From Rio to Rio with Kyoto, Copenhagen and Durban in between, the conclusion remains the same: There is fundamental disagreement on the realities of this planet and the ways we can address them.
A decisive breakthrough would necessitate both wider contexts and a larger participatory base to identify problems, to formulate policies, to broaden and to synchronize our actions. Luminaries from the world of science, philosophy, religion, culture and sports have been invited to each of these major gatherings. But, they – as usual – have served as side-events panelists, while only the politicians make decisions. Who in politics is sincerely motivated for the long-range and far reaching policies? This does not pay off politically as such policies are often too complex and too time-consuming to survive the frequency and span of national elections as well as the taste or comprehension of the median voter.
Our global crisis is not environmental, financial or politico-economic. Deep and structural, this is a crisis of thought, a recession of courage, of our ideas, all which leads us into a deep, moral abyss. Small wonder, there was very little headway made at the 2012 Rio Summit.
Between the fear that the inevitable will happen and the lame hope that it still wouldn’t, we have lived… That what can be and doesn’t have to be, at the end, surrenders to something that was meant to be…
Is Greece (or Spain) lagging 20 years behind the rest of the EU or is Greece today well ahead of the rest of the continent, which will face a similar fate two decades from now? Beyond the usual political rhetoric, this is the question that many circles in Europe and elsewhere are discreetly, but thoroughly discussing. In a larger context, the intriguing intellectual debates are heating up. Issues are fundamental: Why has science converted into religion? (Practiced economy is based on the over 200-years old liberal theory of Adam Smith and the over 300-years old philosophy of Hobbes and Locke– basically, frozen and rigidly canonized into a strict exegesis. Scientific debate has been replaced by a blind obedience to old dogmas.) Why has religion been transformed into confrontational political doctrine (holy scripts are misinter-preted and ideologically misused in Europe, the Middle East, Asia, the Americas and Africa)? Why have (secular or theological) ethics been turned from bio-centric comprehension into anthropocentric environmental egotism and ignorance (treating nature as property, rather than a coherent system that contextualizes our very life)? Why – despite all our research studies, institutions and instruments – are our inequalities and exclusions widening? Why has freedom been reduced to a lame here-us-now choice to consume? Why does the achieved degree of our economic development and stage of our technological advancement not enable society for self-realization? To the contrary, our democracies are in retreat, our visions are exhausted and self-confidence depleted, while the socio-cultural and political participatory base is thinning. After all, is Rio ahead of itself 20 years later?
The resonance of these vital debates is gradually reaching the public. No one can yet predict the range and scope of their responses, internally and externally. One thing is certain though: The simple mechanical transmission of global economic (and regional monetary) integration cannot be a substitute for any viable post-industrial, knowledge-based development strategy, scientific advancement or cultural endorsement. Even less so, it can substitute for any social cohesion and the cross-generational contract, environmental needs (including the biocapacity and biodiversity), or maintaining general public mental and physical health.
(Tao) Creek, not only Greek
By roughly summing up the data provided by the World Bank and OECD, the world’s gross annual output is somewhere between €85 and 95 trillions (thousand billions). Servicing of different loans and related interest rates to public and private debts, per annum, cumulatively costs this planet some € 195 to 210 trillions. In simple terms, it means we produce 1, but owe 2 to the different credit institutions. How can it be that year after year we work harder and harder, but are still becoming socio-economically poorer and culturally pauperized, while generational accounting gives us a worrying future prospect? Is our environmental situation any better? By applying the same data’s ecological footprint ratios, mankind annually extracts from the ecosystem the biomatter and minerals for 1, out of which only 10% end up as a final product, but at the same time we pollute waters, land, air and near outer space with non-degradable and/or toxic, solid or aerosol, particles and noise for 2. Despite all the purifiers, cleaners, separators, distillations, silencers and filters, our surroundings are becoming filthier and filthier. Does this earn the right to be called ‘development’ at all? Over centuries, especially in the last decades, we indeed intensified, rationalized and optimized our economic activities as well as related technologies and information flows, but could it be that despite our push with the right intensity, the overall direction of that push is wrong?
To answer these simply-worded but questions of sensitive and complex (selfhood) meaning, we definitely have to enlarge the context. For that sake, let’s return to Greece.
First, a few words about a term in frequent common use: cosmos. The expression cosmos itself is of Greek origins (κόσμος) and means: a harmony, perfect order, and is opposite to the Greek word khaos/chaos (χάος), which means: confusion, disorder, asynchrony (also an unordered and formless primordial mass or even nothingness). The fascinating classic-Greek mythology thoroughly describes the creation of the world, as an event marked by the final victory of the forces of cosmos over the forces of chaos. It is a thrilling ancient text, marvelous in its beauty and symbolism.
“You Are the Sunshine of My Life…”
In the modern scientific and philosophical (or astronomic, esoteric and theological) sense, the word cosmos should describe (a dependent origination of) everything (of the manifested, comprehensible and visible universe as well as the non-comprehensible potentiality and invisible universes/multiverse) that nature and/or God has created. As everything that has been, is and will ever be conceived as a time–space, matter–energy (with all the properties and all their conceivable aggregate states/stages, elevations and degrees), particle – wave-function (consciousness-information), cosmos is nature and/or God itself. It isall that ever begins (from), lasts (with/in) and ends in (returns to) the quantum field.
Contemporary astrophysics claims that the known or comprehensible universe is expanding, still being powered by the quantum event generally referred to in literature as the big-bang (or perhaps the Higgs Boson particle recently reviled by CERN). Up to now, there is no general consensus of the scientific community on what is the property (nature) of the invisible, inter-stellar and inter-galactic space (dark matter). However, it is certain that the visible stellar universe is mainly composed of two elements only: helium and hydrogen. Thus, stars – this backbone of the universe – are predominantly (to 99%) made of these two elements. Tantalizingly enough, the colony of progressing biped primates, while evenly spreading over this planet, has developed a strong technological, civilizational and physiological culture of addiction to a completely other element: carbon.
Earth is practically bathing in immense spectrums of sun-rays. This solar radiation that our star supplies above us is essentially an infinite source of energy. The core of our mother planet is still kinetically and thermally very active, meaning that humans in fact sit atop a source of inexhaustible energy provided by the gravitational, magnetic and seismic events and enormous residual geothermal heat of the Earth.
How did we – advanced civilization – miss this? Residing between two infinite energy aggregators, how did we end up with hydrocarbons – with the carbonized remains of passed life? How did we end up tapping just a thin upper lithosphere and keep obsessively digging and drilling for fossil fuels? How did we develop this necrophilic obsession? How did we manage to focus our human and economic development on carbons, and steadily develop the so-called ‘technologies’ that apparently take us right into a collision course with the universe and with everything that surrounds our biosphere? Why do we keep mankind enveloped in an exhausting competition and dangerous confrontation over a tiny, finite portion of fossilized carbons situated beneath the surface of our habitat? Finally, do we live cosmos or chaos?!
