According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for
this world to recreate, reclaim, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of
explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. - anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. - anon
... Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument.
There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is
irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a
power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table
to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace,
reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants
us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. - anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Common Sense Christian Wisdom from my friend Rance...

I have a Facebook friend by the name of Rance who occasionally will rattle off a string of his beliefs on the popular social media site. As I read them I find myself simply nodding my head and thinking, "Yup, yup, yup, ok, yup, got it, check... and so on" in a long list of agreements like we were old friends from way back when really we're quite new friends from not so long ago.

What Rance has that I admire is his simply-said, common sense Christian wisdom, that tells it like it is while refusing to buy the popular line of Christianity that the media would have us believe (if not the Christian presses themselves). Its a kind of street wisdom that doesn't pull any punches unless they're headed right for your nose, and when you get back up off the ground you would mostly likely say, "Thank you. I needed that," in as kindly a manner as you may.

So, from time-to-time, with Rance's permission, I'm simply going to rattle off a "Rance segment" to allow his heart and mind speak to us from a long life of living, serving, conversing, reading, and "figuring things out." Kinda like a "thinking man's" list of proverbs and observations that have been hard won and had gained.

At the last, I would simply like to say "Thank you Rance" for being willing to ramble so we might gain a little insight into a Christianity that has become too harsh, or uncaring, to the guy or gal on the street. Jesus spoke plainly... and when He did He spoke in love. In tenderness. In humility. And with a lot of wisdom.


R.E. Slater
March 18, 2014

* * * * * * * * * *

A Common Man's Journal
Quotes from my friend Rance

I suppose, in broad sense, I should be viewed as a conservative Evangelical, but not as an Evangelical conservative. My conservatism shows up mainly in my solid core commitments to orthodox theology. I believe in the Apostles Creed and affirm faith in the one Creator of heaven and earth, the saving work of Jesus Christ, and the gracious enabling of the Holy Spirit in my life and the life of the ...entire church. I await the renewal of the world and the resurrection from the dead at the future royal appearance of God's Son.

However, unlike many of my good friends and colleagues, I am no longer an Evangelical conservative. Politically, I fit more comfortably in the intellectual company of folks like Ron Sider, Greg Boyd, Tony Campolo, N. T. Wright, Roger Olson, Rachel Evans, and Jim Wallis than I do with folks like Marvin Olaski, Franklin Graham, Doug Wilson, and Carl Thomas.

In addition, I find myself affirming of the following 10 ideas:

1. That the biblical theological view of creation is not incompatible with the theory of evolution.

2. That the Bible can be primary and inspired without being infallible and inerrant.

3. That one can somehow be both pro-life and pro-choice.

4. That one can believe in wealth distribution without believing in Socialism. 

5. That one can find many strong examples of Christians from the past who were politically, theologically, socially, and economically progressives.

6. That one can affirm both the sanctity of traditional marriage and the freedom for same-sex unions.

7. That one can believe in debt forgiveness for poor nations. 

8. That one can be patriotic without being nationalistic.

9. That one can be loyal Americans while refusing as Christians to bear arms or go to war. 

10. That one can peaceably share this great country with atheists, agnostics, humanists, Muslims, and foreigners.

- Rance

Exploring Evolution Series: Biologos - The Amazing Story of Carbon

Word and Fire: The Amazing Story of Carbon, Part 1: Fire

Today's entry was written by Paul Julienne. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of The BioLogos Foundation. You can read more about what we believe here.


Before there ever could be biomolecules, or a genome, or living beings, there had to be carbon and the other chemical elements that are essential to life. The science of carbon is remarkable, and the more one knows about it, the more one can stand in awe of the amazing universe in which we live. My career in physics—in particular, the quantum physics of atoms and molecules and light at the interface of chemistry and physics—has taught me the depth and power of the natural sciences to understand the world. It is a pleasure to be able to contribute to the Biologos blog a few thoughts about carbon: how it came to be made in the fire of the stars of the early universe and how it enables the remarkable chemistry of life written out in the words of the genome. Putting it all together draws on connections between atomic and nuclear physics, cosmology, quantum theory, chemistry, biology, and what science is all about in the first place.

I tell the story based on all the positive knowledge we have from the sciences. Does it have anything to do with God and humanity? Tomorrow's post will help you decide. First, let us take a whirlwind tour of the picture science gives us of the early universe and of the origin of the chemical elements.

