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

Posts Tagged ‘irreversable ecological crisis’

Are Humans Going Extinct?

In Uncategorized on December 4, 2014 at 4:00 pm

2014.12.1.Jamail.MainOldspeak: “Ok. One could say I’m a little fixated on Dahr Jamail right now and they’d probably be correct. He’s one of the few journalists committed to focusing on the only story that really matters anymore. Earth’s 6th Mass Extinction. Human activities brought it about. We’re bearing witness to it at this moment. Life extinguishing change is being made to the ecology at a rate  faster than in any of the 5 extinction events prior. It’s taken about 300 years to get to the point in this 6th extinction event that it took 80,000 YEARS TO GET TO in the Great Dying, the Permian mass extinction, which killed off 95% of life on Earth. This extinction event is happening exponentially faster than any other in the past. Scientific evidence from reputable sources is being published regularly, sounding increasingly dire alarms about the current situation. So far, 40 irreversible non-linear positive feedback loops have been triggered and are accelerating at an ever-increasing and probably underestimated rate.  With coal set to over take oil as the dominant energy source in 2017, it’s getting more and more clear that business as usual is status quo for industrial civilization. And that means, the jig is up in the next 15 to 20 years conservatively.  We are The Walking Dead. Zombie, life consuming economies animated by  Zombie people mindlessly, ravenously and insatiably consuming ever more natural capital unsustainably and creating more and more toxic effects as it does. The popular HBO show The Newsroom recently gave it to people straight, in a way that no actual mainstream news organization every could Here. Mr. Jamail talks to one of the most unpopular men around right now, Dr. Guy McPherson, a truthteller of the unavoidable reality to be, that is near term human extinction. Sobering, but much-needed reality is discussed.” -OSJ

By Dahr Jamail @ Truthout:

Some scientists, Guy McPherson included, fear that climate disruption is so serious, with so many self-reinforcing feedback loops already in play, that humans are in the process of causing our own extinction.

August, September and October were each the hottest months ever recorded, respectively. Including this year, which is on track to become the hottest year ever recorded, 13 of the hottest years on record have all occurred in the last 16 years.

Coal will likely overtake oil as the dominant energy source by 2017, and without a major shift away from coal, average global temperatures could rise by 6 degrees Celsius by 2050, leading to devastating climate change.

This is dramatically worse than even the most dire predictions from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which predicts at least a 5-degree Celsius increase by 2100 as its worst-case scenario, if business continues as usual with no major mitigation efforts.

Yet things continue growing worse faster than even the IPCC can keep up with.

Scientific American has said of the IPCC: “Across two decades and thousands of pages of reports, the world’s most authoritative voice on climate science has consistently understated the rate and intensity of climate change and the danger those impacts represent.”

And there is nothing to indicate, in the political or corporate world, that there will be anything like a major shift in policy aimed at dramatically mitigating runaway anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD).

Guy McPherson is a professor emeritus of natural resources, and ecology and evolutionary biology, with the University of Arizona, who has been studying ACD for nearly 30 years.

His blog Nature Bats Last has developed a large readership that continues to grow, and for six years McPherson has been traveling around the world giving lectures about a topic that, even for the initiated, is both shocking and controversial: the possibility of near-term human extinction due to runaway ACD.

As McPherson has told Truthout: “We’ve never been here as a species, and the implications are truly dire and profound for our species and the rest of the living planet.” He told Truthout that he believes that near-term human extinction could eventually result from losing the Arctic sea ice, which is one of the 40 self-reinforcing feedback loops of ACD. “A world without Arctic ice will be completely new to humans,” he said.

At the time of our interview less than one year ago, McPherson had identified 24 self-reinforcing positive feedback loops. Today that number has grown to 40.

A self-reinforcing feedback loop can also be thought of as a vicious circle, in that it accelerates the impacts of ACD. An example would be methane releases in the Arctic. Massive amounts of methane are currently locked in the permafrost, which is now melting rapidly. As the permafrost melts, methane, a greenhouse gas 100 times more potent than carbon dioxide on a short timescale, is released into the atmosphere, warming it, which in turn causes more permafrost to melt, and so on.

While McPherson’s perspective might sound way-out and like the stuff of science fiction, similar things have happened on this planet in the past. Fifty-five million years ago, a 5-degree Celsius rise in average global temperatures seems to have occurred in just 13 years, according to a study published in the October 2013 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. A report in the August 2013 issue of Science revealed that in the near term, earth’s climate will change 10 times faster than during any other moment in the last 65 million years.

Prior to that, the Permian mass extinction that occurred 250 million years ago, also known as “The Great Dying,” was triggered by a massive lava flow in an area of Siberia that led to an increase in global temperatures of 6 degrees Celsius. That, in turn, caused the melting of frozen methane deposits under the seas. Released into the atmosphere, those gases caused temperatures to skyrocket further. All of this occurred over a period of approximately 80,000 years. The change in climate is thought to be the key to what caused the extinction of most species on the planet. In that extinction episode, it is estimated that 95 percent of all species were wiped out.

Today’s current scientific and observable evidence strongly suggests we are in the midst of the same process – only this time it is anthropogenic, and happening exponentially faster than the Permian mass extinction did.

We are likely to begin seeing periods of an ice-free Arctic by as soon as this coming summer, or the summer of 2016 at the latest.

Once the summer ice begins melting, methane releases will worsen dramatically.

We are currently in the midst of what most scientists consider the sixth mass extinction in planetary history, with between 150 and 200 species going extinct daily – a pace 1,000 times greater than the “natural” or “background” extinction rate. Our current extinction event is already greatly exceeding the speed, and might eventually even exceed the intensity, of the Permian mass extinction event. The difference is that ours is human caused, isn’t going to take 80,000 years, has so far lasted just a few centuries and is now gaining speed in a nonlinear fashion.

Is it possible that, on top of the vast quantities of carbon dioxide from fossil fuels that continue to enter the atmosphere in record amounts yearly, an increased release of methane could signal the beginning of the sort of process that led to the Great Dying? Some scientists, McPherson included, fear that the situation is already so serious and so many self-reinforcing feedback loops are already in play that we are in the process of causing our own extinction. Worse yet, some are convinced that it could happen far more quickly than generally believed possible – even in the course of just the next few decades.

Truthout caught up with McPherson at the Earth at Risk conference in San Francisco recently to ask him about his prediction of human extinction, and what that means for our lives today.

Dahr Jamail: What are some of the current signs and reports you’re seeing that are disconcerting, and really give you pause?

Guy McPherson: I’ve been traveling, so I’m out of date for the last 10 days. But starting with the snowstorm in Buffalo, New York, that was the biggest snowstorm ever recorded in Buffalo, at 6 feet 4 inches in 24 hours. It’s the largest one ever recorded in the United States.

Australia, meanwhile, is on fire. I just came back from New Zealand, and spring had just turned there because it’s the Southern Hemisphere. The whole time I was there people were commenting on how hot it was, and “how far into summer we already are,” and it was early to mid-spring when I was there.

So there’s all kinds of observational evidence.

We triggered another self-reinforcing feedback loop, number 40, just about two weeks ago; then just a week ago there was a [scientific] paper that came out indicating that for every 1-degree temperature rise, there is 7 percent more lightning strikes. So that contributes to a previously existing self-reinforcing feedback loop, that of fires, especially in the Northern Hemisphere, and especially in the boreal forests. So, as it gets warmer and drier, there are more and bigger fires, and that kicks more carbon into the atmosphere, which of course contributes to ongoing, accelerating climate disruption.

So lightning is yet another piece of that. As there is more moisture in the atmosphere and more heat going into the atmosphere and warming the planet, we have more lightning. The whole atmosphere becomes more dynamic. So, those are things that come to mind.

From your analysis, how long do you think humanity has before extinction occurs?

That’s such a hard question, and we are such a clever species. It’s clear that abrupt climate change is underway. Methane has gone exponential in the atmosphere. Paul Beckwith, climate scientist at University of Ottawa, indicates we could experience a 6-degree Celsius temperature rise in the span of a decade. He thinks we’ll survive that. I can’t imagine how that could be. He’s a laser physicist and engineer, so I think he doesn’t understand biology and requisite habitat that we need to survive.

So it’s difficult for me to imagine a scenario where we’ll survive even a 4-degree Celsius [above pre-industrial baseline] temperature rise, and we’ll be there in the very near future, like by 2030, plus or minus. So it’s hard for me to imagine we make it into the 2030s as a species.

But when I deliver public presentations I try not to focus on any particular date; I just try to remind people that they are mortal. That birth is lethal, and that we don’t have long on this planet even if we live to be 100, so we might want to pursue what we love, instead of pursuing the next dollar.

A more micro-look from that question – what do you see happening in the US, if Beckwith and other scientists who are predicting that rapid a rise of temperatures in such a short time frame are correct?

The interior of continents heats at least twice as fast as the global average. So a 6-degree Celsius rise in the global average means at least 12 degrees Celsius in the interior of continents – that means no question there is no habitat for humans in the interior. So you would have to be in a maritime environment.

I think even before we get to 6 degrees Celsius above baseline, we lose all habitats. We lose all or nearly all the phytoplankton in the oceans, which are in serious decline already as the result of an increasingly acidified ocean environment. It’s difficult for me to imagine a situation in which plants, even land plants survive, because they can’t get up and move. So without plants there is no habitat.

At a 6-degree Celsius temperature rise in the span of decades, there’s no way for evolution by natural selection to keep up with that. Already, climate change – which at this point has been pretty slow and what we would call linear change – already climate change is outpacing evolution by natural selection by at least a factor of 10,000, so I don’t see any way the planet is going to keep up.

We’re clever. We’ll be able to move around. And if somebody has a bunch of food stored they might be able to persist on that for awhile, but climate change leads to social breakdown, or maybe social breakdown contributes further to climate change . . . in any event, when we stop putting sulfates into the atmosphere, even at the level of the US or Europe or China, that’s going to cause a very rapid global average increase in planetary temperature. According to journal literature, a reduction of 35 to 80 percent in sulfates causes a 1-degree Celsius temperature rise. And in a matter of days, maybe weeks. So when the system comes down, that means we’re above the ridiculous, politically constructed target of 2 degrees Celsius, which has never been a scientific target despite what Michael Mann and other allegedly premier climate scientists say. One degree Celsius has been a scientific target since the UN group on measured greenhouse gases established that as a scientific target in 1990.

Well, it gets worse. According to David Spratt, in a presentation delivered recently, 1 degree Celsius was ridiculous, .8 degrees Celsius apparently was a more reasonable target, and by his estimation .5 degrees Celsius was the Rubicon we should not have crossed. Well, we crossed that Rubicon a long time ago, half a century ago, and he points out that we’ve passed all these tipping points, all these self-reinforcing feedback loops, and that 1 degree is nonsense, and that half a degree is more like it, and that’s in the rearview mirror, and has been for a long time.

What would you say to young couples now who are having children, or are trying to get pregnant?

We have means of preventing that. [McPherson smiles and pauses]

I try to encourage people to pursue their passion, to do what they love, and apparently some people love having children.

Obviously I think that’s a terrible strategy, given how little time we have on this planet as a species, but who am I to interrupt somebody else’s reproductive rights?

So if you love having children, have children and love them, and no matter how long their lives are, try to make them be joyous years. I think that goes for all of us, and if that means you want to bring children into the world, who am I to stop you from pursuing what you love? That’s what I try to encourage people to do.

Given that we’ve already gone over the cliff, what is our social and spiritual responsibility to ourselves, and to one another, and to the planet, as our extinction approaches?

I think our social responsibility is to live here, now, and contribute to joyous lives for those around us. It’s as if we’re in a hospice situation. I think we should be serving as witnesses to our own demise, as well as to the demise of the many other species we are driving to extinction.

In addition, I believe we have an obligation to not keep making things worse for every other species on the planet. It appears that we’ve thrown ourselves into the abyss, but we don’t need to drag every other species on the planet down with us.

So that’s why I so much appreciate what is going on here, at Earth at Risk, because it keeps the focus on species beyond ours, and the focus on cultures and societies beyond ours. We think it’s all about us, whatever “us” is, and from a cosmological perspective our species just showed up really quite recently, and yet we think it’s all about us.

So maybe we could, for a change, make it not about us, for starters.

Do you feel that the reality of how far along we are with ACD, the reality that you’ve been talking about for years now, is beginning to enter mainstream consciousness?

In a very limited way. Every now and then I see an article or a report in the mainstream media indicating that we may be ahead of some tipping point. So you see reference to the western Antarctic ice shelf falling into the ocean in the not so distant future. You see something about Greenland and the ice melting there very quickly.

But we don’t have a 24-hour news cycle; we have a 24-second news cycle. So those things come and go very quickly and then boom, we are back on the Kardashians again; we’re back on some aspect of celebrity culture.

And so it’s hard to get this culture focused in any meaningful way on the topics that matter for any period of time.

Why is the discussion about ACD not louder and more widespread? It should be the central conversation we’re all having . . . the entire planet should be basically saying, “What in the hell are we going to do?” and acting on those questions . . . but it isn’t. Why not?

It’s a corporate media. There are a handful of corporations that control more than 90 percent of the media in the country, and to only a slightly lesser extent, the world. So we have a corporate media, and we have a corporate government, and what Mussolini defined as fascism.

There’s no financial benefit to pointing out that people’s lives are short. Instead, there’s financial benefit to selling products that people don’t need, can’t afford and just contribute to further lining the pockets of the CEOs of the corporations. So I think it all comes down to the corporations exerting such profoundly strong control over the messages we are receiving everyday.

Your prediction of near-term extinction is, needless to say, controversial to most people. What do you say to people who call you extreme for talking about this?

I’m just reporting the results from other scientists. Nearly all of these results are published in established literature. I don’t think anybody is taking issue with NASA or Nature, or Science, or the Proceedings of National Sciences . . . the others I report are reasonably well-known and come from legitimate sources like NOAA [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration], other NASA sources etc. . . . I’m not making this information up. I’m just connecting a couple of dots, and it’s something many people have difficulty with.

