Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Actively resisting

Six degrees by Mark Lynas is the most poignant wake-up call for humanity about fighting global warming that I have read so far. Sometimes it sounds like science fiction, as the possible consequences of a runaway global warming are almost beyond imagination. But it is all based on hard science (Mark Lynas does not invent anything, he draws everything from the scientific litterature), from the state-of-the-art computer projections to the lessons from the past buried in sediments and ice cores.

I would like to reproduce here his vivid conclusion for his chapter "six degrees", as a reminder of what is at stake at the on-going Copenhagen conference.

"Extreme global warming may not be a survival crisis for humanity as a species, but it will certainly be a survival crisis for most humans unfortunate enough to inhabit a rapidly warming planet, and that situation is surely bad enough. Stalin was wrong to say that a million deaths is merely a statistic; that is one of the reasons why he is still hated today. Every human death, of every baby, every mother, every brother, father, or sister, will be a unique tragedy about which the whole world should grieve - not the least because such an outcome is still today avoidable. [...]
So far as we yet know, Earth is the only planet in the entire universe that has summoned forth life in all its brilliance and variety. To knowingly cut this flowering short is undoubtedly a crime, one more unspeakable even than the cruelest genocide or most destructive war. If each person is uniquely valuable, each species is surely more so. I can see no excuses for collaborating in such a crime. As the postwar Nuremberg trials established, ignorance is no defense, nor is merely following orders. To me the moral path lies not in passively accepting our destructive role, but in actively resisting such a horrendous fate.
As I stated at the beginning of this book, nothing in the future is set in stone. We still have the power - though it diminishes every day - to alter te ending of this terrible drama. It need not yet end in tragedy, and to make this point more clearly the next and final chapter will examine our options for avoiding each successive degree rise in temperature. There, and only there, hope lies.
As Dylan Thomas wrote:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light."

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Le plus bel heritage

"Je crois que le plus bel héritage qu'on puisse transmettre à nos enfants, ce ne sont pas les biens matériels mais ce qu'on croit."

Marie-Hélène et Laurent de Cherisey, Passeurs d'Espoir (vol. I).

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

On passions

"All the urges of the passions express vital natural impulses, and it is the animal in us which gives rise to them. The wise man is conscious of them, he knows how to give them their true name and to make use of them as you direct your donkey. But the wise man is rare, and egoism finds a thousand reasons for giving those impulses legitimate motives and flattering names. The human passions are life impulses which have been perverted... and so skillfully perverted that it is very difficult to discover, beneath their complications, the almost divine power which is their source."

De Lubicz, quoted by Ram Dass, Remember: Be Here Now, chapter "Cookbook for a sacred life", section "Karma Yoga".

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Climate models

Although I often criticize numerical models, since they often don't manage to reproduce correctly the observations I am working on, I have to recognize the following statement by Mark Lynas:

"Nevertheless, many skeptics base their objections on the suspicion that models are somehow fiddled in advance to come up with the "right answers" by scientists eager for the next global warming grant - "you get out what you put in", as the old adage goes. But climate models do have an important grounding: they are based not on subjective judgments by their constructors but on the fundamental laws of physics. These observable physical laws, governing everything from convection within clouds to the reflectivity of sea ice, cannot be changed by anyone, whatever their politics. After all, models don't do anything magical. All they do is solve physical equations. All the processes of HadCM3, for instance, could theoretically be worked out by hand - except that it would then take centuries of human labor to complete one "model run". What computers do is speed up the process, just as pocket calculators speed up mathematics lessons in school.
No one, however, suggests that models are perfect. They all tend to come out with slightly different answers to the same question, a reflection of their varying design. The reason here is that some of the physical laws that underpin them are not known precisely. How clouds interact with the wider atmosphere is a big uncertainty, for example, so some cloud model parameters are best guesses. Nor is it known exactly how far sulphate "aerosols" - tiny particles of pollution blamed for "global dimming" - cool things down. But models are a useful tool and give a valuable insight into likely future conditions on this planet - something humanity has never had access to before. Unlike the oracles consulted by the ancients, models offer a way of divining the future based not on the miraculous visions of some unseen prophetess but on observable physical data."

Mark Lynas, Six degrees - our future on a hotter planet, chapter "three degrees".

The present task for climate scientists is to improve our understanding of the physical relationships between different processes and parts of the earth system that are still not known precisely, and not well represented in climate models, in order to reduce the uncertainties in the forecasts of our future climate, and check that some neglected processes may not hold big surprises! For example, the IPCC's 2007 report forecasts between 18 and 59 centimeters of sea level rise by 2100, but acknowledges that uncertainties about ice-sheet response time to global warming were not taken into account because the physical processes involved had not yet been studied enough to allow for a reliable assessment of their potential effects. Since the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets contain enough ice for a multi-meter sea level rise, understanding the physical processes controlling ice sheet stability is an urgent scientific question to address, with primordial societal relevance.

Thursday, November 12, 2009


"D'une vie entière inutile, il n'y aura eu que l'amour qui brille".

Mano Solo, "Des années entières", Rentrer au port.

