Do humans harm the environment?

By Andy May

This is the first of seven posts on the potential costs and hazards of human-caused global warming and the impact of humans on the environment in general. The IPCC WGII AR5 Technical Summary, defines “hazards” on page 39:

“The potential occurrence of a natural or human-induced physical event or trend or physical impact that may cause loss of life, injury, or other health impacts, as well as damage and loss to property, infrastructure, livelihoods, service provision, ecosystems, and environmental resources. In this report, the term hazard usually refers to climate-related physical events or trends or their physical impacts.”

Do humans harm the environment? If we assume humans are causing most of the current global warming, is the warming dangerous? If we are dangerous to the environment, should we limit our population in some way? If global warming is potentially dangerous, and we assume human CO2 emissions are the cause, would we be better off to adapt to the human-caused global warming and continue using fossil fuels, or do we need to stop using fossil fuels to limit emissions? We will consider these issues here and in future posts.

In this post, we will deal with the more extreme claims. Some claim humans are dangerous, we breed too much, we use too many resources, we are an existential threat to ourselves and the rest of the world. So, before we get into the economics and hazards of climate change, let’s discuss these so-called “existential” threats.

Can global warming destroy the Earth?

A common assertion is that global warming is an existential threat to humans and the Earth in general. This is often explained as the Earth will become like Venus, with a surface temperature of 464°C (or 250°C as Stephen Hawking once incorrectly asserted) and barren of life. James Hansen once called this the runaway greenhouse effect. The truth is that neither the Earth nor Venus are “runaway.” Further, the Earth has oceans and Venus has almost no water. 99.9% of the Earths heat capacity and thermal energy is stored in our oceans. Less than 0.1% of the Earth’s thermal energy is stored in the atmosphere. The Earth’s surface has five times more stored thermal energy than the surface of Venus. We have a lower surface temperature, because the thermal energy is nearly all in the oceans and they have an enormous heat capacity. The Earth’s oceans alone store much more thermal energy than the whole surface of Venus at a temperature of 464°C. If our oceans continue to exist, there is no way our planet’s surface could reach a dangerous temperature. They would have to completely boil away, and the water vapor would have to be ejected to outer space. No greenhouse gas could ever accomplish that.

Thought experiment: if the atmosphere could somehow reach a temperature of 1,000°C, lose none of the thermal energy to outer space, and transfer all of it to the oceans; the temperature of the oceans would increase one degree. This is the easiest way I can think of to explain the temperature buffering effect of the oceans. For another, more complete, description of how the tropical oceans limit the surface temperature of the Earth to a maximum of 30°C, see Newell and Dopplick, 1979 or the discussion here. Atmospheric temperatures, especially the temperature of the atmosphere at the surface (basically the lower 2 meters of the atmosphere) have very little impact on long-term (meaning decades or longer) climate. Attempts to measure the average surface temperature (the HADCRUT database, GISTEMP, etc.) are useful, after all we live on the surface; but using them to measure the impact or severity of global climate change is like measuring the impact of a bomb blast by counting the ripples in a tea cup in a basement TV room 100 km away. The ripples may be related to the blast, but you are too far away from the main event to be accurate. The oceans cover 70% of the Earth’s surface and contain nearly all the thermal energy, the focus should be on them.

The Oceans are key

Ocean temperatures are indeed rising. But, we only have good global data since 2004 and only to a depth of 2,000 meters. The average ocean depth is 3,688 meters. If we assume the temperature at 3,688 meters is about 0°C, which is not unreasonable since the average temperature at 2,000 meters is 2.4°C, then we currently see 0.0031°C of warming for the oceans per year to that depth. If this continues (it won’t) then it would take 1,000 years for the surface temperature of the Earth to increase 3°C, hardly alarming. See figure 1. More on the JAMSTEC ocean temperature grid here.

Figure 1 (data source: JAMSTEC)

In future posts, we will discuss the economic costs of mitigating warming by reducing or eliminating fossil fuel use versus adapting to the warming. In this post, we will discuss human impacts on the environment in general. Humans are part of nature, we may have evolved naturally or been created by a supernatural being when the Earth was created, either way we are a part of nature. Deepak Chopra has discussed the “Gaia hypothesis” and wonders if we are a cancer on the Earth. David Attenborough has asserted we are a plague on the Earth. In this essay, we examine this idea. We need to get past the idea that man may be an existential threat to man, before we discuss the economics of global warming. Much of this discussion depends upon point-of-view. Do we take the humanist view that our actions should help mankind? Or is some sort of metaphysical “Gaia” god-like creature supreme and mankind must take second place and serve Gaia? We have not met this Gaia creature and are fervently in favor of the humanist view. We will argue our points as a humanist.

Economic growth, prosperity, health and the environment

“In general, we need to confront our myth of the economy undercutting the environment. We have grown to believe that we are faced with an inescapable choice between higher economic welfare and a greener environment. But surprisingly and as will be documented throughout this book, environmental development often stems from economic development – only when we get sufficiently rich can we afford the relative luxury of caring about the environment. On its most general level, this conclusion is evident in Figure [2], where higher income in general is correlated with higher environmental sustainability.” Lomborg, Bjørn. The Skeptical Environmentalist: Measuring the Real State of the World (pp. 32-33).

Figure 2 (Data sources: Environmental Performance Index: NASA, GDP in PPP$: World Bank)

Figure 2, is an updated version of a similar figure in The Skeptical Environmentalist, we have plotted the NASA measure of environmental quality (EPI) for 2016 versus 2016 GDP for most countries in the world. Some of the countries are labeled. The NASA SEDAC environmental productivity index (EPI) is plotted on the Y axis and the World Bank purchase-power-parity dollar (PPP$) GDP for each country is on the X axis. The plot contains points for 164 countries, data was unavailable for many countries and Luxembourg was excluded because of a very high GDP/person ($102,831, EPI=86.6, about the same as Switzerland). A logarithmic least squares line through the data is decent with an R2 of 0.7, even though there are many other factors affecting both GDP and EPI for all the countries plotted. So, generally Lomborg was correct in his 2001 book, the wealthier countries tend to have higher environmental quality. One can also be convinced by visiting developing countries and developed countries around the world. Once GDP/person exceeds about PPP$2,000/person, it begins to become a factor in environmental quality until it flattens out in the high 80s at around PPP$50,000/person.

Disease and health

“In October 1998, Professor [David] Pimentel [Cornell University] published as lead author an article on the “Ecology of increasing disease” in the peer-reviewed journal BioScience. The basic premise of the paper is that increasing population will lead to increasing environmental degradation, intensified pollution and consequently more human disease.” Lomborg, Bjørn. The Skeptical Environmentalist: Measuring the Real State of the World (p. 22).

In a 2007 paper, Pimentel, et al. double down:

“The World Health Organization (WHO) and other organizations report that the prevalence of human diseases during the past decade is rapidly increasing. Population growth and the pollution of water, air, and soil are contributing to the increasing number of human diseases worldwide. Currently an estimated 40% of world deaths are due to environmental degradation. The ecology of increasing diseases has complex factors of environmental degradation, population growth, and the current malnutrition of about 3.7 billion people in the world.”

The “40% of world deaths” in the quote above is from Pimentel’s 1998 paper referred to in the previous Lomborg quote. Lomborg has a lot to say about Pimentel’s 1998 paper. First the “40% of world deaths” is never explained in the paper, neither the total number of deaths nor the number due to pollution are specified in the article. Deeper in the article the reason changes from “pollution” to “pollution, tobacco and malnutrition.” In a later interview he explains that smoking included burning wood in the home, in the third world burning wood in the home kills 4 million people a year and smoking kills 3 million a year. Malnutrition costs 6-14 million lives. WHO (World Health Organization) estimates that that outdoor air pollution kills about half a million people per year, which is 12% of those killed by indoor pollution. So, Pimentel, et al., in both papers, have taken a very small number of pollution related deaths, added smokers, the malnourished, people who cook and heat their houses with wood to that number and have tried to claim they all died due to environmental pollution. Who were the peer-reviewers?

The main claim of the paper is that disease is increasing, this is also incorrect.

“The claim about increasing infectious disease is downright wrong, as can be seen in [figure 3]. Infectious diseases have been decreasing since 1970 and probably much longer, though we only have evidence from some countries … Likewise infectious disease is expected to decrease in the future, at least until 2020. Even in absolute numbers, infectious deaths are expected to drop from 9.3 million to 6.5 million.” Lomborg, Bjørn. The Skeptical Environmentalist: Measuring the Real State of the World (p. 26).

Figure 3, data sources Bulatao, 1993 and the World Health Organization

The data shown in figure 3 are also supported by Murray and Lopez, 1996 and Murray and Lopez, 1997. The blue curve in figure three is from data compiled by Bulatao and published in 1993. The dark gray curve is of data compiled from 186 countries by the World Health Organization (WHO) and published in December, 2016. Bulatao got the trend right, but was a little pessimistic, in reality the rate of infectious disease dropped faster than he projected. So, again, Lomborg was correct in his 2001 book.

“When looking at trends, Pimentel happily uses very short-term descriptions. He looks at the biggest infectious disease killer, tuberculosis, claiming it has gone from killing 2.5 million in 1990 to 3 million in 1995, and citing an expected 3.5 million dead in 2000. However, in 1999, the actual death toll from tuberculosis was 1.669 million, and the WHO source that Pimentel most often uses estimates an almost stable 2 million dead over the 1990s.” Lomborg, Bjørn. The Skeptical Environmentalist: Measuring the Real State of the World (pp. 22-23).

According to the WHO 2016 statistics, there were 1,667,000 deaths due to Tuberculosis in 2000 and 1,373,000 in 2015. This is a drop of 18% in 15 years.

“Equally, pointing out the danger of chemicals and pesticides, Pimentel tries to make a connection by pointing out that “in the United States, cancer-related deaths from all causes increased from 331,000 in 1970 to approximately 521,000 in 1992.” However, this again ignores an increasing population (24 percent) and an aging population (making cancers more likely). The age-adjusted cancer death rate in the US was actually lower in 1996 than in 1970, despite increasing cancer deaths from past smoking, and adjusted for smoking the rate has been declining steadily since 1970 by about 17 percent.” Lomborg, Bjørn. The Skeptical Environmentalist: Measuring the Real State of the World (p. 23).

In reality, the cancer death rate did increase from 1972 to 1990 according to the CDC, but after 1990 it fell dramatically as can be seen in figure 4. The figures shown in figure 4 are age adjusted by the CDC.

Figure 4, Age adjusted death rate due to cancer, data from the CDC.

In this case, Pimentel is correct that cancer deaths increased from 1970 to 1992, even when adjusted for age and population. However, Lomborg is also correct that the adjusted cancer death rate in 1996 was lower than in 1970. It is much lower today.

“In 2002 the World Health Organization concluded that it could not identify the influence of greenhouse gas emissions on health and disease based on existing data: “Climate exhibits natural variability, and its effects on health are mediated by many other determinants. There are currently insufficient high-quality, long-term data on climate-sensitive diseases to provide a direct measurement of the health impact of anthropogenic climate change, particularly in the most vulnerable populations.” Pielke Jr., Roger. The Climate Fix: What Scientists and Politicians Won’t Tell You About Global Warming (pp. 176-177).