For you, what now and why bother? What keeps you going?

I can’t help myself. When I was 6 years old I came home with a Dick and Jane primer, showed it to my 4-year-old sister, pointed to a page, [and] said, “What’s that?” She said, “That’s a dog,” and in total disgust I said, “No, that’s Spot.” I was already outraged because she didn’t know the answer. I turned the page and said, “What’s that?” She said, “That’s a cat.” In a disgusted tone of voice I said, “No, it’s Puff!” I was teaching when I was 6. It’s not what I do; it’s who I am. I can’t seem to help myself.

So serving as a witness, giving this information out, connecting ways that the mainstream media have given up on seems to be what is within me.

And what’s next is moving the next step beyond uber-geek, left-brain science guy presenting the information and reminding people that their lives are short, and instead moving into the heart space, or what some people call the spiritual space of how do we deal with this? What do we do now? How do I act as a human being? What kind of my humanity comes up as a reminder of the fact that our lives are short? Maybe we ought not focus on materialism at the expense of everything else.

So that’s what’s next. And that’s what’s been going on for the last several months, and I’m trying to refine and hone that message and get it out more broadly, and engage with more allies to get that message out, because it’s the most important message left to our species.

Have you seen, through your work, a shift from your going out and presenting all the facts and showing people where we are as a species, to more into what you just described?

Yes, absolutely. And there are a couple of things that are going on there. One, when I started delivering this information, I was the medical doctor with poor bedside manner.

So I would show up in the exam room, looking through my charts, barely making eye contact with the patient, tell them, “It looks like you have six weeks to live; be sure to pay the receptionist on your way out, and I’ve got a golf game to catch, so see you next week, maybe, if you’re still alive then.” And then I’d just leave.

So that was me when I’d deliver a presentation. And people pointed out to me along the way that that’s really, really inappropriate behavior, and for this left-brained science guy that was a difficult pill for me to swallow, but I see that now.

And it was very helpful that a little less than a year ago I participated in a grief recovery workshop, and I realized that what I was experiencing was grief, and specifically anticipatory grief. So the next step is to try to scale up the notion of anticipatory grief, and have it reach more people as well as pointing out that this is what is. That we can’t be stuck any more in what “should be,” we can’t be bogged down by the world of “should.”

Instead, as Byron Katie points out in her latest book, we need to love what “is.” And what “is” is reality. So let’s embrace that, and love this living planet, even as we cause it to become a lot less lively. And experience and bring moments of joy to those around us.

What Does It Mean To “Do Something” About Climate Change?

In Uncategorized on May 8, 2014 at 8:01 pm

http://chemtrailsplanet.files.wordpress.com/2013/01/global-warming-concept-planet-earth-burning-fire.png

Oldspeak: “My question to climate “doers” is: What do you genuinely, realistically believe can be “done” on the real, external, national and international scene to reverse or end catastrophic climate change? At this point in the progression of catastrophic climate change, it is rapidly becoming impossible to keep up with the self-reinforcing feedback loops related to the release of greenhouse gases. These, of course, are the mechanisms within the progression of global warming that accelerate its severity, and humans have created at least 30 of those in our lifetime–and counting….It seems to me that we can yammer incessantly about how we don’t “like” the deliverers of bad news, or we can critically think their information.  We can also consider that some situations like Stage Four cancer, Ebola, and cobra bites are terminal. And rather than responding like the heroic, hopeful, “there must be something we can do” puppets of empire, we might pause to consider that life frequently presents us with existential dilemmas about which there is nothing we can “do” except open to what the dilemma might want us to learn, feel, and experience— and to the relationships it might want us to deepen, evaluate, treasure, or eliminate from our lives.” -Carolyn Baker

” Do Less. Be More. It’s the surest way to accept and recognize your true and authentic self. Anger, conflict, consternation, ego-stroking, blaming, resisting, screaming, yelling, are no longer useful expenditures of the little time we have left.  Let go of all your attachments to this rapidly disappearing world, it is no more. Every moment you breathe, it’s disappearing, never to be seen again.  This is ultimately, the nature of all living things, to die. Our fate is assured. Accept this. But while you’re at it go out with a fucking bang instead of a whimper. Why not?! You’re in Nirvana, right now.   “When you don’t resist change, you see that the changing world, which disappears like smoke, is no different from the Nirvana world.” -Alan Watts. What you resist, persists. Stop it. Embrace, accept, see the beautiful and profound oneness of it all.” -OSJ

By Carolyn Baker @  Speaking Truth To Power:

There is a great difference between being still and doing nothing.

~Chinese proverb~

When I speak about catastrophic climate change and the likelihood of near-term human extinction, I am often accused to “giving up” or choosing to “do nothing” about climate change. Even more charged for some is the notion of “living in hospice” which I argue is now the unequivocal predicament of our species. The typical rebuttal goes something like, “Instead of contemplating our navels or rolling over and preparing for death, we have to do something about climate change!”

Thus, I feel compelled to genuinely ask: What does it mean to actually “do something”?

First, I want to clarify that when I speak of preparing for near-term extinction by surrendering to the severity of our predicament or adopting a hospice attitude, I do not mean that we put on our favorite pair of pajamas, ingest a large dose of Ambien, draw the shades, lie down and set the electric blanket on “womb,” and then proceed to play dead and become comatose as we approach our demise. In fact, there is far too much we can do, both externally and internally to succumb to such meaningless sloth.

Each of us, whether we contemplate near-term extinction or not can consciously reduce our personal carbon footprint. We can drastically curtail our consumption and waste; we can grow our own food and eat local, organic food. Some individuals choose not to have cars or travel by air. Some people choose not to have children; some choose to unplug from empire as much as humanly possible. And yes, we can become climate activists—we can march in protests against the Keystone XL pipeline, we can join the Great March For Climate Action, we can write letters, and as a last resort, move to an area of the planet, such as the Southern Hemisphere, where it appears that the impacts of global climate change may not be as severe as in other regions–maybe. We owe these actions to ourselves, to other humans, and to the plethora of other species that are going and will go extinct. As my friend and colleague, Francis Weller, notes, this is a time to develop really good manners toward other species and make their demise as easy for them as possible. In summary, there is much within our power as individuals that we can do to lessen greenhouse gas emissions and lower the impact of catastrophic climate change.

However, the tragic reality of our personal efforts, as noble or as fervent as they may be, is that they are not enough to prevent near-term human extinction. Why?

In the first place, the impacts of catastrophic climate change are routinely minimized by the scientific community as Guy McPherson points out:

Mainstream scientists minimize the message at every turn. As we’ve known for years, scientists almost invariably underplay climate impacts. And in some cases, scientists are aggressively muzzled by their governments. I’m not implying conspiracy among scientists. Science selects for conservatism. Academia selects for extreme conservatism. These folks are loathe to risk drawing undue attention to themselves by pointing out there might be a threat to civilization. Never mind the near-term threat to our entire species (they couldn’t care less about other species). If the truth is dire, they can find another, not-so-dire version. The concept is supported by an article in the February 2013 issue of Global Environmental Change pointing out that climate-change scientists routinely underestimate impacts “by erring on the side of least drama.” Almost everybody reading these words has a vested interest in not wanting to think about climate change, which helps explain why the climate-change deniers have won.

What is more, despite the efforts of some nations to “do something” about climate change, the harsh, cold (no pun intended) reality is that it is too little too late. Halldor Thorgeirsson, Senior Director of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change remarked in September, 2013, stated, “We are failing as an international community. We are not on track.” Now realizing the dire state of warming due to inaction on climate change, the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change (IPCC) asserts that “Global warming is irreversible without massive geoengineering of the atmosphere’s chemistry.” Of course, we already know that there is probably nothing that geo-engineering cannot make worse—for example the radical altering of rainfall patterns and the assertion by Live Science that “Current schemes to minimize the havoc caused by global warming by purposefully manipulating Earth’s climate are likely to either be relatively useless or actually make things worse, researchers say in a new study.” And earlier this month, Skeptical Science published an article entitled, “Alarming New Study Makes Today’s Climate Change More Comparable To Earth’s Worst Mass Extinction.” Moreover, according to the National Academy of Sciences “A Four-Degree Rise Will End Vegetation ‘Carbon Sink’ Research Suggests.”

For those who “don’t like” Guy McPherson’s analysis, Dr. Michael Mann of Pennsylvania State University earlier this month penned an article in Scientific American “Earth Will Cross The Climate Danger Threshold By 2036” in which he stated in protest of the voices who assert that global warming has ‘paused,’:

To my wonder, I found that for an ECS (equilibrium climate sensitivity) of three degrees C, our planet would cross the dangerous warming threshold of two degrees C in 2036, only 22 years from now. When I considered the lower ECS value of 2.5 degrees C, the world would cross the threshold in 2046, just 10 years later. So even if we accept a lower ECS value, it hardly signals the end of global warming or even a pause. Instead it simply buys us a little bit of time—potentially valuable time—to prevent our planet from crossing the threshold.

Yes, Michael Mann is hoping that we can still “do something” about catastrophic climate change, but his assertion more closely aligns with Guy McPherson’s projection that even if we “do something” about climate change there are likely to be few habitable places on the planet by 2030 at the earliest and 2050 at the latest.

Less widely discussed in the mainstream climate conversation is the ghastly rate of Arctic melting and the resulting release of methane into the atmosphere. In the video Arctic Death Spiral And The Methane Time Bomb, David Wasdell, Director of the Apollo-Gaia Project explains the absolute runaway nature of Arctic melting. Self-reinforcing feedback loops, he asserts, have taken over, and it is now becoming increasingly obvious that the Arctic will be mostly ice-free by the end of 2015. Other presenters in this video further clarify that we are approximately fifty years ahead of the worst case scenario in terms of Arctic melting. Dr. Peter Wadhams of the University Of Cambridge states that the effect of an ice-free Arctic on the world is enormous because it goes far beyond the Arctic itself in terms of the methane that is released as the ice retreats. Due to self-reinforcing feedback loops, once the melting process generates more CO2 than humans do, it will not matter what humans do to reverse the melting. In Arctic Methane: Why Sea Ice Matters, Dr. Natalia Shakhova notes that Arctic permafrost is losing its ability to seal in the methane, and even more troubling is the increase in seismic activity in the Arctic which creates additional pathways for methane to be released.

“Doing something” implies that developing nations of the world and the fossil fuel industry will come together and: 1) Agree that climate change is actually happening; 2) Understand that the situation is so dire that humanity’s living arrangements must be radically altered; 3) Sacrifice their economic security and industrial profits to significantly reduce carbon emissions; 4) Agree to the reality of climate change and the altering of their living arrangements in time to prevent another 2 degree C rise in temperature.

I dare say that the same people who believe this is going to happen would vehemently protest a belief in Santa Claus, but nevertheless, they cling to this chimera.

Meanwhile, Dr. Tim Garrett, Professor of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Utah tells us that “rising carbon dioxide emissions – the major cause of global warming – cannot be stabilized unless the world’s economy collapses or society builds the equivalent of one new nuclear power plant each day.”

Collapse of industrial civilization? Lovely idea; I’ve been applauding it for years. However, there’s just one small fly in the ointment. The collapse of industrial civilization means no food in grocery stores, no fuel at the gas station, and the breakdown of electrical power grids. According to Physics Forums, here’s what happens when a nuclear power plant loses electricity:

Nuclear power plants as well as power plants in general are not self-sufficient in terms of electricity. If a nuclear power plant loses outside electrical power, the plant must then be powered with emergency diesel generators which typically have about 10-12 hours worth of fuel, and then emergency batteries. When the batteries lose power, and they still haven’t gotten electricity going back to the plant, the cooling systems for the reactors won’t work because of no electricity, and then the reactors will overheat and melt. Inevitably resulting in a total meltdown.

There are more than 400 nuclear power plants around the world. The collapse of industrial civilization, attractive notion that it may be, necessarily means a host of Fukushimas around the planet which in itself would be an extinction event.

On myriad levels, humanity is in territory it has never before navigated. Of this, blogger Robert Scribbler writes:

The last time the world saw such a measure of comparable atmospheric greenhouse gas heat forcing was during the Miocene around 15-20 million years ago. At that time, global temperatures were 3-4 C warmer, the Antarctic ice sheet was even further diminished, and sea levels were 80-120 higher than today. This combined forcing is enough to result in a state of current climate emergency. In just a few years, according to the recent work of climate scientist Michael Mann, we will likely lock in a 2 C short term warming this century and a probable 4 C warming long-term. If the current, high-velocity pace of emission continues, we will likely hit 2 C warming by 2036, setting off extraordinary and severe global changes over a very short period.

My question to climate “doers” is: What do you genuinely, realistically believe can be “done” on the real, external, national and international scene to reverse or end catastrophic climate change? At this point in the progression of catastrophic climate change, it is rapidly becoming impossible to keep up with the self-reinforcing feedback loops related to the release of greenhouse gases. These, of course, are the mechanisms within the progression of global warming that accelerate its severity, and humans have created at least 30 of those in our lifetime–and counting.

I am a two-time survivor of cancer. The first time a doctor gave me a diagnosis, I really didn’t like him. The second time, I liked the doctor even less. And yes, I got second opinions both times. Then I had four doctors I didn’t like.

It seems to me that we can yammer incessantly about how we don’t “like” the deliverers of bad news, or we can critically think their information.  We can also consider that some situations like Stage Four cancer, Ebola, and cobra bites are terminal. And rather than responding like the heroic, hopeful, “there must be something we can do” puppets of empire, we might pause to consider that life frequently presents us with existential dilemmas about which there is nothing we can “do” except open to what the dilemma might want us to learn, feel, and experience— and to the relationships it might want us to deepen, evaluate, treasure, or eliminate from our lives.  To this end, I wrote “Preparing For Near-Term Extinction” in 2013 and recently published Zhiwa Woodbury’s wonderful article “Planetary Hospice: Rebirthing Planet Earth” on my website. They encapsulate what I am doing and intend to do about catastrophic climate change.

