How Doctors Think                                             Jerome Groopman        Apr 2008
Plan B 3.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization         Lester R. Brown           Apr 2008
The Spark of Life                              Christopher Wills & Jeffrey Bada    Aug 2008

How Doctors Think     Jerome Groopman                 Apr 2008

Introduction  A young woman is ill, she has stomach problems, and is loosing weight.  However no doctors had been able to determine what is causing her ailments.  Many doctors tend to focus on their own specialties and their own first impressions.  

C1 Flesh-and-Blood Decision-Making  His first days and months as a doctor - a young intern and 30 years later as an educator teaching medical students.  

C2  Lessons from the Heart  A forest ranger has severe chest pain.  However he showed no signs of heart problems.  He went home, but came in the next morning with an acute myocardial infarction.  Why wasn't he diagnosed properly?  There are other examples of failed diagnoses.

C3  Spinning Plates  More problems, emergency room errors and Native American medicine.

C4  Gatekeepers  Childrens medicine, doctors trying to see too many patients and not paying attention to each individual.  Problems of communicating with patients, especially those of slightly different culture or social group.  How to you provide good service when insurance companies and administrators are telling you to speed up?

C5  A New Mother's Challenge  A baby is adopted from Vietnam.  She has medical problems.  The problems with treating diseases that may or may not be related to foreign countries.  Doctors tend to pick on solutions that they have used before.  

C6  The Uncertainty of the Expert  Where do you stick the hyperdermic needle when faced with cardiac tamponade?  And why.  Probably where the first person who did this procedure did it.  Or maybe a medical group took a vote.  The problems with diagnoses made without full information, and who has full information.  The continuation of his diatribe against conformity and orthodoxy.  He doesn't like bayesian analysis.  

C7  Surgery and Satisfaction  The problem with the authors hand and wrist.  He has problems, he got about n different diagnoses and n-1 suggested remedies.

C8  The Eye of the Beholder  The problems of radiology.  How do you use technology to assist in diagnosis.  It can be used or abused.

C9  Marketing, Money, and Medical Decisions  The effect of marketing from drug companies and the profitability of medical procedures.  

C10  In Service of the Soul  A sad story about cancer.  Why is it in the book?  I don't know.

Epilogue: A Patient's Questions  Physicians should always listen carefully to patients complaints.  Making decisions without full information can results in patient deaths.  Ockham's razor can be useful but it should not be relied on.  Sometimes strange things happen.  Often multiple causes or illnesses are involved.  

There is a very good section of notes, 18 pages, and 14 pages of index.

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Plan B 3.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization             Lester R. Brown           Apr 2008

Preface  In Plan B 2.0 the data in ice melting were worrying, now they are scary.  Then there were failing states, now there are more.  Failing states are a sign of a failing civilization.  Two years ago oil was $50 a barrel, in late 2007 it was over $90 a barrel.  In Plan B 2.0 they predicted that grain prices would raise due to distillation.  Now corn prices have doubled.  Grain production is not less than consumption.  There are four overriding goals in Plan B 3.0 - 1) stabilizing climate, 2) stabilizing population, 3) eradicating poverty, and 4) restoring the earth's ecosystems.  

Their organization name is the Earth Policy Institute, 1350 Connecticut Ave. NW, Suite 403, Washington, DC  20036  email:, Web:  

C1  Entering a New World  Ice caps and glaciers all over the world are melting.  Temperature is rising, water tables are falling, population is growing, and states are failing.

A Massive Marker Failure Nicholas Stern, former chief economist at the world bank: there is a massive failure of markets to incorporate the climate change costs, both direct and indirect, of burning fossil fuels, this will be in the trillions of dollars.  For the market to work, these costs must be taken into account, just as labor and equipment costs are used.  According to a study by the International Center for Technology Assessment the costs for climate change, tax subsidies, military costs of protecting access in the Middle East, and the health care costs of respiratory illnesses for a gallon of gasoline are about $12 per gallon.  Gas should cost $15 per gallon if we paid all the costs.  Another example is the flooding in the Yangtze River basin in 1998.  Logging allowed floods which damaged rice crops causing damage of over $30 billion, much more than the value of the timber.  

Environment and Civilization  A review of the lessons pointed out in Jared Diamond's book Collapse.  Brown extends this by pointing our several areas in the present world where we are putting extreme pressure on ecosystems.  Some of his examples are tropical rain forests and ocean fisheries.  

China: Why the Existing Economic Model Will Fail  For many years the United States consumed more of the earth's resources than any other country.  This is no longer true, China has passed the US in most categories.  America still leads in oil consumption but if present trends continue China will need 98 million barrels of oil a day by 2030.  However the world is now producing 85 million barrels of oil per day and we may have passed the peak.  Something will have to give.

Mounting Stresses, Failing States  States fail when national governments lose control of part or all of their territory and can no longer ensure the personal security of their people.  At this point law and order begin to disintegrate.  They often degenerate into civil war.  In the past governments have been concerned by the concentration of too much power in a single state, now they are concerned with not enough centralized power.  The number of failing states by one measure increased from 7 in 2004 to 9 in 2005 and then to 12 in 2006.  These states tend to be infectious - their problems spread into neighboring states.

A Civilizational Tipping Point  In the past, when one civilization fail to take into account its overuse of specific natural resources that civilization failed, but others were not seriously effected.  We no longer have that luxury, we are all interconnected.  For a while we can make up for disasters in one area by international aid, but we are running out of our ability to continue this.  Soon we must all solve our problems or we shall all fail together.

Plan B--A Plan of Hope  Brown believes that we still have time before "The Big One".  There are efforts being made, successful efforts.  Can these work?  Will they be enough?  He thinks they might but we will all have to work on it.

Section I.  A Civilization in Trouble  
C2  Deteriorating Oil and Food Security
 The twentieth century was the oil century, in 1900 the world produced 150 million barrels of oil, in 2000 it produced 28 billion barrels of oil.  In 2006 we pumped 31 billion barrels of oil but discovered less than 9 billion more barrels of new oil.  We are running out of oil.  The price has been going up dramatically and it will continue.  

