald, J.; et al. When did the Anthropocene begin? A mid-twentieth century boundary level is stratigraphically optimal. Quat. Int. 2015 DOI: 10.1016/j.quaint.2014.11.045.
  15. Lewis, S. L.; Maslin, M. A. Defining the Anthropocene. Nature 2015, 519 (7542), 171–180 DOI: 10.1038/nature14258.
  16. 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.
  17. Folke, C.; Jansson, Å.; Rockström, J.; Olsson, P.; Carpenter, S. R.; Stuart Chapin, F.; Crépin, A. S.; Daily, G.; Danell, K.; Ebbesson, J.; et al. Reconnecting to the biosphere. Ambio 2011, 40 (7), 719–738 DOI: 10.1007/s13280-011-0184-y.
  18. Bohle, M. Recording the Onset of the Anthropocene. In Engineering Geology for Society and Territory - Volume 7; Giorgio Lollino, Massimo Arattano, Marco Giardino, Ricardo Oliveira, S. P., Ed.; Springer, 2014; pp 161–163.
  19. Weisz, H.; Clark, E. Society-nature coevolution: Interdisciplinary concept for sustainability. Geogr. Ann. Ser. B Hum. Geogr. 2011, 93 (4), 281–287.
  20. Bergthaller, H.; Emmett, R.; Johns-Putra, A.; Kneitz, A.; Lidström, S.; McCorristine, S.; Pérez Ramos, I.; Phillips, D.; Rigby, K.; Robin, L. Mapping Common Ground: Ecocriticism, Environmental History, and the Environmental Humanities. Environ. Humanit. 2014, 5, 261–276.
  21. Palsson, G.; Szerszynski, B.; Sörlin, S.; Marks, J.; Avril, B.; Crumley, C.; Hackmann, H.; Holm, P.; Ingram, J.; Kirman, A.; et al. Reconceptualizing the “Anthropos” in the Anthropocene: Integrating the Social Sciences and Humanities in Global Environmental Change Research. Environ. Sci. Policy 2012, 1–11 DOI: 10.1016/j.envsci.2012.11.004.
  22. Biermann, F.; Betsill, M. M.; Vieira, S. C.; Gupta, J.; Kanie, N.; Lebel, L.; Liverman, D.; Schroeder, H.; Siebenhüner, B.; Yanda, P. Z.; et al. Navigating the anthropocene: the Earth System Governance Project strategy paper. Curr. Opin. Environ. Sustain. 2010, 2 (3), 202–208 DOI: 10.1016/j.cosust.2010.04.005.
  23. Gibson-Graham, J. K.; Roelvink, G. An Economic Ethics for the Anthropocene. Antipode 41 (S1), 320–346 DOI: 10.1111./j.1467-8330.2009.00728.x.
  24. Sutherland, W. J.; Bellingan, L.; Bellingham, J. R.; Blackstock, J. J.; Bloomfield, R. M.; Bravo, M.; Cadman, V. M.; Cleevely, D. D.; Clements, A.; Cohen, A. S.; et al. A collaboratively-derived science-policy research agenda. PLoS One 2012, 7 (3), 3–7 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0031824.
  25. Aufenvenne, P.; Egner, H.; Elverfeldt, K. von. On Climate Change Research, the Crisis of Science and Second-order Science. 10(1): 120–129. Constr. Found. 2014, 10 (1), 120–129.
  26. Ehrlich, P. R.; Kareiva, P. M.; Daily, G. C. Securing natural capital and expanding equity to rescale civilization. Nature 2012, 486 (7401), 68–73 DOI: 10.1038/nature11157.
  27. Allenby, B. R.; Sarewitz, D. The techno-human condition; The MIT Press, 2011.
  28. Banerjee, B. The Limitations of Geoengineering Governance In A World of Uncertainty. Stanford J. Law Sci. Policy 2011, 240 (May), 15–36.
  29. Peppoloni, S.; Di Capua, G. (eds.) Geoethics: the role and responsibility of geoscientists; The Geological Society, 2015.
  30. Ellis, M. A.; Trachtenberg, Z. Which Anthropocene is it to be? Beyond geology to a moral and public discourse. Earth’s Futur. 2014, n/a – n/a DOI: 10.1002/2013EF000191.
  31. Corner, A. J.; Pidgeon, N. F. Geoengineering the Climate: The Social and Ethical Implications.: EBSCOhost. Environ. Sci. Policy Sustain. Dev. 2010, 52 (1), 24–37 DOI: 10.1080/00139150903479563.



Saturday, 29 August 2015

Thirteen #tweets on #evolution

Avant propose:  These very abstract statements summarize the processes that shaped and continue to shape the evolution of planet Earth, human cultures included. When the specific physical, chemical, biological and cultural processes are liberated from their respective details their common features come evident. These tweets aim to show the common thread of the simple processes that describe planetary evolution, which already have been researched to a fair stage [*]. 

