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Given the Earth's regenerative capacity and thermodynamic limits, what should people know and how should they learn it?

Sunset Lagoon, 2009 by Billy Ely.

Tomorrow's climate is today's decision.

    "Why are we so slow, especially in the United States, to see the great peril that faces civilization? What stops us from realizing that the fever of global heating is real and deadly and might already moved outside of our and the Earth's control?

    Science is supposed to be objective, so why has it failed to warn us sooner of these dangers? Global heating was lightly discussed by several authors in the mid-twentieth century. . . ."

    James Lovelock, The Revenge of Gaia, pp. 3-4

The points on this page:

    Start | Outline | One | Two | Three | Four | Five | Six | Seven | Eight | Nine | Ten | Done?



  1. How energy, land and water mix
  2. evidence for abrupt, accelerating, persistent, pernicious global warming
  3. solutions and causes of the situation
  4. prejudices that provoke denial & dismissal
  5. name it to blame it
  6. coping
  7. deeply divided we fall
  8. caught in a vice
  9. dialectical dance of dunces
  10. why we don't see "geo-thermally"
    1. Commons
    2. What is a commons?
    3. Enclosing the commons?
    4. Tragedy of the Commons?
  11. Any way out?

1. Energy

  1. 1000 times more radiant energy is embodied in a gram of water than in the same temperature change in a gram of solid land
  2. Water cools and warms more slowly than the land
  3. Landscape
    1. land that is vegetated traps carbon (+)
    2. land that is not vegetated traps radiant energy & re-radiates heat (–)
    3. land that is snow or ice covered reflects light & reduces the temperature (+)
    4. land that is not snow or ice covered increases the temperature (–)




2. Evidence

    1. accelerating heat trapping gas emissions are driving climate chaos.
    2. carbon dioxide is at the highest atmospheric level in 800,000 years.
    3. heavy isotopes indicate the human fingerprint from combustion.
    4. warming will persist
      1. oceans will retain heat for centuries,
      2. carbon is active in the air for centuries,
      3. Arctic sea surface ice is at a record low point in summer 2012; decreased albedo,
      4. enough coal in the earth to delay the onset of the next ice age and alter life on Earth.

Ten Indicators of a Human Fingerprint on Climate Change (via Skeptical Science)

Posted on 30 July 2010 by John Cook The NOAA State of the Climate 2009 report is an excellent summary of the many lines of evidence that global warming is happening. Acknowledging the fact that the planet is warming leads to the all important question - what's causing global warming? To answer this…

The necessity of seeing past the tragedy of the commons. Four authors separately conclude that global warming driven abrupt climate change is a classic problem: abusing a common's renewable resources.

3. Geothermal solution to meeting electricity needs while minimizing thermal and cooling necessities of modern structures.
The MIT engineering study pointed out that:

"Although geothermal energy has provided commercial base-load electricity around the world for more than a century, it is often ignored in national projections of evolving U.S. energy supply. ...


"a result of the widespread perception that the total geothermal resource is often associated with identified high-grade, hydrothermal systems that are too few and too limited in their distribution in the United States to make a long-term, major impact at a national level.


"This perception has led to undervaluing the long-term potential of geothermal energy by missing an opportunity to develop technologies for sustainable heat mining from large volumes of accessible hot rock anywhere in the United States. In fact, many attributes of geothermal energy, namely its widespread distribution, base-load dispatchability without storage, small footprint, and low emissions, are desirable for reaching a sustainable energy future....


• Active geothermal conversion to electrical current.
• Passive geothermal to reduce heating ventilation & air conditioning or HVAC costs.


Are ample energy supplies, equitably distributed as needed, the requisite ingredient in the remedy for a common's problem?


The points on this page:

    Start | Outline | One | Two | Three | Four | Five | Six | Seven | Eight | Nine | Ten | Done?



4. Prejudices are blinders that hinder our vision.

Bridging the gap between ecological literacy and widespread cultural norms, social traps, or commercially mediated information that forms a gulf of indifference about what we are doing to the planet and one another's chances for surviving well.

"Before the twentieth century ended, we were unaware of how serious a threat global heating was, and we believed that civilization could only flourish if there was increasing economic growth."

James Lovelock, The Revenge of Gaia, 71.

"Economic development has been a largely crisis driven process that occurs when a society outgrows it resource base."

David Orr

Current situation | contributing factors | tools | goals | television | statistics | literacy


5. Names we give our situation do not alter the conditions.

A gulf of indifference also divides social consciousness from a timely recognition of natural restraints.

"There are several reasons to think that our journey into the future will not be plain sailing and that one or more thresholds or tipping points do exist."

James Lovelock, Gaia's Revenge, p. 51.


It is not so much adapting to natural changes that confronts us but the necessity of rapid adaptive responses that do not disrupt social and ecological relations we must have in place to thrive. These are the challenges of fifty years of rapidly accelerating heat trapping gas emissions since 1960.

