Through My Lens, Clearly

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Through My Lens, Clearly

For me, the 1950s ended in 1962 with the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the 1960s began in 1959 with the Cuban Revolution. I remember the elation in my family, in New York City’s Upper West Side (136th Street, and Broadway), when the Batista Regime in Cuba collapsed in January 1959; and I remember our dumbstruck terror in October 1962, listening to President John Kennedy speaking on our black-and-white TV, wondering if my grandparents would be radioactively incinerated in Havana before we were similarly dematerialized in New York City, or vice versa.

That is how my political consciousness was born; its coming-of-age and definitive molding was done later by the Vietnam War, and the many insistent demands by my government that I sacrifice myself to it. I escaped by dumb luck, for which I am eternally grateful. With the particular curvature and polish of my own idiosyncratic lens for political consciousness, I have come to resolve images of our collective reality that I sometimes feel a need to project, as here today.

People can’t be changed, they either evolve on their own, or they persist as they are to the death. The best you can do, for the rare few, is tell them the truth if they ask.

We live in a world rich in its diversity of intolerance of independent thought and self-directed living. Expressions of personal independence and creativity are threats to the slavish conformity of the mass of fearful repressed people hiding in their submissiveness to traditional ideologies that give them status in social hierarchies that limit the full human potential of the individual. This maintains, without merit, the elevation of patriarchs and power-hungry mediocrities who clip the wings of the human spirit and direct the enforcement of their systems of mental and physical imprisonment of the masses serving them.

Bigotry is popular because it makes stupid people feel intelligent, and weak people feel strong. President (sic!) Donald Trump’s popularity rests on people’s desire to be bigoted and respected for it. Bigotry will exist as long as there are ignorant people who are fearful. Such bigoted people love fascism because under it they can stay bigoted and be proud of it. Fascist bigots, like Trump, don’t want to hear the truth because they don’t want to be made to feel ashamed. That is why publicly recognized fascist power-seekers always try to silence their critics: first by ignoring them, then by ridiculing them, then by judicial attacks against them, or by veiled calls to their followers to sprout proxies who will make illegal attacks on their critics, and ultimately if they gain dictatorial power they have their critics killed.

Evangelical Christianity is a cult of fear, and for its men also a cult of patriarchy. Politically, it is irrational Republicanism; socially, it is white supremacy and the subjugation of women. Why do such Republican women remain Republican? Because their bigotry, which is fear, is so embedded that it overpowers their self-respect, which is courage. Evangelical Christianity sees Islam as its reflection and its rival, which is why it hates Islam. In practice, their religion is a hate crime. Heraclitus was so perceptive to write, in about 500 BC, that “bigotry is the disease of the religious.”

The problem of race bigotry in America is like the problem of climate change. It is of our making, and we know how to fix it, but we never will. People are too invested in their ignorance for that to ever happen, and afraid if they let it go they will be weak in a changed world.

Arresting climate change would require the universal application of human intelligence, indiscriminate compassion, worldwide solidarity instead of personal selfishness, and thoughtful discipline instead of thoughtless waste. We are doomed. Climate Change is only a problem for the young, bequeathed to them by the old, who won’t notice it anyway because they’re comfortably done, and will be gone soon (geologically speaking).

I probably should not bother writing about the Climate Change Crisis anymore. Everyone everywhere now knows that it is real, and most have felt its first unpleasant effects. So, some Green Energy actions will now happen in response, probably too few, too weak and too late, but at least a start now that the Global Mind has opened to the truth.

Also, I really don’t need to write any more Jeremiads against Republican Party partisans (there are plenty of others to do that nicely), because it is now obvious to everyone everywhere — even the U.S. corporate media (though it puckers their sphincters to mouth it) — that the Republican Party is just a fascist conspiracy to eliminate democracy in the United States of America, and replace it with an authoritarian corporatized xenophobic bigoted Fundamentalist Christian White Supremacy theocratic oligarchy, to drive us all expeditiously to extinction under their self-satisfied obsessively avaricious command. Thieves lie, and liars steal. For them, it is better for humanity to die out badly than for the stupid, bigoted and greedy to be bypassed. Capitalism is fossil-fueled greed with a total lack of imagination, and a bodacious military. Capitalism is the ideology of parasites.

Who built the United States of America into the richest country in world history?: enslaved and exterminated Native Americans, enslaved Africans, dispossessed Mexicans, and exploited European and Asian immigrant laborers. Who produces American wealth today?: the wage-slave descendants of all of these, who only gain a pittance from their harvested labors. What salve are these squeezed working people given for the bruising sacrifices they make of their humanity into the endlessly grinding engines of obsessive greed?: a patriotism deficient in human solidarity but voracious for taxes. But, don’t think of it as taxes, think of it as tithing to the War Religion.

So in my lens’s focus today I find the following: For the world: Capitalism must die for the World to live. For my country: Tribalism is America’s fatal flaw. Resentment, envy and a fanatical sense of entitlement are its corrosive agents. A generational overturning led by socialist youth is its only hope. For myself and every other person: It’s not what happens to you that determines whether you are a success or failure at life, but how you deal with it. As Thucydides quoted Pericles: “Honor is the only thing that does not grow old.”

And now, back to the bread and circuses.

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Moby-Dick

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Moby-Dick

The red arm of the doomed American Indian
in his death-gasp
nailed the harassing American Eagle to the cross
at mast-top of the sinking Ship-of-State,
hull stoved-in
by unconquerable purity of majestic Immensity,
the pulse of Nature
that had been so monomaniacally pursued,
a blind raging exterminating profiteering quest
to capture, kill, and boil down its essence
for liquid fuel
burning in that self-annihilating hunt’s engine
only to be quenched out steaming
by the precipitous plunge into cold finality
of eternally billowing oblivion
in whose dark depths Nature ranges free.

One chastened orphaned wanderer
vomited out of the deep illusory unconscious
by random pity,
buoyed uncoffined by lost despair,
drifts beyond prophesy he now knows
will ever be unheeded
and yet fulfilled.

7 August 2019

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The Volcano Behind Oakland (redux)

Round Top crater, tilted 90° to right, and quarried.

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The Volcano Behind Oakland (redux)

I think I have settled on the epitaph for my tombstone: Have Fun and Be Kind. Actually, while I concede the certainty of mortality, I don’t really want a tombstone. I would prefer that my lifeless body be cremated and my bones crushed, so my powdery remains could be scattered at sea, perhaps in Bodega Bay following my father (or further out if the charter boat captain isn’t too stingy about using fuel). Then the gritty grey plume of my exiting ghost would settle out as a thin dusting on the muddy surface of the sea floor, and in time my ashes would get pressed into a thin-banded shale or mudstone of future millennia.

The only uncertainty about human extinction is its timing: Will it occur in the distant future when the sun expands into a Red Giant and consumes the inner planets, or will it be an unnecessarily premature self-inflicted demise by some combination of war (whether radioactive or merely with firearms), environmental exhaustion and climate change? I suspect humanity will select option B, but — through the magical power of denial — conceptualize the experience as victimization by unanticipated natural catastrophes. In any event, I do not find the inevitability of human extinction to be regrettable. Humanity is but one of many simultaneous and transitory expressions of Life On Earth, and this earth is only a minute speck of an unimaginably vast universe that can obviously sprout life. So relax, the earth and the universe will carry on majestically without us; we are as unnecessary to them as the dinosaurs were.

Like the animals and plants at the time of the dinosaurs, the life forms of today may become the coal and petroleum fueling the pottery kilns of future primitives, like the Anasazi, or the industries of future technological societies, if any.

I find the contemplation of geologic history, and the learning about its particulars on those parts of earth’s surface where I circulate, to impart a mental serenity like that gained by viewing vistas from mountaintops, or out in the expanses of the Great Basin and the Colorado Plateau of the American West.

The North American continent moves west across the surface of the globe because of the widening of the Atlantic Ocean caused by the magmatic extrusion of new rock from a linear spreading center that runs down the middle of that ocean basin from the Arctic to the Antarctic.

The western edges of the American continents ride over the eastward-moving heavier tectonic plates supporting the Pacific Ocean, and which lie east of a series of north-south trending spreading centers. The eastern edges of the Pacific Ocean plates colliding into the American continents plunge into the earth, or subduct, to melt under the weight of those continents’ westward advance.

A Pacific spreading center, whose northern end was tilted to the east relative to its southern end, began to subduct under North America 30 million years ago (30 Mya), in what is today Southern California. Faults perpendicular to this spreading center extended westward (with a tilt to the north) from its northern and southern extremities. As this spreading center was overridden by the western edge of North America, it caused that portion of the overlying continent that was west of the buried spreading center to break off and begin sliding to the north, and west. The line of this fracture lengthened as the subduction of the spreading center continued, and this was the origin of the San Andreas Fault (SAF).

