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

Posts Tagged ‘Planetary Ecological Collapse’

The World We Are Shaping Is Feeling The Strain: Nearly Half The Systems Crucial To Planetary Stability Are Compromised

In Uncategorized on January 22, 2015 at 6:29 pm

The world we are shaping is feeling the strain

Oldspeak:On the eve of this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, a team of scientists led by Will Steffen of the Stockholm Resilience Centre at Stockholm University and the Australian National University report in the journal Science that the world has now crossed four of nine planetary boundaries within which humans could have hoped for a safe operating space…. The four boundaries are climate change, land system change, alterations to the biogeochemical cycle that follow phosphorus and nitrogen fertiliser use, and the loss of a condition called “biosphere integrity”…. Transgressing a boundary increases the risk that human activities could inadvertently drive the Earth System into a much less hospitable state, damaging efforts to reduce poverty and leading to deterioration of human wellbeing in many parts of the world, including wealthy countries”, said Professor Steffen. “In this new analysis we have improved the quantification of where these risks lie…. Although the human burden of population has soared from 2.5bn to more than 7bn in one lifetime, in 2010, the scientists say, the OECD countries that are home to 18% of the world’s population accounted for 74% of global gross domestic product, so most of the human imprint on the Earth System comes from the world represented by the OECDIt is difficult to over-estimate the scale and speed of change. In a single human lifetime humanity has become a planetary-scale geological force.” -Tim Radford

“Translation: A small percentage of  “Rich”, “successful”, “productive”, ” economically viable” hyper-consumptive people  in “developed” countries have become a planetary scale geologic force, that has wrought enough destruction and disruption of the ecology which supports all life, to bring about Earth’s 6th Mass Extinction. In the process, they’ve enslaved, exploited and extracted all that’s crossed their paths, for the purposes of their own enrichment, to the detriment of all. This is probably why we’ll continue to race toward the cliff of planetary ecological collapse and extinction unabated. Those who’ve created this calamity are in charge of fixing it. Not gonna happen.  I feel it’s fitting here to quote Audre Lorde: “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us to temporarily beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change…. I urge each one of us here to reach down into that deep place of knowledge inside herself and touch that terror and loathing of any difference that lives here. See whose face it wears. Then the personal as the political can begin to illuminate all our choices.” This reality forces us to reconsider how we think of wealth, success, productivity, and economy. The way we think about them has brought us to the brink of extinction and the destruction of a life-habitable world. -OSJ

By Tim Radford @ Climate News Network:

The world risks being destabilised by human activity, scientists report, most of it the work of a rich minority of us.

LONDON, 16 January, 2015 – Humans are now the chief drivers of change in the planet’s physical, chemical, biological and economic systems according to new research in a series of journals. And the humans most implicated in this change so far are the 18% of mankind that accounts for 74% of gross domestic productivity.

And the indicators of this change – dubbed the “planetary dashboard” – are 24 sets of measurements that record the acceleration of the carbon cycle, land use, fisheries, telecommunications, energy consumption, population, economic growth, transport, water use and many other interlinked aspects of what scientists think of as the Earth System.

Although these indicators chart change since the start of the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century, the most dramatic acceleration – the scientists call it the Great Acceleration – seems to have begun in 1950. Some researchers would like to set that decade as the start of a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene, from Anthropos, the ancient Greek word for mankind.

On the eve of this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, a team of scientists led by Will Steffen of the Stockholm Resilience Centre at Stockholm University and the Australian National University report in the journal Science that the world has now crossed four of nine planetary boundaries within which humans could have hoped for a safe operating space.

The four boundaries are climate change, land system change, alterations to the biogeochemical cycle that follow phosphorus and nitrogen fertiliser use, and the loss of a condition called “biosphere integrity”.

Past their peak

The scientists judge that these boundary-crossing advances mean that both present and future human society are in danger of destabilising the Earth System, a complex interaction of land, sea, atmosphere, the icecaps, natural living things and humans themselves.

“Transgressing a boundary increases the risk that human activities could inadvertently drive the Earth System into a much less hospitable state, damaging efforts to reduce poverty and leading to deterioration of human wellbeing in many parts of the world, including wealthy countries”, said Professor Steffen. “In this new analysis we have improved the quantification of where these risks lie.”

The Science article is supported by separate studies of global change. These were backed by the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme, also headquartered in Stockholm, which publishes an analysis in the journal the Anthropocene Review.

Meanwhile a team of European scientists warn in the journal Ecology and Society that out of 20 renewable resources (among them the maize, wheat, rice, soya, fish, meat, milk and eggs that feed the world) 18 have already passed their peak production.

And a separate team led by scientists from Leicester University in Britain has even tried to pinpoint the day on which the Anthropocene era may be said to have commenced. In yet another journal, the Quaternary International, they nominate 16 July, 1945: the day of the world’s first nuclear test.

Unequal world

This flurry of research and review is of course timed to help world leaders at Davos concentrate on the longer-term problems of climate change, environmental degradation, and food security, in addition to immediate problems of economic stagnation, poverty, conflict and so on. But these immediate challenges may not be separable from the longer-term ones. To ram the message home, the authors will present their findings at seven seminars in Davos.

In the Anthropocene Review, Professor Steffen and his co-authors consider not just the strains on the planet’s resources that threaten stability, but also that section of humanity that is responsible for most of the strain.

Although the human burden of population has soared from 2.5bn to more than 7bn in one lifetime, in 2010, the scientists say, the OECD countries that are home to 18% of the world’s population accounted for 74% of global gross domestic product, so most of the human imprint on the Earth System comes from the world represented by the OECD.

This, they say, points to the profound scale of global inequality, which means that the benefits of the so-called Great Acceleration in consumption of resources are unevenly distributed, and this in turn confounds efforts to deal with the impact of this assault on the planetary machinery. Humans have always altered their environment, they concede, but now the scale of the alteration is, in its rate and magnitude, without precedent.

“Furthermore, by treating ‘humans’ as a single, monolithic whole, it ignores the fact that the Great Acceleration has, until very recently, been almost entirely driven by a small fraction of the human population, those in developed countries”, they say.

“…What surprised us was the timing. Almost all graphs show the same pattern. The most dramatic shifts have occurred since 1950”

The IGBP-Stockholm Resilience Centre co-operation first identified their 24 “indicators” of planetary change in 2004, and the latest research is a revisitation. In 2009, researchers identified nine global priorities linked to human impacts on the environment, and identified two, ­ climate change and the integrity of the biosphere, ­ that were vital to the human condition. Any alteration to either could drive the Earth System into a new state, they said.

In fact, since then, greenhouse gas emissions have continued to rise, and accordingly global average temperatures have steadily increased, along with sea levels. At the same time, habitat destruction, pollution and hunting and fishing have begun to drive species to extinction at an accelerating rate.

Almost all the charts that make up the planetary dashboard now show steep acceleration: fisheries, one of the indicators that seems to have levelled off, has probably done so only because humans may have already exhausted some of the ocean’s resources.

“It is difficult to over-estimate the scale and speed of change. In a single human lifetime humanity has become a planetary-scale geological force”, said Prof Steffen. “When we first aggregated these datasets we expected to see major changes, but what surprised us was the timing. Almost all graphs show the same pattern.

“The most dramatic shifts have occurred since 1950. We can say that 1950 was the start of the Great Acceleration. After 1950 you can see that major Earth System changes became directly linked to changes related to the global economic system. This is a new phenomenon and indicates that humanity has a new responsibility at a global level for the planet.” ­­­­–­ Climate News Network

 

Extinction Rate Rivals That of Dinosaurs

In Uncategorized on December 31, 2014 at 1:00 am
2014.12.8.Jamail.main

Polar bears, already an endangered species, are seeing their numbers continue to drop as Arctic sea ice continues its dramatic decline due to climate disruption.

Oldspeak: For several thousand years, we have been obsessed with a false humility – on the one hand, putting ourselves down as mere ‘creatures’ who came into this world by the whim of God of the fluke of blind forces, and on the other, conceiving ourselves separate personal egos fighting to control the physical world. We have lacked the real humility of recognizing that we are members of the biosphere, the “harmony of contained conflicts” in which we cannot exist at all without the cooperation of plants, insects, fish, cattle and bacteria. In the same measure, we have lacked the proper self-respect of recognizing that I, the individual organism, am a structure of such fabulous ingenuity that it calls the whole universe into being. In the act of putting everything at a distance so as to describe and control it, we have orphaned ourselves from the surrounding world and from our own bodies – leaving “I” as a discontented and alienated spook, anxious, guilty, unrelated and alone.” –Alan Watts, “The Book”

“Obsession with illusions has brought us to this point. Earth’s 6th mass extinction. Control, domination insignificance, separation, insecurity, competition, conflict, civilization, progress, success, personalization- all illusory constructs that imprison and confound us. Our obsessions with the unreal, have led us to led us to unknow basic and fundamental truths. All is Self. All is One.  When you tug on a single thing in the Universe, you find it’s attached to everything else. Every tiny atom of this vast universe is a creative manifestation of cosmic consciousness. The world of duality emanates from oneness and to oneness returns. What is joined separates and comes together again. Our Great Mother is constantly speaking to us, and we are ignoring her voice. Our willful ignorance of these truths have driven the extractive and acquisitive madness that animates this ‘civilization’. Abrupt climate change is underway and shows no signs of slowing.  Dahr Jamail’s latest dispatch details the ever intensifying consequences of our suicidal actions. Unsurprisingly, the news continues to go from bad to worse.” -OSJ

By Dahr Jamail @ Truthout:

“The supreme reality of our time is … the vulnerability of our planet.”
– John F. Kennedy

Recent studies show that current animal extinction rates from anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD) now rival the extinction that annihilated the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.

“If that rate continues unchanged, the earth’s sixth mass extinction is a certainty,” said Anthony Barnosky, a biology professor at the University of California, Berkeley.

Certainly there are no signs of our planetary ACD trajectory changing, aside from continuing to ramp up further into abrupt runaway change.

In fact, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature recently updated its authoritative Red List to include more than 22,000 species on the list of the world’s most threatened animals. Species like the Pacific bluefin tuna and the American eel are now on the Red List.

NASA data showed that this October was the globe’s warmest on record, and for the third month in a row, global temperatures broke records, which kept 2014 on track to become the hottest year ever recorded. Bear in mind that the 10 warmest years ever recorded have all occurred since 1998. Recent data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration confirmed that the first 10 months of 2014 were the hottest since record keeping began.

November’s record-breaking snowfall in New York is just a precursor of things to come as runaway ACD continues to intensify, and as studies reveal that these types of extreme weather events are now part of a long-term pattern that is the new normal.

The World Bank, not exactly a bastion of environmentalism, released a new report that claims that without dramatic action, the planet will experience at least 4 degrees Celsius warming by the time current teenagers turn 80.

Even though the planet is currently only .85 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial baseline temperatures, the effects of ACD continue to be dramatic.

New data from the American Geophysical Union show that a West Antarctic ice sheet that is approximately the size of Texas is melting three times faster than previously believed. This means that the area’s melt rate has tripled in just the last decade and is losing the amount of ice equivalent to Mount Everest every other year.

Ocean researchers recently announced that people living in the United States could expect spring to arrive earlier and fall to arrive later, the new normal since ocean temperatures in the northeastern Atlantic are increasing.

The International Energy Agency’s 2014 World Energy Outlook was released recently, and said that at the current rate of emissions, the world has to cease all carbon emissions by 2040 in order to stay under the arbitrary 2-degree Celsius political target of temperature rise. It is worth noting that James Hansen has come out and said that even a 1-degree Celsius temperature increase above the pre-industrial baseline would have disastrous consequences.

Is it already too late to turn things around?

A recent Google analysis seems to think so: “So our best-case scenario, which was based on our most optimistic forecasts for renewable energy, would still result in severe climate change, with all its dire consequences: shifting climatic zones, freshwater shortages, eroding coasts, and ocean acidification, among others.”

To get an idea of how rapidly we’ve warmed the planet, have a look at this short NASA tracking map.

This month’s survey of the planet and ACD-related studies, once again, shows clearly how things are only continuing to speed up and intensify.

Earth

A recent Austrian report on ACD showed that the country’s temperatures have already risen twice as fast as the global average since 1880, causing less snow, shorter ski seasons, and more landslides and forest fires. It also is causing villages to move, ski lifts to be dismantled, and people to have to find ways to adapt to their new environments.

In Africa, Senegal has been struggling to hold off the Sahara desert, but that battle is clearly not a sustainable one given the water crisis in the area.

Canberra, Australia, is experiencing a dramatic change due to ACD, as a series of dramatic environmental consequences like massive numbers of wasps, growing lake algae, and dramatically increasing wildfires are projected to become the new norm for the area.

The recent Ebola scare in the United States is something that could become more common, thanks to ACD. Other tropical diseases, spread by insects and not humans, now pose a growing threat to the United States.

Scientists along the West Coast of the United States gravely monitored a large-scale die-off of small seabirds, whose breeding grounds included a colony in the Farallon Islands off the coast of San Francisco. Dramatic increases in ocean temperatures and feeding conditions, both due to ACD, are among the reasons being investigated as the cause.

A recent study published in Ecological Applications showed a stunning decline in the number of polar bears, and illustrated how ACD impacts are rapidly pushing the bears toward extinction. The study said that polar bear populations in eastern Alaska and western Canada have declined by 40 percent recently.

Of this, the Center for Biological Diversity’s Sarah Uhlemann said, “Global warming has put Alaska’s polar bears in a deadly downward spiral. It’s happening now, it’s killing polar bears now, and if we don’t act now, we will lose polar bears in Alaska.” The population of polar bears in the Southern Beaufort Sea area has now dropped to only 900 bears, which is a severe decline from the 2006 estimate, which logged more than 1,500.

In addition, only two out of 80 polar bear cubs tracked by the study team between 2004 and 2007 had survived, when normally about half of the cubs survive.

Lastly in this section, ACD is in the process of stripping away the identity of Glacier National Park in Montana. One hundred years ago, there were 150 ice sheets in the park, and today that number is down to 25. Within 30 years, there will likely be none.

Water

Water continues to amplify the impacts of runaway ACD across the globe.

In California, where record-setting drought continues despite some recent rains, three years on, farmers and ranchers have to sell off large portions of their herds, work longer hours and take other jobs. This is particularly worrisome, given that half of all the fresh food eaten in the United States is produced in California.

In the mountains above the Central Valley in California, ski areas up and down the Sierra Nevada have less snow than ever, and are having to ramp up human-made snow to remain open. Their futures appear bleak indeed.

It’s well known now, and has been for quite some time, that California is literally running out of water, and the massive infrastructure changes needed to cope with this fact haven’t even begun to be constructed.

The ongoing record drought in the southwestern United States has revealed shocking changes along the Colorado River, which has further raised alarms about the growing lack of water across the region, which climate models predict will become increasingly water-starved as we move into the future.

The drought in Brazil is bad enough that Sao Paulo, the megacity of 20 million that is being wracked by relentless water shortages, has only two months of guaranteed water supply remaining, according to local officials. The city might have to “get water from mud” if the drought persists.

Meanwhile up in the Andes, the high-altitude glaciers in Ecuador, Bolivia, Columbia and Peru are melting at breakneck speed, causing scientists to worry that many of them will disappear long before anything can be done to save them. This phenomenon also threatens the freshwater supplies of many cities in these countries.

Across the Atlantic and on the other end of the water spectrum that is becoming increasingly amplified by ACD, Britain, reeling from the first onslaught of floods and winter storms, was warned it could face one of the wettest winters in three decades.

In November, a mega-snowstorm dumped a years’ worth of snow in a four-day period in New York, broke records and left at least 13 people dead.

Also in that region of the United States, ice began forming on the Great Lakes faster this year than ever before, as Lake Superior saw areas freezing on November 15, according to Great Lakes Environmental Research data.

Rising sea levels continue to take their toll.

In the United States, a recent estimate revealed that approximately $1.4 trillion worth of coastal property could be threatened by 2100.

The coastal village of Shishmaref, Alaska, faces an existential threat, as the 600 residents on the sinking barrier island are watching their land erode into the Chukchi Sea while the federal government has yet to produce a new location for them to relocate.

Off the western coast of Canada, a recent report showed that record-breaking temperatures in the North Pacific Ocean are threatening marine species there.

Further south along the coast, California’s drought now threatens to extinguish the last of the Muir Woods coho salmon that typically make their way from the ocean to spawn in a freshwater creek through the redwoods near San Francisco, according to state officials.

On the East Coast of the United States, a Maine state commission is urging action toward increasing research and monitoring the risk of increasingly acidic ocean waters harming the state’s commercial fisheries and lobsters, in addition to urging action toward reducing local pollution that is impacting the chemistry of the water.

As sea levels continue to rise globally, major river deltas where more than 500 million people live “could be drowned,” according to a new study.

Lastly in this section, the Republic of Kiribati, the most remote inhabited location on the planet, has become the first country on the planet to surrender to ACD. It will no longer exist by 2050, at the very latest.

Air

As temperatures continue to increase around the planet, warmer air is making it more difficult for airplanes to take off, according to a recent study. Higher temperatures cause the air to become less dense, which then reduces the lift force on airplane wings. This means tighter restrictions on luggage, as well as how many people are allowed on board planes.

In Brisbane, Australia, leaders at the recent G20 summit were met with a wake-up call from nature to pay attention to ACD, as temperatures reached 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) and a heat wave rolled through eastern Australia.

Australia has always struggled with hot weather, but the intensity and length of its heat waves are on the rise, enough so that the entire country is being forced to rethink how it lives, works and recreates.

