‘Sleepwalking to Extinction’: Capitalism and the Destruction of Life and Earth

23 11 2013

Reblogged from http://www.commondreams.org/view/2013/11/15-3

“even if we immediately replaced every fossil-fuel-powered electric generating plant on the planet with 100% renewable solar, wind and water power, this would only reduce global GHG emissions by around 17%.”

When, on May 10th, scientists at Mauna Loa Observatory on the big island of Hawaii announced that global CO2 400ppm
emissions had crossed a threshold at 400 parts per million (ppm) for the first time in millions of years, a sense of dread spread around the world and not only among climate scientists. CO2 emissions have been relentlessly climbing since Charles David Keeling first set up his tracking station near the summit of Mauna Loa Observatory in 1958 to monitor average daily global CO2 levels. At that time, CO2 concentrations registered 315 ppm. CO2 emissions and atmospheric concentrations have been rising ever since and have recently passed a dangerous tipping point: 440ppm.

For all the climate summits, promises of “voluntary restraint,” carbon trading and carbon taxes, the growth of CO2 emissions and atmospheric concentrations have not just been unceasing, they have been accelerating in what scientists have dubbed the “Keeling Curve.” In the early 1960s, CO2 ppm concentrations in the atmosphere grew by 0.7ppm per year. In recent decades, especially as China has industrialized, the growth rate has tripled to 2.1 ppm per year. In just the first 17 weeks of 2013, CO2 levels jumped by 2.74 ppm compared to last year.

Carbon concentrations have not been this high since the Pliocene period, between 3m and 5m years ago, when global average temperatures were 3˚C or 4˚C hotter than today, the Arctic was ice-free, sea levels were about 40m higher and jungles covered northern Canada; Florida, meanwhile, was under water along with other coastal locations we now call New York, London, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Sydney and many others. Crossing this threshold has fuelled fears that we are fast approaching converging “tipping points” — melting of the subarctic tundra or the thawing and releasing of the vast quantities of methane in the Arctic sea bottom — that will accelerate global warming beyond any human capacity to stop it.

“I wish it weren’t true, but it looks like the world is going to blow through the 400 ppm level without losing a beat,” said Scripps Institute geochemist Ralph Keeling, son of Charles Keeling.

“At this pace, we’ll hit 450 ppm within a few decades.”

“It feels like the inevitable march toward disaster,” said Maureen E. Raymo, a scientist at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, a unit of Columbia University.

Why are we marching toward disaster, “sleepwalking to extinction” as the Guardian’s George Monbiot once put it? Why can’t we slam on the brakes before we ride off the cliff to collapse? I’m going to argue here that the problem is rooted in the requirement of capitalist production. Large corporations can’t help themselves; they can’t change or change very much. So long as we live under this corporate capitalist system we have little choice but to go along in this destruction, to keep pouring on the gas instead of slamming on the brakes, and that the only alternative — impossible as this may seem right now — is to overthrow this global economic system and all of the governments of the 1% that prop it up and replace them with a global economic democracy, a radical bottom-up political democracy, an eco-socialist civilization.

Although we are fast approaching the precipice of ecological collapse, the means to derail this train wreck are in the making as, around the world we are witnessing a near simultaneous global mass democratic “awakening” — as the Brazilians call it — from Tahir Square to Zucotti Park, from Athens to Istanbul to Beijing and beyond such as the world has never seen. To be sure, like Occupy Wall Street, these movements are still inchoate, are still mainly protesting what’s wrong rather than fighting for an alternative social order. Like Occupy, they have yet to clearly and robustly answer that crucial question: “Don’t like capitalism, what’s your alternative?” Yet they are working on it, and they are for the most part instinctively and radically democratic; in this lies our hope.

Capitalism is, overwhelmingly, the main driver of planetary ecological collapse

From climate change to natural resource overconsumption to pollution, the engine that has powered three centurieshttps://i0.wp.com/www.newscientist.com/data/images/archive/2605/26051202.jpg of accelerating economic development, revolutionizing technology, science, culture and human life itself is, today, a roaring out-of-control locomotive mowing down continents of forests, sweeping oceans of life, clawing out mountains of minerals, pumping out lakes of fuels, devouring the planet’s last accessible natural resources to turn them into “product,” while destroying fragile global ecologies built up over eons of time. Between 1950 and 2000 the global human population more than doubled from 2.5 to 6 billion. But in these same decades, consumption of major natural resources soared more than sixfold on average, some much more. Natural gas consumption grew nearly twelvefold, bauxite (aluminium ore) fifteenfold. And so on. At current rates, Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson says that “half the world’s great forests have already been levelled and half the world’s plant and animal species may be gone by the end of this century.”

Corporations aren’t necessarily evil, though plenty are diabolically evil, but they can’t help themselves. They’re just doing what they’re supposed to do for the benefit of their shareholders. Shell Oil can’t help but loot Nigeria and the Arctic and cook the climate. That’s what shareholders demand. BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto and other mining giants can’t resist mining Australia’s abundant coal and exporting it to China and India. Mining accounts for 19% of Australia’s GDP and substantial employment even as coal combustion is the single worst driver of global warming. IKEA can’t help but level the forests of Siberia and Malaysia to feed the Chinese mills building their flimsy disposable furniture (IKEA is the third largest consumer of lumber in the world). Apple can’t help it if the cost of extracting the “rare earths” it needs to make millions of new iThings each year is the destruction of the eastern Congo — violence, rape, slavery, forced induction of child soldiers, along with poisoning local waterways. Monsanto and DuPont and Syngenta and Bayer Crop Science have no choice but to wipe out bees, butterflies, birds, small farmers and extinguish crop diversity to secure their grip on the world’s food supply while drenching the planet in their Roundups and Atrazines and neonicotinoids.

This is how giant corporations are wiping out life on earth in the course of a routine business day. And the bigger the corporations grow, the worse the problems become.

In Adam Smith’s day, when the first factories and mills produced hat pins and iron tools and rolls of cloth by the thousands, capitalist freedom to make whatever they wanted didn’t much matter because they didn’t have much impact on the global environment. But today, when everything is produced in the millions and billions, then trashed today and reproduced all over again tomorrow, when the planet is looted and polluted to support all this frantic and senseless growth, it matters — a lot.

The world’s climate scientists tell us we’re facing a planetary emergency. They’ve been telling us since the 1990s that if we don’t cut global fossil fuel greenhouse gas emissions by 80-90% below 1990 levels by 2050 we will cross critical tipping points and global warming will accelerate beyond any human power to contain it. Yet despite all the ringing alarm bells, no corporation and no government can oppose growth and, instead, every capitalist government in the world is putting pedal to the metal to accelerate growth, to drive us full throttle off the cliff to collapse.

Marxists have never had a better argument against capitalism than this inescapable and apocalyptic “contradiction.” Solutions to the ecological crisis are blindingly obvious but we can’t take the necessary steps to prevent ecological collapse because, so long as we live under capitalism, economic growth has to take priority over ecological concerns.

We all know what we have to do: suppress greenhouse gas emissions. Stop over-consuming natural resources. Stop the senseless pollution of the earth, waters, and atmosphere with toxic chemicals. Stop producing waste that can’t be recycled by nature. Stop the destruction of biological diversity and ensure the rights of other species to flourish. We don’t need any new technological breakthroughs to solve these problems. Mostly, we just stop doing what we’re doing. But we can’t stop because we’re all locked into an economic system in which companies have to grow to compete and reward their shareholders and because we all need the jobs.

James Hansen, the world’s preeminent climate scientist, has argued that to save the humans:

“Coal emissions must be phased out as rapidly as possible or global climate disasters will be a dead certainty … Yes, [coal, oil, gas] most of the fossil fuels must be left in the ground. That is the explicit message that the science provides. […] Humanity treads today on a slippery slope. As we continue to pump greenhouse gases in the air, we move onto a steeper, even more slippery incline. We seem oblivious to the danger — unaware of how close we may be to a situation in which a catastrophic slip becomes practically unavoidable, a slip where we suddenly lose all control and are pulled into a torrential stream that hurls us over a precipice to our demise.”

But how can we do this under capitalism? After his climate negotiators stonewalled calls for binding limits on CO2 emissions at Copenhagen, Cancun, Cape Town and Doha, President Obama is now trying to salvage his environmental “legacy” by ordering his EPA to impose “tough” new emissions limits on existing power plants, especially coal-fired plants. But this won’t salvage his legacy or, more importantly, his daughters’ futures because how much difference would it make, really, if every coal-fired power plant in the U.S. shut down tomorrow when U.S. coal producers are free to export their coal to China, which they are doing, and when China is building another coal-fired power plan every week? The atmosphere doesn’t care where the coal is burned. It only cares how much is burned.

Yet how could Obama tell American mining companies to stop mining coal? This would be tantamount to socialism. But if we do not stop mining and burning coal, capitalist freedom and private property is the least we’ll have to worry about. Same with Obama’s “tough” new fuel economy standards. In August 2012 Obama boasted that his new Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards would “double fuel efficiency” over the next 13 years to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025, up from 28.6 mpg at present — cutting vehicle CO2 emissions in half, so helping enormously to “save the planet.” But as the Center for Biological Diversity and other critics have noted, Obama was lying, as usual.