The north-south trending SAF lies near the California coast. By 20 Mya, the northern end of the SAF had extended north into Central California. By 10 Mya, the northern end of the SAF was near Monterey Bay, and today it is in Northern California at Cape Mendocino, which is the westernmost extent of the California coast.

The northern end of the SAF is a triple point from which emerges the Mendocino Fault, which runs perpendicular to the SAF and westward out to sea. Slippage along both the SAF and the Mendocino Fault is such that earth on the opposite side of the fault is seen to move to the right. The land just north of the triple point is colliding eastward into North America, and the land (ocean floor) just south of the triple point and west of the SAF is colliding northward into the subduction occurring north of the triple point.

The confluence of tectonic motions at the triple point generates sufficient geologic pressure and heat to cause vigorous seismic activity and volcanism in its vicinity. For over 20 million years, volcanoes have preceded the northward advance of the northern triple point of the SAF. The Neenach Volcano, in Los Angeles County, erupted 23 Mya and was subsequently split by the SAF so that its western half now lies 314 km (195 miles) to the northwest in present day Pinnacles National Park (which is east of the Salinas Valley and 130 km, or 80 miles, south of San Jose). From 10 Mya to 9 Mya, volcanoes erupted in what are today the hills east of the cities of Oakland and Berkeley. About 2.4 Mya, numerous volcanoes were active in the Clear Lake Volcanic Field, which lies north of the counties of Napa and Sonoma. The most recent eruptions in the Clear Lake Volcanic Field occurred about 11,000 years ago around Mount Konocti. Today, the magma chamber beneath the Clear Lake Volcanic Field is exploited to extract geothermal energy by the largest complex of geothermal power plants in the world.

The volcano in my neighborhood is Round Top, which is uphill from the city of Oakland in what is today a public park, the Robert Sibley Volcanic Preserve.

Between 16 Mya and 14 Mya, the San Francisco Bay Area was part of a marine basin a mile deep (1.6 km). The marine sediments of this basin are today lithified in the rocks of the Claremont Formation. The ocean floor of this basin was uplifted, between 14 Mya to 12 Mya, and the sedimentation of this period occurred in shallow water. This seafloor was lifted above sea level some time after 12 Mya, and for 2 million years the land was an alluvial plain accumulating sediments from streams running east from a chain of coastal mountains, which were situated where the San Francisco Peninsula and the Golden Gate Bridge (the entrance to San Francisco Bay) are today. This plain dipped toward the east to meet the shore of an inland sea near the present day towns of Orinda and Lafayette. These terrestrial sediments, from 12 Mya to 10 Mya, were lithified into the rocks of the Orinda Formation.

The Round Top volcano erupted many times between 10 Mya and 9 Mya, spreading thick layers of basalt lava over the layered stream sediments and gravels of the Orinda Formation. The surrounding countryside was a low plain with lakes, so volcanic ash ejected during eruptions would fall into water to settle out in thin, uniform layers, which were subsequently compacted into finely-banded rock. Ash and cinders also fell on dry land, and this too was eventually compacted into rock. Between periods of volcanic activity, sedimentation occurred by the action of streams or in lake bottoms, as in the earlier time of the Orinda Formation. The combination of rocks formed during the million-year period of Round Top’s volcanic activity is called the Moraga Formation.

You can see an impressive cross section of the alternating layers of lava and sedimentary rocks of the Moraga Formation on either side of Highway 24 on the eastern side of the Caldecott Tunnel, which passes through the north-south trending range of low mountains defining the eastern boundary of the San Francisco Bay lowland. These layers have been tilted up nearly to the vertical because of the flexing and faulting of the land due to the tectonic pressure of continental collision. (1)

Since its extinction, the Round Top volcano has been tilted over about ninety degrees, along with the rest of the Moraga Formation, and its interior has been exposed by the combined effects of erosion and quarrying. Today, one can walk up to a cross section of a basalt lava feeder tube (exposed by excavation), which was once deep inside the volcanic cone;

Cross-section view of now horizontal Round Top basalt lava tube.

and one can walk into the tilted crater of the volcano to see lithified layered ash and massive basalt.

basalt lava flow, and ash

A video about Round Top, which also shows scenes of the countryside in and about Robert Sibley Volcanic Preserve, is posted on the Internet at

http://youtu.be/ZWk47VrRbKk.

This article is not what the English teachers call a “persuasive essay,” as I have no argument to advance, nor any moral to conclude with. I was just rambling on my own, following trails in my mind. But, I will leave you with this, from one future rock to another: have fun and be kind.

Note

(1) For photos of the road-cut at the Caldecott Tunnel (Moraga Formation), see the following web page (and the web links therein):

The route 24 cut, south side
11 August 2013
http://oaklandgeology.wordpress.com/2013/08/11/the-route-24-cut-south-side/

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Originally published at:

The Volcano Behind Oakland
12 August 2013
http://www.swans.com/library/art19/mgarci69.html

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Happy 200th, Herman!

Herman Melville, 1870

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Happy 200th, Herman!

The first of August 2019 is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Herman Melville, author of Moby-Dick or, the Whale (1851), as well as numerous other novels, short stories and much poetry.

Because of the depth of his thought as well as the range of his invention, Herman Melville (1 August 1819 – 28 September 1891) remains America’s greatest writer of literary fiction, and also one of its superior poets. I consider Mark Twain (Samuel Langhorne Clemens, 1835-1910) the quintessential American novelist because his masterwork, the novel Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885), is such an exquisite encapsulation of anti-slavery and anti-bigotry moral principle within a widely popular coming-of-age boy’s adventure story. But Melville is America’s deepest literary artist, his novels are metaphors for long-running threads of reality entwined as the American experience.

While Mark Twain’s facile humor and droll prose made him very popular with his 19th century audiences — both through publications and with live appearances — Herman Melville remained largely neglected during the last forty years of his life, by a reading public that was alienated by the complexity of his art. That complexity resulted from the combination of his literary sophistication, strongly influenced by the poetic language and moral insights of both William Shakespeare and the King James Bible; his personal philosophical thought as the fundamental source for his writing; his morally enlightened (non-racist) attitude about the world’s people; and the wit of his continuing critique, embedded in his fiction, of Americans’ myopic for-profit utilitarianism and obsessive hucksterism and con-artistry, which continues to this very day.

Herman Melville, 1860

I am no amateur scholar of Herman Melville and his literature, nor do I pretend to be. I am just one of millions of readers who since 1851 have been entranced by Melville’s masterpiece, Moby-Dick. I have read this book at least three times since 1961. With each reading I was older, more experienced, and was able to gain more insight about and appreciation for the literary use of the American language, and 19th America, out of the richness of Melville’s prose. I used the image of Captain Ahab’s monomaniacal and fatal obsession to hunt down and kill the white whale Moby Dick, in a recent article of my own, as a metaphor for humanity’s current obsession to continue racing with its self-destructive fossil-fueled capitalism, which is the profligate source of greenhouse gas emissions causing anthropogenic global warming climate change.

Many readers today would find Melville prolix, abstruse, convoluted, and with a confounding multifarious vocabulary. This obviates Melville’s work from achieving instant contemporary mass pop-appeal. However, that prolixity, abstruseness, convolution and wide-spectrum vocabulary we grumble about now could reflect the devolution of Americans’ thought processes and language from a measured 19th century pacing of consideration to a hurried jittery 21st century attention-deficit superficiality: the shorn American language of today, our no-brainer “New Speak.”

Herman Melville, 1861

Herman Melville gained popular success as an author with his initial novel Typee (1846), a romantic account of his experiences of Polynesian life, gathered during his time as a whaler and seaman in the South Pacific between early 1841 and late 1844. Typee was followed by a sequel, Omoo (1847), which was also successful and paid him enough to marry and start a family. His first novel not based on his own experiences, Mardi (1849), was not well received. His next fictional work, Redburn (1849), and his non-fiction White-Jacket (1850) were given better reviews but did not provide financial security. (1)

Moby-Dick (1851), although now considered one of the great American novels, was not well received among contemporary critics. His psychological novel, Pierre: or, The Ambiguities (1852) was also scorned by reviewers. From 1853 to 1856, Melville published short fiction in magazines which were collected in 1856 as The Piazza Tales. In 1857, he traveled to England and then toured the Near East. The Confidence-Man (1857) was the last prose work that he published. He moved to New York to take a position as Customs Inspector and turned to poetry. Battle-Pieces and Aspects of the War (1866) was his poetic reflection on the moral questions of the American Civil War. (1)

In 1867, his oldest child Malcolm died at home from a self-inflicted gunshot. Clarel: A Poem and Pilgrimage in the Holy Land was published in 1876, a metaphysical epic. In 1886, his son Stanwix died of apparent tuberculosis, and Melville retired. During his last years, he privately published two volumes of poetry, left one volume unpublished, and returned to prose of the sea. The novella Billy Budd was left unfinished at his death but was published posthumously in 1924. Melville died from cardiovascular disease in 1891. The 1919 centennial of his birth became the starting point of the “Melville Revival” with critics rediscovering his work and his major novels starting to become recognized as world classics of prominent importance to contemporary world literature. (1)

Most of Melville’s works can now be found on-line. (2)

Herman Melville, 1868

A most interesting and knowledgable commentator on Herman Melville’s works is Louis Proyect, both because of his familiarity with Melville’s texts, and because of his discussions of how Melville’s themes are critically reflected in the social contexts of both the 19th century and today, and of how Melville’s anti-racist attitudes contrasted favorably with the “utilitarian” consensus of his times, and even ours. (3), (4), (5).