“The speculative guesses of WHO formed the basis of estimates released in a 2009 report issued by the Global Humanitarian Forum, a non-governmental organization run by former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan. The GHF concluded that greenhouse gas-driven climate change was presently responsible for 154,000 deaths per year due to malnutrition, 94,000 deaths per year due to diarrhea, and 54,000 deaths per year due to malaria, which when added to deaths from weather-related disasters (which have declined dramatically over the past century) gives a total of 315,000 people who allegedly die each year due to human-caused climate change. A close look at the health-related numbers shows that they are exactly two times the values presented in the 2002 WHO report, which said that the estimates do not “accord with the canons of empirical science.” In other words, the numbers appear to be just a guess on top of the earlier speculation. “Analyses” such as these are what give some areas of climate science a bad name and suggest an unhealthy politicization of research to support favored causes.” Pielke Jr., Roger. The Climate Fix: What Scientists and Politicians Won’t Tell You About Global Warming (p. 177).

Regarding the health effects of global warming, the IPCC WGII AR5 has this to say.

“Until mid-century, projected climate change will impact human health mainly by exacerbating health problems that already exist (very high confidence). Throughout the 21st century, climate change is expected to lead to increases in ill-health in many regions and especially in developing countries with low income, as compared to a baseline without climate change (high confidence). Examples include greater likelihood of injury, disease, and death due to more intense heat waves and fires (very high confidence); increased likelihood of under-nutrition resulting from diminished food production in poor regions (high confidence); risks from lost work capacity and reduced labor productivity in vulnerable populations; and increased risks from food- and water-borne diseases (very high confidence) and vector-borne diseases (medium confidence). Impacts on health will be reduced, but not eliminated, in populations that benefit from rapid social and economic development, particularly among the poorest and least healthy groups (high confidence).”

Clever wording makes this quote mostly true, but very misleading. As we will see, global warming may increase heat-related deaths, but cold-related deaths will be reduced by a much larger amount. This is because there are more cold-related deaths in the world than heat-related deaths. We have already shown above that infectious diseases and cancers are decreasing. In addition, malnutrition or “under-nutrition” is also decreasing at a rapid rate. Thus, the models that were used to make these projections have yet to be validated. As we have seen often in IPCC reports, they report anything they can think of that is negative about climate change and completely ignore anything positive, no matter how well documented.

Life Expectancy

Since 100% of us die of something, perhaps a better measure of human health is average life expectancy which is currently 71.5 years globally. According to Dong, et al., 2016, Nature, life expectancy globally is increasing, see figure 5. According to The Lancet (Landrigan, et al., 2017) environmental pollution is responsible for 16% of global deaths or nine million premature deaths globally. 92% of these premature deaths occur in low and middle-income countries.

Figure 5 (source: Dong, et al., 2016, Nature)

There is also a correlation between fossil fuel use and life expectancy in the developing world, as you can see in figure 6.

Figure 6 (from Epstein here.)

Not only are people living longer they are also living better lives:

“That is all very well, say pessimists, but what about quality of life in old age? Sure, people live longer, but only by having years of suffering and disability added to their lives. Not so. In one American study, disability rates in people over 65 fell from 26.2 per cent to 19.7 per cent between 1982 and 1999 – at twice the pace of the decrease in the mortality rate. Chronic illness before death is if anything shortening slightly, not lengthening, despite better diagnosis and more treatments – ‘the compression of morbidity’ is the technical term. People are not only spending a longer time living, but a shorter time dying.” Ridley, Matt. The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves (P.S.) (p. 18).

“We live longer, but have we only been given more time in which to be ill? The answer has to be: absolutely not. We have generally become much healthier during the past centuries.” Lomborg, Bjørn. The Skeptical Environmentalist: Measuring the Real State of the World (pp. 54-55).

Figure 7 (Data source: Murray and Lopez, 1997)

In figure 7, we see that the developed world has the longest life span at birth and the smallest percentage of their lives spent as disabled. The data are from Murray and Lopez 1997, table 4. The disabilities shown on the Y axis are severity adjusted. As people become wealthier and as they use more energy, they not only live longer, but they live healthier lives. The idea that people in the pre-industrial era lived happy, healthy lives in harmony with nature is nonsense as explained by Princeton historian Lawrence Stone in The Family, Sex and Marriage in England 1500-1800:

“The almost total ignorance of both personal and public hygiene meant that contaminated food and water was a constant hazard … The result of these primitive sanitary conditions was constant outbursts of bacterial stomach infections, the most fearful of all being dysentery, which swept away many victims of both sexes and of all ages within a few hours or days. Stomach disorders of one kind or another were chronic, due to poorly balanced diet among the rich, and the consumption of rotten and insufficient food among the poor. The prevalence of intestinal worms … were a slow, disgusting and debilitating disease that caused a vast amount of human misery and ill health … In the many poorly drained marshy areas, recurrent malarial fevers were common and debilitating diseases … [and] perhaps even more heartbreaking was the slow, inexorable, destructive power of tuberculosis … For women, childbirth was a very dangerous experience … [and finally] there was the constant threat of accidental death from neglect or carelessness or association with animals like horses – which seem to have been at least as dangerous as automobiles – or elements like water …” Lomborg, Bjørn. The Skeptical Environmentalist: Measuring the Real State of the World (p. 55).

Technology exists to control both air and water pollution and it is rapidly spreading to poor and middle-income countries. In the U.S. where the technology has been used for decades, air pollution has decreased 70% since 1970 according to the EPA. Fewer than one-half of all people had access to clean water in 1990 and now over 65% do according to the BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2013.

“Note that as recently as 1990, under half the world had “improved sanitation facilities.” The increase to two thirds in only a few decades is a wonderful accomplishment,” Epstein, Alex. The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels (p. 148). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

And

“The rich have got richer, but the poor have done even better. The poor in the developing world grew their consumption twice as fast as the world as a whole between 1980 and 2000.” Ridley, Matt. The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves (p. 15).

And

“Roughly eight out of ten American households had running water, central heating, electric light, washing machines and refrigerators by 1955. Almost none had these luxuries in 1900.” Ridley, Matt. The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves (P.S.) (p. 16).

And

“Today, of Americans officially designated as ‘poor’, 99 per cent have electricity, running water, flush toilets, and a refrigerator; 95 per cent have a television, 88 per cent a telephone, 71 per cent a car and 70 per cent air conditioning.” Ridley, Matt. The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves (pp. 16-17).

In some ways, the poor in the U.S. are better off than King Louis XIV of France in 1700, the richest man of his day.

Is the environment deteriorating?

Perhaps somewhere, but:

“In Europe and America rivers, lakes, seas and the air are getting cleaner all the time. The Thames has less sewage and more fish. Lake Erie’s water snakes, on the brink of extinction in the 1960s, are now abundant. Bald eagles have boomed. Pasadena has few smogs. Swedish birds’ eggs have 75 per cent fewer pollutants in them than in the 1960s. American carbon monoxide emissions from transport are down 75 per cent in twenty-five years. Today, a car emits less pollution traveling at full speed than a parked car did in 1970 from leaks. Ridley, Matt. The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves (p. 17).

Prosperity

People now live much longer and better lives than 100 years ago. Conveniences, such as artificial light are much cheaper today:

“[Consider] how much artificial light you can earn with an hour of work at the average wage. The amount has increased from twenty-four lumen-hours in 1750 BC (sesame oil lamp) to 186 in 1800 (tallow candle) to 4,400 in 1880 (kerosene lamp) to 531,000 in 1950 (incandescent light bulb) to 8.4 million lumen-hours today (compact fluorescent bulb). Put it another way, an hour of work today earns you 300 days’ worth of reading light; an hour of work in 1800 earned you ten minutes of reading light.” Ridley, Matt. The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves (P.S.) (pp. 20-21).

In the mid-1800s a stagecoach ride from Paris to Bordeaux cost a month’s wages, today a train ticket is 10 Euros. In 1840 transporting a family of four along the Oregon trail from St. Louis, Missouri to Oregon City, Oregon cost $23,373 in 2016 U.S. dollars and it took 4.5 months to make the trip. Yet, today the car trip is only $1,052 and the 4-hour plane trip is only $1016.

We benefit from what Matt Ridley calls the multiplication of labor. Each of us works at one job, producing one thing; but we purchase goods from all over the world that involved the labor of thousands of people. We can do this because of fossil fuels, modern transportation and win-win capitalism where both the buyer and the seller profit from each transaction.

Consider this story:

“Kelly Cobb of Drexel University set out to make a man’s suit entirely from materials produced within 100 miles of her home. It took twenty artisans a total of 500 manhours to achieve it and even then they had to get 8 per cent of the materials from outside the 100-mile radius. If they worked for another year, they could get it all from within the limit, argued Cobb.” Ridley, Matt. The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves (P.S.) (p. 35).

500 man-hours of skilled labor to make a suit! In the U.S. the labor costs alone would be over $5,000. Compare a modern woman in Paris to King Louis XIV, who had 498 servants preparing each meal:

“[A] woman of 35, living in, for the sake of argument, Paris and earning the median wage, with a working husband and two children. You are far from poor, but in relative terms, you are immeasurably poorer than Louis was. Where he was the richest of the rich in the world’s richest city, you have no servants, no palace, no carriage, no kingdom. As you toil home from work on the crowded Metro, stopping at the shop on the way to buy a ready meal for four, you might be thinking that Louis XIV’s dining arrangements were way beyond your reach. And yet consider this. The cornucopia that greets you as you enter the supermarket dwarfs anything that Louis XIV ever experienced (and it is probably less likely to contain salmonella). You can buy a fresh, frozen, tinned, smoked or pre-prepared meal made with beef, chicken, pork, lamb, fish, prawns, scallops, eggs, potatoes, beans, carrots, cabbage, aubergine, kumquats, celeriac, okra, seven kinds of lettuce, cooked in olive, walnut, sunflower or peanut oil and flavoured with cilantro, turmeric, basil or rosemary … You may have no chefs, but you can decide on a whim to choose between scores of nearby bistros, or Italian, Chinese, Japanese or Indian restaurants, in each of which a team of skilled chefs is waiting to serve your family at less than an hour’s notice. Think of this: never before this generation has the average person been able to afford to have somebody else prepare his meals.” Ridley, Matt. The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves (pp. 36-37).

Louis XIV, the Sun King, had 498 servants prepare his meals; yet, he was not as rich as the modern Parisian woman. This woman has the products of thousands of workers at her fingertips in any grocery store or restaurant.

In summary, humanity is far better off today that we have ever been. Using fossil fuels, modern transportation, and communication technology we have built a world-wide system of trade that allows each of us to benefit from the labor of thousands of people around the world. This has drastically reduced poverty. It is also true that more affluent countries have less environmental pollution, with cleaner air and water, than less developed countries. This is true, even though richer countries burn more fossil fuels.

Conclusions

“All in all, it must be said that mankind’s health situation has improved dramatically over the past couple of hundred years. We live to more than twice the age we did just a hundred years ago, and the improvement applies to both the industrialized and the developing world. Infant mortality has fallen in both developed and developing countries by far more than 50 percent.” Lomborg, Bjørn. The Skeptical Environmentalist: Measuring the Real State of the World (pp. 58-59).