Over Thanksgiving, California saw many new record high temperatures in San Diego, Los Angeles, Santa Ana, Riverside, Escondido, Oakland, Santa Maria, Sandberg, Oceanside, Alpine and other cities and areas.

A new project is tracking the fate of ancient carbon in the Siberian Arctic, where the amount of carbon stored in Arctic permafrost is estimated to be more than double the amount that is currently in our atmosphere, and four times as much as is in all the forests on the planet. As Arctic temperatures continue to increase, the permafrost is thawing and its carbon, largely in the form of methane, is being released at ever increasing rates.

The Arctic methane situation is dire, and Truthout will soon be releasing an investigative report on the matter.

Fire

A recent study published in Nature, titled “Learning to coexist with wildfire,” urges us to find “a more sustainable coexistence with wildfire,” because “Without a more integrated framework, fire will never operate as a natural ecosystem process, and the impact on society will continue to grow.”

The report recommends “a more coordinated approach” geared toward risk management and “land-use planning” in an effort aimed at mitigating fire damage and minimizing property loss.

Denial and Reality

A recent report on theology and ACD revealed that half of the people living in the United States believed that ACD is a “sign of the apocalypse.” For these true believers then, the apocalypse is preferable to taking responsibility for the anthropogenic origins of climate disruption.

Another recent study, this one published in the journal Nature Climate Change, showed that the extreme weather events and record-breaking temperatures that have both become the new normal do little to nothing to convince people that ACD is real. The study also revealed that people’s political ideology has much more impact on their beliefs about ACD than do things like reality and facts.

Yet, despite the ongoing denial about ACD, even lifelong Republican George Shultz, Ronald Reagan’s secretary of state and Bechtel mogul, is embracing adaptation measures like using more solar and taking other measures to mitigate ACD.

Similarly, ex-BP chief Lord Browne, who is also one of the energy world’s most influential voices, recently said that ACD poses an “existential threat” to the existence of energy and mining companies, thereby acknowledging ADC’s reality.

A recently released map of the globe illustrates the results of surveys and polls from around the world since 2009, and shows what people think about ACD. For example, 84 percent of Argentinians believe ACD is real, and 83 percent of US citizens believe their country should be making efforts at mitigating ACD, “even if it comes with economic costs.”

The largest reinsurance firm in the world, Munich Re America, conducted a poll in the United States and found that 83 percent of Americans at least believe the climate is changing.

Another reality check comes from a new set of scientific studies that show how geoengineering, the plan of people like Bill Gates and other billionaires to use technological fixes to correct what technology caused in the first place, “could harm billions” of people around the world.

Even a geoengineering scientist recently admitted that he is “terrified” of his own technology.

Nevertheless, plans to take the planet further off the cliff continue apace, as actions to cool the earth using geoengineering are scheduled to begin in just two years, as reported in the New Scientist.

The World Bank recently admitted that some ACD impacts are now “unavoidable,” even if governments acted quickly to cut greenhouse gas emissions. In the aforementioned report, the group also said that earth is on track to reach an unavoidable 1.5-degree Celsius temperature increase by 2050, but could also reach a 4-degree Celsius increase by 2100.

This is a significant statement from a conservative entity like the World Bank, given that humans have never lived on a planet warmer than 3.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial baseline temperatures.

Meanwhile, the signs of runaway ACD abound.

Forecasters in Britain announced that this year could be the UK’s warmest for nearly 250 years, as measured by the world’s oldest record of temperature.

A study published in the October 2014 issue of Environmental Research Letters revealed that all of the previous estimates of sea-level rise are wrong, and instead of a maximum sea level rise of one meter by 2100, the maximum is nearly two meters rise by then. Incredibly, this study has been ignored by virtually all of the media, not just the corporate press.

The results of a very important study published in Environmental Research Letters show that carbon dioxide brings its peak heat impact within a decade of being emitted, with its effects then lingering for 100 years, or more, into the future.

“The way we talk about climate change is often, ‘oh, we’re really making emissions cuts for the sake of our children or grandchildren’ because the effects won’t be felt for decades,” said Katharine Ricke, a research fellow from Stanford who led the study. “But the implications are that there’s certainly benefits that can be reaped by people making decisions today.”

NASA recently produced an unsettling video that shows what the planetary atmosphere looks like on carbon dioxide, and also announced recently, that the Arctic sea ice extent is still well below normal, and continuing along its years-long downward trend (which is historically steep).

This is troubling for obvious reasons, but also because a study published in Nature in August 2014 showed how even small fluctuations in the sizes of ice sheets during the most recent ice age were enough to “trigger abrupt climate change.”

Abrupt climate change has been a key factor in all of the planet’s previous mass extinction events.

Are Humans Going Extinct?

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

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

By Dahr Jamail @ Truthout:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So there’s all kinds of observational evidence.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abrupt Climate Change: Happening Now, Impacts Visible, Likely To Be More Extreme Than Projected & Beyond Lifeforms’ Ability To Adapt

In Uncategorized on March 25, 2014 at 3:22 am

The Larsen B ice shelf in Antarctica disintegrated between January and March of 2002. This was a floating ice shelf the size of the state of Massachusetts and 700 feet thick. Melt water, heavier than ice, squeezed its way into cracks and penetrated to the bottom of the ice shelf causing the disintegration.

Oldspeak: “…What we know now is that Earth’s climate normally changes through abrupt shifts. Climate change is mostly not a slow, glacially paced thing. The changes are fast and violent and leave ecosystems shredded in their wake. They start out slowly, but then a threshold is crossed, and the temperature jumps up or down far more radically than the slow and modest warming projected by almost all climate change models today. Universally, these abrupt climate changes dwarf climate change projected by our world’s scientific institutions in their summaries of climate change projections… With this new knowledge about abrupt climate change and the galactically large risks posed by abrupt climate change, the discussion about climate in our society today has become misplaced. Emission and eventual climate change are important, but they are fundamentally not in the same ballpark as abrupt change…abrupt changes in ecosystems, weather and climate extremes and groundwater supplies critical for agriculture are not only more likely than previously understood, but also, impacts are more likely to be more extreme… some abrupt changes have already begun – like the crash of Arctic sea ice…..Other possible abrupt climate impacts include ocean extinction events where hot spikes of weather chaos create widespread conditions beyond the evolution of ocean creatures. It’s the extremes that kill. We’ve seen previews in coral bleaching events across the world already. Seventy-five percent of complex coral reefs in the Caribbean have already been decimated…. Another worrisome abrupt climate impact that is currently taking place has happened to 64 million acres of forest in the Rockies and billions of trees in the Amazon…. Across the American West, the average temperature has been 70 percent greater than the global average… The resulting stress from drought, along with the absence of extreme beetle-killing cold, has allowed a natural pine bark beetle to kill 20 times more trees than any attack ever recorded.  Drought alone killed “several” billion trees in the Amazon and now the Amazon is a net source of CO2, not a sink.  In Texas, the drought has been perpetuated for nearly a decade with greater than average rainfall – more rain and the drought still continues because of increased evaporation. It killed over 300 million mature trees in the 2011 heat wave...” -Bruce Melton

“Our planets’ thermostats and air conditioners are failing. Not 50 or 100 years in the future. Now. Rapidly. We are aggressively and ever faster depleting and poisoning the resources we need to survive and have no viable plans to replace them, while exacerbating the conditions causing our thermostats (ice caps)  and air conditioners (forests) to fail…. We will need 2 to 3 earths to support our current levels of consumption. This is not sustainable. There isn’t much doubt that We are racing headlong to extinction. Our pathological anthropocentricity will be our undoing, as it has overridden our powers of self-preservation.  Globalized inverted corptalitarian kleptocracy trumps Survival.  At some point we’ll have no choice but to recognize and accept what we’ve wrought; the non-human scale devastation to come. The risks are too great to ignore.” -OSJ

By Bruce Melton @ Truthout:

Pine beetle kill in Rocky Mountain National Park. Over 64 million acres have been killed across the Rockies of North America by a native pine beetle gone berserk because of warming. (Photo: Bruce Melton)

Today, we are burning fossil carbon one million times faster than it was naturally put in the ground, and carbon dioxide is increasing 14,000 times faster than anytime in the last 610,000 years (1,2). Climate is now changing faster than it has during any other time in 65 million years – 100 times faster than the Paleocene/Eocene extinction event 56 million years ago see here.(3) However, “climate change” is not the most critical issue facing society today; abrupt climate change is. Climate scientists now have the knowledge necessary to guide us beyond existing climate pollution policy. New policy needs to focus on abrupt climate change, not the relatively slow changes we see in climate models of our future. The social, economic and biological disruptive potential of abrupt climate change is far greater than that of the gradual climate change present policy is predicated upon.

Over about the last 100,000 years, the world has seen about 20 abrupt climate changes, averaging 9 to 14 degrees, including in Greenland, where the temperature changed up to 25 to 35 degrees. These abrupt climate changes happen 10 to 100 times faster than the climate change projections we have all come to know and love. Mostly they happened in several decades or less, but one of the biggest changes happened in just a few years. (4)

The evidence of these abrupt changes is clear in the highly accurate findings from ancient preserved air in ice sheets. They were likely all related to feedbacks and thresholds or tipping points. There are many different kinds of feedbacks and tipping points and the science is still unclear on many of them. Feedbacks are things like the snow and ice feedback loop: snow and ice reflect up to 90 percent of the sun’s energy back into space harmlessly as light, while ocean, rocks, soil, vegetation and etc. reflect only 10 percent back into space, and the rest is absorbed and turned into heat energy that gets trapped by the greenhouse effect. The trapped energy creates more warming, that melts more snow and ice, that absorbs even more energy, changing it into heat, and the loop continues until all the snow and ice are gone.

Tipping points are a little bit more difficult to describe in environmental systems, but can easily be described in other ways. A canoe has a tipping point, beyond which a dry lovely day on the water turns into something quite different. Environmental systems behave in a similar manner. We can dump a lot of water pollution into our lakes and rivers, and nothing major seems to happen. Degradation occurs, but the lake or river generally continues to behave like a lake or river until the pollution levels reach a critical point. Then, as when one leans over just a little too far in a canoe, an algae bloom happens and the lake or river turns green or brown overnight and gets really smelly and bad tasting. This is an ecosystem tipping point. Pollution levels (nutrients from wastewater treatment plants, urban stormwater runoff agriculture, etc.) accumulate over time to a sufficiently high level that finally, an algae population explosion occurs. Then a really devastating thing sometimes occurs if the tipping point is really critical. All the algae die, sink to the bottom and decompose simultaneously. The decomposition uses up all the oxygen in the water and there is a big fish kill on top of the stinky smelly unsightly algal bloom.

Our global environment is no different from a lake or river or even a canoe. Some of these 20 or so abrupt changes happened in direct response to tipping points that preceded them, like a shutdown of the North Atlantic portion of the Gulf Stream. Some of them happened because one or more feedbacks went out of control. Pinning down exact causes of the abrupt changes, however, remains a difficult task.

Unearthing the Evidence

Abrupt climate change wasn’t really a recognized phenomenon until about 20 years ago. Strong evidence of abrupt temperature changes had been found in the 1960s in Greenland ice cores, but they were poorly understood and considered anomalies at the time. Climate change science was dominated by sediment cores from oceans and lakes and slow, glacially paced changes of the 100,000-year cycles of our climate as Earth’s tilt and orbit changed around the sun. As time passed, the early evidence of abrupt change was found again and again in subsequent ice cores. Even in Antarctica, these same abrupt signals were found.

Bubbles of ancient air preserved in Greenland ice. (Photo: Bruce Melton)

Those first records of abrupt climate change from the 1960s at Camp Century were found in ice cores from a WWII nuclear base in the middle of the Greenland Ice Sheet. Camp Century was chosen as one of the first places to drill ice because it was an existing station in a very hostile environment. The Greenland Ice Sheet is over two miles thick and 11,000 feet high. The ice cores seemed to show radical climate jumps in the clearly visible annual layers of snow, in oxygen and methane in the preserved ancient air and dust that increased and decreased dramatically according to temperature.

Over the next two decades and continued ice core drilling, the same signs of abrupt changes were seen, and some confidence began to emerge about the validity of this amazing storehouse of evidence. It was not until the early 1990s, though, that the story became clear. Two identical ice cores were drilled in one of the most stable parts of the ice sheet. The cores were identical down to 100,000 years ago, then close to bedrock, the annual layers became warped and folded. Above the level of ice at 100,000 years ago, the ice cores matched identically. The same volcanic eruptions from across the world were represented by characteristic ash from the different eruptions. Even the same dust from Siberia during really cold dry periods was found in the different ice cores. These abrupt changes were real and they were radical. Why then did sediment cores not reveal abrupt changes?

The reason was biopertubation. Bioperturbation is what happens to sediments when worms eat through organic material on the bottom of a lake or ocean. Dozens and even hundreds of years of sediment deposition per inch are mixed and remixed by the worms. It happens to almost all sediments everywhere. The best resolution in sediments at the time was really a century or more or even thousands of years. The abrupt nature of actual changes in the annual sediment layers was simply wiped out, or eaten up. Then we began to learn of areas of the globe where biopertubation did not exist.

A few areas of the ocean were identified that were stagnant and devoid of oxygen. Worms can’t live without oxygen and in these areas there is no bioperturbation. The same abrupt climate jumps as were found in Greenland were now plain to see. We have also found the same evidence in the annual layers of stalagmites and other cave formations.

It took another decade for science to catch up, but what we know now is that Earth’s climate normally changes through abrupt shifts. Climate change is mostly not a slow, glacially paced thing. The changes are fast and violent and leave ecosystems shredded in their wake. They start out slowly, but then a threshold is crossed, and the temperature jumps up or down far more radically than the slow and modest warming projected by almost all climate change models today. Universally, these abrupt climate changes dwarf climate change projected by our world’s scientific institutions in their summaries of climate change projections.

Extreme Impacts

With this new knowledge about abrupt climate change and the galactically large risks posed by abrupt climate change, the discussion about climate in our society today has become misplaced. Emission and eventual climate change are important, but they are fundamentally not in the same ballpark as abrupt change.

A new National Academy of Sciences mega-report takes on the prospect of future abrupt climate changes, asking whether changes may take place “so fast that the time between when a problem is recognized and when action is required shrinks to the point where orderly adaptation is not possible?”

The good news is that some of the more popular abrupt climate change scenarios are not likely, according to the report. Popularized and wildly exaggerated in movies like The Day After Tomorrow, a shutdown of ocean currents seems less likely in time frames that matter. Likewise, concern of serious trouble from methane outgassing from melting clathrates on the ocean floor and in permafrost seems unlikely. However, we do need to realize that the climate science consensus process is not flawless. That process told us in 2007 that Antarctica would not begin to lose ice until after 2100, but now tells us in the 2013 IPCC report that Antarctic ice loss has already caught up with Greenland’s. So, when climate change consensus opinion now tells us ocean current shutdown and clathrate off gassing are not very likely, we must understand that this opinion cannot be counted as fact.

Moreover, the mega-report notes that abrupt changes in ecosystems, weather and climate extremes and groundwater supplies critical for agriculture are not only more likely than previously understood, but also, impacts are more likely to be more extreme.(5) The report tells us that there are many more types of abrupt change than temperature and that science is now becoming good enough to help us anticipate some of them, but not all of them. It also tells us that some abrupt changes have already begun – like the crash of Arctic sea ice: “More open water conditions during summer would have potentially large and irreversible effects . . . because the Arctic region interacts with large-scale circulation systems of the oceans and atmosphere, changes in the extent of sea ice could cause shifts in climate and weather around the Northern Hemisphere.”

We have already seen how increasing energy in the Arctic has increased the magnitude of jet stream loops and the speed of those loops across the planet. These loops carry more intense storms (the polar vortex) and because of their retarded movement across the globe, these more intense weather systems stall out, increasing the dry, wet or otherwise extreme conditions associated with them.

New discoveries have shown that it is likely that one of the most abrupt of all climate changes in the last 100,000 years happened 12,000 years ago. It was called the Younger Dryas, and the temperature in Greenland jumped 25 degrees in three years. Some 1,000 years later, it fell 25 degrees in a few decades. This abrupt tipping point is now a prime candidate in the extinction of 72 percent of North American mammals, including large mammals like the saber-toothed cat and mastodon.

There are other types of abrupt changes that can be triggered by slow climate change. They are called abrupt climate impacts. The report gives the example of the mountain pika, one of my favorite alpine animals. (7) The pika is a bunny-sized, rabbit-like mammal with short little mouse-like ears and a peculiar little squeaky nasally call. It gathers grass and wildflowers in its home in the high mountains, mostly above treeline during the short high altitude summer, and stores this “pika hay” in caches in the rocks of scree slopes high on mountainsides.

As temperatures rise, the alpine meadows that the pika evolved with rise up the mountainside in response to warming. The alpine vegetation follows the cool zone up the mountain. At some point this process ends abruptly as the top of the mountain is reached and no place remains for the pika’s hay to grow. The Center for Biological Diversity has petitioned California and the US Fish and Wildlife Service to list the pika as endangered because of climate change, but has been turned down by both. Their reasoning is that the pika’s range is not in danger of disappearing in the next several decades. That is exactly what this article is about. Current policy simply does not take abrupt climate change into consideration. The consensus reports all mention it sooner or later, but then they caveat their way out of doing anything about it because too little is known about how these things actually happen. From the summary of “Abrupt Climate Change – Anticipating Surprises”:

Although many projections of future climatic conditions have predicted steadily changing conditions giving the impression that communities have time to gradually adapt, for example, by adopting new agricultural practices to maintain productivity in hotter and drier conditions, or by organizing the relocation of coastal communities as sea level rises, the scientific community has been paying increasing attention to the possibility that at least some changes will be abrupt, perhaps crossing a threshold or ‘tipping point’ to change so quickly that there will be little time to react. This concern is reasonable because such abrupt changes – which can occur over periods as short as decades, or even years – have been a natural part of the climate system throughout Earth’s history.