To end this commemoration of Herman Melville and his literature, on the occasion of his 200th birthday, I borrow the following paragraphs from Louis Proyect (3). Mark well what ye read here, for we need slake our forgetfulness and remember this conviction today.

Melville’s Redburn is one of his lesser-known books, but it comes as close to a conscious expression of the world we are trying to build as will be found in all of his works. He writes:

There is something in the contemplation of the mode in which America has been settled that, in a noble breast, would forever extinguish the prejudices of national dislikes. Settled by the people of all nations, all nations may claim her for their own. You cannot spill a drop of American blood without spilling the blood of the whole world. . .Our blood is as the flood of the Amazon, made of a thousand noble currents all pouring into one. We are not a nation, so much as a world. . .Our ancestry is lost in the universal pageantry; and Caesar and Alfred, St. Paul and Luther, and Homer and Shakespeare are as much ours as Washington, who is as much the world’s as our own. We are the heirs of all time, and with all nations we divide our inheritance. On this Western Hemisphere all tribes and peoples are forming into one federated whole; and there is a future which shall see the estranged children of Adam restored as to the old hearthstone in Eden.

Herman Melville, 1885

Notes

(1) Herman Melville
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herman_Melville

All images of Herman Melville here are from Wikipedia.

(2) The Life and Works of Herman Melville
http://www.melville.org/

(3) Deconstructing cannibalism
5 January 2016
https://louisproyect.org/2016/01/05/deconstructing-cannibalism/

includes Louis Proyect’s articles:

Shakespeare’s Tempest and the American Indian
6 December 1998

Herman Melville’s Typee: a Peep at Polynesian Life
18 October 2004

(4) The Confidence Man
23 December 2013
https://louisproyect.org/2013/12/23/the-confidence-man/

(5) Herman Melville and indigenous peoples
16 February 2008
https://louisproyect.org/2008/02/16/herman-melville-and-indigenous-peoples/

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Ye Cannot Swerve Me: Moby-Dick and Climate Change

“Come, Ahab’s compliments to ye; come and see if ye can swerve me. Swerve me? ye cannot swerve me, else ye swerve yourselves! man has ye there. Swerve me? The path to my fixed purpose is laid with iron rails, whereon my soul is grooved to run. Over unsounded gorges, through the rifled hearts of mountains, under torrents’ beds, unerringly I rush! Naught’s an obstacle, naught’s an angle to the iron way!”
— Herman Melville (1819-1891), Moby-Dick, Chapter 37.

This is one of many passages, in Herman Melville’s 1851 novel, Moby-Dick, describing Captain Ahab’s monomaniacal obsession to hunt down and kill the white bull sperm whale whose name is the novel’s title. (1) Ahab sought vengeance for being scarred — with curved conical teeth up to 20 cm (8 in) long and weighing up to 1 kg (2.2 lb) each — from head to knee and having his leg torn off, against Moby Dick, who had fought off a pursuit by whalers led by Ahab on a previous voyage:

“Aye, Starbuck; aye, my hearties all round; it was Moby Dick that dismasted me; Moby Dick that brought me to this dead stump I stand on now… Aye, aye! it was that accursed white whale that razed me; made a poor pegging lubber of me for ever and a day!… and I’ll chase him round Good Hope, and round the Horn, and round the Norway Maelstrom, and round perdition’s flames before I give him up. And this is what ye have shipped for, men! to chase that white whale on both sides of land, and over all sides of earth, till he spouts black blood and rolls fin out.”

But Starbuck, the First Mate aboard their ship, the Pequod, was having none of it. Starbuck was a devout Christian, a Quaker, eschewing all violence except for the hot bloody rush of catching and killing whales to boil their blubber down to the fine oil that would fetch handsome profits at the Nantucket market. Starbuck objects to his commander’s private scheme hijacking the Pequod and her crew from “the business we follow… I came here to hunt whales, not my commander’s vengeance.” To Starbuck, Ahab’s obsession is not only a derailment of their business but even an affront to God, because Ahab is intent to avenge himself on Nature itself through its organic manifestation as this one mighty white whale:

“Vengeance on a dumb brute!” Starbuck replies to Ahab, “that simply smote thee from blind instinct! Madness! To be enraged with a dumb thing, Captain Ahab, seems blasphemous.”

As regards human activity, Starbuck was right, but we now know that sperm whales are intelligent animals, like all cetaceans, and not purely dumb brutes: they have both memory and intent. The sperm whale brain is the largest known of any modern or extinct animal, weighing on average about 7.8 kilograms (17 lb), more than five times heavier than a human’s, and has a volume of about 8,000 cm^3. The sperm whale’s cerebrum is the largest in all mammalia, both in absolute and relative terms. (2)

The story, Moby-Dick, is famous around the world and most people know that Ahab and all his crew except one, Ishmael, perished in a failed attempt to wreak Ahab’s vengeance, which even cost the sinking of the Pequod, stove in by Moby Dick’s ramming. The novel is much much more than merely its sea adventure plot, and description of 19th century whaling. It is a roving philosophical inquiry into the nature of character, faith and perception; as well as a metaphor for Melville’s ruminations on American democracy, which was shifting from a free association of agrarian ruralists to an increasingly industrialized regimentation of expansionist outlook. Melville’s Moby-Dick, along with Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn (1885), are the quintessential American novels (in my opinion, at least).

A key point in Moby-Dick is that the crew willingly joined into Ahab’s scheme, and despite Starbuck’s opposition to it. By rights, and whaling industry regulations and customs, the officers and crew of the Pequod were duty-bound to wrest control of the ship from Ahab because he was usurping the use of the vessel and its personnel for his private ends, and away from its intended purpose. The fully outfitted Pequod, bound on a three year hunting expedition, represented the investments of the owners and many shareholders, including widows and orphans of lost Nantucket whalers, as well the ongoing labor investments of the Pequod’s crew, which were to be paid out of the expected harvest of whale oil.

Maximizing that harvest was the whalers’ business, and it was intended to be pursued as a voluntary association of men into a hierarchical organization glued together by a commonality of personal financial interests. Ahab used his fearsome magnetic personality, like witchcraft, to steal the souls of his men and make them instruments for the implementation of his own personal hatred. Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961), the great Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, made this exact diagnosis of Adolph Hitler (1889-1945) and the German nation under his dictatorship during 1933 to 1945. (3) That same diagnosis can be applied, in varying degrees, then and now, here and abroad, to many political “leaders.” The eternal question for the many laboring crews of the many workshops of this world — agrarian and industrial — is: do we work dutifully to the death, or till cast adrift as expendable, and do we willingly follow the leader to perdition if he is hellbound and determined for it; or do we rebel, overturn the structure of command, and lead ourselves even if such freedom entails a hard life?

And this brings me to global warming climate change: fossil fuels are the opiates in the addiction to war that would be the death of humanity by Planet Earth’s rejection of it.

Do we work dutifully to the death, or till cast adrift as expendable, and do we willingly follow the leader to perdition if he is hellbound and determined for it; or do we rebel, overturn the structure of command, and lead ourselves even if such freedom entails a hard life? Is humanity as a whole worth our individual pains in this effort? Or, is the idea of restructuring human civilization — and soon — to jettison capitalism, authoritarianism, and their enabling fossil-fueled militarism and marbling corruption, just a chimera that would use up our individual life forces to no avail; is it simply better to accept the inevitability of inequitable finalities and “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,” as Robert Herrick (1591-1674) wrote? (4)

I, personally, rebel at this surrender because I see it as a betrayal of our young people, and an insult to our honor and to our fully liberated frontal lobe intelligence (though much of that is neglected and unused, I’ll grant) and our technical capabilities. But I don’t dismiss the question: I guess I’ve gotten old.

