War, the Unending Theft


The following is my response to an old friend about his fear and disgust with the new Iran War fever being stirred up by the Trump Administration.


Why Does War Exist?

Attacking Iran Will Save The World (redux)
5 January 2020 (26 March 2012)


The war is “a great big noisy rather stupid game that doesn’t make any sense at all. None of us know what it’s all about or why. Here we are going at it hammer and tongs, and I bet you those fellows over there feel exactly the same way about it, the enemy… Then one day I suppose it will all end as suddenly as it began. We’ll go home till some other bunch of criminalated* sitting around a large table shoves us into another war and we go at it again… Do you remember my father used to be a professor of biology at Queen’s? He always used to say: man is a savage animal who periodically to relieve his nervous tension tries to destroy himself.”

— Errol Flynn’s monologue in the 1938 film “The Dawn Patrol.”
[* origin of word described at https://manuelgarciajr.com/2019/11/11/criminalated-warmongers/]



Iraq War protest SF 2003

An Iraq War Retrospective

Through My Lens, Clearly

What’s Wrong With The United States?

Civics 911

Heartrending Antiwar Songs



A Measure of Societal Vitality

Figure 1, HDI vs. kWh/c, data points and statistical average,
linear plot, from 10 kWh/c to 29,247 kWh/c, (2002 data)

Figure 2, HDI vs. kWh/c, data points and statistical average,
logarithmic plot, from 10 kWh/c to 29,247 kWh/c, (2002 data)


A Measure of Societal Vitality

Following is my response to Robert Hunziker’s article “Kill GDP to Help Save the Planet,” published in Counterpunch on 2 January 2020. [1]

Robert Hunziker describes why the economic statistical measure known as GDP — Gross Domestic Product — is a deeply flawed indicator of the actual economic health and societal wellbeing of the United States, and really of any nation. As Hunziker notes, it is based purely on “the monetary value of all finished goods and services,” and as Joseph Stiglitz has shown (as pointed out by Hunziker): “The world is facing three existential crises: (1) a climate crisis, (2) an inequality crisis and (3) a crisis in democracy… Yet the accepted ways by which we measure economic performance gives absolutely no hint that we might be facing a problem.” I agree.

Is there a statistical measure that overcomes these objections? Yes: the Energy-HDI Efficiency Number. Explanation follows.

The United Nations uses an economic parameter called the Human Development Index (HDI) to characterize the typical standard of living of every nation. [2]

It is observed that affluent nations have high HDI scores (they range from 0 to 1) and a high use of electrical energy per year per capita (in kilowatt-hours/year/person the range is from 0 to 30,000), while poor nations have relatively low values for both quantities. In 2006, I made a study of the correlation of national HDI to the electrical energy use per capita, for 177 nations. [3]

The Human Development Index

The UN Human Development Index (HDI) is a comparative measure of poverty, literacy, education, life expectancy, childbirth, and other factors for countries worldwide. It is a standard means of measuring well-being, especially child welfare.

The index was developed in 1990 by the Pakistani economist Mahbub ul Haq, and has been used since 1993 by the United Nations Development Programme in its annual report.

The HDI measures the average achievements in a country in three basic dimensions of human development:

1. A long and healthy life, as measured by life expectancy at birth.

2. Knowledge, as measured by the adult literacy rate (with two-thirds weight) and the combined primary, secondary, and tertiary gross enrolment ratio (with one-third weight).

3. A decent standard of living, as measured by gross domestic product (GDP) per capita at purchasing power parity (PPP) in USD.

Each year, UN member states are listed and ranked according to these measures. Those high on the list often advertise it, as a means of attracting talented immigrants (economically, individual capital) or discouraging emigration.

The Human Development Index is the average of three indices: the Life Expectancy Index (LEI), the Education Index (EI) and the GDP Index (GDPI).

The Education Index is itself a weighted sum of: the Adult Literacy Index (ALI, weight = 2/3) and the Gross Enrollment Index (GEI, weight = 1/3).

