Exploring Human Potential

Can An Intense Dialogue Between Science and Religion Be Fruitful?

Posted on | October 4, 2023 | No Comments

Mike Magee

By all accounts, they were mutually supportive. He was three years older and the chief scientific adviser to the world’s most powerful religious leader. The Scientific American called him “the greatest scientist of all time,” and not because he won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry a decade earlier for explaining the nuts and bolts of ozone formation. It was his blunt truthfulness and ecological advocacy that earned the organization’s respect.

Paul Crutzan is no longer alive. He died on February 4, 2021 in Mainz, Germany at the age of 87. What attracted the 86 year old “Green Pope” to Paul were three factors that were lauded at his death in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) – “the disruptive advancement of science, the inspiring communication of science, and the responsible operationalization of science.” 

It didn’t hurt that Crutzan was pleasant – or as the The Royal Society in its obituary simply described him: “a warm hearted person and a brilliant scientist.”

In 2015, he was Pope Francis’s right arm when the Catholic leader, who had purposefully chosen the name of the Patron Saint of Ecology as his own, was briefed on the Anthropocene Epoch. Crutzen had christened the label five years earlier to brand a post-human planet that was not faring well.

Crutzen was one of 74 scientists from 27 nations and Taiwan who formed the elite Pontifical Academy of Sciences in 2015. Those selected were a Who’s Who of the world’s scientific All-Stars including 14 Nobel recipients, and notables like Microbiologist Werner Arber, physicist Michael Heller, geneticist Beatrice Mintz, biochemist Maxine Singer, and astronomer Martin Rees.

On May 24, 2015, they delivered their climate conclusions to the Pope, face to face. The Pope heard these words, “We have a collection of experts from around the world who are concerned about climate change. The changes are already happening and getting worse, and the worst consequences will be felt by the world’s 3 billion poor people.”

The next month, with his release of the encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si’, Pope Francis began by embracing science, with these words, “I am well aware that in the areas of politics and philosophy there are those who firmly reject the idea of a Creator, or consider it irrelevant, and consequently dismiss as irrational the rich contribution which religions can make towards an integral ecology and the full development of humanity. Others view religions simply as a subculture to be tolerated. Nonetheless, science and religion, with their distinctive approaches to understanding reality, can enter into an intense dialogue fruitful for both.”

Further along, he celebrates scientific progress with these remarks, “We are the beneficiaries of two centuries of enormous waves of change: steam engines, railways, the telegraph, electricity, automobiles, aeroplanes, chemical industries, modern medicine, information technology and, more recently, the digital revolution, robotics, biotechnologies and nanotechnologies. It is right to rejoice in these advances and to be excited by the immense possibilities which they continue to open up before us”

But then comes the hammer: “Any technical solution which science claims to offer will be powerless to solve the serious problems of our world if humanity loses its compass, if we lose sight of the great motivations which make it possible for us to live in harmony, to make sacrifices and to treat others well.”

Laudato Si and the Pope’s personal intervention in climate deliberations in 2015 are widely credited for the successful December 12, 2015 draft Paris Agreement. The final draft was signed four months later by 126 parties at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP21).

Now eight years have passed, and Pope Francis has decided that “enough is enough.” This week he released a condensed update of the original 180-page Environmental Encyclical, now just a 12-page apostolic exhortation. 

In the piece, titled Laudate Deum, Pope Francis was especially critical of the U.S. and other developed nations, writing, “If we consider that emissions per individual in the United States are about two times greater than those of individuals living in China, and about seven times greater than the average of the poorest countries, we can state that a broad change in the irresponsible lifestyle connected with the Western model would have a significant long-term impact.”

Paul Crutzen’s spirit quite obviously was still stirring in the aging Pontiff’s soul. He raised again the mischief that man had unleashed in triggering the unprecedented ecological Anthropocene Epoch, and suggested worse times lay ahead if humans do not course correct. Specifically he sees humankind, now amplifying our mistakes with new AI technology, in dangerous territory. Specifically, to “increase human power beyond anything imaginable,” he says, is “a failure of conscience and responsibility.”

Those who know Pope Francis well, like fellow Jesuit priest David McCallum SJ say his brand of  direct and confrontational “servant leadership” is just what the world needs at this moment. McCallum, is a professor of business and leadership, and expert on “restorative justice” at the Jesuit’s LeMoyne College in Syracuse, NY. 

