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 0.01% 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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What Should You Do About Climate Change?

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Earth’s climate is changing before our eyes, and at a faster rate than given by all previous scientific predictions. The melting of glaciers and permafrost, and the methane burping from tundras and the Arctic Sea; the enhanced power of hurricanes, rain and snow storms, and floods; the swelling of the oceans and the creeping inundation of shorelines worldwide; the unrelenting severity of droughts and wild fires; the acidification of the oceans, die-off of corals and reduction of marine life; and the havoc all these geophysical phenomena play on food production and on the habitability of the many environments both humans and wildlife call home, are all startling clear to see.

The present form of our climate change is global warming, which is caused by the greenhouse gas emissions (carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, methane, oxides of nitrogen, and volatile organic compounds), from our fossil-fueled economic activity, which is capitalist in either a “free market” or command economy format.

The only way to reduce the geophysical stimulation enhancing and accelerating global warming is to reduce and ideally halt the burning of fossil fuels. Humanity has not had the willpower to do this because it is from fossil fuels that we derive almost all of the power — and wealth — we use continually to each maintain our personal activity, and for us all to power our societies and civilization on every scale of their structures. While there are still people who live “off the grid” within the enchantment of nature as human wildlife, and who do not use fossil fuels at all, they are only a minority of Earth’s people. Humanity, 7.74B souls (25 November 2019) and growing by about 200,000 people a day (350,000 births, 150,000 deaths) burns fossil fuels to live.

The many poor and disadvantaged people around the world would like greater access to fossil fuels and electricity, which would allow them to increase their expenditure of external energy (exosomatic energy, outside their metabolism) in order to work themselves up from the drudgery and terror of surviving at a subsistence level, to safer more secure and comfortable modes of living. Many of the fortunate people experiencing relatively secure lives within the advanced highly developed economies of the First World would like greater access to, and cheaper prices for, exosomatic energy so as to extend the scope of their materialistic pleasures. Whether justified or unjustified, most people want more exosomatic power, and that demand drives the relentless expansion in the use of fossil fuels; and so global warming advances.

What should you do about climate change? There are as many answers to this question as there are commentators, critics, charlatans, careerists, environmentalists, philosophers, politicians, preachers, scientists, sages, saviors, speculators, know-it-alls and know-nothings with an axe to grind. The purpose of this essay is to whet your Occam’s Razor to slice through it all.

Consider the following Bayesian Statistics model problem, “Four Societies,” an abstraction of an extremely complex ‘what to do about climate change’ reality, to help organize our thoughts in hopes of eventually pointing to the correct actions we, individually, should take.

The purpose of Bayesian analysis is to logically select the best course of action from a set of available options, despite uncertainties about the probabilities of the outcomes that may occur, and where the decision-making process takes into account your own personal preferences regarding those outcomes. You can easily learn the mechanics of basic Bayesian analysis by looking up articles on the Prisoner’s Dilemma. Also, I give a patient explanation of decision-making using Bayesian statistics, with examples, at [1].

Four options for configuring our society are presented above (Bayesian outcomes), two capitalist and two socialist. For each of the capitalist and socialist formats there are two economic modes: politically unrestricted economic growth, and highly regulated and politically programmed economic contraction. Each is labeled somewhat fancifully to suggest its characteristics.

The “Billionaire Boys & Girls Club” (BB&GC) is the unrestricted capitalism of Ayn Randian dreams, and such dreamers as Milton Friedman, Alan Greenspan, Donald Trump, the Republican Party, and the many millions of people enthralled by their income-generating activities. These are people who see their life’s blood as issuing from their successful dog-eat-dog competition within a growing economy under capitalism.

The “Green New Deal,” (GND) as used here, is the idea of a 21st century interpretation of the Franklin Roosevelt Administration public works programs of the 1930s, and the military Keynesianism of the 1940s, to combine economic stimulation for the uplift of the bottom two-thirds of America’s standard-of-living pyramid, with a revolutionary revamping of American energy, housing, transportation, healthcare and social services infrastructure, that in sum total aggressively acts to minimize the further stimulation of global warming. The popular idea here is that America’s existential threat from climate change had its analog 80 years ago as the existential threat from the Great Depression and World War II, and that a Rooseveltian-style socialism now would be just as effective as it was then for overcoming the threat.

“Carbon Limited Capitalism” (CLC) is my term for the regulation and carbon-emission taxing of capitalism to significantly, if not entirely, eliminate its reliance on fossil fuels. Objectively, this would mean a contraction of economic activity for quite a while (perhaps forever) since green energy technology, though growing, is still too insufficient to supply the entire quantity of power consumed by our industrialized civilization — as we presently choose to wastefully conduct it.

“Enviro Co-op Simplification” (ECS) designates an intentional simplification of every aspect of American life so as to eliminate any reliance on fossil fuels. This format of American life would be centered on environmentalism, rather than gargantuan consumerism, and of necessity be a tightly interwoven network of cooperative associations and groupings — lots of socialism. It would be the “Certified Organic” model of American life and work, instead of our current ‘Fast Junk Glitz-o-tainment’ isolation-in-parallel format.

