Friday 29 March 2024

It was an honour to speak at UNAM faculty of Biological Sciences about the fungal dimension in forest biodiversity and conservation.

Monday 4 March 2024

Organic molecules (found in living systems) connect to form rings through their use of carbon atoms as inter-linkers (each C atom makes 4 bonds). Carbon chains that are 5 carbons long link up to form pentagonal structures whereas carbon chains that are 6 carbons long link up to form hexagonal structures, and since glucose is 6 carbons long, this is very common since glucose is made through photosynthesis and so there is lots of it about. Glucose gets used as a chemical feed into other biochemical metabolic transformations - changing the molecular structure in terms of number of carbons and changing the other functional groups bonded to each carbon; creating alcohols, lipids, amino acids, nucleotides, pheromones and hormones. This is where organic chemistry ('organic' meaning 'of life', involving molecules that link carbon, oxygen and hydrogen together) meets biochemistry (the chemistry of biological processes), which adds atoms of elements such as Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Sulphur, Potassium, Sodium and Chlorine. Since carbon forms the basis of chemical energy exchange for life, when animals either eat plants or eat animals that have previously eaten plants, the carbon stores that were initially made in photosynthesis are passed from one species into the other where, depending on the efficiency of digestion, they become integral to the organic chemistry of the cells in the recipient species. Similarly when plants donate some of their glucose to symbiotic mycorrhizal fungi in the soil, the fungi return the favour by donating minerals and water into the plant roots. Through respiration (releaseing energy contained within glucose) and through death and microbial decomposition, carbon dioxide is released back into the atmosphere. In pre industrial carbon cycling, the overall flux of carbon between atmosphere and living organisms was in balance meaning that there was a stable amount of carbon contained in the atmosphere for 100's of millions of years, with equal rates of carbon fixing (via plant photosynthesis) and carbon release via respiration. Since industrialisation began with the ever increasing and relentless burning of fossil fuels, a new loop has been added to our planet's carbon cycle, rapidly releasing geological fossil carbon (which had been removed from the atmosphere indefinitely) into the atmosphere. This has led to a rapid increase in carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, causing an increase in greenhouse gasses, trapping more heat in the atmosphere and warming the planet, causing feedback releasing other more potent greenhouse gasses such as methane from melting permafrost. The long eons of stability in carbon flux, during which life on our planet thrived, has been brought to an untimely end, and we now see a carbon cycle that is out of balance, risking eventual extinction of life. However there is a solution to this problem. The easiest way to re-balance the carbon cycle would be to stop the extraction of and burning of fossil fuels and to simultaneously increase the rate of afforestation, thereby increasing the rate by which photosynthesis removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The easiest way to increase the ammount of land to regrow forests would be to reduce the frequency with which we eat livestock and poultry. This is because most of the land used in rearing livestock and poultry is used to grow the food that these animals eat, and if humans fed themselves instead on a more healthy balance of vegetables, fruit, microbes such as fungi, bacteria and algae, as well as reared insects, the land currently used to provide livestock and poultry feed could be returned to forest. The easiest way to stop burning fossil fuels would be to simply substitute them for the already existing but yet to be produced at scale biologically fermented and digested fuels from microbial decomposition of wastes such as bioethanol, biodiesel, biokerosine, biomethane from agricultural waste, food waste, sewerage and cultivated coastal seaweed feedstocks. Every fossil fuel product has a biological substitute which, when produced at scale, could simply be substituted in the global move away from fossil fuel dependence, towards a sustainable civilisation that returns the carbon cycle into balance once more.

