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…

PART 1 is HERE
PART 2 is HERE
PART 3: WHAT REMAINS TO BE DONE

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

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

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

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

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

At a Federal level, despite repeated written submissions to Kevin Rudd (my local MP) before and while he was Prime Minister, I was unable to convince him of the importance of Peak Oil. I instead received a thoroughly nonsensical letter in reply from Resource Minister at the time, Martin Ferguson. My failures are well documented on the D3SJ website http://www.d3sj.org (not updated for a while due to lack of motivation and preoccupation with other projects, however meetings have continued regularly till this month).

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

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

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

It may be useful to view the National Geographic video clip of global average temperature rises from 1 to 6 degrees Celsius (above modern pre-industrial times – and bear in mind that average land temperature rises will be significantly higher). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hfBMUd-Es0M That clip is probably over optimistic. The narrator’s final statement, that at 6 degrees rise, “life will never be the same” is completely absurd because there will be no (complex) life on Earth at 6 degrees and beyond. The scientist just before that mentioned that at 6 degrees there will be a total global wipeout.

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

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

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

Four Degrees of Global Warming: Australia in a hot world. This book outlines the expected impacts of
global average warming of four degrees or more for Australia and its region. It provides detailed recent
research on the likely impacts of a Four Degree World on Australia’s social, economic and ecological
systems, and possible policy responses. Its authors include many of Australia’s most eminent and
internationally recognized climate scientists, climate policy makers and policy analysts.
http://www.amazon.com/Four-Degrees-Global-Warming-Australia/dp/0415824583/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1378944618&sr=1-1&keywords=christoff+four+degrees+of+global+warming

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

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

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

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

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

Here is one indisputable fact: as individuals, even though we may not know exactly when we will die, we know that we have limited time and energy to expend from today until that final day of reckoning. Accordingly I believe we need to direct our precious limited remaining time and energy toward the actions we think will be most constructive and worthwhile. Choose your battles well and engage in activities which you personally regard as effective, valuable and meaningful. For me, it is pointless to expend energy trying to influence government any more, especially rabid, foaming-at-the-mouth, right wing government. Can we use public media to change public opinion? I spoke out on ABC Radio National in 2005, using indisputable evidence to prove that the invasion of Iraq was based on lies http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/ockhamsrazor/science-versus-pseudoscience-truthversus-lies–/3451208
http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/ockhamsrazor/theres-no-fuel-like-an-old-fuel—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. http://faculty.washington.edu/gmobus/TheoryOfSapience/SapienceExplained/1.sapienceintroduction/sapienceIntroduction.html He is based in the University of Washington, Tacoma and his PhD was in computer science. However he is also a systems analyst and energy expert and as his website implies, http://questioneverything.typepad.com/question_everything/ he questions everything and has particularly worthwhile thoughts on how we should consider energy flows in reality based economic systems. He has been interviewed several times at the “doomstead diner” http://www.doomsteaddiner.net and I highly recommend the podcasts.

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

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

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

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

FOOTNOTES

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





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.





Some Credible Scientists Believe Humanity Is Irreparably Close to Destruction

21 08 2013

 

Originally published at http://www.vice.com/en_ca/read/near-term-extinctionists-believe-the-world-is-going-to-end-very-soon

WARNING:  Colourful language!

By Nathan Curry

If you were to zoom out and take a comparative look back at our planet during the 1950s from some sort of cosmic time-travelling orbiter cube, you would probably first notice that millions of pieces of space trash had disappeared from orbit.

 

The moon would appear six and a half feet closer to Earth, and the continents of Europe and North America would be four feet closer together. Zooming in, you would be able to spot some of the industrial clambering of the Golden Age of Capitalism in the West and some of the stilted attempts at the Great Leap Forward in the East. Lasers, bar codes, contraceptives, hydrogen bombs, microchips, credit cards, synthesizers, superglue, Barbie dolls, pharmaceuticals, factory farming, and distortion pedals would just be coming into existence.

 

There would be two thirds fewer humans on the planet than there are now. Over a million different species of plants and animals would exist that have since gone extinct.  There would be 90 percent more fish, a billion less tons of plastic, and 40 percent more phytoplankton (producers of half the planet’s oxygen) in the oceans. There would be twice as many trees covering the land and about three times more drinking water available from ancient aquifers. There would be about 80 percent more ice covering the northern pole during the summer season and 30 percent less carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere. The list goes on…

 

Most educated and semi-concerned people know that these sorts of sordid details make up the backdrop of our retina-screened, ethylene-ripened story of progress, but what happens when you start stringing them all together?

If Doomsday Preppers, the highest rated show on the National Geographic Channel is any indication, the general public seems to be getting ready for some sort of societal collapse. There have always been doomsday prophets and cults around and everyone has their own personal view of how the apocalypse will probably go down (ascension of pure souls, zombie crows), but in the midst of all of the Mayan Calendar/Timewave Zero/Rapture babble, there are some clarion calls coming from a crowd that’s less into bugout bags and eschatology: well-respected scientists and journalists who have come to some scarily-sane sounding conclusions about the threat of human-induced climate change on the survival of the human species.