The Larsen B ice shelf in Antarctica disintegrated between January and March of 2002. This was a floating ice shelf the size of the state of Massachusetts and 700 feet thick. Melt water, heavier than ice, squeezed its way into cracks and penetrated to the bottom of the ice shelf causing the disintegration.

A much quicker example is the collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. The last time it happened 120,000 years ago, Earth was about the same temperature as it is today. We saw a similar collapse in 2003 when the Larsen B ice shelf, the size of Massachusetts, disintegrated in two months. Slow warming had created more and more melt on top of the Larsen B. Then a peculiar thing happened. The melt pools on top of the ice sheet became large enough and heavy enough (water is heavier than ice) to force cracks in the ice open. The cracks catastrophically opened all the way to the bottom of the floating ice sheet a thousand or more feet below and the entire thing broke into little bergy bits. We don’t know when this will happen to the Mexico-sized West Antarctic Ice Sheet (the largest remaining marine ice sheet), but we didn’t know a year ahead of time that collapse was going to happen to the Larsen B either. (8)

The current assumption as to how fast the West Antarctic Ice Sheet could collapse is a hundred years minimum. But the similarities in the Larsen B and the West Antarctic are high, and the consensus has wildly underestimated ice processes in Antarctica before.

Other possible abrupt climate impacts include ocean extinction events where hot spikes of weather chaos create widespread conditions beyond the evolution of ocean creatures. It’s the extremes that kill. We’ve seen previews in coral bleaching events across the world already. Seventy-five percent of complex coral reefs in the Caribbean have already been decimated. (9) Polar bears are at risk because their main prey, the ringed seal, rears its young on sea ice. The young ringed seals cannot swim until they mature – creating a large challenge for the perpetuation of that species with the absence of sea ice during the reproduction season. (10)

Another worrisome abrupt climate impact that is currently taking place has happened to 64 million acres of forest in the Rockies and billions of trees in the Amazon. In the Rockies, prolonged drought has been caused by warmer temperatures. Across the American West, the average temperature has been 70 percent greater than the global average and the increase is even greater at elevations where the forests are. This is a long-term shift in relative wetness, shown in the climate models and now being realized. (11) The growing season has increased by 30 days or more in the spring, which is relatively easy to measure because of the onset of snowmelt. (12) In the fall, it is more difficult to measure, but the longer growing season and the hotter temperatures both add to the warming feedback that has perpetuated drought even as normal rainfall has returned to some areas. The resulting stress from drought, along with the absence of extreme beetle-killing cold, has allowed a natural pine bark beetle to kill 20 times more trees than any attack ever recorded. (13)

Drought alone killed “several” billion trees in the Amazon and now the Amazon is a net source of CO2, not a sink. (14) In Texas, the drought has been perpetuated for nearly a decade with greater than average rainfall – more rain and the drought still continues because of increased evaporation. It killed over 300 million mature trees in the 2011 heat wave. (15)

Making Climate Science Real

So, what can we do to prepare for possible abrupt changes in the near future? The mega-report suggests setting up an Abrupt Change Early Warning System (ACEWS). Environmental systems often send out signals that a change of state is near. When weather flickers from cold to hot or wet to dry, it may be a sign that abrupt changes are to come. The ACEWS system would be integrated with a risk management system that takes into consideration the ultimate costs of an abrupt change. Example: coral bleaching events are certainly costly to some ocean systems and economies dependent on those ocean systems. An abrupt sea level jump, however, may not have near the impact on ocean systems, but have much more devastating impacts on global socio-economic factors.

Barring the creation of a full-blown abrupt change early warning system, scientists will continue to monitor ongoing changes and increase the accuracy of their measurements and their modeling efforts to simulate and recreate future and past change events. But as more knowledge on abrupt changes is discovered, one thing is becoming crystal clear: Climate change policy today has become severely dated, and we need to catch up.

Just a few years ago, when the Kyoto Protocol was still a valid way of preventing dangerous climate change, emission reduction strategies were appropriate. We did not know nearly as much about abrupt climate change and abrupt impacts as we do today. The IPCC had not pronounced that greater than 100 percent emissions reductions for a sustained period are required to prevent dangerous climate change. (16) Now we know these things, and now we know we must begin to remove CO2 directly from our atmosphere because no amount of emissions reductions can remove greater than 100 percent of annual emissions.

We also know that once fully industrialized, air capture of CO2 can be done for $25 per ton. This means the removal of 50 ppm of CO2 from the atmosphere can be done for what the US paid for healthcare in 2005 ($2.1 trillion). (17)

Why are we not yet implementing these changes? A large part of the answer is that the perceived debate has masked the facts. Climate science is not real to most people. It doesn’t really affect many of us yet; it’s not a priority, so it is not reported. Humanity needs to be brought up to speed. Once the knowledge is spread around – as crucial scientific facts, not politics – we will make the correct decisions. One only hopes we can spread that crucial knowledge before abrupt changes begin.

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Notes

1. We are using fossil fuels one million times faster than Mother Nature saved them for us . . . Richard Alley, Earth: The Operators’ Manual, Norton Publishing and PBS documentary.

2. 14,000 times faster… Zeebe and Caldeira, Close mass balance of long-term carbon fluxes from ice-core CO2 and ocean chemistry records, Nature Geoscience, Advance Online Publication, April 27, 2008.

3. 100 times faster than anytime in 65 million years . . . Diffenbaugh and Field, “Changes in Ecologically Critical Terrestrial Climate Conditions, Natural Systems in Changing Climates,” Science, Special Climate Edition, Volume 341, August 2, 2013, page 490, first paragraph: “The Pleistocene/Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) encompassed warming of 5 degrees C in less than 10,000 years, a rate of change that is 100-fold slower than that projected by RCP8.5.”

4. Abrupt climate change as fast as a few years. Abrupt Climate Change – Anticipating Surprises, National Research Council of the National Academies of Science, December 2013, Preface, page vii, second paragraph.

9 to 15 degrees across the globe . . . Alley, The Two-Mile Time Machine: Ice Cores, Abrupt Climate Change, and Our Future, Princeton University Press, 2000, page 119, Figure 12.2.

Data for figure 12.2 is from Cuffey and Clow, “Temperature, accumulation, and ice sheet elevation in central Greenland through the last deglacial Transition,” Journal of Geophysical Research, volume 102(C12), pp 26,383 to 26,396.

Greenland temperature change is twice that of the global average. Chylek and Lohmann, “Ratio of Greenland to global temperature change – comparison of observations and climate models,” Geophysical Research Letters, July 2005. Chylek and Lohmann say the Greenland temperature change is 2.2 times greater than the global average. From Alley’s Figure 12.2 (Cuffey and Clow), the 25 to 35 degree F abrupt changes in Greenland would equal 9 to 15 degrees average across the globe.

Also see: 25 to 35 degrees in “Greenland, National Research Council, Abrupt Climate Change: Inevitable Surprises,” Committee on Abrupt Climate Change, 2002. Figure 2.5, page 37.

5. More extreme than previously understood. Abrupt Climate Change – Anticipating Surprises, National Research Council, preface, third paragraph.

6. Extinction of 72 percent of North American Mammals, ibid. page 1, second paragraph

7. Pika, ibid. page 118.

8. West Antarctic Ice Sheet, ibid., pages 7, 13, 33, 34, 59, 61, 62, 150, 161.

9. Seventy-five percent of Caribbean reefs destroyed. Alvarez-Philip, Dulvey, et. al., “Flattening of Caribbean coral reefs: Region-wide decline in architectural complexity,” Proceedings of the Royal Society-B, June 2009.

10. “Polar Bears,” Abrupt Climate Change – Anticipating Surprises, National Research Council, page 118.

11. The American West has warmed 70 percent more than the global average. Hotter and Drier, “The West’s Changed Climate,” Rocky Mountain Climate Organization, 2008, Executive Summary, page iv, paragraph 1.

12. Spring is coming 30 days sooner in the American West; 10–30 days over the 1948–2000 period. I. Stewart, D. Cayan, and M. Dettinger, “Changes in snowmelt runoff timing in western North America under a ‘business as usual’ climate change scenario,” Climatic Change 62 (2004): 217-232. Page 223, 4. Results, second paragraph.

13. “Bark Beetle Outbreaks,” Abrupt Climate Change – Anticipating Surprises, National Research Council, page 21.

14. The Amazon has flipped from a carbon sink to a carbon source; Lewis et al., “The 2010 Amazon Drought,” Science, February 4, 2011.

15. 301 million trees killed in Texas in the drought of 2011; Texas A&M Forest Service.

16. IPCC 2013: Greater than 100 percent emissions reductions; IPCC 2013, Summary for Policy Makers, E.8 “Climate Stabilization, Climate Change Commitment and Irreversibility,” p 20, fourth bullet.

17. Lower Limit for Air Capture Costs: $25 per ton CO2 or slightly lower than the suggested minimum price for flue capture; Lackner et al., “The urgency of the development of CO2 capture from ambient air,” PNAS, August 14, 2012, page 13159, paragraph 6.

Bruce Melton

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

 

“Extinction Event On Steroids” : 6th Mass Extinction Of Plants & Animals Underway, Rate Of Climate Change Unprecedented In Geologic History

In Uncategorized on March 11, 2014 at 5:13 pm

https://i0.wp.com/blogs.law.columbia.edu/saldf/files/2012/05/Sixth-Mass-Extinction.jpg

Oldspeak: Global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from burning fossil fuels; i.e., oil, gas, and coal, have increased, on an annualized basis, by nearly 50% over the past 16 years.  Ipso facto, the world’s climate has turned turbulent.

Perilously, the planet does not divulge extinction events. Rather, extinctions are clandestine, shrouded in mystery, and occur far away from where humans tread. Extinctions start under the water, at the top of the world, and in far away places unpopulated, remote, and hidden from the wandering eye of the human species, unbeknownst until it is too late.

Ergo, stating the obvious, the worst possible outcome for the planet is an extinction event because geologic history shows that 75% to 90% of all life is wiped out…” –Robert Hunziker

When you understand that “63% of all human-generated carbon emissions have been produced in the past 25 years; that is, nearly two-thirds have been emitted since the first warnings were sounded about what was then called “global warming” and the need to stop or scale back. We on Earth now, we who have been adults for at least 25 years, are the ones who have done more than all earlier human beings combined to unbalance the atmosphere of the planet, and thus its weather systems, oceans, and so much more…” and that there are no globally agreed upon plans to curb ever increasing human emissions, you can rest assured, we’re fucked. Most everything else living is fucked.  There are no “solutions” or “mitigations” or “actions” to be taken. We’re done. We probably have about 20 years left. Enjoy them as best you can, don’t waste them contributing to your own extinction.” -OSJ

By Robert Hunziker @ Dissident Voice:

The American Museum of Natural History/NY (AMNH-NY) conducted a survey about the likelihood of a mass extinction event. The majority of the 400 scientists polled were convinced that a “mass extinction of plants and animals is underway,” posing a threat to humanity in the next century. According to that same poll, the public is “dimly aware” of this threat of an extinction event.

The AMNH-NY survey took place in the year 1998; thus, “the next century” that they referenced is here now. Also, since 1998, above and beyond additional loss of habitat for plants and animals, the state of the climate has deteriorated considerably. Here’s why: Global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from burning fossil fuels; i.e., oil, gas, and coal, have increased, on an annualized basis, by nearly 50% over the past 16 years. 1  Ipso facto, the world’s climate has turned turbulent.

Perilously, the planet does not divulge extinction events. Rather, extinctions are clandestine, shrouded in mystery, and occur far away from where humans tread. Extinctions start under the water, at the top of the world, and in far away places unpopulated, remote, and hidden from the wandering eye of the human species, unbeknownst until it is too late.

Ergo, stating the obvious, the worst possible outcome for the planet is an extinction event because geologic history shows that 75% to 90% of all life is wiped out. But, without question, an extinction event takes some time to complete, like centuries or millennia, or longer, something along those lines.

Still, what if an extinction event is on steroids, happening much, much faster than geologic history indicates?

Then, what?

Tipping Point

This article explores the possibility that an extinction event is on steroids, right now, threatening all humanity.

To prove the point, this article examines peer-review scientific articles and leading scientists, their views of the danger of a tipping point (no turning back) occurrence and/or whether the world is already in the zone. As such, the eminent and prestigious National Academies has already weighed-in on three prominent trouble spots where abrupt climate change may be festering right now. Whether those trouble spots trigger a tipping point, only time will tell.

According to Abrupt Impacts of Climate Change, Anticipating Surprises, National Research Council of the National Academies, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., December 2013:

The history of climate on the planet— as read in archives such as tree rings, ocean sediments, and ice cores— is punctuated with large changes that occurred rapidly, over the course of decades to as little as a few years.

At the same time, it is important to emphasize that the geologic history the report references occurred millions of years ago before humans started artificially influencing the climate by emitting tonnes and tonnes and tonnes and tonnes of greenhouse gases. Alas, scientific research shows that climate change may very well be on steroids, changing faster than ever, at breakneck speed when contrasted to the historical record.

The National Academies’ 200-page report, as of December 2013, detailing the risks of abrupt climate change, identifies three primary risk areas of abrupt climate change this century: (1) the ocean; (2) the Arctic; (3) Antarctica. Two of these are already out of the starting blocks, up and running.

The Ocean

Ocean acidification today is unprecedented, much faster than any time over the past 300 million years, “… at least 10 times faster than 56 million years ago,” according to Bärbel Hönisch, a paleoceanographer at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Oceans Acidifying Faster Today Than in Past 300 Million Years, National Science Foundation, Press Release 12-041,March 1, 2012.

In that regard, the National Research Council of the National Academies’ report concludes: If ongoing pressures of climate change continue, meaning the burning of fossil fuels, then deeper, more pronounced, abrupt climate changes would likely occur before the year 2100.

As of today, fossil fuels are burning more than ever before. Meantime, research confirms that global warming has accelerated over the past 15 years, not slowed as expressed by global warming contrarians.  2

Indeed, an extinction event in the ocean is already under observation: “… nearly all marine life forms that build calcium carbonate shells and skeletons studied by scientists thus far have shown deterioration due to increasing carbon dioxide levels in seawater.” 3

The science is not circumstantial: “…sufficient information exists to state with certainty that deleterious impacts on some marine species are unavoidable, and that substantial alteration of marine ecosystems is likely over the next century.” 4

Humans are already starting to notice the effects: “The first direct impact on humans may be through declining harvests and fishery revenues….” 5

“Ocean acidification is appearing in Washington decades sooner than anticipated….” 6 The state of Washington was initially alerted to the inherent danger of excessive carbon dioxide (CO2) in the water when oyster larvae in hatcheries died in large numbers, threatening the state’s $270 million shellfish industry.

“This report really draws attention to a problem that exists internationally but that has really hit hard right here in the state of Washington.” 7

By all appearances, an extinction event has already started in the ocean as the result of excessive levels of fossil fuel CO2 emissions. And, this dilemma is bound to grow bigger and bigger and escalate ever more rapidly as 1,200 coal-burning power plants worldwide are currently on the drawing boards (75% in China and India), which, in turn, will ramp up the sourcing behind ocean acidification, which is already clocking 10 times faster than anytime throughout geologic history. Does marine life have a fighting chance?

According to Alex Rogers, PhD, professor of Conservation Biology, University of Oxford and Scientific Director, International Programme on the State of the Ocean: “The change we’re seeing at the moment is taking place extremely rapidly… We’re seeing levels of pH [a measure of acidity] in the ocean that probably haven’t been experienced for 55 million years… I find it very difficult to tell people what a scary situation we’re in at the moment. The oceans are changing in a huge way, and I am particularly worried for my grandchildren. The changes we thought would happen in the future… We’re actually seeing them now.” 8

Dr. Rogers claims the ocean is in a critical state.

Accordingly, out of dire necessity, the operative question is: How should the world’s governments respond to an ocean that is in a critical state?

Do nothing or do something?

Methane

Methane (CH4) is the ugly stepsister to carbon dioxide (CO2). Excessively, it’s a killer.

Methane is over twenty times more powerful, over a 100-year period, per molecule, than is carbon dioxide (CO2).  Or, put another way, methane is more effectual than carbon dioxide at absorbing infrared radiation emitted from the earth’s surface and preventing it from escaping into space. Notwithstanding, methane, during its first few years upon entering the atmosphere, is 100 times as powerful as an equal weight of CO2.

As it happens, it appears excessive levels of methane are just now starting to seriously impact the atmosphere in a big way!

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Science, as of February 2013, methane levels in the atmosphere are measured at 1,874 ppb (parts per billion.) This level, in an historical context, is more than twice the level as any time since 400,000 years before the industrial revolution. In the past, methane has ranged between 300-400 ppb during glacial periods and 600-700 ppb during warm interglacial periods.

The CH4 quagmire, in large measure, is the result of a melting Arctic, which, in turn, exposes methane that has been entrapped for millennia-times-millennia. Here’s the quandary:

We show results from some recent work from submarines, and speculate that the trend towards retreat and thinning will inevitably lead to an eventual loss of all ice in summer, which can be described as a ‘tipping point’ in that the former situation, of an Arctic covered with mainly multi-year ice, cannot be retrieved. 9

The statement by Peter Wadhams, PhD, Head of the Polar Ocean Physics Group, Dept. of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics, University of Cambridge, goes to the heart of the scope of methane’s threat, for example: Rising temperatures in the Arctic (which are already rising 2-3 times faster than temps elsewhere on the planet) could abruptly trigger the release of 50 Gt (gigatonnes) of methane currently frozen in the seabed within a decade, which would be catastrophic.