The Coming Decline of Oil  The price of oil is rising dramatically.  Over $50 a barrel in late 2004, over $100 a barrel in late 2007, in May 2008 over $120 a barrel.  Another way of calculating the decline of oil.  In 1956 M. King Hubbert, a geologist, noted that oil discovery in the US peaked in 1930.  He calculated that production would peak in 1970.  The book goes on to discuss many of the major oil fields in the world and discusses their discovery and peak or predicted peak production.  According to several estimates peak world production occurred in 2006.  Oil prices are discussed as well as "depletion psychology" where oil producing countries and companies realize that their supplies are limited and start taking steps to stretch out their remaining reserves.

The Oil Intensity of Food  As farming moved from draft animals to tractors the demand for fuel expanded.  As oil becomes more expensive the use of oil is reducing.  In 1973 a ton of grain production required 33 gallons, by 2005 it was down to 12 gallons.  However fertilization, irrigation, transportation, processing, packaging, marketing, and food preparation all add to the fuel cost of food.  

The Changing Food Prospect Before about 1950 expanding food production meant more land being used.  From 1950 to 1990 expanding food production involved adding science to food production.  Since 1990 much of the increase has been the addition of new crops, primarily soybeans.  Recently the production of grain has shown a per-capita decline.  With the reduction of irrigation water supplies and global warming this trend will be increasing.  

Cars and People Compete for Crops  Crop based ethanol began in the US in 1978.  It wasn't until 2005 with $60 per barrel oil and $3 per gallon gasoline that it became really profitable.  After a few years as a novelty, and then as separate businesses, the fuel and grain industry are combining and the price of both is rising.  This is now causing serious food shortages.  Other more expensive options are being explored.  Switchgrass and other cellulosic materials can be used to produce alcohol.  Jatropha is a low growing shrub that requires little fertilizer or water can produce diesel fuel for $43 per barrel.  (Other bioengineered plants may be developed that can produce diesel fuels.)

The World Beyond Peak Oil  There are many official projections of more than 120 million barrels of oil per day consumption by 2030.  These completely ignore the amount of production possible.  Most national and industrial planning simply doesn't extend beyond the naive assumption that things will continue as they have during the past few years.  Much of are society is based on these assumptions, they are simply not going to happen.  

Food Insecurity and Failing States  World hunger had been declining between 1950 and 2000 but that trend has turned around.  We may not have reached a tipping point yet but we have certainly reached a turning point.  The world simply cannot produce enough food for all of the people.  This is only obvious in isolated areas at present but the problem is getting worsel

C3  Rising Temperatures and Rising Seas  Ten years ago most people discussed climate change in the future tense, today it is discussed in the present tense.  The earth is getting warmer, this causes a lot of problems.  Glaciers are melting and these provide water for grain, ice sheets are melting and this raises the level of the oceans.  Higher temperatures evaporate water which causes decreased crop production, heat waves kill people.  Higher temperatures increase the violence of storms, more intense storms cause more damage which costs insurance companies more money, insurance rates are raised.  

Rising Temperature and Its Effects  The earth's temperature is rising, 1°F since 1970.  Direct measurements of the earth's temperature started in 1880, the 23 warmest years have occurred since 1980,  the 7 warmest years have occurred in the last 9 years, and 4 of these saw crops wither in record temperatures.  CO2 concentration started around 277 ppm and were 384 in 2007.  Areas experiencing drought expanded from 15% in the 1970's to 30% in 2002.  Ecosystems are changing and we do not know the full extent of what this implies.

The Crop Yield Effect  Agriculture has been shaped by a climate that has remained virtually constant for 11,000 years.  For many temperate climate plants (Ohio) photosynthetic activity raises until the temperature hits 68°F (20°C), then it plateaus until 95°F (35°C), and then declines until 104°F (40°C) where photosynthesis ceases entirely.  In the field, where temperatures vary, an average temperature rise of 1°C typically causes a minor reduction of perhaps 10% in yields where a 2°C rise in temperature can cause a decline in yields of 37% to 58%.  

Reservoirs in the Sky  Snow and glaciers in mountains store water to irrigate the planes in the summer.  The threat is most serious in Asia where 1.3 billion people get their water supply from these waters.  The Gangotri Glacier which supplies water to the Ganges supplies water to 407 million.  the Yellow supplies water to 147 billion, the Yangtze supplies water to 369 million.  The Indus in India and Pakistan supplies water to 178 million and the Brahmaputra and the Mekong are also in danger of drying up during the summer.  Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya in Africa are rapidly loosing their glaciers.  Glaciers in the Andes and snowfields in the Rockies and Sierra Nevada are also shrinking.  

Melting Ice and Rising Seas  The icecaps of Antarctica and Greenland have been studied less than any other area but we now know that the Arctic regions are warming faster than anywhere else on earth.  The primary fear here is that ice dams or plugs which keep the ice flowing slowly towards the sea will break and the glaciers will flow more rapidly.  This in turn would raise the ocean level, which would float the glaciers which will enable them to flow more rapidly into the sea again raising the sea level.  The total amount of sea level rise is simply unknown, as well as the time period.  A first guess, possibly conservative, is approximately 10 meters (33 ft) which would flood the living area of 634 million people.  Where would these go to live and get food when their farms are covered in water and the most productive farming areas are facing drought?

More-Destructive Storms  Tropical storms are caused by solar radiation warming tropical waters.  When the ocean water is already warmer than normal the storms form faster and more often.  These storms are causing increasing amounts of damage.  Probably the best measure of this is the rapid rise in insurance rates where they are offered at all.  Some areas simply cannot be insured.

Cutting Carbon 80 Percent by 2020  In 2004 Pacala and Socolow wrote a paper where they identified a stabilization wedge which consists of a billion metric tons of CO2 per year.  They describe 15 ways using proven technologies that could remove a stabilization wedge of CO2 per year.  This could go a long ways toward solving our increase in CO2 content in the atmosphere.  Brown does not think that this will be enough.  Due to the melting of ice sheets, melting of permafrost, and rising sea levels, he feels that our goal must be to contain CO2 concentrations to less than 400 PPM.  This will take much more than the stabilization wedges of Pacala and Socolow.  

