Six Moody Reflections on America in Spring 2021


“I can’t remember the exact date, but the most mind blowing moment of my life was when after an exhaustive turning over of every rock imaginable, I realized there is no energy source which will allow us to continue our daily activities at the level Westerners have become accustomed to without the world and life as we know it being destroyed in the process….And once you accept that fact, that my friends is when you have reached the intellectual point of no return in your mindset as far as the inevitability of collapse…” — Forrest Palmer

My answer to Forrest Palmer:

Collapse is only inevitable by choice, and only if civilization is defined as being the present Western-Capitalist paradigm. There are no PHYSICAL limitations to fashioning a comfortable, equitable, intelligent, culturally rich, and ecologically harmonious (which is more than merely sustainable) world civilization. All the barriers are literally mental, and literally failures of personal moral character.

I agree that looking at human history and our world today, it seems “impossible” to ever achieve the global consensus necessary to realize that new hypothetical paradigm. But, from the Universe’s perspective, it is entirely possible if we humans can summon the collective will to do so.


Most people dislike truth because it is inconvenient, discredits their cherished biases, and illuminates responsibilities they want to avoid. And that is why the 1st Amendment is the least liked and most opposed of all of them. The first thing a corporation or government agency wants you to sign away, when they buy you, is your 1st Amendment rights.

In the U.S. “commerce” and “public service” aim to kill the 1st Amendment, with the exception of by a few principled people. You have the “right” to express yourself, but if somebody else fears what you say or write, because of their insecurity and dishonesty, then they want you silenced and unemployed, or dead. Look at Julian Assange.


Is This The End Of Forests As We’ve Known Them?

“Is this the end of forests as we’ve know them?” It depends on who the “we” is. For the “we” that is intimately connected with the natural world, it may seem like the inevitable outcome from continuing human-species existence.

But most people today, particularly in the high carbon-spewing countries, do not have any real connection to “nature”; they don’t see and don’t notice the subtlety of its cyclic changes, nor the relentlessness of its ‘permanent’ changes; they just notice immediate effects on themselves, as obstacles to their wants (or needs for the poorest).

Most Americans are urbanites or suburbanites (no undisturbed nature there), or rural exploiters of “nature”; far fewer are sensitively connected to the land and its wildlife. The social and mental inertia of the unseeing and uncaring (and worldwide) majority is why the minority nature-loving “we” — which includes materially advantaged people with the luxury to be nature lovers — is seeing Paradise wither and burn away.

Awakening that vast self-focused ‘public mind’ to an actual commitment to fundamentally alter the physical routines of its existence, and swallow the economics necessary to do so, is the fundamental challenge — and probably an impossibility — of “climate change activists” (i.e., climate anti-change activists). It is easy enough to point out this and that current instance of environmental and biodiversity loss and/or collapse, and it is easy enough to say “capitalism must die for the world to live,” but none of that has had any impact on the vast public mind, as should be evident by now, and safe to say never will.

So, what if anything will? What ideas can be injected into the public arena that gain wide public attention — which means they have to suggest immediate improvements in the economic lives of the demos — and are sufficiently motivating to create significant physical+electoral actions by the public to really begin changing public/corporate/government institutions, for the ultimate near-term purpose of de-carbonizing civilization?

I find it easy to generalize, I find it incredibly difficult to think up a detailed “plan.” Exhortation alone will never be effective, organization is the key, but organization is very, very slow and, climatically, time is very short for implementing the massive alterations that are really needed.

What are the practical (a.k.a., ideologically ‘imperfect’) steps that we (the big “we”, in the public) as individuals can take — variously in our many different constituencies, regions and countries — to spur our governments to respond as promptly and effectively as possible to climate change as the emergency it really is? Doomism is not an acceptable response.


DAC = Direct Air Capture of CO2 is hypothetical technology — an illusion — promoted by the oil industry so they can keep drilling out oil for us all to burn or turn into plastic waste. DAC is a sham in the same way that plastic recycling is a sham for allowing the continuation of oil/plastic companies’s profiteering at Earth’s expense. Only about 9% of all plastic waste is recycled, the rest is a growing mass of pollution poisoning our rivers, oceans, lands, foods and bodies. The only plastics with any possibility of being reprocessed for reuse are those labeled 1 and 2, and maybe also 5.

The fallacy of DAC is like trying to design a better helmet that allows you continue playing Russian Roulette. The obvious — surest, quickest, cheapest — solution to the problem is to just stop. And so it is with the production of CO2 and plastics. My physics analysis of DAC is given in these two articles.

