"In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

Posts Tagged ‘Environmental Destruction’

AAAS Report: Humans At Risk Of Pushing Climate System Toward Abrupt, Unpredictable, Unalterable Changes With Highly Damaging Impacts

In Uncategorized on March 20, 2014 at 8:31 pm

Oldspeak: “The American Association for the Advancement of Science says: The evidence is overwhelming: levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are rising. Temperatures are going up. Springs are arriving earlier. Ice sheets are melting. Sea level is rising. The patterns of rainfall and drought are changing. Heat waves are getting worse, as is extreme precipitation. The oceans are acidifying…. The science linking human activities to climate change is analogous to the science linking smoking to lung and cardiovascular diseases. Physicians, cardiovascular scientists, public health experts and others all agree smoking causes cancer….This agreement is documented not just by a single study, but by a converging stream of evidence over the past two decades from surveys of scientists, content analyses of peer-reviewed studies, and public statements issued by virtually every membership organization of experts in this field… We are at risk of pushing our climate system toward abrupt, unpredictable, and potentially irreversible changes with highly damaging impacts…Disturbingly, scientists do not know how much warming is required to trigger such changes to the climate system…. as emissions continue and warming increases, the risk increases.”

AAAS Report, “What We Know: The Reality, Risks And Response To Climate Change”

“The largest and most knowledgeable general body of scientists in the world is out of its normal character, issuing its own dire warning in addition to the mounting unquestionable evidence that anthropocentric climate change is real, will get worse, and cannot be stopped. Adding the particularly terrifying nugget that basically we have no idea, when the warming will be sufficient to propel the proverbial shit toward the proverbial fan. We do know that several unalterable non-linear feedbacks loops have been initiated and earth’s 6th mass extinction is under way. We do know our world is turning upside down, with never before seen extreme environmental impacts and weather events. All previous norms and customs are no longer valid. We’re basically living on a ticking time bomb, and don’t know when it will go off.  And each day of increasing human emissions cuts the fuse faster. in short, We’re fucked. And we’ll take the vast majority of life on Mother Earth with us. Our Mother’s immune system will kill the highly virulent and destructive infection that is Humanity sooner than we think. “ -OSJ

By Alex Kirby @ Climate News Network:

In a highly unusual intervention in the debate over climate policy, US scientists say the evidence that the world is warming is as conclusive as that which links smoking and lung cancer.

LONDON, 18 March – The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) says there is a “small but real” chance that a warming climate will cause sudden and possibly unalterable changes to the planet.

This echoes the words used in its 2007 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which said climate change might bring “abrupt and irreversible” impacts.

A child with kwashiorkor, caused by evere protein deficiency: Child malnutrition may rise by about a fifth
Image: Dr Lyle Conrad, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, via Wikimedia Commons

In a report, What We Know, the AAAS makes an infrequent foray into the climate debate. The report’s significance lies not in what it says, which covers familiar ground, but in who is saying it: the world’s largest general scientific body, and one of its most knowledgeable.

The AAAS says: “The evidence is overwhelming: levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are rising. Temperatures are going up. Springs are arriving earlier. Ice sheets are melting. Sea level is rising. The patterns of rainfall and drought are changing. Heat waves are getting worse, as is extreme precipitation. The oceans are acidifying.

“The science linking human activities to climate change is analogous to the science linking smoking to lung and cardiovascular diseases. Physicians, cardiovascular scientists, public health experts and others all agree smoking causes cancer.

Few dissenters

“And this consensus among the health community has convinced most Americans that the health risks from smoking are real. A similar consensus now exists among climate scientists, a consensus that maintains climate change is happening, and human activity is the cause.”

The report’s headline messages are unambiguous. It says climate change is occurring here and now: “Based on well-established evidence, about 97% of climate scientists have concluded that human-caused climate change is happening.

“This agreement is documented not just by a single study, but by a converging stream of evidence over the past two decades from surveys of scientists, content analyses of peer-reviewed studies, and public statements issued by virtually every membership organization of experts in this field.

“We are at risk of pushing our climate system toward abrupt, unpredictable, and potentially irreversible changes with highly damaging impacts…Disturbingly, scientists do not know how much warming is required to trigger such changes to the climate system.

Expensive to delay

“The sooner we act, the lower the risk and cost. And there is much we can do…as emissions continue and warming increases, the risk increases”.

The AAAS says there is scarcely any precedent for the speed at which this is happening: “The rate of climate change now may be as fast as any extended warming period over the past 65 million years, and it is projected to accelerate in the coming decades.”

Historically rare extreme weather like once-in-a-century floods, droughts and heat waves could become almost annual occurrences, it says, and there could be large-scale collapses of the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets, and of part of the Gulf Stream, loss of the Amazon rain forest, die-off of coral reefs, and mass extinctions.

The authors acknowledge that what the AAAS is doing is unusual: “As scientists, it is not our role to tell people what they should do or must believe about the rising threat of climate change.

“But we consider it to be our responsibility as professionals to ensure, to the best of our ability, that people understand what we know: human-caused climate change is happening…”

More child malnutrition

At the end of March the IPCC, the UN’s voice on climate science, is due to release a summary of the report of its Working Group II, on impacts, adaptation and vulnerability to climate change.

The London daily The Independent, which says it has seen a draft of the report’s final version, says it will spell out a prospect of “enormous strain, forcing mass migration, especially in Asia, and increasing the risk of violent conflict.”

The newspaper says the report predicts that climate change “will reduce median crop yields by 2% per decade for the rest of the century”, against a backdrop of rising demand set to increase by 14% per decade until 2050. “This will in turn push up malnutrition in children by about a fifth”, it adds.

Other predictions in the draft, The Independent says, include possible global aggregate economic losses of between 0.2 and 2.0%; more competition for fresh water; and by 2100 hundreds of millions of people affected by coastal flooding and displaced by land loss, mainly in Asia

The Myth of Human Progress And The Collapse Of Complex Societies

In Uncategorized on February 5, 2014 at 6:44 pm

http://veganismisnonviolence.files.wordpress.com/2013/02/failed-experiment.pngOldspeak: “i think the problems we’re seeing now, whether you’re talking about hunger, massive inequity, climate change, and the loss of biodiversity, have been driven over the last 200 years by a system of overproduction of stuff and a overconsumption of stuff. And then that’s been inflated and inflated and inflated to the point where it really is not in any way reasonable. The companies and those within government who have supported that approach are now saying they will provide new technologies, to continue that consumption of stuff, that level of production, it’s just not realistic. “-Jim Thomas

The ecosystem is at the same time disintegrating. Scientists from the International Programme on the State of the Ocean, a few days ago, issued a new report that warned that the oceans are changing faster than anticipated and increasingly becoming inhospitable to life. The oceans, of course, have absorbed much of the excess CO2 and heat from the atmosphere. This absorption is rapidly warming and acidifying ocean waters. This is compounded, the report noted, by increased levels of deoxygenation from nutrient runoffs from farming and climate change. The scientists called these effects a “deadly trio” that when combined is creating changes in the seas that are unprecedented in the planet’s history. This is their language, not mine. The scientists wrote that each of the earth’s five known mass extinctions was preceded by at least one [part] of the “deadly trio”—acidification, warming and deoxygenation. They warned that “the next mass extinction” of sea life is already under way, the first in some 55 million years. Or look at the recent research from the University of Hawaii that says global warming is now inevitable, it cannot be stopped but at best slowed, and that over the next 50 years the earth will heat up to levels that will make whole parts of the planet uninhabitable. Tens of millions of people will be displaced and millions of species will be threatened with extinction. The report casts doubt that [cities on or near a coast] such as New York or London will endure. .. Yet we… rationalize our collective madness. All calls for prudence, for halting the march toward economic, political and environmental catastrophe, for sane limits on carbon emissions, are ignored or ridiculed. Even with the flashing red lights before us, the increased droughts, rapid melting of glaciers and Arctic ice, monster tornadoes, vast hurricanes, crop failures, floods, raging wildfires and soaring temperatures, we bow slavishly before hedonism and greed and the enticing illusion of limitless power, intelligence and prowess…The corporate assault on culture, journalism, education, the arts and critical thinking has left those who speak this truth marginalized and ignored, frantic Cassandras who are viewed as slightly unhinged and depressingly apocalyptic. We are consumed by a mania for hope, which our corporate masters lavishly provide, at the expense of truth…. Friedrich Nietzsche in “Beyond Good and Evil” holds that only a few people have the fortitude to look in times of distress into what he calls the molten pit of human reality. Most studiously ignore the pit. Artists and philosophers, for Nietzsche, are consumed, however, by an insatiable curiosity, a quest for truth and desire for meaning. They venture down into the bowels of the molten pit. They get as close as they can before the flames and heat drive them back. This intellectual and moral honesty, Nietzsche wrote, comes with a cost. Those singed by the fire of reality become “burnt children,” he wrote, eternal orphans in empires of illusion…. Decayed civilizations always make war on independent intellectual inquiry, art and culture for this reason. They do not want the masses to look into the pit. They condemn and vilify the “burnt people”—Noam Chomsky, Ralph Nader, Cornel West. They feed the human addiction for illusion, happiness and hope. They peddle the fantasy of eternal material progress. They urge us to build images of ourselves to worship. They insist—and this is the argument of globalization ¬¬—that our voyage is, after all, decreed by natural law. We have surrendered our lives to corporate forces that ultimately serve systems of death. We ignore and belittle the cries of the burnt people. And, if we do not swiftly and radically reconfigure our relationship to each other and the ecosystem, microbes look set to inherit the earth…. Clive Hamilton in his “Requiem for a Species: Why We Resist the Truth About Climate Change” describes a dark relief that comes from accepting that “catastrophic climate change is virtually certain.” This obliteration of “false hopes,” he says, requires an intellectual knowledge and an emotional knowledge. The first is attainable. The second, because it means that those we love, including our children, are almost certainly doomed to insecurity, misery and suffering within a few decades, if not a few years, is much harder to acquire. To emotionally accept impending disaster, to attain the gut-level understanding that the power elite will not respond rationally to the devastation of the ecosystem, is as difficult to accept as our own mortality. The most daunting existential struggle of our time is to ingest this awful truth—intellectually and emotionally—and rise up to resist the forces that are destroying us….  Complex civilizations have a bad habit of ultimately destroying themselves. Anthropologists including Joseph Tainter in “The Collapse of Complex Societies,” Charles L. Redman in “Human Impact on Ancient Environments” and Ronald Wright in “A Short History of Progress” have laid out the familiar patterns that lead to systems breakdown. The difference this time is that when we go down the whole planet will go with us. There will, with this final collapse, be no new lands left to exploit, no new civilizations to conquer, no new peoples to subjugate. The long struggle between the human species and the earth will conclude with the remnants of the human species learning a painful lesson about unrestrained greed, hubris and idolatry…. Collapse comes throughout human history to complex societies not long after they reach their period of greatest magnificence and prosperity….  “One of the most pathetic aspects of human history is that every civilization expresses itself most pretentiously, compounds its partial and universal values most convincingly, and claims immortality for its finite existence at the very moment when the decay which leads to death has already begun,” Reinhold Niebuhr wrote….  That pattern holds good for a lot of societies, among them the ancient Maya and the Sumerians of what is now southern Iraq. There are many other examples, including smaller-scale societies such as Easter Island. The very things that cause societies to prosper in the short run, especially new ways to exploit the environment such as the invention of irrigation, lead to disaster in the long run because of unforeseen complications. This is what Ronald Wright in “A Short History of Progress” calls the “progress trap.” We have set in motion an industrial machine of such complexity and such dependence on expansion, Wright notes, that we do not know how to make do with less or move to a steady state in terms of our demands on nature…. In our decline, hatred becomes our primary lust, our highest form of patriotism. We deploy vast resources to hunt down jihadists and terrorists, real and phantom. We destroy our civil society in the name of a war on terror. We persecute those, from Julian Assange to [Chelsea] Manning to Edward Snowden, who expose the dark machinations of power. We believe, because we have externalized evil, that we can purify the earth. And we are blind to the evil within us. Melville’s description of Ahab is a description of the bankers, corporate boards, politicians, television personalities and generals who through the power of propaganda fill our heads with seductive images of glory and lust for wealth and power. We are consumed with self-induced obsessions that spur us toward self-annihilation.-Chris Hedges

Enlightenment is a destructive process. it has nothing to do with becoming better or being happier. Enlightenment is the crumbling away of untruth. it is the seeing through the fascade of false pretense. it’s the complete eradication of everything we imagined to be true.” -Adyashanti

“We must realize and reject the myth that infinite human progress and perpetual growth equal prosperity and happiness. This deranged and ecology detached thinking is hurtling us toward extinction. it is time for the people to realize that we are not our jobs, our “wealth”, our status, our titles, our ownership, our enslavement, our things. Realize that we are a part of our mother; that we are destroying her and by extension ourselves. Realize the only sane course of action for humanity from this point forward is to withdraw its support for the globalized “painless concentration camp” that takes away our universally affirmed rights. A system that threatens us with the violence of starvation and homelessness if we do not comply with its work program, which mainly functions confine us & perpetuate and expand the camp. Realize that our most important task, in the time we have left in this realm is to regain our humanity, our compassion, our empathy, our love, our human spirit. And face our demise with unfathomable grace, dignity, fellowship, peace and love.” -OSJ

By Chris Hedges @ Truthdig:

Editor’s note: The following is the transcript of a speech that Chris Hedges gave in Santa Monica, Calif., on Oct. 13, 2013. To purchase a DVD of Hedges’ address and the Q-and-A that followed, click here.

The most prescient portrait of the American character and our ultimate fate as a species is found in Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick.” Melville makes our murderous obsessions, our hubris, violent impulses, moral weakness and inevitable self-destruction visible in his chronicle of a whaling voyage. He is our foremost oracle. He is to us what William Shakespeare was to Elizabethan England or Fyodor Dostoyevsky to czarist Russia.

Our country is given shape in the form of the ship, the Pequod, named after the Indian tribe exterminated in 1638 by the Puritans and their Native American allies. The ship’s 30-man crew—there were 30 states in the Union when Melville wrote the novel—is a mixture of races and creeds. The object of the hunt is a massive white whale, Moby Dick, which in a previous encounter maimed the ship’s captain, Ahab, by dismembering one of his legs. The self-destructive fury of the quest, much like that of the one we are on, assures the Pequod’s destruction. And those on the ship, on some level, know they are doomed—just as many of us know that a consumer culture based on corporate profit, limitless exploitation and the continued extraction of fossil fuels is doomed.

“If I had been downright honest with myself,” Ishmael admits, “I would have seen very plainly in my heart that I did but half fancy being committed this way to so long a voyage, without once laying my eyes on the man who was to be the absolute dictator of it, so soon as the ship sailed out upon the open sea. But when a man suspects any wrong, it sometimes happens that if he be already involved in the matter, he insensibly strives to cover up his suspicions even from himself. And much this way it was with me. I said nothing, and tried to think nothing.”

Our financial system—like our participatory democracy—is a mirage. The Federal Reserve purchases $85 billion in U.S. Treasury bonds—much of it worthless subprime mortgages—each month. It has been artificially propping up the government and Wall Street like this for five years. It has loaned trillions of dollars at virtually no interest to banks and firms that make money—because wages are kept low—by lending it to us at staggering interest rates that can climb to as high as 30 percent. … Or our corporate oligarchs hoard the money or gamble with it in an overinflated stock market. Estimates put the looting by banks and investment firms of the U.S. Treasury at between $15 trillion and $20 trillion. But none of us know. The figures are not public. And the reason this systematic looting will continue until collapse is that our economy [would] go into a tailspin without this giddy infusion of free cash.

