Burning Thoughts on the Sonoma Fires

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Burning Thoughts on the Sonoma Fires

The map shows the fires in Sonoma County, California, USA, during 2017-2020. These were/are all big. My mother had to evacuate in 2017, and stayed with us for 10 days. Today (28 September 2020), I went to get her and bring her here again.

I monitor the internet to follow the progress of the fire (the Glass-Shady fire of 2020 – now – is 0% contained; it started about 2 days ago – see the red blotch). This year I know of 8 people – 5 directly and personally – who have had to evacuate from fires: in Sonoma and Solano Counties, and in Oregon. Many fires in Western America right now, and they occur from earlier in the year, and more frequently, and last longer, and are bigger, with each succeeding year.

Other regions and nations have their own increasing environmental degradation trials and tribulations: droughts, heat waves, crop failures, locusts, storms, hurricanes, floods. My thoughts about all this are rather dark, as reflected in my recent writing.

The gems to be found in all these hard events are the generous and kind actions individuals can take on behalf of others, very often strangers, to help them get through the difficulties and losses. I was fortunate to have two such people help my mother (who is 95) in the first rush to evacuate yesterday. The fact that people, as individuals, can be so decent is what keeps me from condemning all of humanity (being a total misanthrope) because human society has been so adamant to continue failing miserably when it comes to seriously addressing global warming climate change.

In this, my attitude is similar to that of Jonathan Swift, who said he cared not for human society, but appreciated John and Tom and Dick (I paraphrase) because of the very thing I just described: stellar individuals (even if just occasionally so) live among a society we curmudgeons find morally bankrupt, and their good actions are momentary redemptions of that reprehensible mass.

This outlook makes it basically impossible for me to find any interest (or waste any time) on the many frivolous concerns of others, and which are often most on display on that frivolity of social media: Facebook. Sorry about that.

My appreciation for the beauty and organic complexity of Nature remains undimmed, but my interest in the minutia of the daily drama, or the silly entertainments of the last 15 minutes (with shelf lives of 10 seconds), is zero. I can’t help looking at American society as reenacting the fate of Captain Ahab and his crew, so obsessed with their delusions that they could not wake up from them even as they were being drowned by them.

The Romantic in me wants the Next Generation to float free from the doom we’ve programmed ourselves for, like Ishmael floating free atop Queequegs’s coffin; and refashion the World aright. The Realist in me is not so optimistic. But I don’t feel it is fair for me to criticize the Next Generation, whose elders – as American Society – have so basely used and poorly provided for. I had a decent shot at life, and did what I did with it; now it’s their turn, and they should be free to make their own choices, and learn (hopefully) from their mistakes (preferably enjoyable ones) just as I and my predecessors did (well, some of us did).

The Romantic Engineer and Artist in me knows that tackling Climate Change – which means entirely transforming human society worldwide – would be the greatest adventure, and moral and social uplift, that our species could ever have in its history as part of Life-On-Earth, if we “all” had the Zen-like satori (awakening, AHA!) to motivate a joyful coming together to achieve that purpose in all of its many dimensions: personal, political, social, economic, technical, moral, intellectual; the fullest expansion of human potential for everyone.

The Realist in me scoffs at this flight of fancy by the Sappy Curmudgeon, but the Romantic in me still wishes it were not entirely a hopeless dream. Others, I know, have particular and detailed wishful fantasies for our Future, and I have few quarrels with most of them. But I think the simplest life of fulfilling work (self-assigned), safety, security, health, happiness and freedom for artistic and intellectual pursuits; with Nature secure in all its beauty – on this Planet! – is my ideal.

My mother is now afraid that she will be threatened by fires every year. This should not be so, she should be able to live tranquilly tending her roses without such concern. That our governments and societies will not do anything — as we should for the rest of human history — to eliminate such fear (which many people now have) has led me to cancel any sense of allegiance to them, or respect for “the institutions.” Like Jonathan Swift.

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Conflict and Choice for Human Survival

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Conflict and Choice for Human Survival

What can you say about people for whom the beauty of Nature does not inspire, and the fear of its destruction does not motivate?

People do not change unless they feel pain. Politics does not allow for social improvements unless first stung by social revolts. The idea of a spontaneous, peaceful and uneventful evolution of social improvement is delusional. Conflicts are necessary before social improvements can arise. The greater the need for those social improvements, the greater the conflicts necessary to open the possibilities for them to be realized.

