This is the third instalment of a three part essay by Dr Geoffrey Chia whose other essay If we can’t save Society, we must save ourselves I posted here last year…
PART 1 is HERE
PART 2 is HERE
PART 3: WHAT REMAINS TO BE DONE
I had a particularly memorable patient a couple of years ago. We managed to save his life despite his best efforts to deny his problems. Contrary to popular opinion, denial does not make problems go away. I saw him in hospital for the first time after he was admitted for heart failure. Our tests showed he had sustained a small heart attack at the time, but we also identified other problems of rapid atrial fibrillation, severe aortic stenosis and severe left ventricular impairment (look up those terms, no space to explain everything here). He felt better after initial diuretic
therapy and refused to acknowledge the multiple severe heart problems I explained to him we had discovered. He wanted to be discharged against medical advice. He took a taxi to his GP’s surgery for a chat. His GP phoned me to discuss things, then sternly told the patient to get right back into hospital immediately.
I then performed his coronary angiogram which showed severe left main stem disease and triple vessel disease. Any single one of his problems could cause sudden death. With the multiple whammy combination of those problems, he was, in my opinion, barely a month away from dying. I referred him immediately to a heart surgeon for aortic valve replacement and coronary bypass surgery. The surgeon later informed me he found a huge clot within the left atrial appendage which was threatening to detach and cause a fatal stroke at any time. The surgeon reckoned the patient was just days away from dropping dead. He recuperated well and at last clinic review he has been compliant with his medications, has changed his adverse lifestyle, has recovered normal heart function, has a controlled heart rate and his artificial valve is working well. All other things being equal he can now expect at least another ten years of good quality life. He initially regarded me as being “alarmist”. If he had persisted in his denial he would have died. He now appreciates that he not only dodged a bullet, he dodged a whole volley of machinegun fire.
That case study is not an example of any brilliance on my part and was in fact a team effort anyway. I merely did what any average Cardiologist would do. It is an illustration of the power of the principles and practice of judicious modern medicine to save lives. This is what I have been trying to do for more than eight years – to apply medical decision making principles to policy in wider society to avert disaster and enhance the common good. I have failed miserably. It is my observation that most people will listen intently to save their own skin, but they don’t give a rat’s arse if you ask them to even slightly alter their wasteful lifestyle to save the lives of others, let alone other species1.
Hence my miserable failure to lobby our previous State Minister of Sustainability Kate Jones to ban non biodegradable plastic bags. Kate had spoken at one of our previous D3SJ meetings and came across as being strongly pro-environment then. After her appointment as Minister, I sent her information about the “plastic gyres” in the oceans and videos of turtles and seabirds killed by plastic detritus. I gathered signatures on a petition to ban nonbiodegradable plastic bags and pointed out to her that such legislation had just been passed in South Australia. Her assistant wrote back admonishing me to stop pestering them as they were simply not going to do it – no explanation.
Rachel Nolan spoke to our D3SJ group when she was an MP before she became State Transport Minister and she even co-wrote a paper on Peak Oil Vulnerability with Andrew McNamara (who was Sustainability Minister before Kate Jones). Nothing significant to date has been done in Queensland to wean us off petroleum dependency.
At a Federal level, despite repeated written submissions to Kevin Rudd (my local MP) before and while he was Prime Minister, I was unable to convince him of the importance of Peak Oil. I instead received a thoroughly nonsensical letter in reply from Resource Minister at the time, Martin Ferguson. My failures are well documented on the D3SJ website http://www.d3sj.org (not updated for a while due to lack of motivation and preoccupation with other projects, however meetings have continued regularly till this month).
Andrew McNamara lost his seat of Hervey Bay because of Premier Anna Bligh’s Traveston Dam debacle. Andrew spoke to our D3SJ group subsequently, giving us an insider view of how the political process works. It became clear to us that the system ensures it is impossible to change the Government’s unsustainable policies by making representations to Ministers or by going through the “usual channels” which are a sham. Bligh was beholden to the fossil fuel industrialists. I know Andrew himself wanted to do the right thing but his hands were tied and he was muzzled.
