Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Writings of Thomas Berry

I recently completed a reading of all of the books published on eco-theology by Thomas Berry during his lifetime:

The Dream of the Earth (1988, Sierra Club Books).
Here is a review. Here is a recording of a reading of chapter three.

The Universe Story: From the Primordial Flaring Forth to the Ecozoic Era, A Celebration of the Unfolding of the Cosmos (1992, Harper San Francisco, co-authored with Brian Swimme). Here is a review.

The Great Work: Our Way Into the Future (1999, Bell Tower).
Here is a review by Herman Greene, founder of the Center for Ecozoic Studies.

Evening Thoughts: Reflecting on Earth as Sacred Community (2006, Sierra Club Books, edited by Mary Evelyn Tucker). Here is a review.

After Thomas Berry's death in 2009, Mary Evelyn Tucker (Thomas' student, and founder of the Thomas Berry Foundation) published two additional books that incorporate Thomas' writing, The Sacred Universe, and The Christian Future and the Fate of Earth.

I commend Thomas Berry's work, and I agree with his thesis that the turning (using the term used by David Cortan and Joanna Macy, see my 9/21/11 entry in this blog about Joanna's Great Turning Workshop) of humanity back into alignment with Nature is crucial for a prosperous human future. Such a Turning will have implications for how we generate and use energy, thus my inclusion of this entry here in my Energy Matters Blog.

I'm looking forward to participating in a Retreat on 11/12/11 at the the Center for Education, Imagination and the Natural World, entitled Thomas Berry's Sense of the Sacred.

Here is a audio recording of Thomas Berry speaking entitled, Planning for a Planet.
And here is a video recording of an interview with Thomas in 2006 by Caroline Web.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Do Neutrinos Travel Faster than Light?

Today the media published preliminary reports (here is one) that neutrinos generated at CERN are being detected 450 miles away at the Gran Sasso Laboratory  in Italy 60 nanoseconds sooner than they would be expected to arrive if they traveled at the speed of light.

If this result is upheld through further experiment, it will be revolutionary (and very exciting!) within Physics as Einstein's Theory of Special Relatively (which is very well established) postulates that no particle can travel faster than the speed of light.

It is noteworthy that neutrinos travel in a straight line, and a straight line between Geneva and Rome is underground (but neutrinos can travel through rock essentially unhindered).

I've asked students in my classes at FSU, for up to 5 points of extra-credit, to answer the following questions.

How many nanoseconds would neutrinos take to make this flight at the speed of light?

What is the percentage difference between the expected and the observed travel time? Hint, you should use scientific notation to express this result.

If the experimental error is 10 ns as expected, what is the probability that the experimental error can explain this discrepancy? Hint, divide the discrepancy by the expected error, and then integrate the Chi-square distribution from this number of standard deviations (6) to infinity (you should get 2E-9).

What other errors might explain this? Hint, Google unrecognized systematic error.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Great Turning - A Weekend with Joanna Macy

Last weekend, I had the great honor of joining with more than 100 others in Chapel Hill NC to learn from Joanna Macy about the Great Turning. This phrase was used by David Korten in the title of his book, The Great Turning: From Empire to Earth Community.

On Friday evening, 9/16,  Joanna presented her vision of The Great Turning. On Saturday, 9/17, she lead us in her workshop, The Work that Reconnects.

I left the workshop on Saturday afternoon with an ardent desire to participate fully in the Great Turning. I'm convinced that the continued prosperity of humanity is contingent upon changing human culture such that a respect for Nature is preeminent.

During a dialogue with our descendents on Saturday afternoon (using the power of moral imagination), I became acutely aware of the fact that every year we delay a turning from irresponsible consumerism to a lifestyle that respects Nature result in further impoverishment of the lives of our descendents. This has been established by numerical simulation at MIT, see the book, Beyond the Limits by Donella Meadows et al.. For example, if we continue to exploit high grade copper ore for wiring and HVAC for MacMansion vacation homes without rigorous policies for recycling for much longer, the Earth's high grade copper ore will be depleted and our ancestors will be forced to use low grade copper ore (e.g., our landfills) making copper much more costly. An even more striking limitation we are creating for them is the destruction of the natural world as our extravagance extinguishes many species of life per day - some of which would surely have been of substantial benefit to our descendents.

I will ardently seek future opportunities to contribute to the Great Turning. Please feel free to contact me if you think that I might be able to advise you on how you can also contribute.

John Mattox

Monday, September 5, 2011

Why I got arrested to help stop the Keystone XL Tar Sands Oil Pipeline

I was the 955th person to be arrested in front of the White House for civil disobedience on 9/2/11 during the Stop Keystone XL Pipeline Action. Photo by Josh Lopez. 1252 people were arrested from 8/21/11 - 9/3/11 during this Action.

Why did I do this?  
The production and refining of tar sands oil produces more earth-warming carbon dioxide than does conventional petroleum - substantial amounts of natural gas are burned in its production. It also results in despoiled landscape and polluted water. Also, the transportation of the synthetic crude oil thus produced through pipelines creates the risk of leakage and the potential contamination of wilderness lands.
James Hansen calculates that burning all of the Earth's coal and unconventional fossil fuels  (like those in tar sands) could potentially release enough carbon dioxide to change the climate to the extent that humans could not survive on Earth.  Hansen was arrested on 8/29. Here is a link to his writings regarding this action.

Some ask. don't we need more domestic oil production? I think we need to draw the line short of tar sand production. I believe that with aggressive conservation measures (e.g., 100 fold increases in bicycle commuting) and aggressive development of renewable energy (e.g. solar power), existing domestic sources of conventional petroleum could be sufficient. I think that a progressive carbon fee with rebate would be effective in moving us toward this.

But what about the approximately 150 pounds of carbon dioxide that I released into the atmosphere driving from North Carolina to DC in my Volvo for this? A concern! But I see this as an investment to enable my support of this Action, support that may turn out to be key to an eventual turning of humanity toward sustainability.  

I would like to have traveled to DC by train for this, releasing only about 10% of the carbon per passenger-mile, but unfortunately my schedule did not allow for this. If we all insisted on leading low carbon lives, there would be more trains running, and my schedule could probably have been accommodated. 

I was honored to be photographed during the 9/2 Action behind Tom Goldtooth, Executive Director of the Indigenous Environmental Network, and Canadian author, Naomi Klein. Photo by Josh Lopez.