How did things go wrong in the first place? Evolutionarily, our 2-million-year history as hunters-gatherers – exposed to stark scarcities, rival gangs of humans and other predators, permanent seasonal oscillations, harsh climatic and topographic conditions, constituting an integral part of the natural food-chain – has taught us to observe things sequentially, horizontally, territorially, and linearly. Not cognitively. That’s how we (through the primor-dial mechanical solidarity of an endangered, insecure herd) learned to prolong our existence at the expense of other living creatures, even turning their fossilized remains into fuel.
“Get your kicks on Route 66…”
Admittedly, the way we are developing and deploying the anthropotechniques indicates that we did not manage to depart significantly from the central pre-cognitive challenge which we humans share with all other planetary forms of life – survival. Our central cognitive question, a quest that should largely distinguish us from all other living forms: What am I doing here?, or How can I bridge my past, my presence, with my future? – remains largely unanswered. Our ‘developmental’ palliatives are corrosive, autistic, particularized, aggressive, reactive, incoherent and harming for this planet and its life. Rigid in a dynamic environment, we are still captivated by the horizontalities of our insecure existence, all which conditioned our lower laying brain foundations throughout our 2-million-year long hominid history.
Anthropology usually differentiates homo sapiens (as an early, primitive hominine/homo) from homo sapiens sapiens (advanced, modern man). By relating our species to its ability to extract and consume calories with the help of different anthropotechniques (presently called technologies), we may roughly divide the hominid’s evolution in the following way:
- 2 million years/100.000/50.000 – 10.000 years ago: a low-energy-consumption (conservative-solar techniques) driven human race;
- 10.000 – 200 years ago: a medium-energy-consumption (hydraulic-agrarian, advanced-solar techniques) driven human race;
- 200 years ago (the event of the so-called industrial revolution) – nowadays: high-energy-consumption (hydrocarbon techniques) driven human race.
Nevertheless, by observing the dynamics within the human culture and ability of such a civilization to maintain a natural equilibrium with the organic and inorganic surroundings, we can make the following classification of history of our race:
- barbarians without technology (early humans) – no-to-moderate disturbance of the animalistic civilization, and then;
- ‘mobilized/progressed’ barbarians with interfering ‘technology’ (the so-called modern men) – excessive disturbance of the acultural civilization.
The irreversible extraction of crude that we falsely call ‘production’ of ‘black gold’ is simply a fallacy of myopic, lethal addiction. The anthropotechnique which is exclusively fixated on tapping a tiny portion of the lithosphere in search of fossil remains – and then combusting those remains to convert them into our prime energy source (with loads of collateral waste), is a barbarism per se, and can only be marked as ‘technology’.
Yet, the scope, depth and endurance of our anti-intellectual limbic ignorance and reptilian greed is so fascinating, as it is our fixation with the locality, with the territorial animal inside of us. Homo lupus ergo sum. Our cerebral cortex (big, upper brain) is still a hostage of the reptilian (lower part of our) complex, which keeps us in a disastrous and obsessive captivity of the lower brain-determined, linear, instinctive reflex to acquire ever large possessions of resources on the given territory. This here-us-now matrix deprives us of any ability to enlarge the perspective and to grant it relief of the coherent, consciousness-based, cognitive time-space dimension.
Hence, no wonder that we are paying a heavy endpoint price while still singing the self-assuring lullaby: save the environment! It is simply a misstatement: the environment will survive, we will be eliminated.
“Oh, Lord won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz…” – the Tao wisdom lost
That is how and where we set our obscure priorities: Ever perpetuated competition that keeps us in barbaric, reptilian confrontation over scarce resources, with the ‘technology’ which unstoppably emits greenhouse gasses, turning our earth into a planetary gas-chamber, on the way to a self-prepared global holocaust. Technology is not a state of arts (or science); technology is a state of mind!It is not a linear progression in mastering the natural science disciplines (alienating conservation), but rather acquiring a coherent cognitive and emphatic critical insight (liberating exploration). This ‘technology’ will turn into actual technology when –or better say– if our conscious, a self-actualizing, nonlinear, multidimensional and cluster-thinking capacitated upper brain finally takes a firm command over the reptilian, insecure, territorial, assertive, an eat-multiply-survive reflex/instinct-induced lower brain.
Following the outbreak of the still unsettled financial crisis, there is a growing anti-neoliberal sentiment. But, do not blame economy or (the dogmatic exegesis of) the credit institutions. It is yet another anthropotechnique enveloped in the human conscripts, in the codes of conducts devised on our long, indecisive and inconclusive evolutionary march. What is wrong is our perception, or better say the observer’s consideration spot, our cognitive departure point.
Why are we persistently projecting the circumstances that environmentally conditioned us two mil. years ago? Finite and depletable resources are something that our reptilian complex has gotten accustomed to in the lasting course of evolution. All our subsequent socio-economic fabrics, customs and normative orders, and politico-military constructs have been emotionally charged. Architectured around an emotional attachment, they have been the creation of a deep psychologization based on a fearful dependency over the horizontal and finite. We are the fear of scarcity– obsessed culture. Adequate social cohesion and mobilization as well as our overall comprehension of the infinite, renewable and inexhaustible, would require cognition. This –in turn– would mark an end of domination to the reptilian brain’s binary-mechanical and instinctively- imposed and maintained securitization and control.
So far, control itself remained the central solidifier of our civilizational vertical in managing the unpredictable and instable human (group or individual) dynamics. Fixation on finite resources and their consummation in controlled space and controlled time are the ties that bind the human culture – a social construct of psychologized securitization we conceive as comprehensible and permissible, therefore possible. Infinity eliminates the premium of control, and of mechanically-imposed and externally-induced coercive cohesion based on ever perpetuated competition and confrontation. An antidote to anxieties and seeds of fear, infinity eventually de-psychologizes and demonopolizes the reptilian command over our cognitivity.
Ergo, the grand mistake of our evolution is not an emergence of the cerebral cortex, our cent-ral problem is that the upper brain has developed to service and aid the reptilian complex with anthropotechniques (to be enslaved by it), not vice versa. For such a new evolutionary arrival, admittedly our species developed fast– as (limbic drive is possessive and) the reptilian binary-instinctive brain is highly efficient. Though efficient, it is not as far-reaching! Thus, today in Rio, as 20 years ago at the same place, we do face similar unsolvable dilemmas and grave, ever mounting, problems. Nowadays, we seemingly understand the obstacle– limits to growth. However, our limit is not (solely) territorial or linear, it is substantively cognitive. Living in a limbo of our unfinished evolution and our own denial of it: We overused all life-contents around us that we plainly borrowed from the future past, while we overlook all the time what we do have (with us) in our past future. Simply, there is far more to learn about ourselves from our long unrecorded chapters of history then from the times we started to keep records.
