Looking Back: the Final Synthesis [NU017]

David Noel
Ben Franklin Centre for Theoretical Research
PO Box 27, Subiaco, WA 6008, Australia.

Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem (Don't make a Big Deal out of it)
-- William of Occam (died 1347)

And so, at the end of a long and perhaps tortuous journey, we look back down on the landscape travelled through, and try and view it as a whole. This may be difficult; the ground we have covered has been very diverse.

A possible criticism of this suite of articles is that it is too discursive, too rambling, covering too many unconnected topics. I would have to accept, with Propositions ranging everywhere from control of weeds to changes in the constants of the Universe, that the matters dealt with have been exceptionally varied. But that is the nature of the beast.

This suite of articles is a work of synthesis. At the head of NU007, I quoted Sharr's call for us to move from an Age of Analysis to an Age of Synthesis. I have heeded this call, and this suite of articles is the result.

The essence of synthesis is that it draws from a number of disparate areas. In doing this, I have not hesitated to use written and other sources of every nature, whether learned periodicals, popular encyclopedias, newspaper articles, phone calls to local companies, television programs, or science fiction magazines. Everything is grist to the mill, and that includes one thing especially -- personal observation of what is going on in the world.

It may be appropriate for a work of analysis to be erected purely on carefully verified results published in refereed professional journals, but synthesis requires a wider range. Most important of all, it must not just put facts and opinions from different areas together, it must question the underlying, unquestioned, and even unrealized assumptions propping up those analytical edifices.

In this final article I will summarize what has gone before, in three parts. The first will deal with the physical nature of the Earth, and the second with its biological nature. These are the two great branches of the 'hard sciences', and cover the bulk of the material in this suite of articles.

The third part covers the interaction of Man and other intelligences with the first two parts, falling into the branch of 'soft' or social sciences. Some of the Propositions I have put forward may cause a degree of upheaval in the hard sciences, and it is a purpose of this suite of articles to do so. Not for the sake of upheaval in itself, but because we should always examine new propositions in the hard sciences, with a critical but unbiased approach, and let them stand or fall on their merits.

If the technique of synthesis works in the hard sciences, one may ask whether it will work also in the soft ones. I believe it could. While there are many fallacies and false assumptions rife in the hard sciences, there are probably far more in the soft ones. In the third part I will put a toe into the shark-packed sea of economics, politics, law, and psychology, but no more than a toe -- any more would each need a suite of articles of its own.

In what follows, to save repeating cautions at every stage, it will be assumed that the Propositions referred to at any given point are 'true'. All are, in fact, only working hypotheses to be picked apart, and it would be astonishing if all were accepted. But this is a case where the reader can decide.

Many scientific theories need a specialist knowledge of the field in order for them to be judged; the ones presented here do not. This suite of articles does not contain a single equation or complex formula; any intelligent reader can decide for themselves whether the Propositions I have put forward make sense or not. The synthesis has been built on a broad foundation of the sort of information available in any public library, and is not hard to check. Here goes.


What's Happening: The Physical Earth

We have seen that the Earth has been in a state of continual flux ever since it first existed. Formed from a mass of material at the same time as the rest of the planets of the Solar System, that material separated into three parts -- solid, liquid, and gas.

The solid Earth has remained uniform and unchanged in composition except at its surface, but has been subject to regular expansion, which has caused at least a doubling in its radius. This expansion has been a basic factor in the changes which have occurred on the Earth's surface and above and below this surface.

The Atmosphere

The atmosphere has been subjected to complete reworking during the Earth's history. Most of its original hydrogen was lost into space, only that combined with other elements being retained. The early atmosphere included no free oxygen, but did include large amounts of the carbon-containing gases methane and carbon dioxide. Almost all of these have since been withdrawn from the atmosphere to make organic-based fossil fuel rocks or carbonate rocks, mostly in two great sequences of deposition.

The early atmosphere was much denser than the modern one, resulting in much more humid and more uniform conditions over the whole Earth. The surface may have been shielded from space by a thick permanent cloud cover until around the beginning of the Cenozoic.

The Oceans

Oceans have existed since the early history of the Earth, but their nature and extent has altered considerably. Most of their water has been derived from the rocks under the surface, and has been continually released by domainographic processes. This water has more than replaced the water lost to space.

Originally, in the early days of limited expansion and a smaller Earth, the waters covered most of the Earth and substantial land did not emerge until the Paleozoic. Sea areas were relatively shallow and modern deep ocean beds did not begin to be formed until the Mesozoic.

The early seas contained fresher water than modern ones. While water has been released from the rocks exposed as expansion has proceeded, this release has not quite been enough to keep pace with filling the new low areas formed, and hence both the total area and the proportional area of land to sea on the planet have increased with time.

Domainographic processes have continually raised and lowered individual areas of the surface, and current sea-land boundaries have no relationship with those in the past. All the modern deep ocean beds are new surface, while most current land and continental-shelf areas consist of much older surface.

The Land

The Earth's current land surfaces are all remnant 'mesas' of older surface. As the Earth has expanded, creating first the continental shelves and then the modern deep ocean beds, these mesas have become separated in the expansion.

The whole of the upper 700 km or so of the Earth's surface, the Domainosphere, consists of a complex aggregate of lumps of rock of every size, from close to subcontinental size downwards. These 'domains' exist with varying thicknesses and at varying levels from the surface down, similar to a drystone wall.

Continuing expansion has resulted in continual movement and fracture of these domains. The heat generated by these movements is the principal source of the Earth's heat. This heat is responsible for the local formation of igneous rocks, for volcanoes, and for all 'geothermal' processes.

Domains are also subject to movement away from the equator in an effort to conserve momentum on an expanding Earth. This domain flight is most marked with smaller domains, but it is modified by blocking with other domains and by the gravitational attraction of nearby large domain aggregates.

Domain movements and adjustments, recognized as earthquakes, are responsible for the formation of mountains of two main types. 'Fat' mountains are formed by impact between domains. 'Long' mountains are formed by rubbing domains, which slide against each other's edges.

The energy released by domain movements is distributed throughout the Earth by earthquake waves, and eventually ends up as heat. Temperatures inside the Earth do not increase continuously as the core is approached, but only up to a 'maximum activity band' in the Domainosphere, the level where domainographic processes are most active. The Earth is also subject to gravitational massage by the Moon and other parts of the Universe, which also releases energy which ends up as heat.

The Surface of the Land

The original composition of the rocks at the Earth's surface was the same as that throughout the Earth. Forces of erosion and chemical and biological change have redistributed and sorted this surface material to create differentiated rocks and mineral ores, some of which include material withdrawn from the atmosphere.

These differentiating forces have 'leached' certain of the heavier metals from the original upper-level rocks, and some of these rocks have been reworked by domainographic processes to give Sial-type igneous rocks. Domain movements have also been responsible for the creation of precious-metal and gemstone ores through natural 'zone-refining' processes.


What's Happening: The Living Earth

As with the physical Earth, the complex of living creatures and their interactions with the Earth which we call the Biosphere has been in a state of continual flux ever since life first evolved. Life itself has been responsible for major changes in the physical conditions on our planet. It has been responsible for the development of the free-oxygen atmosphere upon which all higher life depends. It has withdrawn much of the carbon from the atmosphere, and deposited quite a lot of it in the rocks as fossil fuels and shell beds.