“… there has been a 36-fold increase in per capita American production since 1789, and a similar 20-fold British increase since 1756. In 2000 the US economy produced goods and services for an average American at the value of $36,200; at the end of the eighteenth century, an American would have made just 996 present-day dollars. The average Briton had £15,700 in 2000 compared to just 792 present day pounds in 1756.” Lomborg, Bjørn. The Skeptical Environmentalist: Measuring the Real State of the World (p. 70).

Subsequent posts will discuss the costs and benefits of global warming. But, before we get into the economics of global warming, I felt I had to deal with the more extreme “dangerous climate change” claims.

In this post, I have tried to discredit three common assertions made by environmentalists. The first is that man is an existential threat to man and the Earth or “Gaia.” Does our growing population cause more infectious disease? The clear answer is no. Does our economic growth harm the environment? Clearly it does not, prosperity allows us to take better care of our environment. Does our growing population and lengthening life expectancy just make us sicker? Clearly not, we live both longer lives and better lives today. Is the environment getting worse with time? No, in fact it is getting better the more prosperous we are.

Look at the graph in figure 8.

Figure 8 (source: Dina Pomeranz, see Anthony Watts’ post here)

It’s clear that the environment and human welfare are improving as we become more prosperous.

The second assertion is that global warming has the potential to destroy the Earth by turning it into a Venus type planet. This is clearly physically impossible if the Earth has oceans. And, no matter how much greenhouse gases increase, the oceans will still be here. The average temperature of the water in the oceans is between 4°C and 5°C and the oceans have 99.9% of the heat capacity on the surface of the Earth, so surface warming is severely limited.

The third assertion is that humans are breeding ourselves into extinction or starvation. Are humans outstripping the Earth’s resources? No, we are not. Natural resource production and discovery, farm land, and food supply are all growing faster than we are using them. And this will be the case for the foreseeable future.

In the strictest sense, I don’t have to disprove any of these crazy ideas, they are all very speculative and there is no data to support any of them, just unvalidated computer models. But, we hear very notable academics (including Stephen Hawking!) and politicians repeating this stuff all the time. This post is an attempt to inject some reality into the fog of wild speculation.

“[Humans] don’t take a safe climate and make it dangerous; we take a dangerous climate and make it safe.” Epstein, Alex. The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels (p. 126).

We are living in a time of nearly boundless prosperity. The rate of poverty has plunged to unimaginable lows. This is a time when the definition of poverty in the United States is set so high, a poor person in the U.S. would be the envy of any wealthy person prior to World War II. Inequality in the world is at its lowest level ever and decreasing at a rapid rate. People who were born in abject poverty can now become doctors and lawyers. Why we still have doomsayers predicting the end of the world is beyond my understanding.

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156 thoughts on “Do humans harm the environment?

  1. Andy,
    Are you sure that the surface temperature of Venus is “464°C?” Might it be 463? Or 465? Or even 460? Your stated temperature suggests a precision that is probably unwarranted, without even considering the question of accuracy because of sparse sampling. Might I suggest that in the future you use phrasing something to the effect that “The surface temperature of Venus is thought to be about 460°C.” Hawking’s temperature may have been inaccurate, but his implied precision was probably better than yours.

    • Clyde,
      While spacecraft have not been able to survive on the surface of Venus very long, several Russian spacecraft have measured the surface temperature of Venus. It is “about” 464 degrees. I take your point on the wording. It is hard to say why Hawking made the mistake, the number he gave is roughly the blackbody temperature of Venus, which is 226 degrees, maybe that is why he got confused. He made many mistakes in that interview.

      • The current record for instrument survival on Venus is 127 minutes. Not bad as the melting point of lead is 328C which no doubt makes designing sensors and electronics a bit of a challenge . The planet is known to rotate quite slowly, so the temperature may vary a bit from place to place and time to time. And don’t overlook the fact that Venus is 30,000,000 miles closer to the Sun than the Earth, so it’d be pretty warm there even with an Earthlike atmosphere.

      • Wikipedia gives the surface temperature of Venus as 735 K (462 °C). Of course Wikipedia, where CAGW is orthodoxy says the temperature is due to a “runaway greenhouse effect. They ignore at least two simple physical explanations. First, Venus is a lot closer to the Sun (~0.7 AU) so it gets more than 2x as much Solar radiation. Second, Venus’s atmosphere is 92x denser than Earth. The temperature must be higher than Earth by the ideal gas law.

      • Then what about this statement:

        “we currently see 0.0031°C of warming for the oceans per year to that depth.”

        Really? That’s no warming.

      • Arguing about runaway temperatures is a waste of time. The earth obviously imposes reasonably impervious limits to warmth and cold. We are nearer the lower limit now but life obviously thrived at the higher limits. Just a very few degrees of cooling would impose extreme hardship on most of the civilized world as well as natural life. Since the only options are warming or cooling, for myself, I much prefer the warming option.

      • If Venus had a “runway” green house condition the temperature would still be increasing. Since it is not currently increasing it can be safely concluded that Venus does not have a runaway green house condition.

        It merely has a higher equilibrium temperature than Earth’s. That would be due to the fact that it is mostly different in different conditions. If it were the same I would be more surprised.
        It is just slightly smaller than earth, but is about .72 the distance to the sun as the earth. With about the same diameter as earth, but much closer to the sun it will receive a much larger spherical sector of the sun’s radiation than Earth does. And since radiative energy drops off as the inverse cube of the distance, the energy differences are increased as well.

  2. I like this article but not it’s title. Of course, on some scale humans harm the environment. Discharging raw sewage directly into the ocean doesn’t do the environment or anyone any good. The GW debate is a different thing than the title’s question.

    Of course responding to concerns over GW has led to policies that involve destroying the environment in order to save it, such as slashing and burning rain forest to plant palms for biodiesel or sugarcaine for fuel ethanol.

    • Shearer, Doing the research and thinking about it, I came to opposite conclusion. I think humans are helping the environment and as we become more affluent, we will help it more. I deal with this question throughout the seven posts. I’d like to know what you think after you’ve read all seven.

      • Andy,
        I will get back to you at the end of the series. In the meantime, you might want to reflect on the old saying, “Sometimes one is their own worst enemy.”

      • ” I think humans are helping the environment”…

        Of course we are….

        You know all of these articles start out with the same assumption…..increasing the temp or CO2 is a bad thing
        ..and then go on to either fortify or deny that we are

        First they fool you into believing it’s a bad thing….that forces you into defending it

      • When most need to hunt and fish for survival, hunting and fishing seasons and limits go out the window.
        It is an affluent society that can afford to set up hunting and fishing seasons, national parks, wildlife refuges, build wastewater plants, etc.

      • OK, I’ll withhold judgement. On net I think you may be correct, but certainly we have the power to destroy in addition to protect and correct.

      • @ Gunga Din…good point. Imagine what would happen to wildlife in the US, if there was ever a severe disruption in the food supply for the population. Game animal populations would be severely diminished at a rapid rate, and would never recover. Venezuela is a great example of how that works. Hardly any cats or dogs left as they would be the easiest animals to catch. Then game animals in the woodlands close to population centers would be next to be wiped out. There is no way for the population of our planet to survive off of unmanaged nature.

      • Good article, I look forward to the rest.

        I don’t think there is any questions that humans have done and continue to do things harmful to the environment. However, as you point out, as we become more affluent and aware the net impact of humans on the environment is becoming increasingly beneficial.

        The great shame of the CAGW movement is that it is built on falsehoods and it diverts money, effort and focus from real environmental issues.

      • More importantly, what is the standard for evaluating the environment?

        Dumping raw sewage in the ocean is an interesting example. In the absence of intelligent life, there can be no way of evaluating whether raw sewage is good or bad. The critters that live in the ocean might find the raw sewage to be a tasty treat. Some of them may be killed by it. Is it good or bad?

        Nature does not know of good or bad. It can be in equilibrium or out of equilibrium. But, you cannot attach a judgement to that. Equilibria are disturbed all the time. Remember the Chicxulub Meteor? It disturbed the Earth’s equilibrium big time. Eventually equilibrium was reestablished but with mammals and birds, not dinosaurs. Can it be called good or bad? No, it was just a random chunk of rock rolling around the solar system until the Earth got in the way.

        Judging good and bad is a uniquely human attribute. Remember from the Book of Genesis, Adam and Eve are naked and innocent like wild animals until they learn the difference between good and bad. In theistic religions there can be a non-human judge. But even those religions under-specify the criteria for judging raw sewage.

        In the end, judgements about environmental issues must be made by humans on human criteria. Dumping raw sewage in the ocean can adversely affect human communities down the coast. That is why it most people might oppose it. But, if there were no humans around, it would be a neutral event.

      • I agree and this is an excellent article. Thank you. The highest danger facing humans is humans in the sense that we often acts against our own best interest, and the most dangerous thought is that humans are a threat to the planet (humophobia). Those that fantasize about a world depopulated of people (a new Eden) almost certainly don’t consider themselves among those who are removed, but likely as the new Eves and Adams enjoying a pristine and perfect world. But if their fantasy ever appeared they would quickly be looking for their cell phones, a good cappuccino and perhaps a firearm to ward off the dangerous predators.

      • “But if their fantasy ever appeared they would quickly be looking for their cell phones, a good cappuccino and perhaps a firearm to ward off the dangerous predators.”

        And the first time they acquired a minor wound, a pharmacist to supply them with antibiotics to ward off an unpleasant death from septicaemia.

        Then, after a slightly more severe wound, some analgesics and perhaps even anaesthetics to dull the pain of an amputation…

        Nah, I’ll stick to 21st civilisation myself.

    • Scientifically, there is no such thing as ‘harming’ the environment. It’s a completely subjective phrase and depends entirely on what type of environment one likes. In today’s whacky environmental paradigm, changing the environment has become synonymous with harming the environment. The irony of this definition is found when you realize that ALL LIFE changes it’s environment. It is a defining characteristic of life, to take something from the environment, transform it, and put something different back.

      If one follows the reasoning of modern environmentalism to it’s logical conclusion, one realizes it promotes preserving the environment by killing it, or at the very least, killing all humans. The fundamental problem with the current environmental paradigm is a believe in a static, ‘correct’ way for the environment to be. This is certainly not a ‘scientific’ viewpoint, and probably has it’s origins in the Eden myth of the Bible. The real Earth, however, has always been dynamic. At no time has the Earth’s environment ever been ‘wrong’. It is a ridiculous believe and extraordinarily egotistical.

      • Worshiping and serving the created thing rather than the Creator did not start in Eden. It started after Eden.

      • @jclarke341
        Indeed it depends your view of humanity — are we part of nature, or symbiotically living with nature, or parasitically living off nature. Some appear to hold view that can only be interpreted as, humans are separate from nature and live parasitically off it. I hold that we are, in the main, part of nature with some elements of the other 2 qualities.

    • Humans are and always have been an integral part of the environment. Without humans there is no environment to be concerned about.

      So how can the environment be of harm to itself ??

