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

Posts Tagged ‘Hyperconsumption’

China Is Turning Its Irreplaceable Fish Breeding Grounds Into Smartphone Factories

In Uncategorized on October 30, 2015 at 1:49 pm

A wetland in China Zhao jian kang/Shutterstock

Oldspeak: “We have divorced ourselves in our imagination from the real world of common experience and enclosed ourselves in a cloud of personal desires and fears, images and thoughts, ideas and concepts… What kind of world can a man create who is stupid, greedy and heartless?Nisargadatta Maharaj

The disappearance of China’s wetlands is yet another example of the globe’s most populous nation sacrificing food production capacity to maintain its dominance in manufacturing. The process has generated a bounty of goods for US consumers—including the device on which I’m writing this piece and probably the one you’re using to read it: indeed, smartphones.

But it has also put severe pressure on the country’s ability to feed its population. More than 40 percent of China’s arable land has been degraded by some combination of erosion, salinization, or acidification—and nearly 20 percent of it is polluted with heavy metals, whether by industrial effluent, sewage, excessive farm chemicals, or mining runoff.” -Tom Philpott

“We are bearing witness to the kind of world described by Maharaj 40 years ago. We are obviously ensconced in personal clouds of desire, fear, images, thoughts, ideas, and concepts, at almost every moment of our increasingly zombified waking state in the form of screens and their blizzards of ‘content’ provided most prominently by the Grand Dame of Filter Bubbles I like to refer to as Facetwigram. The stupidity, greed and heartlessness that produced this “bounty of goods” has precipitated Earth’s 6th and fastest progressing mass extinction & global ecological collapse. We are literally in the process of destroying our biosphere; with it, our ability to produce food and water in order to enable the continued growth and development of our technosphere and “economic development”.  This heedless, ecocidal madness cannot continue for very much longer.” -OSJ

Written By Toh Philpott @ Mother Jones:

A sixth of the globe’s fish catch comes from waters off China’s coasts. Yet the nation’s industrial push is imperiling that 15 million-ton annual haul. Fully 60 percent of the China’s wetlands have been paved over for development projects—and much of what’s left is under threat of more of the same.

Between 2000 and 2013 alone, China’s total coastal wetlands shrank by about 23 percent.

That’s the conclusion of a jarring new report (hat tip to the New York Times) by the US-based Paulson Institute, the Chinese State Forestry Administration, and the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Coastal wetlands are the breeding and feeding grounds for fish, migratory birds, and other creatures. They also buffer coastal cities from the sea’s caprices by absorbing energy from storm-roiled waves—an increasingly important function as climate change proceeds apace. Over the last half century, the report found, China has developed more than half of the coastal wetlands in its temperate northern regions and nearly three-quarters of the mangrove forests and 80 percent of coral reefs along its southern coast. Losses accelerated between 2003 and 2013—in that time frame alone, China’s total coastal wetlands shrank by about 23 percent.

To address the situation, the Chinese government decreed earlier this year that intact wetland acreage should not fall beneath a “red line” of 131.8 million acres, which it established as a minimum for ecological stability in its coastal regions and to maintain wild fisheries. The problem is, the report states that remaining coastal acreage already hovers at just above that level, and there are plans in place to develop another 1.4 million acres by 2020.

The consequences are dire. China’s wetlands are “irreplaceable and integral parts of the East Asian-Australasian Flyway” for migratory birds, providing “critical breeding, staging and over-wintering sites” for 246 species, including 22 that are listed as globally threatened, the report found.

Then there are those prodigious fisheries off China’s coast. They’ve been “over-fished for a long time,” the report states, and to pave is to remove the breeding and nursery sites that replenish them.

The disappearance of China’s wetlands is yet another example of the globe’s most populous nation sacrificing food production capacity to maintain its dominance in manufacturing. The process has generated a bounty of goods for US consumers—including the device on which I’m writing this piece and probably the one you’re using to read it: indeed, smartphones.

But it has also put severe pressure on the country’s ability to feed its population. More than 40 percent of China’s arable land has been degraded by some combination of erosion, salinization, or acidification—and nearly 20 percent of it is polluted with heavy metals, whether by industrial effluent, sewage, excessive farm chemicals, or mining runoff. These are chilling numbers, given that China has just 0.2 acres of arable land per capita—less than half of the global average and a quarter of the average for OECD member countries. (The United Sates has 1.2 acres per person.)

Now wetlands destruction is threatening the nation’s fisheries. No wonder it’s looking elsewhere for food production, investing in farmland in Africa, South America, and Central Asia, and buying up 64 percent of the globe’s internationally traded soybeans.

How Humans Cause Mass Extinctions

In Uncategorized on September 17, 2015 at 1:25 am

Oldspeak: “What’s the use of a nice house if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on?

Henry David Thoreau

“A pretty no-nonsense delineation of the present situation. Speaking plainly about a couple of the root causes of the ever accelerating 6th Mass Extinction: unsustainable over consumption and the population bomb. Meanwhile the vast majority of humans ensconced in the life-extinguishing system of death that is Industrial Civilization, can’t wait to have more babies and buy more shit that they don’t need. Without much of a fight as Chris Hedges has said, ” we have surrendered our lives to corporate forces that ultimately serve systems of death.” And we now must reap what we’ve sown.” -OSJ

 

Written By Paul R. Ehrlich & Anne H. Ehrlich @ Project Syndicate:

There is no doubt that Earth is undergoing the sixth mass extinction in its history – the first since the cataclysm that wiped out the dinosaurs some 65 million years ago. According to one recent study, species are going extinct between ten and several thousand times faster than they did during stable periods in the planet’s history, and populations within species are vanishing hundreds or thousands of times faster than that. By one estimate, Earth has lost half of its wildlife during the past 40 years. There is also no doubt about the cause: We are it.

We are in the process of killing off our only known companions in the universe, many of them beautiful and all of them intricate and interesting. This is a tragedy, even for those who may not care about the loss of wildlife. The species that are so rapidly disappearing provide human beings with indispensable ecosystem services: regulating the climate, maintaining soil fertility, pollinating crops and defending them from pests, filtering fresh water, and supplying food.

The cause of this great acceleration in the loss of the planet’s biodiversity is clear: rapidly expanding human activity, driven by worsening overpopulation and increasing per capita consumption. We are destroying habitats to make way for farms, pastures, roads, and cities. Our pollution is disrupting the climate and poisoning the land, water, and air. We are transporting invasive organisms around the globe and overharvesting commercially or nutritionally valuable plants and animals.

The more people there are, the more of Earth’s productive resources must be mobilized to support them. More people means more wild land must be put under the plow or converted to urban infrastructure to support sprawling cities like Manila, Chengdu, New Delhi, and San Jose. More people means greater demand for fossil fuels, which means more greenhouse gases flowing into the atmosphere, perhaps the single greatest extinction threat of all. Meanwhile, more of Canada needs to be destroyed to extract low-grade petroleum from oil sands and more of the United States needs to be fracked.

More people also means the production of more computers and more mobile phones, along with more mining operations for the rare earths needed to make them. It means more pesticides, detergents, antibiotics, glues, lubricants, preservatives, and plastics, many of which contain compounds that mimic mammalian hormones. Indeed, it means more microscopic plastic particles in the biosphere – particles that may be toxic or accumulate toxins on their surfaces. As a result, all living things – us included – have been plunged into a sickening poisonous stew, with organisms that are unable to adapt pushed further toward extinction.

With each new person, the problem gets worse. Since human beings are intelligent, they tend to use the most accessible resources first. They settle the richest, most productive land, drink the nearest, cleanest water, and tap the easiest-to-reach energy sources.

And so as new people arrive, food is produced on less fertile, more fragile land. Water is transported further or purified. Energy is produced from more marginal sources. In short, each new person joining the global population disproportionately adds more stress to the planet and its systems, causing more environmental damage and driving more species to extinction than members of earlier generations.

To see this phenomenon at work, consider the oil industry. When the first well was drilled in Pennsylvania in 1859, it penetrated less than 70 feet into the soil before hitting oil. By comparison, the well drilled by Deepwater Horizon, which famously blew up in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, began a mile beneath the water’s surface and drilled a few miles into the rock before finding oil. This required a huge amount of energy, and when the well blew, it was far harder to contain, causing large-scale, ongoing damage to the biodiversity of the Gulf and the adjacent shorelines, as well as to numerous local economies.

The situation can be summarized simply. The world’s expanding human population is in competition with the populations of most other animals (exceptions include rats, cattle, cats, dogs, and cockroaches). Through the expansion of agriculture, we are now appropriating roughly half of the energy from the sun used to produce food for all animals – and our needs are only growing.

With the world’s most dominant animal – us – taking half the cake, it is little wonder that the millions of species left fighting over the other half have begun to disappear rapidly. This is not just a moral tragedy; it is an existential threat. Mass extinctions will deprive us of many of the ecosystem services on which our civilization depends. Our population bomb has already claimed its first casualties. They will not be the last.

Thirsty Yet? Global Urban Water Crisis Growing: These Eight Major World Cities Are Running Out Of Water

In Uncategorized on July 9, 2015 at 4:10 pm
water pipe mumbai

A woman in India walks atop a water main on her way to collect water. (Photo: Meena Kadri/Flickr)

Oldspeak: “Behold! The fruits of Industrial Civilization! It’s just physics really. When a system of infinite growth and consumption is operated on a planet with finite biocapacity, irreplaceably essential resources will eventually run out. Once mighty rivers are drying up and or terminally polluted. Reservoirs are at critical levels. Aquifers are drying up. What are we doing? Popping out babies. Curating our artificially flavored “lives”.  Being bombarded with messages to consume more and more food, alcohol and stuff. Driven by insatiable sense-pleasures. Self  medicating at unprecedented levels in an ever-growing variety of ways, to avoid feeling the base level pain and grief and sadness of existing in our well-appointed thought prisons; of bearing witness to the Great Dying we’re a part of and experiencing whether we choose to recognize it or not. Ignoring the reality of our dying world with an insidious a seductive strain of pathological anthropocentricity. Yes. Humans are running out of water.  Ecological overshoot is getting harder to ignore. The water wars have already begun, but, ultimately, fruitless uses of energy.  Before long, as population increases, and techno-fixes fail, there will be no more water to sustain us. Only Love remains.” -OSJ

Written By Marc Herman @ Take Part:

The amount of rainfall a place gets isn’t the only factor in how much water is available to it. These major urban areas show how dire the coming global freshwater shortage could get.

Earlier this year, an obscure United Nations document, the World Water Development Report, unexpectedly made headlines around the world. The report made the startling claim that the world would face a 40 percent shortfall in freshwater in as soon as 15 years. Crops would fail. Businesses dependent on water would fail. Illness would spread. A financial crash was likely, as was deepening poverty for those just getting by.

The U.N. also concluded that the forces destroying the world’s freshwater supply were not strictly meteorological, but largely the result of human activity. That means that with some changes in how water is managed, there is still time—very little, but enough—for children born this year to graduate from high school with the same access to clean water their parents enjoyed.

Though the U.N. looked at the issue across the globe, the solutions it recommended—capturing rainwater, recycling wastewater, improving sewage and plumbing, and more—need to be implemented locally. Some of the greatest challenges will come in cities, where bursting populations strain systems designed to supply far fewer people and much of the clean water available is lost to waste and shoddy, centuries-old infrastructure.

We’ve looked at eight cities facing different though representative challenges. The amount of water in the earth’s atmosphere is more or less fixed, meaning that as populations and economies grow, what we have needs to be clean, available, and conserved. Economies, infrastructure, river systems, and climates vary from place to place, and the solutions will have to as well. Here is how eight of the world’s major cities are running out of water, and trying to save it.