Four tonne Ford Excursion

First, his so-called “tough” new CAFE standards were so full of loopholes, negotiated with Detroit, that they actually encourage more gas-guzzling, not less. That’s because the standards are based on a sliding scale according to “vehicle footprints” — the bigger the car, the less mileage it has to get to meet its “standard.” So in fact Obama’s “tough” standards are (surprise) custom designed to promote what Detroit does best — produce giant Sequoias, mountainous Denalis, Sierras, Yukons, Tundras and Ticonderogas, Ram Chargers and Ford F series luxury trucks, grossly obese Cadillac Escalades, soccer-kid Suburbans, even 8,000 (!) pound Ford Excursions — and let these gross gas hogs meet the “fleet standard.” These cars and “light” trucks are among the biggest selling vehicles in America today (GM’s Sierra is #1) and they get worse gas mileage than American cars and trucks half a century ago. Cadillac’s current Escalade gets worse mileage than its chrome bedecked tail fin-festooned land yachts of the mid-1950s! Little wonder Detroit applauded Obama’s new CAFE standards instead of damning them as usual. Secondly, what would it matter even if Obama’s new CAFE standards actually did double fleet mileage — when American and global vehicle fleets are growing exponentially?

populationCO2In 1950 Americans had one car for every three people. Today we have 1.2 cars for every American. In 1950 when there were about 2.6 billion humans on the planet, there were 53 million cars on the world’s roads — about one for every 50 persons. Today, there are 7 billion people but more than 1 billion cars and industry forecasters expect there will be 2 to 2.5 billion cars on the world’s roads by mid-century. China alone is expected to have a billion. So, at the end of the day, incremental half measures like CAFE standards can’t stop rising GHG missions. Barring some technical miracle, the only way to cut vehicle emissions is to just stop making them — drastically suppress vehicle production, especially of the worst gas hogs.

In theory, Obama could simply order GM to stop building its humongous gas guzzlers and switch to producing small economy cars. After all, the federal government owns the company! But of course, how could he do any such thing? Detroit lives by the mantra “big car big profit, small car small profit.” Since Detroit has never been able to compete against the Japanese and Germans in the small car market, which is already glutted and nearly profitless everywhere, such an order would only doom GM to failure, if not bankruptcy (again) and throw masses of workers onto the unemployment lines. So given capitalism, Obama is, in fact, powerless. He’s locked in to promoting the endless growth of vehicle production, even of the worst polluters — and lying about it all to the public to try to patch up his pathetic “legacy.” And yet, if we don’t suppress vehicle production, how can we stop rising CO2 emissions?

In the wake of the failure of climate negotiators from Kyoto to Doha to agree on binding limits on GHG emissions, exasperated British climate scientists Kevin Anderson and Alice Bows at the Tyndall Centre, Britain’s leading climate change research center, wrote in September 2012 that we need an entirely new paradigm:

Government policies must “radically change” if “dangerous” climate change is to be avoided “We urgently need to acknowledge that the development needs of many countries leave the rich western nations with little choice but to immediately and severely curb their greenhouse gas emissions… [The] misguided belief that commitments to avoid warming of 2˚C can still be realized with incremental adjustments to economic incentives. A carbon tax here, a little emissions trading there and the odd voluntary agreement thrown in for good measure will not be sufficient … long-term end-point targets (for example, 80% by 2050) have no scientific basis. What governs future global temperatures and other adverse climate impacts are the emissions from yesterday, today and those released in the next few years.”

And not just scientists. In its latest world energy forecast released on November 12, 2012, the International Energy Agency (IEA) warns that despite the bonanza of fossil fuels now made possible by fracking, horizontal and deepwater drilling, we can’t consume them if we want to save the humans: “The climate goal of limiting global warming to 2˚C is becoming more difficult and costly with each year that passes… no more than one-third of proven reserves of fossil fuels can be consumed prior to 2050 if the world is to achieve the 2˚C goal…” Of course the science could be wrong about this. But so far climate scientists have consistently underestimated the speed and ferocity of global warming, and even prominent climate change deniers have folded their cards.

Still, it’s one thing for James Hansen or Bill McKibben to say we need to “leave the coal in the hole, the oil in the soil, the gas under the grass,” to call for “severe curbs” in GHG emissions — in the abstract. But think about what this means in our capitalist economy. Most of us, even passionate environmental activists, don’t really want to face up to the economic implications of the science we defend.

That’s why, if you listen to environmentalists like Bill McKibben for example, you will get the impression that global warming is mainly driven by fossil fuel powered electric power plants, so if we just “switch to renewables” this will solve the main problem and we can carry on with life more or less as we do now. Indeed, “green capitalism” enthusiasts like Thomas Friedman and the union-backed “green jobs” lobby look to renewable energy, electric cars and such as “the next great engine of industrial growth” — the perfect win-win solution. This is a not a solution. This is a delusion: greenhouse gasses are produced across the economy not just by power plants. Globally, fossil-fuel-powered electricity generation accounts for 17% of GHG emissions, heating accounts for 5%, miscellaneous “other” fuel combustion 8.6%, industry 14.7%, industrial processes another 4.3%, transportation 14.3%, agriculture 13.6%, land use changes (mainly deforestation) 12.2%. This means, for a start, that even if we immediately replaced every fossil-fuel-powered electric generating plant on the planet with 100% renewable solar, wind and water power, this would only reduce global GHG emissions by around 17%.

What this means is that, far from launching a new green-energy-powered “industrial growth” boom, barring some tech-fix miracle, the only way to impose “immediate and severe curbs” on fossil fuel production/consumption would be to impose an EMERGENCY CONTRACTION in the industrialized countries: drastically retrench and in some cases shut down industries, even entire sectors, across the economy and around the planet — not just fossil fuel producers but all the industries that consume them and produce GHG emissions — autos, trucking, aircraft, airlines, shipping and cruise lines, construction, chemicals, plastics, synthetic fabrics, cosmetics, synthetic fiber and fabrics, synthetic fertilizer and agribusiness CAFO operations.

Of course, no one wants to hear this because, given capitalism, this would unavoidably mean mass bankruptcies, global economic collapse, depression and mass unemployment around the world. That’s why in April 2013, in laying the political groundwork for his approval of the XL pipeline in some form, President Obama said “the politics of this are tough.” The earth’s temperature probably isn’t the “number one concern” for workers who haven’t seen a raise in a decade; have an underwater mortgage; are spending $40 to fill their gas tank, can’t afford a hybrid car; and face other challenges.” Obama wants to save the planet but given capitalism his “number one concern” has to be growing the economy, growing jobs. Given capitalism — today, tomorrow, next year and every year — economic growth will always be the overriding priority … till we barrel right off the cliff to collapse.

The necessity of denial and delusion

There’s no technical solution to this problem and no market solution either. In a very few cases — electricity generation is the main one — a broad shift to renewables could indeed sharply reduce fossil fuel emissions in that sector. But if we just use “clean” “green” energy to power more growth, consume ever more natural resources, then we solve nothing and would still be headed to collapse. Producing millions of electric cars instead of millions of gasoline-powered cars, as I explained elsewhere, would be just as ecologically destructive and polluting, if in somewhat different ways, even if they were all run on solar power.

Substituting biofuels for fossil fuels in transportation just creates different but no less environmentally-destructive problems: converting farm land to raise biofuel feedstock pits food production against fuels. Converting rainforests, peatlands, savannas or grasslands to produce biofuels releases more CO2 into the atmosphere than the fossil fuels they replace and accelerates species extinction. More industrial farming means more demand for water, synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. And so on. Cap and trade schemes can’t cut fossil fuel emissions because business understands, even if some environmentalists do not, that “dematerialization” is a fantasy, that there’s no win-win tech solution, that capping emissions means cutting growth. Since cutting growth is unacceptable to business, labor and governments, cap and trade has been abandoned everywhere.

Carbon taxes can’t stop global warming either because they do not cap emissions. That’s why fossil fuel execs like Rex Tillerson, CEO of ExxonMobil (the largest private oil company in the world) and Paul Anderson, CEO of Duke Energy (the largest electric utility in the U.S.) support carbon taxes. They understand that carbon taxes would add something to the cost of doing business, like other taxes, but they pose no limit, no “cap” on growth. ExxonMobil predicts that, carbon tax or no carbon tax, by 2040 global demand for energy is going to grow by 35%, 65% in the developing world and nearly all of this is going to be supplied by fossil fuels. ExxonMobil is not looking to “leave the oil in the soil” as a favor to Bill McKibben and the humans. ExxonMobil is looking to pump it and burn it all as fast as possible to enrich its shareholders.