But for now he is based at the Vatican building a leadership curriculum that he says “is intended to create space for diverse people to participate in the church, listen to one another’s needs, and then discern a way forward together with the bishops – but not the bishops alone. In church terms, it is a call to synodality. In business terms, it would be like a flattening of the organization with less hierarchy, more teamwork, and more consultation.”

The Green Pope remains controversial, especially among deeply conservative Catholic bishops. But in him, admirers like McCallum see “a servant leader, (who) has to let go of immediate satisfactions, and might even have to embrace failure to accomplish a greater, long-term goal…people at times experience leadership in terms of sacrifice and a certain amount of loneliness. Those are two of aspects about leadership that can be a little bit challenging…This requires living, loving, and leading in a spirit of hope, with a sense of possibility for the future.” 

We all need to hope and pray for his success.


We’re All In The Hot Seat Now.

Posted on | September 27, 2023 | 2 Comments

Mike Magee

It’s not that easy living in the “Big Easy” these days and co-existing with a world dominated by water concerns. When Times-Picayune gossip columnist Betty Guillaud (as the folklore goes) “coined New Orleans’ undisputed nickname” in the 1960’s, it was a lifestyle eponym meant to favorably contrast life in “The Big Easy” with hard living in “The Big Apple.”

That was well before August 23, 2004, when the levies failed to hold back the Gulf waters, and 1,392 souls perished leaving two names to last in infamy – Katrina and Brownie, of “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job” fame.

Now it’s not as if it’s been all smooth sailing for New York City and water. I mean, look at the history. When the British overran the Dutch in 1667, one of the first priorities was to dig the first public well and include a marvelous technologic advancement – a hand pump. That was in front of an old fort at Bowling Green, near Battery Park.

But by the early 1700s, the absence of a sewage system and saltwater intrusion from the Hudson and East Rivers, plus a crushing population explosion, had overwhelmed the clean water supply. The solution – temporary at best – haul in fresh groundwater, in limited quantities, from Brooklyn.

It was hard to tell in that century what was worse, the regular cholera outbreaks that claimed 3,500 lives in one single year, or the catastrophic fires burning without response like the one that destroyed a quarter of the city structures in 1776. So much for Independence Day celebrations.

The city’s response was to form a regulatory and operational agency, the Manhattan Company, under one Aaron Burr, to build out infrastructure with public funds. Excess funds were used to start a bank, whose name may be familiar to you – the Chase Manhattan Bank. As you might imagine, the leaders of the bank were better at making money than providing citizens with clean safe water.

But by 1837, with disease rampant and supplies dwindling, the city went all in on a technologic solution. With the help of 4000 immigrants beginning in 1837, the city built a dam six miles above the link between the Croton and Hudson Rivers, creating a five mile reservoir on 400 acres containing 660 million gallons of water. As the water collected, they also build the 41 mile Old Croton Aqueduct from the reservoir to the Great Lawn in Central Park, gravity driven, falling 1/4 inch every 100 feet. Just five years later, on July 4, 1842, the first drops arrived accompanied by fireworks.

Nowadays, water engineers constantly test and repair a system that now delivers 3.8 billion liters of drinking water to over 9 million New Yorkers each day. They also work to structurally address, in this age of global warming, encroaching salt water intrusion on the city’s shores. But if they are ever tempted to feel sorry for themselves, or utter the words, “It’s not easy,” they need only turn their gazes southwest to “The Big Easy.”

Let’s begin in Plaquemines Parish on the southern edge of the state. An intense and prolonged drought and massive evaporation during a long hot summer have promoted saltwater intrusion of the Mississippi River, and led to drinking water advisories since June forcing the state to provide bottled water to residents of the parish. There’s not much room for error where the Mississippi meets the Gulf. Chronic dredging of the river has left the mouth below sea level. Add to this that the river’s flow is down to 130,000 cubic feet per second, close to the lowest flow ever recorded.

The salt water is on the move north, detected now 66 miles upriver. Professor Mark Davis at Tulane’s Center for Environmental Law has been raising the alarm for several months. He says, “The amount of river it takes to push the Gulf of Mexico back and keep economies going needs to be appreciated, not just along the river, but nationally. This river does not have lots of water to share. The power of the river is what keeps salt water out,”

Up a ways, at West Feliciana Parish, a sandbar became so obstructive to the river on July 21 that tugboats have been required to allow barges to negotiate the narrowing pass. The “salt water wedge”, as it is termed, has now led Gov. John Bel Edwards to ask for a federal emergency declaration. The encroaching sea water not only fouls drinking water, but also destroys piping infrastructure due to its corrosive effects, and the raised salinity levels undermine the effectiveness of water treatment plants. It also harms crops and sickens live stock.