Mano, j'ai enfin eu le plaisir de te voir et t'entendre en concert ce soir.
Ta voix a rempli l'Olympia et ma tête.
Pas très sympa par contre d'avoir gueulé sur ce pauvre fan qui chantait a tue-tête avec toi... Mais bon, c'est ton caractère, c'est sûrement pour ça que tu nous ponds des chansons comme tu le fais!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Cleaning up after ourselves

"Fixing climate by taking carbon dioxide back out of the atmosphere is not the same as fixing climate by putting sulfur dioxide in. It is not "geoengineering". It is much more conservative than that. Our problem with carbon dioxide is an unintended consequence of a long series of fantastic inventions - from trains, planes, and automobiles to electric light, television, and computers - that have collectively liberated the citizens of industrialized countries from want and physical labor, lengthened their lives, and enriched them tremendously. Billions of people on Earth, the kind of people who must still carry their water from a distant well or their firewood from a distant copse, remain eager for that kind of liberation. The moral strain, if there is one, lies not in our having achieved what we have by burning fossil fuels; it lies in not taking responsibility for the consequences. That's what capturing CO2 out of the air does - in such a way, unlike SO2 injection, as to minimize the danger of further unintended consequences. It is not a "technical fix" that allows us to burn more fossil fuels, any more than sewage systems allow us to eat more. It is merely cleaning up after ourselves."

Wallace Broecker and Robert Kunzig, "CO2 - Fixing Climate", chapter "Fixing climate".

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The greatest challenge

"The greatest challenge of man's future is to provide the energy needed to lift the world's population out of poverty without imposing a cost on the planet that neither humans nor the rest of its inhabitants can bear. The answer to the challenge is in part political and in part technological, but none of the possible technologies are ready. Over the next twenty years, say, we need a massive research program to get them ready - we need to be investing heavily in research into solar energy as well as carbon capture."

Wallace Broecker and Robert Kunzig, "CO2 - Fixing Climate", chapter "Fixing climate".

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The biggest problem

"The biggest problem confronting the world, Lackner was deciding at that time, is not whether quarks could exist in a free, unconfined state outside the atomic nucleus - the question that had exercised his brain as a theoretical physicist, and that he pursues these days as a hobby, the way other men might go bowling. The biggest problem was environmental. Malthus and his followers were right: we are headed for a brick wall. But the wall our growing population would soon crash into was not, as the Malthusians thought, the limited resources of the planet. It was the limited ability of the planet's thin biosphere to sustain the environmental impact our growing population and spreading industry are inflicting on it.
Ultimately that problem came down to energy. "If we had cheap, clean, and copious energy, we could solve our problems about being sustainable," Lackner says. Unlike other energy sources, fossil fuels are cheap and copious right now. If we could just make them clean, they would be perfect."

Wallace Broecker and Robert Kunzig, "CO2 - Fixing Climate", chapter "Scrubbing the air".

As the title of this chapter suggests, Klaus Lackner thinks there is a solution: capturing CO2 out of the ambient air, and storing it as carbonates, the way nature does it with the weathering process, albeit at much too slow a rate to keep up with our emissions. As crazy as it may sound, some people have thought about it seriously, and are beginning to show it could be feasible. I'll make another post about it later, but I just would like to add here an excerpt from Lackner's 2003 Science paper ("A guide to CO2 sequestration"):
"CO2 is three times as heavy as fuel and therefore cannot be stored in cars or airplanes. CO2 from these sources will have to be released into the atmosphere and recaptured later. Currently, photosynthesis is the only practical form of air capture. Capture from air flowing over chemical sorbents - such as strong alkali solutions or activated carbon substrates - appears feasible but needs to be demonstrated. [...]
Because the atmosphere mixes rapidly, extraction at any site, however remote, could compensate for emissions from anywhere else. By decoupling power generation from sequestration, air capture would allow the existing fossil fuel-based energy infrastructure to live out its useful life; it would open remote disposal sites and even allow for the eventual reduction of atmospheric CO2 concentration."

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Is nuclear the energy solution?

A rational critic of nuclear energy as a practical solution to our energy and global warming problem:

"It's a measure of how urgent the CO2 problem has become that some antinuclear environmentalists have lately been willing to reconsider their long-standing opposition. Nuclear power, as its proponents frequently remind us, has killed far fewer people than coal mining, not to mention pollution from coal-fired power plants. But that doesn't mean there aren't rational reasons to be skeptical of it. There is still no permanent disposal site anywhere on Earth for waste that will remain dangerously radioactive for thousands of years. And the fear that a proliferation of civilian power plants could promote the proliferation of nuclear weapons has only grown more acute since September 11, 2001. The huge expansion of nuclear power that would be necessary for it to contribute significantly to resolving the CO2 problem is, in our opinion, just not going to happen."

Wallace Broecker and Robert Kunzig, "CO2 - Fixing Climate", chapter "Green is not enough".

Monday, September 28, 2009

Quand le superflu passe avant l'essentiel

"Comment se résigner, quand on voit que le superflu des uns est sans limites, alors que l'essentiel des autres n'est même pas satisfait?"