All of these measures have minimum and maximum values, which appear in the differences and normalizations used to construct the three major indices. The formulas are as follows:

LEI = (LE – 25)/(85 -25),
LE = life expectancy in years;

EI = (2/3)*ALI + (1/3)*GEI;

ALI = (ALR – 0)/(100 – 0),
ALR = adult literacy rate;

GEI = (CGER – 0)/(100 – 0),
CGER = combined gross enrolment ratio;

GDPI = [log(GDPpc) – log(100)]/[log(40000) – log(100)],
GDPpc = GDP per capita at PPP in USD;

HDI = [LEI + EI + GDPI]/3.

The Human Development Index is a measure that helps to capture the overall socio-economic health of a country, and a measure that allows for useful comparisons whether by international bodies like the UN or concerned individuals.

Linking Energy Use And Human Development

It is evident that a higher standard of living, as indicated by HDI, will obtain when a greater quantity of electrical energy per capita (kWh/c/yr) is available. Yet, in 2002 Ireland expended 6560 kWh/c/yr to provide its people with an HDI of 0.946, ranking 8th in the world; while Saudi Arabia expended 6620 kWh/c/yr (essentially the same as Ireland) to only provide its people — on average — with an HDI of 0.772, ranking 77th in the world.

It is obvious that Ireland made much more efficient use of the energy it expended in order to support the wellbeing of its people. That wellbeing must necessarily include caring for the natural environment within which the national population lives. The statistical measure that I propose for indicating the degree to which a nation’s energy consumption provides for a healthy society is the Energy-HDI Efficiency Number. In 2002, Ireland’s Energy-HDI Efficiency Number was +21 (the world leader), while Saudi Arabia’s was -50, ranking at best 38th in the world (in 2002, the year of the HDI data available for my 2006 study).

In 2002, the U.S.A. expended 13,456 kWh/c/yr to provide its people with an HDI of 0.944, ranking 10th in the world, with an Energy-HDI efficiency number of -1, a level of overall performance behind 21 other nations despite having the 9th highest per capita energy expenditure.

What makes for Energy-HDI efficiency?: low GDP waste on a military establishment, an arms industry, and unproductive government subsidies as with underwriting Wall Street bankster gambling losses; wide use of energy efficient equipment, methods and attitudes; minimal income and wealth inequality; robust national social welfare programs; and diligent stewardship of a healthy natural environment, which naturally contributes to healthy human longevity. [4]

Some nations do a great deal with very little, like Cuba, with an HDI of 0.817 and an HDI rank of 52 out of 177 with an expenditure of only 1395 kWh/c/yr (in 2002). In my study I found that, statistically, a nation would have had to use 2425 kWh/c/yr in order to provide an HDI of 0.817. It is as if Cuba had generated its social benefits with only 57.5% of the electrical energy one would expect. [3]

Societal Vitality

Regardless of what anyone says, all national economies are exercises in intentional social engineering, and as such their features and their degrees of success at providing popular wellbeing can be characterized numerically. GDP alone is a poor indicator of societal health and vigor, but HDI and the Energy-HDI Efficiency Number are much better indicators of societal vitality.

The value of any such indicator, like the temperature shown on an air thermometer outside your window, and the speedometer in your automobile, is to apprise you quantitatively of your current reality so that you can then go and do something intelligent and useful in dealing with it. That is what we have to do about the societal vitality of our national economies and the natural environments they reside within: characterize their overall performances truthfully, and then fix them.


[1] Kill GDP to Help Save the Planet
Robert Hunziker

[2] Human Development Index

[3] An Introduction Linking Energy Use And Human Development
28 April 2006

[4] TABLE: Country Ranking by Energy-HDI Efficiency Number
9 June 2019


Climate Change at the Movies

Here are some movies and videos about climate change and human society, which I found interesting and recommend.

