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

Posts Tagged ‘Pathological Anthropocentricity.’

Say So Long To Soil: The ‘Unfolding Global Disaster’ Happening Right Under Our Feet

In Uncategorized on January 8, 2016 at 8:01 pm

Oldspeak: Old story. We’re running out of soil. Only it’s getting worse. It took us about a century and a half to destroy half of Earth’s topsoil, and in the last 40 years, we’ve exterminated another third of it.”This is catastrophic when you think that it takes about 500 years to form 2.5 cm of topsoil under normal agricultural conditions.” -Duncan Cameron.  Meanwhile, ecocidal Concentrated Animal Farming Operations (CAFOs) and large-scale industrial agricultural operations continue to gobble up land worldwide, destroying forests, poisoning water sources and eradicating habitats for untold flora and fauna at an ever-increasing pace. When you consider that we probably don’t have 500 years to replenish the lost soil, nor seemingly the inclination, this is not good. Especially given the fact that soil is a major carbon sink. Happy New Year Kids! -OSJ

Written By Natasha Gelling @ Think Progress:

With all that’s going on in the world — from record-breaking warm spells to rapidly melting ice sheets — it’s easy to ignore something so seemingly mundane as dirt. But scientists at the University of Sheffield’s Grantham Center for Sustainable Futures suggest that we ignore dirt at our own peril.

Nearly a third of the world’s arable land has been lost over the past four decades, according to a new report, released to coincide with the Paris climate talks earlier this month. Experts at the the University of Sheffield called this soil loss “an unfolding global disaster” that directly threatens the agricultural productivity of the planet.

But soil erosion isn’t just a problem for food security — which is expected to become even more pressing as the world’s population booms and land available for food production wanes. Soil erosion is also tied to the climate, as the world’s soils represent a massive carbon storage system, containing three times the amount of carbon that is currently in the atmosphere.

“If the soil carbon reserve is not managed properly, it can easily overwhelm the atmosphere,” Rattan Lal, director of the Carbon Management and Sequestration Center at Ohio State University, told ThinkProgress in April.

The University of Sheffield report places most of the blame for soil erosion on what it calls unsustainable farming practices, which require large amounts of fertilizers and tilling to boost crop yields. Switching to a more sustainable model of intensive agriculture, the report urges, can help offset soil loss.

Right now, the report found that plowed fields lose soil to erosion at a rate 10 to 100 times greater than soil formation, meaning that the Earth is currently losing valuable land faster than it can be naturally replenished. Replenishing topsoil naturally is not a quick process — it takes about 500 years to replenish just 2.5 cm of topsoil. According to the World Wildlife Fund, about half of the world’s topsoil has been lost in the last century and a half.

“Soil is lost rapidly but replaced over millennia, and this represents one of the greatest global threats to agriculture,” University of Sheffield biology professor Duncan Cameron, co-author of the report, said in a press statement. “This is catastrophic when you think that it takes about 500 years to form 2.5 cm of topsoil under normal agricultural conditions.”

Over-plowing fields constantly disturbs top soil, exposing the microbes that live within it to oxygen and releasing its stored carbon. That, in turn, impacts soil’s ability to store more carbon. It also degrades the soil’s structural integrity, impeding its ability to absorb water and act as a buffer against floods, or store water for plants. Degraded soil can wash away more easily during extreme precipitation events, causing rivers and streams to become flooded with silt and sediment, which can impact ecosystems in the water.

Degraded soil is also less fertile than non-degraded soil in terms of agricultural productivity — a worrisome reality for a planet that is expected to need to increase its agricultural production 50 percent by 2050. According to the United Nations, 95 percent of our food comes from the soil, but about one-third of the world’s soils are currently degraded. For sub-Saharan Africa, that number jumps to about two-thirds, which the Montpellier Panel — an international group working to support national and regional agricultural development and food security priorities in sub-Saharan Africa — estimates costs the region about $68 billion per year in lost productivity. If topsoil loss is not slowed or reversed, the U.N. estimates that all of the world’s topsoil could be gone within 60 years.

In order to slow or reverse the trend of soil degradation, the University of Sheffield report suggests a few tweaks to the currently agricultural model. First, they suggest a more hands-on approach to soil management with cover crops and no-till soil, both of which can help boost soil health by keeping soil microbes from being exposed to oxygen and preserving a system of roots that keeps soil more tightly packed. The report also suggests weaning the world off of synthetic fertilizers and returning to the age-old but currently-underused tradition of applying night soil — also known as human sewage — to cropland, which the report argues can help restore nitrogen and phosphorus back to the soil.

As part of the U.N. climate talks, the French government launched a program aimed at studying the best methods for restoring soil health and aiding carbon sequestration. Dubbed “4 pour 1,000,” as a nod to the idea that a .4 percent increase in soil carbon annually would offset human emissions, the program is a partnership between the French government, agricultural development bodies like CGIAR, and several developing nations. The project hopes to sequester 25 megatons of carbon while boosting farming yields by 20 percent.

“The good thing is that no one disagrees that increasing soil carbon is good for agriculture, is good for the environment, good for food security,” CGIAR CEO Frank Rijsberman told ThinkProgress during the Paris conference. “If we can do it in a stable way, it captures carbon and reduces emissions. It can be a double or triple win.”

 

Polishing The Brass On The Titanic: Will Paris Climate Talks Be Too Little, Too Late?

In Uncategorized on November 24, 2015 at 10:01 pm
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A recent study revealed 41 cases in which “abrupt changes” in the permafrost, sea ice, snow cover, ocean and terrestrial biosphere could trigger natural disasters. (Photo: Studying of climatic and weather changes in Antarctica via Shutterstock)

Oldspeak:Well in advance of the Paris talks, the UN announced that the amount of carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere has locked in another 2.7 degrees Celsius warming at a minimum, even if countries move forward with the pledges they make to cut emissions. Hence, even the 2 degree Celsius goal is already unattainable. However, similar to the way in which national elections in the United States continue to maintain the illusion that this country is a democracy, and “We the People” truly have legitimate representation in Washington, DC, illusions must be maintained at the COP21.

Thus, the faux goal of 2 degrees Celsius continues to be discussed. Meanwhile, the planet burns.” -Dahr Jamail

“Short answer to the title question; Yes. Far too late and little With beyond the faux goal of 2c warming inevitable no matter what we do and non-binding contributions that in all probability will not even be implemented for years to come; why continue to pretend that COP 21 will produce anything meaningful? Kabuki Theater, nothing more. Dahr Jamail’s latest dispatch from the global climate calamity is more of the same. Shit is bad, and it’s getting worse, faster every day, with no end in sight.” -OSJ

Written By Dahr Jamail @ Truthout:

“But it is here at the head of the river, under the snow peaks and the waterfall that thunders down out of the magic lake, that I shall pass from one world to another.”—Peter Matthiessen

In the book The Snow Leopard, Peter Matthiessen’s journey deep into the Nepali Himalaya to spot a snow leopard merely scratches the surface of his inner journey. Nature and our experiences in and with it are, I believe, the clearest mirror of ourselves we could ever hope for.

I told my father I’m rereading this book, and he wrote me back: “Love that book. It was a time in that part of the world when things were still pristine before tourism brought the kinds of people that should never have polluted that sacred environment.”

Agreeing with him, I shared what I’d always believed, or at least had always hoped to believe: that there are still those pristine places to be found – it is just that one must travel further, much further, into the “frontiers” to find them.

I’d love to believe this possible, but I know it no longer is. Not anymore, given what the industrial growth society has done, and is doing, to the planet. There is no place left on earth or in the atmosphere or deep within the oceans where the toxic fingerprint of industry has not left its indelible mark.

The faux goal of 2 degrees Celsius continues to be discussed. Meanwhile, the planet burns.

During the first week of December, delegations from nearly 200 countries will convene in Paris for the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) climate conference. It has been billed, like the last several, as the most important climate meeting ever. The goal, like that of past COPs, is to have governments commit to taking steps to cut carbon dioxide emissions in order to limit planetary warming to within 2 degrees Celsius above the preindustrial temperature baseline.

Yet this is a politically agreed-upon limit. It is not based on science.

Renowned climate scientist James Hansen and multiple other scientists have already shown that a planetary temperature increase of 1 degree Celsius above preindustrial baseline temperatures is enough to cause runaway climate feedback loops, extreme weather events and a disastrous sea level rise.

Furthermore, the UK meteorological office has shown that this year’s global temperature average has already surpassed that 1 degree Celsius level.

Well in advance of the Paris talks, the UN announced that the amount of carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere has locked in another 2.7 degrees Celsius warming at a minimum, even if countries move forward with the pledges they make to cut emissions. Hence, even the 2 degree Celsius goal is already unattainable. However, similar to the way in which national elections in the United States continue to maintain the illusion that this country is a democracy, and “We the People” truly have legitimate representation in Washington, DC, illusions must be maintained at the COP21.

Thus, the faux goal of 2 degrees Celsius continues to be discussed. Meanwhile, the planet burns.

Japan’s meteorological office announced that this past September was, by far, the warmest September on record, and records now show that October has also become the hottest recorded October. As a whole, 2015 remains easily on course to become the hottest year ever recorded.

As if to place an exclamation point on all of this information, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels hit a new milestone in excess of 400 parts per million in early 2015 – a 45 percent increase over preindustrial levels.

Extreme weather events propelled by anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD) abound in this month’s dispatch.

Hurricane Patricia tore into the West Coast of Mexico, becoming the strongest hurricane ever recorded, with sustained winds of 200 miles per hour.

Yemen was struck by its first hurricane in recorded history, dumping what is normally a decade’s worth of rain in a matter of merely two days. As if that is not enough to show how intensely ACD is ramping up global weather events, less than a week later the second hurricane in Yemen’s recorded history made landfall, bringing fresh hurricane-force winds, torrential rains, flash flooding and death.

ACD is, quite literally, extinguishing oceanic life across the planet.

An ACD-driven El Niño brought October storms that wreaked havoc across southern California. Record storms in the high desert and mountains of the southern part of that state brought massive mudflows across major highways, which trapped hundreds of vehicles in mud that was 20 feet deep in places, stranding motorists overnight. The rainfall from the storm, which in one area fell at a rate of 1.81 inches in just 30 minutes, was described by the National Weather Service as a “1,000-year event.”

Meanwhile, a recent report shows that marine food chains are at risk of collapse due to ACD impacts, overfishing and pollution. ACD is literally erasing species from coral reefs, the open ocean, Arctic and Antarctic waters, and the tropics.

Moreover, another recent report reveals that bleaching and disease are combining to destroy the largest coral reef in the continental United States, a 150-mile reef found off the coast of Florida. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, it is the third-largest barrier reef ecosystem on the planet.

A critical study recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, titled “Global alteration of ocean ecosystem functioning due to increasing human CO2 emissions,” warns, “The future simplification of our oceans has profound consequences for our current way of life, particularly for coastal populations and those that rely on oceans for food and trade.”

It is yet another scientific report that shows how ACD is, quite literally, extinguishing oceanic life across the planet.

On that note, a paper recently published in The Anthropocene Review reminds us of a sobering fact that other peer-reviewed studies have confirmed: We are indeed living in the sixth mass extinction event, which we ourselves have created.

And when we look across the planet for this month’s dispatch, all of the signs appear to indicate as much.

