First published on 2/14, Valentine’s day, I originally titled this post “Gaia, will you be my valentine?” Later, I learned that V-day has joined the realm of “controversial holiday names” <sigh>. And, admittedly, the title seemed a little gimmicky and flippant given the seriousness of the content. So, I’ve renamed it to more accurately reflect the content of the post.
If you are new to this blog, please know that the posts sometimes (usually?) evolve during the first couple of weeks. As an evolutionary biologist, I know that evolution is natural; the concept of “finished project” is a delusion.
Here’s an update about my plans to ramp up activities on this site and in public, with presentations, seminars and courses about systems sciences and geophysiology, so that I can help more people understand Gaia – our planetary metabolism and homeostatic system, that includes but is not restricted to the climate regulation system – and virtually everything else in their lives – including large-scale, rapid climate change – more deeply yet more simply in a scientific sense.
My goal – my passion – is to tell a systems scientific story of Gaia to facilitate a healthier human relationship with Gaia. As I’ll explain in this essay, drawing on Dianne Dumanoski’s earth-shaking book, The End of the Long Summer, that is not just desirable, but crucial if our species is to survive global climate change and other manifestations of the disruption of our planetary metabolism. (My next post, coming in less than a week, will be about that book.)
First, a little context.
I’ve been derelict in my duty on this blog. In my second post in November, 2010, I stated my intention to post about once per week. I’ve failed at that goal … until now. The reasons are complex, but I won’t address them here. Suffice to say – as always – just when I thought I had things figured out, reality threw curve balls. Ce la vi.
Below, in a footnote, I will briefly address one reason – Facebook – because it has a professional connection to this essay, and is related to one topic that I wish to address in this blog: social media and their role in human survival in coming decades.
But first, to the main topic of this post:
my plan to ramp up activity on this site and in public.
It’s mid-February. I am in snow-covered Lewiston/Auburn (LA), Maine – at least for the next few months, hopefully longer if I can find support in the region for my seminars, courses and consulting. I’ve been working on a plan to do that which I’m sharing here in the hope that readers may offer feedback and suggestions, and of course, to attract participants to presentations, seminars and courses, and to seek those who wish to engage my consulting services.
Even though I miss my friends and students in Oregon, I like LA, and I like Maine – at least what I’ve seen of it so far, which is not much because, sadly, I’ve had little opportunity to explore it. Yet its culture, ecology, climate, geography and geology appeal to me. There are many interesting people and projects here – about which I intend to write in coming months. I think LA will become a very interesting city for a number of reasons, not the least being that it is on the road to the Arctic Circle, which will see increasing immigration in coming decades. More on that another time.
I sincerely believe that I have something of value
to contribute to the cultural evolution in Maine.
So, to begin my professional ‘ramp up’, during January, I designed and printed business cards, which wear my new logo designed by Sherie Blumenthal.
Here is a pdf of the business cards;
they are two-sided printed on a sand-colored card.
If you’d like some to pass along to friends, just let me know.
During the first week of February, I offered two, free lectures, overviews for courses through Lewiston Adult Education (LAE): a basic systems sciences principles course and an introductory geophysiology (Gaia theory) course. Neither drew sufficient numbers to run the courses. Though disappointed, I was not surprised. I’m new in LA, teaching ideas that average people haven’t been exposed to before. “What’s this stuff about?”, I can hear them ask. And maybe it’s not the right fit for LAE. As they told me, my curriculum is … different from their usual offerings. Perhaps I’ll try again next fall.
OK, so, what next? In my heart and mind, I know the concepts and principles that I teach are valuable and interesting – even fascinating to those who want to understand how nature and society work – and that there are people who wish to study them and will benefit from them. I just need to attract them.
But how? How do I help people understand what I offer, its value to them and their communities, and recruit students who are interested in studying with me?