It has been 31 years since climatologist James E. Hansen, in testimony to the U.S. Congress in June 1988, made one of the first assessments that human-caused warming had already measurably affected global climate. Shortly after, a “World Conference on the Changing Atmosphere: Implications for Global Security” gathered hundreds of scientists and others in Toronto. They concluded that the changes in the atmosphere due to human pollution “represent a major threat to international security and are already having harmful consequences over many parts of the globe,” and declared that by 2005 the world should push its emissions some 20% below the 1988 level. (5)

Since then, basically, nothing substantive has been done by our governments to combat this existential threat. And today the reality of global warming climate change — the crisis of continuing existence — is known, viscerally, to everybody (even the liars).

Our geophysical problem is the slowing of the advance of global warming, by drastically reducing the rates of continuing accumulation in the atmosphere of carbon dioxide, methane, and other greenhouse gases (like volatile organic compounds, VOCs) whose aggregate heat-trapping mass could push Earth’s climate system past an unknown threshold or “tipping point,” triggering a sudden and catastrophic transition to climatic conditions significantly more hostile to human survival.

What may not be fully appreciated is that our geophysical problem may be far beyond human capabilities to ever be resolved even were humanity to metamorphose itself through a rapid social evolution producing a miraculous reformulation of human civilization into an enlightened temporal Nirvana liberally powered entirely by green energy.

Will climate change drive humanity to extinction? If so, how much time have we got?, and how will it happen? These questions are on the minds of many people today. In this essay, I will follow paleontologists deep into the geological past to see if it can offer any analogs to the evolving climatic conditions of today, and in that way give us a window into our future.

Average Global Surface Temperature History

The trend of average global surface temperature between 1900 and 2100 — relative to the average temperature during 1951 to 1980 (the “datum” for our temperature scales here) — is shown in the following figure (6).

Projections (colored lines), with uncertainty bounds of ±1 standard deviation (shading), for future surface temperature rise from models that use different economic scenarios. Scenario A2 (in red) represents “business as usual” where temperature is projected to rise by the end of the century between 2°C and 5.5°C if no effort is made to constrain the rise of CO2 concentration in the atmosphere, which by 2100 could range between 525ppm and 1000ppm (ppm = parts per million of the air volume). The solid bars at right indicate the best estimate (solid line) and possible ranges (grey shading) for each scenario. (6)

A view of this relative temperature history between 1880 and 2016 follows.

Notice that the temperature distance from the 1951-1980 average global surface temperature ranges from -0.8°C (1917) to +1.3°C (February 2016). Planet Earth today is about 1.5°C warmer than it was in the 19th century. What was the global surface temperature at earlier times?

Planet Earth has gone through many cycles of glacial and interglacial intervals over the previous 800,000 years. During those Ice Age climatic oscillations, the concentration of carbon dioxide gas (CO2) in the atmosphere cycled between about 170ppm and 300ppm, and temperature cycled between about +4°C and -10°C about our mean global surface temperature datum. (7)

Climate change during the previous 65 million years has been charted as follows. For the details of this image, see note (8).

The green trace shows oxygen isotope measurements (for the oxygen-18 isotope as a fraction of the oxygen present in the sample) on the stacked layers of carbonate (chalk) deposits down through the seafloor (obtained by core drilling), formed from the compacted shells of ancient foraminifera. Temperatures later than 13Mya (Mya = million years ago) are shown in the box at the lower right of the above image; the dashed horizontal line indicates the datum. Temperatures (relative to the datum) between 65Mya and 35Mya are shown in the box in the upper left of the image. Antarctica was glaciating, thawing and reglaciating between 35Mya and 13 Mya, and science has insufficient data to determine the temperature history for that complicated interval. (8)

Notice the little spike labeled PETM, at 56Mya in the image above. This is the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, a very short-lived (200,000 years) high temperature excursion. The height of this temperature spike is likely underestimated by a factor of 2 to 4 because of the coarse sampling and averaging involved in this record.

At least since 1997, the Paleocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum has become a focal point of considerable geoscience research because it probably provides the best past analog by which to understand impacts of global climate warming and of massive carbon input to the ocean and atmosphere, including ocean acidification. Although it is now widely accepted that the PETM represents a “case study” for global warming and massive carbon input to Earth’s surface, the cause, details and overall significance of the event remain perplexing. (9)

Paleocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM)

The paleogeography of 56Mya was not that different from today; there was no ice at the poles, the Atlantic Ocean was not as wide as it is now, and India was only just beginning to collide with the rest of Asia. The climate during the Eocene Epoch (56Mya to 34Mya) was much warmer then today: Redwood trees grew in the Canadian Arctic, and the environment of that polar region looked like Okefenokee Swamp (straddling the state boundaries of present-day Florida and Georgia); mid-latitude continental interiors were warm through the winter, with giant palms growing in Wyoming and crocodiles ranging through the swamps and rivers. The poles remained ice-free during the entire interval spanning the Paleocene Epoch (66Mya to 56Mya) and the Eocene Epoch (56Mya to 34Mya).

The expected rise in average global surface temperature during the 90 years between 2010 and 2100 is like the rise in global temperature, going backwards in time, from ‘now’ to 35Mya: about 4°C to 5°C above the datum. “In just a few human lifetimes we’re going to change conditions in the atmosphere to a state that hasn’t been seen in 35 million years” commented Dr. Scott Wing (Curator of Fossil Plants, Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, Washington, DC) in his detailed lecture on the PETM. (10)

During the Paleocene, CO2 concentration in the atmosphere (also called “partial pressure”) was estimated to have been at 380ppm to 400ppm, and then rose to 800ppm just prior to the onset of the PETM (56Mya), producing a global temperature about 4°C warmer than our datum. The CO2 concentration then doubled or more to at least 1600ppm to 2000ppm within a few millennia at the start of the PETM, ‘quickly’ (in geological terms) producing an additional temperature rise of 4°C to 8°C.

Between 4,000 and 7,000 billion tons of carbon were injected into the atmosphere within the initial millennia of the PETM; the first (and biggest?) pulse lasting less than 2,000 years, and the emissions ending within 20,000 years. It would take the natural processes of CO2 removal 200,000 years to return the CO2 concentration and the global temperature to their levels prior to the onset of the PETM.

The amount of carbon injected into the atmosphere during the PETM is about the size of the carbon burp that would (will?) be realized by burning the entire fossil fuel reservoir humanity has at its disposal. However, the rate at which atmospheric carbon (CO2 and CH4) was emitted during the PETM is at least 10 times slower than today’s anthropogenic emissions! What may have taken 3,000 years during the PETM, we are accomplishing within 300 years; in fact 200 million years of fossil fuel accumulation has been burned in about 160 years.

The essential point here is that it will take 100,000 to 200,000 years to get back to the “normal” climate we left behind us in the middle of the 20th century. On this, Dr. Scott Wing commented: “The effects last for 200,000 years. So this is a global shift, which to a geologist looks like a transient change, like a perturbation, like a blip, but to any sane human it’s forever.”

Where did PETM carbon emissions come from? Science does not have a definitive answer, but its four estimates, ranked from most likely to least likely are:

— methane bubbling up out of warmed deep ocean methane hydrates (ice-like solids trapping methane, produced by microbes feeding on decaying organic matter, and formed in the cold and high pressure at the bottom of oceans) and then oxidizing in the atmosphere (CH4 combining with oxygen to produce CO2 and water vapor);

— extensive wildfires that included the burning of peat deposits (because the burning of all terrestrial vegetation alone would have produced insufficient carbon, so the burning of peat would also have been necessary);

— volcanic intrusions into organic-rich sediments at the floor of North Atlantic off Scandinavia (a region of very active volcanism at the time) cooking the sediments to release CO2 and methane;

— the warming and oxidation of any permafrost that may have remained, and it giving up lots of carbon.

It is possible that a combination of these four effects may have occurred.

All the soils formed in the Big Horn Basin of Wyoming during the 200,000 years of the PETM have been compacted to stacked layers of sediments 40 meters thick in total. During the PETM that region had a warm dry tropical climate; bean plants proliferated. Before and after the PETM the climate was temperate and bean plants were absent from the Big Horn Basin (at least in the respective fossil records). During the first 150,000 years of the PETM, warm climate plants (like beans) moved north even to the Arctic, and then retreated south during the last 50,000 years of the PETM, with temperate climate plants reappearing.

Plants growing in a high CO2 environment make less green pigment and have lower nutritive value, so plant eaters have to eat more to sustain themselves, or evolve to smaller sizes to reduce their metabolic requirements. Animals and insects did both during the PETM. Ancient horses first appeared in America at the very beginning of the PETM, and they ‘quickly’ shrank in size by about 30% — to the size of domesticated cats today. With the uptake of CO2 at the close of the PETM and the return to ‘normal’ Eocene conditions, this species of tiny horses increased in size by 76%. A similar shrinkage of body size during the PETM occurred for the other mammal species present at the time, including primates.

