One Strange Rock: A Must Watch

One Strange Rock 2018

One Strange Rock is a 10 part, 8 hour documentary produced in 2018 by Darren Aronofsky and hosted by Will Smith and 8 space station astronauts.

I’ve watched a lot of nature/science documentaries in my life, and I’ve probably seen most of the good ones, but I say without hesitation that One Strange Rock is the best.

The producers and writers found a magical blend of spectacular settings on and off the planet, fabulous photography, inspirational multi-cultural stories, solid yet easy to understand science, and an important ecological message that is neither depressing nor ignorant of our peril.

With regard to the history and science of Earth’s life, they hit most of the important points everyone should know, got none of them wrong, and missed only a few key points (not least of which the significance of reality denial 🙂 ).

The only segment I did not like was the bit on why we must and will colonize other planets. That’s wishful thinking (aka denial) and is not going to happen, but understandable because that’s their gig. Otherwise very well done!

With regard to beauty and inspiration, they hit a home run, without being sickly sweet. If you don’t feel some joyous emotion watching this, you’re not alive.

This should be mandatory viewing for every student on the planet.

If I ever meet someone in the future who doesn’t understand why they should care, I will point them to One Strange Rock.

If anyone would like to view this documentary but can’t find it, send me a message on Facebook and I will help you.

 

From award-winning filmmaker Darren Aronofsky comes a mind-bending, thrilling journey that explores the fragility and wonder of planet Earth—one of the most peculiar, unique places in the universe.

One Strange Rock is the extraordinary story of Earth – our curiously calibrated, interconnected planet – and why it is special and uniquely brimming with life among a largely unknown but harsh cosmic arena. Anchoring the series is an elite group of astronauts who see Earth’s bigger picture; they provide unique perspectives and relate personal memoirs of our planet seen from space.

Hosted by Will Smith, One Strange Rock reveals the twists of fate that allow life to thrive on Earth.

Part 1: Gasp

For those privileged few who have seen Earth from space, the very first thing they notice is the thin blue line of atmosphere that clings to our planet and sustains life. How our planet creates and regulates that oxygen is a mind-blowing story involving a flying river, a global dust storm, collapsing glaciers and the most important creature you’ve never heard of. It’s an incredible chain of connections that reveal just how truly wondrous our home is. Everything connects, so life and planet breathe together. Astronaut host – Chris Hadfield

Part 2: Storm

Ever wonder how our planet got here? It was born in a cosmic storm and shaped by violence. Earth is a very lucky planet. We’re only here because of random collisions in a dangerous cosmos. They could have destroyed us, but instead, that violence constructed a planet from the rubble of the early solar system; gave us oceans in a bombardment from the heavens; and brought order to our world. Astronaut host – Nicole Stott.

Part 3: Shield

It’s a David and Goliath story — Earth’s relationship with its greatest threat: our seemingly benign sun. Hurling devastating particles and deadly radiation at us, the sun is the big violent boss of the solar system. Without several shields, one generated by our unique planetary core, another by our atmosphere, and a third by our interconnected weather systems, life on Earth never would have survived. Astronaut host – Jeff Hoffman.

Part 4: Genesis

Our rock is special; it’s alive. Though the building blocks of life are common across the universe, life is rare. What is it about Earth that sets it apart? This is the story of dynamic forces and crazy coincidences that took a bunch of dead ingredients and transformed them into something as wondrously intricate as life. And if it happened here, could it happen elsewhere? Astronaut host – Mae Jemison.

Part 5: Survival

Without the cycle of death and sacrifice, from cellular to planetary, life would not be here. From the deaths of stars to planetary scale mass extinctions and the sacrifice of individuals for a greater genetic good, this is the story of how life evolved hand in hand with death. Death drives evolution. It’s hardwired; from our cells to our landscapes, our colorful living planet is only possible thanks to it. Death leads to opportunity and biodiversity, which ironically ensures life on the planet is never wiped out. It’s not enough for our planet to be habitable; it also has to be lethal. Astronaut host – Jerry Linenger.

Part 6: Escape

Is it possible for intelligent life to escape destruction either from the planet or ourselves? Or are we destined for extinction like 99.9 percent of all species before us? Our best chance of survival may be to escape Earth and build another colony somewhere else. But there are real barriers: space radiation, microgravity and the bacteria inside us. And our DNA is coded for the conditions here on Earth, so if we ever manage to colonize another planet, those who are born there might evolve into another species. Astronaut host – Chris Hadfield.

