At the outset, it is important to acknowledge we humans have been deluding ourselves for some time. This idea that somehow we are in control of the environment ( either positively or negatively ) is simply delusional. Stop and think about it. When you do, you realize that we ( as individuals ) have precious little control over anything but our minds -and for some of us, not so much control there either.
Not that we don’t have the best of intentions. Not that we don’t have limited success. We can control things like the temperature in very small spaces. We build homes and maintain them to keep ourselves insulated against environmental extremes.
Our control, however, is both limited and temporary. Although it is not going to happen for another 5 billion years, consider that our own Sun will someday swell into a red giant and swallow the Earth. Now that will really be global warming.
It all goes back to the shift in numbering in the west that gave us the ability to calculate risk. The Arabs, by way of invasion of India, had exposure to the Hindu numbering system. In turn, this enabled them to incorporate eastern intellectual advances into their own scholarship, scientific research, and experimentation. The impact was tremendous, first for the Arabs and then for the West.
In the hands of the Arabs, the Hindu numbers would transform mathematics and measurement in astronomy, navigation, and commerce. New methods of calculation gradually replaced the abacus, which for centuries had been the only tool for doing arithmetic everywhere from the Mayans in the western hemisphere, across Europe, to India and the Orient. 
As the new numbering system took the place of the simple abacus over the next 500 years, writing out calculations became preferred over movable counters. This written computation encouraged abstract thinking. In turn areas of mathematics never conceived of in the past came to the forefront. Sea voyages became longer, time-keeping more accurate, architecture more ambitious, and production methods more elaborate. If you want to contemplate the the impact, consider how the modern world would look if we still measured and counted with I, V, X, L, C, D, and M-or with the Greek or Hebrew letters that stood for numbers.
The upside to abstract thinking should be completely obvious. Our advances in understanding have created the technological advances to support humanity’s ever swelling population. Today, we have the capacity to feed, shelter, and ensure the health and safety of every one of our 7 billion+ companions on this little blue-green marble in space. Where we fail to do so is a largely a failing of political and religious systems that govern those regions.
The downside to abstract thinking is a little less obvious. As it turns out, each time we achieve some limited success in temporarily controlling the external world, we get it in our heads that we, in fact, CAN control the external world. Our modern calculator and simulator for abstract thinking, the computer, has only served to enhance our hubris and delusional state.
Consider Frank Drake’s the now-famous Drake equation from 1960:
N=N*fp ne fl fi fc fL [where N is the number of stars in the Milky Way galaxy; fp is the fraction with planets; ne is the number of planets per star capable of supporting life; fl is the fraction of planets where life evolves; fi is the fraction where intelligent life evolves; and fc is the fraction that communicates; and fL is the fraction of the planet's life during which the communicating civilizations live.]
The problem with this serious-looking equation is that it makes speculation appear to be legitimate intellectual inquiry. Drake’s equation has variables that cannot be known. Worse yet, most cannot even be estimated. The only way to work this equation is to fill in with guesses.
Of course, when you are guessing, you are substituting your personal prejudices for actual data.
In 1983, computational advances in computing allowed Carl Sagan and Paul Ehrlich to appear on the Johnny Carson show a combined 65 times to pump their paper “Nuclear Winter: Global Consequences of Multiple Nuclear Explosions.” Following these appearances, there were press conferences, meetings with congressmen, and so on. At the heart of their undertaking was an equation, never specifically expressed, but one that could be paraphrased as follows:
Ds = Wn Ws Wh Tf Tb Pt Pr Pe etc (The amount of tropospheric dust = # warheads x size warheads x warhead detonation height x flammability of targets x Target burn duration x Particles entering the Troposphere x Particle reflectivity x Particle endurance, and so on.)
The Drake equation can have any value from “billions and billions” to zero and gave rise to the mostly harmless SETI project. In the case of Sagan and company, the study not only made those guesses, but concluded they were catastrophic. According to Sagan and his coworkers, even a limited 5,000 megaton nuclear exchange would cause a global temperature drop of more than 35 degrees Centigrade, and this change would last for three months. In contrast, the greatest volcanic eruptions that we know of changed world temperatures somewhere between .5 and 2 degrees Centigrade. Ice ages changed global temperatures by 10 degrees. Here we have an estimated change three times greater than any ice age.
One might expect such claims to be the subject of some scientific dispute. However, Sagan and his coauthors were prepared. Nuclear winter was from the outset the subject of a well-orchestrated media campaign.
Being very direct, the Drake equation is literally meaningless, and has nothing to do with science. Also true of Sagan and Ehrlich’s Nuclear Winter. Expressions that can mean anything mean nothing. Like many others, I take a hard view that actual science involves the creation of testable hypotheses. Any equation which cannot be tested is not science. Such things are unquestionably the domain of faith.