 

Recent data seems to suggest that we may have already tripped several irrevocable, non-linear, positive feedback loops (melting of permafrost, methane hydrates, and arctic sea ice) that make an average global temperature increase of only 2°C by 2100 seem like a fairy tale. Instead, we’re talking 4°C, 6°C, 10°C, 16°C (????????) here.

 

The link between rapid climate change and human extinction is basically this: the planet becomes uninhabitable by humans if the average temperature goes up by 4-6°C. It doesn’t sound like a lot because we’re used to the temperature changing 15°C overnight, but the thing that is not mentioned enough is that even a 2-3°C average increase would give us temperatures that regularly surpass 40°C (104°F) in North America and Europe, and soar even higher near the equator. Human bodies start to break down after six hours at a wet-bulb (100% humidity) temperature of 35°C (95°F). This makes the 2003 heat wave in Europe that killed over 70,000 people seem like not a very big deal.

 

Factoring in the increase we’re already seeing in heat waves, droughts, wildfires, massive storms, food and water shortages, deforestation, ocean acidification, and sea level rise some are seeing the writing on the wall:

We’re all gonna die!

 

If you want to freak yourself the fuck out, spend a few hours trying to refute the mounting evidence of our impending doom heralded by the man who gave the Near Term Extinction movement its name, Guy McPherson, on his blog Nature Bats Last. McPherson is a former Professor Emeritus of Natural Resources and Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Arizona, who left his cushy tenured academic career and now lives in a straw-bale house on a sustainable commune in rural New Mexico in an attempt to “walk away from Empire.” There are a lot of interviews and videos available of Dr. McPherson talking about NTE if you want to boost your pessimism about the future to suicidal/ruin-any-dinner-party levels.

 

 
If you are in need of an ultimate mind-fuck, there is a long essay on McPherson’s site entitled “The Irreconcilable Acceptance of Near Term Extinction” written by a lifelong environmental activist named Daniel Drumright. He writes about trying to come to terms with what it means to be on a clear path toward extinction now that it’s probably too late to do anything about it (hint: suicide or shrooms). As Drumright points out, the entirety of human philosophy, religion, and politics doesn’t really provide a framework for processing the psychological terror of all of humanity not existing in the near future.

Outside of the official NTE enclave, there are a lot of scientists and journalists who would probably try to avoid being labeled as NTE proponents, but are still making the same sort of dire predictions about our collective fate. They may not believe that humans will ALL be gone by mid-century, but massive, catastrophic “population decline” due to human-induced rapid climate change is not out of the picture.

James Hansen, the former head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies and one of the world’s leading climatologists has recently retired from his position after 43 years in order to concentrate on climate-change activism. He predicts that without full de-carbonization by 2030, global CO2 emissions will be 16 times higher than in 1950, guaranteeing catastrophic climate change. In an essay published in April of this year, Hansen states:

 

“If we should ‘succeed’ in digging up and burning all fossil fuels, some parts of the planet would become literally uninhabitable, with some times during the year having wet bulb temperatures exceeding 35°C. At such temperatures, for reasons of physiology and physics, humans cannot survive… it is physically impossible for the environment to carry away the 100W of metabolic heat that a human body generates when it is at rest. Thus even a person lying quietly naked in hurricane force winds would be unable to survive.”

 

Bill McKibben, prominent green journalist, author, distinguished scholar, and one of the founders of 350.org—the movement that aims to reduce atmospheric CO2 levels to 350ppm in the hopes of avoiding runaway climate change—wrote a book in 2011 called Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet. In it he highlights current environmental changes that have put us past the predictions that had previously been reserved for the end of the 21st century. He emphasizes that the popular political rhetoric that we need to do something about climate change for our “grandchildren” is sorely out of touch with reality. This is happening now. We’re already living on a sci-fi planet from a parallel universe:

“The Arctic ice cap is melting, the great glacier above Greenland is thinning, both with disconcerting and unexpected speed. The oceans are distinctly more acid and their level is rising…The greatest storms on our planet, hurricanes and cyclones, have become more powerful…The great rain forest of the Amazon is drying on its margins…The great boreal forest of North America is dying in a matter of years… [This] new planet looks more or less like our own but clearly isn’t… This is the biggest thing that’s ever happened.”

 

Climate Change protesters in Melbourne. via Flickr.

 

Peter Ward is a paleontologist and author whose 2007 book Under a Green Sky: Global Warming, the Mass Extinctions of the Past, and What they Can Tell Us About the Future, provides evidence that all but one of the major global extinction events (dinosaurs) occurred due to rapid climate change caused by increased atmospheric carbon dioxide levels. This time around, the carbon dioxide increase happens to be coming from humans figuring out how to dig billions of tons of carbon out of the ground—and releasing it into the air. Ward states that during the last 10,000 years in which human civilization has emerged, our carbon dioxide levels and climate have remained anomalously stable, but the future doesn’t look so good:

“The average global temperature has changed as much as 18°F [8°C] in a few decades. The average global temperature is 59°F [15°C]. Imagine that it shot to 75°F [24°C] or dropped to 40°F [4°C], in a century or less. We have no experience of such a world… at minimum, such sudden changes would create catastrophic storms of unbelievable magnitude and fury…lashing the continents not once a decade or century but several times each year…For most of the last 100,000 years, an abruptly changing climate was the rule, not the exception.”