Hansen, McKibben, Obama — and most of us really — don’t want to face up to the economic implications of the need to put the brakes on growth and fossil fuel-based overconsumption. We all “need” to live in denial, and believe in delusions that carbon taxes or some tech fix will save us because we all know that capitalism has to grow or we’ll all be out of work. And the thought of replacing capitalism seems so impossible, especially given the powers arrayed against change. But what’s the alternative? In the not-so-distant future, this is all going to come to a screeching halt one way or another — either we seize hold of this out-of-control locomotive, or we ride this train right off the cliff to collapse.

Emergency Contraction or Global Ecological Collapse?

If there’s no market mechanism to stop plundering the planet then, again, what alternative is there but to impose an emergency contraction on resource consumption?

This doesn’t mean we would have to de-industrialize and go back to riding horses and living in log cabins. But it does mean that we would have to abandon the “consumer economy” — shut down all kinds of unnecessary, wasteful and polluting industries from junkfood to cruise ships, disposable Pampers to disposable H&M clothes, disposable IKEA furniture, endless new model cars, phones, electronic games, the lot. Plus all the banking, advertising, junk mail, most retail, etc. We would have completely redesign production to replace “fast junk food” with healthy, nutritious, fresh “slow food,” replace “fast fashion” with “slow fashion,” bring back mending, alterations and local tailors and shoe repairmen. We would have to completely redesign production of appliances, electronics, housewares, furniture and so on to be as durable and long-lived as possible. Bring back appliance repairmen and such. We would have to abolish the throwaway disposables industries, the packaging and plastic bag industrial complex, bring back refillable bottles and the like. We would have to design and build housing to last for centuries, to be as energy efficient as possible, to be reconfigurable, and shareable. We would have to vastly expand public transportation to curb vehicle use but also build those we do need to last and be shareable like Zipcar or Paris’ municipally-owned “Autolib” shared electric cars.

These are the sorts of things we would have to do if we really want to stop overconsumption and save the world. All these changes are simple, self-evident, no great technical challenge. They just require a completely different kind of economy, an economy geared to producing what we need while conserving resources for future generations of humans and for other species with which we share this planet.

The spectre of eco-democratic revolution

Economic systems come and go. Capitalism has had a 300 year run. The question is: will humanity stand by and let the world be destroyed to save the profit system?

That outcome depends to a great extent on whether we on the left can answer that question “what’s your alternative?” with a compelling and plausible vision of an eco-socialist civilization. We have our work cut out for us. But what gives the growing global eco-socialist movement an edge in this ideological struggle is that capitalism has no solution to the ecological crisis, no way to put the brakes on collapse, because its only answer to every problem is more of the same growth that’s killing us.

“History” was supposed to have “ended” with the fall of communism and the triumph of capitalism two decades ago. Yet today, history is very much alive and it is, ironically, capitalism itself which is being challenged more broadly than ever and found wanting for solutions.

Today, we are very much living in one of those pivotal world-changing moments in history. Indeed, it is no exaggeration to say that this is the most critical moment in human history.

We may be fast approaching the precipice of ecological collapse, but the means to derail this train wreck are in the making as, around the world, struggles against the destruction of nature, against dams, against pollution, against overdevelopment, against the siting of chemical plants and power plants, against predatory resource extraction, against the imposition of GMOs, against privatization of remaining common lands, water and public services, against capitalist unemployment and precarité are growing and building momentum.

Today we are riding a swelling wave of near simultaneous global mass democratic “awakening,” an almost global mass uprising. This global insurrection is still in its infancy, still unsure of its future, but its radical democratic instincts are, I believe, humanity’s last best hope.

Let’s make history!

This article is an excerpt from Smith’s essay, “Capitalism and the destruction of life on Earth,” published in the Real-World Economics Review.

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What I have learned, what we should be thankful for, what remains to be done

28 10 2013

This is 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…..

I got this as a pdf file, so editing it here is time consuming and somewhat difficult. Some of this appeared on Guy McPherson’s blog as jpg files, which made it almost unfathomable…! I’ll endeavour to make this more readable, fingers crossed… It’s a long piece, so I appeal to your attention span, because it’s a darn good read. Go make yourself a cuppa your favourite poison, and enjoy……
Mike
What I have learned, what we should be thankful for, what remains to be done
PART 1: WHAT I HAVE LEARNED (parts 2 and 3 to follow later)
I have been convening D3SJ (Doctors and Scientists for Sustainability and Social Justice) meetings for eight years now, the main purpose being to promote the idea that policy should be determined by evidence, reason and fairness, to achieve the greatest amount of good for the greatest number of people on a long term basis. A medical model for rational and humane decision making in society. A personal goal of mine was to learn as much as I could about what is truly happening in the world, particularly regarding sustainability and social justice issues, from those deemed to be experts in their fields. I believe these meetings have now run their natural course and we have failed miserably in our primary goal which in retrospect, was probably always doomed to failure.
Nevertheless you never know unless you try. Not to try because you believe beforehand you will fail, will turn that failure into a self fulfilling prophecy. We have learned a great deal from our discussions and established great contacts and relationships within the sustainability network. It is now time to draw our meetings to a close and focus our limited remaining time and energy on the vital urgent actions we need to take.

What have I learned? The ultimate conclusions I have reached, particularly since the election of the extreme right wing knuckledraggers to government in Australia last month, is that civilisation is irretrievably doomed, that the horrific and chaotic dieoff of billions of people this century is guaranteed and we have no hope in hell of averting these events. These outcomes are entirely consistent with mainstream scientific thinking, which may be surprising to the casual reader of this essay who will not have encountered such information in the mainstream media (MSM)1. The MSM tell half truths and outright lies to keep the sheeple passive and compliant: yes problems exist, but one should not be “alarmist” and furthermore whizbang technofixes are just around the corner which will make things just fine and dandy! Flying cars for everybody! I myself have extensively researched the scientific publications for potential technological solutions to our problems for more than 15 years (especially biofuels from algae and also the ultimate holy grail of artificial photosynthesis) and have concluded that they are either dead ends or are too little, too late. The awful truth we now face is just too horrible to contemplate for most people, who live in utter denial.

The proximate factors, elaborated in detail in the peer reviewed scientific publications, leading to the demise of human civilisation are: climate chaos, resource scarcity (particularly petroleum2) and ecosystem destruction, which have now converged to crisis point. These problems have been accelerated by the exponential increase of human numbers to plague proportions, coordinated by a rapacious, indiscriminately polluting, de-humanising, fossil fuel driven Government-Industrial-Military-Media-Economic cabal which I hereby abbreviate to “GIMME”. Indeed the motto of this establishment and all who participate in it could well be “GIMME, GIMME, GIMME”, reflecting the unrestrained pursuit of self indulgent over-consumption and immediate gratification without regard for any future consequences.

Our internationally interdependent economic/banking system in particular is based on confidence trickery and fraudulent accounting3and it seems most likely that some unforseen event will be the proverbial straw breaking the back of this bogus financial system (vis a vis Lehmann Brothers and subprime mortgages) which will trigger the cascading events leading to the collapse of civilisation. Rome did not collapse primarily because of external invasions. It collapsed because of Imperial overreach and corruption, leading to bankruptcy and hence failure to fund their infrastructure and pay their soldiers. The collapse of our modern world will play out in different ways at different rates in different parts of the world. Those nations most dependent on petroleum which face abrupt curtailment will fare the worst. We now see early symptoms of collapse in the form of internal conflicts because ordinary people have no jobs and cannot afford basic necessities, as exemplified by the uprisings in the Middle East (Syria being the worst case) and the unrest in Greece. We will in due course see more international conflicts (AKA resource wars), including the possibility of global nuclear war.

The various interacting mechanisms leading to our collapse may be complex, but there is just one single underlying cause for all the problems mentioned above. It is the pathologically dysfunctional nature of one particular species of hairless ape, arrogant and delusional enough to call itself “homo sapiens”. The fact of the matter is the majority of humanity are not “good”, whatever that means, and certainly not sapient, but are basically greedy selfish primates with an underlying streak of nasty brutality ready to surface given the slightest excuse. Primates which may be quite clever in rationalising and justifying their despicable behaviour and quite clever in devising technodevices to kill each other (and all other species) more effectively, but utterly lacking in wisdom. If this were not the case, the invasion of Iraq would not have happened. If this were not the case, Tony Abbott would not have been elected Prime Monster of this country and be monstrously pursuing his perfidious agenda of environmental vandalism, demagogic non-science (AKA nonsense) and refugee abuse. If this were not the case we would not be in our present collective predicament.

The way we are destroying the Living Planet is irrefutable proof of our nature. Am I personally any different? I must accept that my underlying nature must be the same, being a reluctant member of homo stupidus myself. One difference however is that I acknowledge this fact and at least try to restrain it and attempt to use my neocortex to pursue more constructive strategies. Could this woeful state of affairs ever have been avoided? In theory yes, but in practice, in retrospect, probably not. The remedies were available and were entirely feasible once upon a time, but were viciously opposed and corrosively sabotaged by the GIMME establishment. It is too late now, we are past the point of no return. Foremost among those remedies would have been the reduction of population numbers, reduction of individual consumption and more efficient use of resources. Restructuring from an endless growth delusional economy to a steady state reality-based economy. Technological innovations such as biofuels from algae could have played a role, but only secondarily. Without primarily adopting the fundamentally important measures of restraint, ie. population reduction, reduced consumption and greater efficiency, no number of technofixes would help. This was clearly demonstrated by the updated analysis by the Limits to Growth scientists.

