Where Do We Stand with the Earth
What does this article talk about? How can you tie it into the first lecture?
The image taken by Sputnik shows where we are in the universe and how Earth is the
only thing keeping us alive. Shows how we are nothing more than animals living on a
What does the following quote mean? "whereas the planet has been the ground for the
human population as figure; since Sputnik, the planet has become figure and the
satellite surround has become the new ground.... Once it is contained within a human
environment, Nature yields its primacy to Art"
McLuhan invokes the classic “figure-ground” reversal, where faces turn into vases and
back again, or ducks into rabbits and back again. This perceptual shift, as he says, now
means that the Earth is emerging as a human work of art. Before now, human beings
were the creations of the Earth; we are beginning to take over that role partly because
of our increasing power over parts of the biosphere, our ability to affect natural systems,
but more significantly because now that we can grasp the Earth in our mind’s eye, we
increasingly see that we have it in our grasp, period.
What is the distinction between problems and mysteries?
A “problem” is something that is in front of us, placed or thrown in our path to solve.
Different from this is a “mystery”. A mystery is a problem that, as one begins to try and
solve it, starts to involve the solver, begins to implicate the solver, to the point where the
solver is so involved, so woven into the problem that he or she can no longer pretend to
stand aside from it and take a neutral stance. To solve a mystery one must often solve
oneself. Sex is a problem; love is a mystery.
What is the difference between point source and non-point source pollutants?
The distinction between problems and mysteries seems to me to hold quite well for the
evolution of the modern environmental movement, which was characterised until the
last few years with solving problems. These problems, smog, industrial pollution, strip
mining, chemical waste, were of a size and scale that with political will, money and
engineering, they could often be quickly solved, and the impacts reversed. Many of
these were what environmentalists call “point source” pollutants: the place, people,
company, whatever, who were doing these things could be pointed out and stopped. But
beginning in the 1980s and accelerating since then, we have even confronted with
issues and contexts that have involved longer time scales (e.g. climate change),
possible irreversible losses (e.g. loss of species), and problems that could not be
automatically attributed to individual industries or culprits. These were not point source
problems, but non point source problems, where the finger points at everyone, the
entire dynamic processes of modern society, life styles, and perhaps the very burden of
the human presence on the earth. When the finger points at everyone, it points at us,
and moves into the realm of mystery.
What are ontological assaults? Assaults that attack the fabric of being, the fabric of life itself, like someone slashing at a
canvas. An early sign of this was the discovery that mother’s milk was a carrier of
radioactivity from above ground nuclear testing in the 1950s and 60s, and later we were
confronted with radioactive rain.
What is the difference between shallow and deep ecologies?
The environmental movement speaks sometimes of “shallow ecologies” (which are
essentially problem solving strategies), and sometimes of “deep ecologies” (the stance
of mystery involving strategies). We lack what might be called a “middle ecology” – after
the Buddhist “middle way” – where we live in the creative tension of our curious
borderline existence as human beings, where we are able to flip inside and outside of
ourselves as figures and as grounds, where we are both outside and inside our
environment, thanks to the mystery of consciousness in a physical body.
Where are the butterflies going?
They go south to Mexico every September and return to the north in Spring.
What do they feed on?
They feed on milkweed plants and adult monarchs feed on nectar of flowering plants.
What determines their range?
The plants they eat determine their range.
What is the mystery of the monarch butterfly?
The mystery of the monarch butterfly revolves around the understanding of how
monarch butterflies know where to go in every season as well as their strong survival
According to the article, what connections do we have to Monarch butterflies? What
happens to species that we don't have connections to?
Humans have a spiritual and ritual connection with the monarch butterflies. For
example, people think that monarch butterflies are the souls of lost children and their
return to the area in early November coincides with the Day of the Dead in Mexico.
People celebrate over these species and that they are able to connect to whereas
species that we do not have connections to are more likely not be called for celebration
and less awareness is put towards protecting them.
Discussion Questions: Gaia and the Earth System
Who is Jim Lovelock? How did he propose using spectral analysis?
Spectral analysis is a way of determining the chemical composition of things from a
distance through analysis of the light radiating from, or reflecting off them. By analogy
with the way that things of different colours reflect differently, it was discovered in 1814
by Joseph von Fraunhofer that when light is reflected off or travels through different materials with different chemical composition, their spectral pattern is different,
characterized by Fraunhofer lines or gaps in the spectrum. These are gaps where the
object’s chemical constituents absorb rather than reflect light. In this way, one can
determine, for example, the general chemical composition of Mars without having gone
to Mars, a telescope hooked up to a spectral analyser (or radio telescope for non-visual
parts of the spectrum) will do.
What is the Gaia hypothesis? Is earth one big mechanism?
The Gaia hypothesis proposes that organisms interact with their inorganic surroundings
on Earth to form a self-regulating, complex system that contributes to maintaining the
conditions for life on the planet.
What is the strength of the Gaia hypothesis?
The strength of the Gaia hypothesis is that it challenges the piecemeal view of the
Earth, and provides a narrative of the Earth system through time that is both exciting
and compelling in its sweep and implications.