TOKYO

The roof of Ryogoku Kokugikan arena in Tokyo collects rainwater to be used in the building’s toilets. The inset shows a similar system for residential use. (Photo: Facebook)

Tokyo shouldn’t have a water problem: Japan’s capital enjoys average precipitation similar to that of Seattle or London. But all that rainfall is compressed into just four months of the year, in two short seasons of monsoon and typhoon. Capturing and storing so much water in such a short period in an area four times as dense as California would be a challenge anywhere. One weak rainy season means droughts—and those are now coming about once every decade.

Betting on the rain will be a precarious strategy for the world’s most populous city and its suburbs, home to more than 30 million people. When the four rivers feeding Tokyo run low, crisis conditions arrive fast. Though efficient, 70 percent of Tokyo’s 16,000-mile-long plumbing system depends on surface water (rivers, lakes, and distant snowpack). With only 30 percent of the city’s water coming from underground aquifers and wells, there are not enough alternative sources to tap during these new cyclical droughts.

The Japanese government has so far proved forward-thinking, developing one of the world’s most aggressive programs for capturing rainwater. In Sumida, a Tokyo district that often faces water shortages, the 90,000-square-foot roof of Ryogoku Kokugikan arena is designed to channel rainfall to a tank, where it’s pumped inside the stadium for nonpotable use.

Somewhat more desperate-seeming is a plan to seed clouds, prodding the environment to do what it isn’t doing naturally. Though tested in 2013 with success, the geo-engineering hack is a source of controversy; scientists debate whether the technique could produce enough rain to make much of a difference for such a large population.

MIAMI

As a result of a 20th-century project to drain nearby swamps, water from the Atlantic Ocean began seeping in to the Biscayne Aquifer, Miami’s main source of freshwater. (Infographic: YouTube)

Though most Americans’ concern with water shortage in the U.S. is firmly focused on California at the moment, a crisis is brewing in the last place you’d figure: South Florida, which annually gets four times as much rain, on average, as Los Angeles and about three times as much as San Francisco.

But according to the U.S. Geological Survey, the essential Biscayne Aquifer, which provides water to the Miami–Dade County area, is falling victim to saltwater intrusion from the Atlantic Ocean. Despite the heavy rains replenishing the aquifer year-round, if enough saltwater enters, all of it will become unusable.

The problem arose in the early 20th century, after swamps surrounding the city were drained. Osmosis essentially created a giant sucking effect, drawing the Atlantic into the coastal soils. Measures to hold the ocean back began as early as the 1930s, but seawater is now bypassing the control structures that were installed and leaking into the aquifer. The USGS has made progress mapping the sea water intrusion, but ameliorating it seems a ways off. “As sea level continues to rise and the demand for freshwater increases, the measures required to prevent this intrusion may become more difficult [to implement],” the USGS noted in a press release.

LONDON

A view of the River Thames in London. In just a decade from now, the city’s water infrastructure will be unable to provide for its growing population. (Photo: IDS Photos/Flickr)

London faces a rapidly growing population wringing every last drop out of centuries-old plumbing. Water managers estimate they can meet the city’s needs for the next decade but must find new sources by 2025—even sooner than the rest of the world, by the U.N.’s measure. London’s utility, Thames Water, looked into recycled water—aka “toilet-to-tap”—but, being English, found it necessary first to politely ask people if they’d mind.

At least four urban districts in California use recycled water, which is treated, re-treated, and treated again to be cleaner than conventional supplies before being pumped into groundwater or other supply sources. The so-called “yuck factor” could be an impediment to this solution spreading to London and elsewhere.

CAIRO

The Nile Delta. Ninety-seven percent of Egypt’s water comes from the Nile; 85 percent goes to agriculture, and towns upwater from Cairo dump untreated agriculture and municipal waste into the river. (Photo: Wikipedia)

Five thousand years ago, an ample water supply and a fertile delta at the mouth of the Nile supported the growth of one of the world’s great civilizations. Today, while 97 percent of Egypt’s water comes from the great river, Cairo finds itself downstream from at least 50 poorly regulated factories, agricultural waste, and municipal sewage systems that drain into it.

Though Cairo gets most of the attention, a UNICEF–World Health Organization study released earlier this year found that rural areas to the city’s south, where more than half of Egyptians live, depend on the river not just for irrigation and drinking water but also for waste disposal. Engineer Ayman Ramadan Mohamed Ayad has noted that while most wastewater discharged into the Nile upriver from Cairo is untreated, the river’s enormous size has historically been sufficient to dilute the waste to safe levels (and Cairo’s municipal system treats the water it draws from the river). Ayad argues, however, that as the load increases—with 20 million people now discharging their wastes to the Nile—this will no longer be possible. The African Development Bank recently funded programs to chlorinate wastewater before it’s dumped in the river, but more will need to be done.

On the demand side, more than 80 percent of the water taken from the Nile each year is used for irrigation, mostly the inefficient method of just flooding fields, which loses significant amounts to evaporation. Two years ago, initial steps were taken to modernize irrigation techniques upriver. Those programs have yet to show much progress, however.

SÃO PAOLO

The Cantareira reservoir is one of the main water reservoirs that supplies the state of São Paulo, Brazil. The water level of the whole Cantareira System has recently fallen to 6 percent of total capacity. (Photo: Victor Moriyama/Getty Images)

When it rains in Brazil, it pours. In São Paolo, where in an average year it rains more than it does in the U.S. Pacific Northwest, drains can’t handle the onslaught, and what could be the resource of desperately needed drinking water becomes instead the menace of urban floodwater.

With the worst drought in a century now in its second year, São Paolo’s reservoirs are at barely a quarter of capacity, down from 40 percent a year ago. Yet the city still sees heavy rainstorms. But reservoirs outside the city are often polluted and are too small even at capacity to supply the metropolitan area of 20 million. Asphalt covering the city and poor drainage lead to heavy floods on city streets after as little as a quarter-inch of rain. It’s hard to believe a drought is under way if your house is ankle-deep in water, so consumers haven’t been strident about conservation. The apparent paradox of flooded streets and empty reservoirs will likely fuel an ongoing debate over proposed rationing.

BEIJING

The Jingmi diversion canal, shown here under maintenance, transports freshwater from Miyun reservoir, Beijing’s main water source, 127 kilometers to the city. (Photo: Xiao Lu Chu/Getty Images)

Poor air quality isn’t the only thing impinging Beijing citizens’ ability to enjoy a safe environment. The city’s second-largest reservoir, shut down in 1997 because of pollution from factories and agriculture, has not been returned to use.

Ensuring the cleanliness of its water is even more crucial in China than elsewhere, as there is little it can afford to lose: With 21 percent of the world’s population, China has only 6 percent of its freshwater—a situation that’s only going to get worse, as it’s raining less in northern China than it was a century ago, and glaciers in Tibet, once the largest system outside the Antarctic and Greenland and a key source of drinking water in the country’s south and west, are receding even faster than predicted. The U.N. Environment Programme estimates that nationally, Chinese citizens can rely on getting just one-quarter to one-third of the amount of clean water the rest of the world uses daily.

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Hope emerged, however, from a 2013 study from Montreal’s McGill University, which found that an experimental program targeting farmers outside the capital showed promising results over nearly two decades. The vast Miyun reservoir, 100 miles outside Beijing, had seen its reserves reduced by nearly two-thirds because of increasing irrigation demands—while becoming polluted by agricultural runoff. Revenue from a tax on major water users in Beijing was spent paying farmers upstream from Miyun to grow corn instead of rice, which requires more water and creates more runoff.

Over the following 15 years, the study authors wrote, “fertilizer runoff declined sharply while the quantity of water available to downstream users in Beijing and surrounding areas increased.” Farmer income was not significantly affected, and cleaner water downstream led to higher earnings for consumers in the city despite the tax.

BANGALORE, India

Rendition of an apartment complex under development in Bangalore, India, and (inset) its construction. New housing is going up in the city faster than the utility can expand and repair the decaying water system. (Photos: Courtesy PrestigeConstructions.com)

Earlier this year, a report by India’s comptroller and auditor general found that the southern city was losing more than half its drinking water to waste through antiquated plumbing systems. Big losses from leaks aren’t uncommon—Los Angeles loses between 15 and 20 percent—but the situation in Bangalore is more complicated. A technology boom has attracted new residents, leading to new housing construction. Entire apartment blocks are going up faster than local officials can update the plumbing to handle additional strain on the water and sewage systems.

Bangalore’s clean-water challenges illustrate a dynamic that’s repeating itself across the world’s second-largest nation. India’s urban population will grow from 340 million to 590 million by 2030, according to a 2010 McKinsey study. To meet the clean-water needs of all the new city dwellers, the global consulting firm found, the government will have to spend $196 billion—more than 10 percent of the nation’s annual GDP. (McKinsey has a potential financial interest in India’s infrastructure, so its numbers may be inflated.)

In Bangalore, they’re already behind schedule. The newspaper The Hindu reported in March that a 2002 plan to repair the existing system and recover the missing half of Bangalore’s freshwater had yet to be implemented.

MEXICO CITY

A worker fills tanks from a water truck in a poor neighborhood in Mexico City. The city’s water utility estimates that it loses 260 gallons—enough to provide a family of four for a day—per second to leaky pipes in the system. (Photo: Reuters/Eliana Aponte)

Gravity always wins. At more than 7,000 feet above sea level, Mexico City gets nearly all its drinking water by pumping it laboriously uphill from aquifers as far as 150 miles away. The engineering challenge of hauling that much water into the sky adds to the difficulty of supplying more than 20 million residents through an aging system. Mexico City’s public works loses enough water every second—an estimated 260 gallons—to supply a family of four for a day, according to CONAGUA, Mexico’s national water commission. CONAGUA estimates that between 30 and 40 percent of the capital’s potable water is lost to leaks and spills. The good news is that leaks can be fixed.

Water quality remains a worry, however. Unsurprisingly, companies selling bottled water have done very well in Mexico. The economy growing around the lack of potable water has attracted companies such as Coca-Cola and France’s Danone, whose Bonafont (“good spring”) brand is advertised in Mexico as a weight-loss aid. (Toting a bottle will help you “feel thinner anywhere,” according to a popular television ad.)

Meanwhile, disputes over who will get access to underground supplies have turned violent: In February 2014, residents of the town of San Bartolo Atepehuacan, on Mexico City’s outskirts, clashed with police over a waterworks project they feared would divert local springs to the city’s business district. At least 100 people were injured and five arrested as the disturbances continued for more than three months.

The Mother Of All Catch 22s: Industrial Civilization Threatens All Life On The Planet

In Uncategorized on May 27, 2015 at 2:10 pm

Oldspeak:”This piece is originally titled “Capitalism Threatens All Life On The Planet”. The interviewee would say it more like the title I gave it. Focusing the blame on Capitalism gives the impression that everything would be ok if we just went another way, with another economic system. It assumes the economic system is the key to “fixing this”, as if the economic system is our primary concern. It’s just not so. It’s is a “civilization” level predicament we find ourselves that has no fix. We’re long past the point of dealing with this existential threat in any meaningful way. It’s time we accept this. This is where we are at this moment. Damned if we do, damned if we don’t. If we continue on, business as usual, we’re fucked. If we continue on with “conservation”/”mitigation”/or “green energy” market-based strategies, we’re fucked. If we stopped and went indigenous today, we’re fucked. We can talk around and bargain about and deny this stark reality until we’re blue in the face, but As Led Zeppelin opined  “The Song Remains The Same.” There is no good outcome for Humans here kids. Too many humans (this one included) are utterly dependent on Industrial Civilization, which has brought about Earth’s 6th Mass Extinction and have no interest in changing that state of affairs measurably. We can only use 2.1 Earth’s worth of resources every year for so much longer.  Resources and tolerable habitat are dwindling faster than we realize. The extinction train is rollin and it ain’t got no breaks… Enjoy the ride, doing the least harm, with as much love and compassion as you can.” -OSJ

By Dylan Murphy @ The People’s Voice:

“Let’s be honest. The activities of our economic and social system are killing the planet. Even if we confine ourselves merely to humans, these activities are causing an unprecedented privation, as hundreds of millions of people-and today more than yesterday, with probably more tomorrow-go their entire lives with never enough to eat. Yet curiously, none of this seems to stir us to significant action. And when someone does too stridently point out these obvious injustices, the response by the mass of the people seems so often to be . . . a figurative if not physical blow to the gut, leading inevitably to a destruction of our common future.” -Derek Jensen, The Culture of Make Believe

Tomorrow you will wake up and may well have a hot shower to start your day. Then you will go to your kitchen and use a variety of electrical devices to prepare breakfast. If you are lucky enough to have a job then you will travel to work in a car or use public transport. All of this activity requires the use of finite energy resources while producing varying amounts of carbon dioxide. According to the people at the World Wildlife Fund I alone need 2.19 planets to sustain my lifestyle. http://footprint.wwf.org.uk/.