Each one of us will have preferences for or against residing in each of these four possible societies, and those preferences can be quantified on a purely subjective basis, as desirabilities D1, D2, D3 and D4, and assigned as follows.

A person primarily concerned with wealth accumulation might choose desirabilities as D1=100, D2=20, D3=10, D4=0.

A person primarily concerned with minimizing climate change and revitalizing Earth’s environments might choose desirabilities D1=0, D2=10, D3=20, D4=100.

There are as many possible sets of choices (D1, D2, D3, D4) as there are choosers. I will lead this presentation toward some general results, eventually.

What I (and you) — as the person in this model problem asking “what should I do about climate change?” — have to do is to decide: what am I going to commit myself to, both in my personal life and in any social and political activism I may engage in?

The two choices given here are for either economic growth or economic contraction.

What is unknown is whether our society will remain in its current capitalist format or transition into socialism because of the force of geophysical and sociological pressures. Let the quantity p designate the probability that socialism will arise in the historical near future in time to organize American society’s response to climate change. The quantity p is a number between 0 and 1. Thus, the probability that capitalism will remain the societal paradigm is the quantity (1-p).

Given “my” desirabilities (D1, D2, D3, D4) for the four potential outcomes (BB&GC, GND, CLC, ECS), and the probability, p, of uncertain magnitude (between 0 and 1) for a socialist transformation, how would I nevertheless quantify my expectations — or utility values — regarding my two possible courses of action: committing to economic growth or committing to economic contraction? As follows.

Here, the symbol * designates multiplication.

Given my subjectively quantified desirabilities (D1, D2, D3, D4) for the four potential societal outcomes, along with the as yet unknown probability p for a near-term socialist transformation, the utility value or expectation (a quantification of my potential satisfaction or dissatisfaction) for committing to economic growth is

Eg = D1*(1-p) + D2*p.

Similarly, the utility value or expectation for committing to economic contraction is

Er = D3*(1-p) + D4*p.

While “I” can pick desirabilities out of my own subjective preferences, feelings and biases, I can only guess — or ‘guesstimate’ — at what p might be. So, making such a guesstimate, I can then actually calculate a numerical value for each of Eg and Er. Comparing these, I would then choose to act according to whichever expectation quantity had the higher value. This is Bayesian decision-making, you choose the action that is subjectively of higher value to you, given your estimate of the probabilities of the uncertainties.

For example, the wealth seeker whose desirabilities are D1=100, D2=20, D3=10, D4=0, and who estimates the likelihood of a socialist transformation at p=0.5 (50%), would have utility values of

Eg = 50 + 10 = 60.

Er = 5 + 0 = 5.

Obviously, this capitalist bull would choose to devote himself to economic growth.

Similarly, the “Earth First” environmentalist whose desirabilities were listed earlier as D1=0, D2=10, D3=20, D4=100, and who estimated the probability of a socialist transformation at p=0.5 would have utility values of

Eg = 0 + 5 = 5.

Er = 10 + 50 = 60.

Obviously this environmentalist would choose to devote herself to economic contraction.

But not everybody is so lopsided in their preferences. An individual pulled in different directions by the need to make a living and enjoy a bit of consumerism, a yearning for greater social solidarity, a concern about global warming, and who has few ideological rigidities might select desirabilities D1=3, D2=8, D3=2, D4=10.

For this mild liberal

Eg = 3*(1-p) + 8*p,

Er = 2*(1-p) + 10*p.

It turns out that for this individual Eg=Er when p=1/3 (33%).

So, for the probability of socialism, p, estimated at greater than 1/3, Er is greater that Eg; committing to economic contraction will have more personal value that committing to economic expansion.

Obversely, for the probability of socialism, p, estimated at less than 1/3, Eg is greater than Er; and committing to economic expansion will have more personal value than committing to economic contraction.

For this mild liberal individual, if they believe that socialism has a better than 33% chance of happening, they should commit to economic contraction, environmentalism and consequently socialism. If they believe that socialism has less than a 33% chance of occurring then they should commit to being an economic growth capitalist. All this is based on personal subjectivities that arise from the confrontation with the objective realities of this American’s life in a world of climate change, and an assumed probability of future political change.

How would you quantify your preferences and inclinations into a set of numbers D1, D2, D3, D4 and p, and then what would your utility values be for the two actions of: working for economic growth, or working for economic contraction? How much are you willing to give up in order to forestall climate change? It might take more than you imagine. [2]

Now, I’ll state some general results for this model problem, and spare you the mathematical details.

For the probability, p, of socialist transformation to be a positive number between 0 and 1 (where any real probability must be within), the desirabilities must satisfy the following conditions.

Both (D1-D3) and (D4-D2) are greater than 0, or both (D1-D3) and (D4-D2) are less than zero.