The pace of change as regards individual species has been enormously faster than generally recognized, with a continual turnover and change such that species half-lives are only of the order of one million years. The 'isocon envelopes' or ecological-condition niche boundaries within which individual species live are being continually shifted as a result of domainographic processes. These shifts have promoted the rapid changes in species.

The Isocons

On the other hand, the rates of natural spread of species have been far slower than usually assumed, averaging not more than one metre per year. In most cases, natural extension of the isocons has been limited by physical boundaries such as the change from land to sea.

Isocon boundaries frequently coincide with domain edges, as the physical changes associated with the edges are often the strongest factors in setting the limits to the associated ecological-conditions niche. Movement of domains has therefore often caused movement of isocon envelopes, and hence an apparent 'spread' of a species. Usually the apparent spread caused by domain movement has far exceeded the 'natural' spread caused by seed dispersion processes.

This feature has been particularly the case in more recent geological history, during the Cenozoic, when the increasing proportion of sea on the surface of the Earth has meant that land domains have become increasingly isolated. It has also become more important as the Earth has expanded and increased its surface, allowing more scope for greater domain flight as blocking factors decrease.

Fragmentation of the land in this way, plus a decrease in the uniformity of climatic conditions because of atmospheric changes, has led to a great increase in the number and range of available isocon envelopes. This is turn has resulted in a large increase in the number of extant species at any given time during the Cenozoic, especially on land.

Biological Dependence of Isocons

While the positions of isocon envelopes are strongly dependent on physical conditions, they are also dependent on biological ones, on other forms of life. This is demonstrated most clearly in the animal kingdom. Animals are dependent on plant-controlled aspects of their environment to a much greater extent than plants are dependent on animals.

The two major control aspects are food and habitat. The majority of animals eat plants as their major food source. Those that do not, the carnivores, are only one or possibly two steps away -- their prey is usually a herbivore. Obviously a herbivore isocon must be contained within the isocons of plant species providing suitable food for the herbivore species.

Like plants, animal species have become adapted to the physical conditions of their isocons, but often these physical conditions are themselves strongly modified by plants. Many jungle animals could not survive in the open plains without trees, while a plains-adapted animal such as the bison could not survive in the jungle.

There is also a reverse dependence, but a less obvious one. It is not usually one of nutrition -- although some plant species are dependent on animal droppings for this -- but more often one of reproduction and of species continuance.

In particular, many plant species are dependent on insects or other animal vectors for pollination, and of course without pollination, there are no more seeds and the species may die out. Some flowers are utterly dependent for pollination on a single animal species, for example a moth with an especially long tongue, or a bird with a very long, thin beak. The incredible variety and complexity of plant-animal interactions in pollination is well covered in [11].

The Birds and the Bees -- and the Cassowaries

The development of pollination mechanisms is a fascinating and complex study which can yield inferences about the general history of the Earth. The flower-insect mechanism with which we are most familiar is of middle age, and developed largely during the earlier part of the Cenozoic.

Earlier plants, especially the more lowly ones, were usually dependent on pollen transportation by localised, non-animal means, such as in drops of water falling from leaves and splashing. Later plants developed the use of wind for pollination, and this mechanism is mostly restricted to the more recently-evolved species. It does suggest that winds of the type we now regard as normal were not common in the earlier days of the Earth.

Generally speaking, domains with a preponderance of insect-pollinated flowering plants among their flora became separated during the Cenozoic. This is true of Australia, which has the largest flowering plants of the world in its eucalypts, and which possesses an exceptionally rich flora of this type.

On the other hand, the great grasslands of the world, and their cereal derivatives such as wheat and rice, are more typical of the great Laurasian continents of the Northern Hemisphere. The same is true of the great pine forests of the world. Both these 'mega-isocon envelopes' are representative of wind-pollinated species.

Animals are also very important in the dispersal of the seeds of plants, especially plants which we regard as fruit or nut producers. In fact, the most common reason why plants have evolved to yield attractive edible fruits or nuts is so that they can take advantage of seed dispersal by animals.

As with pollination, each fruit species distributed by animals has a target group which it relies on for this purpose, and the nature of the target group determines the nature of the fruit. Small fruits, especially berries, 'expect' to be distributed by birds. They have evolved to be small enough for birds to handle, and usually have tiny seeds which 'expect' to pass through the bird unharmed and be deposited in the fertilizer-pack bird droppings.

Larger fruits and nuts depend on larger animals. Sapucaia nuts, from South America, are produced in huge ready-made pots with lids (Figure 17.1); they are distributed by monkeys, who grab handfuls of nuts from the pots, and invariably lose some as they move back to base. Oak forests are partly regenerated from the acorn caches of squirrels, buried or hidden near the ground and then forgotten.

Fig. 17.1. Sapucaia pots and nuts (Lecythis species)

Fruits with large seeds depend on large animals for their distribution, especially if the seed is likely to be passed whole through the animal's digestive tract. Elephants are noted fruit lovers, devouring the sweet marula fruits of southern Africa, and voiding the large edible nuts. Gorillas are also noted fruit eaters. In Australia, the attractive red quandong fruits have round stones which pass easily through the emu -- that is one recommended germination method! And the huge Davidson plum of the Queensland rainforests (Davidsonia pruriens) is believed distributed by cassowaries.

There are some deductions to be made here. Most of the large fruit-loving animals are of Gondwanan origin. This is probably because most of the tropics are also Gondwanan, and it is these areas which provide the dense tree cover which is optimum to support communities of large animals. Hence large fruits evolved mostly in Gondwanaland, where they could find distributing animals. This appears to be the reason why the Asimina is the largest native fruit in North America (see NU007); it is a Gondwanan migrant.

Of course, as well as plants being dependent on animals, and animals on plants, species in each of these groups are also dependent on other species within the group. The more complicated the ecology, the greater the number of species interacting -- we are only at the earliest stages of beginning to understand all the interconnecting factors, all the overlapping isocons.

Another deduction concerns the establishment or introduction of a 'new' crop -- one which is not native to the area of cultivation. All too often, the crop is considered in isolation, without regard to the complex of other-species isocons which it needs for good growth and ability to survive in the presence of pests. Elsewhere [59] I have dealt with this area in more detail. In the present context, it will be apparent that the need to move other, 'symbiotic' isocons at the same time is a basic reason for the slow natural spread of plants (Proposition 2A).

So far we have looked at the effect on the isocons of physical factors, such as domain movement, and of biological factors, such as food cycles and pollination and seed dispersal mechanisms. Now we move on to the last and most complicated group of factors -- those based on intelligence.


What's Happening: The Intelligent Earth

We have seen that the physical changes in the Earth represented by domainographic processes have had a very strong influence on the isocons, the ecological-niche boundaries of living creatures. We have also seen that these isocons are also very much interrelated, with one species dependent upon many others. So the biological influence is also large.

