You, dear reader, are basically a blight on the pristine goodness of nature, but even being told that you stink has not led most of you to demand policy action. Why not? And will a Nobel laureate telling you to get off your butt help?(1)
Dr. Paul Cruzten, a 1995 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry, the fellow who popularized the term "anthropocene epoch", hopes his latest editorial, with Stanislaw Waclawek, on the subject creates a tipping point for change.
Well, we already have changed. It used to be that environmentalists were nihilists, they thought man was just a pathetic speck among the awesomeness of nature, but now environmentalists believe we are Homo Supremo, and every time we flap our arms it causes hurricanes in Russia.
How did you become such a global geophysical force, far more powerful than nature? And why can't I send some rain to California with all of my might?
I suppose we cannot do it alone, just like we cannot be blamed alone for the impending environmental holocaust. If we were still in the Holocene Epoch, like geologists in denial insist we are, I could use a natural analogy, such as 'no snowflake in an avalanche takes the blame', but since this is the Anthropocene, I will instead say that 'no Republican in the RNC takes the blame' and you will get the idea just the same.
Is this a Powerpoint slide or a journal article? It is both, to people who take the term "anthropocene epoch" seriously.
Nature is no longer omnipotent, we are bigger and better. In the past, we had to build houses so nature didn't bury us in snow, we invented beer so nature didn't kill us with organic water, and we invented medicine so nature did not whack our children out of spite.
The tables have turned. Today in California we are so powerful we have to pray for mudslides to put out the wildfires because environmentalists have assured us if we clear out any brush or dead logs, our very presence will ruin the ecosystem. Who's laughing now, Gaia?
I have to tell you, I am just not sure I see it. If I were nature, I would be laughing at our marketing efforts to claim we trump her. Rather than being Homo Superior, we have created a system where two different federal agencies and the state spend years in court arguing over how not to restore a trout mandated by federal law - we are so incompetent that we created competing laws saying we can't put a gas-generated auger in there to do it, and we can't invent 40 mile long extension cords. Even that trout has to be wondering how we got to the top of the food chain, since we can't remember how to stock a river. We declare water a pollutant if it interferes with canoeing.
Because we are so much more poweful than this fragile ecosystem, we get annual claims of Ragnarok. And to sell the point in Y2K fashion, American ecologist Eugene F. Stoermer and Cruzten said the Holocene Epoch was over and that we were now in the Anthropocene. What was the evidence for that? You are a global warming denier if you ask that question.
If I am responsible for Ragnarok, I want to have even cooler hair than I have now. If I kill the Fenris wolf, will I go to jail? It's endangered, since there is only one.
Still, I would rather light a candle than curse your darkness so here you go:
There are serious problems with these claims, and not just that they smack of amateur philosophical posturing. Overpopulation has peeped its head out of the intellectual gopher hole once a generation for 200 years and things have gotten better, not worse.(2) Africa is on the verge of feeding itself and they would have gotten there sooner if pesky European imperialists didn't prevent them from embracing science due to fears they will be competitors.
And what exactly does "excessively rapid climate change" even mean? I am hardly a denialist but that does not mean that old cranks get to say whatever they want and go unchallenged. Linus Pauling didn't get a free pass about supplements, Lynn Margulis didn't get it when she became a 9/11 truther and James Watson did not get it about African intelligence, so Crutzen doesn't get to claim world-altering rapid climate change without having some actual evidence beyond two links in a Powerpoint slide. The climate has not yet changed, rapidly or otherwise. It certainly may, if we don't adopt green energy like nuclear, or make solar viable, but it has not changed yet. In an evidence-based world, you have to prove assertions, not link to papers you haven't read.
Now, is the ice thinner in the Arctic compared to 40 years ago? It is. Is it thinner than 400 years ago? Hard to know. Is there more ice in some parts of the world than 40 years ago? Sure. Is that proof global warming is not happening? Of course not. Cherry-picking that way happens a lot, and it is why the public distrusts not just climate science but now also vaccines, food and energy. So everyone should just stop it, but especially scientists.
Increased demand for water is not a problem, 98.5 percent of the world's water is available to us but not usable yet. They looked at an article on that made-up 'virtual water' stuff for this one. It doesn't take 140 liters of water to make a cup of coffee, nor does it take 11,000 liters of water to make a cheeseburger. If it did the wheat production of Egypt alone would require all of the water in the Nile. I've debunked those in various articles and in a book so I won't go over it again, but I remain comforted by the fact that even if it did take 140 liters of water to make a cup of coffee, I can have 9,588,235,294,117,647 cups of coffee before I have to hope some of it recycled. And even if it didn't I can desalinate some more. We want more people to have easy access to water, to be sure, but that is an energy issue, not a water one, much less a "virtual" one. If Cruzten had the same defeatist attitude about understanding ozone that he has about energy and engineering, he'd be a humanities professor instead.
Loss of agricultural soil through erosion: It's untrue and you know what fixed that? Pesticides. To-date, they have prevented enough soil erosion to fill more than 5 million dump trucks. I can't find a single environmental group endorsing science despite that fact, which is no shock, but it is surprising a chemist doesn't know it.
The last two are so baffling that, like the previous one, I can't figure out where he gets those claims, there is not even an offhand citation for it. Yields have gone down? Where? Yields are so much better in the three decades since I was a young man working on a farm, that we produce far more food on far less less land with far less environmental strain than ever thought possible outside science-fiction. Yields have not gone down, they have gone through the roof - we are on the verge of creating a worldwide obesity epidemic because food yields are so high, and all of that is being done with far less environmental strain.
"Man the eroder", they call us(3), in true dystopian fashion, but the evidence they cite is really just a series of Powerpoint slides linking to papers making claims they have chosen to believe.
Nobel prize or not, when someone writes "for the benefit of our children and their future" as the selling point of their article, data has left the building.
Citation: Paul J. Crutzen, Stanisław Wacławek, 'Atmospheric Chemistry and Climate in the Anthropocene', Chemistry-Didactics-Ecology-Metrology. Volume 19, Issue 1-2, Pages 9–28, ISSN (Online) 2084-4506, DOI: 10.1515/cdem-2014-0001, February 2015
(1) It's unlikely, 85 Nobel laureates publicly endorsed President Obama for president in 2008. and that was while he was suggesting vaccines cause autism so getting a prize from Norwegians and Swedes has never been evidence that people are smarter about anything else. 58 Nobel laureates endorsed John Kerry and he was a terrible candidate. Three of the laureates who endorsed President Obama were Jimmy Carter, Al Gore, and Paul Krugman - not exactly a scientific brain trust.
(2) Malthus was the ultimate libertarian, he didn't think government should help people, nor should charities. People would just breed out of control, like rabbits - instead, if people did not die, they earned it. That was social Darwinism before Darwinism even existed and he was not some mean atheist scientist, he was a cleric.
(3) Other elegant bits of science facts go: " Mankind only species that produces weapons of mass destruction (nuclear, chemical, biological)."