According to the best current measurements, our universe is approximately 13.8 billion years old, and had a long history before there was life on earth. After an initial “Big Bang,” the universe rapidly expanded and cooled so that after a few minutes the present abundance of most of the atomic nuclei in the universe had been established, about ¾ hydrogen and ¼ helium, plus a trace of lithium. The simplest atomic nucleus is hydrogen,1H, having a single positively charged proton, whereas the helium nucleus, 4He, known as an alpha particle, is comprised of two protons and two neutrons. In this early stage of the universe, there were no nuclei of species heavier than 7Li (lithium with 3 protons and 4 neutrons) such as carbon, oxygen, or iron.

After about 380,000 years of expansion and cooling, the positively charged hydrogen and helium nuclei recombined with negatively charged electrons to make ordinary electrically neutral hydrogen and helium atoms. The universe was still mostly uniform without clumping into galaxies and stars, but once it was composed primarily of neutral atoms, it became transparent to light, that is, light could propagate freely throughout the universe. This light has continued to cool, and its afterglow is known as the microwave cosmic microwave background radiation.

This picture shows the cosmic microwave background radiation measured by the European Space Agency‘s
Planck satellite observatory
. The irregularities reveal fluctuations in the density of the 380,000 year old
universe that correlate with the future clumping of matter into stars and galaxies.

What about the heavier elements? Since stable nuclei heavier than lithium didn’t exist in the very early stages of the universe, where did they come from? How were they built up?

After the separation of light and matter in the early universe, the hydrogen and helium began to clump into large clouds of gas that under the influence of gravity condensed into galaxies and stars. The first stars and galaxies had already formed by the time the universe was one billion years old. It turns out that the heavier elements can be made in the hot interior of stars by fusing together lighter nuclei via sequences of nuclear reactions that can explain the observed abundance of these elements. It is only in the dying phase of certain types of stars that temperature and pressure is sufficiently high that these fusion processes occur to make the heavier elements. These elements are then expelled into the surrounding interstellar medium by the exploding star at the end of its life. The clouds of gas formed this way later condense into new stars, such as our sun, some of which have accompanying planetary systems. Consequently, before there could ever be carbon, there had to be a first generation of stars to be born and die. In other words, given what we understand about the laws of nature and star formation and evolution, the universe actually needs to be billions of years old before carbon-based life could be present.

How the heavier elements are made in stars was worked out in the 1940s and 1950s through discoveries about nuclear physics and nuclear reactions. A classic paper published in 1957, “Synthesis of the Elements in Stars,” by Margaret and Geoffery Burbidge, William Fowler, and Fred Hoyle, laid out the basic framework that remains with us today. Fowler received the 1983 Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on nucleosynthesis, the two Burbidges received the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society in 2005, and Hoyle was later knighted for his work in astrophysics and was awarded the prestigious Crafoord Prize of the Swedish Academy of Sciences in 1997 for his work on the formation of the elements in stars.

Getting the heavier elements requires first making a carbon nucleus, which is very difficult. Making 12C requires that three alpha particles, 4He, fuse together. This is called the triple-alpha process, but it is impossible at the 15 million degree temperature inside a normal star like our sun, because the average velocity of the alpha particles is too low for them to overcome the very strong repulsive electric forces between the positively charged4He nuclei. Hans Bethe had already shown in 1939 that a temperature of 1 billion degrees would be required for such repulsion to be overcome. But such a high temperature does not occur even in stars.

Fred Hoyle

In 1953 the young astrophysicist Fred Hoyle realized that accounting for the relative abundances of carbon and oxygen in the universe required that there be a special quantum state of the 12C nucleus that would allow it to form in stars at temperatures around only 100 million degrees. The postulated quantum state, which may or may not exist, had to have just the right properties to allow fast enough production of 12C nuclei but to prevent their destruction by rapid conversion to 16O upon fusing with another alpha particle. While visiting the Kellogg Radiation Laboratory at Caltech, Hoyle told William Fowler and his colleagues and students there about his prediction, and it was verified through laboratory experiments that the needed state existed at close to the predicted value. With this knowledge in hand, Hoyle and others could then understand how the heavier elements could be made through sequences of nuclear reactions starting with 12C and 16O, and the foundation was laid for understanding how all the heavier elements came to be.

