Sciencewriters Archive


Harding’s brief history of global warming enlightenment

Wednesday, January 10th, 2007

Stephen’s got an article in The Guardian tracing the basic–and surprisingly long–history of figuring out climate change.

The long road to enlightenment

Climate change may be a hot topic in 2007, but the debate has been going on for 200 years. Stephan Harding looks back at a life-or-death struggle for understanding

Monday January 8, 2007
Guardian Unlimited

Our understanding of climate change began with intense debates amongst 19th century scientists about whether northern Europe had been covered by ice thousands of years ago. In the 1820s Jean Baptiste Joseph Fourier discovered that “greenhouse gasses” trap heat radiated from the Earth’s surface after it has absorbed energy from the sun. In 1859 John Tyndall suggested that ice ages were caused by a decrease in the amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide. In 1896 Svente Arrhenius showed that doubling the carbon dioxide content of the air would gradually raise global temperatures by 5-6C – a remarkably prescient result that was virtually ignored by scientists obsessed with explaining the ice ages.

Article continues

Review of NOT IN HIS IMAGE

Wednesday, December 20th, 2006

Did they like it? Did they hate it? If it were Halloween, I’d let the suspense linger a little longer, but seeing as it’s the happy holidays time I won’t be so cruel. The word from Traditional Yoga Studies is, “this passionate book is a vigorous re-telling of the historical play between so-called Paganism and Christianity, containing any number of striking insights and felicitous formulations.”

“Felicitous formlations”? Now that’s pretty cool.

EBR gives Animate Earth the big thumbs up

Tuesday, December 19th, 2006

And I quote, “for… the best source for a full grounding in Gaian science… one can now refer to Stephan Harding’s Animate Earth.” This is from Electronic Book Review’s lengthy review of Animate Earth and Lovelock’s Revenge of Gaia.

Stephan’s on a roll: Tradable Energy Quotas

Monday, December 11th, 2006

Perhaps he wrote this article for The Ecologist on his emate as well…

Growing pains
Stephan Harding, coordinator of the MSc in Holistic Science at the Schumacher College, explains why standard economic growth is not the answer, and why personal Tradable Energy Quotas are… [read on]

You don’t need a new computer

Monday, December 11th, 2006

It’s hard to believe, but it just might be possible to live without a snazzy new computer with multiple, blazing fast processors. Stephan Harding apparently does it, and writes great books at the same time. Here’s what he said about writing Animate Earth in an email to me this weekend:

I wrote a lot of Animate Earth on the Apple Mac ‘emate’ – a very small seed
pod-like machine designed for children in the early 90′s. A delight to
use – grey screen with black letters – very ‘old fashioned’. One can use
the emate outside – the screen is best seen in the sun. So I wrote outdoors
during my travels – Arizona, Australia, etc. Easy download to PC. They
cost almost nothing on Ebay
– I have three of them. Could write a little
piece on the joy of using them.

So there you have it. No need to buy something that took a huge amount of energy to produce and that you’ll be frustrated with inside of 8 months. Go for something tried and true; to paraphrase Parliament Funkadelic, free your mind of computer consumerism and your path to a small eco-footprint will follow.

Animate YouTube

Monday, November 27th, 2006

Dude! I’m going to guess this was done by one of Stephan Harding’s students–it just popped up on our radar screen through a Google alert. Anyhow, this has got to be the first TV “commercial” for one of Chelsea Green’s books, and it couldn’t have happened to a nicer book.

One thing I’d like to point out is that the video shows Harding using a very old computer, one of the very early Macintosh models. Kudos to Harding for keeping an old workhorse going. Huge amounts of energy go into manufacturing computers, so learning how to keep an old computer working and usable is a very good thing. Laptops are more efficient than desktops and even in standby mode computers can draw a surprising amount of power (though, of course!, it is still better to leave your computer in standby than to leave it fully on, when it is not in active use).