We have also seen that these physical and biological influences have been hugely overshadowed, negated, or made irrelevant by the third great factor -- the actions of man. These actions have changed the face of the Earth beyond recognition, in many cases wreaking great devastation. In the final analysis, the physical and biological factors have stood by helpless, or been swept aside, in the face of the intelligence factor.

Using his power of thought, Man has become master of the planet. But it cannot be said that this mastery has been a very benevolent one, as each day passes the planet moves closer to self-destruction; with increasing power has come the ability to inflict greater and greater harm. But there is increasing hope, hope that the species Homo sapiens is maturing. This is not a physical or a biological maturing, but one of the mind. And so we stand today in the Age of Decision, within which the race will stand or fall, and with it the Earth.

Man and the Environment

Evidence already given in this suite of articles has shown how Man has caused huge changes in the environment ever since he evolved as an intelligent being. We are accustomed to the idea that modern technological civilization has caused such changes, but the idea that these changes began perhaps 100,000 years ago may be something of a jolt.

Of course these early changes were not intended -- most of the harmful changes in the environment made by Man have been quite unintentional -- but they have been nonetheless profound. It seems that our huge deserts and vast savannahs and grasslands were actually caused by Man's actions. It is lucky that that the great mutability of species has allowed plants and animals to rapidly evolve and partially adapt to and compensate for these changes.

Degradation or elimination of habitat is the most obvious sign of environmental decline -- the forests are changed into fields, the forest-based isocons vanish, and with them their associated species. Other changes are less obvious, but no less destructive in the long term. Quandongs still grow throughout Western Australia, but their distribution agent, the emu, is banished to the back blocks. Will the quandong survive? Will the Davidson Plum survive in Queensland, even in its preserved rainforest environment, once tourist pressures restrict the movement of cassowaries, or cause their numbers to tail off altogether?

Ironically enough, this degradation of the land had as its basic cause the urge to make the land fruitful, through the development of agriculture. Of the three great branches of agriculture, two of them, stock raising and field crops, are very often destructive of the environment. They need not be, but they both require careful monitoring and holding back if the damage is to be avoided. And even when farmers are aware of this, economic competition and the realities of the marketplace -- and, ultimately, land degradation itself -- often force their hand or force them, or their children, off the land.

Trees and the Environment

Only the third great branch of agriculture, that of tree cropping, is essentially beneficial to the environment. As I have described elsewhere [57], this can be explained logically and reasonably in terms of the efficiencies of the different approaches in the use of light, land, water, and people. There are also some philosophical grounds.

Trees -- and this word is used here to mean the whole class of perennial woody plants -- are by their nature equalizers. They have evolved to live through all the seasons and through all the cycles of years, through years of high rainfall and drought, through hot years and cold. When the grass is gone, the cattleman may need to move his stock to other pastures, but the trees withstand. When the rains do not come, the wheat farmer will not plant, but the trees grow on. They smooth the benefits of land use out through the years, trimming off the peaks and using them to fill the troughs. They are essential for sustainable, long-term agriculture.

Such agriculture should not be based on trees alone, but on a thoughtfully integrated combination of tree crops, field crops, and stock raising, a sort of planned synthetic ecology. People whose traditions stem from Europe are accustomed to the idea that their food comes from the wheatfields and the cattle pastures, and need to look back before the two centuries of industrial development to realize how important tree crops were to their ancestors. In these two centuries, a huge hole developed in their tradition of land use, a hole which was largely filled by importation of goods from other 'less-developed' countries.

In some of these 'less-developed' countries, the traditional tree-based economies have disappeared under the influence of western ideas, in others they have hung on and may well prove to be the superior system in the end. When examined closely, an 'unsophisticated' swidden or slash-and-burn system such as that used in New Guinea is revealed to have astonishing complexity, subtlety, efficiency, and durability -- no wonder it has been used with success for more than a thousand years.

Such systems are good 'natural' examples of integrated tree-field-animal ecologies in which man participates as a vital fourth factor. We are only just beginning to appreciate the interlocking of the isocons and microecologies involved. In another place [59], I have tried to show how biennial bearing in fruit trees can be explained by study of just such a system, involving the wild pigs, nut trees, and people of Borneo. It is vital that we attain not just a knowledge, but also an understanding, of the workings of such systems if life on our planet is to continue.

The Greenhouse Effect -- Reality or Hoax?

The Greenhouse effect is currently a matter of worldwide public concern. The fact that people everywhere are now vitally concerned with matters such as this is a very desirable thing. But I will attempt to show that our knowledge of this matter is limited, our understanding is very small, our proposals are timid and restrained, and our concern is misplaced. The current near-panic has all the hallmarks of a 'manufactured' crisis.

Proposition 17A
Concern over the 'Greenhouse Effect' is misplaced, and represents a 'manufactured' crisis

What are the facts behind the Greenhouse Effect? The main feature is that the amount of carbon dioxide in the Earth's atmosphere has increased over the last two hundred years or so, almost certainly as a result of industrial and agricultural activities, and appears to be increasing still. In fact, it appears to be as high now as it has ever been in the last 100,000 years or so. More recently the concentrations of the natural gases methane and nitrous oxide, and of manufactured gases called chlorofluorocarbons, have also increased. That is pretty well the extent of the facts.

The carbon dioxide data is mostly derived from studies of the composition of air bubbles trapped in glaciers of different ages, and I would not argue with these results. It is the conclusions and deductions made from the data which should be questioned.

Some dire predictions have certainly been made about the effects of the Effect. Foremost among these is that the increasing level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will trap more of the Earth's heat (whether generated here or received from the Sun), causing world-wide increases in temperature. This will lead to partial melting of the polar icecaps, and hence increases in sealevels and flooding of coastal areas. Widespread changes in weather patterns have also been predicted, sometimes with increased frequency of storms.

Proposed actions to counteract these predicted bad effects have ranged from the sensible down to the trivial and ludicrous. Sensible ones have included the widespread planting of more trees, to tie up more of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere -- we have seen that that is a good idea anyway, from both environmental and economic viewpoints.

Trivial recommendations I have seen in print include such gems as "switch off lights when not in use". Perhaps the most ludicrous one, stemming from the W.A. Greenhouse '88 Conference supported by our State Government, was to "Identity and proscribe Greenhouse activities in light of existing laws". Such an action, if carried through literally, would mean the immediate end of all life on Earth.

Some Carbon Dioxide Background

The carbon dioxide position is at once far worse and far better than is generally appreciated. The main sources identified for the Earth's increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide content are the burning of fossil fuels and the clearing of forests.

Both these sources are very significant. As we have seen from NU013, the use of fossil fuels is putting back into the atmosphere carbon which has been 'frozen' for millions of years, many deposits dating back to Paleozoic times. The amount of carbon 'frozen' in standing forests is also very large, but while it can be treated as being transferred continuously from one plant to the next in a 'steady-state' forest, it does not matter. It is only when standing forests are cleared that it becomes a factor.