I’ve admitted myself to hospice, and I’m doing something about catastrophic climate change. I support those who join the Great March For Climate Action, but I will not be marching, nor will I write letters or sign petitions with the hope that omnicidal politicians and corporate profiteers will notice. What I will do is commit to a life of service, a life of creating extraordinary moments of beauty and love; I will immerse myself in nature, art, poetry, music, and really good stories. I will practice good manners with all beings; I will nourish my body with nutritious food and restorative movement. I will make every attempt to practice gratitude as often as humanly possible in one day, and I will give from the depths of my soul all of the love I can muster–to the earth and to every living being….

Climate Change 2013: Where We Are Now – Not What You Think

In Uncategorized on December 31, 2013 at 7:54 pm

The flats.Oldspeak: “The intensity of climate heat extremes across the Northern Hemisphere has already increased 10 to 100 times since the 1951 to 1981 period…Cold weather extremes can even intensify on a warmer planet as the range of volatile weather increases with more energy in the atmosphere. Cold weather extremes in 2009/2010 and 2010/2011 in the eastern United States and Europe, including Snowmeggedon in the Northeast US in 2010, validate modeling that increases these extremes because of Arctic warming… National Center for Atmospheric Research scientist Kevin Trenberth, two-time lead scientist for the IPCC, has spelled out a fundamental truth when answering the question: “Was this weather event caused by climate change?” His response, published in Climatic Change in March 2012: “All weather events are affected by climate change because the environment in which they occur is warmer and moister than it used to be.” (Emphasis added) -Bruce Melton

” Translation = WE’RE FUCKED.  As long as things hum along status quo, we and much of the life on this planet will become extinct. Even if we start removing more carbon from the atmosphere than we put in it from now on, we’re fucked. i rather resent the author’s implication that there are solutions that just require ‘political and financial will’. NO. Those solutions needed to be implemented 20 years ago. We are losing 200 species per day. The time for solutions have long passed. WE ARE FUCKED.  irreversible non-linear feedback loops have been triggered and will continue unpredictably and ever more violently. Enjoy your remaining time in our relatively stable and predictable ecology. it will soon be no more. Happy New Year!” :-/OSJ

By Bruce Melton @ Truthout:

We are in the midst of an era of frightening contradictions, when it comes to public understandings of climate change. While climate changes are occurring more quickly than scientists have ever predicted, most people’s knowledge of these realities remains hazy and clouded by political overtones. Because of both the counter-intuitive nature of climate change and the massive misinformation campaigns created by the fossil fuel industry, the general population is 20 years behind most climate scientists when it comes to the straightforward fact of “believing in” climate change. This is an ominous statistic: Now that scientists are predicting that even worse impacts than previously understood will happen significantly sooner, a rapid global response will be necessary for any attempt to stave them off. We are likely closer to irreversible dangerous climate change – if it has not begun already – and to take action, there must be a basic public consensus. There is, however, some hopeful news on the technological front if action is taken soon.

In 1976, Wallace Broeker was one of the first to suggest climate change could alter our planet harmfully within our lifetimes. Even though a few scientists said in the ’70s we could be headed for an ice age, Broeker had already made the connection, and those few climate scientists have not talked about a coming ice age in nearly 40 years. Broeker is arguably the grandfather of climate science: He’s been at it for 55 years.

One of his first jobs was under Willard Libby, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1949 for discovering carbon-14 dating. This rare but predictable form of carbon is radioactive, and it completely decays in about 55,000 years. It is because of carbon-14 dating that we know for absolutely certain that the extra carbon dioxide in our atmosphere came from burning fossil fuels.

There are many other ways that we know for sure. The physics of the greenhouse effect are easily demonstrated in the lab, and even the simplest models from the early 1980s prove their effect. Surprisingly, the complicated high resolution climate models of today yield results that are quite similar to those of the simplest models of the early 1980s.

2013 1226-5aBut how are we supposed to trust the models when weather people can’t even get the seven-day forecast correct? Weather models predict what you need to wear to work or school this week. They are built out of the most recent weather data, and by the time they run off five or six days into the future, they are often wrong.

One can load a climate model up with any old weather data; this week’s, last month’s or last year’s. It doesn’t matter where the models start in time. Climate scientists create scores and hundreds of model runs and then average all of those wrong forecasts together to get average weather. Average weather is climate. Climate is not the seven-day forecast. The chaos that makes weather models wrong so quickly is actually what makes climate modeling work so well.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 2013

Climate measurements continue to become both more precise and more reliable – and thus, more terrifying. A new report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which combines the work of 2,000 scientists from 154 countries, drawing from millions of observations from more than 9,000 scientific publications, confirms and strengthens previous predictions and adds one new and very important observation. Even 100 percent emissions reductions will no longer keep our climate from changing dangerously.

2013 1226-5bThese volunteer scientists also did something they normally don’t do this time. They debunked a climate myth. This is the “temperature flattening myth” that is so present in this perceived debate and that has become so prevalent in our society. Their story goes that earth’s temperature stopped warming in 1998, therefore climate change is not real. In 1998, we had the largest El Nino ever recorded. This massive warming of surface waters in the southern Pacific raised the temperature of Earth in that one year by about 0.15 degrees, or as much as it rose because of global warming in the previous decade.

The IPCC 2013 prominently sinks this myth as the fifth statement of fact in their Summary for Policy Makers (SPM): “Trends based on short records are very sensitive to the beginning and end dates and do not in general reflect long-term climate trends.” (SPM, Page 3) The mythmakers chose 1998 as the beginning of their myth.  This is plain and simple cherry picking. If one looks at the trend beginning in 1997, the temperature rise is anything but flat. If one begins in 1994, the annual rise rivals the fastest rise in the instrumental record from 1976 to 1997.

Since 1998, the global temperature record has been broken three times and tied once. The new IPCC report tells us that half of warming (57%) that should have already occurred has been masked by aerosols mostly emitted since the turn of the century in rapidly developing Asian nations (yes, warming would double if cooling smog pollutants were suddenly cleaned up in Asia). (SPM, Page 9) The new IPCC report also tells us the deep oceans are now warming, whereas before they were not, and 90 percent of actual warming has gone into the oceans (SPM, Page 4).

There is also new work, post IPCC 2013, that shows that warming since the turn of the century has been significantly greater than we thought. The reason is that the United Kingdom’s temperature record simply ignores the Arctic. The Arctic is the most rapidly warming place on Earth, but there are no thermometers there. Using advanced statistics, this new work adds Arctic temperatures back in.

A Brave New Proclamation

The brave new proclamation in the new IPCC report was saved as the next to the last statement of fact in the SPM :”A large fraction of anthropogenic climate change resulting from CO2 emissions is irreversible on a multi-century to millennial time scale, except in the case of a large net removal of CO2 from the atmosphere over a sustained period.” A large “net” removal . . . this means greater than 100 percent annual emissions reductions . . . In other words, we have to take more out than we are putting in every year. We must begin to remove some of the long-lived carbon pollution that we have already placed in our skies. (SPM, E.8, Page 20)

If we would have reduced our emissions to 1987 levels by 2012 – as was suggested prudent by the Kyoto Protocol – that would have been all that was needed. In the last 28 years we have emitted as many greenhouse gas pollutants as we emitted in the previous 236 years. (10) Somehow, we must begin to remove some of the load of long-lived greenhouse gases that have been accumulating in our sky.

Good News: The Solutions are Within our Grasp 

The economic evaluations of the solutions to climate change show that 1 percent of global gross domestic product ($540 billion in 2012) is what we need to spend to control climate pollution every year – using existing technologies, techniques and policy.

This $540 billion may sound like a lot, but it’s no more than we spend on either the Clean Water Act or the Clean Air Act in the US every year. It is no more than we spend on the military in the United States every year – not counting wars. It’s twice what we spend disposing of urban garbage across the planet every year. It’s no more than what we lose to normal weather losses and delays every year in the US – not counting climate change enhanced weather extremes. It’s no more than we spend on advertising across the globe every year. It’s only 25 percent of what we spend on health care in the United States every year – before Obamacare.

The scale is large and the amount of work immense, but treating climate pollution is not unlike many other things that have been accomplished across this planet over decades past for amounts of money that are relatively small. Another reference: Exxon Mobile has a market capitalization of $417 billion alone.

Extraordinary Urgency and New Climate Paradigm

Now that I have put you at ease with the simplicity of the solutions, the hard truth is that this global greenhouse gas experiment has gone horribly wrong. There are discoveries that are extraordinarily important to the discussion of appropriate policy and behavior that are unknown by all but a few.

The new paradigm of climate science states that oil is responsible for 2.5 times more warming than coal in short-term climate time frames (20 years or less). The reason is because coal emits an enormous amount of sulfur dioxide when it burns. Sulfur dioxide is a global cooling pollutant – it cools instead of warms.

Up until recently, science has not known much about cooling pollutants and the chemical reactions that take place in the atmosphere and clouds, water vapor and indirect effects. Now we know. We used to only understand global warming gases by their test tube signatures on warming. Now we know these complicated things about how everything behaves in the atmosphere, and when the math is done, oil is responsible for 2.5 times more warming in the short term than coal. The cooling pollutants are short-lived though, so after 20 years, carbon dioxide becomes the king of the warming gases once again.

But it is the short term that is crucial. If we cross an abrupt change threshold in the short term, or an irreversible threshold, our goose is cooked. In the long-term, we are far more likely to be able to develop solutions to mitigate for greenhouse gas warming. But if we fail to control radical climate change in the short term, we are toast.

Abrupt Change

Professor Broeker’s primary focus has been abrupt climate change. From his bio at the Columbia Earth Institute: “The climate system has jumped from one mode of operation to another in the past [warm to cold, cold to warm]. We are trying to understand how the earth’s climate system is engineered, so we can understand what it takes to trigger mode switches. Until we do, we cannot make good predictions about future climate change. . . ” Over the past six or eight hundred thousand years, our climate has almost always changed in radical jumps from one mode to another. In the last 110,000 years, Greenland ice cores show 23 of these events where the average global temperature jumped 9 to 14 degrees globally in time frames of as little as a few decades to as short as a few years.

Then there is the climate lag. It takes 30 or 40 years for greenhouse warming to catch up to atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases because of the great capacity of our oceans to cool the planet. This means that today we are operating on atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases from the 1970s. In the last 29 years we have emitted as many greenhouse gases as we emitted in the previous 236 years. Because of the great cooling effect of the oceans, we have not yet begun to see the warming that this recent doubling of greenhouse gases will bring.

The Life of Carbon Dioxide

And carbon dioxide lasts a lot longer in the atmosphere than we have understood previously. This is largely because as it warms, less carbon dioxide can dissolve into the oceans or stay in the soils. We once understood that the life of carbon dioxide in our sky was 100 to 200 years. Now we know that 75 percent of CO2 stays in the sky for 300 years and the quarter stays there forever (in relevant time frames of 10,000 years or more).

This is all happening with only a very slight amount of warming and our climate is a long, long way from catching up to greenhouse gas concentrations. Climate change projected by the IPCC 2013 report under the business-as-usual scenario projects warming in the next 80 to 90 years to be bigger than the Paleocene/Eocene Thermal Maximum extinction event 56 million years ago, only changes today are happening 100 times faster than then.

Way More than Climate Weirding

There are many more new climate science discoveries than the IPCC reports. Climate change is and has in the past manifested itself in ways that are completely foreign to mankind’s existence on this planet.

Icequakes appeared in the seismic record for the first time in early 1993, but it took seismologists another decade to determine they were coming from Greenland. They have a different signature from earthquakes, so some sophisticated filtering was required to pinpoint the locations of these quakes. About 184 of them happened between 1993 and 2007 when this research was completed. These icequakes are 1,000 times more powerful than any ice seismic event ever recorded. They register between 4.6 and 5.1 on the Richter scale and can last 30 to 150 seconds. Normal ice seismic events register 2.7 and last only a second or less. There is a time lapse movie of one of these icequakes.

Evidence of climate change-caused Tsunamis a half-mile high (mega tsunamis) was discovered in Hawaii and they happened about 120,000 years ago, when it was only a degree or two warmer than today, in between our last ice age and the one before. They were likely caused as rising sea level destabilized the steep volcanic slopes of the Hawaiian Islands, resulting in mega underwater landslides. Blocks of earth a mile wide moved intact 100 miles across the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. The evidence is earth material stripped away from the sides of the Hawaiian Islands in a way that would not have happened with a landslide, and coral debris deposited in its place.

The Amazon has already flipped from a carbon sink to a carbon source because a 100-year drought in 2005 and another drought in 2010 that was half-again more extreme have killed over 2 billion trees in the Amazon. As a result, the decaying trees are releasing more greenhouse gases than the entire Amazon normally absorbs every year in a nondrought year.

2013 1226-5cThe West Antarctic Ice Sheet collapsed 122,000 years ago, and it is quite likely that we saw 10 to 20 feet of sea-level rise occur in a century to as little as a decade. Separate records from reefs across the world tell us this tale. It happened about the same time as the mega tsunamis in Hawaii and was caused by what are referred to as dynamical ice sheet changes in the 2007 IPCC report.

However, the IPCC tells us that sea levels will rise only 7 to 23 inches, in its 2007 report, and 14 to 59 inches, in its 2013 report. The IPCC also tells us in its reports that those dynamical ice sheet changes are not considered in their evaluation. The research is there, but it is too new or the scant 100 century old evidence is too tenuous for a consensus process such as the IPCC’s.

IPCC Underestimates: Conservative Consensus Syndrome

2013 1226-5dScientific American tells us very succinctly in the first sentence of a 2012 article how 20 years of IPCC reports underestimate climate change: “Across two decades and thousands of pages of reports, the world’s most authoritative voice on climate science has consistently understated the rate and intensity of climate change and the danger those impacts represent.”  A few examples:

* Antarctica is losing ice 100 years ahead of schedule. As recently as the 2007 IPCC report, the consensus opinion said that Antarctica would not begin to lose ice until 2100 or later. The recent 2013 IPCC report, however, tells us that not only has Antarctica already started to lose ice, but it has almost caught up with Greenland.

