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Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Real Brazilian Tragedy

Posted by on Wed, Jul 9, 2014 at 8:28 AM

The sad thing about these pictures is that they only communicate the fatal scale of the destruction when it's too late. We humans can only start to see with their own eyes the signs of danger at a point when nothing can be done to save ourselves—the point when the mouth of the lion has firmly gripped the neck of the gazelle...

In the book The Dominant Animal. Human Evolution and the Environment, Paul R. Ehrlich and Anne H. Ehrlich locate this flaw (human inaction) in the way our minds have been shaped during the course of our evolution. In order to function normally, they argue, we needed to put things that aren't immediately perceived as trouble in the background our thoughts...
That aspect refers to the removal of a constant stimulus from consciousness—one may hear an air conditioner start up, but its continuing hum is soon “tuned-out.” ...Keeping the environmental background constant through habituation makes it easier to perceive new threats or opportunities as the ecological play proceeds. Our ancestors lived in situations in which that was of paramount importance, and we’re still quite good at dealing with sudden changes in our environments, be it a car swerving at us from another lane, a baby’s cry of distress....

What is this passage saying? Something like climate change does not freak us out because our basic consciousness does not have an alarm mechanism for something of that scale. A baby’s cry? Instant response; the slow rise of the oceans? We can't see or hear the problem, and so there is no or fatally slow response. How do we solve this limitation? With cultural tools that extend our perception:
The only way to recognize the change is by interpreting graphs made by scientific instruments that were designed to extend our perceptual systems and track the changes. Those graphs condense representations of changes made over many decades into visual differences occurring over the space of a few inches-changes we can perceive. A
remarkable aspect of human cultural evolution, however, is that such evolved mechanisms can be brought explicitly to people’s attention. Then humanity can corporately take them into account as it struggles deliberately and openly to alter the course of its own cultural evolution-a process that psychologist Robert Ornstein and Paul once termed “conscious evolution."
So only cultural learning (education) can bring the danger of the present situation to our immediate attention. If we look out the window, all we see are clear blue skies; if look at the same sky with cultural tools—models, mathematics, research papers, and so on—we see skies that are not at all clear. We need to see before we see with our eyes.


Comments (11) RSS

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Supreme Ruler Of The Universe 1
Frog on the boil right? I feel the same way about what they did to Seattle.

At the same time, I just signed a new 12-month lease at $150 a month more rent.

I didn't know which way to jump.

Posted by Supreme Ruler Of The Universe on July 9, 2014 at 9:07 AM · Report this
lark 2
Good Morning Charles,
Indeed, that is a most distressing photo from Brazil. And yes, I agree for the most part with Ehrlich and you. The "tools" are there and I live (at least, I think so) a modest life accordingly.

However, an extraordinary number (a billion?) of humans do not have those "tools". Does a Kenyan cattle herder? A Bangladeshi factory worker? Heck, even a Makah (Washington state) fisherman? The last one probably has heard of global warming and its deleterious effects but I contend all are too busy working to feed their family and improve their lot than trying to curb in some small way global warming or resource depletion. I even think any unemployed American wants work first rather than worry about the fate of the planet.

I contend global warming/resource depletion is a "luxury" issue for developed peoples since humans evolve differently in different cultures/economic systems. Sure, it is of immense importance but humans need food, shelter and clothing first. In underdeveloped countries and even in America that's what matters most.

Look, I believe these "tools" necessary. But, until many more (all?) others humans "see" their lot improved then they will get the chance to "see" using those "tools" and improve the Earth as a whole.
Posted by lark on July 9, 2014 at 9:35 AM · Report this
raku 3
The vital part of this is WHY humans are destroying the environment and deforesting. The vast majority of the reason is LIVESTOCK.

In the 90's, the Amazon rainforest was on the brink of being entirely deforested for cattle grazing land -- free range livestock, overall, is much worse for the environment because of the massive land use required. Then, they switched over to factory farms which don't require much cattle grazing land, but are deforesting again to make room for soybeans and other crops for livestock feed. It can take 13 pounds of soybeans or grain to make 1 pound of livestock. We'd grow massively LESS grain and soybeans if we switched to eating MORE grain and beans instead of livestock.…

The UN says that 18% of global warming emissions are caused directly from livestock. But they don't take deforestation and land use into account. Once that is taken into account, 51% of climate change from humans is caused by livestock. The majority!!! More than all factories, cars, planes, power plants, and everything else put together.…

Progressive nations are making steps to reduce eating meat and cheese. Scandanavian governments are telling their people to eat less meat and cheese and targetting meat reduction goals. Finland instituted a "dairy to berries" program to help livestock farmers convert to producing healthier, more environmentally friendly crops (berries because there are not many other crops that can grow that far north, unlike us who have many other options).

We need to institute taxes and programs to move away from eating meat and dairy. We need to increase infrastructure for non-meat, non-dairy foods. It's not a matter of cost - rich countries (US, Canada, western Europe) eat by far the most meat and dairy on the planet. The billion Indians eat 4% the amount of meat per person that we do!! It takes 25 Indians to eat as much meat as 1 average American.

Most importantly, we need to stop culturally accepting people eating meat and dairy if they have other alternatives. It's the most environmentally harmful and unsustainable human behavior by a large margin.…
Posted by raku on July 9, 2014 at 10:47 AM · Report this
sikandro 4
@2. It's not a luxury issue. In many ways, it's the opposite. The rich in developed nations are the ones who can most easily avoid the fallout from climate change and resource depletion. They can most easily afford to move. Bangladeshi factory workers, on the other hand?…

"The effects of climate change have led to a growing sense of outrage in developing nations, many of which have contributed little to the pollution that is linked to rising temperatures and sea levels but will suffer the most from the consequences."
Posted by sikandro on July 9, 2014 at 11:04 AM · Report this
I don't doubt the massive scale of deforestation in the Amazon basin, but that picture isn't really saying much. That's showing, what, maybe an acre of barren land? So what? It tells you nothing about the scale of the problem.
Posted by MRM on July 9, 2014 at 11:09 AM · Report this
keshmeshi 6

Do you notice the scale of that structure in the photo? That's a hell of a lot bigger than an acre.
Posted by keshmeshi on July 9, 2014 at 11:18 AM · Report this
@6: yes, I did notice the scale. That green thing in the middle is a single tree. The white things are cows. The structure is a lean-to likely housing an old hand pump and a water basin or a feeding trough. Like I said, the picture shows just about an acre, maybe a little more if you're being nitpicky, but not much more.
Posted by MRM on July 9, 2014 at 11:42 AM · Report this
Banna 8
Can you spot where the Mudede house would be today in this picture?
Posted by Banna on July 9, 2014 at 11:55 AM · Report this
brocaine 9
Terra Preta soil like that in the Amazon basin can be manmade, and it is thought that the basin itself was manmade:…

It's never too late.
Posted by brocaine on July 9, 2014 at 12:35 PM · Report this
This is exceptionally thoughtful and big-picture material for the Slog.
"We don't have a climate problem; we have a problem of human development." (Ken Wilber)
Posted by MsBoyer on July 9, 2014 at 2:22 PM · Report this
Posted by word3 on July 9, 2014 at 10:36 PM · Report this

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