Endgame For Green Utopia

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Endgame For Green Utopia
[REVISED, EXPANDED, IMPROVED, 12 May2020]

On these two opposing types of responses to the movie “Planet Of The Humans”
(https://planetofthehumans.com/):

PRO: “The key, however, is that all these [‘greenish’] energy policies have to be carried out after capitalism has been wiped out and under conditions where production is based strictly on use.“

CON: “This documentary is trashy fake news. It’s Trumpian in its disdain for the facts…, they point away from real climate action solutions (such as renewable energy infrastructure) and peddle fascist snake oil of population growth i.e. advocate ecofascist genocide…Meanwhile, those of us who aren’t raving ecofascist lunatics will continue to fight to change society.”

Dreams of Utopias and illusions of self-importance die hard, even in the face of reality. Nature doesn’t care about how we fantasize; it just keeps on with its grand cycles, which those of global heating, environmental destruction and species extinction are now overstimulated by us, homo sapiens. The fundamental question here is: how good of an equitable world society could we energetically have, and by ‘greening it’ can we limit global warming?

PART 1:

The best we could possibly do would be to equalize the standard of living (Human Development Index) worldwide to HDI=0.862 (the range is from 0.28 for the poorest, to 0.97 for the richest nations), with a per capita electrical energy use of u=4000 kWh/c (kilowatt-hours-per-year/capita). The world average by nation (in 2002, and similar now) was: HDI=0.741 at u=2465 kWh/c. The U.S.A. had HDI=0.944 at u=13,456 kWh/c (a rich highly developed country). Niger had HDI=0.281 at u=40kWh/c (a poor underdeveloped country).

The recommended leveling is for nations with u>4000kWh/c to REDUCE energy use (a.k.a economic activity AND militarism), and nations with u<4000kWh/c to INCREASE energy use ENTIRELY APPLIED to raising living conditions (a.k.a. human-centered health and welfare: “socialism”).

This means world socialist government and no wars, and no nationalism.

Examples of enlightened HDI=~0.861 countries (ranked by energy efficiency) are Malta (HDI=0.867), Czech Republic (HDI=0.874), Estonia (HDI=0.853). There is no excuse for a nation to expend more than u=6560kWh/c, because that was Ireland’s usage and it had an HDI=0.946 (and a phenomenal energy efficiency as I calculate it).

All of this is to equalize the experience of whatever is going to happen to humanity because of geophysical changes (“global warming”).

My numbers for the above come from the following linked analysis (using 2002 data).
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2019/06/09/linking-energy-use-and-human-development/

PART 2a:

From where do we source that energy powering the world-equalized “decent life”? Obviously, we use the fossil fuel and nuclear power infrastructure that we have now to power a maximum effort “full speed ahead” program of developing, building and installing greenish energy technology based on:

– solar (from light-to-heat in water, oil and brine slurry pipes; and also photovoltaics but that is materially limited for the needed exotic elements),

– wind (especially offshore),

– hydro (using existing dams-plus-reservoirs as “pumped storage” facilities, so “excess” solar energy collected during the day pumps water “uphill,” which can then be released “downhill” through the turbo-generators to produce nighttime electricity),

– wave/tidal as possible (without wrecking important inter-tidal bio-zones),

– energy conservation by building/home design (both for insulation, energy capture and greenhousing),

– energy conservation by design of appliances and the mechanical and thermal systems used industrially and for personal living,

– also a necessary transformation of our transportation sector (for bicycles, trolleys, trains, ships even with sails; and bye-bye to most planes, most cars especially big-engined SUVs and trucks, cruise ships, and all that high-waste military gear),

– also necessary is a transformation of agriculture to localized small organic multiculture farms, and away from international-aimed large oil-chemical stimulated monoculture agro-factories/feedlots/plantations.

PART 2b:

As greenish energy sources come on-line, an equivalent generating capacity of fossil and nuclear infrastructure is taken off-line AND SCRAPPED (and materially recycled/reprocessed).

The goal is to always increase the proportion of greenish technology and always decrease the proportion of old energy technology, while keeping the total energy generation such as to provide u=~4000kWh/c worldwide (to maintain HDI>0.862 worldwide).