The four components of an answer that I focus on in this essay:
- Increasing activity on this blog
- Offering public presentations/lectures/slide shows
- Consulting professional, social and activist groups
- Seeking one or more promoters and a business manager
1: Increasing activity on this blog
Recently, I have actively facilitated the addition of new subscribers to this blog. Some are among my friends, students and colleagues in Oregon and elsewhere in the US who already understand my curriculum, some of whom have contributed testimonials, a good place for new subscribers to begin.
Others are friends and potential students here in Maine that are less familiar with my work. There are, also, a few subscribers that I don’t know yet.
I hope that mixture will stimulate discussions to help those new to my curriculum understand what I offer and why it’s important.
And by the way, why subscribe? Because anyone can read this blog, but only registered, logged-in subscribers can comment and participate in discussions. There’s too much spam otherwise, where ‘spam’ manifests as multiple ads daily for get rich schemes and other nonsense. (This is also why comments are moderated.)
2: Offering public presentations/lectures/slide shows
I am designing – actually updating and redesigning – a two-lecture (slide show) introduction to my curriculum. The two are tightly linked. One is a well-honed – offered many dozens of times over a decade – ‘overview’ of my systems sciences curriculum. The other is about ‘type II’ climate change (explained below), focusing on Dianne Dumanoski‘s extremely important book The End of the Long Summer: Why We Must Remake Civilization to Survive on a Volatile Earth.
Why those two lectures?
First, a linked, two-lecture set will allow me to explain the beauty and elegant simplicity of the sciences that I teach – developed by some of the best scientists on Earth – and their importance for both our daily lives and the survival of our species. That is, they will distinguish between what my students and I have jokingly called the “light” and “dark” sides of my curriculum.
The ‘light side’ is the awe-inspiring, nearly intuitive new understanding of nature, society and life – what they are, how they work and why they exist. As a biologist and ecologist, these concepts and principles have greatly deepened my understanding of human societies – including economics and politics – as well as nature and life far beyond what I learned at university through the PhD. They motivated me to quit a college teaching position to teach them independently on my own without having to convince stubborn curriculum committees of their value. They are far more congruent with my intuitive sense of society and nature when I’m walking in a neighborhood, a woodland or a desert. Using them, I can easily grasp the basics of human health, economic trends, social revolutions, hurricanes, ecosystems, and climate.
The ‘dark side’ – unfortunately – is that the same concepts and principles add a very significant new – and sobering, but important – understanding of Earth’s climate crisis, the urgency of action that is required, and the fact that we probably cannot stop large-scale climate change any longer. We were never in control of climate – the system has automatically self-regulated for billions of years – but until a few decades ago, we could have modified our behavior sufficiently to prevent large-scale change. It’s almost certainly too late for that now; I’m editing and updating this essay that explains why, and will post a new version of it with the latest information asap.
Dumanoski addresses the climate issue very effectively from a systems sciences perspective. I think that her book is the most important book about climate change that anyone can read now. My next post will be about that book.
Published in summer, 2009, it is up-to-date and extremely well-written: easy to read, yet eloquent, accurate, engaging, and well-documented with notes. Dumanoski ‘gets it’ about climate. She is rare among climate writers because she understands that the climate change that has begun is not type I as characterized by IPCC reports (a gradual, smooth escalator ride of increasing temperatures over a century or more), but type II (abrupt, rapid, chaotic, extreme and violent), a planetary monster that is now mostly beyond human control that will challenge the existence of our species.
And she recognizes – like all of us who are paying attention to the huge changes in climate that are occurring at at accelerating rate, including a very significant increase in the frequency and amplitude of extreme weather events – that climate change is not a distant abstraction, but is happening now.
(Note: if reading this is causing you to experience fear, making you want to stop reading, then please skip down to the section below called “Dealing with our fears about climate change”. Then, come back up to this point to continue reading.)
However, importantly, she also explicitly addresses that there is much that we can and must do to prepare for it, to “shockproof” ourselves, and to prevent it from being worse. Therefore, even those who are not interested in the topic should be concerned for the children in their lives.