The Improbability of CO2 Removal from the Atmosphere
9 August 2020

Stream Tube CO2 Removal Machine
8 August 2020


On 27 October 1962, Vasili Arkhipov single handedly prevented the launching a nuclear war between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R., by doggedly refusing to allow for the launching of a nuclear warhead torpedo against an American warship relentlessly depth charging his Russian submarine for five hours, during the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis. It took three senior officers on the submarine each with an individual key all needed in unison to enable the launch mechanism. Everyone else on that submarine favored the torpedo counterattack because they feared they were on the brink of being sunk. Vasili Arkhipov alone dissented, and that prevented the launching of nuclear weapons, and inevitably an intercontinental nuclear war.

The Man Who Saved The World, Vasili Arkhipov

The history of the Cuban Missile Crisis – Matthew A. Jordan

Vasili Arkhipov, 2017 Future of Life Award winner for averting nuclear war

Preventing nuclear war, ending all war, really facing global heating worldwide and equitably right away and persistently ever after, which all mean ending poverty and hunger and disease and suffering and ecocide worldwide are the challenges and obligations we face today. We all need to become Arkhipovs confronting those challenges.

I think I’ll remember every 27 October as “Arkhipov Day,” or Human Solidarity Day.


Stan Goff wrote: “In my early childhood, we had duck-and-cover drills. As I reach the sunset of this life, we have active-shooter drills. God bless America.”

That prompted these thoughts of mine:

For me the worst such moment was 22 October 1962, watching JFK on TV during the peak of the Cuban Missile Crisis. My parents were glued to the B&W TV in our New York apartment, and I was glued to them watching that TV (I was 12). We didn’t know if Khrushchev would incinerate us in NYC with Russian nuclear-tipped ICMBs before or after JFK incinerated my grandparents in Havana with US nuclear-tipped ICBMs. We didn’t care about Moscow at that point. Fortunately, both Arkhipov and Khrushchev felt a greater connection to humanity than did Kennedy, because of their (all 3) searing memories of WWII losses, and defused the standoff at the Nuclear OK Corral.

So, I was free thereafter to pursue my boyish dreams in the sunny 60s and 70s, only limited by my degree of perseverance (high), relatively modest talents, political naïveté, the Vietnam War draft (dodged a bullet there), the Glass Ceiling protecting White Supremacy (the Prime Directive, as I found out), and the randomness of luck and lucklessness (can’t complain too much here).

When I saw families with naked children begging in the streets of Havana, in June 1959, I became viscerally aware that there were many people undeservingly much worse off that I was, and I have never lost that feeling. And over time my rage against authority (and against people in general when I’m at my glummest) has only grown because they continue to allow that to continue, and even worsen in many places — which I know is entirely unnecessary — and all because of selfishness: bigotry and greed.

As I look toward the sunset of my life, I just hope to love my family and delight them, amuse my few friends on occasion, enjoy health and art as long as I’m able, and forgive myself for my own degree of selfishness (which I know I am not going to relinquish) and for my amateurish ineffectiveness (and, frankly, laziness) at prompting any significant social improvements. In brief: my human imperfection.

My legacy is imprinted on the wind, and as the fleeting memories held by a few I hold dear. My message to the world: have fun, and be kind.


The Improbability of CO2 Removal from the Atmosphere


The Improbability of CO2 Removal from the Atmosphere

The concentration of carbon dioxide gas in today’s atmosphere is 417ppm (parts per million). There are 10^44 gas molecules in the entire atmosphere (78% diatomic nitrogen, 21% diatomic oxygen, 1% everything else), so 1ppm is equivalent to 10^38 gas particles. The 417ppm of CO2 represents a total of 4.17×10^40 molecules.

Some people hope for new technology to remove carbon dioxide gas from Earth’s atmosphere, and then forestall the advance of global warming, or even completely eliminate it. I see this as improbable because I think any such technology would be extremely inefficient at CO2 removal, and be energy intensive as well. The process of gaseous diffusion, as with the release of CO2 into the atmosphere, requires no energy; the gases just mix, spread and dilute, and the entropy of the atmosphere increases. It is an “irreversible process” in the parlance of chemical thermodynamics. This means that the spontaneous un-mixing of gases and their re-concentration into separate volumes has never been observed. Energy must be invested to effect any such desired separation of component gases in a mixture. To explore the possibility of CO2 removal, I have quantified my sense of improbability about it, and describe that here.

Consider a hypothetical CO2 removal machine that is a tube with a filter box in the middle. Air is fanned into the tube, flows into the filter box where some of its CO2 is removed, and then flows out of the tube to rejoin the atmosphere and to slightly reduce the global average concentration of CO2. Energy is supplied to entrain air into the device, and energy is supplied to power the unspecified process that effects the CO2 removal within the filter box. The machine would operate continuously so that over time all the atmosphere would be filtered and de-carbonized.