It will never be possible to eliminate all of the old energy technology and still maintain the decent level of HDI “we” experience and is the moral right of all 7.78B (and growing) of Earth’s people to experience.

Note that fertility rates decrease (they are already negative in some rich countries) as HDI increases; so the rate of population growth will diminish as higher standards of living are widely experienced; with greater physical, heath, child, and economic survival and security, as well as education, provided socialistically worldwide.

ENDGAME:

Global warming would most likely still continue, but at a slower pace, if given all the above. So the endgame is to equalize the experience of “the geophysical inevitable” (whatever it actually ends up being), while always striving to increase energy efficiency so as to maximize HDI given the energy used.

It seems PHYSICALLY POSSIBLE to have a very high standard of living worldwide (HDI~0.9) with a per capita energy use that is at least 3x less (or, at 1/3 current US-level usage) to 7x less (or, at 1/7 current usage by the most profligate) of ‘rich, energy-wasting nation’ usage.

But global warming (the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere) may be too far advanced to ever stop by throttling back or even eliminating human (economic) activity; though undoubtedly it could be noticeably slowed by such cutbacks, as has been vividly demonstrated in a very short time by the COVID-19 economic slowdown that has visibly reduced pollution, and afforded greater freedom to wildlife (seen roaming in emptied city streets around the world!).

All of this would mean the ‘best world available’ for ‘everybody’ for as long as it is energetically possible to maintain it. And if human extinction is ultimately unavoidable, then we’ll all go together as brothers and sisters of equal rank.

Now to all who would say that this “all in” paradigm is so psychologically and politically improbable that it will never happen, I say fine, I won’t argue it, but realize that in order to accurately and realistically gage the actual (really potential) value of whatever your scheme or dream for Utopia is, it is essential to know how to calculate what is POSSIBLE within the limits imposed by geophysics (the laws of physics and the workings of Nature) given the natural resources sustainably available from Planet Earth (this is to say without the degradation of its environments and biodiversity).

One small example. Today it is possible to use an ‘app’ on your smart-phone to alert your local coffee shop to prepare your preferred caffeinated concoction, and pay for it electronically over the vast internet-banking computer network (humming and exhausting heat 24/7), then drive to your Java pit-stop and pick up your to-go order, discarding the container after consuming the contents, which container may end up as soiled waxed paper in a municipal organic compost pile, or as plastic in a solid waste landfill, or at worst as litter.

Imagine that modality of coffee consumption is gone in the “all in” world, and instead you have to appear in person at your coffee shop — perhaps on one of your walks into town, or on the walk home from the trolley stop after work — place your order to a human being manning the Java-preparing technology, pay cash (to eliminate all the internet energy-to-heat waste), and drink your coffee from a washable mug you carry or they provide; or, extravagantly, from a paper cup that easily composts. Even more efficiently, you could buy a bag of coffee beans, take them home and grind them with a handcrank grinder, and make delicious coffee at home.

The quality of life is not diminished by simplifying it energetically, or by relaxing its pace. More likely these increase it.

4000kWh/c HDI>0.862 Equalized Green Utopia World:

The 4000kWh/c Equalized Green Utopia World (HDI>0.862) would need 18% more electrical generation than in 2017 (for a world total of 30,189TWh), and applied with 62% greater efficiency for producing social value than we currently do.

In our current World Paradigm, we only get an average of 62% of the potential social value inherent in the world electrical energy generated, and which social value is also very inequitably distributed. The average 38% of annual socially wasted (SW) electrical energy (9,730TWh total at 1,289kWh/c in 2017) goes into all the Social Negativity (SN) of: capitalist-economic, nationalist-political and prejudicial-societal inequities; militarism and wars; and to a lesser degree some technical inefficiencies of electrical generation and of appliances.