Their 40 year anniversary conference was held in the Smithsonian Institute in March 2012 and the news was all bad. The LtG scientists no longer perform any more projections, because all credible inputs (using our present situation as baseline), even using the most optimistic scenarios such as limitless energy or markedly reduced pollution ALL result in industrial collapse and the dieoff of billions, euphemistically described by them as “overshoot”. Right now we are dead on track, following nearly exactly, the trajectory of their standard model of Peak Everything followed by collapse, a track they predicted we would follow 40 years ago if we did not change our ways.
As a Physician I have likened our situation to that of an obese sedentary patient addicted to cigarettes and fatty, sugary foods who develops hypertension, diabetes and heart disease4.Yes, it is possible to diagnose and treat many cases of advanced heart disease. However even after successful expensive lifesaving heart surgery, it is merely a futile temporary technofix unless we address the underlying causes of his problem: sloth and addictive behaviours driven by the wish for immediate self gratification. Thankfully most of the patients we bring back from the brink of disaster who are given this new lease on life realise they need to change their habits if they want to live much longer.

Of course, the patients we are able to save represent just the tip of the iceberg and there are many more out there in the community in complete denial of their problems who simply drop dead. If a person dies from self inflicted disease there may be some natural justice in that outcome. There is no natural justice however in the Poor of the world suffering most from the environmental devastation and climate chaos caused by the rapacious over-consumption of the Rich. Game theory however suggests that perhaps there was never any way out. Many concepts in game theory are useful when pondering our present situation such as the tragedy of the commons
and the parable of the tribes5.

As the great unravelling proceeds, I take little comfort in the fact that I did my best to play my part to try to avert or mitigate these events, efforts which proved hopelessly futile and feeble in retrospect. As late as December 2011, I considered engaging in greater activism and particularly of promoting the feasibility of large scale renewable energy initiatives to the public by personally funding sustainability programs on local community TV. However my watershed epiphany year was 2012. A New Scientist article in January 2012, relegated to just a brief report, casually mentioned the catastrophic projections of the updated LtG analyses. This prompted deeper research into the
implications of that article (in particular, viewing all the proceedings of the LtG Smithsonian conference mentioned above), which utterly horrified me. Unfortunately New Scientist magazine has since gone the way of the MSM and this year, in 2013, was even promoting the completely insane idea of harvesting undersea clathrates to burn. Just as well I cancelled my subscription. I had previously intellectually “accepted” the idea that the death of billions was likely this century, but now had to emotionally grapple with the realisation that the death of billions was certain, it was guaranteed, it was now impossible to prevent this runaway train from crashing and exploding, there was just too much momentum behind it.

Just as I thought humanity’s outlook was as bad as it could possibly be, in September 2012 my eyes were opened to another realisation which horrified me even more. We were privileged to have Richard Heinberg, the American Peak Oil and Energy expert, visit us in Brisbane. He was highly respected by us because of his cogent, wise and accurate analysis of what was truly happening in the world and where we were headed, particularly with regard to the end of economic growth. Being a polymath big picture thinker, he had of course extensively researched the climate change science as well. A shocking slide he fleetingly displayed during his University of Queensland presentation described a projection by some climate scientists that the global average temperature could reach or exceed 10 degrees C by the end of this century if we were to continue with business as usual. Such a number was unthinkable to me as we were already seeing unprecedented extreme events at “below” 1 degree C rise6. In a private meeting subsequently, we asked him if he thought human extinction was a possibility. He then admitted it was very much a real possibility, but he felt there was no point in talking about it in public. Ordinary people had to be given hope, no matter what the data indicated. Obviously by his honest answer to us, he was willing to discuss the topic of human extinction with a select group of people in private, just as this essay of mine is going out to a select group of people. People mature enough to base their judgements on objective data and rational analysis. People who accept that human beings are biological organisms who depend on the ecosystem in which we evolved for our survival, that we are not some spooky product of supernatural creation but are subject to the laws of Physics, Chemistry and Biology.

Two other major findings in the science media contributed to my epiphany of 2012. One was the unprecedented summer melt of the arctic ice cap, which according to the IPCC was supposed to remain intact till the end of this century. The denialists are quick to point to the slight “recovery” of arctic ice this year – but that does not mean we are “saved” – because arctic ice levels remain around historic lows – and we continue on this relentless bumpy ride downhill to perdition. British scientist Professor Peter Wadhams is of the view there could be complete collapse of the arctic ice by September 2015. The other dismaying report last year related to the summer release of methane from the arctic coast. Methane bubbles had been observed in huge plumes, over 1 km across in shallow sea, when only a couple of years before the methane vents were just about a metre wide. That represented a more than thousand fold liberation of methane from the arctic coast alone, not even considering other sources such as permafrost in the tundra or peat from tropical soils.

Methane has a 105 times greater GHG potency than carbon dioxide over a 20 year period and when it is broken down it oxidises to carbon dioxide and water vapour – both greenhouse gases. My ongoing research last September 2012 led me to the website of Professor Guy McPherson, a US conservation biologist who is convinced that we face near term human extinction (which now goes by the abbreviation NTHE in the blogosphere) before the middle of this century. One of his most comprehensive video presentations was “The twin sides of the fossil fuel coin”. He put forward a well researched and logically argued case which was difficult to refute. Faced with this horrific disclosure, the most memorable response by one blog reader was, “…er…yikes?” Why do I think that McPherson is more likely to be correct than wrong? Why should his lone voice, albeit the voice of a bone fide scientist with nothing to gain from his assertions (indeed he has suffered substantially because of his opinions) be more valid than, say, the “consensus” views of all the scientists of the IPCC?

Firstly let us be clear that IPCC have a hopeless track record of consistently underestimating the severity of the effects of climate change time and time again. Real world observations (eg melting of the Greenland iceshield) so far have been far worse than the worst case scenarios outlined by each iteration of their reports. We can understand the reason for this by looking at the process by which the IPCC publications are produced – government officials pore over every single sentence and water down the narrative to the most palatable, politically acceptable lowest common denominator. Hence the true seriousness of our situation becomes severely downplayed. It is after all an intergovernmental panel, with a message controlled by and contaminated by governments and is not a true peer reviewed scientific document. Knowing this, any sane person must conclude
that things will be worse than the worst case scenarios of the latest IPCC AR5, which stated that “Global temperatures are likely to rise by 0.3C to 4.8C by the end of the century depending on how much governments control carbon emissions.” http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/sep/27/ipcc-climate-report-un-secretary-general

A rise of 4.8C on top of the existing “less than” 1 degree C rise means human extinction is guaranteed before the end of this century. The plants and animals on which we depend will not be able to adapt in time to such rapid temperature changes and the accompanying severe weather events.

Secondly and most importantly, the IPCC only looks at human greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, ignoring the numerous (more than 20 now) positive (ie self reinforcing) feedback loops which we have triggered so far which have irreversibly spiralled out of control, carrying the potential to exponentially release many times more GHG than humans have ever done. Business as usual will trigger more positive feedback loops and more firmly guarantees our extinction.

Thirdly we must ask what type of scientist is best able to advise us regarding the possibility of human extinction. Is it a climate scientist, who is the best person to tell us about temperature projections and possible extreme weather events (but who knows nothing about the mechanisms by which species go extinct) or is it a conservation biologist who uses the information about those temperatures and extreme weather events to look at their effects on biological organisms, habitats and food supply? A biologist who has spent a lifetime documenting species extinctions and learning about the mechanisms of those extinctions?

Fourthly we must be aware that McPherson’s view has been arrived at by painstaking analysis of proper peer reviewed scientific sources undistorted by government interference. Furthermore, having resigned from fulltime work and being no longer tenured (=tethered) and constrained by the purse strings of his university, he is at liberty to say what others within the establishment fear to say. It is impossible to get a person to admit what they believe if their paycheck depends on them not admitting it.

I would say that those who dismiss McPherson as a crackpot are themselves crackpots. He is not perfect however and has been wrong before, as he admits. The biggest problem is not predicting what may happen but predicting when events may happen, which is virtually impossible to do and is always prone to error. I view McPherson as analogous to an experienced cancer specialist who after careful consideration has made the diagnosis that we face terminal cancer with a 99.9% likelihood of death fairly soon. I may hate the message he conveys but that does not mean the message is wrong or that he is a bad person.

