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

Posts Tagged ‘Natural Capital’

As Global Consumption Skyrockets, ‘Full Footprint’ Felt by Millions

In Uncategorized on September 22, 2015 at 1:59 pm

“As consumers, we influence the landscapes and lives of those who live near the extraction, manufacturing, disposal, and other impacts of the products we use every day.” (Photo: The Searcher/flickr/cc)

Oldspeak: “One of my favorite films “They Live” has come to pass. In the film there are ubiquitous and ever present messages everywhere from human’s alien overlords to “OBEY“, “MARRY AND REPRODUCE“, “NO INDEPENDENT THOUGHT”, “CONFORM”, “SUBMIT”, “STAY ASLEEP”, “BUY”, “WATCH TV”, “NO IMAGINATION”, “DO NOT QUESTION AUTHORITY” and the all important one “CONSUME”. We have been primed our whole lives, for generations now, to consume, consume, consume, at ever increasing rates and more conspicuous fashion. This business as usual has not slowed down one bit, in fact it’s skyrocketing at time when the natural capital required to produce consumables are being depleted unsustainably. Coal consumption, meat consumption, plastic consumption, GMO consumption, car consumption, all have exploded in the midst of global ecological collapse. The “full footprint” anthropocentrically focused on humans impacted in the piece below is being felt far, far worse by the ecology & other life-forms on Earth upon which we depend for survival. Expect this trend to continue until all natural resources have been exhausted and/or environmental conditions deteriorate to a point where human activities can’t be supported…” -OSJ

 

Written By Deirdre Fulton @ Common Dreams:

Even as inequality and temperatures soar around the world, global consumption—a driving force behind economic and climate crises alike—has skyrocketed to levels never before experienced on Earth, according to a new analysis from the Worldwatch Institute, an independent research organization based in Washington, D.C. that works on energy, resource, and environmental issues.

This year’s Vital Signs report, released Tuesday, tracks key trends in the environment, agriculture, energy, society, and the economy. It shows that “from coal to cars to coffee, consumption levels are breaking records.”

Yet “consumers often do not know the full footprint of the products they are buying, such as the embedded water in a t-shirt or steak, the pesticide exposure of cotton farmers, or the local devastation caused by timber companies cutting down forests to produce paper,” said Michael Renner, Vital Signs project director.

Indeed, writes Worldwatch Institute’s Gaelle Gourmelon, “our consumption choices affect more than ourselves—they affect the environment and the lives and livelihoods of millions.”

For example, the report points out, global meat production has more than quadrupled in the last 50 years to over 308 million tons in 2013—bringing with it considerable environmental and health costs due to its large-scale draw on water, feed grains, antibiotics, and grazing land.

“Beef is by far the most intensive of meats, requiring more than 15,000 liters of water per kilogram of meat produced,” writes Gourmelon, suggesting that ending factory-style livestock operations and eating less meat could help diminish the sector’s impact. “Beef production also uses three-fifths of global farmland despite its yield of less than 5 percent of the world’s protein and less than 2 percent of its calories.”

Another notable finding from the analysis: while Western Europeans and North Americans consume the most plastic per person, using 100 kilograms of plastic per person each year, just a fraction of that is recycled. In the U.S., for example, only 9 percent of plastic was recycled in 2012.

“As consumers, we influence the landscapes and lives of those who live near the extraction, manufacturing, disposal, and other impacts of the products we use every day,” Gourmelon concludes. “Once we see ourselves as part of the larger puzzle, we are better able to choose what we buy, how we eat, and for whom we cast our ballot.”

The Worldwatch Institute’s infographic, below, illustrates more staggering statistics:

(Credit: Worldwatch Institute)

(Credit: Worldwatch Institute)

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“It’s Like We Think Nature Is For Free”: The US Now Has An ‘Ecological Deficit,’ Report Finds

In Uncategorized on July 21, 2015 at 12:49 pm

Screen Shot 2015-07-14 at 12.51.33 PMOldspeak: “Despite being the third richest country in the world in terms of natural resources, the United States is using resources nearly twice as fast as they can be naturally sustained…That is in large part due to California, which is using resources eight times faster than they can be renewed and in the midst of a severe drought… it would take eight Californias to support the state’s large population, voracious appetite for water, and carbon footprint.” –Erik Sherman

“Yep. That’s happening. California, much like the rest of the developed world is rapidly depleting earths natural capital at ever more unsustainable rates. This can only continue for so much longer. As would be expected in a finance publication, this problem in discussed in the language of the market, with resources discussed as commodities with value. The author of this piece names “winners” and “losers” blaming offending states for the deficit, and highlighting the states doing the best at resource conservation. No discussion or critical analysis of omnicidal hyper-destructive extractive economic system and cultural ethos that is Industrial Civilization. No acknowledgment of the root cause of the conditions we see in the world today and how its demands are driving humanity’s suicidal behaviour. Sigh… Mark your calendars kids! World Ecological Deficit Day is August 13th! Everything Is AWESOME!” -OSJ

Written By Eric Sherman @ Fortune:

California — in the fourth year of its drought — is just one of many states to blame, a new report finds.

The United States reached a grim milestone on July 14. It officially has an “ecological deficit,” meaning the U.S. has exhausted all the natural resources that can be replenished in a year, according to a new report from two non-profit environmental groups. Everything from now until December 31 is deficit environmental spending.

Despite being the third richest country in the world in terms of natural resources, the United States is using resources nearly twice as fast as they can be naturally sustained, according to the report by Oakland, California-based Global Footprint Network and Tacoma, Washington-based Earth Economics.

That is in large part due to California, which is using resources eight times faster than they can be renewed and in the midst of a severe drought. According to the report, it would take eight Californias to support the state’s large population, voracious appetite for water, and carbon footprint. But Texas and Florida also have high ecological deficits.

In fact, although Texas and Michigan are the two states with the “greatest natural capital wealth,” they are at great risk for drought and water shortages, due to their overall large populations and high demand for energy and other natural resources. Additionally, the report found that only 16 states are currently living within their “means” — their supply of natural resources. New York is the state with the lowest ecological footprint per capita, in large part due to its mass transportation system.

A significant deficit in one resource, like water, can have a profound ripple effect across the economy. California’s four-year drought, for instance, has wreaked havoc on the agricultural industry; farm revenue losses are projected to be $1.8 billion, with 8,550 farm jobs lost. The state’s dairy and cattle industries could lose $350 million in revenue this year, NBC reports.

As a country, “we’re well-endowed but we haven’t paid attention much to those [ecological] constraints,” such as water supply, the ability of plant life to absorb excess carbon, availability of wetlands to help control flooding, energy generation, and food production, Mathis Wackernagel, lead author of the report and president of Global Footprint Network, told Fortune.