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The unsustainable lifestyle that people lead is based upon the ever increasing consumption of finite resources which is destroying the natural world at in increasing rate of knots. The extinction of 200 species a day is just one manifestation of how capitalism and the industrial civilization it has spawned is killing the planet.

Critics may well say why are you so pessimistic? All we need to do is improve energy conservation and introduce renewable energy sources on a mass scale and everything will be fine and we can keep on enjoying our turbo consumerist lifestyle. Tim Garrett an associate professor of climate sciences at Utah University has exposed this belief as nothing short of wishful thinking:

“Making civilization more energy efficient simply allows it to grow faster and consume more energy,” says Garrett. “I’m just saying it’s not really possible to conserve energy in a meaningful way because the current rate of energy consumption is determined by the unchangeable past of economic production. If it feels good to conserve energy, that is fine, but there shouldn’t be any pretense that it will make a difference.”

Professor Garrett makes the controversial point that carbon dioxide emissions, which are a major cause of runaway climate change, can only be stabilized by a complete collapse of the global industrial economy or society builds the equivalent of one nuclear reactor per day.

“Stabilization of carbon dioxide emissions at current rates will require approximately 300 gigawatts of new non-carbon-dioxide-emitting power production capacity annually – approximately one new nuclear power plant (or equivalent) per day,” Garrett says. “Physically, there are no other options without killing the economy.”

Every week new scientific reports are published that note how industrial civilization is driving us towards catastrophic climate change. Last week the the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA, announced that March was the first month to surpass global carbon dioxide levels of 400 parts per million since measurements began. This is driving us towards the 2 degree rise in temperature that is seen by many as the upper limit for the planet. In the same week a new study was published in Nature Climate Change which reveals that sea level rise rates are speeding up. This poses a threat to the one billion people who live along shore lines around the world.

Runaway climate change is already having a massive impact all over the world. California is experiencing its worst drought in 1200 years. Professor Jay Famiglietti, from the University of California, Irvine, has revealed how California has only one year of water supply stored in its reservoirs and needs to start immediate water rationing.

Corporate politicians all over the world are beholden to their big business paymasters and so keep on glossing over or ignoring the issues. Meanwhile, the corporate media tries to lull the population into a false sense of security with its endless stories full of hopium that science and technology will save the day.

I spoke to Guy McPherson who is professor emeritus of natural resources and the environment at the University of Arizona, where he taught for twenty years. He is the author of a dozen books and has had hundreds of articles published on the consequences of our fossil fuel addiction: catastrophic climate change leading to near term human extinction. Guy lives in an off the grid straw bale house where he practices sustainable organic farming and working with members of his local community where a gift economy is in operation.

1) Many people believe that catastrophic climate change can be averted if we adopt the following measures as a matter of urgency on a global scale: energy conservation measures, stopping the use of fossil fuels and nuclear together with the mass use of renewables. Would such measures help avert catastrophic climate change?

No, they would not, for many reasons. First and foremost, civilization is a heat engine, as pointed out in Tim Garrett’s work. In addition, as I’ve written here, the notion of a Third Industrial Revolution is seriously flawed: http://transitionvoice.com/2013/11/hopium-for-the-masses-renewable-energy-edition/

2) Is geo-engineering a possible solution to global warming?

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) admits global warming is irreversible without geoengineering in a The IPCC is among the most conservative scientific bodies on the planet, and their reports are “significantly ‘diluted’ under political pressure.” On 22 April 2014, Truth-out correctly headlines their assessment, “Intergovernmental Climate Report Leaves Hopes Hanging on Fantasy Technology.” Time follows up two days later with a desperate headline, “NASA Chief: Humanity’s Future Depends On Mission To Mars” (first up: greenhouses on Mars). As pointed out in the 5 December 2013 issue of Earth System Dynamics, known strategies for geoengineering are unlikely to succeed (“climate geo-engineering cannot simply be used to undo global warming“). “Attempts to reverse the impacts of global warming by injecting reflective particles into the stratosphere could make matters worse,” according to research published in the 8 January 2014 issue of Environmental Research Letters. In addition, as described in the December 2013 issue of Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres, geoengineering may succeed in cooling the Earth, it would also disrupt precipitation patterns around the world. Furthermore, “risk of abrupt and dangerous warming is inherent to the large-scale implementation of SRM” (solar radiation management), as pointed out in the 17 February 2014 issue of Environmental Research Letters. About a week later comes this line from research published in the 25 February 2014 issue of Nature Communication: “schemes to Finally, in a blow to technocrats published online in the 25 June 2014 issue of Nature Climate Change, a large and distinguished group of international researchers concludes geo-engineering will not stop climate change. The U.S. National Academy of Sciences piles on with a report issued 10 February 2015, concluding geoengineering is not a viable solution for the climate predicament. As it turns out, the public isn’t impressed, either: Research published in the 12 January 2014 issue of Nature Climate Change “reveals that the overall public evaluation of climate engineering is negative.” Despite pervasive American ignorance about science, the public correctly interprets geo-engineering in the same light as the scientists, and contrary to the techno-optimists.

3) In your work you talk about feedback loops that have already been set in motion that will have very detrimental effects upon the planet. Could you explain how feedback loops will have a devastating effect upon the living planet?

These self-reinforcing feedback loops, or “positive feedbacks,” feed upon themselves. For example, methane released from the Arctic Ocean heats the region, hence the ocean. As a result, methane is release more rapidly from the ocean. The process continues until a negative feedback overwhelms the process.

Many of these feedback loops have been triggered. They are contributing to a rapid rise in global-average temperature. The relatively slow rise in global-average temperature to date has outstripped the ability of organisms to keep up: The rate of evolution trails the rate of climate change by a factor of 10,000, according to paper in the August 2013 issue of Ecology Letters. If plants cannot keep up with the ongoing, gradual rate of change, we can only imagine the destruction of the living planet now that abrupt climate change has been triggered.

The Sixth Great Extinction is proceeding very rapidly. We’re on track to exceed the rate of extinction during all prior events, including the Great Dying from about 250 million years ago. During that extinction event, more than 90% of the species on the planet were driven to extinction.

4) When the issue of near term human extinction arising from catastrophic climate change is raised with many people they get very defensive. Reactions range from ridicule suggesting that you are crazy to outright hostility. Why do you think people often react this way?

I suspect they are afraid. We’ve grown up during a time of enormous privilege. The technology surrounding us is astonishing: It seems we can fix anything with a simple app on our cell phones!

The race for technology has overwhelmed the living planet. Already, according to an August 2010 report from the United Nations, the rate of extinction is 150-200 species per day. Industrial civilization allows us to foul the air, dirty the water, and erode the soil into the ocean while communicating in real time across the globe.

The race for technology has overwhelmed our sense of humanity. Most people I know love civilization, which destroys life on Earth. And they especially love industrial civilization and the resulting toys.

5) It is clear that the capitalist class across the globe have neither the intention nor the intention nor the knowledge of how to stop catastrophic climate change. The pursuit of hydraulic fracking, tar sands, nuclear energy, geo-engineering all reveal how the capitalist system is blind to the pursuit of profit at all costs. We cannot place any faith in corporate politicians of any stripe to help ordinary people cope with the effects of climate change as it gets worse and worse. Who should ordinary people turn to for help in coping with climate change?

The corporate governments and the corporate media are not interested in we, the people. They are interested in profits for the corporations.

As individuals and as a species, I doubt we have much time left on the planet. I recommend passionately pursuing a life of excellence rooted in love. Identify what you love. Pursue it, with passion. Throw off the shackles of a culture gone seriously awry. Along the way, you’ll be viewed as insane. Most professional psychotherapists, embedded in an omnicidal culture, will provide little help.

Find your tribe. Spend time with those you love. Love the ones you’re with.

6) Tim Garrett of Utah University has done some very valuable research into runaway climate change. Could you summarize the research of Professor Garrett and explain its implications for us all?

Garrett’s work is published in refereed journal articles, the “gold standard” of science. His research points out that only collapse of civilization prevents runaway greenhouse. It does not point out that collapse of civilization triggers the catastrophic meltdown of the world’s nuclear facilities.

7) Many people sign petitions, send letters, organise lobbies of politicians and regulators in the hope of stopping the destruction of the environment. Is this type of resistance enough to stop capitalist civilization from destroying the planet?

Apparently not. This type of work has been proceeding for decades, and the 150-200 species are still driven to extinction each day.

8) You recently published a book with Carolyn Baker called Extinction Dialogs. How should we prepare for the extinction of all life on the planet?

By living with death in mind. By loving what is, not what should be. By identifying what we love, and pursuing it. By pursuing excellence in our lives. By doing what is right, without attachment to the outcome. All of which applies even if we live forever.

Scientific Analysis Find Rise In Rapid, Catastrophic, Animal Die-Offs Over The Past 75 Years

In Uncategorized on January 22, 2015 at 5:45 pm

Oldspeak: “Hmm. Curious. The oceans are dying. Scientists have found greater proportions of these die offs among birds, fish, and invertebrates, who just happen to spend most of their time in the oceans.  This data also correlates closely with the what many scientists call “The Great Acceleration”; the time around 1950 to present, characterized by relentless and ever-increasing levels of  human consumption and population and GDP growth. Coincidence? Probably not. All is intimately connected.” -OSJ

By Sarah Yang @ Science Daily:

An analysis of 727 mass die-offs of nearly 2,500 animal species from the past 70 years has found that such events are increasing among birds, fish and marine invertebrates. At the same time, the number of individuals killed appears to be decreasing for reptiles and amphibians, and unchanged for mammals.

Such mass mortality events occur when a large percentage of a population dies in a short time frame. While the die-offs are rare and fall short of extinction, they can pack a devastating punch, potentially killing more than 90 percent of a population in one shot. However, until this study, there had been no quantitative analysis of the patterns of mass mortality events among animals, the study authors noted.

“This is the first attempt to quantify patterns in the frequency, magnitude and cause of such mass kill events,” said study senior author Stephanie Carlson, an associate professor at the University of California, Berkeley’s Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management.

The study, published Monday, Jan. 12 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was led by researchers at UC Berkeley, the University of San Diego and Yale University.

The researchers reviewed incidents of mass kills documented in scientific literature. Although they came across some sporadic studies dating back to the 1800s, the analysis focused on the period from 1940 to the present. The researchers acknowledged that some of their findings may be due to an increase in the reporting of mass die-offs in recent decades. But they noted that even after accounting for some of this reporting bias, there was still an increase in mass die-offs for certain animals.

Overall, disease was the primary culprit, accounting for 26 percent of the mass die-offs. Direct effects tied to humans, such as environmental contamination, caused 19 percent of the mass kills. Biotoxicity triggered by events such as algae blooms accounted for a significant proportion of deaths, and processes directly influenced by climate — including weather extremes, thermal stress, oxygen stress or starvation — collectively contributed to about 25 percent of mass mortality events.

The most severe events were those with multiple causes, the study found.