Far from being a Mother Earth lover, Ward has also developed an anti-Gaia hypothesis that he calls the “Medea Hypothesis” in which complex life, instead of being in symbiotic harmony with the environment, is actually a horrible nuisance. In this hypothesis, the planet and microbial life have worked together multiple times to trigger mass extinction events that have almost succeeded in returning the earth to its microbe-dominant state. In other words, Mother Earth might be Microbe Earth and she might be trying to kill her kids.

 

Scientists are putting out the warning call that rapid, life-threatening climate change lies ahead in our near future—but most are drowned out by the political arguments and denialist rhetoric of climate change skeptics. The well-funded effort by free market think tanks, energy lobbyists, and industry advocates to blur the public perception of climate science should come as no surprise. The thermodynamic forcing effects of an ice-free artic by 2015 don’t seem so threatening if you stand to gain billions of dollars by sending drill bits into the potentially huge oil reservoirs there.

It may not be the case that the southwest US will be uninhabitable by 2035, or that all of human life will be extinguished in a generation, but we should probably start to acknowledge and internalize what some of the people who have given their lives to better understand this planet are saying about it. It’s depressing to think that humans, in our current state, could be the Omega Point of consciousness. Maybe sentience and the knowledge of our inevitable death have given us a sort of survival vertigo that we can’t overcome. As the separate paths of environmental exploitation quickly and quietly converge around us, we might just tumble off the precipice, drunk on fossil fuels, making duck faces into black mirrors.

 

 





Doom and Denial two side of the same coin

19 06 2013

Another guest post by Mark Cochrane……  and I hope Guy reads this, I’d like his

Mark Cochrane

Mark Cochrane

feedback, no pun intended!

I’ve been asked by several people to address the take of climate ‘doomists’ like McPherson and indicate how my views on what the science indicates differ. First, let me just say that my differences with the doomist views is similar to my differences with the ‘denialist’ views, namely one of actually examining the scientific findings and concluding what they signify versus beginning with a conclusion and looking for evidence to support a pre-concluded viewpoint. Appropriate use of science (or any information), requires weighing anything being newly reported against the rest of the accumulated evidence on a subject (e.g. climate change) that we have amassed, to date, and using this knowledge to infer the most probable meaning and significance. How credible is the source, how relevant are the results to the larger question, do the new results substantially change our previous understanding? If someone is presenting new ideas that claim to massively shift what we think we know about the world, have they been vetted (e.g. peer-reviewed), do they adequately explain how their new claims better explain observed phenomena than previous studies did and also detail why previous explanations were somehow erroneous? If the results are truly stunning, can they be replicated by others? Although some may find it hard to believe, there is a lot of space between climate denial and climate doom.

I’ve only seen the one talk now by McPherson but where the ‘we are doomed and soon’ meme falls apart is on general logic. You cannot say, there are positive feedbacks A, B and C, therefore life on Earth is suddenly going to end without considering 1) what are the current rates of those feedbacks, 2) what is the rate of change for the feedback, 3) What is the area affected by the feedback, 4) what natural limits exist for the feedback, and 5) what negative feedbacks might occur in response? If you listen to McPherson’s talk, what you get is a litany of disturbing findings, especially feedbacks, and then an expectation that you must reach the same conclusion that we are doomed, and soon. If someone would like to outline the chain of logic used, I’d be happy to discuss it. Even if you accept the chain of logic though, where, in any of it, is there evidence for the timeline being suggested?

Guy McPherson

There is considerable amount of concern about the feedbacks in the Arctic, with good reason, but people do things like linking the large amount of carbon stocks in the Arctic with rapid warming, with increased rates of release, with increased rates of warming……with the obvious end of all life on Earth – near-term extinction!

As anyone who has followed this thread knows, I am usually the one pointing out feedbacks and how most are not even included in current climate projections, in contradiction to those who claim such dire projections are all because of such feedbacks (which ‘skeptics’ claim don’t exist). This does not mean though that the existence of feedbacks means that we can then make the leap to a runaway greenhouse that will soon lead us to having the climate of Venus (atmospheric acid bath at temperatures that would melt lead). Perhaps providing some perspective on the recent material posted about the NASA CARVE project and what it means for all of that carbon in the (not so) permafrost will help.

As NASA recently reported (site),

“Over hundreds of millennia, Arctic permafrost soils have accumulated vast stores of organic carbon – an estimated 1,400 to 1,850 petagrams of it (a petagram is 2.2 trillion pounds, or 1 billion metric tons). That’s about half of all the estimated organic carbon stored in Earth’s soils. In comparison, about 350 petagrams of carbon have been emitted from all fossil-fuel combustion and human activities since 1850. Most of this carbon is located in thaw-vulnerable topsoils within 10 feet (3 meters) of the surface.”

“Permafrost soils are warming even faster than Arctic air temperatures – as much as 2.7 to 4.5 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 to 2.5 degrees Celsius) in just the past 30 years,” Miller said. “As heat from Earth’s surface penetrates into permafrost, it threatens to mobilize these organic carbon reservoirs and release them into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide and methane, upsetting the Arctic’s carbon balance and greatly exacerbating global warming.”