Table 17. Carbon on the Earth
Position Mass*
Pre-industrial (1860) 1.0
Modern (1987) 1.3
Above ground 0.9
Soil organic matter 2.8
In seas
Dissolved in seas 65
Dead in seas 1.8
In sedimentary rocks
Carbonate rocks 67 000
Fossil organic matter 27 000
Potential 'fossil fuel' 14
*In units of 575 billion tonnes carbon equivalent

Let us put some figures to this picture. A dense, tall forested area will contain around 500 tonnes of plant material per hectare above ground. Obviously this figure will vary according to the nature of the forest, and scrubby open forests will contain less, but this gives us some sort of handle to work from. A field crop will typically hold only a few tonnes of plant material above ground when fully grown, and nothing at all outside the growing season. A pasture cover will typically have less than a tonne per hectare.

Both the field and the pasture plants will have much more water and less carbon in them than the woody plants of the forests, so as a rough figure we can assume that replacing forests by field crops or pasture reduces the carbon held to under 1% of the original figure. At the accuracy we are working at, we can assume it has all gone.

Proposition 17B
Changing land use from forest to field crop or pasture reduces the amount of 'frozen' carbon to negligible levels

In Table 17, mostly taken from [7], there is a figure for the carbon contained in the total estimated deposits of fossil fuel on the Earth. If this figure is divided by the total land area of the Earth, it gives a result which, coincidentally, is about the same as the forest -- 500 tonnes per hectare. This figure takes no account of such factors as the extensive fossil fuel reserves under the sea, the many geological areas where fossil fuel deposits are lacking, or the fact that forest plant material is not all carbon, but it is another handle to use on the problem.

Proposition 17C
Fossil fuel deposits in the ground have the same magnitude of 'frozen' carbon per hectare as a dense forest, on an Earthwide average

There are lessons to be learned from this comparison. First, it is much quicker, easier, and cheaper to clear forest than to extract fossil fuels from beneath the Earth, and so this forest clearance has had a much more immediate effect on the environment than burning fossil fuels. Most of our forests are already gone, but we are a still a long way from using up all our fossil fuels, in spite of widespread gloomy predictions to the contrary.

In the 1970's we had the Oil Crisis, and I was surprised at the antagonistic response from some quarters at that time when I went on public record with a contrary-to-usual view. I pointed out that similar gloomy predictions, of the Earth running out of fossil fuels or other mineral resources within 20, 10, or five years had been made many times before in the past, dating back to the mid 1800's. All such predictions had proved false.

In hindsight, we can see that the Oil Crisis was also a 'manufactured' crisis, and current worries relate to oil gluts instead of shortages. The paradoxic reality appears to be that mineral resources are not, in practice, finite; what happens when one 'standard' resource runs thin is that another is found to substitute for it, often one quite unappreciated at the time. For example, if there is X amount of fossil fuel deposits on Earth, there is some 2000X of other fossilized organic matter which is still untapped (Table 17).

The relevance of all this is that it is the forests, not the fossil fuels, which are both the danger and the potential salvation. Most of our forests are already gone. The position is seen to be even worse when it is remembered that Man has been clearing the world's forests, intentionally and accidentally, not for one or two centuries but for tens of thousands of years. Primitive man changed whole landscapes, whole climates. Even so, we can still restore the health of the Earth, with the use of ecologies and economies in which tree crops are no longer the forgotten Third Component of agricultural land use.

Salinity and Trees

There is another aspect of land degradation which is the subject of increasing public concern, especially in Western Australia, and that is loss of useful land through salinization. Salt is regarded as the Great Enemy at the moment.

Nowhere is that more true than in Australia, particularly Western Australia. In a recent article entitled "Red Death: How Salt is Decimating the Country", Julian Cribb reported [24] how this State is losing the use of a massive 20,000 ha of agricultural land each year through soil salinization.

Tree planting has been widely promoted as a means to combat soil salinization here. The basis of this measure is said to be that trees use up water and keep the water table, which is often saline, low. If the trees are cleared, the water table rises, and salt comes to the surface, eventually in sufficient amounts to kill most vegetation.

The fact that tree clearing can cause soil salinization has been well documented. However, most analyses of the situation ignore a basic factor -- the salt content of the trees.

Far from being a poison, salt is in fact an essential component of the blood of most animals, and the sap of most plants. In animals, the right concentration of salts in the blood is essential for many bodily functions. In plants, the basic mechanism by which plants take up water through their roots, osmosis, is dependent on having a higher concentration of salt in the cells than that outside.

Different plants are able to function with different salt contents, but a rough working figure can be taken as 1%. One percent of the 500 t/ha of forest growth is 5 t/ha of salt. Spread 5 tonnes of salt over a hectare of field crop or pasture, and you are very likely to kill it. Yet the same amount is a normal feature of a hectare of forest. The forest 'freezes' the salt, just as it does carbon.

Proposition 17D
In contrast to field crops and pastures, permanent tree-based ecologies handle high per-hectare amounts of salt without difficulty

Industrial Carbon Dioxide

We have seen that forest clearing and the burning of fossil fuels, much of it in industry, are the main activities responsible for the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide. But there are many other industrial activities which may also make a significant contribution.

One of these areas is the use of cement, concrete, and mortar. Calcareous mortars based on lime produced by burning limestone have been used at least since Roman times. Burning the limestone releases carbon dioxide. However, as the older types of mortar harden, they do this mostly by absorption of carbon dioxide from the air.

This is not the case with modern cements, produced by burning limestone together with clay. Carbon dioxide is released in the burning, but the resulting cements harden by chemical reactions to produce complex calcium silicates. Only a little carbon dioxide is subsequently absorbed. The now widespread use of cement and concrete is relatively new, much less than a hundred years old. It may figure significantly in the overall carbon dioxide cycle.

Many industrial and mineral refining processes release large amounts of acid gases into the air. The phenomenon of 'Acid Rains' is another pressing matter of environmental concern, particularly in Europe, where natural vegetation has suffered or been killed over large areas. These acid rains attack the carbonates in building limestones and cements, or in exposed natural limestone outcrops, again releasing carbon dioxide.

Manufacturers can be forced to neutralize acidic flue gases before release into the atmosphere, and this does eliminate damage to buildings. But the neutralization process is invariably based on using limestone materials, which therefore releases carbon dioxide sooner rather than later.

The very widespread practice in farming, of adding ground limestone to acid soils to improve their pH, also causes significant release. Every 100 t of limestone used in this way gives out 44 t of carbon dioxide.

The position looks grimmer and grimmer. But before shooting ourselves, let us look and see whether it really matters, or whether what we would actually be doing is to shoot ourselves in the foot.

Carbon Dioxide -- Killer or Nutrient?

The first thing to look at is whether the higher concentration of carbon dioxide is, in itself, good or bad, or indeed of any relevance. The background is this. We saw in NU011 that in earlier geological times, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was enormously greater than now, when it it is really only at trace level (Proposition 11J).

We also saw (e.g. [7]) that modern plants are CO2-hungry, chasing ever-decreasing amounts of the gas in the atmosphere. In fact, a relatively recent event in plant evolution appears to be the development of species able to use a photosynthesis path called the C4 cycle, which improves the efficiency of photosynthesis in low-CO2 situations. Plants with this C4 ability have a strong advantage in many environments, and have become known both for their high biomass conversion abilities (as with sugar cane) and their ability to outgrow non-C4 species and become powerful weeds.