The four major scientific lessons of the PETM are:

— big emissions of carbon into atmosphere result in warmer climate and more acidic oceans, and that acid seawater dissolves deep marine chalk (and kills marine organisms living in the lower few kilometers of the oceans because dissolved oxygen has been scavenged — hypoxia — and because shell formation, for the protective casings required by many marine organisms, is impossible because of the acidity);

— there are self-reinforcing cycles of carbon release with increased temperature: CO2 and CH4 capture and retain heat and warm the atmosphere; that warms the oceans and results in intermittent rainfall on the continents (heavy rains with long dry spells between); that causes an abundant growth of vegetation, which parches during the droughts and dry spells and feeds wildfires releasing more CO2, heating the atmosphere and oceans further; that leads to the dissociation of marine methane hydrates, which release methane gas and heat the atmosphere and oceans even further; a sequence of vicious cycles;

— rapid global warming changed where plants and animals lived and how they interacted (this is affecting 21st century people, too), and drove rapid evolution in the body sizes (shrinkage) of mammals;

— and the effects last for 200,000 years because it takes Nature that long to clear out the excess CO2 from the atmosphere and oceans.

What brought the CO2 concentrations down and ended the PETM? The process of photosynthesis in growing plants pulled CO2 out of the air and bound it into nutrients (sugars, glucose, plant tissues), which partially migrated into animal tissues as food. CO2 was also absorbed by the surfaces of the oceans, and reacted at depth with carbonate compounds to dissolve the sea floor chalk and acidify the seawater. Over a longer term, 10% to 30% of the excess CO2 was removed by weathering reactions in soils, and the erosion by rain and streams of rocks imprisoning CO2 carried sediments back to the oceans, where they settled out on the sea bottom. Long after the time scale of the PETM, those seafloor sediments would be interred by subduction at tectonic plate boundaries.

Carbon uptake is slow. A computer simulation of the instantaneous dumping of 5,000 billion tons of carbon into atmosphere (producing an atmospheric concentration of 2,500ppm of CO2, by volume) showed that:

— roughly half of the CO2 comes out in first 1,000 years;

— 30% to 40% still remains at 10,000 years;

— and it isn’t all removed until after 100,000 years, so by about 150,000 to 200,000 years as occurred with the PETM.

A visual representation of CO2 uptake follows (11)

For a detailed description of the CO2 uptake processes, see note (11).

Similar computer modeling has been done for our climate future out to year 3000. Assuming that the entire fossil fuel reservoir is burned up by year 2100, injecting 5,000 billion tons of carbon into the atmosphere, the global temperature will rise to 4.5°C above datum by 2100 and remain there. Among the expected effects are a sea level rise of 1 meter by 2100, and 7.5 meters (25 feet) by year 3000 because the Greenland Ice Cap will have melted.

The major problem of having elevated global temperature for a long time — and it will be long since Nature takes “forever” to reabsorb atmospheric CO2 — is that major melting will eventually occur. As we are learning from direct observation today, that major melting may occur more rapidly than scientists were at first led to believe on the basis of their earlier computer modeling. If the Antarctic Ice Cap were also to entirely melt, sea level would be 66 meters (216 feet) higher in an ice-free world.

Could humanity today go on a furiously massive campaign to plant more trees and vegetation, so as to suck out excess CO2 from the atmosphere and stop global warming? No. We just can’t emplace enough plants to accomplish this, the rate of CO2 removal implied by this question is beyond the capability of Earth’s biosphere however lush. However, increasing the mass and area of vegetation (plants, trees) would slow the rates of CO2 accumulation and temperature increase, and help us lose ground (against the advance of global warming) less rapidly. So yes, plant!; it would also be a relief to wildlife sorely pressed with habitat losses.

Life in the Anthropocene

Geologists have recognized that we are now living in an epoch whose climate is fundamentally affected by human activity. That epoch has been termed the Anthropocene (12), and it was officially designated to have begun in the 4th quarter of 1965. (13)

“We have started the Anthropocene but the things that we think are untrammeled nature are already trammeled by us. There’s no eco-system on this planet that hasn’t had the human fingerprint on it some way or another. And many of the things that we think are beautiful and natural have already been modified by our ancestors, in ways that may not be obvious to us… What the Anthropocene perspective does is it helps us recognize that with [over] 7 billion people on the planet, and thousands of years, tens of thousands of years-long history already of modifying the planet, that it’s really too late to think about putting anything back the way it was,” Dr. Scott Wing.

I can think of 9 possible negative effects (mainly on human civilization) from severe global warming:

— reduced food production on land because of droughts and desertification, and a reduction of the nutritive value of crops because of high CO2 concentration;

— increased scarcity of fresh water, because of hot dry climatic conditions, intermittent rainfall, and huge population;

— the global spread of disease germs and usually tropical parasites, in a hotter world;

— loss of seafood with acidic seas, and increased starvation for animals and people;

— habitat losses for people, given significant coastal inundation and excessive heat and desertification in continental interiors;

— habitat losses for terrestrial wildlife as with humans, but also for marine life because of the reduced dissolved oxygen and increased acidity of the oceans;

— climate disaster-sparked mass migrations, which among humans will undoubtedly lead to clashes and even wars;

— resource scarcity wars (for basics like water, and for rarities like the semiconductor materials and metals essential to high tech electronics, and maybe in the extreme even for uranium deposits);

— increasingly heartless exclusion of the poor by the rich and powerful (a worldwide ‘Gazafication’ of the hapless poor).

We see some of each of these today, but the questions are: how much worse could it get?, and by when?

The development of human civilization over the last 10,000 years or so was aided by the benevolence of a very stable and moderate interglacial climate. In this new Anthropocene Epoch of increasing climate instability, we can anticipate major disruptions in human affairs, and given the socio-economic disparities and hostilities built into our human societies, we can anticipate the burdens of those disruptions to fall inequitably on poorer people. Misery will pushed down the gradient of wealth towards the destitute. In an extreme projection of pessimism, one could imagine conflicts of immiseration avoidance to devolve into extinction events, like a nuclear war.

However, the anticipated climate variations, like those of the PETM, will not in themselves be sufficiently extreme to force the actual physical extinction of humanity. In 7.95 billion years, when the Sun expands into a Red Giant star, then life on Planet Earth will be evaporated. But until such time, the most likely cause of a premature human extinction would be bad human behavior in response to the climate changes confronting humanity, and which we have caused.

It would be good for us to become familiar with how life is distributed in the Anthropocene, the epoch whose gallop we are spurring, so we can lead it more thoughtfully.

Humanity today comprises only 0.01% of all life on Planet Earth, but over the course of human history our species has destroyed 83% of wild mammal species. (14)

“The world’s 7.6 billion people [in May 2018] represent just 0.01% of all living things, according to the study. Yet since the dawn of civilisation, humanity has caused the loss of 83% of all wild mammals and half of plants, while livestock kept by humans abounds. The new work is the first comprehensive estimate of the weight of every class of living creature and overturns some long-held assumptions. Bacteria are indeed a major life form – 13% of everything – but plants overshadow everything, representing 82% of all living matter. All other creatures, from insects to fungi, to fish and animals, make up just 5% of the world’s biomass. Farmed poultry today makes up 70% of all birds on the planet, with just 30% being wild. The picture is even more stark for mammals – 60% of all mammals on Earth are livestock, mostly cattle and pigs, 36% are human and just 4% are wild animals.” Where is all that life to be found?: 86% on land, 1% in the oceans, and 13% as deep subsurface bacteria. (14)

One suggested marker for the Anthropocene are the bones of domestic chickens, which are now ubiquitous around the globe. The marker recognized has having achieved complete coverage over the surface of Planet Earth by late 1965 is radioactive fallout from atmospheric atomic and nuclear bomb explosions.

Our Challenge

Remember that the biggest threat to humanity’s survival is anti-social human behavior; climate change alone can’t kill us.

If we choose to experience our present and future of changing climate as a competitive war game — with actual killing and willful destruction — to gain class, factional and ideological advantages in terms of physical security, habitability, food production, natural resource availability, standard of living and social status (ego gratification), then that species-wide dysfunctional response could ultimately lead to a collapse of civilization, and at its worst to a global nuclear war and then actual human extinction.

If we choose to experience our present and future of changing climate as an intellectual challenge to human ingenuity for technical innovation, and as a moral challenge for social organization and for the elimination of socio-economic disparities, then such a species-wide response would improve the human condition regardless of the degree of future climate variability and the geographical distribution of its effects on habitability.

Regardless of what we do or don’t do, the climate will change in ways governed by majestic and interlocking geophysical cycles spanning millennia. Our individual and species-wide experiences of living within this implacable reality will be set by how we choose to interact with each other. Nirvana or perdition are choices entirely within our grasp.