What does near term human extinction mean? It means that human beings will never colonise outer space. It means we will never download the human mind into self replicating machines to enable human consciousness to persist indefinitely, even as our biocorporeal encapsulation becomes extinct. Such science fiction fantasies might have become technologically feasible given another thousand years, but now we know they will never ever come to pass. We don’t have another thousand years. We don’t even have another hundred years. NTHE means that
the sum total of all human achievements since the dawn of civilisation will amount to….nothing at all, very soon. A meaningless blip, the blink of an eye in the immensity of time. The only value this failed human experiment could possibly provide would be if an alien intelligence were to visit our toxic radioactive ruins and archeologically piece together the ludicrous, almost unbelievably idiotic story of our self inflicted demise. Our only value to the universe will be to serve as a cautionary tale to others, a tale of outrageous hubris accompanied by infinite stupidity and unrestrained greed.

Thank you Tony Abbott and your ilk for serving as examples of the worst of the worst. We should embrace the recent election of the lunatic right-wing nuts to government, who are already exposing themselves for the vile, smarmy and incompetent charlatans they are, completely lacking in any substance or worth, who if anything will hasten the haphazard implosion of industrial civilisation and failure of large scale agriculture7.Because of them, our collapse is more likely to be sudden and dramatic rather than gradual and stuttering. Rapid demise may actually be more desirable if any parts of the natural ecosystem we are now destroying are to be saved. Most people will be taken completely by surprise by events and will default to their reptile brained mentality of laying blame on vulnerable scapegoat subgroups eg refugees, asylum seekers, immigrants, minority religious or ethnic groups. We are seeing this in Greece with the popular rise of right wing extremists as their economy disintegrates. Democracy at work in the homeland of Democracy8. The psychopathic politicians (with their corporate and media cronies) will enthusiastically fan the flames of such internecine hatred, being an effective strategy to divert attention away from themselves, the true culprits. It worked for Hitler, up to a point.
Geoffrey Chia, 10 October 2013
FOOTNOTES:
1. There is a huge difference between the mainstream scientists and the mainstream media who only share the adjective “mainstream” in common and nothing else. Who are the mainstream scientists? They are those who have conducted painstaking research, measurements and analysis over many years and have published their findings in the peer reviewed scientific literature. They are those with a good track record of well validated discoveries and inventions. Their conclusions are honestly derived from evidence and reason. The occasional fraudulent studies by black sheep who are then appropriately weeded out does not invalidate the overall integrity of the mainstream
scientists.
Who are the mainstream media? They are journalistic hacks and cash for comment muckrakers who spout the propaganda dictated by their editors who themselves are driven by commercial and political agendas. The occasional truthful piece by a courageous and honest investigative journalist does not change the overall fact that the MSM are fundamentally misleading and disingenuous. Dmitry Orlov said that the MSM are 100% bogus and they function only to sell product and to prop up the existing structures of power. I largely concur. I would personally say the MSM are 99% bogus and add that their other major function is to keep the brainless masses distracted with meaningless trivial drivel, such as sports, reality shows and celebrity scandals. Hence for those of
you who are dismayed, as I previously was, that the MSM have utterly failed in their role to inform the public of important issues using reliable information, please dispel any more illusions you may have. The MSM are actually functioning precisely as designed according to their appointed role, which is NOT to inform.
2. You may recall the Peak Oil deniers crowing loudly in “victory” after George Monbiot’s article in 2012 “admitting” that the “theory” of Peak Oil was “wrong” http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/jul/02/peak-oil-we-we-wrongMost of Monbiot’s research and articles have been written to educate the public about the serious effects of climate change and he has made valuable contributions in that respect. However he is not an expert on Peak Oil. Monbiot based his article on a Harvard paper published by the oil executive and economist Leonardo Maugeri who is not a scientist, he is an embedded propagandist for the GIMME establishment who has weaseled his way into academia. Peak Oil is not wrong, Peak Oil is not a “theory”, it is an observation. It has always been an indisputable observation ever since the very first oil well was drilled, that every well goes through an initial phase of exponential rise in production leading to a peak or plateau, followed by an exponential decay in output. Saying the “theory” of Peak Oil is wrong is like saying that the “theory” of the Round Earth is wrong. What happened in recent years is that after the plateauing of output of the majority of conventional giant oil fields in the world, the bean counters added other hydrocarbon liquids such as biofuels and natural gas condensates to their accounting tallies which had not been included before. More importantly, oil companies have shifted towards extracting unconventional oils such as oil shale and tar sands to maintain the appearance of static or slightly higher total liquid hydrocarbon output, even as conventional oilfields continue to deplete. We have moved from the cheaper, easier, cleaner oil to the dearer, harder-to-get and dirtier oil, entirely in keeping with the predictions by the Peak Oil experts. This shift is a fool’s errand, not least because of the poor EROEI which will be unable to support industrial civilisation in the long run. We will see the inevitable failure of unconventional oil output to match the depletion of conventional oil in the next few years. Probably the best dialogue with Monbiot on this issue was by Nicole Foss, one of the most wise, thoughtful and qualified experts in sustainability matters who I have great respect for: http://theautomaticearth.com/Energy/peak-oil-a-dialogue-with-george-monbiot.html
The sad implication of this desperate shift to unconventional oils and the major point of Monbiot’s article, is that rather than carbon emissions declining as a result of the depletion of conventional oil (remember that oil drives other carbon emitting activities such as land clearing and the mining and transport of coal), instead we are seeing a further rise of carbon emissions due to the harvesting of unconventional oils. It was the hope, the idea, that we could be saved from climate chaos by Peak Oil which was wrong. Indeed our goose is now well and truly cooked, and at a much faster pace than expected, because of the shift to unconventional oils. Trying next to harvest arctic oil and clathrates will be suicidal madness. We can only hope the global financial system collapses, thus removing funding from such utterly insane schemes, before they can commence.
3. The high priests of endless growth economics, a delusional religion which continues to be preached in institutions of “higher learning”, have based their edifice on false assumptions (eg human beings are rational players) and have refused to take into account the realities of Nature, particularly the fundamental requirement of adequate net energy inputs (EROEI) for economic activities to occur. They disregard the laws of thermodynamics. Furthermore they also fail to consider the harms caused by economic activities which are “externalised” because, of course, the death of sweatshop workers in Bangladesh or the poisoning of Nigerian villagers by toxic
hydrocarbons is of no interest to us. Dishonest accounting. To the economists’ credit, they have managed to create the most highly effective greed driven incentive scheme in the history of Mankind to facilitate rapid extraction of resources from Nature to turn them into either military hardware or consumer crap destined for landfill. In this respect American Capitalism was able to outcompete the Soviet Empire in the Arms Race, rendering the latter bankrupt (once again, we see bankruptcy as the trigger for Imperial collapse). The end of the Cold War has resulted in unopposed American hegemonism and US Imperial overreach which is now bankrupting America itself and the
emulation by China of this deeply dysfunctional system, which will be the final nail in our coffin.
4. See my slides regarding Mr F.B. and “the Gaia hypothesis of the ecosphere” compared with “the
Homer hypothesis of the econosphere” at the end of my peak oil presentation http://www.d3sj.org/PDF/Chia%20Peak%20Oil%20Red%20Pill%202010.pdf
5. The paradigm of the “tragedy of the commons” works in two ways. First in terms of grabbing natural resources – first in best dressed / the early bird gets the worm and stragglers lose out. Second in terms of refusing to repair environmental damage (or refusing to take the time/effort to prevent such damage), hence the burden of harm is borne disproportionately by other parties, particularly those not benefiting from the economic activity.
An example of the first type of tragedy was the total deforestation of Rapa-Nui by its Polynesian settlers. Many have pondered what was going through the mind of the person who was cutting down the last tree on Easter island, even as he was cutting it down. My suggestion is this, “I’d better cut down this last tree and use it for myself before the other guy does”. The second type of tragedy is exemplified by the smallminded selfish short term greed of the
Australian right-wing nuts, particularly John Howard’s previous coalition government – now continued as policy by the current Prime Monster. Their argument was they would not put a price on carbon pollution “until other countries do so” (they did not specify which other countries and how many other countries). Many other countries and states have long since imposed a price on carbon including China, but Abbott still wants to go backwards and repeal the carbon tax.

What is the solution to the problem of the tragedy of the commons? It is the vigorous defence of our common resources (eg forests, icecaps, coral reefs) by the power of a central authority, with severe penalties enforced against defectors. The problem is that no such powerful central authority exists nor is ever likely to be created. Even if such an authority can be created, it will be easily corrupted by the flawed nature of Man anyway. There is no solution unless the psychopaths currently perverting policy can be extirpated from all proceedings – which is
unfortunately not going to happen.

The other paradigm which explains why the culture of violence and domination was bound to become universal is Andrew Bard Schmookler’s “The parable of the tribes”, nicely summarised by Ran Prieur http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NNDgXJR7DsY (skip to 01:16:20). We have seen this played out time and again in real world history. Take for example a peaceful tribe which discovers a better method of killing but chooses not to use it. Given sufficient passage of time, that method can be stolen from them and used against them, ultimately subsuming the peaceful tribe in the paradigm of violence and domination. This was briefly alluded to in Kurt Vonnegut’s bittersweet essay “Cold Turkey” which so profoundly struck a chord in me that I felt compelled to share it aloud with some selected people. Most of them did not appreciate Kurt’s irony when he wrote “The (ancient) Chinese also gave us, via Marco Polo, pasta and the formula for gunpowder. The Chinese were so dumb, they only used gunpowder for fireworks”. Only one of my friends responded with the witty and equally ironic retort, “of course, we know the only intelligent way to use gunpowder is to kill other people with it”.

