What global change and allergies have to do with each other

Some people are angry when TV/radio stations allow people in their programs who don’t believe in anthropogenic climate change. I don’t see what is wrong about listening to what other people think and having conversations with them and I said that on Twitter (while I was on the road). That does not make me Donald Trump’s favorite cousin.

Green roof, part of a hotel in Utrecht, the Netherlands

We don’t have merely climate change. We have GLOBAL change.

Among other things, we appear to be at the brink of the 6th mass extinction, with the difference that this one is entirely caused by the activities of  the human species, including how we see and treat other species. It also indicates that our habitat is likely becoming unsuitable for ourselves too.

I think it’s a stupid excuse to blame people like Donald Trump and some person called Watson Lawson, who apparently was on TV/radio in some program, for what is going on and for what other people are doing.

Companies in the United States have a CHOICE, for example. They can stick to emission targets no matter what Donald Trump says. it’s a matter of taking personal responsibility. They can even make industry-wide decisions, no matter what Donald Trump says.

I don’t know who this Watson Lawson person is, but I can understand why some people don’t want to believe in global change and refuse to believe that it is mostly caused by us. First of all, the idea is scary as hell (because it threatens our own existence as a species). So the idea that it is not happening is much more likeable. So it isn’t stupid for people to stick to such a belief. It means they’re human.

Secondly, because science is big business – requiring and using but also generating loads of money – it is easy for some people to believe that scientists sometimes say things merely to get more money. it’s happened! More than once.

Also, science has fashion trends just like everything else. I remember when more and more people started asking money for CO2-related research. Suddenly, doing that was hot.

Some scientists (Bob Berner, for instance) had already been doing that for a long time but until then, not a lot of attention had been paid to them. Others were (also) experts in topics like ocean pH (Bob Byrne, for instance). CO2 and pH have a heck of a lot to do with each other.

It used to be quite hard to get earth and ocean sciences into Science or Nature. These sciences weren’t deemed of interest to a larger audience. They were for and about people who studied fossils or looked at seals and fishes. Duh.

Fossils writing about fossils for other fossils. Fossils. That was the image a lot of people had about the earth (including ocean) sciences. Stuffy people. (Okay, there were also some who thought “oil and gas” and some who thought “shiny  minerals” and “shells”.)

Suddenly, CO2 (carbon) was where the money was so CO2 was what lots of people wanted to work on.

That does not mean that it’s useless research. Far from it. Neither does it mean that researching something else suddenly became stupid. I have had all sorts of people tell me that earth science was a stupid thing to be interested in. It was never a “sexy” science – until the world started to become aware of global change.

Many other disciplines have since jumped on board of the train, often reinventing wheels that earth scientists had already not only invented but developed. Earth science also had the undeserved stigma of not having any modellers, people able to do complicated calculations. Those other disciplines had no idea how much computer power 3D structural geology modelling took or how much math there was in hydrology or how much thermodynamics in rocks and minerals.

(Not that I mind that those other disciplines have joined because they contribute their own insights.)

It takes time for new discoveries /ideas to grab hold.

There was a time – none of us were around back then – when some dudes started suggesting that the earth wasn’t flat, but round. They met with an incredible amount of resistance! They were banned, vilified, crucified, prosecuted. It was heresy! The earth was flat and that was that.

The notion that the earth isn’t flat has taken a very long time to sink in. I am sure there are still plenty of people who are unable to grasp that we are living on a large sphere. That doesn’t make them evil people. It doesn’t necessarily make them stupid people either.

It makes them HUMAN.

I have other examples. I am sure that the ones who think I am stupid when I say it isn’t stupid to talk with and listen to people who disagree on important issues occasionally get very drunk or pig out on food and then regret it deeply the next day.

They KNOW that they shouldn’t do it. They KNOW that they will get sick. They KNOW that they will regret it the next day. Yet, they still go ahead in spite of knowing all that. Why?

Because they are HUMAN.

To be human means to be fallible. None of us are perfect and none of us are 100% right about everything.

