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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Oil, Population, Temperature, What Causes What?

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Oil, Population, Temperature, What Causes What?

In statistics, correlation is not proof of causation. Causation between coincidences has to be established by deeper investigation. Three trends that are tightly coincident, between the years 1960 to 2025, are: the increase in global population above its 1953 total of 2.7 billion (2.7B), the accumulated petroleum production since 1900 (in giga-barrels, Gb), and the increase in average global temperature, T, above a baseline of 14.7 degrees Centigrade (T – 14.7C).

No one, except lying hypocritical ideologues, denies that causal links exist between these three trends, but what are they? Let’s explore the possibilities.

P1: Increases in oil production could cause increasing population and global warming.

P2: Increases in population could cause more oil production and global warming.

P3: Increases in global warming could cause increases in population and more oil production.

Possible causal links in P1 are: fossil fuel energy made available through continuing oil production could support human reproductive activity and the increase of existing families, and it could support and expand existing industrial activity that emits carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4) gases.

Possible causal links in P2 are: the genetically programmed impulse to gather all resources possible in order to reproduce as much as possible could cause the continuation of oil production to garner fossil fuel energy, and it could cause global warming by expanding the mass of CO2 exhaling human life.

Possible causal links in P3 are: the increase in the temperature of the biosphere could cause continuing and expanded human reproductive activity, and the continuing production of oil.

Because the biosphere is not heating up independently of human activity, we can dismiss P3. This dismissal would only be argued against by lying hypocritical ideologues, who are irrelevant to the good of humanity and Planet Earth, so we ignore them and move on.

We are left then with oil production (P1) and population growth (P2) as fundamental drivers of global warming. Still to determine is whether oil production fuels population growth, or population growth spurs oil production, and we can suspect that they amplify each other.

Homo sapiens are one species of life on Planet Earth, and they are also one variety of primates. Since the inception of the species over 2,000 centuries ago, a sole human being without any other support has had little chance of survival, and this was also true of humanity’s precursor primate species.

All living creatures have an instinct to survive, and the strongest outlets for that instinct are: finding food and water, securing shelter and defending territory, and reproducing. Territory is defended because it offers food and water gathering and reproductive opportunities. One strategy for individual survival is to associate in groups that cooperate for mutual survival: families, packs, herds, monkey troops, clans, and human societies. Racism among humans is a degeneration of this survival strategy.

Family is the most reliable — and most genetically linked — association an individual can form to support their survival. This is why the urge to reproduce is innate, and that is why Life on Earth continues.

A larger family provides the individual with more loyal associates for water and food gathering, for defense against predators, and for protection and care when aged and ill. For individual humans, this primitive survival strategy becomes more important the less they have social welfare networks and social welfare societies to rely on.

The purpose of social welfare societies — socialism — is to provide its individuals with sufficient quantities of water, food, shelter and energy to carry on fulfilling lives, without subjecting those individuals to lonely struggles for precarious survival. This is why mortality rates are lowest in highly socialized prosperous societies, and why the consensus of individuals living in them is for low rates of reproduction, even to the point of birth rates below 2.1 per woman, the replacement rate necessary to maintain the existing size of a society’s population. It is entirely logical for individuals living without reliable socialized guarantees of getting sufficient access to water, food, shelter and energy to conduct safe and decent lives, to procreate larger families. This is why population growth is greatest among the poorer people on Earth, whether in the Industrialized Societies, the Developing World, or the impoverished Third World.

Clearly, the single best strategy to slow, and perhaps even reverse global population growth, is to provide a global system of reliable socialized security to completely support individual healthcare for life, obviously including: maternity care; safe birthing; safe abortion; child survival, healthcare, education and launching into “independent” living; elder care; and humane natural and self-willed dying. There is simply less incentive to have more children if more of them are guaranteed to survive and experience full and decent lives, and if the individual has a socially guaranteed protection of their own survival.

So, failure to provide reliable socialized protection for individual survival amplifies the innate urge to procreate, which then fuels a population explosion, whose consequence is continued global warming: because of a continuing and expanded use of fossil fuel energy that is very inequitably controlled and shared out; and because of a larger mass of humanity exhaling carbon dioxide gas (CO2), creating organic wastes that emit methane (CH4), and then these two entering geophysical positive feedback loops that amplify such subsequent emissions.