* Arctic sea ice is declining 70 years ahead of schedule as of a record-smashing year in 2007, according to work from the National Snow and Ice Data Center. In 2012, the record-smashing 2007 record was itself smashed by an even greater decline in Arctic sea ice.

* The IPCC predicted an annual sea-level rise of less than 2 millimeters per year in 2001. But over the last 15 years, the oceans have actually risen 3.4 millimeters per year, about 80 percent more than projected.

* Carbon dioxide emissions are worse than the IPCC’s worst-case scenario. Instead of reducing emissions across the planet, total emissions since 1987 have increased 81 percent. In the last 28 years, we emitted as many greenhouse gas pollutants as we had emitted in the previous 236 years.

It’s not just the IPCC that underestimates. Even though global emissions are way up, US carbon dioxide emissions appear to be way down; down 16 percent since the peak in 2007. This would be good, but it’s a mirage. In 2011, 1.5 gigatons of CO2 were offshored in China (mostly) through goods produced there and shipped to the United States. This leaves the United States with an increasing, not decreasing, inventory in 2011. Our emissions have actually increased 11 percent since the “peak” year before the decline began in 2007.

Aerosols from the East Have Cooled the Planet – A LOT!

2013 1226-5eRapidly developing Asian nations are emitting far more greenhouse gases and other air pollutants than ever before. China just exceeded the US in emissions in 2006. Just six years later in 2012, they are emitting nearly twice as much as the United States (88 percent more). These greenhouse gases are emitted along with other air pollutants like sulfur dioxide. In developing nations, air pollution regulations are not as stringent and a lot more sulfur dioxide is emitted.

The sulfur pollutants (aerosols) are cooling pollutants, not warming pollutants like carbon dioxide. The air pollution is so bad in Asia that it is having a global impact on temperature. Remember, the IPCC says that aerosols are masking half of the warming (57%) that we should have experienced. When the masked warming is added back in, global temperature is right at the upper edge of the worst-case scenario, as is carbon dioxide.

Extremes Caused or Enhanced by Climate Change

2013 1226-5fThe intensity of climate heat extremes across the Northern Hemisphere has already increased 10 to 100 times since the 1951 to 1981 period. Specifically mentioned in a paper from NASA are the Texas/Oklahoma heat wave of 2011 and the Moscow Heat wave of 2010 that killed 11,000, and we shouldn’t forget the European heat wave of 2003. A European Union Health Program study now shows 70,000 to 80,000 excess deaths beyond what would have occurred normally for that summer.

Cold weather extremes can even intensify on a warmer planet as the range of volatile weather increases with more energy in the atmosphere. Cold weather extremes in 2009/2010 and 2010/2011 in the eastern United States and Europe, including Snowmeggedon in the Northeast US in 2010, validate modeling that increases these extremes because of Arctic warming.

National Center for Atmospheric Research scientist Kevin Trenberth, two-time lead scientist for the IPCC, has spelled out a fundamental truth when answering the question: “Was this weather event caused by climate change?” His response, published in Climatic Change in March 2012: “All weather events are affected by climate change because the environment in which they occur is warmer and moister than it used to be.”

The Fairness Bias

2013 1226-5gSo why in the world is all this stuff not being reported? For one, the public is 20 years behind climate science. In 1990, 60 percent of climate scientists believed in climate change. Today, about 60 percent of the public believes in climate change and 97 percent of climate scientists believe.

Even more important is the “fairness bias.” This has been well documented in the literature and it concerns the great perceived debate. The media are not climate scientists and do not know whom to believe. Almost no climate scientists trust the media’s coverage of climate change. Ninety-seven percent of climate scientists say that climate change is real, but the three percent who do not are reported with very loud, well-funded and persistent voices, and the mainstream media reports both sides “fairly.”

This “fairness bias” thing goes back a long way. It’s based in the Fairness Act and the Equal time Act and even the Journalistic Creed. It’s only fair to be fair. It’s a moral thing; give both sides a say. This works great when we are talking about issues. But science is not an “issue.”

2013 1226-5hThe wealthiest and most powerful industry in the world perceives itself to be at risk of extinction and has invested literally hundreds of millions of dollars in campaigns to discredit climate science (propaganda campaigns). The propaganda created by these industries uses some of the same exact propaganda people and firms as were used in the smoking debate, the acid rain regulations debate and the ozone depleting chemical regulation debate. They take the 3 percent opinion and promote it endlessly, regardless of how many times these few scientists have been disproven in the literature.

By giving the 3 percent equal time to the 97 percent, the media bias their reporting. That and maybe they simply don’t understand the scientists’ press releases when they refer to dendrochronologists, oxygen isotopes and precession.

The Scandal of the Scandals

The media has also played a role in furthering the discrediting of climate science because of sensationalistic reporting of supposed climate scandals. The big three:

* Climate Gate Email Scandal: Wording taken out of context in stolen emails was widely reported as proving climate scientists were dishonest in their work. Six independent reviews cleared all scientists involved.

* Himalayan Glaciers: A few errors in tens of thousands of facts are reported in the media ruthlessly, but the reason for the error is not. The 2007 IPCC report said that Himalayan glaciers would melt by 2035. There was a simple Scribner’s error. The date should have been 2350. The error was in a short discussion of Himalayan glaciers in Volume 2 of the report Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Volume 1, The Physical Science Basis, had a 45-page discussion of global ice that was all correct, including the parts about the Himalaya.

* Amazongate: The United Kingdom’s Sunday Times erroneously posted a story about how badly the 2007 IPCC report misrepresented climate change impacts on the Amazon rainforest that made headlines across the world. Five months later – with almost no press whatsoever – the Times retracted the entire article and published a 400-word apology.

Sky Mining: Really Good News

Broeker, like a few others, has recognized the likelihood that our global society will not be able to end the burning of fossil fuels and strongly advocates, along with emissions reductions, the collection and disposal of climate pollution in very similar ways that we collect and dispose of garbage. We can take it out of coal plant smokestacks, but that is less than half. There is no magic bullet to get the rest from transportation and buildings, and the IPCC says we need to remove more than 100 percent of emissions.

We can do this. But there is an academic hurdle to overcome. Using traditional calculations of the heat required for a chemical reaction to occur, CO2 capture from coal burning power plants works because flue gasses are 10 to 15 percent CO2. The typical air concentration is 0.3 percent or about 33 to 50 times less. When the math is done and the pilot flue gas capture tests are costed, it takes $60 a ton to remove CO2 from flue gas and $500 or more per ton for air capture. (63) This argument is very pervasive in industry. They say you can’t beat physics, so air capture is a bust. While valid, this argument is displaced.

We need to focus on energy generation, not energy (heat) requirements. The flue gas removal process takes about 700 degrees or 1,300 degrees F. The new air capture techniques happen from near-room temperature to less than 100 degrees C. The cost to remove a ton of CO2 from the atmosphere in a full-scale pilot plant is expected to be $200 per ton. Once fully industrialized, it is expected to be $30 per ton.

Broeker puts it this way in his biography Fixing Climate: “If you extract a certain amount of CO2 from the air, you could replace that same amount by burning a fossil fuel without harming the planet.”  It takes 170 times more energy to make electricity from the wind as it does from fossil fuels.  It is much more efficient to make electricity from coal and then extract carbon dioxide from the wind. Moreover, the new technologies are simply cheaper because they operate at far cooler temperatures.

Sky mining is a promising solution to our climate pollution needs. We took it out of the ground and put it in the sky; now we must take it out of the sky and return it to the ground.

At $200 per ton of CO2, we can remove 50 ppm CO2 from the atmosphere for $21 trillion. This is $13 trillion less than US military and health care spending from 2000 to 2009 ($34 trillion). Worth repeating an endless number of times: Once fully industrialized, the price drops to $20 or $30 per ton.

Because half of the CO2 we emit stays in our sky in time frames that matter, once the new solutions are fully industrialized, we can remove 27 years worth of climate pollution from our sky for what the US spends on health care in less than two years.

This is $3 or $4 trillion to basically fix climate change – remove 50 ppm CO2 from the sky for no more than the cost of a couple of years of health care . . . We might have to do this a few or even several times, but the cost would still be something similar to what the US alone has spent on its military and wars since the turn of the century.

Please tell your friends. To prevent dangerous climate change, we must now convince the public and our leaders to act decisively and robustly. Simple emissions reductions will no longer prevent dangerous climate change.

See also “Climate Change 2013: Where We Are Now,” a detailed reference with critical passages from firewalled papers and additional supplementary information.

Bruce Melton

Bruce Melton is a professional engineer, environmental researcher, filmmaker, and author in Austin, Texas. Information on Melton’s new book, Climate Discovery Chronicles can be found along with more climate change writing, climate science outreach and critical environmental issue documentary films on his web sites and http://www.climatediscovery.com Images copyright Bruce Melton 2012, except where referenced otherwise.

The Climate Change Now Initiative is a nonprofit outreach organization reporting the latest discoveries in climate science in plain English.

 

A Global Threat: Fukushima Fallout Damaged The Thyroids Of California Babies

In Uncategorized on December 20, 2013 at 3:36 pm

https://i0.wp.com/naturaldentistry.us/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/radiation-in-dental-implants.jpgOldspeak: “….millions of babies have been killed by these subtle internal radiation exposures. The nuclear military project is responsible for an awful lot of deaths. In years to come I believe this will eventually be seen as the greatest public health scandal in human historyChris Busby, Scientific Secretary of the European Committee on Radiation Risk

“It is critical that we all understand the true consequences of radiation exposure so that proper monitoring is conducted in all those who were exposed to radioactive fallout. Ultimately, what is at stake is the universal right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of the affected population. This should be the guiding principle in evaluating the health effects of the nuclear catastrophe.” –Physicians For Social Responsibility

“Following a similar report in april 2013…. When the plankton are irradiated, the fish are bleeding from the gills, bellies and eyeballs, the bears and seals have radiation sores,  this is a predictable outcome. The radiation is making its way up the food chain. We’ll likely see even more effects in the future. Still, we have the customary deafening silence about this threat from military-media-industrial complex on this ongoing and unfolding ecological catastrophe. What happens when the next wave of radioactivity washes up on the shores of north america? My guess is more of the same. Silence. Expect millions more babies to be damaged by the ravages of our sacred “technology” gone horribly wrong. We will continue to irradiate our dying world for profit.” -OSJ

By Chris Busby @ CounterPunch:

A new study of the effects of tiny quantities of radioactive fallout from Fukushima on the health of babies born in California shows a significant excess of hypothyroidism caused by the radioactive contamination travelling 5,000 miles across the Pacific. The article will be published next week in the peer-reviewed journal Open Journal of Pediatrics.

Congenital hypothyroidism is a rare but serious condition normally affecting about one child in 2,000, and one that demands clinical intervention – the growth of children suffering from the condition is affected if they are left untreated. All babies born in California are monitored at birth for Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) levels in blood, since high levels indicate hypothyroidism.

Joe Mangano and Janette Sherman of the Radiation and Public Health Project in New York, and Christopher Busby, guest researcher at Jacobs University, Bremen, examined congenital hypothyroidism (CH) rates in newborns using data obtained from the State of California over the period of the Fukushima explosions.

Their results are published in their paper Changes in confirmed plus borderline cases of congenital hypothyroidism in California as a function of environmental fallout from the Fukushima nuclear meltdown. The researchers compared data for babies exposed to radioactive Iodine-131 and born between March 17th and Dec 31st 2011 with unexposed babies born in 2011 before the exposures plus those born in 2012.

Confirmed cases of hypothyroidism, defined as those with TSH level greater than 29 units increased by 21% in the group of babies that were exposed to excess radioactive Iodine in the womb [*]. The same group of children had a 27% increase in ‘borderline cases’ [**].

Contrary to many reports, the explosion of the reactors and spent fuel pools at Fukushima produced levels of radioactive contamination which were comparable with the Chernobyl releases in 1986. Using estimates made by the Norwegian Air Laboratory it is possible to estimate that more than 250PBq (200 x 1015) Bq of Iodine-131 (half life 8 days) were released at Fukushima.

This is also predicted by comparing the Caesium-137 estimates with I-131 releases from Chernobyl, quantities which caused the thyroid cancer epidemic in Byelarus, the Ukraine and parts of the Russian Republic.

More on this later. At Fukushima, the winds generally blew the radioactive iodine and other volatile radionuclides out to sea, to the Pacific Ocean. The journey 5,000 miles to the West Coast of the USA leaves a lot of time for dispersal and dilution. Nevertheless, small amounts of I-131 were measured in milk causing widespread concern.

The authorities downplayed any risk on the basis that the “doses” were very low; far lower than the natural background radiation. The University of Berkeley measured I-131 in rainwater from 18th to 28th March 2011 after which levels fell. If we assume that mothers drank 1 litre of rainwater a day for this period (of course they didn’t) the current radiation risk model of the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP) calculates an absorbed dose to the adult thyroid of 23 microSieverts, less than 1/100th the annual background “dose”. The foetus is more sensitive (by a factor of about 10 according to ICRP) but is exposed to less as it is perhaps 100 times smaller.

So this finding is one more instance of the fact that the current radiation risk model, employed by the governments of every nation, is massively insecure for predicting harm from internal radionuclide exposures or explaining the clear observations.

The Fukushima catastrophe has been dismissed as a potential cause of health effects even in Japan, let alone as far away as California. And on what basis? Because the “dose” is too low.

This is the mantra chanted by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the World Health Organization (WHO, largely the same outfit), and the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR). And let’s not forget all the nuclear scientists who swooped down on Fukushima with their International Conferences and placatory soothing presentations.

This chant was heard after Chernobyl, after the nuclear site child leukemias; in the nuclear atmospheric test veterans cases; and in all the other clear situations which in any unbiased scientific arena would long ago have blown away the belief that low level internal exposures are safe.