The potential (or Primary) energy (PE) contained in the natural resources (all raw fuels and sources) used to generate the World Energy in 2017 was 162,494TWh; and 25,606TWh of electrical energy was generated that year, which was 15.8% of the Primary Energy. That percentage can be taken as a lower bound on the efficiency of our current conversion of raw energy resources into socially applicable energy, because some quantity of fuel (PE, with some refined) is converted by combustion directly to heat, both to drive heat engines and for industrial and personal uses (e.g., smelting, cooking, heating).

CONCLUSIONS:

For a 4000kWh/c Equalized Green Utopia World “today” we would need 18% MORE usable (electrical and available heat) energy than consumed in 2017, applied with 62% GREATER EFFICIENCY for producing social value than we do currently. Eliminating today’s Social Negativity (SN) would be the energetic equivalent of gaining 38% more energy (in our current paradigm).

But global warming will continue because it is impossible to eliminate all CO2 and greenhouse gases producing processes of energy generation and use. The rate of increase of global warming (the upward trend of temperature) can be reduced as the purely Green (non-CO2 and non-greenhouse gases producing) methods of energy production and use provide a larger portion of the total World Energy production and consumption.

EXCERPTS FROM: World Energy Consumption
[HEAVILY EDITED and AMENDED by MG,Jr]
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_energy_consumption

According to IEA (in 2012) the goal of limiting warming to 2°C is becoming more difficult and costly with each year that passes. If action is not taken before 2017 [sic!], CO2 emissions would be locked-in by energy infrastructure existing in 2017 [so, now they are]. Fossil fuels are dominant in the global energy mix, supported by subsidies totaling $523B in 2011 (up almost 30% from 2010), which is six times more than subsidies to renewables. So, limiting the global temperature increase to 2 degrees Celsius is now doubtful.

To limit global temperature to a hypothetical 2 degrees Celsius rise would demand a 75% decline in carbon emissions in industrial countries by 2050, if the population is 10 billion in 2050. Across 40 years [from 2010 to 2050], this averages to a 2% decrease every year.

But, since 2011 the emissions from energy production and use have continued rising despite the consensus on the basic Global Warming problem. Hypothetically, according to Robert Engelman of the Worldwatch Institute [in 2009], in order to prevent the collapse of human civilization we would have to stop increasing emissions within a decade [by 2019!] regardless of the economy or population.

Carbon dioxide, methane and other volatile organic compounds are not the only greenhouse gas emissions from energy production and consumption. Large amounts of pollutants such as sulfurous oxides (SOx), nitrous oxides (NOx), and particulate matter (like soot) are produced from the combustion of fossil fuels and biomass. The World Health Organization estimates that 7 million premature deaths are caused each year by air pollution, and biomass combustion is a major contributor to that pollution. In addition to producing air pollution like fossil fuel combustion, most biomass has high CO2 emissions.

FINALLY:

Even with the 4000kWh/c HDI>0.862 Equalized Green Utopia World, global warming would continue at a rate faster or slower depending on how low or high, respectively, a proportion of World Energy is generated and used by purely Green methods. To repeat:

All of this would mean the ‘best world available’ for ‘everybody’ for as long as it is energetically possible to maintain it; and if human extinction is ultimately unavoidable, then we’ll all go together as brothers and sisters of equal rank.

The quality of life is not diminished by simplifying it energetically and by relaxing its pace. More likely it would be increased even in today’s paradigm; and most decidedly so with the elimination of Social Negativity in all its forms, which are so wasteful of energy.

Our potential civilizational collapse and subsequent extinction is up to Nature; but whether that occurs sooner or later, and with what level of shared quality of life we experience our species’ remaining lifetime, as well as its degree of equitable uniformity, is entirely up to us.

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Can COVID-19 Save Lifeboat Earth?

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Can COVID-19 Save Lifeboat Earth?

Harbhajan Singh asks [6 April 2020]: “Could COVID-19 save Lifeboat Earth?”

Many realize that eliminating humanity would make Earth healthier for Nature, plants and animals.

Many also realize that without profound changes to human behavior — by everybody, everywhere; including limiting population growth and ending greenhouse gas emissions — that humanity can not exist in balance with Nature, and both will increasingly suffer, eventually — in a few lifetimes? — fatally.