However, the population explosion alone — which is concentrated among Earth’s darker and poorer people — is not the sole cause of global warming. The continuing and expanded drive by individuals to acquire fossil fuel energy in order to accumulate more personal wealth, more personal power, more social status, and more ego gratification, is the other — and I think predominant — fundamental cause of global warming. As already noted, the control and exploitation of fossil fuel energy is very inequitably shared. Rich and politically powerful countries and individuals have overwhelming control over fossil fuel energy resources, and they are in the best positions to exploit those resources for their own aggrandizement. This is pure capitalism. Those of our fellow homo sapiens primates who are “left out” of wealth society’s fossil-fueled economic positive feedback loop will apply “monkey see, monkey do” in attempted emulation of that fossil-fueled economic growth strategy. This is why there is contention, exploitation and war within poor societies and impoverished populations. The desperate eat each other to claw to the top of their heaps.

So, the production and use of petroleum is driven by the will for selfish gain by rich and poor alike — the rich having much greater advantages in doing so — and by the legitimate needs of individuals and their societies to acquire sufficient energy to sustain their survival and that of their children in safe and decent lives. As population grows so does the need for greater amounts of energy: energy for human development, (1), (2).

Clearly, the single best strategy to slow, and maybe even someday reverse global warming, is to replace fossil fuel energy with solar and “green” energy, whose production and use does not emit CO2, CH4, and other organic “greenhouse” vapors.

While access to greater amounts of heat and electrical energy — whether from green or from fossil fuel sources — can make it easier to accommodate increased human fertility, the presence of reliable, global, equitable socialized protections of individual and family survival, health and well-being will act to limit (and ultimately decrease) population growth, and as a consequence throttle the need for an ever expanding grasp for energy.

So, the entwined trends of a population explosion concentrated among the “have nots,” with a highly inequitable expansion and use of energy — primarily from fossil fuels — controlled by the “haves,” combines to form our current world crisis of: global warming; environmental degradation; biodiversity, habitat and survivability losses; and inequitably distributed socio-economic decay. The cure for this world illness is the combination of a conversion from fossil fuel energy to green energy, along with the establishment of a global system of socialized security for individual and family survival, health and welfare.

The continuation of our globally feverish illness is simply a reflection of the continuation of selfishness and egotism applied on top of the genetically implanted instinct for survival, in our highly inequitable human societies and human civilization. The great barrier to curing this illness is overcoming the resistance to relinquishing the grasping for primitive personal advantage by the weakening and exploitation of others; and replacing it with: individual commitments to ethical living; mutual trust among all people; and economic leveling and universal human welfare as matters of government policy.

The combination of the last three would help to form a world solidarity that is in balance with Nature. This would be a consciously willed evolutionary advance of our species, a victory of frontal lobe cognition over limbic system reactivity. The unwillingness and “inability” to form such a green, world solidarity would be acquiescence to a near-distant, unnatural and unnecessary human extinction.

The cure is as immensely impractical and as trivially easy as all of us homo sapiens simply choosing to consciously change our ways, with trust in each other for fair dealing and mutual protection. Call it green socialism if you like.

Notes

1. Energy For Human Development,
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2011/11/09/energy-for-human-development/

2. Energy For Society In Balance With Nature
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2015/06/08/energy-for-society-in-balance-with-nature/

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Our Globally Warming Civilization

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Our Globally Warming Civilization

The 150 years of the Industrial Revolution (~1770-1920), with its catastrophic and bloody termination in World War I (1914-1918), had no noticeable effect on the global average temperature, which had hovered around 14.7 degrees Centigrade (C) since antiquity. The human population had taken 200,000 years (more or less) to grow to one billion (1B), in 1804, within the natural and majestic evolution of global climates during those 2000 centuries, (1).

By 1927, the human population had increased to 2B. The 1920s were economic boom years in the Industrialized World (give or take some post WWI German misery, the Russian Revolution, and Chinese civil warfare) with the liquid petroleum replacing the solid coal as the fossil fuel of choice for transportation vehicles; and the explosion in the craving for, and manufacture and use of, internal combustion engines and the automobiles powered by them.

After 1927 the rate of population growth increased from what it had been on average during the previous 123 years (about 8 million per year, ~8M/yr) to an average rate of 29M/yr, to accumulate another 0.7B people in the 26 years up to 1953, when the population was 2.7B. Those 26 years between 1927 and 1953 spanned the crescendo of the Roaring ‘20s, the capitalist economic collapse of 1929, the Great Depression (1929-1942), World War II (1939-1945), the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945), and the Chinese Communist Revolution and Civil War (1946-1949).