“Tomorrow Never Dies”
In his famous speech of 1944, Max Planck spelled out something that philosophy, religion, astronomy and physics were indicating ever since the classic Greeks (or to be precise, since the ancient Vedic Sanskrit texts). It laid down the foundation, not only of quantum physics but also, of the so-called Unified Theory of Everything (TOE) as well as the (Coherent key to) Secrets of Creation. Moreover, it rejuvenated and reaffirmed many of the Buddhist Tantric perspectives, especially the metaphysical visions contained within the Yogacara, as well as one of paticcasamuppada – the so-called dependent non-directional origination.
Hence, if one of the newest TOEs postulated by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow is correct – that the quantum universe, as a self-excited circuit, tends to create meaning and that the observers are part of the system – than the cosmos self-actualizes itself. It concludes that, as the universe evolves, enabling organization to emerge, our consciousness creates the universe/multiverse. If so, it leads to a self-actualization of us in cosmos too, as then the fundamental nature of reality should be a comprehensive and coherent self-perception.
This TOE would then suppose our constant mastering of arts, which is not a ‘technology’ that preserves status quo, but is a technology that opens, liberates and expands. How can the carbon–addicted culture of fragile and insecure, but here-us-now assertive and corrosive bipeds, whose overall dynamics are largely determined by the binary (fight-flight, consume-abandon) actions of the reptilian complex consciously project an intelligent universe predominantly composed of helium and hydrogen in all its immensity?
The answer is easier than it seems at first glance. It goes back to one of the most intriguing questions of both philosophy and astronomy: Is there any life out there?
Neither the very peripheral position of our solar system within the stellar cluster of the Milky Way, nor a remote place of our galaxy in the known cosmos would indicate any centrality, any exclusivity of and monopoly over conscious life to us. Ergo, if such a periphery can sustain a variety (constancy) of life forms and development of cognitive brains, then the rest of the universe must simply flourish in intelligent life – this is the only logical explanation.
While being everyone and having everything, all the rest of the immense cosmic intelligence self-actualizes and projects the solar equilibrium, a coherent helium-hydrogen-manifested and as such illuminated universe. It is simply waiting for us – to succeed or fail in departing from the self-imposed asymmetries, scarcities, convulsions, disharmonies and imbalances created by having fossilized fuel – in our attempt to return back to our pre-carbon, solar Tao future.
We’ll either combust ourselves to death or finally comprehend the inevitability of the obvious – of our cosmic being, as there is no having without being, and there is no being without or against universe. After all, there is no world of things without or on expenses of cosmos of life. This requires a resolute departure from the primordial hunter-gatherer attitude, and decisive deployment of our cognitivity. Chaos or cosmos – a simple choice.
Epilogue, not far away from Rio
“…Deep in the rainforests of the Amazon, the Achuar and the Huaorani Indians are assembled for their daily ritual. Every morning, each member of the tribe awakens before dawn, and once gathered together in that twilight hour, as the world explodes into light, they share their dreams. This is not simply an interesting pastime, an opportunity for storytelling: to the Achuar and the Huaorani, the dream is owned not by the dreamer alone, but collectively by the group, and the individual dreamer is simply the vessel the dream decided to borrow to have a conversation with the whole tribe.
The tribes view the dream as a map for their wakening hours. It is a forecaster of what is to come for all of them. In dreams they connect with their ancestors and the rest of the universe. The dream is what is real. It is their waking life that is a falsehood…”
This article is an integral version of the key-note speech to be presented at the 11th International E – Forum (Int. Innovation and Entrepreneurship Exposition), 03–06 September 2012, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
- Andric, I. (1982), Bosnian Chronicle, Harvill Press London (Travnicka Hronika, originally published 1945)
- The Rio Declaration on Environment and Development (1992), UN CED – Earth Summit, Rio de Janeiro, 1992
- The UN CSD/Rio+20 Prep Documents Set including the UNEP and UN Sec-G. consolidated Reports (2011-12)
- Sileitsch, H. (2012), In zwanzig Jahren sind wir alle Griechen, Wiener Zeitung – Austria (page: 1, 3 and 25-26)
- Veenhoven, R. (2009) World Database of Happiness, Studies in Social and Cultural Transformation, Erasmus University Rotterdam, Netherlands
- World Bank (2012), World Development Report 2012: Gender Equality and Development, WB Publications
- OECD (2012), OECD Economic Outlook (Preliminary Version, May 2012), OECD Publications
- IEA (2012), World Energy Outlook 2012 – Golden Rules for a Golden Age of Gas, OECD – IEA Publications
- WWF, GFp, IoZ and ESA (2012), Living Planet: Biodiversity, biocapacity and better choices, Report 2012
- Sagan, C. (1980), Cosmos Random House, NY /Carl Sagan Productions Inc.
- Bajrektarevic, A. (2002), Environmental Ethics /Anthropo-techniques/, Lectures/Students Reader, Vienna (IMC University Krems), Austria
- Mumford, L. (1970), The Myth of the Machine – Pentagon of Power (Technics and Human Development Vol.2), Mariner Books (Ed. 1974)
- Ibn Khaldûn (1398), Muqddimah – al-Kitābu l-ʻibār (the Prolegomenon – An Introduction to History), Princeton University Press (Ed. 1967)
- Engels, F. (1972), The Origin of The Family, Private Property and the State, Penguin Classics (Der Ursprung der Familie, des Privateigenthums und des Staats, fist published in 1884, Hottingen–Zürich)
- Spencer, H. (1855), A System of Synthetic Philosophy (Principles of Biology, Psychology and Sociology), Brighton (6th Edition, 1900), Obscure Press
- Campanella T. (1623), Civitas Solis (The City of the Sun), SBF Genoa (1919) La città del Sole: Utopia alla ricerca della felicità o incubo totalitario?, Nabu Edizioni
- Bryson, B. (2004), A Short History of Nearly Everything, Broadway Books
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- Acemoglu, D. and Robinson, J.A. (2012), Why Nations Fail – The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty, Crown Publishing New York
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- Hawking, S. & Mlodinow, L. (2010), The Grand Design: New Answers to the Ultimate Question of Life, Bantam Books
- Talbot, D. and Thornhill, W. (2007), The Electric Universe, Mikamar Publishing
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Taken from Bosnian Chronicle by Ivo Andric, the 1961 winner of the Nobel Prize in literature.
For example, one of the eldest world dailies, Wiener Zeitung published since 1703, brings a cover page with the following title “In zwanzig Jahren sind wir alle Griechen” (In 20 years we will all be Greeks). WZ, 10 March 2012.