Bande-annonce du Syndrôme du Titanic, de Nicolas Hulot et Jean-Albert Lièvre.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The carbon pie

A good explanation and discussion of the concept of carbon pie:

"Yet any realistic solution to the climate problem will have to resolve that conflict between the powerful drive to use fossil fuels and the real threat CO2 poses. One way to get an idea of both the scale of the problem and of what an equitable solution might look like is to think in terms of a "carbon pie". The pie represents the amount of CO2 we could still put into the atmosphere without disastrous effects. Its size is not easy to specify. We don't really know at what level the CO2 concentration will become truly dangerous - at what threshold the climate might shift so that rapid melting of the ice sheets becomes unavoidable, say, or the intensity of the drought in the American West is incompatible with the civilization we have built there. James Hansen, director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, puts the threshold at 450 parts per million. The Goddard climate model predicts a one-degree-Celsius warming from that concentration, and Hansen thinks a global average temperature one degree warmer than today is enough to threaten the long-term stability of the ice sheets.[...]
The drawback to setting that as a goal, however, is that it is probably not attainable.[...]
A more realistic goal would be 560 ppm - a doubling of pre-industrial CO2 - for which the middle-of-the-range climate-model forecast is a warming of three degrees Celsius. That would give us a carbon pie of 720 gigatons. How should the pie be sliced? The most equitable way would be for each country to get a slice proportional in size to its population. The industrialized countries as a group would then get around 20 percent of the pie, or 144 gigatons. At present they are emitting nearly 5 gigatons a year; at that rate, they will have eaten their pie in less than thirty years. Three decades to reduce their CO2 emissions to zero: that gives an idea of the challenge those countries face, if they want to take full responsibility for the consequences of their prosperity and do as much as possible - though much less than some researchers advocate - to protect the planet from dangerous climate change.
Clearly, the industrialized countries are not going to reduce their carbon emissions to zero in thirty years. Most of them are not even going to meet their much less challenging obligations under the Kyoto Protocol, which calls on them to reduce their emissions by 2012 to below the 1990 levels - on average 5 percent below. The United States, which signed but never ratified the 1997 protocol, has not even tried to reduce its CO2 emissions [...]. At the same time, one of the great shortcomings of the Kyoto Protocol, which conservative climate skeptics have stressed and which has become starkly evident in recent years, is that it placed no obligations on developing countries.
The carbon pie suggests a conceptual way out of this dilemma. It dramatizes the reality that any solution to the climate problem is going to require an overarching deal between industrialized and developing countries. In essence, the former will have to buy extra pieces of pie from the latter, to avoid the choice between protecting climate and torpedoing their economies. In return, the developing countries will get some kind of help with developing - ideally, in a way that helps alleviate rather than aggravate the CO2 problem. The bigger slices of pie that an equitable division would allot them would also allow them to use more fossil fuels for longer - which will in itself be an essential component of their development."

Wallace Broecker and Robert Kunzig, "CO2 - Fixing Climate", chapter "Green is not enough".

I think if such an agreement were reached at the Copenhagen Climate Conference in December, it would be a very good thing both for reducing the threats of global warming (although one can argue that if we choose a limit above the threshold at which climate change becomes dangerous for our civilization, then our efforts will be vain) and for helping the developing countries to get most of its people out of poverty, by transferring some of the riches the industrialized countries have gathered thanks to fossil fuels to those who have not yet enjoyed their benefits. But let's hope that these people don't follow our bad example and pollute as much as we did as they are developing. We therefore also need to develop cleaner energy production systems and to transfer these technologies to the developing countries as soon as possible!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Don't poke an angry beast!

To all those global warming skeptics who have withdrawn from its denial to diminishing its threats, I would like to quote this:

"There is no proof that global warming will cause a megadrought, or a sudden sea-level rise for that matter. There is only a reasonable argument based on common sense - and on a metaphor. We have learned that Earth's climate has been capable of megadroughts and other extreme and abrupt fluctuations in the past, when given only a small push by the sun or by the Milankovic cycles. It seems prudent to avoid giving climate a big push. If you're in a tippy canoe, you shouldn't dance - that's Richard Alley's version of the metaphor. If you're living with an angry beast, you shouldn't poke it with a sharp stick - that's Broecker's own favorite."

Wallace Broecker and Robert Kunzig, "CO2 - Fixing Climate", chapter "The drying of the future".

Friday, September 11, 2009


"He who has so little knowledge of human nature as to seek happiness by changing anything but his own disposition will waste his life in fruitless efforts."

Samuel Johnson, quoted by Ram Dass, Remember: Be Here Now, chapter "Cookbook for a sacred life", section "Drop out / cop out".

Monday, September 7, 2009

Let it go

"By letting it go it all gets done
The world is won by those who let it go.
But when you try and try
The world is then beyond the winning."

Quotation from Tao Te Ching (Lao Tzu) by Ram Dass, Remember: Be Here Now, chapter "Cook-book for a sacred life".