The ecosystem is at the same time disintegrating. Scientists from the International Programme on the State of the Ocean, a few days ago, issued a new report that warned that the oceans are changing faster than anticipated and increasingly becoming inhospitable to life. The oceans, of course, have absorbed much of the excess CO2 and heat from the atmosphere. This absorption is rapidly warming and acidifying ocean waters. This is compounded, the report noted, by increased levels of deoxygenation from nutrient runoffs from farming and climate change. The scientists called these effects a “deadly trio” that when combined is creating changes in the seas that are unprecedented in the planet’s history. This is their language, not mine. The scientists wrote that each of the earth’s five known mass extinctions was preceded by at least one [part] of the “deadly trio”—acidification, warming and deoxygenation. They warned that “the next mass extinction” of sea life is already under way, the first in some 55 million years. Or look at the recent research from the University of Hawaii that says global warming is now inevitable, it cannot be stopped but at best slowed, and that over the next 50 years the earth will heat up to levels that will make whole parts of the planet uninhabitable. Tens of millions of people will be displaced and millions of species will be threatened with extinction. The report casts doubt that [cities on or near a coast] such as New York or London will endure.

Yet we, like Ahab and his crew, rationalize our collective madness. All calls for prudence, for halting the march toward economic, political and environmental catastrophe, for sane limits on carbon emissions, are ignored or ridiculed. Even with the flashing red lights before us, the increased droughts, rapid melting of glaciers and Arctic ice, monster tornadoes, vast hurricanes, crop failures, floods, raging wildfires and soaring temperatures, we bow slavishly before hedonism and greed and the enticing illusion of limitless power, intelligence and prowess.

The corporate assault on culture, journalism, education, the arts and critical thinking has left those who speak this truth marginalized and ignored, frantic Cassandras who are viewed as slightly unhinged and depressingly apocalyptic. We are consumed by a mania for hope, which our corporate masters lavishly provide, at the expense of truth.

Friedrich Nietzsche in “Beyond Good and Evil” holds that only a few people have the fortitude to look in times of distress into what he calls the molten pit of human reality. Most studiously ignore the pit. Artists and philosophers, for Nietzsche, are consumed, however, by an insatiable curiosity, a quest for truth and desire for meaning. They venture down into the bowels of the molten pit. They get as close as they can before the flames and heat drive them back. This intellectual and moral honesty, Nietzsche wrote, comes with a cost. Those singed by the fire of reality become “burnt children,” he wrote, eternal orphans in empires of illusion.

Decayed civilizations always make war on independent intellectual inquiry, art and culture for this reason. They do not want the masses to look into the pit. They condemn and vilify the “burnt people”—Noam Chomsky, Ralph Nader, Cornel West. They feed the human addiction for illusion, happiness and hope. They peddle the fantasy of eternal material progress. They urge us to build images of ourselves to worship. They insist—and this is the argument of globalization ¬¬—that our voyage is, after all, decreed by natural law. We have surrendered our lives to corporate forces that ultimately serve systems of death. We ignore and belittle the cries of the burnt people. And, if we do not swiftly and radically reconfigure our relationship to each other and the ecosystem, microbes look set to inherit the earth.

Clive Hamilton in his “Requiem for a Species: Why We Resist the Truth About Climate Change” describes a dark relief that comes from accepting that “catastrophic climate change is virtually certain.” This obliteration of “false hopes,” he says, requires an intellectual knowledge and an emotional knowledge. The first is attainable. The second, because it means that those we love, including our children, are almost certainly doomed to insecurity, misery and suffering within a few decades, if not a few years, is much harder to acquire. To emotionally accept impending disaster, to attain the gut-level understanding that the power elite will not respond rationally to the devastation of the ecosystem, is as difficult to accept as our own mortality. The most daunting existential struggle of our time is to ingest this awful truth—intellectually and emotionally—and rise up to resist the forces that are destroying us.

The human species, led by white Europeans and Euro-Americans, has been on a 500-year-long planetwide rampage of conquering, plundering, looting, exploiting and polluting the earth—as well as killing the indigenous communities that stood in the way. But the game is up. The technical and scientific forces that created a life of unparalleled luxury—as well as unrivaled military and economic power for a small, global elite—are the forces that now doom us. The mania for ceaseless economic expansion and exploitation has become a curse, a death sentence. But even as our economic and environmental systems unravel, after the hottest year [2012] in the contiguous 48 states since record keeping began 107 years ago, we lack the emotional and intellectual creativity to shut down the engine of global capitalism. We have bound ourselves to a doomsday machine that grinds forward.

Complex civilizations have a bad habit of ultimately destroying themselves. Anthropologists including Joseph Tainter in “The Collapse of Complex Societies,” Charles L. Redman in “Human Impact on Ancient Environments” and Ronald Wright in “A Short History of Progress” have laid out the familiar patterns that lead to systems breakdown. The difference this time is that when we go down the whole planet will go with us. There will, with this final collapse, be no new lands left to exploit, no new civilizations to conquer, no new peoples to subjugate. The long struggle between the human species and the earth will conclude with the remnants of the human species learning a painful lesson about unrestrained greed, hubris and idolatry.

Collapse comes throughout human history to complex societies not long after they reach their period of greatest magnificence and prosperity.

“One of the most pathetic aspects of human history is that every civilization expresses itself most pretentiously, compounds its partial and universal values most convincingly, and claims immortality for its finite existence at the very moment when the decay which leads to death has already begun,” Reinhold Niebuhr wrote.

That pattern holds good for a lot of societies, among them the ancient Maya and the Sumerians of what is now southern Iraq. There are many other examples, including smaller-scale societies such as Easter Island. The very things that cause societies to prosper in the short run, especially new ways to exploit the environment such as the invention of irrigation, lead to disaster in the long run because of unforeseen complications. This is what Ronald Wright in “A Short History of Progress” calls the “progress trap.” We have set in motion an industrial machine of such complexity and such dependence on expansion, Wright notes, that we do not know how to make do with less or move to a steady state in terms of our demands on nature.

And as the collapse becomes palpable, if human history is any guide, we, like past societies in distress, will retreat into what anthropologists call “crisis cults.” The powerlessness we will feel in the face of ecological and economic chaos will unleash further collective delusions, such as fundamentalist beliefs in a god or gods who will come back to earth and save us. The Christian right provides a haven for this escapism. These cults perform absurd rituals to make it all go away, giving rise to a religiosity that peddles collective self-delusion and magical thinking. Crisis cults spread rapidly among Native American societies in the later part of the 19th century as the buffalo herds and the last remaining tribes were slaughtered. The Ghost Dance held out the hope that all the horrors of white civilization—the railroads, the murderous cavalry units, the timber merchants, the mine speculators, the hated tribal agencies, the barbed wire, the machine guns, even the white man himself—would disappear. And our psychological hard wiring is no different.

In our decline, hatred becomes our primary lust, our highest form of patriotism. We deploy vast resources to hunt down jihadists and terrorists, real and phantom. We destroy our civil society in the name of a war on terror. We persecute those, from Julian Assange to [Chelsea] Manning to Edward Snowden, who expose the dark machinations of power. We believe, because we have externalized evil, that we can purify the earth. And we are blind to the evil within us.
Melville’s description of Ahab is a description of the bankers, corporate boards, politicians, television personalities and generals who through the power of propaganda fill our heads with seductive images of glory and lust for wealth and power. We are consumed with self-induced obsessions that spur us toward self-annihilation.

“All my means are sane,” Ahab says, “my motive and my object mad.”

Ahab, as the historian Richard Slotkin points out in his book “Regeneration Through Violence,” is “the true American hero, worthy to be captain of a ship whose ‘wood could only be American.’ ” Melville offers us a vision, one that D.H. Lawrence later understood, of the inevitable fatality of white civilization brought about by our ceaseless lust for material progress, imperial expansion, white supremacy and exploitation of nature.

Melville, who had been a sailor on clipper ships and whalers, was keenly aware that the wealth of industrialized societies was stolen by force from the wretched of the earth. All the authority figures on the ship are white men—Ahab, Starbuck, Flask and Stubb. The hard, dirty work, from harpooning to gutting the carcasses of the whales, is the task of the poor, mostly men of color. Melville saw how European plundering of indigenous cultures from the 16th to the 19th centuries, coupled with the use of African slaves as a workforce to replace the natives, was the engine that enriched Europe and the United States. The Spaniards’ easy seizure of the Aztec and Inca gold following the massive die-off from smallpox and [other diseases] among native populations set in motion five centuries of unchecked economic and environmental plunder. Karl Marx and Adam Smith pointed to the huge influx of wealth from the Americas as having made possible the Industrial Revolution and modern capitalism. The Industrial Revolution also equipped the industrialized state with technologically advanced weapons systems, turning us into the most efficient killers on the planet.

Ahab, when he first appears on the quarterdeck after being in his cabin for the first few days of the voyage, holds up a doubloon, an extravagant gold coin, and promises it to the crew member who first spots the white whale. He knows that “the permanent constitutional condition of the manufactured man … is sordidness.” And he plays to this sordidness. The whale becomes like everything in the capitalist world a commodity, a source of personal profit. A murderous greed, one that Starbuck, Ahab’s first mate, denounces as “blasphemous,” grips the crew. Ahab’s obsession infects the ship.

“I see in [Moby Dick] outrageous strength, with an inscrutable malice sinewing it,” Ahab tells Starbuck. “That inscrutable thing is chiefly what I hate; and be the white whale agent, or be the white whale principal, I will wreak that hate upon him. Talk not to me of blasphemy, man; I’d strike the sun if it insulted me.”

Ahab conducts a dark Mass, a Eucharist of violence and blood, on the deck with the crew. He orders the men to circle around him. He makes them drink from a flagon that is passed from man to man, filled with draughts “hot as Satan’s hoof.” Ahab tells the harpooners to cross their lances before him. The captain grasps the harpoons and anoints the ships’ harpooners—Queequeg, Tashtego and Daggoo—his “three pagan kinsmen.” He orders them to detach the iron sections of their harpoons and fills the sockets “with the fiery waters from the pewter.” “Drink, ye harpooneers! Drink and swear, ye men that man the deathful whaleboat’s bow—Death to Moby Dick! God hunt us all, if we do not hunt Moby Dick to his death!” And with the crew bonded to him in his infernal quest he knows that Starbuck is helpless “amid the general hurricane.” “Starbuck now is mine,” Ahab says, “cannot oppose me now, without rebellion.” “The honest eye of Starbuck,” Melville writes, “fell downright.”

The ship, described as a hearse, was painted black. It was adorned with gruesome trophies of the hunt, festooned with the huge teeth and bones of sperm whales. It was, Melville writes, a “cannibal of a craft, tricking herself forth in the chased bones of her enemies.” The fires used to melt the whale blubber at night turned the Pequod into a “red hell.”

Our own raging fires, leaping up from our oil refineries and the explosions of our ordinance across the Middle East, bespeak our Stygian heart. And in our mad pursuit we ignore the suffering of others, just as Ahab does when he refuses to help the captain of a passing ship who is frantically searching for his son, who has fallen overboard.

Ahab has not only the heated rhetoric of persuasion; he is master of a terrifying internal security force on the ship, the five “dusky phantoms that seemed fresh formed out of air.” Ahab’s secret, private whale boat crew, who emerge from the bowels of the ship well into the voyage, keeps the rest of the ship in abject submission. The art of propaganda and the use of brutal coercion, the mark of tyranny, define our lives just as they mark those on Melville’s ship. The novel is the chronicle of the last days of any civilization.

And yet Ahab is no simple tyrant. Melville toward the end of the novel gives us two glimpses into the internal battle between Ahab’s maniacal hubris and his humanity. Ahab, too, has a yearning for love. He harbors regrets over his deformed life. The black cabin boy Pip is the only crew member who evokes any tenderness in the captain. Ahab is aware of this tenderness. He fears its power. Pip functions as the Fool did in Shakespeare’s “King Lear.” Ahab warns Pip of Ahab. “Lad, lad,” says Ahab, “I tell thee thou must not follow Ahab now. The hour is coming when Ahab would not scare thee from him, yet would not have thee by him. There is that in thee, poor lad, which I feel too curing to my malady. Like cures like; and for this hunt, my malady becomes my most desired health. … If thou speakest thus to me much more, Ahab’s purpose keels up in him. I tell thee no; it cannot be.” A few pages later, “untottering Ahab stood forth in the clearness of the morn; lifting his splintered helmet of a brow to the fair girl’s forehead of heaven. … From beneath his slouched hat Ahab dropped a tear into the sea; nor did all the Pacific contain such wealth as that one wee drop.” Starbuck approaches him. Ahab, for the only time in the book, is vulnerable. He speaks to Starbuck of his “forty years on the pitiless sea! … the desolation of solitude it has been. … Why this strife of the chase? why weary, and palsy the arm at the oar, and the iron, and the lance? How the richer or better is Ahab now?” He thinks of his young wife—“I widowed that poor girl when I married her, Starbuck”—and of his little boy: “About this time—yes, it is his noon nap now—the boy vivaciously wakes; sits up in bed; and his mother tells him of me, of cannibal old me; how I am abroad upon the deep, but will yet come back to dance him again.”

Ahab’s thirst for dominance, vengeance and destruction, however, overpowers these faint regrets of lost love and thwarted compassion. Hatred wins. “What is it,” Ahab finally asks, “what nameless, inscrutable, unearthly thing is it; what cozening, hidden lord and master, and cruel, remorseless emperor commands me; that against all natural lovings and longings, I so keep pushing, and crowding, and jamming myself on all the time. …”

Melville knew that physical courage and moral courage are distinct. One can be brave on a whaling ship or a battlefield, yet a coward when called on to stand up to human evil. Starbuck elucidates this peculiar division. The first mate is tormented by his complicity in what he foresees as Ahab’s “impious end.” Starbuck, “while generally abiding firm in the conflict with seas, or winds, or whales, or any of the ordinary irrational horrors of the world, yet cannot withstand those more terrific, because spiritual terrors, which sometimes menace you from the concentrating brow of an enraged and mighty man.”

And so we plunge forward in our doomed quest to master the forces that will finally smite us. Those who see where we are going too often lack the fortitude to actually rebel. Mutiny was the only salvation for the Pequod’s crew. It is our only salvation. But moral cowardice turns us into hostages.

I am reading and rereading the debates among some of the great radical thinkers of the 19th and 20th centuries about the mechanisms of social change. These debates were not academic. They were frantic searches for the triggers of revolt. Lenin placed his faith in a violent uprising, a professional, disciplined revolutionary vanguard freed from moral constraints and, like Marx, in the inevitable emergence of the worker’s state. [Pierre-Joseph] Proudhon insisted that gradual change would be accomplished as enlightened workers took over production and educated and converted the rest of the proletariat. [Mikhail] Bakunin predicted the catastrophic breakdown of the capitalist order, something we are likely to witness in our lifetimes, and new autonomous worker federations rising up out of the chaos. [Peter] Kropotkin, like Proudhon, believed in an evolutionary process that would hammer out the new society. Emma Goldman, along with Kropotkin, came to be very wary of both the efficacy of violence and the revolutionary potential of the masses. “The mass,” Goldman wrote bitterly toward the end of her life in echoing Marx, “clings to its masters, loves the whip, and is the first to cry Crucify!”

The revolutionists of history counted on a mobilized base of enlightened industrial workers. The building blocks of revolt, they believed, relied on the tool of the general strike, the ability of workers to cripple the mechanisms of production. Strikes could be sustained with the support of political parties, strike funds and union halls. Workers without these support mechanisms had to replicate the infrastructure of parties and unions if they wanted to put prolonged pressure on the bosses and the state. But now, with the decimation of the U.S. manufacturing base, along with the dismantling of our unions and opposition parties, we will have to search for different instruments of rebellion.