C4  Emerging Water Storages  Lake Chad in Africa has shrunk by 96% in 40 years, other lakes have shrunk but not as much.  Many major rivers are drying up in the summer.  The availability of fresh water is decreasing rapidly.

Water Tables Falling The water level in many aquifers are being pumped down.  Some, like the shallow aquifer under the North China Plain and under India are being replenished.  Others like the US Ogallala, the deep aquifer under the North China Plain, and the Saudi aquifer are not being replenished.  Their water is millions of years old, a long time to wait for your next drink.  He takes a quick verbal tour of the world, describing the problems with falling water tables in many countries.
Rivers Running Dry  Water tables are hidden, most people don't know about them until the pump runs dry.  Rivers are visible.  Some of the important rivers that often run dry are the Colorado, the Yellow, the Nile, the Indus, and the Ganges.  Many smaller rivers have disappeared entirely.  Dams reduce water through evaporation and irrigation.  Again, a quick tour of many of the worlds rivers.
Lakes Disappearing  Some of the lakes that are disappearing are Lake Chad, the Aral Sea, the See of Galilee and the Dead Sea.  More than 2,000 lakes have dried up in China's Qinhai Province.  Surrounding Bejing, in Hebei Province, 969 of 1052 lakes have dried up.  These are only the worst areas.

Farmers Losing to Cities  When farmers and cities compete for water, farmers loose.  This is hitting the South Western US very hard.  

Scarcity Crossing National Borders  This is a problem primarily with smaller countries.  The same problem as above except that international politics gets mixed in.  So far the wars have been primarily economic, that may not hold in the future.  

Water Scarcity Yields Political Stresses  To date the violence associated with water shortages have been primarily tribal in nature.  Again, this may not hold.

C5  Natural Systems Under Stress  in 1938 Walter Lowdermilk an official in the Soil Conservation Service of the USDA toured many countries looking at soil conservation practices.  His report was one of the first to look at soil erosion and livability. Without soil most life cannot exist.

Shrinking Forests: The Many Costs  An itemization of many areas in the world where forests are being destroyed.  One of the scariest problems is the recycling of water.  When water coming in from an ocean falls on a tropical rain-forest, 1/4 runs of in rivers but 3/4 is transpired back into the atmosphere and later falls as rain further inland.  When the forest is cut down for grazing or farming much more water runs off in rivers and the there is much less rain to fall inland.

Losing Soil  Almost all agricultural production is due to topsoil, which in many cases is only around six inches deep.  Where erosion exceeds soil production, productivity is lost.  He descries the 1930's Dust Bowl, the Soviet Union's Virgin Lands Project in the 1950's, Mongolia, Central Africa, Pakistan, and Ethiopia currently.

From Grassland to Desert  Many of the worlds grasslands are losing soil, again a list.

Advancing Deserts  Deserts are the end point when forests and grasslands lose soil.  When so much soil is lost that it can no longer store enough water for vegetation to grow throughout the year a desert is the result.  Deserts are expanding in many areas of the world.

Collapsing Fisheries  The amount of ocean fish caught has been rising for 500 years.  In 1950 the catch was 19 million tons.  In 1997 it was 93 million tons.  That was the high point, it is now declining.  Many of the most productive fishing areas have collapsed or are in rapid decline.  Overfishing is only one of the problems.  Coastal wetlands that serve as spawning areas are being destroyed.  Coral reefs are being destroyed by poor harvesting techniques, global warming, and pollution.

Disappearing Plants and Animals  Between human caused environmental change and atmospheric change (global warming) the populations of millions of species of plants and animals are being effected and thousands are facing extinction every year.  The creation of parks and wildlife preserves has been a traditional response to this.  With global warming this solution is no longer adequate.

C6  Early Signs of Decline  May problems are now showing up for the first time.  America now has less than 1 million farmers and more than 2 million prison inmates.  The gap between the rich and the poor is growing wider, and there is a growing number of failing states.

Our Socially Divided World  The worlds poorest billion live at or below subsistence level and the richest billion suffer from diseases of over eating.  Illiteracy, poverty, and poor health all tend to concentrate in specific areas, one result is that these people find themselves increasingly poorly equipped tocompete in our modern world.  

Health Challenge Growing The world had been making rapid progress in reducing the incidence and effect of many infectious diseases.  This progress is starting to go negative.  Africa has been very hard hit with AIDS.  Pollution is becoming a major problem in China.  There has been a dramatic rise in Alzheimer's and Parkinson's in industrial countries, six in Europe plus the US, Canada, Japan, and Australia.  The suspects are pesticides, and other chemical pollutants.  There has been a tremendous increase in the number of chemicals released into the environment that were unknown 100 years ago, many of these have never been evaluated for potential toxicity.

Throwaway Economy in Trouble  A huge number of disposable items are being used that did not exist 50 or 100 years ago.  We are also running out of the raw materials to produce these items, paper, oil, and numerous minerals.  The cost of disposing of this garbage is also growing rapidly.  Conflicts over food, water, and the land to grow food on are increasing, especially in Africa but also in the Middle East, India, and Central Asia.

Environmental Refugees on the Rise  In many of these same countries people are trying to escape to what they hope will be better conditions elsewhere.  This is also the case for many Central American countries where people are trying to escape to America.  

Mounting Stresses, Failing States  Because of the above problems, many of the countries of these regions are failing to respond appropriately which causes a breakdown in law and order, with a rise of warlords, tribal chieftains, or religious leaders.  Environmental damage rises, lawlessness increases and these countries become sources of terrorists, drugs, weapons, diseases, and refugees.  

Section II.  The Response--Plan B  
C7  Eradicating Poverty, Stabilizing Population
 In 2000 the UN set a goal of cutting the number of people living in poverty by 1/2 in 2015.  By 2007 this appears to be right on track, China and India have been making major strides.  Several countries in SE Asia are also doing well.  Sub-Saharan Africa is not doing well.  Other goals such as reducing hunger and infectious diseases are doing less well.  Although the US under Bush is resisting new goals involving family planning that to has entered the planning.

