Back to Basics – why 1biosphere stories are different

Isn’t it something to get on your bicycle at Carrowmore Beach and strain to climb the hill behind, knowing that in a year, or a few, you will be in Singapore.  There are dangers of course; weather, illness, wild animals, breakdowns.  But the way is open; no borders, no organized mass murder, no roaming bands of refugees.  You have the choice of going south, meeting the people, tasting the food, marvelling at the cultures and treasures of Syria, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, India, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand and Malaysia.  Or you can choose to go further north, through the vast southern edge of Russia, into Mongolia and south through China.

There’s nothing in the way but geography.  The biosphere has no borders. People worked together and came through the greatest crisis ever faced by humanity.  What made it possible?  Stories of course. Simple little stories, like “There’s just one biosphere”, “We’re part of it, it’s part of us”, “We’re all here together”. 


Yeah, right – that’s not going to happen.

But, just maybe, 1biosphere can be a tiny push toward that chimeric future. Let’s look at it once more under the following headings:

  1. Purpose and Goals1biosphere – To generate Action – To halt, and, if possible, reverse, the damage to our one biosphere – Working for and with existing Environmental Organization.
    • Current Status – better than last year, but a long way to go.
    • Generate Action – from positive, but currently inactive, groups in the population
    • Needs Political Action
  2. Action means Politics
    • Individual action is not enough
    • Countries
    • Our audience
  3. Stories for Political Action
    • Pro stories
    • Con stories
  4. 1biosphere Stories
    • The Story
    • The Foundation of “Numbers” [where 1biosphere needs help from Data Experts and Mathematicians]
      • Network Analysis
      • Databases
      • AI and Pattern Recognition
      • Visualization
  5. Beliefs, Filters, Points of View

. 1 .

Purpose and Goals

The goals of 1biosphere have been set out elsewhere on this site – in The Idea and The Basic Story, among others.

Here is a restatement: 1bio wants to craft stories to move people, who agree that the biosphere is in crisis, towards action. Action at an individual level, but more important at a political level.

“You know the biosphere is in trouble. Do something about it: VOTE.”

. 2 .

Action means Politics

Voting? That’s it?

No, of course individuals must take meaningful direct action (Recycling, insulation, water use, public transport…).  But action at the scale needed to make real progress has to be at a national and global level.

We have a mini example in the Covid19 pandemic. There we have an invisible threat, we find it difficult to grasp exponential growth, there is much expert opinion, life is weighed against money and in the end political decisions ranging from wise to ludicrous determine the outcome.  In a situation like this “An individual can only go so far to protect themselves from something like Covid.  People actually need to be supported by an enabling state”, (Rebecca Wells, professor, Lancaster Environment Center).

The same can be said of the much larger, more threatening, Environmental Crisis. Compared to Covid19 it is a slow moving beast.  But the effects, unless we treat it with more urgency, will be worse, for us humans and all other life on the planet.

Countries, Regions, Entities – There are 6 absolutely necessary entities that need to be covered.   They currently emit nearly 70% of the world’s total CO2. They are: China, USA, EU (including the UK!), India, Russia and Japan. (More detail in Note 5)

Historically, from 1751, the top three GHG emitters are the USA (410 Billion tons CO2), EU (354) and China (220).  Germany (92) and UK (78) top the European countries.

The Audience

The 1 bio intended audience is outside the “bubble” of environmentally active people.  It is intended for those who are aware there is a problem, but who have taken only very minor steps to help solve it.  The #1 goal is to have this group “vote” for “pro-environment” office holders at all levels and in all areas where such an appointment is possible. In addition to the political sphere at local, state and country (or in the EU at multi-country) level I include all other elected positions; union reps, judges, sheriffs, company board members, community associations, the PTA etc. etc. Even in countries where direct democracy is not possible the voice of the people has an impact and can be carried upward by the selection of lower echelons. 

Ideally 1bio can be a framework for stories everywhere, but the comments from here on are most applicable to the USA.

I set out some thoughts on the audience and some of the reasons why they have not acted on the stories created so far in a previous post.  

The diagram shows a possible distribution of people in a population; 

  • EA (Environmentally Active),
  • Mid+ (the primary 1 bio audience – Aware of the crisis and receptive to calls for action, but too busy, distracted etc. to comb through and evaluate floods of information), 
  • Mid? (Aware of the crisis, but have other priorities), 
  • ER (Environmentally Resistant.  Not willing to change course, for multiple reasons).  