The innovative, pioneer work of prof. Veenhoven (from the Erasmus University of Rotterdam) on the World Database of Happiness is chronically underfunded ever since established in 1998, although representing an extraordinary and indispensible research of its kind. In his unique narrative of 1972, the 4th King of Bhutan (Jigme Singye Wangchuck) reaffirmed the centuries old national code of conduct: “if the government cannot create happiness (dekid) for its people, there is no purpose for the Government to exist”. Thus, the concept of the GNH (Gross National Happiness) is even embedded in the Bhutan’s constitution (Article 9) as an alternative to the generally practiced GDP. This fact is largely ignored by practitioners and academia. Seems, as if nobody in today’s world is interested in pursuit of happiness.
Tao (Chinese 道; pinyin) literary means ‘The Path’. In the larger context of ancient Chinese thought, it catalyzed the LaoTze-an foundation of the later philosophical and religious/esoteric conscripts.
Some 20 years ago, the value of overall global financial transactions was 12 times the entire world’s gross annual product. By the end of 2011, it was nearly 70 times as big.
E.g. There is not a single peer-reviewed international journal that has published even one scientific article in the last 30 years which reports on factual evidences that any organic (marine and continental biota) or inorganic (soil, glaciers, water, polar caps, etc) system is doing better on this planet. There has not been a single RE or UN report in the last 30 years that credibly denies a worrying increase in severity and frequency of “natural” catastrophes worldwide. Finally, there is not a single internationally recognized medical journal that has not been constantly reporting on an alarming increase in skin-cancers, respiratory and allergy related diseases for the past 30 years. (To put aside the alarming studies on the severe impact of the so-called video media entertainment on the early neurological development of children and the overall mental and physical health of youth – as none of these games is either evolutionary or bio-neurologically justified for a proper development of the child’s cerebral cortex.) Hence, all the planetary systems are in retreat; drifting, decomposing, malfunc-tioning, rarifying, and vanishing. Instead of a resolute action to change our dangerous patterns, the only self-assuring comfort comes from our ignorance and anti-intellectual urge to escapism (by waiting for a while and then offering more of the same).
Ancient Chinese Mandarin translates the word ‘cosmos’ as yuzhou (宇宙). Astonishingly precise, even for Einstein’s relativity, this literally means space–time (宇yu– space & 宙zhou– time). Indeed, observing skies above us is always both a space and a time travel. While the most of modern European languages use either Greek (cosmos) or Latin (universe) word, Southern Slavs have nearly esoteric term svemir (Russian вселенная): ‘omnipresent tranquility’ (sve – overall/total, mir – peace, harmony).
Taken from Stevie Wonder’s song: ‘You are the Sunshine of My Life’ (1973).
Or as Sagan writes: ‘The Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be.’ /Carl Sagan, Cosmos (page, nr.4)/.
According to the WMO (World Meteorological Organization), the solar energy reaching the earth surface by far exceeds the global energy production of mankind – over 20,000 times. That means that our PEM (primary energy mix) has to provide us with the current amounts for 20,000 consecutive years to reach the scale of what solar radiation supplies us with annually, all for free!!
We falsely believed, throughout the 20th century, that the nuclear holocaust will put an end to the entire human race. No! It will be a slow, nearly-unnoticed, gradual but steady construction of the global gas chamber – of the troposphere filled by the green-house gas emissions. Certainly, no other species on this planet are both biotrophic and necrotrophic, at the same time highly corrosive. Hence, the way we extract, produce, transport, distribute and consume, the way we keep all this running on a blind obedience to fossil hydrocarbons, and finally the way how we do reflect, contemplate and study on all that, inevitably takes us right into the environmental holocaust.
It seems that the latest discoveries on the dynamics of property are indicating that the photosynthesis (a fundamental process of biology that creates life on the bottom of the food-chain. By capturing carbon dioxide, it supplies the upper echelons of this chain with a released oxygen and provides a carbon-hydrate caloric food) is powered by the quantum event. Consequently, a new discipline – quantum biology by words of Graham Fleming, a physical/biodynamics chemist – suggests ‘that the quantum mechanical effect might be the key to the ability of green plants, through photosynthesis, to almost instantly transfer stellar/solar energy from molecules in light harvesting complexes to molecules in electrochemical reaction centers.’ This simply means that electrons quantumly test out all available paths and ‘choose’ the most efficient one. It represents an almost conscious decision in which a quantum mechanical exploration is conducted, and then also quantum mechanically the most accurate pathway is selected to do the instant and highly efficient transfer.
Taken from Nat Kings Cole’s song: ‘Route 66’(1946), written by Bobby Troup.
In such a constellation the cerebral cortex is reduced to only service the territoriality of reptilian (lower) brains. Evolution-wise, humans are – like other mammals – social animals, but also territorial: An areal presence on certain territory, humans are historically linking to its very survival. Traditionally, it was not much of the cognitively-induced transcendent dimension – morality, but far more simply an instinctive fear of conflicting territorial claim of rivals, which kept humans from uncontrolled maximization of territorial (and any other) claim. These are the origins of our everlasting grand-fascinations with fences, borders, demarcation lines, exclusion zones, buffer belts, frontiers, boundaries and related sorts of divisions, particularizations, differentiations, sectarianism, gaps, cleavages and separations.
The eldest layer of our brains structure, the so-called reptilian complex is a center of our instincts – reproduction and survival (something we share with most other animals). The limbic system – the second evolutionary arrival, according to neuroscience – is a center of emotions. The last to emerge, the upper brain – neocortex/cerebral cortex, by far the largest segment of our brains, is a center of our cognitivity, of reason. While emotions and reason are complex (therefore slow and sometimes inaccurate), the instincts are highly efficient, fast and accurate as they operate on the binary-code fight-or-flight principle without thinking and feeling or recalling previous experiences. It is therefore characterized as: cold and rigid, calculative and insecure, territorial and assertive, greedy and ignorant, hierarchical and opportunistic. Environmentally conditioned from its first formation days on, the Reptilian brain is efficient, but is not far-reaching! Driven by the grab-consume-run (fear-anger complex), it strikingly opposes cognitivity (exploration complex) – human autonomy, self-actualization, empathic solidarity, coherence, mastery, virtue and purpose – all of which are centered in cerebral cortex. (Put into the language of state organs: lower brain would be the armed forces – capacitated with the rapid response, and the upper brains would be a parliament – with the time consuming and tedious, consensual and multilayer procedures, but of far-reaching deliberations).
As anthropotechniques, we should assume the (precognitive and) conscious clustering of different experiences, knowledges, discoveries, patents and the like; its practical application in any human activity (including all modes of horizontal and vertical transmission) aimed at acquiring resources for consumption in space and time by variety of tools and weaponry. As the only compensation for the biological and neurological limitations of humans (inferior to other forms of life on the planet), the anthropotechniques were answering the central pre-cognitive concern of humans: Survival! This is a self-coined definition that for years I use in my lectures on the Institutions and Instruments of Sustainable Development (chapter: Environmental ethics). As such, the definition is extensive enough to describe the event of first usage of the sharp stone/broken bone by early homo faber all the evolutionary way to the development and deployment of the nuclear bomb.