Some states are ahead of the curve. Idaho, Washington, Oregon, South Dakota, and Maine are all advanced in moving away from fossil fuels, with each producing 60 percent or more of its electricity from renewables. Maryland has pioneered ways of making capital investment decisions. The state looked at future ecological supply and condition scenarios in the decision process to invest in all-electric fleet vehicles as well as an $18 million investment in 3,000 weatherization measures projected to save as much as $69 million in avoided natural gas, electricity, and carbon emission costs over 20 years.

But other states in an ecological deficit will have to begin addressing the problems soon to avoid a big cost in economic problems and human suffering. “The big misconception is you can adjust very quickly to new realities,” Wackernagel said. “But the way we build our transport infrastructure, urban areas, even agriculture, has very slow response rates. You can’t suddenly rebuild a city or refurbish a transportation system.”

The report was created by measuring state populations’ demand for resources and the state’s available natural resources. Rather than using a typical market view of the resources as commodities, the authors used Earth Economics proprietary software that models a fuller view of the role such resources play. For example, trees aren’t just material for wood-based products but also help retain topsoil, reduce flooding, capture carbon, and help cool areas. Human consumption of natural resources for one set of uses reduces their availability for others and potentially helps put a state into ecological deficit.

Having a fuller view of the value of resources enables authorities to make wiser calculations, according to Earth Economics. For instance, after a hurricane, a community or federal agency might have to choose whether to raise a house higher or move it from the flood plane. Using the Earth Economics software, authorities’ analysis would be broader than simply comparing the immediate costs of both options.

“In looking at the benefits [of moving the house], you can reduce repetitive flooding and damage. You can also increase flood storage in that flood plane,” said David Batker, executive director of Earth Economics. However, because of the typical limited view of ecological value, argue the reports’ authors, those calculations are typically not done. That is why some heavily constrained resources — ground water in California, for example — are not monitored or priced at what a full value might be. “Just as in the 1930s we needed measures of GNP [currently GDP], money supply, and unemployment, we now need measurements of natural capital,” Batker said.

“It’s like we think nature is for free,” Wackernagel said. “It’s like someone saying my house is free because I’ve paid it off. But it’s extremely valuable. If you look at the opportunity cost of not having [the ecological resources], it’s amazing. We squander it.” The U.S., however, is not alone in this regard. The world reaches an overall ecological deficit day on August 13, according to Wackernagel.

The “Mega-Drought Future,” The Disappearance Of Coral Reefs And The Unwillingness To Listen

In Uncategorized on March 12, 2015 at 11:44 pm
Since 2011, destruction of the oceans has not only continued, but it has increased dramatically. A World Resources report states that all coral reefs will be gone by 2050 "if no actions are taken," a study published in BioScience states that oysters are already "functionally extinct" since their populations are decimated by overharvesting and disease, and the "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico, and others around the globe, continue to break size records. (Photo via Shutterstock)

Since 2011, destruction of the oceans has not only continued, but it has increased dramatically. (Photo: Dead Coral Reef via Shutterstock)

Oldspeak:” More from bad to worse news from intrepid reporter Dahr Jamail on the ongoing global ecological collapse and fastest ever mass extinction. All you oyster lovers, get em while you can, scientists have classified them as “functionally extinct”. They won’t be around much longer. Wild Atlantic Salmon that we all love so much, enjoy that while you can as it too faces extinction. All you california grown food lovers, enjoy while you can, California is in the throes of a 1,200 year drought, that is only going to get worse with global warming set to accelerate to rates not seen in 1,000 years in the near future. Farmers know all too well the grim reality of now.  “No water = No food.” Many fields are fallow right now. Some farmers have lost two-thirds of their crop. The mega city Sao Paolo, Brazil is experiencing water scarcity dry taps as a result of rapidly melting glaciers and water sources. The “Deadly Trio” of ocean warming, acidification and deoxegenation seen in earths previous 5 mass extinctions is accelerating. Trees are losing their ability to remove carbon from the air. The change is beyond linear at this point, and beyond mitigation. And astoundingly the denial abounds in the face of incontrovertible and ever more evident physical evidence.,.” -OSJ

By Dahr Jamail @ Truthout:

Scientists are now mapping a world that is changing rapidly in often-terrifying ways. Climate disruption and world leaders’ unwillingness to act have put us at risk of experiencing mega-droughts, the disappearance of coral reefs and other ecological impacts of an anthropogenically warming planet.

The UN World Meteorological Organization recently announced that 14 of the 15 hottest years ever recorded have occurred since 2000. Ponder that for a moment before reading further.

In what is perhaps eerily prophetic timing, this February marked the 50th anniversary of US President Lyndon B. Johnson’s warning about carbon dioxide. In a 1965 special message to Congress, he warned about the buildup of carbon dioxide and said, in what would become the harbinger warning of anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD):

Air pollution is no longer confined to isolated places. This generation has altered the composition of the atmosphere on a global scale through radioactive materials and a steady increase in carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels.

The potential consequences of this warming are also multiplying, as witnessed by a recent NASA study that shows that the United States is “at risk of [a] mega-drought future.” The research shows that the Southwest and Central Plains are both on course for super-droughts, which have not been witnessed in over 1,000 years.

To see more stories like this, visit “Planet or Profit?”

In this month’s climate dispatch, we document a wide range of research along similar lines: Scientists are now mapping a world that is changing rapidly in often terrifying ways.

Earth

After the single worst mountaineering accident in history took place last summer on Mount Everest, the standard climbing route for that mountain has become off limits. Many mountaineers, including this writer, credit ACD with making the section of the route where the deadly accident occurred more dangerous than ever before.

An increasing number of reports now demonstrate that ACD is leading to new disease outbreaks around the world. In fact, many scientists fear that ACD is already creating the ecological basis for infectious deadly diseases to spread to both new places and new hosts as the planet’s atmosphere changes.

Other scientists are warning of a coming “climate plague,” and say that exotic diseases like Ebola, SARS and West Nile virus will become “increasingly common” as ACD progresses. Less dramatically but equally pertinent, recent studies are already linking ACD to longer and more intense hay fever seasons in the United States.

Wildlife is reflecting the changes to the climate as well. Grizzlies in Yellowstone National Park emerged several weeks early from their winter hibernation due to the arrival of spring-like weather, with warmer temperatures and rain falling instead of the usual snow, according to a park spokesperson.

Madagascar’s lemur species, most of them already imperiled, are now being severely impacted by the effects of ACD, which will cause an average of half of their current habitats to be removed over the next 70 years.

Although it’s not as though we needed any further evidence that ACD is real and progressing rapidly, a study recently published in Nature, drawn from evidence taken from ancient plankton fossils drilled from the ocean floor, supports current predictions about ACD, as it verifies what we are seeing today, and where it will lead, since it has happened in the past.