I estimate that the cumulative amount of petroleum produced (pumped out and used up) by 1953 was 98.6 billion barrels (98.6 giga-barrels, 98.6Gb), (2). This implies that since about 1900, when civilization’s use of petroleum as a fuel began in earnest, it consumed 602 giga-GJ (602 x 10^18 Joules) of energy (equivalent to 168 mega-GWh = 168 x 10^9 MWh = 168 giga-mega-watt-hours) to power itself up to 1953, (3).

By 1960, the world’s human population had reached 3B, and the rate of population growth was accelerating (having been about 43M/year during the previous 7 years). From 1960 to the present day, the trend of cumulative production of petroleum, Q, has been proportional to the rising trend of human population, in the ratio of 272 barrels of oil per person (272 b/p).

Specifically, my approximating formula for Q, the accumulated production of oil in giga-barrels (Q, in Gb), given as a function of the population in billions (P, in B) for a given year within the interval 1960 to 2025 is:

Q(year) = [P(year) – 2.7B] x (272 b/p).

This approximation gives an accumulated production up to 2015 (with population 7.35B) of

Q(2015) = 1265Gb, (approximation).

By integrating the actual production rate-per-year curve (the “Hubbert curve” for world production, in GB/yr) given by Laherrere (2), I find the actual accumulated production up to 2015 to be:

Q(2015) = 1258Gb, (actual).

The rate of oil production is now likely at its peak of between 25 Gb/yr to 35 Gb/yr during this 20 year interval between 2005 and 2025, (2),(4). Thereafter, it should drop rapidly since current oil fields have diminishing production, there have been no major oil field discoveries since the 1970s and the frequency of discovery has steadily diminished since then. That means that over half of Earth’s original total reserves, estimated at 2,200Gb (2), have already been extracted. The “end-of-oil” seems destined for the last two decades of the 21st century.

Assuming all that oil was burned, up to the year 2015 (115 years since 1900), civilization would have used 7,674GGJ, (7,674 x 10^18 Joules), equivalent to 2,139GMWh, (2,139 x 10^15 Watt-hours) of energy, derived from that 1258Gb of petroleum, to power itself.

That burning would have released 398,786Gkg (~4 x 10^14 kg = ~400 giga tonnes) of CO2, (5). At present (May 2019) there are about 3,250 giga tonnes of CO2 in the atmosphere, with an average concentration of 415 parts per million by volume (415ppmv), (6). 1228 G tonnes of that CO2 is excess above the pre-industrial amount in the atmosphere. The ~400 G tonnes estimated here as the accumulated emissions from the prior burning of petroleum (up to about 2015) is only about one-third of the excess atmospheric CO2.

There are numerous other processes in our civilization, as well as in the natural world, that cause the emission of carbon-dioxide and its atmospheric retention in excess amounts. The main sources of CO2 emissions are the exhalations from aerobic respiration by all of Earth’s living heterotrophs, decaying plants, and volcanic eruptions. Other sources include: the burning of coal and natural gas, forest and vegetation fires caused naturally and by slash-and-burn agriculture, the bubbling out of CO2 from warming oceans no longer able to dissolve as much of that gas as before, and the massive amount of past and continuing forest clearing that has reduced Earth’s natural system of CO2 uptake — photosynthesis. The cement industry is one of the two largest producers of anthropogenic carbon dioxide, creating up to 5% of worldwide man-made emissions of this gas, of which 50% is from the chemical process and 40% from burning fuel, (7).

Methane (CH4) is a very potent greenhouse gas, being 30 times more effective than CO2 at trapping heat. “For each degree that Earth’s temperature rises, the amount of methane entering the atmosphere from microorganisms dwelling in lake sediment and freshwater wetlands — the primary sources of the gas — will increase several times. As temperatures rise, the relative increase of methane emissions will outpace that of carbon dioxide from these sources.” (8) Other sources of methane emissions are: rotting organic wastes, termite colonies, and bovine flatulence from industrialized agricultural sites. The globally warmed thawing Arctic tundra is now a region of major methane eruptions.

Up until 1974, when the human population had reached 4B, Earth’s climate system had yet to become feverish over the previous 200,000 years of collective human activity. However, at about that time the average global temperature began increasing at a historically unprecedented rate because of civilization’s heated and organic outgassing, a process which continues today as anthropogenic global warming, (9).