I think you all would enjoy the short movie, “Mazz Alone,” by Ken Avidor. This fictional story is about a man’s survival through an abrupt climate change of runaway heating. The style of presentation is a slideshow (a sequence of still images) each drawn and colored by the filmmaker, and with a running narration of the plot. It is a clever 23-and-a-half minute production that is both factually rich, entertaining, and thought-provoking. It is easy enough to image a big-budget Hollywood version of this movie, but Ken Avidor has already produced the essential work, so there’s really no need for wasting a big carbon footprint for a Hollywood extravaganza on this story.

Mazz Alone

A movie I thought was really clever as regards the whole overpopulation/climate change conundrum was “Downsizing.” This film is the product of the fertile imaginations of Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor (and directed by Payne). “Downsizing” is a social satire with extravagant special effects, but as it was a very subtle and – by American standards – an intellectual movie, it lost money ($65+M invested, $58M take). The comic book mentality of sci-fi movie viewers did not appreciate the insufficiency of whiz-bang action, and the “boring” slide into explorations of human emotions and struggles with adaptation to extinction-avoidance. To my mind the last scene of this movie is a very powerful and poignant expression of what I think is the essential truth about personally dealing with extinction/climate change — and life in general — should be: be good to the ones you love, and expand on that as you are willing. I suspect any decent Hollywood movie these days has to be a failure.

Downsizing (2017) – Official Trailer – Paramount Pictures

Here are a few more, but all of the following are documentaries, not fictional-plot entertainment as are “Mazz Alone” and “Downsizing.”

The Age of Stupid” is a marvelous and ahead-of-its-time (for a behind-the-times-and-unaware-of-reality mass consciousness) documentary from 2009 (made during 2005 to 2009, the years of the second G. W. Bush Administration). It presents itself as a “look back” from 2055 at the stupid lack of recognition and action by the people of 2005-2009 to the climate catastrophe that was soon to engulf them. A wonderfully factual and nicely paced film, deliciously critical of the NIMBY attitude toward wind-power and by extension green energy efforts generally, and British, so it has that patina of accessible sophistication that American audiences love about their imported PBS shows. Because of societal inertia “The Age of Stupid” has not aged (we’ve done nothing about climate change; just ask Greta), but even so a 10 year retrospective was produced by The Guardian newspaper, and it too is interesting.

The Age of Stupid

The Age of Stupid revisited: what’s changed on climate change?
15 March 2019

A succinct and yet richly detailed summary of “where we are today” on climate change trends, and why COP25, like all such meetings, was a failure was very recently given by Dr. Peter Carter. This “movie” is really an interview that is nearly a monologue (which is a good thing). This has no plot and is not entertainment like a feature film, but it complements “The Age of Stupid” perfectly. This is one of those less-than-half-hour films that should be widely viewed and thought about, but, you know: sports fans and sci-fi fans couldn’t even begin to process it with its lack of comic book plot, explosions, and eye-popping CGI special effects. Human extinction is just boring.

Dr Peter Carter: summarising the lack of “climate emergency” at #COP25
10 December 2019

For me, one of the most important videos I saw in 2019 was the presentation by Dr. Scott Wing on the scientific investigation of the global warming that occurred 56 million years ago, at the Paleocene-Eocene temporal boundary. I know this video would bore most people to tears — how unfortunately! — but it is the most wonderful and clear presentation of just exactly what happens on Earth when the global temperature (driven by massive CO2 injection) moves up 4°C, or 8°C, or more beyond today’s level. To make the information in this video more palatable to a wider audience, I made the effort to analyze this video in detail and “transcribe” its many detailed facts into my article “Ye Cannot Swerve Me: Moby-Dick and Climate Change,” which became my biggest “research paper” of the year. I think that if you are patient and watch Dr. Scott Wing’s entire presentation, you will be thoughtfully satisfied.

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

Ye Cannot Swerve Me: Moby-Dick and Climate Change
15 July 2019
[text to accompany the above video]

Finally, a “fast food” or “quickie” complement to Dr. Scott Wing’s video-recorded presentation on the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) is the following 11 minute video produced for PBS. Enjoy it, certainly, but don’t take it as an adequate substitute to the real thing, above.