Given these conditions, the value of probability at which Eg is equal to Er is designated as q, and has the value

q = (D1-D3)/[(D1-D3)+(D4-D2)].

For p less than q, one of either Eg or Er will dominate; and for p greater than q that dominance will switch. The “mild liberal” example shown earlier exhibited all this.

Another general result is that individuals with positive (D1-D3) and (D4-D2) — or D1 greater than D3, and D4 greater than D2 — can be ideologically capitalist and not really concerned about climate change; wanting economic growth under capitalism to strengthen it, and economic contraction under socialism to weaken it.

Similarly, individuals with negative (D1-D3) and (D4-D2) — or D3 greater than D1, and D2 greater than D4 — can be ideologically socialist and not primarily concerned about climate change; wanting economic contraction under capitalism to weaken it, and economic expansion under socialism to strengthen it.

Individuals who only care about economic expansion without regard to either capitalist or socialist ideology, and obviously don’t care about climate change, will have D1 greater than D3, and D2 greater than D4. Their utility value for economic growth, Eg, is always dominant regardless of any numerical value of probability p (which is in fact irrelevant to them).

Similarly, individuals who only care about economic contraction — our deeply committed climate change-confronting environmentalists — will have D3 greater than D1, and D4 greater than D2. Their utility value for economic contraction, Er, is always dominant regardless of any numerical value of probability p (which is only of interest as a political indicator of a national shift to economic contraction).

Finally, for both totally committed economic expansionists and economic contractionists, those who are inclined to favor capitalist ideology will see a decrease in the happiness of their unwavering efforts as the probability, p, of the transformation to socialism increases; and conversely, those inclined to favor socialist ideology will see an increase in the happiness of their unwavering efforts as the probability, p, of the transformation to socialism increases.

Those of you who are charter members or committed aspirants of the Billionaire Boys & Girls Club, or the Enviro Co-op Simplification Movement have no need for this Bayesian analytical method of making the emotional decision of how to conduct your life in the presence of climate change. But for us “regular people” this kind of theoretical exercise can help clarify the mind on what one’s priorities and concerns really are, and how best to focus your limited energies in the face of uncertain political shifts in a world of advancing climate change. What are you and I willing to accept — and sacrifice — in order to forestall climate change? Bayesian analysis is one way to personally come to grips with that question.

My wish would be for a socialist Green New Deal that miraculously disappeared fossil fuel usage without a loss of the exosomatic energy we now enjoy — achieved by some combination of energy conservation and the use of renewable energy (solar, wind and gravity derived) — and that such a transformation of the energy technologies powering our society and civilization were accomplished without further greenhouse gas emissions. In other words, that the required rapid contraction of fossil fueled economies, to forestall climate change, was also simultaneously a societal transformation to a new highly equitable economic paradigm operating harmoniously within the limits of nature. But I know that is impossible. Even the best effort in that direction will necessarily be an approximation to the ideal that is deficient to some degree, perhaps significantly. Climate change may now be beyond the ability — and the willingness — of humanity to avert; the best we can likely do is to minimize our further exacerbation of it. [3], [4]

Personally, I think that Enviro Co-op Simplification Socialism could be alright if we all made an effort for it.

Notes

[1] Bayesian Bargains: Jail, Shopping, Debt, And Voting
MG,Jr., (30 January 2012)
http://www.swans.com/library/art18/mgarci39.html

[2] That Green Growth at the Heart of the Green New Deal? It’s Malignant
Stan Cox, (13 January 2019)
http://greensocialthought.org/content/green-growth-heart-green-new-deal-it%E2%80%99s-malignant

[3] End-of-life anxiety and finding meaning in a collapsing climate
Leonie Joubert (20 November 2019)
https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2019-11-20-end-of-life-anxiety-and-finding-meaning-in-a-collapsing-climate/

[4] Choosing Dignity During Climapocalypse
MG,Jr., (26 May 2018)
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2018/05/26/choosing-dignity-during-climapocalypse/

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Life in the Ashes of Lotusland Dreams

The Kincade Wildfire, currently burning in Sonoma County, California erupted at 9:24 PM on October 23 during an extreme wind event, east of Geyserville (77 miles or 124 km north of San Francisco). An area of 400 acres (2 square kilometers, 2 km^2) burned that evening. By October 30 the fire had burned an area of 76,825 acres (311 km^2), and was only 30% contained. The daily progress of the Kincade Fire is charted in the following figure.

“The cause of the fire has not yet been confirmed by a formal investigation, but a compulsory report shows that the fire started when a 230,000 volt transmission line failed near the point of origin, just before power was about to be shut off in the area” [1] as a precaution against anticipated high winds causing electrical lines and tree branches swinging into each other and sparking a wildfire in the parched hilly landscape.