In other words, there is 4-5 times as much carbon sitting around in those frozen soils as we have already emitted that are becoming increasingly vulnerable to being thawed out for a portion of each year.

Once those soils thaw they become accessible to microorganisms that feed on the incompletely decomposed plant materials that they contain. If there is sufficient oxygen (warm relatively dry Arctic) the process is faster and the product is CO2, if the process is anaerobic (warm relatively wet Arctic), then the product is methane.

So warming leads to thawing, thawing leads to microbial decomposition, and microbial activity leads to carbon emissions. These emissions are a positive feedback that makes the current process of greenhouse gas warming worse since each degree of warming yields more greenhouse gases that speed up the warming process further. This is where the message of doom goes off the tracks and extrapolates erroneously that this somehow means that all of that carbon is going to suddenly find itself in the atmosphere.

Three meters (10ft) of soil carbon doesn’t just suddenly evaporate into the atmosphere in the next few years. Thawing permafrost is not synonymous with melting carbon.  Even once permafrost melts, it is still very cold. However, bacteria can start digesting it – until it freezes again. Melted permafrost does not mean permanently melted. The surface layer of the Arctic lands are already in the active layer that temporarily thaws each year and then refreezes. Now, we are making more of the Arctic soil active to greater depths and at higher latitudes. This means that there will be more emissions from those soils.

Taken out of context snippets like this (below) from that NASA press piece can be made to sound catastrophic.

“Some of the methane and carbon dioxide concentrations we’ve measured have been large, and we’re seeing very different patterns from what models suggest,” Miller said. “We saw large, regional-scale episodic bursts of higher-than-normal carbon dioxide and methane in interior Alaska and across the North Slope during the spring thaw, and they lasted until after the fall refreeze. To cite another example, in July 2012 we saw methane levels over swamps in the Innoko Wilderness that were 650 parts per billion higher than normal background levels. That’s similar to what you might find in a large city.”

Parsing the quote, please note that “episodic bursts of higher-than-normal carbon dioxide and methane” in two locations (regions) does not mean the end is nigh. Higher-than-normal is just that, but how much higher and how long did it last? The scientists are saying that the observations do not match existing ‘models’ (models are wrong, a favorite meme), it doesn’t mean that such events haven’t been happening up until now (only that we didn’t know about them). As for the 650ppb increase over a swamp, that equates to being 1/3 higher than the background level. Methane and swamps go together so some higher level is to be expected. The question is if and by how much 650ppb is higher than it would have been back around 1980 or so? If it used to be 10ppb higher than background then you have a big change (640ppb), however, if it used to be 640ppb, then not so much (10ppb difference). Even if that is all new carbon being emitted, the local change becomes very small when diluted globally. The point here is not to poo-poo the findings or the scientist’s work, they are doing very important stuff (!), it is to provide context.

Just how bad could things be? I do not work in the high Arctic but I do work in similar organic soils in the tropics (peat swamps) where, because of intentional draining, the several meter thick peat layer that is ‘active’ is increased in an analogous manner to the effects of melting permafrost. Microbial degradation is occurring, with the difference that the temperature is very warm instead of being very cold. Think of how fast fruit spoils in your refrigerator versus on a hot window sill. In these tropical peat soils we see large amounts of CO2 coming off into the atmosphere each year now, but even with such large rates of loss, this equates to taking about 20-25 years to lose 1 meter of organic soil. In the Arctic the microbial degradation will be much slower due to the relatively low temperatures. This doesn’t mean that it is not important. Slow rates of emissions over a large area is still a lot of extra carbon going into atmosphere but this is a problem that is going to take centuries to play out, not less than a decade. It makes things worse but it doesn’t suddenly end life on Earth.

Incidentally, all of that soil carbon in the Arctic isn’t a uniform petri dish either. Some of that carbon is easier to access by bacteria than other portions. Emissions will rise quickly as the bacteria chew through the cellulose, for example, but things like lignin get left behind. The point being that even for a given mass of carbon in the ‘active’ layer, there will be a dampening of the emissions growth rate as the quality of the bacteria buffet goes down when it gets picked over.

I do not pretend to know what the motivations of ‘doomists’ are, whether it be honest despair or simple misunderstanding but they are conveying the same message of do nothing as those who deny the existence or importance of climate change. Denial = don’t worry be happy, while Doom = don’t worry, you can’t do anything about it anyway. Both viewpoints are wrong in trying to turn climate change into a false dichotomy of either fantasy or inevitability. Both the science and our choices are much more complicated. It’s uncomfortable but your choices do matter now and for generations to come. There is no ‘fixing’ things at this point but you still have the ability to choose how you react to the predicament we have created. Doom and denial are respectively trying to tell you that you either have no choice or no need to choose. But, as Philip K. Dick wrote:

“Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.”





Have we fired the Clathrate Gun?