Whether or not plants use the C4 mechanism, increasing CO2 availability is now accepted as benefitting plant growth. In fact, Julian Cribb, in an article headed "Farm Bonanza on the Horizon" [23], reports a prediction that Australia's agricultural production levels could rise by up to one-third -- a very significant amount -- just because of the stimulus to plant growth from increased carbon dioxide levels. Usefully enough, the improvement is likely to be most marked in some of our hottest and most arid areas (Figure 17.2).

Figure 17.2

So there appears little doubt that increasing CO2 levels in the atmosphere will, in fact, be of benefit to us. Let us now go on to see whether we can expect to continue to enjoy these benefits.

Balancing the Books: Gains and Losses

So far we have only looked at where the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is coming from. If we are to get a balanced view of the position, it is vital that we also see where it is going to.

We already know that our plant cover contains a lot of carbon. Plants give out CO2 as well as taking it in -- they do this mostly at night, which is why trees grow mostly at night -- but if the plant cover is at a steady state then decay and growth within the biosphere cancels out changes in carbon dioxide content.

If we plant more trees, and we have good reasons why we should do this anyway, we can expect to take some extra of the CO2 out of the atmosphere and 'freeze' it in plant carbon. How far could we take this process, how much could we take out?

We saw above that a complete dense forest cover over the whole of the Earth's surface would represent a similar amount of 'frozen' carbon as that in all fossil fuel deposits. Let us assume for the sake of calculation that these amounts are the same.

If we again look at Table 17, we can see that the atmosphere currently holds 1.3 units, while the fossil fuel stands at 14 units. Above-ground carbon in plants and other living matter amounts to 0.9 units. To cover the world with trees, we would need to find another 13.1 units, much more than the total in the atmosphere! Where could it come from?

There is another way of looking at all this. Forests are the normal 'climax' vegetation of an area left undisturbed by man, and perhaps also by grazing animals. This is because a forest ecology is, as we have seen, more efficient than any other. There are good grounds, historical and otherwise, for granting that the Earth's forest cover was once far more extensive than it is now. If it once averaged out at even half a full cover, that is 7 units, where has it all gone to now?

With 0.9 units in the current above-ground biosphere, there is an extra 6.1 units to account for. We know that the atmosphere has gained 0.3 units since 1860, but even if the whole of the 1.3 units in the atmosphere had come from early tree clearing (which is obviously impossible since plants could not have functioned with no carbon dioxide in the atmosphere), that still leaves a massive 4.8 units to find. Clearly there is something wrong.

The explanation lies in a simple and obvious fact. Carbon dioxide is being withdrawn from the atmosphere continuously by other agencies apart from plant growth. When we look at it more closely, we find that these agencies may far outstrip the plant factor. Most involve the freezing of carbon as carbonates.

Proposition 17E
Removal of carbon dioxide from the air as carbonates has had a greater impact than its removal as plant organic matter

From Table 17 we can see the importance of the carbonate issue. Instead of talking about one, two, or 20 carbon units, we are concerned with tens of thousands of them. There are two main routes by which CO2 in the air is converted to carbonates.

One is in the shells and skeletons of animals, particularly marine animals. Some quite massive limestone beds are known to consist almost entirely of mollusc shells, so the cumulative effect is quite powerful. Even more important are the coral reefs, again consisting mostly of carbonates. Australia's Great Barrier Reef has grown into position, and in so doing has frozen uncountable billions of tonnes of carbon into solid rock.

The second route is by direct precipitation from carbon dioxide dissolved in the sea. Many limestones contain some obvious shell remains, but the bulk of the material is fairly amorphous rock which could have been formed without any involvement of life processes. It has been said that limestone is currently being deposited on the bed of the Caribbean today, in this way.

What it comes down to is that carbon trapping by plants above ground is competing against carbon trapping under the sea by marine creatures and direct chemical processes, and the latter usually win. Once formed under the sea, carbonate rocks are subject to little attack, whereas plant material -- whether still alive, as standing trees, or preserved as timber buildings or great libraries on paper -- is continually liable to decay and burning.

So the wheel has come full circle. Instead of the perceived excess of carbon dioxide in the air, we have a shortage. There isn't enough in the air to restore our forests. If we frantically pump some more in by burning up our fossil fuels, the molluscs and corals will grab most of it, and never give it back.

Proposition 17F
The Earth is suffering from a carbon dioxide shortage in the air, not an excess

It seems that the most accessible source for the carbon dioxide we need is the carbonate deposits, whether on land or under the sea. But all this arose from concern about another matter, about the Earth heating up due to the Greenhouse Effect. Where do we stand on the heat balance?

Heat Trapping in the Earth

It seems to me that a quite unnecessarily alarmist attitude is being taken in regard to possible heating up of the Earth. It is a good thing that the matter should be looked at in detail, but that certainly does not mean throwing logic and reasoning to the winds.

What are the facts in this matter? It is claimed that the Earth has heated up by an average of about half a degree during the present century, or perhaps the last fifty years. It is claimed that this heating is due to the accumulation of carbon dioxide and other 'Greenhouse' gases, due to Man's activities over the last century or so. Are these claims fact?

There does seem to be little doubt that increasing CO2 content in the air will tend to heighten its ability to trap heat. As to the half-degree rise in the Earth's temperature, that is really not too much above the level of accuracy of measurement, but we may as well assume that it is true too. Now we can look at the conclusions which have been drawn from these assumptions, but first we should look at the balance sheet of the Heat Budget of the Earth.

Sources of Heat in the Biosphere

We have already seen that domainographic and gravitational processes within the Earth have contributed to the heat we experience in the biosphere. We know also that most of our heat comes, and has always come, from the Sun. In considering the importance of the Greenhouse Effect, what we are most concerned with is things we think we can influence, in particular heat generated by the activities of Man.

Man has always used artificial heat generation, ever since he first found out how to make fire -- that is nothing new. However, since the development of modern technology the amounts of heat produced have increased. Concern with the Greenhouse Effect has caused people to look at ways in which Man's output of heat into the biosphere could be limited or reduced.

Most of the energy we use ends up as heat, but we need to distinguish between energy sources which are neutral as far as the Earth's energy budget is concerned, and ones which add to the heat of the biosphere above the level which would occur if we had not intervened. Budget-neutral sources include hydroelectricity, wind power, tidal power, and direct use of solar energy. In all these we are only temporarily diverting energy which would have turned into heat anyway; how long the diversion lasts depends on the use which we make of the energy source.

There are other 'benign' energy sources, some of which have never been tapped. In an earlier article [55] I have suggested a more efficient technique for trapping solar energy, and also pointed out ways of using two untapped sources. These are the electrical energy of thunderstorms, and the potential energy of rain.

Both these sources could be very major -- one good thunderstorm is said to release as much energy as many atomic bombs. As far as I know, no-one has even estimated the energy available from rainfall potential energy, but with a fall of around 1000 m available, compared to the 10 or so metres in a conventional hydroelectric plant, the amount must be huge.