Carlson, a fish ecologist, and her UC Berkeley graduate students had observed such die-offs in their studies of fish in California streams and estuaries, originally piquing their interest in the topic.

“The catastrophic nature of sudden, mass die-offs of animal populations inherently captures human attention,” said Carlson. “In our studies, we have come across mass kills of federal fish species during the summer drought season as small streams dry up. The majority of studies we reviewed were of fish. When oxygen levels are depressed in the water column, the impact can affect a variety of species.”

The study found that the number of mass mortality events has been increasing by about one event per year over the 70 years the study covered.

“While this might not seem like much, one additional mass mortality event per year over 70 years translates into a considerable increase in the number of these events being reported each year,” said study co-lead author Adam Siepielski, an assistant professor of biology at the University of San Diego. “Going from one event to 70 each year is a substantial increase, especially given the increased magnitudes of mass mortality events for some of these organisms.

This study suggests that in addition to monitoring physical changes such as changes in temperature and precipitation patterns, it is important to document the biological response to regional and global environmental change. The researchers highlighted ways to improve documentation of such events in the future, including the possible use of citizen science to record mass mortality events in real time.

“The initial patterns are a bit surprising, in terms of the documented changes to frequencies of occurrences, magnitudes of each event and the causes of mass mortality,” said study co-lead author Samuel Fey, a postdoctoral fellow in ecology and evolutionary biology at Yale. “Yet these data show that we have a lot of room to improve how we document and study these types of rare events.”

Funding from the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Science Foundation helped support this research.

 

Materialism And Misery

In Uncategorized on June 10, 2014 at 4:47 pm

https://i0.wp.com/splendidmarbles.com/the_abyss.jpg

Oldspeak:Focus on the material, on self-fulfillment and success places us in competition with one another and strengthens feelings of distrust, alienation and division, all of which run contrary to, and move us away from, our underlying nature, resulting in the inculcation of fear and insecurity.  Mental illness, including anxiety and depression – a worldwide epidemic claiming 5% of the global population – are further consequences of this dysfunctional social model…Those who love material objects are less inclined to love other people and the natural environment…Love of objects strengthens the desire principle, causing fear and dissatisfaction, giving rise to anxiety, stress and unhappiness. Desire entraps: insatiable, it breeds fear and is the underlying cause of discontent and all manner of associated sufferings….The neo-liberal model promotes such short-term artificial goals: goals that strengthen desire, greed and dissatisfaction, pre-requisites for encouraging consumerism and materialism and the perpetual expansion of the ubiquitous ‘market’… Self-centered behavior, motivated by reward, not only erodes any sense of community and social responsibility, it breeds unhappiness…With its focus on the material – including the physical aspect of our-selves – the ‘monetised’ system encourages vanity, selfishness and narcissistic behavior, further strengthening division, separation and aloneness, feelings that are in opposition to the underlying truth of human unity…A materialistic value system with its focus on the individual as opposed to the group, inevitably feeds a consciousness of separation, strengthening what Esotericism calls ‘The Great Illusion.’…rewards don’t make anyone happy and something very fundamental is lost when we reward for certain behaviors…With reward and punishment come desire and fear, desire for the reward and fear or anxiety over possible punishment if we fail. The effect is individual discontent and collective disharmony. Selfishness is strengthened, and, in opposition to the underlying impulse to be helpful, kindness is sacrificed, creating the conditions for depression and stress….Reward and punishment are major weapons of neoliberalism, which has infiltrated almost every area of contemporary society. The destructive duality is a methodology common in many areas of education, and, of course, it saturates corporate life. Goals, bonuses, commission, perks: these are the language of business, the motivating force for, and of, activity….The present unjust economic model has fostered a value system rooted in materiality that is a major cause of unhappiness, anxiety and depression. Change is urgently needed; change rooted in justice and the well being of the group and not the individual.” -Graham Peebles

“Behold! The fruits of globalized Inverted Corptalitarian Kleptocracy. Destroyer of  World. Begetting a whole universe of maladaptive thoughts, behaviours and policies which run completely counter to our natural state of being and literally making us and our ecology  terminally ill. Change is coming whether we’re aware of it or not. All the systems and ways of being that we believe to be immutable & sacrosanct will change. Make a concerted effort to prepare. Not materially. (Though it would be wise to practice consuming and doing with less of everything, as we are depleting and destroying most natural material  our species is dependent on at rates faster than it can be replenished.) But spiritually and emotionally. Practice ‘Creative Maladjustment’.  No amount of material wealth, well-being and security will be sufficient to insulate you from the madness to come. Let go of you attachments to objects & things, you’ll feel so much better that you did.” –OSJ
You have an inclination: In the flash of one second, you feel what needs to be done. It is not a product of your education; it is not scientific or logical; you simply pick up on the message. And then you just act: You just do it. That basic human quality of suddenly opening up is the best part of human instinct.” –Chögyam Trungpa Rimpoche

 

By Graham Peebles @ Dissident Voice:

We live under the omnipresent shadow of a political/economic system, which promotes materiality, selfishness and individual success over group wellbeing. It is a model of civilisation that is making us miserable and ill. Dependent on continuous consumption, everything and everyone is seen as a commodity, and competition and ambition are extolled as virtues. Together with reward and punishment this trinity of division has infiltrated and polluted all areas of contemporary life, including health care and education.

It is a system that denies compassion and social unity.  Unhappiness and mental illness, as well as extreme levels of inequality (income and wealth) flow from the unjust root, causing social tensions, eroding trust and community. Over half the world’s population (3.5 billion people) live in suffocating poverty on under $2 a day (the World Bank’s official poverty line), whilst the wealthiest 10% owns 85% of global household wealth. This level of inequality is growing, is unjust and shameful, and has far reaching consequences. Materialistically obsessed societies such as America (where income and wealth inequality is the highest of any industrialised nation), have higher levels of drug and alcohol dependency, mental illness, crime and incarceration, as well as child pregnancies and homicides, than more equal nations. People in unequal societies are suspicious of ‘the other’ – that’s anyone who looks thinks, and/or acts differently – and generally speaking don’t trust one another. A mere 15% of people in America confessed to trusting their fellow citizens, compared to 60% in less unequal parts of the world. The resulting divisions aggravate social tensions, fueling criminality and a cycle of mistrust and paranoia is set in motion.

Focus on the material, on self-fulfillment and success places us in competition with one another and strengthens feelings of distrust, alienation and division, all of which run contrary to, and move us away from, our underlying nature, resulting in the inculcation of fear and insecurity.  Mental illness, including anxiety and depression – a worldwide epidemic claiming 5% of the global population – are further consequences of this dysfunctional social model. Millions are hooked on pharmaceuticals (legal and illegal), much to the delight of the multi-national drug companies whose yearly profits in America alone nestle comfortably in the trillions of US $. Suicide, according to a major report by the World Health Organisation (WHO), is the third highest cause of death amongst adolescents (road accidents and HIV are one and two), and the primary cause is depression.

Desire division discontent

Over 2,500 years ago, the Buddha taught that desire and attachment to the object(s) of desire is the root of all suffering. His message of moderation and balance is more relevant today than perhaps at any other time.

Those who love material objects are less inclined to love other people and the natural environment. So says Tim Kasser of Knox University, Illinois in The High Price of Materialism after various studies. Love of objects strengthens the desire principle, causing fear and dissatisfaction, giving rise to anxiety, stress and unhappiness. Desire entraps: insatiable, it breeds fear and is the underlying cause of discontent and all manner of associated sufferings. “Abandoning all desire and acting free from longing, without any sense of mineness or sense of ego one attains to peace.” [Bhagavad Gita 11, verse 71] Such perennial truths expressed by the Buddha, Christ and other visionary teachers as well as Krishna are ignored in the search for immediate happiness derived from sensory pleasure.

The neo-liberal model promotes such short-term artificial goals: goals that strengthen desire, greed and dissatisfaction, pre-requisites for encouraging consumerism and materialism and the perpetual expansion of the ubiquitous ‘market’. In a detailed study by Baylor University associate professor of psychology and neuroscience Jo-Ann Tsang found that materialistic people “are more likely to focus on what they do not have and are unable to be grateful for what they do have, whether it is their family, a nice house or a good job.” Contentment is the natural enemy of the system; discontent is it’s life-blood, serving well the ‘Masters of Mankind’ as Adam Smith famously tagged the ruling elite and their ‘vile maxim’ – “all for ourselves and nothing for other people.”

In The Good Life: Wellbeing and the New Science of Altruism, Selfishness and Immorality, Graham Music refers to a study at Berkeley University that seems to demonstrate Smith’s truism. “The higher up the social-class ranking people are, the less pro-social, charitable and empathetically they behaved … consistently those who were less rich showed more empathy and more of a wish to help others.” [The Guardian] Self-centered behavior, motivated by reward, not only erodes any sense of community and social responsibility, it breeds unhappiness. Music, a consultant child and adolescent psychotherapist at The Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust in London, makes the point that our “monetised western world is going to make us more and more lose touch with our social obligations.”

With its focus on the material – including the physical aspect of our-selves – the ‘monetised’ system encourages vanity, selfishness and narcissistic behavior, further strengthening division, separation and aloneness, feelings that are in opposition to the underlying truth of human unity. “All differences in this world are of degree, and not of kind, because oneness is the secret of everything.” [Swami Vivekenanda] This is the view repeatedly enunciated by those great men – divine men some would say – who have freed themselves of all limitations and have shared their wisdom with us.

We are one, brothers and sisters of One Humanity. As Mahatma Gandhi famously declared:  “all humanity is one undivided and indivisible family.” Separation from one another, from the natural environment and from that which we call God is an illusion. This is the perennial lesson proclaimed loud and clear by an army of Teachers of the Race, who have sought to guide us.

A materialistic value system with its focus on the individual as opposed to the group, inevitably feeds a consciousness of separation, strengthening what Esotericism calls ‘The Great Illusion.’ If humanity is, in fact, one, it follows that our nature is to be unselfish, socially responsible and helpful. In a series of fascinating behavioral studies The Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology observed that 14-month-old babies spontaneously acted with kindness when an adult in the room needed help. Children love helping, and they do not need a reward. Actions, which are inherently selfless, offer an intrinsic reward because they facilitate relationship with our true nature. In fact, when material rewards were introduced the children’s focus shifted, they lost interest in the act of kindness and became fixated on the object of reward. Their action became conditioned and, in a very real sense, polluted. Observing this fact, Graham Music concludes that, “rewards don’t make anyone happy and something very fundamental is lost when we reward for certain behaviors.” And he adds that, “other studies have shown that toddlers feel happier giving treats than receiving them”. [Mercator Net]

With reward and punishment come desire and fear, desire for the reward and fear or anxiety over possible punishment if we fail. The effect is individual discontent and collective disharmony. Selfishness is strengthened, and, in opposition to the underlying impulse to be helpful, kindness is sacrificed, creating the conditions for depression and stress. Studies undertaken in San Francisco found that those members of the community who “volunteered and engaged in other forms of giving when they were adolescents were much less likely to become depressed, even as they got older. New research suggests there may be a biochemical explanation for the positive emotions associated with doing good.” [Healthy Living] Serving the needs of others is de-centralising.  It shifts one’s focus away from the self, with its petty, albeit painful anxieties.

Reward and punishment are major weapons of neoliberalism, which has infiltrated almost every area of contemporary society. The destructive duality is a methodology common in many areas of education, and, of course, it saturates corporate life. Goals, bonuses, commission, perks: these are the language of business, the motivating force for, and of, activity.

The present unjust economic model has fostered a value system rooted in materiality that is a major cause of unhappiness, anxiety and depression. Change is urgently needed; change rooted in justice and the well being of the group and not the individual; change imaginatively designed, which sees the economy as a way of meeting human rights and addressing human need, not one that plays on and inflames human desire.

