Saturday, March 17, 2012

Catching a Break

For the first time since before my father died nearly 20 years ago, I am contributing to something that I deeply care about, is fully in line with my personal values and skills, and could have a positive influence on the future of many people beyond my direct involvement.

As a systems integration engineer, I will be devising and performing initial tests of the National Science Foundation's National Ecological Observatory Network, working for a non-profit, NEON, set up specifically to design, build, deploy, and manage it. The goal of the network is to monitor the ecosystems in the U.S. over a period of 30 years, enabling scientists to detect and characterize changes in a wide range of variables. Just as large-scale monitoring of weather has enabled a better understanding of climate and the ability to predict how it changes, such monitoring of ecosystems has the potential to do the same regarding the living environment; building the network is a critical step in this direction.

Of course, having knowledge does not automatically ensure that it will be used, or that it will be used to anyone's benefit. In my personal writing, I will continue to address this issue, along with the question of how to maximize the amount and quality of life in the Universe, beginning with increasing the longevity of our species and eliminating its role in the Sixth Great Extinction.

Along those lines, I look forward to studying the upcoming book Merchants of Despair by Robert Zubrin (who I worked with in the Mars Society), which examines the dark, radical side of environmentalism that sees humans as inherently evil, and (apparently from the promos) debunks some basic tenets of environmentalism. I've caught glimpses of the radical side, and am certainly familiar with the judgment of evil – but focused on what we do rather than what we inherently are, and as a consequence of valuing other species in addition to our own. Also, simplified understanding of outdated theories seems to be common to many radicals (as well as people in the general public who follow them), such as opponents of the original version of evolution who have no problem applying the crude analogue of "social Darwinism" to economics and public policy. I am particularly interested in what Zubrin finds wrong – if anything – with contemporary understanding of ecology, economics, and their overlap in ecological economics, along with other disciplines (such as climatology) which all point toward the need to reduce or otherwise radically change our impact on the rest of the biosphere to avoid catastrophe.

Hopefully, as more and better data is gathered, we will all be willing to adjust our views to conform with the reality it describes. I'm honored to be contributing to that.