But this one-size-fits-all concept of “dose” is the nuclear industry’s sinking ship. It provides essential cover for the use of uranium weapons, whether fission bombs or depleted uranium munitions; for the development of nuclear power stations like Hinkley Point; the burying of radioactive waste in landfills in middle England; releases of plutonium to the Irish Sea from Sellafield (where it drifts ashore and causes increases in cancer on the coasts of Wales and Ireland); and most recently, for the British Governments denial of excess cancers among nuclear test veterans.

This new study is not the first to draw attention to the sensitivity of the unborn baby to internal fission products. In 2009 I used data supplied to me when I was a member of the UK government Committee Examining Radiation Risks from Internal Emitters (CERRIE) to carry out a meta-analysis of infant leukemia rates in five countries in Europe: England and Wales, Germany, Greece, and Byelarus.

There had been an unexpected and statistically significant increase in infant leukemia (age 0-1) in those children who were in the womb during the (whole body monitored) increased levels of Caesium-137 from Chernobyl. The beauty of this study (like the TSH study) is that, unlike the Sellafield child leukemias, there is really no possible alternative explanation.

It was the low “dose” of Caesium-137 that caused the leukemias. And the dose response trend was not a straight line: The effect at the very low “dose” was greater than at the very high “dose”. Presumably because at the high doses the babies perished in the womb and could not, therefore, develop leukemia. I published the results and drew attention to the failure of the ICRP model in the International Journal of Environment and Public Health in 2009.

I had published a paper on this infant leukemia proof of the failure of the risk model inEnergy and Environment in 2000, and also presented it in the same year at the World Health Organisation conference in Kiev. It was there that I first really came up against the inversion of science deployed by the chiefs of the IAEA and UNSCEAR. The conference was videofilmed by Wladimir Tchertkoff and you can see his excellent documentary, which made it to Swiss TV, Atomic Lies, re-released in 2004 as Nuclear Controversies (link to youtube, 51 minutes).

For what is done by these people is to dismiss any evidence of increased rates of cancer or any other disease by shouting at it: “the doses were too low”. In this way, reality is airbrushed away. What is this quantity “dose”? It is a simple physics-based quantity which represents the absorption of energy from radiation. One Sievert of gamma radiation is one Joule per kilogram of living tissue.

This might work for external radiation. But it doesn’t work for internal exposures to radioactive elements which can produce huge effects on cellular DNA at low average “doses”. It is like comparing warming yourself in front of the fire with eating a hot coal. Or comparing a punch to stabbing. Same dose, same energy. Very different effects.

This “dose” scam has been used to dismiss real effects since it was invented in 1952 to deal with the exposures from nuclear weapons development and testing. For those who want to dig deeper into the science there is a recent book chapter I wrote in the book New Research Directions in DNS Repair.

The most scary instances of the sensitivity of the foetus to radiation are the sex ratio studies of Hagen Scherb, a German biostatician and member of the European Committee on Radiation Risk (ECRR). With his colleague Christina Voigt he has published a series of papers showing a sudden change in the sex ratio of newborns after various radiation exposure incidents.

Sex ratio, the number of boys born to 1,000 girls is a well accepted indicator of genetic damage and perturbations in the normal ratio of 1,050 (boys to 100 girls) are due to the deaths before birth of radiation damaged individuals of one sex or the other depending on whether the father (sperm) or mother (egg) was most exposed.

We found such an effect (more girls) in our study of Fallujah, Iraq, where there was exposure to Uranium weapons. But Scherb and Voigt have looked at the major catastrophes, Chernobyl, the weapons tests fallout, near nuclear sites in data from many countries of the world. Huge datasets.

They estimate that millions have babies have been killed by these subtle internal radiation exposures. The nuclear military project is responsible for an awful lot of deaths. In years to come I believe this will eventually be seen as the greatest public health scandal in human history.

Of course, the exposure to radio-Iodine is associated with thyroid cancer in children. There was a big rise of thyroid cancer in Byelarus, the Ukraine and the Russian Republic after Chernobyl. The situation at Fukushima seems set to echo this, despite the reassurances from the authorities that there will be no effects.

Our paper reports 44 confirmed thyroid cancer cases in 0-18 year olds in Fukushima prefecture in the last six months (a figure that has since risen to 53). In the hypothyroidism paper we discuss the 44 cases relative to the population and calculate that this represents an 80-fold excess based on national data prior to the Fukushima Iodine releases.

This presents a severe challenge to Dr Wolfgang Weiss of the UN and WHO, who stated last year that no thyroid cancers could result from the Fukushima disaster as the “doses were too low”. How does he explain the 80-fold increase in this normally rare condition?

Or rather, when will he admit that the entire scientific model that underpins his views is fraudulent? And that nuclear radiation is – roughly speaking – 1,000 times more dangerous to human health than he is letting on?

Chris Busby is the Scientific Secretary of the European Committee on Radiation Risk. For details and current CV see www.chrisbusbyexposed.org. For accounts of his work see www.greeenaudit.orgwww.llrc.org and www.nuclearjustice.org. This article originally appeared in The Ecologist.

“We Have Passed The Point Of No Return.” : Learning How to Die in the Anthropocene

In Uncategorized on November 30, 2013 at 8:15 pm

Oldspeak: “…climatologists now predict will raise global temperatures by 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit within a generation and 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit within 90 years… The climate scientist James Hansen, formerly with NASA, has argued that we face an “apocalyptic” future. This grim view is seconded by researchers worldwide, including Anders Levermann, Paul and Anne Ehrlich, Lonnie Thompson and many, many, many others…

This chorus of Jeremiahs predicts a radically transformed global climate forcing widespread upheaval — not possibly, not potentially, but inevitably. We have passed the point of no return. From the point of view of policy experts, climate scientists and national security officials, the question is no longer whether global warming exists or how we might stop it, but how we are going to deal with it…

The human psyche naturally rebels against the idea of its end. Likewise, civilizations have throughout history marched blindly toward disaster, because humans are wired to believe that tomorrow will be much like today — it is unnatural for us to think that this way of life, this present moment, this order of things is not stable and permanent. Across the world today, our actions testify to our belief that we can go on like this forever, burning oil, poisoning the seas, killing off other species, pumping carbon into the air, ignoring the ominous silence of our coal mine canaries in favor of the unending robotic tweets of our new digital imaginarium. Yet the reality of global climate change is going to keep intruding on our fantasies of perpetual growth, permanent innovation and endless energy, just as the reality of mortality shocks our casual faith in permanence.

The biggest problem climate change poses isn’t how the Department of Defense should plan for resource wars, or how we should put up sea walls to protect Alphabet City, or when we should evacuate Hoboken. It won’t be addressed by buying a Prius, signing a treaty, or turning off the air-conditioning. The biggest problem we face is a philosophical one: understanding that this civilization is already dead. The sooner we confront this problem, and the sooner we realize there’s nothing we can do to save ourselves, the sooner we can get down to the hard work of adapting, with mortal humility, to our new reality.” -Roy Scranton

“Hmm. When they start publishing hard truths like this in the New York Times, pay attention.  “this civilization is already dead.” Powerful truth. Just look around to see the evidence. Our civilization is literally fueled by death (ancient dead plant and animal matter a.k.a. fossil fuels, the death of living ecosystems like forests, rivers and oceans,  the death of countless other species and millions of our own via environmental contamination & destruction, war, violence & conquest) on an industrial scale. An undead, zombie civilization sustaining itself on the death of our planet. Our civilization has triggered multiple catastrophic and irreversible non-linear feedback loops that are contributing to the collapse of global ecological systems necessary for our and other lifeforms survival and there’s not much we can to do stop it at this point. Our technology won’t save us. We’ve condemned future generations to damnable lives on a uninhabitable planet. These are hard truths for anyone to acknowledge. Just easier not to do so. But we’re basically fucked. Appreciate the beauty of life as you know it while you can and live it to the fullest. Reject contrived reality, and embrace objective reality.” -OSJ

By Roy Scranton @ The New York Times:

Driving into Iraq just after the 2003 invasion felt like driving into the future. We convoyed all day, all night, past Army checkpoints and burned-out tanks, till in the blue dawn Baghdad rose from the desert like a vision of hell: Flames licked the bruised sky from the tops of refinery towers, cyclopean monuments bulged and leaned against the horizon, broken overpasses swooped and fell over ruined suburbs, bombed factories, and narrow ancient streets.

With “shock and awe,” our military had unleashed the end of the world on a city of six million — a city about the same size as Houston or Washington. The infrastructure was totaled: water, power, traffic, markets and security fell to anarchy and local rule. The city’s secular middle class was disappearing, squeezed out between gangsters, profiteers, fundamentalists and soldiers. The government was going down, walls were going up, tribal lines were being drawn, and brutal hierarchies savagely established.

I was a private in the United States Army. This strange, precarious world was my new home. If I survived.

Two and a half years later, safe and lazy back in Fort Sill, Okla., I thought I had made it out. Then I watched on television as Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. This time it was the weather that brought shock and awe, but I saw the same chaos and urban collapse I’d seen in Baghdad, the same failure of planning and the same tide of anarchy. The 82nd Airborne hit the ground, took over strategic points and patrolled streets now under de facto martial law. My unit was put on alert to prepare for riot control operations. The grim future I’d seen in Baghdad was coming home: not terrorism, not even W.M.D.’s, but a civilization in collapse, with a crippled infrastructure, unable to recuperate from shocks to its system.

And today, with recovery still going on more than a year after Sandy and many critics arguing that the Eastern seaboard is no more prepared for a huge weather event than we were last November, it’s clear that future’s not going away.

This March, Admiral Samuel J. Locklear III, the commander of the United States Pacific Command, told security and foreign policy specialists in Cambridge, Mass., that global climate change was the greatest threat the United States faced — more dangerous than terrorism, Chinese hackers and North Korean nuclear missiles. Upheaval from increased temperatures, rising seas and radical destabilization “is probably the most likely thing that is going to happen…” he said, “that will cripple the security environment, probably more likely than the other scenarios we all often talk about.’’

Locklear’s not alone. Tom Donilon, the national security adviser, said much the same thing in April, speaking to an audience at Columbia’s new Center on Global Energy Policy. James Clapper, director of national intelligence, told the Senate in March that “Extreme weather events (floods, droughts, heat waves) will increasingly disrupt food and energy markets, exacerbating state weakness, forcing human migrations, and triggering riots, civil disobedience, and vandalism.”

On the civilian side, the World Bank’s recent report, “Turn Down the Heat: Climate Extremes, Regional Impacts, and the Case for Resilience,” offers a dire prognosis for the effects of global warming, which climatologists now predict will raise global temperatures by 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit within a generation and 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit within 90 years. Projections from researchers at the University of Hawaii find us dealing with “historically unprecedented” climates as soon as 2047. The climate scientist James Hansen, formerly with NASA, has argued that we face an “apocalyptic” future. This grim view is seconded by researchers worldwide, including Anders Levermann, Paul and Anne Ehrlich, Lonnie Thompson and many, many, many others.

This chorus of Jeremiahs predicts a radically transformed global climate forcing widespread upheaval — not possibly, not potentially, but inevitably. We have passed the point of no return. From the point of view of policy experts, climate scientists and national security officials, the question is no longer whether global warming exists or how we might stop it, but how we are going to deal with it.

II.

There’s a word for this new era we live in: the Anthropocene. This term, taken up by geologists, pondered by intellectuals and discussed in the pages of publications such as The Economist and the The New York Times, represents the idea that we have entered a new epoch in Earth’s geological history, one characterized by the arrival of the human species as a geological force. The biologist Eugene F. Stoermer and the Nobel-Prize-winning chemist Paul Crutzen advanced the term in 2000, and it has steadily gained acceptance as evidence has increasingly mounted that the changes wrought by global warming will affect not just the world’s climate and biological diversity, but its very geology — and not just for a few centuries, but for millenniums. The geophysicist David Archer’s 2009 book, “The Long Thaw: How Humans are Changing the Next 100,000 Years of Earth’s Climate,” lays out a clear and concise argument for how huge concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and melting ice will radically transform the planet, beyond freak storms and warmer summers, beyond any foreseeable future.

The Stratigraphy Commission of the Geological Society of London — the scientists responsible for pinning the “golden spikes” that demarcate geological epochs such as the Pliocene, Pleistocene, and Holocene — have adopted the Anthropocene as a term deserving further consideration, “significant on the scale of Earth history.” Working groups are discussing what level of geological time-scale it might be (an “epoch” like the Holocene, or merely an “age” like the Calabrian), and at what date we might say it began. The beginning of the Great Acceleration, in the middle of the 20th century? The beginning of the Industrial Revolution, around 1800? The advent of agriculture?

The challenge the Anthropocene poses is a challenge not just to national security, to food and energy markets, or to our “way of life” — though these challenges are all real, profound, and inescapable. The greatest challenge the Anthropocene poses may be to our sense of what it means to be human. Within 100 years — within three to five generations — we will face average temperatures 7 degrees Fahrenheit higher than today, rising seas at least three to 10 feet higher, and worldwide shifts in crop belts, growing seasons and population centers. Within a thousand years, unless we stop emitting greenhouse gases wholesale right now, humans will be living in a climate the Earth hasn’t seen since the Pliocene, three million years ago, when oceans were 75 feet higher than they are today. We face the imminent collapse of the agricultural, shipping and energy networks upon which the global economy depends, a large-scale die-off in the biosphere that’s already well on its way, and our own possible extinction. If homo sapiens (or some genetically modified variant) survives the next millenniums, it will be survival in a world unrecognizably different from the one we have inhabited.

Jeffery DelViscio

Geological time scales, civilizational collapse and species extinction give rise to profound problems that humanities scholars and academic philosophers, with their taste for fine-grained analysis, esoteric debates and archival marginalia, might seem remarkably ill suited to address. After all, how will thinking about Kant help us trap carbon dioxide? Can arguments between object-oriented ontology and historical materialism protect honeybees from colony collapse disorder? Are ancient Greek philosophers, medieval theologians, and contemporary metaphysicians going to keep Bangladesh from being inundated by rising oceans?