During October 23 and 24, PG&E [Pacific Gas & Electric Company] carried out a massive power shut-off to nearly 940,000 customers in Northern California, this included a swathe of territory at the higher elevations of the Berkeley Hills (the low mountains behind the cities on the east side of San Francisco Bay). My home, in Oakland, was in this blackout. The winds died down on October 25, and my power was restored for a day; but this was not so in the blacked-out areas of Sonoma, Napa and Solano counties (and possibly also Marin County, and numerous counties further north). Another extreme wind event was anticipated for October 26 and 27, so PG&E began shutting off power in an attempt to prevent additional fires, leaving an estimated three million people (2.5 to 2.8 million) without power.

A 102 mph (164 kph) wind gust was recorded at Pine Flat at 3,300 feet (1000 meters) elevation, at 8 AM on October 27. A National Weather Service forecaster noted the wind speed on Twitter and shared that sustained winds had also “officially broke Hurricane Force (78 mph, or 126 kph).” [2] From the chart above, you can see how the area covered by the Kincade Fire expanded during these gusty conditions, between October 26 and October 28.

There were and are many severe wildfires raging in California north and south during this time (the Getty Fire in Los Angeles being one); the Kincade Fire is merely the largest current wildfire in the state. The Kincade Fire threatened over 90,000 structures (by October 30, 189 have been destroyed) and has caused widespread evacuations throughout Sonoma County, including the communities of Geyserville, Healdsburg, and Windsor. The majority of Sonoma County and parts of Lake County are under evacuation warnings.

There are 4,900 firefighters trying to contain and extinguish the Kincade Fire alone. Some of these firefighters are prisoners. “These are the people we write off, don’t allow to vote, don’t allow to become firemen once released” [3]; “people who are paid unconscionably low wages” for helping to keep so many of us safe. [4]

By October 28, power had been restored in my section of Oakland; it still remains off in most of the blacked-out territory in the northern counties (October 30), but I believe it is now slowly being restored in areas released from evacuation warnings.

Cal Fire (the state agency dealing with wildfires) put out 300 fires between the 28th and 29th, and more than 650 fires since the 27th. Smoke will linger in the San Francisco Bay Area atmosphere for days, no rain is forecast and temperatures are predicted to drop to near freezing in some areas; and the winds are expected to die down after October 30. The Kincade Fire is expected to be 100% contained by November 7, 2019. Most Sonoma County school districts will remain closed through November 1, and many schools in Marin County were closed as of the 30th. The Secretary of Veterans Affairs in California demanded that Governor Gavin Newsom find a way to restore power to the numerous VA clinics that do not have backup power equipment. [5]

A Sonoma County man who used an oxygen ventilator to assist his breathing was reported to have died shortly after the electric power was cut to his home. [6] The power cuts and evacuations were very hard on people who are frail, infirmed or who require powered medical devices to assist and sustain them. The authorities had established evacuation centers to include the medically needy, but it seems not all of them made it to safety.

PG&E reported that 1.2 million people, in 28 California counties, have been without power since October 26. The process of restoring power can take 48 hours, and PG&E expressed the hope of beginning that process early on the 30th. [5]

There have been many calls now — as newspaper editorials, letters-to-the-editor, comments on social media, angry voices in the streets, and conversations through sporadic telephone connections between cold blacked-out homes — for the State of California to take over PG&E and run it as a publicly owned electric and gas utility.

Besides losing lights, reliable refrigeration (for food and medicine storage), the use of: electrically powered medical devices, electric cooking devices, wall-plugged electronics, recharging capability for battery-powered electronics and cellular telephones; many homes in more rural areas lost water because their local water company (or their own well) relies entirely on PG&E electricity to run the water pumps. It is no fun to not be able to flush in a blacked-out house for a week, unless you can find a way to haul in water. Running a gasoline-powered generator helps (if you have one, along with safe heavy-duty extension cords to run into the house), but this must be carefully done so as to avoid introducing carbon-monoxide fumes into the home (you’re stuck with the motor noise), and not cause a fire during your handling of the gasoline (which you must repeatedly travel to purchase) when replenishing the tank of the generator unit.

The losses of lives, property and homes to fire were the greatest tragedies that people suffered, and the large-scale evacuations and blacked-out sheltering-in-place were the most widespread hardships. But economic damage spread further in the form of lost wages by many lower-income workers in small businesses that were closed due to lack of power, and for restaurants the added impact of foodstuffs lost to spoilage with the loss of refrigeration. Large food supermarkets near me brought in self-contained refrigeration tractor-trailers to store perishable foods, or motor-generators to power the refrigerators in the stores. Either way, gasoline or diesel fuel was being burned (and exhaust gases emitted) locally to replace the missing PG&E electricity needed for refrigeration.

Nearby restaurants that were not in black-out zones were crowded through the week with us hungry refugees from the black-out; and our rate of expenditure for eating necessarily increased. Many of us refugees would also seek out electrical outlets at these restaurants and coffee houses, to recharge our cell phones and portable computers. I like to read books at night, and this became impossible without the use of some battery-powered light (and battery depletion would be a problem), or, more risky, with the use of candles.