The materialist may hold that mankind is naturally selfish, and that competition, reward and ambition are necessary and good. Without them we would do nothing and society would grind to a dysfunctional halt, goes the narrow reactionary argument. This conveniently cynical view of man’s nature (usually one held by those who are more or less economically and socially comfortable) is fundamentally wrong and is used to perpetuate the divisive model. The damaging effects of this model are being revealed by a range of studies, which substantiate the ancient message that human kindness, selflessness and community service are not only positive attributes to aspire to, they are the healthy, natural and peaceful way for humanity to live.

___________________________________________________________________________________________________

Graham is Director of The Create Trust, a UK registered charity supporting fundamental social change and the human rights of individuals in acute need. He can be reached at: graham@thecreatetrust.org. Read other articles by Graham.

Why We Couldn’t Care Less About The Natural World

In Uncategorized on May 16, 2014 at 8:58 pm

Greendex survey of consumer attitudes

Oldspeak: “The more we consume, the less we feel. And maybe that doesn’t just apply to guilt.

Perhaps that’s the point of our otherwise-pointless hyperconsumption: it smothers feeling. It might also be the effect of the constant bombardment of advertising and marketing. They seek to replace our attachments to people and place with attachments to objects: attachments which the next round of advertising then breaks in the hope of attaching us to a different set of objects.

The richer we are and the more we consume, the more self-centred and careless of the lives of others we appear to become. Even if you somehow put aside the direct, physical impacts of rising consumption, it’s hard to understand how anyone could imagine that economic growth is a formula for protecting the planet.

So what we seem to see here is the turning of a vicious circle. The more harm we do, the less concerned about it we become. And the more hyperconsumerism destroys relationships, communities and the physical fabric of the Earth, the more we try to fill the void in our lives by buying more stuff.” –George Monbiot

Wherever i travel in the realm of industrial civilization, i encounter human beings who are far less than alive. Body language, facial expression and lack of animation and passion often communicate more than their predictably articulate speech ever could. Most of the time these folks live in their heads, with little indication of sensation below the neck. Consequently their words are not consistent with the actions with which they profess to be engaged. But i am not surprised by the deadening effect of modernity. After all we are socialized into numbness and encouraged to feel almost nothing except short, bursts of happiness – never any emotion that lasts more than 5 minutes. Otherwise we risk being called “Drama Queens”. it seems that only our indigenous friends in tribal cultures know how to feel about their feelings and fully inhabit their bodies. i suspect that as collapse intensifies, we will be compelled to choose whether we will feel our emotions and work consciously with them in the context of our own bodily experience or will we remain numb and therefore perilously at risk of physical and emotional breakdown?…. Domestication may be the most damaging emotional and spiritual catastrophe of enlightenment, which prized lack of emotion, intellect, and a ghastly disowning of the body as inferior to and even perhaps the enemy of the mind. i believe we must commit to radical aliveness if we are to navigate the turbulent times and remain emotionally and spiritually intact. Only if we settle for nothing less than full aliveness will we be able to discover the resonance of a full spectrum outer reality of external chaos with our inner most being.” -Carolyn Baker

“Humans were just puttering along, for millions of years, in perfect balance with our ecology. But when we lost our connection to it, and got the big idea to create industrial civilization, everything went to shit. i thought the distribution on the scatter chart above was fascinating and telling. Most of the oldest, more mature, pre-industrial cultures  have the most guilt about our impact on the environment, while the younger cultures, largely products of industrial civilization are not very guilty. Think about the profound dysfunction of the pathologically anthropocentric, narcissistic, terminally atomized, life-extinguishing greed and growth fueled  planet hyper-consuming happiness machine populated “civilization” we’ve wrought. The symptoms of this dysfunction are everywhere we care to look. Record levels of mental and physical ailments.  Maladaptive, imbalanced and unsustainable  ways of being viewed as normal. Busying ourselves with endless and ever multiplying distractions from actual reality.  Slavishly working ourselves to death, expending our life energy at jobs we can’t stand, rushing home to briefly interact (maybe) with our family before grabbing a few hours of restless sleep and getting up and doing it all over again. ignoring the hopeless emptiness of our corporatocracy managed lives. We have ‘civilized’ the true and authentic being out of humans. As a result of our near exclusive focus on intellect, science, infinite progress and growth,  ecological collapse, including industrial civilization is certain. We’ve triggered Earth’s most devastating extinction event. Our complete and utter lack of regard for our Great Mother has brought about our end.” -OSJ

By George Monbiot @ The U.K. Guardian:

Locals cross flooded railway lines after the river Thames burst its banks in Datchet.

That didn’t take long. The public interest in the state of the natural world stimulated by the winter floods receded almost as quickly as the waters did.

A YouGov poll showed that the number of respondents placing the environment among their top three issues of concern rose from 6% in mid-January to 23% in mid-February. By early April – though the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had just published two massive and horrifying reports – the proportion had fallen back to 11%.

 

CarbonBrief has plotted the results on this graph:

Public response to UK floods. Photograph: /CarbonBrief

Sustaining interest in this great but slow-burning crisis is a challenge no one seems to have mastered. Only when the crisis causes or exacerbates an acute disaster – such as the floods – is there a flicker of anxiety, but that quickly dies away.

Why is it so difficult to persuade people to care about our wonderful planet, the world that gave rise to us and upon which we wholly depend?

And why do you encounter a barrage of hostility and denial whenever you attempt it (and not only from the professional liars who are paid by coal and oil and timber companies to sow confusion and channel hatred)?

The first thing to note, in trying to answer this question, is that the rich anglophone countries are anomalous. In this bar chart (from the New York Times) you can see how atypical the attitudes of people in the US and the UK are. Because almost everything we read in this country is published in rich, English-speaking nations, we might get the false impression that the world doesn’t care very much.

Attitudes to climate change. Photograph: NYT/Pew

This belief is likely to be reinforced by the cherished notion that we lead the world in knowledge, sophistication and compassion. The bar chart puts me in mind of the famous quote perhaps mistakenly attributed to Gandhi. When asked by a journalist during a visit to Britain, “What do you think of western civilization?”, he’s reputed to have replied, “I think it would be a good idea.”

Our erroneous belief that we are more concerned about manmade climate change than the people of other nations informs the sentiment, often voiced by the press and politicians, that there’s no point in acting if the rest of the world won’t play its part. For example, last year the chancellor, George Osborne, remarked:

I don’t want us to be the only people out there in front of the rest of the world. I certainly think we shouldn’t be further ahead of our partners in Europe.

But we’re not “the only people out there in front of the rest of the world.” In fact we’re not in front at all. As this map produced by Oxford University’s Smith School suggests, we are some way behind not only some other rich nations but also a number of countries much poorer than ours.

Oxford University’s Smith School climate change map. Photograph: Oxford University’s Smith School

As for the US, Australia and Canada, they are ranked among the worst of all: comprehensively failing to limit their massive contribution to a global problem. We justify our foot-dragging with a mistaken premise. Our refusal to stop pumping so much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere is pure selfishness.

Both the map and the bar chart overlap to some degree with the fascinating results of the Greendex survey of consumer attitudes.

For years we’ve been told that people cannot afford to care about the natural world until they become rich; that only economic growth can save the biosphere, that civilisation marches towards enlightenment about our impacts on the living planet. The results suggest the opposite.

As you can see from the following graph, the people consulted in poorer countries feel, on average, much guiltier about their impacts on the natural world than people in rich countries, even though those impacts tend to be smaller. Of the nations surveyed, the people of Germany, the US, Australia and Britain feel the least consumer guilt; the people of India, China, Mexico and Brazil the most.

Greendex survey of consumer attitudes. Photograph: /Greendex

The more we consume, the less we feel. And maybe that doesn’t just apply to guilt.

Perhaps that’s the point of our otherwise-pointless hyperconsumption: it smothers feeling. It might also be the effect of the constant bombardment of advertising and marketing. They seek to replace our attachments to people and place with attachments to objects: attachments which the next round of advertising then breaks in the hope of attaching us to a different set of objects.

The richer we are and the more we consume, the more self-centred and careless of the lives of others we appear to become. Even if you somehow put aside the direct, physical impacts of rising consumption, it’s hard to understand how anyone could imagine that economic growth is a formula for protecting the planet.

So what we seem to see here is the turning of a vicious circle. The more harm we do, the less concerned about it we become. And the more hyperconsumerism destroys relationships, communities and the physical fabric of the Earth, the more we try to fill the void in our lives by buying more stuff.

All this is accompanied in the rich anglophone nations with the extreme neoliberalism promoted by both press and politicians, and a great concentration of power in the hands of the financial and fossil fuel sectors, which lobby hard, in the public sphere and in private, to prevent change.

So the perennially low level of concern, which flickers upwards momentarily when disaster strikes, then slumps back into the customary stupor, is an almost inevitable result of a society that has become restructured around shopping, fashion, celebrity and an obsession with money.

How we break the circle and wake people out of this dreamworld is the question that all those who love the living planet should address. There will be no easy answers.

 

 

Genuine Leisure Is No More: Modern Day Leisure Is Too Much Like Work

In Uncategorized on March 29, 2014 at 7:34 pm

Leisure in the ancient world did not mean time off, but was an activity in it’s own right. Illustration: Happiness by Harriet Russell http://www.harrietrussell.co.uk

Oldspeak: “Leisure for us, in other words, is a mere interlude in the productive process, a moment to unwind or recharge before the next bout of work. Indeed, a good deal of modern leisure is indistinguishable from work. We play squash in order to stay fit, party in order to network, invest quality time in our children in order to keep them sweet. No wonder a life of leisure fills us with dread! …. How can we recover genuine leisure? A first step would be to recall the original meaning of the term. Leisure in the ancient world – schole in Greek, otium in Latin – was not just time off work, but a distinct form of activity in its own right. It was what was done freely, for its own sake, rather than for the sake of something else. Leisure was a privilege of landed gentlemen. Slaves proverbially lacked it, as to a lesser degree did paid labourers, whose waking hours were devoted to servicing the needs of others.

Athenians called work of this sort ‘banausic’ or ‘mechanical’, words suggestive of servility and stultification. “We call those arts mechanical which tend to deform the body,” wrote Aristotle, “and likewise all paid employments, for they absorb and degrade the mind.” -Edward Skidelsky

“We’ve been so perfectly acclimated to the sick society we’ve created, we actually believe we’re NOT DOiNG ENOUGH. More, more, more, we’re driven to do more, more extremely, faster, harder, louder, bigger, swaggier. There is no connection of the infinite growth model & ever more consumption to the exhaustion of all vital resources and by extension life on earth a.k.a mass extinction. How much is enough ‘stuff’? Ask yourself, why are we being told that idleness is to be avoided at all costs; that if you’re not “productive” you’re not therefore valuable.  We must let go of our emotion-backed obsessions to be productive ALL THE TiME.  We must realize that we are not our “productivity”, or the “value” of it. We must stop trying to profit from our leisure. We must just let it be. We must reduce our slave-like connections to our devices; the new overseers, scheduling every second of our lives with some multitasked, partially comprehended, quickly forgotten activities that absorb and degrade our minds. it would do us well to reclaim our humanity, spontaneity, untethered to the matrix selves.  Don’t freely surrender your YOU time to forces dedicated to draining and profiting from your life energy. Don’t let you’re leisure time be privatized by the vulture capitalist forces that pay you to use your life energy for their gain.  Breath deeply. Meditate.  Do Yoga. Disconnect. Focus on powering down and really building and maintaining your vital life energy. Balance your consumptive activities with non consumptive ones. You will heal yourself.  it’s sooooo much better than pills, energy drinks & self-help books. Reject your subservience to the Cult of Productivity.  Resist the savage inhuman slavery that’s being passed off as “success”.  You’ll live a calmer, longer, less stressed, more balanced life.” -OSJ

By Edward Skidelsky @ The Ecologist:

To be without leisure and do everything for the sake of something else, is to be only half alive, writes Edward Skidelsky.