Of course not. But the biggest problems the Anthropocene poses are precisely those that have always been at the root of humanistic and philosophical questioning: “What does it mean to be human?” and “What does it mean to live?” In the epoch of the Anthropocene, the question of individual mortality — “What does my life mean in the face of death?” — is universalized and framed in scales that boggle the imagination. What does human existence mean against 100,000 years of climate change? What does one life mean in the face of species death or the collapse of global civilization? How do we make meaningful choices in the shadow of our inevitable end?

These questions have no logical or empirical answers. They are philosophical problems par excellence. Many thinkers, including Cicero, Montaigne, Karl Jaspers, and The Stone’s own Simon Critchley, have argued that studying philosophy is learning how to die. If that’s true, then we have entered humanity’s most philosophical age — for this is precisely the problem of the Anthropocene. The rub is that now we have to learn how to die not as individuals, but as a civilization.

III.

Learning how to die isn’t easy. In Iraq, at the beginning, I was terrified by the idea. Baghdad seemed incredibly dangerous, even though statistically I was pretty safe. We got shot at and mortared, and I.E.D.’s laced every highway, but I had good armor, we had a great medic, and we were part of the most powerful military the world had ever seen. The odds were good I would come home. Maybe wounded, but probably alive. Every day I went out on mission, though, I looked down the barrel of the future and saw a dark, empty hole.

“For the soldier death is the future, the future his profession assigns him,” wrote  Simone Weil in her remarkable meditation on war, “The Iliad or the Poem of Force.” “Yet the idea of man’s having death for a future is abhorrent to nature. Once the experience of war makes visible the possibility of death that lies locked up in each moment, our thoughts cannot travel from one day to the next without meeting death’s face.” That was the face I saw in the mirror, and its gaze nearly paralyzed me.

I found my way forward through an 18th-century Samurai manual, Yamamoto Tsunetomo’s “Hagakure,” which commanded: “Meditation on inevitable death should be performed daily.” Instead of fearing my end, I owned it. Every morning, after doing maintenance on my Humvee, I’d imagine getting blown up by an I.E.D., shot by a sniper, burned to death, run over by a tank, torn apart by dogs, captured and beheaded, and succumbing to dysentery. Then, before we rolled out through the gate, I’d tell myself that I didn’t need to worry, because I was already dead. The only thing that mattered was that I did my best to make sure everyone else came back alive. “If by setting one’s heart right every morning and evening, one is able to live as though his body were already dead,” wrote Tsunetomo, “he gains freedom in the Way.”

I got through my tour in Iraq one day at a time, meditating each morning on my inevitable end. When I left Iraq and came back stateside, I thought I’d left that future behind. Then I saw it come home in the chaos that was unleashed after Katrina hit New Orleans. And then I saw it again when Sandy battered New York and New Jersey: Government agencies failed to move quickly enough, and volunteer groups like Team Rubicon had to step in to manage disaster relief.

Now, when I look into our future — into the Anthropocene — I see water rising up to wash out lower Manhattan. I see food riots, hurricanes, and climate refugees. I see 82nd Airborne soldiers shooting looters. I see grid failure, wrecked harbors, Fukushima waste, and plagues. I see Baghdad. I see the Rockaways. I see a strange, precarious world.

Our new home.

The human psyche naturally rebels against the idea of its end. Likewise, civilizations have throughout history marched blindly toward disaster, because humans are wired to believe that tomorrow will be much like today — it is unnatural for us to think that this way of life, this present moment, this order of things is not stable and permanent. Across the world today, our actions testify to our belief that we can go on like this forever, burning oil, poisoning the seas, killing off other species, pumping carbon into the air, ignoring the ominous silence of our coal mine canaries in favor of the unending robotic tweets of our new digital imaginarium. Yet the reality of global climate change is going to keep intruding on our fantasies of perpetual growth, permanent innovation and endless energy, just as the reality of mortality shocks our casual faith in permanence.

The biggest problem climate change poses isn’t how the Department of Defense should plan for resource wars, or how we should put up sea walls to protect Alphabet City, or when we should evacuate Hoboken. It won’t be addressed by buying a Prius, signing a treaty, or turning off the air-conditioning. The biggest problem we face is a philosophical one: understanding that this civilization is already dead. The sooner we confront this problem, and the sooner we realize there’s nothing we can do to save ourselves, the sooner we can get down to the hard work of adapting, with mortal humility, to our new reality.

The choice is a clear one. We can continue acting as if tomorrow will be just like yesterday, growing less and less prepared for each new disaster as it comes, and more and more desperately invested in a life we can’t sustain. Or we can learn to see each day as the death of what came before, freeing ourselves to deal with whatever problems the present offers without attachment or fear.

If we want to learn to live in the Anthropocene, we must first learn how to die.

 

Is Our System of Government Incapable Of Meeting The Challenges We Face?

In Uncategorized on October 22, 2013 at 3:03 pm

Oldspeak:We have entered a “long emergency” in which a myriad of worsening eco-logical, social, and economic problems and dilemmas at different geographic and temporal scales are converging as a crisis of crises. It is a collision of two non-linear systems—the biosphere and biogeochemical cycles on one side and human institutions, organizations, and governments on the other. But the response at the national and international levels has so far been indifferent to inconsistent, and nowhere more flagrantly so than in the United States, which is responsible for about 28 percent of the fossil-fuel carbon that humanity added to the atmosphere between 1850 and 2002.

The “perfect storm” that lies ahead is caused by the collision of changing climate; spreading ecological disorder (including deforestation, soil loss, water shortages, species loss, ocean acidification); population growth; unfair distribution of the costs, risks, and benefits of economic growth; national, ethnic, and religious tensions; and the proliferation of nuclear weapons—all compounded by systemic failures of foresight and policy…

Part of the reason for paralysis is the sheer difficulty of the issue. Climate change is scientifically complex, politically divisive, economically costly, morally contentious, and ever so easy to deny or defer to others at some later time. But the continuing failure to anticipate and forestall the worst effects of climate destabilization in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence is the largest political and moral failure in history. Indeed, it is a crime across generations for which we have, as yet, no name.

Barring a technological miracle, we have condemned ourselves and posterity to live with growing climate instability for hundreds or even thousands of years. No government has yet shown the foresight, will, creativity, or capacity to deal with problems at this scale, complexity, or duration. No government is prepared to make the “tragic choices” ahead humanely and rationally. And no government has yet demonstrated the willingness to rethink its own mission at the intersection of climate instability and conventional economic wisdom. The same is true in the realm of international governance. In the words of historian Mark Mazower: “The real world challenges mount around us in the shape of climate change, financial instability . . . [but there is] no single agency able to coordinate the response to global warming….

These issues require us to ask what kind of societies and what kind of global community do we intend to build? It is certainly possible to imagine a corporate-dominated, hyper-efficient, solar-powered, sustainable world that is also grossly unfair, violent, and fascist. To organize society mostly by market transactions would be to create a kind of Ayn Randian hell that would demolish society, as economist Karl Polanyi once said. Some things should never be sold—because the selling undermines human rights; because it would violate the law and procedural requirements for openness and fairness; because it would have a coarsening effect on society; because the sale would steal from the poor and vulnerable, including future generations; because the thing to be sold is part of the common heritage of humankind and so can have no rightful owner; and because the thing to be sold—including government itself—should simply not be for sale.

So what is to be done?…. Canadian writer and activist Naomi Klein proposes that we strengthen and deepen the practice of democracy even as we enlarge the power of the state. “Responding to climate change, requires that we break every rule in the free-market playbook and that we do so with great urgency. We will need to rebuild the public sphere, reverse privatizations, relocalize large parts of economies, scale back overconsumption, bring back long-term planning, heavily regulate and tax corporations, maybe even nationalize some of them, cut military spending and recognize our debts to the global South. Of course, none of this has a hope in hell of happening unless sit is accompanied by a massive, broad-based effort to radically reduce the influence that corporations have over the political process. That means, at minimum, publicly funded elections and stripping corporations of their status as “people” under the law.” –David W. Orr

“So we know what needs to be done, the know the problem requires a globally coordinated response, we know it needs to start happening LAST WEEK. “But the continuing failure to anticipate and forestall the worst effects of climate destabilization in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence is the largest political and moral failure in history.” Why? Greed and insatiable thirst for more have so thoroughly infected the totalitarian psyches of our most powerful and influential “citizens”. They have co-opted the political systems of the world, buying major influence over its workings. Drastically restricting and obstructing any meaningful environment based reforms. The information dissemination systems say very little about the perilous future that is all but guaranteed by the unrelenting, increasingly dangerous and toxic extraction and burning of fossil fuels  There is no indication these systems will change anytime soon. The people will have to drive the change if there is to be any.” -OSJ

By David W. Orr @ Alter Net:

The following is excerpted from The State of the World 2013: Is Sustainability Possible [2] by the Worldwatch Institute. Copyright 2013 by the Worldwatch Institute. Reproduced by permission of Island Press, Washington DC.

The first evidence linking climate change and human emissions of carbon dioxide was painstakingly assembled in 1897 by Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius. What began as an interesting but seemingly unimportant conjecture about the effect of rising carbon dioxide on temperature has turned into a flood of increasingly urgent and rigorous warnings about the rapid warming of Earth and the dire consequences of inaction. Nonetheless, the global dialogue on climate is floundering while the scientific and anecdotal evidence of rapid climate destabilization grows by the day.

We have entered a “long emergency” in which a myriad of worsening eco-logical, social, and economic problems and dilemmas at different geographic and temporal scales are converging as a crisis of crises. It is a collision of two non-linear systems—the biosphere and biogeochemical cycles on one side and human institutions, organizations, and governments on the other. But the response at the national and international levels has so far been indifferent to inconsistent, and nowhere more flagrantly so than in the United States, which is responsible for about 28 percent of the fossil-fuel carbon that humanity added to the atmosphere between 1850 and 2002.

The “perfect storm” that lies ahead is caused by the collision of changing climate; spreading ecological disorder (including deforestation, soil loss, water shortages, species loss, ocean acidification); population growth; unfair distribution of the costs, risks, and benefits of economic growth; national, ethnic, and religious tensions; and the proliferation of nuclear weapons—all compounded by systemic failures of foresight and policy. As a consequence, in political theorist Brian Barry’s words, “it is quite possible that by the year 2100 human life will have become extinct or will be confined to a few residential areas that have escaped the devastating effects of nuclear holocaust or global warming.”

Part of the reason for paralysis is the sheer difficulty of the issue. Climate change is scientifically complex, politically divisive, economically costly, morally contentious, and ever so easy to deny or defer to others at some later time. But the continuing failure to anticipate and forestall the worst effects of climate destabilization in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence is the largest political and moral failure in history. Indeed, it is a crime across generations for which we have, as yet, no name.

Barring a technological miracle, we have condemned ourselves and posterity to live with growing climate instability for hundreds or even thousands of years. No government has yet shown the foresight, will, creativity, or capacity to deal with problems at this scale, complexity, or duration. No government is prepared to make the “tragic choices” ahead humanely and rationally. And no government has yet demonstrated the willingness to rethink its own mission at the intersection of climate instability and conventional economic wisdom. The same is true in the realm of international governance. In the words of historian Mark Mazower: “The real world challenges mount around us in the shape of climate change, financial instability . . . [but there is] no single agency able to coordinate the response to global warming.”

The Problem of Governance

In An Inquiry into the Human Prospect, in 1974, economist Robert Heilbroner wrote: “I not only predict but I prescribe a centralization of power as the only means by which our threatened and dangerous civilization will make way for its successor.” Heilbroner’s description of the human prospect included global warming but also other threats to industrial civilization, including the possibility that finally we would not care enough to do the things necessary to protect posterity. The extent to which power must be centralized, he said, depends on the capacity of populations, accustomed to affluence, for self-discipline. But he did not find “much evidence in history—especially in the history of nations organized under the materialistic and individualistic promptings of an industrial civilization— to encourage expectations of an easy subordination of the private interest to the public weal.”

Heilbroner’s conclusions are broadly similar to those of others, including British sociologist Anthony Giddens, who somewhat less apocalyptically proposes “a return to greater state interventionism”—but as a catalyst, facilitator, and enforcer of guarantees. Giddens believes the climate crisis will motivate governments to create new partnerships with corporations and civil society, which is to say more of the same, only bigger and better. David Rothkopf of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace likewise argues that the role of the state must evolve toward larger, more innovative governments and “stronger international institutions [as] the only possible way to preserve national interests.”

The performance of highly centralized governments, however, is not encouraging—especially relative to the conditions of the long emergency. Governments have been effective at waging war and sometimes in solving— or appearing to solve—economic problems. But even then they are cumbersome, slow, and excessively bureaucratic. They tend to fragment agencies by problem, rather like mailbox pigeonholes, but the long emergency will require managing complex systems over long time periods. Might there be more agile, dependable, and less awkward ways to conduct the public business in the long emergency that do not require authoritarian governments, the compromises and irrational messiness of politics, or even reliance on personal sacrifice? Can these be made to work over the long time spans necessary to stabilize the climate? If not, how else might we conduct the public business? Broadly, there are three other possibilities.

First, champions of markets and advanced technology propose to solve the climate crisis by harnessing the power of markets and technological innovation to avoid what they regard as the quagmire of government. Rational corporate behavior responding to markets and prices, they believe, can stabilize climate faster at lower costs and without hair-shirt sacrifice, moral posturing, and slow, clumsy, overbearing bureaucracies. The reason is said to be the power of informed self-interest plus the ongoing revolution in energy technology that has made efficiency and renewable energy cheaper, faster, less risky, and more profitable than fossil fuels. In their 2011 book, Reinventing Fire, Amory Lovins and his coauthors, for example, ask whether “the United States could realistically stop using oil and coal by 2050? And could such a vast transition toward efficient use and renewable energy be led by business for durable advantage?” The answer, they say, is yes, and the reasoning and data they marshal are formidable.