The anxiety about lack of electrical power, and the uncertainty about when it would be restored was for so many otherwise prosperous and bountifully endowed Californians the visceral experience of a very noticeable decay of “the American way of life.” This was a sensible punch-in-the-gut by climate change (global warming, drought, wildfire) and not just climate change as an insubstantial verbal construct, an abstraction, a slogan. This was also an unpleasant visceral hint of what a descent into Third World living might be like, for a significant population of Americans (in California) who would otherwise unthinkingly continue with perhaps the most privileged lifestyles experienced by any mass population on Earth.

Some appreciation of the scope of the Kincade Fire can be gained by viewing the photo taken of it from by space by US astronaut Andrew Morgan. [7]

The Kincade Fire is the plume on the right, wafting toward the Pacific Ocean. San Francisco Bay occupies the left half of the image just below the coastline. The view from bottom to top is from east to west.

Another view of the Kincade Fire burn area is given by a 6 minute video recorded during a fly-over on October 29 by the Henry 1 helicopter of the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Department. It looks like a film clip of a US chopper flying over the burnt and blasted jungle hills of Vietnam 50 years ago (with a touch more suburban development) but without the sight and sound of explosions. (https://www.facebook.com/sonoma.sheriff/videos/1163763990678292/) [8]

“The wildfire season in the American West is now two and half months longer than 40 years ago. Wildfires are now four times more common and burn six times as much forest area. Some of today’s fires are so big and hot they burn the soil itself, and when that happens it can take up to a thousand years for the trees to grow back. By 2050 wildfires in the United States will be twice as destructive as they are now and each year will burn 20 million acres. An estimated 339,000 people die each year from smoke from wildfires. By 2050 we are expected to lose half of all the forests in the American West.” [9]

It seems that by November 1 the Kincade Fire and other smaller blazes in Northern California will be nearing full containment and total extinction, most evacuees will have returned to their homes — if they still have them — and those homes will regain electrical power, and the many workers temporarily put out of their wage-earning jobs because of the black-outs will once again be employed. But it could all happen again with the onset of another period of extreme wind during this dry season (please rain soon! but then we will have flooding and landslides because of the loss of soil-holding vegetation). And what of the dry seasons in the years to come?

Undoubtedly there will be swift recriminations, lawsuits, fights with insurance companies (and rate increases), political posturing and even perhaps useful actions in the California legislature and by the Governor’s office. With luck the political system of the State of California will swiftly develop new plans that are immediately put into action to devise strategies and infrastructure to better prevent the outbreak of such rapidly expanding wildfires, and reduce (ideally eliminate) the necessity of having widespread electrical power shut-offs during the highly windy days of our (global warming lengthening) fire season.

For an increasing number of Californians, the 20th century illusions about “the American way of life” have been lost in the dark of de-electrified homes with shut-off water, and gone up in the smoke of raging wildfires that extend to the horizons.

Notes

[1] Kincade Fire (30 October 2019)
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kincade_Fire

[2] SFGATE (a Facebook web-page of the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper)

[3] David Menschel, @davidminpdx

[4] Bay Area For Bernie (Facebook group)

[5] The San Francisco Chronicle, Wednesday, October 30, 2019

[6] Santa Rosa Press Democrat, October 24-27, 2019

[7] Kincade Fire from space, photo by Andrew Morgan
https://sfist.com/2019/10/30/heres-what-the-kincade-fire-looks-like-from-space/

[8] Kincade Fire, Henry 1 Fly Over (10/29 1:00pm)
Sonoma Sheriff
https://www.facebook.com/sonoma.sheriff/videos/1163763990678292/

[9] Climate Facts: Wildfire Season
11 October 2017
https://www.facebook.com/senatorsanders/videos/1511664332253953/

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Kincade Fire, FINAL, 6 November 2019, 7:00 PM
https://www.fire.ca.gov/media/10083/kincade-incident-update-11062019-pm.pdf

Sonoma County
active 14 days:
start -> 23 October 2019, 9:27 PM
cause: under investigation
77,758 Acres, vegetation
100% contained
374 structures destroyed
60 structures damaged
4 injuries (first responders only)

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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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Hurricane Florence, 9-11 Climate Change Terrorism

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Hurricane Florence, 9-11 Climate Change Terrorism

NEW 9-11 TERRORIST ATTACK!! Yes, it’s true! Today (11 September 2018), terrorists based in Washington D.C., and sponsored by the dinosaur bones mining, pumping and burning industries, have relaxed rules restricting methane emissions from mines and oil and gas wells (for privatized profits at socialized costs), which will result in enhanced hydrocarbon atmospheric pollution that will accelerate Global Warming.

AND JUST IN TIME! Because Hurricane Florence, currently a Category 4 hurricane (and possibly strengthening toward the maximum possible, Category 5) is barreling down on North Carolina (a good choice, they voted for Trump), and 1.5 MILLION people have been urged/ordered to evacuate from coastal areas.