If we observe the exponential growth in hydrocarbon consumption over the last 150 years, the very amplitude of the demographic growth will follow it with astonishing complementarity over the same period. The conclusion is interesting: past the industrial age, humans have become ‘grand alchemists’ (to use the expression of thinkers like David Suzuki and Wes Jackson), turning fossilized hydrocarbons into human biomass.
The life of plants and animals converted by the geomorphologic action of earth (forces that are enabled by the cosmos, in general and the sun of our mono-stellar system, in particular) into oil-gas-coal has been possible ONLY due to a hydrogen-helium generated solar energy. Our fossil-carbon originated energy is only the carbon-sequestrated stellar energy stored in the past! Tapped, released and combusted today, it punishes its colony of advanced bipeds – us, as parasites – with a lot of smoke. It is actually a message from our solar past sent to our solar future: if we eliminate the pre-Cambrian caloric intermediary between us and energy in our anti-solar presence, clear radiant skies full of sun will (re-) appear right above us. Maybe above said sounds esoteric, yet it is not a less accurate and authentic finding.
Annotated from my recent writings, it states as following: “…the main problem with Green/Renewable (de-carbonized) energy is not the complexity, expense, or the lengthy time-line for fundamental technological breakthrough; the central issue is that it calls for a major geopolitical breakthrough. Oil and gas are convenient for monopolization (of extraction location and deployed machinery, as well as of international flows, of pricing and consumption modes) – it is a physical commodity of specific locality. Any green technology (not necessarily of particular location or currency) sooner or later will be de-monopolized, and thereby made available to most, if not to all… Ergo, oil (and gas) represents far more than energy. Petroleum…is a socio-economic, psychological, cultural, financial, security and politico-military construct, a phenomenon of civilization that architectures the world of controllable horizontalities which is currently known to, possible and permitted, therefore acceptable for us.(Geopolitics of Technology and the Hydrocarbon Status Quo /Why Kyoto Will Fail Again/, Geopolitics of Energy, 34 (1), CERI Canada 2012)
Taken from Janis Joplin’s song: ‘Mercedes Benz’(1970).
We are even celebrating this gas-chamber: note the title of the recently released annual energy report of the IEA (International Energy Agency): Golden Rules for a Golden Age of Gas… Golden Age of Gas! (For our global Auschwitz!) Seriously?
Something that accelerates our disconnection with both oneself and the rest (be it via diverting banalities of ads, ‘entertainment’, social media, ‘infotainment’ or other sorts of enormous noise), making us ever more alienated, insecure and self-destructive cannot be referred as a technology that serves the enhancement of mankind.
Contextualizing a well-known argument of ‘defensive modernization’ of Fukuyama along with Kissinger’s ‘confrontational nostalgia’, it is to state that throughout the entire human history a technological drive was aimed to satisfy the security (and control) objective; and it was rarely (if at all) driven by a desire to ease human existence or to enhance human emancipation and liberation of societies at large. Thus, unless operationalized by the system, both intellectualism (human autonomy, mastery and purpose), and technological breakthroughs were traditionally felt and perceived as a threat.
No surprise that we are cannibalizing our future by sacrificing our youth (with massive unemployment, pollutions and other extended debts) to please the shadowy but omnipotent Credit Rating Agencies, while we have never contemplated creation of the Moral Rating Agency.
Thus, self-imprisoned in fallacy of such a cosmic disharmony, we must look so pathetic by standing alone against the immensity of this omnipotent and ultrarich universe.
The highly intriguing theory (supported by the extensive geological evidences including the bacteriological analysis of deep-laying hydrocarbons) about the abiotic nature of oil and its practically infinite recreation in the lower geological formations of earth was presented some 20 years ago. These findings were quickly dismissed, and the theory itself largely ignored and forgotten. The same happened with the highly elaborate plans of Nikola Tesla to exploit a natural geo-electrical phenomenon for the wireless transfers of high energy for free. Why? Infinity eliminates the premium of deeper psychologisation, as it does not necessitate any emotional attachment – something abundantly residing in nature cannot efficiently mobilize our present societies.
Or, in the words of Prof. Murray Hunter: “…And this is the other fallacy that we have been deceived by. In our wonderment of this great technology that elevated humankind to the level of god, we missed the major ingredient that technology requires. Technology without “knowing” is useless, if not dangerous. Like little boys with new toys we have played with fireworks without thinking of the consequences. And yes we burnt our hands – so stupidly, without even ‘knowing’ it… Science and technology is really about making us see and we have failed to understand that. We have blindly used it along the singular paradigm that we think we understand…We need to admit that some things are beyond our instinctive and limbic capability.” (Opportunity, Strategy and Entrepreneurship–A Meta Theory, M.H. 2011)
Consequently, the Euro-crisis or any other financial/debt crisis – for that matter – is only a construct of our mental projection as it is not founded anywhere in the deeper layers of reality. Linear insecurity- and uncertainty-focused as a solely horizontally perceiving, conflicting and interfering, scarcity securitization and control-obsessed, dependency-fixated culture cannot simply evolve into a liberating society or anything else coherent and harmonious. On the contrary, it will tend to deepen the existing and extend the projected confrontational horizontalities as it will maximize the psychologization of dependences. Cognitive mind (equilibrium/cosmos) vs. reptilian complex (balance of fear/chaos)! The very epilogue of the financial crisis seems to be only the redistribution of dependencies and enhanced control, not at all steering up the nations to a well-being, to a self-realization. If the elected democratic governments are reluctant to be instrumented to this end, Politbureau of the non-elected apparatchiks will eagerly finalize the unfinished. Therefore, we even interpret the very word ‘crisis’ falsely. This term has a dual meaning: ‘hardship’ (fear-anger) as well as ‘opportunity’ (exploration-liberation). Opportunity per definition will always challenge the established status quo, but that thought usually disfranchises, discourages and disengages us. Example? Since the reporting on the Greek/Euro sovereign debt crisis has started, how many words related to a change or opportunity have you heard (e.g. solidarity, creativity, initiative, job creation, action, broader consensus, vision, rethinking, bravery, dignity, self-respect, trust, virtue), and how many words related to a paralyzing status-quo (e.g. monetization, toxic assets, fiscal discipline, austerity measures, monetary control, budgetary straitjacket, debt instruments, general savings, conditionality strengthening, concerns intensified, budget cuts, downgrading, social haircut, withheld guaranties, massive default, tightening the financial screws, consumer confidence, record low, collapse prevention)? For a cognitive mind, a period of crisis is not the time to seed fear, to save, back off and wait, but to spend, to grant a freedom of initiative, to fully mobilize and largely engage fresh ideas and all other human resources. After all, one entity is in a decline when it reacts to the risks, far more than it acts on opportunities. This simple wisdom has nothing to do with the so-called economy; it is merely a question of perception. Finally, freedom will only surface when/ if the cognitive (coherent) mind retrieves it from the fundamental level of reality. That is why Q-physics (Buddhist or Tao wisdom) matters.
