The CO2 and Temperature of the PETM

The Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) was a 200,000 year long period 55.5 million years ago (55.5mya) at the transition from the Paleocene Epoch to the Eocene Epoch on the geological timescale, of highly elevated global temperature and carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere — the highest since the demise of the dinosaurs 66mya.

The average global temperature is estimated to have been +5°C to +8°C higher than it is today, which current average can be taken to be 15°C (59°F). Thus, the average global temperature during the PETM was in the range of 20°C (68°F) to 23°C (73.4°F). [1]

A recent study published by the ETH (in Switzerland) has determined that:

“Accordingly, between 57 and 55 million years ago, the mean annual air temperature at the equator where Colombia lies today was around 41°C (105.8°F). In Arctic Siberia, the average summer temperature was 23°C (73.4°F).” [2]

The cause of this elevated global temperature was a large amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4) in the atmosphere. How much of each, and how did they get there? There are numerous theories and no definitive answers. My sense of a general scientific consensus is that a large swarm of volcanic eruptions in the North Atlantic volatilized layers of methane hydrates (the cold pressurized crystalized precipitates of organic matter decayed by bacterial action) on the seafloor, as well as spewing CO2; and that wildfires and the burning of peat may have contributed to the carbon emissions.

The PNAS paper presents data supporting the idea that CH4 overwhelmingly dominated the greenhouse gas load, with CO2 concentration remaining steady at ~1000±500 ppm [1]; while the ETH report states that: “At that time, the atmosphere was essentially flooded by the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, with concentration levels reaching 1,400ppm to 4,000ppm.” (ppm = parts per million) [2]

The amount of carbon lofted into the atmosphere, according to the PNAS paper, was in the range of 2,500GtC to 4,500GtC (GtC = giga metric tons of carbon = gigatonnes C); but it cites alternative scientific studies whose estimates range from 6,800GtC to 15,400GtC. [1] Their methods of analysis were unable to determine the timescale of the emissions pulse, but it must have been well less than the 200,000 year span of the PETM, to account for its recovery back to the “normal” conditions of the early Eocene Epoch.

Methane emitted into the atmosphere will eventually oxidize to CO2 and water by chemical reactions like the following:

CH4 + 2*O2 -> CO2 + 2*H2O

CH4 + 4*O -> CO2 + 2*H2O

CH4 + O3 -> CO2 + H2O + H2.

There are many more possible reactions because there are many intermediate species formed, such as: H (atomic hydrogen), OH (hydroxyl radical), HO2, CO (carbon monoxide), H2O2 (hydrogen peroxide). So it is likely that within a few millennia of a massive CH4 release that it has all been oxidized to CO2 and water vapor.

Thus, I thought it reasonable to model the PETM temperature history as due to an emissions pulse of CO2. Specifically, that pulse is a Gaussian with a full width at half maximum (FWHM) of 4,000 years (4ky); centered at 6ky from the start of the PETM, and with a peak emissions rate of 1,456GtC/ky (1,456 GtC per 1000 years, or 1.456GtC/y). By 12ky from the start of the PETM, that pulse has come and gone leaving 6,190GtC in the model PETM atmosphere.

Figure 1, PETM CO2 pulse (12ky)

The calculated CO2 concentration added rises to 2,500ppm between 9ky and 10.5ky from the start of the PETM, (presumably there was ~280ppm, or more, prior to the emissions pulse).

Figure 2, PETM GtC/ky, GtC, CO2ppm (12.5ky)

This model assumes that the composite relaxation time for CO2 absorption from the atmosphere is 40ky. The dominant process fixing atmospheric CO2 is taken to be the weathering of carbonate and silicate rocks and soils; and the processes of both photosynthesis and the absorption by the surface waters of the oceans — which act on much shorter time scales — are assumed to be saturated because of the high concentrations of CO2 in both the air and the oceans.

The course of this model PETM atmospheric carbon excursion out to 20ky is shown in Figure 3, and out to 100ky is shown in Figure 4.

Figure 3, CO2ppm (20ky)

Figure 4, CO2ppm (100ky)

Beyond 100,000ky, the model PETM CO2 concentration falls into the range of the pre-industrial levels of ~200ppm to ~300ppm.

The model atmosphere at 0ky was taken to have 0ppm of CO2, so everything shown in the Figures is only added carbon (added CO2). The added heating caused by the added CO2 is estimated at:

+∆T °C = [CO2ppm added]/[130ppm/1°C] – 11°C,

where a baseline has been assumed of an average global temperature of 11°C at “0ppm” (actually 170ppm to 270ppm) as existed in the depths of the Ice Ages of the Pleistocene Epoch (2.58mya to 11.7kya), when the global temperature hovered about -4°C±4°C from what it was in pre-industrial times (~15°C).

The ratio 130ppm/1°C comes from my estimate of a +130ppm rise in atmospheric CO2 (280ppm to 410ppm) during the 130 years between 1890 and 2020, accompanied by an average global temperature rise of 1°C.

The calculated history of the model PETM average global temperature rise — by the above method — peaks at +8.2°C, between 9.3ky and 10ky, and is shown in Figure 5. Thus, the peak average global temperature implied was 19.2°C (66.6°F).

Figure 5, +T°C from PETM carbon pulse

If I assume that the model PETM temperature rise calculated above actually rested on a background global temperature of 15°C, similar to pre-industrial conditions (which might seem inconsistent, but there are many uncertainties), then the peak of the model PETM global temperature is 23.2°C (73.8°F).

Note that the ETH results were: +26°C at the Equator (41°C = 105.8°F) and +8°C in the Arctic during summer (23°C = 73.4°F), which are hotter for middle and tropical latitudes than in the model here.

My study here cannot rival the scientific rigor of [1] and [2] and it cannot quantify the entire complex of climate-affecting phenomena that occurred during the PETM; but it does give a clear general picture of a hyperthermal excursion caused by a massive pulse of carbon emissions into the atmosphere as occurred during the PETM.

The climate at that time was hotter and wetter, and with no polar ice; Antarctica was jungles, and the Arctic was a crocodile-infested swamp-ringed ocean.

Notes

[1] Temperature and atmospheric CO2 concentration estimates through the PETM using triple oxygen isotope analysis of mammalian bioapatite
Alexander Gehler, Philip D. Gingerich, and Andreas Pack
PNAS July 12, 2016 113 (28) 7739-7744; first published June 27, 2016;
https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1518116113

[2] Back to the future of climate
Peter Rüegg
ETHzürich
26 October 2020
https://ethz.ch/en/news-and-events/eth-news/news/2020/10/back-to-the-future-of-climate.html

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This Is Now (U.S.A.)

Tower of Babel, by Pieter Bruegel the Elder

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This Is Now (U.S.A.)

In his CounterPunch column on 30 October 2020 [1], the editor-publisher, Jeffrey St. Clair, made the following refreshing comment:

“In his resignation letter, Greenwald goes a little far in claiming his story was ‘censored.’ Call it the victim of a strong editorial hand. Cockburn used to apply his frequently to my stories and his normal scalpel was replaced by a ruthless chainsaw whenever my subject matter strayed onto the fraught terrain of climate change, assault weapons or catch-and-release trout fishing.”