Part 7: Terraform

Ever since life emerged, microbes, plants and animals have all sculpted the planet’s surface and atmosphere in the strangest of ways: fish poop creates islands; dead animals create mountains; and plants help create continents. From rocks to rivers, life has crafted everything that makes our planet so special. But this power of change brings with it profound dangers. Life doesn’t just create. It can also destroy. Astronaut host – Mike Massimino.

Part 8: Alien

All life on Earth started as single-cell bacteria and stayed like that for two billion years. So even if we do find alien life out there, what are the chances of that life being complex like us? On our strange rock, it’s all down to a freak event, which accidentally happened when one cell ate another to create a kind of power pack for life. This almost miraculous event transforms Earth into a complex interconnected web based on a competition for food. And at the top of the pyramid sit we humans. Astronaut host – Mae Jemison.

Part 9: Awakening

Of all life on Earth, how come we’re the only ones with the smarts to leave our planet? For three billion years, nothing had a brain. Even today, over 90 percent of life doesn’t need a brain to survive. So, what happened? How did our planet set in motion the chain of nearly impossible events that gave us our unique intelligence? The greatest mystery of all may be right between your ears. Astronaut host – Leland Melvin.

Part 10: Home

After 665 weightless days in space, NASA’s most experienced astronaut, Peggy Whitson, smashes through the atmosphere on her last journey home to planet Earth. With unprecedented filming on board the ISS during Peggy’s final mission and with the support of our other featured astronauts, we reveal how their time in space transforms their understanding of our planet’s wonders, insights that will change our perspective, too. There is no place like home. Or is there? Just how strange is our rock, and is it really unique in the universe? Astronaut host – Peggy Whitson.

 

The Canadian Weasel: A Whiny Species

Canadian Forest

 

So many Canadian trees are dying that on balance our forests emit more carbon than they sequester. The Canadian government is trying to weasel out of our CO2 reduction commitments by claiming that CO2 from our trees should not be counted because they are dying due to forest fires and insect infestations, which are not human caused.

This is just plain wrong, for two reasons.

First, climate change doesn’t care where the CO2 came from. The IPCC, in their most recent report, said we must reduce our emissions by 50% within 12 years or civilization will collapse. Soak that in while pondering the fact that the IPCC has a track record of being much too optimistic. Canada is one of the wealthiest countries on the planet which means our citizens can make do with a lot less of everything and still be better off than most people in other countries. Instead of trying to weasel out of our fair share we should be standing up and setting an example by reducing far more per capita than other countries.

Second, our trees are burning and being killed by insects because they’re sick, and they’re sick because ground level ozone, which is toxic to all plants, is rising. Ground level ozone is a byproduct of the fossil fuels our civilization burns. The trees are not sequestering carbon, like healthy trees are supposed to do, because of our population and lifestyles. Which is yet another good reason to cut more CO2 rather than whining like babies and trying to weasel out of doing the right thing.

Shame on us!  I used to be proud to be a Canadian.

For more on how ground level ozone is killing trees, see the work of Gail Zawacki.

https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/canada-forests-carbon-sink-or-source-1.5011490

Canada’s forests actually emit more carbon than they absorb — despite what you’ve heard on Facebook.

Our managed forest land hasn’t been a net carbon sink since 2001.

You might have heard that Canada’s forests are an immense carbon sink, sucking up all sorts of CO2 — more than we produce — so we don’t have to worry about our greenhouse gas emissions.

This claim has been circulated on social media and repeated by pundits and politicians.

This would be convenient for our country, if it were real. Hitting our emissions-reduction targets would be a breeze. But, like most things that sound too good to be true, this one is false.

That’s because trees don’t just absorb carbon when they grow, they emit it when they die and decompose, or burn.

When you add up both the absorption and emission, Canada’s forests haven’t been a net carbon sink since 2001. Due largely to forest fires and insect infestations, the trees have actually added to our country’s greenhouse gas emissions for each of the past 15 years on record.

Not surprisingly, then, Canada has historically excluded its forests when accounting for its total greenhouse emissions to the rest of the world. We had that option, under international agreements, and it was in our interest to leave the trees out of the total tabulation, since they would have boosted our overall emissions.

But, just in the past couple of years, we have taken a different approach. We are now making the case to the United Nations that things like forest fires and pine beetle infestations shouldn’t count against us, and that only human-related changes to our forests should be included when doing the calculations that matter to our emission-reduction targets.

 

On Meaning

What Gives You Meaning?

I’m an atheist without a supernatural bone in my body. When I die my “spirit” will extinguish into nothing forever.

This reality does not trouble me or cause me to wish that I denied death with some form of religion or spirituality, as do most of my 8 billion close cousins.