6. In 2010 the Russian drought destroyed a quarter of its wheat harvest and the heat waves killed more than 50,000 people. The floods in Pakistan destroyed half a million tons of their harvest, killed around 2000 people and displaced millions. We remember the Brisbane floods of January 2011, relatively unimportant by international standards. In February 2011 a single event, cyclone Yasi, destroyed the entire banana crop in Queensland. In May this year atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration hit 400ppm, which in the paleo record was associated with about a 3.5 degree C temperature level higher than preindustrial modern times. http://instaar.colorado.edu/newsevents/instaar-news/ice-free-arctic-ocean-may-have-amped-up-temperatures-during-the-pliocene/
According to the IPPC, this late into 2013 we are still supposed to be under a 1 degree C rise compared with our preindustrial temperatures. Correcting for factors such as aircraft contrails and sulphate and particulate pollution however, we are already past 1 degree C rise right now, according to Clive Hamilton’s study of the peer reviewed science. In the last calendar year, more unprecedented and extreme weather events have been occurring around the world. We all recall Superstorm Sandy steamrolled its way across the Eastern seaboard of the US in early November 2012. Estimate of damage to date? 68 billion dollars. Few people know or care it wreaked havoc in the Caribbean islands before reaching America. The news cycle has little interest in the unimportant Caribbeans. According to meteorologists, Sandy was extraordinary in several ways.

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=how-to-protect-new-york-city-from-storm-surges
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/oct/30/sandy-stacked-up-storm-statistics?newsfeed=true
Extraordinary for occurring that late in the year. Extraordinary for its gigantic size (about a quarter of the continental US). Extraordinary for reaching so far North yet not turning back to sea (as such Northerly storms that time of year usually did). Extraordinary, but nothing to do with global warming according to the denialist hacks of the Australian newspaper. In January 2013, Southern Queensland was beset by further “one in a hundred year” floods which had affected similar areas only two years before. This time more than a thousand people in Bundaberg had to be winched off the roofs of their submerged houses by helicopter. Any sane person now has to admit that North Bundaberg must be regarded as uninhabitable in perpetuity. January 2013 was memorable for heat records being shattered all around Australia and new colour coding for the maps was required for temperatures never seen before. Tasmanian bushfires started in November 2012 and only settled in April 2013, an unprecedented duration in Tasmanian history. Other extreme weather events around the world in 2013 since then have just been glossed over or simply ignored by our MSM:

– The horrific floods affecting central Europe in May/June which the insurer Munich RE declared as the most expensive non wartime disaster ever to affect Germany.
– The horrific floods affecting Northern India and Nepal in June in which more than a thousand people died.
– The horrific floods in Alberta, Canada, in June in which more than 100,000 people had to be evacuated from their homes, also estimated by insurers to the be costliest event in Canadian history. Furthermore toxic waste water from the tar sands projects of Athabasca were flushed by floodwaters into the pristine Arctic ocean.
– The horrific floods in Szechuan province, China, in July, among the worst in living memory and further horrific floods in the North and South of China in August disrupting
millions of lives
– The horrific floods affecting Colorado on 12 September in which 1500 homes were
destroyed and 1000 people had to be airlifted out

Any single one of the above events was a newsworthy major disaster. Why have we heard little or nothing of them in the Australian MSM? We will soon be looking upon the above as “the good old days” because there is far worse to come. Even as severe climate events have exponentially worsened, shrill global warming denialism propagated by the MSM has correspondingly increased in volume, like King Canute screaming louder in the face of the incoming tide. Canute was only pretending to behave like an idiot in order to make an ironic point to his people. Global warming denialists are in fact genuine idiots. They are liars and fools (or both) and should be regarded as the enemies of humanity. How else can you regard people who are willing to drive humanity headlong toward extinction for the sake of a few pieces of silver? These psychopaths are intent on briefly extending their reprehensibly self serving way of life at the expense of killing humanity and most other species. Such sickeningly egotistical people place their own short term convenience and personal luxury over the lives, wellbeing and survival of their own children and grandchildren.
7. I previously described former Resource Minister and global warming denialist Ian MacFarlane version 1.0 as an impenetrably stupid coal company stooge and sadly, I remain vindicated. Current Resource Minister Ian MacFarlane version 2.0 now states his aim is to unlock every molecule of coal seam gas in Australia because it is good for the economy. As such, we should recommend that MacFarlane, a treated former sufferer of throat cancer, should now smoke 100 cigarettes per day, because it is good for the economy – he should set an example by supporting the tobacco industry. Furthermore, the “scientists” of the George C. Marshall Institute, the centre of global warming
denialism of which he is a disciple, have also “proved” that cigarettes have nothing to do with cancer. As a former farmer who now wants to wreck Australia’s farmland, MacFarlane is a traitor to his own origins.
8. I won’t repeat Churchill’s overused quote regarding Democracy. I will however state that a better system, what I call Sophocracy, rule by wisdom, is possible. The main benefit of Democracy is to facilitate the peaceful transition of power from one party to another, at designated intervals, according to the prevailing mood of the people. This has reduced the incidence of violent revolution to a large extent. However true Democracy, rule by the majority at its most basic (and unconstrained by other more important principles such as transparency, accountability and laws based on social justice), is a recipe for disaster. If the majority of the population are stupid and nasty then true Democracy becomes rule by the stupid and nasty. It can and has led to tyranny, totalitarianism and genocide, after all Hitler was voted in democratically. Ben Franklin said that democracy was two wolves and a lamb voting for what to have for lunch. True democracy in Saudi Arabia will result in a Sunni/Wahabi/Salafist Muslim fundamentalist regime which will tyrannize minority groups, worsen the oppression of women and intensify their export of terrorism around the world. The USA no longer has a democracy, they have a “fraudocracy”, their democracy has been hijacked and perverted by corporate interests resulting in obscene disparities of income (the 99% are NOT being represented), banking fraud with none of the culprits brought to justice, foreign wars of exploitation and climate change spiraling out of control.

Even rabid advocates of “democracy” can and do willingly give up their “democratic rights” much of the time. In an aircraft, decisions are not made by the majority of the passengers who are invariably ignorant of aviation. Decisions are voluntarily entrusted by the passengers to the pilot, who autocratically goes about his/her job, to the benefit of everyone. We trust he/she will do a proper job because the checks and balances in our system ensure only a fit and proper person who has passed all medical checks and training criteria and who is utterly accountable for what he/she does will be flying the plane in the service of the common good (pilots are the ultimate in
accountability as they will pay for their incompetence with their own death). Sophocracy, rule by wisdom, should incorporate some aspects of democracy with certain caveats: only those who understand the issues should be allowed to vote. This may require potential voters to go through a test for minimum intelligence and knowledge before being allowed to vote.

Only competent individuals with a proven track record who have been deemed to be fit and proper people and who are capable of making sensible decisions in the service of the common good should be allowed to stand as candidates. Pilots go through an exhaustive process before being deemed fit to steer a plane. Our leaders should undergo no less stringent a process before being deemed fit to steer a country. The principles of transparency, accountability and rule of law according to social justice, must hold priority over democracy. If a democractically elected leader in active office is found to be a war criminal eg he has taken the country to war on the basis of lies causing the death of innocent people, he must be immediately removed and thrown in jail, along with his cronies.
Further elaboration of sophocracy will require another 12 page essay (at least) and is beyond thescope of this article.





Let’s talk about Bushfires, Climate Change and Coal

22 10 2013

Another guest post from Paul Gilding…..

Originally published at Cockatoo Chronicles

October 22

Paul Gilding

Paul Gilding

It’s easy to understand why there’s widespread support for politicians and others who argue we shouldn’t talk about climate change in the middle of a bushfire emergency.

When you’re fighting to keep your house, grieving over the loss of a loved one or putting your life on the line to protect others lives and property, people talking about climate policy or how these kinds of events will become more common and more severe is very uncomfortable.

This very human response should be understood and people who are suffering loss, or fear of it, should be treated with sensitivity. That’s an argument about how we talk about it, but certainly not a reason to avoid doing so. This is actually the perfect time to talk about climate change and about climate policy – it couldn’t really be better.

People don’t like talking about uncomfortable things.  It makes us feel, well, uncomfortable. The thought that major bushfire emergencies in spring could become more common, with people dying and houses and communities being destroyed is very uncomfortable. The fact that we in Australia are making a disproportionately large contribution to the problem by polluting more per capita than any other developed country and now plan a massive expansion in our coal exports which, when burnt, will make climate impacts worse around the world, is particularly uncomfortable. But it’s still true.