We must develop a revolutionary theory that is not reliant on the industrial or agrarian muscle of workers. Most manufacturing jobs have disappeared, and, of those that remain, few are unionized. Our family farms have been destroyed by agro-businesses. Monsanto and its Faustian counterparts on Wall Street rule. They are steadily poisoning our lives and rendering us powerless. The corporate leviathan, which is global, is freed from the constraints of a single nation-state or government. Corporations are beyond regulation or control. Politicians are too anemic, or more often too corrupt, to stand in the way of the accelerating corporate destruction. This makes our struggle different from revolutionary struggles in industrial societies in the past. Our revolt will look more like what erupted in the less industrialized Slavic republics, Russia, Spain and China and uprisings led by a disenfranchised rural and urban working class and peasantry in the liberation movements that swept through Africa and Latin America. The dispossessed working poor, along with unemployed college graduates and students, unemployed journalists, artists, lawyers and teachers, will form our movement. This is why the fight for a higher minimum wage is crucial to uniting service workers with the alienated college-educated sons and daughters of the old middle class. Bakunin, unlike Marx, considered déclassé intellectuals essential for successful revolt.

It is not the poor who make revolutions. It is those who conclude that they will not be able, as they once expected, to rise economically and socially. This consciousness is part of the self-knowledge of service workers and fast-food workers. It is grasped by the swelling population of college graduates caught in a vise of low-paying jobs and obscene amounts of debt. These two groups, once united, will be our primary engines of revolt. Much of the urban poor has been crippled and in many cases broken by a rewriting of laws, especially drug laws, that has permitted courts, probation officers, parole boards and police to randomly seize poor people of color, especially African-American men, without just cause and lock them in cages for years. In many of our most impoverished urban centers—our internal colonies, as Malcolm X called them—mobilization, at least at first, will be difficult. The urban poor are already in chains. These chains are being readied for the rest of us. “The law, in its majestic equality, forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets or steal bread,” Anatole France commented acidly.

Erica Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan examined 100 years of violent and nonviolent resistance movements in their book “Why Civil Resistance Works.” They concluded that nonviolent movements succeed twice as often as violent uprisings. Violent movements work primarily in civil wars or in ending foreign occupations, they found. Nonviolent movements that succeed appeal to those within the power structure, especially the police and civil servants, who are cognizant of the corruption and decadence of the power elite and are willing to abandon them. And we only need 1 to 5 percent of the population actively working for the overthrow of a system, history has shown, to bring down even the most ruthless totalitarian structures. It always works on two tracks—building alternative structures such as public banks to free ourselves from control and finding mechanisms to halt the machine.

The most important dilemma facing us is not ideological. It is logistical. The security and surveillance state has made its highest priority the breaking of any infrastructure that might spark widespread revolt. The state knows the tinder is there. It knows that the continued unraveling of the economy and the effects of climate change make popular unrest inevitable. It knows that as underemployment and unemployment doom at least a quarter of the U.S. population, perhaps more, to perpetual poverty, and as unemployment benefits are scaled back, as schools close, as the middle class withers away, as pension funds are looted by hedge fund thieves, and as the government continues to let the fossil fuel industry ravage the planet, the future will increasingly be one of open conflict. This battle against the corporate state, right now, is primarily about infrastructure. We need an infrastructure to build revolt. The corporate state is determined to deny us one.

The state, in its internal projections, has a vision of the future that is as dystopian as mine. But the state, to protect itself, lies. Politicians, corporations, the public relations industry, the entertainment industry and our ridiculous television pundits speak as if we can continue to build a society based on limitless growth, profligate consumption and fossil fuel. They feed the collective mania for hope at the expense of truth. Their public vision is self-delusional, a form of collective psychosis. The corporate state, meanwhile, is preparing privately for the world it knows is actually coming. It is cementing into place a police state, one that includes the complete evisceration of our most basic civil liberties and the militarization of the internal security apparatus, as well as wholesale surveillance of the citizenry.

Moby Dick rams and sinks the Pequod. The waves swallow up Ahab and all who followed him, except one. A vortex formed by the ship’s descent collapses, “and the great shroud of the sea rolled on as it rolled five thousand years ago.”

As the planet begins to convulse with fury, as the senseless greed of limitless capitalist expansion implodes the global economy, as our civil liberties are eviscerated in the name of national security, shackling us to an interconnected security and surveillance state that stretches from Moscow to Istanbul to New York, how shall we endure and resist?

Our hope lies in the human imagination. It was the human imagination that permitted African-Americans during slavery and the Jim Crow era to transcend their physical condition. It was the human imagination that sustained Sitting Bull and Black Elk as their land was seized and their cultures were broken. And it was the human imagination that allowed the survivors in the Nazi death camps to retain the power of the sacred. It is the imagination that makes possible transcendence. Chants, work songs, spirituals, the blues, poetry, dance and art converged under slavery to nourish and sustain this imagination. These were the forces that, as Ralph Ellison wrote, “we had in place of freedom.” The oppressed would be the first—for they know their fate—to admit that on a rational level such a notion is absurd, but they also know that it is only through the imagination that they survive. Jewish inmates in Auschwitz reportedly put God on trial for the Holocaust and then condemned God to death. A rabbi stood after the verdict to lead the evening prayers.

African-Americans and Native Americans, for centuries, had little control over their destinies. Forces of bigotry and violence kept them subjugated by whites. Suffering, for the oppressed, was tangible. Death was a constant companion. And it was only their imagination, as William Faulkner noted at the end of “The Sound and the Fury,” that permitted them—unlike the novel’s white Compson family—to “endure.”

The theologian James H. Cone captures this in his book “The Cross and the Lynching Tree.” Cone says that for oppressed blacks the cross was a “paradoxical religious symbol because it inverts the world’s value system with the news that hope comes by way of defeat, that suffering and death do not have the last word, that the last shall be first and the first last.” Cone continues:

That God could “make a way out of no way” in Jesus’ cross was truly absurd to the intellect, yet profoundly real in the souls of black folk. Enslaved blacks who first heard the gospel message seized on the power of the cross. Christ crucified manifested God’s loving and liberating presence in the contradictions of black life—that transcendent presence in the lives of black Christians that empowered them to believe that ultimately, in God’s eschatological future, they would not be defeated by the “troubles of this world,” no matter how great and painful their suffering. Believing this paradox, this absurd claim of faith, was only possible in humility and repentance. There was no place for the proud and the mighty, for people who think that God called them to rule over others. The cross was God’s critique of power—white power—with powerless love, snatching victory out of defeat.

Reinhold Niebuhr labeled this capacity to defy the forces of repression “a sublime madness in the soul.” Niebuhr wrote that “nothing but madness will do battle with malignant power and ‘spiritual wickedness in high places.’ ” This sublime madness, as Niebuhr understood, is dangerous, but it is vital. Without it, “truth is obscured.” And Niebuhr also knew that traditional liberalism was a useless force in moments of extremity. Liberalism, Niebuhr said, “lacks the spirit of enthusiasm, not to say fanaticism, which is so necessary to move the world out of its beaten tracks. It is too intellectual and too little emotional to be an efficient force in history.”

The prophets in the Hebrew Bible had this sublime madness. The words of the Hebrew prophets, as Abraham Heschel wrote, were “a scream in the night. While the world is at ease and asleep, the prophet feels the blast from heaven.” The prophet, because he saw and faced an unpleasant reality, was, as Heschel wrote, “compelled to proclaim the very opposite of what his heart expected.”

Primo Levi in his memoir “Survival in Auschwitz” tells of teaching Italian to another inmate, Jean Samuel, in exchange for lessons in French. Levi recites to Samuel from memory Canto XXVI of Dante’s “The Inferno.” It is the story of Ulysses’ final voyage.

We cheered, but soon that cheering turned to woe,

for then a whirlwind born from the strange land

battered our little vessel on the prow.

Three times the boat and all the sea were whirled,

and at the fourth, to please Another’s will,

the aft tipped in the air, the prow went down,

Until the ocean closed above our bones.

“He has received the message,” Levi wrote of his friend and what they shared in Dante, “he has felt that it has to do with him, that it has to do with all men who toil, and with us in particular.” Levi goes on. “It is vitally necessary and urgent that he listen, that he understand … before it is too late; tomorrow he or I might be dead, or we might never see each other again.”

The poet Leon Staff wrote from the Warsaw ghetto: “Even more than bread we now need poetry, in a time when it seems that it is not needed at all.”

It is only those who harness their imagination, and through their imagination find the courage to peer into the molten pit, who can minister to the suffering of those around them. It is only they who can find the physical and psychological strength to resist. Resistance is carried out not for its success, but because by resisting in every way possible we affirm life. And those who resist in the years ahead will be those who are infected with this “sublime madness.” As Hannah Arendt wrote in “The Origins of Totalitarianism,” the only morally reliable people are not those who say “this is wrong” or “this should not be done,” but those who say “I can’t.” They know that as Immanuel Kant wrote: “If justice perishes, human life on earth has lost its meaning.” And this means that, like Socrates, we must come to a place where it is better to suffer wrong than to do wrong. We must at once see and act, and given what it means to see, this will require the surmounting of despair, not by reason, but by faith.

“One of the only coherent philosophical positions is revolt,” Camus wrote. “It is a constant confrontation between man and his obscurity. … It is not aspiration, for it is devoid of hope. That revolt is the certainty of a crushing fate, without the resignation that ought to accompany it.”

“… [T]he people noticed that Crazy Horse was queerer than ever,” Black Elk said in remembering the final days of the wars of Western expansion. He went on to say of the great Sioux warrior: “He hardly ever stayed in the camp. People would find him out alone in the cold, and they would ask him to come home with them. He would not come, but sometimes he would tell the people what to do. People wondered if he ate anything at all. Once my father found him out alone like that, and he said to my father: ‘Uncle, you have noticed me the way I act. But do not worry; there are caves and holes for me to live in, and out here the spirits may help me. I am making plans for the good of my people.’  ”

Homer, Dante, Beethoven, Melville, Dostoevsky, Proust, Joyce, W.H. Auden, Emily Dickinson and James Baldwin, along with artists such as the sculptor David Smith, the photographer Diane Arbus and the blues musician Charley Patton, all had it. It is the sublime madness that lets one sing, as bluesman Ishman Bracey did in Hinds County, Miss., “I’ve been down so long, Lawd, down don’t worry me.” And yet in the mists of the imagination also lie the absurdity and certainty of divine justice:

I feel my hell a-risin’, a-risin’ every day;
I feel my hell a-risin’, a-risin’ every day;
Someday it’ll burst this levee and wash the whole wide world away.

Shakespeare’s greatest heroes and heroines—Prospero, Antony, Juliet, Viola, Rosalind, Hamlet, Cordelia and Lear—all have this sublime madness. King Lear, who through suffering and affliction, through human imagination, is finally able to see, warns us all that unbridled human passion and unchecked hubris mean the suicide of the species. “It will come,” Albany says in “Lear.” “Humanity must perforce prey on itself, Like monsters of the deep.” It was the poems of Federico Garcia Lorca that sustained the republicans fighting the fascists in Spain. Music, dance, drama, art, song, painting [have been] the fire and drive of resistance movements. The rebel units in El Salvador when I covered the war there always traveled with musicians and theater troupes. Art, as Emma Goldman pointed out, has the power to make ideas felt. Goldman noted that when Andrew Undershaft, a character in George Bernard Shaw’s play “Major Barbara,” said poverty is “[t]he worst of crimes” and “All the other crimes are virtues beside it,” his impassioned declaration elucidated the cruelty of class warfare more effectively than Shaw’s socialist tracts. The degradation of education into vocational training for the corporate state, the ending of state subsidies for the arts and journalism, the hijacking of these disciplines by corporate sponsors, sever the population from understanding, self-actualization and transcendence. In aesthetic terms the corporate state seeks to crush beauty, truth and imagination. This is a war waged by all totalitarian systems.

Culture, real culture, is radical and transformative. It is capable of expressing what lies deep within us. It gives words to our reality. It makes us feel as well as see. It allows us to empathize with those who are different or oppressed. It reveals what is happening around us. It honors mystery. “The role of the artist, then, precisely, is to illuminate that darkness, blaze roads through the vast forest,” James Baldwin wrote, “so that we will not, in all our doing, lose sight of its purpose, which is, after all, to make the world a more human dwelling place.”

“Ultimately, the artist and the revolutionary function as they function, and pay whatever dues they must pay behind it because they are both possessed by a vision, and they do not so much follow this vision as find themselves driven by it,” wrote Baldwin. “Otherwise, they could never endure, much less embrace, the lives they are compelled to lead.”

I do not know if we can build a better society. I do not even know if we will survive as a species. But I know these corporate forces have us by the throat. And they have my children by the throat. I do not fight fascists because I will win. I fight fascists because they are fascists. And this is a fight which in the face of the overwhelming forces against us requires us to embrace this sublime madness, to find in acts of rebellion the embers of life, an intrinsic meaning that lies outside of certain success. It is to at once grasp reality and then refuse to allow this reality to paralyze us. It is, and I say this to people of all creeds or no creeds, to make an absurd leap of faith, to believe, despite all empirical evidence around us, that good always draws to it the good, that the fight for life always goes somewhere—we do not know where; the Buddhists call it karma—and in these acts we sustain our belief in a better world, even if we cannot see one emerging around us.

The Turkish poet Nazim Hikmet, who spent most of his adult life in prison or in exile, knew something of despair. But he knew something too of resistance, of that rebellious spirit which must define us in times of terrible oppression and woe if we are to remain fully human. Any act of resistance is its own eternal triumph. Hikmet captured this in his poem “On Living.”

Living is no laughing matter:
you must live with great seriousness
like a squirrel, for example—
I mean without looking for something beyond and above living,
I mean living must be your whole occupation.
Living is no laughing matter:
you must take it seriously,
so much so and to such a degree
that, for example, your hands tied behind your back,
your back to the wall,
or else in a laboratory
in your white coat and safety glasses,
you can die for people—
even for people whose faces you’ve never seen,
even though you know living
is the most real, the most beautiful thing.
I mean, you must take living so seriously
that even at seventy, for example, you’ll plant olive trees—
and not for your children, either,
but because although you fear death you don’t believe it,
because living, I mean, weighs heavier.

II
Let’s say we’re seriously ill, need surgery—
which is to say we might not get up
from the white table.
Even though it’s impossible not to feel sad
about going a little too soon,
we’ll still laugh at the jokes being told,
we’ll look out the window to see if it’s raining,
or still wait anxiously
for the latest newscast . . .
Let’s say we’re at the front—
for something worth fighting for, say.
There, in the first offensive, on that very day,
we might fall on our face, dead.
We’ll know this with a curious anger,
but we’ll still worry ourselves to death
about the outcome of the war, which could last years.
Let’s say we’re in prison
and close to fifty,
and we have eighteen more years, say,
before the iron doors will open.
We’ll still live with the outside,
with its people and animals, struggle and wind—
I mean with the outside beyond the walls.
I mean, however and wherever we are,
we must live as if we will never die.

III
This earth will grow cold,
a star among stars
and one of the smallest,
a gilded mote on blue velvet—
I mean this, our great earth.
This earth will grow cold one day,
not like a block of ice
or a dead cloud even
but like an empty walnut it will roll along
in pitch-black space . . .
You must grieve for this right now
—you have to feel this sorrow now—
for the world must be loved this much
if you’re going to say “I lived”. . .

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Welcome To The Desert Of The Real: The Inevitability Of Radical Climate Change

In Uncategorized on November 30, 2013 at 7:20 pm
https://i1.wp.com/proof.nationalgeographic.com/files/2013/09/columbia-glacier-2006-2012-990x450.jpg

The Columbia Glacier in Columbia Bay, Alaska photographed in 2006 (left) and again in 2012. When Balog first photographed the debris-streaked Columbia Glacier, its face had retreated 11 miles since 1980. That pace compelled him to launch the Extreme Ice Survey, installing cameras at 18 glaciers to witness climate change. Iceberg-choked Prince William Sound reveals that the retreat of the Columbia Glacier is accelerating: It’s lost two more miles of ice in six years. And since 1980 it has diminished vertically an amount equal to the height of New York’s Empire State Building.