Faith is defined as the firm belief in a thing for which there is no proof. The belief that the Koran is the word of God is a matter of faith. The belief that God created the heavens and earth in seven days is a matter of faith. The belief that there are other life forms in the universe is a matter of faith. The belief that Nuclear Winter will drop the earth’s temperature by 35 degrees is a matter of faith. Where you stand by faith, you are participating in religion.
Ok, so we can all agree that the planet, as measured for the restricted range of the last ~130 years, appears to be warming. Note, that this has nothing to do with the much lauded “Scientific Consensus” politicians are so pleased to pump on the Tonight Show. This statement of fact is based on the temperature measurements we have been able to make over time.
ASIDE: Consensus is invoked only in situations where the science is not solid enough. No one says that the consensus of scientists agrees that E=mc2. Nobody invokes the consensus is that the sun is 93 million miles away. It would never occur to someone engaged in stating a scientific conclusion to speak this way.
So, there are (at least) two questions we need to address: (a) what are the contributing factors to this warming? (b) what (if anything) can (or should) be done?
The first question has been the subject of study for some time now. According to their published history, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was created in 1988. Set up by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) to provide the governments of the world with a scientific view of what is happening to the world’s climate. The initial task for the IPCC as outlined in the UN General Assembly Resolution 43/53 in December 1988 was to “prepare a comprehensive review and recommendations with respect to the state of knowledge of the science of climate change; social and economic impact of climate change, and possible response strategies and elements for inclusion in a possible future international convention on climate.”
While they do have plenty of computer models, these models include variables that are not measurable. As we reviewed before, when you are guessing, you are not in the realm of science. So let’s just assume that there is currently a trend towards increasing temperature – albeit a trend with very large variance in potential outcomes.
So, what to do about it…
I think nearly everyone agrees that a reduction in greenhouse gasses is part of the goal, as is carbon sequestration. Others have suggested that perhaps just by reflecting back around 1% of the sunlight (and people should understand that global warming is a 1% problem – which over time is adding up) it would have the desired cooling effect irrespective of what we do about carbon and other greenhouse gasses. Scientifically speaking no matter what we do on the carbon emissions front TODAY the impact of these actions are likely 200 to 20,000 years down the road.
Oddly enough, Beef might just be the answer in the short term. Hell, it might be the answer for the long term as well.
You see, an often overlooked source of greenhouse gas and carbon are the desertified areas of our planet. As you can see from the map, in environments where humidity is guaranteed throughout the year it is almost impossible to create vast desertified areas. No matter what you do, nature covers it up so quickly. And we have environments where we have months of humidity followed by months of dryness, and that is where desertification is occurring.
Allan Savory gives a very compelling TED Talk on the subject. He talks about an area of the Tihamah Desert subjected to 25 millimeters of rainfall. In terms of drums of water, each containing 200 liters, over 1,000 drums of water fell on every hectare of the land in one. In less than a day, the land will be devoid of all evidence of rain. Some of the water runs off as flooding, but most of the water that soaked into the soil has now simply evaporated – water vapor in the atmosphere is a very potent greenhouse gas. Because water and carbon are tied to soil organic matter, when we damage soils, we send off carbon back to the atmosphere.
We have just simply not understood why desertification really began to happen en mass almost 10,000 years ago. We also don’t really understand why has it accelerated lately. Again there are no models, just guesses. But that hasn’t stopped us from trying to stop it.
One of the early thoughts we had was that we would need to protect the land from overgrazing. So we reduced grazing animal populations. The problem there is that any seasonal grass that is left over at the end of the wet season has to decay biologically before the next growing season. If it doesn’t, the grassland and the soil begin to die leading to desertification.
So absent biological decay ( here meaning grazing animals to come and eat the grass), the decay must be handled by oxidation which is a very slow process. In fact, this smothers and kills grasses, leading to a shift to woody vegetation and bare soil, releasing carbon. Ugh. What to do.
Well, next we thought to use fire. Fire also leaves the soil bare, releasing carbon, but worse than that, burning one hectare of grassland gives off more, and more damaging, pollutants than 6,000 cars. Currently, in Africa, we are burning more than one billion hectares of grasslands a year. Almost nobody is talking about this. This is probably because it does remove the dead material and it allows the plants to regrow.
Perhaps we really ought to consider that math for a moment. Assuming an outrageously high 1.5 cars for every person on the planet, this world has ~10.5 billion cars in play polluting every day. In Africa they are burning grassland equivalent to 6,000 billion cars or the equivalent of every man woman and child driving ( simultaneously ) 857 cars daily.