The Last Time The Globe Warmed (PETM)
PBS Eons [10:53]
4 December 2017

I have not included sci-fi disaster-action-drama movies like “The Day After Tomorrow” here, because I don’t see them offering any useful thoughts about actual climate change (and population growth). Their entertainment takes you away from thinking, not into it.

Maybe some filmmaker will succeed next year, or later, in producing a Hollywood-style climate change urgency/doom movie that combines the factually-rich and dramatic narrative punch for Ken Avidor’s art film “Mazz Alone,” with the screen-writing polish and high production values of “Downsizing.” But, this may be as likely as our governments actually addressing climate change as the monumental emergency it really is.


CO2 and Climate Change, Old and New


CO2 and Climate Change, Old and New

How long has science known about CO2-induced climate change, and are we clever enough today to geo-engineer our way out of cooking ourselves to extinction?

In brief: a long time, and most likely no.

Clive Thompson has written engagingly about the 19th century scientists — Joseph Fourier (1768-1830), Eunice Newton Foote (1819-1888), John Tyndall (1820-1893), Svante Arrhenius (1859-1927), Arvid Högbom (1857-1940), and Samuel Pierpont Langley (1834-1906) — whose work in aggregate pieced together the essential facts about CO2-induced global warming. [1]

In 1856 Eunice Newton Foote, an American woman, suffragette and amateur scientist, conducted the first known experiment in CO2-induced climate change science, which proved carbon dioxide and water vapor were radiant-heat trapping and retaining gases, and not thermally transparent as generally believed. In the scientific paper she submitted to the American Association for the Advancement of Science (which had to be presented by a man) she prophetically observed: “An atmosphere of that gas would give to our earth a high temperature.”

Between 1859 and 1860 Irish physicist John Tyndall conducted many elaborate experiments that confirmed Eunice Newton Foote’s results with great precision (without acknowledging her, whether intentionally or out of ignorance is unknown). He found that CO2 could trap 1,000 times as much heat (infrared radiation) as dry air.

In 1896, after an arduous yearlong effort, Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius created the first model of CO2-induced climate change, aided theoretically by geologist Arvid Högbom’s findings on the carbon cycle, and aided experimentally by Samuel Pierpont Langley’s thermal detector invention.

Quoting from Clive Thompson’s article:

When [Arrhenius] was done, he made a striking prediction: If you doubled the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, it would raise the world’s temperature by 5 to 6 degrees Celsius. Remarkably, that analysis holds up pretty well today, even in an age where climate analysis involves far more information and variables and are crunched by cloud supercomputers. Despite having done his work by hand, using data that even he regarded as woefully inadequate, Arrhenius reached “a conclusion that millions of dollars worth of research over the ensuing century hardly changed at all,” as Isabel Hilton wrote in 2008. The era of modern climate modeling was born. …[Arrhenius] expected it would take 3,000 years — fully 30 centuries — for CO2 levels in the atmosphere to rise by 50%. Instead, [they] shot up by 30% in only one century.

In the century since Arrhenius (the 20th century), the scientific awareness of CO2-induced global warming skipped along to Guy Stewart Callendar in 1938, Hans Seuss in 1955, Roger Revelle in 1957, the computational three-dimensional Global Climate Model by Syukuro Manabe and Richard T. Wetherald in 1975 (where doubling CO2 in the model’s atmosphere gave a roughly 2°C rise in global temperature), and then to James E. Hansen’s striking Congressional testimony in 1988 that 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.” [2]

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) of the United Nations was established in 1988, and since then we have all known or denied the truth of the matter, to variously fret gloomily or agitate frantically over it, and to governmentally ignore responding usefully to it.

Well, our food, wealth, comfort, entertainment and daydreams are all disgorged (or destroyed if you’re among the sacrificed) by fossil-fueled capitalism, so cook ourselves we must because we can’t bring ourselves to trim any of those economically fungible desirables. Can our clever technologists geo-engineer an atmospheric CO2 retrieval and sequestration technique? Today, many such ideas are being proposed and explored experimentally, which their promoters hope if developed successfully into patented salvations will shower them ceaselessly with torrents of gold.