Budget-negative sources are the ones we are currently worried about, ones which add extra heat to the biosphere rather than borrow it temporarily. Of course this group includes burning of fossil fuels (provided our budget runs over a hundred years or so, rather than many millions). Interestingly enough, it also includes at least the greater part of nuclear power generation.

Early nuclear power generators used a naturally-radioactive isotope of uranium, uranium-235, as their power source. To some degree this is a 'neutral' source, since some of the uranium-235 would decay anyway and give off heat, even if it were still in its original deposit in the Earth. But most of the power in modern nuclear reactors comes from the conversion of naturally low-fissionable forms of uranium and thorium into fissionable isotopes, and this is energy which would not be released except for our actions. This applies to current fission methods of nuclear power generation; the hoped-for 'clean' power from hydrogen fusion is entirely budget-negative.

Proposition 17G
Use of nuclear power in place of burning fossil fuels would not reduce the heat added to the biosphere

As well as the budget-neutral and budget-negative activities, there are some which are budget-positive, in that they tie up heat energy in some solid form, usually chemically. This is the case, of course, with plant photosynthesis, which ties up solar energy as plant carbohydrates. In this respect, nuclear power is worse than fossil fuel burning, because the latter at least releases carbon dioxide which will aid the budget-positive process of photosynthesis.

Having kicked this matter of heating around a bit, we are now in a position to ask whether any of it really matters at all. To answer this, we once again need to put some figures on the situation.

The Big Heat Budget

What are the relative sizes of these heat inputs and outputs? In looking at very large quantities of heat, it is common to measure heat in Q-units (1 Q is equal to 1018 BTUs, or about 1021 joules).

Differing estimates of the Earth's total stocks of fossil fuels range between about 40 and 200 Q. We have been using these for well over a century, and although current rates are higher than ever, we are probably still not injecting more than 2-3 Q of heat into the biosphere each year. The potential reserves of fissionable nuclear fuels are much higher than for fossil fuels, but even so we are not actually using as much each year. A figure of 5 Q/yr for Man's budget-negative injection of heat into the biosphere is probably well on the high side.

Such a figure pales into complete insignificance when placed against the heat the Earth receives from the Sun, which is about 5000 Q/yr. Hold up one square metre of surface at right angles to the Sun, out in Earth orbit, and it receives the equivalent of 1.8 horsepower or 1.3 kW of radiant energy -- enough to drive an average air-conditioner.

Not all the energy sent by the Sun is absorbed by the Earth, about 30% is reflected back into space. This isolates one of the crucial factors. If the amount of heat reflected increased by only 1% (say with the average reflectance rising from 30.3 to 30.6%), this would slough off another 50 Q/yr, some ten times the most Man is adding. Our fuel-use activities are irrelevant in the face of this factor.

Proposition 17H
Man's influence on the amount of heat added to the biosphere is insignificant compared to the effects of small variations in reflected solar radiation

With all this heat coming from the Sun, why don't we just heat up and vaporize? This is the other side of the energy balance -- the Earth is itself radiating heat off into space. We move on now to look at the effect of small changes in this balance.

The Ice Ages

Over the last million or so years, during the Pleistocene period, the Earth has been subjected to a number of glaciations, during which ice sheets advanced from the Poles and covered what are now temperate areas. At their maximum, the ice sheets may have covered three times the area of the current polar ice sheets [2], and may have been up to 3 km thick in parts.

There is also evidence of much earlier ice ages, as in the Permo-Carboniferous periods and at the end of the Precambrian, in the form of 'tillite' rocks of these ages. Tillites are typically produced by glacial action. These older glaciations formed part of the evidence used to support the Continental Drift theory, and they could be worth re-examining in the light of domainographic movements.

The Pleistocene glaciations were not a single episode, but consisted of a number of advances and retreats, often with interglacial periods believed to have had similar climatic conditions to now. These periods of glaciation and retreat were quite rapid on the geological timescale, measured in only tens of thousands of years. Obviously they caused appreciable movements in the isocons, with whole populations and ecologies moving quite rapidly back and forth.

The last glaciation ended only about 10,000 years ago, around the beginning of recorded history (8000 BC). The question arises whether the Earth is currently still approaching the middle of an interglacial period. If so, the observed half-degree temperature rise could just be a natural part of the cycle, unrelated to Man's recent activities. It could also be part of some other short-term cycle of unspecified origin, and could slip back again in the next hundred years.

The reasons for the cycles of glaciation and retreat are not well understood. Factors which have been suggested as involved include variations in radiation from the Sun, wobbling of the Earth's motion in orbit (such wobbling really does occur), running into interstellar dust clouds, changes in climate due to mountain building activities and injection of volcanic dust into the atmosphere, and various 'greenhouse' effects involving carbon dioxide buildup. However, the Encyclopedia Americana article cited [2] does conclude with the words "At any rate, it is remarkable that ice ages, which are among the best-known geological phenomena, are so little understood".

From what we have seen above, it seems that a reasonable explanation lies in consideration of the amount of the Sun's heat reflected from the Earth. The important feature is the reflectivity of the surface. White objects are good reflectors, and poor radiators, while black surfaces are bad reflectors and good radiators.

Venus and Earth

We can get a better feel for the position on Earth if we slip back briefly to look again at Venus. Venus is in an extreme position. With its dense cover of white clouds, it is a brilliant object, reflecting about 59% of the Sun's light. This is almost twice the Earth's value of around 30% -- and it also demonstrates how greatly the reflectivity of Earth could alter.

In NU015 we noted that Venus has a very high average surface temperature, around 470ºC, and that this has been ascribed to a sort of 'super-Greenhouse effect' because of the dense carbon dioxide atmosphere of the planet. In fact Venus has a hotter surface than Mercury, much further in, which averages somewhere around 200ºC.

We noted above that white objects are poor radiators as well as being good reflectors. I suspect that the reason why Venus has such an exceptionally hot surface is that it is such a poor radiator. It reflects close to 60% of the Sun's light, much more than Mercury (only about 7%), so on this count it would be expected to be cooler than Mercury. What keeps it hot is that it cannot radiate off the heat it does absorb.

There is a fundamental difference between the processes of solar light absorption and planetary radiation. The first occurs only on the side of the planet facing the sun, while the latter occurs all over. We will see the importance of this shortly.

On Earth, both the polar icecaps and the high clouds appear white when viewed from space. It seems possible that it is the complex interplay between these two large-scale surface features which is responsible for the hot-cold oscillations involved in ice ages and glaciations. The icecaps receive and reflect little solar radiation, because they are almost in line with the Sun's rays. Dense cloud cover is unusual at the poles, so the ice is the dominant reflecting and radiating medium there.

On the other hand, in the tropics dense cloud cover is quite common and ice sheets are unusual, so cloud is the dominating reflecting and radiating surface. This cloud is subject to the full force of the Sun's rays, as it is almost perpendicular to them (Figure 17.3).

Fig. 17.3. Ice caps, tropical clouds, the Sun's rays, and Earth radiation

What happens when, for some reason or another, part of the icecap starts to melt? The position is quite complex. At the edge of the icecap, darker rock is exposed. This is a poorer reflector, but receives little radiation anyway. As it is darker, it will radiate better, and so rather more heat will be lost from the Earth (for the same surface temperature and reflectance, the Earth radiates equally in all directions).

