Earth ‘Entering New Extinction Phase’

20 06 2015

Mark Cochrane

Mark Cochrane

More from Mark Cochrane this time on the current media doing the rounds regarding the sixth great extinction event underway.

I haven’t read the paper yet but it is another along the lines of others already out showing that we are, in fact, causing the sixth mass extinction right now. The last mass extinction killed off the dinosaurs, so we should feel privileged to be living in such momentous times and appalled at our culpability. The ‘good’ news of this study is that we may only be causing extinctions of vertebrate species at 114 times of levels that would be occurring without our help ( though climate change, pollution, habitat destruction) instead of the previous estimates of 1,000 times higher. On the other hand, pollination by bees may be gone within three generations, potentially taking us with it…

BBC story link

The scientists looked at historic rates of extinction for vertebrates – animals with backbones – by assessing fossil records.

They found that the current extinction rate was more than 100 times higher than in periods when Earth was not going through a mass extinction event.

Since 1900, the report says, more than 400 more vertebrates had disappeared.

Such a loss would normally be seen over a period of up to 10,000 years, the scientists say.

And the actual paper, which can be found here.

Accelerated modern human–induced species losses: Entering the sixth mass extinction

These estimates reveal an exceptionally rapid loss of biodiversity over the last few centuries, indicating that a sixth mass extinction is already under way. Averting a dramatic decay of biodiversity and the subsequent loss of ecosystem services is still possible through intensified conservation efforts, but that window of opportunity is rapidly closing.

ALSO……  a discussion on theories by a chap called Ruddiman

1) The early AGW hypothesis of Ruddiman – AGW starting around 6000BC, rice cultivation

2) The idea that glaciation would have started in Canada already if not for that early AGW (Ruddiman again)

3) How long current and projected GHG emissions will hold off a return of glaciation ?

Been reading about it here

Mark Cochrane’s response:

1) Ruddiman basically posits that through early deforestation and agriculture human beings started the current global climate change ball rolling much earlier than the industrial revolution. Deforestation and tilling up the soil started releasing substantial amounts of carbon dioxide. A bit later, domestication of animals and rice cultivation also added significant emissions of methane to the mix.

I actually like his hypothesis and think that he does a fairly good job supporting it, especially as he ties some clear wiggles in the global levels of these gases to the advent of our activities and reversals to known periods of widespread plague and land abandonment.

I’ve talked with global modelers who vehemently hate Ruddiman’s ideas. Scientists can be emotional too. The crux of the issue being that you do not necessarily need Ruddiman’s contention that we were helping to force things to explain the climate that we have inferred through climate proxies for the period in question. The argument boils down to whether there is a statistically significant signal that could ‘prove’ what he is positing. Their argument has some merit for CO2 but the methane story seems much clearer and in line with Ruddiman’s ideas. When I raised that point it shut down the dispute rather quickly. Take that for what it is worth.

The bottom line is that it is quite possible that we did start mucking up the climate somewhat even before we started using fossil fuels. However, you have to keep in mind the degree to which this was and is occurring over time. Even now, about 10% of global emissions can be tied to deforestation so it isn’t a stretch to think that those activities had the same effects in the past. Human populations were much lower and we didn’t have power tools though so the process was much slower. People tend to forget about time and logic when considering these things.

2) Glaciation in Canada – The idea is that in the little ice age, and perhaps before, we might have tipped into glacier formation/growth if it weren’t for early man’s carbon releasing activities. This one is a bit less certain but it is conceivable that this process might have kicked in during the depths of the Little Ice Age. This would yield expansion of glaciers and ice caps up in Canada and could eventually have resulted in significant albedo changes. Note though, Ruddiman’s ideas were based on earlier calculations of the Milankovitch cycles (to the best of my memory at the moment) when it was thought that we were getting close to the next ice age period. Updated calculations though show us staying in this interglacial period for several thousand years more though. So, yes we might have had some more ice formation but it is somewhat dubious if early man’s land use activities saved us from slipping into an ice age by now.

3) How long have we staved off the return of glaciation? This is a very speculative matter. If we raise the levels much higher and keep them there, we may have put an end to millions of years of ice ages altogether. The concerning matter being that there were no stable temperatures just above the cool, frequent ice age world we are used to. If we melt off the ice sheets of Antarctica and Greenland we could conceivably send the world back into a warm state when palm trees grew in the Arctic (e.g. +10-12 C). It would take thousands of years but be irreversible. However, if we don’t keep pumping the carbon levels higher and higher, then we could either stabilize levels or have them start dropping eventually. If we stop completely then we would work our way back to more reasonable levels within several thousand years. So, ultimately, it depends on what we do.

Figure 4. Effect of fossil fuel CO2 on the future evolution of global mean temperature. Green represents natural evolution, blue represents the results of anthropogenic release of 300 Gton C, orange is 1000 Gton C, and red is 5000 Gton C (Archer 2005).


How fossil fuel burning nearly wiped out life on Earth – 250m years ago

30 05 2015


Originally published in the Guardian, this article just blew me away, as it seriously contests ideas I had accepted as facts a very long time ago….

Do you want to know the real reason for the advances by Islamic State in Iraq and Syria? Changing light bulbs in America. This is the explanation given by John McCain, Republican chair of the Senate armed services committee. At the weekend he blamed Barack Obama’s inability to magic away Isis on the president’s belief that climate change is “the biggest enemy we have”. Never mind the role of the Iraq war – which McCain supported – in destabilising the region, destroying the Iraqi army and creating the opportunities Isis has exploited. Never mind the propagation of Salafi doctrines by Saudi Arabia, which McCain bravely confronts by grovelling before its tyrants. It’s the Better Buildings Challenge and the Solar Instructor Training Network that allowed Isis to capture Ramadi and Palmyra.

In fact there is a connection, but it strengthens Obama’s contention that “climate change constitutes a serious threat to global security”. One of the likely catalysts for the 2011 uprising in Syria was a massive drought – the worst in the region in the instrumental record – that lasted from 2006 to 2010. It caused the emigration of one and a half million rural workers into Syrian cities, and generated furious resentment when Bashar al-Assad’s government failed to respond effectively. Climate models suggest that man-made global warming more than doubled the likelihood of a drought of this magnitude.

But this is nothing by comparison to the real threats to global security, which make global security, as understood by McCain and Obama, look almost frivolous. As the evidence accumulates, it now seems that climate change was the commonest cause of mass extinction in the Earth’s prehistory.

In the media, if not scientific literature, global catastrophes have long been associated with asteroid strikes. But as the dating of rocks has improved, the links have vanished. Even the famous meteorite impact at Chicxulub in Mexico, widely blamed for the destruction of the dinosaurs, was out of sync by more than 100,000 years.

The story that emerges repeatedly from the fossil record is mass extinction caused by three deadly impacts, occurring simultaneously: global warming, the acidification of the oceans and the loss of oxygen from seawater. All these effects are caused by large amounts of carbon dioxide entering the atmosphere. When seawater absorbs CO2, its acidity increases. As temperatures rise, circulation in the oceans stalls, preventing oxygen from reaching the depths.

The great outgassings of the past were caused by volcanic activity that were orders of magnitude greater than the eruptions we sometimes witness today. The dinosaurs appear to have been wiped out by the formation of the Deccan Traps in India: an outpouring on such a scale that one river of lava flowed for 1,500km. But that event was dwarfed by a far greater one, 190m years earlier, that wiped out 96% of marine life as well as most of the species on land.