One such project that has shown technical feasibility is the Carbfix Project in Iceland, where CO2 gas is mixed into and retained by a large quantity of water (salt or fresh) that is then injected under pressure deep underground (800 to 2000 meters) into formations of vesicular or porous basalt rock. Basalt is a mafic extrusive igneous rock formed from the rapid cooling of magnesium-rich and iron-rich lava exposed at or very near the surface of a terrestrial planet or a moon; for example at spreading centers between tectonic plates. Iceland sits athwart the Mid-Atlantic Spreading Center and is an island mountain of volcanic and geothermal activity. The Carbfix scientists and engineers have demonstrated the petrification of aqueous CO2 into carbonate rock nodules within basalt vesicles (pores). Basalt does not wash away under pressurized aqueous injection, as softer sedimentary rocks do, and the metals in basalt are needed to react with the carbonated water (ideally the CO2-water mixture having been pushed entirely into carbonic acid) to petrify it. [3]

The pumping of CO2 into deep basalt formations, for petrified sequestration, has been known scientifically since 1976 (first proposed by Italian physicist Cesare Marchetti) [4], [5]. In 2012, as a satirical hypothetical example of fossil-fueled fanaticism, I proposed that the United States capture all the CO2 released by burning the expected liquid fuel to be processed out of the Athabasca Oil Sands of Alberta, Canada (to be imported to the U.S. via the proposed Keystone Pipeline), by piping that CO2 300 kilometers (186 miles) west of the Oregon coast into the Pacific Ocean and then under extreme pressure down 2,700 meters (8,900 feet) into the basalt formations of the Juan de Fuca tectonic plate. [6]

The difficulty with any carbon sequestration technique is demonstrating that it has a positive Energy Return On Energy Invested (EROEI).

Basically, is the amount of energy expended per unit mass of CO2 sequestered (the energy to capture, store, transport, pump and contain the CO2 underground) LESS THAN the energy liberated (with perhaps only 30% of it converted to useful work — mechanical/electrical energy/power/torque) from the combustion of whatever amount of fossil fuel produces that same unit mass of CO2?

If not (which has always been the case so far) then it is MORE EFFICIENT, and LESS CO2 releasing to- and accumulating in- the atmosphere, to not burn the fossil fuel in the first place. Consequently, it would be unnecessary to bother with the proposed geo-engineering scheme of CO2 retrieval and sequestration.

But even if such a sequestration scheme has a negative EROEI, wouldn’t it at least slow the overall rate of CO2 emissions from our fossil-fueled civilization?, and so slow the ever-increasing rate of global warming?

A better investment of the energy required for negative EROEI sequestration schemes would be to apply that fossil fuel-derived energy to the construction of reliable (well-known, old in concept advanced in construction) robust for the long-term ‘green’ energy technologies that REPLACE (not add to) an equivalent capacity (in Watts) of existing fossil-fueled power-generating and power-using infrastructure: a fossil-fueled conversion to a green energy future. This in fact is the only realistic and practical Green New Deal (GND) that we could have. We are locked into cooking ourselves disastrously but we could do it at a slower rate — and that is what a real GND would be.

To my mind the fact that terrible climatic things are unavoidably scheduled to happen does not mean that we — humanity — are physically helpless to prevent the worst of all possible fates, by vigorously responding with intelligent and cooperative social adaptations (lifestyle simplification and energy efficiency) and clever engineering for an ongoing and permanent transition from fossil fuels to green energy.

The state of the natural world is a mirror to our civilization in the same way that Dorian Gray’s poisonously false beauty was reflected by his hideously magical portrait picture.

Thanks to Katje Erickson for pointing me to items [1] and [3].