I have had the same experience with my articles and papers in every single publication I have submitted them to (even CP). I came to learn that each journal has its ideological boundary, within which is its acceptable orthodoxy, and outside of which is rejected heresy. The arbiter determining the exact contour of that boundary is the editor, and moreso when also the publisher.

This is not necessarily bad if the precepts of the orthodoxy and contour of its boundary line are clearly stated, and uniformly adhered to. Then you as a reader and writer know how to pick and choose what to get into, or not. We all prefer to sing in our own choirs and thus perpetuate a world of mutually repellant cacophonous babel, because it is so much easier to maintain our ignorance and prejudices that way.

Having said this, I have to add in all fairness that CounterPunch has been the most tolerant of any journal toward my submissions (better than 50%). If you want to eliminate all censorship and editorializing on your writings, then just publish them yourself in a blog, or just don’t bother. Believe me, most people don’t want to hear or read what you think, however much your ego would be pleased to think they do.

At this point I thought I would editorialize a bit more on the editorial just cited.

+= Jeffrey St. Clair
– = MG,Jr.

+ Biden losing Texas because he made little to no effort to secure the Hispanic vote and couldn’t effectively distance himself from Obama’s inglorious record as deporter-in-chief will be one of the most biting ironies of this strange campaign.

+ The Biden campaign has made two shrewd strategic decisions: One, to limit Biden’s own appearances; and two, to keep Bill Clinton off the campaign trail, even though Bubba might have drawn some bigoted white men over to Biden in Georgia and South Carolina.

– Spanish speaking Americans are most likely voting overwhelmingly for Biden anyway as the obviously preferable lesser evil to raging Trumpian Hispanophobia. We (i.e., ‘Hispanics’) always know that U.S. elections are competitions between two corrupt gangs of ‘pasty-faced knuckle-headed palookas’ (a fabulous phrase from the Three Stooges) united by capitalist ideology. We make inroads as we can with young new progressives, like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and with the numerous non-PFKHP activists over the years. Also, in time we will demographically bury PFKHP Trumpphilic America, because we are way better lovers.

+ Usually, the lies get more grandiose the closer we get to an election. This year, however, there’s been a refreshing outbreak of honesty. Biden has pledged that he will “not end fracking.” And Trump’s chief staff Mark Meadows has vowed that Trump “will not control the pandemic.”

– It’s all about the money. It has always been all about the money. This is the United States you’re talking about: “Capitalism is a religion. Banks are churches. Bankers are priests. Wealth is heaven. Poverty is hell. Rich people are saints. Poor people are sinners. Commodities are blessings. Money is God.” — Miguel D. Lewis

– Fracking = fossil fuel = power for U.S. military machines = international political power = profits = careerist orgasms; therefore the Next White (or Whitened) Guy In The White House is 100% for it.

– “Controlling the pandemic” is a tax on “the economy” a.k.a. the exclusive corporate casino subsidized by the public, both by their tax submissions and by their acquiescence to death by incompetence and neglect. Also, laissez-faire as pandemic control is the mentally easiest policy for PFKHPs to manage.

+ The grooming of AOC for a leadership position in the party seems to be well underway. Consider her placid reaction to Biden’s retreat on fracking: “It does not bother me … I have a very strong position on fracking … However, that is my view … It will be a privilege to lobby him should we win the White House, but we need to focus on winning the White House first.”

– Lighten up on AOC. She and Greta Thunberg have done more to wake people up to working for a better U.S. and better world than all the U.S. politicians and pundits of the last 50 years, excepting the activist kids of 2018 from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

– AOC has made the most startling and effective puncturing of the PFKHP political bubble since god knows when, and has near-instantly built up a political potential so threatening to PFKHP patriarchal control that its flaccid intelligentsia across its entire spectrum for reactionary Trumpofascism to Pelosischumer liberal pablum has been driven into apoplectic frenzies of attack against the future that AOC personifies: young, female, feminist, inclusive, non-PFKHP (and non-‘Karen’), multilingual, socialist, smart, honest, engaging and effective.

– Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand’s newly reelected Labour Prime Minister, is another personification of that advanced political future (a reality in New Zealand, as yet a dream in the U.S.). The fact that AOC is also urban and a Puertorriqueña is icing on the cake (for this Nuyorkino). The great fear in weakling PFKHP minds is demographic dilution, and they see their projected image of that fear as AOC, before whom they tremble: rage as pretense for fear.

+ Who will tell DiFi? McConnell, just after the Senate voted to limit debate on Amy Coney Barrett: “A lot of what we’ve done over the last four years will be undone sooner or later by the next election. They won’t be able to do much about this for a long time to come.”

– Climate change (crisis, emergency, catastrophe) is a universally acknowledged fact, often brutally so in the wake of hurricanes, floods, droughts and wildfires. The culpability of major corporations in fueling global warming by the overproduction and sale of fossil fuels and petroleum products (like plastic by the Coca Cola Company) for the last half century, and of doing their utmost to cover up the scientific findings about the root causes of global warming (that’s where “anthropogenic” comes in) so as to continue maximizing their profits by destroying the environment, are all now public knowledge.

– Therefore, it is inevitable that the public will increasingly point the accusatory finger at the oil companies (for CO2 pollution fueling global warming) and plastic producers (for ocean and biodiversity destruction) in the form of class action lawsuits. The evidence of guilt is overwhelming; there is no exculpatory evidence. The only way that future corporate defendants would be able to secure favorable judgements once they have been harpooned by such lawsuits would be to advance payments now into insurance policies known as campaigns to install as many corporate-friendly judges into the higher echelons of the corporate-friendly U.S. judiciary as possible, and as soon as possible. This is how to buy judges legally in the United States, where “justice” is a commodity.

– And that is what the frenzy to install Amy Coney Barrett into the Supreme Court was all about. Her daddy was an oil exec, so she’s part of the family of the petrocorp ancien régime. Her religious fundamentalism is incidental to the corporatocracy (though it’s a great distraction for the hoi poloi); it’s all about the money.

+ Reporter: “What do you say to Philadelphia residents that are outraged by yet another unarmed Black man being shot by police?”
+ Biden: “What I say is that there is no excuse whatsoever for the looting and the violence.”

– Except by the PFKHP supremacist U.S. military abroad, and occupation troops (a.k.a. ‘police’) domestically. It used to be called “manifest destiny,” now it’s called “exceptionalism.” What the ancien régime fears most is having its own tactics used against it, and its various euphemistic expressions of that fear, as given by Biden here, are its most forthright admissions of guilt.

+ It’s become a fixture of American political culture where those who later apologize for being wrong about a disastrous policy (regardless of the body count) are given more attention and credibility than those who made the right call from the beginning.

– This is because such heartwarming forgiveness is dispensed by the U.S. mass media, which in aggregate is the privatized propaganda ministry that touts disastrous-for-the-public corporate-friendly government policies with alacrity. These are sinners forgiving their own sins, which the public had to become impoverished and bleed and die to underwrite (as in the 2008 financial meltdown, and Vietnam and Iraq Wars).