The Depths of Science and the Heart, Briefly Illuminated

Wednesday, November 15th, 2006

For Immediate Release
November 15, 2006

Luminous Fish
Tales of Science and Love

By Lynn Margulis

Contact: Jessica Saturley, 802-295-6300 x.106

“Luminous Fish is unadulterated Lynn Margulis, fascinating and fun all the way as you follow her characters—real and fictionalized—through the challenges and turmoils of life. Great reading!”
—J. Woodland Hastings, Paul C. Mangelsdorf Professor of Natural Sciences, Harvard University

What place does passion have in a field known for rational detachment? What private pain haunts the conscience of the man who brought us the atomic bomb? In the face of human frailty, whither science? Renown evolutionist and author Lynn Margulis ponders such questions as she examines the personalities and passions she has known in her thirty-plus years in the rarified field of primary science—science for the sake of knowledge. Genius and profound dysfunction, deep love and monumental criminality all come together in these sketches of men and women whose lives, work and social relations change the world.

Margulis’ deft eye and penetrating insight lay bare the love lives and foibles of three generations of scientists: from René, the naïve atmospheric chemist; to Georges, the workaholic space scientist; to Margulis’ memoir of her Sunday meeting with J. Robert Oppenheimer in 1955. The stories piece together portraits of people obsessive in their work and shares their memories of personal interactions between scientific colleagues.

The struggles of parent scientists in particular come to the fore in these stories: struggles between mates, children and professional obligations. These tales will especially resonate with those who have worked with any aspect of the international scientific community, as well as anyone who has struggled to balance family and intellectual life.

Luminous Fish weaves together memoir and stories of science from the inside—its thrills, disappointments and triumphs. A largely fictional account, it draws on Margulis’ decades of experience to portray the poor judgement, exhaustion, and life-threatening dedication of real scientists—their emotional preoccupations, sexual distractions, and zeal for scientific investigation. The arcane, exhilarating and routine world of research emerges from the shadows of its passive narrative into the sunlight of the personal voice of those who attempt to wrench secrets directly from nature. All of us who struggle to balance family, professional and social commitments with intellectual quests will be intrigued by the humanity of these tales.

Lynn Margulis is Distinguished University Professor in the Department of Geosciences at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. She has been elected to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences, and received the Presidential Medal of Science in 1999. Among her many books are Symbiotic Planet: A New Look at Evolution; Symbiosis in Cell Evolution: Microbial Communities in the Archean and Proterozoic Eons; What is Life?; What is Sex?; Acquiring Genomes: A Theory of the Origins of Species (last three with Dorion Sagan); and Five Kingdoms: An Illustrated Guide to the Phyla of Life on Earth (with K. V. Schwartz).


Book available March 2007 | Hardcover | $21.95 | 1-933392-33-9 | 5 ¼ x 8 | 192 pagesFind out more at www.chelseagreen.com/2007/items/luminousfish.com

It’s time we learned to live in peace with our planet

Wednesday, October 25th, 2006

One of the absolute high points of the Bioneers by the Bay conference this past weekend–for me–was getting to meet Stephan Harding in person. I’d corresponded with him a bit while working on preparing his book for publication in the US. (It originated in the UK and we bought the rights to do it in the US, and we used the opportunity to make some corrections to minor errors that had slipped through the cracks in the UK edition.) He’s an utterly sweet, charming guy by email and telephone; in person, he’s the sweetest and charmingest. Maybe I should move to Devon. It’d be like dying and going to heaven to have Stephan as a neighbor. Anyway, here’s an op/ed he had in The Guardian recently.

It’s time we learned to live in peace with our planet

Stephan Harding
Wednesday September 27, 2006
The Guardian

I believe it is now blindingly obvious that our lust for endless economic growth is seriously destabilising the climate of the Earth and wiping out the astounding biodiversity that enfolds us. As the ice caps collapse and the great forests burn, we are at last waking up to the fact that we are at war with nature – a war that only she can win.

So why is our civilisation so destructive of the natural world on which we utterly depend? Some say that it’s merely a matter of technology, that any culture with access to chainsaws and bulldozers would have done the same. But I disagree. I am convinced that we see the world in an utterly mistaken way, that something malicious is eating away at the core of our view of the world. For us, the Earth is nothing more than a vast, dead machine to be exploited without hindrance by focusing only on what can be measured and quantified.