I suggest to you that your purchase of a Prius is not going to make this problem go away. It is a problem born of the agricultural revolution and it is one that can be remedied (at least partially if not entirely ) by organized and planned grazing by livestock. In a nutshell, we need to consume more bacon and beef.
Allan Savory and his team are already doing so on about 15 million hectares on five continents. Quick calculations show that we can take enough carbon out of the atmosphere and safely store it in the grassland soils for thousands of years. ( Keep in mind that ALL plant and animal life here on earth is primarily made up of carbon ) Further, if we just do that on about half the world’s known grasslands we can take carbon emissions back to pre-industrial levels, while simultaneously feeding people.
Bacon and Beef. It’s what’s for breakfast, lunch, and dinner on your low carbon emissions diet. 
 Peter L. Bernstein. Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk (Kindle Locations 247-255). Kindle Edition.
 And before you get too up in arms about methane levels from livestock, please read this paper on Methane Production from Cattle.
If I had to pick the 10 books that most influenced my general philosophies of life the universe and everything, this would be the list. We are the sum of what we read and the experiences we have. I consider myself to have been very fortunate to have grown up in a culture of reading. My mother was a school teacher and my father was a physicist. Our house was filled to the brim with books of all kinds and two parents willing to take the time out of their days to discuss the ideas ( big and small ) embedded in each.
Those that know my stance on God ( I’m an atheist ) will be surprised, but hopefully not too much, on the first two. As you work your way through the list, those who know me will see the values I think shine through most in my life. Firstly I have the upmost optimism in humanity to be a force for good in the world. Secondly, people should be skeptical of any religious movement, be it out an out religion or one of the modern disguised religions like environmentalism or the occupy movement. Thirdly, Science and the scientific method, while not perfect by any means, happen to be the best mechanism to inform us about the universe we live in. Fourth, our individual selves need to be nourished with our passions, we make ourselves happiest when we pursue that which we love. And, lastly, if we cannot laugh at ourselves and the absurdity of the human condition, was it really all the worthwhile being alive?
So, if you want to understand me in a nutshell, read these books ( ranked for your pleasure and insight ):
10. Torah * Nevi’im * Kethuvim ( The Old Testament ) – You have to start here if you are going to understand Western Civilization. It is a compelling story in places followed by agonizingly boring lists of lists. Unless you have read this book, you’re not going to appreciate the next book in my list: The King James Bible. To understand the God of the New Testament it helps to see him in his misspent days of youthful rulership over the universe. I alway’s liked Lewis Black’s treatment of the subject.
Now, there is a big difference between the old testament and the new testament and that is the new testament god is really kind of a great guy, he is, especially when you compare him to the old testament god who is a prick. I don’t know what happened to god over time and how he matured and if he went to an anger management class, or maybe just the birth of a son, calmed him down but before he had the kid, holly fuck he was out of control.
9. King James Bible ( The New Testament ) – I’m not sure if, being raised Jewish, I would have gotten around to this book had it not been for my high school years. The Christian Brothers of St. Mary’s College Hight School. Thankfully, 4 years of reading this book cover to cover made me appreciative of the role of the New Testament in shaping our civilization. Add to that, the role of the Catholic Church in Western civilization, which has also been intricately intertwined with the history and formation of Western society. When you think about things like social services like schooling and medical care; inspiration for Western art, culture and philosophy; as well as being an influential player in politics and religion.
In various ways through out modern history, the Catholic Church has sought to affect Western attitudes to vice and virtue in diverse fields. It has, over many centuries, promulgated the teachings of Jesus within the Western World and remains a source of continuity linking modern Western culture to classical Western culture. If you don’t read this book, you cannot possibly come to a complete understanding of the Western World in which you live.
8. The Selfish Gene This book, when first published, caused “a silent and almost immediate revolution in biology”. It is really the first mainstream book to argue that the gene is the unit of selection. It quite usefully completes and extends the explanation of evolution given by Charles Darwin before the basic mechanisms of genetics were understood. It gives the data and evidence that allows one to accept a world ( and universe ) without a creator, and therefore gave informed rise to my atheism.
7. Playing God in Yellowstone This book shows the folly of man in our attempts to deal with nature. It is in direct contrast to one of the most powerful religions in the Western World today which most people know as environmentalism. Environmentalism seems to be the religion of choice for urban atheists and theists alike.
Let me make it perfectly clear upfront that I believe it is incumbent on us to conduct our lives in a way that takes into account all the consequences of our actions. This would include the consequences to other people as well as the consequences to the environment. It is important to act in ways that are sympathetic to the environment, and this will always be a need, carrying into the future. The world has genuine problems which can and should be improved. My concern is that science often has too little to do with the discussion.
