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

Posts Tagged ‘irreversible non-linear feedbacks’

Climate Disruption Depression & Emissions Rising, Breaking & Setting New Records

In Uncategorized on November 26, 2014 at 1:17 pm

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Oldspeak: Hey kids. I took a break from the show to do  some volunteer work at a homeless shelter in Jamaica. The work was rewarding and much-needed. While I was there, I witnessed first hand the devastating impacts anthropogenic climate change and global warming are having in that land. Persistent and long-lasting drought in regions of the island historically rain-soaked. Yellowing, dead and dying trees and other fauna dotting the countryside. Reports from long time beach dwelling locals who’ve observed the seas advance, swallowing up their white sand beaches. When I got there in October, the beach where I was staying in Boston Bay was gorgeous, but even then the evidence of erosion was obvious. When I left in November, after several days of stormy rough and high seas, the beach was pretty much gone, as the ocean had encroached several feet on to the beach.  Buried under tons of seaweed, amounts which locals told me they’d never seen in the past. On the heels of a bizarre near 40 degree temperature swing in the New York area (on Monday it was near 70 degrees, today it is 34 and snowing, the Buffalo area recently got a years worth of snow in 36 hours), and the eve of Thanksgiving; America’s tribute to the beginning of the end of First Nations People here and orgy of excess and extinction inducing consumption; we take a moment to check in with Dahr Jamail and his monthly climate dispatch. Predictably, the news is not good. In fact, It’s getting worse by the day, and the destruction is getting more and more obvious to 1st worlders. Alas, The life consuming meat grinder that is Industrial Civilization drones on, relentless, oblivious, in a zombie-like trance state, growing larger and greedier by the moment. Throwing the Ecology ever more out of balance. Enjoy the fruits of our irreparably spoiled ecology while you can. Sooner than you think,  The Giving Tree that is our Great Mother will have nothing left to give but a place to be still and perish. Gobble, Gobble!!! ” -OSJ

By Dahr Jamail @ Truthout:

“The impact of industrially packaged quanta of energy on the social environment tends to be degrading, exhausting, and enslaving, and these effects come into play even before those which threaten the pollution of the physical environment and the extinction of the (human) race.”

– Austrian philosopher Ivan Illich, 1973 article in Le Monde

 

This month’s dispatch surveys global calls for massive carbon dioxide cuts from the European Union (EU) and Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that are still not enough to truly mitigate the impacts of anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD) or stem the massive wildlife disruptions that are now occurring globally, and highlights other glaring signs of an increasingly unstable climate across the globe.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) has concluded that, “Coal will nearly overtake oil as the dominant energy source by 2017 . . . without a major shift away from coal, average global temperatures could rise by 6 degrees Celsius by 2050, leading to devastating climate change.”

A recently announced EU plan to cut carbon dioxide emissions 40 percent by 2030 was called “too weak” by IPCC Vice Chair Professor Jim Skea, who added that this goal will commit future governments to “extraordinary and unprecedented” emissions cuts.

China and the United States recently unveiled new pledges on greenhouse gas emissions. President Barack Obama claimed that the move was “historic” as he set a new goal of reducing US levels between 26 and 28 percent by 2025, compared with 2005 levels. Meanwhile China did not set a specific target, but said its emissions would peak by 2030. Again, considering how far along the planet already is in terms of ACD impacts with every year continuing to see new emission records set globally, these gestures seem more symbolic than of a magnitude geared toward true mitigation.

Perhaps the same can be said of the recent IPCC statement, which announced that fossil fuel use must be completely eradicated by 2100.

And the warning signs of progressing ACD continue to mount.

The United Kingdom’s chief scientist recently warned that the planet’s oceans face a “serious and growing risk” from anthropogenic carbon emissions.

Earlier this year, the World Meteorological Organization reported that the world is roughly five times as prone to disaster as it was just 40 years ago.

Given what we’ve seen thus far, the warning is dire indeed.

Earth

This last month saw several ACD-related impacts across the earth.

Caribou feces found in a 700-year-old ice layer were found to contain a virus, which reminded us once again of unintended consequences from overheating the planet. According to the report published in New Scientist, potential threats to people and wildlife through melting caused by ACD are increasing. “The find confirms that virus particles are very good ‘time capsules’ that preserve their core genomic material, making it likely that many prehistoric viruses are still infectious to plants, animals or humans,” said Jean-Michel Claverie of the Aix-Marseille University School of Medicine in France, who was part of the team who found the virus.

Warmer winters in Alaska are causing increasing numbers of geese to forego their usual 3,300-mile migration, evidence of how climate disruptions are heavily impacting wildlife. Scientists have documented how increasing numbers of Pacific black brant are doing this. Prior to 1977, fewer than 3,000 of them wintered in Alaska. In recent years, however, more than 40,000 have remained, and as many as 50,000 stayed last year.

“The temperatures now in winter are much warmer,” said David Ward, a researcher at US Geological Survey’s Alaska Science Center, who conducted the research along with scientists from the US Fish and Wildlife Service. “In years past you’d often have ice that would build up in these lagoons, and the eelgrass would be unavailable for the winter period. But now that’s changing. The change not only causes a disturbance in the natural rhythms of the geese, but will have unknown ramifications throughout the ecological system the geese are part of.”

Further south in California, sandhill cranes are finding their habitat squeezed by the ongoing drought in that state, as more and more of the birds are being forced into smaller areas, and farmers and scientists are pointing toward the ACD-exacerbated drought as the culprit.

Over in Europe, common birds like the sparrow and skylark are in decline across the continent, having decreased by more than 420 million in the last three decades, according to a recent study.

A recent report from a global analytics firm described ACD as a “threat multiplier” for 32 farming-dependent nations, which, it said, now face an “extreme risk” of conflict or civil unrest over the next 30 years.

ACD has been added to the list of causes for fewer bees in the United Kingdom, according to new research. The study showed that the increase in global temperature could be disrupting the “synchronization” that has evolved over millennia between bees and the plants they pollinate.

Long referred to as the “lungs of the planet,” a stunning new report by Brazil’s leading scientists revealed how the Amazon rainforest has been degraded to the point where it is actually losing its ability to regulate weather systems.

Speaking of degradation, over 50 percent of China’s arable land is now degraded, according to the official state news agency Xinhua. This means that the country now has a reduced capacity to produce food for the world’s largest population, and ACD is named as one of the leading causes.

Lastly on the earth front, if you are feeling down about all the bad news about ACD, there’s good reason. Professor Camille Parmesan, an ACD researcher who shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore for her work as a lead author of the Third Assessment Report of the IPCC, is blaming her depression on ACD.

“I don’t know of a single scientist that’s not having an emotional reaction to what is being lost,” Parmesan said in the National Wildlife Federation’s 2012 report, “The Psychological Effects of Global Warming on the United States: And Why the US Mental Health Care System is Not Adequately Prepared.” “It’s gotten to be so depressing that I’m not sure I’m going to go back to this particular site again,” she said in reference to an ocean reef she had studied since 2002, “because I just know I’m going to see more and more of it dead, and bleached, and covered with brown algae.”

Water

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission recently cancelled Maine’s shrimp season for the second straight year. A committee report said the 2014 spring shrimp survey showed the shrimp population for this year was at its lowest level in 31 years, and worse than last years, and attributed the dramatic decline in the shrimp population to rising ocean temperatures.

And these impacts aren’t just evident in the Northeast United States.

In the Northwest, bizarre sea life visitors are showing up as a result of historic warming occurring in the Northern Pacific Ocean. An ocean sunfish turned up in the net of some researchers in Alaskan waters. The ocean sunfish is usually found in the tropics or more temperate waters, and are incredibly rare in Alaska. A few days later, another showed up. “No one had ever talked about seeing one alive,” Wyatt Fournier, a research fish biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said. “Not only did we get two aboard in one week, but my commercial-fishing buddies started telling me they were bumping into them when fishing for salmon.”

The waters of Panama, which contain 290 square kilometers of coral reefs, are facing multiple threats, from increased marine traffic to pollution, but the worst is rising sea temperatures.

In the far north, a UK scientist has warned that melting Arctic ice is likely the cause of increasingly extreme weather in the United Kingdom, and that a more turbulent Arctic Ocean will impact currents like the Gulf Stream. This is particularly troubling when one considers the fact that the Arctic is warming at least twice as fast as the global average.

Speaking of melting ice, scientist Jon Riedel, who has been studying glaciers there for more than 30 years, announced that North Cascades National Park has lost roughly 50 percent of its glacier area since 1900, and added, “That’s pretty typical for mountain ranges around the world.” Riedel said that in the last few decades, glaciers in the Northwest have melted faster than ever before.