In fact, the date at which collective human activity began to affect and alter Earth’s climate system has now been pinpointed to somewhere between October to December 1965. That date marks the end of the Holocene Epoch of geologic history (which began 11,700 years previously, after the last Ice Age), and the beginning of the Anthropocene Epoch — the epoch of human-affected climate, globally. The physical phenomenon marking this transition is that Carbon-14, a radioactive isotope released during open-air atomic and nuclear bomb explosions between 1945 and 1963, had finally dispersed uniformly around the globe, and become absorbed into tree tissues even in the remotest parts of the world, thus recording that uniformity (10).

Between 1960 and 2025, the three rising trends of: population (P), cumulative oil production (Q), and increase of average global temperature above baseline (T – 14.7C = delta-T), are all uniformly proportional to one another.

Specifically (for years between 1960 and 2025) T, P and Q are related to each other as follows:

[T(year) – 14.7C] = [P(year) – 2.7B]/3.3B = [Q(year)/(900 Gb)],

where the forms above are each equivalent to a temperature difference relative to the baseline of 14.7C (delta-T, in degrees C).

Notice that if T = 15.7C, and P = 6B, and Q = 900 Gb, then the equality above holds, with: 1 = 1 = 1. This particular condition actually occurred during 1999.

During this 65 year interval, a 1 degree C rise in temperature (above 14.7C) is coincident with a 3.3B increase in population (above its 1953 level of 2.7B), which in turn is coincident with a production (and use) of 900Gb of petroleum.

The population is growing from 3B in 1960 to an expected 8B in 2028 during this 68 year interval, with an average population increase of +73.5M/yr. Within these 68 years, and especially during the 55 years from 1970 to 2025, the rising trends of (T – 14.7C), (P – 2.7B)/3.3B, and Q/(900Gb) are in lockstep. This period — with explosive population growth, depletion of over half of the Earth’s petroleum endowment, and with an unprecedented rate of global warming — began in the last year of the Eisenhower Administration, 1960, when John Kennedy was elected US President, and extends right up to the present (and beyond it).

The average global temperature will have climbed up from ~15C to ~16.2C during this interval, a relative rise of 1.4C, and a rise of ~1.5C (delta-T = ~1.5C) above the pre-industrial temperature, defined here as 14.7C (58.46 degrees Fahrenheit). That 1.5C (2.7F) warming above the pre-industrial temperature represents a tremendous amount of heat energy diffused throughout the biosphere, and the deleterious effects of that excess heat are self-evident to all: the altering of climate; the powering of violent weather; the heating and acidifying (with absorbed CO2) of the oceans, sterilizing them of marine life; the melting of glaciers and thawing of tundras; the causing of carbon dioxide and methane to bubble out of solution and frozen capture in the natural world (in a vicious feedback loop); the expansion of disease pathogens and tropical parasites; and the added stresses to both wild and farmed vegetation, and increased desertification, which result in human hunger and desperate migrations of impoverished refugees.

Now, our civilization is starting to suffocate in the lingering heat of its previous exhalations. The singular challenge to our species and to our political economies is what to do, collectively, about global warming. That challenge remains largely unanswered, and tragically denied by too many people .

Notes

1. World population is estimated to have reached one billion for the first time in 1804. It was another 123 years before it reached two billion in 1927, but it took only 33 years to reach three billion in 1960. The global population reached four billion in 1974 (14 years later), five billion in 1987 (13 years later), six billion in 1999 (12 years later), and seven billion in October 2011 (12 years later), according to the United Nations, or in March 2012 (13 years later), according to the United States Census Bureau.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_population

World population by year
https://www.worldometers.info/world-population/world-population-by-year/

2. Jean Laherrere, World Crude Oil Production, (brown line), April 2015
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/46/World_crude_discovery_production_U-2200Gb_LaherrereMar2015.jpg

3. The energy released from combusting 1 barrel of oil is 6.1 giga-joules (6.1 GJ), which equals 1.7 MWh (1.7 mega-watt-hour).
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barrel_of_oil_equivalent

4. Worldwide, around 92.6 million barrels of oil were produced daily in 2017.
https://www.statista.com/statistics/265203/global-oil-production-since-in-barrels-per-day/
~73 million barrels/day in 1998, rising since.
73 Mb/day = 26.7 Gb/yr (1998)
93 Mb/day = 34.0 Gb/yr (2017)
During 20 years of production (1998-2017) the rate rose 20 Mb/day = +1 MB/day/year

5. Burning one barrel of petroleum can produce between 317kg (realistically) to 433kg (theoretically) of CO2:
Realistic
http://numero57.net/2008/03/20/carbon-dioxide-emissions-per-barrel-of-crude/
Theoretical
https://www.answers.com/Q/How_much_CO2_produced_by_burning_one_barrel_of_oil
Therefore, the CO2 emitted by combusting 1b = 317kg CO2.