[1] How 19th Century Scientists Predicted Global Warming
by Clive Thompson
(Today’s headlines make climate change seem like a recent discovery. But Eunice Newton Foote and others have been piecing it together for centuries.)
17 December 2019

[2] Climate Change Denial is Murder

[3] Researchers In Iceland Can Turn CO2 Into Rock. Could It Solve The Climate Crisis?
by Robin Young and Karyn Miller-Medzon
10 December 2019

[4] Carbon sequestration

[5] Ocean storage of carbon dioxide

[6] Energy for Society in Balance with Nature


Why celebrate Greta Thunberg?

“So, why should we celebrate Greta Thunberg being named Time Magazine’s person of the year?”

Because she’s young (thus having a greater claim to “the future”), committed, absolutely correct about climate change, witheringly clear, endearingly free of emotionalism and self-promotion, and more effective at public advocacy and consciousness-raising about the need for profound and immediate socio-economic transformation than anyone else on the planet. How she did this is immaterial but the fact is it’s done and she’s using it to maximum advantage for her (and our?) cause. She’s on the cover of Time Magazine for the same reason Obama wanted to shake her hand, TV hosts want her on their shows, and UN conferences invite her to speak: because they all want to attach themselves to her authenticity to make up for the deficiencies of their own. Many people high, low, right, left and center are envious of her, and that envy merely illuminates the extent of their bullshit.


Climate, from Catastrophe to Cataclysm

Australian wildfire, 2019
Image from Near Term Human Extinction Evidence Group

Image from Near Term Human Extinction Evidence Group


Climate, from Catastrophe to Cataclysm

Please watch the 23 minute video, linked below, to completion. It shows an interview of Dr. Peter Carter (Director Climate Emergency Institute, IPCC expert reviewer, Co-author in 2018 of Unprecedented Crime: Climate Science Denial and Game Changers for Survival). This interview was conducted at COP25 (“this is set up to fail”) currently underway in Madrid, Spain, on 10 December 2019.

Peter Carter gives a vividly clear, trenchantly concise summary of the state of Earth’s climate; the increasing acceleration of all the phenomena that drive global warming climate change (carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide emissions); the obdurate denial of the climate emergency, and the opposition to any action in response to it by the high carbon-emitting fossil fuel-loving nations: the United States, Russia, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, at the very least. I would venture to guess that Australia, under its current reactionary Morrison Administration, would also join the objecting ‘carbonaholics’ despite it currently experiencing a mega-drought with massive and uncontrolled wildfires.

The average global temperature today is just under 1.4°C above its level during the years 1951 to 1980 (the baseline). The level in year 1000 coincided with the baseline. Between 1000 and the baseline years the temperature dipped to an average low 0.5°C below baseline, which extended from 1500 to 1800. All temperature fluctuations during the 800 years between 1000 and 1800 were well less than 0.5°C (plus or minus). Average global temperature has risen since 1980 at an average rate of 0.5°C every 14 years. Climate science has identified 1.5°C above baseline as the threshold between catastrophe to cataclysm; the threshold of 2°C above baseline, much publicized for over a decade as the “safe limit,” is actually over the redline of our climate change tachometer: “blown engine,” biosphere collapse.

The global carbon dioxide (CO2) level was between 275ppm and 285ppm (ppm = parts per million, 1 ppm is equivalent to 0.0001% by volume) between years 1000 and 1800. By 1900 it was 300ppm, rising increasingly rapidly since. Today’s CO2 concentration in the atmosphere is 415ppm, a level that last occurred 3 million years ago.

The global methane (CH4) level was between 650ppb and 700ppb (ppb = parts per billion) between years 1000 and 1750. The methane level has risen at an increasing rate since: from 700ppb in 1750 to 850ppb in 1900; and then zooming to over 1850ppb today. Methane is 86 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Peter Carter describes the massive explosion of methane emission that is occurring right now around Point Barrow, Alaska.

The global nitrous oxide (N2O) level was between 264ppb and 274ppb between years 1000 and 1880. Thereafter it zoomed at an increasing rate to 332ppb today.

