To Collapse or Not To Collapse

21 02 2015

This is a great debate from the Sustainable Living Festival featuring David Holmgren, George Monbiot, Nicole Foss, Philip Sutton, and a couple of others I don’t know like Jess Moore and George Marshall…..

The SLF Great Debate presents

To Collapse or Not To Collapse, or Sucking Beer Out Of The Carpet according to Nicole Foss!

Pushing for economic ruin or building a great transition

This bullsh*t might save the world

21 02 2015

Thomas Rippel has a vision to turn the world’s soils into a lush paradise, reverse global warming and reduce world hunger by living in symbiosis with cows and composting their manure with biochar. For this vision, cows should only eat grass and clover from pastures like the alps and from crop rotation. And the number of cows on this planet should not be determined by our appetite for meat, but by the amount of grass and clover available to us in this wonderful symbiosis. And lastly, farmers should compost the manure of their cows with biochar, giving us all the organic fertilizer we need to grow grains and vegetables for humans without needing any chemical fertilizers.

Thomas is a globetrotter who has settled down in Switzerland to live his life as an organic farmer. Sustainable agriculture is central to his life’s philosophy and combines his passions for cutting edge science, healthy nutrition, animal welfare and combatting global climate change.

In the end, all he is professing is PERMACULTURE.

All people are not equal…in terms of climate

19 02 2015

Mark Cochrane

Mark Cochrane

Another guest post from Mark Cochrane who this time speaks up on the touchy issue of population.  And economics.  It’s refreshing to see anyone tying all the loose ends together and seeing the big picture, which is why I love Mark…  we need more Mark Cochranes, and his musings need to go far and wide.

The population issue is a contentious predicament. Few people would argue that we don’t have a population problem but there are even fewer willing to do anything about it. Who dies or loses the rights to procreate? Our exponential population growth fits right in with our crazed economic model of infinite exponential growth. Our economy needs exponentially increasing consumption of resources to support the exponential increase in money and that requires exponentially more consumers to drive the process. Look at those places where populations aren’t keeping up their end of the growth curve (Japan, Italy) and you see major economic problems. Nobody talks about this little predicament. For now, developed countries can import needed consumers (immigration) as their populations slow their procreation rates but if this ever becomes a global problem where human beings are a globally limited resource our house of economic cards is going to collapse, assuming any number of other problems don’t bring it down first.

Since we are debating Anthropogenic Climate Change (i.e. human-caused climate change) it goes without saying that the number of us on the planet is one of the root causes of our current dilemma. However people are not all equal or exchangeable in terms of their impacts on the planet.

A few years ago, I provided a book review for “Developing Ecological Consciousness” and the author posed an interesting question. Which country is more overpopulated, the United States or India? At the time, a typical American used 20 times as many resources as a typical Indian. Therefore, our 300 million strong population is equivalent to 6 billion typical Indian people. India has over 1.2 billion people right now. We need less people everywhere but the US is heavily responsible for driving our global environmental problems.

I recently read the 30-yr update for Limits to Growth and had the good fortune to spend time with Dennis Meadows when we were both presenting at last years Age of Limits conference. As Les reports, Dennis doesn’t see intervention as being plausible at this point. We were warned, but instead of preparing we turned up the music and partied harder. We’ve vastly overshot the reasonable carrying capacity of the planet and will have to face a reckoning at some point. Our fears are of a catastrophic collapse of famine, disease and zombies with massive death over a short period but it doesn’t have to be that way.  We could string things out by working it such that our death rate exceeds our birthrate in any number of ways to get there but it doesn’t have to happen suddenly. We can even grow populations more (stupid) or soften the downward slope to coast down to a more sustainable population by simply using less resources per capita (gasp). If Americans all suddenly shifted to Indian consumption rates it would be the equivalent of dropping 285 million people from our resource-use population draw-down rate on the planet. Unfortunately, instead of doing something sensible like this, we are instead trying to lift the consumption rates of the 1.2 billion Indians to American living standards. That will be equivalent to having an additional 22.8 billion previous Indian consumers joining us on the planet! Nothing could go wrong with that…

The incentives of our misguided economic system are what is driving us off the resource cliff in the Limits to Growth graph and we will soon meet the population cliff too if we don’t start planning for a serious transition to reduced energy, resource and food use.

George Monbiot on Money

19 02 2015

George-Monbiot-LUnlike the vast majority of journalists, George Monbiot does his own research rather than repeat parrot fashion what others in his trade throw at the sheeples as ‘news’.  It’s a pity he hasn’t included resource depletion in the pot as a problem for growth and therefore debt servicing, but there are enough new concepts in this to make it a most worthwhile read.  Lifted from the Guardian.