+ In the last two years, Trump’s Department of Energy has blocked the release of more than 40 reports on renewable energy: “They just go into a black hole.”

– The U.S. Department of Energy is a government agency for the maintenance of U.S. nuclear weapons capability, infrastructure and production. Anything else they may do is auxiliary. While there is much more that the US DOE could do to further renewable energy (I know, I used to work for them through a contractor, and my renewable energy reports just ended up on my blog), that is not a concern of the petrocorp ancien régime that owns the government.

– It may help to remember that John Jay, an author of the Federalist Papers and the first Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, was fond of saying: “The people who own the country should run it.” By “people” Jay meant wealthy merchants and slave-owners like himself. This is what the Supreme Court has always been about (with the exception of a few deviations by people like William O. Douglas, Thurgood Marshall and surprisingly by Earl Warren): the defense of property against democracy.

+ The Arctic’s giant methane deposits are beginning to leak their climate-wrecking fumes. Adjust your doomsday clock accordingly.

+ A worst-case climate scenario could produce almost $500 trillion in damages—about twice all the wealth in the world today. A best case still inflicts about $30 trillion in damage, a new study in Nature estimates, with intermediate scenarios between $69 trillion and $131 trillion.

+ According to a post-debate Morning Consult poll, only 28% voters oppose transitioning away from the oil industry. 52% of independents support transitioning away, and even 41% of Republicans.

– The exploding magnitude of the problem of global warming is only matched by the degree of reluctance by politically organized human society to reformulate its civilization into balance with Nature, and thus into harmony with the continuation of biodiverse Life-On-Earth. The mental inertia behind our non-action is from the static self-images many people have of themselves (‘I have to keep living and working this way because I can’t imagine otherwise’), and from our near-universal fetishizing of money.

– “The economy” is an artifice that can be constructed any way “we” want — so people could easily be made more important than profits — and money is just a token that is easily printed on government paper, and is now even generated as electrons vibrating in computer memory circuits. It doesn’t matter how much “money” it costs to formulate a decent society in harmony with Nature; money is shit, and shit is fertilizer.

+ Trump’s war on wolves just went nuclear…
+ The decision to remove the protections for gray wolves across all 48 states is going to have lethal consequences in Wisconsin, where the state’s “wolf hunt” will be immediately reopened.

– What it really is, deep down, it is the pleasure of inflicting cruelty on the helpless by terrified weaklings.

+ Ned Norris Jr., Chairman of the Tohono O’odham Nation, on the border wall’s desecration of Indigenous sacred sites: “As Americans, we all should be horrified that the Federal Government has so little respect for our religious and cultural values.”

– It’s all about the money; it is the pleasure of inflicting cruelty on the helpless by terrified weaklings; it is so much easier to maintain ignorance and prejudices that way; it is a reaction to the increasing fear of demographic dilution and the puncturing of the political bubble of PFKHP patriarchal control; it is manifest destiny and exceptionalism; it is the fearful wrath of the American money-constipated ancien régime.

– Capitalism must die for the world to live.

[1] https://www.counterpunch.org/2020/10/30/roaming-charges-high-anxiety/

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Last Words

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Last Words

They hate us because we remind them of what they fear most — dying — and so they torture us, withholding morphine to punish us for our dying, to deny us some final joy, and they call that morality, righteousness against the sin of addiction. But, I know what it really is, deep down, it is the pleasure of cruelty inflicted on the helpless by terrified weaklings. Our only vengeance is knowing that in time they too in all likelihood will suffer this if they are unfortunate enough to fall under the power of those now young whom they abuse by training, which they call religion, to carry on with the same dreary deadness of soul and emptiness of mind and spirit. So open the valve, then turn out the light and go home, and you will have fulfilled your humanity by letting me fulfill mine.

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The Perennial Smoldering of America’s Reichstag

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The Perennial Smoldering of America’s Reichstag

“Historian Timothy Snyder warns that America is already in its own ‘slow-motion Reichstag Fire’” proclaims a current article in Salon. [1]

“Obviously, we are in a slow-motion Reichstag Fire right now. That is what is happening. Donald Trump is not as skilled as Hitler. He doesn’t work as hard as Hitler. He doesn’t have the same level of confidence as Hitler, but he’s clearly looking for that Reichstag Fire emergency. Trump tried to make Black Lives Matter into that emergency. ‘Antifascists’ and ‘thugs’ and ‘law and order’ and so on is part of that effort. Donald Trump keeps trying to make the Reichstag Fire work.” — Timothy Snyder.

I have heard this idea being applied to U.S. politics for some time (since Reagan). I think it reflects the fear of many people, which arises as their previously taken-for-granted assumptions of the general benevolence of U.S. institutions and the U.S. political elite as a whole, drop away in the face of scandals and public disclosures of the obviously cruel and predatory nature of U.S. foreign and even domestic policy goals.

The first major incident of this sort since WWII was the Vietnam War: the Tonkin Bay Incident deception, the Pentagon Papers, My Lai, the Secret Invasion of Cambodia, Agent Orange; and then the many negative incidents of domestic fallout from all this: the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., urban riots, Watergate, the exposure of the CIA assassination plots (the Senate’s Church Committee), COINTELPRO (domestic spying), and the FBI/Police assassination of Black Panther Party people.

So, I think that widespread loss of trust in the U.S. Government by sectors of the population that still believed in “our way of life” (so, not for Black America, which was only too well-acquainted with immunized murderous racist policing; nor Native Americans) became a permanent feature in the public consciousness, and is expressed differently depending on the people involved: pro-gun idiocy by ignorant people being one example, and “Reichstag Fire” alarms by intellectual liberals and academics being another.

I think that the truth of the matter is that the actual purposes and goals of government policies, and the intentions of the insiders who instigate and enact those policies, have always been the same: the enrichment of capitalists and the protection of their wealth, with the costs of these actions being passed on to the population at large in the form of taxes and the manning of the military for “doing the dirty work” and providing the necessary bleeding and fatalities required to “get the job done.” I think the American people are by and large a “human shield” to the “owners” who run the whole government-economy game. The comedian George Carlin famously said: “It’s one big club, and you ain’t in it!”

So, while I agree that Trump and his cult followers are a real low point in American history, and threats to the wellbeing of most of us, I don’t think a Biden-Harris administration will be dramatically different as regards the substance of American foreign and domestic policies. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are where they are today because they are fully vetted as reliable agents for that “Inner Party” (from Orwell’s “1984”). Both are personally invested in (careerism) and fully compromised (bought) by the Wall Street Inner Party (WSIP), to work in the management bureaucracy that continues the long-standing mission of corporate-owned government: the enrichment of capitalists and the protection of their wealth.

The WSIP is finding that Trump is too unstable and too incompetent for their convenience; he is spoiling the smooth continuation of their profitable operations. They want someone like Obama, a smooth operator to calm the masses so they do not interfere with the status quo which in no way benefits them. Obama was superb at doing that job. Kamala Harris is just a shameless careerist who is hoping to graft Hillary Clinton “femaleness” to Barack Obama “Blackness” into a winning (for her) public image. She smiles today because Biden’s nod indicates that the WSIP has bought into Kamala’s “business proposal” of the utility of her personal branding (or subterfuge, as far the public good is concerned).