Given that I’m a mutant with defective reality denial genes, and therefore have nothing to look forward to beyond my brief life, how do I find meaning?

I find meaning by studying the origin of life on a rare planet, with its improbable evolution of complex life, and the singular emergence of a species with an extended theory of mind, and the improbability of being a member of that species alive at the peak of a brief 200 year period (out of 4,000,000,000) when we leveraged an improbable store of photosynthetically generated hydrocarbons to advance scientific knowledge and technology.

The fact that I’m writing this, and you’re reading this, is cause for awe and thankfulness.

Meaning comes from understanding why we can understand there is no meaning.

Yellow Vests

Yellow Vest

What would happen if we all put on yellow vests and protested in the streets?

Governments would panic and hand out printed money since that’s their only option for providing more stuff in the short-term. As a consequence, the riots would stop, CO2 emissions would immediately increase, and a few months later currency destroying inflation would begin, which would increase social unrest and enable a despot to take over (a la Weimar), who would attempt to increase prosperity with war, except this time war will not help because we’ve already burned all the good booty, and we would enter a scarcity death spiral since war will deplete faster the resources we are fighting over, and finally a few decades later, runaway climate change would take out whatever is left of civilization.

What if governments responded by taxing the rich and redistributing wealth to the poor?

Most of the wealth of the rich is locked up in assets that do not circulate within the economy. If these assets were liquidated and redistributed the poor would immediately spend their new wealth which would dramatically increase inflation because there is far more paper wealth than real wealth in our economy. As inflation destroyed the currency, social unrest would increase leading to the same death spiral described above.

Dammit you’re depressing! What the fuck should we do then?

Comfort on a Razor’s Edge

 

You know you are in trouble when the only comfortable place is a razor’s edge.

When oil prices are rising we can soon expect trouble from reduced economic growth and inflation.

When oil prices are falling we can soon expect trouble from a slowing economy and deflation; and we can also expect oil shortages a few years out because investing in new oil production becomes unprofitable and most of our existing wells now deplete quickly.

 

Q: Why is it so important that the economy grows?

A: Most people mistakenly believe growth is important because it makes us a little more wealthy in the future. The real reason growth is important is that it makes us much more wealthy today.

 

Q: We never used to worry about a little inflation or deflation. What’s changed?

A: Total global debt has grown to over $250,000,000,000,000 (250 thousand billion dollars) and it’s consuming more and more of our income for interest payments.

Inflation causes interest rates to rise which makes it more difficult to service the debt.

Deflation removes money from the economy which makes it more difficult to service the debt given that interest rates are already as low as they can go.

 

Q: Why has debt become a problem?

A: Debt is growing much faster than our income. We must now borrow about $5 for every $1 of GDP growth.

 

Q: We used to achieve $1 of growth with less than $1 of debt. What’s changed?

A: We burned all the cheap oil which caused the price of oil to increase which forces us to borrow more money to maintain our lifestyles.

 

Q: Why do our lifestyles depend on the price of oil?

A: Our comfortable lives are made possible by a growing GDP. Most of our GDP is produced with machines, and energy is the food of machines. As the price of energy goes up, we can’t afford to feed our machines as much, and they produce less.

 

https://www.cnbc.com/2018/11/09/oil-markets-crude-supply-global-economy-in-focus.html

US crude oil posts longest losing streak in over 34 years, falling for 10th day

  • Oil prices fall for a 10th consecutive session, sinking U.S. crude futures deeper into bear market territory and wiping out the benchmark’s gains for the year.
  • Crude futures fell for a fifth straight week on growing output from key producers and a deteriorating outlook for oil demand deepen.
  • Signs that OPEC and several other oil producers including Russia could soon cut output have not put a floor under the market.

New Badass in Town: Jean-Marc Jancovici (Radio Ecoshock interview)

Jean-Marc Jancovici

Step aside all you established peak oil and climate change pontificators. There’s a new badass in town and he’s an engineer who specializes in energy and climate which means you don’t stand a chance. 🙂

It’s very rare to find someone who can articulately explain in one hour, without hyperbole or bullshit, everything important going on in the world, including the underlying causes, what the future holds, and what we should do in response. Jean-Marc Jancovici is one of those rare gems.

Jancovici’s native language is French so English works by him are scarce. I’ve already posted the only other recent English talk that I’m aware of here.

Today’s interview with Alex Smith of Radio Ecoshock is a treat. After investing an hour here you will understand much more about the issues that matter than 99% of the people in the world.