What was the cause? It now appears that it might have been the burning of fossil fuel. Before I explain this extraordinary contention, it’s worth taking a moment to consider what mass extinction means. This catastrophe, at the end of the Permian period about 252m years ago, wiped out not just species within the world’s ecosystems but the ecosystems themselves. Forests and coral reefs vanished from the fossil record for some 10 million years. When, eventually, they were reconstituted, it was with a different collection of species which evolved to fill the ecological vacuum. Much of the world’s surface was reduced to bare rubble. Were such an extinction to take place today, it would be likely to eliminate almost all the living systems that sustain us. When plants are stripped from the land, the soil soon follows.

The latest research into the catastrophe at the end of the Permian is summarised in two articles by the geologist John Mason on the Skeptical Science site. The strongest clues all seem to point to the same conclusion: that the extinctions were triggered by the eruption of an igneous belt even bigger than the Deccan plateau: the Siberian Traps. As well as CO2, the volcanoes there produced sulphur dioxide, chlorides and fluorides, causing acid rain and the depletion of ozone.

But because carbon dioxide’s residence time in the atmosphere is greater than that of these other gases, it’s likely to have been the major cause of extinction. The change of state – including a rise in oceanic temperatures of 6-10C – was too sudden and sustained to permit the majority of life forms to adapt. The onset of mass extinction coincides with a giant carbon spike “so distinctive that it serves as a marker-horizon all over the world”.

So where did the carbon dioxide come from? Some of it would have bubbled out of the magma. But, enormous as the eruptions were, this alone seems insufficient to account for either the total volume of emissions or the ratio of isotopes (the different atomic forms) of the carbon entering the atmosphere. Fossil fuel seems to fill the gap.

The volcanoes exploded through the Tunguska sedimentary basin,cooking much of the coal, petroleum and methane it contained. Particles of coal fly ash have been found in rocks as far away as the Canadian Arctic. Rising temperatures might also have destabilised methane hydrates – a frozen form of natural gas – causing the kind of runaway feedback that terrifies some climate scientists today. Yes: the geological record suggests that fossil fuel burning might have eliminated most life on Earth.

And today? According to a paper published in 2013, the current rate of ocean acidification, caused by the burning of fossil fuels, is faster than at any time in the past 300m years. During the Permian mass extinction, the eruption of the Siberian Traps through the Tunguska basin seems to have produced between one and two gigatonnes of carbon dioxide a year. Today fossil fuel burning produces 30 gigatonnes a year.

Isis? Global security? If anyone were to survive a mass extinction on the scale of the Permian catastrophe, they would look back and shake their heads, amazed that we could have considered such issues more important.

Earth is halfway to being inhospitable to life, scientist says

21 03 2015

A Swedish scientist claims in a new theory that humanity has exceeded four of the nine limits for keeping the planet hospitable to modern life, while another professor told RT Earth may be seeing an impending human-made extinction of various species.

Environmental science professor Johan Rockstrom, the executive director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre in Sweden, argues that there are nine “planetary boundaries” in a new paper published in Science – and human beings have already crossed four of them.

Those nine include carbon dioxide concentrations, maintaining biodiversity at 90 percent, the use of nitrogen and phosphorous, maintaining 75 percent of original forests, aerosol emissions, stratospheric ozone depletion, ocean acidification, fresh water use and the dumping of pollutants.

The planet has been our best friend by buffering our actions and showing its resilience,” said Rockstrom. “But for the first time ever, we might shift the planet from friend to foe.”

Image from

Image from

Rockstrom’s planetary boundary theory was first conceived in 2007. His new paper reveals that because of climate stability, which began when the Ice Age ended 11,000 years ago, a planetary calm helped our ancestors to cultivate wheat, domesticate animals, and launch industrial and communications revolutions. But those advances have strained the stability of the planet, and Rockstrom says we have broken four boundaries: too much nitrogen has been added to ecosystems, too many forests have been cut down, the climate is changing too quickly and species are going extinct at too great a rate.

Speaking to RT’s Ben Swann, Professor of Ethics Bron Taylor from the University of Florida said that we have accelerated the extinction crisis through deforestation and ocean acidification, a development which is driving species to extinction.

“[Human] beings have increased, even from 1925, from 2 billion – which is considered to be a sustainable population for human beings, according to northern European consumption standards – to 7.2 billion at this point,” he said.

The Anthropocene: It’s Not All About Us

15 05 2014

heinbergA guest post from my friend Richard Heinberg, originally published as MuseLetter #264 in May 2014.  This is a long but important essay. I recommend a large cup of your favourite poison, and a biscuit or two….  Enjoy!

Download printable PDF version here (PDF, 126 KB)


Time to celebrate! Woo-hoo! It’s official: we humans have started a new geological epoch—the Anthropocene. Who’d have thought that just one species among millions might be capable of such an amazing accomplishment?

Let’s wait to stock up on party favours, though. After all, the Anthropocene could be rather bleak. The reason our epoch has acquired a new name is that future geologists will be able to spot a fundamental discontinuity in the rock strata that document our little slice of time in Earth’s multi-billion year pageant. This discontinuity will be traceable to the results of human presence. Think climate change, ocean acidification, and mass extinction.

Welcome to the Anthropocene: a world that may feature little in the way of multi-cellular ocean life other than jellyfish, and one whose continents might be dominated by a few generalist species able to quickly occupy new and temporary niches as habitats degrade (rats, crows, and cockroaches come to mind). We humans have started the Anthropocene, and we’ve proudly named it for ourselves, yet ironically we may not be around to enjoy much of it. The chain of impacts we have initiated could potentially last millions of years, but it’s a tossup whether there will be surviving human geologists to track and comment on it.

To be sure, there are celebrants of the Anthropocene who believe we’re just getting started, and that humans can and will shape this new epoch deliberately, intelligently, and durably. Mark Lynas, author of The God Species, contends the Anthropocene will require us to think and act differently, but that population, consumption, and the economy can continue to grow despite changes to the Earth system. Stewart Brand says we may no longer have a choice as to whether to utterly re-make the natural world; in his words, “We only have a choice of terraforming well. That’s the green project for this century.” In their book Love Your Monsters: Postenvironmentalism and the Anthropocene, Michael Schellenberger and Ted Nordhaus of the Breakthrough Institute say we can create a world where 10 billion humans achieve a standard of living allowing them to pursue their dreams, though this will only be possible if we embrace growth, modernization, and technological innovation. Similarly, Emma Marris (who admits to having spent almost no time in wilderness), argues in Rambunctious Garden: Saving Nature in a Post-Wild World that wilderness is gone forever, that we should all get used to the idea of the environment as human-constructed, and that this is potentially a good thing.

Is the Anthropocene the culmination of human folly or the commencement of human godhood? Will the emerging epoch be depleted and post-apocalyptic, or tastefully appointed by generations of tech-savvy ecosystem engineers? Environmental philosophers are currently engaged in what amounts to a heated debate about the limits of human agency. That discussion is especially engrossing because . . . it’s all about us!

*          *          *

The viability of the “we’re-in-charge-and-loving-it” version of the Anthropocene—let’s call it the Techno-Anthropocene—probably hinges on prospects for nuclear power. A concentrated, reliable energy source will be required for the maintenance and growth of industrial civilization, and just about everybody agrees that—whether or not we’re at the point of “peak oil”—fossil fuels won’t continue energizing civilization for centuries and millennia to come. Solar and wind are more environmentally benign sources, but they are diffuse and intermittent. Of society’s current non-fossil energy sources, only nuclear is concentrated, available on demand, and (arguably) capable of significant expansion. Thus it’s no accident that Techno-Anthropocene boosters such as Mark Lynas, Stewart Brand, Ted Nordhaus, and Michael Schellenberger are also big nuclear proponents.