Such conflicts always involve violence to one degree or another. Realistic proponents of non-violent social agitation know that the minimum violence necessary for them to achieve their goal requires that their people — the non-violent — suffer all the violence generated during their struggle, and which violence is perpetrated by the reactionary elements of society, those opposed to the social improvements sought. The status quo always reacts with violence to maintain itself. In the United States today that status quo is the domination of all aspects of economic, political and social life by White Supremacy and Capitalism. The magnitude of societal violence escalates in a vicious cycle as social reformers increase their own resorts to rebellious violence. Such vicious cycles are civil wars.

So it has been throughout history, and so it seems destined to remain for our species, as long as we are unable — by being unwilling — to renounce such behavior and evolve beyond it.

As of today, it seems that those who aim for the social improvements needed for all of humanity to live through the deterioration of climate brought on by affluent-human-caused global warming, and to eventually reverse it, will have to resort to social conflicts that admit to the inevitability of violence; minimally reactionary violence, and at worst civil wars.

If there is any threat of premature human extinction, it will only come from the escalation of violence in social conflicts with social reformers — revolutionaries — facing reactionary resistance during a time of rapid and severe deterioration of the environmental conditions necessary for human survival.

Since every creature and form-of-life has an instinct and will for survival, the possibility of such extinction will ultimately never deter revolutionaries motivated by global warming climate change, if they determine that the forces of reaction are implacable. Better then to die fighting than relinquish life, liberty and volition, to exploitation and annihilation by the global warming death-cult of intransigent reactionary domination.

As the conditions of life deteriorate for more and more people, an increasing number of them will be willing to make more desperate choices on the conduct of their lives, and on the conduct of their social advocacies.

The optimistic realization here — which is certainly utopian — is that we already have it in our power, as a collective, to make life whole for everybody. We only have to unite together in the choice to do so.

Premature human extinction is only as inevitable as the degree of our commitment to being intransigent in our fractious class-based and bigoted opposition to the species-wide social improvements necessary for our so-called civilization to be reformulated for the equitable benefit of all.

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Reducing CO2 Emissions to Reverse Global Warming

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Reducing CO2 Emissions to Reverse Global Warming

We know that Global Warming can be reduced during the years of the century ahead of us if we — our civilization — steadily reduces its emissions of carbon dioxide gas (CO2) into the atmosphere.

Given a specific rate for the reduction of anthropogenic (our CO2) emissions:

— how long will it take to return Earth’s average temperature to its unperturbed pre-industrial level?, and

— how much higher will Global Warming (Earth’s temperature) become before it begins to decrease?

Answering these questions is the subject of my recent study. This work is based on a Carbon Balance Model, which I described in an earlier report. [1]

That model has been further refined in order to address these questions, and the details of that refinement are described in a technical report. [2]

Prior to the buildup of anthropogenic CO2 emissions in the air, the fluxes of CO2 released by the respiration of Life-on-Earth; and the fluxes of CO2 absorbed from the air by photosynthesis, the surface waters of the oceans, and rock weathering chemical reactions; were in balance. That balance is known as the Carbon Cycle.

As the rate and buildup of anthropogenic emissions increased (after ~1750, but particularly from the mid-20th century), the Carbon Cycle was perturbed out of balance, and the magnitude of that imbalance is determined by the difference between two effects: Anthropogenic Sources, and Stimulated Sinks.

The Anthropogenic Sources are:

— the CO2 emissions by the human activities of fossil-fueled energy generation and industry, and

— the CO2 emissions from land use changes (deforestation and its attendant increase of wildfires).

The Stimulated Sinks are the additional absorption of CO2 by photosynthesis and the surface waters of the oceans, because of higher atmospheric concentrations of CO2. At a sufficiently high level of atmospheric CO2 concentration, both these sinks will saturate — stop absorbing CO2. What that “sufficiently high level” is remains uncertain.

The work summarized here includes more realistic (more complicated) models of these source and sink terms in the rate equation for the change of the Carbon Balance over time.

Now I am able to quantitatively link specific rates of the reduction of anthropogenic CO2 emissions, to consequent projected histories of the slowing and then reversal of Global Warming.

Such quantitative linkages have long been featured in the super-computer models of CO2 accumulation in the atmosphere, by the major Climate Science institutes; but now I have my own quantitative version of this correlation, which is analytical (expressed as math formulas, and enumerated with a hand calculator and basic home computer).