People often ask me, “Why is it important that I understand this view of climate change? Why can’t I just prepare for climate change without that knowledge?” My consistent answer: if one doesn’t fully understand a problem, then an effective response is far less likely. If one doesn’t understand the extent of a building fire, and the characteristics of how fires spread in a building, including the existence of explosive ‘tipping points’ in fire dynamics, then dealing with it is likely to be unsuccessful and far more dangerous. The same applies to climate.
But what makes Dumanoski’s perspective almost unique is that she recognizes that climate change is not really the root of the problem, but a symptom. In her view, the real problem that we face – the root of our planetary crisis – is that our human actions during the last few centuries that increased exponentially in the 20th century have seriously disrupted our planetary-scale metabolism, the great biogeochemical cycles of carbon, nitrogen, sulfur and phosphorous. Global heating and climate change are the most obvious manifestation of that disruption, but they are not necessarily even the most serious. She argues persuasively, for example, that disruptions to the nitrogen cycle caused by our use of nitrogen fertilizers in industrialized agriculture will likely be an even more intractable problem than climate change.
Expanding on that concept, her chapter 8 is about geophysiology or Gaia theory – the systems scientific study of Earth’s planetary-scale metabolism and homeostasis – and its crucial importance to us as a science and as a metaphor, serving as the foundation for “a new cultural map” – a new perspective of how humans live on Earth – to guide us in this planetary age.
She helps readers understand that we need to prepare for what’s coming by taking steps to increase our adaptability. Not adaptation, but adaptability. The distinction is not trivial, she says, because we don’t know what we’re adapting to, and the changes will be wildly variable. So we must be ‘adaptable’, in the sense that we must be prepared for widely variable, chaotic, extreme, and even violent climatic conditions, to be able to roll with the punches. In her chapter 5, she offers an explanation for that assertion, which is her greatest source of hope for our species: the fact that our ancestors survived the chaotic, extreme and violent ice ages for two million years not by adapting, but by being adaptable. During the ice ages, climate could change as much from decade to decade as it has in the entire last 11,000 years. We are, she says, descendants of a “storm-worthy lineage”.
A second reason for offering the two-linked presentations is this: Dumanoski’s book motivates enrollment in my seminars and courses. That is, participants in them will understand her book far more deeply. Why? Because in her explanations, she employs many of the concepts that I teach – like feedback, non-linearity, chaos and the edge of chaos, tipping points, emergence, and geophysiology to name a few – and I can help readers understand those concepts much more deeply than by reading alone; just ask my students.
Her book is so deeply profound to me because of my detailed knowledge of many of the concepts that she employs in her descriptions. I want to help others understand that perspective.
So, in an interesting twist of fate, a necessity for us to understand Earth’s planetary crisis – the ‘dark side’ – motivates study of the same principles that help us understand the awe-inspiring, simple, and intuitive new ideas about nature, society and life, how they work, how and why they evolved – that is, the ‘light side’. Whether we like it or not, light and dark go together, like day and night, like yin and yang.
Which brings me to a discussion of fear.
Dealing with our fears about climate change
Admittedly, climate change and the disruption of our planetary metabolism is bad news, and people understandably don’t like bad news. This fact has made it very challenging for me to earn a living by teaching about it. (This is one factor that forced the close of the academy that I founded in Oregon.)
Thus, I have considered not addressing climate change publicly here in Maine, because not doing so would allow me to more easily attract students to the ‘light side’ of my program. But I cannot ignore the planetary crisis; I feel that it is my duty to help others understand it. And, from a selfish perspective, I wish to live in a community that understands the seriousness of the issue and is taking steps to address it. Thus, I must help my community understand it.
As for dealing with the fear that the crisis engenders in people,
including myself, I listen to Dumanoski’s counsel:
From Chapter 1: “We humans are at a critical juncture – an historical moment that requires courage and sober realism. We cannot bank on the end of the world or deliverance from the trials of existence, whether through biblical apocalypse or our own extinction. Nor can we proceed on blind faith in technological salvation. Fear, despair, and denial are indulgences we cannot afford. It is time to turn and face the future head on.”