Alex Smith wrote a very nice summary of his interview here:

https://www.ecoshock.org/2018/10/jean-marc-jancovici-whistling-past-the-graveyard.html

 

 

Following are a few quotes from the interview that I thought were noteworthy. Notice how close Jancovici comes to discussing denial of reality on several occasions.

 

Tell me how much energy you use and I will tell you how you live.

 

Governments are not guided by [wise] advisors. They respond to external pressure.

 

The present standard of living cannot be sustained without the help of fossil fuels for physical reasons.

 

Two centuries ago the world was fully renewable and consisted of 1 billion peasants with a life expectancy of 30 years. [We therefore] know of at least one option available to us.

 

Every time you hear the words “energy consumption”, replace them with “fleet of machines” .

 

A future with no growth is considered unthinkable by so many people, including Nobel prize-winning economists, that nobody thinks about what to do if it happens for real.

 

Q: What do you think is the greatest soonest threat: peak oil or climate change?

A: I place my bets on the likelihood that nobody will understand what is happening with either of these threats.

 

No government understands that energy equals machines, and if machines work less, GDP goes down.

No political leader understands that climate change is already putting refugees on the road.

 

Think of peak oil and climate change as opposing scissor blades squeezing your finger. Asking which is worse does not make any sense.

 

You must wait over 10,000 years for surplus CO2 to evacuate from the atmosphere. There is no such thing as a reset button for climate change. The only thing we are sure of is the day that consequences become unbearable, it will become worse later on.

 

A huge misunderstanding is that energy is a sector of the economy rather than the blood of the economy.

On Famous Polymaths

See No Evil

There are two and only two topics required to understand the basis of every success and problem in our civilization: thermodynamics and genetic behavior.

By thermodynamics I mean:

  • the laws of thermodynamics that govern our universe
  • the relationships between energy, economy, wealth, population, and pollution
  • the relationship between debt and surplus energy
  • the maximum power principle of biology
  • the history of energy use
  • the types, sources, qualities, density, scalability, and applications of energy
  • the discovery rate, consumption rate, and reserves of non-renewable energy
  • what is and is not feasible with, and the dependencies of, non-fossil energy

By genetic behavior I mean:

  • human behaviors that are mostly hard-wired
  • genetic behaviors that contributed to our unique success and predicament
  • why those genetic behaviors evolved

Why is it that every famous intellectual understands many topics except the only two topics that really matter: thermodynamics and genetic behavior?

  • Steven Pinker
  • Sam Harris
  • Jordan Peterson
  • Noam Chomsky
  • Sean Carroll
  • Yuval Noah Harari
  • David Suzuki
  • David Attenborough
  • Neil deGrasse Tyson
  • Stephen Hawking
  • Lawrence Krauss
  • Elon Musk
  • Stewart Brand
  • James Hansen
  • Matt Ridley
  • Richard Dawkins
  • Frans de Waal
  • James Lovelock
  • Jared Diamond
  • Joe Rogan
  • Michael Pollan
  • Ken Burns
  • Chris Hedges
  • Vaclav Smil
  • Niall Ferguson
  • Alan Greenspan
  • Thomas Sowell
  • John Kenneth Galbraith
  • David Stockman
  • Joseph Stiglitz
  • Paul Krugman
  • and many others

Why is it that there is no famous intellectual (nor political or business leader) who understands thermodynamics and genetic behavior?

  • ???

Why is it that the few intellectuals who do understand thermodynamics and genetic behavior are distinctly not famous?

  • Dennis Meadows
  • Tom Murphy
  • William Catton
  • William Rees
  • Charles Hall
  • Nate Hagens
  • Tim Garrett
  • Jay Hanson
  • David Korowicz
  • Tim Watkins
  • Paul Chefurka
  • Reg Morrison
  • Jack Alpert
  • Richard Heinberg
  • Joseph Tainter
  • George Mobus
  • Dave Cohen
  • Gail Zawacki
  • Jason Bradford
  • Nicole Foss
  • Steve Ludlum
  • James @ Megacancer
  • xraymike79
  • and very few others

This can’t be an accidental coincidence because famous polymaths are fluent in many topics.

I suspect the answer is that famous polymaths deny everything they don’t want to know, and they wouldn’t be famous if they didn’t, because their audience doesn’t want to understand those topics either.

It’s a fascinating phenomenon to observe once you see it.

P. S.

Why is there only one person in the world, a cranky old retired electrical engineer, who writes about genetic reality denial?

I suspect because denial is the reality that must be most aggressively denied to avoid collapsing the house of cards that keeps us functioning.