If the November 3 election proves to be a disaster for the Democratic Party, then the WSIP will soldier along profitably, as it is always assured of doing, but with a rockier and much crasser political “leadership,” and thus a more restive public. If Biden-Harris win decisively as many hope, then the WSIP will gain the benefit of Biden-Harris being a political soporific for the masses, which would make WSIP business-as-usual predatory profiteering easier to carry on and map out into the long term.

At this point, all those elected and appointed political insiders are scrambling to work out their own careerist bailouts or takeover plans, depending on how they see themselves positioned with respect to their public images and their approval ratings with the WSIP. So, for sure the cast will change for 2021, but by how much is not yet clear. The play, on the other hand, will not change in any fundamental way, though clearly a Biden-Harris win would require them to make some highly visible, but not necessarily significantly revolutionary changes: bones tossed to the chained-up dogs barking out in the rain.

Relative to berserker Trump, whatever palliatives (I’m sure weak ones) Biden-Harris might toss out would still be welcome. But they will be items that the WSIP would be prepared to “pay” in exchange for a return to the “stability of business conditions,” under a Biden-Harris (or, Obama III) Administration, a stability (of guaranteed subsidies and political protection) that they so highly prize for their maximum ROI and ease of planning (“investing”).

My view on the election of 3 November 2020 is this: The time now is to plug the holes in the boat to keep it from sinking, only after that can you decide which direction to row it in. Beyond that, no matter who you vote for, with whatever idealism and revolutionary vision you wish to have, you will get the same functional result: the WSIP owned government will focus its awesome powers, foreign and domestic, on the enrichment of capitalists and the protection of their wealth.

To change THAT, will require much much more continuing social and political activism and agitation for a long long time. Dumping Trump and his gang is a necessary first step to begin advancing that idealistic process, and without doubt would be a major morale boost far and wide. So we should all make sure it happens, but have no illusions about it’s depth of change of the American reality. Having that kind of voting attitude requires maturity: the having of a realistic outlook enabling pragmatic action without falling into despair and having childish tantrums of frustration over being denied the immediate gratification of realizing revolutionary utopian dreams at the push of a button.

And if, in the extremely unlikely event that we really do suddenly drop into a new 1933-style Nazi free-fall, then we will just have to fall back on our personal moral character, and work out our various paths toward lives of merit, as so many others were challenged to do throughout human history.

Thus, I agree we should have intelligent, realistic concerns about the course of American politics, but I think it counterproductive and personally harmful to have exaggerated irrational fears. Whatever happens (or doesn’t happen) during the November 3 pivot, maintaining your equanimity and psychological strength are essential for carrying on with your life.

[1] Historian Timothy Snyder warns that America is already in its own “slow-motion Reichstag Fire”
(Salon talks to Snyder about how Donald Trump uses pain and suffering as a weapon to remain in power)
Chauncey DeVega
October 18, 2020
https://www.salon.com/2020/10/18/historian-timothy-snyder-warns-that-america-is-already-in-its-own-slow-motion-reichstag-fire/

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Heller, Vonnegut, Melville, Twain, Maugham, and Guy de Maupassant

On 17 October 2020, Eric Andrew Gebert wrote:

“Born on this day, 1915, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Arthur Miller (1915-2005). Now might be the right time to re-read ‘The Crucible’ (1953). I’ve always preferred ‘Death Of A Salesman’ (1949). Although, anything written by Miller is a gem.

‘“Don’t be seduced into thinking that that which does not make a profit is without value.” — Arthur Miller’

Eric’s comments prompted the following exchange:

MG,Jr.:
If you read the first few chapters of “Closing Time” (1994), the not-great sequel to “Catch-22” (1961), by Joseph Heller (1932-1999), you are given a very clear and fulsome view of the neighborhood and cultural environment – Jewish Coney Island – from which Arthur Miller and Joseph Heller came. While “Closing Time” is not great, it is nevertheless a tale imbued with “New Yorkness” particularly of the City, and it beats most of the twaddle published as novels and even “literature” today. It came out in the ’90s; Heller died in 1999. And agreed, Miller was a superb author-playwright.

Eric Andrew Gebert:
I’ve never read Catch-22 by Joseph Heller. I’ve read so many articles about the book and author, yet never read the book. It’s on my list for sure.

My own thoughts prompted by the above:

I read “Catch-22” and “Slaughterhouse Five” in 1968-1969, while I was listed as 1A for the draft (Vietnam War) during my first year in college. I consider both masterpieces of 20th century American literature, and both were written by anti-war WWII veterans who had seen plenty of action – and death – during the mid 1940s (in Italy and Germany, respectively).

It is my opinion that these two books are absolutely essential reading for any American alive then and now, if they really want to gain some insight into fundamental aspects of American culture, and the collective psyche of Americans. If one also wants to get “historical” and can accept immersing themselves in the “literary,” then it is essential they include “Huckleberry Finn” and “Moby-Dick” to that reading list.

There are many comedic elements in both “Catch-22” and “Slaughterhouse Five” (1969), but both books are very clearly deadly serious. With Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.’s (1922-2007) book (Slaughterhouse Five), the more you think about it, the deeper is your realization of the underlying tragedy; with Heller’s book, comedy carries you to a finale that requires a strong stomach and deep commitment to finish reading, and in this way leads you to the tragic realization equivalent to that which Vonnegut so subtly (well, playfully) presents.

Only AFTER you have read C-22 and SH-5 should you allow yourself to see the movies made of them. The only good movie of C-22 (a recent TV series has also been made, at best a C-) is the excellent 1970 Mike Nichols (1931-2014) film (Catch-22), with a screenplay written by Buck Henry (1930-2020). Parts of that screenplay were so good that Heller said he wished he’d thought of them to put in his novel.

This film is very faithful (but not exact) to Heller’s plot (simplification being necessary since Heller had many, many characters, and a great deal of non-chronological density), and is entirely faithful to Heller’s arc of comedy-to-anguishing reality (with a sparkle at the end of the film to give you hope). Milo Minderbinder, a character in C-22 (and Closing Time), is the absolute quintessential personification of American capitalism, an excruciatingly apt portrayal in both the book and movie.

The only film worth seeing (AFTER you read the novel!) of SH-5 is the 1972 George Roy Hill (1921-2002) movie (Slaughterhouse Five). In that movie the character of Valencia Merble is the quintessential portrayal of the White suburban American mom, not quite a Karen, but a simple self-absorbed but not selfish Americana (a chaste but not fundamentalist version of Guy de Maupassant’s “Boule de Suif”); this perfection of depiction being in both the book and movie.

Believe me, those two books of the 1960s, and the two films made of them in the early 1970s cannot be remade today to equal standards of art and psychological insight: “we” are too hung-up on our “modern” (self-delusional) ‘wokeness.’ Here is art that is a mirror of a ‘national soul’ that we generally don’t wish to see in complete clarity. These works are both of their time, and timeless.