On the human front, a recent report shows how disasters resulting from ACD are pushing India’s poorest children further into poverty and sometimes human trafficking, as parents are displaced.

Lastly, researchers at an annual American Association for the Advancement of Science conference in the United States reported that the dramatic acceleration of ACD and its impacts on agriculture mean that “profound” societal changes are needed in order to feed the world’s ever-growing population. One example of these changes is the fact that, according to one of the scientists at the conference, in order to feed the planet between 2000 and 2050, agricultural output would have to produce the same amount of food as was produced in the last 500 years.

Water

As usual, the impact of ACD is extremely clear when it comes to water and water-related issues around the globe.

In Alaska, the annual Iditarod sled dog race is in increasing jeopardy, as warmer temperatures and dwindling snow cover are making it more challenging to run the race. Mushers are having to skirt open-water sections of previously frozen rivers, run their teams and sleds over long sections of bare ground, and run their dogs at night because daytime temperatures are sometimes too warm.

In the Pacific Northwest, a possibly record-setting bad snow year is in full swing, as mountain snowfalls remain at record low levels, and forecasts for the rest of the season are calling for more of the same. By way of example, the snowpack in the Olympic Mountains is at only 8 percent of its usual level.

A recent report revealed that anthropogenic air pollution in the northern hemisphere is reducing rainfall over Central America. Scientists explained that sun-masking pollution cools the northern hemisphere where most global industry is based. This then pushes the intertropical convergence zone (a rain band that encircles the globe) south because it moves toward the warmer hemisphere.

Researchers from the University of Arizona have shown that melting ice is causing the land to rise up in Iceland, and possibly elsewhere. The result of this could be a dramatic increase in the number of volcanic eruptions around the globe – yet another unintended consequence of ACD.

While it’s no secret that glaciers are melting in Antarctica and Greenland, a recently published study provided new evidence that the carbon from melting glaciers is impacting the downstream food chains and having a significant impact on those ecosystems. This means substantial changes to the base of the food web, changes that will have clear ramifications for global fisheries and ultimately, humans’ ability to feed themselves.

A recent study published in the journal PLOS ONE, titled “Smothered Oceans: Extreme Oxygen Loss in Oceans Accompanied Past Global Climate Change,” revealed that abrupt, extensive loss of oxygen occurred in the oceans when the global ice sheets melted approximately 10,000 to 17,000 years ago. These findings explain similar changes that are already occurring in the oceans right now.

New analysis of thousands of temperature measurements taken during deep ocean probes confirmed that the planet is experiencing “unabated planetary warming” when one includes the vast amounts of greenhouse-trapped heat in the oceans.

Life in the oceans is being impacted in what are increasingly obvious ways. Rutgers University professor Malin Pinsky, who studies the effects of ACD on fisheries, recently announced a study showing species redistribution (having to move to new areas due to temperature changes) of fluke, which are being pushed north toward cooler waters. Pinsky has already studied a similar phenomenon happening with flounder.

In California, nearly 1,000 sea lions have been washed ashore this year in what rehabilitation centers state is a growing crisis for the animals. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration officials are blaming warming ocean temperatures for the problem.

It’s important to place this distressing news for the planet’s oceans in a larger – and even more distressing – context. Now is a good time to recall an alarming 2011 report, in which the International Program on the State of the Ocean warned of mass extinction, based on the then-current rate of marine distress. The expert panel of scientists warned that a mass extinction event “unlike anything human history has ever seen” was coming, if the multifaceted degradation of the world’s oceans continues.

Since 2011, destruction of the oceans has not only continued, but it has increased dramatically. A World Resources report states that all coral reefs will be gone by 2050 “if no actions are taken,” a study published in BioScience states that oysters are already “functionally extinct” since their populations are decimated by overharvesting and disease, and the “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico, and others around the globe, continue to break size records.

Other water-related effects of climate disruption abound.

The massive snowfall in Boston this winter set all-time records for snow within 14, 20, and 30-day periods, and has been tied to ACD.

ACD-fueled drought continues to plague the planet, as the major vacillations between extreme dryness and floods grow increasingly common.

Sao Paulo, Brazil’s largest and wealthiest city that typically has access to one-eighth of the fresh water on the planet, is now seeing its taps run dry as the region struggles to cope with “an unprecedented water crisis.” And in the United States, California’s drought continues to make front-page news, as usual. The state suffered one of its driest Januarys on record, indicating that, without a doubt, the state is headed into a fourth straight year of drought.

Also in California, scientists are seeing that state’s shrinking snowpack as a harbinger of things to come. They are expecting the snowpack to shrink by at least one-third as the climate continues to warm in the coming decades, and expect that by the end of this century, more than half of what now functions as a massive natural freshwater reservoir could be gone.

Indeed, a recent NASA study warns us of an “unprecedented” North American drought, and shows that California is currently in the midst of its worst drought in more than 1,200 years. The study also shows how things are only going to get worse.

Meanwhile, the distress signals from the Arctic continue to make themselves known, in the form of melting ice.

A study recently published in the Journal of Climate shows that the amount of ice already lost in the Arctic dwarfs any of the ice gains that have occurred around Antarctica. ACD deniers had pointed toward increasing ice buildup in parts of the Antarctic as a sign that ACD was not happening, but this study blows that “argument” out of the water. “I hope that these results will make it clear that, globally, the Earth has lost sea ice over the past several decades, despite the Antarctic gains,” wrote study author Claire Parkinson, a sea ice researcher at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland.

Seattle-based urban planner Jeffrey Linn produced a series of maps that show what is going to occur as sea levels continue to rise and major cities are submerged in hundreds of feet of water. They are worth looking at closely.

A study just published in the journal Nature Communications shows that sea levels north of New York City “jumped by 128mm (5 inches)” in just two years. This is an unprecedented rate in the history of tide gauge records. The US scientists who authored the study warned that coastal areas now need to prepare for “short term and extreme sea level events.”

Lastly, on the subject of rising sea levels, researchers recently reported that rising sea levels are already impacting Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where the historic and iconic launch pads 39A and 39B are under threat as nearby beachfront is washing away at an alarming rate.

Fire

A recent state-commissioned study in the US projects between a 2.5 to 5.5-degree Fahrenheit temperature increase by 2050, which would bring more disease, crop damage and wildfires to the state of Colorado, along with other states in the center of the country.

To make matters worse, another recent report makes it clear that wildfire season in the United States, which used to be confined to the months of July and August, has grown two and a half months longer in the last 40 years – and continues to expand.

Beyond the US, a recent study in the New Scientist revealed that ACD-augmented wildfires could begin releasing radioactive material locked in contaminated forest soils around Chernobyl, allowing them to spread all over Europe.