“The glaciers now seem to have melted back up to positions they haven’t been in for 4,000 years or more,” Riedel said, and went on to explain how natural influences alone could not possibly account for glacial retreat on such a scale. “As a scientist, every time I come back here, this place has changed,” he said.

Up in Alaska, the massive Harding Icefield on the Kenai Peninsula is showing dramatic signs of melting. According to measurements taken by scientists this fall, nearly 28 vertical feet of ice was lost. The Exit Glacier, which spills out of the ice field, has retreated more than in any other single year since annual mapping of its terminus began.

Among scientists, it is common knowledge that the Arctic is the “canary in the coal mine” of ACD, as it is warming faster than the rest of the planet, as aforementioned. Evidence of this appeared this past summer when temperatures soared by 7 degrees Celsius in Barrow on the north slope of the state. Scientists from the University of Alaska Fairbanks attribute the rise to ACD and the loss of Arctic sea ice, and point toward how the 7-degree Celsius increase blows a hole in international efforts aimed at preventing global temperatures from exceeding 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Gerd Wendler, the lead author of the study and a professor emeritus at the university’s International Arctic Research Center, said he was “astonished” at the findings, and told the Alaska Dispatch News: “I think I have never, anywhere, seen such a large increase in temperature over such a short period.”

As ACD continues to melt the Arctic sea ice and consistently pushes back its summertime boundaries to record-setting high latitudes, NASA has begun flying missions to study how these new developments will impact global weather.

Meanwhile down in the Southern Hemisphere, Sao Paulo in Brazil, Latin America’s largest metropolis, may soon run out of water. Given that this mega-city of 20 million residents and the country’s financial hub already is seeing many of its taps run dry, the future looks dire. At the time of this writing, the lakes that supply half of all the water to the city have been drained of 96 percent of their water capacity, as Brazil is in the midst of its worst drought in 80 years.

Looking eastward, the United Kingdom is on course to experience both one of the warmest and wettest years since record keeping began, generating fears that future droughts and flash floods will likely cost lives.

In the United States, with California now into the fourth year of its record-setting drought, the small farm town of Stratford is seeing its ground sink due to farmers having pumped so much water out of the ground that the water table below the town has fallen 100 feet in two years.

Adding insult to injury, NOAA recently released its Winter Outlook, which shows the drought in California to continue to intensify.

In fact, recent research by scientists from the Scripps Institute of Oceanography and the US Geological Survey show that California’s future droughts will be deeper and longer than even the current drought that is wracking the state.

A collection of maps on the topic of water use provide a clear picture of why the entire western United States is in deep trouble when it comes to future freshwater supplies.

In fact, the situation has progressed far enough along already that scientists are predicting that Utah will no longer have a snow skiing industry, since ACD will prevent snow from falling there by the end of this century.

Across the globe, the groundwater supply crisis is becoming so severe that the depletion of groundwater is now driving many conflicts around the globe, according to a leading NASA scientist.

Meanwhile, the city of Boston is reconsidering its relationship with the sea, since sea levels are rising and the land there is kinking. Hence, people there are investigating the possibility of copying Venice and Amsterdam, and making Boston a city of canals.

Given that US coastal cities are now flooding regularly during high tides, thanks in large part to rising seas from ACD, little has actually been done to defend them against the continuation of rising seas, and recent reports show that “nobody is truly ready.”

That said, Jakarta, the most populous city in Java, is sinking. The city has begun building a massive wall to try to stave off the rising seas that are already flooding homes nearly two miles from the coast.

Speaking of flooding, nearly 10 billion gallons of sewer overflows poured into southeastern Michigan’s waters during record-setting flooding in August, which sounded alarms about the deteriorating water quality in the Great Lakes hydrological system.

And Michigan is not alone in struggling with this problem. As storms continue to intensify due to ACD, sanitation departments throughout the US Midwest are struggling to keep apace with more frequent and intense runoff.

Lastly for this section, oceanographers recently reported that larger “dead zones,” (oxygen-depleted water) in the oceans are expected to intensify and grow due to ACD. According to the study, 94 percent of places where dead zones have been shown to exist are located in areas where average temperatures are expected to rise by approximately 4 degrees Fahrenheit by the turn of the century.

Air

US government meteorologists published a study illustrating yet another trend toward increasingly extreme weather events emerging in recent years. Their study found that tornadoes in the United States are increasingly coming in “swarms,” rather than as isolated twisters.

Recently, the first “big heat event” smashed Australian temperature records, when that country’s first major heat wave came more than a month ahead of the official start of summer. The October heat wave set daily maximum temperature records at more than 20 stations, in addition to the fact that the duration of the warmth was also exceptional, according to the Australian Bureau of Meteorology.

As aforementioned, the Amazon is in big trouble, which means of course the planet is, when it comes to the crumbling ecosystems’ impact on the planet. But another report, this one in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows that the forests there are drying out due to lack of rainfall, causing yet more carbon to be emitted into the atmosphere, in what is yet another positive feedback loop resulting from ACD.

Lastly in this section, according to scientists from NASA and NOAA, the Antarctic ozone hole reached its annual peak in September, and the size of this year’s hole was 9.3 million square miles, an area roughly the size of the entire continent of North America.

Denial and Reality

In the United States, ACD-denial tactics never cease to amaze.

A libertarian think tank sued the White House, not exactly the bastion of ACD-mitigation action itself, for a video that tied ACD to last year’s “polar vortex” that raked much of the country with extreme low temperatures.

If you haven’t noticed, the “I’m not a scientist” meme, or variations thereof, has been the primary talking point for Republicans when it comes to ACD. When any group of politicians, lobbyists or corporate spokespeople begins saying the exact same thing, you know they are being coached.

Rupert Murdoch’s company is now concerned about ACD. The parent company of Fox News lost millions of dollars due to Superstorm Sandy, so now they are warning that ACD will likely bring even more extreme weather.

Immediately following the US midterm elections, with their new majority, Senate Republicans are targeting the already feeble federal government’s efforts to reduce carbon emissions. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) – the incoming Senate majority leader – said he feels a “deep responsibility” to stop power plant regulations, and that his top priority is “to try to do whatever I can to get the EPA reined in.”

A recent article in the Toronto Star reminds us that geo-engineering schemes that are proposed to mitigate ACD are more like something out of a third-rate science fiction novel than something that would actually work, according to climate scientists.

The South Miami City Commission recently voted in favor of allowing Florida’s 23 southern counties to secede and create a new state called “South Florida.” This is a result of growing frustration and concern over rising sea levels and lack of ACD mitigation actions by the ACD-denying state leaders.

Another factor related to ACD is overpopulation – which tends to be shied away from most of the time, despite the obvious fact that more people consuming greater amounts of resources on an already far overtaxed planet is an equation that does not provide a happy ending. Finally, more folks are beginning to address overpopulation as another important mitigation method.

Inter Press Service recently reminded us how those populations which are already taking it on the chin from ACD in the form of massive floods, intense heat waves and rising seas are those who are the most vulnerable.

Lastly this month, in the wake of recent news of global emissions rising 2.3 percent in 2013 to set yet another record and marking the largest year-to-year increase in 30 years, the IPCC announced that the world isn’t moving anywhere near fast enough to have a chance at mitigating the impacts of ACD in any real way.

______________________________________________________________________________


Dahr Jamail

Dahr Jamail, a Truthout staff reporter, is the author of The Will to Resist: Soldiers Who Refuse to Fight in Iraq and Afghanistan, (Haymarket Books, 2009), and Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches From an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq, (Haymarket Books, 2007). Jamail reported from Iraq for more than a year, as well as from Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Turkey over the last ten years, and has won the Martha Gellhorn Award for Investigative Journalism, among other awards.

His fourth book, The Mass Destruction of Iraq: Why It Is Happening, and Who Is Responsible, co-written with William Rivers Pitt, is available now on Amazon. He lives and works in Washington State.

 

 

“More Like The Whole Enchilada”: Arctic Stratospheric Warming Event Pushes Entire Polar Vortex Down To Middle/Lower U.S.