A maverick currency scheme from the 1930s could save the Greek economy

Compare the terms demanded of the Greek government to those offered to the banks. Eurozone ministers now insist upon unconditional surrender: a national abasement that makes a mockery of democracy. But when the banks were bailed out, governments magicked up the necessary money almost unconditionally. They shyly requested a few token reforms, then looked away when the bankers disregarded them.

The German government, now crushing the life out of southern Europe, merely tickled its own banks. As the New York Times reported, though the corrupt German banking system “required a bailout bigger than the one American banks received”, “there is little appetite for change in Germany because the banking system is so deeply intertwined with its politics, serving as a rich source of patronage and financing for local projects”.

When the Greeks complain that they have been reduced to colonial subjects, they are right, but the colonial masters are not the northern members of the eurozone. They are the private banks. The governments that seem determined to destroy a sovereign state for its impudence are merely the intermediaries of power.

None of this is to deny the corruption and fiscal promiscuity of previous Greek administrations. But while the banks have got away with far worse, the bullies of the eurozone insist on extracting every last drop of blood from people who had no role in their governments’ deceptions.

Greece is stuffed: or so almost everyone asserts. Perhaps. Or perhaps there are possibilities we have scarcely begun to examine. I should warn you that no one in their right mind would take financial advice from me.  (Or, for that matter, from most financial advisers) I seek only to suggest that there may be some possibilities of hope among the ruins.

One of these radical ideas was proposed a few months ago by Martin Wolf in the Financial Times. He suggests stripping private banks of their remarkable power to create money out of thin air. Simply by issuing credit, they spawn between 95% and 97% of the money supply. If the state were to assert a monopoly on money creation, governments could increase their supply without increasing debt. Seigniorage (the difference between the cost of producing money and its value) would accrue to the state, adding billions of pounds to national coffers. The banks would be reduced to the servants, not the masters, of the economy.

An entirely different approach is proposed by Ann Pettifor, in Just Money. She argues that governments have failed to understand what money is. It should not be seen as a commodity, she says, but as a social relationship based on trust. Unusually for a radical critic of finance, she sees the creation of money by private banks as “a great civilisational advance”, freeing nations from the usurers who once monopolised and restricted wealth.

The supply of money is, in effect, unlimited: as long as there is sufficient productive activity to absorb it there is no obvious restraint on the amount of money that can be issued. So when governments and central bankers tell you that the money has run out, Pettifor argues, they are either deceiving us or deceiving themselves. What holds back economic activity is an unnecessary and artificial restriction of the medium of exchange.

Banking’s great civilisational advance has been all but destroyed through deregulation, whose result is a new system of usury, speculation and exploitation. Private banks borrow cheap and lend dear, forcing us to work ever longer hours and to inflict ever more damage on the natural world to service our debts. Pettifor suggests that governments should reassert control over interest rates at every level of lending.

But perhaps the biggest transformation could happen at the local level. Greece already has set up some local currencies that have kept money circulating in several towns and cities as it cannot be siphoned away. (There are similar systems in Britain, such as the Bristol Pound). But strangely they do not make use of the thrilling, transformative system that almost saved Europe from fascism; the currency developed by the economist Silvio Gesell called stamp scrip. It is explained in Bernard Lietaer’s magnificent book The Future of Money.

In its original form, stamp scrip was a piece of paper on which a number of boxes were printed. The note would lose its validity unless a stamp costing 1% of its value was stuck in one of the boxes every month. In other words, the currency lost value over time, so there was no incentive to hoard it. Stamp scrip projects took off across Germany and Austria after national currencies collapsed in the early 1930s. In 1932, for example, the Austrian town of Wörgl was almost broke, unable to finance public works or to support its destitute population, until the mayor heard of Gesell’s proposal.

This little pot of money kept circulating, enabling Wörgl to repave the streets, rebuild the water system

He put up the town’s tiny remaining fund as collateral against the same value of stamp scrip, and used it to pay for a building project. The workers then passed on the currency as quickly as they could. Like the magic pudding, this little pot of money kept circulating, enabling Wörgl to repave the streets, rebuild the water system, construct houses, a bridge and even a ski jump. In the 13 months of the experiment, the 5,500 scrip schillings in circulation were spent 416 times, creating between 12 and 14 times as much employment as the standard currency would have done. Unemployment vanished, and the stamp fees paid for a soup kitchen feeding 220 families.