Air

A recent study published in Scientific Reports reveals that the forests’ ability to suck carbon from the atmosphere is likely slowing down. The ramifications for this are obvious: With forests’ ability to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere compromised, the impacts of ACD speed up dramatically.

Climate Central recently published an interactive tool called Winter Loses Its Cool, which allows you to see how daily low temperature projections for US cities are being impacted by ACD.

A modeling study published in LiveScience in February shows how ACD is spawning even more tornadoes in the US Southeast.

Another report – which shouldn’t surprise anyone living in the frigid northeastern US – shows how ACD is clearly shifting the jet stream that drives the weather for that region. This has been evident throughout most of February, where record-breaking bitterly cold air from Siberia wracked the region, along with the eastern half of Canada, with incredibly low temperatures and record snowfalls. It is obvious that something is amiss with the planet’s atmosphere when the US Northeast is getting weather, regularly now, that used to be found only within the Arctic Circle. As global temperatures slowly equalize as a result of ACD, the jet stream is no longer contained to its previous patterns.

January 2015 showed that worldwide temperatures are showing little sign of relenting from 2014’s record high levels, as January matched the warmest records for the month in 125 years of data records, according to Japan’s Meteorological Agency.

Lastly, the giant craters in Siberia that are believed to have been caused by methane gas eruptions in melting permafrost are now sparking fears of the unfolding of an Arctic natural disaster. That disaster would look like increasingly escalating temperatures that cause self-reinforcing feedback loops to kick in, and cause the permafrost in the Arctic to continue melting, hence releasing the rest of the trapped methane.

Denial and Reality

There is some big news on the ACD-denial front this month, as it was recently revealed how the deniers’ favorite scientist, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics’ Wei-Hock Soon, has been taking cash from corporate interests – and the documents are there to prove it. He has accepted more than a cool $1.2 million in money from the fossil fuel industry, and opted not to disclose that minor conflict of interest in the vast majority of his so-called scientific papers.

Nevertheless, others who are taking massive amounts of cash from the fossil fuel industry, like the infamous Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Oklahoma), continue to spout on about how only God can cause climate change.

A recently published op-ed in LiveScience asks the question, “Is it safe to be a climate scientist?” given how aggressive and even dangerous the pushback has been against scientists for simply doing their jobs.

It’s a legitimate question because given the fact that 2014 was the hottest year on record and all the other overwhelming evidence that ACD is in full swing and accelerating by the day, the denial movement has began to reach new heights of lying and propagandizing. By way of example, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s top business advisor Maurice Newman says that he believes ACD is a “myth.”

Meanwhile, talk of “geoengineering” as a “solution” for ACD continues to grow in frequency and volume, to the extent that the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) recently issued two firmly pessimistic reports on the subject. The NAS refused to call it “geoengineering,” however, instead calling it “climate intervention.” The NAS panel rejects the use of the term “geoengineering” because, “We felt ‘engineering’ implied a level of control that is illusory,” according to Dr. Marcia McNutt, who led the report committee.

Another, little-noticed factor that may be driving denial: noise pollution. A senior US scientist recently expressed concerns about how human-created noise is making us oblivious to the sound of nature. Rising background noise in some areas threatens to make people deaf to the sounds of birds, flowing water and wind blowing through trees, and the problem is exacerbated by people opting to use iPods during their hikes. “We are conditioning ourselves to ignore the information coming into our ears,” the scientist said. Along with the fact that the majority of the global population now lacks regular access to wilderness, it is becoming ever easier for people to avoid thinking about ACD, since they are out of touch with the planet.

There have been important recent developments on the reality front for this section.

As a mitigation option, a recent Reuters story reminds us, “Giving more women who want it access to birth control to limit their family size, in both rich and poor countries, could be a hugely effective way to curb climate change, according to experts.”

Truthout also recently published an analytical piece on this topic, noting that there are 225,000 people at the dinner table tonight who weren’t there last night – and that the vast majority of carbon emissions are coming from so-called developed countries, rather than poorer “developing” countries.

In an action geared toward raising global awareness, Catholics in 45 countries aim to send an ACD message through their Lenten chain of fasting this year. In addition, Pope Francis’ scheduled address to a joint session of Congress this fall is aiming to put Republican lawmakers who are ACD deniers square on the hot seat.

Given recent reports and events, let us remember the shockwaves caused in the global scientific community when, in 2010, Australian emeritus professor of microbiology Frank Fenner, who helped eradicate smallpox from the planet, predicted the human race would be extinct within the next 100 years. Believing humans will be unable to survive the ongoing twin-headed dragon of unbridled population explosion and overconsumption, Fenner stated unequivocally, “It’s an irreversible situation. I think it’s too late. I try not to express that because people are trying to do something, but they keep putting it off.”

On that note, researchers at Oxford University recently compiled a “scientific assessment about the possibility of oblivion” that predicts various scenarios of how human civilization will most likely end.

With ACD listed as the No. 1 most likely way we perish, the list goes on to include other possibilities like global thermonuclear war, a global pandemic, ecological catastrophe and global system catastrophe. Only two of the 12 scenarios – major asteroid impact and a super volcano – were not anthropogenic.

Regarding ACD, the researchers believe the possibility of global coordination to mitigate the impacts to be the largest controllable factor in whether or not catastrophe can be prevented. However, they also warned that the impact of ACD would be strongest in poorer countries, and that large human die-offs stemming from migrations and famines would cause major global instability.

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

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

https://i2.wp.com/fc04.deviantart.net/fs71/i/2011/268/d/7/global_warming_by_dc1983-d4ax1f2.jpgOldspeak: “Noting that warnings of ‘collapse’ are often seen to be fringe or controversial, the study attempts to make sense of compelling historical data showing that “the process of rise-and-collapse is actually a recurrent cycle found throughout history.” Cases of severe civilisational disruption due to “precipitous collapse – often lasting centuries – have been quite common…It finds that according to the historical record even advanced, complex civilisations are susceptible to collapse, raising questions about the sustainability of modern civilisation: “The fall of the Roman Empire, and the equally (if not more) advanced Han, Mauryan, and Gupta Empires, as well as so many advanced Mesopotamian Empires, are all testimony to the fact that advanced, sophisticated, complex, and creative civilizations can be both fragile and impermanent.”….the most salient interrelated factors which explain civilisational decline, and which may help determine the risk of collapse today: namely, Population, Climate, Water, Agriculture, and Energy.These factors can lead to collapse when they converge to generate two crucial social features: “the stretching of resources due to the strain placed on the ecological carrying capacity”; and “the economic stratification of society into Elites [rich] and Masses (or “Commoners”) [poor]” These social phenomena have played “a central role in the character or in the process of the collapse,” in all such cases over “the last five thousand years.”Dr Nafeez Ahmed , Executive Director, Institute for Policy Research & Development.