Paraphrasing the title of the James Bond action movie of 1997, written by B.J. Feirstein and directed by R. Spottiswoode.
“All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force…We must assume behind this force existence of a consciousness and intelligent Mind. This Mind is the matrix of all matter.” Max Planck, Das Wesen der Materie (The Nature of Matter), Florence, 1944. At about the same time our joy for the ‘defensive modernization’ peaked with the mastering of the atomic bomb: the nuclear (weapon) age. Deeper implications and meanings of the quantum mechanics, nuclear physics, bioelectric medicine or neurocybernetics’ research of ganzfeld, for our understanding of and our engagement with the process of reality (and selfhood), were disregarded, marginalized and nearly forgotten.
One of the fundamental laws of quantum physics says that an event in the subatomic world exists in all possible states until the act of observing or measuring it “freezes” that, or pins it down, to a single state. This process is technically known as the collapse of the wave function, where wave function means the state of all possibilities. Hence, the subatomic world can behave either as particles (precise things with a set location in space) or waves (diffuse and unbounded regions of influence which can flow through and interfere with other waves).
E.g. an electron is not a precise entity, but exists as a potential, a superposition, or sum, of all probabilities until we observe or measure it, at which point the electron freezes into a particular state. Once we are through looking or measuring, the electron dissolves back into the either of all possibilities. That means that reality must results from some elaborate interaction of consciousness with its environment.
It’s absolutely astonishing that the ancient Sanskrit texts describe quantum vacuum and zero-point of the quantum field – by term sunya. This word should be interpreted as describing a cosmic seed of nothingness, which (hanging in a limbo of non-experience) is swollen by potentiality – an egg of infinite potentiality or shunyata on a brink to burst into a deep infinite-dimensional sea of manifestation/s. No wonder that the arithmetic sign for zero (that the rest of us took from Hindus) is actually an egg-shape, the same one called ‘origin’ in geometry to mark the center or beginning of a coordinate plane.
Esoteric teachings of paticcasamuppada are considered a core of Buddhism. Applying the extensive philosophical interpretation to this teaching, it remarkably fits to the astrophysical theory of the so-called dependent origination, as it well supports basic laws of both quantum mechanics and evolutionary biology (a self-organizing system in an ever self-expanding dynamic, non-directional but dialectic, equilibrium).
Sharing this anthropic viewpoint that the quantum wavefunction of the primordial meaningless universe stands on the very edge of time-space and meaning, and that the collapse of the wavefunction (an inception of cosmos) marks materialization of previously shapeless, non-experienced potentiality (that becomes possibility, an experienced classical event, by action of consciousness), Henry Stapp describes potentiality-consciousness as: ‘the two-way quantum psycho-physical bridge’. Conclusively, if we are to identify the meeting ground for the comprehensive and lasting reconciliation between science and religion, we must further investigate ‘Stapp’s bridge’.
It would correspond to the Buddhist expression karma (usually misinterpreted in the West by reducing it to a lame moral conscript). The word karma has far more extensive meaning in Buddhism and should be understood as an (intractable) action which leaves an informational imprint in all deeper levels of realities which can be activated at some future point in time. Hence, this self-synthesizing universe paradigm of quantum physics fully corresponds with the Buddhist Yogacara assumption that all perceptions do leave traces which make future similar perceptions more probable/plausible – origins of the potentialities within the quantum realm. This is why mankind kept practicing a prayer.
Vedas describes it as siddhis – psychic event (comes after profound meditative states) when the meditator experiences a feeling of omni-scient knowing – a sense of seeing everywhere at once (a state of illuminating darkness, of superrich nothingness); or when the subject enters a state of unity with the single object being focused upon (sometimes followed by a psychokinetic effect: levitation or moving objects at a distance). In nearly every instance, the recipient eliminates the sensory bombardment of everyday and taps into a deep well of alert receptivity. Could it be that this art is like any other form of communication, but the noise of our everyday McFB life prevents us hearing it?
Just one illustration that for our civilizational and/or developmental dead-ends, we do need cognitive mind to recognize it, not the ‘technology’ to ‘fix it’. Let us use an example of the so called locomotoric engines (for transportation, as well as for energy conversion/transfer). There is absolutely no need for any engine fuels or combustion efficiency improvements. What is required is a new approach, new philosophy, as to depart from the 150-years-in-use very harming explosive systems (unclosed circuits), and their replacement with a nature-coherent and nature-complimenting technology of implosive systems. Explosion sets chemo-electric, electro-magnetic and thermo-kinetic energy by the hydrocarbon’s combustion and the subsequent exhaustion of emission pressure, temperature and shock-waves to outside, while implosion just tackles available ionosphere’s energy charge (which is always a non-carbonic) into motion, or transmits it without losing any or releasing harmful substances. (No wonder that even today, the aborted development of e.g. anti-gravitational ship, flying disk, etc., we attribute to Aliens or classify as the UFOs.)
It reads that the universe performs as the (mindful) intentional servomechanism of an omnipresent instant transfers of force/information, which is immensely unified, yet at the same time infinitely diverse. Stepping closer to the Eastern philosophies of wholistic comprehension, it strikingly opposes the scientific (Newtown-Descartes-Darwin ‘Clockwork universe’) and the religious (dualistic, binary-code-like) picture that the West embedded in its institutions and determined actions in its long standing quest for global domination.
Consciousness – at its most basic level – is coherent light. That is why stellar illumination, not only the solar energy, so much matters.
Those interested in numerology would come to an interesting numerical interpretation of the Summit Rio+20. Tentatively, it may follow: this time in Rio, it will be +20; 2 (dualism, binary-code, either-or) faces 0 (wholeness, an omnipotent egg-shape field of all potentialities).
Quoted from Schlitz, M. (1998) On consciousness, causation, and evolution, Alternative Therapies 1998, Vol.4, No.6
New Satellite Animations of Earth Show How Quickly Humans Are Changing the Planet
A new website that combines dramatic images from space with expert analysis of how humans are changing the planet will launch on World Earth Day (22 April).
EarthTime ties together diverse data layers to show the patterns and connections behind some of the major social and political trends of the past two decades – and how they are inscribed into fast-changing landscapes.
The platform has already been used in public outreach in schools and museums, and to inform world leaders at World Economic Forum events of major environmental and geoeconomic shifts, from air pollution to inequality. It uses images captured by NASA satellites since 1984.