It is a bit the same with girls!...

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Les vrais alarmistes

"Les scientifiques ont été accusés pendant des années d'être des alarmistes. Mais les vrais alarmistes, ce sont ceux qui disent que l'on ne peut engager une action pour le climat car cela ralentirait la croissance économique".

Ban Ki-moon, secrétaire général de l'ONU, 3e Conférence de l'ONU sur le climat, jeudi 3 septembre 2009 (rapporté par Le Monde).

Tuesday, September 1, 2009


"The best I can tell you about karma is:
if you are pure spirit, you are not matter!...
You are that eternal spirit...
If each of us is that very old being...
and not this young body, or this body that is going through this life...
Why don't we remember?
Why don't we remember it all??
Why can't we read the entire Akashic record??

  • Because of our attachments to the physical plane or reality...
  • Because of the power of our identification with our own body-senses and thoughts."

Ram Dass, Remember: Be Here Now, brown pages.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Inner fire

"If a man gives way to all his desires, or panders to them, there will [be] no inner struggle, in him, no "friction", no fire. But if, for the sake of attaining a definite aim, he struggles with the desires that hinder him - he will then create a fire which will gradually transform his inner world into a single whole."

Ouspensky, quoted by Ram Dass, Remember: Be Here Now, brown pages.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Being a dynamic incompetent

"Young man," the Austrian said gravely, "a disaster happens to many, many of our best scientists. They become administrators. And the day they do that, they're lost to science. So you never want to become an administrator. You have to guard against that."
"But Dr. Suess," piped Broecker, "how do I do that?"
"Be a dynamic incompetent! Do at least three outrageous acts a year. Then no one will want you to be an administrator."

Wallace Broecker and Robert Kunzig, "CO2 - Fixing Climate", chapter "Carbon dioxide and the Keeling curve".

I'll have to remember that one for the rest of my career!...

Thursday, August 13, 2009


"As they say in the Sikh religion - once you realize God knows everything, you're free. I had been through many years of psychoanalysis and still I had managed to keep private places in my head - I wouldn't say they were big, labeled categories, but they were certain attitudes or feelings that were still very private. And suddenly I realized that he knew everything that was going on in my head, all the time, and that he still loved me. Because who we are is behind all that."

Ram Dass, Remember: Be Here Now, chapter "Ashtanga Yoga".

Monday, August 10, 2009

Good private property and bad private property

"As regards private property, the first and most basic distinction is between (a) property that is an aid to creative work and (b) property that is an alternative to it. There is something natural and healthy about the former - the private property of the working proprietor; and there is something unnatural and unhealthy about the latter - the private property of the passive owner who lives parasitically on the work of others."

E. F. Schumacher, Small is beautiful.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Choix de carriere

"La décision de rechercher ce à quoi on est appelé, sa vocation la plus haute, au lieu de rechercher son avantage immédiat (...) constitue un choix de carrière."

Rajmohan Gandhi, président d'Initiatives & Changement international (et petit-fils de Mohandas Gandhi), discours aux Etudiants d'Oxford, 2005.
Cité par Antoine Jaulmes dans Changer International, 337, Mai-Juin 2009.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The deepest joy of science

"Broecker likes figuring things out. He likes, above all else, putting a new piece in the puzzle. That is the best fun, the deepest joy.
Science is a system, a way of thinking and acting, and a community that allows you to taste that joy, on your luckiest days. It is the belief that if we observe the world carefully, test our ideas skeptically, and communicate honestly, we can figure things out."

Wallace Broecker and Robert Kunzig, "CO2 - Fixing Climate", chapter "Finding Science".

This reminds me of my mother telling me I loved and was very good at puzzles at an early age. This is undoubtedly what I like most in my job, having to figure out how the ocean works from observations I collect about it.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The future

I think this one is originally from somebody else, but I read it again in this book anyway:

"The future cannot be forecast, but it can be explored."

E. F. Schumacher, Small is beautiful.

See also this related and much more developed post from my friend François.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

When stupidity becomes more intelligent than cleverness

I used to like and look for optimality when I was younger, but since then I have learned the following bit of wisdom:

"I think the stupid man who says "something is better than nothing" is much more intelligent than the clever chap who will not touch anything unless it is optimal."

E. F. Schumacher, Small is beautiful.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

What is education for ?

"Is education to be a "passport to privilege" or is it something which people take upon themselves almost like a monastic vow, a sacred obligation to serve the people ?"

E. F. Schumacher, Small is beautiful.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Law & Order

"[...] maintaining public order and curbing violence [...] is potentially a big and underappreciated advantage of centralized societies over noncentralized ones. Anthropologists formerly idealized band and tribal societies as gentle and nonviolent, because visiting anthropologists observed no murder in a band of 25 people in the course of a three-year study. Of course they didn't: it's easy to calculate that a band of a dozen adults and a dozen children, subject to the inevitable deaths occuring anyway for the usual reasons other than murder, could not perpetuate itself if in addition one of its dozen adults murdered another adult every three years. Much more extensive long-term information about band and tribal societies reveals that murder is a leading cause of death. For example, I happened to be visiting New Guinea's Iyau people at a time when a woman anthropologist was interviewing Iyau women about their life histories. Woman after woman, when asked to name her husband, named several sequential husbands who had died violent deaths. A typical answer went like this: "My first husband was killed by Elopi raiders. My second husband was killed by a man who wanted me, and who became my third husband. That husband was killed by the brother of my second husband, seeking to avenge his murder." Such biographies prove common for so-called gentle tribespeople and contributed to the acceptance of centralized authority as tribal societies grew larger."

Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs, and Steel, chapter "From egalitarianism to kleptocracy".

So much for the idealization of tribal societies of ancient times that I have read in Lao Tzu's Tao Te Ching. Too bad, I liked this myth of gentle tribespeople... But can I keep my dream of gentle "civilized" people in an hypothetical future, please ?

Monday, May 18, 2009

Small is beautiful

"Man is small, and, therefore, small is beautiful."

E. F. Schumacher, Small is beautiful.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Simplicity again

"It is my experience that it is rather more difficult to recapture directness and simplicity than to advance in the direction of ever more sophistication and complexity. Any third-rate engineer or researcher can increase complexity; but it takes a certain flair of real insight to make things simple again."

E. F. Schumacher, Small is beautiful.

See also this post.

From a scientific perspective, I like this viewpoint, and I am always trying to understand what I observe with some explanatory mechanisms based on simple principles. But I am aware that it is also dangerous to go too far in this direction, and that the simple theoretical principles are most often valid only under strong assumptions that are never satisfied in reality, so that their explanatory power is questionable and the possibility that what I observed was the result of something else must at least remain open.

From a philosophical perspective, I dislike this viewpoint, which would lead to a meaningless world where everything is deterministic and we are just complex machines without souls. I prefer the holistic philosophies of people like Ram Dass and Eckhart Tolle.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Lorsque l'Enfant Paraît

Lorsque l'enfant paraît, le cercle de famille
Applaudit à grands cris.
Son doux regard qui brille
Fait briller tous les yeux,
Et les plus tristes fronts, les plus souillés peut-être,
Se dérident soudain à voir l'enfant paraître,
Innocent et joyeux.

Soit que juin ait verdi mon seuil, ou que novembre
Fasse autour d'un grand feu vacillant dans la chambre
Les chaises se toucher,
Quand l'enfant vient, la joie arrive et nous éclaire.
On rit, on se récrie, on l'appelle, et sa mère
Tremble à le voir marcher.

Quelquefois nous parlons, en remuant la flamme,
De patrie et de Dieu, des poètes, de l'âme
Qui s'élève en priant ;
L'enfant paraît, adieu le ciel et la patrie
Et les poètes saints ! la grave causerie
S'arrête en souriant.

La nuit, quand l'homme dort, quand l'esprit rêve, à l'heure
Où l'on entend gémir, comme une voix qui pleure,
L'onde entre les roseaux,
Si l'aube tout à coup là-bas luit comme un phare,
Sa clarté dans les champs éveille une fanfare
De cloches et d'oiseaux.

Enfant, vous êtes l'aube et mon âme est la plaine
Qui des plus douces fleurs embaume son haleine
Quand vous la respirez ;
Mon âme est la forêt dont les sombres ramures
S'emplissent pour vous seul de suaves murmures
Et de rayons dorés !

Car vos beaux yeux sont pleins de douceurs infinies,
Car vos petites mains, joyeuses et bénies,
N'ont point mal fait encor ;
Jamais vos jeunes pas n'ont touché notre fange,
Tête sacrée ! enfant aux cheveux blonds ! bel ange
À l'auréole d'or !

Vous êtes parmi nous la colombe de l'arche.
Vos pieds tendres et purs n'ont point l'âge où l'on marche.
Vos ailes sont d'azur.
Sans le comprendre encor vous regardez le monde.
Double virginité ! corps où rien n'est immonde,
Âme où rien n'est impur !

Il est si beau, l'enfant, avec son doux sourire,
Sa douce bonne foi, sa voix qui veut tout dire,
Ses pleurs vite apaisés,
Laissant errer sa vue étonnée et ravie,
Offrant de toutes parts sa jeune âme à la vie
Et sa bouche aux baisers !

Seigneur ! préservez-moi, préservez ceux que j'aime,
Frères, parents, amis, et mes ennemis même
Dans le mal triomphants,
De jamais voir, Seigneur ! l'été sans fleurs vermeilles,
La cage sans oiseaux, la ruche sans abeilles,
La maison sans enfants !

Victor Hugo

Je dédicace ce poème (envoyé par ma soeur Lauriane pour l'occasion) à mon fils, Anaël, né le 1er mai 2009.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The burden of proof

"The burden of proof is placed on those who take the "ecological viewpoint": unless they can produce evidence of marked injury to man, the change will proceed. Common sense, on the contrary, would suggest that the burden of proof should lie on the man who wants to introduce a change; he has to demonstrate that there cannot be any damaging consequences. [...]
All changes in a complex mechanism involve some risk and should be undertaken only after careful study of all the facts available. Changes should be made on a small scale first so as to provide a test before they are widely applied. When information is incomplete, changes should stay close to the natural processes which have in their favour the indisputable evidence of having supported life for a very long time."