In Uncategorized on January 7, 2014 at 8:17 pm

Oldspeak: “At the peak of the Arctic outbreak, temperatures may be between 20°F and 40°F below average in large parts of the continental U.S., with dangerous wind chills affecting cities like Minneapolis, Chicago, Cleveland, St. Louis, Washington, D.C., New York, and Boston. The U.S. will have the dubious distinction of experiencing the largest cold temperature anomalies of any land area in the Northern Hemisphere during the height of the biting cold… The cause of the Arctic outbreak can be traced to northeastern Canada and Greenland, where an area of high pressure and relatively mild temperatures is set to block the eastward progression of weather systems, like an offensive lineman protecting the quarterback from the other team…  The atmospheric blocking is forcing a section of the polar vortex to break off and move south, into the U.S. The polar vortex is an area of cold low pressure that typically circulates around the Arctic during the winter, spreading tentacles of cold southward into Europe, Asia, and North America at times. Except this time, it’s not a small section of the vortex, but what one forecaster, Ryan Maue of WeatherBELL Analytics, called “more like the whole enchiladaAndrew Freeman

More than half the US population is under a wind chill warning as a blast of freezing Arctic air sweeps south and east across the country, bringing the coldest temperatures for decadesThe US saw colder temperatures than Almaty, Kazakhstan, where it was -22C (8F), Mongolia at -23C (-8F) and Irkutsk, in Siberia, at -33C (-27F)… The National Weather Service has issued life-threatening wind chill warnings for temperatures as low as -51C (-60F) in western and central Dakota and officials in Indiana – hit by high winds and more than a foot (30cm) of snow – urged residents to stay indoors. –Duncan Barkes

“When America is colder than fucking Siberia, something is terribly, terribly wrong.  Entire weather patterns are being drastically altered on a regular basis. The temperature dropped 50 degrees in 3 HOURS yesterday in New York.  Last year the polar vortex, that’s always supposed to stay in or near the arctic, was cleaved in two and moved south as a result of arctic warming via loss of sea ice. This year, the whole fucking thing moved south in one direction at once. As the climate warms the irreversible feedback loops currently in progress will accelerate. Weather will become less and less predictable and more and more extreme. Meanwhile, at the same time record cold grips North America, record heat is wilting Australia. This is the new normal. The era of stable climate has passed.” -OSJ

Related Story

Polar Vortex: 187 Million Hit By Big Freeze

By James S @ Daily Kos:

If the planet is warming — how can it be so damn cold out there, in the winter?

Well the connections are complex, but they are not unfathomable (to science and physics literates.)
‘Polar vortex’ to blast frigid air over much of US

by Carson Walker, Associated Press; boston.com — Jan 3, 2014

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — The weather warnings are dire: Life threatening wind chills. Historic cold outbreak.Winter is normally cold, but starting Sunday tundra-like temperatures are poised to deliver a rare and potentially dangerous sledgehammer blow to much of the Midwest, driving temperatures so far below zero that records will shatter.

One reason?  A “polar vortex,” as one meteorologist calls it, which will send cold air piled up at the North Pole down to the U.S., funneling it as far south as the Gulf Coast.
[…]

Here’s what our current mid-latitude Jet Stream looks likes:

Weather ModelGlobal Jet Stream Wind and 250 mb Pressure (animated loop)


larger

Notice how it has those big ‘loopy waves’  (aka high-amplitude Rossby Waves).  It is the big swoop southward that is ushering in the current frigid polar air.
Arctic Outbreak:  When the North Pole Came to Ohio

by Andrew Freedman, climatecentral.org — Jan 2, 2014

[…]
At the peak of the Arctic outbreak, temperatures may be between 20°F and 40°F below average in large parts of the continental U.S., with dangerous wind chills affecting cities like Minneapolis, Chicago, Cleveland, St. Louis, Washington, D.C., New York, and Boston. The U.S. will have the dubious distinction of experiencing the largest cold temperature anomalies of any land area in the Northern Hemisphere during the height of the biting cold.
[…]The cause of the Arctic outbreak can be traced to northeastern Canada and Greenland, where an area of high pressure and relatively mild temperatures is set to block the eastward progression of weather systems, like an offensive lineman protecting the quarterback from the other team.

The atmospheric blocking is forcing a section of the polar vortex to break off and move south, into the U.S. The polar vortex is an area of cold low pressure that typically circulates around the Arctic during the winter, spreading tentacles of cold southward into Europe, Asia, and North America at times. Except this time, it’s not a small section of the vortex, but what one forecaster, Ryan Maue of WeatherBELL Analytics, called “more like the whole enchilada” in a Twitter conversation on Thursday.
[…]

Computer model projection showing the location of the polar vortex (outlined in orange) and areas of below average temperatures (green and blue) and above average temperatures (orange and red), as indicated by the height of atmospheric pressure levels. The annotations show the cold temperature anomaly in the U.S. and mild anomalies across the Arctic. Credit: WeatherBELL Analytics.

The Arctic Vortex is supposed to stay in the Arctic.  It is supposed to form a tight circle, racing around the pole. It is not supposed to branch out and send frigid polar air to the temperate mid-latitudes.  At least not on a ‘regular basis’.

But then again, unusual stratospheric warming in the Arctic, is not supposed to be breaking that Polar Vortex up into smaller pieces, either.

Just because it’s out of sight, doesn’t mean it should be out of mind.

 

[Note:  most of what follows is analysis of last winter’s arctic events — which are looking remarkably similar to this winter’s arctic events.]


Who says all that record-breaking Arctic Ice Melt really doesn’t matter?

Certainly not well informed meteorologists, because they say it kind of does
Stratospheric Phenomenon Is Bringing Frigid Cold to U.S

by Andrew Freedman, climatecentral.org — Jan 21, 2013

[…]
Sudden stratospheric warming events take place in about half of all Northern Hemisphere winters, and they have been occurring with increasing frequency during the past decade, possibly related to the loss of Arctic sea ice due to global warming. Arctic sea ice declined to its smallest extent on record in September 2012.
[…]Sudden stratospheric warming events occur when large atmospheric waves, known as Rossby waves, extend beyond the troposphere where most weather occurs, and into the stratosphere. This vertical transport of energy can set a complex process into motion that leads to the breakdown of the high altitude cold low pressure area that typically spins above the North Pole during the winter, which is known as the polar vortex.

The polar vortex plays a major role in determining how much Arctic air spills southward toward the mid-latitudes. When there is a strong polar vortex, cold air tends to stay bottled up in the Arctic. However, when the vortex weakens or is disrupted, like a spinning top that suddenly starts wobbling, it can cause polar air masses to surge south, while the Arctic experiences milder-than-average temperatures.
[…]

Ok, what’s a Rossby Wave and how does global warming effect them?  (If you have a low threshold for watching videos, this is the best one of the bunch, imo.)
Jennifer Francis – Understanding the Jetstream (and Rossby Waves)

link to clip

Published on Feb 26, 2013 — by rustneversleeps3

A short review of how the jetstream and Rossby waves work, and some emerging indications that the dynamics may be changing in a warming world.

So, what’s a Polar Vortex, and what happens when it get displaced, by one of those unusually TALL bubbles of relatively warm atmosphere, surging northward?
Polar Vortex

link to clip

Published on Jan 18, 2013 — WTHI-TV
Here’s an meteorological map analysis of various Arctic Vortex splits, what causes them, and what they lead to (… record cold in the Mid-Latitudes).
Stratospheric Warming by The SI Weather

link to clip

Uploaded on Dec 16, 2011 — TheSIWeather
Here’s one meteorological speaker, who’s a bit eccentric, but does seem to have a good grasp on Stratospheric Warming events — going Polar, anyways.
Extreme Event  (Vortex Formation and Displacement)

link to clip

Published on Jan 18, 2013 — TurtleIslandNewsDaily.info

Sudden Stratospheric Warming Split the Polar Vortex in Two.the polar vortex was intact at 50 millibars(height in m) on January 1 to 3.

the polar vortex had broken in two (50millibar heights in m) on January 10 to 13

Finally, here’s a good old-fashioned science satellite composite (it’s a very short clip), that shows what happens when the Polar Vortex, gets nudged into going for ‘a power walk’.
GMAOGEOS-5 Stratospheric Sudden warming Event

link to clip

Published on Mar 4, 2013 —  Harold Saive

http://gmao.gsfc.nasa.gov/…http://gmao.gsfc.nasa.gov/…

And finally here’s an updated 2014 Winter forecast, once again ‘blaming that Polar Vortex’ for ‘deciding’ to go meandering somewhere — that we’d rather not see it go.
WRGX; wtvy.com — January 4, 2014

Short Range Forecast Discussion
NWS Weather Prediction Center College Park MD
Valid 12Z Sat Jan 04 2014 – 12Z Mon Jan 06 2014[…]
Forecast models remain consistent in carrying the polar vortex into the northern tier of the U.S. while carrying it eastward in time.

Many locations may see their temperature readings drop to near record values.
[…]

Incredibly, it may feel as cold as -50 to -60 on Sunday night over sections of the north-central states with the frigid air remaining in place into early next week.

As the vortex shifts eastward, the polar air will begin to affect the Great Lakes and Ohio Valley with temperatures plummeting rapidly.

While the air mass will modify, temperatures will remain downright cold with the forecast high in Chicago, IL being only -11 on Monday.