29 12 2012

I haven’t finished it yet, but my daughter gave me a great book this Christmas, and I’m really enjoying it;  it’s called “Bullspotting”, by Loren Collins.  The internet can be a frustrating double edged sword.  Full of amazing information, and also full of utter bullshit……  telling them apart is sometimes easy, but also often a challenge.  The one issue that feeds such a dichotomy is Climate Change.  If Climate Change wasn’t so important, it wouldn’t matter, but forget the fiscal cliff and Peak Oil, they can be dealt with and they will be survived; whereas if the climate goes AWOL, you can kiss humanity goodbye.  One such dilemma I recently came across was when another blogger told me atmospheric methane concentration had stopped rising.  So I did my duty and investigated, and sure enough, Google turned up a whole heap of graphs that demonstrated this.  Trouble is, all those charts ended five years ago…… and five years can be a long time in Climate Science.

Yesterday, I posted an article here which I lifted from Xraymike’s blog, and have since “pulled” in the interest of fraternity in the blogosphere.  I know XRM from the good old days of the Chris Martenson website before it became Peak Prosperity, a place now full of people worrying about their gold and their guns.  I urge you all to read it if you missed it here.  Mike did a great job parsing through the information to turn it into a lucid argument.

I would prefer to not believe its contents mind you.  Raising the globe’s temperature by 6°C within fifty years is a truly gruesome thought, and the jury’s still out, because Mark Cochrane, a climate scientist who started the only thread worth reading on Peak Prosperity these days recently wrote this when asked about such a prospect:

“Getting 6 C by 2050 seems farfetched unless we intentionally trigger the so-called clathrate gun. Even then, I am not sure that it is likely to happen that quickly simply due to the thermal inertia of the oceans and glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica. Roughly 90-95% of the incipient energy imbalance goes into warming or melting water. We’ve warmed by around 0.7C in the last 30 years or so. Getting an extra >5C in the next 40 years would require truly massive changes in greenhouse gases and Earth’s albedo. This certainly wouldn’t mean that all is well if we don’t manage this incredible feat of climate suicide in 40 odd years. We may get there yet around 2100.

Such rapid warming would lead to greatly accelerated mass loss from the icesheets in Greenland, Western Antarctica and increases from East Antarctica. Melting those giant ice blocks would be a giant heat sink that would attenuate the rise in temperature but it would do so at the cost of flooding the worlds oceans very quickly. In other words, although we might not warm so fast the cost would be rapid sea level rise of several meters this century, flooding coastlines and yielding terrible storms. As things stand, most estimates are for 1-5 meters, which will make many, many cities untenable.

Some recent food for thought on that score came out in the last week in Nature Geoscience showing much of the western Antarctic icesheet is warming twice as fast as predicted (see BBC article here, and Bromwich et al 2012 abstract here))”

“The map is just correlation coefficients but the warming has been 2.4C between 1958 and 2010. While Greenland gets much of the press, the Western Antarctic ice sheet may be more unstable because most of it is currently grounded below the waterline. Basically the ice is frozen to the ground or still too heavy to lift but once the water level gets higher, then much of the sheet could rapidly float (just like an ice cube in your glass) and collapse with an ultimate 5 m sea level implication. The big brother in East Antarctica only has 30% below water line but that is another 20-25 m of sea level. Ultimately, if we somehow manage to stay on the ‘business as usual’ emissions path then over the next few centuries we will have changed coastlines world wide with 10s of meters of sea level rise (See Hansen new pdf).

Lest you think he is just a harbinger of doom touting positive feedbacks, Hansen and Sato (2012) see exponential increases in the rate of ice melting/sea level rise with a 5-10 year doubling time, they ultimately believe that once we reach about 1 m of sea level increase that strong negative feedbacks from all of the melting icebergs will dampen the temperature rise and hence slow the exponential rate of increased melting. I can’t grab the figure from the pdf, but if you go to the Hansen and Sato pdf linked above and scroll down to Figure 9 you will see the future simulations with (left) and without (right) ice melt. As you can see the melting would lead to a much cooler North Atlantic and a moderate cooler Southern Ocean with an overall global amelioration of land temperature increases. If you think the ice will somehow hold off from melting, plan for a heck of a lot warmer near future.

Overall, if we manage to keep finding more and more fossil fuels to burn or accidentally release (melting permafrost etc) then we will have an atmosphere akin to what existed 32 million years ago before Antarctica froze up. It would take a while, hundreds to thousands of years, but we’d be putting an end to ice ages for the foreseeable future.”

Much of what Mark talks about is covered in XRM’s blog entry, which is why I copied it here to begin with.

So the key question now is, “have we triggered the so-called clathrate gun” ?

Someone who definitely thinks we have is Guy McPherson.  He recently pointed me to those hemp wearing hippies in the IEA, the energy agency for developed countries who said earlier this year that “without a major shift away from coal, average global temperatures could rise by 6 degrees Celsius by 2050, leading to devastating climate change.”  So there you have it…. even the Devil says so….!

Our only saviour might well be a physical phenomenon called “phase change”.  Get a saucepan full of cold water, and put it your stove with a thermometer in the water.  The heat from the stove will raise the water temperature to 100°C, but will then stop rising even though the stove is still on.  So where is all the heat going?  it’s actually being “used up” turning water into steam.  Phase Change.  Exactly the same thing that happens when you melt ice, another phase change.

I’m told it takes some 80 times more energy to melt ice than it does to raise it the last degree just before it melts.  And that is where all the heat we have now trapped beneath our blanket of CO2 and now growing levels of CH4 has been going; instead of raising air temperatures, it’s melting ice.  And all the deniers on the net will tell you it hasn’t warmed in 16 years…..  so the ice melted by magic.