6. As of January 2007, the earth’s atmospheric CO2 concentration is about 0.0383% by volume (383 ppmv) or 0.0582% by weight. This represents about 2.996×10^12 tonnes (1 tonne = 1000kg), and is estimated to be 105 ppm (37.77%) above the pre-industrial average (~278 ppmv).
https://micpohling.wordpress.com/2007/03/30/math-how-much-co2-by-weight-in-the-atmosphere/

415 ppmv of atmospheric CO2, as of May 2019
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carbon_dioxide_in_Earth%27s_atmosphere

Therefore:
(415/383) x 3000 G tonnes = 3,250 G tonnes, (May 2019).

7. Environmental impact of concrete
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Environmental_impact_of_concrete

8. Methane is roughly 30 times more potent than CO2 as a heat-trapping gas
https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/03/140327111724.htm

9. I first constructed the simplified plot of average global temperature in 2004, using data from public sources. Details about that construction and the data used are given at:
Population, Oil and Global Warming, 31 May 2019 (15 March 2004)
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2019/05/31/population-oil-and-global-warming/

10. The Anthropocene Epoch began sometime between October and December 1965.
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2018/02/23/the-anthropocenes-birthday/

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Mendocino County, 2019

I just came back from a visit to Mendocino County, California, and here are 20 of my pictures from that trip. I’ve chosen to present these photos at a “large” size (not “full”) and “high” resolution (not “maximum). I hope you enjoy them.

We stayed in this house, designed to collect solar heat with its high row of windows facing south, and its full length solarium. The large vegetable and fruit garden is being prepared once again for the coming spring.

 

A meditative spot by the house is the Koi Pond.

 

Daffodils have started to carpet the green fields of the old cemetery for the town of Manchester.

 

Navarro Beach, where the Navarro River meets the Pacific Ocean, south of the hamlets of Albion and Little River.

 

I can never take too many pictures of the beach and surf.

 

The “isness” of nature is so beautiful, it takes you out of yourself and into the universal and primordial.

 

Grace Carpenter Hudson (1865-1937) was an American fine arts painter. She made this self portrait in oil, in 1881, when she was a 16 year old art student in San Francisco. This photo is only of a portion of the full painting.

 

Grace Hudson spent most of her life in the small city of Ukiah (inland Mendocino County), where today many of her art works are displayed at the Grace Hudson Museum.

 

Grace Hudson focused her artistry on the portraiture of the Pomo Indians, who live (still) in the Ukiah and Potter valleys (of inland Mendocino County). She painted real people in the natural settings of the region. This particular painting is about “the birth of song.”

 

A young Pomo girl with her pet fox.

 

A young Pomo girl with an orange, and attitude.

 

Grace Hudson made many paintings of Pomo children and babies. This is a detail of one of her best known “baby pictures.”

 

Grace Hudson sketched this amazingly subtle and detailed portrait of an expert Pomo basket weaver, and friend, with bitumen (which I think of as a coal/tar crayon).

 

Nit’s Cafe is a small, wonderful Thai-themed restaurant in Fort Bragg.

 

This view shows over 90% of the dining area of Nit’s Cafe. Note the potted orchids and colored lights. The food is phenomenal; the seafood is exquisite.

 

Menus at Nit’s Cafe.

 

Here is the chef of this one-woman enterprise, Nit herself: an accomplished gourmet chef who combines refined French culinary technique with Thai sensibility, and a passion for fine cooking. A lively and lovely person. Nit’s is at 322 CA Hwy 1 (the main street through Fort Bragg, in the center of town).

 

Point Navarro, north of Navarro Beach and south of Albion and Little River; looking west toward the setting sun, from near the edge of the high cliff (rocky surf below, and a very windy day).

 

The ceaseless surf at Navarro Point.

 

Looking north from the same cliff-edge spot at Navarro Point.

 

Two Worlds

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Two Worlds

There are only two worlds now: the Included and the Excluded; and there are only two kinds of people: those who care about it, and those who don’t.