Anthropogenic CO2 emissions in year 2020 are 42.2GtCO2/y (42.2 giga-metric-tons of CO2 per year = 42.2*10^+12 kilograms/year). This magnitude of total anthropogenic emissions, E, is the addition of our fossil-fueled and land use emissions.

I considered three cases of the intentional steady reduction of annual human-caused CO2 emissions, which are defined to decrease exponentially. The characteristic decay time of each case is: 40 years (CASE 1, a 2.5% annual reduction), 100 years (CASE 2, a 1% annual reduction), and 200 years (CASE 3, a 0.5% annual reduction).

Emissions would be reduced to half their initial rate in 28 years for CASE 1; in 69 years for CASE 2; and in 139 years for CASE 3.

If each of these reduction plans were alternatively initiated in the year 2020, then:

CASE #1, ∆t=40y:

This trend reaches a peak of 449ppm and +1.32°C in year 2048 (in 28 years); it remains above 440ppm and +1.25°C over the years 2032 to 2064 (between 12 to 44 years from now); then descends to 350ppm and +0.56°C in year 2120 (in 100 years); and 300ppm and +0.18°C in year 2140 (in 120 years).

CASE #2, ∆t=100y:

This trend reaches a peak plateau of 485ppm and +1.6°C over the years 2078 to 2088 (between 58 and 68 years from now); it remains above 480ppm and +1.56°C during years 2066 to 2100 (between 46 and 80 years from now); it descends to 350ppm and +0.56°C in year 2202 (in 182 years); and 300ppm and +0.18°C in year 2225 (in 205 years).

CASE #3, ∆t=200y:

This trend reaches a peak plateau of 524ppm and +1.9°C over the years 2125 to 2135 (between 105 and 115 years from now); it remains above 500ppm and +1.72°C between years 2075 and 2190 (between 55 and 170 years from now); and descends down to 360ppm and +0.64°C in year 2300 (in 280 years).

Message to the Humans

The singular challenge for the progressive political and social elements of our civilization is to awaken the rest of the world — and particularly the “developed” and “developing” high-emissions nations — to a full commitment (demonstrated by action) to steadily and significantly reduce anthropogenic CO2 emissions for the rest of human history.

The sooner such reduction programs are initiated, and the greater the vigor with which they are implemented, the sooner we will begin slowing the advance of Global Warming and its continuing erosion of the habitability of Planet Earth, which humans have enjoyed for over 2 million years, and particularly since the end of the Ice Ages (~11,000 year ago).

With decades to a century of discipline applied to this purpose, we can even reverse Global Warming. The longer we wait to do this, the worse the consequences we will have to suffer through, and the longer it would take to extricate our species — and so many other wonderful forms of Life-on-Earth — from the Hell-on-Earth we are creating by our willful and destructive ignorance.

I can only imagine such major programs of CO2 emissions reductions being synonymous with the economic, political and social uplift of the vast majority of people, because Global Warming is directly caused by the unbounded economic, political and social exploitation of the many by the few.

The fact is that we all live on the same planet, and whatever happens to it — whether worsening conflagration and flooding in the now, or eventual cooling and restoration by human commitment — will affect everybody. There is no guaranteed escape.

The CO2 accumulation model that I have described here is just this old scientist’s way of saying: We can do so much better for ourselves, and our children deserve that we try.

NOTES

[1] A Carbon Balance Model of Atmospheric CO2
11 September 2020, [PDF file]
https://manuelgarciajr.files.wordpress.com/2020/09/a-carbon-balance-model-of-atmospheric-co2.pdf

[2] Trends for Reducing Global Warming
15 September 2020, [PDF file]
https://manuelgarciajr.files.wordpress.com/2020/09/trends-for-reducing-global-warming.pdf

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Anthropogenic CO2 Emissions Are Fate

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Anthropogenic CO2 Emissions Are Fate

I developed a model of Global Warming based on the anthropogenic perturbation of the Carbon Cycle. The essence of this model is a rate equation for the evolution of the carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration in the atmosphere.

The interesting results from this model are projected trends for the CO2 concentration and the average global temperature during the next century. The character of those trends — whether rapid rises, shallow plateaus, or diminishment into the future — depend crucially on the magnitude of our civilization’s emissions of CO2, and whether those anthropogenic emissions increase or decrease with time. In the real world at present, they are increasing.