Ralph and Mildred Buchsbaum, commentary in E.F. Schumacher Small is beautiful.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The main threat in nonsustainable development

"From a resource point of view, the main threat in nonsustainable development is not so much that we are running out of non-renewables (for instance fossil fuels or heavy metals). The main threat is that the productivity of our renewable resource base (vital ecosystems) is declining. The main problem is that waste molecules from the use of nonrenewables have negative effects on our renewable resource base through climate change, acid rain, eutrophy, toxic metals, etc."

Karl-Henrik Robèrt (founder of The Natural Step), commentary in E.F. Schumacher Small is beautiful.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Small is great

"The great arises out of small things that are honored and cared for. Everybody's life really consists of small things. Greatness is a mental abstraction and a favorite fantasy of the ego. The paradox is that the foundation for greatness is honoring the small things of the present moment instead of pursuing the idea of greatness. The present moment is always small in the sense that it is always simple, but concealed within it lies the greatest power."

Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth - Awakening to your life's purpose, chapter "Your inner purpose".

This reminds me of this quotation from Gandhi (in french).

Wednesday, April 8, 2009


"The source of all abundance is not outside you. It is part of who you are. However, start by acknowledging and recognizing abundance without. See the fullness of fife all around you. The warmth of the sun on your skin, the display of magnificent flowers outside a florist's shop, biting into a succulent fruit, or getting soaked in an abundance of water falling from the sky. The fullness of life is there at every step. The acknowledgment of that abundance that is all around you awakens the dormant abundance within. Then let it flow out. When you smile at a stranger, there is already a minute outflow of energy. You become a giver. Ask yourself often: "What can I give here; how can I be of service to this person, this situation?" You don't need to own anything to feel abundant, although if you feel abundant consistently things will almost certainly come to you. Abundance comes only to those who already have it. It sounds almost unfair, but of course it isn't. It is a universal law. Both abundance and scarcity are inner states that manifest as your reality. Jesus puts it like this: "For to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away."*

* Mark 4:25 (New Revised Standard Version).

Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth - Awakening to your life's purpose, chapter "Finding who you truly are".

I remember reading this passage of the Bible some time ago when I started to read the New Testament, and thinking this was a very unfair statement from Jesus. Now, thanks to Eckhart Tolle, I understand the meaning.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Ode to women

"Although women have egos, of course, the ego can take root and grow more easily in the male form than in the female. This is because women are less mind-identified than men. They are more in touch with the inner body and the intelligence of the organism where the intuitive faculties originate. The female form is less rigidly encapsulated than the male, has greater openness and sensitivity toward other life-forms, and is more attuned to the natural world."

Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth - Awakening to your life's purpose, chapter "The pain-body".

Monday, March 23, 2009

Cleverness is not intelligence

"The ego may be clever, but it is not intelligent. Cleverness pursues its own little aims. Intelligence sees the larger whole in which all things are connected. Cleverness is motivated by self-interest, and it is extremely short-sighted. Most politicians and businesspeople are clever. Very few are intelligent. Whatever is attained through cleverness is short-lived and always turns out to be eventually self-defeating. Cleverness divides; intelligence includes."

Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth - Awakening to your life's purpose, chapter "Role-playing: the many faces of the ego".

Thursday, March 19, 2009

On roles

"Some pre-established roles we could call social archetypes. To mention just a few: the middle-class housewife (not as prevalent as it used to be, but still widespread); the tough macho male; the female seductress; the "nonconformist" artist or performer; a person of "culture" (a role quite common in Europe) who displays a knowledge of literature, fine art, and music in the same way as others might display an expensive dress or car. And then there is the universal role of adult. When you play that role, you take yourself and life very seriously. Spontaneity, lightheartedness, and joy are not part of that role.
Why does the ego play roles ? Because of one unexamined assumption, one fundamental error, one unconscious thought. That thought is: I am not enough. Other unconscious thoughts follow: I need to play a role in order to get what I need to be fully myself; I need to get more so that I can be more. But you cannot be more than you are because underneath your physical and psychological form, you are one with Life itself, one with Being. In form, you are and will always be inferior to some, superior to others. In essence, you are neither inferior nor superior to anyone. True self-esteem and true humility arise out of that realization. In the eyes of the ego, self-esteem and humility are contradictory. In truth, they are one and the same."

Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth - Awakening to your life's purpose, chapter "Role-playing: the many faces of the ego".