Universal Basic Education  The World Bank started a program for funding education.  School lunches are an important factor in getting children to attend schools.

Stabilizing Population  Developed countries have pretty well solved the problem of population expansion, it is primarily the poorest countries (in Africa) that still have rapidly expanding populations.  Some countries, like Iran promoted higher birth rates but it quickly became obvious that this was causing an unbearable burden on society and these were reversed.  Contraception and family planning programs have worked well in many countries.

Better Health for All  Heart disease and cancer (also diabetes) - diseases of aging - are the leading cause of death in industrial countries.  In developing countries infectious diseases are the major killers.  Water free waste disposal systems may prove more effective than water based systems.  Some infectious diseases are being eliminated.  Smoking is being banned in more and more countries.  

Curbing the HIV Epidemic  HIV is being reduced by access to condoms and education.  The costs of treating AIDS is quite high but the cost of not treating it may be much higher.  

Reducing Farm Subsidies and Debt  Farm subsidies in developed countries have had the effect of undermining local agriculture in developing countries.  Likewise huge debt owed to the World Bank and the IMF have forced many countries to concentrate on cash crops and debt reduction instead of food, education, and health care for their people.  This is slowly starting to change.

A Poverty Eradication Budget  The slowing of population growth is often one of the major factors in raising countries out of debt and being able to insure food, health care, and education to their citizens.  Brown presents a table of additional annual funding needed to reach basic social goals.  The total is $77 billion, a large number but quite small compared to the annual arms budget for many countries.  

C8  Restoring the Earth  Restoring the earth, grass lands, croplands, forests, fisheries, etc. is the most important task before us.  Without these we will simply not have enough food to survive.  

Protecting and Restoring Forests  Forests provide a number of services, pulp for paper, lumber, environmental services, food, and habitat for plants and animals.  The products need to be used more appropriately, they need to be recycled and their services need to be properly evaluated when making economic comparisons.  

Conserving and Rebuilding Soils  An important term here is "loss of protective vegetation".  When the vegetation is removed, the soil will erode.  Some of the methods used in the US since the 1930's Dust bowl have included tree shelterbelts, strip-cropping, contour farming, no-till and minimum-tillage.  A number of countries are beginning to use these and other techniques to retain soil and to prevent desertification.  

Regenerating Fisheries  The traditional way of saving specific fisheries has been to restrict the catch of individual species.  This sometimes works and sometimes doesn't.  A new technique that is showing promise is to create marine reserves or marine parks.  These would completely ban fishing in the area in hopes that fish would breed in these areas and populate the areas in which fishing is allowed.  Tests of this show that it works spectacularly well.  Another requirement is that governments eliminate fishery subsidies.  We have too many fishing trawlers already.

Protecting People and Animal Diversity  The driving force behind all environmental degradation is too many people.  Too many mouths to feed, too many acres needed for crop production, etc.  

Planting Trees in Sequester Carbon  Plant more trees to sequester more CO2, great idea - however (editorial comment - If your goal is more pretty trees, this works - however if your goal is to sequester CO2 a better idea is to maintain - and restore - a better way is to maintain biodiversity in the land.  More CO2 is held in the soil and it is maintained there longer than in trees.  A forest on this land is very good, so is a healthy grassland.  They both can be used for human need products as long as they are treated responsibly.)  There are many instances where trees can be used very profitably for reducing wind, runoff, temperature, etc.  All of these should and are being used.

The Earth Restoration Budget  Brown presents a current "best guess" budget for the annual funding needed to restore the earth.  His total is $113 billion.  This is broken down into 7 categories and each is discussed with regard to where, special problems, and uncertainties.  Question, can the world afford this?  Better question, what is the cost of not doing this?

C9  Feeding Eight Billion Well  China is the poster boy (girl?) in this question.  It has slowed population growth, dismantled the collective farms and replaced them with family farms, expanded food production, and as a result has almost completely eradicated hunger.  Unfortunately in sub-Saharan Africa and in parts of India the problem has gotten worse.  Also the techniques used by China and others are becoming less and less effective, ground water tables are lowering, etc.
Rethinking Land Productivity  How can we increase productivity without using more fertilizer and irrigation.  Some possibilities: breeding drought and cold resistant crop varieties.  Increase multi-cropping where the climate permits.  Numerous examples of this are given.

Other techniques are the planting of leguminous trees and grain.  The grain can be harvested and later the trees drop their leaves providing nitrogen and organic matter to the soil for the next grain crop.  The trees can be cut for fuel.  Secure land ownership gives incentives to owners to improve their land.

Raising Water Productivity  A common measure of productivity is tons or bushels of grain per hectare or acre.  Another useful measure is kilograms of grain per ton of water used.  The use of this measure would encourage efficient water usage and the planting of water efficient crops.  New irrigation techniques, such as drip irrigation save water.  Local water users associations can help in spreading more efficient techniques and publicizing the issue.  One thing I don't like about this chapter is that he equates meat, milk, and egg production with grain.  There is very little necessity for grain in the production of any of these other than perhaps eggs, chickens need something to eat in harsh winter areas.  All can be produced on land that is inappropriate for grain production.

Producing Protein More Efficiently  The main point of this section is the use of more efficient means of converting the energy in plants to protein.  Generally fish are more efficient than poultry, poultry is more efficient than port, and pork is more efficient than cattle.  
Moving Down the Food Chain  Question: "How many people can the earth support?"  Counter question: "At what level of food consumption?"  Semi-answer: at the US level or 800 kg of grain per year - 2.5 billion, Italian level of 400 kg - 5 billion, India level of 100 kg - 10 billion.  In the US, approx 100 kg is eaten directly as bread, the remaining 700 is animal food.  In India almost all is eaten as bread, rice, etc., very little is converted to animal food.  The answer seems a little obvious.

Action on Many Fronts  Grain prices are rising rapidly.  We are going to have to make changes on many fronts to maintain any reasonable life style.  There are going to be major changes in energy, agriculture, water, transportation, etc. to maintain ourselves.  