I have now been able to include the effect of linearly increasing or decreasing anthropogenic emissions into my Carbon Balance Model, which has been significantly improved.

This model also includes the effect of the increase in the rate at which atmospheric CO2 is absorbed by photosynthesis and the surface waters of the oceans, because those absorption rates are increasingly stimulated by the higher levels of CO2 in the air. This process of absorption-enhancement cannot continue indefinitely as the atmospheric CO2 concentration increases, but at what point of elevated CO2 concentration it saturates and then absorption largely shuts down, is unknown.

The third process included in the model is that of the slow absorption of atmospheric CO2 by the chemical reactions of weathering on the surfaces of rocks and soils. CO2 not “quickly” scavenged from the air by photosynthesis or the surface waters of the oceans will stay airborne for 12,000 to 14,000 years. The ~2,500ppm spike of atmospheric CO2 that occurred 55.5 million years ago took 200,000 years to clear away. That geological episode is known as the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM). At that time there was no ice at the poles, instead they were jungles and swamps with crocodiles. The global temperature at the peak of the PETM was as much as +12°C to +18°C warmer than in our pre-industrial 18th century.

I made three case studies from this model, called E-growth, E-flat, and E-fall.

E-growth

The E-growth case is driven by a relentlessly steady rise of anthropogenic CO2 emissions, based on the average upward trend of those emissions between years 1960 and 2020.

This trend arrives at 470ppm of atmospheric CO2, and a warming of +1.5°C (above pre-industrialization), in the year 2038 (in 18 years). It arrives 540ppm and +2°C in year 2055 (in 35 years); and it arrives at 800ppm and +4°C in year 2100 (in 80 years).

E-flat

The E-flat case is driven by a constant annual rate of 42.2GtCO2/y of anthropogenic emissions (42.2 giga-metric-tons of CO2 emissions per year), which is the rate in year 2020.

It arrives at 470ppm and +1.5°C in year 2041 (in 21 years); and 540ppm and +2°C in year 2070 (in 50 years); and 600ppm and +2.5°C in year 2100 (in 80 years).

E-fall

The E-fall case is driven by a steady linear reduction of anthropogenic emissions over 40 years: from 42.2GtCO2/y in 2020, to 0GtCO2/y in 2060; a reduction of 1.05GtCO2 every year for 40 years. This amount of annual reduction is 2.5% of the total anthropogenic emissions in year 2020. In this scenario, after year 2060 we would continue our civilization with zero CO2 emissions from our human activities.

This trend rises to 437ppm and +1.23°C during years 2035 to 2040 (from 15 to 20 years in the future) after which both fall. It arrives back down to 407ppm and +1°C in year 2059 (in 39 years); and 320ppm and +0.4°C in year 2100 (in 80 years).

Finally

In this year of 2020, we are presently at 417ppm and +1.08°C.

The math and physics details of this new work, as well as graphs of the trends calculated from it, are shown in the report (PDF file) linked at

A Carbon Balance Model of Atmospheric CO2
11 September 2020

Click to access a-carbon-balance-model-of-atmospheric-co2.pdf

 

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Possible Future Trends of CO2 Concentration and Global Temperature

Oakland, California, 10:15 AM, 9 September 2020, “Burning Land Eclipse”

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Possible Future Trends of CO2 Concentration and Global Temperature

Carbon dioxide gas (CO2) has been accumulating in the atmosphere since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution (~1750), because increasingly voluminous fluxes of that gas have been exhausted from the lands and the oceans, and are beyond the capacity of natural CO2 sinks to absorb completely.

Prior to the Industrial Revolution, carbon would cycle through a variety of processes that sustained the continuation of life, death, evolution and rebirth, and that all meshed into one grand balance. That balance is called the Carbon Cycle.

The explosive growth of human activity, numbers, exosomatic power, economic wealth, military overkill, and hubristic political pretensions, all spring from the access to and profligate use of heat-energy liberated from fossil fuels. Carbon dioxide is the exhaust fume from our Promethean exertions for greater conquests — and wealth.

The carbon dioxide exhausted by our civilization’s generation of heat-energy, and from our massive exploitation of once virgin land areas, is an increasingly destabilizing perturbation of the Carbon Cycle. This perturbation is called Anthropogenic Emissions.

The imbalance of the Carbon Cycle reverberates through the natural world in many ways that are increasingly harmful and dangerous to Planet Earth’s habitability for ourselves and for many other animal and plant species. The central reality of this complex of growing threats to the viability of the Biosphere is called Global Warming.