      G

    • Indeed. How is it possible for CO2 to harm the environment when it is one of the fundamental building blocks and sustainers of all life in the environment?

    • At least, ‘have harmed’ would probably be mostly untrue statement, although ‘harm’ is difficult to measure against benefit, and even if benefits exceed harm, you can argue there was harm as well. The DAGW conjecture rests on future harm, and more importantly, on possible future harm, that is very difficult to refute. Only easy to assert to not exist.

      +++

      We have a lower surface temperature, because the thermal energy is nearly all in the oceans and they have an enormous heat capacity.

      I find this very odd and a non sequitur appears there. There is no such because. Water condensing makes a good heat pump, and snow makes a good insulation. Ocean is also a good heat redistributor. I think those matter most after the huge CO2 amount, 90 atm, in Venus.

      • Hugs, I see your point and I may have oversimplified. I agree that it is the ability of water to move thermal energy around and store latent energy (energy of vaporization) + the changing amount of water vapor in the air that keeps us cool. But, I was trying to make the overall point that the oceans act as a huge damper on temperature changes. It’s hard to get that across in a valid way without getting so technical you lose your audience.

  3. “Why we still have doomsayers predicting the end of the world is beyond my understanding.”

    Because people pay (or vote) to assuage or reinforce their fears. Truly, the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.

    • “Because people pay (or vote) to assuage or reinforce their fears. Truly, the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
      I disagree, in that fear of being dominated by a pack of “elite” control freaks is both rational and justified (now as ever) and highly motivating, it seems to me . . and is currently generating growing “political” clout throughout the world right now.
      It’s not a question, to me, of fear being inherently bad/dangerous, but of irrational fear generated by those control freaks, through the “pretend science” trumpeted by the mass media they dominate being bad/dangerous . . which is actually ebbing now, thanks to the efforts of many anti-climate alarmists (like the author of this fine discourse ; ) and anti-globalist/control freaks everywhere, who recognize the (to my mind)very real danger we humans in general face.

  4. “Do we take the humanist view that our actions should help mankind? Or is some sort of
    metaphysical “Gaia” god-like creature supreme and mankind must take second place and serve Gaia?
    We have not met this Gaia creature and are fervently in favor of the humanist view. We will argue our
    points as a humanist.”

    Please define “humanist” and the “humanist view.” Also, please define “metaphysical” and “metaphysical [view].” “Gaia” is a caricature, a straw man and easily refuted by science and Aristotelian/Scholastic/Thomist (or realist) metaphysics.

    I agree with you that proper science supports your view that human activities generally do not pose an existential threat to planet Earth, but when you try to use scientific arguments to refute metaphysical arguments, you mix apples and oranges. The “Gaia” arguments are bad science and bad metaphysics. You need to separate scientific claims and metaphysical claims so you can refute any scientific arguments with science and metaphysical arguments with metaphysics.

    Science can tell us what we can and cannot do, but it takes metaphysics to tell us what we should and should not do.

    • South River Independent, Humanism is a devotion to human welfare. Some humanists also reject the supernatural, but I was referring to it as a devotion to the betterment of humans. Some prominent environmentalists (I mentioned Chopra and Attenborough as examples, but there are others) think this is wrong headed and that we should work to better some abstract Gaia or imagined perfect world. My argument is the same as yours essentially, that this is a silly comparison. We live in this world, not a metaphysical world, let’s make it better for us. I’m not getting into arguments over Gaia and what Gaia is or isn’t, to me the creature doesn’t matter, he or she is made up.

      • Mr. May – by “this world” do you mean a mere material world that can only be described and understood by science? Metaphysics argues there is more to existence that just the physical, material world. You are the one who brought up Gaia. If you do not want to get into arguments over Gaia and what Gaia is or isn’t, you should leave it out of your discusions. Just dismissing the subject without addressing its claims does not work, and bringing it up is probably not necessary for your purposes.

  5. Andy,
    You state, “People now live much longer…” The veracity of that depends on how you define “much.” The apparent large increase in life expectancy from birth in the last 100 years is largely the result of a much smaller percentage of children dieing than a century ago, and child birth not being as dangerous for young women as formerly. However, for those who make it past childhood, the years of child bearing, and the years one is at risk from military service, the life expectancy hasn’t actually increased significantly. That is, the life expectancy of an adult has increased much less than the life expectancy of a young child. Harrison Brown (The Future of Mankind) published an interesting graph claiming that a woman 2,000 years ago in North Africa, who reached the age of 70, could expect to live longer than a woman of 70 today.

    • Clyde, I fully agree. I deal with this exact issue in the second post. “It’s not that people suddenly started breeding like rabbits; it’s just that they stopped dying like flies.” Peter Adamson (1998)

      • I think the ability to build vertically has had a profound effect. One story family houses limit the population by shear lack of living space. Building vertically allows tens to hundreds more people to live on an area once limited to several. The chicken or the egg question is: did the overpopulation of areas require us to built vertically or did the ability to build vertically allow us to ignore the overpopulation of areas.

      • Tom: The Romans built 5 story walk ups.The pueblos of the American Southwest are often multi-story. See e.g. Mesa Verde

      • Walter, that may be true but does not compare to what I am addressing, modern high rise housing in thousands of locations around the world.

      • Vertical building only affects the density of cities, and there is still plenty of space for everyone on the planet at sub urban densities.

    • Clyde, your claim is not supported by the detail of the actuarial tables. And important example is life expectancy at age 65, a key parameter for assessing the financial viability of pension plans. The 1941 CSO Table give it as 11.55 years. The 2015 tables from HHS give the total population parameter as 19.2 years.

      Going back further in history, things get worse. Look family trees of European royalty in the pre-industrial era. Very few of them lived much past 60.And those were the people who did not have to miss meals.

      As for your claim about people who lived 2000 years ago. I find it incredible. Do you have any research that supports your claim?

      • Let us not forget that the reason American Social Security originally set retirement to begin at 65 was because the average life expectancy was 62. The government had no intention of ever returning the money collected throughout a worker’s life.

  6. Don’t you think (reader) at some level, the simplest answer is humans change the environment? Just like bison, deer, chickapees, worms, anaerobic bacteria and chaos-guided hurricanes!

    Sometimes we’re as dumb as a trainload of hammers, “pillaging” the environment for its copious (but only century-scale replaceable) resources. Look at all ’em trees! Let’s harvest ’em, cut em up, and ship em. Until the trees are no more.

    Sometimes we’re good environmental stewards, as in The West today. More or less. But this is only a relatively new concept.

    Point is, we CHANGE things.
    Humans. Worms. Bacteria.

    GoatGuy

    • GoatGuy, we do change things, all major species do. Phytoplankton probably more than other species, since they cover almost 70% of the planet. Their ancestors added oxygen to the atmosphere and brought life to the world.

    • Humans are different. We practice good stewardship because of private ownership. However, over longer timescales increases in relative wealth make certain environmental qualities desirable i.e., they become tradeable goods and services. And another aspect is that our technology increasingly demands a clean environment. Once we built skyscrapers we had to keep the air clean and circulating inside the building. Population density demanded clean air and water. Electronics requires the cleanest of all environments. The long-term trend from wood-based energy to natural gas is burning fewer carbon atoms. And the end stage of energy production should be nuclear the cleanest of all fuels.

      • I totally agree re: nuclear. I think we should approach power as “waste the least, base load from nuclear, use plenty of renewables PV/Wind, use hydro (or fast nuclear) as the ‘big battery'”

        It covers it all, without an atom of carbon oxidized. The French demonstrated to the world that they could go to 80%+ nuclear, by having fast ramp nuclear power. Fast enough to cycle up-and-down to meet demand; fast enough to let opportunist power consumers also share the load. (Aluminum smelting, copper refining, desalination, reverse-hydro pumping, subterranean compressed air energy storage, sodium/potassium extraction, “chlorox” oxidation, and even large-scale gravel production.) Things where electricity itself is critical, not just heat – be that process heat or waste heat or distributed metropolitan hot water.

        Its definitely worth doing personal research on how Iceland creatively has addressed an abundant power source vis a vis its production, demand leveling, opportunistic take-up industry power use.

        She (Iceland, henceforth in the female) decided in the 1950s to tap its truly vast geothermal electric and heat potential. Hêll, the whole island is one magnificent volcanic complex, which periodically (and sometimes catastrophically) blows. Her engineers and planners came up with 4 lines of power production/use that would allow her to nearly completely eliminate burning imported fuels for electricity, AND which would also consume extra “free” electricity making products that could either be exported at high value, or used internally being far lower in price than imported materials.

        So, geothermal was tapped. Thousands of geological professors and engineers learned how to safely, securely and powerfully tap the thousands of cubic kilometers of superheated basalt, and turn it into steam.

        Her planners came up with 5 main ideas for how to use the electricity

        • [1] domestic/commercial/industrial grid
        • [2] aluminum production
        • [3] hydrogen production
        • [4] high-production greenhouse agriculture
        • [5] petroleum/chemical refining

        The last [5] one is kind of a surprise, but apparently when excess electrical energy is abundant, the petroleum in dustry at the core needs upwards of 1 megawatt hour per metric ton of crude oil in order to separate it, hydrogenate it, refine it, purify it, chemically modify it for vehicular use and feedstock to the chemical-manufacturing world.

        While Iceland has no petroleum or coal (at all!), there is plenty of oil chugging around the oceans in giant tanker ship. Taken in, refined, powering also a large chemical industry, a million barrels at $55 a barrel becomes nearly $500,000,000 in exportable or domestically consumable products. And for Iceland, the power at some times of the day, is truly nearly free.

        The obvious [1] powers society. Good, that! [2] is the largest consumer of power in Iceland: raw bauxite ore is abundant (not in Iceland), cheap and useless until electrolytically refined. It takes a HUGE amount of power to make metallic aluminum. The Niagra Falls power plant produced so much electricity that Alcoa (I think) situated its first major American aluminum refining plant nearby. They could get electricity all night long, and through half of the workday for nearly nothing. Thus, aluminum became cheap.

        [3] is Iceland’s new use: they make billions of cubic meters of hydrogen gas, which in turn is pumped into the island’s public transportation network (busses). It works. Its nearly free. There are no pollutive emissions, either in production or use. Cool!

        [4] is the most amusing: Iceland exports bananas year-long to Europe. It has vast tracts of greenhouses in the south, near Vik, which have hectare-after-hectare of banana plantation. They light the thing (except in summer) to have 18 hours-a-day of full-sunlight equivalent insolation. And boy do they produce bananas. Someone had the idea of introducing tropical big blue parrots, macaws and other coöperative species to the greenouses. Now, they’re everywhere. Apparently they like nibbling all the little flying bugs that came along with the original bananas.

        [4] is being expanded: the Icelanders love lettuce, tomatoes, all the summer fruits. With 18-hour backfilled super-high intensity lighting, they’re rapidly become non-importers of these products. I see an angle for similar cultivation of marijuana. It loves light. Their goal as a country is to export so much ag-product that their imports of wheat, sugar, rice, “staples” is completely offset toward export surplus, monetarily.

        THE POINT is this: one can definintely use excess, almost-free electricity for all nature of valuable/profitable enterprise.