1. The story of Planet Earth: the evolution of the geosphere, biosphere, and now the noosphere. Currently, the planetary evolution, driven by the human species and their noosphere, is heading towards the Anthropocene with an open outcome; climax or anticlimax depending on the cultural-evolution of societies of the human species. 
2. The science of evolution: a philosophical insight and a story about the development from stardust to social networks. Evolution has a much wider scope than describing 'survival of species'. Evolution is more than weeding out 'the least fit' for an environment with limited resources. Evolution is an iterative process to assemble and replicate increasingly complex structures. The key feature of biological evolution is self-replication, thus reproduction. Competition is for efficient processing of energy, matter and information to support reproduction.
3. Self-assembling: simple components aggregate to more complex structures. The aggregation of the components is spontaneous with in the respective environment. It happens without any other external driver. These "aggregated components" show new characteristics, which are more than the sum of the characteristics of their components. Getting their turn, these "aggregated components" spontaneously aggregate again; and so on.
4. Replication: copying an original structure. Replication is about, at least, to keep a copy of the initial structure while the original structure has broken apart. Replication is achieved, if that process has come through before the "to be replicated" structure starts to break up. Thus, the replication process is competitive. An efficient replication process multiplies the original structure before it breaks up. A replication may not be entirely faithful but approximate only and, so, leads to variants of the original structure.
5. Self-replication: structures replicate themselves. A self-replicating structure is understood as "living". The self-replicating process is called reproduction. An approximately self-replicating structure is changing its features, and that is what biological evolution is about.
6. Reproduction - boundaries: self-replication confined to an enclosed space. “Stuff” outside a closed boundary is excluded from the replication; that's self-replication. Boundaries limit the “self-replicating structure” and its “environment”. Excluding structures outside a limiting boundary from a replication process turns that replication process into a reproduction process. Reproduction is about reading and applying information for the purpose to replicate a “limited structure” before it breaks up. Thus, reproduction is about processing a limited set of information in a race against time.
7. Reproduction - targets: First, to timely access resources outside the limits of the structure that is reproducing itself. These resources are energy and matter. Second, to appropriately transfer these resources into the structure that is to reproduce. Third, use these resources for reproduction; thus building a new structure with its proper outer boundary. For successful reproduction, these three targets have to be met before the 'to be replicated' structure breaks up.
8. Reproduction - fitness: modest reproduction efficiency. Namely that, within a limited elapse of time and for the purpose to self-replicate, a limited structure transports matter as well as energy and processes information. Evolution happens if the self-replication is not faithful. Reproduction errors occur and variations of the original structure form with varying efficiency. The least fit variants do not replicate before they break-up, so they “die” and other survive.
9. Living beings - All: evolution initially targeted the efficiency of the processes for transport of matter and use of energy within the "limited structures" and across their outer boundaries. Eventually, evolution focused on the efficiency of the processes that handle sensor inputs, processing information and supporting communication between "self-replicating structures" of the same kind.
10. Living beings – humans: A "self-replicating limited structure". Humans, to improve its reproductive fitness, are specialising in intra-species communication and scenario building. Both is supported by a massively expanded capacity (the mind-brain-organ) for processing information. The individual "self-replicating limited structure" aggregate in groups with strong internal bonds to compete with other groups for efficient processing of energy, matter and information.
11. Noosphere - Society: Many groups of “self-replicating limited structures" interact to process information for the purpose to improve the efficiency of the handling of matter and energy in support of their "self-replication".
12. Noosphere - Culture: Designed external environment of the “self-replicating limited structures” purposefully set up to handle matter and energy in support of the “self-replication” of these structures.
13. On the way: Much has happened since stars lighted up fusing the matter that makes our bodies. Much has happened before mind-culture systems, societies, developed along the path of evolution. Now, the number of human beings and their manner of reproduction are such that we squeeze the biosphere of planet Earth. The combined strength of humans is sufficient to shape the geosphere of planet Earth. Thus, we are starting the Anthropocene. Unhappily currently humans behave like an invasive species, showing little control of a sustainable resource consumption.

[*] some references:
Baje Todd J. and Jon M. Erlandson 2013, Looking forward, looking backward: Humans, anthropogenic change, and the Anthropocene, Anthropocene 4, pp.116-121.
Bonneuil Christophe and Fressoz Jean-Baptiste 2013, L'événement Anthropocène - La terre, l'histoire et nous, Le Seuil p. 271.
Hazen Robert M. 2012, The Story of Earth, Viking Pinguin, p. 306 .
Langmuir Charles H. and Wally Broecker 2012, How to build a habitable planet, Princeton University Press, p. 718.
Landes 2003, The Unbound Prometheus – Technological change and industrial development in Western Europe from 1750 to the present (second edition), Cambridge University Press, p. 576.
Lieberman Matthew D. 2013, Social – Why our brains are wired to connect, Oxford University Press, p. 374 .
Pagel Mark 2012, Wired for Culture. Origins of the Human Social Mind, W.W. Norton & Company New York, p. 423.
Schwägerl Christian 2014, The Anthropocene – The human era and how it shapes our planet, Synergetic Press 2014,p. 235.
Wilson Edward O. 2014, The Meaning of Human Existence, W.W. Norton & Company New York, p.207.