A strong frontal boundary surging eastward ahead of the polar air mass will become rather active as it intercepts increasing amounts of low-level moisture.
[…]

If only those record-melting Arctic ice packs would stay in place and not keep warming up their supposed-to-be Arctic neighborhoods by exposing all that open sea water — then maybe that Arctic Vortex might not have to ‘go wobbling around like a wildly spinning top — losing its fast-track momentum‘ … at such an ever increasing rate.

But then again, Who needs stable Jet Streams anyways?

Certainly not farmers, not foresters, not ranchers;  Certainly not suburban folks who hate all these crazy arctic deep freezes …  the ones who ask, “Why in the world, is it so damn cold, anyways?”

Now hopefully, you can tell them.

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.

 

Walking In An Anthropocene Wonderland

In Uncategorized on December 23, 2013 at 8:16 pm

Oldspeak:In the Anthropocene Epoch, in our manic flight from consequence and accountability and our attendant estrangement from empathic imagination, we have come to regard all the things of the world as fodder for our empty appetites, as commodified, meretricious objects that exist to distract us and then be discarded. By our actions, we are destroying the living things of the world by caprice. The fetishization of mechanization and its concomitant soulless and habitual reductionism has mortified our psyches inflicting alienation that we attempt to remedy with the palliative of perpetual media distraction…

Self-absorption, hubris and ignorance are traits that Unnecessary Death finds irresistible thus moves in for the seduction. The air is redolent with the intoxicating perfume of self-deception. When possessed by feelings of indestructibility, one feels immortal while dancing on the precipice overlooking a yawning abyss. Intoxicated: The rules of gravity don’t seem applicable. Yet the delusion of being imbued by the immortal makes consummation with Death inevitable. This is the manner that an addict is dispatched from the world. A compulsion to remain high provokes a jealous fury from the spurned ground and she smothers the errand consort in an endless embrace….

To avoid this lamentable fate, we, as a species, must listen to the earth’s entreaties. To demur, we invite our undoing. Ecocide should be regarded with the same sense of abhorrence as genocide, for the two abominations align to the same destination: The world shattered beyond recognition; mountains of corpses looming over a hideous and forsaken valley of denial.” -Phil Rockstroh

“Was watching Bill Moyers the other day. He was interviewing historian Richard Slotkin about the history of guns and violence in america. He says in his book gunfighter nation “Violence is an essential and necessary part of the process through which American society was established and through which its democratic values are defended and enforced” This ethos permeates all aspects of society. Violence, structural and a myriad of other forms of violence are necessary to the continuation of globalized capitalism. How do we rationalize the madness we have wrought?  Moyers cristalized it perfectly when he said: “…we create myths to help us organize our beliefs against the reality that we cannot factually deny.” Our genius at creating myths enables us to regard global, industrial scale ecocide with a bored yawn and an indifferent shrug. We are a mutant, locust like horde of “Happiness Machines” consuming ever more shit we don’t need to make us happy.  it enables us to continue, with brutal efficiency, cutting down tress; a vital part of our life support system, ornamenting them with toxic substances and piling piles of planned obsolescent trinket capitalism crap around their rootless trunks to celebrate a religious holiday that in all probability is one of the world’s greatest and most destructive myths.  Our myths enable our headlong rush to extinction. Our myths are unsustainable. The Great Mother  will make us fatally aware of that fact before long.” -OSJ

By Phil Rockstroh @ Dissident Voice:

According to a recent, exhaustive study commissioned by the US Department of Energy and headed by a scientific team from the U.S. navy, by the summer of 2015, the Arctic Ocean could be bereft of ice, a phenomenon that will engender devastating consequences for the earth’s environment and every living creature on the planet.

Yet, recently, Chuck Hagel, US Defense Secretary, said (in defiance of common sense and even a modicum of sanity) that the US military will escalate its presence in the Arctic, due to the fact that “[the] potential for tapping what may be as much as a quarter of the planet’s undiscovered oil and gas.”

Secretary of Defense? More like Commissar of Mass Suicide.

This situation is like a family of self-destructive drunks inheriting a brewery.

Sans hyperbole, it is exactly like making the choice to exist as fatally self-involved consumers as opposed to multidimensional human beings possessed of heart, mind and soul.

I mean, just what kind of suicidal clowns flounce through life gibbering on about bacon straws, cupcakes, online images of kitty cats, and the latest Playstation model when the specter of extinction looms and their psychotic leaders are doubling down on the criteria of doom?

This is like giving Charles Manson the codes to nuclear missile silos.

In the Anthropocene Epoch, in our manic flight from consequence and accountability and our attendant estrangement from empathic imagination, we have come to regard all the things of the world as fodder for our empty appetites, as commodified, meretricious objects that exist to distract us and then be discarded. By our actions, we are destroying the living things of the world by caprice. The fetishization of mechanization and its concomitant soulless and habitual reductionism has mortified our psyches inflicting alienation that we attempt to remedy with the palliative of perpetual media distraction.

Devoid of the musk and fury of true communal engagement, this communion with electronic phantoms only exacerbates our alienation and decimates one’s ability to evince empathy, when, conversely, empathy is the quality required to feel the suffering that hyper-capitalist industrialization has wrought. If we are to pull back from the brink of extinction, we must lament what has been lost to cupidity.

Yet, one must resist the temptation to become intoxicated by grim prophesy. It is possession of the qualities of sadness and gravitas that separates an individual bearing accurate augury from false prophets. The tears of the world will saturate the soul of an individual who lives in the truth of our era of Climate Chaos and global-wide ecocide.

“And I’ll stand on the ocean until I start sinking,
But I’ll know my song well before I start singing…” — Bob Dylan, “A Hard Rain Gonna Fall”

Allow the images of thinning polar icecaps, of oceanic acidification and depletion, and of the 150 to 200 species of plants, insects, reptiles, amphibians, birds and mammals that become extinct on a daily basis to permeate your heart and mind. Thus, you will know the tears at the heart of things.

Then decide what your song will be, arrange it according to your individual talents, and start to sing. Because we must end this paradigm or it will end us.

The changes we yearn for must be first glimpsed and nurtured in the heart. Creative expression (e.g., art, poetry, fiction, inspired prose) serves as the quickening agent of dreams. Language constellates from the quanta of possibility, where it gains scope and shape, so that ideas can become manifested by means of action and form.

The heart must be allowed to dream, grief, and yearn before the world itself even becomes possible.

When thwarted, life becomes seized with the quality of a reoccurring nightmare. Due to the ongoing, relentless destruction of the earth’s biosphere, the next episode of the planet’s periodic, epoch-ending Great Die Offs will not be caused by an earth-decimating comet but an earthbound (and apparently equally mindless) source i.e., us. Although we have been graced with life with all its possibilities and abundance, it has become apparent, we have fallen in love with Extinction.

Self-absorption, hubris and ignorance are traits that Unnecessary Death finds irresistible thus moves in for the seduction. The air is redolent with the intoxicating perfume of self-deception. When possessed by feelings of indestructibility, one feels immortal while dancing on the precipice overlooking a yawning abyss. Intoxicated: The rules of gravity don’t seem applicable. Yet the delusion of being imbued by the immortal makes consummation with Death inevitable. This is the manner that an addict is dispatched from the world. A compulsion to remain high provokes a jealous fury from the spurned ground and she smothers the errand consort in an endless embrace.

To avoid this lamentable fate, we, as a species, must listen to the earth’s entreaties. To demur, we invite our undoing. Ecocide should be regarded with the same sense of abhorrence as genocide, for the two abominations align to the same destination: The world shattered beyond recognition; mountains of corpses looming over a hideous and forsaken valley of denial.

Late capitalism’s putrefying paradigm has but one remedy for the devastation reaped by the system…insanely, more production and more consumerism. Bafflingly, despite the vast carnage inflicted and multiple promises betrayed, why does the storyline of the capitalist/consumer state still resonant with so many? Consumerism, in the US and elsewhere, is one of the few activities in the capitalist paradigm whereby fantasy and human libido merge (albeit a facsimile thereof). The mall, the big box store, even upscale stores and department stores are phantasmagoric agoras, much like the fairways of old style roving carnivals wherein the modus operandi of carnies was to bamboozle gullible, repressed rubes by bait-and-switch scams involving the commodification of curiosity and desire.

The social repression, attendant atomization and ennui inherent to existence in the corporate/consumer age give rise to a form of a pent-up longing for release. And that is where the bait-and-switch comes in, vis-à-vis Edward Bernay’s and his mercenary misappropriation of his uncle, Sigmund Freud’s theories regarding the dreamscape of desire (i.e., Eros). When we approach the dominion of Eros, we enter the realm of both beauty (Eros’ mother Aphrodite) and soul, Psyche (Eros’ eternal mate). Although the union of Eros and Psyche is fraught with mistrust, betrayal, outside interference (both human and divine), estrangement, struggle, the lover’s shattered bond wends, ultimately, toward rapprochement. (Familiar tumult to anyone who has pursued art and surrendered to love.)