        So yah… I agree with you entirely.

        GoatGuy

  7. In the part about the 1000 deg atmosphere, you should explain that as the oceans and the atmosphere reach a new thermal equilibrium, the temperature of the atmosphere will no longer be 1000 degrees.

  8. I really don’t think The Cubs need to be on that graphic…. :P Afterall, they DID break their World Series streak.

    @ Andy: THANK YOU FOR FINALLY POINTING OUT THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE OCEANS!!!!! While they have never really been “ignored” on here, they are often completely ignored by the doomsayers. So it is refreshing to see someone address their immense importance.

    As for the “why there are doomsayers” have you read Crichton’s State of Fear? Especially the footnotes. The politics surrounding fear are fascinating and nothing new under the sun.

  9. Andy,

    You say, “Does our economic growth harm the environment? Clearly it does not, prosperity allows us to take better care of our environment.”

    I think that you are turning a blind eye to such things as deforestation in the Amazon and Indonesia, the loss of Pacific Anchovies (and other fish stocks) through over-fishing, the introduction (by Man) of exotic pests such as the Zebra Mussel in the Great Lakes, and the Emerald Ash Borer in the Midwest — also, Tumble Weed and Yellow Star Thistle in the American West. I think that intellectual honesty would require that you look at the net results of Man’s impact, and not just focus on the success stories, of which there are many.

    • Clyde, “I think that intellectual honesty would require that you look at the net results of Man’s impact, and not just focus on the success stories, of which there are many.”

      This is my intent. I want to look at man’s impact on the world from the highest level possible. Local pests, such as Zebra mussels, Ash borers, tumble weeds, etc. will always be with us. I do not want to get down to that level, they are important to some people, somewhere, of course; but hardly existential threats.

      • Andy,

        Probably the only real existential threat to the biosphere is nuclear holocaust. However, there are numerous potential existential threats to humanity. One of the most frightening would be a human-specific pathogen created in the lab. Becoming technologically too complex, and not preparing for something like a Carrington Event, could significantly reduce human population and set technology back 200 years.

        Taking it down a notch, I have personally experienced a decline in my freedoms, and general quality of life, that are a direct result of the population having more than doubled in my lifetime. Yes, I have more horsepower under the hood of my car than existed in Louis XIV’s stable, but what if I can travel no faster than his carriage during rush hour traffic, and I’m only allowed to walk into defined Wilderness Areas in the Mojave Desert in the Summer? Yes, some lakes and rivers are cleaner today than they were 50 years ago, but they were just as clean as today 50 years before that. When I was a boy, my parents liked to go fishing and swimming in a place called Pell Lake, just across the Wisconsin border. The water had visibility over 30′. I could see springs bubbling up through the sandy bottom while in the row boat. I went back about 30 years ago and inquired at the state welcome facility about how to get there. The person told me that she was familiar with Pell Lake and, after homes were built along the shore, the lake suffered an algae bloom, destroying what it was best known for. A fate not unlike that of Lake Erie. It is being discovered that the algae is not only unsightly, but is probably also toxic. It isn’t all roses!

        It is good to start at the top. However, it is often the small things that make life worth living.

      • Clyde, everything you talk about is arbitrary. You like a lake with very clear water. Obviously, algae would prefer less visibility, along with some species of fish and amphibians who are safer in cloudy water. It is not ‘wrong’ for the lake to have algae, and it is likely that it did many times in the past 5 million years, if the lake has existed that long. I acknowledge that most people would prefer the lake to be crystal clear, but that is just a preference, not a ‘correct’ state of the lake.

        I have no problem with people choosing environments and working towards them. It just makes my skin crawl when anyone professes to know how any environment ‘should’ be, as if there was some cosmic specification for such things. There isn’t.

      • jclarke341,

        I don’t recollect saying that the lake SHOULD be crystal clear. Rather, it was a story about how humans unintentionally destroyed that which they valued. That is the open question presented by Andy Mays, whether humans “harm” the environment. Yes, eutrophication is a typical, natural process in the evolution of lakes. And I, and others, have made a value judgement that clear lakes are preferable to muddy or algae-covered lakes. Look at all the money spent on trying to keep Lake Tahoe pristine. Many others share my view.

        The key concerns here are whether humans are accelerating, or otherwise altering, changes in the environment. If those changes are esthetic degradation, decreased biodiversity, or make the thing unsuitable for use by Man (such as harvesting fish or making the water un-potable), then I think that it is fair to say that the environment has been harmed. Nothing is permanent, so in a million years nobody may really care. But on a human time-scale, a significant change CAUSED by Man may fairly be called “harm,” unless a case can be made that it is now more appreciated, useful, fertile, or biologically diverse. That is, cleaning up a river polluted by Man, and returning it to its former state, I would consider to be the opposite of harm. One can argue about whether damming a river is harm. I think that an objective position would be that it is harm, but that it is justified by the generation of power and the opening of recreational opportunities of a different kind than was offered by just the river. I think that a useful viewpoint would be to ask, if you were responsible for a change in the local environment (such as the volume or clarity of a stream), might you be subject to a law suit for harming the environment and ‘taking’ something from those living in the area?

        In the absence of humans, there would be no discussion of this topic, because none of the other life forms would be capable of abstracting the situation, let alone be aware of the changes, nor would they be in a position to complain. Thus, we can’t forget that it all comes down to human values.

    • Pests are in the eye of the beholder. Check state listings for “weeds”. It’s whatever that particular state does not like.

      • Sheri,

        I don’t think that the “state” really cares. But, in the case of Yellow Starthistle, ranchers certainly do! It is toxic to horses, reduces the available grazing cover for cows, and makes it painful to walk through without wearing chaps. It has been known to blind livestock when they get stuck in the eye. So, it is declared a “weed” because of its economic impact and because it is truly annoying to anyone working in the fields.

        States have different definitions of “weeds” because different climate zones are not hospitable to all weeds. Resources have to be allocated to control the weeds, so priority is given to those that justify the expenditure, in proportion to the impact on agriculture.

        Pests are in the eye of the deed holder.

      • Star thistle spines can also punch through vehicle tires and makes a mess of bike tires, but I understand it makes great hunny.

  10. Oh come Andy!,
    Stop living in the past.

    All those data you show are likely accurate, but it’s the future scaremongering that climateers are employing…. Currently, it’s the RCP 8.5 climate model thermageddon boogeyman story.
    Malthusians like The Algore, and Ehrlich & Holdren are always operating on future fears that are impossible to prove wrong until the distant date is no longer that distant. Then everyone (mostly) has forgotten how wrong they were and new future horror-movie plots have taken their place. The climate scam will continue until the junk GCMs are put-down like a rabid dog.

    After AR6 comes out, they’ll have a new name for their Business as Usual horror plot line. And with that new BAU horror scenario all the university academic rent-seekers will have a new target to write original research papers to to stuff into their next grant app. That’s the way the game is played.

  11. This should be an interesting discussion, as some people want to always find the down side of anything.

  12. Homo sapiens strategic objective is:
    ……..have offspring that reproduce.

    If we don’t get “out of the nest” and expand the range,
    …… to include, at least, Alpha Centauri,
    the species will ego-self-centrically squander the “nest” and fade out.

    I view that those who want to
    …”coddle their personal offspring” or
    …. “grab parts of the nest for themselves/their kids”
    to be less than useful.
    Please note: the species is very competitive
    …..and it is managing that competitiveness that is the need.

      • 1600 generations braving harrowing times in the ice ages to produce “this” semantically free comment?
        I hope there will be no future generations in this line, or at least non leaving the “nest”.

    • All non-extinct species have those same characteristics. We are just better than all the rest.

      As for “expanding our range” I’m all for it. How about you and I join together to stop the world from wasting these enormous resources on the “global warming” hoax and try to have the money spent on something useful like manned space flight? Then maybe mankind can survive the next planet-killer asteroid. Deal?

  13. “harm the environment”

    is an human concept. Polluting river is a human concept. Based on what we see and our own size. The fact that maybe millions of bacteria and other live beings benefit from the dead fish in the river does not register for humans. So how can be possible to say what nature we should benefit and what nature we should destroy?

    • Right. It is just a choice with unavoidable consequences. There is no right or wrong. It is more about like or dislike.

    • AlexS, well said! We all have a vision of our perfect environment. One day perhaps we will be able to call Environment, Inc. and have them build it for us at an affordable price. I was trying to put that idea across with the whole Gaia discussion, but your method of explaining it hits home better.

      • Isn’t nature in and of itself emergent and then by definition not fully understandable? We can examine our actions and reverse or change our actions to match our preferences but then what remains unexplained is why the trend of technology is a lighter touch on the natural world. This goes back to how the economy is emergent which explains the actions of people in their acts of exchange. People don’t have to understand economics to be an effective economic actor as they don’t have to understand nature to appreciate it.

        This boils down to that there are a lot of things we want but just can’t afford i.e., there is a time for a clean environment and there is a time for development.We are at a time when both intersect but we don’t really understand how it happened.

        I am one of those people who say nature be damned concentrate on what benefits humans you just might be surprised what happens.

  14. Great article. I live in northern Illinois. I’d have to say that humans (farmers) have been hard on habitat. So if habitat is the embodiment of the environment…. Of course, it’s also true that ice ages were hard on habitat and they weren’t really that long ago. For me the sensible course has been to donate to organizations like The Nature Conservancy which actually buys the ground it protects. It is unlike the Sierra Club which has become infested with humankind hating zealots.

    • HankHenry,
      I grew up in a rural area of Northern Illinois near a place called Lilly Lake, a little south of McHenry. I spent many hours as a child roaming the shore of a small swamp across the road, catching frogs and crayfish, observing the muskrats and waterfowl, and picking blackberries. I went back a number of years ago to discover that the swamp had been filled, presumably to be able to build homes. The forest I used to wander in was now filled with homes as well. It made my heart sad to discover that one cannot go home.

      • I live in Lee County. Come out sometime and check out the Nachusa Grasslands and the Franklin Creek State Park. Also there is something new owned by Audubon called Amboy Marsh.

  15. Most of us have have pondered the question, if a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, did it make a noise?
    Concern for environmental quality is a human thing. Like poverty! We define what it is.
    Being an engineer, I like to measure things compared to a standard. When I went to work in China, I had reservations about pollution and poverty. I was surprised that my concerns were unfounded.
    When all humans have clean drinking water, I will start worrying about AGW.

    • Kit, no it doesn’t make a noise. The noise is a perceived thing, not a thing in its own right. If you include animals in ‘no one’ then the noise is only a pulsation of air, yet to be perceived as noise.

      Now, gotta go, these idiot angels keep dancing on this pin of mine…

  16. No, I don’t think that warming is dangerous. Yes, I am sure that humans are harming the environment. Just a look at industrial animal agriculture and all that goes with it is enough evidence that we are harming the environment.

    • We affect the environment, yes. Sometimes we even harm the environment. Then we clean up our mess.

      All life affects the environment. All life harms the environment. If you have any suggestions how we can survive without leaving any type of footprint I would like to hear it.

      If you suggest ending humanity for the betterment of the planet don’t bother answering.