But the prospects for current nuclear technology are not rosy. The devastating Fukushima meltdowns of 2011 scared off citizens and governments around the globe. Japan will be dealing with the radiation and health impacts for decades if not centuries, and the West Coast of the US is gearing up for an influx of radioactive ocean water and debris. There is still no good solution for storing the radioactive waste produced even when reactors are operating as planned. Nuclear power plants are expensive to build and typically suffer from hefty cost over-runs. The world supply of uranium is limited, and shortages are likely by mid-century even with no major expansion of power plants. And, atomic power plants are tied to nuclear weapons proliferation.

In 2012, The Economist magazine devoted a special issue to a report on nuclear energy; tellingly, the report was titled, “Nuclear Power: The Dream that Failed.” Its conclusion: the nuclear industry may be on the verge of expansion in just a few nations, principally China; elsewhere, it’s on life support.

None of this daunts Techno-Anthropocene proponents, who say new nuclear technology has the potential to fulfill the promises originally made for the current fleet of atomic power plants. The centerpiece of this new technology is the Integral Fast Reactor (IFR).

Unlike light water reactors (which comprise the vast majority of nuclear power plants in service today), IFRs would use sodium as a coolant. The IFR nuclear reaction features fast neutrons, and it more thoroughly consumes radioactive fuel, leaving less waste. Indeed, IFRs could use current radioactive waste as fuel. Also, they are alleged to offer greater operational safety and less risk of weapons proliferation.

These arguments are forcefully made in the 2013 documentary, “Pandora’s Promise,” produced and directed by Robert Stone. The film asserts that IFRs are our best tool to mitigate anthropogenic global warming, and it goes on to claim there has been a deliberate attempt by misguided bureaucrats to sabotage the development of IFR reactors.

However, critics of the film say these claims are overblown and that fast-reactor technology is highly problematic. Earlier versions of the fast breeder reactor (of which IFR is a version) were commercial failures and safety disasters. Proponents of the Integral Fast Reactor, say the critics, overlook its exorbitant development and deployment costs and continued proliferation risks. IFR theoretically “transmutes,” rather than eliminates, radioactive waste. Yet the technology is decades away from widespread implementation, and its use of liquid sodium as a coolant can lead to fires and explosions.

David Biello, writing in Scientific American, concludes that, “To date, fast neutron reactors have consumed six decades and $100 billion of global effort but remain ‘wishful thinking.’”

Even if advocates of IFR reactors are correct, there is one giant practical reason they may not power the Anthropocene: we likely won’t see the benefit from them soon enough to make much of a difference. The challenges of climate change and fossil fuel depletion require action now, not decades hence.

Assuming enough investment capital, and assuming a future in which we have decades in which to improve existing technologies, IFR reactors might indeed show significant advantages over current light water reactors (only many years of experience can tell for sure). But we don’t have the luxury of limitless investment capital, and we don’t have decades in which to work out the bugs and build out this complex, unproven technology.

The Economist’s verdict stands: “[N]uclear power will continue to be a creature of politics not economics, with any growth a function of political will or a side-effect of protecting electrical utilities from open competition. . . . Nuclear power will not go away, but its role may never be more than marginal.”

*          *          *

Defying risk of redundancy, I will hammer home the point: cheap, abundant energy is the prerequisite for the Techno-Anthropocene. We can only deal with the challenges of resource depletion and overpopulation by employing more energy. Running out of fresh water? Just build desalination plants (that use lots of energy). Degrading topsoil in order to produce enough grain to feed ten billion people? Just build millions of hydroponic greenhouses (that need lots of energy for their construction and operation). As we mine deeper deposits of metals and minerals and refine lower-grade ores, we’ll require more energy. Energy efficiency gains may help us do more with each increment of power, but a growing population and rising per-capita consumption rates will more than overcome those gains (as they have consistently done in recent decades). Any way you look at it, if we are to maintain industrial society’s current growth trajectory we will need more energy, we will need it soon, and our energy sources will have to meet certain criteria—for example, they will need to emit no carbon while at the same time being economically viable.

These essential criteria can be boiled down to four words: quantity, quality, price, and timing. Nuclear fusion could theoretically provide energy in large amounts, but not soon. The same is true of cold fusion (even if—and it’s a big if—the process can be confirmed to actually work and can be scaled up). Biofuels offer a very low energy return on the energy invested in producing them (a deal-breaking quality issue). Ocean thermal and wave power may serve coastal cities, but again the technology needs to be proven and scaled up. Coal with carbon capture and storage is economically uncompetitive with other sources of electricity. Solar and wind are getting cheaper, but they’re intermittent and tend to undermine commercial utility companies’ business models. While our list of potential energy sources is long, none of these sources is ready to be plugged quickly into our existing system to provide energy in the quantity, and at the price, that the economy needs in order to continue growing.

This means that humanity’s near future will almost certainly be energy-constrained. And that, in turn, will ensure—rather than engineering nature on an ever-greater scale—we will still be depending on ecosystems that are largely beyond our control.

As a species, we’ve gained an impressive degree of influence over our environment by deliberately simplifying ecosystems so they will support more humans, but fewer other species. Our principal strategy in this project has been agriculture—primarily a form of agriculture that focuses on a few annual grain crops. We’ve commandeered up to 50 percent of the primary biological productivity of our planet, mostly through farming and forestry. Doing this has had overwhelmingly negative impacts on non-domesticated plants and animals. The subsequent loss of biodiversity is increasingly compromising humanity’s prospects, because we depend upon countless ecosystem services (such as pollination and oxygen regeneration)—services we do not organize or control, and for which we do not pay.

The essence of our problem is this: the side effects of our growth binge are compounding rapidly and threaten a crisis in which the artificial support systems we’ve built over past decades (food, transport, and financial systems, among others)—as well as nature’s wild systems, on which we still also depend—could all crash more or less simultaneously.

If we’ve reached a point of diminishing returns and potential crisis with regard to our current strategy of constant population/consumption growth and ecosystem takeover, then it would seem that a change of direction is necessary and inevitable. If we were smart, rather than attempting to dream up ways of further re-engineering natural systems in untested (and probably unaffordable) ways, we would be limiting and ameliorating the environmental impacts of our global industrial system while reducing our population and overall consumption levels.

If we don’t proactively limit population and consumption, nature will eventually do it for us, and likely by very unpleasant means (famine, plague, and perhaps war). Similarly, we can rein in consumption simply by continuing to deplete resources until they become unaffordable.

Governments are probably incapable of leading a strategic retreat in our war on nature, as they are systemically hooked on economic growth. But there may be another path forward. Perhaps citizens and communities can initiate a change of direction. Back in the 1970s, as the first energy shocks hit home and the environmental movement flourished, ecological thinkers began tackling the question: what are the most biologically regenerative, least harmful ways of meeting basic human needs? Two of these thinkers, Australians David Holmgren and Bill Mollison, came up with a system they called Permaculture. According to Mollison, “Permaculture is a philosophy of working with, rather than against nature; of protracted and thoughtful observation rather than protracted and thoughtless labour; and of looking at plants and animals in all their functions, rather than treating any area as a single-product system.”  Today there are thousands of Permaculture practitioners throughout the world, and Permaculture Design courses are frequently on offer in almost every country.