All of us go about with this idea deliberately planted in our heads by our educators, by the media, by politicians and by scientists. It was Descartes, Bacon and the other pioneering scientific geniuses of the 16th and 17th centuries who sold us this line, and for the past 400 years this understanding has contaminated every aspect of our lives.

Our efforts to solve the massive ecological and social crises we now face will come to naught unless we remedy this unbalanced perspective. So if “world as machine” only alienates, disconnects and makes us destructive, then what is the alternative? Here it is: that our Earth is palpably and deliciously alive; that our turning world is a vast living creature of planetary proportions within which we are immersed and which supports and nourishes our psyches every bit as much as our physical bodies.

This is an ancient understanding with a profound pedigree. Plato called it the “anima mundi” – the soul of the world. For the ancient Greeks, and indeed for most indigenous people to this day, mountains, forests, the great oceans and the wide-open sky are full of an ineffable communicative power that we are capable of perceiving spontaneously with our intuition and our senses and to which we respond with a profound sense of awe and innate respect.

These are the qualities so cruelly banished by science for so many centuries. They teach us that the whole of nature has value because it exists, irrespective of its usefulness to us.

The good news is that this alternative, more holistic perspective is at last moistening and dissolving the desiccated scientific heart of our culture, at first through the astonishing discoveries of quantum physics, and more recently through James Lovelock’s Gaia theory. Both imply that nature is far more creative, far more animate than we ever dared suppose.

How would things be if we achieved this? Limits to material growth would be rationally determined through our best science and then accepted as we took up our rightful space within the community of life. Only things of real value would grow – love of place, simplicity, self-sufficient local communities and economies, ecological restoration, renewable technologies, sustainable artifacts – and time for contemplating and celebrating the qualities of this astonishing Earth.

· Stephan Harding is coordinator of the MSc course in holistic science at Schumacher College, Devon, England. His book, Animate Earth: Science, Intuition and Gaia, is published by Green Books in the UK and Chelsea Green in the US.

Bioneers

Tuesday, October 24th, 2006

A bunch of us were at the Bioneers conferences in California and Massachusetts this past weekend. So was a reporter from the NYTimes. So if you missed it all, here’s a taste. Also, go to the Bioneers and Marion Institute websites for samples of the talks. By all accounts, it was all good.

The New York Times
October 24, 2006
San Rafael Journal

At This Gathering, the Only Alternative Is to Be Alternative

SAN RAFAEL, Calif., Oct. 21 — Along with Santa Ana winds and ripe persimmons, fall here brings with it a migratory phenomenon known as the Bioneers, a three-day pep rally for environmentalists, lefty political activists and young people with “Renewable Energy Is Homeland Security” bumper stickers that transforms the Marin Civic Center into something of a megachurch for the Prius set.For some 3,200 true believers, and about 10,000 others who were beamed in by satellite from simultaneous conferences in Logan, Utah; Honolulu; and other far-flung places, the Bioneers is part tribal gathering and part support group, encouraging adherents to connect with their inner Al Gore. (The name is a play on biodiversity and pioneers.)

Students, organic farmers, architects, advocates for Pacific dolphins and a growing number of entrepreneurs looking to invest in green technology come to hear the latest thinking on global warming (code word: Katrina) and how to keep the food supply safe (buzzword: spinach). Alternative energy, Bioremediation and environmental justice, once-fringy issues, have over the course of the conference’s 17-year history become part of the national dialogue.

“It’s biology as a metaphor for social change,” said Paul Hawken, an author and a founder of Smith & Hawken, the outdoor supply company. Mr. Hawken double-dipped, speaking at a satellite conference in Marion, Mass., then flying back to Marin. “It’s a parallel universe,” he said.

[cont'd]

Out of order, here’s part 3 of Lynn’s interview

Thursday, October 12th, 2006

Bacteria Don’t Have Species
Summary (Oct 09, 2006): Do bacteria have species? Not according to Lynn Margulis, co-author of Microcosmos: Four Billion Years of Microbial Evolution. In this interview with Astrobiology Magazine, she explains why.


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