It is the summer sea ice loss passing the point of no return, leading to unstoppable catastrophic Arctic methane feedbacks, sooner or later… puts us in a state of planetary emergency today.10

Methane emissions slowed in the 1990s, but “… strong growth resumed in 2007.”11

With methane strongly on the rise again, the news could not be any worse regarding the prospects of an extinction event. As a matter of fact, the recent surge in methane feeds right into the wheelhouse of an extinction event.

Alas, the story only gets worse. The seafloor off the coast of Northern Siberia is releasing over twice the amount of methane as previously estimated, according to new research, as of 2013: “We believe that the release of methane from the Arctic, and in particular this part of the Arctic, could impact the entire globe.”12

“Impact the entire globe” is not at all positive in any way shape, or form; rather, ultimately, it means heat, lots of heat, leading to runaway global warming, and this forecast is why a group of renowned scientists formed the Arctic Methane Emergency Group , which has already sent major governments a letter pleading for: “Emergency intervention is needed both to save the Arctic sea ice and to reduce the risk of catastrophic global warming from a sudden large emission of methane.” 13

“We carried out checks at about 115 stationary points and discovered methane fields of a fantastic scale – I think on a scale not seen before. Some of the plumes were a kilometer or more wide and the emissions went directly into the atmosphere – the concentration was a hundred times higher than normal,” says Dr. Igor Semiletov of the International Arctic Research Centre at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, who led the 8th joint US-Russian cruise of the East Siberian Arctic seas. 14

According to the National Academies’ report, abrupt climate change has already started in the Arctic. Whether a tipping point has been reached, or exceeded, time will tell, but it shouldn’t take too long to know, maybe a few years, maybe longer.

As an aside, it would be absolutely wonderful and spectacular if the climate change denialists prove to be correct about ice in the Arctic. Their claim, which appeared all over the mainstream news this past fall, is that the ice at the Arctic is rebuilding beautifully. And, yes it is true Arctic sea ice “extent” and “volume” did increase, which occasionally happens in any given year. However, the basic science, on a long-term secular basis, doesn’t agree with their hysterics.

Accordingly, “Arctic sea ice extent in February 2014 averaged 14.44 million sq. miles. This is the fourth lowest February ice extent in the satellite data record, and is 910,000 sq. kilometres. below the 1981 to 2010 average.” 15

In order for Arctic sea ice to recover from more than 30 years of shrinkage, it will require much more than one season of increased sea ice. It will take many, many seasons of increased sea ice. Meanwhile, the Sword of Damocles hangs over the Arctic, threatening all society with runaway global warming.

In that regard, the Arctic Methane Emergency Group sent a Policy Brief to major governments. Here is their conclusion:

AMEG’s conclusion is that there is now a planetary emergency. Only by grasping the nettle and intervening with great determination, as in a war effort, is there a chance of remedying the situation before it is too late. International collaboration to fight this common ‘enemy’ of Arctic meltdown must bring all nations together, in the cause of our very survival.

“If we burn all reserves of oil, gas, and coal, there is a substantial chance we will initiate the runaway greenhouse. If we also burn the tar sans and tar shale, I believe the Venus syndrome is a dead certainty.” (James  Hansen, Storms of my Grandchildren (Bloomsbury Press, 2009.)

Venus’s atmosphere consists of 96.5% carbon dioxide (CO2), which keeps a lid on the heat as surface temps run 872 degrees F.  The Venus Syndrome happens when climate and atmospheric feedback loops are triggered and cannot be switched off, e.g., greenhouse gases build up, causing more warming, in turn, more greenhouse gases are released, causing more warming, and so on and so forth in a maddening continuum of a vicious feedback loop.

Under those circumstances, Earth risks becoming a pressure-cooking inferno.

Subsidize renewables, not fracking.

Post Script: The International Energy Agency (IEA) reports the world’s carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel usage hit record levels (IEA: Carbon Emissions from Fuel Usage Hit New Global Record, Deutsche Welle, Oct. 6, 2013). The IEA also warned that, based upon larger levels of carbon dioxide emissions than previously calculated, the world is on a path to an average temperature rise of between 3.6 and 5.3 degrees C, about double the target set at a UN summit in Durbin in 2010.

On a positive note: A student movement at more than 300 university and college campuses is encouraging endowments to divest holdings of fossil fuel companies. As for one example, Divest Harvard declares: “By sponsoring climate change through our investments, our university is threatening our generation’s future.” 16

  1. Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Tennessee. []
  2. Magdalena A. Balmaseda, et al, Distinctive Climate Signals in Reanalysis of Global Ocean Heat Content, Geophysical Research Letters, Vol. 40, Issue, May 10, 2013, 9, DOI: 10.1002/grl.50382 []
  3. Dr. Richard Feely and Dr. Christopher Sabine, Oceanographers, Carbon Dioxide and Our Ocean Legacy, Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, April 2006. []
  4. Victoria J. Fabry, et al, Impacts of Ocean Acidification on Marine Fauna and Ecosystem Processes, ICES Journal of Marine Sciences, Oxford Journals, Vol. 65, Issue 3, Feb. 2008. []
  5. Sarah R. Cooley, et al, Anticipating Ocean Acidification’s Economic Consequences for Commercial Fisheries, IOP Science, Environmental Research Letters, Vol. 4, No. 2, 2009. []
  6. Ocean Acidification and Washington State, Department of Ecology, State of Washington, 2013. []
  7. Jane Lubchenco, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Rising Ocean Acidity off Washington State Threatens Shellfish, Panel Says, The Associate Press (AP), Nov. 27, 2012. []
  8. International Programme on the State of the Ocean, OneWorld Video (UK), August 2011. []
  9. Peter Wadhams, Arctic Ice Cover, Ice Thickness and Tipping Points, AMBIO (Publisher: Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences), February 2012, Volume 41, Issue 1. []
  10. John Nissen, AMEG Chairman, Arctic Methane Emergency Group. []
  11. Euan G. Nisbet, et al, Methane on the Rise-Again, Atmospheric Science, Science Vol. 343, No. 6170, January 31, 2014. []
  12. Natalia Shakhova, et al. Ebullition and storm-induced methane release from the East Siberian Arctic Shelf, Nature Geoscience, DOI: 10.1038/ngeo2007, Nov. 24, 2013. []
  13. Arctic Methane Emergency Group []
  14. Steve Connor, Vast Methane ‘Plumes’ Seen in Arctic Ocean as Sea Ice Retreats, The Independent (UK), Dec. 13, 2011. []
  15. Arctic Sea Ice News & Analysis, National Snow & Ice Data Center, University of Colorado, Boulder, March 3, 2014. []
  16. Randall Smith, A New Divestment Focus on Campus: Fossil Fuels, New York Times, September 6, 2013. []

Robert Hunziker (MA in economic history at DePaul University, Chicago) is a former hedge fund manager and now a professional independent negotiator for worldwide commodity actual transactions and a freelance writer for progressive publications as well as business journals. He can be contacted at: rlhunziker@gmail.com. Read other articles by Robert.

This article was posted on Monday, March 10th, 2014 at 12:56am

How The U.S. Exports Global Warming: Sells “The Dirtiest Fuel On The Planet” Toxic Tar Sands Waste To Asia

In Uncategorized on February 11, 2014 at 2:25 pm
How the U.S. Exports Global Warming

While Obama talks of putting America on the path to a clean, green future, we’re flooding world markets with cheap, high carbon fuels -Tim Dickinson

Oldspeak: Time ticks away as the U.S. fracks itself to death, poisoning its water supply producing more toxic petroleum and methane gas, digging up more coal than ever, it’s shipping the dirtiest fuel on the planet to China. China is consuming nearly as much coal and “petcoke”  than all other nations on earth COMBINED and it’s consumption is expected to grow 40 percent by 2020. “Petcoke is like concentrated coal – denser and dirtier than anything that comes out of a mine. It can be burned just like coal to produce power, but petcoke emits up to 15 percent more climate pollution. (It also contains up to 12 times as much sulfur, not to mention a slew of heavy metals.) In Canada, the stuff is largely treated like a waste product; the country has stockpiled nearly 80 million tons of it. Here in the U.S., petcoke is sometimes burned in coal plants, but it’s so filthy that the EPA has stopped issuing any new licenses for its use as fuel.” So ignore all the bullshit stats about how the U.S. is greening, as though climate pollution was country specific.  Carbon emissions don’t respect arbitrary human created territorial boundaries. The U.S. is in fact INCREASING carbon emissions by exporting the filthiest most toxic wastes as fuel to developing economies world wide, that could it just as easily be exporting clean energy alternatives to. There is no genuine interest in eliminating fossil fuels by the Obama administration and the governments of most other major dirty energy consumers. Dirty fuel production is ACCELERATING.  Carbon emissions are rapidly increasing. Profit is all that matters in the sociopathic corptalitarian capitalist virus that has swept across the globe. The ecology is an externality in this deranged economic model. Very little being done is sustainable. Knowing these facts, we can reasonably expect the extreme climate change to occur, long before most unrealistically underestimating and incomplete climate models predict. We are firmly entrenched in and exacerbating earth 6th mass extinction. “ -OSJ

By Tim Dickinson @ Rolling Stone:

he greening of American energy is both real and profound. Since President Obama took office, the nation’s solar capacity has increased more than tenfold. Wind power has more than doubled, to 60,000 megawatts – enough to power nearly 20 million homes. Thanks to aggressive new fuel-efficiency standards, the nation’s drivers are burning nearly 5 billion fewer gallons of gasoline a year than in 2008. The boom in cheap natural gas, meanwhile, has disrupted the coal industry. Coal-power generation, though still the nation’s top source of electricity, is off nearly 20 percent since 2008. More than 150 coal plants have already been shuttered, and the EPA is expected to issue regulations in June that will limit emissions from existing coal facilities. These rules should accelerate the shift to natural gas, which – fracking’s risks to groundwater aside – generates half the greenhouse pollution of coal.

See the 10 Dumbest Things Ever Said About Global Warming

But there’s a flip side to this American success story. Even as our nation is pivoting toward a more sustainable energy future, America’s oil and coal corporations are racing to position the country as the planet’s dirty-energy dealer – supplying the developing world with cut-rate, high-polluting, climate-damaging fuels. Much like tobacco companies did in the 1990s – when new taxes, regulations and rising consumer awareness undercut domestic demand – Big Carbon is turning to lucrative new markets in booming Asian economies where regulations are looser. Worse, the White House has quietly championed this dirty-energy trade.

“The Obama administration wants to be seen as a climate leader, but there is no source of fossil fuel that it is prepared to leave in the ground,” says Lorne Stockman, research director for Oil Change International. “Coal, gas, refinery products – crude oil is the last frontier on this. You want it? We’re going to export it.”

When the winds kicked up over the Detroit river last spring, city residents confronted a new toxic hazard: swirling clouds of soot taking flight from a mysterious black dune piled high along the city’s industrial waterfront. By fall, similar dark clouds were settling over Chicago’s South Side – this time from heaping piles along the Calumet River. The pollution in both cities made national headlines – and created a dubious coming-out party for petroleum coke, or “petcoke,” a filthy byproduct of refining gasoline and diesel from Canadian tar-sands crude. Despite the controversy over Keystone XL – the stalled pipeline project that would move diluted tar-sands bitumen to refineries on the Gulf Coast – the Canadian crude is already a large and growing part of our energy mix. American refineries, primarily in the Midwest, processed 1.65 million barrels a day in 2012 – up 40 percent from 2010.

Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math

Converting tar-sands oil into usable fuels requires a huge amount of energy, and much of the black gunk that’s refined out of the crude in this process ends up as petroleum coke. Petcoke is like concentrated coal – denser and dirtier than anything that comes out of a mine. It can be burned just like coal to produce power, but petcoke emits up to 15 percent more climate pollution. (It also contains up to 12 times as much sulfur, not to mention a slew of heavy metals.) In Canada, the stuff is largely treated like a waste product; the country has stockpiled nearly 80 million tons of it. Here in the U.S., petcoke is sometimes burned in coal plants, but it’s so filthy that the EPA has stopped issuing any new licenses for its use as fuel. “Literally, in terms of climate change,” says Stockman, “it’s the dirtiest fuel on the planet.”

With domestic petcoke consumption plummeting – by nearly half since Obama took office – American energy companies have seized on the substance as a coal alternative for export. The market price for petcoke is about one-third that of coal. According to a State Department analysis, that makes American-produced petcoke “less expensive, including the shipping, than China’s coal.” Petcoke exports have surged by one-third since 2008, to 33.4 million metric tons; China is now the top consumer, and demand is exploding. Through the first nine months of 2013, Chinese imports were running 50 percent higher than in 2012.

No surprise: The Koch brothers are in the middle of this market. Koch Carbon, a subsidiary of Koch Industries, was the owner of the Detroit dune, since sold off to an international buyer. But it’s a third Koch brother, Billy, who is the petcoke king. William Koch is the CEO of Oxbow Carbon, which describes itself as “the worldwide leader in fuel-grade petcoke sourcing and sales” – trading 11 million tons per year.

Read Our Feature On the Arctic Ice Crisis

With dirty Canadian crude imports on the rise, U.S. refineries have been retooling to produce even more petcoke. A BP refinery on the outskirts of Chicago just tripled its coking capacity and is now the world’s second-largest source of the black gunk. But the Promised Land of petcoke refining is on the Gulf Coast – which is part of why Big Oil is so hot to complete the Keystone XL pipeline. The Texas and Louisiana refineries that would process Keystone crude can produce a petcoke pile the size of the Great Pyramid of Giza every year, which, when burned, would produce more than 18 million tons of carbon pollution.

Despite the dangers of petcoke, the Obama administration has turned a blind eye to its proliferation. A 2011 State Department environmental-impact study of Keystone XL, commissioned under then-Secretary Hillary Clinton, treated petcoke as if it were an inert byproduct, and failed to consider its end use as a fuel when calculating the greenhouse impacts of the pipeline. According to the EPA, that decision led State to lowball the pipeline’s associated emissions by as much as 30 percent.

In 2013, the post-Hillary State Department revised that assessment, conceding that petcoke “significantly increases” the emissions associated with tar sands. However, State punted on the big issue of climate pollution, maintaining that Keystone XL won’t create a net increase because the Canadian crude would reach Gulf refineries with or without the pipeline.

A joint letter by Rep. Henry Waxman and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, chairs of the Bicameral Task Force on Climate Change, blasted State’s conclusion as “fundamentally flawed” and “contrary to basic economics” – noting that it would take a new forest the size of West Virginia to fully offset the carbon emissions Keystone XL would bring to market.

The tar-sands boom has the united states poised to become a top player in the global-export market for gasoline and diesel. And Obama’s top trade ambassador has been working behind the scenes to make sure that our climate-conscious European allies don’t shutter their markets to fuels refined from the filthy Canadian crude.

The U.S. trade representative, Ambassador Michael Froman, is a protégé of former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin and a top member of the president’s inner circle. Froman was confirmed last June to his current trade post, where he’s under direct orders from the president to “open new markets for American businesses.” His nomination was opposed by only four senators – chiefly Massachusetts Democrat Elizabeth Warren, who faulted Froman for refusing to commit to even the paltry standard for transparency in trade talks set by the George W. Bush administration. Warren was right to be concerned. In backroom negotiations, Froman has worked to undermine new European Union fuel standards intended to lower the continent’s carbon emissions. The European standards would work, in part, by grading the carbon toxicity of various crude oils. They logically propose placing polluting tar-sands oil in a carbon class all by itself; on its path from a pit mine to the filling station, a gallon of tar-sands gas is responsible for 81 percent more climate pollution than the average gallon of regular. But instead of respecting the EU’s commitment to slow global warming, Froman has worked to force North America’s dirtiest petrol into the tanks of Europe’s Volkswagens, Peugeots and lorries.

His hardball tactics were revealed in obscure written congressional testimony last year. In a question to Froman, Rep. Kevin Brady, an oil-friendly Texas Republican, slammed the European proposal as a “discriminatory, environmentally unjustified” trade barrier. Froman responded, “I share your concerns,” and described his work to “press the Commission to take the views of . . . U.S. refiners under consideration.” He explained how he had turned the standards into a point of contention in negotiations of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership – a major free-trade pact being hammered out between the U.S. and the EU. Last October, Froman’s team even went before the World Trade Organization to demand that all globally traded petroleum products be treated “without discrimination.”

Froman’s dirty-energy advocacy provoked an angry letter last December from the Bicameral Climate Change Task Force – prominently co-signed by Warren. It blasted the ambassador’s efforts to “undercut” the EU’s climate goals as well as his “shortsighted view of the United States’ economic interests.” Citing the projected $70 billion in adverse climate effects from exploitation of tar-sands crude, the task force demanded Froman justify his “troubling” actions in the context of the United States’ “long-term economic well-being.” The ambassador’s office has not responded.

“We’re telling the world on the one hand that it’s time for leadership from us on facing up to carbon pollution,” says Whitehouse, a Democrat from Rhode Island. “While on the other we’re saying, ‘Hey, here, buy our high-carbon-pollution fuels.'”

If Big Oil has its way, the United States could soon return to the business of exporting not only refined petroleum products but crude oil itself – a practice that’s been illegal since the oil shocks of the 1970s. The crude-oil-export ban has been the linchpin of U.S. energy security for more than a generation. With narrow exceptions for Alaskan crude and exports to Canada, the law requires that oil drilled here must be refined here – helping to insulate American drivers from disruptions in oil fields of the Middle East. But the unexpected boom in fracked crude from North Dakota and Texas has transformed this long-uncontroversial law into a bugbear for domestic drillers – who now see American energy independence as a threat to their profit margins.