Permaculture principles

Other ecologists didn’t aim to create an overarching system, but merely engaged in piecemeal research on practices that might lead to a more sustainable mode of food production—practices that include intercropping, mulching, and composting. One ambitious agricultural scientist, Wes Jackson of the Land Institute in Salina Kansas, has spent the past four decades breeding perennial grain crops (he points out that our current annual grains are responsible for the vast bulk of soil erosion, to the tune of 25 billion tons per year).

Meanwhile, community resilience efforts have sprung up in thousands of towns and cities around the world—including the Transition Initiatives, which are propelled by a compelling, flexible, grassroots organizing model and a vision of a future in which life is better without fossil fuels.

Population Media Center is working to ensure we don’t get to ten billion humans by enlisting creative artists in countries with high population growth rates (which are usually also among the world’s poorest nations) to produce radio and television soap operas featuring strong female characters who successfully confront issues related to family planning. This strategy has been shown to be the most cost-effective and humane means of reducing high birth rates in these nations.

What else can be done? Substitute labour for fuel. Localize food systems. Capture atmospheric carbon in soil and biomass. Replant forests and restore ecosytems. Recycle and re-use. Manufacture more durable goods. Rethink economics to deliver human satisfaction without endless growth. There are organizations throughout the world working to further each of these goals, usually with little or no government support. Taken together, they could lead us to an entirely different Anthropocene.

Call it the Lean-Green Anthropocene.

*          *          *

The Techno-Anthropocene has an Achilles heel: energy (more specifically, the failings of nuclear power). The Lean-Green Anthropocene has one as well: human nature.

It’s hard to convince people to voluntarily reduce consumption and curb reproduction. That’s not because humans are unusually pushy, greedy creatures; all living organisms tend to maximize their population size and rate of collective energy use. Inject a colony of bacteria into a suitable growth medium in a petri dish and watch what happens. Hummingbirds, mice, leopards, oarfish, redwood trees, or giraffes: in each instance the principle remains inviolate—every species maximizes population and energy consumption within nature’s limits. Systems ecologist Howard T. Odum called this rule the Maximum Power Principle: throughout nature, “system designs develop and prevail that maximize power intake, energy transformation, and those uses that reinforce production and efficiency.”

In addition to our innate propensity to maximize population and consumption, we humans also have difficulty making sacrifices in the present in order to reduce future costs. We’re genetically hardwired to respond to immediate threats with fight-or-flight responses, while distant hazards matter much less to us. It’s not that we don’t think about the future at all; rather, we unconsciously apply a discount rate based on the amount of time likely to elapse before a menace has to be faced.

True, there is some variation in future-anticipating behavior among individual humans. A small percentage of the population may change behavior now to reduce risks to forthcoming generations, while the great majority is less likely to do so. If that small percentage could oversee our collective future planning, we might have much less to worry about. But that’s tough to arrange in democracies, where people, politicians, corporations, and even nonprofit organizations get ahead by promising immediate rewards, usually in the form of more economic growth. If none of these can organize a proactive response to long-range threats like climate change, the actions of a few individuals and communities may not be so effective at mitigating the hazard.

This pessimistic expectation is borne out by experience. The general outlines of the 21st century ecological crisis have been apparent since the 1970s. Yet not much has actually been accomplished through efforts to avert that crisis. It is possible to point to hundreds, thousands, perhaps even millions of imaginative, courageous programs to reduce, recycle, and reuse—yet the overall trajectory of industrial civilization remains relatively unchanged.

*          *          *

Human nature may not permit the Lean-Greens’ message to altogether avert ecological crisis, but that doesn’t mean the message is pointless. To understand how it could have longer-term usefulness despite our tendency toward short-term thinking, it’s helpful to step back and look at how societies’ relationship with the environment tends to evolve.

The emblematic ecological crises of the Anthropocene (runaway climate change and ocean acidification, among others) are recent, but humans have been altering our environment one way or another for a long time. Indeed, there is controversy among geologists over when the Anthropocene began: some say it started with the industrial revolution, others tag it at the beginning of agriculture some 10,000 years ago, while still others tie it to the emergence of modern humans thousands of years earlier.

Humans have become world-changers as a result of two primary advantages: we have dexterous hands that enable us to make and use tools, and we have language, which helps us coordinate our actions over time and space. As soon as both were in place, we started using them to take over ecosystems. Paleoanthropologists can date the arrival of humans to Europe, Asia, Australia, the Pacific Islands, and the Americas by noting the timing of extinctions of large prey species. The list of animals probably eradicated by early humans is long, and includes (in Europe) several species of elephants and rhinos; (in Australia) giant wombats, kangaroos, and lizards; and (in the Americas) horses, mammoths, and giant deer.

People have also been deliberately re-engineering ecosystems for tens of thousands of years, principally by using fire to alter landscapes so they will produce more food for humans. Agriculture was a huge boost to our ability to produce more food on less land, and therefore to grow our population. Farming yielded storable food surpluses, which led to cities—the basis of civilization. It was in these urban social cauldrons that writing, money, and mathematics emerged.

If agriculture nudged the human project forward, fossil-fueled industrialism turbocharged it. In just the past two centuries, population and energy consumption have increased by over 800 percent. Our impact on the biosphere has more than kept pace.

The industrialization of agriculture reduced the need for farm labour. This enabled—or forced—billions to move to cities. As more people came to live in urban centres, they found themselves increasingly cut off from wild nature and ever more completely engaged with words, images, symbols, and tools.

There’s a term for the human tendency to look at the biosphere, maybe even the universe, as though it’s all about us: anthropocentrism. Up to a point, this is an understandable and even inevitable propensity. Every person, after all, is the centre of her own universe, the star of his own movie; why should our species as a whole be less egocentric? Other animals are similarly obsessed with their own kind: regardless of who furnishes the kibbles, dogs are obsessively interested in other dogs. But there are healthy and unhealthy degrees of individual and species self-centeredness. When individual human self-absorption becomes blatantly destructive we call it narcissism. Can a whole species be overly self-absorbed? Hunter-gatherers were certainly interested in their own survival, but many indigenous forager peoples thought of themselves as part of a larger community of life, with a responsibility to maintain the web of existence. Today we think more “pragmatically” (as an economist might put it), as we bulldoze, deforest, overfish, and deplete our way to world domination.

However, history does not portray a steady ramp-up of human hubris and alienation from nature. Periodically humans were slapped down. Famine, resource conflicts, and disease decimated populations that were previously growing. Civilizations rose, then fell. Financial manias led to crashes. Boomtowns became ghost towns.

Ecological slap-downs probably occurred with relatively great frequency in pre-agricultural times, when humans depended more directly on nature’s variable productivity of wild foods. The Aboriginals of Australia and the Native Americans—who are often regarded as exemplar intuitive ecologists due to their traditions and rituals restraining population growth, protecting prey species, and affirming humanity’s place within the larger ecosystem—were probably just applying lessons from bitter experience. It’s only when we humans get slapped down hard a few times that we start to appreciate other species’ importance, restrain our greed, and learn to live in relative harmony with our surroundings.

Which prompts the question: Are the Lean-Green Anthropocene prophets our species’ early warning system whose function is to avert catastrophe—or are they merely ahead of their time, pre-adapting to an ecological slap-down that is foreseeable but not yet fully upon us?

*          *          *

Throughout history, humans appear to have lived under two distinct regimes: boom times and dark ages. Boom times occurred in prehistory whenever people arrived in a new habitat to discover an abundance of large prey animals. Booms were also associated with the exploitation of new energy resources (especially coal and oil) and the expansions of great cities—from Uruk, Mohenjo-daro, Rome, Chang’an, Angkor Wat, Tenochtitlan, Venice, and London, all the way to Miami and Dubai. Boom-time behaviour is risk-seeking, confident to the point of arrogance, expansive, and experimental.