In short, to survive the exploitation of the consumer paradigm, it becomes imperative to regain one’s soul. First step: the reclamation of beauty. Hint: The quality cannot be found in a retail outlet.

Beauty reveals herself in the longings of the heart. Tell me what you long for and I will tell you who you are. Hint: You are not the sum total of your consumer preferences.

Living things are closer to works of art: never finished, yet ever alluding to something hidden, subtle, and sublime — an immense and deathless quality within that we long to quantify, but remains elusive. This is what we concretize — despoil — when we seek consumer gratification.

Eric Hoffer summarized the hapless state of being thus: “You can never get enough of what you don’t need to make you happy.”

That is why the following incantation cast by the dark magicians of the consumer paradigm seizes the psyche, literally steals one’s soul: “No one can eat just one.”

Attention: Consumer State shoppers: The world was never your oyster — nor your salt-spiked snack food. Beware, although you believe you possess the consumer item, in reality, the consumer item possesses you.

The heart is untamable. It is not a poor creature in a circus that can be goaded and bribed into performing demeaning tricks. When we attempt to dominate and coerce it into accepting the dishonest, the artificial, and the demeaning, the heart will lash out, sink into sorrow, or even damage its host.

My heart grieves yet will not cease to yearn that we, as a species, will begin to resist, heart, mind and spirit, the reckless course that the economic elite have set us upon. We do not have the luxury of acting as though the carnage wrought by the Anthropocene Epoch is not upon us. We cannot deceive ourselves that the crisis can be ignored.

By choosing to retreat from the challenge, one exiles oneself from the heart’s landscape — a state of being comprised of angst and ashes. In this limbo of destiny deferred, the heart turns away from you. Your face will have become unrecognizable to it. Yet the moment one calls it by its name a rapprochement can begin.

How not to be a bystander in your own life:

Be attentive to the things of the world that evoke within you quicksilver enthusiasm or roil you with apprehension.

Remain open, allow yourself to be remade by the interplay of innocence and experience…by transitory wonders and eternal forms.

Tell the story of it all, in your own time and in your own way, and whenever and wherever you can.

Never bore your audience.

The above can be achieve by telling an honest tale. In short, like an inspired storyteller who appropriates artifice to limn reality, you will be able to lie the truth. If you do so, people will be moved or angered — but they will not be bored.

Before us, the denizens, operatives, propagandists and enforcers of the old order grow more certain of their convictions in direct proportion to its accelerating rate of decay. Stoned-faced phalanxes of soldiers and bristling clutches of militarized cops stand guard before the entrances of shoddy, swaying towers. But lies cannot be built to last. The lipless grins of a billion skulls mock the illusory staying power of deceit, while the perennial yearnings of the heart and its perpetual coupling with the eternal present endure. Love songs ring out among the rot of empires.

Phil Rockstroh is a poet, lyricist and philosopher bard living in New York City. He may be contacted at phil@philrockstroh.com and FaceBook. Read other articles by Phil, or visit Phil’s website.

Climate Scientists Consider Extinction: “Everything is worse and we’re still doing the same things…” “There’s not much money in the end of civilization, and even less to be made in human extinction.”

In Uncategorized on December 20, 2013 at 6:14 pm

Oldspeak: “A growing cadre of impeccably credentialed and long time climate scientists are sounding more and more dire alarms about where our life support system is headed. Basically it’s headed to point where much of the planet we call home will become inhospitable to human and up to 80% of all other life-forms. it took a free thinking scientist to elucidate the root cause of our extinction. Greed. Greed for something that is nothing more than an abstact social contract. Money. This all-consuming mass delusion is now consuming our civilizations. Quietly, almost politely at first, swallowing small island nations no one really knows or cares about.  By the time our dying world consumes significant, highly populated parts of our civilization, there will be nothing left to do but survive as long as we can.  David Wasdel, director of the Apollo-Gaia Project and an expert on multiple feedback dynamics, says, “We are experiencing change 200 to 300 times faster than any of the previous major extinction events.” why are we acting as if this way of life is still valid? Why are we not questioning this utterly absurd, toxic and unsustainable existence? Why are we still scurrying about gluttonous, mindlessly consuming ever more resources, collecting things, destroying things, building things, moving shit that we don’t need around. We’re the dinobots. Robotic, technologically advanced, disproportionately strong and thought-limited. As were our dinosaur predecessors, we are largely oblivious to what madness is to come. Enjoy your remaining time in the Holocene Extinction!” -OSJ

By Dahr Jamail @ Tom’s Dispatch:

I grew up planning for my future, wondering which college I would attend, what to study, and later on, where to work, which articles to write, what my next book might be, how to pay a mortgage, and which mountaineering trip I might like to take next.

Now, I wonder about the future of our planet. During a recent visit with my eight-year-old niece and 10- and 12-year-old nephews, I stopped myself from asking them what they wanted to do when they grew up, or any of the future-oriented questions I used to ask myself. I did so because the reality of their generation may be that questions like where they will work could be replaced by: Where will they get their fresh water? What food will be available? And what parts of their country and the rest of the world will still be habitable?

The reason, of course, is climate change — and just how bad it might be came home to me in the summer of 2010.  I was climbing Mount Rainier in Washington State, taking the same route I had used in a 1994 ascent.  Instead of experiencing the metal tips of the crampons attached to my boots crunching into the ice of a glacier, I was aware that, at high altitudes, they were still scraping against exposed volcanic rock. In the pre-dawn night, sparks shot from my steps.

The route had changed dramatically enough to stun me. I paused at one point to glance down the steep cliffs at a glacier bathed in soft moonlight 100 meters below. It took my breath away when I realized that I was looking at what was left of the enormous glacier I’d climbed in 1994, the one that — right at this spot — had left those crampons crunching on ice. I stopped in my tracks, breathing the rarefied air of such altitudes, my mind working hard to grasp the climate-change-induced drama that had unfolded since I was last at that spot.

I haven’t returned to Mount Rainier to see just how much further that glacier has receded in the last few years, but recently I went on a search to find out just how bad it might turn out to be. I discovered a set of perfectly serious scientists — not the majority of all climate scientists by any means, but thoughtful outliers — who suggest that it isn’t just really, really bad; it’s catastrophic.  Some of them even think that, if the record ongoing releases of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, thanks to the burning of fossil fuels, are aided and abetted by massive releases of methane, an even more powerful greenhouse gas, life as we humans have known it might be at an end on this planet. They fear that we may be at — and over — a climate change precipice hair-raisingly quickly.

Mind you, the more conservative climate science types, represented by the prestigious Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), paint scenarios that are only modestly less hair-raising, but let’s spend a little time, as I’ve done, with what might be called scientists at the edge and hear just what they have to say.

“We’ve Never Been Here as a Species”

“We as a species have never experienced 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere,” Guy McPherson, professor emeritus of evolutionary biology, natural resources, and ecology at the University of Arizona and a climate change expert of 25 years, told me. “We’ve never been on a planet with no Arctic ice, and we will hit the average of 400 ppm… within the next couple of years. At that time, we’ll also see the loss of Arctic ice in the summers… This planet has not experienced an ice-free Arctic for at least the last three million years.”

For the uninitiated, in the simplest terms, here’s what an ice-free Arctic would mean when it comes to heating the planet: minus the reflective ice cover on Arctic waters, solar radiation would be absorbed, not reflected, by the Arctic Ocean.  That would heat those waters, and hence the planet, further. This effect has the potential to change global weather patterns, vary the flow of winds, and even someday possibly alter the position of the jet stream. Polar jet streams are fast flowing rivers of wind positioned high in the Earth’s atmosphere that push cold and warm air masses around, playing a critical role in determining the weather of our planet.

McPherson, who maintains the blog Nature Bats Last, added, “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.”

While his perspective is more extreme than that of the mainstream scientific community, which sees true disaster many decades into our future, he’s far from the only scientist expressing such concerns. Professor Peter Wadhams, a leading Arctic expert at Cambridge University, has been measuring Arctic ice for 40 years, and his findings underscore McPherson’s fears.  “The fall-off in ice volume is so fast it is going to bring us to zero very quickly,” Wadhams told a reporter. According to current data, he estimates “with 95% confidence” that the Arctic will have completely ice-free summers by 2018.  (U.S. Navy researchers have predicted an ice-free Arctic even earlier — by 2016.)

