A critique of "Sustainability, astrobiology combine to illuminate future of Earth's technological civilization" based on "Sustainabilty and the astrobiological perspective: framing human futures in a planetary context" (see below)

David Moros
November 15, 2014

"We have no idea how long a technological civilization like our own can last, says University of Rochester astrophysicist Adam Frank. "Is it 200 years, 500 years or 50,000 years? Answering this question is at the root of all our concerns about the sustainability of human society."

This analysis is highly speculative with nothing new to contribute neither to explaining the social roots of humanity's present plight nor to articulating a lasting solution to this plight. This piece is a red herring at best and vulgar science at worst.

The authors of this piece are ignorant of or are deliberately evading the question of who is responsible for how society is currently organised. Who decides what gets produced, how the social production process is organised and how the social product is distributed.

The questions should be why mass poverty? why deforestation? why constant weapons production and wars? why increasing fossil fuel consumption? These social phenomena are not mysteries. Poverty is a lack of necessities - deforestation is cutting down trees and clearing land with the aid of tools by human beings - weapons production is carried out by human beings with machinery and wars are fought between human beings with these weapons - increased fossil fuel consumption for increased electricity for industrial production and fuel for transport. There's no mystery of how we got here but the larger more important question is why?

This question can easily be answered without having to look off anywhere into outer space. The current economy or mode of production, in the broad sense, capitalist commodity production by wage labor, is a competitive mode of social production and private appropriation. Capitalism is a mode of social production aimed at the production of surplus product embodying surplus value that upon it's sale is appropriated as profit by the owners of capital.

For a capitalist enterprise what's of the utmost importance is the bottom line. If it's cheaper for a capitalist enterprise to dump untreated poisonous waste products into the natural environment in order to minimize cost and maximize profits then that's what they will do. Being able to dump harmful waste into the natural environment is a boost to the capitalist bottom line because the cost of environmental safety is an expense that they avoid (the expense of recycling wastes). The capitalist's will is a creature of the economy. As capital personified, cost-benefit analysis is strictly gauged by its benefit -- his or her benefit determined by will to maximize profits by minimizing monetary cost. For the capitalists, environmental cost and human safety is something outside his or her concern. Dangerous and hazardous working conditions and ecological damage to the planet are irrelevant insomuch as bottom line profits is the driving objective.

An example is the explosion and sinking of the Deep-water Horizon rig and the subsequent blowout of the Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. The solution was the digging of a relief well that was eventually used to seal the blown-out well. This type of relief well fix had been used many times prior to the Macondo blowout (see Ixtoc I oil spill for example). Thus, the entire 3 month gusher of crude into the Gulf of Mexico could have been avoided if BP would have been required to have a relief well in place BEFORE the main well was opened up for production. The laws of the US do not require the construction of a relief well. That the crude oil drillers don't have to construct relief wells prior to production is a plus for oil driller bottom line (profits) but a killer for marine ecosystems. If the Macondo well had been required to have a relief well prior, then the marine ecosystems would not have been devastated. Plain and simple.

Burning of rainforest or killing elephants for their ivory tusks. The burning of rainforest by cattle ranchers is not necessary. The question is not a choice between rainforest or beef for the survival of our species. The question is not elephant tusks or survival necessarily. Only under specific relations of social production could these questions arise.

Figures confirm Amazon rainforest destruction rate

10 September 2014
..."Statistics from the Brazilian government show deforestation was up by 29%, slightly higher than the provisional figure of 28% released in November."

Poachers are killing almost 35,000 elephants a year as illegal ivory trade spirals out of control in Africa
Nov 08, 2014 19:54

*In 2013, global CO2 emissions due to fossil fuel use (and cement production) were 36 gigatonnes (GtCO2); this is 61% higher than 1990 (the Kyoto Protocol reference year) and 2.3% higher than 2012.

Food production and supply

Global crop production has expanded threefold over the past 50 years, largely through higher yields per unit of land and crop intensification. This is because advances in science and technology in industrialised has evolved such means by which to intensify labor productivity in the production of commodities, based upon the buying and selling of human labor power as commodities. Increasing labor output per unit of labor time increases the amount of commodities available for selling. An unintended consequence of this massive production output however is relatively overproduction both of capital and consumer items. Glutted markets result. Consequently, reduced demand for consumer goods in such industries engender cutting back on quantities produced and cutbacks in the labor force. Workers are unemployed and thus lack means of appropriating means of subsistence -- money derived from selling of labor power is reduced and unemployed workers go hungry and/or are made homeless.

Global per capita food supply rose from about 2 200 kcal/day in the early 1960s to over 2 800 kcal/day by 2009. At 3 370 kcal/person/day, Europe currently has the highest average per capita food supply.