Conventional wisdom holds that we must work more. The unemployed should be employed. People in part-time jobs should be in full-time jobs. And even those in full-time employment should work harder in order to keep pace with the industrious Indians and Chinese.

I think this is topsy-turvy. The great mystery of our time is not that we don’t work harder: it’s that we continue to work as hard as we do. When I say ‘we’, I refer, of course, to the working population. There are many people in our society – the unemployed and partially employed – who would dearly like to work more. But there are equally many people who would dearly like to work less. This is a deeply irrational state of affairs.

The obvious solution is for all adults to work, but to work shorter hours. It is only our devotion to the principle of the 40-hour week that condemns a large (and growing) sector of the population to the grim fate of unemployment.

Wealthy, but not joyful
We belong, let us recall, to one of the wealthiest societies that has ever existed in human history. Yet we have failed to realise the chief benefit of wealth: leisure. This should surprise us more than it does. In the past it was generally assumed that as people became richer they would work less.

The great economist John Maynard Keynes shared this assumption. In his essay of 1929, entitled Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren, he predicted that standards of living in the affluent world would rise between four and eight times over the following 100 years, leading to a decline of working time to 15 hours a week, or just 3 hours a day. Liberated from the burden of toil, ordinary people would be able to share in the spontaneous, joyful kind of existence once the privilege of the lucky few.

I see us free”, Keynes wrote, “to return to some of the most sure and certain principles of religion and traditional virtue – that avarice is a vice, that the exaction of usury is a misdemeanour and the love of money is detestable, that those walk most truly in the paths of virtue and sane wisdom who take least thought for the morrow. We shall once more value ends above means and prefer the good to the useful. We shall honour those who can teach us how to pluck the hour and the day virtuously and well, the delightful people who are capable of taking direct enjoyment in things, the lilies of the field who toil not, neither do they spin.

Still working 40 hours a week. Why?
Well, it hasn’t happened like that. Keynes got one thing right though: standards of living in the affluent world have indeed risen about fourfold. But hours of work have not fallen anything like as much. Today in Britain we work on average about 40 hours a week (down from 50 hours in 1930), but nowhere near the 15 hours Keynes foresaw. Why?

My father Robert and I wrote a book last year called How Much is Enough? in which we tried to solve this “Keynes problem”. We considered various explanations: the inequalities of power in the labour market, the increasingly uneven distribution of wealth and incomes, and the power of advertising to kindle dormant passions of envy and vanity.

But according to some of our reviewers, we overlooked the obvious explanation for the failure of Keynes’ prophesy. Human beings, they said, want to work long hours, because they are frightened or nauseated by the prospect of endless leisure.

Here is Alasdair Palmer, writing in The Telegraph: “The Skidelskys have nothing substantial to say about boredom – and it is why their analysis is doomed from the start. The reason why most people keep striving long after they have satisfied all elementary needs is not, as the Skidelskys claim, that they mistakenly think that money is the ultimate value. It is simply that striving for it keeps boredom at bay… Boredom is the serpent in the Skidelskys’ garden of idle delights – and you can be sure that, were we ever to achieve it, that serpent would soon eject us from it.

Modern day leisure is too much like work
Now I don’t deny that many of us would be bored by a life of leisure, and carry on working primarily in order to avoid that prospect. But that is only because we do not know what leisure really is, or might become. We talk, revealingly, of ‘taking a break’ over the weekend or over summer.

Leisure for us, in other words, is a mere interlude in the productive process, a moment to unwind or recharge before the next bout of work. Indeed, a good deal of modern leisure is indistinguishable from work. We play squash in order to stay fit, party in order to network, invest quality time in our children in order to keep them sweet. No wonder a life of leisure fills us with dread!

How can we recover genuine leisure? A first step would be to recall the original meaning of the term. Leisure in the ancient world – schole in Greek, otium in Latin – was not just time off work, but a distinct form of activity in its own right. It was what was done freely, for its own sake, rather than for the sake of something else. Leisure was a privilege of landed gentlemen. Slaves proverbially lacked it, as to a lesser degree did paid labourers, whose waking hours were devoted to servicing the needs of others.

Athenians called work of this sort ‘banausic’ or ‘mechanical’, words suggestive of servility and stultification. “We call those arts mechanical which tend to deform the body,” wrote Aristotle, “and likewise all paid employments, for they absorb and degrade the mind.”

True leisure vs recreation
The Greeks were well aware that slaves and workmen had to rest, perhaps even ‘unwind’ occasionally, but for them that was something altogether distinct from leisure. ‘Recreation’, as we might now call it, was simply the flipside of work, a necessary respite from its pain and constraint. Leisure in the true sense had nothing restorative about it. It took place beyond the work/recreation cycle; it was human activity unleashed from any external purpose.

Leisure could thus be strenuous in the highest degree – far more strenuous than work – without losing its leisure character. The modern identification of leisure with recreation, as embodied in the ‘leisure centre’, simply shows how far the concept has strayed from its original and deeper meaning.

Leisure in the ancient world took many forms. For most Athenians, it was synonymous with athletics and oratory, the conventional occupations of the propertied elite. But for a dissident minority, leisure meant philosophia, love of wisdom – an activity quite unlike the academic discipline that now bears its name. Philosophia was free, open-ended speculation, unconstrained by dogma or money.

Plato contrasted it with litigation, in which the goal is to win one’s case, and win it quickly. (“Law is philosophy on a stopwatch,” said a friend of mine who had recently switched from one occupation to the other.) For Aristotle, philosophy was a celestial activity, the closest we come to the contemplative bliss of the gods.

Not just a Western ideal
Leisure is not just a Western ideal: it crops up wherever a minority is freed from the necessity of earning a living. The Chinese cultivated the arts of leisure with a whimsy absent from the more strenuous Greco-Roman version. Here is Shen Fu, a failed scholar of the early 19th century, reminiscing about happier times: “We would spend the whole day doing nothing but criticising poetry and talking about painting. My friends were like swallows on the rafters, coming and going as they pleased. Yün even sold her hairpins to buy wine without a second thought, because we did not want to give up lightly such a beautiful time and place. But now we are all parted like clouds blown by the wind. The jade is broken, the incense buried! I cannot bear to look back.”

These visions of leisure, Western and Eastern, are in many ways repugnant to us. Aristotle’s gentleman philosophers would have lived on the labour of slaves – “human tools”, as he charmingly calls them – while Shen Fu, a local government secretary, received an income that was almost certainly made up largely of bribes. How can an ideal of life erected upon such murky foundations hold any appeal for us today?

Freedom from drudgery
I share these worries. Yet when all is said and done, what else matters, ultimately, apart from leisure? To be without leisure, to do everything for the sake of something else, is to be only half alive. Imagine a man who works long hours at a boring job to pay the school fees; eats brown rice not because he likes it but because it is good for him; reads books in order to increase his stock of knowledge and culture; and keeps fit for the sake of his ‘erotic capital’.

Such a man is perpetually looking forward to a consummation he can never, in the nature of the case, enjoy. As Keynes put it, “he does not love his cat, but his cat’s kittens; nor, in truth, the kittens, but only the kittens’ kittens, and so on forward forever to the end of cat-dom.” He will die before he has ever really lived.

Nor should we be overly troubled by accusations of elitism. True, some can enjoy leisure only if others dig the coal and wash the dishes, but in a technological age there is no need for those others to be human beings. Mechanical work can, and should, be done by machines. “Human slavery is wrong, insecure, and demoralising,” wrote Oscar Wilde in his visionary essay The Soul of Man under Socialism. “On mechanical slavery, on the slavery of the machine, the future of the world depends.” We now have machinery sufficient to free the affluent world from drudgery. It is only our failure of political organisation and ethical imagination that holds us back.


Edward Skidelsky is a lecturer in philosophy at Exeter University, and author, together with his father, Robert, of How Much is Enough: Money and the Good Life (Allen Lane).

 

 

 

 

 

 

NASA Study: Continued Resource Overconsumption & Extreme Inequality Could Lead To Collapse Of Industrial Civilization Within Decades

In Uncategorized on March 16, 2014 at 5:42 pm

https://i0.wp.com/fc04.deviantart.net/fs71/i/2011/268/d/7/global_warming_by_dc1983-d4ax1f2.jpgOldspeak: “Noting that warnings of ‘collapse’ are often seen to be fringe or controversial, the study attempts to make sense of compelling historical data showing that “the process of rise-and-collapse is actually a recurrent cycle found throughout history.” Cases of severe civilisational disruption due to “precipitous collapse – often lasting centuries – have been quite common…It finds that according to the historical record even advanced, complex civilisations are susceptible to collapse, raising questions about the sustainability of modern civilisation: “The fall of the Roman Empire, and the equally (if not more) advanced Han, Mauryan, and Gupta Empires, as well as so many advanced Mesopotamian Empires, are all testimony to the fact that advanced, sophisticated, complex, and creative civilizations can be both fragile and impermanent.”….the most salient interrelated factors which explain civilisational decline, and which may help determine the risk of collapse today: namely, Population, Climate, Water, Agriculture, and Energy.These factors can lead to collapse when they converge to generate two crucial social features: “the stretching of resources due to the strain placed on the ecological carrying capacity”; and “the economic stratification of society into Elites [rich] and Masses (or “Commoners”) [poor]” These social phenomena have played “a central role in the character or in the process of the collapse,” in all such cases over “the last five thousand years.”Dr Nafeez Ahmed , Executive Director, Institute for Policy Research & Development.

“At this point it’s just physics.  There is nothing controversial about this. There is a finite amount of the  “natural capital” needed to sustain the current iteration of industrial civilization on the earth. industrial civilization is currently extracting that capital at a rate that would require 1.5 to 2 earths to sustain. At some point earth’s biocapacity will be reached and  Population will no longer be supported. Runaway climate change will devastate already fragile water, agricultural and energy systems and displace billions of people. Water and food production will  grind to a halt as temperatures rise & we relentlessly poison and contaminate the water and land we need to grow our food. Every other empire prior to this one has collapsed when they experienced conditions that exist today. We can’t act like we don’t know what coming for much longer. Our Mother won’t allow it. We’re done whether we want to acknowledge it or not.” -OSJ

By Dr Nafeez Ahmed @ The Guardian:

A new study sponsored by Nasa’s Goddard Space Flight Center has highlighted the prospect that global industrial civilisation could collapse in coming decades due to unsustainable resource exploitation and increasingly unequal wealth distribution.

Noting that warnings of ‘collapse’ are often seen to be fringe or controversial, the study attempts to make sense of compelling historical data showing that “the process of rise-and-collapse is actually a recurrent cycle found throughout history.” Cases of severe civilisational disruption due to “precipitous collapse – often lasting centuries – have been quite common.”

The research project is based on a new cross-disciplinary ‘Human And Nature DYnamical’ (HANDY) model, led by applied mathematician Safa Motesharri of the US National Science Foundation-supported National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center, in association with a team of natural and social scientists. The study based on the HANDY model has been accepted for publication in the peer-reviewed Elsevier journal, Ecological Economics.

It finds that according to the historical record even advanced, complex civilisations are susceptible to collapse, raising questions about the sustainability of modern civilisation:

“The fall of the Roman Empire, and the equally (if not more) advanced Han, Mauryan, and Gupta Empires, as well as so many advanced Mesopotamian Empires, are all testimony to the fact that advanced, sophisticated, complex, and creative civilizations can be both fragile and impermanent.”

By investigating the human-nature dynamics of these past cases of collapse, the project identifies the most salient interrelated factors which explain civilisational decline, and which may help determine the risk of collapse today: namely, Population, Climate, Water, Agriculture, and Energy.