British scientist John Nissen, chairman of the Arctic Methane Emergency Group (of which Wadhams is a member), suggests that if the summer sea ice loss passes “the point of no return,” and “catastrophic Arctic methane feedbacks” kick in, we’ll be in an “instant planetary emergency.”

McPherson, Wadham, and Nissen represent just the tip of a melting iceberg of scientists who are now warning us about looming disaster, especially involving Arctic methane releases. In the atmosphere, methane is a greenhouse gas that, on a relatively short-term time scale, is far more destructive than carbon dioxide (CO2).  It is 23 times as powerful as CO2 per molecule on a 100-year timescale, 105 times more potent when it comes to heating the planet on a 20-year timescale — and the Arctic permafrost, onshore and off, is packed with the stuff.  “The seabed,” says Wadham, “is offshore permafrost, but is now warming and melting. We are now seeing great plumes of methane bubbling up in the Siberian Sea… millions of square miles where methane cover is being released.”

According to a study just published in Nature Geoscience, twice as much methane as previously thought is being released from the East Siberian Arctic Shelf, a two million square kilometer area off the coast of Northern Siberia. Its researchers found that at least 17 teragrams (one million tons) of methane are being released into the atmosphere each year, whereas a 2010 study had found only seven teragrams heading into the atmosphere.

The day after Nature Geoscience released its study, a group of scientists from Harvard and other leading academic institutions published a report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showing that the amount of methane being emitted in the U.S. both from oil and agricultural operations could be 50% greater than previous estimates and 1.5 times higher than estimates of the Environmental Protection Agency.

How serious is the potential global methane build-up? Not all scientists think it’s an immediate threat or even the major threat we face, but Ira Leifer, an atmospheric and marine scientist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and one of the authors of the recent Arctic Methane study pointed out to me that “the Permian mass extinction that occurred 250 million years ago is related to methane and 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% of all species were wiped out.

Also known as “The Great Dying,” it was triggered by a massive lava flow in an area of Siberia that led to an increase in global temperatures of six degrees Celsius. That, in turn, caused the melting of frozen methane deposits under the seas.  Released into the atmosphere, it caused temperatures to skyrocket further. All of this occurred over a period of approximately 80,000 years.

We are currently in the midst of what 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. This event may already be comparable to, or even exceed, both the speed and intensity of the Permian mass extinction. The difference being 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 non-linear fashion.

It is 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 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.

The Sleeping Giant Stirs

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

NASA scientists, along with others, are learning that the Arctic permafrost — and its stored carbon — may not be as permanently frosted as its name implies.  Research scientist Charles Miller of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory is the principal investigator of the Carbon in Arctic Reservoirs Vulnerability Experiment (CARVE), a five-year NASA-led field campaign to study how climate change is affecting the Arctic’s carbon cycle. He told NASA, “Permafrost soils are warming even faster than Arctic air temperatures — as much as 2.7 to 4.5 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 to 2.5 degrees Celsius) in just the past 30 years. As heat from Earth’s surface penetrates into permafrost, it threatens to mobilize these organic carbon reservoirs and release them into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide and methane, upsetting the Arctic’s carbon balance and greatly exacerbating global warming.”

He fears the potential results should a full-scale permafrost melt take place. As he points out, “Changes in climate may trigger transformations that are simply not reversible within our lifetimes, potentially causing rapid changes in the Earth system that will require adaptations by people and ecosystems.”

The recent NASA study highlights the discovery of active and growing methane vents up to 150 kilometers across. A scientist on a research ship in the area described this as a bubbling as far as the eye can see in which the seawater looks like a vast pool of seltzer. Between the summers of 2010 and 2011, in fact, scientists found that in the course of a year methane vents only 30 centimeters across had grown a kilometer wide, a 333,333% increase and an example of the non-linear rapidity with which parts of the planet are responding to climate disruption.

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

Moving beneath the Arctic Ocean where methane hydrates — often described as methane gas surrounded by ice — exist, a March 2010 report in Science indicated that these cumulatively contain the equivalent of 1,000-10,000 gigatons of carbon. Compare this total to the 240 gigatons of carbon humanity has emitted into the atmosphere since the industrial revolution began.

A study published in the prestigious journal Nature this July suggested that a 50-gigaton “burp” of methane from thawing Arctic permafrost beneath the East Siberian sea is “highly possible at anytime.” That would be the equivalent of at least 1,000 gigatons of carbon dioxide.

Even the relatively staid IPCC has warned of such a scenario: “The possibility of abrupt climate change and/or abrupt changes in the earth system triggered by climate change, with potentially catastrophic consequences, cannot be ruled out. Positive feedback from warming may cause the release of carbon or methane from the terrestrial biosphere and oceans.”

In the last two centuries, the amount of methane in the atmosphere has increased from 0.7 parts per million to 1.7 parts per million. The introduction of methane in such quantities into the atmosphere may, some climate scientists fear, make increases in the global temperature of four to six degrees Celsius inevitable.

The ability of the human psyche to take in and grasp such information is being tested. And while that is happening, yet more data continues to pour in — and the news is not good.

Out of the Frying Pan, Into the Fire

Consider this timeline:

* Late 2007: The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) announces that the planet will see a one degree Celsius temperature increase due to climate change by 2100.

* Late 2008: The Hadley Centre for Meteorological Research predicts a 2C increase by 2100.

* Mid-2009: The U.N. Environment Programme predicts a 3.5C increase by 2100. Such an increase would remove habitat for human beings on this planet, as nearly all the plankton in the oceans would be destroyed, and associated temperature swings would kill off many land plants. Humans have never lived on a planet at 3.5C above baseline.

* October 2009: The Hadley Centre for Meteorological Research releases an updated prediction, suggesting a 4C temperature increase by 2060.

* November 2009: The Global Carbon Project, which monitors the global carbon cycle, and the Copenhagen Diagnosis, a climate science report, predict 6C and 7C temperature increases, respectively, by 2100.

* December 2010: The U.N. Environment Programme predicts up to a 5C increase by 2050.

* 2012: The conservative International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook report for that year states that we are on track to reach a 2C increase by 2017.

* November 2013: The International Energy Agency predicts a 3.5C increase by 2035.

A briefing provided to the failed U.N. Conference of the Parties in Copenhagen in 2009 provided this summary: “The long-term sea level that corresponds to current CO2 concentration is about 23 meters above today’s levels, and the temperatures will be 6 degrees C or more higher. These estimates are based on real long-term climate records, not on models.”

On December 3rd, a study by 18 eminent scientists, including the former head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, James Hansen, showed that the long-held, internationally agreed upon target to limit rises in global average temperatures to 2 degrees Celsius was in error and far above the 1C threshold that would need to be maintained in order to avoid the effects of catastrophic climate change.

And keep in mind that the various major assessments of future global temperatures seldom assume the worst about possible self-reinforcing climate feedback loops like the methane one.

“Things Are Looking Really Dire”

Climate-change-related deaths are already estimated at five million annually, and the process seems to be accelerating more rapidly than most climate models have suggested.  Even without taking into account the release of frozen methane in the Arctic, some scientists are already painting a truly bleak picture of the human future. Take Canadian Wildlife Service biologist Neil Dawe, who in August told a reporter that he wouldn’t be surprised if the generation after him witnessed the extinction of humanity. All around the estuary near his office on Vancouver Island, he has been witnessing the unraveling of “the web of life,” and “it’s happening very quickly.”

“Economic growth is the biggest destroyer of the ecology,” Dawe says. “Those people who think you can have a growing economy and a healthy environment are wrong. If we don’t reduce our numbers, nature will do it for us.” And he isn’t hopeful humans will be able to save themselves. “Everything is worse and we’re still doing the same things. Because ecosystems are so resilient, they don’t exact immediate punishment on the stupid.”

The University of Arizona’s Guy McPherson has similar fears. “We will have very few humans on the planet because of lack of habitat,” he says. Of recent studies showing the toll temperature increases will take on that habitat, he adds, “They are only looking at CO2 in the atmosphere.”

Here’s the question: Could some version of extinction or near-extinction overcome humanity, thanks to climate change — and possibly incredibly fast? Similar things have happened in the past. Fifty-five million years ago, a five 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 at any other moment in the last 65 million years.

“The Arctic is warming faster than anywhere else on the planet,” climate scientist James Hansen has said. “There are potential irreversible effects of melting the Arctic sea ice. If it begins to allow the Arctic Ocean to warm up, and warm the ocean floor, then we’ll begin to release methane hydrates. And if we let that happen, that is a potential tipping point that we don’t want to happen. If we burn all the fossil fuels then we certainly will cause the methane hydrates, eventually, to come out and cause several degrees more warming, and it’s not clear that civilization could survive that extreme climate change.”