All the elements needed for life are synthesized in the late stages of the life cycle of certain stars. Without the Hoyle state in the triple alpha process, we would not be here as living beings who can understand such things. In an article entitled “The Universe: Past and Present Reflections,” published in the Annual Reviews of Astronomy and Astrophysics in 1983, Hoyle wrote the following (Vol. 20, p. 16):

From 1953 onward, Willy Fowler and I have always been intrigued by the remarkable relation of the 7.65 Mev energy level in the nucleus of 12C to the 7.12 Mev level in 16O. If you wanted to produce carbon and oxygen in roughly equal quantities in stellar nucleosynthesis, these are the two levels you would have to fix, and your fixing would have to be just where these levels are actually found to be. Another put up job? Following the above argument, I am inclined to think so. A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a superintellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking of in nature.

Hoyle was known for making controversial claims. While few scientists would claim that the science would establish that “a superintellect has monkeyed with physics,” the Hoyle state does provide another example where the laws of physics of our actual universe are fine tuned such that carbon-based life is possible.

Be sure to check out tomorrow’s post to learn more about the intersection of science, carbon, and life.

Paul S. Julienne recently retired from his career as a physicist at the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the Joint Quantum Institute of NIST and the University of Maryland. He has published over 200 scientific papers on the theory of quantum processes in atomic, molecular, and optical physics.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Word and Fire: The Amazing Story of Carbon, Part 2: Word

Today's entry was written by Paul Julienne. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of The BioLogos Foundation. You can read more about what we believe here.


Part 1 of this article told us how a special quantum state in the compound state of three alpha particles plays a critical role in the production of carbon and the rest of the heavier chemical elements in the hot interior of a dying star. Carbon made this way became part of the gas cloud that eventually condensed into our sun and its planetary system, and became part of our earth where we live. Let us now skip to today and reflect a bit on science and life—life as we know it as ordinary human beings and life as made possible by the unique chemistry of carbon. Among other things, this chemistry makes possible the molecules of life, including the remarkable DNA molecule that is the basis of molecular genetics and the human genome.

Dying Red Giant carbon-rich star U Camelopardalis, 1500 light years from the
earth,  blowing off a shell of hot gas. From the 
Hubble Space Telescope.

I had the pleasure of knowing Francis Collins even before he founded BioLogos. We both shared the concern that too many people in our churches, in the general public, and in the sciences were being influenced by the widespread misconception that science and Christian faith must be in conflict with one another. The reality of the situation is much more interesting and subtle than can be captured by such a generalization. We also shared the concern that young people going into the sciences need not have to face a dilemma of choosing between science and their faith, as if one excluded the other. I count among my friends a number of scientists who, like Francis and myself, see no conflict between their science and their belief in God.

The word “science” comes from the Latin scientia, knowledge. Scientists seek understanding of the world. What it is really like? How does it work? Nobel laureate physicist Richard Feynman said that a really important aspect of science “is its contents, the things that have been found out. This is the yield. This is the gold. This is the excitement, the pay you get for all the disciplined thinking and hard work.” Most scientists I know will share Feynman’s passionate enthusiasm about understanding the world.

Scientific knowledge is derived from the scientific method of observing the world as it is. Science has been enormously fruitful and successful. Knowledge about the way the world works has enabled the marvels of modern communication, transportation, and medicine. Yet science is concerned with the world on scales of time and distance that extend well beyond those encountered in everyday human life. Much of what science discovers about the world is very counterintuitive—it surprises us. This is certainly true of the quantum theory, which is one of the most successful theories of contemporary science in its highly quantitative characterization of the atomic and subatomic world. Yet, the quantum world has dramatically different properties than our everyday world, so much so that Richard Feynman said about it: “Nobody knows how it can be like that.” Even now, over 50 years after the discovery of the theory, in spite of agreement on its mathematical formulation and the accuracy and power of its predictions, physicists do not yet agree on how the theory should be interpreted.

That the universe is intelligible is an utterly remarkable fact. It is understandable to our human minds even if it still holds mysteries for us. Perhaps one of the most profound things that Albert Einstein said is: “The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible.” Why is it that we human beings can actually understand the universe so well? Why are we so passionately driven to try to grasp the truth about it, and are satisfied when we do, however incompletely? Could it be that we are meant to be this way?