When the Keystone XL pipeline was first proposed in 2007, the accepted notion was that Gulf Coast refineries would be able to process all the crude that the pipeline could carry. But the nation’s energy picture has since changed dramatically. Thanks to advances in fracking technology, North Dakota and Texas are bringing millions of barrels of “sweet” – low-sulfur, easily refined – crude to the market every day.

In this new reality, the fixed flow from a pipeline like Keystone XL, carrying more than 1.5 million barrels of Canadian crude to the Gulf Coast every day, is going to create excess supply. The surplus tar-sands crude, as much as 400,000 barrels per day, will have to be shipped out of the Gulf to the global market. “There is a limit to how much the Gulf Coast refiners can soak up,” said Esa Ramasamy, of the energy-information service Platts, in a recent presentation. “The Canadian crudes cannot go back up into Canada again. They will have to go out.”

An export ban or not, it will likely happen: As long as it’s not “commingled” with American crude, Canadian crude, despite its transit through the United States, remains Canadian.

The new flood of domestic crude, meanwhile, is straining U.S. refining capacity, producing a nearly $10-per-barrel discount for U.S. oil compared to the global average for sweet crude. America’s domestic drillers are desperate to fetch higher prices on the global market. (Exxon, the Chamber of Commerce and key senators like Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski have just launched a media offensive to kill the export ban altogether.)

In addition to promoting energy independence, the export ban now has the virtue of limiting the pace at which American drillers exploit the continent’s newfound climate-toxic oil riches. Ending the ban would not only hurt U.S. consumers by wiping out the home-oil discount, it would also boost the profits of domestic-oil companies and hasten exploration of now-marginal deposits. “Lifting the oil-export ban is simply climate denial in a new, and very dangerous, form,” says Steve Kretzmann, Oil Change International’s executive director.

Nonetheless, Obama’s new energy secretary, Ernest Moniz, told reporters at a recent energy conference that the ban is a relic and ought to be re-examined “in the context of what is now an energy world that is no longer like the 1970s.”

The greatest success story in the greening of American energy is the market-driven collapse of coal. Last year, American power plants burned 181 million fewer tons of coal than in the final year of the Bush administration, as power companies shifted to burning cheaper natural gas. And after years of delay, the administration finally appears to be committed to driving some regulatory nails into Big Coal’s coffin: In January, the EPA published a draft rule that’s likely to end the construction of new coal plants by requiring cost-prohibitive carbon-capture technology. This summer, the agency is expected to introduce climate-pollution rules for existing plants that should hasten the adoption of natural gas.

With the freefall in domestic demand, industry giants like Peabody are desperate to turn American coal into a global export – targeting booming Asian economies that are powering their growth with dirty fuel. China now consumes nearly as much coal as the rest of the world combined, and its demand is projected to grow by nearly 40 percent by the end of the decade. “China’s demand,” according to William Durbin, head of global markets for the energy consultancy Wood Mackenzie, “will almost single-handedly propel the growth of coal.”

Since Obama took office, American coal exports are up more than 50 percent. And Big Coal has designs to more than double that tonnage by opening a direct export route to Asia, shipping coal strip-mined from the Powder River Basin, in Wyoming and Montana, by rail to a network of planned export terminals in the Pacific Northwest, and then by sea to China. These new coal exports have received far less attention than Keystone XL, but would unleash a carbon bomb nearly identical to the greenhouse pollution attributed to the pipeline.

After inking a 2011 deal to export 24 million tons of Powder River Basin coal through the planned Gateway Pacific Terminal at Cherry Point in Washington, Peabody Coal CEO Gregory Boyce gushed, “We’re opening the door to a new era of U.S. exports from the nation’s largest and most productive coal region to the world’s best market for coal.”

Last March, John Kitzhaber and Jay Inslee, the governors of Oregon and Washington, respectively, wrote to the White House expressing near disbelief that the administration seemed prepared to let Big Coal’s dreams come true. “It is hard to conceive that the federal government would ignore the inevitable consequences of coal leasing and coal export,” they wrote. Coal passing through Pacific Northwest terminals would produce, they argued, “climate impacts in the United States that dwarf those of almost any other action the federal government could take in the foreseeable future.”

But the administration refused to intervene. Appearing before Congress last June, the acting regulatory chief of the Army Corps of Engineers announced that climate pollution would not factor in the evaluation of permits for the export terminals. The burning of American coal in Asia, she testified, was “too far removed” to be considered.

Even more troubling, the administration opened up more than 300 million tons of coal in the Powder River Basin to bidding by the coal companies last year. The coal is on government land; it belongs to the public. Yet the leasing practices of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) are so flawed that one independent study estimates that taxpayers have been fleeced of $30 billion over the past three decades. In the past, that stealth subsidy to Big Coal at least helped create cheap power for American homes and businesses. Today, the administration has put American taxpayers in the position of subsidizing coal destined to fuel the growth of our nation’s fiercest, and carbon-filthiest, economic rival.

In the battle to prevent the United States from fueling the developing world’s global-warming binge, the deck is stacked against climate hawks. The fossil-fuel industry remains the single most powerful special interest in Washington, having successfully ball-gagged the entire Republican Party on global warming. More insidiously, the macroeconomic indicators by which the economy – and any presidency – are measured can be cheaply inflated through dirty-energy exports, which boost GDP and narrow the trade deficit.

But here’s the surprise: Climate activists are more than holding their own. Keystone XL is on an indefinite hold, and Whitehouse says he’s “optimistic” that the pipeline won’t gain approval on the watch of new Secretary of State John Kerry. Likewise, Obama’s Powder River Basin initiatives seem to be going nowhere in the face of strong regional and national opposition. Even Wall Street is getting cold feet on coal. In January, Goldman Sachs dumped its stake in the Cherry Point, Washington, terminal once celebrated by Peabody Coal’s CEO as emblematic of his industry’s future. And with no clear path to China, coal companies themselves are pulling back. In two BLM auctions last summer, one failed to solicit any bids by coal companies; the other received a single bid – and it was too low for even the famously coal-friendly BLM to accept.

But preventing America from morphing into the world’s dirty-energy hub will likely require something more: a competitive Democratic primary for 2016. By all outward indications, the Clinton regime-in-waiting is even more supportive of the dirty-energy trade than the Obama White House. Bill Clinton is a vocal proponent of the Keystone XL pipeline, calling on America to “embrace it.” During Hillary Clinton’s reign as secretary of state, the department outsourced its flawed environmental assessment of Keystone XL to a longtime contractor for the pipeline’s builder, TransCanada – whose top lobbyist just happened to have served as a deputy manager for Clinton’s 2008 presidential run. Clinton herself, in a 2010 appearance at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, sounded fatalistic about bringing tar sands to market: “We’re either going to be dependent on dirty oil from the Gulf, or dependent on dirty oil from Canada,” she said.

In a contested primary, the issue of constraining the nation’s polluting exports is likely to emerge as a significant fault line between Clinton and whomever emerges to represent the Elizabeth Warren wing of the Democratic Party.

A credible challenger need not derail Clinton to make the difference. Recall that both Clinton and Obama began as reticent climate hawks in 2008 – even talking up the prospects of refining coal into a liquid for use as auto fuel – before the threat of John Edwards forced both candidates to commit to the ambitious goal of reducing climate pollution by 80 percent by 2050. On the other hand, if Hillary Clinton simply cruises through the primaries, it’s a safe bet that the corporate center will hold – and that North America’s fossil exports are going to flow. That’s a state of affairs from which the world as we know it will not soon recover.

This story is from the February 13th, 2014 issue of Rolling Stone.

The Myth of Human Progress And The Collapse Of Complex Societies

In Uncategorized on February 5, 2014 at 6:44 pm

http://veganismisnonviolence.files.wordpress.com/2013/02/failed-experiment.pngOldspeak: “i think the problems we’re seeing now, whether you’re talking about hunger, massive inequity, climate change, and the loss of biodiversity, have been driven over the last 200 years by a system of overproduction of stuff and a overconsumption of stuff. And then that’s been inflated and inflated and inflated to the point where it really is not in any way reasonable. The companies and those within government who have supported that approach are now saying they will provide new technologies, to continue that consumption of stuff, that level of production, it’s just not realistic. “-Jim Thomas

The ecosystem is at the same time disintegrating. Scientists from the International Programme on the State of the Ocean, a few days ago, issued a new report that warned that the oceans are changing faster than anticipated and increasingly becoming inhospitable to life. The oceans, of course, have absorbed much of the excess CO2 and heat from the atmosphere. This absorption is rapidly warming and acidifying ocean waters. This is compounded, the report noted, by increased levels of deoxygenation from nutrient runoffs from farming and climate change. The scientists called these effects a “deadly trio” that when combined is creating changes in the seas that are unprecedented in the planet’s history. This is their language, not mine. The scientists wrote that each of the earth’s five known mass extinctions was preceded by at least one [part] of the “deadly trio”—acidification, warming and deoxygenation. They warned that “the next mass extinction” of sea life is already under way, the first in some 55 million years. Or look at the recent research from the University of Hawaii that says global warming is now inevitable, it cannot be stopped but at best slowed, and that over the next 50 years the earth will heat up to levels that will make whole parts of the planet uninhabitable. Tens of millions of people will be displaced and millions of species will be threatened with extinction. The report casts doubt that [cities on or near a coast] such as New York or London will endure. .. Yet we… rationalize our collective madness. All calls for prudence, for halting the march toward economic, political and environmental catastrophe, for sane limits on carbon emissions, are ignored or ridiculed. Even with the flashing red lights before us, the increased droughts, rapid melting of glaciers and Arctic ice, monster tornadoes, vast hurricanes, crop failures, floods, raging wildfires and soaring temperatures, we bow slavishly before hedonism and greed and the enticing illusion of limitless power, intelligence and prowess…The corporate assault on culture, journalism, education, the arts and critical thinking has left those who speak this truth marginalized and ignored, frantic Cassandras who are viewed as slightly unhinged and depressingly apocalyptic. We are consumed by a mania for hope, which our corporate masters lavishly provide, at the expense of truth…. Friedrich Nietzsche in “Beyond Good and Evil” holds that only a few people have the fortitude to look in times of distress into what he calls the molten pit of human reality. Most studiously ignore the pit. Artists and philosophers, for Nietzsche, are consumed, however, by an insatiable curiosity, a quest for truth and desire for meaning. They venture down into the bowels of the molten pit. They get as close as they can before the flames and heat drive them back. This intellectual and moral honesty, Nietzsche wrote, comes with a cost. Those singed by the fire of reality become “burnt children,” he wrote, eternal orphans in empires of illusion…. Decayed civilizations always make war on independent intellectual inquiry, art and culture for this reason. They do not want the masses to look into the pit. They condemn and vilify the “burnt people”—Noam Chomsky, Ralph Nader, Cornel West. They feed the human addiction for illusion, happiness and hope. They peddle the fantasy of eternal material progress. They urge us to build images of ourselves to worship. They insist—and this is the argument of globalization ¬¬—that our voyage is, after all, decreed by natural law. We have surrendered our lives to corporate forces that ultimately serve systems of death. We ignore and belittle the cries of the burnt people. And, if we do not swiftly and radically reconfigure our relationship to each other and the ecosystem, microbes look set to inherit the earth…. Clive Hamilton in his “Requiem for a Species: Why We Resist the Truth About Climate Change” describes a dark relief that comes from accepting that “catastrophic climate change is virtually certain.” This obliteration of “false hopes,” he says, requires an intellectual knowledge and an emotional knowledge. The first is attainable. The second, because it means that those we love, including our children, are almost certainly doomed to insecurity, misery and suffering within a few decades, if not a few years, is much harder to acquire. To emotionally accept impending disaster, to attain the gut-level understanding that the power elite will not respond rationally to the devastation of the ecosystem, is as difficult to accept as our own mortality. The most daunting existential struggle of our time is to ingest this awful truth—intellectually and emotionally—and rise up to resist the forces that are destroying us….  Complex civilizations have a bad habit of ultimately destroying themselves. Anthropologists including Joseph Tainter in “The Collapse of Complex Societies,” Charles L. Redman in “Human Impact on Ancient Environments” and Ronald Wright in “A Short History of Progress” have laid out the familiar patterns that lead to systems breakdown. The difference this time is that when we go down the whole planet will go with us. There will, with this final collapse, be no new lands left to exploit, no new civilizations to conquer, no new peoples to subjugate. The long struggle between the human species and the earth will conclude with the remnants of the human species learning a painful lesson about unrestrained greed, hubris and idolatry…. Collapse comes throughout human history to complex societies not long after they reach their period of greatest magnificence and prosperity….  “One of the most pathetic aspects of human history is that every civilization expresses itself most pretentiously, compounds its partial and universal values most convincingly, and claims immortality for its finite existence at the very moment when the decay which leads to death has already begun,” Reinhold Niebuhr wrote….  That pattern holds good for a lot of societies, among them the ancient Maya and the Sumerians of what is now southern Iraq. There are many other examples, including smaller-scale societies such as Easter Island. The very things that cause societies to prosper in the short run, especially new ways to exploit the environment such as the invention of irrigation, lead to disaster in the long run because of unforeseen complications. This is what Ronald Wright in “A Short History of Progress” calls the “progress trap.” We have set in motion an industrial machine of such complexity and such dependence on expansion, Wright notes, that we do not know how to make do with less or move to a steady state in terms of our demands on nature…. In our decline, hatred becomes our primary lust, our highest form of patriotism. We deploy vast resources to hunt down jihadists and terrorists, real and phantom. We destroy our civil society in the name of a war on terror. We persecute those, from Julian Assange to [Chelsea] Manning to Edward Snowden, who expose the dark machinations of power. We believe, because we have externalized evil, that we can purify the earth. And we are blind to the evil within us. Melville’s description of Ahab is a description of the bankers, corporate boards, politicians, television personalities and generals who through the power of propaganda fill our heads with seductive images of glory and lust for wealth and power. We are consumed with self-induced obsessions that spur us toward self-annihilation.-Chris Hedges

Enlightenment is a destructive process. it has nothing to do with becoming better or being happier. Enlightenment is the crumbling away of untruth. it is the seeing through the fascade of false pretense. it’s the complete eradication of everything we imagined to be true.” -Adyashanti

“We must realize and reject the myth that infinite human progress and perpetual growth equal prosperity and happiness. This deranged and ecology detached thinking is hurtling us toward extinction. it is time for the people to realize that we are not our jobs, our “wealth”, our status, our titles, our ownership, our enslavement, our things. Realize that we are a part of our mother; that we are destroying her and by extension ourselves. Realize the only sane course of action for humanity from this point forward is to withdraw its support for the globalized “painless concentration camp” that takes away our universally affirmed rights. A system that threatens us with the violence of starvation and homelessness if we do not comply with its work program, which mainly functions confine us & perpetuate and expand the camp. Realize that our most important task, in the time we have left in this realm is to regain our humanity, our compassion, our empathy, our love, our human spirit. And face our demise with unfathomable grace, dignity, fellowship, peace and love.” -OSJ

By Chris Hedges @ Truthdig:

Editor’s note: The following is the transcript of a speech that Chris Hedges gave in Santa Monica, Calif., on Oct. 13, 2013. To purchase a DVD of Hedges’ address and the Q-and-A that followed, click here.

The most prescient portrait of the American character and our ultimate fate as a species is found in Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick.” Melville makes our murderous obsessions, our hubris, violent impulses, moral weakness and inevitable self-destruction visible in his chronicle of a whaling voyage. He is our foremost oracle. He is to us what William Shakespeare was to Elizabethan England or Fyodor Dostoyevsky to czarist Russia.

Our country is given shape in the form of the ship, the Pequod, named after the Indian tribe exterminated in 1638 by the Puritans and their Native American allies. The ship’s 30-man crew—there were 30 states in the Union when Melville wrote the novel—is a mixture of races and creeds. The object of the hunt is a massive white whale, Moby Dick, which in a previous encounter maimed the ship’s captain, Ahab, by dismembering one of his legs. The self-destructive fury of the quest, much like that of the one we are on, assures the Pequod’s destruction. And those on the ship, on some level, know they are doomed—just as many of us know that a consumer culture based on corporate profit, limitless exploitation and the continued extraction of fossil fuels is doomed.

“If I had been downright honest with myself,” Ishmael admits, “I would have seen very plainly in my heart that I did but half fancy being committed this way to so long a voyage, without once laying my eyes on the man who was to be the absolute dictator of it, so soon as the ship sailed out upon the open sea. But when a man suspects any wrong, it sometimes happens that if he be already involved in the matter, he insensibly strives to cover up his suspicions even from himself. And much this way it was with me. I said nothing, and tried to think nothing.”

Our financial system—like our participatory democracy—is a mirage. The Federal Reserve purchases $85 billion in U.S. Treasury bonds—much of it worthless subprime mortgages—each month. It has been artificially propping up the government and Wall Street like this for five years. It has loaned trillions of dollars at virtually no interest to banks and firms that make money—because wages are kept low—by lending it to us at staggering interest rates that can climb to as high as 30 percent. … Or our corporate oligarchs hoard the money or gamble with it in an overinflated stock market. Estimates put the looting by banks and investment firms of the U.S. Treasury at between $15 trillion and $20 trillion. But none of us know. The figures are not public. And the reason this systematic looting will continue until collapse is that our economy [would] go into a tailspin without this giddy infusion of free cash.

