Black Gold, Maximum Entropy (Redux)

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

<><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><>

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Foster concludes his article with lyrically wishful Marxist romanticism.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

<><><><><><><>

Originally published as:

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

<><><><><><><>

Oil, Population, Temperature, What Causes What?

<><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><>

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/

<><><><><><><>

Too Many People, or Too Much Greed?

<><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><>

Too Many People, or Too Much Greed?

During the dark early morning hours of a September 27 a few years after the Second World War, a passenger ship cruising calm South Atlantic waters struck a drifting forgotten mine, was violently breached, and quickly sank before any distress signal could be broadcast. Daylight found 26 survivors massed in, or floating in the sea around, a small lifeboat built for 12. This is the opening scenario to the 1957 British film Abandon Ship! (also called Seven Waves Away, or Seven Days From Now); and is succinctly presented in this brief clip (https://youtu.be/xVm2dbMdXRs).

The weight of those on board along with the weight of the survivors in the water clinging to the sides lowered the boat in the water and put it in grave danger of swamping and capsizing with any wave action, and certainly in the event of a storm. There were only small stores of food and fresh water in the boat, scant medical supplies, no communications gear, no sailing tackle, and only oars. Many of the survivors were injured, weak, frail and old. What were they to do?

They could sit tight and drift to conserve their strength and minimize food consumption, and hope for a chance meeting with a rescue ship before succumbing to their wounds and infections, exposure, thirst and starvation. However, with the first increase of wind and wave action, and any turn in the weather, they would surely all be dumped into the sea and soon drowned.

They could try rowing to the nearest shore, Africa 1,500 miles away, but the bodily energy reserves of the hardy people who would have to provide the propulsion by rowing would be drained away long before reaching land, because of the drag of the total weight of humanity massed about the boat. Also, the boat would still be at risk of swamping should the weather turn for the worse.

The only remaining alternative was to abandon those people least able to contribute to propulsion, so a smaller number of the fittest people would have the water and food stores to themselves, and amount to a lower weight to be transported with a boat that was higher in the water and much more stably seaworthy. But, how many and who would be cast adrift, and who would make those choices?

The officer in charge, Alec Holmes, reluctantly comes to accept the logic of the third alternative. He ensures that he and the seamen under his command are in possession of the sole firearm on board, and sequentially set the weakest among them adrift as their voyage proceeds, as the sick and injured worsen, and as their supplies dwindle. One woman reflects on the cruelty of the powerful in their sacrificing of the weak by saying: “Why are the wicked always so strong?,” and that “an atomic scientist, a brilliant playwright, and a famous former opera singer have been sacrificed to save two ‘apemen’, a racketeer, and a devout coward.”

We could think of this lifeboat as a microcosm of our Planet Earth, and its overcrowding with desperate survivors as representative of a world population explosion facing the combined biological and geophysical catastrophe of collapsing habitability brought on by the global warming climate emergency, and a rapidly shriveling biodiversity.

It took over 200,000 years of human history for the world’s population to reach 1 billion, and only 200 years more to reach 7 billion; world population was estimated to be at 7.7 billion by April 2019.

 

World population estimates from 1800 to 2100, based on “high”, “medium” and “low” United Nations projections in 2015 and UN historical estimates for pre-1950 data.

[https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_population#/media/File:World_population_v3.svg]

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.

I have heard from several of my critics that Earth “needs to” be quickly depopulated down to, say, its 1974 population size of 4 billion, in order to preserve its “carrying capacity” by leaving half of Earth’s area “wild” to both solve our global warming and biodiversity depletion problems, and thus maintain our prosperous nations’ current styles of inequitable capitalist societies within the larger context of a continuing human civilization. Just how this depopulation is to be carried out, and by who, is not mentioned by these critics, hence this essay.

Many factors affect population growth and the magnitude of the Earth’s carrying capacity over time, among them is a positive feedback loop between demographic growth and technological development. Human knowledge (e.g., science) and technological development (e.g., machines, drugs) improve over time and boost human survival, which helps accelerate population growth. Talented individuals, who can devise intellectual and technological improvements, are statistically more likely to arise from and survive to maturity in larger populations living at more advanced levels of development. The intellectual and technological innovations of inventive individuals make it possible to amplify the Earth’s carrying capacity as the population grows, for example by tamping down the incidence and virulence of diseases, and by increasing agricultural yields. However, there is no guarantee that such a positive feedback can cycle forever, and current trends would seem to indicate that this feedback loop is losing its momentum.

What are humanity’s options for forestalling its own extinction at least into the next century? Given human nature, and our many many tribal rivalries, ideologies, fears, superstitions, bigotries, and diversities of moral courage and of moral weakness, what are likely to be the dominant choices for collective actions for societal survival?