On the other hand, the melting icecaps and the temporary higher temperature which caused the melting are likely to create a higher degree of cloud cover, especially at the tropics. These extra clouds will reflect back more of the intense equatorial Sun's rays, giving a cooling effect. On the other hand, being white, these clouds will radiate less heat off into space at night. Also, these clouds, being higher up, will be cooler than the ground surface under them, and on this count the Earth will be retaining more heat.

When the temperate mid-latitudes are considered, all these effects are competing in complex ways, tied in with the inclinations to the Sun's surface. Even the slopes of mountain ranges come into it, and as there is more land in the northern hemisphere than in the southern, and more mountains able to support glaciers, even the hemispheres are differently affected. Then there is the fact that the Earth's orbit round the Sun is an ellipse, not a circle, and it is closer to the Sun in the southern summer.....

Without attempting to provide a detailed explanation of this situation, it is clearly one which is complex enough, and which has the elements of short-term positive feedback, long-term boundary conditions, and buffer capacities in the air, sea, and land, to hold the reasons for the observed behaviour of glaciations and ice ages.

Proposition 17I
Cycles of ice ages and glaciations have their origin in the complex interplay of reflection and radiation from the Earth's clouds and icecaps

This then leads us to an interesting thought. If reflection and radiation are such powerful influences in determining the temperature of our planet, might we not use them to control these temperatures as we wish?

In fact, in the earlier article where I suggested the untapped sources of budget-neutral energy [55], I also suggested the same mechanisms could be used for climate control. Rafts of black vacuum balloons, or of balloons with black sheets suspended between them, would be poor reflectors and good radiators. If sited up at the poles, they would cool the Earth down, if near the Equator, they would cause it to heat up.

Silvery-coloured balloons would have the opposite effect. Moreover, the effect could be varied between one place and the next, so we could heat up the poles and cool off the tropics in this way if we wished. Or heat up the seas, and cool the land.

So, if we are really concerned about the mean temperature of our planet, would it not be more sensible to look at this or other reflection/radiation mechanisms, rather than fiddle with use of fossil fuels in a way likely to be quite inconsequential in the real scale of effects?

Proposition 17J
The temperature of the Earth or of parts of it could be conveniently controlled through the use of artificial reflection and radiation surfaces supported by devices such as vacuum balloons

We have now touched on the effects of varying carbon dioxide levels and the consequences of temperature variations on our planet. The last major dire prediction stemming from the Greenhouse Effect concerns varying sea levels.

Sealevel Changes

Once again, there is a case for considering current predictions about sealevel changes to be unduly alarmist.

In NU010, when we first looked at the oceans, it was pointed out that with the evidence we had seen, comparing the positions of a piece of land relative to sealevel at different times in geological history was close to meaningless (Proposition 10A). Even in relatively recent geological times, the fact that a beach-type rock deposit formed one million years ago now stands 10 m above local sealevel does not mean that general sealevels were 10 m higher then.

Any extreme predictions of very rapid rises in sealevel with 'Greenhouse Effect' heating should be treated with reserve. For example, it has been predicted [65] that with rising sealevels, the South Pacific countries of Kiribati and Tuvalu will disappear completely under the water within the next 20 years. This is a very alarmist statement.

Many quoted measurements will, in fact, be inaccurate. Even when they are accurate, they are not necessarily meaningful. A recent television program on the Greenhouse Effect concluded with the words "... during the last 50 years, measurements have shown a rise in sealevel along the Atlantic coast of the United States of 30 cm. Along the Pacific coast, there has been a rise of 10 cm".

There is clearly something wrong here. If the Greenhouse Effect really caused a rise of 30 cm on one coast, why only a third of the rise on the other? Is it not more likely that any such rises are mixed in with domainographic changes in land levels of the same or greater effect?

It is undeniable that in an otherwise unchanged world, melting of the polar icecaps will cause a rise in average sealevels. But is the world otherwise unchanged? There are various places where ice melted or evaporated off the icecaps could be stored, as in more extensive clouds or circulating in the atmosphere, or even in higher average water tables -- who has checked all those? Even long-term atmospheric pressure variations in particular parts of the globe could influence apparent average sealevels.

Nevertheless, in spite of all the above, it is quite possible that average sealevels have risen somewhat over the last hundred years or so. The points to be made are that any such changes are really quite small, usually much less than daily tidal variations or possible domainographic uplifts, and that there may well be compensating mechanisms operating which will slow down or neutralize the effects of such changes. The Earth is tougher than is often claimed.

In addition, even if sealevels do rise somewhat, will it really have much effect? In Holland, more than a third of the current land surface is already below sealevel. Around the Caspian Sea, an area bigger than Britain is below sealevel. There are also large depressions below sealevel in China, North Africa, and Australia.

It comes down to a balance between rainfall and evaporation. Once again, trees can help. Since it is known that planting trees can lower the water table, they could clearly help to keep land below sealevel dry. Maybe we do not have to worry, after all.

Proposition 17K
Excessive concern over possible rises in average sealevel is unwarranted

Occam's Razor

We have come to the end of our review of the physical, biological, and mental processes operating on our Earth, now and in the past. Many of the concepts I have put forward will be new to the reader. So far I have done most of the thinking -- but now the ball passes to you, the reader. Does what I have suggested make sense? Is it consistent, does it hold together? Can some of the suggestions be tested by experiment?

At the head of this article I quoted the analytical tool produced by the brilliant 14th century English thinker William of Occam. This is a tool for making decisions on which of alternative theories or proposals should be chosen. It is known as 'Occam's Razor'.

The literal translation of the original Latin is "Entities should not be multiplied more than is necessary". The somewhat looser version commonly used in the scientific field is "If you are faced with a choice between two alternative explanations of a phenomenon, you should choose the least complicated one". Some more colloquial renderings might be "Don't make a Big Deal out of it", or even, "Keep it Simple, Stupid!".

I suggest to the reader that the approaches I have used and the explanations I have given have been simple ones. There has been no retreat into complex mathematics or obscure jargon, you are perfectly capable of deciding for yourself if what I have said makes sense -- you don't have to take any other expert's word!

Undoubtedly the matters covered have been very diverse in every sense. But they do all relate together -- every topic came in naturally as we made step after step through the Universe -- and they do form a cohesive whole.

Even so, if many of the Propositions I have put forward come to be accepted, that does not mean every one of them is 'true'. In science, we try to represent parts of the Universe in theories, laws, and mind models. If these give the best, and simplest, explanation to date of what is observed, they can be taken as 'true'.

As they pass from the stage of a bright idea in one individual's mind through to being an entrenched and undisputed part of the racial mentality, part of the 'conventional wisdom', these concepts must be open to re-examination at every stage and at any time. Occasionally a deeply-rooted concept becomes completely overturned, it is no longer 'true'. But more often it is shown that the original concept remains true, but not as universally as assumed. This is what happened when Einstein modified Newton's gravitational laws with his relativity theory -- Newton remained true for most purposes, but not in every possible circumstance.