Every work of art has its roots in earlier works by earlier artists, and in conceptions from earlier times. One can, with imagination, follow this trail of sequential inspiration all the way back to the 5th Century (BCE) Greeks; and with even more imagination back to the cave paintings at Lascaux (~17,000 years ago) and Altamira (~36,000 years ago). Even though I do not know the history of Heller’s and Vonnegut’s literary inspirations, to my mind these two authors were the 1960s flowering of roots that grew from Herman Melville (1819-1891), Mark Twain (Samuel Langhorne Clemens, 1835-1910), and Guy de Maupassant (1850-1893).

Melville had a keen and pessimistic insight into the American soul, and a wicked wit, which can be hard for today’s casual readers to untangle from his convoluted and fascinating antique New England prose. I can see Heller’s Milo Minderbinder as a youthfully handsome comic inversion of Captain Ahab (the terrible protagonist of Moby-Dick): both are monomaniacal obsessive-compulsives. Both were avidly mercantile individuals, to devote themselves so fully to their risky commercial ventures. For Milo it was all about money to gain power to make more money (in a vicious circle), while for Ahab it was all about money (his gold Doubloon, and command of his ship’s resources like the breaking out of rum) to gain the mesmerizing power over his men’s hearts and souls to bind them tightly to his obsession for vengeance against the very forces of Nature incarnated as the white whale, Moby-Dick.

Mark Twain, that other supreme giant of American literature (I vacillate between seeing Melville then Twain as the greatest of all American authors, but that is a worthless exercise really: together, they are the sourcepoint of all essentially American literature), was both a comedic genius and a deeply serious writer with a very great compassion for the human condition; and his enlightened outlook on people was far in advance of American norms — to this day!

Kurt Vonnegut was deeply influenced by Twain, he said as much in his introduction to a television movie (shown on PBS) of Twain’s “Life On The Mississippi,” and it is so easy to see many parallels between Twain’s seemingly naïve witticisms and Vonnegut’s seemingly childlike playfulness in prose. And both had very serious matters about America’s dark soul to present back to its people, under the cover of sweet sunny confections of comic storytelling — up to a point.

Guy de Maupassant was a supreme master of naturalness in the telling of short stories, with an economy of style that made his penetrating insight into the psychology of his characters — the people of his day, and ours — transparent. His words speedily take you to the heart of the matter without obscuring it by any pretentiousness, insights and matters that were: comic, tragic, banal, horrible, lovely, socially withering, and of human avarice, corruption, credulity, deceitfulness, and simple nobility.

Like Heller and Vonnegut, de Maupassant mined his wartime experiences as a French solider during the disastrous for France Franco-Prussian war of 1870. Guy de Maupassant’s story “Two Friends,” about the hazards two Frenchmen buddies find themselves facing when they are captured by the Prussians during a surreptitious fishing excursion along a river behind enemy lines, has all the absurdist qualities Vonnegut put into the narrative thread on his avuncular character Edgar Derby, the mentor of Billy Pilgrim (the protagonist of Slaughterhouse Five) while both were prisoners of the Germans in WWII Dresden.

Even more grim a tale about the utterly absurd waste of human life, human innocence, and the permanent loss of happiness because of war, was de Maupassant’s “Mother Savage,” a story about one old French peasant woman’s iron will to wage her personal war against the Prussians, and by extension against all the social forces and higher classes and their attitudes, which had combined to bring that disastrous 1870 war right into her little cottage far out in the country. Where Edgar Derby was an endearingly blithe overgrown lamb oblivious to the hellscape of firebombed Dresden, Victoire Simon (Mother Savage) was an implacable wolverine propelled by grief capping a long hard meager life of scratching the land.

Two de Maupassant stories of desperate personal actions taken by ordinary French civilians against the Prussians, because they just exploded with rage against being bullied, are “Mademoiselle Fifi,” about the stabbing killing of a Prussian officer by Rachel, a Jewess prostitute who successfully evaded capture by being hidden by the parish priest; and “A Duel,” a similar story about a nebbish little man whose sudden rage fills him with power sufficient to kill a Prussian officer in a duel, his first ever, and for the Prussian his last of many. But I did not see any parallel incidents to these de Maupassant stories in either “Catch-22” or “Slaughterhouse Five,” despite their extensive periods in wartime settings.

Heller’s portrayal of the whorehouse in Rome frequented by Yossarian (the protagonist of Catch-22) and his buddies has many echoes of de Maupassant’s story “Madam Tellier’s Establishment,” of simple souls with simple dreams mixed with desperate longings and simple pleasures. Guy de Maupassant wrote many stories involving carnal affairs, licit and illicit, with a keen eye to human foibles and hypocrisy, and a sophisticated savoir faire combined with a very deep compassion to the human condition, so like Mark Twain’s.

Much of the anguish and histrionics of English and American marital-sexual-relationship dramas is refreshingly absent in de Maupassant’s stories because of his honest clear-sighted presentation of the situational and psychological facts. The hypocritical Victorian prudery of the English and the Americans is absent from de Maupassant and many of his characters, who are after all drawn from real life as de Maupassant saw it. That naturalness, pioneered by Gustave Flaubert (among others), de Maupassant’s mentor and teacher of literary art, is at the heart of Heller’s verve in “Catch-22.”

The direct root from Guy de Maupassant that grew out into English literature was W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965), another great short story writer, as well as playwright, novelist and essayist. The keenest insights about women that I have seen in literature are by Guy de Maupassant and W. Somerset Maugham. Perhaps F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940) has some as well (particularly in “Tender Is The Night,” 1934), but he was often much more lyrical and because of that honeyed radiance thus more vague.

Guy de Maupassant by contrast offered gems of clarity (not necessarily desired by society at large) cut with such precision as to bring out the sparkle of insights that pierced through the fog of all illusions. This deemed de Maupassant smutty and immoral to many socially correct readers (especially English and American ones) up to the present day.

My favorite novel of Maugham’s is “The Moon and Sixpence” (1919), a novelization of the life of the French Impressionist painter (and pal of Vincent van Gogh, 1853-1890) Paul Gauguin (1848-1903), told as the story of Charles Strickland, a fictional English equivalent to Gauguin. Maugham’s “The Moon and Sixpence” is an epigrammatic novel worthy of Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) and Maugham’s acknowledged inspiration: Guy de Maupassant.

Guy de Maupassant has written the best and most detailed descriptions of eating, food, cuisine and dining that I have ever read; he has done what Flaubert had taught him: to let you smell the aromas and taste the flavors just from reading the worlds. His touching yet earthy matter-of-fact slice-of-life story, “Idyll,” is echoed by John Steinbeck (1902-1968) as the grand and incandescent metaphor at the end of his “Grapes of Wrath” (1939), for the desperate and self-sacrificing human compassion and solidarity during a time of economic catastrophe that some of its victims could find to bring out of their own destitution and grief, to generously give others the milk of human kindness.

How fortunate I am to be able to read so many wonderful books. The overall lesson they have given me is simply to see with greater appreciation the intrinsic beauty of life despite the many hardships and random tragedies it also entails.