We homo sapiens could as a species choose to cooperate globally to simultaneously raise the living standards of the most impoverished — and majority — of Earth’s people, and reformulate our civilization’s manner of energy generation and economic operation, from its highly inequitable feudal capitalism to a highly equalized world eco-socialism: to halt the poisoning of our global environment with waste heat and carbon dioxide from combustion; waste methane from industrialized meat consumption and a melting degradation of the biosphere; and waste chemicals and plastics from industrialized farming and the detritus of industrialized consumerism. In other words, we could unite to share out the Earth equitably while also maximizing the efficiency of the global use of natural resources by quickly reforming our civilization — our methods of finding, extracting and using energy, and the forms and purposes of our economics — so as to be in sustainable balance with natural processes and cycles, all for the purpose of allowing Lifeboat Earth to row or drift for as long as possible with a minimal sacrifice of human decency and human life.

Such a course would obviously include fully subsidized healthcare for everybody, with every form of contraception including abortion on demand, and with all forms of maternity care; also subsidized and universal quality education from preschool through trade schools and university, guaranteed minimum livable income, and fully subsidized elder care and for end-of-life choices. It would be a crime to be a billionaire in such a society, and the capitalism of today — the factional and privatized exploitation of the public — would be extinct since the essence of this society would be the overlapping of relationships of mutual help and consideration on many scales. Capitalism is the ideology of parasites. The people of such an idealized world eco-socialist society would be morally committed individuals who would take it as a given that if human extinction were imminent and unavoidable, they would all share the same fate in solidarity: honor till the end, whenever that would be whether sooner or later.

Human history up to the present suggests that this “all in till the end” type of world socialism is a very unlikely future for us globally, though small isolated pockets of it might develop within the much larger drama of human civilization. While there is always a real chance that a ship at sea would happen upon a lifeboat and rescue its shipwrecked survivors, there is no chance for a rescue of humanity drifting toward extinction aboard Lifeboat Earth, through a massive intervention by fantastically powerful Space Aliens. Our salvation like our damnation is up to us and only us.

So, we can reasonably suppose that the management of Lifeboat Earth will proceed as the wickedness of the powerful in sacrificing the weak to lonesome and fatal abandonment so that the capitalistically fittest can maximize their span of prosperous and even luxuriant survival. Such management of Lifeboat Earth would be (and is) very fractious because greed as a fundamental motivation intrinsically creates dissension, disunity and conflict. Many scales of exclusion would be evident: the impoverishment of a national public and its exclusion from political decision-making by a wealthy and narrowing oligarchy; the oppression by a dominant racial or ethnic population of the weaker ethnic populations and minority-type people it has dominion over; and the exploitation of weaker countries and less-developed economies by strong, advanced and domineering nations. We need only mention the white supremacy domestic policy, and militaristic economic and foreign policy of the United States, the Han supremacy policy being applied by the ruling Chinese on the Uyghurs and in Tibet, the pitiless grinding down of the Palestinians by Zionist Israel, and the migrant streams erupting out of Central America and Africa to escape from starvation and death squads, to stimulate the recollection of numerous other examples of the wickedness of the strong in the management of other regional compartments of Lifeboat Earth. We might even live to see American and European navies shelling refugee ships at sea, and troops of their militarized police summarily executing undocumented aliens breaching their borders, to thwart the arrival of waves of destitute and desperate migrants. Such atrocities would be manifestations of extreme “them or us” end-times panic by the power-clinging wicked.

What can the concerned, morally oriented, largely disorganized and politically marginalized citizens of the world do to help Lifeboat Earth complete its journey — however long or short that may be — in a more humane manner than is occurring today, and certainly than might be its most horrible dénouement? My best and least presumptuous answer is: care enough about the situation to become aware of it, and then do whatever you are willing to do, and have the opportunity to do, to inject greater degrees of awareness, decency and compassion into the small cells of world society that sense your presence. The details of this — whether political, economic, social, intellectual, action-oriented or artistic — depend on the individual, it’s not for me to prescribe.

It is entirely possible that the all-inclusive utopian world of eco-socialist solidarity would have a shorter lifespan than a wicked world for just a few wealthy minorities who pitilessly exclude large segments of humanity, which they disfavor with racial, ethnic and materialistic (anti-poverty) bigotries. If the geophysical gear-train of climate alteration has now been irrevocably set to destroy habitability for humans (and who really knows?), then the eco-socialist world will ultimately fail despite its best efforts. But, it would have been the most enlightened and honorable of possible human civilizations during its lifetime. The wicked world of exclusionary wealthy minorities could extend its lifetime under the same geophysical conditions by culling the human population through combinations of cruel neglect and malicious assault — with no human solidarity and no honor. The partisans for the wicked world of exclusionary wealth justify themselves by claiming “there are too many people,” while the partisans for eco-socialist world solidarity justify themselves by declaring “there is too much greed.” I recognize that the population explosion is a fundamental driver of our combined climate, biodiversity and carrying capacity emergency, and I also agree with the eco-socialists: Earth has too many greedy people.