Historians use the term dark ages to refer to times when urban centres lose most of their population. Think Europe in the fifth through the fifteenth centuries, the Near East after the Bronze Age collapse around 1200 BCE, Cambodia between 1450 and 1863 CE, or Central America after the Mayan collapse of 900 CE. Dark-age behaviour is conservative and risk-averse. It has echoes in the attitudes of indigenous peoples who have lived in one place long enough to have confronted environmental limits again and again. Dark-age people haven’t skirted the Maximum Power Principle; they’ve just learned (from necessity) to pursue it with more modest strategies.

Needless to say, dark ages have their (ahem) dark side. In the early phases of such periods large numbers of people typically die from famine, also from war or other forms of violence. Dark ages are times of forgetting, when technologies and cultural achievements are often lost. Writing, money, mathematics, and astronomy can all disappear.

Still, these times are not uniformly gloomy. During the European Dark Ages, slavery nearly disappeared as new farming methods and better breeds of horses and oxen made forced human labour less economic. People who previously would have been bound in slavery became either free workers or, at worst, serfs. The latter couldn’t pick up and move without their lord’s permission, but generally enjoyed far more latitude than slaves. At the same time, the rise of Christianity brought new organized charitable activities and institutions, including hospices, hospitals, and shelters for the poor.

Today nearly everyone in the industrialized world has adopted boom-time behaviour. We are encouraged to do so by ceaseless advertising messages and by governmental cheerleaders of the growth economy. After all, we have just lived through the biggest boom in all human history—why not expect more of the same? The only significant slap-downs in recent cultural memory were the Great Depression and a couple of World Wars; in comparison with ecological bottlenecks in ancient eras these were minor affairs; further, they were relatively brief and played out three or more generations ago. For most of us now, dark-age behaviour seems quaint, pointless, and pessimistic.

It would be perverse to wish for a Great Slap-Down. Only a sociopath would welcome massive, widespread human suffering. At the same time, it is impossible to ignore these twin facts: our species’ population-consumption fiesta is killing the planet, and we’re not likely to end the party voluntarily.

Will we avert or face a Great Slap-Down? We’re already seeing initial signs of trouble ahead in extreme weather events, high oil and food prices, and increasing geopolitical tensions. Sadly, it seems that every effort will be made to keep the party going as long as possible. Even amid unmistakable signs of economic contraction, most people will still require time to adapt behaviourally. Moreover, a slap-down likely won’t be sudden and complete, but may unfold in stages. After each mini-slap we’ll hear claims from boom-time diehards that a techno-utopian takeoff has merely been delayed, and that economic expansion will resume if only we will follow this or that leader or political program.

But if urban centres feel the crunch, and if widespread Techno-utopian expectations are dashed, we can expect to see evidence of profound psychological disruption. Gradually, more and more people will conclude—again, as a result of hard experience—that nature isn’t here just for us. Whether this realization emerges from extreme weather, plagues, or resource scarcity, it will lead an ever-expanding share of the populace grudgingly to pay more attention to forces beyond human control.

Just as humans are now shaping the future of Earth, Earth will shape the future of humanity. Amid rapid environmental and social change, the message of the Lean-Greens will gain more obvious relevance. That message may not save the polar bears (though ecosystem protection programs deserve every kind of support), but it might make the inevitable transition to a new species-wide behavioral mode a lot easier. It may lead to a dark age that’s less dark than it would otherwise be, one in which more of our cultural and scientific achievements are preserved. A great deal may depend on the intensity and success of the efforts of the small proportion of the population who are currently open to Lean-Green thinking—success in acquiring skills, in developing institutions, and in communicating a compelling vision of a desirable and sustainable post-boom society.

In the end, the deepest insight of the Anthropocene will probably be a very simple one: we live in a world of millions of interdependent species with which we have co-evolved. We sunder this web of life at our peril. The Earth’s story is fascinating, rich in detail, and continually self-revealing. And it’s not all about us.

Are humans changing the world faster than animals can evolve?

14 02 2014

Humans are fundamentally changing the planet and could be causing nearly 20,000 species to become extinct. Elizabeth Kolbert, author of “The Sixth Extinction,” and Michio Kaku, City University of New York physics professor, join the “CBS This Morning” co-hosts to discuss the possibility of a mass extinction.

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

30 10 2013

This is the third instalment of a three part essay by Dr Geoffrey Chia whose other essay If we can’t save Society, we must save ourselves I posted here last year…


I had a particularly memorable patient a couple of years ago. We managed to save his life despite his best efforts to deny his problems. Contrary to popular opinion, denial does not make problems go away. I saw him in hospital for the first time after he was admitted for heart failure. Our tests showed he had sustained a small heart attack at the time, but we also identified other problems of rapid atrial fibrillation, severe aortic stenosis and severe left ventricular impairment (look up those terms, no space to explain everything here). He felt better after initial diuretic
therapy and refused to acknowledge the multiple severe heart problems I explained to him we had discovered. He wanted to be discharged against medical advice. He took a taxi to his GP’s surgery for a chat. His GP phoned me to discuss things, then sternly told the patient to get right back into hospital immediately.

I then performed his coronary angiogram which showed severe left main stem disease and triple vessel disease. Any single one of his problems could cause sudden death. With the multiple whammy combination of those problems, he was, in my opinion, barely a month away from dying. I referred him immediately to a heart surgeon for aortic valve replacement and coronary bypass surgery. The surgeon later informed me he found a huge clot within the left atrial appendage which was threatening to detach and cause a fatal stroke at any time. The surgeon reckoned the patient was just days away from dropping dead. He recuperated well and at last clinic review he has been compliant with his medications, has changed his adverse lifestyle, has recovered normal heart function, has a controlled heart rate and his artificial valve is working well. All other things being equal he can now expect at least another ten years of good quality life. He initially regarded me as being “alarmist”. If he had persisted in his denial he would have died. He now appreciates that he not only dodged a bullet, he dodged a whole volley of machinegun fire.

That case study is not an example of any brilliance on my part and was in fact a team effort anyway. I merely did what any average Cardiologist would do. It is an illustration of the power of the principles and practice of judicious modern medicine to save lives. This is what I have been trying to do for more than eight years – to apply medical decision making principles to policy in wider society to avert disaster and enhance the common good. I have failed miserably. It is my observation that most people will listen intently to save their own skin, but they don’t give a rat’s arse if you ask them to even slightly alter their wasteful lifestyle to save the lives of others, let alone other species1.

Hence my miserable failure to lobby our previous State Minister of Sustainability Kate Jones to ban non biodegradable plastic bags. Kate had spoken at one of our previous D3SJ meetings and came across as being strongly pro-environment then. After her appointment as Minister, I sent her information about the “plastic gyres” in the oceans and videos of turtles and seabirds killed by plastic detritus. I gathered signatures on a petition to ban nonbiodegradable plastic bags and pointed out to her that such legislation had just been passed in South Australia. Her assistant wrote back admonishing me to stop pestering them as they were simply not going to do it – no explanation.

Rachel Nolan spoke to our D3SJ group when she was an MP before she became State Transport Minister and she even co-wrote a paper on Peak Oil Vulnerability with Andrew McNamara (who was Sustainability Minister before Kate Jones). Nothing significant to date has been done in Queensland to wean us off petroleum dependency.