That’s why, right now, in the middle of a scary, hard to control bushfire emergency that threatens homes and lives is exactly when we should talk about it.  Right now, while we’re paying attention to the reality of our pollution’s results, rather than thinking about it as some long-term global risk we can emotionally detach from. Right now, while we’re facing climate change for what it is – an expensive, disruptive, dangerous risk to our quality of life. A risk that we are actively contributing to making worse.

Members of Tony Abbott’s new conservative government, including Cabinet ministers, have been strident in their attacks on those who raise this connection. This is unsurprising given they have a lot to lose if people accept it.

Of course no one can blame the government for these bushfires nor draw a direct causal relationship between any particular fires and climate change. But this is one of NSW’s worst bushfire emergencies, referred to by state fire fighters as “unparalleled” given the season, with a state of emergency declaration allowing authorities to forcibly remove people, cut electricity and water supplies, and demolish buildings. Sure, we’ve always have bad fires but with one this big, in the middle of spring and coming after Australia’s hottest ever September, you would, to use a great Australian phrase, have to be a “flaming drongo” (complete idiot) not to be wondering about the connection. Especially given the science is so clear.

That’s why Tony Abbott’s government doesn’t want us to talk about it. Everyone knows the new government is resisting action on climate change. But politicians here can’t say that. Unlike America, where climate denial is a badge of pride for conservatives, in Australia they have to take a subtler line. The Australian public accepts climate science and believes the world should act. So our conservative politicians have to say they accept the climate science (even when they don’t) then argue that Australia should act slowly and cautiously and not before the world does – in other words say the right things but don’t take much action. Well, except to dig up and sell as much coal as we can before the world wakes up to our game.

That’s why linking climate and fires is scary territory for conservative politicians. It’s hard to overstate how iconic and powerful bushfires are in the Australian psyche. They bring out the best in us. Courageous, mostly volunteer fire-fighters risk their lives to protect others and are correctly seen as heroes. The tragedy of fires brings communities together and we open our hearts and wallets to those affected in these all too regular fire events that symbolise summer. So connecting politics to this iconic Australian symbol is both dangerous and alluring. Observe for example the conservative shock–jock Neil Mitchel who, while attacking those who link fires and climate change this week tried to side with the heroes, saying “This is one of those times we pull together and when the Australian spirit famously shines through….. I remember the spirit that builds around times like this. It is magnificently Australian.”

So let’s be clear, the resistance from conservative politicians and commentators to linking climate change and fires is not just driven by compassion for those suffering loss. It is the manipulative politics they’re accusing others of. As the old quote goes “Hell hath no fury like a vested interest disguised as a moral principle.” If the public learns to relate natural disasters that go to the heart of the Australian psyche, like fire, drought and flood, to climate change – those who resist strong climate policy will be in serious trouble. So will their policies promoting the massive expansion of coal mining.

But perhaps the most important reason for talking about climate change and bushfires is so we end our denial of what’s to come.  Mega fires in spring, as we’re facing this week, are indicative of the future we face and we have some important choices to make.

Firstly, we must decide to get ready for a lot more angry summers – these are now inevitable. They’re going to be tragic, expensive and disruptive and the sooner we get our heads around that the better of we’ll be. Given what’s coming we should all be running raffles and fundraising BBQ’s for our volunteer fire fighters. We’re going to need them to be well resourced, appreciated and numerous. And we’re going to have to think differently and creatively about how we reduce the risk, as well argued by Professor Peter Bowman from the University of Tasmania.

Secondly we have to decide what side of history we want to be on in Australia. Are we going to be the country that that sold the coal that helped drive the climate into chaos or the ones who woke up in time and changed our ways. That’s the conversation we need to have and the middle of bushfire emergency is the ideal time to have it.

So let’s talk.





Still looking for the holy grail…..

3 08 2013

A radically new way of producing hydrogen fuel from water — one that wasn’t even thought to be possible — has been developed by researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder. The researchers think that this new technique/system could pave the way for the mainstream use of hydrogen as a fuel.

The new technique is, essentially, simply an enormous solar-thermal system — sunlight is concentrated on a tall central tower by a large array of mirrors, which heats the tower to temperatures as high as 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit, this heat is then redirected into a reactor containing chemical compounds known as metal oxides. As the metal oxide compound heats up, it then releases oxygen atoms, which change its material composition, causing the newly formed compound to seek out new oxygen atoms. With the “addition of steam to the system — which could be produced by boiling water in the reactor with the concentrated sunlight beamed to the tower — it would cause oxygen from the water molecules to adhere to the surface of the metal oxide, freeing up hydrogen molecules for collection as hydrogen gas.”

“We have designed something here that is very different from other methods and frankly something that nobody thought was possible before,” stated lead researcher and CU-Boulder Professor Alan Weimer. “Splitting water with sunlight is the Holy Grail of a sustainable hydrogen economy.”

splitting hydrogen with sunlight

As the researchers note, the key distinction between this new method and previous ones is that the new one makes it possible to conduct two chemical reactions at the same temperature. “While there are no working models, conventional theory holds that producing hydrogen through the metal oxide process requires heating the reactor to a high temperature to remove oxygen, then cooling it to a low temperature before injecting steam to re-oxidize the compound in order to release hydrogen gas for collection.”
Read more at http://cleantechnica.com/2013/08/02/radically-new-technique-to-produce-hydrogen-fuel-from-water-developed/#80PzRVV8vj2DRT3x.99

When I found this my BS detector went into overdrive…..  Hydrogen is not a fuel for starters, it’s an energy storage strategy, two very different things.  So I contacted Susan Krumdieck for her take on this extraordinary scheme labelled here as “developed” only to be later told “ there are no working models“…..  Susan’s simple response was “Graham Leicester: Knowing but not owning up

That was such a stunning article, I immediately thought of sharing it here….

THE technical term is “uncomfortable knowledge” – that we know but would rather we didn’t. Like the fact that a lake has just formed from ice melting at the North Pole, even as we enjoy our own unusually hot summer.

Any feeling of discomfort need not last long. Our defences rapidly kick in to make things alright (this situation is quite normal, it was worse last year, and so on). The natural thing to do with uncomfortable knowledge is to suppress it.

But there can be unfortunate consequences when that natural human response starts to guide policy. This is what sociologist Kari Norgaard in a fascinating recent book on climate change (Living in Denial) calls “the social organisation of denial”

Actually, we are rather enjoying an unusually hot winter here….  not a frost to be seen, and all the fruit trees think it’s spring…..  thy are all flowering, even some mango trees another Permie told me the other day..!  All due to the northerly winds we are experiencing instead of the more traditional cold Westerlies we normally take refuge from at this time of year.  Live on the land, and I’m afraid denial of Climate Change is just not possible.  Unless of course your name is Len and you won’t even believe the photos of the totally ice free North Pole…..  it seems human capacity for denial and grasping at straws is limitless.  A classic recent example is the financial crisis.  When the Queen asked in November 2008 why nobody had seen it coming, the British Academy told her that “the dangers were indeed foreseen.  but nobody wanted to hear about them”.

Denial, Leicester insists, is a paradoxical condition of “knowing and not knowing”.  It works at a collective level “precisely because it becomes natural, like everyday life, and thus invisible”.  Silence on the subject of climate change should not be interpreted as disinterest.  Norgaard reminds us the root meaning of the word apathy is the avoidance of pain (a-pathos).  Does this mean “no pain, no gain”?

Norgaard discovers a strong cultural dimension to the processes of denial in Norway – a small country with an established sense of itself as humanitarian, egalitarian and environmentally aware. It has a large part of its national identity invested in nature – “the wellspring of Norwegian psyche and spiritual and emotional life”.

The people are proud of Norway’s early environmental leadership – for example former Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland’s pioneering work in the 1980s on sustainable development.

Yet at the same time, and over the same period, Norway has grown to become the largest oil exporter in Europe with its much praised Oil Fund the largest sovereign wealth fund in the world. Most oil and gas production is for export (Norway has a highly developed domestic hydro and renewables sector).

Yet the industry also contributes 25 per cent of Norway’s carbon emissions and the country is still struggling to meet its Kyoto targets to reduce them. Norgaard points out that expansion of oil production in the 1990s coincided with the percentage of Norwegians claiming to be “very worried” about climate change dropping from 40 per cent to 10 per cent.

Amongst the tools of Norwegian innocence Leicester tells us, is the oft-heard phrase “Norge Er et Lite Land” (“Norway is a Little Land”).  The Norwegians are a simple and a humble people and there are only five million of them.  What influence can they possibly have?  The “little land” evokes both a sense of tight-knit community and a lack of culpability for the ills of the world says Leicester.  The parallels with Australia are stunning.  We may not be a little land, quite the opposite in fact, but we export huge quantities of coal (as opposed to oil), and at 22 million we may be a larger population, but the [false] argument that we only represent 1% of world emissions is constantly put forward as an excuse to do nothing…

The root cause of our denial is a worry that, no matter how bold our policy statements, we do not really know how to address the predicament we face, so intimately tied to globalisation and seemingly beyond our control.  As we too fail to square that circle in Australia, I wonder what tools of order we will draw on from our own culture to reassure us, and what tools of innocence?  Hydrogen facilities driven by sunlight?  I could not help thinking that the Martian setting used by the artist for his/her impression of what that facility might look like was almost prophetic.  Too little too late.