Yet, long before humanity has burned all fossil fuel reserves on the planet, massive amounts of methane will be released. While the human body is potentially capable of handling a six to nine degree Celsius rise in the planetary temperature, the crops and habitat we use for food production are not.  As McPherson put it, “If we see a 3.5 to 4C baseline increase, I see no way to have habitat. We are at .85C above baseline and we’ve already triggered all these self-reinforcing feedback loops.”

He adds: “All the evidence points to a locked-in 3.5 to 5 degree C global temperature rise above the 1850 ‘norm’ by mid-century, possibly much sooner. This guarantees a positive feedback, already underway, leading to 4.5 to 6 or more degrees above ‘norm’ and that is a level lethal to life. This is partly due to the fact that humans have to eat and plants can’t adapt fast enough to make that possible for the seven to nine billion of us — so we’ll die.”

If you think McPherson’s comment about lack of adaptability goes over the edge, consider that the rate of evolution trails the rate of climate change by a factor of 10,000, according to a paper in the August 2013 issue of Ecology Letters. Furthermore, David Wasdel, director of the Apollo-Gaia Project and an expert on multiple feedback dynamics, says, “We are experiencing change 200 to 300 times faster than any of the previous major extinction events.”

Wasdel cites with particular alarm scientific reports showing that the oceans have already lost 40% of their phytoplankton, the base of the global oceanic food chain, because of climate-change-induced acidification and atmospheric temperature variations. (According to the Center for Ocean Solutions: “The oceans have absorbed almost one-half of human-released CO2 emissions since the Industrial Revolution. Although this has moderated the effect of greenhouse gas emissions, it is chemically altering marine ecosystems 100 times more rapidly than it has changed in at least the last 650,000 years.”)

“This is already a mass extinction event,” Wasdel adds. “The question is, how far is it going to go? How serious does it become? If we are not able to stop the rate of increase of temperature itself, and get that back under control, then a high temperature event, perhaps another 5-6 degrees [C], would obliterate at least 60% to 80% of the populations and species of life on Earth.”

What Comes Next?

In November 2012, even Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank Group (an international financial institution that provides loans to developing countries), warned that “a 4C warmer world can, and must be, avoided. Lack of action on climate change threatens to make the world our children inherit a completely different world than we are living in today.”

A World Bank-commissioned report warned that we are indeed on track to a “4C world” marked by extreme heat waves and life-threatening sea-level rise.

The three living diplomats who have led U.N. climate change talks claim there is little chance the next climate treaty, if it is ever approved, will prevent the world from overheating. “There is nothing that can be agreed in 2015 that would be consistent with the 2 degrees,” says Yvo de Boer, who was executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 2009, when attempts to reach a deal at a summit in Copenhagen crumbled. “The only way that a 2015 agreement can achieve a 2-degree goal is to shut down the whole global economy.”

Atmospheric and marine scientist Ira Leifer is particularly concerned about the changing rainfall patterns a recently leaked IPCC draft report suggested for our future: “When I look at what the models predicted for a 4C world, I see very little rain over vast swaths of populations. If Spain becomes like Algeria, where do all the Spaniards get the water to survive? We have parts of the world which have high populations which have high rainfall and crops that exist there, and when that rainfall and those crops go away and the country starts looking more like some of North Africa, what keeps the people alive?”

The IPCC report suggests that we can expect a generalized shifting of global rain patterns further north, robbing areas that now get plentiful rain of future water supplies. History shows us that when food supplies collapse, wars begin, while famine and disease spread.  All of these things, scientists now fear, could happen on an unprecedented scale, especially given the interconnected nature of the global economy.

“Some scientists are indicating we should make plans to adapt to a 4C world,” Leifer comments. “While prudent, one wonders what portion of the living population now could adapt to such a world, and my view is that it’s just a few thousand people [seeking refuge] in the Arctic or Antarctica.”

Not surprisingly, scientists with such views are often not the most popular guys in the global room. McPherson, for instance, has often been labeled “Guy McStinction” — to which he responds, “I’m just reporting the results from other scientists. Nearly all of these results are published in established, esteemed literature. I don’t think anybody is taking issue with NASA, or Nature, or Science, or the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.  [Those] and the others I report are reasonably well known and come from legitimate sources, like NOAA [the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration], for example. I’m not making this information up, I’m just connecting a couple of dots, and it’s something many people have difficulty with.”

McPherson does not hold out much hope for the future, nor for a governmental willingness to make anything close to the radical changes that would be necessary to quickly ease the flow of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere; nor does he expect the mainstream media to put much effort into reporting on all of this because, as he says, “There’s not much money in the end of civilization, and even less to be made in human extinction.” The destruction of the planet, on the other hand, is a good bet, he believes, “because there is money in this, and as long as that’s the case, it is going to continue.”

Leifer, however, is convinced that there is a moral obligation never to give up and that the path to global destruction could be altered. “In the short term, if you can make it in the economic interests of people to do the right thing, it’ll happen very fast.” He offers an analogy when it comes to whether humanity will be willing to act to mitigate the effects of climate change: “People do all sorts of things to lower their risk of cancer, not because you are guaranteed not to get it, but because you do what you can and take out the health protections and insurance you need in order to try to lower your risk of getting it.”

The signs of a worsening climate crisis are all around us, whether we allow ourselves to see them or not. Certainly, the scientific community gets it. As do countless communities across the globe where the effects of climate change are already being experienced in striking ways and local preparations for climatic disasters, including increasingly powerful floods, droughts, wildfires, heat waves, and storms are underway. Evacuations from low-lying South Pacific islands have already begun. People in such areas, out of necessity, are starting to try to teach their children how to adapt to, and live in, what we are causing our world to become.

My niece and nephews are doing something similar. They are growing vegetables in a backyard garden and their eight chickens provide more than enough eggs for the family.  Their parents are intent on teaching them how to be ever more self-sustaining.  But none of these heartfelt actions can mitigate what is already underway when it comes to the global climate.

I am 45 years old, and I often wonder how my generation will survive the impending climate crisis. What will happen to our world if the summer Arctic waters are indeed ice-free only a few years from now? What will my life look like if I live to experience a 3.5 Celsius global temperature increase?

Above all, I wonder how coming generations will survive.

Dahr Jamail has written extensively about climate change as well as the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. He is a recipient of numerous awards, including the Martha Gellhorn Award for Journalism and the James Aronson Award for Social Justice Journalism. He is the author of two books: Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches from an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq and The Will to Resist: Soldiers Who Refuse to Fight in Iraq and Afghanistan. He currently works for al-Jazeera English in Doha, Qatar.

Copyright 2013 Dahr Jamail

“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.

 

U.N. Bodies & Health Authorities Now Being Advised To Prepare For A Global Temperature Rise of 4°C

In Uncategorized on November 26, 2013 at 3:12 pm

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

We are already planning for a 4°C world because that is where we are heading.  I do not know of any scientists who do not believe that. We are just not tackling the enormity of the task we face to keep it below the agreed 2°C danger threshold. “If we had the kind of politicians we really need we could still put in place policies that can save the planet from going over the danger level. But there is no evidence at the moment that we have that quality of politicians, so we all have to be prepared for the most likely scenario, which is a 4°C rise in temperature.  If we do not prepare to adapt we simply won’t be able to.” –Mark Maslin, professor of climatology at University College in London

“Ignore the propaganda. On our present course, life as we know it will end.  There is no technology that will enable us  to adapt adequately to the climactic changes to come.   There are already parts of the world where it is no longer possible for ‘normal’ life to continue.  People who are studying the climate are preparing for a uninhabitable world. Are you?” -OSJ

By Paul Brown @ Climate News Network:

UN bodies and health authorities are being advised to prepare for a world temperature rise of 4°C because scientists no longer believe that politicians are capable of holding the temperature rise below the internationally agreed limit, 2°C above pre-industrial levels.

Mark Maslin, professor of climatology at University College in London, was speaking at a conference here which also heard that some parts of the world were already in danger of becoming too hot for humans to inhabit.

Science and health professionals were invited by the Global Climate and Health Alliance to assess this bleak future for the human race at the end of the first week of climate talks, where little progress has been made to slow global warming.

Wrong kind of politicians

Professor Maslin said: “We are already planning for a 4°C world because that is where we are heading. I do not know of any scientists who do not believe that. We are just not tackling the enormity of the task we face to keep it below the agreed 2°C danger threshold.

“If we had the kind of politicians we really need we could still put in place policies that can save the planet from going over the danger level. But there is no evidence at the moment that we have that quality of politicians, so we all have to be prepared for the most likely scenario, which is a 4°C rise in temperature. If we do not prepare to adapt we simply won’t be able to.”