At a Federal level, despite repeated written submissions to Kevin Rudd (my local MP) before and while he was Prime Minister, I was unable to convince him of the importance of Peak Oil. I instead received a thoroughly nonsensical letter in reply from Resource Minister at the time, Martin Ferguson. My failures are well documented on the D3SJ website (not updated for a while due to lack of motivation and preoccupation with other projects, however meetings have continued regularly till this month).

Andrew McNamara lost his seat of Hervey Bay because of Premier Anna Bligh’s Traveston Dam debacle. Andrew spoke to our D3SJ group subsequently, giving us an insider view of how the political process works. It became clear to us that the system ensures it is impossible to change the Government’s unsustainable policies by making representations to Ministers or by going through the “usual channels” which are a sham. Bligh was beholden to the fossil fuel industrialists. I know Andrew himself wanted to do the right thing but his hands were tied and he was muzzled.

Andrew, Rachel and Kate were all Labor Ministers. If nothing could be done through them or by them, we can expect even less than nothing from current Premier Cannibal Newman’s right wingnut environmental vandals who are wantonly going about cutting “green tape” (their euphemism for destroying environmental protection legislation) and demonising householders who have installed photovoltaic panels. How dare they not pay their “fair share” for coal-fired electricity! Cannibal Newman has been quoted as saying that Peak Oil does not exist and they will burn carpets and tyres if necessary to keep the cars running. How can one discuss sane policy with such a blinkered imbecile? He is very good at constructing money losing road tunnels, which my friend Professor David Hood described as future stormwater storage tanks.

I now know that the vast majority of humanity, indeed probably all of humanity, will die off this century. I cling to the (probably forlorn) hope that some stragglers may survive extinction, to preserve an archive of some worthwhile human achievements. Even extending the lives of a few good people for perhaps an extra ten years beyond the general dieoff, so long as their lives remain comfortable, is in my opinion worth doing. It is what I have been doing all my professional life, so why stop now? So I would like to try. I acknowledge that I may fail miserably, but not to try at all will turn that failure into a self fulfilling prophecy.

It may be useful to view the National Geographic video clip of global average temperature rises from 1 to 6 degrees Celsius (above modern pre-industrial times – and bear in mind that average land temperature rises will be significantly higher). That clip is probably over optimistic. The narrator’s final statement, that at 6 degrees rise, “life will never be the same” is completely absurd because there will be no (complex) life on Earth at 6 degrees and beyond. The scientist just before that mentioned that at 6 degrees there will be a total global wipeout.

Given our present dire situation, my non-expert opinion is that only two outcomes can befall humanity now. One is human extinction which I suspect is very likely, let’s give it a probability of >99.9% and the other is near extinction leaving just a handful of survivors, which I rate as <0.1% likely. That 0.1% chance is only possible if there is complete termination of all human GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions right now or very soon (but still a 99.9% chance that even with immediate complete termination it is already too late). James Lovelock seems to think several
million people may survive, however I am not sure how up to date he is with the positive feedback loops we have triggered.

To the indifferent Universe, one outcome is much the same as the other. To humanity, however, there is a HUGE difference between complete extinction and near extinction. Modern humans first emerged in Africa about 200,000 years ago. Studies in genetic diversity indicate that total human numbers were down to just a few thousand people around 75,000 years ago. It is thought that a severe disaster, possibly a massive volcanic eruption in Lake Toba, Sumatra was the cause of this near human extinction. Others postulate some other cause but the exact cause is irrelevant for our purposes. The point is that humans have been through a genetic bottleneck before. Furthermore, other genetic studies indicate that all non-Africans today are descended from just a few hundred people who were thought to have crossed the Red Sea from Africa to Arabia about 70,000 years ago. Hence all it takes is for a few survivors to get through the most difficult times, to survive the next five hundred years or so till our climate stabilises,2 for our species to eventually recover and become re-established in the future.

There are numerous complex unpredictable non-linear factors which will determine our fate, but for simplicity let us consider just one thing: what is the single main determinant as to whether humanity will experience complete extinction or near extinction? It will be the maximum global average temperature this planet finally reaches. According to Professor David Hood, an eminent engineer, sustainability activist and climate educator, most researchers agree that at 5 degrees, human existence is inconceivable. Even at 4 degrees our extinction is very likely, however a number of scientists believe that a few pockets of survivors in geographically favourable parts of
the planet could persist. I thank my friend Dr Graeme Taylor for this link:

Four Degrees of Global Warming: Australia in a hot world. This book outlines the expected impacts of
global average warming of four degrees or more for Australia and its region. It provides detailed recent
research on the likely impacts of a Four Degree World on Australia’s social, economic and ecological
systems, and possible policy responses. Its authors include many of Australia’s most eminent and
internationally recognized climate scientists, climate policy makers and policy analysts.

Notwithstanding the impeccable qualifications of those authors, I cannot buy into any scenarios that we may have any semblance of organised society at 4 degrees, a world in which severe weather events will be magnitudes worse than they are now and large scale agriculture will be impossible. Perhaps a few scattered humans may survive at 4 degrees, but only if 4 degrees is the end point stable state. However if there are ongoing feedback loop GHG emissions still occurring then, 4 degrees will merely be a transition temperature to 6 or 10 degrees.

What will determine the maximum global average temperature this planet finally stabilises at? It will be the total amount of GHGs ultimately liberated by humans plus the total amount of GHGs ultimately liberated by the positive (bad) feedback loops3. The latter is potentially many times more than human liberated GHGs. At this time there do not seem to be significant negative (good) feedback loops4. If industry continues at, say, just half the emissions of today for perhaps the next ten years and considering current and further feedback loop GHGs, a maximum final
temperature of more than 5 degrees is guaranteed. You can disregard the views of the dishonestly downplayed IPCC projections (which have always seriously underestimated true warming effects) and Bill McKibben’s “carbon budget” campaign to “keep within 2 degrees”, because they disregard feedback loop GHGs.

In the rather unlikely scenario that all industry completely collapses tomorrow or in the next few months5, what will the final maximum global average temperature be? Considering atmospheric CO2 alone, which is now at 400ppm, approximately 3.5 degrees rise is already locked in, going by the paleorecord (estimated range is 2 to 5 degrees C, hence let’s take the middle of that range ). That 3.5 degree rise will probably not be reached till after 2100, but 2100 is an arbitrary cutoff date. Later term human extinction after 2100 is just as important a consideration to us as NTHE. It is, after all, extinction.

However, we must also consider the feedback loop GHGs liberated from the vicious cycles we have already triggered. We do not know the total amount that will be liberated before they tail off. We could still be headed for 5 degrees rise anyway. If that is the case, there is no scenario whatsoever where humans can escape extinction. However we simply don’t know if this “best case” scenario of immediate industrial collapse will or will not ultimately reach 5 degrees, all we can consider are probabilities which cannot be calculated with precision. Could geoengineering (eg injecting sulphates into the atmosphere) buy time? It could temporarily stabilise temperatures, prompting some hubristic media bufoons to declare that the problem of climate change is “solved”. Such idiocy will then encourage countries to burn more fossil fuels, which then will absolutely, definitely, beyond any shadow of a doubt seal our fate and guarantee our extinction. Geoengineering is sure to cause side effects, many of which we cannot even predict. Perhaps acid rain could render the tundra soils completely infertile, the tundra that we would depend on for future forest growth and biologic carbon sequestration.