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

By Dr Nafeez Ahmed @ The Guardian:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

BP Energy Outlook: Carbon Emissions “Will Increase 29% By 2035; Remain Well Above Path Recommended By Scientists”

In Uncategorized on February 12, 2014 at 12:12 pm

Climate scientists agree that global carbon dioxide emissions need to be sharply cut. A prominent player in the energy industry predicts they will go in the opposite direction. -Alex Kirby

Oldspeak: “Translation = We’re fucked. This report matters more than anything any government official has to say about energy policy. Supra-national energy corporations basically control global energy policy. Some small nations have managed to greatly diminish their dependence on fossil fuels, but the major emitters (China, U.S., India, Russia, Japan) have no such plans.  There is a high probability that most remaining fossil fuel deposits will be extracted, no matter the impact on the ecology. Witness the battle to “carve up” the arctic by those very same major emitters. In these peoples unwell minds, the melting of the planets’ air conditioner, the arctic, is a good thing. The BP emissions estimate is probably underestimated, as they’ve not factored continued increasing release in methane hydrates from permafrost and the sea floor in their models….  A.K.A. We’re fucked. Tick, Tick, Tick, Tick…” -OSJ

By Alex Kirby @ Climate News Network:

LONDON, 7 February – The good news, from the climate’s standpoint, is that while global demand for energy is continuing to grow, the growth is slowing. The bad news is that one energy giant predicts global carbon dioxide emissions will probably rise by almost a third in the next 20 years.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says greenhouse gas emissions need to peak by 2020 and then decline if the world is to hope to avoid global average temperatures rising by more than 2°C over pre-industrial levels. Beyond 2°C, it says, climate change could become dangerously unmanageable.

But BP’s Energy Outlook 2035 says CO2 emissions are likely to increase by 29% in the next two decades because of growing energy demand from the developing world.

It says “energy use in the advanced economies of North America, Europe and Asia as a group is expected to grow only very slowly – and begin to decline in the later years of the forecast period”.

But by 2035 energy use in the non-OECD economies is expected to be 69% higher than in 2012. In comparison use in the OECD will have grown by only 5%, and actually to have fallen after 2030, even with continued economic growth. The Outlook predicts that global energy consumption will rise by 41% from 2012 to 2035, compared with 30% over the last ten.

Nor does it offer much hope that the use of novel energy sources will help to cut emissions. It says: “Shale gas is the fastest-growing source of supply (6.5% p.a.), providing nearly half of the growth in global gas.”

Renewables shine

Burning gas produces much lower CO2 emissions than using coal, but the sheer volume of shale production is expected to cancel out any possible emissions reductions. In fact the Outlook says of its predictions:  “…emissions [of CO2] remain well above the path recommended by scientists…Global emissions in 2035 are nearly double the 1990 level.”

An advantage claimed by some supporters of shale gas is that it will increasingly replace a much more polluting fossil fuel, coal. But at the moment many coal-producing countries are finding markets overseas for those they have lost to shale gas at home.

Oil, natural gas and coal are each expected to make up around 27% of the total mix by 2035, with the remaining share coming from nuclear, hydroelectricity and renewables. Among fossil fuels gas, conventional as well as shale, is growing fastest and is increasingly being used as a cleaner alternative to coal.

Bob Dudley, BP Group chief executive, said the Group was “optimistic for the world’s energy future”. Europe, China and India would become more dependent on imports, he said, while the US was on course to become self-sufficient in energy.

The Outlook does provide encouragement to the producers of renewables, which are expected to continue to be the fastest growing class of energy, gaining market share from a small base as they rise at an average of 6.4% a year to 2035. – Climate News Network

No End In Sight: California Boils In Worst Ever 400 Year Drought; Water Shortages Intensify; U.S. Food Supply Threatened

In Uncategorized on February 7, 2014 at 6:24 pm

California-Drought-2013

Oldspeak: “The worst drought in the history of the state of California is happening right now.  And considering the fact that the rest of the nation is extremely dependent on produce grown in California and cattle raised in the western half of the U.S., this should be of great concern to all of us… California Governor Jerry Brown has just declared a water emergency, and reservoirs throughout the state have dropped to dangerously low levels. Unless a miracle happens, there is simply not going to be enough water to go around for the entire agriculture industry… The reason why the agriculture industry in California is so important is because it literally feeds the rest of the nation…. And it isn’t just the U.S. that is dealing with this kind of drought.  The largest freshwater lake in China that was once about twice the size of London, England has almost entirely dried up because of the ongoing drought over there…. Meanwhile, global demand for food just continues to rise… If this drought ends and the western half of the nation starts getting lots of rain, this could just be a temporary crisis…. However, the truth is that scientific research has shown that the 20th century was the wettest century in the western half of the country in 1000 years, and that we should expect things to return to “normal” at some point.-Michael Snyder

“It should be obvious that our civilization is a planetary wide progress trap. We extract ever more toxic and non-renewable energy, which requires that we use and poison ever more of our most precious, rapidly dwindling and irreplaceable resource water, the burning of that energy has heated and altered the planet to pre-human conditions, and the climate will at some point we don’t know change to be uninhabitable for most life on earth. The U.S. food supply is under acute threat, so much so, the U.S. Agriculture secretary had to come out and say “When you take a look at the intensity of the storms that we have seen recently and the frequency of them, the length of drought, combined with these snowstorms and the sub-zero weather that we’ve experienced, the combination of all those factors convinces me that the climate is changing. And it’s going to have its impact, and will have its impact and is having its impact on agriculture and forestry.” The western U.S. and other regions around the world have entered an era of mega-drought. Our actions are accelerating the destruction of the resources we need to survive. We need to start preparing to do with less. Less food, less water, less arable land, less breathable air. The age of abundance is coming to a close.” -OSJ

By Michael Snyder @ The Economic Collapse:

If the extreme drought in the western half of the country keeps going, the food supply problems that we are experiencing right now are only going to be the tip of the iceberg.  As you will see below, the size of the U.S. cattle herd has dropped to a 61 year low, and organic food shortages are being reported all over the nation.  Surprisingly cold weather and increasing demand for organic food have both been a factor, but the biggest threat to the U.S. food supply is the extraordinary drought which has had a relentless grip on the western half of the country.  If you check out the U.S. Drought Monitor, you can see that drought conditions currently stretch from California all the way to the heart of Texas.  In fact, the worst drought in the history of the state of California is happening right now.  And considering the fact that the rest of the nation is extremely dependent on produce grown in California and cattle raised in the western half of the U.S., this should be of great concern to all of us.

A local Fox News report that was featured on the Drudge Report entitled “Organic food shortage hits US” has gotten quite a bit of attention. The following is an excerpt from that article…

Since Christmas, cucumbers supplies from Florida have almost ground to a halt and the Mexican supply is coming but it’s just not ready yet.