What makes it a religion? Environmentalism is in fact a near perfect 21st century remapping of traditional Judeo-Christian beliefs and myths. There’s Eden, a paradise, a state of grace and unity with nature. Recently we’ve had a fall from grace into a state of pollution as a result of eating from the tree of knowledge. Soon enough there will be a judgment day coming for us all. We are all energy sinners, doomed to die, unless we seek salvation. This is now called sustainability.
Sustainability is salvation in the church of the environment. Just as organic food is its communion, that pesticide-free wafer that the right people with the right beliefs, imbibe.
Eden, the fall of man, the loss of grace, the coming doomsday—these are deeply held mythic structures. They are profoundly conservative beliefs. They may even be hard-wired in the brain, for all I know. I certainly don’t want to talk anybody out of them, as I don’t want to talk anybody out of a belief that Jesus Christ is the son of God who rose from the dead. But the reason I don’t want to talk anybody out of these beliefs is that I know that I can’t talk anybody out of them. These are not facts that can be argued. These are matters of faith.
So it is, sadly, with environmentalism. Increasingly it seems facts aren’t necessary, because the tenets of environmentalism are all about belief. It’s about whether you are going to be a sinner, or saved. Whether you are going to be one of the people on the side of salvation, or on the side of doom. Whether you are going to be one of us, or one of them. That’s why reading Playing God in Yellowstone might help someone caught in the grip of a faith chip away at the foundation a little.
6. God is My Broker is a satirical book written by Christopher Buckley and John Tierney, published in 1998 by Random House which parodies self-help books, such as those of Deepak Chopra, whose works are particularly singled out.
I went to a Christian Brother’s School. We had a winery. I worked at Lehman early in my career. I’ve been a consultant. Obviously I think this book is hugely funny, and in keeping with my desire to laugh raucously at the human condition.
The main protagonist is Brother Ty, a failed stockbroker, who becomes a monk at a failing wine-producing monastery. The book tells his tale of financial and spiritual improvement while setting out the ’7½ Laws of Spiritual and Financial Growth’.
5. The Wealth of Nations First published in 1776, it is a reflection on economics at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution and argues that free market economies are more productive and beneficial to their societies. The book is a fundamental work in classical economics. You need to read this to understand why the occupy movement AND the bankers are BOTH wrong.
More importantly it will give you insight into the true nature of Economics which is to understand the allocation and distribution of scarce ( meaning not enough of X to go around at price $0 ) resources.
4. Human Motivation I find this book useful because I think that a scientific understanding of motives and their interaction contributes to understanding of such diverse and important phenomena. When you look at things like the rise and fall of civilizations, the underlying causes of war, the rate of economic development, the nature of leadership, the reasons for authoritarian or democratic governing styles, the determinants of success in management, and the factors responsible for health and happiness, at their root are the motivations of each of us. Our intrinsic motivation plays out on the stage of the world in concert with others and understanding the basis for our own and other’s internal decision making can be immeasurably helpful in life.
3. The Road to Serfdom At a time when the occupy movement seems so entrenched, as our country moves towards a more socialist approach to governance in a misguided attempt to help alleviate poverty, Hayek tries to move us back to a more rational position. Tough read, but get through it and you will enjoy things like this even more:
2. Soar with Your Strengths Since 1994 when I was first exposed to the management philosophy of Dr. William Hall and Dr. Donald Clifton, I have been on a quest to improve the way companies engage their employees as well as their customers. A departure from the traditional TQM models of the 70s 80s and 90s the best description of this management philosophy is “Strength Management.” It is a powerful framework of ideas and practices that give a company the ability to climb to new heights of success.
I apply it wherever applicable from Human Relations to Software Architecture with a great deal of success.
1. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Don’t Panic! In this book, Douglas Adams successfully captures my entire sensibilities about Life the Universe and Everything.
Seconds before the Earth is demolished to make way for a galactic freeway, Arthur Dent is plucked off the planet by his friend Ford Prefect, a researcher for the revised edition of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy who, for the last fifteen years, has been posing as an out-of-work actor.
Together this dynamic pair begin a journey through space aided by quotes from The Hitchhiker’s Guide (“A towel is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have”) and a galaxy-full of fellow travelers: Zaphod Beeblebrox–the two-headed, three-armed ex-hippie and totally out-to-lunch president of the galaxy; Trillian, Zaphod’s girlfriend (formally Tricia McMillan), whom Arthur tried to pick up at a cocktail party once upon a time zone; Marvin, a paranoid, brilliant, and chronically depressed robot; Veet Voojagig, a former graduate student who is obsessed with the disappearance of all the ballpoint pens he bought over the years.
Where are these pens? Why are we born? Why do we die? Why do we spend so much time between wearing digital watches? For all the answers stick your thumb to the stars. And don’t forget to bring a towel!