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E Pluribus Unum

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E Pluribus Unum

Let’s make everybody worthless,
Then we can own them
Without paying a dime!
Think of the profits
Selling everybody everything
For nothing!
They’ll be so jealous
They’ll love us to death,
’N even that we’ll own!
We’ll buy rockets
Go take Mars
So when they get there
They’ll have to buy it from us!
We’ll buy a curtain
To wrap ‘round the Sun
So when they want sunshine
We meter it out
At what the market will bear,
Even more!
We’ll stream their dreams
And fantasies
Even God’s prayers
Will be by subscription
Through our monthly service
Autopay no cancellation!
Human achievement will reach its end
When we are gods
We will be eternity
Our logo slapped on the Universe’s ass,
Even inside Black Holes!
Praise be!
For all to see!

16 October 2020

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On Voting U.S.A. 2020

Many Americans are confused, conflicted and concerned about how and for whom they should vote by 3 November 2020. I say “by” because we all have the option to vote by mail, even though that option is imperiled in much of the country by campaigns of voter suppression and mail tampering by the crooks, criminals, cranks, crack-pots, conspirators, conspiracists, con-men and con-molls of the Trump mind-pithed death-cult.

The United States is not a country of overwhelmingly democratic sentiment. It was, after all, founded by a propertied and slave-owning White Male grande bourgeoisie resistant to colonial taxes imposed by 18th century Imperialist England; and it has resisted every popular social movement since to expand the franchise to life, liberty, prosperity, equality under the law, freedom of self-expression, and participation in democratic governance.

It is a country with the most propagandized population on the face of the Earth, ruled by a corporate-owned political class of mediocrities whose worship of power reveal their deepest instincts to be authoritarian, materialistic, careerist, sexist, white supremacist, and xenophobic. As a result, the “right to vote” is a precious commodity however unevenly it may be available and however tenuously it may affect the course of governance in favor of the public good.

The way for a citizenry to safeguard and expand any right they have been granted by their government is to use it massively, often and vigorously, even when the expectation of its transformative power is low. Today, the single best possibility for approaching a socialist-inspired revolution in the United States would be the overwhelming participation in knowledgeable voting by young Americans; those between the ages of 18 and 44, and most particularly those between the ages of 18 and 30. They should “all” register to vote, learn the realities about the available candidates, and vote carefully — not lackadaisically — at every opportunity available to them, so as to advance their interests which are uniformly: anti-war, anti-capitalist, anti-discriminatory, anti-sexist; and socialist, environmentalist, responsive to the global warming climate crisis, and thus most widely beneficial to the overall public good.

The 24% of Americans below the age of 18 are ineligible to vote. Of the older, eligible 76%:

– 16.78% are between 18 and 30 years old,

– 19.82% are between 30 and 44 years old,

– 26.4% are between 44 and 65 years old,

– 13% are 65 years or older (to ~100 years).

Thus, people 18 to 44 years old make up 36.6% of the population, while people 44 years and older make up 39.4% of the population. [1], [2]

U.S. Demographics 2010-2018

Older people are generally more conservative (reactionary) and consistent voters, while younger ones are generally more progressive — but unfortunately for themselves — less consistent, less informed and more lackadaisical voters.

What young Americans need to do in their own economic, political and social interests is to massively, knowledgeably and consistently vote despite having realistically low expectations of any rapid and significant socialist improvements resulting from any given U.S. election. Persistence is required for this “water on stone” process of national transformation.

Youthful outbursts of violent and destructive frustration in reaction to the intransigence of the status quo will be quickly quenched by far superior government firepower (applied with far lower moral restraint); and youthful surrender by escapism into sensory bubbles will simply mire them more deeply in the control and exploitation mechanisms of the ageist ‘corporatocracy’ managing national affairs.

What youth has on its side electorally is numbers, and a commonality of shared dreams and prospects which are being grossly abused by the status quo. The median age of the U.S. population is 38 years. There are as many eligible voters under the age of 46 (38% of the population) as over the age of 45 (38% of the population).

If young Americans can coalesce on a generalized socialist vision and stick with it even as they age, and they persist in applying that vision through their social practices and through the legal yet highly flawed mechanisms of voting in the United States, they would be able to shift the direction of all national policies.

It is important to remember that not all older voters are reactionaries, many of us still retain the dreams and visions of our glory days even if we appear to be feeble wrecks incapable of implementing anything. So the central cohesive element needed for a socialist transformation of the U.S. political economy is a strong popular and continuing socialist mindset — and thus allied progressive civic movements — among America’s young people.

The difficulty in sustaining such a socialist youth movement today is the obvious disincentive given by the nearly-guaranteed piss-poor results of U.S. electoral politics. We all know this is civic failure by design to maintain corporate-funded political corruption administered by careerist mediocrities. Rooting out that cancer will take a long time, perhaps an eternity (that is to say till human extinction). But offering it no resistance would be the ignominious suicide of human decency and our public moral character; and such resistance must necessarily be a multi-generational effort.

So I say vote we must even though it stinks. Offering American youth incentives of utopian hopes as likely outcomes from electoral “victories” in November of 2020, is dishonest. What is honest is telling them to be steeled by Raymond Aron’s observation that: the choice in politics is never between good and evil, but between the preferable and the detestable. Most of the time in U.S. elections we are not offered the opportunity to choose what and who we really want, we are only offered a very constrained set of options that range from the truly detestable to the relatively preferable.

What I see as the greatest failure of civic insight among American voters is them being overwhelmingly identity voters. Most people vote for reflections of themselves — really for reflections of their self-illusions — instead of for “imperfect” candidates of integrity committed to policies aimed at the overall public good. Identity politics is the greatest propaganda coup ever perpetrated on the American public by the American capitalist ‘corporatocracy.’

The drumbeat to vote for who looks like you and sounds like you and feels like you, or like your avuncular uncle, or like your wise and feisty aunt — without a thought as to who actually owns these candidates or what they are financially obligated to actually do and not do once elected — is unrelenting and earsplitting. Just turn on your TVs and computer mass-media streams and you get inundated by that propaganda.

The second greatest failure I see among progressive American voters is the inability of many of them — by their unwillingness — to be pragmatic when it comes to voting. Voting is a gross, slow, cumbersome and inaccurate tool for social change and improvement. It entirely lacks the sharp rapid elegance of a skillfully deployed scalpel (and the political equivalents of scalpels are bloody revolutions, which are more often tragic catastrophes), and it lacks the sustained political pressure of continuing mass movements.

Yes, it is easily possible to have a very far advanced socialist ideal in mind when voting, but no your co-visionary utopian political aspirants and microscopic political parties have no statistically significant probability of gaining any political power. So voting “for them” is purely an act of politically ineffectual egoism: you voted for your self-image. You will feel good about it, and that’s all. Voting for the country means getting over yourself. This is a major hurdle among people indoctrinated since infancy to mindless selfishness — and individualistic “exceptionalism” — by mass media in the service of your exploitative capitalist overlords.

In 2020, Americans have a civic duty and moral obligation to dethrone the Trump and Republican malignancy. Doing so will not immediately usher in a New Socialist Millennium, nor a United Federation of Planets, not any scintillating utopian fantasy of fully enlightened government. It will just be a necessary first step to a long, long projected recovery of political decency in this country. To accomplish that step — and the many needed after it — we have to accept reality, defy the propaganda, get over ourselves, persist in our socialist mass movements acting for political reform and the good of all, and persist in our voting despite its many deficiencies.