The dense “saltwater wedge” travels below fresh water above. This is the basis of the Army Corps of Engineers temporary solution – a strategically placed underwater levee anchored to the rivers bottom to obstruct upward advancing sea water. But the continued drought means the levee will be breached in days, not months. A second temporizer is to add up to 36 million gallons of fresh water a day to water treatment plants to dilute the briny water influx and allow the facilities to work effectively.

Pulitzer Prize winning social philosopher, Philip Kennicott, offers scant reassurance in a comprehensive review of how “the dark future of climate change” has undermined “the dream of air conditioning.” Chuck full of unintended consequences, he disturbingly reminds his readers that “Making internal spaces cooler for humans means making external environments hotter for all living things…”  Drawing on images of Mars colonies that are “dependent on perpetual sources of oxygen and water,” he dares to “remind us of our frailty…as the danger zone for excess heat creeps into once clement zones, (and) the air conditioner joins the furnace as an essential system for ever more people.”

Kennicott’s closing line uncomfortably mirrors those of the Army Corps of Engineers and Governor John Bel Edwards. And whether you’re dealing with “saltwater wedges” in “The Big Easy”, or Canadian fire-driven, orange skies in “The Big Apple,” citizens everywhere best heed his warning that we’re in hot water now.

He writes, “We want to live beyond or without weather, because the weather we made is killing us.”

Super-Human Poison Ivy Is On The Move. Why?

Posted on | September 19, 2023 | Comments Off on Super-Human Poison Ivy Is On The Move. Why?

Mike Magee

Connecticut loves its’ trees. And no town in Connecticut loves its’ trees more than West Hartford, CT. The town’s borders include an elaborate interconnected reservoir system that does double duty as a focal point for a wide range of nature paths for walkers, runners and cyclists.

While walking one path yesterday, I came across the tree above with a massive upward advancing vine. My “PictureThis” app took no time to identify the plant. To my surprise, it was Toxicodendron radicans, known commonly as Poison Ivy.

The description didn’t pull punches. It read, “In pop culture, poison ivy is a symbol of an obnoxious weed because, despite its unthreatening looks, it gives a highly unpleasant contact rash to the unfortunate person who touches it.”

Its’ pain and itch inducing chemical oil covers every inch of the plant, and is toxic to 80% of humans. It was discovered by Japanese chemist Rikō Majima in the lacquer tree and named urushiol (Japanese for lacquer) in 1922. It is a derivative of catechol, an organic compound with the molecular formula  CHO.

But the giant vine this week was nothing like the creeping little three leaf plant most children have been taught to avoid. This was a giant – a very different aggressor worth investigating. Its leaves were impossibly large and its vine straight and thick, and its vitality unhampered by a need to support elaborate roots or bark.

Others have noticed it too including “Pesky Pete” who has made a good living removing the invader from properties in Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire. And recently business has been booming. This is because the plant, which up to this year has never appeared in the region before May 10th, suddenly appeared this year on April 23rd.

This was no surprise to Bill Schlesinger, resident of Maine and Durham, NC.  Officially, he is “William H. Schlesinger … one of the nation’s leading ecologists and earth scientists …a member of the National Academy of Sciences, …has served as dean of the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke…” 

Turns out Bill was in the lead on a six year project termed the “Duke University Free-Air CO2 Enrichment Experiment” between 2000 and 2006 when the results were published.  They had been following tree declines in the Duke Forest where predatory vines had played a major role. They decided to encircle and isolate six giant forest plots and pump them full of CO2, and then catalogue the effects. 

Their 2006 publication revealed that:

  1. CO2 enrichment increased T. radicans photosynthesis by 77% 
  2. Increased the efficiency of plant water usage by 51%
  3. Stimulated the growth of poison ivy during the five growing seasons ambient plants
  4. Annual growth increase of 149% in elevated CO2 compared to ambient plants. 
  5. Notably larger than the 31% average increase in biomass observed for woody plants

Poison Ivy was the fastest grower of them all in the experimental CO2 forests. Bill’s collaborator,  Jacqueline E. Mohan, carried the work further as head of the Harvard Forest project in Massachusetts. They reported out results, not only on CO2  soil, but also warmed soil. They heated the upper layer of soil by 9 degrees. Her response to the findings was surprisingly down-to-earth. She said, “My heavens to Betsy, it’s taking off. Poison ivy takes off more than any tree species, more than any shrub species.”