The governments of Germany and Austria, profoundly threatened by the success of these projects, shut them down and employment collapsed once more. When the US economist Irving Fisher examined these experiments he concluded that “the correct application of stamp scrip would solve the depression crisis in the US in three weeks!”. Roosevelt’s government, aware that such currencies could invoke a massive loss of federal power, promptly banned it.

Could these ideas be useful to Greece? Could they be of relevance in other parts of Europe? Even perhaps in Scotland, where the currency issue was unimaginatively fudged before the referendum? I don’t know. But if Greece leaves the eurozone, it could open up a world of possibility to which other nations have closed their minds.

Twitter: @georgemonbiot. A fully referenced version of this article can be found at

The Fingerprints of Sea Level Change

18 02 2015

I tip my hat to the follower of this blog who calls him/herself rabiddoomsayer for pointing to this excellent video featuring Jerry Mitrovica, an Australian physicist who specialises in rising sea levels.  It never ceases to amaze me how much can be learned on the internet.  I hope you find this as fascinating as I did…..

Jerry X. Mitrovica

Jerry X. Mitrovica joined Harvard in 2009 as a Professor of Geophysics. His work focuses on the Earth’s response to external and internal forcings that have time scales ranging from seconds to billions of years. He has written extensively on topics ranging from the connection of mantle convective flow to the geological record, the rotational stability of the Earth and other terrestrial planets, ice age geodynamics, and the geodetic and geophysical signatures of ice sheet melting in our progressively warming world. Sea-level change has served as the major theme of these studies, with particular emphasis on critical events in ice age climate and on the sea-level fingerprints of modern polar ice sheet collapse.

Mitrovica is the Director of the Earth Systems Evolution Program of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research. He is a former J. Tuzo Wilson Professor in the Department of Physics at the University of Toronto, where he also received his Ph.D. degree. He is the recipient of the A.E.H. Love Medal from the European Geosciences Union and the Rutherford Memorial Medal from the Royal Society of Canada. He is also a Fellow of the American Geophysical Union, a past Fellow of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation and a former Visiting Miller Professor at the University of California, Berkeley.

More videos on ice melt and how doubt about the science is spread

16 02 2015

There is a movie coming out soon called Merchants of Doubt, after the book by the same name, that describes how a 25 year campaign of disinformation, largely by the fossil fuel industry, has successfully distorted the message and left much of the public in deep denial.  The methods used to cast doubt on climate change are the same methods used to cast doubt on cigarettes causing cancer.

The science is settled. There is no longer any debate. Climate change is real, and humans are causing it. They just want you to think there is still doubt.


Scorched Earth, 2200AD

15 02 2015

Author Q&A: Linda Marsa, “Fevered”

Linda Marsa

A fascinating essay by Linda Marsa who is a contributing editor for Discover magazine, a teacher on the writer’s programme at UCLA, and the author of Fevered: Why a Hotter Planet Will Hurt Our Health (2013).


I stare out the window from my tiny flat on the 300th floor, hermetically sealed in a soaring, climate-controlled high-rise, honeycombed with hundreds of dwellings just like mine, and survey the breathtaking vistas from my lofty perch more than half a mile above ground: the craftsman cottages with their well-tended lawns, the emerald green golf courses, the sun-washed aquamarine swimming pools and the multimillion-dollar mansions that hug the sweeping sands from Malibu to Palos Verdes. These images evoke feelings of deep nostalgia for a Los Angeles that doesn’t exist anymore, back in the halcyon days before my great-grandparents were born, when procreation wasn’t strictly regulated and billions of people roamed freely on Earth.

There are only about 500 million of us left, after the convulsive transformations caused by climate change severely diminished the planet’s carrying capacity, which is the maximum population size that the environment can sustain. Most of us now live in what the British scientist James Lovelock has called ‘lifeboats’ at the far reaches of the northern hemisphere, in places that were once Canada, China, Russia and the Scandinavian countries, shoehorned into cities created virtually overnight to accommodate the millions of desperate refugees where the climate remains marginally tolerable.

What I ‘see’ outside my window is an illusion, a soothing virtual imitation of a world that once was, summoned by impulses from After nearly a century and a half of rail history, trains are being brain. Yet the harsh reality is unsettling. As far as the eye can see, what’s left of civilised society is sheathed in glass – the ribbons of highways ferrying the bullet trains that encircle megacities where millions cram into skyscrapers hundreds of stories high; the vast tracts of greenhouses covering chemically enhanced farms where fruits and vegetables are grown and livestock graze; and even the crowded subterranean villages artificially lit to mimic the experience of walking outside on a sunny, spring day.