Carbon dioxide gas traps heat radiated towards space, as infrared radiation from the surface of Planet Earth, reducing our planet’s ability to regulate its temperature by cooling to compensate for the influx of solar light that is absorbed by the lands and the oceans, and stored by them as heat.

Because of the existential implications of runaway global warming — as well as the intrinsic fascination to curious minds of such a richly complex and grand human-entwined natural phenomenon — scientists have been studying global warming, and its impact on the biosphere, which is called Climate Change.

While scientists of all kinds are excited to share their findings on climate change and impress their colleagues with their new insights, members of the public are singularly interested to know how climate change will affect their personal futures. Can science offer them clear and reliable answers to their questions — and fears — and provide practical remedies and technological inoculations to ward off the threats by climate change to our existing ways of life?

Science does what it can to offer practical insights and helpful recommendations, and humanity does what it usually does when faced with a collective existential crisis: it hides from the inconvenience of drastically changing its personal attitudes and societal structures, which is in fact the only way it would be able to navigate the majority of Earth’s people through the transition to a new social paradigm; a new, sustainable and harmonious relationship between human life and Planet Earth.

While I am grateful to all the professional climate scientists — and their related life scientists who study many aspects of this complex of geophysical processes and biological organisms and systems — for making known so much of the workings of the globally warming biosphere, I am nevertheless curious to gain a quantitative understanding of it all for myself. To that end, I have devised my own phenomenological thermodynamic “toy models” of global warming. The sequence of my reports charting the evolution of my quantitative understanding of global warming, are listed at [1].

My newest report describes a rate equation for the accumulation or loss of atmospheric CO2 over the course of future time. This equation is derived from considerations of recent data on the Carbon Cycle (from the Global Climate Project), along with some mathematical assumptions about the relationships used to quantify “carbon dioxide sweepers,” the processes that scavenge atmospheric CO2.

The results of this work are projections of possible future histories of the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide, as well as a projection of the most likely trend of rising average global temperature.

The complete report on the new work (of which this is just a brief summary) is available at [2].

As is true of all future-casts, we will just have to wait till then to see if they were accurate, assuming we don’t do anything beforehand — collectively — to avoid the worst possibilities.

Such is the dance with the chaos and nonlinearity of the approaching future.

From the general mathematical result of this model, three possible future trends of CO2 concentration history were calculated:

CASE #1, “business as usual,” anthropogenic emissions continue at today’s level indefinitely;

CASE #2, anthropogenic emissions are immediately reduced to the point of holding CO2 concentration constant at today’s level, indefinitely;

CASE #3, anthropogenic emissions are immediately reduced to a trickle, so as to reduce the excess of CO2 in the atmosphere as quickly as possible.

Also, the trend of rising global temperature that accompanies CASE #1 was calculated.

CASE #1 is a pure growth trend, from 407.4ppm to 851.8ppm over the course of about 3,000 years (ppm = parts per million of concentration in the atmosphere).

CASE #2 requires that the anthropogenic emission rate be ~50% of the current rate (or 21GtCO2/y instead of 41GtCO2/y; for the units GtCO2/y defined as giga-metric-tonnes of CO2 emission per year).

This reduced rate of anthropogenic emission would just keep the CO2 concentration at 407.4ppm (from the beginning of 2019) into the near distant future (~1,600 years, and beyond), during which time the excess heat-energy presently in the biosphere would continue to degrade our weather, climate, environments, biodiversity, and planetary habitability.

CASE #3 would clear away the current excess of CO2 in the atmosphere, and then continue to reduce the atmospheric CO2 concentration to a very low level over the course of about 700 years. This would require that anthropogenic emissions be immediately reduced to about one-fifth (1/5) of their current levels, and maintained at or below that level indefinitely.

The implication is clear: if we wish to reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere we have to reduce our anthropogenic emissions well below 50% of what they are today, maintain that discipline indefinitely, and wait centuries to millennia to achieve a significant reduction.

The global temperature excursion (above the average global temperature of the pre-industrial world) that accompanies CASE #1 rises steadily, though at a diminishing rate, from +1°C in 2019, to nearly +2.6°C in 2300 (~300 years). Along the way it passes +1.5°C in year 2065 (in ~40 years), and it passes +2°C in year 2120 (in ~100 years).