Obviously, Hansen and Sato quoted above know about phase change, it’s physics 101.  Therefore there can only be one reason for a fast tracked 6°C temperature rise: we are trapping way more energy than we used to, and the methane timebomb has started ticking.  We have reached a tipping point, simultaneously, the ice is melting and the temperature is going up too.  The deniers must be silenced.  They are one hell of a dangerous group of people who think gambling with our kids’ future is OK.

As an aside, while the post I pulled last night was still up, Don, a frequent visitor here left this comment:

Hi Mike,
I came across a good article today that among other things gave some very good hints for how to achieve using less. Its a long read but has lots of excellent info, particularly with regard to political collapse and disintegration. The location is:

http://www.doingitourselves.org/sites/default/files/zine1v3.pdf





Preparing for Collapse: Non-Attachment, NOT Detachment

21 12 2012

Guest post by Dave Pollard.pollard

This essay was originally published at http://howtosavetheworld.ca/2012/12/20/preparing-for-collapse-non-attachment-not-detachment/

There is something seemingly unfathomable to the human mind about exponential curves. As I wrote last fall:

There is an old story about the invention of the chessboard, in which the inventor as his reward asks for one grain of wheat on the first square, two on the second, four on the third, and doubling until all 64 squares are full. The seemingly modest request adds up to many times more than all the wheat the world has ever produced. The purpose of the story is to teach about our inability to grasp the impact and unsustainability of accelerating increases in anything, particularly in the final stages. Even when more than half of the squares have been filled the inventor’s request still seems manageable. It is only when it is too late that its impossibility is realized.

Even when almost all the squares have been filled, the request still seems manageable. We are now living in a world where almost all the squares have been filled. We have used up the easy-to-get half of the Earth’s resources, which accumulated over billions of years. We have used most of that in the last two centuries, and most of that in the last two decades. In the process we have destabilized the planet’s climate systems. We are nearing what is now being called “peak everything”.

normalcurve

And there is certainly nothing “normal” to human eyes in what mathematicians call a “normal curve”, at least when time is the independent variable. We always seem to perceive the future as much like the present, only more so, and our favourite works of utopian and dystopian fiction turn out to be mostly somewhat hyperbolised reflections on the best or worst of the world as it was when the authors wrote them.

Even when we try to conceive of the downside of the normal curve — sharp at first and then tailing off slowly — we can only see everything going backwards, back to the way it was when the curve was at that height before. A simple, rapid decline, like those that befell previous civilizations and unsustainable cultures, is unimaginable. We can’t picture it because it’s never been that way for us. Even the current set of collapsnik writers, like James Kunstler, portray a post-collapse future that is almost nostalgically like the old American West.

In recent months, we have seen the news from climate scientists become exponentially worse. A decade ago we were hand-wringing about a 1C rise in average global temperature by 2100. A year ago it was a 2C rise by 2050 and a 4C rise by 2100. Now it appears all but certain that our failure to consider the “positive feedback loops” inherent in our astonishingly delicately-balanced climate systems made us absurdly optimistic, and a 6C rise by 2050 is quite possible. I can’t blame you if you haven’t been keeping up — neither had I. Two recent videos, one by Grist’s David Roberts and a second, even more recent one by fellow collapsnik Guy McPherson, will bring you up to speed.

The message of these videos, and the data underlying them, is simple, but it’s a lot like hearing news of a terrible and sudden loss in the family, the death of someone you knew was at risk but somehow believed would get through it, or at least last a while longer. It’s too soon. It can’t be that fast. We cannot accept it, as the trickster piles a mountain of grain onto the third-to-last square of the chessboard.

The message is two-fold:

Not only are we fucked, but it’s coming much sooner than we expected. It’s coming in the first half of this century, not the second. By 2050 life for all but the simplest and most well-protected species on this planet will almost certainly be impossible, except for small numbers in a few marginal areas.
The whole issue of mitigation and the need for activism is now more-or-less moot. Even if we were to collectively and massively change our behaviour starting tomorrow, it would only delay collapse by a few years, and quite possible make the collapse even more catastrophic. Until recently there was at least a chance that perhaps a combination of behaviour change and the reduced availability of cheap fossil fuels might combine to pull us back from the brink, or at least make a much-changed and simpler life possible for a much smaller population of humans and other creatures. That chance is gone.

The climate scientists, abetted by the ecological economists, have pronounced the certain and imminent (i.e. within most of our lifetimes) death of the vast majority of life on our planet, including the human species. Now, we can mourn. Most of our human family will continue to fall into one of the three categories of non-acceptance of this pronouncement that I wrote about in my If We Had a Better Story post:

The incredulous: Those who either know so little or haven’t had the opportunity to think about what they know, that they find the idea of collapse preposterous, unimaginable, and/or unthinkable.
The hopeful: Those who believe that collapse is not inevitable or can be significantly mitigated, or believe that even if it is inevitable and can’t be significantly mitigated, we should try anyway.
The deniers: Those who are intimidated or offended by, or overwhelmed with anger and/or guilt at, the very idea of collapse.