Many will say that obviously climate change as competitive war game is the only realistic alternative because it requires no behavioral changes from our over 10,000 years of “civilized” human history, and because eco-socialism is pure utopianism and thus beyond all realistic actualization. And of course, eco-socialism is impossible in a world of Ahabs and fanatical Ahab followers. But all that is just an excuse to continue with bad behavior. There are no actual physical or biological constraints preventing people from choosing to associate in an eco-socialist manner. The current societal improbability for deeply cooperative behavior does not make future species-wide collective cooperation an impossibility. Responding to climate change could provide a framework on which to build such a species-wide socialist civilization.

So, how would I respond to the Ahabs out there who would tell me: “Everything you say is wrong! God is White! Trump is Christ! Capitalism is Salvation! Ye cannot swerve me!” From me: You can’t accept it because then you wouldn’t be the person you are. You can’t learn if you are unwilling to change. And that, ultimately, is what climate change will be for us: a challenge to learn.

And finally, Nature to Ahab: Ye cannot swerve me! Your world may return in 200,000 years.

Notes

(1) Herman Melville, Moby-Dick or, The Whale, (1851), Penguin Books, 1992.

(2) Sperm Whale,
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sperm_whale

(3) Carl Gustav Jung, C. G. Jung Speaking: Interviews and Encounters, Princeton University Press, 21 February 1987, edited by: William McGuire and R. F. C. Hull; “Diagnosing the Dictators” 1938, pages 115-135; “Jung Diagnoses the Dictators” 1939, pages 136-140; (dictators = Hitler, Stalin Mussolini).

(4) “To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time,” (Robert Herrick)
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/To_the_Virgins%2C_to_Make_Much_of_Time

(5) History of climate change science
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_climate_change_science

(6) Global Surface Temperature, 1900-2100
(relative to 1951-1980 average global surface temperature)
National Research Council 2011. Understanding Earth’s Deep Past: Lessons for Our Climate Future. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
Figure 1.1, page 35 of the PDF file, page numbered 20 in the text.
Figure 1.1 SOURCE: IPCC (2007, Figure SPM.5, p. 14).
https://doi.org/10.17226/13111

(7) Global view answers ice age CO2 puzzle
April 4, 2012 — andyextance
https://simpleclimate.wordpress.com/2012/04/04/global-view-answers-ice-age-co2-puzzle/

The 800,000 year record of atmospheric CO2 from Antarctic ice cores, and a reconstruction of temperature based on hydrogen isotopes in the ice. The current [2012] CO2 concentration of 392 parts per million (ppm) is shown by the blue star. Credit: Jeremy Shakun/Harvard University

(8) 65 Million Years of Climate Change
(wikipedia, 13 July 2019)
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:65_Myr_Climate_Change.png

This figure shows climate change over the last 65 million years. The data are based on a compilation of oxygen isotope measurements (δ18O) on benthic foraminifera by Zachos et al. (2001) which reflect a combination of local temperature changes in their environment and changes in the isotopic composition of sea water associated with the growth and retreat of continental ice sheets.

Because it is related to both factors, it is not possible to uniquely tie these measurements to temperature without additional constraints. For the most recent data, an approximate relationship to temperature can be made by observing that the oxygen isotope measurements of Lisiecki and Raymo (2005) are tightly correlated to temperature changes at Vostok as established by Petit et al. (1999). Present day is indicated as 0. For the oldest part of the record, when temperatures were much warmer than today, it is possible to estimate temperature changes in the polar oceans (where these measurements were made) based on the observation that no significant ice sheets existed and hence all fluctuation in (δ18O) must result from local temperature changes (as reported by Zachos et al.).

The intermediate portion of the record is dominated by large fluctuations in the mass of the Antarctic ice sheet, which first nucleates approximately 34 million years ago, then partially dissipates around 25 million years ago, before re-expanding towards its present state 13 million years ago. These fluctuations make it impossible to constrain temperature changes without additional controls.

Significant growth of ice sheets did not begin in Greenland and North America until approximately 3 million years ago, following the formation of the Isthmus of Panama by continental drift. This ushered in an era of rapidly cycling glacials and interglacials.

Also appearing on this graph are the Eocene Climatic Optimum, an extended period of very warm temperatures, and the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (labeled PETM). The PETM is very short lived high temperature excursion possibly associated with the destabilization of methane clathrates and the rapid buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Due to the coarse sampling and averaging involved in this record, it is likely that the full magnitude of the PETM is underestimated by a factor of 2-4 times its apparent height.

(9) Paleocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM)
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paleocene%E2%80%93Eocene_Thermal_Maximum

(10) Global Warming 56 Million Years Ago, and What it Means For Us
30 January 2014
Dr. Scott Wing, Curator of Fossil Plants,
Smithsonian Museum of Natural History
Washington, DC
[1:44:12]
https://youtu.be/81Zb0pJa3Hg

(11) CO2 “lifetime” in the atmosphere
National Research Council 2011. Understanding Earth’s Deep Past: Lessons for Our Climate Future. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
Figure 3.5, page 93 of the PDF file, page numbered 78 in the text.
https://doi.org/10.17226/13111

CO2 Sweepers and Sinks in the Earth System
The carbon fluxes in and out of the surface and sedimentary reservoirs over geological timescales are finely balanced, providing a planetary thermostat that regulates Earth’s surface temperature. Initially, newly released CO2 (e.g., from the combustion of hydrocarbons) interacts and equilibrates with Earth’s surface reservoirs of carbon on human timescales (decades to centuries). However, natural “sinks” for anthropogenic CO2 exist only on much longer timescales, and it is therefore possible to perturb climate for tens to hundreds of thousands of years (Figure 3.5). Transient (annual to century-scale) uptake by the terrestrial biosphere (including soils) is easily saturated within decades of the CO2 increase, and therefore this component can switch from a sink to a source of atmospheric CO2 (Friedlingstein et al., 2006). Most (60 to 80 percent) CO2 is ultimately absorbed by the surface ocean, because of its efficiency as a sweeper of atmospheric CO2, and is neutralized by reactions with calcium carbonate in the deep sea at timescales of oceanic mixing (1,000 to 1,500 years). The ocean’s ability to sequester CO2 decreases as it is acidified and the oceanic carbon buffer is depleted. The remaining CO2 in the atmosphere is sufficient to impact climate for thousands of years longer while awaiting sweeping by the “ultimate” CO2 sink of the rock weathering cycle at timescales of tens to hundreds of thousands of years (Zeebe and Caldeira, 2008; Archer et al., 2009). Lessons from past hyperthermals suggest that the removal of greenhouse gases by weathering may be intensified in a warmer world but will still take more than 100,000 years to return to background values for an event the size of the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM).

In the context of the timescales of interaction with these carbon sinks, the mean lifetime of fossil fuel CO2 in the atmosphere is calculated to be 12,000 to 14,000 years (Archer et al., 1997, 2009), which is in marked contrast to the two to three orders of magnitude shorter lifetimes commonly cited by other studies (e.g., IPCC, 1995, 2001). In addition, the equilibration timescale for a pulse of CO2 emission to the atmosphere, such as the current release by fossil fuel burning, scales up with the magnitude of the CO2 release. “The result has been an erroneous conclusion, throughout much of the popular treatment of the issue of climate change, that global warming will be a century-timescale phenomenon” (Archer et al., 2009, p. 121).

(12) Anthropocene
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthropocene

(13) The Anthropocene’s Birthday
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2018/02/23/the-anthropocenes-birthday/

(14) Humans just 0.01% of all life but have destroyed 83% of wild mammals – study
https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/may/21/human-race-just-001-of-all-life-but-has-destroyed-over-80-of-wild-mammals-study

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American Climate Change Policy: You Don’t Matter

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American Climate Change Policy: You Don’t Matter

Some weary words spurred by: “Pickin’ and Choosin’ the Winners and Losers of Climate Change” (https://www.counterpunch.org/2019/06/24/pickin-and-choosin-the-winners-and-losers-of-climate-change/).

The pickin’ and the choosin’ of the winners and the losers of Climate Change was all set from the get-go. The Big Money was always going to win because the Big Money always does the pickin’. It’s the American Way. If there was ever any doubt among the blessedly naïve and trusting Demos Americanus about who counts and who doesn’t, then the spectacular publicly-funded deus-ex-machina salvation of the Wall Street Glitterati (WSG) from the financial cataclysm of 2008 should have forever laid to rest all such confusions. You don’t matter (you, because “they” don’t read here).