      • ‘Harm’ like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. Words like effect’ and ‘change’ are quantifiable, but ‘harm’ cannot be measured, because its meaning is completely subjective. It is a word of propaganda. Once you accept that word in the course of discussion, the discussion is over and your opponent has won.

      • I didn’t “accept” the word, I simply responded to his blanket statements on his level. It is usually easier to get a response that way. Not that I expect one.

      • it’s not that the concept of harm is non.objective at all because it is completely objective.
        the concept of harm has no application to non.living things. it applies exclusively to living things that face the alternative of life vs death and therefore, by their nature, have values. values are those things which are good, i.e., that which furthers the survival of the organism according to its nature (a man living as a dog is not that, mmk?)
        harm means the negation of a value, ok? and since any question of value requires answers to the 2 corollaries ‘of value to whom’ and ‘of value for what purpose’ it should be self evident that it requires a huge leap of anthropomorphism to grant nature ‘rights’ .
        ‘nature’ can not make any claim of damage or harm.
        debasing language (your cognitive tools) is a common gambit that confuses people who are already crippled by ambiguous non.definitions and nebulous notions or inapplicable properties.
        so of course you can’t make sense of it because it is nonsense and that’s the point of it – to thwart cognition.
        harm is not in the eye of a beholder. it’s real. but no rock or puddle or cloud or electron can claim damage. only the owner of it can.

      • jclarke341,
        You said, “…but ‘harm’ cannot be measured, because its meaning is completely subjective.” But, reasonable people can agree on what degree and direction of change is considered to be harmful and to be avoided.

    • @JoeG “Just a look at industrial animal agriculture and all that goes with it is enough evidence that we are harming the environment.”

      Not from an aerobic/anaerobic bacterial viewpoint. Or even propagators. What about all the meiofauna? What’s their viewpoint on industrial agriculture? Anyone looked at that?

      My point is–the vast sweeping, “harming the environment” is relative depending on what you are measuring as a base (or if not measuring, than what your idealized environment is). The truth is though, that we are the ones defining it, not the creatures that live there.

      I’ll grant you a point though–because commercialized agriculture is IMO ugly, but then I’m used to smaller farms dotting the landscape. So my OPINION is that commercialized agriculture is ugly–but does it ‘harm’ the environment? Maybe only my personal one–the truth is, the jury is still out. We measure plant nutrients necessary for growth in the soil–and those microbes that are necessary to continue that plant growth–but we don’t measure the effects on the other microbes–so who’s to say?

  17. But there is no real evidence that CO2 has any effect on climate and plenty of scientific reasoning to support the idea that the climate sensivity of CO2 is really zero. The AGW conjecture is based on only partial science and is full of holes. The AGW conjecture depends upon the existance of a radiant greenhouse effect caused by trace gases in the Earth’s atmosphere with LWIR absorption bands. As we all know good absorbers are also good radiators so what the so called greenhouse gases absorb they also radiate away for a net of trapped heat energy of zero. The radiant greenhouse effect has not been observed in a real greenhouse, on Earth, or anywhere in the solar system. The radiant greenhouse effect is science fiction hence the AGW conjecture is science fiction. Since the basic assumptions at the beginning of this report are science fiction, the whole report is a work of fantasy.

    • Willhaas, it is even possible that adding CO2 to the atmosphere causes cooling All heat transfer processes are reversible, and it is reasonable to assume that molecular collisions transfer heat energy between the non-radiating bulk gas and the CO2. Thus, the presence of CO2 in the stratosphere may provide a way for the bulk gas to radiate heat to space.

      This fits the observed facts, of the stratosphere being remarkably cold. N2/O2 are for all intents and purposes non-radiating, and if it could not radiate heat, why would it be so cold? Colder, in fact, than an unheated spacecraft would be.

      Meanwhile at lower altitudes any heat trapping effect of CO2 is already maxed-out, and adding more makes little difference. MODTRAN in fact shows this, with anything over 40ppm having minimal additional effect at low altitudes.

  18. Consider Easter Island…as a proxy and a microcosm of planet Earth. One of the competing theory’s for the pre-history downfall of Easter Island was the over population of the island and subsequent removal of native forests and resource extraction for ‘monument’ building. This led to conflict of competing clans such that when natural climate variability set in, the food supply was insufficient for all to survive due to over population and resource extraction. Which led to violent tribal political/social upheaval ending in cannibalism and downfall of their civilization.

    When we look through the dust bin of history, we see many vast civilizations collapsing because of over populations, combined with natural chaos events like floods, droughts or cold/crop loss from vulcanism, to name a few. When societies become complex and require perfection in repetition that made them successful, when anything disturbs that order, then something will have to give. Throw in some neighbouring tribal conflicts, or Sea Peoples’ invading concurrently, and we can see why the history books are chock full of ‘civilization’ collapse and disaster.

    It can be no different this time, although perhaps this time we can recover because knowledge will not be lost. But I think the alarmists have it backwards. CO2 has become the new metaphor for the ancient volcano or weather gods, in that if we just appease that beast, then all will be well. Pay some penance and repent, and and bypass purgatory. But the real threat now is not global warming or climate change: we can adapt to that and survive, perhaps as well as we do now. But a global disturbance to the weather with a major chaos cooling event that is superimposed upon a long term natural cooling trend spells a truly horrific future. Just imagine a substantial loss/reduction of a single annual harvest in the northern hemisphere with a temporary significant drop in temperatures for a few years, and we can see that we would be in a very big heap of trouble in short order.

    • E2, there are two big looming constraints on future population growth: food and liquid transportation fuels. Food is a softer limit. Liquid transportation fuels are a harder limit. Both are approached between now and about 2050. Wrote about them (and other feared limits that turn out not true, in ebook Gaia’s Limits. Trees do not grow to the sky, and Earth must have some human carrying capacity for any level of technological advancement. Whether the consequences are of no concern or a train wreck depends on policies that would need to be adopted nowish. CAGW is unfortunately a great distraction.

      • Rud, I concur. My only point is that it should be a major cooling event that does major damage to our civilization. Not CAGW which we can adapt to if it actually occurs, although I doubt that it does at least to any significance. And if it does, it is probable that AGW is net positive. Perhaps another analogy is that if I am travelling in a remote desert, and my Land Rover breaks down, I will probably survive for up to a week even if I have little water or food. If I break down in the northern wilderness in 20 below, then I am in serious risk within hours depending how prepared I am. Not to invoke any religion here, but the parable about Joseph’s dream of 7 years of plenty and preparing some of that bounty to get through a 7 year bad patch is fitting. Hard to do with 7-8 billion people on the planet now or soon, but this is really is the only real catastrophe that holds any real threat to humans. Having some policies in place for this type of catastrophe may be prudent, depending how bad any chaos event actually is.

      • Andy, I will surely reply. Meanwhile, look at the long (not a beach read per my son) chapter of Gaia’s Limits. Really did try to run through all the food variables. Maybe not.

    • E’2,
      You said, “It can be no different this time, although perhaps this time we can recover because knowledge will not be lost.” I suspect that clay tablets, papyrus, stone carvings, and parchment, have greater longevity than disc-drives. Even silver-based photographs have greater longevity than our current electronics. Where can you get an 8″ floppy read? Once all the extant disc-drives fail, only an advanced society will be able to extract the information on them. Books printed on acid-free paper will potentially outlast ‘The Cloud.’ I think that our current knowledge-base is more fragile than anything previously produced.

      • Everyone is going to the cloud. Clouds disappear quickly you can actually see it in action…rocks, not so fast…but eventually they do fade too…

      • Clyde, as you say, in the scheme of things knowledge-base is fragile. But “Books printed on acid-free paper will potentially outlast ‘The Cloud’ “, may be the best insurance of knowledge surviving any future cataclysm, especially if they were not all in one location at the Library of Alexandria. Digital bits and bytes would last if they were on some form of indestructible Media with instructions how to re-create the Medium. The odds of successive generations sooner to later figuring out how to restore that knowledge base is probably high, since digital is really just 0’s and 1’s and to a great extant is a universal ‘language’ all of its own. However as you point out, the media itself may not survive long and no way to play it. Perhaps the world needs a similar secure infrastructure such as the Norwegian depository vault for a lot of Earth’s seeds. Or an analogue conversion of a ‘how to’ guide to re-construct digital knowledge such as what we put out into installer space with Voyager 1 and 2 missions, including a good ole gold plated LP record. We owe it to ourselves and future generations to ensure that all knowledge is preserved well into the distant future, no matter what happens to human kind. It’s not like a project like this would cost a whole lot compared to some of the idiocies of the current green machine.

        I am not trying to be an alarmist with any predictions of doom from a severe cooling event. It is just that we live in a Universe a little above absolute zero K, and anything that interferes with the ability to produce enough food to feed all of humanity every year, day in and day out, has a giant hole in it if and when something seriously goes wrong. And sooner or later, something always goes wrong. If we are not prepared, or in complete denial, then a real catastrophe awaits immediately. I can personally testify to that, and it involves very cold weather and an unfortunate accident.

        If we analyze the C in AGW, we see that they can’t even get the English meaning/wording correct. From the dictionary: catastrophe – ca·tas·tro·phe kəˈtastrəfē noun: an event causing great and often sudden damage or suffering; a disaster.”a national economic catastrophe” synonyms: disaster, calamity, cataclysm, holocaust, havoc, ruin, ruination, tragedy.

        If the meaning of the word is based upon some form of calamity that is sudden, then obviously predictions made out to 2050 or 2100 cannot be catastrophic. Even if the IPCC is correct about a possible 3-4 degree C temperature increase, it would hardly be catastrophic as the word is meant to be used. Hardly catastrophic even if the feedback is extremely positive with sea level quadrupling to 10-12 mm a year. There would definitely be some major adjustment required, but we would have nearly a century to adapt and mitigate. But a major cooling catastrophe…that does give me pause to think about it, and what the near immediate ramifications are. It is not a pretty picture. And the world has already experienced it on multiple occasions in our comparative recent history.

    • “Earthling2 December 9, 2017 at 12:55 pm

      Consider Easter Island…as a proxy and a microcosm of planet Earth. One of the competing theory’s for the pre-history downfall of Easter Island was the over population of the island and subsequent removal of native forests and resource extraction for ‘monument’ building.”

      Religion, not as we know it. But that’s what destroyed them. Monument building to “Gods”…

    • Consider Easter Island as a just so story. The facts are replant and uncomfortable, but the island was destroyed by environmental damage, it was destroyed by slave traders from the mainland. See: “From Genocide To Ecocide: The Rape Of Rapa Nui” by Benny Peiser in Energy & Environment
      Volume 16 No. 3&4 2005

  19. Andy, nice first post. Big step back to look at the really big picture. It is called human progress for a reason. CAGW is symptomatic, however, of a reason for some present and future pessimism. The worlds international and many national organizations have been captured by the CAGW foolishness, and are actively seeking to harm via higher costing and less reliable energy. Examples include UNFCCC, IPCC, DECC, Obama’s EPA, California, South Australia, and so on. Implemented, warmunist mitigation policies would not just stop further human progress, but would actively set it back. Warmunists have already undermined scientific credibility, which was a key basis for past progress. Hence the mild pessimism.