Considering the mean sea level to have been at a baseline elevation in 1900 (which also coincided with its elevation in 1150, 1300, 1450 and 1800) its fluctuations about baseline between years 1000 and 1900 were limited to 8 centimeters (3.2 inches) above, and 3 centimeters (1.2 inches) below. Since 1900 the elevation of mean sea level has increased to almost 22 centimeters (8.7 inches) above baseline today; a steady average rate-of-rise of almost 2 centimeters per decade since the beginning of the 20th century.

Again, please watch the video to hear Dr. Peter Carter’s very important, concise and pungent summary of where our world is today regarding its climate change emergency: stepping out blindly from catastrophe into cataclysm.

Dr Peter Carter: summarising the lack of “climate emergency” at #COP25
10 December 2019


The numerical values given for CO2, CH4, N2O concentrations, and changes in global temperature and mean-sea-level, were read from charts published by the 2 Degrees Institute.


From Caesar’s Last Breath To Ours

After the career: books donated in 2019.


From Caesar’s Last Breath To Ours

Human Life is a sexually transmitted planetary disease, Climate Change is the disinfectant that will cure it. (I’ll explain myself on this later.)

Sam Kean’s concluding 5 paragraphs, on CO2 in the atmosphere, from his book Caesar’s Last Breath (And Other True Tales of History, Science, and the Sextillions of Molecules in the Air Around Us, 2017, Back Bay Books, Little Brown & Co) are interesting, being a series of statements of long-known physical quantities. Since I studied “gas physics” for my graduate studies (in the 1970s), and I developed an interest in climate change at least by 2004 (when I published my first article on climate change), I’ve known the basic facts Kean commented on for quite some time.

In one of my technical books on gas physics (Introduction to Physical Gas Dynamics, by Walter G. Vincenti and Charles H. Kruger, 1965, John Wiley & Sons, NY) an example is given in which the authors illustrate the physical phenomena of gaseous diffusion by showing that the last breath expelled by Julius Caeser will have taken years to fully disperse in a homogenous manner throughout the earth’s atmosphere, and so each person ‘today’ would likely breath in, on average, 5 molecules of that last breath. One amazing feature of the example is that it shows just how many molecules there are in each cubic meter of air (at sea level and ‘normal’ temperature), 2.69×10^25 per meter^3 = 2.69×10^19 per cm^3. Vincenti and Kruger quote the following from James Jeans’ 1940 book An Introduction to the Kinetic Theory of Gases (Cambridge University Press):

“…, a man is known to breath out about 400 c.c. of air at each breath, so that a single breath of air must contain about 10^22 molecules. The whole atmosphere of the earth consists of about 10^44 molecules. Thus one molecule bears the same relation to a breath of air as the latter does to the whole atmosphere of the earth. If we assume that the last breath of, say, Julius Caesar has by now become thoroughly scattered through the atmosphere, then the chances are that each of us inhales one molecule of it with every breath we take. A man’s lungs hold about 2000 c.c. of air, so that the chances are that in the lungs of each of us there are about five molecules from the last breath of Julius Caesar.”

The average spacing between air molecules (at sea level, or “standard temperature and pressure” = STP) is about 3.3×10^-7 centimeters. Since air molecules travel at an average speed of 5×10^4 centimeters/second (at STP), and each such molecule travels an average distance of 6×10^-6 centimeters before colliding into another molecule (obviously whizzing by many others between collisions), the frequency of collisions per molecule is about 10^10 collisions/second, or about 10 collisions per nanosecond.

Each such collision will deflect the colliding molecules into new directions of travel, so it can take them a very long time to actually transport from Point A to Point B separated by global distances. One number bandied about by commentators on climate change (who at least halfway know what they’re talking about) is that it takes “30 years” for local CO2 emissions to begin having a “global effect” as part of global warming. This is basically the timescale of atmospheric homogenization by diffusion of the locally emitted plumes, because of course the individual CO2 molecules of such plumes are quite ready to absorb infrared radiation, and lose it as heat released to other air molecules during collisions (the actual mechanics of global warming) from the instant those CO2 molecules are formed.