Global temperature would rise higher and sooner if the absorption rates of CO2 by photosynthesis and the oceans did not continue increasing — as they do today — in proportion to the increases in the atmospheric concentration of CO2. At present, increased CO2 concentration stimulates increased CO2 absorption. The model here assumes this is always true, but in reality this “sink growth” effect may saturate (be limited) at some higher level of CO2 concentration. Whether any such saturation limit on the absorption (sink) rate exists or not, is unknown.

If the +1.5°C and +2°C temperature rise milestones are truly to be avoided then it is imperative that anthropogenic emissions be drastically reduced immediately. As yet there is no sign that such reductions will occur.

The physics and mathematics of all this are fascinating, but the implications for civilization and life-on-Earth are stark.

NOTES

[1] One Year of Global Warming Reports by MG,Jr.
15 July 2020
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2020/07/15/one-year-of-global-warming-reports-by-mgjr/
Updated to 7 September 2020

[2] A Rate Equation for Accumulation or Loss of Atmospheric CO2
5 September 2020 (revised 9 September 2020)
[take a copy]
Rate Equation for Atmospheric CO2 (revised)

or view directly:

Click to access rate-equation-for-atmospheric-co2-revised.pdf

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Facing Extinction, My View

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Facing Extinction, My View

I read Ms. Catherine Ingram’s essay:

Facing Extinction
https://www.catherineingram.com/facingextinction/

The data she cites seems realistic and reasonable;

the inferences she draws about potential, likely and current forms of consequential social and societal breakdown seem logical;

the observations she makes about the feelings, reactions, sadnesses and denial many people will respond with to the facts about global warming and biodiversity loss — and the dire implications for the long-term health and even survival of the human species — also seem rational and accurate;

and the recommendations she makes for managing one’s own state-of-mind — consciousness, psychology, expectations, mood, calmness — are helpful.

My comments on Ms. Ingram’s essay

You have to remember that (1 to 4):

1. Despite science being able to make credible estimates (from climate and socio-economic models with super-computers) about the pace at which the climate and environment will degrade, nobody really knows how quickly and to what extent society will degenerate. In 10 years time, life might be worse than we would imagine that future now, or it could be better than our fearful projections today. Who knows?

2. Looking back over the history of homo sapiens (200,000+ years), and over the history of homo (2M+ years), one sees a talent for adaptability to difficult circumstances. So, I find it unlikely that homo sapiens will “go extinct” even if social and environmental conditions deteriorate very quickly and very badly. But, those degradations would certainly cause much suffering, much death, and at some point begin reducing the human population. How far a reduction? I don’t know, but certainly not to zero, for a long long time.

3. If I had to throw out a number, I’d say we are good for at least 200 years. Why that number? Because anything less seem improbable to me, based a bit on the physics and a lot on gut feeling; and I can’t really project from any factual basis beyond 200 years, so I don’t know. Even so, I suspect people will continue to exist well beyond 200 years, but a guess without any educated justification.

4. Ingram phrases her recommendations for mentally coping with the facts about global warming climate change in a manner I would characterize as “psychotherapy.” I tend to phrase the same ideas from a perspective I think of as Zen Buddhism, in its most general sense. That is to say (a through g):

a. For each individual: life is always uncertain, life is precarious, death is certain to occur, but when and how are unknown.

b. Life is a gift, don’t waste it by living unaware of it: distracted by the “maya” of all our social fads, obsessions and daily ego dramas, and by all our technological gee-gaws facilitating our entertainment and “games.” You don’t necessarily have to be a Zen monk sitting in Za-Zen all night (kept up by green tea) and with consciousness totally focussed on the breath of the moment, but you definitely should keep very clear awareness of yourself, your body, the environment that surrounds you and beyond that the human network you allow yourself to be “attached” to.

c. The point is to actually experience the awareness — and joy — of being alive, as often as possible. Obviously, sometimes we immerse ourselves in tasks — pleasurable or unpleasurable — that “we lose ourselves in” for a while. For my mother such immersion is gardening, for me it can be working out a differential equation or a new poem. But I “resurface” to enjoy a meal, enjoy listening to the birds on my hillside, to see the changing of the light, to feel the changing of the temperature and the breeze, to inhale the stars at night, to remember many good times of the past, to eat ice cream, and even to watch the Twilight Zone on TV.