C10  Designing Cities for People  Most cities have evolved with their transportation system.  Most cities of the world have evolved with the automobile-truck system.  With the coming end to this era how will the next evolution take place?  The dependence on oil based transportation is strangling our cities, a few forward thinking leaders have pushed their cities along a different path.  Will these be the pathways to the future or will it be something else?  

The Ecology of Cities  Modern cities were built on cheap oil.  Without cheap oil how will they evolve?  Without cheap oil will they die?  He describes several examples of very small cities that have been effective.  Can these solutions transfer to cities like New York, Tokyo, Beijing, Mexico City, etc.?  Instead of glowing talk of livable cities I would like to see the plan for keeping them livable with $10 per gallon diesel, $20 per gallon diesel, etc.  I am afraid that they just may not be capable of sustaining any life but the very rich.  

Redesigning Urban Transport  Can we convert to an urban transportation system based on rail, bus, bicycles, and walkways?  How much and what will we have to change.  He devotes several pages to the joys of riding bicycles.  In general I agree, but how do we get there?  Before I retired I commuted 35 miles one way to work.  Are we going to require millions of people to sell their homes or give up their jobs (my wife drove 20 miles the other way) of do require that most businesses support telecommuting?  These are big problems that are going to have to be solved - and it will be difficult.

Reducing Urban Water Use The traditional urban water system of collecting pure water, contaminate it, and dump it into the ocean, a river, or underground is a disaster only getting worse.  One way to look at this as a pathogen-dispersal system.  There are options, the composting toilet, separating urine from fecal material and treating each separately - usually separating them from the water system.  Cities are beginning to recycle their own water.  Many industrial procedures can be redesigned to either recycle their water or use much less water.
Farming in the City  Many cities are making provisions for urban gardens in vacant lots, rooftops, etc.  Given appropriate zoning much of the food consumed in a city can be raised immediately adjacent to the city.  In some places water removed from the wastewater stream at the appropriate spot in treatment is being used to raise fish.  There are many opportunities, they just need to be seized.

Upgrading Squatter Settlements  Much of the projected population increase in the next 50 years is going to occur in and around cities in developing countries.  Much of this will take place in squatter communities.  This phenomenon must be taken in to account by these countries and cities.  This causes many problems but ignoring them is not a solution.  

Cities for People  This section examines the health, both physical and psychological of people in auto oriented cities.  Also the unfairness of tax supported provisions for automobiles without a similar level of support for people who walk, ride a bicycle, or use public transportation.  Also the cultural and esthetic possibilities of converting much of the space currently designatedfor automobiles to walkways, parks, trails, etc.

C11  Raising Energy Efficiency  Our main goal has to be the reduction in CO2.  The worst offender is burning coal so this as a source of energy must be reduced as much as possible.  Oil is almost as bad but it is running out soon so this is of secondary importance.  Nuclear power is an alternative but at present it is not going to solve all of our problems any time soon.  So what can we do?

Banning the Bulb  The quickest and cheapest way to make a major dent in the problem is to replace the incandescent light.  This is already underway in many areas with the introduction of compact fluorescent bulb and soon LED's will become economically feasible.  Another reduction in energy use is to simply turn off lights when they are not used.  This can be automated by motion sensors quite easily and more efficient use of outside light.  

Energy-Efficient Appliances  Everyday kitchen appliances waste a huge amount of energy, both in terms of efficiency of operation and standby mode.  More efficient appliances are being produced but not nearly fast enough.  It would help immensely if governmental programs would cover some of the design and insulation costs.  

More-Efficient Buildings  Most older and commercial/governmental buildings are very energy inefficient.  Rising energy prices, better design, and more appropriate insulation can save a huge amount in terms of heating, cooling, and lighting.  

Restructuring the Transport System  The auto centered transportation of th West is clearly unsustainable.  Not only are we running out of space for the automobile and its required roads and parking, we are running out of fuel.  It is fairly obvious that the mid-range solution is high speed trains.    

A New Materials Economy  On author has suggested that, "Pollution is a symbol of design failure."  In almost all industries there are tremendous opportunity for greater recycling and more efficiency.  Brown devotes several pages to different recycling opportunities.  

The Energy Saving Potential  With all of these methods we could save a great deal of energy and greatly reduce the need for fossil fuels.  He also recommends adding a carbon tax of $20 per ton of carbon burned every year for 10 years.  This is a high tax, totaling $240 per ton after 10 years, but it still does not come close to covering the indirect costs of burning fossil fuels.

C12  Turning to Renewable Energy All over the world countries are switching to renewable sources of energy.  This is moving at a rate which is politically feasible.  However this is not the assumption that Plan B makes.  The goal of Plan B is to prevent irreversible climate change.  He sees this as requiring a sort of wartime economy, similar to the economy of the US during WW II.  This is possible.  The use and production of personal computers, mobile phones, solar cells, and wind power are growing at exponential rates.  Energy costs have not yet risen enough to drive us toward energy sustainability.  If we wait for that point we may not have time to convert before there is a system crash.

Harnessing the Wind  Wind turbine technology has been advancing rapidly.  Problems:  Danger to birds - proper design and siting reduce the danger,  it also may have been overemphasized, other human created risks are much more sizable.  Esthetics - Some people don't like them, some do.  Wind appears to be one of the most attractive options that we have.

Wind-Powered Plug-in Hybrid Cars  Hybrid cars get very good gas mileage.  The larger the battery they carry the farther they can go before the fossil fuel engine turns on.  With the replacement of much of the steel in auto bodies with polymer composites the weight of the vehicle can be drastically reduced which would again decrease the amount of energy needed to carry a passenger a mile.  Using all of these technologies should greatly lengthen the period of time that personal automobiles are feasible.
Solar Cells and Collectors  Not including passive solar heating Brown identifies three major techniques, solar collectors primarily to heat water, solar cells to convert sunlight directly to electrical energy, and solar boilers.  These use reflectors to concentrate sunlight to raise an operating fluid to high temperatures to generate steam to run conventional stean powered generators.  Again, good progress is being made, we just need to speed it up.