Earth

The signs of ACD across this sector of the planet continue to be glaring.

In the South Pacific region, a full one-third of the total population of Papua New Guinea is suffering from a drought crisis that is the worst in the last century. Nearly 2.5 million people in the country must deal with a critical lack of food and water, and the drought is expected to persist at least into March 2016.

In southeast Alaska, Native communities are struggling to continue harvesting traditional foods due to ACD’s impacts in that region. From herring to blueberries to shellfish, many of the region’s original plants and animals are disappearing.

Drought continues to plague vast expanses of the planet as ACD progresses.

In nearby Canada, as well as across Alaska, much of the northern United States, Scandinavia and Eurasia, the massive boreal forests, which comprise a full one-third of the planet’s forest cover, are undergoing a startling decline due to ACD. This is evidenced by permafrost that is thawing and burning up in wildfires, insect outbreaks assaulting the forests, and climate zones that are moving 10 times faster than the forests are able to migrate. These forests are also plagued by logging and oil and gas drilling.

A recent study suggests that in the United States, we need to develop new models aimed at the conservation and preservation of our national parks. The traditional approach of setting land aside to protect its biodiversity is no longer sufficient, since ACD impacts like drought, increasing insect infestations and wildfires do not respect park boundaries.

On a similar note, the rare snow leopard from Matthiessen’s famous book is now officially in even greater danger of extinction due to ACD, as warming temperatures continue to shrink the cat’s habitat.

Across the world, ACD is also shrinking the habitat of some of the more rare birds in Hawai’i, including the yellow honeycreeper, according to a recent report. The bird’s habitat is expected to vanish completely by the end of the century.

Looking southward to colder climates, the king penguin saw a 34 percent decline in population following a year of extremely warm waters in their normally cold southern ocean environment. Their changing climate is forcing them to have to swim farther for food, causing many of them to starve to death.

Drought continues to plague vast expanses of the planet as ACD progresses.

In Ethiopia, the worst drought in a decade is wiping out the country’s agricultural sector, upon which most people there depend for their livelihood.

Stepping back and taking a broader view of drought’s global impact, the UN recently announced that it expects at least 50 million people will become refugees within just the next five years because their land is literally turning into desert.

Water

As usual, evidence of ACD’s impact abounds in the watery realms of the planet.

California faces a future that will likely bring twice as many droughts and three times as much flooding, according to a recent study published in the journal Nature Communications. Of course, the state has its hands full with the current disastrous drought and floods – and unless drastic changes are made, these weather patterns will only deepen and worsen.

Looking now at the ongoing loss of ice around the world, a study by Australian- and New Zealand-based scientists, which was published in the journal Nature, shows that the planet will be locked into thousands of years of unstoppable sea level rise from a melting Antarctic, as temperature increases of just 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius will lead to a massive reduction in ice. Remember that the UN announced that we are already locked into 2.7 degrees Celsius warming even if countries move forward on the pledges they brought to Paris for the COP21.

Recent NASA data show that the melting ice in western Antarctica is already in “irreversible retreat.” That ice melt alone is likely to bring three meters of sea level rise.

Warming Antarctic oceans, which are a driving force behind the melting of the western Antarctic, are now threatening to kill off krill, the organism that forms the entire basis of the Antarctic ecosystem, according to biologists with the Australian government’s Antarctic Division.

Melting continues apace in Greenland as well, where recently published data reveal how an ocean-based glacier has begun a rapid retreat, and will ultimately add one and a half feet to global sea level rise all by itself. Disconcertingly, another nearby glacier there is also in rapid retreat, and the two together will add over three feet to global sea level rise.

Recent NASA data show that the melting ice in western Antarctica is already in “irreversible retreat.”

By 2050, the Arctic coast, along with most of the Arctic Ocean, will be completely devoid of sea ice for at least an additional two months per year, according to a study published in Nature Climate Change on November 4. This absence of ice will dramatically change both the Arctic and the planet itself: The Arctic will reflect far less sunlight back into space, hence increasing the speed of planetary warming.

The issue of rising sea levels has motivated a coalition of small Pacific Ocean nations, including Tuvalu, Tokelau, Kiribati and Fiji, to band together and request that wealthy nations work toward assisting their people to migrate and find jobs as they begin to flee to higher ground. The countries cited “major existential challenges” to their populations due to ACD impacts.

Similar to the crisis facing the island nations of the South Pacific, the Saloum Delta islands of Senegal are also seeing their way of life – and their very existence – move into the firing line of ACD impacts. Since their livelihoods are based on fishing and low-lying agriculture and both are disappearing, due to smaller fish catches and rising seas, respectively, the islands’ people are left with no income and are facing starvation.

Back in the United States, the people of the Quinault Indian Nation on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State are dealing with sea level rise that is also threatening their way of life. A 2,000-foot-long sea wall is being constructed to protect houses, but it’s only buying them time; the sea level rise isn’t stopping. The tribe has developed a $60 million plan to relocate the entire village to higher ground.

Sea level rise is, of course, already impacting the coastal United States. A study recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows how major cities like New York, Jacksonville, Sacramento, Boston, New Orleans and Miami are facing an existential risk given that dramatic and immediate mitigation efforts to curb carbon dioxide emissions are not happening. Remember that we are already locked in to a minimum of 2.7 degrees Celsius warming by 2100, even if dramatic mitigation efforts are immediately undertaken on a global level. The future of US coastal cities is looking bleak.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, sea level rise is set to cause large portions of Australia to lose their coastal mangrove forests before the end of this century, according to recently published research. “Without mangrove forests, fish decline, there’s reduced coastal protection, there’s reduced coastal carbon sequestration,” University of Queensland researcher Catherine Lovelock said of the situation.

On the US East Coast, Atlantic cod, a fish that has long been critical to New England’s fishing industry, is now on the brink of vanishing completely. The fish’s spawning and survival are being thwarted by rapidly warming waters in the Gulf of Maine, fueled largely by ACD.

Looking south, recent US research shows we should expect dramatic and abrupt changes in oceanic food chains of the Southern Ocean, as it continues to acidify at a dramatic pace. Some of the key organisms in the food chain there are expected to be wiped out in as early as 15 years.

Fire

While the most intense wildfire season in US history has come to an end, 2015 officially became the worst wildfire season in Indonesia’s history. By mid-October, that island nation saw more than 100,000 individual fires, and damages by the end of that month reached more than $30 billion, and more than half a million people were reported sick from the smoke.

This telling global map shows how ACD-fueled wildfires continue to ramp up across much of the Southern Hemisphere now as their summer approaches.

Air

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released a chart that shows, very clearly, how 2015’s global temperatures are exceedingly above the historic norm.

Air temperatures are becoming so hot as ACD progresses, in fact, that the oil-and-gas-producing Gulf countries like Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, among others, will soon become unlivable because of the extreme heat and humidity, according to a report in the journal Nature Climate Change.

In the extreme weather realm, while it’s been a relatively quiet hurricane season in the Atlantic, there were, nevertheless, 21 record-shattering hurricanes and typhoons, all but one of which occurred in the Pacific Ocean.

On the methane front, news comes from the Woods Hole Research Center, which released a policy brief that concluded that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change does not account adequately for the warming feedback loop that is both caused by and is causing methane releases into the atmosphere. Methane is, depending on the time frame used to measure its impact, roughly 30 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

Meanwhile, evidence of more methane release comes in the form of “accelerating” warming of permafrost across vast portions of Alaska. This warming was brought to light in another recent report, which describes how, when the permafrost melts, the methane frozen within it is released, which accelerates warming further. This causes the permafrost to melt faster, hence the positive feedback loop.

With 2014 already logging in as the warmest year on record for Alaska – and 2015 now on pace to beat it – farming in the state is actually increasing along with the temperature. Think about that for a moment: Farming is now becoming a growing business in Alaska because the northernmost state in the United States is warming so dramatically. The world is rapidly becoming a very different place in which to live.

Denial and Reality

Given the Republican presidential candidates’ attempts to vie for the title of “most backward,” there is no shortage of ACD denial this month.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz publicly stated that he believes ACD is “religion.”

“Climate change is not science. It’s religion,” Cruz told Glenn Beck.

More information was recently released about how Exxon Mobil, via deep collaborative efforts with the Bush and Cheney White House, sowed doubt about climate science over a period of decades by playing the “uncertainty” card.

Good news connected to that massive bit of well-funded denial comes in the form of a message from former US Department of Justice attorney Sharon Eubanks. She both prosecuted and won a massive racketeering case against Big Tobacco, and now thinks the agency should consider investigating Big Oil for similar claims to those made by Big Tobacco: claims that deliberately mislead the general public about the risks of its product.

Eubanks believes Exxon Mobil, along with other fossil fuel companies, could very well be held liable for violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) if it turns out the companies actively worked together to suppress knowledge about the reality of ACD.

On that note, the New York attorney general’s office, in November, opened an investigation of Exxon Mobil, and this investigation could well generate legal inquiries into other major oil companies for similar actions. The investigations may lead to legal actions against all of the companies.

More good news on the reality front: A recent poll shows that a minimum of 70 percent of Americans now believe that ACD, over the last 40 years, is real and supported by solid scientific evidence. The same poll reveals a huge drop in the number of self-identified Republicans who doubt the reality of ACD, the numbers falling from 41 percent last fall to 26 percent.

Over in France, a high-profile TV weatherman in that country, Philippe Verdier, has been removed from being on air after he wrote a book that questioned the reality of ACD. In his book, he casts doubt on the findings of leading climate scientists and political leaders, and says they had “taken the world hostage.”

“I received a letter asking me not to come [back to work],” Verdier told the media. “I don’t know any more than that, I don’t know how long it will last. It’s all to do with my book.”

To wrap up this month’s dispatch: A recent study revealed 41 cases in which “abrupt changes” in the permafrost, sea ice, snow cover, ocean and terrestrial biosphere could trigger natural disasters. The abstract of the study, which was published in the esteemed Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, reads: “Eighteen out of 37 events occur for global warming levels of less than 2 [degrees Celsius], a threshold sometimes presented as a safe limit.”

This means the scientists have identified these “tipping points” where abrupt regional climate shifts can occur due to ACD.

Predicting when they will occur remains challenging, but the results of the study show that all the state-of-the art climate models demonstrate that abrupt changes are likely. The first two hurricanes in recorded history to hit Yemen both striking the country in a six-day period and dumping a decade’s worth of rain in 48 hours is an example of this.

“Our results show that no safe limit exists and that many abrupt shifts already occur for global warming levels much lower than 2 degrees,” said lead author Professor Sybren Drijfhout from Ocean and Earth Science at the University of Southampton.

Despite the now common warning of “no safe limit” of the ever-increasing global temperature, the COP21 will be held with all of the attendant fanfare, media coverage and protests.

Global leaders will appear as though they are doing something to address the single greatest crisis that humanity has ever faced, despite the most respected, prestigious scientific bodies in the world producing one report after another that shows us we have run out of time to turn the ship, as the iceberg has long since punctured the hull.

Rather than pinning false hope to the COP21, perhaps now each of us might sit still, feel what is happening and listen deeply to the earth. If we do, then we might know from within, what is most important, and what we should do next.

“It’s ecological imperialism.” Extinction, The New Environmentalism & The Cancer In The Wilderness

In Uncategorized on October 30, 2015 at 4:23 pm
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Say goodbye to the Grey Wolf. Photo: USFWS.