None of these are unusual reactions to horrific news, but they’re likely to be crazy-making to those of us who are past this stage, and trying to get on with preparing ourselves and those we love for what is to come.

The most intriguing reaction is from collapsniks like Derrick Jensen and John Duffy who, against hope, want us to work (as they do, indefatigably and to their great credit) to kill the economy. John starts out his essay by saying “We are going to go extinct.” and near the end says:

If we want to not die, then we need to stop doing the things that are going to kill us… We need deindustrialisation, and we need to wring the bloody neck of capitalism, before hanging it, drawing it, quartering it, and setting the remaining bits of its corpse on fire to make sure it can’t rise from the dead like the unholy zombie that it is… This is all to say, I can’t fight my enemies and my allies at the same time. Liberals, lefties, environmentalists and everyone else who purports to give a damn has to give up on being capitalism apologists who somehow think we can keep this gravy train of mass consumption going.

It’s a great rant, but he’s like the lover of the recently-declared-dead patient who insists on trying CPR interminably and punching the people trying to take the defibrillators away from him. Or, perhaps, he’s like the angry griever trying to assemble a posse to kill the ones he believes caused the death of the one he loves. It’s understandable, but it’s futile. It’s too late.

In the comments to John’s post, Paul Chefurka writes:

I’m not particularly angry or outraged any more. Once I was, but now I’m just fascinated, amazed, amused, bemused, curious. I attach no moral dimension to this unfolding any more, though once I did. Now there is no blame, no more agonized wishes to rewrite the past, no more fearful visions of a shattered future.

We are what we are, we did what we did, we ended up here.

I’m very curious to see what comes next. Aren’t you?

Paul didn’t get a terribly sympathetic response, so I wrote to Paul and asked him how he had managed to reach this stage of acceptance. I also asked him about a gorgeously-written and deeply-moving recent article in Orion, Gaze Even Here, about “evoking a consciousness of brokenness”, in which the author, Trebbe Johnson, says that she and her companions found solace in spending time “gazing” at clearcuts and videos of animals dying in oil-slicks until their grief and anger and revulsion turned to curiosity, acceptance, compassion and even love. I mentioned that some people in my circles had seen my attempts at non-attachment, at letting go of what I know I cannot change, as detachment, as an emotional shutting down or turning away. Paul replied:

I’ve faced the same accusations about detachment. They generally come from activists for whom action is the inner imperative, and who have no exposure to Buddhist principles. Also, they haven’t hit bottom yet, which is why the still think that action is an answer. Only once someone hits the bottom and bounces off the rocks do they usually start looking for truly radical responses like non-attachment.

As a first thought – perhaps what Ms. Johnson is suggesting isn’t really that radical at all. What she’s suggesting is a starting point for someone who wants to wake up in this new world. It’s where Joanna Macy begins as well. The bigger question may be, where do you go once you’ve taken the grief on board – how do you find the will to move, and how do you pick your direction? This is where doing deep inner work around grief, shame and the Shadow come in.

Out of that work comes the beginning of non-attachment. To people who conflate it with detachment, I explain that non-attachment is what allows me to confront the big issues directly, to engage fully but not be paralysed by emotion. It’s not an abdication of feeling, but a way of seeing the world around me with complete clarity and doing what the world needs, rather than being selfish and getting mired in my own suffering.

Sometimes that helps people understand, but for a lot of activists it’s still a step too far. They are still focused on their own suffering, and in order to validate their response they have defined that suffering as a virtue. It’s not, it’s a trap. Non-attachment is the most functional way out that I’ve discovered so far.

What are the elements of non-attachment that might be applied to coping with the knowledge of the inevitable collapse of organized society amidst the chaos of economic collapse and runaway climate change? What makes sense to gaze at, and what should we, for our own sanity, leave unseen? How can we be, and act, in a fully engaged, joyful, curious, productive, useful-to-others way, without becoming either “detached” (emotionally disconnected or inured) or exhausted? Here are some of my early thoughts on this:

1. We cannot, must not, prescribe one “right” behaviour or approach for everyone. We are all different, and the best way for each of us to cope will be different. What’s important is to patiently wait for those we care about to realize what is ahead, and then support them to find their own way to cope with it productively.

2. I think it could help to develop, working with climate scientists and enlightened (non-classical) economists and energy analysts and artists and musicians and film-makers, a set of nuanced, candid, non-idealized, non-sensationalized visions or stories of what our world in collapse will look like, by 2020, 2030, 2040 and 2050, and then, as Trebbe might put it, to “gaze” at them. These stories would be based on data, and on an appreciation of history of how people behave in an accelerating (but not relentless) series of cascading crises where there is no scapegoat, no one to blame, where everyone is largely in the same boat. These stories would be focused on what collapse will mean for the day-to-day lives of people living in cities, towns, the country, in nations at different levels of “development”. My guess is that for most of the world, in the already-struggling nations and places, life will not be much different, except that the death rate (mostly from disease and malnutrition) will be somewhat higher and the birth rate much lower. We have a lot to learn, I think, from people in the third world, in impoverished cities, and in the streets, who are already living with collapse. The image below shows in red/purple/white areas that, due to climate change-induced chronic drought, will be largely uninhabitable within a few decades, so our stories for them, billions of people, would likely be stories of migration. The stories would be varied, and stark, and, perhaps to our surprise, inspiring and astonishing.