Nuclear war breaking out? They’re got reservations in the shelters; you’re out to the Big Fry. Ebola Bird Flu Pandemic 2020 racing ‘round the world? They’ve got guaranteed pills and vaccines; you’ve got aspirin, Go-Fund-Me healthcare, and are designated anti-vaxxer by default. Climate Change hurricanes, floods, droughts and crop failures pouncing on you? They’ll stay fat, dumb, happy high-and-dry under Uncle Sam’s caressing wings; you’ll be a pioneer rugged individualist facing off against the sun, with act-of-god cancelled insurance, sucking dried marrow out of bones from drought-kills for your heroic survival (for a month or two).

There is no such thing as Climate Change denial from the Trumpian Monarchy and the Royal Court of WSG’ers, it is all calculated Climate Change delay-ism, stalling propaganda (https://redgreenandblue.org/2019/06/20/trumps-climate-change-denial-red-team-trots-old-debunked-lies/), as Val Eisman remarked to me. In short: premeditated murder (https://manuelgarciajr.com/2017/09/09/climate-change-denial-is-murder/). This has been obvious for decades, but unseen by so many in the Demos Americanus with their touching wishful fantasies of caring and at worst benign bumbling rulers, clouding their persistently innocent eyes.

Saving everybody from the impending catastrophes of Climate Change is a task too gargantuan for accomplishing by individual efforts alone, even if in their simultaneous billions. It requires the complete attention and commitment to, and investment in, by all governments of the Industrialized World operating collectively and cooperatively. It would be the War Against Our Own Fossil-Fueled Frankensteinian Stupidity. But, your caring news media and governments want to reassure you that the time is not quite right to panic ‘ourselves’ into this unrealistic and unwise waste of (“their”) money (on you!), maybe down the road it will get more serious: delayism.

However, the panic to protect the divine right of the Big Money Kleptocracy to stay in the tax-free unearned income black is the foundational original sin of our (really their) capitalist nirvana. So, you can rest assured that the US Treasury printing presses will crank out any uncountable number of trillions of dollars — backed by the full faith and credit of the US military, and your tax offerings — to build whatever physical and socio-economic dikes are necessary to hold back the anticipated disasters to be spun off of Climate Change, and which could otherwise dampen the enthusiasm of WSG’ers in their enjoyment of mindless consumption (what they call “life,” but in the style of Dracula). Saving them is guaranteed, after all they are so few and they own everything anyway so why waste “the money” on who’s already designated waste?, it’s a no-brainer.

What can you do about it? Dream about guillotines, I guess, or watch big-screen TV cartoon super-hero movies and sport championships whose scores you’ll forget by next season; or get drunk if it won’t make you miss work and you have enough rent money; or buy lottery tickets and dream about sitting at the right hand of Ubu Roi hisself. You’re free to choose any of these. Just don’t let your corpse block the entrance to The Club when you go.

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American Climate Change Policy: You Don’t Matter
27 June 2019
https://www.counterpunch.org/2019/06/27/american-climate-change-policy-you-dont-matter/

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Black Gold, Maximum Entropy (Redux)

The following article is about fossil fueled (‘fracking’ fueled) global warming climate change. It was written in 2013 and remains completely up to date because nobody has done anything to change the situation — except perhaps to make it worse. This article contains a little bit of science, a little bit of Marxism from John Bellamy Foster, some criticisms of Mr. Foster’s views from me, and one of my better rants on society’s negligence regarding climate change (or, some pointed suggestions for social change). By 2013, I had reached pessimistic conclusions about humanity’s willingness to seriously address global warming, and also about the value of my continuing to write about it. That I do and continue to make positive and “utopian” suggestions for socio-political change is entirely to express my solidarity with today’s youth (I have children), because otherwise I have no faith whatsoever in “the adults.”

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Black Gold, Maximum Entropy (Redux)
20 June 2019 (21 October 2013)

In his extensive article “The Fossil Fuels War” in Monthly Review, John Bellamy Foster writes about the new expansion of oil exploration and production — the demise of Peak Oil — made possible by the development of technology to extract oil from “unconventional” sources, known variously as “shale oil” and “tar sands oil,” and he points to the inevitable consequences on climate. (1)

Those scheduled climatic effects are vividly presented in a new scientific report in which:

Scientists from the University of Hawaii at Manoa calculated that by 2047, plus or minus five years, the average temperatures in each year will be hotter across most parts of the planet than they had been at those locations in any year between 1860 and 2005. To put it another way, for a given geographic area, “the coldest year in the future will be warmer than the hottest year in the past,” said Camilo Mora, the lead scientist on a paper published in the journal Nature. (2)

John Bellamy Foster also notes that there have been recent improvements in renewable energy technologies, whose use could be expanded to replace a portion of the power generation infrastructures based on fossil fuels. However, he is pessimistic that such replacements could form a prompt and complete transformation of national and global power generation systems.

No less remarkable technological developments, however, have arisen at the same time in relation to renewable energies, such as wind and solar, opening up the possibility of a more ecological path of development. Since 2009 solar (photovoltaic) module “prices have fallen off a cliff.” Although still accounting for a tiny percentage of electric-generating capacity in the United States, wind and solar have grown to about 13 percent of total German electricity production in 2012, with total renewables (including hydroelectric and biomass) accounting for about 20 percent. As the energy return on energy investment (EROEI) of fossil fuels has declined due to the depletion of cheap crude-oil supplies, wind and solar have become more competitive – with EROEIs above that of tar-sands oil, and in the case of wind even above conventional oil. Wind and solar, however, represent intermittent, location-specific sources of power that cannot easily cover baseload-power needs. Worse still, a massive conversion of the world’s energy infrastructure to renewables would take decades to accomplish when time is short.

I disagree with this pessimism and believe a massive conversion to renewable energy technologies can be accomplished much more quickly than started in mass media and John Bellamy Foster’s article. I made my case with numerous suggestions, estimates and examples in an article, “The Economic Function Of Energy,” intended to spur positive, creative and practical thinking about such a near-future conversion of energy infrastructure on a national scale. For example, I described a solar-powered system for generating the total electrical power consumed in the United States, which would be publicly owned and thus provide “free” electricity. (3)

Foster notes the foundational motivation of the fossil energy industry as stated by one of its leading CEOs, “my philosophy is to make money.” Concerns over possible environmental damage (from exploration or spills) and climate change (from carbon dioxide and methane emissions) are seen as unfortunate collateral inevitabilities to be minimized as possible, but without delaying extractive operations or seriously diminishing profitability.

Foster gives a good general summary of what is required to make a complete conversion nationally (say for electrical power) from fossil fuels to renewables (solar, wind, hydro), but he sees such a conversion as too monumental a project for our time, while I see it as an exciting and feasible technical challenge, an inspiring project for technophiles that would be liberating for society. Foster writes:

It follows that building an alternative energy infrastructure — without breaking the carbon budget — would require a tectonic shift in the direction of energy conservation and energy efficiency. However, stopping climate change and the destruction of the environment in general requires not just a new, more sustainable technology, greater efficiency, and the opening of channels for green investment and green jobs; it requires an ecological revolution that will alter our entire system of production and consumption, and create new systems geared to substantive equality, and ecological sustainability — a “revolutionary reconstitution of society at large.”

Yes, developing a mass consciousness of energy conservation and energy efficiency in an American society of unthinking wastefulness may indeed seem like a “revolutionary reconstitution of society at large.” But the real revolution here would be in the awakening of greater thought among the masses, to displace the unthinking aspects of behavior that enable wastefulness. That apparent barrier to the energy revolution would dissolve if confronted with forthright and consistent effort by the political leadership. The unappealing aspects of continuing climate change will undoubtedly increase the popularity of the idea of making such a revolutionary transition. As Foster says: “In today’s world, the undermining of the lifeworld of the great majority of the population is occurring in relation to both economy and environment.”

John Bellamy Foster sees the conversion of most power generation infrastructure from a reliance on fossil fuels to renewables as too daunting a technical challenge for the near term, and he believes that worsening climate change will spur the rise of popular movements that could revolutionize society so that it meets the energy conversion challenge in the long term.

We can therefore expect the most radical movements to emerge precisely where economic and ecological crises converge on the lives of the underlying population. Given the nature of capitalism and imperialism and the exigencies of the global environmental crisis, a new, revolutionary environmental proletariat is likely to arise most powerfully and most decisively in the global South.

I believe just the opposite, that the technical challenge is well within present capabilities and has been for many years, but that the conversion to renewables will never occur because most people operate from mental inertia that is programmed to keep them on the rails of the capitalist economics and environmental exploitation we see today.

People everywhere want to replicate and experience the advantages of the colonial powers of the 19th century (e.g., Britain) and the industrial-consumerist powers of the 20th century (e.g., the U.S.A.). This is why China builds huge dams and burns enormous quantities of coal, fatally fouling its air; and why southern Europe and the southern U.S. are flooded with economic refugees from the “global South.”

James Hansen is quoted in Foster’s article saying “It is not an exaggeration to suggest, based on the best available scientific evidence, that burning all fossil fuels could result in the planet being not only ice-free but human-free.”