So far as I can tell, for the first time in its 208 year history The New England Journal of Medicine, one of the most prestigious peer-reviewed medical journals as well as the oldest continuously published one, has editorialized to endorse an electoral choice in a U.S. election: vote Trump and his partisans out. [3]

They begin that editorial with:

“Covid-19 has created a crisis throughout the world. This crisis has produced a test of leadership. With no good options to combat a novel pathogen, countries were forced to make hard choices about how to respond. Here in the United States, our leaders have failed that test. They have taken a crisis and turned it into a tragedy.”

The list of particulars that follows from this point in the NEJM indictment of the Trump Administration and its allied state government partisans is clear and damning (more than 200,000 Americans have died from Covid-19, a number equivalent to half the American fatalities in World War II); after which they conclude with the following:

“Anyone else who recklessly squandered lives and money in this way would be suffering legal consequences. Our leaders have largely claimed immunity for their actions. But this election gives us the power to render judgment. Reasonable people will certainly disagree about the many political positions taken by candidates. But truth is neither liberal nor conservative. When it comes to the response to the largest public health crisis of our time, our current political leaders have demonstrated that they are dangerously incompetent. We should not abet them and enable the deaths of thousands more Americans by allowing them to keep their jobs.”

To my mind, this should be the central focus of our pragmatic voting in 2020. It’s not about “you,” it’s about “us.”

Given human nature, there will always be new generations of fascists, bigots, religious fanatics, capitalists, careerists, exploiters, would-be slavers and criminals in American political life. So there can never be an enduring final victory of political good over political evil. To socialize a capitalist society, especially one as militarized, regressive and imperialistic as that of the United States, would take much more than just voting. The effort to advance American societal decency must necessarily be a continuing process of indeterminate duration.

Our utopian socialist visions should be used as compass needles to point our efforts past ourselves and in the direction our grudgingly pragmatic and personally imperfect steps should take on the way to that far horizon of our aspirations.

I have already mailed in my ballot. I wish more of my choices could have been reflections of how I like to think of myself, but “you can’t always get what you want.” [4]

NOTES

[1] Demographics of the United States
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_the_United_States

[2] Population of the United States (2020 and historical)
https://www.worldometers.info/world-population/us-population/

[3] Dying in a Leadership Vacuum
The New England Journal of Medicine
8 October2020
https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMe2029812

[4] You Can’t Always Get What You Want
https://youtu.be/krxU5Y9lCS8

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Another Model of Atmospheric CO2 Accumulation

I continue to model the accumulation of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere, because the topic fascinates me.

This time, I constructed a global warming scenario driven by a pulse of anthropogenic CO2 emissions (mathematically, a slightly skewed Gaussian function), which launches in the year 1900, peaks in the year 2028, and disappears by year 2150. This model emissions rate function matches the actual trend of the increase of anthropogenic CO2 emissions (data) since the year 2000.

The point of this study is to see how a reduction of anthropogenic emissions, as by the mathematical function assumed, would influence the subsequent reduction of CO2 accumulation in the atmosphere.

The equation describing the accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is based on these assumptions:

– 70% of the emissions accumulate in the atmosphere,

– 30% of the emissions are immediately absorbed by the oceans (surface waters),

– the only sink (mainly photosynthesis) is characterized by a relaxation time of 238 years (a characteristic time scale for the absorption process),

– emissions peak in ~2028 at 11.5GtC/y (42.1GtCO2/y) and die away skew-symmetrically thereafter. (GtC/y = giga metric tons of carbon per year; GtCO2/y = giga metric tons of carbon dioxide per year).

Figure 1 shows the resulting projected temporal profile of atmospheric CO2, in units of ppm (parts per million). Also shown is the emissions function, E(x), scaled by 50x GtC/y. The unperturbed baseline concentration is assigned as 277ppm.

The time scale, “x” in years, begins (x=0) at year 1900.

Figure 1: Time Profile of Atmospheric CO2 Concentration, for given Gaussian emissions pulse

In this scenario, the CO2 concentration peaks at 529ppm for years 180<x<200 (years 2080-2100). The continuation of this story out to year x=1200 (year 3100) is shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2: Time Profile of Atmospheric CO2 Concentration, to year 3100

Choosing a longer relaxation time (e.g., ~1000y) would significantly reduce, or eliminate, the decay of the concentration over time (the air CO2 would “never” go away). A long relaxation time would be the case if weathering were the dominant absorption phenomenon (with relaxation time ~12,000 to ~14,000 years), because the photosynthesis and absorption by the oceans sinks were saturated (as was the case during the 200,000 year-long clearing of atmospheric CO2 during the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, PETM, 55.5 million years ago).

Figure 3 shows the increase in global temperature, in °C, corresponding to the CO2 concentration profile, shown above.

Figure 3: Average Global Temperature Increase corresponding to model CO2 concentration profile

The global temperature increase above baseline, for this scenario, is projected to peak at +1.94°C in year x=190 (2090); it arrives at +1.5°C at x=142 (year 2042).

It is obvious that if the future reality of anthropogenic CO2 emissions is an increasing trend, that the consequent time profile of atmospheric CO2 concentration will be a continuously rising trend as well. That would mean higher global temperature increases, and sooner, than those shown here.

The Gaussian emissions pulse used here is an “optimistic” scenario in that the annual rate of anthropogenic emissions peaks in 8 years, and then decreases nearly symmetrically to its profile of increase prior to 2028.

This scenario would have us avoid crossing the +2°C threshold. But, the global warming would remain above +1.5°C for the 130 years between 2042 and 2172, undoubtedly degrading many environments.

The model CO2 concentration profile found here matched data (measurements by NOAA); quite well since 2000, and adequately before that to 1960.

The important implication of this model is already well-known: if we begin reducing anthropogenic CO2 emissions very soon, and continue doing so at a steady rate so as to eliminate them completely within a century, we can avoid having Planet Earth warm up by a total of +2°C, relative to the 19th century.

The corollary to this observation is that if we instead continue increasing our CO2 emissions, it will get warmer sooner for longer.

Also, whatever we do (or don’t do) about CO2 emissions, their accumulation in the atmosphere will linger for centuries. The clearing of this atmospheric CO2 will occur on several parallel timescales:

– absorption through photosynthesis (happening daily),

– capture by the surface waters of the oceans over the course of years, decades and centuries (and eventual sequestration at the sea bottom in a surface-to-bottom mixing cycle of millennial time scale), and

– the chemical reactions of rock weathering (on a tens-of-millennia time scale).

Injecting CO2 into the atmosphere can be done instantly; removing it requires a long time.

So, it would be wise to stop emitting it.

The above report, with the addition of figures showing comparisons to data for the trends of emission rate and CO2 concentration prior to 2020, is available here (PDF file).