Climate Change Denialism

15 07 2013

I’ve been publishing a lot of posts about Climate Change lately, none written by me much…  I feel privileged to have known Mark Cochrane and even more so to have his permission to repost the stuff he writes over at Peak Prosperity.  And whilst most of my followers here agree with the contents of the scientific evidence in those posts, one commenter (yes, YOU Len!) has been the lone contrary voice…..  which has led me to wonder why, in the face of so much evidence, there is still so much denial about this stuff….. denialism which is clearly evident even over at PP where Mark’s original posts reside.

What’s really puzzling about our mate Len is that when you go to his website, such as it is, he’s doing a lot of the same stuff I’m doing…  passive solar house, permaculture, etc etc…….  it’s probably why he’s landed here in the first instance.  In my experience, outside the box thinkers ‘like me’, don’t have a problem with understanding Climate Change.  Because it is not a question of belief, it is a matter of understanding….  obviously, Len does not understand.  He tells us he only went to year 10 at high school, and that’s OK, we can’t all be University graduates (I’m not…), but at least I have a strong basic understanding of science, I understand the scientific process, my son’s a physicist (with whom I have loads of interesting discussions), and being trained in energy, I realise that pumping more energy into the atmosphere, will simply make it…  well… more energetic!

But then on Len’s website there is mention of his religious beliefs…..  now they say you should never enter into arguments over religion and politics, but blogging is not a popularity contest, so here goes…

Religion is all about faith.  Whether you follow the Bible, the Koran, or any other book, you are following ancient writings written by superstitious men (usually) who didn’t even understand that the Earth was not the centre of the Universe… so how anyone can believe anything those people wrote is, well, beyond me.

So here’s the catch:  I think that if you can believe what ancient people tell you without one shred of evidence anything they say is true, then you are capable of believing anything…..  My siblings and me were all raised with no religion.  Both my parents were atheists.  Yet, several of my siblings have converted to the dark side… and some refuse to even talk to me now, because they all believe in conspiracy theories I happen to think are bullshit….  Which is OK.  I’m past caring, after all, the whole world’s going down the toilet, and HE isn’t going to help, we have far more important things to worry about.

Religious people, or at least some of them, can believe the weirdest things……  Reagan’s Secretary of the Interior, James G Watt famously said “After the last tree is felled, Christ will come back” (I wonder what Len, who wants us all to plant loads of trees will make of that..)  So maybe it’s faith that it doesn’t matter what we do to this planet, it’ll all turn out alright, so let’s party…

Maybe it’s plain old “inconvenient truth”, to coin a phrase…  But my biggest problem with deniers is that they know how to sound credible, and that fake credibility has an impact on the way politics deal with what Rudd rightly said (for a change..) was “our generation’s greatestmoral, economic and social challenge of our time”.

Of course by the time it is plainly obvious we are responsible for screwing the planet, and Near Term Human Extinction becomes unavoidable, what will the deniers do?  Apologise publicly?  Fat lot of good that will do……..

UPDATE

This great article turned up which I thought is relevant to this discussion….  here are some excerpts:

 

Confirmation Bias

We love to agree with people who agree with us. It’s why we only visit websites that express our political opinions, and why we mostly hang around people who hold similar views and tastes. We tend to be put off by individuals, groups, and news sources that make us feel uncomfortable or insecure about our views — what the behavioral psychologist B. F. Skinner called cognitive dissonance. It’s this preferential mode of behavior that leads to the confirmation bias — the often unconscious act of referencing only those perspectives that fuel our pre-existing views, while at the same time ignoring or dismissing opinions — no matter how valid — that threaten our world view. And paradoxically, the internet has only made this tendency even worse.

 

Status-Quo Bias

We humans tend to be apprehensive of change, which often leads us to make choices that guarantee that things remain the same, or change as little as possible. Needless to say, this has ramifications in everything from politics to economics. We like to stick to our routines, political parties, and our favorite meals at restaurants. Part of the perniciousness of this bias is the unwarranted assumption that another choice will be inferior or make things worse. The status-quo bias can be summed with the saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” — an adage that fuels our conservative tendencies. And in fact, some commentators say this is why the U.S. hasn’t been able to enact universal health care, despite the fact that most individuals support the idea of reform.

Negativity Bias

People tend to pay more attention to bad news — and it’s not just because we’re morbid. Social scientists theorize that it’s on account of our selective attention and that, given the choice, we perceive negative news as being more important or profound. We also tend to give more credibility to bad news, perhaps because we’re suspicious (or bored) of proclamations to the contrary. More evolutionarily, heeding bad news may be more adaptive than ignoring good news (e.g. “saber tooth tigers suck” vs. “this berry tastes good”). Today, we run the risk of dwelling on negativity at the expense of genuinely good news. Steven Pinker, in his book The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, argues that crime, violence, war, and other injustices are steadily declining, yet most people would argue that things are getting worse — what is a perfect example of the negativity bias at work.

The Current Moment Bias

We humans have a really hard time imagining ourselves in the future and altering our behaviors and expectations accordingly. Most of us would rather experience pleasure in the current moment, while leaving the pain for later. This is a bias that is of particular concern to economists (i.e. our unwillingness to not overspend and save money) and health practitioners. Indeed, a 1998 study showed that, when making food choices for the coming week, 74% of participants chose fruit. But when the food choice was for the current day, 70% chose chocolate.

(NB:  THIS is what I think is happening re attitudes to Climate change..)

 





Is it fair to call climate denial a form of treason?

25 09 2012

 

Just the other day, the US Congress passed the Waxman-Markey climate-change bill. In political terms, it was something I never thought would happen in my lifetime…..

But it was hardly unanimous, 212 representatives voted no. Most of those who rejected the bill did so because they reject the whole idea that we, as in humanity, have to do something about greenhouse emissions.

All this denialism is, in my opinion, nothing short of a form of treason — treason against the planet.  Even treason against civilisation.

To appreciate the irresponsibility or immorality of climate-change denial, you need to realise what a grim turn has taken place in the latest climate research.

Image

Fact is, the Earth is changing faster than even pessimists like me expected: ice caps are shrinking at an accelerating pace, and arid zones are spreading at a terrifying rate – who would ever have thought the Amazon could turn into a desert?  According to several recent studies, catastrophe — a rise in temperature so huge as to verge on the unthinkable — can no longer be considered just a possibility. Instead, such a catastrophe would be the most likely outcome if we do nothing to alter our present course.

Researchers at M.I.T., who were previously predicting a temperature rise of a little more than 2 degrees C by the end of this century, are now predicting a rise of nearly 5 degrees C. Why? Globally, greenhouse gas emissions are rising much faster than expected; mitigating factors, like absorption of CO2 by the oceans, are turning out to be far weaker than hoped; there’s also growing evidence that climate change is self-reinforcing — that rising temperatures will cause arctic tundra to thaw, releasing even more CO2 into our atmosphere……

Temperature increases such as predicted by M.I.T. researchers (and others) would disrupt our lives and, horror of horror, our economy. By the end of this century Tasmania may well have the climate of Northern NSW!  Across the country extreme (and deadly) heat waves — the kind that historically occur only once in a generation — could become annual or worse. How can anyone justify failing to act?

Dissenting opinion-makers and politicians, one would hope, base their dissent on hard work and hard thinking — and if they had studied the issue properly, consulted with appropriate experts and then concluded that the overwhelming scientific opinion was misguided — they could at least claim to be acting responsibly.  But these people show no sign of being interested in the truth. They don’t like the political and policy implications of AGW, so they’ve decided to not believe in it — and they’ll use any argument, no matter how disreputable the source, to feed their denial.

In the US, Representative Paul Broun of Georgia apparently said while arguing against passing the Waxman-Markey climate-change bill that climate change is nothing but a “hoax”.  “Perpetrated out of the scientific community.” A crazy conspiracy theory, and by now you all know what I think of such conspiracies….  To believe that global warming is a hoax, you have to justify an enormous cabal consisting of thousands of scientists — one so powerful, it has managed to create false records on everything from global temperatures to Arctic sea ice shrinkage….

Yet Mr. Broun’s declaration was met with applause, I read in the New York Times….  and we have plenty of such deniers in our midst, not least Queensland’s new Moron in Chief, Campbell Newman….

Is it fair to call climate denial a form of treason?  Yes, it is — and that’s why it’s unforgivable.

Yet politicians like Newman are choosing, wilfully, to ignore that threat, placing future generations in grave danger, simply because it’s in their political interest to pretend that there’s nothing to worry about. If that’s not betrayal, I don’t know what is.

Come the day Climate Change becomes so obviously a catastrophe for everyone, will those responsible for disallowing change at every turn be tried for treason, in Nuremberg style trials?  There may well be a lot of angry people baying for blood when the environment we rely on for survival all goes pear shaped.