Map of serious chronic drought areas, per research simulations by UCAR/NCAR, an agency of the National Science Foundation. This map is forecasts for the 2060s, but is based on outdated climate change data, so it is likely to come true considerably earlier. Thanks to resilience.org for the link.

3. Perhaps most importantly, we will all be better off, I think, if we were to learn non-attachment, empathy, presence, resilience, relocalisation, community building, and a host of other skills and capacities, technical and ‘soft’, so that we can tolerate the changes we will face to our way of living and the very foolish actions many (with the most to lose, in wealth or power) will inevitably try to do, unsuccessfully, to “control” the situation. We must expect the emergence of charismatic dictators, genocides, civil wars, geo-engineering, the burning of almost everything flammable for fuel and electricity, and cults, and deal with them the best we can without letting them unhinge us. We may be fortunate enough that as our centralized systems collapse, the resources for possible authoritarian atrocities will rapidly diminish, so the decline could be relatively peaceful, if not free of suffering or misery. We may well discover that crisis brings out the best in us, but should be prepared in case it brings out, in some, the worst. We may find that, with a sufficient voluntary decrease in birth rates (not an unlikely scenario), over the coming decades we might reach a human population level well below one billion without a dramatic increase in death rates, though we should be prepared for a rising death toll and what it may do to our collective psyches. In all of this, non-attachment and presence can enable us to live, even through these crises, lives of love and joy and appreciation for the miracle of life.

A final thought, and one that perhaps is the most unimaginable of all for those of us brought up to believe the way we live now is the only way to live. What’s on the right side of the normal curve, after collapse, isn’t another growth cycle. It’s the proverbial long tail. We may become an endangered species by century’s end, but we’re unlikely to become extinct for several millennia after that — just increasingly few in numbers and increasingly irrelevant to the ecosystems and recovery of the planet from yet another great extinction. Without vast amounts of cheap energy to power technology, we’re just not going to be very well adapted to post 21st-century Earth. Just as we don’t notice the 200 species going extinct every day, I doubt that the species that thrive after the great extinction will notice the death of the last of the species that once believed it could rule the Earth forever.

Thanks to Tree for the link to the Orion article, to the authors of the articles/videos cited above, to Sue Bullock for the link to Kill the Economy, to John Duffy for the link to the Grist video, and to Paul Chefurka for the ideas prompting this article.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Licence.





Sustainability is a myth

4 08 2012

Some years ago, Permaculture Noosa invited Peter Fries (pronounced freeze), teacher, environmentalist, writer, broadcaster, and communications consultant to the United Nations, to speak at our monthly meeting.  At this meeting, he uttered the words “nothing we do is sustainable”.  I was probably the only person in the room who actually both agreed with and understood what he had just said…….  Now, I have come across someone else who thinks this way too, Guy McPherson.  There’s a link to his blog (Nature bats last) in the sidebar on this site.

I had never heard of Guy until I saw an off the cuff comment Nicole Foss wrote on Facebook about him.  I followed the clues Google offered up, and truly wondered how I had missed him, considering how I immerse myself in the collapse blogosphere……!  Guy and I think so much alike, I now consider him a soul mate of sorts.  And it is heartening to know I’m not the only one “out there” who believes we need to bring the system down before we can fix any of the current predicaments.

What Guy has to say about the unfolding Climate Change though is pretty scary.  Some of his research even “predicts” quasi human extinction by mid century, which is so mind boggling, not even I can get my head around it….  But then again, isn’t that what exponential growth of anything do?  Take you by surprise?

Sustainability is a nice word but it is meaningless in the context of the real economy and life in Australia.  Or anywhere else for that matter….  There is no such thing as sustainable business, sustainable energy, sustainable health or sustainable anything.  Life will always be dynamic, ephemeral, changing – it simply is not sustainable.  Nature has built-in obsolescence.  As Guy thinks, Nature bats last.  She takes no prisoners.

“Sustainability” is a term that is now attached to every conceivable policy document that is published by government and business.  The very word has been hijacked, now used with “Sustainable Growth”….  I mean, really?   Want a planning application – is it sustainable?  Want a house – is it sustainable?  Want an airport – is it sustainable?  Want a Nation for ourselves – is it sustainable?  Everybloodything is now judged against some yardstick of sustainability.  But how can you measure sustainability?  What objective criteria can be applied?  I can claim that this blog is sustainable and worthy of being read purely on the basis that it is still here and has been for the past four years – but I can’t guarantee that it will be tomorrow.  No-one can.  Sustainability is a myth, a weasel word invented to distract us from Reality.

Of course, we all want things to last and continue into the future but sadly this is not how societies develop. The Roman Empire was sustained for several centuries by an applied ‘civilising’ combination of social elitism, armed brutality and control of the denarii coinage through taxation (rings a bell…?).  Nation-building and politics haven’t changed much since then.  However, even that Empire was not ‘sustainable’.  And neither is the current one……

So now, let me introduce you to Guy McPherson.  It’s a 3/4 hour presentation he made while in NZ.