Energy from the Earth  Relatively little has been done in using geothermal energy.  Half the worlds geothermal energy is used by the US and the Philippines.  Mexico, Indonesia, Italy, and Japan account for most of the rest.  Most of the easily available energy is in the "Ring of Fire" around the Pacific, the Rift Valley of Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean.  Iceland at the head of the mid-Atlantic trench is a leader.

Plant-Based sources of Energy  Forest waste is widely used in northern areas.  Other sources are sugar cane, burning garbage, using biomass to produce methane, and biofuels.  Other cellulosic fuels are being considered for electrical generation.

River, Tidal, and Wave Power  Large hydropower dams are very importand but there are few locations left.  Small dams and in-stream turbines seem to have promise.  The first large tidal generator was built in France 40 years ago and is still in use.  There are a number of plants under construction or planned and it seems to be promising.  Wave power is considerably behind but many projects are being planned.  

The World Energy Economy of 2020  The section ends with an overall summary of current energy generation from renewable sources as well as the goals for 2020.  It is broken into to categories, electrical and thermal.  My summary ignores the minor sources so the totals do not add up.
Source 2006 goal for 2020
      Electrical electrical gigawatts
Wind 74 3,000
Rooftop solar cell 9 1,090
Hydropower 850 1,350
     total 987 6,140
Thermal thermal
Rooftop solar water 100 1,100
     total 420 1,950

Section III.  An Exciting New Option
C13 The Great Mobilization
We know that we must do something, we also know that it can be done, witness the US response in WW II.  We know that we cannot wait for standard method if international negotiation, drawing up of treaties, and years of ratifications.  Countries must step up and unilaterally take immediate action.  New Zealand has already done this.  How can we answer our children if we fail to take action and glaciers disappear cutting water to major food producing areas, when the Greenland ice sheet slides into the sea with a 23 ft rise in sea level?  We don't know exactly what will happen, but we do know that something will happen.  

In part Enron failed because their corporate accounting system left many costs off the books.  Our global economic accounting system leaves many costs off the books.  When will we change the accounting system.  It has been noted that "Socialism collapsed because it did not allow the market to tell the economic truth."  Will capitalism collapse because it does not allow the market to tell the ecological truth?
Shifting Taxes and Subsidies  We need to lower income taxes and raise levies on environmentally destructive activities.  We need a way to calculate the indirect costs in pricing goods and services.  An example is the US study of the costs of smoking.  A 2006 report by the CDC came up with the cost of $10.47 per pack.  The ecological services provided by a tree (flood control, carbon sequestration, etc.) can be calculated and anyone wanting to cut the tree would pay this.  A carbon tax is a good example.  

A study of the indirect costs to society of a gallon of gasoline (climate change, oil tax breaks, oil supply protection, oil industry subsidies, auto exhaust-related respiratory illnesses, etc.) totals about $12 per gallon.  Someone has to pay for these costs, why not the user of the fuel?  

This is not a new idea, Germany shifted taxes from labor to energy and created a huge number of jobs.  Sweden shifted taxes from income to ecologically destructive activities.  Many other European countries are doing similar things.  Many other creative techniques can be used.

Summing Up Climate Stabilization Measures  The author provides a table with a series of actions and the  resultant reductions in CO2.  According to Plan B an 81.5% reduction in CO2 emissions from 2006 is possible by 2020.  In addition to the "big ticket" items there are many smaller scale or life style changes that can make large changes, but they need to be done one person at a time.  These changes will also produce a cleaner, healthier world that is much closer to being sustainable.

A Response to Failing States  Historically danger was assessed by the concentration of power in a single state or group of states.  Now danger is more likely to be found in states with very little power that are sliding into anarchy.  In response our foreign policy must change to reflect this new concern.  One common suggestion that he makes is to create a corps of young people to work for a year on domestic or international problems.  A parallel proposal is to create another corps of older retired people who have management or technical skills that would be invaluable for many countries with failing societies.

A Wartime Mobilization  Brown uses the Second World War as a model as to how an economy can be shifted extremely rapidly in response to an outside threat.  My only real question is what will it take to convert the economy of the world to shift in such a manner.  Where will we get the leaders, what will it take to stimulate us like Pearl Harbor stimulated the US in 1941.  Can we respond before we hit some sort of climatological "tipping point"?

Mobilizing to Save Civilization  This section poses some of the needs and some of the alternatives.  He offers facts that indicate that we could change our economies but not whether or not we have the will.  Can we break ourselves out of our preoccupation with the "arms race" and rechannel the money in to solving our real problems?

What You and I Can Do  There are some suggestions for political action:  Restructure taxes and reorder fiscal priorities.  Probably the most important is to reorder our fiscal priorities so that the market reflects the sustainable ecological truth.  Communicate with elected representatives to urge them to help create an honest
market, one in which all of the costs are included in the balance sheet, not like Enron where some costs were "hidden" in the books until they went bankrupt.  

Meet with friends, draft a brief statement of your collective concerns and the policy initiatives needed.  Then meet with our elected representatives and discuss why environmental taxes need to be raised and income taxes lowered.  Remind your representatives that the world is spending more than $1 trillion per year on armaments.  The future of civilization is in peril.  Would $190 billion per year be too much to spend to save civilization.  Remind them of how we mobilized in WW II.

Make a case for the inclusion of poverty eradication, family planning, reforestation, and renewable energy development in international assistance programs.  Urge an increase in spending for these items and a cut in military appropriations.  Many of our advanced weapons systems are useless in the face of the new threats to our national security.  Write letters to the editor or op-ed pieces to local newspapers.  We need to make the choice of comfort for ourselves today or comfort for our children and grandchildren tomorrow.  

The book with all of the tables and figures is available at the web site.  Earth Policy Institute, 1350 Connecticut Ave. NW, Suite 403, Washington, DC  20036  email:, Web:

The book has 83 pages of notes, and 20 pages of index.

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The Spark of Life                        Christopher Wills & Jeffrey Bada     Aug 2008
         Subtitled: Darwin and the Primeval Soup

Introduction  In an effort to safely store radioactive waste from nuclear reactors the Swedes drilled a tunnel 3 km long that is 500 meters below the surface.  To determine the conditions they did considerable evaluation of the rock, water, etc.  They found many different species of bacteria from three different large groups.  Could life have originated here, between the hostile surface and the deep hot depths of the earth?  Probably not, but it certainly lives there now.