I have a personal example too. I love pasta but I’ve recently discovered that I seem to be allergic to wheat (not gluten-intolerant; that’s something else). So I get “punished” by my body for eating pasta. It’s taking me longer to stay away from wheat than is logical.

it’s like the dialogue with someone who does not believe in human-made climate change. My body says to me: “Do not eat pasta”. I keep responding: “But I like pasta!” I have the evidence, but I like pasta and it’s taking me a while to stop liking pasta and coming around to the idea that maybe I should stop liking pasta. The idea of not liking pasta any longer just seems … odd? My body says: “Eat gnocchi instead!” But I still haven’t fully made the switch.

I don’t know exactly how this works.

All I know is that it makes me HUMAN.

Why cut off communication simply because you don’t agree with someone about a topic as important as this? It is usually not a crime to disagree with someone.

I may be seeing something similar with nanoparticles. There may be people who don’t like it when I point out that we don’t have technologies yet for removing them from waste streams. Some may be thinking that if they don’t reply to me, I will go away, even though we literally used to sit at the same table in the past.

Are they thinking that if they ignore the fact that we don’t have technologies yet for removing them from waste streams long enough, it will go away? I am not saying that this will lead “to the end of the world”, but it does seem pretty stupid to me, with all that we’ve learned from all the mistakes we’ve made in the past, to keep barging ahead with new technologies before we’ve fully figured them out and mastered them.

Yes, progress is cool. Very! I get that! And Donald Trump digs coal. Really digging something isn’t always enough justification for doing it.

I don’t know who this Watson Lawson person is, but I remember a British guy telling me, years ago, that he thought Britain was so small that nothing the British did or didn’t do would make a difference to the planet.

When all the people in the world say “I only have one dollar, so I can’t contribute much, so I won’t contribute” you end up with nothing yet when (almost) all people say “I only have one dollar, so it’s not much but that’s what I can contribute” you get a fortune!

If two or three people want to keep their dollar note to themselves, oh well. I don’t mind hearing what they did with their dollar. Because I know that what I did with my dollar.

But until it’s only two or three people, stopping the conversation does not seem a good idea to me.

In no way does any of the above translate in me saying “Go ahead, trash the planet.”

Do I wish I had much better answers? Hell, yeah! I wish I had a magic wand and could fix the entire planet with one graceful wave of my wand-holding hand. But I can’t. And I feel that the way I live, including all the plastic waste I produce, is horrible, just horrible. And it makes me despair at times.

Instead of buying new shelving, I paint and stack and sometimes first fix small tables I find thrown away along the streets. My microwave is a discard from someone else’s kitchen renovation. It stands on two small cardboard boxes. I catch the cold water when I run a shower till the water gets warm. But it’s too damn little.

Read up on people like Rachel Carson, too.

Sending me a stupid spoofed e-mail about a non-existing job in Germany doesn’t do anything for the planet either, whoever…

If you don’t get my stupid analogies, reader, that’s okay.

No, it is not embarrassing or bad to have dissenting views around the table and have a dialogue. it’s what grown-ups do in a democracy. (It’s also the sort of thing people like Donald Trump don’t do.)




Class on terrorism

Beatrice de Graaf gave a public class on terrorism in a Dutch TV program called DWDD University. (DWDD = “The world is going nuts”, in Dutch, but also “The world keeps turning”.)

Below are some quickly penned highlights of this public class on terrorism, which took place on 12 March 2016.

1. Read “Demons” by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

2. What is terrorism? And where did IS come from?

(2004 definition)

Terrorism contains three elements:
– Violence, or threatening with violence;
– Intimidation;
– Forcing governments to do something or stop doing something.

Terrorists target three audiences;
– Us (you and me);
– Governments and authorities;
– Followers.

Attention is the oxygen on which terrorism thrives.

The Netherlands suffered more deaths (about 20) due to terrorism in the 1970s than it has since 2002. (In the Netherlands back then, a train was hijacked and a school attacked, with 104 children being held hostage, on the same day, for example.)