Gaussian Emission Function & Air CO2

Gaussian Emission Function, and Atmospheric CO2 Accumulation
(Model #7)
4 October 2020
https://manuelgarciajr.files.wordpress.com/2020/10/gaussian-emission-function-air-co2.pdf

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The Connected, and The Unmoored

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The Connected, and The Unmoored

I saw the sunrise, from pitch black to clear light over the canyon rim this morning. An owl was hooting before the light, the air warming as the dark faded. Heard the birds wake up and each begin its chatter; the hummers buzzing over my head to inspect me before tanking up at the nectar bottle. The turkeys gobbled confidently from across the canyon.

Made French Press coffee. Watched our cats play, stalking and chasing each other on the hill as morning light expanded. We later ate some simple cold cuts, cheeses, bread, pasta salad; cool water.

I played, stumbling with some exponential functions, trying to simulate CO2 buildup in the atmosphere (55.5 million years ago, and also again today), a perennial project. Seems pointless to tell people about it, but it keeps my mind occupied, and I’m curious. That CO2 and its growing heat will be with “us” for centuries, a millennia? (who cares?).

Went out a few times to look at the day, which was lovely, with only a subdued hint of ash haziness from the fires up north. My mother is living with us for a while, waiting it out. She told me of her grandmother who raised her, who was born in the last days of Spanish rule in Puerto Rico, before the 1898 takeover by the Yankee Conquistadores. My mother wishes she could buy the platanos to make pastelón, like her grandmother used to make for her in Río Piedras.

I thought of my father, who would have been 96 on his birthday during these early days of October. I remember the stories he told me of his father’s childhood, spent with his father sheepherding in the Cantabrian Mountains, in the very early years of the 20th century: stories of facing off against prowling wolves, armed with long wooden staffs and Great Pyrenees mountain dogs, of drinking wine from the bota, of wild strawberries, and bagpipes.

Watched a nature video from 26 years ago, about Caribbean sea life, so lovely then. Had Caprese and guacamole (with tortilla chips) for supper, both made to perfection; I handwashed the dishes.

Watched a video (from 30 years ago) on the life and art of Mozart; I always have tears well up when I hear the Lacrimosa.

Life is short, and there is so much to do, so much to experience, even for us lacking the talent, grace and insight of a Wolfgang Amadeus, and I see none of what is worthwhile in the close-in noisy opaque bubbles everyone jams their heads into to plug up their senses with the flickering trivialities and remote dramas of the moment.

The owl, the birds, the turkeys, the cats, the critters who keep out of my sight (but not the cats’s), and later the crickets at night, they all know what is happening at any moment every moment. They have to, to eat, to stay alive; for them paying attention is the essence of living, but so is napping in the sunshine, which they all in their turn do so luxuriantly.

We can be so pitifully disconnected, and most of us always are, for we just don’t notice the whole world changing: drying, melting, burning, receding, dying. It’s no wonder animals look at us with such amazement: “how could they be so clueless?” There’s always a reason I guess, a crisis of the moment, to not get out of your head and wake up to the flow of the world; but that’s just tragic: death. It’s also why people feel so alone, because in fact they are alone in desert bubbles, befuddled, lost castaways, wired to artificiality: empty static.

I realize I’m an anti-social socialist, a hermit socialist, “out of the loop” in every way for sure. And I need to be, it’s best.

My boy black cat — Buster — will bump into my leg at night, when I’m out looking onto the deep sound of the unseen. He understands of course, his connection to the primordial is undimmed by civilization, his wisdom is locked safely in DNA that has been 25 million years in the imprinting, and I appreciate his encouragement.

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Burning Thoughts on the Sonoma Fires

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Burning Thoughts on the Sonoma Fires

The map shows the fires in Sonoma County, California, USA, during 2017-2020. These were/are all big. My mother had to evacuate in 2017, and stayed with us for 10 days. Today (28 September 2020), I went to get her and bring her here again.

I monitor the internet to follow the progress of the fire (the Glass-Shady fire of 2020 – now – is 0% contained; it started about 2 days ago – see the red blotch). This year I know of 8 people – 5 directly and personally – who have had to evacuate from fires: in Sonoma and Solano Counties, and in Oregon. Many fires in Western America right now, and they occur from earlier in the year, and more frequently, and last longer, and are bigger, with each succeeding year.

Other regions and nations have their own increasing environmental degradation trials and tribulations: droughts, heat waves, crop failures, locusts, storms, hurricanes, floods. My thoughts about all this are rather dark, as reflected in my recent writing.

The gems to be found in all these hard events are the generous and kind actions individuals can take on behalf of others, very often strangers, to help them get through the difficulties and losses. I was fortunate to have two such people help my mother (who is 95) in the first rush to evacuate yesterday. The fact that people, as individuals, can be so decent is what keeps me from condemning all of humanity (being a total misanthrope) because human society has been so adamant to continue failing miserably when it comes to seriously addressing global warming climate change.

In this, my attitude is similar to that of Jonathan Swift, who said he cared not for human society, but appreciated John and Tom and Dick (I paraphrase) because of the very thing I just described: stellar individuals (even if just occasionally so) live among a society we curmudgeons find morally bankrupt, and their good actions are momentary redemptions of that reprehensible mass.

This outlook makes it basically impossible for me to find any interest (or waste any time) on the many frivolous concerns of others, and which are often most on display on that frivolity of social media: Facebook. Sorry about that.

My appreciation for the beauty and organic complexity of Nature remains undimmed, but my interest in the minutia of the daily drama, or the silly entertainments of the last 15 minutes (with shelf lives of 10 seconds), is zero. I can’t help looking at American society as reenacting the fate of Captain Ahab and his crew, so obsessed with their delusions that they could not wake up from them even as they were being drowned by them.

The Romantic in me wants the Next Generation to float free from the doom we’ve programmed ourselves for, like Ishmael floating free atop Queequegs’s coffin; and refashion the World aright. The Realist in me is not so optimistic. But I don’t feel it is fair for me to criticize the Next Generation, whose elders – as American Society – have so basely used and poorly provided for. I had a decent shot at life, and did what I did with it; now it’s their turn, and they should be free to make their own choices, and learn (hopefully) from their mistakes (preferably enjoyable ones) just as I and my predecessors did (well, some of us did).

The Romantic Engineer and Artist in me knows that tackling Climate Change – which means entirely transforming human society worldwide – would be the greatest adventure, and moral and social uplift, that our species could ever have in its history as part of Life-On-Earth, if we “all” had the Zen-like satori (awakening, AHA!) to motivate a joyful coming together to achieve that purpose in all of its many dimensions: personal, political, social, economic, technical, moral, intellectual; the fullest expansion of human potential for everyone.

The Realist in me scoffs at this flight of fancy by the Sappy Curmudgeon, but the Romantic in me still wishes it were not entirely a hopeless dream. Others, I know, have particular and detailed wishful fantasies for our Future, and I have few quarrels with most of them. But I think the simplest life of fulfilling work (self-assigned), safety, security, health, happiness and freedom for artistic and intellectual pursuits; with Nature secure in all its beauty – on this Planet! – is my ideal.

My mother is now afraid that she will be threatened by fires every year. This should not be so, she should be able to live tranquilly tending her roses without such concern. That our governments and societies will not do anything — as we should for the rest of human history — to eliminate such fear (which many people now have) has led me to cancel any sense of allegiance to them, or respect for “the institutions.” Like Jonathan Swift.

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