Most religions have their own creation myths.  Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake in 1600 for espousing a different belief than the Catholic Church supported.  It is certainly better today in the West - but not that much better.  

The earliest (creatures?) are often called protobionts instead of living cells.  They exhibited some of the features that we associate with life today but not all.  Some of the features that they had at this early stage must have been:
  1. They were able to make approximate replicas of themselves.  At this state accurate reproduction was not essential because there was very little competition.
  2. They were able to survive the harsh environment of a primitive Earth, either by hiding in favorable locations or by being very tough.
  3. They were able to draw energy from their environment, either by energy rich gases or from sunlight.  They must have used this energy to make high energy molecules.  Current cells produce ATP, this was probably not the first or only molecule used but it is today used to transfer energy to power the remainder of the activities of the cell.
  4. And finally they must have had the ability to die.  Without death there can be no selection for superior traits.
Over billions of years the current mechanisms of life originated, DNA, RNA, the use of ATP, and the other chemical means that current life uses.  This book explores many of the questions that arise.

C1  The Rise and Fall of Spontaneous Generation  We know that life originated once.  Did it arise several times?  Could it arise in our modern world?  In the past thought that life could originate in mud, river water, garbage, etc.  Many ancient thinkers including Aristotle, Archimedes, Ptolemy held this view.  The authors describe the many challenges to this view that started around 1600 and lasted well into the 1800's.  The experiments of Pasteur and Tyndall in 1864 and 1876 generally settled the issue.  A related issue, panspermia, the view that life could travel from star to star, enjoyed a brief run from the late 1800's until modern times but it is only a hypothesis with very little experimental evidence one way or another.  

C2  Primordial Soup
 The first two modern scientists to propose that life could arise out of normal chemical reactions were Aleksandr Oparin in Russia in 1924 and J. B. S. Haldane in England in 1928.  They both suggested that strictly chemical reactions created fatty molecules which increased in concentration until the precursors of protobionts began to have the ability to absorb them and create even more sophisticated molecules inside their membranes.  Then in 1953, Stanley Miller, a graduate student at the University of Chicago, following up on a suggestion by his thesis advisor, Harold Urey, built an apparatus to test Urey's suggestion.  It consisted of two flasks connected by tubes.  One flask contained water and could be heated.  The other was filled with a mixture of methane, ammonia, and hydrogen and two electrodes which could be charged to make sparks.  The first two day experiment produced several amino acids.  Later, longer and more sophisticated experiments allowed him to identify more than 33 amino acids including more than half of the amino acids commonly found in proteins.  Later experiments by others showed that it was possible to create adenine - a precursor of ATP.

Other researchers later found that when mixtures of amino acids were heated on surfaces they formed polymers that when later dissolved in water formed structures that were similar to cell walls.  They formed tiny, hollow spheres.  One of the problems with these approaches is that most of the molecules formed are purely random.  The next step, getting these to join together is lifelike organizations might take billions of experiments over millions of years.  The earth had the time and the space, chemists typically don't have the money or the time to duplicate this.  There is another approach, this is to break life down into its essentials and thus demonstrate the steps which must have been taken to create life.  

The next few chapters will discuss recent finding using the bottom-up ideas and then they will switch to the top-down approach.

C3  The Earth's Apocalyptic Beginnings  In 1993 J. William Schopf at UCLA announced the finding of chains of single-celled organisms in 3.5 billion year old rocks.  Other similar fossils have been discovered in 1 to 2 byo rocks but these were the oldest.  There is chemical evidence of 3.8 byo life but this is still controversial.  

Current thinking is that the rocky inner planets coalesced over a period of only about 10-20 million years, the gas giants a little longer.  Many proto-planets were ejected from the solar system by gravity and the planets ones in the inner orbits acted as vacuum cleaners absorbing the smaller debris.  Images from the Hubble telescope have shown that this is occurring in other star systems.

There have been many estimates of the age of the earth.  The most famous in the West is the estimate of Bishop Ussher in 1658, his estimate was 4004 BC.  In A.D. 169 Theophilus of Antioch came up with 5529 B.C.  In 120-130 B.C. Hindu priests estimated the Earth's age as 1.9 billion.  The first scientific estimate was 24 million years by Lord Kelvin in about 1850.  In 1907 Rutherford began publishing estimates based on radioactive decay.  His last estimate in 1929 was 3.4 by with the age of the sun at 4 by.  During the 1940's the estimates remained around 3.5 by - which was accepted by Pope Pius XII in 1951.  By 1956 the age had been refined to 4.55 by +/- .07 by.  This is still the accepted date.  

Current thinking is that the Earth formed but then later it was hit by another forming planet, perhaps Mars sized.  The debris left from this collision settled into two bodies, one the Earth and the newly created Moon.  This "new" Moon was very close to the Earth, perhaps only 15,000 miles away.  This created huge tides which gradually slowed the orbital speed of the Moon and pushed it out to it's current 240,000 miles.

Life could not have formed until the Earth cooled considerably as organic molecules would have decomposed.  There is very little evidence about the conditions on Earth between 3.5 bya and 600 mya.  There is evidence to suggest that there were planetary ice ages around 2.2 bya and again between 800 mya and 500 mya.  There is considerable discussion of the effect that life has on climate, the Gaia effect, and the relationship between weathering following mountain building and ice ages.

C4  Prebiotic Soup: The Recipe
 Beginning in 1806 chemists have been analyzing meteorites.  Many contain large amounts of carbon.  Some even have contained tiny round shapes and contain oil-like hydrocarbons.  In 1969 a recent meteorite fall was examined and many different amino acids were found.  The amounts of these were similar to the amino acids created by the Stanley Miller experiments in 1953.  This showed that the precursor chemicals of life have been formed on bodies that were not from the Earth.  These samples also showed the same polymeric, oily goo that was found inside of Miller's apparatus.