We want to tip the balance.

In the US, a third of eligible voters did not vote in 2020.  If we convince just a small fraction of those abstainers to vote on the side of environmental action it would create a landslide result.  Of course every other interested party has the same idea.  So there are many alternate stories to overcome.  A further complication in the US is that these extra votes need to come in key sections of the country.  Extra votes in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston or New York are nice, but will not change things.  Very few votes in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Minnesota, Arizona, Georgia, Virginia, Florida, Michigan, Nevada, Colorado, North Carolina, and Maine can make an outsize difference.

The US, as the #1 or #2 polluter, depending on definition, and still the #1 world economy, can set an example to the rest of the world.  What happens here matters.

. 3 .

Stories for Political Action

There are countless stories on the Environmental Crisis, with more added every day.  Each one of them can be construed as a message for political action. I split this section into pro and con stories. The basic question is; how can we get pro stories to our intended audience and how can we identify, resolve and counter the con stories?

Pro Environmental Action

We, inside the environmental action “bubble”, are more or less familiar with these stories.  The volume is such that nobody can read them all.  They range from slogans like “Water is Life” (more on that later) to the hundreds of pages of formal reports.

Let’s be honest; most are written for consumption inside the bubble; academia, government, environmental NGOs and environmentally aligned business.  Which is totally necessary of course, but much of the message does not get through to our intended audience. The same is probably true of stories created for wider appeal; news articles, videos and so on. I oversimplify, but we are not getting to that key swing audience.

My hope is that 1bio stories can be a little more effective.

Con Environmental Action

Stories discouraging environmental actions take many forms, some pretending to be pro-environment but, intentionally or in error, a mask for something else. Con stories tend to be simpler, more emotional and more accessible. I try to place them under some headings below (and welcome any suggestion for a better classification):

Money: 

  • “It’s the economy, stupid”.  
  • We can’t spend the amount of money needed because it will cripple the economy.  Everybody will suffer. 
  • I will have less money, and less money means less power, less respect, less things that make me feel good. 
  • Or weasel words, like “Australia is taking real action on climate change and getting results.  We are successfully balancing our global responsibilities with sensible and practical policies to secure our environmental and economic future.” (Translation: we will approve new coal mines and gas fired generators if it means more money)

Technology:

  • Cheap, safe, clean nuclear power
  • Geoengineering, Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), Clean hydrogen, Clean Coal
  • Greenwashing
  • Technology is being used and will be needed to achieve the environmental goals.  The problem with some technology stories is that by promising solutions they delay other necessary action.  Delay will lead to doubtful and expensive technologies as the only choices left.  And some technology stories are just money stories in disguise.

You go first:

  • Country or region or individual X has to go first.  
    • Mostly X = China, being the largest emitter.  Often X = USA, as the historically largest and currently richest.  X can be any developed nation as seen from the developing world.  
  • If we do this, then our competitors will have an advantage.  We can’t change until they do.
  • I’m going to keep watering my lawn unless X, the guy next door, stops as well.
What water shortage?

Anger / Fear:

What will happen to me, my family, my community when “they” close the mine, feedlot, logging operation, fishery?

Power:

It’s a left wing hoax, trying to establish a central government and take away our freedoms.  They’ll take away your diesel pickup, your boat and your RV.

Higher Power:

  • Aliens will save us (Not illegal aliens…)
  • This is foretold.  It’s Armageddon. The chosen will be saved.

Trolling:

  • Mischievous fun, or deliberate sowing of discord and confusion?  Maybe/probably in support of some of the motives listed above.
    • You have to admire some trolls; one managed to start a long name-calling online argument by observing that 400ppm was only 0.04% and therefore all the climate nuts were liars.

Many articles in the mainstream media try to be even-handed.  Which leaves our audience with no clear signal for action.  1bio stories must be fact based, but they must also be a clear indicator for action.

. 4 .

1biosphere Stories

The most basic 1bio story:

We have “exactly one biosphere”.  There isn’t another in all reality. Or, if there is, none of us will ever reach it.

“There exists (∃) – exactly one (!)- biosphere (Ⓑ)”

You need to preserve it.  Vote!