One thing we know for sure is that continuation of human GHG emissions will cause feedback loop GHGs to increase exponentially. The GIMME establishment is hellbent on business as usual and we are powerless to alter that, which is why I believe Professor Guy McPherson is correct in his judgement regarding the prospect of NTHE. It is a well reasoned and logical opinion to hold. However even if the most experienced cancer specialist in the world diagnoses that a particular patient, who is thoroughly riddled with extensive metastases, will die very soon, there is
sometimes the one-in-a-million patient whose immune system unexpectedly rallies and who experiences dramatic recovery and defies the odds, dumbfounding the experts. An unexpected “black swan” event occurs. Am I clutching at straws? Perhaps. Nevertheless I prefer to regard Guy as being 99.9% likely to be correct. I may be deluded and I do have a proven track record of being a miserable failure, but I cling to the foolish notion there may be a 0.1% chance of a few survivors in our uncertain future (if and only if there is near immediate termination of all human GHG emissions). I don’t think I am in denial because I know the problem will not go away and am also aware that I am probably wrong. But what else is there to do?

Here is one indisputable fact: as individuals, even though we may not know exactly when we will die, we know that we have limited time and energy to expend from today until that final day of reckoning. Accordingly I believe we need to direct our precious limited remaining time and energy toward the actions we think will be most constructive and worthwhile. Choose your battles well and engage in activities which you personally regard as effective, valuable and meaningful. For me, it is pointless to expend energy trying to influence government any more, especially rabid, foaming-at-the-mouth, right wing government. Can we use public media to change public opinion? I spoke out on ABC Radio National in 2005, using indisputable evidence to prove that the invasion of Iraq was based on lies–/3451208—parttwo/3452646

I received a flurry of hate emails for my trouble, which I regard as my badge of pride. I have been banned from ABC RN ever since. Robyn Williams has been too afraid to let me back on air. Even the public media have been cowed and emasculated by the corporate political agendas.

The influence of public media is tiny anyway compared with the massively funded lies of the corporate media who have completely brainwashed the stupid sheeple.

My friend Rolf Kuelsen, known to us as a Transition Towns warrior and bicycle advocate (his professional background is that of a mathematician) asked a question at a meeting on Economics a couple of months ago. He asked why, given the great costs of modern illnesses to society, we do not spend our money more effectively on prevention and health education rather than expensive treatments after the diseases have taken hold. I personally may be a peddler of expensive treatments myself, however I fully agree that prevention would be far more cost effective. When no answer was forthcoming from the centre stage economists, I blurted out from the audience in my usual Tourette’s manner, “It is because the pathway to disease is protected by vested interests: tobacco, the salt industry, the fast food industry, high fructose corn syrup6“.  Of course those vested interests are vigorously promoted by the corporate media. How can we battle the corporate media with their bottomless funding, universal pervasiveness and slickly produced seductive messages peddling addictive substances? We can’t. And the most addictive substances of all? Fossil fuels.

Even if some major disaster occurs (as if we haven’t already had enough disasters) which suddenly wakes up the masses to the fact we are in a planetary emergency and we start mobilising rapidly on an urgent international scale, the fact is that we have already fallen off the cliff of unsustainability and the die-off of billions is already built in. Every updated Limits to Growth simulation model results in massive die-off using contemporary data from today’s situation, even using the most favourable inputs. As my friend and Peak Oil expert Wallace Wight says, it is difficult to grow feathers once you have fallen off the cliff.

Below are my personal views of what we as individuals may choose to do and should not do. It is not a list of recommendations to anyone because I don’t know what to do any better than the next guy (although Guy may know better than the next guy). It is just a list of my opinions. You must decide for yourself.

Let us again use the analogy of a terminal cancer patient. Arguably the most important measure is to psychologically and emotionally come to terms with the probable fate we face. Even though the Kubler-Ross stages (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance) are not always invariably followed, they are a useful model of what psychological phases we may go through and can offer ways for us to cope. Secondly, being realistic about our likely fate motivates us to put our personal affairs in order. Thirdly, palliation can be of great value: therapies which will keep us comfortable and free of distress, and if possible extend whatever precious remaining time we may have. It is important to know the difference between prolonging a comfortable life and delaying an agonising death and to avoid the latter. If however we can achieve perhaps nine months of pleasant life by palliation, instead of suffering for three months in excruciating pain, it would be silly not to proceed with palliation.

There is one important difference between the death of an individual and the extinction of humanity as a species. For an individual facing a 99.9% chance of death, resignation to their fate is an entirely reasonable choice, indeed probably the most reasonable one. The struggle, exhaustion and pain they may be going through and side effects of medications may be just too much to endure. Most importantly, they can depart this mortal coil knowing that others can continue their legacy – life will go on for the rest.

For the extinction of our species however, it will mean the complete loss of all the hard won enlightenment and cultural achievements our species has ever gained, which I personally think is worth preserving. Furthermore I believe (on the basis of statistical likelihood) that conscious, self aware, intelligent life, which can be used to describe some (but not most) human beings, is exceedingly rare in the universe and is therefore precious.

As part of the grieving process, it is natural for us to direct much of our anger against the right wing psychopathic lying politicians who are presently wrecking the joint. However in a democracy such as Australia, those politicians reached their positions of power because they were voted in by the majority of the populace, a majority consisting of stupid, foolish and greedy primates who believe the corporate and media lies that they can have it all and have it now, with no consequences whatsoever. Tony Abbott wants to repeal the carbon tax legislated by the Labor
government. This is the exact mentality of a spoilt four year old brat completely lacking in self restraint and any thought of saving for the future. When the majority of the population are stupid and infantile, true democracy means we end up with “leaders” who are stupid and infantile, a mirror reflection of the majority.

The inmates have indeed taken control of the asylum. It is much harder to direct our frustrations diffusely against the unwashed brainless masses. However it is those masses who are in fact the problem, not specifically Tony Abbott, who would personally be relegated to a position no higher than that of toilet cleaner if the electorate had any sense whatsoever. The harsh reality is that even if Abbott did not exist, another knuckledragging coal company stooge of similar ilk would have been voted into office by the profoundly stupid electorate anyway. But who are
behind the manipulation of the dumb sheeple? Who have convinced the brainless masses to vote against their own interests?

By all means go ahead and rail against the despicable puppet masters (the corporate-military-industrial complex, their high priest economists and the commercial media) if you find it cathartic. I personally find ridicule and mockery to be a therapeutic and effective way to cast them in their true light, as you will have already noted.
Anger is natural part of the mourning phase. I think it is healthier to express your anger than to internalise your emotions. Woody Allen said, “I don’t get angry, I just grow a tumour” which to me is inadvisable. I agree with Richard Heinberg however, that discussing NTHE with ordinary people is pointless. Such a topic would certainly be a conversation stopper at a cocktail party (although I would love to be a fly on the wall in that situation). Seek out likeminded people with whom you can have your therapeutic conversations. Let the rage out, it is important to vent your spleen, but also important to eventually get past this phase so you can then direct your energies toward more
constructive activities. Don’t get bogged down in the anger phase. You may revisit it from time to time but don’t get stuck there. Here’s one thing we should NOT do: we should not resort to violence, no matter how tempting.