The eminent French physicist and philosopher Roland Omnes writes in Quantum Philosophy: Understanding and Interpreting Contemporary Science (1999) about how science, quantum physics in particular, is formal and abstract in its formulation, yet incredibly fruitful in its precise and quantitative characterization of Reality. Omnes asks:

How can science exist? Or: How is science possible? The obviousness of this question and the silence surrounding it echo Aristotle’s beautiful words: ‘Like night birds blinded by the glare of the sun, such is the behavior of the eyes of our mind when they stare at the most luminous facts.’ … The answer is perhaps as obvious as the question: science is possible because there is order in Reality. …The whole of science suggests such an answer, but science alone cannot establish or even formulate it, for this assertion is beyond science’s own representations.

There are some questions that science cannot answer. Even understanding why science is possible requires, as Omnes puts it, “leaving science and entering metaphysics.” When we do the latter, we must make critical judgments about the nature of the world based on considerations that lie beyond science per se. It takes wisdom to do that. Elsewhere in the book, Omnes does not hesitate to use an ancient philosophical term to characterize the order behind Reality, namely, its Logos, that is to say, its fundamental “logic,” “principle,” or ”ground.”

This subtle term Logos is also used in the familiar opening verse of the Gospel of John: “In the beginning was the Word [Logos], and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…. All things were made through him…” The term “Word” used here to translate the Greek λόγος has a significance that is clearly more than literal, situating the Logos at the ground of all there is, at the root of all intelligibility and order in the totality of Reality. John’s verse is also an echo of the opening words of Genesis, where God creates by speaking. The wonderfully spare and austere language in the first chapter of Genesis also tells us that human beings are made in the image of God. John goes on to tell us something even more remarkable: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”

John identifies the Word-made-flesh with Jesus of Nazareth, the one who shows us—uncovers for us—the very character of God. Here is the heart, the logic, the Logos, of the whole gospel: the paradoxical story of Jesus and his self-giving, self-sacrificial love communicates to us the key to the essential nature of Reality, about the cosmos and humanity. It is the Logos-become-flesh who shows us how to bear the image of God rightly and flourish as human beings. I have yet to find anything from what I have learned from the natural sciences—physical, chemical, biological, or bio-medical—that necessarily conflicts with a robust Christian theology centered on the person Jesus of Nazareth understood as being fully God and fully human.

Words are an essential part of our humanity. Perhaps like science itself we take our words too lightly. How are words possible? Words are the basis for language by which we communicate to one another. Words tumble and cascade one after the other, yet they convey a whole. They make sense, at least if we speak the language. They communicate information. The scientific knowledge by which the universe is intelligible is communicated by words. Words can also communicate emotions, love and anger, and express poetry. They describe. They convey a tone, a mood. Words can be written or spoken. Yet words can be hopelessly inadequate to the task of conveying what we would like to express. Can we even put into words the aroma of a cup of coffee, if we wanted to express what it is like to another person who had never experienced it?

Now is a good time to re-enter the story of carbon. The incredibly rich life of a cell, and by extension an entire living organism, is based on the special chemistry made possible by the specific molecular bonding properties that a carbon atom has with another carbon atom or with different atoms like hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, and many others. There is a large subfield of the chemical sciences known as “organic chemistry” that studies the structure, properties, and reactions of such carbon-containing molecules. There is an enormous variety of such molecules, since carbon can bond with other carbon atoms to form long chains with branching substructures. Different kinds of molecules make proteins, fats, carbohydrates, hemoglobin, insulin, DNA, and all the other kinds of molecules involved in life. The field of “molecular biology” studies these molecules in their biological context.

Most molecules have a well-prescribed structure and shape, conforming to solution of the quantum mechanical equation that describes the ensemble of atoms that comprise the molecule. Molecules will normally have a definite structure that corresponds to the solution of the equation that has the lowest energy for the sequence of atoms in the molecule. Quantum chemists routinely do large-scale computer calculations of such structures on moderately sized molecules. The DNA molecule that bears the genetic information in the genome of an organism is quite different from most biomolecules. While the DNA has a definite double helix structure, the genetic code is carried by the sequence of “base pairs” of 4 possible base molecules, with any three pairs in the sequence coding for one of 20 possible amino acid molecules. These base pairs that make up the genome are strung out along the sugar-phosphate backbone of the double helix structure in a sequence that is energy-neutral, that is, not determined by energetic or chemical bonding requirements. Consequently, any sequence is possible, and the actual sequence serves as the letters of a genetic alphabet that the cellular machinery reads to fabricate the particular sequence of amino acid components to make specific proteins needed by the cell. The sequence is thus neither predetermined by chemical forces nor random, but carries information of great complexity that enables the cell to grow and function and replicate accurately. The same basic genetic alphabet is universal for all life forms on earth, whether animals like human beings, plants, bacteria, or viruses.