The Included World hastens to fortify its walls, gunmen, and accountants enclosing its select archipelago of oases defining its territory of secure consuming obliviousness, against the straining pressure of the rising flood from bursting Exclusion, compressed against its own outflow by Inclusion’s higher thicker dams holding back that impoundment of anguish swelling with frigid impoverishment and churning into boiling panicked stampedes toward the fabled cervixes of Inclusion, like turbulent torrents of delirious sperm racing up narrow clogged fallopian tubes, hurling themselves toward feverish beatific visions of higher bountiful fruition, while all around everywhere those exhausted in body, mind and spirit by the blind rush for survival fall out unseen to stagnate in the worlds’ gutters littered with the failures of luck and the refuse of compassionless inattention, to wither in the open, waste away in the dark, and be picked off by soulless scavengers.

Beyond the age of three, unless they thereafter ferociously resist the dissolution of their personal integrity by the ambient mass psychosis, the potentially Included increasingly devolve into zombies absorbed into generic personal fogs of indoctrinated illusions roboticizing them to mesh into enslaving gear trains of unconscious commercialized self-absorption as redundant units in the anthill pyramids of petty-minded potentates contending for greater leadership in Inclusion’s assault on the future. The waste heat of Included thoughtless excess rains down a desiccating coldness of heart onto the Excluded whose wellsprings of vitality are parasitically sucked out by remote greed, inundating the castaways with a desolation of uncaring, and garrotting them by the concentration of their bombarded fecundity.

Day after day the buoyant Included step with practiced ignorance over the unnoticed corpses of expired Excluded, fallen in their parallel isolation from within the descending crowd, across the pathways of Inclusion’s unrelenting drives of politicked ascendancy toward higher rungs of privilege and prestige, toward ampler harvests of enriching sales, toward wider presences of blaring advertisement in the electronic fields of automated rent-seeking, and toward grander delusions of self-worth measured by volumes of automated vapid exaltation, and looted cash.

In time the violent dams erected by Inclusion will collapse like the ice dams of the Pleistocene, with ensuing floods scouring to scablands the now plump islands of contentment, homogenizing the muddy sea of humanity. When? How? Who knows? But Nature eventually balances opposing forces, levels steep-sided heights, and equates differences in the time-unravelling chaos of entropy. The personal you, and all of your stuff, will be carried off by time’s unceasing undercurrent of dissipation. All your scheming and all your dreaming will be dissolved away, like everyone else’s, and the only fleeting remnant of any real worth you as a conscious organism may have had will be the fading memories in succeeding generations of if you had cared and how you had shared. Be happy, this is good, it means we each can know how to live enlightened and then come to die with an honest self-respect free of regrets.

Indifferent Nature dictates the Two Worlds must merge into One, but by the whimsical randomness of evolution our human species has uniquely been granted the limited power of deciding, soon, if that future One will be alive for all, or dead for us. Be happy, this is good, it means we can collectively know how to live as a socially enlightened species in harmony with all life, and with honest self-respect free of regrets — if we chose to.

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Facing Greta’s Challenge

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Facing Greta’s Challenge

On Thursday, 13 December 2018, Greta Thunberg, a 15-year-old climate activist from Sweden, addressed the U.N. Plenary Session at Katowice, Poland, to condemn global inaction in the face of the climate change crisis. (https://youtu.be/HzeekxtyFOY) Her address of under 4 minutes was a diamond of unadorned clarity, a challenge to all adults worldwide. In an 11 minute address earlier this year, Greta described her own evolution as a climate change activist while still a child, from: learning about the crisis, to spurring herself into solo public advocacy, and now forcefully challenging national and international politicians to act immediately in response. (https://youtu.be/EAmmUIEsN9A) Greta’s withering criticism of her elders is fully justified because no real action in response to climate change has occurred during the last quarter century, and since Severn Cullis-Suzuki, then 12, issued the exact same critical challenge to the world’s adults, over the course of 6 sparkling minutes, at the Rio de Janeiro summit on climate change in 1992. (https://youtu.be/oJJGuIZVfLM)

We all know what effective action means: an immediate disavowal of capitalism, militarism and imperialism, and the obscene wealth inequities they protect and are motivated by; and the redirection of the human energies, financial treasures and political powers wasted as tribute for the preservation of global rule by the elites of those wealth pyramids, to instead propel a vigorous and unlimited global program of climate change action based on economic equity and climate justice. Basically, Green World Socialism without end (or, till the end).