Cereals occupy more than half of the world's harvested area and are the most important food source for human consumption. Of the 2.3 billion tonnes of cereals produced each year, 1 billion are destined for human consumption, 750 million tonnes are used as animal feed and 500 million tonnes are either processed by industry, used as seed, or wasted.

Almost 870 million people, or 12.5 percent of the world's population, were undernourished in 2010-2012; the vast majority of them (852 million) live in developing countries.

Between 2005 and 2011, one out of four African countries reported a stunting rate of at least 40 percent. Stunting rates also exceeded 40 percent in South and South East Asia during the same period, with peaks in India, the Lao People's Democratic Republic, Nepal and Timor-Leste.

African countries show the highest rates of underweight prevalence. During 2005- 2011, 16 African countries showed underweight rates of at least 20 percent, with the highest levels recorded in the Horn of Africa.

Number of calories required generally per human per day?

More or less depending on level of activity
2200 per day for women.
2500 for men.
Less for children.

But those living in poverty aren't represented on the capitalist's "demand curve" because they have no way to demand necessities which means they have no money.

No one should be undernourished given the 2800 calorie per day per human that's produced annually as of 2009. 2.3 billion tons of grain works out to at least 600 pounds of grain per person annually. That's 1.64 pounds of grain per day per person? And that's just grain? What about fruits and vegetables? Meat and dairy products and eggs? Beans and seeds? Fish and shellfish? But those living in poverty aren't represented on the capitalist's "demand curve" because they have no way to demand necessities which means they have no money.

Clearly enough food is being produced but it's not getting distributed to all.

A mode of social production is necessary for any human society regardless of technological capabilities. A mode of production need not be one wherein the social productive forces are privately owned and controlled. Class divisions also are not an eternal feature of human societies. Hunter gatherer egalitarian modes of social production lasted for hundreds of thousands of years before private ownership of social wealth developed about 7000 years ago or so. The authors of this study ignore social relations. The authors of this analysis ignore class divisions based on ownership or control of social productive forces. Social relations circumscribe relationships within any mode of social production and reproduction regarding one's relationships to the social production process and the useful things produced in social production including but not limited to the necessities of life.

The class that owns or controls the social productive forces makes such vitally important social decisions such as what's socially produced, how is the social production process organised and what happens to the socially produced useful things produced by social labor, how is this socially produced wealth distributed. Under a capitalist mode of commodity production these socially vital decisions regarding social production and distribution are made by private individuals. Thus under a capitalist regime the necessary social process or activity of social production and reproduction is carried out according to the needs of individuals. And their primary need is the need of capital that is the constant augmentation of private wealth.

The current capitalist mode of commodity production is not sustainable because the way that the scientific technological discoveries and innovations are utilised for private gain and not societal gain, not for humans in general much less the biosphere. Scientific and technological development goes hand in hand with sustainability. Each capitalist enterprise strives for efficiency in their own facilities, to stretch the period of usefulness out of constant capital and labor power for example.

But technology in and of itself is separate and apart from sustainability. Advanced technology is not synonymous with unsustainability. The current wreckless and destructive actions of human beings is attributable to the relations of social production that arid in fact retarding humanity's social development.

Malnourished human beings (poverty), the burning of rainforest (loss of habitat), poaching elephants for their ivory tusks (loss of endangered species), ocean acidification and fish stock depletion, poisoning large swaths of ocean floor with crude oil (poisoning ecosystems) or constant wars are not natural or the unintended result of "overpopulation" or "technological civilization" but are the result of a mode of social production that has the production of surplus product i.e., increasing amounts of wealth and profit, as it's overriding objective.

If a competitive capitalist mode of social production, hundreds of years. If an egalitarian mode of production, billions of years.


Sustainability, astrobiology combine to illuminate future of Earth's technological civilization
November 6, 2014

Sustainability and the astrobiological perspective: Framing human futures in a planetary context
Adam Frank, Woodruff Sullivan


We explore how questions related to developing a sustainable human civilization can be cast in terms of astrobiology. In particular we show how ongoing astrobiological studies of the coupled relationship between life, planets and their co-evolution can inform new perspectives and direct new studies in sustainability science. Using the Drake Equation as a vehicle to explore the gamut of astrobiology, we focus on its most import factor for sustainability: the mean lifetime of an ensemble of Species with Energy-Intensive Technology (SWEIT). We cast the problem into the language of dynamical system theory and introduce the concept of a trajectory bundle for SWEIT evolution. We then discuss how astrobiological results usefully inform the creation of dynamical equations, their constraints and initial conditions. Three specific examples of how astrobiological considerations can be folded into discussions of sustainability are discussed: (1) concepts of planetary habitability, (2) mass extinctions and their possible relation to the current, so-called Anthropocene epoch, and (3) today's changes in atmospheric chemistry (and the climate change it entails) in the context of pervious epochs of biosphere-driven atmospheric and climate alteration (i.e. the Great Oxidation Event).

LabourPartyPraxis discussion - subscribe