Mohan and coworkers made it clear at the time that this was not great news for 8 out of 10 Americans who are sensitive to poison ivy. Not only did global warming and carbon footprints accelerate growth in the plant by 70% in its leaf size and biomass, but additional experiments revealed that these environmental enablers increased the amount of urushiol in the plant

As Duke was building those first towers to isolate their experimental forests in 2000, the International Geosphere-Biosphere Program was holding its annual meeting in Mexico.  A Working Group subsequently focused on defining planetary boundaries (PB) that would assure both planetary and human health.

Nine years later, the group published  “A Safe Operating Space For Humanity” in Nature. In it they proposed nine “planetary boundaries” to gauge “the continued development of human societies and the maintenance of the Earth system(ES) in a resilient and accommodating state.” In their view, measuring and ongoing monitoring of these boundaries would provide “a science-based analysis of the risk of human perturbations” that might “destabilize the ES on a planetary scale.” The work was updated in 2015.

The first Planetary Boundary listed was Global Warming with two measures, atmospheric CO2 and air, water, and soil temperature. As for human perturbation, as the picture above well illustrates, you can add super-human poison ivy to the growing list of unintended consequences.

Aerobiology: The Air Is Alive – And Not In A Good Way!

Posted on | September 12, 2023 | 6 Comments

Mike Magee

When Paul Crutzen and his band of happy meteorologic warriors launched the Anthropocene Epoch in 2000, their guiding star was to create a “safe operating space” for humans on the planet Earth. In service of this goal, they identified nine “planetary boundaries” (measures of planetary health) as planning guideposts.

Number one, familiar to all, was Climate Change. It’s measure was atmospheric CO2 levels less than 350 ppm (parts per million).  How are we doing on that? Well, by any measure, not too well. This week’s headlines tell us that 2023 has had more weather related death and destruction than ever before, and the CO2 measure for 2023 now sits at 416.5 ppm.

Of course, this is not news. In fact, you’d have to be living under a rock to be unaware of the causal relationship between burning fossil fuels, rising atmospheric CO2 and weather related catastrophic wind, rain, and flooding from Libya to Leominster, MA. But what may catch many off guard is the news of what is traveling on the wings of particulate matter (including rain drops) fanned by these agitated atmospheric currents.

Welcome to the world of Aerobiology – the “study of aerosols with a biological origin.” Crutzen’s team listed it by another term – “Atmospheric Aerosol Loading” – as the #9 Planetary Boundary (PB) in 2015. A few weeks ago, The Lancet shined an unwelcome light on the issue with data suggesting that wild winds laden with microbes hitching on particulate matter appear to play a role in spreading drug resistant bacteria and fungi around the globe.

The Institute of Environmental Geosciences, Grenoble Alpes University, published a comprehensive review of PB #9 in 2020 titled “Microbial Ecology of the Planetary Boundary Layer.” What were their findings?

A Definition: “Aerobiology is a growing research area that covers the study of aerosols of a biological origin (i.e., bioaerosols) suspended in the atmosphere, from the air that directly surrounds us (both indoors and outdoors) to space by going through the different atmospheric layers.”

An Unhealthy Brew: “Bioaerosols include plant debris, pollen, microorganisms (bacteria, fungi, viruses, protozoans, etc.) as well as biological secretions which are mainly emitted by natural (forests, oceans, deserts, etc.) and urbanized Earth surfaces (agricultural fields, waste water treatment plants, cities, etc.) at different emission rates.”

Disease Focus: “Airborne microorganisms, especially bacteria, archaea, and fungi, are of particular interest as they represent living and potentially metabolically active cells light enough to be lifted high in the atmosphere by upward airflow.”

High Flyers: “During extreme meteorological events such as volcano eruptions and dust storms, sand-dust associated microorganisms can be ejected tens of kilometers high in the atmosphere before landing back on the Earth’s surface thousands of kilometers away. Microorganisms from the Bacillus and Micrococcus genera are commonly recovered from the stratosphere.”

Low Flyers: Particulate matter also travels in the lowest atmospheric layer – the troposphere. In addition to transporting microbes, troposphere particulates play a role in “meteorologic processes such as cloud formation and precipitation, atmospheric chemistry, and air quality.”

Growing Concern: “The capacity of microorganisms to be transported through the air has raised concern about the role airborne microorganisms might play in public health with the potential dissemination of plant and human pathogens as well as allergens.”

Does What Goes Up Come Down?: “The vertical gradient in microbial concentration suggests that microbial cell fluxes might be upward in the atmosphere.” (moving upward into the stratosphere). 