Oldspeak: “Homo sapiens are out of control, a bacteria boiling in the petri dish; the more of us, demanding more resources, means less space for every other life form; the solution is less of us, consuming fewer resources, but that isn’t happening. It can’t happen. Our economic system, industrial consumer capitalism, requires constant growth, more people buying more things.” –Christopher Ketcham

“Therein lies the conundrum Kimosabe. The imperative of infinite growth on a finite and fragile planet.  As the megafauna of Earth are forced ever faster on their Baatan Death March toward extinction, Industrial Civilization drones on. Earth is being transformed into one big corporate monoculture. The “environmental movement” has been co-opted, corporatized and monetized, fundraising in the wake of Faux “Victories” for the environment. Climate marches and activism organized by these entities are seen as “making your voice heard“, in reality amounting to nothing more than a more jovial “2 minutes Hate brought to you by Wall Street. The attitudes espoused by these so called “new environmentalists” are truly disturbing and ecocidal. We are indeed, the cancer in the wilderness. We are the cancer cells in the body of our world. And the only thing that stops this exceedingly virulent strain of cancer, Homo sapiens sapiens is extinction.  Our fate is as sealed as those of our fellow megafauna.” –OSJ

Written By Christopher Ketcham @ Counter Punch:

The word is in from the wildlife biologists. Say goodbye in North America to the gray wolf, the cougar, the grizzly bear. They are destined for extinction sometime in the next 40 years. Say goodbye to the Red wolf and the Mexican wolf and the Florida panther. Gone the jaguar, the ocelot, the wood bison, the buffalo, the California condor, the North Atlantic right whale, the Stellar sea lion, the hammerhead shark, the leatherback sea turtle. That’s just North America. Worldwide, the largest and most charismatic animals, the last of the megafauna, our most ecologically important predators and big ungulates, the wildest wild things, will be the first to go in the anthropogenic extinction event of the Holocene Era. The tiger and leopard and the elephant and lion in Africa and Asia. The primates, the great apes, our wild cousins. The polar bears in the Arctic Sea. The shark and killer whale in every ocean. “Extinction is now proceeding thousands of times faster than the production of new species,” biologist E.O. Wilson writes. Between 30 and 50 percent of all known species are expected to go extinct by 2050, if current trends hold. There are five other mass extinction events in the geologic record, stretching back 500 million years. But none were the result of a single species’ overreach.

I’ve found conversation with my biologist sources to be terribly dispiriting. The conversation goes like this: Homo sapiens are out of control, a bacteria boiling in the petri dish; the more of us, demanding more resources, means less space for every other life form; the solution is less of us, consuming fewer resources, but that isn’t happening. It can’t happen. Our economic system, industrial consumer capitalism, requires constant growth, more people buying more things. “I will go so far as to say [that] capitalism itself may be dependent on a growing population,” writes billionaire capitalist blogger Bill Gross, Forbes magazine’s Bond King. “Our modern era of capitalism over the past several centuries has never known a period of time in which population declined or grew less than 1% a year.” Growth for growth’s sake, what Edward Abbey called the ideology of the cancer cell.

The biologists, who in my experience tend to loathe the Bill Grosses of the world, begin to sound like revolutionaries. The most radically inclined among them – their goal to save some part of the planet from human domination and keep it wild and free (free of bond managers for sure) – agree that human population will have to halt entirely, and probably decline, in order to protect non-human biota. Then the biologists begin to sound like misanthropes, and they shut their mouths.

“What’s wrong with misanthropy?” I ask Leon Kolankiewicz, a former U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist who has written extensively about the human population footprint and its disastrous effect on biodiversity. “The human race,” I tell him, “has proven to be a bunch of assholes.”

Kolankiewicz laughs. My attitude, he observes, is not a very good tool for marketing conservation, given that the market, after all, is made up of people. We’re supposed to make biodiversity appeal to the buyer, the public, as something useful. We talk about ecosystem services – ecosystems that service us. “It’s a completely wrongheaded approach to conservation, of course,” says Kolankiewicz. “It’s raw anthropocentrism. There’s a lot of nature that isn’t particularly useful to people.”

Industrial-strength Homo sapiens could function without much trouble on a vastly simplified, even depauperate, planet, one wiped nearly clean of its fantastic variety of life. I read in Science magazine not long ago, for example, that Earth could lose 90 percent of the species that produce oxygen – not 90 percent of total biomass, mind you, just the diversity of the oxygen producers – and this would hardly make a dent in our modern lives. One of the conservation statistics that Kolankiewicz had encountered in recent years, one that he said “just blows me away,” shows that the combined biomass of the living 7.2 billion human beings, along with the few species of animal we have domesticated – dogs, cats, cattle, sheep, pigs, chickens – now constitutes at least 95% of the entire biomass of all extant terrestrial vertebrates on Earth. That is, all of the living specimens of wild mammals, birds, amphibians, and reptiles, more than 20,000 species in total, constitute a mere 5% of the aggregate living cellular tissue of all vertebrates. “Almost total usurpation of the biosphere for the benefit of one species alone,” says Kolankiewicz. “It’s ecological imperialism. Given this tragic reality, how can any sentient, caring person not be a bit of a misanthrope?”

We talk about the remaining places on Earth where the imperial species has not usurped the biosphere, where the bears and the wolves and the tigers roam, where the little babbling bipeds with their iPhones might get eaten, and we agree that these places can be called wilderness. We agree that the language of the 1964 Wilderness Act best defined those places: “where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man,” where the land retains “its primeval character and influence.” Observe the original meaning of that word, trammeled. It means to shackle, to hinder, to chain, to make un-free. An untrammeled ecosystem is one where man may be present but does not dominate, where the willed self-propelling processes of nature have not been subjugated entirely to human ends. (Kolankiewicz observes that it is from willed that etymologically we get the word wild.) Wilderness, among its other purposes, is to be a refuge for wild animals and plants, their evolution to remain unmolested and unhampered. There is a practical argument here – the preservation of a genetic pool evolving without help or hindrance from us (as we busily meddle with and wipe out genetic diversity elsewhere) – and a transcendent one, related to the not-so-transcendent fact that when we do away with wilderness we are also doing away with the crucible of natural forces which birthed our ancestors out of the muck and which shaped our character as a species. Without wilderness, we lose two million years of evolutionary heritage. We lose our deep-seated and long-standing relations with the non-human; we lose the awareness, the consciousness, of a natural environment not arranged entirely for human convenience. We lose our capacity, in the words of Howard Zahniser, the primary author of the Wilderness Act and its principal mover, “to know ourselves as the dependent members of a great community of life…to know the wilderness is to know a profound humility, to recognize one’s littleness, to sense dependence and interdependence, indebtedness, and responsibility.” Kolankiewicz tells me to read Wallace Stegner’s famous Wilderness Letter of 1960, issued as a public rebuke to the Kennedy administration. I tell him I know it well. “Without any remaining wilderness,” wrote Stegner, “we are committed wholly, without chance for even momentary reflection or rest, to a headlong drive into our technological termite-life, the Brave New World of a completely man-controlled environment.”

Kolankiewicz admits to a strain of Luddism in his blood, a dislike of technocrats, and certainly he is not the kind of environmentalist one finds salaried in the cubicles of the Big Greens in DC – by which I mean the Nature Conservancy, the Sierra Club, the Wilderness Society, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Environmental Defense Fund, and the half-dozen other multi-billion-dollar enviro-nonprofits. Peter Kareiva, the chief scientist at the Nature Conservancy, is more typical of the breed. He’s an optimist, he’s people-friendly, full of bright ideas that promise hopeful partnerships with corporate business, expressive in his love of technological progress as the ultimate fix to conservation troubles, unabashed in the belief that good management applying the scientific method can handle any challenge no matter how frightful, and thoroughly dismissive of what he calls “the wilderness ideal.” In the new geologic era scientists are calling the Anthropocene – an era in which “humans dominate every flux and cycle of the planet’s ecology and geochemistry” – Kareiva believes that conservation has reached a threshold from which there is no turning back. Climate change, a world-encircling shroud of domination, is the most pressing fact of the Anthropocene. There is no place untrammeled by man, no ecosystem self-willed, and wilderness is therefore dead. Embrace the painful truth, says Kareiva: We are de facto planetary managers, and though hitherto we have been lousy at the job of management – selfish and self-aggrandizing, thoughtlessly destructive – we will not cease to dominate. And this is a good thing, as the very consciousness of our power as totalitarian managers of nature may be a blessing: It compels us not to question this power – for Kareiva it is unquestionable – but to become wise managers, like Plato’s philosopher kings, full of noblesse oblige, tyrannical but enlightened. So much for profound humility.

Let’s hear at length what Kareiva has to say about this “new vision for conservation”:

Conservation should seek to support and inform the right kind of development – development by design, done with the importance of nature to thriving economies foremost in mind….Instead of scolding capitalism, conservationists should partner with corporations in a science-based effort to integrate the value of nature’s benefits into their operations and cultures. Instead of pursuing the protection of biodiversity for biodiversity’s sake, a new conservation should seek to enhance those natural systems that benefit the widest number of people, especially the poor. Instead of trying to restore remote iconic landscapes to pre-European conditions, conservation will measure its achievement in large part by its relevance to people, including city dwellers. Nature could be a garden….

The notion of a gardened planet managed for “thriving economies foremost in mind” is a radical departure from the environmentalism of the 20th century, such that the Big Greens have marketed a nomenclature to describe the new thinking. They call themselves, variously, “ecomodernists,” “post-modern greens,” “neo-greens” or, simply, the “new environmentalists,” and their goal is the implementation of “eco-pragmatism.” Their most important departure from the old environmentalism is the jettisoning of any concern about the limits to economic and population growth. If human population doubled between 1804 and 1927, and doubled again between 1927 and 1974, and almost doubled again to 7.2 billion today, with the latest forecasts projecting more than 10 billion people by 2100, the New Enviros bid us look to nanotechnology, genetically modified crops and animals, laboratory meat, industrial fish farms, hydroponics, optimized fertilizers and bio-friendly pesticides, geoengineering (mass climate modification), more efficient transportation networks, electric cars, denser cities (with more people efficiently packed in them), unconventional oil deposits, safe nuclear energy, wind and solar arrays, smart grids, advanced recycling, and much else in the techno-arsenal to keep the human species from crashing against the wall of planetary carrying capacity. “There really is no such thing as a human carrying capacity,” writes Erle Ellis, a professor of geography and environmental systems at the University of Maryland, in an op-ed in the New York Times. “We are nothing at all like bacteria in a petri dish…. Our planet’s human-carrying capacity emerges from the capabilities of our social systems and our technologies more than from any environmental limits.”

The ideological shift in the New Environmentalism represents a historic alliance of conservation with the doctrines of industrial growth capitalism – which is to say, this can no longer be called conservation in the traditional sense. It has not arisen in a vacuum, but is the logical culmination of 30 years of corporatization of the Big Greens, as enviros starting in the 1980s degenerated into a professionalized, business-funded interest group and began to operate like the businessmen they once saw as the adversary. Consider that the president and CEO of the Nature Conservancy today, Mark Tercek, is a former managing director and partner at Goldman Sachs.