This would be a very large machine, and most likely be a large array of identical or similar units all over the world that would comprise a composite machine. I will describe this composite as if it were a single tube. [1]

Machine #1

This machine has a filter cross-sectional area of 10,000 km^2 (10^10 m^2) into which air is fanned through at 1meter/second (2.24mph). Producing that continuous mass flow from still air requires 16GW of power, assuming an efficiency of 40% (from raw power into moving air). The filtration process is assumed to consume 40GW (1% of the power used by the United States) and be 1% effective at CO2 removal. The anthropogenic emission of CO2, at its current rate of 35.5GT/year (giga metric tons per year), is assumed to continue indefinitely (the economy!), with the oceans absorbing 29% of those emissions (10.4GT/y).

At the end of 10 years of continuous operation Machine #1 would have cleared 3.26ppm of CO2 from Earth’s atmosphere, at a cost of 1.77×10^19 Joules of energy (4.92×10^12 kilowatt-hours). Reducing the CO2 concentration to the pre-industrial level of 280ppm would require 507.6 years.

Machine #2

Clearly, improvements are required for Machine #1. So, we assume that 10% efficiency of CO2 removal can be effected by investing 400GW (10% of the power used by the United States) into the filter box. Now, the power consumption is 416GW for Machine #2. After 10 years of continuous operation 31.5ppm of CO2 would be removed from the atmosphere (bringing the concentration down to 386ppm), at an energy cost of 1.31×10^20 Joules (3.64×10^13kWh). Reducing the atmospheric concentration of CO2 back to 280ppm would require 51 years. This might seem promising except for the fact that the assumed 10% efficiency is pure fantasy.

Machine #3, All Earth’s Lands

To regain a sense of reality, consider the actual performance of the entire land surface of the Earth (1.489×10^14 m^2) acting as a CO2 removal filter. This was the case in the clearing of 2500ppm of CO2 from the atmosphere over the course of 200,000 years during the geologically brief episode of explosive global warming 55.5 million years ago, known as the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM). I described the PETM and cited numerous public-access scientific references to it in [2].

Using the same rate of CO2 removal (the e-folding time) as occurred during the PETM, in my formulation of CO2 removal machines, it transpires that the efficiency of removal by the Earth-filter (rock weathering reactions in the long term) is 8.6×10^-8 (0.0000086%). After 10 years, this Earth-machine would clear 0.42ppm of the atmospheric CO2 (bringing the level down from 417ppm to 416.6ppm). That level would be reduced to 280ppm in 3,984 years.

Machine #4

Hope in technology springs eternal for some, so maybe our Machine #2 even with a realistic efficiency can better the clearing-time set by the Earth, natural Machine #3. We accept an efficiency of 1.474×10^-7 (0.00001474%), invest 1.31×10^19 Joules of energy every year at a rate of 416GW of continuous power, and after 10 years find 0ppm of CO2 removal! In fact however long we run this machine there will always be 0ppm of CO2 removal, because the rate of technological removal is equalled by the rate of anthropogenic emissions. Reaching 280ppm is literally infinitely far away.

Machine #5

Maybe by some technological breakthrough the efficiency can be raised by a factor of 100, to 1.474×10^-5 (0.001474%). Then in 100 years Machine #5 would have cleared 0.0478ppm of atmospheric CO2 (reducing the level from 417ppm to 416.95ppm) for an investment of 1.31×10^21 Joules (3.64×10^14kWh). Achieving 280ppm would require 348,577 years. It’s hard to beat the Earth at its own game.

Best Course of Action

It should be obvious by now that our best course of action is to apply our energy resources to the betterment of our many societies and the equalization of living standards worldwide, and to the transformation of our economic activities for minimal CO2 emissions. The current catch-phrase for this transformation is “degrowth.”

During this pandemic year of 2020, the U.S. GDP shrank by 33%, and the CO2 emissions by the United States also shrank by the same proportion. Worldwide CO2 emissions shrank by 17%. Zero emissions require zero GPD, as we now know it.

Global warming will advance and its consequences will add great stresses to many human, animal and plant populations. This geophysical process could be experienced as “the collapse of civilization,” or it could be taken as a collective challenge to advance human civilization by bonds of solidarity, and the restoration of its reverence for the natural world. If we put our energy into fashioning that imperfect utopia, we would live through global warming with a justifiable sense of pride, and even have fun.


[1] Stream Tube CO2 Removal Machine
8 August 2020
Stream Tube CO2 Removal Machine

[2] Ye Cannot Swerve Me: Moby-Dick and Climate Change
15 July 2019