But not in weather like this: “Exceptions to the rule might occur during extreme meteorological events such as volcano eruptions, hurricanes, and sand dust storms. In the latter case, microorganisms associated to large particulate matter, such as macroscopic sand dust, could be lifted high in the troposphere, travel along global air masses over thousands of kilometers then settle back to the Earth’s surface due to gravity, precipitation, and atmospheric circulation.”

The air is alive: “Airborne microbial cells exist mainly as aggregates or attached to particulate matter (size range from less than one nanometer up to hundreds of micrometers like sand dust), while airborne fungi exist mainly as single spores. Microbial cells entering freely in the atmosphere can attach to existing particulate matter or other microbial cells. Conversely, particle-attached microbial cells can detach from their support in the air.”

Size matters: “15% of cultivable airborne bacterial cells were on particles <2.1 µm (size) and 25% on particles >7.2 µm, and that cultivable airborne fungal spores and cells were mainly distributed on particles between 1 and 3.2 µm (median-based values) on average in outdoor air.”

Travel time: “Within the planetary boundary layer, airborne microorganisms might have a residence time of a few days before returning to the Earth’s surface due to gravity or precipitation (model assuming that microbial cells behave like non biological aerosols). In the free troposphere, their residence time might be several days during which they might be transported over long distances.”

The Planetary Playing Field For Humanity: Surviving Tomorrow’s “Hongerwinter”.

Posted on | September 4, 2023 | 2 Comments

Mike Magee

When it comes to our earthly survival as a human species, words are often under-powered and off-the-mark. Clearer concepts, definitions and terms are required for clarity. Here are five terms that are useful and worth remembering:

  1. Planetary Boundaries
  2. Earth Systems
  3. Human Perturbations
  4. Planetary Scale Destabilization
  5. Holocene Epoch vs. Anthropocene Epoch 

These terms all tie back to a single source – a child of World War II, only seven when his home in Amsterdam was overrun by Nazis. His father was a waiter, his mother a cook in a local hospital. He’d later recall with a shudder the Fall of 1944, the beginning of “hongerwinter” (winter of  famine) which he blamed for stunting his growth and contributing to his short stature. The event also exposed him to death for the first time, losing several classmates to starvation and frozen temperatures that winter.

There were no early signs of brilliance. He attended a technical school and prepared for a life in construction. He met and married a Finnish girl, Terttu when he was 25, and they settled in a small town 200 km north of Stockholm. It was his wife who recognized his potential first, pointing him toward a newspaper ad for a job as a programmer at the Stockholm University’s Meterorologic Institute (MISU). No matter that he had no experience in data analytics. They moved to Stockholm. He worked and they both took college courses. By age 30, with sponsorship from the world’s expert on acid rain and first chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (Bert Bolin), he received a master’s degree in meteorology. Five years later, after focusing on stratospheric chemistry, he earned his doctorate.

When he died at 87, with Terttu, two daughters and three grandchildren at his side, Paul Crutzen was 87 years old.  A tribute in Scientific American at the time stated “Paul Crutzen [may have been] the greatest scientist of all time.” This was not because he had been granted the 1995 Nobel Prize in Chemistry (without ever having taken a chemistry course) for discovering how ozone was formed in the stratosphere; or for his coining the term “Nuclear Winter” to describe the planetary devastation that would follow a nuclear attack in 1984; or for being the major adviser on global warming to Pope Francis in preparing his encyclical Laudato Si’/”On Care For Our Common Home” prior to the Paris Climate Accords in 2015.

No, what Crutzen is especially remembered for is a momentary lapse in his usually pleasant and calm demeanor while serving on a panel of The International Geosphere–Biosphere Programme (IGBP) for the the International Council for Science (ICSU) at its May, 2000 meeting in Cuernavaca, Mexico. The speaker at the mic, in outlining the current challenge of maintaining the Earth’s life support systems referred once too often to the Holocene Epoch, that is the period of roughly the last 11,700 years of our planet’s existence when humans were able to survive, thrive and develop in general harmony with their host planet. In a moment of spontaneous scientific combustion, Dr. Crutzen muttered in a muted but still audible whisper, “Let’s stop it. We are no longer in the Holocene. We are in the Anthropocene.”

A hushed silence fell over the crowd as the world’s top Earth scientists were forced to acknowledge an uncomfortable truth – man was destroying the planet. Summarized in a report a few days later, Crutzen wrote, “Considering these and many other major and still growing impacts of human activities on earth and atmosphere…it seems to us more than appropriate to emphasize the central role of mankind in geology and ecology by proposing to use the term ‘anthropocene’ for the current geological epoch.”