The advent of the New Environmentalism frames a central conflict to unfold in coming years in the conservation community. What happens to wilderness in a world where it is managed for the economic benefit of the “widest number of people” and not for the health of the inhabitants of the wild? And what if, as Leon Kolankiewicz notes, large parts of wild nature are found irrelevant to “thriving economies”? Whither wilderness if industrial capitalism’s expansion is our only measure of its value? And overarching all this: What happens to human beings – psychologically, spiritually, morally – when we no longer have an escape from the confines of our technological termite hill?

 

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)

The Fire Next Time: Record-Breaking Wildfires, Greenland Melting and Earth’s Hottest Month Ever

In Uncategorized on September 8, 2015 at 8:41 pm
A massive wall of wildfire smoke, blowing in from record-breaking fires in Eastern Washington, covers Puget Sound and Seattle. (Photo: Dahr Jamail)

A massive wall of wildfire smoke, blowing in from record-breaking fires in eastern Washington State, covers Puget Sound and Seattle. (Photo: Dahr Jamail)

Oldspeak: “Life is tragic simply because the earth turns and the sun inexorably rises and sets, and one day, for each of us, the sun will go down for the last, last time. Perhaps the whole root of our trouble, the human trouble, is that we will sacrifice all the beauty of our lives, will imprison ourselves in totems, taboos, crosses, blood sacrifices, steeples, mosques, races, armies, flags, nations, in order to deny the fact of death, the only fact we have. It seems to me that one ought to rejoice in the fact of death–ought to decide, indeed, to earn one’s death by confronting with passion the conundrum of life. One is responsible for life: It is the small beacon in that terrifying darkness from which we come and to which we shall return….Do I really want to be integrated into a burning house?” -James Baldwin, “The Fire Next Time” 1963

“Behold! In an utterly synthetic, sanitized & death-phobic culture, the sheer length and breadth of madness wrought to avoid death, prolong life, enhance comfort, improve convenience and make life easy for humans;  has in fact had the unfortunate consequence of bringing about conditions precipitating a “Great Dying”. A Dying like none other experienced on Earth, in a mere instant on a geologic time-scale.  Sacrificing the beauty of our lives for concepts like “things”, politics, economies, ideologies & sense pleasures all to ignore the only immutable fact of life; that our love of life is nestled in a cradle of death. Dahr Jamail is back with his latest dispatch, bearing witness to the myriad of death, destruction and disintegration fear fueled human activity caused. As per usual, the news is getting shittier as time passes.  Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick… ” -OSJ

Written By Dahr Jamail @ Truthout:

When I go up into the mountains, I’m used to being afforded magnificent views of alpine meadows filled with wildflowers, crystal-clear mountain streams, glaciers tucked under the shoulders of high valleys, stratified ridges arcing into the sky, and views so far into the distance one can sense the curvature of earth.

But on August 22, as I carefully climbed my way toward one of the high summits of Eastern Olympic National Park, the solace of the mountains eluded me due to an ominous sign. The view east – toward what has now officially become the largest complex of wildfires in history for Washington State, where over one-quarter million acres have burned – was dominated by a large, greyish-white plume of smoke that stretched as far north and south as I could see.

At first it appeared as a large storm cloud layer, which was confusing given that the weather-folk had called for a stable high-pressure ridge over western Washington through the weekend. But as I continued through the morning, the large white wall neared and slowly began enveloping the entire eastern mountains of the Olympics, and my eyes began to burn as I smelled the smoke.

By the time I reached the summit of my climb, the view south was already obscured by the smoke as it began to fully infiltrate Olympic National Park.

Looking south from high up in the Eastern portion of Olympic National Park, wildfire smoke begins making its way into the park. (Photo: Dahr Jamail)

Looking south from high up in the eastern portion of Olympic National Park, wildfire smoke begins making its way into the park. (Photo: Dahr Jamail)

John Muir once wrote, “I must break away and get into the mountains to learn the news.” Today, given we are well along into abrupt anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD), Muir’s quote has taken on an entirely new meaning, as the convulsions wracking the planet are starkly clear when we venture out into nature.

Back home after my climb, the wildfires were all over the news. Several firefighters had died recently while battling the blazes in eastern Washington, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration data show how over half the entire country was covered in wildfire smoke generated by literally hundreds of fires, and the smoke was bad enough in Seattle to have triggered health alerts.

The US is now officially in the worst wildfire season in its history, as almost 7.5 million acres across the country have burned up since spring.

Articles about ACD’s impacts are now being published in more mainstream outlets, carrying titles that include verbiage like “the point of no return,” and it is high time for that, given what we are witnessing.

A recently published study by the UK-US Taskforce on Extreme Weather and Global Food System Reliance revealed that “major shocks” to worldwide food production will become at least three times more likely within the next 25 years due to increasingly extreme weather events generated by ACD. One of the coauthors of the report warned of a “very frightening” future due to the synthesis of ACD and food demands from a constantly growing global population.

Meanwhile, July officially became the hottest month ever recorded on the planet, setting 2015 on course to easily become the hottest year ever recorded.

This month’s dispatch is replete with evidence of our growing crisis, including record-breaking amounts of ice being released from Greenland, more species under threat of extinction, and millions of acres of the planet burning up in wildfires across North America alone.

Earth

A trove of papers recently released in the journal Science have warned that the planet’s forests are all under major threat of being annihilated, due to the ever-expanding human footprint, coupled with ACD. The introduction to the studies reads: “These papers document how humans have fundamentally altered forests across the globe and warn of potential broad-scale future declines in forest health, given increased demand for land and forest products combined with rapid climate change.”

Speaking of which, another recent report, this one coming from the Center for Global Development, showed that the planet is on a trajectory to lose an amount of tropical forest land equivalent to the size of India by 2050.

Meanwhile, geologists with the US Geological Survey and researchers from the University of Vermont recently showed that Washington DC is, quite literally, sinking into the sea. “It’s ironic that the nation’s capital – the place least responsive to the dangers of climate change – is sitting in one of the worst spots it could be,” senior author of the paper, Paul Bierman, said. “Will the Congress just sit there with their feet getting ever wetter?”

At the moment, the answer to his question is obvious: The lawmakers that frequent our capital city are making no bold moves to address that city’s flooded future.

Food production, as aforementioned, is being dramatically undermined by ACD. In Nigeria, the country’s ability to feed itself is rapidly diminishing due to higher temperatures and shifting rainfall patterns. At least half the farmers there had been unable to even plant their crops at the time of this writing.

Animal species continue to bear the brunt of ACD all over the globe as well.

A recent study showed that in the UK, ACD is generating severe droughts that have placed several species of butterflies there at risk of extinction.

Another report showed how a disease spreading rapidly across the planet’s tadpole populations is now threatening the global frog population. Scientists who authored the report warn that this is further evidence of the sixth great extinction event the earth is now experiencing.

Another dismaying development: The ever-shrinking area of sea ice is deleteriously impacting the Arctic’s walrus population. This season could see another dramatic beaching event like that of last summer, in which 35,000 walruses dragged themselves out of the sea and onto a beach due to lack of sea ice.

Meanwhile, the ongoing drought in California has caused an “emergency situation” for trees in that state, as lack of water is causing unprecedented die-offs. The drought there is also wiping out several of the native fish populations, of which many are expected to disappear within the next two years if the drought persists.

Lastly in this section, unprecedented heat coupled with an intense drought has caused “glacial outbursts” on Washington State’s Mount Rainier. “Outbursts” occur when large pools of ice-melt form within the glaciers, then plunge from within the glacier, sending torrents of silt-filled water, boulders and trees down the slopes of the mountain, wiping out anything in its path.

While these outbursts have happened periodically throughout history, they are expected to increase in both frequency and severity as ACD progresses.

Water

As usual, circumstances on the water front continue to worsen around the planet.

In the Pacific Northwestern region of the US, over a quarter million sockeye salmon heading up the Columbia River have either died or are in the process of dying due to warmer water temperatures. Biologists warn that at least half of this year’s returning fish will be wiped out, and ultimately as much as 80 percent of the total fish population could perish. Both Oregon and Washington states have already instituted closures of sport fishing due to the warmer waters and drought conditions persisting in both states.

In the Eastern Pacific Ocean, a giant bloom of toxic algae that is a threat to the health of both ocean species and humans alike spans from southern California all the way up to Alaska. Researchers are linking the size and intensity of the bloom to ACD. The bloom is already killing off sea lions that inhabit the coast and is still not showing signs of going away. Researchers said it was the largest bloom they had ever seen.

A report showed how ACD is in the process of rapidly reversing a natural phenomenon of 1,800 years of ocean cooling, while another study revealed that ocean acidification will continue and likely worsen, even if carbon sequestration and cleanup efforts were to begin in an immediate and dramatic fashion.

Back on land, droughts around the globe continue to make headlines.

One in Puerto Rico, that continues to worsen, has caused that country’s government to extend its dramatic water rationing measures, which have now been ongoing for weeks.

A study published in Geophysical Research Letters unequivocally linked California’s severe drought to ACD, saying that ACD has already “substantially increased” both the frequency and intensity of future droughts.

More news around the California drought emerged, showing that the river that runs through San Jose, the 10th largest city in the US, has dried up completely, severely harming fish and wildlife dependent on the water for their survival.

NASA released findings showing that California’s Central Valley, where the bulk of all the farming in the state takes place, is literally sinking, due to how much groundwater is being drawn out to compensate for the drought conditions. It is yet another destructive feedback loop: ACD has caused the drought to be far more severe than normal, which has caused humans to over-pump groundwater, leading to the sinking of the land.

The world’s glaciers are in peril. A disturbing report has shown that they have shrunk to their lowest levels ever witnessed in the history of record-keeping. They are melting at an accelerating rate – two to three times faster than the 20th century average melt rate.

As if to punctuate the findings of the report, the world’s fastest-melting glaciers, located in Greenland, recently lost the largest amount of ice on record in just a 48-hour period.

As a result of the incredible melting rates of glaciers, snowpack and ice fields around the globe, sea levels are now rising faster than ever.

Thus, as recently released research shows, global communities and cities located on river deltas – which includes over a quarter of a billion people – are at risk and will have to relocate.

Fire

Given the extensive record-breaking drought that has afflicted most of the western US, the fact that this summer’s fire season came in with a roar came as little surprise. Hardly halfway through the summer, fires across California, Washington, Colorado and in Glacier National Park in Montana were making headlines.

By early August, nearly 10,000 firefighters in California alone were battling at least 20 wildfires that had already forced more than 13,000  people to evacuate their homes.

Shortly thereafter, thousands of wildfires were raging across drought-plagued California, and before the middle of the month, a staggering 300,000 new acres were burning each day up in Alaska, where fires had scorched over 6 million acres thus far in the year, and hundreds of fires continued to burn. That makes this year already the second-largest wildfire season in Alaska’s history, with more of the summer remaining.

Reports have emerged warning of the impact of the fires upon Alaska’s permafrost: They have removed millions of acres of the tundra and forest that previously protected the frozen ground.

In early August, the US Forest Service announced that for the first time in the history of that department, it needed to spend over half of its entire budget on fighting wildfires.

Despite this, given the record-breaking drought conditions across the west, large numbers of the fires were left to burn out of control, due to high winds, dry conditions, and lack of fire-fighting capabilities and resources.