Today, our Lifeboat Earth is drifting toward becoming a more wicked world of exclusionary survival for exclusionary wealth, but this drift is being resisted by many forms of spirited, morally-based and eco-socially oriented activism. That activism is where the soul and the honor of humanity are to be found.

<><><><><><><>

What’s Wrong With The United States?

<><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><>

What’s Wrong With The United States?

In his 1995 book, The Demon-Haunted World, Science As A Candle In The Dark, Carl Sagan wrote:

I have a foreboding of an America in my children’s or grandchildren’s time — when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the key manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what’s true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness. The dumbing down of America is most evident in the slow decay of substantive content in the enormously influential media, the 30-second sound bites (now down to 10 seconds or less), lowest common denominator programming, credulous presentations on pseudoscience and superstition, but especially a kind of celebration of ignorance. *

Isn’t this all true today? We have Ubu Roi Trump as US President and officially in control of the most awesome nuclear annihilation button on Earth. We are mostly galley slaves chained to our capitalistic economic and perceptual oars, implacably driving ourselves into the geophysical tempest of climate change. We have cracked the secrets of genetic modification and have let this incredible power be held by tight-fisted corporations only interested in their own financial gain. We have a growing infestation of measles, a disease that in 2014 was thought to be nearing extinction but which has since 2017 expanded due to a decrease in immunization, reflecting an idiotic anti-vaxxer superstition justified as a “protect-my-child” panic. Our infotainment media is a wholly-owned subsidiary of plutocracy, for the electronic diffusion of corporate propaganda against the public interest, and for the mass virtual pithing of the public mind.

What is wrong with the United States? It is the failure of its people to unite with the vision of “with charity — and justice — for all, and malice toward none,” but instead to debase themselves into passive entertainment-dependent robots, or into ambitious careerists “led by their materialism and instinctive worship of power.”

The United States Of America is both classist and tribal. These are the fault lines of American greed and politics. The varieties of American bigotry arise out of envy and resentment, from within our classes and tribes. The nation itself is big and powerful, but greatness eludes it because its people are unwilling to overcome their pettiness. Internally, the classes and tribes are fragmented by ageism and sexism, as well as by racism where a class or tribe happens to be multi-racial.

As is always true when speaking about society, all generalizations are formally wrong because one can always find individual counterexamples. However, what is wrong with the United States is that the number of such counterexamples to the sweeping criticisms made here do not count up to an overwhelming majority of the American people. If they did then everything in our society would be different, as would everybody who is now “in charge.”

The decadent nature of our society is a mirror of our cowardly denied national consensus for a pathetic tolerance of anti-intellectualism, ignorance, superstition, moral irresponsibility within our particular class and tribe, shameless sociopathic egotism, criminality labeled as capitalism, bigotry labeled as religion, and religion practiced as hate-crime.

There is no sociological fix that can come down to us, externally, from our political and judicial systems — whose only functions are to protect capitalism from popular democracy and to mediate capitalistic disputes — nor from organized religions, which arrogantly claim to hold the answers to ultimate questions (they don’t), and which demand to regulate and compel social morality.

The only possible fix is the combination of attitudes and behaviors that emerge individually out of personal commitments to principled and thoughtful living, and then merge into a mass socialist consciousness, from which collective economic, social-humanitarian, technological and self-defense actions can be logically organized.

To say that this emergent (as opposed to external) sociological fix is “utopian” is simply to dismiss the possibility of ever seeing it achieve any degree of reality, however modest. I think it better to be realistic than defeatist: our “utopia” is easily possible if we “all” want it, and though that is highly improbable it is better to align our intentions for personal conduct with this vision than to acquiesce to a personal debasement of becoming another trivial mind-numbed soul-dead unit in the official hypocrisy of decadent materialism.

Why is it better? Because you would develop and realize more of your human potential, and because you would acquire greater lived experience that would justify an authentic and satisfying sense of freedom and self-respect. Also, you would have a greater positive effect on the people you personally come in contact with, most importantly your family. I believe the abstractions we apply to the masses and label as “socialism” and “utopia” and “green new deal,” and so on, can only materialize by bleeding out of the realities of individual lives of integrity, and then mixing into a rising tide of socialist revolution.