  20. “Currently an estimated 40% of world deaths are due to environmental degradation.”

    The funny thing about the above quote is that it is probably true in the 3rd world. It is obviously false in the developed world. The only possible conclusion is to have the 3rd world adapt fossil fuel technology to improve their living standard and reduce the environmental degradation that they are causing by pooping in their water supply, allowing their animals to overgraze, burning charcoal in their mud huts, etc. But I suspect this is not the message environmentalists are making.

  21. This is a little off topic perhaps , but , having just driven back from Glasgow through the Scottish Southern Uplands ,( which I remember as having a wild and apparently untamed character but are now , on every ridge and hill covered in wind turbines – barely rotating today as the snow began to fall) I began to wonder what it was like to be one of the first geologists to explore the area.
    I was aware that exploring the area had been one of the main claims to fame of C Lapworth , who also introduced the Ordovician as a geological era .
    I was not a little surprised to see in the Wiki entry for the Ordovician the following summary

    “Mean atmospheric CO2 content over period duration c. 4200 ppm[3]
    (15 times pre-industrial level)
    Mean surface temperature over period duration c. 16 °C[4]
    (2 °C above modern level)”

    Is this correct : CO2 at 4200ppm (compared to ca 400ppm today)
    but global temperature only 2C above current levels ?

    How do climate models account for that?
    Obviously the continental distribution was very different , but still…?

  22. Andy,
    The first part of your post really says a great deal about what is most factual in the entire discussion of climate and environment. We live on a planet which is 70% covered to an average depth of 12, 100 feet with water. This explains so much while at the same time obfuscates a great deal in terms of understanding what is going on in our environment. We are, with all of our population and technology like ants crawling around on a giant rock mostly covered by water. We have little impact on climate or environment outside of the very few densely populated portions of the planet. People do not really conceptualize the vastness of the oceans. If the planet were smooth and the water distributed evenly over the entire surface it would still be more than a mile deep on the average. Dumping raw sewage in the ocean is literally like pissing in the ocean, unless of course, you live near where it’s being dumped.

  23. I have long held the belief that we in the developed world live like the kings of old. We have electronic servants to wash our dishes and clothes, automated heating and cooling, vehicles to take us anywhere at enormous speeds, even to take us across the world in less than a day for a week’s wages! The amount of free time we have would astonish anyone from the 19th century even, and just not be believed by earlier generations. Our levels of education are staggering.

    I’m not rich, but I have beer from Chech and Ireland, wine from Italy and France, and whisky from Scotland, all in Australia. You would have had to have been immensely rich to afford that even a short time ago.

    The levels of personal security healthcare and general welfare are unprecedented. Life expectations are huge, and health is so good that most of us never contract terrible diseases that even royalty had to suffer continuously. Our children almost all survive, and deaths from childbirth are very rare.

    The idea that anyone, anywhere in the world, even on a ship as far from land as possible, can potentially talk to and write to anyone else anywhere in the world, and have almost instant access to more information than has ever been collected in history (including cat videos) would have been dismissed as utter insanity even in the 19th century.

    The developing world will soon reach such levels too, if we don’t deprive them of the right to use the freely available cheap energy that got us where we are, so rich that we CAN care about the environment!

    Live long and prosper!

  24. I agree that objectively, there is no rational measurement of how much humans are ‘helping’ or ‘harming’ the environment. For the most part, the Earth has had to deal with much bigger problems, over time, such as asteroids, comets, or small planets crashing into it. Whatever humans can throw at its mighty bulk will be just quietly smoother away in the fullness of time. What is happening to Earth is usually put forward as being exactly what the writer thinks is actually happening to the Earth caused by humans, not what the Earth thinks is happening to itself. It might not even have noticed our existence yet.

  25. All the talk along the theme “humans harm the environment”, whether it’s by CO2 or something else, is just code for “too many humans”. These books changed everything: The Population Bomb and Silent Spring. “Too many babies” and “too many people” are things that can’t be said too directly. The thought is still there.

  26. Recently reading this book (Coyne, J. A. 2010. Why Evolution is True. Penguin Books) I found this gem stuck away in an unlikely place. “It’s important to realize that species don’t arise, as Darwin thought, for the purpose of filling up empty niches in nature. We don’t have different species because nature somehow needs them…… The “clusters” so important for biodiversity don’t evolve because they increase that diversity, nor do they evolve to provide balanced ecosystems. ”

    This may be a monkey-wrench in the conceptual gears of an ordered ecosystem, one that can be engineered for homeostasis or GAIA type operations. It seems to be a real science book, although he, as are many well-known evolutionists, is bothered by religion, as in Intelligent Design and Creationism. He has considered such in other works (not seen).

    We still don’t know the complete life cycle of most marine diseases, or even how many, and a few papers showing lack of homework are discouraging like Pimentel’s. This one is better–
    Lafferty, K. D., J. W. Porter and S. E. Ford. 2004. Are diseases increasing in the ocean. Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics. 35:31-54.

    There aren’t many marine related diseases humans have had to worry with, but there are a few, again not so well know. Parasitologists/pathologists have known about density effects for as long as there has been a discipline, probably longer.

    • things fill niches because it is possible for them to do so. if my coyne says darwin attributed intent to this process, i will believe it only when i see the proof.
      the idea that ‘survival of the fit’ (or even fittest) has some intention is just nowhere a part of evolutionary theory.
      attribution of purpose to things that can not possess intent is called ‘teleology’ and is regarded as high crime and misdemeanor among biologists.
      i’ve never seen any evidence that darwin was guilty of this.
      mr coyne may have created a straw man or perhaps i missed something. either way, some kind of correction is in order.

    • “It seems to be a real science book, although he, as are many well-known evolutionists, is bothered by religion, as in Intelligent Design and Creationism.”

      Those are no more “religion” than Evolution (the grand origin story kind, as opposed to “natural selection” which is essentially just an acknowledgement that nature can do what humans have been doing for millennia) often is. No matter how much the zealous Evolutionist like to pretend their beliefs are absolutes truths . . Along with the CAGW zealots . .

      • I screwed up the bolding code, supposed to be a bold E in Evolution, and nothing more. Perhaps the Mod can fix that, like I’ve seen done for many non-censored commenters . . and can leave the spacing in my comment upon approval, please.

      • “Not sure that I’d know a “zealous evolutionist” if I met one in the supermarket lineup.”

        Not sure why being able to recognize one in the supermarket lineup is important to you, Mr. Rock . . seems kinda . . tangential so to speak, to me . .

      • Although he used the word purpose, I don’t think teleology was the question here, but rather whether unfilled niches are already there or are produced, maybe sort of a little like economics, is the pie limited or not. Seems like a fair question. Coyne’s book has some examples of “not so intelligent design,” although don’t think he used the term.

      • gnomish,

        I mean people who have so much faith in the Evolution grand origin story that they consider tangible evidence that life can arise/begin spontaneously (or through experimentation) superfluous to claiming it’s a scientific fact that it can/did. And for whom the absence of any “transition” fossils is no reason to doubt that all varieties of life came to be through a gradual morphing of previous forms, and again assert that it’s somehow a scientific fact that they all did.

        In short, it’s a faith based science ; )

      • ” We don’t have different species because nature somehow needs them”
        nature has no needs and i don’t remember anything of darwin suggesting that idea.

        with respect to game theory- it’s really only since the industrial revolution that some humans have figured out there is anything else but a zero sum game…lol
        it may be that most still have not.

        anyway- holidays approach- that time of the year when it sometimes happens that we remember that each of us human beans shares our humanity sometimes in some part. NJoY.

      • HD,

        “Seems like a fair question. Coyne’s book has some examples of “not so intelligent design,” although don’t think he used the term.”

        If you think about initiating an actual functioning planetary ecosystem for a moment . . I hope you realize that the ideal number of “perfect” creatures would be zero . . by my calculations anyway ; )

      • john- i beseech you … something something… bowels of christ… something… stfu.
        your medieval beliefs are worthy of scientific consideration only by a student of abnormal psychology.

  27. There might be a majoy flaw, and honestly I stopped reading after that. Why should the water at the average maximum depth of the oceans have an average of 0°C? Makes no sense to me.

    • The temperature below 4,000 meters has only been measured in a few spots. It varies from -2 to 2 degrees for the most part. I chose zero because it was in the middle of the measured values and I wouldn’t be too far off. No one really knows, but it is less than 2 and greater than -2 in all likelihood.

  28. I have to disagree here.

    While humanity as a species has never been better, a great deal of the rest of the biosphere is significantly worse. The main problem is Global human appropriation of net primary production (HANPP). While with fossil fuels we have increased production, we are still appropriating more and more from other species reducing drastically their population levels.

    Anthony D. Barnosky, an expert on the Quaternary Megafauna extinction (QME) is very clear:

    “the Industrial Revolution elevated Earth’s carrying capacity for megafauna biomass. However, despite that increase in carrying capacity, ~50% (>90 species) of those megafauna species that persisted so well for the previous 10,000 years have become extinct, critically endangered, endangered, or vulnerable to extinction in the past few decades, including >40% of the megafauna species of mammals in Africa, the only continent that made it through the QME largely unscathed. For mammals as a whole, 25% of the 4,629 species known on Earth fall in the critically endangered through vulnerable categories. This suggests that not only has all of the ‘‘extra’’ carrying capacity been used by humans, but also we are beginning, as happened during the QME crash, to steal from the part of the global energy budget allotted to other megafauna species. We are also going farther and using energy previously allotted to species in even smaller body-size classes. Under business-as-usual scenarios, the inevitable result will be another biomass crash that moves down the body-size classes relative to the QME event.”

    Barnosky, A. D. (2008). Megafauna biomass tradeoff as a driver of Quaternary and future extinctions. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 105 (Supplement 1), 11543-11548.
    http://www.pnas.org/content/105/Supplement_1/11543.full

    Our species is inflicting a serious damage to the biosphere, and if we continue along this path we will cause the extinction of many species. The impoverishment of their genetic variability is already a serious threat and it cannot be undone.

    • Javior only needs to look back 65 million years to see what serious damage the biosphere caused resulting mass extinction of many cold blooded species,

      The climate cooled and humans that could adapt evolved. In a touch of irony, some humans with too much education write papers to explain why this is a bad thing.

      • We are responsible for what we do since we have the knowledge of what we are doing and its consequences.

      • That is not true Javier. I agree with you that we have knowledge of what we do, but we do NOT know what all the consequences are. For example, when you roll a dice, you know you are rolling it, but you do not know what the result of the roll of the dice will be. You may know the probabilities of each of the six possible “consequences” but you do not know what the consequence of the roll will be.

    • Time will tell Javier. There are a variety of opinions about extinctions out there, Daniel Botkin has a very different view. Further, your source is using qualitative terms like “endangered.” Some large mammals require excessive areas to survive in nature. So do we give them thousands of square kilometers? Or do we put them in zoos or parks? This is a value judgement that must be made. When you speak of serious damage to the biosphere – who decides what is damage? What is the standard? Is it good if everything stays the same and nothing changes? Nothing ever stays the same, right? This is exactly why I said at the beginning I was taking the humanist view, what is good for humanity. Otherwise what is good for the “environment” is a totally subjective opinion. You speak of your ideal environment, but it may not match up with anyone else’s. The ideal “environment” is a personal opinion.