The ecosystem is at the same time disintegrating. Scientists from the International Programme on the State of the Ocean, a few days ago, issued a new report that warned that the oceans are changing faster than anticipated and increasingly becoming inhospitable to life. The oceans, of course, have absorbed much of the excess CO2 and heat from the atmosphere. This absorption is rapidly warming and acidifying ocean waters. This is compounded, the report noted, by increased levels of deoxygenation from nutrient runoffs from farming and climate change. The scientists called these effects a “deadly trio” that when combined is creating changes in the seas that are unprecedented in the planet’s history. This is their language, not mine. The scientists wrote that each of the earth’s five known mass extinctions was preceded by at least one [part] of the “deadly trio”—acidification, warming and deoxygenation. They warned that “the next mass extinction” of sea life is already under way, the first in some 55 million years. Or look at the recent research from the University of Hawaii that says global warming is now inevitable, it cannot be stopped but at best slowed, and that over the next 50 years the earth will heat up to levels that will make whole parts of the planet uninhabitable. Tens of millions of people will be displaced and millions of species will be threatened with extinction. The report casts doubt that [cities on or near a coast] such as New York or London will endure.

Yet we, like Ahab and his crew, rationalize our collective madness. All calls for prudence, for halting the march toward economic, political and environmental catastrophe, for sane limits on carbon emissions, are ignored or ridiculed. Even with the flashing red lights before us, the increased droughts, rapid melting of glaciers and Arctic ice, monster tornadoes, vast hurricanes, crop failures, floods, raging wildfires and soaring temperatures, we bow slavishly before hedonism and greed and the enticing illusion of limitless power, intelligence and prowess.

The corporate assault on culture, journalism, education, the arts and critical thinking has left those who speak this truth marginalized and ignored, frantic Cassandras who are viewed as slightly unhinged and depressingly apocalyptic. We are consumed by a mania for hope, which our corporate masters lavishly provide, at the expense of truth.

Friedrich Nietzsche in “Beyond Good and Evil” holds that only a few people have the fortitude to look in times of distress into what he calls the molten pit of human reality. Most studiously ignore the pit. Artists and philosophers, for Nietzsche, are consumed, however, by an insatiable curiosity, a quest for truth and desire for meaning. They venture down into the bowels of the molten pit. They get as close as they can before the flames and heat drive them back. This intellectual and moral honesty, Nietzsche wrote, comes with a cost. Those singed by the fire of reality become “burnt children,” he wrote, eternal orphans in empires of illusion.

Decayed civilizations always make war on independent intellectual inquiry, art and culture for this reason. They do not want the masses to look into the pit. They condemn and vilify the “burnt people”—Noam Chomsky, Ralph Nader, Cornel West. They feed the human addiction for illusion, happiness and hope. They peddle the fantasy of eternal material progress. They urge us to build images of ourselves to worship. They insist—and this is the argument of globalization ¬¬—that our voyage is, after all, decreed by natural law. We have surrendered our lives to corporate forces that ultimately serve systems of death. We ignore and belittle the cries of the burnt people. And, if we do not swiftly and radically reconfigure our relationship to each other and the ecosystem, microbes look set to inherit the earth.

Clive Hamilton in his “Requiem for a Species: Why We Resist the Truth About Climate Change” describes a dark relief that comes from accepting that “catastrophic climate change is virtually certain.” This obliteration of “false hopes,” he says, requires an intellectual knowledge and an emotional knowledge. The first is attainable. The second, because it means that those we love, including our children, are almost certainly doomed to insecurity, misery and suffering within a few decades, if not a few years, is much harder to acquire. To emotionally accept impending disaster, to attain the gut-level understanding that the power elite will not respond rationally to the devastation of the ecosystem, is as difficult to accept as our own mortality. The most daunting existential struggle of our time is to ingest this awful truth—intellectually and emotionally—and rise up to resist the forces that are destroying us.

The human species, led by white Europeans and Euro-Americans, has been on a 500-year-long planetwide rampage of conquering, plundering, looting, exploiting and polluting the earth—as well as killing the indigenous communities that stood in the way. But the game is up. The technical and scientific forces that created a life of unparalleled luxury—as well as unrivaled military and economic power for a small, global elite—are the forces that now doom us. The mania for ceaseless economic expansion and exploitation has become a curse, a death sentence. But even as our economic and environmental systems unravel, after the hottest year [2012] in the contiguous 48 states since record keeping began 107 years ago, we lack the emotional and intellectual creativity to shut down the engine of global capitalism. We have bound ourselves to a doomsday machine that grinds forward.

Complex civilizations have a bad habit of ultimately destroying themselves. Anthropologists including Joseph Tainter in “The Collapse of Complex Societies,” Charles L. Redman in “Human Impact on Ancient Environments” and Ronald Wright in “A Short History of Progress” have laid out the familiar patterns that lead to systems breakdown. The difference this time is that when we go down the whole planet will go with us. There will, with this final collapse, be no new lands left to exploit, no new civilizations to conquer, no new peoples to subjugate. The long struggle between the human species and the earth will conclude with the remnants of the human species learning a painful lesson about unrestrained greed, hubris and idolatry.

Collapse comes throughout human history to complex societies not long after they reach their period of greatest magnificence and prosperity.

“One of the most pathetic aspects of human history is that every civilization expresses itself most pretentiously, compounds its partial and universal values most convincingly, and claims immortality for its finite existence at the very moment when the decay which leads to death has already begun,” Reinhold Niebuhr wrote.

That pattern holds good for a lot of societies, among them the ancient Maya and the Sumerians of what is now southern Iraq. There are many other examples, including smaller-scale societies such as Easter Island. The very things that cause societies to prosper in the short run, especially new ways to exploit the environment such as the invention of irrigation, lead to disaster in the long run because of unforeseen complications. This is what Ronald Wright in “A Short History of Progress” calls the “progress trap.” We have set in motion an industrial machine of such complexity and such dependence on expansion, Wright notes, that we do not know how to make do with less or move to a steady state in terms of our demands on nature.

And as the collapse becomes palpable, if human history is any guide, we, like past societies in distress, will retreat into what anthropologists call “crisis cults.” The powerlessness we will feel in the face of ecological and economic chaos will unleash further collective delusions, such as fundamentalist beliefs in a god or gods who will come back to earth and save us. The Christian right provides a haven for this escapism. These cults perform absurd rituals to make it all go away, giving rise to a religiosity that peddles collective self-delusion and magical thinking. Crisis cults spread rapidly among Native American societies in the later part of the 19th century as the buffalo herds and the last remaining tribes were slaughtered. The Ghost Dance held out the hope that all the horrors of white civilization—the railroads, the murderous cavalry units, the timber merchants, the mine speculators, the hated tribal agencies, the barbed wire, the machine guns, even the white man himself—would disappear. And our psychological hard wiring is no different.

In our decline, hatred becomes our primary lust, our highest form of patriotism. We deploy vast resources to hunt down jihadists and terrorists, real and phantom. We destroy our civil society in the name of a war on terror. We persecute those, from Julian Assange to [Chelsea] Manning to Edward Snowden, who expose the dark machinations of power. We believe, because we have externalized evil, that we can purify the earth. And we are blind to the evil within us.
Melville’s description of Ahab is a description of the bankers, corporate boards, politicians, television personalities and generals who through the power of propaganda fill our heads with seductive images of glory and lust for wealth and power. We are consumed with self-induced obsessions that spur us toward self-annihilation.

“All my means are sane,” Ahab says, “my motive and my object mad.”

Ahab, as the historian Richard Slotkin points out in his book “Regeneration Through Violence,” is “the true American hero, worthy to be captain of a ship whose ‘wood could only be American.’ ” Melville offers us a vision, one that D.H. Lawrence later understood, of the inevitable fatality of white civilization brought about by our ceaseless lust for material progress, imperial expansion, white supremacy and exploitation of nature.

Melville, who had been a sailor on clipper ships and whalers, was keenly aware that the wealth of industrialized societies was stolen by force from the wretched of the earth. All the authority figures on the ship are white men—Ahab, Starbuck, Flask and Stubb. The hard, dirty work, from harpooning to gutting the carcasses of the whales, is the task of the poor, mostly men of color. Melville saw how European plundering of indigenous cultures from the 16th to the 19th centuries, coupled with the use of African slaves as a workforce to replace the natives, was the engine that enriched Europe and the United States. The Spaniards’ easy seizure of the Aztec and Inca gold following the massive die-off from smallpox and [other diseases] among native populations set in motion five centuries of unchecked economic and environmental plunder. Karl Marx and Adam Smith pointed to the huge influx of wealth from the Americas as having made possible the Industrial Revolution and modern capitalism. The Industrial Revolution also equipped the industrialized state with technologically advanced weapons systems, turning us into the most efficient killers on the planet.

Ahab, when he first appears on the quarterdeck after being in his cabin for the first few days of the voyage, holds up a doubloon, an extravagant gold coin, and promises it to the crew member who first spots the white whale. He knows that “the permanent constitutional condition of the manufactured man … is sordidness.” And he plays to this sordidness. The whale becomes like everything in the capitalist world a commodity, a source of personal profit. A murderous greed, one that Starbuck, Ahab’s first mate, denounces as “blasphemous,” grips the crew. Ahab’s obsession infects the ship.

“I see in [Moby Dick] outrageous strength, with an inscrutable malice sinewing it,” Ahab tells Starbuck. “That inscrutable thing is chiefly what I hate; and be the white whale agent, or be the white whale principal, I will wreak that hate upon him. Talk not to me of blasphemy, man; I’d strike the sun if it insulted me.”

Ahab conducts a dark Mass, a Eucharist of violence and blood, on the deck with the crew. He orders the men to circle around him. He makes them drink from a flagon that is passed from man to man, filled with draughts “hot as Satan’s hoof.” Ahab tells the harpooners to cross their lances before him. The captain grasps the harpoons and anoints the ships’ harpooners—Queequeg, Tashtego and Daggoo—his “three pagan kinsmen.” He orders them to detach the iron sections of their harpoons and fills the sockets “with the fiery waters from the pewter.” “Drink, ye harpooneers! Drink and swear, ye men that man the deathful whaleboat’s bow—Death to Moby Dick! God hunt us all, if we do not hunt Moby Dick to his death!” And with the crew bonded to him in his infernal quest he knows that Starbuck is helpless “amid the general hurricane.” “Starbuck now is mine,” Ahab says, “cannot oppose me now, without rebellion.” “The honest eye of Starbuck,” Melville writes, “fell downright.”

The ship, described as a hearse, was painted black. It was adorned with gruesome trophies of the hunt, festooned with the huge teeth and bones of sperm whales. It was, Melville writes, a “cannibal of a craft, tricking herself forth in the chased bones of her enemies.” The fires used to melt the whale blubber at night turned the Pequod into a “red hell.”

Our own raging fires, leaping up from our oil refineries and the explosions of our ordinance across the Middle East, bespeak our Stygian heart. And in our mad pursuit we ignore the suffering of others, just as Ahab does when he refuses to help the captain of a passing ship who is frantically searching for his son, who has fallen overboard.

Ahab has not only the heated rhetoric of persuasion; he is master of a terrifying internal security force on the ship, the five “dusky phantoms that seemed fresh formed out of air.” Ahab’s secret, private whale boat crew, who emerge from the bowels of the ship well into the voyage, keeps the rest of the ship in abject submission. The art of propaganda and the use of brutal coercion, the mark of tyranny, define our lives just as they mark those on Melville’s ship. The novel is the chronicle of the last days of any civilization.

And yet Ahab is no simple tyrant. Melville toward the end of the novel gives us two glimpses into the internal battle between Ahab’s maniacal hubris and his humanity. Ahab, too, has a yearning for love. He harbors regrets over his deformed life. The black cabin boy Pip is the only crew member who evokes any tenderness in the captain. Ahab is aware of this tenderness. He fears its power. Pip functions as the Fool did in Shakespeare’s “King Lear.” Ahab warns Pip of Ahab. “Lad, lad,” says Ahab, “I tell thee thou must not follow Ahab now. The hour is coming when Ahab would not scare thee from him, yet would not have thee by him. There is that in thee, poor lad, which I feel too curing to my malady. Like cures like; and for this hunt, my malady becomes my most desired health. … If thou speakest thus to me much more, Ahab’s purpose keels up in him. I tell thee no; it cannot be.” A few pages later, “untottering Ahab stood forth in the clearness of the morn; lifting his splintered helmet of a brow to the fair girl’s forehead of heaven. … From beneath his slouched hat Ahab dropped a tear into the sea; nor did all the Pacific contain such wealth as that one wee drop.” Starbuck approaches him. Ahab, for the only time in the book, is vulnerable. He speaks to Starbuck of his “forty years on the pitiless sea! … the desolation of solitude it has been. … Why this strife of the chase? why weary, and palsy the arm at the oar, and the iron, and the lance? How the richer or better is Ahab now?” He thinks of his young wife—“I widowed that poor girl when I married her, Starbuck”—and of his little boy: “About this time—yes, it is his noon nap now—the boy vivaciously wakes; sits up in bed; and his mother tells him of me, of cannibal old me; how I am abroad upon the deep, but will yet come back to dance him again.”

Ahab’s thirst for dominance, vengeance and destruction, however, overpowers these faint regrets of lost love and thwarted compassion. Hatred wins. “What is it,” Ahab finally asks, “what nameless, inscrutable, unearthly thing is it; what cozening, hidden lord and master, and cruel, remorseless emperor commands me; that against all natural lovings and longings, I so keep pushing, and crowding, and jamming myself on all the time. …”

Melville knew that physical courage and moral courage are distinct. One can be brave on a whaling ship or a battlefield, yet a coward when called on to stand up to human evil. Starbuck elucidates this peculiar division. The first mate is tormented by his complicity in what he foresees as Ahab’s “impious end.” Starbuck, “while generally abiding firm in the conflict with seas, or winds, or whales, or any of the ordinary irrational horrors of the world, yet cannot withstand those more terrific, because spiritual terrors, which sometimes menace you from the concentrating brow of an enraged and mighty man.”

And so we plunge forward in our doomed quest to master the forces that will finally smite us. Those who see where we are going too often lack the fortitude to actually rebel. Mutiny was the only salvation for the Pequod’s crew. It is our only salvation. But moral cowardice turns us into hostages.

I am reading and rereading the debates among some of the great radical thinkers of the 19th and 20th centuries about the mechanisms of social change. These debates were not academic. They were frantic searches for the triggers of revolt. Lenin placed his faith in a violent uprising, a professional, disciplined revolutionary vanguard freed from moral constraints and, like Marx, in the inevitable emergence of the worker’s state. [Pierre-Joseph] Proudhon insisted that gradual change would be accomplished as enlightened workers took over production and educated and converted the rest of the proletariat. [Mikhail] Bakunin predicted the catastrophic breakdown of the capitalist order, something we are likely to witness in our lifetimes, and new autonomous worker federations rising up out of the chaos. [Peter] Kropotkin, like Proudhon, believed in an evolutionary process that would hammer out the new society. Emma Goldman, along with Kropotkin, came to be very wary of both the efficacy of violence and the revolutionary potential of the masses. “The mass,” Goldman wrote bitterly toward the end of her life in echoing Marx, “clings to its masters, loves the whip, and is the first to cry Crucify!”

The revolutionists of history counted on a mobilized base of enlightened industrial workers. The building blocks of revolt, they believed, relied on the tool of the general strike, the ability of workers to cripple the mechanisms of production. Strikes could be sustained with the support of political parties, strike funds and union halls. Workers without these support mechanisms had to replicate the infrastructure of parties and unions if they wanted to put prolonged pressure on the bosses and the state. But now, with the decimation of the U.S. manufacturing base, along with the dismantling of our unions and opposition parties, we will have to search for different instruments of rebellion.

We must develop a revolutionary theory that is not reliant on the industrial or agrarian muscle of workers. Most manufacturing jobs have disappeared, and, of those that remain, few are unionized. Our family farms have been destroyed by agro-businesses. Monsanto and its Faustian counterparts on Wall Street rule. They are steadily poisoning our lives and rendering us powerless. The corporate leviathan, which is global, is freed from the constraints of a single nation-state or government. Corporations are beyond regulation or control. Politicians are too anemic, or more often too corrupt, to stand in the way of the accelerating corporate destruction. This makes our struggle different from revolutionary struggles in industrial societies in the past. Our revolt will look more like what erupted in the less industrialized Slavic republics, Russia, Spain and China and uprisings led by a disenfranchised rural and urban working class and peasantry in the liberation movements that swept through Africa and Latin America. The dispossessed working poor, along with unemployed college graduates and students, unemployed journalists, artists, lawyers and teachers, will form our movement. This is why the fight for a higher minimum wage is crucial to uniting service workers with the alienated college-educated sons and daughters of the old middle class. Bakunin, unlike Marx, considered déclassé intellectuals essential for successful revolt.

It is not the poor who make revolutions. It is those who conclude that they will not be able, as they once expected, to rise economically and socially. This consciousness is part of the self-knowledge of service workers and fast-food workers. It is grasped by the swelling population of college graduates caught in a vise of low-paying jobs and obscene amounts of debt. These two groups, once united, will be our primary engines of revolt. Much of the urban poor has been crippled and in many cases broken by a rewriting of laws, especially drug laws, that has permitted courts, probation officers, parole boards and police to randomly seize poor people of color, especially African-American men, without just cause and lock them in cages for years. In many of our most impoverished urban centers—our internal colonies, as Malcolm X called them—mobilization, at least at first, will be difficult. The urban poor are already in chains. These chains are being readied for the rest of us. “The law, in its majestic equality, forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets or steal bread,” Anatole France commented acidly.

Erica Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan examined 100 years of violent and nonviolent resistance movements in their book “Why Civil Resistance Works.” They concluded that nonviolent movements succeed twice as often as violent uprisings. Violent movements work primarily in civil wars or in ending foreign occupations, they found. Nonviolent movements that succeed appeal to those within the power structure, especially the police and civil servants, who are cognizant of the corruption and decadence of the power elite and are willing to abandon them. And we only need 1 to 5 percent of the population actively working for the overthrow of a system, history has shown, to bring down even the most ruthless totalitarian structures. It always works on two tracks—building alternative structures such as public banks to free ourselves from control and finding mechanisms to halt the machine.

