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21 December 2011

Here On Earth

Here on Earth
Tim Flannery's new book, a rapid romp through all the usual suspects on Climate.
I hasten to add I support his positions almost entirely.

Startlingly TF raises "the Great Bill Hamilton.... had he lived to combine ... with the expansive vision of Wallace and Lovelock ... may have become the most revered biologist of all time"

Hamilton is, apparently, "the founder of sociobiology" with E O Wilson as its greatest living exponent.

This appears to be an attempt at re-alignment of the politics of evolution.
Wallace as the working class, proponent of co-operation, Darwin as the coupon-clipping rich class proponent of competition

Recent history has S.J Gould as the leftist evolutionist. His big book on evolution has a scant few sentences on Bill Hamilton - I dont know if this is a matter of political taste, I confess I havnt read it..

Hamiltons writings are definitely fascinating. I believe he did produce an explanation of cooperation in ants, because theyre all more related to the queen than they are to each other.
Of course this falls down as an explanation where the queen has multiple matings, or in Termites which are not haploid.
I am a big fan of BH, but I was troubled by his fears that human medicine would produce a 'hospital' society with a cost in supporting deleterious genes, Seemed to smack of Eugenics, and indeed to be unrealistic. Bill certainly walked the walk - got lethal malaria in the Congo searching chimp poo for HIV clues.

Factoid: An Attine ant colony has as many workers as C16 England. Seems that an accumulated surplus entails an army.

We havnt yet found our great explicator of co-operation. Lyn Margulis was up there, but she got a tad extreme in her latter years?

Anyway, back to Flannery. His book feels a tad thin at times. ... Life produces "No waste" - well what is coal? The whole Gaia thing is too singular as Dawkins has said (TF quotes him)
Lovelock has said that Gaia prefers a colder earth, with more forests. But a shallow reading of paleoclimatology shows that warmer than now is typically more forested. Just maybe Gaia is sinking too much Carbon and getting too cold (Ice ages anyone) Not to suggest we should persist in the current project of rapid warming via mining, but as Lovelock has said, we may need all that coal later to stop the next glaciation.

The entire attempt to Align Hamilton on the left with Dawkins on the right really isnt convincingly developed.

Tim Flannery then says humans consume 100 TWatts annually. This crude error, confusing Watts (Power) with Energy (Joules or kWHours if you must) shocked me so that I almost threw the book down. TF Must have dashed this book off in a devilish rush to make such a jejune error.

TF then calls "liberated women ... a powerful evolutionary force" - In as much as liberation for women means forcing them into a wage economy where they believe they cant afford children, that would be a powerful negative. Dont get me wrong, I'm a a big fan of womens lib, even if its just because more rich babies eat more species.

A quick jog through the spread of humans. I admit I have only read the female side (mitochondria) and the recent male side (Y chromosomes) must be as important. Apparently there is a book by S.Wells "The Journey of Man" 2002 - I wonder if there is any more recent?

TF says that mitochondria are in the female line because there are none in the sperm head..
I think the current idea is that sperm mitochondria are destroyed in the Ovum. Anyway they're not so many (There is a suggestion in the western Pacific of one possible paternal mitochondrial line which TF doesnt mention)

TF hails Jim Hansen's book "Storms of my grandchildren" - which title says it all re Climate change.

Very bullish on the humans as mega-fauna killers. We constantly moved into the next bay where scallops and Paua were for the taking in knee deep water (Mason Bay in Stewart Island in the 60s - the end of the line?)
Somehow we've got to stop all this killing and burning... Tim is hopeful
When we killed the Mammoths on the Steppe we apparently choked the growth (grass needs tusks?) so the recent inter-glacial only went to 265ppm CO2 instead of the usual 300 (I dint quite grasp this)

Biophilia will save us... I wonder, having seen Chaweng Beach before the road was sealed, I think Biophilia may be real but toxic. I suspect Collapse, and collapse of tourism, may save more.

Tim was up in New Guinea, seems to like the people. 10,000 years of agriculture? Taro and bananas... most densely populated rural area ... 1614 people/km2 ... (where did he get that impossibly precise number?) 600 varieties of Taro .... really?

I feel that Tim suffers from Jared Diamond envy, Diamond also big in Papua, his books perhaps more gripping and revelatory.

"8.5 kiloWatts derived from burning one kilogram of coal" - there he goes again, no understanding of physics. - thats a meaningless statement Tim.

I enjoyed his previous books more, where he unleashed his undoubted expertise in botany to criticise people in Australia who plant 'native' plants in the wrong parts of Australia. Me, I quite like Pohutukawa in Wellington. Tim also used to rail against save the whales - there just charismatic , while entire biomes of rare plants are being wiped out. I know, Tim, but whales are just so neat...

Chernobyl left some Mediterranean shrimp 1 million times more radioactive than the sea [Polonium 210 856 picocuries/gram] TF is very concerned about chemicals. Gosh I'd sort of forgotten about pollution - I figure if I get to eat broccoli the benefit will outweigh the pesticide. But hes right, and the POP treaty was a big deal. "220,000 deaths from pesticides" sadly doesnt sound a lot to my compassion-fatigued ears.

"Greenpeace taking direct action against Japanese whaling" - thats Sea Shepherd Tim. He just doesnt seem to care about whales that much.

Doesnt like the UN, but vaguely suggests a "Gaian security" no well developed plan (who has?)

His photo of Greenland "extent of summer melt" I strongly suspect is showing areas of high melt of ice, but not down to bare rock as the tone in the picture suggests. watch out for blow-back Tim

He doesnt mention peak oil, peak banking, not even peak phosphate. Its not really a great polemic or call to arms.

Seems he has given up Science research since 2007, and is now hanging out with smart capitalists like Branson, green-tech. I guess that might fly. Not literally of course. Jets will never be anything but planet-heaters.

BUT: The numbers on SO2 intervention may pan out, it may actually be cheapish to fly Sulphate to the stratosphere. Pinatubo was only 18Million tons, global cooling of 2.4Watt/m2 cf human CO2 + 2Watts. Half life of 9 months, so we only need 300 flights per day? - this is me rambling, Tim has no mention of geo-engineering

Seems that the ocean salt level is kept constant by cycling the oceans underground every 10M years where the salt is stripped out. Isnt Gaia amazing?

Tim wants a "global fund to protect our commons" "similar to the US Fed" why am I not clapping?

Guess I'm getting bitter in me old age. But I'm still ready to follow the band if it plays a more stirring, dialectic tune than Tim Flannery