Planetary Boundaries as Millenarian Prophesies and Midwest Thunderstorms


A couple of interesting items from Roger Pielke, Jr.’s blog..

First he posted this guest post by Steven Rayner.

Planetary Boundaries as Millenarian Prophesies: A Guest Post by Steve Rayner

This is a guest post by Steve Rayner, Oxford University, and is distilled from a forthcoming book chapter that Steve has co-authored with Clare Heyward, also of Oxford University. The full citation is (and please see the original for the broader argument and references):

S. Rayner and C. Heyward, 2013 (in press). The Inevitability of Nature as a Rhetorical Resource, Chapter 14 in Kerstin Hastrup (editor), Anthropology and Nature (Routledge, London

You gotta think that a chapter entitled “the inevitability of nature as a rhetorical resource” will be of interest to us.

Check out the guest post here.
Below is an excerpt.


The rhetoric employed in the plenary sessions was especially striking in its efforts to establish the present as a uniquely defining moment for the future of humanity requiring urgent action on a global scale which seems slow in coming. Nobel laureate Elinor Ostrom declared that, “We have never faced a challenge this big.” Johan Rockström drove home the point claiming that “We are the first generation to know we are truly putting the future of civilization at risk.” Apparently, those who lived through the Second World War or the prospect of mutual nuclear annihilation in the 1960s were deluded in their estimation of the challenge they faced or the consequences for civilization, to say nothing of Old Testament prophets who only had the authority of God that destruction was imminent if people did not mend their wicked ways. Lest there be any doubt that behavioural change was the goal, Dutch political scientist Frank Biermann spelled out the imperative that “The Anthropocene requires new thinking” and “The Anthropocene requires new lifestyles.”

At first sight, the contemporary resurgence in catastrophist thinking might be understood as a response to improvements in our understanding of critical earth systems resulting from research-led improvements in scientific understanding. However, I have not been able to identify any new empirical studies to justify the claim that, “Although Earth’s complex systems sometimes respond smoothly to changing pressures, it seems that this will prove to be the exception rather than the rule.” (Rockström et al 2009:472). Leading ecologists have long suggested that the general assertions of systems theorists that “everything is connected to everything else” and “you can’t change just one thing” are actually less robust than is often claimed. It seems that most species in many ecosystems are actually quite redundant and can be removed without any loss of overall ecosystems character or function (e.g., Lawton 1991, but for a contrasting view, see Gitay et al 1996). While it is doubtless the case that there are many non-linear relationships in natural systems, it is another matter as to whether non-linearity dominates and whether we should, as a matter of course, expect to find tipping points everywhere. Indeed, a recent review challenges Rockström et al.’s claims, arguing that out of the planetary boundaries posited, only three genuinely represent truly global biophysical thresholds, the passing of which could be expected to result in non-linear changes (Blomqvist et al, 2012).

The same report also challenges the idea that the planetary boundaries constitute “non-negotiable thresholds”. The identification of the planetary boundaries is dependent on the normative assumptions made, for example, concerning the value of biodiversity and the desirability of the Holocene. Rather than non-negotiables, humanity faces a system of trade-offs – not only economic, but moral and aesthetic as well. Deciding how to balance these trade-offs is a matter of political contestation (Blomqvist et al, 2012:37). What counts as “unacceptable environmental change” is not a matter of scientific fact, but involves judgments concerning the value of the things to be affected by the potential changes. The framing of planetary boundaries as being scientifically derived non-negotiable limits, obscures the inherent normativity of deciding how to react to environmental change. Presenting human values as facts of nature is an effective political strategy to shut down debate.

I particularly liked the last line…

then there is a detailed discussion of Munich Re’s paper on thunderstorm.. here.

My favorite line is also the last..

Misleading public claims. An over-hyped press release. A paper which neglects to include materially relevant and contradictory information central to its core argument. All in all, just a normal day in climate science!

I’ll go post something on the blog that it’s not just climate science..I suspect it’s really all sciences. Something about a culture of competition where press releases run amok. But even broader than science, as Ron C. says in comment #10

The same behavior occurs in the world of advertising, where it has been seen that:
“The Large print giveth,
The Small print taketh away.”

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