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The many faces of the ego

A profound analysis of shyness and over-confidence :

"A shy person who is afraid of the attention of others is not free of ego, but has an ambivalent ego that both wants and fears attention from others. The fear is that the attention may take the form of disapproval or criticism, that is to say, something that diminishes the sense of self rather than enhances it. So the shy person's fear of attention is greater than his or her need of attention. Shyness often goes with a self-concept that is predominantly negative, the belief of being inadequate. Any conceptual sense of self - seeing myself as this or that - is ego, whether predominantly positive (I am the greatest) or negative (I am no good). Behind every positive self-concept is the hidden fear of not being good enough. Behind every negative self-concept is the hidden desire of being the greatest or better than others. Behind the confident ego's feeling of and continuing need for superiority is the unconscious fear of inferiority. Conversely, the shy, inadequate ego that feels inferior has a strong hidden desire for superiority. Many people fluctuate between feelings of inferiority and superiority, depending on situations or the people they come into contact with. All you need to know and observe in yourself is this : whenever you feel superior or inferior to anyone, that's the ego in you."

Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth - Awakening to your life's purpose, chapter "Role-playing: the many faces of the ego".

Friday, March 6, 2009

Tragic loss: resisting or yielding ?

The following quotation does not apply to my life so far, fortunately, but should it become relevant one day, I would like to remember it.

"Whenever tragic loss occurs, you either resist or you yield. Some people become bitter or deeply resentful; others become compassionate, wise, and loving. Yielding means inner acceptance of what is. You are open to life. Resistance is an inner contraction, a hardening of the shell of the ego. You are closed. Whatever action you take in a state of inner resistance (which you could also call negativity) will create more outer resistance, and the universe will not be on your side; life will not be helpful. If the shutters are closed, the sunlight cannot come in."

Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth - Awakening to your life's purpose, chapter "Ego: the current state of humanity".

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Ego and consumerism

"Ego-identification with things creates attachment to things, obsession with things, which in turn creates our consumer society and economic structures where the only measure of progress is always more. The unchecked striving for more, for endless growth, is a dysfunction and a disease. It is the same dysfunction the cancerous cell manifests, whose only goal is to multiply itself, unaware that it is bringing about its own destruction by destroying the organism of which it is a part. [...]
The physical needs for food, water, shelter, clothing, and basic comforts could be easily met for all humans on the planet, were it not for the imbalance of resources created by the insane and rapacious need for more, the greed of the ego. It finds collective expression in the economic structures of this world, such as the huge corporations, which are egoic entities that compete with each other for more. Their only blind aim is profit. They pursue that aim with absolute ruthlessness. Nature, animals, people, even their own employees, are no more than digits on a balance sheet, lifeless objects to be used, then discarded."

Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth - Awakening to your life's purpose, chapter "Ego: the current state of humanity".

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Ego and Communism

"The history of Communism, originally inspired by noble ideals, clearly illustrates what happens when people attempt to change external reality - create a new earth - without any prior change in their inner reality, their state of consciousness. They make plans without taking into account the blueprint for dysfunction that every human being carries within : the ego."

Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth - Awakening to your life's purpose, chapter "The flowering of human consciousness".

Monday, February 16, 2009

Le secret de la vie

"Quel serait le secret de la réussite d'une destinée ? Il me semble que l'essentiel, au départ, est de trouver sa vocation profonde, c'est-à-dire d'élucider où le meilleur de soi - intelligence, volonté, coeur - trouvera à s'épanouir pour soi et pour les autres, et ensuite de s'acharner pour l'actualiser, sans changer de route à chaque difficulté."

Soeur Emmanuelle, Confessions d'une religieuse, chapitre "Au soir de ma vie".

Sunday, February 8, 2009


"J'ai enfin compris que la raison accepte ou rejette Dieu selon des critères rattachés à l'éducation, l'environnement, les lectures, les événements de la vie, critères personnels qui paraissent difficiles ou même impossibles à changer. C'est une question d'intellect que chacun résout comme il peut, non sans quelques doutes, qu'il soit croyant ou non. Mais l'essentiel n'est pas là. La valeur d'un homme ne dépend pas de ses convictions, mais de ses actions."

Soeur Emmanuelle, Confessions d'une religieuse, chapitre "Autres convictions, autres richesses".

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Du bonheur

"Où l'homme trouve-t-il donc son bonheur ?
Cette même question, je me la poserai plus tard en Europe, où je découvre souvent un climat de morosité, une insatisfaction foncière. J'ai l'impression que les individus sont empêtrés dans un autre genre d'esclavage. Des désirs impossibles à maîtriser, sans cesse renaissants, une course haletante sans rémission étouffent dans son germe le plaisir de vivre, de vivre l'instant : joie d'être, de respirer, de marcher, penser, dialoguer, lire, goûter son repas, regarder le ciel, la terre, les plantes, les oiseaux, les enfants, surtout la joie de se sourire, de donner et recevoir la joie ! Nous touchons peut-être ici une des divergences essentielles : l'Africain, plus près de son enfance, reste immergé dans le présent dont il jouit simplement. Demain ne l'intéresse pas. L'Européen, toujours en quête d'évolution, est tourné vers l'avenir qu'il veut indéfiniment meilleur. D'autre part, chez les pauvres gens la relation humaine se déroule dans un climat différent, dont j'ai déjà parlé. D'abord - constatation qui paraît simplette -, le siège, chaise ou fauteuil, crée une séparation spatiale. Dans la cabane sénégalaise ou chez le chiffonnier, on s'en passe car cela coûte cher. Le fait d'être assis sur la "mère terre", côte à côte, chair à chair, engendre une sorte de convivialité plus immédiate. Pas d'ameublement, de tableaux, de bibelots, rien ne distrait le regard porté sur l'autre, le copain. Le langage est décanté de tout artifice, de toute facétie factice. Que peut offrir l'homme simple, sinon l'accueil chaleureux de son être, corps et âme ? C'est bon d'être ensemble, on existe à l'unisson. La relation, libérée de la baliverne, se vit dans l'essentiel.
Finalement, le bonheur paraît comporter une part d'austérité : les lèvres saturées de boissons artificielles peuvent-elle jouir de l'eau fraîche des sources ?"