(See Note 2 for my definition of biosphere)


Every 1bio story consists of 2 parts:

  1. The “Story” itself – needs to be clear, vivid and polarizing
    1. Clear – short, sharp, accessible, relevant (to the country, region, community, individual)
    2. Vivid – in any medium, in any form; anecdotes, slogans, symbols, pictures, sound bites, memes…
    3. Polarizing – taking a position, presenting a clear path to action
  2. The “Numbers” – a chain linking the story back to underlying analysis, data and eventually basic scientific principles.  Why do we even need this?  If the story is so clear and vivid isn’t that enough?  Will adding heaps of “proof” get us back to the thousand page reports that nobody reads?  To use a quote from a Covid skeptic; “When someone pushes something really hard, I sit back, because I don’t like people telling me, ‘This is what you need to do,’ “I need to do my own research.”  (Quoted in this article) For similar biosphere objectors we need to facilitate that research and lay down a trail through the masses of data and analysis, again in a clear, accessible manner.

We need to do the same for opposing stories and either expose the hard decisions to be made or show they have no foundation in fact.

Here I ask for help from the theorists and technologists.

  • Can we build a trail without expending a huge amount of valuable labor? 
  • Can we string together known technologies and present a trail that is accessible to our intended audience?

We need to do the hard work to make the 1bio story rock solid. It’s the invisible 90% that needs to be made clear, and accessible, to our audience.  Starting from the bottom of our iceberg model:

  • Standards – in measurements and comparisons. Given the US does not use the metric system we need to show dual measurements. If the context demands it we also need to give some guidance on more difficult measurements (e.g. ‘1bbl oil ~ 5.8 MBtu / 1,700kWh of energy’, and ‘How do you get from inches of rainfall to acre feet of runoff’?)
  • Basic Science – the intent here is to provide a link to the basic science relevant to the story (e.g. How come that such a small amount of carbon dioxide makes such a big difference.  Is going from 0.03% to 0.04% really significant?)
  • Database Technology – Organizing the underlying data is a database technology job. I am sure there are many such databases in existence (see Note 3).  Can they be used for our purpose?  Can a newer approach be used to help automate the classification of data?  
  • Can artificial intelligence, pattern recognition, automated language analysis be used to classify and label research papers, analysis and reports? (e.g. pick keywords from papers and also identify words, in their context, that suggest the intent of an article).  What about formal verification methods?  Can blockchain technology keep the trails clean and spot attempts to corrupt the data or the analysis?
  • Network Analysis – an analysis of how data from various sources is linked.  Such analysis exists as part of separate research (diagram below) and from analyzing the citations of published articles.  Is there a way to further automate such analysis?  How can we introduce other, more social, concerns such as impacts on communities, social aspects and individual psychology?

above from Biofuels: Network Analysis of the Literature Reveals Key Environmental and Economic Unknowns

  • Visualization – intended as a supporting part of the 1bio story and a guide to traverse the underlying material.  This could range from simple block diagrams to more detailed designs or descriptive drawings. Ideally the visualizations will be derived from the network analysis (automatically as far as possible?). Just a few examples:

above from “Sustainable Energy – without the hot air” by David JC MacKay


above from “Table of the nine planetary boundaries”

(My diagram above of the Central Valley, CA, will be used in a future post on water use)

(Please see Note 4 for more detail on the visualization diagrams)

. 5 .

Beliefs, Filters, Points of View

In a post on The Idea for 1biosphere I laid out a diagram of the interaction between the biosphere, humans and the whole imaginary universe of human ideas.  The main deduction from that diagram is that our beliefs come not from the biosphere (or “Nature” if you prefer) but from this construct of ideas. I have used ℂ, the mathematical symbol for complex numbers (often called “imaginary”), for this invented universe we live in.  Calling it “Society”, or “The Economy”, or “Faith” does not cover the complexity of this thing.

What we do in the biosphere is guided by those stories, coming from ℂ, that get past our beliefs, past our filters. And those beliefs are incredibly strong.  What could possibly convince the Easter Islanders to chop down every tree? What convinces us, over and over, to kill others in the name of religion or nationality or ethnicity?  Why do we foul our planet because advertising campaigns encourage us?  Why do our governments make, and we abet, conscious decisions to let refugees drown, or live in ghastly camps? And so forth…

So that’s the modest aim of 1biosphere; to change the belief systems of the world to accept that we are part of Ⓑ as much as we are of – and then act on that realization.


Again; Yeah, right – that’s not going to happen.