But why would corporations, particularly those in highly subsidized extractive industries, agree to change as long as they can pass on the costs of climate change to someone else? Who would pay for the “stranded” oil and coal reserves (with an estimated value in excess of $20 trillion) that cannot be burned if we are to stay below a 2 degree Celsius warming—often thought to be the threshold of catastrophe? Would corporations continue to use their financial power to manipulate public opinion, undermine regulations, and oppose an equitable sharing of costs, risks, and benefits? How does corporate responsibility fit with the capitalist drive to expand market share? Economist Robert Reich concludes that given the existing rules of the market, corporations “cannotbe socially responsible, at least not to any significant extent. . . . Supercapitalism does not permit acts of corporate virtue that erode the bottom line. No corporation can ‘voluntarily’ take on an extra cost that its competitors don’t also take on.” He further argues that the alleged convergence of social responsibility and profitability is unsupported by any factual evidence.

There are still larger questions about how large corporations fit in democratic societies. One of the most insightful students of politics and economics, Yale political scientist Charles Lindblom, concluded his magisterial Politics and Marketsin 1977 with the observation that “the large private corporation fits oddly into democratic theory and vision. Indeed, it does not fit” (emphasis added). Until democratized internally, stripped of legal “personhood,” and rendered publicly accountable, large corporations will remain autocratic fiefdoms, for the most part beyond public control.

These issues require us to ask what kind of societies and what kind of global community do we intend to build? It is certainly possible to imagine a corporate-dominated, hyper-efficient, solar-powered, sustainable world that is also grossly unfair, violent, and fascist. To organize society mostly by market transactions would be to create a kind of Ayn Randian hell that would demolish society, as economist Karl Polanyi once said. Some things should never be sold—because the selling undermines human rights; because it would violate the law and procedural requirements for openness and fairness; because it would have a coarsening effect on society; because the sale would steal from the poor and vulnerable, including future generations; because the thing to be sold is part of the common heritage of humankind and so can have no rightful owner; and because the thing to be sold—including government itself—should simply not be for sale.

A second alternative to authoritarian governments may lie in the emergence of national and global networks abetted by the Internet and advancing communications technology. They are decentralized, self-replicating, and sometimes self-correcting. In time, they might grow into a global system doing what traditional governments and international agencies once did—but better, faster, and cheaper. Some analysts believe that the old model of the nation-state is inadequate to meet many of the challenges of the long emergency and is losing power to a variety of novel organizations. Anne-Marie Slaughter of Princeton University, for one, envisions networks of “disaggregated states in which national government officials interact intensively with one another and adopt codes of best practices and agree on coordinated solutions to common problems,” thereby sidestepping conventional inter-governmental practices and international politics.

Below the level of governments there is, in fact, an explosion of nongovernmental organizations, citizens’ groups, and professional networks that are already assuming many of the functions and responsibilities once left to governments. Writer and entrepreneur Paul Hawken believes that the world is already being reshaped by a global upwelling of grassroots organizations promoting sustainable economies, renewable energy, justice, transparency, and community mobilization. Many of the thousands of groups Hawken describes are linked in “global action networks,” organized around specific issues to provide “communication platforms for sub-groups to organize in ever-more-specialized geographic and sub-issue networks.” Early examples include the International Red Cross and the International Labour Organization.

Recently clusters of nongovernmental groups have organized around issues such as common property resources, global financing for local projects, water, climate, political campaigns, and access to information. They are fast, agile, and participatory. Relative to other citizens’ efforts, they require little funding. But like other grassroots organizations, they have no power to legislate, tax, or enforce rules. In Mark Mazower’s words, “Many are too opaque and unrepresentative to any collective body.” Much of the same, he believes, can be said of foundations and philanthropists. By applying business methods to social problems, Mazower writes, “Philanthrocapitalists exaggerate what technology can do, ignore the complexities of social and institutional constraints, often waste sums that would have been better spent more carefully and wreak havoc with the existing fabric of society in places they know very little about.” Moreover, they are not immune to fashion, delusion, corruption, and arrogance. Nor are they often held account-able to the public.

So what is to be done? Robert Heilbroner proposed enlarging the powers of the state. Green economy advocates believe that corporations can lead the transition through the long emergency. Others argue that an effective planetary immune system is already emerging in the form of networks. Each offers a piece in a larger puzzle. But there is a fourth possibility. Canadian writer and activist Naomi Klein proposes that we strengthen and deepen the practice of democracy even as we enlarge the power of the state. “Responding to climate change,” she writes:

“requires that we break every rule in the free-market playbook and that we do so with great urgency. We will need to rebuild the public sphere, reverse privatizations, relocalize large parts of economies, scale back overconsumption, bring back long-term planning, heavily regulate and tax corporations, maybe even nationalize some of them, cut military spending and recognize our debts to the global South. Of course, none of this has a hope in hell of happening unless sit is accompanied by a massive, broad-based effort to radically reduce the influence that corporations have over the political process. That means, at minimum, publicly funded elections and stripping corporations of their status as “people” under the law.

Democracy, Winston Churchill once famously said, is the worst form of government except for all the others ever tried. But has it ever been tried? In columnist Harold Myerson’s words, “the problem isn’t that we’re too democratic. It’s that we’re not democratic enough.” The authors of the U.S. Constitution, for example, grounded ultimate power in “we the people” while denying them any such power or even much access to it.

Political theorist Benjamin Barber proposes that we take some of the power back by revitalizing society as a “strong democracy,” by which he means a “self-governing community of citizens who are united less by homogeneous interests than by civic education and who are made capable of common purpose and mutual action by virtue of their civic attitudes and participatory institutions rather than their altruism or their good nature.” Strong democracy requires engaged, thoughtful citizens, as once proposed by Thomas Jefferson and John Dewey. The primary obstacle, Barber con-cedes, is the lack of a “nationwide system of local civic participation.” To fill that void he proposes, among other things, a national system of neighborhood assemblies rebuilding democracy from the bottom up.

Political theorists Amy Gutmann and Dennis Thompson similarly propose the creation of deliberative institutions in which “free and equal citizens (and their representatives), justify decisions in a process in which they give one another reasons that are mutually acceptable and generally accessible, with the aim of reaching conclusions that are binding in the present to all citizens but open to challenge in the future.” Reminiscent of classical Greek democracy, they intend to get people talking about large issues in public settings in order to raise the legitimacy of policy choices, improve public knowledge, and increase civil discourse. (See Box 26–1.) A great deal depends, they concede, on the durability and vitality of practices and institutions that enable deliberation to work well.

Political scientists Bruce Ackerman and James Fishkin propose a new national holiday, Deliberation Day, on which citizens would meet in structured dialogues about issues and candidates. They believe that “ordinary citizens are willing and able to take on the challenge of civic deliberation during ordinary times” in a properly structured setting that “facilitates genuine learning about the choices confronting the political community.”

Legal scholar Sanford Levinson believes, however, that reforms will be ineffective without first repairing the structural flaws in the U.S. Constitution, which is less democratic than any of the 50 state constitutions in the United States. He proposes a Constitutional Convention of citizens selected by lottery proportional to state populations to remodel the basic structure of governance. Whether this is feasible or not, the U.S. Constitution has other flaws that will limit effective responses to problems of governance in the long emergency.

Philosophers have argued through the ages that democracy is the best form of government, and some have claimed that the deeper it is, the better. By “deeper” they mean a structure that spreads power widely, engages more people, and invites them to take a more direct role in the shaping of policy.

Most liberal (current) democracies do not meet that definition, being republican in form and thus giving most power and decision making responsibility to elected representatives. In some of these republics, democracy is even further degraded. In the United States, for instance, Supreme Court decisions over the years have established that there is essentially no difference in civic standing between individual citizens and corporations or other private interests that can and do spend billions of dollars on political advertising, lobbying, and propaganda (over $8 billion in the 2010 election cycle).

But it is not simply such distortions of democracy that compel a closer look at the benefits of deepening it. The democracies that most of the industrial world lives in have been derided by political theorist Benjamin Barber as “politics as zookeeping”—systems designed “to keep men safely apart rather than bring them fruitfully together.” In fact there are major potential advantages in bringing people fruitfully together in the political arena, not least with respect to the environmental crises that beset humanity now. Paradoxically, one of the weaknesses of liberal democracy may be not that it asks too much of its citizens but that it asks too little. Having mostly handed off all responsibility for assessing issues and setting policy to elected politicians, voters are free to indulge themselves in narrow and virulently asserted positions rather than having to come together, work to perceive the common good, and plot a course toward it.

One antidote to this is deliberation. Deliberative democracy can take many forms, but its essence, according to social scientist Adolf Gundersen, is “the process by which individuals actively confront challenges to their beliefs.” It can happen when someone reads a book and thinks about what it says, but in the public sphere more generally it means engaging in pairs or larger groups to discuss issues, com-pare notes, probe (not attack) one another’s assertions, and take the opportunity to evolve a personal position in the interests of forging a collective one. Deliberative democracy, in Gundersen’s words, “challenges citizens to move beyond their present beliefs, develop their ideas, and examine their values. It calls upon them to make connections, to connect more firmly and fully with the people and the world around them.” When arranged to address environmental aims, deliberative democracy “connects the people, first with each other and then with the environment they wish not simply to visit, but also to inhabit.”

Given the uneven record of democracies in educating their people into citizenship, true deliberation might be difficult to learn, especially in countries where the politics are strongly adversarial. Deliberative democracy is a “conversation,” Gundersen says, “not a series of speeches.” Conversations involve respectful listening—not just waiting to talk—as well as speaking. Yet there is an untapped hunger for it that can be released when the circumstances are conducive. And Gundersen has established through 240 hours of interviews with 46 Americans that deliberation about environmental matters “leads citizens to think of our collective pursuit of environmental ends in a more collective, long-term, holistic, and self-reflectiveway.” Such thinking might be the indispensable foundation for achieving anything like sustainability.

In this regard the U.S. Constitution is typical of others in giving no “clear, unambiguous textual foundation for federal environmental protection law,” notes legal scholar Richard Lazarus. It privileges “decentralized, fragmented, and incremental lawmaking . . . which makes it difficult to address issues in a comprehensive, holistic fashion.” Congressional committee jurisdiction based on the Constitution further fragments responsibility and legislative results. The Constitution gives too much power to private rights as opposed to public goods. It does not mention the environment or the need to protect soils, air, water, wildlife, and climate and so it offers no unambiguous basis for environmental protection. The commerce clause, the source for major environmental statutes, is a cumbersome and awkward legal basis for environmental protection. The result, Lazarus notes, is that “our lawmaking institutions are particularly inapt for the task of considering problems and crafting legal solutions of the spatial and temporal dimensions necessary for environmental law.”

The U.S. Constitution is deficient in other ways as well. Posterity is mentioned only in the Preamble, but not thereafter. The omission, understandable when the Constitution was written, now poses an egregious wrong. In 1787, the framers could have had no premonition that far into the future one generation could deprive all others of life, liberty, and property without due process of law or even good cause. And so, in theologian Thomas Berry’s words: “It is already determined that our children and grandchildren will live amid the ruined infrastructures of the industrial world and amid the ruins of the natural world itself.” The U.S. Constitution gives them no protection whatsoever.

Further, with a few notable exceptions—such as in Ecuador—most constitutions pertain only to humans and their affairs and property. We privilege humans, while excluding other members of the biotic community. A more expansive system of governance would extend rights of sorts and in some fashion to species, rivers, landscapes, ecologies, and trees, as legal scholar Christopher Stone once proposed. In Thomas Berry’s words: “We have established our human governance with little regard for the need to integrate it with the functional order of the planet itself.” In fact, from our bodies to our global civilization we are part of a worldwide parliament of beings, systems, and forces far beyond our understanding. We are kin to all that ever was and all that ever will be and must learn what that fact means for governance.

Building the Foundations of Robust Democracies

The history of democracy is complex and often troubled. In classical Athens it lasted only 200 years. Political philosopher John Plamenatz once wrote that “democracy is the best form of government only when certain conditions hold.” But those conditions may not hold in established democracies in the long emergency ahead and may be impossible in less stable societies and failed states with no history of it. The reasons are many.

For one, citizens in most democratic societies have become accustomed to comfort and affluence, but democracy “requires citizens who are willing to sacrifice for the common good and [restrain] their passions,” notes political theorist Wilson Carey McWilliams. How people shaped by consumption will respond politically in what will certainly be more straitened times is un-known. Political analyst Peter Burnell cautions that “democratization does not necessarily make it easier and can make it more difficult for countries to engage with climate mitigation.”

Even in the best of times, however, representative democracies are vulnerable to neglect, changing circumstances, corruption, the frailties of human judgment, and the political uses of fear—whether of terrorism or sub-version. They tend to become ineffective, sclerotic, and easily co-opted by the powerful and wealthy. They are vulnerable to militarization, as James Madison noted long ago. They are susceptible to ideologically driven factions that refuse to play by the rules of compromise, tolerance, and fair play. They work differently at different scales. And they cannot long endure the many economic and social forces that corrode political intelligence and democratic competence.

Democracies are also vulnerable to what conservative philosopher Richard Weaver once described as the spoiled-child psychology, “a kind of irresponsibility of the mental process . . . because [people] do not have to think to survive . . . typical thinking of such people [exhibits] a sort of contempt for realities.” Psychologists Jean Twenge and Keith Campbell believe that the behavior Weaver noted in the 1940s has now exploded into a full-blown “epidemic of narcissism.” Such failures of personality, judgment, and character could multiply under the stresses likely in the long emergency.27

We are between the proverbial rock and a hard place. There is no good case to be made for smaller governments in the long emergency unless we wish to sharply reduce our security and lower our standards for the public downward to a libertarian, gun-toting, free-for-all—Thomas Hobbes’s nightmare on steroids. On the contrary, it will be necessary to enlarge governments domestically and internationally to deal with the nastier aspects of the long emergency, including relocating people from rising oceans and spreading deserts, restoring order in the wake of large storms, managing conflicts over diminishing water, food, and resources, dealing with the spread of diseases, and managing the difficult transition to a post-growth economy. On the other hand, we have good reason to fear an enlargement of government powers as both ineffective and potentially oppressive.