So, what movement should you join?, politician should you vote for?, petitions should you sign?, charities should you contribute to?, job should you try to get?, sect should you fight in in our sectarian wars for political purity?, in short what is “the right way?”

How do I know? All my specific choices to these questions can be argued with — even by people who agree with me in the global abstract — because every person’s experience of life is different. Our individual templates for personal action will inevitably be ill-suited for most of each other. The persistence of people pushing their own “right way” orthodoxies onto others, whom they share a grand fuzzy vision with, is what dissipates popular energy that could otherwise propel a worthwhile — if fuzzy — collective purpose, and which instead thus leads to an enervating argumentative fragmentation of the original socialist unity.

So, at this point I am left with only platitudes and a reliance on high-minded innuendo, if tasked to spell out a detailed program to fix our society “once and for all,” to wrest it from it’s late-stage capitalist Kali Yuga.

What I believe is that the effort to do this is and will always be never-ending and myriadly multifaceted, and that any worthwhile elements of socialism that successfully make the transition from popular aspiration to realities that can be experienced, will have had to emerge atomistically from individual lives of integrity — rather than being imposed deus ex machina — in order to blend and bond organically into the humane, compassionate and intelligent future society we can so easily imagine.

All I can offer here are recommendations for aspirational solidarity, such as expressed by Albert Camus: “I rebel, therefore we exist,” and for intentional moral character, such as expressed by Thucydides as a quote by Pericles: “Honor is the only thing that does not grow old.”

Maybe from such airy notions, and a bit of personal pride, we can surprise ourselves into finally making America decent for everybody. And that would be great.

* [Thanks to Dan Kaminsky and Ivan Sudofsky for pointing me to the Carl Sagan reference and passage.]

<><><><><><><>

Climate Crisis, Elite Panic, and Mass Exclusion

John Davis’s interesting article in Counterpunch,

Are We Moderns Or Terrestrials?
7 February 2019
https://www.counterpunch.org/2019/02/07/are-we-moderns-or-terrestrials/

Describes the idea of “social triage” practiced by a global wealth elite, to exclude the mass of Earth’s people from the finite natural bounty our planet can supply to humanity; this drive being accelerated by the obvious threats of the accelerating Climate Crisis. Davis writes:

In [the book] Down to Earth: Politics in the New Climatic Regime, 2018, Bruno Latour, the French philosopher and sociologist, writes, “To the migrants from outside who have to cross borders and leave their countries at the price of immense tragedies, we must, from now on, add the migrants from inside who, while remaining in place, are experiencing the drama of seeing themselves left behind by their own countries”.

Davis’s article reminds me of earlier sallies on this topic.

The most prescient, to my mind, was Tony Judt’s essay The Social Question Redivivus, which appeared in the journal Foreign Affairs in 1997 (and is still behind a paywall) and was reprinted as the last selection in Judt’s book Reappraisals, Reflections On The Forgotten Twentieth Century (Penguin Books, 2008). Except for the mention of Climate Change, Judt’s 1997 article laid out a very detailed exposition of the same form of triage as Davis (and Latour) now describe 22 years later.

I wrote a short gloss on Judt’s books and this topic in particular as

Tony Just, Edward Snowden, And “The Excluded”
1 July 2013
http://swans.com/library/art19/mgarci66.html

Also, on the idea of triage being practiced by the global wealth elite to separate “the excluded” from the finite bounty of the Earth, a very similar idea formed the core of Joseph Heller’s 1994 novel Closing Time (Simon and Schuster, 1994), which is both a reminiscence of their youth by WWII generation Brooklyn NY Jews, and a scathing satire of late 20th century American political attitudes. In the novel, a nitwit President of the U.S. plays a video game called Triage, which is actually a command console connected to an underground technological complex (based on the Reagan Administration idea of an underground mobile MX missile complex) for secretly controlling the day-to-day process of manipulating both selected individuals and the population as a whole, and ultimately of mass exclusion by nuclear war.

Davis notes that the basic practice by wealth elites of working hard to exclude the mass of people from prosperity, and to enslave them, is ancient. His (and Latour’s) point is that climate change is adding pressure to that elite drive for mass immiseration.

The implication of the above is that some form of serious and vigorous populist movement that successfully addresses climate change despite elite opposition (combining geo-technical strategies of direct mitigation, individual and societal adaptation, and — obviously — economic justice, a.k.a. “socialism”) is necessary for an organized human survival with decency.

We all know the problem. Our challenge (which may be tragically beyond us) is to triumph over the Climate Crisis and the elite selfishness driving it.

<><><><><><><>

Facing Greta’s Challenge

<><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><>

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!

<><><><><><><>