And this is precisely what will happen, because “my philosophy is to make money” is the end-all-and-be-all everywhere, whether in rich northern capitalist states or the impoverished global south seeking “to develop.”

Foster concludes his article with lyrically wishful Marxist romanticism.

Under these conditions what is needed is a decades-long ecological revolution, in which an emergent humanity will once again, as it has innumerable times before, reinvent itself, transforming its existing relations of production and the entire realm of social existence, in order to generate a restored metabolism with nature and a whole new world of substantive equality as the key to sustainable human development. This is the peculiar “challenge and burden of our historical time.”

There is no objective evidence to suggest this is anything other than a fantasy. Instead, it seems realistic to conclude that humanity’s conceptual and social limitations will lead to its premature extinction sooner than need be the case because of the onset of hostile environmental conditions due to the sun expanding into a red giant. Such a premature extinction would not be a “bad thing” for Planet Earth, which would continue unperturbed without another of the millions of species that have appeared and disappeared during the course of life on Earth. Other forms of life will continue; why should we imagine that humanity is so special that it deserves particular concern as regards continuing to be one of the carriers of life on this planet?

Many people besides archeological scholars have wondered why the Maya people in the southern lowlands of Central America abandoned their splendid stone ceremonial cities and pyramids about 1000 years ago, and which now lie in ruins under jungle vegetation. (4) The basic reason was that the ancient Mayan public dumped the excessive overhead of a top-heavy oppressive and burdensome culture during a time of environmental stress (droughts) so as to better attend to personal survival. Manning wars of rivalry between royal elites did not ultimately satisfy the basic needs of the “proletariate.” They did not so much revolt to establish a new social order as simply walk away into the jungle to disappear from the existing order, letting it collapse from lack of support. If a similar disorganized mass movement of abandonment of the organized economy and socio-political class structure were to take hold for most of the “proletariate” today then one could begin to speculate about the possibilities for the emergence of alternative types of post-capitalist societies, and following that to speculate on a new relation of humanity to the environment and the prospects for an extended period of highly developed human culture on Planet Earth.

Humanity is terminally delirious with fossil fuel fever. “Climate change will proceed unhindered, as will the uninterrupted rush by humanity to exploit all sources of fossil fuels. The moral choice between restraint for the good of all life versus gaining an immediate boost to private power will always be won by the latter.” My conclusion is not what I want, but what I see as the inevitable consequence of what is. (5)

Matthew Auzanneau has written about one example of humanity’s fossil fuel delirium, the necessarily short-lived shale oil boom in North Dakota and the avid involvement of the investment banking firm of Goldman Sachs in it, putting their philosophy into practice “to make money.” I see Auzanneau’s article as support for my gloomy conclusion, and it was the launching point for my concluding rant. (6)

I think that people will overwhelmingly do nothing in the form of restraint on CO2 emissions and yet be frantic about gouging out every ounce of oil and coal they can get to ASAP (e.g., China, North Dakota), to burn it up and drive whatever power and money schemes they are pushing. As a result, I no longer have any enthusiasm for writing about alternative energy systems. Most people simply want to maintain the inertia of their current thinking and economic activity, to maintain their present forms of exploitation (businesses). They do not want any changes to their existing modes of energy waste and financial accumulation (e.g., fracking for domestic-use oil, mining shale oil and coal for export, big engines in oversized truck-like cars for mindless driving, suburbia, capitalism commodifying and discounting the environment), just more of the same so they can “get their share,” especially “before it runs out.” Hurricanes, tornadoes, rising seas, droughts, months-long wildfires, the spread of tropical diseases and parasites to temperate latitudes, none of that matters in comparison to keeping on with getting “more.” We have a quarterly profits expectation, long-term attention-deficit syndrome, infantile hyperactive, selfish spoiled-brat economic mentality. Nobody but nobody wants to be the first person, or in the first class or generation to “make the sacrifice” to “give up the advantages” of our eco-catastrophic ways in order to shift a nation, and humanity, to a sustainable alternative. Planet Earth could care less, it will shrug us off as just one more ephemeral slime mold, and our dust will be ground into the grains of future rocks over which advanced cockroaches will stride, perhaps as rulers of Planet Earth.

Actually, the disintegration we see and can anticipate fits in well with the trend to be expected from the Second Law of Thermodynamics, the relentless increase of entropy — disorder — with the widest dispersal of energy and structure (into lack of structure) as the ultimate end.

Any physical system that can absorb and emit energy, and perform work on other physical systems external to it, is a thermodynamic system (e.g., the combustible gas mixture within a piston engine cylinder). The Second Law of Thermodynamics states that any isolated thermodynamic system must ultimately degrade; such degradation is quantified as an increase in the thermodynamic property of the system called its entropy. Consequently, all real engines convert energy (e.g., heat) to work (e.g., torque) with less than 100% efficiency, perpetual motion machines are impossible, and the entropy of the entire universe relentlessly increases.

The great physicist Ludwig Boltzmann committed suicide (in 1906) while in a state of clinical depression it is said after contemplating the implacable increase of universal entropy, his most penetrating discovery about statistical (many particle) thermodynamic systems. Clearly, he had a strong belief that humanity mattered. Perhaps if he had been able to overcome that misconception he would not have fatally despaired. His gravestone in the Central Cemetery in Vienna is inscribed with his famous formula for the entropy of a statistical thermodynamic system, S = k·Ln(W), where S is the entropy of a thermodynamic system, k is Boltzmann’s constant (1.38065 x 10^-23 joules/degree-Kelvin), Ln is the mathematical function called the natural logarithm, and W is Wahrscheinlichkeit, a German word meaning the number of (unobservable) “ways” in which the (observable) thermodynamic state of a system can be realized by assigning different positions and momenta to the many molecules of that system. (7)

W can be thought of as the number of ways the system can arrange itself microscopically (its multitude of molecular positions and velocities) so as to exhibit a specific set of values of observable macroscopic properties (a thermodynamic state), like: temperature at 70 degrees Celsius, pressure at 101,325 Pascals or equivalently 14.696 pounds per square inch (psi). A thermodynamic state that can only be achieved by any of a small number of possible microscopic arrangements is one of high order and has low entropy. A thermodynamic state that can be achieved with any of a large number of possible microscopic arrangements is one of low order, that is to say of disorder, and has a high entropy. At the inception of the Big Bang, the universe was a point of energy and its entropy was very low. Today, 13.8 billion years later, the universe is an expanse of perhaps 1.3 x 10^23 km that is largely void with a sparse scattering of matter and radiation, and historically maximum entropy.

Here on Earth the black gold rush will eventually burn itself out and bequeath us a state of increased disorder that devoured opportunities for transformation.

Acknowledgment: Gilles d’Aymery brought my attention to Notes 1 and 6, which spurred me to write this article.

Notes
[except for more recent re-postings in 3 and 5, websites were active on 21 October 2013]

1.  John Bellamy Foster, “The Fossil Fuels War,” Monthly Review, 2013, Volume 65, Issue 04 (September), http://monthlyreview.org/2013/09/01/fossil-fuels-war

2.  Justin Gillis, “By 2047, Coldest Years May Be Warmer Than Hottest in Past, Scientists Say,” The New York Times, October 9, 2013,
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/10/science/earth/by-2047-coldest-years-will-be-warmer-than-hottest-in-past.html?_r=0

3.  Manuel García, Jr., “The Economic Function Of Energy,”
Swans, 27 February 2012,
http://www.swans.com/library/art18/mgarci41.html
updated re-posting:
Energy For Society In Balance With Nature
8 June 2015
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2015/06/08/energy-for-society-in-balance-with-nature/

4.  “Classic Maya Collapse”
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Classic_Maya_collapse

5.  Manuel García, Jr., “Winter Reflections, 2012,” Swans, 17 December 2012,
http://www.swans.com/library/art18/mgarci59.html
updated re-posting:
Winter Reflections (recycled)
31 December 2016
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2016/12/31/winter-reflections-recycled/

6.  Matthew Auzanneau, “The short future of oil shale boom seen by Goldman Sachs,” October 8, 2013,
http://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=fr&u=http://petrole.blog.lemonde.fr/2013/10/08/le-court-avenir-du-petrole-de-schiste-vu-par-goldman-sachs/&prev=/search%3Fq%3Dle-court-avenir-du-petrole-de-schiste-vu-par-goldman-sachs
[A Google translation of Matthew Auzanneau’s blog in French, which focuses on oil. This post is about the Goldman Sachs involvement with the shale oil boom in North Dakota.]

7.  “Ludwig Boltzmann”
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ludwig_Boltzmann

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Originally published as:

Black Gold, Maximum Entropy
21 October 2013
http://www.swans.com/library/art19/mgarci73.html

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