The most important dilemma facing us is not ideological. It is logistical. The security and surveillance state has made its highest priority the breaking of any infrastructure that might spark widespread revolt. The state knows the tinder is there. It knows that the continued unraveling of the economy and the effects of climate change make popular unrest inevitable. It knows that as underemployment and unemployment doom at least a quarter of the U.S. population, perhaps more, to perpetual poverty, and as unemployment benefits are scaled back, as schools close, as the middle class withers away, as pension funds are looted by hedge fund thieves, and as the government continues to let the fossil fuel industry ravage the planet, the future will increasingly be one of open conflict. This battle against the corporate state, right now, is primarily about infrastructure. We need an infrastructure to build revolt. The corporate state is determined to deny us one.

The state, in its internal projections, has a vision of the future that is as dystopian as mine. But the state, to protect itself, lies. Politicians, corporations, the public relations industry, the entertainment industry and our ridiculous television pundits speak as if we can continue to build a society based on limitless growth, profligate consumption and fossil fuel. They feed the collective mania for hope at the expense of truth. Their public vision is self-delusional, a form of collective psychosis. The corporate state, meanwhile, is preparing privately for the world it knows is actually coming. It is cementing into place a police state, one that includes the complete evisceration of our most basic civil liberties and the militarization of the internal security apparatus, as well as wholesale surveillance of the citizenry.

Moby Dick rams and sinks the Pequod. The waves swallow up Ahab and all who followed him, except one. A vortex formed by the ship’s descent collapses, “and the great shroud of the sea rolled on as it rolled five thousand years ago.”

As the planet begins to convulse with fury, as the senseless greed of limitless capitalist expansion implodes the global economy, as our civil liberties are eviscerated in the name of national security, shackling us to an interconnected security and surveillance state that stretches from Moscow to Istanbul to New York, how shall we endure and resist?

Our hope lies in the human imagination. It was the human imagination that permitted African-Americans during slavery and the Jim Crow era to transcend their physical condition. It was the human imagination that sustained Sitting Bull and Black Elk as their land was seized and their cultures were broken. And it was the human imagination that allowed the survivors in the Nazi death camps to retain the power of the sacred. It is the imagination that makes possible transcendence. Chants, work songs, spirituals, the blues, poetry, dance and art converged under slavery to nourish and sustain this imagination. These were the forces that, as Ralph Ellison wrote, “we had in place of freedom.” The oppressed would be the first—for they know their fate—to admit that on a rational level such a notion is absurd, but they also know that it is only through the imagination that they survive. Jewish inmates in Auschwitz reportedly put God on trial for the Holocaust and then condemned God to death. A rabbi stood after the verdict to lead the evening prayers.

African-Americans and Native Americans, for centuries, had little control over their destinies. Forces of bigotry and violence kept them subjugated by whites. Suffering, for the oppressed, was tangible. Death was a constant companion. And it was only their imagination, as William Faulkner noted at the end of “The Sound and the Fury,” that permitted them—unlike the novel’s white Compson family—to “endure.”

The theologian James H. Cone captures this in his book “The Cross and the Lynching Tree.” Cone says that for oppressed blacks the cross was a “paradoxical religious symbol because it inverts the world’s value system with the news that hope comes by way of defeat, that suffering and death do not have the last word, that the last shall be first and the first last.” Cone continues:

That God could “make a way out of no way” in Jesus’ cross was truly absurd to the intellect, yet profoundly real in the souls of black folk. Enslaved blacks who first heard the gospel message seized on the power of the cross. Christ crucified manifested God’s loving and liberating presence in the contradictions of black life—that transcendent presence in the lives of black Christians that empowered them to believe that ultimately, in God’s eschatological future, they would not be defeated by the “troubles of this world,” no matter how great and painful their suffering. Believing this paradox, this absurd claim of faith, was only possible in humility and repentance. There was no place for the proud and the mighty, for people who think that God called them to rule over others. The cross was God’s critique of power—white power—with powerless love, snatching victory out of defeat.

Reinhold Niebuhr labeled this capacity to defy the forces of repression “a sublime madness in the soul.” Niebuhr wrote that “nothing but madness will do battle with malignant power and ‘spiritual wickedness in high places.’ ” This sublime madness, as Niebuhr understood, is dangerous, but it is vital. Without it, “truth is obscured.” And Niebuhr also knew that traditional liberalism was a useless force in moments of extremity. Liberalism, Niebuhr said, “lacks the spirit of enthusiasm, not to say fanaticism, which is so necessary to move the world out of its beaten tracks. It is too intellectual and too little emotional to be an efficient force in history.”

The prophets in the Hebrew Bible had this sublime madness. The words of the Hebrew prophets, as Abraham Heschel wrote, were “a scream in the night. While the world is at ease and asleep, the prophet feels the blast from heaven.” The prophet, because he saw and faced an unpleasant reality, was, as Heschel wrote, “compelled to proclaim the very opposite of what his heart expected.”

Primo Levi in his memoir “Survival in Auschwitz” tells of teaching Italian to another inmate, Jean Samuel, in exchange for lessons in French. Levi recites to Samuel from memory Canto XXVI of Dante’s “The Inferno.” It is the story of Ulysses’ final voyage.

We cheered, but soon that cheering turned to woe,

for then a whirlwind born from the strange land

battered our little vessel on the prow.

Three times the boat and all the sea were whirled,

and at the fourth, to please Another’s will,

the aft tipped in the air, the prow went down,

Until the ocean closed above our bones.

“He has received the message,” Levi wrote of his friend and what they shared in Dante, “he has felt that it has to do with him, that it has to do with all men who toil, and with us in particular.” Levi goes on. “It is vitally necessary and urgent that he listen, that he understand … before it is too late; tomorrow he or I might be dead, or we might never see each other again.”

The poet Leon Staff wrote from the Warsaw ghetto: “Even more than bread we now need poetry, in a time when it seems that it is not needed at all.”

It is only those who harness their imagination, and through their imagination find the courage to peer into the molten pit, who can minister to the suffering of those around them. It is only they who can find the physical and psychological strength to resist. Resistance is carried out not for its success, but because by resisting in every way possible we affirm life. And those who resist in the years ahead will be those who are infected with this “sublime madness.” As Hannah Arendt wrote in “The Origins of Totalitarianism,” the only morally reliable people are not those who say “this is wrong” or “this should not be done,” but those who say “I can’t.” They know that as Immanuel Kant wrote: “If justice perishes, human life on earth has lost its meaning.” And this means that, like Socrates, we must come to a place where it is better to suffer wrong than to do wrong. We must at once see and act, and given what it means to see, this will require the surmounting of despair, not by reason, but by faith.

“One of the only coherent philosophical positions is revolt,” Camus wrote. “It is a constant confrontation between man and his obscurity. … It is not aspiration, for it is devoid of hope. That revolt is the certainty of a crushing fate, without the resignation that ought to accompany it.”

“… [T]he people noticed that Crazy Horse was queerer than ever,” Black Elk said in remembering the final days of the wars of Western expansion. He went on to say of the great Sioux warrior: “He hardly ever stayed in the camp. People would find him out alone in the cold, and they would ask him to come home with them. He would not come, but sometimes he would tell the people what to do. People wondered if he ate anything at all. Once my father found him out alone like that, and he said to my father: ‘Uncle, you have noticed me the way I act. But do not worry; there are caves and holes for me to live in, and out here the spirits may help me. I am making plans for the good of my people.’  ”

Homer, Dante, Beethoven, Melville, Dostoevsky, Proust, Joyce, W.H. Auden, Emily Dickinson and James Baldwin, along with artists such as the sculptor David Smith, the photographer Diane Arbus and the blues musician Charley Patton, all had it. It is the sublime madness that lets one sing, as bluesman Ishman Bracey did in Hinds County, Miss., “I’ve been down so long, Lawd, down don’t worry me.” And yet in the mists of the imagination also lie the absurdity and certainty of divine justice:

I feel my hell a-risin’, a-risin’ every day;
I feel my hell a-risin’, a-risin’ every day;
Someday it’ll burst this levee and wash the whole wide world away.

Shakespeare’s greatest heroes and heroines—Prospero, Antony, Juliet, Viola, Rosalind, Hamlet, Cordelia and Lear—all have this sublime madness. King Lear, who through suffering and affliction, through human imagination, is finally able to see, warns us all that unbridled human passion and unchecked hubris mean the suicide of the species. “It will come,” Albany says in “Lear.” “Humanity must perforce prey on itself, Like monsters of the deep.” It was the poems of Federico Garcia Lorca that sustained the republicans fighting the fascists in Spain. Music, dance, drama, art, song, painting [have been] the fire and drive of resistance movements. The rebel units in El Salvador when I covered the war there always traveled with musicians and theater troupes. Art, as Emma Goldman pointed out, has the power to make ideas felt. Goldman noted that when Andrew Undershaft, a character in George Bernard Shaw’s play “Major Barbara,” said poverty is “[t]he worst of crimes” and “All the other crimes are virtues beside it,” his impassioned declaration elucidated the cruelty of class warfare more effectively than Shaw’s socialist tracts. The degradation of education into vocational training for the corporate state, the ending of state subsidies for the arts and journalism, the hijacking of these disciplines by corporate sponsors, sever the population from understanding, self-actualization and transcendence. In aesthetic terms the corporate state seeks to crush beauty, truth and imagination. This is a war waged by all totalitarian systems.

Culture, real culture, is radical and transformative. It is capable of expressing what lies deep within us. It gives words to our reality. It makes us feel as well as see. It allows us to empathize with those who are different or oppressed. It reveals what is happening around us. It honors mystery. “The role of the artist, then, precisely, is to illuminate that darkness, blaze roads through the vast forest,” James Baldwin wrote, “so that we will not, in all our doing, lose sight of its purpose, which is, after all, to make the world a more human dwelling place.”

“Ultimately, the artist and the revolutionary function as they function, and pay whatever dues they must pay behind it because they are both possessed by a vision, and they do not so much follow this vision as find themselves driven by it,” wrote Baldwin. “Otherwise, they could never endure, much less embrace, the lives they are compelled to lead.”

I do not know if we can build a better society. I do not even know if we will survive as a species. But I know these corporate forces have us by the throat. And they have my children by the throat. I do not fight fascists because I will win. I fight fascists because they are fascists. And this is a fight which in the face of the overwhelming forces against us requires us to embrace this sublime madness, to find in acts of rebellion the embers of life, an intrinsic meaning that lies outside of certain success. It is to at once grasp reality and then refuse to allow this reality to paralyze us. It is, and I say this to people of all creeds or no creeds, to make an absurd leap of faith, to believe, despite all empirical evidence around us, that good always draws to it the good, that the fight for life always goes somewhere—we do not know where; the Buddhists call it karma—and in these acts we sustain our belief in a better world, even if we cannot see one emerging around us.

The Turkish poet Nazim Hikmet, who spent most of his adult life in prison or in exile, knew something of despair. But he knew something too of resistance, of that rebellious spirit which must define us in times of terrible oppression and woe if we are to remain fully human. Any act of resistance is its own eternal triumph. Hikmet captured this in his poem “On Living.”

Living is no laughing matter:
you must live with great seriousness
like a squirrel, for example—
I mean without looking for something beyond and above living,
I mean living must be your whole occupation.
Living is no laughing matter:
you must take it seriously,
so much so and to such a degree
that, for example, your hands tied behind your back,
your back to the wall,
or else in a laboratory
in your white coat and safety glasses,
you can die for people—
even for people whose faces you’ve never seen,
even though you know living
is the most real, the most beautiful thing.
I mean, you must take living so seriously
that even at seventy, for example, you’ll plant olive trees—
and not for your children, either,
but because although you fear death you don’t believe it,
because living, I mean, weighs heavier.

II
Let’s say we’re seriously ill, need surgery—
which is to say we might not get up
from the white table.
Even though it’s impossible not to feel sad
about going a little too soon,
we’ll still laugh at the jokes being told,
we’ll look out the window to see if it’s raining,
or still wait anxiously
for the latest newscast . . .
Let’s say we’re at the front—
for something worth fighting for, say.
There, in the first offensive, on that very day,
we might fall on our face, dead.
We’ll know this with a curious anger,
but we’ll still worry ourselves to death
about the outcome of the war, which could last years.
Let’s say we’re in prison
and close to fifty,
and we have eighteen more years, say,
before the iron doors will open.
We’ll still live with the outside,
with its people and animals, struggle and wind—
I mean with the outside beyond the walls.
I mean, however and wherever we are,
we must live as if we will never die.

III
This earth will grow cold,
a star among stars
and one of the smallest,
a gilded mote on blue velvet—
I mean this, our great earth.
This earth will grow cold one day,
not like a block of ice
or a dead cloud even
but like an empty walnut it will roll along
in pitch-black space . . .
You must grieve for this right now
—you have to feel this sorrow now—
for the world must be loved this much
if you’re going to say “I lived”. . .

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The Big Picture: Anthropocentrism, Essential Psychopathy & Ecocide

In Uncategorized on January 27, 2014 at 8:35 pm

Oldspeak: “Human behaviour is widely believed to be essentially rational and therefore fundamentally distinct from the behaviour of all other animals. This leads automatically to a belief system that is best described as ‘anthropocentric’… Yet we share the planet with some 20 to 100 million other species, all of them genetically driven. One would think that only a deranged gambler would be fool enough to bet on the presence of a solitary exception in such a vast biota. In other words, anthropocentrism hinges on an extraordinary proposition, one that demands extraordinary proof. Unfortunately, none exists…. Not the slightest scrap of hard evidence, either morphological or genetic, suggests that Homo sapiens is not, like all animals, a natural by-product of genetic and Darwinian evolution. We should therefore assume that we, like they, are uncontaminated by any supra-natural influences. We may well be excellent communicators and tool-makers, and also the most self-aware, mystical and malicious animals on Earth, but overwhelming evidence shows that all these distinctions are of degree, not of kind. And yet the myth lives on… Nevertheless, some of us managed to convince the rest that we somehow are indeed “god’s gift to the world,” superior to and masters of all other Life and all of Nature…. And so we built permanent settlements and began the drastic and destructive modification of the ecosystem. As a consequence, there came the hierarchies needed to administer, govern and control rapidly growing populations…. Within these vertical power structures and large populations, a type of human, who had previously been held in check by social power, is able to acquire personal power. By virtue of their lack of conscience and compassion and their skills at manipulation, deceit and obfuscation, hidden by the structure of the new social systems and blending into the growing numbers of humans, they rise through the hierarchies and finally reach the positions of power and control they could never achieve as a member of a small, intimately interrelated and interdependent tribal community….With the coming of civilisation, the essential psychopath escapes from the prison of the self-policing indigenous culture and is free to begin the millennia-long quest for pathological dominance over the rest of humanity. Ponerogenesis is enabled and Pathocracy is born… And so we created societies that could not sustain themselves without exceeding the carrying capacity of their landbases, and the settlements became villages, towns, cities, nations and empires, all of which were inevitably destined to exceed the carrying capacity of the land…. When any given society or culture could no longer be sustained by its ecosystem, its landbase, it became necessary to obtain resources elsewhere. So we invented colonisation, occupation, and wars of conquest… We came to “believe” we had the unquestionable right to exploit everything and everyone in order to continue upon this new path. We developed a sense of entitlement and invented religions and technologies to support it until, today, the cancer of ‘civilisation’ has spread around the world… By now, it should be abundantly clear to anyone with even a modicum of simple common sense that civilisation is killing the planet; it is murdering our Mother. When someone attempts to murder your mother, what do you do?… Industrial civilisation is unsustainable and irredeemable.  Its members, both rulers and ruled, will not voluntarily enact the changes needed to transform it to a culture that is rational, sustainable and natural. Therefore, it will collapse.” –Richard Posner

We are illusionists. There is very little that is physical in the world we’ve created and made ourselves to believe. From Friday to November to religious dogma to the boundaries of Russia to fiat currency to political parties … all are constructs – simplifications – to structure and order the world around us in our collective minds. We have the power to chart our future actions on this planet, and hence the flows of energy and matter that result from whatever rules guide our collective minds. If this is the case, then why do we fetishize a particular set of rules that understands human progress as continuous throughout (i.e. extraction, production, consumption and waste)? Why does the dominant human culture, which has extended to every corner of the globe, continually persist in advancing this goal, without comprehending the biophysical touchstone that allows such throughput to occur in the first place?”-Vijay Kolinjivadi, Economic Growth is Killing Us

All countries are basically social arrangements, accomodations to changing circumstances. No matter how permanent and even sacred they may seem at any one time, in fact, they are all artificial and temporary-Strobe Talbott

“At what point will the rapidly changing circumstances on our planet force us to pay attention to reality and reject the artificial and temporary unreality we’re being drowned in? Probably not until industrial civilization collapses. Enjoy the ride to extinction…-OSJ

By Richard Posner @ The Hampton Institute:

Kind reader;

Being a self-educated generalist, it has long been my practice to wade in the shallows of many disciplines rather than plunging into and fully immersing myself in any one. I think this has served me fairly well since I have consequently not been restrained by the bounds of specialisation. I have not drowned myself in the depths of any single field of study to the exclusion of all others.

It’s my opinion that being a generalist enhances one’s ability to take a broader view of Life, its tumultuous history and seemingly endless mutability. It enables one to more readily see “the big picture”.

You may note, and I trust it will not be too disconcerting, that I follow something of a non-linear path with this essay. That’s simply because that’s how it was conceived and consequently presented.