And as the basic theory of economics goes, less supply drives up prices.

Take organic berries for example:

There was a strawberry shortage a couple weeks back and prices spiked.

Experts say the primary reasons for the shortages are weather and demand.

And without a doubt, demand for organic food has grown sharply in recent years.  More Americans than ever have become aware of how the modern American diet is slowly killing all of us, and they are seeking out alternatives.

Due to the tightness in supply and the increasing demand, prices for organic produce just continue to go up.  Just consider the following example

A quick check on the organic tree fruit market shows that the average price per carton for organic apples was $38 per carton in mid-January this year, up from an average of just $31 per carton last year at the same time. At least for apple marketers, the organic market is heating up.

Personally, I went to a local supermarket the other day and I started to reach for a package of organic strawberries but I stopped when I saw that they were priced at $6.99.  I couldn’t justify paying 7 bucks for one package.  I still remember getting them on sale for $2.99 last year.

Unfortunately, this may only be just the beginning of the price increases.  California Governor Jerry Brown has just declared a water emergency, and reservoirs throughout the state have dropped to dangerously low levels.

Unless a miracle happens, there is simply not going to be enough water to go around for the entire agriculture industry.  The following is an excerpt from an email from an industry insider that researcher Ray Gano recently shared on his website

Harris farms has released a statement saying they will leave about 40,000 acres fallow this year because the FEDS have decided to only deliver 10% of the water allocation for 2014. Lettuce is predicted to reach around $5.00 a head (if you can find it). Understand the farmers in the Salinas valley are considering the same action. So much for salad this summer unless you grow it yourself.

The reason why the agriculture industry in California is so important is because it literally feeds the rest of the nation.  I shared the following statistics yesterday, but they are so critical that they bear repeating.  As you can see, without the fruits and vegetables that California grows, we would be in for a world of hurt

The state produces 99 percent of the artichokes grown in the US, 44 percent of asparagus, a fifth of cabbage, two-thirds of carrots, half of bell peppers, 89 percent of cauliflower, 94 percent of broccoli, and 95 percent of celery. Leafy greens? California’s got the market cornered: 90 percent of the leaf lettuce we consume, along with and 83 percent of Romaine lettuce and 83 percent of fresh spinach, come from the big state on the left side of the map. Cali also cranks a third of total fresh tomatoes consumed in the U.S.—and 95 percent of ones destined for cans and other processing purposes.

As for fruit, I get that 86 percent of lemons and a quarter of oranges come from there; its sunny climate makes it perfect for citrus, and lemons store relatively well. Ninety percent of avocados? Fine. But 84 percent of peaches, 88 percent of fresh strawberries, and 97 percent of fresh plums?

Come on. Surely the other 49 states can do better.

Are you starting to understand how much trouble we could be in if this drought does not end?

About now I can hear some people out there saying that they will just eat meat because they don’t like vegetables anyway.

Well, unfortunately we are rapidly approaching a beef shortage as well.

On January 1st, the U.S. cattle herd hit a 61-year low of 89.3 million head of cattle.

The biggest reason for this is the 5 year drought that has absolutely crippled the cattle industry out west…

Back in the late fall 2013 there was a freak snowstorm that killed close to 300,000+ cattle. This is a major hit to the cattle market.

I know in Texas where they still have a 5 year drought they are dealing with, they are having to ship grass bails in from Colorado, Utah and other parts of the country just to feed the cattle. Ranchers are sending their female cattle to the slaughter houses becasue they can not afford to feed them anymore. It is the females that help re-stock the herd. SO if you are slaughtering your females, your herd does not grow. It is expected that the US will not see cattle herd growth returning until 2017, maybe even later.

This is a problem which is not going away any time soon.

According to the Washington Post, the U.S. cattle herd has gotten smaller for six years in a row, and the amount of beef produced is expected to drop to a 20 year low in 2014…

The U.S. cattle herd contracted for six straight years to the smallest since 1952, government data show. A record drought in 2011 destroyed pastures in Texas, the top producing state, followed the next year by a surge in feed-grain prices during the worst Midwest dry spell since the 1930s. Fewer cattle will mean production in the $85 billion beef industry drops to a 20- year low in 2014, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said.

It would be hard to overstate how devastating this ongoing drought has been for many ranchers out west.  For example, one 64-year-old rancher who lives in Texas says that his herd is 90 percent smaller than it was back in 2005 because of the drought

Texas rancher Looney, who is 64 and has been in the cattle business his whole life, said his herd is still about 90 percent below its size from 2005 because of the prolonged dry weather. It will take years for the pastures to come back, even if there is normal rainfall, he said. About 44 percent of Texas was in still in drought in the week ended Jan. 7, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

And it isn’t just the U.S. that is dealing with this kind of drought.  The largest freshwater lake in China that was once about twice the size of London, England has almost entirely dried up because of the ongoing drought over there.

Meanwhile, global demand for food just continues to rise.

If this drought ends and the western half of the nation starts getting lots of rain, this could just be a temporary crisis.

However, the truth is that scientific research has shown that the 20th century was the wettest century in the western half of the country in 1000 years, and that we should expect things to return to “normal” at some point.

So is that happening now?

Over the past couple of years, I have warned that Dust Bowl conditions are starting to return to the western half of the United States.  Just see this article, this article and this article.

Now the state of California is experiencing the worst drought that it has ever gone through and “apocalyptic” dust storms are being reported in Colorado and Nevada.

Just because things seem like they have always been a certain way does not mean that they will always stay that way.

Things out west are rapidly changing, and in the end it is going to affect the lives of every man, woman and child in the United States.

Violence Against Our Environment

In Uncategorized on December 9, 2013 at 7:05 pm

https://i1.wp.com/cooper.edu/sites/default/files/2302-081_r.jpg

Oldspeak: “An increasing number of environmental activists, myself included, regard the word “environment” with some suspicion, generally preferring the term “ecological.” The reasoning behind the change in emphasis is because using the word “environment” posits the idea that nature is something that surrounds humans, but at the same time, something that we are fundamentally outside of, and separate from. The separation of nature from humans is the ideological position underlying capitalist orthodoxy; namely that the biosphere is a subset of the economy, rather than the other way around. Capitalists can freely take “natural resources” from outside of the economy as inputs, and dump waste from the production process back into the environment as outputs. Mainstream economic theory then pronounces that the ramifications of such an outlook will have only limited impact on the planet as a whole, and, thereby, economic accumulation and growth can continue indefinitely.