Oldspeak: “Radical climate change is already upon us, and it will only get worse, decade-by-decade, because world governments refuse to address the issue in a meaningful and corrective manner. Climate talks amongst nations (19 meetings, so far) are merely gabfests where a bunch of dignitaries meet to pontificate but never achieve… Meanwhile, the world’s climate is  radically changing right before our eyes, but like all issues outside of mainstream news, the clairvoyance of the few (scientists) is seldom heeded by the many.” –Robert Hunziker

“Just saw “Chasing Ice” with acclaimed National Geographic photographer James Balog, if you’ve not seen it I highly recommend it.  Powerful work.  Incontrovertible visual evidence that our planetary air conditioner is being ever more quickly disintegrated by warming that has resulted from human caused environmental and climate change.  The rate of glacial melting the past 10 years has been equal to that of the previous 100. Once the air conditioner is broken, it’ll be all she wrote. The most damaging Greenhouse gas, methane is venting into the atmosphere globally, from more and more previously frozen ice shelves and deep-sea beds at an ever-increasing rate. These feedbacks are irreversible.  it’s only a matter of time before enough methane is vented to trigger catastrophic runaway climate change. We need to come to terms with the inevitable decline and demise of the virulent and ecocidal industrial civilization that wrought this destruction.” -OSJ

By Robert Hunziker @ Dissident Voice:

Readers of this article will likely live to see climate change so disruptive and damaging that it will alter the Western world’s standard of living. In fact, the onset of radical climate change is already evident. It has already started. This article will examine the incipience of this far-reaching event, which will change the world forever.

Radical climate change is already upon us, and it will only get worse, decade-by-decade, because world governments refuse to address the issue in a meaningful and corrective manner. Climate talks amongst nations (19 meetings, so far) are merely gabfests where a bunch of dignitaries meet to pontificate but never achieve.

One after another, after another, public treasuries spend millions to send delegations to climate talks without success, and it is becoming crystal clear that the developing nations and the developed nations will never harmonize until radical climate change is so obviously destructive that there is no choice but to come to terms. Then, they’ll meet and come together with a plan, but it will be too late.

Meanwhile, the world’s climate is  radically changing right before our eyes, but like all issues outside of mainstream news, the clairvoyance of the few (scientists) is seldom heeded by the many.

Indisputable Evidence of Radical Climate Change in the Ocean

The impending dangers of climate change are mostly hidden from public view. This may explain why the problem is under-appreciated and under-reported. From the Arctic to Antarctica climate abnormalities are dangerously lurking on the surface and in the water.

For example, one extremely serious problem starts at the base of the food chain in the ocean. This is the result of acidification because of the ocean absorbing excessive quantities of carbon dioxide (30% of CO2 emissions) caused by burning fossil fuels, as well as excessive amounts of heat (90% of the planet’s heat.) In consequence, marine phytoplankton, of which there are 5,000 species, are negatively affected, thus, threatening the base of the food chain. As well, and regarding humankind, phytoplankton is responsible for half of the Earth’s oxygen; every other breath you take comes from these mysterious, wondrous organisms.

Here are some examples of acidification at work: Elevated levels of domoic acid, the agent of Amnesic Shellfish Poisoning, have been reported in the coastal waters of Southern California. And, along the U.S. West Coast scientists are witnessing, in real time, the devastating impact of acidification in oyster fisheries.

According to Jane Luchenco, former director of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the effects of acidification are already present in some oyster fisheries, like the West Coast of the U.S.  According to Luchenco, “You can actually see this happening… It’s not something a long way into the future. It is a very big problem.”

In the Southern Ocean, scientists, using electron microscopes, have measured severe shell dissolution of Pteropods, which are at the base of the food chain and a food source for everything from krill to large whales.

And, off the Northern Coast of California scientists are finding water that’s acidic enough to start dissolving seashells. As a consequence, the base of the marine food chain is already in the early stages of a struggle to reproduce and survive because of acidification caused by fossil fuel CO2 emissions.

“If the current carbon dioxide emission trends continue… the ocean will continue to undergo acidification, to an extent and at rates that have not occurred for tens of millions of years… nearly all marine life forms that build calcium carbonate shells and skeletons studied by scientists thus far have shown deterioration due to increasing carbon dioxide levels in seawater.” 1

According to an article, Ocean Acidification, National Geographic, April 2011, “… in 2008 a group of more than 150 leading researchers issued a declaration stating that they were deeply concerned by recent, rapid changes in ocean chemistry, which could within decades severely affect marine organisms, food webs, biodiversity, and fisheries.” Alas, this is already happening.

Moreover, coral reefs around the world are under attack. Again, the problem is excessive levels of CO2: When atmospheric CO2 levels increase and absorb into the ocean carbonate ions become scarcer in the water. Studies reveal that coral skeleton growth has been shown to decline linearly as the carbonate concentration declines because of excessive CO2 levels.

Coral reefs are as crucial to marine life as food, water and air are to humans. Up to nine million marine species live on or around coral reefs. Worldwide, twenty percent (20%) of coral reefs are already gone and another fifty percent (50%) are on the verge of total collapse.

According to Dr. Alex Rogers, Scientific Director of the International Programme on the State of the Ocean, OneWorld (UK) Video, August 2011: “I think if we continue on the current trajectory, we are looking at a mass extinction of marine species even if only coral reef systems go down, which it looks like they will certainly by the end of the century.”

Along these lines, scientists are only too aware of how damaging excessive amounts of fossil fuel emissions are to the ocean, and they have repeatedly expressed alarm. Nevertheless, the general public and mainstream media only see the surface of the water, which never changes. However, according to the International Programme on the State of the Ocean d/d October 3, 2013, “The next mass extinction may have already begun.”

Methane & Altered Jet Streams

Methane, which has been trapped in hydrates and permafrost for millennia, is only now starting to escape into the atmosphere in enormous quantities because of the dramatic climatic changes in the Arctic, which is warming 2-3 times faster than elsewhere on the planet. This poses a serious threat of runaway global warming, leading to a sweltering planetary environment.

Additionally, the climate change abnormalities in the Arctic are altering the jet streams, which, in turn, negatively impacts weather patterns all across the Northern Hemisphere. This is happening in real time right now.

“Could the World be in Imminent Danger and Nobody is Telling?” (An assessment by the Arctic Methane Emergency Group (AMEG): 
”Uniquely and fearlessly AMEG has studied key non-linear trends in the Earth-human System and reached the stunning conclusion that the planet stands at the edge of abrupt and catastrophic climate change as a result of an unprecedented rate of change in the Arctic.” Furthermore, according to AMEG, here’s the risk: “An extremely high international security risk of acute climate disruption followed by runaway global warming.”

Methane (CH4) is over twenty times more powerful, over a 100-year period, per molecule, than is carbon dioxide (CO2).  Or, put another way, methane is more effectual than carbon dioxide at absorbing infrared radiation emitted from the earth’s surface and preventing it from escaping into space. Methane, during its first few years upon entering the atmosphere, is 100 times as powerful as an equal weight of CO2.

As it happens, it appears excessive levels of methane are just now starting to seriously impact the Earth’s atmosphere in a big way!

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Science, as of February 2013, methane levels in the atmosphere are measured at 1,874 ppb (parts per billion). This level, in an historical context, is more than twice as high as any time since 400,000 years before the industrial revolution. In the past, methane has ranged between 300-400 ppb during glacial periods and 600-700 ppb during warm interglacial periods.

“There are three huge reservoirs of Arctic methane till recently safely controlled by the Arctic freezing cold environment. They are now all releasing additional methane to the atmosphere as the Arctic rapidly warms.” (Arctic Methane, Arctic Methane Emergency Group).

As of a couple of years ago, the Russian research vessel Academician Lavrentiev, surveying 10,000 square miles of sea off the coast of Eastern Siberia, made a terrifying discovery of “fountains” of methane one-half mile across erupting from Arctic sea ice, coming to surface like a boiling pot of water on a stove top. The research team located more than 100 fountains, and they believe there could be thousands. These are methane fields on a scale never before witnessed by scientists.

In stark contrast to these warnings by scientists, the climate denialists or cooling crowd have been crowing just recently about a revival of the Arctic sea ice in 2013, but their calculations only measure the  “extent” of sea ice. Au contraire: Sea ice “extent” is a two dimensional measurement. Whereas, three dimensions, including thickness, gives volume (the Arctic has already lost 40% of its volume) and on this basis the sea ice is decreasing by the year, every year for 30 years. However, the final numbers for 2012-13 are not yet known for certain, and may have gone up for one year, as occasionally happens in any given year.

There is, however, evidence of continued ice loss during the most recent season, according to Mass Balance Buoy readings conducted by the U.S. Army Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory; here are two actual (real) Mass Balance Buoy readings of ice thickness (gain or loss) during the 2012-13 Arctic ice melt season: (#1) 2012D-ID Code: 300025010123530 in Multi-Year Ice in Beaufort Sea from 8/27/2012 ice thickness of 335cm to 8/28/2013 ice thickness 157cm, a loss of six (6’) feet; (#2) 2012M – ID Code: 300025010206570 in Multi-Year Ice at Fram Straight (Deployed by Norwegian Polar Institute) 8/29/2012 ice thickness 250cm to 9/02/2013 ice thickness 121cm, a loss of four (4’) feet.

Additionally, the ice melt and warming at the Arctic instigates a critical climatic problem; i.e., disruption of the jet streams. Dr. Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University has presented research to the scientific community that demonstrates that Arctic sea ice loss and warming impacts upper-level atmospheric circulation such that, “… slowing its winds and increasing its tendency to make contorted high-amplitude loops. Such high-amplitude loops in the upper level wind pattern (and associated jet stream) increase the probability of persistent (that is, longer-duration) weather patterns in the Northern Hemisphere potentially leading to extreme weather due to longer-duration cold spells, snow events, heat waves, flooding events, and drought conditions.” And, isn’t this exactly what has been happening?

In fact, the results of this phenomenon of the warming Arctic disrupting the jet streams, which are found at the top of the troposphere at 35,000-40,000 feet (7-9 miles high), have shown up in disturbingly abnormal weather patterns all across the hemisphere.

For example, a slow-moving jet stream was behind a blocking weather pattern in the U.S. in 2012, causing the worst drought in 50 years; Syria’s embedded drought from 2006-11 is the most severe set of crop failures ever in the Fertile Crescent; India had two major droughts in four years with rainfall levels 70% below normal in the Punjab breadbasket; in 2010 then-PM Putin halted grain shipments by Russia because of drought conditions (worst in 40 years); China’s four-year drought is affecting 400 million people; China has the most severe drought conditions in the world (the worst in 200 years), and the list goes on and on.

And, the floods caused by embedded jet streams: Colorado in 2013 (once in 100-year flooding), Eastern Europe in 2013 (worst in 500 years); UK in 2012 (wettest since 1766); Canadian extreme flash floods (worst in 50 years), massive flooding in Pakistan (a once in 100-year flood) lasting for over one month, and the list goes on and on.

These extreme weather conditions, as a result of radical climate change, are normally classified as once-in-one-hundred-year events, but they’re happening yearly.

The world food supply is threatened by extreme drought and extreme flooding, and according to the Council on Foreign Relations, “… when you see rapidly rising food prices, of course it leads to instability. We’ve seen [this] in the last five years across many countries, and you see rising food prices translate almost directly into street protests.” 2

“Nations reliant on food imports, including Egypt, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sudan are especially vulnerable to unrest, according to a report by the National Intelligence Council… More than 60 food riots erupted worldwide from 2007 to 2009.” 3

Water Supplies Threatened as Glaciers Melt Around the World

The sudden appearance of Ötzi the Iceman frozen in the Alps (1991) may have been an early harbinger of the threat to water supplies around the world because glaciers are one of the world’s largest and most dependable water sources for billions of people, but the glaciers are melting very rapidly. Over time, the losses of glacial water supplies will likely lead to panic, political unrest, and ground wars.

In the high altitudes of South America 1,600 years of ice formation melted in 25 years according to a recent scientific expedition, which found extraordinarily large portions of the Quelccaya Ice Cap melting away in just 25 years. Quelccaya is world’s largest tropical ice sheet.

Meredith A. Kelly, glacial geomorphologist (Dartmouth College), calculates the current melting at Quelccaya at least as fast, if not faster, than anything in the geological record books since the end of the last ice age.

“Throughout the Andes, glaciers are now melting so rapidly that scientists have grown deeply concerned about water supplies for the people living there.” 4

According to a study by the European Topic Centre on Air Pollution and Climate Change Mitigation (ETC/ACM), from 2000 to 2010, Alpine glaciers, on average, each lost more than 32.5 feet of thickness. Samuel Nussbaumer of World Glacier Monitoring Service, University of Zurich says the rate of shrinkage is increasing by the year, and he claims rising temperatures are the main explanation. “These ice giants could disappear literally in the space of a human lifetime, or even less,” according to Sergio Savoia of the WWF’s Alpine office.

The Alpine glaciers serve as Europe’s water tower, similar to how the Tibetan Plateau, the “Third Pole,” serves as the water tower for India and China and neighboring countries. And, Chinese scientists report significant measured glacial melting over the past 30 years. As well, the glaciers feed the big, commercial rivers like the Yangtze, Rhone, Po, and the Danube. And, India and China are both dependent upon the glaciers for crop irrigation for a couple billion people.

The fallout from radical global climate change, on a worst-case basis, will result in society reverting to a Paleolithic economy like the hunter-gatherer societies around 500,000 B.C. with war-like factions composed of roughshod groups taking matters into their own hands, as desperate people resort to desperate measures when fighting for survival. After all, by then, lame governments will have proven ineffective; why not take matters into one’s own hands, as marauding thugs crash through the gates.

Solution

The inevitability of an era of radical climate change, altering every aspect of life, is nearly baked into the cake. Here’s why: Coal! Between China and India alone there are 1,200 new coal burning plants on the drawing boards, which is the easiest, cheapest way to produce electricity and power industrial plants, even though non-polluting renewables are equally up to the task, but more costly.

Already, China consumes as much coal as the U.S., the European Union, and Japan combined. And, consider this: According to David Mohler, Duke Power’s chief technology officer: “… China is preparing, by 2025, for 350 million people to live in cities that don’t exist now… They have to build the equivalent of the U.S. electrical system— that is, almost as much added capacity as the entire U.S. grid—by 2025. It took us 120 years.” 5

The only practicable solution to this festering problem of radical climate change is to get off fossil fuels as quickly as possible by switching to renewable energy sources. However, it is extremely unlikely this will happen soon enough.

Both of the major U.S. political parties are gloating over upcoming “American Energy Independence” as the result of the use of hydraulic fracking recovery techniques for oil and gas whereby they utilize extreme high pressure to forcibly inject a concoction of fluids containing toxic carcinogenic chemicals underground.

Yes! They forcibly inject toxic carcinogenic chemicals underground!

  1. Dr. Richard Feely and Dr. Christopher Sabine. Oceanographers, “Carbon Dioxide and Our Ocean Legacy”, Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, April 2006. []
  2. Isobel Coleman/Interview, “U.S. Drought and Rising Global Food Prices”, Council on Foreign Relations, August 2, 2012. []
  3. Tony C. Dreibus & Elizabeth Campbell.  “Global Food Reserves Falling as Drought Wilts Crops”, Bloomberg News, August 9, 2012. []
  4. Justin Gillis, “In Sign of Warming, 1,600 Years of Ice in Andes Melted in 25 Years”, The New York Times/International Herald Tribune, April 4, 2013. []
  5. James Fallows.  “Dirty Coal, Clean Future“, The Atlantic, December. 2010. []

Robert Hunziker (MA in economic history at DePaul University, Chicago) is a former hedge fund manager and now a professional independent negotiator for worldwide commodity actual transactions and a freelance writer for progressive publications as well as business journals. He can be contacted at: rlhunziker@gmail.com. Read other articles by Robert.