It is well documented that as human encroachment and destruction of Nature (e.g., environments and biodiversity) advances, that habitability decreases.

That decrease is due to a combination of:

— pollution (bad air, ocean plastic, dead seas, lost topsoil, lost forests, toxic land);

— climate change (and more violent weather, floods, droughts, wildfires);

— food source degradation (inorganic industrial farming, loss of natural varietals, loss of seafood), and

— greater hazards of releasing viruses (epidemics and pandemics) fatal to people.

The scientific reports get very specific on ‘this particular negative effect has this particular [human stupidity] cause’, but in aggregate they show what I’ve just outlined.

More people are realizing that humanity’s accelerating encroachment and destruction of Nature can only cause more deadly virus pandemics to plague us. Hotter environmental temperatures from global warming, and greater particulate and noxious gases pollution from human activity (industrialization, capitalism, militarism) aggravate the severity and lethality of all respiratory illnesses, like COVID-19.

I prefer that humanity became vastly more intelligent, and cooperative, and altruistic, and balances its existence (both individual and collective) with Nature’s timeless rhythms and geophysical limits.

The most important aspect of that wished-for cooperativeness is that we cease viewing each other as deadly rivals in a grim zero-sum game of making-money one-upmanship and competing narcissistic schemes of enslaving others.

Miraculously, the Earth is the most wonderful Paradise we know of in the entire Universe. If we treated it as such, instead of treating it like a garbage dump and sewer, it would return that appreciation, and we would knowingly experience life in this actual Paradise, for ourselves and for endless future generations.

This is not just poetry, it is fact.

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Climate Change and Voting 2020

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Climate Change and Voting 2020

Today, humanity faces a situation unique in the 200,000 year existence of our species Homo sapiens sapiens, and unique in the 2 million year existence of our genus, Homo: the unprecedented steady linear advance of global warming since 1970, which is making our planet irreversibly less habitable as time progresses, and which is driven entirely by the emission of greenhouse gases as waste products of human activity, particularly the extraction and combustion of fossil fuels. If this human-caused global warming remains unchecked it could ultimately lead to our extinction.

Global warming is intimately coupled with population growth (see Note). The universal desire for a better life leads people everywhere to try to acquire and use more energy to reduce the drudgery of daily survival, and beyond that to increase their security, comfort and enjoyment. Food is the source of our internal energy, that which powers our metabolism. The most popular source of our external energy today is fossil fuels: the burning of refined petroleum fuels, natural gas, and coal. From these we derive most of the heat and electricity we generate and use both industrially and personally, as well as for propelling our transportation. It is the increasing energy demand per person of a growing world population that drives the unprecedented rate of global warming we are experiencing.

Motivating people everywhere to see global warming as the fundamental cause of their local disasters of severe weather, drought, failed agriculture and fishing, habitat loss and resource scarcity wars, and then motivating them to cooperate internationally to immediately reduce the rate of global warming as much as geophysical conditions will allow, is the singular political problem of our time for our species.

The trends of population (in billions) and global warming (in degrees °C increase relative to the average global temperature during 1880-1920, the datum) are given in the table shown. The quantities listed up to the years 2019-2020 are based on data. The populations listed after 2019 are extrapolations based on an assumed linear population increase of +87.5 million per year (M/y), which was the average rate of increase from the years 2011 to 2019. The temperature increase above datum (delta-T) for years after 2020 are linear extrapolations based on the temperature ramp observed between years 1970 and 2020 (a +1.4°C increase over 50 years).

What is not yet known is if and when global warming will accelerate beyond the linear trend assumed after the year 2020, in the table. Such acceleration would be caused by the appearance of new physical conditions such as:

the transition of tropical forests from being carbon absorbers and sinks to becoming carbon emitters because of their severe degradation brought about by logging, drought and wildfires;

a massive methane release from the thawing Arctic;

sudden and massive glacial calving and melt in Greenland and Antarctica baring more ground for the absorption of solar radiation and the release of formerly trapped methane and carbon dioxide;

methane released from warmed oceans because of the breakdown by heat of methane clathrates (solid methane hydrate “ices” formed under cold high pressure at ocean depths).