From Chapter 7: “A sober look at the radical uncertainty of the human future … gives reason for real fear, the kind of primal fear that drives to the bone. But fear can be, must be, faced down rather than repressed or denied. The times are too dangerous to do otherwise. Though life for now continues with a sense of normality, the current order is no longer viable and hasn’t been for some time. The deep change that lies ahead threatens to shake the foundations of natural systems and human societies alike. Courage, as Martin Luther King Jr. observed, is ‘the power of mind to overcome fear.’ It requires ‘the exercise of a creative will’ to challenge ‘the forces that threaten to negate life.’ Fear is an emotion; courage is a mental discipline long counted as one of the supreme human virtues.”
Where will I offer these presentations? I am identifying and communicating with regional libraries, community centers, and schools – notably Bates College in LA and Unity College, with intentions of offering them at other regional colleges also. I have begun conversations with regional college faculty and student groups to help them understand my services.
I wish to set up courses and seminars for both students and educators, but not through a college per se, but independently, on my own.
I am also eager to offer them in private homes, for family and friends. Just get 3 to 5 people together and let me know. Have projector, will travel.
3: Consulting professional, social and activist groups
Professional people need to learn about these ideas just as much as students and the general public. High school and college teachers need to learn about these ideas so that they can weave them into their own curricula. Indeed, my goal as a consultant is to help them do that.
Towards that end, I am identifying local and regional groups – both professional (educational, medical, agricultural, …) and activists (environmental and social justice) – that may wish to engage me as a consultant, perhaps to offer a seminar or workshop tailored to their needs, because these ideas are relevant to all people, bar none.
This component is going to take a bit longer to develop; hence my focus more immediately on teaching public courses. And yes, I admit: I am a passionate teacher. I love to see “lights come on” when people understand exciting new ideas. So, teaching courses feeds my soul.
4: Seeking one or more promoters and a business manager
Of course, to make this plan happen will require two or even three of me, because I’m faced with: 1) developing and updating this site; 2) updating and offering lectures, then teaching multiple courses and seminars about topics that are evolving rapidly; and 3) identifying venues, attracting participants and contacting groups that wish to engage me as a consultant. And that doesn’t include time for writing a book, which will be a primer of systems sciences to serve as the text for an introductory course. I have excellent notes from which to start, but alas no time yet to pursue the writing; I must insure my cash flow, first, so that I can eat and shelter myself.
Which brings me to part 4 of my plan: I wish to identify one or more promoters and a business manager so that I can focus less on promotions and more on what I do best: teaching and writing. I’m eager to hear suggestions for such people and read proposals from applicants.
Also, please note that students can earn class tuition credits by acting as a class organizer, a concept that I call ‘agency‘. (See this page for more.)
If you have suggestions or ideas, or if you’d like to arrange a presentation, or help organize a seminar or course as an agent, please leave a comment below or just email me.
Next up (next week) :
a post about Dumanoski’s The End of the Long Summer.
OK, deep breath.
Ready, set, go …
A footnote about Facebook: I have been spending a lot of time there in recent months in both personal and professional capacities. Here’s my ‘wall’. During that time, I’ve gained a significant number of new ‘friends’ there – or probably best to call them virtual acquaintances, since most of us know each other only through FB. Some of them are reading this since notice of new posts here are reflected there. I have also made some great new professional contacts through FB.
In that process, I have learned much about social media and its value in spreading information about climate change and social revolutions. What’s happening on FB is truly interesting and unexpected. That deserves a post of it’s own, which will have to wait a while.
I confess that I’m pretty selective these days, spending more time reading posts on climate change and social movements than family or vacation pics and cookie recipes. It’s not that I’m uninterested in family pictures and cookies; it’s a matter of time. I’m effectively attempting three jobs right now.