 

 

Environmental Collapse: The Sixth Stage Of Collapse

In Uncategorized on October 26, 2013 at 8:57 pm

http://sillymickelsapocalypticwakeupcall.files.wordpress.com/2013/08/559624_4730113134571_700653948_n.jpgOldspeak: Dmitri Orlov is back with a brilliant addendum to his eerily prescient 2008 “The Five Stages Of Collapse“. Writing about  the all important stage of collapse he’d neglected to mention then.  Indeed, it is the only problem left worth preparing for. At the end of this stage Environmental Collapse, there is no other problem to be concerned with. The jig is up, there’s no home. The irony is we’re systematically eradicating the last remnants of people who know how we need to live to start reversing the damage we’ve done to our Mother. Relentlessly and increasingly exhausting at a non-renewable rate our essential ‘ecosystem services” for contrived reality driven “profit”. “Extend and pretend” can only go on for so much longer.” -OSJ

We don’t want to change who we are in order to live in harmony with nature; we want nature to live in harmony with us while we remain who we are. In the meantime, we are continuing to wage war on the sorry remnants of the tribes that had once lived in balance with nature, offering them “education,” “economic development” and a chance to play a minor role in our ruinous, negative-sum economic games. Given such options, their oft-observed propensity to do nothing and stay drunk seems like a perfectly rational choice. It minimizes the damage. But the damage may already have been done…

It seems like letting global industrial civilization collapse and all the nuclear power plants cook off is not such a good option, because it will seal our fate. But the alternative is to “extend and pretend” and “kick the can down the road” while resorting to a variety of environmentally destructive, increasingly desperate means to keep industry running: hydraulic fracturing, mining tar sands, drilling in the Arctic and so on. And this isn’t such a good option either because it will seal our fate in other ways…

Because, you see, there is also the sixth stage which I have previously neglected to mention—environmental collapse—at the end of which we are left without a home, having rendered Earth (our home planet) uninhabitable.

This tragic outcome may not be unavoidable. And if it is not unavoidable, then that’s about the only problem left that’s worth solving. The solution can be almost arbitrarily expensive in both life and treasure. I would humbly suggest that it’s worth all the money in the world, plus a few billion lives, because if a solution isn’t found, then that treasure and those lives are forfeit anyway.”
Dmitri Orlov
Related Story:
By Dmitri Orlov @ Club Orlov:
I admit it: in my last book, The Five Stages of Collapse, I viewed collapse through rose-colored glasses. But I feel that I should be forgiven for this; it is human nature to try to be optimistic no matter what. Also, as an engineer, I am always looking for solutions to problems. And so I almost subconsciously crafted a scenario where industrial civilization fades away quickly enough to save what’s left of the natural realm, allowing some remnant of humanity to make a fresh start.
Ideally, it would start of with a global financial collapse triggered by a catastrophic loss of confidence in the tools of globalized finance. That would swiftly morph into commercial collapse, caused by global supply chain disruption and cross-contagion. As business activity grinds to a halt and tax revenues dwindle to zero, political collapse wipes most large-scale political entities off the map, allowing small groups of people to revert to various forms of anarchic, autonomous self-governance. Those groups that have sufficient social cohesion, direct access to natural resources, and enough cultural wealth (in the form of face-to-face relationships and oral traditions) would survive while the rest swiftly perish.
Of course, there are problems even with this scenario. Take, for instance, the problem of Global Dimming. The phenomenon is well understood: sunlight reflected back into space by the atmospheric aerosols and particulates generated by burning fossil fuels reduces the average global temperature by well over a degree Celsius. (The cessation of all air traffic over the continental US in the wake of the terrorist attacks of 9/11 has allowed climate scientists to measure this effect.) If industrial activity were to suddenly cease, average global temperatures would be jolted upward toward the two degree Celsius mark which is widely considered to be very, very bad indeed. Secondly, even if all industrial activity were to cease tomorrow, global warming, 95% of which is attributed to human activity in the latest (rather conservative and cautious) IPCC report, would continue apace for the better part of the next millennium, eventually putting the Earth’s climate in a mode unprecedented during all of human existence as a species.
On such a planet, where the equatorial ocean is hotter than a hot tub and alligators thrive in the high Arctic, our survival as a species is far from assured. Still, let’s look at things optimistically. We are an adaptable lot. Yes, the seas will rise and inundate the coastal areas which over half of us currently inhabit. Yes, farmland further inland will become parched and blow away, or be washed away by the periodic torrential rains. Yes, the tropics, followed by the temperate latitudes, become so hot that everyone living there will succumb of heat stroke. But if this process takes a few centuries, then some of the surviving bands and tribes might find a way to migrate further north and learn to survive there by eking out some sort of existence in balance with what remains of the ecosystem.
We can catch glimpses of what such survival might look like by reading history. When Captain James Cook landed on the shore of Western Australia, he was the first white man to encounter aboriginal Australians, who had up to that point persisted in perfect isolation for something like 40.000 years. (They arrived in Australia at about the same time as the Cromagnons displaced the Neanderthals in Europe.) They spoke a myriad different languages and dialects, having no opportunity and no use for any sort of unity. They wore no clothes and used tiny makeshift huts for shelter. They had few tools beyond a digging stick for finding edible roots and a gig for catching fish. They had no hoards or stockpiles, and did not keep even the most basic supplies from one day to the next. They had little regard for material objects of any sort, were not interested in trade, and while they accepted clothes and other items they were given as presents, they threw them away as soon as Cook and his crew were out of sight.
They were, Cook noted in his journal, entirely inoffensive. But a few actions of Cook’s men did enrage them. They were scandalized by the sight of birds being caught and placed in cages, and demanded their immediate release. Imprisoning anyone, animal or person, was to them taboo. They were even more incensed when they saw Cook’s men catch not just one, but several turtles. Turtles are slow-breeding, and it is easy to wipe out their local population by indiscriminate poaching, which is why they only allowed the turtles to be taken one at a time, and only by a specially designated person who bore responsibility for the turtles’ welfare.
Cook thought them primitive, but he was ignorant of their situation. Knowing what we know, they seem quite advanced. Living on a huge but arid and mostly barren island with few native agriculturally useful plants and no domesticable animals, they understood that their survival was strictly by the grace of the surrounding natural realm. To them, the birds and the turtles were more important than they were, because these animals could survive without them, but they could not survive without these animals.
Speaking of being primitive, here is an example of cultural primitivism writ large. At the Age of Limits conference earlier this year, at one point the discussion turned to the question of why the natural realm is worth preserving even at the cost of human life. (For instance, is it OK to go around shooting poachers in national parks even if it means that their families starve to death?) One fellow, who rather self-importantly reclined in a chaise lounge directly in front of the podium, stated his opinion roughly as follows: “It is worth sacrificing every single animal out there in order to save even a single human life!” It took my breath away. This thought is so primitive that my brain spontaneously shut down every time I tried to formulate a response to it. After struggling with it for a bit, here is what I came up with.
Is it worth destroying the whole car for the sake of saving the steering wheel? What use is a steering wheel without a car? Well, I suppose, if you are particularly daft or juvenile, you can use it to pretend that you still have a car, running around with it and making “vroom-vroom!” noises… Let’s look at this question from an economic perspective, which is skewed by the fact that economists tend view the natural realm in terms of its economic value. This is similar to you looking at your own body in terms of its nutritional content, and whether it would make good eating. Even when viewed from this rather bizarre perspective that treats our one and only living planet as a storehouse of commodities to be plundered, it turns out that most of our economic “wealth” is made possible by “ecosystem services” which are provided free of charge.
These include water clean enough to drink, air clean enough to breathe, a temperature-controlled environment that is neither too cold nor too hot for human survival across much of the planet, forests that purify and humidify the air and moderate surface temperatures, ocean currents that moderate climate extremes making it possible to practice agriculture, oceans (formerly) full of fish, predators that keep pest populations from exploding and so on. If we were forced to provide these same services on a commercial basis, we’d be instantly bankrupt, and then, in short order, extinct. The big problem with us living on other planets is not that it’s physically impossible—though it may be—it’s that there is no way we could afford it. If we take natural wealth into account when looking at economic activity, it turns out that we consistently destroy much more wealth than we create: the economy is mostly a negative-sum game. Next, it turns out that we don’t really understand how these “ecosystem services” are maintained, beyond realizing that it’s all very complicated and highly interconnected in surprising and unexpected ways. Thus, the good fellow at the conference who was willing to sacrifice all other species for the sake of his own could never be quite sure that the species he is willing to sacrifice doesn’t include his own.
In addition, it bears remembering that we are, in fact, sacrificing our species, and have been for centuries, for the sake of something we call “progress.” Aforementioned Captain Cook sailed around the Pacific “discovering” islands that the Polynesians had discovered many centuries earlier, his randy, drunken, greedy sailors spreading venereal disease, alcoholism and corruption, and leaving ruin in their wake wherever they went. After the plague of sailors came the plague of missionaries, who made topless Tahitian women wear “Mother Hubbards” and tried to outlaw fornication. The Tahitians, being a sexually advanced culture, had a few dozen different terms for fornication, relating to a variety of sex acts. Thus the missionaries had a problem: banning any one sex act wouldn’t have made much of a dent, while a ban that enumerated them all would read like the Kama Sutra. Instead the missionaries chose to promote their own brand of sex: the “missionary position,” which is best analyzed as two positions—top and bottom. The bottom position can enhance the experience by taking a cold shower, applying blue lipstick and not breathing. I doubt that it caught on much on Tahiti.
The Tahitians seem to have persevered, but many other tribes and cultures simply perished, or continue to exist in greatly diminished numbers, so depressed by their circumstances that they are not interested in doing much beyond drinking beer, smoking cigarettes and watching television. And which group is doing the best? That’s the one that’s been causing the most damage. Thus, the rhetoric about “saving our species from extinction” seems rather misplaced: we have been doing everything we can to drive it to extinction as efficiently as possible for a few centuries now, and we aren’t about to stop because that would be uncivilized.
Because, you see, that’s who we are: we are educated, literate, civilized persons. The readers of this blog especially are economically and environmentally enlightened types, their progressivism resting on the three pillars of pointing out financial Ponzi schemes, averting environmental devastation and eating delicious, organic, locally grown food. We do wish to survive collapse, provided the survival strategy includes such items as gender equality, multiculturalism, LGBT-friendiness and nonviolence. We do not wish to take off all of our clothes and wander the outback with a digging stick looking for edible tubers. We’d rather sit around discussing green technology over a glass of craft-brewed beer (local, of course) perhaps digressing once in a while to consider the obscure yet erudite opinions of one Pederasmus of Ülm on the endless, glorious ebb and flow of human history.
We don’t want to change who we are in order to live in harmony with nature; we want nature to live in harmony with us while we remain who we are. In the meantime, we are continuing to wage war on the sorry remnants of the tribes that had once lived in balance with nature, offering them “education,” “economic development” and a chance to play a minor role in our ruinous, negative-sum economic games. Given such options, their oft-observed propensity to do nothing and stay drunk seems like a perfectly rational choice. It minimizes the damage. But the damage may already have been done. I will present just two examples of it, but if you don’t like them, there are plenty of others.
For the first, you can do your own research. Buy yourself an airline ticket to a tropical paradise of your choice and check into an oceanside resort. Wake up early in the morning and go look at the beach. You will see lots of dark-skinned people with wheelbarrows, buckets, shovels and rakes scraping up the debris that the surf deposited during the night, to make the beach look clean, safe and presentable for the tourists. Now walk along the beach and beyond the cluster of resorts and hotels, where it isn’t being continuously raked clean. You will find that it is so smothered with debris as to make it nearly impassable. There will be some material of natural origin—driftwood and seaweed—but the majority of the debris will be composed of plastic. If you try to sort through it, you will find that a lot of it is composed of polypropylene and nylon mesh and rope and styrofoam floats from the fishing industry. Another large category will consist of single-use containers: suntan lotion and shampoo bottles, detergent bottles, water bottles, fast food containers and so on. Typhoons and hurricanes have an interesting organizing effect on plastic debris, and you will find piles of motor oil jugs next to piles of plastic utensils next to piles of water bottles, as if someone actually bothered to sort them. On a beach near Tulum in México I once found an entire collection of plastic baby sandals, all of different colors, styles and vintages.
Left on the beach, the plastic trash photo-degrades over time, becoming discolored and brittle, and breaking down into smaller and smaller pieces. The final result of this process is a microscopic plastic scum, which can persist in the environment for centuries. It plays havoc with the ecosystem, because a wide variety of animals mistake the plastic particles for food and swallow them. They then clog their digestive tracts, causing them to starve. This devastation will persist for many centuries, but it has started already: the ocean is dying. Over large areas of it, plastic particles outnumber plankton, which forms the basis of the oceanic food chain.
The ravages of the plastics plague also affect land. Scraped together by sanitation crews, plastic debris is usually burned, because recycling it would be far too expensive. Plastic can be incinerated relatively safely and cleanly, but this requires extremely high temperatures, and can only be done at specialized facilities. Power plants can burn plastic as fuel, but plastic trash is a diffuse energy source, takes up a lot of space and the energy and labor costs of transporting it to power plants may render it energy-negative. And so a lot of plastic trash is burned in open pits, at low temperatures, releasing into the atmosphere a wide assortment of toxic chemicals, including ones that affect the hormonal systems of animals. Effects include genital abnormalities, sterility and obesity. Obesity has now reached epidemic proportions in many parts of the world, affecting not just the humans but other species as well. Here, then, is our future: chemical plants continue to churn out synthetic materials, most of these find their way into the environment and slowly break down, releasing their payload of toxins. As this happens, people and animals alike turn into obese, sexless blobs. First they find that they are unable to give birth to fertile male offspring. This is already happening: human sperm counts are dropping throughout the developed world. Next, they will be unable to give birth to normal male babies—ones without genital abnormalities. Next, they will be unable to produce male offspring at all, as has already happened to a number of marine species. Then they go extinct.
Note that no disaster or accident is required in order for this scenario to unfold, just more business as usual. Every time you buy a bottle of shampoo or a bottle of water, or a sandwich that comes wrapped in plastic or sealed in a vinyl box, you help it unfold a little bit further. All it takes is for the petrochemical industry (which provides the feedstocks—oil and natural gas, mostly) and the chemical plants that process them into plastics, to continue functioning normally. We don’t know whether the amount of plastics, and associated toxins, now present in the environment, is already sufficient to bring about our eventual extinction.
But we certainly don’t want to give up on synthetic chemistry and go back to a pre-1950s materials science, because that, you see, would be bad for business. Now, you probably don’t want to go extinct, but if you decided that you will anyway, you would probably want to remain comfortable and civilized down to the very end. And life without modern synthetics would be uncomfortable. We want those plastic-lined diapers, for the young and the old!
This leaves those of us who are survival-minded, on an abstract, impersonal level, wishing for the global financial, commercial and political collapse to occur sooner rather than later. Our best case scenario would go something like this: a massive loss of confidence and panic in the financial markets grips the planet over the course of a single day, pancaking all the debt pyramids and halting credit creation. Commerce stops abruptly because cargos cannot be financed. In a matter of weeks, global supply chains break down. In a matter of months, commercial activity grinds to a halt and tax revenues dwindle to zero, rendering governments everywhere irrelevant. In a matter of years, the remaining few survivors become as Captain Cook saw the aboriginal Australians: almost entirely inoffensive.
One of the first victims of collapse would be the energy companies, which are among some of the most capital-intensive enterprises. Next in line are the chemical companies that manufacture plastics and other synthetic organic chemicals and materials: as their petrochemical feedstocks become unavailable, they are forced to halt production. If we are lucky, the amount of plastic that is in the environment already turns out to be insufficient to drive us all to extinction. Human population can dwindle to as few as a dozen breeding females (the number that survived one of the ice ages, as suggested by the analysis of mitochondrial DNA) but in a dozen or so millennia the climate will probably stabilize, the Earth’s ecology recover, and with it will the human population. We may never again achieve a complex technological civilization, but at least we’ll be able to sing and dance, have children and, if we are lucky, even grow old in peace.
So far so good, but our next example makes the desirability of a swift and thorough collapse questionable. Prime exhibit is the melted-down nuclear power plant in Fukushima, Japan. Contrary to what the Japanese government would want everyone to believe, the situation there is not under any kind of control. Nobody knows what happened to the nuclear fuel from the reactors that melted down. Did they go to China, à la China Syndrome? Then there is the spent nuclear fuel pool, which is full, and leaking. If the water in that pool boils away, the fuel rods burst into flames and melt down and/or explode and then, according to some nuclear experts, it would be time to evacuate the entire northern hemisphere. The site at Fukushima is so radioactive that workers cannot go anywhere near it for any length of time, making it rather fanciful to think that they’ll be able to get the situation there under control, now or ever. But we can be sure that eventually the already badly damaged building housing the spent nuclear fuel will topple, spilling its load and initiating phase two of the disaster. After that there will be no point in anyone going to Fukushima, except to die of radiation sickness.
You might think that Fukushima is an especially bad case, but plants just like Fukushima dot the landscape throughout much of the developed world. Typically, they are built near a source of water, which they use as coolant and to run the steam turbines. Many of the ones built on rivers run the risk of the rivers drying up. Many of the ones built on the ocean are at risk of inundation from rising ocean levels, storm surges and tsunamis. Typically, they have spent fuel pools that are full of hot nuclear waste, because nobody has figured out a way to dispose of it. All of them have to be supplied with energy for many decades, or they all melt just like Fukushima. If enough of them melt and blow up, then it’s curtains for animals such as ourselves, because most of us will die of cancer before reaching sexual maturity, and the ones that do will be unable to produce healthy offspring.
I once flew through the airport in Minsk, where I crossed paths with a large group of “Chernobyl children” who were on their way to Germany for medical treatment. I took a good look at them, and that picture has stayed with me forever. What shocked me was the sheer variety of developmental abnormalities that were on display.
It seems like letting global industrial civilization collapse and all the nuclear power plants cook off is not such a good option, because it will seal our fate. But the alternative is to “extend and pretend” and “kick the can down the road” while resorting to a variety of environmentally destructive, increasingly desperate means to keep industry running: hydraulic fracturing, mining tar sands, drilling in the Arctic and so on. And this isn’t such a good option either because it will seal our fate in other ways.
And so it seems that there may not be a happy end to my story of The Five Stages of Collapse, the first three of which (financial, commercial, political) are inevitable, while the last two (social, cultural) are entirely optional but have, alas, already run their course in many parts of the world. Because, you see, there is also the sixth stage which I have previously neglected to mention—environmental collapse—at the end of which we are left without a home, having rendered Earth (our home planet) uninhabitable.
This tragic outcome may not be unavoidable. And if it is not unavoidable, then that’s about the only problem left that’s worth solving. The solution can be almost arbitrarily expensive in both life and treasure. I would humbly suggest that it’s worth all the money in the world, plus a few billion lives, because if a solution isn’t found, then that treasure and those lives are forfeit anyway.