For scientists in the field, this was a call to action. As the American Meteorological Society later recounted, “From the perspective of Earth system science, many well-respected scientists in that field are convinced that the transformation from the Holocene to the Anthropocene, a term clearly defined by Crutzen in a moment of exasperation, is truly a once-in-a-lifetime event.”

Nine years later, Crutzen’s colleagues from Stockhom University, Will Steffen and Johan Rockstrom, published a paper on “the environmental limits within which humanity can safely operate.” In that paper, “A Safe Operating Space For Humanity” published in Nature, they proposed nine “planetary boundaries” to gauge “the continued development of human societies and the maintenance of the Earth system(ES) in a resilient and accommodating state.” In there view, measuring and ongoing monitoring of these boundaries would provide “a science-based analysis of the risk of human perturbations” that might “destabilize the ES on a planetary scale.”

But in the world of international geoscience, laying out human responsibility for planetary stress is one thing, but declaring an end to the 11,700 year Holocene Epoch was quite another. In effect, Crutzen was provoking a geological revolution, and that is why a hush fell over the crowd that day.

But coming out of the original 2000 Mexico meeting of the International Geosphere-Biospere Program, participants were energized and decided to form a 40 member global Anthropocene Working Group (AWG). One arm focused on defining planetary boundaries (PB), and specific data measures for each, while another would explore sites that might provide geologic proof in soil samples of the irreversible impact of humans on their planet, and support the now widely held belief that a new geologic epic had indeed been launched 

After extensive analysis, a new paradigm with 9 planetary boundaries was published in 2009 and reviewed in 2015 and included “a science-based analysis of the risk that human perturbations will destabilize Earth state at a planetary scale.” The list with associated measures for six of the nine measures included:

  1. Climate Change (CO2 concentration in the atmosphere < 350 ppm);
  2. Ocean Acidification (Seawater Aragonite levels – crystal calcium carbonate ≥ 80% of pre-industrial levels).
  3. Stratospheric Ozone (less than 5% reduction in total atmospheric O3 from a pre-industrial level).
  4. Nitrogen/Phosphorous Cycle  (artificial eutrophication of air, soil, water)
  5. Global Freshwater supply (< 4000 km3/yr of consumptive use of runoff resources).
  6. Land System use(< 15% of the ice-free land surface under cropland).
  7. Biosphere Integrity (an annual rate of loss of biological diversity of < 10 extinctions per million species).
  8. Novel Chemicals (emissions of toxic compounds such as synthetic organic pollutants and radioactive materials, but also genetically modified organisms, nanomaterials, and micro-plastics).
  9. Atmospheric Aerosols (natural and manmade dust deposited in the lower atmosphere).

The control measures track shifts from Holocene conditions that are human mitigated. For example, CO2 concentrations during Holocene fluctuated around 280 ppm. Since 1950, they have risen to exceed 350 ppm, a level that geologic studies demonstrate last existed on our planet 300,000 years ago. In 2022, the level hit a new record of 417 ppm

The Planetary Boundary (PB) framework was designed to promote maintenance of a “desired Holocene state” that has served human development well. A “safe operating space” for human society development on Earth is not a luxury. By 2015, it was determined that four of the planetary boundaries had already been breached including climate change, biosphere integrity (diversity), biogeochemical flows ( nitrogen and phosphorus cycles), and land-system change. Seven years later, in 2022, a 5th boundary (introduction of novel entities – formerly “chemical pollution”) was crossed.

At the same time, the 40 member Anthropocene Working Group labored on in search of a single site that might yield a core geologic bore sample that proved that man in real time had shifted Earth’s basic geology. In 2023, Colin Waters, the AWG’s chair reported “We see a clear, abrupt, and global transition from the previous Earth epoch to something new”, and announced the six finalists –  “a peat bog in Poland’s Sudeten Mountains;  Searsville Lake, in California; Crawford Lake, in Ontario; a seafloor in the Baltic Sea;  a bay in Japan;  a water-filled volcanic crater in China; an ice core drilled from the Antarctic Peninsula;  and two coral reefs, in Australia and the Gulf of Mexico.”

On July 11, 2023, Canadian Geographic proudly broadcast, “The Anthropocene is here — and tiny Crawford Lake has been chosen as the global ground zero.” As the article stated “Its nomination still needs to be voted on by three higher bodies of geologists over the coming year, but if they, too, approve the candidacy, Crawford Lake will be endowed with the ‘golden spike,’ a literal brass marker that signifies that the planet shifted, in about 1950, from one unit of geological time to the next.”