Before the seismic shocks of the great upheavals, people’s movements were unfettered, and they could breathe unfiltered air, roam in the woods or simply watch their kids play soccer outdoors. Today, the unprotected strips of land exposed to the elements are forbidden zones, plagued by drenching rains with howling 100-mile-an-hour winds, alternating with fierce dust storms, the deadly soil tsunamis that rumble up from the deserts that blanket what used to be the United States. When there is a break in the wild weather, the scorching sun relentlessly cooks the atmosphere to temperatures of 180 degrees or more by midday, making it impossible to step outside without body armour and oxygen tanks.

Our political structures have shifted, too. The religious and sectarian violence that dominated much of humanity’s history, in places such as the Middle East, Africa, southern Europe and even the US, are a relic of history, mainly because those parts of the world no longer exist. Autocratic nations such as China and Russia weathered the climate calamity best because they imposed the Draconian measures – closing borders to desperate migrants, rationing water and food, forcing relocation of millions. ‘Countries will fortify themselves against what they see as invaders, making it more likely that authoritarian states, like China, with all their bad properties will wind up winning,’ says Erik Conway, a science historian at Caltech and co-author with Naomi Oreskes of The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future (2014).

This might sound like a fevered nightmare, but climate change has triggered the collapse of advanced civilisations dating back nearly 3,000 years. Around 1200 BCE, a perfect storm of calamities – including earthquakes, famines, and a drought that lasted 150 years or more – set in motion the breakdown of the late Bronze Age kingdoms clustered around the eastern Mediterranean in an area that includes much of what is now Greece, Israel, Lebanon, Turkey and Syria. Archaeologists have unearthed persuasive evidence that part of the world experienced vibrant economic growth and cultural and technological advances for more than three centuries. These ancient societies – from the Mycenaeans and Minoans to the Hittites, Assyrians, Cypriots, Canaanites and Egyptians – were intimately interconnected, exchanging the services of physicians, musicians and artisans. Their well-developed trade routes transported goods and natural resources, especially commodities such as tin, essential for making bronze.

But a 2012 study revealed that surface temperatures of the Mediterranean Sea cooled rapidly during the years around 1200 BCE. Archeological records suggest this precipitated a severe drought that led to food shortages, mass migrations, and internal rebellions by poor and agrarian peasants. Ultimately, the major cities of these once-thriving Bronze Age societies were destroyed by invading armies likely fleeing their own drought-stricken homelands, prompting the loss of culture, languages and technologies. The result was the first Dark Ages – the late-Bronze Age crash – when these once-sophisticated and complex societies ceased to exist. It took centuries to recover and rebuild.

‘It was a globalised society for its time, and everyone was in contact with and dependent on everyone else,’ says Eric H Cline, an archeologist and anthropologist at George Washington University, and author of 1177 BC: The Year Civilization Collapsed (2014). ‘As a result you get a domino effect, when one culture goes down you get a cascade that affects everyone else. Egypt survived because they were better able to prepare but it was a Pyrrhic victory because all their trading partners were gone. The entire known world went down within a century.’

It’s also instructive to look back at the last time Earth was inhabited by 500 million humans, in the 17th century, coincidentally also a time of tremendous climate-induced upheavals. This is considered the Early Modern period of Europe – think Newton, Rembrandt, Galileo and Louis the XIV. The parallels between what happened then and the challenges facing us today are remarkably similar. Historians have called this era the General Crisis because wars raged almost non-stop across the globe, including the Thirty Years War, and the collapse of the Ming Dynasty in China and the Stuart monarchy in England.

But it was also the century when the Little Ice Age was most intense, leading to a cooling of the entire planet, although it was felt most keenly in the northern hemisphere where most people lived. The extreme weather shift was behind most of the crises that occurred during the 17th century: colder weather, with many more episodes of storm-generating El Niños, contributed to flooding, crop failures, drought and famine, leading to civil unrest, rebellions and war, according to the British historian Geoffrey Parker, author of Global Crisis: War, Climate Change and Catastrophe in the 17th Century (2013). The prolonged crisis weakened once-dominant states such as Spain, Russia and the Ottoman Empire, and left about a third of the population dead. ‘Certainly, the Global Crisis ended prematurely the lives of millions of people, just as a natural catastrophe of similar proportions today would end prematurely the lives of billions of people,’ Parker says.