A different indicator of atmospheric trace gas homogenization is that a uniform (independent of geographical location) quantity per unit mass of radioactive fallout absorption/take-up by trees was first measured (recently, from tree corings) to have occurred in late 1965. Radioactive fallout was first created in 1945, and the greatest number of atmospheric (and any) nuclear explosions, by far, occurred in 1962. Some geologists have now proposed labeling the beginning of the Anthropocene from late 1965, and calling that year the end of the Holocene (which is/was the current geological epoch, which began with the last glacial period/retreat approximately 11,650 years ago). “Anthropocene” because it is the first epoch in which human activity (anthropo) has a global geophysical impact; such impacts being worldwide nuclear fallout (as in the 1957 book and 1959 movie On The Beach), and anthropogenic CO2/greenhouse gas-driven global warming.

When I first wrote about global warming/climate change, it was out of this perspective as a gas physicist trying to explain the technical details to a lay audience. I soon learned that the audience was not only laying, but snoring. I was trying to prod “people” into action to forestall climate change by “greening” energy technology, since I was also an engineer focused on “energy” and “efficiency.” Plus I was hoping a huge public shift in this direction would open up some nice ($$$) job opportunities for me. But the snoozing audience just wants consumerism at the lowest common denominator level, and the Big Bosses just want bombs (and money for themselves). So no sweet high-tech green-physics job for me, but more firepower for the ‘criminalated’ psychopaths who are our guiding self-worshipping self-imagined Olympians, more gargantuan Black Friday tsunamis of electro-plastic garbage consumerism for the ‘amnesiatariat,’ and as a result giga-tons more carbonation of the atmosphere and acidification of the seas, and less viability for our planet with its growing human population.

Since “the human element” (mental inertia, ego, tribalism) always controls and limits the actualization of any technical enterprise by a group of people — like greening away from fossil fuels — it was quickly obvious to me that though most “solar energy” technologies were ancient and well-understood “we” were not going to give up fossil fuel convenience, wealth-generation and enablement-of-political-power in favor of green energy, and so consequently global warming could only increase. And it has, and will. So I write about climate change “for the art of it” and for personal satisfaction, in particular to put my views “on the record” for my children. But I can only fantasize, without belief, that such writing will have any practical political effect — of course I’d like it to, but I’m a realist. Happily, it’s always nice to hear every now and then from someone who already agrees with my views, that something I’ve written has given them some encouragement.

And that is where the arc of my climate change consciousness — from the science to our society — has brought me to today: human connection. Given that fossil fueled humanity is intransigent, and now the advance of climate change is implacable (“tipping points”), I see the best focus for most people’s limited energies beyond their immediate survival and family needs to be the developing of a consciousness of climate change and political reality, and a commitment to acting toward others at a minimum with benign neutrality and better yet with compassion, honesty and solidarity, so human society is generally improved and economically more leveled, regardless of the geophysical conditions under which it exists at any given time. For a society that is as deeply humane as I’ve suggested (and vastly different than today’s) then if and when we really do enter a rapidly accelerating “end time” our individual exits would be as decently humane as possible because they would be occurring within a societal death-with-dignity of a society of broad solidarity. I suppose this is kind of glum thinking, but maybe that’s an inevitable result of my growing ‘old’ in these times.

All this has been a rather prolix introduction to a video about climate change I thought you might enjoy. The Age Of Stupid is a 90 minute British documentary from 2009 (five years in the making) that remains brilliantly cogent about the “human element” driving the climate change geophysics, and is also refreshingly accurate about the physical details of that geophysics. [1] The Age Of Stupid Revisited is a 15 minute look back on the original documentary, from today. [2] Nothing has changed for the better; for the worse yes. Reflecting on this documentary, on the arc of my climate change consciousness, and on my belief (which I wish future reality would contradict) that there will never be any significant collective action to stop anthropo-exacerbation of climate change, and to also end poverty and to economically level national and world societies, I arrived at the rather tart characterization that: human life is a sexually transmitted planetary disease, and climate change is the disinfectant that will cure it.


[1] The Age of Stupid

[2] The Age of Stupid revisited: what’s changed on climate change?
15 March 2019