The only barriers to achieving this social and political transformation of the world are purely mental, not physical: the reluctance in less than perhaps 800 million minds (10.43% of humanity) to relinquish extracting unnecessary and excessive wealth and luxury from the operations of socio-political and economic systems that impoverish, exploit, injure and kill people in the disadvantaged 90% of humanity. What is lacking is a species-wide solidarity among homo sapiens. How do we gain that?

Solidarity arises out of a homogeneity of misery. A steep grading of affluence, along with a media-indoctrinated consensus for devotion to anxiety, acquisition and up-class envy, assures against any outbreak of solidarity. When there can be no thought for the world until the wanted “needs” of me and mine have first been met, we have a societal atomization assuring against any disruption, by enmeshing social solidarity, of our parallel isolated preoccupations. Societal inertia is condensed from the individually encapsulated and blunted awarenesses of people immersed in a regime of economic disparity. Transformative social evolution is simply the fluid mixing of a commonality of experience in the struggle for life within a leveled and even disorganized population.

To meet a species-wide challenge to survival, like climate change, we must first develop a species-wide solidarity. And, our history suggests that for that to happen we must first suffer a leveling catastrophe so the survivors and their successors can marinate in an equality of want for a sufficiently long time until it ferments into tangles of solidarity that eventually connect all human thought. This is how democratic socialism and social democracy emerged in Western Europe after World War II.

Our dread today is that we don’t want to suffer such a leveling catastrophe because it would be a devastatingly painful, tediously drawn out tragedy, and a holocaust undeserved by multitudes of its innocent victims, regardless of how just a retribution it would be against our criminal elite who brought us to this extremity; and we don’t want to suffer through such a catastrophe because the survivors of that purge (maybe you and me?) would have no idea how long they would have to scratch and shift largely alone and unprotected in the pitiless rubble of human society’s destroyed past before mind, spirit and moral character revived and interconnected into a new socially uplifting solidarity. But, that uplift might never occur, and the destruction that begs for it could be terminal. So, how do we break through the paralyzing dread and proceed expeditiously anyway?

We can’t wait for hope; hope follows action. Action must engage without relying on hope because for all we know the geophysical situation may be hopeless, and the social benefits of action would be widespread and immediate regardless of the duration and ultimate outcome of our efforts. Concerns over the financial costs of those efforts are irrelevant because only the social value gained matters. Waiting for some reassuring hope, telegraphed back into the present from the uncertain future, guaranteeing that our careening societal inertia can be finessed with minimal change to its governing prejudices and inequities, so it can then swerve around the geophysical wall our fossil-fueled fate is raising along the entire line of our horizon, is a blind and cowardly stupidity unworthy of our intellectual capabilities.

Some, including me, have wished for a mass popular awakening that erupts into a socialist revolution that then engenders a socially transformative climate change response. Such a response would surge toward the goal of achieving a self-sustaining balance between universal human aspirations and needs, with the enduring processes of Nature that support All-Life. Short of such a miraculous mass satori, I see little prospect of anything beyond a trail of excuses ejected behind our obviously inevitable surprising collision with fate’s wall.

In the absence of a species-wide solidarity, we are left with the prospect of class, race and intergenerational wars erupting out of the struggles for survival during the accelerating calamities of advanced climate change. The young and the striving workers, whose futures and economic viability are being robbed, will be driven by a righteous anger and the courage of those with nothing to lose to rebel and make war against the parasitic fossil-fueled regimes destroying them. Such wars would be heartbreakingly bloody for the rebels against capitalism because of the monopoly on highly technological violence held by the entrenched capitalist powers, a machinery of violence which would be used mercilessly against the much larger impoverished populations in rebellion. It would be like the Vietnam War, perhaps multiply and perhaps globally. Why do I think such gloomy thoughts? Because I have not yet found a major counterexample to the observation by Frederick Douglass (1818-1895) that:

“Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.”

Gaining the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (the abolition of slavery, exclusive of prison labor) required the bloodletting of the American Civil War (1861-1865). The liberation of so many countries from dictatorial regimes and from colonial exploitation by foreign powers over the last two centuries required tsunamis of blood and long periods of societal torture of the oppressed. And, what of the Yemenis, Palestinians and the Uyghurs, among others today? It seems that Douglass’s dictum will remain a tragic tautology for humanity for some time.