Oil spills like that of the Exxon Valdez and the tarry residue from Miller type experiments slowly release adenine, amino acids, and sunlight breaks them down releasing methane.  They also release some molecules that have properties similar to fat molecules.  Ocean vents may also be sources of organic molecules.  Some minerals, including pyrites, clays, thioesters may act as catalysts and support structures for the creation of organic molecules.  

C5  Sorting Out the Gemisch  (German word for mixture)  The authors hypothesize that the early earth contained fairly dilute mixtures of many primitive carbon compounds.  They would have concentrated in spots only to be washed away again.  However unusually sticky or hardy compounds or mixtures would have remained for long periods of time.  As currents and tides swirled past they too were put under stress and parts of them washed away, however over time more resistant mixtures would persist.  These globs could be washed away (death) or they could persist (life).  There was still no mechanism for reproduction (no genes).  These (organisms) could form on beaches, pools, or even in hot springs.  Miller and his students have shown that such chemical reactions can occur.  Water with solutions of these chemicals which passes through beach sand is capable of separating out specific chemicals in a natural geochromatography column.  

Progress is slowly being made as to why the 20 amino acids occurring in life were selected instead of some of the other 70 or so which can be made by chance.  A large unknown is who L-amino acids were selected instead of D-amino acids.  The best guess at present is that it is just pure chance.  

C6  The First Protobionts  There is no way of knowing at present how these first (organisms) began to replicate or how many different methods of replication were "explored" but it now seems that RNA was the second to last method and it still has a place in cell replication today.  Perhaps proteins were a precursor, they certainly play a significant role today.  Other molecules may also have played a part.  They discuss peptide nucleic acid - a molecule similar to DNA.  

Another possibility is that the first important step was the creation of "cell" membranes and that the "memory" molecules - RNA, DNA, PNA, etc. were a later step.  These tiny "bags" would have concentrated the chemicals and made complex synthesis more likely.  Once these protobionts differentiated themselves into individual units and contained some sort of heritability true darwinian evolution could begin.  A possible model for these protobionts is the AIDS virus.  It has only 10 genes and it cannot live independently of host cells.  The simplest independently living organism known at present is the bacterium called Mycoplasma which has somewhat less than 500 genes and over 500,000 bases of DNA.  Someplace between these two is the simplest possible independent life form.  

C7  From Top to Toe  Another way of determining how this all works is to start at the other end.  Start where we are now and by taking away some of the variables of a working system and see where the system has problems.  DNA (and RNA) are composed of codons which are groups of three spaces for amino acids, and each can be one of four different amino acids.  Currently RNA is composed of uracil, adenine, sytosine, and guanine (U, A, C, and G).  In DNA the U is replaced by T (thymine).  Computer and chemical experiments have shed considerable light on the problems and advantages of different constructions of codons.  The whole chapter is quite technical and involves a lot of chemistry.  It ends with an in-depth discussion of mitochondria and ATP and possibilities for the evolution of photosynthesis.  

C8  Journey to the Center of the Earth
 Life on earth very probably on beaches and tide pools and the surrounding rocks but could it have appeared elsewhere?  The authors give an example of the desert in White Sands National Monument in New Mexico.   A few millimeters below the surface of the gypsum there is a very thin green layer of microorganisms.  Their environment is almost unbelievably harsh but they use nitrogen from the air and other essential elements from the almost pure gypsum they live in.  There are other very different environments that harbor life all over the earth.  The only things they have in common is that they are mainly single cells and they live life very slowly.

One of the most amazing facts is the depth at which these organisms live below the surface of the earth and the (probable) total number of them.  Colonies of bacteria have been found at 3,500 meters below the surface of the earth.  

C9  Evolution by Committee
A highly speculative chapter.  Most reproduction involves very tiny changes from one generation to another however sometimes there are major mutations that almost always involve lethal changes.  These are things like two headed calves, legs replacing antenna on fruit flies, etc.  However very rarely these mutations result in successful survival.  In less complex organisms it is fairly common for entire groups of genes to transfer from one species (genus, family, etc.) to another.  Many disease organisms seem to use this technique.  In other cases it would seem that one type of organism invades another and the resultant organism benefits from this merger.  It seems that mitochondria were once free-living bacteria.   There are many examples of this.  One variety, the cryptomonad's seem to have genes of at least five different species in its cells.  All of this implies that the science of genetics still has a lot of secrets to uncover.  Some evidence suggests that all life on earth with the exception of perhaps one species died out on earth about 2 to 2.5 bya.  Another reading of this evidence says that successful genes invaded the nuclei of all other organisms at about this time.  It is possible that examples of decedents of the earlier life forms may still exist in isolated locations but they have not yet been reported.  

C10  Life Elsewhere
 Perhaps even more highly speculative than the previous chapter.  The possibilities of life on other planets of the solar system, possibilities of the past (Mars, which seems to have had running water at one stage) and perhaps the future (the moons of Jupiter and Saturn).  SETI and the possibility of life on rogue planets (planets ejected from their parent solar system).  Even if we were to discover life on some other world that was chemically and biologically distinct from life on earth would it tell us much?  About chemistry and biology certainly but probably not much about how life on earth (or the other body) originated, only that it was possible for it to originate in several different ways.

C11  Epilogue  Is it possible to create life in the laboratory?  The authors think that it is.  The time necessary to go from simple chemicals to recognizable life has been estimated from over a billion years to 200 million years to less than 10 million years.  The authors point out that for a long period of time the earth was subjected to sterilizing asteroid impacts.  They believe that the time between the last series of huge asteroids until life was fully established was about 200 million years.  They suggest that the early concentration of organic molecules quickly built up but the processing of ocean water through vents would have destroyed these chemicals over time.  It is likely that the concentration built up into the primordial soup and perhaps as little as a few thousand years the first life forms originated.  

Scientists do not have to duplicate each step of this process in every experiment.  They can build upon the results of others.  The most promising routes could be explored at each step in the process, random chance would not be necessary for every new link.  A top-down approach would help as it would suggest ways of shortcutting the tedious experiments.  

There is a 5 page glossary of terms, 13 pages of notes and references, and an 11 page index.

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