Planetary Housekeeping

Both of the words 'economy' and 'ecology' have as their linguistic root the sense of 'housekeeping'. In a very real sense, what we have looked at in this last part of the suite of articles is housekeeping on a planetary scale. We have recognized that Man's unthinking or unknowing actions in the past have caused upheaval in the house.

But I hope to have shown that if we review the position critically, we really do have the tools to clean up our house and restore it to proper order. There only remains the question as to whether we have the desire and the will to do so.

Childhood's End?

In 1953 Arthur C. Clarke, the inventor of the communications satellite (but better known as a science-fiction author), published a novel with the title 'Childhood's End'. In it he postulated a time in the future when the human race came of age -- when it matured not physically, not in individual mentalities, but as a society as a whole, as a single group mentality.

There are hopeful grounds for believing that Man is coming of age. I admit to being an optimist, but even a pessimist would have to admit that our global concern for the planet we occupy has improved out of all recognition in recent years. Even the words we use had to be invented or redefined for our use; we have to have words for a concept before we can talk about it and develop it.

Ninety years ago, the word 'ecology' was spelled 'oecology', and had a much more restricted meaning than now, concerned with interrelationships within individual animal and plant groups -- "Thus, parasitism, socialism, and nest-building are prominent in the scope of oecology" is how one old dictionary describes it.

Fifty years ago the word had virtually disappeared from use, any thoughts in the area falling in the ambit of 'environmental studies'. It is only in the last 20 or 30 years -- within the lifetimes of most of my readers today -- that 'ecology' has come into common use in its modern sense. With the word comes the thought and the appreciation.

Now governments in Australia and the rest of the world, governments of every political persuasion, are beginning to mobilize to create ecological improvement. The need for widespread tree planting and tackling problems of soil degradation is being recognized globally, and action has commenced. Julian Grill, Western Australia's Minister for Agriculture, was able to announce recently that our farmers are now planting more trees than are being cleared for the first time in history.

Along with the widespread new appreciation of the importance of ecological matters have come other hopeful signs. The threat of nuclear war has receded somewhat; the cardboard patriotism of the early part of the century has gone. We are starting to regard ourselves as Citizens of Earth, with a responsibility for the whole planet, not just our own backyard.

All over the world, there are hopeful signs of political maturing. The number of dictatorships is falling, the great Communist powers have opened out to the world, beginning to see political dogma as just one of the tools available in the development of society, and not the aim and purpose of society.

The Other Earth Intelligences

The increasing maturity with which we are handling relationships between human societies has been accompanied by a pleasing increase in the maturity of our views towards other Earth creatures of high intelligence. No longer is there indiscriminate hunting of the whales. These, with their highly-developed social behaviour and their elaborate oral histories are now recognized as creatures of comparable intellect to ourselves.

Only Japan, Iceland, and Norway still kill whales, under the guise of scientific research, but in reality for economic reasons. "They eat too many fish" was the opinion of a minister in the Icelandic Government. The enormity of their crime can be appreciated if one of these nations was to start killing off Eskimos for economic reasons -- "They eat too many fish".

The elephant, the gorilla, the orangutan -- all are receiving much more enlightened treatment by man, opening up a new chapter in cross-species social interaction. And the interaction is not all one way.

On the coast of Western Australia, at a place called Monkey Mia, the dolphins appear to have opened up their first Consulate to the Human Race. Their consuls arrive for extended tours of duty, interact with the humans in a very tolerant way, and might even be conducting their own experiments in getting to know us. The public concern shown for the health and sanitation conditions of this Dolphin Consulate would have been unthinkable even 25 years ago -- the thought would never have entered our consciousness. But if we work at it, the dolphins may upgrade their station to full Embassy status.

Tools of Higher Learning

In many ways this maturing has been due to the physical facilities afforded by the new communications networks which are based on Clarke's satellites. When we can see for ourselves what is happening all over the world, we can truly appreciate the global picture. Communication is all-important. In a real sense, Clarke has helped to make the scenario he depicted in 'Childhood's End' come true through his invention of the communication satellite.

We are also developing other techniques, other tools of higher learning, to assist in bringing our race closer to maturity. One such tool is the synthesis technique used in this suite of articles. Another is the development of Memetics -- a method of tracing the propagation of ideas and attitudes through society, using the same concepts as those applied to the study of epidemics [40]. There will be many more such tools, the important thing is that we are beginning to appreciate their potential value.

In this suite of articles I have applied the technique of synthesis to the physical world. The same technique can be applied to the social world. This is not the place to do that, but I will extract one tiny part of such a synthesis -- that is, that the structure of a society is not made up just of the people within it, but also of the links between those individuals.

Perhaps over half of the 'mass' of a society lies in its communications, its knowledge, its techniques. During the past the emphasis of work and wealth generation has moved inexorably over from the primary industries of farming and mining, through the secondary ones of manufacturing and distribution, and on to the tertiary 'service' industries of finance, education, and tourism. Can we look forward to a quaternary level which will supersede all these in importance, as the Earth's races mature?

We can re-make the Earth. It is impossible to restore the Earth to what it was a hundred, a thousand, a million years ago. It would be pointless to do so. But, armed with the new tools of a maturing society, mental as well as physical tools, we can make the Earth a more pleasant and fruitful planet, and hopefully avoid the fate which may have overtaken the Ostrich Dinosaurs.

Proposition 17L
We can re-make the Earth

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

To make a comment on this article, please click HERE.

(Full list of references at NURefs)

[2]. Encyclopedia Americana. 1979.
[7]. Roger Beckmann. The greenhouse effect -- not all bad? Ecos/(57) p14-18, 1988.
[11]. Alec Bristow. The sex life of plants. Cassell, Auckland, 1978.
[24]. Julian Cribb. White Death: how salt is decimating the country. The Australian Magazine/ p8-16, Apr 29-30, 1989.
[40]. H Keith Henson. Memetics and the modular mind. Analog Science Fiction/ Science Fact/ Aug p29-43, 1987.
[55]. David Noel. Lighter than air craft using vacuum. Speculations in Science and Technology/ 6 (3) p262-266, 1983.
[57]. David Noel. Blame it on Henry Ford: the story behind home-acre farming. West Australian Nut & Tree Crop Assn Yearbook/ p91-96, 1985.
[59]. David Noel. Pigs, wind and dirt: some nut mysteries reveal'd. West Australian Nut & Tree Crop Assn Yearbook/ 1988.
[65]. Polar thaw puts islands in jeopardy. The West Australian/ Mar 14, 1989.

Postscript: Sitting Back on the Sofa

NU016: The Cosmic Engines

Go to the NUSite Home Page

Version 1.0, printed edition ("Nuteeriat: Nut Trees, the Expanding Earth, Rottnest Island, and All That...", Planetary Development Group, Tree Crops Centre, 1989).
Version 2.0, 2004, PDFs etc on World Wide Web (http://www.aoi.com.au/matrix/Nuteeriat.htm)
Version 3.0, 2014 Oct 2, Reworked from Chapter 17 of "Nuteeriat" as one article in a suite on the World Wide Web.