Given those choices, there is no good outcome that does not require something like a second democratic revolution in which we must master the art and science of governance for a new era—creating and maintaining governments that are ecologically competent, effective at managing complex systems, agile, capable of foresight, and sturdy over an extraordinary time span. If we intend for such governments to also be democratic, we will have to summon an extraordinary level of political creativity and courage. To meet the challenges of the late eighteenth century, James Madison argued that democracy required a free press that served a well-informed and engaged citizenry, fair and open elections, and reliable ways to counterbalance competing interests. But he feared that even the best government with indifferent and incompetent citizens and leaders would sooner or later come to ruin.

In our time, strong democracy may be our best hope for governance in the long emergency, but it will not develop, persist, and flourish without significant changes. The most difficult of these will require that we confront the age-old nemesis of democracy: economic oligarchy. Today the majority of concentrated wealth is tied, directly or indirectly, to the extraction, processing, and sale of fossil fuels, which is also the major driver of the long emergency. Decades of rising global inequality have entrenched control in a small group of super-wealthy individuals, financiers, corporations, media tycoons, drug lords, and celebrities in positions of unaccountable authority.

In the United States, for example, the wealthiest 400 individuals have more net wealth than the bottom 185,000,000 people. Six Walmart heirs alone control as much wealth as the bottom 42 percent of the U.S. population. Rising inequality in the United States and elsewhere reflects neither efficiency nor merit. And beyond some threshold it divides society by class, erodes empathy, hardens hearts, undermines public trust, incites violence, saps our collective imagination, and destroys the public spirit that upholds democracy and community alike. Nonetheless, the rich do not give up easily. According to political economist Jeffrey Winters, the redistribution of wealth has always occurred as a result of war, conquest, or revolution, not as a democratic decision or from the benevolence of plutocrats.

Toward the end of his life, historian Lewis Mumford concluded that the only way out of this conundrum is “a steady withdrawal” from the “megamachine” of technocratic and corporate control. He did not mean community-scale isolation and autarky, but rather more equitable, decentralized, and self-reliant communities that met a significant portion of their needs for food, energy, shelter, waste cycling, and economic support. He did not propose secession from the national and global community but rather withdrawal from dependence on the forces of oligarchy, technological domination, and zombie-like consumption. Half a century later, that remains the most likely strategy for building the foundations of democracies robust enough to see us through the tribulations ahead.

In other words, the alternative to a futile and probably bloody attempt to forcibly redistribute wealth is to spread the ownership of economic assets throughout society. From the pioneering work of progressive economists, scholars, and activists such as Scott Bernstein, Michael Shuman, Gar Alperovitz, Ted Howard, and Jeff Gates we know that revitalization of local economies through worker-owned businesses, local investment, and greater local self-reliance is smart economics, wise social policy, smart environmental management, and a solid foundation for both democracy and national resilience.

Simultaneously, and without much public notice, there have been dramatic advances in ecological design, biomimicry, distributed renewable energy, efficiency, ecological engineering, transportation infrastructure, permaculture, and natural systems agriculture. Applied systematically at community, city, and regional scales, ecological design opens genuine possibilities for greater local control over energy, food, shelter, money, water, transportation, and waste cycling. It is the most likely basis for revitalizing local economies powered by home-grown efficiency and locally accessible renewable energy while eliminating pollution, improving resilience, and spreading wealth. The upshot at a national level is to reduce the need for government regulation, which pleases conservatives, while improving quality of life, which appeals to liberals. Fifty years ago, Mumford’s suggestion seemed unlikely. But in the years since, local self-reliance, Transition Towns, and regional policy initiatives are leading progressive changes throughout Europe and the United States while central governments have been rendered ineffective.

A second change is in order. Democracies from classical Athens to the present are only as vibrant as the quality and moral power of the ideas they can muster, mull over, and act upon. Debate, argument, and civil conversation are the lifeblood of the democratic process. In our time, said to be an age of information, one of the most striking characteristics is the triviality, narrowness, and often factual inaccuracy of our political conversations. Much of what passes for public dialogue has to do with jobs and economic growth, but it is based on economic theories that fit neither biophysical reality nor the highest aspirations of humankind. The rules of market economies are said to date from Adam Smith 237 years ago, but those of natural systems are 3.8 billion years old. Allowed to run on much longer, the mismatch will destroy us.

At the dawn of the modern environmental era, in 1970, the National Environmental Policy Act required all federal agencies to “utilize a systematic, interdisciplinary approach which will insure the integrated use of the natural and social sciences and the environmental design arts in planning and in decision-making.” Nonetheless, the government and corporations, foundations, and nonprofit organizations still work mostly by breaking issues and problems into their parts and dealing with each in isolation. Separate agencies, departments, and organizations specialize in energy, land, food, air, water, wildlife, economy, finance, building regulations, urban policy, technology, health, and transportation as if each were unrelated to the others.

Reducing wholes to parts is the core of the modern worldview we inherited from Galileo, Bacon, and Descartes. And for a time it worked economic, scientific, and technological miracles. But the price we pay is considerable and growing fast. For one, we seldom anticipate or account for collateral costs of fragmentation or count the benefits of systems integration. We mostly focus on short-term benefits while ignoring long-term risks and vulnerabilities. Imponderables and non-priced benefits are excluded altogether. The results corrupt our politics, economics, and values, and they undermine our prospects.

Nonetheless, we administer, organize, and analyze in parts, not wholes. But in the real world there are tipping points, surprises, step-level changes, time delays, and unpredictable, high-impact events. To fathom such things requires a mind-set capable of seeing connections, systems, and patterns as well as a perspective far longer than next year’s election or an annual balance sheet. Awareness that we live in systems we can never fully comprehend and control and humility in the face of the unknown gives rise to precaution and resilient design.

One example of this approach comes from Oberlin, a small city of about 10,000 people with a poverty level of 25 percent in the center of the U.S. “Rust Belt.” It is situated in a once-prosperous industrial region sacrificed to political expediency and bad economic policy, not too far from Cleveland and Detroit. But things here are beginning to change. In 2009, Oberlin College and the city launched the Oberlin Project. It has five goals: build a sustainable economy, become climate-positive, restore a robust local farm economy supplying up to 70 percent of the city’s food, educate at all levels for sustainability, and help catalyze similar efforts across the United States at larger scales. The community is organized into seven teams, focused on economic development, education, law and policy, energy, community engagement, food and agriculture, and data analysis. The project aims for “full-spectrum sustainability,” in which each of the parts supports the resilience and prosperity of the whole community in a way that is catalytic—shifting the default setting of the city, the community, and the college to a collaborative post-cheap-fossil-fuel model of resilient sustainability.

The Oberlin Project is one of a growing number of examples of integrated or full-spectrum sustain-ability worldwide, including the Mondragón Cooperative in Spain, the Transition Towns movement, and the Evergreen Project in Cleveland. In different ways, each is aiming to transform complex systems called cities and city-regions into sustainable, locally generated centers of prosperity, powered by efficiency and renewable energy. Each is aiming to create opportunities for good work and higher levels of worker ownership of renewably powered enterprises organized around necessities. The upshot is a global movement toward communities with the capacity to withstand outside disturbances while preserving core values and functions. In practical terms, resilience means redundancy of major functions, appropriate scale, firebreaks between critical systems, fairness, and societies that are “robust to error,” technological accidents, malice, and climate destabilization. In short, it is human systems designed in much the way that nature designs ecologies: from the bottom up.

It is time to talk about important things. Why have we come so close to the brink of extinction so carelessly and casually? Why do we still have thousands of nuclear weapons on hair-trigger alert? How can humankind reclaim the commons of atmosphere, seas, biological diversity, mineral re-sources, and lands as the heritage of all, not the private possessions of a few? How much can we fairly and sustainably take from Earth, and for what purposes? Why is wealth so concentrated and poverty so pervasive? Are there better ways to earn our livelihoods than by maximizing consumption, a word that once signified a fatal disease? Can we organize governance at all levels around the doctrine of public trust rather than through fear and com-petition? And, finally, how might Homo sapiens, with a violent and bloody past, be redeemed in the long arc of time?

Outside of Hollywood movies, stories do not always have happy endings. Human history, to the contrary, is “one damn thing after another” as an undergraduate history major once famously noted. And one of those damn things is the collapse of entire civilizations when leaders do not summon the wit and commitment to solve problems while they can. Whatever the particulars, the downward spiral has a large dose of elite incompetence and irresponsibility, often with the strong aroma of wishful thinking, denial, and groupthink abetted by rules that reward selfishness, not group success.

In the long emergency ahead, the challenges to be overcome are first and foremost political, not technological or economic. They are in the domain of governance where the operative words are “we” and “us,” not those of markets where the pronouns are “I,” “me,” and “mine.” At issue is whether we have the wherewithal, wisdom, and foresight to preserve and improve the human enterprise in the midst of a profound human crisis. Any chance for us to come through the trials of climate destabilization in a nuclear-armed world with 10 billion people by 2100 will require that we soon reckon with the thorny issues of politics, political theory, and governance with wisdom, boldness, and creativity.

Irreconcilable Differences: Capitalism And A Sustainable Planet

In Uncategorized on October 19, 2013 at 6:42 pm

https://i1.wp.com/cdn7.triplepundit.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/CapitalismVsEarth-208x300.pngOldspeak:No amount of fiddling with capitalism to regulate and humanize it … can for long disguise its failure to conserve the wealth and health of nature. Eroded, wasted, or degraded soils; damaged or destroyed ecosystems; extinction of biodiversity, species; whole landscapes defaced, gouged, flooded, or blown up … thoughtless squandering of fossil fuels and fossil waters, of mineable minerals and ores, natural health and beauty replaced by a heartless and sickening ugliness. Perhaps its greatest success is an astounding increase in the destructiveness and therefore the profitability of war.” -Wendell Berry

“Market-based Capitalism is unsustainable. it is no longer possible for unfettered unregulated all-consuming capitalism to continue. The fate of our home is more surely sealed every day it does. There is no capital on a dead planet. Environmental conservation trumps market conservation. We need environment based systems.  Systems built on conservation, localization, synchronicity, regeneration, sustainability, abundance, transparency, equality, democracy, & anarcho-syndicalism.” –OSJ

By Gary Olson @ Dissident Voice:

People who own the world outright for profit will have to be stopped; by influence, by power, by us.

— Wendell Berry1

The need for more studies confirming that we’re approaching an irreversible ecological crisis, the tipping point beyond human control, is over. James Hansen, the world’s most eminent climatologist is so certain of this evidence that he’s added civil disobedience to his resistance repertoire. Along with legal challenges, expert testimony and lobbying governments, the 72-year-old grandfather advocates direct action by a mobilized citizenry. He’s been arrested several times, most recently in protests again the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline.

This project would transport raw, toxic tar sands (bitumen) from Alberta, Canada to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast. In addition to destroying northern forests and endangering our drinking water, Keystone XL will emit a staggering amount of global warming pollution into the environment. Just a few weeks ago, Hansen and some former NASA colleagues wrote that “Burning all fossil fuels, we conclude, would make most of the planet uninhabitable by humans … and would leave just a fraction of humanity clinging to life atop Earth’s highest ridges.”

That the corporate carbon industrial complex remains obdurate in the face of all evidence isn’t surprising but it does reveal the inadequacy of piece meal reform. Simply stated, market based responses won’t save us because there is an irreconcilable conflict between capitalist economic growth ad infinitum and the survival of the planet as we know it. Even the looming prospect of ecocide won’t keep fossil fuels in the ground, resources worth trillions to oil and gas corporations.

As labor rights activist Shamus Cooke puts it, those capitalists who fail to obtain a return on their investments (growth) lose money. This relentless imperative, “this holy shrine of growth cannot be surgically removed from the capitalist body; the body itself was born ill.” And because renewable energy isn’t as profitable as oil,” a majority of capitalist investment will continue to go towards destroying the planet.” Recently, when asked about opposition to the XL Pipeline, ExxonMobil’s CEO Rex Tillerson candidly replied, “My philosophy is to make money.”

As if to reinforce this point, profiting from global warming is the next big thing. I’m reminded of Bob Mankoff’s 2002 cartoon in The New Yorker where a corporate executive declares to an audience of peers, “And so, while the-end-of-the-world scenario will be rife with unimaginable horrors, we believe the pre-end period will be filled with unprecedented opportunities for profits.” Mankoff’s clever prescience is perversely confirmed by a recent Bloomberg headline: “Investors Embrace Climate Change, Chase Hotter Profits.” Because Wall Street now assumes that climate change is “inevitable,” the only remaining question is how to profit from it?

This goes far beyond selling more potent sun screens, inflatable rafts and anti-pollution breathing masks. Billions of dollars are being invested in Australian farmland (far from the ocean) and hedge funds trading in something called “weather derivatives.” Investments are flowing into the mining of copper and gold in Greenland where glacier-free land has suddenly become accessible. Arctic tourism, gas exploration and new shipping lanes through melting polar regions are all climate change, money-making ventures. In anticipation of major droughts, Bayer, Monsanto and BASF have filed some 55 patents for “climate ready” seeds. Green technology is already passé as investors scramble for their final piece of a planet in dire jeopardy.

Working for reforms is not unimportant but capitalism cannot prevent the ruination of the biosphere. My sense is that climate activists who fail to acknowledge this basic truth — we might term them “capitalism deniers” — have no chance of reversing our slide toward the ecological apocalypse.

For myself, as a grandfather of two little guys and nearing my retirement from full-time teaching, the prospect of of engaging in civil disobedience, being a serial arrestee on behalf of the environment is appealing for the next stage of my life. I like to imagine Jackson and Zinn’s parents having a true story to tell the boys when they plead: “Tell us again about how Grandpa tried to stop the bad guys who didn’t care about all the animals, plants and people on earth.”

  1. Writer and Farmer Wendell Berry on Hope, Direct Action, and the ‘Resettling’ of the American Countryside,” Yes! []

Gary Olson is professor and chair of the political science department at Moravian College in Bethlehem, PA. He is the author of Empathy Imperiled: Capitalism, Culture, and the Brain (New York: Springer-Verlag, 2013). He can be reached at: olson@moravian.edu. Read other articles by Gary.