But yet…


Note 1

GHG emissions per capita

To be fair we should list our target countries in order of emissions per person and tackle the worst offenders first.  If we do that we get:

  • Palau? Population 18,000. What are they doing? Possibly a large cement plant?
  • New Caledonia? A coal power plant to support nickel mining? A French overseas territory!
  • Qatar ( with Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Saudi Arabia) we can understand. Huge energy expenditure to create cool luxury in the desert.
  • Curaçao? Oil refinery it seems.  Curaçao is a constituent country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands!

Note 2

The Biosphere

My definition is probably wider than most.  I include everything that we humans can reach using our tools.  (In faux math symbols: ℝH∊Ⓑ , see The Idea).  If you want you can include space capsules and the like, because they are just tiny containers of biosphere hurled out of the gravity well at huge energy cost.  It’s lots of fun, but trivial in the immediate future.

Everything in the photos above is biosphere, as is the coal in the ground and the electricity flowing through the cables, as is the computer where you are seeing the photos.  As are we and the remains of all our ancestors. It’s (almost) a closed system.  The oxygen atoms I breathe are the same ones that your great-grandfather, Leonardo, Confucius and the velociraptors breathed – it’s trite, but fascinating to think about.

A book of laws, the judge who rules on the law, the gavel and the bench, the prisoner, the cell and the bars are all biosphere.  But the idea of laws and judgement, the idea of punishment and rehabilitation are something else.

Our ideas about the biosphere will shape it. If we want to live in concrete and glass, with air conditioned luxury for the few, we will have it.  If we want diverse nature available to all we can have that.

The biosphere will not care. It just is. The human minds of the future will have ideas and those ideas may not be kind to us. Do we care?

Note 3

Database Technology

Databases are necessary to the foundation of a 1bio story. There appear to be gaps and inconsistencies among the databases technologies available to fully draw in the widely differing data into a consistent action plan. Especially if the connection wanted is between something like “soft” community impact and “hard” like technology replacement. There are of course many efforts to close those gaps. My personal knowledge is quite insufficient to make a judgement between them. There are also database standards and practices needed to make stories accessible and relevant at the local level. I briefly list those at the end of this note.

Below are some sites re databases I found of interest :

Ecological Metadata Language (EML), from https://eml.ecoinformatics.org/  This includes a schema which may be of interest.

Databases – Earth and Environmental Sciences – Subject guides at University of Manchester is a list of databases of interest. I assume many other universities offer a similar index. 

The following quotes from A relational model for environmental and water resources data are very relevant to the needs of 1biosphere;

“When scientists and engineers want to search for and use environmental observations data, they are generally faced with the following problems …: 

  1. data are not sufficient or do not exist; 
  2. data are not published and are hard to locate; 
  3. data are not easy to access, they are either private or expensive, or require costly preprocessing before they can be used; 
  4. data are not easy to use because they are inconsistent or noncompatible; and 
  5. data are not adequately documented. 

Addressing these issues is one of the main challenges influencing recent developments in environmental information systems, which include water resources and hydrologic information systems…”

Standards and practices within database design to facilitate local access and relevance:

  • Probably trivial, but units need to be local. So databases will need to carry 2 sets of numbers; SI and local. That is especially needed because the audience we need to reach in the US is not comfortable with SI measurements. Of course conversions can be done at the point of presentation/visualization, but will that be done? And the reverse holds true; e.g. AcreFeet is the common measure of water resources in the US. We need that number, quickly, in SI for other audiences. “Local” may also mean audience groups that have their own preferred system of units which mean little to outsiders, like barrels, container loads, cords etc.
  • Internationalization – (I like the abbreviation “I18n”) – refers to a database (and code) that is structured to make Localisation (“L10n” below) easy. e.g. Unicode, additional fields for local units as above, etc.
  • L10n – Local language, use of local examples, local metrics, sensitivity to local challenges

Note 4

Visualization Diagrams – more information

(From Biofuels: Network Analysis of the Literature Reveals Key Environmental and Economic Unknowns )

The abstract of the paper is: “Despite rapid growth in biofuel production worldwide, it is uncertain whether decision-makers possess sufficient information to fully evaluate the impacts of the industry and avoid unintended consequences. Doing so requires rigorous peer-reviewed data and analyses across the entire range of direct and indirect effects. To assess the coverage of scientific research, we analyzed over 1600 peer-reviewed articles published between 2000 and 2009 that addressed 23 biofuels-related topics within four thematic areas: environment and human well-being, economics, technology, and geography. Greenhouse gases, fuel production, and feedstock production were well-represented in the literature, while trade, biodiversity, and human health were not. Gaps were especially striking across topics in the Southern Hemisphere, where the greatest potential socio-economic benefits, as well as environmental damages, may co-occur. There was strong asymmetry in the connectedness of research topics; greenhouse gases articles were twice as often connected to other topics as biodiversity articles. This could undermine the ability of scientific and economic analyses to adequately evaluate impacts and avoid significant unintended consequences. At the least, our review suggests caution in this developing industry and the need to pursue more interdisciplinary research to assess complex trade-offs and feedbacks inherent to an industry with wide-reaching potential impacts.”