Schematic representation of the genetic code in a DNA molecule.
From the U.S. Department of Energy
Genomic Science program website.

One of the most far-reaching revolutions in thinking in the contemporary sciences is to view the world in terms of information and its transformations. Loosely speaking, information concerns how the world is organized into complex, meaningful patterns instead of randomness. In the biological sciences, this view hinges around the realization that information is at the center of life. Whole new university departments and scientific journals are being set up in the new field of bioinformatics. One accomplishment of the human genome project is to lay out the details in our DNA like a vast encyclopedia of words. Geneticists talk of genes “expressing themselves” through the natural processes in our cells, depending both on the genome and epigenetic factors beyond the DNA sequence.

In the view of contemporary biology, we are, in a sense more literal than figurative, embodied words. The words in the genome take flesh and make a living being. They become alive in a unique confluence of atoms, molecules, cells, and organs that make a coherent whole, a living person who can understand, speak, and love. The chemistry of carbon-bearing molecules makes this possible. In the case of the remarkable human animal, we find a being with the capacity to comprehend the whole universe that makes his being possible, who can comprehend the triple alpha process in ancient stars that enabled him to be here.

If we have the eyes to see, is it too much a stretch of the poetic imagination to think of each one of us, as it were, as being a unique utterance of God, a “word” spoken with an invitation to respond? Perhaps this helps us gain new insight on what it means for humankind to be created in the image and likeness of God. Perhaps the ancient Psalmist said more than he intended when he penned (Ps. 19:1-4a):

The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world. [NIV]

Word and fire: The fire in ancient stars has forged the material in which the words in the genome are written. We know this from science. This is possible because there is order in Reality, a Logos, a ground, that lies behind all that is and gives it coherence. The story of Jesus identifies the Logos and enables us to see that Reality is intelligible because the Word comes before the fire. This is not science, but represents wisdom beyond science to enable us to see why science is possible in the first place. Word begets words. It is really just as simple and deep as that.

Additional Reading:

Alister McGrath, A Fine-Tuned Universe: The Quest for God in Science and Theology (Westminster John Knox Press, 2009)

Sir John Polkinghorne, Quantum Theory: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2002) andScience and the Trinity: The Christian Encounter with Reality (Yale University Press, 2004)


A word is in order about what a quantum state is. Ordinary everyday objects can have any energy content. By contrast, a collection of quantum particles bound together in a small volume like an atomic nucleus will have a set of specific quantum states, each having a discrete quantized energy and a distinct set of “quantum number” labels. The Hoyle state is actually what physicists call a resonance state, namely, a state of a compound system that has the same energy as the individual particles that come together in a collision to form it. In this case the 12C Hoyle resonance state made from three alpha particles is an excited state that emits a gamma ray photon and decays to a stable, lower-energy form of 12C. Since the spread of energy in the hot alpha particles is actually quite small compared to the typical spread in energy between different quantum states, there is no guarantee that such a resonance would exist. That such a resonance occurs is a feature of the actual laws of physics being what they are. The actual rate of 12C production is extremely sensitive to the subtle details of the resonance, and the detailed dependence on temperature is still being worked out in papers being published in the scientific literature. Only recently has a fully first-principles mathematical calculation with powerful computers been possible to calculate the energy of the Hoyle resonance. This is explained in detail here.

Paul S. Julienne recently retired from his career as a physicist at the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the Joint Quantum Institute of NIST and the University of Maryland. He has published over 200 scientific papers on the theory of quantum processes in atomic, molecular, and optical physics.

Lessons in Eco-Sustainability (animation)

Alex's Official Website here

What is sustainability?
Part 1 - a scientific definition

What is sustainability?
Part 2 - the four root causes of unsustainability

Ecological footprint: Do we fit our planet?