A solution for avoiding the sixth stage must be found, but I don’t know what that solution would look like. I do find it unsafe to blithely assume that collapse will simply take care of the problem for us. Some people may find this subject matter so depressing that it makes them want to lie down (in a comfortable position, on something warm and soft) and die. But there may be others, who still have some fight left in them, and who do wish to leave a survivable planet to their children and grandchildren. Let’s not expect them to use conventional, orthodox methods, to work and play well with others, or to be polite and reasonable in dealing with the rest of us. Let’s just hope that they have a plan, and that they get on with it.

Bigger Than That- (The Difficulty Of) Looking At Climate Change In The Age Of Inhuman Scale

In Uncategorized on October 13, 2013 at 6:58 pm

Oldspeak:Some things are so big you don’t see them, or you don’t want to think about them, or you almost can’t think about them. Climate change is one of those things. It’s impossible to see the whole, because it’s everything…. it’s a complete system thrashing out of control, so that it threatens to become too hot, too cold, too dry, too wet, too wild, too destructive, too erratic for many plants and animals that depend on reliable annual cycles. It affects the entire surface of the Earth and every living thing, from the highest peaks to the depths of the oceans, from one pole to the other, from the tropics to the tundra, likely for millennia — and…it’s already here.

It’s not only bigger than everything else, it’s bigger than everything else put together.  But it’s not a sudden event like a massacre or a flood or a fire, even though it includes floods, fires, heat waves, and wild weather.  It’s an incremental shift over decades, over centuries.  It’s the definition of the big picture itself, the far-too-big picture. Which is why we have so much news about everything else, or so it seems.

To understand climate change, you need to translate figures into impacts, to think about places you’ll never see and times after you’re gone. You need to imagine sea level rise and understand its impact, to see the cause-and-effect relations between coal-fired power plants, fossil-fuel emissions, and the fate of the Earth. You need to model data in fairly sophisticated ways. You need to think like a scientist.” –Rebecca Solnit

“Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick….” -OSJ

It was the stuff of fantasy, of repeated failed expeditions and dreams that wouldn’t die.  I’m talking about the Northwest Passage, that fabled route through Arctic waters around North America.  Now, it’s reality.  The first “bulk carrier,” a Danish commercial freighter with a load of coal, just traveled from Vancouver, Canada, to Finland, cutting a week off its voyage, skipping the Panama Canal, and even, according to the Finnish steel maker Ruukki Metals, for whom the coal was intended, “reducing its greenhouse gas emissions because of fuel savings.” 

When dreams come true, it’s time to celebrate, no?  Only in this case, under the upbeat news of the immediate moment lies a far larger nightmare.  Those expeditions from the fifteenth to the twentieth centuries failed to find the Northwest Passage because Arctic sea ice made the voyage impossible.  There simply was no passage.  No longer.  Thanks to global warming, the melting of ice — glaciers are losing an estimated 303 billion tons of the stuff annually worldwide — staggers the imagination.  The Greenland ice shield is turning into runoff ever more rapidly, threatening significant sea level rise, and all of the melting in the cold north has, in turn, opened a previously nonexistent Northwest Passage, as well as a similar passage through Russia’s Arctic waters.

None of this would have happened, as the prestigious Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change pointed out in its latest report, if not for the way the burning of fossil fuels (like that coal the Nordic Orion took to Finland) has poured carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.  In other words, we created that Arctic passage and made it commercially viable, thus ensuring that our world, the one we’ve known since the dawn of (human) time, will be ever less viable for our children and grandchildren.  After all, the Arctic with its enormous reservoirs of fossil fuels can now begin to be opened up for exploitation like so much of the rest of the planet.  And there can be no doubt about it: those previously unreachable reserves will be extracted and burned, putting yet more CO2 into the atmosphere, and anyone who tries to stop that process, as Greenpeace protestors symbolically tried to do recently at an oil rig in Arctic Russia, will be dealt with firmly as “pirates” or worse.  That dream of history, of explorers from once upon a time, is now not just a reality, but part of a seemingly inexorable feedback loop of modern fossil-fuel production and planetary heating, another aspect of what Michael Klare has grimly termed the Third Carbon Age (rather than a new Age of Renewables).

If we don’t need a little perspective on ourselves and our world now, then when? Fortunately, TomDispatch regular Rebecca Solnit is here to offer us both that perspective and some hope for what we can do in the face of well-funded climate denialism and fossil-fuel company boosterism”. –Tom

By Rebecca Solnit @ TomsDispatch:

Late last week, in the lobby of a particularly unglamorous downtown San Francisco building, a group of passionate but polite activists met with a bureaucrat who stepped forward to hear what they had to say about the fate of the Earth. The activists wanted to save the world.  The particular part of it that might be under their control involved getting the San Francisco Retirement board to divest its half a billion dollars in fossil fuel holdings, one piece of the international divestment movement that arose a year ago.

Sometimes the fate of the Earth boils down to getting one person with modest powers to budge.

The bureaucrat had a hundred reasons why changing course was, well, too much of a change. This public official wanted to operate under ordinary-times rules and the idea that climate change has thrust us into extraordinary times (and that divesting didn’t necessarily entail financial loss or even financial risk) was apparently too much to accept.

The mass media aren’t exactly helping. Last Saturday, for instance, the New York Times gave its story on the International Panel on Climate Change’s six-years-in-the-making report on the catastrophic future that’s already here below-the-fold front-page placement, more or less equal to that given a story on the last episode of Breaking Bad. The end of the second paragraph did include this quote: “In short, it threatens our planet, our only home.” But the headline (“U.N. Climate Panel Endorses Ceiling on Global Emissions”) and the opening paragraph assured you this was dull stuff. Imagine a front page that reported your house was on fire right now, but that some television show was more exciting.

Sometimes I wish media stories were organized in proportion to their impact.  Unfortunately, when it comes to climate change, there is not paper enough on this planet to properly scale up a story to the right size.  If you gave it the complete front page to suggest its import, you would then have to print the rest of the news at some sort of nanoscale and include an electron microscope for reading ease.

Hold up your hand. It’s so big it can block out the sun, though you know that the sun is so much bigger. Now look at the news: in column inches and airtime, a minor controversy or celebrity may loom bigger than the planet. The problem is that, though websites and print media may give us the news, they seldom give us the scale of the news or a real sense of the proportional importance of one thing compared to another.  And proportion, scale, is the main news we need right now — maybe always.

As it happens, we’re not very good at looking at the biggest things. They may be bigger than we can see, or move more slowly than we have the patience to watch for or remember or piece together, or they may cause impacts that are themselves complex and dispersed and stretch into the future. Scandals are easier.  They are on a distinctly human scale, the scale of lust, greed, and violence. We like those, we understand them, we get mired in them, and mostly they mean little or nothing in the long run (or often even in the short run).

A resident in a town on the northwest coast of Japan told me that the black 70-foot-high wave of water coming at him on March 11, 2011, was so huge that, at first, he didn’t believe his eyes. It was the great Tohoku tsunami, which killed about 20,000 people. A version of such cognitive dissonance occurred in 1982, when NASA initially rejected measurements of the atmosphere above Antarctica because they indicated such a radical loss of ozone that the computer program just threw out the data.

Some things are so big you don’t see them, or you don’t want to think about them, or you almost can’t think about them. Climate change is one of those things. It’s impossible to see the whole, because it’s everything. It’s not just a seven-story-tall black wave about to engulf your town, it’s a complete system thrashing out of control, so that it threatens to become too hot, too cold, too dry, too wet, too wild, too destructive, too erratic for many plants and animals that depend on reliable annual cycles. It affects the entire surface of the Earth and every living thing, from the highest peaks to the depths of the oceans, from one pole to the other, from the tropics to the tundra, likely for millennia — and it’s not just coming like that wave, it’s already here.

It’s not only bigger than everything else, it’s bigger than everything else put together.  But it’s not a sudden event like a massacre or a flood or a fire, even though it includes floods, fires, heat waves, and wild weather.  It’s an incremental shift over decades, over centuries.  It’s the definition of the big picture itself, the far-too-big picture. Which is why we have so much news about everything else, or so it seems.

To understand climate change, you need to translate figures into impacts, to think about places you’ll never see and times after you’re gone. You need to imagine sea level rise and understand its impact, to see the cause-and-effect relations between coal-fired power plants, fossil-fuel emissions, and the fate of the Earth. You need to model data in fairly sophisticated ways. You need to think like a scientist.

Given the demands of the task and the muddle of the mainstream media, it’s remarkable that so many people get it, and that they do so despite massive, heavily funded petroleum industry propaganda campaigns is maybe a victory, if not enough of one.

Four months ago, two bombers in Boston murdered three people and injured hundreds in a way spectacularly calculated to attract media attention, and the media obeyed with alacrity. Climate change probably fueled the colossal floods around Boulder, Colorado, that killed seven people in mid-September, but amid the copious coverage, it was barely mentioned in the media. Similarly, in Mexico, 115 people died in unprecedented floods in the Acapulco area (no significant mention of climate change), while floods reportedly are halving Pakistan’s economic growth (no significant mention), and 166 bodies were found in the wake of the latest Indian floods (no significant mention).

Climate change is taking hundreds of thousands of lives in Africa every year in complex ways whose causes and effects are difficult to follow. Forest fires, very likely enhanced by climate change, took the lives of 19 firefighters facing Arizona blazes amid record heat waves in July.  Again, climate change generally wasn’t the headline on that story.

(For the record, climate change is clearly helping to produce many of the bigger, more destructive, more expensive, more frequent disasters of our time, but it is impossible to point to any one of them and say definitely, this one is climate change.  It’s like trying to say which cancers in a contaminated area were caused by the contamination; you can’t, but what you can say is that the overall rise in cancer is connected.)

Not quite a year ago, a climate-change-related hurricane drowned people when superstorm Sandy hit a place that doesn’t usually experience major hurricane impact, let alone storm surges that submerge amusement parks, the New York City subway system, and the Jersey shore. In that disaster, 148 people died directly, nearly that many indirectly, losses far greater than from any terrorist incident in this country other than that great anomaly, 9/11. The weather has now become man-made violence, though no one thinks of it as terrorism, in part because there’s no smoking gun or bomb — unless you have the eyes to see and the data to look at, in which case the smokestacks of coal plants start to look gun-like and the hands of energy company CEOs and well-paid-off legislators begin to morph into those of bombers.

Even the civil war in Syria may be a climate-change war of sorts: over the past several years, the country has been hit by its worst drought in modern times. Climate and Security analyst Francesco Femia says, “Around 75 percent of [Syrian] farmers suffered total crop failure, so they moved into the cities. Farmers in the northeast lost 80 percent of their livestock, so they had to leave and find livelihoods elsewhere. They all moved into urban areas — urban areas that were already experiencing economic insecurity due to an influx of Iraqi and Palestinian refugees. But this massive displacement mostly wasn’t reported. So it wasn’t factoring into various security analyses. People assumed Syria was relatively stable compared to Egypt.”

Column Inches, Glacial Miles

We like to think about morality and sex and the lives of people we’ve gotten to know in some fashion. We know how to do it. It’s on a distinctly human scale. It’s disturbing in a reassuring way.  We fret about it and feel secure in doing so. Now, everything’s changed, and our imaginations need to keep pace with that change. What is human scale anyway? These days, after all, we split atoms and tinker with genes and can melt an ice sheet. We were designed to think about human-scale phenomena, and now that very phrase is almost as meaningless as old terms like “glacial,” which used to mean slow-moving and slow to change.

Nowadays glaciers are melting rapidly or disappearing entirely, and some — those in Greenland, for example — have gushing rivers of ice water eating through their base. If the whole vast Greenland ice sheet were to melt, it could raise global sea levels by 23 feet.

We tend to think about climate change as one or two or five things: polar ice, glaciers melting, sea-level rise, heat waves, maybe droughts. Now, however, we need to start adding everything else into the mix: the migration of tropical diseases, the proliferation of insect pests, crop failures and declining crop yields leading to widespread hunger and famine, desertification and flooded zones and water failures leading to mass population shifts, resource wars, and so many other things that have to do with the widest systems of life on Earth, affecting health, the global economy, food systems, water systems, and energy systems.

It is almost impossibly scary and painful to contemplate the radical decline and potential death of the oceans that cover 70% of the Earth’s surface and the dramatic decrease of plankton, which do more than any other type of organism to sequester carbon and produce oxygen — a giant forest in microscopic form breathing in what we produce, breathing out what we need, keeping the whole system going. If you want to read something really terrifying, take a look at the rise of the Age of Jellyfish in this review of Lisa-Ann Gershwin’s book Stung!: On Jellyfish Blooms and the Future of the Ocean. Maybe read it even if you don’t.