(The network diagram clearly illustrates the concentration described.  The same is a key concern of the Dasgupta Report; that the issue of Green House Gases and alternative fuel sources overshadows attention given to biodiversity, human effects, soil degradation, aquifer depletion, pollution etc. etc.)


This very simple diagram shows bird kills by wind turbines, cars and cats. Bird kills by turbines are often used as an argument against their erection. While the numbers shown massively refute that argument (or argues for the banning of cats) there are some complications. Firstly the numbers for turbines and cars are from Denmark, while cats are from the UK. Where there no comparable numbers at the time of publication? Are UK cats more ferocious than Danish ones? Secondly there is a valid argument that the types of bird killed by turbines are rarer, larger, migratory birds. I have not seen any numbers on that.

from “Sustainable Energy – without the hot air” by David JC MacKay

This book was a starting influence on my thinking about the biosphere.  Sadly Dr. MacKay died in 2016.  I like his deceptively simple approach:

  • Here are the numbers
  • Here is where the numbers came from
  • Here is what adds up, and here is what doesn’t

The detail in his book is largely confined to the UK.  I posit the development of a world-wide equivalent set of data, and it’s clear presentation, as one of the deliverables of 1biosphere. Dr. MacKay’s conclusion, which he maintained in one of his last interviews, was that nuclear energy was the only feasible solution for the UK. While we may not agree with that conclusion we do need to acknowledge the numbers.


from “Table of the nine planetary boundaries”

“The planetary boundaries concept presents a set of nine planetary boundaries within which humanity can continue to develop and thrive for generations to come”


There is no way I can do justice to the complex, important and emotional story of water usage in the Central Valley of California (let alone California in general). I do hope to post a more detailed comment soon and show how two stories; “Water is Life” and “No Water. No Food” represent totally different views of the same reality.

Note 5

China – 1.4 billion people, 1 party rule, taking large green steps, but also set to remain the single largest GHG emitter.  #4 in GHG/head in our “Group of 6”.  We can’t use China as an excuse not to do things in our own backyard.  It’s pointless to treat them as adversaries.  We need continued engagement at every level.

USA – 0.3 billion people, 2 party rule. #1 GHG/head. A political system where both ruling parties are committed to capitalism and, compared to western Europe, are conservative.  This conservatism, built on a history of success and wealth, has created a system of unequal representation and legal polarization. Current steps toward greater engagement in a world-wide response to the environmental crisis could be halted or reversed at any time. (Hence the countdown to 8 Nov 2022 on the home page)

European Union – 0.5 billion people, 27 countries + the UK.  All are democracies, with varying interpretations of what that means. #5 GHG/head 

India – 1.3 billion people, and with current growth rates set to overtake China as the most populous country in the world.  The world’s largest democracy, but… The lowest GDP/head (#6) of the nations we are looking at.  But they have the expectation to raise their standard of living.  We must support that and we certainly have no right to oppose it.  What we need to do, for our own preservation quite apart from any humanitarian instincts, is to ensure this happens without catastrophic environmental effects.

Russia – 0.1 billion people, the largest country in the world in terms of area (more than 4 times the size of Europe, and almost twice that of China or the USA).  With Canada it is the country most likely to benefit from global warming, in terms of additional land available for farming and settlement. #2 GHG/head

Japan – 0.1 billion people. Highly industrialized. #3 GHG/head  

(See Note 1 about some strange GHG/head statistics)

Relevant to any discussion of the biosphere is the fact that of our 6 all but Japan are nuclear armed (EU represented by France and UK). The USA, China, Russia, France and the UK also have veto power on the UN security council.

We also need to be aware that the figures in the table shown earlier are only CO2 emissions. Other equally troubling aspects such as destruction of habitat, pollution, water use, topsoil degradation and so forth are not included.  If we include these factors then many more countries enter the list we need to address – Brazil, Canada, Australia, Indonesia etc.


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