Because of the unprecedented pace of our current global warming, we do not have the luxury of unlimited time — as was true in prior millennia — to physically evolve adaptively or escape by migration in response to climate change. (Migrate to where?, a billionaire’s habitat bubble on Mars? We already have a worldwide climate change and environmental collapse refugee crisis, and it will only get worse without a civilization-transforming response to climate change.)

To slow global warming to the minimum rate now limited by geophysics (the carbon load of the atmosphere) will require a species-wide change of human behavior as regards how energy is generated, conserved and used; how we steward the environment; and how the growth of human population is to be limited and people cared for everywhere. It takes Nature 200,000 years to clear a massive excess of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (such as we have injected over the previous century), and this occurs through a sequence of increasingly longer term processes: CO2 uptake by the oceans (years to decades), dissolution of seafloor sediments (the dissolving of chalk acidifying the oceans over decades to centuries), the weathering of carbonate rocks (centuries to millennia), and silicate weathering (tens to hundreds of millennia). CO2 uptake by photosynthesis is blunted by the ‘torrential rain-flooding plant-growth punctuated drought-wildfire’ cycle.

We can only attenuate global warming by species-wide willpower, and the sooner we develop and apply that willpower the greater will be the degree of that attenuation, and the further the likelihood of our causing our own extinction.

Without an internationally coordinated climate change response effort within the next dozen years that is 70% larger than the combined war efforts of World War II (to account for the +5.5B population increase between 1939 and 2020), global warming will reach and then exceed 2°C above the 1880-1920 datum. Warming beyond that point will likely be impossible to counteract by any human actions, and the climatic and weather-disaster consequences will be dire and unrelenting.

We have lost the luxury of unlimited time to dawdle in our many egocentric obsessions and illusions — waiting for the ideologically “perfect” revolution; seeking the most ethnically pure nationalism; the ideal theocracy; the maximization of our wealth; the complete destruction and disappearance of those “other types” of people whose savings, lands, resources and lives we want to steal; mindless absorption in superficial consumerism and ‘electronic comic book video game TV internet social media entertainment’ — before collectively reforming ourselves into better futures. Nature has made our old awareness-blunting time-wasting games obsolete by becoming feverish over its infection from our greenhouse gas toxicity. Our last chance for civilizational transformation that can alter the course of climate change is now, this next decade.

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

Everything I have described up to this point has been said before by many people in many ways over many years. Now, about voting.

The only way we can achieve the civilizational transformation required to have any ameliorating effect on the course of global warming, and tackle the singular political problem of our time for our species, is to wrest control of governments from oligarchic, neoliberal, capitalism-obsessed, theocratic, nativist, and climate change ignoring elites — especially in countries having disproportionate political-economic-military power, expelling disproportionate quantities of greenhouse gases, and causing disproportionate environmental destruction — and then establishing regimes committed to real and immediate climate change response. Such real climate change response naturally subsumes all narrowly defined issues of economic equity and social justice.

In countries that offer some degree of democracy to their people, it is necessary to vote for politicians — now — whose prior history indicates they would be most reliable at vigorously pursuing a maximal climate change response, locally, nationally and internationally. For U.S. voters in 2020 that means electing Bernie Sanders to lead the Democratic Party ticket for the presidency, and then voting to ensure he wins the November general election. It is also necessary to elect people who would be Congressional representatives and Senators allied with Bernie Sanders. It does not matter whether sweeping the Sanders socialist-populist groundswell youth-quake “revolution” into power fits in with your ideal of an American government regime, however intellectually refined, or crudely simplistic, or myopically and corruptly partisan, or vainly and egocentrically identity political your ideal regime would be. We no longer have time to put off making partial gains in the direction of our goal, in order to wait for anyone’s variety of personally tailored political perfection.