Only remember that like so much about climate change we used to imagine as a grim future, that future is increasingly here and now. In this case, in the form of millions or maybe billions of tons of jellyfish proliferating globally and devouring plankton, fish eggs, small fish, and bigger creatures in the sea we love, we know, we count on, we feed on, and now even clogging the water-intake pipes of nuclear power plants. In the form of seashells dissolving in acidic waters from the Pacific Northwest to the Antarctic Ocean. In the form of billions of pine-bark beetles massacring the forests of the American West, from Arizona to Alaska, one bite at a time.

It’s huge. I think about it, and I read about it, following blogs at Weather Underground, various climate websites, the emails of environmental groups, the tweets of people at 350.org, and bits and pieces of news on the subject that straggle into the mainstream and alternative media. Then I lose sight of it. I think about everything and anything else; I get caught up in old human-scale news that fits into my frameworks so much more easily. And then I remember, and regain my sense of proportion, or disproportion.

The Great Wall, Brick by Brick

The changes required to address climate change are colossal, but they are made up of increments and steps and stages that are more than possible. Many are already underway, both as positive changes (adaptation of renewable energy, increased energy efficiency, new laws, policies, and principles) and as halts to destruction (for example, all the coal-fired plants that have not been built in recent years and the Tar Sands pipeline that, but for popular resistance, would already be sending its sludge from Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico). The problem is planetary in scale, but there is room to mitigate the worst-case scenarios, and that room is full of activists at work. Much of that work consists of small-scale changes.

As Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune put it last week, “Here’s the single most important thing you need to know about the IPCC report: It’s not too late. We still have time to do something about climate disruption. The best estimate from the best science is that we can limit warming from human-caused carbon pollution to less than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit — if we act now. Bottom line: Our house is on fire. Rather than argue about how fast it’s burning, we need to start throwing buckets of water.”

There are buckets and bucket brigades. For example, the movement to get universities, cities, churches, and other entities to divest their holdings of the top 200 fossil-fuel stocks could have major consequences. If it works, it will be achieved through dedicated groups on this campus or in that city competing in a difficult sport: budging bureaucrats. It’s already succeeded in some key places, from the city of Seattle to the national United Church of Christ, and hundreds of campaigns are underway across the United States and in some other countries.

My heroes are now people who can remain engaged with climate change’s complex and daunting facts and still believe that we have some leeway to determine what happens. They insist on looking directly at the black wall of water, and they focus on what we can do about the peril we face, and then they do it. They do their best to understand scale and science, and their dedication and clarity comes from connecting their hearts to their minds.

I hear people who are either uninformed or who are justifying disengagement say that it’s too late and what we do won’t matter, but it does matter, because a rise in the global temperature of two degrees Celsius is going to be very, very different from, say, five degrees Celsius for almost everything living on Earth now and for millennia to come. And there are still many things that can be done, both to help us adapt to the radical change on the way and to limit the degree of change to which we’ll have to adapt. Because it’s already risen .8 degrees and that’s been a disaster — many, many disasters.

I spent time over the last several months with the stalwarts carrying on a campaign to get San Francisco to divest from its energy stocks. In the beginning, it seemed easy enough. City Supervisor John Avalos introduced a nonbinding resolution to the Board of Supervisors, and to everyone’s surprise it passed unanimously in April on a voice vote. But the board turned out only to have the power to recommend that the San Francisco Retirement Board do the real work of divesting its vast holdings of fossil-fuel stocks. The retirement board was a tougher nut to crack.

Its main job, after all, is to ensure a safe and profitable pension fund and in that sense, energy companies have, in the past, been good investments. To continue on such a path is to be “smart about the market.” The market, in the meantime, is working hard at not imagining the financial impact of climate change.

The failure of major food sources, including fishing stocks and agricultural crops, and the resultant mass hunger and instability — see Syria — is going to impact the market. Retirees in the beautiful Bay Area are going feel it if the global economy crashes, the region fills with climate refugees, the spectacularly productive state agricultural system runs dry or roasts, and the oceans rise on our scenic coasts. It’s a matter of scale.  Your investments are not independent of nature, even if fossil-fuel companies remain, for a time, profitable while helping destroying the world as humanity has known it.

Some reliable sources now argue that fossil-fuel stocks are not good investments, that they’re volatile for a number of reasons and due to crash. The IPCC report makes it clear that we need to leave most of the planet’s fossil fuel reserves in the ground in the coming decades, that the choice is either to fry the planet or freeze the assets of the carbon companies. Activists are now doing their best to undermine the value of the big carbon-energy corporations, and governments clued in to the new IPCC report will likely join them in trying to keep the oil, gas, and coal in the ground — the fossil fuel that is also much of the worth of these corporations on paper. If we’re lucky, we’ll make them crash. So divesting can be fiscally sound, and there is a very strong case that it can be done without economic impact. But the crucial thing here isn’t the financial logistics of divestment; it’s the necessity of grasping the scale of things, understanding the colossal nature of the problem and the need to address it, in part, by pressuring one small group or one institution in one place.

To grasp this involves a feat of imagination and, I think, a leap of faith: a kind of conviction about what matters, about living according to principle, about understanding what is too big to be seen with your own eyes, about correlating data on a range of scales. A lot of people I know do it. If we are to pull back from the brink of catastrophe, it will be because of their vision and their faith. You might want to thank them now, and while your words are nice, so are donations. Or you might want to join them.

That there is a widespread divestment movement right now is due to the work of a few people who put forth the plan less than a year ago at 350.org. The president has already mentioned it, and hundreds of colleges are now in the midst of or considering the process of divesting, with cities, churches, and other institutions joining the movement. It takes a peculiar kind of genius to see the monster and to see that it might begin to be pushed back by small actions — by, in fact, actions on a distinctly human scale that could still triumph over the increasingly inhuman scale of our era.

Hold up your hand. It looks puny in relation to the sun, but the other half of the equation of scale is seeing that something as small as that hand, as your own powers, as your own efforts, can matter. The cathedral is made stone by stone, and the book is written word by word.

If there is to be an effort to respond to climate change, it will need to make epic differences in economics, in ecologies, in the largest and most powerful systems around us. Though the goals may be heroic, they will be achieved mostly through an endless accumulation of small gestures.

Those gestures are in your hands, and everyone’s. Or they could be if we learned to see the true scale of things, including how big we can be together.

Rebecca Solnit writes regularly for TomDispatch, works a little with 350.org, and is hanging out a lot in 2013 with the newly arrived Martin, Thyri, Bija Milagro, and Camilo, who will be 80 in the unimaginable year of 2093. Her most recent book is The Faraway Nearby.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook or Tumblr. Check out the newest Dispatch book, Nick Turse’s The Changing Face of Empire: Special Ops, Drones, Proxy Fighters, Secret Bases, and Cyberwarfare.

 

 

A False Choice For The Ages – Capitalism Or The Environment: On A Dying Planet You Can’t Have Both

In Uncategorized on October 8, 2013 at 11:40 am

https://theoldspeakjournal.files.wordpress.com/2013/10/698e1-cap_env.jpgOldspeak: “The capitalist drive to maximize profits explains the externalizing of environmental costs. Capitalism allows small minorities to profit at the expense of others. Private ownership of what are social means of livelihood allows capitalists to make decisions that pass the real costs of industry to communities, workers, future generations and other species… Worse, capitalism requires constant growth because it always needs more profit. Making ever more profit is what motivates people to make investments. But what happens when the environment needs a smaller human footprint? When, at least in wealthier countries, we must learn to live with much less stuff? Supporters of capitalism claim the system is based on freedom and choice, but when it comes to the environment for many people this amounts to the freedom to choose between destroying the planet or having a job…. The business pages are full of stories quoting the captains of the carbon-industrial complex as telling us what amounts to: “You must choose between economic prosperity and what is good for the environment, because you can’t have both.”…some so-called environmentalists look to capitalism for solutions. That’s like asking the fox to fix the hen-house. You can’t be a serious environmentalist and support capitalism. A sustainable economy is incompatible with a system that constantly demands more profit.” –Gary Engler

“How do we free ourselves from the ruthlessly cannibalistic drives of our hyper-violent, destructive and unsustainable economic system & choose the life of our planet, and by extension, us, over the extractive, exploitative, real cost externalizing, computer generated “profit” generating machine that is Capitalism? A fellow blogger over at Cyber Street Soap Co.  has the idea OSJ has been advocating for years- Withdraw your support for it. When they says “…freedom must be built from the inside out, starting with yourself. It cannot be done by sitting in your comfy home “truthing” about our evil rulers. It can’t even be done by standing around with a sign, after which you will probably return to your comfy home feeling all proud of yourself, then go back to your shit corporate job because you “need the money.” Sorry, but this just won’t work….As long as you keep laboring for their corporations to get some of their money, so you can continue buying their products in their fucking stores… nothing will change. Period. If you continue obeying their laws and seeking their permission, nothing will change. But if enough of us stop playing into their system, real things will happen. Not one shot needs to be fired. Not one fist needs to be raised in violence (or even protest) against our leaders. If you stop watering the plant, the plant will wither away. Simple.” -Bradely Durden. We have no choice. We simply cannot continue to support a system that is slowing and surely destroying us and our planet. Planet must trump “profit” and “growth”. We must make the environment and its continued sustainablility the center of our economic system. “we must hardwire the health of the ecosystem directly to the standard measurements of economic health so that the state of the environment is immediately visible in all economic transactions. Global finance, trade and investment must all be conducted within a system that makes the preservation of the climate, rather than profit, the highest priority. One possible approach is the introduction of a global “eco-currency.” The international community would establish an international currency, an “eco-currency,” whose value is linked directly to the state of the climate (both globally and locally) and that currency would serve either as a universal currency within which international transactions take place, or it could be a factor that significantly impacts all the global currencies.” –Emanuel Pastreich. The end of the world as we know it is the only possible outcome if we continue on this omnicidal course. There is no Capitalism on a dead planet.” -OSJ

By Gary Engler @ Dissident Voice:

If all you care about is making more stuff, capitalism may be the best system ever. But if you want to save the planet from environmental catastrophe our current economic system is a dead end.

I remember in my socialist youth often being told: “Your ideas sound good but that’s just not how things work in real life.”

In my socialist sixties these same words seem appropriate as an analysis of mainstream environmentalism today.

Here is the harsh reality:

The capitalist drive to maximize profits explains the externalizing of environmental costs. Capitalism allows small minorities to profit at the expense of others. Private ownership of what are social means of livelihood allows capitalists to make decisions that pass the real costs of industry to communities, workers, future generations and other species.

Worse, capitalism requires constant growth because it always needs more profit. Making ever more profit is what motivates people to make investments. But what happens when the environment needs a smaller human footprint? When, at least in wealthier countries, we must learn to live with much less stuff?

All the evidence shows capitalism is really lousy at dealing with declining markets. Every time the economy shrinks for a sustained period capitalism goes into a crisis. Banks crash, unemployment rises and wars are often necessary to get capitalism out of its crisis.

Supporters of capitalism claim the system is based on freedom and choice, but when it comes to the environment for many people this amounts to the freedom to choose between destroying the planet or having a job. The promoters of tar sands, fracking, coal mining and pipelines are explicit about this and, in fact, go even further. The business pages are full of stories quoting the captains of the carbon-industrial complex as telling us what amounts to: “You must choose between economic prosperity and what is good for the environment, because you can’t have both.”

If we continue with capitalism, they are correct.

Yet some so-called environmentalists look to capitalism for solutions. That’s like asking the fox to fix the hen house. You can’t be a serious environmentalist and support capitalism. A sustainable economy is incompatible with a system that constantly demands more profit.

Now that the human population has passed seven billion, it should be obvious that we inhabit a planet of finite resources. But population growth is not the problem. Human energy remains our most precious and underutilized resource. Once basic material needs for food, clothing, housing and health care have been met, human well-being depends less on consumption than on opportunities for education, employment, social participation and social recognition.

Science leaves little reasonable doubt that the burning of currently known reserves of coal, oil and natural gas will push atmospheric carbon dioxide levels past a tipping point, after which rising global temperatures will irreversibly undermine the conditions on which human life as we know it depends.

Despite the weight of evidence and the urgency of the problem, capitalism rests on the expansion of fossil fuel production and use.

Around the planet trillions of dollars are being spent to develop massive deposits of shale oil and gas. In Canada capitalist investment is focused on expanding oil production from tar sands. The promoters claim that these developments will create jobs. But the funds required to develop and transport that fuel will create far fewer jobs than would be produced if equivalent amounts were spent on the development of solar, wind and geothermal power. Far more jobs could be produced with investments in domestic employment for domestic markets, in the production and distribution of local agriculture, clothing, shoes and communications products. More jobs would be created by investments in child care, elder care, social housing, public transit and other green infrastructure.

But capitalism prefers investments in fossil fuels because corporate profits now largely depend on cheap fuel. Equivalent profits cannot be made meeting actual human needs.

So, we have some important choices to make: Support capitalism or support the environment. Build a different sort of economic system that can prosper in harmony with the environment or fiddle with capitalism as our planet burns.

Gary Engler is an elected union officer and co-author of the just released New Commune-ist Manifesto — Workers of the World It Really is Time to Unite, an updating of the original designed to provoke discussion about the future of unions and the Left. Read other articles by Gary.

Scientists Warn ‘Mass Extinction’ In Seas May Be Underway

In Uncategorized on October 7, 2013 at 8:28 pm

Oldspeak: “Humankind faces an immediate and pressing choice between exerting ecological restraint and allowing global ecological catastrophe….as with terrestrial ecosystems, humankind has been expanding the natural capital of the ocean with little restraint…. although concealed beneath the waves, the evidence of wholesale degradation and destruction of the marine realm is clear, made manifest by the collapse of entire fisheries and the growth of deoxygenated dead zones, for example. The cumulative result of our actions is a serial decline in the ocean’s health and resilience; it is becoming demonstrably less able to survive the pressures exerted upon it, and this will become even more evident as the added pressures of climate change exacerbate the situation…The belief among scientists is that the window of opportunity to take action is narrow. There is little time left in which we can still act to prevent irreversible, catastrophic changes to marine ecosystems as we see them today…. Failure to do so will cause such large-scale changes to the ocean, and to the overall planetary system it supports, that we may soon find ourselves without the natural capital and ecosystem services necessary to maintain sustainable economies and societies as we know them, even in affluent countries…Without significant changes in the policies that influence human interactions with the marine environment, the current rate of ecosystem change and collapse will accelerate and direct consequences will be felt by all societies. Without decisive and effective action, no region or country will be immune from the socioeconomic upheaval and environmental catastrophe that will take place – possibly within the span of the current generation and certainly by the end of the century. It is likely to be a disaster that challenges human civilisation” –International Programme on the State of the Ocean Report (2013)

This is no small thing. The scientists note that each of the earth’s five known mass extinctions was preceded by at least one of the “deadly trio”—acidification, warming and deoxygenation—and said they fear that “the next mass extinction” of sea life is already underway, the first in some 55 million years.” –Scott Martelle

“The Situation couldn’t be more clear. The “deadly trio”  that preceded all other mass extinctions are in full bloom across the globe There is a very narrow window for possibly averting global ecological catastrophe. Yet if you spend any time watching fossil fuel and bankster corporation financed infotainement outlets, the wholly manufactured crises of ” U.S. Government “Shutdown” (except for 90% of military personnel btw) and “debt ceiling debate” are the most dire threats to humanity. And still we ever more “drill baby drill” permanently destroying countless watersheds. Untold species of life going extinct. Less oxygen in the seas and air than pre-industrial times as we relentlessly cut down the ancient forests that clean our air for paper to blow our noses and wipe our asses. This is not sustainable. Seems like substantive change will not come until it’s far too late to matter” -OSJ

Related Story:

Life Or Death in the Open Seas

By Scott Martelle @ Truthdig:

Remember the articles about how the ocean was absorbing more carbon and heat, giving us a slight reprieve from the effects of global warming? Not so good for the ocean, it turns out. Scientists from the International Programme on the State of the Ocean warn in a new report that the seas are changing much more rapidly than previously thought, and becoming increasingly inhospitable to life.