The vision, and long-term goal, is to better inform everyone – including individuals, business heads and policy-makers – about the lives we lead, the decisions we make and the impact we have on the planet.
Nine expert analyses on global challenges will be launched on World Earth Day (22 April): deforestation, city growth, coral bleaching, fires at night, glaciers, renewables, sea-level rise, surface-water gain and loss and urban fragility. Other layers will be added in the months and years ahead. You can see them at www.earthtime.org.
EarthTime was developed by CREATE Lab (the Community Robotics, Education and Technology Empowerment Lab) at Carnegie Mellon University, in partnership with the World Economic Forum. It draws on the Forum’s network of experts to give analyses and to tell stories. Users will soon be able to create their own stories.
EarthTime uses more than 300 free, open-source, geospatial datasets – an unprecedented number for visualizations of this kind. Expert opinions make sense of the data and the connections between them allowing a layering of narratives (e.g., how did rise in the global demand for meat trigger deforestation, a major contributor to climate change?). These stories are combined with images from space captured by NASA satellites between 1984 and 2016.
Current datasets come from the World Bank, the UNHCR, NASA, Berkeley Earth, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Climate Central, S&P Global, Kudelski, the International Renewable Energy Agency and WWF, to name a few. New data providers are being added constantly.
“EarthTime tries to build the common ground that we believe is essential to the discourse that we all must have as stewards of our planet and our joint future,” said Illah Nourbakhsh, Professor of Robotics, Carnegie Mellon University, and Director, CREATE Lab.
“The Earth is changing dramatically. No single discipline can make sense of all that is now happening and no citizen is free from the consequences of what we all do next. We all must be involved in understanding Earth’s changes and how we can work together to bring about our desired sustainable future into reality.”
Nourbakhsh also serves as a Global Future Council member at the World Economic Forum. His research focuses on human-robot collaboration.
Human Footprint Devastating Wildlife: An Article For Earth Day
Animals can be beautiful; they can be sleek, graceful, powerful, or just plain adorable, even cuddly. A field of wild flowers chanced upon can take your breath away. Wordsworth so moved by ‘a host of golden daffodils’ put pen to paper, and we are richer for his poem. And tourists in their thousands visit coral reefs for their stunning beauty and sea life. So it is distressing when scientists confirm our gut feelings about the human footprint on this natural environment.
Few people know that March 3 was World Wildlife Day, or this coming Sunday (April 22) is Earth Day — perhaps Trump sucking up all the media oxygen is responsible. The fact remains, world wildlife is under serious threat, and in ways we can’t even imagine — not forgetting the eventual disaster due to climate change, unless the world wakes up.
Not so long ago Science, the voice of AAAS America’s largest science body, published three papers describing the harmful, even devastating, impact of modern human presence.
The first is a mammoth global study spanning the four major continents and New Zealand. Authored by over one hundred scientists, it follows the movements of 57 mammalian species through the GPS-tracking of 803 individuals. It finds a strong negative effect of the human footprint on animal movement.
The scientists develop a human footprint index (HFI) comprising multiple aspects of human influence: built environment, croplands, pastures, nighttime lights, roads, waterways, railroads, population density, etc. On the animal side, they note and separate the effects of resource availability and body mass on vagility (migration distances) — larger species travel further as do carnivores.
They then compute animal movement as the distance between subsequent GPS locations over nine time scales ranging from one hour to 10 days. At each time scale and for each individual, they calculate the median (middle range) and longest distance movements. These procedures point to the thoroughness of their research.
Overall the findings indicate a decline in movement of mammals in high HFI areas ranging on average from one-half to one-third of their movement levels in areas without human presence. For example, the median displacement of carnivores over the 10 day period in high HFI areas was only about half when compared to zero impact regions. And the long distance movement over the same period in HFI areas was down to a third, averaging 6.6 km versus 21.5 km. The impact on feeding and breeding then is clearly severe.
The authors note the consequences for ecosystem function globally, the effects being critical for wildlife conservation and also in the spread of disease. In the latter aspect, the authors warn that “reduced vagility may go beyond ecosystem functioning to directly affect human well-being.” In their understated words it means dangers of animal extinction and human epidemics.
Most of us always assume all bees are good. Apparently not, as a couple of scientists explain. So as we reach for that honey jar … ; it all depends on where it came from. That is the contention of the second piece which assesses the impact of managed honey bees on wild bees and other pollinators.
Pointing to the rapid global growth in managed bee colonies and the attention devoted to them, the authors believe this focus reduces efforts to preserve wild pollinators so necessary for wild plants and flowers. In fact, high densities of such bees worsen the decline of these wild pollinators, and have also been linked to the spread of disease via shared wild flowers. Long term this is a worsening threat to wild plants and flowers, many facing extinction.
The authors identify managed honeybees and their honey production and pollination of commercial crops as an agricultural issue, not an ecological one. They advocate restriction of managed honey beehives in protected-ecological areas to reduce their harmful effects noting that half of all European wild bees are threatened with extinction.
The theme for Earth Day is End Plastic Pollution. If one ever wondered what can happen to a plastic bag discarded carelessly, the following research has a surprising and worrying answer.
This third Science article looks at plastic waste entering the oceans, often through catchment areas into rivers feeding into the ocean. It assesses the influence of such waste on disease in reef-building corals. The authors survey 159 coral reefs in the Asia-Pacific, a region containing 55.5 percent of global reefs and 73 percent of the human population living within 50 km of a coast — about a quarter billion people.
An estimated 4.8 to 12.7 million metric tons of plastic waste pollutes the oceans each year. A model based on a high end figure of 8 million estimates that more than a quarter of this is pouring in from just 10 rivers, eight in Asia. Of these the Yangtze alone dumps 1.5 million metric tons each year. The river waste is a result of mismanagement and clearly can be reduced given resources and better waste collection and disposal practices.
In the oceans, microbes hitch a ride on the plastic, living longer and increasing their chances of landing on an unfortunate host. The authors have measured plastic items per 100 square meters. The count can vary from a low of 0.4 in Australia to a high of 25.6 in Indonesia. Size of human population in coastal regions, good management or mismanagement of plastic waste disposal are all factors in the amount of waste entering the water.
The authors estimate 80 percent of marine plastic debris originates from land, thus offering a possibility of significant reduction through better waste management. They develop a prediction model showing that by 2025 the waste will almost double in low-income countries like Myanmar but will edge up just 1 percent in Australia. In total, they estimate a colossal 11.1 billion plastic items entangled on reefs across the Asia-Pacific region and expect the number to increase 40 percent by 2025 without stronger waste management intervention.
The study results are striking. The likelihood of disease rises from 4 percent in areas free of plastic to an average of 89 percent when the coral has such debris. Another issue is coral structural complexity which underpins micro-habitats for reef-reliant organisms. Unfortunately, the study finds that plastic debris is up to 8 times more likely to affect reefs with greater structural complexity. This lack of habitat can devastate fisheries through a drop in productivity by a factor of three. Thus public awareness here could be a critical factor.