Why Crawford Lake? Turns out this “humble little lake” has a very rare geochemical mix including a depth to surface area mix that prevents top and bottom layer mixing, and prominent oxygen levels within its bottom layer. The fact that it is a “meromictic” lake (meaning its top and bottom layers never mix) makes it unique in all of North America. Over the years, as material settled to the lake bottom it was sealed by distinct couplets of calcite deposits that market summer and winter. This allowed core samples to be accurately dated. For example, in 1970, corn pollen found in one of the layers was able to be accurately dated by stratigraphers to the Middle Ages.

What they are looking for in the soil and stone are concrete markers? According to published reports, dry ice frozen core samples were able to be dated back over 1000 years. More relevant to the Anthropocene, “By 1950 or so, a rapid, dramatic increase of carbon-based particles shows up from industrial processes, including coal-fired steel-making in a nearby Hamilton foundry, as well as a rapid rise in plutonium from nuclear testing, a change in nitrogen isotopes from fertilizer use, and the chemical fallout from acid rain.” 

These, and other findings, allowed 75 local scientists to champion Crawford Lakes candidacy with Francine McCarthy, a geologist at Brock University in the lead. She stated, “If people see that stratigraphers, a conservative bunch of geologists, are willing to put a line on the timescale and call it by the name that recognizes — that admits — the role of humans as a causal agency, then that’s mammoth.”

Were Paul Crutzen alive, he would surely agree that the announcement of the 39th Epoch in our 4.6 billion year planetary history was not a call for celebration, but rather a call to action. The challenge for human and planetary survival is now scientifically linked, and no less urgent than was Paul’s own childhood survival in 1944 if we are to avoid a  “hongerwinter” of our own.


Can We Make Sense Of American Health Care? And How Would We Do That?

Posted on | August 29, 2023 | 6 Comments

Mike Magee

This past week my wife and I were at a family event to celebrate a 70th birthday. Our extended family has more than a few doctors. One who had read CODE BLUE and had a strong interest in health policy asked if I felt I (and others) were too hard on doctors. My response was yes, but that it was intentional and came with the territory. Combining scientific, sometimes life and death expertise, with high-touch compassion, understanding and partnership has always been a “big ask,” but that was what we and others had signed up for as “health professionals.”

But can a health professional be “professional”  in a fundamentally misaligned health system? And,if not, does a health professional have a responsibility to engage in an effort to reform and transform the system to behave professionally?

Professionals are generally members of a vocation with special training, highly educated, enjoy special trust and work autonomy, abide by strict moral and ethical obligations, and in return are generally self-regulating. Their academic training is expected to reliably provide those they serve with special skills, judgement, and services. When they deliver, society responds with confidence and trust and durable long-term relationships.

My inquiring family member and many of his contemporaries have come to believe that this is nigh impossible under the current heavily corporatized, profit driven, inequitable, under-insured, and widely inaccessible system. They have begun to voice that being an ethical and competent professional in an unprofessional system is not possible, and not their fault.

When system redesign guru, W. Edward Deming, the father of Quality Control Management, and the man credited with assisting the Japanese in transforming their auto industry, he had this to say in 1993 about transformation: “The prevailing style of management must undergo transformation. A system cannot understand itself. The transformation requires a view from outside…The individual, once transformed, will: set an example; be a good listener, but will not compromise; continually teach other people; and help people to pull away from their current practices and beliefs and move into the new philosophy without a feeling of guilt about the past.”

Six years later Don Berwick MD, Emeritus President of the Institute For Healthcare Improvement and now Harvard Health Policy professor, delivered a classic speech, “Escape Fire: Lessons for the Future of Health Care”,  sponsored by the Commonwealth Foundation. In it Don recounted the events surrounding the tragic fire at Mann Gulch, Montana which claimed the lives of 13 “smokejumpers” on August 5, 1949. He reviewed the lessons learned in a system analysis by Professor Karl E. Weich of the University of Michigan, in his paper titled,“The Collapse of Sensemaking in Organizations: The Mann Gulch Disaster.”

Berwick explained, “Sensemaking is the process through which the fluid, multilayered world is given order, within which people can orient themselves, find purpose, and take effective action. Weick is a postmodern thinker. He believes that there is little or no preexisting sense of organization in the world—that is, no order that comes before the definition of order. Organizations don’t discover sense, they create it…In groups of interdependent people, organizations create sense out of possible chaos. Organizations unravel when sensemaking collapses, when they can no longer supply meaning, when they cling to interpretations that no longer work.”