The sustainability challenge explained (through animation)

How might Einstein solve our sustainability problems? (backcasting)

Winning the sustainability 'game' (conditions of success)

Is climate change human made? (Vostok ice core)

More video links found at author's website

continue to -
Wikipedia - (Ecological) Sustainability


Flow of CO2 in an Ecological System

Meet the World's Smartest Kid and Hear What He Dreams

Are We Dead Already? Looking for a "Can-Do" Eco-Sustainability Message beyond the Many Eco-Messages of Doom

Walking Through a Rice Paddy, Bali, Indonesia

The Merchants of Doom

By Keith Kloor | March 17, 2014 11:54 am

Paul Ehrlich and Ann Ehrlich, two long-time prominent voices in the environmental community, often speculate about the future of humanity. They recently shared this anecdote:
A few years ago we had a disagreement with our friend Jim Brown, a leading ecologist.  We told him we thought there was about a 10 percent chance of avoiding a collapse of civilization but, because of concern for our grandchildren and great grandchildren, we were willing to struggle to make it 11 percent.  He said his estimate of the chance of avoiding collapse was only 1 percent, but he was working to make it 1.1 percent.  Sadly, recent trends and events make us think Jim might have been optimistic.  Perhaps now it’s time to talk about preparing for some form of collapse soon, hopefully to make a relatively soft “landing.”
If you want to know why the Ehrlichs think it’s essentially game over for civilization, read their 2013 paper published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society. Their diagnosis:
The human predicament is driven by overpopulation, overconsumption of natural resources and the use of unnecessarily environmentally damaging technologies and socio-economic-political arrangements to service Homo sapiens’ aggregate consumption.
Translation: Too many damn people on the earth, driving cars, buying too much crap, all made possible by a globalized, industrialized, capitalistic system. Or something like that. Unsurprisingly, the Ehrlichs don’t agree with those who paint a sunnier view of humanity’s current trajectory. (What might a model sustainable society look like? Paul Ehrlich recently pointed to Australia’s Aboriginal culture.)

Now I’m not the only one to observe that the environmental community, as a whole, has a bleak view of the future.

But is the near-future collapse of civilization virtually guaranteed, as the Ehrlichs seem to think? Is there no reversing this collision course? Here’s what UK environmentalist Jonathan Porritt said last week in an interview:
A lot of people in my community of sustainability professionals have basically come to the conclusion it’s too late.
This strikes me as a self-defeating outlook, as I hinted the other day. It lends itself to the fatalism that has already infected environmental discourse, as I have previously discussed:
If you are a regular consumer of environmental news and commentary, you are familiar with the narrative of humanity’s downfall.
In the current issue of The New York Review Of Books, the novelist Zadie Smith is conflicted about this eco-doomsday narrative. On the one hand, she is bothered that most people aren’t taking seriously “the visions of apocalypse conjured by climate scientists and movie directors,” which she refers to as “the coming emergency.” But she also seems to get the futility of this storyline:
Sometimes the global, repetitive nature of this elegy is so exhaustively sad—and so divorced from any attempts at meaningful action—that you can’t fail to detect in the elegists a fatalist liberal consciousness that has, when you get right down to it, as much of a perverse desire for the apocalypse as the evangelicals we supposedly scorn.
Indeed, the merchants of eco-doom who peddle their vision of apocalypse to a secular choir are just as self-rightous and scornful of humanity as the fundamentalist preachers who hawk their hellfire and brimstone sermons. And like the most warped fundamentalists who exploit tragedy, the merchants of eco-doom also cynically seize on current events. On this score, nobody rivals Nafeez Ahmed (the UK Left’s faux-scholarly equivalent to Glenn Beck), who has an unquenchable appetite for peak-everything porn. (For commentary on his latest connect-the-collapse dots, see this post.)

Not all greens have a fetish for doomsday scenarios. Some are are trying to chart a more empowering vision for environmentalism. Porritt belongs to this group. He has a new book that appears hopeful about the future.

If only more environmentalists could snap out of their endless mourning for the planet and offer the rest of us something to look forward to [or to work towards in preventive scenarios] other than imminent eco-collapse.

* * * * * * * * *

Rethinking Environmentalism:
Beyond Doom and Gloom

pp. 108-113

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Readers of this journal are familiar enough with the environmental facts: human demand for resources and production of wastes exceeds the planet’s sustainable capacity, which portends future scarcity and potential calamity as resource stocks are depleted and pollution accumulates beyond dangerous thresholds.

Deforestation decimates species habitats, industrialization intensifies patterns of resource depletion and pollution, [population] sprawl pushes the urban-wildland interface ever deeper into remaining undeveloped areas, and climate change threatens to exacerbate all these problems and more.