The burden of responsibility on the citizens of the politically powerful, economically rich, profligate greenhouse gas emitting countries is to agitate and vote for, and vigorously implement, the real type of climate change response that is being described here. The burden of responsibility on the older citizens and older non-citizens is to put their time, money and energy into creating and protecting a good world with a decent future for the young. That has always been the responsibility on adults, and in our time — now — that responsibility must be discharged by implementing a real climate change response which is intrinsically a revolution of: economic equity, social justice, energy conservation and efficiency, rapid transition of energy sources and infrastructure from fossil fuels to green energy, and demilitarization.

In countries whose governing elites do not offer the people an effective political voice, it is necessary that those people find ways to change the nature of their governments. Risky, I know, but essential in order to respond to the looming threats of climate change.

I know that everybody can easily rationalize continuing to drift along with the mindsets they have now. But that will only keep us as distracted, delusional and disunited as we are now, and convey us all haplessly into the implacable civilization-chewing grinder of runaway climate change. We do not have the luxury of preferences anymore if we are to prevent the worst, especially for our children and grandchildren.

As I write this during a warm rainless mid-February spring in Northern California, with whitish pink-tinged apple, cherry and plum blossoms; magnolias flowering; purple florets of vinca; yellow tufts of eucalyptus; small purplish rosy globular flowers of polygonum, light blue florets of rosemary, bright orange California poppies, yellow flowers of oxalis and daffodils; and many other varieties of flowers blooming two months early, I wonder if the dry season October wildfires will now flare up in August, or even July. There has been no rain this February, “normally” the wettest month of the year for California; it appears we are entering a new drought.

And I wonder if the slow, tentative awakening in the public mind to the reality of increasingly inhospitable climate change, which awakening I observed during the course of 2017, 2018 and 2019, will accelerate and coalesce into the national and world “cosmic consciousness” that I know is essential if we Homo sapiens sapiens are to have any chance of actually protecting ourselves (all of us everywhere), within the next decade, from the worst possibilities of runaway climate change.

Note

The purpose of social welfare societies — socialism — is to provide their 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.

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.

The above Note is from:

Oil, Population, Temperature, What Causes What?
9 June 2019
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2019/06/09/oil-population-temperature-what-causes-what/

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Manuel García, Jr.’s Worldview, 2020

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Manuel García, Jr.’s Worldview, 2020

I am just over one-eighth of a billionth of humanity, and I think that the impact and value of my thoughts and ideas are about as significant. This year, 2020, I will be 70 years old, and I think that I have probably said everything original that I was capable of saying. I am sure that I will write more of my little essays, and put them out there, but they are more than likely to be repetitions and rehashes of what I have previously written. Right now I cannot imagine squeezing any new insights out of all the reading and studying (and living) I have done in physics, science, history, psychology, Buddhism, and literary fiction.

So, I have compiled a list of 20 of my essays (of recent years), which as a group I offer as representative of my “worldview,” as of 20 January 2020. I post that list here, “for the record,” and for the ‘benefit’ of people new to my web-pages. All of this represents my annual (in January) “state of the world” message.

I have no ego regarding my Internet publications; if they are useful and encouraging to you then great, if not then I think at least they have done no harm.

My plans are to continue absorbing things that interest me, learning as I can, and expressing myself as feels right and enjoyable. I am satisfied that at the very minimum I have improved just over one-eighth of a billionth of humanity.

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Eight Categories, and Numbers of Articles in Each:

1 TRANSFORMING U.S. AND WORLD SOCIETIES (3)
2 CLIMATE CHANGE ACTION VERSUS CAPITALISM AND MILITARISM (4)
3 THE PHYSICAL REALITY OF GLOBAL WARMING (2)
4 WAR IS A CRIME, AND THE FOLLY OF WAR WITH IRAN (2)
5 POPULATION GROWTH + CLIMATE CHANGE + ENERGY USE (3)
6 CLIMATE CHANGE FACTS AT THE MOVIES (2)
7 THE TRUE PURPOSE OF A HUMAN LIFE (2)
8 HOW TO FACE THE FUTURE: ENJOY, AND BE KIND (2)

3+4+2+2+3+2+2+2=20

Article titles are within their respective web-links

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TRANSFORMING U.S. AND WORLD SOCIETIES (1/3)
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2019/04/09/whats-wrong-with-the-united-states/