Four waves of worldwide terrorism since 1800:

  • Anarchism (peaked around 1890; this also included governments carrying out attacks and pretending they were carried out by anarchists; became overshadowed by WWI);
  • Anti-colonial terrorism (started in the 1920s, peaked around 1950, included IRA and FLN; ended when former colonies gained independence);
  • Revolutionary wave that started in the 1960s (peaked around 1980; this also included governments carrying out attacks and pretending they were carried out by revolutionaries; ended when the Berlin wall came down);
  • Current wave of terrorism. This includes Sikhs in India, Buddhists in Burma, and now IS. It began in 1979, sparked by first Khomeini and next the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan which triggered a response from (math) teacher Abdullah Azzam, whose efforts were supported by $3,000,000,000 from the CIA. This was followed by Osama bin Laden who was funded with Saudi-Arabia money. After he was killed, the messy situation in Iraq, partly caused by the us in the west, and the Arab spring (which began in Tunisia after a fruit vendor set himself on fire out of frustration and) which turned into the war in Syria helped foster Al-Qaeda 2.0. That is IS / ISIS / ISIL / Daesh.

90% of the victims of the current wave of terrorism are Muslims. Most of the current terrorist attacks take place in non-western countries.

The attacks in the west take place because we in the west don’t pay much attention to attacks in other parts of the world.

Al-Qaeda Iraq which became IS was led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (who later declared himself Caliph Ibrahim). Osama Bin Laden (!!!) actually thought he went too far and tried to halt him/them.

IS had a better (more attractive) story than the vague ideas spread by Azzam and Bin Laden, because IS established the state (caliphate) and invited people to come over and live there. This had a romantic appeal. 20,000 to 40,000 people moved to the IS area to live there.

And here is where Stasi training comes in (command & control). The strength of IS was that it was not simply a bunch of frustrated folks, initially, but consisted of Saddam Hussein’s former military top. The Americans had imprisoned a large group of frustrated people together (Salafists, criminals, and Saddam Hussein’s generals and colonels) at Camp Bucca and that is how they got to know each other and started plotting revenge. They established a new police state with what the Stasi had taught them about how you do that, complete with a strong internal security structure.

Recruiting child soldiers is part of it too.  (Bin Laden particularly had a problem with the fact that IS wanted to involve children.)

Another strength of IS is that it is very good at using social media. Bin Laden had to use individual video tapes that had to be transported to the nearest Al Jazeera office, hoping that Al Jazeera would use them. IS releases 3 to 4 videos with propaganda and rules for how to dress and so on every day. They also have a magazine, in which they recently indicated  that they want a dialogue or negotiation with the west about the Sykes-Picot line. (This provides a possible opening.)

3. What next?

While IS remains a concern, its attraction is beginning to wane. Part of the IS caliphate has already fallen to pieces (and today, on 27 March, the ancient city of Palmyra was taken back from IS). The IS area is no longer the romantic place to live, with swimming pools and well-stocked shops, that initially drew people in. Most of the IS area no longer even has electricity.

People who live there are starting to tell that side of the story, on Open Your Eyes, for example. How IS forced itself upon them, that there is no drinking water, no power, and garbage and rodents everywhere, that women are beaten, and so on.

(Personal note: You can probably see some evidence of this in how young recruits from particularly Tunisia are lured in, namely with promises of paid work. Once they arrive, they are moved around all the time so that they don’t even know where they are, and are not permitted to leave.)

There are increasingly often tensions between different groups within IS (for example Dutch jihadis versus Iraqi jihadis). (Personal note: Keep in mind, too, that some of what is going on is actually Al-Qaeda 2.0 fighting Al-Qaeda 1.0 as well as extremists attacking non-extremists in their own countries. This explains why the victims of the attacks are mainly Muslims.)

As long as there are war-torn countries and as long as there are oppressive regimes and as long as there are young people who don’t have the patience for the slow democratic processes, there will be terrorists.

Terrorists tend to use modern technologies; they are early adopters. (Personal note: This means that intelligence services should have specialists who do nothing else but stay on top of new technologies, become part of the early adopters and keep their eyes and ears open.)

Historically, having an open and inclusive society has always been the best way to crack terrorism.

So, engage in a dialogue (at all levels and everywhere; apparently the Belgians and French don’t do that in their own countries, but the British and the Dutch do), don’t just put (young) people in prison but also make sure that they will have a life when they get out again and don’t continue to be radicalized, don’t cut funding for intelligence services, and use all possible means and openings, not only bombings. And perhaps most important of all: do not overreact to terrorism. Attention is the oxygen that terrorism thrives on.