Air

In case anyone had any doubt about how hot the planet is already becoming, the Iranian city of Bandar Mahshahr experienced a heat index of 165 degrees in August, nearly setting a world record for heat index measurements, which factor in humidity along with temperature.

In July, incredibly hot temperatures in Tajikistan caused a rapid melting of glaciers, which triggered flooding and mudslides that generated nearly 1,000 ACD refugees.

Meanwhile, across the Middle East in August, more than 20 people died and nearly 100 had to be hospitalized due to incinerating heat that baked the region, along with intense humidity levels. Basra, Iraq, saw 123 degrees, and the Iraqi government had to instate a four-day “holiday” so people wouldn’t feel obliged to work in the stifling heat.

Lastly in this section, a recent report stated that Texas will likely see a dramatic escalation in heat-related deaths and coastal extreme storm-related losses in the upcoming decades due to escalating ACD impacts.

Denial and Reality

There is never a dull moment in the “Denial and Reality” section.

Democratic Party candidate Hillary Clinton’s stated plan to address abrupt ACD, which amounts to federal subsidies for solar panels, was immediately labeled as “silly” in early August, just after Clinton’s plan was announced, by leading climate scientist James Hansen, who headed NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies for more than three decades.

“You cannot solve the problem without a fundamental change, and that means you have to make the price of fossil fuels honest, “Hansen said of her plan. “Subsidizing solar panels is not going to solve the problem.”

During a recent forum, Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz went on the record expressing full-on denial of ACD, saying that the debate about ACD was a “device” used by liberals to appeal to “environmentalist billionaires and their campaign donations.”

On another front, builders in San Francisco are moving forward with plans to construct major bay-front developments of office space and homes worth more than $21 billion, in areas that are extremely susceptible to flooding – despite dire warnings of imminent sea-level rise.

On the bad news front for the deniers, however, a recent study showed there is absolutely no link between sunspot activity and ACD … a fabricated argument the deniers enjoy trotting out to try to “disprove” reality.

More bad news for the deniers comes, once again, from the Pope, who set up an annual Catholic Church “day of care” for the environment. The Pope said the day would be a chance for the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics to “thank God for the wonderful handiwork which he has entrusted to our care, and to implore his help for the protection of creation as well as his pardon for the sins committed against the world in which we live.”

And Catholics aren’t the only faith leaders working to do something to address ACD.

Islamic religious and environmental leaders from around the world recently issued a call to rich countries, along with those that are oil producers, to end all fossil fuel use by 2050 and to begin rapidly ramping up the institution and use of renewable energy sources.

The Islamic leadership, which issued “The Islamic Climate Declaration,” said the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims have “a religious duty to fight climate change.”

The final blow to ACD deniers in this month’s dispatch comes from none other than the US Department of Defense, which issued a report to Congress that said that ACD poses a “present security threat” that is not only a “long-term risk,” but poses immediate short-term threats as well.

Study – Earth’s Battery Level Critical: Continued Destruction Of Earth’s Biomass Foretells Grim Future For Life On Earth

In Uncategorized on August 28, 2015 at 6:29 pm

Fig. 1. Earth-space battery.The planet is a positive charge of stored organic chemical energy (cathode) in the form of biomass and fossil fuels. As this energy is dissipated by humans, it eventually radiates as heat toward the chemical equilibrium of deep space (anode). The battery is rapidly discharging without replenishment.

Oldspeak: I’ll let the scientists tell it:

Earth is a chemical battery where, over evolutionary time with a trickle-charge of photosynthesis using solar energy, billions of tons of living biomass were stored in forests and other ecosystems and in vast reserves of fossil fuels. In just the last few hundred years, humans extracted exploitable energy from these living and fossilized biomass fuels to build the modern industrial-technological-informational economy, to grow our population to more than 7 billion, and to transform the biogeochemical cycles and biodiversity of the earth. This rapid discharge of the earth’s store of organic energy fuels the human domination of the biosphere, including conversion of natural habitats to agricultural fields and the resulting loss of native species, emission of carbon dioxide and the resulting climate and sea level change, and use of supplemental nuclear, hydro, wind, and solar energy sources. The laws of thermodynamics governing the trickle-charge and rapid discharge of the earth’s battery are universal and absolute; the earth is only temporarily poised a quantifiable distance from the thermodynamic equilibrium of outer space.

Although this distance from equilibrium is comprised of all energy types, most critical for humans is the store of living biomass. With the rapid depletion of this chemical energy, the earth is shifting back toward the inhospitable equilibrium of outer space with fundamental ramifications for the biosphere and humanity. Because there is no substitute or replacement energy for living biomass, the remaining distance from equilibrium that will be required to support human life is unknown.
Eventually, without sufficient living biomass to run the biosphere, it simply doesn’t matter how much oil, solar, nuclear, etc. energy you have, as there is no biosphere left for humans to use it. Biomass is not an interchangeable energy. There is no replacement and we are depleting it rapidly.
As we burn organic chemical energy, we generate work to grow our population and economy. In the process the high-quality chemical energy is transformed into heat and lost from the planet by radiation into outer space. The flow of energy from cathode to anode is moving the planet rapidly and irrevocably closer to the sterile chemical equilibrium of space.
Unless biomass stores stabilize, human civilization is unsustainable.
The Earth is in serious energetic imbalance due to human energy use. This imbalance defines our most dominant conflict with nature. It really is a conflict in the sense that the current energy imbalance, a crisis unprecedented in Earth history, is a direct consequence of technological innovation.
Ironically, powerful political and market forces, rather than acting to conserve the remaining charge in the battery, actually push in the opposite direction because the pervasive efforts to increase economic growth will require increased energy consumption.”
Dr. John R. Schramski et al. June 2015
the earth is shifting back toward the inhospitable equilibrium of outer space with fundamental ramifications for the biosphere and humanity.” You can say that again. Not a “doomer”, not a “Nihilist” that said that, but a good old fashioned, dyed in the wool and presumably conservative, scientist. As I’ve been saying for some time now. It’s just physics at this point. And the physics are SHITTY for probability of continued survival of humans and most other forms of complex life on Earth. As has been discussed here, humans are using ever increasingly unsustainable quantities of biomass. With no tenable plans for population control in place or even being discussed (every one has a right to babies dammit!), or sufficiently sustainable limits to biomass consumption,  We can expect human population to increase in relation to depletion of biomass. Unfortunately for us, biomass is not infinite at current and future levels of consumption. We have used HALF the amount of biomass that it took billions of years to accumulate: 1,000 billion tons of carbon in living biomass; in the last 2000 years. 10 percent of it in the last 100 years.  So energy consumption and energy depletion is increasing exponentially. This is unsustainable. Our technology and cleverness will not make everything ok this time. Our actions will likely make things worse. Yet we’re being driven maniacally, ceaselessly, to “do more”, to “fight climate change”, not understanding that every time we do something, we’re merely increasing our increasingly unsustainable and irreplaceable earth battery usage. And carbon footprint. Nothing we “do” can be done without plunging us further into ecological debt and destruction. That is what you call a conundrum Kimosabe. The technology many magical thinkers are trusting to “fix it”, requires tremendous amounts of resources and energy to produce and maintain. Resources and energy that are rapidly and unsustainably being depleted.  In this stage of this mass extinction event, our “actions” serve only to hasten our extinction. Marches won’t stop it. Policy changes wont stop it. Geo-engineering won’t stop it. Hopium won’t stop it. We’re simply too far gone now. Can’t shift into reverse. One of the studies author’s said it best: “I call myself a realistic optimist, I’ve gone through these numbers countless times looking for some kind of mitigating factor that suggests we’re wrong, but I haven’t found it.” Eventually Earth, the sacred battery upon which we depend inextricably for energy and life, will go dead. At some point shortly after that,  we and most life on Earth will go extinct, and at some point in the distant future, the microbes inherit the Earth. And SCENE. Show’s over folk. Humans will be added to the geologic history pile of  species that used to be here. It happens all the time. It’s the circle of life. Some times on, some times off. Read the actual Study if you can.  Good stuff in there.” -OSJ
Related Link:
Written By James Hataway @ University Of Georgia:

Unless humans slow the destruction of Earth’s declining supply of plant life, civilization like it is now may become completely unsustainable, according to a paper published recently by University of Georgia researchers in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“You can think of the Earth like a battery that has been charged very slowly over billions of years,” said the study’s lead author, John Schramski, an associate professor in UGA’s College of Engineering. “The sun’s energy is stored in plants and fossil fuels, but humans are draining energy much faster than it can be replenished.”

Earth was once a barren landscape devoid of life, he explained, and it was only after billions of years that simple organisms evolved the ability to transform the sun’s light into energy. This eventually led to an explosion of plant and animal life that bathed the planet with lush forests and extraordinarily diverse ecosystems.

The study’s calculations are grounded in the fundamental principles of thermodynamics, a branch of physics concerned with the relationship between heat and mechanical energy. Chemical energy is stored in plants, or biomass, which is used for food and fuel, but which is also destroyed to make room for agriculture and expanding cities.

Scientists estimate that the Earth contained approximately 1,000 billion tons of carbon in living biomass 2,000 years ago. Since that time, humans have reduced that amount by almost half. It is estimated that just over 10 percent of that biomass was destroyed in just the last century.

“If we don’t reverse this trend, we’ll eventually reach a point where the biomass battery discharges to a level at which Earth can no longer sustain us,” Schramski said.

Working with James H. Brown from the University of New Mexico, Schramski and UGA’s David Gattie, an associate professor in the College of Engineering, show that the vast majority of losses come from deforestation, hastened by the advent of large-scale mechanized farming and the need to feed a rapidly growing population. As more biomass is destroyed, the planet has less stored energy, which it needs to maintain Earth’s complex food webs and biogeochemical balances.

“As the planet becomes less hospitable and more people depend on fewer available energy options, their standard of living and very survival will become increasingly vulnerable to fluctuations, such as droughts, disease epidemics and social unrest,” Schramski said.

If human beings do not go extinct, and biomass drops below sustainable thresholds, the population will decline drastically, and people will be forced to return to life as hunter-gatherers or simple horticulturalists, according to the paper.

“I’m not an ardent environmentalist; my training and my scientific work are rooted in thermodynamics,” Schramski said. “These laws are absolute and incontrovertible; we have a limited amount of biomass energy available on the planet, and once it’s exhausted, there is absolutely nothing to replace it.”

Schramski and his collaborators are hopeful that recognition of the importance of biomass, elimination of its destruction and increased reliance on renewable energy will slow the steady march toward an uncertain future, but the measures required to stop that progression may have to be drastic.

“I call myself a realistic optimist,” Schramski said. “I’ve gone through these numbers countless times looking for some kind of mitigating factor that suggests we’re wrong, but I haven’t found it.”

The study, on “Human Domination of the Biosphere: Rapid Discharge of the Earth-Space Battery Foretells the Future of Humankind,” will be available online at www.pnas.org/content/early/recent the week of July 13.