Andrew, Rachel and Kate were all Labor Ministers. If nothing could be done through them or by them, we can expect even less than nothing from current Premier Cannibal Newman’s right wingnut environmental vandals who are wantonly going about cutting “green tape” (their euphemism for destroying environmental protection legislation) and demonising householders who have installed photovoltaic panels. How dare they not pay their “fair share” for coal-fired electricity! Cannibal Newman has been quoted as saying that Peak Oil does not exist and they will burn carpets and tyres if necessary to keep the cars running. How can one discuss sane policy with such a blinkered imbecile? He is very good at constructing money losing road tunnels, which my friend Professor David Hood described as future stormwater storage tanks.
I now know that the vast majority of humanity, indeed probably all of humanity, will die off this century. I cling to the (probably forlorn) hope that some stragglers may survive extinction, to preserve an archive of some worthwhile human achievements. Even extending the lives of a few good people for perhaps an extra ten years beyond the general dieoff, so long as their lives remain comfortable, is in my opinion worth doing. It is what I have been doing all my professional life, so why stop now? So I would like to try. I acknowledge that I may fail miserably, but not to try at all will turn that failure into a self fulfilling prophecy.
It may be useful to view the National Geographic video clip of global average temperature rises from 1 to 6 degrees Celsius (above modern pre-industrial times – and bear in mind that average land temperature rises will be significantly higher). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hfBMUd-Es0M That clip is probably over optimistic. The narrator’s final statement, that at 6 degrees rise, “life will never be the same” is completely absurd because there will be no (complex) life on Earth at 6 degrees and beyond. The scientist just before that mentioned that at 6 degrees there will be a total global wipeout.
Given our present dire situation, my non-expert opinion is that only two outcomes can befall humanity now. One is human extinction which I suspect is very likely, let’s give it a probability of >99.9% and the other is near extinction leaving just a handful of survivors, which I rate as <0.1% likely. That 0.1% chance is only possible if there is complete termination of all human GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions right now or very soon (but still a 99.9% chance that even with immediate complete termination it is already too late). James Lovelock seems to think several
million people may survive, however I am not sure how up to date he is with the positive feedback loops we have triggered.
To the indifferent Universe, one outcome is much the same as the other. To humanity, however, there is a HUGE difference between complete extinction and near extinction. Modern humans first emerged in Africa about 200,000 years ago. Studies in genetic diversity indicate that total human numbers were down to just a few thousand people around 75,000 years ago. It is thought that a severe disaster, possibly a massive volcanic eruption in Lake Toba, Sumatra was the cause of this near human extinction. Others postulate some other cause but the exact cause is irrelevant for our purposes. The point is that humans have been through a genetic bottleneck before. Furthermore, other genetic studies indicate that all non-Africans today are descended from just a few hundred people who were thought to have crossed the Red Sea from Africa to Arabia about 70,000 years ago. Hence all it takes is for a few survivors to get through the most difficult times, to survive the next five hundred years or so till our climate stabilises,2 for our species to eventually recover and become re-established in the future.
There are numerous complex unpredictable non-linear factors which will determine our fate, but for simplicity let us consider just one thing: what is the single main determinant as to whether humanity will experience complete extinction or near extinction? It will be the maximum global average temperature this planet finally reaches. According to Professor David Hood, an eminent engineer, sustainability activist and climate educator, most researchers agree that at 5 degrees, human existence is inconceivable. Even at 4 degrees our extinction is very likely, however a number of scientists believe that a few pockets of survivors in geographically favourable parts of
the planet could persist. I thank my friend Dr Graeme Taylor for this link:
Four Degrees of Global Warming: Australia in a hot world. This book outlines the expected impacts of
global average warming of four degrees or more for Australia and its region. It provides detailed recent
research on the likely impacts of a Four Degree World on Australia’s social, economic and ecological
systems, and possible policy responses. Its authors include many of Australia’s most eminent and
internationally recognized climate scientists, climate policy makers and policy analysts.