These factors can lead to collapse when they converge to generate two crucial social features: “the stretching of resources due to the strain placed on the ecological carrying capacity”; and “the economic stratification of society into Elites [rich] and Masses (or “Commoners”) [poor]” These social phenomena have played “a central role in the character or in the process of the collapse,” in all such cases over “the last five thousand years.”

Currently, high levels of economic stratification are linked directly to overconsumption of resources, with “Elites” based largely in industrialised countries responsible for both:

“… accumulated surplus is not evenly distributed throughout society, but rather has been controlled by an elite. The mass of the population, while producing the wealth, is only allocated a small portion of it by elites, usually at or just above subsistence levels.”

The study challenges those who argue that technology will resolve these challenges by increasing efficiency:

“Technological change can raise the efficiency of resource use, but it also tends to raise both per capita resource consumption and the scale of resource extraction, so that, absent policy effects, the increases in consumption often compensate for the increased efficiency of resource use.”

Productivity increases in agriculture and industry over the last two centuries has come from “increased (rather than decreased) resource throughput,” despite dramatic efficiency gains over the same period.

Modelling a range of different scenarios, Motesharri and his colleagues conclude that under conditions “closely reflecting the reality of the world today… we find that collapse is difficult to avoid.” In the first of these scenarios, civilisation:

“…. appears to be on a sustainable path for quite a long time, but even using an optimal depletion rate and starting with a very small number of Elites, the Elites eventually consume too much, resulting in a famine among Commoners that eventually causes the collapse of society. It is important to note that this Type-L collapse is due to an inequality-induced famine that causes a loss of workers, rather than a collapse of Nature.”

Another scenario focuses on the role of continued resource exploitation, finding that “with a larger depletion rate, the decline of the Commoners occurs faster, while the Elites are still thriving, but eventually the Commoners collapse completely, followed by the Elites.”

In both scenarios, Elite wealth monopolies mean that they are buffered from the most “detrimental effects of the environmental collapse until much later than the Commoners”, allowing them to “continue ‘business as usual’ despite the impending catastrophe.” The same mechanism, they argue, could explain how “historical collapses were allowed to occur by elites who appear to be oblivious to the catastrophic trajectory (most clearly apparent in the Roman and Mayan cases).”

Applying this lesson to our contemporary predicament, the study warns that:

“While some members of society might raise the alarm that the system is moving towards an impending collapse and therefore advocate structural changes to society in order to avoid it, Elites and their supporters, who opposed making these changes, could point to the long sustainable trajectory ‘so far’ in support of doing nothing.”

However, the scientists point out that the worst-case scenarios are by no means inevitable, and suggest that appropriate policy and structural changes could avoid collapse, if not pave the way toward a more stable civilisation.

The two key solutions are to reduce economic inequality so as to ensure fairer distribution of resources, and to dramatically reduce resource consumption by relying on less intensive renewable resources and reducing population growth:

“Collapse can be avoided and population can reach equilibrium if the per capita rate of depletion of nature is reduced to a sustainable level, and if resources are distributed in a reasonably equitable fashion.”

The NASA-funded HANDY model offers a highly credible wake-up call to governments, corporations and business – and consumers – to recognise that ‘business as usual’ cannot be sustained, and that policy and structural changes are required immediately.

Although the study is largely theoretical, a number of other more empirically-focused studies – by KPMG and the UK Government Office of Science for instance – have warned that the convergence of food, water and energy crises could create a ‘perfect storm’ within about fifteen years. But these ‘business as usual’ forecasts could be very conservative.

Dr Nafeez Ahmed is executive director of the Institute for Policy Research & Development and author of A User’s Guide to the Crisis of Civilisation: And How to Save It among other books. Follow him on Twitter @nafeezahmed

 

The Gravitational Pull Of Planet Carbon: 3 Signs Of Retreat In The Global War On Climate Change

In Uncategorized on February 18, 2014 at 6:05 pm

(Photo<a href="http://www.shutterstock.com/pic-7831615/stock-photo-global-warming.html?src=6I-ZN9Z-fBxQ2P_Qkq35FA-3-95" target="_blank"> via Shutterstock</a>)

Oldspeak: “three recent encounters in the historic struggle to avert the most destructive effects of climate change tell us a great deal about the nature and terrain of the battlefield.  Climate change is not the product of unfortunate meteorological phenomena; it is the result of burning massive quantities of carbon-based fuels and spewing the resulting gaseous wastes into the atmosphere.  As long as governments, corporations, and consumers prefer carbon as an energy source, the war on climate change will be lost and the outcome of that will, in turn, be calamitous-Michael Klare

” The author was spot on in his assessment of what is the above quote. He lost me when he started talking about market-based “solutions” to anthropogenic climate change, like “carbon tax”, “cap-and-trade” and “carbon pricing”. There are no market based or any other kind of solutions at this point.  The damage has been done and it cannot be undone by human activities.  There is no battlefield. The war is over and life lost. Unknown numbers of species are going extinct, en masse, daily. We are bearing witness to Earth’s 6th mass extinction event. Averting the most destructive  effects of global warming and climate change is not possible.  Even if the entire human race stopped burning fossil fuels today, we’d still be totally fucked, as there is a 40 year lag in the effects to be seen from our past emissions. As long as we believe our economic and political systems are superior to global ecological systems, we are doomed, in frighteningly short order, shorter every day. All that’s left to do is prepare; spiritually, physically and practically for the inhuman scale madness to come. ” -OSJ

“We now have an answer to why global temperatures have risen less quickly in recent years than predicted in climate change models. (It’s necessary to add immediately that the issue is only the rate of that rise, since the 10 hottest years on record have all occurred since 1998.)  Thanks to years of especially strong Pacific trade winds, according to a new study in the journal Nature Climate Change, much of the extra heat generated by global warming is being buried deep in ocean waters.  Though no one knows for sure, the increase in the power of those winds may itself have been set off by the warming of the Indian Ocean.  In other words, the full effects of the heating of the planet have been postponed, but are still building (and may also be affecting ocean ecology in unpredictable ways).  As Matthew England, the lead scientist in the study, points out, “Even if the [Pacific trade] winds accelerate… sooner or later the impact of greenhouse gases will overwhelm the effect.  And if the winds relax, the heat will come out quickly. As we go through the twenty-first century, we are less and less likely to have a cooler decade. Greenhouse gases will certainly win out in the end.”

Despite the slower rate of temperature rise, the effects of the global heating process are quite noticeable.  Yes, if you’re living somewhere in much of the lower forty-eight, you now know the phrase “polar vortex” the same way you do “Mom” and “apple pie,” and like me, you’re shivering every morning the moment you step outside, or sometimes even in your own house.  That southern shift in the vortex may itself be an artifact of changing global weather patterns caused at least in part by climate change.

In the meantime, in the far north, temperatures have been abnormally high in both Alaska and Greenland; Oslo had a Christmas to remember, and forest fires raged in the Norwegian Arctic this winter.  Then, of course, there is the devastating, worsening drought in California (and elsewhere in the West) now in its third year, and by some accounts the worst in half a millennium, which is bound to drive up global food prices.  There are the above-the-norm temperatures in Sochi that are creating problems keeping carefully stored snow on the ground for Olympic skiers and snowboarders.  And for good measure, toss in storm-battered Great Britain’s wettest December and January in more than a century.  Meanwhile, in the southern hemisphere, there’s heat to spare.  There was the devastating January heat wave in Australia, while in parts of Brazil experiencing the worst drought in half-a-century there has never been a hotter month on record than that same month.  If the rains don’t come relatively soon, the city of São Paulo is in danger of running out of water.

It’s clear enough that, with the effects of climate change only beginning to take hold, the planet is already in a state of weather disarray.  Yet, as TomDispatch regular Michael Klare points out today, the forces arrayed against dealing with climate change couldn’t be more powerful.  Given that we’ve built our global civilization on the continuing hit of energy that fossil fuels provide and given the interests arrayed around exploiting that hit, the gravitational pull of what Klare calls “Planet Carbon” is staggering.

Recently, I came across the following passage in Time of Illusion, Jonathan Schell’s 1976 classic about Nixon administration malfeasance.  Schell wrote it with the nuclear issue in mind, but today it has an eerie resonance when it comes to climate change: “In the United States, unprecedented wealth and ease came to coexist with unprecedented danger, and a sumptuous feast of consumable goods was spread out in the shadow of universal death.  Americans began to live as though on a luxuriously appointed death row, where one was free to enjoy every comfort but was uncertain from moment to moment when or if the death sentence might be carried out. The abundance was very much in the forefront of people’s attention, however, and the uncertainty very much in the background; and in the government as well as in the country at large the measureless questions posed by the new weapons were evaded.” Tom

By Michael Klare @ TomDispatch:

Listening to President Obama’s State of the Union address, it would have been easy to conclude that we were slowly but surely gaining in the war on climate change.  “Our energy policy is creating jobs and leading to a cleaner, safer planet,” the president said.  “Over the past eight years, the United States has reduced our total carbon pollution more than any other nation on Earth.”  Indeed, it’s true that in recent years, largely thanks to the dampening effects of the Great Recession, U.S. carbon emissions were in decline (though they grew by 2% in 2013).  Still, whatever the president may claim, we’re not heading toward a “cleaner, safer planet.”  If anything, we’re heading toward a dirtier, more dangerous world.

A series of recent developments highlight the way we are losing ground in the epic struggle to slow global warming.  This has not been for lack of effort.  Around the world, dedicated organizations, communities, and citizens have been working day by day to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promote the use of renewable sources of energy.  The struggle to prevent construction of the Keystone XL tar-sands pipeline is a case in point.  As noted in a recent New York Times article, the campaign against that pipeline has galvanized the environmental movement around the country and attracted thousands of activists to Washington, D.C., for protests and civil disobedience at the White House.  But efforts like these, heroic as they may be, are being overtaken by a more powerful force: the gravitational pull of cheap, accessible carbon-based fuels, notably oil, coal, and natural gas.

In the past few years, the ever more widespread use of new extractive technologies — notably hydraulic fracturing (to exploit shale deposits) and steam-assisted gravity drainage (for tar sands) — has led to a significant increase in fossil fuel production, especially in North America.  This has left in the dust the likelihood of an imminent “peak” in global oil and gas output and introduced an alternative narrative — much promoted by the energy industry and its boosters — of unlimited energy supplies that will last into the distant future.  Barry Smitherman of the Texas Railroad Commission (which regulates that state’s oil industry) was typical in hailing a “relatively boundless supply” of oil and gas worldwide at a recent meeting of the Society of Exploration Geophysicists.

As oil and gas have proven unexpectedly abundant and affordable, major energy consumers are planning to rely on them more — and on renewable sources of energy less — to meet their future requirements.  As a result, the promises we once heard of a substantial decline in fossil fuel use (along with a corresponding boom in renewables) are fading.  According to the most recent projections from the U.S. Department of Energy, global fossil fuel consumption is expected to grow by an astonishing 40% by 2035, jumping from 440 to 615 quadrillion British thermal units.

While the combined share of total world energy that comes from fossil fuels will decline slightly — from 84% to 79% — they will still dominate the global energy marketplace for decades to come.  Renewables, according to these projections, will continue to represent only a small fraction of the total.  If this proves to be accurate, there can be only one plausible outcome: vastly increased carbon emissions leading to rising temperatures and the sort of catastrophic climate change scenarios that now seem almost impossible to imagine.

Think of it this way: in our world, the gravitational pull of carbon exerts itself every minute of every day, shaping the energy decisions of individuals, companies, institutions, and governments.  This pull is leading to defeat in the global struggle to slow the advance of severe climate change and is reflected in three recent developments in the energy news: a declaration of surrender by BP, a major setback in the European Union, and a strategic end-run by Canadian tar sands companies.