TRANSFORMING U.S. AND WORLD SOCIETIES (2/3)
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2018/10/16/the-inner-dimensions-of-socialist-revolution/

TRANSFORMING U.S. AND WORLD SOCIETIES (3/3)
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2019/05/13/too-many-people-or-too-much-greed/

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CLIMATE CHANGE ACTION VERSUS CAPITALISM AND MILITARISM (1/4)
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2018/11/19/climate-change-action-would-kill-imperialism/

CLIMATE CHANGE ACTION VERSUS CAPITALISM AND MILITARISM (2/4)
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2017/09/09/climate-change-denial-is-murder/

CLIMATE CHANGE ACTION VERSUS CAPITALISM AND MILITARISM (3/4)
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2019/06/27/american-climate-change-policy-you-dont-matter/

CLIMATE CHANGE ACTION VERSUS CAPITALISM AND MILITARISM (4/4)
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2019/11/20/climate-change-is-a-war-crime/

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THE PHYSICAL REALITY OF GLOBAL WARMING (1/2)
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2019/07/15/ye-cannot-swerve-me-moby-dick-and-climate-change/

THE PHYSICAL REALITY OF GLOBAL WARMING (2/2)
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2019/12/20/co2-and-climate-change-old-and-new/

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WAR IS A CRIME, AND THE FOLLY OF WAR WITH IRAN (1/2)
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2020/01/05/war-the-unending-theft/

WAR IS A CRIME, AND THE FOLLY OF WAR WITH IRAN (2/2)
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2020/01/05/attacking-iran-will-save-the-world-redux/

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POPULATION GROWTH + CLIMATE CHANGE + ENERGY USE (1/3)
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2019/06/02/our-globally-warming-civilization/

POPULATION GROWTH + CLIMATE CHANGE + ENERGY USE (2/3)
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2019/06/09/oil-population-temperature-what-causes-what/

POPULATION GROWTH + CLIMATE CHANGE + ENERGY USE (3/3)
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2019/06/09/linking-energy-use-and-human-development/

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CLIMATE CHANGE FACTS AT THE MOVIES (1/2)
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2019/12/12/climate-from-catastrophe-to-cataclysm/

CLIMATE CHANGE FACTS AT THE MOVIES (2/2)
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2019/12/31/climate-change-at-the-movies/

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THE TRUE PURPOSE OF A HUMAN LIFE (1/2)
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2017/12/29/being-alive/

THE TRUE PURPOSE OF A HUMAN LIFE (2/2)
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2017/08/04/what-is-the-purpose-of-life/

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HOW TO FACE THE FUTURE: ENJOY, AND BE KIND (1/2)
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2015/12/11/living-confidently-in-times-of-climate-change/

HOW TO FACE THE FUTURE: ENJOY, AND BE KIND (2/2)
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2017/05/04/what-can-i-do-about-climate-change/

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CO2 and Climate Change, Old and New

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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].

Notes

[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
https://daily.jstor.org/how-19th-century-scientists-predicted-global-warming/

[2] Climate Change Denial is Murder
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2017/09/09/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
https://www.wbur.org/hereandnow/2019/12/10/iceland-climate-change-carbon

[4] Carbon sequestration
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carbon_sequestration

[5] Ocean storage of carbon dioxide
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ocean_storage_of_carbon_dioxide

[6] Energy for Society in Balance with Nature
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2015/06/08/energy-for-society-in-balance-with-nature/

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Climate, from Catastrophe to Cataclysm

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

Image from Near Term Human Extinction Evidence Group

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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
[23:11]
10 December 2019
https://youtu.be/oa13KrOvE2s

Note

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.

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Ye Cannot Swerve Me: Moby-Dick and Climate Change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Average Global Surface Temperature History

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paleocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The four major scientific lessons of the PETM are:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A visual representation of CO2 uptake follows (11)

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

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

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

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

Life in the Anthropocene

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our Challenge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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2° Institute
https://www.2degreesinstitute.org/

data sources for charts below
https://www.temperaturerecord.org/#sources

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