Notwithstanding the impeccable qualifications of those authors, I cannot buy into any scenarios that we may have any semblance of organised society at 4 degrees, a world in which severe weather events will be magnitudes worse than they are now and large scale agriculture will be impossible. Perhaps a few scattered humans may survive at 4 degrees, but only if 4 degrees is the end point stable state. However if there are ongoing feedback loop GHG emissions still occurring then, 4 degrees will merely be a transition temperature to 6 or 10 degrees.
What will determine the maximum global average temperature this planet finally stabilises at? It will be the total amount of GHGs ultimately liberated by humans plus the total amount of GHGs ultimately liberated by the positive (bad) feedback loops3. The latter is potentially many times more than human liberated GHGs. At this time there do not seem to be significant negative (good) feedback loops4. If industry continues at, say, just half the emissions of today for perhaps the next ten years and considering current and further feedback loop GHGs, a maximum final
temperature of more than 5 degrees is guaranteed. You can disregard the views of the dishonestly downplayed IPCC projections (which have always seriously underestimated true warming effects) and Bill McKibben’s “carbon budget” campaign to “keep within 2 degrees”, because they disregard feedback loop GHGs.
In the rather unlikely scenario that all industry completely collapses tomorrow or in the next few months5, what will the final maximum global average temperature be? Considering atmospheric CO2 alone, which is now at 400ppm, approximately 3.5 degrees rise is already locked in, going by the paleorecord (estimated range is 2 to 5 degrees C, hence let’s take the middle of that range http://instaar.colorado.edu/news-events/instaar-news/ice-free-arcticocean-may-have-amped-up-temperatures-during-the-pliocene/ ). That 3.5 degree rise will probably not be reached till after 2100, but 2100 is an arbitrary cutoff date. Later term human extinction after 2100 is just as important a consideration to us as NTHE. It is, after all, extinction.
However, we must also consider the feedback loop GHGs liberated from the vicious cycles we have already triggered. We do not know the total amount that will be liberated before they tail off. We could still be headed for 5 degrees rise anyway. If that is the case, there is no scenario whatsoever where humans can escape extinction. However we simply don’t know if this “best case” scenario of immediate industrial collapse will or will not ultimately reach 5 degrees, all we can consider are probabilities which cannot be calculated with precision. Could geoengineering (eg injecting sulphates into the atmosphere) buy time? It could temporarily stabilise temperatures, prompting some hubristic media bufoons to declare that the problem of climate change is “solved”. Such idiocy will then encourage countries to burn more fossil fuels, which then will absolutely, definitely, beyond any shadow of a doubt seal our fate and guarantee our extinction. Geoengineering is sure to cause side effects, many of which we cannot even predict. Perhaps acid rain could render the tundra soils completely infertile, the tundra that we would depend on for future forest growth and biologic carbon sequestration.
One thing we know for sure is that continuation of human GHG emissions will cause feedback loop GHGs to increase exponentially. The GIMME establishment is hellbent on business as usual and we are powerless to alter that, which is why I believe Professor Guy McPherson is correct in his judgement regarding the prospect of NTHE. It is a well reasoned and logical opinion to hold. However even if the most experienced cancer specialist in the world diagnoses that a particular patient, who is thoroughly riddled with extensive metastases, will die very soon, there is
sometimes the one-in-a-million patient whose immune system unexpectedly rallies and who experiences dramatic recovery and defies the odds, dumbfounding the experts. An unexpected “black swan” event occurs. Am I clutching at straws? Perhaps. Nevertheless I prefer to regard Guy as being 99.9% likely to be correct. I may be deluded and I do have a proven track record of being a miserable failure, but I cling to the foolish notion there may be a 0.1% chance of a few survivors in our uncertain future (if and only if there is near immediate termination of all human GHG emissions). I don’t think I am in denial because I know the problem will not go away and am also aware that I am probably wrong. But what else is there to do?