d. This clear awareness (c) equates to being grateful for experiencing life, at the very least when the momentary experience is not one of pain. But even so, the best way to live through pain is to not deny it and try to avoid it, thus setting up a conflict with the external reality of pain pushing on you, and which conflict only adds anxiety and more frustration to the pain you already are experiencing — and that means added pain. Every painful experience comes with a minimum level of pain we must experience, like it or not. So facing this fact is the best we can do: suffering through that minimum (which is not to say it is negligible) realistically rather than trying to deny it and thus causing ourselves to suffer more than the minimum. It’s not fair, it just is.

e. This all means that one should engage in their lives with a positive attitude: do what is in you to do, for the good and for a sense of fulfillment. The details of this depend on the individual and their circumstances. I don’t think of this as a mad rush to check off a bucket list of fantasy treats and entertainments, but instead to apply your mind, body and talents to those activities (creative, kind, socially and psychologically positive, at least harmless) that bring a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment to you. Your life is a gift, a very improbable gift, so use it in a way that does credit to you and justifies the receipt of that gift. For Christians, I refer them to the Parable of the Talents. For folklorists, I remind them of Joseph Campbell’s advice: “Don’t waste time” and “get it done.”

f. My contention is that the more people that live as outlined in “e,” the better the state of the social (and physical) world we all live in at the moment, and therefore that regardless of what happens geophysically and environmentally to that world, we will have a better life than might otherwise be the case under the circumstances. The utopian extreme of this view is that if “everybody” lived the ‘e-life,’ then we would have the best social network for dealing with the physical consequences of global warming climate and environmental degradation, and consequently the best deployment of both warming attenuation responses (e.g., changing our energy systems, that sort of thing) and mitigation strategies (e.g., helping those impacted by droughts, crop losses, inundation, extreme unlivable heat, intelligent applications of technology for social benefit, etc.).

g. Regardless of what everybody else does, or doesn’t do, your life is your responsibility to set right and enjoy as best you can (again, being kind regarding your societal impact). Also, you are just one individual and can hardly take on the whole problem of “fixing the world.” It’s too much, you can’t do it, and trying to will just destroy you. Being the best and happiest “you” (in a clear-eyed knowing way) that you can be is the best contribution you can make to the whole of society, besides being the most personally rewarding way to use the gift of time and consciousness that you have been given by the intriguing randomness of evolution.

So, yes, it is sad that we can see into a future that looks rather grim, and it is difficult to avoid upsetting deniers when we try to speak frankly about the facts we are aware of, and it can be sad to have to “let go” of many youthful illusions about both the continuity of the natural world that hosts us, and about the human networks we are entangled with or which cast us off, but maybe this awareness of and adaptation to reality is not really new. Maybe it has always been true that clear-sighted individuals have always had to navigate their lives through an unstable present and into an uncertain and apparently increasingly hostile future, and that their most honorable and most satisfying course of action was to live up to their potential, as best as they could, for the duration allotted to them.

It should be obvious that all the above is a projection on my part, my “best guess” of how I would like to try to behave if and when I am faced with an existential crisis, a life and death situation. In my own case, the above attitude came to me as a result of dealing with personal crises — which for me were the equivalent to life-and-death — and my application of Zen ideas garnered from much reading. Basically, I extracted ideas from my intellectual storehouse, in times of stress, to find something practical to make passage through hard times bearable.

A person I have corresponded with very recently is an ex-psychotherapist who is dying of cancer, and who wrote: “The only thing that I know is that PEOPLE DONT CHANGE UNTIL THEY FEEL PAIN.”

I agree that people only really question their self-image, and attitudes toward the conduct of their lives, until after having first been gob-smacked by the random and cruel realities of life. One way of rephrasing the above would be:

“Every body continues in its state of rest, or of uniform motion in a right line, unless it is compelled to change that state by forces impressed upon it.”
—Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727),

Newton’s 1st Law of Motion, a.k.a. inertia.

So my conclusion is: live confidently, make the best of it and enjoy it; in that way you add goodness to the world. And, yes, we have to accept that there will be pain and suffering for many many others no matter what, and even despite whatever best efforts we put in to relieve and prevent as much of that pain that the rest of the world will be burdened with. And, this has always been true. This is what I want my children to know and apply in their own lives, because I know that then their lives will be as happy as is possible.

Be aware, be intelligent, be confident, be kind. Life is a gift. And, have fun!

I guess this last is my definition of love.

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