I may occasionally diverge from the specific subject of any given section to temporarily pursue a tangential but relevant thought, only to return a paragraph or two later.

There may also be some instances of redundancy, which simply means I feel that certain points warrant repetition.

The Rise of the Human Empire

“Man has lost the capacity to foresee and to forestall. He will end by destroying the earth.”

Albert Schweitzer
A basic rule of thumb in evolution seems to be: the larger and more complex the organism, the more slowly it adapts to changes in the environment and, consequently, the longer its evolutionary path. With a very short generational time line, a virus may mutate in a matter of days or even hours while a creature like a whale, or a human, with generations lasting many years, may require hundreds or even thousands of those long generations to undergo any widespread, substantial, physiological alteration.

All the creatures of Earth that have come and gone over a span of years numbered in hundreds of millions, excepting only Homo sapiens, have either succeeded or failed while attempting to adapt and evolve to the environmental changes Nature has thrown at them. Our species alone, in lieu of adaptation, has turned to the radical and irreparably destructive process of altering the environment, on a massive scale, to suit our preferences.

Discounting events such as asteroid strikes, massive volcanic activity or other rapidly occurring natural disasters, some triggering widespread extinction events, manifold species have either managed to adapt to changes in their landbase or migrated to new places that better suited their physiology. If their survival tactics failed, they simply disappeared into the void of extinction.

Our ancient ancestors, going back some five or six million years, adapted and evolved in the same manner until quite recently. During the Paleolithic Period, beginning a mere 750,000 years ago, we still existed as a part of and in balance with Nature.

The Paleolithic ended around 15,000 years ago and, sometime shortly thereafter, in the early stages of the Neolithic Period, something happened that took the human species off the path of natural evolution.

Somewhere around 10,000 to as long as 13,000 years ago, our ancestors started behaving oddly. They abandoned the way of Life that had allowed the primate family Hominidae, the hominids, which includes H. sapiens, to survive for some five million years.

“In the Levant – the area that today encompasses Israel, the Palestinian territories, Lebanon, Jordan, and western Syria – archaeologists had discovered settlements dating as far back as 13,000 B.C. Known as Natufian villages (the name comes from the first of these sites to be found), they sprang up across the Levant as the Ice Age was drawing to a close, ushering in a time when the region’s climate became relatively warm and wet”. (source)

These settlements were not constructed by farmers but by hunter-gatherers.

“Yet although the Natufians lived in permanent settlements of up to several hundred people, they were foragers, not farmers, hunting gazelles and gathering wild rye, barley, and wheat. It was a big sign that our ideas needed to be revised,” says Harvard University archaeologist Ofer Bar-Yosef . (source)

Archaeological evidence from locations such as Gobekli Tepe, in southeastern Turkey, indicates that, around eleven thousand years ago, Neolithic humans started building large structures, temples, and places for ritualistic gatherings. At the same time, most significantly and most damning, we began to think of ourselves as separate from and superior to all the other Life of Earth.

“Anthropologists have assumed that organized religion began as a way of salving the tensions that inevitably arose when hunter-gatherers settled down, became farmers, and developed large societies.

Göbekli Tepe, to Schmidt’s way of thinking, suggests a reversal of that scenario: The construction of a massive temple by a group of foragers is evidence that organized religion could have come before the rise of agriculture and other aspects of civilization. It suggests that the human impulse to gather for sacred rituals arose as humans shifted from seeing themselves as part of the natural world to seeking mastery over it ” (emphasis added). (source)

We were thus set upon the path of ecocide.

This seems to be when, where and why the human animal stopped evolving. Our physiology and mores are essentially still much the same as they were in the Paleolithic era. Our “progress,” advancing exponentially since the Neolithic, has been far too rapid for our bodies and morality to keep pace.

Rather than adapting to a changing world, humans began radically and destructively altering the planet to suit their needs and desires. Eventually desire came to be more important than need. Our inability to keep pace with the speed of our “progress” has sickened us physically and morally.

We became “civilised” and were overwhelmed by pathological anthropocentricity.

Is anthropocentricity a genetic aberration?

“Human behaviour is widely believed to be essentially rational and therefore fundamentally distinct from the behaviour of all other animals. This leads automatically to a belief system that is best described as ‘anthropocentric’.”

Anthropocentrism:

(1) Viewing the world in terms of human experience and values.

(2) The belief that our species is the star that crowns an evolutionary Christmas tree of Life.

(3) The belief that humans are the pivot upon which our divinely ordained universe turns.

“Yet we share the planet with some 20 to 100 million other species, all of them genetically driven. One would think that only a deranged gambler would be fool enough to bet on the presence of a solitary exception in such a vast biota. In other words, anthropocentrism hinges on an extraordinary proposition, one that demands extraordinary proof. Unfortunately, none exists.

Not the slightest scrap of hard evidence, either morphological or genetic, suggests that Homo sapiens is not, like all animals, a natural by-product of genetic and Darwinian evolution. We should therefore assume that we, like they, are uncontaminated by any supra-natural influences. We may well be excellent communicators and tool-makers, and also the most self-aware, mystical and malicious animals on Earth, but overwhelming evidence shows that all these distinctions are of degree, not of kind. And yet the myth lives on.” (source)

Nevertheless, some of us managed to convince the rest that we somehow are indeed “god’s gift to the world,” superior to and masters of all other Life and all of Nature.

And so we built permanent settlements and began the drastic and destructive modification of the ecosystem. As a consequence, there came the hierarchies needed to administer, govern and control rapidly growing populations.

Within these vertical power structures and large populations, a type of human, who had previously been held in check by social power, is able to acquire personal power. By virtue of their lack of conscience and compassion and their skills at manipulation, deceit and obfuscation, hidden by the structure of the new social systems and blending into the growing numbers of humans, they rise through the hierarchies and finally reach the positions of power and control they could never achieve as a member of a small, intimately interrelated and interdependent tribal community.

With the coming of civilisation, the essential psychopath escapes from the prison of the self-policing indigenous culture and is free to begin the millennia-long quest for pathological dominance over the rest of humanity. Ponerogenesis is enabled and Pathocracy is born.

The following examples make clear how the psychopath was kept in check for millennia until the cancer of civilisation metastasised during the Neolithic Revolution. In a few remote locations that still harbour indigenous people who have not yet been “civilised,” ponerogenesis is still held at bay by the social power of the small traditional community.

A story reported by Dr. Jane M. Murphy, now director of Harvard’s Psychiatric Epidemiology Unit, serves as an example of the vigilant stance that one millennia-old, indigenous culture – a group of Inuit in Northwest Alaska – takes regarding psychopathic types within their midst . (emphasis added)

So aware is this group regarding the existence of these individuals that their language includes a term for them – kunlangeta – which is used to refer to a person whose “mind knows what to do but does not do it,” resulting in such acts as lying, cheating, stealing and taking advantage of the tribe without making sufficient contribution. (emphasis added – a concise description of the modern capitalist financier, corporate CEO or politician)

And how seriously do the group’s members take the need to respond to the threat such individuals pose to the group’s sustainability? When asked what the group would typically do with a kunlangeta, Murphy was told “Somebody would have pushed him off the ice when nobody else was looking”. (source)

Ancient Indians referred to the culture Christopher Columbus brought to the new world as “wetiko” – meaning a culture of cannibals – a culture that feeds off the lives of others. (source)

In the West, the formal recognition of psychopaths goes back at least as far as Theophrastus, a student of Aristotle, whose study of the Unscrupulous Man defines the basic characteristics of psychopathy. (source)

While research into prehistoric psychopathy is admittedly sparse, due to the absence of recorded accounts or other physical evidence, the narrative of the “kunlangeta” above indicates clearly that there have been psychopaths among us for thousands of years. Ergo, they have survived in spite of being more easily detected during the ages before very large concentrations of population became the norm.

Though they might have been unable to achieve any dominance in small tribes or groups, which is by no means a given in all cases, they were nonetheless able to procreate. The ponerogenic gene was thereby passed along and into the era of the Neolithic Revolution where I theorise that the psychopathic met with the opportunity to flourish.

And so we created societies that could not sustain themselves without exceeding the carrying capacity of their landbases, and the settlements became villages, towns, cities, nations and empires, all of which were inevitably destined to exceed the carrying capacity of the land.

When any given society or culture could no longer be sustained by its ecosystem, its landbase, it became necessary to obtain resources elsewhere. So we invented colonisation, occupation, and wars of conquest.

We came to “believe” we had the unquestionable right to exploit everything and everyone in order to continue upon this new path. We developed a sense of entitlement and invented religions and technologies to support it until, today, the cancer of ‘civilisation’ has spread around the world.

By now, it should be abundantly clear to anyone with even a modicum of simple common sense that civilisation is killing the planet; it is murdering our Mother. When someone attempts to murder your mother, what do you do?
A Matter of Priorities

It seems likely that the Anthropocene Epoch will not be discussed in any future history books or scientific journals for the simple reason that there will be no such books or journals nor historians or scientists to fill them.

But for now, every day, there are thousands of “articles” to be read online regarding the multitude of catastrophic issues facing the human species.

A mob of “pundits,” who make a lot of effort to sound like they know what they’re talking about, write lengthy and often mind-numbing disquisitions about a plethora of these “issues”:

  • the economy
  • unemployment
  • food stamps
  • social security
  • medicare
  • education

· the financial industry (now there’s an oxymoron if I’ve ever heard one)

  • police brutality
  • gun laws
  • politics
  • global warming
  • climate change
  • nuclear power
  • war
  • poverty
  • same sex marriage
  • peak oil
  • renewable energy
  • hydraulic fracturing (fracking)
  • the ostensible war on terror
  • health insurance
  • unions
  • mountain top removal
  • strip mining
  • deforestation
  • etc, etc, etc, ad nauseum

The list could go on for pages and that’s a major problem, because all these individual issues we face today add up to one very big problem: global ecocide. This can end only one way: near term extinction of humans and possibly all Life on Earth.

The expert commentators, more often than not, treat these incidental problems as if they were of the utmost importance and their resolution vital to the general welfare of humanity.

In fact, nearly all these “issues” are nothing but distractions, and many are kept in the public focus for that very reason.

These issues are merely branches of a poisonous tree. Everyone is hacking at the branches but ignoring the root. Even if you cut down the tree and grind away the stump, any root allowed to remain below the surface will continue to send up new shoots. You cannot kill the tree by hacking at the branches; you must destroy the root. The root of this tree is industrial civilisation.

This is not to say that the human race must be destroyed. But, after many years in denial, during which time I clung desperately to a utopian illusion of a sustainable, enlightened, techno-industrial society, I have finally reached the conclusion that industrial civilisation must be brought to an end or the human race will effectively destroy itself and quite possibly all Life on Earth.

The single “issue” that must be resolved above all others is the destruction of the ecosystem, the murder of the planet. The only resolution is the end of civilisation as we know it. All the other issues only exist as effects of civilisation. Putting an end to civilisation will, in due course, automatically and naturally resolve them all.

It won’t be pretty or pleasant, easy or even bearable, but nothing less will suffice.
What Have We Done?

In all probability, the global warming “tipping point” has already been passed, a planetary state shift has begun and the Sixth Great Extinction is underway.

Humans began contributing to environmental lead pollution as early as 8,000 years ago, according to a University of Pittsburgh research report. ( source)

Demand for the mercury compound vermilion was strong enough to support a large-scale mercury mining industry in the Andes as far back as 1400 B.C., according to a new study. (source)

In 1306, Edward, instigated by a group of prominent noblemen and clerics, passed legislation banning the burning of sea-coal. ( source)

London also recorded one of the earlier extreme cases of water quality problems with the Great Stink on the Thames of 1858, which led to construction of the London sewerage system soon afterward. (source)

The greenhouse effect was discovered by Joseph Fourier in 1824, first reliably experimented on by John Tyndall in 1858, and first reported quantitatively by Svante Arrhenius in 1896. (source)

In 1896 Adolf Just wrote, in “Return To Nature”:

Man in his misguidance has powerfully interfered with nature. He has devastated the forests, and thereby even changed the atmospheric conditions and the climate. Some species of plants and animals have become entirely extinct through man, although they were essential in the economy of Nature. Everywhere the purity of the air is affected by smoke and the like, and the rivers are defiled. These and other things are serious encroachments upon Nature, which men nowadays entirely overlook but which are of the greatest importance, and at once show their evil effect not only upon plants but upon animals as well, the latter not having the endurance and power of resistance of man .” (emphasis added)

Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson says that ” half the world’s great forests have already been leveled and half the world’s plant and animal species may be gone by the end of this century.”

“It is with the coming of man that a vast hole seems to open in nature, a vast black whirlpool spinning faster and faster, consuming flesh, stones, soil, minerals, sucking down the lightning, wrenching power from the atom, until the ancient sounds of nature are drowned in the cacophony of something which is no longer nature, something instead which is loose and knocking at the world’s heart, something demonic and no longer planned-escaped, it may be-spewed out of nature, contending in a final giant’s game against its master.”

Loren Eiseley, (September 3, 1907 – July 9, 1977) an American anthropologist, educator, philosopher, and natural science writer, who taught and published books from the 1950s through the 1970s.

So, as we can see, we have been receiving cautionary messages regarding our reckless, headlong rush of “progress” for a long time. We have been “polluting” Earth’s atmosphere since we learned to use fire. However, it was not until the Neolithic Revolution and the consequent growth of permanent settlements with the attendant sedentary agriculture and surge in the growth of human population that pollution began its evolution into something Nature could not deal with.

This steady, unrestrained poisoning of our biosphere finally became insuperable with the eruption of the industrial age. Unless this industrialised civilisation is stopped and dismantled, the fate of human Life on Earth seems dubious at best.

That being said, it must be added that those who conflate “the end of the world” with the extinction of Homo sapiens are experiencing the delusion of human exceptionalism. Contrary to popular misconception, the world does not need us. We need the world and we need it to exist within very narrow parameters in order to ensure our survival. Our “civilisation” is moving the conditions of Earth’s ecosystems far outside those parameters. If we do not make the necessary fundamental changes to our culture immediately our species will not survive. But, if that be the case, after we are gone Earth and whatever Life remains will continue to evolve quite nicely within the new paradigm of the world without people.

Meanwhile, everyone seems to be stuck in a mindset that demands any actions we take to address the multitude of distracting issues created by our culture be predicated upon the continuation of the very “civilisation” that is their cause. I don’t think so.

A problem cannot be solved by applying more of the same reasoning and principles that precipitated it.

A culture and economy that demands perpetual growth and depends, for its very existence, upon the endless and unrestrained extraction and destruction of non-renewable resources cannot endure.

As far as I can see, it all shakes out about like this: Industrial civilisation is unsustainable. The existing paradigm can end only one way: the collapse of civilisation.

The landing could be made a little softer if, putting our accrued knowledge and power to good use, civilisation was intentionally and rationally dismantled, but that’s not likely to happen.

Instead, the ruling class will cling to their self-proclaimed, unquestioned “right” to exploit everything and everyone; unhindered, until it’s physically impossible to do so. Then civilisation will crash, hard.

The longer we wait for civilisation to break down, or the longer we delay bringing it down ourselves, the greater the suffering and death for whatever Life survives through and after the collapse.

Seems to me nobody has a clue how bad things really are or will become. Suffice it to say it will probably be worse than anyone is expecting.

I’d suggest anyone under the age of eighteen be given a crash course on how to live as a hunter-gatherer, sooner rather than later. Why wait til the last minute?
Evil Stew

Whether or not governments, corporations and financial institutions of civilisation are evil depends upon whom you ask. I think it’s more likely that the actual evil is to be found in the essential psychopaths who create and sustain such institutions. The institutions themselves are only symptoms of the terminal disease called industrial civilisation.

Ultimately there are no solutions to any of the separate issues in this mélange of catastrophe that will make any significant difference in the big picture and over the long term. This disease cannot be cured by putting band-aids on the symptoms. Unless the cause of the disease is eliminated, the patient’s premature death is assured. The end of civilisation as we know it is the only cure that can ensure the possibility of continued human Life on Earth.

Acculturation to the compartmentalised character of our civilisation makes it extremely difficult for its individual members to reach an understanding of its mortiferous nature. The forest cannot be seen for the trees. People just don’t see the big picture. They are consumed by their own pet issues, their specialised functions and their own self-interest.

However, it should by now be getting easier for people to see that this system cannot be “fixed”, that we can’t get things back to “normal”, that normal is the problem, not the solution.

Simply put, the main function of industrial civilisation is to turn all things into profit for the purpose of keeping a ruling class in power. This is done by killing the planet and transforming that death into sellable commodities for us to “consume”.

That the extraction and consumption of non-renewable resources without restraint cannot go on forever should be self-evident to anyone. Yet this culture not only consumes non-renewables with reckless abandon but devours or destroys renewables, like land, trees, fish, all other food sources and water, at a rate far surpassing that of their recovery. Any culture that depends for its very existence upon such a system cannot endure.

What is the big picture?

Industrial civilisation is unsustainable and irredeemable. Its members, both rulers and ruled, will not voluntarily enact the changes needed to transform it to a culture that is rational, sustainable and natural. Therefore, it will collapse.

Only when humans have completed the transformation of Earth from a luxuriant, verdant, bountiful and nurturing home into something akin to their own sterile, barren and lifeless inner landscape will they finally understand the horror they have visited upon themselves; and then it will be too late.

Consummatum est

 

Walking In An Anthropocene Wonderland

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

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

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

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

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

By Phil Rockstroh @ Dissident Voice:

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

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

Secretary of Defense? More like Commissar of Mass Suicide.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How not to be a bystander in your own life:

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

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

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

Never bore your audience.

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

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

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

Violence Against Our Environment

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Chris Williams @ Dissident Voice:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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