If the capitalist establishment remains intransigent in its embrace of fossil-fueled inequity and acquisitiveness then any determined uprising against it, motivated by both a thirst for socio-economic justice and the mounting of an all-encompassing response to advancing climate change, has the potential to expand into a conflict that could itself collapse civilization in advance of the geophysical termination of planetary habitability for us.

An anti-capitalist and climate change motivated revolution that did triumph after sustaining massive losses over a long war would undoubtedly be morally coarsened by the experience, and their postwar socialist regime might not be as generous and utopian as we could wish for. But none of this need be so. As Greta and Severn have said, we could all just decide to agree and bypass all the “blood, toil, tears and sweat” of resisting, and get the job done.

So, I don’t bother being critical of the many types of advocacy for climate change action that are being tried today, from the confrontational consciousness-raising theatrics of Extinction Rebellion and the Sunrise Movement, to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s political proposal of a Green New Deal, to the articles, books, speeches, sermons and rants by many people, from distinguished to unknown. It’s all good if it tickles our species to wake up, unite, discipline its greedy capitalists and take control of its destiny. However, all these efforts combined have yet to induce government action, so it is obvious that a great deal more “motivation” has to be found or manufactured to spur governments to act now.

The time for our somnambulant capitalist bullshit and our hypocritical navel-gazing narcissism is over. Greta is right to kick us “adults” in the ass. We need to wake up, stop making excuses, unite, and get moving. Act now!

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Guesstimating Our Own Götterdämmerung

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Guesstimating Our Own Götterdämmerung

We humans are our own Gods, and advancing climate change is the prelude to our own Götterdämmerung. Here then is my speculation (wild ass guess) of a schedule for the possible catastrophic events leading to human (and other) extinction by the year listed, or of those events greatly accelerating its arrival after the years listed.

2100:
A nuclear war with Russia within the next 100 years, if such were to occur, could cause our (and others) extinction.

2200:
With no prior nuclear war having occurred and no new efforts to curtail CO2 emissions since 2015, the prominent “extinction force” would be runaway global-warming/climate-change leading to a “Hothouse Earth” without glaciers and permanent ice caps:

– which in turn would lead to vast continuous wildfires worldwide;

– shrinking agriculture (from droughts and fires);

– shrinking fishing/aquaculture (from ocean warming, acidification and plastic pollution);

– frequent category 5 hurricanes and typhoons in the tropics
— causing extreme wind and mudslide damage;

– massive eco-collapse refugee streams from tropical latitudes to the north and south;

– continuing anti-immigrant wars by First World Nations against 2nd and 3rd World populations
— (as during the Roman Empire against German tribes),
— on land (e.g., Africa, Mexico), like Israeli military strikes against Gaza;
— on sea (e.g., Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean Sea), the outright sinking of refugee ships;

– the expansion to high latitudes of old and new disease pathogens and parasites,

– American oil war aggression (Venezuela, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia) to secure hydrocarbon fuel for its vastly expanded military at war continuously worldwide (to repel immigrants/invaders, and get the oil ahead of its other First World rivals doing the same);

– massive die-offs of 3rd World populations, because of inhabitability, starvation, disease and war;

– a “Fortress America,” “Fortress Europe,” etc. mentality, leading to abandoned 3rd World “outlands.”

There would still be humans left, but in a situation of “negative” feedback [where I mean “positive feedback” enhancing effects of negative desirability] as regards increasingly chaotic and deteriorating organized human life/society.

A nuclear war occurring late within this period would likely ensure complete extinction.

2300:
Humans surviving after 2300 would probably be “survivors” of the above, and looking forward to a steady slide into “caveman existence,” which is to say living off-the-land and entirely at the whim of environmental conditions, resource availability and climatic forces.

Also, the survivalist individuals in caveman existence would likely have to contend with the universal hostility from other members of their own species.

One possible climatic force could be a new Ice Age initiated by the stopping of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Current, which would be caused by the melting of Greenland’s ice sheet, in turn further chilling and freshening – making less salty – the North Atlantic, which effect would stop the AMOC. (I’ve described this physics elsewhere.)

The stopping of the AMOC prior to 2300 would accelerate the schedule of catastrophes and the degradation of habitability for humans (and others).

Finally
Please note that humanity is not compelled to follow this schedule. It merely represents my estimate of the logical consequences of the collective attitudes we now hold, and the political, economic, militaristic, sociological, consumption and environmental choices we have made as of today.

As the Old Gypsy Fortune Teller said: “The stars foretell, they do not compel.”

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