Readers are also familiar with social scientific analyses of the causes of such degradation and obstacles to its reform: the limited time horizons and regulatory incapacity of existing political institutions, social norms that encourage unsustainable consumption, collective action logic that undermines environmental responsibility, and the lack of reliable information concerning the environmental impacts of everyday choices all frustrate individual and collective efforts to live more sustainably.

From such dismal projections, environmental politics is often caught between the pessimistic defeatism of those recommending unpalatable and unheeded solutions as the only means for averting ecological collapse, the futile jeremiads of those warding off apocalypse with compact fluorescent bulbs, and the naïve optimism of the eco-pollyanna.

Readers cycle between hoping against reason that the latter are somehow right and fearing against better regard for humanity that the former might be. A middle way is desperately needed, wherein hard-nosed realism about current threats and obstacles to meaningful change meets constructive criticism about current social and political life, and generates creative and far-reaching but viable and efficacious solutions.

In three ambitious and impassioned books, Paul Wapner, Thomas Princen, and Juliet Schor (multiple book titles) offer what may at least begin to dislodge environmental politics from this paralyzing stalemate among competing rationalizations for inaction. Each tries in his or her own way to inject a guardedly hopeful and empowering narrative into contemporary environmentalism, seen by all three as in need of saving from itself.

For Princen and Schor, sustainability must be grounded in a compelling vision of the good life, rather than reasons for forswearing or feeling guilty about its pursuit, where living green can also mean living well. For Wapner it requires a new ontology that embraces ambiguity as liberating and informs a more enlightened and ultimately harmonious relationship between people and the places they live.

All three seek to inculcate an ethic of responsibility that balances prudence and possibility, together yielding the sense that we can make a difference, if we are willing to critically reflect on the ways that we think and aspire, and do so while acknowledging the practical and conceptual obstacles that stand in the way, seeking transformation and redemption through the creative destruction of ossified ideals and insidious assumptions.

While constructions of nature have in the past provided environmentalists with focal points and normative ideals, has the concept of nature outlived its usefulness? Wapner suggests in Living Through the End of Nature that it has, as environmentalists have reified nature, building their movement around its preservation in what he terms the “dream of naturalism” and describes as the proposition that “we live best when we align with the natural world” (pp. 54–55). Here, “nature” stands in for an ideal of a physical world untarnished by humanity, defined as unnatural and a threat to its pristine condition, and an impossible reference point for maintaining “natural” environments in the face of all-pervasive anthropogenic interference in what can thus no longer accurately be viewed as such.

For Wapner, Bill McKibben’s announcement of the “end of nature” comes not as a glum obituary or cause to lament the ubiquity of human influence, but “represents a profound opportunity” for the environmental movement to “liberate itself from a nature-centric perspective” (p. 12). Nature, he argues, “stands at the center” of the movement, but has become a distraction from the most pressing issues at hand.

Without “nature” obstructing our view of human settlements and affairs, concern for the environment can be reoriented toward the problems and possibilities that surround us (as in the German umwelt, or “surrounding world”) rather than being cast away from people as corrupting influences on that environment. As Wapner writes, this “postnature environmentalist trajectory” can address “urban sustainability, social justice...

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Environmentalists have always worked to protect the wildness of nature but now must find a new direction. We have so tamed, colonized, and contaminated the natural world that safeguarding it from humans is no longer an option. Humanity's imprint is now everywhere and all efforts to "preserve" nature require extensive human intervention. At the same time, we are repeatedly told that there is no such thing as nature itself -- only our own conceptions of it. One person's endangered species is another's dinner or source of income. In Living Through the End of Nature, Paul Wapner probes the meaning of environmentalism in a postnature age.

Wapner argues that we can neither go back to a preindustrial Elysium nor forward to a technological utopia. He proposes a third way that takes seriously the breached boundary between humans and nature and charts a co-evolutionary path in which environmentalists exploit the tension between naturalism and mastery to build a more sustainable, ecologically vibrant, and socially just world.

Beautifully written and thoughtfully argued, Living Through the End of Nature provides a powerful vision for environmentalism's future.