Our Extinction “Problem” May Be Far, Far Worse Than We Think

In Uncategorized on August 21, 2015 at 12:55 pm

Credit: Kenneth A. Hayes

Oldspeak: This was said about 2 months ago:

Life would take many millions of years to recover, and our species itself would likely disappear early on…. We emphasize that our calculations very likely underestimate the severity of the extinction crisis.” –Dr. Gerardo Ceballos, Universidad Autónoma de México

Around the same time other scientists reported this:

Since the 1980s or so, the terms biodiversity crisis (Novacek 2001) and sixth extinction (Leakey & Lewin 1996) have been used increasingly in scientific, political, and media discourse. These issues have been explored largely by ecologists focused on mammals and birds, and invertebrates have received much less attention despite their constituting as much as 99% of animal species richness (Ponder & Lunney 1999). Measures of biodiversity decline are based essentially on knowledge of vertebrates….The focus on birds and mammals and the proportionately negligible assessment of invertebrates masks a real crisis. Although assessment of extinction for all invertebrates is impossible, it may be possible for certain, perhaps representative, groups. Such assessments might permit broad extrapolation and more realistic evaluation of true overall extinction levelsfor many invertebrates serious under-reporting of extinction may have even more serious consequences than over-reporting, especially regarding the true perception of the biodiversity crisis.” –Régnier, C., Bouchet, et al.

“My reaction? Far far worse? YEAH. NO SHIT. While it’s been estimated that 52 percent of the world’s biodiversity has been lost in the last 40 years, that assessment is profoundly underestimated and unrealistic, as the animal population that makes up 99% of animal species on earth; invertebrates; was not included in the assessment. Add to that the fact that it is currently impossible to assess extinction for invertebrates, and the cold hard reality really begins to set in. We have no realistic idea of the scale, speed and severity of overall global extinction rates. All we know is, we are as is par for the course when it comes to most life in our collapsing biosphere, consistently and colossally underestimating our “extinction problem”.  I feel that regarding mass extinction as a “problem” is the root of the calamity. Not recognizing how our actions, so far out of balance with all that lives, have brought us to this point. Underestimating the catastrophically  devastating impact of imbalance in our interconnected and interdependent Mother. Where our comfort trumps everything. Even the environment from which we came. The environment that precipitated our appearance in this plane of consciousness.” -OSJ

Written By Hilary Hanson @ The Huffington Post:

The sharp decline of land snail species in Hawaii may have frightening implications for the extinction rates of animals worldwide.

A multinational team of researchers argue that because the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List — often cited as the authority on extinct and endangered species worldwide — does not look at most invertebrates, it presents a skewed picture of extinction rates, portraying them as much lower than they are.

“The focus on birds and mammals and the proportionately negligible assessment of invertebrates masks a real crisis,” the researchers write in a paper published in the journal Conservation Biology in July.

Fewer than 1 percent of invertebrates worldwide have even been evaluated by the IUCN. Yet invertebrates constitute 95 to 99 percent of animal species, including insects, worms, snails and crustaceans — meaning there’s a lot of species that haven’t been assessed.

The researchers note that the IUCN standards for evaluating invertebrate species are so stringent that assessing many of them is virtually impossible — a problem that’s been pointed out by other scientists in the past.

In order to estimate the gap between extinction rates reported by the IUCN and real extinction rates, the researchers set out to conduct their own comprehensive survey of 325 known Hawaiian land snail species in the family Amastridae and compare their findings with the numbers listed by the IUCN.

While the IUCN cites 33 Hawaiian Amastridae species as extinct, the newer study concludes there are 131 extinct Amastridae species. Extinction rates haven’t been constant, researchers say, but have risen in connection with periods of habitat destruction and introductions of invasive species by humans.

In a study published in June, some of the same researchers had partnered with other scientists around the world to calculate that around 10 percent of a sample of 200 known land snail species worldwide had gone extinct. Of these 200 species, only nine had been evaluated on the IUCN Red List, and three of those nine were extinct.

The earlier group of scientists extrapolated from those data to estimate that 130,000 species worldwide may have gone extinct since around the year 1600, as opposed to the 800 species recognized by the IUCN.

Robert Cowie, a University of Hawaii researcher who worked on both studies, told The Huffington Post that although the new estimate may not be precise, it nevertheless suggests that “the real number of extinct species is far, far greater than that assessed as such by the IUCN.”

“It’s a bit of a leap of faith, I admit,” he told The Washington Post. “We just have to wave our arms around and say that’s the best we can do.”

He also told the Post that the intention was not to make the IUCN look bad.  

“We’re not criticizing IUCN, they’re not set up to estimate the number of species,” he told the Post. “The point of the paper is to say, the vast, vast majority of invertebrates has not been assessed.”

Contact the author of this article at Hilary.Hanson@huffingtonpost.com.

CORRECTION: The story previously misstated when a study of land snail species worldwide was published. It was published in June. The story has also been clarified to note that a second study looked at Hawaiian land snail species specifically in the family Amastridae.

 

Ecological Crisis And The Tragedy Of The Commodity

In Uncategorized on July 28, 2015 at 12:23 pm

https://i2.wp.com/ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/71dS90SbtPL.jpg

Oldspeak:”The ceaseless drive for accumulation inherent in capitalist commodity production speeds up the social metabolism. It results in a faster depletion of resources, stemming from increasing demands for materials and throughput, and the generation of ever-more waste. It degrades the conditions that support resilient ecosystems. The capitalist system creates numerous contradictions between nature and commodities; it progressively deepens and creates ecological rifts.”-Brett Clark and Richard York

“Yep. The above statement delineates the folly of market-based “green economy” responses to global warming and climate change. De-growth is not an option. Infinite growth and accumulation are immutable imperatives.This is the inherent and terminally destructive nature of the system of Global Industrial Capitalist Civilization which has played a major role in bringing about Earth’s 6th Mass extinction. Commodifying All has a price; and it is the end life on earth. The piece ends with a hopium-laced “sustainable” way forward, that artfully prescribes an end to capitalism, replacing it with an anacro-syndicalist, decentralized and democratized sociocultural system. Great idea. Far too late to matter as our proverbial goose is cooked.” -OSJ

Written By

We live in an era of ecological crisis, which is a direct result of human actions. Natural scientists have been debating whether the current historical epoch should be called the Anthropocene, in order to mark the period in which human activities became the primary driver of global ecological change.[1]

Initially, it was proposed that this new epoch, corresponding with the rise of modern capitalist and industrial development, began in the eighteenth century. The growth imperative of capitalism, as well as other sociocultural changes, is a primary factor generating major environmental problems that culminate in ecological crisis.[2]

It has become increasingly clear that humans face an existential crisis. The environmental writer and activist Bill McKibben explains:

Earth has changed in profound ways, ways that have already taken us out of the sweet spot where humans so long thrived…. The world hasn’t ended, but the world as we know it has—even if we don’t quite know it yet. We imagine we still live back on that old planet, that the disturbances we see around us are the old random and freakish kind. But they’re not. It’s a different place. A different planet…. This is one of those rare moments, the start of a change far larger and more thoroughgoing than anything we can read in the records of man, on a par with the biggest dangers we can read in the records of rock and ice.[3]

Many modern ecological problems are referred to as a tragedy of the commons, a concept developed by Garrett Hardin in the 1960s to describe the overexploitation or despoliation of natural resources.[4] We contend that they are actually associated with the tragedy of the commodity. While an obvious play on Hardin’s concept, this approach offers, we argue, a much more comprehensive and historically appropriate analysis of the drivers of ecological degradation.

The classic illustration of the tragedy of the commons used by Hardin involved the dynamic of herders and their livestock. He claimed that each herder will act primarily in his or her own interest by adding additional livestock to common grazing land when it served to increase individual benefits. Therefore, Hardin argued, each herder would attempt to acquire the benefits offered by the commons, while socializing the costs to all. For example, by adding an extra animal to the pasture the herder reaps all the benefit, but pays only a fraction of the environmental costs, such as depletion of the grazing land. Each actor, motivated by individual maximization of benefits, increasingly introduces grazing animals into a finite system of resources, leading to the tragic destruction of the land. With this Hardin concludes “freedom in commons brings ruin to all.”[5] For Hardin, and many others who have adopted this perspective, expanding private property is offered as a leading policy solution for avoiding ecological tragedies.[6]

The tragedy of the commons theory explains the behaviors of individual actors in given social circumstances. However, it does not address how historical conditions and the socioeconomic system influence individual actors. In other words, the social context is simply taken for granted. The existing social conditions and relations are regarded as ever-present, universal, and permanent. The model neglects to recognize that human interactions and exchanges with ecological systems change through time and are regulated by particular institutional conditions. Once examined from a sociological perspective, the tragedy of the commons theory is simplistic and one-sided in that it attempts to explain human social behavior, or human agency, without a thorough understanding of the historical social organization.[7] This simplification results in a mystification of the modern systems of production and consumption and the historically specific ecosystem effects.

In contrast, the tragedy of the commodity approach emphasizes the role of the growth imperative of capitalism and commodification in producing the institutional rules by which nature and, for example, the commons are governed and historically transformed. Ecological systems are never altogether free of social influences. Rather, they are shaped by social conditions including norms, traditions, economic rules, the organization of labor, politico-legal arrangements, etc.[8] The social actions that have emerged with capitalist development are dominated by what Adam Smith called “the propensity to truck, barter, and exchange,” matched with a crude utilitarianism, where individuals follow pure self-interest without social constraint. Unfortunately, these actions are often incorrectly ascribed to innate human behavior.[9] Thus, what might appear to the casual observer to be a system governed by base greed and human instinct is in fact largely directed by the drive for capital accumulation and what Immanuel Wallerstein called the progressive “commodification of everything.”[10] Among other outcomes, the commodification process results in a social metabolic order—socio-ecological interchanges and interrelationships—that produces unsustainable social and ecological consequences.

In a society organized around the logic of capital, human activities tend to be directed toward the production of commodities. That is, capitalism can be understood in a broad sense as a system of generalized commodity production. The institutional arrangements result in particular social arrangements and generate distinct types of human social action. The commodity serves as a basic unit to understand the larger culture-nature relations and capitalism itself. It is a base element of capitalist market processes.

Nature is an essential source of use value, or the qualitative usefulness of things. For example, Earth’s biogeochemical systems provide the conditions and means that allow for the production of food. Karl Marx emphasized that under capitalist relations, nature was seen as a free gift; it was not considered as part of wealth.[11] He famously explained this in terms of a “general formula for capital”—whereby capital is understood as the “continuous transformation of capital-as-money into capital-as-commodities, followed by a retransformation of capital-as-commodities into capital-as-more-money.”[12] Even though use value expresses the useful properties of an item or service, it is exchange value, or market value, which knows only quantitative increase and drives capitalist economic activity.

Money is put into circulation in order to return money, a quantity for a quantity, “its driving and motivating force is therefore exchange-value.”[13] Thus, capital constantly expands into more capital, motivated by surplus value or profits, the generation of which is “the absolute law of this mode of production.”[14] Under this logic, money dominates the organization of social and natural relationships. Addressing the pervasiveness of this logic, Karl Polanyi explained, “All transactions are turned into money transactions.”[15] The emergence of an all-encompassing, self-regulating, market disembedded human practical activity from its foundation in the broader sociocultural and environmental conditions. Market activity directed by commodity production for the endless accumulation of capital acquired the irresistible impetus of a “process of nature.”[16] Accordingly, the organization of production and consumption activities is fundamentally transformed from the exchange of qualities into the exchange of quantities. Alienation from each other and nature increases, as qualitative relations of production and the universal metabolism of nature are subsumed under the quantitative growth imperative of capital and a culture of quantity.[17] This fundamental tension between the necessity of quantitative expansion to sustain the economic relations and the qualitatively unsustainable ecological consequences marks the defining characteristic of the modern ecological crisis and the tragedy of the commodity.