Hurricane Florence is being amplified by Climate Change (Global Warming) because:

1) the sea level is now higher (by about 1 foot in the western Atlantic near the Carolinas) because of previous ice cap melting and runoff (and heat-induced expansion of seawater), so the “storm surge” (like an extra super duper high tide) flooding of coastal lowlands, swept in by the hurricane, will be more extensive (i.e. worse); and

2) because the ocean is warmer (by Global Warming) and thus has much more energy (heat) available to pump up wind speed/energy in hurricanes, and so they have more capacity to destroy structures and infrastructure (like telephone and power poles, and fallen power lines start fires; also to uproot trees, smash houses and lift off roofs); and

3) because Global Warming/Climate Change has altered the path of the Jet Stream —

the high-latitude, high-speed, high-altitude, west-to-east ring of wind current that normally pushes Atlantic hurricanes eastward back out into the Atlantic Ocean, away from the US East Coast —

(has altered the path of the Jet Stream) farther to the north, so it now DOES NOT push Atlantic hurricanes toward the east, away from the US East Coast. So Hurricane Florence will stall when it makes landfall, and dump humongous amounts of rain in the same spot (same localized region) of mainly North Carolina, which will cause huge inland flooding. This is exactly what happened last year (2017) with Hurricane Harvey over Houston, which resulted in the largest flooding event in US history.

We can expect fatalities of American citizens.

Since:

– all these coming effects of Hurricane Florence (and Hurricanes Helene and Isaac, right behind) were known to be inevitable, and

– since Global Warming/Climate Change is known to be the “natural” culprit (super-charging an already dangerous natural weather event), and

– since pollution by greenhouse gases is known (and has been known for over half a century) to be the human action producing the super-charged “natural culprit” of this approaching Climate-Weather Catastrophe, and

– since it is known that this human action has been committed by high U.S. government officials solely for the pecuniary advantage of the fossil fuels industries (who fund these pols’s kick-backs), and

– as it is known such action will directly harm — even kill — American citizens,

– then it is directly clear that said high U.S. government officials are committing premeditated murder (and at the very very minimum reckless endangerment including manslaughter).

This is all-out terrorism against millions of Americans on US soil.

The US War On Terror needs to focus all its forces on Washington D.C., and Wall Street, New York City (and its satellite corporate terrorist base camps, cash dumps and training centers lurking deep in the Uncle Sam Homeland), and capture and liberate that currently occupied — by neo-fascists — national capital city.

At this moment, murder charges could be filed in any state court against these still-at-large-criminals (hiding out in bought-elected federal and state offices) because of the direct linkage between their premeditated actions, their criminal intent to harm rather than protect American citizens (a direct violation of their oaths for government service, and their primary duty as members of American government: protecting the public) and the past and now impending and inevitable harm to be suffered by many members of the American public.

9-11 terror is here now, but on a continental scale, not just a citywide scale — with Hurricane Armageddon on the East Coast and Gulf Coast, Wildfire Armageddon west of the Great Plains, and more and bigger tornadoes inevitable for the Mississippi Watershed and Great Plains.

We are having our continent-wide mainland USA “Pearl Harbor” attack by Climate Change-amplified weather, which is state-sponsored terrorism that is caused directly by the fossil fuel industry-owned terrorist-capitalist network of Republican Party and corporatist Democratic Party pretenders and occupiers of U.S. Government (and states’ governments) Executive, Congressional and Judicial public offices.

This is treason, and demands a complete and thorough revolution.

Exhibit A (thanks to Norman T.):
https://www.democracynow.org/2018/9/11/climate_change_supercharges_hurricane_florence_as

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More about the image at the top:

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The eye of Hurricane Florence, photographed from the International Space Station (at 410km, 255 mile elevation), on 12 September 2018, by German astronaut Alexander Gerst.

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See comments (below) for additional/later estimates (calculations by MG,Jr.).

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A NOAA satellite image shows Hurricane Florence as it made landfall near Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina.

This is how the world ends: will we soon see category 6 hurricanes?
16 September 2018
https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/sep/15/hurricane-category-6-this-is-how-world-ends-book-climate-change

Publicly Subsidized Climate Change Insurance for Big Oil

“Whom the gods would destroy they first make mad”
— Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

My 14 August 2018 article, “Climate Change Bites Big Business” (https://www.counterpunch.org/2018/08/14/climate-change-bites-big-business/), described the now evident large financial impacts on Big Business caused by climate change, for example:

— the bankrupting-level liabilities to one California electric utility company (PG&E) for causing massive wildfires in 2017,

— the threat of similar future liabilities to the entire electric utility industry, especially in Western America,

— huge losses to fire insurance companies in California during 2017-2018 (and similar possibilities wherever drought occurs in highly developed areas),

— huge losses to flood, hurricane and tornado insurance companies, because of the more violent rain-and-wind storms of recent years (like Hurricane Sandy in 2012, and the hurricanes since),

— the possible throttling of future commercial and real estate investment if insurance rates and bank loan interest rates increase sharply because wildfire and weather related destructive events are now permanently amplified by climate change.