      • Time has been telling for decades, Andy. We are just not listening. Jacques Cousteau documented during his entire life the degradation of the Mediterranean.

        Like everything in the Universe, it is just a question of energy. The energy flows through ecosystems from the Sun through plants and microorganisms to animals. As the ecosystems become impoverished with less species and lower number of individuals, less energy flows through them. We appropriate the land and make room for our plants and animals and the rest of the biosphere shrinks. It changes to a less complex state. The treasure of a species is its genetic variability. It is what makes them both resilient and adaptable. As their number decreases their genetic variability gets reduced forever. Even if we let them alone it won’t increase back for many thousands of years.

        It is a sad, sad state and one doesn’t have to be a biologist to see what is happening. As the human population expands, it expands its animals and plants many folds, and the rest of the biosphere contracts.It doesn’t do it uniformly. Some species benefit like rats and cockroaches, but the net result is negative.

        Philosophical discussions won’t disguise the facts.

      • Most people think human caused extinctions, such as loss of the passenger pigeon as harming the environment. Massive loss of native animal diversity in the Everglades caused by the proliferation of invasive pythons is another example of harmful change. These were not good for humans (loss of food sources) or animals (other than temporarily for the python).

      • Good answer Andy; however’…..

        “We are responsible for what we do since we have the knowledge of what we are doing and its consequences.”

        I was too subtle, let me blunt. It is cause root blame!

        Yes we have responsibility. We do our job and protected the environment. There were no consequences.

        Some loons writes a root blame paper basically making up stuff.

        Children dying when the root cause is poor water quality in an age where we have the technology to prevent it, is something that I care about.

        What you are worried about, not so much.

      • Javier and Kit, The fourth post in my series is mostly about species extinctions and I will answer your comments in it. Thanks very much for the comments. From my point of view, we need to work to keep our water, land and air clean. Beyond that, there is no moral obligation, beyond that, it is a political decision. How important is species X or species Y. Do we value lions enough to take farms away from people? Do we value small pox enough to keep someone sick so the virus can survive? You can get pretty silly in these arguments. More in part 4.

  29. ‘Just a look at industrial animal agriculture ‘

    Yes is awful, abundant animal protein even for the poor with insignificant environmental impact.

    The largest CAFO (confined animal feeding operation) I have evaluated has 90,000 cows near Walula, Washington. In the US, CAFOs are regulated with zero water discharge. Animal waste are recycled to grow animal feed.

    Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Some see a dirty coal plant with a mountain of coal. I see power for a large city including clean drinking water pumped to all the homes.

  30. I contributed an article “Impacts of pollution on environment: myths & realities” to COMPENDIUM on the occasion of Platinum Jubileee Celebrations of Andhra Pradesh State Centre (1938-2015) by The Institute of Engineers (India), pages 9-16

    “Pollution is part o and parcel of growth & development. Pollution impacts environment directly and indirectly. Humans are part of environment. The presence of pollution in the environment causes numerous problems to nature as well as to life forms on the planet earth. Environment is facing two sources of pollution, namely point sources and non-point sources. To control or to reduce point source pollution governments brought in laws & acts as well standards and agencies to monitor them. In the case of non-point source pollution there is no such mechanism as it involves changes in technology which needs government intervention and support”. It dealt:

    introduction
    environmental issues!!!
    pollution issues!!!
    industrial revolution
    agriculture innovations
    transport innovations
    new types of waste generation
    environmentalissues of concern and remedies
    air pollution
    stratospheric ozone depletion
    ground level ozone
    acid rain
    global warming
    water pollution
    health& biodiversity hazards
    concluding remarks

    Also, contributed chapters to books and articles to news papers/TV discussions

    Dr. S. Jeevananda Reddy

    • Continued —

      Concluding Remarks

      I think technology might have originated from man’s laziness. He didn’t want use his muscle power like other animals to earn living. So he used his intelligence to invent enhancements. Eventually he found that the enhancements did not really reduce his work, it only created a new set of problems which increased his workload. So he invented another technology to solve those problems. But againthat new technology gave rise to a new set of problems and he invented another technology to solve those. The process is going on and on; we call it progress.

      I think the real driving force overall behind science is Greed & Power. Looking at the big picture technology overall does not value human life or nature anymore and is very destructive. The majority of the inventions are based on Faulty, Reductionism, and machine-like type of science that likes to control nature and is very much misguided due to the BIG “I” which is Industry. The majority of the greatest Scientists are all working for BIG “B” which is Business which is all about profit. This is why in my opinion technology has surpassed our humanity and has somewhat resulted in the ecological world problems. I am not implying that all Science is bad, I know that Science is vital for humanity to evolve, however it’s like a system out of control and we appear to be devolving instead evolving.

      When we want adopt a new technology, we rarely look at its’ long term impacts, both positive and negative, of such technologies on nature and thus on environment. This lacuna is glaringly evident in agriculture. In all these business interests out play the environmental consequences. Sometimes it may not be possible to recover the destruction caused by the technologies particularly those that affect biodiversity. —–

      ———

      Present government thinks development is the primary goal but we argued that such development must environmentally sustainable. Government moving forward by negating this. Huge amounts are being spent to rejuvenate big rivers from the evil pollution but achieved nothing except pocketing the money.

      Dr. S. Jeevananda Reddy

  31. Every single person that is alive today can stand on the land that is the Isle of Wight off the south coast of England. Go and google it and see how small the footprint of that land is. There are people who think that less people than that can change the climate of a planet by burning stuff contributing ~4% of ~400ppm/v CO2.

    I meet complete nutters every day on Sydney’s (Australia) public transport system, but what these people claim is crackers, and I am serial.

  32. Of course there is no such thing as average environment, but right now it is snowing outside while I am feeling quite Goldilocks. In fact, almost everywhere I go,the environment feels just about right, whereas it used to kill our ancestors quite regularly. It still does in much of the world that hasn’t yet received the full environmental benefits of fossil fuels.

  33. a great deal of the rest of the biosphere is significantly worse.

    Most of the earths land surface is untouched by man, we have a way to go before we ‘degrade’ the planet.

      • Tom in Florida writes,
        “One story family houses limit the population by shear lack of living space.”

        Nonsense, there is no lack of space to build single family homes.

        Our last apartment was one of those high rise things in China. It was provided by the company I worked for. We had the option of retiring to an x-pat high rise in Hong Kong.

        Back in the US we were at a ticket counter. The agent seeing we had come from Hong Kong told us she had lived in Hong Kong. The lower floors of the high rise is not a nice environment.

        She made a gesture indicating she had a house with a garage door opener. As did our son in the same city.

        My point is that humans make choices. We are not limited by our environment.

  34. “Do Humans harm the environment?” I’d like to twist that. Do humpback whales harm the environment?: each one consumes two tons of herring everyday. The herring run has been at historic lows in southeast Alaska, and every year more humpbacks swim through these waters, so I guess the answer would be yes.
    Do sea otters harm the environment?: After they were reintroduced to Southeast Alaska, they have acted like an invasive species. Each bay they colonize is shortly thereafter almost devoid of shellfish, crabs, urchins and other fauna. So, again the answer would be yes.
    But do humans harm the environment? Of course, just like lots of other species. But the answer should be quantitative assessments, not dogmatic assertions, and political blackmail.

  35. We certainly clear a lot of land for broad acre cropping and animal husbandry, but also drastically limit the size and duration of wild-fires. I guess the impact having any lasting effect depends on timeframe perspectives. 100 yrs? 1000 Yrs?

    • SkepticalWarmist, the statements do not contradict one another. My WHO statement says it cannot be detected with existing data, which is still true. The one you refer to is model based and a prediction of the future. I for one, do not think the predictions will pan out.

  36. Proof that at low altitude the energy in the terrestrial EMR absorbed by CO2 is ‘rerouted’ to water vapor has been hiding in plain sight. If you are up on the first law of thermodynamics, the meaning of thermal capacitance and a typical graph showing the ‘notch’ in TOA radiation (i.e. http://www.giss.nasa.gov/research/briefs/schmidt_05/curve_s.gif shown as Fig 1 in my blog/analysis) it is obvious. The notch demonstrates the wavelengths of EMR absorbed by CO2. The first law requires absorbed energy cannot just disappear. Thermal capacitance requires that it cannot accumulate. The only thing left is for the added energy to be ‘rerouted’ to water vapor.

    Thermalization is when a photon is absorbed by a gas molecule and the energy shared with surrounding molecules. Because thermalized energy contains no identity of the molecule which absorbed it, the increase in warming from added CO2 can be no more than the ratio of the number of added absorption lines (transitions) to the total number of lines. As determined using Hitran2012, the increase in warming from doubling CO2 cannot be more than 0.48% of the 33 K due to GHE or about 0.16 K.

    As WV condenses out, mostly below about 10 km, CO2 comes back into play.

    Humans do not harm the environment by adding CO2.

  37. Showing ocean temperatures,
    in hundredths of a degree C.,
    is ridiculous false precision.

    The rest of the article is okay,
    but does not support the conclusions,
    in the last paragraph:

    “We are living in a time
    of nearly boundless prosperity.”
    My Comment:
    How about over one billion people without electricity.

    “The rate of poverty
    has plunged to unimaginable lows”.
    My Comment:
    Not with over one billion people without electricity.

    “This is a time
    when the definition of poverty
    in the United States
    is set so high,
    a poor person in the U.S.
    would be the envy
    of any wealthy person
    prior to World War II.”

    My Comment:
    Data-free speculation.
    Wealthy people used to live in nice neighborhoods,
    with good schools, and low crime rates.
    They still do.
    Most poor people in the US
    do not have any of the three.

    “Inequality in the world
    is at its lowest level ever
    and decreasing at a rapid rate.”

    My comment: Wrong.
    Inequality was lower during the last recession,
    but increased considerably since 2009,
    along with stock, bond and real estate prices,
    In 2017, a small number of men
    own a surprising percentage
    of wealth in the world
    — I can’t remember the percentage,
    but it was so large, it stunned me.

    • I would reply that:
      Today represents the the FEWEST NUMBER of people living without electricity EVER.
      Today represents the MOST PEOPLE getting MORE FOOD (Thanks solely to fossil-fueled farming, food storage and processing, food preservation, water cleanliness and sewage treatment – all provided ONLY courtesy of fossil and nuclear fuels for power, reliable electricity, steels, plastics, pumps, filters, chemicals and concrete and production. Yes, more need that food, but today’s higher CO2 levels are feeding billions more easily and faster and more productively.
      Today’s extremely poor are in political and cultural and moral wastelands – INCLUDING wastelands in the US, France, Germany, the UK, and India and China and South America. They are NOT in those political and moral wastelands of corruption because of capitalism or “rich white men” but because of socialists and evil exploitative men and women of every colour and every race in those cultures and those wastelands. And, of course, the personal choices of those who remain in those wasteland cultures in the west.
      My son, for example, made poor choices – continues to make poor choices – and is very poor. My daughter, my oldest son have made very good choices and continue to enforce that discipline of control and good choices. Both are very rich now, much more wealthy than I at their ages.

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