Here is one indisputable fact: as individuals, even though we may not know exactly when we will die, we know that we have limited time and energy to expend from today until that final day of reckoning. Accordingly I believe we need to direct our precious limited remaining time and energy toward the actions we think will be most constructive and worthwhile. Choose your battles well and engage in activities which you personally regard as effective, valuable and meaningful. For me, it is pointless to expend energy trying to influence government any more, especially rabid, foaming-at-the-mouth, right wing government. Can we use public media to change public opinion? I spoke out on ABC Radio National in 2005, using indisputable evidence to prove that the invasion of Iraq was based on lies http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/ockhamsrazor/science-versus-pseudoscience-truthversus-lies–/3451208
I received a flurry of hate emails for my trouble, which I regard as my badge of pride. I have been banned from ABC RN ever since. Robyn Williams has been too afraid to let me back on air. Even the public media have been cowed and emasculated by the corporate political agendas.
The influence of public media is tiny anyway compared with the massively funded lies of the corporate media who have completely brainwashed the stupid sheeple.
My friend Rolf Kuelsen, known to us as a Transition Towns warrior and bicycle advocate (his professional background is that of a mathematician) asked a question at a meeting on Economics a couple of months ago. He asked why, given the great costs of modern illnesses to society, we do not spend our money more effectively on prevention and health education rather than expensive treatments after the diseases have taken hold. I personally may be a peddler of expensive treatments myself, however I fully agree that prevention would be far more cost effective. When no answer was forthcoming from the centre stage economists, I blurted out from the audience in my usual Tourette’s manner, “It is because the pathway to disease is protected by vested interests: tobacco, the salt industry, the fast food industry, high fructose corn syrup6“. Of course those vested interests are vigorously promoted by the corporate media. How can we battle the corporate media with their bottomless funding, universal pervasiveness and slickly produced seductive messages peddling addictive substances? We can’t. And the most addictive substances of all? Fossil fuels.
Even if some major disaster occurs (as if we haven’t already had enough disasters) which suddenly wakes up the masses to the fact we are in a planetary emergency and we start mobilising rapidly on an urgent international scale, the fact is that we have already fallen off the cliff of unsustainability and the die-off of billions is already built in. Every updated Limits to Growth simulation model results in massive die-off using contemporary data from today’s situation, even using the most favourable inputs. As my friend and Peak Oil expert Wallace Wight says, it is difficult to grow feathers once you have fallen off the cliff.
Below are my personal views of what we as individuals may choose to do and should not do. It is not a list of recommendations to anyone because I don’t know what to do any better than the next guy (although Guy may know better than the next guy). It is just a list of my opinions. You must decide for yourself.
Let us again use the analogy of a terminal cancer patient. Arguably the most important measure is to psychologically and emotionally come to terms with the probable fate we face. Even though the Kubler-Ross stages (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance) are not always invariably followed, they are a useful model of what psychological phases we may go through and can offer ways for us to cope. Secondly, being realistic about our likely fate motivates us to put our personal affairs in order. Thirdly, palliation can be of great value: therapies which will keep us comfortable and free of distress, and if possible extend whatever precious remaining time we may have. It is important to know the difference between prolonging a comfortable life and delaying an agonising death and to avoid the latter. If however we can achieve perhaps nine months of pleasant life by palliation, instead of suffering for three months in excruciating pain, it would be silly not to proceed with palliation.
There is one important difference between the death of an individual and the extinction of humanity as a species. For an individual facing a 99.9% chance of death, resignation to their fate is an entirely reasonable choice, indeed probably the most reasonable one. The struggle, exhaustion and pain they may be going through and side effects of medications may be just too much to endure. Most importantly, they can depart this mortal coil knowing that others can continue their legacy – life will go on for the rest.
For the extinction of our species however, it will mean the complete loss of all the hard won enlightenment and cultural achievements our species has ever gained, which I personally think is worth preserving. Furthermore I believe (on the basis of statistical likelihood) that conscious, self aware, intelligent life, which can be used to describe some (but not most) human beings, is exceedingly rare in the universe and is therefore precious.
As part of the grieving process, it is natural for us to direct much of our anger against the right wing psychopathic lying politicians who are presently wrecking the joint. However in a democracy such as Australia, those politicians reached their positions of power because they were voted in by the majority of the populace, a majority consisting of stupid, foolish and greedy primates who believe the corporate and media lies that they can have it all and have it now, with no consequences whatsoever. Tony Abbott wants to repeal the carbon tax legislated by the Labor
government. This is the exact mentality of a spoilt four year old brat completely lacking in self restraint and any thought of saving for the future. When the majority of the population are stupid and infantile, true democracy means we end up with “leaders” who are stupid and infantile, a mirror reflection of the majority.