"An ecosystem is any group of plants, animals, and non-living things interacting within their external environment."

"Ecosystems may seem to be independent units that interact very little with their external environment. . . . In fact, the earth itself is an ecosystem commonly referred to as the ecosphere or biosphere."

We cannot continue to "regard the Earth as there to be exploited for the good of humankind."

Lovelock, THE REVENGE, p. 3


cultural norms | Ostrom counters | social traps | commercially mediated information

    The points on this page:

    Start | Outline | One | Two | Three | Four | Five | Six | Seven | Eight | Nine | Ten | Done?


6. Can we manage three commons at once that show signs of exhaustion?

Elinor Ostrom countered the late Garrett Hardin's argument that the commons is inevitably abused when competitive forces promote extractive excess.

Dr. Ostrom–recently deceased–became the first woman to win the Nobel in Economics in 2009. "Elinor Ostrom has challenged the conventional wisdom that common property is poorly managed and should be either regulated by central authorities or privatized," the Academy said in announcing the prize. "Based on numerous studies of user-managed fish stocks, pastures, woods, lakes and groundwater basins, Ostrom concludes that the outcomes are, more often than not, better than predicted by standard theories. She observes that resource users frequently develop sophisticated mechanisms for decision-making and rule enforcement to handle conflicts of interest, and she characterizes the rules that promote successful outcomes." Her work refuting the “Tragedy of the Commons” validates basic market principles. For those of us trying to look beyond the magic of the market and the inherent problems with government regulation her work provides some great insight into what successful management of the commons takes.

1. Clarity in the boundaries and rules. Lawful people anticipate regulatory certainty. Thus with government rests the need to understand that common law provides its greatest service by clarifying expectations so that people can interact cooperatively and less litigiously.

2. Participants have input and thus acceptance of these rules. The closer someone is to a situation, the more things they’ll know that others do not. Ostrom is well versed in “public choice” theory and knows that government regulators are humans with their own information and incentive problems.

3. Active involvement of those most likely to be using the commons in the monitoring of use. Those who care the most need to either directly involve themselves or else delegate to monitors who are accountable to them. If the people who most need the commons can’t fire those who fail to protect it, the tragedy is inevitable.

4. Methods for dispute resolution are clear. Central to anarchist theory is the idea that parties with disputes will agree to third party mediation or arbitration of those disputes. Disputes are inevitable: dispute resolution methods are necessary, and do evolve.

5. Sanctions for violators. Naturally, those found liable by arbiters or, worse, those who declare themselves “outlaws” by refusing any third party arbitration may need to be encouraged to comply by proportional sanctions. Clearly, the arsonist may need to be restrained physically to protect the forest. Still, when local acceptance and monitoring of rules is strong, violations are rare, usually accidental, and typically resolved without the need for litigation.

from: Elinor Ostrom, Governing the Commons, 1990.

PolicyZero Money Web site


The points on this page:

    Start | Outline | One | Two | Three | Four | Five | Six | Seven | Eight | Nine | Ten | Done?



7. Deeply divided we fail to hold accountable those who privatize profits and pass mounting costs on to the commons and the public.

Contrary to Ostrom's argument, David Orr has argued that cultural norms, –inherited ways to live & cope– are more powerful in shaping common tragic outcomes:

In any serious philosophical analysis of Orr’s theory, people must overcome the perspective of crisis.

"By extending Orr’s ecological literacy with biophilia and ecojustice and by recognizing the importance of experience-in-learning, science education is envisioned to incorporate values and morals within a longer term ideology of educational reform."

Cultural Studies of Science Education
Volume 6, Number 1, 193-221, DOI: 10.1007/s11422-010-9274-6
A philosophical analysis of David Orr’s theory of ecological literacy: biophilia, ecojustice and moral education in school learning communities

Debra B. Mitchell and Michael P. Mueller


Yet other critics argue that crisis refers to a turning point–and like ecological tipping points–the term is appropriate.


cultural norms | social traps | commercially mediated information



8. A huge vice of technical fixes.

Technology and human endeavors

Can we invent our way out of the mess?

Solutions already exist

Wood was replaced by charcoal in 1700s and whale oil was replaced by petroleum 1880s.

A. These solutions are neither widespread, nor

B. Inexpensive when compared to the subsidies of coal, oil, gas, and nuclear fuels that have high social costs.


"most students graduate without any broad integrated sense of the unity of things."

David Orr, Ecological Literacy.


The points on this page:

    Start | Outline | One | Two | Three | Four | Five | Six | Seven | Eight | Nine | Ten | Done?