Professor Maslin said that scientists were in a Catch 22 situation. They wanted to tell politicians that it was still possible to save the planet and had shown how to do it in the last Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, released in September. At the same time scientists were aware that there was not the political appetite to deal with the problem.

He said all UN bodies were now being advised to prepare for a rise of 4°C, because there is no evidence to show that the world is prepared to turn away from the present pathway of rising carbon emissions.

Currently the temperature has risen 0.8°C on pre-industrial levels, and with the increase this year to 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere it will rise further towards the 2°C threshold.

Professor Maslin said: “I think everybody outside the scientific arena has underestimated the size of the problem.”  The average American emits 16 tons of carbon dioxide a year, the average UK citizen 8 tons and the average Chinese 5 tons.

Every country, he said, had to reduce their citizens’ emissions to 2 tons per person to avoid dangerous climate change. “That is a big ask, particularly for a country like China which is still growing fast.”

Dr. Liz Hanna, from the Australian National University’s National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health, said parts of her country were already reaching the threshold° where it was impossible for normal life to continue because of the heat.

Killing their workers

She said the Australian Government was ignoring climate change and still expecting places like Darwin to expand. But that was unlikely because they would soon become untenable.  “If employers ask people to continue to work in temperatures above 37°C, they will be killing them in increasing numbers,” she said.

Dr Hanna said humans were well suited to living in cool conditions and felt comfortable in temperatures between 20°C and 23°C because their muscles produced heat from within.

But in parts of Arizona, Australia and India temperatures were reaching – and for days staying above – the thermal maximum of endurance, which was around 37°C, the core heat of the human body.  Above that temperature, and sometimes below, depending on the combination of heat, humidity and air speed, keeping cool put too much strain on the heart and people began to die.

She said that she was studying how human societies could survive such daytime temperatures and continue to work. “There could be some night working, or people could work, rest in cool rooms, and then work again, but their productivity would drop and it would be economically unviable to have factories or farms in such conditions.”

Her researches were focusing on how to keep essential services like farming, police, ambulance, district nurses, construction and mining going in a warming world. “Obviously these people will be risking their lives if they continue to try and work outside when the ambient temperature is above 37°C,” she said. – Climate News Network

U.S. Atmospheric Methane Concentrations Are 50% Higher Than Previously Thought

In Uncategorized on November 26, 2013 at 2:43 pm

Oldspeak: “Tick, tick, tick, tick….. in the wake of recent news that there are multiple and one ginormous  methane seeps venting  from the bottom of the oceans off the coast of the U.S. into the atmosphere, of ponds in the Canadian arctic venting significant and previously unknown amounts methane into the atmosphere, and 2 times as much methane venting from the arctic methane time bomb a.k.a. the East Siberian Arctic Shelf that will affect the entire globe venting 20 million tons per year of methane into the atmosphere, this is not good news. This irreversible feedback loop is ACCELERATiNG as a result of human activity.” -OSJ

By Becky Orskin @ Live Science:

Thanks in large part to gas wells and cow farms, the United States is spewing 50 percent more methane, a potent greenhouse gas, than previous estimates have measured, according to a new study.

For the study, published Monday (Nov. 25) in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers from universities and government labs fanned out across the United States in 2007 and 2008 and measured levels of methane gas in the air. Though methane breaks down in the atmosphere after only 10 years, faster than carbon dioxide, it’s about 30 times more effective than carbon dioxide at trapping heat escaping the Earth — the greenhouse effect that leads to global warming.

Total methane emissions in the United States were 1.5 to 1.7 times higher than amounts previously estimated by the Environmental Protection Agency and by the International Emissions Database for Global Atmospheric Research (EDGAR), respectively, the study found.

The difference between the estimates comes from ways the various groups calculate methane emissions, the researchers said in a statement. The U.S. EPA and EDGAR count total emissions from the source, such as each cow and each unit of coal and natural gas sold in the country. The new study tracked actual methane emissions in the air, the scientists said.

“The bottom-up and top-down approaches give us very different answers about the level of methane gas emissions,” lead study author Scot Miller, a graduate student at Harvard, said in the statement. “Most strikingly, our results are higher by a factor of 2.7 over the south-central United States, which we know is a key region for fossil-fuel extraction and refining. It will be important to resolve that discrepancy in order to fully understand the impact of these industries on methane emissions.”

Man-made sources contributed about 60 percent of the methane, and 40 percent of the gas was from natural sources such as wetlands, the study concluded. Nearly 25 percent of the total man-made methane emissions were from Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas. [Greenhouse Gases: The Biggest Emitters (Infographic)]

In California, a related study led by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found the state’s total methane emissions are 1.3 to 1.8 times higher than the California Air Resources Board estimate. Those findings were published Oct. 3 in the Journal of Geophysical Research.

The air samples were collected by aircraft and from instruments stationed on telecommunications towers. The research team is now tracking present-day methane levels to measure changes related to the boom in U.S. oil and gas production.

Becky Oskin
Becky was a science reporter at The Pasadena Star-News. She has freelanced for New Scientist and the American Institute of Physics and interned at Discovery News. She earned a master’s degree in geology from Caltech, a bachelor’s degree from Washington State University, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what her latest project is, you can follow Becky on

“Off the charts” 195 Mph Monster Super Typhoon Haiyan “the strongest tropical cyclone to make landfall in recorded world history” Breaks The Philippines

In Uncategorized on November 8, 2013 at 12:54 pm

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Oldspeak: ” Less than 2 months after Hong Kong was hit with “the strongest storm on earth“, we witness the wrath of “the strongest tropical cyclone to make landfall in recorded world history”. it’s not a matter of if the east coast of the U.S. will be hit with storms more destructive and devastating than Katrina or Sandy, but when. Our technology will not save us from the slow motion and full speed cataclysms to come.  When will we stop plunging headlong into our planet and civilization’s demise?” -OSJ

Related Story:

Super Typhoon Haiyan Tears into The Philippines

By Eric Holthaus @ Quartz:

Super Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines at 4am local time today with winds near 195 mph, making it the strongest tropical cyclone to make landfall in recorded world history, according to satellite estimates. That astounding claim will need to be verified by actual measurements at ground level, which should be collected over the coming days.

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The storm (known as Yolanda in the Philippines) has officially maxed out the Dvorak scale, which is used to measure strong strength using satellites. That means Haiyan has approached the theoretical maximum intensity for any storm, anywhere.  From the latest NOAA bulletin:

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DVORAK TECHNIQUE MAKES NO ALLOWANCE FOR AN EYE EMBEDDED SO DEEPLY IN CLOUD TOPS AS COLD [AS THIS]

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Put another way, the most commonly used satellite-based intensity scale just wasn’t designed to handle a storm this strong. At its peak, one real-time estimate of the storm’s intensity actually ticked slightly above the maximum to 8.1 on an 8.0 scale. This meteorologist, for one, has never seen that before.

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Thousands were evacuated in the Philippines as the disaster-weary country prepared for impact. Ten regions in the central part of the country were under a Signal 4 warning, the nation’s highest typhoon alert level.

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Just last month, an area just south of Haiyan’s predicted path suffered a massive M7.2 earthquake, resulting in more than 100 deaths and widespread damage. That same region will experience strong winds and heavy rain from this typhoon.

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According to the US Navy’s Joint Typhoon Warning Center (JTWC), based in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, at landfall, the storm packed sustained winds of 195mph (310kph). Gusts reached a mind-blowing 235mph (380kph). That’s good enough to rank Haiyan as almost assuredly the strongest storm ever to make landfall in the Philippines.

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The Philippines is the most typhoon-ridden nation on Earth, getting walloped or enduring close calls on average of 19 times per year.

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It’s nearly inconceivable that any weather station would survive such conditions for very long to verify, so we may never know exactly how strong this storm was. There have only been a handful of storms anywhere on Earth (pdf) that have reached this estimated intensity—and only three since 1969. Such strong storms usually remain out at sea where wind speed verification is impossible without aircraft.

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If verified, the storm’s wind speed at landfall would top the sitting world record holder, the Atlantic’s Hurricane Camille, which hit Mississippi in 1969 with 190 mph winds.

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That’s certainly foreboding enough, but the humanitarian disaster that may unfold in the storm’s aftermath could be immense. Haiyan passed very near Tacloban, a city of a quarter million people, and Cebu, a city of nearly one million people:

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The country’s meteorological service, PAGASA, also supports a storm surge prediction model (appropriately named project NOAH) that estimates storm surge could have been up to 5.2 meters (17 feet) in Leyte, where the storm first made landfall. A storm surge of this magnitude—rare for the Philippines—would be especially devastating for coastal areas.

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Heavy rain, expected to approach 16 inches (400mm), will almost assuredly cause mudslides over the mountainous islands of the Philippines.

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haiyan-rainfall-nov7

 

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.