The inmates have indeed taken control of the asylum. It is much harder to direct our frustrations diffusely against the unwashed brainless masses. However it is those masses who are in fact the problem, not specifically Tony Abbott, who would personally be relegated to a position no higher than that of toilet cleaner if the electorate had any sense whatsoever. The harsh reality is that even if Abbott did not exist, another knuckledragging coal company stooge of similar ilk would have been voted into office by the profoundly stupid electorate anyway. But who are
behind the manipulation of the dumb sheeple? Who have convinced the brainless masses to vote against their own interests?
By all means go ahead and rail against the despicable puppet masters (the corporate-military-industrial complex, their high priest economists and the commercial media) if you find it cathartic. I personally find ridicule and mockery to be a therapeutic and effective way to cast them in their true light, as you will have already noted.
Anger is natural part of the mourning phase. I think it is healthier to express your anger than to internalise your emotions. Woody Allen said, “I don’t get angry, I just grow a tumour” which to me is inadvisable. I agree with Richard Heinberg however, that discussing NTHE with ordinary people is pointless. Such a topic would certainly be a conversation stopper at a cocktail party (although I would love to be a fly on the wall in that situation). Seek out likeminded people with whom you can have your therapeutic conversations. Let the rage out, it is important to vent your spleen, but also important to eventually get past this phase so you can then direct your energies toward more
constructive activities. Don’t get bogged down in the anger phase. You may revisit it from time to time but don’t get stuck there. Here’s one thing we should NOT do: we should not resort to violence, no matter how tempting.
Apart from the context of legitimate self defence, the sapient among us know that violence tends to be counterproductive. This is true whether the violence is directed externally in the form of sabotaging coal installations, or internally in the form of starving oneself for a publicity campaign. For example, you may feel you have the “right” to torture and kill a coal company magnate for funding global warming denialism and for driving humanity (not to mention most other species) to extinction in order to feed his/her short term obscene profits. I am not arguing that such a person does not deserve to be viciously torn apart, fat limb from fat limb, but think of the consequences that will ensue following such an assassination. It will certainly be big news and any assassin will be portrayed by the MSM as a “lunatic ecoterrorist, the new Osama bin Laden” with hints of a larger conspiratorial “greenie terrorist plot” directed against wider society. MSM hacks will have a field day instilling fear in the hearts of the population against such “ecoterrorists”, resulting in reprisals against innocent “greenies” by the GIMME establishment and by the unwashed mob. Imagine SUVs running down innocent cyclists (as was advocated by the execrable Jeremy Clarkson, infamous global warming denialist, in one of his moronic “shows”) and you get the picture. There will be a lockdown of society, with increased electronic surveillance. There will be draconian oppressive laws passed by the government and curtailment of civil liberties, which the sheeple will willingly relinquish in order to feel “safe”.
“Terrorists” are the greatest gift to Fascist governments and if they did not exist, it would be necessary to invent
them. You will be aware that US government agencies already list left leaning environmentalists in their official criteria of what constitutes a terrorist. Furthermore, both the Pentagon and the German military, in their Peak Oil and Climate Change analysis, have made plans to institute martial law when the inevitable chaos ensues. They just need the flimsiest excuse. Do not give the GIMME establishment a scapegoat group (environmentalists) to blame and demonise. So we should not resort to violence – it will merely accelerate our transformation into a police state. Violence is not in the nature of the sapient, it is not in your nature dear reader anyway, unless you are forced to defend yourself.
I have been using the terms “sapient” and “sapience” (the capacity to achieve wisdom) profusely and would like to acknowledge the ideas of Dr George Mobus on this topic. http://faculty.washington.edu/gmobus/TheoryOfSapience/SapienceExplained/1.sapienceintroduction/sapienceIntroduction.html He is based in the University of Washington, Tacoma and his PhD was in computer science. However he is also a systems analyst and energy expert and as his website implies, http://questioneverything.typepad.com/question_everything/ he questions everything and has particularly worthwhile thoughts on how we should consider energy flows in reality based economic systems. He has been interviewed several times at the “doomstead diner” http://www.doomsteaddiner.net and I highly recommend the podcasts.