9. The Dance of many dunces

Critics of carbon trading schemes

"Teaching kids to take care of the Earth,"


social traps are "organizing for failure"

    technological fix • sewers, tall stacks on coal plants, & pesticides.

    market solutions price water for what it costs to keep clean

    privatizesell the state & national parks, prisons, armies

    runaway intent • highways funded by use taxes; positive feedback

    education • fragmented, ethically wanting, and brainwashing

    "My point is simply that education is no guarantee of decency, prudence, or wisdom. More of the same kind of education will only compound our problems. This is not an argument for ignorance, but rather a statement that the worth of education must now be measured against the standards of decency and human survival - the issues now looming so large before us in the decade of the 1990s and beyond. It is not education that will save us, but education of a certain kind."

    David Orr


cultural norms | social traps | commercially mediated information


commercially mediated information "selling what we need to understand," amounts to a distortion of language to convey erroneous assumptions.

    • alternative energy systems
    • violence has no consequences
    • food is available and uncomplicated
    • cosmetics work
    • soap cleans
    • drugs heal
    • TV entertains
    • clean coal
    • ecological cars
    • zero emission homes
    • fighting cancer
    • combat global warming
    • sustainable production
    • nature is recreational


    The points on this page:

      Start | Outline | One | Two | Three | Four | Five | Six | Seven | Eight | Nine | Ten | Done?



10. How it is that we are so blind?

Getting serious

Best climate blog

Technical facts on the web

What if the world is four dimensions and all we do is perceive three dimensions?

cube Four dimensional square cube

What if the tragedy of the commons reveals we live in a teseract and our thinking leads us to create remedies that fail because they are designed for a cube?

"By capturing only a fragment of reality, unrelieved abstraction inevitably distorts perception."

David Orr, Ecological Literacy, p. 127.

"But somehow the sense of urgency about global heating faded in the 1990s, and the pioneering bravery of the whistle blowers received little support from the lumpen middle management of science. They are not wholly to blame, for science itself was handicapped in the past two centuries by its division into many different disciplines, each limited to seeing only a tiny facet of the planet, and there was no coherent vision of the Earth."

James Lovelock, Gaia's Revenge, p. 5.

Any knowledge that is fragmented requires more time for synthesis.


A discussion of the challenges we face to overcome shrinking dimensions:

I. The rise of commercial television as a learning media.

Distortion of information is at the very core of commercially inspired media.

The brief amount of time afforded broadcasting adds to the fragmentation of knowledge.

University of Michigan

"…if your child is typical, TV is playing a very big role in their life. Here are some key research findings to keep in mind. . . "

California State University at Northridge

"Number of 30-second TV commercials seen in a year by an average child: 20,000.
Number of TV commercials seen by the average person by age 65: 2 million."

Compiled by TV-Free America
1322 18th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20036

"TV-Free America was a national nonprofit organization that was founded in 1994 to raise awareness about the harmful effects of excessive television-watching and encourage Americans to reduce the amount of television that they watch--and replace TV time with activities that lead to more literate, productive lives and engaged citizenship."

II. The hegemony of corporations and extra-national conglomerates:

Vertical integration: Oil corporations,

Horizontal integration: Google, utility companies, phone companies.

It is not in any petroleum, mining, or coal corporations interest to fully and well educate the public.

III. Coping through the use of Orr's, Ecological Literacy; a research agenda for assessing solutions.

"Humans as forces in nature." Not as is widely portrayed–the victims of nature's indifference.

Orr, Ecological Literacy, p. 163.

"The problem lies in their underlying values and assumptions."

Orr, Ecological Literacy, p. 166.

For example:

"Many consider this noble policy superior to the laissez faire of business as usual. Unfortunately for us, these wholly different approaches, one the expression of international decency, the other of unfeeling market forces, have the same outcome: the probability of disastrous global change. The error they share is the belief that further development is possible and that the Earth will continue, more or less as now, for at least the first half of this century. . . . the damage has already been done. . . .both measures deny the existence of the Earth's disease, the fever brought on by a plague of people."

James Lovelock, The Revenge of Gaia, p. 3.

Argument: "the paradigm of 'human exceptionalism' which states that humans are above nature," is inherently filled with errors and may be fatally flawed.

Orr, Ecological Literacy, p. 166.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics sponsors a survey of how Americans spend their time:


11. Is there any way out?

Examine how organizations promote ecological literacy in these subjects:



The level of carbon dioxide saturation

Endocrine disruption

Environment and cancer

The Tragedy of Apopka

The Encyclopedia of Earth

Landscape changes due to population

Ties to the points on this page:

One | two | three | four | five | six | seven | eight | nine | ten | done.

Start | The current situation | cultural norms | social traps | commercially mediated information | goal


Links to the class site:

Carbon | carbon cycle | struggle over carbon | carbon's core role

Critics of carbon trading schemes

David Orr Chapter IX | Ecological Literacy Chapter I | Why is eco literacy needed

Film as a medium | Film Art | Open Space of Democracy

Archer conclusion | Christianson | Gelbspan | Schmidt | Weart

Advocacy is basic to learning.