Apart from the context of legitimate self defence, the sapient among us know that violence tends to be counterproductive. This is true whether the violence is directed externally in the form of sabotaging coal installations, or internally in the form of starving oneself for a publicity campaign. For example, you may feel you have the “right” to torture and kill a coal company magnate for funding global warming denialism and for driving humanity (not to mention most other species) to extinction in order to feed his/her short term obscene profits. I am not arguing that such a person does not deserve to be viciously torn apart, fat limb from fat limb, but think of the consequences that will ensue following such an assassination. It will certainly be big news and any assassin will be portrayed by the MSM as a “lunatic ecoterrorist, the new Osama bin Laden” with hints of a larger conspiratorial “greenie terrorist plot” directed against wider society. MSM hacks will have a field day instilling fear in the hearts of the population against such “ecoterrorists”, resulting in reprisals against innocent “greenies” by the GIMME establishment and by the unwashed mob. Imagine SUVs running down innocent cyclists (as was advocated by the execrable Jeremy Clarkson, infamous global warming denialist, in one of his moronic “shows”) and you get the picture. There will be a lockdown of society, with increased electronic surveillance. There will be draconian oppressive laws passed by the government and curtailment of civil liberties, which the sheeple will willingly relinquish in order to feel “safe”.

“Terrorists” are the greatest gift to Fascist governments and if they did not exist, it would be necessary to invent

them. You will be aware that US government agencies already list left leaning environmentalists in their official criteria of what constitutes a terrorist. Furthermore, both the Pentagon and the German military, in their Peak Oil and Climate Change analysis, have made plans to institute martial law when the inevitable chaos ensues. They just need the flimsiest excuse. Do not give the GIMME establishment a scapegoat group (environmentalists) to blame and demonise. So we should not resort to violence – it will merely accelerate our transformation into a police state. Violence is not in the nature of the sapient, it is not in your nature dear reader anyway, unless you are forced to defend yourself.

I have been using the terms “sapient” and “sapience” (the capacity to achieve wisdom) profusely and would like to acknowledge the ideas of Dr George Mobus on this topic. He is based in the University of Washington, Tacoma and his PhD was in computer science. However he is also a systems analyst and energy expert and as his website implies, he questions everything and has particularly worthwhile thoughts on how we should consider energy flows in reality based economic systems. He has been interviewed several times at the “doomstead diner” and I highly recommend the podcasts.

Mobus’ view is that the best hope for humanity is for sapient people to establish self sufficient offgrid communities remote from the cities (it is the urban centres where the major die-off will occur and people will be killing each other). Not all homesteads will succeed, however if enough of them are set up in various locations around the world and climate change is not too drastic, a few will be able to survive. Just one or two
groups of survivors may be sufficient to save humanity from extinction. Subsequent generations who emerge out of this “genetic bottleneck” will hopefully be selected for sapience and be more thoughtful, more cooperative, more generous, more benevolent, less violent, less greedy and less impulsive than the vast majority of humanity today and hence better custodians for a future planet. The Earth will have rid itself of its worst parasites (that last sentence is mine).

If you can gather together a group of sapient people and establish a permaculture homestead in a remote area with your own supply of water and food in a location relatively less affected by climate change than the rest of the world, you should be able to live a decent life and be in control of your own fate for longer than the rest. I won’t go into the issue of “marauding hordes” apart from saying your best protection may be remoteness and obscurity. Even if no communities survive in the long run, even if we ultimately all go extinct, your homestead will represent a form of palliative therapy to lengthen the duration of your comfortable life, minimise the amount of suffering you
endure and enable you to be in charge of the time and manner by which you depart this mortal coil.

If the actions we need to take for palliation and the actions we need to take to avoid extinction are exactly the same, then embarking on those actions is a no-brainer. Hence in conclusion: seek out the company of likeminded people who you can enlist for mutual help in the tough times ahead. The most important commodity of the future will not be gold or silver but will be the bond of trust between sapient people, honourable people whose word is their pledge and who can be relied on in difficult times. I bid you all good luck and good spirits as you face the challenges ahead posed by the inevitable disintegration of this irredeemably corrupt, economically delusional so-called civilisation. And so, in drawing D3SJ to a close, I have one last question to ask of everyone in general and no one in particular, “Is our quest to find sanity in the human race, itself an insane quest?”

I thank those of you who have supported the D3SJ meetings over the years.
Geoffrey Chia, October 2013
“I dreamed an impossible dream – then awoke to the hellish nightmare of Reality” – GC


1. But guess what? We depend on other species for our own survival! And those species can only survive if the habitats they live in are preserved. And climate change is destroying all habitats.

2. My non-expert understanding is that if all emissions were to cease tomorrow and we eventually stabilise at 4 deg C rise, natural biosequestration of the excess CO2 may take perhaps a thousand years to occur. However we are now also moving into a cooler Milankovitch phase (reduced solar insolation) which may take a thousand years or so to transition the planet into another ice age. Thus hopefully we could return to “normal” temperatures in a few hundred years rather than a thousand years from now.

3. One of the worst feedback loop GHG releases will be when the hot oceans no longer act as a carbon sink and start to release CO2, however we will probably be well on our way to extinction by then, if not already extinct. Of course the situation is much more complicated than just adding feedback loop GHGs to human GHGs, because there may be many other positive feedbacks such as loss of albedo due to loss of ice etc. However even though you and I may not be able to construct more precise complex computer models, our simplistic napkin-scribble reckoning is still far better than the IPCC “projections” which refuse to acknowledge feedbacks at all. Talk about denial.

4. Perhaps radiative heat loss being a little more than expected.

5. Not impossible though, as the Tea Party / GOP brinkmanship games threatening to collapse the USA financially on 17 October showed. Our best hope is for those lunatics to shoot themselves in the foot. If they carry out their threat to bomb Iran, it will provoke Iran to blockade the Persian Gulf using mines and missiles, which will paralyse oil exports and precipitate global financial and industrial collapse. We can only hope.

6. Of course high fructose corn syrup is more applicable to the US rather than Australia, who have the sugar cane lobby, but I think the audience got my drift

Are we held to ransom?

13 10 2013

Another guest post by Matt Moran……

Matt Moran

Matt Moran

“It was just mentioned on ABC news that 1 in 8 houses are sold to overseas buyers and investors – that is certainly not helping the housing shortage here!”

I do wonder why Australians continue to be held hostage to the greedy and/or ignorant.  Why must we suffer housing un-affordability and economic/ecological ruin because the banks, property speculators, and developers, continue to lobby Liberal and Labor to run what is pure and simple, a ponzi scheme.

The global average for net immigration is zero – that’s right, zero. That means that immigration equals emigration. Have a look at the graph on this page which gives relative levels of net immigration to local population growth. Only a fool would buy that there’s a legitimate reason (economic or humanitarian) for us to be running the net immigration levels shown.


So what’s the target net intake for this year?  190,000 – but that’s a higher target than last year and net immigration (or NOM) actually ended up around 255,000.  Why?  Who can this possibly benefit?  You?  Not unless you’re one of the decreasing few that benefits from the misery of growing numbers of people here and abroad.  Otherwise you’re much worse off.  Our children?  Nope, they will be worse off.  Increasingly our kids are having to compete for the low skilled positions that helps them get into the job market and missing out.

That we are also wiping out our Koalas, Quolls and Numbats (indeed, we lead the world in mammal extinction) in this blind pursuit of covering what little arable land we have (i.e. that which we aren’t flogging off to China, India or Qatar) is crazy.

What of our food, water and energy security?

Indeed, I do wonder how much longer Australians will be held to ransom?  Or will Australians start to increasingly look at these figures and realise that parties like the Stable Population Party are actually not aextinbout manipulating population, but more about stopping the manipulation by our government and big business and actually more about giving freedom to manage fertility that billions in poverty are crying out for.   This my friends is a cruel and vicious policy that we and future generations are paying for.  Time to say enough??