Mobus’ view is that the best hope for humanity is for sapient people to establish self sufficient offgrid communities remote from the cities (it is the urban centres where the major die-off will occur and people will be killing each other). Not all homesteads will succeed, however if enough of them are set up in various locations around the world and climate change is not too drastic, a few will be able to survive. Just one or two
groups of survivors may be sufficient to save humanity from extinction. Subsequent generations who emerge out of this “genetic bottleneck” will hopefully be selected for sapience and be more thoughtful, more cooperative, more generous, more benevolent, less violent, less greedy and less impulsive than the vast majority of humanity today and hence better custodians for a future planet. The Earth will have rid itself of its worst parasites (that last sentence is mine).
If you can gather together a group of sapient people and establish a permaculture homestead in a remote area with your own supply of water and food in a location relatively less affected by climate change than the rest of the world, you should be able to live a decent life and be in control of your own fate for longer than the rest. I won’t go into the issue of “marauding hordes” apart from saying your best protection may be remoteness and obscurity. Even if no communities survive in the long run, even if we ultimately all go extinct, your homestead will represent a form of palliative therapy to lengthen the duration of your comfortable life, minimise the amount of suffering you
endure and enable you to be in charge of the time and manner by which you depart this mortal coil.
If the actions we need to take for palliation and the actions we need to take to avoid extinction are exactly the same, then embarking on those actions is a no-brainer. Hence in conclusion: seek out the company of likeminded people who you can enlist for mutual help in the tough times ahead. The most important commodity of the future will not be gold or silver but will be the bond of trust between sapient people, honourable people whose word is their pledge and who can be relied on in difficult times. I bid you all good luck and good spirits as you face the challenges ahead posed by the inevitable disintegration of this irredeemably corrupt, economically delusional so-called civilisation. And so, in drawing D3SJ to a close, I have one last question to ask of everyone in general and no one in particular, “Is our quest to find sanity in the human race, itself an insane quest?”
I thank those of you who have supported the D3SJ meetings over the years.
Geoffrey Chia, October 2013
“I dreamed an impossible dream – then awoke to the hellish nightmare of Reality” – GC
1. But guess what? We depend on other species for our own survival! And those species can only survive if the habitats they live in are preserved. And climate change is destroying all habitats.
2. My non-expert understanding is that if all emissions were to cease tomorrow and we eventually stabilise at 4 deg C rise, natural biosequestration of the excess CO2 may take perhaps a thousand years to occur. However we are now also moving into a cooler Milankovitch phase (reduced solar insolation) which may take a thousand years or so to transition the planet into another ice age. Thus hopefully we could return to “normal” temperatures in a few hundred years rather than a thousand years from now.
3. One of the worst feedback loop GHG releases will be when the hot oceans no longer act as a carbon sink and start to release CO2, however we will probably be well on our way to extinction by then, if not already extinct. Of course the situation is much more complicated than just adding feedback loop GHGs to human GHGs, because there may be many other positive feedbacks such as loss of albedo due to loss of ice etc. However even though you and I may not be able to construct more precise complex computer models, our simplistic napkin-scribble reckoning is still far better than the IPCC “projections” which refuse to acknowledge feedbacks at all. Talk about denial.
4. Perhaps radiative heat loss being a little more than expected.
5. Not impossible though, as the Tea Party / GOP brinkmanship games threatening to collapse the USA financially on 17 October showed. Our best hope is for those lunatics to shoot themselves in the foot. If they carry out their threat to bomb Iran, it will provoke Iran to blockade the Persian Gulf using mines and missiles, which will paralyse oil exports and precipitate global financial and industrial collapse. We can only hope.
6. Of course high fructose corn syrup is more applicable to the US rather than Australia, who have the sugar cane lobby, but I think the audience got my drift