The difference here is that previous societies were at the mercy of Mother Nature, says Cline. ‘It remains to be seen if we will be the cause of our own collapse. Every civilisation that came before us has eventually collapsed. Why do we think we’re immune?’

It seems like hubris to think we can somehow save ourselves through Lovelockian lifeboats strung across the landscape, given the extent of the damage some experts believe we will wreak. Climate models predict temperatures could rise by four degrees Celsius (7.2 degrees Fahrenheit) or more by the end of this century, a level that Kevin Anderson of the UK’s Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research described as ‘incompatible with any reasonable characterisation of an organised, equitable and civilised global community’.

overpopulation-and-the-collapse-of-civilization.png‘We will see temperatures higher than any known during human civilisation – temperatures that we are simply not adapted to,’ says Heidi Cullen, chief scientist for the NPO Climate Central in Princeton, and author of The Weather of the Future (2010). ‘With each passing year, our “new normal” is being locked in with the full impacts arriving towards the latter part of this century,’ she says. ‘It’s hard for us to imagine that large parts of the planet would be unlivable outdoors.’

An increase of seven degrees Fahrenheit would see mass migrations from some of the most humid places on Earth – the Amazon, parts of India, northern Australia. Rising sea levels of four feet or more and ferocious storms would flood coastal cities from Tokyo to Mumbai, and submerge low-lying areas such as Bangladesh and Florida, displacing millions. Earth’s most populated areas, that belt of land extending from central China and most of Europe, Africa, Australia, the US and Latin America, would be parched by this century’s end, drying up surface water and killing crops that hundreds of millions depend upon for survival. Nearly half the world’s population, almost 4 billon people, could be enduring severe water scarcity and starvation, numerous studies suggest.

Scorching heat waves and cataclysmic fires will spark food riots, famine and mass migrations of millions. An explosion in insects will trigger widespread outbreaks of typhus, cholera, yellow fever, dengue, malaria and a host of long-dormant or even novel pathogens, unleashing epidemics reminiscent of the Black Death which killed as many as 200 million people in the 14th century. Once-teeming metropolises would become watery ghost towns: Picture Manhattan, Tokyo, São Paulo underwater, sparsely populated colonies of hardy survivors who eke out vampire-like subterranean existences, emerging only at night when the temperatures dip into the low triple digits.

Worse yet, temperatures won’t conveniently stabilise at just seven degrees of warming – Earth’s climate won’t reach a new equilibrium for hundreds of years because of all the heat trapping carbon dioxide that’s already been dumped into the environment. ‘We have only felt a fraction of the climate change from the gases already in the atmosphere,’ said James Hansen, a leading climatologist and director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, recently. ‘Still more is in the pipeline because the climate system has enormous inertia and doesn’t change that quickly.’ The planet will continue to heat up, triggering feedback loops of runaway climate change, until we can kiss most of civilisation goodbye.

As we move into the 22nd century, tropical rain forests – the lungs of the planet – could be enveloped by desertification while And if the Amazon transformation ever tips over into the amazon desert ...alpine forests will be ravaged by fires. In a 2014 paper in Science, the biologist Rodolfo Dirzo at Stanford University and colleagues predicted that we are on the verge of the planet’s sixth mass extinction event, which could wipe out as much as 90 per cent of the species on Earth. The birds and animals that roam the equatorial belt will be gone forever. Australia will revert to a blazing desert once more, empty of humans. The island chains in the South Pacific, from Hawaii to Fiji, will be swallowed by the oceans.

Despite all this, history offers a game plan for our species to survive. In analysing his copious research, Parker came to a startling conclusion: the deprivations of the 17th century laid the basis for the welfare state that became the ‘hallmark of all economically advanced states’ by the 19th century. ‘In the 21st century, as in the 17th, coping with catastrophes on this scale requires resources that only central governments command,’ he notes in his book. ‘Despite the many differences between the 17th and the 21st centuries, governments during the Little Ice Age faced the same dilemma. . . [they ultimately realised] that, in the long run, it was economically cheaper and more efficient (as well as more humane) to support those who became old, widowed, ill, disabled or unemployed, thus creating the first “welfare state” in the world.’

Likewise, we are too technologically advanced – and, one hopes, too socially sophisticated – for the doomsday scenarios some foresee. Instead of fighting it out in barbaric, Mad Max-style, dystopian colonies reminiscent of the American West, humanity’s 500 million remaining souls, fed by artificially concocted edibles or even a 23rd century version of Soylent Green, will no doubt be crammed into towering high rises in dense urban areas creating their culture anew atop the world.

10 February 2015