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In this groundbreaking pamphlet, Juliet Schor, author of The Overworked American, examines how Americans can begin making the shift away from a resource-destructive society to one that values the environment, community, and quality of life above business and profit. She a traces back how after W.W.II, Americans had hoped that technology and social investment would yield shorter work weeks, more pay, and complete healthcare. Instead, we work more, get paid less, and maintain an indecent adult minimum wage. Where did we go wrong?

Schor's pamphlet charts an economic vision based that aims to reduce work hours, increase leisure, create new work schedules that are not operating on a "male" model of employment, create green quotas and industry-wide environmental standards, alternative housing and transportation, raise minimum wage, restructure labor relations, change corporate culture, and promote social accountability. The pamphlet "sets the guideposts," writes Noam Chomsky, "for constructive thinking and action to save our country from becoming a plaything for investors and transnational corporations, and to place its fate in the hands of its citizens."

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We are living beyond our means, running up debts both economic and ecological, consuming the planet's resources at rates not remotely sustainable. But it's hard to imagine a different way. How can we live without cheap goods and easy credit? How can we consume without consuming the systems that support life? How can we live well and live within our means? In Treading Softly, Thomas Princen helps us imagine an alternative. We need, he says, a new normal, an ecological order that is actually economical with resources, that embraces limits, that sees sustainable living not as a "lifestyle" but as a long-term connection to fresh, free-flowing water, fertile soil, and healthy food.

The goal would be to live well by living well within the capacities of our resources. Princen doesn't offer a quick fix -- there's no list of easy ways to save the planet to hang on the refrigerator. He gives us instead a positive, realistic sense of the possible, with an abundance of examples, concepts, and tools for imagining, then realizing, how to live within our biophysical means.

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Sustainability 101: what's it about?
a short college premier

Sustainable Development that is:
- Attractive
- Positive
- Attainable

in a network of inter-relations that are:
- dependent
- impactful
- finite
- definable

What is The Crisis of Civilization?
a look at present social norms and collective action logic

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Plane search hampered by ocean garbage problem

by Tom Cohen, CNN
updated 3:39 PM EDT, Fri March 21, 2014

(CNN) -- Another debris field, another new and so-far futile focus in the search for Flight MH370.

Two weeks after the Malaysia Airlines jet disappeared, one thing has been made clear: the ocean is full of garbage, literally.

"It isn't like looking for a needle in a haystack," Conservation International senior scientist M. Sanjayan said of the difficulty in finding the Boeing 777 aircraft. "It's like looking for a needle in a needle factory. It is one piece of debris among billions floating in the ocean."

"One piece of debris among billions"

Environmentalists like Sanjayan have warned for years that human abuse of the planet's largest ecosystem causes major problems for ocean life and people that depend on it.

With the world's eyes now scouring Asian waters for any trace of the plane that was more than 240 feet long and weighed more than 700,000 pounds, the magnitude of the ocean debris problem has become evident.

Two objects floating in the southern Indian Ocean, including one nearly 80 feet long, initially were called the best lead to date when a satellite detected them last week.

So far, though, search planes have yet to find them or any other plane debris, with speculation mounting that the larger item was a shipping container lost at sea.

No definitive records exist, but estimates for how many containers go overboard range from about 700 to as many as 10,000 of the roughly 100 million that the World Shipping Council says get shipped each year.

Most ocean garbage comes from land

Lost containers are only a minor part of the problem. While ship waste also adds to ocean pollution, most of the garbage comes from land, Sanjayan said.

More than a third of the world's 7 billion people live within 60 miles of an ocean coast, and their waste inevitably reaches the water -- either deliberately or indirectly.

Estimates from various sources, including the Japanese government, indicate that more than 10 million tons of debris -- including houses, tires, trees and appliances -- washed into the sea in the 2011 tsunami.

Treating the Ocean as a Toilet is Not the Answer

In addition, discarded plastics -- including countless bags like the kind routinely provided by retail stores and fast food restaurants until a movement in recent years to decrease their use -- form huge, churning garbage fields in the rotating currents of ocean gyres. One in the north Pacific is estimated to be at least 270,000 square miles, or an area larger than Texas.

Sanjayan cited Dhaka, Bangladesh, as an example. Considered the fastest growing city in the world, the capital of 15 million people could expand to more than 20 million people in the next decade, according to the United Nations.

Such growth far exceeds the capacity to deal with the garbage and sewage, Sanjayan said, adding: "All that waste in countries like that -- low-lying, prone to flooding -- periodically flushes into the ocean."

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