In the article cited above, I concluded:

“I think that the pretense of climate change denialism by the Big Money has crumbled, and we are now entering a period of overt climate change acknowledgment coupled with fanatical efforts to gain public subsidies for private interests to both insure and indemnify them against climate change-related financial losses, and to also preserve the nature of their businesses even if they are major CO2 and organic vapor polluters, like the petrochemical and coal companies.”

Confirmation of the above conclusion is provided by The Associated Press article of 22 August 2018, “Big oil asks government to protect its Texas facilities from climate change” (https://www.cbsnews.com/news/texas-protect-oil-facilities-from-climate-change-coastal-spine/), which describes:

“An ambitious proposal to build a nearly 60-mile ‘spine’ of concrete seawalls, earthen barriers, floating gates and steel levees on the Texas Gulf Coast… to shield some of the crown jewels of the petroleum industry, which is blamed for contributing to global warming and now wants the federal government to build safeguards against the consequences of it. The plan is focused on a stretch of coastline that runs from the Louisiana border to industrial enclaves south of Houston that are home to one of the world’s largest concentrations of petrochemical facilities, including most of Texas’ 30 refineries, which represent 30 percent of the nation’s refining capacity. Texas is seeking at least $12 billion for the full coastal spine, with nearly all of it coming from public funds. Last month, the government fast-tracked an initial $3.9 billion for three separate, smaller storm barrier projects that would specifically protect oil facilities.”

Capitalism is a combustion engine that burns fossil fuels to churn out privatized financial wealth, government power (by fueling the military) and socialized waste heat and greenhouse gas pollution whose accumulation in Nature creates and accelerates global warming-induced climate change.

The bald fact of the oil industry seeking to have the public subsidize the protection of its facilities — and its profitability — from the natural climate-changing consequences of its own operations must rank as one the most colossal combinations of blind greed, chutzpah, cognitive dissonance and inertia during this Oil Age.

But, this is where we are today in our collective response (if you can call it that) to the advancing threats posed by climate change to organized human life.

More polemics are pointless, and our existing politics is madness.

Note:

The phrase “Whom the gods would destroy they first make mad” is spoken by Prometheus in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem “The Masque of Pandora” (1875).

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Climate Change Bites Big Business
14 August 2018
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2018/08/14/climate-change-bites-big-business/

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Now also at Counter Punch;

Publicly Subsidized Climate Change Insurance for Big Oil
27 August 2018
https://www.counterpunch.org/2018/08/27/publicly-subsidized-climate-change-insurance-for-big-oil/

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Climate Change Bites Big Business

“Electoral politics is not the solution to the Earth-threatening problems we face.”
– Jeffrey St. Clair (10 August 2018, Counter Punch)

There is now no non-violent way to reverse climate change. Even with morally unrestrained action, it is probable that there is now no physical possibility of reversing climate change. The time for action was 1973-1979, the time of the two oil embargoes (the post Israeli War – against Egypt and Syria – Arab Oil Embargo of 1973; and the related-to-the-Iranian-Revolution vengeful price gouge oil embargo of 1979). This was the period of the Watergate-climax finale of the Nixon Administration, the Ford Administration, and the Carter “energy crisis” Administration. Politically, the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 killed the possibility of US climate change action.

From Reagan through Bush I, Clinton, Bush II and Obama to Trump, the mentioning of climate change – as one of government’s highest priorities, as one of corporate America’s foremost concerns (to be addressed, not suppressed), and as one of mainstream media’s primary and continuing focuses and leading stories – was minimized if not altogether absent. If anything, climate change denialism was heavily promoted by corporate and partisan (right wing) media, and by legions of corporate agents, flacks and factotums masquerading as elected representatives in federal and state governments. That has now changed.

Climate change is now all over the front pages of the newspapers and is the headline story of the mainstream mass media, primarily because of the massive fires in California whose smoke has even reached New York City. Why this new overt and blaring mainstream news attention to climate change, a subject that was officially hush-hush, trivial and fake news so recently in the past? Obviously because climate change has begun costing big money to major sectors of American capitalism.

In the case of the 2017-2018 California wildfires, one of the costs to capitalism is the financial threat of bankruptcy via liability suits against Northern California’s regulated monopoly utility company, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), which is being held responsible for causing the Sonoma and Napa Counties fires of 2017, because electric power lines swung into too-near tree branches during high winds setting off sparks that ignited fires that raced across the dry countryside, incinerating many communities and much industrial infrastructure (e.g., for telephone, internet and TV distribution, and also numerous small business facilities, croplands and vineyards).

A second set of costs to capitalism from California’s vast wildfires of 2017-2018 are the high losses to fire insurance companies, prompting their threats to leave the California insurance market, which in essence would mean a very sharp increase of fire insurance rates for California residents, homeowners and businesses. It seems unlikely to everybody that multi-countywide wildfires like those of 2017 and 2018 are a fluke unlikely to reoccur next year and thereafter.