“Ecological,” on the other hand, embeds humans back within the external world as a natural component of it, the same as any other organism. The use of tools such as microscopes, or Magnetic Resonance Imaging devices, can then be seen not simply as humans investigating nature in order to understand it, but that we are concurrently investigating ourselves, because tools are merely mechanical extensions of our bodily senses. No doubt, Marx would very much approve of such an attention to the hidden social meaning of words, particularly with regard, in this example, to his very important concept of “metabolic rift”: the devastating and unnatural split or break between humans and nature, forced on us by capitalist social relations…

….Capitalist environmental violence rests on the dual exploitation of humans and nature, which were regarded by Marx as the twin sources of all wealth. Exploitation of the natural world, driven forward by the never-ending hunt for profits, is merely the flip side of the exploitation of humans, put to work to turn the source of sustenance into money. Viewed this way, socialists fighting for social justice and a different world cannot avoid integrating a fight for ecological justice, as the two are inseparable components of the same fight.” -Chris Williams

“Brilliant insight. in much the same way as we otherize & dehumanize each other in order to perpetrate violence, we consider ourselves separate from ecology we’re fundamentally a part of to rationalize violence against it. The faux distinction allows for the length, breadth and depravity of capitalist ecological violence. Blown up mountains. Poisoned waterways. Habitat Destruction. The list of offenses is very long. The economic system around which we organize our societies is at its foundation, ecocidal, homicidal, exploitative, repressive, racist, patriarchal, and interminably bureaucratic. it is animated by violence destruction & death. As long as we regard the biosphere a subset of the economy, the prospect of a livable future environment and planet is nil.  There is no economy on dead planet.” -OSJ

By Chris Williams @ Dissident Voice:

Both the words “environment” and “violence” have so many meanings, that they require some definition of how they can be of use in the context of a struggle for social justice. Regarding the word violence, according to Merriam Webster, one definition is “the use of brute strength to cause harm to a person or property”; a definition that doesn’t seem to have an immediately obvious connection to ecological issues associated with climate change, loss of biodiversity and various forms of pollution.

An increasing number of environmental activists, myself included, regard the word “environment” with some suspicion, generally preferring the term “ecological.” The reasoning behind the change in emphasis is because using the word “environment” posits the idea that nature is something that surrounds humans, but at the same time, something that we are fundamentally outside of, and separate from. The separation of nature from humans is the ideological position underlying capitalist orthodoxy; namely that the biosphere is a subset of the economy, rather than the other way around. Capitalists can freely take “natural resources” from outside of the economy as inputs, and dump waste from the production process back into the environment as outputs. Mainstream economic theory then pronounces that the ramifications of such an outlook will have only limited impact on the planet as a whole, and, thereby, economic accumulation and growth can continue indefinitely.

“Ecological,” on the other hand, embeds humans back within the external world as a natural component of it, the same as any other organism. The use of tools such as microscopes, or Magnetic Resonance Imaging devices, can then be seen not simply as humans investigating nature in order to understand it, but that we are concurrently investigating ourselves, because tools are merely mechanical extensions of our bodily senses. No doubt, Marx would very much approve of such an attention to the hidden social meaning of words, particularly with regard, in this example, to his very important concept of “metabolic rift”: the devastating and unnatural split or break between humans and nature, forced on us by capitalist social relations.

Given these issues, and the importance of words to explain and communicate thought, how should those of us engaged in a struggle against capitalist environmental violence, conceive of that fight?  If we are to argue that the social, economic and political system known as capitalism is the root cause of environmental violence, what are we arguing it is responsible for?

Interestingly enough, but, perhaps unsurprisingly given the prevalence of overt violence in our world, the dictionary gives almost 50 related words for “violence”. These begin with words such as “coercion”, “compulsion”, “constraint”, go on to “barbarity”, “brutality”, “damage” and continue with “onslaught”, “tumult” and “upheaval.”

Putting these words into a human context and joining them up with the word “environment” now starts to make significant sense. It is no longer possible to restrict violence to an act that is immediate and causes direct and obvious harm, whether that is in the most commonly thought of cases of warfare, police brutality, or state-sponsored torture such as waterboarding, or racist, sexist or homophobic language and bigotry.

Capitalist environmental violence rests on the dual exploitation of humans and nature, which were regarded by Marx as the twin sources of all wealth. Exploitation of the natural world, driven forward by the never-ending hunt for profits, is merely the flip side of the exploitation of humans, put to work to turn the source of sustenance into money. Viewed this way, socialists fighting for social justice and a different world cannot avoid integrating a fight for ecological justice, as the two are inseparable components of the same fight.

In this broadened understanding of violence, capitalism is an intensely violent system, as it depends on the systematic coercion of workers who are daily faced with the choice of working for “a living” or starvation and homelessness; their life choices for education, health and human fulfillment are hugely constrained by the unyielding ferocity of class exploitation and racism. Billions of people’s lives are stunted and foreshortened by the daily violence meted out to them via the dictates of a system that prioritizes profit above all else. In Volume I of Capital, Marx’s words resonate as much in our day as his:

In its blind unrestrainable passion, its werewolf hunger for surplus-labour, capital oversteps not only the moral, but even the merely physical maximum bounds of the working-day. It usurps the time for growth, development, and healthy maintenance of the body. It steals the time required for the consumption of fresh air and sunlight. It higgles over a meal-time, incorporating it where possible with the process of production itself, so that food is supplied to the labourer as to a mere means of production, as coal is supplied to the boiler, grease and oil to the machinery. It reduces the sound sleep needed for the restoration, reparation, refreshment of the bodily powers to just so many hours of torpor as the revival of an organism, absolutely exhausted, renders essential.

But for Marx, the violent treatment of humans by capitalist social relations, in shortening and hamstringing their lives through overwork, poor housing, inadequate food and pollution, was directly analogous to capitalist farming practices:

Capital cares nothing for the length of labour-power. All that concerns it is simply and solely the maximum of labour-power that can be rendered fluent in a working-day. It attains this end by shortening the extent of the [worker’s] life, as a greedy farmer snatches increased produce from the soil by robbing it of its fertility.

One can only have nutritious food, health care, or decent housing located in an unpolluted neighborhood, if one has the money to pay for those things. Lack of access to these necessities by some, where others have access, makes the violence explicit. Furthermore, there is the violence of institutionalized racism, and a culture saturated with sexism that turns women’s bodies into objects, doubly exploits them through unpaid domestic labor, and in the United States, refuses to allow women control over their own reproductive organs.

There is the associated psychological violence done to humans against our own sociality, whereby we are forced to live, in Marx’s emotive phrase, in “dot-like isolation,” as the primacy of the individual over the collective is sanctified. Few have written of the social alienation and environmental degradation suffered by working people with greater effect than Frederick Engels, in his classic study, The Condition of the Working Class in England.