Soeur Emmanuelle, Confessions d'une religieuse, chapitre "Aimons-nous, vivants".

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Le choix du doute

"Doute pour absurde, je choisis le doute : qu'il me ronge, qu'il m'assaille, je vais défendre ma foi ! Je préfère marcher dans la nuit que me dissoudre dans le néant."

Soeur Emmanuelle, Confessions d'une religieuse, chapitre "Du doute à l'ouverture".

Voilà sa conclusion après avoir passé des années à remettre sa religion en question et à étudier les autres grandes religions et les philosophes. Elle rejoint le pari de Pascal. Qu'ai-je à y perdre ? Pourquoi ne l'ai-je pas encore fait ?...

Monday, January 26, 2009

La lutte

"J'insistais surtout sur l'importance de l'effort. Mes élèves apprenaient par coeur cette phrase de Victor Hugo: "Ceux qui vivent, ce sont ceux qui luttent." Je leur citais Marc Aurèle: "L'obstacle est matière à action." C'est dans la lutte que les potentialités d'un être atteignent leur apogée."

Soeur Emmanuelle, Confessions d'une religieuse, chapitre "Tempêtes et accalmies".

Voir aussi ce post.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Garder ou donner ?

"Ce que tu donnes t'appartiendra toujours, ce que tu gardes, tu le perds !"

Poète du XIIè siècle, cité par Soeur Emmanuelle, J'ai 100 ans et je voudrais vous dire..., chapitre "Il s'agit toujours de partager avec ceux que l'on veut aider".

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The most powerful political idea of our time

"The European imperial powers withdrew from their colonies after World War II not because their armies were militarily defeated but because their armies could not secure the political objectives of maintaining imperial rule and legitimacy.
At play is a fundamental issue of politics. In the post-World War II era, after generations or centuries of colonial rule, the forces of nationalism and self-determination became irresistible in the developing countries. The idea that human dignity requires freedom from foreign occupation has become the most powerful political idea of our time. All of this was immeasurably strengthened by the spread of literacy, mass communications, and a modicum of economic development. Yet even as the United States has proclaimed its fundamental commitment to human freedom, it has disregarded its own anticolonial history and the basic facts of modern history. Thus, the United States substituted for France in Vietnam's struggle for independence, and could not understand that the Vietnamese were fighting a war of national liberation. The United States replaced Britain as the chief outside meddler in the Middle East oil states - Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia - but could not understand that every U.S. manipulation of local Middle East politics ignited powerful anticolonial antibodies.
President Bush imagines that the United States has liberated Iraq, but to the Iraqis the United States is yet one more occupying power, indeed one that has partnered with Britain, Iraq's original imperial power. Moreover, the United States has not tried to understand the roots of Arab views of Israel as a colonial imposition. While compromise is the only productive approach for both parties to the conflict, the Arab view reflects Arab nationalism and anticolonialism. For these reasons, military adventures such as the Iraq War are bound to fail [...]."

Jeffrey Sachs, Common Wealth, Economics for a crowded planet, chapter "Rethinking foreign policy".

Thursday, January 15, 2009

De la fierté

"La fierté, c'est la recherche de sa dignité personnelle. Ce n'est pas un défaut."

Soeur Emmanuelle, J'ai 100 ans et je voudrais vous dire..., chapitre "Péter de joie parce qu'on s'aime".

Il faut que je médite cette citation. J'ai toujours considéré la fierté comme un défaut, un amour excessif de sa propre personne. Mais Soeur Emmanuelle m'offre un autre angle de vue...

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Le stress, c'est le non-vivre

"Le divertissement est nécessaire à l'homme. J'ai connu des jeunes femmes très tendues entre leur travail, la maison, les enfants, les parents âgés parfois... C'est moi qui leur disais de filer au cinéma, ou à la montagne, à la campagne. Le divertissement est source d'équilibre. Mais tout est une question de mesure. Il existe des divertissements exagérés, inutiles, dangeureux. Pascal appelait cela des "superfluités". Des superfluités qui font perdre à l'homme, justement, le sens de sa vie. Alors, il tombe dans le stress. Le stress, je le dis souvent, c'est le non-vivre."

Soeur Emmanuelle, J'ai 100 ans et je voudrais vous dire..., chapitre "Que reste-t-il dans un monde complètement dépouillé? L'homme."