What are some of earth's cycles and processes? How are they impacted by human
The hydrological cycle, the carbon cycle and so on. They’re being affected by humans
because we are now using around 40% of land based biomass for our own purposes,
and an increasing amount of oceanic based biomass. Moreover, in order to produce
food and make objects, human beings at our current scale of demand need to be able
to manage and control the production processes efficiently – according to our version of
efficiency, i.e. for our purposes. This involves simplification and concentration of
biological system (agriculture), and the extraction and concentration of mineral
resources (mining, industrial processes). These place additional burdens on the ability
of the biosphere to cope with the waste energy, and recycle and decompose other
waste products. It has become virtually impossible to model the dynamics and future of
the larger earth cycles without taking the human dimension into account.
Discussion Questions: Darwin Initiative
What is the Darwin Initiative?
The Darwin Initiative is a UK Government funding program that aims to assist countries
with rich biodiversity but poor financial resources to meet their objectives under the
Convention on Biological Diversity, the Convention on International Trade in
Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, and the Convention on the Conservation
of Migratory Species of Wild Animals.
What is sustainability?
The capacity to endure. How biological systems remain diverse and productive over
Who is Reverend Thomas Malthus? What did he predict? Was he wrong? Reverend Thomas Malthus, in the 1790s, made his famous prediction that human
population growth would outstrip food production, so that there would be widespread
famine in the future, the human population amounted to some 850 million. Malthus’
predictions proved wrong because he failed to appreciate the growing power of the
Industrial Revolution, just gather speed at the time he was offering his views on the
future, even though human. By the time of the Napoleonic Wars, there were a billion
people for the first time, doubling in just over a century to two billion people. In 1950,
there were approximately 2.5 billion people and in the following half century, over the
course of just two generations, our number swelled to 6 billion people.
What does this article say about biological extinction?
With respect to biological extinction, we are able to estimate the global rate by
comparing species longevity in the fossil record, an average of one species per million
per year becoming extinct, with the observed extinction rates over the past few
centuries for well known groups such as vascular plants, butterflies, and vertebrate
What are hot spots?
They are areas in which a great deal of biodiversity is concentrated in relatively small
What is the Brundtland Report?
It’s mandate was to re-examine the critical issues of environment and development and
to formulate innovative, concrete, and realistic action proposals to deal with them;
strengthen international cooperation on environment and development and assess and
propose new forms of cooperation that can break out of existing patterns and influence
policies and events in the direction of needed change; and raise the level of
understanding and commitment to action on the part of individuals, voluntary
organizations, businesses, institutes, and governments.
Discussion Questions Collapse Reading
Why does the reading call Easter Island a test case? Why study Easter Island?
Eastern Island is a test case because the island itself is isolated in the middle of the
Pacific Ocean, about 1500km from the nearest other island. Many studies on Easter
Island revolve around one ultimate question, that why no one did anything to save the
social collapse when the island was under obvious environmental stress. The intense
competition of power is more important than fixing the environment. Easter Islanders
had no account for the how few trees were left on the island, yet they exploited the
resources by building statues to secure prestige and status. We study Easter Island to
understand that how possible environmental stress is the central cause of the social
collapse of these complex yet vulnerable societies.
What are some of Easter Island's intrinsic vulnerabilities?
Intrinsic vulnerabilities of Easter Island are the physical characteristics of the island
itself: volcanic island, reasonable soil with poor drainage and limited rainfall/other water
sources for irrigation, limited species of plants and animals. High reliance on imported
food crops such as sweet potatoes allow substantial time for establishing extrinsic vulnerabilities, aka creation of a complex social structure.
What do we know about the social structure of Easter Island?
Easter Island’s society was organized according to social ranks and family ties and the
island was divided into territories ruled by different family clans. The community was tied
together by rituals and ceremonies of worshipping ancestral chiefs of each territory and
there was fierce competition and power struggle among territories as stone statues
were built for these leaders.
What happened when resources collapsed on Easter Island?
When resources started to collapse, no one did anything to fix the natural environment.
Foreigners like the Europeans brought more diseases and grazing animals to reduce
both the population and vegetation. Easter Islanders change their food diet from heavy
starch to food crops like herbs and grass and even humans, they replaced the wood
houses with caves and started fighting each other for resources.
How is the Mayan collapse different from the Easter Island collapse?
The Mayan collapse is different from the Easter Island’s collapse because Mayan’s
collapse was mainly due to the geographical factor that brought about drought
spreading from the south to the north and finally cutting out the water supply. The land
was incapable in absorbing the population pressure with a limited agricultural base.
Easter Island’s collapse was accompanied by increased signs of warfare and conflict
between cities and regions and also outmigration.
What were the geographic and socio-political facts that made the Mayans so
The geographic factor that makes the Mayan Empire so vulnerable is the frequent
droughts in the area, sometimes extending to periods of ten years or so. Another factor
is that the land is vulnerable to hurricanes and tropical storms in dry seasons from
January to May every year. The socio-political factor is the misuse of land resources by
Mayans as they farmed on the vulnerable areas like hillsides throughout