Capital tends to simplify natural processes and ecosystems, imposing a division of nature to increase economic efficiency. It directs the life cycles of plants and animals to the economic cycle of exchange. Qualitative social relations—such as subsistence use within an ecosystem—are not part of the capitalist accounting system and can suffer various forms of destruction as a result. Use values, as the qualitative means for meeting the needs of life, are limited given biophysical properties. In contrast, there are no limits to quantitative measures of wealth. In other words, growing returns on investment have no end, but real human needs are confined to definite and knowable material limits.

The ceaseless drive for accumulation inherent in capitalist commodity production speeds up the social metabolism. It results in a faster depletion of resources, stemming from increasing demands for materials and throughput, and the generation of ever-more waste. It degrades the conditions that support resilient ecosystems. The capitalist system creates numerous contradictions between nature and commodities; it progressively deepens and creates ecological rifts.[18]

The way forward, toward a more sustainable world, requires radical changes in the social conditions that have historically shaped the productive and consumption system of capitalism. Collective action must take back public commons and put them in control of the people who most closely interact with them and depend on them for community well-being. In order to be successful, these actions must (in effect) de-commodify nature. Commons must be decentralized and democratized, rather than, in the standard neoliberal view, privatized. Farmland and fisheries must be socially organized to advance nourishment and health. Forests must be valued as reserves of biodiversity, clean water, and culture. Economic activities must be embedded within society as a whole and the universal metabolism of the biophysical world, allowing for the continuation of reproductive processes, nutrient cycles, and energy flows that support all life. Human society must transcend the logic of capital, creating a new social metabolic order that increases the quality of life and enhances the potential for ecological flourishing and universal human freedom.

Recently, Pope Francis highlighted what we have been calling the tragedy of the commodity. In his highly publicized Encyclical on the environment, he mentions the “tragic effects of environmental degradation.” He goes on to say: “Where profits alone count, there can be no thinking about the rhythms of nature, its phases of decay and regeneration, or the complexity of ecosystems which may be gravely upset by human intervention. Moreover, biodiversity is considered at most a deposit of economic resources available for exploitation, with no serious thought for the real value of things, their significance for persons and cultures, or the concerns and needs of the poor.”[xix] He contends that a “cultural revolution” is required to address ecological crisis.

Interestingly, Pope Francis limited his suggested response to a cultural revolution when it is clear throughout the document that he is describing a political-economic problem. We agree that a revolutionary approach is necessary for addressing the ecological crisis. Nothing short will be adequate for challenging the tragedy of the commodity.

This essay is based on the new book The Tragedy of the Commodity: Oceans Fisheries and Aquaculture by Stefano B. Longo, Rebecca Clausen, and Brett Clark, published by Rutgers University Press (2015).

Works Cited.

[1]. Paul J. Crutzen, “Geology of Mankind,” Nature 415, no. 6867 (2002): 23; Jan Zalasiewicz et al., “The New World of the Anthropocene,” Environmental Science & Technology 44, no. 7 (2010): 2228-31.

[2]. Will Steffen et al., “The Anthropocene: Conceptual and Historical Perspectives,” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society 369, no. 1938 (2011): 842–67.

[3]. Bill McKibben, Eaarth: Making Life on a Tough New Planet (New York: Times Books, 2010), 2-3.

[4]. Garrett Hardin, “The Tragedy of the Commons,” Science 162, no. 3859 (1968):

1243–1248.

[5]. Hardin, “The Tragedy of the Commons,” 1244.

[6]. Theorists of the tragedy of the commons also acknowledge the potential for state action and management as alternative arrangements for promoting resource conservation. See Elinor Ostrom et al., The Drama of the Commons (Washington, DC: National Academies Press, 2002).

[7]. Bonnie J. McCay and Svein Jentoft, “Uncommon Ground: Critical Perspectives on Common Property” in Human Footprints on the Global Environment: Threats to Sustainability, ed. Eugene A. Rosa et al. (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2010), 207.

[8]. Thomas Dietz et al., “The Struggle to Govern the Commons,” Science

302, no. 5652 (2003): 1907–1912; Elinor Ostrom et al., “Revisiting the Commons,” Science 284, no. 5412 (1999): 278–282.

[9]. Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, 2 Volumes (London: Methuen & Co., 1930); Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. 1 (New York: Vintage, 1976); Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation (Boston: Beacon Press, 2001).

[10]. Immanuel Wallerstein, Historical Capitalism with Capitalist Civilization (London: Verso, 1983).

[11]. John Bellamy Foster, Brett Clark, and Richard York, The Ecological Rift: Capitalism’s War on the Earth (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2010).

[12]. Robert L. Heilbroner, The Nature and Logic of Capitalism (New York: W. W. Norton, 1985), 36.

[13]. Marx, Capital, Vol. 1, 250.

[14]. Ibid., 769.

[15]. Polanyi, The Great Transformation, 44.

[16]. Ibid., 132.

[17]. István Mészáros, Marx’s Theory of Alienation (London: Merlin Press, 1986), 35.

[18]. Brett Clark and Richard York, “Rifts and Shifts: Getting to the Roots of Environmental Crises,” Monthly Review 60, no. 6 (2008): 13–24.

[xix]. Pope Francis, Encyclical Letter Laudato Si’ of the Holy Father Francis on Care for Our Common Home (Vatican Press, 2015), 12, 139.

“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.

“We’re Already There…” Burnin’ And Lootin’: On The Occation Of Impending Ecosystem Collapse

In Uncategorized on July 15, 2015 at 5:25 pm

Oldspeak:

“(That’s why we gonna be)
Burnin’ and a-lootin’ tonight;
(Say we gonna burn and loot)
Burnin’ and a-lootin’ tonight;
(One more thing)
Burnin’ all pollution tonight;
(Oh, yeah, yeah)
Burnin’ all illusion tonight.

Oh, stop them!-Robert Nesta Marley

“As The World Burns, we loot Her endlessly. We can’t help it really. We know no other way. We’re pretty much locked in to this way of being. Many of us are very comfortable ensconced in the Ecocidal Perpetual Death Machine/Heat Engine that is Industrial Civilization. Eagerly consuming our daily rations of hopium laced infotainment through our telescreens and “Victory Gin” whenever possible. Labouring dutifully in our invisible prisons of “busyness|business”, conformity, and compliance. What follows is an unvarnished delineation of the ongoing and intensifying global ecological collapse, most of us are actively and aggressively ignoring. For me the most pertinent part of this piece is what  Dr Alex Rogers has to say:

Climate Change affects are going to be extremely serious, and it’s interesting when you think many people who talk about this in terms of what will happen in the future… our children will see the effects of this… Well, actually we’re seeing very severe impacts from climate change already… We’re already there…Most, if not all, of the five global mass extinctions in Earth’s history carry the fingerprints of the main symptoms of… global warming, ocean acidification and anoxia or lack of oxygen. It is these three factors — ‘the deadly trio’ — which are present in the ocean today. In fact, the [current] situation is unprecedented in the Earth’s history because of the high rate and speed of change.”

In that context, I struggle to comprehend the Hopium of the author. When he writes, right after that quote:

Maybe, in the near future, somebody who has solid political leadership skills will initiate a nationwide infrastructure project connecting major cities via electric-powered trains and construct solar panels and wind turbines along the right of ways, assuming there is enough time

“Why? Why this baseless faith in “The market” of Politics? That market, that political system, has helped bring us to where we stand today. What possible good could come from more of the ecological destruction, pollution, extractive mining for the minerals & materials required to construct this “green” infrastructure, that will in the long run be meaningless in mitigating that which is beyond mitigation? I don’t get it. When will we burn the illusion?” -OSJ

Written By Robert Hunziker @ Dissident Voice:

Climate change/global warming is the main protagonist on the worldwide stage of collapsing ecosystems.

The ecosystem is a combination of living organisms in harmony with nonliving elements like air, water, and mineral soil interacting as one whole. But, what if the living and nonliving elements stop interrelating as “one harmonized whole”? Then, what happens?

As things stand today, the planet’s future is decidedly in the camp of “then, what happens?”

Signals of planetary stress are literally off the charts.  Meanwhile the world continues spinning like always, as people go to work, drive cars, go out to dinner, and watch TV, some read books but not much these days.

Those routines of going to work, out to dinner, and so forth maintain an equilibrium, a daily pattern on the same freeways, the same faces, the same workplaces. By itself, life seems very normal, nothing much to worry about other than making monthly car payments.

Similarly, the natural world experiences its own rhythm, like the everyday cycle of people going to work, on the freeway, to dinner, watching TV. But, radically dissimilar to that everyday cycle that seems so dependable, so routine, the natural world is amiss, chaotic, crumbling apart, bursting at the seams. However, this deep trouble is not noticed, not recognized, not reported in accordance with severe levels of impending calamity. After all, as long as Wall Street goes up, all is well, isn’t it? Yet, all is not well, not by a long shot.

Ecosystem degradation happens in silence, not on freeways, not in theaters, not in malls. There is no ticker tape to watch or CNBC to listen to.

Consider this, what if tire blowouts occurred every day on the commute? What if the television set blacks-out every two minutes? What if faucets unexpectedly turn dry? Those situations could be metaphors for the ecosystem today, anomalous, irregular, variable, faltering!  Thus, climate change is very real, and people are already starting to experience ecosystem collapse.

The São Paulo water crisis, or “hydric collapse” as many are calling it, has left a city of 20 million teetering on the brink.1 Water is shut off in most parts of the city every day at 1:00 P.M. Scientists say this disaster, in large measure, is payback because of massive rain forest degradation, disrupting normal weather patterns.2

A shortage of water leads to various and sundry consequences, as for one example among many: “The financial hub of one of the world’s biggest economies is experiencing a water crisis so bad that experts say it could affect investors globally”.3

All of which may be a blessing in disguise because “affecting investors globally” may be the only way for “ecosystem collapse” to gain attention in today’s neoliberal “only-the-bottom-line-counts” world.

The ecosystem’s collapse knows no boundaries. Three million people will be without water in Taiwan, as the government drastically rations.4 The normal rainy season is now abnormally missing. Scientists say global warming has altered the jet streams and weather patterns. Thankfully, good news, as of July 10th, typhoon Chan-hom heads towards Taiwan for a little temporary relief.

California is haunted by and threatened with full-scale desertification as a powerful high-pressure system known as the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge hovers over the Pacific Ocean, blocking normal wintertime rainfall.5 Scientists (Princeton and Stanford) say climate change is a significant culprit.

Not only that, but with planetary heat; i.e., global warming increasing month-by-month for years on end, California’s main water tower, the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range snow pack runs dry way too quickly.

In fact, worldwide, glacial water towers are rapidly diminishing from too much heat, threatening hydro-power, irrigation, and drinking water as well as commercial rivers in heavily populated areas of Asia and South America, akin to São Paulo.

Chinese scientists report significant glacial loss (up t0 70%) at the headwaters of major commercial rivers, like the Lancang River, the “Danube of the East.”