Companies offering flood, tornado and hurricane insurance along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts of the United States, and in Puerto Rico, may now also be smarting from the increased damage caused by more frequent and more powerful hurricanes, and the drenching and flooding rainstorms of the last few years. As with the vaster wildfires and longer wildfire season in the West, the more frequent and extensive flood and tornado disasters in the Great Plains and Gulf and Atlantic coasts have likely seeded thoughts of insurance flight and massive rate increases, and loan rate increases, in the minds of the moguls of the liability underwriting industry and the investment banking industry.

Higher insurance and loan costs hamper any business operation, and dampen real estate construction and sales activity, as well as adding usually unproductive costs to the living expenses of homeowners and renters seeking to buy a little security against unanticipated personal catastrophes.

It is good to remember that the reason the nuclear power industry (for electric generation) is dead is because the insurance industry worldwide rates nuclear power as an infinite liability and thus an uninsurable risk. Nuclear power can only exist where government assumes 100% of the liability in perpetuity. Insurance companies are starting to get the queasy feeling that perhaps wildfires in California (and probably the Great American Desert west of the Mississippi), as well as hurricanes along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts of the United States, are growing into potentially bankrupting infinite liability insurance risks.

A true and honest free market zealot would say: “So what, if companies like PG&E are at fault for wildfire apocalypses then let them get sued into bankruptcy. Another set of entrepreneurs will take their place as providers of electricity and natural gas for consumers, and profit as they deserve for providing safe and reliable service. Also, if some insurance companies are too scared to underwrite the risks of wildfires, hurricanes, tornadoes and floods, then let them run away or price themselves out of the market, because newer entrepreneurs will become new insurance providers who will take advantage of capturing an underserved market by offering affordable insurance, and thus profit by gaining a large customer base that would then dilute their aggregate risk.” Yes, zealot, but “true and honest” does not usually pair with “profit” when we are dealing with Big Money operators. So, what is more likely to happen?

In the official postmortem of the 2017 Northern California wildfires, PG&E was pointed to as the primary (essentially only) culprit because of the arcing contact between live electric cables and dry tree limbs during the high winds preceding the fires. PG&E is required by regulations to maintain a set clearance between its power cables and all trees near them. That clearance was obviously insufficient, either because of an inadequacy of the state regulations, or an insufficiency of tree trimming maintenance by PG&E’s tree trimming contractors, or both. Fingers will point, courts will be busy.

However, the idea of thousands of burned-out wildfire victims suing PG&E into bankruptcy will not happen because the state of California would then have the colossal headache of finding a new enormous and technically competent business entity to seamlessly take over the operations of producing and distributing electric power and natural gas to many millions of Californians populating a large and geographically diverse terrain. So, California state government will revise old laws or craft new ones to provide too-important-to-fail utilities like PG&E (and Edison International, and San Diego Gas & Electric) with some legal protection from the financial threat of bankruptcy over the liability of causing wildfires. (See the citation at the end for the legalistic details.)

The FIRE combine (Finance, Insurance and Real Estate; and their meshing as Wall Street speculation), along with the War Industries Complex, has a stranglehold on today’s U.S. Government. Recall that FIRE owned the political career of Barack Obama, who dutifully protected them from justifiable prosecution and punishment for the greatest robbery of all time, in 2008; and that military-related expenses and subsidies consume over 70% of the federal budget (our taxes). While American Big Business includes many other rich and politically powerful sectors, like Big Pharma, I think that FIRE and the War Industries Complex are the largest forces in American capitalism today.

It seems to me that now that climate change is biting Big Business in a big way, the mainstream media is excited to report all the lurid details of catastrophes spawned by climate change, because it is echoing the fears of their prime and patronizing audience: the loss of big money by Big Business, and its fear of the loss of future certainty of uninterrupted profitability. Big Capital is now openly scared about climate change, and that is what we are now seeing as headline news.

We will also be seeing urgent promotions – presented as mass media news and commentary – for varieties of government subsidized protection for those sectors of Big Business that feel most financially threatened by the biting furies of climate change. The little that California state government is now doing for moderating the potentially infinite liabilities of its wildfire-haunted electric utilities is only the beginning of what we can expect in the way of publicly subsidized climate change insurance for Big Business.

I think that the pretense of climate change denialism by the Big Money has crumbled, and we are now entering a period of overt climate change acknowledgment coupled with fanatical efforts to gain public subsidies for private interests to both insure and indemnify them against climate change-related financial losses, and to also preserve the nature of their businesses even if they are major CO2 and organic vapor polluters, like the petrochemical and coal companies.

Notes:

California Governor Taking PG&E Closer to Fire Law Changes
July 25, 2018
https://www.insurancejournal.com/news/west/2018/07/25/496015.htm

Facing $17 Billion in Fire Damages, a CEO Blames Climate Change
By: Mark Chediak
August 13, 2018
https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-08-13/facing-17-billion-in-fire-damages-a-ceo-blames-climate-change

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This article appeared first as:

Climate Change Bites Big Business
14 August 2018
https://www.counterpunch.org/2018/08/14/climate-change-bites-big-business/

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