On 24 December 1968, a photograph, taken by William Anders while orbiting the moon with Apollo 8, changed its global identity. Through this unusual change of perspective, mankind was suddenly presented of how finite our lifeworld is. At the same time, computers made it possible to carry out simulations that facilitated the anticipation of the development of the world. The study The Limits to Growth appeared in 1972 and predicted that the absolute limits of growth in terms of world population, industrialization, environmental pollution and food production would be reached by 2072. At the same time, the Gaia hypothesis emerged, which sees the Earth as a self-regulating organism that resists its destruction when necessary. Regardless of what idea we have, we should be aware that we are on the only planet we can reach. Everything that happens here always happens to everyone sooner or later.
Given this interconnectedness, it is difficult to understand why some people still think they are not affected by the fundamental developments.
- Shared atmosphere
Without this air cover that surrounds the earth, there would be no life on earth. The interaction of fauna and flora is crucial for the 80% nitrogen and 20% oxygen. Natural chemical and physiological processes maintain the vital balance. Some people seem to think that the borders of their country also apply to the airspace and that they are not part of the problem.
The Earth, though, is a closed system in which, at first glance, problems are pushed from the left pocket into the right pocket – without realizing that you cannot get rid of the disadvantages.
- Shared water
We have 1.4 billion cubic kilometers of water on earth – 97% salt water, less than 1% of fresh water in the groundwater and thereof just three thousandth in surface water. Life on Gaia depends on fresh water. Polluting this resource hurts everyone, also those contaminating.
To ensure that we will still have the quantities of fresh water we need tomorrow, we have to take care by ourselves, i.e. not to destroy this resource with nitrate from fertilizers, microplastics, oil, medicines and fracking for the benefit of a fistful of dollars.
- Shared resources
We are sitting on finite resources – coal, oil and gas, copper, lead, gold and rare-earth elements. Without these materials we cannot maintain our current standard of living – food and water supplies, energy, mobility, as well as information and communication. The related estimates are limited to the deposits known to us. These are sufficient between 30 and two hundred years. After that, game over.
- Shared destiny
The spaceship Earth is so large that it seems to us as if it were a flat disc. We are protected and kept alive by the atmosphere. Our vital supplies are what we produce on land and draw from the soil and the sea. That’s all there is. We consume more than twice as many raw materials nowadays, as we did fifty years ago. Every year, twelve million hectares of agricultural land gets lost through overgrazing, unsuitable cultivation methods, erosion as well as road and urban development. At the same time, the population will rise to nine billion people, who want to be supplied by 2050. Whatever happens on one side of the earth has an impact on the rest – without using the current, magic keyword.
Bottom line: The view of the rising earth has shown mankind how limited our scope of action is and will remain for a long time. There is only one atmosphere, shared water reservoirs and finite resources that make us ONE community of fate. Shifting resources from one side to the other harms the other side and adds nothing to the earth. Despite all the clues, influential people still haven’t understood the limits of growth, although they are also affected, because that’s all there is.
P.S.: At this point thanks to Greta.
Heraclitus created with Panta rhei (Greek: Everything flows) the bases for a new world view more than two and a half thousand years ago. You cannot step twice into the same stream. The simple insight that results is that everything is in permanent coming and going. It is at first sight always water that flows in the river – however always different one. The same happens with our current, virtual flows that are filled with data. That makes water to the ideal metaphor for data.
Let’s look at some characteristics of water and data.
- Physical state
Water can be found in three conditions: solid, liquid and gas. The melting point is the transition from solid to liquid and the boiling point between liquid and gas. Data takes shape the same way. As long as nothing can be expressed as zeros and ones, because they were not yet determined or expressed, there is nothing that can flow – like ice. Data reaches its melting point, as soon as someone expresses its thoughts in the form of language, pictures or sound, or after a sensor provided measured data. Now the data can flow – disseminated, exchanged or received. If the temperature rises further, then it reaches sometime the boiling point. The data becomes fuzzy – like steam. The sensors produce in this case an indefinite noise that cannot be captured in the virtual space.
In order to receive useful data, it, as water, has to be converted into liquid condition. Either you have to heat it, so that it becomes visible – by measuring or questioning. Or you must cool it in order to consolidate it into to processible data.
Let us limit ourselves to the simple distinction between pure, in the sense of potable, versus contaminated, in the sense of poisonous, water. We differentiate between objective and false data. In general we believe in pure data, if it originates from trusted sources. Obviously contaminated data is supplied by sources that are suspicious – research results, because they were created by a biased source; news, because they were published by a politically depended press.
Unfortunately the quality is often based on an evaluation by third parties that is doubtful – if for example one press agency accuses another to be politically manipulated. On the other hand, contaminated data is used – even more than you can drink water that is poisoned to a certain degree.
The water is continually running in a circular flow – water evaporates above the sea, rains down on the mountains, and produces creeks, rivers and streams, which sometimes flow over water falls back into the sea. The sea of data exists in the public and the protected virtual area. Clouds are formed in the world Wide Web with the Internet of Things that are collected in programs, are mixed up with new data in the processes, and are getting back through interfaces, like water falls, into the cyberspace.
With Cloud computing, we are approaching more and more this state – even, if still many do not entrust their data to the cloud, due to strong concerns about the security. These internal dams offer no more protection on a long-term basis, since all data has to flow from time to time through the cyberspace.
An obvious danger comes from very strong contaminated water that poisons the users within shortest time. In the last years also the unimaginable power is shown to us by water floods, tsunamis, or dam failures after strong rainfalls. We quickly forget that no water represents a still worse threat – above all, if countries mutually cut water resources, as you can see at the distribution problems in the West Bank, at the dams of the Mekong in China or at the Aral Sea. The spreading of false information contaminates likewise the attitudes and insights of the audience. At the same time more and more data is flooded through the Internet. The attempt to sort this data leads on the one hand to filter bubbles that fade out a large part of the data. On the other hand the filters provide the possibility to manipulate the public opinion by subtly filtering critical contents, like for example the censorship of the embedded journalism. And eventually the lack of data results in dangerous misjudgments.
Different thinkers have taken care of the question “How real is the reality?” But nevertheless many people still argue with categories like “Right” and “Wrong”. The truth lies as always in the eye of the beholder. With the new conflagration of propaganda, we probably have to live with the fact that new terms, as “post factual” or „alternative facts” are trying to hide this dilemma. We should not forget that some people are not shy to sell good and bad data and unsuspecting people are consuming them without questioning – like water.
Bottom line: Data behaves obviously like water – there are similar physical states, qualities, channels and dangers. Data flows, data streams and data overloads can be controlled by particularly created riverbeds and dams as well as by filters. Thus, water is the ideal metaphor for data.