Now roughly a quarter century ago, Berwick concluded, “I love medicine. I love the purpose of our work. But we are unraveling, I think… I love the purpose of our work. But we are unraveling, I think. Sense is collapsing… We need to face reality…Why did it take the Mann Gulch crew so long to realize they were in trouble? The soundest explanation is not that the threat was too small to see; it is that it was too big. Some problems are too overwhelming to name. I now think that that is where we have come in health care; I have been radicalized.”

Clearly the profit-driven visions we are currently using are under-powered, and we seem to be heading in the wrong direction with information technology and AI which are fully prepared to make permanent a system that is moving patients to despair and doctors to early retirement. What are the questions my family member and his health policy colleagues should be asking now?

1. How do we make America and all Americans healthy?

2. What will be our national health care plan, and who will be in charge?

3. How do we balance national and state responsibilities?

4. How do we maintain balanced humanistic and scientific care, and preserve patient and health professional autonomy over complex life and death decision making?

5. How do we advance healthy behaviors while providing high touch access to health professionals for acute and moderate issues?

6. How do we use information technology and AI to expand human and social, rather than just financial, capital?

7. How do we prioritize investment in human contact between patients and health professionals over wealth enhancement and brick and mortar expansions.

8. How do we put a smile (independent of money) back on the faces of doctors, nurses and patients.

9. How do we separate hospital and physician profit driven research from direct patient care?

10. How do we move to geographic annual budgeting of comprehensive care and eliminate individual billing/reimbursement operations?

The 1 Question Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum Should Ask Tonight.

Posted on | August 23, 2023 | Comments Off on The 1 Question Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum Should Ask Tonight.

Mike Magee

This evening, the Republican Party will sponsor their first Primary Debate. It will be historic in featuring the absence of their lead contender for the 2024 Presidential campaign, a candidate who appears committed to the destruction of his own political party

Events over the past year clearly have confirmed that we are a “work in progress” even as we stubbornly affirm our good intentions to create a society committed to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

With the Dobbs’ decision, our Supreme Court has unleashed long-abandoned regressive state laws designed to reinforce selective patriarchy and undermine the stability and confidence of America’s women and families. As a result, our nation’s health professionals, and the patients they care for, potentially find themselves “on the wrong side of the law.”

Three months ago, our former President decided to deliver a message to North Carolina Republican supporters claiming that he was engaged in the “final battle” with “corrupt” forces, most especially the “Deep State” that was “out to get him.” This is the same state that politically birthed Mark Meadows, former Congressman from the 11th District of North Carolina, a position he resigned to become Trump’s Chief of Staff on March 21, 2020. That ultimately landed him a position on the roster of 19 individuals indicted by District Attorney Fani Willis on RICO charges for conspiracy and racketeering.

Trump and Meadow’s actions stand in stark contrast to the ethics and values I experienced in the UNC surgery program in Chapel Hill, NC, from 1973 to 1978.  They also do not reflect the standards advanced in North Carolina’s K-12 lesson plan, titled “The Rule of Law,” which begins with the Teddy Roosevelt quote, “No man is above the law, and no man is below it” from his 1903 State of the Union address.

The plan affirms that law is fundamental to societal health stating:

“The rule of law is basically an agreement that everyone will play by the rules. This allows us to enjoy a more peaceful and safe existence. The rule of law also ensures the protection of certain rights for each of us. Ideally, the rule of law applies equally to everyone, meaning you are treated fairly and equally, under the same set of rules, regardless of who you are.”

The curricular plan asks a question I’d love to hear FOX news co-moderators Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum, ask this evening.

“How do laws affect each of us, and what functions do laws serve in our society?

According to the NC curricular plan, here are the answers the K-12 teachers (and tonight’s FOX moderators) should be looking for. 

1.“Laws serve as standards of conduct…

2. Laws maintain order, ensure predictability, and provide security. 

3. Many laws in America grant and protect particular individual rights and freedoms, ensure equality, and advocate for the common good.

4. Laws guarantee certain benefits to citizens (e.g., schools, health services, etc.)

5. Laws assign responsibilities to citizens (e.g., paying taxes.)

6. Laws define what duties the government will perform and can also limit the power of governmental officials.

7. Laws can facilitate different forms of change (e.g., toxic waste disposal, anti-discrimination, prohibition of spousal abuse, etc.)

8. Laws are used to manage different forms of conflict, relying on courts, lawyers, and judges for such.

9. Ideally, laws should be well designed to ensure justice; they should be designed so that the average citizen can interpret, understand, and thus follow them.” 

keep looking »

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