Engels highlights the contradiction engendered by capitalism, between bringing millions of people together in giant urban conglomerations, which, rather than fostering collective solidarity and companionship, instead produce its opposite — an unfeeling and solitary individuality that corrupts the human spirit:

After roaming the streets of the capital a day or two, making headway with difficulty through the human turmoil and the endless lines of vehicles, after visiting the slums of the metropolis, one realises for the first time that these Londoners have been forced to sacrifice the best qualities of their human nature, to bring to pass all the marvels of civilisation which crowd their city; that a hundred powers which slumbered within them have remained inactive, have been suppressed in order that a few might be developed more fully and multiply through union with those of others.

For  Engels, this produces feelings and a mode of living that is profoundly alienating of all that is good about humans:

The brutal indifference, the unfeeling isolation of each in his private interest, becomes the more repellent and offensive, the more these individuals are crowded together, within a limited space. And, however much one may be aware that this isolation of the individual, this narrow self-seeking, is the fundamental principle of our society everywhere, it is nowhere so shamelessly barefaced, so self-conscious as just here in the crowding of the great city. The dissolution of mankind into monads, of which each one has a separate principle, the world of atoms, is here carried out to its utmost extreme.

Of course, there is the more overt and immediate violence of the state against people trying to protect their land from environmental degradation and ensuing displacement and poverty associated with fossil fuel extraction. From the Ogoni people in Nigeria fighting Shell, to indigenous people poisoned by Chevron in the forests of Ecuador, the paramilitary arm of the state serves corporate priorities the world over.

In North America, this was brutally demonstrated in September, as members of the Elsipogtog Mi’kmaq First Nation, alongside local residents, blockaded a road in New Brunswick, Canada. They were trying to prevent fracking exploration and were assaulted and tear gassed for their protest by paramilitary police.

The group, which had never been asked about whether they wanted their land used in this way, had blocked the road to stop shale gas exploration by SWN Resources Canada, a subsidiary of the Houston-based Southwestern Energy Co. As Susan Levi-Peters, the former chief of the nearby Elsipogtog indigenous group, told reporters, “The RCMP is coming in here with their tear gas – they even had dogs on us… They were acting like we’re standing there with weapons, while we are standing there, as women, with drums and eagle feathers.

There are myriad ways in which environmental violence plays out, especially when it is compounded by climate change. So, for example, in Sub-Saharan Africa, lack of tree-cover from ongoing deforestation, means even when rain comes, it runs off the land and carries fertile topsoil with it. As a result, women and girls, who are responsible for over 70 percent of water collection, have to travel further and further to obtain it. The UN estimates that women in Sub-Saharan Africa spend 200 million hours per day collecting water for food and farming purposes, or 40 billion hours annually.

In 1992, Lawrence Summers, who was at the time chief economist of the World Bank, later to become Bill Clinton’s Treasury Secretary, president of Harvard, and most recently one of Obama’s key economic advisors in his first cabinet, wrote in an internal World Bank memorandum published by The Economist:

“Just between you and me, shouldn’t the World Bank be encouraging more migration of the dirty industries to the LDCs?” By way of answering his own question, he gives three reasons. Here’s the first:

(1) The measurement of the costs of health-impairing pollution depends on the forgone earnings from increased morbidity and mortality. From this point of view a given amount of health-impairing pollution should be done in the country with the lowest cost, which will be the country with the lowest wages. I think the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest-wage country is impeccable and we should face up to that.

The fact that a major establishment actor is able to advocate and rationalize the dumping of toxic waste on poor communities is a perfect illustration of the inhumanity of the thought process behind capitalist decision-making.

As I have argued, we need a much broader definition of violence than is allowed for by limiting its meaning to a physical and immediate brutal act of aggression, and one that includes an environmental dimension. Violence can happen over extended periods of time. Exploited workers in unhealthy conditions and poor communities exposed to toxins gradually succumb to a worsening quality of life, through a compendium of often intersecting long-term ailments. Due to financial restrictions on health care (itself a violent act), they often can’t treat these illnesses by going to the doctor, seeking another job, or relocating to a different neighborhood.

A broadened definition of violence is exactly what Rob Nixon, Rachel Carson Professor of English at the University of Madison, argues is required in his book, Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor:

By slow violence I mean a violence that occurs gradually and out of sight, a violence of delayed destruction that is dispersed across time and space, an attritional violence that is typically not viewed as violence at all. Violence is customarily conceived as an event or action that is immediate in time, explosive and spectacular in space, and as erupting in sensational visibility.

That is to say, the unplanned, shorter and shorter time frames upon which capitalism operates, clash with the longer and longer term effects of the actions taken on those shorter time scales. Human induced climate change is arguably the primary and perfect example of just such a contradiction between the short-term priorities of capitalism to make profit from continuing to burn fossil fuels, and the longer term implications for future generations of humans, and planetary life in general, due to the now well-known side-effect of increased concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide. One could reasonably debate whether climate change, or the irradiation of the atmosphere from atomic tests and the need to deal with nuclear waste from nuclear power plants — waste that remains toxic and deadly for hundreds of thousands of years — is a more disruptive and long-term negative impact of capitalist social relations.

In the more immediate sense, while we currently produce enough food to feed everyone on the planet, over one billion people suffer starvation and hunger. In discussing why people starve in England, when food was in fact abundant, Engels posed the question of who should be blamed for the extreme violence of death by starvation: “The English working-men call this ‘social murder’, and accuse our whole society of perpetrating this crime perpetually. Are they wrong?”

In answering Engels’ question, one must blame the system for the long-term “social murder” of our planet, and the daily degradation and violence of life under capitalism. Given the critical state of the biosphere and an exploitative and constantly-growing economic model based on profit and fossil fuels for energy, which is bringing about global climate change, Rosa Luxemburg’s assertion, that we face the choice of barbarism or socialism, rings true now more than ever.

If we accept that premise, to return to where I began, one cannot be a social justice activist without equally being an ecological justice activist; and link arms with all those fighting racist environmental violence the world over.

Ultimately, all of this can only be solved by the self-emancipation of humanity and putting in place a system that prioritizes long-term human and planetary health; real, bottom-up democracy based on cooperation; and production for human needs at its center. We need a system of cooperative and meaningful production, whereby the goal of society is social equity and ecological sustainability, and where environmental violence, in all its manifestations, is a thing of the past. To bring this about will require a social and ecological revolution. While we organize and fight for that future, we must simultaneously work to bring about the small victories, necessary to make people’s immediate lives better and less polluted under capitalism, organize, and gain confidence for the larger, longer-term, and more profound and revolutionary battles to come.

Chris Williams is a long-time environmental activist and author of Ecology and Socialism: Solutions to Capitalist Ecological Crisis (Haymarket, 2011). He is chair of the science dept at Packer Collegiate Institute and adjunct professor at Pace University in the Dept of Chemistry and Physical Science. Read other articles by Chris.

 

Irreconcilable Differences: Capitalism And A Sustainable Planet

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

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

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

By Gary Olson @ Dissident Voice:

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

— Wendell Berry1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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