Based upon the past record of incessant temperature rise over the last few decades, glacial ice/snow will likely remain under heated attack: “March 2015 and first quarter of year warmest on record: Arctic sea ice extent smallest on record for the month of March.”6

Relentlessly, global temperatures continue setting new record highs, year after year. In the United States: “The June contiguous U.S. average temperature was 71.4°F, 2.9°F above the 20th century average, second only to June 1933 in the 121-year period of record,”7

Not only that: “A new study published online in the journal Science finds that the rate of global warming during the last 15 years has been as fast as or faster than that seen during the latter half of the 20th Century. The study refutes the notion that there has been a slowdown or ‘hiatus’ in the rate of global warming in recent years.”8

Increasing levels of heat bring forth new problems. China suffers from major desertification with 27% of the country or 2.6 million sq km affected. Woefully, another 1.7 million sq km, or 65% additional land, is at risk of turning to desert for a grand total of 45% of China at risk of desertification. Proof that land degradation in combination with global warming takes a huge toll even though the government has been fighting back.9 Scientists say global warming accelerates worldwide desertification.

In turn, desertification contributes to global warming, a positive feedback loop (which is really a negative), as “warming is allowing the carbon that has been stored in dry land vegetation and soils to be released to the atmosphere as it dries out and dies.”10

Tipping Points of Irreversible Ecosystem Decay/Destruction/Collapse

A prestigious group of scientists from around the world is warning that population growth, widespread destruction of natural ecosystems, and climate change may be driving Earth toward an irreversible change in the biosphere, a planet-wide tipping point that would have destructive consequences… there will be a reduction in biodiversity and severe impacts on much of what we depend on to sustain our quality of life, including, for example, fisheries, agriculture, forest products and clean water. This could happen within just a few generations.11

As for planet-wide tipping points: “There are 30 self-reinforcing feedback loops that are irreversible.”12 Some are very tipsy, some already tipping.

For example, methane hydrates in the Arctic Ocean, harmlessly contained, so far, under the ice for millennia, are equivalent to 1,000 to 10,000 gigatons of carbon versus 226 gigatons in the atmosphere.13 Today the level is over 300 gigatons (McPherson). Because the Arctic is loosing so much ice cover, a 50-gigaton burp of methane is highly possible at any time, which is equivalent to an additional 1,000 gigatons of carbon.14  The results could be dire.

In the melting permafrost of Siberia:

Methane vents 30 centimeters (one foot) in diameter were lit on fire by scientists in 2010… by the summer of 2011, they were not lighting this on fire anymore because those methane vents were a kilometer (1/2 mile) across… a twenty-six-hundred-fold (2,600) increase in size in a year… it’s almost as if we’ve triggered rapid, unpredictable and non-linear responses. (McPherson).

According to NASA, methane plumes that are kilometers wide have already been monitored in the Arctic.15

The plain fact is that “loss of Arctic ice” equals way too much methane released into the atmosphere. It’s a dastardly closed circuit of ruination prompted by the selection of fossil fuels over renewable energy sources. But, Germany (25% renewables) knows better.  China is aware and active. However, as for the derisory U.S., nobody knows where or how or when it comes into the picture.

The biggest worry amongst some scientists is the rapidity of past ecosystem collapse. According to Paul Beckwith, Laboratory for Paleoclimatology and Climatology, University of Ottawa: “55 million years ago… the temperature rose globally by 5C in 13 years, as shown in sediment samples.”16

Notice that it did not take hundreds (100s) or thousands (1,000s) or millions (1,000,000s) of years to increase 5C. In that particular case, once the tipping point was triggered, it occurred in a geological flash, within only 13 years.

If perchance the Arctic ice entirely melts away during the summer season, which some prominent scientists believe is due fairly soon, it is not out of the question that the release of methane buried under the ice for millennia will self-perpetuate into a global warming frenzy or super cycle, possibly repeating the experience of 55 million years ago. Who knows? Then, the lights go out, no more TV, and who needs Wall Street? According to Dr. Peter Wadhams, Cambridge University, humanity cannot tolerate a 5C increase.

Thirteen (13) years seems like a short time frame to kick into gear the potential of an earth-shattering ecosystem breakdown. All of which begs the question: How deadly might it be and how quickly does 5C turn into disaster?

Nobody really knows for sure that it will even happen, but on the other hand, it happened in the geological record, only recently discovered within the past two years by Rutgers scientists17

The Ocean’s “under the weather”

The ocean is the kingpin of the ecosystem and the single best barometer of the condition/health of the planet’s ecosystem.

Decidedly, problems are found throughout the marine food chain from the base, plankton, showing early signs of reproductive and maturation complications due to too much CO2 emitted by burning fossil fuels, to the largest fish species, the whale shark, which is on the endangered species list.

The ocean is not functioning properly. It’s a festering problem that will not go away. This is due to acidification, and, as long as fossil fuels predominate, it will methodically, and assuredly, over time, kill the ocean, which absorbs 30% of the CO2 from the atmosphere and has been absorbing 80-90% of the planet’s heat (NOAA).

Over 3,300 floating Argo probes strategically stationed in oceans worldwide measure heat content. The results show 90% of planetary heat is stored there (discussed in IPCC report d/d 2007). By way of comparison, the atmosphere stores only about 2% because of its small heat capacity.

The ocean heat build-up is potentially a big problem: Ocean heat, under certain conditions, can whiplash back up into the atmosphere causing rapid acceleration of global warming as Pacific trade winds potentially slacken in years ahead.18

Not only that, but problems stacked upon more problems, the rate of change of ocean pH (measure of acidity) is 10 times faster than 55 million years ago. That period of geologic history was directly linked to a mass extinction event as levels of CO2 mysteriously went off the charts.19

Zooming in on the Future, circa 2050 – Location: Castello Aragonese aka: “The Acid Sea”

Scientists have discovered a real life Petri dish of seawater conditions similar to what will likely occur ocean-wide by the year 2050, assuming fossil fuels continue to emit CO2 at current rates.

This real life Petri dish is located in the Tyrrhenian Sea at Castello Aragonese, which is a tiny island that rises straight up out of the sea like a tower. The island is located 17 miles west of Naples. Tourists like to visit Aragonese Castle (built 474 BC), which is on the island, to see the display of medieval torture devices.

But, the real commotion is offshore, under the water, where Castello Aragonese holds a very special secret, an underwater display that gives scientists a window 50 years into the future.  A quirk of geology is at work whereby volcanic vents on the seafloor surrounding the island are bubbling up large quantities of CO2. In turn, this replicates the level of CO2 scientists expect the ocean to absorb over the course of the next 50 years.

“When you get to the extremely high CO2 almost nothing can tolerate that,” according to Jason-Hall Spencer, PhD, professor of marine biology, School of Marine Science and Engineering, Plymouth University (UK), who studies the seawater around Castello Aragonese.20

The adverse effects of excessive CO2 are found everywhere in the immediate surroundings of the tiny island. Barnacles, one of the toughest of all sea life, are missing around the base of the island where seawater measurements show the heaviest concentration of CO2. And, within the water, limpets, which wander into the area seeking food, show severe shell dissolution. Their shells are almost completely transparent. The underwater sea grass is a vivid green, which is abnormal because tiny organisms usually coat the blades of sea grass and dull the color, but no such organisms exists. Sea urchins, which are commonplace further away from the vents, are nowhere to be seen around the island.

The only life forms found around Castello Aragonese are jellyfish, sea grass, and algae; whereas, an abundance of underwater sea life is found in more distant surrounding waters. Thus, the Castello Aragonese Petri dish is essentially a dead sea except for weeds, explaining why Jane Lubchenco, former head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, refers to ocean acidification, as global warming’s “equally evil twin.”

To that end, a slow motion death march leading to significant ecosystem collapse is churning away in the ocean in real time, and sadly, humans are witnesses to this extinction event, but it does not hit home. It happens in hiding, silent, within a vast expanse of water. Other than a few scientists, who really knows much about it?

Alex Rogers, Scientific Director of IPSO and professor of Conservation Biology at the Department of Zoology, University of Oxford:

Climate Change affects are going to be extremely serious, and it’s interesting when you think many people who talk about this in terms of what will happen in the future… our children will see the effects of this… Well, actually we’re seeing very severe impacts from climate change already… We’re already there.21

And:

Most, if not all, of the five global mass extinctions in Earth’s history carry the fingerprints of the main symptoms of… global warming, ocean acidification and anoxia or lack of oxygen. It is these three factors — ‘the deadly trio’ — which are present in the ocean today. In fact, the [current] situation is unprecedented in the Earth’s history because of the high rate and speed of change.22

The conspicuous issue is, according to Rogers: “The current situation is unprecedented in Earth’s history because of the high rate and speed of change”.

Maybe, in the near future, somebody who has solid political leadership skills will initiate a nationwide infrastructure project connecting major cities via electric-powered trains and construct solar panels and wind turbines along the right of ways, assuming there is enough time.

Postscript: On a quasi-positive, but still melancholic, note:

I don’t think we are going to become extinct. We’re very clever and extremely resourceful – and we will find ways of preserving ourselves, of that I’m sure. But whether our lives will be as rich as they are now is another question.

— Sir David Attenborough, English broadcaster and naturalist, Are We Changing Planet Earth, BBC, 2006

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  1. The Guardian, February 2015 [↩]
  2. Dr. Antonio Donato Nobre, National Institute for Research in the Amazon: “The Magic of the Amazon: A River That Flows Invisibly All Around Us,” TED, November, 2010 [↩]
  3. “Worries Grow as Serious Drought Hits São Paulo, Brazil”, CNBC, July 2015 [↩]
  4. BBC, April 2015 [↩]
  5. Weather West, February 2015 [↩]
  6. Global Summary Information – March 2015, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – NOAA. [↩]
  7. State of the Climate, National Centers for Environmental Information, July 2015. [↩]
  8. “Science Publishes New NOAA Analysis: Data Show no Recent Slowdown in Global Warming”, NOAA, June 4, 2015. [↩]
  9. China Times, June 2015 [↩]
  10. Julie Kerr Casper, Ph.D., Earth scientist, Bureau of Land Mgmt., “Changing Ecosystems: Effects of Global Warming,” November 2009. [↩]
  11. UC Berkley, June 2012 [↩]
  12. Guy McPherson, Climate Change and Human Extinction [↩]
  13. Science, March 2010 [↩]
  14. Nature, July 2013 [↩]
  15. NASA, July 2013 [↩]
  16. COP20: Global Arctic Methane Emergency, December 2014 [↩]
  17. Ken Branson, “New Finding Shows Climate Change Can Happen in a Geological Instant”, Rutgers Today, October 6, 2013. [↩]
  18. National Center for Atmospheric Research scientist Kevin Trenberth [↩]
  19. C.L. Dybas, “On a Collision Course: Oceans Plankton and Climate Change”, BioScience, 2006. [↩]
  20. Elizabeth Kolbert, “The Acid Sea”, National Geographic, April, 2011 [↩]
  21. State of the Ocean.org, Video Interview, Dr. Alex Rogers, 2011 [↩]
  22. Rogers, A.D., Laffoley, D. A. “International Earth System Expert Workshop on Ocean Stresses and Impacts”, Summary Report, IPSO Oxford, 2011. [↩]

Robert Hunziker (MA, economic history, DePaul University) is a freelance writer and environmental journalist whose articles have been translated into foreign languages and appeared in over 50 journals, magazines, and sites worldwide. He can be contacted at: rlhunziker@gmail.com. Read other articles by Robert.