The ocean is shielding us from the worst effects of accelerating climate change by absorbing excess CO2 and heat from the atmosphere. The twin effects of this — acidification and ocean warming — are combining with increased levels of deoxygenation, caused by nutrient run-off from agriculture near the coast, and by climate change offshore, to produce what has become known as the ocean’s ‘deadly trio’ of threats whose impacts are potentially far greater because of the interaction of one on another. The scale and rate of this change is unprecedented in Earth’s known history and is exposing organisms to intolerable and unpredictable evolutionary pressure.

This is no small thing. The scientists note that each of the earth’s five known mass extinctions was preceded by at least one of the “deadly trio”—acidification, warming and deoxygenation—and said they fear that “the next mass extinction” of sea life is already underway, the first in some 55 million years. Given the role of the ocean in the worldwide ecosystem, from the plankton that absorb sun energy to the fish we eat—more about that in a moment—the rapid poisoning of the seas will have grave consequences for nearly all species. “These impacts will have cascading consequences for marine biology, including altered food web dynamics and the expansion of pathogens,” the report said.

Some of these conclusions were contained in a 2011 IPSO report, but the new one says the changes underway are occurring at a much faster and more intense rate than previously believed.

And then there’s the overfishing and poor fisheries management to add another stressor to the biological health of the seas:

Continued overfishing is serving to further undermine the resilience of ocean systems, and contrary to some claims, despite some improvements largely in developed regions, fisheries management is still failing to halt the decline of key species and damage to the ecosystems on which marine life depends. In 2012 the UN FAO determined that 70% of world fish populations are unsustainably exploited, of which 30% have biomass collapsed to less than 10% of unfished levels. A recent global assessment of compliance with Article 7 (fishery management) of the 1995 FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, awarded 60% of countries a “fail” grade, and saw no country identified as being overall “good.”

They offer some potential steps to lessen the impact, but given the lack of international response to the looming ecological crisis, don’t expect much action in this issue, either. Still, the scientists says the world community should:

—Cut global carbon dioxide emissions enough to limit the global temperature rise to less than 2 degrees Celsius. They note that “current targets for carbon emission reductions are insufficient in terms of ensuring coral reef survival and other biological effects of acidification.” And they say that current models don’t include added effects on the atmosphere from methane release from a melted permafrost and coral dieback, which “mean the consequences for human and ocean life could be even worse than presently calculated.”

—Emphasize small-scale fisheries, seek regional cooperation for management of shared environments and ban “destructive fishing gear” with laws that are enforced.

—“Build a global infrastructure for high seas governance that is fit-for-purpose. Most importantly, secure a new implementing agreement for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction under the auspices of” the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Radiation Levels At Crippled Fukushima Nuclear Plant Soar Over 20% To Record High; Hits 2,200 mSv And Rising

In Uncategorized on September 6, 2013 at 12:46 pm
An aerial view shows Tokyo Electric Power Co. (Tepco's) tsunami-crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant and its contaminated water storage tanks (bottom) in Fukushima, in this file photo taken by Kyodo 20 August 2013

Tepco faces a major challenge to safely store contaminated water at Fukushima

Oldspeak: “Meanwhile, news from the Department Of Existential Threats…  Years later, the ongoing global ecological disaster that keeps on giving is giving ALOT MORE lately. And still no one knows how to stop it. Now there’s talk of freezing the earth around the plant creating an “ice wall” to prevent further groundwater contamination. Riiiiight… Given the fact that radioactive water has been continuously leaking from the reactors, spent fuel pools & multiple storage tanks for years into the surrounding ground, air, and ocean, while defects in the storage tanks make it probable that they’ll ALL leak at some point, this seems like  too little too late, and a colossal waste of time and energy. The overarching fact of the matter is there is no safe way to store nuclear waste products. This catastrophe will only get worse as time passes, and there’s not much anyone can do about it. Thankfully, the silence on this crisis is being broken ” –OSJ

Related Stories:

Record Radiation Readings Near Fukishima Contaminated Water Tanks

By BBC News Asia:

Radiation levels around tanks storing contaminated water at Japan’s crippled Fukushima nuclear plant have risen by a fifth to a new high, officials say.

Ground readings near one set of tanks stood at 2,200 millisieverts (mSv) on Tuesday, the plant operator and Japan’s nuclear authority said.

Saturday’s reading was 1,800 mSv.

Last month, plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) said it had found highly contaminated water leaking from a storage tank.

Other leaks have also been reported, prompting the government on Tuesday to pledge 47bn yen ($473m, £304m) in funding to tackle the problem.

The spike in radiation levels found on Tuesday was in the same area where the 1,800 mSv level was detected on Saturday, a spokeswoman from Tepco told Bloomberg.

The readings are thought to be high enough to provide a lethal radiation dose to someone standing near contaminated areas without protective gear within hours.

But Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) also said the areas were easily contained.

‘Drastic measures’

The earthquake and tsunami in March 2011 knocked out cooling systems to reactors at the Fukushima plant, three of which melted down.

Water is now being pumped in to cool the reactors, but storing the resultant large quantities of radioactive water has proved a challenge for Tepco.

The process creates an extra 400 tonnes of contaminated water every day, which must be stored in temporary tanks.

But leaks of contaminated water, both from the tanks, pipes and through damaged structures, have been a persistent problem. Groundwater from the hills surrounding the plant also flows down and into the radioactive areas.

Under the government plan announced on Tuesday, a wall of frozen earth will be created around the reactors using pipes filled with coolant. This aims to prevent groundwater coming into contact with contaminated water being used to cool fuel rods.

Water treatment systems would also be upgraded to tackle the build-up of contaminated water, officials said.

On Wednesday, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told journalists in Tokyo that the government was willing “to take drastic measures of a maximum scale” to resolve the issue ahead of the 2020 summer Olympic Games.

“We are aware of concerns over the issue of contaminated water leakages at Fukushima, the government will take charge and will definitely resolve this problem,” he said.

Tokyo is a candidate as a host nation for the Olympics, and the decision is expected in days.

West Coast Of North America To Be Hit Hard By Fukushima Radiation That Could Be 10 Times Higher Than In Japan

In Uncategorized on August 27, 2013 at 5:29 pm

https://i0.wp.com/iprc.soest.hawaii.edu/news/marine_and_tsunami_debris/2011/11_04_maximenko_tsunami_debris/map_of_trajectory_med.jpgOldspeak” This ongoing and uncontrolled ecological catastrophe continues, with no end in sight. Untold billions of tons of water are being dumped into the Pacific ocean by the Japanese. The contamination is expected to get worse as time passes and impact Baja California and other North American west coast hotspots. And no one knows how to fix it. “Last year, scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory and 3 scientists from the GEOMAR Research Center for Marine Geosciences showed that radiation on the West Coast of North America could end up being 10 times higher than in Japan“. These are reputable research scientists saying this. Yet, universal silence in state media. Citizens from Hawaii to Alaska to Baja should be demanding information about what’s going on and what’s being done in response to the threat. The civil war in Syria is infinitesimally less threatening to the millions of people to be affected.” –OSJ

By Washington’s Blog:

Radiation Levels Will Concentrate in Pockets In Baja California and Other West Coast Locations

An ocean current called the North Pacific Gyre is bringing Japanese radiation to the West Coast of North America:

North Pacific Subtropical Convergence Zone FDA Refuses to Test Fish for Radioactivity ... Government Pretends Radioactive Fish Is Safe

The leg of the Gyre closest to Japan – the Kuroshio current – begins right next to Fukushima:

Kuroshio Current - Colour show water speed.  Blue slowest; red fastest

While many people assume that the ocean will dilute the Fukushima radiation, a previously-secret 1955 U.S. government report concluded that the ocean may not adequately dilute radiation from nuclear accidents, and there could be “pockets” and “streams” of highly-concentrated radiation.

The University of Hawaii’s International Pacific Research Center created a graphic showing the projected dispersion of debris from Japan (see pic at top)

Last year, scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory and 3 scientists from the GEOMAR Research Center for Marine Geosciences showed that radiation on the West Coast of North America could end up being 10 times higher than in Japan:

After 10 years the concentrations become nearly homogeneous over the whole Pacific, with higher values in the east, extending along the North American coast with a maximum (~1 × 10−4) off Baja California. 

***

With caution given to the various idealizations (unknown actual oceanic state during release, unknown release area, no biological effects included, see section 3.4), the following conclusions may be drawn. (i) Dilution due to swift horizontal and vertical dispersion in the vicinity of the energetic Kuroshio regime leads to a rapid decrease of radioactivity levels during the first 2 years, with a decline of near-surface peak concentrations to values around 10 Bq m−3 (based on a total input of 10 PBq). The strong lateral dispersion, related to the vigorous eddy fields in the mid-latitude western Pacific, appears significantly under-estimated in the non-eddying (0.5°) model version. (ii) The subsequent pace of dilution is strongly reduced, owing to the eastward advection of the main tracer cloud towards the much less energetic areas of the central and eastern North Pacific. (iii) The magnitude of additional peak radioactivity should drop to values comparable to the pre-Fukushima levels after 6–9 years (i.e. total peak concentrations would then have declined below twice pre-Fukushima levels). (iv) By then the tracer cloud will span almost the entire North Pacific, with peak concentrations off the North American coast an order-of-magnitude higher than in the western Pacific.

(“Order-of-magnitude” is a scientific term which means 10 times higher.  The “Western Pacific” means Japan’s East Coast.)

In May, a team of scientists from Spain, Australia and France concluded that the radioactive cesium would look more like this:
And a team of top Chinese scientists has just published a study in the Science China Earth Sciences journal showing that the radioactive plume crosses the ocean in a nearly straight line toward North America, and that it appears to stay together with little dispersion:

On March 30, 2011, the Japan Central News Agency reported the monitored radioactive pollutions that were 4000 times higher than the standard level. Whether or not these nuclear pollutants will be transported to the Pacific-neighboring countries through oceanic circulations becomes a world-wide concern.

***

The time scale of the nuclear pollutants reaching the west coast of America is 3.2 years if it is estimated using the surface drifting buoys and 3.9 years if it is estimated using the nuclear pollutant particulate tracers.

***

The half life of cesium-137 is so long that it produces more damage to human. Figure 4 gives the examples of the distribution of the impact strength of Cesium-137 at year 1.5 (panel (a)), year 3.5 (panel (b)), and year 4 (panel (c)).

***

It is worth noting that due to the current near the shore cannot be well reconstructed by the global ocean reanalysis, some nuclear pollutant particulate tracers may come to rest in near shore area, which may result in additional uncertainty in the estimation of the impact strength.

***

Since the major transport mechanism of nuclear pollutants for the west coast of America is the Kuroshio-extension currents, after four years, the impact strength of Cesium-137 in the west coast area of America is as high as 4%.

Note: Even low levels of radiation can harm health.

Climate Warming Slows 10 Years Ahead Of Scientists Predictions; Unable To Account For Heat “Lost” In Deep Sea

In Uncategorized on July 30, 2013 at 7:28 pm

Oldspeak: “The planet’s temperature has indeed been rising, but the attendant heat has been swallowed up in the deep sea: that somewhere below the 700 metre level, the oceans are warming. The oceans cover 70% of the planet, often to huge depths, and can easily “lose” the predicted increased heat of a decade or so….New data has continued to deliver telltale evidence of the dominant role of human influence on the climate system.  But the slowdown also tells scientists there are still things they don’t understand in detail about how that system works. There is as yet no clear answer as to why heat – which tends to rise rather than sink – has been submerged to such depths.” –Tim Radford

“Hmmm. How reassured should we be exactly that climate scientists are giving themselves an over 10 YEAR MARGIN OF ERROR  in predicting changes in the climate system?! Meanwhile, we’re constantly pumping trillions of cubic yards of toxins, radioactive elements, greenhouse gasses and hazardous chemicals into a climate system we’re pretty certain human activity is adversely impacting and a system we don’t really understand. Even as it is failing.  To the point where HEAT IS FALLING, NOT RISING. How do you think this story will turn out? Tick, Tick, Tick, Tick, Tick, Tick, Tick, Tick, Tick…..” -OSJ

By Tim Radford @ Climate News Network:

Here is an interim update on the uncertain future of climate change: it remains uncertain and all forecasts are, for the time being, interim. British scientists say that global warming has slowed down.

Their climate models predicted periods in which warming would slow before speeding up again, and this slowing down is within their calculated limits of uncertainty: they had not, however, expected the slowdown to happen for a decade or more.
But it is happening now.

Between 1970 and 1998, the planet warmed at an average of 0.17°C per decade because of human impact on the atmosphere in the form of fossil fuel burning, forest destruction and other human activity. Between 1998 and 2012, it warmed at an average rate of 0.04°C per decade.

This slowdown is not easily explained: greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere have continued to rise at 3.1% per year, and are now 30% higher than at any time in the last 800,000 years, and atmospheric physicists stand by their calculations about the impact of greenhouse gases on atmospheric temperatures.

So that leaves three options. One is that some of this slowdown can be explained by variations in solar radiation during the Sun’s natural 11-year cycle.

Another is that a certain amount of volcanic activity since 2003 has placed almost imperceptible levels of aerosols in the upper atmosphere to block the sun’s radiation – imperceptible in the sense that nobody has sensed any drop in temperature, as happened after the eruption of Mt Pinatubo in the Philippines in 1991, but still enough to slow the rise in the rate of warming.

Newly-discovered unknowns

A third is that the planet’s temperature has indeed been rising, but the attendant heat has been swallowed up in the deep sea: that somewhere below the 700 metre level, the oceans are warming. The oceans cover 70% of the planet, often to huge depths, and can easily “lose” the predicted increased heat of a decade or so.

A new system of robot buoys, first introduced in 2000, that descend 2 km  and rise again to report back their measurements, has confirmed that the upper 2,000 metres of the ocean have absorbed thermal energy in such quantities that, were it all to be suddenly released into the atmosphere, air temperatures would rise by a lethal 36°C.

None of this means that climate change is not a threat. Twelve of the 14 warmest years on record have been recorded since 2000.  The lower troposphere – the atmosphere above the surface – has continued to warm, says Peter Stott, head of climate monitoring at the British Met Office’s Hadley Centre.

Arctic sea ice has continued to retreat at the rate of 12.9% per decade since 1979, and this rate has accelerated over the last 15 years. Northern hemisphere snow cover between 1970 and 2010 declined at the rate of 0.8 million square kilometres per decade, a loss equivalent to one third of the area of Canada.

Glaciers have retreated worldwide: the loss of ice all told has been the equivalent of a 15 metre-thick slice off the top of the average glacier. The oceans have warmed, and sea levels have risen and continued to rise – 3.2mm per year since 1993.

New data has continued to deliver telltale evidence of the dominant role of human influence on the climate system.
But the slowdown also tells scientists there are still things they don’t understand in detail about how that system works.

A problem to solve

There is as yet no clear answer as to why heat – which tends to rise rather than sink – has been submerged to such depths:  it could be a consequence of changing patterns of ocean circulation; it could be that some of the ocean has become more saline (and saline water is denser, so it will sink, even if it is a little warmer); or it may be that smaller quantities of cold water are descending into the submarine depths.

“Where is that energy, if we are not seeing it in the surface temperature? It looks like it is being rearranged, hidden from view, if you like, deep in the ocean. There are some interesting science questions,” said Richard Allan, a climate scientist at the University of Reading.

“So what does this mean for future projections? The first obvious point is that the science of projections under greenhouse gas scenarios is developing science. We haven’t got there by any means yet. So it is a constant striving to improve things.

“The second thing to say is that the observations of the last decade do not lie outside the uncertainty bounds of previous projections.”

And Piers Forster, a climate scientist at the University of Leeds, said: “This is really exciting. We have got a problem to solve. We have things we don’t understand perfectly, and as a scientist, that’s really why I do what I do. I speak for all of us who are here.” – Climate News Network