The parrots in the local pet store are almost always at risk. It is human encroachment the owner tells us. Forests are cut down, reducing habitat and food sources, and diminishing parrot populations. Farmers plant crops in the cleared areas. The parrots may or may not eat these but are perceived as a threat and often killed, further endangering them.
Once upon a time, millions of rhinos roamed across Africa and Asia; now about 30,000 survive, and many species are extinct or about to be. Sudan, the last male northern white rhino lived at Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya together with his daughter Najin and granddaughter Fatu. He was 45, equivalent to 90 in human age, and quite infirm. Earlier this year, when his condition deteriorated to the extent he was unable to stand, the vets decided to euthanize. Hope lies with in vitro fertilization, and in the genetic material the vets collected from him. At some future date, it might be possibly to use this to create an embryo with stem cell technology.
The engaging, lovable and cuddly koala is in danger from environmental effects. its unusual diet of eucalyptus leaves carry a toxin it can usually handle, but increased CO2 levels reduce nutrition and eating more leads to ingesting more poison. Add to this the Australian drought drying the leaves, leaving little moisture and resulting in kidney damage.
The human footprint also threatens the snow leopard, most closely related to the tiger not its namesake. Ranging across the high mountain areas of central Asia, China and Mongolia, and revered in Kyrgyzstan, it has become a victim of human-wildlife conflict. The herders whose livelihood depends on their sheep, goats and yaks do not take kindly to raiding snow leopards. But their natural prey, the wild ungulates are suffering sharp declines due to competition with domestic herds. Yet this animal is an example of what a concerted effort to save a species can accomplish. Its status has been upgraded from ‘endangered’ to ‘vulnerable’.
Altogether, these studies and cases convey a stark warning. They show that environmental degradation is the promise of a dismal future in which mammalian wildlife is scarce, wild pollinators and consequently wild flowers and plants are sparse, and beautiful coral reefs succumb to plastic waste-borne bacteria depleting reef-supported fisheries. This is our legacy unless we take a step back to reassess human wants for their impact on the environment.
Author’s note: A version of this article appeared in Common Dreams
Namibia Enlists the IAEA to Help Study its Marine Ecosystem Supporting Key Fisheries
Authors: Miklos Gaspar & Lucas Smalldon*
The first-ever comprehensive study on the concentration of radionuclides and trace elements in Namibia’s coastal waters revealed that while radionuclide levels are very low, there is an indication of higher than usual concentration of certain trace elements. Further study is required to determine whether these are the result of human activity along the coast or are due to the underlying geology, according to a scientific report delivered by the IAEA to the Government of Namibia in late 2017, based on research carried out at the Government’s request.
“The IAEA report provides excellent information about the current status and can be used as the basis for future monitoring activities,” said Axel Tibinyane, Director of Namibia’s National Radiation Protection Authority. “As marine resources contribute significantly to our national development, it is imperative that they be used sustainably. The report will help us do that.”
Following this preliminary research, the IAEA will continue to provide support to the Government to gain better insight into the high trace element levels.
In addition to the country’s increasing population, uranium, gold and diamond mining, as well as industrial activity, are on the rise and there is a growing interest in seabed mining for phosphates. Namibia is among the world’s top five uranium producers. To assess any impact on the environment of this increased level of human activity, a baseline needs to be established, as some of these undertakings could result in increased levels of radionuclides and trace elements. The data in the report can provide such a baseline.
“This project is the first of its kind and has provided new information on the Namibian shelf,” said Deon Louw, the marine scientist in charge of the study at Namibia’s Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources. “We need this knowledge to monitor and protect our marine ecosystem as human activity continues to rise.”
Increased coastal activities mean that new regulations are needed to monitor and manage natural and human-caused (or anthropogenic) radionuclides and trace elements that may contaminate the marine ecosystem, with potential impact on seafood, local populations and the economy.
Namibia’s coastal waters support a rich biodiversity and stretch along the south Atlantic’s turbulent Benguela current for over 1500 kilometres. Much of the coastline is a marine protected area, which is considered unpolluted. It is part of the northern Benguela large marine ecosystem — one of the most productive coastal ecosystems in the world — and supports valuable fisheries and mariculture industries. It is a highly dynamic environment: strong winds, seething currents, and underwater sulphur eruptions surround rich stocks of fish, plankton, and other marine life, including the world’s largest bacteria — visible to the naked eye.
Despite all this activity, little was known about Namibia’s levels of marine radioactivity and trace elements until now.
At the request of the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources, in 2014 the IAEA began collecting a diverse range of marine samples off the coast. Over 500 samples were gathered, including sediment, seawater, fish, mussels and seaweed. Several thousand measurements were performed on the samples. More than 40 researchers from 11 institutions in six countries participated in the research project.
In addition to providing baseline measurements for ongoing pollution assessment and regulation, radionuclides and trace metal isotopes can serve as tracers to better understand oceanographic and pollution processes (see Studying the oceans through isotopes). The study of lead isotopes, for example, can help assess whether the lead is present naturally or as a result of human activities. Lead’s isotopic signature can also provide information on the sources of pollutants.
“This research not only helps Namibia, but will also continue to add international scientific value by improving knowledge of global patterns of marine pollution,” said Martina Rožmarić, a research scientist at the IAEA Environment Laboratories. “In studying the presence of natural and anthropogenic radionuclides and trace elements, such as lead, mercury, copper, and cadmium, off Namibia’s seaboard, we are filling in a critical knowledge gap on the world map.”
Studying the oceans through isotopes
The concentration of radionuclides (natural and anthropogenic), trace elements and rare earth elements is difficult to measure. But measuring the levels of these substances and tracing them to their sources is central to understanding the state of the marine environment.
Several anthropogenic radionuclides can be detected at ultra-low levels; some, like the iodine isotope I-129 and the uranium isotope U-236, can be used as radiotracers to study oceanographic processes such as the movement of water masses or pollutants in the oceans and to improve the accuracy of marine dispersion models. Just like a colourful dye that can be observed in a water mass to see where it goes, these radionuclides have a unique signature that researchers can track to study different currents and see how fast it takes them to go from one part of the globe to another.
These isotopes are decaying slowly, which makes them a reliable tracer of natural processes, such as the circulation and mixing of water masses. But U-236 concentrations in the oceans are extremely low and can only be measured using highly sensitive accelerator mass spectrometry, which enables monitoring of ratios between U-236 and U-238, a more abundant natural isotope. In the Namibian project, these measurements were carried out at an IAEA collaborating centre, Spain’s National Centre of Accelerators in Seville.
*Lucas Smalldon, IAEA Department of Nuclear Sciences and Applications
This article was featured in the IAEA Bulletin, March 2018.
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