BP Announces the Defeat of Renewables

Every year, energy giant BP (once British Petroleum) releases its “Energy Outlook” for the years ahead, an analysis of future trends in global production and consumption.  The 2014 report — extending BP’s energy forecast to the year 2035 — was made public on January 15th.  Typically, its release is accompanied by a press conference in which top BP executives offer commentary on the state of world energy, usually aimed at the business media.  This year, the company’s CEO, Bob Dudley, spoke with unbridled optimism about the future market for his company’s energy products, assuring his audience that the global supply of fossil fuels would remain substantial for years to come.  (Dudley took over the helm at BP after his predecessor, Tony Hayward, was dumped in the wake of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.)

“The picture in terms of resources in the ground is a good one,” he noted.  “It’s very different to past concerns about supply peaking.  The theory of peak oil seems to have — well — peaked.”

This, no doubt, produced the requisite smiles from Dudley’s oil-friendly audience.  Then his comments took a darker turn.  Can we satisfy the world’s energy requirements with fuels that are sustainable, he asked.  “Not at the moment,” he admitted.  Because of a rising tide of fossil fuel consumption, he added, “carbon emissions are currently projected to rise — by 29% by 2035, we estimate in the Outlook.”  He acknowledged that, whatever good news might be found in that document, in this area “steps are needed to change the forecast.”

Next, Dudley tried to put a hopeful spin on the long-term climate prospect.  By replacing coal-fired power plants with less-carbon-polluting natural gas, he indicated, overall greenhouse gas emissions can be reduced.  Increasing the efficiency of energy-consuming devices, he added, will also help.  All of this, however, adds up to little when it comes to the big picture of carbon emissions.  In the end, he could point to few signs of progress in the struggle to slow the advance of climate change.  “In 2035, we project that gas and coal will account for 54% of global energy demand [and oil another 27%].  While renewables will grow rapidly, their share will reach just 7%.”

Most of the media coverage of Dudley’s appearance focused on his expectations of long-term energy abundance, not what it would do to us or our planet.  Several commentators were, however, quick to note how unusual it was for an oil company CEO to address the problem of carbon emissions at all, no less express something verging on despair over the prospect of making any progress in curbing them.

“[Dudley] concludes… [that] the world is still a long way from delivering the peak in greenhouse gas emissions many scientists advise has to be achieved within the next decade to minimize the risk of dangerous climate change,” observed energy analyst James Murray at businessGreen.com.

Europe’s Retrenchment

The member states of the European Union (EU) have long exercised global leadership in the struggle to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and slow the pace of climate change.  Under their justly celebrated 20-20-20 plan, adopted in December 2008, they are committed to reducing their emissions by 20% over 1990 levels by 2020, increasing their overall energy efficiency by 20%, and achieving 20% reliance on renewables in total energy consumption.  No other region has embraced goals as ambitious as these, and none has invested greater resources in their implementation.  Any wavering from this path would signal a significant retrenchment in the global climate struggle.

It now appears that Europe is preparing to rein in the pace of its drive to slow global warming.  At issue is not the implementation of the 20-20-20 plan, which is well on its way to being achieved, but on the goals that should follow it.  Climate activists and green energy entrepreneurs have been calling for an even more ambitious set of targets for 2030 and beyond; many manufacturers and other major energy consumers have been pushing for a slower pace of change, claiming that increased reliance on renewables is driving up energy prices and so diminishing their economic competitiveness.  Already, it appears that the industrialists are gaining ground at the expense of climate action.

At stake is the EU’s climate blueprint for 2030, the next major threshold in its drive to slow the pace of warming. On January 22nd, the EU’s executive arm, the European Commission (EC), released its guidelines for the new plan, which must still be approved by the EU Parliament and its member states.  While touted by some as a sign of continued European commitment to decisive climate action, the EC’s plan is viewed as a distinct setback by many environmental leaders.

At first glance, the plan looks promising.  It calls for a 40% reduction in emissions by 2030 — a huge drop from the 2020 requirement.  This is, however, less dramatic than it may appear, analysts say, because energy initiatives already under way in Europe under the 20-20-20 plan, coupled with a region-wide economic slowdown, will make a 40% reduction quite feasible without staggering effort.  Meanwhile, other aspects of the plan are downright worrisome.  There is no mandate for a further increase in energy efficiency and, far more important, the mandate for increased reliance on renewables — at 27%, a significant gain — is not binding on individual states but on the EU as a whole.  This makes both implementation and enforcement questionable matters.  Jens Tartler, a spokesperson for the German Renewable Energy Federation (which represents that country’s wind and solar industries), called the lack of binding national goals for renewables “totally disappointing,” claiming it would “contribute to a marked reduction in the pace of expansion of renewables.”

To explain this evident slackening in Europe’s climate commitment, analysts point to the immense pressures being brought by manufacturers and others who decry the region’s rising energy prices caused, in part, by increased subsidies for renewables.  “Behind the heated debate in Brussels about climate and renewable energy targets, what is really happening is that concern over high energy prices has taken precedence over climate concerns in Europe,” says Sonja van Renssen, the Brussels correspondent for Energy Post, an online journal.  “Many [EU] member states and industry fear that a strong climate and energy policy will be bad for their economies.”

In arguing their case, proponents of diluted climate goals note that EU policies have raised the cost of producing a metric ton of aluminum in Europe by 11% and that European steel companies pay twice as much for electricity and four times as much for natural gas as their U.S. counterparts.  These, and similar phenomena, are “dragging the EU economy down,” wrote Mark C. Lewis, former head of energy research at Deutsche Bank.

Not surprisingly, many European manufacturers seek to reduce subsidies for renewables and urge greater reliance on less-costly fossil fuels.  In particular, some officials, including British Prime Minister David Cameron, are eager to follow the U.S. lead and bring advanced technologies like hydro-fracking to bear on the extraction of more oil and natural gas from Europe’s domestic reserves.  “Europe’s hydrocarbons production is in decline,” noted Fatih Birol, the chief economist at the International Energy Agency, but “there may be some opportunities… to slow down and perhaps reverse some of these trends” — notably by imitating the “revolution in hydrocarbon production” now under way in the United States.

Read this another way and a new and truly unsettling meaning emerges: the “shale gas revolution” being promoted with such fervor by President Obama as a “bridge” to a more climate-friendly energy system in the United States is having the opposite effect in Europe.  It is weakening the EU’s commitment to renewable energy and threatens to increase Europe’s reliance on fossil fuels.

Canada’s End-Run Around Keystone XL Pipeline Opposition

Much to the surprise of everyone, climate activists in the United States led by environmental author and activist Bill McKibben and the action group he helped to found, 350.org, have succeeded in delaying U.S. government approval of the Keystone XL pipeline for more than two years.  Once considered a sure thing, the pipeline, if completed, will carry 830,000 barrels per day of diluted bitumen (“syncrude”) some 1,700 miles from the Athabasca tar sands in Alberta to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast.  It has, however, been held up by detailed environmental impact studies and other procedural steps ordered by the U.S. State Department.  (Because the pipeline will cross an international boundary, it requires approval from the Secretary of State and, ultimately, the president, but not Congress.)

Opponents of the pipeline claim that by facilitating the exploitation of particularly carbon-dense Canadian tar sands, it will substantially increase greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere.  The use of this bitumen-based fuel releases more carbon per unit of energy than conventional petroleum and its energy-intensive extraction generates additional carbon emissions.  Should all of the bitumen in Canada — the equivalent of 1 trillion barrels of oil — be consumed, it’s “game over for the climate,” as former NASA climate scientist James Hansen has famously written.

How the Obama administration will come down on Keystone XL is still unknown.  In a speech on climate policy last June, the president indicated that he would give highest priority to climate considerations when deciding on the pipeline.  “Allowing the Keystone pipeline to be built requires a finding that doing so would be in our nation’s interest,” he said.  “And our national interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.”  At the time, his comments raised the hopes of climate activists that Obama would ultimately decide against the pipeline.  More recently, however, an environmental assessment conducted at the behest of the State Department and released on January 31st cast doubt on this outcome.  The report’s reasoning: even though the exploitation of Canada’s tar sands will increase the pace of carbon emissions, their extraction and delivery to refineries is assured by alternative means — mainly rail — if the pipeline isn’t built and so its construction will not “significantly exacerbate” the problem of greenhouse gas emissions.

While this is certainly a uniquely sophistic (and shaky) argument, it is important to note that the Canadian producers and their U.S. partners are indeed attempting to stage an end-run around opposition to the pipeline by increasing their reliance on rail cars to deliver tar sands.

“The indecision on Keystone XL really spawned innovation and mobilized alternatives, and rail is a clear part of the options available to our industry,” observed Paul Reimer, senior vice president in charge of transport at Cenovus Energy, a Canadian oil company planning to increase rail shipments from 7,000 barrels a day to as many as 30,000 barrels a day by the end of 2014.  Other Canadian firms have similar expansion plans.  All told, the Canadians claim that, over the coming years, they will be able to increase rail-carrying capacity from the current 180,000 barrels per day to as much as 900,000 barrels, or more than would be carried by the pipeline.

If this were to happen, count on one thing: rail transport will turn out to have its own problems — and its own opposition.  Not surprisingly, then, Canada’s oil industry still craves approval for Keystone XL, as it would allow even greater tar sands exports and legitimize the use of this carbon-heavy fuel.  But the growing reliance on rail transportation does once again demonstrate the powerful gravitational pull of Planet Carbon.  “At the end of the day, there’s a consensus among most energy experts that the oil will get shipped to market no matter what,” says Robert McNally, a former energy adviser to President George W. Bush.

Reducing Carbon’s Pull

These three recent encounters in the historic struggle to avert the most destructive effects of climate change tell us a great deal about the nature and terrain of the battlefield.  Climate change is not the product of unfortunate meteorological phenomena; it is the result of burning massive quantities of carbon-based fuels and spewing the resulting gaseous wastes into the atmosphere.  As long as governments, corporations, and consumers prefer carbon as an energy source, the war on climate change will be lost and the outcome of that will, in turn, be calamitous.

There is only one way to avert the worst effects of climate change: make the consumption of carbon unattractive.  This can be accomplished, in part, by shaming — portraying the producers of carbon-rich fuels as the enemies of human health and survival.  It’s an approach that has already achieved some modest successes, as in the prevention, until now, of Keystone’s construction.  Withdrawing funds from fossil fuel firms, or disinvestment, is another useful approach.  Many student and religious groups are attempting to hinder oil drilling activities by pushing their colleges and congregations to move their investment funds elsewhere.

But shaming and disinvestment campaigns are insufficient; much tougher sanctions are required.  To stop the incineration of our planet, carbon must be made expensive — so costly, in fact, that renewables become the common fuel of choice.

There are at least two ways to move toward accomplishing this: impose a tax on carbon emissions, raising the cost of fossil fuels above those of renewables; or adopt a universal cap-and-trade system, forcing major carbon emitters to buy permits (at ever-increasing cost) in order to release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.  Both measures have been advocated by environmentalists and some attempts have been made to institute each of them.  (Both California and the European Union, for example, are implementing cap-and-trade systems.)  There may be other approaches to the problem that could prove even more effective, but the most essential thing is to recognize that genuine progress on climate change will not be possible until carbon fuels lose their financial allure.  For this to happen, as BP’s Dudley begrudgingly acknowledged on January 15th, “you need carbon pricing.  Universally accepted carbon pricing.”

The gravitational pull of carbon is immensely powerful.  It cannot be overcome by symbolic gestures or half measures.  The pressures to keep burning fossil fuels are too great to be overcome in piecemeal fashion.  Rather, these forces must be met head-on, with the institutionalization of equally powerful counter-forces that make fossil fuels economically unattractive.  We humans have a choice: we can succumb to carbon’s gravitational pull and so suffer from increasingly harsh planetary conditions, or resist and avoid the most deadly consequences of climate change.

Michael T. Klare, a TomDispatch regular, is a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College and the author, most recently, of The Race for What’s Left.  A documentary movie version of his book Blood and Oil is available from the Media Education Foundation.