Tuesday 13 February 2024

Development of the philosophy of environmental conscience. A historical approach to a philosophical argument that would enable our species to relate to nature more profoundly and sustainably than it currently does, would stem from a philosophy of ecology (ecosophy), as part of a philosophy of biology (biosophy), and would have historical roots going back to the ancient Greeks Aristotle, Anaximander, and Heraclitus, but possibly even before this to even more ancient Vedic texts which influenced Hindu and Budhist belief systems. After the enlightenment, we could trace such thinking through St Augustine, Francis of Assisi, David Hume and Immanuel Kant. However, ecosophy might also be strengthened by more recent scientifically influenced and ecologically relevent writings such as those by Peter Kropotkin (mutual aid), Karl Marx, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Karl Popper, Bertrand Russel, Alfred North Whitehead, Rene Thom, Jean Paul Sartre and Simone de Bauvoir. More recently Joanna Macey (World as Lover, World as Self), Rachel Carson (Silent Spring), Lynn Margulis (Symbiosis and symbiogenesis), Alan Rayner (Natural Inclusion). Natural Inclusion could be described as a philosophy arising from the scientific discoveries of the ecological behaviours of fungal mycelia in relation with other beings (mycosophy). In addition, cosmological philosophies that strengthen relations between nature and our species come from Alexander von Humboldt (and his French biologist friend and companion Aime Bonpland, whose teacher was the French forerunner of Charles Darwin (Natural Selection), none other than Jean-Baptiste Lamarck (role of environment in evolution and also known to be the founder of the notion of Biology as a science). Also, there is the wonderful Carl Sagan (Cosmos) and the physicist Professor Brian Cox (Wonders of Life) whose works on the physics of energy flows through biological and ecological systems have some philosophical implications relevent to this blog's title.

Monday 29 January 2024

Regarding averting the 6th mass extinction event, which would be the first to be caused by another species, namely us, the work of Edward O. Wilson immediately comes to mind with his recent book entitled Half Earth which was published in 2016. One of the arguments put forward in the book is that if we managed to change our diet by reducing meat intake on a global scale we could potentially liberate enough land from agricultural production for ecosystem restoration to prevent the 6th mass extinction. Another argument put forward in the book is that if everyone put half of whatever land, roof-space, window box, allotment, balcony or garden into use for biodiversity conservation, there would be enough space for wildlife to continue to live alongside our species, in both rural and urban settings. In other words relevant to both sustainable diets and ecosystem services. The philosophical ideas of E.O. Wilson were first put forward in his book Biophilia which argues that all humans have an innate urge to identify with and to ultimately protect nature. He argues that therefore the door (to a sustainable society) is already half open, we only need to fully embrace this at philosophical, political, economic, and at local and international governance levels (e.g. through the education and planning systems). Another ecological philosopher you may be interested in looking up is Alan Rayner, an evolutionary mycological ecologist turned philosopher and (bio)artist. His idea of the philosophy of natural inclusion allows us to re-orientate our identities and relationships around and into symbiosis with nature. He has several books, one called Degrees of Freedom - living in Dynamic Boundaries is published by Imperial College Press. Chapter 8 of this book includes how human society, economically and politically, can learn from mycosophy so that a sustainable society might inevitably emerge. Another book of his is called Nature Scope - which develops Natural Inclusion into a formal body of philosophy and ethics around protecting nature. Another book called The Origins of Life Patterns, published by Springer develops these ideas further. A famous Canadian bio-ethicist is David Suzuki who has written many works including the book Genethics - the ethics of engineering life (relevant to the sustainable diets pathway). A further ethics for nature advocate is Joanna Macey in her many works including her book World As Lover, World as Self, published by Parallax Press, Berkeley, California. Another writer on these themes, particularly ethics regarding biodiversity conservation and agriculture is Vandana Shiva in her many works including the book Staying Alive - women, ecology and development, published by Zed books. There is also Stewart Brand's book Whole Earth Discipline - an eco-pragmatist manifesto, published by Atlantic Press, London. Of course, there is also the wonderful Lynn Margulis with her body of works on the endosymbiont theory, which embraces the symbiotic partnership of species as the main way in which evolution operates. Her works would fit well into thinking about ecosystem services, but could also link to sustainable food production regarding the design of agricultural systems that enhance the co-habitation (symbiosis) of species in benefitial partnerships such as is practiced in Permaculture (the agricultural system that uses ecological design principles to integrate biodiversity and food production). Permaculture uses 3 ethics that feed into its design principles; these being Earth Share, People Care and Fair Share. Lynn Margulis was married briefly to Carl Sagan who wrote the book Cosmos - the story of cosmic evolution, science and civilisation, published by Abacus. In the final chapter, like in the first book I mentioned above by Alan Rayner, he sets out how human society can emerge ethically to embrace a sustainable epoch. Happy reading!

Saturday 21 September 2019

After nearly two decades, thanks to the global youth climate strikes and extinction rebellions, the tide finally turns back towards positive global action for humanity and our planet. Our global civilisation now has a chance to deliver the UN 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

Greta Thunberg and George Monbiot make short film on the climate crisis